Sacrificial Lambs

Leading Sheep through
Urumqi Streets
November 17, 2010

Why would Shamsiya's sisters call for a single chopstick to be thrown out the window?

Both Aynur and Mavluda were outside: down in the courtyard. I was inside: six storeys up, waiting for them to return. When they slipped their shoes on to step down, they'd left the TV blaring and tuned to channel XJ13. Over the time they were outside XJ13 went from broadcasting the finale of Avatar (dubbed into Uyghur) well into the recent Tim Burton take on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (version originale with Uyghur subtitles).

What could be taking them so long, outside?

Just before the two stepped out we'd finished what we could eat of a huge holiday meal prepared by Aynur. She had set the table with two large platters. The staple platter held boiled vegetables and camel meat cooked up in a brown sauce. The accompanying platter was a kind of steamed dough to soak up the sauce and round out the meal. It was delicious.

Aynur and Mavluda
Assist Sheep Sacrifice

I should have guessed what was keeping them outside. It turned out they were assisting in the sacrifice of a sheep. That big platter of vegetables and camel meat which I had assumed was to be their feast for Eid... that must have been just the appetizer.

The holiday being celebrated today is known here as "Qorban Hayt," though it's better known across the rest of the Muslim world as "Eid-ul-Adha". Whichever the language, it means the same thing: "Feast of the Sacrifice". When the sisters left the apartment, Aynur's new husband had just returned home. He'd brought back a sheep to perform the holiday ritual.

I've seen sheep everywhere on the streets of Urumqi over the past few days. Not just sheep themselves, but also evidence of recent sheep sacrifice: small pools of blood and offal lying near buildings and fecal pellets scattered across sidewalks. Serving a sheep on Eid in Urumqi seems as integral a part of celebrating the holiday as serving turkey is on American Thanksgiving. But, most families in the U.S. (mine included) would be well-detached from the step of killing the centerpiece of our meal. People here have the opposite perspective. Eating the right meat alone isn't enough: procuring and slaughtering a sheep oneself is an essential part of recognizing the holiday.

David and Mavluda with
Sheep Liver and Heart
Regrettably, I had another appointment to rush off to before they'd finished with the disemboweling. As I grabbed my coat and cap, Mavluda happened to come up the stairs. She was holding choice cuts to prepare first: the heart and liver of the sheep. Now I saw why they had called out for a chopstick to be tossed down. It served as an improvised skewer on which to transport the two organs.

Before stepping on out of the courtyard I apologized for having to leave early, thanked Aynur for her hospitality, and wished both her and her husband a "Happy Eid!".

Thanks Aynur and Mavluda, for welcoming me to celebrate your holiday with you!

Note: Shamsiya herself (my former roommate and sister to Mavluda and Aynur) wasn't here to celebrate Eid, this year. She moved to Beijing last summer. But, she will be back here in Xinjiang at the end of next month. She and her foreign fiancee, Rudolph, are engaged to be married then. They'll hold the ceremony with her family in the small town near Ghulja where she grew up. Then, they're planning a bigger wedding bash next summer at Heaven Lake.

I've been invited to both, but am afraid I'll probably be much farther west along my present journey when either of those events occur. But, maybe... maybe I could make it to a wedding in France, where Rudolph is from. I believe that's where the couple eventually intend to move.

What do you say, Shamsiya? Will there be a third wedding party?