By Gregory R., YES Abroad 2017-2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Hopkinton, MA
This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to take part in the Bosnian form of the Muslim holiday: Eid al-Adha (known as Kurban Bajram in Bosnian). While I am not an expert, I would expect that celebrating both new and traditional holidays for exchange students. It definitely was this way for me! After arriving in Sarajevo only two weeks before, my host family was suddenly trying to explain to me that we were going to celebrate one of the holiest Muslim holidays of the whole year. Something about giving food to the poor, visiting family, and going to the mosque before sunrise was all that we really talked about.
The day turned out to be much more than that! We woke up at the crack of dawn and my host father, two host brothers, and I went together to a neighborhood mosque. There, like they had taught me the night before, we took to the beautiful carpeted floors and performed the Eid prayer and listened to the service. While I could not understand anything said, just being there was a testament to the spirit of brotherhood and my host community has to welcome me, an American Christian, into their holiday. That in itself is inspiring enough. After wishing a happy Bajram to everyone around me and embracing each member of my family, we began the other festivities of Bajram.
As I was told, Bajram is a day that is supposed to remind the Muslim community of the virtues of sacrifice. Thus, upon arriving home, we met my host mother at the door with a “Happy Bajram,” changed our clothes, and started the next activity: the sacrifice of a ram. I was uneasy with this part. I understand that this is where meat comes from and that unless I want to turn vegan, this is how it works. But I did not really understand why we would need three rams worth of meat sitting around all in the name of a holiday.
Pretty soon, however, the many members of my large extended host family began to arrive, and quickly, the socializing, eating, and drinking put a stop to my worries about the rams—I just enjoyed the chance to spend time with my wonderful, new family. After a big lunch of goulash, lamb, baklava, and many cups of Bosnian coffee, we cleaned up and packed into the car to visit more friends and family at their homes, which included more baklava, fruit, and Bosnian coffee, of course. We also stopped along the way to cemeteries where those relatives who could not join us were laid to rest, including my host father’s two brothers, who lost their lives in the Bosnian War.
When we finally returned home, I asked my host father about the rams. He said Tarik, my host brother, had already taken the meat to be dropped off somewhere. Where? A home for children with disabilities, who only get to taste something as good as fresh lamb once a year.
By this point I thought we were done for the day—we had left the house at 5am, and it was approaching 9pm. But my host brother Tarik told my host parents that he was going to take us to visit his girlfriend and her sister in Sarajevo. While we walked through the streets of the old Turkish quarter, called Bascarsija, I was tired, more than a little confused by all the Bosnian being spoken around me, and thinking wistfully about my bed. However, it was on this walk that I came to realize what Bajram is about. It is not only the rams that gave of themselves that day. Muslims across Bosnia and Herzegovina opened their homes, refrigerators, and wallets to friends, family, neighbors, and, most importantly, their community. Bajram is about giving of one’s self to make one day a year that everyone can enjoy.