Tag Archives: Iraqi Culture

3iraqi Identity

Beautifully created by May Asaad.

Warning! 3iraqi culture and 3arabi words ahead.

It appears as an instagramed painting from afar. Upon a closer look, thirty distinct mini paintings appear. Ranging from samoon (bread) and nakhal (palm trees) to lala (lantern), argila (hookah), to Arabi coffee, these beautifully organized pictures tell us a story about Iraqi food, music, and culture.

The very first picture in the left upper corner is the well-known delish Iraqi bread, samoon. It is very unique to Iraq. Neighboring countries have a variety of this kind, but none tastes the same. When I arrived the US it was difficult to get a hold of Arabic food, let alone Iraqi bread. In Chicago, I used to commute for almost an hour to buy Iraqi bread, spices, and kabab. The first picture on the upper right side is an isteekan – tea cup. Virtually every Iraqi I know drinks tea. It was probably introduced to Iraq during the British occupation during 1910s. Ever since, Iraqis drink tea in the morning, at work, in school, after napping, and serve it to guests. It is inseparable of the culture. Some went as far as ‘deciphering’ the word isteekan as eeest teee kan, or ‘east tea can’ – presumably what the British called the cute little small cups tea is served in.

Furthermore, the picture in the bottom right shows red yashmagh – traditional head cloth worn by men. This is not a hijab – head scarf, or veil – but a piece of cloth worn by men signifying reverence, respect, and tradition. I associate my culture with yashmagh because not only I wore it multiple times, but also because it has historical significance. It is believed that yashmagh was inspired by Babylonians, 2nd century BCE, who used clothes with similar knitting pattern to fight off evil spirits. It has evolved to symbolize resistance and freedom during colonial era.

On the other side, bottom left, a picture of shanasheel during evening. Shanasheel are traditional Iraqi architectural buildings from Ottoman Empire time. They denote sophistication, as well as, historical and cultural heritage. Remainder of pictures represents different aspects of home.

This collage can potentially be limiting and confusing to non-Iraqis. There are many assumptions made while making it: familiarity with music, food, etc. I have a memory for every picture. Not all of these pictures have mere historical relevance. Some remind me of times during Hussain’s regime, such as second picture in bottom left of a square with a stick. We used to utilize this during programmed power outage in hot weather. Power was cut once a day for two hours. Apart from that, there are few pictures used to convey religious and political ideas. I personally may not associate myself with these pictures; however, they are still culturally relevant. I shared this collage in class and someone pointed out that these pictures represent me. It is probably assumed so because of the nature of these pictures: mosque and flag.

I shared the self-portrait on Facebook and Twitter. Some of my contacts “liked” it, and others “retweeted” it. Those were mainly Iraqis! I think it is the case because they could relate to the portrait. It really speaks to Iraqis in a way that only those who lived and experienced life in Iraq would understand. Also, for those living abroad, Arabic words on some pictures stir feelings of nostalgia and belonging. If I want to reconstruct my life back home it will be comprised of twenty eight pieces. It’s rather interesting how powerful pictures presented in a certain way can be.

This collage always serves as a reminder for me to go on and continue doing what I do best.  It motivates me to succeed academically, excel intellectually, and continue being an extrovert social bee. 😀

The Staggering Feature of My House!


Are they crazy!? That was my first re-action, when I saw those homeless people who used to sleep on the roofs, when I was a child. After couple years, I realized that sleeping on the roof was part of the Iraqi culture, and there are procedures before being on roof.

At first, I’ll brief the story of sleeping on the roof. Originally, the story of this awkward way of sleeping arose when our forefathers climbed up on their roofs and found them as shelters from the stubborn sizzling Iraqi weather.


Ideologically, in the five-hot-summer months, Iraqis used to escape from the sweaty weather inside their houses up on their roofs. Cheerfully, the preparations and arrangements for this activity were done cooperatively between the family.

My house had two-level roofs. One, the upper, for my mom and dad, the other was for me and my two brothers. They can contain many beds. Every month we were sponging down the roof. The preparations for sleeping start at sundown, the cleaning ones in the afternoon. Daily, we, me and my brother, used to head up to the roof with two buckets for each. With jokes and gossips, we shampooed and rinsed the whole roof out. When the first phase ends, we heading for the next one, which was the unrolling-beds process. You must proceed in this order, so that the sun will not warm up those beds. When the night kills the last sunbeam, we unconsciously found our way to the roof.

After the jokes, the funny stories and the chit-chat, we used to sleep. But, I have two pictures of sleeping on the roof experience!

Tediously, the first one, especially if I was tired, is just falling into sleep. Offensively, a bunch of disturbing mobs of insects with this sinister look on their faces were hunting me, as a result of this mischievously cruel attack, I used to wake up during my peaceful solitude time rubbing my skin ferociously. Accordingly, I stumbled my way down to the interior of the house to wash and cool these stings.

On the other side of the sleeping on the roof picture, insomnia has a positive effect on the roof. Curiously, I used to look attentively at that dictator who took the weight off his feet in that gigantic firmament and at those pleasing and illuminated tiny mermaids that aligned amazingly in the sky, whom were appointed to serve their dictator, the moon. Stars are uniquely and professionally shaped. Attractively, from my bed I can see those small pearls adorning and ornamenting the dark blue vista above me! Once the gentle mellow breeze banter my spirit, late in night, and tremble my body, only then, I would doze off into a deep slumber.

The moment we fell into sleep, and moved to another worth-discovery world, the dream or subconscious world, we would be energized, despite the short period of sleeping. We would wake up in the early morning on a puff of air and the sassy birds’ cheeping and shrilling. Chirpily, I used to annoy my family and wake them up by saying the first good-morning to them with a grin of my face!

In summation, God knows how I miss those days! I want to be just like the homeless crazy people, who don’t have another place to sleep but the roof, as I guessed at my early stages. Being in the roof with the family and the combination of the marvelous sequence of actions before and after falling into sleep, is a hard thing to achieve in the host country, simply because there is no such houses as we used to have back in Baghdad. Unquestionably, if I would sleep on the roof of my building, people here in Syria, at deferent stages, will not just say crazy, but also they’ll call the police for satellite-dish rubbery suspicion!