Monday, August 8, 2011

Awesome August

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8/8/11 Now this is really weird, I looked at the calendar and couldn’t decide – are we into the second or third week of August? I had to click onto my computer’s calendar to find out. I’m not sure I’ve ever had to do this before. Is this what retirement will feel like?

I like this picture. It was taken at a pub in Dublin in June. I think it captures some of my personality and shows my wrinkles!!

August is the month of Ramadan this year (remember it is a lunar holiday that changes from year to year) and all is very quiet in Morocco and other Islamic countries. Lots of businesses shut down for this month and those that must remain open, work a shortened day typically 9a-3p. People are fasting from sun-up to sun-down. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with health issues do not usually fast. I’m thinking that food is not such a big issue, but going without water in August’s heat must be difficult at time, although people tell me it is not. I am frequently asked if I am fasting and when I reply “no, I am Christian”, they usually drop it. Sometimes they tell me I should give it a try and sometimes I think I should! The typical day here now begins around 4a when people get up to eat breakfast (bread and coffee – really just a small amount of coffee and a lot of milk) before the sun comes up. The women are seen out in the fields early in the morning tending their animals or gathering/chopping grass. I don’t see many men out and about. People are out early since it is cooler and they will retreat to their homes as the sun warms the day. We went off daylight savings time when Ramadan began so the clocks have been turned back. It is now very dark by 8p. The sun is down around 7-7:30p and they will break fast by eating dates, haira soup and shebekia (sp?) a very sweet, sticky cookie like thing that I personally like, but remember pecan pie is my favorite, so I like this sweet stuff! They will carefully drink a lot of water at this time. Too much, too fast, might make them nauseous. Breaking fast is a celebration and an affair they like to share and they frequently invite family and friends to join them. Families will be active during this time while they wait for their main meal of the day to be served around 11p or so. It will typically be whatever the family is used to eating for their mid-day meal during regular times – probably a tajine. After eating, they will then sleep until they wake for breakfast and their day goes on. Muslins view Ramadan as a time for simple sacrifice and to recognize that others are not as fortunate as they are and that others are often “hungry”. Ramadan is a time to be grateful for what they have. Obviously, this is my very simple interpretation of Ramadan. I’m sure there is far more to it.

Travel in Morocco is challenging in and of itself. During Ramadan, it is next to impossible. I intend to stay at my site for the entire month of August. I traveled into Ouarzazate at the end of July to visit the bank and to purchase those items I can’t find at my local hanut (small store) and getting home from there was already more difficult than usual. Buses won’t let me ride part-way since they can sell a full fare from Ouarzazate to Marrakech and why settle for a partial fare when they can collect a full one? Of course, if I’m willing to pay that full fare, I can ride with them. They also “up” their prices during this time since the demand is great for transport and they can get it. Taxi’s run, but they only get me part way and then I have to connect with another taxi service to get me to my village. Unfortunately it is the second leg of the journey that has become tricky. Fewer and fewer taxi’s seem to run to my village and I’ve had to wait hours to even see a taxi, let alone give it time to fill with people so that it make the run. Patience is a virtue – I keep telling myself this………

Not only am I staying in my village for the month, I am staying in my home a lot too. There are not many people out and about so why do the walk? I walk down to the village about every four days or so. Visit the post office, let the gendarmes (police) know that I am alive and well. Visit the association, although nothing is happening there. Babies are still be born though and the baby’s center always has some staff working so I chat with them, visit the hanut to pick up yogurt, maybe some veggies/fruit, and then walk back up the hill and home. I’ve decided August is my month of reflection, research and give the knee a break. Often times I am just too busy living life that I forget to think – I hope to do some thinking. And, I will need to buy a phone, a phone plan, a car and decide where I want to next live, etc. so I’m using “google” lots. Too many decisions will soon have to be made – yeow!!!

