Tuesday, November 15, 2011

8.11.11 Farewell my dear sheep

or few words about the Sacrifice Day…

The Sacrifice Day begins with the muezzin’s prayer, which is louder and longer than usually. His voice is present in every house and on every street for about 1 hour from around 7.30 a.m. He announces that one of the most important Muslim holidays has just begun.

That’s what woke me up. And after a while I witnessed death of two animals: my sheep and the cow, which I didn’t like, because it kept on bullying the sheep.

Since the early morning many butchers appeared in the districts of Marrakesh, walking, shouting and offering their services. When one of them approached our house, Yassine and his father called him to come up to the roof-terrace, where the whole sacrifice process usually takes place. A fat guy in wellingtons with military pattern and his young assistant (a boy, about 15 years old) in similar wellingtons and with a straw basket full of knives climbed up the stair to the roof, where the sheep tied to a metal column was already waiting for them. The butcher said a short prayer (actually one word: “bismillah” – in the name of God) and cut the sheep’s throat. My plan to save my sheep failed drastically…

First, the head is cut off. Then a piece of the leg is incised and through a little whole some air is blown into the dead victim. That was the assistant’s task and he used his mouth to fill the animal with air. In this way the skin moves away from the bones and it can be removed in one piece. Then the inner organs are sorted out – the heart, lungs, liver, brain, etc. The rest is hung on a special hook, which is mounted on every terrace wall. The muscles of the animal are not eaten on this day, only the inner organs. The body with muscles hangs upside down on the hooks till the next day, when the body is cut into parts and some pieces of it are given to the poor and relatives.

When the head is cut off, the terrace turns into a bloody river, covering all around with the royal red colour. Every terrace has water supply and outflow so the cleaning process is quick and easy.

Scarifying a cow takes much more time and a special butcher is needed. Ours was ordered a day before on a phone. He came 2 hours late, dressed in a ragged black jacket and dirty clothes. His eyes were green, to my surprise, and he made a rather scary impression, although I fund him a bit shy. His arms were covered with long scars and he had one scar on his scalp, as well. His waist was tied with a leather belt with 2 big knives attached to it. He entered the house with his skinny assistant and for about one hour he was demonstrating his professional skills. He killed two cows already before visiting us. It is not so easy to remove the cow’s skin in one piece, but he managed to do it in a perfect way. All the family, except of Yassine’s mother, was gathered around him to watch his butchery art and admire his professionalism.

The cow didn’t want to pass away quickly, so it was suffering for couple of minutes on the terrace floor. The butcher and his assistant were pouring cold water on its body. Again it was the head that was cut off as the first element. Then inner organs were taken out and the body was hung on two hooks. It’s still here and waits for the butcher who is supposed to come here again and cut the meat and sort it according to the body parts. The skin of both animals, sprinkled with salt, lies on the floor in the sun. It will be given to a poor lady. The walls are still covered with blood…

As I already said, on the Sacrifice Day only the inner organs of the animal are consumed. Grilled or smoked, with a lot of spices. Sometimes served with a sauce and eaten with handmade bread. I heard that the brain is the most delicious part, especially when served with garlic. I don’t know how it tastes. And I don’t want to know. I didn’t eat and I won’t eat any brain or any other part of any animals…

In the evening of the Sacrifice Day Moroccans go out to visit their families or friends or meet with them in a cafĂ©. The same happens in the evening the day after, when the meat is already chopped, sorted and located in a special place…

And so, in the city bathed in the sunlight, all kinds of bleating and mooing suddenly disappear. The sellers of feed, pottery and coil leave the streets. Everything is back to normal.

Monday, November 14, 2011

6.11.11 Waiting for the big day

or about holiday preparation again…

Today a cow arrived to Yassine’s parents’ house. It inhabited the bathroom together with my sheep and was tied to the wall, so that it does not run away, in case the door (which is just a wooden board and an old satellite dish) is battered down. The animals live on the last, third floor of the house, so it was quite a challenge to drag them up the stairs. The cow is becoming fierce, takes over control in the bathroom, takes away the food of my sheep and pushes my sheep aside, back to the corner and doesn’t let it move. The poor sheep keeps on bleating and every now and then claims humbly its privileges.

On the streets there is another interesting phenomenon: special primitive stands with feed, vessels for meat preparation, coil or knife sharpener appeared in the middle-class or rich districts among beautiful houses or along crowded streets. Next to the stand there’s a small tent for the sellers who come here from nearby villages or poorest districts and stay here for 1 or 2 nights. All the products are placed before the tent, no one even hides them when it’s dark. A customer may appear any time during the day or night. And because nights are cold now, the fire lighten next to or even inside the tent is an indispensible part of the little camp.

