Upon arrival at Ataturk International Airport, I had nothing but time before my flight to Suleimania, Iraq- my home for the upcoming school year. Pressing through a fifteen hour flight binging on the limited selection of romance comedies and complimentary whiskey, I felt goaded to take a long walk through the airport.
I ended up strolling to the second floor lounge, chatting with a Belorussian guitarist who was headed to Bahrain to play a weekly gig in a posh hotel. He had to leave abruptly, but, simultaneously, a stout man walked over and took his spot.
“Where are you flying to?” I squeaked- my voice was so strained from sleep deprivation.
He looked askance and muttered, “Suleimania.”
“Wow! So am I. This will be my first time in Iraq.”
He turned his broad shoulder to face me, locking onto me with his beady black eyes, “Please call it Kurdistan.”
With my tongue hanging out, he brusquely walked off. I let the word ruminate throughout my head and slowly coming forward to my lips: “Kurdistan.” Damn and here I thought Palestine was a hot issue.
Time rolled by and I found myself spacing out, half-sober in front of the customs line at the airport in Suleimania. The officer must have seen the delirium in my eyes. He took my passport, thumbed through it, stamped it twice, and waved me through. When I made it to the other side, I nimbly opened my passport and read my newest prize. In small print “Iraq” was written, towered by “KURDISH REGION” in bold font.
Although I have been here 40 something odd hours, I have started to compile a mental list of key observations.
1. Uni-brows seem to be in vogue.
2. The Kurds tend to first pour tea from their cups into saucers, preferring to sip it that way.
3. People generally have been less responsive to me when I speak in Arabic, to a greater degree than when I speak English.
It hit me that Kurdistan is a place where a historically oppressed minority, the little guy, the historic Poland of the Middle East, had started to make strides toward taking control of their political destiny- due to a large part to American military might. Some Kurds portray George Bush as their liberator. I met one merchant who claimed to have named his son after the former president.The Kurdish people are damn proud. Their flag is omnipresent. Only once did I see the actual Iraqi flag and it was flanked by the official Kurdish flag on all sides.
Surrounded by arid mountains, Suleimania is fertile with construction sites everywhere. Near my apartment, the skeleton of a roller coaster exists with the beginnings of a Ferris Wheel lying on its side. In a region with tradition representing the status quo, the Kurdish people have replaced this habit with progress in an attempt to open themselves up to the world and shed off the negative connotations that Iraq brings to mind.
Until I become more apt in distinguishing between the Kurds, Arabs, Turkomens, and other inhabitants of the city, I am bound to continue making unintentional offensive remarks. It seems unavoidable. However, I will try to develop an agility to the dynamics on the ground to provide comprehensive news to our readers.