Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Another Journey in a Refugee Camp...

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,

I love the feeling of sitting in my dark room writing to you, now knowing who you are and where you are. Tonight, I write to you with gentle music in the background, I write with sadness and happiness mixed together, well blended.

During one of the energizers
Tomorrow is the closing of another training. This was one was special because A.K. and I trained seven hours a day a group of Kurdish refugees from Syria. We trained while we can feel the sweat sliding down our backs under our clothes. For some of the hours the caravan was too hot as there was no electricity. We trained knowing some of these young people come from difficult backgrounds, we trained living some of their stories.

Training is an experience of its own no matter who you train, but when your participants are young boys and girls who have spent the past year living under a tent, and are unsure when they will leave then matters change. 

I often question whether or not what I am doing is worth while, if I am indeed influencing young people and their lives. Am I even making a difference? Today, as I know tomorrow is closing day, I think to myself "if nothing else, these youth smiled, laughed, enjoyed their time and made new friends." Although I hope they take with them more than this.

I feel there is a connection from the participants too. One of the girls said she even dreams of us (the trainers), others tells us they don't want the training to end. This means the world to me. I have come out of my bubble in lala land, it took a while but I feel that bubble I was living in has burst. No, I can't change the world, but I can influence people positively, one person at a time. Right? Yes...? No...? I honestly hope so.
During one of the Peer Education sessions
Someone wrote to me that they are not confident, "Help me" read the little post. during lunch I get to speak to participants sometimes, they share with me their stories, making it sound so normal, but right away I feel pain, I feel my heart sting... so many live apart from their loves ones, the boys feel useless because they don't work, the girls want to go back finish their studies, others have family who have died, are disabled, sick etc.. we also have one girl who is pregnant, soon another baby will be born a refugee in a camp, under a tent....
first day of training- me! 
I go to bed tonight proud of what I have done, at the same time upset. The typical mixed emotions I get every single time I have these peer education training sessions. What's weird is I never get used to it.

From this experience I have learned to appreciate my life, to respect my belongings, and to be thankful to my privileges.  Finally, I admit those I train are much much better and stronger than I am. I respect them for enduring and living the lives they live and the conditions they are in.

Grateful for the people in my life who believe, support and encourage
me to continue, this is with Huda Sarhang!
Until next time
Lots of love from..
My Nest in Kurdistan


Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Birthday - 6 years!

Today marks 6 years since I wrote my first ever blog post, it was called "I was born to try." I honestly feel like over the past six years I have raised a child. Six years of stories, experiences, people and adventures.

Sazan M. Mandalawi
Writing a blog post in a teahouse in Erbil
Through the past six years was a getaway for me, it as a place where I shared my thoughts, experiences, introduced people to Kurdistan, answered questions, collected donations and above all through the blog I met people who are an important part of my life now. 

Over the years the blog transformed, it grew and changed with me. The blog inspired a column, the column a book and now I hope a website is in the making. Thank you to every single person who inspired every sentence on mandalawi.blogspot.  

from My Nest in Kurdistan!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Online shopping in Kurdistan

Hellooo Loyal Blog Reader,

A while back whatever we wanted from abroad we had to wait for a friend to travel or for someone from Europe to come back to Kurdistan to bring it for us. Then we had to think of how much it weighed and face embarrassment of possible rejection.

Bye bye those days. Two new companies in Kurdistan are now making it possible for you to buy things from Ebay, Amazon and get it delivered to your door step.

Here is how.

1. Boomana, the Kurdish word meaning for us is based in Sofy mall, their Facebook page can be found here basically you can purchase a card anywhere between $25 to  $500 buy anything online and it will be delivered to you. I have used this service myself and recommend it. Took two weeks and my things  got delivered to the door, other times you can pick it up from their office in Erbil.

Ship things from Amazon all the way to Erbil

The boomana website is

Boombeene (bom bena) online shopping to Kurdistan
2. a popular one with some of my friends is Boombeene (prounounded bom bena) meaning bring it for me have an office in Vital, Erbil. It is the same process, you buy a card, sign up, shop and wait for your delivery. Those who have used this service speak highly of it. Of course both websites take their own commission on individual items, you can see how much they take and agree to make the purchase or refuse it... all in the comfort of your own home. Visit the boombene website here.

