Contributed by Marilyn Gardner, a nurse and writer who had the privilege of living in Rania for ten months from 2018 to 2019. In that short time, she fell in love with the people of Kurdistan and plots every day how she might return.
It is around three thirty in the afternoon when we step out of our building and immediately the hot air rushes to greet us. Though the evenings and mornings are cool, we still feel the heat during these afternoon hours.
We walk across a field and wait until oncoming traffic allows for safe crossing. We have found a perfect place to cross – about 20 feet from a speed bump that slows down even the most aggressive drivers. Minibuses travel this road frequently and it is only a few seconds before one spots us and we hop on.
The trip to Rania Bazaar is short and guaranteed fun. Between the open stares and questions that acknowledge our foreignness and the laughter that invariably erupts the ride quickly passes. We hand in our money (forty cents for each of us) and shout “Dabazeen haya”. Basically “Let us off!”
We get off at the Grand Mosque in Rania and we are on our way. We have already passed a row of beautiful bird cages, chickens in cages ready for execution, and shops all geared toward Peshmerga soldiers.
The grand Mosque puts us in the perfect place to do our wandering and buying, bartering and attempts at conversation in Kurdish.
If we head straight, we find ourselves in the middle of money changers and kebab shops. In late afternoon, we begin to smell the savory aroma that can only be kebabs. Often we will buy a few skewers and take them home for dinner. The shop keeper wraps the kebabs in hot, fresh bread and sends us on our way with fresh tomato wedges, onions, parsley, and lemons. The mouthwatering combination is food fit for royal palates, but available to anyone.
Turn left from the grand mosque and you will find a row of men’s clothing stores, followed by fabric stores. The fabric is every color and texture. From vibrant cottons to subdued velvet; sparkly sequined chiffon to small patterned rayon it’s all here on large bolts. Women of all ages and sizes come looking for fabric. You can hear them talking among themselves, periodically asking the shop keeper a price.
Not far down the street we turn left into an inside mall area. Fabric is on the first floor and below are carpets, bedding, and a tailor. Upstairs are still more stores to explore, but we have shopping to do.
We head toward our favorite all goods plastic store ready to find hidden treasures among cheap, plastic ware. We chat with the store owner and helper, relying on the helper’s limited English to get us what we need.
Onward to an alley that sparkles with tea glasses and saucers. They are displayed beautifully and precariously and I fear that one wrong move will topple them. Varied patterns and sizes create a kaleidoscope of images that imprint on my eyes and bring delight to my soul.
Shops selling pure gold jewelry and accessories are scattered in different places and the sheer volume of gold is a stunning wonder. Earrings, necklaces, belts, and bangles are all on display. Unlike Western jewelry shops, where single pieces are displayed on velvet, this is a vision of quality and quantity.
The sun is beginning to set and it is a reminder to us that shops will soon close. We hurry on to the naaniwah (bread store) where hot, flat loaves of bread are just coming out of the oven. A man with a large container attached to his bicycle is waiting to fill the container with hot bread and take it off to ready customers.
We head back to the vegetable and fruit market, but not before stopping at our favorite nut shop. The artistry begins outside the store where silver containers welcome you in through sunflower seeds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and other bites of goodness. Enter in and you see walnuts, almonds, mixed nuts, pistachios, sultanas, and more things than I can possibly name in large containers around the room. On the shelves above the nut containers are large jars of honey and pomegranate syrup mixed in with other boxes and jars. The shops delights the senses with its colors and textures. Of all the shops in Rania, this is perhaps my favorite.
Shouts of “Yek hazaar, yek hazaar” (One thousand dinar, One thousand dinar) compete with others shouting other numbers as we enter the market. It’s a chaotic frenzy of pomegranates, pears, all different vegetables, several types of melons, five different types of parsley, and people. At this point everyone is in a hurry. At six in the evening doors shut, shop keepers cover their stalls, and everyone goes home. People are in the last minute hustle, the way people in the United States hustle to buy milk and eggs during a snow storm.
Our arms are full of packages – from fruit to glassware, we have everything we need.
Our last stop is the chai khana (tea house) where we will rest our tired arms and sip strong, hot tea from perfectly proportioned glasses. We sigh and smile, fully content. It’s impossible to not love this bazaar and area. It’s impossible to not love Kurdistan.
The sun has set. It’s time to head home. We are revived and happy. The chaos and bargaining, the ready smiles and generous friendship have yet again made their marks in our hearts.
As I leave, I have one thought: I get to do this again. This is not a short 10-day trip like those I’ve taken in the last eight years. This is where I live. This is my bazaar. I get to come back.