Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Slaughter

I could see it in Karen's eyes, she was just as uncomfortable about the thought of a lamb being slaughtered.

It was the first anniversary of Cafe Tissardmine, Karen's desert camp and where we were staying. After a long hard year of work and building Sophia and I were part of Karen's first group of guests, Cafe Tissardmine was officially open for business. Celebrating a moment like this in Morocco is actually done in a very similar way to back home in Australia except, before you rush out and light the barbeque, you're going to have to confront the reality of where your meal actually originated from, and good luck finding a cold beer to ease your nerves beforehand!

Earlier in the day the boys had said that they would be slaughtering a lamb that evening but as the moment quickly approached there was doubt as to whether it would all go ahead. The local village, made up of about 8 sturdy mud brick homes scattered around the camp, certainly falls within the definition of poor. The locals live an extremely humble life, simply sleeping on matts directly on the hard earth floors of their homes. There is no electricity and all water needs to be carried by hand back from a near by water pump. Many of these local families once lived a nomadic life and this lamb will be a well received treat for each of them but there is no way the boys are going to sharpen the knife unless they are sure enough mouths have been invited so that not a single piece of the animal will go to waste, as the guest list is still fluctuating I hold out hope that I won't be enlisted for duty down at the sheep pen.

As the sun begins to set I can see the look of relief on Sophia's face. As a small child she made the mistake of considering one of her Father's young lambs as her pet but when the annual celebration of Eid al-Kabir, a festival that celebrates the prophet Abraham, Sophia quickly learned her first big life lesson.

"Rob, Rob, everyone is coming, they're going to do it!" I hear Karen nervously calling out to me, I think Sophia is about to relive that lesson!

In the modern society that many of us live in these days, it's easy to forget or ignore where much of our food and products originated from. The leather on our shoes, the stuffing in our pillows, the meat on our plates all required an animal to sacrifice its life. Out here in the deserts of Morocco the meat they need for their survival doesn't arrive on a refrigerator shelf already neatly wrapped in clear plastic, they have to get their hands dirty and confront the cycle of life themselves.
Are you ready?
The butcher has travelled in from a nearby town and is already mid-prayer as I arrive down the back of the desert compound with my camera, it's a peaceful moment and the lamb is calm and unknowing of the fate it's about to meet. I'm nervous. I only have a moment to gather my thoughts and organise my gear before the sharp blade is quickly and neatly whisked across the lamb's throat. Just like that, it's over almost before it even starts and the boys have the lamb hung and skinned. Every part of the lamb is carefully dissected and removed and washed, nothing is wasted. A young boy is running plates of meat and organs back up to the camp where the women are already deep into the preparation of the feast.

Quickly and skillfully.
As could be expect, multiple plates of couscous were being prepared with tender pieces of meat while fresh bread was being baked in the outdoor clay oven. The night had descended on us quickly and the kitchen was the only room with light, running off a battery charged by the sun's energy that day. I lay out under the stars in absolute darkness surrounded by the indecipherable chatter of the local men. The food started coming out hard and fast on big share plates, silence descended over the camp as bread was broken and used as a utensil retrieve food from the dishes. It was impossible to make out exactly what I was eating and my only hope for understanding a word of what was being described to me was Sophia who was eating with the other women on the other side of the camp. It really didn't matter, it was delicious and it was fresh.

Sophia was so excited as we went to bed that night. "You got to try some real Moroccan delicacies tonight" she said. "You know the first plate that came out, well that was actually pieces of lambs heart. Then we had boulfef, they were the kebabs".

"I ate about 6 of those, they were unreal!" I replied.

"Yeah, that is my favourite recipe from growing up. They are made of liver wrapped in the stomach fat".

I could see the remainder of the night taking one of two paths. A deep sleep nursed by a full belly of content, or many long restless hours fuelled by the knowledge of what I'd just eaten...

Organic food.

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One easily recognisable dish.

Bread baked Fresh.

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