NOTE: At the end of this story is an image that may be disturbing to some (a sheep being skinned and prepared for the table).
Sometimes, raising global kids can be messy. Don't let it be said that we at CultureBaby claim it is all wine and roses...sometimes, it is blood and guts.
This week we are excited to hear from a new voice, mom of two Sara in Rabat, Morocco. An NYC transplant and professional dancer, Sara is a health aficionado; the kind of friend you go to when you need to know where to buy Bragg liquid aminos or how to brew your own kombucha. So it seemed natural to me that she has taken time to introduce her children to the somewhat less crunchy-granola side of sustainable and conscious eating....learning how one's meat makes it from farm to table...or in this case, from medina to table. Read on to find out how Sara has integrated a lesson in Moroccan culture and a lesson in respect for one's food.
Four years ago my husband and I moved to Morocco with our two kids from New York City. The sights, smells, sounds and cultural differences we’ve experienced could fill a book. In each instance we’ve always tried to explain situations to the kids with an open mind. But, when our first Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) came upon us four years ago we stayed in our home, popped popcorn and watched Disney movies all day. We fully admit we were hiding from the holiday, not knowing how to explain it to our children.
You see, the big event of this holiday is each household’s slaughter of a sheep. On this day there are pop-up bbqs on every street corner to roast the heads, butchers walking around the neighborhoods with bloodied knives looking for work, and trucks driving around looking to pick up the hides. All of this to the typical westerner sounds horrifying. We moved here from a country where we used to buy our pre-cut meat in tidy little Styrofoam containers, in sterile grocery stores.
But, in our time here we’ve had the opportunity to re-write our children’s view (and ours) of where our meat comes from. They have been in countless medinas seeing entire cow carcasses hanging and seeing live chickens for sale, each time fascinated and full of questions. So last week when our babysitter invited us to her family’s home to not only share in an Eid al-Adha meal, but also for my husband to help with the slaughter of the sheep, we knew it was time to stop hiding from the holiday and dive into the experience.
My husband and I were still unsure about letting the kids watch the actual slaughter of the sheep, but after considering our countless lessons on the circle of life and how food arrives on our table, we decided they could watch. They stood about 5 ft away from the sheep, said thank you several times to the sheep as they were preparing to slaughter him, and when they did, my kids thanked him again for his life. They never looked away or felt frightened. The slaughter was peaceful and dignified.
At this point several men began the duties of removing the skin (my husband included) and innards. The women came and took the organs and stomach to prepare for the first day of eating. There was a calm sense of joy amongst everyone as they did their work and they made a great effort to include my family. They showed the kids how to separate the skin from the muscle, how to clean the stomach, and then how to prepare liver, lung, and heart brochettes. I was shocked how natural it all felt.
Once the brochettes were grilled, we sat down for a lovely lunch with our babysitter. There were neighbors coming in and out of the house saying hello, having a bite to eat, or helping with the continual work of preparing all the parts of the sheep. I find there to be something so rewarding about eating vegetables I’ve grown my garden, or as in this day, eating the meat that we’ve slaughtered and prepared ourselves.
I’m so thankful that my husband and I finally came out of hiding on this day and lived it with the kids. This was yet another experience showing us how important it is to not place our own fears and opinions on the malleable minds of our children. Whether they viewed this day as horrifying or beautiful was largely up to how we approached it. Our notions of what the day entailed were completely dissolved. I realized that life is messy, sometimes gory, but oh so amazing. It was also a beautiful reminder of just why we need to give thanks to the animals that enable us to eat and recognize the labor involved in procuring it.
I’m so proud to say that my children don’t think their food magically appears in Styrofoam- they get the whole picture. I believe that they also have a very fluid idea in their minds about what defines a holiday-lots of new toys aren’t required to bring joy. I could have never imagined having the insight on life that they have at the ages 4 and 6. Living in Moroccan culture has given us the opportunity to raise them far more organically than the typical Western childhood today. I can only hope that someday they’ll use their knowledge to help bring a little more balance to our rapidly shifting world.