Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hi Molly,

Thanks for your comment on my post. Please see the comments section of that post for my reply.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

If only...

If only I had money and a sharp business acumen, I would...

..see about becoming an authorized Mac reseller in Erbil. Imagine Hawleris (and others based in Kurdistan/Iraq) not having to go to an outside country to have their iPods, iPhones (they exist here) or MacBook Pros serviced. Imagine buying an item complete with the 1-year international warranty! Wouldn't there be some people who would make the choice to become Mac-users? One of our students turned up in the library with a Mac Air laptop yesterday. It seems she had a relative in Germany buy it for her and bring it back.
Photo below is of a new location in Beirut near where I traded in mine.

...start the flagship Iraqi branch of a coffee shop franchise near a university. Of course it would prohibit shisha and only allow the smoking of cigarettes at the outside tables, would have free wireless internet and a rack with magazines and newspapers in various languages. And if anyone even so much as thought of engaging in inappropriate behaviour (ex. taking photos of female customers without their prior consent), they would be publically humiliated and asked to leave and not return.
Below photo is of Columbiano Coffee Shop in Achrefieh, Beirut - near to ABC shopping center and Kinko's copy shop. It is where I comfortably spent most evenings this last trip to Beirut.
... open a steak house (who doesn't occasionally like a good steak tender enough to eat rare should they so desire?). Of course it would come complete with tacky decor (fake cowhides, cowboy hats, wooden fencing, string ties for the staff...) and frosted beer glasses. This could be located on Gulan Street en route to Ankawa.
This photo is actually one I took (not stolen from the internet). It is of Buffalo Steak House in Beirut... It had soggy overcooked veggies, but good potatoes and fantastic steak.

... or, and most impractically, open a sushi bar. This will have to happen once there is cheaper and more frequent air transport into Erbil so that I can have daily fresh fish. Also not sure where I will find a Japanese sushi chef willing to work in Erbil. But wouldn't it be fantastic to be able to enjoy fresh fish and a little tempura every now and then?
Below is Le Sushi Bar in Achrefieh, Beirut. My first stop after my hotel on this trip recently past.

If only all these things were in place, there would be no need to travel outside Kurdistan... frequently.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kilik Mishik via Ishik

A couple of days ago, at the invitation of an Francesca, I visited the site of Kilik Mishik. She told me her fellow Italian friends (who were working at the site as archaeologists) told her it was easily accessible by taxi. It was... but only after a slight mishap. The driver (who must have thought that two foreigners couldn't possibly be headed for the village/hill of Kilik Mishik) took us to Ishik College. About 25 minutes later, we pulled off to the side of the road where we were met by the mound visible in the photo immediately below (separated from us and the road by a chicken-wire fence).

We climbed to the top of the mound where people were busy at work digging through the layers of walls built upon the walls of those who lived there before... small rooms with fire pits built from stones taken from the foundations below? The foundations below assembled on top of Babylonian era walls? Unfortunately, the European archaeologists found too much erosion to be able to answer all of our questions... but the finds looked exciting to me! Big shards of pottery being unearthed everywhere...

F (?) points out a wall cross-section typical of Assyrian construction... A temple to Ishtar, perhaps?
After returning to the university, I shared my experiences with several of my student who just laughed.

"Kilik Mishik? Why would you want to go there?" someone asked. "It's just a village... a hill."
Seems they were not only tickled by the fact I found such a place fascinating. My pronunciation and the fact that 'kilik mishik' means 'mouse's tail' were also the cause of some hilarity. But as for me, I hope the Italians and French (who were present as part of an initiative from the Sorbonne) return again soon with more concrete speculations as to the history of the site and with news of other locations to explore.


Above, the photo I promised you on April 30th. This was taken the night of the violent windstorm that knocked over the wall of the pool. On my side of the building, I would have heard the tinkling music of breaking glass... But I was at Francesca's with friends enjoying the sky show.

