“You don’t have to eat this if you don’t want to,” my mother whispered, as we stared mournfully at our plates of pinkish, strange-smelling meat. I was six or seven years old, but I’d never seen anything like this before—beef. My mother, who swore off meat after her second pregnancy, could barely touch it herself.
We tried to hide our grimaces. It was Eid. My parents, as expatriate Pakistanis in the United Arab Emirates, were attempting to recreate the holiday by dining with the few relatives and friends who lived in different parts of the country. On this Eid, we had driven from our home in Sharjah to Ras al-Khaimah, in the north, to have lunch with my parents’ friends.
There was a victorious air to the proceedings. This feast was a rare event during my secure, sanitized existence in the UAE, where food was neatly packaged and sold in brightly-lit supermarkets. I was encountering freshly sacrificed meat for the first time. My parent’s friends had excitedly brought it that day from the abattoir, and it was now being served up as Eid lunch. The apartment was full of people dining on the spoils of the butcher, somehow able to ignore the pungent odor.
We left early.
When I moved to Pakistan in 1994, I encountered the full force of Eid for the first time, for Karachi’s version was one like no other. While our flat remained free of blood and bones, the parking lot of our apartment building would fill with cows and goats and their minders. I would stand on the balcony of my grandmother’s Karachi home and watch the goats being slaughtered. I was horrified. In the years that followed, I spent every Eid sleeping in so I wouldn’t have to hear the sounds of animals bleating as they faced their bloody end.