This last Tuesday was, besides being the inauguration of our new president, my first Birthday spent outside of the country and with entirely new friends and faces. It really was one of those days that I woke up and couldn’t believe where I was, and where I have been for four and a half months. This was highlighted with watching the inauguration speech at my Moroccan friend/tutor’s house. It is a strange thing to feel connected to a country when you are outside of it. I believe at one point President Obama mentioned something about reaching out to Muslim nations, and it really hit home.
In any case, as with all reasons to celebrate, much delicious food was made. We ended up celebrating Monday night with two Birthdays, also that of my tutors the Tuesday before. I made two cakes, one strawberry-banana and the other flourless chocolate-almond. The strawberry-banana cake could have used some re-adjustment to the recipe or execution, but the chocolate cake was quite a success in my opinion, and in any case everything was eaten and enjoyed. I am slowly conquering the Moroccan oven and lack of usual measuring devices!
Tuesday, my actual Birthday, my host mom and aunt made Bastilla and Seffa. Bastilla is a famous Moroccan dish made with poultry (chicken in this case) cooked in aromatic spices, nuts (peanuts), eggs, layered between sheets of pastry dough and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. I had heard so much about this dish I had to document the assembly. I’ve included here a photo of my host-mom layering in the peanuts and chicken. Seffa is made with couscous or, in this case thin noodles. Raisins, nuts, cinnamon and sugar are usually incorporated into this sweet dish. I continuously am amazed and admire the amount of time and work put into Moroccan cooking. Although sometimes you can catch a break by serving leftovers from another meal, eating out is almost unheard of if you have a family. Much time is spent in the kitchen. More than perhaps even I would enjoy.
All this tasty and very filling food has strengthened my resolve to go on a post host-family diet come February first when I move out. Inshallah.
A few weeks ago my host-aunt decided it time to test my knowledge of the basics. I have to admit I was a little hurt, even insulted that she didn’t find it readily apparent that I knew words like “sit, eat, walk, etc.”. Had I not demonstrated I knew these words and in fact employed them myself? Granted, I don’t speak a whole lot. In any case I only failed at coming up with one or two as she preformed the actions and asked me for the corresponding word. As she got down in a not-quite-sitting-or-standing pose she asked if I knew what she was doing, and I didn’t know the word.
“She doesn’t know squat!” she laughed over to my host mom in darija (Moroccan Arabic for those I keep confusing with my jargon). Perhaps ironically, it wasn’t until a few days ago when I was replaying the incident in my head that I realized this phrase had another meaning in English (my head is really full).
Right now my world is an ocean with huge waves in which I am bobbing up and down. Sometimes, at the top everything is clear, my language understanding is fairly great and I feel like I’m accomplishing something, meeting people and feeling more comfortable. Other times I’m down at the bottom where nothing seems clear, I’m confused, maybe taken advantaged of or insulted to my face. Most of the time I’m somewhere in the middle, there is a lot of ambiguity, and it is unclear which way the wind will take me. All of this is very exhausting and to stay afloat in the ocean of language takes a lot of effort, but I have yet to drown and I’m building strength.
On the flip side, I have started to teach English with some of the girls. This has already proven to be a great way to get to know them better as it gives me a way to interact with them where I’m in charge, particularly since it is too early for me to figure out my role. There is something satisfying in hearing them struggle with pronunciation and to gradually improve, just as I am with their language. It serves as a reminder that what I’m doing isn’t easy, and that when you step out of your mother tongue you are taking a risk of looking silly. So what if you don’t know squat, there is still time to learn!
This New Years Eve was spent with another volunteer at her much more rural site and with a Moroccan friend of ours. We made typical New Years appetizers from scratch, with varying degrees of success, but the process was a lot of fun. The power went out as it got close to midnight, and we sat with flashlights listening to music on a computer with a dying battery. Right at midnight the computer finally blacked out. It was our own little ball-drop countdown to the new year!
Lessons of 2008:
- I am able to pick myself up from devastation and take on a new life - It is better to carpool with a friend than to drive alone - Public transportation will show you a new side to the city you grew up in - A good boss is priceless - Friends that will listen to you go on an on until you can't talk about it any more are invaluable - Horses, donkeys, cars, bicycles, trucks, carts and people can all manage to share the same road - Traditions become more precious, and more ridiculous when trying to recreate them in another culture - Drinking whole milk and sugary tea everyday actually can lead to weight gain - Living in another culture teaches you as much about yourself as it does the world - Generosity is being patient with someone who cannot communicate like everyone else - Humbleness is speaking like a child with the mind of an adult - Joy is finding a common language, like baking - A sunny day means laundry will dry - Volunteering yourself to help others sometimes means not being there for friends and family back home - There is always more lamb meat - We are adaptable creatures, even to situations that seemed absurd mere months ago - The internet is invaluable in keeping in touch to far-away people - There are plenty of edible parts to an animal that we mostly ignore in the US - You absolutely must be able to laugh at yourself and let things go
I am currently serving in Peace Corps, Morocco, as a small business developer working with artisans since September 2008. I have a Master of Fine Art, in studio art from Washington University in St. Louis.