After Palmyra Damascus. I fly out of Syria, am stuck and grounded in Istanbul for a day due to fog, but eventually get to see my boys Daniel and David near Casablanca, Morocco, in due time for the Muslim celebrations of Eid al-Adha.
Daniel's view of things.
Hi, I am Daniel, I am nearly 3 years old, my bro David is ill; that is why you see just me instead of us. Today is Aïd el-Kebir or Eid al-Adha (wiki), the greatest festival, the festival of sacrifice, fête de moutons as they say here. I still don’t understand much of it. But for Muslims, and I might be a good Muslim one day, it is the grandest celebrations in the year.
My mother has put me in a white jabador, especially for today, but I realise somewhat that I am the only one who’s really dressed to any festive use, first time I am wearing a jabador or jellaba and baboush, I keep losing them all the time. But why just me? All others really wear their pyjamas, or sweat gear. Well maybe my great grandmother is dressed nicely; head of a family of so many, she has had 5 sisters and one brother, her husband had 5 sisters and 2 brothers, together they had 3 girls and 4 sons, my grandmother, one them again had 5 children. This is just an average sized family out here in the countryside; everyone here is connected to everyone. My great grandmother holy, sweet, intelligent and blind; has been since I can remember, despite this she still works, bakes the best bread and cooks the best cuscus in my family.
It started yesterday, my bro already hanging in the ropes vomits, had told him not to eat donkey shit and kiss the dog; the olds folk went shopping, to the souk, is souk here on Fridays. All these carts of donkeys, horses, and so many muttons, whatever is sold on this souk, lorry loads of onions, truck loads of any other vegetable and fruit, seems there is always a season here. The olds come back with a donkey cart full of vegetables, must be damn cheap.
And then the muttons were delivered, or really it started with a goat, for my aunt, her husband is diabetic. The muttons came right after, their feet bound together. And they rambled and baaed and bleated all night; must have seen it coming. Next door they bound a cow to a tree; same story. None of the beasts would stay for long with us. Yesterday was Friday and as is customary for Fridays great grandmother prepared one of these legendary cuscus/couscous. You as an outsider, you will never understand the taste of a Friday cuscus on the country, when the taste of a variety of vegetables mingles with the cooked beef and its black peppers, curcuma and ginger spices, and only my great grandmother can pull it her special unique way, sorting, sieving, steaming over the veggie broth, dampening, repeating moistening the grain again and again, finally oiling and buttering the cuscus. Man -, mean boy...
So, there I am here today dressed fancifully; now the men come back from the mosque, and soon they walk away with me, turn my head away when all others look on to what it is, which I don’t know? When I finally get my glimpse they have hung up meat, but where did the beasts go? As I’ve said some connections I just cannot make, - yet. Now with huge knifes they take out the innards, heart, lung, liver, intestines, and someone starts a fire outside, they’re all so happy.
Slowly now I understand why none of them is dressed nicely, they have real work to do, especially the woman folk. It looks like a pretty bloody affair that meat stuff hanging in the door ways, the butchery business needs a lot of cleaning up. Just my great grandmother no-stress, watches over my bro, and guards the meat.
I go on inspection around the yard and realise the sheep heads, ugly, foolish eyes, stupid looking faces grinning at me, where and why have they gotten those? Two here, another one there, sure there must be many. These heads are put onto the fire together with the hairy trots; soon the air all around is filled with burning fur. In the whole village and all countryside fires of coal and wood go up fill the air with this sticky smell of burnt hair. The heads are burnt till charcoaled, then put aside till the afternoon. Later when I stick around the kitchen which is my favourite place as all the interesting stuff of boiling water in kettles on gas stove, knifing and splinting of meat and veggies is going on there and I never can be close enough to the action; this afternoon my grandma, yes the blind would be busy rubbing the blackened skin off the sheep’s trots and heads with an iron cloth, then they’d split the heads with an axe and hammer to take the brains out for separate use, and finally steam the head with teeth and jaws and all just adding salt and garlic, cook it really slowly, for a long time. It is going to simmer all night. Delicious they say.
I stroll to the neighbours; I just want to make sure all is alright. They have hung up a whole cow. But where did the other one go? The one bound to the tree? There as well they are busy, all busy, hard working, spilling lots of water, scrubbing the floors.
When back they have moved the grill inside, the smoke makes sure all is covered in thick fog, but so is tradition they say. Barbequeing the fresh liver has got to be done inside. Also the other innards are on the grill, oh what smoke. I give the pneumo and heart stuff a pass, but the mouton liver tastes fresher and smoother than anything I have ever had, with just salt and a bit of spice, a delight, so delicious I say. My poor bro won’t get any. He just faints, think is the smoke.
And people come and go and we eat and eat, drink tea and eat, and later we go and meet people here and there and I eat and eat. Oh, comes evening my brother seems better, starts having some food. But after all I have had, ... Back at home I brush my teeth, I am a big boy now, baby no-more. But what is that, there is more food coming?