Saturday, September 26, 2009

Second Blog posting from Iraq

Carl writing; Carolyn in brackets.
We have recently gone through the three day holiday called Eid al-Fitr, the period of celebration and feasting that follows the month of fasting called Ramadan. During Ramadan, observant Muslims do not eat or drink during the daylight hours. Eid is a major holiday when many stores close, and at the university, many offices were closed to allow local employees time with family. This link to an AP story will give you some indication of the meaning of the holiday, and also the role that the Kurdish area of the country is playing in the larger Iraqi way of life:
The new American-style university referred to in the article is, of course, AUIS, and we are pleased to be part of what it is bringing to this part of the country, and hopefully to the rest of Iraq.

In this report, I will concentrate on two topics: the university and shopping for essentials. There are more photos at and I will refer to several of them as I write.

AUIS started classes in the spring of 2008 with 50 students. This fall, we have 500. About 400 of these students are in an English language preparation program while the remaining 100 students are in undergraduate degree programs. It is the latter group of students that Carolyn and I will be working with. All of our students for the fall term were in regular undergrad courses in the spring term so we will not be dealing with any first time freshman students. I will be teaching the second half of a course in the history of the West/World. Carolyn will be teaching the second half of accounting and assisting the business office of the university in setting up accounting systems.

The university has gone from one main administration building to an administration building plus lots of modular structures for classrooms and faculty offices to accommodate the rapid growth in the number of students. I have included a photo of the administration building. Classes start tomorrow, Sunday, September 27th. The normal work week is Sunday through Thursday, with Friday and Saturday constituting the weekend. We look forward to the beginning of work with students. {We intend on sharing a little about our lives back home by way of power point slides which we will share in class.}

Getting the necessities: We have now been to Zaras three times to stock up on food and other household items. Zaras (see photo above) is a two story store that sells a little bit of everything: food, clothing, housewares, small electric appliances. It is a very small version of a Walmart Superstore. Having all this under one roof is most helpful. But we cannot depend on finding the same things there from week to week. In our first trip, there was no ground beef, but we found some English cookies (biscuits) that we like. Yesterday, there was ground beef but no cookies. We have been advised that if a store has something we really like, to buy it now, knowing it may not be available later. We have also been to the bazaar section of the city, a much older section, where lots of things are available, but only by doing a lot of walking from one group of stores to another. All of the meat sellers are grouped together – an interesting experience to walk through after living in a society that isolates the messy and gory parts of butchering from those of us who ultimately purchase a sanitized package of meat in the grocery story. {We saw live chickens and turkeys as well as ones who had just been killed.} Others sellers are likewise grouped together: cell phone sellers, baby clothes sellers, etc. {The average shop is the width of a king-size bed and about twice as deep.}

The products we consume come from all over the world. As you might expect, lots of stuff from China, but then frozen fish from Vietnam, pickled vegetables from Iran, honey and salt from Saudi Arabia, apricot jam from Syria, pots and pans from France and Turkey. To date we have not paid a lot of attention to the prices that we are paying for what we purchase. We need it, there really is no meaningful way to price shop, so we buy it.

I close this second blog with a reference to the third of the photos included above. We had just purchased some dried apricots from the young man in the photo. He agreed to a photo. The apricots are delicious, as are fresh fruits like water melon and muskmelon.
We are well. We wish you all the best, and thank you for Blog comments even when this medium does not allow for individual comments.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

