The perfect example of Moroccan hospitality: today, while hiking outside Azilal, a family saw us walking past their home. Despite never having met us before, they immediately asked us to join them for lunch. After we accepted, they led us inside and told us to relax while they prepared the meal.
Today is 3id al-Adha, also called the Feast of the Sacrifice. It’s one of the biggest Islamic holidays and is widely celebrated in Morocco (you can read and see more about it from last year’s post if you’re interested). You might notice that last year we posted about it later in October – that’s because 3id al-Adha takes place on the 10th day of the last month in the Islamic calendar, which means on the Gregorian calendar it moves up every year.
We’ll be spending the day with our host family to share the festivities and family time that accompany the holiday. Despite the one big difference, the rest of the day feels surprisingly like Christmas or Thanksgiving – we’ll spend lots of time visiting family and friends today and in the coming days, we’ll eat lots of food, and we’ll enjoy the atmosphere of school and work being closed. And even though most of you aren’t celebrating today, Matt and I wanted to take the chance to wish you all a happy holiday anyway! As you cook your meals today just imagine us watching a sheep get butchered, skinned, and then helping to prepare its organs. 🙂
Mbrouk l-3id! !مبروك عواشر Happy holiday!
– Cori and Matt
A couple weekends ago I went to visit a Moroccan friend of mine who lives out in the bled. “Bled” means country in Darija, and PCVs have adapted the phrase “in the bled” to mean any fairly isolated place. There used to be tons of PCVs in Morocco who lived in the bled – this was when there were still Health and Environment sectors instead of only Youth Development like it is now – and I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to live out there. I love nature, hiking, and being outdoors and so I tend to romanticize what it would be like; consequently this trip was an incredible experience for me, both because I was really looking forward to it and also because it was a good eye-opener.
My friend lives in a small farming community in a valley on the north side of the highest peaks in the High Atlas range, and as you’d expect it’s a breathtakingly beautiful place. I think I spent half my time there just sitting outside enjoying the view. The other half of the time I was taking advantage of the great hiking and the fresh fruit, butter, honey, buttermilk, eggs, and meat. My friend’s mom was even nice enough to show me how to weave on her loom. It was everything I’d envisioned and I had a great time – but I was only there for a short period of time, playing the tourist.
One day when we were walking around talking about how beautiful it is there, my friend pointed out to me that people only live there because that’s where they grew up, and they’re poor enough that most of them don’t have much of a choice of moving away. There are very few jobs there, and most people farm or raise animals because they have to in order to have food. Many kids don’t get to stay in school because they need to help support their families, and so they don’t learn Arabic (only the spoken form of the local Berber dialect), which further limits their prospects of moving away or finding a job. The real shock for me was when I asked if anyone really liked living in her village, and she told me no, she didn’t think so. Even if I lived out there for my entire two-year service, I’m still not sure I could really appreciate how difficult subsistence living can be.
I still feel the pull of the bled, and I can’t bring myself to give up my vision of what serving in Peace Corps there would be like. Matt and I are planning at least one more backpacking trip to the area, but this time instead of walking through these isolated villages and wishing I lived there for a moment, I’ll try instead to keep in mind the endless hard work it takes to just live in a place like that, and consider myself lucky to be able to see these beautiful places from a tourist’s point of view.
There has been a grave oversight so far with the topics we’ve talked about on our blog, because we’ve missed something that is very important to both of us: FOOD! But never fear; we’re making up for that today.
The food we’ve been eating so far has been absolutely fantastic! Mama Naima is a professional cook, and pretty much everything she makes for us is delicious. Cori is basically in heaven because all the warm meals are made up of a combo of freshly cooked veggies and sometimes lentils, beans or noodles. There is also plenty of meat (either beef, chicken, or fish) in every dish to keep Matt happy.
The daily food schedule goes something like this:
- Breakfast in the morning, which for us is usually some form of bread with any combo of oil, jam, cheese, egg, and olives to go with it. Also hot milk for coffee.
