Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ashura: the pageant

"America is trying to take Ashura from us," the small, Ahmadinejad-like prayer leader called out to the crowd.

The crowd ignored him. Someone near me said, "He's trying to make this night political. It should not be political."

Still the man tried. It was like watching a rock and roll performer bomb while trying to get people to sing along with him.

Finally he gave up on politics and chanted the prayers for the sick. The crowd got excited then. That is what they came here for after all.

We were at the shrine in Tajrish in Northern Tehran. "Where are you from?" people asked me in broken English.

"America," I answered.

"Welcome to our country."

Inside the shrine, it smelled like feet, women with rainbow-colored feather dusters ushered the hordes of women to the grave. "We love Americans," a woman in a black chador whispered into my ear. "It's your government we don't like."

This was the night before Ashura. The next day we woke up to chants of "Hosseinjan, Hosseinjan." We went outside where a neighbor offered us a rice dessert with saffron. Ashura is a friendly holiday in Tehran. People are excited to be out together. It's an opportunity to express public emotion, to flirt, and to be part of a crowd. Iranians grab every one of these opportunities. Groups of young women looking their absolute best eye groups of young men with ridiculous hairdos while their parents and relatives look on.

The pageantry itself is amazing. Hazzans chant rhythmic mourning songs, men and women beat their chests. Men march, twirling chains and slapping them on their shoulders in time to the chanting. Giant mantles covered with bronze animals, shields, and feathers are carried through the streets.

And the food! Everywhere people were giving out food and drinks! We passed one group that was feeding 12,000 people. Mosques, private homes, private groups: everyone was handing out food. We ate ghemeh: a dish of split peas, potatoes, and mutton. Later we ate the heart, lung, and liver of one of the many sheep that gave its life that day.

Enough of that…


Anonymous said...

just remembering: you are from "united states"... America is a continent... I'm from America too, and I'm not from your country...

it's your problem if your country doesn't have a name... maybe u could say "I am united stater" or whatever...

Anonymous said...

More pictures!!!!!!!!!!

ET said...

Hey anon... that's catchy. You could be announcing the start of a new trend: "A United Stater in Paris" ; "Mon Oncle d'Etats Unis" ; "A United Stater Werewolf in Paris" ; "The United Staters" "United Stater Dream" "United Stater Beauty"... the list goes on and on.

Anonymous said...

I read this and I now find that I have missed something important.
I like food and people.
This was something important to people that I wish I had attended.
If this ever happens in SW Ontario I want to be involved.
I judge people as to who they are.
I judge them even better when their food is great.
Eventually our food will join us and our religions will be a subject discussed at the dinner table.

Kamangir said...

This was the best post I read this year about Ashura.

Anonymous said...

Whatever. I never participated in this nonsense when I lived in Iran. And I venture to say a sizable number of people, and perhaps the majority, don't bother either. And please easy with the "Iranians this" and "Iranians that."

ET said...

Anonymous, a sizeable number of United Staters don't celebrate Xmas either which doesn't stop it from being an important cultural and religious event.

And when I was a kid, American adults did not dress up for Halloween. Things change.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and if I were to make similar generic remarks about "United Staters" a good number of people would be righteously pissed. There are many Iranians who have strong feelings against this whole masquerade. Take this guy, for example. And I'm talking 7-8 years ago, I gather you're not 18.