Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Struggle for Survival and some Iraqi Lesson Learned, Ankawa, Erbil, 011211

It is a re-post as I found it on the drafts--
I am trying not to miss the details of Iraqi daily life, whether among Kurdish, Arab or Assyrian. Sometimes, I have the feeling that I am not in Iraq, in this blend of cultures, languages and peoples. The other day, one of my Kurdish co-workers came into the office, where there were three of us. He asked something in Kurdish to my other coworker, who didn't know the answer, so he repeated the question in Arabic to the other girl,  I was curious and asked him what was the question, so  for the third time he repeated it in English, only to hear that none of us could help him after he asked in Kurdish, Arabic and English.

Oftentimes it is funny, but sometimes can be very challenging. I have been improving my Arabic and learning some Kurdish. Some of my coworkers don't speak any English or Arabic, so it is really funny how I resort to creative ways of communication. I am trying to teach Sarbas, one of my co-workers , some English; sign language has proved effective for this purpose. The other day, I was talking to him in English and he was replying to me in Kurdish, and I was able to understand that he is from Suleymania, but he lived some time in Iran. He is originally from Halabja, the town that Saddam bombed with chemical weapons in 1988 (that's why his family went to Iran). He was there during 2009, when the big protests happened. Everybody here has a story, often a sad one, but they still go on, well, they don't have any other option.

Iraqis are lovely people just trying to find their way and live in this though environment. I have to say that it has been harder than Palestine. Is tough being a woman, especially in this closed, man dominated society. Women here don’t enjoy many freedoms or opportunities, they are fed up, often depressed and live under constant pressure and fear from society. They have to care about their reputation and what will people around think about them. If a woman do not wear the hijab, she is of doubtful reputation. She does not enjoy the freedom to talk to guys, to interact with male friends, because this is simply not acceptable. If she is not married at a certain age, maybe there is something wrong with her. If she likes to do something but their family does not agree, she does not have any right to do it and ultimately is her family who decides for her. For example, if she falls in love with a guy, but her family, for any reason, does not like the guy, they cannot continue the relationship, and this can even lead to the girl´s killing if she dares to disagree. They will take away the little freedoms she has (talking to her friends, etc.).

In more conservative places like Mosul or other provinces, women are harassed by neighbors or religious people and asked, why they work, or don't wear the hijab. If they want to live a normal life, they have to move, often away from their family and friends, to another city, where they don’t know anyone and they are also vulnerable because they fear that if someone recognizes them and they know they live alone (which is also unthinkable before marriage), something can happen to them or to their families that allowed them some “freedom”. Their families also suffer from this, knowing that their daughter lives alone and that at any time something can happen to her. They have to struggle with the pressure from their community/neighbors.

Even I have been a 'victim' of this pressure, and most of the time, I have to stick to the Iraqi rules. About a month ago, I met an Iraqi friend, whom I first met at UConn two years ago. He took me to the old city in Erbil and we walked around the market, it reminded me of the old city in Jerusalem. I was so excited to see him after 2 and a half years and as we were crossing the street, I said to him: “Oh my God, I am so happy to see you”, and I held his arm, (you know how expressive I am), and he almost screamed at me: “Not in front of all these people”. I am not used to contain my feelings and is very hard for me to deal with such a conservative society. He was trying to explain to me that this culture is very gender segregated because of its religious traditions. This is not always the case and depends on the family, but in general you don’t have any physical contact with men that are not your close relatives. I mean, I agree there has to be some rules, like in any ordered society, but complete segregation brings many problems. Since the interactions are forbidden, men are hungry for women and any women that they see alone, they will try to harass her.

When I went back home from Erbil to Ankawa, I took a taxi. I was going to sit in the front seat, but my friend advised me to sit in the back. Thank God, because that saved me of what was coming next....I asked the taxi driver what music was being played on the radio because I couldn’t tell if it was Arabic or Kurdish, he said it was Kurdish. I pulled a Kurdish music CD that I just got from the market and gave it to the driver. Kurdish music is very sticky and I could not help but to start dancing. WRONG....The man asked me in Kurdish (wara—come), to go and sit in the front, which I of course refused, so he tried to put his hand on my knee, and I yelled at him, NO!!!

So, that means that I could not dance because that means that I want something else with the taxi driver???? NO!!!!! Men are so desperate in such a segregated society, that any woman that smiles or even look at them is vulnerable to this behavior. That's not acceptable....So, as for me, no more dancing in public, no more smiling and no more looking at people’s eyes.....Too tough for a Latin woman. At least I will never sit in the front seat of a taxi, I learned that lesson......

Sometimes I feel I don't want to leave, and sometimes I just feel I want to run away, that I just want to sit in a cafe and talk to my friends about all the things I am experiencing here, living, eating, sleeping, working among Iraqis. How privileged and blessed we are. Yesterday, I was holding a little girl, from Khabat, she was so cute. Her father was killed two years ago; her mother, so young and widow!!!! But she was still smiling....These are the complexities of Iraq; a country, that makes me cry and laugh, that I am still struggling to understand, but also make me reflect about so many things. Sometimes I miss Palestine and wish to be there. Even though is hard, I am holding on, to every moment, every person, every story and every image, so I can later recount them to you. Its hard to keep every detail, but I am trying to do my best.

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