Thursday, October 25, 2012

عيد مبارك!

This title basically means "happy Eid!"
And, quite obviously, I am posting with that title because today is EID AL-ADHA! :)

So, let me give you all a little background on this holiday: Today is the last day of the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. One Quranic story states that Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael (in Islamic tradition it was Ishmael, not Isaac), but at the last moment, God put a sheep in place of Ishmael to be sacrificed instead. To commemorate this, on this day, many families buy a sheep or some other kind of animal, and then use a part of its meat for the feast (Eid al-Adha literally means "Feast of the Sacrifice") and then give all the rest to the poor.
Another important part of today is that all the people on Hajj gather together and make a 20 kilometer walk to the Mountain of Arafat, under the heat of the Saudi sun, and then gather on the Mountain to pray for the whole day, asking for forgiveness and praying for all they hold dear to their hearts.
I love hearing about all of this; I think it's just so fascinating and beautiful.
One important detail about today is that everyone fasts, as a symbolic solidarity with the pilgrims that make the 20 kilometer trek to Arafat. And this morning I had a beautiful thought: "Why don't I fast with my host family!?"
And so, I decided to do just that. I wanted to join them in an important part of celebrating this holiday, and in their solidarity with the Hajjis currently praying on Arafat.
It was hard - I've never really gone almost a whole day without eating anything before. It was a very humbling experience; it made me feel not only a lot of respect and solidarity for the pilgrims and their arduous journey to Arafat, but also to all the people less fortunate than I am, to whom such hunger is, sadly, a constant reality.
It was also a wonderful spiritual experience. Even though I consider myself Agnostic and don't really practice any organized religion, I always have believed in a God, or some kind of higher power, and I felt just a little bit closer to that higher power of mine today.

To celebrate, I went first with my neighbors to eat at the Fitaar, or breaking of the fast, in their relatives' home.
Afterwards, I went with my returnee friend Adham, who was hosted last year in Iowa, to this really nice, open-air mall kind of place, called Green Plaza, with a large group of his friends, which was also really fun.

So, all in all, this was a wonderful day. :) And it's also not the end of the festivities - the Eid al-Adha celebration lasts for four days in total, and I have a vacation from school until the 31st. :D
Although, that doesn't really make a lot of sense, because we'll only have two days of school and then the weekend....>.< But I'm happy anyway, so I won't question it. ^^

One thing that I am also extremely happy about is that AFS Alexandria has organized a two-day trip for us to Ismailia!!!! :)
For those of you who may not be knowledgeable about the nuances of Egyptian geography, Ismailia is this really pretty little city of about 330,000 people that lies in the Sinai Peninsula, along the Suez Canal.
I've heard many good things about it from many Egyptians, so I'm very exited to be going there.
Especially since it's a city that not many people outside of Egypt know that much about at all, so in a way I feel like I'm about to be let on to a sort of local secret. :)
The only downside is that I won't be able to visit Cairo with my host mother, because she's going there to visit her parents and other relatives, whom I was exited to meet. And I was also looking forward to seeing my several AFS-related friends who live in Cairo.
But there will be more opportunities for that, inshallah. :)
And I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to visit Ismailia!
I will make a post about that visit when the time comes.

So yeah, that's really all for now....
Kol sana wa intu taybeen!
(It's basically a way of saying "happy _____, everyone!" It works for any holiday...)
Ila al-iqaa'!

Happy Eid, from AFS-EGY!

A map, showing the location of Ismailia within Egypt!

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