Monday, June 20, 2011

Moroccan recipes

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following are of mine alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

Yes, I know what you're thinking: two blog posts in less than 6 months? This must be some kind of record! Well, you're right. It is. I admit I haven't been blogging as much as I should, considering I created this blog to help friends and family back home understand what it's like to live in Morocco (can anyone say PC Goal #3?). But I'm hoping to change that.

Last week I had the opportunity to fulfill one of my personal Peace Corps cross-culture experience goals: to learn some new and exciting Moroccan recipes. And being the good little PCV that I am, I've decided to help fulfill Peace Corps Goal #3: "Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans."

And what better way to do that than to blog about it?


Recipe Numero Wahed: Msemen

Ingredients:

4 cups white flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
Vegetable oil
Warm water
Semolina
Butter

Directions:

1. Combine flour, salt, and sugar in large bowl and mix well with hands. Add small amounts of warm water and mix well. Knead the dough thoroughly, adding small amounts of water until dough is slightly sticky. Add vegetable oil to the dough to keep it from sticking and separate it into 1 cup-sized balls.

2. Spread some oil on a large flat surface and put 1 ball of dough on it. Flatten the dough with hands, stretching it thin into a ten-inch square. Dribble oil on top and sprinkle semolina on top of that. Pat down gently. Fold one side of dough to the middle of square, then fold the other half on top. Dribble more oil on that and then sprinkle more semolina on top. Fold the bottom half to the center and then fold the top half on top of that so you have a small square of folded dough.

3. Repeat process with the other balls of dough.

4. Let it sit for about five minutes.

5. Melt a small chunk of butter in a skillet.

6. Stretch out dough squares into larger, flat squares and put in the preheated skillet with the melted butter. Lightly brown it on both sides and repeat the process with the other squares.

7. Serve with Moroccan mint tea for a lovely mid-morning/afternoon snack. It's also really good with Laughing Cow cheese or honey.


Recipe Numero Juj: Couscous

(Note: I have not personally made this yet. I watched a neighbor make it last week and took thorough notes.)

Ingredients:

2 cups raw couscous
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp saffron
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp Hokhla ? (I'm not sure what this is in English yet. It was mixed in with the ginger.)
½ tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp paprika
1 cup water
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro
2 small tomatoes, peeled, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Raw chicken pieces

Additional vegetables: squash, pumpkin, bell pepper, carrots, zucchini
Small chunk of chicken bouillon
Couscous steamer pot
Large mixing bowl

Directions:

1. Add everything together in the bottom part of the couscous pot except for the additional vegetables and bouillon and let it boil for about ten minutes.

2. Cut the additional vegetables into large chunks and set aside.

3. Mix raw couscous in large mixing bowl with 1 tsp oil and ½ cup water and let sit for about 5 minutes.

4. Pour couscous in the smaller half of the steamer pot and place on top of the pot of boiling stew.

5. Let sit for about 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Remove couscous bowl and add vegetable chunks to boiling stew along with a small chunk of chicken bouillon.

7. Pour couscous into large mixing bowl and add a little water. Mix well, fluffing the couscous with hands. Return the couscous to smaller bowl and replace on top of boiling pot of stew.

8. Let sit for about 10 to 15 minutes.

9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 three times, adding a little salt and butter to the couscous on the third time.

10. Once the couscous is tender and the chicken and vegetables have been thoroughly cooked, remove the couscous bowl and pour into large, round serving dish.

11. Scoop stewed meat into the center of the couscous and pour vegetable chunks over it.

12. Top with the stew liquid.

13. Serve with a nice cold glass of buttermilk on a Friday afternoon. Makes enough for about four people.

Pictures coming soon...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

That Spark of Adventure

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following are of mine alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

Last week was spent in one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Paris. It was my first time to France and I have to say, I've fallen in love with French culture. The food was amazing, the architecture was breathtaking, and the people were friendly and helpful. Of all the places I've been to in the world, I have to say Paris is, by far, my favorite.

I spent six full days in this lovely city with my friend Alex where we experienced everything from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame to the Catecombs (and that was just day one).

What surprised me the most, however, was how easy it was to return to Morocco. With less than six months left of my service, I've been eager to return to a place where I don't get stared at everywhere I go. A place where I feel I fit in and don't get called "Foreigner" all the time. Paris was such a place for me. Not a moment went by where I felt I didn't belong. It was a nice break from Morocco. And to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to coming back.

