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.

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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.

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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.

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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.