October 12, 2017

This Message from Kurdish Students to Las Vegas Victims will make you Weep.

I am a Las Vegas native and traveling English teacher working in the dusty desert mountains of what was once Mesopotamia.

According to my passport stamp, I live in Iraq. But if you ask my students and anyone else here (including me), I live in Kurdistan.

For those who do not know, Kurdistan is the autonomous region of Northern Iraq. It’s also home to Peshmerga, the formidable Kurdish military force that’s been on the front lines against ISIS since 2014. To lend some perspective, the name Peshmerga literally translates to “those who face death.”

Fighting is nothing new for the Kurds. Anyone here knows the adage, “No friends but mountains.” For centuries, Kurdish people have shed blood to protect their identity in the eye of the sectarian storm that engulfs them: Iraq below, Syria and Turkey to the west, and Iran to the east— all of which want nothing but Kurdish demise.

In recent decades, they have faced ISIS, Saddam Hussein, the largest civilian-directed chemical massacre in history—I need not go on. Yet if sometimes by only a thread, Kurds have carried on, tirelessly rebuilding themselves time and time again with a seemingly inextinguishable hope for peace and sovereignty.

Two days after the attack in Las Vegas which killed 59 and injured hundreds more, one of my Kurdish students approached me during a class break.

“Miss, did you see that we’re wearing black?” he said. I looked up from my desk, somewhat confused, “Hi Mohammed, yes?” Shyly, he continued, “We are sorry about what happened in Las Vegas, and we know that you are from Nevada. That’s why we wore black today.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I chose words that helped me keep back tears.

These are 19-year-olds who have grown up in fear of conflict and brutal dictatorship for much of their lives.

Nearly all of them have lost someone to war, terrorism, or brutality. That they could show such compassion for me, when the front lines of ISIS recently loomed just 20 miles away, was astonishing.

Their act of kindness reminded me of the relation between suffering and empathy. In a moment, I was swept with warmth, gratitude, and much-needed solidarity.

Dearly beloved Las Vegas, my students are thinking about you all the way from Kurdistan—the stateless nation in northern Iraq. The place with no postal service, no addresses, no ATMs, and centuries of struggle. I hope this touches you, as it did me in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy.

As far as my students are concerned, I wish them a nation as great as their hearts.

Relephant read:

Please Don’t Stop Sending your Thoughts & Prayers to Those Suffering.


Author:  Jillian Stenzel 
Image: Author’s Own 
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Nicole Cameron
Social edtiro: Nicole Cameron

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Jillian J. Stenzel Mar 3, 2018 6:30pm

FYI- the CELTA only takes a month to complete. It's very intense, however, and you'll learn a lot!

Jillian J. Stenzel Mar 3, 2018 6:30pm

Hi Jeff! Sorry for the late reply. Generally, an English-related degree is required. If not that, then at least a TEFL certificate such as CELTA (if you wish to look it up online). It also depends on where you teach. In general, Kurdistan lacks teachers and English is very indemand. You could probably get a job teaching at some schools, just not all, even with limited experience. Check into the CELTA, and feel free to message me if you are seriously interested :)

Jeff Quandt Oct 28, 2017 9:54pm

Thank you for posting this inspiring anecdote. I visited Kurdistan in 2016, and was deeply touched by the warmth and generous hospitality of the Kurds. I would be thrilled to be able to do what you are doing. Is a degree in ESL required?

Hope Loudon Oct 21, 2017 12:15pm

Amazing story. I visited the author in Kurdistan and was amazed. The people were incredible, and it was a beautiful country with an amazing landscape. The expats there are almost all journalists, NGO workers, special forces, and teachers. Few tourists ever dream of going to see it for themselves, but they should. Levi Clancy does some excellent writing for tourists there, and makes videos showing you the human side of Kurdistan apart from the conflict that dominates the news we see. I wish my friends there could have the opportunities and freedoms they deserve.

Jillian J. Stenzel Oct 19, 2017 1:48pm

Very well said!!

Kiersten Jackson Oct 18, 2017 11:14pm

These students couldn’t possibly have known what a profound and widespread effect this simple gesture would have. If these beautiful souls can unintentionally impact the US in such a way from a tucked-away corner of the world, imagine the impact we all could make acting with intention. Spread the love, ya’ll.

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 Jillian Stenzel

Jillian Stenzel is an English teacher and aspiring Indiana Jones in Kurdistan. She shares her experiences in Kurdistan on her blog and on Instagram @jillianjstenz.