The Big Holiday!

Last week the Muslim world celebrated 3id al-Adha, which is the holiday of the sacrifice. It marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and is a celebration of the story of Abraham and Issac (although in the Qur’an it’s Ibrahim and his other son, Ismail). In Morocco, the holiday is more commonly known as 3id l-kbir, or “the big holiday”, which we enjoyed celebrating last week with our host family – it was an awesome cultural experience! But be warned – some of our pictures (included below) are a little gruesome.

This holiday is famous (or perhaps infamous?) among PCVs because every Moroccan family buys a live sheep that they take home to slaughter the morning of l-3id. In the days leading up to l-3id, we watched nervously as we saw people walking sheep home from market, pushing goats in a cart, or driving by in a pickup truck with multiple sheep in the bed. We saw plenty of big knife-sharpening wheels in action, and multiple times heard the question “so have you bought a sheep yet?”

No, we're not getting a sheep, because we're going to help eat this one.

No, we’re not getting a sheep, because we’re going to help eat this one.

On the day of the holiday, we woke up to an extended prayer service happening at the nearby mosque. As the service ended, we headed out to join the crowd of people heading home to begin the slaughtering. With all the shops closed and greetings being exchanged everywhere, it felt a lot like Christmas (later one of our friends would again compare l-3id to Christmas: “they’re so similar! It’s just that you cut a tree, and we cut a sheep!”). Once we met up with our host family, we went around to the neighbors’ houses exchanging holiday greetings and getting fed lots of cookies and tea (yes, at 10:00 in the morning).

saying a final goodbye...

saying a final goodbye…

Then finally the butcher made his way to my host family’s house, and we all gathered around to watch him slaughter the sheep. I sympathized with our little 5-year-old host niece who hid the whole time, but I figured since this is something I’ll only see a couple times I needed to stay (and I took a short video for you all, included below!) It turned out to be pretty gross, but also pretty quick… and then we got to the cool part, which included watching the men skin the sheep and take out all the organs and whatnot. Fun fact: to clean out the intestines, the best way is apparently to pour water down the butt and then blow it through until there is no poop left (unfortunately we have no pictures of this). For whatever reason, this seems to be a coveted job… and I tried really hard to avoid eating any intestines.

just like taking off a sweater!

just like taking off a sweater!

drying out some fat...

drying out some fat…

aaaand little do we know but that'll be tonight's dinner.

aaaand little do we know, but that’ll be tonight’s dinner.

After the sheep was all clean and the slaughter was over, the rest of the day (and the next few as well) was spent cooking and eating various parts of the sheep. The traditional first meal of l-3id is grilled fat-wrapped liver (or heart, or pancreas/mystery organ), which is surprisingly delicious. For dinner, we had the grilled head, including eyeballs and tongue (but no brain, as far as we could tell)… which was decent, but I wouldn’t say delicious. Over the next few days we got lots of invitations to come eat meals which consisted entirely of huge plates of various cuts of meat, and enjoyed the continuing holiday feel by visiting with lots of families. But by Monday everything was back to normal – all the kids went back to school and the stores opened up again, and we’ll be starting work again soon at the Dar Chebab. As much fun as it was to experience l-3id with Moroccan families, it’ll be nice to get back to a normal schedule after a summer full of traveling. But for now, a late mbruk l-3id (happy holiday) to you all!

Matt helping make the liver kebabs. yum!

Matt helping our host mom make the liver kebabs. Yum!

If you’re really desperate to experience the holiday the way we did, here’s the video I took of the slaughter. Be warned, it’s graphic. If you make it through the whole thing you’ll hear my laugh of disgust and my host mom asking me “did you take a picture? can I see?”

Special Olympics Morocco

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at the Special Olympics here in Morocco – something that I’d been excited about doing since I first heard about it at the beginning of the summer. It definitely lived up to my expectations and I would go so far as to say that it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done since our arrival here in Morocco.

A bit of quick information about the event:

  • 1000 athletes from all over Morocco and a few other North African countries
  • 4 days of events including track and field, soccer, basketball, tennis, cycling, badminton, swimming, weightlifting, table tennis, equestrian, volleyball, and gymnastics
  • 150 volunteers (30 from Peace Corps Morocco)

My job was pretty simple and involved guiding a group during the opening ceremony, helping with the running races throughout the week, providing as much cheering and support for the athletes as possible, and assisting with anything else as needed.  While some of my interactions with the adult leaders and organizers of the event were less than ideal (it seemed that some of them had little experience working with special needs youth), my interactions with the athletes themselves were always positive.  Nearly every athlete was beyond excited to be there and to be competing in such a huge event.  We could tell that they were appreciative that we were cheering for them.

Me and a fellow volunteer at the opening ceremony with our groups of athletes and their coaches.

Me and a fellow volunteer at the opening ceremony with our groups of athletes and their coaches.

Doing my job like a pro.

Doing my job like a pro.

Also my job.  While this photo is staged, it is a near perfect representation of how I actually looked every race.

Also my job. While this photo is staged, it is a near perfect representation of how I actually looked every race.

The medal spread.

The medal spread.

Athletes excited to be receiving their medals!

Athletes excited to be receiving their medals!

The "assisting with anything else as needed" involved moving literally thousands of water bottles from the delivery truck to the storage rooms... not easy.

Bonus photo!!! The “assisting with anything else as needed” involved moving literally thousands of water bottles from the delivery truck to the storage rooms… not easy.

It was really encouraging for me and my fellow PCVs to see an event like this happen in Morocco.  From what I’ve seen thus far, it doesn’t seem that special needs education and inclusion is a very common practice in Morocco.  I’ve heard rumors (I have no idea if this is true, so don’t quote me) that families will sometimes even hide their child from their community if some special needs issue is suspected.  Because of these issues it was definitely encouraging to see such a significant event put together with large scale media attention and even some royalty in attendance – all things that could help to raise awareness.

After the Special Olympics, Cori and I met up and we spent the next few weeks seeing friends, attending a wedding! (we’ll post about that soon), and getting one of my wisdom teeth pulled (much less fun than all of the other things).  And now, home!

-Matt