I'm a civilian living and working as a foreign resident in Iraqi Kurdistan. I have been here for about 7 months now. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have!


My proof:


EDIT: Sorry to have disappeared for a bit. Power outages are fun!

MORE EDITS: I'll be taking questions as they come up even when I'm not live - it just may take a little longer to answer because I do have work and there are power outages.

Other expats living in the region or kurds of reddit - feel free to weigh in where you see fit! I'm certainly no more qualified than anyone else living here to answer some of these questions.

Some of you have requested links to organizations that you can purchase from or donate to in order to help alleviate the current refugee crisis. I can verify that all the following sites represent organizations doing real work to help refugees in Iraq and neighboring countries who have been displaced because of ISIS. There are a variety of organizations - ranging from helping pay for boat patrols that look for sunken migrant ships off the coast of Turkey to organizations paying for surgeries for children in the camps. I'll answer any questions I can concerning the work different organizations are doing as well.

A List of Many Organizations with Links and Descriptions of Their Work

Preemptive Love Coalition

Save The Children

IRC - International Rescue Committee

Comments: 534 • Responses: 84  • Date: 

eteliopoulos81 karma

How notable is ISIS's in your daily life there? What do you think the most effective way for the U.S. to deal with ISIS would be?

ohpaix358 karma

The city is vigilant to prevent any sleeper cells from successfully carrying plans out. We do have a secret police force that monitors everything, and they're awesome at sniffing out plots and apprehending would-be terrorists. But there is also a serious responsibility placed on each individual to be vigilant and report anything suspicious.

At shopping malls and other points of interest, every car is checked for bombs. Almost all large and popular public places also require a metal detector and bag search upon entrance. Snipers and other guards patrol 24/7 any place that is a potential political or cultural target. So one lives with this kind of increased security, and it becomes daily life. Travel is also restricted at times of higher security. There are checkpoints for major cities and there have been times I was prohibited from entering or leaving certain places because of concerns on the road ahead.

As for how the U.S. ought to deal with ISIS, that's tricky.

ISIS is every bit as much of an ideology as it is an oppressive state. I would say one of the biggest things that needs to be done is the acceptance of refugees (which, I understand, is one of the most controversial things I could possibly say).

But I've been to the camps and especially with winter upon us, people are desperate. Our economy can barely support the Kurds, much less the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and Syrians. They're sitting ducks, easily conquered, waiting to be absorbed into wherever will take them - and if ISIS can trap them here, that's another several hundred thousand people for the caliphate to control, kill, or brainwash.

Aside from that, I don't think there are any good options - there's a reason it's being called one of the most complex situations in history. But unified, decisive action needs to be taken in some form ASAP.

suaveitguy73 karma

How many ex-pats are there? Is there a community to speak of?

ohpaix88 karma

My city is pretty large. Our expat community (not exclusively western workers, mind you - Chinese and Indians included for some major telecom companies here) is probably around 600 or more. My school alone employs probably 50-75 expats and their immediate families.

I lived in another Middle Eastern country a few years ago in a much smaller town. The expat community there was 8, including me.

edit: capitalization

tomtreebow3239 karma

this isnt a question i just want to thank you for your AMA! i love hearing first hand accounts for things like this and do truly appreciate your insight!

ohpaix32 karma

Sure thing! I appreciate you taking the time to read it all!

AWBreezy60 karma

In your opinion what is the best way to indirectly help support the Kurdish people? If you don't have the ability to physically go there.

Also thank you for taking the time to conduct this fascinating AMA.

ohpaix96 karma

Hey, you're welcome! I'm glad you like it. I've gone back and forth quite a bit on whether it would be of interest or not.

I guess the best way to indirectly support the Kurds as an individual is to defend their reputation. Reputation is everything to them, most people aren't distinguishing between any Iraqi or Syrian person and Daesh at the moment. The absolute best support would be educating yourself and others as much as possible about the issue so that people who hate the enemy as much as we do don't get lumped in AS the enemy.

Aside from that, internally displaced people in Iraq (Kurds and Arabs) in the refugee camps in Kurdistan are in need of donations. Several organizations are on the ground and I can get you hooked up with them if you're interested, but no pressure.

If you're interested in helping refugees (again, no pressure if you're politically against it) writing to your government representatives would probably be a great way to show support.

And my dream is to see a massive Internet movement of some sort that shows support - because it'll garner support for the issue in other ways too.

blurredlulu23 karma

I would love to get connected with some on the ground organizations to coordinate a donation. Can I PM you for info?

ohpaix11 karma

Absolutely, please do!

El_Gringo_Libre12 karma

Maybe if you get a list of some reputable people there who are doing good work up we can all contribute if we wish.

ohpaix17 karma

Good idea! I'll work on it and have it up ASAP.

EDIT: here are a few good verified organizations/lists.

A List of Many Organizations with Links and Descriptions of Their Work

Preemptive Love Coalition

Save The Children

IRC - International Rescue Committee

Komurin_22 karma

Just what I wanted to ask. I won't know if it helps, but I'll distribute some info that I learned here with a seek for support, in german universities, since I anyway have to go around some :)

ohpaix2 karma

Posting some links in my original post, but it'll grow as I very that the organizations are really at work and making a sizable difference on the ground.

barredman4 karma

I won't PM you. I want to help, though. Make that shit public

ohpaix2 karma

Okay, I'm posting a list of links in my original post. The list will probably grow as I verify that various organizations are making a difference and actually doing work on the ground.

EDIT: the list is also here for mobile users who don't wanna scroll back up. I feel ya on that.

