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10/29 Today's Episode of the Tarumit Show

I know that people like to watch me. See what the tarumit (foreign female) is doing today. If it's interesting/unusual/unexpected enough, folks will comment, either to me or to each other. If it's *really* interesting, the story will be swapped for the next few days. Long after I've forgotten the incident, someone will mention, "Hey, so I heard..." and I'll have to laugh with them at my own absurdity.

Today, on "The Tarumit Show", our favorite foreign girl went shopping, swinging a small butane tank in one hand. She came back a few minutes later carrying a black plastic bag, a small butane tank, and a -- wait, what's that? -- why yes, it's a broom! How unwieldy! How odd! Stay tuned...

So as I walked, the knob slipped off the buta tank, the whole thing slipped out of my hand, and I ended up kneeling on the street, broom and bag at my side, trying to attach a small piece of plastic to a large metal tank, watching a car drive towards me.

By the time I'd picked the tank, sack, and broom back up, the car had passed me. (Thanks to the renewed rumors of a royal visit, public improvements are back with a this case, it's the road widening.)

I continued down the street, aiming for my door, only a hundred or so yards away.

A small boy said, "Hi!" I greeted him back, and he chirped, "So you dropped your buta tank, eh?" I grinned, nodded, and said, "Yup, it fell." He turned to his friend. "She said, 'Yup, it fell'!" The friend, who having been only six inches further away from me had in fact heard the whole exchange, said, "Really? Wow!"

Yes, sportsfans, Kauthar is a rock star.

Ten meters later, I casually greeted a group of teenage girls sitting on the far side of the road. They were discussing the possible contents of my opaque black grocery bag. I was fairly impressed when my 17-year-old cousin correctly identified pumpkin, just from the bulge in one side of the bag.

But today's episode had a surprise twist ending...

When I got to my front door, I went through the usual routine with my slightly mis-aligned steel door: set down everything so both hands are free, then grasp the handle-bar in my right hand, the key in my left hand, and pull sharply back with the right while twisting with the left. This gets the lock unlatched, but doesn't actually open the door. Thanks to the misalignment, the metal pinches at the top of the doorframe, holding itself closed. Pushing my steel door isn't terribly comfortable, so I generally just kick it. This pushes the pinched metal apart, and the door swings open. I've done it a thousand times (at least!), so don't think about it anymore. It's routine: set down things, grab, pull, twist, kick, enter. Whole production takes a second or two at the most.

But this time...this time, when the door swung open, a slender kitty came shooting out.

Lhumdullah (or luckily, or reflexively, or because my karma is good - as you like), my hand shot down and grabbed the kitty by the tummy. I heard the cries of, "Ooh, a cat!" from the teenage girls and whoever else was passing on the road. I turned, smiled, held her up and said, "Yes, it's a cat!" Keeping her firmly in one hand, I moved all my other items - broom, buta, pumpkin-in-a-sack - into my front stairs, then kicked the door shut behind me. (Grabbed-about-the-tummy is not a good way to carry cats, I realize, but Tamohat is a tough little Moroccan kitty, and she could take it. Not that she didn't put up a fuss, as the scratches on my wrist and neck will attest...)

A few minutes later, some little girls came to my door, undoubtedly looking for the kitty. Their knocks were so tentative, though, that I delayed responding. (There are a many possible sources of a sound like knuckles on metal, around here.) By the time I got to the door - scooping up Tamohat en route, since she was making another break for freedom - the girls had scampered off.

Just a shopping trip in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer...

10/28 Bled Bathing (aka Bucket Bathing)

(Quick reminder: bled is the Tam and Arabic word for rural areas. This entry is not about gore, it's about life in the country.)

You ever heard this old joke? An optimist looks at a glass and says, "It's half full!" A pessimist looks at the same glass and says, "It's half empty!" A Peace Corps Volunteer looks at it and says, "Ooh, a bath!"

Yesterday morning, I took a bath.

Took a bath.

Three short, one-syllable words. It sounds so simple. Hard to imagine that it was an hour-long endeavor...

It starts with water.

Lots of water.

So I have to bathe either while the water is still running, generally between 9 and noon, or else I have to fill a bucket or two with water in the morning, and then cover it (to keep out the ubiquitous dust) and set it aside until I'm ready to bathe, some other time of day.

I usually just stick to the morning.

I fill up my two trusty kettles, then put them on to boil. My stove has four burners, so when I first got here, I would use two kettles, a stew pot, and a couscous pot...but about four months ago, one of my burners turned into a flaming deathtrap, so I don't use that one anymore, plus I've come to realize that the tiny teapot burner really doesn't work well for anything but tea.

So: two burners, each with a big (3.5L - almost a gallon) tea kettle.

When the kettle whistles, I empty it into a hammam bucket. Hammam buckets differ from ordinary paint buckets: they're made of thick rubber, not plastic, to withstand boiling water. To keep the water hot, I put a ceramic plate on top of the bucket and then drape a towel over that. Then I fill the kettle again, heat it again...

Repeat until the bucket is full, about 5 kettles of water. Then I refill each kettle one last time, and put them on to boil. Then I carry the bucket into the bathroom, make sure all toiletries are arranged nearby, fill a banyo (plastic basin) with cold water, and finally get all the clean clothes I want to change into and hang them on the bathroom door, so the steam from the bath will warm them (and so I won't have to go out into my chilly apartment all wet!).

When the final two kettles-full hit the boiling point, I carry both kettles into the bathroom and set them on the ceramic tile.

I put a small plastic stool into my biggest basin, a shallow banyo about 2.5 feet across and 6" deep. Then I pull the door closed and begin.

Using a big heavy-plastic cup (with a handle - looks kind of like a big mug), I mix bathwater in a tiny banyo. My usual ratio at the beginning of a bath is 3 scoops of boiling water from the hammam bucket to 2 scoops of cold water from the bathroom banyo. By the end of the bath, maybe half an hour later, the formerly-boiling water will have cooled enough that I use a 3:1 ratio of hot:cold.

Once the warm-but-not-boiling water is sitting in the pan (tiny banyo) next to me, I sit down on the stool, cramming my feet in around the stool legs, and pour a scoop of warm water over my head.

Why sit down? It conserves body heat, for one, and lets the water hit more parts of me as it falls down, for another. The water that I scoop over my heat, to wet my hair, will either run the length of my back or slide forward over my shoulders and pool in my lap. When you're "showering" with about 7 gallons of water, getting the most out of every drop is key.

Why cram my feet in with me? I learned through trial and error that keeping my feet covered in warm water is vital to my feeling warm during the bath. After all, whenever I'm not actively pouring water over my head, I'm just sitting in a small ceramic room, wet and naked. It gets cold. But if my feet are sitting in warm water, I feel better. Also, my feet have a hard life here - lots of sandaled walking over dirt paths covered in various kinds of manure - so I think soaking them in sudsy water is a good idea.

Why am I in a banyo at all, instead of just letting the water pour onto the ceramic tile floor and run down the drain? The bathroom was built to be half-shower, after all. Because the shower drain doesn't actually drain, it just lets the water pool until it evaporates. Eeeew. Also, by catching the water in the banyo, I can reuse it for flushing the toilet. I live in a desert country; just because I'm in the rainiest part of it doesn't mean I have the right to waste water.

So I'm crunched down in this basin, scooping water over my head. It takes 4 slow scoops to get my shoulder-length hair wet through. Then I rub in shampoo. If it foams up, I know that I only need to shampoo it once. If it stays unfoamed, I know that this washing is doing nothing but stripping the outermost coat of oil, and I'll need to do it again. So I rinse my hair with another 2-3 scoops, then do it again. After that's rinsed out, my body is pretty thoroughly wetted (except for my arms, which will get their own scoop of water), so I grab the loofah sponge and shower gel and scrub down. I'll then rub shampoo/conditioner into my hair (a pure conditioner is overkill), then rinse everything at once.

This usually takes about 80% of the water, which I've been steadily mixing between the hammam bucket and the coldwater banyo to maintain a good water temperature. Once I'm pretty sure everything has been scrubbed and rinsed at least once, I'll finally let myself stand up. I double-check the backs of my knees and anything else I might have missed while crunched down, then pour the rest of the hot water over my head, for a final rinse (and just because I really love and miss hot showers).

