Darashish, and My First Lesson from a Stranger Abed-allah A. Baba from Iraq

abed-allah-iraqI was born in Sulaimanyah, Iraq in 1994. Not only is it a great city, but it has officially been recognized as the capital of enlightenment by the Kurdistan Regional Government. But at the age of 5 my father’s job forced us to move to Iran, and so we went to Sanandaj in 1999.

I started elementary school there and made several friends back then, Sohaib and Armin, but again in 2002, during fourth and fifth grade, we obliged to move. This time, it was not to another country, but to the Iranian capital of Tehran. I have many beautiful memories from that time, both with my siblings as well as with the new friends I made.

Yet each summer, we would venture back to my hometown in Iraq as well as the small village of Darashish, where my maternal grandparents lived. Despite the nearly 2 hour journey from Sulaimanyah to Darashish, I always felt an intense feeling of excitement and freedom, of literally engaging with it’s pure nature and beauty.

Now, read carefully, and try to imagine all the details I am about to tell you.

I am with my family travelling down the end of the main road of Darashish. At the end of this road there is a small bridge crossing over a small river. The sides of the dusty road are covered by pomegranate trees, the same trees that bear the fruit for which our village is so famous for. We get out of the vehicle and run into Grandpa’s home. Like most of the other houses, Grandpa’s is built from clay and stone. They live on the second floor, overtop of their cow barn, and have a huge balcony that my siblings and I would all sit on together, side by side.

I still remember mornings at Grandma and Grandpa’s house like it was yesterday. Since it was always a bit cold when we woke up, we would wash our faces and then sit down for several moments until we got used to the temperature. Once we could hear my Grandmother’s footsteps coming up the stairs with a pot full of fresh cow milk from the barn  in hand, we would run to the kitchen to watch her purify and then boil the milk with toast and a bit of sugar for breakfast.

Darashish was a magnetic place, a gathering point for the whole family, extended relatives and all. It was a chance for me to see my cousins. There are eleven of us in all and we are relatively close in age. As the eldest, my big brother, Mohammed, became our de facto leader. Our routine involved hiking to the top of a hill and making a small fire. We tried a new hill each time.

After having breakfast, we went straight to the farms, running through the ashes of our neighbor’s houses that had been damaged and destroyed by either time or the ongoing war.

One day, after waking up and carrying on as usual with our morning routine, a bee stung my foot. So after breakfast, when all my siblings and cousins would go to the hills, I was stuck at home alone.  For a while, I rested on the balcony waiting for their smoke plumes to start, but they never did. I figured they must have forgotten the matches, so I began looking for them. After endless searching, I got tired and returned to my place on the balcony. But when I sat down, there was a blue basket full of washed up clothes that I hadn’t noticed before. Unconsciously, I began to sift through the basket and believe it or not, I found a match. At that point, I decided to go and find the others.

With that match in my hand, I journeyed through the farms and small green hills on my bee-stung foot. After nearly an hour of painful walking, I had finally found them. They stood there in shock and awe as they asked me how I had managed to walk all the way there and why I would even try with my foot. But then, as I thought to myself “who is the boss now,” I showed them the match.

After a while, we saw a cheerful, young shepherd. With him was more than a hundred sheep, coloring the ground with white and black, and three dogs. He came over to us and sat down for several minutes in silence until he inquired why we wanted to build a fire. “How did you even know that we were going to?!” we all replied.  His response: “by the wood you gathered.” “Well you see,” we all explained, “it is a little habit of ours to start a fire, then gather around it to play and sing songs.” After looking at the ground in silence for what felt like five whole minutes, he started to speak: “You know?! You have started a fire so many times, and luckily it seems you didn’t face any problems, which is why your parents allowed you to continue (he didn’t know that our parents were not aware of what we were doing), but look around… there is a huge wheat plantation over here. Do you know what would happen if a small, little fire like yours got out of control? Do you know what would happen if your little fire turned into a big fire? Do you know how hard it will be to put it out? Do you know what will happen to the owner of this farm if all his crops were to burn down, all the problems he will face because he and his family depend on this wheat to live?

Besides all the harm and paint that you could cause to that family, what about the land and all the little creatures living underground? And all this needs is one little chance.“

We didn’t say anything, as a matter of fact, we couldn’t. We were shocked. We had never thought about it in that way. The young man stood up, and without saying another word, he left with all his sheep in tow. Then, one of my cousins grabbed the match and broke it to pieces.

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