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Ancient Paths

Walk around the camp on any given day, at any given hour, one will see the women busy at work, always working, always active. Their work is based upon tradition and culture, one which some feel, could soon perish as the nature of each generation changes.

I think of how each of the 73 genocides committed against the Yezidi religious - ethnic group have not “only” tried to force conversion to Islam, but to decimate their tradition and culture, as is the nature and definition of “genocide.” I look at the centuries of entrenched hate and prejudice against them, of political, religious and cultural persecution, of their recent near extermination and of course I am reminded of one other people group whose history is oh so parallel as is the place of tradition in survival.


“It is obvious that the war which Hitler and his accomplices waged, was a war not only against Jewish men, women and children but also against Jewish religion, culture, tradition and therefore memory.”

Elie Wiesel. Night.


I return to the Yezidi people group, to girls whose names were changed by ISIS, yet broke the tattoo taboo and at great pain tattooed their Kurdish name on their hand, so as to never forget. To those boys who when forced to bow down five times a day in the mosques of Syria, recalled childhood stories as they were face down on the mat. So as not to forget. So as to remember.

Riccardo Bruni recalls the words of Moses Chaim Luzzato, an 18th century scholar who said to the Jewish Venetian community that one must "always be patient during hard times, that they would have to endure and be patient while they waited for better times to come and that traditions were crucial to the retaining of their identity."

Have better times come for the Yezidi people. Yes and No. No and Yes. For now, some of the old ways continue. Some of the old traditions continue. The pattern of life is the warp and weft of society pulling the generations together. Tradition, both cultural and religious, establishes the outward patterns of a simple daily life, giving the hope that better days are ahead.

So today we walk around the camp and meet a few of those who hold tradition and culture precious, those who would agree with the beloved Tevyeh from Fiddler on the Roof, in recognizing that “because of our traditions everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”


The Green Bead Story

"I will tell you the Green Bead story. When I grew up in Shingal my grandfather had a Green Bead farm. He produced the best “beads” in all of Shingal. His name was famous because of the delicious taste of the green beads.

We were very poor and the only thing that we could grow was the green beads. Other people had figs and grapes and sometimes because our green beads were the best in the land we could trade with others so that we had something different to eat.

We grew up eating the green beads, most meals we ate them. Always for breakfast, and when there was no other food, we ate them. The kids today think that they are a snack and are ignorant of how precious the green beads are. We would go on trips for days carrying only the beads with us for food. There was nothing else, we lived on them and were strong and healthy.

I don't have a green bead tree here in the camp. No one has. I don't remember seeing such a tree outside Shingal. I walk over to the market and buy them. My tradition will not change. I still eat them every morning, I always have some in my pocket. But the taste is different. They are not as delicious as in Shingal. And the kids don't want to eat them, they want snacks that will destroy their body and their mind.

When I think of Shingal, I think of my grandfather and his green bead trees and wonder what Daesh did to them. Did they survive? Maybe they are even stronger than we are.”

Faris Mulhim aged 70 telling the story of his pistachio trees.


The Bread Story

“Bread is the core of our life. The bread oven is the hub of the family and the center of the community. The making of bread every morning has given a rhythm to our community for hundreds and hundreds of years. I learned bread making from my grandmother and mother. All of the elder, women, those who remember, those who have not forgotten, arise early and sit in the doorway of the house, hands open to the sun. Having received the first rays of the sun we then went to the mud oven in the courtyard and made bread. In the old days in Shingal there was no need for watches, we knew what we had to do just by looking at the sun. At the same time every day, the aroma of fresh bread spread across our village. Life was good. As long as we had bread, life was good. Of course, we had to build, and shape the mud oven, it was hot but safe. All the kids knew how to put the round naan bread inside and then take it out. When our men went to work in the fields or saddled up for trips to buy and sell produce, we would fill their saddlebacks with fresh bread for their journey. Today we still make bread, but the joy has gone. We have some space between two tents, so we use an electric bread maker, and cook the bread in between the tents. It is dangerous but we have no choice. I don’t allow my mother to make bread, she would not be comfortable using the electric oven, and it would make her cry as she misses her bread oven. My dream is to make bread the real way once again. When bread is at the hub of the house, and all the family gathers around to make it, and eat the first piece, then all is well.” Faiza Mahlo, 28 from Siba Shex Khider.


