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In the US, we place emphasis on charity. We give to religious institutions, schools, and non-profits. We spend time volunteering at soup kitchens, hospitals, bake sales, and environmental initiatives. Occasionally, we’ll even give money to a beggar on the street.
I grew up in a Christian environment. We learned about tithing – the necessity of giving a tenth of your income to the church. We learned about alms, which, in addition to tithing, may also be given to the church for distribution, to the poor directly, or to whatever charitable cause you wish. I remember helping with dinners for the poor within the church and at soup kitchens, helping with clothing drives, building churches and schools through mission trips, and buying Christmas presents for families who were picked out at random from under a tree.
In Islam, or at least how Islam is practiced in my rural Moroccan community, things are a little bit different. First, one of the five pillars of Islam is zakat, or giving a certain percentage of your income to the poor. This is not a fixed percentage over all of the Islamic world, but where I live it is set at 10%, just like tithing. The main difference is that zakat goes directly to the poor – while sometimes collected by a centralized committee and then disbursed, it, in fact, cannot be given to an organization which has paid employees. In addition, you are expected to perform sadaqah (seh-dah-kah), which wikipedia tells us “encompasses any act of giving out of compassion, love, friendship (fraternity) or generosity.” It’s difficult as an outsider to determine the difference between zakat and sadaqah. As far as I can tell, zakat tends to be the giving of bulk amounts of foodstuffs (bags of wheat, corn, dates, etc.) and centered around holidays (e.g. zakat al-fitr, giving of food to the poor at the end of Ramadan so that all may participate in the feast). Sadaqah is much more informal, and involves giving both money and prepared food. I’m going to expound on that one a little.
In it’s most basic form, sadaqah is preparing a meal to share with neighbors. Sometimes this is a huge funeral feast, other times it is a large plate of couscous set on an outside table so that all who pass by can grab some. This is where I learned the term, but it certainly is not limited to this sort of action.
Last year, a friend and I were sitting at an outdoor cafe in a city, eating bowls of bisara (fava bean soup). A beggar came up to the cafe, and the friend and I both wanted to duck and cover a little – as obvious foreigners, we knew we were going to be hit up for cash. Instead, the cafe owner went up to the beggar and told him that he could ask people for sadaqah, but only if he left the foreigners alone. The beggar did just that – he asked the people at the other tables, received some change, and then moved on without talking to us. I felt pretty ashamed about that – in all likelihood, I had more to spare in my pocket than anyone else at that cafe.
For a completely different scenario, let’s take a person in my community. We’ll call her Radia. Radia is very poor and a little bit mentally ill, although I’m sure she’ll never get a diagnosis. She is married and has several children, elementary school age and younger. She tends to go about in the morning and visit with other families, most of which feed her leftover breakfast and give her extra bread to bring back to her children. One day, she snapped a little – she was outside for over an hour, ranting about how she didn’t have any flour for bread or sugar for tea, and her husband wasn’t bringing her any and she was going to go see the qaid (mayor, sort of) about it (he doesn’t speak her language). Finally, the woman that I was with (we’ll call her Zahra), who had been watching and laughing (along with about 20 others), but who I know often feeds her in the morning, went out, took a hold of Radia, and took her into her house to feed her (Radia ate all the food voraciously) while Zahra essentially laughed at Radia and called her crazy, but said it was shameful that she didn’t have any food. I think in America we’d be inclined to be nice to a crazy ranting person, and especially sensitive of their feelings, but I’m not sure how many of us would take a that person into our houses to calm them down and give them our lunch.
Speaking of food, another aspect of sadaqah is the extreme hospitality that many people here show. I’ve been with women who are measuring out flour for their bread or couscous, and they’ll start with “Bismillah” (in the name of God), then say a name of each expected eater (family members, me) for each portion measured, and then they’ll throw another portion in there, for the guest. It’s not something that I have taken into my daily routines here – I don’t have guests that often – but I like that those who can afford it always make extra food, so that if anyone else shows up they can welcome them to the table with absolutely no reservations.
The main thing I’ve taken away from all this is how very charitable Moroccans are towards their neighbors. At least, rural Moroccans – I’m sure that things are different to some degree in the cities. I’m not saying that Americans don’t give – many Americans give a great deal. But most Americans give to organizations, churches, and strangers, whereas Moroccans tend to be giving to those next door. They also give to beggars more.
