Friday, July 25, 2014

It's an important day...


Tonight is laylat-el-qader. In the room I am in lights are dim. The prayer mat is waiting for me to sit before God and pray. It is going to be a long night. Today was/is an important day.

My dearest reader, as we approach the days of Jezhn (Eid) thousands of families in my city will have not purchased their new clothes, neither have they purchased celebratory food, nor have they planned anything special. Do you know why? Because the leader of the country that I supposedly belong to has cut off my people's salaries. He wants us to die of starvation. He wants us to cause war and rebel against our government. He wants us to blow ourselves up. He is committing a genocide against us. My people are still going to work, they are working for no income.  

I open Facebook and the first thing I see is a picture of the Muslim shrine of Prophet Younis blown up in Mosul, next door to the city I live in. It's an important day.

60 people were killed in a bomb and car attack in Baghdad as prisoners were evacuated. I will point out my uncles, cousins and dear ones still live in Baghdad. Yes, this also happened today. After all, it's an important day.

I am living in a time, age and place where not too far away my Christian brothers and sisters get a letter 'N' drawn on their houses: They either convert their religion, pay money or get killed. Did Nazi Germany do this?

Today, my fellow Kurdistani brothers and sisters, Christians, Muslims and all the other religious and cultural colors  held hands, side by side, they demonstrated. My friend organized this walk, asking for peace, coexistence. Are we asking for too much? It's an important day.

Few years back I dealt with girls in high schools who had been through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) when they were younger. I was close to their stories, their difficult secret lives and muted pains. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) worked hard to put an end to this, the KRG made FGM illegal. Today, the ISIS announced every girl in Mosul must be circumcised. Two million girls' lives will officially be ruined. It's an important day.

This evening the white UN car with a convoy drove right past me, Ban Ki Moon was in my city. It's an important day.

Earlier today in between meetings I couldn't get my eyes off  Twitter, the new President of Iraq was announced. Still not sure what I think of this. But it's an important day. 

My dearest reader, yes the list is incomplete, this is my little part of the world. What happened near you today? This is aside from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, aside from the planes falling, crashing, and getting lost; aside from the silent killings and cruel punishments of my Kurdish family in Iran, and the innocent children sleeping under bombshells in Syria; Aside from the Kurdish women in uniform fighting injustice.

As for me, I belong to a country that no one else wants to recognize. I belong to a stateless nation of pain and suffering. A nation of peace lovers, but like a tree we are trying to grow in an environment where the harsh winds of our surrounding is trying to break us apart, push us down. I have hope.

We have strong roots. Yet we are watering ourselves and carrying with us our own sunshine.

I laugh at myself. I studied politics, international relations, I read more books than my own weight on diplomacy, who was I fooling? 

I am sitting with my laptop, reading news, in tears.
My husband is sitting on the floor listening to du'as watching people pray on TV.

He is silent. I am silent. The world is silent. It's a very silent night. 

I will go now. My prayer mat is calling me. I have a lot to pray for. 

My dear, it's an important day, because "it's a night where Muslims believe that God blesses everyone, and forgive all sins, accept all prayers as you wish, and the angels come down." 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Grumpy Four: B to B Breakfast

So, on the last Friday before Ramadan the Grumpy Four and I decided for a family breakfast out. First option that came to mind was B to B

Now, before you read this review please know that B to B (breakfast to breakfast) is still one of my favorite places to eat in Erbil and it's one of my only to go delivery places in Erbil. Their food is TASTY! But this was just... an unlucky day perhaps?

Near Italian Village on the 100 meter street, Erbil

We went to the family section of B to B- that itself is divided into two different sections: Smokers and non-smokers. Hence, ideal for everyone and I loved that! I don't go to many restaurants in Erbil only because I suffocate from the smoke of cigarettes  and Argila (nargila, or shisha, whatever it's called) 

it was clean, tidy, but as Dani and Sahand pointed out the "lighting is so fa3o" - basically, they did not like the lighting. The tables and chairs however are distributed in such a way where you feel you have privacy and enough to room to have a conversation without the table next to you hearing everything.

B to B restaurant, family section

Here is what we ordered
Acke: No order (he had a tummy ache)
Dani: Breakfast Plate
Mirkhan: English breakfast

Sahand: Club Sandwhich and Cheese Mana'eesh
Saza: Egg plate! (and this was literally just a plate with two plane eggs) 

Here are the grumpy four and their ranking out of 10 for their breakfast

Service: "Zefata" 0
Food: Acke didn't order anything

Service: 1
Food: 1
"Salad was dry, definitely not fresh. The olives were bad, orange juice was good." 

