Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Piece of Rural Iraq

When I was heading over here a lot of people kept telling me they thought I was crazy. While most of those people were talking about the cultural differences I would experience, a few thought I was nutters because they assumed I was moving to the middle of the desert and would probably mark my address in relation to which sand dunes I was stuck between.

Fact: Not all of Iraq is a desert. In fact, there are mountainous highlands, valleys, marshes, and grasslands in addition to the desert which lies in the southwest part of the country.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a friend's family home in a small village in the mountains near the Turkish border. We all know how much I love villages.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

This is a man's world... and other observations.

I've been in Iraq just over a month and I have to tell you, it's nothing like I thought it would be.

All of those assumptions you or I or pretty much any Westerner has made about living in the Middle East, most of them are complete crap fed by the media (sometimes the mass journalist media, but also movies, etc.)

There are only a few ideas I had about Iraq before I got here that are left standing:

1. This is a man's world. That said, Kurdistan is fairly progressive. Women can be doctors and vote and drive and take care of their bodies in the way that they see fit. Also, in the event of a marriage, apparently any and all things in the bedroom belong to the woman. Keep that in mind guys. However, women are sometimes treated like second-class citizens. There are still rather rigid gender lines, especially among the older generations. I can actually see a clear distinction of this when talking to my older and younger students. The thoughts surrounding gender are definitely changing and you can see it happening.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Safety and Security in Kurdistan

There are a million and one things I could blog about already and I've not even been here two weeks. From food adventures to taxi rides my first few days in Iraq have certainly been interesting. Alas, I don't want to give away everything all at once, so I'm going to just pick a topic and stick with it.

I know one the the major concerns of my family and friends when I told them I would be moving here was my safety living in Iraqi Kurdistan. That's part of the reason I simply said Kurdistan in the beginning. "I'm moving to Kurdistan" doesn't quite have the same jarring effect as "I'm moving to Iraq." But of course that's with good reason. That said, this is still Iraq even if it is an autonomous region of it.

However, I am safe. Honestly, I'm very safe.

There are two security guards outside my villa at all times. I use the same taxi driver to and from work every day and I believe he has been told he must call or text our reception whenever I get in the car with him. He seems trustworthy enough, but I think they just want to know whenever I leave my workplace so they know how long it should take before I get back. This way, if for some reason I don't turn up, they are on it.

Seriously, I am pretty sure someone always knows where I am. I don't really think anyone is keeping strict tabs on me, but it sort of seems that way.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thursday is the new Friday

It's Friday! Well, actually it's Thursday, but here Thursday is Friday and Sunday is Monday. It's really tough to keep straight right now and I keep telling me students we'll start something new on Monday, but I mean Sunday.

Anyway, my first two days of teaching are down. I really like my new students and I'm excited. They're in an archaeological program for the conservation of heritage and antiquities. In other words, they're learning to preserve artifacts that are found in their regions, especially those that would preserve Iraqi or Kurdish history. It's a pretty interesting program and since it was originally funded by the U.S. Embassy (and now the University of Delaware) the students are also required to make an effort to improve their English. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I've moved to Iraq.

I know. Not exactly where I or anyone probably thought I'd be. 

I left Prague Saturday night in full tears. (I'll be writing a post with a proper goodbye to Prague later.) Unfortunately, my flight left an hour late so I missed my connection in Istanbul. Fortunately for me, that means I got to spend a day in Istanbul courtesy of Turkish Airlines. More on that in another post.

I finally arrived in Erbil (also known as Arbil or Hawler) at about 3 a.m. on Monday morning. My boss met me at the airport and helped me get my 40 kilos of luggage (for which I did not pay an extra cent because of a really amazing friend) up to my room in the female teachers villa. I was already exhausted but I was too wired to sleep. So I was up until 6 a.m. and then proceeded to sleep on and off the rest of the day until about 1 p.m. when I decided to get up, get dressed and go across the street to the office.

Problem: I had no water. I couldn't flush the toilet or use my shower upstairs. Downstairs there was the tiniest bit of water so I was able to wash my hands and face and brush my teeth. Great first morning, eh?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Seventy Miles in Rome

So at the beginning of summer, in July, I met my sister, her husband and her kid in Rome. This was the beginning of what would be basically two months of travel for me and her kid, Madi. What better place to start than Rome?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Back Entry: The City of Lights

Remember that time I went to Paris with one of my very best friends from university? Oh, you don't? That's probably because I never actually posted anything about it here. Whoops.

So for the sake of catching up, here is a not-so quick version of our four (ish) days in Paris. (Warning, this is the LONGEST POST EVER!)

First of all, we took a stupidly early flight. As in, Flannery arrived in Prague on Friday night and then we turned around and got on a plane that left before 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. However, arriving in Paris (not so bright eyed and bushy tailed) early in the morning, was great. It gave us a little sense of what we were getting into. 

It took us like 30 minutes to figure out where to buy tickets for the train and then where the train was to get into the city from Charles de Gaulle airport, but we managed. Then the train proceeded to get hella crowded. (We found out on the trip back to the airport that this is just a thing. This train is always crowded. Get a seat while you can.)

