Saturday, December 22, 2007


I mentioned the baa – baa – baa that I heard all week but I failed to mention the other frequently-heard noise leading up to l-Eid Kbir – the sound of knife sharpeners at work. I ended up with four l-Eid invitations, which I felt happy about. Youssef texted in the morning that they were going to get started around 9:45 – but I read it as 8:45, so I quickly dropped off cookies at my landlord’s; had I read it right I would have stayed to visit a bit but leaving when I did gave me the opportunity to see latecomers running to the mosque, dressed in their finest. For l-Eid there’s an extra prayer at around 8:00 am, and a talk similar to the Friday midday-prayer talk, and the sacrifice happens after that talk (I thought everyone had to wait for the king to make his sacrifice, but now I am not sure about that). Youssef’s family had some cake, cookies and tea ready when I got there, so I fortified myself with sugar and more sugar (and added my cookies to the mix – l-Eid Sgir, the “little holiday” marking the end of Ramadan, is really the cookie holiday but nobody seemed to mind when I brought cookies to them today!). The day dawned cloudy and chilly and then it began to rain – Youssef said that that was a good sign, an double reminder from Allah of the sacrifice, and having l-Eid on a Friday, the holiest day of the week in Islam, made it even more auspicious. I am really glad that he was able to stay in Morocco for one last l-Eid – and his first making a sacrifice of his own as head of a family.

Up on the roof were a ewe, a ram and a little goat, buckets for body parts, a small barbecue called a mjmar, and various knives and the knife sharpener. Youssef’s nephew was all dressed in traditional garb - as with my host family last year, only the kids dress up (“l-Eid is for kids,” I was told – sounds familiar. You don’t give gifts but you do slip the children some money – when their parents aren’t watching, so they know it is really for them). First the father sacrificed the ewe – in this family, as opposed to last year where one person did the killing and everyone else watched, everyone helps – they hold down the sheep, start washing the slit throat to clean it, watch the other animals to make sure they don’t see the one that is being killed (the ram was getting very anxious, and the goat kept looking at me, as if to say, “you, can’t you get me out of here?”) and where last year only the women cooked, in Youssef’s family the men helped cook as well. Throat slashed, blood drained, skin removed, then internal organs (first the liver, heart, kidney and, fat – the liver gets poached and wrapped in fat and grilled on the mjmar first thing, along with the other two, not wrapped in fat, just grilled and eaten) and the rest of the organs - lungs and intestines and stomach? - to be eaten or used for wrapping at some point, but not while I was there. Yes, I know it is a delicacy but I still couldn’t do it – more for everyone else, right? Heads and feet were separated – my host family last year had those for dinner, but I think Youssef’s family doesn’t like them that much. I wanted to find a picture that would capture the essence of the ritual but not be too graphic. I liked this one, of the little goat – Youssef cleaning the cut area, a little blood in the background but much less than there had been a few minutes before, a big knife in the foreground.

Youssef is giving me the skin of the goat, which is a beautiful black and white! His family will get it treated and I will pay them back for that. I feel really honored by that. Again, I was impressed, feeling that this is very respectful – every part of the animal is used – but at the same time couldn’t help thinking that it makes a good case for vegetarianism. At lunch, after hearing about my rice with milk last year, they made me rice with milk (so now I have a l-Eid tradition!) and I had a couple of bites of goat meat since Youssef was so proud of his goat (and he pointed out that goat has no cholesterol – unlike sheep, which has a lot!). At this point it was late afternoon, time to go see my host family, and I am glad I went over. I saw family members I had not seen since last l-Eid, and they were all very happy that I came, and there was a festive holiday atmosphere, and I was happy to see them too (and I had more tea and more cookies but since it was between sheep servings, I avoided any awkwardness). They wanted me to stay for the close-to-midnight meal but I told them I should go home; honestly, the smell of sheep cooking was beginning to get to me so I am glad I left. I never got to the home of the fourth family that invited me, the owner of the Auberge, but I will get over there tomorrow (still the holiday weekend) with more cookies!

Today I had a last lunch with Youssef at the pizza place – the manager is a special friend of Youssef and Amanda – and then I had him and a few other people over to my house for a toast and some cake. We then went to Abdou’s – some rug shopping for him instead of him watching me! - and that’s it. Tomorrow he goes to Rabat with his luggage and then to Tetouan, where his brother is signing a marriage contract. Just before Amanda left in August, the brother got engaged so they went up to Tetouan to meet the fiancée, in a whirlwind of travel right before the end – so it’s fitting and ironic that Youssef has a whirlwind of travel just before the end as well! He then goes on to Rabat and Paris and LAX and San Diego…. nice that he was able to be here for l-Eid and will be in America for Christmas. I have it in my mind that Amanda and Youssef will be able to make it back here for his brother’s wedding party in August and that I will therefore see them again before I leave Morocco; if not, I look forward to seeing them when I return, and I know that Martha and Susan are going to try to see them, maybe even this week, in California! Still, to say I will miss him a lot is one of the world’s great understatements.