I decided, starting in January, to try to give a tenth of my income away to neighbors and beggars – and it’s harder than I thought! The monetary bulk of what I gave away in January was pictures – most people here don’t have cameras, and there are very few family photos, so pictures are very appreciated. Even with over 100Dh worth of pictures given out, over-buying veggies and giving leftovers to neighbors, and with a conscious effort to give away spare change to beggars, I still didn’t make my commitment to give away a tenth of my income in January. It’s much easier giving it away in the form of a check to a non-profit! I’m trying again in February, and so far I’m way behind schedule. I don’t know if I’ll make it this month either, but it’s certainly a very interesting exercise.
Once again, I’m not saying here that the American/Christian system is wrong or that the Moroccan/Islamic system is right. I also realize that I have a mostly middle class urban perspective on American culture and a mostly poor rural perspective on Moroccan culture, and the economic and urban/rural demographic plays a big difference in the relationships between neighbors. Regardless, I think it’s fascinating to see how different cultures deal with charity, and I think Morocco has taught me a lot about what it means to be a good neighbor.
The chilly winter weather is finally turning the aspens and fig trees a glorious yellow, and their leaves are beaten off the branches by the seasonal cold rains, which are hitting us more than they did last year. I could see my breath in my house last night – and with all of the world my refrigerator, I could finally buy 1/2 a kilo of real, co-op made butter in Tinjdad last week and not worry that it would melt all over my bag on the way up! As I’ve been using store-bought margarine or, occasionally, heavily salted butter made by neighbors, this is a glorious addition to my kitchen.
The butter was purchased to be part of a pie crust – it was agreed that a pie crust would be ashamed to be made of margarine, and I wanted to make a practice pie or two before making them for a group at Thanksgiving. I also bought a kilo of pumpkin – I really wasn’t sure if it would cook down or not, and I needed two cups per pie.
Before I got around to making the pie, though, I got cold and hungry. I started searching online for Pumpkin Soup, but that always had some exotic ingredient in it (cream? who has that?), so I started searching for curries or black bean and pumpkin something-or-other. I was shocked when I was searching for recipes online – while I was certainly guilty of this myself back home, I forgot how much Americans rely on cans. They wanted canned tomatoes, canned black beans, and canned pumpkins – well, I had fresh pumpkin and tomato and dried black beans, and I’m now convinced life is better that way. Black beans take a little over half an hour in the pressure cooker, so after they’d been cooking for 25 minutes I added pumpkin, then started cooking garlic and tomatoes in a pan. I mixed all that up with traditional chili spices and some coriander and a pinch of cinnamon, then decided it would go really well with some whole wheat cornbread. Hemdullah, the cornbread came out of the oven perfectly cooked (and delicious, I’m never using white flour in cornbread again). This was pretty much the most delicious thing I’d cooked in a long, long time. I wish I had a picture of my pumpkin chili and cornbread, but I was sadly remiss in taking one.
Anyhow, this set off a bit of a cooking extravaganza for me. I haven’t strictly eaten at home this week – on top of the usual visiting people for lunch, I’ve also been to two weddings (after which it’s impossible to eat dinner, they feed you so much!). Even so, after finishing my chili, I made my first from-scratch pumpkin pie (lesson: steam rather than boil the pumpkin) which, encouragingly, came out delicious enough for me to bring the last third down to my landlord and his wife, who wolfed everything down immediately (I’ll take that as a compliment).
Then, since I didn’t have enough pumpkin for another pie (1/2 kilo), I made mashed pumpkins and potatoes (about 1/2 pound each of pumpkin and potato, mashed around 1/2 an onion and some garlic fried in a little bit of butter. No spices necessary). This sadly was the last of my pumpkin. I tried to get more at the shops in my neighborhood, but they were all plumb out of pumpkin – so I got some eggs instead, and after considering my options at home, made some quichelettes:
I’ve been hesitant to use my oven very much before this point, because I (a) never baked a lot in the states and (b) have had a very slow learning curve in trying to get my Moroccan oven to obey me. I think, though, that I’ve finally figured out how to stop burning things while simultaneously under-cooking their insides, drying them out, or, as one friend recently did, burning my eyebrows off due to lighting difficulties.
