Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Eid the Sequel

Eid-the-sequel – that is, day two – is apparently the day of real butchering.

Lured by a hot shower after all that sheep-handling, I spent the night on the couch in Salé next to the three carcasses – still on the floor where we had left them the day before. We were woken by the doorbell at nine: it was Khadija, with her bag full of knives, axes, and other tools, ready to get to work on the three sheep. While we were waiting for Fatima to serve breakfast, I was recruited to help Khadija. This involved pulling up a chair, holding the carcasses’ front legs while she cut away its sides, and helping to twist the carcass so that its lower body snapped off from its rib cage. Just as I was very self-consciously realizing what I was doing, I heard Alma laughing at me. This was a good learning experience for me, she said: when I married a Moroccan, I’d know how to handle a dead sheep.

I don’t think this is anything I had ever pictured myself doing. But once I forced the thought that these had been real sheep to the back of my head and retrieved a little of the anatomical interest that made me enjoy the dissection labs in medical school so much, it became interesting. I became intrigued again – as I did in medical school – by the layout of all those vessels, nerves, and other tubes that actually make the organs work. The way they are situated between all those membranes and layers of tissue, and how you can see traces of the animal’s embryotic development there.

What did bother me, though, is that no one else seemed very bothered by any issues of contamination. Maybe this is something not to get too worked up about with meat this fresh, but hadn’t those carcasses been lying there on the living room floor for about 24 hours already? Granted it’s cold in the house, but it’s no freezer. Yet I saw no one take too much pain to maintain a kind of hygiene, a kind of separation between raw meat and the rest of the world. All this meat-handling work was being done right there in the living room and sitting room, on the floor, sitting on turned-over prayer rugs. There was no hand washing between the cutting away of a flank and the taking a sip of tea, or the changing of the channel on TV. When it was time again to transport ourselves and our meat back to Rabat for lunch (it is beginning to seem as though Salé is our work room, Rabat our dining room), I was shoved into Manal’s backseat next to tens of un-sealed plastic bags full of cut-up meat, one of my two bags thrown right next to them all. Manal saw me looking a little worried and told me I had nothing to be concerned about, it was all good meat. Still though, it seems a little risky. Or am I too careful with this stuff?

It was mainly this that made me a little hesitant to try the meal of other organs that we were served for lunch today. The grilled entrails were served on the same plate as they had been placed on when raw, and there was no hand washing in between raw and cooked stages of preparation. But I did try it all – both the stew of what I think were lungs (including pieces of bronchial pipe), as well as the grilled kidneys and testicles. And again: not bad.

The streets were still deserted – though in Salé butchers had opened their doors and were clearly helping people with what we had done ourselves that morning: processing the sheep into manageable pieces. I did find an internet café in Rabat, though. A tiny one with a big lit-up sign on the busy street where I always walk. I had seen the sign for months, but had never found the actual place. Turns out, it’s 6 computers in the back of a téléboutique, all of which are occupied by little boys of Mustafa’s age, who are watching hard core porn in pairs. As I waited for a computer, the Ivorian proprietor complained to me about the clear lack of parental control here. He has these boys pay for their time in advance, he explained, and every five minutes he would get up and tell the boys it was time to go. In their most pleading voices, they would beg the proprietor for just another minute. Conflict continually ensued, usually ending with the proprietor turning off the computer to great consternation of the boys. Upon which I finally got my chance to read some emails – feeling slightly watched by the boys who were still around, still looking at things they should hardly know about at their age…

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