Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eid Al-Shukr and Eid Al-Kibeer: The Final Countdown for Turkey and Sheep

Team Farah post Turkey Trot

This year, Thanksgiving (Eid Al-Shukr) and The Holiday of the Sacrifice (Eid Al-Adha) happened to fall on the same weekend. In the United States, Thanksgiving is supposed to commemorate all the provision that God provided for the first European settlers after their first difficult year. As the folklore goes, the pilgrims feasted with their families and neighbors, giving thanks to God as an expression of faith. In modern times, Thanksgiving is typically commemorated by families getting together to feast ourselves silly, share stories, watch football, complain about politics, and maybe go around and say one thing we are thankful for. It’s a good time had by all.

In the Muslim world, one of the most important holidays is the Eid Al-Adha, also known as Eid Al-Kibeer (literally “The Big Holiday”). When I was in Senegal, this holiday was known as Tabaski. This Eid celebrates the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Ishmael. As the folklore goes, God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Ishmael without reservations, as an expression of his faith in God and trust in God’s divine plan. After all, God had promised Abraham that he would raise up a great nation from his only son…now he was asking Abraham to kill the person that was dearest to him, and the promise that accompanied him. At the last minute, when poor, confused Abraham is about to go through with the sacrifice, God speaks to him and provides a ram for the sacrifice instead, rewarding Abraham for his great faith. [NOTE: Ishmael, the son of Abraham’s servant Hagar, went on to be the father of the Arab nation from which Islam immerged. In the Torah and Old Testament Bible, Abraham is asked to sacrifice Isaac, his son by his wife Sarah, later the father of the Israelite nation. You follow?]

In modern times, throughout the Arab world, the Eid is typically commemorated by each family saving up all year to buy a ram, sheep, cow, or if you’re really rich, a camel. The morning of the Eid, after prayers at the mosque, the patriarch of each family (or a hired male butcher) kills the sheep by cutting it’s throat, skins it, cleans it out, and then the women set to work cooking. For lunch, the innerds are grilled, then for dinner the meat is served in a variety of dishes, according to each culture’s traditional cuisine. Half the meat is supposed to be donated to a poor family, but there is always plenty to eat. It’s a good time had by all. Except vegitarians.

This year, after a morning Turkey Trot around the city of Fes, (Go Team Farah!) I celebrated Thanksgiving with other Americans and Brits at a potluck put on by my friends Natalie and Matt. The spread of food was familiar and impressive, especially considering that most ingredients had to be improvised. My favorite was Abby’s ginger cake with a picture of the King’s face stenciled in cinnamon. I happened to find corn flour, so I made Gluten-Free Apple Pie turnovers, which went over well I think. It was such a pleasant dinner party, and I took a moment just to observe the room around me and be fully thankful for the grace that has brought me to this point.
Then “Hey Ya!” came on and all reflective moments were shattered.

The next day, Cait, Kendra, and I were invited to Rod and Andrew’s house in time to watch the slaughter. Indeed, it was a holiday I wont soon forget. We headed over there in our new Moroccan Jelabas (like fancy mu-mus with hoods) in order to watch the guys’ host father and uncle kill, skin, and gut 2 hefty sheep. We sat and observed the whole ordeal with a mix of horror, fascination, and polite obeisance. The men made quick work of it, then the ladies of the house cut up the liver and heart, wrapped it in fat, and grilled it over charcoal. I have to admit, fat-wrapped liver kebobs - aside from being heart disease on a stick – is pretty delicious.

We sat and chatted with the family, and I had a second moment of quiet gratefulness for the place that I’m in at this moment in my life. Both holidays celebrate thankfulness for God’s provision, and both cultures place importance good meals shared with family and loved ones this season.

Happy Eid Al-Shukr and Happy Eid Al-Kibeer, everyone. If you were here, I’d save the sheep’s eyeballs especially for you!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Eid Al-Shukr!!

This has been a full past few weeks. My health is improving and I’m pumped to dive into more relationships and to begin my research. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I just wanted to mention a short list of what I am most thankful for this year:

