Two years ago, shortly after my arrival in Suliemaniah, I needed to buy a good table lamp or desk lamp so that I could read at night. I went into a shop selling electrical goods and asked for such a lamp only to be told by the shopkeeper that he did not sell lamps as there was no need for them. Surprised I asked him ‘How do you read at night then?’ His reply was ‘Read! We do not read! We only count money!’
I have often thought of the shopkeeper’s reply and observed how people’s attitude to reading has changed. There was a time when we read any book, journal or newspaper that we had access to in order to increase our knowledge and awareness of what was happening but the value of the written word seems to be less today. If one owned a book you wrote your name inside it to declare your ownership in case it was lost or ‘borrowed and not returned’. I had a friend who always wrote before his name ‘This book was stolen from...’ Today many homes have shelves with beautiful leather bound books on display but these books are seldom, if ever, read and are merely ornaments in the room. Watching a television program is more popular than reading and the younger generation know more about music or football than general knowledge. We seem to have lost our desire to self educate and improve our knowledge.
Last month I bought a computer from a well known electronics outlet in one of Erbil’s large shopping malls. I was served by a young man who told me that he had a university degree yet when he made out the receipt for me he repeatedly failed to write the purchase price in Iraqi dinars correctly. Quite simply he could not distinguish between hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands and it took three attempts to get him to write it correctly, something he should have been able to do in secondary school!
We have over 800 periodicals and newspapers in Kurdistan yet the majority of people only read the articles that refer to corruption or scandal. It is the headlines referring to scandal, corruption or theft which attract notice more than subjects such as environmental or global issues. There seems to be little desire to improve understanding of issues that can be dismissed as being of no relevance to the daily life of the reader.
I have found that articles relating to Kurdistan and Iraq that I have posted on the Kurdistanfoodsecurity.com on the internet are read by people from all over the world yet very few are read by someone in Kurdistan or Iraq. Perhaps what I should do is to include the keywords of ‘scandal’ or ‘corruption’ etc in the title of each article about tomatoes or poultry in the website to attract more readers to important issues; the results could be quite interesting.