Remember the chairs?

March 21, 2010

Remember the chairs?  Now that the Institute building is almost finished, I’ve been walking around the building taking photographs and came across this last lonely specimen.

Chair outside the Institute, March 2010.\

I should say the inside of the building is almost finished.  The ground/gardens – they need help.


We’re In.

March 19, 2010

In Iraqi Kurdistan, Nawroz is a celebration of spring and the new year.  It’s fitting that the Nawroz celebrations here in Erbil come at the end of our first week in the renovated Iraqi Institute building.

Iraqi Institute on March 10. Photo credit Kent Severson.

Not quite a year ago, I came to Erbil, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, to teach people about conservation – the esoteric, multidisciplinary, field that I wandered into a few decades ago.  As with any journey, the place I came to is nothing like I expected.  I never expected to feel more safe in Iraq than I did in the US.  I never expected to love teaching as much as I do.  I never expected so many colleagues and friends would want to come here too.  I never expected to meet so many people so passionately and practically caring about an idea – and helping us make the Institute happen.  I never expected I would crave good, cow’s milk cheese as much as I do.

So, the building is nearly done, my colleague is off in Turkey buying supplies and equipment to fill the labs; back in Erbil we spent this week buying soap, toilet paper, bath mats, extension cords and all those little things you need when you move into a new home.

But most importantly, we started teaching in the Institute.  We have space and light and a wonderful ambiance to share ideas and experiences and problems and find ways to help our colleagues preserve their Iraqi heritage.

A student practices techniques for excavating a very fragile artifact.

We’ve been putting up images of the building that is being renovated in downtown Erbil to be the Iraq Institute since it began last July.  Some things have changed a lot.

Outside of the Conservation Lab in July

Outside of the Conservation Lab at the end of January.

You can see all of the images tracking the changes on my Flickr site here.

So, you may know I have a round thing thing.  It give some structure to my behavior at times, so I can say I have a reason to wander off and stare at the ground.  Sometimes it leads to some creative ideas (which I rarely use to create anything).  It makes me look at the world in a certain way and see things I might not otherwise pay attention to.

Round thing with boy, Erbil July 2009

Round thing with boy, Erbil July 2009

It’s led to to wonderful places like huge junkyards; and led to wonderful friendships.

Friends at the junkyard in Ankara.

Visiting the Jeep guy at the junkyard.

Round things at the Jeep guy's shop.

Awhile back, I posted about my office at the soon to be Iraq Institute.  I asked people to vote for which view I should have – garden or used furniture market.  (Market won by the way.)  What I never imagined though, was that I might be greated by this each day when I walked in the door.  (About one more month and we’ll be moving in.)

Always Becoming

January 23, 2010

Several times a week, we drive from our office/house/classroom in the suburb of Ainkawa into Erbil proper.  Here a building is being transformed from an old public library to laboratories and classrooms and dormitories where people will come from all over Iraq to learn ways to save and share things that represent a past.  The Iraq Institute could be a place where people can come from all over the world to share ideas and knowledge about how to uncover, save and interpret traces of the earliest civilizations.  It might develop into a place that will help restore ancient and historic buildings.  It might help Iraq rebuild.  But as important as all that might be, the personal joy I find in being part of this project is in the ways it is bringing people together from all over the world to create something.

The Iraq Institute under construction

When I worked at the National Museum of the American Indian, I worked on a project that transformed an area outside the museum because a community of people came together to create sculptures titled “Always Becoming”.  These sculptures, conceived and orchestrated by the artist Nora Naranjo-Morse are made of natural materials that will slowly, slowly dissolve away.  You can find out more about the project here.

One of the lessons I learned is how a project can be centered around a product – but what’s more important is the community that grows at the same time.  For anything to be sustained, people have to believe in it and believe in working on it together.  Nora is now working on a film about the community that we all became a part of.

I hope that’s what we can do here.

Erbil Citadel

December 19, 2009

It’s been a long time since I posted, I broke my camera and then it got really busy with students.  My job here is great because I get to work with lots of different colleagues in Iraq and from abroad to teach our classes.  One of the places we’ve been working is the Erbil Citadel, known round here as the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world  –about 8000 years old.

I took my new camera and one of my colleagues up to the citadel to the Kurdish Textile Museum on a rainy day recently.  The museum has been extremely generous in letting us use the building and exhibits as training examples for preventive conservation.

The Kurdish Textile Museum on the Erbil Citadel

Then we wandered around and took photos of architecture nearby.  The Citadel is in the planning stages for application as a world heritage site.  You can find some information here.  The weather here is cold and rainy now, opposite of when I last posted.  It’s lovely and Londony feeling.  Playing with the settings on the new camera I got a couple of shots I like.

Courtyard of a building that burned.

Doors and windows.

