My first Eid al-Adha

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It’s nearing the two-year mark since I experienced my first Eid al-Adha (the “festival of sacrifice”), and yet it left an indelible impression on me.  When booking the trip to Morocco, I had no idea my last weekend there would include one of the holiest Muslim holidays of the year. In the days leading up to the Eid, we began to notice sheep and goats for sale everywhere—in alleyways off the medina, in pens along side the roadways—and came across several proud owners: one man was spied in the road, carrying a live sheep over his shoulders as we rounded a mountain pass; another haltingly paraded his unruly goat through the narrow streets of Chefchaouen; and an older woman obligingly posed in the street, smiling into my lens while holding her sheep by a rope. Those in the know warned that the streets would literally run with blood on the day of the Eid. I thought they were joking—turns out I was wrong.

The day of the Eid, we’d arrived back in Fes not long after sunrise. The train station was filled with extra security, along with a sense of anticipation. We quickly learned that the King was scheduled to arrive any moment; his wife’s family is from Fes, and they planned to spend the holiday there. Feeling sleep deprived, we decided to skip the grand entrance. I said my goodbyes to my traveling companion and crossed my fingers, hoping that I’d be able to get a room back at the riad I’d stayed in several days earlier.

It was so early that when I arrived on Rashid’s doorstep, it took nearly 15 minutes for anyone to respond to the bell. Rashid is the proprietor of Riad al Pacha, and thankfully, he offered the same warm welcome I’d experienced earlier, in spite of not having a reservation. I was immediately ushered to a table, where coffee, mint tea, and several kinds of fresh breads and jams were placed before me. Rashid sat down to chat a few times, while bustling around helping guests, and at one point offered a simple explanation of the “feast”, telling me that Abraham was asked by Allah to prove his devotion by sacrificing his own son but in the end, when Allah sees that he is willing to kill his own son, Abraham is allowed to sacrifice a ram instead. Muslim families traditionally commemorate this sacrifice on the Eid. For those who can afford it, an animal (according to tradition) is slaughtered and offered as sacrifice.

Rashid encouraged me to visit the rooftop terrace, and as I slowly settled in and took in my surroundings, I noticed families scattered across other rooftop terraces, mostly groups of men, engaged in some kind of activity. I pulled out my camera, attached the zoom lens so I could get a better look, and discovered that the men were handling the sacrificed animals, hanging and skinning them, etc. Women and children hovered nearby, watching their men go about this work. I finally turned away, feeling a bit too much like a voyeur.

A while later, after getting settled in my room, I decided to venture out into the medina, not quite prepared for what awaited, even though I’d been forewarned. The scent of smoke, blood and cooked meat hit me first. It didn’t take long before I saw the rivulets of blood running down the narrow streets, as well as the animal carcasses, skins, and assorted bloody parts stacked and scattered everywhere, in various states of being butchered. Men young and old, along with a few families, were engaged in the business of slaughter and sale (you can pay to have someone kill and fabricate your animal), and every several hundred feet, a makeshift grill was set up. Often a rickety old box spring, set on bricks or concrete blocks, these grills were roasting beast parts from head to tail; I saw more than a few ram’s heads sitting among the flames. Raggedy street cats were on the prowl, hoping to steal a few scraps. Many of the skins get collected and then carted down to the tanneries for sale.

Nearly every shop in the medina is closed because of the holiday, and it was only later, when my stomach started growling, that I realized finding dinner could be a challenge.  There was no restaurant in my riad, so I was on my own.  I’d become friendly with some of the teenagers and younger men who hung out every day in a gravel lot that was a pass-through between the riad and the medina. They were happy to practice their English, and I my petit amount of French.  I asked one of the taxi drivers, who’d helped my earlier, whether he knew of any open restaurant where I could get a meal. He called over one of the younger boys, who called over another boy, and they jabbered away excitedly.

One of the boys, Abdul, turned to me, smiling, and asked if I’d like to come to his home to eat.  I was equal parts excited and trepidatious. Well, probably more the latter, as a woman traveling alone, even though I was probably old enough to be their mother. When they heard how old I was, the three of them looked me up and down, and one finally said, “you protect yourself well.”  I knew no local woman would accept such an invitation by three boys, especially, as it turned out, no women were at home, only two older brothers. Younger Abdul, who was 16 at the time, and his 22-year-old friend, also Abdul, along with another 17-year-old friend, were downright giddy when I finally managed to quell my fears and accepted their dinner offer (the two Abduls are in one of the pictures with me).  The medina is a small world, and I knew that Rashid knew their families and vice versa; somehow that reassured me.

We entered Older Abdul’s home, which was very close to Riad Pacha, by descending down a narrow staircase and into a dim room.  The three boys went into the other room with Abdul’s two older brothers and started talking excitedly in Arabic.  Have to admit some alarm bells were going off, but I was determined to trust them.  One of the older brothers then came in and sheepishly began clearing off a messy table in front of us, one that clearly had seen an earlier meal of the lamb they’d slaughtered.  The two Abduls asked the usual questions (I’d been answering the same ones for days, every time I got into conversation with a Moroccan man) about whether I was in Fes alone, was I married, where was my boyfriend, etc.  I learn about their families, the village they’re originally from, and they peppered me with questions about my travels, my impressions of Morocco, and what life is like in the U.S.  Older Abdul left for a bit, and later returned with a veritable feast. Grilled lamb kabobs, the ubiquitous mint tea, bowls of olives, and bread.  Of course I didn’t mention that I typically don’t eat meat, and I politely enjoyed four kabobs worth of what turned out to be lamb liver. Apparently, the liver is the most prized part, and he’d intentially served it to me as their guest. Can’t say I loved it, but I was honored to be able to share in their Eid feast.

We closed the meal with a few Arabic lessons.  B’saha (a toast to good appetite) was one expression I learned, along with a more practical and useful one: they taught me to shout “la!” to get rid of the touts who would constantly harrass me when I walked alone in the media (said it translated to something like shut up or leave me alone).

Although it wasn’t the most delicious meal of my trip, nor served in the most interesting surroundings, I can say without hesitation that joining these young locals and partaking in their simple feast, was without a doubt one of my most treasured and memorable experiences from that trip, or any other for that matter.  It was truly a lesson in how to fully participate and live in the moment—and a reminder of how food unites us.  For more traveler’s tales, including my next day’s adventure learning about Moroccan music from my favorite music seller in all of Morocco, Farid, visit wanderlustily.com.

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