Thursday, January 29, 2015

Young women of Kurdistan- The change maker series: Part I

Loyal blog readers,

I am on a mission. Of all the great and wonderful and amazing and just… super great people that cross my everyday life I will post an eight week series. One Kurdistani girl a week on the blog. I want to introduce you to these remarkable young women who are full of energy, inpiration and are sources of hope.
I couldn’t resist but open the series with none other than….

She resembles hope, strength, coexistance, love and team work.

Name: Shan Kameran Bakir
Profession: Dentist, but that’s just a different story. Founder and General Manager of Dilvia NGO
Age: 25

We met last year (gosh! If I put it that way it sounds like such a long time ago. You know, 2014) I saw her doing a presentation, and admired her right then and there. Fast forward a few months I found myself in the hottest summer mornings, in my tracksuits at her house, 8 am. I must add it was Ramadan.

Beware her smile is contagious.

 My purpose was to join in the Ramadan Basket project she and her team of volunteers had. The point is, I woke her up from sleep, a little too early (I had my excuses) for our pre arranged meeting. She sat me in her family’s living room. I wish I recorded our conversation. The woman I was sitting next to was the purest being in the world. I asked, she answered. I asked, she answered. No, not an interrogation. But one of those meetings where you feel Oprah (no, I wasn’t Oprah. Though I wouldn't mind hehe) is talking to the most inspiring woman on the planet. A smooth conversation from culture, to politics, to her challenges, to family… It was that Ramadan morning I knew I have met someone in my life that will one day change the world. That is, if she hadn’t already done so.
At the clinic thinking of her ‘other life’ that definitely
doesn’t include teeth. Don’t call her “Dr.” she doesn’t like it. Simple.
 Sitting in her family’s living room, observing a wall of pictures, memories, siblings’ graduation, proud parents, I knew this living room is filled with love, a comfortable nest. The girl sitting in front of me has gone through the most extreme circumstances in life, and in front of her I feel I have accomplished nothing in this world to better anyone’s life. She is a girl who can relate to all, a simple hard-working family who have extraordinary heart have raised an angel. Every since that meeting, everytime I met Shan I have had the same feeling.

 She is the girl who never stops smiling, the one with the colourful hijab, the most down to earth being I have come across. Shan is the one who is always listening to others, but when she speaks you want to just sit and observe her passion in every word she says. The type whose eyes say a million words, and when she is happy or excited they give a diamond-like shine that is so pure… and full of hope. She is those girls that you miss to see if weeks pass without meeting her, the one who literally loves life and cares more about people than anything. Shan is the bubbly personality, the one who can empathize with all, the loyal friend, the older sister, and, in my opinion, the change maker. If these aren’t good enough reasons for you to get to know her more, then I don’t know what is.

Her family home is a hub for all friends and volunteers
I asked her some questions (she wrote the responses) so are you ready? Get your tea (coffee, juice, milk or your bag of junk food) and enjoy a casual conversation with Shan, right here, on the blog.

Mandalawi: Let’s start broad, how would you introduce yourself? What do you do?

Shan: I’m just another person in this world who didn’t accept to surrender to the bad and negative influence we grow up with in our society… I just believed that I can make a difference with my own simple effort… then I got surprised by all the people who wanted to help as well… when I decided to dedicate my time in serving others… that is actually when I start living…
what I do? I’ve graduated to be a Dentist! Although I never found myself in this job… so I started to follow my passion in helping others and now I’m the founder and general manager of Dilvia charity organization…and I’m working on developing this volunteer work into my all-day Job so I can get access and dedication on helping more people
Everything Shan does she does it with a huge group of volunteers

 (Sazo, If I sound cheezy please help) [No Shan, not cheeeeezy at all, and I will keep every word you write. Hehe]..

Mandalawi: What’s your journey so far, how did you get to where you are today?
Shan: I had to fight a lot of challenges.. I cried a lot.. I got depressed and disappointed by the society’s ideas and traditions that stood in my way… but I literally never gave up… I couldn’t..because it was a way of breathing to me .. as soon as I found my dream and found myself in it I wouldn’t think for a moment to let it go…
Shan, always a candle of hope
 The challenges included restrictions and bad expectations from all the people I knew who thought that I was wasting my time and I would never help someone if I wasn’t “well-known” or “rich” …

 but on the other hand… there was a few people who believed in me and supported me in a way I will never forget… all I needed was to keep going and insisting on my belief … and everything went perfectly amazing


Sazan: One day, I hope you get to meet Shan, and let her share with you the challenges. No matter how much I write it won’t be the way she describes it. I love how she calls it challenge, while others would call the same experience problem/setback or end of road. See how amazing this girl is?