Some unexpected (though in retrospect it’s never really a surprise) news this week – the Small Business Development Program Manager is leaving Peace Corps. I don’t want to rehash the past, but I will say that she made me cry on more than one occasion, said no to me often, played favorites (and I wasn’t one of them) – and, that said, I have mixed feelings rather than just happiness about it. I felt I figured out a way to get work done that I could be proud of and that our last few interactions were positive ones and that our relationship was improving. I’ve certainly had other bosses who made my life miserable, and those I had to see every day. Anyway, the announcement was a brief one, leaving those of us in the field with a lot of unanswered questions. I mentioned her departure to my counterpart, and he mentioned that when he spoke to her a couple of weeks ago she told him they wouldn’t put another volunteer in Azrou. Of course, with a new person in that position, that could change, but I couldn’t help but feel a little hurt. She told him that more people would go to rural communities – does that imply that she didn’t think what I am doing is valuable? Yes! But it fits my skill set (although I suppose starting a cooperative would have as well). Of course, Azrou has had five volunteers, and that’s more than the traditional six-year development cycle – but only the last one stayed the entire two years (and I will as well, inshallah). Anyway, feeling hurt upon hearing these remarks made my feelings about her departure less mixed. But the jury is out until we see what happens next! I hope this doesn’t impact getting approval on the natural dye/weaving workshop (I put together the proposal on Sunday night after the brunch, revised it with input from Rose, Gregg and Janeila, and sent it off the same day her departure was announced).

SIDA (French for AIDS) isn’t a big problem in Morocco – about two percent of the population has it – but the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa was once at two percent too, and awareness and education are required to keep it from spreading. There’s a SIDA committee here, similar to the Gender and Development Committee, and last year when I attended that Ifrane craft fair my first week I brought SIDA brochures along because it was World AIDS Day. This year I was on vacation on World AIDS Day (December 1), but I had ordered a toolkit from the SIDA committee and still wanted to do something. So I brought some brochures to the artisana and placed them on the table near the front, next to my questionnaires (now in their second printing! And still on their first pen!). I also brought a poster and was prepared to tell my counterpart why it was important to put it up, but I didn’t have to say anything – he enthusiastically agreed, and even had it put up on the showroom door, where everyone who visits will see it. It’s a poster of two hennaed hands holding a condom – and there’s really no mistaking it. The kit has other brochures and another poster – now that the first attempt was so well-received, I think I will go to some cybers with the additional materials!

I haven’t talked much about being cold, but it’s not because I’m not cold. You can assume I’m cold until at least the end of February. I thought about getting a wood stove this year, but have been hesitant because it makes me sad to see trucks with huge tree trunks go by. Even with the assurance that the kind of wood in the wood stoves isn’t the precious cedar forest, I still have been reluctant, and now I have decided against it. For one thing, it would still warm up only one room, and my space heater does a decent enough job of that now (that combined with wearing multiple layers). For another, I have additional solutions – new felt slippers from Marrakesh and ones that I knitted (I wear both at the same time), the sheepskin for under my feet, the hot water bottles (sure, I bought an extra two for guests, but when I have no guests, why not use them for myself?), using my space heater to warm up my towels and clothes and pajamas (but of course I do not cover the part that says “do not cover”). Yes, the space heater heats the space right around it and not much more – but if I confine myself to the kitchen and close the door, it gets reasonably temperate. Lastly, I visited my host family and spent some time in the wood stove room and it was actually too hot – I had forgotten this from home stay last year. And it’s not good for my eyes. And a wood-burning stove can be a source of CO poisoning if there is incomplete combustion – I am always on alert when using the butagas and don’t want to be on even higher alert. I also don’t have a good place to put wood! So far the coldest days were the ones when Steve and Elisa were here – the rest have been bearable (though this week it has taken me a while each morning to get out of my cozy bed). It is usually warmer outside in the middle of a sunny day than it is in my house, so going out is another strategy. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t want a fireplace later in life…but for now I am cold but fine.

As I was proofreading this and about to post it, my landlord’s wife brought up a plate of raw meat. Yikes! What am I going to do with that? She also invited me to visit more often. I often see them to say hello, but I don’t really visit much. Abdou reminded me that I am losing Youssef but still have him. And then on the way out of Abdou’s, we ran into Youssef the rock-carver, who invited me to have some barbecued sheep meat this week! Last year in home stay the month of January was all-sheep, all-the-time. I have no shortage of people here who will look out for me – and apparently no way to avoid eating more meat!

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