Live from Erbil- from Ruwayda & Sazan!

Co-written blog*

My dearest blog reader in the whole entire world! If only you knew how much I love you. Who said a blog is all about one person, here is this for a change. An entry written by two people, me and Ruwayda, about a little encounter. My dear loyal blog reader…. please sit back, relax, get a cha and read away!

Sazan: When Ruwayda is in town you don’t take her to the malls or the fancy restaurants. So we set away to the elderly people’s home in Erbil.
Ruwayda: Sazan is the heart of Kurdistan for me. Without her Hewler is empty, she knows the fancy places and the not-so-fancy places. I’m familiar with malls and shopping centres; I come from Europe so I don’t derive much joy from shopping centres.
Sazan: adiii kwww, I am your mastaw!
I knew Ruwayda won’t have a problem with the venue, she is so accepting of people but the timing was my concern, her excuse is always “Saaaza akher zor garma!” (it is so hot) so I can’t believe this time she agrees on the time, she’s so precious and sensitive to the warm weather. But on a hot day, under the Erbil sunshine we set away. I win.
Ruwayda: Hewler is extremely hot. My skin is unfortunately sensitive. I have a tan on my face, hands and feet. It doesn’t look good and I need to drink water constantly. Sazan always wants to go out during the afternoon which is extremely warm.
Sazan: She’s being a chocolate. She looks perfectly fine!

Ruwayda: Well it is hot.

Sazan: Well it is summer! Anyyywaaaayy, we arrive and walk in peeking into the individual rooms until we find someone who is not too welcoming at first.

Ruwayda: We were not let in at first. The person in charge of the place wanted to see our identification and asked why we’re meeting the elderly people. I didn’t think you’d need a reason to visit them, and despite our justifications it was no use until Sazan made a call and we were finally let in.
Sazan: The call was for another staff member who knows me well and has seen me there many times before. At least we can get in. I was excited, finally “Ruwayda! Come see my Kurdish grandma.” I almost yelled excitedly.  
Ruwayda: I met Sazan’s grand-mama, a 70-year-old sweetheart who recently got married. She was in love for three years. If you are an unaware reader, this isn’t Sazan’s real grand-mama. Sazan has visited this elderly house for the past three to four years and throughout this time she has become friends with everyone there.
Sazan: Everyone, but this one called Pura Gulizar is just a bit special.
As soon as we enter Ruwayda says it smells like urine. No. it smells like anti-bacterial chemicals, reminds me of the smell of hospitals.
Ruwayda: The smell of urine, yes you read it correctly, was overwhelming. It wasn’t just anti-bacterial chemicals; there was a clear and distinctive smell of urine in all of the bedroom halls. There are two main bedroom halls at the care house and each hall has about 8-12 beds.
Sazan: it’s not entirely clean I agree. But come on! See the bright side there is electricity, beds, ambulance etc…
Ruwayda: The place is full of flies. It stinks of urine. There is electricity but it is still warm. The fans don’t help in cooling the place.  
Sazan: Smells like hospitals.
Ruwayda: Only if we agree hospitals smell like urine.
Sazan: whatever.
Ruwayda: Meh.
Sazan: Any howwwww…!!! It didn’t take long for us to be surrounded by a group of sweet, elderly people, they are happy someone is here to talk to them. I watch Hassan sing and mimic Arabic news readers, he says something about Saddam’s attacks, he also mentions UN and Ghasa as well as he pretends to be a news reader. I forget where I am and what I am doing as I watch Maam Hassan in his rattered clothes join our little circle. But I notice little Hamdia sitting on the ground talking.
Ruwayda: Hassan is an old man, and shows some signs of mental instability. He is known throughout the care house to be annoying, mostly because he enjoys singing and mimicking radio channels.
Sazan: Hamdia and Gulizar had a crush on the same man. I remember once Gulizar asked me to take in makeup for her.
Ruwayda: Gulizar enjoys Sazan’s attention. She asked Sazan for make-up and tweezers so she can “beautify” herself for the new husband.
