Sunday, October 28, 2012

Morocco 101: Eid al-Adha

Today is the third day of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important celebrations in the Moroccan calendar. "Eid" means "Festival" and "al-Adha" means "of the sacrifice." We spent the day with one of our good friends and his family, so I thought I would use this blog post to talk a bit about the day and also include a few photos from our experience (don't worry, nothing too graphic!).

So what is this sacrifice?
Eid al-Adha honors the story of the prophet Ibrahim (or as many may know from the Bible, Abraham), who was commanded by Allah (God) in a dream to sacrifice his first-born son Isma'il (Ishmael), as a test of his faith. Ibrahim blindfolded himself as he could not bear to see the sacrifice of his son, and as he cut Isma'il's throat and removed his blindfold, Ibrahim was astonished to see that Isma'il was unharmed and instead, he found a slaughtered ram in his son's place. As a reward for his faith, Allah granted Ibrahim the good news of the birth of his second son, Is-haaq (Isaac).

Wait, didn't Abraham sacrifice Isaac in the story?
This is slightly different from the story that many may know. In the Torah and the Christian Bible, Isaac is the son that Abraham was about to sacrifice, whereas in the Qur'an, Ibrahim (Abraham) was about to sacrifice his first son, Isma'il (Ishmael). The theological importance of the distinction is that Jews trace their descent from Isaac and Christians believe that Jesus was a descendant of Isaac, whereas Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was a descendant of Isma'il.

Special Practices during Eid al-Adha

Preparing for Eid
To prepare for Eid, Muslims are encouraged to put on new or best clothes available, and to ensure personal cleanliness (people get haircuts, sometimes women will do henna). Muslims pray in the morning of the first day as a congregation before performing the sacrifice.

Justin and I in traditional clothes (the sheep, in his birthday suit)

The Slaughter
Muslims who can afford it purchase an animal prior to Eid to be slaughtered after the morning prayers. Those who cannot afford a sheep buy a goat or a less expensive animal. Justin and I guesstimated that there were about 10,000 sheep in our town the night before Eid, and we could hear the "baaaaaaaa's" echo through the night! After the morning prayers on Eid, the head of the family slaughters the sheep, or in some families, a butcher comes to the house and performs the ritual.

The men getting the sheep ready for the slaughter (don't worry, I didn't post a photo of that!)

Charitable giving  
As with many other Muslim holidays, in Eid it is important to give to the poor, through money or through sharing meat of the sacrificed animal.

The Hajj
One of Islam's revered observances, Eid al-Adha corresponds with the end of the Hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that annually draws 2 million Muslims.

Greeting Friends and Family
It's important during this time to visit friends and family and to wish them a "Mbrouk L'Eid" (Congratulations on Eid).

The Foods

Families eat sweets and cookies for breakfast, along with traditional bread-based fares. Here are some of the foods that were on our breakfast table!

Milwi, a traditional pancake type dish. Also called msemen in some places.
Lots and lots of cookies!

Post-Slaughter Meal
It's Moroccan tradition to prepare organ meats such as the liver and the heart on the day of the slaughter. What seems to be typical is wrapping pieces of the liver and heart in a fatty film that surrounds the stomach, skewering these on kabobs and grilling, and then eating with bread and spices.

Making kabobs with the family
The spices: cumin, salt, and hot pepper (here they call it sudaniya).
The finished kabobs... pretty tasty!

Other Meals
The days following the slaughter are very meat-heavy, as families continue to eat the remainder of the animal. Almost no parts of the animal go to waste - even the head and legs, these are roasted and eaten in the days following the slaughter.

And there are a wide variety of cooking methods, from roasting to grilling to slow cooking in tagines or otherwise.

Sheep head and legs roasting on the fire (I won't be eating this!).

This was our second year to celebrate Eid al-Adha (last year was during our training period). I found that it's a really great feeling to be experiencing things a second time around, to compare our experiences from town to town and year to year, gaining a better understanding of how customs and traditions can differ even within the country. And once in a while, having an idea of what to expect can be really nice when each new day in Morocco can bring us something very unexpected!

