Tuesday morning I woke early pulsating with excitement. I was back in Bizerte in a crowded apartment with a family of 10 and a full day’s work ahead. We had two sheep to kill, clean and cook. Our dinner was waiting patiently, and perhaps knowingly, on the patio.
I had foolishly packed my nicest clothes, which I’d discovered the night before were of no use to me for this holiday – the Eid is a much messier business than Christmas and who wants blood and guts spattered on their newly purchased sweater? So I remained in my polka-dot pajamas.
The first order of business was moving the sheep from the patio up two flights of stairs to the rooftop – this was no easy feat and required three sets of hands. Knives were sharpened, buckets of all sizes were collected and we were ready to go. As sheep #1 was being held down to the ground I experienced a brief moment of queasiness. I was utterly frightened and it all felt so strange – sheep bleating on every rooftop around me and sheep in the streets being strung along by happy children.
The slaughter itself was what I imagined it to be: a swift cut to the neck and lots of blood. What I wasn’t expecting was when; maybe a minute later, my dearly departed sheep started moving his legs as if he were running. Halima answered to the alarmed look on my face by telling me that Muslims believe the sheep to be “running to heaven,” and I found this to be a beautiful idea.
The next step was removing the hide. The sheep was pumped with air and hung from rafter, at which point the men began butchering whilst the women cleaned out the organs which were handed to them. It was a good half hour of work which was then repeated with sheep #2. Once the women had all the various sheep insides cleaned and sorted in bowls we headed back downstairs to begin preparing dinner. Every part of the sheep serves a purpose – a large portion being donated to the poor and the remainder ending up in various regional traditional dishes.
After seven or so hours of hard-work the food was ready and we all packed around the table. It was a true family effort getting two sheep on the patio to end up on our plates in time for dinner, but that’s what Tunisia is all about.. family.