October 3, 2007

A Misanthrope in Ramadan - Act II

An Oral Fixation

Ah, the Spirit of Ramadan in the “modern” Arab world. The Arab world of globalization. The tiny members of the “ Global Village ".
The Arab world of Coca Cola, Mc Donalds, Burger King, KFC and plastic Dunkin Donuts...America’s best.

The Arab dumping grounds for obsolete Western technology. Expired or prohibited drugs in the West - known for their deadly side effects. Processed food forbidden in the West due to its cancerogenic long term effects but sold here as a luxury item...

A pack of butter has a 2 years shelf life here. Two whole years. And the label reads Fresh Butter made in Denmark. As for the famous English Cheddar cheese, it's expiry date is one year from production, a whole year. And it is made in the U.S.
( Congratulations not-so great Britain - you are so down the drains, you are incapable of exporting your own cheddar !) And these are only two small examples.

Ah, the Spirit of Ramadan. People are so generous during this period of the year. Supermarkets and grocery stores greedily cash in the extra profits since people buy and buy some more...Food.
They buy and cook food as if there is no tomorrow. Food is also packed and distributed to charity organizations and to poor families who can’t afford a decent meal. But, what about the rest of the year ? Oh well, let them wait for next Ramadan.

All flows and circulates during Ramadan, including the cash but not the traffic.
Try crossing a street and the likelihood of your being run over is ten fold. Bad times for pedestrians like myself.

But then, we are re-assured by the sudden pious zeal that we witness around us...how comforting indeed.

Another characteristic of Ramadan is the famous Ramadan tent. These tents are heavily frequented after Iftar (breaking of the fast).
People sit there for hours, eat and drink some more... Endless teas, coffees, herbal mixtures, and endless trays of dates, sweets and pastries...and of course the famous “Narghileh” or water pipe, the hubbly bubblies of Ramadan. Plus the backgammon and card games.
Nearly everyone plays cards except me. I have no joker left.

An acquaintance invited me to join her in one of those Ramadan tents.
The place was stuffy with honeyed tobacco and we sat at a table where a group of her friends were already playing cards. And as usual, I sat and watched, and watched, and watched some more...

A tumultuous noise, impossible to hold a conversation. Besides, everyone was terribly and seriously engrossed in their card game. It looked like a matter of life and death...A Russian roulette.

I was getting bored and restless as I usually do in big gatherings. I am not much of a group person. So to kill time, I observed and took mental notes...

A plate of dates was served. One of the women, with perfectly manicured nails picked one and ate it. “ Mmmm, these dates are wonderful... Are they made in Iraq ? ”
The guy sitting opposite, without even lifting his head from his deck of cards replied. “ No. Iraqi dates and carps are forbidden these days. ”
The woman trying to pick her best card and without flinching said: “Ohhh...yalla ma’alech. ” (nevermind). She did not even bother to ask why.
She placed her “narghileh” pipe in the corner of her mouth, pursing her equally perfectly painted lips around it and inhaled deeply, thinking ever so intensely of her next move...

Indeed, it does not matter. Why should it matter to anyone that the import of Iraqi dates and carps is forbidden. The ban came after it was finally decided that Iraqi dates and carps are doubly contaminated with depleted Uranium and Cholera.

Not that you really care, but cholera outbreaks have infected over 15’000 individuals in Iraq and have spread from " Kurdistan" to Baghdad, Basra and the Anbar.
As for the depleted Uranium, well if the dates are filled with them, what about Iraqi bodies ?

Yalla, nevermind. Nevermind the occupation, the exodus, the destruction, the annihilation, the prison and torture camps. Nevermind the starved, the undernourished, the begging for food, Iraqi adults and children alike...
Nevermind the genocide. Why should you mind ?
"Yalla ma'alech" - nevermind...keep on sucking...on the "narghileh".

Next to "our" table, was sitting a big man and I mean big, like very big, accompanied by two heavily made up women.
Plate after plate of sweets fell on his table, a huge teapot, and of course the famous " narghilehs ".

They were talking about the economy. The two women sounded like some Lebanese entrepreneurs and the man some important business personality.
I overheard him talk about the new oil deal " package " between Jordan and Iraq (Kirkuk to be more precise). The Kingdom will be getting oil at " very preferential rates as in the past " - read 1 dollar a barrel. In exchange for what? I wondered...

The big man was dexterous indeed. His mouth was full of baklavas, and in one hand he held his tea glass and in the other, the pipe and was intensely sucking too...with no breaks in between....compulsively sucking in one long continuous motion, mouthful motion...And the two women joined him in a chorus like fashion.

I looked at the other tables and realized everyone was sucking...on their water pipes.
The noise was that of something boiling, as if you were sitting in the middle of a boiling pot of water. It was a long stretch of " blublublublublublub..."
Not less than 75 water pipes were going " blublublublublublublub..." and those on my table were going " blublublublublub..."
A symphony of hot air bubbles.

There were also a few tables occupied by foreigners. Most likely Brits or Americans...trying hard to suck on their water pipes too. Except, I bet you anything, the real purpose of their visit was the oil pipes and smoking guns next door.

And as they collectively sucked, the fog of smoke was getting denser and denser...
A thick wall of clouds separated me from the rest...

And of course, my mind wandered far away, all the way to Guantanamo where another form of sucking was forced down the throats of the prisoners. It is called forced feeding. Every day, twice a day. Day in, day out, for months, and for some, it has been 365 days and more of forced sucking.
And I remembered what I heard on that Al Jazeera program, about the Holy Book being ripped to pieces by the Americans and flushed down the toilet along with the excrements of Guantanamo Bay...And of course I had to remember the detailed descriptions of the torture scenes and how in the end, a lot of the detainees were offered "Freedom" in exchange for working for Uncle Sam...
But this is only one parenthesis. I forced myself to come back to this foggy place and continued observing...

Floating in this surreal environment of huffing and puffing, I also noticed another interesting phenomena.
The minute, the men held the narghileh pipe to their lips, they all seemed to slightly slide in their chairs, tilting their bodies to one side as if to recline on one elbow. A position that denotes a sense of "relaxation".
However, this word "relaxation" does not quite fit.
The Arabic version " Istirkha'a " is more accurate to describe this change of posture.
" Istirkha'a " implies relaxation after severe contraction. It conjures up an image of loosened, slackened, lax...muscles.
And equally interesting, is the very close phonetic connotation between "Istirkha'a" and "Istikhra'a."
If you do not know what "Istikhra'a" means, do ask one of your Arab friends. I am sure they will be more than happy to explain it to you.

In fact, the whole scene reminded me of Sultans or Pashas, reclining on some satin cushions...you know, the familiar portraits depicted in the old Orientalist paintings...sucking on their narghilehs.

But if you look closer, you will notice that these men were in fact sucking on some invisible umbilical cord...drawing nourishment, liquid sustenance, from an equally invisible huge placenta...

As for the women suckers...water pipe suckers, they took on the allure of some carefree, seductive, vamp, temptresses straight out of the 1001 nights...affirming their own umbilical cords, their wombs, for a matter of hours, behind a screen of smoke...

The embryonic fetuses of the New World Order, of the New Middle East, about to be born again and again into a "laissez-faire" infantilism.

Please, do not read much into it. There are no political implications to all this sucking. It's just an oral fixation in Ramadan.
Yalla, ma'alech. Nevermind. Enjoy your own.

Painting : Iraqi artist, Said Shnin.