The hosts were my neighbors. They had saved their invitation for this special night that would be just for family. I was the only outsider present. Being wedged into a corner was a place of honor. There was no escaping the seat and get up to help anyone, fetch tea, pass finger bowls, dish up saucers of salads. In the center of the table was a roasted ram’s head, charred, hairless, bug-eyed. A tasty mixture of brains, garlic, spices, had refilled the open cavity. I was as unprepared for this as, perhaps, you, dear reader, were.
The table was piled with small schlade, plates of salad – orange, carrot, and cinnamon; eggplant fried with garlic and tomato; tomato, cucumber, and mint; artichoke, lemons, and olives – baskets of fresh bread for eating the schlade and brains. A lamb couscous and brochettes were to follow, rounded off with tea and cookies. I would not go hungry, but avoiding the ram’s head was not an option. Composure fraying, nerves on edge, I reached for a piece of bread and dipped.
The family drew close, watching for my reaction, and delighting in the prospect of a gustatory treat. The four kids assured themselves that I was going to surprise myself by what I had missed, once I had tasted. And it was OK. There was no gagging. I dipped back in for more, along with everyone else. With so many sharing, there was no undue burden to eat more than a token number of tastes.
It was like many things experienced during my years abroad – far less exotic than most hope when they fish for stories about adventures in North Africa. The banter was no different from what went on around a Thanksgiving or Easter table Stateside, when a foreign exchange student was present. Fatima with her high pitched voice told them to back off. Si Ahmed vowed that this was all in good fun. While different in the specifics, this, and many of the other experiences, had their parallels in life in the US.
Even the story of the Eid was familiar to someone raised hearing Bible stories. It commemorated the time when Abraham had been commanded to sacrifice his son to prove his love of God. A ram appeared as a last minute reprieve. Certainly an event worth celebrating. No less mystical than a rolled back stone and an empty tomb.
I enjoyed the meal, the last of that holiday season. I attended other Eids, but this was the only one with brains. I can’t say I was sorry, but I would have been all right with more.
“What was the strangest thing you ever ate, and how did you react?” 712 More Things To Write About by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. 2014 Chronicle Books LLC.
—- I am going to try to post a response to a prompt from this and 642 Things To Write About at least once a week. The prompt will always follow the response. While the prompts are from The SFWG, the responses are my own. Some of these may be expanded at a later date.
© 2016 Susan Dewey