A List of Many Organizations with Links and Descriptions of Their Work

Preemptive Love Coalition

Save The Children

IRC - International Rescue Committee

sik_dik2 karma

do you have the resources to put together a sort of documentary about life where you are? I kinda feel like the common themes of this AMA need to be put on video and shared so that people can do exactly what you said and I agree with: "educating yourself and others as much as possible about the issue so that people who hate the enemy as much as we do don't get lumped in AS the enemy"

ohpaix4 karma

Actually.. I probably could. The only thing I'd want that I don't have is a decent mic. I haven't got a video camera but my DSLR shoots high def.

That might be a cool side project in the coming months. What a great idea. Thanks!

bayern_1647 karma

If you became romantically involved with a Kurdish girl, what would the repercussions be? Would she be in danger?

ohpaix139 karma

I'm a chick, so I'll answer both ways.

If I became involved romantically with a Kurdish girl, there'd be absolute repercussions because homosexuality is intensely frowned upon by all but the most liberal. I'd say it'll become more accepted in the next 10-15 years, but who knows.

If I became romantically involved with a Kurdish man, it'd be fine. Western women are viewed as sexually free and liberated, and we can therefore do what we want (though Kurdish women would frown upon it if I dated Western-style) .

If I were a Western man romantically interested in a Kurdish woman - I'd probably need to play by the correct cultural rules or else I would risk hurting her reputation. But I'm not really sure to what extent, as I've not seen that situation played out.

RUS_PIZDA14 karma

Would you date a kurd?

ohpaix35 karma

Probably not, but it's not totally out of the realm of possibility. For me, I want to date someone with the same religious beliefs as me and there aren't a great many Kurds who'd match up.

Mcfinley45 karma

Do Kurds consider themselves Iraqi even minutely? Or do they consider themselves solely Kurdish

ohpaix57 karma

Great question. Depends really on who you ask.

I'd say the general consensus is that they're primarily Kurds and secondarily Iraqi, and only in name. I have some friends who are exceptions to this - those friends are generally in favor of a continually unified Iraq.

Edit: trying to be more specific.

suaveitguy42 karma

What is the mood on the ground? Is there black humor around about the situation? Exhaustion? How would you characterize it?

ohpaix71 karma

Among the Kurds, there's mostly weariness and resignation. Everyone pretty much expects the situation to totally fall apart and Kurdistan to totally destabilize in the next year or two if not sooner. However they're determined to fight in any way they can. It's not their first rodeo - most of these people remember fleeing to Iran or hiding in the mountains during the Saddam's reign in the late 80s and early 90s. They're resilient people and they know that about themselves. I'd say they're... braced for whatever is to come, but hoping for the best.

Among expats, there's a mixture of jadedness and some concern. However most organizations with any amount of foreign workers have evacuation plans if everything totally falls apart, so that keeps the expats pretty calm.

Overall, I'd say daily life goes on and the mood isn't overly dark.

Mcfinley35 karma

Everyone pretty much expects the situation to totally fall apart and Kurdistan to totally destabilize in the next year or two if not sooner.

I had thought that the Kurds were on the offensive against ISIS, and were gaining ground. At least this is what is reported by Western media. Is that different from what you experience on the ground there?

ohpaix98 karma

No, it's absolutely true. The Kurds are making huge gains. ISIS is not the main issue at present for Kurdistan.

The two major political parties - the KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party) and the PUK (People's Union of Kurdistan) are on the verge of a war with one another. The current president is a member of one party geographically located in Erbil, while the other party has its geographic seat in the city of Sulaymaniyah/Sulaimani. Government employees in Sulaymaniyah haven't been paid by the government for several months, while the same job positions in Erbil have received their pay.

Most Kurds fear an imminent civil war that will destabilize the region and prevent the offensive against ISIS from being fully successful in the future.

candycv3026 karma

You seem very well informed. I find myself fascinated with your answers thus far. Thank you for taking the time to fill in the blanks :)

ohpaix32 karma

I'm thrilled to be of service!

I'm probably not the most well-informed person for the task, but I'm happy to fill in where I can!

nevird11 karma

I understand this was posted 9h ago but I'll still hope for an answer. Could you develop a bit on why Iraqi Kurdistan is on the verge of civil war? Is it ethnic differences, political views, natural resources idk? Also how do Iraqi Kurds see Kurds from Syria or Turkey? Do they feel closer to each other or closer to their de facto country ? I think I'm gonna read about all of this. Thanks for the AMA !

ohpaix6 karma

To the best of my knowledge:

The ELI5 answer is that there's history between the two political parties dating back to the early 1990s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraqi_Kurdish_Civil_War

The parties dominate geographic sections of the region - the seat of the KDP being Erbil/Hawler and the seat of the PUK being Sulaymaniyah/Slemani.

Because of past tensions people living in the two opposing regions are quick to point fingers at one another and largely distrust each other. What's not helping the situation is that government workers appear to be being paid in Erbil (KDP) but not in Suli (PUK). A large percentage of the population is employed by the government. The current Kurdish president was a previous president of the KDP, so there is a lot of speculation that he is showing preferential treatment and in Suli people are saying it's corruption. Of course, the real reason for lack of pay is not known. There were riots a few months back, and several KDP buildings near Suli were vandalized.

EDIT: spelling

bear-necessitease7 karma

You're telling me civil war in the last bastion of stability in Iraq and Syria could be avoided by paying civil servants in one city? That'd be the price of like one bombing run if that.

ohpaix5 karma

It goes a little deeper than that (years of tension between political parties) but the payment problem isn't helping things.

AWBreezy39 karma

Well since I just found out you are a female, how are you treated? And furthermore how are women who are not foreign? I assume you aren't middle eastern looking from your answers so far.

I've obviously seen and heard that it is night and day compared to most of the Levant - but in your opinion, is it comparable to Western (although not perfect) gender equality?

(Sorry, I have a ton of questions)

ohpaix62 karma

When I lived and worked in the Levant I was constantly harassed regardless of what I wore - moreso even than my local friends - because of the reputation that comes with being a westerner. Here, I've been harassed three times in seven months - less than in the States.

