Monday, July 3, 2017

How to Take a Bath...Kurdish Style!

A couple of simple steps to taking a bath Kurdish-style...
#1 fill the big red tub with water finding that the hot water is out but you are totally grateful for cold water considering the heat

#2 soap up... ALL OVER
#3 cuss as you near slip and fall to your death looking for the door cause the lights have just gone out
#4 have awkward moment with mother-in-law when the lights come back on
#5 using one of the small bowls use the water to rinse off, silently chastising yourself for not keeping up with your yoga while on your trip
#6 repeat steps 2-4
#7 find towel and wrap up so you can squeegee the floor clean of water sending it into drain
#8 finish drying off, dressing and then put on sandals to leave the bathroom enjoying their musical squish, squish, squeak, squish, squish, squeak!!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Street Kat Is On The Move!

I can't believe it is already time to head back to the US!!

But, just because we are headed "home" doesn't mean that our tails are over!
Oh no! Not yet....

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Making New Friends

Among a group of friends, "Lady" was talking about a new job that, after a long search, she had been offered. The job offer was very attractive and would give her career a big boost but she was considering not accepting the offer because the job would be located in another city.

While I could understand that moving to a new city could pose many new challenges, to me, it did not seem like enough of a reason to turn down such a great opportunity.
Her friends told her that the new city was modern and beautiful. Each talked of their own visits to this city and how they enjoyed their time there. Lady went on to talk more and while she spoke, I came to understand that the biggest issue for her was that she would be separated from her family and friends and that neither she nor her husband knew anyone in the new city.

I got it, but I didn't get it...

Father teasing his daughter

The thing is... her social network is in fact her whole life.
Here in Kurdistan, you are created by and for other people. If I consider the question more deeply, I imagine that I would find something similar in the US but it is very different here and, in some important ways.

The family into which this woman was born, and grew to adulthood in, not only shaped who she is in terms of personality, but also in terms of her public, social self. Her many brothers, sisters and cousins have been her friends and playmates since before she can remember. While she would later make friends outside of her natal family, only one or two would eventually be allowed to be close to her and her family.

As she has gone through life, it is this tight-knit social network that has secured her schooling, helped her shop, choose a home, meet and marry her husband. It is this same social network that, in times of trouble, she turns to for security and for reassurance. It is a social network that has sculpted her sense of self and secured her livelihood. It is a network that has taken her a lifetime to build and will be the network that sees her to her final rest, and will continue after her, securing the lives and well-being of her children.

You can't just make new friends in a new city.
It just doesn't work like that.

Sharing meat between family and close friends.

Making friends here has been challenging and unfortunately I have found that most of the people I have encountered outside of my familial network (that is, the social network of my husband) are not interested in friendship, but instead, advantage.
I also don't have the experience or social history here to always be able to tell who is who and what is what.
More recently, I was introduced to the wife of my husband's dear friend.
I was hesitant after so many false friends, but liked her immediately. Since then, we have become a great deal closer. But if you think about it - this friendship was sort of preordained. My husband and his friend have been close since childhood. His wife, like myself, is connected to their social network of family and close friends. That means that half the work of choosing a friend is already done if I choose someone who is already tied in to our social network. They have the same interests, the same social responsibilities and both of us pay the same social debts to each other and each other's families should things go badly.

Tea warming over the heater

Relationships like these are built over a lifetime, through ties of blood and marriage.
Relationships like these are fed on the sweetness of respect and cups and cups of strong Kurdish tea, hastily made as guests appear at your door.
No, you can't just make new friends in a new city.
It just doesn't work like that.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Everything I Learned About Kurdistan I Learned In The Sixth Grade: Raparin

Often on Sundays we begin our school week by gathering at the front of the school for announcments from the Principal and to raise the the flag... the Kurdish flag, that is.

Often in these moments, I have looked around at my students and watch how they talk, fidget and quiggle through these mornings. It's true, they are 11 and 12 years old - they fidget through most things. I guess what is particularly interesting to me is knowing that these kids grew up only knowing the Kurdistan where you could fly the flag and sing the national anthem. None of them are old enough to remember the struggle for this territory and not many have yet begun to learn about that history. Some have heard stories about when the Kurdish people rose up and pushed Saddam out of the north of Iraq. Most of their parents, uncles and aunts remember and were part of the "Raparin" or "uprising".

My husband remembers. He was there...

In 1991 uprisings in Iraq happened both in the North and South of the country. In the Kurdish north the uprisings against Saddam's regime began March 5, 1991 in the Kurdish city of Ranya. After two days, uprisings began here in Sulaimani. During the brief, roughly one-month period of unrest, tens of thousands of people died and nearly two million people were displaced. The Persian Gulf War Coalition established Iraqi no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, and the Kurdish opposition established the Kurdish Autonomous Region or what we know today as  Iraqi Kurdistan.

Student Family Biography Project - Parents meet at a wedding party.

