Sunday, November 27, 2011

As today is

(three days after) thanksgiving, I wanted to share my thanks, with each of you, my dear readers.  Without your unending love and support, I would not be here.  I am grateful that I can share this experience, this new world, with such understanding, encouraging and interested people.  I am thankful for you all.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

love love love


Saturday, November 19, 2011

God called the prophet

Abraham, to sacrifice his son, on top of the mountain.  Abraham, unable to follow the command, slaughtered a sheep instead.   Each year, on the tenth day, of the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, a sheep is slaughtered. Thus, the week of l3id l-kbir begins.
l3id l-kbir, or the Big Feast, is celebrated three months after l3id-sgir, the Little Feast.  As you may remember, the Little Feast celebrates the close, of Ramadan.  Both feast days, are highly significant holidays, in the Islamic world. 
Each region, celebrates these feast days differently.  In Bouayache, the Big Feast is a grand celebration.  Families prepare for months, beforehand.  A lamb is purchased and raised into maturity.  Often, this animal, compared to its barnyard companions, will be given superior rations, to insure a finer quality.
Days before, women are busy preparing the home.  Every bit, of each day, is used. As the celebrations often brings family to visit, women must get everything, in order.  Houses, in their entirety, are cleaned. Rooms are prepared and double, as sitting rooms and extra bedrooms. Dozens of cookies and family favorites are baked and stored, to be served later.
Formal dish ware, carpets and blankets are brought out of storage.  This finery is passed down from generation, to generation and used, for holidays and weddings.  As a special occasion,  feast days allow families to celebrate, but also show off a bit. 
It is common, for women and girls, to wear beautifully intricate henna, on their hands and feet.  Boys oftentimes have henna induced orange circles, on their palms.  Some women even use henna, to mark the barnyard animals, particularly the sacrificial sheep.  This art acts, as a protection, warding off evil spirits and safeguarding the family, for the holiday.
Men finish work, in the fields.  Extra hours are put in, guaranteeing less to be managed, during the holiday. On feast days, men play an important social role, as well as an important role, in food preparation.  These roles demand their time therefore, fieldwork is waylaid.
On the day l3id l-kbir begins, families rise early, in anticipation.  Women prepare pots of teas and plates of cookies.  The communities children, dressed in nice clothes, go house, to house wishing families a happy feast day.  The children get a cookie and proceed, to the next house. 
Men go to the Mosque in the morning.  Tradition states that men must pray and be cleansed before the sacrifice.  Also, the King of Morocco, must sacrifice his sheep first.  Women, while passing out cookies, watch television broadcasts showing traditional concerts and the Kings sacrifice.  Its similar, in a way, to watching the Macy’s day parade.
Knives are sharpened and dishes are readied.  If the family has an outdoor courtyard, the act is performed there.  If they do not, a place. in front of the home, is chosen.  The sheep is brought forth and the sacrifice begins.
A sharp knife slits the animals throat.  It is done quickly, efficiently and respectfully. The head and feet are removed and set aside.  Men expertly skin the animal, in one piece.  The pelt is removed and laid in the sun, to dry. 
The carcass is then hung, by its hind legs.  The butchering continues, and the organs and intestinal matter is removed.  Each organ is valuable and all, but the large intestine is consumed.  Once cleaned and ready, the carcass is moved in the home.  Often, it is hung in the kitchen.  There it stays, until the holiday is over and all has been utilized.
In local tradition, the liver is eaten first.  It is boiled and cut into pieces.  Each piece, is then wrapped in a strip of fat and placed on a skewer.  These kabobs are grilled and served to all guests.  This delicacy is the true start, to the celebrations. 
The remaining organs are served, over the next several days.  Traditionally, on day two it is the brain and the feet. Day three is the stomach and small intestine.  Day four is the kidney and lungs.  A portion of the heart is served on various days.  The remainder is cut into strips, wrapped in pieces of the stomach and hung to dry.  Throughout the year, this dried collection often tops meals of couscous, served on special occasions.
Entire lambs are consumed, in days.  Sitting rooms play host to extended families and neighbors.  It is there, that substantial meals, of spiced lamb, are served and enjoyed by all. These plates rarely, if ever, have a vegetable on them.  Dishes, of lamb, are provided to all who enter the home, until a families supplies are depleted.
In keeping with tradition, women and men are separated.  Rooms are designated to segregate the sexes.  This act of modesty, allows men and women, to socialize undisturbed.  With family members and visitors, these rooms were full of laughter and festivities.  Men took up their unconventional role of host and catered, to the needs of their guests.  While women, very familiar in their roles, served family and friends, with ease. 
Globally, food brings people, to the table.  l3id l-kbir is no different.  It brought family, friends, neighbors and communities together, to celebrate life's blessings.  One of which, is abundance.  On this feast day, everyone had, not only plenty of food, but plenty of protein.  In this society, protein is placed at a premium.  Sacrificing a sheep is a gift and a blessing.  It literally, fills people with strength.  Symbolically, the strength to do Allah’s will.  Physically, a bodily strength to continue onward.
Abundance is meant to be shared.  Gifts are meant to be shared.  Charity is a significant part of the Big Feast.  Each family gifts a portion of their bounty, to those in need.  Need is a broad term, used to incorporate physical, emotional and spiritual deprivation.  This feast day demands you see the needs, in all people.
As a single women, with no family here, people recognized my need, for family.  Throughout the week, I received many invitations to peoples homes.  Over platters of lamb and kebobs, I was welcomed in, not as a visitor, but as a daughter and a sister.  I drank cups of tea, ate cookies and learned about family members.  I practiced family traditions, received kisses and hugs.  It was nothing short, of an honor, to be a witness, at so many family celebrations.
The holiday season is over now and a lull has set it.  Visiting family members have returned, each to their respective cities and towns.  Finery has been re-packed and stored for next year.  Meals have returned, to the common and reasonably portioned tagine.  Children went back to school.  Henna has faded off hands and feet.  Work has picked up and preparations, for the upcoming olive crop, are underway. 
While the feast day is over, it has changed how I see my town.  We are a little closer now.  A little more like family.    