I'm not sure how or why, but upon returning, I felt like I was home. It was probably the first time in my service where Morocco has felt like home to me. I don't speak French at all and although most people I met in Paris spoke at least a little English, it was a relief to be able to speak Darija (Moroccan Arabic) again. I guess I'd forgotten what it's like to not understand anything that's being said. Not that I'm fluent in Darija, by any means (or even that good), but it was nice to hear a foreign language that I could understand.

But it wasn't just communicating that made Morocco feel like home. It was everything. I've gotten used to people staring at me, of the methods of travel, arguing with taxi drivers, the long waits at the bus stops/train stations/taxi stands. I feel integrated. I know this culture in sort of the same ways I know my own culture. I can go to a restaurant and order food in Darija without being self-conscious about my pronunciation (as much as I've tried, there are some sounds in French that I simply can't make). I know what to expect here (which is the unexpected). I know how to get from point A to point B. I know how to greet Moroccans in their native language. This country and culture has become familiar to me. It's to the point where I feel comfortable with my discomfort (if that makes any sense at all).

And, of course, there's that sense of adventure that comes with living here. In Paris (and even in America over Christmas), everything felt safe and reliable, like I didn't need to always be on-guard. Granted, it is exhausting at times, but that sense of adventure is what makes life here interesting. Every time I leave my house, I never know what to expect, who I might run into, if my favorite hanut will be closed, if my classes will be canceled because of something else going on at my youth center/women's center or if I'll even have work at all. I expect things here to be unreliable. I've come to expect the unexpected. Because in the end, for whatever reason, everything just seems to work out.

As strange as it may seem, to live in an environment where you can rely on transportation to be on time or expect things to get done in a timely manner just seems boring to me. Part of me likes not knowing if I'll be able to catch a taxi to Oujda or buy simple things like milk or baking powder.

I often wonder how long it'll take for me to get bored with life when I go back to America in November. Compared to Morocco, life in America is easy. And to me, easy is boring. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely looking forward to starting a life in America, but I know myself well enough to know I'll soon be looking for another adventure in some new and exciting culture.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Christmas...

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following are of mine alone and do not reflect that of Peace Corps or of the U.S. government.

Christmas is a wonderful holiday. Yes, I’m aware that you’re probably thinking to yourself: “no duh it is...” But believe it or not, this is a new realization for me. And the fact is, Christmas isn’t the only part of American culture that I undeniably took for granted while living in America. As shocking as it is, there was a reason why I wanted to leave that over-sized, over-weight, over-populated, fast-paced, hypocritical hodgepodge of a country. But now having spent over a year abroad, I have to say I miss those little things about American culture that used to tick me off. One of those being Christmas.

I’ve always believed that the holiday we all know as Christmas was actually stolen from the Pagans ages ago and is now simply an excuse for retailers to take advantage of consumers. The real idea behind Christmas (if ever there was one) has been lost. Christmas has essentially become this massive black hole of greed and consumerism that will suck you in and rob you of everything for the sake of self-respect and dignity. To buy things simply for the purpose of outdoing those who have bought you things is to surrender to the pressure created by our society. Naturally, those who conform to this materialistic holiday of greed and indulgence deserve nothing less than the debt that inevitably results from such reckless and frivolous spending. Call it ‘The Spirit of Giving’ all you want. It’s a load of crap.

At least that’s what I used to think.

Having missed out on Christmas last year, I’m actually finding that I want to experience it in all its horrifically glorified greediness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still appalled at the idea of buying things for the sake of buying things, but I think it’s the spirit of Christmas itself that I so deeply miss. The more I experience different cultures, the more I’m coming to realize that materialism is very deeply rooted in the mentality of many societies. It isn’t just America. It’s everywhere. Sure, there are exceptions, but what I’m starting to understand is that the joy of buying things (whether you’re buying them for yourself or for someone else) is very human.

We’ve all heard the saying, ‘money can’t buy happiness’, which is true, but what if a simple toy given to a child who has nothing creates a moment of happiness in that child’s life? Does that mean money can buy happiness? Or is it the act of selflessly giving that toy to a child in need that creates the happiness? Would the same feeling be created if that child were given money to go out and buy something? And is the initial act of giving really selfless if it creates a sense of pride in the individual doing the giving?

These are questions not meant to be answered, so please don’t try.

