Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs - Rewinding Memories


Saturday, 27 June 2009, 08:03 GMT
Rewinding memories
By Sazan M. Mandalawi
The Kurdish Globe


Imagine a little girl living continents away from where her parents and grandparents were, oceans apart from her culture, religion, traditional values, and far from her relatives and even the language she speaks, yet when asked where she is from, she would reply: "I am Kurdish, from Mnaly!"


That little girl was me, and yes, the little girl never found anyone who had ever heard of Mnaly. From a young age, my younger brother and I were always taught that we are Kurds, and more precisely from Mnaly. I realize today it was a technique used by my parents to keep us attached to our roots even though we were living far from where we belonged. As experience has taught me, the unbelievably strong connection some Kurds have to their land is one of the most unique features of our nation.

If you, my dear reader, also have not heard of Mandaly (or as it is called by its inhabitants, Mnaly), it is situated approximately five kilometers away from the Iran-Iraq border. The city center of Mandaly is approximately 60 kilometers south of Khanaqin--75% of the population are Kurds who speak the Kalhuri dialect. In 1975, marking the end of the Algerian Pact, approximately 400 Peshmargas in Mandaly participated in the Kurdish movements and the Ayloor Revolution. As a result, the Kurds were forcibly displaced by the Baath Regime and Arabs were brought into the area instead.

The Kurdish people in Mandaly were forbidden to speak Kurdish or wear Kurdish clothes, 75 villages in the Qaraloos area were ruined, houses were destroyed, and the water that reached the district was cut, giving the Kurds no choice but to leave.

In a short and compact sentence, Mandaly today is in ruins-there are no proper schools, and water and electricity services are poor. The houses that once stood up now lay in ruins on the ground.

Nevertheless, the vision I had of Mnaly was like the vision or the imagination one has who has not seen Paris, Rome, or New York. I was never told there were tall buildings in Mnaly, but somehow as a child in my own imagination the big city had bridges and tall buildings; people drove sports cars. There were also mountains, valleys, lakes, and lush, green grass-- it probably even had an airport. I never heard these words, but when Mnaly was described to us by my father who spoke so fondly of it as a place where he spent his childhood years, and how he wished to return, for me, in my imagination it had to be a fascinating wonderland-otherwise, why would he dream of it so often? Why would he want to go back?

After the fall of the Baath Regime in 2003, my father returned from Kurdistan with an entire CD of pictures he had taken in Mnaly. I remember we all huddled around the computer, as if waiting to see something that was exclusive, previously unseen by anyone. Finally, after so many years of imagination of this place where my roots lay and my ancestors lived, and the place in which my parents were born, I was able to see it in pictures. Time was not passing. As the CD was placed into the computer, we adjusted the screen and brought in chairs--the atmosphere was filled with excitement, tension, and joy as I was watching my father's hand on the mouse impatiently, gentle click here, another click there, and the screen goes black before the slide show begins.

Picture after picture, all of the sudden the room is silent; you could hear a pin drop as I asked a simple question:

"This is Mnaly?"

"Yes it is!" he replied.

"No! It mustn't be" I thought in my mind.


Mnaly did not have tall buildings; the flowing water had either all evaporated or I just did not see it. The people in the pictures looked worn out. There were no villas like I had imagined; instead, there were mud or brick houses. As I attempt to rewind my memories to those minutes around the computer screen, it is difficult to remember what I thought exactly, but I must have believed at that point my father was either foolish or naïve to love Mnaly so deeply.

Years later, the thought of that day makes me giggle. The point I like to emphasize is that the bond some people have with Kurdistan is unbelievably great. What makes Kurdish people--especially the generation before us--particularly distinctive is that they share a magical connection to this land. As youth we tend to like a place if it provides us with luxuries and an imagistic lifestyle; they, however, cherish the land because of the memories they have in it, because of the blood they gave for it, and simply because it is their home.

