Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Sheep's Tale

In keeping with my innate laziness and tendancies to procrastinate (I am my brother's sister), I offer this Gnu Year's Message (on January 17th for gawd's sake), shameless stolen from my e-mail of the same name:

Hi everyone,

I was about to prepare a belated New Year's greeting (our computers have been disengaged at work for a few weeks as the computer lab gets renovated) and the next thing I know, we have a few days off for Eid El Kebir: the big kahuna of Islamic holidays. So now, instead of my hopes & wishes to you all for a prosperous new year and repeated I-miss-you-all's (which I do), I must rant ....

So the country has been on holiday for 2 days as it slaughters sheep (commemorating the Abraham/Isaac story in which god allows Abe to kill a sheep rather than his son) in every backyard, beachfront, balcony & terrace. In the Spanish enclave of Ceuta (in northern Morocco), where 6000 sheep were slaughtered yesterday, the animals originated primarily from northern Spain. Two farms served as collection points where families picked up their “sacrificial” animal. The cruelty starts during transport; with their legs tied up, the animals are transported in car trunks, in the back of station wagons, in wheelbarrows or on roof racks.

In Rabat, this "sacrifice" translates as keeping up with the Jones in the worst possible way as every family tries to outdo the next in the quality & number of sheep butchered in their backyards. Yesterday, many hawked their jewelry and tv sets on the street in order to buy a sheep rather than share one or buy a haunch. A cheap sheep costs about 1500 dirhams - to put this in persepctive, our admin assistance earns 3000 dirhams a month. You can finance a sheep with no money down and pay it off over 2 years at 50 dirhams a month. , balconies & rooftops. Nonetheless, people have been scooping up sheep all week, keeping them in parking garages, on balconies and even in bathrooms. It's been disheartening to see and/or hear these animals bleeting in confusion and distress all week.

Some of the animals (about 20%) are slaughtered in the municipal slaughterhouse by trained personnel; approximately 30% of the animals are killed in mobile slaughterhouses, i.e., in tents with a water supply; but the majority is carried out by amateurs. Needless to say, I opted to stay inside yesterday to avoid the carnage although my building is 99% western (almost no Muslims) so I knew it wouldn't be too too bad. I'm also sick again so I was content to sleep in and hope that my cold medicine blocked out any sounds.

Around 10:30 I heard raised voices outside my bedroom window and thought it was coming from the Italian Consulate which is my backyard neighbour. Curiosity got the best of me so I looked out only to see our one Muslim tenant in the building overseeing an itinerant butcher kill a sheep in the car park just below my window. I looked just as they were flipping it on its side and sliced its throat. I couldn't turn away, and instead decided to honour this animal (yes, I know how flakey that sounds), and watched it as they (and their 3 kids) stepped away to allow it to bleed to death. It thrashed & kicked as blood poured out of its throat. Death was not instantaneous. I cried.

Transfixed, I watched as they finally strung the animal up, cut it open, disembowelled and defleeced it. I went inside and threw up.

My neighbour next door killed 2 in his backyard but I couldn't see anything. Could only hear the sheep scream. Around noon I went for a walk because I felt nauseaus and needed fresh air plus I figured that most of the sheep-killing was over. Which it mercifully was. What I didn't know is that on every street corner men congregate to burn the heads - huge bonfires raged and kids watched as men hooked skulls by the horns and toasted them. Once crispy, they smash the heads with a mallet and save the bits for some "tasty treat" made today. The smell of burnt hair & bone was cloyingly awful, not to mention sheep shit & blood. The streets were deserted except for the bonfire men and pairs of amateur butchers - what looked like father and son teams - who roamed the streets looking for work. The head of the household is supposed to kill the sheep but if he doesn't feel up to the task (or see the necessity to send it to a supervised abbatoir), he can hire these amateurs. It was eery to see these men wander the streets, wearing blood-drenched jellabahs and rubber boots, carrying bared and probably unsuitable butcher knives (which intensifies the pain and suffering of the animals due to repeated cuts). It looked like a scene from a science fiction or horror movie. Then I started to see men pushing handcarts loaded down with dripping sheep pelts matted with urine & feces, calling out as they walked an equivalent - I guess - of 'bring out your dead'. Lord knows what happens to their cargo. Behind closed doors women roasted the offal & viscera - today they cook the meat.

That was my day yesterday. Today, the country is still shut down: only the odd internet cafe (where I am now) & street cafe is open (the men have to do something while the women cook) so I have ventured out to vent my spleen. I apologise for the ranting but even if I were not a vegetarian, this has been a really tough 2 days. I am not trying to superimpose my beliefs on what is for most Muslims a sacred observance but I cannot but wonder if a happy medium cannot be found that lessens the suffering of the sheep and the sheer numbers killed as well as address hygeine issues. The sheep shit and blood has not been fully cleaned from beneath my window.

So that's it ... I suspect that this email has come across as terribly culturally insensitive and, believe it or not, that was not my intention. Turkeys don't have a swell time of it at Christmas & Thanksgiving nor pigs at Easter, and westerners have the double sin of slaughtering their dinners en masse while remaining painlessly as far removed from the killing of their source meat as possible. In other words, this email is not indicting any religion but one practice that I consider outdated, outmoded & cruel. I will now go home and drink myself into a stupour.
Happy New Year ....


Anonymous Lady M said...

It is a bit surreal around Eid El Adha. However, it is the only genuine feast for most Moroccans. The only time of the year when even the poor can indulge themselves and enjoy their favorite food : Meat !
Yes, the sheep are not treated very kindly, but this has to be matched with the way even human beings are treated here.
Morocco is not a vegetarian friendly country especially during the eid !

6:08 p.m.  
Blogger ~ Ms. Cute Pants ~ said...

As a kid, growing up in India, every year, I would be the first to run next door to watch the slaughtering. And I'd wait until it was all done. Of course, I was fully aware of the traditions of Bakri Eid & had even played with the goat a week earlier when it was first brought in. Ask me to watch this tradition now & I definitley wouldnt, not even if you paid me!

1:42 a.m.  
Blogger ~ Ms. Cute Pants ~ said...

In response Lady M's comment, the sheep/goats that my neighbours brought in were treated with the utmost care & love, you wouldn't believe it was going to be slaughtered. They were adamant about it too - something about the better treated the goat, the better the sacrifice. And the neighbours were always generous, sharing the meat with all of us in the neighbourhood.

1:46 a.m.  

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