Festival of the Sheep . Marrakesh
Unknowingly I planned my trip to Marrakesh, Morocco during the “Festival of the Sheep”, an annual holiday in which a family brings home a sheep, tends to it in their home or yard for a few days, and then has a professional butcher “prepare” it for the family to cook. The sheep is considered a gift and blessing, and similar to our Thanksgiving it’s a gathering of family. Later in the day the sheeps’ heads and other food are distributed to the less fortunate, who bring them home or have a communal cookout in the streets. (A sort of tailgate but with sheep instead of brats.)
A coworker of mine has a long time friend who’s lived in Marrakesh for 20 years. We exchanged emails leading up to my trip, and she informed me about the festival and to “not be surprised at live sheep being driven around town on motorbikes or cars.” She was kind enough to meet for dinner my first night in town for wonderful meal and informative introduction to the city.
While Tuesday was bustling at the Souk, (the mazes of markets stalls in the center of the city), with families buying food and supplies for the holiday, I was told Wednesday would be a slow day in the city with many shops and restaurants closed while families spent time together.
The owner of the Riad I stayed at (report to come) arranged a guide who didn’t mind working the holiday and took myself and two girls from Australia, also staying at the Riad, on a day trip to the Lower Atlas Mountains.
He drove us outside the city, up some canyon and mountain roads (very similar to Colorado) and after a few photo stops we arrived at the town of Achayn, where the elegant Kasbah du Toubkal Hotel is situated on a hill with views of the Atlas Mountains and Berber villages on the hillsides.
Our guide Mohamed and his family lived in one of the villages a short walk from the hotel. After time spent relaxing amid the peaceful rooftops staring at the jaw dropping views Mohamed returned and took us for a walk through the villages where we saw families preparing their sheep, and to a waterfall a short hike up the canyon.
We didn’t ask for or expect what happened next: He took the three of us to his home for a meal. We removed our shoes and sat on the comfortable rugs atop his roof, with the same incredible views of the mountains and valley. His father made mint tea, taking 10 minutes to add and filter then mint and sugar. After tea the family prepared a table on the rooftop, and we were served a dish of lamb, with dates and walnuts. We ate it with the bread, but of course reluctantly used the forks on hand. We had an onion and olive salad with pomegranate for dessert.
Mohamed is one of seven children, with most of his sisters married. We met his Father, Mother and cousins He spoke English very well, and was able to tell us about his family’s history and their home. Of course he and his mother wondered why on earth the two girls, a few years younger than myself, were not married yet.
I’m grateful to this family for having me over to see a real Berber home in the mountains, and to share one of the best meals and visits that I’ve ever experienced.