Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eid Mubarak Said!

He has no idea... Or maybe he does.
Today was day one of Eid al-Kabir, the celebration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. Each family finds themselves a nice "kabsh" (ram) for the household, and this week has been full of people asking us if we have yet to get our own. "Mazal," not yet... I never knew that rams were so loud, and I never got so much enjoyment from watching people attempt to convince these large animals to walk down the street. But all that is over now - this morning the unbelievable ram population here in Fez diminished rapidly.

The man with the plan, and the deed is done.
Preparations throughout the city were extensive. Men selling grains (for the short-term pets) and offering to sharpen knives (also for the short-term pets) filled the streets. There is an entire mini-economy around the Eid, especially considering that the animals go for a small fortune, $200-400 each! No, we did not get our own, although they are pretty cute.

Annie with Hiba, the youngest daughter.
A family invited us to their celebrations, they have been kind and welcoming to us for a few years now, smothering us with their generosity. We woke them up this morning (whoops), after the hour-long call to prayer. We didn't want to miss the sacrifice, of course! Following a quick breakfast, the man arrived who was to do the deed... The mini-economy also includes a number of wandering butchers, going from house to house and taking care of business. This fella, however, was a friend of the family, much more trustworthy than a rushing butcher! You can't mess around with your ram.

Cleaning up the blood, in heels.
The entire family went upstairs, and of course I brought the camera. I'll spare the gory details (but not all of the gory pictures), and just say that it took a while to get everything taken care of, and this family, like the rest of Fez, is going to be eating meat for a long time. The highlight: the mother decided that it'd be funny to scare Annie with the ram's head.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Mama Boujma goes after Annie...
Eid Day 1 involves sacrificing the animal (you only get two cuts, so you better make them good), skinning it, and getting all the organs out. The skin, now inside out, gets salted and saved for later, when it's given to the leather workers and made into decoration, a prayer rug, or sold. Kids  in the street spend the day roasting heads for the neighbors, which become breakfast for the next morning. (If we visit anyone tomorrow, we're going to be sure to be late...) The liver and heart turn into brochettes (kabobs), which, for our lunch today, were cooked over an open fire in the living room. Unexpected. Then, nap time. At this point, we found our way out and came home. I believe that the stomach turns into dinner (slow cooked), and the meat becomes a consistent meal for days to come.

One down (on the right, hanging), one to go.
The man of the house.
My secret hope for this whole process? I want to get a pair of ribs, so I can play the "bones" in the bluegrass band when I get back to the states. Tomorrow? We're heading back - Annie's getting henna (I'll post pictures) and we're going to partake in the more "meaty" meal, now that the liver's gone.

Eid mabarak said!

Liver brochettes for lunch. They were quite good! And followed with liver-stuffed heart.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Suq al-Rsayf

Our seafood man.
The weekend menu? Fresh seafood. Despite the fact that Fez is far from the ocean, there are deliveries of fruits of the sea every Tuesday and Saturday. I prepared to make shrimp with chermoula, a mix of spices (paprika, saffron, others), lemon, cilantro, and garlic. When we got there, though, we just couldn't resist the idea of trying shark. Yes, shark. We had shark. It was tasty, not quite like fish, not so flaky, but still fishy. Curious, eh?

The Rsayf (often spelled Rc'if) market is smack in the middle of Fez's medina, the old city. It's still operating in much the same way that it did in the past, with the addition of margarine and boxed milk. The butchers have cows hanging in the back of their small stalls, they cut a piece off, grind it up with spices, garlic, onion, and cilantro. The chicken sellers are in stalls full of chickens running around. (They smell.) The best part? They weigh the chicken alive, to make sure that's the one you want, before they do what they need to do. The struggling, and loud, poultry is a sight to see. PS: You can also get pidgin, duck, turkey, and quail. The camel seller advertises with a giant hanging camel head (see the photo).

The sign says "ground camel." Note the hanging head.
My favorites, however, are the spice guys and the parsley/cilantro sellers. The spice men know what they're doing. You walk up, tell them what you're making and what flavor you want, and they mix the appropriate spices into a small packet of rolled newspaper. To get cilantro or parsley, however, you need to speak with old men and women sitting on the ground, usually with a crate of some sort, surrounded by greens and mint. This particular woman refused to sell me one (huge) bunch of cilantro. I just must have two. Why? I only need one! Six dirhams for two. And for one? Six for two. I don't understand. The Eid, of course, everyone needs two bunches of cilantro! Oooooh, well, I just need one. In fact, only a half. Oh, ok (she says as she must assume that I'm a terrible, terrible host). The conversation took longer that I could have possibly imagined, but I'm going to make sure I return to her next time I need anything from her carton.

She was quite concerned with my Eid preparations. But her cilantro was great.

Fighting through the crowd of women in an attempt to find thyme and oregano.

Mandarins are in season!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Al-Ashiya al-Gnawiya

Hamid, Abd ar-Rzaq, and Annie having some pre-ceremony tea.
One week in, and I think my dissertation research is done.

Yesterday we were invited to an Ashiya Gnawiya, a Gnawa afternoon. Now, I'd been to a Gnawa layla before. In fact, the layla (night) ceremony made up a few chapters of my masters thesis. In the layla, people (mostly women) who are possessed by a mluk (spirit) go into trance during the segment of music dedicated to that particular spirit. Some of the mluk are from Islamic history (Moses, Abraham), while some are sub-Saharan (Aisha, Mimun). The maskun (possessed) are covered with cloths matching the color of the spirit and feed on the jawi (incense) to strengthen the possession.

