In Bangladesh, Eid-Al-Adha is also known as the “Boro Eid” (Big Eid) because it is feeding the beef-loving population of the country. The noises I hear sitting by window of my aunt’s seventh floor flat are that of black crows and goats, as well as the sound of the Imams in nearby mosques reciting the Eid morning prayers. I sometimes hear the “moos” of the cows, God knows what they are reacting to. My heart jumps a bit when I hear the animals or the sudden male voices yelling who are probably excreting their excitement and strength. I think I would have preferred to sleep in today until noon when everything would be done and cleaned up. Apparently, a good butcher can kill, cut, and clean up an entire cow in just 90 minutes. He chargest 10 to 20 percent of the cow’s price and with his sharp knives he is able to carefully observe and kill, make slender cuts and separate the parts of the cow and cut the meat into slabs, itemized to satisfy out beef palates. But I was awake by six in the morning, jumping into the shower where the cold water made me realize my surroundings.
It is almost 8:30 am right now and we are about to head out soon to visit my khalu’s family in Jatrabari, where we were yesterday morning to see the cow that is about to be, if not already slaughtered. My morning will be spent there and then back to Iskaton in the center of the city, where I will stay and maybe visit a few families too. The day will be spent eating, napping, eating more, and eating. Driving through Dhaka to visit family, eat, eat, eat.
I left my apartment in Baridhara to go to one of my aunt’s home in Iskaton at a little after eight in the morning, and even in this residential, mostly quiet neighborhood I could sense the Eid. There were cows and goats tied to the gates of practically every villa and apartment building, many adorned with colorful plastic flowered necklaces. The poor cows. I can’t imagine bloodshed in my little neighborhood of otherwise peacefulness (though I am still waiting to run into Khaleda Zia who is reportedly moving into my street).
I felt bad for the cows when we drove to Jatrabari, an area in southern Dhaka and I saw fat cows being driven on trucks, taken to homes on foot, etc. “Ei, koto holo?”, many who drove in their motorcycles past the cows would ask, and they would get an automatic answer from whoever led the cow. Apparently this is one of the fun parts of Eid, asking how much the cow cost from random strangers, and then boasting about it.
At my Khalu’s (my aunt’s husband) family’s home this morning, I saw three cows that they had bought to be sacrificed. Theirs was an Australian kind, spotted and pretty huge. Kids from the building were playing around the cows, trying to get a reaction and then running away. We drove from Iskaton this morning to Jatrabari for a bit specifically to see the cow they had bought before eating it in about 27 hours.
Do these cows know their fate? Listening to the comments around me all day were bizarre enough in my Western viewpoint- who is going to butcher it, is he good at cutting up the meat, did you get a good deal, where was it imported from, whose getting the stomach? When you spot a fat cow, it is either imported from India, or fed a lot of hormones (from India). Bangladeshi cows are not fat. They are skinny and obedient, calm and slow. They bathe in the local pond, and sleep on dust. Australian brand cows are prized- their breeds are prettier, resembling a cow you might see in a milk carton with its black and white spots, fed good grass, heavyset, energetic, and for this country, exotic. So many cows.
Tomorrow morning, Dhaka turns red with the blood, and the men of the families will get a chance to act like a bu tcher and participate in the holy day. Meat will be distributed around for days, and cooked in so many ways- curried, dried, fried, cooked for hours (bhunna), spiced and preserved, grinded into kebabs, the hoofs made into soups, liver pastes… piles of rice, pulao, and bread will await these dense dishes on the table for days on end. I remember coming to Eid when I was 11 years old and scarred from all of the blood and smell that filled the narrow alleys and roads. I had to shut my ears to not hear any noise. I mean, with so many cows, they are going to be looking around and seeing what is happening to their fellow beings. It is quite depressing. And I say this as I say that I love steak.
In Saudi Arabia, where Eid has already happened today, my dad had to go to one of the centers and wait in line to see our cow being butchered. They do not allow public butchering like in Dhaka- for sanitary purposes. My dad gave up after a while though because the line was so long. I mean, we are talking about a country where most people can afford their own cows, compared to Dhaka where many families share in on a cow and a few goats.
So I wait with apprehension for the morning. My mother asked that I go down to Shamoily to participate because my parents shared in on a cow in my name since I was spending Eid in Dhaka. How sweet (?)
It is really hard to take photos during the morning Eid since it is simply rude and not in the culture where you maintain anonymity with your clothing. The prayer we went to was in the Royal Commission in Jubail, just by the Persian Gulf in a beautiful location where everyone was either dressed in black (women) or white (men), and the kids being the exception with their brightly colored clothing and heels. It was quite adorable to see the little boys dressed in the traditional Saudi outfit as they fidgeted with their headdress and long train of white cloth.
