Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spreading Cheese

Throughout most of the night the roaring wind kept yanking my unsecured courtyard door open to the pounding rain. Exhausted at 3am, I finally rigged a “lock” with some wire I sleepily found in a box. I went back to bed to wake only twenty minutes later to the sound of water dripping onto my mattress from my closed window at an angle I had never seen. The next morning I was planning on starting my 10-day trip down south and it didn’t appear things were off to a good start for travel.

I did make it all the way down to fellow SBD PCV, Jae’s site the next day, despite encountering fresh snow in the mountains on a long bus ride. Jae and I were co-leading a cheese making workshop. All attendees were volunteers, either with Peace Corps or with the Japanese organization, JICA. I lead the first two days with five different types of cheese: yogurt (and yogurt cheese), Neufchatel (a.k.a. farmer’s cheese), Feta, Gouda, and Ricotta. Jae lead a third day with Pepper-Jack and cheese curds. The cheese curds didn’t cooperate with us (sometimes cheese can be finicky), but the Pepper-Jack looks great. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to taste it for a month—same with the Gouda. We did get a chance to try the three fresh cheeses in various ways including in sushi rolls, muffins, crepes, and just straight up with cut veggies. Yum!

Next, I headed over to another SBD PCV, Terra’s, site in the valley of roses. No roses yet, but this river-fed oasis was still looking lush in February. My visit was to help with a catalogue Terra wants to have made for her women’s products (primarily rugs, but also some farmed items). The difficulty in finding reliable transportation, electricity, phone service and internet (we had to get into town 30 minutes away and even then it didn’t work), really made me appreciate the conveniences I have in my much larger site. I have learned to be very flexible during my service, and I was tested considerably during these workshops. For our big meeting with the association’s women, our translator was 2.5 hours late (not all of that was the meeting-time, we wanted to have him come in early so we could review what we wanted to discuss. Originally we planned on meeting the day before to go over the workshop with him but our transportation out was slow and he had another meeting to attend. Flexibility!). We just switched some things around and had the women participate in the more visual part of the meeting (learning how to take photos of their products, reviewing the photos we had already gathered, etc.).

The women seemed excited about the catalogue and we did get their feedback on how it should be put together and how it can be used. I was concerned about my interaction with the women considering I have learned Moroccan-Arabic, darija, to speak in my site whereas they normally converse in Tashilhit. I found enough darija speakers that could help translate for me when needed. It also helped that my darija isn’t so complex that even if they have a basic knowledge of darija I could be somewhat understood.

One of my favorite moments was when Terra and I were sitting in the kitchen of her neighbors watching them cook dinner. One of the younger girls, Hafida, knows a good about of darija and so Terra and I could both talk with her. When Terra would converse with them in Tashilhit I was a bit lost most of the time. Hafida helped me out by translating what Terra said into darija. I was tickled by the passing of speech through one American’s mind, through Tashilhit, to darija and back into another American’s mind. Later, one of the woman commented that Terra and I should learn each other’s languages so we could communicate (momentarily forgetting that we both share the same language, English).

Despite the difficulties of a more rural life, I really appreciated the closeness to nature there. The families have houses all grouped together and their farming plots are all uphill of the river. I was treated to dandelion greens with corn couscous, and alfalfa with corn couscous. Something we don’t make up here in the north. I also managed to bake two huge cakes to share with the families that provided me dinner during my stay.

After our meeting in Terra’s site we turned around and went to (SBD PCV) Sarah’s site in the next valley over. She is living with a family there and I was once again treated to some great food and company. Sarah’s village is similar to Terra’s in that they are both centered around a river that feeds the farm plots in an otherwise dry place. There is much more evidence of tourism, however, with small hotels lining the main roadway.

