Friday, July 8, 2011

The Hot -- and Holy -- Month of August (2011)

Rashid Mosque
It's Friday morning in Sulaymaniyah, which is the equivalent of Sunday morning in other parts of the world  (Saturday here is like Saturday elsewhere -- perhaps the busiest day of the week when everyone does their shopping, runs errands, goes out at night, etc.).  Though it is the first day of our weekend, it is the holiest of the days of the week in Islam, the day when almost every shop is closed in the morning and many of them all day.  It is the day when in addition to the call of prayer five times a day, there is a fairly long "sermon" -- all of which, of course, is broadcast from mosques throughout Suly, indeed throughout the Muslim world.  They are not synchronized so if you are standing outside during one of the daily calls to prayer or the Friday sermon, you hear different voices ringing throughout the city.  Our house is literally three doors down from the Rashid Mosque so we have the privilege of being able to hear these rituals clearly.  For those of us who have not been exposed to this all our lives, at first it is surprising and a bit disconcerting but then it becomes soothing and comforting as I think prayer does in all religions.
Electricity lines in Suly
It is hot here -- really hot and about to get hotter (one of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog is so that I can see on my blog site the picture taken of Christian and me last winter on the slopes of the Rockies when we were skiing with my good friend, Kelly).  My friends in the US tell me that it's been 88 or 90 or even 95 degrees there -- SO hot.  My reply is "that's nothing."  We are currently at about 110 to 115 degrees on a daily basis.  In August it will be up to 130 or so.  So air conditioning and fans are particularly welcome and the almost daily or so power outages are more of a nuisance.  But at night when the sun goes down, it is really quite pleasant.  Last night we had friends over for dinner -- a new volunteer for Heartland Iraq and her partner, who works for a company that supplies oil rigs, and a former British soldier stationed in Iraq who is now head of security for one of the oil companies -- and we ate outside on our patio enjoying a relatively cool evening and great conversation. 
Jim and I are leaving Wednesday for a few weeks back in the US.  I will be going to London for meetings and to reconnect with friends and former colleagues, then to South Carolina, Chicago and the East Coast to visit family and friends, and to take care of those things you can't ignore, like the dentist, hair cutter, annual physical, etc.  Jim will be traveling to NY to see family and friends and to take care of those necessities as well.  The "cooler" weather will be welcome.  We've made lists of things to take away from Iraq (what made me think I would ever need a wool winter coat?) and things to bring back to Iraq (why didn't I know that I would not be able to find balsamic vinegar or Woolite in Iraq?).
Our yard during one of the only days of rain in June
When we return, Ramadan will have just begun (August 1 this year but its occurrence varies each year according to the Islamic calendar).  Ramadan, a month-long period during which Muslims fast for self-purification, is one of the five pillars of Islam; the other four are recognition of the Oneness of God (Allah) and Muhammad as His prophet, the aforementioned prayer five times a day, alms-giving/charity and a pilgrimage to Mecca during one's lifetime (Hajj).

During Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn until sunset and special prayers are held.  Fasting means no liquids or food or other satisfaction of physical needs, but certain people are exempt, including those who would suffer severe ill health (but they must make it up by fasting later if they can or feeding at least one needy person at least one meal per day or the equivalent) . The month provides an opportunity to get closer to God.  I'm planning on participating in this important ritual when I return not only as a sign of respect to those in the country in which I'm living (and who wants to see me stuff my face when they are hungry?) but also, as the Koran says, to get closer to God.  I've always thought that it many ways Ramadan is like the Christian period of Lent, only shorter and more intense, but sharing the same purpose.  In fact, Islam, Judaism and Christianity share many things in common, including the recognition of Abraham as a prophet and Jesus as a messenger of God and a messiah who was sent to guide the children of Israel with a new Gospel.  Unfortunately, so many forget the similarities we share in our search for relationship with God and focus upon -- and shed blood over -- the differences, or in fact the distortions of the holy books.

This will probably be my last post until I return in August -- so stay tuned, and stay cool!

I snapped this picture last night on the way home from work -- I'm not sure if Halloween is celebrated in Iraq, but if it is, this child is ready!

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