Happy Holiday!

Today is 3id al-Adha, also called the Feast of the Sacrifice. It’s one of the biggest Islamic holidays and is widely celebrated in Morocco (you can read and see more about it from last year’s post if you’re interested). You might notice that last year we posted about it later in October – that’s because 3id al-Adha takes place on the 10th day of the last month in the Islamic calendar, which means on the Gregorian calendar it moves up every year.

We’ll be spending the day with our host family to share the festivities and family time that accompany the holiday. Despite the one big difference, the rest of the day feels surprisingly like Christmas or Thanksgiving – we’ll spend lots of time visiting family and friends today and in the coming days, we’ll eat lots of food, and we’ll enjoy the atmosphere of school and work being closed. And even though most of you aren’t celebrating today, Matt and I wanted to take the chance to wish you all a happy holiday anyway! As you cook your meals today just imagine us watching a sheep get butchered, skinned, and then helping to prepare its organs. 🙂

Mbrouk l-3id! !مبروك عواشر Happy holiday!

– Cori and Matt

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?”


We’re currently in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan here in Morocco and we’ve had a lot of questions from friends and family about what that actually means.  The following is what we understand so far about the traditions and practices we’ve been fortunate to be a part of.

What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and fasting during this 30 day period (from new moon to new new moon) is one of the five pillars of Islam – meaning that it is obligatory for all Muslims.  Fasting means no food and no water, and even not using things like chapstick, from the first prayer of the day (several hours before sunrise) until the fourth (sunset).  In Azilal this means nothing can enter your body between about 3:40am and 7:45pm!  Ramadan also means fasting from smoking and bad thoughts (though I can’t imagine that ever actually works) and actions for the entire month.  Fasting is meant to allow Muslims to be closer to God as well as to make them more compassionate by better understanding how it feels to be poor.  As Ramadan is a holy month, a few of the other pillars of Islam increase in importance as well.  Specifically, prayer time is increased and giving charity is emphasized.

Fasting during the day is followed for many by lots of food and liquids at night.  The evening meal, breakfast, is often a family affair with a huge spread of food that often includes dates, harira (tomato soup but better), breads, eggs, tea, juices, and of course water.  Another meal follows around mid-night (dinner I guess) – often the traditional tajine or couscous.  Finally, some eat a small meal called suhoor at around 3am just before starting the next day of fasting.

Who fasts?
The short answer – EVERYONE! At least it seems that way…  In reality fasting is obligatory beginning at puberty.  However, there are many cases where fasting is not allowed or at least not recommended.  For example, pregnant or nursing women, people with health problems like diabetes, and elderly people are exempt.  Also, currently menstruating women are not allowed to fast.  This is not really a free pass though as any missed fasting days must be made up at some other time.

Despite all of those people who must be pregnant, nursing, sick, or elderly in Azilal we have only seen one person eating in public so far – a young kid who was eating a delicious looking ice cream bar – I was so jealous…

Since the entire country is fasting (Seemingly anyway) the hours of life change entirely.  Business hours shorten if they’re administrative and lengthen until midnight or later if they’re food related.  People change their sleep schedules and stay up late into the night.  The town is empty in the morning and early afternoon but then comes alive around 5pm when everyone goes out to buy whatever food is necessary for breaking the fast.  Then, about 5 minutes before sunset, Azilal becomes a ghost-town with everyone inside with their family for food.  After eating the town fills up with people walking and talking in the street until almost 1 or 2 in the morning.

Did you fast?  What did you think?
Yes! We decided to join in the tradition this year.  Our initial plan was to fast from the start of Ramadan (July 10th this year) until we left for Spain on the 26th.  With a complete change in our sleeping and eating schedules and a pretty sedentary lifestyle our Ramadan started out well.  We were both very thirsty and a little dizzy by the end of the first day but our bodies quickly adjusted and by the 3rd or 4th day we were having no problems making it to breakfast.  However, the monotony of energy conservation (read, no exercise or excessive movement) made us both pretty cranky and bored.  Without any spiritual reason to be fasting we decided to stop after day 10 – a successful completion of 1/3rd of the full experience.

We were both a little worried initially what our host community would think of our fasting. Would they be offended that we were trying out their religious tradition with little stress on the actual religious importance of the month?  Or would they just be happy that we were doing our best to assimilate into the culture and live the way they lived?  Turned out that the reactions we got were consistently good – people constantly asked us if we were fasting and were always very happy when we replied that we were.

All in all the month of Ramadan has been an excellent experience (aside from the constant boredom during the day).  Our daily evening walks along with the rest of Azilal have been great – almost every day we run into tons of people that we know. We’re also hoping that by being out night after night we are slowly showing others in our community that we aren’t tourists and that we’re here to stay.

Video: The call to prayer from the nearest mosque here in Azilal – this specific call indicated the end of fasting one of the days of Ramadan.  You can see little kids running home so they don’t miss the start of the meal.  The siren in the background also indicates that it’s breakfast time (this only happens during Ramadan).  At the end you can hear a number of other mosques.  The call happens 5 times a day, everyday here in Morocco.