My Kurdish residency card. Proof that the tales are true!
Hello Friends, Family, Random Strangers Who Happen Across My Blog!
This post has been a long time coming; I've been teaching overseas for more than a month now, and meaning to blog the whole time. The first few weeks, I was too busy scrambling to figure out how to do my job and adjust to a new culture. And then I wanted to write a really in-depth clever post about why I'm here and what I am doing, which became intimidating and I just thought about writing instead of actually writing. So this post is my “just-do-it-even-if-it's-not-your-best-writing” post. This way, I'll have something started, and then it will become easier to add bits and pieces more frequently (I hope... I'm only here for two more months, and a two-post blog isn't much of a blog at all...).
But what exactly is a blog? How polished should it be? This is being published on the internet with my name attached to it, so it should be good. But are we talking about a good first-draft, 'that's-the-best-email-I've-read-in-a-while' good or well-crafted nonfiction essay good? I don't know! I'd like it if all my writing was New Yorker worthy, but but in the interest of actually posting something before the end of my time here, I'm gonna go for more of the 'rambling email' standard. I might then go back and use some of it as source material for future writing. So think of this more as being privy to my notes in (more-or-less) real time, and less as polished prose.
As Julie Andrews once said “Let's start at the very beginning.” But Julie, I don't have time to explain the entire history of the universe! Let's actually skip ahead to “where are you and why?”
I am in Kurdistan. I'll pause while you google that. (I'm not trying to underestimate your geography skillz, but if you are like I was in February when my former roommate told me she was moving here, you'll have enough of an idea to be like “Oh yeah, Kurdistan! Totally.” But then Wikipedia will be really helpful.)
Back? Okay, I'll summarize: Kurdistan is the homeland of the Kurdish people, and it includes parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Kurds are a minority group. I am in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is a semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq. Up until the US invasion in 2003, the Kurdish North was being bombed by Saddam Hussein, and many Kurds left to lived in Iran, Turkey and other parts of the world. In 2005, the Kurdistan Regional Government was formed, and they now have control of nearly all internal affairs.
The country is young and, by Middle-Eastern standards, quite moderate. Every Kurd I speak to about religion loves to tell me how there are many religions here; most Kurds are Muslim, but there is a Christian district in Erbil (the capital city, where I now reside); I have not met any Kurdish Jews (Jewish Kurds? I'm not sure which is correct), but I've been told they exist, and I've also heard of many old religions whose names I've not yet learned, but which are practiced in particular areas. People seem proud of their diversity and tolerance.
Among the Muslim Kurds, there is a spectrum of how observant, and in which ways. My workplace is heavily male-dominated, but of the (six?) women there, about half wear headscarves and half don't (actually, because it is Ramadan now, nearly all of them do, but before last week it was about 50/50, not including us Americans). Most people fast during Ramadan, but not everyone. I get the sense that, as in America, a lot of it is personal or familial preference.
So, why am I in Kurdistan? Adventure and employment, mostly.
The whole thing happened rather quickly. As a second-semester senior graduating from the theatre department- nay! As a young person with any sort of degree- I had little hope of gainful employment straight out of school. But my former roommate who graduated early had, through a string of circumstances (she didn't like her job) and connections (her friend's father knew someone in who needed an employee), been hired to work for the Kurdish Regional Government's Protocol Unit. She was trying to set up a pilot English Language program for employees of the Protocol Unit, and that how I, in my last week of undergraduate classes, learned that I had a job. (I did, of course, put together a CV and apply for it...but I it was still a shock when I found out).
On May 25th I graduated from NYU/Tisch, and by June 9th I was flying Turkish Airways to Erbil via Istanbul. With a job waiting for me, and degree metaphorically in hand (the actual diploma has yet to arrive; it will be mailed to my mother's house later this summer, inshallah*), I lacked only an adequate knowledge of Middle Eastern culture and politics (I knew about as much as your average college grad not studying a related field; that is, what I hear on NPR occasionally), and any earthly notion of how to teach English.
Stay tuned for more, and Happy Ramadan!
Oh, and Happy Bastille Day to all you French patriots out there.
*inshallah is an oft used phase meaning "God willing".