Mandalawi: What is your passion? What do you live for?

Shan: The smile I see when I help someone … the great feeling I have when someone tells me that “he wanted to help a lot but didn’t know how until he met me”…my dedication is to share a way of happiness and satisfaction in life and help my society to develop and start seeing peace and love spread instead of poverty and hatred or racism

 Mandalawi: How is a day in your life like?
Shan: A day of my life would be hopefully an unpredicted day … it’s in my personality “bad and good in the same time” that I hate routine and planned days… but it should include (I won’t sleep if it doesn’t):
– Work related to Dilvia
– Workout for at least 30 min.
– Reading a book for at least 30 min.
– Be there for one of my friends who needed support

Put Shan with a little child or an elderly man
 at the Elderly People’s Home and she can laugh
and get a long with both.
Sazan: Her last point is so true. She provides psych-social support to like a billion girls; Facebook, over the phone, on text messages or in face-to-face meetings. I mean it. Every. Single. Day.

Mandalawi: Your source of support? What or who keeps you going?
Shan: For me it’s basically my close friends… they are the only people in my life who supported me in my dreams… unfortunately.
and also some books and writers like Paulo Coelho and Stephen Covey.
Sazan: Why she says unfortunately? Long story.

Mandalawi: What challenges do you face in what you do?
Shan: My first challenge was my family…because they thought it was a waste of time and money, and it’s quite dangerous for me in to do so…

It is not like they didn’t want me to support but in our country its so frightening for a young girl to mingle and get in close relation with a lot of strangers and having people know you in the society is super challenging… according to them “it’s a bad a thing”
The other challenges was people misunderstand my intention.. or paper-work challenges in getting access to people in need… but thank god non of the challenges were so serious that it stopped me from preceding.

Sazan: Her challenges with her family five years back reflects the challenges many Kurdish girls may face in this society.

Mandalawi: How do you deal with those challenges

Shan: after all.. my family gave up on stopping me after a lot of fighting and in a way or another now they are supporting me 

….how I deal with them?…. I actually cry! But I never surrender … a lot of time I was working with tears all over the place but I never stopped working ….

Shan donating blood with her father and sister

Sazan: Who was it that said tears are signs of strength? And remember Shanoo “The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears.” And we all know how colourful and bright your soul is.

Mandalawi: Anything we should keep an eye on? Future plans/ projects?

Shan: Plans for Dilvia (my passion engine):
– Facilitate the donation ways for whom want to help
– Help the IDPs and refugees to survive this crisis until they go safely home
– Support the peshmarge families in this hard war times
– Encourage the youth to serve more in their society and improve their country

For Shan, it's all about working together
 Mandalawi: Three dreams in your life

Shan: Although I don’t like specific dreams… the sky is the limit for my ambition but if I have to put them in three lines it would be
– Make dilvia international and have access to all the people in need
– Be a living example of a young girl that nothing could stop her from fighting and fingerprint her life (for all the girls who think they can’t help in this world)
– Improve my fitness and health to be in a level of an athlete

Mandalawi: Any advice for other girls in Kurdistan

Shan: I advice them all to believe in themselves… the only bounderies is only found in our minds … I thought it was only a nice-speech line.. but its not… I know it … put your priority to your dreams and passions… don’t listen to the stupid restrictions… they will all fade away in front of your will… you deserve to live your life with passion, so do it.. just DO IT… we can add beauty to our grace country… and its getting to a higher place so take your chance and participate in this upcoming developement…. you will regret it if you don’t…

Sazo I wasn’t brief at all …. I won’t blame you if you won’t read it but I really enjoyed this … I was smiling all the time

Sazan: I read every single word Shanoo. And I have decided to keep it all the same. Just like you wrote it. It’s you!

The perfect role model
 We will need hours for Shan to speak of her endless challenges. Maybe an 8 am visit in her family living room on a Ramadan morning. I take this opportunity to apologize for that very insensitive act, but we laugh it off now when ever we remember.

Shan’s family home has become a place for volunteering activities, meetings,
NGO office, stocking of donations
No words can describe Shan. She is just Shan. The girl you call, but her phone is always busy, then she calls you back, and is ready to say: “Let’s meet in an hour” no matter when and where.
Until next Wednesday night Shan is the hero of the week, the month, the year, the hero in the life of all of us who know her, and all those she helps without even realizing!

Dilvia... all this and more. Indeed.
 You can contact Shan through Facebook here, or like the Dilvia page right here.

