Saturday, January 1, 2011

Holiday celebrations

(So this post was written a couple months ago, but it got lost on the
cluttered desktop. Kurban Ait was celebrated on November 17, 2010.)

I killed a sheep. Well, sort of. Actually, I paid to have a sheep
sacrificed at the local mosque in order to give the meat away to the
poor. Here's the story.

Kurbain Ait is a big holiday for Muslims. It celebrates the day that
Abraham was going to sacrifice his son, but at the last minute, God
told him to stop. Abraham had shown his faith in God, and he was
rewarded for it. In his son's place, he sacrificed a sheep instead.
Muslims all around the world still continue this tradition by
sacrificing sheep on this day. From my understanding, any Muslim who
can financially afford it should sacrifice a sheep on this day. This
meat should then be used for a feast and given away to poor families.
While we don't make a lot in Peace Corps, I figured that if we all
pooled our money together we could afford to buy a sheep, have it
butchered, and then donate the meat to the poor.

Two years ago, Kurban Ait was pretty traditional. At the time, I was
living in the village of Dihan that had about 1000 people. I didn't
actually see my host family kill a sheep, but we did go gosti a lot to
other people's houses. Last year, I did nothing at all related to Ait,
and it felt pretty sad. I did see some people slaughtering sheep
around my apartment complex (a practice which was outlawed this year
in Astana), but I didn't do anything. No gosting, no sheep. Nothing.
Living in the city is a lot different than living in the village.
Culture and tradition are around you, but they aren't always as
apparent and easily accessible.

This year, I have decided to throw myself into all celebrations with
gung ho enthusiasm. This is my last year (finally) in Kazakhstan; I
have to live it as well as I can. So my first idea for Kurban Ait was
to kill a sheep and donate the meat to the poor. The obvious question
is, how? First, how do we find a sheep and have it butchered, and
second, how do we find the poor to give the meat to. I asked a lot of
people, and no one seemed to have a solid answer. It didn't help that
the weekend before Ait (it was on a Tuesday), I was traveling and
couldn't visit the bazaar to ask around for sheep. Monday the bazaar
is closed (like a barbershop), so we (by then Mark was in on this idea
as well) had no real places to seek advice.

The second question, assuming we were able to slaugher a sheep, was to
whom do we give the meat. We had heard you should give the meat away,
but we didn't know where to find suitable families. I've read that
many Muslims in America donate some of the meat to food pantries, but
there are no food pantries here. In Taraz at least, there is no one
that is dedicated to working with poor families. Everyone I asked
didn't really give the meat away to the poor. They just cooked a lot
of it for a celebration and invited all of their friends and
neighbors. Some of these people were likely to be less well-off
financially, and therefore they are giving away the meat as charity.
That didn't seem to be in the spirit of what I read on wikipedia (a
great source, right?) that 1/3 of the meat should be for your family,
1/3 for your relatives and friends, and 1/3 for the poor. We wanted to
give our meat away to people who could really benefit from it. Our
best solution was to give the meat to the mosque, thinking they would
know whom to give it to.

Well, it was the day before Ait, and we still had no clear idea of
what we should do. Then my co-worker Akmaral, had a great idea. We
should go to the mosque and talk to an imam about it. If anyone knows,
they should know. Mark and I met up that evening and went to the
mosque near his house. It seemed busy with activity, as people were
preparing for Ait the next day. One young man saw us, and asked if we
needed any help. I told him that we heard tomorrow was a holiday and
that we wanted to "rezat" (cut, but also means sacrifice) a sheep. He
told us that we should come back the next day after 9:00. He didn't
fully explain what we should be expecting or planning on doing at 9:00
the next day, but Mark and I were happy. Even if our plan was now show
up at the mosque at 9:00 and see what happens, we at least had a plan.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Mariel said...

Hi! I am from PC Azerbaijan and want to get in touch with someone from PC KZ because I want to go there during our break in March. I was wondering if you knew someone placed near Almaty. Could you please email me back? my email is