love love love,

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Before school starts,

kids gather to play in the parched and vacant school yard.  The boys run around chasing each other.  The girls gather in clumps talking and playing little games.  At 9:00am the teachers arrive and open their classroom doors.  In single file lines, the children enter and find their seats, ready to learn. 

Like in Bouayache, it is common for rural villages to have an elementary school.  But for students to continue on to Middle or High School they must travel to a city.  Depending on the region, children may have a far distance to go.  For the students of Bouayache, this means traveling to Midelt.  

If attending Middle or High School, students from rural towns must live in dormitories. Many families qualify for free student housing based on household income level.  To be approved for this, the town’s Prayer Leader must approve the official paperwork. Without this subsidy, many students would be unable to afford schooling. 

In some areas, it is still common to have dormitories for boys, but not for girls.  WIthout these dorms, in many cases, girls must give up their educations.  However, new government initiatives are working to make female education a priority.  Building new girl’s dormitories is a large part of that.  Luckily, in Midelt, there are dormitories for girls and boys, at the middle and the high schools.

While it may be available, it does not necessarily guarantee students will continue on after elementary school.  Children are often seen as more valuable in the home. Even with financial assistance, it is expensive to have a child, or children, living away from home.  While schooling is seen as a benefit, it does not necessarily guarantee a job outside of farming or family business.  Therefore, some families elect to discontinue education after elementary school. 

In Bouayach, the elementary school is in the middle of town, right next to the Mosque.  Like all government buildings, it is a dark pink color.  Five small rooms stand in a row, looking out on the grey school yard.  The walls are made of cement bricks and the roofs are sheets of galvanized iron.  There are four small windows at the top of the front wall. Each of these buildings acts as a classroom.  However, only four are currently in use.  At the end of the school yard is another building, similar in construction, but with a small walled in compound at the entrance.  This is the principals office. 

