Saturday, September 11, 2010

Life in the Fast Lane

I'm going to be painfully honest here: Ramadan, which ended yesterday, wasn't so terribly awfully excruciatingly beastly this year, and consequently, I'm a bit conflicted. Maybe even disappointed. I rather enjoy hating Ramadan. It's one of the few perks of living in an Islamic country and almost makes up for my not having a pension plan: I get to grumble and kvetch for 30 days, venting my spleen ad nauseam about the hypocrisy I see in its observants and the travails of navigating the rather inconvenient waters of this holiest of months. Fiercely dedicated to my muse, and thanks to Ramadans endured in Morocco and (easily the worst thus far) Turkey - that most Islamic of secular countries - I've spent years honing my grumbling/kvetching/spleen-venting skills. So ...

... so, I was all atingle about Ramadan 2010: the Iraqi Instalment. This, I thought, should be particularly dreadful.

But it wasn't. Apart from one sole sandwich shop closing down for the month - thereby depriving me of one of the two somewhat pedestrian offerings on the menu that I can actually eat (both involving cheese and not much else), it was almost as if Ramadan never was.

Could it get much better than that?

The truth is, I'm being a tad ingenuous, undoubtedly perhaps wilfully so. Ainkawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil, is a Land that Ramadan Forgot - or, at least, is at pains to penetrate. For the past month, there have been no drummers drumming me awake at 3 a.m., no whining students (most had the common sense to just not take classes for the month), no scenes of blatant aggression between Fasters in the advanced stages of nicotine withdrawal, and no trigger-happy muezzins with their fingers on the volume control. I would add that until yesterday, temperatures were still in the 50's - no mean feat going without liquids when it's hot enough to watch water evaporate as you pour it into a glass.

Amazingly - at least to me - many Kurdish-Muslims I know didn't fast at all, and made no bones about it - to whom these past weeks, I raised many a glass in sincere salute.

I openly drank gin & tonics water during class and no one took issue with i
t in spite of the fact that our 20-something-year old teacher - thankfully a temp - told us (after being in the country for two whole weeks) with all the gravitas which a 20-something-year old can muster (which is a lot) that if anyone were seen drinking or eating outside, they'd be fined at best or imprisoned at worst. I just laughed at her. I would add that her heightened level of cultural awareness and sensitivity was especially evident when she wore shorts to work. Why do boys keep asking for my phone number? ... I don't miss her.

(As an aside, when I broached the subject of Jail for Juice with my students, they looked at me as if I were mentally feeble.)

Yup: the bars remained open. It was business as usual in our neighbourhood liquor stores. Mr. This Cat was able to buy cartons of German wheat beer during regular hours of operation and evade arrest. Taxis still roamed the streets - even at sundown - for fares. This was
a far cry from trying to find a driver in Tangier an hour before sunset to take us the 10 minutes from the port to the train station. Hum-dee-laaaah.

In fact,
Ramadan 2010: the Iraqi Instalment was so painless that it was almost painful. I suppose there were trials of a sort. The local version of Turkey's traditional Ramadan bread (ramazan pidesi - the only thing that got us through the month there) was stuffed with dates (no thanks). True, at sunset yesterday, the very faint drone of a muezzin was carried to our neighbourhood on the evening breeze, marking the beginning of Eid, the end of Ramadan. And of course, the non-fasting boys across the street from us (who belong to pretty much the only Muslim family in the neighbourhood) celebrated every post-sunset by setting off squibs in their front yard causing every dog within a 20-block radius to go ballistic. More importantly, it caused our dog to go ballistic. Celeste spent much of the month barking her fool head off, running around the yard in circles, and trying to decide whether or not she wanted to clear our 2-metre garden gate - which she could easily do - and chew them to bits. Fortunately, her good sense (or my continual shrieks of Celeste! Celeste! Come here!) prevailed as I locked her inside.

After Week Two of the firecrackers, near-deafened by her incessant crazed barking, I stopped barricading her in the house. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, hearing our dog go certifiably (and very loudly) insane would curb their incendiary tendencies. Or maybe their mother would come out of the house and thrash them soundly. Those squibs are making that dog across the street go crazy, she'd say.
Thrash-thrash. You're all going to wake the baby. Thrash-thrash. Stop it now so I can get some peace. Thrash-thrash.

Neither of which happened.

So yes, there were trials.

I'll take this opportunity to end this little non-diatribe of the Ramadan That Never Was with a repeat performance from an earlier blog posting - from the end of Ramadan 2006: the Moroccan Madness.

… and of course, it’s a great time to be a cow or a goat because the clock has started ticking for this country’s sheep. Seventy days until the mass slaughter at Eid el Kebir – last year, over 6 million ovine throats were sliced with knives of varying sharpness and cleanliness, by hands of varying degrees of skill. Tick, tick, tick ... too bad I won't be here to enjoy it. Too bad I’ll be anywhere else in the world this time around.

Of course, in this part of the world, unlike Morocco, they do slaughter cows during The Great Sheep Sacrifice. And for that matter, I probably won't be able to get out of Dodge and avoid all the Primal Animal Panic & Blood & Death associated with pleasing a God who is generally pleased by
Primal Animal Panic & Blood & Death. I can only hope that, like Ramadan, The Great Sheep (cum Cow) Sacrifice will be kept to a minimum here in Ainkawa. In fact, I'm sure it will be. Unless it's those squib-wielding boys from across the street. I bet they're pretty handy with a knife. Won't our border collie love hearing a sheep or two bleating from across the way? That'll be the day that, with a hearty allahu Akbar, she'll decide to clear the garden gate.