When the water smrn (is all used up), I grab the towel, dry off, and put on the clothes that are all within arm's reach. Only when I'm warm, dry, and clothed, do I open the door of my now-steamy-warm bathroom and face my 45 degree apartment.

And just like that, I'm all clean.

I've never liked wasting water, but I do enjoy hot showers. Most mornings, in the US, it took 5-7 minutes. This bled bathing takes at least an hour, from the time I fill the first kettle of water until I'm all clean. Is it any wonder I only "shower" every week or so?


10/27 The Day The Water Returned

As I've mentioned here before, Berberville gets water only a few hours a day.

The fact that we have running water at all has already changed lives.

Three years ago, plumbing was installed. For the first time in the thousands of years that Berberville has been here, women didn't have to gather water either from the flowing surface water or from the freshwater spring.

Explanatory tangent: On maps, Berberville sits at the intersection of two rivers; that's undoubtedly why this became an "urban center" (if such a thing can be said of a community with only a couple hundred households) back in the dark mists of time. But these "rivers", though they're so called on maps, look like the things we call "creeks" back home. (In fairness, I grew up on the Mississippi, so maybe I have a skewed perspective on what a "river" should look like.)

All the land adjoining these waterways gets farmed. It's Irrigation 101: the shorter a distance you have to transport the water, the more food you can grow. The side effect is that the houses sit on hillsides/mountainsides above the fields. So the women have to carry water into the houses to do their work.

It's easiest to use water from the creeks/rivers, but that water is used for everything from watering livestock to washing clothes to bathing, so there's a predictably large volume of ... waste ... polluting it. People still drink out of it, to be sure, but it makes them sick.

The nearest spring - the place where groundwater emerges onto the land, ie a source of much, much cleaner water - is 4 km outside of town. Uphill. (Note for puzzled geologists and hydrologists: marly limes --> perched aquifers.)

So the arrival of pipes and plumbing, three years ago, was a Really Big Deal.

At that time, the commune - the local legislature, j-jm3a3 - discussed a dilemma: Should villagers get access to 24-hour water flow, and pay for their (metered) water use? Or should the government provide water for free - but since the commune has limited funds, the water usage would have to be limited, too...only two hours a day of free flowing H2O.

You already know the punchline: I get water from 9ish till noonish every day.

I'm not sure if I've before mentioned the deciding factor, that swayed the minds of enough commune members to determine the vote: Someone pointed out that Berberville's economy is rapidly shifting from an agrarian system to a cash-based system, fueled by tourism. Tourism funds the mountain guides (like my host dad), the hotels, the cafes, the trinket shops... And those tourists, this person argued, want to see an Authentic Berber Village. They want to see pristine Amazigh culture. Pristine Amazigh culture doesn't include running water. If everyone has plumbing, he concluded, tourists will stop coming and our town's development will tank. (Pun intended.)

I'm not here to argue the merits of the case, just report that the argument was made.

...But this is all old news. Three years old.

I've lived here for 17 months; I've adapted. I do dishes, laundry, etc, only in the mornings. This morning, I took a bath. I usually cook more in the mornings than evenings; if I do make an elaborate dinner, I stow the dishes in the sink and wait for the morning to wash them. Etc.

But today...

Today was different.

Water shut off a little before noon, as is normal.


A couple hours later, as I was making another batch of Kauthar's Pumpkin Spice Muffins, I cracked the eggs and then reached for the tap to rinse off my hands. Even as I twisted the knob, I realized that it was useless - that the water was long gone. But in the split second before I could twist the knob back and turn to use bottled (stored) water - WATER POURED OUT OF THE TAP!

I stood there, blinking at it (and yes, rinsing my hands). I turned it off...and then back on again, just to see if I could.

It worked.

We had afternoon water!!!

I hastily washed all the dishes I'd dirtied since the morning, refilled the kettles I'd emptied with my bath, and just **marveled** at the wonders of running water.

So there you have it, friends, a pre-Thanksgiving reminder of something you probably never thought to give gratitude for: 24-hour access to running water.


10/23 The Dumma

A month or two ago, during our period of heavy rains, I found myself walking across town, swinging my umbrella on its short looped cord. A little boy came up to me.

"Dumma!" he said, pointing to the umbrella.

