October 26, 2012
I ate breakfast with the only other guests at the hotel, a Dutch couple. Because I had just been to Holland, I told them all the things I loved about Amsterdam and Edam. "My favorite Dutch word - well, that would be the only Dutch word I learned - is gezellig!", I told them. "We don't have a word for that in English." Gezellig translates to "cozy, friendly times in a nice place". It refers to people mixed with atmosphere mixed with contentment. Laughs over beers and candlelight in a cozy pub on a crisp fall day - that's gezellig. That's also what I did every night in Holland. Making pie with your grandmother while watching the Facts of Life or Wheel of Fortune together - that's gezellig.
Morocco was really amazing so far, but not really gezellig. Being yelled at in a hot, dusty souk - so not gezellig. Being ignored in a bus station - no gezellig there either. I was starting to feel it out in the country, though. Now that I had met some other tourists and we were enjoying our coffee in a beautiful gorge on a sunny morning.
Abdul drove me into town in a little Renault (following another), top. In town we met up with Karim's brother, Abdul #2, who was to take me on a four hour hike through the gorge. We stopped for a picture at the bottom (below). The gorge reminded me a lot of Colorado. There was a lot of scenery in Morocco that reminded me of the American west.
Abdul was professional but friendly. I was really comfortable talking to him, just like his brother. We started talking about food, and I told him how much I enjoyed eating. And how my friends called me "the bird of the sea" for that reason. In Berber, seagull sounds like "segunay".
Segunay in the gorge:
There's that orange shirt again!
Abdul led me up a rocky path. He was a fast walker. I had just run a half marathon five days before but I could barely keep up with him. Of course he already heard me brag about the half marathon, so I was a little embarrassed to have to stop to rest while out of breath.
He pointed out some wild thyme. It was very heady and fragrant. The mountain air was so nice after the motorbike fumes of Marrakech. This is what Aveda candles aspire to, people.
He took me up to a nomad Berber's home. Everything was made of rocks. Even the animal pens were tall circles of stacked up rocks. The Berber clan had two caves to live in during the winter, but lived in open tents the rest of the year. The rest of the family was in town or out with the animals somewhere, and this man who was holding down the fort made us tea from the same type of wild thyme we had just seen. The old Berber guy had light blue eyes. It's just odd to see such light-colored eyes here. Apparently it's a Berber genetic variation. Abdul knew him in passing, and sometimes he would take his hikers here to meet him.
The Berber man had just killed a goat and had strung it up. I would think it was for the holiday, since all the city people had killed a sheep especially for today - but something tells me that he eats goat like this all the time and this was just his typical Friday night dinner.
Abdul had me pose for a photo pouring tea:
Because I am a sick, sick individual, I asked to be translated:
"where did you put the goat head"?
The head was stuffed in a burlap bag three feet from where I was sitting. Oh, there it is!
Nothing on that goat was going to waste. I'm sure he even had a purpose for the goat's teeth and corneas. The fur was definitely going to be made into a blanket or rug. mmmm. cozy! Gezellig? well.. possibly!
"I'm so hungry I could eat that goat head!"
Something I've noticed about the Moroccans and Egyptians I've met are that they have good senses of humor. I was sometimes able to deflect a little bit of aggression in the souk with a joking comment. I remember in Dahab, there was a very pushy restaurant guy that I would walk past three times a day but eventually we would just laugh at eachother. There is a little bit of playfulness in the culture. I mean, there's a whole lot I don't understand at all but it's something nice that I've noticed in North Africa.
As we were descending into the little village, Karim called Abdul and told him to invite me to the family's house for lunch. I was excited.
Abdul led me though some back streets and alleys of the town, through some home-made aquaducts and through an olive grove:
We went to the family's guesthouse, where nobody was staying today. Children were laughing and running around a large, hanging sheep carcass, its wooly fur laid on the ground inside-out in one piece just as you'd take off a sweater. The fact that they were actually able to skin the sheep in ONE PIECE impressed me so much that I forgot to feel queasy.
Eid Al Adha is a Muslim holiday that means "feast of the sacrifice". It recognizes the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, and people today (In Morocco, anyhow) sacrifice a sheep. It was crazy how many sheep I saw being carted away in wheelbarrows down alleys in Marrakech. And today in the little village, people had already killed the sheep that morning while I was hiking and having coffee with the Dutch people, and were already washing the sheep skins in the river.
