Feeling Alive Running Errands on the Eve of Eid Al-Adha

We just had Eid two months ago. But the Islamic calendar has two Eid festivals, one at the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr) and this Eid, which is called Eid Al-Adha.

Eid Al-Adha is known as the Great Eid, many say it is the most important holiday of the Muslim year. I have read that in Egypt, it is known as Eid Al Lahma, which means the ‘meat Eid’. This makes sense because for the last ten days or so, my small little town has filled up with big trucks hauling live cattle which sit parked outside of grocery stores, butchers, the post office, and in random parking lots. The first time I saw this, I was headed to pick up laundry with my dogs in the back of the car, I pulled over next to one of the trucks, rolled down my windows and let my fur babies sniff the incredible smell of hay and livestock (can you tell I grew up rural?). The people in the truck were a bit weirded out by my behavior.

The history of Eid Al-Adha is that it is the celebration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God, and God’s provision of a ram in his mercy. The difference in Muslim culture is that Muslims believe that Abraham or Ibrahim was to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Christians believe that Isaac was to be sacrificed). The main tradition for Eid Al-Adha is slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat in three equal parts – for family, for relatives and friends, and for poor people. The goal is to make sure every Muslim gets to eat meat (it can be expensive here). Unlike Ramadan, the focus is not on personal holiness or making yourself pure again after a year of mistakes.

With the pandemic still raging, it is 2021 after all, we’re headed into not just another full lockdown for this Eid, but an entire movement ban. What this means is that wherever I am starting at 5:00pm today, July 19, 2021 (which is in 3.5 hours) is where I have to stay until 4am on Saturday, July 24th. Originally this movement ban was going to end one day earlier, but the Supreme Committee has just recently decided to extend it.

The grocery stores for the last few days have been abuzz, wild chaotic places of mayhem and excitement with everyone gathering what will be needed to stay in their homes completely for four days. Since families in Oman are very big, with one couple usually having 6 to 7 to 8 to 9 to 12 or 14 children, this is no doubt quite a feat to prepare for and stay inside for 4 days. I’m sure they have freezers much bigger than mine and will be cooking quite a fair amount of rice.

This morning I left my house at 7:30am, picked up a friend, and headed to the biggest grocery store in our town at the time of their opening. The parking lot at 8:00am was already crammed full. It felt like Black Friday in America. The store was pure chaos with workers re-filling shelves as Omani men in their white flowing gowns and Omani women all in black filled up carts and mused over items. Kids ran through the aisles. I passed Pakistanis and groups of Filipinos stocking up for the movement ban. The store only had one kind of mangoes left, which is unheard of in Oman. The fresh berries that I had planned to purchase were nowhere to be seen. The only fresh chicken for sale was a brand that my friend scoffed at, while I put two in my small trolly. I have not lived in Oman long enough to be picky about chicken brands.

Rubbing shoulders with the locals and dodging carts, I felt more alive than I have in some ways in weeks. As an introvert, I do not mind staying inside. But there is no doubt that due to covid and the summer heat, I have lived in a world within a world in Oman. I really have no Omani friends (except for some male ‘friends’ who I can’t spend time with one on one least they get the wrong idea). I have no real connection to the world around me. It feels strange when I stop to think about it. If I am honest, I feel very much on the outside. Running errands today on the eve of Eid made me feel just a tiny bit involved in what is going on in the culture as a whole.

Rather than going home directly after dropping off my friend at his house, I found myself pulling into another parking lot. While everyone milled about down stairs, I took the escalator upstairs and serenely observed the racks of towels, bedsheets, luggage, pressure cookers, and clothing. I looked in a mirror and noticed I’d put my light kimono-style cardigan on backwards, not wanting to expose my shoulders in public, I did nothing about it.

Downstairs, I bought ghee, chocolate chips, and more water bottles. Not completely unnecessary items. After the second grocery store, I marveled outside at the 10:00am traffic but instead of heading home, I stopped at the Post Office, wished the guys inside an ‘Eid Mubarak’ and asked them to look for a package that probably won’t arrive until next week, if that.

Truth is that I wish I had more of a connection to Omani culture. By this time in Korea and China, I had eaten numerous meals with local people and had had them take me under their wing, had established some real sort of connection and had learned a fair amount about the culture. Here in Oman, things are different. I hope that the pandemic is to blame but my friends tell me otherwise.

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