Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Challenging Question and a Rain Day

A French association is building this well at one of
my schools.

A Challenging Question
At school this week, while I was having tea with the teachers during recess, one of the teachers asked me what my goals were. I naively thought he was asking about my personal goals. Because my language is limited, I gave a simple answer – that I wanted to help people.
I had misunderstood. “But what about your organization,” he said, “will it do something to help us?”
I said, “I guess I’m the help.”
He didn’t exactly guffaw, but he did get a smile on his face. “But that’s just words,” he said, referring to my teaching, I suppose. “We already know that stuff. But will it do something to help us?”
“You mean money?” I asked.
Rain shrouds the Dades Valley today
He nodded, then proceeded to tell me that a French association had dug a new well for the school and that another French association had planted some olive trees.
This was my first personal encounter with such a direct “show-me-the-money” attitude. I have some thoughts about it, but I’m curious to know what yours are and how you would respond to such a situation. I may be opening a can of worms by soliciting your opinions, but I’d really like to know.
A Rain Day...
Water cascades down a path we
usually walk.

I woke this morning before my alarm to the sound of rain spattering in the courtyard and pattering on the roof. I got up and went through my usual morning routines, then got ready for school. When I went outside I saw puddles standing in my front yard - a first for puddles there. When I rode down the narrow path between buildings and turned the corner I was astonished to see a torrent of red water rushing down the wadi below my house. I’d never seen water in it before. I pedaled on along paths that were fairly slick with mud and filled with water in the ruts. When I got to the main road, a piste (dirt and gravel), streams of water were running down the two tracks. I was already pretty wet and pretty cold. I dearly wished for the gloves I bought at souq yesterday and promptly lost.
I began to think about how miserable I was going to be in class, cold and wet in the unheated schoolrooms, trying to be energetic and interesting to kids who were probably also cold and wet and hunched up braving the cold. But then salvation occurred, of a sort. I got to the bottom of the hill that separates my town from the neighboring village and another torrent, about ten yards wide and a couple of feet deep was rushing across the road. I’d never seen water here before either. I got off my bike and studied the terrain to see if there was a place where I might wade across. None in sight. Even if I did make it across, I still had another two kilometers to go. I knew there were a couple places ahead that habitually turned into streams during a rain. I figured they would be full too, and decided to turn around and go home.
The road was flooded and there was no good place to
ford the stream
There’s no phone at the school and I didn’t have any of the teachers’ cell phone numbers. I felt bad that I would just not be showing up, but I hoped the teachers would figure out what had happened. Shortly after I got home, Rachid and Fatima, one of my host brothers and sisters, knocked on my door. They came in, shoulders hunched, muttering “asmid” (cold) and “tagut” (rain). While we warmed ourselves over glasses of tea I told them I hadn’t gone to school because of the rain.
“Oh, there’s no school today,” they said, “not with a rain like this.”
In Michigan, we get snow days off when the snow makes it impossible or dangerous to go to school. I never imagined that here in Morocco I would get the equivalent – a rain day. And just as I would if it were a snow day, I’m reveling in it. At this moment, I’m bundled up in dry clothes, sitting at my desk, with a little space heater –the only non-sun-assisted heat in this large house of mine – warming my feet. I’m toasty, and the burden of guilt I was feeling for not showing up at school has been lifted from my shoulders. A rain day. Another thing to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day.
Leaves are changing color...
…and Other Stuff
It’s fall (lxrif) here, just as in the States. The weather has definitely changed. With all the precipitation of the last week, the Atlas Mountains have acquired a mantle of snow they won’t shed till next April or May. Here in the valley, the leaves have begun to change and fall. And, though it seems like just a few weeks ago that I was sleeping with just a sheet over me, I now wear longjohns and flannel pajamas to bed and I’ve discovered why people in the olden days used to wear sleeping caps and socks. Yesterday at souk, I bought a knit cap to keep my bald head warm at night and also bought two more blankets to add to the two I already had. I think – I hope - that’ll be enough.
Here’s a link to Peace Corps Postcards, a project to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps. In it you’ll find some short videos of current Peace Corps Volunteers and see what wonderful, creative work they do. It includes two “post cards” from Morocco, one of a hip-hop group, another of a baseball team.
Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
The fig trees shedded their leaves in just a few days. Townspeople have
gathered them and chopped them up for animal feed. Not much goes
unused here.

