Khanaqini Days and Jezhn La Kurdistan!!

To my dearest reader,
This blog entry is a little different. I went for a trip with my family and wrote whenever I could, everyday. I didn’t have internet access then, so I am just going to copy and paste what I have written in a word file. I have also taken pictures* and I will add these in where appropriate.
Day one:
I am off to the heart of Garmiyan, to the land of “Chooni Khaasi?” (instead of choni bashi), the closest point to the home of many of my ancestors. I am off to Khanaqin—minutes away from the Iran-Iraq border.
For every trip in Kurdistan there is an astound opportunity for it to be a learning discovery.. this is not going to be any different. I know it’s going to be an unbelievable experience.
We are still on the road, but stopped at a little restaurant for a few of us to break our fast. it’s been a long but easy travel so far. The mountains, the sunset and the quietness of the street is superb right now, any second we’re going to hear the Mullah’s call for evening prayers as we’re ending the Ramadan days here in Kurdistan. Typical of my father he won’t go on any trip without taking the little bird along. (This time he’s also our guest; he is just like Dad’s third child.)
The spoilt little one gets a rest during our trip….
We’ve arrived. I just noticed something, every time you hear a song about Khanaqin, the lyrics has to have Alwan in it (main river in Khanaqin) it looks amazing asI have seen it before. It gives life to the area. When we drove past almost two hours ago, I realized Alwan was gone. I ask some relatives in this house, they tell me that Iran has blocked off the water and they won’t let it flow. I am infuriated right now! Can neighbours ever become good friends?
The Alwan river in Khanaqin not a drop of water
Day Two:  
You must come  by for a chay
Today was basically receiving guests at one of our relatives house and most of them had ‘glayee’ which is basically something that goes like this: “You never ask about us… why don’t you visit… you must visit more often….here is the place of your relatives…” and this all ends with “Bakhwa you have to have dinner in our house today.” Out of goodwill people here just don’t understand that you are visiting for a limited time and you just can’t visit everyone.

TIP: So what do you do? Sadly, sometimes you just have to lie. A white lie… maybe? Errr… yes? No? I know it’s not right. But they will insist and insist. The easy way out: I am already invited tonight, and as for tomorrow I have an appointment.
Day two, other than receiving guests, talking, and talking and more talking after the evening meal for the first time in my life (which they thought was very appalling for a 21-year-old Kurdish girl) I was removing fresh gwez from the shell. I realized the tracksuit I had taken to wear at home seemed to stand out too much when being around the other women, so I asked for what they call a kras (or in Arabic dishdasha) most the women were either wearing that or Kurdish clothes.
Similar to a girls night out.. in some way
As I was learning the art of removing gwez from its shell I realized how back home we take even the gwez we eat for granted. I had almost forgotten that they actually come in shells and someone breaks them out before I indulge in my “brain food”. A few of the girls were in a circle two or so meters away from the grownups, they’d silently do their work and once a while through in a comment about what was being discussed in the larger gathering.

Also today, two of the women making ‘kuba’ For some reason women seem to just cook here, always

From the ones above I made only ONE, can you guess which? – the answer to this question is at the end of the blog entry, scroll down

Day Three:
Since I am a guest no one is letting me do anything, so I am sitting on the tiles on the kitchen floor watching three women—and two girls—prepare dinner for their family.
From a young age they learn to be friends with cooking!
One is washing some dishes, another is on the stove frying what looks like eggplants from here, and another two are sitting directly in front of me cleaning sawza (greens) this will be washed well and eaten alongside the food. The younger girl is selecting some cucmber and tomatoes,  I am guessing she is going to do the salad.
Food is ready!!! emmmmmm
As I observe these women, any person coming in can point at me as the odd one out .I just wish I knew what these women thought of me. What could they be saying: “what a lazy girl!” or they might be thinking “she is going to be the worse wife” or they’d probably think I cannot get through life. Afterall a women here is weighed according to the degree of house work she can manage.
The women would clean the sawza (greens) and talk away…
Sitting here, watching this small kitchen I realize that food is a major component of life here. It’s not like back home that you leave work and pick up a Pizza or a burger sandwich on your way home. To come down to it, family time—and ties—here is to a limited extent stronger than back in Erbil. They don’t work by a schedule, but I have realized people here have an unofficial daily plan: breakfast, lunch, dinner. 

