Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Simply September (almost)

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8/31/11 – okay so it’s not quite September, but since I am leaving my site for a couple of weeks this weekend, I thought it would be best if I posted this update now while I had time. I can’t believe it, but my time in Morocco will soon be drawing to a close. My staj (group of volunteers that arrived with me) in September of 2009 will gather for our close of service meetings and medicals soon and we’ll be making arrangements for our return to the states in November. Our numbers have dwindled since our arrival and I am curious to see how many of us actually remain. This has been an extraordinary experience for me and I will forever be grateful for this opportunity.

I thought you would enjoy seeing this pictures of henna hands. It was taken at the wedding I attended in July and the women are cleaning beef organs for later eating.

Y’all do recognize that when I refer to Morocco/Moroccans, I am referring for the most part to only the very small part of Morocco that I live in and that I am familiar with – my village/community, consisting of about 2,000 people (scattered in a 5 mile radius). There are parts of Morocco that are very developed and westernized and when visiting there you could be any place in the world.

As I stood on my rooftop one morning at 7a, drinking my coffee and being careful that others don’t see my cup since it would be very rude of me to eat or drink in front of them during Ramadan, I listen to my world. I hear a cow mooing, a donkey braying, sheep and goats bleating, dogs and puppies barking, a rooster crowing, birds chirping and the high pitch of women’s voices talking. I watch a woman who is tending her sheep and she seems to be pacing back and forth which is unusual. Suddenly I hear a baby crying. It is tied on her back while she is out in the fields watching her animals (she is multi-tasking). Step outside your door one morning at 7a and listen. What do you hear?

As I planned, August and this year the month of Ramadan, has been a quiet month for me. I’ve done lots of computer research on those many decisions I will be making soon, I’ve had a few visitors escaping Morocco’s heat, I’ve worked on some projects for my village that I think will be enjoyed for years to come and I’ve shared lf-tur (broke fast) with some of the special people here in my site. I’m sharing a picture of the table of my friend Samir, taken at his home when I attended for lf-tur with him and his family. Samir has twelve siblings and many of them are here in the village for this month, not only to share this special time, but to escape the heat that most of Morocco contends with at this time of the year. One of his sisters lives in M-hamid which is south of Ouarzazate and on the edge of the Sahara, and she tells me that the temperature there in August is 50-55 degrees C, translating to 122-135 degrees F. Now that’s hot!!!

For the faithful, Ramadan is a time of spiritual and physical cleansing - a month long detox that is welcomed each year. However daylight hours vary from country to country and this does cause some very real health problems and its timing may need some adjustment. The thirty day Ramadan fast between sunrise and sunset is not simply about refraining from food, drinking, sex and smoking. It is a time for prayer and reflection. However, not all Ramadans are equal.

The hours between sunrise and sunset may not vary much in places like Mecca in Saudi Arabia, but spare a thought for those living elsewhere. The problem is the difference between the Islamic and Gregorian calendars. As the Islamic calendar is eleven days shorter than the Gregorian, Ramadan moves back by that number of days each year.

Why is this a problem? Well, if you are a practicing Muslim living in Sweden, Norway or Finland, for example, where the sun may not set until around midnight and rise again only a few hours later, the length of the fast and the lack of real sleep becomes a major health issue. It has been suggested that those living in those areas observe and fast the hours that those living in Mecca, thus making the fasting period more reasonable and tolerable.

As I’ve mentioned before, you will constantly hear a child or children’s voices if you pause and listen. They scream, they giggle & laugh, they sing, they talk. They chase each other and play touch-tag. They play hide & seek. They are outside continuously, no sitting in front of the television or computer for them. They don’t have anything to play with really. They play jacks with small stones and they play in the dirt pile. If they have a ball, it doesn’t have any air in it so it doesn’t roll, but they still kick it around. We have so many thorny bushes around here I’m sure a hole was punctured in the ball long ago. Our school doesn’t have a playground and I have only once seen a swing made of rope hanging from a tree. Children entertain themselves….. they seem happy. It’s the only life they’ve ever known.

