Sunday, May 2, 2010

24th Blog

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Dear Readers,

You will recall that in our last blog, we posted a story about a young man named Zmnako, a student at AUIS. Until a few months ago he was presumed dead in the gas attack on Halabja in 1988. Since writing, I have talked with him, and learned that on the day of the gas attack he was three months old and was left behind in the family’s home in Halabja. He was not discovered until two full days after the attack when an Iranian soldier found him and placed him with a family in Iran where he grew up. (See last blog for details.) He is a wonderful, gentle, young man who enjoys being a student at AUIS. See below for a picture of him kneeling next to the Halabja cemetery memorial marker that bears his name.

Since posting the last blog, we went with a group of faculty to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government, for a two day weekend trip. It takes about three hours to get to Erbil, by way of a mountainous road, one section of which has very sharp switchback curves as the road snakes up and down the side of the mountain. (Oh! for a motorcycle in moments like that.) Erbil is larger than Sulaimani, and has a larger expat community. They in turn can support Western stores and restaurants that we lack around here. Erbil also has a traditional bazaar like Suli’s, but also has a large modern mall, complete with huge grocery store – the closest thing to a Super Walmart we have seen in this part of the world. There is also a combination bakery, delicatessen, and restaurant called Bakery N’More that stocks beef salami, sliced turkey, good cheese, and other foods that we cannot get around here. We bought some food, but not too much as we cannot use a large amount in the next month.

Erbil is widely known in the region as being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is mentioned in some of the records of ancient Mesopotamian empires. There is a large circular flat top hill that rises perhaps 300 feet from the level plain that is now the modern city of Erbil, and on top of the hill successive generations have built fortifications, called a citadel. The citadel was actually occupied until a few years ago, and now is undergoing significant renovation. See next photos of the citadel from below. If you ever come this way, you must check out the rug museum in the citadel. While there we met a group of 15 brave American women who were involved in a tour of the region. Each had had to convince husbands and/or family that travel to this part of Iraq is safe. They were loving the experience.

While in Erbil we went to the home of Rawa, one of Carl’s students from the fall term. In this home we met his lovely family: Mohammed, father, Shadia, mother, and Ramyar, Baso and Basya, brothers and sister. The latter two are delightful and energetic 13 year old twins. Mohammed has earned a Ph.D. and is the head of the physics education program at a university in Erbil, and Shadia is an elementary school teacher. They are in many ways the new face of Kurdistan: well educated and professional, but still committed to the family values of the Kurdish people. In traditional Kurdish style, we sat around a tablecloth that had been spread on the floor. The food was delicious, as usual. See photos below.

When Rawa picked us up at the hotel he was driving a late model Chrysler 300, and after being crunched up in Toyota Corollas for much of our local transportation, we were delighted to ride in an American car that felt almost limousine-like in its size and comfort. The car, it turns out, belongs to his older brother Ramyar who works for the American computer equipment maker Sysco which has an office in Erbil. That we liked it is a sign that perhaps we really should be coming home. Sorry, no pictures of the car.

We are now hunkered down for the last 5 weeks of classes, plus finals week. If all goes according to plan, we should be back in the US by the evening of June 11. This has been a long semester so it’s difficult not to wish away this last month. I’m sure we will end up doing some exciting things before we leave, we are just not sure what that is at the moment.

Thanks for reading. Sorry that we are running out of new experiences. If you are curious about an aspect of life we have not covered, feel free to write to, and we’ll see what we can do to get information.

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