.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

La Vita Grassa

My Photo
Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Monday, January 23, 2006

Berber Wedding

(Please note: I forgot to take my camera to the wedding, so the photos are from another ceremony in the Douar - circumcision of cute little boys and other dress up parties I've had here, to give you an idea.)

I went to a Berber wedding last week. Quite a bizarre experience. A girl I had just met asked me to come to her house in the afternoon where she would dress me up and then we would go together. She put a fushia lace covered takshita on me, over sweater leggings (very unattractive I might add), and then over that tied a purple, sheer, flowered cape, tied at my waist and draped over shoulders. They put Berber make-up on me – coal lining the inside of my eyes, gloss and mascara. Someone tossed some too small black little pointed-toe heels at me and another girl sprayed some body mist stuff all over all of us. Off we headed. Every group of people we passed (all of them dressed similar to me, the whole village going to the wedding, apparently) smiled and then took a double-take as they saw the blonde American under the Berber wedding clothes. They would laugh and start chattering away with my host asking her what in the world she had done. We arrived in a building (not sure if it was a home, a community building or what, but similar to my association, it had several open rooms, to hold a large number of people. The floors were covered with carpets upon carpets. To one end two cushioned seats where covered with white and an embroidered sheet hung on the wall behind. This is where both brides would sit. Tonight was the night for young girls.

(Me in a Takshita in Khenifra.. the berbers wrapped another layer on top of this one..)

We crowded in, among about two hundred Berber women and girls. Everywhere I looked little girls and women were staring at me, smiling, quite amused. I smiled back, tried to act like it was a natural setting for me, going around greeting friends and strangers by bending down (everyone was sitting on the floor) with a kiss on each cheek. They were all chattering away in Shilha, not Arabic (this wedding was in the village right next to Agdz, and most the people are Berber, not Arabic) so I really didn’t understand a word. I realized that this was, in fact, a rather foreign situation for me, so there was no need for me to exhaust myself trying to pretend like I belonged. I sat in the corner quietly… until we were bidded to move to a different location. I wasn’t quite sure how the location indicated was possible. Every square inch was covered with girls legs and dresses and heels. Somehow they made room for us. I scrunched up my knees against my chest, but still some fat lady was sitting on my feet, another leaning on my back, another elbowing my other side. There was no thought as to worry about crowding or sitting on someone. If someone was in enough agony, they would shout at you, otherwise, just pile in and laugh.

Soon the folklore music started. (Ahawash) The band came in, blowing the looong horns (about eight feet long), drums and chanting. I really do love this earthy, African-like chanting and clapped along. One of the drummers was a friend, so I didn’t realize I had been watching him play (for a while) until one of my friends leaned over and said, do you know his name? That’s Archia’s son. He’s not married. Do you think he’s beautiful? I laughed and then tried to be as serious as I could in indicating I had no interest, without being rude, confirming that he was nice-looking without being overly affirmative about it. She stopped the questions. I tried to be careful about who I watched after that, letting my eyes roam all about the room, the hundreds of women and the musicians, realizing that many eyes were glued on me and any little clue would set them gossiping or chatting about me.

Then the dancing started. This is what I feared most. As much as I enjoy dancing, Moroccan dances are very difficult. The women here can move their hips and rear-ends in ways I did not know was possible. And of course, when there is one blonde, white girl among two hundred Berber women, they are going to think it quite entertaining to watch her try to dance like them. I remained scrunched in my position, clapping my hands and smiling as to appear as though I was enjoying myself without getting into it to much so that someone would feel inclined to pull me to my feet. I was unsuccessful. The dancing consisted of women, at random moments getting very excited and standing among a crowd of feet and bodies and shaking and twirling around in the midst of the crowd. Hardly anyone was dancing at this point and most eyes were on her. The lady next to me stood up and gave quite a performance. Then it happened. She grabbed my hands. I resisted for quite a while, begging to be left alone, but could not stay glued to the floor. The moment I stood, I heard gasps all about the room and did not want to look about to see how many pairs of eyes now stared at me. We danced. I shook my many Berber layers of lace and nylon, purples and pinks, and waved my hands. They laughed. We kept dancing. Finally the song ended and my partner let me retreat to the floor. Ahhh, you know how to dance! The girls proclaimed. They are very forgiving and easily entertained people. Nice enough not to laugh at a white girl trying to move her hips. J