I'd never learned the word for "umbrella", and was happy to rectify that. I hunkered down to his level. "This is a 'dumma'?" I asked, for clarification. He just pointed again, and repeated the word.

"In English, it's an 'umbrella'," I explained, continuing to swing it between us. "In Tamazight, it's a 'dumma', and in French it's a 'parapluie'," I said, the word floating up to me from the depths of middle school French class.

He reached for it. "Dumma!" he said, this time almost angrily.

I repeated my short language lesson.

And he repeated himself one more time, this time speaking slowly: "Dunn-ma."

And then I got it.

He wasn't giving me the word for umbrella. This wasn't a language moment. He was saying - mis-pronouncing - "Donne-moi," the French equivalent to "Gimme." I suppose my middle school French teacher would have pointed out that he'd left out the definite article: "Give it to me" should be "Donne-le-moi." But we have gimme and apparently, in Moroccan French, they have donnemoi.

I laughed, scolded him gently, pointed out that it was *my* umbrella, not *his*, and that I intended for it to stay that way, and then stood back up and continued on my way across town.

So there, friends, is an illustration of begging in Morocco. There's no associated shame, as some middle-class Americans might imagine. Just an expectation that anyone with fair skin has more than they need, and should cheerfully hand it off whenever requested.

It's very different from American materialism. Americans always want more things, it sometimes seems, but it's never enough. Americans have created an entire consumer culture out of the idea that if you buy enough things, you'll achieve ... peace. Nirvana. Happiness. Contentment. And so there's marketing, and advertising, and suggesting, all to create the illusion that if you buy *this* thing, it'll satisfy your inner craving. And yet it never does. It never can, really, because what we crave isn't anything material.

Here in Morocco, or more accurately, here in Berberville, I don't see that inner craving. That anxiety so familiar in America, the desperate need to do more, buy more, try more, in hopes of achieving ... whatever it is you want.

Some foreigners see the cheerful begging - the constant stream of "Give me a dirham!" or "Give me candy!" that children babble in butchered French - and conclude that Moroccans are greedy.

I disagree. There's an innocence to the desire that reminds me of crows reaching for car keys. Sure, it's shiny, it'd be nice to have. Can I have it? It bears no resemblance to the driving American acquisitiveness that feels like greed to me.

PS: Later that day, I told my sitemate the story. I didn't get far before she said, "No, wait, the word for umbrella isn't dumma, it's mddla." I grinned and told her the punchline was coming. But at least now I know what to ask for if I'm caught out in the next round of fall rains...or are we heading straight for late fall snows?


10/10/09 Moudawana Day

Five years ago, Morocco passed a comprehensive set of family laws, usually referred to as the Moudawana. These laws, written after extensive consultation with the king's religious advisers, created dozens of new protections for women and children in Morocco, and have been widely praised.

Today, National Women's Day in Morocco, I traveled to a friend's site to help him lead a discussion with local women about the Moudawana. We wanted to educate them about their rights - rights aren't much good to you if you don't know you've got them - and discuss the implications of the changes in the laws.

(By the way, you can get an excellent history of the Moudawana itself and the efforts to revise it here. It only gets up to 2001, so doesn't include the terrific revisions of 2004, but does give some context as to why it took so long to make these important changes.)

Some notable changes:

  • While it's still legal to marry more than one wife, men now need the written consent of their prior wife/wives before marrying again
  • The requirement that wives obey their husbands has been replaced by one for both spouses to support the needs of the household.
  • In the past, a man could divorce his wife by a simple letter of repudiation, while a woman required years of legal battles to divorce her husband. Now, both can sue for divorce, but both most go before a judge who will (1) require a six-month attempt at reconciliation, and (2) work out terms of alimony and child support, before granting the divorce. These are radical new concepts, here.
  • In the event of a divorce, whichever parent gets custody also gets to keep the house. In the past, a repudiated woman would usually have to go back to her parents, if they'd take her in, or else would have no resources - she could literally be put on the street with nothing. A large percentage of the sex workers in Morocco are repudiated wives.
  • The minimum age for marriage changed from 15 for girls to 18 for both boys and girls.
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace is now considered a criminal offense.
  • A woman can choose her own husband, even without the consent of her parents. In the past, the parents chose the spouse, sometimes without regard for their daughter's wishes. This is no longer possible; the woman must consent to the marriage for it to be legal.
  • Moroccans who legally marry in other countries will have their marriages recognized under Moroccan law. [[I wonder what this means for gay couples who marry in the Netherlands or South Africa?]]
  • * Children of Moroccan women who marry non-Moroccan men will now be recognized as Moroccan citizens. This one was not part of the 2004 law, but was passed in October 2006, after heavy lobbying.
We had an interesting discussion with the women about the changes of five years ago. They said that they were familiar with the changes, but that the problem is enforcement. Most of these protections can be waived by judicial order, which happens regularly. For example, judges regularly rubber-stamping the requests of any girl appearing before them, asking to marry before her 18th birthday. In fact, girls here in the bled are still getting married at 14, 15 years old.

