Kurds drink a lot of tea. Tea at work in the morning, in the afternoon, after meals, while visiting, at home. I met a slight, elderly man who is famous for drinking nothing but cha. No water, no juice. Just tea. He is, incidentally, the strongest grandfather I've ever seen, roughhousing with 8 grandkids who were no match for him.
Cha is always black ('cha' is tea in Kurdish, pronounced like 'chai'), concentrated and brewed all day. It is diluted with hot water directly before being served with copious amounts of sugar in little glass cups. When I say “copious,” I mean three -spoonfuls-in-a-cup-the-size-of-three-shot-glasses copious. Unlike in the UK, it is never taken with milk or cream.
Cha is hot and smooth, with a deeper flavor than a tea-bag can deliver. At home, I often put a bit honey in my tea, but in Kurdistan I take it without sugar to avoid the deluge of sweetness. I'm used to drinking from mugs, refilling until I've consumed the entire contents of the tea pot. But here I've come to enjoy the moderate portions, to meditate on the temperature and layers of texture as I sip. A flavor and custom I shall miss.
Busy busy busy here in Kurdistan. Between classes (I'm writing this as my beginner students take an exam), adventuring along the Kurdish countryside, preparing for my upcoming adventures after Kurdistan, working on writing projects and enjoying my last few weeks here, I find myself lacking the time to adequately convey my experiences on the internet. Hoping for a few minutes to jot down some reflections, but the experiences keep piling up!
You'll be happy to know that several days, boxes of Kleenex (and rolls of toilet paper, when tissues ran out) later, my cold has dissipated. But not before I unwittingly passed along my germs to Bekah and Sara, who also had to deal with my ungodly nose-blowing on several multiple-hour car rides.
Some highlights of the past few days include eating fresh fish by the river where they were caught (twice!), countless unbelievable views (see above), a picnic by a magical little river, picking wild figs and blackberries from the side of the road, smoking hookah with Kurdistan's most famous poet and a plethora of other good company, taking pictures of road signs (because I find road signs hilarious), and repeatedly being the recipient of famous Kurdish hospitality, from friends and strangers alike.
The verdict is in: Kurdistan is beautiful.
I have so much to tell you! With the end of Ramadan comes Eid, which is sometimes translated as the Sugar Feast. People eat sweets, and visit family. Kids go house-to-house trick-or-treating for sweets and money. Everyone dresses up in new colorful clothes. We celebrated Eid with the family of a woman that Sara has been tutoring, who has become a good friend of all of us. Sara and I borrowed Kurdish clothing for the occasion! We got to visit many Kurdish houses which had a markedly different feel from the furnished apartment we inhabit. Far more spare, sometimes entire rooms left nearly empty, with people young and old opting to sit directly on the floor to visit, eat, play dominoes. Children running in and out, grown ups drinking tea, conversing, holding babies, cooking, watching television. We had a grand time. I have a lot to say, but my internet time is limited at the moment....
We have several days off work for Eid, and are visiting the city of Sulaymaniyah with some friends of Bekah's (and now Sara and mine as well). It is a much needed change of pace, and an opportunity to experience Kurdistan outside the limited view we get in our job, apartment and routine in Erbil. I'm loving Sulaymaniyah so far, despite fending off a cold: fantastic people, views, and the feeling of the city over all. Much more lively and hip, more going on, less conservative feeling than Erbil. The two and a half hour drive through desert, mountain and farms was fascinating as well. All very different than my day-to-day, and makes me think of how my specific experience here is just a tiny part of the larger picture of Kurdistan.
My dreadfully slow attempts to learn Kurdish (I can still only say a few words and phrases) have improved a bit over the past few days, with the chance to hear mixed linguistic crowds communicating, and engage in a way I haven't at work. Still shamefully slow, but I'm beginning to recognize a tiny tiny tiny bit, even if I can't re speak. And then again, I've only been here 2 months and 2 month old babies can't talk at all, so...
That's all for now. I must get ready for the day!
From Mount Azmar, looking to the mountains behind it.
Today I realized how soon I will be leaving Kurdistan, which-- considering I have only posted a few blog entries--- seems ludicrous. I'll be gone in a short month. It was hard when first I got here; the job, and culture shock and general life transitions all on top of each other nearly paralyzed me. Constantly walking directly into what you are most afraid of is, in a word, exhausting. I was taking it a day at a time, a moment at a time, and sometimes even that seemed too much.
