Sunday, September 17, 2017

part one: belly

I thought I'd share with you some of the drawings I drew during the last few months. Stay tuned—more on the way...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

the bilmawn

We spent Eid al-Adha in Imlil last year, where an old Amazigh tradition still carries on during the days following the Eid. Thunderous drumming echoes through the valleys of the Atlas, and high on a hill one morning, we spied a group of young men dressed in various masks (and some fake beards) preparing to rampage through the village below, led by a fellow dressed in goat skins. This is what I was hoping to find on our trip, the mysterious Bilmawn.

The Bilmawn (or Boujloud) appears to be something out of Pagan times, something ancient— not unlike the Krampus or Portugal's Caretos, who chase young women through the streets whilst wielding sticks and cow bells. With twisting horns and dark human eyes peering through the eye-holes of a flattened goat's head, the animal smell still strong on the fur, the Bilmawn thrills and terrorizes young children by chasing them with a stick, collecting the discarded skins of the sheep sacrificed during the Eid. I have read that the Bilmawn and his cohort also collect alms for the local mosque, though I wasn't able to get much information on the tradition whenever I asked about it, and people seemed genuinely amused that I would even want to know.

Hoping to grab a sketch with this wild character, we approached him with our clumsy French. The Bilmawn, who either did not understand us or was so into his role, stared at us blankly through puffs of smoke from his cigarette, which dangled grotesquely out from under his goat face. One of his companions, wearing shades and a powdered face with a fake beard haphazardly glued to his chin, did understand. Of course we could sketch and photograph everyone, but we needed to offer a donation. Normally I would balk over paying to draw, but this was such a great opportunity and one that might not come my way in some time, so I placed a few dirhams into his powdered palm. The goat man extinguished his cigarette, and struck a pose.

As we drove off down the hill, I looked up to where we had met the bizarre cast of characters and watched them begin their descent into the village. The pounding of drums echoed as I imagined a group of children scurrying away in that wonderful mix of delight and fright.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

eid mubarak

Friday was Eid al-Adha, one of the most important holy days for Muslim Moroccans. It is the feast of sacrifice, when families get together and slaughter a sheep in honour of Ibrahim (or Abraham) and his test of faith. When I was in Istanbul, I would occasionally see the sheep and sometimes cattle being taken outside the city where makeshift abbatoirs were set up for the holiday. Sheep would be carried on the backs of trucks and in car trunks, looking rather bewildered to say the least. I have a vivid memory of the gutters running red with blood in Cairo, the scent of animal and iron in the hot air, the rusty handprints of the devout dripping on the walls of houses.

Here in Rabat, the musty smell of livestock permeates the air a few days before the Eid, and the bleating of sheep echoes from basements and rooftops alike. Our neighbours had four on their roof, and though I am a meat eater and respect that people have their traditions and beliefs, I must admit that I felt unsettled by the sight of those sheep on that roof. A roof, like a basement, is no place for an animal, and I knew that within a couple of hours, their lives would end on that roof. The only comfort was that they would be eaten and appreciated by families who came together in celebration, the meat shared with neighbours, friends, and the less fortunate— there would be little waste. A far better fate than for those poor creatures of feedlots and mass manufacturing in the West.

Many of my students love this Eid— they tell me it's like Christmas, and look forward to spending precious time with their loved ones. Some admit that they feel bad for the sheep, but value the holiday, and their beliefs. A friend of mine in Turkey once divulged her childhood Eid memories (Eid al-Adha is called Kurban Bayram in Turkish), which typically involved her mother calling over the girls to help her wash out the entrails for making sausages. The smell haunted her into adulthood, but it was a happy and cherished time that she spent with her mother, sisters, and aunts. It reminds me of Thanksgiving with my mother— only far removed from the killing and processing of the turkey (though there was that one time my mum had to pluck one of the birds).

So Eid Mubarak to my Muslim friends! I hope you are having a wonderful time with your loved ones, and wish you many more dear memories with them.

Friday, September 1, 2017

lines in the sand

from himalaya to sahara

We woke just before dawn, after a night of drumming under a bright moon. The air was cool and damp, and it seemed like our little camp was home to the only people in the world, and the world was silent, except for the occasional snort of a camel or raven's chuckle. I watched Tsewang follow the edge of a dune in his socks, marvelling at the softness of the orange sand.

I wondered what was running through his head, this boy from the Himalaya, sifting the Sahara through his fingers.