The words I had heard of Mnaly from my father have taught me a great lesson in life. We do not necessarily have to love our culture, country, traditions, and roots only because of its materials; there is something much deeper and greater that creates a sense of attachment within us to a particular place. Mnaly was certainly not New York or Paris, but with no doubt it had a meaning and significance as grand as Paris and New York.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs- Tweet Tweet!


Thursday, 18 June 2009, 10:06 GMT
Kurds Twittering



By Sazan M. Mandalawi
The Kurdish Globe


"Must start writing my column"

This is what I just posted as a tweet in my Twitter account; if this phenomenon has been able to reach me, then it is definitely a fanatical outburst, then again, it must be, as even my mother is hoping to open an account.

Every time I connect to the net, it has become an addiction to check my twitter account and well, post a tweet. Anything really as long as it fits into the 140 characters limit; close friends will reply supporting your status message or they may reject your political views. What is most interesting is that the number of young Kurds in these online network communities like Face book and Twitter are certainly increasing.

As technology advances, the world progresses, Kurds are certainly 'globalizing' along with this rapid wave of changes that is taking place in the world today. The culture of technology and internet is rapidly emerging among the young generation Kurds. It is certainly a tool where Kurdish people can connect and acquaint themselves to not only other Kurds in different parts of the world, but also with foreign people, much cultural exchange can take place during this process. In terms of politics, there are some great defenders of Kurds online, if any comment or misunderstanding is made towards Kurdistan, some individuals are fast to rebuttal and hold a shield. Often you come across people who have a rather reversed image of Kurdistan and Kurds in general; involvement in these online networks often opens a door to expose the reality of life in Kurdistan, especially in terms of security.

It is unanticipated, yet pleasing to see well known Kurdish personalities and politicians post their daily notices. I am eagerly waiting for the Prime Minister to post his second Twitter message, and initiate his silent account.

Having an account in these online networks allows for a sense of connection between the average individuals and artists, politicians, news anchors, well known columnists, authors and any other person that may come to your mind, from Oprah Winfrey to the kid in your grade one class, it is rather fascinating, and certainly makes you realize how small the world has become. With a click of a mouse all of the sudden you can live along the day-to-day life of your favorite personality, just make sure it is the 'real person' or real life friends.

The diversity of these online communities is immense; there are all kinds of people from all parts of the world. Therefore, cautiousness must be taken into consideration when taking part in any online network, if done well, it can be a great joy; remarkable in that it can add to your knowledge and information and thrilling as you hear from inspiring people you never thought you would get in touch with. Nevertheless, it can be time consuming. Just remember, anything done overboard is done wrong.

With many students familiar with the English language, universities are having more and more internet connection to their computers, with numerous internet companies in the region as well as classes for computer and internet training-- it appears as though once again the Kurds have proved nothing is too far and too difficult for them, including being members in global networks like Facebook and Twitter.

How strange, who would have thought, once-upon-a-time, not too long ago, our young men were fighting in the mountains with weapons, suffering horrible conditions and their lives was on the verge of death every second, being Kurdish freedom fights, otherwise known as Peshmarga. Today, some of our young men sit with snacks, in front of the television, defending Kurds online with a display picture of the Kurdish flag, or a map of Kurdistan, hence, the term E- Peshmarga has come across my eyes numerous times. Whilst the former suffered more, worked harder and is much more respected, it is, however, the latter that can cause a change and progress for the Kurds in the 21st century.

Somewhere, in these cables, wires, and dishes the information is under transmission and pages are loading. Kurds are swaying fingers across computer keyboards, writing of their life, views and their thoughts, to be posted for the rest of the world to see, completely different to the time our grandparents were young.

I am just new, and my 15 or so followers may or may not find the daily comments I make interesting, but certainly the comments they make, the support they give and the words they express, even online, is often encouraging and motivating to make through the dull days. Individuals who are countries, continents and oceans far from you are just a click of a mouse away, and they are at your finger tips, literally!

