What I’m Reading…

Usually when traveling and working abroad I like to be reading about something completely off-topic. For this trip I brought with me Dick Davis’ translation/reworking of Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi’s 10th century Persian epic, the Shahnameh or Book of Kings.

I studied parts of it in classes at university, always perplexed by the complexity of the original Farsi/Persian, but reading it in translation I’m often taken aback by turns of phrase and imagery Ferdowsi uses. Take this description of the city’s inhabitants defending themselves against the armies of the dreadful Zahhak:
“Like dew from dark clouds, bricks and stones rained down from the walls and roofs, and the narrow streets were cluttered with swords and arrows.”
I’ve also been grazing through the February 1998 ICRC report (in cooperation with Somali Red Crescent Society) entitled Spared from the Spear: Traditional Somali behaviour in warfare.

It’s an account of traditional Somali codes of conduct regarding conflict, and the report shows how Somalis have their own customary law and culture of regulating conflict – very similar, in fact, to the principles of the Geneva Conventions. It reminds me – as so many things in this country do – of Afghanistan, and the Pashtun traditions of Pashtunwali.
ICRC have recently been trying to revive the memory of this culture in cooperation with local radio stations, but more on that later.

I am struck by some Somali proverbs included as an oral repository component; I find the imagery used extremely refreshing, just as with Ferdowsi above. Here’s one:
“If some people do not act more sensibly than others, there would be no rainfall.” (In Somali culture, rain is the symbol of everything good and desirable.)
“It is peace [rather than war] that provides milk.”