I'm treated very respectably by 97% of people, but that's largely because of my profession and because I dress modestly. Some of my expat friends who don't dress modestly get harassed a ton. Most unmarried girls don't go out alone - they go out with friends or family, but that's more because of the family-orientation and group mentality of the culture as far as I can tell.

Really, I feel that it's pretty comparable. Perhaps the only place I see some inequality is that women are definitely expected to dress "beautifully" in office work positions. (Read: super high heels and sometimes tighter-than-you-might-expect-for-the-region-clothing).

It is definitely night and day compared to further south.

abcriminal35 karma

What are you doing there? And are you thinking of returning home until ISIS gets nuked?

ohpaix71 karma

I'm an instructor in a school here. I teach English.

And I do have an evacuation plan if the situation escalates so drastically that it's untenable.

bobbanyon24 karma

Could I ask what qualifications you needed to teach there? What's the class hours, size, and age ranges? How are the students? What kind of salary might one expect if that's not too much to ask. I'm a ESL teacher as well and it sounds like an interesting experience. Cheers.

ohpaix47 karma

To work for the school I worked for I have a degree in adult education with a minor in TESOL. I do work with adults, not children. My students range from college age and older.

I teach about 20 instructional hours a week, but with office hours it's about 35 hours a week total. Pretty nice.

Pay is around $1600 a month, but housing is provided and you don't need nearly that much to live off of here. Other organizations offer more, others less.

methamp19 karma

Can you speak more about your evac plan?

rab777hp63 karma

Nice try, ISIS!

ohpaix41 karma


There's a lot that's put in place by my employer that I can't talk about because of security, but if Daesh gets within 100 km of the city we must be ready to mobilize and be off the ground in under an hour. This is why we sometimes have travel restrictions. I also must notify my employer when I plan to travel.

Illbefinnyoubejake2 karma

Are you aware of how bad public-school teachers in america have it with having to follow a curriculum, so much that you can't even teach half as much and well as you could?

How does your school system compare?

Don't answer this if you could get in trouble.

ohpaix5 karma

I like the curriculum I teach and I have a lot of freedom.

Some schools are more strict, some are far less. Overall, the most popular schools are generally private schools with Western-trained teachers.

ImTheHype27 karma

Do you ever miss the sates? If so, what do you miss the most?

ohpaix68 karma

I do sometimes. My hometown's really historical and beautiful, so I miss it from time to time.

But mainly it's the food. There's a bunch of random stuff that's not available here. Processed foods aren't really a thing here. Aside from chips and candy, it's basically all "ingredients".

Suffice it to say my cooking skills have really been tried and improved since moving here. Generally odd things just aren't available - things you don't miss until you realize you haven't got it. I'm going home for a week around Christmas and it's basically a shopping trip.

On the list? Luxuries - Brown gravy. Hair ties and clips. Socks that aren't wool. Barbecue sauce. Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer tea. Cat food (I brought my two cats with me, and the country ran out of cat food about a month ago.) American coffee. Hydrogen peroxide.

shadeunderthetable72 karma

Brown gravy- melt butter, add equal part of flour, season with salt and pepper, add some strong beef broth and voila.

ohpaix38 karma



legitxavenged9 karma

Seriously visit /r/cooking and just ask for recipes for stuff and people will get pretty creativ.

ohpaix2 karma

Will do :D Thanks!

Medi-Saiyan22 karma

I brought my two cats with me

Educated chick on Reddit who plays WoW. Serious question: Does Kurdistan have any cultural equivalent to the single cat lady? (No disrespect intended, since we all have our niches in life)

ohpaix57 karma

No offense taken. I personally think I'm still a little young for single cat lady status (mid-20s). But I know many, many women in my city who are unmarried in their 30s or 40s.

There's been a definite shift in recent years in thought in this area. While we're still called "girls" until we're married, one can be a single, career-driven woman who remains unmarried and this is acceptable. There's been a decreased stigmatization of single women - whereas in other places (the Levant, for example) single women can't really have positions of respect or authority, I haven't found that to be true here.

That said, pets aren't ultra-popular here, except for birds - especially parakeets and african greys. So maybe the cultural equivalent is a single bird lady? I know a few.

Adam2uBer4 karma

Hydrogen peroxide.

My mom lives in Hungary and has faced the same issue. It just doesn't exist or it's super hard to find.

ohpaix3 karma

I wonder why it is. It's so useful, and not particularly hard to store...

hijinga4 karma

What do you feed them? D: EDIT: Also, being in such a big/privileged country like the US it's so strange to hear that an entire country just up an ran out of cat food, it makes sense for the situation, just feels weird anyways.

ohpaix7 karma

I saw the cat-food supply chain running low and stocked up. Supposedly there is still some to be found, but all leads have proven fruitless for me. I have enough for a few months, but I'm bringing more back from the States after Christmas.

1234ipredicta26 karma

Do you have to wear a hijab/niqab whilst you are in the country?

ohpaix75 karma

No. I've yet to see a niqab around, and less than a third of the women here wear hijab.

_CitationX25 karma

Respect sir. How's the accommodation there? Also, something I've never really got to ask someone from Iraq / Syria / Iran / Afghanistan is how good is the internet, dl / ul speeds? :P

ohpaix76 karma

Ma'am, actually :D

It's the nicest flat I've ever lived in. Splits for air conditioning and heating in every room, tile and wood floors, very spacious, beautiful woodwork, nice views of the city, really everything you could ask for and more for free housing. A hundred times better than the dingy place I was renting for half my monthly pay back home.

Accomodations throughout the rest of my city range from mansions to pretty rough and modest one-room residences. We get 24 hour power in my flat, but that's mainly because we have our own generator. Other places in the city that run exclusively on city power are currently dealing with only 11 hours of power a day.