 Pictures: All photos for this blog post were stolen by me from Shan’s Instagram, Facebook and here and there (with full permission. I swear.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

The dream of a Peshmerga's child

Hello loyal blog reader,

As I write this post one of my loveliest friends in this entire world is working hard with a great team of volunteers putting together a super amazing event for this weekend. Guess what? (I imagine it’s not so hard to guess since I have placed it so boldly in the title) Dreams of peshmergas’ children will be coming true – with your help of course.

Daughter of a peshmerga writing her dream. Photo: Dilvia

Have you ever thought how a simple gesture for a child often changes their entire lives? Have you ever thought about our Peshmerga in uniform fighting terrorists just so we can be safe in our own homes? What would make that peshmerga happier than knowing his child is happy?

Children of the peshmergas have dreams. Photo: Dilvia

The Dream project, by Dilvia, for the second year is making dreams of children come true. How does it work? First, these amazinggggg volunteers have visited lots of families, they spent time with them, and allowed kids to write and draw their dreams.
When you arrive you will see all of the children’s dreams drawn or handwritten by them personally, all you (your company or your group of friends) will do is sponsor a dream that appeals to you most, if you like… and soon, in your email you will get photos and videos of the child whose dream you made come true. Something so simple, yet so amazing.


When? This Friday and Saturday (30 and 31 January)
Where? At the hall in Van Royal hotel, 60 meters rd. Erbil, Kurdistan Region.

Please come and join. Mark your calendar, make it a social event with your loved ones and come change a life in the simplest way possible.
For more information visit the Dilvia Facebook page or contact (the angel) Shan Kameran.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Sunday, January 11, 2015

She turned 9.

Dearest loyal reader,
Do you sometimes live a moment in your life where you want to pause it forever, one of those picture perfect moments?
Zhala and S. I had to capture one of their long, tight hugs.
I remember a few summers back one day at the orphanage a little girl had come with three of her brothers. She was about five or six years old at the time, but was too tiny for her age. In fact they were all very thin; unhealthy, thin children. The story of why they came is a long one, but they were the type of kids that would hide from you, that would never say a word and didn’t want to be close to anyone.
Pink, Hello Kitty cake, just like many 9 year-old girls she loves the colour pink.
Pink, Hello Kitty cake, just like many 9 year-old girls she loves the colour pink.

They were traumatized. Fast forward to 2015, and that little girl just turned 9 years old. Thanks to Zhala, the director of the girl’s section of the orphanage, a beautiful little celebration was created to celebrate her birthday. I enjoyed it more than I have enjoyed any of my own birthdays.

It was one of those moments in life where I wanted to press pause and live it… forever. The nine-year-old, S., was dressed in a new dress – just as someone who had a mother would go out and buy their daughter a special dress for their birthday party. She had beautiful little ballerinas on, also new. Her hair was beautifully styled, just as a mother would style her daughter’s hair for the birthday pictures. She felt special. She felt loved. She would go stand behind her cake…the humble and quiet S., just smiled posing for photographs, her eyes spoke a million words.
Every time I looked S., went to Zhala and gave her one of those very tight hugs where she crosses her hands all around Zhala’s waist. She was so appreciative of everything.
The nine year old is like a mother to her three brothers. She grew fast. She is the chubby, cute, quiet little girl today who goes to school and loves mathematics. If she wasn’t hugging Zhala she was around her younger brother.

What a beautiful moment it was. There are some people in Kurdistan who change people’s lives forever, Zhala is one of those kind hearted individuals who does exactly that and suffers a lot along the way.
With her youngest brother.

I wonder when this little girl grows to be 19, what type of stories she will have to tell, and what type of girl she will grow into…. for the first time in a long time I have hope in our orphanage.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

Monday, January 5, 2015

Adoption in my society

Dear loyal blog readers,

Adoption in Kurdistan, socially and legally unacceptable
Before I continue let me tell you something, even before my marriage, I have always wanted to adopt children. Yes, not one child, but children. I knew it had to happen in my life. Maybe because of my experience with orphans, maybe I saw too many children in pain without a mother or a father, maybe the incidents in our families where some of my own cousins unfortunately lost their parents in tragedies and I saw them grow without a parent... maybe it was the occasional visit to the orphanage.

The reason, I don't know, but I knew I have enough love to give to any child I adopt. I would raise it as if it was a fetus in my own womb and would love the child as much I would if I went through labor and  gave birth myself (without an epidural).

