A Side of Meat and Happy Feels all Around

So by now after the little summary of Eid, you may be curious as to what Eid is like here in Oman, or at least how my Eid was anyway. This past Monday, in preparation for the reigning holiday season, my family and I participated in the fast of Arafah on the ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah (the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar). Eid al Adha is a three-day festivity starting on the tenth day of the month at the culmination of the annual Hajj. The fast of Arafah on the eve of al Adha is a time designated for reflection and forgiveness. Though taking part does entail fasting, unlike Ramadan the fasting is not mandatory. In fact Hajj goers are excused from the fast due to the physical challenges of Hajj, and it is on this day that they stand on the plains of Arafah (also called Arafat) to praise God. Eid marks the culmination of the Hajj, a spiritual voyage many people are only able to make once in a lifetime if at all, and it marks the end of the Islamic calendar year. It is a special time to rejoice and celebrate and share with family and friends.

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The Monday morning of the fast of Arafah, I awoke at four, just before the call to prayer, to satiate my inevitable hunger and prepare myself for the fast. Since I was not in Oman for the month of Ramadan, I thought it would be interesting to take part. According to my host mom, it is essential to eat a bowl of rice and yogurt before the fedgir pre-dawn prayer to start you on your day. After eating, I was unfortunately too tired to watch the morning prayers, so I returned back to bed. I was tempted to sleep through the entirety of the day, to avoid any state of active hunger. That plan sort of fell through though when I awoke again at 9:00. Eventually we were all loaded up in the car, heading out to our grandparents house for Maghrib, early evening prayer.

By 5:50 the sounds of the Azan were being broadcast across the entire village, and we were all free to eat. I was never this excited for the call to prayer in my life! At the table there was a very large spread of food, including some fried Iranian donuts and little fried onion fritters. There was tea galore and plenty of fruit. The kids were all jittery and anxious to count down the hours to the start of the Eid celebrations.

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Our host uncle put on a movie for us, which was especially exciting considering our lack of Wi-Fi at home. Someone came in to inform us dinner was ready, a bit perplexing at first considering we were under the impression dinner had been had once already; but we enjoyed it all the same.

The following day we awoke almost as early. It was 5 am and our clothes were all laid out in a pile infused with the smoky scent of freshly burned incense or bekhir. Our host mom had bought Caillean and me new dresses from the tailor. We also had gotten henna designs on our arms two nights prior, so we loaded up our wrists with plenty of bangles. Our dresses were long pink chiffon sweeping past our feet. After everything was packed up, we were off to our host father’s village. Like everywhere in the world, it is always a bit of a debate over which family to spend the holidays with, but the first day of Eid is usually spent with the father’s family.

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Unlike Caillean, my awesome roommate, I had never visited the father’s side of the family, so I was indeed very surprised and delighted. After we got off the highway, we left behind any sort of commercial shops. Though it was not incredibly far away from Muscat, we seemed to have arrived in the middle of the desert. About 4 or 5 family houses were nestled into the mountains against large fields of rock and gravel.

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Next to the mountain, a rather large group of men, about 40, were outside praying. Women were adorned with their finest jewelry and beautiful dresses, each with intricate embroidery and fringing. Each dress is completely specific to the family’s tribe. A few older women had set up stalls of hard candy and little toys for the children. Every 5 seconds I would hear another gun shot, but fortunately they were just very loud and intrusive toys! So after all the introductions and formalities, we walked the way back to the house. The house was already quite crowded with the seven kids in the immediate family, but soon all the aunts, uncles, and cousins just began to appear out of nowhere.

We were offered plenty of tea and cookies before Caillean and I ventured off to watch the slaughter of the cow. We followed a group of cheerful kids over gravel all the way down to the slaughterhouse. Hearing howls of excitement, it became clear that this was one of those activities they looked forward to all year. We ended up at a small shed near the side of the road. The men had taken off their dishdashas and were in faded t-shirts and jeans. The larger of the men brought out the cow and straddled it to the ground. Meanwhile the kids were curled up amongst the reeds nearby, hiding their heads in the crooks of their cousins’ shoulders, squealing with fear and anticipation.

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The oldest sons took out butcher’s knives and went through all the procedures entailed in halal butchering. And yes, as one might imagine, there was plenty of blood and gore. The scene looked like something out of a cheesy horror film with a puddle of blood everywhere, only this wasn’t corn syrup, it was actual cow. I will now switch to the word beef, as to not completely alarm my readers. We live so removed from the actual butchering of the food we eat, that we are not accustomed to this. The beef was drained of blood and divided into big chunks for the family to spend the afternoon butchering into smaller kebab pieces in little tents assembled under the blazing sun.

Caillean and I decided to head back inside where we were offered more beef and a paste of chicken and rice with a sweet raisin sauce. The older members of the family presented us each with a rial, the Omani currency, as part of their tradition of charitable giving and taking care of the families. The kebab making was continued inside the house, and soon the host family was together on the ground assembling meat on wooden skewers. Someone pointed to a white chunk of beef and asked Caillean what it was in English. Caillean told her it was called fat, and the woman proceeded to explain the kababs were to be made with pieces of meat alternating with pieces of fat. Trust me, there was plenty of it. In the living room alone there were four washing basins of beef. It was everywhere. Every 5 minutes another relative was offering us another piece of meat. This is considered an act of hospitality, and it is very rude not to accept. As a former vegetarian prior to my trip to Oman, I know I ate more beef that day than I have in my entire lifetime.

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We returned the following day to our host mom’s house for the most important day of festivities. This is the day when the Shua is taken out of the coal pit. Though the name could suggest this meat tastes like an old shoe, it doesn’t! After your meat is slaughtered, families create the Shua by wrapping the intestines and the head inside a large banana leaf, then in burlap, and finally in a straw mat. This giant sack of meat is then buried deep down in the earth in a pit of coals and left there overnight.

When the Shua was finally unveiled at my host mother’s family’s home, it was quite a spectacular sight, skull and all. The grandpa was trying to find the brain, while another relative was cutting up the tongue. On the side, they were making a big pile of intestines as well. It was a meat lover’s paradise. If only my brother had been with me!

One of my uncles invited me to take my pick from the sack of meat. Though I was flattered, I was also overwhelmed at the shear quantity of meat. I was trying to enjoy it, though I must admit the not knowing what part of a cow I was eating freaked me out a little bit. Somehow I managed to stomach this big chunk of meat and come out alive. We spent the rest of the afternoon sharing stories and spending some quality family time.

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6 responses to “A Side of Meat and Happy Feels all Around

  1. what was in the burlap bag that was ripped open? wonderful blog-very interesting. you present the local culture and religion well

  2. Hey. I just happened to come across your blog as I was trying to learn more about the yes program.I am applying for the 2014-15 year and was wondering if you could give me tips and stuff.

  3. I was referred to your blog by a friend of mine, who works with your dad at Baystate.I must say that iI’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve even tweeted about it and and shared it on instagram. I’m a trauma surgeon at the sultan qaboos university hospital. If I can be of any help or if you’d like to visit the university, please do not hesitate to contact me. My e mail is aalharthy@gmail.com I hope you enjoy your stay in Oman.

  4. I’m learning so much about Oman…..the people and the country. It looks like a very beautiful country and it seems you’ve met wonderful friends!!! WHAT A GREAT YEAR!

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