Monday, April 19, 2010

Adventures at the Public Oven and Public Beach (but not at the same time)

I had planned to spend this week tootling around Rabat with my dad. However, thanks to a certain Icelandic natural disaster, the poor guy is stuck in Berlin…hopefully having plenty of beer tastings in the airport with his fellow marooned travelers.

So, instead of Fun Times with Pop, I’ve been preparing for the upcoming Fulbright Symposium (yikes!), planning for travels to Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, spending time at the beach, and of course, cooking. I even ventured out to find a public oven in my neighborhood.

Most Moroccan homes are not equipped with ovens. Instead, women prepare the daily bread the night before, let it rise at night, then take it to the local giant wood-burning oven in the morning. There is usually a man standing in the pit, receiving baked goods, and using his expert knowledge of fire to decide where in the oven he should place your loaf in order to bake it at the correct temperature. Obviously it’s not very precise, but for about 3 dirham (30 cents), I can walk around the corner with my loaf, and have piping hot what-have-you 30 minutes later. Best of all, Mohammed the Oven Man is a riot. I think he and I are going to be gooood friends.

In the spirit of public ovens, and summertime, I will post two summery recipes. Not necessarily Moroccan. Super simple, almost “duh!”-worthy, but dear to me for two reasons:

1. The people from which they came

2. The Spirit in which they are made.

They’re like…heirloom recipes! To be written in the beat-up blue watermelon family cookbook that my mom has been keeping for years.

Zohra’s Cumquat Confiture

My good friend Mustapha’s family has basically adopted me. I have meals over at their house, cook, dance and sing Berber songs with his mom, Zohra. (One of Morocco’s finest chefs, btw). She only speaks Darjia and Berber, so sometimes the recipes are hard to catch if I’m not watching carefully. Zohra takes advantage of the fruits and veggies of the season and makes her own jam (confiture). The other day I was sitting around while Zohra was making strawberry jam. She taught me how, then explained that I should try at my own house using cumquats, which are in season here in Morocco, and are ridiculously cheap (read: men with big wooden carts walk around neighborhoods and shout “Cumquats! Cumquats!” Like some kind of fruity parade.) So, I bought a kilo and cooked up this confiture myself. For some reason, I think only grandmothers can make jam properly (there’s some kind of aura they add, I’m sure)…but here it is, so simple that it can be adapted to almost any fruit. Fresh, no preservatives, so you don’t want to keep it long.

1. Wash and cut up 1 kilo of any “soft” fruit (berries, cumquats, peaches..). I ended up peeling the cumquats, because it was easy enough, and kept the jam soft.

2. Plop in a big soup kettle and turn on low heat. Don’t add any water, it will boil out of the fruit.

3. Boil for about half an hour to 45 mins, until greatly reduced and mushy.

4. Add 1 cup of any sweetener you like. Or less. Moroccans use SO MUCH sugar in their foods, and I try to stay away from it. I added about ½ cup honey and it turned out deliciously tart and sweet. I’d like to see what it would be like with Agave Nectar.

5. Squeeze 1 small orange into the mix, plus a pinch of salt. (I also added a pinch of cinnamon to my cumquats)

6. Simmer gently for another ½ hr, stirring often to keep from burning.

7. Let cool…or eat it warm on gluten-free bread, fresh out of the community oven!

8. Now, you can can this mixture (haha, “can can”. Sorry.), if you’re feeling ambitious…but I suggest just putting it in an airtight jar and eating it on everything. Before I had bread, I scooped it up on walnut halves with a little blue cheese. Pretty little Decadence indeed.

**To be eaten while watching the morning surfers catch the first waves of high tide.While listening to Brooke Fraser's "C.S. Lewis Song"

Cherrydale’s Surf Salad

This recipe is adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Carrot Dill White Bean Salad. I attempted to make it for an impromptu lunch party with friends Cherry and Jesse (“I know that’s right!”), but all I had on hand were garbanzo beans. I’ve made it both ways, and people tell me they prefer the garbanzos. You be the judge.

I love this salad because it’s so colorful, and all the flavors just explode into this symphony that remind me of the waves crashing outside my window. I mean, honey + lemons + dill + caramelized almonds? It works.

