Tag Archives: kurdish

Fiddling While Rome Burns or Let Them Eat Cake


I have two phrases that I use when I find myself slightly confused by something Kurdish.

The first, “Zor Kurdi” (Very Kurdish) I used when a Kurdish friend of mine insisted that we enter the memorial museum in Halabja via the clearly unmanned security kiosk. It wasn’t a big diversion, but it seemed unnecessary and smacked of the kind of indoctrinated behaviour I naturally rail against. A small thing, we can agree, but so are the mosquitoes currently feasting upon me.

Secondly, “Bexerbet Kurdistan” (Welcome to Kurdistan) I use to illustrate something that feels unique to the region. On the roads, for example, when taxis creep to an almost imperceptible speed going over any crack in the road; a regular driver of mine once slowed for a shadow cast by election bunting. Or the honking at the lights, three seconds before they turn green – such patience for speed bumps, and glorious anxiety to get on the move elsewhere.

These oddities don’t annoy me; they almost always cause a wry smile. It’s a part of travelling and living abroad, to appreciate the differences. And as a guest here, I try to steer clear of criticising my hosts. I am sensitive to both the hard work that is being done to improve a young proto-state and to my own privilege of having been bought up in a country with a long-established (admittedly now creaking under successive self-interested governments, but enough of that) social and physical infrastructure.

A street nearby in Ankawa has recently had the start of a sewerage system installed. My mind struggles to conceive of the enormity of this project, of the necessary chaos the groundworks will bring. It’s brilliant that it’s being done, and whilst I have very little knowledge of the intricacies of such an operation, I hope it’s being done with foresight and to the highest standard possible. These literal foundations are going to define the KRG, and a poor job is going to reflect laughably on a city irritatingly labelled the ‘new Dubai’ – Hawler has history Dubai can only dream of, and in the rush for riches must not forget its personality.

So when a headline as unlikely as “French firm to build small Eiffel-style tower in Iraq” pops up in my daily Google alerts, my heart sinks. Why in the world does any city in Kurdistan, let alone Sulaymaniyah with its skyline defining Grand Millennium, need a replica Eiffel tower? Under the headline, something more annoying becomes clear.

“In line with investment laws in Kurdistan, foreign investors are asked to carry out a tourism project in the city where they intend to invest,” according to Yousuf Yassin, director of Sulaymaniyah municipality.

I understand the focus on tourism, I see that it’s a pillar worth building the new Kurdistan on. It’s a beautiful country, with some good quality hiking in the areas safe from mines. And the 300 square kilometres that remain dangerous are being cleared, slowly. Perhaps the French firm should be required to make a substantial donation to MAG or one of the other organisations working in this arena?

The streets of the cities and towns in Kurdistan are regularly and well-maintained and in the capital there are moves to create more green spaces to compliment the parks that are already here – but what of the can and bottle strewn disasters on the mountains of Goizha and Azmaar? Why not have investors plunge their social responsibility funds into public education films and litter-pick initiatives? Perhaps a larger, more comprehensive education programme that addresses water scarcity and the folly of hosing down streets?

As I approach the end of my third year living here, I’m asked how long I intend to stay. My answer is that I will stay as long as I’m welcome. I use an idiom, ‘if it’s not broken, why fix it?’ to describe my situation. That doesn’t apply to the region though, and whilst measures are in place and initiatives have started, I can’t help but think that some of the foreign investment could be put to better use.

And then, something zor Kurdi will be most welcoming.

My Ocelot Column, The Second Quarter


May
I blame the editor, it’s entirely his fault, the bastard. Well, I’ll put my hands up to 1% – I emailed last month’s scribblings in, and failed to make clear that my last line wasn’t for publication. It read “I’ll try to be funny next month” as I was getting all pent up and worthy about antiquity being drowned in the search for power (not a metaphor, oddly). It was meant as an aside for him alone, but somehow made the magazine. At least I’m not deluded enough to have over-qualified it with ‘again’.
Leaves me with a quandary though – where can I go from here? I’ve heard a few Kurdish and Iraqi jokes in my time here, some need a little cultural explanation, some are a bit lame and whilst I have free rein here, the banana one is a bit too…oh fuck it, I’ll say it, the banana joke is too fruity.

So we have lost an old dame since we last met, and certainly there has been a lot of mirth and merry-making since that elegantly-coiffed old bastard shuffled off their mortal coil. In fairness, and in life, Richard Griffiths was a happily married man, but he will always be the frightening, camp and indulgent Uncle Monty to me. For those of us a few years either side of forty, Withnail & I remains a tragicomic feature of our adolescence. The gut-aching stoner giggles, tempered by the I-must-get-my-shit-together paranoia of the final scenes. So, here’s hoping the editor does a reverse on me this month and cuts my final word, as by all accounts, RG was the antithesis of Uncle Monty and anything but “a terrible…”

June
I was something of a winter baby, that’s to say I was a surprise (or, as my siblings put it “a mistake”) to my parents as they got settled into their forties. Dad, free from the RAF was working for the GPO, because letters and letters are important, and Mum had opened a nursing home in Malmesbury. My arrival didn’t throw anything off the rails, and I was lucky to grow up with many delightful proxy grandparents, alongside some marvellously batty ones. I’ll never forget being given some keys by Tom, and told to me go and get the truck. I wanted to, but I didn’t know where the truck was, and at 5 my feet wouldn’t have got to the pedals. I remember Mum physically tackling him on more than one occasion, as his confusion darkened. She’s tough like that, working as homes for adults with challenging behaviours well into her 70s. She was felled by a one inch step last month, glasses conspiring to leave her needing over 100 stitches in her forehead. When away, no one wants the email, “Mum’s had a fall, call now.” I called, and she joked about looking like the bride of Frankenstein and has continued to stun me with her resilience since. She insisted on having those stitches under local as well – God love her, she’s harder than I could ever hope to be.

July
It’s alive! She flies! My mid-life crisis disguised as a business idea has taken off. We’ve all heard of drones and the seemingly arbitrary terror that they rain down across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. You might not know so much about the use of multi-rotor ‘copters as aerial photography platforms. Connected as I am to a photo agency over here, I have been expounding the virtues of these machines for many a month, and in October last year we had a client with a requirement. Investigations were made, and although we missed out on that particular job, we ordered a hexacopter and sent it to the UK. I bought it back in January (customs were very obliging when I told them it was a toy for a friend’s son) and got it out of the box. It needed a little extra construction and we fiddled and diddled, but still couldn’t get the transmitter and receiver to talk to one another. It’s been sat on my table for the best part of 6 months, a silent white elephant, goading me for being a techno dunce, and one $2,000 out of pocket at that. And then I asked an engineer at a bar the other night, who by chance knows exactly what he’s doing. First client has agreed – happens to be the client from October and Project Halo is go! (Halo means eagle in Kurdish, see what I’ve done there?) STOP PRESS: Guess which dongbonnet crashed his hexacopter on the first job?