Thursday, January 28, 2010

Today's Blessings:

-a “latte” for breakfast. (coffee + milk + cinnamon + nutmeg = almost the real thing?)
-great conversation in Arabic class
-discovering a French chocolate shop while walking around the city, studying verbs
-Watching a guy climb up a tree, deposit his bag of trash in the branches, then slide down, firehouse-style. I mean, littering isn’t great, but I’ve got to give him points for creativity. TIA, anyone?
-The smell of bread baking in our apartment vestibule. I know I can’t eat it, but I can appreciate it in other ways.
-The word “vestibule”.
-“C.S. Lewis Song”
-Wildflowers in the city!
-Hot water. Did I mention our hot water fuse box is broken and has been since we moved in? Getting a hot shower is always a crap shoot. C and I have taken to heating pots of water on the stove and taking bucket showers. Reminds me of Senegal, only we WANTED to take cold bucket showers there. Needless to say, I haven’t shaved my legs in ages.
-Sunshine. Oh my gosh, how I’ve missed thee. At the moment, I’m not even wearing my coat inside my apartment, it’s that warm.
-eating carrot-tomato-argon salad on my balcony in said sunshine with Caitlyn.
-Skype calls with friends overseas
-English/Arabic time with Anas. Funny kid.
-Finding on the sidewalk, while walking home with C this evening, just two chicken claws. (claws? feet?) Yup. Just the claws, lying there, mid-shrug, without any other chicken parts to be seen (probably eaten by the cats). It was just so absurd, Cait and I both stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, looked at them for a second and burst out laughing so hard I started crying. It was just so...morocco. I needed the laugh anyway.
-little things. Always the little things.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fes fii Fotos!

I've posted some photos on my facebook of scenes from life in Fes. Check them out here:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2674441&id=8636371&l=7344838ada

I've gotta admit, Fes is one of the most beautiful places I've ever lived. I had a moment this morning when I ran up to the Merenid Tombs, high above the old medina. I just sat on the ruins and looked over the 12,000-year-old city in the dusty pink morning light. The clouds broke open for a split second and straight beams of light illuminated certain dark alleyways and mosque towers. The city was waking up and I felt very alive and deeply connected to the world far below. I am in love with this place, but I hold on to it loosely, knowing that I will be leaving in about a month. There will always be more tiny alleyways to explore and discoveries to be made and conversations to be had...but this is just one home of homes, and soon it will be time to move on.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chicken Cat Tajine, a la Layla



Because cooking is such a big part of my life here in Morocco, I’m going to try to make more of a concerted effort to post my favorite Moroccan recipes here. One, so that you can glimpse a little bit more into my life. Two, so that I don’t forget the recipes. And Three, so that you can try them yourselves!

I have been taking informal cooking lessons from a fabulous woman named Layla. Though she’s only 26, she’s an incredible chef who is often called upon by tour groups to give private cooking demonstrations or to cater. She cleans my language school part-time and lives with her new husband nearby. Every few weeks or so, she and I get together and go shopping at the Marche Central in the afternoon, then we cook after class that evening. She has taught me all sorts of fabulous dishes, which I’m trying my hardest to reproduce without her. In addition to her invaluable recipes and access to her favorite fruit, veggie, chicken, and nut vendors, she also shares with me information about the science and art of cooking and eating in Morocco. Why do you prepare dishes this way? Why do you cook the vegetables in this order? Why does it have to be presented with this symmetry? Why do men and women eat separately sometimes? What is so funny about the word “raisin” in Darija?** Why is Fes famous for Pastilla and Tangiers famous for Tajine? Why do Moroccans eat at certain hours?

She is a la fois a cordon bleu chef, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a chemist, a prankster, and a big sister to me. Most of the following recipes are straight out of her own head, as she’s been cooking since the ripe old age of 13. Just so you know, all measurements are approximate and all recipes are in stream-of-consciousness, just like the real cooking lesson. We never use measuring utensils, aside from teacups and tablespoons and our own eyeballs. I’ll start with my personal favorite:

Chicken Apricot Tajine (Or, as I was accidentally calling it in Arabic: “Chicken Cat Tajine”)

According to tajines.com (yes, there is a tajines.com) “A tagine is named after the special pot in which it is cooked. The traditional pot is made from clay, consisting of two parts, a base unit which is flat and circular with low sides, and a large conical and dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base ring during cooking [over live coals for a long time]. The cover is so designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. Tagines in Moroccan cuisine are slow-cooked dishes braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce.” Enticing, huh?

