Your ultimate guide to Summer Vacation in Kurdistan

To the dearest reader,
From emails and comments on this blog I have realized that a great number of young Kurds abroad are returning home (Kurdistan of course!) this summer. Most of you are visiting for a short stay. So, I have come up with the ultimate Kurdistan Summer Holiday Guide. This blog is especially for all those who are planning a visit (though I prefer to call it a vacation) Kurdistan.
I am going to give you all the details from what to pack, where to go, what to do and what to buy if 
you are visiting Erbil. What can I say, a loyal blogger to loyal readers!
Here we go, so fasten your seat-belts! 
Fly to Kurdistan, Picture by Kurdistan2007_ARTIS, Flicker

The Packing

This is the tough part, you know what to pack when you come to Kurdistan, however, there are certain things that won’t come to your mind and you don’t realize that you needed them until after your arrival here. So let’s keep it short and sharp—packing the following items will make your stay more enjoyable:
Mosquito cream: The top of the list, since you are coming in summer and since you are going to be spending a lot evenings outside, then do think of this wisely: bring with you a good mosquito cream or propellant. Summer in Shaqlawa is great, but if you are spending the night there then you are going to itch you’re way through the second day with all the mosquito bites. Trust me, they won’t bite your Kurdish cousins. They will know you’re a guest, and you taste different. So YOU are the target!
Sun cream: It is going to be summer, and most of the time you will be out so do pack a sun cream that you are used to using.
Medication: It is best if you see a doctor before you come, and get him to prescribe some medication in case you get an unstable tummy in the first week. You don’t want to waste an entire afternoon in a doctor’s clinic when you’re here
Clothing: Most of the clothes you should be packing would ideally be not beyond the knee length and
as long as there is some sleeve it will be fine. Short sleeves are normal and skirts, until the knee  length is also okay.
You are free the way you want to dress. But I am just telling you what people in general wear so you have an idea of what’s suitable. On a general level people do dress up, sometimes they do go overboard even if they are only going to the mall.
Sandals: If you have a favourite flip flops then do bring them along. If you visit Bekhal or any other water fall such as Gali Ali Beg then you need to wear sandals that won’t be torn in the water.
The Gifts
Once upon a time (like one year back) when someone was coming back from abroad they’d ask “what should we bring back” most people would ask for a digital camera, branded make up, designer perfumes, shoes etc.. the rare that couldn’t be found here. But today, my dear reader, it’s different. You can easily buy the original Loreal foundation, the Addidas Shoes, and even top designer watches.

 They are not necessarily affordable prices, but they are available. So don’t believe it when you hear that they can’t find any of these things here.

Don’t forget, Mango is already open and Carrefour is opening next month! As for the technology, well… we have the original Apple store as well. So there is no need to worry yourself about iPad, iPod, iPhone or for that matter anything else that starts with an “I” that may be released by the time this blog is published. 

 Suggestion: If I had to suggest gifts, I would say souvenirs from the county that you are visiting from. However, many people here may find it insulting that after ten years of living abroad you return with a key ring of the Eifel Tower or a toy Kangaroo. Think carefully. And another suggestion, either bring something for everyone, or nothing at all. When you’re invited to people’s houses [which by the way you must be prepared for] you can just take some sweets.  
Mango in Erbil Majidi Mall, picture from  Here
Flying to Kurdistan
You will know you’re going to Kurdistan from the terminal at the airport.  Actually even before that. You will know in the weigh-in section where the luggage is being weighed. As soon as you see bags open and goods transferred from one bag to another (and maybe people asking you if you have any room in your luggage) then know that you are on your way to Kurdistan.
Other things to keep in my mind during your fly to Kurdistan: Everyone speaks in the plane—politics of course, clap as soon as you land, and then you begin to hear the golden words: BAXERBET, SAR CHAW!!!! At that second you should be thinking HOME, HOME SWEET HOME!!! Aaaaah!!!

