Monday, October 28, 2013

A Reflection on Eid in Moulay Idriss

Eid el Kabir, the festival of the sacrifice, is one of the great Muslim traditions celebrating Abraham’s instructions to sacrifice his son to Allah. Writer and blogger Barbara Louvrou spent Eid in the beautiful hilltop town of Moulay Idriss and reflects on her experience

Preparations for Eid start well in advance with locals saving up for their prized sheep for many months. This celebration has brought so much humility to me as it was celebrated for what it was, unlike the way materialism and commercialism have brought the Christian meaning of the celebration of the birth of Jesus to its knees, Whether we are religious or not it so sad to see how Christmas has, lost its meaning of family gatherings, spending quality time with each other.

As a vegetarian or maybe ex-vegetarian now during my stay in Moulay I was awaiting Eid with a little trepidation. I came here to not only write my book but to experience Morocco and the adventures it had to offer me, growing and learn through it. Experiencing these traditions, was not going to be easy.  Having already attended a Moroccan wedding at the beginning of my stay, I realised why meat was not on my dinner plate in the UK but tastes so different here, what a shame it would be not to experience all this land had to offer.

Saturday Market day. Today painted a totally different picture of Moulay.  Sitting with my friend in a coffee shop eating lovely creamy homemade yogurt in coloured beakers, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, watching the goings on in the city. It was only 9 am and already the locals were proudly taking home their sheep to offer to Allah and feed the family.  There was an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation as well as joy in preparation for a big day, with lots of business that was not apparent on other days. Everywhere you looked and turned sheep were being taken home, on donkeys. carts, cars, or simply pulled along on leads.

I decided to be brave and even though I was warned that – “I don’t think it will be very nice for you” – I went regardless, as curiosity go the better of me

The market was louder than normal and busier, with usual household wares on sale and lots of djellaba stalls, nuts, spices, figs and dates, that were now interlaced with sheep vendors. Every now and then you would here a man shouting behind you as the strong, determined donkeys were making way down the road carrying the bewildered docile sheep or goats on their backs.

My enthusiasm was short lived. Buyers were feeling the sheep to see if they were healthy and had enough meat and then hauling them onto any transport means they had to be taken to their homes looked after and fed with care until Eid. I realised this really was too painful for me to watch. So my next stop was Fez to have some celebrations of our own with some friends.

Fez was pretty much the same in its preparations, along narrow Medina streets sheep were being hauled on donkeys, carried on people's backs or carts, pulled reluctantly on leads as friends stopped to feel the sheep to see how much meat and how young or old they are and if they had a good buy.

Even the supermarkets were putting put up tents outside their stores to sell their sheep – new meets old here and looks so out of place but perfect for convenience, as modern living laced with convenience and speed in an old civilisation with its old traditions.

On Monday morning I wake up in my dar to the shouting and singing of men – only later I see the fantasia group descending down to the street do I realise that it is men on horseback, some wearing traditional costume, riding through the town. Islam has a strong tradition and significance in its relationship to horses. They charge through the streets singing and shouting sometimes firing gunpowder shots through their rifles. Though none were heard that day.

Not long after I find myself in a little village just outside Moulay and Fez with the Moroccan family that have adopted me as people so often do here.

Wednesday arrives. I am taken to see the sheep which is shown off with pride and seems to feel a little bewildered and confused with its surroundings.

I remind myself that the slaughter of animals is a part of the culture. In the west we never give a second thought to how that meat ended up on our plate. Absolutely no part of it is wasted. Ironically animals are not thought of in the same way as humans but as the meat was being barbecued I was told that this sheep will go to heaven as it gave up its life for food clothes and all else it is used for.

The Moroccan Mum makes a traditional breakfast of wonderful pancakes (msemen and melaoui) served with homemade butter and local honey. Followed with Moroccan green tea laced with mint leaves and plenty of sugar. And then we wait till the King slays his sheep. I keep my mind entertained. We chat, drink more tea, and I keep trying not to think, until the “grim reaper “arrives, clad in a plastic white djellaba covered from head to foot bearing a knife, I knew it was time to go in – this was one thing I was not ready to experience.

As with any Moroccan family, especially for the females of the family, the whole focus is food.  In this family I was privilege to be invited to share with, the food was simple, as in most villages, with plenty of meat, bread and salad.

Its lunchtime and skewered liver kebabs are wrapped with stomach fat to prevent it burning on the barbecue - then served with bread

Friends and family began arriving to wish everyone ‘Eid Mubarak Said’. One nephew brought some stuffed liver his mother had just cooked, hot and spicy. And saying no to food is so hard here so as not to offend.

As the day wears on a host of children arrive, so polite and friendly coming up to every adult and greeting them with a hand shake and kisses on the cheek – including me whom they had no idea who I was. Families gather over more tea whilst the women gossip with each other and men talk their own business. The house is joyous, constantly full of people coming and going sharing food and drink.

Later as the evening wears on more stew is served and all the guests in the house are invited to eat with the family.

The families enjoy their Eid, women spending most of the day preparing their lamb in different ways – steamed meat with vegetables, tagine with prunes, almonds quince and all served with the traditional Moroccan salad and bread, and sometimes couscous.

And all that’s often left at the end of the day is the sheep skin hanging out to dry, or a bucket full of sheep’s wool in a backyard to remind you of the celebrations of Eid.

Read Barbara's blog here

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