Monday, November 12, 2012

Of pomegranates and juice running down the arms

Last week I spent two days in Ranya. The trip to was attend the two nights of the Cultural Festival that Pat wrote about on the previous post. But the day in between I spent with one of my favourite families in Iraqi Kurdistan. Nishtiman and Xhalid are our friends in Ranya. Nishtiman's family includes me like a daughter and sister when I visit.

On this day I told Nishtiman that I wanted to see her mother. N. told me that I could go there but she could not, as she was busy with the festival. That meant that I was on my own for language. That felt OK. I had the Kurdish in my head and my trusty dictionary, along with a lot of patience on the family's part and mine.

So, over I went. First there was a bit of confusion because they were setting down to eat breakfast and I had already eaten and could not manage another bite. Once that was settled everyone around the tablecloth on the floor seemed to decide that it would be a great idea for me to have a shower. Now, this was great news for me but I chuckled to think that this was a universal agreement. When I was done I was congratulated-'Perozbet". I did not really understand why I was been given the word that one receives on holidays, birthdays and births. But I think they liked a clean me and I did too so all was good!!

Nishtiman came home for lunch and told me before she left that the family was headiing out for a picnic with "hanar/pomegranates. I did not really undersstand what that meant. Usually picnics have coal burners with chicken on sticks and dolma. But I was game and picnics are fun.So we all piled into two cars. I was given the seat of honour beside the driver (son-in-law Asaad) while everyone else doubled up in the back seat. I tried to get the young grand daugher to share my seat, but either that is forbidden by traffic laws, or they did not want to disturb my comfort.

We drove out into the mountains. Ranya is at the foot of the Black Mountains (they look black when they are wet), but I don't know which mountains these were. We began to encounter  tiny villages and more animals and people waving at us as we passed. Occasionally the cars would slow to honk at people working in the yards and they would greet the family.

Pomegranates hanging from the trees. It sure is different than paying $1.50 for one in Canada.

The family gathers and gets ready to pick fruit
Elea fell asleep on the journey in the car, so this is her comfy bed for her nap. I think her family shared my opinion that she looked like "sleeping beauty" so they placed a bit of pomegranate by her head.

Strategies to get the fruit from the tallest trees; pulling and holding tall branches and using sticks to knock them down.
And further strategies for getting walnuts out of the tall, tall tree. This is son, Dilzar.

Mother, Gul (means flower) and son in law, Asaad.
I stuffed myself full with pomegranates and beautiful ripe, purple figs.

Grandson (I think his name is Rebaz).

On the way back to the car. I am not sure what Gul was doing, but when she looked at the photo she thought that she looked like the queen.
Gul, sister to Gul's husband, Razhan (daughter in law), Sharaban (daughter), me, Ranya (grand daughter) and Rebaz (grandson)

 A lovely photo of the women in my car.
Pari, sister of Gul's husband, Sharaban and Ranya.
 Asaad, Gul's son in law and husband of Pari. He drove me around to show me the spring for the village and to see some of the tiny villages in the area. As he took my photo in this spot he said, "you know what this is?" I surprised him by saying that it was a gravestone. A  old gravestone, but it may be from the time of Sadaam's anihlation of the villages. His family left the farm with the pomogranates 20 years ago.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Guest post- "Late Nights in Ranya"

This post is written by my team mate, Patrick Thompson. I was there that night, although I was not awake as late as he was. (I regretted it the next morning when I heard what he had experienced).  In his description he makes me feel like I was back there in the dark in Ranya.

The chill of the night was kept at bay by the constant shuffling and stamping of feet on the soft short grass and the rhythmic shaking of our shoulders.
We were dancing, Kurdish style. The long semi circle of men and women holding hands tightly bunched, shuffled in time with the drum and oboe. Cheers, whoops and shouts exchanged between the excited dancers.
The semi circle multiplied, there was two, maybe three with individuals dancing, twirling and hopping between them.
 These dancers represented the world.
Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic, Assyrian, Persian. Christian, Muslim and Yazidi. Standing side-by-side, dancing, shuffling, twirling to the rhythm of the drum to the melodies of the oboe.
Politically the situation in and around Kurdistan is difficult, complex. The conflict in Syria, hunger strikes and military action by Turkey, threats of war against Iran not to mention the struggle for independent Kurdistan as a whole. The politics, fueled by money and power, racism, xenophobia and old militaristic alliances, has little to offer the common citizen any more, yet it controls everything. Business is done, the fires of war are stoked, accusations fly, and the people suffer.
But here, entranced by the music, the common bound of all people, the politics ceased to be. Relationships were built on mutual respect for each other’s gifts, talents and passion and the struggle to push their talents to the limit.
The Ranya cultural festival was a hotpot of music and dance from around the region. Two nights of bright lights and camera crews, aimed at a stage providing an opportunity for young performers to entertain more than 5000 people. They all reveled in the opportunity and didn’t disappoint.
But it was the after show party, the after hour activities that really showed the spirit, the joy and the passion of this ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse group of people. As the performers gathered to entertain themselves, they no longer performed, they played and played and played into the small hours of the morning, sharing songs of love and lost, life and death, dancing, clapping and stomping the beat, or holding back, in solemn silence, as a Mamosta (teacher) shared an unaccompanied ballad that touched the heart of every soul in the room.
Politics’ is complicated, it creates aims it fails to achieve, deadlines it fails to observe, promises never fulfilled, budgets that never match reality. All of which are an excuse used by one side against the other, who in turn act the same.
These politics stand in the way of peace. Amongst the dancers I stood shoulder to shoulder, a smile on my face and a laugh in my voice as my feet tapped in time with theirs. We danced; Kurds, Turks, Persians, Arabs and me, the British man, and there was peace.
Our people have struggled against each other for centuries, the oppressed and the oppressors, fought for money, power and control yet here, as the music played, there was peace.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who has the power, it doesn’t matter whose president or prime minister or which party has control. In the end all they want is your vote, you’re “OK”, so they can stay in control, lining their pockets, satisfying their interests. Real change, change that moulds history, never comes from the top but from the people; the musicians, the poets, the artists, the dancers, the singers, the appreciators, people of joy, passion , peace and love.
The beautiful hand embroidered  costume  of the Christian dancer. They are part of community who had lived near Mosul, Iraq and have moved to Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan for security and peace.