Mint tea, dead sheep and Mick Jagger
come. Come. You will now see how we kill the sheep. Hamid beckoned
Their guide stopped in front of an archway and stubbed his cigarette
out on the cobbles. He then turned to go inside. Oh no, the girls
thought, not another carpet emporium. Still, they knew by now
that it was an inevitable stop on any guides itinerary.
Well it gets us out of the heat. And possibly a glass of
So sayeth Amy the Stoic. Ann replied
Whatever. Come on.
They followed Mustapha into the cool entrance hall which was shaded by
a dense tangle of overhanging grapevines. Inside was the biggest carpet
shop theyd yet encountered. It was run as a co-operative and was
housed in one of the old mansions built towards the end of the last century.
The head carpet seller came over to welcome them, inviting them to take
a seat while he instructed his assistants to roll out carpet after carpet
for their inspection. The pile soon reached a foot high. Despite being
gloriously assailed by a riot of brilliant colours and patterns, the girls
remained steadfast in their resolve. No really, they did not want to buy
a carpet. They already had a kelim each from the last trip. And it was
their fifth visit to Morocco. That seemed to clinch it and the attempted
sale was graciously aborted.
At least have some tea. Please. said Hamid. He slipped out
of his carpet seller persona and twinkled his blue eyes at them. He had
a round face, like a wise old cherub with a mass of grey curls, although
he was probably only in his forties. As cigarettes were passed around
and hot fragrant tea was sipped, they made the usual chatter about the
places theyd travelled to and the things they had seen. Mustapha
who would not be securing any carpet commission that day, sat patiently,
doing his best not to appear too bored.
Soon the statutory three glasses were drunk and it was time to leave.
Hamid accompanied them to the doorway. Just as they were bidding their
farewells, he asked them if they knew that the following day was Aid el
Kbir. Had they ever seen a sheep being slaughtered? Would they like to
come over to his house for lunch? If they were interested, he could meet
them in the Café de France later to make arrangements. The girls
thought it was an invitation worth considering.
Aid el Kbir is the festival marking the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice
his son, Ishmael, at Gods behest. It also coincides with the start
of the new Islamic year and is a time-honoured family gathering. Every
household who can afford it, purchases a sheep for slaughter.
Over the past couple of days, it had been like Oxford Street on Christmas
Eve. Sheep were being roped onto the backs of scooters and bicycles, or
shoved unceremoniously into the boots of cars and taxis. Then whisked
off at high speed.
An increasing number of the luckless creatures were seen tethered all
over the place. The unseen ones made their presence felt vocally. Behind
high courtyard walls, on flat rooftops, noisily bleating their bewilderment
and protest at being thrust into hostile environments where slippery,
unyielding tiles replaced the soft green grass under hoof.
Later on, the girls sauntered down to the cafe. They had just about made
up their minds. Placing squeamish thoughts aside, it did sound too good
an opportunity to miss. So why not?
Please, said Hamid do come to my house tomorrow. I have
been home to tell my wife. She will be very happy if you have lunch with
He said he would come to fetch them from their hotel at 11 oclock.
The following morning, the sun shone down on a medina that had shut up
shop for the day. Even the Djemaa el Fna was completely deserted, except
for a solitary orange juice seller and he wasnt doing much business.
It was just as well they had somewhere to go. They sat and waited in the
courtyard of their hotel.
Ann was steadily growing more apprehensive about witnessing the slaying
of the sacrificial lamb. She was in two minds whether she
wanted Hamid to turn up or not.
He did. Immediately upon his arrival, she thrust the gift of a big be-ribboned
box of confectionery into his hands, much to his amusement.
Actually Ann, I think you were supposed carry it. And give it to
his wife when we got there. Amy often wondered why people appeared
to lose all common sense when they were in foreign climes. Must be their
A short walk, through the maze of alleys leading into the heart of the
medina, brought them to a traditional style house with its open, tiled
courtyard. The first thing they noticed was the ruminating ram tethered
in the corner, oblivious that it was soon to be meeting its maker. The
girls exchanged dubious glances. Warm greetings were exchanged with Hamids
wife who ushered them into the living room where grandparents, uncles,
aunts, cousins and offspring were all gathered. A small black and white
television was on and the family was watching King Hassan presiding over
the official ceremonies, live from Casa. There was a ripple of bottom
shuffling until just enough space was made on the long divan to squeeze
in two more.
