Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My husband has 1/2 a wife.....

Today was one of those days that makes me love my work. The team had decided to visit one of our contacts who is a mullah/imam/leader of a Muslim mosque to pay our respects. His brother had died a month ago and it is the proper thing to do. Unfortunately, when the time came one of my team mates had spots all over his body from a silly virus and the other had stomach problems. So I went with Mohammed to the house attached to the little mosque.

We were greeted by the mullah and his two tiny daughters. We met one woman and then his wife. After we were settled with glasses of water and cushions to lean against, Mohammed expressed our sadness at the loss of his brother. Then the cake with  tea and bowls of watermelon came out of the kitchen . The two women sat down against the wall on the other side of the room to listen. The conversation went back and forth: Kurdish, English, English, Kurdish. Then M. looked at me and said, " this woman is his second wife. They were married six months ago". I could tell they all were looking at me for my reaction. I smiled and put my hand over my heart. They smiled back.

We talked about fundraising; how CPT gets its money. Does it get government funding for rent or food? M. said  that we did not and then went on to explain how individuals give money to CPT for our work. I asked M. to tell him about my fundraising suppers and they were thrilled by that idea. They asked what kinds of Kurdish food I had prepared and were suitably impressed. However, they thought that if they tried such a thing here- make a meal and then tell people they had to pay for it- they would never come back!

After more conversation I decided to be bold. I asked if I could ask the women some questions. They agreed readily. So I told them about how I had been the daughter of a Christian pastor (mullah) and sometimes my mother found it hard to be the wife of a pastor. I asked them how it was for them and if they found that the community expected them to be better than most women. They both agreed that it was good to be the mullah's wives. They did feel higher expectations, but  explained that they knew he was in that position when they agreed to marry him. They all played and cared for the little girls while they talked.

I have never really had occasion to think about polygamy. But it did not matter at this point. We were talking and sharing our stories together. Mulah asked me about my husband and children. I explained that now my marriage was unusual in my culture, with me being here for 1/2 the year. He listened well to my story of how we came to the agreement that I was to do this work here in Iraqi Kurdistan.

But, I thought to myself, "hmm. right now Vic (my husband) has 1/2 a  wife and right now the mullah has 2x ."

Before we left, I had agreed to come back to their house to learn how to make Kurdish bread and cake from the wives. The idea is quite exciting, but so stretching to think of spending a whole day with my limited Kurdish and their  lack of English. But I promised to bring my dictionary and I think we will do well.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Come Join in the dance- Part 3- Iraqi Kurdistan

In the noon break of an Idle No More conference I joined a small round dance led by a women's drumming group. As the dancers clasped hands and formed a semi-circle, our legs moved in rhythm and our arms kept the beat. As I joined my friends in the dance I looked around and it seemed very familiar. The formation, the legs and feet, the hands clasped and the arms beating took me to the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Only the music was different.

Dancing  is an integral part of the culture of the Kurds. Small groups or large groups can break into spontaneous movement- in the forest, in a meadow, on the street or even sometimes on the bus.  At the big Spring/New Year celebration, Naw Roz, family groups picnicking throughout the countryside bring loudspeakers and electronic players.These provide the beat and music. Then the  generations of friends and family  join hands in a semi circle, which can extend to a full circle if there are enough people. The feet move sideways around the circle while the arms and shoulders move vigorously to the beat. Occasionally, one has the privilege of having a live group playing drums and cuzela  (a nasally oboe type of wind instrument).

 Weddings are not complete without huge speaker systems that blast singers such as  Aziz Waysi, a very popular singer, and the circles of moving shoulders and feet. Below is a great video that shows village life along with an example of his music.
Our team was invited to celebrate the wedding of a son of one of our partners. The Autumn day was still quite warm and the sky blue. The mountainous region called the "Quandil" rose high above the foothills. The wedding celebration was held outside, on the grounds of a rural football/soccer stadium. Women, including the groom's mother,  prepared food over propane fires in large vats. Then the young men served the rice, chicken, mutton and vegetables to the women and children who sat on rugs around a plastic tablecloth. The men and older boys ate  separately. However, once the mess was rolled up in the disposable tablecloths and cleared away, the loudspeakers were unloaded from a big truck. The men moved over to the area with the women. And the dancing began.

 This is a bit of footage that I took with my little Nikon. It is a little rustic but shows the beautiful "jili Kurdi" and the long sleeves tied behind the back of the women.
My team mate who was brought up in the Christian faith said that his experience was turned around. There men and women were able to eat together and talk together but dancing was not allowed. Here men and women  must eat and talk separately, but when it comes to dancing they are welcome to join hands and dance side by side.

My Kurdish dancing experience mirrors the welcome that I have experienced in all my interactions with Kurdish people. They seem excited and  a little amused  that we desire to join into their cultural traditions, whether that is eating Kurdish food, sleeping on mats on their floors or joining their family in dance. But they say beker bate..welcome, welcome. ["You may be a  little strange looking and you don't know how to dance very well,"] But welcome, please come and join us..

I don't have any video footage of me joining the dance, but here are a couple of still photos.(Rosemary Milazzo)