“Yek hazar, yek hazar, yek hazar!”

This is what you’ll hear if you go shopping with me in Kurdistan! Being shouted loudly by a man or young boy dressed in traditional Kurdish clothes, or by a recording being blasted out over a loud speaker, blaring in your ears…

Yek hazar means one thousand. One thousand Iraqi dinars is equivalent to about 82 cents. These salesmen call out their bargain prices all day long, attracting shoppers to come see what wonderful items are for sale at my all-time favorite shopping bazaar in Kurdistan—Bazaari Langa.

Bazaari Langa is the second-hand bazaar. Filled with traditional people, clothing, foods, sights, sounds, and smells, and with clothes and shoes for sale (for bargain prices) from all over Asia, Europe and America. It’s absolutely one of my favorite places in my home city!

Shopping in a second-hand bazaar takes time and patience—you need to factor in the massive crowds who do not observe any sense of personal space and also the language barrier. When shopping with me in Bazaari Langa, prepare to be smashed, pushed, and elbowed, all within the cultural norms of Kurdish shopping behavior.

Kurdistan-94Also, be prepared to be stared at… a lot. Many foreigners prefer to shop in the malls because there is more of western feeling and selection (and prices!). Not me! I prefer the authentic, traditional experience. Thus I absolutely stand out among so many national Iraqi people.

And occasionally, if you are brave enough to join me in a shopping adventure, you should be prepared for the chance that we may be followed. This has happened to me many times and is not nearly as sinister as it sounds. It looks something like this. Let’s say that you and I enter a shop that is absolutely empty. Within minutes, as we turn around from our browsing, we see that the shop has nearly filled with national women, heads covered, shrouded in black, pressing in around us, all looking at the same items we are looking at. When we leave the shop, we are followed to the next shop by these curious onlookers. Some people can feel uneasy by this, but I love it! I know it is just the natural friendliness and curiosity of the Iraqi people. They want to know what the strange western people like and want.

But in addition to being pushed, stared at, and maybe followed, shopping in Bazaari Langa is an opportunity to meet national people and begin relationships. Sharing greetings and sharing smiles as I frequent my favorite shops week after week is a wonderful way to build bridges between my home country of America and my new home of Iraq. It is a simple, natural, beautiful privilege.

Some may feel Bazaari Langa is dirty, smelly, chaotic, and unorganized. I, instead, view it as an opportunity: an opportunity for me to find a treasure at a bargain price, and an opportunity to experience the Iraqi culture up-close and personal, in a wonderfully authentic way!

Wanna join me sometime? I’ll grab a taxi and lead the way!

Katrina Winchester lived and taught with her family in Iraq for 4 and a half years. She is one of our most intrepid second-hand bazaar shoppers and found a great way to connect and build community there.