After 30 days of sun-up to sun-down fasting, no wonder Najib was antsy.
We piled into the car and headed off across the city, but the usual chaos of Kabul streets was slowing us down. With cars, pickup trucks, city buses, bicycles, three-wheeled scooters, motorcycles, minivans, military convoys, and donkey carts coming and going every which way— and traffic signals and speed limits more of a suggestion than a rule— we were going nowhere fast.
Najib was anxiously backseat-driving, directing our driver down sidewalks and back alleys to save time. “We don’t want to miss the sacrifice!”
A chill ran through my body. Whoa. “Sacrifice?” I asked.
“It’s the most important part,” said Najib, going on to explain the Old Testament story of Abraham who was commanded by God to sacrifice his son as a test of faith. Apparently, when Abraham began to follow God's orders, that was good enough for God— who then let him off the hook and commanded him to sacrifice a sheep instead. In Afghan culture, before the traditional mutton feast everyone gathers to bless a sheep, show gratitude, and pray for his soul. Then they off him.
Ugh. Disgusting. Barbaric. I politely nodded along while secretly trying to think up ways to make us late, but my grimace gave me away. “Are you a vegetarian?” he asked.
“Well. No. You see. Uh. Here’s the thing. It’s just that I’ve grown accustomed to food that was already dead and nicely wrapped in plastic so that I didn't have to get personally involved.”
My hypocrisy was not lost on either of us.
“So, if you eat animals, how do you show gratitude for their sacrifice?” he asked.
Dang. I squirmed in my seat trying to think of an answer, but We both knew there wasn’t a good one. “Look. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their sacrifice,” I stalled. “but I can’t watch it. I can’t. Seriously, I almost fainted when I got my ears pierced. I’ll stay in the car.”
Najib dismissed my rationalization and went on to explain that after the sheep was slaughtered, it was divided into three parts. One part was kept by the family for their own feast, the second part was given to neighbors and friends, and the third part was delivered to poor families in the community.
Interesting concept. Every Thanksgiving, an estimated 46 million turkeys were unceremoniously butchered for our American mealtime tradition. I wondered what might happen if we sacrificed a week’s worth of leftovers and Tupperware-jammed refrigerators to donate 1/3 of our meal to a food pantry instead?
Naib continued, “Rumi, the Afghan philosopher and poet once said, ‘Every mortal will taste death, but only some will taste life.’ This sheep is being honored for his life and legacy that will impact so many. Our job is to celebrate that.”
He did make an excellent point.
But still. Eeuw.
Our car finally pulled up outside the family’s house and I took a deep breath. Okay, let’s just do this. I coaxed myself out of the back seat and wrapped my headscarf across my face so that nobody would see my look of terror.
We made our way around to the backyard, but as fate would have it, we were too late. The sheep was already in pieces, being divided and bagged. Some guys were getting ready to deliver 1/3 of it to a nearby refugee camp.
The weird paradox was that while the scene was still jarring, I thought I would have felt relieved to have missed the sacrifice. Instead, I felt a twinge of regret— for Najib, for Rumi, and for all the burgers, barbecues, and racks of ribs I’ve eaten without a second thought about honoring anyone’s legacy.
But, seriously. If these animals fed the hungry, bridged communities, and gave hope to the hopeless, wasn’t it more barbaric to not give them a more respected send off?
Food for thought.