Awake Before Dawn

I  knew it was near daylight since the village mullah was giving the call to prayer over the loudspeaker. I thought it was considerate of him to call so quietly so that if you were awake you would know it was time to come, but there was no way that gentle voice could wake you.

Proverbs 27:14 came to mind  “If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse”.

I didn’t know how long I had been awake, the electricity had gone out soon after I had crawled back onto my sleeping pad after a trip to the bathroom, and I was able to enjoy a night sky full of stars. I was sleeping on the patio of a friend’s family home in the country, along with half of the household. It was much cooler outside and I was actually using a blanket. I could clearly see Orion, a few shooting stars and what could have possibly been the international space station or just a satellite. This, as well as the staccato howl of a lone jackal in the distance.

As the sun rose and tinged the sky at the hill tops light blue, my friend’s parents awoke and began to ready themselves for the day. I was told the family would wake at about five to go up to the mountains to harvest almonds. I could go if I wanted.

Friendship in the Village

One of the great things about working at the school is the various ways your coworkers reach out to you. It’s a total mixed bag, just like any workplace. The relationships run the gamut of those who are totally indifferent to you, to others who want to be your best friend from the moment they meet you. Rizo is in that pleasant place in the middle. He had invited me out to his village several times, and I had enjoyed it every time I was able to go.

It was primitive compared to where I live in the city. His family is wonderful, and there were lots of them this time as his dad had broken his wrist and it was time to harvest almonds. So there were many to help. Rizo’s nieces and nephews, ranging in age from one and a half years to eleven, had been visiting for several days and their moms were also on hand. Rizo had also driven his brother-in-law and a friend who was either recruited or had offered to help. I had no idea what the weekend would bring when I accepted his invite. Asking what the plans were felt rude, kind of like asking what’s for dinner when a friend invites you over.

I was sleeping in my clothes, as was everyone else, so I crawled from beneath my blanket as Rizo’s mom encouraged me to go back to sleep. I groggily said in broken Kurdish that I wanted to go to the mountains, and so she warmly directed me to the kitchen where breakfast was being served on a plastic tablecloth on the floor. My fellow harvesters were already eating a breakfast of flat bread, plain yogurt, and homemade butter all washed down with tea.

A Drive Up the Mountain

After we ate, a neighbor arrived with his pickup to drive us and help with the harvest. I was directed to sit in the front while Rizo, his mom, and his dad sat in the back seat of the crew cab Nissan pickup. His brother-in-law, friend, and a seven-year-old niece rode in the bed. It was still cool and just getting sun in the valley as we left.

The agreement they had was the harvesters could keep two-thirds of the harvest while the “orchard” owner got one-third. There does not seem to be much to keeping an almond orchard here, no tending the trees, no irrigating them, no pest control. Just let them grow and then harvest when it is time. I discovered the harvesters were also to do some minor processing by removing the soft outside of the almond.

We climbed the mountain along the single lane dirt track that was scarcely a road and enjoyed glorious views of the valley as the sun rose. On arrival, they set to work quickly, knowing what to do and each person had a task. Some arranged several large, well used blue plastic tarps under the first tree. others joined sections of poles together to be used to beat the trees and dislodge the almonds.

Almond Harvest

The beaters had the most difficult job, whacking the limbs of the almond trees with 15-foot poles, each the thickness of your wrist. I quickly saw that the downhill sides of the tarps needed to be held up to prevent the fallen almonds from running down the steep hillside. We sat at the downhill side of the tarps and collected almonds into large woven plastic sacks, the almonds coming down like rain.

Every almond was gathered up. The ones that would escape the tarp and roll onto the grassy ground were hunted down, the areas around the trees were gone over very carefully. It was like an Easter egg hunt. We would lift the corners of the tarp and work the almonds into a pile in the shade of the trees and separate the leaves and twigs from the fruit.    

At around ten we broke for a snack, homemade bread called khulera, tomatoes, onions, a type of cantaloupe, and of course tea, made over wood coals the way Kurds like it best. There was friendly banter and the camaraderie of shared labor as we ate in the shade of an oak tree. It had gotten hot but not unbearable, the mountains and valleys of Kurdistan stretched out below us.


I thought about the previous evening, Rizo and I had walked to his grandparents’ home. They were both on their patio, his grandma is not doing well. She was sleeping and the grandfather was praying when we arrived. Grandpa roused his wife and Rizo tried to coax her to eat some honey he had brought. She tasted it seemingly just to appease him but was not eating. On the way back to his parents’ house Rizo said that he was certain she would recover as this had happened to her previously.

He then surprised me by confessing that he had slipped in his devotion to God. I mentioned that the Bible has many encouragements for returning to ones first love of God and that the Bible promises that God forgives us if we confess our sins. But much like his Grandma, he did not want to eat, to come and taste. Or perhaps I just had not responded to him in a way that met his needs. I went to sleep that night praying for this dear family.


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