The following story was submitted to The Kurdish Project by U.S. Army Seargent Bill Spaulding. Submit your own story to The Kurdish Project here.
In 2004 I was deployed to Southern Kurdistan as a US Army Engineer. I was the Non-commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) establishing Forward Operating Base (FOB) Round Top in Diyannah, Soran in Irbil Provence. While in Diyannah I was invited into many Kurdish homes and made many enduring friends among Kurdish people but one stands out in my mind. A very young (15 years old, but she looked 12), smiling, Kurdish girl walked up to me – a 44-year-old foreign Soldier with an automatic rifle – and introduced herself in the Queen’s English. “Hello, my name is Shanaz. I speak English but I have never spoken to an English-speaking person. May I speak with you?”
Experiencing Kurdish hospitality firsthand
Shanaz became a very useful translator and friend. She would come to my worksite every day and we would talk. She encouraged me to come to her home because her father wanted to meet me. Being cautious that there may be a misunderstanding, I asked one of my official translators to talk with her in Kurdish. As soon as I was sure I wasn’t going to accidentally get a 15-year-old wife, I accepted her offer. Her family of 7 sisters, 2 brothers, a mom, her dad Mohammad, and an English-speaking cousin named Arry adopted me into their family. The TV was tuned in on satellite to CNN. Shanaz told me her father welcomed me to his home and that he had English-language CNN and BBC on TV! Her sisters cooked dolma, brianni, and other delicious Kurdish food. I enjoyed being a member of that extended family so much.
A poem for a beloved father
Unfortunately I was told by Arry through Facebook that Mohammad died from a brain tumor. I immediately contacted Shanaz and she was devastated at the loss of her beloved father.
Shanaz wrote 2 poems in her father’s memory. I speak a little Sorani Kurdish but I’m totally illiterate in the language so I asked a friend, Majeed, to translate it into English. I took Majeed’s very literal translation and interpreted it in an attempt to convey the meaning, as much as possible, into English. Majeed said the poem is good Kurdish prose.
Over the years of my life I fell in love many times but I have been more in love with this man than any other, a man who fed me, a man who would pull food from the mouth of a lion to feed me. I wore clothes of silk and shoes made of tiger skin.
I told other people this but they thought it was fantasy.
By night he took me to the stars, by day he took me to the gates of paradise, in abandoned streets he held my hand, his hand held mine.
My autumn was filled with flowers. I was exhausted and intoxicated with the smell of the rain, with his warm breathing, and his rough elder voice.
Heart of a lover, eyes of sympathy, and a hand of mercy were in my father’s house!
He provided me with highness and because of him I have full love, respect, and faithfulness to all men.
Sorry! I am unable to write my father’s biography anymore.
-A Kurdish poem by Shanaz Nury, translated from Sorani Kurdish to English by Majeed Sorani, further translated by Bill Spaulding.
In memory of Shanaz’ father and my Brother Mohammad.