Erbil International Airport, EIA, Picture by Shakawan, Flicker
The Must See:
I am sure your relatives and friends will take you around to all the places that you need to see, but here is a brief list in random order.
In the city you should visit:
1.       The Citadel, once inside there is a shop and a textile museum that is a MUST SEE!

Textile Museum- Pic by, One-Thirteen, Flicker
2.       The Qaysari Bazaar
3.       The malls: Family Mall, Majidi Mall, Sofy mall and maybe even Rhein mall

Ice Ring in Family Mall- Pic by Shakawan, Flicker
4.       The theme park: Family Fun
5.       Ica Hall for ice skating
6.       Aqua Park – water slides and bowling
7.       Mini Gulf
8.       Jalil Al-Khayat mosque and St. Jousef Church are both a must see
Parks: You really shouldn’t return unless you’ve visited all of these three parks as you will learn a lot about Kurdish people:
9.   Shanadar Park, here you can try the teleferique and visit the Shanadar cave where there is a display of Kurdish art. Also here you can buy postcards on Kurdistan

Minaret- Erbil, photo by Mohamad Sinjari, Flicker

10.   Martyr Sami Abdul Rahman Park:  The water features are beautiful, so is the music, kids’ play ground and the new restaurant is SUPERB.

11.   Minaret Park: This is a must see, in particular in the evenings, because of its historic significance (Al-Mudhafaria Minaret). The water fountain with the lights makes a great backdrop for pictures
Tourist & Historic sites:
12.   Shaqlawa should be first on the list, the weather is beautiful even in summer, and the walk down the main street is refreshing (try the ice cream there and the nana kaysi too!! mmmm)

Shaqlawa, Picture by Shakwan, Flicker
13.   Bekhal,  the most beautiful waterfall
14.   Gali Ali Beg waterfall, here there are ducks and little boats that you can take under the waterfall, very close to Bekhal so will definitely need to visit

Gali Ali Beg, pic by One-Thirteen, Flicker
15.   The Cultural Museum
16.   Qalinj Agha Hill
17.   The Deween and Khanzad castles
18.   The Beston and Dian caves
19.   Harir Mountain Sculpture- goes back to 1st century BC
20.   Rabban Biya Convent (Shekh Wesu Rahman)
21.   Jundiyan Resort
22.   Heran and Nazanin
This, by the way is a short list (and only in Erbil) I have missed many other places.

Bekhal, Picture by- Mohamad Gafori
The Must Try:
Masti Hawler
The Etiquette:
Forget about schedules and working by the clock. As much as we like to function with the time, the chances are you can’t plan a lot here because everything happens all of the sudden.
When you sit around the dinner, the chances are you will be asked to try this, try that and eat more of that. You will hear “you didn’t eat anything” even though you have had two plates of rice already! And “your hands can’t reach the dish over there” even though you reached out three times.
Another tip, if you are on a diet: Forget it!! Diets don’t work here, especially if you have come for a visit. You can always restart your Jenny Craig diet as soon as you land to the country you’re coming from. You won’t be able to resist the Dolma, nana tiri, brnj w shla or even the paqlawa. If you keep your diet you will regret it for years ahead. And plus, people will think you’re being so awropi so be Kurdish instead and Bxo (Eat!).

Dolma anyone? Picture by Shakawan, Flicker

 When you visit expect to see many people. Even your aunt’s neighbour might invite you for dinner