This second cheese making workshop was primarily for the local community and I was without an official translator so I had to hope that my darija would be understood by a Tashilhit-speaking group of women. My fears were assuaged by the translation happening through those who understood darija for the other women when needed. I ended up having more trouble with the cheese this time and we couldn’t quite figure out what happened. Everything was taking a long time to set. We changed many of the variables around without success. We’ve narrowed it down to temperature or altitude. Despite our delays, I think the women still enjoyed the workshop—and we all devoured the cheese at the end! A couple of the women seemed to really be into the process and I am confident that they will clear up whatever issue that we were having with their future attempts. Some have access to fresh milk from their own cows, so cheese making might be a great opportunity for them.

Overall I found my trip down south to be successful. The foreboding weather at the start of my trip gave way to calmer skies during my entire trip. All my hosts were wonderful and I got to know better my fellow PCVs as well as the Moroccans I encountered. It is too bad that a hard days journey lies between us!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My contribution to the table

Brownies and chocolate chip cookies amongst traditional Moroccan sweets for a holiday

For as long as I’ve been able to stir chocolate chips into cookie dough, I’ve been a baker. Some of the highlights of helping my mother with her in-home daycare during high-school summer vacations were those afternoons baking with the grade-school kids. I would have my rapt audience study my careful measuring of flour and sugar. I would assign them jobs of mixing or spooning dough onto waiting cookie sheets, and we would all hear our stomachs grumble in anticipation of the results of our culinary chemistry.

I later went off to college, barely making it through those first dark years of dorm-life dominated by cafeteria food or what I could heat in a microwave. Of course the latter half I rectified this with apartments and ovens that once again fed my need to throw flour around.* By grad-school I was luring people into my art studio with the promises of sweet treats. I found my food mentors in the Visual Resource Library of Washington University, headed by Betha, who was also writing a food column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at that time. My tastes became ever more refined and my determination to master the oven became ever stronger.

Then I came to Morocco. As I packed my bags I made a personal goal to improve my bread baking skills in between my duties as a volunteer. I reconsidered how easy this might be as I struggled to light a gas oven with a lighter and burned several sheets of cookies in the unfamiliar Moroccan oven. I’m a fast learner when I am interested in the subject, however, and by the time I set up my own house I was shopping for my own little metal box to fire up.

A year, and hundreds of kilos of flour later, I find myself amazed (but should I really be?) at how much of an influence baking has been on my service here. I have started to regularly teach different baked treats to a cookie association in town. I had started working with them in another form—as an English and jewelry-making instructor, until the building they were using for these activities was robbed and shut down during the summer. I reconnected with them in the fall when I discovered they were still meeting on the other side of town—this time the focus was on cookies and couscous. Perfect! I was excited to have another opportunity to work with this motivated group of women. I now look forward to every Thursday as a break from my other running-around (this is for another post). I get to sit down and get my hands dirty, whether it is my recipe contribution or a traditional Moroccan one. We have a great teacher-student relationship; I get to continually switch from one to the other. It feels good to hear that the cupcakes I’ve showed them how to make are in high demand at their newly opened storefront.

Another surprise is how I managed to get into cheese making. This came to be in the slow summer days, out of my need to: a) improve the poor selection of cheese in most of Morocco, b) fill the hole that a summer garden usually occupies, and c) make things from scratch. My careful research resulted in ways to make cheese in Morocco using local equipment and ingredients. I celebrated these discoveries by having a workshop attended by fellow PCVs in hopes of spreading the cheese (preferably over bread). This has since spawned further interest and trainings in my site, as well as several other locations around the country. This month I will be leading two cheese-making workshops down south, with my regrets for not being able to attend a third that coincides with the others. It is exciting to think of the culinary money making possibilities!

If this wasn’t enough for me, I just finished editing the “Breads” and the added “Cheeses” sections of the PC Morocco cookbook (email me if you’re interested in an updated copy of these sections). I have also started a food blog to record some of these made-from-scratch attempts. For those of you who are in Morocco, I try to emphasize the use seasonal and locally available ingredients (with the acknowledgement that I live in a larger town and have a wider selection available to me than the smaller villages). You’re also welcome over to help me get rid of my latest experiments, of which I have more than my waistline alone can handle.

