You just have to know when to laugh at yourself. And it’s ok cause I did this in Japan.
I jumped right back into life in Fes the first day back after our week vacation. We all headed to Salma’s house for lunch via a taxi whose impatient driver evaded traffic by driving on the sidewalk, dodging people, trees, and poles. It was exhilarating, to say the least! Salma (8 year old host sister) lives in a neighborhood about a 10 minute drive away in a beautiful new apartment building on the top floor. Exhausted, I spent the day playing with Salma’s hair, eating clementines, napping, and making tomato and cucumber salad. Cutting up the tomato entailed peeling the skin, squeezing all the juice and seeds into the sink, then chopping. We feasted on chicken and prunes and veggies and more clementines—one of the most delicious home-cooked meals I’ve had in Morocco!
We all snuggled in “the pink room” for naptime and I woke two hours later just in time for tea and cookies. Not a bad way to start my next 6 weeks in Morocco. Amina, Mama Hakima and I left Salma’s home and walked for about 10 minutes in what I believed was a search for a taxi…but I quickly realized we were walking all the way back to BatHa. We strolled through neighborhoods I haven’t yet explored and stopped at the King’s Palace to admire its grandeur at night.
Despite the cold weather (there’s no heat at home so I sleep in two pairs of pants and three shirts), six of us headed to the mountain town of Azrou last Sunday. The souks were much smaller and more manageable than those in Fes but splashes of purple and green on the doors made them equally magical. We took a taxi further into the mountains to see the infamous Berber monkeys! For lunch, we ate delicious couscous tagine overlooking the center of town and ended the day spooning in the backseat of a taxi whose driver refused to turn on the heat or put up his window.
Ah, and my slaughter saga begins. Monday marked the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice in Islam. As I was asked to explain in front of 15 Moroccans, the holiday is based on the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to God before God intervened to provide him with a sheep to sacrifice instead. While we had Monday and Tuesday off from school, most Moroccans are on vacation all week. Every family must slaughter a sheep, so you can imagine the omnipresence of sheep in the city the past few days. They were tied to street signs, carried on men’s backs, stuffed into bike-led carts, and sharing taxis with us.
Monday morning all the men went to the mosque to pray and the women prepared a feast of a breakfast complete with pound cake and pastries with honey! Around 9:30, the proceedings commenced. Every married man buys a sheep to slaughter. With four married men here (my host dad, 23 year old host brother, host cousin/Salma’s dad, and host uncle), I was lucky enough to witness the massacre of three sheep…and A COW! We all gathered on the back deck and the sounds of squealing sheep echoed off the walls of the apartment complex where neighbors had already begun. These poor souls, who had been living right next to our kitchen for two days, had no idea what was coming!
The family hired a butcher to help with the slaughterings and la vache was the first to go. Watch this video your own risk.
I took this video standing on a bench with Salma and I stayed up there for about thirty minutes to avoid wading through the pools of blood below me. The twitching and pulsing of blood was the most gruesome part for me, and the whole experience was incredibly surreal. After brutally chopping off the legs and removing the head completely, the women sifted through the body parts and prepared them for cooking. The three sheep came next, and the most amusing part was when my host dad served mint tea mid-slaughter. The photos I’ve added are all a bit humorous in their own way—note the jeans hanging to dry next to sheep intestines, the neighbors sneaking a peek, Salma and my 2 year old host niece watching intently, and my host mother chatting on the phone while pushing the cow blood to the drain.
I was quite desensitized to blood by sheep number two and three, but seeing the insides on my plate two hours later was overwhelming. I wanted to burst out laughing one minute, then I’d remember the image of the cow, bleeding out and dying an excruciating death, staring me in the eyes, and wanted to cry. I ate the heart first, then the kidneys and intestine! It’s an inconceivable feeling to pet and baby-talk live animals, watch their death, help pull their insides out and hang them to dry, then see them appear on your plate hours later. I tried to mask my avoidance of the meat by consuming ungodly amounts of bread but the 14 sets of eyes around me fell with disappointment if I didn’t take the meat they offered me with enthusiasm. Amina kindly brought me a small dish of chicken, but I politely refused and insisted the cow meat on the table was delicious. Big mistake. I was given my own plate of brain, intestine, liver, heart, and I-don’t-want-to-know what else.
I spent the afternoon curled up on the couch with two blankets and endless cups of tea, periodically watching the men butcher the head and saw apart the ribs and the women scrape blood off the walls, clean the intestines, and hang the skin up on clotheslines next to my host sister’s undies. On Tuesday, the festivities continued and a big breakfast was followed by more butchering, roasting, and cleaning.
So what’s going to happen to all this meat? Besides feeding 15 mouths over the next few days, it’s tradition to give to the poor who will start knocking on doors tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to this, as the poor and homeless normally seem so separated and ignored from society. I’m writing this now as Simo leads Salma’s dad and his own father in the afternoon prayer in the middle of the living room, chanting verses of the Quran in unison. Apologies for the goriness of these images, but they’re too cool to keep to myself. Think of this next time you bite into a hamburger! J