Occupation: Freelance Writer
About Me: Hi! My name is Rebecca, and I'm a freelance writer originally from Madison, Wisconsin. Technically I'm based in Chicago (as in I have an apartment there and pay taxes, but am never actually there), but for the past six months I've been living in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. I write about travel, food, and human rights issues for publications like AlJazeera, The Independent, and Roads & Kingdoms. I also blog at Curiosity and a Carry On. Erbil is home to hundreds of journalists and humanitarian workers, meaning there are plenty of places for expats to hang out. There's also great local food.
Here's how I spend a typical weekend in the city:
5pm - The weekend starts on Thursday in much of the Middle East. I usually kick it off with a workout at my local gym, followed by a stop at the liquor store on the way home. I live in Ainkawa, the Christian neighborhood of Erbil, where liquor stores are abundant. I'll pick up some wine or cocktail ingredients, then stop at the bread shop on my street for samoon, a pillowy bread perfect for dipping in hummus, when I get home. My boyfriend usually gets home from work around 6:30, and we'll make drinks, snack on our bread, and get ready to meet friends at the German beer garden or Teacher's Club, another outdoor bar and restaurant. From here, it's either house parties or hotel bars. There aren't tons of options in Erbil, but it's kind of nice because if you go to one of the five main hotel bars, you're sure to run into someone you know. (Wine: $15, bread $2, drinks out $50)
9am - On Fridays I like to get some extra work done at Barista, a coffee shop down the street that's always buzzing with journalists and other expats discussing work. Coffee here isn't cheap, but after working from home most of the week it's nice to get out every once in awhile. ($5)
11am - Later in the morning, my boyfriend and I will either hang out at home or go hiking. Driving north a few hours from Erbil there are beautiful mountains and lush, green hills that look straight out of Ireland. We'll either pack snacks or stop for kebab along the way. ($4)
8pm - At night, we head to Iskan Street, dubbed "food street" for its array of street food stands. You'll find kebab, shawarma, soups, kibbeh, falafel, ice cream, and so much more. I've never seen other expats here (though I'm sure some do go), which is a shame because it's my favorite place in Erbil. The food is amazing and so cheap! Fresh fruit smoothies are about $2, and shawarma is about $1.50. During soccer games, shop owners set up outdoor TVs and people pull up couches and chairs to watch from the street. From here, we'll either go out again with friends, or go home.
10am - On Saturdays we make big brunches at home of all the American foods we miss. Eggs, pancakes, French toast, etc. And lots and lots of coffee.
12pm - There are only a few places to visit in Erbil during the day, including the Citadel, a World Heritage Site that's known as the oldest continually inhabited place in human history. We'll walk around the citadel and the adjacent bazaar, stocking up on any fruit needed for the week. There's also an amazing kebab shop in the depths of the bazaar called Yaseen Kebab. It's hard to find, but so worth seeking out for the juicy, flavorful, $3 kebab.
5pm - There are some nice parks in Erbil–Shanidar Park is my favorite–but from June to September it's much too hot to spend time outdoors before dark. Looking forward to fall so we can enjoy them on Saturday afternoons again! Saturday nights are the equivalent of Sunday nights here, so we'll either have a barbecue with friends in our yard, or relax with a movie at home.
Life in Erbil isn't for everyone, as even though the city is huge the social options can make it feel small, but I love it. If you're planning on visiting Kurdistan, let me know!
WEEKEND IN IRAQI KURDISTAN: $82.50
Be sure to follow Rebecca's amazing adventures on her blog and her Instagram!