Furthermore, there's no mechanism to follow up on deadbeat dads. Even women who have the resources to go before a judge and get alimony and child support orders (and many women don't) have no way to force their ex-husbands to pay the ordered amount. If the man is a government employee, she can get his wages garnisheed, but most men in Morocco are cash laborers. If they refuse to pay, the woman's only recourse is to try to get him arrested...which generally requires bribing a gendarme. And if she's so desperate for her alimony and/or child support that she's willing to jail her ex to make him pay, odds are that she can't afford the bribe.

But still.

Women and children now have legal protections that didn't exist 6 years ago, which is an enormous stride forward. Transforming this written protections into actual, practical protections...that's a separate step. But this one took fifty years to accomplish, so it's worth celebrating.

And then we push onward.


10/7/09 Dance Party

This morning, I decided that today was a good day to spend in bed. I'd spent most of the night coughing like I was trying to shove my lungs out through my larynx; rest seemed appropriate.

And then.

Around noon, I heard a knock on my door. I shuffled over to the top of the stairs and called, "Who is it?" and got the usual indignant, "It's me!" Oh so helpful.

But I recognized today's "me", my little sister.

I padded down the dirt stairs, regretting my decision not to put on my slippers, coughed loudly, then opened the door. Sissy, dressed up in new clothes, said, "Ama said to tell you to come over." I started to protest, but she dutifully powered through, continuing the message she'd been enjoined to deliver: "We have to go to Aicha's house for a party." Aicha is second only to Fatima as the most common female name, so I immediately thought of several places this could mean. There's the Aicha who's moving out of town soon, and might have a going away party; the Aicha who just had a baby, and might have a sib3; the Aicha who's pregnant, and might have a baby shower...and several other Aichas who I haven't seen in a while and therefore might have a party-purpose in their lives that I don't know about.

I weighed my options. On the one hand, I could continue my current plan of lying down all day feeling sorry for myself. Or I could go to a party.


I invited Sissy up while I pulled on party clothes. (Read: Regular clothes, but clean, and with a skirt on top of the jeans.) I brushed my hair while she looked on, and then followed her down the stairs and up the quarter-mile or so to Ama's house. Ama met us at the door with her sister-in-law (my eldest 3tti) and neighbor. We all walked down to Aicha's house. It turned out to be one of the 3 Aichas I'd guessed, but not for the reason I'd guessed. Turns out her best friend Rebha (the 3rd most common girl's name in Berberville) is getting married tomorrow, so Aicha is throwing her a party.

Its closest equivalent in American culture would be a bridal shower or bachelorette party, but in style it was identical to most of the other Berber parties I've attended.

First, women trickle in, over the course of an hour or so. When you enter, you slm everyone already there: shake their hand, kiss their cheeks/hands/heads (depending how close you are), kiss your own hand, exchange a highly-abbreviated form of the greeting ritual (usually just the how are you? I'm fine bit), and move on to the next person. Once you've greeted everyone, you take your seat along the wall.

Yes, along the wall. Rooms here are always furnished with pads and rugs lining the walls, and are usually otherwise empty. (The thickness of the pads and rugs indicates the wealth of the family. Rich and/or showy families will have pads about knee high, draped in bright-colored fabric. Middle-class families have pads about an inch thick, covered with vibrant shag rugs, usually woven by the mother. The poorest families have no pads, but simply line the walls with woven rugs.) There are no chairs; you sit on the pad - usually called a ponj - with your back against the wall and your legs out in front of you.