Service: 0 He almost fought with one of the staff
Food: 2 "But I give the Shisha 6/10" Note: No one else has Shisha

Service: 3
Food: 3

The Bill: 80, 000 ID (around 70 USD)  We all agreed it was not worth it at all. I guess for us there is no more breakfast at Breakfast to Breakfast.

Catch up with us next time as the Grumpy Four go Out and About!

*Please note that this is a review of a single breakfast we had there, and does not mean the entire restaurant is poorly rated, as we love the food B to B provides for its main meals. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Save a life with Dilvia

Dilvia's campaign for blood donation
 The Dilvia Charity Organization, run by a fantastic group of young volunteers, have started a phenomenal campaign to donate blood for children with thalassemia.

On June 2-4 between 8:30 am and 12 pm the blood bank van will be located in the heart of Erbil to make it easy and convenient for people to donate blood. It is near Bazaari Nishtiman, right next to Baakhi Shar (near the big clock and the fountains). Smiles of friendly youth will be waiting for you there!
When: 2 to 4 June, 2014
Where: Baakhi Shar, Erbil, Near Bazaari Nishtiman
Who: Friendly youth at Dilvia in coordination with the Blood Bank
Contact: See poster above or click HERE
People in a queue earlier today to donate blood - Erbil, Bakhi Shar

Hospitals here are always in need of blood. Usually when a patient takes blood they must also find a donor  who will offer blood, this is mainly due to the fact that not many people here donate. Families who have children with thalassemia cannot continuously give blood in order to receive some from the blood bank.
Berivan during her blood donation

What I love about Dilvia is all their members donated blood first before launching the campaign to  welcome members of the community to donate. Within the next week the campaign will move to Family and Tablo Mall as well.

Above: Children with thalassemia giving flowers to blood donors today to say "thank you!" Receive your flower and visit the mobile blood bank first thing tomorrow. The children with more difficult conditions are not allowed to leave hospital nor do they have the health conditions or the energy to come and give you a flower to say thank you. But be sure every single person who uses your blood will pray for you and will forever be grateful to you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Life at home

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,

Twice in my life I was a refugee. Once in Iran, and another time in Turkey. On both occasions I was too young to understand what it meant to be a refugee, too young to know what my parents are going through and what it is that is taking place in my surrounding. My refugee story ended up being one of those 'happily ever after' because a host country accepted us as we went to exile. 

Baby Hawler
Today, not too long after, here I am back home among refugees of my own nation. Every time I step into any camp a feeling comes to me which I do not encounter anywhere else I go. All of a sudden the house I live in, the car I drive and the clothes I wear mean nothing to me. Absolutely nothing. I look back at my return to Kurdistan (and if you've read My Nest In Kurdistan you'd know I had a bumpy start) but reflecting now, it was the best decision ever. 

Often when I do the training with the youth refugees (along side two other great friends of mine) a special bond  forms with some of them. This time when I went back to Kawrgosk I met Kh., she is a 16-year-old girl, the eldest of the five children in her family. She insisted I visit her tent and meet their newly arrived sister, baby Hawler. Yes, the little baby girl was named Hawler, after the city in which was born in, as a refugee*.

The eyes, the eyes kill me....

How are you supposed to feel when you hold in your arms a baby girl, born while her family are living under a tent in a refugee camp? How are you supposed to feel looking into the eyes of a shy little girl who has to play in mud rather than a playground? 

No matter what you do, you walk out feeling guilty. 

She finally revealed a smile
The people in the camps, who are by far the most vulnerable, are teaching me a lot. From them I am learning more about life, about appreciation, about being thankful. Because so many of them are so thankful for everything in their lives. They are thankful because they wake up in the morning with their children still alive.

On the ground, at the entrance of the tent
In the camps I have met the strongest youth. The ones who are inspiring, those who have left their university, their studies, their lovers, their friends, their life to live under a tent and are determined to find a job for a better living. However, some of them do admit they are at their breaking point.

Me (left) and Kh. (right) on our way to her tent
For a while N.Q. and I were standing by the UNFPA caravan as they distributed Dignity Kits to pregnant women and those with newborns. Many mums-to-be or new mums surrounded the caravan, I manage to approach a few for a casual conversation; From how they hold their little ones, or touch their big baby bumps I understand "life goes on."

One happy boy with a donation
Walking in a refugee camp where people have fled their own houses and lives in fear of being killed is tough to take in, however, there are little things you see that you make you smile. Here, a little boy is pulling behind him a big airplane, too heavy for him to carry. It made me smile, because I knew someone had bought this toy and sent it here, not knowing which child will end up playing with it (in my head I make a quick prayer for whoever it was who donated this toy). It makes you smile and happy to know you belong to a nation (Kurds) and a country (Kurdistan) who have accepted with open arms the newly comers, seeing them as guests rather than refugees. It makes me smile to have inbox messages, texts, emails and calls of people who have donations they want to pass to families in the camps. This makes you believe there are still plenty of good people in the world.

