Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Ate A Liver

Remember that episode of Doug, where Doug has to go to some kind of party (was Party Mayonnaise having a birthday?) and he freaks out when he realizes he is expected to eat liver and onions, which he has never had but is convinced is disgusting, and in the end tries it and likes it and realizes that pre-conceived notions are silly and that trying new things is awesome? Remember that?

I played this episode in my head a couple hundred times last Tuesday. Well, that, and the Sesame Street song about being a 'Cereal Girl'. Because it was Eid, and I was about to eat liver.

Eid Mqqorn is the biggest holiday in the Muslim calendar. Each family is expected to slaughter a ram (in remembrance of Abraham doing the same), and the rest of the day is spent visiting family and feasting. Its a lot like Thanksgiving in that families travel from across the country to get together, enjoy one another's company, and eat massive amounts of food. The slaughter itself is a very big deal, and most of the family takes part in some way. I went to my host family's place in the morning, bearing chocolate chip cookies, and hung out for a while before it all went down.

Once things got started I'm pretty sure I went into catatonic shock. First the men cut the ram's throat. The ram bled to death within 5-10 minutes, at which point they removed its head and began skinning the body. They then hung it upside down and proceeded to remove the internal organs, often intact (actually quite fascinating!), and cleaning the meat for cooking.

After about an hour most of the work was done, and we went back inside. I hung out with the kids watching Noor (a Turkish soap opera - more popular here than Melrose Place back in the day) while the men cleaned up and the women started cooking. The veggies had been going all morning, so they quickly cooked the meat and soon the tagines were brought out, overflowing with everything you could imagine. My host mom knew I'd eat the veggies, but since there was so much meat she also made me a little salad. I heart her.

Once the tagines were finished off the small barbecue was brought inside and my aunts and uncles started putting together shish-kabobs of liver wrapped in stomach fat. I'd heard these were the important bits to eat, per tradition, and so far had staved off any real inquiry as to whether I'd give it a go, but pretty soon people were starting to ask if I would do it. I started saying no, but a few folks seems truly stung that I was refusing the liver, so I finally gave in and agreed to try it.

I kept Doug in mind as I sang under my breath, "I said I'll taste it, I'll give it a whirl, and now I am a cereal girl....". When the kabobs were ready I took mine, studied it for a moment, then slid off the first chunk and popped it in. It was the most meat I'd eaten at once since going veggie at age 11.

I'm not a cereal girl. At all.

I ate another piece, then passed my kabob off to my host sister. I got points for the attempt, but I'm not sure they didn't all come from the technical portion rather than style.

The rest of the day was spent visiting with other relatives and eating all sorts of cookies and cakes and drinking lots of tea. It was great to be a part of, and within hours anyone I passed in town was running up to me to incredulously fact check the rumor I'd eaten meat.

It was an experience I won't soon forget, and I'm grateful to my host family for letting me take part. I really do feel like part of the family, and even when I'm weird (which is often) they go out of their way to make me feel welcome, whether making a place for me at family dinners or explaining for the fifth time that Noor and Mohammad are destined to be together in the end, but things are just so complicated!

I also appreciate them letting me take pictures.

To quote 1776, when offered the goat head tagine the next day, I declined.....courteously.




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