*At this point I feel the need to mention my former roommate, and culinary companion, Claire, of The Food Outcast. She had to go gluten free (making me feel a little guilty for all the gluten I’ve given her over the years) but continues making delicious concoctions in her kitchen in Swaziland.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy Holidays from the Sahara

Staring into a sea of sand dunes, distinguishable only by the light of a half-full moon on a crisp night, I ponder my smallness. After all, isn’t this why we come out to such places? Certainly it isn’t for the extra sand in everything-- from my back pockets to my breakfast. I look over in the direction that my friend, Claire, had headed. In the moonlight I can barely distinguish her form from the sand, much less her distance from me. My ears away from the tents, the dunes are dense and quiet. Behind me the camels have made their beds on the sand, some with their heads up, silently watching us.

Later, we tackle the dune that overlooks our campsite. It is an hour of labor on my hands and feet, fighting to make it to where the dune draws a line with the stars. The lack of reference for distance makes this goal all the more illusive. My legs are heavy with the strain and the sand I’ve collected in my shoes. Suddenly, the dune drops down in my eyes and I’m gazing beyond the peak. Lights of civilization sparkle from a distance, the dune had hid them from us below as a backdrop on a stage might hide the commotion of the crew and actors. Of course, I didn’t have much illusion that I would be completely alone out in the Sahara.

I wait for Kyle, my other travel companion, to reach the top, having lost all sight of Claire in the darkness below. The dry air and arid landscape is quite a contrast from where I had been just a few days earlier, snuggled into the rainy mountains to the north. We had celebrated Christmas there, at Randy’s house (no berry picking this time, but we still got to have some of the plunder on Christmas morning—blackberries and crepes!) with Jon and Emily. As much as I love my host family, getting to spend Christmas with those who know what it is and can distinguish it from New Years was an amazing treat. This year, the stockings were our best socks; the shoes were drying by the fire; the shining sun was a Christmas miracle; the dinner was made completely from scratch (with the addition of wonderful canned cranberry sauce); the gifts were knitted with care; the chocolates were hand delivered from Switzerland; and the skype conversations with family back home were a blessing.

Kyle reaches the top of the dune, shortly followed by a solitary man, part of our camp-group. We sit and catch our breath, calculating how much easier it could have been if we had climbed the less steep side now visible to us. The weather couldn’t be more wonderful, and a welcome contrast to the rain the week before. The wet weather made some of my travel plans difficult. I was amazed at my forgiving and good-natured travel companions as the showers culminated in a drenching downpour and a wet-to-the-bone walk up the mountainside to Randy’s house.

Claire’s voice reaches us from somewhere down below. She won’t make it up any time soon and it is nearing midnight. I convince Kyle out of just sleeping at the top and we slide back down. I can imagine that taking big or running steps down the slope would be even more enjoyable in the daylight. In the darkness it is a strange sensation of stepping into darkness into something that won’t hold your weight. It is thrilling if not frightening.

We make it back down, laughing too loud for our sudden proximity to the camp, snuggle into our sleeping bags and shut our eyes for short night’s sleep. Before sunrise we get up again, witness the beauty of the sky and the dunes. Then it is back onto our saddles, a bit more tenderly than the day before, and back out of the desert.

The next day I am back home and getting ready to say goodbye to my friends. Of course their stay flew by too quickly, just as this year went by too fast. Last New Year’s Eve I spent with two new friends in a house in a small village. The New Year came in with the computer battery dieing right at midnight, the electricity having gone out an hour before. Our music held out to count down the last minutes of 2008. 2009 came in with darkness, and I left it that way as well. New Year’s Eve I was too exhausted from travel and went to bed before midnight, alone in my house.

This last year was a very full one. I know that my experience here has changed me in some ways (just ask my last visitors). It is the only year I have spent entirely out of the US. While away, I’ve made many new friends from different countries and cultures; I’ve learned a new language; I’ve learned how to make and do many new things from scratch; and I’ve gotten to exchange knowledge with those I work with.