Once you've taken your seat, you wait for the rest of the women to trickle in. As they do, of course, they have to slm everyone there, including you. Be prepared to shake a lot of hands. :) (Oh - I've heard in other regions that you Absolutely Must Greet A Group from right to left...or is it Absolutely Positively left to right?...but here in Berberville, nobody much cares. The majority of the women turned to their left when the entered the room, and greeted their way around the room in a clockwise direction, but a couple did the opposite, and it didn't seem to make any difference at all.)

Eventually, the room is full, the walls are lined, and everybody's cheerfully chattering with their neighbors. Now it's time for tea.

Again, size matters: the richer you are, the bigger your tea service. Today's tea pots towered a foot or more above the tea trays, which were themselves about two feet in diameter, and held a couple dozen tea glasses apiece. This means massive wealth. Clearly, this party is being hosted by one of the richest families in Berberville. Aicha and her cousin carried the two giant tea trays in opposite directions around the room, meeting up at the far corner. After everyone had drained their tea, they came around again, collecting the glasses.

Then came the first course, aHrir. It was served without spoons, which I've never seen before, but I gamely dug in with my hands. (Well, right hand only, naturally. You never never never never never never NEVER ever eat with your left hand.) Since aHrir is more or less risotto, my hand got sticky quickly. Ama asked if I wanted a spoon, but I assured her I was fine using my hand.

She sees through me pretty easily.

She scored me a spoon in something less than a minute (woman's got skillz) and I admit, it helped me enjoy the meal a lot more.

The aHrir came in large earthenware platters that were set in the middle of each of five tables set around the room. (When we'd first entered, they'd been lined up along the otherwise-empty middle of the room, but when food time approached, everyone pitched in to arrange them around the room.

After the aHrir came the main course, roasted chicken with olives. We spent the first few minutes sopping up juices and snagging olives with the de rigeur loaves of bread (flat loaves that look more or less like a Medium Pizza without any toppings). Once the juices were gone, one of the women at my table briskly ripped the chicken apart. She tore open the breastbone in a split second, then quickly sectioned off the legs, thighs, etc. She piled up sections of meat for everyone at the table (except me - Ama explained my vegetarianism to her) and then distributed them. The two little kids at the table - Sissy, who's 8, and the 3-year-old son of another friend - each got small piles, while the 5 adults each got a first-sized chunk of chicken. Ama snagged a big chunk of bread and shoved a handful of meat into it, to bring back to my little brothers. (At 10 and 11, they're far too old to receive invitations to a women's party like this one. The oldest boy in the room was probably 3, maybe 4.)

A minute later, the hostesses came through the room with small plastic bags, which they passed around. This drew my attention to the fact Ama was only one of many women who had squirreled away food for the unlucky males in her family. About a dozen of the 30-some women there took bags. I was suddenly reminded of "doggie bags" at restaurants.

Then the tables were wiped down while the women returned to the edges of the room. Time for the ...


No DJ. No iPod. No band. Just a roomful of women singing, led by two grande dames, with three other women providing percussion on two hand drums and one metal plate (which comes with two metal spoons, used as drumsticks).

The women who wanted to dance - probably half of the women there - each took their turn in the middle of the room, shimmying and shaking and gyrating what their mommas gave 'em.

Around their feet danced a miniature version of the grown-up dance party, featuring girls from 5 to 8, showing fair approximations of the older women's clothing, hairstyles, and moves. Cutest of all, two tiny toddlers showed us their moves, bobbing up and down, clapping their hands, and even shaking their bitty baby hips. :D

After an hour or so of dancing, women began slipping out, in twos and threes. Berber Dance Party #274 has wound down...tomorrow's, for Rebha's wedding, will begin in something like 24 hours.


10/1/09 Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Muffins

I know fall officially begins with the equinox, but October just *feels* like fall. September is all about Indian summer afternoons and school starting, November is really getting seriously cold...October dwells between them, crisp and cool and crystalline. October is about crunching leaves underfoot and smelling woodsmoke from chimneys and picking out pumpkins.


In the States, I loved cooking pumpkiny foods. Pumpkin pies, of course, but also pumpkin breads, pumpkin muffins, even pumpkin soups. The taste of pumpkins is the taste of October.

