Friday, November 21, 2008

PB&J

After two days of avoiding everything here and just being an all around shivering grump, getting lost in and finishing both Julie and Julia and Back to the Soil I decided to start a fire. Sometimes all it takes is being warm and clean to make you smile. I got my ferno, essentially a little woodburning stove , going real good, and bucket bathed right there. Not exactly a hammam but it was nice. I felt so limber I did an episode of yoga from a care package from my dear aunt Laura. Then I read for awhile , A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is my newest acquisition . I started getting hungry but had absolutely no food in the house. So i mixed up my special pita dough recipie and set it to rise near the ferno while I read for another hour . Not wanting to leave the heavenly warmth of my room I baked that pita loaf right on top of my ferno . I burned half but it still turned out pretty darn good. I had out peanut butter sent from one side of the family and grape jelly sent from the other and combined it all for my first peanut butter and jelly sandwhich in over a year. And it was delicious. Yes I know, anything but a whloesome meal. But I was warm, clean , eating something yummy, reading something funny and had two happy cats snoozing on my lap. It was a fine evening. Now back to Africa…

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

tis so long i dont even know what its about

First off I just have to give a huge congratulations to OBAMA! It deserves a big lhamdulilah (thank god) though really I thank the American people for whose majority finally made a good decision! Thank you! And I can say for certain the greater portion of Moroccans I know thank you as well! Fun language side-note I simply can’t resist- McCain sounds almost exactly like ma kayn(sh), which is Arabic for “there isn’t.” Funny and I just really felt the need to share that.

Anyhow, my Obama joy came at the end of quite a little trip down south. I had some post Halloween fun with some friends and after recovering from a sour hangover on a long bus I arrived at my CBT site, the lovely little village I first called home and was adopted by in Morocco. It began awkward, with the guilt of taking so long to return and my poor Tam coupled with the fact that the dialect is very different, but soon enough we fell right back into place. I hadn’t forgotten how much I loved my first family in Morocco, but I was still surprised how much I enjoyed and missed their company in the less than 24-hour time I had to be with them again. My mom was loud and fast talking and nuts as ever, my sister as clingy and wanting, though a far better cook, and the boys just as sweet though disturbingly taller.

Now I am always and forever a great lover of couscous, but there has been a disappointing trend of couscous in my site. There are many varieties of couscous of course, but wet and dry define a lot. In my site it’s been un-spiced, with a few chickpeas and some sheep or chicken and about a gallon of aggu, or buttermilk, by my definition-disgusting. I totally respect them and their love of wet sour-milk drenched couscous, but I just don’t like it. As a result, I’ve been very deprived lately of my weekly quota of couscous, so when I went “home” down south I happily welcomed theirs. A wonderful big pile of it, quite salty and moistened only a bit with meat juices, and covered with collard greens, carrot, potato, pumpkin, parsnip, onion and zucchini, oh delicious. And I repeatedly praised the food, bumping up my sister’s self-esteem to great heights. The next morning I accompanied them on the daily task, though I wasn’t allowed to lift a finger, only observe, of shaking out and plucking off all the leaves of fig and various other trees done fruiting for the season to feed to the animals. It was a wonderful trip and I promised to return again in the spring, or at very latest, in the summer.

I made my long trip back north and, with much appreciated approval from Peace Corps staff we were all allowed to travel for the election. Just a few friends and I went to a PCV’s house who had this amazing little gadget which allows you to watch TV live on your computer. It was great, and though we all pooped out around two, after the first couple polls closed, we were awoke by one girl screeching around 4:30am, “He won! He won! He won!” Tired as I was, I was up, unbelieving, and unbelievably happy. We opened a bottle of terrible champagne, managed to each drink a small cup, watch McCain’s poor speech, Obama’s AMAZING speech and I definitely fell back to sleep with a big smile on my face.

We awoke late the next morning to hear more results and discuss the wonderful victories, and chat about what was gonna happen next, one friend said, “you know, it’s really weird to feel good about America again, like to feel inspired about the future” and we all felt similar. I’ve definitely been noticing more and more to be thankful for about America during my time here, but to truly be inspired about the future? Well I haven’t felt that for my home country in a long ass time. So, yay for us huh? I think so.

I returned to site, many texts of joy to other volunteers, some jumping up and down, and many congrats from Moroccans later, for a quick stint in site before turning around and leaving, again. And I really, really didn’t want to go. I was tired, and the thought of leaving my baby boy home alone in the cold was just not nice. But I had to go, to the great capital, Rabat, for MSM (mid-service meds), the second to last time my whole staj would be joined as a whole group. I was quite grumpy after the 6-hour bus ride, and some really awful harassment within an hour of arriving in the great city. I was tired, and I really didn’t feel like spending money or getting poked and prodded by anybody. But of course I got grumpier because that’s exactly what happened. A busy few days of labs, x-rays, dentist appointments, physicals and really expensive eating out. The food is great let me tell you, but I honestly far prefer my own cooking now, which is far cheaper and just as damn good, if not better.

While I was in Rabat I was reminded again, and will now remind all of you, of just how weird we PCVs are. Take stool samples, for example. While a year ago I got all red in the face and shy anyone farted or mentioned sex or talked about how ya, girls shit too, I’ve lost any and all pride now. They passed out those cute little plastic cups and caps, brown paper bags and wooden sticks (this last one just confused us) and sent us off. The main point of this of course is to check for parasites, which many of us acquire here. I thankfully have not, as of yet. But it was with much humor and far too little discretion that we ran around the classiest city in Morocco with our little poo samples to the lab, joking about who had and hadn’t yet, and where, and how and that we must hurry for if we don’t get it to the lab within half an hour it’s no good anymore and we have to do it again. I even complained that I had to use the brown paper bag, for I’d much rather take the brown paper bag home for making pita bread (it’s essential for keeping pita soft after baking, and the only place I know they are available is our PC med office) So anyhow, that was that.

To further delve into what no one needs to know, but possibly explains at least some part of my bad mood; the morning of my appointed physical and pap, oh joy, it was that time of the month again. Forgive my language, but “Fuck!” was my initial reaction to this most beautiful gift of womanhood this time around. Mostly I was just stinkin pissed because it meant I’d have to come all the way back to Rabat again soon. Oh well. More pricey food later, and second piercings in my ears (that was a yay moment) and we were finally released back to our sites. I made a stopover in Azrou to pick up a cat. A girl who is COSing but coming back for a job needed a cat sitter for 6 weeks, and I agreed. My boy needs a buddy when I’m away and it’s nice to have two lap warmers. The new gal is currently seated on my lap and Bu at my side. If it was only a maybe before I can say now it’s a fact that I’ve become a lonely crazy cat lady.

So back to site meant back to the cold. In my determination to me unhappy about having to be there I forgot to be thankful for the weather in Rabat. In hindsight Rabat was like fall in Ventura, so lovely. Not much different from the rest of the year, just a slight crisp chill in the air in the evening, and I love that. Even more depressing is that I missed going to the beach even once, but really just hadn’t had time. Back here, home, I’m remembering exactly why I hate winter so much. How the cold gets in your bones and never leaves, no matter how many cats or blankets or happy thoughts you can conjure up. And it’s not even that cold yet. Though it didn’t provide much warmth, the last thing I’ve been wanting to do is move more than five inches away from my electric heater, but due to too much rich food in Rabat I’ve got even more too much info for you all, the shits. I’m so sorry you have to hear that, but again, I really don’t care.

I also had another site visit yesterday, and no I don’t want to talk about it. No work isn’t going any better or worse. Mostly I just haven’t been here, but after my second trip to Rabat for the damn pap smear next week and Thanksgiving at another friend’s site, I hope to stay home more, survive Leid Al Adha and get back to work. Right now I’m reading. A lot again. Mostly to keep my mind off my mind, but also because I’ve got a lot of new books arriving soon and want to finish some I still have here. I’ve been reading Back to the Soil; The Jewish Farmers of Clarion, Utah, and Their World by Robert Alan Goldberg. I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, mostly just because I’m related to one of them, and it’s just kind of cool to read a book a blood relative was part of; but recently it hits home for real since my current little dream forming is farming. Also honestly, I don’t know that I could have gotten through a history book so easily before. I love history, but dry writing has never been a real good idea if I want to stay awake. This book isn’t written with any kind of special enthusiasm, but I love it! No tiredness here for sure, though it is a bit depressing because, after all, it is about a great failure.

