Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Everyone keeps saying they’ve never seen the pollution this bad. Indeed, it’s something I’ve noted more often in my second year here as a palpable sensation in my lungs and sinuses. It’s not just a disturbing black cloud emitted from the public bus anymore. It’s the realization that we are inside of that disturbing cloud all the time, at the bottom of a valley that’s getting less and less fertile, and that what is outside manifests in the body. Yesterday morning it looked as if someone had shaken a sack of flour over the city. It is on days like these that I sense hours of ginger tea and decongestant ahead.

We bought an air purifier the size of a TV from the ubiquitous Radio Shack, and this has helped. The instruction manual says to clean the filters every two months, depending upon where you live. Here? Two weeks is pushing it.

When the wind pushes away the pollution, and the sky comes through, it’s unbelievably beautiful. If you climb the Muqattam hills, you will see the black cloud below that is Cairo, and above and away, all is pristine. People, even our university, are pushing out and out, pulling the Nile with them in sleek new piping – people who can afford it.


Today is the first day of Eid Al-Adha, a Muslim holiday which appreciates Abraham’s (Ibrahim’s) willingness to sacrifice his son to God. Oh, the myriad ways in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians are actually kind of the same…

In the last week, sheep, goats, or cows started appearing on the streets, getting hauled in the backs of trucks, their eyes looking rather dead even as they blinked. The beggars suddenly were holding strangely quiet babies, swaddled in the streets. More carcasses than usual hung in the open air in front of butcher shops, those skinned marbled hunks of meat with still-hairy tails hanging down. Suffice it to say I’ve seen way too many dead buttholes. In the usually empty yard behind our apartment building, three sheep appeared, waking us up a few mornings ago with their bleating. One of them had red wool and a white head. These sheep get fattened before slaughter. Even Alfa, a hodgepodge department store, had a penned goat for sale.

The animals get sacrificed – each family keeps 1/3 of the animal and gives the rest to the poor. Yesterday James stumbled upon the bawaab, makwagis, and various guys who hang out on our street just as they were finishing up the slaughter of a cow on the corner. Bloody street and sidewalk, a sheaf of skin, entrails pulled and squeezed. Our bawaab was wearing tall rubber boots and a sweatsuit rather than his usual gallabeya.

This morning I woke to the sound of a bleat and went to the back porch to watch a man, followed by two little boys, lead the red-wooled sheep away. All three sheep had one front leg tied by rope so that they had to hop; the other two sheep were also tied together, and they bumbled around the dusty yard. I’m sure they could smell what was coming.



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kate said...

One dead butthole would be enough for me.

Ellen said...

Oh dear. Poor sheep. It breaks my heart to see future meat. I struggle with the morals of eating meat to the point where my head simply can't hold anymore conflicting points.

I eat meat. And I tell myself that a hungry lion doesn't think: look at the big brown eyes on that antelope. And a hungry polar bear doesn't think twice about snacking on a cute little seal. But lions and polar bears don't have access to Whole Foods.

And eating meat bothers me more now that I adore/cosset/wait on a pet greyhound. Because I'd flip out if someone were to look at Albert and suggest fricassee!

Yet there's something inherently decadent about wrestling with this issue in the first place. People who live in a world where subsistence isn't simple don't have the luxury of debating the morality of meat.

See? I've thought myself into an un-get-out-able corner. Sorry about unpacking the contents of my head into your comments window.

A said...

Ellen, I totally agree. The only reason I am a vegetarian is because I can be. And I think it's better holiday spirit to give away 2/3 of a nutritious animal than to buy somebody a shiny toy who doesn't really need it. Meat is precious here; it' not a $1.99 hamburger. FYI: one of the sheep is still down there bleating. I wonder why she hasn't been eaten yet! P.S. Don't read this entry to Albert.

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