Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Simply September (almost)

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.

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Awesome August

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.

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