Boombeene Facebook page click here 
So, my dearest reader long gone are the days where you beg a relative to bring back something for you or wait months till someone visits Kurdistan to bring for you that something special. It's a few clicks away, shipping and online shopping is made much easier now with companies such as these.

Have a great weekend,
don't shop too much :D

Love from
My Nest in Kurdistan


This blog post is not sponsored nor is it advertisement. I received various emails asking about shipping, I thought this might be helpful. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Satisfy your sweet tooth

Helllooo Loyal Blog Reader,

Sweet tooth anyone? Something sugary? Something Sweet? Something a little oily too? (Don't tell me you're one of those who cringes every facial muscle and make wrinkles all over your forehead when it comes to sweets!)
Sweets in the heart of Erbil
Anyhow, I am probably not the biggest Baklawa fan, but there is always a soft side for my sweets. The other day we were walking through the bazaar in Hawler (Erbil) and came across a little shop with a massive crowd. Yup! That's when Saza gets super curious. "Kaka yak kilo, kaka doo kilo lama... kaka niw kilo la wa" was all I could hear.

Kunafa and something else... that was sweet
The fuss was all about sweeeeets!! There is a good three sweet shops in Erbil that rank high when it comes to service, hygiene and taste (note to self: add to list of must blog about) but then again there is nothing like proper street food!

The people who work here, if I am not mistaken are Kurds from Syria. The little shop is located on the outside of the Qaysari bazaar in front of Aswaq Sirwan near the Nishtiman Mall (well, kind of near it).

The view from where we ate
The serve the sweets outside and most people by kilograms of it to take home, although if we want to sit and enjoy a little something inside you also can. At the back there are a few chairs and the staff are lovely. Don't expect 5 star service, but it's one of those experiences where you feel you are living in a normal world where things aren't perfect but you can enjoy every second of the experience.

Variety of sweets
Outside they serve a good five/ six different sweets that they specialize in. We always go for the kunafa. I must say it tastes very fresh, I believe they don't have left overs from the night before (unlike some other places! ehm ehm).

aaaah... the shira
If you pass by the qaysari bazaar or to the city center in Erbil then drop by to this little sweets place and let me know what you thought! Hashtag your pictures with #MyNestInKurdistan

from My Nest in Kurdistan


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sleepless and helpless...

Dearest Loyal Reader,

it's exactly 1:51 AM. I can't sleep.
H.S. and I listening to one of the young girls in the camp today

Today, my friend Huda and I met with 115 young in one of the refugee camps in Erbil; that is 115 stories, 115 eyes that write novels, 115 desperate young people who want to make something out of their life. Some we spoke to for 10 minutes, other just two minutes, all for a peer education course we are planning to run in coordination with START NGO very soon. I don't know who to think of, the young girl who has 11 people in her family, one of her sister works and her father is disabled? Or the 16 year old who will get married soon? Do I think of the young boys who over and over said they are bored and there are no jobs or the girls who said their future is over and they dream of going back to their studies?

Anyhow,  life goes on. On a better note one of my good friends gave birth to baby Leen today. Leen means easy. I am going to take life easy.

love from
My Nest in Kurdistan


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Unwind in Erbil

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,
Wherever you are in the world here is a hello as warm and sweet as this pyala of chai..

If you have been a Loyal Reader you would know by now my favourite place to unwind during those times when I am mentally worn out.
Mam Khalil's teahouse in Erbil's qaysari bazaar

A walk on the beach while my feet sink in warm sand between my toes? Watching the sunset from the shores? Going for a walk in a forest? Doing Yoga in the outdoors? Having a coffee while listening to the sound of rain pitter-patter on the window? hmmm, yes, yes, yes, but let's be realistic it's 50 degrees outside and I am in Erbil where there is no sea, or a beach in sight (but I can keep dreaming).
Mam Khalil

But. Yes, there is always that lovely 'but' word. I find my visits to Mam (uncle) Khalil's teahouse  are very refreshing, relaxing and perfect for unwinding. It is located in Erbil's qaysari bazaar (click on the link. pweeeeez!!!) The atmosphere there -- the times when I'm lucky enough to go when it is not over crowded and no one is smoking -- makes me reflect on the simple life, the life that is often more painful but less stressful, not sure if that makes any sense to you.

