By Muhammed Chawsawa - Studying, chatting on the internet, and checking Facebook everyday takes up a lot of the time of men in the Kurdistan Region, in Iraq, and in the broader Middle East.
However, there are some who want to escape from the meaningless and mundane activities of everyday life. They want to have a respite to escape into books an occasion when they can get away from everything but their books.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, there are dozens of students who regularly schedule a “reading retreat” in which they dedicate themselves to poring over their favorite books. These events are being held in different villages, towns, and cities in this region.
Each time a different student reserves a house or a villa belonging to a relative or himself. There they spend a week, a weekend, and sometimes even a month doing nothing but reading.
I have been involved in such reading camps for two years. However such events have been going on for many years, and no one can exactly mark its history. Students from different areas participate, mostly from Sulaimani, Hawler, Halabja, Chamchamal, and Rania. 15 students from the American University of Iraq Sulaimani participated in the most recent retreat that I participated in.
How and what to do?
The person who arranges the reading camp creates an agenda and discusses it with his companions soon after they arrive to their destination. The agenda must include activities as well as reading periods and rests. In other words, the reading retreats we arrange are activities within activities.
Activities include hiking, swimming, watching movies, playing soccer, field trips to local museums and parks, and lectures by invited intellectuals. At the end of each day, each participant presenst a brief summary of what he read.
This time, we headed to a very excited place named Warte, a sub-district three hours from Sulaimani. The “reading retreat” took three days. In Warte, we went to a villa in the mountains. At night, I heard “whooo whooo” sounds of owls, and in the mornings, I heard a variety of birds, especially nightingale’s chanting.
Because the place was a mountainous area, we were able to do something very exciting: hiking. We went to Karokh Mountain, one of the highest mountains in the Middle East region. Salman Ahmed, an AUIS student from Rania describes the hiking, “I was truly enjoying hiking in my last trip with some of my colleagues because one of my most interesting hobbies is hiking. It was my second time to do some Hiking in Karukh which is one of the highest mountains, and it is really a wonderful place for hiking especially during spring. Karukh stands against the Zagros Mountains, and we saw Halgurd Mountain which is the highest mountain in Iraq, and it is a part of the Zagros Range.”
How Did We Feel?
The reading and activities delight the participants. One mentioned, “Even though I dislike getting up early in the mornings, I am really pleased to have this chance to participate again because the reading, the food and above all, the activities and being with such great friends cannot be easily described.”
These reading retreats also reconcile participants with nature as in this hectic life, as they are too busy keeping up with the speed of their modern lifestyles. “These reading camps don’t only make me read books, but also read nature. Each plant is a book itself that should be read, and each sort of their leaves is a book too.” Danar, an AUIS student from Sulaimani said.
Krekar Muhammad from Rania was another participant and expresses his feeling, “This is unprecedented experience.
When you view someone reading, you subconsciously pick up a book and commence reading. I like the discussion part most because I think if you read something and have no reaction, you then have read nothing. But it is certainly fun to learn how our fellow reading campaign members value both the experience of reading and their time spending with books.