Ever since I began thinking about living in my own place in Morocco I’ve had the crazy notion of having my own laying hens. I’m not quite sure of the origins of this thought except that I’m a bird-lover, egg-eater, and like to “grow” my own food. It only seems logical right?
The previous volunteer had a dog, and a doghouse that she would leave behind. I saw a potential chicken-coop. It wasn’t until the rains finally stopped a few weeks ago that I painted it with the help of Alex, a nearby volunteer, and Nadiya, my language tutor. Shortly there-after I went down behind the fish-market to women selling djaja bildeea (country hens…none of those ugly pale-white city chicks). I bought two girls who were close to egg-laying maturity but hadn’t started yet.
Long before I was ready to purchase chickens I had the name “Big Momma” picked out for one of them, I’m still not quite sure who said it, but why not? The other I decide should be called “Rafisa” which is a tasty chicken dish made with fenugreek, raslharnut, and harsha (delicious pan-fried semolina bread) served at special occasions such as weddings and births. Rafisa also sounds like a nice girl’s name so—perfect!
Big Momma and Rafisa are smarter than chickens are usually credited, and I have played many a game of “how did you get in the house this time?” with them. Just when I was eyeing those chicken legs for my next meal an egg appeared! I wasn’t sure who had laid it as neither was laying claim. It was small, oblong and looked as though it had been painfully borne. I almost ululated as a Moroccan mother would after her daughter gave birth to her first child.
Instead I ate it, fried in a little olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of salt. What satisfaction! I had earned that fresh egg.
Two days later, today in fact, I discovered who my first layer was—appropriately named Big Momma. She was acting rather motherly making herself a nest in the wood-shavings and laid her second egg right after I ate breakfast (bad timing on my part, I could have had a fresh egg instead of cereal with chunky milk). When I collected the egg I realized that it was still warm.
This experience so far has even more so than growing my own vegetables made me realize where my food is coming from and how the animal was fed and taken care of who gave me that food. It is nice to have a vegetable scrap-disposal in my courtyard, but I also go out of my way to make sure they are getting a balanced healthy chicken-diet. After all, what they eat will be processed and turned into what I eat. What better motivation to take care of something else when you realize it also becomes a part of you.
I realize it has been a while since I've posted. I apologize for this. I credit my absence here to being busy. More importantly perhaps I'm feeling scattered. I haven't had a neat and tidy event or thought to write to you, and I dislike a scattered incoherent blog-post. But how about a work update?
February brought me travels to a nearby city with 5 women from my town that I nominated to attend the "Women's Empowerment Conference." I think the event passed well, and although I got mixed feedback from the women (I tried to bring a diverse group with differing backgrounds and agendas) I think in the end it had a powerful impact on them. One came back and really took charge of the "Internation Women's Day" event in our city and another took charge in getting another women's association together.
A related travel story: When returning from the conference I was loaded into a bus packed with other women coming form the conference and going threw our town before they went on to connecting transportation to their towns. At the last minute we were loaded with even more women from the conference to the point that they had to bring in chairs for some people to sit in the aisle. This is not an uncommon practice in a "stuffit" (this is what they are referred to by Moroccans), but it is illegal and uncomfortable, and unsafe. At one point we almost hit a truck in front of us that stopped suddenly without signaling, we swerved out of the way in time. A while later down the road we were pulled over by the local authorities who had a complaint with our stuffed "stuffit". An argument ensued and at one point some of the women on the bus suggested I talk with the authorities and say that we were all returning from the same conference and that I was with an American organization, Peace Corps, etc. I was not interested in divulging any of this information--nor in having Peace Corps endorse unsafe travel practices which I had no part in. I asked why I should tell them this and since no one had a good answer and the fine looked like it was payed, we were once again on our way. We passed another city with authorities on the road, but we were warned ahead of time and closed all the curtains. No stopping us this time. We finally made it back close to sunset and I was extremely glad to get out of there.
I've since been busy running from one organization to the next. I've continued teaching English, although I'd rather start phasing it out. Attendance is very mixed and only a few students seem to come every week, the others randomly making it difficult to have a lesson building on the last. I will start teaching other handicrafts like jewelry making, as an interest and expectation exists. Supplies are always an issue for these projects and I'm trying to find the most sustainable avenues. I'm also trying to facilitate a grant that a previous volunteer helped bring to a wood cooperative right before he left.
Alright, there is my work update. I will try to be a little more regular with blog-updates too. I shoot for once a week or at least every-other week. Please check my flicker account (photos to the upper-right) which I seem to update more frequently. Pictures say more words than I do!
Yes, there are packaged foods here in Morocco. You can buy reasonably priced packaged cookies and salty-puffed corn – things I am not usually all that attracted to here or in the US unless I’m on a road trip or it is shoved in my face. However, the majority of what I would consider convenience food is either very high-priced, of sub-par quality, or just plain unavailable on a regular basis.
So with great joy and a light heart I have discovered my new convenience foods:
-Just heat and serve: I buy a little bag of pre-soaked chickpeas from the woman who sits outside my alleyway. At a moments notice I can decide to make Hummus or Harira without all that over-night soaking business. I also get to see her warm smile.
-Home-shopping network: Sitting in my house I can sometimes here the fresh-produce prices if the wind carries the voices down my alleyway. Just this evening I heard a price for bananas I couldn’t refuse and walked out and back in under two minutes with my purchase.
-Eating-out: This almost always means that I am enjoying the food freshly prepared from scratch at a neighbor’s home.
-Frozen dinners: Left-overs from the big pot of soup and loaf of bread I made last week.
-Fresh daily: Two blocks away is “bread-street” where all the ladies sell the bread that came out of their ovens that day. At the end of my alley-way there is a man that sells fresh-eggs, and next to him the guy that sells fresh chickens—just point to the one you want and he’ll take care of everything else, come back in ten minutes for your plucked bird (a little gruesome, but no less so than what we try to ignore when we pick out meat at the grocery store).
-Forget something? Need sugar, milk, yoghurt? Junk food? Just head down to the local 7-Eleven…I mean l-Harnut.
Disclaimer: I am in a larger site than most volunteers, and may enjoy some conveniences that are not so available elsewhere. All the more appreciation for what I do have!
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.