Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy holidays! (Unless you’re a sheep.)

My host sisters primping for the holiday.

(Warning: pictures below may affect my fellow vegetarians or other sensitive souls)

Tuesday was L3id el Kbir, the Great Feast. To atone for their sins, each family must sacrifice a sheep or a goat (or a chicken, if that’s all they can afford).

It’s one of Islam’s most important holidays, akin to Christmas in the States, so I tried my best to participate. The day started off lovely, sunny and tranquil, Kabira and I taking a short walk around town, the streets empty and quiet, all the stores closed, everyone home with their families.

Then the man came to kill the ram.

Kabira proudly holding the trophy.
I tried to watch, I really did. I even took pictures (though many of them were snapped with my eyes averted). I could only manage about a minute at a time. I kept coming back, trying to keep my stomach strong for the family’s sake, only to have to escape once again.
First they slit the neck, allowing for a fast (and presumably painless) death as well as for the blood to escape quickly, crucial for both religious and sanitary reasons. Then the head and legs were cut off; these were disposed of by fire.
The part that really surprised me was when they used a bicycle tire pump to inflate the animal. Better blood drainage?
Inflating the carcass with a bicycle tire pump.

The ram was skinned, then relieved of its various organs and bowels. Partly I found it nearly impossible to watch, but I was also surprised by how well I stomached (so to speak) what I did manage to stick around for.

What icked me out the most: Various platters and bowls of entrails being carted down from the rooftop barnyard and washed off in the kitchen and bathroom. We will be eating off these same dishes later, I have no doubt.

Ick factor No. 2: Rakiya happily poking at the ram’s head in the fire, squatting in the pool of blood, wearing my brand-new house slippers.

The animal’s torso is now resting, halfheartedly wrapped in plastic, on a bench in the bedroom. What may be the stomach is soaking in a basin on the chair next to me as I type this. Lunch was a tagine of heavy chunks of bone dripping with meat. (For me, it was bread and some of the best oranges I’ve tasted yet.)

Some of the luckier ones.

Afterward, Kabira dressed up in a gorgeous orange kaftan and took me on a long, exhilerating walk out of town, to visit a friend at her family farm. Of course this meant a little snack – coffee (Coffee! Haven’t had it in weeks), bread with olive and argan oils, dates, olives, nuts.

Home just in time for dinner – another meat tagine, this time of the hooves. But, just for me, Khadija made a delicious bean stew as well. My non-meat-eating ways perplex them, but they’re more than respectful. Although I count it as a step toward integrating into the family that the teenage boy at one point caught me looking at him and made little walking movements with his bones, a sly smile creeping across his face.

Zwina bzzf! (My host sisters are so lovely.)

All in all, a holiday just like we’re used to in America: A day spent with family, eating too much food, followed by too much food. Not sure I’ve ever eaten a holiday meal in the States with a zombie movie on TV as the background noise, but why not? I’m not a zombie, and I’m not a sheep. Two good reasons to celebrate.

Holiday text message from my language tutor:

“Don’t miss to eat a portion of meat it’s blessed u can’t find it in Am its 99%pure from bacterha.”


Krista said...

Yikes! Do you need new slippers now? I've always wondered how many people would actually eat meat (myself included) if we had to slaughter it ourselves. Food for thought...n'est-ce pas?

Melissa said...

Wow! Having grown up thinking meat originated from those Styrofoam trays in the freezer section of the grocery store, the process sounds so different. Even the butcher shop in my neighborhood made the process appear sterile.

I hope you're well. Thinking of you often, Becki!

Anna Jo said...

Ick! If you're trying to make us all veggies ... it's working!

jill said...

oh god. sorry becki. i definitely would be a vegetarian had i seen that process. it's nice that they respect your weirdo ways!

michael went up north to photograph a taxidermist. he tried to show me some of the photos i would not find offensive, but the one of an elk's scalp held in place on the styrofoam mold with at least a dozen nails was just too much. he thought it was funny.

shoot me an email with your top wishes for a christmas package please!

miss you!