Sazan: for a second my mind goes to Hamdia but then comes back to Maam Hassan. I love his voice, he has energy, lots of energy. He doesn’t belong in this place. He is too much fun for some of the depressed, tired and ill people here.
Ruwayda: I think I agree on that.
Hamdia is known to come from a well-off family, and was once the daughter of a very well-respected family. She was put in care because there was no one to look after her. She gets frustrated easily. In a matter of seconds, you can hear her screaming and hurling insults.
Sazan: The women in Arabic calls out “Hassaaaaan, Hasssaaaan, oskot, kafi” (Hassan, be quiet, enough) I reply back “Laa Khali” (no leave him). The woman frustrates me; I think she is a nurse here.  I can tell she has had enough.
Ruwayda: I don’t know why Hassan isn’t allowed to sing. After all, this is his care home. He should be able to express himself freely. Sazan tells Hassan to continue singing, and that she wants him to sing every day for as long as he likes. During this time one of the carers came and flicked Hassan’s nose telling him to be quiet. It was very embarrassing for Hassan and made us really angry. There is no respect for the elderly people here.
Sazan: He loves to sing and it makes him happy. Then let it be, nothing more beautiful than watching an elderly man with a nice voice singing a Hassan Zirak song. I ask Hassan about his past, I learn he was in the army and later sold things in the streets before falling in the elderly people’s home. He is not married.
Ruwayda: Hassan wants a phone so he can call his sweetheart. We laughed at this together for quite some time.
Sazan: Ruwayda, he wants a NOKIA mobile as a gift.  You really think he has a sweetheart?
Ruwayda: Haha! We will bring him a mobile phone! I bet next time he will ask us how to use it.
Sazan: I say you teach him how to use Twitter!!! Here I am sitting down and talking, I can hear Ruwayda next to me typing as fast as she can on her phone, I don’t know what she’s writing, but I know this is all new for her. I can tell she’s doing what I did four years ago, compare the situation of the elderly people’s home here and that in the west.
I am thinking in my mind, if only you knew how they lived before they moved to this place. This is much better than their previous home.
Ruwayda: This place is like a nightmare. It isn’t what I’m used to. I think back to the care homes in London and how lovely they are with the beautiful scenery. At least the ones in Kingston are like this. In here the place stinks of urine and horrible scent of anti-bacterial chemicals. It is like a horrible nightmare and whenever I look at each elderly person here I feel sorry for them. They all sit separately with no activities, and nothing to do. Some of them have no eye-sight, they just sit and smoke cigarettes.
It does not cost much to improve the quality of their lives, and to bring in carers that genuinely care about the person, respecting their dignity and privacy. I’m surprised that many people have not complained about the behaviour of carers. The mistreatment is evident, but there is little accountability.
Sazan: I have tried but there is no interest. Anyone you talk to gives you the impression that there are more important things to take care of in Kurdistan. I am glad my friends Ashna and Bewar come every now and then as well for a visit.
Pura Gulizar finally comes out the shower, her back hunched, she walks on the stick but still looks beautiful. Her face still a map of wrinkles, but through my eyes she is a beauty queen. She’s something us Kurds call ‘dl tar’ as old as she is, her heart and mind is like that of a young woman. We are friends.
I am embarrassed this time I haven’t brought her anything. She asks me immediately what I have brought. I tell her next week, she misses my cakes. She takes us to her little room where Maam Jabar (the new husband) is sitting down.
Ruwayda: Pura means aunt in Kurdish. Sazan brings the elderly people sugar-free cake, and they are all disappointed she came empty-handed, which is largely my fault because of the many places we are both scheduled to visit.
Sazan: Thanks for taking the responsibility, but still no excuse. I don’t think they use me, but they like to feel special that someone has brought them something from ‘outside’ as simple as it maybe. They are very appreciative.
So what were you doing behind the door the whole time?

