Moroccan roosters have a different crowing sound than American roosters. When I first moved here, this startled me somewhat, as it was quite different to the traditional “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” that I’d grown accustomed to in the States. It had never occurred to me that roosters would crow any other way.
As we have chickens roaming freely near our apartment building there are many opportunities to hear the roosters at all times of the day and night. When one rooster calls, all others within hearing distance are compelled to answer. It seems that anything resembling the Sun is a reason for crowing. This includes the actual Sun throughout the day but a car headlight on the highway or a bathroom light turned on at 2 AM also satisfies the requirements for roosters to crow.
After being in Morocco for about a month, my musical curiosity got the better of me and I began to mentally map out the Moroccan rooster’s crowing motif. Choose a starting note (say F above Middle C) then move up one full step (to G) then back to the starting note (F) and now down a half tone (to E above Middle C.) The rhythmic pattern is trickier but here goes: In 2/4 time, where there are two beats per measure and the quarter note gets one beat, the first measure begins with a dotted quarter “rest.” An eighth note pick-up (F) leads into measure #2 with the G on the downbeat being a dotted quarter note. Another eighth note pick-up (F) leads to the third measure where the final note (E) is a half note. And let’s tie that half note to another one in a fourth measure, because the roosters do tend to hold onto those last tones for “awhile.”
For those of you who have the musical training to go bang that out on your piano or key it into a computer program, you’ll have a rough idea of what a Moroccan rooster sounds like. For those of you who are now crossed-eyed and wondering what that last paragraph was all about, not to worry. You don’t need to understand any of that to enjoy the rest of this story.
Let me add that in addition to the Moroccan rooster song in our neighborhood, there was also an American-style crower and a “Wannabe American rooster” who slurred his “doddle” a bit and whose crow came out somewhat abbreviated. This diversity is a wonderful metaphor for the variety of languages that are spoken here by the people. In any one conversation, you might hear elements of Spanish, French, Berber, Moroccan Arabic and English. Somehow all the important communications get made.
Back to the roosters. I kept trying to find ways to remember how the Moroccan rooster’s crow sounded. I made up words to go with the “song:” “The Day Has Dawned” in the morning and “The Day Is Done” at 9 o’clock at night. But English words didn’t really fit this situation.
Then, last Sunday, Tomas and I went to meet Ayman, a man who teaches English at the high school in Oued Laou. We were hoping he might have time and inclination to tutor us in Moroccan Arabic. We had a lovely meeting, during which we learned a couple of phrases, including S’bah El Khir – Good Morning – literally, Morning, God’s Goodness. Come Monday morning the Moroccan rooster greeted the day with S’bah El Khir and I knew EXACTLY what he was saying.
Later that morning, as I was cooking and he was crowing outside the kitchen window, we sang a duet of “S’bah El Khir” back and forth, joined of course, by the American rooster and his wannabe neighbor. (The word “S’bah” is pronounced as two syllables with a short vowel between the “S” and the “b.”)
Monday afternoon Tomas noticed that the three brothers (the sons of our neighbor who owns the chickens) were out chasing them through the bushes. Something inside me went on “high alert.” “Chicken dinner,” said the little farm voice inside my head. I mentioned that to Tomas and we thought no more of it.
UNTIL TUESDAY MORNING — when the distinctive crowing of my Moroccan rooster friend was conspicuously absent from the day. And then I realized that the little voice in my head had been correct. Our neighbors had chicken for dinner the night before and since they are a large family with three grown sons to feed, the American rooster had also fallen under the axe.
This left only the Wannabe American rooster to greet the day and he valiantly rose to the cause. But there was no one to answer him and only my sadness filled the void. I grew up on a farm and I know the cycle of life that leads from the barnyard to the dinner table. But that understanding didn’t bring any solace to my heart.
There are at least two hens raising chicks currently, so the new crop of roosters is on the way. Hopefully, at least one of these will sing the Moroccan song. Meanwhile, the Wannabe American rooster has center stage and I’m thrilled to hear him, day or night.
Thursday Morning Post Script: There exists within the DNA of the rooster, a code for his crow and the determination for him to produce his particular version of crowing. Within 24 hours of being thrust into his new “Lead Rooster” role, the Wannabe American rooster began to making the full, clear calls of his dearly departed American brother. Within the next 24-hour period, he nearly perfected this call. Tomas and I are “cheering him on” each time he does it. “Right on, Little Brother – You crow now!!!”