To see some really beautiful shots of the architecture in the citadel (on much sunnier days) go look at the photos taken by a photojournalist I’ve met here.  He’s doing some wonderful work documenting heritage and many other things.

Obsessions, some more.

August 31, 2009

Awhile back, I tried to logically explain the roundthing thing.  I shared one of my newest obsessions just a few days ago (a chair thing).  And if you want to see more photos of the chairs go here.  I glancingly mentioned my lost shoes of Yassihoyuk photo gallery on Facebook.  But yesterday – I got it all – one of the chairs, with round things and a lost shoe!

A chair, a shoe and a couple of round things.

A chair, a shoe and a couple of round things.

And then I dropped my camera.  And broke it.

Those of you who have been following this blog are probably wondering why I never really talk about the big issues here.  “Come on woman!  You are living in Iraq!  Give us the low-down on the unstable political situation, and starving refugees, and scary Islamic terrorists, and the horrors of war!”   But the thing is, that’s not what life is about here.  It’s not like they show you on TV.  It’s about people going to work every day.   And kids riding their bikes on the street.  And chatting with people about the heat and having insider jokes about the things you see and do each day.   (Soon after I took this photograph I picked up some scrap wire and gave it to our driver, which cracked him up, because he tried to hang a mirror for me earlier this week, and we didn’t have any wire in the house.)  It’s seeing and sharing bits of beauty as you go through the day (my bits just happen to be other people’s junk).  I don’t mean to say that those other awful things weren’t here and don’t happen.  But what I want you to know is, that’s not what it is now.  Because, you know, life is life.

I’ll be back when my camera gets fixed, or I get a new one.

The roof.

August 26, 2009

I know some people are reading this because they want to know what it’s like living here.   I thought I’d give you a quick view from the roof.

Check out all the round things in this photo.

Check out all the round things in this photo.

The weather is hot here.  Very hot.  Hotter than Phoenix or even Yuma, Arizona hot.  Almost every day for several months.   But it’s a dry heat.  Really dry (10 -20%) and I like it.  There are also dust storms.  So far, I’ve only been through a couple of them where you can actually feel the dust blowing onto your skin.  But there’s often dust hanging in the air.  I’m told the dusty weather is not typical for Erbil and has changed over the last years.

If you want to keep an eye on the weather here, here’s a link.

But mostly I’m in an air conditioned house sitting in front of my computer planning courses so I’m protected from a lot of the intensity of the heat.

At the end of a long day, after it starts to cool down into the 90’sF, we sometimes go up onto the roof and sit (though we haven’t for awhile because it’s gotten too hot).  It’s basically a big patio-like space.  It reminds me of visiting my grandparents in western Kansas as a child.  In the evening we’d go sit in the backyard, sweating on the plastic lawn chairs and watch the stars.  There’s a lot of ambient light around here, and the dust, so you don’t see many stars – but the moon has waxed and waned since I’ve been here – and it’s now getting big again.  Depending on the time of evening there are swallows, and then bats swishing around.  Except for the sound of the generators (which have their own charm, because they keep the house cool), it’s quite lovely.

The BBC did a recent piece that also tried to give a sense of what it’s like in Erbil.  Look here to watch it.


August 24, 2009

Ok, I’ve told you about my round thing thing.  I also have a lost shoe thing, but you have to be my facebook friend to see that.  However, since you’re here, I’ll let you in on my newest obsession – a couple of chairs.  Coming to Erbil, I know I have little understanding of what’s going on most of the time – I don’t speak the language (Arabic (Iraqi or Egyptian), Kurdish (Sorani, or Bardanani), Assyrian (I don’t even know the names of the dialects around me), German, even British English (ok, I do all right in British English).  Let’s not even talk about how hard it is to understand a small-town local community (I grew up in one, I know what that means).  It would be the same if I was moving to rural Alabama, or northern California – I’m not from around here.

more than a chair, a metaphor

more than a chair, a metaphor

But the chairs, they are from here.  They just sit there, and wait, and people come to them.  And as they move around the building that is being renovated for us (so we can share some of the things that we have learned with some of the people from here) they carry some of the story along with them.

I’ve started loading images of the renovation of the library building that will become the National Training Institute for the Preservation of Iraqi Cultural Heritage on Flickr.  You can find them here.  We go by and visit the site every couple of days to see how things are moving along – and are always surprised by how fast changes happen.

As well as the shots of the building, of course I can’t resist taking shots of things that attract my attention along the way.  Here are a few of those from the last few days:

Round things pulled from the old library.

Round things pulled from the old library.

Somehow I don't think the rider of this is an oil industry developer.

Somehow I don't think the rider of this is an oil industry developer.

The back entrance into the local family amusement park.

The back entrance into the local family amusement park.

One of these days I’m gonna get over there and ride that ferris wheel.