Taksi Drivers

I decided to explore the bazaar on my own today, to brave the stares (single white woman!! *gasp*) and do my own thing.

This meant that I had to get 2 cabs on my own, something that people have consistently told me never to do.

But today is Friday, which means that everything’s a bit sleepy in the city (it’s the Muslim day of rest & prayer), and I went at noon, so grabbing a cab on a holiday in broad daylight seems pretty safe to me.

The procedure for getting a cab:

1) Flag one over. I can usually flag one over accidentally by standing by the side of the road looking aimless. Cabs gravitate toward westerners because we’re usually the ones without cars or sufficient knowledge of the city to get around on our own.

2) Greet them with, “Choni, kaka.” (how are you, sir?) They’ll warm to you because you’re speaking Kurdish and addressing them respectfully.

3) They’ll usually reply, “Bashi.” (are you well?)

4) Say your destination, like “Serah bazaar,” and then follow with, “bachinda?” (how much?)

5) They’ll usually say 4 or 5 hizaar. Insist on 3 hizaar, especially if they start with 5 hizaar. If they start with 5, they’re greedy and trying to take advantage of you because you’re a foreigner. 4 hizaar is ok, but 3 is a good price.

6) Get in and make small talk in broken Kurdish/English.

My taksi drivers today were awesome conversation partners. They both looked pretty surly at first, but when they saw that I knew a bit of Kurdish, they smiled and opened right up.

Cab driver #1 was named Atna, and he was born in Suli but had traveled to Iran and Turkey. He handed me his cell and showed me pictures of the trip he and his wife recently took to Istanbul. He also showed me his passport, which was on his dashboard because the police routinely stop cabs and check their papers and those of their passengers, and his wife’s picture was there along with his! Her occupation was listed as “housewife.” I’m not sure if you have to have joint passports, or whether when you get married they add your spouse’s info. He speaks Kurdish, Arabic, and Turkish. He taught me the word for the little tuk-tuk vehicles I see around town all the time carrying produce: matur. He asked where I was from, and I said “America.” He goes, “Aaah, America good! Iraq, no.” But I replied, “Suli, zor bashe!”

Cab driver #2 was around my age, I think. I didn’t ask his name, but he was really eager to talk with me in Kurdish. He was born in Suli, has never left Kurdistan. I told him I was an English teacher at the German Village (the compound where the international school is), and he told me he knows Kurdish and Arabic. I listed off a couple Kurdish words I know – “Choni bashi, men bash’m, baynit bash.” He replies, “Oh, hi, hello, how are you, goodbye, thank you!” It was freakin’ adorable. We cobbled along in conversation until we reached the Gundi Almani.

And neither cabbie spoke more than 10 words of English. All of these things I found out through a little Kurdish, almost no English, and lots of charades.

I think, although I didn’t really understand them, that they tried to refuse my money. They both kept saying, “na, na” and pressing their hands to their chests. But I insisted – they were so nice, and I didn’t want to stiff them if turned out they weren’t giving me a free cab ride.

In the bazaar, a man selling school supplies taught me how to say “pencil.” Except, I forgot to write it down so I don’t remember it anymore. Ahhh, I need that reporter’s notebook on me at ALL times.

The man who sold me samun (yummy yummy bread rolls. 1 hizaar for 8! That’s like, 10 cents per roll.) ended up having lived in Pennsylvania for 15 years and spoke excellent English. He taught me how to say “this one” in Kurdish: owa. Also, water: ow.

When I was buying tomatoes, I couldn’t understand the teenager selling them, and there was an older man hanging out by the stall having a good chuckle at my charade antics. Eh, I ended up getting the right number of tomatoes anyway, and at least someone was entertained by it.

Back at the compound, I ran into an older woman outside of my apartment building, and said “Choni!” She stopped, looked at me oddly, and replied, “Bashi.” We kind of looked at each other for a second and realized we had to start talking. She said, “Choni bashi?” and I replied, “men bash’m.” She said something that included “America” and “azani Anglizi?” to which I pointed to myself and said, “Americana. Mahmostai Anglizi. Men azan’m kem Kurdi. To?” She smiled, and said, “Men azan’m Kurdi w Arabi, nazan’m Anglizi.” Grinning, we parted, and I said, “ḥoahafis,” and she said, “b’ser chao.”

Dude. That’s a Kurdish conversation if I ever heard one.


Key vocab – translate the conversation!

Choni: How are you?

Bashi: You’re well?

Men bash’m: I’m well.

azani: Do you know…

Anglizi: English

Mahmosta: teacher

azan’m: I know

kemek: a little

na: no, do not (a negation)

To: you

Kurdi: Kurdish

Arabi: Arabic

ḥoahafis: bye

b’ser chao: sure

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