Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Here Come the Sheep

It’s one week before the big annual feast of Eid and the sheep are starting to appear in and around the medina.

Truckloads of big, fat sheep are stopping along the roads into the medina where carousa owners wait to transport the sheep to their new owner’s homes. Those without the money to pay a carousa (or just wishing to save a few dirham to pay for some knife sharpening or some spices) find all kinds of creative ways to move the sheep along. Some pull them by the horns, others hoist them over their shoulders and then there is always the push and pull method.

Yesterday, a man was slowly walking a rather scrawny-looking cow up my street. Mud was caked on the hindquarters of the noble bovine as people young and old reached out to touch the cow as she was lead to her final resting place. I gathered it was some kind of good luck to honor the sacrificial cow in this manner.

I can’t say I share the enthusiasm this time of year brings but I do marvel at the activities and the religious meaning. I also am awed by the solidarity of activities and rituals which are a result of living in a culture where just about everyone shares the same religious beliefs and traditions are strongly upheld.

Every household will sacrifice their sheep or cow or goat at a prescribed time and every neighborhood will set up a place to roast the sheep’s heads on their street. The women will set to work after the sheep (or cow, or goat) has been sacrificed, skinned and the heavy-duty butchering has taken place. Women gut the animal and use absolutely every edible (and not-so-edible for my taste) part of the sheep. The skin will be dried, the fat will be carefully saved for later use and even the bones will be saved for soups at a later date. The liver will be cut into bite-size pieces for the first day and the meat will be allowed to cure for the following days. Small clay pots filled with charcoal and fanned with whatever is handy slowly cook the skewers of liver and protein is the mainstay of each meal for the next three days.

And of course the women will do all the nasty cleanup that is required after sacrificing the sheep and stringing it up from the halqa. But it only seems nasty to squeamish Westerners like me, Here, the blood is seen as purifying and no one turns their head at the moment the knife is drawn across the throat and the sheep struggles with the certain knowledge that life has come to an end. Indeed, many households keep the sacrificial animals on their terrace or in the house so the children can pet it and feed it and honor them before … well, before.

So here it is again. Eid Kbira. The time everyone looks forward to after Ramadan has passed. Once Eid is over, life will take on its expected rhythm with all the unexpected twists and turns until Ramadan is once again due to arrive. The wheel of life turns once again and thanks is given for being able to bear witness to all the marvels it offers.