I don’t have an actual tajine pot, so I just use a big soup pot, then transfer it to a nice platter for serving. If you have an actual tajine, you should be able to place it directly on your stovetop flame, and leave it for an hour. Be sure not to fill it up too much, or it will boil over. Real tajines are made in single-serving portions only.

1. Buy chicken from live chicken vendor. Pay about 3 dirham for a tip for him to kill and feather it.

2. Cut up chicken and wash very well, removing excess fat and innerds. (Hint: about ¼ kilo per person should suffice). Rub with coarse salt and wash again. Cut into logical pieces (ie. Legs, breast, wings, etc)

3. Cut 4 medium onions and 7 cloves garlic

4. Grate ½ large tomato

5. Tie cilantro and parsely into little bundles with string. (This is so that you don’t have floppy, slimy pieces of brown herbs floating around in your sauce at the end. You remove the bundles just before serving)

6. Place all these ingredients in a large pot. Add 1 Tbsp black pepper, 2 Tbsp ginger, 1 Tbsp salt, and 1 tsp Saffron (or a pinch of saffron stems, if you have them).

7. Add ½ cup vegetable oil and ½ cup olive oil and 1 Cup water

8. Bring to a boil for 15 minutes. Don’t stir!

9. After 15 minutes of letting all the flavors boil into the chicken, add 4 cups water and stir.

10. Simmer 1 hour, stirring very occasionally

11. While that’s rollin’, Boil ½ kilo of dried apricots for about 20 minutes in a separate pot, until light-colored and puffy-soft.***

12. Pour out most of the apricot water, leaving just enough to cover the bottom of the pot. Add 4-5 Tbsp sugar and 1 Tbsp cinnamon. Simmer on low heat about 5 mins, until a sauce starts to thicken.

13. Remember your chicken? After about an hour it should be falling off the bone. Delicious! (Ladeed, as they say here). Remove from the pot and arrange on the platter. Boil the sauce a little longer to thicken. Add a liiiittle bit of cornstarch if you like, for even thicker sauce.

14. How to arrange it: you can put rice or couscous on a large platter, put the chicken pieces in the center on top, the apricots around it, and some sauce on the side. Or else, just serve the chicken by itself and apricots on top. Moroccans eat it with everyone sitting around the big dish, using pieces of bread as their utensil to pick it up, spitting out the bones. Right hands in the dish only, please!

**Answer: the word “Zbibi” is dangerously similar to the slang word for a man’s genitalia. I know you all wanted the answer to this one.

***There are many sweet alternatives to apricots, which follow the same basic idea. You can boil prunes, raisins, figs, or pieces of quince. Drain most of the water, add cinnamon and sugar (nutmeg if you’re feeling festive). Simmer into a thick sauce and serve over the meat. Prunes are best with lamb, and raisins are traditional with couscous.


****Photo credits: tajines.com,

Nothing Brings Us Together Like A Little Rock and Roll



When abroad, I seem to develop a lot of surrogate family members, who inevitably become the richest part of my travel experiences. Yes I enjoy beautiful vistas and the thrill of the Travel-Unknown (also known as Customs) and sampling new foods and racking up the stamps in my passport. However, my most memorable experiences usually have to do with the friendships I’ve made.

Part of my Moroccan family includes Anas and Jihane, my little brother and sister. I began tutoring Anas in English a few months ago…but mostly our language sessions just end up with him schooling me in Arabic. He’s so patient and kind, even if his Arabic is way over my head sometimes. He is 19, studying Business Management in a private school, and his English is already amazing. It’s so interesting to have to be conscious of my own language and to try to explain its function. For example, how do you explain the phrase: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”? There is not even a French word for “pudding”, so I ended up making some connection between “trial and error” and “goat yogurt”. The poor kid.