As for Internet, as with anywhere else, it largely depends on the company. Ours is pretty good - I have barely any lag playing online RPGs (stuff like WoW) even on American servers. The more annoying thing is that the power flickers several times a day. That messes things up far more than slow internet speeds.

You'll have to forgive me, I have no idea how to know how fast my internet is without describing it as I did. I'd say though that it is comparable to stateside internet.

ace42518 karma

You can test your internet speed here if you are interested.

ohpaix32 karma

Hey, thanks!

Well the numbers look pretty dismal. Guess I've gotten used to it.

Ping: 183 ms Download Speed: .58 mbps Upload Speed: .59 mbps

Stickybomber7 karma

How can you even play wow with those speeds

ohpaix20 karma

There's a lot of fluctuation. I just tried again and my download speeds are at 6.57 mbps with uploads around 5.90 mbps.

I'm also on group internet in employer-provided housing, so when I play WoW or other RPGs it's usually at specific times of day when internet is faster.

EDIT: yet inexplicably, I swear to you lag hasn't been an issue but for a few times.

Mcfinley22 karma

Do women have equal rights in Iraqi Kurdistan? Have you ever felt uncomfortable due to your gender?

ohpaix74 karma

Women and men do sit in segregated seating in most places - or there's men's seating and "family" seating, where mixed gender groups can eat together. There are also many street food vendors and hookah bars that exclusively serve men.

Honestly though, it doesn't offend me. I've never been disrespected in any of the establishments with segregated seating, nor have I been asked to move when I have accidentally sat in men's seating sections - one those few occasions, the men have almost always made concerted efforts not to pay me any mind at all. In fact, here I view segregated more as a place where I can eat without all eyes being on me (I've got natural blonde hair, which is considered rare and extremely beautiful here - so I stick out like a sore thumb).

Aside from segregated seating, I've seen no real signs of gender inequality - women can vote, drive, work, choose to remain unmarried, own land, whatever.

Though daughters are more protected than sons - for the honor of the family.

Mcfinley17 karma

This is fascinating. Thank you so much for your insight. How much interaction is there between Kurdistan and the outside world? Do Kurds ever go abroad to work or travel? You mentioned a decently sized expat community; are there many foreigners who visit Kurdistan for business or pleasure?

ohpaix23 karma

I would say there's a decent amount of interaction. We're not censored or anything (as opposed to other countries I've lived in which have censored news sources and other media.)

It's understandably hard for Iraqi nationals to get visas, but many of my students have visited other places. Iran and Turkey both are generally easy destinations for Kurds wanting to travel, so that's most common.

Kurdistan is not at all a travel destination. There's almost nothing of supreme interest to the would-be tourist, except for surprising hilly countryside that is covered in green grass and wildflowers in the spring time, as well as a few waterfalls dispersed throughout the Kurdistan region.

AWBreezy18 karma

My Uncle work for the U.S. in Erbil, until about a year ago. I don't know if that's where you are located, but he said (at least in terms of Erbil) that the people are very kind, especially considering the geographic proximity to a...less than kind part of the world. He worked a lot with people representing the Kurdish government, but said they were relatively moderate and even secular. He also said he felt safe, even though he was relatively close to a war zone.

The Iraqi Kurdish culture has always fascinated me. It just seems so much different than it's surroundings.

Is this your experience thus far? And could you elaborate on your experience, specifically concerning the Kurdish people and culture.

ohpaix46 karma

That is ABSOLUTELY my experience.

I won't say where I am, but I know Erbil pretty well, and I've traveled a lot east of Erbil. Even in the extremely conservative villages, the Kurds are some of the absolute kindest and most generous people I've ever met.

I guess what's most striking to me is that the two most prevalent aspects of their culture are hospitality and generosity. It pervades absolutely every aspect of daily interaction.

As for feeling safe - I absolutely do. I've been harassed on a few occasions at local markets and shops. All I have to look pleadingly at an older man and he is pretty much honor-bound to come to my defense - and they always have.

I speak maybe 60 words of Kurdish, but people are absolutely beside themselves when I say absolutely anything.

What specifically would you like to know more about? I could type for hours just on this one topic.

amanforallsaisons14 karma

All I have to look pleadingly at an older man and he is pretty much honor-bound to come to my defense - and they always have.

That's pretty awesome. Not the most ideal situation, but pretty awesome.

ohpaix85 karma

That situation has mostly come up with young boys heckling me. In a lot of public places, Syrian refugee children try to sell anything they can to make money for food. There have been times I was surrounded by (and ignoring) 10-15 of them mobbing around me asking me to buy plastic bags or chewing gum or who knows what. And after having said, "No thank you" in Kurdish a few times there was nothing left to do but look around helplessly for someone with more authority. A kindly old vendor came to my aid and told them to stop. I've bought my vegetables almost exclusively from him since.

Only once have I needed help with a man bothering me, and that was an extremely creepy taxi driver who had business cards with his number printed on them. He wasn't creepy at all the first time so I took his business card intending to call it when I needed rides in the future (a lot of women do this, despite the fact that the cities are literally swarming with taxis and you don't have to wait more than three minutes to get one usually). Next time I rode with him, he started calling me, "my love" and "my heart" and "my flower" and gave me a much more... intimate... card (or tried to, I didn't take it). I had him pull over immediately and I got out.

