Holidays

Dec. 28, 2014

I know what you’re thinking: sheesh, Johanna sure isn’t as dedicated to updating her blog as she was when she first arrived in Morocco.

I will grant you that, however, look on the bright side! What was once such a new and overwhelming place to live that regular blogging and journaling were necessary to help my brain process everything is now a normal life with routines and things that can be expected and so forth. My classes began just after 3id Kbir – which was the topic of my last post – and have thankfully left me quite busy with a schedule that comes pretty close to the Peace Corps recommendation for volunteer work hours and with so many kids wanting to come to class we don’t have enough space to fit all of them.

So really, no blog updates probably means I am finding everything so routine it doesn’t bear mentioning. Huzzah! I’ve only been waiting for that to happen for a year and a half.

On that note, something truly exciting just happened!!!

My mama came to visit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DSCN2014

Yes, I was pretty much making that face the entire two weeks she was here.

Mom, being the good, kind, wonderful, amazing mother that she is, promptly began saving for a trip to come see me as soon as we knew where I was going, which amounted to giving me the best Christmas present ever. She stayed for the two weeks before Christmas and we had a lovely time doing a bit of traveling and doing a bunch of relaxing and sitting in the sun in T–. She got to meet my host family, as well as several other families that have become like my families here. My dar chabab youth were the cutest ever and decided to throw her a top secret surprise welcome party, complete with jumping out of a classroom en masse and shouting “Surprise!”

Us getting a tour of the boat building in Essaouira.

Us getting a tour of the boat building in Essaouira.

Why is it so rainy?!?!?!

Why is it so rainy?!?!?!

Relaxing with ZundZund.

Relaxing with ZundZund.

After lunch with Mounia and Jeremy.

After lunch with Mounia and Jeremy.

Out in Taroudant!

Out in Taroudant!

We ate lots of couscous, wandered through the souk, did impromptu carpet buying, and played Scrabble. For Christmas Eve dinner we made French onion soup and it was delicious.

Mom and Leah at the zwinest hotel in Taroudant for lunch.

Mom and Leah at the zwinest hotel in Taroudant for lunch.

Mom gets henna done for the first time.

Mom gets henna done for the first time.

Eating all the cake at the Dar Chabab.

Eating all the cake at the Dar Chabab.

Almost as good as being together was the chance for Mom to see what life in Morocco is really like. As much as you try to explain things, you really don’t understand it until you’re here and I think Mom came away with a very positive impression of Morocco, which makes me happy, because this place has been my home for the past two years.

Now that she has successfully arrived back home, I have a week of class before I have to head up to Rabat once more for what is called our Close of Service Conference (COS Conference), which I am dearly hoping will include information on how to leave Morocco without becoming a sobbing mess (who am I kidding, that’s a given) and how to readjust to life in America. We also find out exactly which dates we will be leaving Morocco, so that will be exciting and terrifying.

And since it’s New Year’s, maybe my resolution should be to blog once a week? Let’s try that and see how it goes.

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Categories: Holidays, In site, Morocco | Tags: , | 1 Comment

October 6, 2014

Happy 3id to everyone!

One of the three sheep on our roof.

One of the three sheep on our roof.

Today and yesterday Moroccans are celebrating 3id Kbir, which celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and God’s subsequent substitution of the boy for a ram. Much of the Muslim world celebrated the holiday yesterday, but as with Ramadan, it all depends on when the moon is seen. Each Muslim family celebrates by feasting on an animal of their choice – usually a ram, but could also be a goat or camel or cow, depending on their tastes and budget. The animal is typically slaughtered at home by the head of the household with a quick slice to the neck and then butchered if he has the proper training or a hired butcher comes to make sure things are done the right way.

Host dad (in white) and the butcher talk about their plan of attack.

Host dad (in white) and the butcher talk about their plan of attack.

3id reminds me so much of Thanksgiving. You have a traditional meal based around a certain animal. Family tries to come together to celebrate. Relative strangers (or the poor Americans who live next door) are invited over to share in the meal. You share what you have with people who aren’t as well off and are grateful for what you do have.

