Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December - Hurry, Hurry the month is almost gone

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12/20/10 Time seems to be moving along faster and faster. I usually try to update this blog a bit earlier in the month, but here it is almost Christmas and I’ve still not done so. If you read no further than this first paragraph, I want you to know that I send you my warmest wishes for wonderful holidays and I hope 2011 is a year of fond, memorable memories for you and your family.

You may remember me telling you that a friend’s association made friendship dolls to be given away to little girls to love and learn from, since many little girls in rural Morocco never have a doll to play with. Well Annie gave me dolls to give to little girls in my village and the dolls have now been placed in loving arms and have new homes. Samir, my local friend, came with me to act as an interpreter since I was uncertain if my poor Tashlheet and charades could be easily understood. Samir suggested that we distribute the dolls to the little girls that live rurally and may not be able to attend school. We devoted several mornings to this task and what a rewarding time it was for both of us. I believe the little girls appreciated not only receiving the dolls, but our efforts as well.

Muslins celebrated L3id in mid-November this year. You’ll likely remember me writing about this holiday last year. Remember, my family slaughtered a sheep and we ate sheep until the meat was gone. We had it breakfast, lunch and dinner with little else being served with it other than bread. When asked why, I was told, “why fill up on other stuff when we have meat to eat”. To better explain the holiday, read the below paragraphs.

“The law in Morocco allows for home sacrifice for personal consumption only. Meat
intended for sale must be slaughtered at the public abattoir under supervision.

Guidance from the Quran is that if an animal is to be sacrificed, it should not suffer.
Prayers are offered and the animal is treated with respect. An animal should not be
sacrificed in the presence of another animal. The neck is cut with a sharp knife in one
clean stroke – two strokes can be used. Humane sacrifice and exsanguinations are
similar qualities of ‘halal’ and ‘kosha’ meat.

The Islamic festival of Aid El Adha, the festival of sacrifice, is an ancient religious festival
based on the story of Ibrahim and Ishmail. As was tradition at the time, Ibrahim was
about to sacrifice his only son to demonstrate his faith and submission to God when a
goat / sheep appeared in the thicket and God spoke to Ibrahim telling him to sacrifice the
goat instead (the same story as Abraham and Isaac in the Bible and Torah).”

My family invited me to share the day with them. When asked what time I should come, they said 8a. Now this seemed a bit early to me and I didn’t need to see the sheep actually slaughtered, so I told them I’d be there around 10a. Well 8:30a came and my host brother and sister were knocking at my door, they had come to get me. Now I’m a bit grumpy without my two cups of coffee and I was in the midst of drinking them when they knocked, so I sent them away saying I would be there at 10a – no worries. Well shortly before 10a my brother and sister were back once again, “when are you coming”. Okay, okay, keep your pants on, I’ll walk back with you. Nothing much was happening at the house and I still don’t know what the hurry was, but it’s a big day for them and I guess they wanted to share it with me. I thought for sure I had missed the slaughter, but while on the cliffs behind the house with the kids I noticed a black sheep being led into the yard – I had not missed it!! I purposely stayed away for a while, no need to see the throat slit, but I did watch them dress it out. We then had the liver cooked/served on skewers for lunch. About an hour later we walked to my counterpart’s house (my host father’s sister) and ate a sheep tajine. Put into this mix, tea and cookies being served not only at my host family’s house, but at neighbors and other family member’s homes too. My host mom’s parents and a couple of her siblings came out from Ouarzazate later in the afternoon and it was great to see them again since I had met them for the first time during this holiday last year. Later a leg was cut off and dinner was underway and I escaped home, besides it was getting dark. I was full to the brim, I couldn’t have eaten dinner if you had jammed it down my throat.

