DAY TWENTY THREE… Ashura Festival

Arrived Tehran still feeling rather Zopicloned out, and searched desperately for tea. Tim is getting through a small amount of the “newspaper” lavash bread; people literally buy stacks of this for their families every day.

We met up with our new guide, Maryam. She seems so gentle and quiet.

We realise that we have arrived in Iran at the time of Ashura festival which commemorates the brave and just resistance to an unprincipled ruler. Iman Hussain, the brave representative of right and good is commemorated for a month by people donning black clothes and marching in memory of him. There is much free food, and drink to remember how he did not get access to water prior to his death. All the public buildings are closed, and so is the bazaar. But instead, there were stalls handing out free food and drinks, all donated by the bazaar owners.

We headed up to the north of the city to see martyr festivities. We were led to a mosque for a free lunch. Despite having explained to Maryam that we are strictly vegetarian, we were handed a copious meal of lamb and rice, Tim opened and shut the lunch box in one quick gesture and flatly refused to eat it. This was all a bit embarrassing as it was a gift from the martyr himself. I managed to eat some rice soaked in lamb fat.

Free Lamb & Rice lunches

The ceremony began with young boys jostling to try on huge metal head dresses that were as wide as the road. These were extremely heavy and often cause injury to the bearer, but bearing and being in extreme pain is part of what the ceremony is about. First in the procession was a series of these very large metal head dresses, then some camels, each with a girl dressed completely in black, then young boys symbolically whipping themselves, then more young boys with bowls of flowers. The drummers began and the intensity of the event increased greatly.

Ashura martyr festivities
Heavy lifting pain, in remembrance of Iman Hussain.
Boys with bowls of flowers & fruit
Women in full black chador

Around this time, I noticed a stream of what I thought was red paint signifying the blood of the martyrs. It turned out to be the blood of a sheep. It had had its throat cut and was lying in a pool of its own blood.