Submitted by Marilyn Gardner
“I miss Kurdistan.” I texted these words to my husband.
He responded as I knew he would: “Me too.”
For ten months we had the privilege of living in a small city in Kurdistan. We had the privilege of walking beside a group of people who have been through the fire and continued to stand strong; people who are resilient, gracious, and who filled our lives with laughter and generosity.
Though daily life held a routine of work, there was time to explore the area and to grow beyond what we ever anticipated.
We visited Darband and looked out onto a brilliant blue lake with snow capped mountains in the distance. We hiked up a small mountain behind the university and took in the expansive views of the area. We drove up steep mountain roads where hairpin turns and switchbacks had us gasping and wondering if we were all going to die. As we stopped to take in our surroundings, we gasped for the beauty of it. The view from above was magnificent. The sun was setting and the entire area was bathed in shades of fuchsia, gold, orange, blue, and grey. We could see where the lake detoured into smaller pools and rivers. We saw mountains beyond mountains and hills beyond hills. Almond trees dotted the landscape, their small pink blossoms whispering the hope of spring. Kurdistan’s beauty was on full display as if to say “I’m so much more than people realize!“
There are times when our life resembled a National Geographic article. Surrounded by adventure, beauty, and uncommon experiences (as compared to the Western world), we found that each day held a unique story. Every day we experienced stunning landscape, generous hospitality, and the beauty and kindness of Kurdish people. Every day I long to challenge stereotypes and show people in the West how much they miss when they are locked into limited media perceptions. I long to show them how much they give up when they are not willing to move beyond stereotypes and into relationships with people who don’t live, think, or talk like they do.
A few days before leaving Kurdistan, we piled into a bus with questionable shocks and took to the roads of the region. We saw rivers and mountains, hiked to Neanderthal Caves, and drove through the city of the Three Wise Men. We ate great food, danced to Kurdish music, discussed goals, and played games. Laughter was the backdrop to every moment. It was the perfect way to spend our final weekend in Kurdistan. We ended up traveling over 15 hours in a bus across Kurdistan—and all of us are richer for it.
We never expected to form these close friendships. We did not realize how much we would laugh, and how much we would connect to people of the younger generation in Kurdistan. We did not know that they would support us by bringing medicine when we were sick, heaters when we were cold, invitations when we were lonely, and laughter when we most needed it.
The future of Kurdistan is bright because of these people. They are men and women who are smart, funny, wise beyond their years, and who are extremely compassionate. They recognize the hypocrisy in their government and in their institutions, and they are fighting to change first themselves, and then their community. We could not be more honored that they have chosen us to be their friends. We could not be more grateful for their willingness to enter into our lives with so much generosity and joy.
How do you measure ten months?
In calls to prayer
In cups of chai,
In centimeters, in kilometers, in laughter, in strife
Seasons of Love from Rent (adapted)
When we first found out that we would have to leave the cry of my heart was “Why did we only get ten months? Why?“
Now, I think “We got ten months in Kurdistan. We are so fortunate.”
Ten months of laughter and joy; ten months of learning some of the challenges that Kurds work within and around. Ten months of Ranya Bazaar and Cafe 64; ten months of invitations and English talk club. Ten months of Toranj restaurant and our dear Iranian friends. Ten months of unforgettable conversations and amazing food; ten months of learning what advocacy is and is not. Ten months of some of the most challenging work interactions we have had in our many years of working in four countries and on three continents. Ten months of being offended and of causing offense. Ten months of feeling both understood and misunderstood. Ten months of this small apartment that is chilling cold in the winter and delightfully cool in the summer. Ten months of creating a home and a community.
Ten months of picnics, of sunsets, of calls to prayer, and cups of tea. Ten months of centimeters, kilometers, laughter and strife.
How do we measure our time here? It defies the metric and imperial systems of measurement so we won’t try.
We just know that we are forever richer by Kurdistan.