The young boy and the oversize plane
There are those in the camp who, despite all of the challenges they face, look up and thank god. I almost always come across these individuals. Those who appreciate every small thing one does for them, those who say they are "lucky" and "happy" for where they are and what they're offered. 

A new-mum breastfeeding her newborn, waiting for UNFPA Dignity Kits
And so, my life back home is a special one at the moment. I am learning a lot, finding out more about life, about myself and about what it means to be living in this world. It is special, because I am interacting with people, who not long ago, could have probably been my own relatives, my own family....this little child 24 years ago could have been me.

*Hard to call Kurds refugees on Kurdish-land. Sadly, this is the reality! 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Help! I want a job in Kurdistan!!

Hello Loyal Blog Reader,

A few of you have asked me about where to start looking for jobs in Kurdistan. Some of you are abroad and want to come back here, but you do not know enough people or places to start a job, and therefore a life. So, I have come to the rescue (love me? Right?!)

Before I give you links of different places you can pass by (I mean click to) for some job vacancies in the Region you will probably ask this: What gets paid most?

First, something that I was very excited about mid last year (I almost mid 'earlier this year') was the Kurdistan Works initiative of the KRG's Prime Minister, I must admit we do have an awesome PM.
Right now, the Kurdistan Works website - you can access it by clicking HERE has over 1000 job vacancies in the region. So, yes, I would give that a try!

Kurdistan Works website
If I remember correctly, a young man runs Kodo Jobs all voluntarily,  you can visit the website HERE and the twitter account HERE (I might be completely wrong about the first bit of this, but I do know for sure that their are vacancies there that you can checkout).

The next stop would most likely be MSelect, they are a very popular recruitment company in Kurdistan, very friendly staff and a good go to station for sure. In case you can't read the details below, their website is

MSelect information for jobs in Kurdistan

You must also try Erbil ManPower ( their info is below, you can also visit their Facebook page here. I also know they have a job fair every now and then, which is a great link between companies and job seekers.
Erbil Manpower - seeking jobs in Erbil?
Jobs in Kurdistan should also be a place to visit. Here is their Facebook page here
Drop by to the Jobs in Kurdistan website for options for jobs

Hope this helps, drop me an email if you have further questions,
for now good luck with your visit to Kurdistan,
you might find that you will change a few jobs until you settle at something you LOVE!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs

The column below was published in 2009, in the Kurdish Globe newspaper in Erbil.

Village girl vs. city girl
By Sazan Mandalawi

Picture C. Jan Sefti Kurdish Girl

I have previously stated there is no woman in the world like a Kurdish woman, and I stand by those words--although I have decided to take the challenge further and look at the difference between a city girl and a village girl in Kurdistan.

So what brought this peculiar and rather strange idea to my mind now? Aside from the fact that stereotypical, negative views dominate our society about village girls, I had the privilege to spend the Jezhn break in a village near the Mergasoor area of the region. Having spent all my life in a city and never having lived in a village or country, I came to realize just how "girlie," frail and delicate we--the city girls--can be.

The young women or the girls in general in the villages differ to a large degree than the girls who have grown in the city. A new groom would have to spend half his paycheck every month on clothes for his bride who has lived in the city all her life and would most likely consider shopping as one of her hobbies. In the areas I visited, the girls wore simple Kurdish clothing at home and had another set--with more details and colors--for when they go out.

Apart from the housework of running around cooking and cleaning for the guests who continuously walk in and out the house, these women also do the men's work in their small farms or look after the animals if they have any.

I was proud of the fact that I can cook rice, eggs, and potatoes; but after what I have seen I feel foolish and?let's just say?not so proud.

We were invited for dinner at one of the local houses--in the two-hour span they knew we were going to be their guests that evening the girls had cooked all the difficult foods that Kurds have, including the dreadful Yapragh. We (the city girls, that is), on the other hand, with two days prior notice and following the cooking methods in a few cookbooks--other than the salad nothing seemed to turn out right!

One thing that amazed me the most is that if these people had a dishwasher it would not wash the dishes as clean and fast as young women can. Meal after meal, the girls tuck their long Kurdish dress under the rope on their waist, pin the sleeves on their shoulders, and wash the dishes better than three working dishwashers. Then there is us--the pitiable city girls-we wash the dishes one day and go on about it for the next two days. Did I mention one person uses the detergent and another washes it away with water, and usually a third person would also be helpful to remove the wet dishes from the rack so it gets out of the way?

