Eid is one of the biggest holidays of the Muslim calendar. It commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, and the miracle of having the ram appear to be sacrificed instead. In the Islamic tradition, the sacrificial son was Ishmael, and the prophet Mohammed traces his lineage back to him, just as in the Christian tradition Jesus traces his lineage back to Issac. Eid is celebrated in most Muslim countries by a sacrifice of various animals, usually sheep, sometimes cows and cockerels as well. For the past several days, I’ve seen dazed-looking flocks of sheep lining the Cairo streets, and known that the date of the Great Sacrifice was coming soon.
As a longtime vegetarian, I admit that I looked forward to Eid with no small amount of trepidation. My memories of Eid in Morocco consisted mainly of trying not to step in puddles of bloody rain in the streets of Rabat, and watching kids play catch with severed goat heads before tossing them onto makesihft bonfires on street corners. I’d been on a train that morning, so I’d missed everything to do with the slaughter and only saw a bit of the aftermath. I was torn, this time around, between the desire to experience an “authentic” Egyptian Eid and the desire to stay as far away from slaughtered animals as humanly possible.
Though I’d heard that there might be a parade in the morning, the guy who invited me to watch with him never got back to me. So I spent the night before Eid at home with my new flatmates and took their advice: the best way to spend Eid morning is to get so drunk the night before that you sleep through the sounds of the animals screaming. (Don’t worry, mom. I didn’t actually get that drunk).
I did sleep through the morning slaughter, but was awakened by the steady pounding sound of cow cadavers being hacked to pieces in the building directly opposite my window. I was relieved to discover, on looking outside, that while the activity was audible it was not visible, and there was no blood running down the road as I remembered from Maroc. The only visible signs of the slaughter from my vantage point were carts of bloody sheepskins driving down the street. A butcher-shop smell was in the air.
I went out for lunch with an Egyptian friend, who told me he didn’t like the smell of blood or the taste of sheep meat either, and so didn’t really celebrate the Eid. Like disaffected 20-somethings everywhere, he found spending too much time with his parents at home “boring,” and so we were two of many young adults in the restaurant-cafe, presumably all taking a break from awkward familial conversations at home. It reminded me of nothing so much as the inevitable, desperate cafe run with friends that accompanies almost any holiday visit home in the US, when you’re sick of being asked what you’re doing with your life. Young adults everywhere are the same.
In the evening, Lorna and Ellie invited a handful of friends for a small house party–their own take on the celebration of Eid. It was very non-Muslim, in that there were large quantities of alcohol, and no real link to any Eid traditions. Just a few expat women and their spouses (some foreign, some Egyptian), with cocktails and conversation and bellydance tv.
All in all, it was the kind of holiday celebrated everywhere by people without their families nearby, or by people faced with huge cultural holidays that are not their own. We find friends and gather, not out of any kind of tradition, but out of a need for companionship and solidarity. That when everyone around us is celebrating in a way that we can’t join, at least we are not alone.