Now that the end is closer than the beginning, I'm feeling how Kurdistan has seeped into my favor, quietly. Things and people and moments I'll miss. The job. Teaching the beginners: when I think about how they couldn't say anything at first, and gave me weird looks when I tried to get them to gesture along with me, or make funny sounds with their mouths to warm their lips to make new sounds. Now they joke and laugh, and ask questions about which prepositions are appropriate, prompting an un-prepared lesson mid-class. That's one of my favorite things (even if I'm less knowledgeable on the rules surrounding prepositions than I'd like to be; those buggers are difficult!): when the class leads the lesson, and my plan is pushed to the back-burner, and their curiosity, their piecing together of language takes precedence.
With the advanced students, I'm being educated as much as any of them. I know that's cliche, but I mean literally, they are better than I college course analyzing Kurdish culture, history and the future of Kurdistan. Two students gave presentations today (as they often do), on topics of their choosing. This ended up being about traditional marriage and the Citadel at the center of Erbil city. The Citadel is the oldest continually inhabited structure in the world, having housed residents for over 8,000 years. And marriage-- as with everything in Kurdistan--is rapidly changing, but dragging the past along with it.
I came here straight off the train from university- a week between graduation celebrations and boarding the plane. I barely touched down at home before I was off again, and for the first time in my life, I miss home in a profound way.
I miss the place, the lakes of the summer, the beach near my grandmother's (several hours from where my parents live, but still home). I miss both my cats, though one's been gone for 2 years now. But mostly, I miss being home with my family. Its funny that at this age, just out of school, I am not living back at home out of necessity as I often thought I would. I will likely live there for a while upon my return, but I'll be going because -- though I wish to visit many lands-- there is honestly no where else I'd rather be, and no one else I'd rather make time for than my family great and small. It's funny to be young and know that. I love them, but I have never felt too tethered. I've been away from home for longer than I am now. But being gone, the luxury of spending time will never be wasted on me again.
I am profoundly grateful that I have an opportunity to realize that, about them and about myself. I am grateful to have such a challenge that will open doors within myself, and hopefully professionally. I am grateful to live with people I care about, who cook food for each other, in a place where the fruit is fresh, the people hospitable. I am grateful that my housing, my flight, and my lunch every day is paid for, so I am able to save all the (potentially tax-free) money I earn.
I am trying to enjoy the opportunity while I'm here, and not just count down days. I know I'll miss things when I'm gone. I'll regret it if I hole myself up all the time. I'll regret it if I don't explore. So far, I've been surviving. But I don't want to waste time. If I found out I will die next week, I'd want to go home and see my family. But I wan this place to give them a run for their money.
So far, things I love include; sandwiches with eggplant on fresh bread (they cost about 80 cents!); the bustle of the bazaar, dates, lolling about my boss' house as a well-taken-care-of guest; the food (particularly the breakfast spread) at my boss'; his two-year old daughter's mischievous smile; doing stretches and acrobatics with his older kids; back-rubs with Sara and Bekah; meals together; the light at sunset; men in traditional Kurdish clothing; the man playing saz in the music shop; the $50 guitar Bekah and I bought; that row of houses with streetlights you can see from our window, that looks like an Old West town after dark. How much sky we have, horizon to horizon.
Performed by the one and only Pete Seeger. Making me giggle a lot this morning.
Particularly appropriate after I spent a good 10 minutes yesterday trying to explain what a driveway is to my beginners. I didn't understand why it was such a difficult concept but English is "the only language where you drive on a parkway and park in a driveway."
One of my favorite places in Erbil is the music store beneath the citadel, across from the bazaar. Its a tiny room filled with instruments, run by two friendly men who are also incredibly talented musicians. In the picture, its the door with colorful windows furthest to the left (right above the pedestrian's head).
I bought a baglama (the instrument pictured above) and am learning to play it. The man at the shop does not speak any English (and I only know a couple words in Kurdish) so the lessons are non-verbal. He plays and I try to copy. Always a highlight of my week!
City center at night. The Citadel in the background is said to have been continuously inhabited for over 8,000 years.