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12/30 All You Gotta Do is Dance...

(With appologies to Don Henley, whose "All She Wants To Do Is Dance" is now stuck in my head.)

While riding back from SouqTown today, I found myself next to Dancing Man.

Dancing Man is Berberville's resident crazy person. In America, that's an offensive term, but it's what everyone in town uses in reference to him. I have no idea what, if anything, he could actually be certified/diagnosed with, but he's certainly friendly. For a long time I thought he was the town drunk, but I've been assured that he doesn't drink. This is just how he acts.

He shows up at nearly every Ahay Deuce wedding in town, because he loves to dance. Loves it. Loves it! When there's no wedding going on, he's a walking Ahay Deuce dance party. He usually carries an 80's-era boombox over his shoulder, constantly blasting Moroccan dance music. He bobs, he sways, he bounces...this guy has his boogie on. :)

Anyway, today Dancing Man was sitting near me on the tranzit, and was perplexed as to why I was reading the whole way. (Answer: A 4 hour ride is a bloody long way, even along gorgeous snowy mountain passes. Reading makes it go by a lot faster.) He asked me about it. I answered, "Because reading makes me happy!" He accepted this for a while, but about half an hour later, he brought it up again. I gave the same answer.

He responded with a discourse on Life In Morocco. My favorite line: "Sure, read for an hour. Or two. Or three. But that's enough. You need food, too, so spend some time eating. And preparing meals. And then...Dance!"

I couldn't help but grin. As life plans go, that's an awfully good one.


12/27/08 Camels!

I saw camels today! Contrary to my pre-Peace Corps preconceptions, camels aren't ubiquitous in Morocco. They are common in the desert regions, to the delight of tourists, but in my mountains, they're a very rare sight. I saw eight today, including a baby about half his mom's height, which must mean that the nomads are around. They're the only folks who use camels in the mountains. They don't often wander through Berberville, but they are, after all, nomadic, so their path leads them all over, I suppose.

It was a fun surprise. Camels! In the mountains! :D


December 23, 2008 Site Development Day 1

On Monday, I got a call from my awesome Program Manager (the Peace Corps boss of all Environment PCVs in Morocco). He asked me, "Would you like to help develop some sites for new Volunteers?" Site Development is a vital, and too easily shortchanged, aspect of PCV preparation. It's the process whereby communities are selected to get a new Volunteer.

Anyone in the country can ask for a PCV. They contact the Peace Corps / Morocco staff with their information. The request can come from an association who will partner with the Voluneer or from one of our government partners. The PC/M staff does the initial investigation over the phone. If enough checks out, they schedule the site for a Site Development visit from PC/M staff and PCVs. PCVs aren't always included in the Site Development process, but everyone agrees that it's best when they are.

...and that's what my PM was asking of me. To go along with a staff member to a few villages, some of which currently host PCVs who are scheduled to leave in May, and some of which will be new sites.

I said, "Of course, sure, I'd love to do it. When and where?"

"Tomorrow, [staff] is going to [Town 1] and [Town 2]. Those towns currently have PCVs, so they'll be helping out with those. Wednesday, she'll be in [Town 3], and Thursday in [Town 4]. Could you go with her to those?"


"Yes, Thursday."

"But...Thursday is Christmas.'

"Yes, Christmas."

I tried again. "But it's Christmas." Surely he'd understand.

"Yes," he answered calmly. The man is unflappable. "Will you be able to help?"

"Is there any way she could go on Friday? I could go on Friday." And now I had to admit my own delinquency in applying for vacation time. "I've been meaning to send in a vacation request for Thursday. Since I don't have a counterpart any more, can I just take it as a personal day?"

Quick logistical background - PC/M has recently changed policy regarding off days. We are allowed a few days to take care of "personal business", in addition to the two days per month of "Annual Leave", usually referred to as vacation days, which we can stockpile or use at will. To get a personal day, all we have to do is notify staff - as long as we don't abuse the privilege. To get a vacation day, we need to fill out a form and have it signed by our counterpart. Since my counterpart recently chose to leave his post, I'm ... between counterparts. And therefore have no one to sign my forms.

Or so I thought. My manager advised me to get it signed by my regional director and fax it in sometime before Thursday.

So Tuesday morning, bright and early, I head down to [Town 1]. I meet up with one of the PCVs living there, who makes us an awesome veggie stew and banana bread. Then the PCVs and staff and I check out the hospital in the town, to verify that they want another Health Volunteer.

Our next stop is the school, because so much of our work is with students. Staff chats with the teachers in Darija while I chat with the students in Tam.

Then we head to the host families of the two current PCVs, to ask if they're interested in hosting other volunteers in the future. One family is cheerfully amenable; the other says, "Well, if he's like the one we have now, sure, but maybe he won't be." I sympathize with their uncertainty; agreeing to share your home with a strange foreigner is a big and somewhat scary commitment. To sweeten the pot, staff points out that the per diem for hosting PCVs has gone up almost 50%. Unfortunately, this opens the door to negotiations. The mom points out how much meat her current Volunteer ate, and that the price of meat is steadily rising, and what if the new Volunteer eats even more...? Staff doesn't budge on the per diem - she can't, it's uniform for all of PC/M - but the mom works all of her best souq negotiating tactics. She even starts to suggest that maybe she doesn't want to host another PCV after all, because it's such a financial burden.

This conversation is all in Tam, since the mom doesn't speak Darija, so I can jump in. I point out that the Volunteer will need to be housed somewhere, so if she doesn't want to take it on, the PCV and his more-than-generous per diem can go to another family instead.

I've spent my share of time in souq, too.

The discussion ends with the family agreeing to host.

Having the same family host back-to-back Volunteers isn't always ideal, largely because of the inevitable comparisons. "Wow, your Tam is awful. The PCV who just left spoke so well. Why don't you speak well?" Sometimes they're flattering. "You're so much more friendly/outgoing/ cheerful/quiet/generous/reserved/whatever than the previous PCV." Either way, it can be a problem.

On the other hand, families with hosting experience know what to expect of the strangers in a strange land. They're accustomed to our odd habits like spending time alone and eating sparingly of delicacies like goat eyeball and sheep marrow. And not least, they're guaranteed to have acceptable houses. (Peace Corps has some strict guidelines for PCV living spaces. We have to have our own room, with a lock. The house has to have a functioning bit l-ma (bathroom). If they're going to host a female PCV, they can't have any unmarried males in the house over the age of 15. These may not seem big stumbling-blocks to Americans living in homes with guest rooms, but in small Moroccan villages, it usually means that only the richest handful of families are even eligible to host. PC does what it can to ameliorate this, and has been known, for example, to help otherwise-eligible families build bathrooms.)

So after we finished our conversation with the potential host families, we headed off to Town 2, where we more or less repeated the process. A few things that stood out: The potential host family we talked to there said that they'd prefer to have a female volunteer, since the father leaves often for work, and they'd be more comfortable with a woman staying alone with the mother and her small children. Also, the hospital staff made it clear that they don't want a Health Volunteer: "Our children are healthy. We don't need any help from your organization."

