Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Greetings

THE CONTENTS OF THIS WEB SITE ARE MINE PERSONALLY AND DO NOT REFLECT ANY POSITION OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT OR THE PEACE CORPS. Since this site is public, specific details are not given so email me personally if you’d like more information

12/20/09 Happy, Happy Holidays Everyone and I hope your New Year is one of the best years of your life!!

I’m still uncertain how my Christmas will actually be, but I will celebrate with my host family. Since Morocco is primarily a Muslin country, this holiday is completely foreign to them. Part of my purpose for being here is to share the American culture, so I intend to introduce them to this holiday. I won’t go into the religion part, because with my limited language abilities, it would be too hard to even attempt. I have a couple of evergreen branches that I have wired together and I have a tree of sorts. The kids and I are making ornaments and stockings and I have small presents for everyone. I’m intending to make pizza for Christmas dinner because my family has never had it, the ingredients can be found in my town (minus the pepperoni) and hopefully they will enjoy it. I plan to make some holiday cookies in the next day or two. Should be all set for “Noel” as they call it. I’ll let you know how it goes the next time I write.

Yesterday I went on a hike of all hikes. Earlier in the week I was asked if I had plans for Sunday and I said “No, I was all theirs “ and smiles broke out across their faces. What was I in for? After breakfast, I was told to put on my sport shoes and it was gestured that we were heading out across those mountains – really? Yep, away we went. The donkey was loaded up (I couldn’t tell what was put in his baskets) and we were ready. I have a friend who is fearful of heights, this would not have been the walk for him. Didn’t have a watch and really don’t have a clue how far we actually walked. We climbed, there were loose rocks, beautiful views, and it was a sunny day, albeit a bit chilly at times, they should have told me to bring a hat! We saw goats, goats and more goats. Finally my host mom indicated that we were heading “over there” - still quite a ways to go and more hills to climb. The kids ran through these hills like the goats we see. Gosh to be young again! My host dad is a plumbee and he drew me a picture some time ago of what I thought were patches of tilled soil and I thought an irrigation system since there are natural springs everywhere. Yep, I was right and that is where we ended up. They had kind of a make-shift lean-to made to block the wind if need be, complete with a tea pot. There were patches of soil that were tilled and a couple of men that I recognized were already there, along with my host dad. These men worked with kind of a pick axe/shovel tilling the ground. Talk about back breaking work! Where was that John Deere when you wanted it? Impossible to get to this site silly girl, what are you thinking? Anyways, my host mom brought along the makings of a stewed meal and we got the fire going and the vegetables cut into the pot and lunch was underway. We then joined the men and we all planted crocus bulbs. If you remember, this is where saffron comes from and it is a cash crop for them. We had three big gunney sacks of bulbs to plant and with all of working it went along quite fast. We then had a great lunch, complete with clementines. It was one of the best days I’ve had here in Morocco. I noticed seedling trees and asked about them and my host dad plans to plant apple, almond, olive and some other kind of tree also in this spot since he can irrigate them. I don’t know if they own this land or if ownership is even possible here or if they just found a relatively flat piece amongst the hills and staked claim, but it seems to be theirs. They said they would call me in the spring when it is time to pick crocus flowers so that I can experience it too and I’m betting they will. It was on our walk back home that I gathered my evergreen branches for the makeshift tree we will have.

My host family keeps growing and growing. After we got home Sunday afternoon, we learned that another of my host mom’s sisters would visit with her family. You could see that she was not particularly pleased with the news, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of planning or announcements, they just come. We were tired!! Anyways, they came and they were a lovely family. I have now met three sisters and two brothers of my host mom and her mother and father. They all live in Ouarzazate (a/k/a Oz). I have their telephone numbers in my phone and I’ve been instructed to call them and to visit. Since I’ll be here two years, I will certainly try to do this.

