Thursday, December 18, 2008

L-Eid Ixatr (Literally, The Big Holiday)

L-Eid Ixatr (Literally, The Big Holiday)

First let me reply to Jasmine. I would love to give you advice, please give me your contact info or email me at

It’s taken me longer to post this time because I had some problems with my USB. Also, be forewarned, the next few weeks the posting might be more irregular as I will be traveling with my mom and sister.

Let me just apologize in advance if I get any religious aspects of the story wrong here. My excuse is that I’m learning about this all in Tamazight, which is not my first language.

L-Eid Kabeer, as it’s known in Arabic, is celebrated every year by Muslims. It is a day to remember the story of Brahim (Ibrahim) and Smaeel (Ishmael). Just in case there are readers out there who don’t know the Old Testament, the story goes like this. God told Ibrahim that he should slaughter his only son, Smaeel, as a way of proving his devotion. Ibrahim was devout and going to listen to God. He took his son, following God’s every instruction, and was about to slit his throat when God told him that his faith was proven and he didn’t need to actually kill his son. Instead he was told to slaughter a sheep. Personally, I never liked the story (what kind of sadistic God do we have?), but anyways this Old Testament story is the basis for the biggest celebration in the Muslim world. Given that my Moroccan name is Smaeel, it was also a day for young men to make plenty of jokes about slaughtering me.

Every year, thousands pilgrims make the trip to Saudi Arabia to fulfill one of the five pillars of faith of Islam. The culmination of the Hajj, as it’s called, is on L-Eid Kabeer and is a big deal in the life of a devout Muslim. Other Muslims all around the world mark the celebration by slaughtering a sheep (or more) and having a day of prayer. Like any Christian holiday, I believe that there are some folks who are more into the religious aspect of the holiday and others who enjoy the day off and all the food.

Here in small town mountain Morocco, we celebrated as well. About a month ago, my host family bought a smallish goat and kept it in their barn to fatten it up. They’ve been talking about the size of the goat all month long, eagerly anticipating l-Eid and the celebration.

This morning, Tuesday, I woke up at 6:30 am and went to my host family’s house. With my host dad and four other men, we visited each man’s house. My house was exempt from this tour because I don’t have a wife and obviously am unable to prepare food for myself or others. We sit down in the nicest room in the house and tea is poured. Little cookies/cakes are served and everyone snacks on them. After a little while the snacks are removed and aharir (a kind of milky barley oatmeal sort of thing) is brought out. We eat a little and then go onto the next house. This ritual of visiting other people’s houses is observed on two other yearly holidays as well. It’s nice for me to get to go to people’s houses who I haven’t seen before, but at the same time it means that I drink a lot of tea. Since we’re visiting five people’s houses, no one wants to eat or drink very much at any house, but every host still has to go through the ritual of insisting on you eating more. And who wants to wake up so early on a holiday?

Afterwards, everyone met outside, near the mosque in the center of town. It’s a nice time of year because all the young men who work outside of the town come home for the holiday. So everyone’s socializing and talking and having fun. There was nice weather today, so that made the experience even better. Then the call to prayer goes off and many of the men enter the mosque to pray. Me and the rest of the sinners hang around outside some more. On the other hand, hanging around outside is what most people do every day, so it’s hardly that different. “National holiday” has a different meaning when you’re a self-employed farmer.

After the prayer, (which was about an hour long) I met my host family at their house. We went to the barn and got the goat out. (I don’t know what the Koran says about slaughtering a goat as opposed to a sheep). The goat had grown pretty big over the month and my host parents were happy with it. First, some barley is brought out and fed to the goat (Why? Because that’s what God told Ibrahim to do with his son before he almost slaughtered him). Then some sort of makeup is messily applied to the goat’s eyes. (Why? Because that’s what God told Ibrahim to do with his son before he almost slaughtered him). Then my host dad knocked the goat over onto its side. My host mom grabbed the goat’s legs, all the while saying stuff like, “God help this poor goat.” I assumed a good position as photographer. (My host family had been telling me for a week not to forget my camera. Glad I didn’t. Important note, there are pictures of the slaughter below. They are not for the feint of heart. If you don’t want to see a raw picture of a goat being slaughtered, don’t look.) My host dad said a prayer and slit the goat’s throat with his knife. It died pretty quickly.

