From Our Kuzina to Yours – Juices!

Not much time to post this week, so I figured I’d tide you guys over with some quick recipes… although I’m not sure you could even call them that since these are so super simple. It’s a quick collection of juices that are popular here in Morocco that I hadn’t seen before I got here (although I’m sure they’re popular around the world).

1)      Orange and cucumber juice

  • Peel, core (opt.) and chop a cucumber, add to blender
  • Pour enough orange juice in to cover the cucumber (it’s delicious with fresh-squeezed OJ, which luckily for us is being sold all over the place during Ramadan!)
  • Blend and you’re done!  This is a popular juice that a lot of Moroccans have for breakfast during Ramadan. I like to add a pinch of cinnamon and ground ginger to mine but that’s just me; I think the Moroccans usually stick to sugar.

2)      Orange and beet juice

  • Boil whole beets until tender (this takes about 45 min – 1 hr)
  • Peel beets and then roughly cut and add to blender
  • Add orange juice and a little bit of water to cover beets, and add sugar to taste
  • Blend and enjoy! I just got to taste this one at someone’s house a couple days ago and I haven’t had a chance to try it myself yet, so I apologize if the amounts are off a little. As with any of these, feel free to play with ratios until it’s something you’re happy with!

3)      Banana juice

  • Peel and slice a banana or two, add to blender.
  • Pour enough milk in to cover bananas.
  • Blend and add milk to desired consistency. I like it pretty liquidy – it’s a great snack for when you want something a little less solid than a smoothie. And I know “banana juice” sounds kind of ridiculous in English, but it’s the direct translation of what the Moroccans call it, so I figured I’d use it. This is sold at cafes, and our host family in Taounate used to have it with fruit or sweets for dinner (remember, that’s 10 pm here) when we didn’t want anything big. Moroccans usually add quite a bit of sugar but I like mine with cinnamon and ginger instead.

 4)      Avocado juice

  • Peel and slice an avocado, add to blender.
  • Add milk to cover.
  • Blend and enjoy! This one is popular at cafes here… and to be honest I’ve never actually made it. Avocados are a little expensive and I prefer to use the ones we buy to make guacamole :). But it’s definitely an interesting idea so I figured I’d share it. Let me know how it ends up if any of you try it!

I’ve been working on my harira recipe, which is like an extra-delicious Moroccan version of tomato soup. It’s not ready yet, but I’m gonna wait to post it until the fall anyway. Moroccans don’t hesitate to make it in the dead of summer (I guess the attitude is that it’s hot enough here already so it doesn’t really matter), but I can’t imagine many of you would try it out in the hot weather I’m sure you’re all having. So I figured I’d post something a little more summer-appropriate in the meantime :). Hope you enjoy!

– Cori

Ramadan

We’re currently in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan here in Morocco and we’ve had a lot of questions from friends and family about what that actually means.  The following is what we understand so far about the traditions and practices we’ve been fortunate to be a part of.

What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and fasting during this 30 day period (from new moon to new new moon) is one of the five pillars of Islam – meaning that it is obligatory for all Muslims.  Fasting means no food and no water, and even not using things like chapstick, from the first prayer of the day (several hours before sunrise) until the fourth (sunset).  In Azilal this means nothing can enter your body between about 3:40am and 7:45pm!  Ramadan also means fasting from smoking and bad thoughts (though I can’t imagine that ever actually works) and actions for the entire month.  Fasting is meant to allow Muslims to be closer to God as well as to make them more compassionate by better understanding how it feels to be poor.  As Ramadan is a holy month, a few of the other pillars of Islam increase in importance as well.  Specifically, prayer time is increased and giving charity is emphasized.

Fasting during the day is followed for many by lots of food and liquids at night.  The evening meal, breakfast, is often a family affair with a huge spread of food that often includes dates, harira (tomato soup but better), breads, eggs, tea, juices, and of course water.  Another meal follows around mid-night (dinner I guess) – often the traditional tajine or couscous.  Finally, some eat a small meal called suhoor at around 3am just before starting the next day of fasting.

Who fasts?
The short answer – EVERYONE! At least it seems that way…  In reality fasting is obligatory beginning at puberty.  However, there are many cases where fasting is not allowed or at least not recommended.  For example, pregnant or nursing women, people with health problems like diabetes, and elderly people are exempt.  Also, currently menstruating women are not allowed to fast.  This is not really a free pass though as any missed fasting days must be made up at some other time.