We were honestly super excited about the hostel we were staying in. It's website is super stylish. They have an active Facebook page (as any good hostel should) and breakfast is included. (!!!!!) Add in that it's literally a three minute walk from the base of the hill below the Sacre-Coeur and it was pretty much gold. 

So naturally we made it to our hostel and took a nap. (It was now like 11 a.m. and we got up at like 4:30 a.m. after spending most of the night catching up on girl talk. It was a much deserved nap.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I (Still) Hate Moving

I started out rather ambitious this week, but of course that ambition has dwindled as the days go by.

Here's the thing, I haven't got any work this week. I've got absolutely no where I have to be. At all. This leads to a lot of sheer laziness.

I have been getting out of the house a bit and running errands. Buying this or that for my upcoming trip. Deciding not to buy stuff because it's more trouble than it's worth.

On Monday, I was totally ready to make this a productive week. I started out by going through every piece of clothing I own. I managed to fill up to small trash bag with clothing I'll donate (or let my friends rummage through) and then another bag with clothes I will just trash. No one needs a pair of jeans with holes in them.

But here I am with a huge box still full of clothing, my carry-on bag full of clothes which I think I might want to take on holiday but realize I'll have to minimize before I actually finish packing plus a bunch of other clothes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Talk Funny

Now that I've been living abroad for three years, I've picked up some oddities in my language. Some of it's pronunciation but most of it is vocabulary and some is even grammar.

When you're an English teacher, you tend to simplify your language as much as possible and also really enunciate. Now, believe me, I still talk hella fast when I'm not talking to students (or to higher-level students), and I do not enunciate if it's not necessary. I'm from the South.

That said, I never truly sounded like a Texan. Sure, there are moments when I'm drunk or talking to my mother (and certainly when those two things occur simultaneously) that I sound like a true Texan. And yes, I've always said "Y'all."

It's a really convenient word. So gender neutral and all encompassing.

Anyway, over the years, and particularly while I've been living in Europe, some slight differences have slipped their way into my every day conversations. Some of my friends tell me that I sound more "European." I have no idea what that means since 90% of Europeans are not native English speakers.

So below is a list that might help you decipher what the hell I'm talking about next time we have a conversation.

flat - What the British and most Europeans use to refer to their apartment. I currently live in a 5-bedroom flat with 4 other people, among them a British guy.

flatmates - After referring to said British guy as my roommate he hastily corrected me and clarified that we're merely flatmates. I was confused. Apparently in these parts those are different things. To me, this is like saying apartment-mates and seems unnecessarily convoluted. However, I now comply so as not to confuse. God forbid anyone think I share my bedroom with someone.

have/has... got - In America we would say, "Do you have a pencil?"  or "I don't have any change on me." Now all of a sudden I find myself asking, "Have you got a pencil?" and saying things like, "Oh, I haven't got any change on me." This is what happens when you teach a British English curriculum.

football - This is probably the most difficult for me to admit to. Nowadays, I find myself saying football when I actually mean soccer and clarifying with 'American football' when I'm talking about a sport I actually care about. The Texan spirit inside of me feels like this guy:

Friday, June 22, 2012

See Me in Action

If you've ever wondered what I do all day, well, today is your lucky day.

I've decided I'm willing to bear the embarrassment for your entertainment information.

Check out this ridiculous video I made as in invitation to our summer camps.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Drinking in Public

So when I first moved to the Czech Republic two years ago to do my TEFL course, I remember being really surprised that you could drink in public.

You can walk into a corner store, buy a beer, ask them to open it for you, and then walk out the door drinking it. Walking down the street with a beer in hand, no problem. Chilling out at the park with a beer in hand, no problem. Walking between bars with a beer in hand, no problem! This is pretty much how Europe in general operates. Drinking just isn't seen as a major vice or issue. Do what you want.

- photo jacked from The Rudy Report

Monday, June 18, 2012

Coming Up: Sept. 1, 2012 - A New Location

I was re-reading some of my very first blog posts last night.

The ones in May 2009 when I was merely anticipating my move to Taiwan and talking about all the mixed feelings I had.

The one in early June when I actually got on a plane to leave Austin and bawled my eyes out.

The one recapping my very first day in Taiwan on June 11, 2009, when I was a) exhausted from 12.5 hours of flight and b) completely and totally overwhelmed and in shock at how different everything was and c) completely in awe and ready to persevere.

It's amazing how, three years later, things have changed so much and yet so little.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Strawberry-Basil Lemonade Bread

So I was standing in line today at the Ovoce-Zelenina store (Fruit and Veggie store) with strawberries in one hand and a bunch of fresh basil in the other. The smells of the two combining in my nostrils automatically got me thinking about this amazing Strawberry-Basil Lemonade cocktail I had in Austin a few years back at one of my friend's bars. It was delicious. 

I started thinking about considering getting out of line to grab some lemons with which to make some lemonade when suddenly it dawned on me that I could make a Strawberry-Basil Lemonade-influenced bread and then have an on-the-run breakfast/snack prepared for the whole week.