After a few minutes of polite viewing, the girls attention started
to roam around the room. The whitewashed walls were sparsely decorated
but there was a large framed photograph that seemed to take pride of place.
Hamid followed their eyes and said
Ah, you see the picture of me with my brother and my very good friend.
Carefully, he took it down off the wall and passed it over to them, a
knowing smile glinting in his eyes.
The photograph showed a much younger Hamid, flanked on one side by another
Moroccan and on the other by
and for a moment the two of them were speechless.
Then they both shrieked Its Mick Jagger! No less.
friendship had probably developed through a mutual keen interest
in kif. Hamid told them he used to be an exporter of hashish. Smuggled
out in beautiful coffee table tops, with intricate inlay work, finely
handcrafted by skilled artisans. Their glasses of mint tea and dishes
of salted almonds were placed on such a table. Hamid assured them
that there was nothing stashed inside that table. Oh, what a pity,
He claimed to still be a good friend of Micks. Even although it
must have been quite a few years since they had last been in touch. He
knew that if he ever wished to go to England, Mick would send him his
flight ticket. Straightaway. The girls maybe didnt fully share such
certainty but it was still a good story to take back with them.
The courtyard door opened and Hamids son entered, followed by another
Moroccan who was wielding a couple of large knives with rather lethal
looking 8-inch blades.
I bet hes been busy today. Amy said.
The butcher had finally arrived.
Yes, come. Come. You will now see how we kill the sheep. Hamid
beckoned them outside.
Amy had to give Ann a push towards the doorway.
Im not looking though. she hissed back.
Hamids youngest daughter, aged five, went over to the animal and
patted him gently on the head. She was saying her bye-byes. The sheep
raised his head to rub against her small hand. Well, thought Ann, at least
hes a happy sheep. There was none of the hysteria here that you
would see in the slaughterhouses of the west, where the creatures can
smell their approaching death in the air.
The dreaded act was carried out with surprising swiftness. Hamids
son bent over the ram and grasped him firmly, one hand gripping a horn
and the other a leg. A portentous metallic rasping could be heard as the
butcher sharpened his knives, rhythmically marking out the fated animals
last moments. Amy found herself clenching the insides of her trouser pockets
to prevent her fingers from flying up to cover her eyes. Two blades were
placed, crossing over the jugular and with a combined deft swipe, the
creatures throat was slit. Hamid was handed a knife to finish the
job. A bit like being allowed to have the first cut of your own birthday
One of Hamids older daughters crouched down, gingerly extending
out a plastic container to catch some of the blood that was spilling out
onto the blue and white tiles. The carcass was then strung up. From this
point on, neither of the girls could tear their eyes away. This was far
classier than any school biology lesson or nature documentary. This was
in riveting 3-D.
The butcher made an incision in one leg and peeled back a small piece
of skin. He then put his mouth to the opening and blew hard. The carcass
slowly expanded into a huge balloon allowing the hide to be stripped off
with ease, followed by the removal of the organs. In hardly any time at
all, the whole animal had been skinned and gutted with professional expertise.
murmured Ann, I wish my lungs looked like
Hm, sighed Amy a lovely and unblemished shade of pink.
Must remember to give up the fags.
Yeah, fancy a piece of my Nicorette gum then?
Hamids wife hurried off into the kitchen with the sheeps liver
while her husband lit the charcoal on the brazier. The girls sat down
on the cool shaded tiles, and helped to tear up the sheeps stomach
lining into ribbons. It was a delicate business as the lining was as thin
as lace. The ribbons were then carefully wrapped around cubes of chopped
liver and threaded onto wooden skewers.
They ate the kebabs with newly baked unleavened bread. The tastes and
textures of that exquisite meal would never ever be forgotten or surpassed.
Marrakech Summer 1989
© Amy Chan 2002
However, there is one major alluring quality of online affairs, and
its something that we would all die for in real life - undivided
Parable of the Bereaved Kittens
an ugly cat you are, the child thought, and picking up a stone hurled
it at the feline.
OF A HOCKEY MOM
Firstly, ice-hockey should be classified as an extreme sport
extremely expensive, that is.
Hackwriters 2002 all rights reserved