Today’s post is from Anna, my fellow English teacher here in Ranya. Thought it’d be good to get another p.o.v. on living and working in Kurdistan, though I will put in a disclaimer and say I may not agree with everything written here – but I think it’s important to hear a different viewpoint.
Hi! I’m Yein’s roomie Anna, and as Yein was foolish enough to let me write a guest post here, I intend to rant as much as I possibly can!
But first, here are some things I do like about Kurdistan:
- The mountains are beautiful. If you manage to reach the peak of one, the view is simply striking!
- The water in the river is as hot as the air in the summer and wonderful to splash around in.
- The people we work with and other friends of the school are generally very nice and always extending dinner invitations. They respect us as teachers and appreciate that we’ve come here to help their country.
- Teaching here is fun too; I feel like I am actually making a difference. I teach two classes everyday, both of them to English teachers who don’t speak English (I know, right?!)
OK, that’s enough funsies.
First of all. Religion. I’m not one of those people who believe that you have to respect other people’s religion. I believe that you have to respect other people and that you have to acknowledge their faith but I have just as strong a right to believe that your god is a human construction as you have believing in him in the first place. Here in the Middle East, religion is everywhere. Let’s start with the law here in Rania that states a person who funds the building of a new mosque will be exempt from taxes for life. Thanks to that, we are now literally surrounded by mosques. And they don’t sync their calls to prayer so we live in a constant religious cacophony. Believe in what you want but please – Keep it to yourself! Now, I’m not discriminating Islam alone. I’m not very fond of church bells either. Especially not the ones that wakes me up on a Sunday morning (although, in defense of Christianity at least the church bells aren’t actually filled with proselytizing messages). I’m very happy being an atheist and your loud religious noise isn’t gonna change that so keep it down or make a smart phone app where those who like it can listen to it in their headphones and those who don’t can enjoy the silence.
Second of all. Religion. Yes, religion again. Now, while I don’t think faith in a supernatural being necessarily has to be a bad thing (if it makes you happy – go for it!), I do believe that organized religion is a method of social control, concocted by the power-hungry few to control the masses. Feel free to apply this to any religion, I don’t discriminate. And there is no group of people as constantly suppressed by religions as women. Take the headscarves / niquabs / burkas for instance. I don’t believe in cultural relativism. Oppression of women is oppression of women, and no religion can, in my belief, justify it. Forcing women to hide reduces women to objects and men to animals who can’t control their urges. A woman who isn’t properly covered up and is raped is thus herself guilty of said rape (victim blaming!!)
This view on women brings me to the biggest reason why I will be leaving Kurdistan in December – the male gaze. If you, as a western woman, have ever known street harassment and catcalls walking down the street, take that experience multiplied by a thousand and you might get a vague sense of everyday life in Rania. I knew life for women was harder here but I was in no way prepared for this! I can’t walk from our house to the school where I work without men on the street screaming after me, passing cars slowing in and guys hanging out of the window shouting (what I assume to be) obscenities at me. A fifteen minute mental rape every single day.
Although things like that shouldn’t matter I feel like I should add that I always make sure to cover up properly before I go out. My fingers and my head are the only body parts sticking out of my shape-less cotton body armor. Doesn’t matter that I never wear anything revealing skin or figure, men here aren’t staring and screaming because I look different. They are behaving that way because they see a woman that isn’t Muslim, or from here, and therefore fair game. I believe men in Kurdistan act this way because they have been brought up to believe that women are to be submissive to men; that a woman is a personal servant who will wait on you hand and foot. As a young boy, you see your mother and your sisters working in the kitchen, waiting on the men, you see your father in the company of other men, talking politics and important issues.
Of course it’s hard to change when you’ve been brought up certain way – hard, but not impossible! I’m actually hopeful for the future. With secularization and education, there can be great change in Kurdistan.