How about a few highlights from my April trip around Northern Morocco with my first American visitors, Fred and Candy. We had a great time. My neighbors, who hosted a few meals for them, and I can’t stop talking about how much we miss them!
Here are a small amount of our wonderful adventures and discoveries:
-Putting on the hat as translator and negotiator was surprisingly fun (most of the time).
-Getting lost in the Meknes medina, and finding a “pit stop” in the unlit, unfinished room of a kind Moroccan woman.
-Making Texas chili and cornbread for my neighbors, served in a tajin of course.
-Bargaining for the best price on two beautiful Moroccan rugs at the big Tuesday Souk in my town.
-Listening to Nadiya’s brother play at a nightclub on the beach in Tangier.
-Learning my choice of phrases in English has become more Moroccan—“As you like it” became a running joke.
-Teaching Fred “may God grant you health also” in response to “may God grant you health” in Arabic.
-Startling my guests with my eagerness to dig my hands into the couscous and pop a nicely formed ball of the stuff in my mouth, Moroccan-style.
-Losing 50 dirhams to the slot machines at the casino in Tangier (Candy that is, not me).
-Driving through the beautiful Rif Mountains and staying in a hotel in ChefChaouen with a spectacular view of them.
-Eating snails on the street in Fes…with a safety pin.
-Sitting in a café overlooking Spain from across the straight while sipping mint tea.
I was determined to go to a church service for Easter, much in the same way I was determined to have dyed eggs for Easter and boiled vegetables for dye that adorned my homegrown eggs. The truth is I have become an Easter-and-Christmas churchgoer since I’ve come to Morocco. Well, except I didn’t go to church on Christmas either.
There is something about being in this country away from home. On one hand it is easy to be the sponge absorbing the culture around me, learning and discovering. I’m suspended in a new cultural bubble away from what I came into the world knowing. It is in this way I’m developing a new appreciation and understanding for mint tea, Islamic culture, and making sure your guests have too much to eat. On the other hand my own alien quality here sometimes makes me feel like I’m on an island-- those comforts and routines of home and community are sorely missed. Church is among them.
It is with this hunger that I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to attend an actual church service on Easter day as proposed by my closest PCV neighbor, Alex-- never mind that there was an ongoing transportation strike in Morocco.
Alex fell into an invitation by the pastor himself to host us volunteers (including another PCV neighbor, Meghan) the night before so that we could attend the sunrise service with them. So that Saturday we prepared some delicious lemon cranberry scones (thanks for the cranberries mom!) for an Easter potluck brunch at the pastor’s house, and made our way to the taxi stand. Fortunately for us, the taxi drivers in my town had changed their minds from the “la, makaynsh” I got in the morning and took us to Rabat anyway. Well, almost to Rabat. We had to get out of the cab just outside of town so our driver wouldn’t “get rocks thrown at him” by the strikers. We caught a bus, and then a petit taxi (not yet on strike) and found ourselves at the doorstop of a very American couple.
More than anything the experience made me realized how much I’ve adjusted to Moroccan hospitality and custom (it was a joke that I felt compelled to remove my shoes to walk on their carpet). It also, much like the scent of cinnamon-rolls that the pastor’s wife was preparing for the next day, brought on a feeling of nostalgia and longing for the familiar. We were lulled to sleep watching a movie with bellies full of Pizza Hut.
The alarm went off at 4:30am and we all got up, got ready and headed out to the Chellah. Lined up against the crumbling wall and looking out over the valley-landscape was an inspiring spot to spend and Easter service. The cranes were clacking their beaks and gliding low over the trees below us as the sun peeked out between two banks of clouds as we remembered why we were there.
Afterwards the brunch followed. Much English was spoken amongst those from many different countries. As the brunch came to an end, the three of us decided we could use a little more church and went to the next service in the actual church. Here again, the diversity was inspiring. What brought us all to that place at that time were our common beliefs and language in a country where they are uncommon. It was freeing to hear my voice with it’s own Midwestern US accent join in song with those from Europe and West Africa, Asia…
The rest of the day was pleasant, if not newsworthy. I relaxed and enjoyed Rabat after I discovered the possibility of leaving the city that day was slim (Rabat taxi drivers demonstrated more solidarity). I did eventually make it home, but that is another story altogether.
