Eid el-Adha in Marrakech

Even though I slept less than an hour in preparation for our trip to Marrakech, I sprung out of bed a little after 2 am to get dressed and pack the last few things I needed. My sister Asma, brother Mohammed, and “Auntie” (the sister of my host siblings’ grandmother) efficiently got ready, and we ambled quietly to the car, parked a few streets away on the outskirts of the medina. Despite the early hour, there were still many small groups of people awake, sitting in their shops listening to the radio with the lights turned low, or perched on various fountains on street corners smoking cigarettes and exchanging plans for their holidays. For the first few minutes of the drive, as we slowly pulled onto the highway, gaining speed with the windows rolled down and the brisk, morning wind blowing through my hair, I was entirely convinced that I would be able to keep myself awake for the journey. However, I soon realized that a highway is a highway, regardless of what continent you’re on, and that even if there was interesting scenery to watch fly by, it was too dark to be able to see anything other than the road ahead, and acknowledging these facts, fell into a restless sleep.


Our dog Ruby meets our howli 🙂

Roughly four hours later, my sister Asma woke up to tell me that we had arrived in Marrakech. Rubbing the exhaustion from my eyes, I peered outside, eager to see the new city. It looked like as if someone had painted the Ville Nouvelle district of Rabat with sunburst shades of pink and orange and thrown it the middle of a desert oasis. As we drove past government buildings, hotels, and train stations, the darkness fled the sky, revealing resort-like apartment buildings and streets lined with palm trees and large signs advertising newly constructed golf communities. We quickly left the residential and resort communities, and my brother began winding the car over roads that undulated through almond groves and open pastures until we reached the mountains. A few minutes into our morning adventure through the mountain overpass famous for being the setting of a motorcycle chase scene in the most recent ‘Mission Impossible’ movie, I remembered that I had intended to take pictures of the scenery. I pulled out my camera, but quickly realized that my brother drives not unlike Tom Cruise, aggressively bypassing those he considers to be moving too slowly, and that all my pictures would come out like green and brown blurs.

The view of the mountains and the valley from my family’s house. 

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After driving through the mountains for almost half an hour, we parked next to an abandoned looking house on the side of the road, and began unloading our stuff. I was fairly confused until my brother began hauling bags up the hill behind the house. I followed him along a small dirt path, past houses with chickens roaming streaming from their front yards until we passed through a gate leading to gardens, and I looked up to see a salmon colored house built into the hill. As I walked up the steps to the house, I was greeted by the members of our family which I had not yet met, receiving hugs and handshakes but quickly forgetting the names which accompanied them. Not long after I’d been given the tour of the house, the women piled platters with pastries and everyone in the family sat down to a leisurely breakfast as the sun rose over the mountains. Once everyone had spent a sufficient amount of time socializing, we all cleared the table and then most people laid down the couch for a nap. Sometime while I was asleep the women prepared lunch, and I was awoken by my sister to the smell of vegetables cooking in a tagine and fresh baked bread being passed around the table. I was thrilled that we were eating one of my favorite meals, green beans, potatoes and lamb, and I almost forgot about how tired I was.

Meet my family!


“The Aunties” Actual relations: The mother of the wive of my host brother’s best friend (left), and the aunt of my host siblings’ late mother (right).


Yasmine- the daughter of my host brother’s best friend.


My host father Ibrahim and my host niece Malak.


My host brother Abdullatif and my host father Ibrahim.

My older brother Abdullatif and his son, my adorable nephew, Adam. 

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My host brother Mohammed with Abdullatif’s son Adam.


Abdullatif’s best friend, Adam’s godfather.

My nephew Adam ❤ 



My phone always makes him spectacularly happy.


He really loves flipping through the channels until the clicker stops working.

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Everyone gathered for lunch on Eid.

Despite my best attempts to stay awake after lunch, it was overcast and blustery outside and one of the women in the living room passed me a warm blanket while I was reading. I curled up and was asleep fairly quickly. When I woke up about three hours later, the still bodies strewn across couches in the living room slowly began stirring and eventually kettles of tea were put on the stove and everyone followed their noses outside to find cookies. While we nibbled, groups of people milled around the gardens in front of the house, talking and making observations about the progress of the crops. My brother Abdullatif and his wife showed me how to harvest potatoes and tomatoes from the garden and my father showed me where the family has created a hutch for the wild rabbits that live in our yard.

My family’s garden terraces.

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My family teaching me how to work in our garden.

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Our harvest. 