I’m a good two thirds of the way through Back to the Soil, and I really don’t like starting a new book when I’m not done with another, but last night I was feeling cold, in the pits and just needed something else and began Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. I read a few pages shy of 200 and went to bed at nearly 2am. Sometimes it’s just what I need, like Eat, Pray, Love, not because it’s a literary masterpiece but because it’s about some worried woman’s unhappy life and something they start doing to change it in some way, bitching the whole time. I don’t feel much sympathy, or even inspiration, I’m just happy for the time to not be bitching about the mess I think of my own life. And the best way for me to do that seems to be to read someone else doing the same thing. I don’t feel much in common with Julie; except maybe the food, and my worry that I’ll be a confused 20 or 30 or even 40 something, only without the loving husband in tote.

It’s not like it takes much to get me thinking about food, for it’s the one thing I do good here, but the book is much about food, so here go yet more words on the subject. Have I mentioned I never want to live a life where I need a microwave again? Well I really mean it. I’ve lived a year without micro-waved food and love it. If I can say one positive thing about my overseas experience it’s my love and appreciation of food, or really, that process that keeps us alive physically, and the fulfillment making such things from scratch brings, which greatly contributes to mental health as well. A great inspiration of course was reading The Omnivores Dilemma, but more it just reaffirmed and gave weight to beliefs I had but didn’t believe in (yes I know that makes no sense, I’ve told you before I’m just one long, nonsensical run-on).

So I recently got a package from home containing, among other items, lots of food products. I will admit right off the bat here that there with always remain a special place in my heart my greatest comfort food, mac n cheese, I know it’s all obtuse ingredients but it tastes like something good from childhood so I’m ok with the indulgence once in a blue moon. But I do recognize now the ridiculousness of processed food more than ever. I’ve always known they’re not quite real, there all chemicals, they’re just easy food for our fast paced lives, whatever. But I honestly always thought they tasted fine. And when time is money, if it’s edible I’m gonna eat it. Well I have changed. I thank you kindly for sending me such things, but I can honestly say now, there is no need to send anymore.

I came home from the trip down south, having missed suq I had no veggies and no energy so without worry I popped open one such ten-minute meal in a bag for, well, a meal. The poor pieces of quick cooking pasta sadly dozed around the boiling water with the powder to soon form a supposedly rich creamy-broccoli garlic sauce. Nonsense. It was terrible. If I hadn’t been so hungry I’d have thrown it out. Still without veggies, the next day I had another packet, same directions, supposedly different favor. Two more revelations came about from this process, a) both tasted exactly the same (which makes sense after reading Michael Pollan’s book and finding out that most of the ingredients are in fact the same-some product of corn, and after a year of my taste buds growing used to actually tasting different foods together) and b) it was ridiculously sad to be done cooking dinner in ten minutes. It’s not like I have all the free time in the world here but I’m now accustomed to actually setting aside more time preparing my meal than eating it, far more, and I like that. I enjoy chopping and sautĂ©ing and discovering how much of one spice I can handle and how much of another the dish needs, it’s fun, meditative and oh so fulfilling to eat! After some unhappy quick meals, suq day arrived and I made some amazing soups of my own.

I have many fears about returning to the states, and a big one is definitely falling back into the routine of eating and being content with such easy food I’m afraid it won’t take long at all for my taste buds to accept bland microwave products again and to think that gourmet food is only something you can get in restaurants or on big holidays like Thanksgiving, worthy of the work of actual cooking. Because in the states, unlike here, it’s easier to eat food from a bag than off the land. Which is why I’ve just got to become a farm girl right?

I do feel a little bad, and confused, and lacking in articulate wording lately. As I’ve spoken to family members recently I don’t know how to explain exactly what this “thing” is that I want to do so badly when I get back, at least not without sounding like a dumb hippie. No don’t want to go back to school, not at all actually, I don’t even really want to travel. I want to farm. I want to be on the land. Maybe it’s the odd juxtaposition of my newfound love of real food, combined with my newfound weight gain of 11 pounds due to lack of enough exercise despite such good food (no exaggeration, I just got weighed in Rabat), but I want to live simple, as Julie said, “Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be a part of something that was not easy, just simple.”