Oh yes, I’ve named it after dear Cherry, because she liked it enough to ask that I post it on my blog. Shoutout.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt

1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots

more olive oil for cooking
2 cups sliced carrots, cut 1/4-inch thick on deep bias
3 cups cooked white beans or chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
scant 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and shallots in a small bowl. Stir and set aside.

2. Toss the carrots with a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Let them cook in a single layer - they'll give off a bit of water at first. Keep cooking, tossing gently every three or four minutes until the carrots are deeply browned.

3. Add the beans and dill to the skillet and cook for another five minutes, or until the beans as well heated through. If you need to add a bit more olive oil to the pan - do so.

4. Place the contents of the skillet in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle with the brown sugar/honey and pour the 3/4 of the lemon-olive oil mixture over the top. Toss gently.

5. Let sit for ten minutes. Toss gently once again, taste and adjust with more salt or sugar or lemon juice if needed to balance the flavors.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature and finish by sprinkling with the almonds just before serving. I sometimes caramelize the almonds by heating them up with a tablespoon of butter and a sprinkle of sugar. Just adds another “Wha-BAM!” to all the flavors of this dish.

** to be eaten watching the last surfers of the day dragging in their boards to the beach and arguing with fishermen about whose territory is whose. Hilarious.While listening to Ben Harper's "Waiting on an Angel" and "Diamonds on the Inside".

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Goodness Gracious Green Beans!

Oh my goodness.

Heidi Swanson's incredible Feisty Green Beans Recipie
+ white wine (Meknes' finest)
+ 76% dark chocolate
+ hailstorms over the Atlantic
+ Marie Antoinette Soundtrack
= no more work is getting done tonight.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Day in the Life...

I’m reeeeaaaallly trying to be better at not letting so much time go in between blog entries. I was trying to think of the theme for this one, and I couldn’t come up with anything. Crazy, huh?

Each Moroccan morning brings more discovery.

I mean, it's not like I'm bored here. Every single day of my life is an adventure in navigating the languages (I find myself operating in French for work, and Darija outside of the “office”. My poor FusHa is getting left behind)

and culture (dodging creepy men who shout “Hello Lovely-Jovely! Spice girl! Welcome to Morocco!” out of car windows, trying not to get frustrated at the…relaxed…pace of life, learning not to take my plans too seriously)

and research (working furiously on my presentation for the upcoming Fulbright Symposium, where I have to present my work up to this point. Meeting amazing Human Rights activists, more victims, and academics. Having some fascinating conversations about the concept of Human Rights** and the Preservation of Memory. Nerdy? No apologies.)

and this city (Rabat is, hands-down, one of the best cities I’ve ever lived in. It is, at the same time, ancient and cosmopolitan, European and Middle Eastern. The center of government in Morocco. Large enough to have tons of cultural attractions and events, but small enough to walk everywhere, or take a cab for 4 dirhams. I’m discovering this place on foot. Best of all, it’s on the ocean. Oh yeah, the King’s Royal Jet Ski Championship is held here every year…)

and new relationships (meeting such great people, slowly making friends. Having some great dinner parties. My attempts to extend the olive branch to my neighbors- by baking GF chocolate chip cookies no less- resulted in some terse “Merci, madame. C’est gentil.” Doors closed in my face. And they still have my china plates! Plan B: Operation Convince-Them-I-Don’t-Work-for-the-CIA. I’ll have to get creative.)

So…once I look this all over, I guess my life is exciting, and every day has its stories.*** But I feel as if I’m settling into a good place where Morocco no longer seems like an exotic mystery. It feels like home; something normal that I love to return to.

I might be a little MIA for a while, putting my nose to the grindstone to come up with a coherent research presentation. The, the Pop Skroch is coming to visit! Then, the day after the conference in Rabat, I’ll be heading to Lebanon, Syria, and eventually ending up at another conference in Jordan. Let the adventures begin!

**Last week, a university professor literally started yelling at me for wanting to research Human Rights in Morocco while my very own country is bombing the heck out of certain middle eastern countries and committing human rights abuses on its own soil (and Moroccan soil, for that matter. ) Yes indeed, I tried to explain, all countries commit HR abuses, the US nonexempt. However, my work is to see how this is being remedied specifically in Morocco. Now let’s get past the blame game and start working on the structural issues.

