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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Revolution has begun...

During one of my recent "interviews" : playing cards, asking questions about shipping, coaxing the gentleman to fill out the 26-question survey...another friend, who owns the cafe next door and I started talking about the lack of variety at any given cafe in this country. The menu will inevitably read: Berber omelette, Couscous, Tagine: Meat (beef, goat or sheep), Chicken, or Vegetable. Would you like a Coca Cola with that?

He casually mentioned that he didn't know what else to make. I sat bolt upright in my seat, eyes shining. "Would...you like to learn how to make something else?" "Like what?" "Hmm, I dunno, maybe an American salad or two to begin with?" We immediately set about making a shopping list, me dictating the recipes and ingredients. Next week I'm headed over to his cafe around 11am to make the first American salad Agdz has seen. Exciting times.

Ironically, yesterday, I was sitting with Nadia in her office. She was making a Ramadan menu for the 165 girls that eat there during the school year. The dinner menu read something like:

Monday: Tagine: Meat, onions, carrots, potatoes
Tuesday: Tagine: Chicken, onions, squash, potatoes
Wednesday: Tagine: Meat, onions, olives, potatoes

By Friday's she looked at me with a stunted glare..what else? Her eyes pleaded. I couldn't help but burst out laughing. "It's all the same!" I cried. "Everyday! Doesn't it get boring?" "If it's not tagine, then it's couscous," she exclaimed. "And if it's not tagine it's couscous," I finished for her. We doubled over in laughter, slapping hands. "Do you want to learn how to make something else?" I queired in a strange deja vu... "Yes! Let's make a program."

Tonight I head over to her house, 5pm, for the first of six meals we're going to prepare together. I'm starting out easy: Fluffy banana pancakes with fruit salad, yogurt/jelly sauce, and fried eggs (as they will not have eaten since 4am, it will have to be slightly substantial). Today begins the Revolution of Food in Agdz.

1 YEAR!!

The official date was September 13, but I've been in Morocco an entire year!!! Hard to believe. I feel at once that I've experienced so much, and yet that it's just been the passing of a conglomerate of strange months, not the entirety of a year's time. I have 14 months left in country. Just slightly over a year. I may not leave having accomplished even a minute amount that I set out to, but yesterday I was watching sitcoms in Arabic with some friends and laughing...cause I actually understood almost everything they were saying.

I have 480 surveys sitting in my house, a few of them filled out. I'm discovering the process may take a good bit longer than expected (shocking, I know), as each survey with a bazaar usually equates a 1-2 hour interview/meeting. I'm learning all kinds of fascinating information about the process, problems, and other tourist activities that tour guides and bazaars are involved in, and learned a new card game (while waiting patiently for the right time to bring up questions). The cards themselves were yet another insight into life within the realm of another civilization. The faces of the cards were pictures of things like gourds, curved swords, and strange symbols I didn't recognize. Just made me think that even down to the silliest things like cards, another culture has their own meaningful designs on face cards and rules for the game.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


More to come... here's a few Toubkal photos. I'm sick of the internet cafe now though..

Andrea, Jesse, Me

Getting ready to go...

Ait Ben Haddou

My girlfriends and I recently visited Ait Ben Haddou: a village boasting a beautiful old Kasbah high on a hill near Ouarzazate. Gladiator was filmed here.
Me, Jesse, April sitting the ruins.

Jesse in a cubby hole surrounded by ancient mosaics.

The view from the Kasbah.

The old city...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The most important thing...

