Tobaski: The Sacrifice

A month ago I never would have watched the slaughter of a ram with giddy glee. In fact, I probably would have barely eaten it, only politely tasting it here and there with hesitation.

I like meat but I’ve never liked eating it off the bone despite everyone’s claims that it’s the best part. I don’t like ribs, nor chicken wings. There’s just something about gnawing on a bone that grosses me out.

Since I was a kid, any time I see meat served on the bone all I can picture is a desperate cannibalistic caveman devouring a leg. I know it’s weird, but that’s just what I’ve always imagined and still do.

This image used to gross me out so much that I wouldn’t even eat the meat if the bones were on my plate. My parents cut it off for me well into my teenage years. As I’ve grown older, I have managed cutting it off myself merely so I could appear to be a normal-functioning adult. But really, it still gave me the heebie-jeebies every time and I would never put the bone to my teeth.

Just last month, as I crowded around a food bowl with other volunteers, I noticed my friend kept pulling pieces of chicken off the bone from the middle and tossing the meat into my section of the bowl.

“You don’t have to do that,” I told her. “I have enough meat.” “But you don’t,” she replied. “You never pick the bones and you need to eat more.”

So there we were, the former vegetarian picking the bones for me so that I would have enough protein in this meat-starved country.

Fast forward just one month and now everything is different. I have been at permanent site for a month and haven’t even so much as smelled fresh meat since arriving. My new family is so poor my father says they only eat meat once a year when scripture requires that they sacrifice a ram.

Every day for the past 30 days, we have only eaten rice and fish. Actually, fish only comes on the lucky days; sometimes, it’s only rice and leaves. As the days of rice and leaves and fish drug on, I tried to think of each meal as one closer to the day we would eat meat. The night before felt like Christmas Eve as I anxiously awaited “The Sacrifice.”

In the last month of the lunar calendar, Muslims across the world sacrifice sheep every year in honor of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son at God’s command. Scripture says God intervened and instead provided a lamb.

In my meat-starved daze, the kill barely phased me. As my brothers held the ram’s legs, my father slit its throat with a machete. Blood poured into a hole in the ground while they tried to keep the animal from squirming. Once the eyes rolled into the back of its head, my eldest brother took the knife to kill the second ram. Although I would have once been appalled, all I could think was “We’re going to have meat for days!”

Killing Ram #1

Killing Ram #1

I was briefly distracted from my mouth-watering day dream when the first ram started kicking and flopping only inches from me as its guts continued to pour out its throat.

Once the situation was under control, the men hung the animals so they could properly butcher them up, sorting out the parts on a piece of corrugate. My sisters took meat by the handfuls into the kitchen area where my mom started roasting pieces over the fire.

Butchering the carcass.

Neighbors and friends helping to butcher the carcass.

Sorting out the pieces.

Sorting out the pieces.

Sorting out the pieces.

Sorting out the pieces.

Ready for roasting.

Ready for roasting.

I wondered if since Tobaski was “like Christmas for my people” if there was such a thing as a Tobaski Miracle. I hoped there was and prayed that mine would be to not get food poisoning.

As the meat finished cooking, my sisters handed me piece after piece fresh off the flame. The salty juices burned my fingertips and dripped down to my elbows. I decided food poisoning was a risk I was willing to take, my own sort of “sacrifice” for the occasion.

Meat!

Meat!

I hesitantly asked which part was which as I started to eat, but after taking that first delectable bite, it was as if the mutton was forbidden fruit and I stopped asking questions and just kept eating, devouring every piece I could get my hands on: the liver, the heart and then a leg and the back — right off the bone.

Yum!

Yum!

–JDF