Tweet, Tweet: "Column finished, mission accomplished!!"

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs- Glug Glug!


Friday, 05 June 2009, 09:57 GMT

The peaceful sound of 'Glug Glug'
By Sazan M. Mandalawi
The Kurdish Globe


After years of bitter disputes, Kurds finally are the owners of their oil.

The Kurdistan Regional Government officially started to export oil to Europe through neighboring Turkey. It was an emotional moment for the entire nation to watch the event live on TV, Sazan Mandalawi writes.

A father's gift especially to his daughter is different from any of its kind, no matter what the gift is, it is cherished, loved and looked after well for many years, it becomes a treasured memory. June 1 2009, I received the most amazing gift, like no other, the longitudinal box in his hand, he began a long introduction of its importance, unfortunately, with gloom I write his words are no longer in my memory, I was too busy trying to guess what this gift was rather than listen to the valued words he had to say.

Now the best gift of my life is with me, I feel lucky and honored, it is without doubt going to be one of the few things I will keep until the last day of my life, and maybe it will be passed on to my children in the future, as my father wished.

The gift was admiringly placed on my dressing table, no, not the perfect place, off it went on the bookshelf, looking very reputable amongst the endless history and politic books, but once again no, indeed not suitable there either, placed on the bed side table then on the study desk. This gift, I realized is too special to be placed anywhere for display, it went back into its box, making sure I created a nice 'cushion' inside so not be damaged in any way, until I find the perfect location to place this treasure.

The gift I received was a small glass beaker secured on all its sides with the cover capsulated in a way that is impossible to open. Inside is a small portion of the first drops of Kurdish Crude oil that is extracted from under Kurdish soil, from the Taq Taq field.

Earlier that day, despite all the study load, due assessments and examinations, I sat to witness the ceremony, that literally wrote history as it was pledged Kurdistan will begin its oil exportation process, I was almost in tears, as many say 'we float on oil' to extract and begin exporting, despite all disputes and counter-arguments it was a historical moment, for any Kurd living today indeed it was a privilege to witness. For an oppressed nation for so many years, for victims of genocide, chemical attacks, mass killings, exodus and people who have suffered years of hardship to officially sign contracts with international companies to extract and export thousands of barrels of oil per day to an international market is indeed a moment of pride.

Those who have fought against this step forward for the Kurds fear the future or the next step after this, indeed if commitment and work continues like this the future looks bright. Whilst I was not around to witness the harshness of our brutal past, today I can witness a region that is growing every day. We are a land of rich soil, of natural resources, made of individuals who are committed and dedicated to their land, we face challenges and difficulties, but the aspiration should always be there.

The government has certainly made its way through successfully in implementing a massive project, in the many years ahead; this will begin to prove if Kurdistan was placed on the international map it can stand on its own. The world, as we know it today, is a fight for technology, for advancements and improvements; there is race to mars, we live in a globalized world that is growing with its factories, industrial units and all other means of productions, the fight is for resources, and one of the key resources we just happen to be floating on. How can this not be a proud moment, to be able to export this to other countries and have revenue in return?

I stared at the glass beaker for so long, turning it upside-down, sideways; looking at it from underneath, from above, from distance and close up, I wonder how this liquid can be so demanded, worthy and how the world is reliant on it.

It sounds foolish, making a great deal because some contracts have been signed but it is a great achievement, the only concern now is the revenue, whilst the bulk of the revenue is going to the central government, fingers are crossed for cooperation, Shahristani has taken a monstrous standpoint from the beginning, but we will play along.

