Back (Again) In Tunisia (Part 1: Eid)

My apologies to those who had hoped I’d write more than once every six months. I’ll try my best to do better this time.

My last two months have felt like a geographic ping-pong game, After spending the summer getting back in touch with my parents, home friends , Chinese food, mountains, buying things in English/dollars, and the Pacific Ocean (aka the body of salt water that has waves in it, I’m looking at you Mediterranean!), I embarked on a trans-American travel-a-thon that involved Minnesota weddings, Chicago abortion clinic support dinners, and my first ever trip to New York (aka the great pizza quest). Along the way I saw friends from all parts of my life, be they high school, college, Jordan, Chicago, or Tunis.

I got back to Tunis mid-September after a brief stay with my roommate’s 94-year-old grandmother in Paris. The return came with the usual set of culture-shock and “what am I doing with my life?” moments as well as sheep, lots of sheep. In the run-up to Eid al-Adha, the festival of Abrahamic sacrifice where Muslims travel to Mecca for the Hajj if they can and buy and sacrifice sheep (as well as goats, cows, and even camels!) just like Abraham of old, all of Tunis looked like one giant petting zoo. There were sheep pens all over the city as well as lots of metalworking places selling barbecues, cleavers, and chopping blocks . . . Think of the holiday as some strange mix between going to pick out your holiday pumpkin/Christmas tree and eating your Thanksgiving turkey. The whole town was awash in the sounds of sheep bleating and the smell of sheep poop . . . until suddenly it wasn’t.

From what I’m told, people are expected to eat a third of their sheep, give a third of it to the neighbors, and give a third to the poor. When asked if we did a similar thing with Thanksgiving I explained that many people give money to charities that provide Thanksgiving dinners to the less-fortunate but that we don’t actually tend to invite people off the street to come eat with us (as one of my friends said was normal). Also, many friends have talked about the trauma of getting attached to their new pet sheep in the weeks leading up to Eid, only to have to deal with the shock of watching their new pet have its throat cut by their fathers or uncles. While this may seem a little gruesome for many Americans, there is something nice about actually knowing where your meat comes from. These sheep may have had to hang out in pretty tiny pens pre-sale but were probably fattened out at pasture and not in battery cages like most pigs and chickens in America (though, I’m not sure that the providers of the eggs and milk that I buy at the store fare any better than their American counterparts).  It’s all too easy for us in America to think of meat as some strange blob that comes in a package rather than and actual piece of a dead animal’s body. There’s something nice about being re-connected to that reality, even if it seems a bit unsavory at first.

I actually spent Eid in Djerba and enjoyed how the area we were staying in was like a ghost town that morning, with all the shops closed and just a few people rushing to the mosque, often in (traditional? neo-traditional?) robes, to not be late for the morning’s Eid sermon. I’d like to say that I could hear the sounds of bleating sheep coming to their fate to truly hone in the circle-of-life story I’m trying to paint but the truth is, after an all-night train/bus ride, I was pretty pooped and could sleep through anything as I took my Djerban nap. More on Djerba (and my trip to Marseille) later.

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