When you are 26 and 27 in a Kurdish society, once you are settled with a partner, the expectations for a little baby keep rising. First, time was ticking to get married now time is ticking to have a baby. Let me take a momentary pause here; I am honestly not sure what the next ticking is, but for some reason for a woman a clock is always ticking and a train is always ready to pass.

I won't make this too personal about myself, but for anyone to have an idea to adopt a child or to even mention it is almost like admitting you're about to commit a crime. From those dearest to me I have heard remarks and replies that come across as rude and offensive.

I know religion plays a major role in this issue, as a practicing Muslim I understand some of those view points. However, even those who don't practice the religion remain strictly against adoption. I believe it is one of those things we refuse because socially it's unacceptable... but why don't we give ourselves a chance to have second thoughts about it?

Why should we bring more and more little innocent beings into this world when there are already children who are neglected? Why don't I take an orphan from Sinjar, Kobane or my own Mandali, Khanaqin or even Hawler? How I would love to give such a child endless affection, the best quality education I can afford and my time to raise it in the best possible ways.

Why is it every time I mention the idea of adoption I need to bow my head down in shame as if I have just cursed? Or, even worse, as if you are admitting out loud your infertility. Not sure how people make such a quick linkage. Why must one be infertile to adopt?

The reaction on some people's face when I even mention it, let alone say I would love to do it, immediately makes me feel an outcast. Sometimes you think to yourself even if you adopted a child (that is if the laws and regulations ever allow you...after a good hundred years of paperwork) society will not fairly treat that child. Your own relatives will point at him/her as the 'adopted one' I guess a time will come where you feel sorry for whoever it is you make your child by law.

Fine. Forget adoption. Why not be able to bring a child into foster care? You know, a foster family? Is it not better than living alone, living without a family? Is it not better than not having anyone to help with your homework or guide you to what is good and bad behavior?

Deep down inside me, the idea of adoption will never disappear, but with the years I have realized not everything is as simple as it is in my own mind. After all, there is always something called society.

Until next time I have a complaint, you know, bolla-bol
Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dear 2014

Loyal Blog Readers, here is the final post for a year that was packed with everything bitter and sweet,


For me you were the year of many engagements, weddings and new born babies. You witnessed my wedding day, a new career pathway and it was definitely the year where I changed a lot of my views and perspectives about people and life in general. Every year I say this was a self discovery year, and you were no different. But, by far, in your year I discovered capacities in me that I never believed existed. In 2014 my paths crossed with some amazing individuals (Farah, Shan, D.M. and S.E. kurm) and you brought to me two sister-in-law who I love dearly.
While doing peer education training with the refugee youth
It was a year of many trainings and meeting some amazing youth from the refugee camps across Erbil and Duhok in particular. I managed to form a special and unique friendship with the youth in the Erbil camps as  I met them more often than others. I was inspired by the energy and the way they cling onto life despite all the challenges they face living under a tent.
Life changing moments with my Peer Education co-trainer, Rasti Nuri Brimo
You were sweet in all your ways.


You will also be the year that will be written in many history books, researches and dissertations as people will reflect on the emergence and threats of ISIS beasts on my peace loving society. In your year children became orphans, our Yazidi girls were kidnaped, raped and sold; mothers cried as the bodies of their sons returned as martyrs and hundreds and  thousands became homeless and helpless as they fled their homes and cities. Thousands of others were left working without a monthly income... only barely making a living. For many you were a dark, bitter, haunted year.
IDP camp, where many fled their homes after ISIS threats
Photo: Rewan Kakl
Your bitterness left deep wounds behind.

Among this bitterness I watched as the volunteers in Dilvia alongside Shan Kameran achieve some astounding things that the eye could not believe. I watched this young girl lead the way and make thousands of people smile. I was inspired by her willingness to help, plant a smile and make a change. Through the use of social media thousands of dollars was collected to assist those who had fled their homes, those who needed to keep warm at night or have a meal under their tin roofs.
Our youth peer educators at the refugee camp
Photo: Taken from Aral and Rewan Kakl, but not sure who took the photo

In 2014 I learned how any individual can change the lives of others. I met Shan, sadly I couldn't give my time as much as I wanted to, but from far I watched her and her volunteers change lives, I saw these young people dedicating their lives to make others live happier and more in peace. Despite all the bitterness I always managed to look up and thank God for putting in this world such amazing people.

May your 2014 be filled with sweet moments enjoyed with those dearest to you
Photo: By me at Mam Khalil's teahouse.

I wish you all, my dearest loyal blog readers a very happy new year. May 2015 bring more happiness and sweetness, may it be a year of love, peace and great memories for you and all your loves ones.

Forgive me if anywhere in 2014 in some or another I hurt you.