I’m super excited to go to souq on Sunday in Tinjdad to pick up more pumpkin – in gearing up for Thanksgiving, I fully intend to be the pie fairy, delivering pies to friends of mine in town and wishing them happy ‘3id n shukr’, Feast of Thanks.
I’m home for a moment between visiting various members of my community – I am full to bursting, and I need a second to let everything settle down. Last year I learned that 3id Kbir (aka Tafaska) is a marathon rather than a sprint, and so at 24 hours in I’m taking a quick breather – there are still three more full days. Here are a few of the events, starting yesterday (Arafa, or ‘3id Eve’):
For the last two weeks of Ramadan this year, I left the country for the first time since I arrived in March 2010. I had a direct flight from Marrakesh to Paris. I took the Paris Metro (beautiful thing, that) to Montmartre, where I met my father, sister, and brother. We proceeded to play tourist in Paris like nobody’s business – I do believe I have never gone sightseeing like that before in my life, and possibly will never again. Touristing is exhausting work! We of course hit the Arch de Triomphe, Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame, Sacre Cour, (outside of the) Moulin Rouge, Catacombs, Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, Vincennes, Versailles… and more. I think my top three favorites were the Musee d’Orsay, Vincennes, and the Catacombs. Vincennes I loved for the crazy historical stories and also for the dog that rescue workers pulled out of the (dry) moat (how the heck did he get in there?). The Musee d’Orsay I loved for its impressionists, particularly Camille Pissarro and Jean-Francois Millet (not to say that the Centre Pompidou and the Louvre didn’t also have incredible art). As for the Catacombs, we were incredibly lucky to make it in! We were among the last to be let in on our last day in Paris, and a staff member was behind us with a flashlight keeping us moving so that they could close up. Even so, we could not fail to be impressed by the sheer number of bones under the city, thrown into haphazard piles slowly growing stalagmites behind carefully crafted femur and skull decorated barriers. Neither here nor there, but the street musicians/artists/dancers were exactly as you would expect them to be (read: glorious), and I’m not quite yet over the way salads seem to come with little bits of toasted bread with cheese on top. Divine.
Paris had been a lovely addition to what the holiday was originally planned to be – my dad and I had started talking about the possibility of a walking tour in Europe somewhere, and had settled on a walking tour of the Cantal volcanic uplands region through The Enlightened Traveller. So after a week in Paris, my siblings went back to their obligations in the states and my dad and I headed down to Murat by train. We had an absolutely beautiful first day climbing up to the Plomb du Cantal and experiencing our first of many somewhat cautious forays through a herd of Salers cattle (Salers and Aubrac are the two main local breeds of the region – and they make some mighty fine cheese). Unfortunately, the remaining three days of walking were spent largely in the rain. The first day unnerved me a bit, as there was lightning and we were doing a ridge run with hiking poles, but the second day I just found astoundingly picturesque as we were crossing moors every bit as misty as if we had been placed in Wuthering Heights. I may have even been disappointed if all of our moor crossing had been done in the sun. Unfortunately, the weather got really nasty as we started to ridge run towards Puy Mary, the high point of the region, and we were forced to turn around (a good call, as I couldn’t feel/use my fingers until I got in the hot shower a few hours later, and the weather never did clear up). Overall, I loved the fact that there was local food (with generous applications of cheese) everywhere we went in the region, the mountains were gorgeous (and GREEN, something I’m missing a bit where I am), the ubiquitous cow bells, and (mostly) getting by with the French I’d put some effort into studying the past few months. It was also nice getting to spend some time with my dad, who is not a habitual hiker but put up with the less-than-stellar weather like a champ. Someday I’ll have to return to see the view from Puy Mary – and perhaps eat a little more cheese.
(Particularly slow internet is preventing transfer of pictures. I’ll add some later, insha’allah)
Yesterday was the prophet Muhammad’s birthday! Of course, this can’t go by without at least a little festivity. The biggest holiday is still L’3id Axatar (which I still haven’t written a post about! Shame on me!), but this is still a cool holiday in a relaxed sort of way.
