photo: Eddy van Wessel


Monday, March 31, 2014

Kurds like Westerners

‘You know that I am a blond too and I dyed my hair because people said it would be safer?’

The American lady shakes her head in disbelief. “And what for? We move around without any problem.”

The American has moved with her husband for a year to Duhok. Their move caused unrest amongst friends and family, who think ‘Iraq, that is where the bombs explode’.

There is a lot of misconceptions about Iraqi Kurdistan around. The first is, that as the rest of Iraq, it is not safe. Foreigners can be targeted and kidnapped. This American lady was told she would be too recognizable as a foreigner if she kept her own hair color.

This is even a triple misconception. Although Kurdistan is not completely free of attacks, foreigners are safe enough. Kidnapping them is unheard of, and the society would not accept it.

The Kurds have a liking for Westerners. Happy that they are here, and can tell the world how much fun that is.

Perhaps for that reason foreigners will be recognized, if only by the way they move, eat, talk. A change of hair color will not make much difference. Up to a couple of years ago my blond hair would attract a lot of eyes on the street, but that was partly because there were so few Westerners about then.

Now there are expats from all over the world living in Kurdistan. Complaining about the same things people complain about everywhere: weather, behaviour of others, bad drivers, harassment.

Most of the West has woken up to the realities of Kurdistan. But the Americans have not yet opened their eyes for it. Even though the Kurds have for long considered the Americans as their best friends, their companies are cautious about coming over to do business. For the sake of the safety, and because of the misconceptions.

But they are catching on. Pizza Hut opened, so Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s might get the message too. The Kurds love American products, the American Consul General told me. I did not want to contradict him, but I think the Kurds are happy to be open up to the world after many years of isolation. It’s not just about America.

Opening up also brings bad influences. The expat community was shocked when a couple of Kurds, posing as members of assaish, raided an office and molested the staff member present.

And there are stories now about stolen passports, phones and money. Kurdistan has always been one of the safest places on earth, with taxi drivers returning thousands of dollars that were left by passengers. Let’s work hard to keep those bad influences out. If only to convince others how special Kurdistan is.

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

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