The Economist's article regarding the oil exports was titled "Kurdistan goes Glug Glug' (May 28, 2009) undeniably, as Kurds we have become too familiar with the sound of weeping, crying; bullets and explosions, it is time we hear the serene sound of oil 'glugging' in our pipes, that, to me is a signal of a nation making its grand steps towards prosperity; it is a signal of our children's future being secured, it is a signal that the brutal past experienced by the Kurds will not repeat itself and finally, it will reveal to the world who Kurds are and what Kurdistan is.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs- Weapon of Future Generation


Published on Sunday, 31 May 2009, 08:19 GMT - Kurdish Globe

The weapon of the future generation
By Sazan M. Mandalawi
The Kurdish Globe


Testing my younger brother with 'simple' mathematical questions, I felt weak, embarrassed and apologetic to admit the answer is 'wrong' because he miscalculated one single number, in a question that takes an entire page to work out the answer for.


"But where did I go wrong" he would ask I would feel foolish answering him "come on, its easy!" when me, myself did not even understand what the question even wanted. I am not ashamed to admit the little brother who I sometimes make fun of the ideas he has, is smarter in working out mathematics, physics and chemistry calculations that I am, he has become his own doctor to identify that his metacarpal is out of place or his fibula may have fractured in the soccer game.

The point is, despite the tough education system that is fortunately in the process of change, our younger generation are dedicated to work solidly and firmly to get not just decent but aiming for splendid marks at the end of the year- to have an enjoyable summer break.

It only takes a trip to the local park, shopping mall or restaurant to realize students are busy at home between four walls studying and overloading their brains with 'information' for their final examinations and assessments. If you ask any student in the region they will not hesitate to say this time of year in particular is the most dreadful; the weather getting warm is one side of the coin, the other side is the assessments, exams and the study that appears to have no end.

Whilst modification to the education system is gradually taking place, unfortunately students still have to study in century old methods, having to learn off the hardest mathematical equations, long human biology names, formulas in physics and chemistry, the humanitarian subjects are no easier with history lessons that are nothing else but pages of a brutal past, and books of economics.

Great admiration needs to be given to these young students, compared to those who study in the west they are to a degree disadvantaged from the many educational trips, access to technology in studies, libraries and other resources yet they sacrifice and attempt to make the most of what they have available at their hands.

The long mathematical equations that I used a scientific calculator for with the equation already stored in, students are having to mentally do all the calculations that the small gadget did for me, indeed there must be hard working brains behind all this. Some people who have no electricity even for one hour, it is difficult to study, yet despite all confrontations they study and work hard to the best of their ability.

The pressure on all the students who have taken the scientific subjects is to obtain final results of 96% and above to be accepted into medicine and dentistry whilst those who have spent the past two years studying humanitarian subjects want to be lawyers or study in business and management. The stereotype is still present that being a doctor or an engineer means 'I am the best' even if the students themselves do not believe this the idea is deeply rooted in the culture.

This, to a degree is a positive aspect as it gives students motivation to study and aspire for bigger dreams; nevertheless, Kurdistan needs more than just doctors and engineers to develop into the nation it aspires towards.

An epidemic of 'studying' and 'learning' is taking place in the region which is a phenomenal sign that fives an indication of a bright future for Kurdistan. Some people, young and old, have already started their enrolment in courses for the summer break to improve their English or computer skills.

Yesterday's illiterate parents now have children studying in the college of law, medicine, engineering or even in certain institutions, this accentuates the importance of education in Kurdistan today.

From what I hear the first grade 12 history examination this year was difficult and depressed many students, nevertheless, their eagerness to get to good colleges and the dreams they aspire towards only makes them work harder in this 'flawed' education system.

Watching the university graduation parties young Kurds could only express their happiness with hours of endless dance and music, as the next journeys of their lives begin, whilst the much speculation that there is limited job opportunities and little government employment is upsetting many new graduates, sorry to say this is the depressing part of the picture.

Studying is worth every sacrifice not just for the benefit of students themselves and their future but also for the greater good of the Kurdish nation; whilst our fathers and grandparents fought by bullets and guns, it is also our duty to fight, but instead our weapons will be pens and minds.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs- The Loyal Child


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

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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs- The Power to Influence

The power to influence

By Sazan M. Mandalawi


It is inarguable that the status of Kurdish women in the region, like many places of the world needs to improve, for Kurdistan the journey has only just started, but the right key is in the hands of certain individuals who can make great change if they wanted to.


