My first day there I’ll never forget. The sun had already set when I crossed the border, so I went to the first village to look for shelter, which didn’t take me too long. The next day, it appeared to the day of Ashura, a Shia Muslim holiday, to remember the death of Emam Hussein, their third imam. The people of the village invited me to come and watch a play of the Battle of Karbala at the square. I gladly accepted, happy to take a break after the tough days I’d had. Refusing the ‘VIP’ seat they offered me, was no option, and from there I followed the three hours lasting play, in which a cow got slaughtered on stage. It was hard to imagine that, on the other side of the river, a stone throw away, there were probably a couple of old, grinning Armenians, sitting next the their homemade alcohol distiller, waiting till it topped up their glasses.
Although the play was in Azeri , a language very close to turkish, I couldn’t make much of the brutally amplified sounds. Time enough to let my eyes wander. Women in full chador sitting on the roof of the mosque, giggling and whispering to their neighbours, most likely about the stranger that arrived in their small town, old men crying when certain things happened in the play, etc … .
During the play, the cow ‘d been neatly crafted into kebab for everyone. Seated between de mullah and the imam, I got bombarded with a whole series of questions in broken English. I’d never felt so welcome in a new country before than here. After the feast, the villagers sang songs together, beating their chests on the rhythm. I got overwhelmed by the very powerful feeling that group rituals like this can give you, and started copying them. It probably continued for hours, but it was time to say goodbye.
When I set off, not before the leftovers had been stuffed into my panniers, the whole village was waving goodbye. Would it be like this every day?