I ate a ram’s “egg” and other 3id happenings

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)

Freshly slaughtered ram.

A hole is made in the skin of the leg, through which a man blows up the ram like a balloon. The skinning is easier this way.

With the gutted ram. Note a few unusable portions of intestines still on the ground, and the way it's hanging by its own feet looped together.

  • 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.
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To all PCVs and PCV hopefuls

After posting the potentially heartwarming videos of productive PCVs earlier today, I stumbled across this video made by a couple of guys serving in Vanuatu. Brilliant.

Peace Corps Postcards: Moses and Xavier

Peace Corps is doing a little video series called Peace Corps Postcards. Two volunteers in Morocco have been highlighted, and I thought some of you might enjoy seeing what other volunteers are doing.

Moses is a Health Volunteer from my training group who lives in a different part of the High Atlas range from me, and he’s been teaching some boys in his town how to play baseball.

Xavier is a Youth Development Volunteer in one of the larger towns in my region, Goulmima.  He has a very cool side project going on – he was approached by a trio of young hip-hop artists at his youth center, and he’s given them encouragement and helped them produce a cd.  He’s been featured on the MTV Website, too.

Little Life Updates

I’ve been remiss in posting – here’s a little of what I’ve been up to in the last month:

  • English Classes: I’m on my third week of teaching at the middle school this semester, and overall classes are going really well. I asked for more class time and fewer students per class this year, so I’ve ended up with 6 classes, 4-9 students per class.  I have a basic framework for the lesson plans, and the classes are all going through it at vastly different paces.  The important part, though, is that with the small class sizes I actually get relatively attentive students vs. the chaos of 30 students in one room I had last year. Hooray!
  • Basketball Hoops: We’ve got the metal for the basketball hoops, and I watched sodering equipment get loaded up into a car to get taken to the school yesterday afternoon. Insha’allah, the metal will be cut and sodered, starting today.
  • Wheat: Ok, so this isn’t a project, but I’m still really excited about it. I’ve been trying to buy wheat for a really long time, but when I ask most people respond with some variation of, “‘oh, I’ll give you a bunch of wheat for free, ask me about it sometime later.” I’ve been given small amounts of wheat flour a few times this way, but I never return and press the issue because my conscience won’t let me just barge in on someone’s house and demand that they give me a lot of flour for free. But I found a seller! I am now the proud owner of what is probably 10+ kilos of wheat grain, cleaned but unsorted, for 65Dh. I lugged it from the seller’s house to my host family’s house yesterday on my back with a very bright purple wrap skirt I got in Mexico (12 years ago now?); normally the lugging is done with a black shawl with bright embroidery, but I’ve yet to obtain one. I’m going to go over to my host family’s today to sort it after I teach, and then I’ll take it to the mill and have a reasonable amount of wheat flour for the first time in my service! I’m overwhelmed with the possibilities – wheat pasta, pancakes, bagels, baguettes, pizza, tortillas, foccacia… yay!
  • It’s shucking season! Being social at this time of year often involves sitting down around a large pile of drying corn and shucking for the length of the visit. Yesterday, while waiting for the wheat (and around eating lunch) I managed to get a solid four hours of shucking in. I’m a pro now; it’s one of the few activities that I can do every bit as fast (if not faster) than the locals around me. It’s repetitive, but there’s something a little satisfying about watching the big wicker basket repeatedly fill with corn that will one day turn into corn couscous or harsha. As a bonus, the corn that’s still juicy gets thrown on a nearby burner until it’s appropriately blackened – corn on the cob! Yum.
  • Fes! I went to Fes to see my very talented friend Socorra perform at Cafe Clock, as well as to hang out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I managed to spend much longer in the Fes medina than I had on previous visits; Helen Rose and Donna and I window shopped with vigor. We were all present shopping; I made out with some nice gifts for my favorite ladies back at site.
As always, there are some project ideas lurking in my head and in conversation with different community members – notably, I got approached and told about an association in my town that I’d never heard of yesterday, so it’ll be interesting to see if that lead goes anywhere.  For now, I’m going to go make my best approximation of creole grits with soft-boiled eggs for breakfast (I’m perfecting this) and clean house a little before heading off to teach. Have a good one!

