Author: Gabrielle M. Etzel
The heat of the Saharan sun beat down on our minivan full of sweaty, tired tourists. The convection oven with wheels intensified my hunger and my deep craving for salty, deep-fried Americanism: a McDonald’s french-fry. I had grown tired of the Moroccan special, tangine and mint tea, shortly upon arriving in the country.
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Sighing, I looked out the window, only to see a few goat-herders tending to their far-flung flocks, and brittle shrubs dotting the arid landscape. The empty silence was broken when Nour, our guide, said to our driver, “Rashid, we’ll stop here.” Breaking the monotony, I peered down the road to see we were approaching two rows of shops. Bumbling to a stop, we landed in front of a meager café. As we filed out of our clown car, my eyes began to adjust to the brightness.
As Nour negotiated with the restaurateur and helped to form a table large enough for the nine of us, we staggered around, observing our surroundings. There were two tables, one to each side of the restaurant door. To the left, several whole carcasses of goats, defenseless to the menacing flies, hung motionless in the dry air in front of the butcher. To the right, at the second table, sat a family of four: a stern, commanding patriarchal figure; a humble woman, with a scarfed head; and two sons, both of their curiosities peaked by the gaggle of white people sitting at the next table. While the two sons munched and sipped their sustenance, the parents sat quietly by, the mother tending to her sons while her husband sat authoritatively; Ramadan kept them from eating along with their sons.
The family finished their meal before we finished ours. The patriarch, with his meek wife beside him, conversed with the restaurateur, presumably working out the check. As this exchange went on, the oldest son, who could have been no more than four, ventured from his mother’s skirt towards the butcher’s shop. My glance followed him as he toddled towards a particular goat: one with its head still attached. Hung from its hind hooves, the neck of the goat hung down such that the head of the boy and the goat were almost on the same plane. As I watched this small boy, he crouched down to look up at the goat, and began talking to the lifeless creature dangling above him. Before I could question what I was seeing, he grabbed the carcass by the horns and started twisting the head, allowing the goat to nod or shake his head in response to the young boy’s queries.
“Is that what I think it is?” another tourist squeaked, regretting her choice of the goat tangine. Blinded by a great photo-op, the other tourists sprang into action, incessantly taking pictures of the little boy and his new-found friend, who, oblivious to the situation, kissed the goat on the nose. At the sounds of the westerner’s giggles and coos, the patriarch stepped in to defend his son, protecting his toddler’s soul from being captured by the cameras. Nour attempted to calm the angered man, instructing the tourists to turn off their cameras.
At the time, I was amazed more by my fellow travelers than the boy; the shear disrespect for the culture around them was astounding. Worse still, I was angered by the fact that I too was cursed by the vexed father, despite our mutual disgust for my fellow tourists. In retrospect, however, I am fine with being prejudged as an “ugly American,” because my childhood was filled with Barbie Dolls instead of goat heads.