11 June, 2010

Suly 7 (flashback): watching NileSat in Andy's private K-stan

posted: 23 August

More than once as i made my way back from wandering about Suleymaniyah, i got lost on the way to my host's house. It was one of many sand-colored, two-story concrete dwellings on a gridwork of streets in the Kalahadji neighborhood, each with a wall dividing it from the street and an iron gate painted to match. At first i tried to remember it by the gate, but i had to count streets and houses just to get there.

near Kalahadji; note the lone skyscraper under construction

Inside, past a narrow, unkempt bank of greenery wedged against the wall, the house was cool as long as the swamp coolers were working. A sheer bluish curtain, with flowers embroidered along its edges, shaded the window above Andy's desk, turning the sand-hued buildings outside into a dreamy mirage.

The second half of this post's title is a reference to my American ex-pat host's radio show "Andy's Privat K-Stan", something he'd done before moving to Suly to facilitate English teaching and public affairs communication. Little by little i learned how much was hidden beneath the surface in Erbil (known in Kurdish as Hawler, "the place where the sun is worshipped"). With friction among the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Erbil, rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) based in Suly, the Iraqi government, Kurdish ties to Iran and to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK, known internationally as a terrorist organization) in Turkiye, not to mention American, Russian, and other foreign interests in the region, Erbil/Hawler is quite the spy-central frontier town. (Check out this linked aerial image of Erbil.)

Despite the frenzy of reconstruction, Suly seemed far from such political chaos. In the evening, i found myself surfing through satellite channels with Andy. He showed me the number one channel in Iraqi Kurdistan - a Syrian channel that showed nothing but dancing girls. Fully clothed young women, that is, dancing with a fair amount of modesty - the sort of entertainment that sexually repressed males in the paradoxically sex-positive moderate Muslim culture eat up. That fact alone was entertaining.

[And not so entertaining. As fellow UMaine exchange student Sean Noyes found in Egypt and later related to me, that combination of sexual repression and sex-positive culture leads to high rates of sexual assault - Egyptian males, he said, may simply grab women in order to touch them, and then run away - and (to a lesser extent, as i observed in Turkiye as well) to common, clandestinely practiced male bisexuality within a culture where even participants publicly decry homosexuals and their acts.]

On a lighter note, a few channels over i found Melody Hits TV, with top 20 Arabic pop. It's been fun to find the same music videos on Youtube - with a different flair than American productions: Arabic music videos feature credit rolls, and distinct narratives are quite common. This one, with an array of lone dancers, a bit of blacklight, and thoroughly typical, smug, suavely cheesy singer with a dark and enticing gaze... is just fun.