In the city, on almost every second street there is a local salon--and I assure you they make better money than many businessmen in Erbil. Whether for a party, at any hairdresser or in any beauty parlor it is worse than a doctor's clinic where sometimes, even with an appointment, you can wait up to half an hour before your turn.

We are all about makeup and dying our hair with multiple colors, and now even manicures are becoming popular. The village girl, on the other hand, needs no layers of foundation as her skin is naturally smooth; she posses the natural beauty that looks more dazzling because of the natural environment she grows up in. Her hair does not need to be dyed in three different colors to look good, because the natural henna she uses gives extra shine and strength to her already eye-catching long black hair.

Even when it comes to fitness, the village girls seem to be a leap ahead of us. With the many gyms and swimming pools now, many girls are members at local fitness centers to get that "perfect body." From her constant work in the house and on the farms, the village girl has a body of a model hidden in her loose Kurdish clothing. We indulge in chocolates like Galaxy and Ferrero Rocher; they, on the other hand, enjoy natural foods freshly picked from the trees--the way she can break a date and peel the skin with her hand is admirable, or the way she treats herself to berries sitting by the shade of a berry tree.

A typical girl who has grown up in the city would most likely be well educated and go to a university. This does not undermine the intelligence of a village girl, who knows all about natural remedies. A village girl learns from life's experiences-something you cannot gain from reading thick books and highlighting all the important details.

Show a city girl a cockroach and she will scream her lungs out--literally. On the other hand, the bravery a village girl possesses is immense; she can confront a wild animal to protect the family's herd of sheep.

Finally, village girl or city girl? You be the judge, but keep in mind even though they may not go to the best English-speaking universities or might not be involved in the train of globalization that is apparent in city life, a village girl in Kurdistan is a young woman that must be respected and admired in her own rights, because if not worse, we are certainly not better than she is! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why Kurdistan?

Dearest Loyal Blog Reader,

Erbil, Hawler at night. (Pic. from Caitlin In Kurdistan)
So many years have passed since I first landed in the Erbil International Airport, at that time, it wasn't even a proper airport. So many years have gone pass since my first tears of the big return 'home' and so many years have passed about me learning about this place which I now call My Nest.

The memories I had of Kurdistan in my childhood years were not great ones, but I am glad my later teenage and early adulthood years memories of Kurdistan are pleasant ones. I will have a lot of stories to tell once I grow old. Once I have wrinkles and grey hairs, once I have grandchildren sitting on my lap (not sure if by then grandchildren will even have time to sit on an old granny's lap, but anyhow, you get my point).

I am not originally from Erbil, or Hawler. But for some reason I feel it is my own city, I share a beautiful bond of love and appreciation with Hawler and it's people as well. They're warm hearted, loyal, friendly and every time I meet someone for the first time, they make me feel like I have known them all of my life, that's one of the beautifies of this city.

I share a bond with the people here, because I have come to understand where they were and where they are. They are people who appreciate things they have (most of them) and they appreciate the fact they live in a safe place that is a result of years of sacrifice. They're just lovely people who are going through an intense transition phase.

So many years have passed, yet it has been too fast. Too fast to to even sit back and compare where we were and where we are. Too fast to sit back and comprehend. But I have come to love it here. I love the summer picnics, the winter seatings with family around a heater. I have come to love the little bits and pieces that we so often complain about (but I know it will get better); I love how the youth love their nation, they want progress and development and they want it fast. I love every inch and every bit of this city.

So many years later, they still manage to ask me, "so, why Kurdistan?" and all I can reply is "why not?!"

Maybe this is why I want so many people to come back. I want them to feel the tough pains but also the fruits of success and accomplishment; I want people to know here, they are not working in a system, but they are helping to create and build a system so that many future generations can work within and improve.

It is definitely not an easy journey, it is definitely not all smiles and laughter. No, by far not. But it is a journey of self realization, a journey that will let you grow as a person, a journey of finding out more about yourself as you attempt to find who you are.

My dearest reader, if you're thinking of a return, don't have second thoughts. Come back! Give it ago!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

For the ladies!

Dear Loyal Blog Reader,

So often women ask about life in Kurdistan as a female: What to do? Where to go? Can I walk alone? Can I go for a run? Can I go to the gym? Can I take a taxi?

The answer is always yes, but there is always a big fat BUT. You can, but if you want to be comfortable dress modestly; You can, but you need to know where to go and when to go; You can, but you need to be aware of the right places!