Oh yes, one last point, in 2014 I blogged the most posts out of my six-year blogging journey! That, my friend, is an accomplishment.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

10 reasons why Erbil's maternity hospital needs urgent attention

I have come back from the Wlada hospital (the official, and probably one and only public maternity hospital in Erbil) whoever sees me asks me what's wrong. I haven't looked in the mirror, but I am told I look very pale.

This is not my first experience in this what so called hospital*. Various times close friends, relatives and loves ones have visited for gynaecological surgeries or delivery of their babies. I have been blessed enough to be part of these miracles and at times, sadly, part of nightmare experiences.

I thought of titling this post '10 reasons why Wlada (maternity) hospital has to close its doors' but then it is the only option for many women at the moment. However, it needs attention both as a building, as facilities, as staff, doctors and as an overall system.

Before I begin my list of bolla-bols (complaining) I want to point out in the Kurdistan Region, and in Erbil in particular there are some private hospitals making you feel like you are in five star hotel with great services and staff. However, I know a lot of people in my life who can never afford to go to those hospitals. Only because they are not financially better off they don't deserve the same services? It's not fair, it really isn't.
Picture: Google,

1. The staff are rude:
No one dares smile in this hospital. I got yelled at. Yes, a receptionist (or cleaner, I don't know, no uniform to show who is who) decided to raise their voice and scream at me because I entered the wrong room (after I asked a million times if this is the right room and I was told yes over and over again). A polite "this is not where you are supposed to be" would have made a huge difference. But no, just yell at your patients and shoo them away as if they are little chickens coming in your newly planted garden.

2. The Doctors become careless:
 To be fair some of  the best doctors work in Wlada hospital as their morning jobs (don't get me started on this morning job and private clinic in the evening business) but the amount of patients and disorganization that happens in that hospital doctors start to just go with the flow and fit themselves in with the chaos. This often leads to them not focussing well and not giving individual patients the time/ attention they need.

3. No privacy:
There is no such thing called privacy, walk in the corridors and it's easy to see a woman being checked with her legs wide open behind a curtain that can be seen through (you know, through the sections between the pole and the curtain).

4. Too many patients:
In a single room you can find up to six patients all at once, one being examined, one talking to the doctor, another one getting ready to be examined, another already taking clothes off waiting for someone to check her. There is no system in place, if you don't know anyone there or you don't know your way around you end up spending half your time pocking your head out into different rooms asking every passer-by whether they know X or Y place/ person.

5. Your private issues are public:
It's a women's birthing hospital, those even who aren't pregnant most likely have a very sensitive issue that they don't want to share with every single cleaner, other patient or receptionist they come across. My poor patient was asked a gazillion times in front of so many people "Whose the patient? You? What's wrong" what are you supposed to say? Ask, you have a right, but not in a loud voice in front of everyone.

What hurt me most is that a patient (let's say X) was called into the operating room (yes, I was standing two doors away from the operating room) one of the patients said there are two people with the name X and enquired  which one of them had to enter, instead of the receptionist calling out LOUD -very loud- the last name of the patient she shouted out: "X, the one who is getting her uterus taken out"... poor lady stood up, went red and began preparing to enter the operating room.

6. No men allowed:
After writing point 3, I realize very well why it is not allowed for any husband, brother or father to enter the hospital, but it doesn't make sense because some of the staff inside are males anyway. Plus, I will never understand why a father can't be the first person to hold his new born baby or hold his wife's hand after or during birth?

7. Working hours.
The entire time you are there it's all about rushing here and there before doctors leave by mid-day. It's as if when the clock strikes 12 all doctors are sucked into the ground and will come back out the next morning.

8. Lack of medication
I have witnessed this myself, if you leave an operation and you have pain someone you know must go and buy you pain relief needles from outside. So, if you are unlucky and no one told you before your operation to get pain relief. You come out, the anaesthesia loses it's effect and you can just put up with the pain until the said needle/ medication is brought to you from a family member.

9. Hygiene
Let's be honest, I didn't see dirt or rubbish on the ground. However, hygiene is not just about rubbish and dirty tiles. It is also when a woman lays down on a bed it has a piece of tissue over it and is removed before the other. Hygiene is not using the same glove to touch a patient's private area and using the same glove to hold your pen or put the curtain aside.

