Friday, 31 October 2014

Eid in Algeria – what’s there to celebrate? Part Three

What a glorious way to spend the second day of Eid

We have settled into a routine that suits us as a family now on Eid day. On the Eid after Ramadan we always go and have lunch at my mother-in-law’s home, and it's wonderful to see so many people, old and young, male and female out and about in their best clothes, visiting family.  This is the Eid where it is traditional to give the children money and I have learnt from my sister-in-law to collect change for a couple of weeks beforehand so we have enough to give to my husband's grandnephews and grandnieces (yes....we're THAT old now!) on Eid day.  A lot of the extended family gathers in my mother-in-law's apartment, and, although there are a lot of us crowded into a tiny apartment, everything runs like clockwork, and we all usually enjoy our meal and time with the family…..even me!  Then we return home in the early afternoon to avoid the worst of the traffic and we may lie down for a while, or watch some TV… or as has been the case in more recent years, go on the internet!  Then in the evening we will have something light to eat followed by a film with all the usual goodies. I have always baked the things that my children like for this Eid and have found over time that my in-laws love the variation when I’ve gifted them with boxes of them. The next day we have been to visit sisters, gone for picnics and this past Eid al Fitr we went to the beach with a picnic and it was glorious Alhamdulilah.
A picnic in the forest on the second day of Eid with friends

We have not always had a sheep on the second Eid, and when that was the case we have gone to my in-laws for lunch and it becomes similar to Eid Al Fitr.  However the boys often do the rounds of the neighbours and watched them, or as in most cases, helped out, while the girls and I have sat at home, boxed up some cakes as gifts and relaxed.  On these particular Eids we have always been gifted with meat to the point that we have more in our freezer than on the Eids when we slaughtered ourselves! 
When we have had a sheep it is a very busy day, even though it’s normally only my mother-in-law and sister-in-law who come to stay and help out.  I know some friends who love to get all ‘stuck in’ and do everything, but It has never appealed to me personally.  Leading up to the second Eid al Adha when we had a sheep, I worried about the stomach, intestines, head and feet none of which I knew what to do with and had absolutely no interest whatsoever in cooking as none of us like these dishes.  But I soon discovered that these are delicacies for a lot of Algerians who will quite happily take them and also the sheepskin off your hands, as they are, without being cleaned. I love the fact that in Algeria nothing goes to waste – absolutely every part of the animal is used, and the meat itself is very much appreciated as most Algerians cannot afford to eat it very often so having meat- based meals is a big novelty in itself.   I have found my own role on these days to be one who cleans up after the sheep and bag up all it’s bedding for the rubbish, then I cook a roast chicken and all the trimmings as well as preparing a salad and chips to go with the cooked liver, heart, kidney.  I feel as if my role on the Eid Al Adha is to enable everyone else to do their roles, and it all works out really well Alhamdulilah.  My sister-in-law gave me one of the highest compliments I could ask for on a couple of these Eids.  She and my mother-in-law get up to pray Fajir on Eid morning but then they go back to bed because they don’t attend the Eid prayer in the mosque.  On both occasions they slept until we came back and she said that she never sleeps like that at home……so that usually makes my day, knowing they feel so comfortable in my home Alhamdulilah. 

Gifts of meat given to us on Eid

The most difficult Eid al Adha since my first one here was the one several months after my lovely Mum passed away in 2011.  I know it sounds stupid now but, at the time, I didn’t realise that I was still in a state of grief and shock at her death.  I just knew that I couldn’t stop thinking of her and, couldn’t stop writing to her in my head as I always used to do before I actually sat down and wrote it all out for her, and realising that she just wasn’t there anymore.  It was especially difficult as it was such a happy occasion for my family and my in-laws and I really didn’t want to put a damper (yes I know….another pun!) on things by bawling my eyes out in front of them… I did it in the garage while cleaning out the sheep’s bedding (I have never been able to look at chocolate cereal balls in the same light since), and found that doing some physical work is very therapeutic for grief.  Once I’d finished and had a shower I was able to sit down with all the family and have a really nice lunch Alhamdulilah. 

I think there is another aspect to the difficulty a lot of us ex-pats have with Eid here, and that is the point that it reinforces the obvious fact that our husbands have their families and we don’t…..not in the same way.  Apart from the physical distance there is also the fact that they don’t share our beliefs and, as a result, can’t truly identify with us on these special occasions.  It can feel very lonely at times.  I have spent some Eids in the very early years wondering what kind of  ‘celebration’ this was for me, far away from my family and my English speaking friends, surrounded by Algerian derja for the most part of the day, and working so hard, and to be honest I have felt very tearful.  As the years have progressed I have slowly but surely stopped grieving for the Eids we had in England and come to enjoy the ones we have here in Algeria, and to understand why Algerians abroad always hanker after their Eids here.  To quote a very good friend of mine, Eid in Algeria is more about the ‘sacrifice’ than the 'slaughter', and, as a result it definitely is more of a ‘commemoration’ than a ‘festival’ and, therefore has a lot more depth and meaning….at least for me anyway.   I think, also, I have found my own niche within my husband’s family, one with which I am happy, and I am also happy to have a close bond with my own family across the Med, all of which makes me more contented Alhamdulilah.  In the end these occasions are primarily reminders to us of patience and devotion to our Creator, and also that this life is just a ‘passing through’ and not the end goal in itself.

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