Archive | August, 2018

Eid al-Adha Reflections

21 Aug

This year, I am completely isolated from my old family, my family when I was married, my ‘chosen family’ of friends (a few are here, but they are celebrating Eid with their own families, or they aren’t Muslim).  I am cut off from the funny little mosque in Carlisle PA with the friendly and completely disparate attendees and whose inner circle determined their own Eid date by their own moon-sighting, choosing to not follow Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

I’m reading about Israa al-Ghamgham of Qatif who may soon be beheaded in Saudi Arabia for protesting, and then I read five excellent short stories, or excerpts of stories about the Eid from Egypt – available here  (

These evoked all kinds of old memories about the Eid when I lived in Cairo.  As a student (beginning graduate school), I was supposed to live in the women’s dorm in Zamalak, but couldn’t stand it.  I moved into a flat on the 10th story of a building on Champillion St. not too far from the Judges’ syndicate, and the office of the filmmaker, Youssef Chahine.  In the street were the auto body repairmen; the block reverberated with the sound of hammers clanging on metal all day.  The bedroom had a mirrored ceiling, and there was a small cot near the bed; the simsar had indicated this was for a servant.  The building was guarded by three bawaba; one of whom could not speak, but he made noises of great indignation whenever I broke any of the unwritten rules of the building.  Their task was to prevent entry of any unwanted visitors, which could mean any and all visitors except for certain persistent vendors.

One such was the milk boy – not a boy, but not yet a man.  He forced me to buy gamoosa milk at least 3 times a week.  I explained that I didn’t drink milk, when he said all foreigners drank milk, but only put it in my coffee.  All my energy was used up in arguing with him not to come further into the flat than putting the milk in the refrigerator.  Occasionally, another man came and banged on the door and ranted on and on about the sins of the flat’s owner.  My friends were usually halted by the bawaba, unless I went downstairs to bring them up, until the middle of the year, when I shattered my kneecap and couldn’t walk properly for a long time (and moved to another flat on the ground floor with a roommate at the other end of Zamalak near the now-extinct footbridge to Imbaba).

I had been a vegetarian for more than 10 years, but after some extreme weight loss in my early 20s, I began eating meat and chicken again.  However, in Egypt in those years, there were restrictions on buying meat. One had to queue up at the butchers’ on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I was still struggling with the switchup in Arabic dialect in my shopping, still asking for “banadura” instead of “tamatim,” and the names of the various cuts of meat were confusing.  I decided on the day before the Eid that I needed ground meat, and found just the right place and a small enough amount (I was going to go camping for most of the Eid holiday far away up beyond Marsa Matruh, and I didn’t want meat spoiling).  As I returned from classes and then shopping, the gruesome sights and sounds of animals being slaughtered in the streets were all around me.

As I entered the foyer of my building, the bawaba were slaughtering a huge animal right there — blood was all over the marble floor, on the walls and I ran past, not waiting for the elevator, up the 10 flights.  I can’t remember if I cooked the ground meat or not; I think not, but I didn’t venture out for the rest of the evening.  This memory of feeling Cairo suddenly turned into a slaughterhouse dissipated after the long drive up north and out into the desert, but I suppose I will always associate it with the Eid.  And long discussions at the time about how the First World can afford to embrace vegetarianism, non-smoking, and environmentalism, but Egypt could and should not, as people need their pleasures in this life (that roughly was the position of some other students).

This horror of meat and death returned when I lived in Damascus, and then again when I had married an Egyptian living in the U.S. and he told me that he planned to buy a lamb, and either split it with a friend, or bring it home and kill it in the bathroom.  He said that just to see me wince.  I urged him to buy no more than a quarter since we’d have to freeze much of that, and then I didn’t want any of it.