Take what you know about Kurdistan and put it aside, since what you’re about to read will probably loath you for thinking any less than what I assumed this beautiful region beholds.
A near three-hour flight to Kurdistan via flydubai felt longer than it should have, probably because my nerves were acting up considering that it was my first solo flight which meant being cut from the umbilical cord of travelling with the family and the fact that I was landing into a country surrounded by frequent terror attacks.
My geographical knowledge is strong and I knew well enough that Kurdistan is a region on its own, straying away from being conjoined with its neighbors Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria which in recent times has welcomed an influx of refugees from the surrounding war torn regions. A quick web search on the travel destination, Sulaimaniyah assured its safety and the verbal comfort from those who traveled previously kept my mind at ease, yet the fear dwelling inside of me kept a cautious guard.
Landing at night meant limited scenery of this mysterious land but the semi-lit golden lights offered a glimpse of what I would experience.
An icy gust of wind hit my pale tired face as I took a step into uncharted territory. A smile is what I was greeted with, which immediately turned into a cautious stare at the airport. It’s all understandable considering the continuous high risk. Freezing as I was, excitement took over and warmed my body as I’d never, in my twenty three years experienced 1 °C. I loved it.
The drive to the hotel was pleasant, clean paved roads sporting fancy cars, which I for one did not expect to see. The views next morning was astonishing, I questioned myself, why did I let media portray gnarly images of Kurdistan in my mind? As what I saw before my eyes was scenic and eye-opening.
As a lady in a foreign town, I expected stares as one would but the looks where mixed with curiosity and slight flirtatious glares from the young Kurds who were astounded by the sight of a lady boldly walking down the streets. You may have now realized that in mere hours of landing in Kurdistan, I was confident enough to take over Sulaimaniyah despite initial fears.
I’ll remain hush on my work details due to sensitivity but I can tell you that I was treated kindly and with respect. Ample of love was catered towards being the tourist that I was, as when I was cold, a glass of warm milk was immediately served and shared by the army clad men bracing the harsh cold winds of the mountainous region. Or when I was stopped at security check point, taken to border patrol police station and my fingers were near freezing to which the head of the police department shared his heater without reluctance or when one of my drivers in Kurdistan opened up his heart melting story of war that left me dumbfounded. A prisoner of war, the driver was callously captivated for two decades in an underground bunker and the inability to have children due to sterilization details which I will spare you readers. Yet, with his joyful laughter and smile, he kept my spirit high and as he shed a light that, despite trials and tribulation, we must move on. Heartbreaking yet uplifting, the beauty of Kurds.
A pleasant day was spent outdoors in the chill of Kurdistan soaking up the magnificence of the fertile land whilst being humored by another driver for the day whose lack of comprehension of my work added to his amusement and to my excitement of being accompanied by a humors Kurd.
Hailstones mixed with a heavy rain shower greeted my night in Kurdistan as I placed my hands out the window to watch the tiny icy shapes melt in second within impact of my warm hands while the driver drove to a nearest alcohol store at day end to stock up on Birra (Beer), just what the body needed. The bottles were clinked and cheers were gleamingly broadcasted in the hallways of the hotel in Suli. All very exhilarating considering the strict laws in Dubai, I coyly hid my birra bottle as residents and visitors of the hotel passed by while the driver snickered in the corner. I was humbly assured with each sip, smile and Salam that it was OK to drink and it was OK to be merry in Kurdistan.
Now with most Arab nations, the Kurds love meat and permanently imprinted in my head as my Kurdish driver pointed at grazing sheep and blurted out “KEBAB” in a mix of enjoyment and hunger for dinner.
Kurdish kebab is top priority so is an earthy Kurdish lentil soup to get through the winter, with my driver insisting that the Bazian region serves the best kebab. Sadly, lack of time restricted my taste buds to the kebabs served up at Venice Restaurant and Café in Suli a.ka. Slemani. The lush meat was shaped on flat pointy spikes, grilled on the spot and served with a helping of warm bread gushed down with the forever available, chai.
Whilst I stuck to my usual teaspoon of sugar, the driver on the other hand ball parked his sugar measurements into his near-to-the brim cuppa tea, as being the wild man child he was, proclaiming “IS GOOD!” Funny enough, earlier during the day, when I offered him Lay’s crisp, his immediate response was crapa (sp.), his lack of conservatory English and my poor Kurdish deciphering skills, I could only assume crapa (sp.) was the equivalent of “crap” in English.
On my last night, I bid Kurdistan farewell with a simple dinner that captivated the essence of the fast food in Suli. A walk down to Matbax Matbax Fast Food Restaurant, shawarma was first on the list which tingled the taste as the body craved for a bite of home and warmth of a sandwich after bracing a damp walk to the outlet. Now, if you’ve had shawarmas in U.A.E, you, just like I did, would expect palm size Arabic bread wrap with tiny cuts of meat to make up a shawarma.
To my amazement, foot long fresh bread served with freshly cut salad is that I was presented with. Tender cuts of grilled meat seasoned with only lime and salt as the flavor of the meat worked its magic soaking its meaty juices into the sesame toasted bread. A task to devour but it was truly savored well without a second of hesitation and yet again, complimented with a piping hot Suli tea.
In three days, I was surrounded with kindness, gratitude and humility by the Kurds. The un-judgmental smiles, the raising of their hands to indicate hello or “Salam” in Kurdish, breathtaking views of the untouched fertile land, the non-polluted minds and far from arrogant greetings is what I’ll always remember. Memories to captivate for a lifetime, hopefully a visit soon and next time around stay long enough to experience the Kurdish snowfall.