I’ve also been integrated into his own family, and his mom has become like a cool aunt to me. Caitlyn and I have been over there to eat some fabulous meals, and his mom has promised to teach me to make pastilla- a traditional Fessi dish made with phyllo dough and pigeon meat. That’s right.

I have to say, one of my favorite Moroccans is Anas’ 15-year-old sister Jihane. She reminds me of a cross between myself and my (real) sister at her age: ambitious, spunky, smart, overachiever, bookish. Such a cute girl I want to take under my wing. Also in the family is their 4-year-old brother, Islam, who prefers to be called "Spiderman".

Caitlyn and I decided to have an “American Dinner Party” for Anas and Jihane, complete with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, tomato soup, chocolate milkshakes, and of course, Jazz. Anas was polite, but not thrilled with the food. Maybe because the soup tasted like watery pizza sauce. The things I put this kid through… It was fun to talk in American accents and to see that the shebab (youth) across cultures are similar in so many ways: idealistic and disenchanted, with a deep love for Facebook and Twilight, and a penchant for rock n’ roll.

Nothing brings us together like rock and roll.

Also, nothing like a chocolate milkshake a la Americaine to warm you up on a cold winter's day in Fes. Sorry Anas...

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Best Christmas Present...

After approximately 1200 trips to the regional government, 3 months of waiting, a billion official stamps, and much strife and heartache, Caitlyn and I have officially obtained residency in the Kingdom of Morocco. This means that we can come and go in the country as we please, we can open Moroccan bank accounts, and best of all, we qualify for the Moroccan Discount on the trains!

Merry Christmas, us!

Holidays Part IV: New Years with Edris & Julie (...and Turd & Banana)


After my overseas holiday adventures, I stayed just long enough at my apartment in Fes to catch my breath and clean out the mold that had been growing in our refrigerator for two weeks. Then straight away it was off to Imi Ouaddar to spend New Years with Edris and Julie Makward. And what a lovely end to the year it was.

Edris is an old professor of mine from the UW, whom I actually met by chance when I was living in Senegal. He is a bit of a legend at my university, having been one of the founding members of the African Studies department and Senegal Study Abroad program. Half Senegalese and half Moroccan, he grew up in the Gambia, Senegal and Fes, and has lived and worked in the US for the past 40ish years. When he found out I was going to Morocco, he took me under his wing and introduced to me family and friends all around the country. In fact, his half-sister Lalla Fatima, has become my surrogate grandmother in Fes. Edris and his American wife Julie have become my own aunt and uncle, so they invited me to spend my holiday at their vacation home in Imi Ouaddar.

During the bitter Wisconsin winter months, E & J escape to a small fishing village about 30 km north of Agadir. (Agadir is about 12 hours south of Fes, by train and bus, popular with European tourists for its idyllic beaches known for sailing, surfing and windsurfing.) In the summertime, the village is populated with Moroccan tourists of the retirement age, and in the winter months, European (mostly german) snowbirds come in flocks of RVs. In the camp sites, senior citizens wearing scarecely more than short shorts and sunburns play boules, walk their tiny dogs, tootle around on bicycles, and sit by the pools. E & J & I couldn’t figure out the fascination with pools, seeing as there is the world’s most lovely ocean just across the street.

Time spent at the Makwards was just what I needed. We took walks on the beach and in the villages, made delicious meals, and visited Agadir for a day (nice and breezy, but not much to do. Extra points for the “Zoo” though). Being at their house was just like lounging around my own for a few days: deeply relaxing and hilarious, and I was able to get some writing and reading done.

We were invited to have dinner with their German neighbor Gurd (or, as Edris has been mistakenly calling him for the past year, “Turd”), and his pretty-young-thing girlfriend, whose name the 3 of us were only able to decipher as something close to “Banana”. It was fun to have debates with Europeans over an incredible meal of pumpkin soup and prosciutto and fresh grilled fish and strawberries. We all fell silent, however, when the sun set





over the ocean in a champagne-cotton-candy-neon explosion. Let me tell you, there is nothing like the sunsets in Morocco, because of the ocean.

