The Bazaar

(I apologize for not taking photos in the bazaar – I chickened out because I felt stupid/guilty for looking like a tourist. But for you all, next time I will overcome this embarrassment.)

“Bazaar” is a Kurdish word, did you know that? It’s not solely Kurdish, it’s Persian and also used in Turkey, but if you want to say “market” in Kurdish, you say “bazaar.”

And the bazaar in Sulay is wonderful.

It’s a huge maze, at least to me. Road slope into side-streets where you walk down some stairs to find yourself in a covered, cobble-stone square where nougat is sold beside a beggar man with no legs who shouts in English as you walk by, “Where from!” and when you make no answer and, instead, keep walking, “Thank you!

The bazaar packed with people (not white people!!!) and shops and the streets are overrun with cars and kiosks and people weaving between the cars and kiosks. Some parts are covered, some are open-air. And everything’s inexpensive. And everyone’s very friendly. While people tell me it wouldn’t be a good idea to venture out by my lonesome, and I know they’re right, the main point of these warnings is to impress upon me that I would get lots of unwanted attention – stares and chatter. No one thinks I’d actually be physically harmed.

And so if in the future I want to go to the bazaar and no one wants to come with me, I’m tempted to just go and make a day of it myself. Especially as my Kurdish is getting better every day. (really, how could my Kurdish get worse? I know, like, 20 words now. I have nowhere to go but up.) I don’t want to miss this experience just because no one wants to go with me, and as I speak more Kurdish and get to know Sulay, I can better stand up for myself.

I love buying produce in the bazaar. There are kiosks with stacks of fruits and vegetables and signs in Arabic numerals saying how much it costs per kg. I am learning how to read these numbers! Really, it’s out of survival. I’m not eager to be cheated because I don’t how much money I should hand over. Not that people in Sulay are cheats – seriously, they are some of the most honest people I’ve met. My friend realized she didn’t have enough money to pay the taxi, and the driver gave her his number and told her, next time you need a taxi, call me and pay me double. He trusted her to call him! And whenever I pay in USD, they give me correct change in dinar.

But, saying “people in Sulay are honest” is a vast generalization and I feel much more secure when I don’t have to rely on others, so I learn things (see pomegranate anecdote below).

My number knowledge:

  • ٠‎ = 0
  • yek ١ = 1
  • ‎du ٢‎ = 2
  • ser ٣‎ = 3
  • chwar ٤ = 4
  • ‎pensch ٥‎ = 5
  • shesh ٦ = 6
  • ‎haut ٧ = 7
  • ‎hasht ٨ = 8
  • ‎no ٩ = 9

(and 10 is “da,” and 20 is “beast.”)

It is SO FUN to look at something that yesterday was a bunch of squiggles, and today MEANS something. It’s just – joy.

I bought limes from this guy who looked at me very strangely when I told him I wanted 5. The man standing next to him spoke good English, and told me that Suleimanians (Sulaymaniites? Sulaymaniacs?) like lemons, that they only use “green lemons” for small things, because they taste bad.

Psh. I grew up on Mexican food. And when limes are 80 cents per kg because no one else likes them, you can be damn sure I’m gonna buy a bag full.

Here is the procedure when buying produce in the bazaar:

1) If there is no sign out front, ask bachinda? (how much)

2) Based on his reply, and the amount of produce you want, hand him your money.  (if you want a few oranges and they’re 2 hizar (2000 dinar) per kg, hand him 1 hizar)

3) He’ll weigh your produce, put it in a bag, and hand it to you.

4) If he gives you bad produce, like the pomegranate man did with me, say, na na na na! And point to the produce you want. No man’s gonna charge me for some weak-ass, under-ripe pomegranates. This white girl knows what’s up.

5) Smile and enjoy your well-earned oranges/broccoli/ginger/pomegranates.

I bought broccoli and ginger from a cute guy in the bazaar, and we joked around a bit via charades. I think I’ve found my broccoli/ginger guy.

It’s very, very odd not to be able to talk freely with men. I was glad Devin was with me in the bazaar, if only because it allows me to more freely speak with people because they assume Devin will protect me. Not that Devin would be much help in a fight, he’s pretty weedy, but apparently having a Y chromosome qualifies him to be my “protector.” So on my own, I don’t smile at men or talk to them about anything but business transactions, just to be safe. I’m learning the rules, and I’d rather be over-cautious than step way over the line.

We took the bus back to the compound, which I definitely want to do again, I just need to figure out the schedule/stops. It’s less of a bus, more of a touring van. Like what you’d load tourists into to see the sights, or what a school would use to take a small class on a field trip. We asked, “Touymalik?” because we needed to go up Touymalik street, and stepped on.

It was pretty packed, and I didn’t see any seats to sit down on. A man pointed to a contraption on the side of a normal seat, and when folded into the aisle it became another seat!

It cost 500 dinar (about 40 cents), so I got my money out and looked for someone to give it to. The man sitting next to me was collecting his friend’s money, and put his hand out to take mine. Reluctantly I gave him my money, and then he passed the wad of cash to the seat in front of him, and the money slowly made its way up to the driver. An honor system of payment.

As we waited for the bus to take off, this giant AC tube pumped cold air into an open window of the bus from the roof of a nearby building. When the bus filled up, the passenger nearest the tube shoved it out the window (it bounced out and kinda hung off the side of the building, waiting for the next bus), and we left.

No one talked on the bus, not even the men who were friends. Devin, though, was jabbering my ear off, and I tried to ignore him. Just because I feel it’s more respectful to do as the locals do. Devin and I have a difference in travel philosophy. He thinks that, since it’s obvious he’s a traveler, others will make allowances if he doesn’t do things exactly like the locals. So he wears shorts, talks on buses, won’t learn Kurdish (only Arabic, because it’s more useful. Psh. Only if you’re not living in Kurdistan.) etc.

Me, I think this is a kind of excuse not to put yourself out of your comfort zone. When I’m somewhere different, I try to do things like the locals. Yes, I’m going to mess up, and I’m never going to do things exactly like locals, but I think it’s respectful to try, and I also grow from the experience. Yeah, it sucks to wear long sleeves in 95 degree heat, but it shows me my own way of living isn’t the right way. Because there isn’t one correct way to live, there are just options.


nowet chia?: What’s your name?

na zan’m: I don’t know

m’n bash’m: I’m fine (in response to ‘choni bashi?’)

rang: color

towow: enough!

brsima: I’m hungry!

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