There, I get to meet my friend Mam Khalil, who probably till now still doesn't remember my name. But that's okay because when he sees me he feels as though he has just been reunited with his daughter who lives oversees. I know for a fact he likes my visits, sometimes when less people are there we have a chitchat, other times it's a hello, a photo, and how is your family. He tells me about his children, grandchildren, his health and of course his wife. I feel like a grand daughter visiting her grandfather, a feeling that I have never had a chance to experience in my lifetime.

The best Kurdish chai
I admire this 76 year-old who wakes up 3 am everyday, goes to the mosque, then buys local yoghurt, tea and bread to serve in his little teahouse, chai-khana, until 8 pm he works. His rests are only during prayer times in the mosque close by.

Over the years I have come to see Mam Khalil grow old. My last visit, mid-day Friday, upset me as I saw him feeling unwell. His health seemed deteriorating, his eyes a little swollen, if it was anyone else they had to spend a few days in bed to recover, but this man doesn't know rest. Seven days a week, 17 hours a day. Although I know very well for him this is not just a job, not just a living, but an enjoyment.
Signs of aging and tiredness in on his shaky hands...
When I was first introduced to Mam Khalil by my friend N. Q., he used to serve tea for us, years later, and he comes sit by my side giving instructions to someone he has hired to bring the tea. For a second I imagine a day of me coming here, what would I do if I don't find him? No. No. I don't even want to think of that.

Let's socialize with some peeeerfectttt tea in a perrrrfect place! 
The atmosphere in this teahouse is probably not the most comfortable when it is filled with men. But when a little quieter, I enjoy the company. I forget all my pains. I look at photographs, listen to classical Kurdish music, have tea, and have a brief, simple conversation. Sometimes I take my notepad and there I get the crazies and best ideas or writing pieces. Life doesn't need to be this complicated? In this teahouse life can be simple. Life is simple. I am glad somewhere in this city I can go back to that simplicity every now and then.

Until next time
Love from My Nest in..


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Agha Burger!

Hellloooo to the most Loyal Blog Reader in the world,

So, we meet once again!

This week's Out & About Reviews is brought to you from the beautiful cultural capital of Kurdistan, the city of Sulaimaniya, or as I like to spell it, Slemani.

Agha Restaurant in Sulaimaniya (Slemani), Kurdistan

Before my first visit to Chavy Land I was "not so hungry" but peer pressured by the Partner and a friend of mine, R.B., to have a meal. Why not I thought to myself. Now, the exact location of this I can't give to you, because I really can't remember, but it was only a few minutes drive away from Slemani Palace hotel. In fact, if I am not wrong it was on that same road just after the bridge! Yes. I do remember where, Jaday Saholaka but towards the very end (Yes? No? Maybe...?! hmmm not too sure now) Anyhowwwww....

The little restaurant was called Agha. The seating is outside on the main road. It was early evening when we passed by so the beautiful Slemani breeze, the little chaotic (but definitely not annoying) main street made the meal a perrrrrrrrrrrfect one.

When S.K. asked what I wanted to eat,  I said bring me anything, and I never thought anything will be this little not-so-little mouth watering burger.

Agha burger in Sulaimaniya/ Slemani
If you pass by let me know what you thought of it.

Until next time
Love from My Nest...
in Kurdistan


Monday, August 25, 2014

A Kurdistani bag to help displaced people in Kurdistan!

Hello Loyal Blog Reader no matter where you are in the world,

Kurdistan bags sold for a good cause
Since you have always loved to help those in need I had to introduce you to my friend Shara! In raising money for the displaced people in Kurdistan Shara is selling the last pieces of the "Kurdistan Shopping Bags" by ROBIN-RUTH.