On an unrelated note - Thinking about everyone on the East Coast with Hurricane Sandy approaching. I hope that the damage is minimal and passes through quickly! And doesn't mess too much with Halloween :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Feeling inspired

Just came back from an inspiring few days! This week, I attended the quarterly meetings of Peace Corps Morocco's Gender and Development Committee (GAD), which helps to provide support, encouragement, and resources for Peace Corps Volunteers in conducting activities around gender roles and empowerment. (You can read some older GAD-related posts here.)

In each GAD meeting, we review activities in the country and plan new initiatives for the coming months, but for me the real highlight of the meetings are our invited speakers. We are constantly trying to reach out to individuals and organizations in Morocco who, like us, seek to build awareness of and respond to gender issues in the country. We have spoken with professors, students, movement leaders, and association members, all of whom share our passion for working towards gender equality in Morocco.

The speaker for this meeting was the dynamic, driven, inspiring Majdoline Lyazidi, the 21-year-old founder of SlutWalk Morocco. If you haven't heard of the SlutWalk protest marches - they started in Toronto in April 2011 as a movement against excusing rape by referring to a woman's appearance - and have since grown into a global movement. For Majdoline, the movement in Morocco is about raising awareness of sexual harassment in Moroccan society. The group is no longer called SlutWalk - they chose to adjust the name to one that ties closer to Moroccan culture, beliefs, and language - but they continue to do amazing work in the fight against gender-based forms of violence and the way that women are treated in society.

I hope that you've been inspired by her, too! With that, I will leave you with a few quotes from Majdouline:

 "The message is very clear: Stand up for yourselves
and demand respect, shame has to switch sides."

And, in response to a question about the best advice received since beginning her journey (I love this):

"It's a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that I go by: 
'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.' "

Monday, October 8, 2012

Back where it all started...

On Friday and Saturday, Justin and I attended a Peace Corps planning workshop in Fes, held in the same site that was used as a training hub during our first 2 months in Morocco. So the building brought back a lot of memories - especially the second to last stair on the staircase, the scene of my majestic slip the day before we were sworn in as volunteers. Here's a photo to jog your memory (newer blog followers, you can read all about the incident here). Crazy to think that was almost a year ago!


Onto much better memories - After our meetings ended on Saturday, Justin and I hopped in a taxi to head to Moulay Yacoub, a town about 20 minutes outside of Fes where we chiefly spent our time during training. For 2 months, we lived with a host family, attended "school" along with 3 other volunteers for language, cultural, and technical training, and tried to do some of the work of Peace Corps volunteers in the community - meetings with community members, assessments of youth needs, and English teaching and other activities at the Youth Center.

Teaching kids a dance at the Youth Center
A "quilt" that girls created in an activity

Overlooking MY with our training group
With our host family

Justin and I spent 2 days catching up with our host family in Moulay Yacoub, and more than anything, being back where it all started made me realize just how far we have come. Whereas before we could only have basic conversations with our family, now we were able to talk about an incredible range of topics - politics, culture, travel, future plans, youth in Morocco, marriage, school, careers, I could go on and on. And whereas before I walked around taking everything in for the very first time, now I have a year's worth of living in Morocco to give me a more confident manner and a trained eye. Even the cultural side has come so far - knowing the appropriate phrase or response to say, understanding the roles of women and men, being able to relate better to our family's way of life - all of these things seemed to come so much more naturally now. 

Sometimes I get caught up with the daily struggles and challenges, and experiences like this help me to step back and truly appreciate how far we have come in our first year in Morocco - which can only lead to so much more for our second!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Back to school!

A short post for this week... we're finishing up class planning, which starts a week from today. In preparation, I have released my inner creative spirit in making new posters for the classroom! Enjoy the art and feel free to critique my work - including my mom, who is an art teacher - though hopefully she will agree that I improved a little from the first semester :)