Friday, July 15, 2011

Journey to the land of ancestors

After graduation, you just keep thinking about your future plans and the projects that you were always waiting so hard to graduate so you can start working on. Thinking about your coming steps and what kind of new goals that you should set.
All these thoughts was chasing me the last couple of months till I got really exhausted of thinking about them. Tried several ways to leave all these ideas behind and just let everything to be settled by itself. Couldn't, because this how I'm, thinking and planning too much is one of the main things that sometimes really bother me!
In such cases, what mostly helps me is that I go on a trip or a vacation where it gives me the chance to stop thinking about responsibilities for a while.
Because I was set on a specific date for a job interview on one of the companies so I couldn't take a long trip outside the country.
I took the chance that one of my relatives in town, so I went with him to the place where I was always thinking of visiting it one day. Sinjar, the home town of my grandparents.
Sinjar, it’s a really small town near the Iraqi Syrian border. It’s a town where it considers as one of those disputed areas between the Kurdish federal government and the central government. Each they say it belongs to our territory. The people whom are living there are mostly Kurdish, Arabs and Yazidies.
We set the date, arraigned a simple plan for the trip, and launched. The plan was on going to Mosul for two days, visiting some relatives and checking Mosul the city that I have visited when I was 10.
The distance through Mosul is much closer than going from somewhere else.

Arrived at the bus station in Tayrawa (Erbil), laughed so hard on the way how they keep the bus cool while it’s stopping at the garage.

Bus started rolling and as soon as we were passing the Kurdish checkpoints I was feeling that I'm more far away from Erbil, my lovely city. 

Arrived to the first checkpoint to Mosul similar to the Baghdadi ones, soldiers  asks for any perfume, medicines, teeth fills so the useless weapons detector can work properly...!
Entered into the city, it was an interesting moments to be in a place that I was afraid to go to the last 8 years for the terrible security situation that time. While I was looking at the shops, people, cars, roads and checking each single detail, my relative told me to be ready for the bump.  I was wondering what bump?
And saw him pointing to his nose. I asked what is going on? He said “Aren’t you smelling anything??" by that time I was having a terrible flew since the last month so smelling is that last thing to think about. Then I knew that there is a bump as soon as you get in Mosul.  Exactly after you pass that bump, a very strong bad smell enters into your head! I know it’s a bad smell, but I was so carious to smell it and to see how badly it was and why it strikes only in this specific area!?

First main road to see after you enter the city

As soon as we arrived home of one my relatives, my mini note book started working directly to record the things that I was detecting. 
One enormous thing that I have noticed and it was really shocking me, is how parents take care of their kids. Parents deal with kids so roughly and in a strange way. Beating them is the easiest thing they can do. They say we have to do so otherwise we can't control them. Right! I have seen how the kids are, they are really evils, and I mean it by saying evils. They do things that we even can't imagine.

For example, I've seen bunch of boys and girls with 6-8 years old only! Taking the empty water bottles from garbage, going inside the house filling it with used water and selling it in streets with double price!

Yet, that doesn't justify their parents’ acts to beat them or to shout on them. But I noticed that the whole idea of how they raise their kids is completely wrong. They let them go out in streets doing whatever they do.
At least that what I have observed in some neighborhoods that I have visited and I hope this idea is wrong and only observed in the places that I have went to!
I saw that people put military barbed wires on the electricity pole so kids can climb it. So you can imagine what kind of kids they are!

Me shaking hands with the Man of the wedding hehe! 
Well, first day past and the night came to go with my relative to one of the friend’s wedding party. Many things were shocking there. Starting from the man of the wedding, the one who is getting married hahaha. He was 20 years old only! You know, before I was thinking after I get my masters and settle my own life then I can decide on the time when I should get married, which that might be after 5  years from now! hehe But not after what I saw that day, lol!

Me on the right, man of the wedding in the middle and my relative the partner of the journey on the left

Well during the party, I was working on the sandwiches for the guest helping a relative who owns a small restaurant and was responsible to supply the party with dinner. For me, how nice that task was! All they get surprised how that guest "ME" as coming from an educated backgrounds doing such a thing! It was  wearied for them to see a guest doing such thing.  They didn’t know that I like just being active and help around especially in such events!
After the party, we were sitting just chilling, heard that the water pump of the bride's house been stolen, and relative were laughing about it. I asked why they didn't call the police or do something regarding to it, and why they are even talking about it like this! They said "don't worry it’s just a tradition!"
I was wondering what kind of a tradition is that?!
Then they started explaining to me the funniest tradition that I have seen, which some families in Mosul does when they get married. Usually, the people from the man's side have to steal something from the bride's house  as they are saying to the girl's family "You know what! We took your girl, and we stolen your house and you can't do anything about it, Yaaaah!!" hahahaha! Its really funny though!

