You know its Eid (in Johannesburg) when:
- You hear everyone rushing to go to mosque after Fajr Salaah (pre-dawn prayers).
- The smell of food comes from every house at 07:00am in the morning.
- Someone has to shower in cold water.
- The dining room table is decked out to resemble a wedding.
- You eat things for breakfast that you’d only ever eat at a party, wedding or when you break your fast.
- You spent an unusual amount of time getting dressed and doing your hair.
- You eat way too much, there's always Chicken, Mutton, Beef or some kind of seafood involved and you continue eating wherever you may go for the rest of the day.
- The weatherman said 27 degrees celcius but you're sure he meant 40 degrees celcius judging from the way your flesh is slowly braising in the heat.
- You’ve visited a minimum of 5 houses.
- You’ve greeted everyone and their aunty in a 5km radius.
- You’ve sampled at least 5 desserts for the day.
- Your stomach feels like it’s going to explode by 2pm.
- Your clothes feel too tight or uncomfortable at some point in the day.
- The sweltering heat makes you lethargic, irritable or sleepy.
- You have to run away from some or other kind of dog on your visiting rounds.
- You get accosted by some salivating member of the opposite sex, hoping to wish you a blessed day.
- You have to take off those shoes and walk around bare-foot before the end of the day.
- You have never seen so many stylishly dressed kids in one place at one time.
- Your carefully styled hair goes home from either the sweat on your brow in the scorching heat or from the afternoon’s thunder showers.
- You have to take a power nap after having rice for lunch, to make it through the rest of the day.
I haven’t observed Eid-Ul-Adhaa at home in the last 5 years. In 2004 I spent the morning of Eid-Ul-Adhaa talking to a few of my Arab neighbours in Maida Vale, London, where there's a large Arab population. I spent the rest of the day in Cricklewood, eating Dougie’s version of his mother’s Briyani with spices especially imported for the occasion, hidden away in his hand luggage and smuggled into the UK at Heathrow Airport. The entire day was bitter-sweet…with all the South African’s sitting in the massive lounge they called Mo’s bedroom and telling stories of “home”. A good portion of the day was spent on the phone calling home too. But there was camaraderie in the sadness and the melancholy of that day…and we all enjoyed it regardless.
In 2005 we found ourselves trekking through the Middle East. The day began in Amman, Jordan in the morning and arriving in Damascus, Syria later that evening. I remember driving through many towns and villages, stopping for short periods of time and meeting lots of interesting and fascinating people. Slaughtered sheep, goats and cows were displayed outside butchers across the land, testament to the day’s activities. Eid lunch consisted of a generic version of Lays plain salted potato chips and a drink that closely resembled Pepsi. We imagined all of delicious food that would be served back home in South Africa. Uncle Z even went as far as to graphically describe his liaison with a chicken burger from Mochachos, the vivid imagery coming to life in our salivating mouths with each bite and crunch of wanna-be Lays. It was a long day…but the journey and the people made it all worth it.
In 2006 we found ourselves in Cape Town with old family friends and had a traditional Cape-Malay Eid that included waking up early, going to the mosque, returning and getting ready for the days activities. Lunch consisted of roast chicken and cockroach curry (i.e. prawn, crab etc.). And cakes, there were cakes everywhere…in every house we visited. I particularly enjoyed a Kiwi Cheesecake that my friends Fadz & Shana made, even though it took them hours to prepare the previous night because of forgotten ingredients. We fought for the best sweets and chocolates and over-indulged in a variety of desserts that were on display. We watched the mountain in all its glory and strained to hear the ocean while a fresh sea breeze wafted in the air. We lazed about on the wooden floor-boards and smoked Hookah for most of the evening while we told tales of Eid days gone by and people we have yet to meet.
In 2007, we found ourselves in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, celebrating the day with a massive Turkish Muslim population as well as other Muslims from South Africa, Surinam and Morocco. We dined on a buffet of roast leg of lamb and burnt chicken Briyani, once again with spices especially imported for the occasion. We spent most of the freezing cold -6 degree day and evening holed up in the warmth of an apartment, making embarrassing home videos and laughed until we cried. There wasn’t much in terms of dessert, other than chocolate brownies that were to die for and Fanta Orange that tasted a lot like cough syrup. We reminisced about childhood days and got caught in a whirl of memories. We still enjoyed every minute of it and stood by the large window frames on the first floor in anticipation of the first snowfall.
It was initially thought that this year, 2008, would see all of us at home, together, for Eid-Ul-Adhaa for the first time in years. A last minute invitation changed that. We responded in favour to having lunch with extended members of the family, the first of such in our history of Eid. We always have lunch at home and then proceed with the ritual of visiting everyone we know in the afternoon and evening. But this year, it was different. We all gathered at the aunt and uncle’s place and had lunch together for once…there was no wedding…there was no funeral…just because it was Eid. We sat for hours afterwards, talking about how Eid has changed. The day of Eid-Ul-Adhaa is just not quite the same anymore. Maybe it’s because we’re all grown up and the magic has been lost in the passage of time.
I’d like to think that we can re-capture some of that magic by holding on to older traditions as well as creating traditions of our own. Maybe I could do themed Eid days…next years will be the Army, with green and khaki being the colour scheme and little toy guns or water-pistols for gifts. Everyone will be expected to suit up after lunch and the slaughtering has been done for a round of Paintball. We could also do a Pirate theme, with chests of chocolate gold coins, a true feast and a treasure hunt as a family afternoon activity. After all, Eid is not only about remembering our Creator, it is about the people too…friends, family and fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. So it doesn’t really matter where you are in the world and what you’re doing, as long as there is cohesion and a sense of kinship in celebrating our religion. I quite enjoy spending my Eid with other Muslims, in different lands, countries and continents. I may even make it a tradition. To see the Muslim community come together in such solidarity and unity is magnetic and magical…there’s nothing like it.