Although the place is designed to cater to all book lovers, al-Ta′i insists that she is not there to serve a certain social segment, ethnicity, or sect, noting that everyone is welcome in the cafe.

"I would even like those who do not come to read to visit the cafe," she says. "Soon, they will be gripped by curiosity about a certain book title and begin to browse. If I can reach this stage, I will have already succeeded."

The art of perseverance

Al-Ta′i notes that the difficulties she faced in launching the project were primarily financial. "We went to investors, but no one agreed to fund us, because they were convinced that no one was interested in reading in Erbil," she said. "We tried to take out a loan from the bank, but the whole system of loans does not exist here."

As a result, al-Ta′i and her business partner had to resort to pooling together all of their savings to start the project.

The second difficulty she faced was bureaucracy, which significantly slowed down the procedures. And then there were the grave social difficulties: 99% of the surrounding buildings and environment in Erbil had been destroyed, creating a great deal of negative energy, as she put it. "I was on the point of giving up. I had come to expect that my idea would be met with ridicule," she says, emphasising that the project required a lot of courage.

Erbil's Book Cafe (source: raseef22)
An asset for the entire region: "The cafe has more than 3,500 books in Arabic, Kurdish and English. Yet, just over a year ago, it was extremely difficult to obtain any novel in Erbil, especially in Arabic and English," writes Sahar Moqaddem

A refuge for everything that's novel and creative

"When I opened the bookshop, I thought I would lose [money]. But I decided that it didn′t matter and I told myself that if no one came in and the project failed, I would accept it." However, contrary to her expectations, the cafe has been a great success among young Arabs and Kurds and even attracted foreigners.This small corner, with its vibrant decor, has become a refuge for everything that is novel and creative in Erbil. Here, the educated elite gather, musical and cultural evenings are held, as well as book signings and other cultural events that are rarely seen elsewhere in Kurdistan.

Al-Ta′i nonetheless considers the greatest indicator of her success to be the fact that the people accepted the idea and fell in love with it. "Women here have a hard time deciding what to wear, because no one grants them this freedom, let alone the freedom to take a decision to launch such a big project," she notes.

"Any woman who decides to open a project like this in the U.S. has a hundred different means; she can take out a loan from the bank, or launch crowd-funding campaigns. Life is easier there. As for us, we have to have a lot of patience and determination, because the journey is likely to be long and arduous."

Sahar Moqaddem

© Raseef22

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