Sazan sitting by the door of Pura Gulizar’s room. Picture taken by Ruwayda.

Ruwayda: Okay so I was a little nervous going to Gulizar’s house (room). I stood behind the door and made note of what was being said and took a picture. Sazan seemed to know her much more and although I was welcomed by them all, I felt more comfortable being behind the door. Sort of like a 12-year-old not wanting to be caught, except my only crime was taking pictures without permission.

Sazan: The room is overcrowded and tiny, the television doesn’t work. There is a praying mat on the floor, a fridge, a cupboard and a double bed. No walking space, so Ruwayda put a chair by the door, I sat there and talk to the two lovers who are inside.
Ruwayda: The room didn’t smell very nice. It is small, overcrowded with unnecessary equipment.
Sazan: Maam Jabar is so quiet and never says a word, but Gulizar tells me he wants to marry Hamdia. I can’t stop laughing, that’s when I hear Ruwayda let out a big giggle.
Ruwayda: Hamdia is about 80-years-old. She looks it too. She doesn’t look bad for her age. The whole scenario is good for a film.
Sazan: If only I studied in directing school would have turned their life into a reality show.
We talk about life, about her pain, she is a little unhappy here but knowing pura Gulizar for the past few years she always has complaints so it is normal. She is a happy bride. I get big hugs and lot of kisses from her. My heart stings, she is here in this room all the time, she doesn’t go out and doesn’t take part in any activities… tears fill her greenish-grey eyes as she says she is lonely- I reassure I am her daughter.
Ruwayda: Gulizar is jealous whenever Sazan talks to someone else. She wants her undivided attention. She feels lonely and Sazan gives her hope that people do care about her.
Sazan: Before we leave an older woman sitting on a chair outside looks at me, lifts her hands and says something, I walk towards her she is eating a sandwich but says she’s thirsty. She tells me to get her water from Gulizar. I walk to Gulizar’s room and ask for water, Maam jabar reaches into the fridge, he has filled about 20 bottles, he looks for a cold one and without saying anything his shaky hands pass one to me. I walk back to the elder woman and pass her the water. She asks for a kiss. I kiss her head, she doesn’t let go of my hand, so I kiss her hand, then she says no let me kiss you. I let her.
Ruwayda: An elderly woman without any teeth sat in the shade near the tiny garden. She was having yoghurt with Naan and asked for water. She hugged and kissed Sazan for her generosity.
Sazan: I wasn’t disgusted, or appalled, neither was I feeling sick even though the site wasn’t all that pleasurable. Sometimes I wished this place was under my management, and my staff. I would make it a heaven for them.
Ruwayda: It brought tears to my eyes to see Sazan show such generosity to these people in care who have been forsaken by their own children. I think it was seeing Sazan kiss the elderly people and the little acts of kindness that brought joy to them that really swelled me up. These people have been neglected, and Sazan is their only hope. I hope more Kurdish people locally learn from her, and follow her spirit of activism and sefless volunteering.
Sazan: If Ruwayda visits a few more times she will get over this first time shock and will blend in more with the elderlies. I think she had too much to observe and take in for one time. But I am so proud of her, the elderlies fell in love with her politeness and gentle side. (Yes, Ruwayda is not violent and angry as she comes out to be in her writing and posts!)
Ruwayda: Thank you for making that clear.
 I have seen Sazan almost every day in the past two weeks. She is definitely my best friend in Hewler. She is a positive force here, and I have much to learn from her. I have been persuaded to come back permanently. I can imagine myself living here and making a positive impact socially.
Sazan: The fact that Ruwayda has decided to return and settle in Kurdistan makes me feel extremely proud. Despite the shortcomings that she has seen, agreeing to begin her life here means she agrees to all the confrontations but is willing to take on the challenge…. She is willing to give to society and dedicate her life and future to this nation.
Mission accomplished!
Ruwayds: So, where will you take me next?
Sazan: Wait and see my dear chocolate friend.

[Ruwayda had to go as she sets ten appointments every single day. So I was left to enjoy a falafl and mastaw on my own. Nothing like it to think of a long day full of emotions.]

Falafl and mastaw! nothing like it. Simple food, but I LOVE IT.

* Can’t believe Ruwayda was sitting in our family room, and we wrote this entry together!

8 thoughts on “Live from Erbil- from Ruwayda & Sazan!

Add yours

  1. hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh i feel like i am sittting with both of you. thank you for the lovely posting girls you make a good combination


  2. This is Kurdistan, not west. Maybe its not so luxury and beautiful there – but at least these old people are safe, nobody will come to arrest or kill them, Saddam tanks will not come to destroy the place they live.
    As for care homes in UK – i heard it looks nice only from outside, but from inside (i heard from someone who worked there) old people are treated like rubbish. So we dont have to be so impresed by “west”
    I was brought up in Europe (maybe not in this rich west, bur still europe), but i used to live without bathroom, hot water and central heating. And i love Kurdistan as it is, even if some things are still supposed to be improved.
    I was in Campi Maxmur – some people should see what kind of “bathrooms” we have there. But i was proud and happy using this “bathrooms” – simply because i was in Kurdistan and i knew other Kurds are using them the same way.
    Sorry, i just love Kurdistan and for me is my sweet, troublesome paradise, not “nightmare”.


  3. Nice post !
    just read your latest tweet ! i think women above 25 should have the right to enter the course too ! it's unfair !


  4. Dear Anonymous 1- Thank you, really appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed it, maybe we can do this type of blogging more often.

    Dear Kulka- We have a long way to go, but here we are in the journey, step by step and slowly it will all be fine!

    Dear Anonymous 2- To be honest I don't have anything to do with this, I received the information and I am just making it public so young woman know about it. I am not involved in any way!



  5. Sazan and Ruwayda are two examples for the fact that Kurdish women can add a value to our intellectual and political debates.

    Believe me, you have changed my opinion on what Kurdish women can do! I now know they can do a lot and better than us, men.

    What excites me is not merely the existence of two girls thinking critically and writing creatively, but also the fact that you are no thinking as girls only, but as two Kurdish scholars and activists.

    Having said that, I might not agree with many of the ideas endorsed by you both, but it is this difference of opinion which explains why I am so proud of having you in my society.

    please keep it up, this beacon of hope should last for ever.


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