Al Jamea' street in Mosul
"University street"
Last day in Mosul, was on spending 3 hours at the central market checking the goods, and the cool stuff that they sell there. One thing that I have observed there is the bad quality of clothes where it mostly comes from Syria and I was wondering why all these hundred of shops are selling the same type of clothes! Why there is no variety so people can have much freedom of choice! Then been informed that couple of merchants supply the whole market, and that was the answer for all of my questions.

The most shocking thing for me at the whole trip was that cinema!!!
During the walk to the bazaar heard about that cinema that plays sex movies. I was completely amazed to hear such a thing!!! How come that one of the most conservative cities in whole Iraq has such a thing!? I know that there are many in Baghdad but one Mosul, no!!! Till I went inside and checked what they were playing there, and what mostly was shocking is that there are many people in!!!!
Then they told me about that cinema, where before couple of years ago they bombed it with flag grenades several times and they just keep open it till they secured it by having it near the governorate heh! How funny is that!   
Night before leaving spent it at the generator house that one of relatives owns it which it supplies the neighborhood with the electricity when the electricity goes off. It was a new thing to practice to see how the whole process going on.

During my short visit to Mosul, three major things that I have experienced:

First, prices are so cheap. Goods so cheap and things are so less expensive than the ones in Baghdad and Erbil.
Second, and the one by which I've learnt a lot from it. “The money spending wise.”
There is a stereotype about the people of Mosul as they are stingy, but I think they are not! They are just spending their money wisely. They think of each dinner that they spend, and to where it goes. If they go to the market buying a specific thing, found the shop that sells it but they just keep searching the whole market whether if they can get it with 500 Dinar less (like 40¢) from another place. Maybe some of them they go so far with that, and that really bothers me!
Yet, I really learnt from that habit, and was thinking about my spending and how should I control it. Don’t think that I'm a money waster, but I just spend on whatever I like to buy and to get.

The last thing about the people of Mosul is that they are so nice and humble! I noticed that the real people of Mosul are still there living in their city and didn’t leave it. Unlike Baghdad where most Baghdadians left Baghdad and went abroad, leaving the city for strangers and bad people.
I didn't see classes difference between people, each they looks the same for the way of their living habits money wise and the way of raising their kids. Each they share the same stories and same life difficulties.

My time in Mosul has almost done, woke up 5am in the morning, took the first car to Sinjar with other two strangers in the car. 
Sunrise in Mosul

I was disappointed that couldn't take much pictures, it was bit dangerous to take out your camera and shot pictures in  public, many people will see it strange and in appropriate beside for security reasons. 

  A building been bombed with a car bomb few years ago 

First street to see when you get into the city

 Each corner, each block you see couple of soldiers and a hamvi

Went out the checkpoint on the way to Sinjar, I knew that we are going to pass one of the most dangerous towns in whole Iraq "Tal Afar", well it used to be. So I hided my IDs in my socks, heh, and to be honest I was afraid to put my Ipad headphones on!
Passed the sign that it says, “Tal Afar checkpoint says good bye to you!” Then I started to see the mixed checkpoints between the Kurdish and Arab soldiers then I was much relived!

Welcome to Shingal. ( Shingal is the Kurdish name for Sinjar)
Arrived close at the last check point to enter the town  and we have been informed from the driver that if the soldiers asks where you are heading don’t answer “ Sinjar!” otherwise you will not be allowed to enter until you call someone from the town. When we got in the checkpoint, the solider looked at me and said “where are you going???!” And I replied so fast “Domeez!” (The closet town.) I knew that we will be totally fine though if we say Sinjar because we are from there besides my university ID will be more than enough to let us in, but it will only takes us more time. So the solider looked, and said “ok go in!”

It was a mixture of feelings when I first entered the town. First time to be in the place that I was always interested to visit. Expectations were different from what I perceived. I expected more green fields, tall trees and nice roads.  Houses was very old village stylish houses. Paved roads were very difficult to see however it was much better than the one in our neighborhood in Baghdad!.

