photo: Eddy van Wessel


Friday, February 15, 2013

Do not hide your eyes

‘Can you ask her not to look at me?’ I still remember the request, made by a Kurdish student who was shy because a female teacher was looking at him. ‘I cannot stand those blue eyes!’

I knew from travelling in the region that women should not look straight at men, or at least not look them in the eye, for they would be giving off an unintended message. But when you teach, you have to look at your students to see the impact of your words and consider repeating information.

In my world, eye contact is important. It has a connection with trust. When people do not look you in the eye, they probably have something to hide. So when you would be so lucky as to meet the Dutch Queen, you do meet her eye. Yet in Kurdistan, when you respect someone, you show that by looking down. Even after 5 years in this country, I find that difficult, and when meeting the eminences of Kurdistan, I do want to make eye contact. I can only hope they understand that in my case it does show respect.

When I travel to more strict areas of Iraq, I hide my eyes behind sunglasses, and try to look away when men look at me, not to attract attention. Yet it is difficult to apply the rules of behavior in the different worlds – as the differences are not always known. The student who did not like my eyes, probably did not know that for a Western woman, it is normal to look, and abnormal not to.

Since then, I was told about the background of the blue eye-charms against the evil eye – or more exact, against jealous eyes. That it originates from blue eyes that people were not used to, and they thought might affect them in a negative way. Yet strange eyes are not only seen negatively. ‘Strange eyes force people’, is a saying from my home country, the Netherlands, that is very true here in Iraq too. Information that comes from an outsider has more impact, as people will accept it easier than when the same information comes from someone they know.

Hence the title of the column, which I will write weekly for the Kurdish newspaper Kurdistani Nwe: Strange eyes. To share my views, my smiles, my frustrations in Kurdistan - the views of an outsider. I will publish it here in English a couple of days after publication.

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