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    Posted February 17, 2013 by
    Slemani, Iraq
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    The war through your eyes: Iraq 10 years on

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    My side of the story is this: As an American I came here 5 years ago to do relief and development work. An NGO that I connected with built a center to teach English to children, as well as handicrafts and sewing for women to start their own businesses. When I first came, I was the ONLY woman driving a car on the streets and got many stares from both drivers and traffic police. I was in one of the few cars on the street. NOW, there are thousands of cars on the streets of Slemani and MANY of the drivers are women. For once, people here have a sense of belonging somewhere; for the first time since the war they aren’t afraid that they’re going to be “on the run.” Because of this, they are building large, new, expensive homes and furnishing them with expensive furnishings. Technology has come to Iraq, which means that many people have televisions and Internet, mobile phones and facebook, so the Western way of life is coming to Iraq. The economy is booming because credit is now being offered here. There still aren’t credit cards, as such, but people can buy large items on credit that previously, they would have had to save for. I now have a TOEFL preparation institute, where I help to prepare adults to go abroad to study for a master’s degree or
    Ph.D. The government pays for students to do this. One of my students is a car salesman. After speaking to him and another friend who works to register new cars, I found that 200 new cars are registered each week in Slemani. This is creating a HUGE traffic and parking problem! Most of these cars are high end “Hummers”, Land Rovers, Mercedes, and American “muscle cars” such as Camaros and Mustangs. There are still just as many or more taxis as 5 years ago, so taxi drivers are becoming more and more aggressive for their fares. Clothing, especially women’s styles are tending towards styles in the West. When I first came here, it was important that my long hair was pulled back and not touching my shoulders, that I wear long sleeves and have my top cover my rear, that my pants be loose and not form fitting, and that I wear high heels. Now, women wear clothing that rivals anything sold in large cities in America.
    Unfortunately, as the middle class is moving up, it seems as if the lower middle class is moving down, and the upper class is on a rocket to the moon! The rich are becoming drastically richer, and it shows in the few families who are building skyscrapers, starting new companies, etc. Yet, I only have to drive 2 minutes to neighborhoods, which have block walls with grass roofs, and cows and chickens in the yard. Electricity is a huge problem, better than 5 years ago, but nowhere near American standards. We get about 12 hours of “national power” each day, and then the rest of the time have a large neighborhood generator which supplies power to be paid for by the ampere (I can afford 3 on my teacher’s salary, so to keep the refrigerator running, I have to turn everything else off.) We have water that comes to the house about every other day and is stored in a large metal tank on each individual home. They only recently started to chlorinate it, after a severe cholera outbreak a few months ago. There is no such thing as wastewater treatment; it all drains under the streets and into a low area on the outside of town, which, interestingly enough, is having a huge mall built on the site. It makes me wonder how long its foundation will last. The smell in that area and in the city bazaar is sometimes overwhelming. Houses, like mine, still have a “squatty potty,” or eastern toilet. Western toilets are being built into some newer houses, but most people don’t know how to use them yet.
    People DO feel a greater sense of freedom from the government, though. As a university professor 5 years ago, there was NO WAY I could get any students to talk about the government, the police, city officials, etc. There was too much fear of retribution. Now adults and students alike are taking to the streets in protest daily against things in which they feel the government has wronged them. The Kurdistan region, where I live, is still on the brink of civil war, with the Sunna and Shia factions warring daily, as well as the Arabs versus the Kurds. The feeling among the Kurds is that the current Prime Minister, Noori Al-Maliki, sides with Iran and that things will not go well for most of the Sunna Kurds living in the north of Iraq. The biggest change is that I married a Kurdish man, so I now reside here permanently. I speak the language, cook the food, practice the customs, and generally interact with the people of this country as if I didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes. I still get MANY stares, though.
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