Happy Eid, everyone!
Today and yesterday were huge celebrations across the Muslim world, known as Eid al Adha or Eid lKbir (the big celebration). In the Bible, Abraham is tested by God, being told to sacrifice his son, Issac, and at the last minute a ram is produced to be sacrificed instead. For Muslims, the son is Ishmael, but the story is the same. To give a sense of scale and cultural impact, I’d say this kind like Christmas – everyone does it, huge family celebrations, looking forward to it all year long.
And true to the story, this holiday is all about the slaughter of an animal ranging from a chicken if you don’t have much money up to a camel if you’re really rich. In Morocco, most families buy a ram, curly horns and all. One person told me the animal is dependent on what you can afford, and another told me it has to be a ram.
Eid is a bit notorious among Moroccan PCVs because it means we both get to see a large animal die in front of us for the first time and then consume parts of that animal that we wouldn’t usually eat – brains, stomach, you get the idea. I thought it was tremendously cool, but approached the entire situation with a bit of trepidation.
The key is to not bond with your sheep. This is hard, because Americans are so far removed from their food supply, for the most part, that live animals, no matter what they are, are easily seen as pets. And when that animal spends a couple days living on your host family’s roof, it’s especially important to not forget that it’s there for food, not companionship.
Liz and I headed over to our host family’s house at around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, just stopping long enough to watch our neighbors haul a large sheep of their own up to our roof. There were two sheep and a goat up there when we looked, although the goat had already been beheaded.
Five minutes walk later, we were sitting down to a breakfast of jam, bread, olive oil, tea, and cookies with our three host sisters and host mom and dad. Instead of taking our time eating, like we normally do, we gulped down our tea and headed up to the roof for the first of the sheep.
There were three on their roof, one for our family, one for our host uncle/tutor’s family, and one for the downstairs neighbors who may or may not be related to the family. I’m not sure on that last one yet.
The first sheep was that of our host father, Omar. Muslims follow fairly strict dietary rules, including one that specifies animals must be slaughtered in a specific way, by someone who is trained to do so. As neither Omar nor our host uncle had that training, they both brought in a friend to do it for them. One of them was on his seventh ram of the day and was expected to do at least three more after finishing his work with us.
First the sheep is laid on its side with its head facing towards Mecca. After a quick prayer, the head of the household slits the throat and the blood is allowed to drain out. It takes a few minutes for the kicking to subside, but wasn’t as disturbing as I was fearing. After that, the head is completely removed and the body is hung up by its back legs to be skinned and the internal organs taken out. Just after the first was completed, my host uncle showed up with his butcher, followed by the downstairs neighbors and the process repeated.
Each of the organs is taken out and washed and will be used to prepare a different dish for the next few days.
Somewhere between rams one and two, Liz unwittingly participated in the mock slaughter of the neighbor’s 2-year-old son’s “nounous” or stuffed animal. It was a red bear holding an “I love you” Valentine’s Day heart and met its death in the following manner:
Mohammed: Hold this.
Liz: Why? (grabs the bear’s leg where indicated)
Mohammed: *silently performs the dispatch with a second-not-remotely-knife-like plastic toy, cuing looks of wide-eyed horror from Liz and Johanna
While at our host family’s we ate the liver and stomach fat on shish kebabs, which was way tastier than chicken liver. Today, we headed over to our friend Mounia’s house, where we once again had kebabs, this time with regular ram meat, and then a second course of more meat cooked with prunes. Vegetables aren’t a thing for this holiday.
On the whole, it was definitely a memorable holiday in my Peace Corps service. Somehow we’ve happened to come into contact with families who don’t enjoy eating the more unusual parts of the animal, but my fellow PCVs here in country are sharing stories of everything from tongue to brains to hooves. And since we’re going back to our host family tomorrow, I’m not completely confident we won’t be eating ram again.
But I couldn’t help but be reminded through this whole week of the butchering chapters of the Little House on the Prairie series. Laura Ingalls Wilder, I salute you.