Kurdistan for Western Women
By Rebecca mcneal
November 29, 2009
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Kurdistan has been a very
interesting place to work this year. Erbil is
changing by the minute. Everyday there is a new mall
or shopping center opening. Just this week the
largest shopping mall in the mid-east is scheduled
to open. There will be a food court and hundreds of
international shops. I am looking forward to
visiting this holiday week and will report back.
The transportation system is evolving everyday too.
Erbil has a brand new multi-million dollar
international airport that is fully open and has
flights too numerous to detail here. There is a
local bus system, but I would estimate that for
every 1000 passengers, one is a woman who is
escorted by children or female/male friends or
For approximately every
2000 passengers there is a single woman. (This from
personal and very boring research standing on a
corner for over one hour waiting for school
transportation). Maybe speaking Arabic is a must.
Taxis are relatively cheap, but unless, again, you
are accompanied, not reported to be completely safe.
I have not had any problems. The city is very spread
out, with no great walkable downtown (just around
the Citadel). This may have been designed this way
for security reasons.
The educational arena is also working to be a leader
in the area. Dogs as pets are practically
nonexistent, but the students have cats and birds.
There are many restaurants, most catering, again, to
men. Very few women ever sit in a restaurant by
most restaurants have a "family" room which is where
the women are ushered – away from curious eyes. I
have had good luck with meals at the Marina, Speed
Center, Khanzad Hotel, Beirut, and a few Turkish
restaurants. There is a Chinese place too. There is
even a Sheraton Hotel with restaurants.
Women tend to do family things. There is not much
socializing outside of the house. There is not a
golf course that I have heard of. I have not seen a
cinema, nor tennis courts. Our school has a swimming
pool and many of the students say they have swimming
pools in their homes. I heard there is a public
pool, but have not seen it. There is an
outdoor/indoor amusement game park called “Family
Fun” and it is well visited. There are numerous town
parks and children play in the cool of the evenings.
I have not seen a river, therefore, no kayaking or
boating. If there is a concert or cultural event, it
may be segregated for men or women only - although
this is not always the case. There are some tourist
places outside of town – Ali Gali Gorge, Shaklawa,
and a couple more. The Citadel is the draw for the
downtown. It is not well marked with informative
sites, but could have a lot of potential if you
could find things out. The Baazar is always fun, but
only if you need things – not much out of the
ordinary. I have had a decent Thai massage at the
Khanzad. There are Lebanese beauty salons that offer
all types of services.
Medical/Dental services vary. There are doctors and
dentists who practice up to western standards.
It is my understanding that real estate is very
expensive and comparable to many western cities.
I would love to drive here as it would be so much
easier to get around and I would have more
information. The signs are all in Arabic and
English, but houses are not numbered. The only way
to find things is by area.
I have heard of a museum of ancient history, but
haven't been there. There was a textile museum, but
it burned down. I do not know of many arts and
crafts places or even what the local arts or crafts
Kurdish music is wonderful and very popular – it
seems the locals love it the louder the better.
Weddings are sometimes segregated, and funerals are
sometimes too. There are many men who have more than
one wife. One of the men at our school married a 15
year old – I think that is sick, but... it may be
Many people ask me what it is like for a western
woman here. Personally, it is very difficult for me
as I do not speak Arabic or Kurdish and don’t drive.
I am an active woman and enjoy hiking, tennis,
kayaking, star gazing, dinners with friends, flower
shops, gardening and travel. All of these activities
have been severely curtailed. I do not feel safe to
do things at night, although it is probably ok. I do
not have Kurdish friends who invite me to their
homes. I do not have Kurdish friends to go places
with. I think if I had Kurdish family it might be
different. Just imagine the USA with no pubs, bars,
liquor stores, liquor in the grocery stores and
every corner, no McDonald’s or fast food – just
shurma and kabobs. The men here gather after work to
share tea and smoke shi sha.
I think there may be a soccer stadium, but I have
never heard of a woman going to the game. High
schools do not have sports teams so there is little
to watch. It would be very tough for me to make
Kurdistan my home, but it is nice place to visit.
The people have been very kind and helpful. There is
so much curiosity about foreigners, but it has been
respectful. I have seen amazing acts of honesty and
friendliness and feel that Kurdistan will be quite a
draw for the countries surrounding it that have
difficult problems. We have seen many check points,www.ekurd.netand
even have five armed guardposts at our school. The
only way you can tell you are in a war torn country
is by the numerous armed militia and checkpoints
around the city – I think they are there more to
have a job than anything else.
Ankawa is a the Christian neighborhood of Erbil.
There are shops selling alcohol and a few
restaurants where you can get a beer. There are even
a couple Christian churches. Kurdistan has an
ancient history, much of it accommodating different
religions. I hope it stays that way.
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