On the hospitality of strangers, teething, and peer pressure...

When one only has 13 minutes before one's cyber cafe closes, one finds writing in list form to be most effective:

1. There's this man who guards the apartment building next to my favorite cafe.  The first time he said hello, he engaged me in the typical Moroccan greetings - "Asalaam Aleykum.  Labas?  Bekhair?  Korshimzien?"/"May Peace be with you.  How are you?  Fine?  Is everything good?" - and delightedly smiled and put his hand to his heart.  The next time I saw him, in the hanout down the street, he went through the process again, giving me the same wonderful smile.  Then today, the third time, after greeting me, he held his hand to his heart for a long time and almost tearfully waved to me as I left, smiling.  He's not an old man, he has no reason to be grateful for my "friendship."  He's not a poor man - guarding an apartment has to be one of the better and easier jobs in Morocco (especially considering that rent is probably free or very subsidized).  So his kindness has no ulterior motive.  I think that this particular man has somehow restored my faith in humanity.

2. "Wisdom tooth" translates directly into Arabic.  I explained to my Intermediate students today that I had a tooth coming in, the kind one gets around end-of-college-age.  I told them that getting these teeth somehow signifies adulthood.  Then I told them that my lower left wisdom tooth popped through the gum today.  One of my students, in earnest, asked, "Does that mean that during the last class, our teacher was a child?"  Anyway, it hurts.  Teething hurts.

3. The peer pressure to submit to Islam is getting to me, but I've decided once and for all that I can't let it.  Every day, the faithful are called to prayer five times, and every day when I hear those five adhan, I know they're not for me, and for some reason, that sort of breaks my heart.  But what I struggle with is this: I believe in the Oneness of God, but so do (arguably) Christians, Jews and Muslims.  So, if three worldwide religions all believe in that one aspect, how can only one of them be right?  I can't seem to rectify this in my head and so am doomed to remain agnostic, believing in the same one God but not adhering to any particular faith.

And that is all for today.


Playing tourist in your own city.

I grew up in a small city in New Hampshire where there were virtually no tourist attractions, much less anything exciting to see when you've lived there your entire life.  And so, living in Meknes is quite the adventure, since I can discover thousands of years of history in one afternoon and be back in time to get to work.  On Monday, my friend Majid (who works at this here cyber cafe I'm posting from) and I took to the medina to do some sightseeing:

Majid outside the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail

And me in front of the tombs.  Yet another benefit of fasting during Ramadan - the guard allowed me to enter the area of the tombs, which is usually open only to Muslims.

The names of the first three Moroccan sultans (inside the tombs of Moulay Ismail)

This photo might look familiar to anyone who has the previous Lonely Planet edition...It was pretty cool to be able to capture that image in my own camera!

The view from outside the dungeons.

And underground.  The tour guide swore that they go all the way to Volubilis.  Frightening.

Me outside of the palace.

And Majid enjoying a brief respite.

Sariswanni, possibly my favorite spot in Meknes.  It's just so peaceful!

And from the other side.

Our day of tourism ended with breaking the fast at this restaurant around the corner from the Cyber where he works (which is, incidentally, across from the school where I teach...how convenient!)  Good times, my friends, good times.  If you follow this link you will find more pictures of our day of tourism (including some scruffy cats, my friend Siham's baby, and lots of quacking ducks, as well as some photos where I look really fat).  Enjoy!


The Ambassador, Harira and Teaching, oh my!

Yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador paid a visit to Meknes to meet with some of my school's students - pretty exciting, if you ask me!  He was on a visit specifically to meet with the students of the ACCESS Microscholarship Program, a program that provides scholarships to poor students to study English and American culture.  I'll be teaching one of the classes in American culture (I know, they let me...insane, right?).  Anyhow, I'll post some pictures soon if I can come up with any good ones. 

The funniest part of the afternoon was that afterward, all of the students (whom I didn't know) kept asking me to pose for photos with them in front of the professional photographer who attended.  I did, shiny Ramadhan face and all (women shouldn't wear makeup during the day), and saw the photos today.  Not terrible, and I'm glad I wore my brand-new knockoff Armani wool coat that I bought just hours before.

As for Ramadhan - still going.  It's really not so bad...granted, my schedule allows for it to be fairly easy, and I've tended toward naps or the internet to waste the day away (I usually teach in the evening post-lftour), but still, for my first time I'm pretty proud of myself.  There's been a debate amongst my students and I over whether or not brushing one's teeth is okay (with toothpaste) in the morning.  It isn't really settled, but the consensus seems to be that it's fine.  My students even went to their imams and Islamic studies teachers!

I'm also getting the hang of the easier Moroccan cooking.  I can make simple harira (using the boxed base that many Moroccans use and adding stuff to it), harsha, mint tea...I've got recipes for lamb tagine, stuffed turkey (might come in handy around Thanksgiving) and lemon chicken.  I'll have to try the latter two soon (I cannot get a taste for lamb).

And finally...two weeks until the Marrakesh conference, three weeks until Maria visits, and two months until my parents visit!


A photographic post.

(Relatively) beautiful downtown Meknes during the King's visit.  The fountains are not usually on.

Bab Mansour during the King's visit.


I'm not sure if this photo says something about what Moroccans think about the Lonely Planet or not.  Regardless, I like the book.

Dates, shebakia and halwa filaliya, oh my!  How Moroccans break the fast (in my living room on my rug).

The beautiful Chefchaouen (where I took my last holiday) at dawn.

And at midday.

The Grand Mosque of Chefchaouen (the only octagonal mosque in Morocco!)

And Place Uta-Hammam.  Can you tell I was mesmerized by this city?

