Saturday, 27 October 2012

the running of the goats in cairo...

This weekend marks one of the biggest holidays in the Muslim year,  Eid al-Adha. Not to be confused with Eid al-Fitr (the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadhan), Eid al-Adha coincides with the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. As turkey is to Thanksgiving, lamb and goat are to Eid al-Adha, and it is said that the 2 million Hajji (pilgrims) consume the equivalent of the entire lamb exports of New Zealand (remember: sheep outnumber the 4 million Kiwis by 12:1, so that's a lot of lamb). The reason for this is Eid al-Adha roughly translates as "Festival of the Sacrifice" sheep and goats are slaughtered to commemorate Abraham almost sacrificing his son, Ishmael, in accordance to God's will, only to have a God present an eleventh hour change in the line up, replacing Ishmael with a sheep. (Imagine our world today if that didn't happen).

As Muslims around the world celebrate and think of their loved ones, I instead think of my first exposure to Islamic culture during my semester in Cairo. Since I was new to the Muslim world, I became acquainted with the various Muslim holidays by virtue of classes being cancelled.  Judging by our school calendars that a long weekend for was approaching, it wasn't until Eid itself that I realised that another key indicator of what was in store was there all along: goats in downtown Cairo.

If you've never been to Cairo, then you'll need to know this one thing: Cairo is the living definition of organised chaos. When 5 rows of traffic fit into 3 lanes, tireless bicycles pass by with upside-down pita bread pyramids balanced on heads of the riders, dogs sleep atop alarm-throbbing cars, the two traffic lights in a city of 17 million are mere "suggestions," and you can politely refuse to give money when approached by guards with guns strapped to their backs...well, let's just say goats on the street really isn't that surprising. In fact, a friend and his family had a pet goat they named Lucky. Lucky lived on the top floor of the house with a comfy bed of straw to sleep and chew on. Since camels also lived downstairs, a goat in the house wasn't a big deal.

That is until the final days before Eid. Walking home one evening the (relatively) quiet, tree-lined suburb of Zamalek, the eerie sound of goats bleating would echo into the night. Unseen birds chirping in trees or dogs barking somewhere in the neighbourhood is one thing; the bleating of goats from dark apartment buildings is another, as though pleading "he-e-e-e-e-lp me-e-e-e-e-e."

The next day, en route to Lucky's family for dinner, our taxi came across an unexpected "running of the goats." Judging by the reaction of the traffic that never stops for anything, Cairo's running of the goats is a rather impromptu affair. It's also only a small event as it seems it only needs three or four Egyptian men to dodge traffic in chase of the goat. I can't verify this, but I presume the guy who grabs the goat by the horns and drags it against its well back to the apartment wins some kind of prize. Again, don't quote me on that, but that's what it looked like from the backseat of a cab.

Arriving at the Khisha household sometime later, exotic aromas of cumin, coriander, and cardamom wafted into the evening air. Our mouths water as we sat down for what was no doubt going to be an outstanding traditional meal.  Piles of couscous and pita surround a bubbling pot of stew, and we are set to dig in before Michelle asks the inevitable "So, how's Lucky?"

Silent eyes drift down to the bubbling pot, a gulp of discomfort lodges in our throats. As thoughts of Lucky not being so lucky anymore, I also gather that we missed out on the Khisha family's running of the goats. No point dwelling on the past, and with such a beautiful before us, I dug in for what was, and still is to this day, the luckiest meal I've ever had.

Eid Mubarak to all!

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