Now, what makes Christmas so special if it’s not about buying things? I’ve come to realize that the hectic Christmas shopping and obsession with material goods is only a small aspect of what Christmas actually is. What makes Christmas so unique is the belief that a small moment of pure happiness will manifest itself every year on December 25th. Even if children no longer believe in Santa Clause, they still hold on to the na├»ve notion that on Christmas morning, bright-colored packages will be stacked neatly beneath the sparkling evergreen tree standing tall and proud in the family room. Whether or not this is true happiness, I haven’t the foggiest. But no other holiday in the world leaves that spark of imagination in the minds of children. It’s fascinating when you think about it. On Christmas morning all that hustle and bustle from the holiday shopping doesn’t seem to mean jack.

But this childhood belief that some otherworldly saint in a red coat magically appears in your house every year on Christmas Eve isn’t the only thing this gluttonous holiday represents. A lot of people, I feel, have forgotten that it’s also about giving to those in need. Now, I know what you’re thinking... “wait... didn’t I just read that the ‘Spirit of Giving’ was a load of crap?” Yes, you did. And yes it is. BUT! (Yes, there is a but. And a nice, firm one, too). Giving to those in need is not the same as giving to the spoiled children of rich relatives. In fact, it is very different. Christmas, in this sense, is a cultural phenomenon meant to spread the wealth in a given population. The only thing is, human nature kicks in and suddenly you find yourself buying that cool, expensive, video game for your nephew while donating a couple of bucks to some unknown charity in hopes that it might do some good. After all, it is human nature to put family above strangers. But isn’t it odd that we would rather give things to children who already have everything instead of those who have nothing? Culturally, are we looked down upon if a toy is given to a child who has nothing instead of a relative who has everything? Does this really matter as long as a child gets something? Does it matter if the child is rich or poor? And who determines which is which? Is blood really thicker than water?

I guess this leads into my next inarticulate ramble about Christmas. And that is family. Believe it or not, I feel Christmas is also about spending time with those crazy relatives who force you to eat too much, then blabber on about how you need to lose weight. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, spending time with the people you care about is one of the most important things about Christmas. It doesn’t matter if those people you care about are friends or relatives; it’s about sharing the anomaly that is Christmas. I didn’t realize this until last year on Christmas Eve night when I was walking home from my youth center in the pouring down rain, alone and thinking of home. I was sick that night, too; and walking home to a Moroccan family who couldn’t care less about me and my strange American culture. It’s amazing what goes through your mind during times like these.

Ok, now I’m really rambling. I’ll wrap this up (no pun intended). Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I miss everything about Christmas. And I mean everything. I miss the red velvet bows, the candy canes, the sparkling lights on houses, the inaccurate manger scenes, the gaudy decorations, the fat old men in red suits at malls, reindeer, elves, pointy shoes, pointy hats, toys, shopping, traffic, mounds of people trying to check out at once, even the horrible Christmas music that stores play over and over until you want to rip the speakers out of the walls and crush them just to keep more innocent shoppers from being subjected to such inhumane torture devices... Yes, I miss every little detail about Christmas.

Overall, it’s probably good that I missed Christmas last year. Because this year I’m going to experience it in a way I never have before. I’m going to enjoy it. All of it. Down to the very last drop of frothy, calorie-filled eggnog. For the first time in my life, I’m going to experience it the way it was meant to be experienced. So help me, I will even enjoy the infamous labyrinth of doom known only as “The Mall.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Volunteer Culture

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following are of mine alone and do not reflect that of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

Ok, so I know it's been a while since I posted here and I could come up with an elaborate excuse (such as a monkey broke into my house and stole my computer), but we don't have monkeys in my site and just the idea of a monkey braking into a house is a little absurd. So I have no excuse for not posting more often than I do.

So, on to the more interesting stuff. What I found interesting last week was the dynamic of Peace Corps culture. Not only are PCVs thrown into an entirely new culture in an entirely new country, but I think people take for granted that Peace Corps itself is a culture (or "micro-culture" as my college anthropology professor would label it).

I recently returned from a week-long training in Rabat where I once again met up with those 55 other PCVs from my stage (training group). I guess I've been aware from the start that PC has it's own unique culture, in fact I believe those first few days of training in Mehdya back in September of 2009 were all about Peace Corps culture. But it's not just about getting used to acronyms (PCT, PCV, RPCV, CBT, PST, PPST, IST, YD, SBD, PCMO, ENV, HE, I could go on...), I feel like it's also about everything from learning how to make flip charts, to what to do in case of an emergency.

