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Amber Paulen

Eid-ul Adha

Taken from the current draft of The Body’s Long Madness. See supplement SEX in this same chapter.

The Islamic holiday of Eid-ul Adha coincides with the day before Valerie’s planned departure from Nabeul.

Valerie wakes that morning, an outsider to what seems to her like a gruesome holiday. She is the only one staying at the hostel, she has been but for the night a large group of German bikers passed through, and was invited by the family to partake in their festivities. But that morning, waking up to smoking sheep flesh and black sheep head and bloody sheep skin, the darling fluffy sheep seen tied to a stake the day before, Valerie keeps her distance and smiles and waves at the group and again shakes her head, no, she’s not going over there. Anyway, she’s been invited to Fouad’s much later past the killing.

Fouad had warned her the day before that all the cute fuzzy sheep seen in every yard tied to a stake would in the morning be slaughtered by the man of the family, skinned and cooked. But that it would actually happen? If anything, Valerie supposes, it brings the family closer to the food.

She did not expect, after passing some time on the grey-watered beach, walking through the silent daytime streets, that the gutters would flow with blood and that blood would trickle under every doorway to join the larger river of blood stagnant and pungent in the shallow ditch. Valerie tries to imagine Americans pulling this holiday off, the slaughtering of the golden calf let’s say, but the picture deforms on contact: a suburban dad holding a knife to an animal’s throat, a suburban dad wading through a puddle of blood spilled by his own making.

Americans like things neat, they like things tidy; they would rather be poisoned than to gain real knowledge of what is actually going on with the food they eat everyday. Here in Tunisia it is streets rippling with blood, it’s the knife tearing between muscle and skin, the knife severing the head as the family stands on watching, proud, this blood is spilled so that we can eat, from you and for you. Maybe that’s the difference, pride. What pride does the suburban dad have but the gas-guzzling SUV sitting in the driveway and the house at the end of it; mere constructs of false desire that scream out, “I must be saved!”

As Valerie sees it, as the light changes through a thin cloud cover, slowly passing into none, the current of blood so wrought with the sour smell of death, is preferable to any American amenity, microwaves, immaculate autoways, florescent cereals and shiny straight white teeth, aisles and aisles upon aisles of plastic wrapped meat, plastic wrapped sheep and cows and pigs. The blood and the thought of the knife which initially caused the spasm of vomit to rise is preferable to what Valerie believes the ‘American Dream’ to be selling.

Inside Valerie is something like a barometer; in absence of weather conditions to be measured the barometer’s needle jumps to zenith when sensing what is ‘real.’ Real is Valerie’s watchdog, it’s all that she ever expects from herself; real has to do with timelessness and real mercilessly excommunicates that which is not real. Valerie knows what is real and not real by the instinct with which the needle jumps.

Valerie backtracks to the old Arabic coffee shop where Fouad and her had an espresso that first morning and where Fouad is to meet her now. She wonders if part-root to her fervent criticism of The States is the backwash of one’s own country so forcefully disavowed. That she is in an Arabic country at the same pivotal moment in time as another Arabic country feels the horrendous devastation of the younger Bush’s grave politics; that she has met friends and their families similar to other friends and other families that power-mongering country has slaughtered and bled all for the sake of another cliche, freedom? Perhaps this is part cause for her barometer to skip a beat while walking along the blood soaked road… but what if this blood standing in the shallow ditch was Fouad’s blood and the country that had screamed out “War!” was her own? That thought is pain seared by fire as the sheep’s muscle and the sheep’s flesh are seared; and she wonders what it would take to burn off the label of American from her name; she wonders at the limit of pain her sensitive soul can endure.

Bracciano Italy
June 2008


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