On Saturday I attended my first Ashura in Nabatiye, which commemorates the anniversary of Imam Hussein's martyrdom in Karbala some 1300 years ago. I had warned my friend D. before our early morning departure from Beirut that this might be the only Lebanese event where there is no street food and insisted we stop for a manaeesh on the way down south. But in fact there were plenty of refreshments being sold -- the metallic smell of blood didn't deter bystanders from wolfing down kababs, chickpeas and corn.
Ashura in Nabatiye is a pretty bloody affair-- young men (age 3 to 30, usually) participate while the rest of the town and visitors watch. As soon as we arrived, groups of 10-12 young men started to pour into the street from the local mosque, white cloths draped around their necks and bleeding from a (superficial) cut in the front of their heads, which they smacked with a sword or their hands, creating a flow of blood down their faces and staining their clothes. (I thought that a good advertisement for laundry detergent would show a mother trying to wash blood out of her sons clothes after Ashura).
Banging the wound ensures that the blood doesn't clot and continues to bleed, but it also means that bystanders are often covered in specks of red. I was standing back a little behind my friend S. who was getting the brunt of the spray. Suddenly a serious amount of liquid hit the side of my face. I dabbed it with my hands-- the liquid was clear and smelled acidic. Then-- another splash of liquid, this time drenching the sleeve of my jacket. I turned around and realized-- to my relief-- that I was leaning against a juice cart and was being sprayed by freshly squeezed orange juice.