07 June, 2010

Erbil 3: Ainkawa

A morning's walk around the city center turned up plenty of places to buy construction supplies, but the one thing i needed - an internet cafe - was nowhere to be found. So when i left Minaret Park i hailed a cab. The cabbie spoke no English or Turkish; i repeated internet cafe? webcafe? to no avail. Finally i said "Ainkawa" - the Christian quarter of the city. Rumor has it there's more nightlife and cosmopolitan culture in Ainkawa, and that seemed to be the case. Early on a Monday afternoon, more than half the businesses and restaurants were closed.

Trying to interact here is a game. A language guessing game. What does this person speak? English? Far out! Turkish? If yes, make halting conversation. Kurdish? If yes, use polite phrases recently memorized. If Arabic, or something else, feel bewildered, and begin to gesture.

I asked at a liquor store and got something resembling directions. It's small, he said. A coffee shop. For another hour i wandered, asking. I saw a building labeled "Kurdish Human Rights Watch", a couple churches, nicer cars by the curb, fewer buildings under construction. Restaurants showed the Syrian and Lebanese influence - signs emblazoned with the cypress tree. On one street i asked at a shiny new lunch joint and found only more directions. "But it doesn't open until 7 PM," the fellow told me. Night life, i guess.

construction in Ainkawa

Across the street was "Antalya Ice Cream". From inside, i could hear Turkish TV and as i passed, a young man hailed me. He was the delivery boy for that shiny lunch joint, but spent his time hanging with three other young men. One of whom was scooping out ice cream. Fıstık mı? i asked. It was, and instead of the delivery boy who had selected it, the scooper handed the ice cream to me and started to scoop out a second helping. When i offered to pay, the delivery boy smiled and said it was on him - but the scooper said no, it's on the house. The delivery boy disappeared for a minute; just left his ice cream, after a quick inspection, in the backup freezer.  Meanwhile the scooper asked if i would like some water, and proceeded to fetch some from the shop next door. He sat down next to me and we chatted in Turkish for a while. The water still had chunks of ice in it - and that was the best darned pistachio ice cream i have ever tasted.

At last i found the cafe, which you would indeed hardly notice. Iraq is not so Mac-friendly; the owner kindly lent me his Dell for over an hour. With evening rapidly approaching, i hailed another cab to head for the Citadel, determined to find a cheaper hotel. This cabbie - his name was Beras - spoke a few words of Turkish. He'd changed out the radio for a snazzy Pioneer CD player, and popped away the faceplate* to insert a disc: Akon. As we slowed to meet another speed bump (all the major roads in Erbil have them), he shuffled his CD collection like a deck of cards. I'd heard that 50 Cent is really popular here and it's true. This is a CD that says "50 Cent" in Arabic.

Beras pointed out the girls on every side street, and as we sat waiting at a stoplight, pumped the brakes in time with the rap beat. Then he accelerated like a demon, and nearly took out a small boy. Kurdistan, contrary to popular belief, is a safe and friendly place. The only dangerous thing here are the taxi drivers - and then only if you're crossing the street. After driving me halfway across the city, Beras at first refused payment.

Note to self - don't write when exhausted. Originally "pooped away the faceplate".