As with most holidays here, the celebrations started the night before. I went to my host family’s house, where Rachid prepped an exceedingly large bowl of chicken, onions, and spices for kebabs. As usual, the grill was taken into the room we were eating in and all of the skewers were eaten with bread as they came off the grill. If there had been a large crowd, someone would have been going around with the skewers so that each person could pull off a piece of meat in turn – but there were just the four of us, so we got our own skewers as they were ready. In the summer (or with a large number of guests and therefore a long cooking time), the smoke from the grill can get really irritating. However, since it was pretty cold in the house, the grill made for a nice and cozy room for eating and relaxing. Again, due to the lack of guests and the fact that it’s winter, we all went upstairs to sleep pretty early.
Souad brought up some henna for us to put on before bed. It’s traditional that for any holiday the majority of females get henna’d up the night before, and this was no different. Souad applied henna carefully to my hands (right hand first, always), and then Fatima helped tie my hands in plastic bags and then rags to sleep in. At that point, I’m pretty helpless, so they tucked me into bed. In the morning I woke up around 7 – two hours after Fatima, who wakes up at 5 to pray and then take care of the livestock, and a good hour after Souad, who had kneaded bread at 6 and was cooking it by 7. Fatima pulled my mitts off, then took off most of the still wet henna. I was then instructed to go hang out by the small wood stove they heat water on in order to dry all the remaining henna, which helps make it darker. I hung out there for a good 10 or 15 minutes, and then I was made to rub in a small amount of oodi (homemade butter). That serves as a protective coating and a moisturizer – half of the reason the henna is so popular here is that it softens the skin.
Still without washing my hands (as the game is to stave that off for as long as possible), we had a fancy breakfast of lmsmn (or er ghaifs, a oily almost filo-like bread), bghrir (like pancakes, but with yeast and lots of bubbles), cake, and noodles w/ oodi (the butter mentioned above). There was also very delicious morning coffee – milk, of course, which Fatima had coaxed from the cow that morning.
After breakfast, Ikram and I went to Mama’s house. Mama had invited me the day before, and it turned out that she did have lots of guests – two of her husband’s sisters, their children, and her husband’s mother were all there. Her husband’s mother actually lives in Molly’s town and is the neighbor of Molly’s host family – I’m always finding out that people are connected in so many more ways than I think is possible. Anyhow, this lady had just returned from a 2 1/2 month journey to Marrakesh and the surrounding areas, so she was regaling us with tales of everything she’d seen (the splendor of the city, gorges lined with hotels, tourists, etc.). Mama’s son was also home – he’s a high school student, and has dreams to study abroad, so he takes his studies seriously. He busted out his English book and we went to town, doing impromptu lessons on pronunciation and grammar on whatever page he flipped to. I was impressed at the level of his studies – he’s studying for The Bac, a difficult test required to pass high school (tons of people don’t pass), and he’s studying calculus (integrals, trig, functions, logarithms), chemistry, physics, and engineering (complete with fairly complicated mechanical specs). This is on top of the three languages he needs to prove competence in, none of which are his native one. I need to make it back there this weekend to help him more with his English before he returns to high school – a kid that motivated deserves all the help he can get!
Anyhow, back to the holiday. We had tajine at my host family’s, and then we went to the next neighborhood to convey holiday tidings to extended family. We only made it to one house, though – we started going to another one, saw something involving a car and a man near the house, immediately presumed the worst, and rushed back into the previous house before we could be seen.
From there I went to my friend Aziza’s house, thoroughly filled with tea and coffee (I was on something like 13 cups of tea and 5 cups of coffee). Her mom is recovering from knee surgery, but seemed to be in good spirits, and there were a few other people I know from my neighborhood there. Snacks were once again brought out, but thankfully with this family I can indeed beg off eating due to the condition of being very thoroughly full. (I try this in other houses, but it often does not work). My brain was starting to shut down at this point – I’d operated at full speed in Tashelheet from 7 to 5:30 – so when everyone got up to get back home before dark I was a little relieved. We managed to hitch a ride up the hill in the back of my neighbor’s van (which was filled with sawdust and a few tires – they’re doing some construction), and I got back to the comfort of my own home just before dark!
November 1st through the 5th was In-Service Training (IST) for all the Environment and Health Volunteers that came to Morocco in March. November 5th, as it happens, was our 6 month anniversary of our swear-in! We’re over a quarter of the way through our service!