I can’t say that 2009 was the best year I’ve experienced so far. There were plenty of challenges, and every step I take upward most certainly sinks halfway down. However, I see my progress in looking back. The dark mass of the dune is underneath and I have a new vantage point. Welcome 2010.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From Market to Table: A Thanksgiving Sacrifice

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Although I appreciate the religious significance of Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving is relatively free of the headaches and expectations of gift-giving, but full of family and food (what more can I ask for?). Of course this makes it doubly difficult to spend my favorite holiday so far away from those very comforts.

L’Eid Kbir (remember this from last year?), which moves back two weeks every year on the lunar calendar was positioned only two days after Thanksgiving this year. What did this mean? Well, first it meant that the travel restriction put on all volunteers during the week surrounding the Muslim holiday put a damper on gathering on Thanksgiving day. No problem, I still managed to cook a small meal for a group that was not so much comprised of Americans but Koreans and Moroccans (and we had a blast).

It also meant that Saturday would be the final day for a lot of sheep. Last year I compared some aspects of L’Eid Kbir to Thanksgiving, both are centered on a particular animal to be consumed. With this in mind and with encouragement from a friend, I was determined to have my own “sheep” to sacrifice this year. I bought a live turkey.

It was a bit hard to come by on the days leading up to L’Eid, I went to souq the day the sheep was bought buy my neighbors. Nothing but men standing next to their sheep as buyers grab the sheep’s backside and lift its back legs to size it up. We wove in and around the bleating mass and kept track of the favorites until a purchase was finally made.

I found my turkey on Thanksgiving morning. She was a beautiful bird, and what they call a “country turkey” meaning she probably had a free-range life in the countryside surrounding my town. I grabbed her firmly by her tied legs and took her back to my courtyard (which, if you remember, also housed chickens at one point). I made sure she’d be comfortable for the few days she would occupy my home. Seeing her stand up on my courtyard also gave me reference of how much larger she was than my chickens. I wouldn’t allow her to intimidate me, however, and she showed no signs of being particularly feisty.

The big day came, and the animals were assembled on the roof of my neighbors’ house: two sheep (one from their daughter and son-in-law who came in), two kittens (not to be eaten), and one turkey. The oldest son present is in charge of slaughtering the animals, one by one, while everyone else takes action in immediately skinning and taking apart the animal, or else keeping the tile-ground constantly clean. There is an order and efficiency to it that makes its regularity obvious.

Having not grown up practicing first hand what it means for an animal to go from farm to plate, I mostly stay behind my camera. Although this is the second year I’ve celebrated L’Eid and seen the slaughter, it is still a very powerful and sad thing to witness the death of the animal. It is also amazing and disturbing how quick the transition is from animal to “meat”. The way my brain processes the two is very different.

I did put my hands to work in de-feathering my bird. I knew this was everyone’s concern about my extra contribution to the event. Usually chickens are de-feathered at the chicken seller’s around the corner, but of course no one would be open the morning of L’Eid. It ended up not being as terrible as I thought it would, many hands made light work, and I made sure every last feather was gone.

Lunch was grilled liver wrapped in fat, the traditional first meal. The second traditional meal, a stew of stomach, lung, and esophagus, I managed to miss out on this year. When I asked when would be a good time to serve my turkey, I was told the evening of the first day would be fine, turkey would be a healthy break from all the lamb-meat. So that is how I ended up preparing a Thanksgiving dinner on L’Eid. Okay, okay, so I only prepared one side of roasted veggies, but I did have stuffing and gravy to accompany the bird. I received much praise for the meal, which was well consumed despite the day of eating cookies and mutton. Afterwards I went back to my house, left my kitchen a disaster for the night and went to bed.

This year, although I have an ocean between any blood relatives and the assortment of pies and sides that make Thanksgiving what it is, I have my “family” here as well as a will to cook, and a can of imported cranberry sauce. That will do this year, and I’m more than thankful for it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Peace Corps Mourns the Loss of Volunteer So-Youn Kim

Sometimes you only know someone for a short time, and sometimes in that short time you are able to glimpse a bright spark, a fiery, generous soul. This is a great loss to the Peace Corps Morocco family. I can only imagine the magnitude of this loss to her family and friends, both here, in America, and elsewhere abroad. Please keep those she whose lives she touched in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jumping into Trains

11 a.m. That is the time I should have left town in order to catch the train from Rabat down to Marrakech at 1:45 p.m. Lynn will be on the train already, and I’ll join her for our trip down south for a pottery workshop.