Monday through Saturday the school is open from 9am until noon.  The teachers and principal live in Midelt.  Every morning, they carpool to Bouayache and park under the only tree near the school.  If a teacher is sick or takes the day off, then the students of that grade take the day off too.  There are no substitutes.

While there are only four teachers, the school accepts students from first through fifth grade.  Fourth and fifth grade is taught together.  Each classroom is equipped with a chalk board, tables, benches, a limited set of classroom textbooks and a computer.  There is no internet, but it is a great tool for the teachers and the kids.

For schools that qualify, there is a government program that provides a free lunch for students.  This is a tool to encourage and improve attendance.  It also acts as an incentive for parents to send their kids to school.  The school is able to employ one woman to make the lunch.  

Every morning she bakes 20 loaves of Moroccan bread.  Each loaf is large, round and baked until it is perfectly crisp.  After it cools, it is cut into triangular slices, much like a pie or a pizza.  Traditionally, bread is baked, every morning, outside in clay ovens.    However, with so much bread needed for the school, a large propane fueled oven is used.  This allows four loaves to bake at once, rather than just one at a time. 

Three days a week, she makes a large pot of lentils, white beans in red sauce or fava beans. Those mornings, she sorts and sifts through those legumes, picking out troublesome little stones.  On days without hot food, the kids get a wedge of laughing cow cheese to go with their bread. 

Every morning, I go to the house of the woman in charge of lunch.  I sit on a stool and watch her make loaf after loaf.  Sometimes she makes special fry bread for her and I, which we eat while keeping watch over the oven.  Mid-morning, a neighbor comes to make bread in the clay oven outside.  Her two year old son and I play while she is busy tending to the bread.  Last week we made drums out of laughing cow cheese containers and had a dance party.

At noon, I get sent to the school with the loaves.  There, I cut the bread and straighten up the tables and benches.  While I work, a group of four little girls play around the classroom.  Sometimes, I take a break and we play hide and go seek.  Soon after, the woman arrives with the pot of legumes and a supply of aluminums plates and spoons.  After she shoos the girls outside, we get set up and wait for the students to arrive.

The students pile into the room, cramming themselves onto the wooden benches.  The littlest kids yell and wave their hands, fighting for extra attention.  Their little plastic backpacks are so large on their shoulders, the little ones seem to disappear!  The older kids whisper and stare, trying to be cool.  By this time, all of the staff persons have left, but one.  The remaining teacher helps keep order outside and organizes students into lines by grade.  There they stand, anxiously awaiting their turn.

Most days, three older girls help give out snack.  They ladle a scoop of lentils or beans onto an aluminum plate to give each child, along with a triangle of bread.  Sometimes kids will make sandwiches out of their snacks.  Others use the spoons and eat the bread separately. 

Each grade has about five minutes to get a plate, a slice of bread, eat and get out the door.  There has to be a fast turn around because there are many kids and only 20 plates.  As soon as a child has finished, his or her plate is scooped up and refilled to be passed onto another child.  Sanitary, it is not, but it does keep the lunch line moving quickly.  Once finished, kids file outside where some kids stay and play soccer or tag in the school yard.  Most walk onwards, in small groups, towards their homes. 

By the time all 100 plus kids have eaten and left, everything is covered in remnants of that days meal. Tables are washed and the floor is swept.  Any legumes or bread crumbs from the tables and floor are brushed into a bowl.  Later, this will be fed to the chickens.  The plates and spoons are collected in a green plastic tub and washed.  If there are any leftovers, they are distributed to nearby families.