Despite all of those people who must be pregnant, nursing, sick, or elderly in Azilal we have only seen one person eating in public so far – a young kid who was eating a delicious looking ice cream bar – I was so jealous…

Since the entire country is fasting (Seemingly anyway) the hours of life change entirely.  Business hours shorten if they’re administrative and lengthen until midnight or later if they’re food related.  People change their sleep schedules and stay up late into the night.  The town is empty in the morning and early afternoon but then comes alive around 5pm when everyone goes out to buy whatever food is necessary for breaking the fast.  Then, about 5 minutes before sunset, Azilal becomes a ghost-town with everyone inside with their family for food.  After eating the town fills up with people walking and talking in the street until almost 1 or 2 in the morning.

Did you fast?  What did you think?
Yes! We decided to join in the tradition this year.  Our initial plan was to fast from the start of Ramadan (July 10th this year) until we left for Spain on the 26th.  With a complete change in our sleeping and eating schedules and a pretty sedentary lifestyle our Ramadan started out well.  We were both very thirsty and a little dizzy by the end of the first day but our bodies quickly adjusted and by the 3rd or 4th day we were having no problems making it to breakfast.  However, the monotony of energy conservation (read, no exercise or excessive movement) made us both pretty cranky and bored.  Without any spiritual reason to be fasting we decided to stop after day 10 – a successful completion of 1/3rd of the full experience.

We were both a little worried initially what our host community would think of our fasting. Would they be offended that we were trying out their religious tradition with little stress on the actual religious importance of the month?  Or would they just be happy that we were doing our best to assimilate into the culture and live the way they lived?  Turned out that the reactions we got were consistently good – people constantly asked us if we were fasting and were always very happy when we replied that we were.

All in all the month of Ramadan has been an excellent experience (aside from the constant boredom during the day).  Our daily evening walks along with the rest of Azilal have been great – almost every day we run into tons of people that we know. We’re also hoping that by being out night after night we are slowly showing others in our community that we aren’t tourists and that we’re here to stay.


Video: The call to prayer from the nearest mosque here in Azilal – this specific call indicated the end of fasting one of the days of Ramadan.  You can see little kids running home so they don’t miss the start of the meal.  The siren in the background also indicates that it’s breakfast time (this only happens during Ramadan).  At the end you can hear a number of other mosques.  The call happens 5 times a day, everyday here in Morocco.

Summer Camp

Matt and I often joke that the only reason we ended up as Youth Development volunteers is because we have such different talents and strengths that YD is the only thing we’re jointly qualified for. Which is especially funny to me because for the most part, I don’t feel qualified to do the work that we’ve done so far with youth at all (luckily, the YD umbrella is huge and there are plenty of projects I’m looking forward to working on in the fall when schools start again and camp season is over). Take last week as an example – it was Azilal’s first summer camp of the season. 40 kids ranging in age from 12 – 21 showed up at the youth center for an English camp put on by the director, and it was my job (along with Matt’s, once he got back from his climb) to entertain them for a week. As an introvert who never really went to summer camp, I felt waaaaay out of my league on this one. Thankfully some other PCVs who live in the area came up to help out – I don’t know what I would have done without them!

The first day of camp literally included my nightmare scenario – all the kids were seated in a circle around us, and the director asked us to individually stand up and sing a song or improvise a story. Never mind the fact that we were speaking in English and maybe 2 kids in the whole room understood… I was still horrified (my family will appreciate the fact that this brought me flashbacks to that birthday dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack). But we improvised by doing some spoken word renditions of Backstreet Boys songs, which was immensely entertaining to us (although the kids had no idea why we were laughing), and we managed to get through it.

The rest of the camp remained a struggle – the kids often didn’t want to do activities, they just wanted to hang out with their friends, so keeping to our schedule was difficult at best. But eventually the week ended, and the camp culminated in a talent show followed by a dance party that all the kids seemed to enjoy. As for me, I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the actual camp, but I did enjoy getting to hang out and cook delicious meals with the other PCVs that came to help – we did a fantastic job distracting ourselves from camp during the evenings when we weren’t working! And I got a chance to meet a lot of kids who I’m sure will be great kids to have in our future activities (as long as they’re not surrounded by 40 other excited teenagers).

