This week, as I huddled over my notes and a morning coffee in the smoky Brasserie des Facultés, or sipped afternoon glasses of murky, sweet tea on Café Tontonville’s broad terrace at the end of place Port Saïd, I saw a number of chunky rams with curling horns being hustled along Algiers’ busy boulevards. Young kids ran behind and ahead of them, some flourishing long sticks, all laughing.
Tomorrow is Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, one of the most important days in the Islamic calendar. It commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael to Allah, as well as marking the end of the Hajd, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Everyone in Algiers was buying sheep. On Friday, when the city was mostly closed, I trekked to a large sheep market outside the city. To be worthy of being sacrificed, a sheep needs to be a certain age, weight, and high-level of quality. Those clustered on the red dirt lot looked near perfect – and were selling for a few hundred dollars a piece.
A teenager kid grabbed a sheep by a back leg and pulled it from the flock, dragging it across the lot. With the help of a couple of other kids, he heaved the bleating animal up onto the back of a truck. He pulled another sheep from the flock, and then another, and another. When the truck was packed tight, the gate was shut, and they began filling the bed of a second truck.
Tomorrow the sheep will be slaughtered and four days of celebrations will begin.