Streets in Sinjar
Streets in Sinjar

One of the houses in Sinjar

A top view for the city up from the roof
Sinjar's police station

Kurdish flags near one of the Kurdish's parties building
Kurdish flags were all the way in the town. Kurdish security guards (Assayish) were responsible to secure the neighborhoods. To be honest I was more comfortable to see them, because I trust them much more than the central government ones. They are more loyal to their work and their duties. While the Iraqi soldier might have other agendas. I know that was only at early years after the war but I still have that fear from the Iraqi army as what I’ve seen from them when I was in Baghdad and how they were attacking the neighborhoods, taking the young people, beating them, torturing them…
Beside that my background is coming from a Kurdish city, Erbil. So I was much happy to see something belongs to my lovely city.
A building for one of the Kurdish parties in Sinjar. Picture
 went like that for security reasons

Because my aunt and her husband were off to Dahuk, we went to one of our relative’s house. Since I entered that door of the house, all these traditions started to show up and it was so interesting for me! I really like such stuff. For example, the guy who first opened the door for us at the beginning and the one that his age was closer to ours is been called in Arabic “Al ma’zim” which it means the guy of the invitation in specific translation. 
In Arabic tradition, that guy have to make sure that the guest are receiving the best of everything while they are staying at his house. Whether it’s from food, treatment, joy… 

While we were having the tremendous, oily, delicious launch Bamiya. I saw the guy sitting beside and just watching. I asked “why you don’t join in?” and he didn’t reply. So I asked the others around the plate why he is not eating. They all laughed they said he is “Al ma’zim”  By then I knew that “Al ma’zim” should stay next to the guests and don’t eat until they finish, waiting as they might need something. I’ve heard about such tradition and some families do that back home but never practiced one with this amount of treatment. He didn’t let us to do any single thing, as we were staying at a 5 stars hotel. 

I knew then that was one of the simplest traditions for the Arab's hospitality.

One of my relatives, the main interests in his life is collecting rosaries. Never bought one, and collected all these from friends and relatives and never gave one! He sees someone's rosary, he asks the guy to have it and because of the Arab hospitality when you ask for something they just give it to you. So by that he got this amazing collection. 

I was always hearing about the stories of the magical mountain where the is something strange with the gravity there. Drove around 30 minutes till we went up to that mountain. One of the friends were driving, stopped the car and put gear on ‘N’ and suddenly we just saw the car goes up without pressing at the accelerator!
Gravity where just pulling things up instead of pulling them down!
It was really fun out there to see such a strange thing.
We didn’t want to stay longer at the town because we had to go back to Erbil, but relatives didn’t allow us to leave until we sleep at their house. They were almost trying to kill us if we argued more about that! Heh. 
So we spent the night there. We were all sitting on the ground neighbors and friends were all in sitting around me trying to hear from me, about my life and my experience. Just went to have a phone call and as soon as I got back to hall, they all were asking my about the United States!!!! Hahaha! By then knew that my relative told them that Suhaib went there!
So I started to show them some pictures, some good stories. Didn’t say much because they are all coming from a very simple life style, and if I do so they will all going to regret their life! Haha. I noticed that they are interested about Muse Parks and they were talking about the one in Dahuk and how cool it was that 20m roll costar, lol. So I started showing them the pictures of the six flags and very soon I noticed that the faces and the moods all changed. They all were saying “Where are we living!” a very regular sentence that Iraqis says in Arabic
"هاي احنة وين عايشين!"

While we were speaking, they brought that thing which it changed my whole statue! I was looking at it and knew that an issue will occurs soon.
That thing was a special big Nragela (hookah)!
The problem was is that I’ve quite smoking hookah since the last couple of months by giving a promise that I will not smoke again!
I was sure that if I’m going to say no, I will not smoke then it will be a big issue by refusing an offer which it will be in polite. So I was in a very difficult situation, couldn’t break the promise and couldn’t refuse! So I had to come up with a very smart solution.

They asked me what kind of flavors do I prefer for the hookah? Hhhh, and I said check out with the guys goes I don’t mind with anything. While I was saying this, I started coughing and coughing until they all get scared if I’m having a terrible dieses or something. I was coughing and asking for having a smoke from that hookah. They just pulled it away, saying “No man! You might die if you get little some!” I was saying “No way that I don’t smoke from that hookah!” They insisted on not giving it to me! And that was how I escaped from that situation Hahahaha!       
Me, back in 2009 when I was a hookah addicted 

That was the last part of our trip, it was so interesting to see the place where my grandparents came from. Meeting those relatives that I haven't met before. Had a really enjoyably and relaxing times away from the responsibilities and tough life. I didn't have internet connection so I was away from the world and what is going on Facebook, friends and others.  