And I guess that now that I’ve helped run a camp (instead of just teach at one like we did in the spring), that makes me qualified to do it again. I certainly don’t feel like it, but I do have some ideas for how to make it better next time (although I’m hoping there won’t be too many next times…). This experience is also a good lesson for the next time I get thrown into a scenario I feel completely unqualified to deal with (which will undoubtedly happen, since this is the Peace Corps after all) – you do something, it might work or it might not, you will get embarrassed along the way, but you get through it anyway, and maybe you learn a little bit in the process. For now, though, I’ve been welcoming Ramadan and the slower schedule it has brought with open arms :). We’re almost into our second week of fasting now, and we’ll be sure to tell you all about it next week!

– Cori

Me teaching our combined beginners

Me teaching our combined beginners

We did get to take the camp to a festival happening in Azilal - we all got pictures like this, which was pretty cool!

We did get to take the camp to a festival happening in Azilal – a lot of the kids got pictures like this, which was pretty cool!

Let’s Climb!

This past week I had the amazing opportunity to help out with a program done by another volunteer called C.L.I.M.B (Creating Leadership In the Mountains and Beyond).  The program involves teaching Moroccan youth about teamwork, leadership, nature, wilderness first aid, and hiking over 6 months.  The final hurrah combines everything in a trip to the highest point in North Africa – Mt. Toubkal.  My job was as simple as it is awesome – hike with the group during the final ascent!

The climb itself was excellent.  We spent 3 days on the mountain.  The first was a beautiful 7 hour hike up (almost 4000ft) through the surrounding mountains to the mid-mountain refuge.  The second day was summit day, another 3000 ft of elevation gain to reach 13,671ft , and then a dangerous return hike to the refuge over loose scree slopes to the refuge – total time = 9 hours.  On the final day we made the 4 hour downhill return hike to our starting point.  Throughout the trip the kids were incredible – sure some of them had their moments where they didn’t think their legs could take another step or they thought there was no way that they could descend some of the steepest, loosest slopes without falling – but they pushed through and made it.  It really was incredible to see 12 kids that had never truly been hiking before this program summit the tallest mountain around.

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The last 1000 ft to the summit!

The last 1000 ft to the summit!

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Summit with the group!

Summit with the group!

With so much time together during the hike and at the lodges I really had the chance to connect with some of the Moroccans despite my lack of language skills after a certain point.  My favorite moment involved teaching the group the OH-IO cheer after finding out that one of the girls had a M*ch*g*n hat on the mountain – I have no idea how she got it and she had no idea how terrible a thing she was representing :).  Half the group said that Michigan was “xayb” (bad) after that and the other half used it as an opportunity to mess with me by saying that it was “zwin” (good) or “aziz عliya” (close to my heart – seriously who could say that about Michigan…).  I also got the chance to introduce them to geocaching – which they thought was really cool but also ridiculous.  Hopefully I was able to pass on at least some of my love of nature to them…

Ew...

Ew…

Introducing the kids to geocaching

Introducing the kids to geocaching

After all of the running around on the mountain and corralling kids I finally had the chance to reflect during my 4 hour bus ride back home from Marrakesh.  There I was, sweating profusely and sitting squeezed into a seat with a Moroccan woman and her small son… and I realized how absolutely ridiculous and amazing this whole Peace Corps experience has been so far. I smiled a huge grin and stared out at the mountains just happy to be lucky enough to be here.

-Matt

I swear we do work sometimes…

Hey all! So my family’s been making some cracks at me about how Matt and I are always off on vacation somewhere having fun and not doing any work, or about how scant our work schedule has been lately when we have had work. I hope you’ll all be glad to know that we’re back to work this week… well, at least until Ramadan starts next week :-).

After a couple weeks of being lazy and not leaving the house a whole lot, we’ve split up for the first half of the week. Matt went to help with another PCV’s program that is taking some kids to climb Mt. Toubkal (highest peak in N. Africa! can you believe that counts as work?), and I stayed in Azilal to start off the first summer camp of the season. A few volunteers came up to help with the camp (thank you!!) so it’ll be a good time. We started our first day of camp today with 20 kids and ended the day with 40 kids – so if that’s any indication for how the camp is going to go, I’m sure I’ll accumulate some good stories to share with you next week after we’re done. And of course we’ll be sure to post Matt’s pics up here at some point too!

Miss you all and hope you’re all enjoying a nice, relaxing summer!

Cori