Sunday, September 5, 2010

All About August

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9/5/10 I’ve been home for much of the month since my last writing and it has been wonderful. I’ve had lots of visitors during this time, so no time to get lonely or lazy. And, I’ve had a lot of practice cooking!! Many of my guests came to visit me in the mountains as a means to escape the intense heat where they live, but I’d like to believe they would have come to see me regardless of where I lived . The temperatures here remain pleasant, although there is a change in the air. We almost always get a short thunderstorm in the afternoon now. The rain really doesn’t amount to much and the locals wish for more. For a week or so, I had to add another light blanket to my bed, since the nights really cooled down. Since then, nights remain cool, but one light blanket is perfect and feels good. Can I keep this weather for the entire year - please?

Morocco is now celebrating Ramadan. It has little effect on me, because I’m not observing it, but I am often asked whether I am fasting or not. I would probably score some points if I did, but I can’t imagine going without water for the duration of the day. I am respectful of Moroccans though and I don’t eat or drink in front of them during daylight hours. I have been invited by many people to come join them at 7p to break fast with them and their family. Some of these people, I don’t even have a clue as to where they might live. Just another example of how generous and welcoming they are. I did have the funny experience of learning that I had invited someone to my home to break fast. When I later saw this woman and told her that it would not work on the night we had talked about she was rather miffed at me. Why would I invite her and then renig on my invitation? I thought she had invited me!! Luckily a friend of mine who speaks English/Tashlheet was able to get this straightened out for me and hopefully without any hard feelings. Just another example of how my inability to speak the language well gets me into trouble sometimes! Many businesses and restaurants are closed for the month of Ramadan Below is an excerpt from an article I read and it nicely explains Ramadan – I thought you might enjoy it too.

“The holy month of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, began on August 11 in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar all across the Muslim world. During this holy month, Muslims past the age of puberty must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking or engaging in sexual relations from sunrise to dusk. Elderly people and sick people are exempt from fasting. It celebrates when Muhammad went to the desert, encountered Allah in the form of the archangel Gabriel, and received the scriptures that form the Qur'an. There are about 1 billion Muslims around the world observing Ramadan.

The point of the sacrifice is to become closer to God, to practice self-discipline, and to aid in self-purification. Each evening of Ramadan, the fast is broken after the sunset call to prayer with a meal called the iftar. Harira, a well known soup in Northern African countries, is served as Iftar meal to break the fast after which Lahm Lehlou or “sweet meal” is served as a main meal. Lahm Lehlou is an energy-boosting meal. In some parts of Morocco, usually in the South, the daylong fast is broken with dates and milk. North Africans, along with most people from the Muslim world, change their habits during the Ramadan. Traditionally, men attend Tarawih Salat special Ramadan prayer sessions at mosques, after which they head home to share tea and Kalb Elouz (sweet cakes) with their family members. Fasters get up before dawn to eat Sahur, a meal that consists of couscous and milk. This traditional Moroccan meal is above all meant to satisfy the energy needs of the Muslim faster before dusk.

In many parts of the world, Ramadan is the most festive time of the year as well as the most solemn time. In places like Cairo, fancy restaurants serve all-you-can eat gourmet iftar buffets, and the city packs a month full of Ramadan nightlife into the calendar — concerts and theater and open-air dancehalls. All of this happens without alcohol, of course.

Ramadan ends exactly one lunar month after it begins, with the sighting of the new moon. It's followed by a three-day feast called Eid al-Fitr, the Celebration of the Breaking of the Fast. People travel to be with their families or take a vacation from work. And everyone eats plenty.”

I hope you learned a bit more about Ramadan by this article. I know I found it informative. I sent a text message to Nadia (she used to live below me and is now living near Errachidia) and asked her how Ramadan was going. She replied: “It’s very hot and we are thirsty every day. At night we keep drinking water and juice, but it’s very good we feel thirsty and hungry so we feel what poor people feel.” Perhaps we should walk in someone else’s shoes for a day or two ourselves?

I played with cheese flavorings again in my kitchen. Since we are in Ramadan and dates are plentiful, I tried adding dates and honey to our cheese, as well as just plain honey. Both were amazingly good. Wish I could remember what one friend named the date and honey -- she thought it was quite heavenly. I made some of this cheese for the association and also made an almond and honey cheese. Yummy also. My counterpart is again seemingly excited about this, and has taken some of each of this cheese to Ouarzazate. Maybe it will go somewhere after all? I also now know of a new cheese store in Ouarzazate. Unfortunately, it has never been open while I was there, but I will not give up!! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they would like to carry our flavored cheese ? Hopefully after Ramadan, businesses will be back to normal and I can actually chat with them.

