As Eid approached I noticed more and more cows and goats appearing on the streets. They were everywhere, lined up on the side of the road under makeshift shelters with hay scattered around. A bizarre rural setting in a smoggy city that was heaving with 9 million people.
Back then I was spending most of my days looking for a house, I was around 8 months pregnant and getting a little nervous that we still didn't have a "home" to bring our new baby "home" too.
Each day I'd head off with a stunning travel agent who was gorgeous to look at, incredibly sweet but totally clueless when it came to property management. She'd hand me a list of address' and we'd go through the process of getting to each one only to find it was either already rented or a complete construction site. We'd constantly get lost and have to stop again and again to ask where we were while she made a call to the office trying to find out where we should be.
While all of this was happening I'd sit in the back of the car staring out over my new home. Jakarta seemed to be covered in a layer of mist. The sky was usually overcast from either rain or smog. Traffic jams were constant and expected. There were people everywhere and I stuck out in a "where's Wally" kind of way. I would look at the men squatting in groups, smoking and playing cards, while women carried children in slings (who knew everyone was going to be doing it in years to come). Nothing was hidden in the kampung, you could openly see in to people's houses getting a first hand view of how they lived, food being cooked, mopping and sweeping. Washing hung from electricity lines that were strung from house to house. Tail-less skinny cats and puddles of dirty water everywhere. There was always something to look at.
Each afternoon, after a day in traffic and sometimes not even setting foot in a house, I'd head back to the hotel completely defeated. As I'd enter the doors my friend Agus would ask me how it went. "Any luck Madam"? Agus and I had become buddies. As I stood each day waiting for a cab or for G to come home from the office, we'd chatter away about our very different lives. While I jumped in and out of taxi's Agus would take 2 busses and a bajaj to get to and from work. I would leave him and take the elevator up to my lovely hotel room while he lived in a two bedroom home with his mother and three siblings.
Agus became my "go to" guy for all things Indonesian, I could rely on him to tell me the rules, what taxi to get in to, which areas of the city to avoid. His advice for Eid was "if you don't like blood, stay indoors on the morning of Eid al Adha". Suddenly it all became clear on why the animals were out on the street getting fatter every day.
When I asked what Eid Al Adha meant I was told it was the story of Ibrihim who sacrificed his son to Allah, luckily for everyone involved Allah stepped in with a ram for them to sacrifice instead (maybe not so lucky for the ram). So now, on Eid Al Adha, goats and cows (in other parts of the world you can include sheep and camels) are sacrificed and celebrations are held. It's a time of sharing with your family, friends and most importantly with the poor.
Stupidly, I'd assumed Agus would fit in to the category of "the poor" but when he told me what his community was doing for others on Eid Al Adha, I realized in comparison he was doing very well. His eyes came alive as he explained how his family had pooled their money together to buy a cow and that after the cow was slaughtered they would distribute it in thirds, for family, friends and the poor.
There were strong similarities to my families Christmas celebration, his mother would cook all day, they would dress in their best and overeat. He said the best thing about Eid was the children and watching them celebrate and enjoy.
Over the past 10 years I've been lucky enough to live in 4 muslim countries. Each has celebrated Eid al Adha in a completely different way. Here in Qatar there are no signs of animals on the streets although I hear this hasn't always been the case. G has been to the markets this morning and tells me the livestock market is crazy busy. At the supermarket people are buying in bulk, the queues are long. To me it feels like any western supermarket on the last shopping day before Christmas (and the prawns are on special). Although we're stressed about the cooking and entertaining there's a feeling of excitement in the air that comes before a celebration.
When I think of Eid al Adha, I think of Agus. I think of how small my problems were and how happy he was to celebrate Eid, how grateful he was for what he had and could give to others. What does Eid mean to you? How do you celebrate? If you're a non Muslim who's been involved in a celebration tell me about it. How did you learn about Eid or are you like me and you're still learning?
Having celebrated Christmas in many Muslim countries I'm always touched by how many Muslim friends give me Christmas cards and wish me a Merry Christmas, perhaps you could do me a favour? If you're in the Western part of the world today and you have a Muslim friend or colleague don't forget to wish them a Happy Eid.
Happy Eid al Adha everyone, Eid Mubarak!