Eid Mubarak (and no gory photos, this year)

Kakh al-Eid. Photo: Belle Jackson

Eid Mubarak (Happy Feast), every one.

This may be my first posting during the annual celebration of Eid al-Adha that doesn’t feature a photograph of a bloody carcass. Instead, I offer you a far more genteel photo of Kahk alEid, a sweet shortbread that’s traditionally eaten during the Small Feast, Eid al-Fitr, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan.

Eid al-Adha is the Great Feast, which celebrates the occasion when God asked the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham agreed, but at the last minute, God replaced his son with a sacrificial lamb. So today, if you can afford it, you sacrifice a four-legged animal and offer a third of the meat to the poor (of which there are many in the Middle East at the moment, it’s sad to note).

Back home, here in Australia, the Lebanese bakery where I bought these kahk al-Eid told me they call the tasty pastry ma3moul. Either way, its crumbly sweetness is perfect with a glass of dust tea (no sugar). This shortbread pastry is filled with walnuts and scented with orange blossom water and dusted with icing sugar. There’s also a pistachio and rosewater version which sounds great but leaves wanting, and yet a third with dates, which is sprinkled with sesame seeds.

And instead of watching butchers across Egypt sacrifice animals, and seeing the blood-red handprints
that people use as a talisman against the evil eye, we carved an enormous leg of Australian lamb (a really, REALLY big lamb), ate salads scented with cinnamon and cumin, and the homesick amongst the Egyptian diaspora in my house talked of home, and how it has changed couple of years.

The traditional greeting during the feast is ‘Eid Mubarak,’ where ‘mubarak’ means ‘happy’ – not to be confused with the deposed military dictator Hosni Mubarak. Now, as you well know, there’s a new military dictator, Fattah al-Sisi. The question on the streets in Cairo is: should we now be saying Eid Sisi?

(Oh you’re a bloodthirsty lot, aren’t you? Yes, those links will take you to postings from previous years. Please don’t click there if you’re a squeamish type. And if you do click there, and then get upset, don’t go complaining to me. I told you so.)

Getting piggy

I got a call from a friend today: he was livid. His kids’ expensive school here in Cairo has been closed because of an outbreak of swine flu – a common story, even my bro is enjoying a little paid holiday due to the same at his school in Ukraine.

However, when my Egyptian friend took his kids to hospital to have them checked out, he found people crammed in the hospital, flu or not, all breathing the same ikky, sickky hospital air while they waited their turn.

Yesterday, the Egyptian health minister announced hospitals would no longer test people with suspected swine flu – doctors have been told just to whack the suspects full of Tamiflu and the usual anti-viral medication because it’s cheaper than throat swabs and lab work.

Egypt has reported its sixth death due to swine flu (compared with 4000 or so in the US), so it’s no wonder I get the hairy eye when I get on the metro, as we foreigners are considered the culprits. Like the kids in the photo above, some women are wearing those white face masks beloved of Asian countries (I heard eyewitness reports of a group of Japanese tourists climbing through the pure air of Mt Moses in Sinai wearing white masks), while muniquabbas, women who wear the face veil and gloves, must surely feel insulated and protected.

Egypt loves a good conspiracy theory: is it an American plot? A disease created by cash-hungry multi-national drug companies owned by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense? The work of an anti-pig lobby group? It’s been labeled a pandemic, and there are rumours that 20,000 Egyptians are being infected every day, but the Ministry of Health says there are precisely 1881 cases of swine flu in Egypt. Aaah, nobody takes the government figures seriously. The one good thing about swine flu is the government’s personal hygiene campaign – perhaps Egyptians will stop throwing their used tissues out car windows and on the ground.

(Photo credit: AFP)