Monday, October 26, 2009

Sixth Blog, October 26, 2009

Sixth Blog – Monday, October 26, 2009.

Carl writing:
I’m not sure how much longer we can keep up with a weekly blog and still find things that might be of general interest, but at least for this blog, hopefully there will be something of interest to most, even if the topic is less than cheery and light.

This week we went to a Saddam Hussein-era complex of buildings in the center of Suli. They are the only buildings we have seen that bear any marks of war. Now called the Red Museum, when it was first built 30 years ago, the German company who built it was told that it was to be a prison. In fact, Saddam had other intentions. He was frustrated with the emergence of new Kurdish nationalist movements and determined to root them out. So over the period from 1979 to January 1991 this complex became a feared place to which many persons suspected of involvement in Kurdish nationalism were sent, but from which few ever came home. Within the complex are two sets of buildings: a large, multi-story administrative center, and off to the north of it, a fairly common, rather prosaic low concrete building with few windows. It was in through cells and rooms of the latter building that we were taken. It was pointed out that some cells were for groups; others were intended as solitary confinement places for persons who were reluctant to answer questions. All were grim, to say the least. A simple blanket on the floor; a single window about 6” by 6” high on the wall; two plastic pans, one for food, the other for human waste. Intermixed were torture rooms in which prisoners were treated to tortures as old as the type used in the late middle ages in Europe to extract confessions from persons who were accused of witchcraft. This torture was called, in Europe, strappado, in which the victim has his hands tied behind his back, and then is hung by his hands from a hook, so all the weight of the body is carried by the hands and shoulders with hands over the back of the head. Add to this the modern torture of electric shock to the ear lobes even as the person is hanging from a hook. In other situations, Baathists – Saddam’s henchmen – would bring to the prison female relatives of suspects and tell the prisoner that unless they confessed, the women would be raped in their presence, a particularly heinous retribution in a society that so values sexual modesty. Other forms of torture involved striking the soles of suspects’ feet with a rod. Persons found guilty were shipped off to Abu Graib prison in Baghdad for execution. (In several key rooms, they have created sculptures to illustrate what happened.) All of this was explained to us by a guide, with translation being provided by one of the AUIS students. It was a grim hour to be led from one room to another, all meticulously kept in the same condition they were in at the time of the liberation of the prison in January 1991. As you might guess, the Kurds who stood up to Saddam’s abuse even to the point of death are now considered martyrs to the cause of Kurdish nationalism and are revered as heroes. One of the parties he targeted, the Progressive Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is now a respected party in this region.

Saddam’s efforts against the Kurds became even more widespread in the 1980s, when he accused them of helping the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war. He began the Anfal campaign, to cleanse the area of Kurds. 5,000 villages were razed, families were torn apart, and over 180,000 Kurds lost their lives. (If you want to get sense of the period, rent and watch the movie called “Turtles Can Fly” that is built around the lives of children in a refugee camp.) One of the most tragic of situations occurred only 50 miles from here when Saddam ordered the use of nerve gas and mustard gas against the village of Halabja. Over 5,000 people lost their lives in Halabja. To memorialize the loss of lives in the Anfal campaign, the designers of the museum created a long and winding room that is lined with pieces of jagged pieces of mirror, one to stand for each of the 180,000 deaths, and on the ceiling are placed 5,000 white lights to represent the destroyed villages. One has the sense in this museum that it is, like Yad Vashem in Israel, an effort to say, “never again.”

But the Red Museum also has space dedicated to peace: a room full of dove houses – a place where doves, as symbols of peace and reconciliation, can come and go freely. It also has lovely gardens with fountains and rose gardens that stand in stark contrast to the horror of what happened here just a few years ago. What the museum seems to say is that Kurds want to remember, but they want to move on and live peacefully in Iraq. What we realize in talking with our students is that virtually all of their lives were impacted by the struggles of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, including a bloody civil war that took place between two Kurdish factions in the ‘90s, after the effective defeat of Saddam in this area.

The trip to the Red Museum could hardly be called joyful. But it served as a sober reminder of the struggles through which the people of this region have gone, and of the optimism that is the predominating trait of our students. They seem eager to put behind them the animosities of the past and to live as Kurds and Arabs in peace.

