Photographs and narratives by ROBERT LEUTHEUSER from and of his travels through Kurdistan and the greater Middle East. Published in conjunction with his photographic website

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13 April 2014

Where the Insane Are Cured

Pir Zêdo cradles the egg in his cupped hand, and with eyes closed softly intones a prayer as a young man in his tight fitting T-shirt stands to the side.  When done, they walk down the steps into the courtyard, Pir Zêdo guiding the man to the one spot where sun shines through the leafing mulberry tree.  He gently circles the top of the man's head with the egg, again murmuring prayer.

I watch transfixed.  Pir Zêdo suddenly drops the egg to the concrete; its yoke is deep orange.  With no fanfare, it is over.  The man gives Pir Zêdo's wife some money and he leaves.  “He will wake up tomorrow and the yellowness in his face will be gone,” Pir Zêdo tells me. Although the young man is not insane, the faith for the cure of his jaundiced face and fatigue is as complete.

I am in the town of Ba'adre in (Iraqi) Kurdistan visiting perhaps my best friend among the Yezidis, Amer Sedo.  It is the town of the Yezidian Prince's family, although the current prince, Tahseen Beg, has long since moved to the town of 'Eyn Sifni to the southeast.  Ba'adre is one of a string of Yezidian towns and villages that border the eastern edge of the Mesopotamian Plains, most hugging the gentle foothills of the increasingly rugged Zagros Mountains.

We are taking a leisurely afternoon walk below Amer's home built on the hill overlooking the town.  It abuts a teetering high stonewall, all that remains of Palace of the Prince.  After photographing the nishangah (shrine) of Sultan Eyzi, we wander on.

Remains of the Prince's Palace
nishangah Sultan Eyzi
Amer stops in front of a narrow tan building of unusual in design, its roof line sweeping like a generous Yezidi handlebar mustache.  But even as such, being tucked away on a tight residential street, it can be noticed and then quickly dismissed.  That would be a mistake, a mistake that Amer will not allow.

This is the Mazar Hajial.  This is where the insane come to be cured.  All are welcome, regardless of faith or ethnicity.

We open the door into the adjacent courtyard and are greeted by Pir Zêdo, a gentle man of soft features, beard, and voice.

Pir Zêdo and Wife
We proceed into the cavernous narrow room, barely noticed by the frenzy of swallows whose nests tucked into the florescent light fixtures above in the vaulted ceiling.  Pir Zêdo's wife brings tea and joins us as we sit on the thin patterned pads that border the room.  The conversation is leisurely and the tea sweet.

The mazar, renovated in 2007, has been here for “more than 1,000 years,” and the mejawar (keeper) has always been from Pir Zêdo's family.  She brings a picture of his father from the house:  Pir Ali, stooped with his hoop-handled cane and long white beard is a vision out of Victorian travels.

Pir Zêdo's father, Pir Ali
At one end of the chamber there is a door.  A locked door.  “May I look in?'”  “No no no.  Only me.”  He and he alone.  He explains that he only goes in to light the oil soaked cotton wicks on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and during the nights when the insane are cured.  Then and only then.

The day the afflicted is treated, a sheep is killed, and the “madman” is taken inside the mazar.  Pir Zêdo ties his hands and feet, softly “beats” the man saying the prayers all the while, lights the candles in the inner chamber, and leaves the afflicted to pass the night alone inside.  In the morning, the insanity is gone.  Done.  Infallible.

“When was the last time you cured someone?”  “Five months ago."

Pir Zêdo gently shakes my hand as we leave.

Pir Zêdo in front of Mazar Hajial

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