When the light left the sky everyone migrated back inside to watch television and begin preparing dinner. I alternated between reading and entertaining Adam, Abdullatif’s one year old son. He is adorable, but is in a phase of being curious about everything around him, and is therefore quite the mischief-maker. He also likes to think he is just as mentally and physically capable as everyone else in the family, and is upset when it is challenging for him to eat, drink, and play like both the older children and adults. To temporarily remedy this, I give him my Moroccan phone to hold- the tiny brick is practically unbreakable and if I lock the screen, Adam can play with the buttons all he likes, which is both fun and beneficial to his tactile development.

After a light dinner of rice soup, a relatively bland, but still warm and wonderful dish, the women began shooing children to bed on the premise of allowing the grandparents the sleep, in an effort to save all of us from having to admit that our eyelids were fluttering shut. My sister Asma showed me to my room, which, despite being nothing more than four very colorful pastel walls and an old couch cushion sitting on the dusty tile floor, was quiet and perfectly comfortable.

I woke up on Thursday to the sun streaming through the windows, and when I went downstairs and saw the breakfast table had already been torn through, I assumed I had slept fairly late. However, after checking my cell phone, I discovered it was only a little after 7. I spent an hour or so after breakfast reading and watching the young girls, Malak and Yasmina, color with the art supplies I brought while we waited for the men to return from their morning prayers. Not long after the five men streamed into the house wearing their finest silk jellabas they grabbed a cup of coffee and their sharpened butcher knifes en route to the terrace. My sister Asma encouraged me to, at the very least, make an effort to watch some of the sacrifice. Though I wasn’t sure my stomach would be able to handle the blood, she informed me that all of the children would be watching, and the desire not to be more squeamish than 7 year olds motivated me to go upstairs as well.

Meeting our howlis before the sacrifice. 


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Surprisingly, I wasn’t nearly as upset or grossed out by the sacrifice as I expected to be. I anticipated being sad that the lambs were losing their lives, but our lambs weren’t particularly adorable, and I had only meet them an hour or so before. Just as I had been informed at school, the men in our family were quite proud to be financially capable of sacrificing these lambs, as the particular breed which we purchased is by far the most expensive, and is coveted for its size, regal appearance, and preference by the Prophet Mohammed and the king of Morocco. I was happy to have attended the lecture at school about the traditions of Eid, because it allowed me to recognize the humane way in which my brothers slaughtered the animals. There wasn’t nearly as much blood as I had been warned of, and the only part of the whole process which made my stomach turn was the rancid smell that emanated everywhere after the men finished skinning the lambs and the women began cleaning its organs.


Ferouz comforting one of the sheep before he sacrifices it.

My expectations that only the men would participate in the sacrifice were proved wrong almost immediately. As it turns out, if you actually want to eat a lamb after you kill it, there is an extensive process to go through- the meat doesn’t just magically appear in front of you after you slit the animal’s throat. Once my brother Mohammed broke each lamb’s neck and twisted its head off, the children rushed over with hoses, buckets of water and scrub brushes to remove the blood from the terrace floor. After the lambs were skinned, hung, and cut open, the women arrived upstairs and, depositing the various organs into pails, vigorously cleaned, chopped and seasoned them until the liver, lungs, intestines, and fat were ready to barbecue. Though most Americans may cringe at the idea of eating anything other than a lamb’s mutton, in Morocco the entire animal, including portions of the head are consumed in order not to be wasteful, and whatever a family is not able to use is given to neighbors or the poor. By the time we all had finished killing, skinning, gutting, and cleaning all three lambs, a process which took over three hours, I was exhausted and slightly revolted by the overwhelming stench of the lambs’ innards. Sensing that I was no longer needed, I departed to my room in the hope that my appetite would return by lunch.

The women and children cleaning the sheep organs. 

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Me helping clean the blood off the terrace. 

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Around two in the afternoon the men brought out our tiny barbecues and perching themselves on miniscule stools on the terrace, began roasting seasoned chunks of lamb liver which had been diligently placed on wire skewers. As much as I wanted to like the dish, I didn’t particularly enjoy the lamb liver. I’m unsure how much of it was due to the unusual taste of liver (because I am not used to eating it) or my persistent lack of appetite, which I attributed to the fact that we were eating next to the lamb carcasses hanging around the terrace to air dry. Though I wanted desperately to beg for infinitely more shish kabobs of lamb liver, my queasy desire to throw up won out over my guilt, as I sipped sprite and nibbled bread for the rest of the meal. Everyone else treated the entire day as commonplace (which it was for them), but I needed to retreat to my room for an hour after lunch to allow my stomach to recover.

My brother Mohammed roasting liver kabobs. 

