The Big Holiday. August 7-14, 2019
Since the moment of my arrival to Morocco I have been hearing of Eid Al Adha, aka Eid Kabir (The Big Holiday). It is the most important day of the year to Muslims. I will tell you how I passed the holiday, and about interesting things I was told.
Our camp in Saidia was cut from 12 days to 9, so that the leaders could get home early to prepare for the upcoming holiday. The actual holiday was on the 12th. I cleaned the house from the thick layer of construction dust that creeps in, laundry, shopping, and worked on the Tierra Roja letters for the 2016 vintage release. I also had couple of big of Peace Corps tasks.
I had many invitations, to join families for the holiday, but not from my host family. As I have said, relations turned strange and I have not felt welcome since Ramadan. The night before the Eid, my younger host sister, the one who has traveled with me, came to the house for the first time in ages. I told her I would be celebrating the Eid with one of my friends from the Dar Shbaab. She said that she wanted me to join them, but that “they” did not want me there. I said, it was ok, I had realized for a long time this was the case. She claimed to not know why, though of course, she does. We cried. I can’t print all she said, but I am sure we will remain in touch.
Since the Eid would fall on Monday, our normal souk day, there was a small souk on Sunday instead. I went and stocked up on a few things, but mostly went to see my new young friends. One of the twins was there, but the cousin (who had insisted I spend the Eid with his family) was not there. Lots of sheep were coming and going. This was the last day to buy or sell.
Throughout the town you could hear sheep crying from garages as they awaited their fate. The weather was very pleasant throughout the holiday time.
I knew my friend would call me as soon as he finished the morning prayers. Since those prayers started before 7, I was ready to go. This was the first time I could recall hearing the worshipers chanting all the way from the Mosque to my house. When he called, I carried my plate of berries and figs through a sea of worshipers, greeting several I knew, as they left the Mosque. Hundreds, mostly men, they were all dressed beautifully, mostly in white, or white tinged with gold, galabias, some with colors of course.
This day is the remembrance of God’s mercy on Abraham. Though initially commanded to sacrifice his son, when he obediently brought is son to the alter, God allowed him to slaughter a ram instead.
I followed my friend to his home, where 5 families were assembled for the holiday. I had been there before and met his parents and one sister, from Marrakesh. I had also met the brother from Fes, and Sister from Midelt, during street encounters. I was greeted warmly, and we had a light breakfast of misimmon, cake and tea. Everyone took a few photos (again, his mother would not be photographed, even by her own family). I was told not to take photos, as the women would be removing their scarves to work. Everyone changed into work clothes and the next phase of the business of the day began. There were more than 20 of us.
My friend, a former Counterpart from the Youth Center, is always an incredible fountain of religious and historical knowledge, and speaks excellent English. This means that spending this important day with him, and his family, was really a blessing.
5 families, 5 rams to be slaughtered. Despite all the whole animals I have purchased, this may be the first time I actually had a close-up view of the slaughter. Muslims may only eat meat from animals that have been killed in a certain manner. This dates back to Pagan times when the people ate animals sacrificed to inanimate gods. The prophet Mohammed declared Muslims must not eat these animals, and declared the required process. The head must be turned to Mecca, a certain prayer is said, the knife should not be seen by the animal, and as other family members hold the sheep down, the throat is cut. Each head of the house cuts the throat of his family’s ram. Older sons and brothers can hold the ram, but even my friend’s very aged and frail father cut the throat for his house.
Each was skinned. The cut a slit in the leg and blow air under the skin, making the job easier. After, each is gutted, with nearly every part saved. The men squeeze out the intestines, though the bowels were discarded. One of the young cousins charred the heads and feet. One of the sisters had the job of scraping the burnt fur and skin from these parts. Two more sisters had the job of cleaning the stomach, intestines and other offal. The carcasses are stored for the next day. They must be sure the blood is thoroughly drained and so none of the meat is cooked the first day.
Most showered and changed clothes.
The first day everyone eats the offal. For lunch, one sister made us BBQed kebabs of pieces of liver and heart, wrapped in the lacy fat. Very good. Another sister had the job of making a stew-like concoction from the stomach and intestines, in a brown gravy, called Duaa. It was good too. The younger girls had the job of keeping the tea flowing and washing dishes. I did not stay for dinner, but am told they have a dish of scrambled eggs and brains, and the heads and feet are steamed.
