David's Diary: Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Big Aïd in Tunisia
The biggest festival of the year in Islamic culture is 'Id al-Adha (shortened to Aïd). This two-day festival starts with the ritual killing of an animal, which in Tunisia means a sheep. All around Monastir this week there have been lots of sheep. Whether they are stuffed into the trunk of a car or carried in the arms of a person on the back of a motor scooter, the sheep all seem tranquil and unaware of the big part they will play in today's activities. While in Western eyes this may seem a little gruesome, it is important to remember that sacrificing animals has been a custom in the Mediterranean for many thousands of years.
We have been invited by our friend Hamdi to come to his house to watch them sacrifice a sheep and share in a meal afterwards. We take our friends Bobbie and Brandy and the children to Hamdi's house. To get there we walk around the cemetery near the marina. It is 9:00 AM and already many families are out paying respect to loved ones in the cemetery as part of the day's activity for Aïd.
Jocelyn, Brandy, Allen and Bobbie Waiting
It is a cold and rainy day, much as it has been for the last few weeks. We go into Hamdi's living room. Despite the sun breaking through the clouds the inside of the house is cold. There is no central heating in the house and the stone walls seem to keep the cold inside. That's great in the summer when it is over 40C, but today it is distinctly chilly.
Sheep Quietly Waiting
Aïd is a multigenerational family affair. In the back yard, two sheep have already been slaughtered and third waits quietly. Hamdi's Grandfather is in charge with Hamdi's two uncles and father killing each sheep with a razor sharp knife. Hamdi, as the oldest in the family, gets to take part this year.
We watch the entire process which is less gruesome than I thought it would be. From the looks on everyone else's faces it seems that it is more gruesome for some. After the sheep is killed all the blood is allowed to drain away. Then the skin is cut away, before the carcass is strung up. The innards are removed and then the meat is cut into manageable pieces. Hamdi tells us that every single part of the sheep is used. There is one small internal organ which is carefully removed. If it is large, it is suppose to bring special luck to the family for the next year. It seems that Hamdi's family is going to be lucky this year.
After the event is over we all head back inside. We visit with Hamdi while sitting around his parents' living room. After about a half-hour, Hamdi's Mom serves up specially prepared lamb with lemon seeds. We sit around the table and enjoy the fresh lamb having seen first-hand just where the food on the table had come from. I appreciated being invited into the family home to take part in this different, but special day.