No problem, plenty of time. It wouldn’t take much time for me to finish packing my bags. The only other thing I had to do was swing by the electric company to get my new meter installed (it is a whole other story of why I need to do this on this morning, and not too interesting). I was told to be there at 8:15 a.m. in order to catch the man who does the installing. I’m an early riser; I’ll make sure I’m there at 8.

I get there at 8:10, there are a few people in front of me describing directions to their houses to the man behind the counter. My turn is up and I initially baffle the man by speaking Arabic instead of French. I describe the location of my house, he isn’t quite sure where it is but some other guys overhear and help me find a landmark with which he is familiar.

“I’ll stop by sometime this morning.” I hear, a sinking feeling in my stomach. This is going to be like waiting for the cable guy, isn’t it? I almost tell him I need to leave my house at 11, but I sense this will be fruitless. It’s like trying to tell a rain shower to stop by your garden on schedule.

No problem. I go back to my house and finish packing, making sure the house is secured. I’ll just wait until 11 and then leave if he hasn’t shown up. Of course this would require going back to the electric company and explaining that I do actually live where I say I do, I just couldn’t wait around for him, but I will be there this next time for sure.

11:01 a.m. a knock at the door with both my landlord’s voice and the voice of the electric meter man. I open the door as they are sizing up the spot where the meter is to be installed. It won’t be installed until later, he just wants to see the spot. I first need to take some paperwork by the electric company and pay for the meter.

Okay, no problem. I’ll just grab my bags and pass by there on my way to the taxi stand. We converse for a few moments in front of my door. The electric meter man thoroughly amused that I can speak to him in his own language. He hands over the papers I need to take in. I load myself down with my packed bags and head out for the electric company once again.

When I arrive at 11:17 a.m. I notice everyone in the building is in front of one window, the one I need. A short note about lines here in Morocco, people don’t really get in a single file line. Usually people are crowded around the counter, the most aggressive people getting attention first. There might be an attempt at a line with papers and ID cards lined up on the counter if you’re lucky.

I assess the situation, looking for where to get in—maybe it’s a fast moving line. “You need a folder for your papers.” I turn to the man addressing me. “Don’t you see everyone else has folders for their papers. You need a folder so they won’t mix your papers up. Go around the corner to the bookstore and buy an folder.” I try to protest but I feel it might be easier to just buy the folder.
I come back with a folder a few minutes later and study the tangled mass once more. This time I notice one of the women that had been going to my jewelry making classes last spring. She is a petite, and nearly swallowed up by the crowd. She notices me and wiggles her way out. I greet her and ask her how long she has been waiting. “Since 8 a.m.” she replies. Not a good sign.

At this point I’m strongly considering cutting my losses and making a run for the train. I speak with her about how she and her family are doing and the latest news, and then ask, “What should I do? I need to catch my train.” I shift with the weight of my bags, which have been drawing curious stares.

“We’ll make sure you get your turn soon.” A woman who’d been overhearing our conversation says with a smile. Two men take my folder and make sure it is placed in the line of folders on the counter. The line inches up with some speed and surprisingly my turn is up before too long.

The man behind the counter takes my envelope, glances at it and sets it aside.

“Tell him what you need. His name is Hassan. Knock on the window!” Various members of the line have suddenly decided to help me and urge me on. “Knock again, he didn’t here you. Tell him that you have to travel. Tell him you have a train to catch.”

I’m not normally an aggressive person, I knocked timidly and using my most polite language I ask about my folder and my need simply to pay for a meter.

“The man smiles at me and holds up a stack of folders, of which mine was just added. “Do you see? I have all of these before you.”