For example, you certainly won't be comfortable in your running shoes going for a job in any random neighborhood you choose to. Having said this, there are certain places where you can do this and it would not be a problem at all (I have seen many woman go for a job alone in Naz City for instances).

On one of the previous entries I posted a link of the Women's International Nework Erbil group, not too long ago one of the ladies asked a question, the expats here gave her various replies. I thought I would share this with you, to give you more of an insight! Names and DPs are all deleted.

Hello Ladies, what are the general difficulties you face here? Do you all lead a pretty normal life or is it full of restrictions? Are you always careful and alerted or just normal like you would be in any country? Thank you

  • Well, this is a tough one, and maybe I am not answering to the point your looking at. I have lived in a few Western countries plus recently Kazakhstan, but this area is a first for me. I do not feel threatened here - but it still annoys me being stared at. I also miss the fact that there aren't more women around when you go somewhere. And being truly German, I miss my sidewalks and the possibility to walk to places which are within a 30 min walking radius.

  •  I'm very relaxed here even more so than I was in the uk. I have never felt in any danger. Yes I get stared at but not to the point some women report- then again I do not frequent night clubs or anywhere like that.

  •  Well if you have peroxide blonde hair like me ofcourse I will be stared at but I don't notice it as much now I just play ignorant to it. It's no big deal.

  • Well at that point i love it here minus missing the cultural life. Anything else is ok for me. I feel safer then in Russia , that for sure))

  •  I feel safe here. Used to stares. They stares as much at us as we do at them.

  •  I work full time and will take taxis alone. Never had a problem I speak very basic Kurdish.

  • We came to live in erbil since 2011 used to live in london , i work in XX university comparing life here to london is a big difference but what i like here life is more relaxed my kids are happy here we meet friends every weekend i am iraqi from baghdad i take taxi every day back from work its a matter of luck some are chatty and want to know ur life here and some keep silent but for the long run i dont want my kids to grow here maybe until they are 10 , 11 years old

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs

The column below was published in 2009, in the Kurdish Globe newspaper in Erbil.

Garage School
By Sazan Mandalawi

'Dara Du Dari Dee; Du Dari Dur Dur!!' (Dara saw two trees, two far, far trees) about 15 to 18 of us would call out as loudly as we possibly could.

These words are famous sentences from the first pages of the grade-1 Kurdish book. We were not in Kurdistan when we learned this; we were in Australia, in Garage School-- that is what we called it, and every Sunday morning that is where all the local Kurdish children met.

At that time we were all 8- or 9-year-olds. Nevertheless, a decade later I remember every word I studied. I recall every week the kids would get together in one house--or should I say--the garage of a house, and learn Kurdish. We only had two copies of the grade-1 Kurdish book; we waited months until a family returned and brought back a few others with them so we could at least share some copies. A pack of chalk, a black board and bean bags were the mobile equipment we carried with us every week from house to house--correction, from garage to garage.

Every Sunday one of the parents volunteered to teach us in his or her garage. (Just some extra information--a few times we had school inside the house, but then there were complaints that we messed things up and there was too many of us. The excuse was there was no room, but it took a week to clean up after 18 hyperactive kids.)

Now I know this was a strategic and well thought-out plan by our parents to keep us attached to our roots. The rules of Garage School were simple: Once a week we would be there for four hours, and sometimes we would go to the movies or a park together in the evening after the so-called "lectures" were over. We also had to do our homework, which was writing the letters of the alphabet a hundred times--row after row--and we had to speak Kurdish while we were there, I can still recall the colorful "NO ENGLISH" signs we drew on the wall.

We were taught simple things, although I must admit most of the time we were fooling around. Since it was a "Kurdish" school, a few of us got a slap or two on the hands when we fooled around too much. After all, we had to feel like we were in Kurdistan.

Every Kurd works as an ambassador abroad--male or female, young or old. Having spent my childhood and teenage years on foreign land, I can not emphasize this enough.

This is rather contradictory, considering the fact that Kurdish people back home normally criticize much of the situations that are taking place in their daily lives. Nevertheless, abroad the state of affairs is different.

Living in Australia, the small Kurdish community we had was diverse in all sorts of ways: Kurds from Iran, Iraq, Turkey; the Badini, Sorani, Luri--there was no difference. We were Kurds and that was what held us all together.

What is amazing is that in every possible way the Kurds attempted to absorb the attention and sympathy of the Australians. All the Kurds would invite their "Aussie" friends to our picnics where Yaprax and Bryani (Kurdish foods) were prepared (that day had to be the diet-free day). They would bring them along to our celebrations of Newroz and many other occasions. (Soon the Aussies learned that Kurdish time means arriving one hour after the time written on the invitation) All this was so that they would learn more about the culture of music and dancing that exists in Kurdistan. In times of seriousness or political instability, we would form demonstrations and involve our Australian friends as well.