After we wrapped up there, we headed to Souq Town (only an hour or so past Town 2). We grabbed some dinner and I was able to find my district supervisor and get his signature on my leave form. He didn't understand why I wanted to take vacation time when I wasn't leaving the province, but he signed it for me since I asked him to. :) I'd love to help develop Town 4, but Christmas is Christmas. :)

December 28, 2008 Snapshot: Forno win ikshudn

Note: I promise, I'll write lots of stuff about my awesome Christmas and pre- and post-Christmas activities. But I wanted to throw this up in real time, while I sit in the home of a friend with a high-speed internet connection.

I'm in the home of a friend who has a woodburning stove, instead of a butane-powered stove like mine. In Tam, that's a forno win ikshudn, in contrast to my forno win butagaz. (Forno = furnace or stove). Her stove is a cylinder, about 15 inches in diameter and probably 2 feet tall. It looks a bit like a small trashcan, but there's a rectangular door in the base, about five inches tall and 8 inches wide, through which you can place wood and remove ash. The lid is also removeable, and has an inset circle which can be removed without taking off the rest of the lid; this handy feature enables you to set a teapot on top of the stove and heat directly from the fire.

She's lying on the floor, her feet in the air and her hands picking at a pile of wood fragments gathered from last night's kindling extravaganza (ie when her husband spent half an hour bashing tree segments into pieces that could fit into their small stove). In her mouth is the cylinder from a used-up pen, which she uses to channel her breath into the coals, producing sounds like a blacksmith's forge.

The process started with the search for coals left over from last night's fire. Most of the ashes were brushed out, but the few that flared red when blown on were left inside the stove (or, in a few cases, picked out of the ash pile and set back inside.)

Once she'd assembled all the viable coals, she blew on them through the pen tube. She slowly and systematically added the wood shards in a pyramid pattern around the coal pile, alternating between reaching into the stove and blowing on the coals. The narrow chimney is having trouble drawing, so every time she blows in, smoke comes billowing back into the room.

After half an hour, the fire is rolling along strongly enough that she dares to put in bigger chunks of wood - the only survivors after last night's hours of warmth consumed nearly all the wood her husband had prepared.

As much as I love the smell of woodsmoke, I find myself grateful that I chose to go with the buta heater. The hardest part of lighting that is pressing the spark-button repeatedly, and it usually only takes three pushes before giving me a 18" by 24" sheet of flame. It doesn't smell as nice, but insta-fire has some major perks in our mountain homes...


12/21/08 Happy Birthday, Sis

My internet is back!! It’s been down for weeks – since before Thanksgiving – but now it works again!! I still can’t access, so updates are still coming in only when I go into cities, but I’m working on a solution for that. My goal is to have daily updates that actually Show Up Each Day. Maybe I’ll make that my New Year’s Resolution: Write and post something every day. Reward the loyalty of the dear friends who check this thing daily.

But since I *do* have internet, I got to SkypeOut to my sister, who’s rounding another orbit of the planet today. :D

12/20/08 2nd Club Meeting (canceled)

Today was supposed to be the second meeting of the Future Leaders of Berberville Club. The group that several PCVs have partnered with teachers and community stakeholders to create in the school.

Our first meeting was a long time ago, but since the club meets on Saturdays (over our protests), it falls prey to the Flee-Berberville-Every-Holiday syndrome of so many of our teachers and students. As I’ve mentioned before, many schools have a vicious cycle: many students don’t come to school the day before or after a holiday, so many teachers go ahead and cancel class on one or both of those days, and then the students decide that the teacher-canceled days are part of the holiday, so then many don’t come the day before or after that, so then the teachers go ahead and cancel classes on those days, so then… You get it. One-day holidays routinely spin into an entire week of missed classes. And Morocco has a lot of one- and two-day holidays. We held our first planning meeting with the teachers in mid-October, to begin the club in early November. The first week in November was Green March, so the Saturdays before and after that were out. The middle two weeks of November were “Winter Break”, so three Saturdays in a row were zapped. And those 3 Saturdays overlapped with one of the previous two Saturdays. So that’s 4 in a row.

Then, November 29th, we had a club meeting. Lhumdullah!

And then came the 3id, for which the students had a week-long holiday, killing 2 potential Saturdays. We planned a meeting just with the teachers for the Sunday at the end of vacation – i.e., about 12 hours before they were supposed to be teaching Monday morning classes – and not a single one showed up, despite multiple reminders. Two were prevented by snow-closed roads, but the rest gave no excuse. We rescheduled that meeting for the following Friday – yesterday – and had 3 show up. We were summarily informed that, due to the imminent arrival of the king, the next day’s club would be supplanted by a School Clean-Up Day (at which we PCVs were welcome), and the following Saturday’s club would be supplanted by activities for the king. And then this morning, one of the teachers swung by Fatima’s house to let us know that we PCVs weren’t invited to the School Clean-Up Day after all. So in the 9 Saturdays from early November to early January, we’ve managed exactly 1 club meeting. And our next possibility – January 3 – is endangered by the presence of the Muslim New Year holiday on Monday and New Year’s Day on Thursday. What are the odds that the teachers and/or boarding students will show up for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday? Time will tell…

December 18, 2008 Word of the day: Posh Corps

Joke: There’s a glass of water on a table, filled to 50% of its capacity. A pessimist comes by and says, “That glass is half-empty!” An optimist comes by and says, “That glass is half full!” A Peace Corps Volunteer comes by and says, “Ooh, look, a bath!”

There’s another punchline I like even better: The PCV says, “Ooh, look, potable water!”

So what is “Posh Corps”? It’s when our lifestyles are rather more … posh … than you might expect.

Posh Corps is kind of a standing joke in Peace Corps Morocco. Morocco is a rapidly developing nation, not an undeveloped nation, which means that some of our Volunteers have more amenities than those jokes imply. The more amenities you have, the closer you come to being in “Posh Corps”. I’m getting close; I have cell phone service, electricity, running water in my house (albeit only a few hours a day), and I just got internet access. OK, the internet has worked less than 40% of the time, but I still have it. Sometimes. And OK, the water is dependent on temperature: whenever it gets cold enough, my pipes freeze and I have no water for up to a week at a time. So far, though, the pattern seems to be that if the sun comes out and the temperatures get into the 40s for several afternoons in a row, my pipes thaw and the water comes back.

The real “Posh Corps” Volunteers are the city-dwellers who have hot running water, 24/7, along with electricity, in-home internet access, cell phone service, and every amenity outside their front doors. (Cafes, pastry shops, clothing stores, housewares stores, etc.) There are veeeery few Environment or Health Volunteers who can claim all that. But nearly all Youth Development Volunteers are in cities, and many Small Business Volunteers are, too, so those of us living in the bled (rural areas) continue to tease them. But as the bled continues to develop, more and more of us are taking steps towards Posh Corps. And we’re not complaining… :)

December 16, 2008 …see the streetlights, even stoplights, blinking bright red and green…

I’m a little starved for Christmas decorations. And music. And, well, anything reminiscent of Christmas. My parents offered to fly me back to the US for Christmas, and I turned them down. I had reasons – didn’t want to be the dilettante American who’s always jetting home, wanted to experience a full winter on “the mountain”, wanted to share the away-from-our-families-on-Christmas experience with other Volunteers, to name a few – but as the day gets closer, I’m starting to question my decision. In Little Women, Jo whines that “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!” My complaint is closer to “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any music and decorations!” Berberville looks like Whoville after the Grinch stripped all the décor.