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I spent the rest of the day reading, napping and editing my photos from the sacrifice. For an unknown reason, we did not have tea or a snack that afternoon, so by the time dinner was served around 11 that night I was both bored, from sitting around doing nothing for almost eight hours and starving, after eating only a few bites of liver and bread at lunch. Unfortunately, dinner was a gloppy, brown stew of lamb liver, lungs, and intestines. I made an effort to eat it, but the texture was very challenging (read: squishy), and the flavor was a sadly unappetizing combination of guts and blood. I managed to choke down some heavily salted homemade french fries and a small bowl of chopped tomatoes and onions, but I was honestly relieved when my sister brought out my favorite Moroccan melon for dessert. I was fairly tired, so I went to bed soon after dinner.

After the sacrifice, most of the first day of Eid is spent cooking. 


Sayida making traditional Moroccan bread in a tagine.


The women carry their babies on their backs like this when they want their hands free.


Sometimes Adam gets himself into trouble. He is very tactile, and likes to touch and grab everything- in this instance, it was the freezer handle, at the expense of my sister’s head.


Auntie chopping up mint leaves for tea.

I slept in past 8 on Friday morning and was awoken to the clatter of silverware as the women set out breakfast. Despite how unusual it seemed to me to have soup for breakfast, my sister Asma reassured me that it was their family tradition the day after Eid, and I surprised myself by being able to eat a few bites of the lamb meat (finally!) that was in the soup, along with chickpeas and rice. Immediately after eating the adults went to work deconstructing and storing the dried lamb carcasses which were hanging off ladders in the terrace bathroom. I watched for a while, but ultimately the putrid stench began affecting my stomach and I went downstairs to my room. I sat around on my mattress for almost two hours before wandering down to the main floor to see if anyone was preparing lunch. As I anticipated, the women had just begun making lunch, and so I had an apple for snack and sat down to read my book while I waited. Over two hours later, a little after 3, lunch was finally ready. By that time I was again, bored and rather hungry, and was disappointed that we were eating yet another meal of lamb innards stew. Though there was also large chunks of lamb meat on the table, it was very fatty and I had a challenging time eating any of it. I again ate bread, salty french fries and chopped tomatoes and onions. Much to my dismay, I felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the afternoon due to the strange combination of flavors.

The rest of the afternoon was again passed reading, watching television and napping alone in my room. As much as I wanted to socialize with all the family members, it was too difficult to be in the kitchen, which smelled of spices and raw meat. My sister had told me that we would go to downtown Marrakech to see the sights that afternoon as soon as my brother Mohammed was home, but unfortunately, the day after Eid is still considered a major holiday, and he was out celebrating with his friends until the sun was about to set, so our trip was postponed significantly. Not long after he arrived home the Eid parade passed through our yard and paused on our front doorstep. My family rushed into my room to alert me to the occasion, shouting excitedly and telling me to grab my camera. I followed them downstairs and was alarmed by the number of paraders on our terrace. The adults in my family pushed me toward the door to greet the costumed men, which I did hesitantly. There were four or five men, dressed in various outfits that reminded me of bison and gypsies, attempting to shove their way into our house, singing and drumming in celebration of the holiday. Though I was too scared to venture into the pulsating crowd of close to thirty boisterous men, I took their pictures and gave them the tips my family passed to me. When they began to clear off our terrace I finally went outside and took a few more pictures of them as they were leaving.

This event is a tradition in more rural, religious and/or conservative areas. 


Villagers gathered in the streets and on their terraces to watch the parade go by.

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After catching my breath stolen by the overwhelming event most of the family bundled up and piled into cars to drive to downtown Marrakech. At this point it was around 8 and I was feeling acutely sick to my stomach. However, I knew this would be the only opportunity to leave the mountain village during the four day period we were there. My queasiness only increased as we traversed the winding mountain pass, whipping quickly around turns and gliding down hills. By the time we arrived in Marrakech I was rather miserable, and within minutes of walking down one of the main commercial thoroughfares I threw up on the sidewalk. After that, I felt significantly better, but was still very tired and weak. Because of this, and because it was getting dark and most of the shops were closing down, we only stayed about 45 minutes. I didn’t get to see much, and I am very excited to return in the daylight with my friends. When we got home I went straight to bed and slept in the next morning. I spent the entire next day in bed recuperating and avoiding food until we left around 6 in the evening. We arrived home a little after midnight I promptly unpacked and then repacked for the trip the next morning.

The only decent photos I managed to take in Marrakech after I threw up were these two of lanterns for sale. 

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The donkey that carried my family’s bags from our house on the hill to our car. 



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