Mu also came and reminisced about a Valentine's evening (2 or 3 years prior) spent at Dilan Restaurant in Shaklawa (before restaurateur Seido faced possible imprisonment for something he likely didn't do and returned to France). The entire drive back to Hawler/Erbil, the road was lit up at regular intervals by the flashes of lightning ahead.

Photo by Kameran w Francesca's camera.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

No ants in the hidden pantries

A couple of "lovely geese" (nickname for freshmen at universities in Iraq) enjoying the instant coffee stashed away in their lockers. Note the BIG container of sugar. Good thing the lid closes tightly as there have been a lot of ants around this spring.


About two years ago, on a plane from Erbil to Vienna, I was allocated the middle seat between two very large and beefy men travelling home to Bosnia... both dog handlers working in Chamchamal. The men were friendly enough (good thing as both of them were big enough to encroach into my seat space), but due to lack of a common language, I was unable to discover much of what their work might be like. But in my mind, MDDs (Mine Detection Dogs) and EDDs (Explosive Detection Dogs) were large, potentially ferocious and unsociable dogs... likely German Shepherds... and the job of handling these dogs, one that required every last muscle the two giants beside me possessed.

Imagine my surprise then, upon meeting Celeste. Last year, an acquaintance told me about an MDD/EDD canine trainee needing a home... possibly my home! A border collie named Celeste. Not only is Celeste not a ferocious name, the dog was quiet, smiley, tail-waggy and friendly. Of course she had not yet undergone MDD training, but had been selected as a candidate. Due to lack of trainer time, she (complete with shots and papers) was being given away for free!

Unfortunately, soon after meeting Celeste, her caretaker returned to South Africa and I was unable to contact him. I tried to visit her on a couple of occasions, but did not meet with success. Finally, I gave up.

Well, two weekends ago, I went to a friend's afternoon rooftop gathering to be met enthusiastically by... yes, Celeste! I was so surprised to see her.... and also slightly sad. It seems the prior owner did not see me as a fit enough parent for the lovely Celeste to contact me on his return. But all's well that ends well. Celeste now has a wonderful home with wonderful people... and I can visit her whenever I like.

Note: In order to protect Celeste's identity, the photo in the top left is NOT Celeste, but merely a random border collie whose picture was pulled from the internet.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Either last Wednesday's wind was really strong or the construction of the pool's glass wall (constructed to protect swimmers and sunbathers from prying eyes - too bad most of the voyeurs are not at ground level but on the balconies overlooking the pool) was poorly constructed... or both.

Stay tuned for gorgeous photos of the lightning.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Erbil Explosions: news from Facebook, KIU & Ak

Yesterday, instead of spending my evening at home marking papers, I called up a few friends to invite them to meet us (I was accompanied by a Canadian couch-surfing guest) in Ankawa for a bite to eat. The reply came back negative - their employers had asked that they not spend time in crowded entertainment venues due to the explosions (!!!). The only news of explosions I had received lately was from a student posting on Facebook saying that some idiot threw a grenade somewhere near Abu Shahab over the weekend (nobody was injured). It was a bit alarming, but also just hearsay.

However, after discovering that my expat friends (who work for more cautious employers than I) were being advised to stay home, I searched for news of the blast online. I came up with two articles, neither from the usual sources:

KIU - the Kurdistan Islamic Union website

Second explosion in Arbil
An explosion in (the Family Fun game city) happened, hopefully there is no injury.
The captain Ashti in Arbil Asaish said to KurdIU: this incident was the result of the explosion of a stun grenade aimed at making horror in the hearts of the inhabitants of Arbil.
A source has notified KurdIU that there are many forces, security around the city of the Games for the purpose of investigating the incident and the cause of the explosion.
Yesterday, an explosion in front of the Abu Shahab Restaurant 2 without a loss happened.

Although it is invaluable to know that the intent of the incident was to strike "horror in the hearts of the inhabitants of Arbil," I was not satisfied with only this source and searched further. AK News coverage was the only other source I could find, stating rather that the explosions were aimed at undermining security...

