Sex and Booze in Kurdistan!
by Rob Ferguson
One morning I walked into the teachers’ room at the university as one of the teachers was relating a story. She said the previous evening she’d taken a taxi home with two male friends who got out before she did. When the driver arrived at her building, he reached around and grabbed her leg. The teacher punched him, jumped out of the cab and ran into her building. Other female teachers then related similar stories: they’d all been harassed, touched and ogled at by cab drivers. A few had had their students proposition them. One said she was followed while out jogging – a driver cruised beside her and grabbed her ass.
“Kurdish men think western women are all sluts and available to them,” said one of them.
“That’s because their women are off limits unless they’re married to them,” said another.
Sexual repression and frustration are palpable in Kurdistan. In this mostly traditional Islamic society there is no dating except between engaged couples, and engagements and marriages are still generally arranged by families. Young Muslim women are the preserve of their families, especially their fathers and brothers, who restrict them from going out and approve any match before it can begin.
Most women here wear the shawl, or hijab, but not the full burqa or niqab, which leave women peering through a slit. Apparently the hijab symbolizes modesty, privacy and morality. In class the women who wear it are more likely to be modest and reserved, but their morality is questionable. They are just as likely to copy essays as the next student – plagiarizing at our university is widespread and considered an acceptable way to pass a course, despite the threats of penalties or getting expelled. While many look frumpy in their outfits, some of these veiled young women are sexy and look right out of a sheik’s harem. And they can be just as flirty as other women.
My friend and student Mohammed is 26 and, he claims, getting old – it’s time he found a wife. And he’s getting desperate. He interacted with one student at the university and they declared their love for each other, but then she decided to marry her cousin – or her family did. Marrying your cousin is common here – a way of keeping marriage and dowries all in the family. No one seems very aware of what this does to the gene pool.
Mohammed was devastated. I set him up with an American teacher who lived next door to me, and he plied her with flowers, compliments, and drove her and her friends anywhere they wanted to go, including home after they’d drunk way too much at the bar. But she played coy and wouldn’t sleep with him, and when they broke it off there were hard feelings all around. Both accused the other of lying and dishonesty. Morose and more frustrated than ever these days, Mohammed is thinking of escaping to Australia where his uncle, who emigrated there, has a forty-something Filipina waiting for him. Or marrying his cousin. He is desperate and, I can see, serious.
“Think of the gene pool,” I said to him.
So what do frustrated Kurdish men do for sex? Well, if the slutty foreign women really won’t sleep with them, they go to prostitutes of course. Some of my male students tell me that any woman working in a bar in Einkawa, the Christian neighbourhood where I live, is available. One evening Mohammed and his friend Mohammed, a security guard at the university, took me to one. A dark and seedy place with dank smell, it was half-full of guilty looking men chugging glasses of Johnny Walker Red, Chivas Regal or Smirnoff vodka – booze is cheap here and high end brands popular. The waitress came over and took our order. She was pleasant enough. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt, she was middle-aged and a little heavy in the thighs. The boys ogled her and gave me knowing looks.
“What do you think?” Mohammed security guard asked me. He assumed that, like all normal men, I was in the market for sex.
“I think she’s got a husband and three kids,” I said.
Before we’d finished our drinks she left, and the boys asked the owner where she’d gone.
“Home,” he said in Kurdish, looking surprised at the question. “She had a long day.”
Especially on weekend nights, the divided highway north from Erbil to the mountains is lined with parked cars. This is the highway where we stopped on the way back from our spring picnic so we could have a last drunken Kurdish dance. And drinking is what this stretch of highway is all about. And maybe sex too. In the cars – there are hundreds of them on a Thursday or Friday night – men are drinking, talking, laughing, and a few luck ones are awkwardly going about having sex.
“They do it in the fields too,” a local Christian teacher told me. They walk out into the fields of soybean and wheat, spread out a blanket and kill a bottle or two. Maybe they have sex too. They do this not for the love of the great outdoors, but for the need to keep these fun but sinful activities from their families. Apparently lots of men are doing this while their women are stuck at home. Hypocrisy is ripe here where strict Islamic morality represses personal freedoms, and of course it oppresses everyone, whether they realize it or not.
As I write this young secular Turks are protesting – some are rioting – in Taksim Square in Istanbul, which is where I stayed in March during the Nowruz holiday. Ostensibly it’s over a plan to allow a mall to be built in the big square that has always been the site of public demonstrations. But the real reason is Prime Minister Erdogan and his increasingly authoritarian government have been restricting freedoms, the latest being showing affection in public and preventing the sale and advertisement of alcoholic drinks.
All over the Muslim world personal liberties are under threat. One only has to live a few months in a place like Kurdistan to know what repression feels like: it makes you bored and want to sneak around.
Rob Ferguson has worked in communications and as a trainer in his native Canada, Vanuatu, Mongolia, Central Asia, the Caribbean island of Montserrat, Colombia and the Kurdistan region of Iraq. He has also worked as a freelance journalist, editor and instructor of English, creative writing and journalism. He is the author of *Dancing with the Vodka Terrorists: Misadventures in the 'Stans*, available from here. He currently lives and works in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq. This blog originated here. Contact Rob Ferguson at: FaceBook: Robert W Ferguson. Instagram & Twitter: robertissimmo
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