Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Big Fat Iraqi Wedding

I have been superbusy getting everything ready for the YES Academy, and have literally been holed up all hours either at the Hotel Hakar or at the Institute for Fine Arts trying to get everything in order.  John and I moved hotels to the place that the university was sponsoring for us (The Hallal Hotel! and I am the only thing kosher here).

 Last night the American faculty for the YES Academy Iraq arrived.  A very interesting bunch of teachers and professors of music, theater and dance.  After we finished printing out all of the name tags, the staff and I met them at Haci Baba, a Turkish sweet shop.  I had some muhallebi, kind-of a Turkish rice pudding with pine nuts inside and a light dusting of crushed pistachios and white chocolate on top.

After, the jetlagged teachers went to bed, and I went with Aram, Akram, a fellow named Herish and Marc- AV's Director of Education over to the Duhok Dam to drink a few beers.  Amazingly, in Kurdistan you are allowed to drink in the car so long as you are not the driver.  I was shocked.  We drove through the twisty canyons until we got out above the dammed lake.  From high above, we could see the city lights peeking out from between the mountains in the valley below.  From the dam, an array of yellow, blue and white lights reflected beams into the water.  We sat out drinking beers and listening to the booming Kurdish music from the car next door.  Our neighbors on the mountain even came over and gave us delicious fresh grilled chicken wings- hot off the coals.  When they found out we Marc and I were Americans, they gave us warm welcomes.

We returned to the hotel and I accidentally stumbled my way into an Iraqi wedding.  The wedding party was going on in the lobby, and the guests invited me over to dance.  Marc smiled and quickly fled.  I ended up dancing in the middle of the party.  It was great.  The Iraqis were from Baghdad and Basra, up for the wedding.  A couple had worked with the American when they were in Iraq, and showed me pictures of them posing in front of the American flag.  Meanwhile, I kept dancing. There was lili-shrieking involved. It was phenomenal, cultural diplomacy at its finest.

The thing I couldn't get out of my head was the fact that the last wedding I attended was my uncle's orthodox Jewish wedding, with no men and women dancing together.  Yet interestingly, this Muslim wedding with all the women in headscarves, still had some mixed dancing.  The juxtaposition sat in my head all night.


John Brown said...

Paul - I hope your Kurdistan/Iraq travelogue will be turned into a book/long article ... Thank you for your fascinating observations. Best, John

Paul Rockower said...

Kak John,
Spas (thanks) for the warm words. My working book title is: "There and back again: a public diplomacy hobbit's journey"
gelig bash,
Kak Paul

Abba said...

I hope ANY of Paul's travels turn into a book!!! I have only been working on him for years!!! Thanks for the help in encouraging him!

His proud dad

Paul Rockower said...

I could easily write a book...all it would take it is your generous support of my writing for six months in some 3rd world locale. Just a typewriter, a few bottles of Ouzo/Rum/Whiskey and a mosquito net. Like Sally Struthers' kids, you could support a starving Hemmingway for just the price of a cup of coffee a day... :)