Several weeks ago Anna (the PCV in the nearby site) and I went to Marrakech (a/k/a Kech) for the weekend. It was a 4+ hour bus trip through windy, mountainous roads. Thank goodness for Bonine, not sure I could have made it without having taken this motion sickness pill. We met up with some other PC volunteers on the bus so we tagged along since we had never been there before. We stayed at a clean hotel for a little over $5 a night. Granted the showers were cold and the toilet was in the hallway and shared by all, but what do you expect for this $$? Hotels I’ve stayed at here (within my PC budget) don’t provide towels or toilet paper for that matter either. Our hotel was very near the “jamaa lfha” or the big colorful square you may have seen pictures of if you’ve ever seen pictures of Kech. This place is hoppin….. There are vendors everywhere, music playing and snake charmers entertaining the crowd. The snake charmers were on the “to see” list so we were delighted when we could scratch that from the list. We later learned that the snakes actually have most of their mouths sewn closed with only a small opening left so that their tongues (if you will) can come out and that they frequently starve to death since they can’t eat. Took some of the “charm” out of them for me. We visited the Margane (sp?) which is a large Wal-Mart supermarket while in Kech and found some things we had not seen elsewhere in Morocco. I thought it was a bit pricey, but it did have some of those hard-to-find things and obviously it wasn’t mean for the typical Moroccan to shop at. Had to catch a bus back in the morning so it was a fast weekend trip. Probably not something I will do too often, and a three-day weekend would make it more enjoyable.

My host family loves music. They are always beating on something to make a rhythm and singing. They are usually smiling and laughing too. Well, you should see my host sister dance. Is this just born in them? She is a beautiful little 7 year old and does she have the belly dance moves. I took belly dance lessons for a year and NEVER had near the grace that she has. She is wonderful to watch – think she can teach me something? Watch out family, Thanksgiving 2011 and I’ll be teaching you some new moves!

If I’m lucky, I will post a few pictures along with this blog. If not, maybe next time?

Again, best wishes for the best of holidays. Til we chat again, love & hugs to all. Bslama Linda

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 13th

THE CONTENTS OF THIS WEB SITE ARE MINE PERSONALLY AND DO NOT REFLECT ANY POSITION OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT OR THE PEACE CORPS. Since this site is public, specific details are not given so email me personally if you’d like more information

12/13/2009 Seems like quite a while since I’ve written, but it really hasn’t been that long, has it? I hope you enjoyed seeing the pictures I posted in my last two entries. I will take some of my apartment when I am settled in so that you can it. Where to start ……

Well the “great feast” is over and I can tell you I’ve eaten enough sheep to last me until next year. In fact, next year, I may become a vegetarian! I know I ate testicles, feet and brain, and who knows what else? It’s really best that I not always know what I’m eating. We ate sheep for every meal and very few vegetables or fruit was served during this time. After a few days, I actually got quite sick. The meat is greasy, rich and just too much of it was served. My system couldn’t handle it. My family didn’t quite understand how I could refuse meat, but I switched to bread and unsweetened tea for a couple of days and let the system settled down. One day I laid low and just wanted to sleep. Someone sat with me the entire time and would occasionally wake me up with Meryam (that’s my name in Morocco) – are you sleeping? Ummm, trying, but guess not, maybe later. Sounds like something my mom would do.

The actual holiday celebration lasted about two days, Saturday and Sunday. Family came from Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech to visit. We ate a lot of cookies, almonds and sweet tea. We visited family in the area for more cookies, almonds and sweet tea. Everyone was festive and jolly. Reminded me so much of how my holidays were as a little girl. I grew up in the area where my mom was from. She came from a big family and almost everyone lived in the area. During the holidays the families would visit each other. Kids would play, parents would visit and we would all eat….. and drink. Not so very different really. I met a lot of people, smiled, nodded my head a lot since I really didn’t know what they were saying and kissed cheeks. The children had about a week off from school and my host mom was glad to have them return to their schedule too. I was glad to get back to normal days.

