An Education in Duhok
Duhok Travel Blog› entry 5 of 6 › view all entries
The small city of
Upon arrival to the Residency Office I lined up to talk with someone in a small hut attached to the main building.
With this second stage of approval completed, I then had to go upstairs to room 4. After the security incidence, I was helpfully escorted to this next stage in the process. I waited for around 20 minutes at which point I entered the office of a military official who seemed to be fairly high up in the bureaucratic ladder.
Next, it was back to the travel agent to book my flight and then I headed off to find a decent hotel. With a bit of help I finally ended up at the Saido Hotel which was quite nice for $30/night and close to the main market area.. So then I headed for the nearest internet cafe which ended up being a place I met a number of friendly folk who spoke some English. Along the way, I also encountered Azad, a friendly parking lot manager/university student/father. Whenever I saw him we would chat as he much appreciated the opportunity to practice his English.
One of my other fortunate encounters was also when I met a young university student named Nawzad who eventually asks me, “Would you like to come to my dormitory to meet some of my classmates?” Since I work in the field of education and am interested to know more about the Kurdish system, I eagerly accept the invitation.
Nawzad lives in a very austere room with a thin carpet and a bed each for him and his roommate. A couple towels and a few shirts hang from hooks on the walls and, on closer inspection, small pile of clothes can be seen on the floor at the head of each bed. Nawzad digs under his bed and pulls out his repertoire of books and photocopied sheets which serve as proof of his student status. Flipping through a thick package of photocopies, I scan the pages from a university textbook describing the details of poetry.
It is not long before word spreads of my presence at the dormitory and the room fills with other students also interested to hear what a foreigner has to say. Even those who do not understand English very well are curious and listen intently as I converse with a number of their dormitory mates.
Eventually, I am asked about possibilities for studying abroad and I explain a little about what would be involved for foreign students to attend a Canadian university. It soon becomes apparent that despite the pride they feel for their region and culture, these university students still believe a successful future lays outside the country in Europe, or possibly
They are all young men in their early 20’s but they also have incredible stories to tell about their experiences under the Saddam Hussein regime. Sarbast, the obvious leader of the dormitory group and best English speaker (from working as a translator for the American army), recounts his memories of a refuge camp in
At one point Sarbast unexpectedly asks “How old would you say I am?” I am a little taken aback by this question, not really certain why he was asking. After hearing my measured response, he points out that he and his classmates all appear older which is due to the stress they have experienced in their lives. As I look more closely at their swarthy faces with dark shadows indicative of heavy beard growth, I realize that they do appear easily 10 years older than their age. Whether their premature aging is a result of stress or some other factors is difficult to say. However, I do know that their life experiences have definitely been much harder than anything I have been through.
The students are also very interested to know my thoughts about their university courses as they express concerns about how they are being taught. Sarbast, in particular, asks “Is this what teachers in
Ultimately, I am invited to join these students to visit their university and even sit in on their classes. I jump at this chance and am most eager to experience life on a university campus in
The first thing that strikes me as I watch Sarbast’s classmates enter a very bare concrete classroom is the way the female and male students automatically segregate themselves. This surprises me somewhat given that many of the women wear makeup and are dressed in stylish clothing complete with black, lace-like leggings and provocative high heel boots. Of course, the majority do also wear headscarves. Nevertheless, I had expected that things might have been a bit more progressive in a university setting, but such was not the case. In fact, even within the cafeteria, interaction between the female and male students is quite limited. When I mention this to Sarbast, he smiles and says “But with you here, we now have a good excuse to talk with the women.”
This comment underlies an observation I had made since arriving in Kurdistan
Fortunately, between classes, I am actually able to chat with some of the female students as I am especially interested about their thoughts of a possible changing role for woman in Kurdish society. This question is stimulated by the fact that in their drama class, the students are studying a play with feminist undertones. However, perhaps not surprisingly, these young female students seem quite content and not particularly looking for a change in their social status. Of course, this may well reflect the fact that things have already progressed for them and they are quite happy with the pace at which this reform is occurring. This is the same feeling Sarbast voices when he says “Change will occur in
And after having spent a few days with this dynamic, dedicated and inspiring group of potential teachers, I cannot help but think that positive changes are happening and there is a reason to feel some optimism about the future of Kurdistan