William Goes Sheep Shopping; Hilarity Ensues
William Goes Sheep Shopping; Hilarity Ensues
The Sunday before Eid I was invited to join my homestay brothers Mustapha and Ismail and my fellow guest, a Dutch teacher named Kees, at the livestock souq to select a sheep for the festivities. I didn't really know what to expect, but thought it would be something like the produce and poultry sections of the souqs in the medina. No. Oh, lah, lah, lah. I have a meeting with my MSA mentor in the afternoon, but this can't take too long.
12:55 - We hire a grand taxi at Ain Azilten to get there. The four of us occupy the back seat while a very large woman singing to herself sits in the front seat for half the way there.
1:05 - Half the way there? No, those ten minutes were nowhere near that.
1:21 - We passed Oued Fes a while ago. I very much hope we are not going to Meknes. I have an appointment in the afternoon. Mustapha works in Meknes. Please don't let this be in Meknes...
1:28 - We take a turn and head back into a more densely populated part of the city. After exiting the grand taxi, we walk for about ten minutes through what is reminiscent to me of the old industrial area between Bosse Field and Igleheart Mill in Evansville. Yes, you should all be made as familiar with Evansville landmarks as writers from New York expect you to be about the Big Apple.
1:29 - Ismail explains how it is a famous souq and instructs Kees to take some pictures. As far as I can tell, he is being instructed to take pictures of rusted propane tanks.
1:31 - Ismail reminds me to guard my wallet. With my money belt, I feel fairly secure.
1:34 - We enter the chaos of the livestock souq. This is crowded enough to make the Fall Festival look like Washington Square Mall on a Thursday night. I can best describe the souq as a massive walled-in square, which is essentially a plot of dirt to which people bring their livestock to sell.
1:35 - I said dirt. I step in such a way that my shoe cuts down to the concrete floor. This is not dirt. This is dung, caked-on, age-old dung.
1:37 - We begin checking the health of the rams to find one suitable for the sacrifice. This involves checking its horns, teeth, and hooves. Mustapha also warns against getting a sheep with testicles too large. Apparently that is where all diseases begin. Perhaps if I think long enough on it there is some philosophical nugget there.
2:00 - I text Kempie. "@ souq selecting sheep dont know when ill be back"
After checking at least twenty, we settle on a sheep Mustapha deems acceptable. Commence bargaining. No matter how successful I think I've been, nothing can compare to two Moroccans bargaining. I don't know what the initial or final prices were, or how much the price was reduced, but it is truly grand theater to watch people negotiate here. There is plenty of method acting, some remarkable contrast between back-patting and hugging and straight-up shouting, and in some sort of post-modern experimental drama, is entirely interactive with the crowd, as everyone nearby comes to watch and take sides in the negotiation. As the play unfolds, a frantic ewe kicks manure on my pants. This means I have to do laundry. I do not like laundry; it requires organization, planning ahead, and general tidiness, none of which are particularly high on my list of personal priorities.
2:21 - As Ismail does something, I'm still not sure what, Mustapha, Kees, and I roam the souq, checking out bulls (with their horns and eyes covered), and chickens, and a large truck from which Kees takes some cool panoramic photos.
2:41 - We go to the other side of the souq to a butcher/sandwich tent. I find it stunningly logical that these are the exact same location.
2:43 - Ismail arrives with the sheep. Mustapha laughs. "He is seeing his destiny!"
2:46 - "Please taxi to cafe jawhara near american center by 4:15 pm. Our mentor's time is valuable & we already arranged the session." - Kempie. Oh.
2:47 - This is very delicious meat. I am somehow able to completely dissociate the fact that I am sitting underneath several hanging carcasses as I eat. Mmmm, unrefrigerated meat... Seriously, though, that was good meat.
3:09 - After completing our lunch, we use every method imaginable to pry the sheep away from its cousins and drag it out of the souq. It suddenly dawns on me that we currently have no way of getting our bleating friend back to the medina. I have a feeling we will not be repeating the grand taxi, although tying a live animal to the roof rack would certainly produce an interesting/potentially horrifying result. Mustapha disappears for a moment while Ismail guards the sheep.