After dinner:
She knows what she’s doing!
Unlike back home where if I cook I have to go to the kitchen alone, here women socialize when they prepare the meal. What I found amazing is that the women prepare the meal with so much love and passion.
I just returned from the kitchen with a plate of food (second dinner tonight: at home I either have what mum calls a bird’s dinner or I have a fruit instead) but I guess here it’s just the atmosphere. Everyone is always eating, it’s part of socializing, or maybe part of a women’s duty to keep serving food.
Day Four:
It’s past 11 p.m. and I know it is going to be a very, very, very long night.
I am sitting on the verge of the door—the door between the kitchen and the verandah—a woman who has a salon has brought her beauty bag and come over, the six other females in the house are all taking turns doing eye brows, dying their hair, and basically preparing for Jezhn. I never thought about making an appointment at a beauty center just because it’s Jezhn, but the women here are all excited. They use the sink in the verandah to wash their hair, a few lights outside to see exactly where to pluck the eye brows (I must admit, they already look beautiful). Their kids are everyone, some outside, a few others playing with the hose.
I can’t take my mind off from the ksh-ksh-ksh sound of half a kilogram of gold bracelets around some of their wrists.
Not all of them were like this one, but this gives you the idea. Ahhhh Kurdish women and their gold!
I would hide back a smile, or a giggle every time I hear comments such as: “My husband doesn’t like my hair short, so don’t cut much,” another would say, “My husband says you can do anything but don’t dye your hair yellow [he obviously doesn’t like blonde hair]…”
Miss Salon Women looks at my messy hair tied back; she doesn’t look too pleased and offers to “add a little bit of yellow [blonde highlights], and cut a fringe” but she understands my No. I-am-fine-thanks-smile.
I am intrigued by how excited these women are for the Jezhn. I can hear them talk about the fact that some of them haven’t prepared kulicha (jezhn sweets) yet, another one says that she has prepared the dough and is going home to bake it tonight. I remember for the past two Jezhn holidays I would drop by at Astera on Regay Kirkuk and pick up a few kilos of prepared kulicha an evening before. These women actually sit down and prepare it for nights.
Most of them have already bought Jezhn clothes for their children. I ask one of the little girls how she has prepared for Jezhn. She tells me she has bought blue top that has a skirt with it, and same colour sandals.         
Day Five:
Yesterday I was saying how some of the women had made Kulicha, well the highlight of today was making kulicha with the family that I am staying with. We are obviously very behind, because from yesterday’s salon session it was clear that most women had already prepared their sweets for Jezhn. So today was the big day. I never realized it was such a big deal. I took some pictures just to show how team work and leadership was practiced in kulicha making.
Me trying to help (pouring the oil) If you are wondering about ingrediants, there was almost 2 liters of oil alone!
Every single person, from the youngest child to the eldest women is involved in the process. Today there were 11 girls and women as well as a one 5-year old all taking part. The duties are distributed evenly.
The dough, which is the most important component and a determinant of how the end kulicha will taste, is made by only two women; almost 30 minutes later and it becomes a team project. One is responsible for the oven, another few putting stuffing into the pastry, a few others are flattening the dough, putting it onto the oven tray, coating it with egg and then putting it into the oven.
The kitchen floor is a place of women’s social time, interaction, team work and lastly preparing meals.
Everything seemed to work smoothly. As I write this I have a have a plate full of kulicha next to me screaming my name.
Yup! The same little girl.
Day Six:
Today is a lousy day in one of the surrounding villages of Khanaqin. To set the scene there is no electricity, I’m on the ground (no carpet) inside the room, but the windows and doors are all open bringing in some wind. The birds outside are singing, and it seems as though the breeze of cool air coming through the door on my right is also bringing in the sound of the birds. There is one fly that won’t leave me, and right now as it sits on the top of the laptop screen I am resisting not to slap the screen and break it into pieces. The little monster has probably bit me 50 times.
Meanwhile I am wishing that the chickens in the garden won’t invite themselves inside the house. Even though I am pretending like I wouldn’t mind their company. After all, how shameful to be scared of a chicken.
Some of the people here sleep till 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. so when they wake up they only have few hours and then break their fast—isn’t it cheating? What is more interesting is that they stay awake all night, the men play cards or dominoes, the younger boys go out, they have teams where they also play games outside and the women get together. They either talk, eat, watch a series on TV or use to do their prayers. Life here is simple. I like it. Tomorrow is Jezhn and many of the neighnbours brought dishes of sweets. The Kulicha we made yesterday along with some other sweets and baqlawa are were put on plates and the little girl, Ronak, took them one-by-one to the neighbours. Sometimes the neighbour emptied our sweets and filled it with her own, sending it back with Ronak, “Tell your mum this is from dalege (mother of) XX, tell her aydedan mubarak bood/ Jezhntan pirozbet (happy Eid).”
After breaking our fast we went to one of the houses down the road, she had invited all the women, they prayed together. I couldn’t help but see a number of pictures on the wall, the family had obviously had martyrs, the men in the pictures looked young.
Between the readings I learned a lot.
Everyone seems to be talking about their daughter-in-law. The more faqeer (vulnerable) she is the better! When a mother-in-law introduce her new daughter-in-law (because bless her she has eight sons, and a new daughter-in-law everyday) she says “ooooooo ya fra faqeera” in the luri dialect or in sorani (amayan har zor faqira) – this one is very vulnerable.
From my 15 minute observation I came down to one conclusion: The more educated she (bride) is, the more she talks, the more she knows about the world then she’s not faqeer and probably not good for her son.
Every 20-year-old in the room had a son or a daughter in her lap. This was a real reflection of how the society here functions, this phenomena is less widespread in the major cities like Erbil. However, evidently in towns and villages– early marriages and early birth is still taking place.   
Day Seven:
There are two shrines in Khanaqin, Bawa Mahmi and Khedr Zna. Since I had been to Khedr Zna I lobbied to us to visit Bawa Mahmi this time. Those going inside would kiss the door or the ground of the shrine as soon as they entered.
The Bawa Mahmi Shrine on top of a little hill in a village in Khanaqin
 Many would come in and ask for something, when that request happens then they come in again and give out sweets to the visitors.
I make a humble request and tie a knot
I noted an elderly women had brought her unwell child, I heard her praying loudly inside asking for his recovery. There was also a green cloth, you are supposed undo a knot, then make a request and knot it again. All of those I went with did this, so I decided to also make a request and the tie a knot (if it comes true, I will let you know what it was).
Two women reading the prayers before entering the old shrine
Religion and spirituality is a beautiful thing in life, and in those moments inside the shrine that side of me appeared much stronger. I remember I left feeling more empowered, and thankful. The little room, had young, old; men and women visiting it. Inside you don’t feel you’re above anyone. You don’t feel like we live in a dirty unjust world. At the end, everyone bends down and places their forehead on the ground. 
It was a definite highlight of the visit.
Inside Bawa Mahmi in Khanaqin. (Still can’t rotate a picture on blogger…)
Couldn’t help but notice this little boy sitting by the window, as his mother made her prayers…
Later—like everyone else—we’d drive a little further down the hill, nearby some trees and had a little picnic.
Under the these Khanaqini trees were we 🙂
Back home!
For the break I didn’t walk in the world’s fanciest city with buildings reaching the sky, nor was I in the midldle of designer labels and sports cars. It was a simple family trip but it was another one of those times where the encounter taught me life-long lessons. The people of Khanaqin are very warm hearted, loving and caring. I wish we were all like that, but with what’s happening in city life, we’re—sadly—starting to change for the worse. I am just glad there are some places where true Kurdishness can still be observed in people’s everyday life.  
If you have read this far, I just want to bring to your attention that the bird we took along is now adopted by one of my cousins. I don’t know how dad gave him away. It was as though he was give up a child for adoption “he likes to eat…..if you can in the mornings close the doors and windows and open his cage…. Make sure you…..” he was repeating this to another one of my cousins who just happens to have a soft side for birds. Kurdish men…. as strong as they are, they have a soft side somehow.
All pictures taken by me for the purpose of this blog only. I would take pictures of the food and they’d ask me if I had ever seen cooked food. Little do they know I’m documenting to the greatest and dearest blog followers 🙂 

