Ways of Seeing: Finding a way to celebrate heritage


Eid Mubarak!

This past month (April) was Ramadan this year, and on May 2 Eid al-FItr was celebrated to end the month of fasting. It’s easy to miss here in Vermont, where the Muslim population is fairly small. COVID hasn’t helped as most community celebrations have been canceled the past couple years. 

Even under normal circumstances, I have found it very hard to share this aspect of my daughter’s heritage with her while in Vermont. For the first couple years of her life we were living in Mauritania, a Muslim country, and the big feasts to celebrate Eid and Tabaski were the major holidays in the year. The month of Ramadan was our month of vacation; in fact our calendar revolved around it because we weren’t going to get any students to come study English while they were fasting all day.

In Mauritania to prepare for the feast everyone gets new clothes made at the tailor’s: bright colors and patterns with elaborate embroidery, all starched until stiff and shiny. Women get their hair braided, and every family who is able to slaughters a sheep.

After a month of fasting from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, waiting for the call to prayer from the muezzins to break the fast with dates dipped in créme fraiche, everyone is ready for several days of feasting. You visit friends and family all day, and every place you visit you are served huge platters of meat, couscous, potatoes, rice, and you are expected to eat.

There was one year that the feast day is clearly etched in my memory. My (now ex) husband, my daughter and I all got dressed in our new outfits and headed out to visit family. Everywhere were people out in their new outfits, and people cooking enormous meals in huge pots (think 20 gallons) over fires outside their houses. It had recently rained, a rare occurrence in the desert and one that is disastrous for the roads in the city. They are a maze of sand and broken and potholed pavement when dry — and treacherous when submerged.

We reached an intersection covered with a sea of water, the unknown surface hidden beneath. After waiting a minute or two we saw a taxi head through the water, and guessing they knew the road, we attempted to follow. Unfortunately, we drove into one of the huge potholes and the car got stuck. Water was leaking in through the floor near the driver’s seat. In our fancy feast clothes my daughter and I sat in the back while my husband took off his shoes he had just shined that morning, rolled up the starched legs of his pants and got out of the car. 

Luckily it was a busy intersection and several onlookers, all dressed up for the feast, rolled up their own outfits and waded into the water to help. Eventually a rope was found and they tied it to a truck and pulled us out. We then followed a man who led us on the safe path through the remaining morass. We arrived very late, and a bit sodden, for the feast at the family’s house.

Our Eid this year in Vermont was quiet. I made a traditional couscous, bissap (a sweet drink made from steeped hibiscus flowers) and beignets (donuts) and we had a small meal with family. 

My daughter was too young to remember those celebrations with family in Mauritania — we left before she turned three. And while celebrating Eid in Mauritania can be exhausting and overwhelming, it is a holiday without cards or candy or presents, the main focus of which is spending time with family. I hope someday to be able to share an Eid with my daughter in Mauritania that she will remember.

Claire Corkins grew up and lives in Bristol and studied Human Ecology at College of the Atlantic in Maine. After college she worked abroad teaching English as a second language. She currently works with her father in such various endeavors as painting houses, tiling bathrooms, building porches, and fixing old windows. She hikes, reads, plays ice hockey, travels, and wishes she could wear flip-flops all year round.

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