For there is a huge difference between simple and easy. I say often that the people live here simply, but in no way does that mean to imply they live easy. Compared to my standard of living in the states, physically at least, life here is anything but easy. I would say mentally life in the states may have been anything but easy due to all the contradictions I was living, all the distractions from what I truly deem important and valuable to life. Maybe I need to go back to therapy, or better, I just need to start listening to my own advice. At some point you have to sit down with yourself and admit what it is that you know makes you smile, what will keep the light on in your soul. I over complicate myself, but I am quite simple, and maybe life would be easier if I would live in such a way. I am so tired. I don’t know just how to go about doing this thing, this dreamy thing, but it’s making me smile and that’s what I need right now.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

labas

30 October

I am overcome with love and respect for my village right now. I woke up early to singing from the mosque. Generally the only thing you hear from a mosque is the call to prayer five times a day, but sometimes there are songs. The songs are actually Koran readings and I find them very beautiful regardless of my not knowing the words or necessarily believing in their meaning. Today I found out this reading was for a woman who just died nearby. I don’t know what makes her passing different than others; just two weeks ago one of my neighbors died and there was no singing, maybe I’ll find out soon. I’ve been to quite a few death ceremonies, very similar to baby naming ceremonies and even weddings; lots of the same food, lots of people, lots of waiting, lots of hanging out. The difference of course is death ceremonies are sad and rather than drumming and joyous old songs, there is a lot of howling and wailing. They are supposed to last three days, but seem to go on a bit longer around here. Anyhow an important part of death in Islam is that the body must be buried very quickly, I think within 12 hours or something. So a few minutes ago I heard more singing along with the mosque and looked outside my window. 30 or so men were walking with the casket by my house on their way to the graveyard. It was just very beautiful to me and though I couldn’t attend the burial because I am a woman, I’m thankful I could observe some part of the ritual.

Aside from this little moment of culture and loving my site, I have been well overall. I think it’s very much due to the CBT presence the past month and a half. Yesterday was their last day here and I felt little bits of sadness like I did last year when I was one of them leaving my first home in Morocco. It almost felt like I was leaving too, but thankfully I’m not yet, and more importantly, I don’t want to yet. I wouldn’t say work is going any better or that I have changed in any significant way but like any family I do love this little village and these people I’ve lived among for the past year. In small ways I have grown closer and more confident among the women I work with, particularly my counterpart. There’s a lot of new projects coming up, busy times and I hope to be a more integral part of it all. Oddly enough, I think it’s my newfound love and joy in cooking that has brought me closer to the women. For various affairs lately I’ve been bringing baked goods and they friggin love it! So I guess if I can’t talk, I’ll bake. Cinnamon rolls, focaccia, pumpkin spice cake, yogurt cake, chocolate pudding cake, pita bread. So okay I guess I’m not really teaching them anything about staying healthy, but I’ll work on that…

One recent event that really helped me out was a visit from Alia Kate. Her site is much more informative than I am but essentially she has an entrepreneur fellowship to start a business carrying Moroccan goods in America. She came to my site to have a look at their product and bought five huge hanbils! And has ideas for future custom orders. It was great and they loved her. Her site is www.kantaracrafts.com and her blog is www.kantaracrafts.blogspot.com once im on my own computer again ill update my links and add these.

Another reason for my recent bought of calm is feeling a little more confident about my life after Peace Corps. I know a lot more about what I want to do. I’ll update more on that soon, I’m trying to stay on a little dreamy honeymoon with my ideas before I start growing them on earth. And I’ve got plenty more books to read…

Anyhow I’m heading out, this afternoon my site mate and I are hiking our now very cold mountain again for a look at the snow. Snow before Halloween, can you believe it!? It’s actually the first clear and lovely day we’ve had in quite some time. I hear there’s been crazy flooding in many parts of the world, and we are certainly part of that group. It just never seemed to stop! I am in an area where snow and rain are expected but not nearly to the extent we’ve been having. There is nowhere for the water to go so it’s all pooled in the fields. Tons of corn, onion, garlic and potato fields have been completely drowned, mushkil imkor! (very big problem!) Nearby a few people were killed, over a hundred sheep and some donkeys. It’s awful, but today is clear and hopefully we’ll have a few dry days. I also hope the weather chills out so I can take my little trip! I’m heading down, on Halloween as it happens, to see a few friends and then visit my CBT site! It will be the first time I’ll see my first home and family in Morocco since I’ve been sworn in as a PCV. I’m very excited because I really loved my host mom and family and feel terrible it’s taken me so long to go see them. Then I’ll be heading back up and hopefully be able to watch the elections with some friends who live somewhere with access to it live!

That’s it for now, hope you’re all well and Happy Halloween!