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:


  1. Hi Carl and Carolyn!

    It is nice to see you are settled in your new, albeit temporary home.

    Tonya, David, Stephen and Keira

  2. This is so great that you can have this experience. Love seeing the pictures. Will miss you both.
    Imy and Dwayne Rhule

  3. Thanks for the pictures. I will be anxious to hear about food preparation and purchasing when you get time. All is well here. You are in our thoughts and prayers. Nancy and Steve

  4. I like Dinar.and its revaluation of currency.