Everyone was very nice and I did my best to keep out of the way, and keep up with conversation in Darija. At lunch, the women and men ate in different, but adjoining rooms. This is a big country house “villa”, with lots of room inside and out for everyone. There were several cousins of University age and all were on their social media all day. There were some little ones as well. The day had all the charm of a wonderful Christmas or Thanksgiving.
The sister from Fez talked about a new tradition in the cities, where some enterprising youth will raid construction sites for discarded wood and build a big fire in the neighborhood. They will then char your heads and feet for a price, 20-30 DH. I was told that many animals are killed on rooftops and balconies, as the streets out in front of the houses lack the necessary water for cleaning.
Though not to the degree of Christmas, this holy day has become tainted with commercialism and neighbor one-up-man-ship as well. My friend also told me some people even arrange to have their holiday at a hotel, where after posing for photos with your ram, the hotel staff will cut and process for you. One third of the sheep is to be eaten at the holiday, one third stored for future use (traditionally dried, but now put into freezers) and one third given to the poor. So, if you cannot afford one, you are not expected to slaughter one. Also, many who do not wish to do the deed, have the butcher come to their house. They must have been an incredibly busy men. He told me that some families sell their furniture to have money for a more ostentatious ram, to impress the neighbors. Because I was at my friend’s home throughout the day, I did not see what the town looks like at this time. I had this vision of a ram in every doorway, blood running down the street, but won’t know for another year.
At nap time I said my “good byes” and headed down the street a bit to see my friends that had me to their camps. I refused food, though they brought it anyway. I gave them the photos from the camps and headed home. No businesses were open, except the coffee shops and taxi drivers.
I got texts, including one from my friend in Rabat, who will visit me tomorrow. I am also supposed to return to my friend’s home for a lunch of meat.
In the morning, I set out to see if any businesses will be open. I have invited people for kaskaroot, but have nothing appropriate to serve. None of the Moroccan bakeries were open, but thankfully the French patisserie was. I scored baguettes and cookies, which will have to do. After a little time on the computer, it was time to go to lunch.
The family warmly welcomed me back, and this time there was more conversation with his parents. My friend’s father had an interesting past as a nurse, first in the Army, then with a mining company. This mining company was the first building to have electricity in Morocco, in 1912. Dad’s papers say he is over 110, but they don’t think this is correct. There raised 9 children. The youngest sister and I ate some of the head. I saw the huge pot where the lamb with raisins was cooking. One family returned from visiting the in-laws. As with Christmas/Christmas Eve, families need to put in time all around. We had BBQed skewers of lamb meat, followed by stewed lamb, and watermelon. I helped the sister from Fes do the dishes and then slipped away as most napped.
I had received a call from my Youth Center Director, inviting me to come to his house tomorrow. But, the Peace Corps would not give me permission to do so, since he lives in the next town. Volunteers are banned from any travel for 10 days, due to crowded roads and increased rates of accidents.
My friend from Rabat (taxi, Sefrou cherry festival…) and his cousin, came for Kaskaroot. My host sister also came. She was her old, lively self again. Clearing the air, even if only partially, seemed to help a lot. The visiting cousin speaks perfect English, and in fact, has been teaching English in Korea for 5 years. They invited us to their grandmother’s house for lunch the following day.
Day 3 of the holiday and again, in the morning, few businesses were open. No government services My friends offered to pick us up in a car, but because of the travel ban, we walked, about 4 kilometers each way. I had not been to this neighborhood before, but it is still part of my city. The house was huge, surrounded by a wonderful walled in garden and animals. The meal was amazing. This was the first time I had a roasted leg of lamb in Morocco. This was accompanied by all the special pastries and vegetable dishes. Grandma ate with us, as the sisters cooked and waited to eat with the uncles. After a tour it was time to go. The uncle appeared as we were preparing to leave. He told me of how the sewage treatment plant, from all the new development I have been describing, will be built right on their doorsteps. Their neighborhood, and lives, will be ruined. They have someone beyond the town willing to do a property swap, but it would take a miracle for them to be heard.
Well, the work is piling up with all this time spent party-going! More soon.