Well, I’m here. I’ve survived. The journey began on Sunday, when I woke up at midnight, 3am and 4am, worried that I had missed the Imam’s call and not too sure whether or not I would do Ramadan. Upon asking why (Latifa really dreads that one word) I was told that if I fasted on Sunday, I would be forgiven for all of my sins for last year and next year. Sounds like a good deal.
Any doubts that I may have had were rapidly banished when my eyes flung open at 5.15 to hear the first call to prayer. Not so much a call, but a loud, raucous, heaving yell, which would have roused the dead. I knew it would be a special day, so I had to make the decision to fast. At 10am, when the guys came to install the heater, I made them breakfast. The smell of toast, the look of the hot tea… No, I resisted. Then came lunch time. As I was on my own, this was relatively easy. I pulled up a few chairs in front of the fire and curled up for a sleep to forget about my hunger. Then, woken at 2pm by a knock at the door, I thought I was doomed. No more… But, at the door was Hajj Maurice, so named because he has taken the trip to Mecca. He was also fasting and was so thrilled. Lots of ‘tres bien’ and ‘it’s good for you’. So, I stuck with it.
At 5.30pm, in the kitchen, with a lavish meal carefully prepared, I stood in wait. Maybe I missed the call? 5.40 came by – still no prayer. Just as I was about to call Latifa to see if her Imam had called out, his lovely (if a little off key and hoarse) voice rang out through the air. Horray. Scoff. Full… Scoff. And so the night went on.
I arrived at Latifa’s house on Monday where her mother was very impressed with my advanced basic Arabic skills. In the morning, I sat down in the kitchen for the first breakfast. We were joined by a baby lamb that Latifa’s parents somehow acquired – not for the Eid, that would have been too much! Latifa and her mother fed the baby, and then the day really began.
Dressed up like a real Moroccan, we waltzed about town visiting family and friends. Every house had a steady supply of mint tea and halwa – various biscuits. We ate and ate until the slaughter began. We managed to escape all of it, except for the last house we visited. One of Latifa’s uncles was just having his sheep done by Latifa’s father. I think it was lucky to get this introduction to the situation, without having to see the actual death just yet.
It was all over very fast – the sheep were pulled from their room, had their heads cut off, quickly shed of their skin and then all of the entrails were pulled out and quickly placed into the waiting tajine and onto the brochettes. What did I eat? Just one stick (Latifa’s mother would like to send more because I clearly didn’t eat my share) of heart, liver, stomach fat, lung, stomach fat, heart, liver. Can you believe it? The lung was particularly chewy and I could feel it in my throat for the next 12 hours. The stomach fat was the nicest bit.
All of the work followed then – the stomach was cleaned out, the intestines emptied and dried, the heads were charred on the fire and then the wool was scraped off. The same treatment went on with the legs. And, of course, don’t forget the skin. That was covered in salt, ready to be cleaned and dried tomorrow.
Everyone was super busy with their job. I was the chief photographer and cry baby. That’s right. At the moment at which I watched the sheep get its throat cut, with all of the blood gushing out, my eyes just filled up and tears sprung out. I couldn’t stop it and my hosts were a little shocked and dismayed. I was a bit embarrassed, but I think it was good for them to see that for some people, death does not form such a natural part of everyday life.