Friday, December 26, 2008

M'bruk L'eid dyali!

Alright, so this time around it was my holiday with my crazy traditions I was trying to force upon my family. It mostly involved sweet treats so there was a warm reception. Christmas Eve I asked my family to leave out their socks so that Papa Noel could put treats in them. No no, clean socks. Yes, I am a crazy foreigner. Alright, so "Papa Noel" did leave some candy for everyone, and oranges, the next morning. However, since this isn't a holiday of Moroccans, no one had the day off and everyone was going about business as usual. So it was a little awkward with the delivery of the sock-goodies. No problem. I even got some extra surprises in my sock from a mysterious elf.

I spent the rest of the day baking and making dinner, which was a success overall. I had no idea who of the family would be around for dinner, and it ended up that their wasn't such a crowd as I expected even with my language-tutor there, and we had a ton of food and sweets to split between us. The photo doesn't even show the pizza that my host-aunt made (it was her Birthday as well). I think I may finally be ready for a baking-break, as is often the case after the holidays.

Last weekend two volunteers from my "staj", Jon and Emily, came up from their smaller town to visit and grab some supplies from town. I immediately employed them in making a gingerbread house with me. Considering we are all artist I was sure we would come up with something great. We had a lot of fun and I thought our Moroccan gingerbread house came out unique. Unfortunately, we aren't architects, so we had some issues with it coming, and staying, together. It just acquired more character with time is all. We also made eggnog and some other holiday treats and enjoyed the nice change of weather.

I hope to have another post shortly on the New Year, until then, Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Soo...maybe I am french after all...

One of the many things I have to laugh about and except is that I am going to be spoken to in French the entire time I'm here. I can see why it would help to know french. Not because I can't communicate in darija (Moroccan Arabic) but that people will assume when they see me that I am french, or understand french. I completely understand, considering Morocco's past connection to France, and continued tourism from France. Even other westerners who visit Morocco are likely to know French over darija any day. Let's face it, I look like a "westerner" of European descent. It is only polite to address me in "my" language, french!

Of course, this confounds my darija learning. Particularly in the beginning, nothing would take my confidence away like going up to the shopkeeper and being told prices and such in french. Sometimes I'm still not sure if someone is just saying something in darija I don't understand or if they are trying to talk to me in french. I've gotten much better at understanding the difference though, which I think means progress!

Another reoccurring instance is where someone will see me and greet me in french. I will greet them in darija. They will try to speak to me in french. I let them know I don't understand and that I know a little arabic. They will speak arabic for some time, have trouble getting me to understand what they are saying then start speaking to me in french again. What hurts the whole process is that sometimes there are words in french that sound similar to english, so occasionally I do understand the french better than the darija. This perpetuates the idea that english and french are basically the same language.

All in all, I have to keep a sense of humor about this, because it isn't going to go away as I will always be meeting someone new who assumes I speak french. Eventually I may cave and learn some basic french (once I have more darija down), thus perpetuating the stereotype.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The silencing of the the lambs

You know how between Thanksgiving and the New Year you feel like you are eating an increased amount of sugar and fatty foods? This year I’m getting a little extra bonus called l’eid kbir (or more properly eid al-adha). This holiday revolves around the sacrificing and consumption of a sheep. In order to commemorate the sacrificed sheep God sent in place of Abraham’s son, every family buys a sheep of their own and kills and eats it…all of it.

I documented the actual death and dismemberment of the animal. I hoped that having my eye behind a camera lens would give me a layer of distance from the blood. However, in coming up to the event I decided that as a meat eater, I should bravely witness the full process of getting that meat on the table. It was difficult to see a magnificent animal letting go of life, but the man knew what he was doing, and it seemed that it was over in an instant. Next began the stripping away of everything until I could hardly connect the meat and wool to the creature that startled me in the stairway the night before.

You could compare l’eid kbir to Thanksgiving, in that one revolves around eating a sheep and the other around eating a turkey (I was asked by one of the boys if my dad slaughtered the turkey as they slaughter the sheep). Only, imagine the difference to be that the turkey is much bigger, much fattier, and the only thing on the menu for the next few days. The only thing you’ll see that resembles a vegetable is maybe the onion used to flavor the stomach and intestines.

Tired of meat? Well, I suppose there are plenty of sweets to enjoy as well. Yesterday we had noodles with raisins, cinnamon, and sugar to complement fried lamb ribs. It was good in a rich breakfast food sort of way. For dinner we had the head and the…ahem…testicles, although I avoided my slice (it is one of the last things I’m hanging on to as what I will not eat, since I unwittingly caved and ate brains a few times). We have plenty of meat to last quite some time, and considering it is couscous Friday I’m sure we will see some of our friend buried in the couscous for lunch.

All in all, it is an interesting experience with culture, and I enjoy the festive atmosphere and company. Just think, Christmas is just around the corner! I hope you all back home are getting into another sort of holiday spirit!

Monday, December 1, 2008


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving wherever you celebrated!

Of course, I was determined to bring Thanksgiving to Morocco, and I feel pretty good about the results. On Thursday I cooked a pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, turkey breasts (not a whole turkey), and green beans for a house full of people--all from scratch! Many thanks to my host mother who helped me with a lot of the grunt work in the kitchen. It all turned out fairly American, except that I didn't roast the turkey breasts, I cooked them in the pressure-cooker with rosemary and they came out nice and tender.

My host family loved the food, even the strange dessert made from squash. Pictured are the leftovers,

On Saturday I turned around and did it again for volunteers in town, cooking more pumpkin pie, green bean casserole (without the convenience of a can of mushroom soup), mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet-potato puree, and stuffing. We bought roasted chickens that time around, and someone brought along a can of cranberry sauce (which you can't buy here...oh how I miss cranberries) and delicious pumpkin cheesecake (very dangerous!) to round our our calories for the evening. The company almost made it feel like I was back home in the US.

Another moment of being back in the US was when I stepped into the new "Label Vie" store, which is something like a walmart (although not quite as big as they get in the US). It is the biggest store I've been in for going on three months. It was exciting to find out a big store was opening in my town since it means I will have access to a large variety of food (still no cranberries or brown sugar). It is a cooking paradise. However, after the initial excitement of such convenience at my fingertips, I felt the familiar distaste of the box-store. Right now I love the little harnuts, the corner stores that sell fresh bread and milk, nuts and candy, and the vegetable market bursting with fresh seasonable produce. It was strange to be walking through the store holding my host-mothers hand with my host-brother in tow. It was as though I had brought them out of the Morocco I had started to form into my mind and into the America of stereotype.

Considering big stores were often the subject of my artwork in the US, it might be interesting to be a part of this town in the next two years. I came in right as this store opened, I'm interested to see if it has any effect on the hundreds of smaller corner-shops. The Label Vie is just inconvenient enough, requiring either a short taxi or bike-ride, that I doubt I will frequent it like I do the walkable vegetable market and the little harnuts.

Then again, I'm the type to prefer the inconvenience of making Thanksgiving dinner from scratch.