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 naïve 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: http://picasaweb.google.com/averagerider3/LivingInIraq#
Hope you enjoy.