My day started off (relatively early) with a breakfast at our house. After scarfing down some yogurt, Liz and I dressed ourselves in our limited collection of traditional clothes and ran up to the roof where we found not one, but three sheep awaiting their fates. Each belonged to one of our various neighbors, including the cutest family ever who live directly next door to us. We wished them happy 3id and offered apologies on not being able to join them for breakfast because we were expected at host family’s house in time to see their sheep.

Liz and the second of three breakfasts.

Liz and the second of three breakfasts.

Halfway there, we were flagged down by another of our neighbors, and we ran up to her roof quickly to see their sheep and drink a quick glass of tea and some cookies before offering apologies again and making it the rest of the way to host family. We met host dad on his way back from the mosque and after greeting him, headed up to their roof to see the rest of the family.

Last year there were three sheep to be done at host family’s house – one for them, one for our host uncle, and one for the family that lives downstairs from them. This year, we arrived just as the downstairs family was finishing theirs, and since host uncle was celebrating 3id with a different branch of the family this year, we only saw one actual slaughter.

Our host family's sheep standing amidst the laundry.

Our host family’s sheep standing amidst the laundry.

Breakfast #3!

Breakfast #3!

We sat down for another breakfast, took pictures while host dad and the butcher took things apart, and spent several hours chatting with our three host sisters, punctuated with kebabs of sheep liver and lungs for lunch.

Lungs and liver! Or was it heart? I don't remember.

Lungs and liver! Or was it heart? I don’t remember.

We also saw the partial preparation of the sheep’s head for a tajine tomorrow, however, our host aunt is the one who likes to eat it, so we expect it will be going to her house for consumption.

The sheep head being prepared - held over an open flame to get the hair off, I believe.

The sheep head being prepared – held over an open flame to get the hair off, I believe.

After slinking home in a food coma, we were delivered about a kilo of mutton from one of our neighbors, which is now residing in the fridge while we decide on an appropriately delicious recipe to use it in.

This morning, we were summoned to another neighbor’s house for breakfast – which included tea, meat kebabs, bread, and cookies. They make their kebabs into sandwiches with yummy chopped onions and spices, which were super good. After several games of Uno, which is my favorite game to share with Moroccans, we got up to leave and were told to stay for lunch, which was the yummiest eat and prune tajine I have ever had. Sweet and savory has never been so good. They also sent us home with a plate of meat, which went into the freezer this time.

A nice reenactment by Liz's cat of what I will be spending the rest of the day doing.

A nice reenactment by Liz’s cat of what I will be spending the rest of the day doing.

3id this year is teaching me a new definition of the word full. For much of Morocco, meat is an expensive luxury. Meat included in meals is usually a small amount for each person, bolstered by bread and vegetables. 3id is a chance for everyone to bulk up on protein, which is why it’s eaten for several meals straight. I have felt pretty honored this year to have been invited to share the meal with multiple families. It’s a nice feeling to be a stranger and to be welcomed.

Now, time to research curry recipes and not eat anything for the rest of the day.

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Jan. 8, 2014

Happy Belated New Year!

If I had been in Michigan a few days ago, I would have been dressed up in several layers of clothing watching a tin-foil ball of lights drop jerkily from the top of a tall building (yay Marquette ball drop!), but since I was in Morocco, I was dressed up in several layers hanging out with a super awesome group of girls at a girl’s empowerment camp up in the mountains.

The camp, organized by my super good friend and awesome CBT mate (training was almost a whole year ago! Wow!), was a GLOW camp – Girls Leading Our World – which are a favorite activity of many PCVs. The camps can focus on pretty much anything, as long as it’s intended for helping girls improve their lives and communities. Ours was focused on leadership and entrepreneurship, and turned out to be a great success.

The first thing to know about Moroccan girls is you always say hello and goodbye with kisses on the cheek (if you are also a girl, of course). Our camp had 50 girls in attendance. Which means kissing fifty people on the cheek every morning – usually once on each side of the face. Same in the evening when they left. That’s a lot of cheek kisses.

