Baa baa black sheep, have y-- oh...
Trip Start Sep 29, 2012
27Trip End Jul 01, 2013
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As luck would have it, after less than a month in the country our time coincides with a big Eid festival, a holiday as significant for muslims as christmas or easter for the western world. In reference to an event marked both in the Bible and the Qur'an, where God calls on Abraham to give everything over to him - even to sacrifice his son Isaac - and God spares the boy by providing a ram to sacrifice instead, every family take a sheep, goat or cow and slaughter it on the first day of Eid.
The last few days the air has definately been full of a certain exillerated energy, as tethered animals appear in their hundreds around the city, shops close for the holiday, and people bustle around preparing for the holiday.
The Eid begins with morning prayer on the friday, usually a lone voice calling out from every mosque across the sleeping city at 5am, and just audible if you're half awake from our flat. But today I wake in the half light to the sound of thousands of voices reciting in the streets; a huge mass of people the whole city over, chanting words that my foreign ears find slightely eery as I drift in and out of sleep. Before I've remembered what's going on, I tune in to another sound - closer this time. the scuffle of hooves and a distressed bleating is coming from right below my open balcony door. Of course. Not quite knowing whether to shut the door or watch, I react too slowly either way and am frozen halfway over the threshold of the balcony as the sound of knife hitting bone silences the bleats. Now awake I walk through the house to the other balcony. Two more goats are patiently waiting in the garden below.
The 3 of us leave the house an hour later to meet our Nassya Community group on the local high street where we'll be giving out Eid sweets to passers by. Walking down our road, a woman passes in front carrying a clear plastic bag full of just carved meat. The streets smell of animal, and every now and then a boy walks past smeered from head to toe with blood. Steet 9 has a lovely atmosphere, as all the young people find their friends after the early morning prayers and walk the streets buying little fire crackers and traditional party hats from street venders. An egyptian friend isn't going to let us pass up on the snazzy headgear, and before we can protest, we're all sporting pointy glittering hats topped with tinsel.
Eid sweets a success, I jump on the metro to try and check out a big egyptain church I've been told about just off of tahrir square. With incorrect directions and my own scribbled diagram for a map, I step out of tahrir and launch off in (what i now know was) the opposite direction.
The first thing we were taught about egyptians and directions is that they will never just tell you they don't know. You will always be given directions; it's then simply a gamble on whether or not your direction-giver was improvising. For the next hour, I explore the deserted streets of downtown alone for the first time. Without the waterwings of other friends and, it dawns on me, credit on my phone (shops to top up from are all closed), my direction-asking has no choice but to serve me. I can't decide if it's a fine art or a game of russian roulette, selecting one of the idle uniformed guys sitting on the street corners to approach for directions. You must keep politeness and distance in the balance as you speak, to which he will respond with directions right or wrong (I mean, left...), after which you must switch straight back to cold courtesty and walk off at speed, before his official direction-giving manner shifts, and the 'where are you from's and the 'hey, shakira's spill out. When alone more than ever, you learn how to walk the streets giving off quiet but clear confidence whilst never making eye contact, aware of the constant staring and the cars cruising slowly beside you, the ludicrous calls and the followers with your perifery vision only, and not hanging about. I can only imagine my face looks like a vacant doll when I walk the streets by myself. Of course it's completely relaxed when you're in a group.
As I'm sent up one street and down the next, all alone and not a large mass of foreigness, I can shake my foreigness and observe anonymously the breath taking sights of streets awash with blood, and people everywhere out for the festival morning. One particular street i walk up is a river of blood, with nowhere esle to walk but in the great tide seeping from a vast cow in the road. To left and right, animals are being skinned, knives brandished, and the smell of blood and animal rises. I can't get over the intesely bright colour of it, and the energy, the exilleration present in the streets as the powerful act is carried out.
By fluke, after an hour I stumble upon the place I was looking for. It's an amazing place, packed, very egyptian, very empassioned, very real. Deciding to step out and walk as a believer in Christ here is big thing, so people mean bussiness when they say they believe. There is the option of headphones in the back corner for foreigners to listen to a running interpretation..! I prefer to listen to random familiar words pop out of the arabic. As I'd wandered the streets this morning, I'd wondered why the Christians don't also celebrate the festival - it's a story in both books isn't it? I put on the headphones just as the preacher, drawing on the events of Eid around us, suddenly makes sense of a phrase that always chimed as a cliche of nothingness to me, 'Jesus is the lamb of God'. Sitting there with my shoes splashed with blood symbolising the hope of thousands to earn rightness with God on the streets of this very city, the guy states simply that Jesus came as the ultimate sacrifice; that we don't have to earn it for ourselves like this; that it's been done already.
Back in Maadi, we go out for food with some new friends from our volunteering team. We pile into a car, 8 people, and drive the streets with our egyptian music up loud. Vocab word of the day: 'al nakeerwis':