I have placed at the top of this blog three photos of the Red Museum: the first is of one of the group cells, the second is of a statue of a prisoner being hung from a hook, the third is of the hall of mirrors. Several more are at the Picasa web site:

If as you read this and previous posts you have questions that you would like for us to answer in future posts, feel free to write them as comments, or to write to our email addresses. While we can hardly claim to be experts, we will try to address questions on life here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fifth Blog, October 18, 2009

Carl writing. Having spent a lot time in previous blogs talking about navigating the process of shopping, food acquisition and preparation, and daily living, I’d like to devote a few lines in this fifth blog to people, and then offer a few other comments about life here. We will continue to do this in the future and introduce you to some of the folks with whom we interact on a regular basis.

I want to tell you about Mr. Osman Hassan. His picture is the first of those posted with this blog. We are told that one year ago, when AUIS was only in its first months of operation, the grounds around the administration building were an unkempt mess. Across from the building, is a small, attractive park, in which Mr. Hassan was the gardener. The university asked him to come help them out, and he became a full-time employee who has, by virtue of hard work, changed the grounds into a very attractive part of the life of the campus. He is on the grounds from early morning to late afternoon, watering grass and flowers, pulling weeds, and extending flower beds into new areas. He is very proud of what he does, and deservedly so. It is a pleasure to walk by him and share a smile with him each morning.

I also want to tell you about one of my students who for this purposes of this website, I will call Muhammad. He grew up in Baghdad where he went to an English language high school, and when the Coalition forces invaded in 2003, he was recruited to be a translator for U.S. forces. He did this for several years, until the U.S. forces were pulled back from active engagement in cities, and at that time made the decision to attend AUIS. When we were talking on the first day of class, and I told the class that I was from Indiana, he told me that his sister was attending a college in Indiana. On further inquiry, I learned that she is attending Manchester College, the very school where I taught for 18 years. Since then, I have learned from good friends, David and Becky Waas, that they are part of a group of senior citizens in North Manchester who have chosen to provide scholarship support for her. Talk about a small world.

I realize that it is easy to idealize a world that I don’t know well, but I want to mention an aspect of life in Sulaimani that I really appreciate. That is, the basic honesty that pervades business interactions. We have mentioned before that this is a cash only economy. No credit cards. No checks. The end result is that people have to carry around large amounts of cash just to go about their daily lives. Businesses, likewise, keep large amounts of cash as they make transactions through the day. In the bazaar, there are people changing money on the street who carry stacks of cash as they stand along the street seeking business. As much as I have tried to learn Kurdish numbers, so I can know how much to pay when I say “Bah chana?” (how much?), I struggle to understand any numbers other than simple numbers like “penj hezar” (five thousand), an amount that is slightly less than $5.00. A number like 750 or 1,250 is still difficult to hear and understand because there are too many numbers coming at me too quickly. But I have learned that all I have to do is open my billfold to them and allow them to take money out, and it all works. I have a general sense of what things ought to cost, and would know if a person were about to rip me off by taking ID 25,000 when the bill is only ID5,000, but after numerous transactions, I can say that this simply doesn’t happen. They are careful to take only the cost of the item being purchased. Another example: in one of our early trips to Zara Market, mentioned earlier in this blog, I left the cash register and the store before receiving change from a transaction in which I had used US dollars, because I wasn’t sure that I had any change coming to me. As we were getting into the university van to come back to our villa, someone came running from the store with my change in hand – not very much, less than $5.00 – but change nevertheless. I am impressed with this sense of honesty, and wonder how it gets taught so broadly in a culture. I am not so na├»ve as to believe that there are no problems with theft, but the prevailing attitude about the handling of money is refreshing.

One more story: my students have told me that fresh meat in the bazaar markets is fresher and less expensive than what is sold in large grocery stores. So yesterday, I got brave and decided to purchase ground beef from one of the meat merchants in the bazaar. I walked up to the butcher and asked for one kilo of ground beef [yuk (one) kilo, ghosht (meat), gueraca (cow), qima (ground)] . He actually understood me (!), picked up a knife and carved a chunk of meat from a side of beef hanging in the front of the store, then handed the meat to an assistant who ran it through a grinder. Within minutes, I had my 2.2 pounds of ground beef that really was more like ground round steak, with virtually no fat. Carolyn and I made patties from this meat last evening and had some very good fried hamburgers that were so lean, we had to add olive oil to the fry pan to keep the meat from sticking. The students were right. See the second of the pictures posted above for an image of this very proud butcher in his shop.

Must close this message and get ready for classes. More photos of this area and of the bazaar are posted in the Picasa picture website:

Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fourth Blog Message

Fourth Blog. Carolyn writing, {Carl in brackets} October 11, 2009

We’ve been here almost a month, and we are beginning to feel as if we have the managed to master the daily activities of shopping, food preparation, travel back and forth from our villa to the university or town with a reasonable sense of normalcy. I did miss my ride one morning last week because my key would not unlock the front door so I was locked into the villa. After much jiggling, I managed to break the lock loose and picked up the next van one half hour later. It is a good thing I always plan to leave some extra time so I still managed to get to class on time. It still isn’t the easiest to accept that one cannot travel about without making sure you are meeting a transportation schedule rather than running to the garage and firing up the auto!

