2011.11.08 by Josh Erb; 1096 words.
A quick word of caution: this post contains graphic descriptions of cultural experiences. If you are easily put off by hearing details of cultures that are dramatically different from your own, then you may want to skip this one. Consider yourself warned.
Where do I begin? Barely two complete weeks have passed since my last post, and holy sweet crap a lot has happened since then.
Two weeks ago, on the 7th of November, my week started out quite differently from any of the other previous weeks that I have experienced thus far. I woke up rather early, had an uncharacteristic family breakfast with my charming host family (the Ammors, they're quite wonderful people) as we watched National Moroccan T.V. and waited for the King to come on and wish us all a happy Eid. However, in typical Moroccan fashion the King was late and we were forced to finish breakfast and continue with our morning preparations for this traditional Muslim holiday without his blessing.
Once breakfast was finished and the table was cleared, I was given a djellaba and the family packed into the car and headed for the Tamara house (the larger house were the extended family lives, and were I end up spending most of my time).
Now, a quick explanation for those of you who don't know what Eid is: this one of several annual Muslim holidays. This particular Eid is one where Muslims celebrate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael and God's mercy. The celebration consists of slaughtering a sheep, keeping one third of it for your immediate family, one third to your extended family, and the final third to the poor or needy.
Because we celebrated this Eid with the extended family it meant that before lunch - and much too soon after breakfast - I witnessed the slaughtering of 6 sheep and 1 goat (someone in the family has high cholesterol, apparently goats' meat is better in such circumstances). Now, as someone who is finely attuned to social cues and all subtleties of human interaction, I came to the conclusion that for an outsider such as myself it would be somewhat inappropriate to take pictures of this religious holiday and plaster them all over the internet. Instead I offer you two pictures: a before and an after. In an attempt to cushion the impact of the "after" photo I have my friend and fellow study abroad student posing in the foreground...you'll see what I mean.
The thing about witnessing the slaughtering of animals that is hard to describe isn't the imagery. No imagery can easily be conveyed through text. I could tell you about how the freshly sharpened blade of the butcher hired by the family slipped seamlessly through skin, muscle, and tissue as the prayer was made to dedicate the sacrifice to God. I could tell you about how the blood poured from the throat of the prostrated beast with less effort than water flows through a stream, and I'm sure that you could imagine it with ease. But nothing I write here can make you understand the sounds.
The sounds are what got to me. An avid zombie film watcher who passed his childhood playing violent video games, I felt weak in my knees as the gurgling, gasping sound reached my ears. Nothing can prepare you for the sound of life leaving a living creature. The sound is what I remember more vividly than any of the images I saw that day.
After the sheep were killed and gutted, we had lunch. Due to the fact that fresh meat needs time to dry and marbleize before it can be cooked properly, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the first day of this two day celebration consists of eating only the "parts" as someone put it. So for lunch it was a lavish spread of liver wrapped in fat and cooked over an open flame, charbroiled heart, and a massive communal plate of stomach smothered in a secret sauce. The meal was all mental, and happily I made it through, and was able to to take a second helping of liver. For dinner we had soup. No sheep, just soup. I was overjoyed. The next day, me and my host family returned to the extended families house in Tamara for a delightful lunch of sheep's head couscous. And so, although eating sheep tongue, eye, and cheek, greatly tested the limits of my cultural experience mentality, I wouldn't take back any of it. And I certainly will not be doing any of it again any time soon.
After the two day celebration, I began my previously planned trip that took me from Porto to Lisbon and then finished in Madrid. 'Twas a whirlwind week and a half. Since most of the stories from that trip are better suited to be recanted in person (i.e. they consist of touristy tom-foolery), I'm just going to let the pictures to do the talking...more or less.
Needless to say it's been an incredibly diverse and quite rapid couple of weeks. And to top it all off, I returned from my European journey only to find that one of the extended family had had a child the week I was away. So two days ago the entire extended family got together again to celebrate. I'll leave it to you to assume how this type of thing is celebrated. (Here's a hint/outright explanation: the world has one less sheep since little R'bab was born.)
So there you have it, life here continues to push my Western comprehension of the world. But then again, that's what I signed up for and that's why I am here. For those of you who've gotten to this point, thank you. It warms my heart to know that you're just as interested in my experiences as I am in egotistically sharing them in a public forum. Here's a little something to express my gratitude: