We knock at the two-metre-high gate in the wall at the front of the house. Our Kurdish friend opens the gate and the greetings begin. “What is with you?” “How is your father, mother, brother, sister…?” “What’s news?” A barrage of greetings spoken over the top of each other, kisses to both cheeks, and we are seated in a spotless, sometimes gaudily furnished, “guest room”.

Firstly glasses of water arrive on a tray, passed to each guest and immediately circulated again to collect the glasses. If we are thirsty we swig it; if not we put it back after only a sip. The television is turned on for our pleasure and to help with breaks in conversation. It is now time to relax more. Very dark, bitter black tea served in piala (small glasses) arrives, with loads of sugar. If we stir the glass too much it will be sweeter than Coca Cola. Unless we lie our glass sideways on its saucer, or leave some tea in the bottom, the host will provide endless refills.

Our host also brings out gula barosha (sunflower seeds), salted in their shells. Kurdish people are adept at splitting the shells between their teeth and removing the seed with their tongue.

As we indicate that we are leaving, we will politely wait for the fruit to be served; an important conclusion to the visit. (If we do not wait for this and rush out, then bananas and apples will be shoved in our pockets.) The fruit bowl is put on the table with small plates and sharp knives for cutting the fruit. We help ourselves, cut our fruit and eat it, before thanking our host and leaving promptly. We will need to be very insistent as we hear repeated phrases like, “It’s too early”. “You must stay.” “Stay for dinner.” As the language and cultural etiquette became second nature to us, we were able to discern whether staying was appropriate or not. Hospitality is highly valued by the Kurds and we were blessed so many times through its practice.