Over the next three days he called me over 250 times at literally all hours. My neighbors speak some English, so finally I went over and asked the wife if she knew how to block phone numbers here. She asked what the problem was and I explained. She asked for my phone and took it straight to her husband. He called the number and shouted for quite a bit in Kurdish, before giving me an extremely satisfied smile and handing me the phone back. Haven't received a call from him since.

trenchcoater8 karma

Great story! It made me extremely curious about what the husband shouted to the Taxi driver :)

tiktaalik2115 karma

In my experience, every time it's usually some really bad words which are then followed by empty threats about how the person knows powerful people and can have the phone traced and everything. A lot of times, another male family member would pretend to be one of the aforementioned powerful people and say stuff as well.

ohpaix5 karma

Hey as long as it works, I don't care :D

hijinga3 karma

Did you speak any Kurdish before coming?

ohpaix5 karma

Not a word.

barnburning17 karma

What, in your perception, is the biggest misconception that Western media has about the Kurdish people?

ohpaix49 karma


Well, I think that the Iraqi Kurds themselves are perhaps not marginalized in the same way that others are.

I think the biggest misconception is this nonsense about Daesh sneaking in with refugees. If that were the case, they'd have attacked our city by now because ISIS hates the Kurds and we're a far easier target to test their sneak-in-as-a-refugee plan before debuting the scheme abroad. But that's not a direct answer to your question.

I think the biggest misconception about the Kurds (maybe Iraq in general?) at the moment is that I see opinion articles and news anchors implying the Kurds aren't fighting with everything they have - and that's simply not true. I can see how it'd look that way from the outside, but considering most of them are working with outdated and broken equipment, their ingenuity is pretty incredible - and they're giving it all they've got (the Peshmerga, at least).

Landgirl16 karma

Great AMA thank you. Do you plan to learn more of the language? Stay safe.

ohpaix14 karma

Ideally yes, I'd love to learn more Kurdish.

And thanks!

fuddlesworth16 karma

Why would you want to work in such a dangerous area?

ohpaix50 karma

It was less about desire and more about having the right opportunity at the right time.

An old friend moved here a few years back and happened to message me one day and ask if I was interested in working here. This friend had heard of a job opening and knew I was unhappy at my stateside ESL teaching job. This had comparable pay, and offered luxury housing with all bills (electric, water, internet, gas) paid, as well as my ticket over. So I figured why not.

amaranar14 karma

Is the Iraqi Kurdistan in touch with the KCK (democratic conferederalism movement, including the YPG) movement in Syrian Kurdistan? I only found out about it short ago and I am in awe that a feminist, anti capitalist movement is actually taking place in some part fo the world (Rojava & surroundings). Does what is happening there have an impact in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Edit: KCK not YPG!

ohpaix14 karma

Yes and no. I haven't heard any strong opinions either way. Anyone who wants to help fight Daesh is welcome, and all the more because they're Kurds. The Kurds also have female Peshmerga who fight on the front lines - but they're soldiers and only soldiers and not representative of an overall political movement.

Edit edit: Ah, KCK. They're under the PKK, which is pretty controversial (NATO-deemed terrorist organization). Mixed opinions from the Iraqi Kurds, but because they're fighting Daesh most people I've talked to don't seem to mind them. They're not working anywhere near my city. They're largely a Turkish force and therefore working much more in Turkey and Syria.

Davidv00114 karma

Are you more worried of Isis invading your town, or the US or other country in the fight against isis bombing your town?

ohpaix60 karma

The Kurds hate ISIS more than perhaps anyone. The Kurdish Peshmerga, after all, are currently defending over 800 miles of front lines almost single-handedly.

I'm much more concerned about a stray missile from Russia than anything else at the moment. All our airports have been shut down for the past two days because the airspace is currently being used by Russia.

_____D34DP00L_____7 karma

I know it's late and you probably won't reply, but what is the general opinion on the Russian intervention in the situation?

ohpaix9 karma

I don't necessarily trust Russia, but I really don't have any information to support this distrust. I also don't have enough information to fully trust that Russia's actually trying to help. In short, no idea.

thizface11 karma

How did you get to where you are?

ohpaix26 karma

About 46 hours of air travel and then a few by car. ;)

Umm, I had a friend who was already working here with another English program. I had a death in the family a year ago in two days, and taking care of that person was the only reason I had been stateside. I didn't really enjoy my stateside teaching job, but I also wasn't actively looking for anything else.

One day out of the blue my friend messaged me and asked if I'd be willing to consider teaching here. Turns out she's good friends with my current boss. I deliberated for a few days before submitting a resume and letter of interest. The process went pretty quickly from there - a few Skype interviews, a background check, and then a job offer. I packed up my life, shoved it in a storage locker, and three weeks later I was here.

suaveitguy10 karma

What's the closest you get to an average night out or weekend away at home, there?

ohpaix34 karma

Well, for cultural reasons and because of my work schedule I don't much go out at night, but there are a number of restaurants and a few malls that are open fairly late. There are a surprising number of gelato shops.

So usually an evening out means gathering with American or Kurdish friends to grab dinner or talk over gelato. The only real difference is that alcohol is less readily available and far more expensive than stateside.

Englex10 karma

Hello! Nice to meet you! Ever hear any interesting stories about fighting ISIS on the front line? Have the Kurdish soldiers in your area fought?

ohpaix46 karma


I haven't heard too many stories, and certainly not anything super interesting persay, but I know many, many Peshmerga. I have a few students who are Peshmerga, and here's sort of an interesting fact:

The Kurdish government can't afford to pay the Peshmerga hardly anything because of the current economic crisis. So the Peshmerga are employed only part time (at least this is true where I live, not sure about other regions). In other words, there are store owners, engineers, salesclerks, literally whoever - who work in rotations. I've had a student before who had to miss class because of his rotations. He was gone two or three classes and sent me an email apologizing, asking for my forgiveness for his missing class, and explaining he was off fighting ISIS and would be back by next class most likely. Sure enough he was. His official job was as an accountant.

EDIT: more direct answer - yes, almost anyone who is a soldier is working in rotation to fight.

BIackAndWhiteCookie28 karma

I've had a student before who had to miss class because of his rotations. He was gone two or three classes and sent me an email apologizing, asking for my forgiveness for his missing class, and explaining he was off fighting ISIS and would be back by next class most likely.