The Legend of Isli and Tislit

I ran across a podcast on the Peace Corps Wiki page today – it’s a retelling of the legend of Isli and Tislit, the Romeo and Juliet story of the Amazigh people which serves as the origin story for not only the two large lakes (Isli and Tislit) near Imilchil, but also the Imilchil Wedding Festival. Before you listen, there are a few things I feel worth mentioning about the names.  First, Tislit and Isli translate to Bride and Groom, respectively, so their names are really just symbolic. Second, (I know this is nitpicky but I can’t help myself,) Tislit is pronounced a bit like “tee-sleet”, not “tee-slet” as in the podcast (it was read by a volunteer from Nepal). Isli is the same but without the t’s – “ee-slee”. As with any legend, there are different versions of this story floating about, but I thought this was pretty well told. Without further ado:

The Legend of Isli and Tislit

Imilchil Wedding Fest 2011

The Imilchil Wedding Festival (for info, see last year’s entry), or more commonly known around these parts as the ‘Aydood’ (i.e. really big market party) or “Moussem n l’xotoba” (i.e. festival of engagement), was a ton of fun this year. To start it off, I convinced Helen Rose to come up to my site and hike over to Ait Haini with me. By packing more and taking a slightly stupider (but really fun) descent into Itto Fezzou via dried up stream bed, we managed to make the walk 10 hours long – luckily, there were many cars on the road due to the festival and we had no problem catching a ride to Imilchil.

Helen Rose above my valley.

The next morning, I and a few other volunteers gathered at the Eastern High Atlas National Park tent at the festival to fulfill our duties as token Tashelheet-speaking Americans, hand out brochures and answer questions about the park. The red carpet was rolled out for numerous local authorities in front of our row of tents; other displays included associations and cooperatives selling apple juice, honey, artisanal woven and carved products, and a heavily PCV laden Ministry of Health tent.  For the next few hours we stood around with our brochures as the dozens of officials walked through the area with the paparazzi in tow, then I hung around for the first shift in the Park tent.

It was really windy that day, and really windy at the site of the festival means incredibly dusty as well. The whole display was being knocked over quite regularly by the wind, and so within 20 minutes of the press leaving, the Department of Water and Forest representatives decided it was time for them to exit stage left.  That left us duty free for the day, so we started to wander around the massive market, finding ourselves a delicious overpriced tajine for lunch (we thought about being indignant, but then heard staff charging locals the same price), looking at the piles of second hand clothing, the fat and spices souq, livestock souq, hardware souq, etc. My favorite find in the whole festival, though, was back in that first row of tents.

I went to go get some apple juice from an Imilchil based association (15 Dh for a liter; I had missed it since the last wedding fest!), and as I was heading back to the Ministry tents I popped into a weaving tent. The woman running it looked at me and asked, in tashelheet, if I remember her. I looked at her for a second and said, ‘Zeenab?’ And it was! I had spent quite a while talking to her and eventually buying one of her blankets at the last wedding fest, and I was surprised that she remembered me and happy for her to have gotten such a prestigious tent placing this year. She had a much better array of products, and along with buying more than I had originally intended to at her tent, I also advertised her to other PCVs. I hope she did well this year.

Zaynab and I in her stall

The second day of the festival, Helen Rose and I were approached by two Australians with oversized backpacks looking to find a hotel room. We took them back to Imilchil with us, and they stayed at Charlie’s for a few days. It turns out they were from Melbourne and travelling around the world for their gap year, and we adored them. Helen Rose and I and the Australians made it up to Lake Tislit the next day (which Helen Rose has all the pictures of, I’m afraid), and we had great fun wandering around and birding – coots, great crested grebes, and black-winged stilts, oh my!

While I didn’t manage to make it to Lake Isli or catch any of the weddings that people in my town have told me are televised from the festival (I have no idea where they were), I still had a blast at the festival. For those of you reading who may be around Morocco in September 2012, I think it’s definitely worth the journey into the mountains!

Je suis allée en France

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)