Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Fridays,

the world outside my door is turned into a haphazard market.  Next to the Mosque there is a small space, with a small grove of olive trees, in the corner.  This is our town center.  Usually it is empty, but on some Fridays it plays hosts to a mini market.  
At nine o’clock in the morning, large vans arrive, carting a mobile market within the confines, of their backseats.  Makeshift tables are constructed and covered, with everything from tea pots, to wrenches, to horse shoes. It seems the only thing you can’t purchase is fresh fruits and vegetables. Underneath the olive trees,  livestock bleat and baa while they get inspected, by perspective customers.  Crates of sugar cones, animal feed and economy sized bags of flour are displayed, enticing those who walk by to stop and haggle prices. 
But much more happens at mini-souk than the purchasing of goods.   Men from Bouayach, as well as those from surrounding towns, sit against walls and, in the shade, waiting for the afternoon Call to Prayer.  While gathered, they share stories and news from nearby towns.  Crop prices, politics and the drought, affecting much of Morocco, is discussed.  As are the implications within the local economy.  Like its much larger counterpart in Midelt, souk is just as much a social occasion, as it is an opportunity to purchase goods.
Until a few months ago, vendors would set up piles of blankets and prayer mats, right outside my door.  Rolled up plastic rugs would lean against the walls, of my house.  The loud conversations between merchants and customers would come through my closed windows, making me feel as though I too was fighting, for the best price. 
As women do not attend the mini-souk, I am careful to avoid the town square.  This is no small feat, as my front door opens up directly, to its center. At the beginning, of my time here, my forays along the edge of souk were always noticed, by everyone.  Many pairs of eyes would follow me, as I walked quickly to the spring or my neighbors house.  On the rare occasion, I would venture into souk, the noise level would noticeably drop, until I made my purchases and left.  
Luckily, I have become more familiar to the vendors and customers, of this little souk.  My presence no longer stops commerce.  Fewer stares follow my every move.  Now,  men standing along the edge, will chat with me, when I pass by.  And no longer do vendors set up shop next to my house. 
While men are busy attending to chores in the fields and meandering through the souk, women are busy in their kitchens.  The Moroccan weekend is Saturday and Sunday.  But Friday is the Holy Day, of the Islamic calendar.  Instead of Sunday dinner, families gather for Friday lunch.  These long and traditional lunches are special.  Family is incredibly important here, but on Fridays, family is a gift. 
Women spend the mornings preparing couscous:  the traditional Friday meal.   As this is a meal without bread, women instead, make their own couscous.  Hours are spent, sitting on stools, sorting and sifting through large piles of wheat.  This homemade grain sits in states of various readiness, spread out on squares of cloth and safely within bowls. 
Kitchens are busy, with each woman, of the family, doing different tasks.  Large pots of water boil, until steam fills the entire kitchen.  Bowls of fresh lamb or raw chicken sit wherever there is an open space.  Vegetables, bought at souk or grown in the family garden, are washed, peeled and cored.  Mountains of onion, carrots, zucchini, fava beans and pumpkin cover counters waiting, to be cooked.  Slightly smaller piles of vegetable peels sit in the corner, soon the become the mid-day meal for any chickens, goats or sheep, residing in the courtyard. 
Tables are set with spoons, the only day of the week when cutlery is used.  The clay platter that, on every other day it is used to knead bread, is on Friday’s, used to serve the meal.  First, the grain is dished into the base of the platter.  If meat is included, it is then placed, in the center, of the couscous.  The well cooked and well spiced vegetables are arranged over top.  A thin gravy or thick homemade buttermilk tops off the dish. 
Families gather to eat, in the late afternoon, after men have attended prayer at the mosque.   Even weaning babies eat their own portion, of mashed up vegetables, from the meal.  Older women ignore the spoons in-front of them, preferring instead to shape mounds of couscous with  hands.  This is an art, that has never failed to leave me covered in food. These women, however, eat with expertly skilled hands. 
After everyone has eaten their fill, the man of the table, divides the share of meat into equal portions.  Once finished, the clay platter, with its contents depleted greatly, is removed and replaced, with a large plate of fruit.  The sweetness of oranges and bananas is a nice contrast, to the savory couscous.  Orange and banana peels are cleared from the table and the fruits sugary juice is washed from everyones hands. 
The only thing left to do, after the meal, is to nap.  And so everyone naps.  Not until early evening do schedules start to begin again.  Kids resume running around, playing soccer in the dusty school yard.  Men finish up chores in the fields and women, chores around the house.  Hanutes open back up, selling the necessary staples.  And neighbors visit each other, to share cups of tea.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Evenings are still.

No longer are children running around, playing soccer in the school yard.  Or men gathering outside the mosque, talking together.  Women stay inside, no longer doing chores in courtyards or in the fields.  Winter has fallen and residents have taken refuge indoors.

From rooftop stovepipes, smoke curls up mingling with the brisk evening air. Inside homes, families gather around stoves enjoying the warmth and comfort emitting, from the fires within.  Outside the world is still, undisturbed by those who occupy its days.  Farmers, students and mothers alike, converge together around glowing stoves, hiding from the night, that seems to have settled inside their bones.   
Set up in sitting rooms or kitchens, these stoves are the primary source of heat for entire families.  While many layers of clothing adorn each man, woman and child in town, it is not enough.  Blankets and sweaters are important, but stoves are essential for the winter months.  These once shiny stoves, now darkened with soot from years of use, are welcomed winter editions to homes.
Children comb fields of apple and apricot trees, now barren, searching for fallen branches.   Men  prune large branches off trees and chop trunks into logs.  The melancholy family donkey is then, heavily laden with timber and led away.  These little donkeys, often barely visible under the burden of branches, slowly trek towards home. 
Homes are rearranged to accommodate for winters cold.  The room that holds the stove,  becomes the primary sleeping place for the family.  Blankets, pillows and sheep skins are arranged near the stove, ready for slumber.  Tidy piles of wood sit neatly, in the corner, waiting to keep families in relative degrees of comfort, throughout the night. 
Once fires are roaring within, kettles of water or cast iron skillets are warmed on top.  Pots of tea are brewed, for the family and the rare, visiting neighbor.  Fresh bread dough often sits, in a clay bowl, rising in the warmth near the stove.  Once ready, the dough will be fried and served hot, with honey or jam.  The sweet smell of fire and new bread fills the nighttime air, making it the signature scent of winter. 
Men spend the evenings, finishing chores.  Cows are brought it from the fields.  Wood piles are replenished.  Brothers, uncles and cousins get together to drink cups of coffee and offering advice on work and family.  Young people pass the time playing card games and watching television before dinnertime. 
Women spend the evenings visiting their neighbors, gathering near stoves, enjoying each others company.  Women swap stories and advice.  Men discuss crops, cows and home construction. Always, a metal tray of tea cups and a pot of herbal infused tea sit on the nearby table. 
Siblings sit on the floor playing games, waiting for dinnertime. Their laughter and yells are mingled with their mothers cries to be quiet and behave.  As an occasional treat, handfuls of almonds are given out, to be then roasted on top of the stove.  School books sit in the corner, undisturbed until the morning, when children finally seek them out.
While the days fade away, so does the snow atop the nearby mountains.  Soon enough winter will melt its way into spring.  Until then, snow will fall and the fields will frost.  But luckily, the home fires will continue to burn, warming all those who sit before it.