Get a Kurdistan bag and help displaced people at the same time
The bags cost as little as 15, 000 IQD each (just under $13 USD) if you would like to purchase a Kurdistan shopping/ handbag while helping people in Kurdistan who are in desperate need then please email:

Love from My Nest..
in Kurdistan!


So.. what happened? Vian Dakhil's crash story!

To the most Loyal Blog Reader in the world,

Thanks for dropping by (again)!

From the time I drank water from the spring in Lalesh, I fell in love with the most peaceful, loving, and vulnerable people I have ever met, the Yazidis.
Lalesh or Lalish

Lalish/Lalesh for more info click here

Earlier tonight I sat by the side of  Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi herself who spoke up in the Iraqi parliament against the butchery taking place against her people. The same woman later visited Mount Sinjar^, where thousands were stuck surrounded by ISIS. During her visit, the helicopter crashed and as a result  Vian was severely injured and hospitalized.
Vian Dakhil's plea in Parliament
Normally when I hear stories like these my heart can't take it. My tears flood down my cheeks and create puddles in my notepad, later, I wont be able to read the smudged words I have written. Today, was different. Vian's strength as she described her story to us made me burn in the inside but I kept a smile as a I sat in front of a hero, strong woman, someone who lives her life to help her people  sorry, can't find the right word, but definitely someone I admire.

"Vian, what happened?!" My mother exclaimed in a question with no end. Vian laughed, a look on her face that says "Oh aunty where do I start from?" 

I am silent. Secretly wishing to hear this from the start, but I also understand if she doesn't tell her story, after all she is still attempting to recover.

"We took off from Peshxabur," she begins.
"Wait. Can I take notes?" I interrupt.
"You can even record." I didn't expect this as an answer from an MP who is on a hospital bed with no makeup, wearing a simple shirt supported by pillows all around. Hence, I refuse to do so, I don't want her to feel she is doing an interview.
Taking notes - typical me.
"Other than me it was a pilot, a co-pilot, three other people as well as a group who had brought food, four journalists, Yadgar's uncle Thawri and Yadgar too. They had brought bread, and I think, oranges, apples, juices and water. As we were flying over Mount Sinjar they were throwing them down to people."
Vian's last pictures with the martyred pilot, Majid Tmimi

As Vian begins her story, I watch her father sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. If I was sitting any closer to him I would probably see a sparkle in his eyes, surrounded by faint wrinkles behind is glasses. I watch him kneel forward to hear the clear words of his outspoken daughter. I watch him hear the encounter that he has probably heard for the hundred and tenth time today.

"I sat by the captain in the helicopter he was explaining to me what he is doing, people were running on the mountain beneath us, following the helicopter, making signals. Some took off their shirts waving them in the air. It was tough."

"We landed. I spoke to the Peshmerga and people. Everyone ran inside the helicopter so they can return with us. We couldn't stay too long we had to take off quickly. Once we got into the helicopter and began to take off it lost balance. The pilot said it was too heavy, some people had to get off."

There is a little pause here and that's when I know the Vian who loves her people and lives to fight for their rights is finding it difficult to take in that the pilot is now dead.

"One of the woman told me 'take my two kids, I will get off.'" There is another momentary pause here. I don't ask what happened to the kids.

"No one wanted to leave the helicopter, some had to be forcefully taken out. It was hard. We tried to take off again, as we did, we lost balance once more  and the main rotor of the helicopter hit against the side of the cliff/ mountain, we crashed with the front hitting the ground."

"I was sitting behind the pilot. About 40/45 people fell on me in addition to the other things we had with us. I thought I was dead. In a matter of seconds I saw in front of my eyes a quick video tape of my life."

Vian's Facebook caption to this photo reads:
عذرا ،،، كوجو
لم استطع ان افعل لكِ شيئا
Here, I can see the MP living that particular moment again. Now I know what people mean when they say they saw death with their own eyes.

"The next thing I remember it was dark. Very dark. I was breathing heavily trying to take in oxygen. I called Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. with a very faint voice."

Here she speaks gently, living the moment to depict the picture of what had happened. I look at Vian's mother, she is staring at her daughter without a blink, resisting the tears laying at the corners of her eyes. This woman must be proud to have raised such a daughter, I think to myself.

