Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 17 [Eid, in Words]

Eid al-Adha is a major Muslim holiday. The tradition starts with Brahim (Abraham) about to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isaac), until Allah (God) intervened by sending a ram to be sacrificed instead.
When we return from the village stay, the streets of the medina are filled: the smell of sheep poop and hay, wooden blocks and knives haphazardly stacked onto tarps, men visible in little shanty shacks of wooden pallets and blue tarps, sitting behind grills. They play cards, call out to the girls, and smoke packs of Gauloise.

Every night, I can't sleep: the cats still hiss and growl like possessed demons, but now, there is also the endless bleating of sheep and goats. My neighbor next door buys three and keeps them in the house.
My host mom grins at the television screen, as a man speaks in derija, and turns to me. I angle myself to look at her face. "HoulĂ­" she says, "houli." I turn back and there are sheep on the screen. I tilt my head and nod.

She dramatically draws a finger across her throat, her eyes still crinkled in a grin.
Islam dictates that you sacrifice a sheep, but only if you can afford it.  A rich man who does not offer is viewed negatively.  A poor man who does offer a sheep, when he cannot afford it, is also blamed for his actions.

Still, billboards, ads and television shows tell how people can obtain loans and credits for the sheep.  One sheep can cost 1500 dirhams, maybe 3000 dirhams.
Preparations start on Wednesday. First come cookies, cakes, pastries. The dough is simple enough: almonds, whole, sliced, diced, ground. Flour, shifted two or three times. Melted butter that is now cooling. Salt, sugar, spice.

A relative of my host family, possibly an aunt or a cousin or a sister, pats and pounds the mixture, rounding it out and evening it. Then comes the rest: cutting out half-moon shapes, that end up on a large baking sheet. The sight is beautiful: pale crescents against a dark background.

Two sheets later, we head to the baker. We weave around other people in the street. My shoulder strains from the effort of balancing the baking sheet on my shoulder, on my head, in my arms. She tells me that they rent the sheets from the baker, the same baker who is surrounded by five other women goading him, demanding their goods.

One walks away with star shaped cookies, the other with hearts. One has rolled biscuits, on a square tray more appropriate for pies.

We come back two hours later and make the ten minute trip back, the rags we're using as pot-holders barely offering us protection against the heat of the trays.

The next morning, my neck and shoulders are sore.  My host mom laughs at the grimace on my face.
Saltana tells me that she will spend Eid with her family in Ifrane.  I tell her that I will spend Eid with my host mom's family.  We promise to tell each other how Eid went, to work on our journalism story when we return.  We go our separate ways.

Later, Mama Fatima and I ride on the bus for half an hour, an hour. We go past Agdal, the glitzy European section of town. We drive past shanty towns that I've never seen, their low-doorways crumbling and barely illuminated. Several turns later, we stop in what seems to be suburbia: slightly clean streets, buildings about the same height, and streets that are lined with four-wheel drive cars.

The house is luxurious: three floors, spread out, sharing half of one block with one other residence. In the courtyard, there are five sheep. They baa as I sleep upstairs.
The next morning, I am woken up around 7:30 by the sound the Eid prayer. I go downstairs and wait.  Other people have gone to the mosque to pray, and they return around 9:00.

There's a morbid sense of amusement: there's excitement and curiosity, but at the same time, I question if I can watch five animals die in front of me.  I've done it before, but the thought still turns my stomach.

The family is gathered, thirteen adults, three children, a baby and me, sipping coffee and tea as they munch on cookies.  We wait for the butcher to come.

The process is not quick.  Death is instant (a slash, and blood, and the sheep is dead before it fully comprehends the pain).  The skinning of the animal takes ten, fifteen minutes.  The butcher reminds me of a pirate, his striped shirt and mustache intimidating as he snaps bones, slices off wool and pulls out livers.  Once one sheep is sacrificed, the five men clean the courtyard, efficiently removing traces of blood and gore.

They sacrifice each sheep separately.  They moved them to the garage earlier and now, they bring them from the garage back to the courtyard.  Each man sacrifices one sheep, and I'm told that it's one sheep for each family.  Their clothes will need to be washed later.

The fact that the sheep don't watch each other's deaths comforts me in some small way.
It's a bit like Christmas: discomfort at the sight of blood, a few fights, and endless food.  Preparations in the kitchen, trying to occupy three children who don't play well together, and a headache.  Still, it's been fun.
Eid Mubarak.

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