In the previous issue of the Globe there was a picture of President Talabani with his wife, Iraq's first lady, Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, along side Turkey's President Gul and spouse Hayrunnisa Gul. Earlier this year Prime Minister Barzani also greeted guest officials from abroad along side his partner Nabila Barzani. The fact that officials are making public appearances alongside their partners is a step forward in promoting the idea of equality among the genders and the role that women can have in society. The point is influential figures in Kurdistan have a form of indirect power and influence that they are not aware of, and it can be used to advance many traditionally rooted aspects that need to be revolutionized.

Seeing a well known Kurdish Mulla in Erbil's international fair was an over joyous incident for me as he had attended the ceremony along side his wife. A Kurdish icon who is incredibly influential and popular in our society was side by side with his partner, it was picturesque scene, to an extent that I immediately began to admire him as I thought to myself those who look up to him may also learn. Spreading the joy among friends, I was dismayed and almost traumatized when I was questioned "which wife?" latter realizing he had numerous wives and more than half a dozen of kids from each. "What a pity" was the only words I could think of; Just when I thought Kurdish men had a great role model.

A small portion of society is undertaking the grueling task of improving women's status, promoting more equality, women's rights and certainly decreasing polygamy. The other portion, the influential and iconic members of the society are themselves promoting the wrong acts, maybe without their knowledge, but their actions are realized, observed and many people in reality follow their foot steps.

Individuals can be manipulated, influenced and targeted easily, we are always prone to be influenced by the people we look up to, admire and learn from. Role models are the most influential people in our lives. They can be the simplest people who achieved great success in the smallest aspects of life. A mother, father, a teacher or a boss, a politicians, an artist or even a football player, these people have the key to change lives for the better and make a difference in our society.

There are many people in history who have left behind foot steps and marks not just in the pages of our books but also in our minds. Kurds are no different; there are many individuals who have achieved a vast amount of success, who can contribute to improving some of the cultural aspects in Kurdish society.

One of the key individuals in our culture is the Mulla, who gives religious speeches, advices the people of what is moral religiously and guides people to follow the right path in life. The hundreds of men who sit and listen to the Mullah's words during the Friday mid-day prayers can be inclined to much persuasion and manipulation.

The amount of young and old men who listen to those words and who really care is endless, often a teacher or a mother can talk to her son for hours, and as the saying states 'goes in one year and comes out the other'. Nevertheless, the power religious individuals hold in Muslim societies, including Kurdistan is different in that it is phenomenal. If these individuals talked of the immorality behind the many women's issues as well as violence against women then one can expect a great change in the occurrence of such horrifying incidents, such as honor killing.

Those going to sit and listen in a warm mid-day prayer are there prepared to listen, learn and be advised of what is right by someone who they consider to be wiser than them. There is no greater opportunity to talk about the respect and loyalty women deserve, the way a woman should be treated and that her rights should be provided as well as explaining the sinful acts against women than during a speech of a Mulla.

If only religious figures emphasized the role and rights of women to a larger degree, and influential figures took certain small steps, even if purposefully change, will be just around the corner.

There is nothing better than having the ability and the power to influence people's lives, but the key is to influence in positive ways that will contribute to improving society for the better. Few people have carried the torch, but many people of this kind are needed to make the great changes necessary, people will begin to adopt what they see and hear.

Column in Kurdish Globe on Friday, 22 May 2009, 10:32 GMT

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs



Memoirs of life in exile
By Sazan M. Mandalawi




Where is home anyway? Do we ever find out where our real home is located? Can we really be sure that what constitutes home today is the same thing that constitutes it tomorrow? Sazan Mandalawi has some answers.


"So where do you like more? Here or there?"

This is a question that has been facing me for the past three years of my return to Kurdistan. It amazes me how this one world can be so different depending on where you live on the globe. My answer to the question is always a long one, but there is always a straight forward answer in the end.

