Lizzy Ate a Bloody Lamb
It’s always interesting when a festival or holiday takes place while visiting a new country. I look at it as an extra window to view new customs and traditions, opening the door for a cultural exchange not even the best tour company could arrange for you. Lighting a torch in Scotland during Hogmany, counting down Lent and dressing up for “Carnival” in Holland, collecting a hat full of candy on St Nicolas day in Poland, and most recently experiencing Eid Al-Adha (or sheep festival) in northern Morocco.
The festival is celebrated by Muslims around the world to commemorate and remember the trials of the prophet Abraham by slaughtering a sheep (or goat ) to show their obedience to the faith as Abraham did. Alright, so a few fluffy sheep would be sacrificed the first day, but how many billions of turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving? Does the news broadcast images around the globe of their heads being chopped off? No, instead we pick up a nicely frozen packaged bird at the supermarket without even thinking twice, and immediately begin thinking about all the deals we will get the next day on “black friday.” And for those who may not eat meat, how many pine trees are chopped down each Christmas just to toss out on the curb a few days later (with no religious purpose associated to either holiday?) It was for these reasons that I decided it might be beneficial to stay around for the “festivities.”
As the start to the festival approached, you could sense the anticipation and excitement much like those last few shopping days before Christmas. Wives bustling around the markets collecting ingredients to begin preparing for the big feast, husbands and sons selecting the finest sheep to bring home to their families and the somewhat comical methods of getting the sheep home. I watched as they crammed sheep and goats into car trunks and back seats, stowed them in luggage compartments on local buses, and even tied them to the roofs of cars (a little reminiscent of our Christmas tree tradition.) Throughout the markets you could hear the grinding of steel on wet-stone as knives were sharpened to prepare for the big day.
I quickly realized after trying to leave the small village I was in just how big the holiday was. The stations and roads were full of people trying to get home to celebrate the occasion with their loved ones, making it very difficult for a “tourist” to get anywhere. The people were incredibly nice, with no agenda but to extend a warm welcome into their country. When I reached my final destination of Casablanca, I was fortunate to be invited by not one, but two families who invited me into their homes for the feast. I decided to divide my time between both, spending the earlier part of the day with an old shopkeeper Abdel, and the afternoon and evening with my younger “brother” Yassin (who had taken the time the evening before to introduce me to his family and the sheep they would be killing and eating the next day.)
The morning of the festival I walked outside to meet Abdel at a coffee shop and was greeted with the smell of BBQ and smoke in the air. As we walked through the much less crowded streets, I began to fully take in the carnage around me. Makeshift bonfires set up and down the streets illuminated the horns of sheep heads that had been tossed in the fires (young boys poking at the remnants still inside.) Donkeys and horses pulled trailers with mountains of slightly blood stained skins as housewives began mopping the red water out into the streets. Abdel looked up at me a few times and softly chuckled at my horrified face as I watched the gutters literally run with blood.
From an outsiders perspective, I could understand how the scene could be misinterpreted. It felt more like a scene from “Friday the 13th” than a holiday that was full of love and gratitude. With all the images we get through the media of Jihad and terrorism, some could even associate the scenes from that morning as training for some infidel group. While I certainly didn’t enjoy viewing the carnage with my virgin eyes, I did think for a moment that if I had ever stepped foot in a slaughter-house here in the states I would think twice about that next bbq I had. And putting the blood and carnage aside, my eyes were also open to the love and kindness of the Muslim faith that the media chooses NOT to focus on.
The meaning of the holiday is to show the sacrifices that are sometimes required to stay on the right path. There are some families who even borrow money to buy their sheep, and much of the meat is given away to those even less fortunate. It didn’t seem like a single thing went to waste that day (except the bits of sheep stomach and other unknown body parts offered to me, yet discretely wrapped in tissue and hidden in my purse when I could no longer stand the taste.)
It has been interesting returning back to the states since the festivities. So many warnings were given to avoid the “muslim terrorists” while I was traveling through areas such as Israel and Palestine as well as Egypt and Morocco. But when you really begin to understand and look at the religion and it’s teachings, it is just as opposed to terrorism as anyone else. Sometimes I think it is so easy to take things out of context and distort the meaning of something instead of gaining a full perspective for yourself (and it is something believers of a faith do as well.) Are there “bad” muslims out there? Yes, just as there are “bad” christians, catholics, and many other religions. (Hello, do we not remember David Koresh or the countless catholic priests guilty of child molesting?) I’m not justifying the acts of terrorism that do occur, I am just saying that if we could all be a little more open to our differences and make an attempt to understand each other’s beliefs rather than letting the media and others dictate those beliefs for us, maybe this world would be a happier place.