I’ve been staying busy with research and writing for the Iraq Access to Justice Program, but in my free time there are fun activities in Erbil. Erbil remains a very secure city, despite clashes between Iraqi Security Forces and militant groups operating just forty kilometers away. I am able to move around the city freely and take taxis; when I speak Arabic with the drivers, they generally ask if I am Lebanese. I guess that is a good sign that my Arabic is improving!
There is a large expat community in Erbil, especially as many programs originally operating in Baghdad have moved their operations here as a security precaution. With many international businesses and organizations working in Iraq, there are many opportunities to socialize with a diverse group of people, and it has been very fun getting to know individuals working for the UN and other international NGOs and businesses. I have also been pleasantly surprise to learn that Erbil actually has a fairly vibrant night life. A large Christian community resides in an area called Ainkawa; here, alcohol is sold in shops and small pubs and bars serve as well. Through my supervisor, I also linked up with a salsa club in Erbil that provides lessons and hosts Monday night salsa nights at a local hotel. I made really good friends through the group and am enjoying the salsa dancing. Erbil also has about five large shopping malls. The most popular, Family Mall, boasts of a full scale cinema, a Carrefour supermarket, various US and European clothing stores and an outdoor theme park. The mall is very popular among the locals; many young people go to the mall to walk around in the air conditioned environment and hang out on the weekends.
Erbil also has interesting historical sites to check out. In the center of the city, there is an ancient citadel. Evidence of inhabitants dates to 5th millennium BC, and is the oldest continually inhabited area in the world. While I was in Erbil, the citadel was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Next to the citadel, there is an old market (suq in Arabic, bazaar in Kurdish). Hundreds of small shops selling anything from dishware to Kurdish tapestries operate daily. I went shopping a few times and picked up some nice souvenirs. Overall, my time in Iraq has been very enjoyable, and I am finding many things to keep my occupied