10. Respect
I love going to place where I feel I am treated right and respected. No matter if you are rich or poor, whether you are a lawyer, builder or a cleaner. I feel because most of the people who opt to the public hospital are usually middle or lower middle class citizens they are not treated well or respected by the staff at the hospital. When it comes to our health and bodies we all deserve respect, time and affection. The way staff speak to patients frustrate me, there is no please or thank you. you are a patient you need explanation, you need someone to treat you with care. In Wlada, dream on. I posted something on this on Facebook a friend of mine replied he borrowed money just so he can take his wife to a private hospital, why should this be the case?!


It is always easier to complain then come up with solutions. I am no doctor, I am no professional in the medical field, I am sure there are many confrontations in fixing this issue. As much as it is the staff's fault it might also be the patient's fault too. But why not...

- Train the staff. Every single staff members there needs to learn how to deal with patients, how to talk, and how to be polite. Do them a one week training, after the training who ever is caught not implementing what they learned cut off their salary for a month or two, fire them if need be.

- Bring in a system to the hospital, there are room allocations but it's not well designed  and organized. I guess the building is ancient and needs major reconstruction.

- Provide a huge pharmacy with all the medical needs outside, people don't need to go to Erbil Medical Road just to buy a needle then come back to the hospital. Okay, if you must, buy the medication, you might as well buy it in the hospital itself. We are talking about pain here, body/ physical pain.

- If need be, maybe we need to make our medicine schools bigger, take in more students, bring in profession professors from abroad. I don't know. I am sure there is a solution and it won't cost half as much as building a new mall.

*I would like to point out that services in this hospital are entirely free unless certain medications are needed. It is also not only a birth hospital but women who have pregnancy issues or other gynaecological health matters visit here.

* I did not take any pictures inside the hospital for ethical reasons.

Tags: Hospitals in Kurdistan, hospital in Erbil, Erbil birth, giving birth Erbil Kurdistan

Monday, December 29, 2014

Festivity in Erbil

Loyal Blog Readers- here, there, everywhere!

Merry Christmas to those who celebrated (as usual I am lagging behind, four days this time. Sorry) I wish you all never ending peace and happiness - though I know in today's world that is almost always unlikely to happen, but it's a wish.

What's happening in my part of the world? I went silent and wiped myself off the face of the earth for almost a week as my one and only sibling got married. A dream day, I must say; Feet and shoulders are still in pain, not that I danced or anything (wink. wink.). The Christmas spirit here year by year becomes more and more colourful. The malls are beautifully decorated and so are some homes. Many of my Muslim friends have put Christmas trees inside their homes to get into the festive mood.

It's all lights outside Family Mall in Erbil
Photo: twitter - @Kurdistan_612
I love driving the streets at night and seeing beautiful lights around Family Mall, Majidi Mall and even few of the smaller malls. Most of them have a decorated section inside to reflect the Christmas spirit. I am proud to still live in a city where we can celebrate side by side with our Christian brothers and sisters.

However, my beautiful city Erbil is a little wounded this year and most likely won't blow our minds with the colourful fireworks that rock the night sky on New Year's Eve. It was a tough second-half to 2014, many of our boys lost their lives fighting terrorists/ beasts/ monsters (ISIS) on frontlines. Hence, while we always cling onto life and live every moment despite all the tough circumstances our nation encounters-- in memory of those who lost their life this year, those who had to flee their homes and in respect to all the families who are still mourning the loss of their fathers, sons, brothers and husbands (even daughters) we shall keep our celebrations inside the walls of our homes.

I am thinking of doing something special for every person that has come into my life in 2014, including the girls at the refugee camp. I will keep you posted on that.

For now, just making the most of the last few days of 2014, finalizing little bits and pieces and waiting for a turn in the page. New year plans if you live in this part of the world is sometimes limited but I have always loved a night in with my dearest ones!

Love from
My Nest in Kurdistan


tags: New Year Erbil, New Year Kurdistan, Holidays, Christmas Erbil/ Arbil/ Hawler/ Kurdistan

Monday, December 22, 2014

Positive energy from a refugee camp

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,

Sometimes you feel out of no where a lot of stress knocks at your door, your mind boggles at a million and one things all at once and then you either explode, physically hurt anyone beside you (lets just hope none of you do that), cry, lock yourself inside or... somehow, somewhere, out of nowhere all this disappears. Magic? Maybe.

Anyhow.. let's just keep my complaints aside. Back to why I am writing this post. Yesterday I visited some of the lovely youth in one of the Refugee Camps in the Kurdistan Region. My visit was long overdue but I came back almost electrified with positive energy. I know. Positive energy from the youth at the refugee camp? How does that work?

Every time I visit it's a wake up call. Sometimes I return upset, other times angry and sometimes in tears. Yesterday I came back empowered, happy, stress free and sky high positive energy. Hang in there, I'll explain. I promise.

