Saturday, March 30, 2013

Passing the six-month marker and finally going on vacation!

So I've been living in Kurdistan for nearly seven months now. In the first six months, I hadn't been anywhere outside of Kurdistan and I had only left Erbil a couple of times.

This is highly unusual for me. Especially while I was living in Europe, I was constantly going to another country or at the very least leaving the city. I'm a little limited here. There are only so many places I can travel by car and all of them are in Kurdistan.

I'm surrounded by Iran to the east - somewhere I would have to apply for a visa first, the likelihood of getting one is low, and even if I got one, it's pretty certain officials would give me a lot of shit at the checkpoints.

Syria, to the west, is experiencing a mass exodus and you'd have to be crazy to go there on holiday. Which is a shame because I would love to go to Demascus. Maybe one day... Inshallah.

Iraq to the south is forbidden, a) by my contract with my company, b) by my visa which only allows me in Kurdistan and not the rest of Iraq, c) by my boyfriend who swears the moment it's safe he will take me to Baghdad and Babylon. Seriously want to go to both.

Turkey is to the north and while it's generally safe to go to Turkey, the part of Turkey just north of Iraq does experience a lot of rebel fighting from Turkish Kurds wanting their own state.

So that leaves me with plane travel only. Planes ain't cheap.

However, we managed to get five days off the Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, and while I would normally want to stick around to experience a celebration like that, it's literally the ONLY vacation time I have until my contract ends at the end of August.

So my boyfriend and I went to Beirut. Now yes, I'll be the first to say that things are not perfect in Lebanon either. They have Syria and the rebels bombing each other at the border in the north-east and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is always causing problems in the south.

That said, we were in a safe area. Beirut is fine. Beirut is one of the oldest cities in the world. That said, there's not much by way of touristy stuff to do because the city has also been destroyed and rebuilt eight times. So we pretty much went shopping, eating and walking along the sea.

This was fine by me. I needed the relaxation. And I appreciated that I could go to places with quality customer service and products. Kurdistan isn't the worst place I've ever been for these things, but it's certainly lacking and it wears on you over time.

That and the Mediterranean Sea is gorgeous. Oh and boyfriend had never seen the sea before. After all the only country he's been to outside of Iraq was Syria and that was a few years ago.

So it was a vacation of firsts. His first time seeing the sea. His first time eating sushi and actually liking it (because he had always had terrible sushi before). My first time going on a vacation and not doing historical sight-seeing. My first time vacationing in a Middle Eastern country (because living in one is not the same).

We both loved Beirut and had a great time. I would explain it as a Paris of the Middle East. After French influence from occupation, the people there speak Lebanese-Arabic (which has a distinct French influence) and French. Most also speak English perfectly as well. So it was interesting because signs would be in two of the three but rarely all three. Menus were in all three. I mostly got by on being able to understand written French. (I never studied French, but having studied Spanish and been around lots of people who are obsessed with French *Flannery* it makes it a little easier).

Everyone always greeted my boyfriend in Arabic and me in French. I was constantly being called mademoiselle if I was alone, or madame if I was with him.

Probably the only hitch we experienced was when we first got there. I booked the hotel under my name. A double room, single bed, because that's what normal couples do. We got there and they were like, uhm, you're not married, you're supposed to have separate rooms.

Turns out, if we had both been American, they wouldn't have cared, but because my boyfriend is a Muslim with an Iraqi passport, they wanted to push their ideals on us. I refused to allow it. He told them we were engaged and they relented. (We're not currently engaged.) When we got into our room, he looked at me and said, "We're going to have to get a fake marriage license put together if we want to travel together in the Middle East... at least until we get a real one."

Soooo, now we know. Anyway, I highly recommend Beirut, especially for those wanting a shopping/beach vacation.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

On the Radio

I don't know how it happened or when, but I'm becoming a well-known personality around here. 

I started becoming rather involved in fundraising and things (more on this awesomeness later) and then somehow ended up with a once-a-week radio show with a friend. 

It's called the EPIC Power Hour and it's every Thursday at 5 p.m. for one hour. It's a request hour and between songs we tell people about what's going on around Erbil. My co-host, Jeremy, started a Facebook page a couple of years ago that now have nearly 1800 members and we use it to create events, talk local businesses into providing sponsorship, and then keep people interacting. 

Because of this Facebook page, we have essentially got our thumb on the pulse of Erbil. 

People come to us asking us to create events at their restaurants or bars. 

The best part is we've co-opted many of those events to double as fundraisers. (Come to Quiz night. Pay $5 to play; it all goes to the Erbil Orphanage.)

And somehow in all of that, Jeremy managed to get himself on the radio. He did the first few weeks alone but quickly realized it would be a way better show if he had someone to talk to. And somehow I became that person.

People keep telling me that I have the perfect voice for radio and that I sound very natural. Who knew? But hey, I think we all knew I could probably one day make a living out of talking.

That said, right now it's on a volunteer basis and only once a week. We're looking at finding sponsors and once we do we could start getting paid and then consider expanding to more days of the week... Everyday perhaps?

Maybe eventually I'll become quite the radio personality around here.

Anyway, if you every happen to be near the Internet at 5 p.m. Iraqi time, tune into our show which you can find live-streaming here:

Only on Babylon FM!