Today is the day I discovered Eid. Here is a description of Eid for those that don’t know what it is, according to Wikipedia:
Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر ‘Īdu l-Fiṭr), often abbreviated to Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting (sawm). Eid is an Arabic word meaning “festivity”, while Fiṭr means “conclusion of the fast”; and so the holiday celebrates the conclusion of the thirty days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan. The first day of Eid, therefore, falls on the first day of the month Shawwal.
As an American woman who was brought up in a Protestant Christian household, this is all new to me. I have always loved to partake in various religion’s traditions, but for various different reasons, I have not had the chance to experience much of the Muslim world.
A very special woman that I work with named Tina has several Muslim family members, although she adheres to no particular religion. Upon hearing my interest of Islam and particularly how the interest has grown since my arrival in South Africa, she decided to invite me to a family Eid Celebration. We rode in a taxi to a neighborhood on the very outskirts of District six, one of the lucky neighborhoods to not be bull dozed down during the forced removal of 60,000 of it’s inhabitants during the reign of the apartheid regime in the 1970’s. In an ironic twist, I live in the heart of District Six in a brand new apartment building with all modern functionality cleverly named “6”.
We arrived at a very modest home, with a little brown wooden gate, a small porch without a front garden and the always recognizable South African trait, the square fluted iron roof. Muslim men and women could be seen in their best clothes greeting one another, children running around and collecting their sweets and coins (a tradition of the special day). We went into a couple different homes, greeting people that Tina knew. It was my first glimpse into this world. As much as Apartheid is over self-segregation still pervades in South Africa. A visit to a black or ‘coloured’ neighborhood by a white person is not all that common unless it is for a tourist trap like Mzoli’s Restaurant in Gugulethu or for some charitable purpose. This has been a source of great disappointment for me, as I am dying to see how all the various cultures live in the ‘Rainbow Nation’.
I entered the home to be greeted by Tina’s niece cooking a massive amount of food, her teenage girls getting ready in an effort to look their best. Most Cape Muslims have three different outfits which they will change into throughout the day. The kitchen table was covered in various biscuits and pies and I could see massive prawns near the stove. We chatted and I came to find out that Tina had been born in this home, as well as her niece, and grandparents. Her sister had even died peacefully in this home several months prior to my visit. The home had a special energy, rich in history like no other home I have ever entered. Over 100 years and four generations in one family; this home is something special.
My head drifted as I sat there watching everyone do eat and get ready, I thought of how many other homes like this had been taken from those 60,000 people over 30 years ago. How much history was smashed into the ground and the anger I would have felt if it had been me.
After much anticipation, we all gathered at the table and the food began coming out. A paella with jumbo prawns, crayfish, West Coast mussels hake. Next, a sweet yellow rice and plain white rice with a leg of lamb covered in the most delectable glaze. Vegetables and a jumbo prawn curry. We had the freedom of eating this divine food with our hands. We licked our fingers with eagerness and I was taught about Islam. That to them it is a way of life, not a religion. The belief that no one must go hungry and that everyone must share. I watched as the group would politely speak English to me and inevitably slip back into their first language, Afrikaans. In laughter they would correct themselves and get me up to speed with English. We moved on to a massive creamy-gelatin desert and shared a wet cloth to wipe our sticky fingers with.
As I got up to leave, I was invited to come over any time and I truly felt sincerity in this offer. I left their home with a new view of family and community and the South African experience I had so desperately wanted and the weird part is, it was literally a five minute walk away from my own home.