Tuesday, 30 October 2012

26th – 29th October – Eid visit to Bagrawiyah

It is now the Islamic festival of Eid, which celebrates the sacrifice of Abraham.  Muslims celebrate this by sacrificing a sheep each year. 

In the Bible we are told that the intended victim was Isaac, the ancestor of the Jewish people.  According to Islam however, it was Abraham’s older son by a slave woman, Ishmael, who is the ancestor of the Arabs.  Without access to a time machine, I am not in a position to say who is correct, and in any case I have no intention of taking sides.  All I can say is, it looks as though the root of Arab/Jewish problems is an extreme case of sibling rivalry.  ‘My father loved me better than you!’  Perhaps it is time, after several thousand years, to bury the hatchet.  Both sides agree that God, seeing that Abraham was willing to sacrifice a much-loved son for Him, then supplied a sheep as a substitute.  A lot of lives would be saved if everyone could focus on that.  In my opinion the sacrifice of Abraham would gain a far more powerful meaning if as a result of Isaac/Ishmael’s life being saved, people in our own time stopped killing each other (more saved lives).  I know this is a vast over-simplification, but perhaps those in the hot seats could give this some thought.
I have been told that in the run-up to Eid, Sudan has had a shortage of sheep due to exports to other Islamic countries.  This has led to extremely high prices for sheep but doesn’t seem to have got in the way of buying a sheep.  On our journey out of Khartoum just before Eid, we saw numerous ad-hoc sheep sellers with their flocks by the roadside.  Over the past few days I have seen bizarre sights, such as a police vehicle in the centre of Khartoum with uniformed officers clutching a sheep between them.  On another occasion I saw a vendor trying to sell stuffed toy sheep to stationary cars at the traffic lights.  A similarity with Christmas gimmicks such as toy Father Christmas’ comes to mind. 

As happens in the western world at Christmas time, everything closes down for Eid.  Also like Christmas, it is a time for family.  Sudanese families invite people living on their own to come and join them.  Rami invited all SVP volunteers to visit his village, Bagrawiyah, to join the Eid celebrations there.  Unlike last time when there were only a small number of us, we were divided into male and female and housed separately.  Based on my previous stay in the village and also at Ed Damer, I suggested that we sleep outdoors.  Everyone enjoyed the refreshing cool and watching the stars after the extreme heat of daylight hours.
One of many Eid meals
On our first full day we were invited to witness the slaughter of a sheep and have sheep for breakfast.  Surprisingly, given the religious origins of this feast, the whole event was very down-to-earth with no religious aspects at all as far as I could see.  The sheep was killed just before we arrived in the courtyard.  I thought it might be a problem for the squeamish, but in fact there was remarkably little blood.  A professional butcher arrived and within a short space of time the corpse had been skinned, jointed and prepared ready for the kitchen.  Again, very rapidly, we were invited to eat.  The sheep was served in three forms; a broth, raw innards and chopped (cooked) meat.  Over the next two days, we continued to eat the sheep at every meal.  The Sudanese don’t generally eat a lot of meat as it is very expensive, so Eid meals are exceptional.  One of the volunteers is a vegetarian so bean stew, salad, cheese and egg were also provided. 
In the evening we 'girls' went by donkey cart to see a village football match between Khartoum and Bagrawiyah.  Some of the 'boys' were on the Khartoum team and let the side down very badly! 
On our second day we visited the Royal City of Meroe, which had been flooded on my last visit.  My guidebook had prepared me for seeing very little, but in fact there is quite a lot above ground, including a very well preserved bathhouse and plunge pool.  In the afternoon we visited the pyramids, some of us for a second time.  In the evening some of the volunteers returned to camp overnight and look at the quarry where the stone for the pyramids was sourced. 
On our third day we walked to the Nile through the village’s farmland.  It was a lovely walk, refreshingly green after the desert conditions of the village itself.  It felt almost like going on a Ramblers walk in England. Rami took us to a part of the Nile where it is possible to swim, although there was a strong undertow.  The water is very shallow, even quite far out.  It was also surprisingly cool so it was a very refreshing dip.  By the time we walked back it was dusk.  The perfect end to our stay.
Yesterday we set off back to Khartoum, stopping in Shendi for a fish breakfast.  In true Sudanese style, throughout our stay Rami has paid for all eleven of us, again and again, refusing to let us contribute in spite of the fact that we know he is on quite a low wage and has to contribute money to family members.  We all signed a card in gratitude for his extreme generosity. 
On our return to Khartoum, all the shops were still shut and there were far fewer street traders than usual.  We are all very glad that we were able to join in and be a part of a Sudanese Eid celebration.

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