If Imi Ouaddar is for the Retired Snowbirds, then Taraghzout- the town next door- is for the Surfer Dudes. Indeed, Taraghzout is known to be one of Morocco’s surf meccas, and European surfers on holiday were out in full force. I spent a day bumming around the village and was bummed that I didn’t bring any of my gear. The waves were perfect, the weather was beautiful, and friendly surfers a-plenty offered to let me use boards. I will for sure go back and stretch my sea legs sometime this year.

E & J & I rang in the new year by toasting 2010 and the glorious sunset on their balcony overlooking the ocean. We grilled kefta and made Tomato-Avocado-Roasted pepper-Argon oil salad and dove into the Belgian chocolate I brought. We laughed over the past year and I made my resolution for this year: to Learn.

I usually make abstract resolutions that I already know I’m going to keep. It just ends up being more of a running theme of the year. 2009’s was “Trust”, and I did learn infinitely more about trusting than ever before. This time last year, I had no idea that I’d be spending a year and a half in Morocco, living my dream job. Everything fell into place at the perfect time. I know that I need 2010 to be a year of learning, because I realize that there is so much I wish to grasp, from driving stick shift to methods of transitional justice to humility and compassion.

I’m amazed at where I’ve been this past year. I’m grateful for where I am. I’m most excited to live this next year, and to live big, with a heart full of love and great memories.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Holidays Part III: The UAE, or Cath Goes to Swankytown

My flight from Kuala Lumpur to Casablanca included a layover in Dubai, so I decided to profit from the journey by visiting my old college friend, Suaad, who lives in Abu Dhabi. From the very first minute she found me at the airport (sleeping on my luggage. Super classy.) she showed me infinite hospitality, which I hope to pay forward someday.






Let me intro my trip to the UAE by saying that everything in the Emirates is over-the-top opulent. Actually, that’s pretty much all you need to know. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have the biggest and best and most modern everything. Dubai bosts the world’s tallest building and tallest hotel (which also happens to be the world’s only 6-star hotel. Naturally.) There are indoor ski hills and rotating skyscrapers and man-made islands off the coast in the shape of a palm tree. Even the bus stops are air-conditioned. I spit on my hands and look you in the eye when I say this: I personally ate chocolate covered in real, edible gold.
My life is pretty much complete.




Suaad, her sister Hedaya, and their sister-in-law Aicha and I tromped around Abu Dhabi and Dubai for 3 days and took in all the major touristy sights, with the help of the Big Bus. The Big Bus is a double-decker tour bus which you can hop on and off as you are guided around the cities by a pleasant recorded British voice. We saw the Emirate’s largest mosque, one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen, with immaculate detail in everything from the mosaic to the carpeting. The mosque also has the world’s largest chandelier (duh). We met a famous Arab actress (who I've never heard of) who was shooting scenes for her soap opera at the same restaurant where we had dinner. We took a cruise on the river that runs through Dubai, and I saw how goods are passed from China and Iran and Pakistan to Africa and Europe and the US: via tugboat long the Emirates’ coast. We in the West usually take it for granted that thousands of brave little computer monitors and car tires and boxes of Corn Flakes make the pilgriamage every day through that waterway.




One of the most interesting visits was to the Emirates History Museum. The earliest exhibit, which showed “primitive” culture in the region, dates to 1950. Living in a city that is 12,000 years old has certianly made me re-think my ideas of ancient history, modernity, preservation, and progress. The UAE has launched forward in the past 50 years, whereas many people in Morocco strive to hold on to ancient history, in order to preserve tradition and culture. In 1950, it was estimated that the region of the UAE had only about 12,000 inhabitants. 10 years later, there were over 100,000. Indeed the country has exploded of the past half-century and everywhere you look there is a construction project. The housing-project high rises for poorer families built in the 60s and 70s are crowded out by the shiny modern towers and the suburbs are now blooming out into the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.


