Thursday, December 16, 2010

Whipping up a Little Excitement for the Holidays

The little window flap on my advent calendar assured me, moments before I popped a plum pudding-shaped choccie into my mouth (for this is what advent is all about for heretics like me: chocolate) that we are "9 sleepies" away from Christmas. And although the very fact that I was able to buy an advent calendar in Iraq is newsworthy enough, I find myself in a somewhat contemplative mood as today is yet another a holiday. I do feel behoved to mark it in some way since my normal fashion of acknowledging holidays here (i.e., sleeping in) was wrested from my grasp this morning and replaced with the very wet nose of a very alert border collie unacquainted the niceties (i.e., sleeping in) of Islamic holy days and hellbent on a walk.

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, nutjobs Flagellation Fanatics - considered heretics by moderate Muslims - slash themselves quite enthusiastically with sharp pointy things like swords and razors, or if you are among the nutjobs Flower of Flagellation Fanatics, a zanjeer (see left).

I have no bone to pick w
ith 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 abused children - on the internet.

You may thank me now for not including any photos of
these nutjobs Flagellation Fanatics in action. You're welcome.

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 nutjobs Flagellation Fanatics, but because they are Kurdish and any excuse is excuse enough for a holiday - or more accurately, a day off from work.

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.

6 comments:

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

Shhh! Here’s nine, insane blogz YOU may steal/plagiarize to thy heart's content, to give you thots and ideas you may have never thunk!! Be prepared, though, Upstairs in Heaven Above, my blogz of humble wisdom and avant-garde-efficaciousness will be attributed to moi, aussi in some kinda trilogy. I don't think you'll much care in the Great Beyond, though, fulla party-hardy, kick-some-assness. God bless.

This Cat's Abroad said...

snap

Miss Footloose said...

Living overseas can be so enlightening. Think of all the things you learn and see and experience! Just think, instead of watching people slicing themselves up on TV, you could, oh joy, have been Christmas shopping at Walmart.

As always,a great read!

Miss Footloose said...

Just to let you know that I listed your post GUNNING FOR IRAQ on my latest post titled Fun Abroad: 10 Fabulous Expat Blogger Stories. Here's the link:

http://tiny.cc/yz5rj

Thanks for entertaining me!

davisp1953 said...

Ayuh, that's about how it works up north there. Bagdhad, it's worse. Get down south amongst the Marsh Arabs, it's just peculiar. And you want to talk about hot summers, get down there with your back to the Naf and get that wind blowing across from Saudi, and that's when you WISH for a good redout dust storm, just to cut the sun. I've opened the door to go eat, and just closed it again. Food is good, but not when you are walking in the oven to go get it.

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