Unfortunately, not being out and about as much as usual, I’m not seeing folks and being invited to break fast with them as much as I was last year. Now in a way this isn’t a bad thing since if I were invited, it would mean that I would have to trek home in the dark and it is dark here at night, especially without a full moon. Most paths I would have to trek are hilly and rocky and I don’t want to slip and twist or stress my knee when it is making good progress. I am very careful with my knee during daylight hours, at night it would be even trickier. So I guess everything happens for a reason. My host mom did send my sister down to invite me to join them last night for lf-tur (break fast) and, of course, I went. I considered spending the night which they would have been thrilled with, but …… I really like my own space and bed. As it turned out, my host mom was also concerned about me walking home in the dark and she and my host sister walked me home to insure I safely made the trip. Not wanting to go to my host family’s empty handed I decided I should bake something. The kids are still eating during the day, but guessing my host mom is not too creative with the cooking since she is cooking in the night too. So I was thinking wouldn’t a nice, simple oatmeal bar cookie be good and semi nutritious too. I found a simple enough recipe online and I’ve made it to take. While working with baking ingredients I thought you might find this interesting. Baking soda is called bicarbonate de soude (French) and it is purchased at the pharmacy. Baking powder is called taxmirte n-lHlwa (Tashlheet) or translated it means yeast for cookies.

I’ve had a few volunteers visit me the past couple of weeks and I suspect a few more will come, since they are looking to escape summer’s heat and my village is quite comfortable. Anna, Angelica and Ali came to my house and we celebrated Anna’s birthday in late July. We made it a “girlie” day and did manicures/pedicures/mud scrubs, etc. Ended the evening with cake (of course) and laid on my rooftop for some time watching for shooting stars. It was a nice celebration. Anna is my site mate of sorts since she only lives 12km from me. I don’t think I’ve ever sent you a picture of her and this is a good one of us together.

My days usually start out sunny and bright and yes it gets hot in the direct sun later in the day. By mid-afternoon it is clouding up, the wind gusts and thunder might be heard in the distance with a few sprinkles now and then. By evening it has cleared and with any luck the wind has stopped. It’s cool enough at this time that a light blanket feels good to sleep with. It is actually quite perfect in the summer……. But then again, they will have winter to deal with in a few months  but I won’t – not this year. 

Even though I was late planting my seeds because I needed to be here to water consistently, my little garden of wash tubs is growing nicely. I planted more mint roots and the pot is filling in. My dill, basil, parsley and chives seem to be thriving. I had (note had) a great tub of flowers growing on my front porch, but the darn goats and sheep seem to like them too, and grab a mouthful as they run by. I doubt that I’ll ever see a bloom from them. And, you should see me water that front porch washtub. In my house, I dress in shorts and a tank top, but this attire is not meant for public eyes. But, am I going to cover myself to water that one tub of flowers on my front porch – of course not. Instead I try to pick a time that I don’t see anyone either coming or going and I stick my arm out with a 2-litre coke bottle filled with water and dump it in. I would love a picture of this actually, it must be quite funny to see.

Even though the temperature is warm, it is not unusual in my village to see women still wearing several layers of clothing. Sometimes the layers are woolen knits. Yeah, sweaters over their blouse or caftan and woolen leggings under the caftan and the skirt worn over the caftan. I would die, but they are used to it. Still, I can't help thinking they're soaked in sweat underneath all that. As a foreigner and non-Muslim, I can get away with short sleeves and I can wear cropped pants. Being older also helps since they seem to tolerate almost anything concerning me. Of course, I try to always be respectful and wouldn’t push the limit too much. Looking down from my roof yesterday I noticed a man dressed in two sweaters, and I’m sure he had a t-shirt under them. I was dressed in next to nothing and cookin. How hot must he have been?

As you know, I like to make this writing at least a little bit educational and I recently read this about henna. I’ve been hennaed myself on numerous occasions and I’ve showed you pictures of the exquisite hennaing on brides. Here is a bit more info for you on this subject. The earliest written evidence of the use of henna in bridal adornment goes back to 2100 BCE, when it was associated with an Ugaritic legend about Baal and the fierce goddess Anath. It was grown and used in Spain from the ninth century to 1567, when it was bannedby the Inquisition. But it is still widely used--by Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Sikhs and Roma--across the region from India to Morocco, and in places where people from that region have migrated. Henna has been used for joyful occasions other than weddings, including battle victories, births, circumcision ceremonies and birthdays.

