I enjoyed reading Agatha Christie’s memoirs “Come tell me how you live” which recounts her time in Iraq and Syria in the 1930s, with her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan.
Although at times it’s a bit uncomfortable, with outdated descriptions and generalisations, for the most part its a charming account of the 30s, and I did find passages which I truly appreciated reading. You get a rare window into life on the ground.
I particularly liked her descriptions of Kurdish women.
“I wander away from the work and around the far side of the mound, here looking north towards the blue line of hills, I sit down among the flowers and go into a pleasing coma. A party of women are coming from the distance towards me, by the gaiety of their colouring they are Kurdish women. They are busy digging up roots and picking leaves, they make a beeline for me. Presently they are sitting around me in a circle.
Kurdish women are gay and handsome, they wear bright colours. These women have turbans of bright orange around their heads. Their clothes are green and purple and yellow. Their heads are carried erect on their shoulders. They are tall with a backwards stance so that they always look proud. They have bronze faces with regular features, red cheeks and usually blue eyes.
The Kurdish men nearly all bear a marked resemblance to a coloured picture of Lord Kitchener that used to hang in my nursery as a child. The brick red face, the big brown moustache, the blue eyes. The fearsome marshall appearance.
In this part of the world Kurdish and Arab villages are about equal in number. They lead the same lives and belong to the same religion, but not for a moment could you mistake a Kurdish woman for an Arab woman. Arab women are invariably modest and retiring. They turn their face away when you speak to them. If they look at you, they do so from a distance. If they smile it is shyly and with a half averted face. They wear mostly black or dark colours. And no Arab woman would ever come up and speak to a man. A Kurdish woman has no doubt that she is as good as a man, or better. They come out of their houses and make jokes to any man. Passing the time of day with the utmost amiability. They make no bones about bullying their husbands.“