Wednesday, November 19, 2008

National Holiday

November seems to be the month of holidays. About a week and a half ago, Morocco commemorated the Green March with a bank holiday. This past week, all schools were closed for a week of mid-semester vacation. And yesterday marked the 52nd anniversary of Morocco’s independence (Istiqlal) from France.

These holidays mean that everyone is home from school or work, and apparently there is television programming devoted to the event being commemorated. My family watches none of this, however. On the day of the Green March, I myself was not home, and so missed the king’s televised speech – in which, for the first time ever, he directly linked Algeria as culprit to the issue of the Western Sahara. Yesterday I was home, and curious to see how the media would be commemorating independence. Ilyas had mentioned documentaries and historical features about the war for independence, about the king’s return from exile, and so on. But apparently no one in my family is very interested in any of this. The television was on, as always – but on the international channels that broadcast the Turkish soaps. And I am not quite comfortable enough to play remote control-commando in the way that others do.

But that evening I got my chance – with no one home, I eagerly sat down to watch the Moroccan news in peace (I think this might have actually been the first time that I was able to watch the entire program, without being interrupted!). As reporters recounted the events leading up to independence in 1956, we were shown actual footage of the then-king, Mohammed V, returning to Morocco, of him meeting with president Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, of him speaking to the people. It was impressive – all these things I’ve read about, to see them taking place, in moving images, from that time.

Otherwise, in the context of the day-to-day life that goes on in this house, there was little to mark the occasion of a holiday. The day passed as any other. No one mentioned the event, no one called anyone on the phone, there were no especial visits from or to friends. No parades, no festive atmosphere on the street. I don’t mean to imply that any holiday in the US or Holland is such a huge special occasion, but what I am missing here is even a certain sign of awareness that something is being remembered on a particular day. In comparison to this, the ‘eid that marked the end of Ramadan was a much bigger occasion – people actually wished each other a happy ‘eid, and there was the calling of family and there was the visiting of friends. But I remember, even then, being surprised at the sense of anti-climax that I had. I had expected much more. Some kind of tradition or custom. Any kind of un-ordinary activity to mark the occasion. But maybe I am biased. Maybe I am just expecting more because all of this is new to me and my senses and anticipation are heightened. Maybe the issue is that I was expecting a performance, not real life.

Still though, I anticipate the upcoming ‘Eid Kbir, or ‘Eid l-Adha, with unabated curiosity.* This has to be a big deal. Sheep will be slaughtered, inside the home – this cannot go by without comment or special custom, right? No one is entirely sure when this ‘Eid will be – it all depends on a moon sighting, of course – but it will be taking place about three weeks from now. Incidentally, the news tonight featured a brief report on the upcoming holiday: with three weeks to go, the sheep-markets have opened, and the race to buy a sacrificial animal at a good price has begun. When will ours arrive, I wonder? And where will it be kept?

* This is the most important of the Islamic holidays, and marks the occasion when Abraham almost-but-didn’t sacrifice his son to god. Incidentally, Muslims believe this son was Ismail, not Isaac – and that the Arabs are descendants of this Ismail.

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