The wedding lasted until the wee hours of the night, from what I heard, but I had been there since 6PM and by 9PM I was exhausted in such foreign surroundings and started my campaign to be permitted to leave. They insisted I wait until dinner was served, when we were hustled into another room, gathered around tables in groups of six, provided with a tagine of chicken, ate, drank and finally departed. The girls found a young many to accompany me back to Agdz, about a twenty minute walk. I did not refuse. A girl walking around at night here… it can be a bit scary.

Holding Pattern

Monday, January 23, 2006

I feel like I am in a holding pattern right now. I have a week until I move into my new apartment (yay!!), and do not really want to get started on much until I am settled into my own place. My focus right now is just learning as much Arabic as I can and meeting as many people as I can. Some days I feel like I’m almost fluent, other days they ask me if I slept well and I have to ask them to repeat it. Some days I feel like Miss Socialite of Agdz, spending hours visiting and going to tea and many families homes, greeting friends on the street, and chatting with Antoine and other friends (male only) in the coffee shops. Other days (like today) I really do not feel like talking to anyone, being outgoing, or meeting anyone, I just hide in my guest room and read and study Arabic. Some days (like today), I feel useless, like I am just hiding out. But the fact is, that with the type of work I plan to do here, language learning and relationship building (i.e. community integration) are key to the success, and a crucial first step before I approach any actual development strategies. I have met several carpet makers, several painters, and carpenters, talk to carpet bizarres for tourists as to where they find their rugs, that’s my “research” for now. The association I am supposed to be working with (that does not actually do anything related to artisanal work, as far as I can tell) is a bit of a strange animal. They asked me to teach them an English lesson once a week, but the last three weeks (and I didn’t even go the week of the big holiday) no one showed. I ended up going to a Berber wedding instead. I met a carpet maker. I figured that was more productive than teaching English at this point. So… I’m just contenting myself with Arabic, reading, making friends, and dreaming of how I will decorate my new home!

Family Outing

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Today was a big event for my family. We had a family outing. We went to have a picnic in the palmery, at a sweet little campground.

As I walked along the trek underneath palm trees, with four sisters and my host mother in tow, the thought struck me as to how unusual this was. It was the first time that the whole family (or most of them, Nadia and my host father made appearances later in the day) had gone out together somewhere. The women almost always stayed at home watching TV, reading, cooking or cleaning when they weren’t at school or teaching in the Nedi.

My host mother made a tagine over a fire (the wood was brought specially for us to the campground, and they campground owners made a German friend of mine who was working at the campground clean everything in preparation for our visit, poor guy). We sang Berber chants, and took a stroll through the palmery, waiting for lunch to cook. After lunch all of us walked to the river, (Henry, the German included), with Afru, the dog in tow. Moroccans typically don’t have pets. It felt like a day in America: the family walking along a river, a guy (Henry) friend along (I mention this because normally males and females do not socialize together much here), playing with a dog, munching on cookies, the girls doing silly gymnastic stunts over each other’s backs. Of course, begging a couple kids to get a picture on top of their donkey might not have happend on a picnic to the park in Cincinnati, but ahh… what a great day.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

You Are My Liver .. and more funny stories

1/10/2006 12:10 PM

(Four of my six host sisters)

Thought I would recount of the latest stories and strange sites..


On of my host sisters has a baby. They call her all kinds of funny names and one day I set about trying to figure out what some of the words were. Nadia said that mothers like to call their children their liver. I wasn’t quite sure I really understood so Iman went out and brought in a bowl. The bowl contained the heart, intestines and liver of the sheep killed yesterday. She picked up the liver and set it on the table. Nadia motioned cutting the liver into parts, saying that each part was one of her children. I was doubled over in laughter trying to imagine calling someone my liver as a term of endearment. “You don’t say ‘You are my liver, my love?’ in America?” Nope.


