Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Meat-Only Diet

The hair has been burned and scraped off the cow's skull,
which will later be chopped into pot-sized pieces
and used in a stew.
Sunday morning I went to my host family’s house to help slaughter a cow. Since then I haven’t had a thing to eat but meat. I’d heard stories about what a rough week this is for vegetarians (not that I am one), but I had no idea.

We killed the cow at 9:30. By noon, we were eating it as shish kabobs. An hour and a half later, we had lunch of stewed meat and juices. For dinner that night we again had a meat-only duaz with liver and beef shish kabobs as appetizers. And all week long, whenever I’ve visited people, I’ve been served shish kabobs with tea rather than the usual peanuts and cookies or bread. Not until Wednesday evening, when I had dinner at another friend’s house, did I even see a vegetable – a little bit of carrot and a few chunks of turnip in a large plate of meat.
It was not a big cow, but it's still a lot of animal. All parts
of the animal are eaten, including the innards, head, and feet.
By “rough week,” I mean the week of Eid Akhatar (big feast), Eid Kbir in Arabic, also sometimes called Eid Al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice). It commemorates Abraham’s sparing of his son and sacrificing a ram instead. After Ramadan, it’s probably the most important festival on the Muslim calendar. It takes place 70 days after the end of Ramadan, which was Monday. By tradition on that day the male head of every household sacrifices an anogod (ram). Then the family spends the rest of the week eating it. Our family did that, too, on Monday, but because it is such a large family, I guess Mohammed decided to slaughter a cow as well as a sheep.
My main job was to take pictures, but here I'm helping roll
the carcass so that others can separate the skin
from the top of the cow's back.
I had no idea of the sheer effort, strength, and time it takes to skin and butcher a large animal with just knives and a hatchet (no power saws here). With the cow, we started at 9:30 and finished at noon. By “finished” I mean we’d quartered the animal. We didn’t actually finish cutting up all the meat till Wednesday morning. And the whole family was involved. As with Ramadan, there is a lot of anticipation of the festival. And while I wouldn’t say it was a party atmosphere, it certainly was a joyous one. Those who weren’t helping with the butchering were watching and talking. And when it was done, of course, we ate.

The anogod hung, first to be "undressed,"
i.e., have its skin peeled off like a sweater,
then to be "dressed," as in butchered.

Monday was similar, except that after breakfast, the men first climbed the hill outside town and took part in a prayer service. After that, we came down to the house, changed out of our good clothes, and slaughtered the ram. And then we had shishkabobs and a lunch of meat.
I’ve talked about meat, but the festival is much more than that. It’s really about gratitude and thankfulness and the bonds of family, friendship, and community. It’s kind of like our Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. Families draw together. The men who work at jobs in one of the big cities, or even abroad, come home, and there’s lots of visiting among neighbors, friends, and relatives. There was a steady stream of people to my family’s house on Monday, and on Tuesday and Wednesday I spent a good deal of time making the rounds myself.

Shishkabobs with fresh herbs and spices have been a staple
of the Leid diet.

I’m not quite sure what marks the end of Leid – maybe when the sheep is eaten up? – but I’ve begun to dream of vegetables.