Basically we met with our volunteers* they are young boys and girls who undertake peer education sessions (a friend and myself trained these youth, you can read all about it right here) to decide what are the next steps for 2015.

The girls -- and few boys -- inspired me because they live under tents, surrounded by mud, cold at night as they listen to the rain drumming on the tent above their head, BUT, they wake up in the morning with a wide smile, they laugh, get changed and go to change lives of others. How amazing is that?

They have more reasons to complain than the number of hairs on my head (ah! not a good example Saza) yet still they do their volunteering work, are full of energy and want to do something in their spare time; they want to do something for the little community. They are praying every second for the schools to open. They are clinging onto life. An inspiration for those of us who don't stop complaining even though we are living under the roof of a house and have a monthly income.

Above: H.S. and I interviewing one of the  girls before we began the peer education training. Today, the girl you see above is trainer herself, a lovely girl who has become a dear friend of mine.

I will sign off here,
Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan

P.S. Just a last note: I wrote this the night I came back from the camp last week, not sure why I didn't post it.

*A local NGO is running our youth space, after a pause in activities we visited to meet with the youth again

Photos: Rewan & Aral Kak's Facebook page, and START NGO

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TEDxErbil Part I

Hellooo Loyal Blog Readers,

Before I begin I shall take a pause. I actually met three Loyal Blog Readers this week. How amazing is that? One in Yoga (gosh she was so sweet) and another two in TEDxERBIL on the weekend (you know who you are!). I guess all three were surprised to see someone so tiny to be the face behind this blog. Note to self: Add my height and weight to the bio. Haha! Anyway....

TEDxERBIl is always a lovely event, this year was no different. Of course, you can't be in Kurdistan if the mic doesn't cut or growl a few times - at any event you're in, and this was no different. But overall all the volunteers who had helped to organize the event were more than great!

I wanted to share with you, my dearest reader, some of the faces that were on stage.

Dastan and Eman

Left Dastan, Right Eman.
These girls are just super super super sweet, I spent a good few hours with them the day before the event and won't talk too much about them, keep an eye for a blog post on Wednesday all about these two 18-year-olds who created a bomb detector. The youngest speakers on stage and they received a standing ovation from the audience, these two were on top of the world and spoke so passionately. They are knowledge, emotion and beauty mixed together to create two genuine souls that you want to pack in your bag and take home with you. I have not seen girls this kind and sweet. Okay Saza, stop here. As I said, full blog on both these sweet hearts in... let's say 24 hours?!

Naji Asafiry

Naji Asafiry
His story gave us all shivers, and inspired us beyond words. How amazing to have a young boy on stage giving a personal story of his journey with drugs, the turning points in his life and the day he decided to stop using weed. His talk finished with a rap/ song tribute to his mother (which I actually enjoyed!) I hope to get Naji involved in our peer education program so that he inspires young people who are in the phase that he went through.

Omar Ali

Omar Ali
Omar was such a confident speaker, and I wanted him to stay on stage for hours and hours on. His presence was simply enjoyable. He is also a great inspiration. From the hidden, unseen boy to the one who makes everyone smile. I wished I could speak to him after the event and just say: Hey, you're great!  He didn't stop smiling and the performance was so smooth, so natural, so... Omar!

Hiwa Osman

Hiwa Mahmood Osman
I have been following the work of Hiwa Osman for a while now, so it was no surprise that his talk will be interesting and there was no doubt he will have an immaculate presence on stage. The talk was calm, and flawless. But listen read this: As soon as  I got to work the next day I read an article about ISIS; One of the points made about them was so interesting. I took out a quote  from the article and was tweeting it when the bells in my brain rang! I remembered Hiwa's words and then deleted the entire tweet. Want to know why? Wait for the video to be uploaded and my friend, you shall see.

I have heard about Hamko so much, but it was the first time I see him. I think a lot of the audience members left saying this was their favorite performance. He grew up as a poor child, without a mother, in a cemetery. He spoke of his tough childhood journey - almost had me in tears - and where he is today. Typical, as a comedian, he made us laugh too. I think I want to go to one of his shows soon. If I do, I will blog it, don't worry!

Dashne Morad

For those who don't know, Dashne was a former TV host who later recorded an album labelling  her as the Shakira of Kurdistan. This was a very interesting performance. Dashne's presence on stage and the way she spoke was with no doubt engrossing. However there was a lot of contrast with what she said in her talk and other interviews she had given before. Maybe it's a new Dashne, or maybe this is the real Dashne. Not sure. Her opening words to me showed she is going through a lot of pressures and is being attacked heavily. Her eyes teared as she said "you don't know me...I am not a bad person."