Every day there are new mysteries to figure out. For a couple weeks it was the mystery of the hand soap in the bathroom. Some days it was sitting on the sink, where one might expect to find hand soap. But many days it just wasn’t there. I felt it was my lucky day when I went in to use the restroom, finished and voila! There was soap. Other days I would search all around the bathroom and could not find it. Then a few hours later it would re-appear. Then some days it would be sitting next to the shower (bucket bath area). I began to realize the whole family used this bar of soap for their hands, their faces, in bucket baths in the mornings and whenever they went to the hammam (communal bath in the center of town) it accompanied them. Probably for a lot of things I don’t even want to know. They probably can’t afford or just never considered buying more than one bar of soap for every need to wash oneself in any situation. So, when I don’t find it, I go look through cabinets or in buckets that might be sitting somewhere remaining from someone’s last trip to the hammam. Usually it turns up, otherwise I just go into the kitchen and grab the Tide from one of the cabinets. Tide is used for dishes and hands and clothes and floors.


(My friend Jessica recounted this story on her last trip to the center of Agdz.) Some tourist lady was walking through the village center when a Berber guy with a monkey on his shoulder began pestering her for money – as any good Berber with a monkey on his shoulder should do when encountering a tourist. She declined and started to walk away. The guy whispered something to his monkey. The monkey promptly jumped onto the lady, ran up her shoulder and bit her. (She had to go to the police station to report the incident and afterwards to the hospital to take care of the wound.) Nice monkey; nicer Berber man.


Showers, bucket baths, hammams, all the customs of bathing are still something I’m getting used to. I have to admit that already, going four or five days without a shower is quite normal and I don’t even think about taking one until my hair eventually is too obviously limp to ignore. (The nice thing is that it is extremely dry here, so one doesn’t exactly sweat and since it is around 45 – 60 degrees inside in the house most of the night and day, we wear lots of layers of clothes… so skin isn’t exposed to that much dirt.) When I first arrived, I gleefully discovered my family had a showerhead. I took a nice long shower, but felt afterward that somehow this wasn’t appropriate. The next time I tried to take a shower the family said there was no butagas. “When are you going to refill it?” I asked. Oh, the butagas store is closed. This went on for a week. I told a Moroccan friend what they were telling me and he laughed. Of course they could get butagas any day they wanted. So then I thought that this must be simply to prevent me from taking showers. In fact, I had never heard anyone of them take a shower. So I wasn’t quite sure what they did or how they bathed. I went to the hamman … which is quite another experience all in itself (and can be a bit traumatizing at first, all the boobs and dark concrete floors flooded with soap, hair and dead-skin, scalding hot water, dangerously hot steamy rooms, screaming babies and big Berber women in your face blabbing away in Shilha begging you to scrub their backs … and you concede, trying to avoid looking down because their underwear are only half on…but don’t worry, after a while you will discover this is a the women’s version of socializing at a coffee shop.) Then one morning my host father (he and I usually share breakfast together since the rest of the family leaves early for school and work) asked if I wanted a hot shower. I was shocked. Yes! He pulled out the oven, turned it around and unscrewed the gasline from the butagas tank and dragged the butagas tank across the kitchen to another gasline, tightened it with a butter knife, flicked around it with a lighter (to make sure their were no leaks, and if they were … well I guess getting blown up is just part of process… ) flipped a switch and said, okay, go get your clothes! I reveled in the hot shower. This went on for a couple weeks, every four days or so he would ask and I would help him switch it, take a shower and go on with my day. But I began feeling guilty taking these showers, as no one else did and he was always careful to do it when Mama Lakibira was not around. One evening I came back from a long bike ride with Antoine and asked if it was okay if I took a shower. Lakabira consented, but didn’t seem crazy about the idea. Half-way through enjoying a steamy bathing experience, my host sister knocked on the door. Mama says you have to turn the shower off. I finished quickly, dressed and guiltily returned to the family room. My host mother sat there with her intimidating glare, arms crossed. I always know I’ve crossed some line when she’s like that. I pretended nothing was wrong and drank some mint tea. Finally she broke her silence. You can’t take showers. It uses too much butagas. Oh, really? Then what do you do? Use it like a bucket bath. Okay, then what’s the point of having a shower? Oh well. Things are different here. Just because you have a shower doesn’t mean you have the luxury of using it.

