Sheep and Monkeys in the Mahgreb

Last Friday morning Max and I pulled out of our garage to see a large sheep, hanging from a tree with most of its skin yanked down around its hooves.  A man, a nice man we have come to know and really like, stood next to the sheep in a bloody apron wielding a large, very sharp knife.

“Aid Mubarak!’  I said to Max as we drove past our neighbor instructing a small child how to release the flesh from the meat of the animal.

Last weekend was Eid Al Adha when Muslims all over the world commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his first born son Ishmael.  Each family who can afford to do so must purchase a sheep and slaughter it on the morning of “L’aid” as it is referred to here.  The meat from the sheep is divided into three parts: one is kept by the family, one given to friends or relatives and one is given to the poor. 

What this kind of ritualized mass butchering looked like to non-Muslim observers like myself that Friday morning was a kind of zombie-esque end of days scenario on the streets of Casablanca.   Men walk around covered in blood, 12 inch knives, still dripping, carried in front of them and buckets of sheep guts at their side.  They wear galoshes to protect themselves from the rivers of blood that claim the gutters.  Small groups of teenage boys roast sheep heads on open flames all over the city and carts of freshly removed sheep skins are ferried about for sale.  Outside of the impromptu bbq’s and weapon wielding men the streets are empty and the shops are all closed.  

It’s not that we don’t like religious observances, we do, but I am not the hugest fan of blood so we carried on right past our friendly neighbor-come-butcher and escaped to the mountains.  Morocco has great cities with amazing recorded histories, but it also has great undeveloped areas.  These areas were once referred to by the French as “Bled-al-siba" which translates roughly to “The wild places”.  Places where sultans, chieftains and kings never could quite get a handle on the population and Berber tribes pretty much kept to themselves.  These places are much more developed than they once were, but there is still an “off the grid” kind of feel to them.  And sometimes in Casablanca you need to get off the grid for a few days.        

I should have seen it coming, but what started as “Let’s just drive to the mountains for a few hours, run around with the dog, and then come back to Casa” turned into an overnighter and then two nights. We can bring the dog, they will feed us AND give us a discount?  How can we NOT stay all weekend? 

Our first night a very well intentioned cafĂ© owner emerged from the neighboring tent with an apple and an orange for desert.  Out of sheer self preservation I snatched up the orange before Max had a chance to notice the apple was swimming in water that I was sure hadn’t come from our laser purified tap at home.  Max, loyal to hospitality at all times, ate part of the apple while the man was looking and then slipped the rest into his coat pocket.*  We try to stick to a fresh fruit code while eating on the streets: If it has a peel you can risk it, but if not….make sure you are staying somewhere with a nice bathroom.  Max did indeed spend the first night of our weekend away in the beautifully tiled bathroom, hovered over the toilet.  “Away”, “Secluded”, and “Retreat” all sound awesome until you imagine yourself waking up the guest house proprietor and making him drive you 4 hours back to civilization in the middle of the night.  With a dog who will no doubt bark the whole way . 

But my man is resilient and he was right as rain the next morning.  We spent the weekend hiking around the falls, haggling for carpets and trying to avoid the Barbary Apes that a nice French man told us sometimes attack dogs.  If you think it’s ridiculous for two Americans to hike around the Atlas Mountains with a small Yorkshire Terrier tucked under one arm - it is.     

*A note to foreign service hopefuls:  Be prepared to eat food you know will make you sick.  Diplomacy is as much about getting diarrhea from a generously offered apple – probably more than once - as it is anything else.