We didn’t get to wander around Marrakesh as much as we would have had we been there for vacation, and I didn’t go clubbing at all – one of the best things about Marrakesh for PCVs, as I hear it. What I did do was go to a different place for dinner every night.
On Monday, Colin, Tina, and I were on our way to the grocery store to make food in our bungalows when we spontaneously decided to flag down a taxi and get pizza – a fantastic decision, I feel. The large supreme pizza with the cheesy crust at Pizza Hut is only 43 Dh a person when split three ways, and it is mightily delicious (and all pork products are substituted with beef, a change which the habitual omnivores said was unnoticeable).
On Tuesday, we decided to get street food at the city center – Jamaa el Fna. Four of the six pictures above are from that. Overall, I didn’t think Jamaa el Fna was that great – I ended up there a second time later, and at neither time did I see monkeys or snake charmers. I saw lots of horse drawn carriages (picture 1), dancers who looked a little suspect and turned out to be men (picture 2), a guy playing guitar with a chicken on his wide brim hat (regrettably not pictured), and two guys setting up to fight but who might not have ever actually done so. There were also musicians, comedians, storytellers, and fortune tellers.
As for the food, there were established restaurants that seemed to make you want to feel as if you were eating streetfood. The first place we went was the best – they had cheap bowls of ahrir (soup) with excellent wooden spoons (picture 4), and the guy serving them was tickled to death that we could speak tashelheit, tamazight, and arabic among us. Then we walked by several snail sellers before giving in and deciding to try a five dirham bowl. Nicole and I split that (picture 5). They were actually kind of good – spicy! Then some guy told us we could get 6 kebabs and free tea for 30 dirhams.. he listened to us request meat types, then we got 6 lmskeen (not so awesome) looking kebabs of.. I don’t even remember, but not what we asked for, and found out the place didn’t even have the capability of making tea. So boo to the guy that lied to us.
The rest of the evening kind of felt like walking around a fancy, expensive souq. There were some cool things, but I don’t really have any desire to go back. It’s possible it’s better if you’re not already used to souq.
Wednesday – Tina, Ben, and I were headed to Asima, and turned a little earlier than we’d been instructed to do – there was a sign, so we went for it. We are very happy that we did, because we ended up finding this Egyptian guy with a teeny tiny restaurant serving heaven on a platter. I stopped walking to ask him what he was making – it looked and smelled awesome – and he had a little tea spoon at the ready to give me a taste. It was some sort of eggplant-tomato-kefta (ground beef) deliciousness, and after Tina and Ben had their samples, we promised to return after we our grocery shopping. When we returned, we were treated to the best meal that I feel I’ve had since my fancy-pants goodbye meal in Philadelphia! We considered that the special ingredient may have been some sort of narcotic. The mix was turned into sandwiches, with an added tomato sauce, fresh onions, and fresh tomatoes. We were also given Fool, a fava bean dish sprinkled with olive oil. We were all so appreciative of the meal that the chef, Hamid, began to suspect that Tina’s freshly bought bottle of soy sauce was actually whiskey and that we were perhaps a wee bit tipsy*. They brought us cookies and a pomegranate for dessert. 10/10.
Thursday – Tina and I decided to find a sushi/Thai restaurant everyone had been raving about. We did this on foot. I thought it was by the Pizza Hut we’d gone too on Monday – we’d walked back to the hotel, and that only took thirty or forty minutes. However, this was by the second pizza hut! Oi! When we finally found it, we were so close to Jamaa el Fna that we just walked there, and were disappointed to find it still free of all monkeys and snake charmers. So we walked back to the Asian Restaurant, determined, and after two hours of brisk walking sat down for our meal. We got curry and a rice/chicken dish, both of which were quite good, one sake shot each, and ginger creme brulee. We should have done this before the Egyptian food, because it was quite good, but really expensive! The Egyptian food was 20Dh each, and Tina and I both dropped well over 100Dh for our dinners at the Thai place. And they charged me more for an extra bowl of rice! If you’re in Marrakesh and want dessert, however, the ginger creme brulee was exceedingly well done.
Friday – We took a bus in to town to buy CTM (bus) tickets the day before – both to check times and to have them, just in case. We found a very friendly sandwich maker outside the CTM place, and had very routine sandwiches with fries. I only include this because I chronicled all the other food.