Here in Morocco, there's no canned pumpkin. (OK, it might exist at Marjane, but since the nearest one takes a full day of travel each way to get to, I don't go to Marjane all that often.) Nor do they have the big, chubby orange vegetable (gourd? yeah, gourd), endemic to North America, that we all know and love from pumpkin patches and jack'o'lanterns. What they do have, though, is the taghsayat, also known as the gr3a (the former is Tam, the latter Arabic).

Taghsayat covers every variety of squash, from zucchinis to butternut squashes to these large, green or yellow round gourds that are shaped sort of like a cross between a butternut squash and a pumpkin, but which have orange meat on the inside that tastes just like pumpkin. It must be the Eurasian/North African cousin of the American pumpkin. For obvious reasons, I refer to it as pumpkin.

Last year, I made pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It was the Very First Time I ever attempted to cook pumpkin without having a can in my hand. I was nervous, anxious, worried that I'd somehow botch the whole thing...but, with lots of help from my lovely sitemate Fatima, I managed to stew a stringy, pumpkiny mess that we successfully turned into three pumpkin pies. :) Victory! Yummy pumpkin goodness!

This year, having faced the fear of the unknown, I marched into Pumpkin Season with my chin up and my smile bright.

I found pumpkins (and sweet potatoes!! which I'll rhapsodize about another time) in the souq in SouqTown. Pumpkins have actually been in season for several weeks, but I've been running around so much lately that I couldn't take advantage of it till now. After all, it's October. Regardless of the growing and harvesting seasons, October is Pumpkin Time, right? Right.

So I bought half a kilo of pumpkin flesh in SouqTown a few days ago. I imagine they'd sell a whole pumpkin if you really begged for one, but generally, people just tell their buxodart (vegetable stand guy) how much they want, and he hacks off an appropriately-sized chunk of pumpkin. My half kilo - over a pound - constituted a small fraction of the whole giant gourd leaning against the buxodart's stand.

Then I brought it home to Berberville and inaugurated Pumpkin Cooking Season.

I poked around and until I found a pumpkin recipe I liked, and then I adapted it. Because one of the many, many lessons I've learned from my time in Morocco is that cooking is an art, as well as a science, and that improvisation and adaptation are the keys to freedom. :)

So here's *my* Pumpkin Spice Muffin Recipe, with thanks to hers.

1/2 kilo pumpkin (reduces to about 1 1/4 cup)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 very heaping tablespoon cinnamon
half a nutmeg, grated (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 heaping teaspoon ginger
25 cloves, ground (about 1/2 teaspoon) (To crush cloves, pull the small round head off the hard stalk. The stalks feel like twigs, but the heads crush surprisingly easily - just pinch them between your fingers.)

  1. Cut rind off of pumpkin. Chop pumpkin flesh into 1" cubes and put into boiling water. When the pumpkin is completely tender, about 15 minutes, pour everything into a colander. Mash the flesh. (This part is a lot like making mashed potatoes. I used a fork, but if you have a potato masher, go nuts.) Leave the pumpkin in the colander for another half hour or so, to let as much moisture as possible drip out.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk 2 eggs.
  3. Add pumpkin mash and vegetable oil to eggs. Whisk together.
  4. Sift together dry ingredients.
  5. Add them to the pumpkin mixture, whisking steadily to keep the batter airy.
  6. Grease and flour muffin tins. (Or use muffin/cupcake cups.)
  7. Ladle pumpkin batter carefully into the tins; fill the cups ~2/3 full.
  8. Light the oven and keep an eye on them. Americans, try 30 minutes at a 350 degree oven. Moroccans, try 20 minutes on a low flame.
  9. The pumpkin muffins are done when they pull away from the edges of the pan, or when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  10. Serve the 18 Pumpkin Spice Muffins to loved ones, and listen for the mmmmm sound of pumpkin-inspired happiness. Alternatively, serve 12 to loved ones and eat the other six yourself. You deserve it. ;)
Total number of times pumpkin appears in this blog post: 42. ;)

PS: I also tried to roast the seeds, but left them in waaay too long and ended up with a sad charred mess. Note to self: Seeds only need a few minutes to roast.
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