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 Kurdistan for Western Women  

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Kurdistan for Western Women  29.11.2009   
By Rebecca mcneal

November 29, 2009

ERBIL-Hewlêr, 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 family.
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 themselves. Many,
www.ekurd.netor 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 are.

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 culturally acceptable.

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.

Rebecca.mcneal's Traveler

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