The next day I decide to work at my computer until time for pilates. Around noon, two sisters came knocking at my door. They asked me to come with them. Well okay, let me turn off the computer and get some shoes on. I walk with them to their house. They bring out cookies, nuts and made tea. I'm thinking, this is nice. Then they bring out a liver tagine for lunch. I say to them, ohhhh no I don't want to stay for lunch (they are not a wealthy family in any way, shape or form) and they tell me to sit, stay and eat, eat, eat. Now this is my third day of liver lunches (Samir on Tuesday, host family yesterday and now today) and I've never eaten liver in the states even though my parents and older brother love the stuff - yuck! So I try to eat a lot of bread, a little liver and attempt to have a conversation. One of these sisters takes care of my plants on my rooftop when I am gone and I think they have adopted me. While sitting at their home another young woman comes in that I know. She tells me that her aunt would like me to stop by. I notice that it is almost 2p, and if we're to be at the assn at 3p, not a lot of time, but yes let's go see your aunt. I really, really like her aunt. She wants me to have lunch with her family. Just had lunch, no room or time. She then takes meat out of the pan she is cooking and sends me home with meat in a dish for later (I make stew and it is quite good actually). Thankfully, it does not look like liver, although I am sure it is sheep. She also sends bananas and tangerines. While I am there, another woman comes in that I know. Come and have lunch with her. No, sorry, just had lunch and I'm full. Another time? Okay, I'm heading down the hill now and run into another woman who has a big load of grass on her back. We stop, kiss, exchange pleasantries and she asks me to come to her house for lunch. My goodness, this is four invitations to lunch in the matter of about two hours. I reflect back on the day and my heart is touched with the generosity of these people. I can't imagine getting four invitations to lunch if I walked my neighborhood at home. I have so much to learn from the Moroccans, lets just hope I can absorb it and share it. I must remember all of them and give them plates of Christmas cookies when I make them.
The day following the big feast, there are groups of teenagers dressed in costumes, many wearing sheep hides, that go from home to home collecting either food items or money for those less fortunate. I ran some money down to them and I did manage to get a picture of the last straggler. I was too slow in grabbing the money and camera and missed most of them. It is interesting to note that basically these people have very little, but they seem willing to share with others without a moment's hesitation. I suppose that is a big part of their religious background? I think almost every house gives something to these boys. The younger kids follow along behind them at a safe distance. If the guys in costume turn around and look at them, the kids yell, scream and run for their lives. Fun to stand at the window and watch. The boys also put on a play behind the school later in the afternoon. They were dressed in costume and had makeshift musical instruments. I inquired as to what the play was about and about all I know is that it is a tradition and it seemed to be enjoyed by the group that gathered to watch.

I have begun doing pilates with some of the teen-age girls in my site. Sometimes we do it on my rooftop and sometimes we go to the association and use one of the rooms there. I had five young women coming on a pretty regular basis before I headed out of site for two weeks, and I hope to have them return once again. I think of these girls as being quite strong, and they are, but in such a different way than I am. All of these pilates moves are foreign to them and difficult. Again, lots of moans, groans and giggles. I tell them to take those scarves off their heads and they do. My hair is of course falling in my face and they are shaking their heads of hair with a new-found freedom. When we finish I am asked when will we exercise again. They tell me that the pilates was very good and that it was fun. I had fun too. I'm not sure what I'm teaching them, other than its important to take care of our bodies and its okay to do something for ourselves as women. The men gather at the coffee shops, but the women don't have any place to go. Maybe exercise will be their bonding time? Guess I'm also showing them that a 61 year old woman can still move and is alive!!!

Anna, Angelica, Andy and I celebrated Thanksgiving together the following week. We didn’t have a turkey to roast (my oven wouldn’t hold one anyways), but we do have sliced turkey breasts. Angelica has a great butcher with refrigeration in her site, so we have that. To give our dinner a Moroccan flair I decided to make stuffing and wrap the turkey slices around it and cook it in a tajine. Not nearly as good as the turkey we remember from previous holidays, but not bad. Anna makes a squash pie and who can tell that it’s not pumpkin? We have a green bean casserole (of course), mashed potatoes, and a sweet potato casserole too. Yes we did have a bottle of wine, but no one’s telling – right? Some of the girls here at site painted fabric napkins for me in the spring, so we even had cloth napkins to use. No roughing it for us!!

We had a “clean the school day” in November. Decided we needed to do this now before it really got too cold. The tables/desks were all brought outside and scrubbed down. Paint that had probably been on them for years was no longer there. Floors were washed and anything else that could be cleaned was cleaned. The kids and I were wet-wet-wet by the end of the morning and I was chilled to the bone. If the classrooms were ever painted, it’s been a long time and they now appear to the gloomy cement color. I’m wondering if I couldn’t perhaps paint them at least a cheery color. I might have to look into that.

I also finally met the man from the new cheese store in Ouarzazate. He was familiar with our cheese and had, in fact, had some in his store to sell. My counterpart, Bia, told him that it was goat cheese, but his customers told him that it was not goat cheese and he asked me whether it was. Unfortunately, it is not and I had to tell him the truth. Bia creates her own problems……. I told him about my flavorings of cheese and he said that he would like to taste them and work with me. We will try to work together after the first of the year and see how we can best market this new product. Of course, I will leave here and who will carry on?

I was then off to Marrakech to help with Marche Maroc for the first week of December. PC volunteers work with some of the Moroccan artisans at the artisanal there to sell their wares. Unfortunately, foot traffic was down and sales were not as good as hoped for, in spite of the fact that a film festival was going on in Marrakech at the same time. The province delegate thought that would increase sales, but maybe people were up late watching movies and buying crafts was not a priority for the group that was in town. I can’t say that we had great fun or excitement this week, since most of our time was spent working, but we did have a nice dinner or two while in Marrakech. Basically we were too tired by the end of the day to go out. It was a luxury though to pick up a pizza and take it back to the hotel to eat since few of us can do this at our sites.