But I am still waiting to find out what, if anything, will be said to me and the other employees where I work! Guess the fastest way to find out what's going on is... Facebook?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A stone house near the sea

Being both an itinerant and a bit of a pack rat is definitely not a happy marriage of qualities. My home is wherever I happen to be at the moment... but my stuff is scattered about the world in temporary storage (in a suitcase under a friend's bed in the UK, shoved into a nook in my mom's laundry room in Canada, in boxes in an attic somewhere in the UAE).

And then a collague told me about the stone house she bought in Turkey (see top photo. U's house - complete with pool - is located in the hills of Üzümlü just outside of Fethiye on the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey). Her dream was always to have a home somewhere on the Mediterranean. While I have never had such a dream, to have a stationary place to drop all my accumulation of junk would certainly make my constant shifting of jobs and countries easier!

Visiting U's place over Newruz has planted a seed in that part of my brain which continues to desire MORE stuff instead of wanting to tossing it all into the bin and move off in another direction free as a bird or a Buddhist monk. Mu (an engineer friend who could help this dream to materialize) has uncharacteristically agreed that one of my ideas isn't a BAD idea (!!!)... maybe partially because he liked my choice of location - not on the Med, but the Agean and connected to Greece and Italy by ferry (town of Alaçatı on the Çeşme penninsula).

Seems I have a few choices. The first is to buy a "ready-made" house (as Mu puts it). The house below is one in Alaçatı, but is quite likely out of any price range I might have... and doesn't even have a front garden.

The second choice is to buy land and build. (Below house also in Alaçatı).

And finally, there is the option to find an old stone house and remodel. I love the old Üzümlü stone house below. Would it really be so bad to have a place in the neighboring country to escape to every now and then?
And the big question, "Is this just an impossible dream?"

Ibrahim Khalil: The Iraq-Turkey Border

Travelling to Turkey overland from Kurdistan was one of the most memorable (if frustrating) experiences from my first year in Erbil. However, the process seems to have changed. Ordinarily, I would book a domestic ticket from Diyarbakir to Istanbul (or other desired Turkish destination for Friday late morning (or noontime). Then on Thursday after work, I would go home, sleep a few hours and start out at midnight. I would be at the border at about 3:00am and due to lack of traffic, be able to get through in around an hour and be at the airport in time to catch my flight.

Things have changed. Things have changed A LOT.

March 18-19: Iraq to Turkey
This Newruz break, we arranged tickets from Diyarbakir to Izmir to leave Diyarbkir at 2:00pm on Friday. On Thursday, we received a call from the Turkish-side taxi we had arrnaged to meet us in Zakho (Iraqi side) and take us through the border and on to the airport. "Come as soon as possible," he pleaded. We left work at 3:00pm on Thursday and went straight to the border. We sat for 8 hours on the border as the officials on the Turkish side took 20 minutes each for a never-ending string of cars queued for as far as the eye could see. Some of us had to go and beg/cajol at which point the officer told us to come through with the of mac trucks when there was an opening to slide into the truck lane. If that hadn't have happened, it is likely we would have missed our flight. We reached Silopi (on the other side) with only 3 hours to catch a nap before heading on to Diyarbakir and our flight.

March 26: Turkey to Iraq
When we arrived back (this time at Batman instead of Diyarbakir, our dis- gruntled driver was waiting for us - disgruntled because he apparently doesn't like to come to Batman (too difficult to find a fare on the way there. Nevermind that it cut nearly an hour off our travel time). Well don't worry too much about our driver, he found a method of payback. Apparently he had not yet gone for his once yearly road test and March 26th was the last day. We hung around the side of the road for about 45 minutes while he had is exhaust check, his tires rotated and a number of other small things done. More frustrating still is that we were just outside Silopi (see road sign)... less than 20km from the border.
We amused ourselves by taking photos of random things and remarking on how it was already like being back... almost.

Any people planning to cross overland are highly recommended to hire a car in advance. Some other foreign tourists we met on the border had been waiting in Silopi for over 3 hours unable to find a car willing to take them through the border for under $70 a piece. (We paid $150 for the whole car for a 250 km trip and the 8 hour border crossing). I guess people are less willing to make the trip now that the crossing is taking so long...