3:14 - Mustapha returns with our driver. This man appears to be some inexplicable Moroccan hybrid of Santa Claus and Evil Knievel. I will hit the Return key a few times to allow this image to coagulate in your mind.
Complete with never-removed helmet, nearly waist-length beard which may or may not have at one time been striped with henna, jellaba, and outlandish aviator sunglasses, this man is probably deserving of his own TV show. Maybe a Moroccan version of Cash Cab...
3:17 - After walking/dragging the reluctant sheep a little ways, we arrive at our transportation. In Ourika Valley, we called the souq van a goatmobile, as its other purpose it to carry live goats to and from the weekly souq. That ride was somewhat of an experience in its own right. That was a van. THIS is a sheepmobile. This is a rickshaw, and one that leaves me convinced the "rickshaw" is a portmanteau of "rickety" and something that sounds kind of like "shaw." I think the motorcycle used for power is an older cousin of the one from the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia.
3:19 - This is probably not a good idea, and it is probably fairly slow as well. It doesn't look that safe, but how else am I going to get back to the medina? I decide I have no choice but to board the sheepmobile. This is most likely in violation of not only Global LAB safety policies, but basic common sense and the essential human need for self-preservation. We board the rickshaw, struggling mightily to fit ourselves and our new pet/meal into the back of this machine. Unidentified six-year-old boy decides to join us. I am slightly confused by this turn of events, as it poses multiple questions. 1. Why is a six-year-old boy jumping into transportation with people he doesn't know, I mean, whatever happened to "Don't get in a car with a stranger?" 2. Expand that to specifically this form of transportation, and I use that word somewhat loosely. 3. What is an unaccompanied six-year-old boy doing at a livestock souq anyway? 4. I like his sweater - where did he get that sweater?
I instead ignore the child and focus on finding something to hold on to.
3: 30 - The rickshaw navigates the parked cars and carts and seas of people and finally makes it on to the main road.
3:33 - The ram is rather displeased with his current isolation and new vehicular home. The ram continues bleating and trying to escape. Note to self: caged animal with horns + back of moving vehicle + back of tightly packed moving vehicle = surprisingly more humorous than dangerous. Mustapha corrects this situation by pinning the sheep between his legs. This confuses me. This animal has been excreting fecal matter all day long, yet he has apparently no concerns about holding the ram tightly against his pants to restrict its movement. He is evidently far more of a man than I. Note: somehow the sheep managed to "hold it" until we get off the rickshaw. I commend it for the longest self-discipline of its entire life.
3:34 - Ismail asks me if I have my wallet. I pull up my shirt a little to show him my money belt. He is unresponsive for a minute, and then starts digging into his pants. He pulls out his own money belt and shouts over the traffic. "Good choice!" I feel savvy.
3:35 - Ismail gestures at our mode of transportation, and the handful of other rickshaws on the boulevard. "Hehe - we are in China." Mustapha's hat flies off in the tunnel. This constitutes a crisis. After quite a deal of convincing, our driver pulls to the side and Ismail jumps out the back of the rickshaw. He disappears for a good five minutes.
3:40 - Ismail returns. Ismail bears no hat. This is sad.
3:41 - We return to the road. Our driver feels a pressing need to make up for lost time.
3:42 - Rethinking initial assessment. This is not a sheepmobile. This is a DEATHMOBILE.
3:47 - Deathmobile passes a car. This is most definitely in defiance of the new Moroccan road law. There shouldn't need to BE a road law for this.
3:55 - Deathmobile hits a pothole. Deathmobile jumps. My back is now bruised.
4:05 - Arrival at Ain Azilten. Ismail helps me hail a taxi to the Ville Nouvelle. God only knows how they got that creature through Talaa Kbira.
4:13 - The cab driver drops me off near Cafe Jawhara. No, I did not rush. Of course not. I never need to; I can just be my usual punctual self.