Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving and Eid

Holiday season is beginning to hit now, and while I may be on the other side of the world from America, the study abroad students are putting on a good show of creating a wonderful holiday season nevertheless. The fun part here is that it's not, "oh is the turkey going to be moist enough?" but rather, "do you think we'll have enough gas to finish cooking the turkey?" or "how the hell do you say nutmeg in Arabic?"

Strangely enough, Eid al Adha (the big feast 2 months after the end of Ramadan) happened to be the day after Thanksgiving this year. Again, let's remember everyone: Muslim calendar coincides with lunar calender, ergo holidays move around. So AUC decided to be oh-so-kind and give us about a week and a half off so that we could somehow manage to finish all our work that has piled up because of the not-so-brilliant Swine Flu vacation earlier mentioned. See my entries around September to see how I enjoyed that vacation, and compare to now when I should be slaving away on term papers every day because my work has gotten beyond backed up. Anyway, we ended up with one big vacation to celebrate both holidays.

Turkey Day
I kicked off the vacation in good form, being invited to two Thanksgiving parties that I really wanted to both attend but were literally across town from eachother! I opted for the student one on the promise of pumpkin pie and dance partying, and it turned out to be a great dinner. I showed up early to assist with basting, cleaning, and last minute hand-wringing as we tried to get everyone in the apartment before the food got cold and our hunger got too intense. In downtown Cairo the thing is that one has to literally go down to the street or even a nearby landmark every time a friend is coming because otherwise it's almost impossible to find the building or apartment, so there was a lot of ferrying people up and down 11 stories in the ancient elevator. All told we ended up with a couple German guys, a few Americans, some Egyptian guys, two British guys (one decided to dress up a bit for his first Thanksgiving by wearing a tie), a Canadian (who deemed it "odd" because they celebrate Thanksgiving a month earlier in Canada) and the lovely hostesses Drift and Jenny. The food was SUPERB! Drift's first solo effort at an entire turkey was a complete success with Spanish seasonings to make it even more special.

I've been asked, what does one eat at Thanksgiving in Egypt? Well, pretty much what you eat at home if you can pay the price for the huge turkey (not cheap!) and any special imported things that you just must have. We had a whole Turkey (with gravy that I made in the last 5 minutes before we ate!), mashed potatoes, Spanish rice, stuffing, salad, green beans, plus Egyptian sweets (kindly brought by our lovely Egyptian friends) and pumpkin pie for dessert. We also learned that attempting to whip ones own whipped cream is impossible without a mixer, so the pie was left to shine on it's own. Everything was delicious and I think a good representation of the holiday for those at the table who had never had Thanksgiving food before.

We were also asked about the "why" of Thanksgiving and after us Americans tossing around the usual sarcastic "celebrating betraying the Indians and white people being jerks" sort of comments, the consensus was food and being with people you love. But mostly food.

After lying around for awhile, we commenced the dancing! Drift, Jenny, and I taught some different Spanish dances as well as American "club" dancing because no one outside America seems to really get it as we discovered. In the end it boiled down to us three American girls, the two British guys, and our lone brave Egyptian friend Said who went along with whatever we tried to teach him with good effort, enthusiasm, and embarrassment. When nicely sweaty and exhausted, we all attempted to take pictures for awhile while know the kind, where the people are jumping around so they look all cool and suspended in midair. Yeah, those are really hard to do with six people in one small living room and one digital camera with a timer. We ended up with many pictures of some people jumping, or everyone looking really ready to jump,or having just landed. We did manage to get a great picture of me, Richard, and Said sitting on a couch looking extremely bored, oblivious to a pillow (unexpectedly thrown by Dave) about to hit us. It's on Drift's camera, but I hope I can share it with you soon!

Me and the guys staggered out around 3am and split up to get cabs back to our respective parts of town. I collapsed into bed, fully prepared to sleep at least 10 hours and awake to visit a friend the next day, which I strategically kind of forgot was Eid when I agreed to come visit her.

The first thing to think of when it comes to Eid al Adha is the killing of animals. I realize this seems a bit morbid and bloody, but the sacrifice of sheep and goats is what immediately comes to mind about this holiday. The idea is that these animals are sacrificed to provide meat for the poor and needy, who otherwise may not be able to afford such a luxury. Also families tend to indulge in eating meat if this is the one time in the year that they can afford it, or in honor of the feast if they would be able to afford it anyway. It doesn't bother me at all, being a meat eater myself, for people to want to eat meat, but I have admit that being a bit of a sensitive type, I was nervous about the amount of blood and gore that was going to be happening publicly. For weeks there have been pens set up around town on the street side with sheep or goats just milling around, being well fed, even decorated, and I couldn't help thinking of them that morning when I got up at the crack of 2pm.

Apparently I needn't have worried--much. My area in Maadi was quiet, unbloody, and totally normal as usual, but what do you expect from an expensive, foreigner quarter? No, I expected the real bloodiness when I headed to Mariuteya to visit my friend that evening...but again, on the way to her place there was nothing to be worried about on the main road next her house. I spent some time at her place having second Thanksgiving dinner and socializing, before snagging a ride with someone to the metro in Dokki.

Now, I have to say that while I was nervous about witnessing anything gory, I was really curious. I have only seen an entire sheep butchered once, and that one happened to be already dead and skinned at the time. I was daring myself to go out and check out scene just to see what the deal was, was it really so bloody, how were people celebrating or reacting to the holiday, and all that crap. I suppose it's human nature to be curious and fascinated by that sort of spectacle, even if it is intellectually uncomfortable. So I was secretly glad when my friend offered to drive me to Dokki through the poorer area of Haram, because I would get to witness something unique I would probably never see in the US.

As we set off the streets seemed really wet, which isn't so unusual for Maadi where rich people's cars get hosed down everyday by their bawwabs to keep the dust off, but I was curious to see the same effect in Mariuteya. When we hit a puddle easily half a foot deep I realized that the streets had been drenched with water to dilute and wash away the blood. The puddles were slightly reddish (hard to see in the dark until we passed under streetlamps), and prevalent in big areas where there had obviously been butchering stations set up earlier. Well, at least I had gone late enough to not witness anything disturbing to me, or not--we passed three stations still set up and I stole quick glances, catching sight of a man with a huge knife hacking into a large skull on a sturdy table, and a cascade of hooves on the tarp a few meters away. Big chopping blocks were set up under florescent lights on the street with people gathered around to get their share of meat as we trundled by. It seemed rather surreal, and the scene faded into the night quickly before I found myself stumbling over a puddles and onto the sidewalk before hopping onto the metro and heading home.

Two holidays back-to-back and apparently I can't get enough of partying because I'm putting on my own thing tonight! Stay tuned for pics and recap, because I have several whole chickens in the oven right now and am thus rather busy!

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