We also went to the Global Village. This is kind of like the State Fair, only different countries are represented at different exhibition halls where you can sample exotic foods and buy wares imported from abroad. I even found Tahoe at the Philippines exhibition! Don’t worry, Steve, I ate enough for the two of us. I was able to try out my Tagolog and Wolof and French. Strangely enough, however, there were no individual European countries represented. The “Europe” exhibition would more aptly be called “Turkey” and the United States was nowhere to be found. (Although, all that could really be sold in the US booth would be trinkets imported from China and overpriced health insurance.) Nevertheless, the Global Village was one of my favorite parts of my trip.



Suaad took me to Emirates Palace, another Swanky hotel in Abu Dhabi which often gets confused for the ACTUAL palace of the Sheich. Only it’s probably nicer. They are making a “Cultural Island” off the coast of Abu Dhabi, which will have an opera house, and branches of The Louvre and the Guggenheim Museum. As a teaser, they’ve moved some of the Guggenheim’s pieces to Emirates Palace, so we perused the modern art before sitting down to afternoon tea. We each had a dessert with gold dust or foil on it. (Naturally.) I hope that situations like that never cease to amaze me. May I never get used to such excess.
Before I left, I got to meet Suaad’s family and her wonderful fiancé, Said. I can tell that he has a kind heart and subtle, hilarious humor. I am so happy for them and look forward to their upcoming nuptials. For my last night in the UAE, they took me to a South African restaurant, and told the waiter that it was my birthday. The entire waitstaff brought out a piece of cake and sang some form of Happy Birthday in Swahili (?). It was so kind, and definetly another memorable birthday/Christmas Eve celebration.


Early the next morning, I caught a flight out of Dubai and spent Christmas Day 2009 listening to the only Christmas song I have on my ipod (Sufjan Stevens’ O Holy Night) and eating the candy cane I stashed in my purse on the train back to Fes. It was a lonely Christmas, but I just kept replaying all the memories from the past 2 weeks. I found myself full of joy, 36,000 feet above the Arabian Peninsula, because there is something strangely comforting in traveling to me.
Transience always makes me full of hope and more grateful for home, wherever that may be. I guess I can say that I have made many homes for myself this year: in our crummy apartment in Madison, in my parents’ museum in Milwaukee, in the Red Tent in Fes, and on the couches and floors and at the dinner tables of the homes of many friends, new and old. Home is where you let down your guard, where you have community. Home is the space where you can love and allow yourself to be loved, as corny as that may sound. In this way, I have no home or hometown, only a collection of people and places of memories that I carry with me wherever I go.
I guess that makes me a turtle?

Holidays Part II: Malaysia Is For Lovers






After wrapping up my birthday bash and my final Arabic exam, I hopped on a plane bound for Dubai, bound for Kuala Lumpur, bound for Penang, bound for the marriage of my favorite big brother Steven to my favorite sister-in-law Shi-Hsia.

I arrived in Penang, Shi-Hsia’s beautiful hometown on an island off the coast of Malaysia, in the middle of the night. After a minor incident involving a curb, a popped tire, rain, and a flock of helpful Malaysians, I was reunited with my family. The next few days were a blur as wedding preparations were made and I was introduced to approximately 2500 new relatives, of which I retained only 3 or 4 names. Sorry.

We rehearsed the ceremony in the Methodist church where SH’s father has been the pastor for many years. Everybody had a role. My brother-in-law directed the ceremony and my sister read some verses from the Bible. My dad, once he was done clowning around, gave a message that was brilliantly appropriate for Steve and SH’s scientific natures. SH’s uncle pronounced them man and wife and her sister and brother played music. I was even recruited to sing at the last minute (my condolences to the newlyweds).

After the rehearsal, we headed over to a steamboat restauraunt. This is a place where you choose your own raw fish and veggies and cook them at your own table in a big pot of boiling broth. Not gonna lie, I had a vision of the wedding guests saying, “Well, it was a lovely wedding, but the entire wedding party had food poisoning.”

The morning of the wedding we awoke chipper and salmonella-free, alhamdoulilah. I will always remember my nervous older brother saying his vows over and over and me just patting him on his head. We ladies headed over to SH’s early to help the bride get ready. I have never seen a more chill bride on the morning of her wedding. When Steve and his groomsmen arrived, they were made to do feats of chivalry, to prove his love. He had to eat Durian fruit candy (which smells like a cross between unwashed socks and death), do pushups, and sing a love song in Chinese- which he performed brilliantly, I might add, to the surprise and amusement of her Chinese relatives.

