I have had to revise all my previous conceptions of ‘celebration’ since I came to Algeria. The word, ‘celebration’ itself can mean either ‘festivity’ and/or ‘commemoration’ and that really explains the huge differences between Eid in England and Eid in Algeria. We have two days of celebration in the Islamic Calendar (there are others but they are more cultural and traditional than actually Islamic), and these are Eid al Fitr when Ramadan ends and Eid al Adha (known as Eid Kabeer or the Big Eid here in Algeria), which is about 2 months after the first one. Obviously before becoming Muslim, I was brought up with all the Catholic days of celebration which, for my family always had a very spiritual emphasis. Leaving these days behind were not as difficult for me as for others, probably because, being honest, they weren’t filled with the happy memories that a lot of my friends have of these occasions.
In England, as a Muslim, we usually celebrated these days by getting all dressed up in new clothes going to a mosque in London followed by a party either at a mosque or hall, where the emphasis was on the children enjoying their day with little games and presents laid on by the organisers, the mothers enjoying a well-earned break from cooking and housework by catching up with friends or making new ones and the husbands sat and chilled with their friends. Invariably we all returned home from these occasions exhausted but very happy.
I cannot even remember our first Eid al Fitr here in Algeria it was so memorable…..not! It would have only been about 6 weeks after we arrived and most likely we spent it visiting my husband’s mother and sister, along with the rest of the extended family, and also his brother and his wife. It was quite boring and exhausting for both me and for the children and in sharp contrast to the Eids we had spent in England. About two months later we celebrated our first Eid Al Adha and, although we didn’t have a sheep to slaughter ourselves, we didn’t really feel that we missed out on anything as all the neighbours and family slaughtered theirs outside the apartment building. My eldest son was 11 at the time and he went around that day with a face as white as his camis – he had helped his friend to take care of his sheep leading up to Eid and found the whole slaughtering thing very hard to bear. I found myself very emotional that day because, for some reason, I kept thinking of my Dad who had passed away 6 years previously and how much I would have loved to tell him about the day. I think I felt that he would probably understand having been brought up on a farm. The one thing that really stood out for me that day was the fact that both men and women equally worked very hard – after the sheep was slaughtered the men had to remove the skin, not an easy job, cut the breastbone, another difficult job, remove the innards some of which they cleaned themselves, and the women then had their jobs of cleaning out and then cooking the edible organs for the family. Usually the carcass is left to drain until the next day and I remember, as we drove off to visit my mother-in-law, seeing all the carcasses hanging from the trees outside the apartment block,and thinking how I would love to have been able to take a picture and send it home to my family in Ireland with the caption ‘This is what grows on the trees in Algeria!’ Yes, there was a life before Facebook!
The second Eid Al Adha was our first one buying a sheep. My husband had never slaughtered on his own before and was very nervous about it, not wanting the animal to suffer because of his inexperience, so he invited his nephew to come and help along with his two sisters and his niece. I, for my part, was very nervous about absolutely everything and dreading the whole day for weeks beforehand. I used to be vegetarian when I was in my teens and the farm next door was rented out to a butcher who reared cows for slaughter. One night he herded them all into the barn next door to be transported the next day and they were so obviously in distress all night that I promised I would never eat his meat or any other. So the idea of having an actual sheep in our courtyard intended for slaughter made me sick to my stomach, but the reality was, in some ways, even worse. The agricultural smell is overpowering and hits you as soon as you wake up, but it was the inestimable sadness I felt every time I looked at it as it stared woefully back at me that was by far the worst thing about it.
|Just a 'little' selection of home-made Eid cakes - there were more in the Freezer!|