Speaking of the school – remember that building I talked about painting this month since it wasn’t painted last spring because it was old, yet used every day – well we did it. I could not have done this project without the help of Anna, my site mate that lives 12km from me. Anna did all the overhead and ladder painting, since my knee would not have tolerated the strain. The building is old and maintenance has not been done. It SUCKED up the paint. We ran out three times and had to travel to the next town to get more. Anna came over and we painted for five solid days and then I finished it up on another day. We tried to match the colors of the other buildings, but ummmm not quite right!!! So, since our building was different, we decided to make it DIFFERENT. The outside is sort of a pink/orange and the inside is white. Luckily I still had some leftover colors from my map project of last year. The windows and door trim are now painted in colors of yellow, green, purple, watermelon, red and bright blue. Bookcases and shelves were painted in like colors. It is bright, happy and child friendly. It is not perfect, but so much better. Many, many people stopped by to see what we were doing and to express their thanks and appreciation. You will note the before and after pictures – what do you think? As I was cleaning up, the pails, both plastic and metal were a hot commodity and in high demand. Not knowing what they would be used for I hesitated as to whether I should give them away, but decided that since they were so eager to have them that I would do so. Hope that was an okay decision…….

Today I see women walking with their totes and pails. Must be the day to visit the hammam . How do they do it in the summer? I have only been a couple of times, during the winter months, and it is sooooo hot in there that it does feel good, to a point to be warm, but…... Most women will stay a couple of hours, washing their hair, shaving body parts and scrubbing their bodies with these black, scrubby mitts that make the skin roll. They frequently take turns scrubbing each other. I swear when Hafida scrubbed me, my body formed scabs after. She went deep……. I must have been really dirty! Unfortunately, the hammam here in the village isn’t that nice. It’s old, rather dirty in fact and I just don’t like moldy water dripping on my head while in there. I don’t visit it often.

If you have a building project in mind, you’d best make yourself some blocks/bricks. Many times I have seen homeowners or someone they’ve hired, busy making blocks. Lately I’ve been watching some gentlemen busy at work. They, like me, are up early trying to get a few hours in before the sun gets too hot. It is Ramadan, so they can’t drink water and it’s important to do this sort of work early. Looks like they’ve made good progress wouldn’t you say? And once that building project is built and you need a door – how do you get it home. Well you carry it, of course!

I’ve spent a fair amount of time this month working on a picture/word book for the school. Last spring, a couple of the teachers commented when I showed them my pictures of South African animals how nice it would be if they had pictures to show the kids. At least one of the teachers has a laptop, as well as the school director has a laptop, and the school does have a projector, so I decided a good project for me would to make them just such a book. I have taken many pictures in the past and it gave me motivation to take more pictures and a worthwhile project to do. I have divided the pictures up into categories, i.e., colors, fruits & vegetables, clothing, animals, food items, etc. With each picture I have given them the English name for it. The teacher can then supply the French or Arabic word and take it from there. I will burn a CD for each teacher to keep and use in their classes.

I look at the skinny cows, skinny sheep & goats, skinny dogs and yes, skinny people. There is no comparison between the fat, healthy sheep I saw in Ireland and the sheep here in my village. Of course they had lush, green grass to eat. Here they have a few straggly bushes for the most part. This is a place of “barely enough” but it sustains you. More is not needed it seems and “must have” doesn’t seem to exist in their vocabulary.

Seems I am turning into the beautician of my village and who knew I could cut hair????? I don’t think I should give up my day job just yet -- oooops, guess I don’t have a day job  !!! Actually my patrons are all under the age of ten and most likely they won’t complain. Of course we shampoo first and I use my American shampoo. Maybe it’s the big draw for the haircut, who knows?

I usually wake up to a bright blue sky, but August has been screwy, at least weather wise and I don’t remember this from last year. Almost every day around 2p, the sky clouds up, thunder starts and we get spits and sputters of rain for a few hours. Usually by 6p, it is cleared away and the sky is once again blue. We’ve had heavy clouds, thunderstorms with lightning and torrential rain the past couple of days. Unfortunately, it comes down so fast and hard that much of it runs off without doing much for the soil. It’s also been chilly enough at night that I’ve pulled up an extra blanket. Oh I so hope cold weather doesn’t move in early. I am hoping for a long, warm fall – at least until mid-November or so!!

Well my friends, until my next writing please take care and remember -- inch by inch, life’s a cinch!! I continually remind myself of this -- imik-imik (little by little) but it’s not always easy!! . Hugs to you all, Linda

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