I have a confession to make. Eid is boring and makes me homesick.
I know, I know, it sounds terrible. And it also doesn’t sound right. How can Eid be boring, especially since I live in a Muslim country? I have plenty of American friends who enjoy Eid in the US, how much better should it be in a place where everyone is celebrating? Why is it boring?
I’ll tell you.
It is because everyone (else) is celebrating.
For my non-Muslim friends in the US who get invited to Eid celebrations, it is an interesting addition to a regular day. A day of work or school or parenting, throw in a party with pretty clothes and good food and it is a uniquely fun day. And they get invited because Muslims in American know that not everyone around them is Muslim. Many of them reach out to include the other because they know what it is like to be the other.
In Djibouti people forget about the other on Eid. I don’t blame them, they are focused on their families. How many Christian families in Minnesota invite a foreign exchange student, a refugee, international coworker, or an immigrant to their family Christmas Eve dinner at Grandma’s? A few, but not many. And many a foreign exchange student, refugee, international coworker, and immigrant spend Christmas looking out their windows and dreaming of curry or samboosas or gelato or whatever tastes like home, like a holiday, to them.
Tom and I were invited to an iftar (breaking the fast) meal earlier this week. Fabulous food and hilarious friends to spend the evening with. But on Eid I had to make myself invited. I brought a loaf of fresh bread to our new neighbors, a worthy excuse to meet them. I returned a broken microwave (Tom was unable to fix it) to one of my longest-term friends here, another worthy excuse to visit. Then my daughter and I visited some other expatriates and went out for ice cream.
When you are a foreigner in a foreign land and everyone else is celebrating a holiday that isn’t yours, there is a hollowness, even when you are invited. A faint echo of memories of Easter egg hunts and turkeys and Christmas trees and Halloween costumes.
Part of the additional loneliness this year is that we used to live in a duplex and the family below us, our landlords, were Djiboutian and had a million relatives who all showed up on Eid. This family was the patriarch and matriarch. They brought us special food for breakfast and shared their lunch feast. But they shared it by bringing it to our door, not by inviting us into their home. We could have walked in, and often we did (on Eid and almost daily otherwise). But sometimes there was a clear sense that this was a special family day.
Our kids played in the yard with the Djiboutian kids, clean in new clothes and armed with unbroken (yet) plastic AK-47s and BB guns. And then they all left to visit other relatives. The yard quieted, the house emptied except for the house helpers doing dishes, and we retreated upstairs.
We used to pursue participation more aggressively. We invited ourselves to meals, we showed up at houses unannounced. But we have been here now for twenty Eids and at least this year the novelty has worn off, the effort feels heavy. I’m tired of being an imposition. I’m tired of being an honored guest. I want to own a holiday the way my cousins owned Christmas from the top of the sledding hill. I want to get my hands dirty on a holiday the way my aunts worked in the kitchen. I want the songs to be songs from my childhood that still make me laugh so hard I cry, like when my mom sings (word-for-word, people) from The New Kids On The Block Christmas cassette tape.
I’m happy to say Eid Mubarak and I love watching fathers hold their daughters hands and walk to the park, the girls have new ribbons in their hair and matching dresses three sizes too big, to grow into. I enjoy talking about the holiday with friends, sensing their anticipation, and hearing about their celebration, talking about fasting and what all the prophets taught about it.
These words about boring and homesick aren’t coming from a whining or complaining spirit, at least not that I can discern. And homesick might be too strong a word. I feel at home here too. Maybe home-missing or home-divided.
I’m just trying to say that it is hard and lonely to watch everyone else celebrate, to be reminded yet again that we are the other, the unusual ones, the outsider.
I’m just trying to say, think about that on your next holiday. Who could you invite? Not just to a special party in the weeks preceding the holiday, but to the main event? To your inner circle? To your card games and special treats and inside jokes and sleigh rides?
I’m just trying to say that sometimes it is hard on Eid to watch through a window and dream of my mom’s Christmas morning monkey brains and egg bake.
Muslims, how do you feel on Christian holidays? Christians, on Muslim holidays is it just me?