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.  

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