Before anything, I recall times when my father spoke of loneliness of foreign land, and how difficult it would be to have your grave there, after your death. It was evident his body was there and heart here in Kurdistan. We would call the study area in our house Kurdistan, which was where the television was always on Kurdish satellite channels and no one was allowed to dare change it, our history in the internet page was all of Kurdish newspapers, and the walls had carpets hung of the Kurdish woman holding the tea-pot, and another of a group dancing (Halparke).

Life there is perfect, electricity and hot water, no bumpy roads, good services, and an over all calm and easy lifestyle, that is tranquil. The environment and surrounding is fairly stress free. This is not to say there are no problems, however, the issues we are confronted with here in our daily lives, we will most likely not notice when we are abroad or in a western developed country. Nevertheless, as much as life appears to be perfect, something always seems to be missing, a part of you is never pleased.

The discomfort in my life was maybe because at home we were raised to be traditional Kurds with strong cultural values, as we would have had if we were raised in Kurdistan. There was always a difference between the students at school and me. As much as I had close friends, it was always difficult to fit in perfectly. Lost between two cultures is the wrong term to use here, instead it was difficult to juggle the two at the same time. In most cases one of the two cultures had to be compromised.

It is always easy to imagine living in a place that is different to you in so many ways, culturally and socially; the reality is much tougher. As a young girl, I still remember the first confrontation I faced at school, about 12 years ago, in my lunch box sometimes I had the Kurdish 'shfta' (minced meat with some green vegetables) with salad that was wrapped in 'flat bread' made by my mother in the morning, of course the other kids at school were curious, and sometimes teased this.

I did not like peanut butter or the 'Aussie' vegemite in square bread like the other children did, it is rather funny thinking back now, but at the time if they asked 'what is this' I was offended.

This may seem very minor but as we grew, we realized there were many of these little dilemmas that we faced in our daily lives. Throughout primary and secondary school these increased and dilemmas sometimes became confrontations and challenges.

Here if the group of girls decide to go out, we all agree on an appropriate venue, appreciate the fact we must all be home early and no one makes fun if you pick up the phone and let your parents know that you are going out after the lecture. This mutual understanding often adds color to life, in a way there is a feeling of greater inner security, which is rather intricate to appreciate unless you have experienced discomfort in group situations.

Often it comes to my mind if I was raising my own children abroad, or in a culture that is entirely different to our own beliefs and traditional values. I doubt I would succeed giving the discipline my own parents passed to me. Giving discipline in itself is tough, but to have certain values that you were given as a child and attempt to pass them to your own children in a foreign country, that to a large degree does not abide by those values, is an almost impossible task. All the forces appear to flow the opposite direction, in addition to this, outside the four walls that surround you, not many people share or appreciate those values.

Society in some matters provokes the opposite of what you attempt to preach your children. Forces outside are always tougher and stronger from those inside the house. Children leave at eight in the morning and return late afternoon, they spend the bulk of their time in an environment that is quiet different from the one they live in at home.

Sometimes life is flavorsome with culture, traditions and values. What is a Kurd without Newroz celebrations, or the tasty food in early Jezhn mornings; what is a Kurd without your relatives coming by after dinner, or sitting with a group of friends, expressing your thoughts and feelings, and having them understand, because they share the same roots as you do. How about the inexpressible sentiment of just walking in the Bazaar and hear people speak your own language?

So where do I like more? Here or there?

I like home, and home just happens to be here!

Friday, 08 May 2009, 01:09 GMT - This column was published in the Kurdish Globe newspaper 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wednesday Memoirs



Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

A Kurdish girl from Mariwan, Iranian Kurdistan. Photo by Behrooz Sangani

By Sazan M. Mandalawi




Kurdistan has changed. Just a few days ago a western standard fashion- show took place in Erbil and a week earlier, leading Iranian artists were invited to sing in the city.