10 thoughts on “Khanaqini Days and Jezhn La Kurdistan!!

Add yours

  1. I didnt read this entry yet – i am after 12 hours night shift and one more (or maybe even three more) are coming, so i decided to wait with reading untill i will have a time to relax. But i am afraid it will make me to miss whgat i love. And so long time left till march…


  2. Dear Sazan,

    For some time I have been wanting to comment on your blog, I am a close reader and proudly refer myself as what you would call one of your “loyal blog readers”.

    I like the way you describe the scene you are at, I could imagine you and how you felt and what you though in each of the times you wrote. You should try writing blog entries on the spot like this more often. As a follower, it was realy enjoyable touch and feel experience rather than just reading.

    You bring a lot of insight to us, foreigners, outside Kurdistan about life in your “Nest”. I am also eager to have a copy of your book.

    All the best,


  3. Sazan, you do not need to post this, as it is just a request to get a copy of your book. You bring such a bright perspective on your life and “country” that is has to be shared more widely in this world. It would of course also provide more attention on Kurdistan.

    So please tell me what I can do to get a copy. Are there any american troops near you? Would you ship one if I were to pay for it all?

    I know it is only one book (though maybe I could get you to send more than one) but I would be happy to help if I thought it would sell well here.


  4. I always admire these palm trees of Xanaqin – hope to see them one day.
    Ax this kurdish cooking…. if only someone can do that for me… – at the moment i enjoy the food which my brothers use to bring to work (mostly their wives cooking, but some of them, who live alone cook themselves and its also great).
    I also remember your Dad's birds from one of your entries. Yes, kurdish men love birds. A lot of kurdish boys in UK also keep fish.
    My best wishes for Garmyan land.


  5. Hi Sazan,

    The words are just touching my heart! And they are sort of tear-jerker for me, but at the end of the day, I did have many nostalgias…

    BTW–One of my roots belongs to the Jalawla and Xanaqin! Because my mother is Garmiani, she is from half-Jalawla and half-Xanaqin! What nostalgia you brought me, Girl?!!!

    I remember in cliché that when I was little, we were hanging out to the Bawa Mahmi shrine and Shex Bawa! And we were not cooking at home, but rather we were cooking there! I do not forget those moments! And most of the time we, little boys and girls, were gathering twigs around to make a fire to cook Tashrib ba Gosht!!! Hilarious, ha???

    The nicest thing was that we were visiting by Jéb and sometimes waz sitting at the back-side, the body of them! hahahah (not today’s fancy jeep)! They were just like tractors baxua!!!

    I might visit Xanaqin and Jalawla this summer. And I will visit them again!

    Great me,
    Nour S.


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