Bureaucratic Hoops

Kurdistan’s not on a schedule.

I like it, actually. It’s not like the US, where if an appointment takes longer than expected, you’re desperate to leave because dammit, you have important things to get done. Here, when it takes hours to hop through bureaucratic hoops, people just chill. Because what’s so important to get back to that it’s worth stressing about?

So when a necessary appointment needs to happen, it happens right now, followed by a few hours of waiting.

Today Ms. Naska, possible the most nerve-jilting woman I’ve ever met, hurriedly sweeps into my classroom and tells me I’m leaving in half an hour to go get interviewed by the Asaish (Kurdish police) in order to get my new residency card, quickly bobs her head up and down, says ‘ok, see you soon,’ and shuts the door loudly.

She’s like some nervous, insistent gust of wind, that woman.

This is the third time this week I’ve been pulled away for visa stuff. The first was to get some passport photos taken. The second was to head to a government building to get blood taken to prove I don’t have hepatitis, HIV, or AIDS.  And today, we drove to the Asaish building to get interviewed.

We were accompanied by Nizar, a school driver and bureaucratic mastermind, and Mr. Wazhdi, the school accountant.

On the way, Mr. Wazhdi asked me if I had any siblings. I thought this was a weird, hey, how’s your day going intro to the excursion, but he told me he was prepping me for the interview. Why? I asked. He told me that if I had a lot of siblings, I should just lie and say I had one. Similarly, I should make my parents’ professions sound as simple as possible. Otherwise, we’d be at the office a long time and the interview would become increasingly complicated.

This is ridiculously Kurdish. If one person in your family is involved in an activity, then all of you are involved. Mr. Wazhdi’s uncle was peshmerga, and so his mother often had to go into hiding because the police saw her as peshmerga as well. When Zhin broke off her engagement, it not only shamed her, but her entire family, which is why her siblings and parents properly disowned her.

So while I’m wondering why it matters how many siblings I have or the fact that my mom’s a PT, to the Asaish it’s essential to establish these facts so that they know who I am.

At the Asaish building, which looks like a largish house with a Kurdish flag flying atop the roof, we were met by a Kurdish man in uniform, sporting a machine gun. Alison complained that she’ll never get used to the soldiers. As for me, as flippant as it sounds, it’s really no big deal. I pass at least two guards with guns every morning on the way to school, and then again on the way back home. I see them around town, I drive past them when I’m in taxis, they’re walking around the bazaar constantly. I’ve never seen them use their guns against anyone, it just seems like part of the uniform. So it’s no big deal.

When we got inside, I noticed that the officer at the desk had an American flag on the shoulder of his uniform – I looked closer and realized he was wearing brown U.S. Army fatigues! I asked him why, and Mr. Wazhdi translated. The Asaish officer said it was his friend’s shirt, so why not wear it? The Americans were in Kurdistan for so long, that a lot of friendships formed between Kurdish and American troops. It’s like swapping jerseys at the end of a football match.

Eventually we were ushered into the back room, where we were asked our names, countries, degrees, universities, what languages we spoke, whether we smoked or drank, and what our cell numbers were. Then they took a photo of each of us and we were allowed to leave. No blood taken this time, thank you very much. Officers occasionally filed in and asked our interviewer questions. There was a debate over whether our names should be written in Arabic or Latin script, and more and more officers piled into our tiny room to join the discussion, until there were 5 officers crowded around the desk gesturing vehemently and arguing in Kurdish. Well, not so much arguing as talking, but when Kurds have a conversation, to my PNW ears it usually sounds like an argument.

And then we got to go.

I have to admit, I’m enjoying it here. People love that I know a bit of Kurdish, and I’m learning a lot, quickly. Eid is next week, so we have NINE DAYS OFF to go on holiday (we used to only have 6, but as I said, Kurdistan’s not on a schedule, and as the holidays go by a lunar calendar they change a bit every year. They’d planned Eid to start next Wednesday, but when they looked at the moon this month the mullahs changed it and started it on Sunday, which means that both weekends got added in and bam! more vacation time). I’m asking the Kurdish teachers where to go, and I have a whole list, and I’m also getting numbers of the families and friends of my friends, so that I have places to stay, and I am super excited! And nervous! It will be wonderful to get out of Gundi Almani and leave these work people, and see other parts of Kurdistan, and not have to rely on anyone to plan my trip for me.

It’ll be some proper traveling again. Buses and taxis and missed connections and haggling. I love backpacking, and I need to get out of this school. I’m exhausted and I need a break. Those rugrats – They are very cute for the first 5 minutes of the school day.

Vocab:

khera: quickly!

neyawi chia?: what’s his/her name?

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