My staj (group of us that came over together in 2009) then gathered at the PC offices in Rabat for our mid-service medicals during the second week of December. Hurray, no parasites or cavities!!! Unfortunately, my knee is still not back to normal. I think I am battling two ailments here. Perhaps tendonitis, as previously diagnosed, and I do think that it is better. But now I have a lump behind my right knee about the size of a walnut. After doing a bit of computer research and self-diagnosis, I think I have a Baker’s cyst. This cyst is similar to a ganglion cyst in many ways. I have one on the top of my hand now and I’ve had one on the top of my foot before. They come and go and are not anything serious. Unfortunately, because this lump is behind my knee, it is problematic and it hurts to squat and extend the leg fully. They can aspirate it, but it often fills back up with fluid, or they can give cortisone shots into the knee. Not sure what this does to help? This cyst often occurs after trauma to the knee of some sort. I will head back into Rabat in late January for a committee meeting and will see a knee specialist at that time if it’s not better. Let’s see if the doctor concurs with my diagnosis. Gosh I bet they hate all of us self-proclaimed doctors with our diagnosis (how do you pluralize this?)!! As most of you know, I’m not a great inactive person, and sitting still is hard to do, so I keep on truckin and I hope the walking and pilates isn’t hurting the knee in the process.

While in Rabat, most of treated ourselves to eating at the German Institute (no unfortunately, there is not a wurst or sauerkraut to be found on the premises), the French Institute, a Lebonese restaurant and at an Italian restaurant. (I think we were all thinking – variety in food - what a novelty). Morocco also celebrated its New Years and we had a day off too while there too. Rarely do we have time to sight-see while in Rabat so most of us took advantage of the day and did something special. A group of us visited Challah – a Roman settlement from the 8th century BC which eventually became the seat of an independent Berber kingdom. A beautiful Kasbah is at this site. We were also invited by our American Ambassador Kaplan and his wife Sylvia to their home for dinner one night. What a treat it was to have this experience and what gracious, kind hosts they were to us all.

I did the trek home to site in one day from Rabat and it is a trek. Up at 6a and began the travel. I arrived home around 8:45p that night. It was soooo good to be home though, it was worth the long day. Unfortunately, I only had a day at home and I then had to head into Ouarzazate. I am working with two other volunteers and we are planning a workshop designed for teens to thirty year olds for mid-February. It is a leadership workshop for young women with the hopes that it will expand their horizons and empower them to seek more. We have grant money for this, so those attending will be able to do so without any monetary charge, although they will have to get their family’s approval to attend and for some that might be a challenge. We have a local association working with us and they will help with the facilitation of the workshop, but that will likely mean more trips into Ouarzazate in the next six weeks than usual.

As many of you know, I like to bake Christmas cookies and give them away as treats to my friends and neighbors for the holidays. I’ve done the same thing here. I made nine different kinds of cookies – perhaps a bit simpler than I would have made at home, but trust me, finding the ingredients can be tricky if even possible and my choice of baking pans is very limited. And, I have an oven that doesn’t have a thermostat, you just look at the flame and try to decide – hmmm, does that look like a 350 degree flame? All challenges to overcome!! Well today I spent the majority of the day walking around cookies to people that have been particularly kind to me during this past year. I could have given out so many more, I just can’t bake enough unfortunately. This is not a fast/easy feat in and of itself since I invited in for tea at each house. Tomorrow I will finish extending my “Papa Noel” wishes and most of the cookies will be gone. While out and about last week, I clipped a couple of pine branches and wired them together to construct a small tree of sorts. Not only does it smell great, but helps with the holiday spirit too. Last Sunday I had some children to my house for a small Christmas party. Christmas carols blasted from my iPod and I gave them the holiday greeting cards I received last year, scissors, glue and paper and asked them to make a card for their parents. They love projects, so they dug right in. When finished with that, I asked if they would each make me a picture either from the unused cards or with the markers I had so that I could put them on the wall near my tree. Of course we had holiday cookies and then popcorn, since that is one of their favorite treats. We finished off the afternoon with a few games of dominoes that they have learned to love playing. I had small gifts for each of them and they went home with big smiles on their faces. I had one on my face too!!!

I will join several other volunteers at my friend Hannah’s house for Christmas. It will be fun to share the holiday with friends. Last year I made pizza for my host family to celebrate. I think I’ll invite them once again for pizza, and a late celebration.

Well my friends, I really do hope you have healthy, happy celebrations with your loved ones. If you are traveling, once again Trek Salam (safe travels) and we’ll chat again after the new year. Happy, Happy Holidays and much love to you all, Linda

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