This summer has been very slow. Many of my postings have reflected my frustration with the crawling pace of translations and utter lack of utter work. I came to a point where I had to make a decision. I could either feel guilty constantly because I could find no way to employ myself or accept the Agdz summer, and make the best of it. I chose the latter. I realized that with many families I have spent some time with them, sat through obligatory teas and made proper inquiries after family members abroad. However, as challenged by a friend, I wasn't engaging. I realized that to stay here for another 14 months, I either have to get involved personally or leave. My service, especially during these slow periods, is not so much about some fantastic success story or busy work schedule, but about the people. So, I chose to get involved. Today I was walking past the concrete channel in front of my house for the fifth time today. It is currently filled with water (only happens a couple times a year) - run offs from the dammed Draa River. A cluster of women were knee high in the muddy current scrubbing their rugs. The little boys splashed about in their boxers and the girls called to me every time I passed, begging me to wash my laundry with them. I assured them I did mine in buckets, in the bathtub, hung stuff on the roof, but thanks. And then, at their persistence, pointed to my nice clothes, and said if i was wearing something else I might help. I felt so insincere as I kept saying this day after day. I thought to myself, why sound so haughty... clothes are clothes. Who cares. So I pulled all my junk out of my pockets, set my folder down, rolled up my pant legs and jumped in to help them haul out a heavy rug. They all laughed and I felt a touch more "down to earth"...literally. I walked away with a big grin on my face... it was quite fun rolling up your pant legs and hoping a stream. I've chilled a bit more when visiting people, sometimes sitting for hours saying little, just watching, smiling, enjoying evening breezes among friends. I used to feel I needed to have a whole dialogue ready to go about what I've been doing. I decided that maybe silence and just being among them was better. It makes a difference... I get to watch real life unfold and both they and I feel less formal acting it seems. We sit in doorways and laugh about strange neighbors or play cards on the roof. It's really refreshing and actually enjoyable to visit (some) people now. My host family has become very dear to me. I have shared extensively with Nadia, my oldest sister on much deeper levels, and just dropped in at her house mornings and evenings to play with baby Rahab. Rahab and I "talk" in English (they absorb a lot at 1 year). Rahab has become a little niece to me (especially treasured, as I am far from my real niece Gracia). Nadia taught me how to make couscous, told me about how the doctor was an idiot and prescribed the wrong medicine for the rash on Rahab's face. We work together on my surveys - I teach her computer tricks, she teaches me tech words in Arabic. When I felt frustrated that I was pushing this idea solo, she took me to the host families house and we all talked about it together. She and Mama Lakabira are going to help me as they can. They are both excited about the idea and want to use the girls training center that Lakabira is President of, as the shipping center local. I like the idea. Just felt great to have support and locals who are involved. The other day Nadia and I were chatting about makeup and appearances... she said she didn't need lipstick anymore because she was married. She had snagged her guy. I told her it was almost more important to take care of herself now... to show her love for her husband and take pride in her own appearance. We laughed about our different approaches. Another host sister, has consulted me over her relationship with a foreigner. We talk long hours about love and frustrations of dealing with differences in culture, religion, freedoms, language, etc. Just this past weekend she hurried over asking to borrow jewelry. Another man was coming to town. A prospective husband, connected via their cousin. She begged my advice - if this guy appeared attractive to her, responsible, caring, well-off (and importantly, Muslim, unlike the other guy, and more mature, settled) what should she do? The dilemma almost blew me away. In America I would tell her she was insane for even considering meeting a guy in a weekend and making arrangments for a marriage. But this is not America, so I had to think in terms beyond America and American advice. They're engaged now. I met the guy. He's really cool. (Of course, he is French, so she has to translate between us where my French falters..kinda ironic.) There's much more to this story, but the point now is that I spent a good portion of yesterday grating carrots in the kitchen with sisters, sneaking chats with Nawal about both guys, talking with my host mother about marriage and her husband. Father Housane walked in and shared an anecdote about one day when he came to my house. He knocked and asked for 20 Dirham. I brought it down, but before I handed it to him, I asked him what it was for. "Are you going to go see some girl?" (i.e. prostitute) because I knew that was the going rate here... yeah, approximately $2. Sick, isn't it? He laughed and reassured me that all young girls were like his daughters and he would never do that. I gave him the 20 Dirham. The fact that he shared that with the whole family reassured me that he was telling the truth. His wife told me after he left the room that he used to be a "bad" husband, when he was younger. He didn't go to prostitutes but misbehaved a lot. I asked her if she was angry with him. She heartily assented. She said he was a much better husband now. I was shocked that we were all sharing on these levels. The most deep, personal, intimate matters of our lives. When I mistakenly thought another bum wanding about the house, cigarette in hand, was the prospective husband, I was almost in tears..angry that Nawa~ would give herself to someone so unworthy.. the girls were ribbing eachother when they saw my perterbment and laughed a good while before setting me straight. All of this made me realize that this was not simply a foreign family that I had been "forced" to live with two months and learn about the culture through... these were people I cared intimately for, loved, and what happened to them affected me. I realized..I was involved. It had been a conscious decision that made little differences in what is important to me here... lots of prayer for people, and seeking God on what to do, where to go each day. He has led me into their hearts and brought them into mine. Wholistically, I am learning that in every scenario, every tense situation, every problem to be solved, even environment I work in, every strategy I develop - here in Agdz or in the US or wherever I work and live next, the people - all the people - involved matter more than busywork. There will always be confusing situations and choices to make between doing something simply to make yourself look good, or please the "important people" but there is always another choice to take into consideration everyone around you. Sometimes situations call for touch love, sometimes for making things a bit awkward or yourself less impressive, going out of your way to consider the feelings of other people.. but for me, I've decided that that is always the better choice. If you're a little less productive one day because you're taking time to deal with a family issue or console a friend, that's okay. That's something that's valued here... not very much in the U.S. I think this slow time over the summer, with a choice before me of how I would operate here has helped me to understand this principle in a rather easy environment - a place where people over work is always priority number one. I hope I carry this appreciation of human beings throughout life, that I don't forget it when I get back to a demanding schedule in the US of A.

Date Season..

The dates are coming into season. The palmery is full of beautiful clusters - red, purple, yellow, green, brown... I have lots of photos but they're not loading now, so I'll try to add to this one next time around.