-The United States Institute of International Education, The William J. Fulbright Foundation, The US Department of State, the Moroccan-American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange, and even Seven Corners. -My family and friends who are infinitely patient and willing to send me love, even though I am shamefully horrible at communication and keeping in contact with you. (My deepest apologies! You are still loved!)-my college education-Yearbook class in high school where, apparently, I learned all the professional skills I’m using in adult life now-one very special man in my life, and his faith in us. -an awesome community of friends here in Morocco, especially my fabulous roommate. -For Mustapha/Stevie and Saiid/Happy Johnson, who take us cruising around Fes and teach us to cook fish and hook us up with zween jelabas-For my host family and sisters-good health and safety and relative freedom-My absolutely incredible parents. I couldn’t ask for anyone better. -Transitional justice-the string of mentors I’ve had, especially the women who have guided me by their own wisdom and experience. –Peace-Loving Donkeys.-simplicity.-the sunrise over the old medina and the Middle Atlas Mountains in the early morning.-mint tea and dark chocolate and chicken tajine with apricots and Fessi fruit salads and the Marche Central and peanut butter imported from Qatar.-occasional hot (and potable!) water.-Hassan our Hanout Man, Hassan our Landlord, Lalla Fatima my Moroccan Granny, Layla my cooking teacher, Abdelkhatir my fruit man, Driss my fruit salad man who saves me from creepy men who follow me down Chefchaoueni.-Grace. -the opportunity to learn a few new languages.-The Red Tent (my apartment). -The word “Shnu” in Moroccan Arabic, and “inshahallah”, and “iiiieeeya…waaaxa”.-Everyone who has shown me unconditional hospitality that I will pay forward someday.-capoeira and surfing. -The call to prayer 5 times per day, reminding me of what is truly important. -every letter and package I’ve ever received abroad.-my Celiac disease, which, I’m convinced, will save my life someday (if it doesn’t kill me first).- I am thankful for WiFi and nearby coffee shops.- for normal poops, on the rare occasion that I have them.- my homegirl Ann Wilkens.-The Batcave, in a serious way. – Seasons.- ovens.- good books in English.- professors that sent me here: Joe Elder, Jim Delehantey, Jon Pevehouse, Reem Hilal, Edris Makward, Andrew Irving, Maati Monjib.- having red hair (my international friend-maker).- cheap bars of chocolate on train rides (my universal friend-maker).- my brother- and sister-in-laws (welcome to the family).-National Geographic Magazine.-

I am thankful for what is, what has been, and what is to come. Beyond any experience or accomplishment, I’m finding that I just want my life to be a symphony of thankfulness, because that is where true perspective is found.

Dear reader, wherever you are, please know that you are loved, on this most reflective and joy-filled holiday.

Global Competence: how to not be a idiot abroad

It’s been a while since my last update. Each day moves to fast here in the Maghreb. I was occupied with a very special visitor for a while, but now have returned to “normal life” in Fes. (whatever THAT means…)
Some things I’ve been up to:

-I did 2 radio interviews from Fes for Wisconsin Public Radio and for NPR. A WPR show called “Inside Islam” interviewed me about my experiences as an American woman living in a Muslim culture. Afterwards, I was contacted about doing a live interview for a show called Here on Earth about Global Competence. I have been interviewed before on this topic, and it is a subject very close to my heart. Essentially, as I see it, Global Competence is adaptability and open-mindedness in the face of our shrinking world. Despite globalization’s best efforts, there is no monoculture, so it is important for one to know how to conduct oneself abroad; to understand how a culture works, why it functions that way, and how my own culture can interface with the unfamiliar. Language acquisition, self-awareness, and a spirit of curiosity and adventure are essential to honing this skill. You can read as many books and Wikipedia articles about international affairs that you want, but Global Competence is gained by going and doing, and the best teacher is always travel itself.
I was interviewed about the ways to gain global competence, and about my own personal history. You can find an mp3 of the interview here:

-I’ve begun tutoring a Moroccan kid in English. He’s a sweet guy whose name is the equivalent of “Pineapple”, no lies. He is in school for business management, but his first and greatest love is Phil Collins (“the most talented of all English singers”…seems to be a general sentiment around here, I’m finding). He wants me to teach him colloquial American English phrases. The other day, he asked me what “to freak out” means. On the other hand, he is SCHOOLING me in Arabic. He teaches me necessary words and phrases, then quizzes me on them later. This punk kid is a tough teacher, so I think it’ll be good for my Arabic study.

-Language classes are going well. I can’t believe I only have 3 weeks left of the semester! I feel like I can’t stuff enough language into my head, and the mental battles between classical and Moroccan Arabic are raging in my brain. When I speak in class, my teacher Sana is constantly winking at me and saying, “That’s Darija, Cath. You’re in Fusha class now”. Today, I answered someone in Wolof (“How is my roommate doing? Munga fa!”) and couldn’t figure out my mistake. Learning languages is one of my dearest loves, I’ve decided. What a blessing to be doing this every day here.

