“Fouaaad. Fouaaad,” Soufianne chanted my name from his bike as I walked up to the gate of his house. Calling it a ‘gate’ makes it sound like a nice, walled-in community of some such. It’s technically the gate to the local fish market, of which the house is just conveniently connected.
I yelled at Soufianne that it was time for the sacrifice and entered the house. I was greeted by his mother and two clobbering little footsteps running toward me with a giant cheesy grin. Abdelqader. This five-year old is seriously nothing but footsteps and baby teeth. I haven’t mentioned him before, mostly because he drives me up the wall every time I visit my landlord’s. I mean, seriously. He’s an imp. He’ll get in my face and just start yelling, or he’ll steal my phone and try calling people, like the time he called Peace Corps. Most of what he says I cannot for the life of me understand, and I finally realized today that it’s at least partially because he has a lisp. Which is also why the whole family laughs at half the things he says. Some of those stigmas can be a bit cruel here.
It was still pretty early in the morning, around 8:00 or so, and Rakia brought me an egg sandwich, which I scoffed down hoping to fill up before I had to eat liver and stomach fat. When it came time for the slaughter, it happened pretty quickly. There are, I guess you would say, slaughter-specialists who walk around town with a knife going house-to-house killing sheep and goats. Sounds like something from a horror film, but it’s actually pretty smart considering you want the death of the animal to be quick and painless, and not everybody knows how to do that perfectly. Basically, folks wait for the King, Mohammed VI, to do the first sacrifice, and immediately after, it’s goat genocide city.
We had one sheep between six of us today, which should be enough meat to last the family for a good while. I “helped” raise the sheep up onto a hook in the fish market where we tore it up and pulled the insides out, but I wasn’t near as eager to help with this year’s slaughter as I was two years ago. I was fine standing back and taking pictures. At one point, I even took an hour-long nap and woke up to Abdelqader punching me and yelling my name repeatedly. For some reason, I could not bring myself to be annoyed with the kid today. Maybe it has something to do with it being the end of my service, but even with him trying his darnedest to drive me up the wall, I just thought he was absolutely adorable the entire time, so my album ended up being mostly pictures of Abdelqader doing ridiculous things. At one point, in fact, I opened the gate, and Abdelqader was running toward me with an axe half his size, yes running with an axe, that he was bringing to his father so they could cut up the meat. At first I thought, “Aw, he’s helping his dad.” Then, I thought, “That can’t be safe.” Then I thought, “Yup. You just let a five year-old run around with an axe and didn’t even bat an eye. s‘time to go home.”
I’ll spare you the details of liver kabob, twenty glasses of sugary mint tea, and an incredibly awkward conversation with one of my former students who is now engaged. Today was really just Abdelqader Day, so I’m gonna stick with that.
At lunch time, I turned to ole Abs and said, “Alright, have you packed all your things, so I can take you to America next week?” His mom laughed – “He doesn’t have anything except the clothes he wears.” His eyes just wandered around as he listened with them while munching on our sheep tajine. Give this kid some food, and he’s immediately silenced and focused. After lunch, everybody just sort of lounged around doing nothing. I got that food coma feeling you get around Christmas or Thanksgiving, you know, when everything just feels nice and comfortable, and everyone is finally for just five minutes able to relax with the background noise of the Macy’s parade or some holiday movie playing lowly in a dimmed room. There’s nothing to get too excited about, and that’s what makes everything truly exciting.
As I was resting there on a wool rug with sheep belly in my belly, I started thinking more about Abdelqader and the fact that he didn’t have anything but the clothes on his back. But then, when I looked around the room at this wonderful family and their close ties and love, I realized we weren’t all that different when it came to holiday traditions. Our reasons for celebrating and the ritual itself may be world’s apart, but like any American holiday, it all came back to family and the sacrifices family are willing to make for one another. My joke about taking Abdelqader with me to America might have gotten a laugh from the family, but in all honesty, he has what matters right here in Morocco, right in that little house next to fish souq, and I can say that as someone who is thankful to have experienced that kind of love as I was growing up, and as someone who would trade all my silly belongings to keep it. Because it’s what matters.
As I go my way and leave Abdelqader behind with his lovely family, I do wonder what he will make of life here in this beautiful Kingdom. I meet so many Moroccan youth who often tell me that they long to go to another country or to America. I get why. You hear all these great stories about the “land of opportunity,” and I have now seen the struggles of a developing country. I realize I’m incredibly privileged to even have the opportunity to view both worlds and comment on them. But when I hear some of those cynical concerns, I always hope a little that they don’t have to traverse a whole ocean to see how beautiful Morocco can be.
So, there you have it: Abdelqader Day.