That was a message that flashed across the Jumbotron outside New City Supermarket tonight. Andrew, Rick and I made a pit-stop there after we finished teaching today to pick up some snack food (I got Doritos!). When we walked in, we were asked to check out bags. As we were unloading our things on the desk, this man walked up and laid his gun on the counter. The man behind the counter handed him his claim check and the recently unarmed man went on his merry way checking out the produce. It was an odd sight.
I’ve been learning bits and pieces about Kurdish culture. Sahand provided me with what I think is the most unusual piece of information I’ve received about Kurds so far. He made a passing comment about a stranger on the street being an Arab, not a Kurd. I asked how he could tell by looking. He explained that there is a traditional Kurdish baby bed. For the first 6 or 8 months of the baby’s life, they sleep in this bed. The way the bed is made causes the baby’s skull to flatten in the back. I was astonished to realize that most everyone around me had a skull that was flat in the back. You rarely see an Iraqi flag here in Erbil or in Slemani. Most everyone flies the flag of Kurdistan (even though there isn’t really a “Kurdistan”). There are Kurds here in Iraq, and also in Iran, Turkey and Syria. There are 4 dialects of the Kurdish language. Just because you speak one dialect does not automatically mean you can understand someone who speaks a different dialect. Kurdish music is beautiful. But you also hear Persian music and Turkish music quite a bit here. Life for the Kurds under Saddam was miserable. He made a serious attempts at ethnic cleansing with torture, the use of chemical weapons and mass executions. For this reason, the Kurds seem genuinely fond of Americans. While it’s always dangerous to make broad generalizations about a society of people, I can easily say that my interactions with Kurdish people have shown them to be kind, warm-hearted, extremely generous, possessing beautiful, formal manners, and full of gratitude for even the smallest gestures.
Today I taught a cello lesson to a man who explained to me that graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts with a degree in cello (I’m not certain what exactly that means) but in the four years that he attended there, he never had a cello teacher. I feel like a broken record, continuing to talk about what these musicians lack in resources, but I’m constantly amazed at what they achieve when they have so little. It is, to me, not only a powerful statement about the human spirit, but also about how necessary music is for some people. You don’t go to these extremes because you ‘want’ music. You do this because you ‘need’ music.
Miss Carol and I went shopping tonight. I didn’t bring many ‘nice’ clothes aside from a black suit for performances. I’m doing another television show tomorrow night, so I went to get something to wear. I found a pair of pants and a shirt. I thought I could shop like a pro, but I pale in comparison to Miss Carol. The shop where I bought the shirt was anxious to tell me that the shirt I selected was from Italy, and they were the Iraqi headquarters for this Italian brand. The man working there had such pride in his shop and his products. It was great to see. While we were shopping, I saw a young Kurdish boy (maybe 8 years old?) in a Harry Potter tee-shirt. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw Harry Potter and the kid looked at me and gave me a big grin and waved. Then I came across a group of teenage girls, all in veils. Their eyes danced when they saw me. While I’ve run into a few Americans here, for the most part we’re seen as something very exotic. And young Kurds, who are influenced by American culture, seem particularly interested in us.
Yesterday we went to get our visas (finally!!). We were accompanied by the daughter of the Minister of Culture. She was extremely kind and sweet. It was quite obvious that this went more smoothly with her than it would have without her. We were patted down when we walked in and 50 feet later patted down again. There’s a lot of patting down here. It happens at the Ministry of Culture where we teach each day, too. I suppose in some way it adds to the feeling of safety. I really haven’t felt unsafe in any way. We’ve been warned about taking taxis late at night. Evidently foreigners have been abducted, taken to Mosul or Kirkuk and held for ransom.
It’s late, I’m tired and I have a long day tomorrow, so I’ll say goodnight.