Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Eat, Love and Pray in Iraqi-Kurdistan--031411, Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan

Drinking my tears of anger, frustration and sadness. I don’t know how to deal with all the realities that I have in front of me. Many peoples; many stories. Stories that I am part of, but I wish they were not happening. Not even violent stories or people being hurt physically. It’s all an internal struggle for survival. A struggle to survive in a very tough environment, full of discrimination, fear and violence against women.

A Kurdish guy, frustrated because he is not able to provide better for his family, a very low salary job, his son with a very uncommon disease, trapped in a life that he can’t manage, overwhelmed by the political situation, a corrupted government that imprisons, torture and suppresses all opposition, despite calling itself a democracy. He does not see a way out. He wants to provide a good education and good opportunities for his children, but how.

A Kurdish girl, who’s living in constant fight with the society around her. She challenges the conventional wisdom that a girl needs to marry and take care of her husband and children. She wants to be independent, travel and learn how to help other women that are facing the same challenges as her. She doesn’t like to wear the veil, but she forced to, for the sake of not harming her family’s reputation. Her job is very stressful and challenging. She is constantly afraid of making mistakes and making her boss angry. She hopes to find an ideal man that can understand her and can be open to the fact that she wants to continue working and wants to travel and know the world.

A guy from Baghdad-an internally displaced person-like many here in Erbil, he came running away from violence and trying to survive inside Iraq (as an Iraqi and is extremely hard to go abroad). He used to have a clothes shop in the market in Baghdad, but because all the violence and explosions, the market was closed. He is away from his family; both his parents are sick. His brother in law is in jail and his sister has 4 children. He has not married because he does not have enough money to pay the dowry to be able to get a wife. He left school at an early age to work. Now, alone and away from his loved ones, not speaking the [Kurdish] language-which leaves him with less work opportunities- he has to survive in odd jobs, working 17 hours a day. He cannot complain and has to accept this, otherwise he will not be able to stay in Erbil and has to return to Baghdad.

An Iraqi girl, who also is fighting the society, she is charming and beautiful, very independent and speaks herself out. She fights for her right to be free and independent, in a society that criticizes those two qualities if seen in a woman. She struggles to keep a good job and to be able to be out of the controlling eye of her supervisor that follows her in every step, and tries to decide for her what is good or bad.

Aother Iraqi girl, she confronts a conservative society that dictates the rules that women have to follow. She says there is a line and you have to walk in that line, you have to respect society. She tries to keep herself busy to hide her emptiness. She dreams of going abroad to find her freedom. She does not blame her family whom she says are very supportive and open. She loves fashion and has found here in Kurdistan a place where she is free to wear what she wants without fearing the society’s criticism. She is very kind and loving and wishes to find a husband that takes care and understands her.

A society that still operates on a tribal base and that calls itself a democracy. A system that favors only some; those who are supporters of the ruling elites. Everything is controlled by a few that hold the power and benefit from the resources of the country. The government is opening the door for foreign investment because of its own interest and benefit, but this has its consequences: a very traditional society opening to development and globalization but yet close-minded. We don’t know yet how this will impact Kurdish society, but what we know is that this rapid economic growth brings injustice; there is no equality in the redistribution of income.

Weak institutions that only serve the interests of the few, the few that have connections to those with power. If you need something done, you need contacts, or otherwise, things are really hard to manage. On the entrance of the Ministry of Interior, where I went to get my visa, there is a woman with her children crying for help, she does not have any connections, nor she knows anyone in the government who can help her. While there are a lot of foreign workers who come to improve their life opportunities here, there are some locals, often women and children, begging on the street. I told my co-worker, if we keep going out, we will be broke, because every time we go out, there is a person who is asking for money.

International Organizations that only seek to stabilize the government because is on their best interest to have a “democracy” on an oil producer country. They are investing millions of dollars in “peace building” and “democracy promotion”, but people is too busy worried on trying to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, trying to get a job to provide for their family.

I guess I am upset in a way. At least I have many opportunities, as I happen to live in a democratic country [I didn't have a choice]. I can travel freely, follow my dreams…..but my friends here can’t [they didn't get to choose either].

This is a beautiful country, with a rich history, culture and great people, but also a sad history of war, genocide and fighting. My only wish is that democracy will come to Kurdistan from a freely elected government, not from fear of the past or tribalism. There is a need for the development of strong institutions that support civil society and participation in an environment that is inclusive of all, men and women. This will take time… on the meantime, I’m here, listening, sharing my sadness, tears and stories, that one day people read them and know how I feel as I Eat, Love and Pray in Iraqi-Kurdistan!!

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