Speaking of normal days – what is a normal day for me? Right now, rather low-key and laid back. PC has told us that the job at hand for the time being is to learn the language. We really aren’t expected to be involved with our businesses until probably February or so. We have a two week in-service training period scheduled for the first two weeks of February in a town in northern Morocco, I suspect when I return from that I will become more involved. Obviously, I have visited a time or two, and when I’m out and about I meet a familiar face from time to time, but basically, I’m greeting and meeting people right now. School for the children here begins at varying schedules, but usually one of the children has to be to school at 8a so the family gets up around 7a. We have breakfast consisting of coffee (actually more sweetened milk with just a hint of coffee) and bread. Sometimes my host mom makes kind of a starchy white, slightly salty soup to have too. It warms you up on a chilly morning. My host mom and I are the only ones that eat it, guess the others don’t like it? I usually then get on the internet for an hour or so, although I get the feeling my host mom really doesn’t like me doing this – perhaps I should be studying Tashlheet? I do then try to study the language for most of the morning outside in the sunshine because it is much warmer outside than inside, but seems like someone is always stopping by to see what I’m doing. Tea and bread is served around 10a. Sometimes my host mom makes fried donuts or crepe like things for this morning snack. The children arrive home from school around noon and sometimes my host dad comes home too at this time. The big meal of the day is served around 1p and usually consists of a tajine (kind of a conical shaped clay cooker) where there is a small portion of meat placed in the bottom and then potatoes, carrots, onion, tomato, etc., put on top. Sort of a stewed meal. It is served out of this dish and each person has a designated triangle of food in front of them that is theirs to eat. This family rarely leaves their triangle, but my previous two host families just dug in and whoever ate the fastest, got the mostest. Silverware is not used and we scoop our food with a small piece of bread. It is eaten from the top down with the most precious being the meat that is served last. If we happen to have fruit in the house, it is served last. We ate a lot of pomegranates for a while and they were delicious. Seems like the only thing available in my town now is clementines and luckily I like them. Vegetables may vary a bit, but the tajine is the most common meal eaten. On Fridays we usually have sksu (couscous), but not a lot of variation otherwise. The kids go back to school at 2p and I’ve been leaving the house then too. I visit the post office, maybe a hanut (really small store) and then I’ve been going to my apartment and cleaning and settling in. I aim to be back to my host house around 5p since that is when the kids get home from school. Tea and bread (yep, one more time) is served then. Depending on the night, I might then get back on the internet for a bit, play tic/tac/toe with the kids or cards (kind of a Go Fish game). The family sits in front of the television from about 6-9p wrapped in blankets. I usually try to join them around 7p because much more of this and I could scream. I didn’t watch television in the US, and to sit in front of the box and watch something I can’t even understand seems nuts!! We eat dinner at 8p in front of the television. It is usually a noodle dish, rice, lentils or if I’m lucky some sort of soup. At 9p everyone is ready for bed, myself included. Ahh, to be warm. My host mom has three wool blankets on my bed. The coverings are so heavy, I can hardly roll over. God help me if I have to get out of bed fast, I can hardly move them, but they are toasty and warm so I’m really not complaining. Whew….. sorry this really was more involved than I anticipated it being, but someone asked how I spend my days.

I had sheep sickness (or whatever it was) and other family members have been sick too. My host brother has been running a very high fever, has had upset stomach and a terrible cold (gosh I hope I don’t get this one). Hope it’s not H1N1.! These parents were every bit as concerned about their child as any parent in the US would be. The mom was really quite upset. The reason I share this is to give you a picture of my host dad. My host mom was sick too. She did the bare minimum during the day and collapsed on the couch late afternoon. My host dad came home and asked if the kids had had a bath since there was school the next day – they had not. He helped them bathe. He then made dinner – granted fried eggs, but dinner nevertheless. He moved everyone along to bed that night. This is soooo not the picture of the Moroccan man I had in my mind. I think he is an exception and I just wonder how he got to be this way? He will clear away the dishes after dinner, he tends to a sick child. He is just a nice guy. This is truly just a nice family!

We were talking (well kind of talking) about me moving to my own house soon. My host family tells me I don’t have to leave. I can stay with them for two years. I am part of the family. When Chris comes to visit, he is part of the family. My host mom cried. I assured them that I would visit and they could feed me whenever (as long as it isn’t sheep).

If the kids aren’t in school they are playing with friends. They are dusty and dirty by the end of the day. Unfortunately they don’t have the practice of cleaning them up before bedtime and they usually sleep in the clothes they have played in for the last day or two or three. Baths are usually taken twice a week or so. I do have the kids brushing teeth with me in the morning and at night – sometimes after lunch too. I am working really hard on getting them to cough/sneeze into their sleeves rather than out into the world. I’m making progress but not there yet. I keep telling them microbes are dangerous. Let’s wash our hands with soap – now. Speaking of playing I watch the kids of the house play with their make-believe car. They have a wheel of some sort stuck on a stick that is then stuck into a pail. They have a piece of wire going out and up from this (I think it’s the antenna). They have a head of an old doll tied on the pole (a passenger?) They play for hours with the sounds of a motor running. Who needs more?

Well, this has droned on much longer than I expected it to. Hope I haven’t bored you to death. I’ll try to write again before the holidays. Suspect you are all busy with holiday preparations. Have fun and enjoy the moment! Miss you, Bslama. Linda