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Holiday Cow Shopping In Kabul

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Holiday Cow Shopping In Kabul

Holiday Cow Shopping In Kabul

Holiday Cow Shopping In Kabul

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The livestock market in western Kabul, where thousands of cows and sheep are being sold for the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice holiday Monday. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR hide caption

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Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR

The livestock market in western Kabul, where thousands of cows and sheep are being sold for the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice holiday Monday.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR

NPR Kabul bureau manager Rahmatullah, with the bureau's cow. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR

NPR Kabul bureau manager Rahmatullah, with the bureau's cow.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR

Muslims are celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice, which commemorates the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, at God's command.

The holiday is observed each year at the conclusion of the annual hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and is the most important on the calendar in Afghanistan.

Traditionally, those who have the means sacrifice a cow or sheep and share the meat with family, neighbors and the poor.

There are cows as far as the eye can see here in a market on the western edge of Kabul — a veritable feast for tens of thousands of families in what is one of the poorest nations on the planet.

A NATO helicopter flies overhead toward Wardak, a province rife with Taliban about a 20-minute drive from the market. But sales, not security, are on people's minds here.

The cows must be sold before the holiday if their owners are to turn a profit. But there just aren't a lot of people buying this year.

"It's in God's hands," says Jen Agha, a livestock salesman. Like his colleagues, he wavers between hope for a last-minute customer rush and fear that he will lose his investment.

A nationwide drought and skyrocketing food prices have made this year's buildup to Afghanistan's favorite holiday a bittersweet one. Just about all of the cows here had to be imported from Pakistan, and vendors say that adds about $100 over last year's price.

The increase alone is more than a month's salary for most Afghan families, but vendors say they'll drop their prices if sales stay low.

My bureau manager, Rahmatullah, and I are among the few people looking to buy an animal.

Rahmatullah tells a salesman we are looking for a calf, one old enough to meet Islamic guidelines for the sacrifice. Teeth factor into that decision — the two big teeth have to be in, but not the little teeth.

Salesman Tanadar presents us with a calf that's nearly as tall as I am.

It's a really big one. It's black and white — it looks like a milk cow with horns. The cow we settle on is two years old and weighs 200 kilograms. Rahmatullah says that's enough to feed the staff, as well as neighbors and the poor.

I ask Rahmatullah who is going to slaughter the cow, and he says I should do it. Laughing, I say I'm not doing it and suggest he hire a butcher to slice the neck, drain the blood and say the prayers required for the ceremony in our courtyard Monday.

Then we'll divide the meat among my staff members. They, in turn, will give two-thirds of their share to neighbors who aren't sacrificing an animal, as well as to the poor.

Finally, we haggle over price. We settle on $530 — that's better than last year. And for $10 more, we hire a pickup to carry our calf to town.