The Kurdish people saw it as their responsibility to inform the Aussies about who they are and what they are. From events of Halabja or celebrations of Newroz, we tried to inform and involve them at the same time. This feeling of patriotism and faithfulness to one's land abroad is something I will forever be proud of about the Kurds in Perth.

Elderly Kurdish men formed a soccer team where they played two afternoons a week. The kids came along to support their fathers, and the women came to cheer on their husbands. It was also a get together where we spoke Kurdish and met with people who shared the same culture and traditions as we did at home.

At Garage School, however, we would complain and whine about the homework and request to go to Kurdistan as an educational trip. "If you finish the book this year, we will take you for the education trip to Kurdistan," the parents promised us--or rather fooled us into thinking was the truth. But it kept us motivated to continue the classes. Who would have imagined that some of us would one day be back here for good?

I wish I could say all those Kurds living abroad have the same community spirit that we had; unfortunately this is not the case. I was lucky to be part of such a "Kurdish atmosphere," even though I was abroad.

So where are the kids of Garage School today? Most are now graduating university; few have children of their own, and a handful is back in Kurdistan with well-established jobs.

As for me, here I am--a personal decision made to live nowhere else in the world but Kurdistan. Who knows? Perhaps if it weren't for Garage School I would not have formed this affection and love toward this land--maybe it was motive for my return to Kurdistan. Now every time I hear "Dara Doo Dari Dee," I pause for a smile and remember the sentence that is nailed in my mind and that turned my life around

Monday, December 30, 2013

Moving to Kurdistan!

Dearest most Loyal Blog Reader (s), no matter in which freezing cold, or melting hot corner of the world you maybe in right now!!!

I admit I am not the best blogger. A huge apology for all the inboxes which I have not replied to, but here I am with a post that will probably answer all your questions, and more. Truuuuuuust me!!!

By the way, read till the end of this post and you will see a surprise. Consider it a New Year present from me to you.

So, sit back, no, actually go get yourself a pyala of chai (or coffee), then sit back, relax and read away as you will have all the information on living in this part of the world only clicks away. You've gotta love me for this!

This is what a pyala of chai looks like. (Tea  in a special glass, referred to as Istikan in Arabic)

So, let's get started! Shall we?!

Ladies first. As always! 

Men seem to dive in to any new place they live in, whether for a holiday or work related stay. However, us women, well... let's just saw we like to know where we are going and a little planning and thinking doesn't hurt!

Your first stop should be the Women's International Network Erbil (W.I.N.E) page, feel free to click here  if you're a woman in Erbil. I advice you to join the large family of women from all corners of the world who share the nice pizza they had at certain restaurant, their search for a particular cupcake mixture at the supermarkets or it can be a place to share your complaints and difficulties while living in the ever growing city in it's transition phase. Believe me, with over 600 members in the group there is always almost someone who replies with an answer to your question or gives support, advice and kind words to your complaint.

Women's International Network Erbil 

This group is so good to the extent that you can ask the number of a restaurant that delivers the best burgers and you will have a reply with in two minutes! I must mention once more it is a WOMEN'S ONLY group.

Let's Volunteer in Kurdistan, Erbil

There are various ways you can do this, but it is often best to volunteer with an NGO because in many places here you can't just walk and say: "Hey! I want to volunteer with you." The sad reality is you will get people raising their eye brows. Hence, you can start in one of these places.

Volunteers in Erbil  is a page on Facebook where you can get to know other people who are interested in volunteering. From there you can share your ideas and involve others who have same interests and want to help out.

Volunteers in Erbil - page

You can contact the RISE Foundation, click here they're a great group who do great work. I have seen them in action and I must say very easy going. Someone by the name of Tom was a great help at a point where a friend collected a lot of donations, they helped in entering the refugee camp and distributing a lot of the goods (note there are two Toms in RISE!). Contact them! Some wonderful people there! However, I think their work is limited to only refugees in the Region.

RISE Foundation
My first start in volunteering was with START NGO, their door is always open, feel free to click here and learn more about what they do.


* Sorry if there are any typos, it is hard to focus on what to write when you're eating some amazing kulicha with tea! Also, a BIG HUGE SORRY, the display pictures of the PrintScreens are not appearing on the computer. I blame the slow internet connection. I am apparently very behind for not upgrading to FastLink which apparently is the fastest internet at the moment.

Anyhowwwww back to what we were saying. Ways to volunteer in Erbil.