The Rif Mountains (that little point in the center is the old, demolished Spanish-built mosque which is now used mainly as a den of sin - or um, hash smoking).

An old couple I surreptitiously photographed.  Shh, don't tell them.



Ramadhan Part Two.

Ramadhan in Morocco is well, interesting.  Today is the 17th October, and the 12th day of Ramadhan.  I fasted on the first day, the 5th, but then stopped because I had the 'rhea and was taking medication.  Anyhow, I started again about five days ago and have been almost-perfectly fasting ever since.  I say almost-perfectly because, as you know, I'm not Muslim, I don't pray, and there is a debate amongst my friends and students over whether or not it's okay to brush your teeth in the morning provided you don't swallow.  I brush mine, because it helps me get through the day (you know, not having Ramadhan-breath).  Something that Moroccans continuously tell me is that that stinky breath smells like "jen'na" or "heaven" to God.  Okay, I guess so.  It smells like ass to me.

Anyhow, these are a few of my favorite things about Ramadhan here:

-McDonald's. This is really funny- McDonald's in Morocco has these signs out and inside that say "Ramadhan Moubarak" and have a picture of a typical McD's meal, plus some dates, a bowl of harira, and a few pieces of shebakia (traditional lftour foods in Morocco). I broke my fast there on the first day of Ramadan just to be ironic, and it was quite hilarious - there was live music, we were served harira with our Chicken McNuggets, and the employees were all dancing in the restaurant! Mind you, McD's in Morocco is actually considered kind of "upscale" by the young generation, so this was a swanky affair, practically! They also have cooler uniforms than in the US. We couldn't help but wonder though, if the harira is mass-produced or if there's a little old Berber lady in the back of the kitchen.

-The TV shows. My boyfriend told me yesterday that the reason he refuses to come over before 7:30 during Ramadhan is not because he's spending time with his family, but because the comedy series on 2M (Moroccan channel) is so damn funny. Apparently it's only on during Ramadhan, and only right after lftour, and in the wee hours (ie 2:00-4:00 am). I've seen it, and although my Arabic is shaky, it is pretty damn funny. If you're here, try to catch it (it starts at 6:30, after the prayer times). The Coca-Cola commercials that show a family waiting for the adan then breaking their fast by pouring Coca are pretty great too.

-Harira is free at most restaurants. Granted, I've been told by Moroccans to avoid it because they don't properly refrigerate it most of the time, but if you know the restaurant to be safe, it's good stuff.

As I half-jokingly tell my students, I've been breaking my fast with Honey Nut Cheerios.  Sad, but true.  So finally, the invitations have started pouring in.  Yesterday, my friend Yasmina invited me to her family's home, where I finally got to break the fast traditionally - I started with two bowls of harira (her aunt makes the best harira in Meknes, I swear!), a pastry, some shebakia, and then some cafe au lait.  I was too stuffed to keep going, but her mother forced me.  Her family is so sweet - her mother stopped studying English at 23, but still tries, and succeeds in even surpassing her younger daughters' abilities sometimes.  Her oldest daughter is my friend Yasmina, the middle daughter is Zineb (who is in one of my English classes and a wonderful student!) and the youngest is Abla, who is only 12.  Their father doesn't speak English or even French, just Arabic.  Anyhow, their mother is always trying to take care of me like my own mother would...I remember the first night I met her, she asked if I missed my mother, and I said of course and felt tears coming to my eyes as she squeezed her own daughter tight.  But last night, when she told me that her family is my family, it was a different kind of tear in my eye.

Next Saturday I will eat lftour with my friend Siham, her young son, and her parents (her husband is in the U.S.), and Sunday insha'Allah, I will break the fast with my friends at Al Akhawayn in Ifrane, who said I am "more than welcome."  I love the spirit of Ramadhan here.


Illness, love and Ramadan in Morocco.

Tempus fugit, my dear friends.  I received an e-mail the other day from an adoring fan (otherwise known as a good friend/reader of this here blog) asking why I hadn't updated.  It was then that it occurred to me - I have a blog!  And I should update it!  Oh.

In the past month or longer since I posted, I have successfully taught three classes, failing only one student (regrettably, as she tried hard), thus initiating myself into the world of teaching.  I have received letters from my dear beloved friends Angel and Kristen, two packages from my parents, and loads of e-mails from around the world.  I have completely fallen head over heels for someone, discovered him to be somewhat of a loser, then fallen head over heels for someone else whom I surmise is going to become a big part of my life in some way or another.  Just sayin'.  I've also done a wee bit of traveling - just to Rabat for one day and Chefchaouen for three, but enough to fill the gap, I suppose.  I will be going to Marrakech, albeit for work, in November.  And, my good friend Maria from Binghamton will be visiting me shortly thereafter!

So, Ramadan.  For those of you who don't know, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  It is a time when Muslims fast during the day (from sunup, basically, to sundown), not letting drink or food pass their lips, as well as abstaining from sex, smoking, lying, and most things unnatural (for example, women don't wear cosmetics).  It is a time of reflection, and also of togetherness, though it can be straining at times (especially when it's very hot outside - often Ramadan falls during the summer months, which can be dangerous).  People who are sick or travelling and women who are menstruating are exempt from fasting, though they are supposed to make the days up any time during the year.

As you do know, I am not Muslim, however, I decided to give in to the general spirit and fast alongside my Muslim brothers and sisters, mainly out of solidarity (and also out of curiousity, you could say).  Unfortunately, I have thus far been either sick or menstruating, and therefore was only able to fast on the first day.  I am still sick, but Insha'Allah, I will be able to continue the fast soon.

And that is all for today.

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