So today is Ashura: what for Shia Muslims is a Day of Mourning for the martyrdom of the Prophet's (pbuh) grandson Husain ibn Ali some 1300 years ago during the Battle of Karbala - which just happens to be in Iraq which in itself may or may not be interesting. Or to put it in a slightly less charitable light, it's National Self-Flagellation Day. Because the Reason-for-the-Season is a somewhat sombre one, and although this practice has been widely and loudly condemned by Muslim (including Shia) clerics,
I have no bone to pick with individuals who want to shred their skin to the consistency of pulled pork, as it seems that most main-stream religions have had to contend with flagellants in some form or another (nothing will drive the bubonic plague from your dhithole of a village like a hundred lashes to the back) at one time or another, but I do take exception to seeing pictures of these individuals - and their bloodied
You may thank me now for not including any photos of these
Now the Muslims in our region are either Sunni or they are not Muslims at all; nonetheless, today is a national holiday. My Kurdish students were rather keen on their holiday today - not because they have any great reverence for what happens among the sword-wielding
I once firmly believed that the Spanish had already nailed the much coveted Anything-for-a-Day-Off Crown. (They have even gone so far as to make Eid al-Adha [a.k.a. the Great Sheep Slaughter] a public holiday - oi vey!) But I have since been disabused of that notion. What is true, however, is that the Spanish have raised to an art form their uncanny ability to establish a puente (literally a "bridge") which links the day off in question - regardless of what weekday it falls on - to a weekend, which as we all know normally begins at noon on Fridays, thereby creating a Ridiculously Long Weekend. Surely apart from the sheer existence of Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem, this is Spain's greatest contribution to humankind.
So back to the Kurds. Quite simply, I have never encountered a people who have so many holidays - and they seem to have also figured out this puente business all on their own. And because the Kurds form a minority in this Arab country, and the Christians Kurds form an even smaller minority in this Kurdish region which forms a minority in this Arab country, holidays - both civic and religious abound. Case in point: the Kurds celebrate three New Year's - Muslim, Western and Kurdish, all replete with days off from work and puentes.
My Christian students tell me that among Iraqis they have it the best except when they get ticked off about being unduly persecuted and then go running to France seeking asylum - but that usually happens in the south. Not only do they get every Muslim holiday off, but here in Kurdistan they are also given Christian holy days - and of course Iraqi and Kurdish civic holidays. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out that they work about 2 and a half days a week. Compounded with the fact that most white collars work until 2 or 4:00 in the afternoon, when quitting time comes (picture Fred Flintstone sliding down his brontosaurus' neck at the first toot of the 5:00 whistle-cum-screeching-bird), there is nary a gainfully employed employee to be found. I would add that I wouldn't be surprised if, at quitting time, there were hundreds of abandoned phones left on desks forlornly emitting sounds like 'helloooooo, are you there?", but the truth is, those on their other end of the line have long buggered off.
Needless to say, things take a very long time to get done here.
I can't help but notice that next week (December 11th in fact) is Establishment of Kurdish Women’s Union Day, but I don't think it's a holiday. I'm terribly disappointed. I have no doubt that someone will take it off.
By the way, I asked all of my students yesterday what they would be doing to mark Ashura. They looked at me as if I were feeble-minded. Sleep in, they said. And watch those nutjobs slicing themselves up on TV.