Party for the God in Luxor
by Jane Akshar
Here in Luxor in the village of Al Gezera El Bariat we just had a Party for the God. This was the second one we have held. The first was to give thanks for the successful building of the flats (apartments) and this second one was to give thanks for our first year. It is also meant to ward off evil eyes, a holdover from Egypt's ancient past. The locals believe that jealous people can have a detrimental affect on others and so they will often have some kind of religious ceremony to negate this.These are really joyous occasions that, if one is lucky enough to find one going on, can be fun for tourists as well.
The party consists of feeding the poor and locals with a sacrificed bull and having a sheik singing religious songs. The men dance along to these songs in an almost religious trance somewhat similar to that of the Whirling Dervishes.
The preparation begins with finding a place to hold it. Fortunately for us there is farm land in front of our flats and we negotiated with the owner to delay planting so we could use the land. Permission must also be obtained from the authorities for things like loud speakers.
The family spends days hand-making bread, which in the summer heat is a serious challenge. But they dont mind because it is for the God, and everyone in the village will have a grand time during these special events.
The bull is a special one that has been kept in the dark all its life and fed by only one person. It was brought to the flats to be killed and was not in any way distressed but just seemed to be curious. The butchers are specially brought in and recite the Koran as they cut its throat. For those of you that have seen tomb paintings of sacrificed animals, the procedure today is identical. They truss the bull in exactly the same manner as they did then and cut its throat in exactly the same place. It was amazing to watch this real life version of Ancient Egypt.
A portion of the meat is weighed and parceled up and a list made of poor people in the area. Often, these are widows and a parcel of meat like this is a real treat. The next day these parcels are delivered and in all the homes thanks are made to the God.
All night long chefs hired from local hotels prepare and cook food for the next day. Hundreds of people will be fed and there has to be enough for every one. Huge blocks of ice are brought in to keep the water cool.
The field is covered with carpets, chairs, benches and lights and hung with canvas to make an open air room. There has to be room and seats enough for the 1,000 men that will attend. A few women will also come but they will stay in one of the flats viewing the ceremony from the balcony. This is definitely a men only event.
The whole area is strung with lights and the cacophony of sound is everywhere. I pity the poor guests staying in the flats this night. They wont get much sleep.
Honored Guests at the Celebration A row of water taps is set up outside to allow the streams of men who will wash before and after eating. Egyptians are such a clean race and need facilities like this.
Small children race around everywhere, dressed in their party frocks. Everyone is in their best clothes tonight. A chief of police comes and is entertained in a secluded area. As the local service cars go past they sound their horns. Everyone on the West Bank who can be, is at the party.
A constant stream of tea is being prepared and served to the seated guests. The next morning the area where this has gone on is littered with packets and packets of tea. The only other drink offered is ice cold water.
The food starts being served just after sunset. Waiters recruited from the local hotels are busy laying the tables and serving the food. As well as meat from the cow there are local dishes like moulakhia, banya and fasouli. Setting after setting of guests are served and the waiters never seem to tire.
Sheik Amin El Dishwani arrives just before midnight and sings the religious songs for 5 hours. The audience is totally mesmerized. The men dance this peculiar swaying dance and, at times, when the sheikh catches his breath, you can hear their chanting. You are carried away by the mystic rhythmic music and dance. If you can understand Arabic it is even more moving, but even the visitors can appreciate the sincerity and spirituality of the event. It is a privilege to be there.
The event has a huge attendance. It is much bigger than expected and instead of 1,000 it looks like there were 2,000 people here tonight. A huge sea of people are dancing and watching, fueled by nothing stronger than tea and a love of God. It is an incredible sight to witness and be a part of. It is being videoed and the live feed from the camera is displayed on a screen at the back for those that cant get near the front. Everyone is good natured and polite, there is no trouble or fights at this event, no need for crowd control.
Finally, at 5:30 am, the sheik stops and is taken upstairs for something to eat. The host and bodyguards have to protect him from a mass of people reaching out trying to be blessed. He is so kind and humble coming out onto the balcony where the women have moved in order to kiss their hands. He blesses some water and sleepy children are woken up so they may drink of this. The cup is passed from hand to hand. The dishes that he has eaten from are carefully taken and everyone shares of the remnants. This food will not be thrown away. Others will sit in the chair he sat in. The men are so pleased and proud to have the honor of entertaining him in their homes.
This then, is how the Egyptians celebrate a building addition. While elsewhere in the world, the workers may simply move on to the next project, Egyptians make a celebration that will christen the project for a hopeful future, carrying on ancient Egyptian traditions in a new world.
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Last Updated: June 13th, 2011