Next up is skinning the goat. You would think that by the age of 72, my host dad would be pretty good at skinning a goat by now, but no. It took a while. Our neighbor started slaughtering at the same time and finished a good half an hour before we did. Meanwhile my host mom is making smart ass remarks about how our neighbor is doing such a better and quicker job of skinning his goat. Luckily my host dad is pretty good at tuning her out. Hilarity. To be fair, it is a difficult thing to do and he is an old man. I helped with the skinning. The best thing I did was blow out the intestines. You take one end of the intestine, open it up, stick your mouth over the hole, and blow for all you’re worth. This pushes everything towards one end of the digestive tract (not actually sure which end) and makes the skinning easier. My host dad didn’t have the lung capacity to really blow the shit far enough (literally) so he handed it over to me. I was happy to oblige. Later on, my host dad kind of messed things up: he accidentally cut the stomach/intestine of the goat and spilled its semi-digested contents over the rest of the carcass, which isn’t exactly sanitary.

The goat was finally skinned and we went inside to eat lunch. We had chicken, carrot and potato tajine (what we have for almost every single other lunch). The only difference is that there was much more chicken and many fewer vegetables than normal. I went to my house and read for a little while, then went outside and found a game of soccer to join. I passed some more time talking to people outside. Everyone wanted to know if I had slaughtered the goat. Luckily I had some blood on my pants to prove that I had at least participated in the slaughter.

Around six o’clock I went back to my host family’s house. We watched some TV, drank tea, and I showed them the pictures from the morning, which they loved. We watched the news on TV, which was mostly just pictures of people slaughtering their sheep across the country. We got to see the King slaughter his sheep, which was the biggest, cleanest sheep I’ve ever seen. About eight people surrounded the sheep, holding it down and keeping a white sheet between the King and the sheep so he wouldn’t get any blood on him. He walked up and sliced through that neck like it was butter. Then we set about preparing dinner, which was goat meat. My host mom brought out the plate of the goat’s innards and set it down on the table in front of my dad. He then prepared some delicious food. The goat’s liver has been steamed. Cut up into little chunks, the liver is wrapped in something that literally means “the fat of the innards.” It’s some sort of fatty tissue that lines the inner cavity of the animal. The chunks of liver, wrapped in fat, are put onto skewers and then cooked over coals. Unsurprisingly, the room filled with smoke. I didn’t care: the meat was delicious. The liver is hardy and dense. The fat is soft and yummy. I had three skewers worth of the stuff. My host mom meanwhile had cooked some other organ (not sure which one, possibly kidney) by sticking it in on a skewer and putting it directly in the stove. It was pretty well burnt, but tasted good with salt and cumin on it. I was pretty full, but the main course still remained: goat and potato tajine. In the tajine were the lungs of the goat, which were squishy and moist. The meat itself was pretty darn good as well. As we say here, I ate until my stomach burst. We sat back to relax and watch a film dubbed over in Syrian Arabic, which neither my host dad or I understand.

I left the house and walked back through the snow with calls of “don’t let the cold make your stomach sick” following me to my home. An inch or two of snow had already accumulated.

L-Eid, Day two

Day two wasn’t very different than day one, except for the absence of prayer and slaughtering. We woke up with about four inches of snow on the ground and I went to my host family’s house to help them shovel it off of their roof. The road was cut, but it didn’t matter since no one is going anywhere at this point anyhow.

I was invited to my friend’s house for lunch, so I went over there around 11:30. About 10 other people were invited, so it ended up being a little party. We drank tea and talked, waiting for the food. Typical topic of conversation: is there snow in America? Answer: yes, but not as much as there is here. Then came the food. The first course was a sheep tajine. First time that a Moroccan has served me cauliflower here and it was pretty good. But the meat was the highlight of the meal; it was tasty and there was lots of it. The second course was couscous with sheep meat on top. It was also pretty good.

I spent the afternoon playing soccer and resting, like yesterday.

In the evening I went over to my host family’s house for dinner. The appetizer was similar, but when we ran out of liver meat, we used heart meat instead. Not a huge different. The main course wasn’t quite as good. The meat was stomach and intestine parts. There weren’t that many vegetables and it was very saucy. I’m told that tomorrow we’re eating the head.

L-Eid, Day Three

Only one thing from day three deserves reporting: dinner. We ate the head of the goat that we slaughtered two days ago.

I had imagined the head being served intact, but instead it was broken up into many pieces and served over couscous. I also thought that a head was mostly bones, but it actually has a lot of meat in it. Some people eat the brain, but my family gave it to the cat. My host mom says it tastes like eggs.