- Lunch anytime between noon and 3. This is the main meal of the day and consists of bread, a salad (sometimes), a huge warm main dish, and fruit for “dessert”.
- Cascroot (snack) in the evening around 6 or 7, which is usually similar to breakfast except accompanied by tea instead of milk. There may also be a cake, cookies, or a small savory snack.
- Dinner anywhere between 8 and 10. For us this is usually a small warm dish, as well as some bread to eat it with. Sometimes if we all decide we’re not hungry we have banana smoothies instead (yum!).
You’ll notice that we have bread for every meal (which Matt loves). This is because for the most part, Moroccans don’t eat with utensils – they use little pieces of bread to scoop food out of a big central communal plate. For the most part we’ve adjusted fine to this style of eating, although on couscous Fridays they do still give us spoons so we don’t make a huge mess.
Moroccans are very warm and hospitable people, which extends to their food habits – they are always ready to serve you at least a snack if you show up in their house. We quickly learned we can’t expect to visit someone without getting served tea at the very least (this is why visiting more than one person in an evening can be dangerous). Most hosts here keep a close eye on how much you eat while you’re at their house to make sure they’re providing you with enough food. Mama Naima monitors us at every meal, and if she sees the slightest hesitation, she’ll tell us to “KUL!” (eat!). I don’t think either of us has gotten through a meal with Naima yet without at least 4 or 5 commands to “kul!”, which I think is mostly because she thinks we’re both way too skinny.
One night last week, we decided to explain to Naima that we didn’t want to eat late dinners anymore. We told her that in the U.S. we ate dinner more around 6 or 7, and that we just aren’t that hungry late at night (this is a much discussed issue for many of the PCVs here). She seemed to be fine with that idea and agreed that we wouldn’t eat dinner that night. We were surprised and pretty excited that it had been so easy to explain. She then got up and brought in some cake from the kitchen along with some banana smoothies, which we didn’t mind eating because at least it was something smaller than normal. We finished eating and got ready for bed, and were just about to go to sleep when Anass came home with some food from his aunt’s house and we heard the familiar command… “Ahmed! Layla! Come and KUL!”
Yes, we’d rather not eat fourthmeal every night. However, considering the fantastic food that we eat most of the time, if our biggest problem is that we have to eat too much of it, I think we can probably handle it for the time that we’re in homestay :).
We’ve had an exhausting but great week here in Taounete. Some current volunteers came to work with us this week to lead a couple Peace Corps mandated activities with the kids at our Dar Chebab, and it’s been really helpful to hear first-hand from them about their experiences. Our activities were pretty chaotic – tons of kids showed up and we’re all still pretty limited in our language abilities so we had a hard time moderating – but they were great learning experiences.
The volunteers also gave us some great ideas for activities to keep us all sane here, which we took full advantage of. We had an American movie night, complete with popcorn – we were able to use one of the Peace Corps staff members’ projectors to watch (what else…) Casablanca. It was a really nice chance to get all of the volunteers to hang out together in an atmosphere that didn’t include any learning, and we all had a really great time.
Today was also an awesome day – one of the host families in the group offered to host our whole group for lunch. This is a great example of Moroccan hospitality considering our group included 18 people! They fed us basically a 5-course meal, which included salad, chicken, meat, fruit parfaits and then fruit for dessert. Then after we’d all finished eating (around 3), she informed us that she was also making us cascarot (teatime “snack”) at 5:30. Matt and I took the opportunity to go for an awesome hike up one of the neighboring peaks with a group of volunteers, and it was so nice to get out and do some physical activity, which is something we rarely have time for. Not to mention we had a beautiful view from the top. Then we got to come back to a massive snack that included some pretty delicious and surprisingly American-tasting pizza! So even though this week has been exhausting, it’s also provided us a nice break from learning Darija and some great opportunities to do more around Taounete.
Back to the grind this week – we have a trip to Fez for more Peace Corps training, and we should be back to regular Darija lessons as well after that. Miss you all!
Cori and Matt