Thursday, February 26, 2004

More about Muharram

Wow, I didn't expect it was so soon. When I was heading back to the residence yesterday after posting from the Internet cafe, we were stopped just a couple of miles ahead of the village by Basrah IP. They said the road was blocked and you had to walk it home if you lived there. I cursed my luck and wondered what trouble was ahead.

I was greeted with green, red, and black banners, and an endless crowd of men in black marching to the village in parallel lines. I heard drums beating, and the sinister familiar 'chuuush' sound of chains and latum. I got really excited and I started to walk at a faster pace to catch up with the procession. Boy, it was such a humbling scene to behold. It was just so.. organized. Those guys have certainly been practicing this covertly since their childhoods, imagine two or three hundred people beating their backs with chain whips in a certain rythm all simultaneously. I was even getting to enjoy iy, but I have to admit it was scary. IP all over the place, deadly looking militia with black sunglasses looking left and right.

I almost ran to the residence to get my camera. My legs were just aching. My friend, the Christian dentist was snoring with his mouth wide open. I almost kicked him out of bed and told him to dress and come watch or he would miss the fun. He was a bit hesitant, and when I told him I was intending to take pictures he almost had a fit.

"You bloody fool! Are you out of your mind?!" he roared. I promised him that I would ask them beforehand. He was still uncertain about the whole thing but I got him interested enough to come along. Our fellow Baghdadi, the pharmacist, also wanted to go. We all set out. The pharmacist politely asked one of the Mullahs who seemed to be in charge if it was okay for his friend to take pictures. The jolly Mullah enthusiastically agreed, and I stepped forward. (He turned out to be the same Mullah that issued the subpoena for one of the doctors at the hospital a few weeks ago).

I took a few but it was getting dark and some of the photos weren't good. I ran out of batteries after a while so I stopped. Someone told us later that there would be plenty more mawakib (latum processions) everyday until the final buildup on Ashurra day. So I'll try to capture more of it later this week. I'm staying in Basrah probably until next Thursday. So I'll keep you posted on the developments. Problem is I can't upload photos from Basrah, so they'll have to wait until next week, but believe me they'll definitely be worth it.

The most comic incident was that my Christian friend got a bit dizzy and almost threw up while he was witnessing the scene. He was really freaked. "You'd better get used to it" I told him later that night. "Expect a lot of this stuff every year from now on".

Sam at Hammorabi has posted a long and very informative blog about the history of Ashurra day and the story of Al-Hussein. You should check it out if you wish to learn more about the subject.