Fresh henna leaves are smashed with a mildly acidic liquid. The mash may be powdered and then mixed with lemon juice or strong tea six to twelve hours before use. Without this resting period, the coloring might not successful. The stain may be improved by adding essential oils (e.g. tea tree, eucalyptus or lavendar) with high levels of monoterpene alcohols. The paste must be made from fresh leaves and left on the skin for at least a few hours and preferably longer; to keep the paste from falling off during this time, a sugar-lemon mixture (or just sugar) may be used. Sometimes the designs are also loosely wrapped during this period. Improperly stored henna may be contaminated by Salmonella or other microbes. Premixed henna powders may contain adulterants, including silver nitrate, chromium, pyrogallol, carmine and/or orange dye, that are hazardous to your health; certain henna products for use in body art are thus banned by the US Food and Drug Administration(though it is approved for use in hair products). So-called "black henna" is not really henna at all, and caution is advised: It often causes an extreme allergic reaction, with blistering and permanent scarring. The blistering might not appear until three to twelve days after application. Sometimes "black henna" is mixed with gasoline, kerosene, benzene or other chemicals associated with risk of adult leukemia. But properly grown and mixed henna seldom causes an allergic reaction or other health problems. Morocco is among the major growers and exporters in the world, along with India, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Iran and the Sudan. During years with the requisite timing and amount of rainfall, plants may yield two or even three crops a year. Fine henna artists in Morocco, almost exclusively women, can earn good money with their skilled work. Henna is also used to dye wool and leather, for its color and also for its antifungal properties. In ancient times the henna plant was also used to make perfume, and there is a new commercial demand for this product.

There!!! Aren’t you glad to know this? Okay, now on to other things……. In late July we circumcised at the medical clinic that has been built since I’ve been here, 275 little boys aged primarily from newborns to two years old. People came from four villages surrounding my village for this procedure. Three doctors came, all from Marrakech, and from what I gather, this is their specialty and they travel from area to area doing just this. Now why would one choose this specialty? The thought of listening to screaming little boys all day long – not what I would choose. I decided that the older they are – the louder they scream, obviously!! I was asked to help and to be there at 8a. I was given the task of cutting tape – I managed to do this quite well!! Doing this task allowed me to stay in the room where the circumcisions were taking place, at least for a while. I think it was finally noticed that I was the only female in the room and assigned tasks elsewhere, basically taking pictures. No numbing was used and although it was a relatively simple procedure – spread the legs, stretch, clamp, snip, roll and a stitch or two - it must have hurt!!! On average, each circumcision took 7 minutes. Upon being banned from the room I was amazed at the gathering of people. What a joyful, party atmosphere. People were dressed in their finest and some had flags or flowers on poles they carried above their heads. If you could beat on it, they did so, and “drums” were beating and voices singing. I asked how often this procedure was done and I was told yearly. But, I commented that I know it wasn’t done last year – I was here. Oh no, they skipped last year because they didn’t have money and this year they were catching up. From what I could ascertain, the Moroccan government gave money for the procedures and for this day. A cow was purchased and butchered. Beef, couscous and fruit were purchased and the entire crowd was fed. The association that I am associated with did the cooking and people were served in the association, baby’s center, and restaurant. The day lasted well over twelve hours.

Fruit that is available, especially in my village, depends on the season obviously. We have just finished watermelon season and I am so sad. The watermelons are wonderful and it’s amazing how much I can eat. Granted lugging those babies up the hill is a bit challenging, but I’m a big, strong girl – I can do it!! At the moment, I am out of fruit in my home. I hope the hanut has something when I next visit. The fruits of the prickly pear, a cactus native to North America which reportedly made its way to Morocco during the sixteenth century are now ripe and sold from food carts in the medina and buckets beside rural roadways. I don’t know if you’ve ever tasted this fruit, which is quite good, but there are lots of seeds to sift through.

Remember my adopted dog, “Gus”. I haven’t seen him in a very long time, and recently I ran into him again. He is still alive, he is very skinny and he appears to have lost his zest for life. He is not an old dog and this makes me sad. In fact, there are a bunch of really cute puppies running around now and unfortunately their future is not very bright. Often times you will hear dogs barking and crying, especially when you are trying to go to sleep at night. When the numbers/ noise gets to be too much, glass will be crushed or poison will be put in bread or the gendarmes will do target practice. Personally I prefer the gendarme method – a quick, clean kill and it is over with quickly. I can’t think about this too much.

I’ll end this now, since there is little else to write. I must admit that I am looking forward to November and returning to the states. I can’t wait to see family and friends and “catch up”. I will end this writing with this thought - perhaps discovering our rich experiences will add something new to our life. The saying goes “Know One Another and You will Understand One Another”. Til my next update - I wish you well….. Hugs, Linda

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