I had thought I might have some alone time, but my friends in Suli wanted to meet me early and there was no way to beg off. Not a problem, I will snatch some "me time" later. I met Bashdar early in the morning and we went wandering through the market. He took me to a part of the market under a bridge where all feathers of fowl were being hawked. There were large birds of prey being sold next to pigeons and colored chicks. The scene was a bit hectic, but fun. Large men held small birds delicately as they tried to entice bird buyers over.
We wandered through the mazes, past the butchers street where hanging carcasses grazed the glass cases and blood ran through the alley. There were stands selling fresh golden honey and honey combs. We passed through various tool alleys with people working by hand on wood and iron devices. Bashdar also took me through a few shopping malls. Ironic that I love markets and hate malls. Interestingly, Suli has a large number of Chinese migrants, and I saw some at the mall, working and shopping. There are new Chinese shopping malls, with Chinese made jeans and shirts on floor after floor. Apparently, Suli also has many Chinese massage parlors, which come in two varieties.
Bashdar gave me history lessons of the area. About how Suli had been seat of one of the first Kurdish kingdoms, and we were treading in the square that had been the seat of power. We stopped for some fresh melon juice before heading over to Friday prayers at the main mosque in Sulimaniyah. Since it was the day before Ramadan, the mosque was extra packed. We did out ablutions, and made our way over the hot marble to an interior place to pray. This nice Jewish boy joined the prayer line, like I had in Lahore and a few other places. As is my custom when I find myself in such situations, I pronounced the shma and said kadesh while prostrating.
After lunch of Kurdish salads (including my favorite tangy eggplant salad called Russian Salad) and pizza covered in onions, olives and tuna, I took a brief nap and then met my shabab to divvy up travel reimbursements that we owed from YES Academy. Ari, Bashdar and I sat in the restaurant of the hotel, holding court as we waved fat stacks of dinars. I fanned myself with hundreds of thousands of dinars and offered to light the cigarettes of the kids using 5,000 dinar notes.
After a lazy afternoon, the shabab and I went on an evening stroll through Azadi Park. Originally, the park had been off-limits to the people of Suli. It had been used by Saddam as a place for the military, and for detention and torture. After the Kurds overthrew Saddam in 1991, the park was renamed "Freedom Park" and opened for the people. Suli's Central Park was lovely. Amid the foliage, it was a good ten degrees cooler than the still sweltering city. Bats fluttered and flew overhead, swooping down and around. It seemed the whole of Suli was out for an evening stroll. I missed the Middle East's love for evening constitutionals.
We did a nice loop, and head off for dinner. The place we went was amazing, sadly I don't know the name. Chickens were pressed in metal grates and cooked in a rounded clay oven tanoor. The charbroiled chicken was phenomenal. It tasted as if it had been soaked in lemon, and was blackened to a fiery crisp. In the cooling night air, we ate the succulent citrus-tinged bird with plates of tomatoes, onions and pickles and large Iraqi flat breads. Little pieces of blackened chicken were rolled up with the pickles in the fresh bread and covered with a lil salt and date sauce. It was immaculate. We sipped tea from the saucer as the deliciousness digested.
After dinner, we went to smoke shisha. The shebab and I sat out on steps of a cafe as four large hookah of double apple, lemon-mint and mixed-fruit were brought out for us to smoke. The place did something interesting with the hose that I had never seen. The hose's end was metal, and they wrapped it in tinfoil and filled the pouch with ice to keep the smoke cool. We sat out in the pleasant night, blowing smoke rings like the caterpillar and sipping more sweet black tea.
The night continued with an obligatory trip up the mountain. We snaked up the mountain pass, and the air got cool and pleasant. As we started getting closer to the top, the guys made me close my eyes. We stopped and they led me out with hands over my eyes. Then they told me to open them. It was incredible. The whole of Suli was lit up in the valley below. Lighted highways stretched through the city like emerald necklaces, and the city lights twinkled like precious stones. The winds were whipping through, offering a cool respite from the hot day. The guys cranked up the Kurdish music, and did some Kurdish line dancing. It was a joyful bit of fun. As it was getting late, we snaked back down and back to the hotel.
So begins Ramadan, and since I am in Rome, I am doing my best to keep it while I am here. Yep, Ramadan Kippur has come.