Camel Slaughtering





During the two weeks leading up to Eid al-Adha, the second of two Islamic holidays, my Bedouin neighbors asked me whether I planned to attend the goat, sheep, or camel slaughter. Daily, I would be barraged with questions in Arabic that translate in English to: "Don't you want to watch the goat die and then eat it?" and "Mindy! On Wednesday, my uncle will bring a fat camel and then my other uncle will kill it with a knife. Then we will take it to my dead grandma's house and cook it there. It's better to go to the camel slaughter instead of the goat slaughter because it's more delicious." I declined the numerous goat and sheep invitations, choosing to aim for the bloodiest: the camel sacrifice. On the first day of Eid al-Adha, which fell on Dec 19 this year, I awoke to the call to prayer resonating from the village mosque at 4:45 am. Arabic readings from the Koran lasted for nearly an hour (my village's imam has a lung capacity rivaling any opera singer), during which I proceeded to drift in and out of semi-consciousness. At 6 am, just re-settling into the comfort of silence, I was awakened by my doorbell ringing incessantly. Even before I opened the door, I could hear my neighbor's four-year-old son shouting, in Arabic, "Mindy! I know you're in there! Are you ready to see the camel killed?" Half an hour later, I found myself wedged between two smiling village kids, piled into a pickup truck that had no seatbelts and a broken passenger-side door. A bumpy drive to the killing fields, where we parked and poured out. The men were milling around outside, lazily greeting each other, smoking cigarettes, and drinking tea. The village women were huddled in the house, gossiping, drinking tea, and occasionally daring a peek through the curtains to watch the outdoor action. As a female, I normally wouldn't be allowed to watch the camel sacrifice from outside with the men, but my "Amree-kan Canon dee-gee-tal camera" granted me access to courtside seats. I explained that I wanted to document this event so that friends and family in the States could see what Eid al-Adha was all about (I've found that any time you carry a digital camera and tell villagers how fascinating their lives are, they happily accede to almost anything). So if my technical skills work as well as they should (being an electrical engineer's daughter), the videos and pictures posted with this blog should detail my first (and probably last) camel slaughter. I know you're probably wondering, "How could one family eat all that meat?" In Jordan, "families" include cousins, uncles, mothers-in-law, fiancees' sisters, and more. Still, that's a lot of camel meat. The tradition during Eid al-Adha is for the family who bought the animal to give 1/3 of the meat to their own family, 1/3 to neighbors, and 1/3 to the poor families within the village. So, as the team of three men with machete-type knives worked to cleave off the meat, one man was busily stuffing black plastic bags with about two kilos of camel meat each. These bags were then piled into an on-its-last-mile pickup truck (not the same one I rode in), and delivered to the neighbors and poor families. It's a wonderful tradition that distributes the wealth of fresh meat through the entire village. This does mean that families will often end up receiving gifts of goat meat from one neighbor, then three kilos of sheep meat from their cousin, followed by a grand finale of two kilos of camel meat from their uncle. My verdict: Fascinating to watch the camel sacrifice, entertaining to see kids playing with the camel head and tongue, educating to discover that the camel's hump is not full of water, but of fat. But the camel meat? Overcooked and burnt…can't wait until I can have fresh sushi again.
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