Monday, November 30, 2009

Eid al-Adha

Disclaimer: There are pictures of dead sheep heads and guys with knives below the body of this post. If you don’t want to see that, don’t scroll too far ahead.

I spent another (it’s happened two or three other times) Thanksgiving away from home this year. When I went to school in New Zealand, I rarely missed it because the southern hemisphere’s summer break fell almost exactly overtop our winter holidays. It meant that I rarely got a tan, but at least I was home for the important stuff.

Happily, I was not without the holiday spirit altogether. In Islamic countries, Eid al-Adha is celebrated right around the same time as Thanksgiving. It’s the day when practitioners of the Islamic faith celebrate the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to murder his son. Happily, Old Testament God was all like, “psyche!” and Abraham only had to kill a sheep, so that’s the practice followed here. So, most families – or nearly every one that can afford the 2,000dh ($260) animal – will buy a sheep and kill it with a knife (exsanguination), distribute the meat amongst themselves and to the less fortunate, eat it, and cook the animal’s head on fire pits in the street. (I am still unclear as to the practical or religious motivation behind burning the head).

So I was awakened on Saturday morning (noon), not only by the usual mind-splintering hangover (buying alcohol during religious holidays is an entirely different story, probably for a less public forum), but by the smell of burning fur - the aroma wafting through my window from the large open grill on the sidewalk below. I heard my roommate retching.

I had managed to remain unconscious for the general massacre itself. Most sheep are sliced and wrung out early in the morning, so my day was filled with the aftermath. I took a shower (something that would be repeated twice more that day) and threw on some sandals. Immediately after leaving my apartment building, I had to hop over a small estuary of gore that had puddled near the curb. I regretted having chosen the sandals. I spent the next few hours wandering the streets with my roommate, snapping pictures with my new camera.

Once the general revulsion and niggling voice of some undefined moral qualm had been quieted in my mind, I really enjoyed myself. The city was a whole different place. Automobile and pedestrian traffic was infrequent, every shop was shuttered and gray smoke rose from open flame as far down every street as you could see. Most of the head-roasting stands were manned by the more entrepreneurial local kids. Fresh heads were thrown onto the fires at intervals as cars or passersby stopped and dropped off their trophy-filled garbage bags. Presumably they came by later to pick up the remains because no money changed hands at the drop. Older kids drove donkey carts full of the still-blood-wet hides. The precise economics of it all still eludes me.

The scene – at first bizarre and macabre – started to take on the feel of a community block party. The kids from each stall would wander back and forth, socializing and talking shop – happily waving their hatchets and poles of rebar and occasionally shuffling the blackened heads around with their feet like soccer balls. So even without the safe hominess of a proper Thanksgiving, I had a good food-related weekend - complete with a strengthened sense of community.

Click for higher resolution (if you're into that sort of thing).


TravelRN said...

Great post, Patrick. Liking your blog.

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