Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ramadan in Kurdistan

The taste of starvation

“Hungryyy!!” that is me winging and moaning in Ramadan, as the students eat their salad sandwiches, that is, if I were in Australia, in Kurdistan the story is different—in fact, very different.
The most festive season on the Muslim calendar is this holy month of Ramadan; and how glad I am to spend this time of year in Kurdistan. Whilst the weather is not really of good help and the hours are very long, still, there is a special taste that cannot be felt or experienced abroad.

I remember in high school if you said ‘I am fasting’ they would feel sorry for you and offer water, ‘I can’t have water either’ would be the general reply. Many would not understand the logistic explanation as to why we deprive ourselves from any food from sunrise to sunset, despite the fact that the forty-hour-famine was popular at that time-- many young people took on the challenge.
Personally, I am enjoying the time of Ramadan back home, in Kurdistan. There is a tendency of a particular sentiment that is difficult for an average person to realize, unless they have lived abroad.

No one would imagine that fasting can be enjoyable—but in Kurdistan it can be. The fact that people all of the sudden become closer to God, begin to pray with consistency, the young wear veils and covered up more and the curtains around the restaurants are all signs of respect and value to this holy month.
Many people have come to believe that the development and advancement that have come with the phenomenon of technology and democracy means that we abandon our religious values. Nevertheless, whilst religion remains a personal decision it is sometimes worthy to celebrate events such as Ramadan, as a wider community. It is by no means a political matter, but a cultural theme that creates vibrancy and connection amongst different people in our society.

There is something special about the small dish of soup the neighbor brings for you right before you can finally eat at the end of a long fasting day; the sound of the Quran on television as the family prepares the dinner table; the uncles and aunts who have come to break their fast with your family; the daunting hours in the early morning waking up to eat as a family. The aroma of mother’s cooked rice during the evening prayer before and the unity of the entire family before having a piece of date to break your fast is a rare sentiment to experience living abroad.
All this on one hand, but the most important on the other; any Muslim will tell you that praying in the holy month is unlike any prayer in any time of the year-- there is a feeling of purity and inner sanity.
In Kurdistan you do not have to sit and explain to anyone why starving yourself is not foolish and how there is a purpose behind it all. Just as you step foot outside the house you can feel the sentiment in the atmosphere that people are fasting, even those who do not fast for their own reasons there is respect towards those who do choose to fast, for example, no one eats in front of the public during the fasting hours.
Ramadan is not just a month to lose weight; we become better individuals with the ability to think of others who are not as lucky as we are. For a month we can feel the pain of the poor, the grief of a family with no bread for dinner, the agony of hunger and more importantly to not take any simple aspect of our life for granted, and begin to think of others.

What is amazing about Kurdistan is that those that you least expect to fast are actually fasting; they are or not, that is not the point, the point is that people respect a time of year as a society and community.

In reality the actual fasting is only two weeks, the first week is filled with excitement as it is just the start, the middle two are a little tiring, the final week is when it reaches climax and ends with a blink of an eye as people begin to prepare themselves for the ‘Jezhn’ celebrations to mark the end of the holy month.
In Kurdistan, during Ramadan, you do not just taste hunger and starvation but an array of sensations from the unique family bond, the prayers, the sound of Quran; the atmosphere outside the house, the generosity of the people and the general respect and attitude towards this special time on the Muslim calendar.

Must admit, all these sentiments does not conceal the stomach rumbling sound, but it does reduce its irritation. Meanwhile, Four days down, 26 to go… Ramazantan Pirozbet!

by Sazan M. Mandalawi- published in

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kurdistan's nature is the best medicine

Nature is the best medicine..

Laying down under the shade of many trees and looking directly up into branches that lightly sway, the gentle sound of water flowing, and a breeze making you shiver just a little. Whilst some say laughter is the best medicine, I say the better medicine is Kurdistan’s natural beauty.
The sticky and sweaty afternoons, the sizzling sun, and of course the dust storms is all too much to a city that is overloaded in cars—taking a trip from Erbil all the way to the Iran border of Haji Omran and back at the end of the election week was definitely a mental and psychological revitalization, if it were possible a brain scan of before and after would reveal a great transformation.
I must admit having lived all my life in major cities, and being used to the noisy environment of hectic life with office hours, traffic lights, students loaded with overdue assessments and catching up with the latest catastrophes the world is experiencing on Aljazeera and CNN life can be congested compared to our small bodies and overworking brains. Being driven through mountains, trees, and certain geographic features of the landscape that cannot be unraveled by the naked eye, one must believe the existence of a great kind above who has put all this together.
The 16 hour trip from sunrise to … well, moon rise was not the typical Kurdish picnic just lagging behind the Erbil checkpoint with loud music till your ears pop and return home with stitches because of all the dancing, it was what I call a recovery, five star, end of week paradise that I recommend to all those living a frenzied life with a daily routine in the city.
It was an experience of everything; from drinking the Sheikh’s water in Haji Omran (that is known to be good for the kidney); to tasting the core of edible wild flowers and eating handpicked ripe, juicy and unwashed berries; seeing divine insects (that is, other than ants and cockroaches) and losing a contest of ‘who can leave their feet the longest in the icy cold water.”
It is amazing the amount of water that flows through Kurdistan, literally some flowing from nowhere, walking through flowing cold water with colorful rocks, plants of all types and surrounded by green leaves and plants for as far as your eyes can reach in all directions has become one of my favorite hobbies.
I noticed the people who live in those areas are politer than we are, and thankful for everything they have, I realized our wants has exceeded our needs and when we have what we want we seem to continue to want more- selfish and snobby is what we turn to be. Looking outside the window into the full moon on the way back home I reminded myself of how young people, like myself have become too carried away with submerging our live with what is going on in the rest of the world; what is newest mobile phone; the top rated YouTube video; what type of bear Obama drink in the backyard meeting and how many million will Mrs. Jackson inherit.

Whilst I am all for the development of technology and progress of society, has it reached out of proportion? If it has not today, then tomorrow it will explode off proportion. Before birds were used to transport letters, now they are hunted for a sport; there was a time when lovers wrote with feathers to each other, then there came a time when they make up and break up by a text message. Visiting a friend to see how life is treating them and what is their latest development is now unnecessary- after all there is always facebook! People used to celebrate the food they ate, the taste it has and indulge in the flavors, whereas today we have become image conscious.
Visiting Kurdistan’s natural beauty, makes you yearn for a simpler life that is trouble free, away from the chaos of the world and the stress of what has to be done by tomorrow. A day spent by flowing waters, waterfalls, trees, mountains, and moments shared with those you love ought to be the best medicine.
As you pack for this weekend, do not forget the spare batteries for the camera and extra sandals—incase one flows away.

by Sazan Mandalawi- published in the Kurdish Globe (August, 09)