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Do you know that Christmas Eve feeling? The weariness of having rushed around trying to get everything ready and the anticipation of tomorrow being a day of rest. I had that feeling last night. We worked hard yesterday to get our chores done, working hard so we could switch off and just enjoy the holidays. Today is the first day of Cejin Qorban; the Feast of Sacrifice. Today was definitely a day off for everyone; people wore their best suits, drove courteously and took life a little slower. We had fun.
The Feast remembers the story of Abraham and his choice to sacrifice his son. Our Muslim friends render the story differently; for one the son at the centre of the story is Ishmael and not Isaac. More significantly the story is told as a picture of obedience, Abraham’s willingness to obey God whatever he would ask. One of the central tenets of Islam, indeed the meaning of the word ‘Islam’ is submission to God. Abraham provides a vivid picture of that. Whilst many Christians may think of the story in these terms I consider the more central point to be God’s provision of the ram so Abraham’s son could be spared. It might sound like semantics but it fundamentally sets the tone for each faith.
For many of our friends The Feast is a time for visiting. Usually when you visit a friend in Kurdish culture you can expect to stay for at least an hour, possibly two. At Cejin the protocol is to stay just between 20-45 minutes. In visiting someone you communicate to them you consider them a close friend; particularly if you visit on the first day. Keeping the visits to a shorter time means that you can visit your closest set of friends in one day. When I asked what the Mullah had taught in the Friday prayers, the message was one of friendship, of keeping the tradition of visiting so that the society remains strong. We certainly witnessed first-hand the warmth and strength of relationships here and felt very much at home today.
I donned by Kurdish clothes today; knowing that what we chose to wear would communicate our respect and view of the friends we visited. My wife dressed smartly and looked the epitome of Kurdish chic. There were many exclamations and declarations that we were indeed Kurdish; such comments reinforcing our sense of belonging.
We managed 6 visits today; all very different. In one home we sat and listened to the father share how depressed he was at his life here in Kurdistan. Uncharacteristically frank and honest he spoke of the burden of working as a high-ranking official in the government, being the oldest brother in his family, the father of six sons and looking after a dying mother-in-law and mentally disabled aunt. The sons look on and wonder at the root of their father’s sorrow; seemingly unable to offer him hope. Cejin was not a happy time for them. When I asked how many guests they had received the answer was only a few. We were their main guests and they were genuinely delighted to have us visit.
Another home saw my wife and I separated even before we entered. The home of an Arga,chief of a tribe in north-eastern Iraq. Their home serves as a commune for his tribe and he has spiritual and political responsibility for hundreds of people. As I enter the reception hall, his cousin is giving a message to an audience of 30+ men. I give my greetings and take my allotted seat, reflecting my standing in the community. Every 10 minutes new guests arrive and everyone respectfully stands up, greets the new arrivals and sits down. I asked my friend, the son of Hussein how many guests they have had today; his reply more than 500 and it was only 2pm. I was introduced to the assembly as the ‘English teacher who knows Kurdish and is going to learn Kurdish before his students learnEnglish’. I left wondering how many times Arga would have to stand up and sit down over the next few days.
So we now sit with that Christmas Night feeling; feeling tired not from work but from hospitality. Considering all the people we met, their stories, their lives. For some The Feast was a time for reflection, others a time for visiting and for some just a time to endure. For us it has been a treat to be in our friends’ homes at a time when they are resting and sharing from their hearts the things that animate them both the joys and the sorrows. And with 3 more days to go I’ve got that Christmas Eve feeling all over again.