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  • Writer's pictureanusha gopalakrishnan

Celebrating Eid Al Adha / Kurban Bayram : An unforgettable Turkish experience

So where I come from, Malaysia, Eid Al Adha or better known as Hari Raya Haji is an important religious holiday that is observed by Muslims and it is also marked as a national holiday. Eid Adha is also commonly known as the "Festival of Sacrifice". Growing up I used to hear stories from my Muslim friends as to how this festival is celebrated. Quite honestly, back then I was just grateful for the holiday cause well it means a break from school/ work.

I suppose sometimes life has a way of surprising you - I say this because a few summers ago I had the incredible opportunity of celebrating this Festival with a dear friend and his amazing family in Turkey. A festival that originally had little significance to me has now become a core memory that I will forever cherish.

Just so you know Kurban Bayramı or Eid al-Adha in Arabic means the “feast of sacrifice”. Bayram literally translates to festival, or holiday, and is used to describe national and religious holidays in Turkey.

This year the festivities will take place from 28 June to 2 July 2023. If you are traveling to Tukey during this time, you can expect a flurry of activity around the city as the festival approaches. Since it is a major holiday, most tourist attractions sights, and businesses may be closed on the eve and first day of the holiday, so please plan your trip around this.

Why do Muslims celebrate Eid Ad Adha?

Muslims around the world celebrate this Festival to commemorate the obedience of Prophet Ibrahim who was willing to sacrifice his son at Allah's command. Shortly before the sacrifice, Allah replaced the son with a sheep instead. Since then, this festival is celebrated by Muslims to honor Prophet Ibrahim's act of obedience towards Allah.

This Festival involves slaughtering an animal for sacrifice, usually goats or sheep; sometimes even cattle or camels. Following the slaughter. the meat of the animal is then split into three equal parts i.e. for the donor, for the donor's friends and family, and for the poor. The intention behind this practice is to ensure that every Muslim gets to eat meat.

My Experience.

In the summer of 2019, we embarked on a road trip from Istanbul to Cappadocia with our dear friends Ozgenc and Cansu. The duration of the journey is approximately 9 hours. So we decided to break the journey by spending the night at our friend's place to celebrate Eid with his family.

His family live in a small town in Izmit, Turkey and they own an orchard/farm on the outskirts of town. We were excited to experience farm life firsthand and participate in the festivities. Along the way, we saw truckloads of sheep and goats being taken to towns, villages, and cities blissfully unaware of their fate.

We reached his place around 4 pm in the afternoon and we were greeted with so much love by his loving mom and grandma. They welcomed us with some freshly brewed chai and yummy pastries and other delicious bites.

Tevan and I were immensely taken by his grandma - she was well into her nineties but still kept active. She did not speak any English while I spoke very very little Turkish but we still found a way to communicate with each other. Talking to her reminded me of my great-grandma. Tatama was the absolute best and she always had sweets in her pocket for her great-grandkids. Fizzy Cola, Hacks (the orange ones), and Kopiko were her all-time favorite. Forgive me for digressing but writing this stirred up some old memories of my beloved Tatama.

Now coming back to the main subject.

After tea, Ozgenc gave us a tour of his orchard and shared a little history about the property. We sampled a variety of fruits along the way. There were cherries, mulberries, blackberries, and other plants that I have not seen before. I had only ever seen tropical fruit trees before so I took a minute to marvel at the beautiful apple trees that were laden with apples. The next best thing was obviously eating an apple picked directly from the tree. The juicy sweet crunch from the first bite is still fresh in my mind.

With a belly full of fruity goodness, we went to visit Ozgenc's dad at his workplace. His dad was busy with Eid preparation. We learned that his dad will be one of the main persons leading the sacrifice ritual the following day. We said our hellos and left him to do his thing,

Many of Ozgenc's family live close by and they are a close-knit bunch. We visited a relative of his and they too were so hospitable and kind.