In the well-off district people rather don’t dare to kill their animals by themselves or prepare some parts of the animals and take care of their skin. So the sellers stay outside until the Festival and smoke or grill sheep hooves or heads for them. To kill an animal the citizens hire butchers who walk between the houses early in the holiday morning, offering aloud their services. Inhabitants welcome them with joy, very often take them to their families who also need a butcher. It is also possible to phone a butcher a day before the festival, but this practice is not really common.

Poor families have to take care of everything with their own hands, from bringing an animal, to its sacrificing and preparing its meat, whether they’re brave enough to do it (especially sacrifice it) or not…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

6.11.11 My first sheep

or how I become an owner of a scared sheep…

Moroccan sheep madness still goes on. The Festival of Sacrifice is tomorrow, so it’s the last chance to buy an animal.

Since we arrived to Marrakesh I’ve been photographing all the sheep around me: on a terrace, on a street, in a carriage or in the center. I even made friends with a sheep of our neighbour, which is stuck on a terrace. Seeing my fascination with sheep, Yassine’s parents decided to buy me one, as well. They know I don’t eat meat, so I’m not going to consume my sheep after the sacrifice, but they just wanted to see my joy of having a sheep at home… Thus, for two days I became an owner of a little sheep.

The scared animal lives in a small bathroom near the terrace. It received a lot of food and pieces of cardboard to sleep on it. But it ignores the cardboard and stays on cold tiles. I’ve already photographed it (him! Him, him, him! It’s him!), talked with him, fed and I was already about to give him a name, when Yassine stated that’s not a good idea, because I will be emotionally connected with my sheep and then cry when he dies.

Tomorrow the sheep will be sacrificed, and all what’s left, will be just memories, pictures and his meat on other people’s plates. I keep visiting him and convince there’s no reason to be scared. The sacrifice is usually calm and peaceful, but I will write more about it tomorrow.

05.11.11 A sheep bleating in the morning

or how we land up in Marrakesh again…

In two days Muslims celebrate one of their two most important religious holidays – the Festival of Sacrifice. That’s how they commemorate the day when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son to God, but then a sheep was sent to him to sacrifice it instead of Ishmael.

Many people buy a sheep now to sacrifice it to God, prepare the meat in a traditional way and eat it with the whole family. But this is not so easy at all, because not everyone can afford to buy a sheep or other animal. And that’s what happens in Morocco:

The thinnest and poorest animal costs about 70-80 Euro. If you want to buy a sheep with good quality meat, you have to spend about 200 Euro. If you prefer another animal, e.g. a cow, with a low-cholesterol meat, you need to pay 500 Euro. And an average monthly salary in Morocco amounts to 500 Euro (although there are huge differences between income in villages and cities and between social classes). To save some money on the future victim, Moroccans are ready to travel far away to buy a cheaper sheep. Citizens of Marrakesh go often to Essaouira (about 90 km) and bring an animal from there. But not everyone can afford a cheaper animal, even from another city. Fortunately, the richer people share with the poorest and give them some parts of their animal. Or buy for them a new sheep. On the other side however, the richest families decide soemtimes to spend their holiday outside the country and spend the money on a journey, rather than on an animal and expensive festival.

Since few days sheep or (rarely) cows are transported on the streets of Marrakesh. They travel in a special carriage, barrow, motorcycle, bike or they are simply pulled on a string and forced to enter into a Moroccan house. Usually the animals don’t fight for their freedom, they follow humbly their new owner. They calmly accept their fate and finally end up on a roof, which is also a terrace of a house. That’s why in the first morning after we arrived to Marrakesh I was woke up not by the usual sound of birds but by a bleating sheep. We went up to the terrace of Yassine’s parents house to check how many new inhabitants there are on another roofs but we noticed just one sheep. More will come today.

Waiting for the sacrifice, sheep eat hay that can be bought now on many streets in the city, also in the center. Usually children are the sellers.

The meat of a sacrificed sheep is enough for the whole family for the next several weeks, depending on the size of the family and the sheep. And so, for example, Yassine’s closest family (3 people) will eat their cow even for the next 5 or 6 months and a family of our friend (8 people) will share their sheep for 2 months more.

During this holiday more animals are killed in the whole world than on any other day…