Thursday, September 29, 2011

Upwards of 85%

of the apples grown in the Midelt Region of Morocco are exported to Europe.  At least, that is what I understand to be the case.  Red, green, and yellow- Gala, Jonathan and Fuji- apples that were once covering the fields are now covering market places and families television sets. Families proudly display the most beautiful apples they find on top of their televisions or table tops.  Its a way to pay homage and show pride in the fruit and the farmers that help their community grow. 
Unlike Apricot season which was quite long, apple season has been short.  Or rather, the harvesting has been short.  The apple fields were picked clean by workers in less than 3 weeks.  An impressive feat to be sure.  
Now when I leave my house to either go on a walk, gather water, go to a baby naming or what have you, someone hands me an apple.  Or six.  It is awfully nice to get a delicious present just because I walked out the door.  Now, I don’t have a television set or much of a table, but do I have my own little shrine to Midelt apples gathering on top of my refrigerator.  
About a month ago I bought that small refrigerator- it is quite a luxury to have in the middle of the desert.  I am pleased with my purchase when, everyday I get to drink cold water. I bought it because I finally had a place to put it.  Mid-August I found a house and moved in.  
The house has never been used as a home before.  In actuality, it is part of the local Men’s Association.  Prior to me moving in, a doorway was sealed and now I live in one half of the building, while the men’s association functions in the other. 
As a home-renter, I’ve been busy getting everything organized and settled.  It’s wonderful to no-longer be living out of a suitcase and to have a small amount of privacy.   
It is three cozy rooms located in the center of town.  My nearest neighbor is the Mosque.  I’m becoming well acquainted with the five daily calls to prayer.  Especially the 4:30am call.  Very well acquainted.   The prayer leader is also a local hanute (shop, similar to general store, but about the size of a closet) owner whom I purchase things like flour, eggs and mouse traps from.  He likes to tease me about the amount of critters I’ve found in my house.  So sometimes I compliment his calls that day- sounding good, sir!  
It is true, I’ve had some problems with critters.  Despite my father teasing me, my mom’s suggestion of packing mouse traps has been invaluable here!  However, I don’t believe there is a such thing as a scorpion trap, which would be just as useful.  
In the case of the scorpion, I calmly ran out of my house (okay...there was nothing calm about it) and solicited the help of several nice men gathered outside of the Mosque.   However, I did not know the word for scorpion, so I just kept telling them that I “had a large problem in my kitchen.  I need help.  I am scared.” I attempted to imitate one with my hands, but unsurprisingly it was unsuccessful.  Finally, one gentleman took pity, went inside and calmly collected the scorpion in a dust pan. He took it outside and killed it with a rock.  
Before that day, I had never seen this man in my life.  Now I see him almost daily.  Each time, he makes fun of my scorpion depiction and laughs at me.  Its the start of a good friendship. 
Living in my own house has allowed me to feel more like a resident and less like a guest.  Women stop by to invite me to tea, kids knock on my door just to say hi and ask for help with their homework.  When I walk down the road people say hello to me and call me by name.  The local hanute owners will call out greetings when I pass by their shops and the post office security guard will come to my house, to tell me when I have a letter in my box.  
When I go to people’s homes they are starting to let me sit in the kitchen or help them sort through grain, make bread or whatever chore is being done, rather than sit in the “formal” room.  I’m even starting to joke with some women.  I love it when I can make them laugh. 
My language skills are still at a primary level, but they are getting better.  Sometimes I can follow an entire conversation without  even thinking about it.  Mostly I am still fighting for every word I can understand, but it’s on the up and up. 
A few times, when buying vegetables in Midelt (a larger town about 30k’s from my town) people have stopped me and complimented me on my conversational style.  One man even stopped me just to thank me for learning darija and learning local customs.  In that case, it was how to address an older woman with specific signs of respect.  I really appreciated that man.  Those are the good days.  And they are really good. 
The entire month of August was Ramadan.  During Ramadan adults fast from the first call to prayer (about 4:30am) until the fourth call to prayer (about 7:00pm).   Fasting requires no food, no water, no gum, no cigarettes, no sex, no medicine and no luxuries (perfume/cologne, make up, buying new things).  It is a time of simplicity. A time for you to be with Allah when there is nothing else in the way. Work is still done, chores and fields are still attended to.  Life as normal.  Almost. 
Adults would generally wake early and do work before mid-day, when it got too hot outside.  Long naps tended to fill the afternoon.  At about 5:00pm people (especially smokers) got a little crabby.  Around 7:00pm, after the call to prayer, families broke the fast.  Tables were full of Ramadan goodies- honey dipped cookies, dates, figs, breads filled with meat and spices that were then fried, boiled eggs and a mixture of almonds, peanuts, sugar and spices that is pounded into a paste.  And water. Lots of water. 
The evenings were spent visiting friends, kids playing soccer, and finishing up work in the cool of the night.  Special Ramadan television shows and movies tended to be playing in every house.  Around midnight or 1am, people generally slept.  At 3:00am special music played from the Mosque, acting as a wake up call.  Families would get up and eat dinner- usually a tagine (moroccan stew eaten with bread) and drink water.  Then around 4:30 the call to prayer sounded and fasting resumed for the next day. 
The day after Ramadan ends is called the Little Feast.  On this day, first thing in the morning, children took over the town. Dressed in nice clothes they would go from house to house congratulating the residents on the end of Ramadan.  At each house women would give the children cookies.  You would eat the cookie and proceed to the next house.  As I am 24-years old and unmarried, I am still a child here.  I ate a lot of cookies that day surrounded by packs of eight year olds.   
During Ramadan business hours are different, people are sometimes un-friendly (because they are hot, thirsty and hungry) and it always seemed to take three times as long to do anything.  Now that Ramadan has been over for about three weeks, people are getting back into a more normal rhythm.  
Schools have started up for the school year.  Famers are finishing up apple harvest and preparing for the upcoming olive crop.  In the evenings a chill is beginning to form in the air.  People have started the preparations for winter- gathering wood, cleaning wood stoves, and washing a lot of carpets and blankets.  I have been told to expect a cold winter. I don’t expect to be happy about it.  But the snow capped mountains will be beautiful.  
It’s hard to imagine that I’ve been here for nearly 7 months.  My neighbor has a son who is a little shy of 2.  His name is Mohamed and when he sees me he waves.  He throws his entire arm above his head and wiggles like crazy.  When I get close enough, he’ll run to me and give me a hug.  When I first moved here, he was still getting the hang of walking, but now he runs around like he owns this town! It’s amazing what 7 months can do. 
God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll update again soon. 
Missing you all and sending all of my love. 
love love love

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