DisclaimerThe contents of this page, and all links appearing on this page, do not represent the positions, views or intents of the U.S. Government, or the United States Peace Corps.
Category Archives: Life
I’ve been running in circles trying to get some work done, which means I’ve made several trips down the mountain in the last week or so – and I have to be in Er Rachidia again on Monday! Oof! Because of limited transportation up to my town, I’ve gotten to spend a little downtime wandering in the flatlands below. Without further ado, here are the pictures:
That’s all for today! Hope you enjoyed the show!
One of my friends who did a lot of photography in college is looking to get back into the habit, so he challenged me and some other friends to join him in taking a photo a day throughout the month of March. I thought I’d document the appropriate ones here – those of you who know me are just going to have to wait till I get back to see all my photos of my Moroccan friends!
Here are a few of my favorites that I’ve taken from March 1st-4th:
In other picture news, I think I need to go back and delete the pictures of Ikram and the one of Selma that I posted before. The girls don’t care, but I’ve been given reason to believe that their mother does.
I’ll try to post pictures at least once a week in March – hope you enjoy them!
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’):
- I went souq shopping in Tinjdad on Sunday to buy my 3idwear – everyone has a new outfit on l’3id, so I got myself a sweater and a pajama set. I thought I’d get away with wearing my pajamas today and saving my sweater for cold nights, but it cooled off a lot here over the weekend and I had to wear everything I had to stay warm.
- Because I went souq shopping, I didn’t eat lunch. I had a bit of a snack, but when ‘douez’ (stew, sort of) was served to a male member of my family after I’d been hanging out a few hours, I decided to have a little. When we got down to the meat, I couldn’t really figure it out – it sort of looked like there was a tumor on what I’d been served, or maybe a big thing of fat. I was told to go ahead and eat it, so I did.. you eat things here with bread, and when I prodded it with my bread a lot of stuff with about the same shape as ramyeon and size of angel hair pasta came out. I went ahead and ate it (it tasted pretty mild, completely inoffensive), and then asked what it was.. an egg, they tell me – a popular euphemism here for testicle. I thought this was a dish only male PCVs would get to eat; I have a new winner for strangest food I’ve eaten (although, really, the sheep cheek doesn’t fall far behind).
- I got to witness the slaughter of the sheep from beginning to when we were eating the insides on skewers. The guy that did the slaughtering and gutting wasn’t in my host family, so I didn’t want to take too many pictures of him.. here’s a few that just contain the sheep (and one with me)
- A polite way to greet someone clearly doing a task around here is to ask for confirmation of what they’re doing.. ‘are you carrying water?’ or ‘are you cutting alfalfa?’ or ‘are you picking olives?’, to name a few. So as I walk by a ditch on my way home I see a woman I know, and I call down to her ‘are you washing something?’ She replies in the affirmative, and lifts the object out of the water – half a ram’s head. So I ask if it’s for dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow, continue with a little more small talk, and go on my way. It occurred to me that felt way more normal than maybe it should have.
- I am absolutely impressed with the ability of my neighbors to pack this food away. My diet in the last 24 hours has been nearly all ram, bread, cookies, and tea – I did have a little fruit with dinner and a little coffee with breakfast for variety. And there’s been a lot of it. The thing that still totally boggles my mind is that after eating enough kebab meat to satisfy a lion, a tajine or plate of meat is served and eaten up voraciously with bread. I normally try to at least look like I’m eating it, but today at lunch I reached my limit early, and begged off the last few rounds of kebabs and sitting for the ‘meal’ altogether.
- To be kept in mind: this intensity, although with focus on other parts (e.g. head and feet tomorrow), will last for three more days.