Culture and Adventure in Iranian Kurdistan.
A story about life; it’s unbearable, it’s wonderful, it’s unique taste and kindness from a travelers perspective.
10 minute read.
The night was long, endless almost. Man, was I mistaken when yesterday I thought we would sleep in paradise. Surrounded by a one-hectare garden filled with pomegranate trees, the soft sounds of the whirling river down below and the cool summer air on our skin. It was late when we arrived at Sarriz’ garden, and the night had already begun by the time we made our camp. We were offered a space outside, next to the house on a flat surface, below a huge tree. ‘The best place you can find around here’ our kind host assured. I already had my doubts when he said it. But in the darkness of the night it would be difficult to find another even spot in the garden below. So I went along with it.
The first few seconds were okay. Relaxed even. But then a noise so loud and irregular interrupted, that my mind just couldn’t rest. You see, the thing with noise is, that when it’s regular our minds can adapt to it. Making it possible even to fall asleep at a banging house party. But this sound, of plummeting water, irregularly gurgling and splashing from a pipe, so loud that it overruled all the other sounds of nature, was just too much for my brain to digest. It was the start of a long night in which I watched the moon change its position around the earth, until the first light of the day pinched my tired eyes.
In that moment my body woke actively, and dragged the thin plaid and sleeping bag into the garden. On the uneven, cold soil in the shadows of the trees. It wasn’t a comfortable space, far even from it. But away from the brutal sound that occupied me the whole night. With the constant sound of the flowing river below, and the soft calls of the birds in the trees, I was finally able to get some sleep.
Unusual fresh bread
It wasn’t a long sleep, as the days here start early. After barely three hours of sleep Sonia, the eleven year old neighbor girl, stood beside me with a huge smile on her face. Her slim body excited and impatient. ‘Come’ she said. Unsure of what was going to happen I followed her to her house, where her mother was in the process of baking traditional Kurdish bread.
A hot, slightly curved iron plate sizzled as fresh, thin dough got smacked on it with the help of a firm, round shaped pillow. Immediately the heath underneath the flimsy dough caused hundreds of small bubbles under the baking bread, and a cloud of volatile white smoke into the air. Just seconds later, the bubbles still airy, the lady peels off the thin layer of bread barehanded and flips it to the other side. The sound crispy and light, like that of opening a fresh printed newspaper. Another couple of seconds later she removes it from the iron plate and gently places it on a huge pile of other freshly baked bread. Ready to be eaten. Her skilled hands already kneading another batch of dough. Rhythmically beating it ready to be stretched over the round pillow, and to be thrown on the fire again.
She’d been baking the whole morning. And does this every two or to three times a week. Her work space is just a simple rug on the floor. A Sarch pan on a wood fire, a sturdy round pillow, an iron bowl, a piece of wood for kneading together with a cane basket to cool down the bread on, and a whole lot of flower, water and salt is all that is needed to make this paper-thin Kurdish bread.
While mother continued her work, father invited us for tea on the patio next to the work space. I zipped the fresh black tea take a closer look at their home; a large square shaped structure made from rocks and cement. Mr. Fakhredin proudly tells us that he build it with his own hands. A magnificent tree over the courtyard provides shelter from the burning sun. Left of us is a garden full of pomegranate trees. And on the right side fresh water flowing down from the mountain. Quite an amazing place to live.
When mother is finished she joins us with a whole pile of bread, local yogurt and fire roasted eggplant. She folds the bread in four to give it more body before handing it to us. What a feast! After seeing how the bead is made it’s now finally time to taste it! My fingers feel the thin bread and the weight of the yogurt on it. It’s almost too much to hold it. I’m excited to taste it. The thin, crispy texture of the bread is sensational on its own and the salty taste goes excellent with the sweet and soft taste of the local yogurt.
That I’m still not used to local customs shows when I try to fabricate a bite with the eggplant. Where everybody else manages to get a proper bite, my bread keeps breaking and the eggplant oil leaks everywhere! To prevent a huge mess I use the yogurt bowl to catch the oil, but it doesn’t look pretty. In fact, I struggle so much that the lady of the house decided to make me some bites. Which I gladly accepted!