The last month has flown by. It has come to the point where I feel there is too much to share with you all. My only solution is to take it in pieces. Forgive my time-lagging.
Lets back up to late March. As I mentioned I had gone to Fes for a meeting, returned with a bird and then immediately did Spring camp at my site. What I neglected to mention was that I had gone to a wedding in there too. The day I had bought my canary and got him safely to my house 2+ hours away, I turned around and went out to rent the appropriate attire for my first Moroccan wedding.
I had heard about these weddings. Several of my fellow trainees had already been to a wedding, some early on when language was still such that “We are taking you to my cousin’s wedding across town and we won’t be back until morning” would have been an incomprehensible sentence which would have had to include a game of charades for full comprehension. I had learned from others that there would be dancing all night, huge courses of food and sweets, and a bride with a frequently changing outfit--all to the beat of Moroccan music. So I can’t pretend I hadn’t been forewarned on what this even would entail.
Being a stubborn early-riser (between the chickens, canary and I, we’re all early-birds in this house) I didn’t look forward to the all-night aspect. I approached the event with a mix of excitement, adventure, and the resignation to discomfort you feel before getting your wisdom teeth pulled. I knew I had to seize this opportunity, an invitation by my neighbors to join them in their relative’s wedding, that I would be in good hands and guided through the night with as much forgiveness and understanding as possible.
My attire having been obtained for the evening (a turquoise takshita—or “Disney princess dress” as I would call it), we made ourselves ready and headed out to the reception hall out past the taxi stand at 8:30pm. The room itself looked surprisingly American (I suppose the same variety of reception locations exist here. Some others I’ve heard of taking place on roofs or in tents or just in the street). We took a table with a vantage point of the 2/3 empty room, the band, and the throne-like reception area for the bride and groom.
This celebration itself isn’t one that follows a church wedding. The Moroccan wedding process is different in that respect, and I’m still not entirely clear on the details. I do know that the bride has been properly hennaed (had intricate designs drawn on her with henna, a plant-dye) and celebrated the day before by women relatives and friends. I also know that this event isn’t the last one for the bride and groom, and that we don’t send them off in a car to their honeymoon at the end of the night.
By around 10pm the room had started to fill up and my aching stomach hoped that there would be some nourishment provided soon (I had a very light lunch anticipating a food-heavy evening). Dancing began. The family of the bride came around and welcomed everyone. At 1am we were served dinner. By this point I would have gleefully eaten cardboard, but instead we were provided three whole chickens (for our table of about 10) with olives and onions. Immediately following this we were presented with a huge slab of beef with prunes. This was barely picked at. These dishes are fairly traditional tajins, and ones I have noticed being served particularly for group occasions. The abundance of meat (there weren’t really any vegetables to speak of) provided more evidence that Moroccan weddings are the same wealth-sharing events we know in America. After dinner the dancing resumed. I did get up and dance a few times, but I found myself more content watching the others for stretches of time. The bride and groom were carried around on ornate thrones at one point, and in all I counted at least 7 wardrobe changes by the bride—including a traditional shlha (“berber”) wedding dress and makeup. By around 4am I was really feeling the lack of sleep. I had tried hard to stay awake, but with no sugar or caffeine or will to go on dancing I let my eyes close a time or two. Eventually the yells of “you can’t sleep!” subsided and I was allowed to relax a bit and close my eyes in peace. No real sleeping took place, however.
Around 5am the wedding was wrapping up. Official tea-pourers came out and impressively poured tea from amazing heights. We were each given a box of sweet treats and a glass of tea. My stomach had long gone to bed, so I skipped these temptations and gathered my belongings. The night ended as we poured out of the reception hall into the breaking dawn. I got home to a few hours of sleep before Jon and Emily arrived at my door for Spring Camp preparations.
I am very grateful for having had this experience of the all-out Moroccan wedding party. I would attend one again if I knew the couple or if I knew I could escape early. I have, however, found a new appreciation for the short and sweet American wedding receptions where we’ve waved goodbye to the newly weds and gotten to bed at a reasonable hour (I know, I know, me and the other early birds should all go eat worms).
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.