The man who suddenly starts talking to me is angry. ‘This is not how it’s supposed to be done’, he says, ‘this is not how it’s supposed to be done’.
We are standing in a so called ‘Kurban Kesim Yeri’, an open air space designated by Istanbul municipality to butcher animals for the Feast of Sacrifice. Mainly cows are slaughtered, but quite a few sheep too. It’s like a production line: on the right is where the butchering takes place, one by one ten cows and several sheep being killed by a couple of butchers. These ten are axed into big pieces, and then the butchers carry them to long tables on the left, where more butchers are standing. There the meat is cut into smaller pieces. The animals have all been bought live by people, and the animals have a number. When it’s your cow’s turn, you keep an eye on it, stand by as it is cut into smaller pieces and you keep big plastic bags ready to put the meat in.
It’s a bloody scene and the smell is horrible. I can take it, simply because I’m a very curious woman, interested in everything. But the man standing next to me is disgusted, totally disgusted. He has seen the Feast of Sacrifice butchering since he was a small child, but never like this. He explains that if you follow the Islamic rules, the cow should be blindfolded, it needs to be comforted and stroked – ‘The animal must feel loved’ – and before the throat is slit, a prayer must be said. And he is right, I remember it happened just like that last year, when I was in a village during these days and watched the sacrificing. ‘You are not allowed to scare the animal’, the angry, disillusioned man tells me. ‘But these animals are waiting in line, see the other cows get killed, walk on the remains of their kind, smell the blood. They don’t think like us humans, of course, but I’m sure they are very scared.’
At that moment – and I’m not making this up – people around us start running: one of the cows that was about to be thrown over on the floor to be killed broke loose and ran towards us. I run, the guy I was talking to runs, we and some other people almost fall and are almost knocked over by the cow. A scary moment, and it instantly makes clear what the man was saying: there is nothing much religious and sacred about the slaughtering going on here. He says: ‘We wanted to have a cow killed here, but we cancelled our plans on seeing this. We are Muslims, how could we ever eat meat that is prepared like this on a religious day?’ Then he walks off.
I’m off too. My legs are trembling. On the way home, I pass by a bakery shop. I buy a big fat piece of pie. You could call it comfort food.