Happy Holiday!

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 Moroccan Wedding

A couple weeks ago, our host family from Taounate invited us to attend the wedding of our oldest host brother. We were excited that they invited us, but also a little nervous; like l-3id, Moroccan weddings are much-discussed among PCVs here as a kind of volunteer rite of passage. Still, we were glad to have the opportunity to see our host family again and to experience such a big cultural event!

The pre-wedding festivities included multiple meals with our host family (which we tried to refuse to save our host mom some work, since everything that happened this weekend took place at her house, but she was having none of it) and a henna party the night before. Along with a bunch of other guests, we ate a delicious dinner followed by some dancing while the poor bride had to sit and watch us all while she waited for the henna to dry on her hands.


Matt in a nice shirt and me in my bright blue jellaba waiting for the bride to arrive. I got lots of questions on why I was wearing a jellaba – apparently it’s not formal enough for a wedding. Whoops!

The next day (after enjoying breakfast and lunch with the family) we showed up for the wedding at 8.  We all went out to the street to watch her be carried inside on a litter, accompanied by the traditional group of drummers.  The entire town seemed to come out to dance to the music and see the show. Afterwards, we headed upstairs for dinner where we had three huge courses of food – first big platters with 3 or 4 whole chickens, then another platter full of beef, and finally gigantic trays of fruit for dessert – each served Moroccan style, 1 plate per table with bread for utensils. After everyone was completely stuffed the dancing started. Moroccan women looooove to dance, and the men of our host family do too, which means we got pulled on to the dance floor often to make fools out of ourselves trying the Moroccan dance moves. There’s lots of shimmying that goes on… I have no idea how they do it. It’s a blast to watch though!

Some self-conscious dancing with Naima

Some self-conscious dancing with Mama Naima

For the rest of night (another 7 hours!!) we danced on the roof and in the streets and enjoyed more food courses – platters of cookies, a slice of cake for all, and a bowl of traditional soup. The party lasted until 5 in the morning – a Moroccan wedding isn’t over until the couple has completed their 5-7 outfit changes and the subsequent photo and dance sessions. We were surprised to see that the wedding seemed to be more fun for the guests than for the couple, since the bride and groom spent so much time changing outfits and sitting for photographs that they rarely got a chance to join the party. Throughout the night they were presented in traditional wedding dresses from a bunch of different regions in Morocco, had their pictures taken, and sometimes did a little extra (there was a second go in the litters, and at one point we ended up back outside again for the groom’s henna ceremony and, of course, more dancing).

After the last outfit change, basically the entire room got up gratefully to go home and sleep – us included. It was great to see our host family and celebrate with them, but 9 hours at a wedding (especially while speaking a foreign language) is exhausting no matter who you’re with. But now we can say we’ve made it all the way through a Moroccan wedding!

– Cori and Matt

p.s. I know you’d all love to see some of the bride’s outfits, but without her permission I don’t feel comfortable posting those pictures. If you do an image search for “Moroccan Wedding Kaftans” you’ll get an idea of what her dresses look like. They’re beautiful!

The Big Holiday!

Last week the Muslim world celebrated 3id al-Adha, which is the holiday of the sacrifice. It marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and is a celebration of the story of Abraham and Issac (although in the Qur’an it’s Ibrahim and his other son, Ismail). In Morocco, the holiday is more commonly known as 3id l-kbir, or “the big holiday”, which we enjoyed celebrating last week with our host family – it was an awesome cultural experience! But be warned – some of our pictures (included below) are a little gruesome.

This holiday is famous (or perhaps infamous?) among PCVs because every Moroccan family buys a live sheep that they take home to slaughter the morning of l-3id. In the days leading up to l-3id, we watched nervously as we saw people walking sheep home from market, pushing goats in a cart, or driving by in a pickup truck with multiple sheep in the bed. We saw plenty of big knife-sharpening wheels in action, and multiple times heard the question “so have you bought a sheep yet?”

No, we're not getting a sheep, because we're going to help eat this one.

No, we’re not getting a sheep, because we’re going to help eat this one.

On the day of the holiday, we woke up to an extended prayer service happening at the nearby mosque. As the service ended, we headed out to join the crowd of people heading home to begin the slaughtering. With all the shops closed and greetings being exchanged everywhere, it felt a lot like Christmas (later one of our friends would again compare l-3id to Christmas: “they’re so similar! It’s just that you cut a tree, and we cut a sheep!”). Once we met up with our host family, we went around to the neighbors’ houses exchanging holiday greetings and getting fed lots of cookies and tea (yes, at 10:00 in the morning).

saying a final goodbye...

saying a final goodbye…

Then finally the butcher made his way to my host family’s house, and we all gathered around to watch him slaughter the sheep. I sympathized with our little 5-year-old host niece who hid the whole time, but I figured since this is something I’ll only see a couple times I needed to stay (and I took a short video for you all, included below!) It turned out to be pretty gross, but also pretty quick… and then we got to the cool part, which included watching the men skin the sheep and take out all the organs and whatnot. Fun fact: to clean out the intestines, the best way is apparently to pour water down the butt and then blow it through until there is no poop left (unfortunately we have no pictures of this). For whatever reason, this seems to be a coveted job… and I tried really hard to avoid eating any intestines.

just like taking off a sweater!

just like taking off a sweater!

drying out some fat...

drying out some fat…

aaaand little do we know but that'll be tonight's dinner.

aaaand little do we know, but that’ll be tonight’s dinner.

