photo: Eddy van Wessel


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The customer is King

The boatman at the lake of Dokan is sure he will get it his way. He wants 70.000 dinars (57 dollars) for two boats to take my seven guests for a trip on the lake.

I have a standing agreement with a colleague of his, one of the few boatmen who speak English. I have phoned him, and he has arrived. He would take my guests in one boat for 45.000 dinar
(36 dollars).

But I cannot do business with him, because the boatmen have a system in which they take a load in turns. And it is not his turn.

Yet I want ‘my’ boatman, and I want only one boat. I stand there arguing at the lakeside, while my guests are placing bets whether I am going to win. It takes over 15 minutes, but then they are on their way in one boat.

By that time I am exhausted and fuming. I have an agreement with a boatman, and because of a stupid rule he cannot keep it. And his colleague could not have cared less had I turned around and just left.

What is this? Is there no incentive to do business in Kurdistan? Never heard of being commercial? My guests were already saying ‘let him be and let’s go’. He could have ended up with no income.

This is not doing business. This is plain stupidity. Doing business means you make money, and if needed you adapt to the market and the costumers. If you do not, you will lose out.
Your customers should be King. You should do anything for a customer to make him happy. Because you want him to remember you and come back. You have something to sell, so make it attractive. Don’t chase him away by having him work to make a deal, or by asking too much money. If he goes, you did not make any money, and you lost a returning customer.
In this case, all has been set to let me never return to the boatmen of Dokan. When the group got into the bus, sharp bits of glass were found placed behind two tires. Had not one of my guests done a tour around the vehicle, we would have been stuck for hours while the tires were changed.

It seems the boys who saw us haggle, or just do not like foreigners, placed the glass there. My guests were shocked, and so was I. The picture of a hospitable Kurdistan was shaken profoundly.

Please, my fellow countrymen, clean up your act. Tourists bring in money and are the best ambassadors for Kurdistan when they leave happy. Make sure they do! Not only for your wallet, for those of all of us. And even more: for the sake of Kurdistan. 

This blog was first published in the Kurdish daily Kurdistani Nwe

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A debate about a kiss

What is in a kiss? It is the best known way to show affection. We kiss our parents, our friends, and even their friends. In the West that is quite normal. In Kurdistan men kiss each other. Westerners look at it, accept it and now more and more men in the West exchange a hug or kiss when meeting.

But when in Kurdistan a man and a women kiss in front of the camera, it is not allowed. A kiss of two people who want to show their love - and who at the same time protest against the fact that a sculpture of a kiss, as the symbol of love, was burned in Azadi Park, after many attempts to damage it.

For many of the young generation, this act is seen as an attack on the freedom of expressing your feelings. And on the couples who kiss each other in a park which name is 'freedom'.

Religious politicians and imams are condemning the kiss. The couple is charged with indecent behavior. But what is indecent about two lips meeting to say ‘I love you’?

For the condemners, the kiss is equal to sexual intercourse. Or at least, it leads to it. Kissing belongs in the shadows, in the bedroom, not to be seen by anyone, not even the closest of kin. Most Kurdish youngsters have never seen their parents kiss nor proclaim their love.

Yet they see movies, or travel abroad. And they notice that a kiss is a beautiful gesture of the love between two people. Back home they don’t want to hide their feelings any more.

In Europe this battle was fought long ago. One of the most famous kisses dates from 1950, when a French photographer caught a couple kissing in a busy street. That was over sixty years ago. 

There, kissing outside marriage is not even an issue anymore in the strict Christian quarters, where sex before marriage is prohibited just as strongly as in the strict Islamic society. So why is this kiss, and the development that it tries to speed up, such a big deal in Kurdistan?
Perhaps because it is linked to the shame and honor culture, where a father kills his daughter if people say that she is seen with a boy? Because when you see your world change as fast as it does in Kurdistan, you need something to hold on to – so let it be culture?

Whatever it is, a kiss cannot be haram. It is a message without words, and at the same time a poem for love. And love we need badly, in a society that heads towards modernism that can be cold and individualistic. 

Let’s fight for the kiss, and not allow it to be called shameful. Because love surely is not.

This column was first published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Let’s clean Kurdistan

“I would set up a Ministry of Waste”, said one of the foreign tourists I took around Kurdistan recently. We were visiting one of the historic sights, the resort of King Sanharib in Khanis, and were disgusted by the rubbish that spoiled the enjoyment of a place this old and special.

As this centuries’ old place is used in the weekends for picnics, lots of plastic water bottles and tins were lying around. Someone even started building on the site, and the Minister of Finance and Economy built a house right above it. We discussed the fact that many Kurds do not understand the value of their heritage.

I suggested that the Kurds should start teaching their kids at school what the effect is of throwing plastic and tins from your car window. An awareness campaign is needed, we agreed.

We had almost forgotten our decision, when only hours later at the only remaining century old gate of Amedi we caught a boy with a tin of spray. The twelve year old had just been putting graffiti on the walls inside the gate. I rebuked him and sent him off, but he returned as soon as he saw us leaving.

Although I was happy to see workers cleaning up the junk at the gate, they did not do anything to stop the boy from further soiling a national monument. The awareness campaign is not only needed for kids.

A foreign aid worker I met recently also had been saddened by the culture of waste she noticed in Kurdistan. Which is not only found in the waste lying around. But also in the toilets, where people often do not flush and just leave their dirtied paper in a corner. It is a culture of not caring for those who come after you.

“Look”, she said, “in Estonia they had a huge campaign to clean up the county. Couldn’t you start something like that here?”

‘Let’s do it’ was the campaign that cleaned up the whole of the European country of Estonia in one day. The whole country was involved, and the level of awareness about leaving junk behind was raised enormously. The campaign grew into the international movement World Clean-up. The list of countries that cleaned itself up in one day is very long and involved millions of volunteers. The last countries for 2013 are Bosnia (October 24) and Nigeria (November 27).

Kurdistan is not on that list yet. So here is my suggestion, to my fellow country men and women in Kurdistan. Let’s join the campaign. Let’s be the first for 2014. Let’s set a date to clean up Kurdistan, for instance on January 1.

Let’s do it together. Schools, clubs, unions, parties, they should all join in. Let’s remove all those bottles and tins, and all the plastic bags, and try to remove the graffiti. Let’s do it, let’s clean Kurdistan!

This blog was first published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe