30 December 2010

New Years' Eve Eve

Things have been kind of whirling around in my head the past few weeks. As anyone still reading this may have guessed, I am not very good at updating my blog during (a) extremely busy times, and (b) extremely not-busy times. But I am great at thinking about what I would write if I were to update my blog. Today is different, I guess, and I'm not sure why.

I woke up with a start from a dream where I heard my old phone ringing with the ring tone I had assigned to my ex-boyfriend. I'm not sure why my phone was ringing in the dream, but for three seconds, I thought that it was actually ringing. Trying to open my mold-allergized eyes, I found the phone, and then remembered where I was. It's almost 2011, and although I am in my old Peace Corps site, and in my old Peace Corps site, I'm not in Peace Corps anymore.

I've worked one semester at this job, and I'm waiting waiting waiting for the next semester to start. Not because I'm that excited to work, but more because I'm that excited to go home. Something snapped in me with this bed bug battle. I know I'll be okay with not being in Morocco anymore. I know that there are bed bugs everywhere, but it was the way that many people treated me surrounding the whole debacle that just turned me off.

In a way, I am kind of ashamed to say this, because there is so much about Morocco that I absolutely adore. A few certain families, the Moroccans we work with in our organization, the variety of climates and cultures, the Tashelheet language, the Marrakech accent, the history, and the possibilities for the future. And I know that I could live here, but I think (think... llahu 3allam) that now I'll be okay with living somewhere else. Maybe I've given in, maybe I'm not as strong or as progressive as I wish I could be, but that's where I am right now.

Off for an 8 mile run...

27 December 2010

Ran 19.22 Miles Today

More emails to compel you to donate:

I am so proud of you for raising moola for the ACS … what a great cause. I’ve donated in my own Mom’s memory, as she passed away from leukemia in 1981 at the ripe old age of 56. Very unfair. And I miss her every day, especially on Christmas. So, thanks for doing such a good thing and contributing to finding a cure/a cause/more groundbreaking research. What a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas! Can’t wait to see you in Marrakech!

22 December 2010

A Letter from a Friend

A week ago I sent out this email:

Hello All!

I'm back... well, not that I ever left, but I was very busy these past few weeks, leading trips for Moroccan Exchange, and running around enjoying (finally!) Rabat. But now all my colleagues have gone home for Christmas, and I am here, filling my alone-time with self-improvement projects. One of these is, of course, the blog. I will be trying to update it with more information about Morocco, as well as personal reflections.

More importantly, in case you didn't know, I am training to run the Marrakech Marathon on Jan. 30, 2011. I've been training for this day for almost a year now, and, although the training has been going fine, I feel like there really is only benefit for ME in running this thing. So, for the past few months, I have been thinking how to raise money for a cause for this marathon.

It was hard to choose a cause, but during my run today, I realized what keeps me going on long runs is thinking of my friends and what they've gone through. In the past, cancer did not make a big impact on my life. I heard stories, but all the events were pretty much on the periphery. After I finished my Peace Corps service, however, I was affected very much by my two dear friends Rachel and Nicole, and their mothers' struggles with cancer. Back then, I wished I could do more to help, and so now I am!

So I am asking you to donate to the American Cancer Society on my behalf. If you were even close to thinking about buying me a holiday present, please donate instead! You can donate 26.2 dollars, dirhams, euros, whatever. You can donate a dollar for ever mile, or $10 for every mile, or 1 dirham for every mile. Or, if you prefer kilometers, there are 41.8 km in a marathon.

Just go to my fundraising website:


No need to send a check, or worry about getting money to Morocco.

Thanks so much, and happy holidays!


3 days ago I got this response:

Zineb -

I was in Ohio visiting relatives last weekend, and I am in DC this weekend, so I've been pretty out of touch, but I just wanted to write you and thank you for doing this (and wish you good luck, of course). When I read your email, I immediately burst into tears in my friend's apartment. Luckily, he wasn't there to witness the mess. The most recent news on my mom is this: There are no new tumors in her lungs (the 6 that were there are still there), but two tumors have grown back in her liver. That's a real pitfall after the INTENSE surgery and recovery she endured on her liver earlier this year. We're still fighting - she hasn't given up yet, but I'm still living everyday knowing my mom will never meet her grandchildren/will never see me get married/etc. I even do strange things like look at her/my cat and realize that the cat will definitely outlive my mom. It's odd - to say the least.


16 December 2010

Christmas Present

Please Donate to the American Cancer Society in honor of me running the Marrakech Marathon!

Regulated Schedule

Heroic, Female, and Muslim - Muslim women are some of the strongest ones I know, and can still be so, even while embracing their faith.

You Can Dream: Stories of Moroccan Women Who Do - RPCV shows us some AWESOME Moroccan women.

Life in Morocco is now not that much different for me than life in America would be. I live in a 2-bedroom apartment, with a roommate. I have a job, I go out to dinner and cafés and bars, I run 5 days a week, and I drink a little more than I should.

But there is the call to prayer, there is the constant staring by men I don't know, there is the omnipresent sight of trash piles and cats and stray dogs, there is the overpriced phone company, and the stolen internet from a guy named Yassine downstairs.

Back to similarities, my roommate just left to go home for Christmas. I have been wishing I could go since October, and I was kind of lonely and listless last night after she left. This morning, however, I woke up and decided that I was going to take this month that she will be gone, and use all the alone time to really improve myself. That's what people say they're going to do in the Peace Corps, and I never really did it. So now's the time; I'm going to:

  • pay my rent
  • study for the GRE at least 2 hrs every day
  • train for the marathon
  • do strength training
  • clean the house
  • apply for grad school
  • spray for bedbugs (again)
  • buy a new tablecloth
  • make a list of what i need to buy back in america
  • order new contacts
  • fix the tv
  • bake zucchini bread, pumpkin pie, carrot cake, and cinnamon rolls
  • update this blog more
  • read the books i brought with me
  • wake up before 9 every day
  • not smoke, and not hang around people who do
  • drink more water than i drink alcohol

I know, that's a pretty big list, but a lot of them are small things, and most of them - besides the running part - won't take me more than 2 hrs at a time. That leaves plenty of time for still being lazy and bumming around on the internet.

Get ready, it's gonna be a great holiday season!

08 December 2010

Moroccan Mint Tea

Loose “gunpowder” tea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunpowder_tea)
Fresh mint (or other herbs)

Big tea pot for boiling water
Other tea pot for the tea
Tea glasses
Tray for serving


  1. Boil water in a big tea pot.

  2. Find a tea pot that has a mini-strainer between the spout and the main body of the tea pot.

  3. Put a handful of loose tea in the second tea pot, just enough to cover the bottom circle. This is tricky, because if you put too much, the tea will taste metallic when you’re done, and if you put too little, it will taste watery. What I read on the internet says 1 teaspoon for every 5 oz. of water you are going to use. It all depends on the size of your tea pot.

  4. Once your water has boiled, pour a cup’s worth in through the top of the second tea pot and let it sit for a minute or two.

  5. Once this first cup has slightly steeped, pour it out into a tea cup, and set aside. The leaves will have slightly opened up, but usually not all the way. This is the “true tea” and will be used later. Don’t forget about it!

  6. Now, pour a cup’s worth of the hot water again in your second tea pot. Swirl it around a bit. This step is called washing the tea, and it gets all the impurities out and keeps the tea from being too bitter. Once you have swirled 5 or 6 times, pour the water out into the sink.

  7. Wash the tea a second time.

  8. Find your cup of “true tea” and pour it back into the tea pot. Fill the rest of the tea pot with your leftover hot water. Make sure to leave room for mint and sugar, which you will add later.

  9. Put the “tea” tea pot back on the stove, until it boils. When you see the tea leaves rise up to the top of the pot, you know it’s done. Watching for the tea leaves also prevents it from boiling over.

  10. Once your tea has boiled again, put in sprigs of fresh mint and sugar. Adding the sugar is also tricky, because it depends on the size of your tea pot. Add less, pour some of the finished tea out to taste it, and add sugar to your liking.

  11. Make sure to stir the tea in the pot so that the sugar is well mixed. Moroccans will “turn” the tea, meaning pouring it into a cup, and then back into the pot, in order to mix it, but it’s faster just to use a spoon.

  12. Arrange your tea pot and tea glasses (one more glass than number of people you are serving, a tradition in case a guest shows up) on the tray and serve. Make sure to lift the tea pot high when you serve it, both to cool off the tea, and to impress your guests!


Another (easier) method: http://www.wonderhowto.com/how-to-brew-moroccan-mint-tea-242121/

She puts the mint and sugar in first, which is strange to me. Moroccans have told me that if you do this, the tea will not taste the same, and when you put it back on the burner to heat it up, you will burn the sugar and the mint. I also saw the color of her tea when it was finished, and it looks really weak to me. This method might not get you the “MAN tea” that some of my students really enjoyed... :-)

16 November 2010

So-Youn Died 1 Year Ago

I am having the best time in Marrakech. I just missed Tahannoute and my friends and family here so much, and the cleanliness of of 'Kech. Today I woke up in the clean air of my host family's house, ran 7 miles on the beautiful mountain road towards the highest mountains in North Africa, went to souq to buy pumpkins, had lunch with Youssef's family, and went to the dar chebab, and then had dinner with my host family. FANTASTIC. I love life.

But today, I am remembering the night that I spent last year on Nov. 16, freaking out because one of our own had passed away. So-Youn Kim died on Nov. 16, 2009 of an infection due to a "confidential" complication. Her death also led to an internal investigation and the firing of all 3 doctors who served the volunteer community.

So tonight, I want to post the last poem she posted in her blog, to remember her love of life and how far we've all come (sorry for the cliché).


26 October 2008

i was asked what kind of revolutions i believe in

my revolutions?
pens that heal with words of love
for community

jolt life to a halt
quintessential question is
"what are you doing?"

trajectory of our world
where do we end up?

plan for the future
plant gardens in empty lots

paying homage to
abandoned child (hood dreams)
how could we forget?

name the secret truths
they're no more real than me
even when they hurt

tears. freedom to feel
compassion: "suffering with"
laughter lives here now

choose your family
offer self for scrutiny
belonging at last

recreate moments
we wish would last forever
if we don't, who will?

then what's important?
strip off the unessential
move gently in love

a new world order
welcomes the tired and poor
calls us daughters/sons

"personal bubbles"
walls of insecurity
flawed nomenclature

destructive patterns
of generational sin
"none of the above"

reaching out for you
knowing your warmth is comfort

living and dying
solitary existence
find another way

unless i believe in a
new revolution.

14 November 2010



These are Pakistani policewomen. The lady on the right is wearing delicate henna on her hands, and both submissive Muslim women are wearing a girlish lace-trim on their encumbering headscarves.

The Letter I Actually Sent to Peace Works

Dear Volunteer Community-

Volunteers and their romantic relationships with Moroccans: It happens, everyone knows that it happens, and yet there is so much fog and mystery surrounding all of it, that often, there is also a lot of “collateral damage” resulting from these relationships. We, who have been or are currently in relationships with Moroccans, need, as guests in this country, to consider the implications of our actions, and work to be more respectful with our relationships, especially towards our communities.

For us as volunteers, being in a relationship with a Moroccan in Morocco means that we have to follow the Moroccan rules of dating. You are only here for two years, and your primary responsibility is to work.. You can make sacrifices, and there is always time to negotiate between American-ness and Moroccan-ness in your relationship.

Before we started dating, both my boyfriend and I had seen the volunteer I replaced and her Moroccan boyfriend be very public (holding hands in the street, him coming in and out of her house during all hours of the day and night) with their relationship. We saw the damage it had done to her reputation and that of other foreigners in site, including me, and the increased harassment it had caused in both her and my lives. I didn’t want my replacement to go through what I went through.

So, he and I decided to keep our relationship secret, but more importantly, respectful. Just as you wouldn’t walk around in your site in a tank top and shorts, you can’t go parading your relationship around either. We wanted my reputation to stay positive in the community. We also didn’t want to cause problems for him and his family, because he was a teacher and he too had a reputation to maintain. From our experience, I can offer a few concrete suggestions:

• Explain to your girl/boyfriend that you want to be respectful of your community and overly conservative in the way that you date. They will understand what you mean.
• Especially at first, try not to let people in your community see you together very often, especially your neighbors; meet in a bigger city if possible, where you both know less people.
• Don’t hold hands in public in your site.
• Kissing in public anywhere in Morocco will get you in a lot of trouble, don’t do it.
• If you have to work together, keep a “brother-sister” distance at work.
• If you are going to have him or her come over to your house, have him or her come or leave at at night or with a big group of visitors.
• Don’t tell people in your community, except those you trust with your life.

It can be very frustrating to abide by so many new rules in addition to the other challenges of being a volunteer in a foreign country. Neverthless, with patience and flexibility it can be done. We can't expect everyone to be as accepting as our fellow Americans. We can and should expect volunteers to be non-judgmental but it’s not realistic to expect that from your whole village as well...

Additionally, if you have a friend who is dating a Moroccan, be supportive of them. You may disapprove of the relationship, but it is our duty to support our fellow volunteer – and not to judge them – no matter what decisions they make. You are not going to change their mind, and you are not going to help the situation by being judgemental of them. Dating is challenging in any context, and balancing a relationship in addition to the struggles that we all face is no easy task.

We should be aware of our responsibility to ourselves, to our communities, to Morocco, to our friends, to our replacements, and to our jobs. When dating, especially in Morocco, we should stop and take time to consider the repercussions of any of our actions, especially our public actions in a culture where there is such a dichotomy between the public and the private.

Thank you.

Despite Bedbugs, I Belong Here

Whenever his own tribe won a victory in a battle with another tribe, Si Abdallah el Hassoun inwardly rejoiced. At the same time he considered this pleasure a base emotion, one unworthy of him. Thus, to fortify his sanctity he bade farewell to his students and went to live in Sla, which is by the sea.

It was not long before the divinity students of his schoool sent several of their number to Si Abdallah, imploring him to return to them. Without replying, the saint led them to the rocks at the edge of the sea.

How turbulent the water is! He exclaimed. The students agreed. Then Si Abdallah filled a jar with the water and set it on a rock. yet the water in here is still, he said, pointing at the jar. Why?

A student answered: Because it has been taken out of the place where it was.

Now you see why I must stay here, Si Abdallah said.

~ from “Points in Time,” Paul Bowles

(Thanks to Becki for the quote!)

03 November 2010

Summary of a Trip

Many bug bites, proof of battle and why I couldn't write for so long.

Rachel and I in the new, zwin, train car on the way up to Tangier.

Sunrise over Gibraltar the morning before we get on the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier.

Hafsa talking to the students on the first morning.

What it looks like when a camel stands up.

Some of our students at Hope for Salé Association, holding a anti-terrorism banner.

The ruins of the mosque at Chellah.

Northern village in the afternoon sunlight.

An intense discussion about religion ensued.

Obligatory group picture.

Blue Chefchaouen medina.

Some of the girls at our visit to the Spanish mosque above Chefchaouen.

I am an Old Woman

13 Oct. 2010

With this last group, I don't feel like I did a great job of going deep or doing it fast enough. Katy said I need stories - intense stories about my/other's experiences in Morocco. Stories I have - especially of poverty, and great hospitality in the face of obstacles we upper middle class Americans would consider unsurmountable. Even sitting here on a day off in Tangier, a fairly well-off, overly-expensive city, I see it.

With a view of Spain, I'm eating a filling afternoon lunch of green salad & fish. The early October sunlight has turned the bay blue and the building seem more white than grey. But two events put a spin on this view that I don't know if normal foreigners who visit Tangier would take the time to see.

First, a lady comes up to the restaurant. She's wearing an orange-brown jellaba under a very dirty traditional red and white striped Rifian wool skirt. Covering her shoulders and her head, she's wearing an itchy-looking green cloth, tied at the neck with a purple string. Her shoes are also purple - plastic sandals that do nothing to support or warm her ancient looking feet. With most of her teeth missing and the sun-damage to her face, she looks 80 or 90 years old, but knowing what I do about how living in Morocco ages a person, I would say she's 55 or 60 at most.

I give her 10 dirham, more than my usual sadaqa (alms) of 2 or 3, because she doesn't ask me for it. She just waiting to see if the kitchen has extra food for her. And she thanks me with God-phrases I haven't even heard before. The restaurant has no food, but when she comes back to check again, I see she has a clear plastic bag with a BIG sandwich. And when the waiter lets her sit down to wait, I realize this is probably the first time she's sat down all day. I'm so thankful I'll never know the feeling of having to walk all day to find one meal. Well, inchallah I won't have to.

What really struck me about this woman was that after she finished eating her sandwich - small bite by small bite - she saw a cute little girl running around, went up to the little girl, and offered to give her a dirham. She may have been destitute, but she still wanted to make this child's day. Fortunately the mother of the child saw what was going on, and instead offered to buy the woman a coffee.

The other event was slightly less poetic. I saw tourists - in a big tour group, obviously - walk past, completely oblivious to a friendly-could-turn-ugly fight between two glue sniffers. In Morocco, poor people who can't afford beer or hash or any other drug buy a 5 dirham tube of glue, pour it into a plastic bag, and breathe in and out of that bag (like someone hyperventilating) to get high. To me, it's so glaringly obvious who the glue sniffers are - I mean, they are carrying around very worn plastic bags - but I watched closely, and these tourists didn't seem to see a single thing.

And the poverty divide continues!

The REAL Letter I Wanted to Send

Dear Volunteers-

I am a YD ’07-’09 still living in Morocco, so of course I want to meet up and hang out with volunteers. It’s been great the past few months, to still be welcomed into the groups of new and older volunteers, and invited to come out to dinners and such while people are visiting Rabat. Lately, however, I’ve been hearing some disturbing rumors about behavior in the volunteer community, and within the administration, and it distresses me.

Maybe you know where I’m going, but let me give you an example. This is of one of my dear friends who was dating a man, not from her site, and decided to get married. One weekend group of volunteers was at her site for VSN training and decided they needed to tell her their opinions about her relationship and her decisions. Then, these volunteers, who were all supposed to be learning how to listen non-judgmentally in order to support their fellow volunteers, decided to go and complain to her brother-in-law about the very same issue. Fortunately, he was supportive of her, and helped her smooth things over with the volunteers.

Volunteers and their romantic relationships with Moroccans: It happens, everyone knows that it happens, and yet there is so much fog and mystery surrounding all of it, that often, there is also a lot of “collateral damage” resulting from these relationships. My thesis here is twofold: We as friends and volunteers need to support our fellow volunteers and not judge them based on their relationship choices. I would say that this is also true for staff and official policy in Morocco (but that is always a touchy issue). We, who have been or are currently in relationships with Moroccans, also need, as guests in this country, to consider the implications of our actions, and work to be more respectful with our relationships, especially towards our communities.

The idea that dating a Moroccan is somehow shameful or makes a volunteer less worthy or less effective in their work has always struck me as ridiculous and more than kind of racist. We are supposed to be open-minded and openhearted to all kinds of new experiences. I think that, during my service, I was lucky to have a very accepting staj who were too involved in their own projects and lives to worry too much about who I, or anyone else, was dating. Because of this, we were able to introduce our significant others to our staj-mates, so that they could “meet the other” so to speak, and see what cool people they were.

In my observation, this has not been the case in other stajes. I have had many people come to me and ask me for support and for advice regarding their Moroccan relationships. What struck me the most was how reluctant they were to talk about anything in the beginning, and how most of them made me swear to keep the relationship a secret, especially from their stage. I even know two girls who, like me, stayed in Morocco after they finished their service, and still were very protective of their relationship within their group of friends.

My suggestion is for people to mind their own business, first. Gossip in the volunteer community is notorious for being vicious, and we definitely don’t need to add to it. Just because you think all Moroccan men are horrible – which they aren’t – and could never find that intellectual and emotional connection with anyone in your site, province, region, doesn’t mean that someone else has had the same experience. Maybe they met a goofy Ph.D. student from Rabat who regularly uses words like “fiasco” and has read Foucault in French and in English (true story).

Second, if you do have a friend who is dating a Moroccan, be supportive of them. You may disapprove of the relationship, it is our duty to support our fellow volunteer – and not to judge them – no matter what decisions they make. Dating is challenging in any context, and balancing a relationship in addition to the struggles of volunteering that we all face is no easy task. And you never know when you may be in their position: I had a friend who swore up and down that she would never, could never date a Moroccan. She’s now engaged to one.

Now I want to speak to my fellow “daters of Moroccans.” For us as volunteers, being in a relationship with a Moroccan in Morocco means that we have to follow the Moroccan rules of dating. You are only here for two years, and your primary responsibility is to work. Whether it’s putting on two conferences in your region a year, or just going to tea with your neighbors, you should not let your dating get in the way of your work. You CAN make sacrifices, and if you end up marrying the person, you will have the rest of your lives to negotiate between American-ness and Moroccan-ness in your relationship.

In my case, as YD volunteer, I was very visible to impressionable teenagers, I never spoke about my relationship to my kids, or anyone in my community. Additionally, both my boyfriend and I had seen the volunteer I replaced and HER Moroccan boyfriend be very public (holding hands in the street, him coming in and out of her house during all hours of the day and night) with their relationship. We had seen the damage it had done to her reputation and that of other foreigners in site, including me, and the increased harassment it had caused in both her and my lives.

Very early on, he and I decided to keep our relationship secret, and respectful. We didn’t want to cause problems in the community for me, OR for my replacement. We also didn’t want to cause problems for him and his family, because he was a teacher and he too had a reputation to maintain. We often met in Marrakech, and if we did work together at the dar chebab, we kept a “brother-sister” distance from each other. If he came over to my house, he always came at night, and then left again at night, or if he came during the day, he would only come and leave with a group of people. It wasn’t ideal, but I would have rather had a secret relationship than have lost relationships with my neighbors and host family. I don’t know if it would be safe to say that NOBODY saw us, but I do know that I worked very hard to gain the respect of my community, and no rumors got back to me about people seeing me with him.

My suggestion here is clear. Date a Moroccan sure, but if you are dating someone from your site, be VERY VERY CAREFUL. Better even to date someone from a nearby city instead. Explain to him or her that you want to be respectful of the community, that you want to be overly conservative in the way that you date. Just as you wouldn’t walk around in your site in a tank top and shorts, you can’t go parading your relationship around either. To Moroccans, it’s a matter of respect. So, if you want or need to go on “dates,” go to another city. Don’t hold hands in public with them, don’t let people see them coming over to your house, and don’t tell anyone in your community that you don’t trust with your life. It’s not our way of having a relationship to be sure, but patience and flexibility is key, and, trust me, you will be glad you kept it a secret. In addition, hopefully your friends will have read this article and will be willing and able to listen to your struggles and joys. :-)

Finally, closing a site because a volunteer and a Moroccan choose to get married is a truly abhorrent practice. If anything, sites should be closed where people dated and DIDN’T marry. If this were true, almost every region from the Zagora to Oujda would have to be closed. Yes, harassment happens, and it definitely can be worse for a volunteer to follow a marriage in a site. But a practice like this is basically saying that staff doesn’t approve of Moroccan-American relationships, but is too worried about their image to actually tell their volunteers they don’t recommend it.

Being a volunteer is not easy. We all need support and a kind ear at one time or another during our service, and no one should have that support denied to them. Dating is a choice that adults are free to make, and we should respect them in that. That being said, we should also be aware of our responsibility to ourselves, to our communities, to Morocco, to our friends, to our replacements, and to admin. When dating, especially in Morocco, we should stop and take time to consider the repercussions of any of our actions, especially our public actions in a culture where there is such a dichotomy between the public and the private.

22 October 2010

Saying Thanks

Sept. 27, 2010

Thomas Aquinas said “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in the search for truth and both have helped us in the finding of it.” I read that today in a small red book, given to me during my First Year Orientation at Boston College. But today, I am very far from where I was when I received that book. Today I am on a a mini bus, boucing through the northern Moroccan countryside, leading a group of college students on a journey much like the one that I took 5 years ago now. Leading this trip has led me to think about Boston College a lot, because I was still in the midst of my Boston College experience when I was a participant in this trip. This is the trip, with the white walls of Chefchaouen, with my first glimpse of African poverty, with the fantastic energy of The Night of Power during Ramadan, that inspired me to choose the other direction at the crossroads.

I didn’t trust back then, that the road, the journey of life, would lead me somewhere good, would lead me to joy, to being content. I was sure my life would always be easy, and boring, and depressing. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been happy, but it was an imcomplete happiness. But what I didn’t realize back then was that I should have trusted in the people and the process by which Boston College was molding me. And now I know, because they led me to seek a lifestyle and a job that not only made me happy, but made me feel needed, they were leading me towards eventual joy. Because they tattoed the phrase “men and women for others” onto my brain and my soul, I now feel the joy and love that comes with community, service, and fufilling that responsibility towards your fellow man.

So now, as I watch the green fields of Morocco roll by, as I see young men walking in groups along dirt paths, as I see donkeys pulling over-stuffed carts of hay, and I feel at home, and I feel complete, I am realizing that I have to thank Boston College for this. They fixed me up, educated me, and then sent me out into the world to do good. And for this I am supremely blessed.

20 October 2010

Opinions. Trust, and Bedbugs

During the last part of the Great Bed Bug Battle, I was at a loss. Since I haven’t written about it yet, I should mention that bedbugs are tough not because their bites really bother me, or because they transmit diseases or something, but because they are so hard to kill. They hide, and they hide well. You think they’re gone, and then they come back.

So here I am, in a house full of couch cushions that don’t belong to me, and for two days, I hoped that the bedbugs had died, and that we would be out of the woods, so to speak. But no such luck. Just as everything I’d read online had predicted, they found a new place to live, and I was still providing them with a ready food source.

And so I was faced with a choice. Try to fight them, or move. I mean, if I were in the US, I would not have to make this choice. I would save my money, live frugally, and pay for a professional extermination company to come. But those companies don’t exist in Morocco.

One of my best friends in the world told me not to be afraid to ask for help. But I’m not sure that was the best thing, because I ran into a million people with a million different suggestions. Everyone has their opinion, and, in my experience in Morocco, everyone presents their opinion as fact. And because I was flustered and frustrated, I took their “factual knowledge” at face value, and based my opinions on them in the beginning.

The “fact” that some insecticide power around the baseboards of my house would kill them, didn’t work because the person who told me this thought the bedbugs act like cockroaches and run around. Not true, they just hide in the furniture, come out to eat, and go back to lay eggs. The “fact” that a week in the sun will kill any bugs in a cushion didn’t work because the sun in Rabat does not heat anything to 120, which is what you need to kill bedbugs at all life stages. The “fact” that a deadly liquid sprayed on everything in the house would work was false, because that liquid can’t get inside the couch, and inside the wood of the doors, window frames, or couch cushions. And so (God forgive me if I’m wrong) when my landlady and my real estate agent, both of whom say they’re on my side, tell me that the “traditional” remedy of burning hot pepper on charcoal and leaving the carbon-dioxide pepper smoke in the house for a week, will work like nothing else, I am no longer inclined to believe them.

It comes down to trust. In my experience here, people tell you what you want to hear, people tell you what they think they know, but unless you are super close to someone, they will not tell you something they think you won’t like. They won’t be honest. And, until I moved here, I never thought of myself as a particularly honest person. But now, after this, I am proud of my honesty, and at the same time, sadly, less trusting of Moroccans that I’ve just met.

I mean, my landlady insisted, swore up and down, that once I paid the first month’s rent, anything that broke in the house was my responsibility. She said that’s how they do it “outside” meaning abroad. What??? So because your crappy pipes exploded, I’m supposed to pay for it? Because you let the house fall into disrepair while you were in Italy, I’m supposed to live with your flaking paint just because I paid first month’s rent? No, I’m sorry.

And this is why I don’t feel guilty for deciding to leave. You say you believe me that I’m not the Rich Foreigner, but then you keep demanding this money from me, bringing in the real estate man, and starting a fight, so that I feel so pressured to pay you. All I’ve been eating is bread for days, and some eggs or soup or couscous once in a while thanks to the generosity of some good homestay families.

And, I’m deciding to change houses because the one Moroccan I would trust with my life – he who had the courage to break up with me because he knew he couldn’t be with a non-Muslim for the rest of his life – told me that I am here to work, and this mess, which has taken over my life since the beginning of October, is interfering with my work. And that, after a month of crazy, is the sanest thing I’ve heard.

(Maybe, serendipitously, my life will return to being sane just in time for the Rally for Sanity. I am with you all in spirit.)

18 October 2010

Thirteen Minute Video

Still fighting the Great Bed Bug Battle. I sure have learned a lot about bedbugs... Today I decided I think I'm going to move, so I'm looking now.

For those of you who are interested in what my job is like, there's a link to a video on our website, www.moroccoexchange.org. Go there, then click the "video" link in the top right-ish menu. Unfortunately there's no direct link, because it would be so much easier just to direct you all to Google Videos.

Hopefully I'll be able to update more soon!

10 October 2010


I'm on hiatus from posting in my blog. Bed bugs are in my life. I'd like to make a joke right now, but the situation is just too complicated, and too much to explain. Once it's over - which is my mantra - I will explain the whole mess.

Thanks for your patience!

30 September 2010

They Get It

A reason to love my job: When I say I want to go to Iran, Palestine, Israel, and Saudi Arabia within the next two years, no one asks "Why?" or says "What??" They already know why, and start telling stories about their trips there, or friends who have gone.

23 September 2010

Life in the Small Business Sector

I was a youth development (YD) volunteer during my two years here, and although I'm a year away from that already, it's still a big part of my life. I still am friends with a lot of YDers, and I am and always will be interested in the issues concerning Moroccan and world youth. I talked a lot in my emails home about my experiences as a YD, so I don't know if I gave the many of you who got those emails a true, full picture of what life in Morocco is like for other kinds of volunteers.

So I'm posting a video here about the life of small business development (SBD) volunteers. Both to give you a better look in to how volunteers in general live - because there are many things we all have in common - and also in honor of my roommate, who came yesterday, and is still working as an SBD until Nov. 12th.

22 September 2010

Dar Zineb

The moment you've all been waiting for! Well, maybe not. But I am returning to the blogosphere with proof of why I haven't been updating.

I wanted to post all these pictures here, but I'm finding that slow internet doesn't let me post 64 pictures on Blogger without a significant wait, so I had to resort to Facebook. Where I would have posted them anyway.

Soon, there will be more substantial updates, but for now, enjoy. I have to go for my morning run, and spray my house with air freshener because the garbage man just walked by and now it's stinky in here.

15 September 2010

Prissy Little B***h Cheesecake

Since I am looking high and low for housing in Rabat, and I haven't had time to write some quality entries, I thought I'd provide you all with my favorite cheesecake recipe. When I was a volunteer, I worked at a spring English camp, and somehow, we became fixated on how much we missed cheesecake. So we journeyed to the Pizza Hut in Marrakech, because we heard a rumor that they had fried cheesecake sticks. Not quite the real thing, but close. But, since we went on a Sunday, we were out of luck, because the cheesecake wasn't going to come (on a truck from Casablanca) until Monday.

And thus began the great cheesecake-making journey. One attempt was made at my May 2009 "Long-Name Party" but failed on account of a floating crust. Other attempts fell similarly short. Finally, I found a suitable recipe. Suitable meaning, one that could easily be translated into Moroccan ingredients.

Why do I call it "Prissy Little B***h Cheesecake"? Because, at that same famed camp, we were privileged enough to be working with some of the most spoiled rich kids in Morocco. To relieve our stress, we wrote haikus about the children, the most memorable of which being:

Will you be a b***h?
Prissy-ness is not the way.
Please don't be a b***h.

And now, forevermore, do we eat this cheesecake, commemorating that most famous of English-language immersion spring camps.


Prissy Little B***h Cheesecake

2 packages Henri’s Biscuits (1¼ graham cracker crumbs)
1 small tub Vital Margarine (1/3 cup butter)
6 (200g) tubs Jebli cheese (1200g - 1250g cream cheese)
3 packets ALSA vanilla sugar (1 tablespoon liquid vanilla)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons white flour
3 (100g) Perly natural yogurts (1 cup sour cream)
4 eggs

1. Preheat oven (to about 140°C / 325°F if you can set the temperature).

2. Pulverize Henri’s – I use a Ziploc bag and a plastic cup for this. It’s a really good way to get out frustration, smashing these biscuits.

3. While crushing the Henri’s, soften margarine – I just put the closed plastic tub in a saucepan full of water, and by the time I’m finished with the Henri’s, the butter is usually soft enough.

4. Mix together Henri’s and enough margarine to make a kind of paste – you won’t use the whole tub, maybe a third or so – and press firmly onto bottom of cake pan.

5. Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown.

6. Beat Jebli, sugar, flour, and vanilla in large bowl with fork (or electric mixer) until well blended. If using a fork, soften Jebli before adding – I soften the same way I softened the butter, but less time.

7. Add Perly; mix well.

8. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing (on low speed) after each addition just until blended. Mix should be smooth and liquid enough to pour. Pour over crust.

9. Bake 1 hour 10 minutes or until center is almost set – top of the cake can be golden brown, but be careful not to burn. If your oven is uneven, rotate cake pan after 30 minutes or so.

10. Run knife or spatula around rim of pan to loosen cake. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight – if you eat it while it’s still hot, it will fall apart, and the taste won’t be right.

11. Optional: top with fresh fruit, jam, or chocolate before serving. Berries are best!

11 September 2010

Before Eid

Sept. 9, 2010

Back in Morocco woo! Actually, my arrival this time was kind of anti-climactic, because I had only been gone a month and I was so tired from being jet-lagged and from fasting and from traveling to my old site from the airport in Casablanca. But, when I woke up the second day, things were much better.

I’m staying for the week with the family of my tutor in my old site. They used to live in the army base in town (actually, it is called the auxiliary forces and is different from the army, but I’m not quite sure how), and they have been building a house for years now, hoping to move out of the small and run-down accommodations of the keshla (army base). Now, my tutor has been telling me since January 2008 that they were going to be finishing the house soon, but, seeing as it’s September 2010 and they JUST moved in the day before I arrived, you can tell how long I’ve been waiting to see this house.

At first, I couldn’t tell why they just kept saying, oh, in a month or two, you’ll be able to come over, but after lots of conversations, and finally, during my last few months as a volunteer, seeing the house, I understood. First of all, there wasn’t money to complete what was left of the house. They built the house on credit (at that time you could only get a loan if you had a government job) – my tutor and his father both taking out loans over the course of 5 or 6 years. But once this money from the loans ran out, they would have to stop whatever work they were doing on the house and wait until they paid off the loan, before they could take out another one.

Of course, beside the money issue, there was the issue of construction and decision-making that needs to happen in any country when you build a house. It was interesting to me to be able to observe this process, and learn “construction” Darija words in the process. Besides the building of the house (out of cement no less) there was the decoration – where to use wood molding and where to make cement and plaster look like wood, the plaster decorations on the ceilings, tiles for the floors and the walls, paint colors, etc. Furniture was also something that took a long time for the family, both to save money and to decide what new stuff to buy and what old stuff to keep. And also, kind of under the “decision-making” heading was the actual decision to move. The family had been living in the keshla for at least 10 years, and they were, in my humble opinion, to leave such a comfortable situation where they lived within 200 yards of all their neighbors.

Most of that is over now, and they have officially moved in… kind of. Since they still own the house in the keshla, and since their car broke down a couple of days ago, they have taken their time moving all the furniture from one house to the other. Big things like beds, the oven, and an armoire are still over at the other house. This morning, the mother left to go make bread at the other house, for example, and they still use the bath at the other house, because it is a traditional hammam – not like the shower they have here.

And of course, with the traditional, humbling hospitality for which Moroccans are famous, they have welcomed me into their new house for this tail end of Ramadan. Al-humdullah.

07 September 2010

Bonanza Break-Fast Bar

Extra points if you can name the song where I got the title.

During Ramadan, people who have been fasting gather together to eat, waiting for that exact moment when the sunsets. In Muslim-majority countries, you can just wait until you hear the call to prayer (adhan) at your local mosque. In America, when I was fasting, I used a great program called Guidance where you can set your zip code and it will make a call to prayer sound at the correct time - it will even pause your iTunes for you so you can hear the adhan. Other people use adhan clocks or just look it up. I could have just used my cell phone time - which I did much of the time if I was out - but there's something so much more striking about waiting and waiting and waiting and then, YES! Time to eat. Humbling, really.

Breaking the Ramadan fast (which, if you remember, is no food, drink - including water - drugs, or sexual activity during daylight hours) is a feast never to be forgotten. Called iftar in most countries, people seem to eat a really big meal and just keep on eating all through the night. When I was eating with a mix Turkish-Palestinian family one night, they described their nights, both abroad and in America as "eat, pray, rest, talk, eat, pray, eat, pray, talk, eat, rest, pray" etc.

In Morocco, they seem to be unique in that they have a "smaller" meal. I mean, there's always way to much food, but it's a meal of mostly "munchables." Harira, or the traditional tomato-based soup, is pretty much a requirement, and there are other staples, like fry-bread, honey-soaked sweets called shebbekiya, dates, and hard-boiled eggs with cumin and salt. When I was able, I tried to share this tradition with friends and family in America. It gave us an excuse to hang out, of course, and it also enabled me to break my fast with people instead of alone - kind of the whole point of Ramadan. And now, I want to share some of my iftars with you all:

Ramadan 2009 in Casablanca
Here you can see my dad enjoying the biggest iftar I've ever had. Including: salad, yogurt, sausages, mussels, baguettes, dates, hard-boiled eggs, Moroccan spam, cream cheese, battered fish, fry-bread, figs, olives, and rice. Plus harira.

September 5, 2010
My iftar with a friend from high school and his girlfriends. I went with a slightly Mediterranean theme including: olives, walnuts, stuffed grape leaves, fresh figs, manchego cheese, chick pea salad, hard-boiled eggs, tarts, avocado smoothies, tea. And of course, harira.

Late August 2010
My friend and her Moroccan husband came over to my dad's house. He made the harira and it was fantastic. Other things included: carefully-saved shebbekiya, hard-boiled eggs, berry smoothie, oatmeal cookies, dates, Indian fry-bread, and lots of water.

Mid-August 2010
One of my professor friends invited me over to meet his new baby and break the fast with him and his wife. Their harira had eggs and celery, yum. You can also see: Avocado smoothie, GREAT shebbekiya, humus, coffee, tea, harsha (corn bread), fry-bread, and slilou/zameta (ground nuts and spices with a chocolatey flavor).

There and Back Again

I'm leaving one hometown in 6 hours. Bus to Chicago, plane to New York, plane to Casablanca, train to Marrakech, taxi to my old site. Inchallah, I'll be resting on a ponj and ready to break the fast to the sound of a real, live adhan by 5pm local time on Wednesday.

Of course I've nicked the title for this blog from a very famous source. And Bilbo and Frodo have very much helped me understand how to deal with going "there and back again." What they've never told me is how to go "there and back and there and back and there and back and there and back again." Whenever I leave to or from Morocco now, it never seems real until I get there, and then it feels like I've never left. But each time I'm gone from both places, things change, relationships shift, and a tiny (or big) readjustment happens.

Before I'm going this time, I've been thinking about how America will be different when I come back (whenever I do come back). And I'm a little bit nervous. I don't know what to believe, but the ignorance I continue to see in the media about Muslims in America (and about Islam and the Middle East in general) makes me nervous. Will what is simmering rise to a boil? Will it fade away after the election? Most of me would like to think that the country we've been raised to believe is the "home of the free" would not be so backwards, but my experience sometimes suggests otherwise. I hope for the best.


The other day, a friend in Morocco showed me this video. If you understand Modern Standard Arabic, great. If not, you can watch it and still get the point that it is giving examples of great Moroccan women, and their accomplishments - Islamic jurists, astronauts, judges, gold medalists, members of parliament. I asked my friend what he thought about it, about these women having careers and being accomplished, and he said it was great. He said that they are free to choose, and that they are bringing honor to their family and their country by achieving such things. He said that if they wanted to choose that life, and they knew what they were doing, then who was he to say one way or the other what these women should do with their lives. And what about if his sister wanted to do this, instead of, say, getting married? Sure, why not?

This may seem obvious to my readers out there (I know there are a few!), but to me, he seems on the more liberal side of small-town people that I've met in Morocco. But it is changing, and in his (and my) generation, it is becoming more normal for women to do these kinds of things. Different enough, obviously, for it to warrant a YouTube video, but still... a step towards normality. I wonder still if he or his parents would feel the same if his sister was 30 or 35 and still showed no interest in marriage - and if he would even tell me, because he knows very well how I feel about the issue. Interesting indeed.


Moroccans Debate Controversial Ramadan Fast Law:
A Moroccan civil rights group is seeking to decriminalise public eating during Ramadan.

Someone asked me what the poverty level is in Morocco the other day. Turns out... it's up for debate!

05 September 2010

This Is Why I Do It

A Facebook message from one of my students:
Hey, mom. Just writing to say good luck on your trip. You are doing a good thing, and I am so excited for you! This month, I am applying to an NSLI-Y scholarship again, so inchallah I will return to my Africa! You are really inspiring to me, Colleen. I just know that you will do great things. Thank you.
Little stuff like this makes it all worthwhile.

01 September 2010

News Roundup

Another post of news items relating to the Muslim/Arab world.

The "end" of the Iraq war has brought forth some good articles, and an especially good one from the NY Times with interviews from actual Iraqis. Sad that there are only two women interviewed. Just wish I could go there myself... not quite yet though.

A longer good one about Iraq (also my link to the interviews of Iraqis) and how depressing the situation is, in general, and how Obama is becoming much more of a side-stepping politician than we would have hoped.

Having ex-volunteer friends and college friends and high school friends in South Korea now makes me wonder what they would have to say with Paul Wolfowitz's comparison between it and Iraq.

I don't know if these Kenyans are Muslim, but this is the first of many articles I hope to post from a site that I just found out about, a humanitarian news network. It's good to see people responding to reproductive health efforts.

Is it obvious to others that the last say on the niqab/hijab should be from the women who wear them? It is to me, and it is to this blogger, as a reaction of a BBC video about increasing numbers of women who are choosing to wear niqab, and if they can still consider themselves British/Western.

30 August 2010

Am I a Judgmental Fascist?

Doubt. It festers. You try to push it away, try to reason it out of existence, but it sticks, like burnt milk on a stove. Impossible to fully scrub off.

I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with people lately, and I can’t really decide what I think about it. Actually, it’s not really lately, it has come up on and off for the last couple of years. But two recent conversations are causing me doubt the things to which I am trying to dedicate my life: service, compassion, cross-cultural exchange, making a difference in the life of people, etc.

I mean, I know that I can come across as judgmental of people who don’t choose to live their life like I do, and I don’t ever pretend to be some saint who’s given up everything. I don’t expect everyone to give up things to participate in long-term service… I’m the first to admit I’m as selfish as the next person, and part of what drives me is that good feeling I get when I know I’ve helped someone. But I get extremely frustrated when people attack me for suggesting that they should just LOOK INTO traveling abroad, or getting out of their bubble, and, I don’t know, going down to a soup kitchen for once. Cliché example, but still. I find myself saying things like, “Service is important.” And

I’ve been told (and I’m using their words here), by people I thought cared me, that I was judgmental, snotty, hypocritical, ridiculous, fascist, and stupid, in conversations where I started out talking about wanting to try to change things, and ended in encouraging them to try too. I’ve been told I’m ignorant and a jerk for thinking everyone should value service and travel. Travel, I can understand. Travel is a luxury, and a blessing. But service? “Helping people”? I don’t understand. I don’t believe they are attacking me because they are feeling guilty on the inside or something arrogant like that. But I have this sneaking suspicion that if more people did things like this, the world would be better. And I really don’t understand how people can see all this war, all this poverty, all of this pain, and all of this hate in the world and not want to do something to “make it all better:. I can’t believe that I’m that rare of a person that my desire to change things makes me different from everyone else. Am I being naïve? Are people truly content and satisfied in their lives without these things? Should they be?

In the end, the conversation always seems to come down to the following: Who are we responsible for? Do we only have to take care of ourselves – because if we don’t, no one else will? Or do we have some kind of inherent to our fellow human beings? And can one believe that we have a responsibility to others without being religious (usually I am existing within an American monotheist/atheist/agnostic paradigm), can a staunch atheist believe that we are ultimately responsible to and for others? But, because I didn’t pay enough attention in theology and philosophy, I always end up losing this argument, or give up because I don’t feel like having people continue to chip away at my soul.

This isn’t a “poor me” blog post, but just an attempt release my feelings, and to try to understand people. My apologies for over-simplifying the matter and having my argument be more emotional than logical.

27 August 2010

Squatting is Good for You

The turk. A volunteer term of endearment for what is also knowns as the turkish toilet or the squat toilet. Toilets in Morocco are a curious thing. For the most part, you will find people in the countryside have either a cement or porcelain hole-in-the-ground. These toilets, obviously, don't flush, but have somehow, magical water pressure keeps a little water in the hole, and to flush you just throw some water down there, and poof, it disappears! Most of your upscale bathrooms in the city will have a chair toilet (with a button on top, no lever) and a bedé. There are also the middle class bathrooms where you can tell someone has "upgraded" to a chair toilet, either because they can afford it, or because they live with an old person who can no longer squat. A lot of these toilets don't flush, and so you have to pour water in them after you are finished.

As you may have guessed, squat toilets evoke mixed emotions from Westerners living abroad... much of this feeling is due to how much time your average volunteer spends squatting over one. It is considerable. Even the healthiest of travelers can get a parasite, an amoeba, or just your run-of-the-mill vicious bacteria. But, recent studies have shown that squatting may actually be healthier for you. No, I'm not joking: Read this Slate article.

Now, I was told once by a visitor that there are acupressure points in your feet that control your bowels, and the way we use our feet on a squat toilet activates those points. I'm not sure if this is true, but I was pretty convinced by this article that a squat toilet, would, in the long run be healthy for me. Not to mention a great conversation piece at parties!

The Jellaba

Recently I wrote about the jellaba (gel-aa-ba) bzouia, but I then realized I never really talked about the jellaba in general.

The jellaba is the most prevalent traditional clothing item from Morocco. I guess in English you would call a jellaba a robe, but it's so much more than that. When I hear "robe" I think of something you would wear around the house, but the jellaba is so much more than that. Usually it has a loose-fitting body that goes down to about the ankles, with long sleeves that taper out and usually will reach the wrists or the fingertips. And, of course, 95% of jellabas will have a hood. Some people will use it as a coat that you put over your head instead of zipping. Some people will use it as a more traditional dress when they are feeling more pious. Some people will use a modern-fit version when they are dressing up to go to a wedding. It really all depends on where you are going, and what kind of impression you want to give.

A traditional, more formal, men's jellaba.

Detail of embroidery on a women's jellaba.

My new shorter-sleeved, just below the knee jellaba.

Often, volunteers will buy a jellaba during their service, either having it tailored and embroidered to their specifications - like my burgundy one above - or will just buy a pre-made one that fits them well. It's a very handy garment to wear during the summer months, especially if you buy one that has a light fabric. The dress-like quality of it keeps the air moving around your body, and the hood often serves as a great shield from the sun.

This article about women's jellabas observes a trend that I myself have noticed, about that fact that despite their traditional history, modern women are still buying and wearing jellabas. Sometimes, you just can't abandon a classic.

23 August 2010

Yes I'm Going to Write about It: Polygamy

So. *awkward cough* Let's talk about polygamy. Specifically in Islam. Although, I should say, I've actually met and spoken with 0 Muslim polygamists, but met and spoken with more than one non-Muslim person in a polyamorous relationship. I must say, if I'm wrong in my facts or my opinions offend you, let me know! I do not shrink from criticisms.

Where to begin? I've heard that a lot of people assume that Muslim men can just marry as many women as they want. Not true. Many of you may know that there's a stipulation that men can only marry four women. I have, however, been told that Mohammed himself married more than that, including some shady business with a 9-year-old girl named Aicha who later grew up to be one of the most revered women in Islam - this has never been fully explained to me, and I've never found a writing on it that satisfied me. But I digress.

Until very recently, this fact that men could marry more than one woman really bugged me about Islam. Well, who am I kidding, it still does. But, since it has been explained to me, I can at least understand why and where it came from. The explanation of why the four-wife rule exists comes from the fact that, IN THE DAYS BEFORE ISLAM (I kind of imagine a 40s-movie God voice here), Arab culture said that a man could marry as many women as he wanted, not counting slave-girls, of course, and that he could treat them however he deemed worthy. It would also be important to note that a widow stood little chance of inheriting anything from her husband. Then, along comes Mohammed and is like, "No way José, that's not cool." (Or something, I don't speak pre-Islam Arabic) and God sends him a revelation that becomes part of the Quran:
"And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice between them, then marry only one or what your right hands possess: this is more proper that you may not deviate from the right course" (4:3).
The problem here brings us really close to the sticky mess - both academic and theological - of textual analysis and criticism, but as it was explained to me, God was saying that monogamy in Islam is the rule, and polygamy is the exception. The loophole exists in the "if you fear that you will not do justice between them" part. Here, apologists will tell you that it is written somewhere that Mohammed explained this to be God advocating for monogamy, because how could anyone (well, he probably said any man) love and treat two people equally? No two people are THAT alike. So, a man should not marry two or three or four women, because he never support or love them equally.

But, as we all know, men did marry more than one woman. What gives? Well, in that time, (and honestly, in a lot of times before, well, now) it was really difficult, if not impossible, for a woman to (a) be single her whole life, (b) be an orphan, or (c) be a widow. In pre-Islamic Arabia, these women wouldn't survive, because they needed to be supported, financially and socially. And a lot of husbands died in wars - they say more than women died. So Mohammed's explanation of the polygamy rule is that the men are saving the women by marrying them, protecting them from death or a life as an outcast, in a time and a culture when they needed saving.

In all honesty, I've seen a lot more detailed and thoroughly researched articles that poke a lot of holes in this loophole theory and question the whole polygamy revelation in general, but this is how I think a lot of my Moroccan friends understand it. They can also extrapolate this idea to modern Morocco and say that, in dire circumstances, if a woman is widowed or divorced, and there is little chance of her being married to anyone else, it is preferable for her to become someone's second wife. In the same vein, I have been told that a man should take a second wife if his first wife is unable to have children, because it is better to be a first wife than to be a divorced woman in Moroccan society.

Let me just say, for those of you whose jaws are dropping right about now, that the people who told me these things have never considered taking a second wife. They told me they want to find one woman that they love and be her partner for life. One of them even told me he tried (I don't know if he succeeded) to talk a girl out of marrying a man who already had a wife - this guy knew that that kind of a marriage would just lead to pain. So I'm not saying that Moroccans are for polygamy, per se. But they seems to be able to justify its use. The law in Morocco has a similar outlook, and polygamy is legal only in certain cases, and a husband must seek the approval of a judge to get a second marriage, and the first wife has to be notified, and, if I am not mistaken, legally sign something that says she agrees to the second marriage.

So where does this leave us? Well, I got started on this blog post because of an article in the Guardian about an Saudi woman who published an article - mostly as a satire - about her right to marry four husbands. It got everyone all up in arms in the Arab world, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I applaud her bravery for publishing this.

Personally, I usually have a live and let live attitude about relationships and marriage. If you can't tell by now, I'm not the biggest fan of polygamy because of the way it considers women less than fully human or fully able to take care of themselves - that could be a whole other blog post - and I know that non-monogamy, even the most progressive forms of polyamory (the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved) is not for me. But I will leave you all to make up your own minds.

22 August 2010

Facebook Revelation

Welcome to the 12th day of Ramadan! I haven't been posting really, because nothing new of significance is happening. The Cordoba Project debate hasn't really gone anywhere, and summer + Ramadan in the Arab/Muslim world always means life and news slow down a little bit.

I did buy my ticket for my return to Morocco (yay!) so that I will be there Eid Sghir/Eid Al-Adha. In case you don't know, this is the second most important (single-day) holiday in the Islamic calendar, and in Morocco, I would liken it to a family holiday such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter - depending on your beliefs and when you feel the need to go visit family.

Yesterday, after breaking the fast with my mom at a tavern (I feel kind of proud I successfully turned down alcohol), I came home to do my usual quick Facebook scan, and I saw the strangest of pictures posted right next to each other:

Some of you may recognize these men, but since I try to protect privacy here, suffice to say that they are people from very different times in my life with very different effects on it. Still, somehow, I was struck by the simplicity and similarity of each picture. Although the "Christian" picture doesn't show it, I know from experience that there is a similar gathering of believers as in the first one, also probably sitting in a circle. In both, I also find a feeling of peace and hope in the actions I see. Yet, I am also slightly troubled because I am not drawn to one picture or another, but rather I am drawn to both because they were next to each other.

I guess that this post is mis-titled, because I really had no revelation here. More accurately, I found a kind of visual representation of my personal faith struggles. Enlightening or not, it is fun to share.

What do you think?

18 August 2010

Short Catch Up

(above, the best card i've ever gotten from an ex)

So when I came back to the U.S. after Morocco, Round 2 (3? I can't keep track...), I thought that I would have tons of time to update. Whoops. Turns out I went to Atlanta to visit some friends, and that having friends means you don't have time to sit at the computer all day.

The fasting is going well, and, surprisingly to me, I'm really enjoying it. It was so hard to fast two years ago when I was just sitting in my house by myself, hot and sad and alone (well, not ALL the time), but now, I enjoy the thrill of turning down food and water. It's not actually that much easier, but now, I enjoy the struggle. And, I enjoy even MORE the thrill of eating at "break-fast." I was at dinner tonight with family, and, trying to be good, I turned down alcohol. And I found I didn't NEED it. I mean, I was able to participate in the conversation and be joyful just because I was so grateful to have food. I know there are people that read this that don't believe in God, but that feeling of love and connecting right there, and the fact that it was heightened by the energy of my nourished body... hot damn, God was there. At least, for me, this act of fasting - or its end - brought me JOY. Take that, Cordoba Project aka Ground Zero Mosque naysayers! Islam is f-ing cool.

And now, for some interesting news stories:

An opinion about the Cordoba Project written by someone who isn't me, but who is very very much like me. Sadly, I have been I have too many open-minded friends, so this won't change anyone's mind... I mean, no one on my Facebook feed is a fan of the protests happening.

The first link I've ever recommended from Fox News. (American Muslim Leaders Visit Concentration Camps to Learn About Holocaust, Pay Respects to Victims) Am I missing some bigoted subtle commentary? Maybe the fasting is rotting my brain...

More information about AQIM (Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb). Interesting to me because my friends couldn't get into Mauritania back in November 2009 because AQIM had kidnapped some tourists right before these girls tried to cross the border.

A really interesting article about Islam in Europe in 2030. It's taking me back to my 2007 undergraduate thesis on immigration. Also, according to this professor, the world will actually NOT end if Muslims become less of a majority.

Nothing too surprising here. Moroccan government being hard on suspected terrorists and being used by the C.I.A., but it always interests me when Morocco is mentioned in the NY Times.

11 August 2010

Ramadan's Beginnings

Happy Ramadan, woo! (That’s Ramadan Kareem (generous) or رمضان كريم in Arabic).

I would think that, by virtue of the fact that you know me if you read this blog (although I always hope to reach a new pair of ears with my writing…) then you’ll know what Ramadan is, and that you may have heard that I am planning on fasting for this month. But, I won’t assume anything, and so if you want a short summary of what most Muslims believe Ramadan is, please go here. It’s a little bit out of date, because Ramadan begins this year August 11 or 12 (depending on the country), and will end around September 10, 11, 12. We don’t quite know when because Ramadan is actually the name of the 9th lunar month in the Muslim calendar, and you can only tell lunar months from looking at the moon. For more on this, check out this post on the moon sighting in California.

The most common conversation I’ve had with American non-Muslims when I tell them I’ll be fasting for Ramadan involves one question: “Why?” Most of these questions come from people who have never experienced a Ramadan for themselves, and so they don’t quite get why you would abstain from all food, drink, smoking, kissing, marital sex, etc. during the daylight hours. And they don’t quite realize what a personal question this is… But, protected as I am by the quasi-anonymity of this blog, I will try to answer it here, in no particular order.

A lot of why I’m fasting is because I have a need to make things in my life more challenging. My mind works a lot faster than a lot of people I’ve met in my life, and I get easily bored with my situation unless I’m challenged. So, because I’m back in the US for a month between my jobs in Morocco, which almost perfectly coincides with the month of Ramadan, I thought to myself, why not? I have no good reasons not to fast. But that, of course, is pretty theologically lazy.

Another reason I’m fasting is to be a kind of ambassador for Islam during this month, when a lot of conflict seems to be emerging related to Islam in America. I’m really saddened and frustrated every time I see some bigot on Fox News – or even the regular news – talk about burning the Quran or the violence of Islam or doubting if it’s even a religion. I know that those people don’t know anything about it, and have barely picked up a Quran or even met and talked to a Muslim, so they don’t bother me as much.

What bothers me is the seed of doubt they place in the minds of rational people I know. It takes a lot of time and a lot of reading to understand a religion, even your own, and most people just don’t have the time for that, so why wouldn’t they start to believe, on some subconscious level, what these people are saying? Even a lot of the feminists I know – of which I consider myself one – focus on the oppressive cultural practices in Muslim countries and call it Islam. So I want to be visible to talk about the religion and defend it. Maybe that’s arrogant of me, not being Muslim and all, but that’s the truth.

It’s funny to me that when I tell (Muslim) Moroccans I’m going to fast this year, they never ask why. My friend just said, “God will help you.”

My answer was, “Well, I mean, this is something I am doing, not something that God is doing.”

She replied, “No, I said God will HELP you, not do it for you.”

That certainly put me in my place, but I think it demonstrates two important facets of why I’m fasting: self-control and the search for a connection with God. I feel like the self-control part is pretty clear – giving all that up during daylight while existing in a country that doesn’t take a break for the month is going to be really difficult.

Connecting with God, however, is a personal quest I’ve been on (and off) for a while. Maybe it’s a "mid-20s in America" thing, but a lot of stuff has happened in my life to cause me to doubt. I still consider myself a Christians, but I guess I’m not a great one if we’re being honest. I mean, that whole “Jesus-son-of-God-messiah” thing? Yeah, it’s never been high on my list of spiritual priorities. I never want to say that I don’t believe in something, because that would indicate a certainty that I don’t have. So I’ve been searching.

Anyway, what appeals to me about Ramadan is very well summed up in this blog post:
The month of Ramadan is a time in which we hold our bodily compulsions and instincts under strict control, together with our thoughts and our mental states, our moods and desires. We submit ourselves (our nafs) and our accustomed patterns of life to a higher template, one that fosters a regimen of self-restraint within the body and mind and correspondingly seeks an intensification of the life of the spirit. The body is ordered to fast from what it needs, from what is normally allowed to it, from what it desires, from what it craves, from what it may seek on a whim, and from what it habitually seeks - from all that leads to an intensification of the activities of the nafs.

During the interval of daylight, halal (the allowed) transforms into haram (the forbidden) and whatever nourishes the physical body becomes haram. As for the nafs, it undertakes a psychic fast from anger, backbiting, gossip, harshness towards others, from reaching in any manner through any of the senses towards that which is disallowed. […]

And so the qur'anic command is issued - "...fast until the night...." (Qur'an 2:187) Fast from what the nafs needs and desires. Let the nafs know that there is a truer aspect of yourself, a center capable of overseeing and stabilizing all the intersecting mental systems of the mind and all the material/chemical/habitual/hormonal systems of the body. Proclaim to it that there is a guardian and owner and ruler over the nafs and over the physical form with which it is integrally co-mingled. Let it know that the form and the stirrings of need and desire within the nafs have to submit to this guardian in seeking their satisfaction. The wants, needs, and desires that spring from the material form must submit to the governance and tutelage of a higher form - to the spiritual form indicated by the hadith that states: "God created Adam in His own form...." (hadith)
So what this writer is saying, basically, is that, by denying the self (what he calls the nafs or نفس) of all these temporal, physical things, a fasting person can (a) show the self that there is a higher power in control – for a Muslim (or really, any monotheist) this power would be God – and (b) can, over the course of a month, train the body to exist on spiritual sustenance during the day, due to the lack of physical support it is receiving.

This is a fairly advanced theological concept that I don’t know if many illiterate Muslims who fast would be able to articulate. I do know, however, from observations and from personal experience, that many of them are able to feel this heightened spiritual state. In a majority Muslim environment, this spirituality infects the whole atmosphere, and no one can deny that the nights of Ramadan have a special energy to them.

There are a lot more things that I could say here, but I think that I have summarized my feelings about fasting pretty well. I’m no religious scholar, and I’m sure any kind of skeptic could poke 5000 holes in my arguments. All I can hope is that I’ve offered a glimpse for my readers into some of the complexities of Islam and religion in general.