After the helicopter crash
"My breathing stopped, but a little of air was coming to me every now and then. I took as much of it in as  I could. I knew very well my leg was broken. I could feel it. As I opened my eyes I could see a little hole of light slowly it became bigger and bigger. I knew by then there are people removing things on top of me. Twice I took out my hand, someone tried to pull me out but couldn't. Here, I lost the little hope that I had."

"I began to hear people calling vian, vian, vian. then I knew they were looking for me."

After removing the people and the goods on top of Vian they reached her. She recalls being lifted and walked from the sight of the crash to the mountain with her broken leg dangling behind. "I asked about people--who survived and who didn't, I was told the pilot didn't make it and died immediately."

From the start of our evening till this point I knew this woman is deeply affected by the death of the pilot. At this point there is interruption in the room that the pilot's family need to be taken care of, and a statue or monument to be created on the Shingal mountain in his honor. Of course, once all this ISIS issue is over.

"One of the Peshmerga brought two pieces of boxes and put my legs between it, he then took off his shirt and tied my legs with it."

Then Vian goes on to talk. My mind flies away to the top of Mount Shingal and therefore I miss all that she says. My mind goes to the Muslim male Peshmerga saving the life of a Yazidi woman; My mind goes to an Arab pilot who dies while taking aid to Yazidi people. Then again, there are people animals monsters like ISIS who kill their fellow humans because they believe only they deserve to live in this world.

In the helicopter, after the crash
Anyhow, I manage to wake myself up from this thought,  re-focussing my attention to the woman laying on the hospital bed in front of me.

"In the helicopter back the body of the pilot was laying next to me. The atmosphere smelt like blood, like death, everyone was shaking."

Here, Vian's father, who has been silent the entire time interrupts. "She called me while she was on mount Shingal,'dad if you hear a plane crashed on the mountain, don't worry I wasn't inside.'"
Recovering her physical wounds but still strong & loud about her views
and still fighting for her people's rights.

We all let out a little laugh, a little sigh and we all look at one another realizing in her most difficult moments this woman is thinking of her father. She didn't want her father to be worried, to be concerned, to go through a moment of not physical, but mental stress.
"Then I watch TV and it says Vian was on the crashed helicopter. I didn't believe the TV because her voice came out so strong and clear, it didn't feel like she has broken her body parts in a crashed helicopter."

Vian picks up from here, "Yes, I used a Peshmerga's mobile phone. I didn't tell anyone that I will be going on the helicopter to the mountain. Dad called earlier while I was on the plane I didn't pickup, because I didn't know what to tell him."

Dr. Dakhil, Vian's father...
Vian gives a gentle laughter, "I kept strong for that call after the crash, I had to make it, I remember at the end of the call my dad asked me when I come back to bring my aunty with me, she is in Duhok. I said okay."

"I didn't call my mum, because I know she never picks up her phone and we had a lot of guest at home I knew she is busy, same go to my sisters. Dad always answers."

"Dad always answers" is the last sentence I have written in my little notebook, leaning on Vian Dakhil's hospital bed taking notes on Friday night. Inside I am packed with thoughts, emotions and feelings. When I see this strong woman I don't dare shed a single tear.

Some people are born to make a positive change in the world, Vian Dakhil

I look once again to her father, still sitting down. His built is strong and tall from the outside, a white, thick moustache reflecting years and years of experience in life. A father who has clearly been part of his daughter's journey right from the beginning, a father who is in deep thoughts. A father who is living difficult times as his people are in a genocide. He is sitting watching his outspoken daughter who brought hope to every Yazidi, who President Obama quoted and who made us all cry over our keyboards as she spoke out for her people in parliament. I don't need to wonder what he is feeling and what he is thinking. After all the last words in my notes quoting Vian says it all: Dad always answers...Dad always answers....

I have taken some of the pictures, others compiled from Vian Dakhil's official Facebook page, the New York Times, The Time.

*Yazidi, otherwise can be spelled Yezidi, or the right term is Ezidi.
^Mount Sinjar is better known locally as Shingal or sometimes Shingar.

I Started writing this post on Friday - but kept coming back to it till I finished it off today. Sorry for the delay.

