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June 28, 2008 Funereal Feast

I’m again tempted to paraphrase Hamlet, but the meats served for the funeral feast will not be reincarnated at a wedding banquet, so I’ll let it go.

But there was a lot of meat. Mountains of it.

My host father killed at least some of the sheep and goats himself, on the ground outside our courtyard; I stepped over the drying rivulet of blood when I came home.

When my blood has welled up visibly, it starts bright red, but as the drop grows, it darkens into a deep crimson shade, and is almost black before the surface tension breaks the blood drop into a smear.

I always imagined that large volumes of blood would have that deep, almost-black shade of red.

I was wrong.

The pooled sheep’s blood was almost comically bright. It looked like it should belong on Woody Woodpecker’s head, or primary school walls. It was brighter than ketchup, and with a different viscosity; it almost looked like a puddle of paint.

When I went in, I was quickly put to work in the kitchen. For fifteen minutes, I waved flies off the pile of meat on the table in front of me. Then someone* produced a giant stew pot, poured a gallon or two of water in it, transferred in the dozens of pounds of meat, and covered it securely. At that point, I was moved onto vegetable duty. Which I found easier. There’s no dried blood on vegetables. Plenty of dirt, though. I peeled countless potatoes and carrots before my round in the kitchen was done, and my place taken by another of the innumerable female relatives who are here. I also cored the carrots, which I’m not particularly good at. Did you know carrots can be cored? I didn’t. Some of the carrots have a green center, so I understand that maybe they shouldn’t be eaten, but I don’t know why the solidly orange carrots need to have their centers removed. Anyway, the trick is to cut shallowly along the side of the core, then, while the knife is still about a centimeter in, twist your wrist to pop out the carrot core. When it works, it’s pretty nifty. My host mother, aunts, and cousins were all doing carrots at a single stroke. My unpracticed hands usually needed multiple tries, and I still sometimes ended up digging it out.

Once peeled (and cored), the veggies were dropped into chlorine-treated water to soak, as is standard treatment for fruits and vegetables (since it kills off the bacteria/pesticide/whatever that is not good to eat), and then added to the stew.

They reappeared as duaz (doo-aaz) that night. After couscous. Couscous, by the way, is not only the national dish of Morocco, it’s also a really big deal. It takes hours to prepare, and is always the crown jewel of imikli n jam3a, Friday lunch, which is the Moroccan (and probably Muslim) equivalent of a Norman Rockwell Sunday dinner. So even if I’d known that a second course was possible – which hadn’t dawned on me – I would have never have dreamed that anything could come after couscous.

Prior to this week, I haven’t had any meals with more than one course. (Two courses if you count dessert.) Now I’ve had many. Well, four or five. Unfortunately, since I never expect a second course, I eat my fill during the first one. And then I have to put in a good showing for the second. Fortunately, Ama has been so busy running around, keeping the kitchen staff of nieces and cousins and sisters-in-law flowing smoothly, that she isn’t usually at whichever table I end up eating at…which means that she’s not around to tell me to eat more. :) So if I just nibble a carrot or two and a smidge of bread from the duaz course, nobody notices.

I’m also never sure when the meal is over. Dessert is sporadic. Often, but not always, tea is served after the final course. But sometimes it’s served during the meal, so even that’s not always conclusive evidence that the feast has ended. I don’t know if the ability to recognize the end of a feast is a skill I’ll acquire, or if Moroccans pride themselves on their ability to surprise guests with yet-another-course…

* The feasting that has marked the days since MaHallu’s death has provoked all kinds of thoughts, including a deep appreciation for the interdependence among the families of Berberville. I don’t know how many relatives and neighbors have been called upon to loan tables, cookware, etc. My family is quite wealthy, and many of the giant pots or piles of glassware and silverware have emerged from our own storage room, but many more have been brought by aunts or cousins or neighbors.

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