First message sent from Iraq

Carl speaking--Carolyn in brackets: This is our first communication from Sulaimani. We approach all that we are communicating to you with the expertise of people who have been on the ground here for less than a week.First a word about the name of our town. It shows up on Google earth and on area maps as as-Sulaymaniyah, the Arabic version of the word. Around here the word used is Sulaimani, the Kurdish version of the word. But I have also seen it spelled Slemani, and for short lots of people around here just say Suli. So for purposes of this blog, I will use the latter, since it is easier to write and takes up less space. If you are wanting see an aerial photo of the city, go to Google Earth and type in the Arabic name of the city, and the software will “fly” you to Suli. We are located just off of the main road leading west out of town, outside the ring road that goes around the city, and close to the airport which is just west of us.The first two pictures were taken at our “villa” that is part of a development called Qaiwan City. A wealthy person who is helping the university has gifted the use of a number of these villas to the university, and they in turn allow us to live here at no cost. It is quite large and unfurnished for its size but has all that we need. The vision of the architect was a luxury villa, but the reality is a place that though it has very solid walls, a grand circular stairway and shiny marble floors, etc., is badly finished: poorly sealed windows {therefore dirt everywhere inside the villa} around which you can see light from the outside, light switches that operate nothing, doors that open and close on their own because the supporting wall is not perpendicular. One of the things we are learning of house construction here is that they do not put traps in the drains of bathroom sinks and showers, so some fairly unpleasant odors greet us in the bathrooms {and me with a sensitive nose.} Altogether, though, it is a nice place to live but we feel cut off from the rest of the city. Incidentally, we dress more modestly outside the villa complex than we are in the second shot so as not to give offense to residents of the area.
The currency here is the Iraqi dinar. The exchange rate is about 1,200 dinars to one US dollar so the 25,000 dinar note of which is the third of the above shots is worth about $21.00. When making our first round of grocery purchases it was hard to get used to laying out tens of thousands of dinars without at first having a sense of panic that I have made a mistake, and then having to re-adjust my thinking as to how much things really cost. A 1,000 dinar purchase is less than one dollar. The smallest denomination is 250 dinars, worth about 20 cents US. There are no coins. Cash is used for everything; credit cards simply are not used anywhere {and I am supposed to teach accounting.} I can only imagine the sheer volume of paper money a large store will accumulate in the course of a day’s sales. US dollars are accepted in many stores, as long as we are willing to accept change in dinars.
As the possibility of coming here first presented itself to us, among our earliest concerns was the issue of security. A number of friends and family expressed the same concern. We hear so much about violence in Baghdad, and now most recently in the nearby city of Kirkuk. Suli experienced one suicide bombing a couple of years ago in one of the large western hotels, but otherwise has been free of the kind of violence that the central part of Iraq has experienced. To be sure, American University of Iraq –Sulaimani (henceforth AUIS) takes security seriously and has engaged a number of Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia-turned-army, to staff guard posts at the entrance of the university, where the guards use a mirror mounted on a pole to check for bombs that might have been planted on the underside of a vehicle entering the university grounds. In our villa complex there are Peshmerga guards armed with Russian Kalishnikov rifles at the entrance gate and at each end of the streets of villas occupied by AUIS faculty and staff. They are friendly men and on one occasion we encountered a guard who wanted to practice his English with us. {I hope one of them will allow me to take his picture someday. We have been very careful not to take pictures of a sensitive nature.} But all discussion of guards and security taken into account, we are able to move about without a hint of hostility. The faculty who live in a residential hotel near the university are encouraged to take the 10 minute walk to the university if they prefer not to ride on the minibus that the university provides. We have twice been in a crowded bazaar section of the city and we have walked through a small village near where we live and we have never felt the least threatened. In fact the opposite has occurred. People with some knowledge of English have come to our assistance when we are struggling to make ourselves understood about a particular item we are attempting to purchase. It is too early to make solid pronouncements, but all of the early indications are that as long as we exercise some caution, we will be just fine.We send this first posting with our deep appreciation for your love and friendship and promise that others will follow. If there are aspects of life you are curious about, let us know. I have posted additional pictures at this website:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Getting ready to leave

It is official now: we will be leaving the U.S. on September 13th and arrive in Sulaimani in the morning of September 15th after an overnight stay in Amman, Jordan. So, only 11 more days in the U.S. Carolyn has been hard at work arranging our business affairs so our son Christopher and his wife Bettie can take care of things for us in our absence. It has not been until we think through all of the issues of utilities, insurance, taxes, mail, and house and yard upkeep that we understand how much of our time is taken up with the business of living. I have new appreciation for the efforts of persons who join the Peace Corps or become missionaries for extended periods of time.

We now have our teaching schedules for the fall term. Carolyn will be teaching two sections of managerial accounting and working with the business office operation, and I will be teaching three sections of the second half of their west/world civilization course which is required of all students. Having gotten out of teaching survey courses 20 years ago, I am amazed and impressed with the on-line resources available to professors and students. Nevertheless, I am still bringing with me several hundred digital images on CD-roms to supplement what I do in the classes.

Planning on packing has proven a challenge. We know that there are four distinct seasons in Sulaimani, so we have to bring winter clothes as well as warm weather clothes for the early summer weeks. We have always tried to travel light but on this occasion we will have to be carrying a lot of clothes and other materials needed for living there. The attached photo of our mammoth suicases gives you an idea of how much we will be carrying.

In addition to our personal effects, I intend to bring several books that I need for teaching. Given the weight of books I am forced to keep my wish list of teaching materials short. We have Amazon Kindles for recreational reading and for downloading the Washington Post on a daily basis.

Planning on leaving reminds us of all we will be leaving behind for nine months: family, friends, home, familiar routines, clean water, etc. But we are looking forward with anticipation to the new that will be coming into our lives.

We will send our next post after we arrive in Iraq.

For those wanting to know more about the region where we will be living, you might check out these URLs: