DAY TWENTY FIVE… Ashura, remembering the Martyrs
More celebrations today in the square. And lots more free food and drinks. We go into a mosque and are given lurid green drinks with amoeba like seeds clustered at the bottom. I decline but get one anyway. Really, declining is just politeness – you must really want it, and, our guide adds, “it is really good for your stomach, if you have stomach problems” (yes ?). I decline anyway and Maryam finds a worthy child to hand it to.
The celebration in the square are a larger version of what we have seen already… but larger, larger headgear, lots of self flagellation, and bands. The whole square is full of women in black chador and men in black shirts and trousers. Not a hint of colour except for my bright orange trousers. I had no idea.
Afternoon- we are told that we will visit the cemetery. The cemetery does not feature in the guide book so why are we going??? Apparently there are more ceremonies there (same type). More moving though was the sheer volume of graves. These were all young men (mainly aged 18-22) who died in the Iran Iraq war. Each grave stone had a picture of the youths face and an epitaph, apparently written before they went out to fight. There are 20,000 graves of men who came just from this area.
My attention was drawn to a small family clustered on a grave of a relative, having a picnic. Something inside moved me to go and speak to them. I ask whose grave it is and two women reply, it is their brother. This is too much for me, I just begin to cry and can’t stop. The women immediately hand me a handkerchief, and then hand gifts of their picnic, some cucumber, some apple, some sweets. They seem so grateful for my empathy. As we leave, they hand us money, just small notes, but I feel so overwhelmed by their kindness, and it was the British (us) who helped to kill their beloved brother.
I don’t know what came over me… perhaps the sheer volume of graves, of faces of young men. They could have been my son. I recall our previous guide, Ali telling us that he fought in this war too, but he was only 13. He went back to the front 5 times in that war and was shot twice. We saw his bullet holes, and the cut, right through his stomach, where they got the bullets out. I don’t think child soldiers are commemorated; they are the silent toll of the terrible war.
Maryam takes us next to the beautiful old bridge across the ‘river’ (now dry). A man is loudly singing a ‘forbidden song’, forbidden because this is a time of mourning of Hussain and the martyrs of war generally, so you don’t sing.
We are given saffron rice and almond sweet. A food for eating at sad times, when we remember the dead. Like all food at the moment, it is free. Lunchtime’s food is distributed by gangs of motorcyclists; a kind of crazy meals on wheels! It was more lamb and rice, which we declined.