After the sheep was all clean and the slaughter was over, the rest of the day (and the next few as well) was spent cooking and eating various parts of the sheep. The traditional first meal of l-3id is grilled fat-wrapped liver (or heart, or pancreas/mystery organ), which is surprisingly delicious. For dinner, we had the grilled head, including eyeballs and tongue (but no brain, as far as we could tell)… which was decent, but I wouldn’t say delicious. Over the next few days we got lots of invitations to come eat meals which consisted entirely of huge plates of various cuts of meat, and enjoyed the continuing holiday feel by visiting with lots of families. But by Monday everything was back to normal – all the kids went back to school and the stores opened up again, and we’ll be starting work again soon at the Dar Chebab. As much fun as it was to experience l-3id with Moroccan families, it’ll be nice to get back to a normal schedule after a summer full of traveling. But for now, a late mbruk l-3id (happy holiday) to you all!

Matt helping make the liver kebabs. yum!

Matt helping our host mom make the liver kebabs. Yum!

If you’re really desperate to experience the holiday the way we did, here’s the video I took of the slaughter. Be warned, it’s graphic. If you make it through the whole thing you’ll hear my laugh of disgust and my host mom asking me “did you take a picture? can I see?”

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!

Our First Month in Azilal

We’ve been away from the blog for a bit since we’ve been working at a Spring Camp here for the last couple weeks, which has taken up a lot of our time (although we are now experts at sitting around not knowing what’s going on). Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to:

Tuesday the 9th – Monday the 15th was our 1st camp. We were tasked with teaching English for an hour each afternoon, which went pretty well for the most part. We also helped with some time filler activities, including a STOMP-inspired activity which was actually pretty cool (we even showed the video from JI-row in the Red Bull Tum Tum Pa competition that some of you might remember – the kids loved it). We got lots of practice in writing quick lesson plans, teaching to students with a big range of abilities, and playing camp games.

Fun quotes of the week:
“I’m going to go to America and sell perfume until I’m rich. Then I’m going to move to Italy and become a murderer.” (This was definitely said as a joke).
“Obama has the blood of the pharaohs in him.” (This was definitely not said as a joke).

Last Tuesday we took advantage of a much-needed day off and visited a current volunteer (Vandy) living in Ait M’hamed, a small town a little bit further into the mountains. That Tuesday there happened to be a Moroccan horsemanship festival going on that was pretty awesome. As far as we could understand, it was a celebration of ancient warfare techniques and the aim of the group of horsemen is to maintain a straight line while first having their horses trot and then charge in unison, with the charge ending in a synchronized gunshot. We had a great time getting to know Vandy, eating some delicious street food, and getting up close and personal with some very excited horses.

Cori and Vandy enjoying the freshly cooked amazing street food

Cori and Vandy enjoying the freshly cooked amazing street food

Right next to the horses... whoa.

We may have almost gotten trampled…

Synchronized gunshot at the end of the ride.

Synchronized gunshot at the end of the ride.

Wednesday the 17th – Sunday the 21st was our 2nd week of camp. It turned out to be basically all of the same kids as our first camp, so we got lots more practice writing new lesson plans for our afternoon English lessons. This camp was a little bit shorter and it included a field trip day to a beautiful waterfall just outside of Azilal (not the famous Ouzoud falls – a smaller more local one called Ifrane) that was a really great opportunity for us to see some of Azilal’s surroundings and to hang out with the kids informally. We even both ended up swimming – Matt in a pair of shorts and Cori in a full t-shirt and pants.

Fun quote of the week:
Our test question: “What color is the teapot?” (Answer: red)
Student’s written answer: “What hat what.”

Cori in front of the Ifrane waterfall.

Cori in front of the Ifrane waterfall.

Youth at our spring camp.

Youth at our spring camp having a good time.

This week we’ve been preparing to start classes at the Dar Chebab while also spending lots of time with the current volunteers here. We visited Ait M’hamed again to see Vandy and went on some great hikes with him before he left this week, and we’ve been working on setting up our utilities and running other house-related errands with Donna, the volunteer who lives in the apartment we’ll be inheriting in Azilal. She is leaving for the good old USA next week, and while that means we finally get to move into our own place (woohoo!), it also means we’ll be the only Americans in Azilal (yikes!).

Our first month here has been pretty busy and full of ups and downs. Camp was a big challenge, but now that we’re done with it we appreciate it as an opportunity to get to know some of the kids at the Dar Chebab. We’ve had a great time getting to know our new host family – they’ve been super welcoming and our host sisters have been fantastic at showing us around Azilal.  We’re looking forward to keeping close ties with them after we move out. We’ve also had a great time getting to know Donna and Vandy here and learning all the important secrets of Azilal from them, like where to buy soy sauce and which butcher knows the word for “steak”. We know we’ll have plenty more challenges associated with moving into our own place and starting classes at the Dar Chebab, but we’re pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished here so far!

Got to see our first Scorpion on our hike with Vandy - zoom in on the photo and check out the needle on the end of his tail.  Scary!

Got to see our first Scorpion on our hike with Vandy – zoom in on the photo and check out the needle on the end of his tail. Scary!

View from our hike in Ait M'hamed

View from our hike in Ait M’hamed