IFMSA International Federation of Medical Students Association- Kurdistan was initiated by my amazing friend Dr. Leila Amin. I remember I attended one of their events this year, many of the volunteers who are medical students referred to Leila as the God Mother of IFMSA-Kurdistan. She initiated it, and now it is run by some  SUPER AMAZING young Kurds! If you are a nurse, doctor or anything in that field GET IN TOUCH with Leila and her superb team!

IFMSA Kurdistan - Facebook post
And finally a wonderful group of young people run the Dilvia Charity organization, which according to my knowledge are all volunteers. I had a few friends there when Dilvia was just starting.
Dilvia Charity Organization
Fun, leisure and yeah.. more fun in Erbil

For those who like to have some fun, here are some places for you to start.  The only (I think) English radio station in Erbil is called Babylon, it is streamed on 99.3 FM, there is an amazing morning show which will make you laugh all the way to work. I think you can listen to it online no matter where you are, click here to find out more about them. The three hosts will be your best friends in your lonely Erbil mornings. So do tune in.

99.3 Babylon FM, English Radion Station in Kurdistan

This is the iErbil page. Browse around, basically little bits and pieces about Erbil, insights, advertisements, and you can read what many individuals write who are already living here. 


The Erbil Lifestyle page is all about where to go and what to do in Erbil. Everything from events, parties to people and places. For example did you know the Lebanese (I think she's lebanese) artist Nawal el Zoughbi will be hosting a party on New Year's Eve in Erbil. Nop. I bet you didn't. (You probably don't even know who she is, but you get my point) So give  the page a like and browse around.
Events in Erbil for New Year #Hawlerakam #Hawler
Ummm.. for the ones who like to have a night life (to be honest other than Iskan street and the malls I am the wrong person to give advice on a night life in this city) but there is a closed group which I am not a member of. Some of you might want to have a look, it is the Erbil Night Life page. My nightlife consists of family gatherings or the most is a burger in one of the infinite cafes/ restaurants. (I have a few posts on on various cafes. Check them out!)

Finally, Spotted Erbil  is a fun leisure page which you might like to have a look at. 
Spotted Erbil Facebook page

Oooooops! Almost forgot, for The Nerdy type - we do have the Erbil Book Club group as well, not many people seem interested, there are about seven of us (girls) now. It's kind of fun, because we end up reading a book and never meeting up.  If the situation improves I will make sure to blog about that too.

The University of Kurdistan Hewler offers Music Lessons once a week. If you are interested. There is however a fee.

Also, there are Yoga and Zumba classes running in Erbil as well. If you are interested to join. The Yoga classes runs four days a week. (Click on the Yoga and Zumba button, it will take you directly to the pages, do send them an inbox with your questions.)

That's it for now! Dearest Loyal Blog Reader, click away to the many pages and sites, write emails, comments and find your home away from home in Erbil, or as I like to call it, Hawlerakam (My Hawler).

For those who did scroll down and want to know the surprise. Ummm I honestly don't know what you were expecting as a surprise, but I will be blogging for seven consecutive days, as from today (please say this was a good surprise. Yes? No? Ok. that's a no!) Also, as a 2014 gift I will be posting my Memoirs column back in the Kurdish Globe days. Every Wednesday night on Mandalawi.blogspot

SURPRISE!!! Read above. Hehe

Okay, okay, I get it. Can you at least act like you are surprised and excited?!


For now xwa hafiz!

Wednesday Memoirs - The loyal child

The loyal child
By Sazan M. Mandalawi

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Kurdish culture is the strong family bond it tries to celebrate.

Nuclear family is still very much alive in Kurdistan and inspires hope to entire generations. In fact, the elderly do not have to leave the family for a nursing home. Sazan Mandalawi explains more.

I have come to enjoy my regular visits to the orthodontist, as you may understand a five minute doctor's visit results in five hours of patience in the waiting room. With the most recent visit, after an hour of reading Ambrose and Brinkley's book Rise to Globalism with history of American foreign policy. The words on the page became scribbles and squiggly lines in front of my eyes. Clearly, not learning anything, with the sound of the Mulla's baang - a call for evening prayers - closing the book I placed it on my lap, looking around the waiting room, and down on the street through the window, I realized just by observing, we can learn and observe so much about Kurdish people.

I can write about the reckless driving in Erbil's medical road, the endless long waiting hours, the pregnant mother with three toddlers, the crying child, the Taxi horns, the bags of prescribed medicine and the topics of chit-chat and gossip in the waiting room.