Took the car back to Mousil through the same road but this time I was much comfortable to spend the whole way back sleeping and listening to my great musician Zac Brown.
Didn’t stay much  in Mousil just had breakfast and drove the way back to Erbil.
As soon as I saw the first Kurdish flag as the first Kurdish checkpoint, was happy like I’m going to paradise! My Kurdish went so full and immediately started talking with security guards about silly subjects as I was just wanted to speck, hhh. 
Really I don’t know why I’m having this tension with this city!!? And might some Baghdadis hates me because of that, hahaha!     

That was the end of the most interesting short trips that I have ever had. I really was in need of such one, changed my whole mood.
As soon as I got to Erbil I really hoped to see my best friends, really missed them! But unfortunately couldn’t because I had to come back to Baghdad the other day for some paper works.
Can’t wait to go back and seeing them!

I’m still there in Baghdad and I’m soon going to post about it also soon... 

Here are some pictures that I took during the trip:

  Very old historic house in Sinjar that goes for many many years ago 

If you focus in this picture, you can see the very amazing small houses in the mountain and how it has been built

Very beautiful scene from the top of one of the mountains near Sinjr 

Me speaking on the phone on the top of a hill close to Sinjar, and you can see Sinjar behind

Super funny, a mini  shop for video games .
the sign says "Nawzad's hall for electronic games" hahaha! 

One of the historic places in the town

Sinjar's minaret with the Kurdish flag on the top
That purple rosary was a gift from that relative.  I was one of three whom had a similar gift from him.
That beautiful girl with green is his daughter  


hahahaha! And here is the last picture of me.
Still can't believe that I was wearing a Dishdasha

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An award from the Prime Minister

I would like to share with you the funny story of the appreciation award that my mom received from the Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki. 
Mom is an Agriculture Engineer and currently she works for the Baghdad Municipality, specifically in Al Adhamiya neighborhood, where my home is. Responsible for the parks and grass department in the neighborhood. First years after the invasion till 2007, work was completely dead because of the security instability. So most of the free areas where it’s been used to put the garbage on and the damages of the car bombs. Because there were no garbage cars entering the neighborhood that time, you can easily see mountains of trashes all over the streets. 
Though, when the security situation improved and became much better, mom and her team started directly to put an immediate plan for recovering these areas and to bring life back to it. 
So they went out to the streets facing the risks of working under the remaining danger to deal with big quantitative of damages, dedicating their time to solve this huge problem. They didn't differentiate between night and daily works. Even I was hearing my family complains about mom's night shifts. Not as a requirement for the job, rather for the people that they were living between this nasty scenes. 

Here are some pictures of some of the locations that mom were responsible to lead her team in turning on this place into a better one.  
Location No.1 is Al Aktaal street where I spent three years in my neighborhood without going there because how dangerous it was, and the fellow pictures shows a free land in the street where it was daily welcomes 5-10 dead bodies.       

location  No.1  before work started

  During the work 

Now you can easily see the results and the change of the place and how it became after the work

 View at night 

The good thing is that all that hard work and the bad times that they spent to solve this issue, all vanished with the tremendous result that they have created during the months. People from all over Baghdad were talking about the places that they have created and the parks that been settled. Not only been visited from the people from the neighborhood, while many others were coming from all over the city. 
The pictures above were one of the works that they did, but what was the big shot of the year was the river side walk park.   Where before it was one of the most beautiful places before the invasion, after it was like that:

And this is how it turned after 

The work was mostly appreciated by the whole Ministry, and the prime minister himself came for the opening. The place gained the media publicity and daily the place was full of people. It was a pride that the Iraqi government were talking about it in the news as an achievement of establishing a new born of life in the city after the destruction. So that made the prime minister award the leader of the team for the big achievement. And mom gained an appreciation award for that which it was an amount of money!

To be honest, as soon as I heard that mom got an award from the PM, I was thinking of getting a new car or maybe buying another house! But then as soon as I've been informed about the amount of money, all these expectations turned into a very deep laugh on the ground!
The award was 50,000 Iraqi dinar, which it was almost 45$!
hahaahaha! so she took the money and invited the whole team work for some Kabab...