Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day Z: Znood-il-sit, Zalabya, and see you next April

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Zalabya- Source

Zalabya- a heavenly sweet- is a fried dough, rolled into a circular shape and filled with sugary syrup
that gives it a chewy feel. 

Znood-il-sit- Source

Znood-il-sit- Lady's arms (!)- is a popular sweet in Iraq. Another fried dough, rolled into a cylindrical shell stuffed with cream and sprinkled with pistachio.





Today marks the end of the Blogging Challenge. I hope you've enjoyed learning about Iraqi Culture as much as I have had sharing it with you. Thank you for all your kind comments- I may not reply to each of them here, but I read and appreciate every one of them as well as enjoy reading your blogs in return.

As glad as I am that I participated, I just can't wait till I can go back to blogging at my own pace about whatever comes to my mind!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Day Y: Yezidis- one of many diverse groups

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

The borderlines of Iraq have gathered within them a range of people from diverse ethnicity and religions, all with one common identity of being Iraqi. There are Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Turkmen, and there are Muslims, Christians, Jews, and many other minority religions, one of which is the Yezidi faith.

The Yezidis are Kurdish-speaking people found around Europe, in countries such as Russia, Germany and the Ukraine, but the largest population is in Iraq, amounting to around five hundred thousand. The term has been derived from Yezdan- God. Their belief is in One God who has entrusted the world into the care of seven Holy Beings, the most important being the Melek Taus- the Peacock Angel. 

Their annual pilgrimage is to the tomb of Ibn Musafir, located in the city of Mosul. Every Spring, music, dance, lights, food and egg-decorating in Yezidi-concentrated regions signify the start of their new year.

Yezidi New Year Celebration

There was a time when the diversity of the people in Iraq was peaceful to the point of striking amazement in outsiders. An American journalist writes in a National Geographic issue of December, 1914:
"For a year I lived there, the sole specimen of my kind. Yet the 180,000 inhabitants show a striking variety, almost justifying the tradition which locates the "Tower of Babel" near Bagdad. Certainly the mixed races in Bagdad produce even now a striking "confusion of tongues". The mixture preserves a peace balance, undoubtedly, and saves Bagdad from the race wars and massacres common in Asia Minor"
Unfortunately, our beautiful diverse community has lived days of civil strife and sectarianism in recent times. I pray for the day to come soon where we go back to celebrating our differences.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Day X: Algebra's father

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Centuries ago, Baghdad housed a building- the House of Wisdom- a library that sheltered all those thirsty for knowledge. It wasn't just a library but a research centre, a translation institute, and an inter-faith, inter-cultural discussion platform.

Depiction of the House of Wisdom by Yahya ibn Wasiti

Imagine all the great minds coming in from all around the world, to this place that provides them with all the resources they need, and thinking together. The result is most of the concepts that our modern world operates on.

Muhammad ibn Musa al Khawarizmi had already introduced the Indian decimal system to the rest of the world, presented co-ordinates of many areas on our map, wrote a plan on how to make a world map, worked on the sundial and the astrolabe, when one day...he came up with the beginnings and the source of a many 'Find X' on examinations around the world: Algebra.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Day W: Women of Iraq

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Ivory and gold statue of Queen Shu-bad of Sumeria



Women have been an influential part of society since the days the three-starred-crowned queen ruled these lands.


The pages of Iraqi history will always cite several names that contributed to this country: Nazik Al Malaika- the poet, Zaha Hadid- the architect, Amal Al Khedairy- the academic, Salima Murad- the singer, Atwar Bahjat- the journalist. There are women who belong to every profession: from physicists and university lecturers to the police and corporate world.







Women have traditionally featured in countless paintings by Iraqi artists:

Painting by Buthaina Abdul Raheem
Painting by Sattar Kawoosh











Painting by Naseer Thamir
Painting by Asma Al Agha



Painting by Ali Al Tajir
Painting by Nazeeha Saleem   


Another one by Naseer Thamir



And another by Wasmaa Al Agha

Iraq was the first Arab country to elect a woman to a parliamentary position. Today, twenty-five percent of the parliament constitutes of women. The typical Iraqi woman is strong, capable of doing things independently, and very opiniated!


However, there is much room for improvement. The American Invasion left two and a half million women widowed. Twenty-six percent of Iraqi women are illiterate, although this is decreasing with the newer generations. Hopefully, with the right directions, the great potential in young Iraqi women can be unleashed to further show the world how valuable a woman's contribution is to her country.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Day V: Venice of the Middle-East

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Today's letter was difficult, mainly because the letter 'V' does not exist in the Arabic language, and I couldn't think of anything Iraqi starting with that letter.

Until I remembered the Venice of the Middle-East: the city of Basra.

Source

The city of Ancient Sumer, birthplace of Sindbad the Sailor and possibly, quite possibly, the Garden of Eden.

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Day U: Umm al Liban- the Yogurt Lady

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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In Iraq, it is very common to associate people with a distinct feature by referring to them as the Mother/ Father of that feature. Just like the 'Drum Guy' in Day I is referred to as Abu- al Tabul, which literally means 'Father of the Drum', one of the important elements on the Iraqi streets is Umm al Liban- the Yogurt Lady, or the 'Mother of Yogurt' if you want to literally translate that (Trust me, it doesn't sound as strange in Arabic!)


This is a painting (actually, a picture of a painting hanging in our living-room) of Umm-al-Laban by the artist Khalid Jabar. You can see the distinct house-doors of Baghdad in the background, as well as the head-abaya that women in Iraq wear. In my opinion, the artist has captured very well the average face of an Iraqi woman: typically olive-skinned, big dark-eyed and prominent eyebrows.

A wonderful tribute to the lady who sells refreshing, salty and sour fresh yogurt to the people of her country.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day T: The tannoor: where the best bread is born

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.




Source
 The traditional clay oven- the tannoor-  is still used in Iraq, by bakeries...and in peoples' homes. What comes out from those ovens is the crispiest and freshest bread ever.


Here's a lucky little boy enjoying some bread fresh from the oven

Monday, April 22, 2013

Day S: Shako Mako! And warmth-spreaders.

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Shako Mako: the exclusive Iraqi way of saying 'What's up?'

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This is what Iraqis call Sopa- a reliable device that warms up rooms when winter gets cruel. Not only does it spread warmth, but it's useful to place a tea kettle on top of the Sopa to keep your tea hot. It is also not uncommon for Iraqis to use the Sopa to dry their wet clothes when the electricity's out and there's no other quick alternative!

Most importantly, huddling around a hot Sopa can make even the coldest gatherings warm and cosy.


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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Day R: Rasheed Street

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Coffee shops, restaurants, buildings, shops, pharmacies, clinics, studios, laboratories, government buildings and thousands of strollers keep this important street in Baghdad buzzing with life all day.

Home to famous mosques such as the Haider Khana built in 1819 and ancient markets such as the Haraj, most of the buildings on this street date back to the twenties. Officially opened in 1916, Al Rasheed Street has always been a symbol of Iraq's thriving culture.

It is here in those coffee shops where some of Iraq's most prominent intellectuals found their source of inspiration, and it is here where many important discussions and debates take place between members from all classes of society.

Old pictures of Al-Rasheed Street





Policeman helping a kid cross the road
School-children protesting against the British Occupation

Al- Rasheed Street today


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Friday, April 19, 2013

Day Q: Qand

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Here's a picture of two pieces of bride-purpose qand (literal meaning: sugar block)- a tradition that has found its way across the Iranian-Iraqi borders.

A marriage in Iraq typically goes through several events: from the formal proposal and engagement, the religious event, also called the Aqd (or the Contract) to the Henna Night before the wedding and then the actual wedding. Sometimes it doesn't stop at the wedding and there's still another function to celebrate a week's passing!

Each of these events have a set of customs and protocol to follow (as mentioned earlier, Iraqis live for customs), but perhaps the most traditional of these is the Aqd, where the bride and groom are officially asked for permission to marry each other by a religious scholar/ cleric.

The cleric begins by talking about marriage before he goes on to ask the bride for her permission. While he gives his speech, the bride is sitting down, and two young girls (usually the bride's sisters, cousins or close friends) hold a white piece of cloth over her head. A third woman, who must be happily married, rubs the two pieces of qand together over the cloth throughout the ceremony.

It is supposed to signify the happily married woman raining sugar over the bride for a sweet marriage.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Day P: Pomegranates

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Iraqis have another name for those crimson red jewels hidden inside a pomegranate. "Habat al janna"- seeds of paradise

They wait fervently for the period they spot the red amongst the pomegranate trees along the road, looking abit like Chinese decorations.

Then they rip them apart and devour the paradise seeds inside.

Or use them to make Shorbat Roumman- pomegranate juice, spiced up with mint and ground beef.

An ample number will be stored to make Rub Rumman out of- pomegranate sauce- a sticky, sweet and sour thing that's an essential ingredient in most stews.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Day O: Owls and their undeserving unpopularity

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Booma- a word in Iraqi dialect meaning owl

Also a word that Iraqi mothers use to cuss their kids whenever they are doing something stupid, silly, unintelligent, inappropriate, or any other behaviour that calls for criticism.

Boomas are very cute, wise, harmless birds that command respect with their glory and prestige. I don't understand at what point and under what basis they became an offense. This is a fragment of my culture that will always be beyond me.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Day N: Naranj, and the palm-tree climbers

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Drop by at any Iraqi home for an afternoon visit and you will most likely be served one of the freshest and most refreshing juices you have had the pleasure to taste, squeezed from narenj- a cross between an orange and a lemon that is plentiful in Iraq.

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Palm trees in Iraq are sacred. The nakhla has been around since forever. The Iraqi palm trees stand tall, slim and proud, towering over their subjects who have been attending to them with sincere dedication. They know how much their people care for them, and every Autumn, the generous nakhlas compete with each other on the amount of dates they can reward their care-givers with.



Every once in a while, the front yards of homes witness a gathering of overly-excited children, observing in awe the palm-tree climber, saa'ood al nakhal.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Day M: Masgoof- barbequed fish

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Iraqis really like their fish, and lucky for them, they have two important rivers that are happy to keep a constant supply to see their peoples' bellies filled and paint a smile on their faces.

The best fish you can feed an Iraqi is Masgoof- seasoned and grilled freshwater fish- a Mesopotamian dish that has been since forever and is important enough to be considered Iraq's national dish.

To cook Masgoof, the fish is scaled and cut in halves, leaving the back, so that the fish is opened in a large, symmetrical circle. After marinating it in olive oil, salt, tamarind and turmeric,  it is placed in an iron grill (or traditionally impaled on two wood pieces) and placed near the fire of an altar- an open-air area centered by a sandbox, in the middle of which is a bonfire.



It takes two or three hours to get the Masgoof cooked and crispy, and when that's done, it's typically laid on a layer of limes and pickles and slices of onion. Yum!

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Day L: Lablabi

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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The bell rings, echoing along all the corridors, signalling the end of schools. Out run all the kids, guided by the distant familiar drawl they can hear from so far away:

Salty and good! Get your chick-peas! Fill your pockets!

They come to a halt at the source of the sound, holding out their coins by a carriage on wheels carrying a huge pot of chick-peas. They huddle around it, the steam of the pot a relief against the winter cold.

A street lablabi stand in Iraq

It is not surprising that lablabi is such a popular street-side snack in Iraq. It was in this same land, between the two rivers, that the first chickpeas were farmed. The people of Mesopotamia know that nothing could be more suitable in cold weather than a hot bowl of drained chick-peas boiled with salt, lemon and turmeric.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Day K: Kahramana and Shehrazad

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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In a drive through the city of Baghdad, the statue of a young girl pouring water into a jar surrounded by forty jars around her will greet you. She is Kahramana, the Baghdadi girl who rescued her father from theft by pouring oil into the jars where she discovered thieves were hiding.

The statue was designed by the artist Mohammed Ghani in the sixties. Another statue designed by the same artist that you will pass by in Baghdad is that of the King Shahryar and his wife, Shehrazad, inspired by a tale from One Thousand and One Nights. Shehrazad cleverly avoids being killed by her husband at night by telling him an exciting story before he sleeps but leaving out the ending for the next morning.





These statues serve as symbols to Iraqi women that they are an important element to the fabric of society.


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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Day J: Jawahiri- a jewel from Iraq

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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In Iraq, poetry is significant. In the words of the poet Al-Ramli:
"In my country, poetry isn’t considered a luxurious complement but a need. It is not just a mean of expression but a vivid experience and an expression for life itself.”
It is very common for Iraqi gatherings at home to have poetry sessions- with everyone, including children, participating with recitations of memorized couplets.

So it isn't surprising that Iraq has given birth to very important poets in Arabic literature- the most famous being the world renowned: al-Mutannabi.

Another poet worthy of mentioning is the late yet more recent Al-Jawahiri, who was born to a scholarly family in the city of Najaf and began displaying his inclination to poetry as early as ten years old. He grew to be the most important Iraqi poet of his time, chairing unions of writers and poets, with his poems being taught as part of the curriculum.

Jawahiri's poems were classical Arabic, and charged with much emotion and anger at social injustice and corruption. Few of them have been translated- a task which is very difficult given the poetic nature of the Arabic language.

Here's a poem translated, entitled "Lullaby for the Hungry":


"Sleep, You hungry people, sleep!

The gods of food watch over you.

Sleep, if you are not satiated

By wakefulness, then sleep shall fill you.

Sleep, with thoughts of smooth-as butter-promises,

Mingled with words as sweet as honey.

Sleep, and enjoy the best of health.

What a fine thing is sleep for the wretched!

Sleep till the resurrection morning

Then it will be time enough to rise.

Sleep in the swamps

Surging with silty waters.

Sleep to the tune of mosquitoes humming

As if it were the crooning of doves.

Sleep to the echo of long speechifyings

By great and eminent power politicians.

Sleep, You hungry people sleep!

For sleep is one of the blessings of peace.

It is stupid for you to rise,

Sowing discord where harmony reigns.

Sleep, for the reform of corruption

Simply consists in your sleeping on.

Sleep, You hungry people, sleep!

Don’t cut off others’ livelihood.

Sleep, your skin cannot endure

The shower of sharp arrows when you wake.

Sleep, for the yards of jail houses

Are all teeming with violent death,

And you are the more in need of rest

After the harshness of oppression.

Sleep, and the leaders will find ease

From a sickness that has no cure.

Sleep, You hungry people, sleep!

For sleep is more likely to protect your rights

And it is sleep that is most conducive

To stability and discipline.

Sleep, I send my greetings to you;

I send you peace, as you sleep on.

Sleep, You hungry people, sleep!

The gods of food watch over you.

Sleep, You hungry people, sleep!

The gods of food watch over you."

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Day I: Imsaharchi, or the drum-guy

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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The month of Ramadan is something everyone waits for eagerly in Iraq. With the no food and drink rule from dawn to sunset, Ramadan calls for a specific life-style, a break from the monotony of the regular routine throughout the year, and many other trends that are unique to this month.

One of the Ramadan-y traditions is the Imsaharchi- the man whose job is to wake all the houses up for a meal before dawn in preparation for the next day's fast, also known in Iraq as Abul Tabul (The guy with the drum)

The man is usually a volunteer who gets no pay other than the reward of helping the people of his city fast. He walks around in the very early hours of the morning, carrying a drum around his neck which he hits with his stick at every home, singing funny rhymes telling people to stop sleeping and get up to eat.

Although time has changed and people can always set their phones and alarm clocks to get up, the Imsaharchi will remain an important and exiting part of the Ramadan culture that people are reluctant to do away with.

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Day H: Hashmi, and celebrating with commotion

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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This is a hashmi -just one of the traditional clothes women in Iraq wear on occasions. The hashmi is a thin, gauzy kind of material that's embroidered with gold and worn over a sleeveless black dress since it's see-through. It also has something like a decorated hood that's worn over the head.

The image on the left is a modernized version. It's sad that I don't own a hashmi and had to ask my mother for what it really is. Some cultures preserve well their traditional clothing over generations by keeping them in fashion, and I wish I could say that about mine, but over the years, traditional Iraqi dress is getting less common.

One of the top things on my to-do list when I visit Iraq next is to get myself a hashmi to do my bit!

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Hischa -a word used to describe folk poetry that contains a degree of eloquence and figurative language.

Hosa- a form of celebration amongst the Arab tribes, particularly in Southern Iraq, performed in both happy occassions, such as a wedding or the birth of a child, or sad occassions such as during a funeral. It is again, the reading of poetry, but with much interaction from the audience, usually repeating the last word in a sentence, a comment of approval or requesting a repeat. At a specific point in the poem, the audience get up and raise their right arm up and down while moving their bodies forward in the same rhythm.

Hosa is also a word in Iraqi dialect that means "chaos" or "commotion", which is exactly what you get when you have a bunch of Iraqis passionately performing a Hosa!

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Day G: Guffa, and buffalo cream

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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This is a guffa- a boat traditionally used to carry both passengers and cargo across the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

The circular design is meant to provide a greater area to fit a greater number of people or things in one journey. You can see how economical it can be!



 
The guffa is made from wooden sticks and straw- here's a picture from 1914 showing its making.

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Iraqis often use the word Geymar to describe a beautiful girl. Trust them to sneak food even into their flattery! An early morning peek into the kitchen window of any home in Iraq will reveal one of the essentials of Iraqi breakfast: Geymar, fresh cream made from buffalo milk, usually eaten along with honey or dibis (date syrup) and a hot samoon loaf.


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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day F: Furat, and a murdered king

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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This is Furat, known in English as the Euphrates River- a long river that begins in Turkey, journeys through Syria and ends up in Iraq, uniting with his twin brother- the Tigris.

The Furat is an important river in Iraq, and was particularly so in ancient Mesopotamia, being a main reason it was such a rich, agricultural land.

Not only so but Iraqis romanticize this river. It featured countless times in the earliest work of literature- the Epic of Gilgamesh. But to this day, the Furat is depicted again and again in works of art- songs, paintings and poems- many times personalized and its state of well-being considered synonymous with that of Iraq's.

Of particular significance is the Furat being the setting of the Tragedy of Karbala in the year 680, where the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein along with his children were brutally killed by the forces of the Caliph at that time for failing to recognize them as legitimate leaders. For this, the Furat is mentioned in almost all eulogies and poetry written to commemorate this tragedy.

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One of the significant days in Iraq's history was 14th July 1958- the day Iraq's King- Faisal the Second- was killed at the age of twenty-three.

A secret military group, identifying themselves as the Free Officers, overthrew the monarchy, inspired by the coup d'etat that had taken place six years before that in Egypt. The King, the Crown Prince, as well as all the other Princesses and members of the Royal Family were killed along with their servants.

With their murder died the Kingdom that once was, and although I can never be sure, but it seems to be the opening page of a long chapter of dark days- a chapter whose last page seems so far away.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Day E: Endangered Heritage

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Not for nothing is Iraq known as the Cradle of Civilisation. It is here where the earliest known civilisation- the Sumers- were born, and it is here that the world saw its first city- Ur.

Sadly, although there have been efforts to preserve sites, protecting heritage is not exactly at the top of Iraq's priorities. Countless areas in Iraq hold ruins bearing witness to centuries of history.

The ruins of Ur in the city of Nassriyah, birthplace and home of Abraham/ Ibrahim

What remains of the city of Babylon, home to one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World
The ruins of Hatra, ancient commercial city
All that is left of the ancient city of Ctesiphon

Hopefully, as Iraq gets back on its feet and progresses on its road to recovery, the ruins and heritage sites of our ancient history are given the place of importance and care they deserve.

Until that happens, you can always learn more about the ancient civilisations of Iraq through this virtual museum

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Day D: Dolma, and a pinch of wisdom

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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One of the meals on the table during The Last Supper that descended from heaven must have been a dish of Dolma, cooked Iraqi-style!

Dolma, a collection of stuffed vegetables soaked in olive oil and lemon, is not unique to Iraq. What distinguishes the Iraqi dolma from other versions is the pomegranate juice that the stuffing is cooked in, and the tomato-sauce it is served in.

Source- Stuffed vine leaves, zucchini, eggplants, onions and bell peppers. Yum!   
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Iraqis have had their massive share of misfortunes in life. This has made them a very wise lot, and a typical conversation in Iraq will always have a proverb or two thrown in there for good measure. Here are some of my favourite ones:

  شين التعرفة احسن من زين المتعرفة
The known ugly is better than the unknown beauty
المبلل ميخاف من المطر
A wet person's never afraid of the rain 
المينوش العنب يكول حامض
He calls the grapes sour when he can't reach them
جدرة على نارة وعينة على جارة
Pot on his stove and an eye on his neighbour
نست مرة العم جانت جنة
The mother-in-law forgot she was a daughter-in-law one day
كلمن بعقلة راضي لكن برزقة لا
Everyone's content with their mind, nobody with their wealth
هم مدت الخنفسانه رجلها و كالت نعلوني
Even the cockroach stuck out her leg and said 'Put my sandal on'      

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Day C: Chai and Chobi

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.
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Spot an Iraqi from miles away by the crystal istikaan in their hand, filled to the brim (to the point that it's slopping on to the tiny plate balancing it) with tea as dark as can be, saturated in sugar.

Whether it's morning, afternoon, night or in-between meals, any time is chai time. Calling tea made by a tea-bag dipped in boiling water chai is a joke in Iraq. "This is not tea," as my uncle points out, "this is merely a hot beverage."

To serve chai that an Iraqi approves of, boil tea leaves with hot water in a tea-pot, above a second tea-pot with boiling water, with a cardamom or two and a string of saffron added for good measure.


Or better still, use a samovar- a metal container powered by charcoal- just like they did in the olden days.

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Chobee -a folk dance with Assyrian roots is one of Iraq's traditional dances.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Day B: Baklawa, and red buses

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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No Iraqi gathering is complete without an assortment of baqlawa - a pastry filled with nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey; the sweeter and more fattening, the better.

Baqlawa arrived in Iraq with the Ottoman Empire, although there are ancient Mesopotamian cookbooks that suggest similar sweet dishes existed centuries before that in the same land. Iraqi baqlawa is usually more likely to also contain some cardamom and an extra citrus zest.


Baqlawa takes a special place of importance in Ramadan, when fasting Muslims try to stock up as much food as possible after sun-break. It is really no mystery why so many Iraqis suffer from diabetes!

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People of Baghdad who don't own their own transport can always rely on the red double-deckers, more commonly known as the Amanah. A bus is a cheap alternative to riding an orange taxi, with the ticket costing around 500 dinars (almost 40 cents).

A red double-deck bus on Al-Sarrafiyya Bridge
Red buses making their way through the city
The red buses which were a distinct feature of the city, disappeared after the invasion of 2003, but last year saw their return.

Sorry, London, but you're not the only city with red double-deckers!

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Day A: Amba, and a few Iraqi hunches

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

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Deliciousness doesn't always ask for a complicated meal. The streets of Iraq can testify to this. They have witnessed the phenomena that a simple amba sandwich can be capable of.

Amba- mango pickle enhanced with salt, vinegar, mustard and chilli- is a popular feature in many Iraqi cuisine dishes. But sometimes, all it takes is a traditional diamon-shaped samoon, stuffed with amba slices, tomatoes, and egg, and you're good to go.

Source

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Every country has its share of suspicions, and the people of Baghdad are no different.

To Baghdadis, an itch in the right hand signals a coming wealth, an itch on the cheek tells you a loved one will kiss you soon, an itch on the nose means you're having fish for dinner, and an itch in the right foot means somebody, somewhere, is talking about you.

If a new neighbour makes it to your area, every surrounding house gets a chance to cook them a meal each day for a week. This is meant to give your neighbours time to settle down without worrying about cooking.

To Iraqis, old is gold. It is very rude not to stand up in respect when a person older than you enters the room. It's also traditionally not acceptable to cross your legs, smoke, or chew gum in front of them, and this applies to your father or older brother too.

Rules and customs mean everything in Iraq, and although time has changed things and relaxed many of these rules, the essence of a closed-knit society where everybody is responsible for everybody else's well-being remains in our culture forever.

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