I find it incredible that you are on the other side of the world, teaching students English, and they are sending you emails apologizing for missing class, to risk their lives to fight ISIS. While here in the US, education is often taken for granted (at least pre college), and college students always miss class for no reason. The drive and desire for this guy is incredible. And all to send the email, when he most likely will be alive for the next class.

ohpaix24 karma

That's perhaps the most beautiful part of teaching here.

My Iraqi students are, hands down, the best students I've ever taught.

Telenerd8 karma

Are you worried about being kidnapped? Especially if it becomes known that you're an American?

ohpaix23 karma

Not really. There have been a few emails sent out by the U.S. Embassy warning of increased risk of kidnapping, and my employers do insist that we carry a phone at all times and notify them about leaving the city, but I really can't imagine it happening.

I'm not secretive about being American. They like us here.

Illbefinnyoubejake3 karma

It doesn't matter about the people that are there and that you see.

It takes one human. Please be careful!

ohpaix6 karma

I appreciate your concern. I assure you I am being careful!

KHiggi8 karma

As someone who is seeing what's happening more closely than most of the U.S. how are you viewing the political rhetoric regarding the refugees?

Also, did you experience culture shock? How hard is it to get used to being somewhere so different?

ohpaix31 karma

The political rhetoric in the States, or here?

And I suppose culture shock hits in a variety of different ways. It hasn't been hard to adjust, necessarily. Anyone with enough time will - it's inevitable. But culture shock is often a long, slow process. It doesn't hit immediately. It comes in degrees - and that makes it pretty manageable.

Honestly, I think the hardest thing about adjusting was figuring out how to procure everyday items in a totally unfamiliar language where almost no English is spoken. We have a few malls, but they mainly carry expensive European brands. There are a few grocery stores, but everyday shopping is done at a bazaar - a sprawling city of an outdoor market. There is virtually no organization to the bazaar aside from loose groupings.

There's three or four fruit and vegetable sections, two butchers sections, a gold section, a spice sections, a nuts and honey section, a fabric section, and then a whole crap ton of randoms stalls and alleys everywhere in between that sells just about everything else.

When you're used to Walmart, trying to find anything in a 2 square mile city of stalls seems almost impossible. I literally lived off rice and apples and oranges for the first week or two. Finding the ingredients to put together actual meals seemed totally impossible for at least the first month and a half. It was just so much work to find anything at all.

KHiggi13 karma

That's good to know.

I should've clarified that I meant U.S. political rhetoric, but I am curious how locals where you're at feel about refugees and how people are reacting to Daesh.

In the U.S. a lot of people are saying we shouldn't accept refugees because some of them must be terrorists, but I think we have a thorough screening process and it seems more likely that someone on a student, work, or tourist visa would hurt people here.

How do you feel about the unrest, are you nervous being so close?

ohpaix26 karma

Hearing people talk about it all in the U.S. just makes me really sad. You're absolutely right that a refugee visa is the most least sensible way to "sneak" into the US, and our screening is definitely adequate in my opinion.

Local opinions toward the refugees range from supporting them with clothing, medicine, and supply drives whenever possible to being very relieved when they leave because they are a financial burden and we have (at last count) some 800,000 (not a typo).

And no. 100 miles doesn't feel like much in the U.S., but it's everything here. I don't feel bothered here.

Eric61239 karma

Yea, how do you view the U.S rhetoric?

ohpaix95 karma

Mostly I think it's sad.

It's a massive amount of people giving into an ideology of fear and spouting ridiculous rhetoric as justification.

If those are strong words, I'm sorry.

But I very much do believe that this analogy is similar (bear with me, no analogy is perfect): let's say that everything goes to pot in the U.S. and a horde of people like Robert Dear become so convinced of the terribleness of planned parenthood that they organize sporadic shootings. They also take over part of Alabama, and they shoot anyone who believes in women's reproductive rights, and even some pro-life people who just don't agree with what they're doing.

Inexplicably they grow to a few thousand. They start to geographically expand. Everyone who is still sane in Alabama wants the heck out. Half of Georgia and Mississippi too. We start applying for refugee status literally anywhere that might take us. But places start to go, "Ah hell no, you're from Alabama? You're all a bunch of right-wing crazy fundamentalists who are happy to shoot people up if they disagree and you want to take away our rights!" And you say, "No! that's not true! I don't believe in it! I'm trying to escape too!" And they respond, "Well even if you don't believe in it, you're happy to let your buddies who do kill us. Or worse, one of em could sneak in here with you. We shouldn't let any of you in. Deal with the problem yourself. "

That's essentially what's happening.

Eric61239 karma

No, I don't think that was "strong" at all. Thanks for the reply!

ohpaix11 karma

Any time! Thanks for the question!

cray05087 karma

Very interesting and unique AMA. Hope you're enjoying your time there and experiencing a major piece of history.

How often does anything about Daesh come up in everyday life when being around the locals? It seems to be every other conversation here in the US, I can't imagine how often it's discussed with so many of the front lines people and refugees being there.

ohpaix11 karma

I'm not a particularly political person, but Daesh comes up in conversations for me probably a few times a week. The Kurds love their political conversations, so it's probably a little more often for them. But it's not constant, at least not in my observation. I could be wrong.

