Sunday, January 31, 2010
Liya (All Sorts)
In which words aren't enough.
We ate lunch at a small place in the Souk. We had come on an Ujja search (oh, just some lovely egg dish) but were too late, so we waited for platters of fried fish and spiced turkey breast. I noticed liya on the menu, and had read the word already in the Ommok Sannafa, and asked Soufian to tell me, please, what is liya?
Soufian paused. You find it at the bottom of the sheep. Rump? I asked. No, no, no. He said. It's only for flavor, it isn't really meat. Okay, I said. Alright, he said, rounding his shoulders, you know how you get to the bottom of a sheep and there's something there that isn't the rump? A tail. I said, trying to help. No. He passed his hand over his face. Not a tail... but like a tail, sort of.
We all paused. Our fish and turkeys arrived. Soufian took a bite and geared up again. He opened his mouth to speak and giggled nervously.
Okay, Sarah, you know how there are different kinds of sheep? Some have nothing at the bottom on the other side of the tail, and some have something? He giggled again.
Ah. Genetalia? We used the clinical term. Yes! He laughed in relief. We cut it into small bits and use it for flavor. Very tender.
A few days later, driving through mountains lined with olive groves and vineyards, we spotted a flock of sheep in a field beside the road. Soufian stopped the car. You see? He asked. Do you see the liya? Amos and I peered hard at the sheep. I'm not sure, I said. We got out and marched into the field, greeted the toothless shepard. Soufian pointed at the sheep's backside. Do you see it now? We weren't sure. The shephard wrangled a small sheep and grabbed her rump. He lifted. And suddenly, liya we saw.
Desert sheep, it turns out, have a strange, square flap of fat over their rumps. Their tails mark the top of the liya, which hangs like a pillow over their legs so that you can't see it until it is lifted. The liya almost looks prehensile, like a flat, wide, trunk. It is entirely fat and keeps sheep alive during the days without water or food. A camel hump of sorts. And suddenly it all made sense. You know? How there are two kinds of sheep, some with nothing on the other side of the tail, and some with something?