I’ve been working with young people in my apartment this summer. Sometimes we study English, sometimes we do pilates (thank you Carrie & Rachel for those cassette tapes) and sometimes we work on cleaning our teeth. In the souq (market) they sell these rough textured cleaning mitts to scrub your body with. They are generally used to help slough off those dead skin cells. Some of the teeth I’ve seen are past the point of getting them clean with simple brushing. So I have taken new mitts that I’ve bought and cut them into strips to wrap around your finger. I then give each child some toothpaste and we work tooth by tooth, with this bit of mitt being careful to not hurt the gums. One little girl had deep grooves in her front teeth where stain had collected. No amount of scrubbing would clean those grooves. The only tool I had was from my manicure case so I carefully used this plastic instrument to clean the grooves. What a difference it made (note picture of smiling white teeth). Each child leaves me with a new toothbrush in hand and a small tube of toothpaste, both being donated to me for this purpose. I can only hope they continue to brush the way I’ve demonstrated. Years ago I worked for a dentist. Little did I know that I would be putting this experience to good use at a later date. Generally speaking, brushing is not a priority here and when a tooth problem arises, the solution is to just pull it out. I recently met a fully veiled (not even her eyes were showing) young woman who was visiting family for the summer holiday. Somehow the conversation came around to me and how old I was. “What - 61, we thought you were 39” (now that was nice!!). Then “you’re 61 and you have all your teeth” Obviously I laughed at this comment. Later, when I visited her in her parent’s home and she was unveiled, I saw that she was a 30+ year old woman and she had only a few teeth remaining in her mouth. No wonder she was surprised by this big toothy grin of mine.

Other than several day trips into Ouarzazate, the only trip for any length of time was to town near Anzal (southwest of Ouarzazate) for a regional meeting of the volunteers that are near. I volunteered to plan and buy the food for the meals since, quite honestly, I’ve had far more experience doing this than any of the other volunteers at this meeting. Thirteen of us gathered at a volunteer’s home from Friday to Sunday. The best thing for me personally to come of this meeting was the information re teaching English as a second (or third, or fourth) language. Since I’ve never taught before, they were able to give me some lesson plans, games, etc. to use and the promise to send more via email at a later date. I look forward to implementing some of what I learned. It was also a good opportunity to become better acquainted with those volunteers that live relatively near.

Three volunteers returned home with me to help me paint a world map on one of the walls of our primary school. What a tedious, detail oriented task this was. Luckily all of them had some experience with this task before. Thank goodness!! We have an instructional handbook to work from and PC has maps on walls in all seven continents. Before we could begin we had to determine what size our map would be, of course it depends on the wall size itself. A grid is then drawn on the wall depending on the space available. Each grid is then hand drawn expanding it to the appropriate size. It took us two days to draw the map itself. On the third day we began to paint. They stayed with me for five days and without their help, I would still be working on this. It was not complete when they left, but close. I have since had two other volunteers that live nearby give me hand for a day each and I’ve put time in alone. My part is now complete and the only thing remaining is for the country names to be written in Arabic. One of the local teachers has offered to do this task for me and he is almost finished. I’ve attached pictures of the map throughout the stages. Anyone that has ever painted with me will not be surprised by one of the pictures. Luckily we had mixed plenty of pink paint so we did not run out. I am delighted with the end product and glad that I was able to do this for my community. Many adults and children stopped by while we/I were working. Many wanted to help and I tried to give them a job so that their name could be added to the list of people that helped. This project really cemented me into the community. They saw me throughout the day working in the hot sun and I think they appreciate all my effort and hard work. I used an oil based paint and with any luck this map will remain on the wall 8-10 years. The director of the school and the teachers plan to utilize the map to teach geography to their students, so it will be put to good use too.

Recently I received a text message from Nadia (she lived downstairs last year). Her message said: “I find a man. We will celebrate our engagement in Eid Ilkiber [after Ramadan]. Our wedding in summer inchallah. I’m very happy. He is a good man working in a private school as a teacher & nurseman, in sala eljadida, near Rabat. Thanks God.” I then congratulated her and asked her how they met. She replied: “I meet him by chance. We know his parents. This man came this summer. He said to his parents, I want to get married. They said to him, meet Nadia, she is a good girl. We meet each other, we discuss many things. We realize that we share many points of view. That’s why we decided to get married.” Sounds so simple this way doesn’t it?

This means to marriage is still pretty traditional, but the classic Moroccan ideal of marriage is giving way to modern necessities. Men's pursuit of a soul mate is changing, as are the days of parents choosing the right bride for their sons. A recent article said, "Since feelings are not a major criterion for marriage, I have the right to marry a husband who already has a flat and a nice car, …. Love is essential, but it is built following marriage on the basis of mutual respect, he said. …. If a couple's financial situation is stable, they will have fewer problems. My monthly wage is just 5,000 dirhams. A second income will be necessary to run the household and pay for the children to go to school." Obviously, people here in my village do not earn 5,000 dirhams a month (for a point of reference for you, I earn 2,000 dirhams a month or about $250) and that is about par for what someone with my level of education/experience would earn here.

While working at Kalamazoo College I had a lot of interaction with our international students. Kudzie was the last student I hosted in 2009 while still at K. Kudzie lives in Zimbabwe. She graduated from college this past June. She hopes to go to grad school in the states in January. She and her family really want me to come for a visit while she is still in the country and September is the best time for the visit. I debated long and hard about this and must admit that my travel bug that is usually jumping enthusiastically about going anywhere new, is a bit sluggish and perhaps not as enthused as he should be. But with my son, Chris's encouragement, I've decided to go. As Chris says, when will I ever be on this continent again? I will leave my site on September 10th and head towards Casablanca. I will fly out of there on the 11th and return on the 23rd, late. I hope to be back to my site on the 24th. So, I will be traveling soon and can't even begin to imagine what an adventure it will be. I'm sure I will have tales to tell. Be sure to read my September blog update for details.

As of September 10th, I will have been in Morocco one year. Thinking back to everything I’ve encountered this past year it’s hard to imagine not being here. "A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." Oliver Wendell Holmes. What’s next??? Who know??? Be healthy and happy. Hugs to you all, Linda