As I was taking up their Family Biography writing projects, I was surprised at school today to find out that we would have a three-day weekend because of the holiday celebrating Raparin. I asked my students what they knew about the uprising that eventually lead to the creation of "Kurdistan" but was surprised to find that they did not know much.
Later I mentioned this to my husband and wondered out loud if they simply had not gotten to that in their history lessons. I wondered what history was being taught. Certainly their parents or other family would have talked about this significant event. Or so I wondered...

Student Family Biography Project - Work with a local Kurdish political party and capture by Saddam Hussein

What we are presented with here is the idea of how histories are transmitted and what is transmitted, over time to the next generation. At the same time these students did not seem to know much about the Raparin, they did seem to have a great deal of information about the genocide at Halabja. I wondered why they would know about this but seem to be at a loss when it came to the Raparin. Both events factor prominently in Kurdish narratives about the creation and preservation of "Kurdistan" and it seemed to me that in this emerging nation-state, there would be the presence of a strong, cohesive "national" narrative.

Student Family Biography Project - Kurdish migration out in the 1990s

So, as I do with all of my research, I turned to co-researcher, key-consultant, translator, sounding board and best husband... with these questions. As always, he was insightful. He pointed out that this conflict was not very long ago and not even a handful of years after the Raparin, Iraqi Kurdistan experienced a civil war. If we think about it, the Raparin only took place 26 years ago. I certainly remember the 1st Gulf War - I was a freshman in high school at the time. As for the civil war that eventually followed, well, this is not an uncommon occurance and we've seen civil wars follow major revolutions and wars for independence all over the World. Of course I understood that those memories were still very fresh and possibly painful, but what I had not considered was the complexity of the of the event and the feelings about it. The thing is ... those who lived through that time took different parts in the conflict - different political motives, different stations in society and different outcomes. There are plenty who are not proud of what they did during that conflict and the fact remains that those divisions are still potent today. There are those who benefited from the conflict, becoming powerful and wealthy. Still others feel the burden of their success through corrupt and ineffectual governance. Who's revolution was it? Is this the dream we struggled for? Did we struggle and die only to be oppressed by our own?

Student Family Biography Project - Class and ethnicity in Iraq
My husband asked me to consider his brother, who, during the 1st Gulf War and the Raparin, was a conscripted solider in the Iraqi Army. My brother-in-law, a Kurd from the north, was forced into service in Saddam's army and sent to Kuwait. Imagine - at the same time your countrymen are rebelling at home, you are forced into service, in a foreign country, by a government who has oppressed and harmed your own people. Meanwhile, your younger brother has fled "to the mountains" and has become Peshmerga (freedom fighter / rebel).You can begin to see the complex and conflicted layers. Twenty-six years later, with two children of his own, what would my brother-in-law tell his children about that time? About his actions, about the actions of their uncle and why they and their compatriots did what they did? Can he yet reckon with that moment in his own life, much less make sense of it in a clear narrative for his children?

In comparison, talking about Halabja as a national tragedy seems much more clear and simple. In that conflict, there was a clear enemy and a clear victim. In turn, it seems easier to create a clear narrative about that event. However, in the case of the Raparin, while their is a clear outcome which was "the creation of Kurdistan", I think there is still much grappling with who was the enemy and who was the victim. Who commited sins and who can be forgiven is still unclear. If we dig too deeply into these questions now, will we open ourselves to yet another internal conflict?

Perhaps it is better, for now, to hold it in our hearts and to focus on the here and now - going to work, enjoying picnics on the weekend and giving our children the material things we did not have.

I have to wonder, and it is hard not to sound superior and judgmental in saying this, but won't the next generation need to be able to come to terms with their history and the actions of their ancestors in order to go forward? Is this not as necessary as food, clothing and shelter?

The Safety Pin Movement In America 2016
(Photo retrieved from )
But in America, are we not also struggling with understanding our own history? I think of the safety pin movement:

     "After the election of Donald J. Trump, fears are growing that segments of his base may physically or emotionally abuse minorities, immigrants, women and members of the L.G.B.T. community. As a show of support, groups of people across America are attaching safety pins to their lapels, shirts and dresses to signify that they are linked, willing to stand up for the vulnerable."

( )

While it was well-intended, those wearing safety pins seemed not to understand that they were socially able to wear the safety pin and show support because their own place of priviledge. A place in the structure of American society that was built upon the backs of others who were, and are, marginalized and oppressed. To dig deeply into that means that we deeply dig into the truths of who were are and what we have done to each other.

How do we reckon with that and won't the next generation need to be able to come to terms with their history and the actions of their ancestors in order to go forward?
Is this not as necessary as food, clothing and shelter?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Why the name "Suli Street Kat"?

So, why did I name this blog "Suli Street Kat"?
The simplest answer...I dig cats.
Like the real-live Suli street cat who posed for the cover photo with me!
I call her "Pisa" but more about that later...

I guess you can say that I have found inspiration in what I see as a "Street Kat"kind of spirit. Yes..."Cat" really must be spelled with a "K".
But, more on discerning trendy logography later...

It has been my experience in the Middle East that not many people have dogs and cats as pets. At the same time, there are often many, many dogs and cats trying to survive in the streets of every Middle Eastern city I've ever been too. Their lives are not easy and in some cases, quite brutal.
Still, they persist.
I love and respect that...and them.

