Grand County Rotary exchange student learns the traditions of Turkish ‘Sacrifice Celebration’
February 18, 2008
My host parents and I left in the early afternoon. As we walked to the bus stop, on a road near our house, I noticed two young men carrying a light-colored sack between them.
Redness was seeping through the cloth where it was pulled tight by the pressure of the fresh meat inside it.
We passed them. I noticed little puddles of blood trailing them on the road. It lead all the way up the street.
We went to the crowded bus stop, and a man waiting there was carrying two plastic bags, blood was also dripping from them onto the sidewalk.
This was my first impression of the holiday ” Kurban Bayram or Sacrifice Celebration.
A week before, I was riding the bus when I had looked out my window to see rows of pens lining the city street filled with sheep, goats, and cows. I knew that the holiday was coming, and knew what must happen to the animals.
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It is a religious holiday. Animals are sacrificed, then the meat is divided among the less fortunate and some kept for the family.
Like the previous holiday after Ramadan, we were on our way to make a visit to my host mother, Selen’s grandmother. I was told I would not be seeing any actual sacrificing by Selen, who has a very strong dislike for blood and meat in general.
Upon arriving at the apartment, we were instantly greeted and ushered in by more of her family. Having just enough time to take off my coat, I was lead into the kitchen to eat. I was surprised to find that the only meat on the table was, as long as I understood correctly, was cow lung. In my opinion, it was neither good nor bad as I finished that last on my plate. I sipped down the rest of my tea from its small glass, my stomach full.
I joined Selen’s cousins, aunt and brother in the sitting room and began the answering of the usual questions asked of me: Are you well? How do you like it here? You are learning Turkish or taking lessons? What school are you going to? What classes are you taking? They smile as I understand and answer them in small sentences of Turkish.
Then, I sit and listen as they begin to chat among themselves. They speak too fast for me to understand completely, but I catch words and phrases.
Darkness had long set, and people began to say their farewells. I learned tonight we would not be going home, but instead to Selen’s parents’ house. I followed her brother out the door as the rest followed us, saying goodbye to our gracious host.
Outside, we were coming to the end of the block, when Selen’s brother stopped short at the road before him. He turned around and called for his sister. I continued up to where he was standing. Since the road we were facing ran down a steep hill, the blood from a sacrificed animal up the road had run down covering the street in red. I followed their dad carefully along the edge of the road, thinking how I had never come across anything such as this before.
From the parking lot, it was a long ride home. Selen’s father had a five passenger car, where as we were six.
My host dad, Selen, her brother, and I were squeezed into the back. Even though we were tired from the filling food and travel of the day, some of us managed to stay up with a movie and chat randomly before hitting our heads to the pillow for a short night’s rest.
Following breakfast the next morning, we once again piled into the car to visit Selen’s other aunt and grandmother.
Even though the day was still a holiday, the roads were crowded with cars, each filled with a family also on its way to visit relatives.
More aunts and uncles greeted me as we slipped off our shoes to enter the house.
Once again, food began to fill the small table as the final touches were made to yet another big meal. As we waited, I was introduced to one of the cousins; she was 8. Even though she was too shy to speak to me, I did overhear her whisper colors in English as I pulled out my multi-colored notebook from my bag.
After a delicious meal, followed by baklava for dessert, the late evening passed quickly. We made our way out the door into the cool air, stumbling in the dark to put on our shoes. Selen’s father drove as far as the bridge crossing over the Bosporus River. My host parents and I walked to the nearest bus stop to catch a cab home; since Selen’s parents lived on the European side, they needed to cross the bridge, while we had to remain.
Semester break came soon afterward, but unlike I am used to, there was no snow on the ground to mark it as mid-winter.
For the first nine days of break, the Rotary Club took myself and nine other exchange students in Istanbul on a tour of Southern Turkey. The scenic views and numerous excavated sights were breathtaking and could not fall short of anything less than amazing. With even more Roman ruins than Italy, Turkey’s historic splendor offered all of us a new look at history that I had only seen in the pages of school books.
After returning home from our tour, I changed host families. Since it is a part of the Rotary program to switch, many of us were informed we would be needing to pack.
Saying goodbye to my first family was difficult, but I was reminded that I would still be in the same city with them when they welcomed me to stop by anytime or give them a call if I needed.
The same day, I heaved my large suitcases up a set of stairs in a different apartment building in a new area. Now, it is just my new host mom and I. Her husband passed away many years ago, and her son is in Germany as a Rotary exchange student and her daughter is studying at a university in Vienna.
My new host mom does not know English. I am thrilled to know that I have no choice now but to continue to practice speaking and understanding Turkish. She is patient, and I was surprised how well we are able to communicate; she can understand me when I speak, and I can understand her. We have had a few confused moments, but they are laughed off.
Even though I am no longer able to be a part of the customs and traditions of my first family, I have a chance to appreciate and learn the ones of another. Changing families and having a chance to live in a slightly different lifestyle is yet another enriching opportunity of many Rotary, Istanbul and Turkey continue to offer.
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