Between greeting and saying goodbye each day, we ran the girls through a series of workshops and activities. My particular responsibility was leading a goal-setting workshop on the first afternoon. The girls thought about what they wanted to do with their lives, both within five years and then as adults. Lots of them want to be doctors, teachers, a couple policewomen. Others had goals of getting married and having children – specifically twins were popular with one group. In the second half of the workshop, the girls chose one goal that was particularly important to them and then brainstormed the different steps that need to be accomplished to reach that goal.

Our other workshops included an entrepreneurship lesson in which groups created greeting card companies, a dance workshop, and a self-defense introduction, which I thought went really really well. Nothing like spending a morning showing girls how to throw a punch without breaking their thumbs. And how to be aware of their surroundings. And helping them realize they can protect themselves. That they should protect themselves. Love it.

And, of course, over the week, we sang songs and had outrageous dance parties and had a good time in general.

The camp was held about an hour outside of Ouarzazate, and being in the mountains, was quite a bit colder than I’m used to now in T–, where it reached about 80 degrees this morning. It brought me back to training last year – see your breath indoors, don’t change out of a base layer of long underwear except absolutely required, sleep in a coat and a hat. My dose of winter right there.

 

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Dec. 26, 2013

Merry (day after) Christmas, everyone!

The spread out when baked to look like Christmas arrowheads. Whatever. I tried.

The spread out when baked to look like Christmas arrowheads. Whatever. I tried.

All this year I was in great fear of being flat out depressed on Christmas. The period of time from Halloween to New Year’s is my most favorite time of year – even though I’m a great fan of Easter and the Fourth of July during the appropriate time of year – and the thought of being away from family for the holidays is pretty heavy for me. There’s no substitute for me being able to hang out with family and enjoy a Christmas feast together, spend a morning opening presents, going on a Christmas Eve cross country ski outing.

As it turns out, my first Christmas in Morocco was pretty lovely. Not as lovely as being at home. But much better than I was expecting.

They may look like plain squares, but really they taste like Christmas.

They may look like plain squares, but really they taste like Christmas.

Since I have guilt issues about canceling class, I decided to stay in site and not travel too far to visit any other volunteers. My classes met on Christmas Eve and Christmas as normal, but were treated to cookies, writing letters to Santa (yay for practicing the verb “to want”), and tonight – a showing of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Jesus is considered to be a profit in Islam, so the story of his birth appears in the Koran (although I’ve been told he is born under a palm tree instead of in a stable) and most of my students had heard of Santa Claus (or Baba Noel) due to the French colonization influence here. They had fun making up ridiculous Christmas lists – what any 12 year old would do with a Ferrari is beyond me – and I received several real and virtual Christmas cards, which made me feel so welcome and accepted and at home in a place that is so far from my real home.

So that was class.

Most of this week, outside of class, of course, was spent on Skype with my family and making a day trip to one of the neighboring volunteers for Christmas brunch and a cutthroat game of Settlers of Catan.

Casserole and beignets!!!!

Casserole and beignets!!!!

Semi-early on Christmas morning, I hopped in a taxi, passed not only the goats in trees but also a herd of camels, to the west to visit one of my closest neighbors. A bunch of other volunteers had gathered there to celebrate the holidays, which we did with homemade beignets, egg breakfast casserole, and Christmas cookies. The nine of us also did a white elephant gift exchange – where you can steal and trade gifts until most people have what they wanted. I brought a knitted potholder to exchange and ended up with a bag of chocolate granola. That takes care of breakfast for the rest of the week!

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

Meanwhile, my family at home has swollen to include my mom’s brother and sister visiting for the holidays and I’ve been spending more time on Skype to feel like I’m not missing any of the Christmas activities. Being on the computer set in the middle of the kitchen watching dinner be prepared is almost the same as being there, right? Not quite, but it’s amazing to be this far away and still be able to see someone talking to you on a completely different continent.