I usually leave the school with food stains down my front and an entourage of kids escorting me home.  It is not a bad way to spend the day!   

all of my lunch lady love love love,


Every Sunday is souq,

or market day, in Midelt.  In a dusty field on the edge of town, vendors set up stands of local goods.  Under canopies of improvised tents lay piles of fresh green peppers, onions, carrots and artichokes waiting to be purchased by the kilo.  Entire stands are stocked with canvas bags of cumin, ginger, pepper, cinnamon, saffron, and garlic which fills the entire market with subtle hints of spice.  Shop keepers patiently wait to make a sale, with golden pyramids of the seasons first oranges and stacks of pomegranates at their feet. 

People meander the makeshift aisles, in-between tents and stands, bargaining for the best prices on vegetables and fruits.  Vendors yell out advertisements of new serving trays and coffee pots, to anyone who might listen. Patrons quickly convert the prices from ryals to dirhams before placing fruit on shops brass scales.  Little boys, as young as six, run on expert feet, through the narrow and crowded lanes, selling plastic grocery bags for one dirham a piece.

From eight am until two pm ingredients for every Moroccan dish will find its way into those plastic bags, bound for kitchens throughout the region.

Booths, functioning as cafes, sit on the edge of the market serving pots of mint tea and fresh grilled chicken kabobs. The rusted tables are full of men smoking cigarettes, laughing and catching up with friends.  Women in bright headscarves, move between the mismatched chairs clearing tea cups and settling tabs with regulars.  Laughter from those tents is often as thick as the smoke wafting off the grills.

The streets surrounding the market play host to peddlers and their second hand goods. There, blankets holding everything from: frying pans, carpets, ancient singer sewing machines and car parts, cover the curbs.  Crowds of people peruse the available possibilities before breaking off to purchase vegetables across the way.  

Everything you could possibly want or need you can find, hidden or tucked away in some pile or another at the market.

Towns in the bled (rural villages) do not have markets.  Small villages have only hanutes, which carry staples such as: tea, sugar, flour and soap.  Residents of these towns must travel to Midelt in order to purchase any fruits and vegetables not grown in family gardens.  This makes Sunday a very busy day.  On busy days, transportation is often difficult to find.

In order to obtain transportation to Midelt you must sit on the edge of the road and wait. It is not unusual to be on the side of that road, for multiple hours, just waiting.  Luckily, there is a nice collection of rocks available to sit on.

What are you waiting for? 

Anything that will stop.  Sometimes its a taxi, of which there are two in my town.  Other times it is any driver willing to pick up extra passengers.  Some might call this hitchhiking.  I call it making new friends.  Moroccans call it normal.

After a morning of shopping, with bags full of market goodness such as pasta, popcorn and dried white beans, the search for transportation home begins.  On a small side street, next to a fruit stand, is a makeshift taxi stop.  There, people make themselves as comfortable as possible, on the stoop of a money wiring service.  When a taxi does arrive, six lucky individuals pile in and begin for home.  The rest wait. 

Waiting isn’t as bad as it seems.  It may not be the most convenient way to spend your time, but it can be enjoyable. It gives the option of being outside and doing whatever it is one wants.  You can read, chat, write letters or just watch daily life being lived.

It is from that stoop, that I have seen fruit farmers, selling fresh quinces and pears from wooden crates.   Kids chasing each other, getting into five different kids of trouble.  Men pushing carts through the crowd, selling newly burned cd’s, a sampling of which is blaring through a small speaker near the wheel.  Stray cats romping around after a meal of donated mackerel from the fish stand up the block.  And one troubling day, I was serenaded on that stoop, by a fedora wearing teenager.  Unfortunately for him, off-key replicas of The Doors isn’t really my style. 

By whatever means available, I am eventually, able to leave that stoop, destined for home. 

I return to my house, inevitably exhausted.  I unpack my groceries and organize my kitchen before I break into the fresh apples or oranges I purchased. It is satisfying to stand there, with a piece of fruit in my hand and know that I can get everything I need.  Sometimes my life feels so simple that I cannot help, but be overwhelmed with gratitude. 

The next Sunday, I gather my grocery bags and walk to the road, ready to do it all over again.

all of my market day love love love,