Break Time in Oualidia!

We’ve been working in site now for almost two months, and unlike many volunteers that are just starting out, we’re lucky enough to have a Dar Chebab that’s actually open. Of course, that means that we actually have to do work, and even though it’s not a lot of work, it’s still nice to have a chance to get away. We never would’ve thought that Peace Corps service could involve an all most expenses paid beach vacation, but that’s exactly what we got when Peace Corps sent us to the beach town of Oualidia for a meeting with all of the volunteers in our area.

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It’s beautiful here!

Since the total travel time to Oualidia is about 7 hours, we left Azilal two days before the meeting to break up our travel a bit. We met a couple volunteers, Carly and Evan, who live a bit outside of Oualidia, and we spent the night with them and had a great time getting to know them and cooking delicious food. The next day we travelled together to Oualidia, our beach home for the next few days.  After checking into our hotel (the nicest one we’ve seen in a long time), we got lunch and explored the town.  Since the ocean was still far too cold for a recreational swim, we just enjoyed walking along the sand, hiking a bit, and meeting all the volunteers that were trickling in for our meeting the next day.

Matt up to his usual shenanigans

Matt up to his usual shenanigans.  You should’ve seen the dive that followed this!

One of the highlights of our trip was that evening, when a small group of us decided to get some fresh seafood for dinner.  Things are a little bit different in Morocco, so instead of heading to the nearest grocery store, we headed straight to the ocean where we were immediately surrounded by 10-15 Moroccan men shoving their daily catch in our faces while trying to tell us that their fish was the best and cheapest we would find.  We ended up buying a big bag of mussels and 2 absolutely huge live crabs pulled straight from the ocean, where they were held in a net to keep fresh.

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Matt and Evan with our purchases

Since we lacked a kitchen of our own, we walked a short way down the road to a restaurant where we’d eaten lunch earlier that day and asked if it would be possible for the owner to cook our dinner for us.  Not only did he agree to cook for us, he also invited us into the kitchen to help and to see how it was done.  About an hour later we had a huge seafood feast. Total cost, less than $5 each!

Matt preparing mussels

Matt preparing mussels

We spent most of the next day in a meeting learning about other volunteers’ experiences and projects, and while it was a day of work, we both ended the day excited about the ideas we’d heard and looking forward to bringing them to our Dar Chebab in Azilal. We still had time for some fun afterwards too, including indulging in some cheesy Doritos while watching the sunset and having an impromptu dance party with some of the other volunteers in the hotel’s “Jet Set Night Club”.

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The fantastic view from our hotel

The next morning we decided to extend our stay by a few hours and take advantage of an offer we’d had the night before to take some surfing lessons.  That’s right, surfing… add that to the list of things we never thought we’d do as volunteers!

We felt like ninjas.

We felt more like ninjas than surfers…

We had a great teacher who gave the whole lesson in Darija, and we enjoyed all the times he’d start out in French, apologize, and continue in Darija because he’s so used to the French tourists that usually take his lessons. Each person in our group managed to ride at least a couple waves, and we all had an awesome time! Two hours later (and only about $18 less well off) we finally headed back to Evan and Carly’s, where we all immediately fell asleep for about 3 hours. We spent one more night with our friends before finally heading back to our home in Azilal. We definitely feel rested and ready to get back to work here. Well… at least until our 2-week-long training in Marrakesh next week!

-Cori and Matt

From our Kuzina to yours – Harsha!

Hey all! Hope you’re ready for your first Moroccan food recipe, because we finally got around to testing one out! I know we’ve been talking about posting some for months now, but it proved surprisingly difficult to come up with a decent recipe to post for a number of reasons. The biggest issue was translating a traditional Moroccan recipe into something that makes sense to Americans, and that includes more than just a language translation. Here is a rough approximation of Mama Naima’s instructions to us on making harsha:

  • “Start with this” *shows me bowl half-filled with mysterious grain*
  • “Add a little salt, a little sugar, and this” *”this” being a little packet of white powder*
  • “Add oil, and then add water” *this basically meant me adding things while she watched me like a hawk so she could tell me when to stop*
  • Then we’d go through the process of cooking it, which I never fully did, mostly because Naima made huge harshas and flipping them involved some serious skill.

Never mind the fact that these ingredients basically describe a million different kinds of baked goods, but it took me awhile to even figure out what they were. The little packet was identified easily enough as baking powder, but the mysterious grain was harder. I’d always assumed it was cornmeal, and a couple days ago I went over to the self-serve grain section at the store across the street to find some. I picked up the yellowest, cornmealiest looking grain I could find and used that in my first attempt. Naturally, it was not the right kind of grain. It was edible enough, but it was definitely not harsha! In true Peace Corps style, we ate the whole thing anyway, but we still don’t know exactly what it was….

After that debacle, I asked one of my students for help and learned that the grain I needed is called smida, and it’s actually semolina, not cornmeal. For my second attempt I stopped by a different store and had the owner help me get some semolina (this is a good lesson for me – asking for help is a good thing!). I headed home to make some harsha, and a couple attempts later… here you go!

