By Lydia W., 5-time traveler from Chugiak, AK
A visit to a Shi’a mosque in a mountain town in northern Azerbaijan, led to one of the most memorable moments in the entire trip.
We had already walked through the Jewish cemetery in this religiously mixed town, heard the story of the Jews of Persian descent who lived in the area, and visited the lovely Jewish “summer” synagogue in the center of the area.
Our Trip Experience Leader wished to introduce us to the imam of the Shi’a mosque, so we strolled through the town down the hill to the mosque. Upon arriving, it appeared the imam wasn’t available, but there was a group of 20 or so women who were all gathered there to visit and plan an upcoming celebration. They were welcoming to us tourists, and offered head-scarves to the two of us who hadn’t brought our own. They offered us tea as well.
Once inside, we visited with the women both through the interpretation of our guide and sign language! I was particularly interested in the weave of the carpets and was able to have a wonderful conversation with one of the women about the differences in hand weaving, machine weaving and carpets in Azerbaijan and United States.
As we were preparing to leave, I hugged a couple of the women with whom I had been conversing, and once out of the mosque proper, attempted to give back the headscarf. They all shook their heads no, and with much laughter, insisted we keep the headscarves. So we all hugged each other and left.
This gift of the headscarf could have just been interpreted as a random act of kindness.
I prefer to see it as a deliberate act of love.