The Kurdish Globe
By Sazan Mandalawi
In the maze of Qaysari bazaar in Erbil, every man and woman knows the directions to a man locally known as Maam Khalili Chaychi (uncle Khalil the tea man). Khalil Salih, 74, owns a little treasure teahouse that has become a museum in its own way.
There are no renovations in the teahouse, still the old style small fan in the ceiling with the art work remaining the same. In 1948, Maam Khalil began as a worker in the tea house which was owned by his father, today he owns and runs the little treasure that is hidden in the maze of small paths in Erbil's ancient Qaysari bazaar.
"I have always worked here, and won't change my job. I have promised myself to work here till I die," he says while taking a sip from his tea during a little rest before serving more customers.
Maam Khalil begins his mornings at 3 am before sunrise to begin serving breakfast which includes eggs, honey and nutmeg. He closes the little shop at 8 pm.
His special possession is the pictures on the walls, of everyone including famous celebrities. He laughs while pointing to the back corner of the shop where the entire wall is covered with pictures "I even have Hitler's picture in the corner over there."
People can look, but they are not allowed to touch any photograph on the wall. He has pictures of all those who have visited his tea shop including a large number of officials and even foreigners.
"This is a small place but he has made a history book inside," says Narin Bahat, 22, as she looks around astounded at the different pictures on the wall. Taking a spoon full from the bowl of fresh mastaw (yoghurt drink) offered to her by Maam Khalil, she adds "you want to spend hours here. It is not enough to just come, drink a tea and leave."
"We have more than a 100 customers a day and three people including Maam Khalil work here," says Nawzad Ali, one of the workers.
"He enjoys having a friendship with all his customers."
The teahouse has been owned by Maam Khalil and his father for a total of 103 years. It is one of the only tea houses in Erbil where women are openly welcome into its premises without prejudice.
"Every woman who comes is like my sister," he says. Women are free to enter the teahouse if they wish. As he serves three teas at once, he joyfully says "I will come now and tell you a nice story".
With white hairs and wrinkles framing his eyes, Maam Khalil appears healthy and strong in his traditional Kurdish clothing. He takes a seat with a group of his customers sharing with them a quick memory that comes to his mind of an incident he had experienced.
"I come here to relax, to forget my problems and talk with other people," says 55 year old Mansour Abdullah. "On some days I spend a few hours here. We share stories, talk about politics, and sometimes we even sing together. Maam Khalil is an uncle to all of us."
Meanwhile Khalil runs around and manages the entire teahouse with no cashier, the cash is in the pocket of the Kurdish trousers and one must insist to pay, as often he refuses to take any payment.