The Apartment Is Approved

1/9/2006 9:34 PM

Today a representative finally came from Peace Corps to inspect our apartments. I was so excited when he called from the Taxi stand and requested that I meet him there in five. I rushed out the door, (in the back of my mind thinking how strange it felt to be in a hurry for once). Our future landlord was laughing when I bounced into his bakery, to find them all awaiting my arrival. Yay! It might come true, I might actually get to live in a place I loved, alone, with freedom and cozy things! He checked the whole place, confirmed our previous discussions about the landlord installing a bathtub, shower, sink, water heater and bathroom tiles, all for the rental price we’d bargained. Everything looked good to him. Well I guess it looks safe enough, huh? He laughed, staring out the window about beautiful Mt. Kisane. We signed all the papers while munching on gigantic dates, walnuts and cookies. It was official. I have an apartment. Can’t move in for three weeks, but three weeks is not that long and I have a great family here with lots of hilarious sisters.

Laid Kibir Preview…

1/9/2006 9:08 PM Laid Kibir Preview…

Wednesday is Laid Kibir, the biggest holiday on the Moroccan calendar. Agdz is full of students and family members home from all the big cities (Fes, Marakesh, Casablanca, Rabat) to share the holiday with their families. The souq last week was packed with shepherds and sheep, and Moroccans wading through, picking up one sheep or another to gauge its value. My family bought two. Every family buys at least one and keeps in their courtyard or roof, feeding it hay and scraps in anticipation of Laid Kibir when they will kill the sheep. The significance is a symbolic reminder of Abraham (our common spiritual ancestor) on Mt. Sinai, who had taken his son Isaac up onto the mountain to sacrifice him, in obedience to God, and was miraculously provided with the ram in the thicket. (At least that’s what I’ve learned so far that it represents.) Although celebrating holidays of the Old Testament is not necessary for a Christian, it is truly interesting to be here and watch them pay tribute to this part of our spiritual history.

On the practical side … the approach of these feast has built a little fear in me. For some reason I have struggled with the issue of meat in this country … having already eaten sheep stomach (which I certainly do not care for), camel, cow brain, all kinds of fish with bones and skin, and who knows what else, I get a grip of fear in my stomach whenever approaching the dinner table. I don’t know what kind of meat is at the center of the tagine, covered by vegetables. (Moroccans eat from one communal dish, with their hands, using torn pieces of bread and fingers as silverware. They start with the vegetables and/or couscous which surround a center piece of meat of some sort.) Today I left early. My family said they were going to kill the first of the sheep (I’m still not sure why they bought two). My friend told me he had helped kill the sheep at the doorway. I returned home later in the afternoon to make brownies, dreading what I would find in the kitchen. I crept in, saw nothing suspicious, opened the refrigerator door to find a bowl of innards and sheep stomach lining. I opened a container to find a liver and other organs. My father wandered in and grinned, opening the kitchen window to the courtyard, bidding that I peer out. So that was where it was… I leaned my head out and sure enough, there hung a sheep carcass… a sheep I had just pet the day before. It got worse. I shut out the thoughts that I would soon be eating those innards and that carcass and set about making my brownies. A few minutes later after some strange behavior by my host sisters, I turned around to confront a sheep face. I screamed and backed into a corner. Still had eyes and ears and fur.. looked just like it did when it was alive, but the neck was a bloody severed mess. Nawal taunted me with it and came near… I was backed in a corner and waived my hands, “No, don’t, don’t come near!” Now I suppose many Americans who have grown up on a farm or worked in a meat factory are more than well acquainted with these type of scenes, but they are rather traumatizing to me still. My host mother laughed and picked up a hoof and severed leg out of the bowl, again still with fur and dirt on it. They finally took it away, but I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see a sheep head staring at me. I asked what they were going to do with it, fearing an answer I already knew. "We’re going to burn it with the skin and fur on and then put it in a couscous or something." Couscous..? You mean we’re going to eat that with couscous? "Yes, don’t you eat them in the states?" No. "What do you do with the heads?" I don’t know but I never see them, just nice steaks or a chicken breast. No innards either. "What? What do you do with all the innards? You don’t eat them?" No! I laughed. Maybe they feed them to animals or something, I don’t know, I never see them.

