Being amongst the most hospitable peoples on earth an invitation to stay in a local home was almost unavoidable.
27.06.2014 - 29.06.2014 46 °C
Looking for the supposedly only hotel in the small Iraqi town of Koya a car suddenly pulls up alongside me and holds to a stop. “How are you?” the young guy behind the wheel seems happy to see me. Explaining my situation I am instantly offered a ride to a hotel – which turns out to have been closed for years. No matter, I can stay with his family. An invitation I have received multiple times during my travels, and one that never fails to impress me – the scale of trust, mental resourcefulness and hospitality for just offering such an invitation to a stranger have I always found to be extraordinary. It is something I have experience from Latin America to Central Asia, but nowhere as often as amongst the Kurds.
Leaving two days after I had arrived, it was difficult to get the family to accept that I had to move on. More places to see, a visa that would eventually expire and fear of overstaying my welcome simply meant that I had to leave. My fear of overstaying was definitely unfounded – a number of times I was asked to stay another day, I had to promise that I would visit if I ever returned to Iraq and it was very clear that I from now on could consider myself as part of the family.
When I was first driven to the door there was impressively not a single second of consideration from the family. Instead I was instantly offered tea and sweets – incredibly because it is Ramadan and I was the only one allowed to eat or drink anything. From here it just took off: I was invited to break Ramadan with the family during the evening and when the oldest son visited with his wife I was invited with them so the town’s amusement park for rides, ice cream and fun.
Further the son was an army officer, so the family insisted on me having his mobile number just in case I ever got into troubles with the police or at the check-points. Something with is basically a get out of jail for free card down here – or at least get past the check-point with not trouble card.
The easiest way to deal with the Ramadan is literarily to sleep the day away. So in a household with four teenage boys, two nephews visiting home from Finland and a number of friends in the neighbourhood it made for some very long nights. Most of these were spent in the garden puffing away on nagilas or water pipes. Though I did not hold out for as long they did – which would be to daybreak so they could eat breakfast just before the sun would rise.
The day I had to myself, whether I would sit and write or explore the town. But no matter how I spent the day I could be sure there was plenty of ice cold water, freshly pressed juice and water melon being offered me as soon as I show myself in the house’s common room. Again, something I find extraordinary since no-one else was allowed to eat or drink anything during days where temperatures reached beyond 45 degrees. Feeling terrible about this fact they would not hear me out and I was certainly not allowed to sympathy fast – no I had to eat, and often more that I actually could eat.
When I finally was allowed to leave I was given a fresh shirt (whether this was hospitality or a hint of something is open to debate), given a ride to the bus station. The family even paid my 3 dollar bus ticket, brushing aside my protests as they did so.
So for anyone who would like to improve or freshen up on hospitality a visit to Kurdistan is highly recommended. Now all you would have to do afterwards – and all I have to do now – is trying to observe this and return the hospitality I have received to others once I am back home where I will be the host. While I probably cannot live up the treatment I have received, I can try as hard as possible to live up to it.