When you stop and think about it, living as a PCV is different from living in America on a whole different level. It's not just about integrating in a new culture or learning a new language, it's also about integrating in Peace Corps culture and learning Peace Corps language. For example, the following dialogue might actually take place between two PCVs:

PCV #1: "How was IST?"

PCV #2: "It was great, we learned all about SPA and PCPP, met the new PCMOs, talked about CBT, PST and PPST for the new stage, even met with some NGOs and hung out with 2nd YR YD, SBD, and ENV PCVs. I'm looking forward to MSM in NOV."

See what I mean? Confusing, yek? But I guess I've always known that Peace Corps is a culture in and of itself. What I did notice last week was the culture inside the Peace Corps culture (this is where my professor would point out that Peace Corps is a "sub-culture" and PCV culture is a "micro-culture"). But that's not the point.

The culture created by volunteers is just as unique as Peace Corps culture. Just like in any large group of people, some will get along better than others, but what I find interesting is that some PCVs have admitted to me that they would probably not have taken the time to get to know so and so if they were in America. I guess the point here is despite our many, many differences we all share something in common - our culture. I feel like this is what ultimately brings PCVs together. Sure, many of us have amazing Moroccan friends, but it's just not the same as having another American to talk to where you don't necessarily have to be so culturally sensitive all the time.

It's almost like we're drawn to other Americans and actively seek them out for comfort. While in Rabat last week I was out to dinner with several other PCVs from my stage when we noticed a table of Americans right across from us. I (along with several others) suddenly felt this overwhelming desire to meet them. And even just waiting for the train in Fes, I noticed that I'd spent an hour actively listening for American-accented English.

I guess the point of this post is that volunteering abroad requires you to integrate into several cultures all at once, which can be a little overwhelming at times. But what makes it easier is the fact that we're not doing this alone. I had an amazing time last week in Rabat (and not just because of the bacon cheeseburger and blue moon), but hearing about all the different experiences and what people are doing in their sites made it all worth it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Disco in Morocco

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following are mine alone and do not reflect that of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

Most Moroccans love to dance. This is not something I discovered recently, but knew since attending my first traditional Moroccan wedding back in September. When it comes to dancing, it doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, young, or old; I have yet to meet a Moroccan who doesn’t like to dance. This was the inspiration for my Women’s Day activity last week. We did an hour of art, an hour of yoga, and an hour of American dance. The turn-out was WAY more than I expected (about 30 women between the ages of 4 and 50) and it was probably the most fun I’ve had since coming here.

Believe me, I'm no expert on dance. In fact, of everyone in my training group I probably have the least experience in dance. But I wanted to offer something that women would be interested in and aside from teaching yoga I decided to try teaching the only two dances that I happen know: "The Hustle" and "The Electric Slide." And considering I learned these dances from a friend on New Year’s Eve a few years back, it’s only by chance that I even remember them, let alone teach them! But after downloading the necessary music and refreshing my memory with a series of Youtube videos, I was ready to go!

Here I need to insert a little side-note about Moroccan time. The majority of Moroccans will inevitably show up late to any event. That’s just how Moroccan time works. If you have something scheduled, don’t expect people to start showing up until at least a half hour after it starts. This can be frustrating at times, but you learn to live with it.

Now, the exception to this little rule is if you’re offering a yoga and dance class for women. The schedule at my Dar Chebab clearly listed art from 3:00 to 4:00, yoga from 4:00 to 5:00 and American dance from 5:00 to 6:00. The reason I even had the art class was to make sure women were there for the yoga and dance. But most women actually started showing up for yoga before 3:30! I had at least 15 women sitting in my yoga/dance classroom nearly a half-hour before it was even supposed to start! By the time 4:00 rolled around, about 30 women were waiting to start yoga!

Before last Saturday, I had never taught yoga or dance before in my entire life and yet before I knew it, the time had come and I was teaching it in my broken and heavily accented Arabic to 30 Moroccan women. I only wish I could have video-taped those 30 Moroccan women doing “the Hustle” in nearly perfect unison. They absolutely loved it. We had such a great time they talked me into doing it again this past Saturday. Not as many women showed up, but we still had an awesome time learning the Cha Cha Slide and dancing to Linkin’ Park.

