There are a few questions that I usually get asked when I talk about my research in the Middle East. I don’t mind them at all, I think it’s great that people find my field work interesting, and I’m happy to talk about a part of the world that they might not be familiar with.
Q: Did you have to wear a hijab (headscarf) in Palestine/Kurdistan?
A: No, I did not. The only countries where you are required to cover your hair as a woman is Iran and Saudi Arabia. I do, however, wear clothes that cover my shoulders and legs when I go to countries with a more modest dress code. If you want to read more about where the hijab is compulsory or banned (!) I found this helpful wikipedia site.
Q: Is it safe to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan?
Safety is relative. When I went there in 2011-2013 it was one of the safer places to go in the Middle East. Yet, it would probably have been safer if I stayed in Sweden. But how much fun would that be? The few times when I felt unsafe was mostly in a car, and scary traffic situations are not unique for the Middle East. The risk of theft or robbery there is quite low, and since it’s not an international tourist destination, people are quite honest. Except for the man selling me a ring with marcasites who told me “they are real diamonds”…
Q: What’s it like to travel alone to a place like Iraqi Kurdistan as a woman?
It’s interesting, scary, awesome, frustrating, and empowering. I’ve lots of wonderful people who offered me food, tea, help. I’ve almost always felt looked after. There have been times when I’ve felt slightly threatened, like when I was cat-called walking down the street in Ainkawa. Or when I was waiting for a friend by the citadel in Erbil and a group of men just stood there staring at me. But the positive experiences have outweighed the bad ones. Like when I went for a morning run in Erbil and a group of men working by the side of the road lined up and saluted me. Or when a woman in a village told me that I look exactly like her daughter, and wanted to take a picture together with me.