Monday, June 20, 2005



A zaffa is a wedding procession.

In conventional Iraqi weddings, the proceedings are intricate and involve several ceremonies and parties. The final step is the zaffa: A procession of cars of the groom’s friends and relatives go to the bride’s home to escort the couple to the bridal home, to a hotel where the couple may spend part of their honeymoon, to the airport if they go abroad or to the outskirts of the city if they were going by car to some resort.

You cannot miss a zaffa. They are so noisy; you can hear them from a distance! The couple’s car is usually lavishly decorated with colorful strips and flower bouquets. The bride’s mother usually rides with them on the front seat. It is followed by a car full of musicians with half of their bodies protruding from the windows (there is always a trumpet and a drum). They play rhythmic popular music, rather loudly. These are followed by a dozen or two of an assortment of cars (minibuses sometimes) with horns blasting and full of people noisily clapping and singing. Customarily, there is also the women’s distinctive ‘shriek’ of traditional joy – the halhula (hallelujah?)

They usually cause a small traffic chaos en route. They are given priority at traffic signals (in the days when we had working traffic signals) by traffic policemen and other motorists… so as not to break the procession. Whenever the procession stops, several young men sometimes get out of the cars and start dancing on the street! This actually has been a new development introduced during the past 15 years.

When the procession reaches its destination, there is usually a party, more loud noises and then dinner.

Zaffa in the countryside follows similar lines and is equally noisy… but instead of the dancing, they are usually accompanied by sporadic gun shots in the air. The final destination is invariably the bridal home which is most frequently the groom’s family home. It is still common practice for the couple not to move out until a few years later.

Some people like zaffas. I don’t. I find them too noisy and chaotic. I didn’t even go to my own zaffa when I got married decades ago!


Baghdad, Saturday, April 5, 2003

It was slightly before six in the morning. I was sitting in my study in my dishdasha (traditional robe) listening to news on my transistor.

I started hearing a strange, faint, distant rumble… which I realized was very intense firing. I remember thinking that this did not sound like something for which a dishdasha was suitable! So I shaved and changed.

That noise was getting louder and closer, clearly distinguishable by now. It was coming towards Baghdad from the south-west. I dashed to the (flat) rooftop. Over what I figured was the airport, there were two A-10’s (anti-tank airplanes distinguishable by their very wide wing span and incredibly slow speed!) they went around in two large circles. Behind and below them were balls of fire at regular intervals. A neighbor who was also on his rooftop following events explained that they were anti-missile flares.

The noise was much louder now. The intensity was terrifying. My doctor son, who had not graduated yet at the time, had volunteered to spend the night at one of the hospitals nearby.

I dashed frantically to my elderly mother’s next door. She was in her doorway, bewildered. I escorted her at a maddeningly slow pace to my house and installed her with everybody else in the stairwell, the safest place we had.

I then ran to my widowed sister’s home about a hundred meters away. She, her daughter and her young son were just leaving, on their way to my place. We were joined by another niece who lived nearby clutching her two young children.

By then, the sounds of tank tracks on the pavement were distinguishable. But machine gun fire and a variety of explosive sounds were so close that you could feel the earth shaking. All that violence was only about 200 meters away with only a single wall, 3 meter high, shielding us. It felt like you were being shot at and bombarded at close range. No one looked back; I was at the rear; my nephew was missing. I was beginning to move back when he showed up. He had gone back inside to fetch his gun (as if that would be any use).

When we got to our stairwell fortress, my brother and his three sons, who also live next door, had already joined the others.

[Thinking back to that morning, gathering like that in one place under those conditions was probably not the most prudent thing to do. Putting all your eggs in one basket as it were… but I suppose that the unspoken decision by everybody was either to make it together or die together! Death was indeed so close.]

By then the house was literally shaking with the blasts. We had been through wars and bombardment before, but never this close to so much sustained intensity.

My curiosity got the better of me. So, oblivious to yells from everybody, I ran to the roof again… and it was the most bizarre scene: explosives everywhere; tanks that I couldn’t see with tracks ticking fast on the pavement; planes overhead, A-10’s flying ahead of the tank column apparently clearing the way … and lots and lots of fire power!

A few times the explosions were so close that I reflexively sheltered behind a wall!

Finally, the noises and the explosions began to move away. The American army was on its way to Baghdad Airport. Later, a neighbor who was closer to the scene told me that he counted 36 tanks.

Ever since then, I always referred to that day as the day of the zaffa, the American zaffa.

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