My good friends at the Falls School of Business will love this story. Last week, I was explaining to the students why we needed to set up a petty cash account for Anderson ATV, Inc., the business simulation I wrote for my classes at AU. They asked me why that was necessary when every company in Iraq keeps huge sums of cash in the company safe. I tried to explain to them that the United States companies do not consider that a secure way of handling their cash so they keep most of their money in the bank. Therefore, keeping a small amount of petty cash for incidentals is necessary. One very bright young man sat there for a moment and finally said, “Is that the reason why, in American movies, the robbers always rob banks instead of companies?” After I recovered from the humor of it all, I answered in the affirmative and then told the class I had learned something today as well as they had. Teaching in another culture helps you be more aware of the reasons for why we do things the way we do them.

Carl and I finally feel as if we have managed to negotiate the bazaar (multiple blocks of streets and alleyways, labyrinth-like, full of shops that are 6x8 feet in size). We actually went twice this week—the first time with persons who are familiar with this place, the second time on our own. And we were able to find places we had visited the previous time. It felt very good to know that we were able to return someplace a second time without assistance. {In spite of our intention not to do so, we still ended going through the section of the bazaar where they trade in live chickens, ducks, and turkeys ready for slaughter. See comments below, and photo on other website.} We purchased one beautiful silk rug that we intend to use here to keep our tile floors warm; we will give it to our son and daughter-in-law when we return in appreciation for all they are doing to keep our finances straight back home. I even managed to communicate with one shop keeper that I wanted to purchase some curry. The spices are very rich but it is hard to know what you are buying when they are all sitting out together and the smells blend together in this rich aroma. We will include on the other website some pictures we took at the bazaar.

{See some new photos at

Note name change in URL to Living in Iraq. It hardly feels like Adventure is the right term. Let's try Living. I struggle over what pictures to post, or what to say about them. We do not want to say anything or post any pictures that seem to make the people of this community appear to be odd or weird or insensitive. They are extraordinarily hard-working folks who have in the past 25 years lived through an effort on the part of Saddam Hussein to destroy them and their culture, through a civil war, and who live in a labor intensive economy that has not, like ours, totally separated the messy side of slaughtering meats from the purchasing of nice, neat sanitized packages. I just wish it were possible to get motion pictures of some of the laborers hard at work carrying huge boxes, pushing over-loaded carts up hilly streets, repairing shoes at curbside, selling phone cards, or artfully arranging a variety of olives in such a way as to attract customers into a shop. I’m no economist, but I suspect that if we were to try to import the big-box economy U.S. into this setting, the social and economic repercussions would be devastating.}

We probably are socializing more than we do at home because we feel the need of community. We went out to dinner one night with the EWPLI staff – that is the English Writing Program staff who are teaching basic English writing skills and who tend to be on the younger side, in their 20s and 30s -- and another evening with a couple of the degree faculty – that is people more our age who are teaching regular university classes. Both groups were very enjoyable and the dinners out make it nice for us since we don’t {Carolyn doesn’t} have to figure out what we are {she is} going to cook that night. One thing I have discovered here is dessert yoghurt which is amazing. It is much higher in fat content than I normally use, 8 to 10%, but with a little cherry or apricot preserves added, it is a special treat. One finds very little low-fat {or decaffeinated} anything!!!

The weather is still very comfortable. We are having days in the 80s and nights in the 60s. The biggest problem is the blowing dust which makes contact wearing and breathing less than comfortable at times. It also makes picture-taking of the mountains around us difficult. We hope to get some good pictures of the mountains soon. {We are missing the colors of fall here. There are no broad leaf trees like sugar maples and oaks that produce the colors in Indiana. The trees around here are more like olive trees: they are bush-like and have small, gray-green leaves that will likely just turn a bit more gray and drop off as we move to winter. We have been told that the really pretty season around here is in March, April, and May when the air is clear and the hills turn green from the winter rains.}

{Sorry, I have to leave this blog writing to go rescue Carolyn. She is sitting in pitch darkness because the engineers who control electricity for our housing complex took us off of one generator and put us on another. When they do this the power goes down. The power never stays off for long periods of time, like 10 to 15 minutes, but even a minute or two when it is dark is disconcerting. In addition, we lose all internet connectivity when the power is down. The power is back up. We can see. Light is good.}