Nevertheless, what caught my attention was observing a young man holding the hand of an elderly man, clearly his father, with the other hand placed gently on his shoulders, above the arched back, guiding him across the busy street. I thought at that point he would let him go, I was mistaken, as they walked a little further and until the point my eyes could follow them into the doctor's center he kept his father close to him, like an overly precious gem that he was so cautious about to keep safe.

The picture was clear in my mind, an ill elderly father, mid seventies I would imagine, the son brining him for a doctor's visit. This is not a rare scenario in the region. In fact, the bond and care a family share is undeniably one of the most beautiful and inspiring features of the Kurdish culture.

This particular incident I observed that day reflects and reveals a great deal about the importance of family bond here in the region. I have come to realize the sons and daughters as they grow they remain loyal to their parents who sacrificed everything for them. In fact the society has stereotyped any child who puts their parents in nursing homes as heartless, disloyal and careless.

I compare this to abroad, in most cases after a certain age children leave their family's house to live on their own or couples move in together. Whilst children are at school, parents have full time jobs, family time is little, and leisure time is usually spent with friends. As parents age, some begin to save for nursing homes, a loyal son would visit his mother or father on the weekend, either at their place, or to the nursing home. I learnt in our society this is different, as much as children grow through the eyes of their parents they remain children, and after every prayer a mother would pray for each of her kids, one by one. Furthermore, the kids themselves, as much as they grow they feel the need to be close to their parents.

Occasionally, even after marriage if there are no financial problems, the son may see it as his duty to stay and live with his mother and father, so not to leave them alone in their elderly age and in case they need anything. Here there is self sacrifice for the sake of his parents, this should be realized and appreciated. In other countries, in some cases, as children grow the family bond to a degree breaks apart; every individual moves into their own path and take their own direction in life, seeking their own interest. Unlike here, the western culture does not encourage making certain decision in life for the sake of your parents.

As long as it is not extremely self sacrificing, this bond and feel of responsibility towards parents and family members is another one of the cultural aspect of Kurdish people that make them so unique and special.

The young gentleman I was referring to earlier who took the responsibility to take his ill father to the doctor feels this is the smallest thing he can do in return for all the sacrifices and hardship his father suffered for the sake of him and his siblings. A tradition and culture as such should be closely cherished to the heart and make every Kurd proud, indeed, scenarios as such make me a proud Kurd. Kurdish parents suffered a lot in bringing up their children, and they deserve the extra attention and care as they age.

This column was published in the Kurdish Globe newspaper on Saturday, 16 May 2009, 08:31 GMT

Friday, December 13, 2013

Change the world, one person at a time!

Dear Loyal Blog Reader,

They say a picture tells a thousand words. I will save the words, and leave you with the pictures. I hope they tell a few thousand words on our recent training of forty youth at the Kawrgosk and the Darashakran refugee camps based in Erbil.

And when there is a few minutes of time, we visit families in each of the tents
The little ones always get our attention

When we had to train at a tent, in the evening, and the electricity cut. 

The three of us, Anmar, Rasti and I, at points in our life we were refugees. Even though we were young and only glimpses or pictures are captured in our minds, we grew up with stories from our parents about the experiences of fleeing our home. Today, the three of us, all together, have spent weeks with youth in a refugee camp. A few years back we were trained by the UNFPA as Youth Peer Educators.

Rasti and I in action! 
At the time the three of us were just volunteers while we were students. Rasti in Media division at Salahaddin Uni, Anmar a student in the physical education college in Baghdad, Me, Politics and International Relations in Erbil. We were young, loving life and wanting to make a change. I guess you can say we had a little too much energy. Today, we have all graduated and have began our careers, but somethings just never change. Never.

Y Peer team! Give us a flip chart, a few markers and a group of youth! That's all. 

An activity that allows each of the participants to discuss their suffering, and if they decide to lose hope and put off their candles, others will light it for them once again. This activity almost always makes us cry. But we have found it is the most helpful activity with the refugees. You learn that you are not alone in your pain and suffering. 

We make new friends

Day one of our training in Darashakran

Rasti in action! 

Hospitality in the tents

Hope. Life. Love. 

Anmar during one the sessions. Participants- group work

... [I could not think of a caption]

Training doesn't stop, even if there's no electricity, even if it's night, even if it's freezing cold. No it doesn't. 

You learn to appreciate life much more when working with vulnerable people

Under these tents there are many stories to be told

Can you also call this your home?

Rasti makes a new friend

Hope. A little girl had made this outside her family's tent. 

"We put off the heater at night, because it's dangerous. The tent can burn down in less than two minutes." 

Rasty and Anmar writing their testimonies, now, as I put this post together... 
Words from Rasty about our recent training with Kurds in the Syrian Refugee Camp based in Erbil
Words from Anmar!