Today, Muslims all over the world celebrated Eid al Adha or Eid al Kebir (the Festival of Sacrifice or “the big Eid,” as opposed to the one at the end of Ramadan). This festival celebrates Abraham’s preparedness to sacrifice his son for God, before it was replaced by a sheep. In Morocco, as elsewhere, Muslim families save up to buy a sheep to slaughter on this day to share with family, friends and those less fortunate than themselves.
Over the past few days, several people asked whether I had bought my howli, my sheep. I became quite proficient at explaining my vegetarianism in Moroccan Arabic, although I am not convinced people actually understood the concept. I saw sheep being bought and sold and transported home in some ingenious ways: on the roof of a minibus, on the back of a moped and on the end of a string. I even saw one waiting for a bus!
This morning in Essaouira, it seemed the whole town had turned out to pray on the square in front of the Provincial office after daybreak. Men were dressed in formal white jellabas or foqia tunics and everyone wore freshly laundered or new clothes, as is the Eid custom.
I was invited to share breakfast with a friend’s family. We ate batbot (a kind of fluffy bread, like a round pillow, soaked in hand-churned butter and honey), beghrir (like a cross between an English crumpet and a crepe) and cakes with super sweet mint tea. All these calories were necessary for the men of the house, who were responsible for the halal slaughter of the extended family’s two sheep. Yesterday the knife sharpeners did a bustling trade and expert butchers toured each neighbourhood on this special morning to ensure the act was conducted efficiently and in accordance with Islamic rites.
I kept out of the way of the bloody scene, but I could hear the scuffles as the sheep was caught and slowly the bleating which we had heard on the terraces and in the garages all around our quartier receded…
Like most things in Morocco, no part of the sheep goes to waste. Young boys collected the sheep skins to sell to those who could use them to make rugs or clothing. Bonfires were set up on street corners to burn the fur off the head and smoke the meat and brains. (The latter are served with eggs, apparently). The organs were carefully extracted – the first course of the Eid lunch was barbecued skewers of heart, liver and fat. The sheep is left to hang so the blood drains out, so the main course at lunch today was chicken; the lamb will be served in a rich tajine (a Moroccan steamed stew) with dried fruits or in couscous tomorrow. In case you were wondering, I was served more fish than I could manage!
After a siesta, the afternoon was spent catching up with friends and family in person and on the phone. In many ways, Eid reminds me of my childhood Christmasses: shops are shut and people travel to join loved ones in their home towns and villages where they enjoy eating huge quantities of home cooking and passing out on the couch. It’s a chance to catch up on family news, celebrate being together and re-connect with the meaning of the festival. Eid Mubarak said!