March 21, 2003
You can't think about war all the time
One of the few things that’s been working the last few days is the Crystal Cinema just below my hotel, which plays C-grade Hollywood movies and pornography. I wonder if this is the only place in the Muslim world that has pornographic movie theaters. The Crystal is open only in the morning and early afternoon and is frequented by big groups of teenage boys. And when they don’t get enough pornography there, they can go to the internet café next door where every customer is either chatting or looking at porn.
This is a very traditional, male-dominated society. Women work and get college degrees and so on, but they can’t, for example, kiss a boy before they get married. Women don’t have to cover their heads like they do in Iran but you’ll never see a miniskirt on the streets of Erbil. (Guys here go on summer evenings to an amusement park in a nearby Christian village, even though the park here is better, because the girls there dress more skimpily.) Young men and women can’t even be friends, as it would cause an intolerable amount of gossip for the girl. In extreme cases, women are killed by their families if they have sex outside marriage.
Because of all the courtship rules this is also the land of tragic love stories. We come across them all the time – one girl who works at the hotel is an Arab, and is in love with a Kurdish guy whose parents don’t approve because she’s Arab. And so they forbade him from seeing her. My translator is in love with his cousin (who he calls, with his typically quaint English, “my beloved”). But his family thinks she’s not good for him because she’s illiterate and he has a college degree. So they steal kisses in private. And another translator we used once was in love with a Spanish woman who was working here (and who Carolina, by bizarre coincidence, knows) and both of their parents disapproved. Her parents went so far as to isolate her in some village in Spain and forbid calls from anyone connected to Kurdistan.
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