“Tell him you need to catch your train, you have to travel. Knock on the window again!”

I feel myself fighting my dislike of being the self-centered line-butter and my need to catch a train and the voices urging me on.

Hassan gets up with my folder and walks into the back room. I wait for him to emerge for 5 minutes. Eventually he returns and sits back down, working on something amidst a continuous stream of requests shouted out by different members of the crowd, some who had just walked in. Throughout this time I’d been frequently glancing at my watch and calculating the possibilities of still catching the train. There still may be hope, maybe.

“340 dirhams please.” I quickly hand over the bills. Another trip to another back room costs another 5 minutes before and he returns to sit behind the counter. I’m waiting for a sign to leave, and receive not even a glance in my direction.

By this point I’m still being urged to speak up. My polite requests have turned to quiet pleadings and statements of my departure. “I have to go, I’ll come back next week.” I squeek out with all the power of a mouse.
“You can’t leave, you need your receipt! They have to know you’ve paid.” I’m told repeatedly.

My watch is pointed at noon, my travel calculations put this as the absolute latest I can leave to catch the train. Suddenly Hassan looks up and directs me to another window. I walk over, sweating from the wait of my bags and anxiety. I feel the crowd’s eyes following me. I wait for another 30 seconds and the receipt is in my hand.

“That’s it.” Hassan’s voice is like a gun shot at the race track. Suddenly I’m not just catching this train for myself, or Lynn, but for the entire electric-company-line team. I spot an unloading taxi pulled up right in front of the building. My hope and determination rejuvenated I hop in and am carried away to the taxi stand.

I get there just in time to see a full cab pull away. A movie in my head plays where I run after it and plead with passengers to sell me their seat, but the taxi heads towards Rabat without me as I wait in another cab for it to fill up. 10 minutes later we too are ready to go. I consider telling the cab driver of my train and if he could make sure we get there in good time, but before we take off a man walks up and hands over the paper. He says something about what to say to the police if the driver is pulled over. It sounds a bit shady so I decide not to cause any trouble. If we speed we’re more likely to be pulled over, and I don’t feel good about encouraging a driver to speed anyway.

The entire drive I feel each slow truck and stop light, each fortuitous turn and pass. So close has our time come to my either catching the train or not catching it every move makes a difference. We pull into the taxi stand in Rabat and I hope out like a rabbit to catch a petit taxi. I find one going my way, only to hit traffic, and then maneuver around it. I calculate my fare before the meter. When we pull up I throw my change at the driver and bolt for the ticket station.

At the ticket counter the line is fortunately light. I enquire about the train to Marrakech, which yes, is here right now. My hands are barely visibly trembling as I pass over the bills. Ticket in hand I run to the platform.

My phone starts to ring but I don’t have time to pick it up. I race down the stairs, arriving to find an emptied platform. I answer my phone.

“Where are you? I think I’m towards the front of the train unless we dropped some cars.”

“Did you just leave the station?”


“Okay, I’m not on the train. I’ll have to catch the next one. I’ll talk to you later.” A sudden burst of disappointment and relief at my race having reached a conclusion. I failed my need to be on time for things and I failed all those kind people still likely back in that line at the electric company waiting their day away. I would catch the next train in two hours and spend the long boring ride alone. It is certainly something I can handle in any case.

To recuperate I went to my favorite Rabat treat, the falafel place nearby. I took my bags off my back and sighed, the adrenalin rush leaving me exhausted in its wake.

While waiting for my falafel to arrive I search for something to read and discover a little “Travel” quote book given to me by my friend Claire. I always carry it in my purse next to the miniature sock-monkey, my constant travel-partner, but rarely crack it open. I gravitated towards it suddenly needing something to relate to my situation.