…But then I got my Christmas Miracle.

I was down in Springfield, running some errands, and I saw the decorations that the city had put up to welcome the king, who is expected any day. Banners hanging across streets, with alternating red and green flags. (Imagine a Tibetan prayer flag, with those little colored squares hanging off a cord, except that the squares alternate between red ones with a green star and green ones with a gold crown.) And there are flags everywhere. Moroccan flags, with a green star centered over a field of red. And red & green streamers fluttering in front of businesses, and from residence windows, and pretty much everywhere you look.

… And it barely even registered.

I noticed that Springfield was getting gussied up for the king like a belle prepping for a ball, but wrote it off to Moroccan nationalism. And then my friend Jamila whispered in my ear, “They look like Christmas decorations, don’t they?”

They do.

A veil was lifted from my eyes. The decorations, which had been only background noise an instant before, suddenly glowed with the vibrancy they’d always had. The dazzling colors leapt out at me from all directions, as delightfully overblown as my American neighbors’ 100,000 watt Christmas display.

I found myself whistling “Silver Bells”, with the “blinking bright red and green” line featured prominently. All of Springfield is decked out for Christmas.

Accidentally, of course. ;)

December 15, 2008 Snow Struggles

There’s a flipside to the upwelling of joy that snowfalls always bring.

And it has to do with driving.

The same properties that make sledding and skiing possible also make the roads dangerous. Morocco has snow plows – lots of them – but blizzard conditions make roads impassible.

I’ve read the Little House series, and remember Laura Ingalls Wilder’s descriptions of blizzards so bad that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your eyes…but I don’t think I’ve experienced one before. I probably still haven’t. I was in a tranzit, so I couldn’t actually test it out with an outstretched hand, plus the white-out only lasted for a few minutes. But for those three or four minutes, our trusty driver was snow-blind as he crawled along the road he’s driven each way, every day, six days a week, for years. For the first hour or so of yesterday’s four-hour trip from Berberville to Souqtown, it was just beautiful. The roads had been plowed, making a black asphalt canvas for the art created by powerful winds buffeting a light dusting of snow. Patterns of snow and wind danced across the asphalt in an ever-changing tangle of streaks and whorls and puffs. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood toys, a clear disk enclosing blue and white dust that I rotated for hours at a time, mesmerized by the swirling chaos.

Our tranzit left mid-morning, and was the last one to make it out of Berberville. They shut the road down after that. They had already shut down the road to the north. So all day long, passengers heading to Europe or the Casablanca airport were coming in from the south, expecting to roll through my sleepy souq town with only a few minutes’ pause…and ended up stranded for hours. Every hotel room in town was filled, early, and then the hotel owners began asking people if they’d mind sharing their rooms’ floors with other would-be guests. I’ve never seen SouqTown so crowded.

This morning, two of my friends got caught in the mess. One was headed to the airport in Fes, the other to the airport in Casablanca. Their buses were scheduled to leave at 8am. We went out at 7:30 to make sure they had seats. One had gotten her ticket the day before – in fact, she’d been on the bus the day before, and had been turned back an hour north of SouqTown – so she had no trouble. The other had planned to buy her ticket this morning. That might sound procrastinatory in the US, but is perfectly normal here. Many bus stations won’t even sell you tickets more than a few hours in advance; it frees them to change the prices with supply and demand, and makes it easier to keep count of the seatholders, to guard against overcrowding a bus (though that still happens). She couldn’t get a ticket, though; every seat on every bus was claimed. At 8:00, the road was still closed, but we ran into a friend of a friend who offered to help us out. He is Moroccan and had worked in transportation until a few months ago, which gave him two big advantages in trying to finagle a seat. He said to wait until the buses were about to pull out, and then he’d make his play. (Like I said, it’s normal to do things at the last minute here.)

8:15 rolled around, and not only had the 8am buses not departed, they hadn’t even started warming up their gigantic diesel engines. A quick check of the grand taxi station revealed that they weren’t going out, either; the road was closed, so nobody was going anywhere. 8:30 came and went. 8:45. The friend headed for Casa had allowed herself over 36 hours to travel, but my Fes-bound friend had only 11 hours to make her flight. Fes is only 5-6 hours away, normally, so she thought she’d allowed plenty of time (especially since she’d tried to get out **yesterday**), but she was starting to get nervous.

9:00, the road is opened. Our Moroccan friend works his magic, and standing room is provided for my ticketless Casa-bound buddy. (Of course, she buys a ticket, for full price, but still stands for hours.)

Long story short: Casa girl made her flight. Fes girl did not, but caught a ferry the next morning and still got to Europe. Both ended up routed hours and hours out of their way to detour around the blizzards blanketing a third of the country.

My parents had planned to come to Morocco for Christmas. It was hearing stories like this that made them change plans; now they’re coming in the summer.

Good decision.

December 10, 2008 Wading through Snow (PG-13)

Reason # 234 that I love snow: It’s so ... clean.

Regardless of what the countryside looked like before a snowfall, once 6 inches of snow are draped across it, it looks gorgeous. Clean, sparkling, untouched… I wonder if snow is the reason that white was associated with purity in some cultures.

Yesterday, as I was walking from house to house during the 3id, I had to pick my way carefully. The melting snow had combined with the hard-packed dirt paths to create oceans of mud, quagmires for the unsuspecting foot.

Of course, that happens after every snowfall or heavy rain.

(PG-13 Rating takes effect … now.)

What made yesterday’s walking extra treacherous was that some of the mud wasn’t caused by water and dirt. Some was a mixture of blood and dirt.

There are well over a hundred households in Berberville, and each of them sacrificed a ram yesterday, which entails, among other things, draining all the blood. Rams are large – bigger than a golden shepherd, smaller than a Newfoundland – so that’s quite a lot of blood that was spilled yesterday. Gallons.

So the patches of red mud needed to be dodged even more carefully than the patches of squishy brown mud.

But then last night/this morning, snow fell. Something between 4 and 8 inches, though there was so much wind that the depth is different everywhere. Enough to frost all of Berberville like a wedding cake, and mantle over all the mud – of whatever provenance – of yesterday. Walking through this much snow is a challenge; in some places, it threatens to overtop my calf-high rubber boots. But it makes everything so beautiful – so clean – that I’m more than happy to push on through. :)

December 10, 2008 Hospitality

As I was leaving lunch today, three and a half hours after I arrived, -- Wait, I have to back up.

I was invited for the Day-After-3id-Lunch, aka the Feast Of Meat. I was told to arrive at noon. I didn’t want to come empty-handed, so I swung by my favorite Hanoot to pick up some Fanta. (I’ve brought various sodas at different times, but yesterday Ama mentioned that Fanta was her favorite, so I’ll probably stick to that one in the future. And no, I’m not getting any endorsement for saying this. ;) For the record, *my* favorite Moroccan soda is Schwepps Citron. It’s sort of a cross between lemonade and 7Up or Sprite.) There was a delay getting the Fanta, plus I had to wade through calf-deep snow, so I ended up getting to my host family’s house a few minutes late. I was still the first guest there.

I’d imagined that I would be the only guest. I thought it would just be a family lunch.

Sometimes, I’m dumb.

