This Small Town, I’m Sorry But I Cannot Stay

This was meant to be a reflection on why I feel compelled to explore a new place, a new city, a new country every year.

But really on why I left Kurdistan for New York.

This town will always be too small for all the dreams held inside my head.

I’m sorry but I cannot stay.

And I’m sorry, but that is why I cannot stay. At least not right now, not in my twenties.

It’s actually been almost two months now since I left Ranya and Kurdistan for New York. I had entertained the idea of staying in Kurdistan and working either in Erbil or Suli, since the job market for expats (or in general) seems pretty strong. I met an Austrian couple in Istanbul who own an international HR company who told me they have difficulty finding qualified, educated candidates for jobs in Kurdistan and often have to resort to recruiting from Turkey and Iran. Seeing as I spent the past year working with and training teachers and other professionals, I can attest to that. But while my time in Kurdistan was an amazing experience, with a definite learning curve, I also felt that it was time for me to explore the world even more, get back to the “real world”.

Now, people have been telling me that I should give myself time to adjust to this “real world”, of 9 to 5 office jobs and big city dreams. And I say to them, it doesn’t get realer than northern Iraq. But I do see their point. Living in Ranya had its challenges, most of which I’m glad to say I don’t have to face anymore because they were tough, but nevertheless it was like living in a bubble. I didn’t pay rent, didn’t pay for groceries or utilities or any other sort of bills for that matter. If something went wrong with the house (no electricity, giant rat invasion, broken plumbing, etc.), there was always someone else to take care of it because what am I supposed to do – try and mime a broken pipe to the Kurdish plumber who doesn’t speak any English? Actually, I suppose that could’ve worked.. anyway. My social calendar was also not mine to plan, just a simple yes or no to whether I want to go somewhere or have dinner at someone’s home. Visa and work permit applications were taken care of (though in hindsight I probably would’ve rather done it myself given how much trouble it took), as were things like health insurance and trips to the doctor.

Sound like a cushy life to you? It wasn’t, really. While I did, and still do, appreciate the lengths the local staff went to to accommodate for me and the other foreign staff, I would much rather have done all these things myself. I’m grown enough to do all this for myself, and have been for the past six years. It’s frustrating having to depend on other people to do the things that given a choice, I probably wouldn’t really want to. But I don’t appreciate not being able to make that choice. Of course, logistics and a gaping communication barrier didn’t allow for it, and I was reduced to being a child again, entirely dependent on others. Granted, a dependent who was living and working in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, doing really interesting work and daily interacting with people I would never have had a chance to meet otherwise. But I have bigger plans for myself at the moment (still formulating what exactly these plans are, but they’re there). I’m too young to stay in this small town.

So, enter the real world. New York City.

Where things are as real as they get. But if I can survive and thrive for a year in Iraq, I can do New York.

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