Check out the recipe below. Let me know how it works out for you.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Musings of a 26-year-old Job Seeker

Quite awhile back I mentioned that I was looking for a job in the UAE. It's funny how this whole thing has  taken on a life of its own and evolved greatly.

When the idea first started to form and it was just a little seed of curiosity, I told myself that I'd love to go to the Middle East but there was no way in hell I was going by myself. I would have to find a friend who wanted to go with me.

But as the weeks went on and I began to feed my little curiosity seedling with blogs, videos, news stories, and history books full of information, I started to think to myself, "Well, there are a few countries that I could probably handle going to on my own."

Namely, the UAE, Oman or Qatar.


Once upon a time (back in late October... yes I realize this is a rather belated post), my friends and I spent a lovely autumnal weekend in Krakow, Poland.

Wawel Castle
Krakow is tiny. It's also one of the coolest European cities I've been to. Maybe it's because it's so quick and easy and unpretentious. Having lived in the Czech Republic for so long, I've developed a liking for the matter-of-fact, no-bullshit attitude most Central and Eastern Europeans tend to have.

The journey started on the night train on a Thursday night. It was a long weekend for us as well as my friend's birthday so we took advantage. Since it was me and five other friends, we managed to get a couchette cabin all to ourselves. Three fold-out beds on either side. Of course given that we are a bunch of 20-somethings on the way to a vodka-themed weekend in Poland, there wasn't much sleeping done.

Party in our cabin!
-from Olga
What there was, was a lot of champagne, vodka, beer, sandwiches, chips and mingling with the 10 to 12 random Erasmus students who were on the same train.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Your mom

I suck at New Year's Resolutions. But if you read this post, then you already knew that.

I will say that although I'm still kind of sucking with money, I'm living within my means. And I'm totally knocking my book goal out of the park. I have read 15 books out of my goal of 24 for the year putting me 25% ahead of schedule. Which means I'll probably be taking up more substantial books for awhile. On to Guns, Germs and Steel!

As far as blogging twice a month, well, to be honest not much has been going on until recently and even that is only moderately blog worthy. So instead I'll leave you with this little window into the life of teaching English to children:

Monday, February 27, 2012


So about once a month, I go to The PUB (Pilsner Urquell Bar) with friends, some of my old students and their friends. 

It's very multi-cultural and generally one heck of a party. 

Me and some of my favorite (former) students!
The PUB has huge wrap-around booths and each one has its own stand in the center of the table with four taps that are attached to what I believe is probably a phenomenal amount of Pilsner Urquell, one of the Czech Republic's most infamous beers.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Village Life and Seven Things About Me

I made it. It's halfway through February. Everything seems to be under control.

Last week I was supposed to be on Spring Break, but since I had no funds to go anywhere, my bosses asked me to cover classes in a smaller town just outside of Prague.

In reality, I was staying in said small town, M'lada Boleslav, but I was working in these two tiny little villages. I <3 village life. 

It was a little hectic simply because I never taught the same kids twice all week, I don't know the books they use there or they just didn't have books and all the classes are entirely different from the ones I teach in Prague. I spent a LOT of time lesson planning every night. However, I think if I taught those classes all the time it wouldn't have been so much work.

My regular schedule in Prague is nearly all kindergartens. I basically spend all my time with children ages 3-6. I have three classes of first and second graders, which just means I get to see kids 6-9. I only make four lesson plans each week.

Anyway, the kids I was teaching in the villages were all ages. I had a couple of kindergartens and then literally taught one or two classes of every grade from first to ninth. That means I saw kids as young as 3 and as old as 15.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Children Are Like Petri Dishes

I have a cold. It's relentless. And I'm positive one, several or all of the something like 200 kids I teach gave it to me. 

I stayed in bed all day Wednesday and Thursday. Went back to work on Friday. Stayed in bed most of the day Saturday until I just couldn't take it anymore. Sometimes, a girl has just got to get the hell out of the house. 

So I played darts for two hours with my friend John. Good times. I forgot how much I enjoy playing darts. Hopefully we'll do that more often because it was essentially free. 

I like free. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Year Means New Rules

OK, I realize I have completely failed you in the past few months, but I haven't felt all that motivated and I've just been a bit out of sorts what with not knowing where anything is going these days. 

However, I think I have stuff figured out at least for the next eight months, so we'll just go with that. 

"What do you mean you figured stuff out?," you ask. Aw yes, Well, I'm staying in Prague at least through August. I'm (hopefully) moving to Dubai for the 2012-2013 school year, but more on that later. I've started a new job in Prague that will get me through the summer and provide me with a slightly more stable income, albeit not necessarily a larger income. At least I can budget now. 

So here I am back to teaching kids, because kids can't cancel classes. 

After a very chill Christmas - my first away from home - and then a very insane new year - again, my first away from home - it's time to make some new rules. Most people call these resolutions. But resolutions are easily broken. Rules... Well, they're made to be broken and all, but I feel a lot guiltier when I do.