The Art of the Glance

0615 Dohuk Iraq….that’s 6:15 in the AM for all you non 24 hour time folks. The streets are quiet, shops still closed as we drive by looking for a coffee. The only movement is that of young men in sandals, pants rolled to their knees cleaning the sidewalks with water and squeegees. Keeping a clean sidewalk is life here. The unrelenting dust removed from crippled old walkways that at first glance look unkept. It is something that has impressed me, this diligence against the dust.

We spot an open coffee/tea shop, my driver stops to ask if they have coffee. I have come to wonder if he is asking not if they have coffee but if it is ok to bring me for coffee. You see in Arab culture these little coffee stops are reserved for the men only. You never see a woman at them. But I have yet to be turned away.

We sit, immediately two coffees are brought out. Nearly tossed with skill on the shitty plastic stool used for a table.Two of those tiny ass coffees I have come to have a very love hate relationship with when I travel. You see “progress" comes in the form of large American style coffee. Easily measured is a country’s connectedness by the size of its morning beverages.  

I have yet to master these tiny beverages. It takes a thoughtfulness, a concentration of mind for me to slow down, sit, make what is one gulp last for many tiny sips. This is an art. A meditation and I practice it with thought when I am given these opportunities. Really I shit you not. I can both twerk and sip coffee with Iraqis.

Looking around,  I am totally out of place in so many ways. A couple tables of old men, old Iraqi Kurd men giving me glances I am having trouble deciphering. These people give nothing away, it is glorious. They have earned their caution and it’s something I well know and appreciate.

We trade glances as if circling for battle, never meeting eye contact. They are good these old men. I love their culture. Most would suppose they would stare this foreign woman down, out of her place, and maybe if I was nervous they would. I find their entire demeanor amusing.

My diver walks off down the block in search of food, heads all turn, they speak amongst themselves. How strange this blonde, white, American woman left alone here. I light up a cigarette, something else women don’t do. Smoke. Truly I am an anomaly to these men. Wave down the coffee guy and order another in Kurdish from where I am sitting. Finally the one on my far right cracks, he smiles. I got him, the battle won.

Smiles are hard won here and I revel in my sweet victory.