This ashiya (afternoon) was not supposed to have any of this. But it did.

The event was held for a woman who was having trouble breathing. The belief is that these types of health issues can come from an unhappy mluk, or a new one. In order to appease the spirit, the maskun must hold a ceremony. The ashiya, however, is cheaper than a layla, and shorter. After two or three hours (and no possession) we expected the event to end, but then the woman went into a deep trance, screaming, rolling on the ground. People came from around the room to help her, bring her to the incense, and push her into the next stage. Then the layla portion began as the musicians went into the series of songs that bring on each mluk.

If anyone is interested in the specifics of the theology and traditions, let me know. This is hardly the venue for such a conversation.

The big news, though... unlike in the past, the musicians allowed (even requested) me to record the entire thing. In the past, I've taken pictures and recorded the opening portion, but once the trances begin, it's all off limits for obvious reasons. This time, however, they kept asking me for my recorder and putting it prime position between them. If I had to, I could transcribe this event, get the lyrics, and write a paper. Pardon my excitement. Upon later listening, however, it's shocking just how intense and frightening the entire experience is.

The musicians. Abd ar-Rzaq was my teacher during the last few trips, in red. The man to his right is restringing his hajhuj.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

School Days

Annie and Tigger (the camera was supposed to focus on Annie...)
Week one, check. Classes are pushing right along, and we both already see incredible gains. Conversations are quicker, negotiations are easier, and life is more comfortable in general thanks to this quick start. The timing has been just right - arrive and jump right in. Annie is picking up where she left off in Modern Standard Arabic, the dialect used in newscasts and Quranic education. She'll be able to better analyze textbooks, interview teachers, etc. I'm starting over, in a sense, by taking daraja (Moroccan colloquial Arabic), the dialect used on the streets, especially by the less formal musicians that I'll be dealing with. The days, though, are long. 8am to 6pm at the school, four hours of class for each of us and a few hours for doing the mid-day homework. My teachers couldn't be more different (or entertaining). Slowly getting to know the other students, most of whom have already been here for two months or so.

Annie still wants a riad. But she also wanted a canal house in Amsterdam. (She thinks that her "wanter" might be a bit broken.)

تهلا ف راسك
(Tahla f-rasik: Take care of your head.)

Studying hard, and sporting the new chapeau.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Leaving Amsterdam...
We made it to Fez. The flight from Amsterdam was uneventful (in a good way), but included the stock applause that you seem to hear whenever you land, while flying a lesser known airline, that is. I guess expectations are a bit lower? (I hope that the expectation that we land is not an extreme one...)

The Casablanca airport has been in a constant state of construction over the past few years. This trip, however, we were able to fully experience the shiny new long hallways as we trekked from place to place, hunting for a way back to Fez. The new domestic flight waiting room held us in place for hours when all is said and done. Our 3 hour layover quickly (or slowly, I suppose) became 5, 6 hours long. Suddenly everyone left in the room, at about 12:30 or 1:00am, got up, screaming. The mob appeared to be led by a frail old woman, leading us to believe that it had to do with a domestic argument. It became apparent after a short time, however, that everyone who was supposed to be on our flight was involved. As the mob shifted around the room (following the Royal Air Maroc employees wherever they went, and followed, at a long distance, by an uninterested group of security guards), we were occasionally updated by kind neighbors. I wish my daraja (Moroccan Arabic) were a bit better at this point, I'm sure I would have learned an array of colorful phrases.

Turns out that our flight was canceled. Rerouted to Oujda, which is on the Algerian border. Feel free to scope out a map of Morocco to get an idea of why that doesn't make much sense. Eventually, we were offered a choice between staying the night and taking a 7 hour bus ride. We were itching to get to Fez, so we elected for the bus ride. In the confusion, we befriended another couple, visiting to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They managed to keep incredible spirits, considering the impressive welcome. For us, though, I think the delay may have kicked us firmly into the correct headspace that will be necessary for fieldwork. Things move slowly, have hitches, and need to be worked out (sometimes loudly). Yet you end up where you need to be. An impressively informal formality pervades these types of interactions and scenes. They took us to get bags, we waited, they took us to a different belt to get bags, waited again... Bags came, after another chunk of time passed us by. Annie's happiest moment was seeing her new sewing machine (from Amsterdam) come down the belt.

Scoping out the new digs

A visit to more baggage areas, an upstairs office, and finally, the curb followed. Turns out someone forgot to tell the bus company that RAM had offered a bus... When we got to the curb, there were two busses, and a mass of further confusion. No one knew which bus was going where, and it turns out that our chosen bus went to both the hotel and Fez. Since those were the only two options, I'm left to wonder where the other went...

The bus was freeeeeezing cold. And 7 hours long. But, alas, we make it to Fez in the morning sun. At another bus station. Just in time for another lengthy wait (for the keys to the house). An insane cat at a coffeeshop kept us entertained. Insane. But entertaining. Eventually, we heard from Mouaniss, who picked us up, found a driver, and got us back to our new home safely and securely. It's just as we remembered, but with some improvements. The staircase to the terrace is no longer death-defying. And there's even a light.

Just in time for Tuesday morning's classes.

 الحمد الله
(Alhamdu li-Lah. Thanks be to God!)

PS: visited the Royal Air Maroc office later in the week, turns out that we can't get any compensation for the affair, and we happened to enjoy a nice, expensive, and cold bus ride.

 الله يجازيكم
(Allah yajazikum. May God compensate you for your deeds.)

The view from our terrace