Friday, August 22, 2014

I wish...

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,

I have been trying to put myself together and write about the recent catastrophes for a while now.
Yazidi families escaping 

I wish I was a poet so that my words can put themselves together and write themselves powerfully to tell the world what my feelings are for my nation...

I wish I was a singer, so with my beautiful voice I can depict the pain and suffering of my people to millions of people around the world...

I wish I was a philosopher so that I can put all that is happening together, make it a complicated book and let people after me analyze it, quote it in their essays in colleges. It will be a reminder of what happened to my nation..
The Yazidi pain is my pain too
I wish I was a a powerful politician who can make grand decisions in favor of Kurds (not sure how seriously I wish to be a politician but you get the point)...

How about if I were a professional journalist? I would go on field and document all that is taking place for the world to see...

I wish I was a smart lawyer, so that I can help some of these people free of charge...

I wish I was a doctor so that I can at least heal the physical wounds of children, women, men and the elderly...
Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi, speaking in the Iraqi Parliament
I am none of the above. I am just a girl who can feel the pain of every person on this land... I am just the girl next door who happens to have a blog and tweet every now and then. I am just someone who collects from those who have and gives it to those who don't.

Why? Only because of who they are....
If you, my loyal reader, knew the painful stories of the people on my land, you too, will help. Please say you will.

(I wrote this on the night of August 20th, when I could't fall asleep)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The power in our youth

Today I am wounded. My mind is with the pershmerga, it’s with our yazidi brothers and sisters who have no food and stuck on Mount Sinjar. My heart is with the girls and women who were kidnapped – some raped, others sold. Yet, my life has to continue. I am a guest, hosted at the amazing city of Slemani, my friend and I are training young people peer education skills so they can go to high schools and in their own colleges do life skills sessions for their peers and other youth.
group work! 

There is something special about training youth. For five days from early morning till early evening I am with 20 young boys and girls. I we (my colleague and I) become part of their life, I begin to understand their different personalities and see the great side of each and every single one of them. Good bye becomes difficult. 

One of the sessions today on emotions and anger management 

When I am training and working with young people I go to a different world. I love working with people my own age. I still say my own age, even though I am constantly reminded that in few years time I wont be able to classify myself under this category of young people, Anyyyyhow... Today I learned one of them is a cancer survivor, another has lost her father yet she is determined to keep going, another was absent today because her father is having an operation. In five days you get to really know some of them closely. Even the very quiet who rarely take part in the group conversations, they still have a lot to express, they have good things to say.

An activity/ session on inequality in society-

I see these young people grow as individuals; I see them become close friends. I watch them share facts about themselves and their lives with their peers that they wouldn’t normally do.

Sometimes we go an extra mile to make a point
I love seeing these young boys and girls laugh till their tummies hurt; And sometimes I see their tears. I am a firm believer there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ young person. Although their society and their experiences take them on a certain path – a path that may not always be the best choice. They are at an age where you can mould them how you want, therefore, a very sensitive time in their life. We must invest in our youth if we want a prosperous future for our country.

Friendly discussions

As I write this I am listening to so much chaos, so much noise; I am listening to shouting, to negotiating, to laughter to NOs and Yeses, to energetic voices explaining different things. They are preparing to do an interactive theatre performance on violence and its different forms.

Using materials to send messages through 
The young people in my country have gone through tough experiences. Some of them have witnessed genocide, some of their fmailies have gone through times that no one can imagine. With no doubt this has impacted who they are, how they act and what they think. Sometimes the youth in my coutry can feel lost. Lost between the older generation and their parents expectations and between their lives now and peers' expectations – lost between mountains and technology – lost between who they are expected to be and who they really are.

I hope in the little things we do we can be a positive force in allowing young people to find themselves in order to better adapt to a fast changing society. I dream of the day where our students in schools across Kurdistan can have this Peer Education program in their curriculum. 

They are about to begin their sketches. Gosh! I love how motivated this group is! Better go. Bye for now!

My friend and co-trainer,  R.B., at times we laugh our tears away
Until next time, much love from My Nest...
in Kurdistan