Then, the next morning, I left! I was on the earliest bus I could be on to get back to Tinjdad – I am not a city person, as all who know me can attest, and I’d been a bit grumpy all week to be surrounded by people and noise and pollution and no space of my own. I was elated to be leaving. Picture 5 is from inside the bus – there were just so many trees on the Mediterranean side of the mountains! I also found I was out of my element botanically – in my area, I can name almost all of the plants in Tashelheet. On the Mediterranean side of the mountains, there were tons of plants I didn’t even recognize! Things got much more familiar as soon as we crossed over the Tizi n Tshka – I would translate that as ‘the pass of difficulty’, and it’s known as the most difficult drive in Morocco (there’s always someone on the bus who’s throwing up. I, luckily, am somewhat used to the winding roads of Colorado and North Carolina, so it’s not too much of a problem. Hemdullah.)
I was very happy when I finally returned to my site. The aspens have started turning (picture 6), and I had not, as I feared, missed olive picking! Most of this last week has been spent making necessary social visits, picking olives, and screening the eyes of kids at the local middle school so we know who to send to the eye doctor when he makes it up here in two weeks (insha’allah). A bit more on olive picking:
First, sorry there are no pictures. I had my camera a lot of the time, but I never got around to taking any pictures. Maybe someone will still be picking them tomorrow, I don’t know… but I think I’m just picture free this year. C’est dommage, as people tell me here. Pity.
Next, olive picking is primarily a ladies’ job in my town. I saw a total of one guy really helping, and he’s an old dude (he also managed to puncture his foot on one of the trees, lose a shocking amount of blood [I’d estimate a third to a half liter, no joke], and keep on trucking – and later the same day, he (a haj!) told me I should have lied and told people I was a convert to get into the mosque at Moulay Idris, one of the most holy places in Morocco… this guy is awesome). He mostly hung out on his own set of trees while I worked with the ladies in his family on a different set – I saw a few guys stop to help him out and talk for a few minutes on several occasions, but that was as close as it came to other men helping with the harvest. In other towns in different parts of Morocco, I hear that olives are harvested entirely by men. I don’t know if there’s anyplace where it’s joint work.
The basic method of harvesting olives is this: if you have some sort of tarp, lay it down under the tree. If not, no problem. Then, as a group, (3-6 people normally, it seems), people start pulling olives off the tree, and letting them fall to the ground (it goes much, much slower if you actually try to hang on to the olives for easy deposition into some sort of olive receptacle.. I’m not even sure it’s possible most of the time). Two or three people are normally in the tree for this. There’s also a metal hook that can be used to bring branches closer to the ground for easier picking, and sticks for beating olives off branches out of reach. As for the rain (hail?) of olives coming off the trees, they need to big picked up off the ground one by one. This was most of what I did for the three and a half days I spent working on the olive harvest, and it’s harder work than it sounds! You can’t really sit down, so you have to hang out in the squat position all day and bend over to pick up olives. This is fine for a few hours, but after four or five hours of doing this your upper back really starts to hurt. After a few days, it doesn’t take four or five hours anymore. Thank god for my new yoga books! The other downside of picking things up off the ground is that there can be other things on the ground – the first few days I didn’t run into this really, but the last few days I was running into a lot of semi-hidden dried human poop on the ground, right where I was trying to pick up olives. That was disgusting. I assume this is a usual issue, though, and they do clean the olives off well.. and I’ve never gotten sick from olive oil, so I’m going to assume it’s not a problem.
The bonus of picking olives are that I get to spend time with my ladies, come home full-body tired, and get some community respect as someone who helps with harvesting. Plus, despite listing some cons up there, I enjoy the olive harvest for what it is: it’s fun picking olives off trees, and learning little things – did you know that fresh olives have a white milky goo inside them that oozes when they’re smooshed? It doesn’t look like olive oil at all!
And with that, it’s late, and I’m going to bed. Have a wonderful day!
*I have an identical bottle of soy sauce in my kitchen. Two of my friends at my site were in my house, and they looked in my cabinet and found the soy sauce, and conspiratorially asked me if it was beer. They were a little disappointed to have caught me with an Asian condiment rather than booze.