This weekend was one for the books in Rabat. Some other AMIDEAST students and I were lucky enough to be apart of some of the most intimate cultural experiences we have had thus far in Morocco. This weekend had it all: good music, almost too much delicious food, family, friends, and a lot of blood. Allow me to explain.
On Thursday, our host sister, Meryem, informed us that she sings for the Royal Philharmonic of Morocco in the chorus. She is an extremely talented individual, performing for most of her life and currently doing so while raising a family and working full-time. Every December since 2009, the Philharmonic plays one of Beethoven’s symphonies in its entirety. As a member of the ensemble, Meryem was able to get tickets for Pablo and I. The Friday evening concert lasted about three hours and was spectacular. It was interesting to not only hear the wonderful music, but also observe the abundance of languages being spoken throughout the audience.
The next day, we began our first Moroccan birthday celebration. Our host father’s brother and his wife recently were blessed with their first child two months ago, but they wanted to come to Rabat to be with family and celebrate the Moroccan way. This includes slaughtering a sheep (much like the Eid holiday a few months earlier) and a daylong feast.
Saturday was dedicated entirely to the sheep and preparing the meat. A few days prior, the animal was brought up to the roof of our apartment building where it slept and was taken care of. Around noon on Saturday, the entire family went up to the roof for the ceremony. Essentially, this tradition is done in remembrance of the sacrifice of Abraham, and how (according to the Quran) Allah ultimately stopped him from killing his son Ismail and instead provided him with a ram. In much the same way, my host father and his brothers busily took up the task of killing the ram in a hilal (allowed in Islam) fashion with a prayer and a blessed knife. The rest of the day was spent dressing the meat and preparing for the party and arrival of family on Sunday.
I want to begin my recap of Sunday by stating that I have never been so full in my entire life. My host mother cooked approximately eight separate rotisserie chickens, most of the sheep, bowls of soup, baskets of fruit, and countless cookies throughout the day. Surprisingly, she was one of the women dancing the most when the music came on after the main meal. I couldn’t help but tell her she was an athlete of sorts, which prompted her to tell me that she had even run a marathon before. I guess it is only appropriate for the interesting family stories to come out when gathered around the table.
I feel incredibly lucky to have been given an intimate glimpse into how a family celebrates and expresses their joy about a new member of the family amongst one another. Even though I am not in the U.S. for the Christmas season, the ritual with the sheep, the feast the next day, and even the concert gave me the greatest feeling of holiday spirit I have known since the beginning of the month. Family is the most powerful facet of Moroccan culture, and I can guarantee that a weekend with the family in Rabat will be a good time.