Eating the couscous, I was worrying the whole time about the meat coming at the end of the meal. The head juice has soaked into the couscous and it didn’t taste great. Once we finished with the couscous, the meat was divided and we dug in. I started with a piece of tongue that was given to me. It was tough and chewy; its taste was OK. Next, I dug into the skin of the head. There was surprisingly a lot of meat on it. When I finished with the skin, the eye caught my eye. My host dad and I had each been given an eye (only men get to eat eyes). The eye is accompanied by the surrounding skin. I ripped the skin of the eye away and ate that part first. Then I tossed the whole eye in my mouth. Its texture was kind of squishy, but the taste was OK. People cook everything to death here, so I guess it all kind of tastes the same. Finally I had an ear to eat. I took a bite of cartilage and made my first complaint of the meal: “It’s hard.” My host dad didn’t miss a beat, “You have teeth don’t you?” (This comment is even funnier considering he doesn’t have teeth). All in all, the head was OK. It’s not as good as regular meat, but it’s definitely not disgusting. If I slaughtered my own goat, I would not eat the head myself. But sitting down with my family, I don’t mind chocking it down.

My evaluation of l-Eid Ixatr? Any holiday that requires you spend most of the day with your family eating good food until you burst is all right with me.

Extended Update

This past Friday I went to my most isolated douar, which is about 28km from mine. Those people have a tough life, let me tell you. They are higher in elevation and so the weather is colder. Due to poor soil, over harvesting of wood, and overgrazing, there is hardly any wood for them to burn there. Those with money buy wood from a nearby douar, but those without get by burning dried up shrubs. The road from the community to market market town is about 54km, but it took us 5 hours because the road is so terrible. 5 hours to get to a weekly market! Most families don’t have the money for buying food anyways, so they don’t go. People get by on what they can grow in the cold conditions: wheat, barley, turnips, and potatoes.

I went to the community to visit with a woman who attended our Traditional Birthing Attendant training. I was hoping that she would, with my encouragement, lead a meeting with other women about what she learned in the training. However, she was unwilling to do it on her own and I was unable to help because of my gender. So hopefully I will go back another time, accompanied by a female.

The trip was quite successful, however, for another reason. I met with a local association president there and we talked about a number of projects that would benefit the community. The president had also set up a meeting for me to lead with a number of men where we talked about health problems and how they could be solved.

Back in my market town, I met with another man from that community and we had a good talk about further needs there. I hope that working with these two men, we can do something for this isolated community.

Other work news is the meeting I had the women in my community from the TBA training and the new doctor and nurse at our health clinic. The meeting was supposed to reinforce what the women learned during the stage and to plan out ways for the women to have a forum to speak with other women. It went very well and I am happy with the new doctor and nurse (who is a midwife). They seem motivated to reach out to the community and do education, so I hope to be working together with them a lot in the future. One negative thing: despite having a midwife assigned to the community, births will still be done in the home. Our health clinic has no equipment needed for delivering babies, so our midwife expects that she will probably not deliver a single one. Unbelievable.

Final big work news is the water project I have going on in one of my outer doaurs. We just got the estimate for the project and it’s a lot of money: 310,000 Dhs, which is about $36,000. Unfortunately, Peace Corps doesn’t provide a lot of money for volunteer projects (about $3,500 for the two years), so I mostly have to raise the money on my own. So if anyone knows where I can find that kind of money for development work, let me know. Seriously. I have some help from Peace Corps people on foundations that I can apply to, but I need all the help I can get.

Well that is all for now. I hope all is well back home. The goat that we slaughtered over a week ago is still being eaten. We ate its stomach tonight. Gross. Like I mentioned above, my mom and sister are coming to Morocco and I am taking my first vacation of my service to travel around with them. Right now the plan is to go to Marrakech to meet them, then K’lah Mgouna (where I had my training host family) then Tinrir (where my host mom is from) then Merzouga (sand dunes) and then my town, where we will stay for a little while. Once my mom and sister are sick of the cold, hopefully we’ll head up to a bigger city like Meknes or Fez and spend some time there before they head home. It’s very exciting. Look forward to reading their blog entries in this space, as that is their assignment over the course of their travels.

The Bush shoe throwing incident has been wonderful for life here in Morocco. I loved it, people here love it and they love it that I love it.


Colton Bangs said...

this is the best post i have ever read on a blog. period.

Colton Bangs said...

where are the pics?

James said...