An experience such as this is great, but we continue to cherish your love and support.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Carolyn writing; Carl in brackets:
We have just had our first week with the students and what a delight they are. The students I have in accounting have now been here at the university for English language training and are now completing their sophomore year of academic education. They appear to be well trained in English at least in speaking and listening skills. I haven’t had much chance to measure their reading and comprehension skills yet but I suspect they are weaker in that area. Teaching accounting to students who have grown up in a cash basis only society presents its problems but I just have to remember checks and credit cards as well as buying on account don’t exist here. The students seem fascinated with that idea and are anxious to learn though. Our classes are quite small, about 8-12 per class, so it is easy for us to give individualized attention when needed. The students are very friendly; I had lunch with four of my students Thursday and they were very willing to answer any question I had. They are also very curious about the United States and are very proud that they are getting an American education. That is something to be prized here. It is clear that although many of these students are local Kurds, they have at some point in their lives, lived in other countries during the Saddam era when so much damage was done to this city and other areas where there were large concentrations of Kurds.

{Carl writing: I am finding more diversity among my students than Carolyn has experienced in terms of ability to grasp the material I am dealing with. Some are able to handle 10 pages of text, others struggle to get through two or three pages. I am also dealing with a group of students who are very nervous about how they are going to be graded and seem more interested in what’s going to be on the test – a typical response in a general education course not in most students' majors. In short, they’re much like US students in this regard. But they seem anxious to learn.}

One of the best people-watching experiences came when we had to go to immigration to get registered to be in Kurdistan. There is such a mixture of people coming here from other parts of the Middle East as well as the US, Europe, and the Far East. We met some men who had just arrived to drill some oil wells just south of Sulaimani on the way to Baghdad. When we finished the immigration process, we were to set up our bank accounts but the bank is very busy recovering from the time off for the holiday Eid. So our bank accounts have not been completed and the University paid us our first month’s salary in cash. Being American, we were rather concerned about the safety of this process, but that is the norm here and they think nothing of carrying around large sums of cash. We have been told that the walls of the bank are lined with the cash right out in plain sight; it’s safer there in the presence of armed guards than in a secluded safe where someone might take it.

Some of you have asked about food purchasing and preparation. One can find some things readily so we can prepare a tradition meal such as chicken, potatoes, green beans. Cucumbers and watermelon are as good as I have ever tasted anywhere. But pork is not available so the green beans are prepared without the seasoning of ham or bacon. We did find some ground beef the other day and made spaghetti and meat sauce. It tasted pretty good but we can’t find Parmesan cheese! Garlic bread can be made if you are willing to use the flat bread they call “naan” and spread the garlic butter on the top. Butter tastes more like lard so we add a little salt to make it more palatable. Chicken, lamb and rice are mainstays. I am not crazy about lamb so I haven’t bought any yet. We have a propane gas stove and oven so cooking is very similar. Just remember to wash every vegetable and fruit with soap and boiled water before eating.

We had a wonderful experience Thursday night {the equivalent of going out on Friday night in the States at the end of the work week} when we went to a local restaurant with another couple from the faculty. It was an outdoor restaurant and they seated us right next to the fish tank. The tank contained several very large carp and when someone would order fish, the waiter came to the tank, fished one out with a net, laid it on the ground right next to our table and proceeded to beat it over the head until it quit flopping. Then, they cut the head off and placed the fish over the open fire pit to grill it. There were also live chickens roaming around our table although we did not see them killing those. The meal consisted of about eight or ten dishes and cost us 9,000 dinars, approximately $8.50 for the four of us. That’s right, slightly over $2 per person. The cost of things is difficult to define because another friend from the faculty went out for steak and potato with a glass of wine and paid $35 for his dinner. We suspect if you are willing to eat local fare, you get by much cheaper than eating Western. Our meal was very filling and quite an experience too. We will try to include pictures of that.

Probably the highlight of the week was what happened at a BBQ the university had for all its expatriate employees on Friday evening. The man who is head of security at AUIS, Dr. Aso (veterinarian) and his wife were with us for the evening. She had given us a Kurdish lesson that morning so we were visiting with her when someone announced that Dr. Barham Salih, Prime Minister of Kurdistan, was on his way to visit with us. He has been instrumental in seeing that AUIS becomes a viable American University and we have seen him on campus at least twice this week. He was very gracious in allowing us to have our picture taken with him as you can see in the photo posted at the top of this blog. Other photos of the past week are at: