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“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself the king of boundless space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”

Well that was Hamlet. I am not currently having bad dreams—in fact I’ve been sleeping great, when I can manage to find the time. Here are some snapshots of my life, spread out over several days because you don’t have time either. Part One here.
Eid (Feast) al-Adha (of Sacrifice):

This weekend (well, technically Sunday through Tuesday) marked the biggest feast of the Muslim year. We still have fond memories of seeing the streets literally flowing with blood, as every family who possibly can slaughters a sheep and shares the meat with neighbours, especially those in need. It’s a time of visiting family, new clothes and presents for the children, special sweets.

Our Muslim friends here in the US didn’t slaughter any animals in their yards or neighbourhood streets, but Donn did meet a friend who is well-placed in the community going door to door with a large bag of sheep, distributing bits to various people. Ilsa and I were also invited to a women-only party on Saturday night (and I was thankful it was on Sat, as it was nearly 1 a.m. when we got home). Donn had some of the men over for a barbecue in the rain at our place.

Our hostess met me at Maude’s apartment and gave me rapid-fire instructions in heavily-accented English. Turn left, then right at the stop sign, then left, then right, then right again, then straight. I say, “Can’t I follow you?” Yes, yes, she agrees. By the time I have pulled out of my parking space with Maude’s daughter safely in her carseat behind me, she is nowhere to be seen. I remember the first two directions so I set off bravely, and catch up with her by the second left.

She’s been here a while and lives in a gorgeous house on a hill. When we arrive, she is wearing a fuzzy leopard-print short jacket, leopard-print palazzo pants, and leopard-print heels. She is tall and thin, with long black hair parted in the middle. She greets us warmly and is soon calling us down the hall to a sumptuous feast. She is the daughter of a woman in my ESL class, and most of the other members of the class have been invited as well, with their daughters, but there are a few women I don’t know. One has brought her 13 year old, and she and Ilsa hit it off and quickly make friends.

I find myself staring at the woman. How could she have a 13 year old? She looks about 22, but I know from talking to her that she also has an 18 year old son. I know Arabs tend to marry earlier than Americans, but still. Finally I ask. She was 14 at marriage and 14 when her first son was born, 9 months later. She’s a widow now, remarried, living in America where her 13 year old goes to an American junior high and probably has very different life plans than her mother had at her age.

After eating our full and more of shish kebobs, lamb and okra stew, chicken, quba (rice and potato mix stuffed with curried lamb and raisins and deep-fried and one of my favorites, so good), lamb and zuccini stew, salad, bread, rice, Iraqi lasagne (meat and cream sauce and pasta), haunches of venison (just kidding) and more that I’ve forgotten about, we move into the other room where we fill in the gaps with tea, baklowa (Iraqi baklava, made with pistachios), dried fruit and nuts, and nougat candies. Then it’s time for dancing. At all the Arab parties I have ever gone to, it’s always female-only and there’s always dancing.

Since our hostess and her family are Kurdish, we do Kurdish dancing. This is sort of line dancing; we hold hands and hop back and forth, sort of. Our hostess goes up to change and emerges in a red and gold caftan, shot through with glittering threads. There is typical Arab-style dancing (rather like belly-dancing) and then there is a kind that is new to me. The women hop back and forth and turn in circles, then whip their hair back and forth in frantic wheels. The 13 year old and her mother are experts at this. They both have hair all down their backs, and they stand together and do this until I am afraid they will bonk heads and hurt themselves. Ilsa laughs and then does it herself, revealing a hidden talent. I knew she liked to dance, but I didn’t know she could do that with her neck. The music switches to more American-style and Ilsa proves herself to be good at the moves. The women all applaud her—dancing is a skill learned by all Arab women and much admired. Our hostess says what she is wearing is all wrong for American dancing, and goes upstairs to change into jeans and a tight black t-shirt embossed in silver.

I usually don’t try to dance; I’m not good at sensual moves and wiggling my hips. I was raised Baptist. But I think I can hop and turn in circles while wagging my hair, so I give it a try. Everyone is encouraging me on–finally something I can do! But the carpets are uneven and I give my ankle a nasty twist, so bad I am afraid it will swell and I will have to have ice and go home in only my socks. It finally stops hurting and I manage to get my boot on.

I sit on the couch and talk to my hostess. She left Iraq in the mid-90s, after she received death threats when she was critical of Saddam Hussein on a radio show. She tells me of her father receiving a visit from the police, who told him to get his daughter to stop. “If you will pay me her monthly salary,” her father agreed. “I need what she makes, so you’d have to make it up to me. That’s only reasonable.” I laugh. It at least bought her time to get out, move to America, where she married someone she met here and has made a life for herself. “I don’t want to go back; that part is over,” she says. “I don’t care about the politics, or anything. That country broke my heart,” she adds, and I wonder about what she’s not telling me and how true her expressed opinions really are.

Things are quieting down, but although I make several moves to leave no one takes me up on them until finally, at just after midnight, I insist. That breaks up the party. I give a woman a ride home. Ilsa claims she is going to sleep in the car but instead we have a good conversation, getting home just before 1 a.m.

The next day my foot still hurts but it’s okay. Then on Monday, I develop hip and neck pain. I feel very old. It takes me 2 days to connect it to the twisted ankle and hair-whipping. Sigh. I think next time, I’ll go back to staying on the sidelines.

Note: at parties, women often put on youtube videos to dance to. This was one we watched on Sat night. It shows the hairwhipping moves and also the sort of hopping and twirling (watch the woman in turquoise a few minutes in).

This one shows the line dancing. I can manage that. Although my outfit wasn’t nearly as colourful and dangly as the ones the girls in the video are wearing.

November 2011

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