Friday, October 26, 2012

Kurban Bayrami - Feast of the Sacrifice

The woman I am house sitting for, Evelien, is a vegetarian, and she really doesn't like this Feast of the Sacrifice, where sheep are ritually killed with bloodletting. She warned me to keep the dogs away from all the blood in the streets, the innards and other offal from the butchering. I was under the impression the streets would be flowing red today with screaming animals, shouting people, smokey fires and boiling vats of water which usually accompany a butchering operation. But aside from the plaintive bleating of a single sheep, chained to a stone wall, I wouldn't have known it was a day different from any other.

Because it's a national holiday, people are off work. A number of cars are parked around in places where there are usually none. Some of the men took the opportunity to give their cars deferred maintenance, like tire rotations and an oil change. More people are wandering the narrow streets, the hotels seem full and the town center was bustling with tourist busses, though few stores and no banks were open this afternoon. The air this morning was filled with a smoky smell, but that could be from wood fires, it was quite chilly last night. The smoke smelled a bit of coal, still used here to heat homes. The trash bins were very full, actually overflowing, so the dogs had a heyday rooting around the dumpsters until I caught them and forced them to come with me on our walk. Even in the dumpsters there was no sign of a bloody orgy, it was mostly vegetable peelings, chicken bones, and bakery containers. 

Last night, at David's dinner, I had some interesting conversations with the other guests about the rituals of Kurban Bayrami. One, a New Zealander named Ruth, has been in Turkey for decades. She was married to a Turk and has a number of Turkish relatives who keep tabs on her. She is co-owner, with her brother-in-law, of a Turkish rug shop in Goreme the most famous town in Cappadocia. When they opened the shop, she didn't want to do the traditional "cutting", a sheep sacrifice in which the sheep's blood is allowed to run into the shop in order for it to become prosperous. At first, they had a few customers but no one was buying. She finally relented to family pressure to allow the sacrifice. As the sheep lay on the threshold bleeding to death, a European couple came up. She explained the sheep thing and the couple went inside to spend over 10,000 Euros on rugs during the next couple of hours. From then on, the shop has done very well, and is one of the most respected because Ruth is straightforward, unlike so many dealers who schmooze and charm, but don't always tell the real story about a rug. Since that first cutting, she has participated in many of these ritual sacrifices.

Ruth made an interesting observation. She said she's never attended a sacrifice without crying about it, but looking that sheep in the eye makes you connected to your food in ways most of us never experience, and you appreciate what the animal has to endure for your benefit. Most of us just eat meat,  taking its existence for granted, never giving a thought to the life that ended. 

Kurban Bayrami is a religious holiday and the ritual blood-letting is something that goes back to biblical times. I don't know how long people have been repeating the sacrifice of a ram caught in the brambles (provided by God) so Abraham would not have to sacrifice his own son. But as with many religious celebrations, for some people, it's taken on a life of it's own without a solid connection to its past. 

In Istanbul, I had a traveling partner for the day. Waifa was from Morocco. At 23 she'd never been inside a mosque until we went into the Blue Mosque. Yet, she told me she needed to return home before the end of October to celebrate Kurban Bayrami with her family. Her father had already purchased the sheep they would sacrifice for the celebration. Neither of her parents practiced as Muslims nor had they brought up their children in any religious way. Kurban Bayrami for them must be like Christmas for Atheists who use it as the excuse to play Santa and eat fudge. 

The food at David's was excellent, and it wasn't lamb or sheep! He's a marvelous, relaxed cook. When Jim and I arrived, he was still in his running clothes and needed Jim to peel the potatoes. He popped two fat chickens into the oven on high heat with garlic, slices of orange and lots of olive oil. After they cooked a while, he basted them with white wine and added dates. The sauce from all that was heavenly, as were the garlic mashed potatoes. Those two dishes and several bottles of wine was dinner. Then for dessert: fresh ripe almost mushy persimmons and coconut balls with brandy cream which one of the other guests brought. The conversations were interesting, all of the guests were single people living in Turkey or traveling around. Only one was a Turk and she runs the Hezen Cave Hotel. She will be arranging for me to go on one of the early morning hot air balloon rides. Jim says David is amazing, that he can actually land the balloon basket onto the flat bed of the truck that takes it away.
I definitely want to ride with him!

As for the man with his flock of sheep, we saw him out this afternoon on our walk, minus three sheep. Each one had a yellow ear tag and a number painted on it's back, so I suspect it's only a matter of time for the remaining four. Kurban Bayrami isn't over until Saturday night.