Aid Al Kabir
In preparation for Aid, I did henna for some of the neighborhood girls.
All dressed up in new clothes. My kaftan, borrowed from my host family, wasn't new. It was a few sizes too big.
Last week, or sorry, two weeks ago (time constantly slips away) Aid Al Kabir took place. A major Islamic celebration, Aid Al Kabir (translation: big holiday) represents the time when Allah (God) asked Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Isaac to test his loyalty. Ibrahim showed his loyalty to Allah by offering Isaac at the alter but before he could slay his son, Allah sent a sheep to be slaughtered instead. From that day on, the followers of Islam have slaughtered a sheep on the day of Aid Al Kabir to represent their loyalty and dedication to Allah. The story is the same in both the Koran (Islamic holy book) and the Bible but I don't recall there being a big Christian celebration in which sheep are slaughtered. I guess Thanksgiving comes the closest, but then again, that's a pagan holiday.
Preparations for the holiday begin days and even weeks in advance. Women spend endless hours making cookies and cakes, shopping for new kaftans (traditional celebration garb) and getting henna dyed on their hands and feet. Men also buy new jalabas (their traditional garb) and go to the souq and bargain for a sheep. When the day finally arrives, everyone is dressed in their finest and is really excited. Everyone, that is, except for the sheep.
The sheep. The poor sheep. I almost felt sorry for them but then I recalled the night before the Aid where they kept me up all night with all their baa baa's. Because there are very few places to stow a sheep if you were not a shepherd, my neighbors and my host family alike kept their future meal in the front yard, on the roof, in the kitchen, wherever they had a place for it. Being as how adobe style houses usually connect to other houses, I had an entire medley of sheep singing to me that night. I do have to admit that visions of lamb chops pranced in my head as I tried to fall asleep.
Anyhow, it finally came time for the slaughtering and I was ready, front and center. First, a man with a very big knife, placed the sheep on the threshold of the house. With my host family's house, it was the dirt alleyway outside the wooden door. From there, either the man spoke sweet, gentle nothings into the ear of the sheep or a quick prayer was said. I prefer to be a romantic and believe the first. With the words said, the wool was pushed aside at the neck and a long, swift slice was made. The man with the big knife then stood back and let the sheep squirt its blood until it's last breath was exhausted. This sometimes took a while and the sheep would kick and move with it's head half severed. While this was an amusing site, it left blood splattered everywhere.
The slaughtering begins. I think I saw a total of 5 sheep being slaughtered that day. I'd say that's enough for a lifetime.
The river of blood draining from the sheep.
As soon as it was evident that the sheep was dead, the head was completely cut off. What happened next kind of disgusted me. The men working on the sheep made little incisions on the legs and began to blow into them. Quickly, the sheep expanded and began to look like a pinata. As if the imagery wasn't enough, one of the men had a big stick and began to beat the sheep as it WAS a pinata. Everything expanded, and I mean EVERYTHING (please use your imagination.) I gathered that the blowing of air and the beating of the sheep was to separate the meat from the skin. I think it worked. The men then started to slice away the sheep skin. Eventually the sheep was hung so that the rest of the skin could be separated. I was amused at the fact that the men left a little ball of wool at the tip of the tail. Decoration, I presumed. After that, the innards, guts, stomach, and whatever the sheep had for eaten and not yet digested were all taken out and saved for later.
Sheep being blown up to allow air to separate the
skin from the meat. Host relative beating the sheep with a stick as if it were a pinata. Unfortunately, no candy or prizes fell out.
With all the sheep slaughtered, there was nothing to do but start eating. Boy did we eat. It was meat day in and day out. Meat for breakfast, meat for lunch, meat for dinner. I got so sick of just eating meat. At one point I snuck in an orange and I swear it tasted like meat. It wasn't bad at the beginning because we ate the "good" meat. For the first few nights, we had a lot of brochettes (kabobs if you will.) Those were pretty tasty. After the "good" meat was all gone, however, my host family began to prepare the not so good parts of the animal. This mainly consisted of the stomach, intestines and just plain old sheep fat. Folks, I've eaten a lot of strange things since I've been here (camel, sheep brains, eyeballs, stomach, bull heart, chicken liver, cinnamon ... you name it, I've probably eaten it) but I just wasn't up for anymore body parts. I finally drew the line when my host family served me sheep testicles for lunch. There was just no way those things were going in my mouth. I just smiled and respectfully declined. It's now been, umm, let me count... 13 days since my host family slaughtered the sheep and we're still eating from it. Here's a thought for you to ponder: my host family doesn't have a refrigerator. The first few days, the sheep was hanging outside next to the bathroom (more like an outhouse) and after that, they brought it inside and kept it in the room where we all eat, hang out and where the entire family goes to sleep. I had no clue where they had been keeping it since then until I went into a small, vacant room the other day and found meat curing from the ceiling.
Hopefully, the meat supply will be depleted soon. If not, I'm happy to say that I will be moving into my house in a few days and have no intention of cooking meat, at least not for the first few months anyway.
I decided that the day just wouldn't be complete unless I picked up the sheep head. Not very pretty. I got blood all over my hands.
The sheep cadaver that was hanging outside bathroom.