By Sazan Mandalawi
These words are famous sentences from the first pages of the grade-1 Kurdish book. We were not in Kurdistan when we learned this; we were in Australia, in Garage School– that is what we called it, and every Sunday morning that is where all the local Kurdish children met.
At that time we were all 8- or 9-year-olds. Nevertheless, a decade later I remember every word I studied. I recall every week the kids would get together in one house–or should I say–the garage of a house, and learn Kurdish. We only had two copies of the grade-1 Kurdish book; we waited months until a family returned and brought back a few others with them so we could at least share some copies. A pack of chalk, a black board and bean bags were the mobile equipment we carried with us every week from house to house–correction, from garage to garage.
Every Sunday one of the parents volunteered to teach us in his or her garage. (Just some extra information–a few times we had school inside the house, but then there were complaints that we messed things up and there was too many of us. The excuse was there was no room, but it took a week to clean up after 18 hyperactive kids.)
Now I know this was a strategic and well thought-out plan by our parents to keep us attached to our roots. The rules of Garage School were simple: Once a week we would be there for four hours, and sometimes we would go to the movies or a park together in the evening after the so-called “lectures” were over. We also had to do our homework, which was writing the letters of the alphabet a hundred times–row after row–and we had to speak Kurdish while we were there, I can still recall the colorful “NO ENGLISH” signs we drew on the wall.
We were taught simple things, although I must admit most of the time we were fooling around. Since it was a “Kurdish” school, a few of us got a slap or two on the hands when we fooled around too much. After all, we had to feel like we were in Kurdistan.
Every Kurd works as an ambassador abroad–male or female, young or old. Having spent my childhood and teenage years on foreign land, I can not emphasize this enough.
This is rather contradictory, considering the fact that Kurdish people back home normally criticize much of the situations that are taking place in their daily lives. Nevertheless, abroad the state of affairs is different.
Living in Australia, the small Kurdish community we had was diverse in all sorts of ways: Kurds from Iran, Iraq, Turkey; the Badini, Sorani, Luri–there was no difference. We were Kurds and that was what held us all together.
What is amazing is that in every possible way the Kurds attempted to absorb the attention and sympathy of the Australians. All the Kurds would invite their “Aussie” friends to our picnics where Yaprax and Bryani (Kurdish foods) were prepared (that day had to be the diet-free day). They would bring them along to our celebrations of Newroz and many other occasions. (Soon the Aussies learned that Kurdish time means arriving one hour after the time written on the invitation) All this was so that they would learn more about the culture of music and dancing that exists in Kurdistan. In times of seriousness or political instability, we would form demonstrations and involve our Australian friends as well.
The Kurdish people saw it as their responsibility to inform the Aussies about who they are and what they are. From events of Halabja or celebrations of Newroz, we tried to inform and involve them at the same time. This feeling of patriotism and faithfulness to one’s land abroad is something I will forever be proud of about the Kurds in Perth.
Elderly Kurdish men formed a soccer team where they played two afternoons a week. The kids came along to support their fathers, and the women came to cheer on their husbands. It was also a get together where we spoke Kurdish and met with people who shared the same culture and traditions as we did at home.
At Garage School, however, we would complain and whine about the homework and request to go to Kurdistan as an educational trip. “If you finish the book this year, we will take you for the education trip to Kurdistan,” the parents promised us–or rather fooled us into thinking was the truth. But it kept us motivated to continue the classes. Who would have imagined that some of us would one day be back here for good?
I wish I could say all those Kurds living abroad have the same community spirit that we had; unfortunately this is not the case. I was lucky to be part of such a “Kurdish atmosphere,” even though I was abroad.
So where are the kids of Garage School today? Most are now graduating university; few have children of their own, and a handful is back in Kurdistan with well-established jobs.
As for me, here I am–a personal decision made to live nowhere else in the world but Kurdistan. Who knows? Perhaps if it weren’t for Garage School I would not have formed this affection and love toward this land–maybe it was motive for my return to Kurdistan. Now every time I hear “Dara Doo Dari Dee,” I pause for a smile and remember the sentence that is nailed in my mind and that turned my life around