I still consider last Saturday one of the best work days I've had here. The level of motivation those women had was amazing. They really wanted to learn complex yoga poses and dance steps and be able to do them right. They even had me watch them a few times just to make sure they were getting it. With as many bad days as I've had here and as many times I've considered early terminating my service, the good days like last Saturday make it all worth it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Living as an Outsider

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following are mine alone and do not reflect that of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

Ok, so I didn't actually plan on creating a blog during my two years of service in Morocco, mostly because I'd prefer to keep a written journal of my experience. But if you're in any way associated with Peace Corps, you'd know that goal number three of the Peace Corps mission involves teaching Americans about other cultures. Ever since stepping into that conference room in Philadelphia with 62 other nervous soon-to-be volunteers I've been bombarded with the Three Goals of Peace Corps. Aside from taking advantage of social networks like FB and Myspace, I guess you could say my work with goal three has been sort of slacking. So this is my way of contributing to goal three or at least attempting to share this rewarding and yet painfully arduous experience with Americans back home.

I guess I'll start with the obvious. I'm an outsider. Hard to believe, but it's true. As a 5'7" white girl, in a town that rarely (if ever) sees tourists, I tend to get stared at pretty much everywhere I go. They tell me part of my job is to integrate, but how is that possible if I'm constantly seen as an outsider? Each time I leave my house, I'm confronted with the usual assortment of greetings: "Hola!" "Bonjour!" "Hello!" "Gutenmagen!" The truth is, people don't really know what to think of me. Sure, my town has a history of Peace Corps volunteers, which is probably why I'm confronted with "Hello" more often than the ever popular "Bonjour!" But I'm starting to wonder if people will ever really see me as part of the community and not just another foreigner passing through. And if they do, what then? My two years will be up and I'll never see these people again. Will it have all been for nothing?

I know why I joined Peace Corps, I know why I'm here. I'm here to make a difference. And if my being here somehow encourages one student to pursue a higher education, then it'll have been worth it. But I guess that can't happen unless I'm fully integrated and trusted in my community. Right? It's a long and slow process, but in the end (in-sha-allah) I'll have accomplished what I set out to do all those months ago when I clicked that "submit" button on my Peace Corps application. Yes, my life is a lot harder here than it would be in the states and yes, I have doubts about whether I'll make it for two years. But in the end, I'll have experienced something that so few Americans get to experience: integration in a foreign culture, no matter how incomplete that integration is.

The very first hint of my integration progress came about a week ago. It was one of those things that happened so quickly that I probably wouldn't have caught it had I not thought about it afterwards. I was home one afternoon, cleaning mold off my walls (long story...) when I decided I needed some bleach. As a habit, I popped on over to my neighborhood hanut (store) wearing only my PJ pants, stained sweatshirt, and house-slippers and asked Mohammed, the store-owner for bleach. While he was fetching my item, there was a woman standing there, chatting with a friend and snacking on an assortment of olives and bread. She immediately offered me a generous portion of her snack and I soon found myself engaged in a conversation with the two women. When Mohammed returned with my product, he too joined in and I ended up standing there in the shade of the hanut, leisurely chatting in Darija with three Moroccans, two of whom I had just met. We talked about everything from where I'd been for the past two weeks (I'd just returned from PPST) to the weather in Morocco. Eventually the conversation broke up and as I paid Mohammed 12drhm for the bleach, I walked back around the corner to my mold-infested house.

As I returned to laboriously scrubbing the vile green fuzz from my walls, it suddenly hit me. Only moments ago, I'd been on the "inside". For perhaps the first time since coming here, I'd felt a sense of belonging, like I was seen as part of the community and not some socially awkward white foreigner imposing American values on Moroccans. And as I pondered this further, I realized the level of harassment had gone down significantly since November, when I first arrived. Not only are people getting used to seeing me out and about, but Moroccans have this thing about adopting people they see as "mskin" (poor). And apparently living thousands of miles away from family and friends and everything you know and love constitutes as "mskin." They know I'm giving up two years of my life to be here and whether they're aware of my reasons or not, they seem to appreciate the fact that I could be living in my own culture, speaking my own language, spending time with my own family and friends, but have chosen this life of hardship in a place I still know almost nothing about.

Even though I feel that I'll never fully integrate in my community, it's good to know there are moments like these where I'll "feel" like I'm integrating. I know people will always see me as an outsider, but maybe with time I'll come to accept the fact that I can be part of the community. I'll admit things have not been easy for me. But then, Peace Corps isn't meant to be easy. Life isn't meant to be easy. I guess you could say that's another reason why I joined Peace Corps, for the challenge. After all, how boring would life be if it were easy?