Yesterday’s lunch was at my oldest 3mmi’s house. (Note to the language nerds: 3mmi means paternal uncle, 3tti is paternal aunt, Xalli is maternal uncle, and Xalti is maternal aunt. There are 4 siblings – 3 brothers and a sister – and the order is Oldest 3mmi, Aba, The 3tti Who Doesn’t Like Me, and 3mmi Moqadim. When I’ve referred to an 3tti in past blogs, it’s usually the wife of 3mmi Moqaddim. The Moqadim –the mayor of Berberville – lives next door to me, so I see his wife and kids just about daily.)

Where was I? Lunch yesterday. Right. At Oldest 3mmi’s house, aka the house of the patriarch of my family. The father of these four siblings – aka my paternal Bahallu, or grandfather – died long ago, and the mother of these four died over the summer, so now Oldest 3mmi serves as patriarch.

Enough with the backstory.

The whole clan had gathered at Oldest 3mmi’s yesterday, so when I was told to come to Aba & Ama’s house today for The Meat, I should have guessed that the whole clan would re-convene.

Lhumdullah, I’ve finally been to enough clan gatherings that I’ve figured out nearly all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. It has taken six months, but I’ve worked it out. :) I’m still missing one or two names – only of the boy cousins, because they get to run around more, so don’t spend as much time sitting still where I can figure them out – but I knew who everyone belonged to, at least. I’ve been in the awkward position of having been here too long to be able to ask anyone their name directly, but I was so flooded with names during Mahallu’s funeral that none of them stuck. Today, Aba said that he’d left something for me with Z---. I had to ask, “Who’s that?” and he answered, “Tin Moqaddim.” She belongs to the Moqaddim, my youngest 3mmi. I still wasn’t sure whether it was the wife or daughter until a little later, when someone addressed his wife by name. After six months of living next door to her, I know my 3tti’s given name. :) At least now I’ve got both of them pinned down. Later on, I called Z--- by her name. I wonder if she’d noticed that I’d never done it before…

So we feasted on The Meat for a couple hours, more or less duplicating yesterday’s feast, and then nearly everyone left. When the party had shrunk to the intimate size of me, two 3ttis, Ama, my 17-year-old sister, and my 20-ish-year-old cousin, the GirlTalk began. Turns out this transcends culture. :)

We chatted for an hour or so, and then that party broke up, too. Which gets me back to where I began: As I was leaving lunch today, three and a half hours after I arrived, Ama reiterated her standing invitation to me: “Come over anytime. If your house is cold, come sit by our wood-burning stove. If you need bread, come get some. If you want a meal, come at a mealtime. If you want to sleep here, sleep here. Stay a night. Stay a week. Stay 10 days. Whatever you want. You are always welcome here. This is your house, too.” She words it slightly differently each time, which is how I know it isn’t just a polite mantra, but a genuine invitation. She means it.

And that’s why I titled this “Hospitality”. Because I can’t decide whether she’s just my clearest example of the legendary Moroccan hospitality, or whether she’s as exceptional here as she seems to me to be. I’ve mentioned this to a few PCV friends, and have gotten mixed responses. Some have fallen out with their host families; some go over every week for couscous; some have never moved out. But because I’ve surveyed so few people, and because each circumstance is different, I still don’t know whether Ama’s extraordinary (to me) offer is actually quite ordinary, or whether she’s just remarkable. And I don’t know which I want it to be…do I want to credit an entire country with this kind of generosity, or do I want to have the Bestest Host Mom Ever?

December 10, 2008 Word of the day: Djiwn

Djiwn is the past participle of the verb “to be full”. Whenever I feast at a Moroccan’s house – and just about every meal feels like a feast! – I eat till I’m full. I then thank the hostess, tell her I’ve been blessed by her bounty (with the very useful phrase “Baraka, lhumdullah, llah y xlf”, which translates literally as “I am blessed, praise God, may God replenish you”), and then sit back from the table. There’s always more food offered to me, and sometimes a whole ‘nother course, especially of fruit, which serves as dessert here. I’ll often nibble a little more, but when I’m really stuffed, I’ll say djiwngh, I’m full. If I’m stuffed beyond all recognition, I’ll say “Djiwngh kulshi”, which literally means “I’m full of everything,” but which I hope they understand as “I’m completely full.”

Today, after the Feast of Meat that was lunch, a handful of women were chatting, and Ama brought out the last of the chocolate chip cookies that we’d baked two days ago. These were from the first batch, which hadn’t had enough flour. They’d spread out rather grotesquely, forming brown puddles with chocolate chip islands clustered in their middles. They then cooled to be dark brown, somewhat crunchy, and riddled with holes. I’d also put them on the plate before they’d cooled enough, so they stuck together. On the whole, not aesthetically pleasing. After this semi-disastrous batch, we’d added flour to the batter, and subsequent batches were picture-perfect. Ama put those out yesterday to give to 3id guests, along with the cookies that she’d made without me.

Today, the funny-looking ones came out to provide GirlTalk snacks. My 3ttis were a little wary of them, since they were so flat and weird-looking, but after the first taste, they were sold. (They still *taste* like chocolate chip cookies, they just *look* odd.) Oldest 3tti said with a laugh, “No wonder you don’t eat meat. Why would you, when you can eat this, instead!” Everyone laughed at that, and I smiled. Apparently, my cousin, 3tti’s daughter, thought I was just playing along but hadn’t understood the joke (as happens quite a lot, so it was a perfectly valid assumption). She said, more slowly and clearly than 3tti had, “Mom just said to you that you don’t need to eat meat because you can eat cookies.” This time I laughed loudly, and everyone else laughed again. Between the Moroccan sense of humor, which is different from the American sense of humor, and the rapid flow of humorous conversation – which I still can’t follow at full speed, though I’m getting better at it – I don’t often get to feel like I’m sharing in a joke. This was a really lovely exception. :)

My sister only ate half of her cookie, though. I asked her if she didn’t like them. She said, “No, I do, but I’m djiwngh. I ate a ton of meat.” I grinned in understanding. Then I responded, “Well, I didn’t eat much meat, so I’m not djiwngh,” and I reached for another cookie.

I’d meant that I wasn’t stuffed beyond the ability to fit into my clothing, which is the connotation djiwn has always had for me. I didn’t mean that I was still hungry…but that’s how everyone interpreted it. Both 3ttis’ eyes widened, and they pushed the plate of cookies to me. A few minutes later, when Ama came back in from one of her many runs to the kitchen, Oldest 3tti informed her, “Kawtar’s not tdjiwn. She needs more cookies.” I protested, “No, really, I ate plenty of bread and vegetables,” but I reached for another cookie anyway. I was a little worried that Ama would run into the kitchen and make me an omelet or something, but she seemed to accept that I’d fill up on cookies. :)

So now I’m left wondering…how full is djiwn? Satisfied? Satiated? Full? Stuffed? Ready to be rolled out the door in a post-Thanksgiving-esque stupor?

I’ll check in with my tutor about it.