Once again we were served some delicious Turkish coffee along with a variety of finger food. Needless to say that our digestive system worked overtime during that visit. Not that I am complaining. Lol

We spent about two hours there just chatting and getting to know his relatives. We called it a night at about 9 pm and went back to Ozgenc's place. When we returned, Ozgenc's mom and grandma were in the living room watching a Hindi soap dubbed in Turkish while knitting. LOL. It was hilarious - imagine women clad in elaborately embroidered sarees and matching costume jewelry speaking in Turkish.

They had so many questions about the Indian tradition and I found out that they were ardent Bollywood fans. To the extent, that my friend Cansu told me that she wanted to wear a lehenga for her wedding reception as she was about to get married at that time. I had a blast bonding with these amazing ladies over clothes and Indian celebrities. But guess what, Cansu actually wore a lehenga for her reception and she looked stunning.

We finally hit the sack after a few rounds of cards and home-brewed wine. Tevan and I opted out of the sacrificing ritual - In all honesty, I don't think we would have been able to stomach it. We were told that the sacrifice is done quickly in a very humane manner but we avoided it as it would have been very disturbing for us to watch the ritual unfold.

Stuff like this prompts us to think about things that we take for granted - in this instance, one is reminded as to where food comes from as these days meat is so readily available in stores that we oftentimes are least bothered about the source; myself included. Food for thought?

The ritual was long over by the time we woke up and Ozgenc's folks were busy distributing the sacrificial meat. We started our day with a hearty breakfast spread and every single item on the table was homemade from the produce straight from the farm. It does not get any more organic than this. I finally uncovered the secret to their fit bodies and flawless skin.

We headed outside after breakfast to see what the scene was like outside but nothing prepared us for what we saw next. Ozgenc's 94-year-old grandma was carrying two big buckets of meat while walking uphill. She appeared calm and steady while we on the other hand appeared shell-shocked and it showed on our faces. The others found our reaction comical. I could hardly climb the hill empty-handed without huffing and puffing and here is this woman in her 90s doing her thing ever so effortlessly. Grandma is a true embodiment of women's power and strength. This sure put things into perspective for me. The most obvious one is the dire need to improve my stamina.

The next task ahead was to chop the large slabs of meat into smaller pieces which is no easy feat by the way. There is an art to it. We offered to help but Grandma politely declined because she said that we were slowing her down. Lol. So we left it to the pro.

Food is always the center stage in any celebration and traditionally Kavurma is served during Eid. Kavurma is basically sautéed meat dish that is very easy to prepare, typically served with Turkish rice pilaf, salad, and corba (soup).

Guests started to arrive as the feast was being prepared. Family and cultural values are deeply embedded in Turkish society. The elderly are regarded with the utmost respect and during festivities the first visit it paid to the eldest member of the family as a mark of honour. So the whole family gathered to visit Grandma and seek her blessings on this special day.

It was so heartwarming to see the whole family come together, share a meal and have a good time. We finished off the meal with some sinful Baklava. It was so good that we all went for seconds.

It was a nice laid-back afternoon and everyone was having a pleasant time. The ladies were busy exchanging stories while the men hung out with the kids who were playing ball.

And just like that it was time for us to leave. We said our goodbyes and thanked Ozgenc for opening their homes to us.

Grandma's socks keeping me warm during winter

Just before leaving, Grandma pulled me aside and gifted me a pair of socks that she had knitted herself. This sweet old lady had stayed up late to finish knitting the socks. The sweetness of her kind gesture tugged at my heart. These bright blue socks will always be my favorite pair.

We bid adieu to our amazing host and left for Cappadocia.

A quaint cottage overlooking a lake at Bolu National Park

We are so glad that we made this trip because we saw so many hidden gems along the way, met some great people, and made so many fantastic memories. These are the stories that I someday hope to share with my kids and grandkids.

I live for fulfilling experiences like this and the stay at Ozgenc's place was indeed full - full of warmth, full of scrumptious food, full of happy faces, and full, full, full of love.

Grandma recently passed away and although I have met her only twice; she left a great impact on me. She had so much love to give and she was all heart. I am grateful for the privilege of knowing her. May her soul rest in peace.

Allow me to round up this post by wishing Muslims all over the world a very Happy Eid al-Adha and Iyi Bayramlar. May this Eid al-Adha bring peace, prosperity, and happiness to you and your family.

Till next time. Toodles

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