On the first page I flipped to I find a quote to catch my eye, “All his life he [the American] jumps into the train after it has started and jumps out before it has stopped; and he never once gets left behind, or breaks a leg.” –George Santayana

Lies! I wanted to shout out, but I just laugh to myself instead. There is a kernel of truth there. I doubt my Moroccan neighbors would have been as ambitious to get their electric meter installed the morning they were going to catch a train. My real train that morning was the line back there at the electric company. I jumped in at the last minute with the expectation of taking care of business and nearly left before I had everything in order. All the while being carried along safely and as quickly as possible by the kind, considerate people of my town.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wild and wacky workshop week

Last Tuesday volunteers started trickling into my site for a cheese-making workshop. By Wednesday morning we had nine of us crammed into my tiny kitchen hovering over pots of heating milk. We ended up making five cheeses in all, including: Feta, Yoghurt and yoghurt cheese, Neufchatel/Farmers cheese, Gouda and Ricotta. I figured out a way to get all the necessary ingredients and equipment in Morocco, but still no success with Mozzarella. So we picked Mozzarella up at the store—a trip that delighted some volunteers since it included a horse carriage ride to the big grocery store, both of which most volunteers don’t have in their sites.

It was a very cheesy couple of days and we enjoyed Greek salad (with the Feta), cheese and crackers, Ricotta cream dessert, and several different pizzas topped in various cheesy ways. I felt it was a success over all, the cheeses came out great and I managed to sleep nine people in my modest home. I did want to included more Moroccans in this workshop, but realized what worked best for volunteers—scheduling during the slow Ramadan period—was the opposite for Moroccans busy preparing for lftor and maybe not the best to have around a mostly non-fasting American group. My neighbor did attend when she could catch a break from her household chores, but I will definitely have to repeat this again at another time.

On Friday our entire group moved down to Jon and Emily’s site for papermaking. There was a collective stretch as they realized the Lindbergs have considerably more space than I do. We got started right away breaking down egg crates, milk cartons, and other cardboard/paper trash. After turning it all into pulp we each got to try our hand at pulling paper on their roof while keeping an eye on the ominous sky overhead. The equipment needed for papermaking is a little more involved than cheese-making, but I would like to gather the necessary materials together to start my own paper-making fun.

Saturday we made a hike down to the source, the spring from which Oulmes water is bottled, in between rain showers and making paper. It is a good hike down a mountain and back up, but I made it all the way this time! Down at the bottom a friendly man showed us around the pumping site. They have a healthy population of cats breeding down there. I didn’t drink the water, but I did get to stick my hand in the warm baths set aside for hikers interested in the healing properties of mineral water. The spring pumps out perfect bathwater.

The weather has been crazy lately. It went from being so hot that sweat was a constant companion to down right chilly in a week. I am under two warm blankets as we speak. What caused this change was a pattern of rain showers, started by a big old-fashioned thunderstorm. Did I want rain? Yes, considering summer was basically devoid of it. Did I want cool? Yes, I’m tired of sweating. Do I want winter? Not until my toenails heal so they can get frostbitten again on a clean slate.

The cooler weather did inspire a fall dinner on Saturday. We roasted a stuffed chicken, made bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It was a mini-thanksgiving. We eat pretty well when we get together around here, I must say. I’ve also found my ultimate cooking partner, Kristen. I’m more of a baker, so I prefer to take care of anything that involves flour, and she is an excellent cook. We’re a dangerous combination.

Sunday I stayed behind as the others filed out and got back to their lives. The paper we made was dried and ironed and I was determined to make a sketchbook with it. I learned a bookbinding technique from Emily, which I made a cover for back in my site. I’ll never buy a sketchbook again!

To wrap up this “summary of my week” post, the end of Ramadan is in sight. All during the workshops last week I had stopped fasting. Fasting is much more fun when you are breaking your fast with other Moroccans. I have gone back to it though, and it wasn’t so hard of a transition between the two. I’m actually considering fasting once in a while, like once a month. It really makes you slow down and think about food in a new way. I don’t need to constantly obsess about filling my stomach. It is important to enjoy what you are eating, and pick good foods both in taste and nutritional content. Many people go without food for much longer stretches of time, and many not by choice. It is also about fighting instant gratification, which I feel is a big problem in contemporary America. Of course, in my head I know these things already, but fasting makes them present.