Yesterday was the prophet Muhammad’s birthday! Of course, this can’t go by without at least a little festivity. The biggest holiday is still L’3id Axatar (which I still haven’t written a post about! Shame on me!), but this is still a cool holiday in a relaxed sort of way.
As with most holidays here, the celebrations started the night before. I went to my host family’s house, where Rachid prepped an exceedingly large bowl of chicken, onions, and spices for kebabs. As usual, the grill was taken into the room we were eating in and all of the skewers were eaten with bread as they came off the grill. If there had been a large crowd, someone would have been going around with the skewers so that each person could pull off a piece of meat in turn – but there were just the four of us, so we got our own skewers as they were ready. In the summer (or with a large number of guests and therefore a long cooking time), the smoke from the grill can get really irritating. However, since it was pretty cold in the house, the grill made for a nice and cozy room for eating and relaxing. Again, due to the lack of guests and the fact that it’s winter, we all went upstairs to sleep pretty early.
Souad brought up some henna for us to put on before bed. It’s traditional that for any holiday the majority of females get henna’d up the night before, and this was no different. Souad applied henna carefully to my hands (right hand first, always), and then Fatima helped tie my hands in plastic bags and then rags to sleep in. At that point, I’m pretty helpless, so they tucked me into bed. In the morning I woke up around 7 – two hours after Fatima, who wakes up at 5 to pray and then take care of the livestock, and a good hour after Souad, who had kneaded bread at 6 and was cooking it by 7. Fatima pulled my mitts off, then took off most of the still wet henna. I was then instructed to go hang out by the small wood stove they heat water on in order to dry all the remaining henna, which helps make it darker. I hung out there for a good 10 or 15 minutes, and then I was made to rub in a small amount of oodi (homemade butter). That serves as a protective coating and a moisturizer – half of the reason the henna is so popular here is that it softens the skin.
Still without washing my hands (as the game is to stave that off for as long as possible), we had a fancy breakfast of lmsmn (or er ghaifs, a oily almost filo-like bread), bghrir (like pancakes, but with yeast and lots of bubbles), cake, and noodles w/ oodi (the butter mentioned above). There was also very delicious morning coffee – milk, of course, which Fatima had coaxed from the cow that morning.
After breakfast, Ikram and I went to Mama’s house. Mama had invited me the day before, and it turned out that she did have lots of guests – two of her husband’s sisters, their children, and her husband’s mother were all there. Her husband’s mother actually lives in Molly’s town and is the neighbor of Molly’s host family – I’m always finding out that people are connected in so many more ways than I think is possible. Anyhow, this lady had just returned from a 2 1/2 month journey to Marrakesh and the surrounding areas, so she was regaling us with tales of everything she’d seen (the splendor of the city, gorges lined with hotels, tourists, etc.). Mama’s son was also home – he’s a high school student, and has dreams to study abroad, so he takes his studies seriously. He busted out his English book and we went to town, doing impromptu lessons on pronunciation and grammar on whatever page he flipped to. I was impressed at the level of his studies – he’s studying for The Bac, a difficult test required to pass high school (tons of people don’t pass), and he’s studying calculus (integrals, trig, functions, logarithms), chemistry, physics, and engineering (complete with fairly complicated mechanical specs). This is on top of the three languages he needs to prove competence in, none of which are his native one. I need to make it back there this weekend to help him more with his English before he returns to high school – a kid that motivated deserves all the help he can get!
Anyhow, back to the holiday. We had tajine at my host family’s, and then we went to the next neighborhood to convey holiday tidings to extended family. We only made it to one house, though – we started going to another one, saw something involving a car and a man near the house, immediately presumed the worst, and rushed back into the previous house before we could be seen.
From there I went to my friend Aziza’s house, thoroughly filled with tea and coffee (I was on something like 13 cups of tea and 5 cups of coffee). Her mom is recovering from knee surgery, but seemed to be in good spirits, and there were a few other people I know from my neighborhood there. Snacks were once again brought out, but thankfully with this family I can indeed beg off eating due to the condition of being very thoroughly full. (I try this in other houses, but it often does not work). My brain was starting to shut down at this point – I’d operated at full speed in Tashelheet from 7 to 5:30 – so when everyone got up to get back home before dark I was a little relieved. We managed to hitch a ride up the hill in the back of my neighbor’s van (which was filled with sawdust and a few tires – they’re doing some construction), and I got back to the comfort of my own home just before dark!