There were some great speakers (including Reber Jaff) but will cover them in another post.

For now lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan,


(pictures: Some are mine others taken from TEDxERBIL Facebook page and other photographers)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cook with Razaw

Dear loyal blog readers,
Guess what? Once again my favourite Kurdish Instagram-er and cook (and a whole lot of other things- smart girl she is!) has dropped by on the blog with a special recipe for Swedish saffron buns- lusse katter . You've got to love Razaw Diako. Make sure you follow this beautiful Kurdish girl both on her personal blog, and Instagram account.
Without further-a-do let's begin.
Guest Blogger: Razaw Diako
Razaw Diako
8-9 cups of flour
50 g yeast
2 1/2 cup sugar  + 1 tbs sugar for brushing
200 g butter
3 dl cream or milk
1 g saffron
1/2 cup raisins
1 egg + 1 egg for brushing

1. Place saffron in a bowl
2. Melt the butter over low heat, pour over the sugar, cream (or milk)  and saffron. let it be 37 ° C (lukewarm)
3.  Pour the liquid  and the egg over the crumbled yeast, stir until it has dissolved
4. Add the flour a little at a time and work with the dough smoothly.
5. Let it rise under a cloth for an hour.

6. When the dough is in double size, shape into small balls, 15-20 pieces depends how small or big you're making them (no extra flour is needed)
7. Now shape each ball worm-like and bend both sides inwards.

8. Preheat the oven 225 C
9. Add the raisins (put the raisins on each roll)
10. Whisk egg and sugar , brush the buns on every side .
11. Bake it in the middle of the oven 8-10 min until you get a nice golden color

Thank you once again Razaw, I know what I am going to get up to in the kitchen this weekend.

Until next time
Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan



Monday, December 8, 2014

Moka & and a little bit More in Erbil

Dearest loyal blog readers,

I love something old, something traditional, something full of culture and oh how I love drinking my tea at Mam Khalil's teahouse in the heart of Erbil's Qaysari Bazaar.

Saza, wake up from the dream! as much as  I would love to be there everyday it's a once in a blue moon visit because some men's eyes pop out seeing a lady at a teahouse. Then there is that mind boggling question where-do-I-park-my-car-without-leaving-the-keys?! (Yup. we leave the cars unlocked, and the keys inside when parking in most all tiny parking lots in this beautiful city of mine). I still haven't mentioned the traffic and the time constraints and, and, and... so the easier alternative is a perfect café / restaurant where you can feel super comfortable, and happy all the while you fill your fussy appetites.
Beautiful Shan caught reading at Moka&More Erbil
This is where Moka&More comes in. I had planned to visit after hearing super great feedback from a family friend who is there with his family almost every evening. Not much parking issues, very pretty décor, and the section upstairs is perfect if you're not interested in those other cafes where you are surrounded by testosterone levels that blow the ceiling off.

Moka&More - Erbil
If you have been following our #PoppyLovesBookClub gathering we did our first meet up at Moka &More and since then many of the girls have been visiting again and again. The service is amazing. When I say amazing I mean it. Just Imagine 18 girls, each picky in her one ways, yet we all left happy as can be. The food presentation is mouth watering, and S.K. tells me they have one of the best burgers in town.

As for me, I always drink the last drop of my cappuccino there. So, the next time you want to spend time alone or with friends and you're asking chi bkayn (not that we ever ask this in Erbil, cough* cough*) drop by and let me know what you thought.

By the way watching football there is a lot of fun too; After all Moka&More is said to be your second living room away from home. 
See, it's the little details like the décor above that make it all the more special. There is also a very scarce book shelf, which I am hoping the lovely owners are thinking of filling with books and daily newspapers soon.
Saw this on a friend's Facebook page, she celebrated her birthday at Moka&More
You can like the Erbil Moka&More Facebook page, follow them on twitter, double tap their pictures on Instagram or visit the Moka&More website (did you see what I did there? Hyperlinked everything for you! haha)
At Moka&More - Erbil
In Erbil (because there is also a branch in Slemani) it is located right opposite the Italian Village on the 100 Meter rd. They are open from 9 am to 3 am. That's right till 3 am! Don't believe me? Call them if you like- 0751 051 0985!

Oh. One more thing, I promise, last note. They do delivery too. Don't worry, you can thank me later.

Lots of love from
My Nest in Kurdistan


Pictures: Me, the Moka&More Facebook page and others stolen from Farah Al Bazarchi. She won't mind.