Rajowa6 karma

  1. I'm an American with a very noticeably Jewish middle name. Would that be a problem with border guards or at checkpoints, or is antisemitism not an issue there?
  2. How in tune with American culture is Kurdistan? Are American musicians/actors popular?
  3. How is the food? Is it traditional middle-eastern food or do they have a more unique cuisine?

ohpaix11 karma

  1. My family is Jewish. I've had no issues. No real signs of antisemitism. The Kurds know what it is to be oppressed and discriminated against for religion.
  2. Kurdistan's very in-tune with pop culture. American actors and musicians are very popular.
  3. Kurdish cuisine is much different from food in the Levant. Mutton kebab and shawarma make up the predominant street food, but home cooking is largely vegetable based. Honestly, the wikipedia page on Kurdish cuisine is pretty on-point. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdish_cuisine

gaussweiss6 karma

How are you and/or the area you live in is affected by Russia-Turkey conflict?

ohpaix26 karma

It's a sad thing to live between Russia and whoever they're angry with.

Our airports are currently shut down because the Russians are using our airspace. The closures are usually 48-72 hours and come with no prior warning. Getting a little antsy that the airport might close when I'm flying out for Christmas. Because I bought a separate ticket home from Istanbul, if I don't make it to Istanbul in time I won't be able to go home - I didn't purchase flight insurance on the Istanbul flights because I was stupid.

EDIT: Hit "save" before I meant to!

Moreover the prime minister has asked Russia to please stop using our airspace, and Russia's not thrilled about that, so we may soon be at the end of their wrath as well. Meanwhile mounted tensions between the Turks and the Kurds has resulted in the land border being pretty much closed for a while now, or at best only sporadically open.

Also have seen Russian missiles in the air over my city. So that's fun.

sound-of-impact6 karma

So, how are things?

ohpaix26 karma

All considered, not bad! The only time I was ever worried was when a friend took me on a picnic with her family and we had to drive on the outskirts of an ISIS-occupied town to get there. They had me duck down and covered me up just in case there was "trouble".

iron_crow5 karma

A) That super cool B) Do you have Taco Bell? Do you need me to send some?

ohpaix9 karma


t-minus like 2 weeks or so until I see my sweet sweet love again.

No major fast food chains here except for "Texas Chicken", which is really "Church's Chicken" but they renamed it for obvious reasons. Also, it does NOT taste like Church's Chicken.

popsiclestickiest5 karma

Have you read the book A Handful of a Stars? It's from a Syrian raised mostly in Germany about a teenager trying to make his voice heard through an anti government newspaper?

ohpaix3 karma

I haven't, but I'll look into it now!

GIDDY_UP_GO5 karma

How much are you making a year over there? Hope its worth it!

ohpaix12 karma

I'm making around 20k. I only need a fraction of that for living expenses, so I'm able to use some for travel (been to Paris and Istanbul so far!) and I'm also using a portion to save up to complete my Masters. I'd say it's worth it!

Bucko3573 karma

I had thought of asking this question as well, I'm absolutely stunned that is all you are being paid. I would have guessed bare minimum 60k. I understand the cost of living is lower there, I expected it to be more if for nothing else hazard pay. Good luck and be safe!

ohpaix8 karma

I'd probably be making that if I had a Masters, but sadly I don't - so I get crap pay everywhere. At least here I can save for that Masters so I don't get into further debt.

AWBreezy4 karma

Also, is their a distinct difference between the regional Kurdish people? e.g. Syria vs Turkey vs Iraq

ohpaix11 karma

Mmmmmm.... Hard to say.

The short answer is: not really.

There are a few different Kurdish dialects, and they can differ some. But generally my Kurdish would be okay in Syria and Turkey as well. The Kurds in Iraq accept their Kurdish counterparts from other countries as Kurds and don't view them as much different.

But of course there are some cultural differences. Kurdish and Iraqi customs have blended in some ways. Same with Syrian customs and Turkish customs. I'd say they're a 65-70% match across the board, but expect some major differences in isolated regions.

ginfish4 karma

In reality, just how dangerous is it for you to be where you are now? I feel like this is one part of the world where a white man/woman just shouldnt visit right now. But that's just the overall idea we get in the west.

What's the actual "climate" like, over there?

ohpaix16 karma

In reality, it's not dangerous for me at all - or at least, I don't feel it is. I don't see any disadvantage to being here now as opposed to another time in recent history. With the exception of some militarization (regular police checkpoints, checking for car bombs at public parking lots and garages, etc) it doesn't really feel like we're close to anything major on a day to say basis.

James79193 karma

How long after the release of a movie in the United States would you be able to access it? (let's say for example the new Stars Wars film)

ohpaix11 karma

Depends on the popularity of the film. Our cinema is currently showing Mockingjay Part 2 and two other movies.

However most of us just wait for it to come out in the DVD shops. There aren't legal DVDs distributed here. The DVD shops literally torrent the movies and then throw them on discs and sell them dirt cheap. General consensus is it's okay because you can't get them legally here - and most expats just don't take their DVDs out of the country.

So as soon as decent copies pop up on torrent sites, we can have access to them. I don't personally torrent, but I'm waiting for Mockingjay to appear in the DVD shop and I'm guessing it'll be here in another two weeks or so..?

ginjabeard133 karma

Where are you in Kurdistan? I too have one of those cards.

ohpaix5 karma

Welcome! Feel free to weigh in on these answers - you might be able to offer better insights on some.

ninjo2662 karma

While right now may not be the ideal time to visit, what advice do you have for other young women who would like to travel to that area of the world? Do you have a favorite location? Favorite food?

Also, thank you so much for this AMA!! I hope you are enjoying yourself and continue to do well. It sounds like you're learning a lot and enjoying yourself!

ohpaix6 karma

My advice is to visit in the spring. The mountains will be green and covered with wildflowers, and it won't be too hot yet. The Kurds live for the spring. Every March there's a huge celebration called "Nawroz". It's the biggest festival of the year, and it's a celebration of spring. That'd be a fun time to visit.

That said, I'd group another country like Turkey or Iran in with your visit, as Kurdistan itself it's exactly a tourist destination.

hoverfordetails2 karma

If you don't mind me asking, what is your ethnicity? Are there other Americans there with you and if so, are any of you treated differently based on appearance?

ohpaix4 karma

I'm white.