Travel and work in the Middle East for me has always been exciting and interesting, but often brutal.
Still, I keep coming back.
In some cases, just day by day putting one foot in front of the other.

Pisa and I having a little dinner out front of our apartment.

I've met street cats in Egypt, Lebanon, Oman and in the U.A.E.
The situations are often the same.
Some times they run and hide and other times they steal chicken straight off your table.
Still, in other moments, they are the only ones to acknowledge you that day and offer you a warm greeting.

In the case of the cats of Sulaimani...well they seem to be a particularly spunky breed.
In fact, I didn't see them at all until one night I happened to be sitting on my mother-in-law's roof one night about 3 o'clock in the morning 'cause that is a thing that we do here.
Well, truth be was both the time and place my hubby and I could enjoy a beer and some alone time...and that too is another story for later.

Then, there they appeared. They came from behind walls and out of garbage cans, down the streets in twos and threes. Seriously, imagine the opening scene from the musical "Cats" are there you have it!
Image taken from

So I started feeding them, clandestinely, at night. Then one night, one followed me home and straight up to my mother-in-law's kitchen door!
Later, when we moved into the apartment we are in now, I met a particularly chatty kitty who now calls loudly to me when she spots me walking home from school.
"Pisa" will run down the street to meet me and often accompanies me on the walk to the local grocery and back again to our apartment.
The thing is, more often than not  people shoo the cat away. In fact, every time I even looked at a street cat, much less tried to throw it some food, people would tell me "Na, bash neya! Pisa! Zor pisa!". In other words, "No, that's not good. Dirty! Very dirty!".
Well, you've probably now guessed how Pisa got her name.

So, in creating my blog where I will share my shenanigans and my inner thoughts about traveling and working abroad, it seemed appropriate to appreciate and honor the hospitality of my enigmatic hosts.

Welcome to Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan!

Hello and welcome to Sulaimani, Northern Iraq!

"Suli" is one of the major cities of Iraqi Kurdistan and often called the "capital of Kurdish culture".
Surrounded by the Azmer, Goyija, Qaiwan and Baranan mountain ranges, the city sits nestled, like a little bird in the palm of giant rock hands.

The city of Sulaimani by day (above) and by night (below).

It is lovely, but very different from where I come from.

Originally from the lakes, rivers and beaches of South Carolina, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1998 to pursue my career as a dancer and later my Master's degree in Anthropology. It was also  in Atlanta a number of years later that I met my handsome Kurdish husband. By that point, I had been working and traveling in the Middle East for a number of years both as a dancer but also as an anthropologist. But it was my because of my husband that I became more interested in the Kurds and Kurdistan. 
In 2013, a year after we married, he and I "returned" to Iraqi Kurdistan. Since then we have been back and forth between here and the US.
In September of 2016, we came here to stay for about a year so that I could pursue research for my dissertation. So far, it has been a beautiful, interesting, challenging, heartbreaking and eye-opening six months.
I wouldn't trade my time here with my husband, doing this work for anything!

But...a little more about "Suli"...

The choice of Sulaimani as  my primary field site is in fact connected to our family connections here but also to the city’s long history as a unique center of culture. Kurdish ties to family and friends are not to be discounted. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING,  happens or doesn't happen here by virtue of who you are connected to. This includes who you socialize with; how you get a job; how you get a husband or even includes your financial and physical security.

When we were newly dating, my husband, an artist himself, would tell me stories about his home town. Sulaimani is uniquely suited for research in the Arts. One of the major cities in both the Kurdistan region and in Iraq, "Suli" has nurtured the writers, actors, poets, painters and musicians of Kurdistan since its founding. Today, the city has a vibrant cultural scene with an active media, multiple museums and universities. It is not at all uncommon to walk down the street and see famous singers, writers and actors out buying their groceries or having a cup of strong Kurdish tea. The city is big but not too big and everyone seems to know everyone else. It makes direct access to these amazing artists a bit easier.
Painted stones from Kurdish visual artist and icon, Ismail Khayat

But...a little bit more about what I'm doing here...

In an effort to unravel the mystery that is the "Kurdish Question", I turned to what I know best and what I've know all of my life...THE ARTS!
As a professional dancer and the daughter of a theatre teacher, ART is the world I live in and always have. Arts folk innately see the world a little different and through training in the Arts we are encouraged to find creative solutions and build in spaces where others finding nothing.
So, when pursuing my PhD in International Conflict Management, I naturally turned to the Arts for perspective and inspiration. Through my husband's own lived experiences I was connected with the Art world people on the other side of the World! So my project was born. In as simple terms as I can put it, I am using the Arts to more deeply consider conflict here in Iraqi Kurdistan. My research places the practices of Kurdish painters currently working here within the historical context of the Iraqi state and traces the linkages between contemporary Iraqi Kurdish visual art, as a historically particular phenomenon, and its linkages to the performance of power and identity.

'Sounds like fun?

Well, that's all for now...More from the streets a little later...