***A run along the ocean led to me to find the site of a former prison in Rabat, where some of my victims were held, now converted to a military museum. A quest for some furniture for my apartment led to me singing karaoke to Mariah Carey in a bar full of upper-class Moroccans. Spending dawn on Easter morning watching the sun rise over ancient Roman ruins, singing hymns with a drunken Spaniard. I don’t understand it either.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Because Wisconsin Public Television never gave me my 15 minutes of fame...

...maybe MTV will.
Check out fellow Fulbrighter Rod's blog and watch for the shoutout to Catherine "Second Wind" Skroch. Rod has a Fulbright grant in conjunction with MTVU, to study Gnaoua music in Morocco. This is a shameless plug for everyone's favorite International Man of Shenanigans.

And while I'm on the topic of shameless plugs for Fulbright's most artistic minds, check out Fulbrighter Eric's website. He is a paper artist, teaching at Morocco's art school and setting up installations all over the country. His most recent exhibit, at Rabat's Le Cube gallery, is inspired by Moroccan patterns and spaces. I'm seriously impressed by his work. It's so good to spend time with creative, artistic minds.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In the Spirit of Redemption

For the past few years, this week has been a meaningful and reflective week for me. I see it as the culmination of everything I believe in: redemption, liberation, the foundation of joy and peace, and most of all, grace.

I have been trying to live this Lent season with more intentionality. I’ve been learning lessons about sacrificing my vices, and sacrificing Ego. I’ve been learning what it means to be unafraid, in the face of uncertain times. I’ve also been learning about healing. This week has really brought such lessons home, as I have spent some substantial time in the presence of former victims of torture and human rights abuse, listening to their stories. Allow me to introduce you.

Khadija Rouissi is one of the most well-known political activists in this country. I remember reading about her back in college, and being awed at her courage. Her brother, Abdelhak, was “disappeared” from their home, and his high-profile case is one of the 66 dossiers that remain unsolved by Morocco’s Human Rights Council. Since his disappearance, Khadija has fought for justice and was herself imprisoned. She later became the Secretary General of The Forum Verite et Justice and one of the 16 commissioners of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (or IER, which is the subject of my Fulbright research).

When I arrived at her house, I was not expecting to find an adorably chic woman, wearing a Little Black Dress on a Monday afternoon. She invited me for tea, and as we sat down next to a drawn portrait of her brother, she told me her story and opinions of the reparations work that is being done for victims of the Years of Lead.

Khadija holds a portrait of her brother,

who is still officially amongst Moroccan's political desparus.

Her story was moving, but what struck me were her ideas of reconciliation. “We victims,” she explained,
“must be willing to sacrifice vengeance- which is rightfully ours- in order to restore peace and development to this country.” She and her family chose not to accept compensation from the State, because in her opinion, money cannot take the place of a human life. What she wants is closure for her brother’s disappearance. She had just received news that the forensic tests from the exhumation of a second unidentified corpse showed that the body was not her brother’s. He is still nowhere to be found, and she will continue looking.

The compensation she DOES want is governmental reform. This is the general sentiment that I hear from victims. In their testimonies, victims were never allowed to name the names of the perpetrators of abuse, unlike other Truth Commissions, such as in South Africa, where perpetrators were invited come forth and receive amnesty in exchange for fully-revealed truth. Thus, justice- in the legal sense of the term- has never been done, and some of these perpetrators are still in power. What Morocco needs, according to Rouissi, is a new social contract between Citizen and State.

I also spent time this week at the Medical Association for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (AMRVT) in Casablanca. Amazing. I thought I would just go chat with the director about the medical work they do for victims. Instead, I had a full interview where she explained their holistic policy of healing for torture victims and their families. Any Moroccan who has proof from the IER that they were imprisoned, tortured, “disappeared”, or arbitrarily detained, can come and receive free medical services for the rest of their lives. Beyond this, the Association offers free psychological counseling and “social reinsertion” programs, including job placement and education for those who lost jobs or were barred from going to school because of unjust State policy.