Fall means pomegranates, limes, these small oranges
(about the size of a lime), and apples are in season.

My house revealed its leaks this morning - several
of them. Fortunately, like this one, they were all
over bare concrete.

The preferred method of sweeping is with this natural broom
called ifssi - not surprisingly, the word for shrub.

The Atlas Mountains are capped now in snow, probably till April or May.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Meat-Only Diet

The hair has been burned and scraped off the cow's skull,
which will later be chopped into pot-sized pieces
and used in a stew.
Sunday morning I went to my host family’s house to help slaughter a cow. Since then I haven’t had a thing to eat but meat. I’d heard stories about what a rough week this is for vegetarians (not that I am one), but I had no idea.

We killed the cow at 9:30. By noon, we were eating it as shish kabobs. An hour and a half later, we had lunch of stewed meat and juices. For dinner that night we again had a meat-only duaz with liver and beef shish kabobs as appetizers. And all week long, whenever I’ve visited people, I’ve been served shish kabobs with tea rather than the usual peanuts and cookies or bread. Not until Wednesday evening, when I had dinner at another friend’s house, did I even see a vegetable – a little bit of carrot and a few chunks of turnip in a large plate of meat.
It was not a big cow, but it's still a lot of animal. All parts
of the animal are eaten, including the innards, head, and feet.
By “rough week,” I mean the week of Eid Akhatar (big feast), Eid Kbir in Arabic, also sometimes called Eid Al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice). It commemorates Abraham’s sparing of his son and sacrificing a ram instead. After Ramadan, it’s probably the most important festival on the Muslim calendar. It takes place 70 days after the end of Ramadan, which was Monday. By tradition on that day the male head of every household sacrifices an anogod (ram). Then the family spends the rest of the week eating it. Our family did that, too, on Monday, but because it is such a large family, I guess Mohammed decided to slaughter a cow as well as a sheep.
My main job was to take pictures, but here I'm helping roll
the carcass so that others can separate the skin
from the top of the cow's back.
I had no idea of the sheer effort, strength, and time it takes to skin and butcher a large animal with just knives and a hatchet (no power saws here). With the cow, we started at 9:30 and finished at noon. By “finished” I mean we’d quartered the animal. We didn’t actually finish cutting up all the meat till Wednesday morning. And the whole family was involved. As with Ramadan, there is a lot of anticipation of the festival. And while I wouldn’t say it was a party atmosphere, it certainly was a joyous one. Those who weren’t helping with the butchering were watching and talking. And when it was done, of course, we ate.

The anogod hung, first to be "undressed,"
i.e., have its skin peeled off like a sweater,
then to be "dressed," as in butchered.

Monday was similar, except that after breakfast, the men first climbed the hill outside town and took part in a prayer service. After that, we came down to the house, changed out of our good clothes, and slaughtered the ram. And then we had shishkabobs and a lunch of meat.
I’ve talked about meat, but the festival is much more than that. It’s really about gratitude and thankfulness and the bonds of family, friendship, and community. It’s kind of like our Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. Families draw together. The men who work at jobs in one of the big cities, or even abroad, come home, and there’s lots of visiting among neighbors, friends, and relatives. There was a steady stream of people to my family’s house on Monday, and on Tuesday and Wednesday I spent a good deal of time making the rounds myself.

Shishkabobs with fresh herbs and spices have been a staple
of the Leid diet.

I’m not quite sure what marks the end of Leid – maybe when the sheep is eaten up? – but I’ve begun to dream of vegetables.