With Eid al-Adha, the Eid of the Sacrifice, approaching, women are cleaning their houses from top to bottom. Men are painting windowsills and doors, and making sure their cars and motorcycles look their best. The shops are crowded with people buying new outfits for themselves and their children for the celebrations, as well as candies and treats. Sheep and goats, and even some cows and camels, are tethered everywhere, men crouched nearby, ready to sell them to those who are able to afford to perform the sacrifice that is part of this Eid.
Here in Hydramaut, in Southern Yemen, the community has been building up to the Eid with a practice specific to their culture. It is known as mash’a, named for the torches that were traditionally carried by the large groups of children who go door to door, beating on drums and singing each night. After listening to them, the people of the house give each child some money or sweets. Each night for a week or so they go in a different direction and sing at different houses. The night before last there were three groups in our neighborhood in addition our own’ neighborhood’s large group. The field next to the house was alight with three fires, as older boys and men used the flames to tighten the drum heads. Some of the children use homemade drums, others use the traditional boughten skin drum. This year, though, instead of the traditional torches, it seems that sculptures decorated with LED lights and held aloft on wooden poles are all the rage. We saw two different types of ships, and an airplane, among other things, as we stood on the roof and watched the children below, playing their drums and dancing through the darkness.
Another cultural practice that seems to take place in different parts of Yemen occurs on the Eid itself, when children go door to door dressed in all their Eid finery, and collect sweets from everyone. Or, alternatively, the men take the children and go to homes of family members, sharing food in each house. The children are gifted with money or treats as well. Too many people, though, seem to be getting caught up in all of the trappings of this- spending a lot of money on fancy clothing and foods, and seeming to forget the purpose of this yearly celebration that takes place during the month of the Pilgrimage to Makkah.
Islamically, we are commanded to go to the Eid prayer. It is held outside a little while after the regular Fajr, or morning, prayer. The prayer is performed in a manner specific to the Eid prayers, and then a talk or exhortation is given to the gathered community. Afterwards people disperse, many of them going home to offer the sacrifice if they are financially able. We relax and enjoy the day, celebrating it in any permissible way we like. Sometimes there is a gathering at someone’s house, either to share in their Eid sacrifice with a meal or to eat baked goodies and visit with each other. In our family, we usually have candy and treats, and fix a nice meal. We also play games- with so many children, the possibilities for different types of games are many. We exchange gifts- this Eid we made a point of making most of our gifts, just small things to make the day even more special for the children.
This year’s Eid is, of course, overshadowed by the deprivation and suffering that Mujaahid and his family and the other villagers are experiencing due to the blockade. They will not be able to pray outside due to the snipers and soldiers on the adjoining mountains. There are no treats to buy, nothing to make a special meal with. There are no shiny little cars or other toys for sale in the market. They will all be on our minds and in our hearts throughout our day, as they are every day.