Last week, several noteworthy things occured: my birthday, for which I appreciated the calls and well wishes (and will be celebrating with my sitemate tonight, with some sort of pre-packaged noodle and broccoli dish her mom sent from the states!) and L’3id Amzant, which I will talk about in this post.
First off, Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar – it’s not just the name of the fasting, it’s actually the name of the month. No one ever quite knows the beginning or end day of Ramadan – the month begins on the first day the chosen Imams see the crescent moon after the new moon, and ends with the same conditions. I assume that historically this was done with local Imams, but now it seems to be done by country – particularly for the end of Ramadan, I remember there was a news ticker at the bottom of the tv screen – “ok, Algeria, Tunisia, and Saudi are done with Ramadan.. Morocco’s not announced yet!” Everyone watched with rapt attention. Both the beginning and end of Ramadan were announced with trumpets in the big city (in cities, actually, there seem to be a lot of musical instruments associated with Ramadan – I was in Errachidia one night, and there was a whole group of musicians roaming the streets to signal s’hor).
So on the night that everyone expected (but no one knew) Ramadan would end, I was hanging out watching TV with one of my favorite families in my neighborhood, having just finished stuffing myself silly on luftor. As usual, there was a little bustle of chores being done – plates taken away to be washed, tea being made, the patriarch sharpening the knives… I’d never seen anyone doing that before, but I just figured the knife was dull. The instant L’3id was announced, though, the youngest girl dashed off and returned a minute later with a chicken! He was a big boy, too, for a second I thought he was a turkey. Turns out one of the girls in the family bought herself 6 chickens in March, and they were ripening up, so to speak.
We went outside and posed with the chicken pre-slaughter, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t want any pictures with their faces online, so you don’t get to see my friends. However, here are a few pictures from the main event:
The first picture is pretty self explanatory – knife, chicken, soon to be dead chicken and bloody knife. It wasn’t as quick as the mental image we have in the states of the swing of the axe and the head falling off, but it was still fast – less than 5 seconds of sawing at the neck with that knife and the chicken was dead. The chicken got to lay on the cement for a while after that while the blood drained out, and was later placed upside down in a bucket for the same purpose.
Less than half an hour later, we were back out with a plastic tub and a bunch of hot water – the chicken was placed in the tub, and the hot water was poured all over it to loosen up the feathers. My friend plucked the chicken in record time – she was a pro, it looked completely effortless. Maybe it’s just a lot easier than I think it is, I don’t know. After the feathers, the gullet was emptied – it was full of fresh wheat and grass, and far more of it than I would have thought. When the stomach got emptied later, it looked much the same – over a cup of wheat, at least. Anyhow, after the gullet, the intestines were cleared out – first, my friend just pressed a little on the abdomen, wiped the feces off with a knife and threw it in a waste bucket, and then went to cut open the abdomen region – but then all the rest of the feces exploded out of the chicken into the bucket – for which I was grateful that my friend accompanied myself in collapsing into giggles. Butchering chickens is not clean work!
Once the underside was cut open, all the internal organs were removed. She was especially careful with the gall bladder, which apparently will destroy the taste of the whole chicken if it’s cut open (I looked it up later, it’s supposedly really bitter). At some point during this process the head and feet were also hacked off, and myself and another girl in the family alternated holding the legs open for easier butchering. The water, I should note, was also getting switched out fairly frequently to keep everything clean. Once the internal organs were removed, the meat was split up and rewashed a few times in preparation for cooking – and it was dinner! I estimate we learned of L’3id around 7:30/7:45, and dinner was around 11 – 3 hours turnaround, very fresh (organic local) chicken! I couldn’t eat very much, being completely stuffed from luftor and having henna on my hands which were covered in plastic bags – but I was fed a bit of the chicken, and it was delish!
As for the actual L’3id, it was a little anticlimactic – I don’t have a story like the above. I woke up, had my henna removed (went to remove it myself, but the matriarch of the house immediately took over scraping my henna off with a knife), helped make lmsmn, a bread with is mostly oil and butter (think filo dough, but lots more oil and butter and folded less), at a decadent breakfast partially provided by a troupe of out of town relatives who had arrived the night before (2 cakes, a cookie plated with seven cookie varieties, the lmsmn, jam, laughing cow cheese, and tea), then ventured out to my host family’s house, one of their relatives houses, and another friend’s house – all along the way wishing people congrats on the feast (Mbrok L’3id, or Mbrok L’washr), eating far far too much sugar, and enjoying the newfound freedom of water during the day.
The next day, amid gastrointestinal upset (and I can’t really blame my poor stomach, it was mightily abused), I made the journey down the mountain and bought spices, an avocado, and a stove. I also got to hang out with a fellow volunteer in my souqtown, which was nice – we had a lazy early afternoon enjoying cold coke (from glass bottles, l’hemdullah) and meatwiches (I’m partial to the spicy ‘saucette’ – sausage links). Yesterday I made guacamole which I probably wouldn’t have deemed acceptable in the states – I had neither limes nor salt (I had spicy paprika, cumin, avocado, and tomato), but which was absolutely orgasmic now – the decadence of an avocado is truly ridiculous. I also went back to the scene of the aforementioned chicken surprise, and they’re excited about my new kitchen developments (particularly the oven) and are going to help me out with a little whole wheat (which I have to take to the grinder for flour) and a liter of their olive oil! Woohoo!
On a small side note, the qu’ran almost burning was mentioned in the news here quite a bit – and it seemed the news tickers were often reporting that it actually had happened. Don’t worry, my town is not about to be violent over anything like that – I think I’ve probably been placed in the most protective community in Peace Corps history, everyone looks out for me – but they were all a bit sad that anyone would disrespect their religion like that, and I tried to combat the impression that the majority of Americans backed that crazy dude. Pretty sure they got it, but it’s hard to fight the info the media inundates them with.. which made me find this article from Huffington Post enjoyable: This Is How The Media Embarrass Themselves. Enjoy.
My sitemate should be here any minute, so that’s all for now. Mbrok L’3id!