While it would have been much better to be home, my Christmas was still quite nice and I’m excited for the next year!

Categories: Holidays, In site, Morocco | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Dec. 2, 2013

Would you like some more gravy on your couscous?

Why, yes, thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving from Johanna and Liz!

Happy Thanksgiving from Johanna and Liz!

While my heart may have been home in Michigan with my family, my stomach this past week was at the Peace Corps headquarters in Rabat (a palace of amazing things like grassy lawns and supplied toilet paper) along with over 200 other volunteers for a round of flu shots and Thanksgiving lunch/dinner.

Our country director and staff have once again proved their awesomeness in arranging a feast for us, both to make us feel a bit less homesick and to celebrate an American holiday in the company of other Americans. Complete with imported Butterball turkeys cooked in a neighborhood bread baking oven because no one on staff has ovens big enough to cook a whole turkey in. Heaven.

Everyone waiting in line.

Everyone waiting in line.

Our journey started Wednesday, with Liz, Leah, Dani and myself taking a combination of bus/train up to Marrakech and then on to Rabat where we crashed at a hotel after a 12-hour journey north. We certainly don’t have to travel the farthest to reach Rabat, but it’s a long day just the same.

Thanksgiving morning, there was no access to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is my morning-celebration method of choice, so we settled into a pastry shop and enjoyed strong coffee and croissants before taking the tram over to HQ.

Each volunteer was asked to contribute a dish, whether desserts, sides or beverages. I tried making biscuits (from scratch not from a can) which turned out relatively well, although would have been better minus the extra day of travel. Liz provided her signature lemon bars and it was a special challenge to not forget our various plastic Tupperware on any of the vehicles we found ourselves in.

In one door and out the other.

In one door and out the other.

Getting 200 people through a buffet line is no joke, but the logistical geniuses responsible for setting everything up made it work like a charm. After picking up plates and utensils, we got couscous and gravy (as a substitute for mashed potatoes), turkey, green beans, and a delicious concoction of caramelized onions and raisins. Then on to the second table, containing the various salad/savory foods brought by volunteers. Finally, outside under the giant Moroccan wedding tent were no less than three tables of desserts, each becoming more and more ladened as more volunteers arrived with their contributions.

Behind my dear friend Monika is a Moroccan wedding tent, which you will usually find set up in the middle of the street or an empty lot somewhere. They are all white on the outside and red and green on the inside.

Behind my dear friend Monika is a Moroccan wedding tent, which you will usually find set up in the middle of the street or an empty lot somewhere. They are all white on the outside and red and green on the inside.

Two solid hours of eating and chatting later, the food was pretty much gone (all 10+ turkeys!) and we were all ready for naps.

The carnage.

The carnage.

My table did a round of “what are you thankful for” while we ate. My thankful thing was for my Peace Corps service and the support of my family to do so, but could have been expanded to everything from “this food” to work finally picking up at my Dar Chabab.

This was our only chance during our service to see almost everyone serving in country in one place, and there were many people I didn’t recognize from the stage that arrived in country before us. It was also a chance to see friends I hadn’t seen since our In Service Training in June, and good times were had by all.

The next day we were all up at 7 a.m. for flu shots. I also had to get the final round of Hepatitis A, which hurt way more than the flu shot in my other arm. Ouch. After that, it was back on the train south, with an overnight stop in Marrakech, where, in honor of Black Friday, I did a bit of shopping and bought myself a new scarf and a beautiful woven blanket that is now adorning my bed.

We’re finally back home and I have spent the day lesson planning to make up for not having class all last week due to travel.

Perhaps the most significant event of the week was Liz organizing a “sauce off” competition between myself and our friend Ted, who also claims a certain culinary prowess. The gauntlet of a three-round sauce making competition has been thrown and while I feel fairly confident in two of the categories, I need to find a winning curry sauce recipe to perfect before January when everything will go down. The search begins…

Categories: Holidays, Morocco | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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