We assembled in the Church, and as the Star Wars theme song played, SH’s sisters and best friend walked down the aisle, in traditional Indian, Malay, and Chinese dress. The bride wore a traditional outfit: a long-sleeved gauzy shirt with a pattered skirt and silky red scarf in her hair. She was stunning.

The whole wedding was a beautiful mix of American and Asian tradition, with the message being translated into Chinese. It was over quickly, and then it was time for photos. Our modest little white family was a stark contrast to SH’s relatives from Malaysia, Singapore, and China. When Steve was standing in his new family’s group photo, I couldn’t help humming “One of these things is not like the other…” Then it was off to the Royal Hotel for the grandest wedding reception I have ever attended.

I can’t list all the details, but the wedding luncheon included, but was not limited to:
-an 8-course meal, brought out course-by-course by an army of waiters who marched the food in with some very dramatic drum music
-Two (2) swan ice sculptures
-Karaoke. No lies. Guests got up and sang at whim. I was even convinced by SH’s younger brother to improvise a verse to “Stand by Me”, telling a story about Steve’s childhood.
-Giant balls of glowing flowers
-a 5-layer wedding cake. (Real or not real? The Jury’s still out…)
-speeches and toasts by juuuust about everyone in the room. Wait…yup. Everyone. And, of course, my sister cried. Sucka.
-Seaweed and sea creatures (to eat) that I have never seen before.
-A break dancing demonstration by SH’s brother. Not gonna lie, it was pretty rad.
-Did I mention the ice sculptures? There were two.

After the lunch, there was a tradional Chinese tea ceremony, in which the bride and groom ceremonially serve tea to their closest blood relatives and the relatives give them their wedding gifts (always money) in little red envelopes. I was so nervous that Steve was gonna spill hot tea all over sweet old grandpa Ah Kong, but they managed alright. Then as the youngest unmarried child in my family, it was up to me to serve tea to the newlyweds and they gave me a red packet. Score one for me for not being married! I saw THEM coming. The ceremony followed traditional guidelines of serving the eldest males first, then more distant relatives. It was a moving (albeit complicated) method of honoring family, which is very important in Asian cultures.

The rest of the week flew by as I spent time with my parents and siblings, and my sister’s in-laws (shoutout!), and my new Malaysian relatives. I walked around the island, which continues to maintain precious balances between modernity and tradition, colonial legacy and nationalism, and Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures. East meets West between the high rises and plantation mansions, and among the mosques, churches, and temples on the same city block. I would love to explore the country more, to hike in the mountains and to learn how all the diversity coexists.

Thanks to friends, we were treated to a fabulous meal at the Penang Swimming Club (which is accessable by exclusive membership only), where we also swam in the ocean and I saw my first Indian Santa Claus singing Christmas karaoke. (Do you see a running karaoke theme?). On our last afternoon before departure, we had the most opulent brunch at the Eastern & Oriental, a swanky colonial-era hotel and restauraunt that once welcomed Rudyard Kipling and Edith Piaf. The buffet of seafoods and sushi and meats (ostrich, anyone?) and salads and desserts and fruits and a chocolate fountain and waffle bar and espresso machines and ice creams and fresh lemonade was overwhelming. And just when I was convinced that my entire family had forgotten about my birthday, out comes a lovely piece of tiramisu with a candle on it. I was moved to tears, mostly just cause I was feelin’ the love at that moment.

The whole Malaysia Affair was just that: pure love. What a blessing it was to be able to see my family over this reflective season, even if it was 6000 miles away from where we normally celebrate. I was, and still am, just ecstatic for my brother and sister-in-law. I love their love and I am so impressed that they have chosen the road less traveled, the road that will not be easy or convenient, because they believe that the Love they have will get them through all unceritain times. Brilliant.
As his little sister (and big fan), my role with Steve has always been to pat his head and telling him how proud I am of him, no matter what. We have been there for each other through the years, especially in college, when he literally made sure I had food to eat and that I was safe (and wasn’t dating any scumbags). He fulfilled his role as an older brother wonderfully.
All that said, it was not difficult to see him marry and move to Singapore, where they will be residing from now on. Our family is used to distance, and even though I can’t see him so much, I know that he has a loving woman to pat his head and tell him how proud she is of him. For that I am grateful.