I met a H.H., who had been training to be a teacher, but was imprisoned 2 times, in 1973 and 1984, for his involvement in the Leftist Movement. During his time in prison, he caught chronic rheumatism, for which he comes to the Association for treatment. Also, the Association was able to help him finish his degrees and get a job as a high school teacher. He is positive about the work of the AMRVT, but still sees that institutional changes need to be installed.

M.A. is also willing to accept the medical care, which he calls a “symbolic apology” on the part of the State. The son of a state official, M.A. grew up in the royal palace in Fes. After the second coup attempt on the king’s life in 1973, his entire family was kidnapped from their home in the middle of the night and taken to a secret detention center where they stayed for one year. He was 13 years old at the time. M.A.’s father was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but he never said what really happened to him. I didn’t press the issue. Now, almost 40 years later, M.A. still suffers from the after-effects of this era of State Terror. He comes to get physical therapy for his scoliosis, as well as some psychological counseling. Is this system of reparation- what the King has called “restorative justice”- equitable for what M.A. and his family went through? What of the years that passed by without them having any official identity?

H.H’s wife, who had been speaking to me in polite French, probably assuming I was some Big Cheese from the US govt (as my interviewees often seem to do), surprised me at the end of the interview. All of a sudden, in perfect English, calm and sad, she said, “The dynamic period of our lives.”

“Pardon?” I faltered. It took me off-guard to hear English spoken so suddenly.

“For the dynamic period of our lives, we were taken and imprisoned.”

And that was all. And that was just it: an entire generation that lived in fear and mistrust of their own government had the youthful, vital years of their lives stolen or suppressed by an authoritarian regime. Nevertheless, victims have described over and over the sense of normalcy they tried to maintain, while living in uncertain times, carrying on with every-day duties, not knowing if they would be taken in the middle of the night. Obtaining degrees via distance education while in prison. Performing plays and celebrating birthdays while spending years as one of the “disappeared”. Singing nursery rhymes while being tortured, to keep from going crazy.

I’m reading an amazing book by Dr. Richard F. Mollica entitled Healing Invisible Wounds. He quotes an artist from Sarajevo, C. Boltanski, whose sentiments echo in the voices of these Moroccans:

“We often ask ourselves: if there would be a catastrophe, if our lives would become full of war and hatred, and if we had to be subject to that, how would we react? Citizens of Sarajevo were not prepared for that: as one would say, happy people, in a town both beautiful and quiet. No poverty, easily established and well kept relations between people; everybody thinking about their own work, their children, weddings and burials as the rhythm to existence; everything is simple, and then the horror happened. It’s like when you feel well, and then suddenly a doctor tells you that you have cancer- throwing you, in that way, to the world of illness and death.”

A.L. likened the Years of Lead, during which he was rounded up on the streets of Casablanca and imprisoned for 4 years, to a “nothingness, a death”. He is still fidgety and nervous, and suffers physically from the torture he underwent. I find that, generally, Moroccans of this generation live with a general mistrust of authority, and their children- my generation- are growing up in apathy and civic nonparticipation. True, I get the sense that young Moroccans like the current king, but don’t care one bit for the surrounding political system, which they see as ineffective and distant.

With a political history like this, I don’t blame them, but I don’t excuse it either. That’s why I’m so interested in the part of my research that deals with writing the Years of Lead into the history books, as they are starting to do now. But that’s a different story for a different time.

I plan to make weekly visits to the AMRVT in Casablanca and collect stories. Listening to personal stories has always been my favorite part of peace & conflict resolution methods. I don’t offer any counseling, but some subtle catharsis happens almost every time a victim is allowed to tell their story to someone who will hold it as valuable. And there are always, always little concussions of this in my own life.

These are just some examples of victims’ experiences. I will write more soon about the interviews I’ve been having with government officials and NGOs, which are equally as fascinating. Truly, I am impressed by the reparation work Morocco is doing, but there is always more to be done.

Going over these victims’ stories, I am always struck by their courage and resilience and hope….lessons that I’ve been personally learning too. And now it’s Easter. The perfect time to celebrate the triumph of the spirit.