Interview with Author Farheen Khan on "Ali and the Eid Goat"
In Ali and the Eid Goat, Ali visits Pakistan with his family and gets a chance to become good friends with an Eid Goat. Ali meets his cousins and experiences Pakistan, from the warm people and culture to the striking poverty so many people face. This story is an enlightening insider's view of Pakistan (but with Ali along for the ride, we know it’s going to be fun!).
Today Farheen Khan sits with us to answer some of our pressing questions!
Salam alaikum and welcome Farheen.
Walaikum assalam, thank you for having me.
I love that this book is centered on love of animals. Did you have pets growing up?
I did! We had pets in Pakistan, but my parents felt the homes in Canada were too closed-in to have animals.
However, when I was in high school I picked up typhoid on a trip to Pakistan which didn't manifest its symptoms until returning to Canada. No one knew what was wrong with me and I'm pretty sure my family thought I was going to die... so they got me a cat! An adorable little black kitten that used to run around the house in a blur. Alhumdulillah I got better, and the cat got to stay.
That’s a heartwarming story. Alhamdullilah, I’m glad you recovered! How does your book celebrate Pakistani culture?
I hope my love for Pakistani culture comes across in the story even though I tried to be objective and show both the good and the bad. On the one hand, the people are so loving and welcoming, but there is a lot of poverty and a big divide among different socioeconomic classes.
How was your own experience in Pakistan?
My first memories are from when I was 5 or 6. My father's mom passed away, so he went to take care of his younger siblings. We stayed for 2 years.
As a child visiting Pakistan, I found it very disturbing to see the poverty, especially among the children. There were kids younger than me begging on the streets and I wanted to help them more than anything. It had become a dream of mine to open an orphanage where the children would be treated with kindness and given security and an education. They’d be surrounded by toys and books. I even worked on a preliminary blueprint.
Having domestic help in Pakistan is pretty common and not just among the wealthy. As a child it bothered me that one person was doing all the housework while so many lived in the house. I’d follow our housekeeper around helping her wherever I could from sweeping up to making rotis.
Your childhood aspirations are inspiring. What were the things you loved about Pakistan?
I fell in love with the clothes, the food and most of all the people. I loved the simple lives they lived, the love they expressed and the hospitality they showed. No matter how much or little they had, they made you feel comfortable. Their home was your home and they really wanted you to be there. It's difficult to put into words, but I found them to be genuine and loving.
At one point you described the barka mandi in the book. Can you explain it to us?
It’s basically an animal market where people go to shop for the animals they will later sacrifice. I myself had never been to one, but knew it was a place the male members of the family went to pick out our Eid goats. In order to write the scene, I watched a few YouTube videos and asked an aunty who had been to them as a child.
I love the idea of Ali learning to speak "Goat." What’s your experience with goats?
Not a lot. I have a cousin, Adnan, who spent much of his childhood in Karachi, Pakistan. Like Ali, he would befriend all the neighborhood goats before Eid-ul-Adha, take little treats for them, and walk them. When it came time to sacrifice them, it was incredibly difficult for him, even though he knew it was coming.
There is a moment where Ali sees some boys playing with a ball made of plastic bags. I am always amazed at children’s innovation to make toys despite limitations in their lives. Is the bag ball something you have seen in Pakistan?
Yes, it is something I remember seeing, as well as dolls made out of scraps of fabric.
I had my 13 year old make all the activities in the back of the books including the plastic bag soccer ball and it turned out quite well, though a lot harder than an air filled one.
I love stories like this that give us a tour of a far-away land. It gives us a chance to travel with our imagination. Thank you for writing it!