A Traveller’s Welcome

The bleat of the sheep standing outside of a packed earth home sounds urgent to my anthropomorphic ears.  A young Berber man has invited both me and my husband to his home to celebrate Eid Al-Adha, a holy festival of sacrifice to the Muslim prophet Abraham.  “Do you want to come for the sheep slaughter?” he had asked.  As I now stare at said sheep, I question both my stomach and my resolve.  

In the previous days, I had seen hundreds of the animals crowded into Moroccan medinas, being poked and prodded by potential buyers before being whisked away.  Winding through the steep passes of the High Atlas mountains, solemn eyes of sheep stared back at me from their strapped down position on trucks and motorbikes, their frames relaxed as they rode to their fate.

Throughout the extensive Kasbah, our arrival has quickly become known to the rest of the residents.  As we await the start of festivities, steaming cups of highly sweetened mint tea is poured from tall sterling pots.  Friends and family stop by to share in the novelty of having a blonde-haired, blue-eyed stranger shake up their annual ritual. Dates are passed around on gleaming silver platters as the effectual town mayor pops over to make my acquaintance.   He speaks of his time visiting my land and that most holy of U.S. shrines, Hollywood. Palm trees and sunshine reflect in his eyes as he regales us with his dreams of the similarly landscaped Cali-forn-i-a.

I have come bearing hard cones of sugar, tightly wrapped in printed paper.  As the festivities get underway, we set off on foot to the home of those most in need.  My host tells me about his duties to the poor of his Kasbah on this holy day, ensuring that no home is without a sacrificial sheep. As he announces our presence, an old man appears outside and ushers us through the dark mud walls of his home into a center room.  A beam of light pours in from a single upstairs window, casting a perfect ray onto the body of a skinned sheep, delivered earlier in the day and now hanging from the ceiling.  

Three women, the man’s sisters, sit on the bare floor.  I present the cones of sugar to them while their grateful and heavily charcoaled eyes peer out from the empty space left by their niqabs.  Motioning for me to join them on the dirt floor, I accept yet another round of Moroccan hospitality.  We drink endless cups of tea and eat dates directly from a large stockpile in a corner.

Language barriers are broken via pantomime.  Soon our group is roaring with laughter over the seemingly universal right of wives to nag their husbands.  The old man slaps my husband on the leg and shrugs his shoulders.  Wives…What can you do?

One by one, the sisters relax.  In a quick motion, the youngest reaches up and removes the veil covering her face.  She looks at her two sisters, communicating with nothing but her eyes.  One repeats the ritual in turn.  The eldest sister remains motionless, concerned over this act of intimacy with strangers.

More laughter is had before the eldest catches my eye. Holding my gaze, she reaches up to slowly unhook her veil.  Pulling it aside, she breaks out into a toothless grin.  As I share a look with my husband, my heart flutters with both privilege and understanding.  While we started as strangers, we end as an extension of the tribe.

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