While having tea with one of my students’ families in the Northern Iraqi town of Bashiqa, I was invited to observe the annual Yezidi religion’s Happy Song ceremony. I walked past the cemetery, down through the grove of 3,000-year-old olive trees and into the ancient Yezidi temple. Sitting on colorful red carpets surrounding the main chamber were one hundred or so mustachioed men wearing the traditional sharwaal (baggy Kurdish pants) and red and white head wraps. They were sitting Indian-style, singing a few lines of their Happy Song over and over. Imagine that clown in the B-movie Liar Liar with Jim Carrey saying Happy! Happy! Happy! Happy! Now forget it. This was better.
The main priest of the temple met with me and told me it was fine if I took some photos during the ceremony. I walked to the back corner of the chamber and sat on a carpet next to a few older Yezidi gentlemen with enormous mustaches. We introduced ourselves through salutes and hand gestures over the heart and they permitted me to take a few discreet photos. At this point the Happy Song was winding down and it was time to bring on the gruel!
Memories of Mongolia mixed with Oliver Twist’s dinner table. Full-bearded men come around the room and pass out large aluminum dishes of luke-warm gruel. Our Happy Song euphoria faded as we tasted the flour paste paired with a touch of mutton gristle. It probably wouldn’t have tasted so ‘Charles Dickens’ if I hadn’t just stuffed myself on delicious yaprakh and Kebabs at a student’s house.
We shoveled the gruel down and with very little fanfare, the whole congregation got up and left. A boy swinging an iron tray of incense slowly made his way around the room, kissing every pillar as a beefy bearded man lit all of the lamps. I was surprised when the priest came over to me at the end of the ceremony and scolded me for not taking enough photos. Directly after the scolding he said one final prayer and off we went, to enjoy a few more cups of Kurdish tea.