Friday, August 13, 2010

Graduation Day!

The last couple of weeks have been some of the busiest of my life. We've been working 12 hour days helping our students finish their final video projects and preparing our final web product, The Tiziano Project | 360 Kurdistan.

I have much to share with you but for right now I just had to show you all our latest video, representing the culmination of our project here in Iraqi Kurdistan. Our mentor Grant Slater produced it and it's pretty much one of the best things ever.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Excuses, excuses.

I've had a high learning curve as an instructor in the last few months and I've quickly learned that one of the hardest parts of being a teacher is corralling students into doing what they're told, making sure they do it and shooting down excuses. This can also be the most hilarious part of the job.

In short, it feels a little like this:


Friday, July 23, 2010

WTF Iraq: Pizza chef with a license to kill

Seen at a local pizza place:


"This pizza chef has a license to kill."

This Pudgy pizza chef is debonair, clever and heartlessly cruel in a kinda sexy way. While that may make for a dashing date, I won't be trying whatever he's dishing out any time soon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blind and love to read? No problem here.

A while back, one of my students, Dilpak, mentioned that her brother is doing something pretty awesome in local journalism - his paper has created the first braille newspaper in all of Iraq. According to Dilpak, each paper comes with a two sheet insert with the highlights of the day's news punched out in braille so blind people in the area can read it.

Last week, Dilpak brought in a couple of copies and I'm kind of obsessed with them. Here's what they look like.



These also make me wonder how non-western languages are translated into braille. As I understand it, Braille isn't phonetic. It directly converts letters from a given language into a series of dots. So who decides how to convert non-standardized languages like Kurdish into braille and what dialect do they use? I did a little Googling and didn't find a real answer. In fact, I found remarkably little information on how Braille alphabets are formed across languages. If you have any ideas or expertise on the subject, I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Visa: The final installment

It’s been a couple of weeks since we got back from the visa office, but I did want to give a short epilogue to our epic quest for a Kurdistan visa.

Final visit to the visa office: 1.5 hrs, Four three-month visas APPROVED!

After waiting an hour in the reception of the director’s office in the hopes that he would sign some magic paper to help us along, we shuffled into the hallways dripping with sweat and hating our lives. We got a magic paper but it was still at least 100 degrees inside the building and we had four or five more offices to go to.

Just as we thought we were going to melt into the floor before our visas would ever be approved, one of our students appeared out of nowhere. As it turns out, he spends a lot of time in the immigration office helping foreign students get their visas. He took our paperwork and dashed away. We ran to keep up with him as he hurried from office to office, repeating, “just one moment! Just one moment!”
A half hour later, he handed us our stamped visas with a sly smile. Visas for everyone!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A day in the country

This weekend I had the privilege of going on a real Iraqi picnic. When I first got here, I was surprised to see families and friends parking on the highway just outside the city, spreading blankets on the shoulder of the road and firing up their grills for a good old fashioned barbeque.

It’s so dry and hot here that any patch of grass or open land is fair game for a little mini retreat for a couple or family – I’ve seen them camped out on the grassy medians in the middle of wide boulevards, on flowery parking lot dividers at the mall, and on hillsides off busy streets.

So I was pretty excited when my student, Sahar, invited me on a field trip with her sister out to Shaqlawa, a town about an hour and a half away that is a popular vacation spot, especially for Southern Iraqis.

We checked out the other picnic spots on the way, where people park their cars after nightfall and small bonfires burn deep into the evening.




Then we entered Shaqlawa, a cozy little town that seemed a world away from the heat and dryness of Erbil. The mountains make the region noticeably cooler than Erbil and the deep red dirt is often spotted with tiny white flowers. It’s a world of soft rolling hills, trees (it’s been so long since I’ve seen lots of trees!) and a main street with dozens of candy shops, spice and fabric shops with their wares draped over the doorways and tumbling into the streets.

We planned to return after nightfall, when Sahar promised me the town would be bumping. We headed out to a graveyard and ancient church where Sahar swore she had heard voices screaming at night that stood at the front of a natural cave. We climbed up the hillside to the mouth of the cave, where people light red candles and wedge them into the rock face in the hopes that their wishes would come true.


Unfortunately we learned that the candles were available back down at the bottom of the hill so we saved our wishes for next time and headed down again for our picnic.

Finally we headed back in to Shaqlawa, and Sahar was right, the sleepy town’s main street was packed with people, sitting at neon-drenched restaurants, bouncing in huge trampoline beds, shopping for hats and trinkets and dancing in the streets with each other. Even at 11 at night, the streets were full, mostly of tourists who had come up from Baghdad and surrounding areas to escape the heat and intensity of the city.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Security situation in Erbil

If I've talked to you personally, you've probably asked me about how safe it is in Erbil, what kind of security concerns I have, what daily life feels like, if I ever feel threatened. Well, I've tried to reassure you as much as I can, but the other day I came across a video that perhaps describes things here better than my words. This was shot in Israel, but it's a pretty accurate portrayal of the security situation here as well.

Sidenote: Larry King tried to question Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu about this video, shot in the West Bank. As The Daily reports, the conversation was an epic fail for both men.