December 9, 2008 Dressing Moroccan-Style

Last night, I slept at my host family’s house. For the first time in the six months I’ve lived in Berberville, I slept with the family. Before, during my three-month homestay and then when I spent the night a few times later, I always slept in my Western-style bedroom, in my Western-style bed. But last night, I slept on a pad on the floor, just like they always do. I’d been wanting to do it anyway, plus I had an iron-clad excuse: I had henna’d feet. Ama was wary – she wasn’t sure I understood what I was getting in to – but she after she’d offered several disclaimers, she went ahead with it. (“You won’t be able to walk into your bedroom.” “I know, I’ll just sleep in here with the kids.” “You won’t be able to go to the bathroom.” “I went earlier.” “You’ll be stuck in here all night.” “Yeah, no problem.” “Oookay…”)

First, Ama painted my palms, fingernails, and the dots of my knuckles with henna, then wrapped my hands in cloth and plastic. This much she has done before. (Altogether, this makes the fourth time I’ve been henna’d. My last weekend in my CBT village, the night before my trip, the night before 3id al-Fdor, and now the night before 3id al-Adha.) But I’ve never had my feet henna’d before. It’s pretty much the same process: she slathered the greenish paste over the soles of my feet, up my ridiculously high instep, up behind my ankles, over my toes, and then wrapped each foot up in cloth and tied it off in a mikka (plastic) bag. And she knew what she was talking about: once you have henna on your feet, you can’t walk anywhere. At all. I rolled off the mat I’d been sitting on, because Ama was rearranging the room for sleep, then rolled back onto it. I hitched myself into position with my elbows, and then Ama laid two blankets over me.

And this was only the first step in dressing Moroccan-style for the 3id. I’ve known for months that I was going to wear a jellaba – tjlabit – for the 3id, ever since my chic cousin caught sight of the jellabas I had hanging in my room and told me how fortunate it was that I was prepared for the holiday. (Don’t know what a jellaba is? Yes, you do. Jellabas were the inspiration for the cloaks worn by the Jedi knights in the original Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas shot all the desert sequences in Algeria, and thought that the outfits he saw on everyone would be the perfect look for his Jedi warriors. In case it’s been too long since you watched Star Wars: they’re ankle-length or floor-length cloaks with wide sleeves and long hoods. Men’s jellabas are cut straight from the shoulder down to the floor in an uninterrupted stretch of fabric; women’s are usually fitted closely down to the waist, and then fall to the floor.)

The problem: I bought the jellabas in our PST city, which is down near the Sahara. They aren’t winter-weight by any stretch of the imagination. Plus, they’re meant to be outer garments, with nothing more than a shawl over them. And did I mention that there’s still snow on the ground from last week’s snowfall? So I’d need to have enough layers under the jellaba to insulate myself…but they’re fitted garments. In fact, they’re the first (and only) garments I’ve ever had professionally tailored for me. Strike that – the dress I wore as a bridesmaid was the first. But these were as fitted as the bridesmaid gown, which didn’t leave a lot of room for layering. My ace in the hole: I’ve lost a ton of weight since coming to Morocco, and I got fitted for the jellabas only about a month in, before the inches started falling off.

I prepared as thoroughly as any Boy Scout. When packing for my overnight, I brought a full change of clothes – you’re supposed to wear new clothes for the 3id, much like many Christians do for Easter – plus I’d really thought through how I was going to stay warm without ruining the look. (I wear a turtleneck almost every day, but having a collar poke up from the gracefully hanging hood of the jellaba would ruin the effect.) I ended up wearing two V-neck long underwear shirts I’d inherited from a previous PCV, plus a third, scoop-necked, shirt that Mom sent me over the summer, plus a zip-neck thermal shirt that my sister gave me when I joined Peace Corps. That covered the top half. I wore my snuggest-fitting pair of long johns, a gift from my aunt, and then three skirts that Mom had sent me. One was even lined, making a total of four skirts. Throw on wool socks, hiking boots to deal with the thick mud everywhere, and top it off with the lovely tjlabit. This left my head bare, though. I’ve been wearing a stocking cap everywhere for the past month or so, and a fur hat when I sleep, but neither would work with a jellaba. I bit the bullet and brought along the shesh (pashmina) my aunt brought me from Kazakhstan. I’d wrap my head up Moroccan-style.

Back to this morning: After I scraped the dried henna off my hands, I retreated into my Western-style bedroom to get dressed. Several minutes later, when I hadn’t returned, Ama came looking for me. I’d managed to strip off all the layers I’d been wearing the day before, replace them with all my clean, new layers, and even brush my hair.

Ama saw me in the skirt, and smiled. “You look Moroccan!” she exclaimed. I grinned. “Watch this!” I told her. I pulled on the jellaba, and she was overjoyed. Then I asked her to tie the headscarf on for me – there’s a real art form to it, which I wouldn’t attempt without a mirror – and just made her day.

So…did it work? Did I stay warm in my snowy mountain village without any turtlenecks, polar fleece, or parkas? With the help of a blue sky and shining sun, plus wood-burning stoves in every house we visited…yes! Total success. Plus, everyone *loved* the jellaba. :D

December 9, 2008 Word of the Day: Ghrs (PG-13)

The verb ghrs has been translated both as slaughter and sacrifice. I’m not sure whether it refers only to animals that are slaughtered for religious purposes or any animal that is killed according to the Qur’anic proscriptions. (Though I didn’t know this before I first visited the Middle East, most Muslims follow dietary laws very similar to the kosher laws for Jews. Both include strict instructions for how animals must be killed if they are to be eaten.)

Towards the end of PST, an older PCV taught me the very useful line, Ad-ak ghrsgh am ulli, to use if a man was harassing me. It means I will slaughter you like a sheep, and is guaranteed to make any Moroccan’s eyes bug out. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s such a dire threat or because it sounds so ridiculous…either way, it has stuck in my head. :)

Warning: The rest of this blog entry is rated PG-13. Young children in Morocco watch the sacrifice of the sheep each year, but the description below might disturb some American children (and even American adults). Americans who live on a family farm or a reservation may be familiar with the sight of slaughter, but to the other 90-somepercent, this will be…unfamiliar.

As I understood it, in order to ghrs a sheep, one is supposed to slice its jugular with a single stroke of a sharp knife, out of sight of any other sheep.

I’d thought that Aba would ghrs the ram for our family, but I was mistaken. Not all men know how to do it right, my tutor had explained to me, so those who do help those who don’t. In our case, our ram was ghrs'd by our neighbor. Given that he’s a friendly man in our neighborhood, it’s tempting to dub him “Mr. Rogers”, but I can’t quite bring myself to describe Mr. Rogers slaughtering a sheep, so I’ll go with “Roger”.

As Roger led the ram from his sheep-pen, where he’d been holding it for us – my family doesn’t have a sheep pen – the animal … how to phrase this … released excrement. Quite a bit of it. I found myself wondering if this was an act of fear, reflecting some prescience on the ram’s part, or just … doing what sheep do.

Moments later, Aba, Roger, and my two brothers got the ram into position. They pushed him down onto his side. The boys held his legs, Aba pinned him by his horns, and Roger pushed the fleece of his neck away to set up a clean stroke. The ram was facing east, although I don’t know if this is required, simply customary, or a coincidence. I was about 15 feet away, so I don’t know if Roger said anything before he sawed through the ram’s neck with three rapid strokes. It’s possible that what looked like the first two strokes were just him limbering up his arm… Or maybe I misunderstood about the single-stroke requirement.

