the far west

(written 12/27, day internet went down for nearly a week)

The phone lines went down today, and with that our internet connection. In a strange way we felt shipwrecked. Living in Algeria one often feels the odd contradiction of being in the middle of the city yet being in the Wild Wild West, or the “Far West,” as they call it. You see, in the short time I’ve been here we’ve been without water frequently, the longest period for nearly ten days (at which point both the tanks or “reservoirs” we have on the roof ran out, as did the large plastic jugs we keep in the event of water shortages), we had no heat for a few weeks, no internet many times due to the “sickness” of the phone line, and now the double whammy of phone & internet. Had we had warning of any of the shortages, be it water or heat or phone or internet, we might have prepared ourselves, physically and mentally, but such is life and “maktoub,” and all happens in an instant, when life goes from being one thing to another all together.

So, what does one do in a situation like this? Check out the lambs…

You see, Eid is just days away (another reason we’re freaking about the phone/internet outage…it probably won’t be fixed for days!) and the city is full to the brim of lambs. Right down the street is a “rond point” (love that word spoken with a North African-accented French) where there is a huge congregation of men selling lambs and men and boys buying them (this is clearly a male-bonding experience…men buy & slaughter, women clean, all eat). It’s a massive ball of people and mud and poop and smells so strongly that the smell clings to your skin and your cloths even after walking by.

I suppose we form part of the privileged group, as we bought our lamb from a farm on the outskirts of the city, where they were fattened on real grass and not on the garbage-filled urban "pastures" as many lambs are here. Tomorrow we’ll bring it home. Poor thing. Today I saw a lamb on a sort of improvised leash walking jollily alongside its new owner, tail wagging. Little does it know it’s on its way to slaughter.

I must keep in mind the religious importance of this tradition as, frankly, it’s a bit hard for my westernized heart & mind to take. L’Aid to me has always been going to the mosque and then to a restaurant, my lamb chops bearing little resemblance its provenance…not feeding and growing attached to a lambie and then slitting its throat. But then again, I’m not a farm girl, and to a farm girl here as in the US, raising livestock and slaughtering it is a natural part of life.

I still think I’ll hide in my room and bury my head to avoid seeing & hearing the slaughter, and I’m not real keen on the butchering either…am hoping that my status as a guest doesn’t obligate me to partake in the butchering & cleaning and cooking of organs and such. If it were up to me I’d just give money to another poor family (we’ve already bought a lamb for one) and eat couscous…but apparently that’s just “not done,” and the only time you don’t have a lamb is either because you really really can’t afford one (I’ve heard people actually take out loans in order to buy a lamb) or something really really bad has happened to you. None of the above, Alhamdullilah, so wish me luck.

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