photo: Eddy van Wessel


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Kurdish egos on the road

Does driving show the real face of a people? 

Driving in Kurdistan makes me pose some impossible questions. Allow me to share this one with you.

Driving on the fast lane, behind someone, just inside or even over the speed limit. Behind you someone appears, driving fast and flashing his lights. Does he think you can fly? He wants you out of the way, the road is his.

Standing at the traffic light. Just before it turns green, drivers start to hoot. They want to drive, and you are in the way. The road is theirs.

At a U-turn, someone overtakes you on the right, and takes away the view for you can to see if you can safely join the road. He gets angry, because he wants to move behind you on the most left hand side lane, and you cannot move because you cannot see. But the road is his, of course.

After a U-turn, you have to move in a short time all across the road to turn right. While you turn on your indicator and make the move, someone overtakes you on the right, making it impossible to make your right turn. But of course, the road is only his.

Now all these circumstances happen to me regularly. Too regularly to think they are just bad driving. This leaves me a few options: Kurds are badly taught how to drive, and on top of that they imitate others’ bad habits on the road.

Or they so self-centered that they cannot understand they have to share the road with others. I am afraid that is true too. A recent simple incident convinced me of it.

Driving out of a parking, I had to cross the road. I could not see the right side, and as the car on the left was far enough away, I drove towards the middle. A big truck came from the right, and made me wait in the middle. The car on the left had to slow down, and used his horn for me to get out of the way.

I am sure the driver had himself done this maneuver a thousand times, yet now he showed none of the politeness he had been expecting then.

How can a people that is priding itself on its politeness and hospitality, behave so badly on the roads? Or is the real Kurd showing himself there? The one that feels the world is his, that everything revolves around him and that all should stand back for him?

I hope I am wrong. Because I do not like this anymore than you, if this has become part of the Kurdish psyche. But if you agree with me, please let’s get the politeness back and share the roads.

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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Activate the traffic police

How many games do policemen in Kurdistan have on their phones? I often wonder when I pass by a traffic policeman behind the speed control camera or at a crossing. Not caring about the traffic at all, too busy with his mobile.

When someone passes through red, he does not react, nor when drivers use their phone. Only when the electricity fails, he finally gets up to regulate the traffic.

Traffic policeman must be one of the lowest jobs in the police department. Yet with more and more cars around, the traffic in Kurdistan needs strict control to make sure it runs well.

Their colleagues in the West are often feared. They will stop you and fine you when you use a phone while driving, when you drive through a red light or go too fast. And there are regular checks on drinking and driving.

Patrols on the motorway make sure people get caught when driving dangerously, too near to each other, are flashing lights or carrying no light when needed.

Breaking rules costs money. The fines can add up to hundreds of euros, a system meant to give people an incentive to abide by the rules.

In some countries, a point system is used. Every time you get caught breaking the traffic rules, points are added, which may lead to a (temporary) suspension of the driving license.

In the West drivers on the motorway are advised to put on their lights even in the daytime, to make sure they are seen in time. Badly informed Kurdish traffic police asked me even to turn off my head lights during a grey day.

I have not seen traffic policemen in Kurdistan write any fines or address any bad drivers.

If you do get caught speeding, the bill only gets to you when you go to the traffic police office for some other reason. Then you will be presented with the accumulation of fines.

People will then be careful for a while, but forget about it soon enough. If you fine drivers every time they exceed the rules, it might work as a preventive measure.

I fear that Kurdistan is on its way to copying Lebanon, where nobody cares about the traffic police, and fines will go away after a phone call at the right place. We don’t want that to happen, so we want the respect back for these policemen.

Kurdistan is one of the most unsafe places on earth when it comes to the traffic situation. The police can and should play a role in changing that. It starts with them getting more active, and making sure traffic rules are applied. Let’s end the chaos, and make the streets safer.

This blog was published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tying the knot

When I pass a church somewhere in the world, I stop and burn a candle. Usually to the memory of my long gone mother, but sometimes to ask for a blessing for something new I am going to do.

It is a Catholic ritual, and I have adopted it even though I am a Protestant by birth. And I know I am not the only non-Catholic who is using this, because the ritual soothes the heart.

Lovers who want to declare their loyalty to each other, can attach a padlock to a bridge in Paris and throw the key away. So many have already done this, that the bridge is covered by locks. Just like Kurdish lovers might visit the grave of Mem u Zin in Cizre for their love to be eternal.

Rituals are international, and Kurdistan has some that are very old. Like the knots that people tie, to make a wish come true. The interesting feature of this, is that it must be something regional rather than religious, as it is seen throughout all religions.

Go to the remains of Iraq’s last synagogue in Al Qosh, and you will find wish ribbons that have been tied to the gate around the grave of the prophet Nahum. The ritual is supposed to be combined with circling the grave, and must stem from the days that this was a place of pilgrimage for Jews in Iraq.

At the Yazidi temple of Lalesh, you will be invited to tie a knot and make a wish. Lalesh also is a place of pilgrimage for the Yazidi community from all over the world.

And at the little chapel of Rabban Hormizd, in the mountains high above Al Qosh, white bands are tied into a tree by women who ask for the blessing of God to conceive a child. Recently I have seen the same white ribbons at a mountain chapel in Lebanon.

In the West we use often ribbons to show our solidarity. A pink ribbon on the lapel of your jacket for cancer patients, a red one for Aids patients, a green one for those who suffer kidney cancer.

But in America, family members and friends of those fighting abroad or those kept hostage, would tie yellow ribbons onto trees wishing for their safe return.

The culture of empowering your wish by making a knot is a way of communicating with your God, or just trying to influence your fate. That’s why it is so old and international. We all want to do that, where ever we are and for whatever reason.

And that is why this ritual stays, even in modernity when many old habits are disposed of. Because there will always be something to wish for. So tie the knot! 

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