In a split second, after Roger had cut his throat, the ram began flailing desperately. Roger, Aba, and the boys all anticipated this, and leapt backwards the instant after Roger’s cut(s). I had not anticipated this; I’d imagined that the ram would quietly bleed out, like Wallace’s wife did in Braveheart after the soldiers slit her throat. The men and boys scrambled to between five and ten feet away, then watched as his back spasmed and he clawed the air with his legs. It looked like he was trying to stand up, but couldn’t remember how to get his legs under him, so he just strained against the air. He rolled around, pushed himself over a few times, then continued shuddering and convulsing for several long minutes. After his flailing had subsided, and he was shuddering out his final breaths, his blood still pumping into the ground, my brothers and one or two of their friends crept up next to him. The boldest reached out and poked him, prompting sharper shudders and a feeble kick, but no further motion. Then a younger boy prodded him, with the same result. I waited for one of the men to reprimand the boys for jabbing at the dying beast, but the men just watched. As I did.

When the animal had stilled, and was quietly pulling in its last slow breaths, Roger and Aba came back. Roger pulled the ram’s head further back and began sawing through its spine. When he finished, and the head was attached only by a flap of skin, the ram finally lay completely still.

Roger then addressed himself to one of the back legs. He cut shallowly into the skin. Then he lifted the leg up to his mouth and blew into the cut. He did this over and over again, occasionally prodding the ram’s belly to see how inflated it was becoming. Once enough air was swelling the skin out from the body, Roger alternated between blowing into the leg and pressing on the ram to force the air throughout the body. Once the sheep was inflated like a Macy’s Day balloon, he cut up the length of the leg and across animal’s rump. I noticed that the ram was sporadically … releasing more excrement. Though I had no way to know for certain, I was sure that he was dead by this point, and either way, with his spine severed, any further action was involuntary. I imagined that the air bubble must be pushing against the intestines even as it pushed up the skin. Once the ram’s rump had been skinned, he moved on to the other leg. He cut through the bone at the backwards-bending joint (the equivalent to the ankle or heel, I believe), then carefully drew out and separated the tendons. “Les tendons,” Aba said in French. “Yes, the tendons,” I answered in English. It was the first time I’d spoken since coming out of our neighbor’s house and noticing that Aba and Roger were leading the ram from its pen.

This had all taken place at the spot where the first cut had been made, and so I’d supposed that the rest of the butchering process would finish there. I was wrong.

Roger and Aba abruptly picked up the ram by his back legs and carried him to the alley between our house and another neighbor’s. As they walked, the ram’s head caught on the ground and twisted all the way around, such that its head was upright, its chin catching on loose rocks, as it was carried away from me. A loop, apparently of plastic cord, had been tied to a nail that protruded from the outer wall of our courtyard. The ram’s foot was maneuvered through the loop such that its full weight was supported by those two tendons.

I’d thought that the ram had bled out already, but now that it was suspended by its Achilles’ heel, more blood found its way down to drip out its neck.

Roger continued skinning the ram, working steadily, methodically. Using his fist, he knuckled through the fibers and fat connecting the muscles to the skin. When he hit a snag, he used a knife, but most of the skin came off with just his hand. The sound of the skin being torn off was familiar. It was reminiscent of tearing fabric, but heavier. I’m still not sure why I felt like I recognized the sound. I know I’ve never watched anything get skinned before.

The skin came off cleanly; Roger clearly knew what he was doing, and worked calmly and efficiently, with a minimum of emotion. The only areas where he slowed his steady progress were the testicles, where he had to use the knife repeatedly, but whose odd shape he managed to avoid nicking (once skinned, they looked like narrow cow udders), and then at the neck, where there was so little tension to pull against.

Once he had finished, and the sheepskin lay in a pile on the ground with the head on top, eyes staring limpidly towards the sky, he began disemboweling the ram. This he did with the same systematic efficiency as the skinning. The first gush of organs – kidneys, liver, stomach, etc – he caught and gave to one of my brothers, who carried it inside the house. [We ate it for lunch the next day, cut into half-inch cubes and wrapped with strips of fat, then shish-kebab’d and grilled.] The intestines he pulled out slowly. As they emerged from the ram’s gut, they were bigger around than a man’s thumb, looking for all the world like bratwurst, but he squeezed out … what was in them … into a basin, and looped the emptied lengths around his elbow like a sailor with a narrow line. Emptied, they were no wider than my pinky, and flat as a length of velvet ribbon.

At this point, maybe 45 minutes after the initial cut, Ama came by with my sisters, and we walked over to Oldest 3mmi’s house to visit with Oldest 3tti and her children.

When we returned, Roger had finished his work, and the cleaned carcass was hanging in the courtyard. I’d underestimated how much of the volume of a ram is due to the fleece and fat; stripped of its insulation and innards, the carcass had the spare, sleek lines of a greyhound.

I’d had my camera in my hand throughout this process – I had it at hand all day – but shot only the initial pose, when the men and boys were gathered around the still-standing ram, then the bloody knife where it had been dropped to the ground, and finally the sheepskin, with the ram’s head flopped on top like the afterthought it now was.

December 9, 2008 Mbruk l’3id!

Today was 3id al-Adha. It’s also known as 3id al-Kebir, which just means “The Big 3id”. As I talked about on 3id al-Saghir, “The Small 3id”, aka 3id al-Fdor, the word “3id” is usually translated as “Feast” or “Festival”, but it has a serious connotation that doesn’t survive the translation. Maybe “Holiday” or “Holy Day” or “Commemoration” conveys the sense better. I’ll stick with 3id.

3id al-Adha commemorates Abraham’s sacrifice. As you may recall from the Book of Genesis or the Qur’an, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. Despite the tremendous effort that Abraham had gone to in order to have a son, he agreed, and took his son to the designated place. At the critical moment, however, a ram (male sheep) appeared, and Abraham understood that he was supposed to sacrifice the ram instead. Genesis says that the son in question was Isaac; the Qur’an says Ishmael, but both Jews (descendents of Isaac) and Muslims (descendents of Ishmael) hold the sacrifice as a hugely significant piece of their history. That sacrifice is commemorated on 3id al-Adha every year, when every Muslim household sacrifices a ram.

Here in Morocco, land of the famous sugary mint tea, the feast of meat is incomplete without a feast of sweets, so the women also prepare cookies, fancy breads, and gallons upon gallons of tea. There is much visiting around in the morning, while the men are praying and then sacrificing and preparing the rams, followed by an enormous lunch that’s about 95% mutton. If you’re not completely stuffed by the end of the day, it’s entirely your own fault.


December 3, 2008 Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow! (Imagine the 4-part harmony)

When I woke up this morning, my handy-dandy indoor-outdoor thermometer told me that it was 7° F outside and a balmy 24° F inside. Yeeeeah. A look out my rooftop door showed me that the snow is 8 inches deep, drifting to over a well foot. Hookay.

Now, a few hours later, with my small heater at my side (my new big one isn’t installed yet – I can’t get the butagaz hose to fit around the nozzle on the heater, and I’m not going to fire it up until I’m confident in that seal, which means after a Moroccan does it for me), it’s a roasting 32.7° in here. Balmy, balmy December weather. The snow on my roof is undoubtedly helping to insulate my house at the moment. I’m not sure when it fell – I didn’t go outside yesterday – but it’s awfully pretty. Of course, it means that the dirt roads of Berberville will be muddy swamps today, but that’s why I bought rubber boots. Big, ugly, keep-the-water-out-but-don’t-keep-my-toes-warm rubber boots. I’ll be venturing out to the Hanoot later today – and, if I get my nerve up, the hammam – and I might try the Moroccans’ recommended trick of putting plastic grocery bags inside the boots. Plastic doesn’t breathe, so ideally it’ll keep my toes from losing all their warmth. (Two pairs of wool socks are necessary but not sufficient inside of rubber boots, it turns out. And I’m not yet ready to expose my lovely new Uggs to inches of mud. I waterproofed them thoroughly, but I’m still feeling protective.)

