Toole Castle on the Gulf of Finland [again, courtesy of the panorama setting on my camera]

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Eid l Kabir

     It's Eid el-Kabir, one of the most important Muslim holidays. On this occasion, every Muslim family who can afford a sheep is obliged to buy one, sacrifice it, and then eat just about all of the organs. The holiday lasts five days total, from Wednesday until Sunday--but the last two or three days are like a gentle awakening from vacation stupor, a return to the normal cycle of day-to-day life.
     My family hosted three slaughters in our living room, because we have the biggest house among all the relatives. Also, our living room has a drain in the corner, which proved to be very handy in cleaning up the mess.
     I thought my presence for the ritual would be an inconvenience, or at least an irregularity, and it was with meek expectations that I asked if I could take a few photos of the event.
     "Mashee Mushkil!" I was told. No problem at all!
     As it turned out, I wasn't the only one to wield a camera for the slaughter. Camera phones, camcorders, point-and-shoots...everybody had some gadget in hand. Anyway, photos and such will come later. Let's start at the beginning of the day.
     I awake at a quarter to 7. The sunrise call to prayer is thickened this morning by a chorus of cheep thousands strong, bleating their last heartfelt bleats across the city. I think about going for a run--yesterday's early morning jog was nice--but I decide against it. It somehow seems irreverent on this holy day, and I besides, I don't want to clash with holiday preparations in the street. I imagine harried Muslims carrying last-minute sheep home on their shoulders, or children sent out by their parents to find just one vital bunch of mint for the afternoon tea.
     I clomp up to the rooftop and watch the sunrise through squinted lids, my whole body slowly shaking off the rigor mortis of a long night's sleep. Already some fires in the street are smoking, contributing the first clouds in the haze of sheep smoke that is to envelope Fez today.
     At about 10 o'clock, the festivities begin.
Three sheep, slaughtered one by one on the living room floor. It starts with everyone standing in the living room. Nothing out of the ordinary, but we're clearly waiting for something. And if you look close, you'll notice rolled-up sleeves, grimy workshirts, and splattered track pants; all perfect attire for a sacrifice.
     First, my host father and his brother bring Sheep #1 down from the room that has served as their pen for the past few days [side note: it has been great: their room was directly above the bathroom, so every morning when I washed my face and took a whiz (I'm bringing that euphemism back if it's the last thing I do, dammit), I could hear them clattering around, nuzzling the hay and bumbling into one another's natty hides]. The sheep is wild-eyed and flighty. My host dad pulls its legs out from under it and holds it steady by the hooves, while his brother spreads apart the thick wool on its neck, clearing a spot for the knife. The air in the room is alive with the chatter of an entire Moroccan family; words and exclamations are punctuated with the groans and grunts of the sheep.
     When they cut the throat, the frantic bleating ceases, only to be replaced by a rasping scrape of breath, taken in not from the mouth or the nostrils but from the brand new opening in the throat just below the jawline. The sheep bleeds out for a while, my host uncle kneeling on the neck to hasten the process. Then he wrenches the head around 180 degrees and takes it off completely. Next they remove the front legs, cutting from below the knees or elbows or whatever sheep have. After that, my host dad pokes a hole on the inside of a hind leg, puts his mouth to the opening, and proceeds to inflate the sheep. Now, I'm not a medical doctor, but I assume this helps separate membranes and what-not, making the sheep easier to skin. Once the sheep is sufficiently bloated, they string it up by it's hind legs and skin it, and then remove all of the organs, separating the edible from the garbage. And hardly anything, I soon realize, is garbage. The next two hours are a blur of bloody wool, innards, and smiling relatives.
     I want to write more. And I will! But later. Now I must return to the city. Here are a few pictures of the holiday to tide you over until next time. And if you would like to see a video, let me know. I feel a little odd about posting it on the blog; it's really graphic. Is that something I could get in trouble for?

This is my cousin Abda il. He's a hyper, sweet little kid who spent the holiday flitting around the room, dodging blood smears and trying his hardest to get into every picture and video.

Dear old Baba, blowing up the sheep.

I have no idea who this man is (the one reaching into the carcass). He burst into the living room shortly after we killed Sheep #2. He was accompanied by a teenage boy; the two of them made quick work of skinning and gutting the first two sheep, then left.

1 comment:

  1. Nice descriptions with grotesque pix!
    I like your cousin is smiling in front of the bloody sheep..haha

    hey I just got your postcard yesterday! Yesterday it was super nice day with the most dazzling sun, and I got new soccerball and your postcard! How perfect this is!! You made my day!

    It's getting colder in Beloit but how's your city? Is it cold?

    I'm looking forward to listening your stories and watching pix.