Food and tea is served until our stomachs are bursting. We relax a moment under the tree. The neighbors meanwhile joined us. Amir is talking to the men, while I communicate with the women. A little later it is time to go to the river for a refreshing swim. O at least, I thought so. Mother already warned us for the strong current, and she was not wrong! The river is so deep and fast flowing that it’s impossible to relax here nor swim. As soon as we arrive I regret our little walk to the river. The sun is scorching and I’m sweating everywhere. Luckily we found one fun attribute that sparked our sense of adventure before making the steep climb back to the house.
Covered in a thin layer of sweat we reach Sonia’s home again. But instead of cooling down below the tree, we are invited in the warm house to have lunch. At these times especially it’s hard for me to live with my hijab. Instead of cooling down the hot temperature is now isolated around my head and my body temperature increases! And I’m not even wearing it for personal reasons! It’s an unfair world we’re living in.
That being said the mother surprised us with a delicious eggplant stew with chicken, rice, fresh yogurt and dough. A real treat with an excellent taste! For the second time today we eat our bellies full. The rest of the afternoon we relax in the shade and then get ready to head towards Sanandaj. As we prepare to leave all residents gather at our hosts house to say goodbye. We drink tea one last time and I even sing at the last moment. Now that the temperature is down a bit, the energy levels are high again. It’s unfortunate that we have to go, as it would’ve been great to make some music together. But as the sun is slowly setting. It’s really time to go. A warm, sincere goodbye follows. We wave at least a dozen times while as walk our way up with our heavy backpacks.
Freedom on the road
It feels good to walk! To just move ahead in the nature. The sight of the trees, the pomegranate garden and the mighty river far below us. To listen to the sound of the nature, the dirt road cracking under our feet and the taste of refreshing, cold water flowing from a natural spring. A light breeze provides just that bit of comfort during the walk and the sun finally touches our faces gently. I feel excited, I feel alive. Happily treated by the gifts of nature. Indulging ourselves in it. We walk a while until we hear a sound in the distance; dirt-road bursting under the heavy pressure of a pickup truck. The sound gets louder as it approaches. ‘Do you want a ride’ the friendly driver asks us. ‘Yes!’ we reply. Time is on the short side today so we climb in the truck.
With high speed we cross the roads of Kurdistan. The wind heavily blasting in our faces! Blowing my hijab off several times. I feel lost for a moment. Somewhere between rules, culture and the feeling of freedom that comes when wind strikes you in the face like this. I doubt only a short moment but then decide to let go for now. How wonderful it is to feel the wind in your hair! To feel it’s force on your face and skin! So strong that you can barely speak as your saliva easily flies out the corners of your mouth. Adrenaline, joy, excitement. A feeling of freedom. All comes together in this moment. The beauty of the surroundings now that the sun is setting; the brightest green and yellow and the softest white clouds in the clear blue sky. Everywhere we go people are picking wild flowers and herbs that grow along the roadside. Which confirms me that Kurdish have excellent knowledge about fauna. I’ve seen people picking greens everywhere, smelling it, tasting it since the day we’ve arrived. We stop at a magnificent lake just besides the road to drink some water before we continue the journey to Kamyaran city.
The whole drive takes over an hour and by the time we reach the edge of the city. With pain in my heart I put on my hijab again. Freedom is only limited in a country of strict rules and limitations in public life. But I can’t sob long about it as a whole bunch of friendly Iranians remind me of Iran’s true face; a lot of warmth, kindness and unlimited efforts to help you and make you feel welcome and at home. Our pickup driver for instance; who helped us unload our luggage and arranged us a taxi to Sanandaj. The friendly taxi driver with whom we laughed and practiced the Urami language, and Amir’s friends, who welcomed us with a delicious dinner to their home in a suburb of Sanandaj.
Life isn’t always easy, and definitely not what we expect. But the beauty lies in accepting and seeing life in all it facets; an unbearable night on the rough floor is easily softened by the surprise of the most delicious fresh bread in the morning and ever ongoing kindness of local people. And the oppressive heath from wearing a hijab can lead to an overwhelming feeling of joy and freedom once removed on the open road. In Buddhist tradition they say ‘nothing in life is permanent’ And most certainly in the travelers life things are moving fast. So better enjoy the best and the worst while you’re at it. Only then once can find true happiness 😉