Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bayram [view with caution]

Warning: This post is about Bayram, the muslim Festival of Sacrifice (or Greater Eid). If you don't want to see photographs of sheep being slaughtered, please skip this post. We did our best to leave out the more gruesome photos.

We were told that Bayram is approaching soon after we arrived in Turkey. It's a very big national holiday which lasts nine days. One of those days is designated for the sacrifice of an animal. Everyone travels home for the holidays, many businesses close, and kids are out of school. We felt lucky to be in Turkey by chance at the time of the holiday, so we could photograph a real cultural event.

We woke up early on the day of Bayram so that we could walk around and photograph people celebrating around Pumakkale. As we walked down a few streets, we saw families in their driveways with sheep hanging from a tree as they skinned them. The whole family partook in this celebration, the little kids would stand around and watch in amazement. We were hesitant to get too close because we didn't think they would want some strangers with cameras to intrude during a sacred ceremony. We photographed a few people as we walked around, and were surprised how nice everyone was, offering us tea and letting us take a few photos. One family was especially welcoming and we formed quite a friendship over one day with them. They invited us into their driveway, where they were in the process of skinning a sheep. None of them knew much English but Julia and I were interested in this holiday of theirs and they were happy to let us photograph and watch. Everything was as humane as possible-- they tied up the sheep’s legs, put a scarf over the sheep’s eyes, and all it took was one cut across the sheep’s neck. But first, the head of the house, the husband, and his wife said a prayer before sacrificing the lamb. It was all done very cleanly. They dug a hole in the ground, where they let the blood drain. Soon after they cut off the head and promptly began skinning the sheep. Once that was done they hung the sheep on a tree upside down so it could drain, which made it easier to cut and separate everything. Nothing went to waste, they used every part of the sheep.

Byram (Festival of Sacrifice) is a muslim holiday that we heard about for the first time in Turkey. The holiday is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead. The meat is divided into three parts to be distributed to others. The family keeps one third of the share, another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors, and the other third is given to the poor & needy. Every year at this time Muslims remember that event by sacrificing either a sheep, ram or cow. Most people sacrifice a sheep but people who can afford it will sacrifice a cow.

While hanging out with this family, the women brought us tea and some treats and we got to meet their whole extended family (four generations!) which all lived in the three houses next to each other. The younger girls brought us candy and a bottle of lemon scented hand cleaner that we used on few other occasions in Turkey. Bunyamin, 29 year old, spoke a little bit of English so we exchanged some basic greetings and information about ourselves. Overall it was quite an experience, we were honored that they let us hang around and were so kind to complete strangers. They wanted us to stick around for lunch as well but we already has plans so we told them we would return later in the day. Before we left the grandmother gave Julia a bag of Henna mix (she instructed her to mix it with water and put it on her hands before going to sleep).

We returned to the family's home later in the day and joined them in the kitchen-- a small room with no furniture and a fire pit in the wall for cooking. We all sat around on floor cushions and waited as the women put pieces of lamb on sticks and roasted them in the flames. A low wooden square sat on the mother's legs and serving as a cutting board and dinner table. We put the lamb meat in home made tortillas and wrapped them up with greens, tomatoes, salt, and lemon juice. Bunyamin brought a couple English/Turkish translation books so we used these for a bit to try and translate the words that we didn’t know. While we sat around chatting and eating, a few neighbors and friends dropped in and we met them as well. One of the women then showed off some of her croqueting that she does in her free time.  They also took us out and showed us their garden where they grow all their own vegetables. They all knew the word ‘organic’-- they pointed out that everything that we were eating was organic. We were amazed to learn that the water for the tea was from a well up in the hillside that Bunyamin’s mom went and fetched herself every few days. They said the water was much better than in town or even bottled water. On of the women, 30 years old, explained that she looks so young because she drinks 40 cups of tea a day. We ended up staying a little longer than we would have liked since we still had a 4 hour drive back to Bodrum ahead of us. But it was hard to leave, especially since one of the ladies invited us inside her home, treated us with more tea and baklava, gave Julia a couple headscarves and introduced us to her two younger daughters. It’s amazing how you can build a friendship even if you have a language barrier between you.

After getting into our rental car to drive away, the whole family came out and waved us off. The whole way back to Bodrum, Julia and I were both in awe of what we had just seen and how nice this family was. That they took in two strangers that didn’t even speak their language and didn’t believe in their religion and treated us like family. We told them that we were Christians and believed in the Bible but they didn’t shun us or treat us any different than they would one of their own.

- Yuriy

This week, starting tomorrow, we are taking a break from our Turkey posts to show you some snow (!) and holiday spirit form our trip to Vienna, Austria in honor of Christmas.