And when I was still sighing over all the romance (and still marveling over those ice sculptures), I found myself in Swankytown, aka: The United Arab Emirates.

Holidays Part I: Another Year Older, Another Year Wiser?

This Holiday has been a whirlwind of travels, with 3 very different vacations on 3 different continents, with me ending up safe and warm back in Fes in the New Year, with a refrigerator full of mold and a heart full of warmth. I will treat each segment of my holiday break in a different blog post, and will have photos up as soon as possible. (Uploading photos is my eternal struggle, thanks to the internet which works on “Moroccan time”, ie: whenever it feels like it.). But first, I want to recount my birthday.

I will first say a big Thank You to all who celebrated my birthday, from wherever you are in the world. I could feel the love big time. Lovely Fulbrighter Kristin came to Fes from Rabat and spent the night, just for the occasion, and took me out for Fessi Fruit Salad Breakfast. That evening after classes, friends assembled in the Red Tent for a cheery birthday/holiday/last-hurrah-before-we-all-part-ways-for-the-break/let’s-party-the-night-before-our-final-exam Party. Desserts and cheeses and fruits and wine and spiced apple cider (!) and hot cocoa with marshmallows freshly imported from the US of A by Caitlyn’s brother Jordan, who came to Maroc for a wee visit before they both struck out to backpack Eastern Europe. Cait bought me Argon Oil, which is produced only in Morocco and is known for its medicinal and cosmetic properties. Rod got me Baileys Irish Creme…and an autographed picture of the King! No lies. You have to see it to believe it. Mustapha brought pointy green babouches to match my new jelaba, and a stuffed dog on the behalf of Said. Jesse and Cherry got me a gorgeous green silk scarf, and if I could marry it, I would. Becca and Kristin brought imported chocolate and wine, and Matty baked a crustless sweet potato pie.

It was really a special time, and in between mugs of cocoa nipped with Baileys (shoutout to Rodney), I sat back and smiled deeply at the love that surrounded me. It felt like Christmas back home. These people, who were all strangers 4 months ago, have become my family. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only known them since this summer, and some even less. Cait organized everyone to give me “imaginary presents” (best tradition ever, btw) and they really showed their creativity. I made off with quite an imaginary haul:
-a 4-seater tandem bike fully equipped with riding partners Kofi Annan, David Bowie, and Jim Miller (shoutout!)
-a gluten-free oven that bakes any GF delight I desire
-round trip airplane tickets to the Motherland (The Philippines)
-a working pilot light for our hot water heater
-peace on earth and good will toward men (so basically I’m out of a job)
-a continent-shrinking machine so Dave and I could be closer

…America’s finest, y’alls. Despite having a final exam the next day, we laughed and chilled and life was as it should be for just in that moment.
Just as February marks a tough spot for me every year, December is always a very reflective time. Because of the concurrence of my birthday (another year older, yikes!), Christmas (the holiday that started it all for me), and the New Year , I usually take some intentional time to take stock of what was, what is, and what is to come. 2009 was an incredible year. I graduated, moved to Morocco and began to set up a life for myself. I say “began” because I feel like I am still getting to know the place. I am still intro-ing into the culture and language and have yet to really get my research rolling. (Technically, I’m not even allowed to start my research until Mid-February).

I have seen other lives transform this year as well, and it has impacted me. Dear friends have gotten married and had children and started grown-up jobs and experienced great loss. Both my brother and sister got married this year, so I added a new sister and brother (shoutout!)
One year ago at this time, I remember worrying over post-graduation jobs and looking into 2009 as some gigantic uncertain haze. But now I see how all the threads were connecting to bring me exactly where I needed to be….and where I am now: on Edris and Julie Makward’s couch in their villa in Imi Ouazzar, 14 hours south of Fes. On Vacation #3. Allow me to explain how I ended up here...