1: Dressing up isn't only about looking good. For the most part, in America, men don't dress up to impress their platonic male friends in social settings. When going out somewhere, whether it’s a sporting event, coffee shop, fast food joint or just hanging out somewhere, men typically don’t dress to impress their male friends. We just don’t. If I showed up to have lunch with a friend wearing slacks, dress shoes and a button down shirt, he’d almost be sure to ask where I was coming from or where I was going, that required such attire. Would you press your shirt and throw on a tie for an all-guys backyard barbecue? Would you shine your shoes and put on slacks to go watch a ball game at a friends house? Let’s be honest. The answer is no, you wouldn’t.
But the Kurds do. Every weekend in the bazaar, at tea shops or just walking in the street I see Kurdish men wearing slacks, button-down shirts and the shiniest shoes I’ve ever seen in the dustiest place I’ve ever been. Here in Sulaymaniyah, dressing up is not all about looking good. It’s an expression of respect to the people around you as well as to the friend you are meeting for tea. Dressing up isn’t about demonstrating how dapper you can look. It’s about wordlessly saying, “The time I spend with you is a special occasion, and that is worth dressing up for.”
2: Hospitality isn't just refilling the bowl of potato chips. I always try to be a good host when people come over. I’ve got the basics down - offer them food, offer them drinks, “is there anything I can get you?” - you know, the usual. But since coming to Kurdistan, I’m realizing that hospitality isn't just refilling the bowl of potato chips; my hospitality should not be confined to guests at my house. While being here, so many Kurds have gone to great lengths to show me hospitality: from physically leading me to my destination when I’m lost (despite it being in the opposite direction of their destination) to spending entire afternoons with me drinking tea, playing backgammon, teaching me Kurdish and talking about life. When was the last time you spent an afternoon with a stranger, let alone an acquaintance, just to show them a good time?
3: We all yearn for reconciliation. I entered Kurdistan harboring misunderstandings. Besides some brief reading of Kurdish’s history, most of my opinions of Kurdistan were shaped by mainstream media and ignorance. Let me tell you, that was a mistake. My Kurdish friends laughed as I explained the common perceptions of Iraq and Muslims in general, and grimaced soberly as they explained that Osama Bin Laden wasn't a real Muslim because of the way he perverted, corrupted and twisted the teachings of Islam for violence and hatred. My Kurdish friends laughed as I told them that not all Americans are like the people on Jersey Shore and that our nation isn't entirely filled with debaucherous hedonists. They nodded disapprovingly as I spoke about the Westboro Baptist Church and their hateful and irreverent propaganda, and nodded in agreement as I said that we reject them as true representations of Christian theology and culture.
Many things became clear through these conversations, but the most profound epiphany I experienced was that we all yearn for reconciliation. We spoke about TV and culture, but what we were doing was reaching for common ground, understanding, and reconciliation. In discussing our differences and our misunderstandings, we found a common desire for peace between our cultures.