Harsha (Moroccan Semolina Pancake)
Makes one pancake (approx. 8 in. diameter).  Serves 2 – 3. Click to download recipe (no pictures)

Ingredients:
1 c semolina (you may be able to substitute cornmeal but I’m not able to test that)
1 t salt
1 t white sugar
1 t baking powder
3 T olive oil
½ C water

Mix semolina, salt, sugar and baking powder. IMG_1629

Add oil and mix, then add water and mix. It will be a pretty wet mixture (hopefully you can kind of see the texture below).
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Coat a frying pan with a little bit of oil and heat on medium. Sprinkle the pan with semolina and plop the mixture into the center of the pan (the neater you keep it in this step, the easier it is to give it a good shape).
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Gradually pat it down, starting from the center and moving outwards, and sprinkling with more semolina as you go. It should be about half an inch thick when you’re done, but you want to pat it down slowly to keep it from tearing apart in the middle. You can neaten the edges with a spoon if you like.
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Cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until the bottom is starting to look solid. To flip it, I turn the harsha onto a plate and slide it back into the pan. Cook for about another 5 minutes, shaking the pan lightly every so often to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom. Once the bottom is cooked through, you’re done!
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Moroccans eat it during cascroot (afternoon teatime), usually spread with jam or laughing cow cheese, or dipped in honey or olive oil, but we also like to eat it for breakfast. I like to cut a slice in half, spread with cheese and honey, and make a little harsha sandwich. Enjoy!

– Cori

Welcome to our home!

You may have noticed, since it has been included in 4 out of the last 6 posts, that our house is pretty important to us. Today we’re dedicating the whole post to it by taking you on a tour! We’ve been lucky to inherit lots of furniture, books, food, and other miscellaneous stuff, so that’s why these rooms are already so full (well, by Peace Corps standards anyway).

First is the most important room in the house… the kitchen :). Ours is a little small but it does have a balcony – that’s a rug hanging to dry on the railing of the balcony in the back of the picture. We also have a fridge and an oven that didn’t fit into the picture. We inherited lots of seasonings and baking supplies from previous volunteers so we’ve been having a good time jumping back into cooking.

This is our kitchen (that's a rug hanging to dry on the balcony in the background)

View from the balcony off the kitchen

View from the balcony

Next is our bedroom. We love the cross breeze that these two windows create (although we might feel differently once winter comes around).

Our bedroom

View from the bedroom window

View from the open window of downtown Azilal

We also have a second bedroom, which is mostly empty except for these massive closets – hooray storage space!

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Last but not least is our salon, or living room. This is where we keep the computer, and consequently its where we spend most of our time when we’re at home. You can see our Ohio State flag sitting behind Matt on the couch – once we figure out how to hang it, this is where it’s going!

Looking into the sitting room from the entryway

Looking in from the entryway

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So that’s our little American sanctuary in the middle of Azilal. So far we’ve been concentrating on cleaning and organizing – next comes decorating and really making it feel like home. We hope this gives you all a little bit of a visual of what our life is like here… and we hope you can also see we have plenty of room to host any visitors! *wink, wink*

Life After Homestay

Big news — after nearly 3.5 months of living with families here in Morocco, we finally have a home of our own!  (Pictures will come soon.)  It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for months and we’re really excited to have finally moved in.  Don’t get us wrong; we’ve been extremely fortunate with our amazing host families, and we’re really excited to continue to enjoy couscous Fridays with our family here in Azilal… but there’s something about living on our own terms that is really, really nice.

For example, we can cook for ourselves again! We’ve both really been enjoying getting back in the kitchen and having control over what we eat again. Cori is glad to decrease the amount of bread she eats from approximately 2 Moroccan loaves daily to maybe half a loaf, Matt has been enjoying having eggs for breakfast every morning, and we’ve both been glad to get fresh fruits and veggies back into our diet. This also means that we can finally translate all of the Moroccan recipes that we (kind of) learned during homestay into American measurements and instructions and share them with you!

Other examples of things we’re excited for include not having to live out of our suitcases anymore, being able to read or watch tv shows without feeling super rude, listening to music out loud, working out, having time to relax on our own, and generally feeling like adults again. It’s amazing how much easier it’s been to get up and go work at the Dar Chebab when we know we have our own place to go back to.

We did have a bit of a reality check yesterday that reminded us that moving into our own apartment won’t be as easy as we kept making it out to be. We went to the big weekly market alone for the first time, and it was pretty overwhelming. There are tons of food stands, all selling more or less the same thing, and tons of people shopping at all of them. We have the language to ask for what we need, but it’s tough to use in a stressful situation like this one, with Moroccans constantly coming up next to you and interrupting (the concept of a line is a very foreign one here). In the end, although we’re not sure if we got any kind of a decent price, we got most of the food that we needed, and that’s good enough for week one.

Market trip aside, life after homestay is going pretty well so far. We’ll definitely face more challenges related to living alone, but we also now have a personal space to go home to if we need to. And our trip to the market does mean that we have all the food that we need to make tacos tonight to celebrate a fake American holiday – Happy (late) Cinco de Mayo!