Monthly Archives: October 2013

Oct. 17, 2013 Fair warning, there’s blood.

Happy Eid, everyone!

Feeling… sheepish?

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.

Liz and Mohamed approach the sheep.

Liz and Mohamed approach 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.

Host dad moves the ram into position.

Host dad moves the ram into position.

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.

So that's how it goes - a quick slice across the throat.

So that’s how it goes – a quick slice across the throat.

 

Then it all gets hung up and skinned.

Then it all gets hung up and skinned.

 

Until you have the whole thing cleaned up.

Until you have the whole thing cleaned up.

Each of the organs is taken out and washed and will be used to prepare a different dish for the next few days.

Liz taking a picture of Mohamed pretending to take a picture of her.

Liz taking a picture of Mohamed pretending to take a picture of her.

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.

Liver on the bbq!

Liver on the bbq!

Time for kebabs!

Time for kebabs!

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.

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Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

October 6, 2013

Woof. September was a busy month, accented by week-long stretches of having to leave site for various work-related travel.

Sunsets and mosques.

Sunsets and mosques.

So, when you last heard from me, I’d just gotten back from a three-day training on Project Design and Management. I was home for two days and then off again for a CPR training organized by one of my fellow volunteers in the city of Ouarzazate, which is like the Hollywood of Morocco. I missed Brad Pitt by two weeks. But I did get to drive past the Game of Thrones set on my bus.

So I think this is Qarth.

So I think this is Qarth.

And also some Egypt-type stuff. Like from "The Mummy."

And also some Egypt-type stuff. Like from “The Mummy.”

Anyway, the CPR training was organized by the volunteer and her parents, who came over from the U.S. especially to teach us how to do chest compressions. I’d done CPR trainings before, but it was good to have a refresher course and now I can teach people in my community – not certifying them though, just teaching the basics. I walked around Ouarzazate (which volunteers here call Oz) a bit each day and enjoyed seeing volunteers I hadn’t seen in a while. A lot of people were also in town for a longer training on two of the Amazeight/native languages of Morocco, so there were a lot of people in that hotel.

The road home.

The road home.

Work, like actual work involving youth, also began after my return from Oz. The ACCESS Program, which I was working with last spring, started classes again, and it has been lovely to see the kids there again.

In addition, I’ve become the middle man in the transfer of some books from the Peace Corps library to the municipal library of A-I-, a town just to the east of T–. They are a fairly recent addition to the town – only open about a year and a half – and were looking to expand their collection of books. After Skyping with the most recent volunteer there and meeting with the library director, I put in a request to Peace Corps and am now in possession of five large boxes of books and one box of VHS tapes that need transportation to the library. I’m still working out that part of the operation.

After a little more than a week at home trying to get myself organized, my fellow volunteers and I made our way to Marrakech for our regional meeting. Marrakech isn’t actually in our region, but whatever. We arrived and the next day had our meeting, which our Dar Chabab mudirs (directors) were also invited to. It was a chance to sit down at the beginning of the year and do some planning – when to do classes, when to do special events, when will we have to be out of site. We were also treated to a look at the list of possible sites for volunteers from the upcoming stage, and although work still needs to be done to develop the sites (find host families and scope out the Dar Chababs), it will be exciting to have new people in the area.

My birthday also happened to fall on the date of our regional meeting, so we had the chance to go out for some birthday eve ice cream, and birthday dinner, and birthday chocolate tart. What can I say? It was amazing!

Birthday dinner!!!!!

Birthday dinner!!!!!

Then another week at home, during which we celebrated Liz’s birthday!

Two birthdays, two cakes.

Two birthdays, two cakes.

Then another week at home, followed by a trip back to Marrakech for another training, this time on how to teach the International Youth Foundation’s Passport to Success life skills program. This curriculum is intended to help youth develop skills in decision making, self esteem, and communication, much of which isn’t taught in schools like it is in the United States. The training was mainly intended for our Moroccan counterparts, who will be actually teaching the curriculum in Darija. Because the idea of me getting up and trying to communicate in anything beyond basic conversation is a bit laughable at this point still. Anyway, Mounia, my counterpart, rocked it and I can’t wait to start working with her.

Our hotel also had a pool, and I took major advantage of swimming every day.

So now it’s October. Three months until we hit the one year in country mark. One year until a new stage arrives. Two weeks until my Dar Chabab classes begin. Two weeks until IYF classes start. There’s so much to do before then. So excited.

Categories: In site, Morocco, Training | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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