The Kurdish Globe
By Goran Sabah Ghafour
He drops his head into his hands and peers out from behind his fingers.
It isn't a half-wit gesture, perhaps he is trying to mock when asked how much he makes per month. He clears his throat as if braced for a tough competition and states "Everybody in Kurdistan has a magic wand for money!"
I, pivot my shoulders to the wooden chair in a café, where all people seem to have fun, shrug and ask what does "magic wand" mean here" He slurs the last words a little, like a speaker just getting started, "It means that everybody everywhere in Kurdistan makes money easily -more than enough."
He is sodden with hope. Ghafour Soran, a taxi driver from Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, is not in a propertied class but a middle class who makes $2000 USD per month. He is married to a housewife who has no income at all. Together they raise three children. He owns a half-finished house and tries his best to complete his house by the end of next year. He saves $1200 USD per month.
"I live like a king," he states with a barking laugh and complains a bit about the lack of basic services in his neighborhood such as the streets are not paved, there are water and sewage shortages as well as an absence of public parks, libraries, schools and hospitals.
Throughout my interviews, I hear different people in different fields saying, the Kurdish boom is unprecedented. Inflation is rife. Average families make $2500-3500 a month. No cars, no goods, no fruit, no furniture is ever stuck in the markets. People buy them day in , day out. You go to a furniture store, all Kurdistan is there to buy furniture. You visit the downtown; all people are there shopping and money flies out of the hands of every one. You go to the car shows, people are busy bargaining and buying 2013 models and brand new cars.
Ako Khalid, an economist living in Kurdistan with a double citizenship: Kurdish and German, states that Kurdistan is really "the land of money" and the boom is at its peak.
Though the price of real estate is more expensive than in Istanbul, Paris and even California, people still buy villas, lands and rows of houses! One 200 meter square house- two floors is worth one million USD in an undeveloped district called Kalar in the south east of Kurdistan. One meter of land in Erbil hits five thousand USD. These prices were nothing more than a dream some five years ago in Kurdistan. As Khalid says everything is up for grabs in Kurdistan you just need to "put your trust in the right people" and you can wake up the next day as a millionaire.
Kurdistan has become also the land of big companies competing for the consumers who don't know what it is like to taste local fruit, vegetables and other diets . For them almost everything is imported from Turkey and Iran and some European and Gulf countries. Pepsi and Coca Cola, Mercedes and Ford are good examples. And Chinese, European and American oil firms beat each other very hard to sign oil contracts with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and rush to get started. The funniest part, and possibly the worst, is that Macdonald hasn't showed up yet in this big market where thousands of families have dinner outside. As Khalid says when one sees the restaurants full all the time, even during brunch times it is easy to think that nobody eats at home in Kurdistan. "And that's a big sign that people have money in this part of the world."
But Khalid thinks that this boom is not robust in Kurdistan and "it might plunge soon" because there is control over nothing. He terms the situation like "it's a wild free market".
Both Soran's sons and a daughter, go to school and this needs money, of course. He can manage all this only by the income he gets from his taxi. However, there are people who are taxi drivers and at the same time are working in public sectors too. Many policemen are taxi drivers after they finish their shift on call. You can find many teachers, civil servants, health staff, education personnel and even headmasters who own a taxi and work at their leisure. Everyone can be a taxi driver for there are no regulations, restrictions and rules whatsoever to prevent someone from being a taxi driver and having a taxi. Khalid claims that this is one of the conundrums of the whole boom because even villagers leave their villages and become taxi drivers in Kurdistan.
A traffic policeman, on condition of anonymity, says that 30 per cent of traffic staff have taxis and work as taxi drivers after their formal work hours. The least monthly salary of a traffic policeman is $1200 USD. He says that he earns twice more than his salary per month.
The Public are not only taxi drivers. They own shops, mini-markets, buses, houses to rent and one can go down the unfinished list.
Walid Khidir is a primary school teacher, at the same time he owns a mini-market in a busy neighborhood in Duhok. He earns more than $4,000 USD per month. He also says that he lives like a king. As a matter of fact, through my interviews I hear many people referring to that "Kingish Life" they have in Kurdistan. I eagerly ask Khalid to explain what is a "Kingish Life" and how does it look like to live like that. He wiggles and takes several seconds to reorganize his thoughts in another café where people seem happy in their Kingish outfits. The Kingish life means to have best of best: best car, best house, best indoor, best job, at least one trip per year to outside Kurdistan, another house for renting, whatever you want you can buy with what you earn monthly.
The Kings in Kurdistan still complain about basic services like water, bad roads, sewage shortages and others. Khidir buys water from the water tanks. "I buy 500 liters of water every other day." Soran used to buy water but recently the local government tackled the lack of water and now he has water from the national pipelines.
"You can manage all problems if you have a good income," he proudly states.
Others think that the smallest and simplest move would make hundreds of US dollars. Karim Hussein, another economist and teacher of economy in a high school in Suleimaniya, states that the reason behind the fact of having good incomes is that people have more than one job. "Whatever you do, how you move and what job you have can collect for more than three thousands per month. And that's for a middle class family; for others it is even more than that."
Both economists Khalid and Hussein agree that the political, economic, social and business tumble in Iraq is a big reason why Kurdistan's boom gets bigger and bigger every day.
"It's like blowing a balloon. One day it will burst and many will badly fell down," adds Hussein with a serious look.
Soran concludes by saying that after his house is built completely, he will start saving some money for the days after the balloon blows.