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Murder, ISIS, and Sheep

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Miriam Hickley, BA Arabic and Persian

My second week in Fez managed to exceed all the wonder, fear and horror of my first week. What could possibly be worse than having your head plunged between an old woman’s breasts? Well, just you wait and see. However, again I’d like to focus on the educational element of my journey here in Morocco. In very little time, I’ve learnt to get used to all manner of things, and use these things as a means to accessing a greater appreciation of life.

The excellent news is I have grown to love the three hour lunch break. I mean, really, what’s not to love about a three hour lunch break?! As long as you’re not the crazy-driven-type, it’s an excellent excuse to cram all of your procrastination, laziness and tiredness into one period, and use the rest of the day to your advantage. Even better, our house mum likes to feed us inordinate amounts of stuff at about one o’clock, which means we have a couple of hours to tend to a food baby.

Other things have gone well too. I’ve made some friends, amazingly, and together we’ve managed to construct fantasies about all our favourite people in all our favourite coffee shops. Amongst them, ‘the boyfriend’, ‘the pirate’, ‘John Mayer’, ‘calves’ and the dreaded ‘MOUSE’. This mainly arises from the effects of seriously sugary tea and a coffee culture where you’re expected to stay for at least two hours, even if you’re really on your way somewhere else. We’ve been advised by one of our teachers that if we want anything, we should go to the coffee shop. Hashish, Spanish passports, witnesses for a trial? Go to the coffee shop. However, currently we’ve managed to limit our coffee shop cheekiness to elaborate fairytales. Long may it stay that way…

However, other things have been a bit more unpredictable. The other day, I came home and there was a sheep in my house. A big, fluffy sheep. Chilling on the balcony above our lounge. We were told it was staying for the week. Ok, fine. I’ve dealt with a lot, I can deal with this. But as soon as I get into bed that night, she decides she’s really, really hungry. And so for the next two hours, she won’t stop bleating. It’s really funny. For two minutes.

The next day, we’re sitting with our family after dinner. Little Mohamed, aged six, wants to go out with his big brother. He’s not allowed out without his mum though, but to prove he’s old enough he runs around the room showing us all how his moustache is coming through. This, however entertaining, is all just a distraction from the fact that his brother is out of the house because he’s bringing home… another sheep.

Because she’d be lonely on her own. And because, when you’re getting sacrificial sheep, it’s got to have pretty horns. And the first one doesn’t have pretty horns, so she’s really just going to be the ‘extras’ for next week’s feast. Ok, cool.


But the kids absolutely love the sheep. This is a lesson I should learn. They know very well what’s going to happen to the sheep (sacrificial slaughter, next Thursday, in the house), and they’re fine with it. They’re just appreciating having pets whilst it lasts. I’m appreciating it, too. I’ve always wanted to have pet sheep. And it may never happen again. However, being sneezed on by a sheep from the balcony above you whilst you’re doing your homework is something that you’d hope wouldn’t happen more than once…

So I’m growing accustom to all manner of things. And I think by the time I come back home, nothing will shock me. But I would have thought that after last week and all the boobs. But when all the sheep arrived, I was shocked. When it sneezed on my head, I was shocked.

The next week, I witnessed two murders.

Just kidding. Sort of. It was only the sheep. And I only really saw a few bits of the ‘killing’, due to my highly strategic blinking and a well-positioned railing in front of the throat that was in the process of being slit. But all this aside, it was a surprisingly great time. The excitement and anticipation in the air, particularly from the younger kids, was really quite contagious, and the ritual surrounding the slaughter was respectful and holy. Two things do stick out as more amusing though.

Moroccans have a way with words, often being poetic, ritualistic and bloody hilarious. Along these lines were the Da’ish (ISIS) jokes that our ‘brother’ was making as his mum chopped the head off the sheep. Pretty hilarious, I thought. I should point out that during the Eid al-Adha celebrations, all parts of the sheep are used. Every last bit. So, as I walked around the old town later on that day, I must have seen at least fifty sheep heads being barbecued on street corners. Mohamed enjoyed this part of the day in particular, or at least he enjoyed running around the house surprising guests by poking the blackened head round the corner of rooms whilst bleating furiously.

Luckily, we have a very understanding, open minded house mum, and after our pathetic attempt at eating offal stew, she decided we should stick to the liver kebabs, which were bloody brilliant. Even though I’d never properly celebrated Eid in the UK, the family spirit of the day made me miss mine, and it did cross my mind that we could replicate the slaughter next year at home.

However, I then considered that the skills needed for slaughtering a sheep respectfully are passed down through the generations, and given our distinct lack of experience, the local authorities might have something to say about our bodged butchering of an animal in the kitchen on a weekday morning. Oh well, one day, InshaAllah.

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