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May Sweet Things Follow You

In an Eritrean home, the morning before a holiday is a very busy one. Usually, the family man goes to the cattle market and buys a sheep or a goat on the holiday eve. Many people prefer sheep to goats. Therefore, many (if they can help it) do not buy goats. I don’t know why they do not prefer to eat goat’s meat. It could be because of religious reasons. Or just preferences.

Some people say, “The goat is an unclean animal. That is why we don’t prefer it. The sheep is our preference.”

Some other people do not want to kill a sheep or a goat. Instead, they want to join forces, buy an ox, and share the meat in an arrangement called guzi or nay ahwat. In such an arrangement, people jointly cover all their expenses, and share the meat according to their financial contributions. Such practice allows men to avoid the unpleasantness of killing an animal at home. For to kill an animal at home is very unpleasant for many.

A man who can’t slaughter an animal and makes it ready for cooking is not a full man. At least some people think so. In addition to courage, physical strength, etc. A man should have the ability to kill and skin an animal, these people think. They forget that different cultures have different criteria for manliness, and that this could be a very narrow definition of the term. It doesn’t matter if there are other criteria, theirs stands out. It doesn’t matter if you have a college degree or not, and whether you are educated or not educated. It doesn’t matter also if you are or are not successful professionally. In these people’s view, it is your ability to kill and skin an animal that makes you a man.

Such people are not willing to accept the fact that one cannot kill and skin an animal.

“You are not kidding, are you?”“No, I am not kidding,” you answer. “Why would I kid you?”

“Then, who kills the sheep or goat for your family in the holidays?”

“I hire someone who has such a skill.”

“How long will you hire such a butcher?” they ask in surprise and advise you that you learn how to.

In the countryside, young people are taught this skill. “You should get this” the young are advised. “Who will you ask to kill and skin your sheep for you?”

In the countryside, this is a very useful skill. Young people need this for the following reasons. Firstly, people cannot hire butchers. People do not offer such skills for sale. Most men can slaughter animals and, therefore, there is no market for this skill. In addition, someone who asks for payment for such skinning animals would be ostracized. He is expected to offer such services free of charge. Secondly, if young people don’t have this skill they fail to live in Rome like the Romans, and expose themselves to ridicule and shame. So, if they want to live with self-respect they have to learn this skill. They cannot bear the shame if they don’t have it. They may not even find a suitor for no self-respecting young woman would accept a marriage proposal from a ‘handicapped man’.

Even in towns, it is very useful for it can help you save some money. If someone is very capable, he may even sell his skills during holidays. In fact, many butchers these have this trade as an additional job. They got this skill while young, and now sell their services, which is in great demand, during the holidays.

Apart from its employability, however, killing animals cannot stand the test of manliness in the presence of unmanly all other people who do courageous and useful things for humanity be they men or women. In addition, such attitude has a hint of male chauvinism, for it intentionally calls such a skill a man’s ability.

On the day of the holiday, some women do not accept the fact that no animal is killed at home. I have often heard such complaints come from women. Such women say, “We should kill an animal, and shed blood here. It even may be a chicken.” I have not heard men making such strange requests. Many men find such requests hard to understand. For them, there is no difference between the meat they have just brought from a butcher’s and the meat their wives say should come from a sheep or goat slaughtered at home. Therefore, to preserve the spirit of the holiday, a chicken may be killed at home. Without a bloodshed at home, these women don’t feel they are celebrating a holiday. For them, it is just another day. It is the blood that is shed that makes the day a holiday.

Often, the meals include a variety of dishes. If the family is to enjoy a delicious chicken, the woman must make ready the chicken, which takes hours to cook. The family enjoys this for lunch and has to eat another kind of food for dinner, which has to be prepared the night before the holiday. The woman prepares meat sauce, which is served with injera. But, before the family eats meat sauce they have to eat what an Eritrean family calls, dulot. It is unthinkable for a family to eat any kind of food before they enjoy the dulot.

Cooking has purely been a woman’s job. Though this is changing slowly. In Eritrea many men still do not cook. It is considered unmanly for a man to get into the kitchen and cook food even for his family. It is ‘shameful’ for a man to cook or wash dishes. Most men and most women do not accept it. For this reason, a man should not be seen cooking in the kitchen. Especially, other women (other than his wife) should not see him in the kitchen. Unless a woman is enlightened, she won’t allow her husband in the kitchen. Therefore, the first person who would resist change in this regard would be the man’s wife, if she is not enlightened.

“Do you want to help your wife?” people ask. “Split wood for her. Or do other manly tasks. You leave women’s work to women.” Though these people have no convincing reasons why men should not engage in such activities, they won’t accept any man doing these tasks. They are just women’s tasks and should be left to women. No explanation. No reasons for their arguments. “Men and boys have no business messing with women’s work,” they say.

The food has already been cooked. And the injera is ready. The woman has cleaned the house, washed the dishes, and has set the table. Children are asked to wash their hands and come forward to the table. The smell from the pot fills the room when the woman lifts the cover, and everyone savors the smell. It smells good.

But to prepare this delicious food the woman had to forgo her sleep to the night before. She is tired; she is exhausted. But she is happy, for this is a very rare occasion for her and her family. They cannot enjoy such beautiful moments all the time. Now, the family can enjoy the meal. In the afternoon, they will have a coffee ceremony, with all the family present.

Her husband takes a piece of injera, and he stretches his hand towards her and she breaks a piece of the injera and takes a small piece. He then lets the eldest child take another piece, and then the next oldest child and so on. “Tuum,” one of the children calls out to the woman. “Delicious.” This is one of the compliments that gladdens her heart. For nothing can make an Eritrean woman happier than her children and her husband enjoying the food she has cooked. She responds, “Tuum yihabkum,” (“May sweet things follow you.”)

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