These were new thoughts to them, people who didn’t eat the whole animal, just as the idea of eating the sheep head and innards was grossing me out. We haven’t had dinner yet tonight. I’m rather terrified of what it will be. And it should only get worse over the next couple days.. they’re killing another sheep, so there will be plentiful innards and sheep heads and such to suck on. (That’s another thing here that grosses me out.. whenever we finish consuming the meat on any given day, my host mother and sisters, with sticky fingers will sit, sucking on bones until their completely bare, and suck the marrow of the center of the bones. Eating fat is bad enough for me.)

Thankfully Laid Kibir also means less pressure to do something productive (not that I don’t want to, just finding someway of being/feeling productive is very difficult at this point) as everyone is on holiday this entire week. On the day of Laid Kibir I have many invites to visit friends and share the holiday with them. This is something that I really enjoy about holidays here. Everyone is out on the streets, visiting each other, walking to and fro each other’s homes, eating tons of cookies and goodies. Tomorrow my host sisters will probably be making lots of cookies, so that part sounds like a lot of fun.

Oooh the fun times we have here in Morocco.

The Priviledge of Living Here..

1/9/2006 8:52 PM

I am currently reading Hussain of Jordan: A Search for Just and Lasting Peace, a Political Biography by James Lunt. The History, starting back in the 1920’s with the western-originated division of Arabic states and Jordan’s history of establishing itself in a progressively modern era. The stories are fascinating, much of the background new to me; making me fall in love with history and all the untold stories that I have yet to discover.

At any rate, I feel fortunate to be living here in Morocco, living with a Muslim family, getting used to their particular customs, foods, and culture. On the personal level I have some hard days, some days I’m sick of tagines and couscous and the demand to eat. Some days I grow weary of gossip and the need to stop to talk to everyone on the streets, but taking a step back, I am privileged with a very unique position. As the book pointed out, far more Arabs speak English and wear jeans than do Americans speak Arabic and wear Jalabas. Maybe I don’t wear a Jalabba, but just the chance to learn how to eat with my hands, or observing them pulling out their carpet to pray wherever they might find themselves, benefiting from the long-held value of hospitality and the many warm gestures of these peoples, I am privileged. I am able to witness what few Americans have the chance to do. Even those who travel to Cairo for camel ride or study in Jordan don’t really experience live like an Arab, living at their economic level, carrying on in their daily activities, sharing their dinner with your fingers. I am privileged to witness all of this.

A visit to a local Douar

One day Antoine and I went to visit another volunteer in a nearby town. As we drove across bumpy, gravel roads in the middle of no where, packed in a car with eight other people, I began feeling sorry for him...so remote... that was, until we arrived at the local hotel/kasbah.

The River Draa

The local Peace Corps volunteer pondering life...

The river scene..

The palmery...

Ahhh this is the life...

Christmas Pictures

A group of us strolled 7 kilometers through a palmery to reach our Auberge for Christmas Eve.

Christmas Dinner: what else but a tagine?

The beautiful view from the roof of the Kasbah.

Our Christmas Tree: someone's mom sent this little kit, we poured the magic water in the tree frame and it sprouted these little pine needles overnight.

The sink: in typical Moroccan style

I discovered Risk... lost, but still got the advantage of no sleep.. 5AM I think.

Licking my fingers.. a must after couscous.

Our White Elephant Gift Exchange.. I got the cool little lantern in front after stealing it from my friend.

Trying on gifts...

The proper way to eat couscous...