The Wool Story

“We had sheep when we lived in Shingal, all my family going back many generations had sheep. As a young child I grew up knowing how to slaughter a sheep, how to skin it, clean it, take the wool, it was part of our life cycle especially before Eid. Owning sheep we killed them for food, and for the wool more than other people in the village. Those who were not sheep owners, if they had money would purchase a sheep for Eid, slaughter, cook the meat of course and then use the wool. It was always a feast to eat sheep meat, actually the meat is such an ancient part of our culture. For example, in the old days when one purchased a house or a car, you would look for a perfect sheep, slaughter it in the doorway and apply the blood to the car or the house for protection. Some still do that today, but traditions have been forgotten, also many people have neither houses nor cars. We no longer own sheep. We buy a sheep for Eid, clean the wool several times, dry it in the sun and use it. We don't sell, today the wool of a sheep sells for $1 so we prefer to use it. The real value of the sheep was in their wool, although since coming to Shariya, that too is dying out as there is no money to be made these days. All our generations used the wool to stuff mattresses which blocked the harsh winter cold from harming our backs at night. We also made a wool blanket, so who needed heating? We had no fear of fires as we were cosy at night. We made cloaks for our men lined with sheepskin, neither the wind nor the rain penetrated those cloaks which were often handed down from father to son. I hope that the wool tradition will continue. It's too easy to walk over to the market in Shariya and buy a synthetic blanket (what good is that to anyone !!) or “instant clothes”!! There is nothing like sheep wool and sheep skin but the kids of today want to be modern!!!” Batkhy Sghair.


The Aubergine and Recycling Story.

"I also want to tell you that despite living in a tent and not having access to a good kitchen, I do everything the old way. My cycle of life has not changed. In summer I prepare for winter. Nothing goes to waste in my house. I am not in favor of this “instant” generation who want everything to be easy and fast. They are losing their survival skills because it is the tradition, the old ways that are the glue of our society. I grow a few vegetables outside my tent. They actually grow well, and I rotate them according to season. I don't use eggplant in summer, but I prepare it, clean it and dry it for winter where I use it in soup. The skin of the eggplant will dry outside in the sun, along with any other remnants of food, and once dried I sell to the shepherds who use this for food for the sheep. Nothing is ever wasted, we just have to continue in the old way and think a little, take time, slow down.” Batky Sghair


The Broom and Green Peppers

This story reminds me of the Biblical principle as seen in Leviticus 23: 22, “when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap…. leave them for the poor and the sojourner.

We have not agreed on the name of the plant (landing on “the great millet plant”) but it is used as a natural fence, and as a windbreaker between fields. Our neighbors in the Old Shariya village use it between their tomato fields. It is acceptable at the end of the season to pick the strands which are used for making brooms. Every respectable house and tent owns a homemade broom.

“I make a new broom every year, and if I have gathered enough from the “broom plant“ then I will try to sell it in the camp market. It is a tradition that I have taught my children but they are not so interested in making brooms. It makes me sad, because when we lose our tradition, that means our culture is dying, and we become like everyone else. In a few years no one will remember how to make a broom.

The old days were different The days before Daesh. We followed the sun, we rose when it rose, we slept when it went down. We were never late, everything had its time and place. Summer was for picking the green peppers. We only had salt, we did not have pepper or such spices. I only learned about these things when I came to Shariya camp.

We had to be creative. One of our main foods is lentil soup which we eat every day, summer and winter. My grandmother would grow green peppers which I would help her pick and hang on a string to dry outside. We would chop these and add to our soup as spice. She also taught me how to put them in bottles with water and salt, and to wait a long, long time until they were ready as a snack.

That is one tradition that has survived as the peppers are so delicious, nearly every tent will have its store of peppers both for winter and as a simple snack when the kids are hungry. Some also do that with cucumbers when they have the money to buy.

My concern is that life is going too fast. Daesh tried to take not just our families from us but to eradicate our culture by displacing us, by removing us from our land, from our temples. Yes we are safe here, yes in some ways it is better for our children as they can receive education and even go to university, but I feel that we have to work hard to preserve our culture and our traditions, also our religious traditions. Since the 2014 genocide so much has changed, our world has shaken. It is like a massive earthquake, it takes time for the land to settle and find its place again, and I am not sure that we will.”

Zarif Mujo. 51

Cleaning Lalish Temple with traditional brooms


And while I deeply value the old ways of doing things, of the knowledge of where to be and what to do in each season, I feel a sadness in my soul. My prayer would be for a return to the ancient ways, the fresh manna provided daily, the honey in the rock, the food that satisfies the soul.

“Thus says the Lord. Stand in the highways and see, and ask for the ancient paths, where there is the good way and walk in them, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

And yes, I firmly believe that this people who look to bread and winter supplies for comfort and stability of existence once knew those ancient paths.


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