-This past week was a whirlwind because I was graced with a visit from my sahib Dave, fresh off the boat from 7 months in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only was it awesome to just be in each others’ presence again, but we also had a great time traveling a little around Morocco. Dave got to meet my friends here in Fes, and some of the other Fulbrighters, as well as Lalla Fatima Alami, an old Moroccan-Gambian woman who has become like my grandmother here. I have lunch or dinner with her every so often, because she lives alone and likes being able to speak English with someone. We also reminisce about West Africa, and she is the only person I’ve found here with whom I can speak Wolof. She was delighted to meet Dave, and I was glad that he got to meet this part of my Moroccan family.

We spent some quality time in the Medina of Fes, and took a day trip to Ifrane. That city is beautiful this time of year, as it is in the mountains and it is legit autumn there- the leaves are even changing color and sweaters are necessary. We hired a taxi to take us to the Dayat Aoua, a picturesque little lake surrounded by rolling hills, perfect for a stroll/hike in the fall weather. Fulbrighters Rod and Andrew were kind enough to take Dave to a hammam in the medina, and besides being introduced to the dangerous acrobatics which they call “sports”, I think he had a good time.

For the long weekend, we took a 7-hour train ride south to Marrakech, because I wanted Dave to see the cliché, over-the-top morocco (in contrast, I rationalized, to the serenity of Ifrane). Indeed, there were storytellers and monkeys on leashes and belly dancers and gnaoua musicians and potions to buy to cure every ailment and food cooking in stalls and sensory overload galore. Then it was up to Casablanca in time for his flight on Sunday. As I’ve mentioned before, Casa reminds me of a dirty, sad, post-Soviet, industrial port city, and it was no fun trying to find a hotel at night with our baggage. We ended up staying at Hotel Negotiants, where I stayed with Jill and Claire 2 years ago…only I didn’t recall it actually being a brothel. Oh well, what price adventure, right?

One thing I remarked was the way that men left me alone here when I was walking with Dave. I mean, NOBODY said ANYTHING…and that was such a stark change from the way I’ve gotten used to having to put on my “angry woman face”, as Kendra calls it, and stare straight ahead while walking alone. It may sound paradoxical, but I felt so much freer walking beside a man than I have ever felt in the past few months. However, I was rudely awakened to the reality of my situation when I was walking home alone from the train station in Fes upon my return. I guess Angry Face was temporarily on vacation just like me.

These past few weeks have been wonderful and difficult, as life in Morocco always seems to be. I feel as if I’m beginning a new chapter somehow. I have work in front of me, and I have loved (almost) every minute behind me.

I also want to mention a shout-out to a very special lady in my life: Happy birthday, dear Molls. You will always be a ‘pidge wit no coops to me. :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Amoebic Dysentary. 'Nuff said.

So apparently one more souvenir that I brought back with me from my trip to Chefchaouen, as confirmed by Dr. Mohammed Tazi, is amoebic dysentery. Yeehaw.

Since Caitlyn and I returned, I had been feeling not quite right. Now, having Celiac Disease, I already have a complicated relationship with my bowels, so it’s hard to tell whether I’ve caught something, or if they’re just being ornery. However, last Thursday on my morning run, I got the most massive side cramp that has lasted until now. It was more than just a side stitch though, and seemed to be located exactly where my liver is. This pain etc., accompanied with fatigue, led me to believe that something was up inside.

I consulted my handy-dandy “Where There is No Doctor” book…which, by the way, is a book that everyone should own. I visited the pharmacy and was given a strong anti-worm medicine by an apathetic pharmacist. Here in Morocco, as in most of the developing world, Pharmacists are able to dispense almost any kind of medicine, without any “legit” prescription. This is good and bad, and some pharmacists are even more well-trained than doctors. Some, of course, are not. In any case, the meds she gave me didn’t do anything, and I found it painful to breathe and move around and sleep.

Back to the book. My symptoms were looking more like amoebic dysentery, which attacks the liver and can do long-term damage. I finally contacted a doctor, whom I found through a posting on my school’s Info board. One consultation, one ultrasound, a lot of poking and prodding, questions in 3 different languages, and 200 dirham later, amoebic dysentery it is! And not a moment too soon: dysentery can get pretty ugly, I found out, when it starts attacking the lining of your intestine. Yikes.

So I’m staring down 4 different types of meds right now, which I hope will flush me clean. He promised I’ll be good as new within the week, as long as I stick to a vegetarian diet that should include 4 cartons of yogurt per day. We’ve named my amoebas Tim and Cathy (like the middle-aged Midwestern safari travelers in Senegal…anybody?), who are just on vacation in my gut…but will be leaving soon.

Thanks for sharing in this adventure with me, folks. I’m still in love with Morocco, the good, the bad, and the ugly.