Karbala residents fly kites to pass the time before iftar

Popular pastime fills the hours before sunset during Ramadan

Those fasting in Iraq's Karbala city during the holy month have for decades taken part in the pre-iftar activity of kite-flying , in an attempt to distract themselves from the hunger pangs.

Mustafa Ali, 36, decided to teach his young son Ali how to fly kites this year. "It's what my father and grandfather did during Ramadan, and now I'm teaching Ali to do it," he said.

A kite seller in Karbala, Iraq displays his wares at the side of a three-wheeler. Haider Husseini / The National
A kite seller in Karbala, Iraq displays his wares at the side of a three-wheeler. Haider Husseini / The National

The hobby was introduced by travellers from India in the late 1950s and was soon adopted by the residents of Karbala, where the influence of its history as a trading and pilgrimage hub are reflected also in the local dialect and cuisine.

Mityar – the Iraqi slang for flying kites – typically takes place during the two-hour gap after people are done with their work day and chores and before iftar. Some people spend the time praying and reading the Quran; others fly kites.

The kites come in many shapes and materials. Even the threads vary, depending how the kite is being flown. For example, there are sharp threads to cut other kites down and strong ones to fly higher.

Occasionally, these cords get tangled together and fun ensues as the kite flyers work out whether to free them by cutting one of the threads, or attempt to untangle them mid-air.

"It's a way to pass the time and to forget about your hunger and thirst," said Sajad, 21.

As the sun starts to set, more people gather and fly their kites in the open street in the city's centre, from seasoned experts to newcomers to the hobby.

“The fun part of it is that youth, seniors and little kids are sharing the sky,” Sajad said.

A man flies his kite along with others above the Iraqi city of Karbala. Haider Husseini / The National
A man flies his kite along with others above the Iraqi city of Karbala. Haider Husseini / The National

Updated: May 9, 2021 09:37 AM

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