Day 244: Kurdish Hospitality

Nashar busy tailoring away…

I stared out the backseat window of Nashar’s car, pondering over the events of the last 24 hours, whilst he drove us for a second time to dinner. Iraqi Kurdistan has been a real eye-opener and one of my most memorable destinations.

I was lost in thought as Nashar pulled over. The door opened, and in joined Mohammed and Ahmet, breaking the silence with their Kurdish chattering and singing. I had no idea what they were on about but it didn’t matter – we belonged.

8,000 year old citadel overlooks the Kurdish capital of Arbil

Nashar and his son Ahmet runs a small tailoring shop in Arbil, just under the hotel we stayed at. We arrived last night looking for the hotel entrance when they waved us in and invited us to tea. This type of hospitality toward complete strangers is common in the Middle East but Nashar extended the welcome by taking us out for dinner and treating us breakfast this morning. And so it was that our time in Arbil revolved around this little tailor shop, watching women bring in their husbands’ trousers for mending, mothers fixing up a new pair for their sons, and men waiting for their friends to be fitted with a new suit.

Busy Arbil

Apart from watching locals go about their daily lives, we were also watched by amused locals. I felt like a life-size cardboard celebrity as I got swarmed by young dudes wanting a photo together. It was like our wedding day, taking pictures with people i’ve never met – smile, snap, sopass (thanks), handshake, bye. But it was entertaining, sometimes sobering, when we had a chance to strike up a little convo. We met not only Kurdish but also several Arab Iraqis from Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad – all hotspots of insurgent terrorist activity. “It is home”, a simple answer to my seemingly irrelevant question of why they carry on living there.

Risking our lives to visit Iraqi Kurdistan would be an overstatement – there is a safe stable atmosphere in general. Several security checkpoints scattered across the region provide a feeling of security but the sight of armed Peshmergas (Kurdish military) is a frequent reminder to stay alert. They are all very amicable though, welcoming us to Kurdistan – probably the only place on earth where national security personnel smile.

The biggest smile I’ve ever seen

The Kurds also turned out to be the most affectionate people I have ever met. It is not uncommon to see young men holding hands, an expression of genuine brotherhood that would be interpreted otherwise in Western society. It was here I felt friendships purer than gold, where people were selfless and altruistic – values that are so very sadly lost in all modern, capitalistic & opportunistic societies. These are worth defending and I am beginning to understand why some would choose to die to protect such values.

Iraqi children in Amadiya village

The more I think about it, the more I begin to see Mid East as a hotbed of oxymorons. Western media paints these lands with images of suicide bombings yet the concept of peace couldn’t be more centric to daily life here. Salaam aleykum, peace be upon you, is standard greeting across the Mid East and even for outsiders we are greeted with blessings of peace, a warm smile, a welcoming nod and oftentimes even palm on heart. Why this region, home to such pure friendships, continues to be ripped apart by violence, is something I will never understand.

Travel Info

Shared taxis to Arbil depart outside the Bircin Hotel. IR15,000 per person (~USD13), 2.5 hrs travel time. We left at around 3pm and had no problems waiting for the cab to fill up. The drivers aren’t suicidal (although when overtaking they seem to be) and won’t go through Mosul. However, doesn’t pay to double confirm when you get on!


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3 Comments

  1. Rafzana says:

    It's so nice to read about your experiences. Looking forward to read more!

  2. Leslie says:

    what a great experience of the great hospitality!

  3. Hawal says:

    Thats my country :’)

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