WHEN THE BLEATING STOPPED (Morocco)
I'm sure I noticed when the bleating stopped. It happened somewhere between midnight and dawn and despite being fast asleep I'm certain I made a mental note of the quiet.
When I awoke that morning I felt the eerie silence as a heaviness on my heart. I got up, struggling against the freshness of the morning for the riads, the traditional housing of the Moroccan cities, have no heating and the winters on this Atlantic coastal city although not freezing remain cold. I left my second floor room walking around the inner courtyard to the stairs leading down to the road to take my morning walk around the city. The Danish sisters, the only other guests in this small family home, were up and just behind me and we exited onto the small alleyway together to investigate this special day. The silence was not only due to the absence of the bleating of hundreds of sheep but also due to the lack of human activity. The alleyways and streets normally teeming in life and activity at this time of the morning remained cold and empty. A couple of days ago I asked my host 'what was with all the sheep?' All of a sudden this normal Moroccan city had been transformed into a farm: Sheep were being transported everywhere; the sheep were led, carried and tied up onto a variety of vehicles. The noise the sheep created filled the air over those days, heard even above the calls for prayer and the sounds of the souks that typically fill the evenings with life and adventure.
The sheep, she answered, are being brought ready for Eid Al Adha, the sacrifice feast and the end of the biggest annual Muslim festival, Eid. Each family buys a sheep and on Eid Al Adha the sheep are slaughtered for a huge feast. 'Oh and by the way' She had continued, 'I'm going out of town for a couple of days to celebrate Eid with my cousins... Can you look after my grandmother for me?' Of course I could not refuse and I took charge of the small house inhabited by the grandmother, who spoke no English, and the two Danish girls.
This morning, we left the grandmother alone to see the streets and the celebration. The inevitable had transpired and the silence was even louder in my ears than the bleating of the preceeding days. The narrow network of alleyways that make up the neighbourhood are normally wide enough to walk down comfortably side by side. But this morning all of a sudden we were forced to walk single file, hugging the walls, for in the centre of the concave roads rivers of blood streamed down or gathered in stagnant pools depending on the incline. We pressed ourselves into the corner of the buildings and the roads trying to avoid stepping into the dark red pools and streams. A slaughter is said to have happened and a slaughter is what we saw: When we emerged into the small openings that accompany the merging of a few alleyways, groups of boys stood over makeshift barbequeues roasting the intact and complete heads of sheep. The heads would be piled up in stacks of about ten, balanced precariously on top of each other in a pyramid. Horns stuck out of the darkened heap making for fantastical patterns and shadows on the ground. The smoke and smell, unavoidable and penetrating seeped into our hair, clothes and lungs. Open doors revealed the preparation going on inside the homes. The women were busy preparing great feasts of all the sheep meat and guts for the family and extended family. The remains of the slaughter however was not limited to distended heads, but looking upwards, following the lines of drops of blood to the top of the three to four storey pastel coloured buildings and on top of the parapets the freshly cut skins were draped to dry. This scene, repeated itself around the city, a city in celebration and religious piety.
Arriving back to our ryad I was greeted by a number of relatives and friends of the immobile grandmother each with a dish of cooked sheep innards. My vegetarian sensibilities stopped me from tasting these strange dishes that were offered to me and led to much bemusement by the jubilant guests. But my love for Morrocan mint tea saved me and I joined in the celebrations as best I could. Eid Mubarrak.