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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006
Letter from Duhouk, Iraq

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Friday, Febraury 28, 2003
From the Field
Nolen Stephanie


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Pictures from Duhouk

Handrin Adal is bitter about being forced to paint his shop pink.
Photo: Stephanie Nolen/The Globe and Mail


Duhouk, Iraq -- The pink dominates his days and intrudes into his dreams at night. Handrin Adal cannot get free of it.

Mr. Adal owns a small video disc and CD store in the Suzan neighbourhood of this bustling Kurdish city near the Turkish border. Inside the shop, the shelves are lined with CDs by Turkish and Arab artists. Multi-coloured lights flash in the windows, decorating posters of the biggest stars. But from the outside, the shop is uniformly, garishly, shockingly pink.

And it's not just Mr. Adal's store. Every grocery shop, bakery, dentist's office and kebab stand in the Suzan neighbourhood is pink. Not a pale, South Beach sort of pink. It's a glaring Barbie, bubblegum kind of pink. ”At night it's always there in front of my eyes,” burst out an embittered Mr. Adal. ”I dream in this colour now.” He didn't paint his shop pink by choice. It used to be a dignified dark red.

But earlier this year, the Duhouk munipality passed a law that said each of the four main downtown neighbourhoods would be assigned a colour. All building fronts on the main streets had to be painted the designated shade. ”If we hadn't done it, they would have closed us down,” said Mr. Adal. It cost him 80 dinar (or $14) to put the new coat of pink on the store; the municipality assigned the colours but it didn't bring the paint.

In the neighbourhoods brushed white and yellow and blue, the merchants of Dahouk seem satisfied with the change; some even praise the air of uniformity it gives the town.

But in Suzan, which the governor decreed must gleam like Barbie's best Corvette, the issue becomes a little more contentious with the passage of every rose-coloured day. ”The government said do it like this -- I would have chosen yellow, but they didn't ask our opinion,” said Hussein Khalid, whose small grocery shop used to be beige.

Salan Abdul Salam, owner of a tiny shoe shop that used to be white with brown trim, said that the colour at least gives his neighbourhood a certain conspicuous quality. ”If you go far away from this area, you can still see the pink.” Indeed, Suzan district glows rosy even after dark.

The governor, for one, is proud of his multi-hued city. ”It's in my nature to find ways to make things interesting in the governorate, to reflect its character,” said a beaming Nichervan Ahmed. He is delighted with the way the colours make Duhouk -- Kurdistan's third city -- stand out from the two capital cities down south, where the preponderance of officialdom keeps the municipality from ever doing anything this creative.

”The administration system here is different than in Suleimaniya or Erbil. They are capitals and there you find a lot of ministers -- you'll find things a bit different.” He said he drew the inspiration for the painting spree from traditional Kurdish villages; although the houses are made of plain brown mud brick, Kurdish women often whitewash the walls of their small compounds. And in even the dullest earth-toned village, the mosque is whitewashed, its trim a cheery emerald or peacock.

Plenty of people in Duhouk have accepted the change. ”It's more beautiful, having everything in the neighbourhood one colour,” said Rajab Hussein, proprietor of a stationary store in blue Mazar. But his neighbour, pharmacist Jamal Mahedi, sighed heavily when asked how he feels about his sapphire shop front. ”It used to be white,” he said. ”White, for a pharmacy, it's more ..” ”Dignified?” ”Exactly.”

Mr. Adal says he could live with the colour scheme if had been democratically selected. ”We were forced, we were not told to choose our favourite colour. There should have been a byelection.” And if the will of the people had been pink, he said, then fine -- he would have embraced the pink. Mandated pink is another issue entirely. ”There would have been no problem if we had voted Ö But I'd rather it be blue, like the sky.”

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