Kurdish: Studying & Dating

Since Raz is getting quite busy with marriage preparations, I’ve found a new tutor. A supplementary tutor, if you will, so if Raz cancels I still get my weekly Kurdish fix. His name is Sarmad, and we’re meeting twice a week to have conversation classes. Strictly speaking, it’s not proper for an unrelated or unmarried couple to meet one-on-one, but screw it, I am going to be fluent in Kurdish by the time I leave Kurdistan or so help me.

A note on Kurdish dating: although it depends on the family, dating is really not allowed. For a woman and man to meet without an escort is forbidden, unless they are related or already married. When my friend Betsy (the septuagenarian firecracker) and I are meeting for coffee and one of our male friends comes over to join us, Betsy will joke that she’s our escort and protecting me and the male friend from ayba (shame, dishonor).

So how do young Kurds get around this dating prohibition? Simply by saying they’re brother and sister. If they go to Azadi Park and a stranger or an Asaish officer confronts them about dating, the couple will lie and say they’re related. That way, they don’t need an escort.

Unless, of course, they’re seen by someone they know. And, I’ve been told, that’s a big reason for honor killings here. Couples are often killed and/or disowned for dating before marriage. I’ve heard of a couple who were both killed after they’d gotten married because their families found out they were dating each other before marriage.

But the ayba is mostly placed upon the woman’s shoulders. At expat-Kurdish parties, all the Kurds are men. Men can go sow their oats, drink alcohol, etc, and most of the time this goes without penalty. But it’s much more important that a woman stay pure. A man can gets some scuffs and scratches, but if a woman’s reputation is dinged then that’s usually it for her.

But back to Kurdish: I’m confident that I can be quite competent by the time I leave. I met with Sarmad, who’s a fellow language fanatic, and he told me I know more than any of his other students, and that as long as I converse a lot and get the verbs down, I’m golden. Eeee! It pays to try.

I’ve also been teaching myself how to read Kurdish, and I’m pretty good. I’m slow, but I can read. And write decently, too, although I often mix up the middle and end forms of a letter.

This all reminds me that, yes, it takes talent to learn a language, but more importantly it takes passion. The passion to practice reading Kurdish for an hour after a long, frustrating day teaching kindergarteners how to read English. The passion to recite the Kurdish numerals on every license plate I see. The passion to ask questions of anyone and write down everything I hear.

Totally worth it.

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