And now… the most important part! The afternoon nap, after lunch everyone goes to sleep in summer. Yes, at 1:30 people are sleeping till about 4 or 5 p.m. when life begins again. I still can’t get used to this. But you, my dear reader, should make the most of this golden time of Silence. Email friends, write a diary, or load your pictures.  
I must admit it can be boring to see people sleep during the day for a good three hours, especially if you aren’t used to it. Also, since people sleep during the day, at night they remain awake till well past midnight—but you can be a chicken like me and go to sleep at 10 p.m. and listen to all the stories that happened last night over breakfast the next day [sigh, and realize what you missed out on!].
What’s Normal?*
Let me prepare you for some situations you may encounter and find weird. But these are totally normal here!
It is NORMAL to hear the horns of the cars as soon as the traffic light turns green.
It is NORMAL to wash the veranda with a hose.
It is NORMAL to be kissed 5 or 6 times by an elderly lady– and for the kisses to be a little bit sloppy.
It is NORMAL for a man to have hundreds of dollars on a table in front of him in a busy Bazaar, for money exchange

Money Exchange in Erbil, Pic by American Crew, Flicker
It is NORMAL for politics to be the topic in almost every gathering
It is NORMAL for a taxi driver to get into the intimate details of your life
It is NORMAL to buy blockbuster movies for less than $2 USD.
 It is NORMAL for a woman to wear gold as much as her weight all at the same time

Picture by Rohat, Flicker- Gold store in Erbil

Another Gold Shop, picture by One-Thirteen, Flicker
It is NORMAL for the falafl to be put into the sandwich by hands
It is NORMAL to say “no you go in first” (through the door) and hear “oh no no no, you must go first” because “Baxwa nabet”
Words in Kurdish:
Don’t ever try translate a sentence word for word from English and say it in Kurdish [I say this from experience] it will be a mockery! But these are few words to keep in mind, just so you don’t get confused:
Yak Waraqa: means one paper, but it also refers to $100 USD.
Yak Daftar: means one notebook, but it also refers to $10 000
Monica: might be the name of girl, but it refers to the white four wheel drive looking car (I’m certainly not the right person to speak of car models. But you must know the Monica is a car!)
So, if the slot of land across the road is worth se daftar it is not worth three notebooks, but $30 000!
Normal Situations:
Also, since you are coming in summer there is going to be so many wedding parties (it’s right after graduation season don’t forget!) if you’re single don’t be offended if the following happen, because it is also NORMAL:
Your mother (bless her) or older sister points at every girl in the wedding and say “what do you think of her” in the ideal situation you are supposed to say “yes, she is beautiful, let’s ask for her hand!” but the chances are they will be disappointed as you laugh it off. If you’re a girl: It’s NORMAL to hear naxsha la tu or may your turn be next. That is, your turn to be the bride!  
Other things to keep in mind: Kar [donkey] is a bad word; Sher [lion] is a good word. Ango is Hawlery and Ewa is Slemani (same with Ku and Chon). People will really pay attention to the words that you use, but then you can be like me and use every word that comes to your mind from every Kurdish dialect and people can’t guess where your origins are.
Finally, you’re supposed to laugh at the end of every Xoshnaw joke. But let me tell you this, the Xoshnaws are the most amazing people in this land, you will just have to come and see for yourself!  
What to take back?
I urge you to take back gifts and souvenirs from Kurdistan to the country you are from.  You’re colleagues at work will appreciate a gift from your vacation and you will also be doing something good to Kurdistan.
For example, if you work at some government office the US and you take back for your colleague a little Minara or Qalat statue for their desk, how great would that be?
Or how proud would it be if a young British student in the UK had a Kurdish Klash for her key ring?  
The Kurdish carpets near the citadel cost less than $7 USD each, they make great gifts. The Kurdish hand bags that could be hanged on the walls are also good gift choices. While you’re there buy some tasbeeh as well.

