Just to the south of the Khosr River, olive trees surround the simple homes of Nineveh and spread their sweet scent to every household when the wind blows off the Tigress. On those hot mornings, all the children in the community come outside to catch some of the breeze on their faces. In the evening, if they are lucky, one of the fathers in the neighborhood will bring home flavored ice shavings from one of the many street vendors in town to help ease the relentless oppressive heat of the day. The families in this sleepy neighborhood live a simple life, one that has been repeated for as many generations as any among them could remember.
Rahim lives in a house that was bigger than most in the area, but with six brothers and one sister, the house still felt cramped. Privacy for Rahim can only be obtained when he takes a trip to the secret hideaway he found on the now nearly dry Khosr River bank. Rahim makes the 3 kilometer trek to his special hidden sanctuary several times a week. His favorite spot is where the river folds back on itself and creates a naturally shady environment where he can race up and down the steep embankments, practice his laser sharp rock throwing ability, or just sit for a while and contemplate the many complexities found in a twelve year old boy’s life.
Most families in Rahim’s neighborhood are Sunni Muslim like him, but other families find their universal peace as Yazidi, Yarsan and Mandean. Even a few Assyrian Christians call this Nineveh neighborhood home. Rahim found the religious trappings and customs of his friends to be curious, but all the children from every background still scrambled to be first in line every time the shaved ice appeared on the scene. The apportioning of the delicious evening treat is only decided by which face appears at the head of the line. Existing in this hardscrabble part of the world meant a certain measure of acceptance and tolerance is required by all.
This year, just as the heat of summer started its relentless yearly push into Nineveh, stories about packs of wild dogs from the South of Mosul began to fill the adults evening dialog. To the children, these stories of the vicious hounds with no soul, sounded much like the mythical stories of the great wars and warriors they had heard told so many times before. But the concern on their parent’s faces when they told these new stories of desert marauders, made these stories feel different. Fear, real guttural fear, cannot be hidden and every one of the children of the neighborhood started to feel a chill in their bones, even on the hottest of days.
One night after evening prayers, Rahim asked his elderly father to explain why everyone was so afraid of the invading pack of dogs from the South. Rahim’s father was very wise and was always honest with his sons. He sat Rahim down in front of him and told him to listen well. Rahim sat with rapt attention waiting for the answer. Rahim’s father took a long time to gather his thoughts then began to speak in a strange riddle.
“Two men go to the river to go fishing, one man says to the other,”
“We should fish in the morning to catch our evening meal.”
“But the other man responds,”
“It is better to fish in the evening, to supply our house for the next day.”
“Rahim, which of these two men is right?”
Rahim was quite puzzled by this problem as there did not appear to be a correct answer, nor a wrong one. After a few minutes of bewilderment, Rahim’s father asked:
“Would your belly be more filled if you ate the fish caught at night or by the one that was caught in the morning?”
This time the answer came easy for Rahim.
“My belly would be just as full for either, so both men must be right.”
Rahim’s father smiled and patted him on the head, in the same manner that fathers have reached out to their children from the dawn of time whenever their children begin to absorb one of the unseen mysteries of life. Then he explained further.
“Men can learn from other men, just as we do from the Imam, and the elders, and even as you do from me. Reasoning men can learn from each other that there is not just one unique path in life. For example, if you discovered that the route you take to go to the river was blocked one day, would you not find an alternate route? And if you did, would you not get to the same final destination?”
Rahim’s father let the message sink in then added:
“But if a man is trying to reason with a wild dog, the dog can learn nothing from the man, for all the dog knows is how to kill and eat. There is no alternate path for the dog to choose from. That is why this pack of dogs approaching us from the South is so dangerous, they cannot reason with other men to find an alternate path.”
The lesson for Rahim was barely absorbed when the rabid dogs with the black beards first arrived in his neighborhood. Shaved ice is no longer delivered to quell the evening heat.