But it’s so pretty! Snow is one of my favorite things. Well, it was when I lived in The Land Of Central Heating, also known as America. We’ll see how much I love it today. My camera and I are going to venture out very soon now…

Nerd moment: It’s 12/3, aka 11/33. Perfect snowfall date. :) The last big storm was on 11/20, but it stuck around till 11/22, so it almost counts. :) OK, off to play in the snow!

December 2, 2008 Dampening of the spirits (and garments)

It’s bitterly cold today, and I’ve spent most of the day under my feather comforter, huddled next to my laptop.

Unexpected side-effect of bone-dry 20-s and 30-s indoor temperatures: My pesky habit of breathing in and out all day long means that I’m releasing quite a lot of moisture into the air. There are big puffy clouds of breath in front of me more or less continually. When I get the blanket-huddling angle wrong, as I tuck my nose under the covers, I end up fogging up my glasses.

But that’s not the only thing fogging up.

My clothes are cold enough – near freezing – that the moisture from my breath is condensing on them. This means that not only are they painfully cold to put on, they’re actually damp. They’ve felt damp for a couple weeks, but I’ve been assuming that it was an artifact of how cold they are, that my skin is just misinterpreting the coldness as moisture (since damp clothes dependably pull the heat from your body, just as these cold clothes do). But when I huddled in front of the heater, I realized that my clothes had started *steaming*. At first I thought that they were smoking, because they were catching on fire from the butagaz flames, but no. The condensed droplets are steaming off.

I’m not really sure how I feel about that. I’m liking my decision to keep the next day’s clothes under the covers (an old trick from camping trips) but I’m a little alarmed, nonetheless. It’s barely December, with the three coldest months of winter still in front of me, and it’s already sub-freezing in my house.

{{deep breath}} Okey-dokey…

November 30, 2008 Heater Hassle

My big buta heater didn’t make it through its first week. The pilot light burned through the mesh screen, meaning that the heat sensor (a nice safety feature) was directly exposed to the flame, meaning that it cuts off every five minutes. Or less.

So I took it back down to SouqTown, where the attitude that the Customer Is Always Right has not yet penetrated. The sales folks assumed that the silly foreign girl didn’t know how to work it properly, and kept reassuring me that I’d just done something wrong. Then they tried to convince me that the problem was one of ventilation – if I light up my heater in an enclosed space, it’s designed to turn itself off in 15 minutes, to avoid poisoning me with carbon monoxide. (Another nice safety feature.) I ended up having to hook the heater up to a butagaz tank and fire it up, in a well-ventilated space, to demonstrate the problem.

Once they were convinced that my heater, and not my utilization thereof, was faulty, they tried to find one to exchange with it. I didn’t particularly want the same model, so was glad when they said that it was sold out. But then they said that the one they’d replace it with was another 100Dh, so could I please fork over the difference?* Fortunately, a manager intervened, probably seeing the fury in my face at having transported the first one a total of 420 km already, and just gave it to me. :)

* “Difference” has the same two meanings in Arabic and in English: both contrasts and the answer to a subtraction problem. When I’d first been looking at the heaters, last week, I asked what the prices were. Upon hearing the two price tags, I asked what the difference between them was. “100 dirhams,” the clerk patiently answered. “Yes, but why? What makes them different?” I persisted. “This one costs 100 dirhams more than that one,” he reiterated. “Right. But what’s the difference?” I tried again. I should have rephrased, but I don’t know that many ways to structure questions. “100 Dh,” he said for the third time. “Which one is better?” I tried. He shrugged. I gave up and took the cheaper one.

November 29, 2008 First "Leaders" Meeting!

The club that Fatima, LaHcen, many Moroccan teachers, other community members, and I have been working on for the past several months, has finally had its first meeting. “Future Leaders of Imilchil”, as we named it and as we hope its attendees will grow to be, was a big hit.

A few of the PCVs who’d come for Thanksgiving stuck around for the club, and every Moroccan teacher who has showed up to a planning meeting was also present (as were two new teachers roped in by their friends), so we ended up with 12 adults. Of the 30 invited students, 23 had returned signed permission slips from their Winter Break trips home, but only 17 showed up. We’ll keep working on that.

But a 17-to-12 student-teacher ratio meant that the students had an unprecedented amount of time and attention from their teachers. Most Moroccan classes are 20-40 students per one teacher, so this was pretty remarkable.

We started off with introductions and some name games. Not surprisingly, we had 4 Mohammeds (two teachers and two students), along with an assortment of other common names. I discovered that, even though the kids were all 9th graders, and had presumably been attending this collège together for two and a half years already, they didn’t all know each other’s names. Apparently, group activities aren’t as emphasized here as in American schools. Even more surprising to me, some of the students didn’t know some of the teachers’ names.

After the name games, we did a trust game (trust circles, a variation on trust falls), during which the students (not surprisingly) divided by gender, and then we did an art activity. We let the students use markers and magazines to create collage name-tags for themselves. We’ll laminate these in SouqTown and hopefully the kids will wear them every club. This allows for creative self-identification and will also enable guests to address the students by name. Inshallah.

That went on for much longer than anticipated, as did the final discussion, when we solicited the students’ input on what topics the Leaders club should address in future sessions.

In all, it lasted for three hours. We’d anticipated 1.5 – 2 hours. But the students’ and teachers’ energy remained high throughout, so I guess it’s all to the good.

And as we all walked back from the collège, on the outskirts of town, to our homes scattered through the center of town, we PCVs kept up a lively conversation with the teachers. (Three of the teachers speak English, and I talked in French to two others.)

The first meeting was definitely a success, and I’m really excited for the future. Humdullah! :)

November 27, 2008 Thanksgiving Day

I know a lot of people dream of a white Christmas, but this year I got a White Thanksgiving. :) [Note: Recipes for all of this are available upon request…just drop a note in the “comment” box or email me.]

…and there’s so much to be grateful for!

We prepared a full Thanksgiving feast. Except that we didn’t have a turkey. Turkeys are available for sale in SouqTown, and we’d asked the guests coming in this morning from down there to bring us one, but they decided that even the smallest turkey wouldn’t fit in either my or Fatima’s oven (which we knew – we were planning to cut it in half and cook half in each house), so they brought us chicken, instead. Due to the small size of our casserole dishes, we still ended up cooking the chicken in two batches, and therefore two recipes. One was a Mediterranean recipe with olives and lemons; the other was a more traditional American roast chicken.

Also, though I checked every stall in Berberville’s little souq and SouqTown’s much larger daily souq and its ginormous weekly souq, there were no sweet potatoes to be had. I saw them in the markets last month, and was looking forward to having them for Thanksgiving, but apparently their season has completely passed. :(

But enough on what we didn’t have.