(I'm posting photos now because we just got high speed internet in Agdz, so I haven't been able to post these until now.)

130 Year Old Haj

In an Arabic country, if you have traveled to Mecca for the spiritual pilgrimage, your name changes to Haj. Haj Abdullah went to Mecca ten years ago. He was 120.

I have spent many a wonderful afternoon with this man. He doesn't remember a lot, but if you ask him, he will start recounting all the Moroccan kings he has lived through ... seven of them, to be exact.

He has lived in Agdz most of his life, but in 1896, he walked, by foot from Agdz to Casablanca.

I don't think there is any way to verify the accuracy of these stories, but I really don't doubt its truth. Haj Abdullah spends most of his day drinking mint tea, praying with his prayer beads, and standing up and kneeling to pray in the direction of Mecca, with little assistance.
He is blind but can hear quite well ... for a man who is living in yet a third century.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Wish List

So several peeps have asked me what I would want, were they to send a package, so I've decided to open another blog with a few little things that would be nice. I'll make a link later and write real thoughts, have to run to lunch now.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

America vs. Morocco: The War of the Cookies

Yesterday I was feeling rather stupid. I have read for hours and hours and could hardly stand reading anymore, for the mere fact that I had little else to do. It didn't feel like a freedom so much as a time-filler. I wanted to do something effective, learn something new about the community, make some strides toward actual work, meet someone new in the community. However I had tried to visit my counterpart in her office and she wasn't there and the internet cafes were full. It is near Laid Kbir and my language is still elementary, so it wasn't the day for trying to meet artisans or some government official. I just felt like my life was on hold and figured everyone in the community must be wondering what I'm doing. Except, in reflection, half of them are sitting in their homes watching TV all day, so the thought probably never crossed their minds. I closed my Newsweek (contribution by Peace Corps) and found my host sisters in the bathroom, cutting each other's hair. Wash britu ntyybu gato Merikani? (Wanna make some American cookies?). They agreed and I headed out to buy the ingredients.

We made chocolate chip cookies.. a bit hard without American measuring cups, grams do me no good and Moroccans are convinced that all cookies should be very dry and chock full of flour. This was my third time fighting with the natives over the amount of flour to add to my cookie dough. I measured in a "cup" of brown sugar and a "cup" of white. Nadia protested.. too much sugar. Yep. Lots of sugar, that's the way Americans like 'em. ... and then I made them use a spoon instead of their hands to mix it. It is just as inconvenient for a Moroccan to use a spoon to mix a batter as it is for Americans to use their hands to eat stew or mix batters (myself excluded..I'm used to it at this point, but on the days that I feel tired of the foreign culture I just grab a fork and it makes my day :-).

We dropped them on the cookie sheet and another fight ensued about just dropping them ... no rolling them in flour and making little balls. They had a hard time accepting it, but finally took two spoons and ceremoniously dropped cookie dough batter on the sheet. I smiled. Then came baking... first, there is no such thing as temperature on most ovens here. I tried to explain that to Nadia. She place her hand on top of the metal oven: "It's 350 degrees now," she smiled. When the cookies had risen and were just showing a hint of brown I removed them. They protested, pointing to the centers of the cookies and trying to prove they weren't cooked all the way yet. That's the way we like them in America, I insisted.

Then they got smart.. they started humming and begged me to teach them the American Slow Dance.. the Waltz. We waltzed around the kitchen, humming along and then I remembered.. the last batch of cookies were still in the oven. I reached for it and they exclaimed.. wait, wait! They're not ready yet! Moroccans like their cookies "red" (browned, but they use the word for red in arabic, not brown). They laughed.. we were trying to distract you and hope you would forget. I grinned.. okay, fine, those are Moroccan cookies and the white ones are American cookies. We had reached a truce.

Guess which ones got eaten? Of course, the brown ones, blackened on the bottom.


So I'm feeling spoiled.. DSL Internet just came to our little village of Agdz today! This means I can post photos on my blog once again and get a lot more done when I'm at a cyber cafe.. like respond to emails. I'm really excited about it.