Thousands attended the concert and papers wrote about "a fashion show that attracted young female designers to witness the western style." Have attitudes changed in Kurdistan regarding the beauty of a woman? Sazan Mandalawi has the story.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" wrote Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in her novel Molly Baun, a quintessential quote that evokes the notion that different people have different ideas of what is beautiful. Today, beauty, I have learned, is like the infinite political expressions, it is a contested term. In different corners of the world women's beauty embrace different meanings, every woman unique in her own way; Kurdish women are no different.

In an interesting episode of the OPRAH show, brief accounts were made about diverse women in different corners of the world regarding what they saw as being 'beautiful'. The difference was significant and it included everything from thick ankles to long necks. For Japanese women the key to true beauty is fair and smooth skin; in the border of Burma and Thailand, the women of the Kayan tribe are considered beautiful because of the bras rings around their necks, elongating its appearance.

The Maori natives of New Zealand see tattooing of the mouth and chin area as beautiful; Karo tribe in South Ethiopia go deep to the skin, where scars make a girl beautiful; Indian women use the red powder dot (Kum-Kum) on their forehead as its perceived as a major feature of attraction; in Mauritania, northwest coast of Africa, in simple words 'bigger is better', where the more a woman weighs the better chance of having a husband.

The list is endless, an Australian woman likes to have tanned skin for the beach; in Brazil thin and fit women are seen to be attractive; Iran, is now profoundly known as the 'nose job capital of the world' and in the city of lovers, where else but Paris, 'slim, trim, and well-groomed' is the secret for women's inside beauty that inflicts to their outer appearance.

A Kurdish women, has developed and come a long way in a short time span. Two decades ago, a Kurdish girl would be perceived to be attractive if she was 'full' and 'with meat'. Unlike the woman of Mauritania there has never been the pressure for a female to force feed herself in any way. Nevertheless, being plump with rosy cheeks would have been the ultimate way a mother described an attractive girl to her son.

One imagines this perception of the body attributes to making the shoulders shimmer and the upper torso of the body move well during traditional Kurdish dance. To a degree having white skin appears to be the most desired amongst women, even those who are olive colored, hence, the some times overuse of foundation on the face.

Today the beauty of a Kurdish girl comes through the stunning color and sparkle that the traditional clothes (Jli Kurdi) bring out. The double sized almond eyes that are outlined with black makeup pencil and hair that is long, thick and dark are definitely attracting features of a young Kurdish woman. The accessories and gold jewelry for some are also signs that elicit the beauty of a woman.

Who is a Kurdish girl? Unfortunately, today Kurdish girls are stereotyped as those who are victims of honor killings, suicides and self burns. Victims of violence and sufferers of man's constrain upon them.

We can not deny this is reality to a degree, however, there is another side. Today many Kurdish girls are thriving and excelling in many areas, with no doubt, ahead of some other Middle Eastern countries. This is a large transformation considering the many social boundaries that were once in place, to break this boundary time is required, and in the process many issues arise.

Today, a large number of Kurdish females have government occupations or work in companies and non-governmental organizations. Women are increasingly taking initiative and are engaging with society. They are stepping outside the house and have a hand in building this society that is rich in culture and traditions.

The current phase in only natural to any society at a state of transition, after a sudden open to the west and the hard flow of modern technology, it is only natural for a period of time to pass where 'some' find this progress and development as a 'cultural threat'.
A Kurdish woman has natural beauty, but some times fails to make the time and effort to look after herself and bring out the blessed attractiveness she possess. Whilst she is not always on a diet or does not have the world's finest beauty alternatives on her hands, under those eyes and a heartfelt of love, she is nothing less but beautiful.

This column was published in the Kurdish Globe newspaper on Friday, 01 May 2009, 09:37 GMT 

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 www.mselect.iq

MSelect information for jobs in Kurdistan

You must also try Erbil ManPower (www.erbilmanpower.com) 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