A new take on hos­pi­tal­ity


The Nation - - EXPLORE -

THE OPEN­ING of a new ho­tel is pos­ing a chal­lenge to tribal cus­toms in west­ern Iraq’s An­bar prov­ince, where lo­cals tra­di­tion­ally wel­come out­siders into their homes.

In the heart of Ramadi, the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, a tall build­ing is lit up with neon lights. “Rose Plaza Ho­tel” reads a bright sign in Ara­bic and English.

The 80-bed ho­tel, built by a young Iraqi busi­ness­man, has caused a stir in An­bar, the vast desert prov­ince to the west of Bagh­dad that ex­tends to the borders with Syria, Jor­dan and Saudi Ara­bia.

Wear­ing a suit and with his hair slicked back, hote­lier Mo­hammed Kas­sar stands ready to de­fend his project.

“We are the prov­ince of gen­eros­ity and hos­pi­tal­ity,” says the 29-year-old.

“But it’s a joke that a prov­ince which cov­ers a third of Iraq, looks out onto three coun­tries and is a com­mer­cial hub, doesn’t have a ho­tel.” An­bar has come far.

A long-time bas­tion of the anti-US in­sur­gency, it was later over­ran by the Is­lamic State (IS) group and be­came off-lim­its to tourists or in­vestors on busi­ness trips.

But since Ramadi was re­taken by Iraqi au­thor­i­ties in 2016, re­con­struc­tion, new hous­ing and com­mer­cial projects have sprung up, at­tract­ing en­trepreneurs from across Iraq.

Louai Rafe, an Iraqi busi­ness­man, says he’s happy to have found Rose Plaza.

He thought he could fin­ish some ad­min­is­tra­tive work in An­bar and re­turn the same day to the cap­i­tal Bagh­dad, 100 kilo­me­tres away.

But the work took longer than he ex­pected and he de­cided to book into the new ho­tel.

“When­ever I came here, I used to sleep at a friend’s house, and I was em­bar­rassed to bother him again,” Rafe says.

“This ho­tel is re­ally wel­come, it makes ev­ery­one’s life eas­ier.”

But in An­bar, life is gov­erned by the re­gion’s tribes and their an­ces­tral cus­toms.

A sense of hos­pi­tal­ity is para­mount, with any out­siders be­ing in­vited to eat a hearty meal and stay overnight in a res­i­dent’s home.

Houses are even built with such a wel­come in mind, as the di­waniya or re­cep­tion hall must be the largest and most im­pres­sive room.

This re­mains true even if it means cut­ting down on space for the fam­ily.

The only pre­vi­ous at­tempt to open a ho­tel in Ramadi was a fail­ure, ev­i­dent from the un­fin­ished and aban­doned build­ing in the city cen­tre.

The Turk­ish firm be­hind the ho­tel was forced to aban­don the project in 2014, when IS over­ran the city. Res­i­dents jest that even the ji­hadists stayed away from the build­ing.

But some An­bar res­i­dents are keen to take ad­van­tage of the new ho­tel, such as 28-year-old Mo­hammed Ahmed who has re­served a room for his hon­ey­moon.

“I didn’t have any­where to go and the ho­tel is a good al­ter­na­tive,” says Ahmed, his beard neatly trimmed and wear­ing a crisp white shirt.

The owner also aims to at­tract busi­ness clients, hold­ing out hope to wel­come del­e­gates for re­con­struc­tion con­fer­ences and sum­mits on Iraq’s postIS fu­ture.

But for some res­i­dents, the ar­rival of the ho­tel re­mains a threat to the re­gion’s cus­toms.

“Th­ese ho­tels never ex­isted in the tra­di­tions of our fa­thers and our grand­fa­thers,” says Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil al-Hamed, a 52-year-old tribal dig­ni­tary.

Hamed, wear­ing a white bedouin scarf and black robe, said the tribes have al­ways been known for wel­com­ing vis­i­tors.

“Th­ese ho­tels de­stroy our rep­u­ta­tion,” he laments.

The lobby of the Rose Plaza Ho­tel in Ramadi, the cap­i­tal of Iraq’s An­bar prov­ince.

A room in the 80-bed ho­tel

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