Treatment depends largely on how you conduct yourself. If you dress in culturally inappropriate ways and act culturally 'loose', you'll be disrespected. If you dress modestly and act respectably, you'll be perceived as such... in large part regardless of ethnicity.

ambrosius5c2 karma

What are your interactions like with locals? Do you face any kind of discrimination?

ohpaix9 karma

My interactions are generally pleasant or neutral. Most of the friends making up my immediate network are previous students and their families or friends that've been introduced to me by other expats.

Almost all other interactions are in the context of my work as an English instructor or with shopkeepers/bazaar stall workers buying and selling. I've never had the impression that my presence wasn't welcome, and everyone as been overwhelmingly polite and kind. I'm a southern girl, and honestly interactions here have been less stressful than my stateside visits up north.

EDIT: No discrimination that I've seen. The most prevalent discrimination here is between Kurds and Arabs, though they're increasingly working to get along.

Open_Thinker2 karma

Hey, this is pretty cool. Do you think there is any risk that the Iraqi government will decide to figure out who you are just based on your citizenship and visa expiration date?

Wait, you're a young, single, female American, who feels safe somewhere in Kurdistan? Not sure you would want to tell us what you do for privacy reasons, but are you with a government/foreign aid/NGO agency, and how long do you plan on staying there?

ohpaix10 karma

I'm pretty sure the government already knows I'm writing about this, but it doesn't concern me. My guess is they'll be happy for good PR. I'm not talking about specific security plans or organizations other than Daesh, and I don't think I've said anything that would be frowned upon by the government.

As for what I'm doing here, I teach.

As for how long I plan to stay... no real idea. I'd be happy to be here for another year as long as the situation remains stable.

EDIT: However, just to be safe, I edited out my expiration date :D

doodlebaker2 karma

What do your family and friends back home think about you living there? Are they worried about you?

ohpaix6 karma

I'm sure there is some measure of worry, but no more than when I lived in other developing parts of the world, and probably less worry than when I lived in the Levant.

I stay in regular contact, and for the most part they are assured of my safety here.

Kami72 karma

What caused you to seek employment in Iraq?

ohpaix6 karma

I didn't seek it out. The opportunity came to me though a friend.

destiny_manifest2 karma

What is the citizen's atmosphere/attitude in regards to the conflicts you listed (ISIS, Syrian/Iraqi refugee crisis, Turkish/Russian conflict)?

ohpaix6 karma

Each Kurd probably has three or four distinct opinions for each issue. It's hard to answer this with any specificity. But in general, life goes on.

I used to work for a horse carriage company back home, and whenever a horse would get spooked or nervous, it had to continue its job despite whatever was causing the horse to worry. That's pretty much what it's like here. Everyone is sort of just continuing until it can't be avoided.

bones0743061 karma

What are you doing there and why the hell haven't you left yet?

ohpaix1 karma

I'll direct you toward the bottom of the thread where I've already answered this question.

Tarnsman4Life1 karma

Whats the deal with that influx of Turkish troops into Kurdistan all of a sudden? Anything on the DL you can share?

ohpaix1 karma

With all respect and realizing anyone can read this, if it's on the DL I probably ought not to share it.

But I don't have anything to share like that anyway.

As for what Turkey's up to... no idea. The Iraqi government has ordered them out for not notifying the government of entering the country, and I can't imagine the government would do that without cause. Local opinion is that we're waiting it out to see what happens, because no one currently much knows what to make of it either.

zombiethoven1 karma

What is the popular opinion of most kurds on Russia's campaign against isis?

ohpaix0 karma

The official opinion is neutral but I do know several people who distrust Russia and its involvement with anything. Others are in full support.

ediblenecklace1 karma

Hi! This is such a great AMA. What is your experience flying to/from the US?

ohpaix2 karma

It's a pain in the butt. You usually have to purchase separate tickets from K-Stan to Istanbul and then from Istanbul to wherever because insurance rates are pretty high on that first ticket. From there, there are usually a ton of connections.

But if you're willing to deal with it all, I got my tickets home for Christmas as four flights each way and 35-45 hours of total travel time each way for $860 roundtrip.

Keats852-6 karma

Get the fuck out of there. Why would you risk it?

EDIT: I'll take the downvotes, but I'm going to stick with my statement. Why would you risk it? Word travels around that you're American, somebody might know somebody in Isis, and before you know it, you're kidnapped and being held in Syria and accidentally bombed to death by the Coalition. Things like this have actually happened, you know that right?

ohpaix11 karma

Honestly I don't feel it's any more risky than living in a culture which grossly underestimates the size and strength of Daesh.

EDIT: You do realize I'm not at all secretive about being an American...? I also trust in the strength of the Peshmerga who control multiple security checkpoints around the city, and the secret police and other intelligence services at work here. Moreover, there are protocols and precautions put in place by my employer. Finally, I wouldn't change this experience for anything. It's a chance to be in a unique place during a very unique time, among wonderful people who need to know they're not alone in the global conflict going on all around them.

Keats852-3 karma

If you're a single individual without any protection, it's child's play for Isis to drive into the city and kidnap you. They thrive on the fear of the people, and they cultivate that fear with gruesome torture and executions. They want a global armed conflict between the West and themselves. Please don't think that the leaders of Isis are brainless idiots. They might even just pay some people to deliver you to them, if that's easier for them. You are really not safe there, even if you think you are.

ohpaix7 karma

Believe me, I think the people living here are some of the only ones who do not underestimate ISIS. I want you to know I am not just being blatantly foolhardy. I am not without protection.

I know the risks. I choose to be here anyway.

XxStoudemire1xX-15 karma

If OP was killed I'd feel no sympathy

ohpaix1 karma

Fair enough.