Carpets near Erbil Citadel, Pic by Mark Jutton, Flicker
Don’t forget an XL Kurdish Flag that is available on ‘Jaday Tarbiya’ which is located at the top of Erbil’s Doctor’s Road (Shar’e Atubba). While you are there the shops have badges with the Kurdish flag. There is also a little corner shop on the same road that is designed to look like the citadel. But you will find great Kurdish souvenirs.
In Naza Mall, on the second floor, there is a shop that has handbags with the Kurdish Flag on it. They are under $15 USD.
In the Qaysari Bazaar, you can get key rings of the Kurdish Klash

Pic by Tara Beeban, Flicker
Now, if I am traveling abroad there is something that I am going to take a LOT of. They include the following

  •           The map of Kurdistan
  •           There are new small books that include all the tourist and historic sites in Kurdistan with pictures in Kurdish, Arabic and even English. I recommend a little book called: Your Guide to Iraqi Kurdistan Region, prepared by Sardar M. Abdulrahman and Hoshyar M. Khoshnaw!
  •           There are little statues of the Citadel and Minaret that reflect on Kurdistan that can be found in the shop in the citadel, in Naza Mall or in the shops on Tarbiya Road, also near the citadel
  •           In many of the jewelry shops there are little Kurdistan necklaces—highly recommended!

The book I am refering to, by Abdulrahman and Xoshnaw
 If you happen to have a friend who is thinking of returning back home, or you have a sister who is wondering how it would be to be living back in Kurdistan then you can also decide to take back “My Nest in Kurdistan” also available in some of the book shops across the Region. This is not advertising, I am just suggesting.  😉
Last but certainly not least. You MUST get a set of Kurdish clothing for you and whoever else is very special in your second country. I suggest as soon as you land, make arrangements to visit Tayrawa or the Qaysari Bazaar near the Citadel. Have a look and select the colours and material that you want and it will take up to two weeks sometimes for it to be ready to pick up. I recommend the Beirut shop opposite the Qaysari Bazaar, they sew the most stunning Kurdish clothes in all types of styles. That way, when you drop by to the citadel again before you depart (to buy your souvenirs) then you can pick up your new set of Jli Kurdi.
I hope you have an enjoyable vacation, welcome! Baxerben! Sar sar w sar chaw! You may now take off your seat belts 
*The ideas in this section are not all my own, thanks to some Twitter friends who started the enjoyable hash tag of #youknowyouareaKurd

9 thoughts on “Your ultimate guide to Summer Vacation in Kurdistan

Add yours

  1. as i just experienced that great thing not long time ago – i can only add – in the airplain Kurds dont bother to sit and fasten the sitbelts speacially when the plain is landing in Kurdistan – you can hear from pilot room – “Danisha bezahmat” – but nobody cares as long as there are night view of Hewler city lights outside the windows.
    well, gifts – i brought some sweets from my funny chocolate factory for my sisters, but i had hard time to convince them to take these sweets – dear author of the blog for sure remember that :))).
    i had my visite in march, so i was told – “its warm in Kurdistan” – so i took the clothes for “warm”, instead of taking clothes for “very hot” – so be carefull with the temperature!
    what i can recommend – i love to sit on Qalla in the mornings and evenings watching the fountains – i did that every day during my visit.
    the rest – just go to Kurdistan and you will go back there again and again.


  2. and i forget to add – its NORMAL that everywhere you see men with big weapon on their back or hands, even on crowded bazaar – sometimes they wear peshamrga uniforms and sometimes just civil clothes – but they are there for people's safety. I really like them very much.
    and – there is a seperate story concerning extending your 10 days visa stamp :))) – really interesting experience (but my one is from Slemanyi, so in Ainkawa, Hewler might be different)


  3. hahahaha I am going to print this and anytime I decide to visit kurdistan will take it with me you are a great help Miss Mandalawi


  4. thank you for such wonderful information. You know what I really needed that will be there in mid july i will have to go to all those places that you mentioned and buy all those gifts as well. You're such an angel


  5. haha I liked this post a lot…
    I have some cousins that are going to visit us from abroad on couple of weeks, this will definitely be helpful for them.
    thanks for the post. 🙂


  6. “It is NORMAL for the falafl to be put into the sandwich by hands”
    hahaha! Was my favorite.
    Yeh its nasty but this is why the made falafl at the market is much better than the one at home! 🙂


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