There were mountains of mashed potatoes - 7 kilos of potatoes, peeled by yours truly and “Brahim”, with sour cream*, milk, butter, salt, parsley, and garlic. There was a kettle-full of sweet corn, flavored only with butter, salt, and pepper. There were shredded carrots in orange juice with cinnamon. (Those were popular in my CBT village, so I figured the folks here would like them, too.) There were crudités of carrots, peppers, and cauliflower in ranch dip and French onion dip, courtesy of Lipton and Knorr soup packets from the US, combined with sour cream*. There was from-scratch stuffing, with bread crumbs, onions, peppers, chicken bullion, salt, garlic, oregano, basil, and something I’m forgetting. There was banana bread, brought up the mountain by “RaHma”. There were heavenly drop biscuits, courtesy of wonder-baker “Jamila”.

…plus the acres of desserts cooked up yesterday.

“Fatima” and I had invited all 12 PCVs in the region, plus our host families and some of the Moroccans we work with here in town. (We also invited the Peace Corps Country Director, but he had other plans.) We ended up with 8 Americans and 10 Moroccans (my host mom, sis, and both brothers; “Fatima’s” host mom and two brothers, one of the women Fatima works with, plus two English teachers from the collège and lycée). Crowded into Fatima’s small living room. It was squished, but fabulous.

After the non-English-speaking Moroccans had gone home, we went around and said what we were thankful for, always my favorite part of Thanksgiving. Most of us said variations on “Friends and family”. I gave gratitude for my American family, of Mom, Dad, Sis, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and dear friends, and my Moroccan family, by which I meant both my host family and my Peace Corps family. I love you guys!

The 8 Americans’ sleeping arrangements were evenly divided between Fatima’s house and mine. Well, not that even; I got the girls and stuck her with the boys. :) As the four of us walked back to my house, we found that the snow-and-mud had frozen into a nice solid dirt path, but more snow was falling. Not much – not even enough to really qualify as a “flurry” – just a few flakes drifting downwards to make our walk home lovely. Well, lovely and cold. The girls visiting from warmer climates have apparently adopted the slow-and-easy style of walking common in the American South and other sultry climes, so the two cold-weather-speed-walkers kept having to stop and wait for them. They kept reminding each other that their sites would probably get almost this chilly, in the bitter bottom of January, so if they could live through the night, they’d have nothing to worry about for the rest of the season.

When I got home, I checked the thermometer and discovered that the flakes were falling in 25° skies, and that it was a whopping 33° inside. Of the three girls staying with me, two ended up inside sleeping bags and under two layers of blankets, and the third—the one most susceptible to cold—burrowed under my feather comforter with me. Oh, and the two warm-weather-women both took the first ride back down the mountain in the morning. :) And I’m sure they were thankful for that, too. :D

* When I say “sour cream”, I’m actually referring to a variety of yogurt available here, that’s all-natural, no sweeteners, no flavorings, no nuthin’, and which tastes more or less exactly like sour cream. It’s available in SouqTown, though not Berberville, under the name danun imsus. “Danun” is a reference to Dannon brand yogurt, whose name has become generalized here the way “Kleenex” and “Xerox” have in the US, and “imsus” means “flavorless”. And to continue this tangent even further afield, other brands have been generalized, too. “Teed” means Tide which means laundry detergent. “Beek” means Bic which means razors and their blades. “Alwaiss” means Always which means feminine supplies. “Kuh-nor” means Knorr which means chicken bullion cubes. Moral of the story: if you don’t know the word for what you want, take a stab an at American brand name, with an Arabic/Berber pronunciation. :)

November 26, 2008 Pre-Thanksgiving Cooking Day

My stove was on for about 13 hours straight today. We cooked:

5 batches of Oatmeal Snickers Cookies

4 panfuls of Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 Pumpkin Pies (from an actual pumpkin, not a can)

2 Apple Pies

Strawberry Cake

…but left the partridge in a pear glaze for tomorrow. ;)

Cooking sweets is always fun, and cooking them with good friends, even more so. Plus, we had my big buta heater on most of the day, and between that and the oven, it was quite cozy in my kitchen. :)

All recipes available upon request - just shoot me an email or click the "comments" button below. :)

November 20, 2008 Snow Day

Snowy Thursday = Travel challenges --> Will there be Souq in Berberville tomorrow? Time will tell. [Update: No. But a few tents straggled in for Saturday.]

This morning’s tranzits down to SouqTown weren’t running, because the road was snowed over. The plows came out around mid-day, though, and the afternoon tranzits were on the road. I was supposed to meet the 2:30 tranzit, so I was out by 2:00. (I reeeeally didn’t want to miss it.) I hung out with my favorite buHanoot. We had a great conversation, first about the cold and snow (who doesn’t like talking about the weather!), and then, as the minutes ticked by, about more wide-ranging topics.

By 2:30, I was describing Thanksgiving to him. [Update 11/27: My sitemate, “Fatima”, stopped by his Hanoot to get some last-minute ingredients yesterday. He said, in English, “For Thanksgiving?” She did a triple-take.] Like the other Moroccans I’ve talked to about it, he understood the importance of taking time to be grateful for your blessings.

By 3:00, we were playing at intellectual gamesmanship. We could both rattle off the names of the past fifty years’ leaders in the US, USSR/Russia (except we both forgot Brezhnev – I eventually remembered it), and Morocco, but he had me beat on France and Spain. When I goggled over the breadth of his education, he confessed that he’d not only been through junior high and high school – itself quite an accomplishment here – he’d completed college, majoring in organic chemistry. Unfortunately, though, there aren’t many jobs for organic chemists – there aren’t many white-collar jobs in Morocco, period – so after several futile months of looking for one, he came back to his parents’ village, bought some space, and set up the first Hanoot in Berberville. There are now half a dozen or so, of varying quality, but his is my favorite, mostly because he’s such a nice guy. The fact that he has a convenient location doesn’t hurt, either. :)

At 3:30, the tranzit finally pulled in. The plows had only hit the town areas, expecting the big, heavy tranzit to muscle through the intra-town snowy roads. Which it could, but slowly. [Update: The road did eventually get plowed along its entire 140 km length, lhumdullah, but it took … I don’t actually know how long, because I wasn’t on the road. But a couple days, I think.]


December 4, 2008 Life with Butagaz

Here are some of today’s snapshots of Things Most Americans Never Encounter (in chronological order), featuring only two items: butagaz and socks. Two of them happened to my sitemate, but none of them are fictional.

• Attaching a butane gas tank to a portable heater by means of a rubber hose
• Using a kitchen knife to hack off the plastic sealant knob over the nozzle of the butagaz tank
• Using a cigarette lighter to soften the rubber in a rubber hose
• Cutting off segments of burned rubber hose and starting over
• Watching three-inch blue flames dance above the hose because it wasn't fully sealed
• Discovering that you cut your hand in five places while wrestling with the knife, the tank, and the hose
• Maintaining balance while squatting over a “Turkish Toilet”, when your stocking feet are sliding on the ice that froze in the bathroom since the last time you poured water in to flush it
• Holding your stocking feet up to the butagaz flames to restore feeling to your toes
• Watching the steam rise from your socks
• Watching the smoke rise from your socks
• Looking at the sole of your foot and realizing that you just scorched your socks
• In bed that night, wiggling your toes and discovering that they now poke through your socks
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