Soran, 10 November 2013

Sunday morning and a working day at the University. I must have slept for at least ten hours and wake feeling much more prepared for things. No rain and light cloud is lit, pale saffron, above the circle of hills.

After breakfast, we walk past shops, vegetable stalls and bakeries to Soran University where I meet some of the staff, a number of them British ex-pats. I attend Muli’s post-colonial studies class and we have a lively discussion about personal and cultural identity. It’s amazing that these students have only been learning English for four years, yet their classes are carried out in that medium. They’re a good-classroom3humoured and lively, addressing Muli as ‘Teacher’. There are some interesting and nuanced contributions from the group – about thirty students in all. It’s arranged that tomorrow I’ll lead a seminar that will relate my work at Lancaster to the new project here. There’s a definite sense of a University under construction in the intellectual and material sense. That has obvious difficulties, but it’s also inspiring, despite the problems of accessing resources other than those on the Internet. It reminds me of the new wave of Universities in England built in the 1960’s, including Lancaster.

After the session with students we lunch in town and then buy a SIM card for my phone. Yesterday this involved showing a passport and a duplicate photograph. Today we have passport photographs taken and bring the passport, but buy a SIM card from a street stall since the shopkeeper now says they have none. No ID needed. The mystery of Kurdistan, says Muli. But it’s all very good-natured. Everywhere I take my camera people call me over to pose for photographs. There’s real warmth and friendliness here, but also a pride that makes the photograph a dignified experience. There are many more women in the streets today and I wonder if the rain kept them at home yesterday.

We stroll over to Dayana, the Christian quarter, and drink chai from small glasses at a café where we meet a Kurdish man who runs a car tyre shop in Hull. He insists on paying for our tea, just as the man who took the photographs tried to give them to us. A typically proud gesture. Back at the hotel we review our plans and get ready to meet some university colleagues for dinner at a local café. When we get back to the hotel the workshop below it is busy repairing and re-fueling kerosene heaters, which explains the smell that permeates the hotel.

Click here to see a gallery of pictures from Graham Mort’s visit to Soran