I finally had a chance to get a haircut today at my favorite salon in Jubail, after being rejected last night at 11 pm because they had too many customers. They did not take appointments so I had about 20 minute wait after my mother paid for the cut (before even getting a cut). I went in the afternoon and even then, it was packed, mostly with women getting their nails done, hair styled, and eyebrows colored (instead of waxing/ threading which was recently outlawed in the salon. No idea why). Women of all ages sat around in the red tones waiting area with plush cushions and bright red sofas with their children.
But you don’t actually wait for your number to be called. There were only three women actually cutting and styling the hair today and there were literally crowds around them waiting in line, no matter if they came after me or whenever. So I had to follow this disorganized mishap and just wait. It did not help us that the receptionist spoke no English, refused to respond to my broken Arabic, and played with her iPhone the entire time and picked on her nails. The woman I waited for, a Filipino who usually did my hair and may I add, amazing was busily cutting away. Except she was literally taking about 5 minutes on each hair; her hands moved fast and I was pretty sure she was ignoring the mothers or she was actually multitasking and risking with women’s long, amazing hair.
For one girl, she literally grabbed the top chunk, sliced it off in three strokes, and left the rest to be, creating bizarre layers while the mother looked on, looking pleased. It took just a few minutes and I was a little more than freaked out and wanted to run away.
Thankfully, she handled my situation beautifully. She took a bit longer with my hair and just did what she wanted to with it. This is why I love her; the women just KNOWS hair, and does whatever she wants and know sit will look good, whether it takes 5 minutes or an hour. She tugged and pulled, and didn’t care if I winched but just grabbed by head here and there like it was a tree. While mute most of the time, she started talking to me and my mom and said that her arms were weak and she had been working nonstop, without any breaks. She was in such a hurry and complained about how busy they were with swarming clients as they did not take appointments and no one followed rules. They were open until 3 am last night, and today expected to work all night until 8 am, the day before Eid. Women flocked the place to get everything done before the break so that they could look their best. After ten minutes (I was really, really thankful for the extra five minutes), and apologizing that she could not blow dry my hair because of the line behind me and charging us double of what we usually paid her, we left the area where arms and scissors flew everywhere along with hair and nervous energy.
Anyways, I got my hair cut and I know now to not wait until the last minute because nothing gets in the way between Saudi women and primping themselves for the holidays. They can literally get what they want no matter what time it is and how much it will cost them. And I got to see what they are like beneath all the busy abbayahs and niqabs. Gorgeous, as usual.
I bought fireworks today (!!!!) which was absolutely exciting since they are a) legal, b) abundant because of Eid, c) everyone is doing it, and d) who doesn’t like legal fireworks from your patio that are abundant in supply for Eid? We bought a few types, the kind below the ones I am most excited about, as they just spark up when you light them with a lighter. 30 sticks for 25 riyals (less than $10), though we could have bought it for less. She sold all kinds of fireworks to “mini bombs” that are like fire crackers, and other things that kids were snatching away. She was selling them in a stall outside a store where my mother has summoned a Bangladeshi guy to help her figure out which ones to buy and how to haggle.
There were also a lot of stores selling niqabs, shown below. They are used to literally hide your face and hair and to only show the eyes.
Jubail’s industrial sector lit up as usual all night, Eid or no Eid.
Last night I went shopping with my family to Al Khobar, a nearby city where stores opened around 9 pm and went on forever into the night/ next day. The streets were packed, and the roads jammed with people finally getting out of the house after breaking their fast and crowding the markets. There are so much lighting and decorations everywhere to celebrate Ramadan, from lamp posts, to the hotels and private buildings. The Saudi version of Christmas lighting.
There are “Ramadan discounts” everywhere and people taking advantage of it like no other. I went into a jewelry shop and could not find a counter space at all as flocks of people lined every free inch, mostly men, to buy gold. The counters for the clothing were a bit insane too, and I think it also drove the men running it insane who either spoke no English or just did not want to speak because they were afraid we would demand something.
The woman guarding the ladie’s fitting rooms were also a bit out of nerves. It is definitely not like the United States. I am trying on clothes and literally another woman and her daughter are standing outside my door staring at me, in a distance like as if they are about to come inside. It was… awkward. I was not sure if they were like, lining up to get in or just wanted to stare at me (both possible). One of the woman guarding it came and told me to hurry up in broken English to which my mother and sister snapped at and the woman just backed away because I am pretty sure she did not understand a single word and did not have a comeback. Having so many languages spoken at once just adds to the utter chaos of the stores.
I loved the vibe of the city though. I have celebrated a Muslim holiday I can remember just once in a Muslim country, which was Eid years and years ago in Bangladesh. Being in Saudi Arabia felt foreign to me even though it should not, I suppose. The entire month is a celebration, but only at night- during the day, everything is closed since people are fasting. It is dead silent. And around 3 am, an hour before sunrise when you have to start fasting again, restaurants and fast food places are packed with tired families and single men eating away. It reminded me of Las Vegas where the nights go on forever and the next morning you see dead silence as people sleep through their hangover. The hangover here is from overeating and carrying too many shopping bags, I suppose.