Kurdish Women and My New Roll

Confident, I left the Middle East. “That is no place for a woman who is not yet married.” No question about my view on this matter, I began praying about what was next.

But He had a different idea, and I know He is right. However, I still don’t think this region of the world is fit for foreign women who don’t have husbands to bring along. My opinion on that matter hasn’t changed.

You can’t change a society who doesn’t understand.

I have stopped demanding respect, getting heated over the inequality, or pushing for my rights. I was zapped of that fight in Cairo. Egypt took it out of me. And by the end, I was exhausted…I had nothing left.  Egyptian men had the power to steal my confidence and prove I was worthless in their eyes.  And they did it everyday with the nasty words,  lingering eyes,  and even at times the sexual fondling. My body was fair game, and it has been rubbed, tugged, squeezed, and caressed. Why? Because they could. And because my country has taught them that American girls want it all the time and are sex addicts who live with no shame…open to any man. We have taught them we don’t have morals, and our bodies were created for their pleasure. They believe that we don’t respect ourselves, morality, our families, or God. As they watch American films, they see girls move from man to man, one sexual encounter after another, free with their bodies, no strings attached. So to them we are sluts. All of us. 

You have seen the movies. You know what is portrayed. That's their window to the west. Lovely. 

I lived out the consequences  in Egypt for two years. And honestly,the immorality we glorify is my biggest shame about being an American. Our lifestyle is not accepted by many cultures around us. And when we come into their countries with our films, music videos, websites, and tourists, they take our glorification of these actions personally. To them, it is as if we are cramming our views down their throats…and trying to strip them of their values and heritage. I have heard them say, "God doesn't exist in America." 

 They don’t see the good in America vs the immorality we portray. They lump it all together…and want nothing to do with it. The problem is that I can’t make them understand that my country’s moral stands do not define me...but can I blame them for not knowing this? Absolutely not.

When people hear that I live in Iraq and automatically assume I am in imminent danger, they too are buying into the lies that the media portrays...this time about the Middle East. My neighbors here believe what Hollywood tells them, thus putting me into a box of perpetual immorality. That box isn’t me.  On the flip side, many of my fellow Americans put my Iraqi neighbors in the box of “dangerous.” When I am not defending one, I am defending the other. It’s exhausting.

I don’t hold the Kurds or most people outside the States responsible for their view of me. It’s my country’s fault. It’s all they know and I must not forget that, no matter how frustrated this all continues to be. Although there are many positive aspects of the American society, it’s not my job to come in and change a culture to be more like mine…to improve their thinking. And honestly, they don’t want to be anything like me or where I come from. And that is okay.

Little by little, we are learning which battles are worth fighting. Playing the game of letting things go, was something Cairo taught me well. Being an Islamic, metropolitan city of 28 million people, I found myself in a shockingly different environment.   Although it compares in regards to Islamic practices to life here, my village life is worlds away from even Cairo... stepping back in time, a world behind the fast pace of Egyptian city life. Rural life in the Middle East is mind blowing...as if I stepped into a time machine. 

Women don’t go out after dark, period. No discussion. I am not permitted to even frequent the local market without a male chaperone. Yes, Miss Independent is being stretched, and some days I can handle it more than others. I am not to extend my hand to shake a man’s even even during introductions for important meetings. I simply nod, and may get a smile in return. Women are often placed on the opposite side of the room from men. I try to avoid unnecessary eye contact, bending over even when items have dropped, or speaking too frequently. Unless I am conducting the meeting, it is best I know my place. Taking all this on is not natural, but it is necessary. 

Visiting a local family’s home for dinner this week, the
guests ate together on the floor beside a beautiful spread of rich, intricate Kurdish dishes. It was a delicious meal we shared while sitting cross legged on cushions with the man of the house. But, the women and children sat on the floor in the kitchen. After all that work they did to prepare this lavish feast, I thought they would at least sit with us...but they didn’t. It felt so wrong to me to have those walls between us. However, I had to swallow the feeling of annoyance I felt building up. It wasn't my right to be judgmental of their "backwards thinking". It’s not my world view that matters. I was in their home.

At our center where we work, we used to require the female cooks to eat amongst the rest of our staff. We wanted them to see how we viewed them, as equals, by not distinguishing them from the men. We thought this was best.
We were wrong. 

They sat amongst us, but were unfortunately unwilling to eat in the presence of males. We didn’t understand, but eventually realized that it isn’t our job to go in and change hundreds of years of tradition, even in small ways like this. It wasn’t a battle of equality we were fighting, it was more "our will, our way" vs their tradition. We needed to give in, and let them be comfortable, regardless of if we are comfortable with the arrangement or not. We are in their country, it’s not our right to fight this even if we do not agree with the root of this tradition.   

Meeting with the local education department a few weeks ago, I was shocked when they informed me that Women’s Literacy fell under special education. They didn’t understand my confusion. I kept my mouth shut at what they implied about their culture. More appropriately, I need to observe and reflect...take in all I can to know them, and what makes them tick.

Also, in Kurdistan, a woman who is unmarried and over the age of 30 is liable to receive disability from the government. They truly believe in this...and I had to shift my thinking in order to see the other side. Their motive is to provide for their women with no husbands. It is honorable, even if it appears demeaning to us. Truly, I respect their desire to honor these women. 

The statements I have heard about my “sex life” astounds me. There is no questioning that I am promiscuous and loose. Whenever I share my views on sex before marriage, the women here are shocked. “That’s the same as Islam!” they say with a giant smiles. “Yes,” I reply. I always follow it up with a statement about my view of not supporting drunkenness as well. Their faces light up…they are speechless.  They had no idea an American Christian could have live a moral life that compared to theirs. 

Breaking down the barriers...one little convo at a time.

Fighting the battle of my reputation is a big part of gaining any sense of respect in this culture. Honestly, the women's view of me is a much bigger deal in my mind. Therefore, it is so worth it to me to get to know them as people. I believe any change that comes forth in actions in this region, will be a result of their observation of how we live our lives. We are being watched…judged…and critiqued. Good. Because at some point, they will see a real difference, and hopefully desire a change that they bring about on their time frames, at a rate they are comfortable with. 

It’s not about human rights. It’s about respecting them on their land, according to their customs. I am not going to agree, and most of the time, I don’t. But it’s essential that I allow progression of thought to take place naturally…I am not here to demand change. Rather, I hope that the freedom I exhibit in my own life is example of hope. 


  1. OH my gosh. I love the insight this blog gave me into your experience. I seriously can NOT imagine being in the position you are in, and it is unreal what you are experiencing and handling with such grace. Please keep the blogs coming. It helps me know how I can pray and I also don't feel SO far away, even just for a little bit. I love you. You are so amazing. You have no idea...


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