A few days ago I was wandering down the hill from my house and noticed sheep in some empty lots, and behind the bars in the windows of an old gray wall bordering a roofless building, more sheep. They looked at me so peacefully, and even though I know where my food comes from and am not overly sentimental about it, it made me sad to see them looking at me so contentedly. So innocent and unsuspecting.
Because these are the Kurban Bayram sheep, the sheep that will be sacrificed for this holiday which memorializes God’s request that Abraham sacrifice Isaac.
I’m not really sure what to expect, I’m a bit nervous because even though I eat meat with no qualms I’m not used to seeing it slaughtered before my eyes. Many of the Turks I’ve asked about the holiday find the sacrificing offensive and archaic. When I ask how they will celebrate the holiday they wrinkle their noses and say, “I don’t know, maybe I’ll visit family or go shopping. I don’t really celebrate this holiday, it’s not good.” When I tell one of my students that I’ve started seeing sheep in my neighborhood he says, “I would prefer you stay home on Thursday. I would prefer you not go out.” This of course makes me more nervous but also morbidly curious.
Wednesday I run all my errands and go shopping for food and art supplies so I can stay home and entertain myself all day Thursday if necessary. Thursday is the first day of the four-day holiday, and I am up early. I turn on my music (I’m most nervous about what I might hear) and in my first act of holiday celebration make myself French toast. I look out the window and down the hill toward the sea, into the maze of streets that seems like such a self-contained village to me. So separate from the life at the top of the hill, with its rivers of tourist constantly flowing through the monuments and brightly lit shops.
I can see directly into the courtyards of Sokullu Camii, the largest mosque in the neighborhood. A tin roofed shelter juts into the courtyard from the other wall. I see men milling around under the shelter and in the passageway between it and where the sheep and cows are tied.
I make my breakfast, work on a drawing, looking out the window every now and then. I see the numbers of sheep dwindling and think this isn’t so bad, I can’t really see or hear anything, and I know that the meat is traditionally given to the poor and doesn’t go to waste.
After a few hours something new, there is blood covering the ground, and men with hoses washing it away. It’s not the blood that bothers me now, but the thought that the cows tied there can see and hear and smell what is happening, and the blood is at their feet. At one point I can hear them lowing, but whenever I look at them they look surprisingly calm.
I’m surprised at how long it takes-- all day; from early morning until evening I can see cows tied at the wall, waiting. I spend most of the day at home, but go out to dinner with a friend. We walk through the streets, which are very, very quiet, to a pub, and have meatballs. The irony doesn’t strike me until now. As we walk we see no signs of what’s going on inside the mosque anywhere else, just quiet, gray, cold, empty streets. A good day to stay home and stay in, drink tea, try to keep warm, and look out the window.