I had no idea what Eid Al Adha lunch would entail. I assumed that the dinner was the important meal, and I'd be just dropping by for tea and a kebab. The family (those who was there for the meal) was three sisters, an older mother who had henna-covered hands and feet and had kohl-rimmed eyes, four brothers and four small children including a 10 month old adorable baby girl nicknamed "Couscous". The Father had died four years before, so the oldest brother took the patriarchal role. He welcomed me and introduced everybody. He, Karim and Abdul were the only English-speakers. Arabic wasn't spoken in the home, either, but a Berber dialect.
We had mint tea and watched the Hajj live from Saudi Arabia on TV:
And later, on another TV:
With the hajj being on TV, we talked a little bit about religion. I asked them a few questions and we talked about difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. The oldest brother made some comments like "people of all religions are welcome in our home. All of our religions stem from the same place anyhow", which I thought was nice. We talked about the Hajj and what it means to Muslims. This fairly progressive family agreed that the Hajj was just a little bit showy sometimes - and the true meaning of being a Muslim is to help your neighbor, and isn't it better to save your money and just do good in your community instead? Apparently, it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to go. They have special travel agencies just for the hajj and every country is only allotted a certain number of permits per year. You can be a good Muslim and go to the hajj but you can also be an equally good Muslim closer to home.
I wanted so badly to take pictures of the entire family and document the day the way I normally would but I put my phone away and just listened and got in the moment. I felt really awkward pointing my camera in people's faces and it didn't feel right. (Even though I had just taken a bunch of pictures of the Berber man, who I actually thought was a bit of a ham and didn't seem to mind at all. Besides, I gave him some coins as I left, which is what you do in those situations.) I don't have pictures of the older brother who I talked to a lot or of cute little Couscous, who they actually put in my lap. I will have to rely on my memories of the family.
We went outside and Karim asked me: "you eat everything, right?"
"oh, yes! I eat everything!"
Eid dinner would be the bigger cuts of the sheep. Eid lunch was the sheep's guts. Here is the offal, just sitting out on a table ready to be strung on kabobs!
They marinated all the meat in a mixture of thyme, rosemary, coriander, pepper, cardamom, cumin and saffron. The brothers weaved the liver and the caul fat together. They BBQd it all, including the large honeycomb-looking stomach and passed the kebabs around. We ate the Moroccan way and just grabbed with our hands and ate with the one round loaf of bread that is at every Moroccan meal I've ever seen.
After awhile I was struggling with eating with my hands and they gave me a plate and fork. I was slightly embarrassed, but it was OK. The tea had absinthe in it. I was really surprised and then found that they meant the wild absinthe plant.
I am a pretty brave eater so I tried to forget the visual of the dead sheep carcass in the yard and the thought of all the functions of the internal organs I was eating. I told Karim to translate to everyone for me "Thank you so much for sharing your holiday with me. It is an honor for me to be here with you all". I complimented the brother on the gut-marinade, and wrote down the ingredients that I might use one day with non-sheep gut meat. After dinner, we ate pomegranates fresh from a tree in the yard. How could you possibly top this dessert?
They also had a pear tree, but didn't know the english word for pear and asked me to tell them what it was.
After dinner, Karim took me on a walk into the village of Tamtattouchte with his little nephew. He ran into some of his neighborhood friends and they posed for a photo by this sign. The sign probably says something really lame, but it looked like a good photo to me.
It was getting late so we didn't go far into town. We turned around and I raced the nephew back to the guesthouse about 150 yards. He probably thought the large foreign woman was completely crazy. Actually, that's nothing new. They drove me back to my guesthouse while playing Berber music. Berber music is usually one man singing in a warbly voice for 2 minutes, then a woman always answers, singing back for 2 minutes. There is a lot of percussion. I got to know Berber music VERY well a few days later. Too well. It is nothing like any other music I've heard. Karim, Abdul and I talked about what middle eastern-type music I know about. They were surprised to know that I have an Amr Diab CD. Amr is an Egyptian pop singer I heard a lot in Egypt two years ago. This was probably like admitting I have a Justin Bieber CD, but I'll defend Amr and say that he is much better.
I wouldn't see Karim, Abdul #1 or #2 again because they were going to spend the rest of the night with their families and I was going to the desert the next day. But I won't ever forget them and how they showed me the nicest possible side of Morocco. They probably invite people into their home all the time and didn't realize how much it meant to me. This was the kind of day with opportunities that happened because I was alone and got out of the big city. The Atlas mountains are a world away from Marrakech - different language, different music and the most hospitable people you could ever hope to meet. It was a total Gezellig day.