Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's 2009

Happy Happy Belated New Year my dear blog readers! A year ago, I was welcoming 2008 with a little blue dress and plenty of New Years cheers in Boston. And what did 2008 give me? Graduation with former Cville Southerns, Daly’s Ecological Economics course, the Baltimore Gunshot, a family at K and Fish, Live from Death Row, 05/27- Joy Appreciation Day, uncountable playdates in DC, a much needed month at home, PST in Azrou, CBT in Itzer, Thanksgiving in Tiznit, Christmas in Sebt Tafrout…. It brought me to 2009. It brought me to a tiny douar (village) out in Morocco, with motivated and open-hearted women.

And here’s an overview of what I’ve been doing since my last entry. I’m glad you have time. Buckle down and listen up.

Loving and Hating Homestay
Yes, I love my host family. Hating maybe somewhat exaggerated. Actually, hating is very much exaggerated. But this past month and a half hasn’t been smooth sailing. Let me try to explain.

My host father is well into his 80s. He is the nedi guard and tends sheep/goats during the day. He always has a great smile. I’ve yet to see him upset. Out of his seven children, two of them still live at home- Mbrika (who works at the adjacent Clementine factory) and Amina (who tends the house and is part of the nedi). Two others are married and still in my village. They, along with their children, frequent my house on a regular basis. His wife died last year. As I mentioned before, I’m incredibly thankful to be part of this family… then there are times I find myself counting down to the day I move out on my own.

-I love them. They are amazingly loving. They look out for me. They care.
-Half my village is somehow related to my family. It makes me feel at home. And I like playing family with them. In particular, I love spending time with my aunt, who lives alone next door. Her husband died not too long ago and both her sons have moved out of the house. She’s wonderfully cute and has always wanted a daughter.
-My host sisters are wonderfully open in that they leave social taboos at the door. We’ve shared countless laughs over otherwise hsuma topics.
-Sometimes their love becomes too overprotective. And with my limited language, I am not always able to explain/defend myself. It’s been humbling to heed orders. It’s been humbling to be reduced to very simple sentences.
-Going along with that, communication has been at times exhausting. They have a habit of repeating what I don’t understand louder and faster. A couple weeks ago, it felt like they gave up on me.
-Then there are nights we have a good and clear discussion. We’ve talked about how I’m adjusting. They knew the PCVs before me. So they are not my ideal language teachers. So they are not Nancy Drew and are not the best decoders of my jumbled, mixed-up sentences. But they have some insight to what I’m going through. They know language will come. For now, that will have to be enough.
-I love how every week I find a new sort of freedom living with them. In the beginning, I stayed at home and did as Amina did. But I’ve realized she does not expect me to do as she does. I am free to come and go as I please, so long as I let her know. I have my own keys to the house.
-I love Amina’s tagines. I love love love the way she prepares fish. Her cucumber and orange soup-like mix is ingenious.
-Other times, my stomach punches me for eating food saturated in oil and grease. I wish I could chose for myself. Mostly, I wish I had the confidence and vocabulary to explain how soggy veggies equals no vitamins!

I think living on my own will give me the balance I need with my homestay family. When I visit, I will visit for a purpose and have a meaningful exchange. And I can always leave when I please. I’ve yet to buy everything I need to furnish my house. Then again, it’s small. There’s not much room to furnish. The house has a toilet, kitchen and bedroom. I simply wish there was more space for visitors’ privacy.

L’Eid Kbir (December 9, 2008)
It was five a.m. Sunday morning. I had gone to bed late the night before but woke nevertheless. In fact, I would have gladly given a million dollars to the person who could sleep through this ruckus. The family came for L’Eid Kbir. All of Baba Ali’s seven children were back under one roof for the holidays.

Days leading up to L’Eid Kbir were spent scurrying around the house in preparation for the holiday. We cleaned the house inside out. Everyone also bathed and scrubbed themselves (and each other) crystal clean. Baba Ali brought the sheep from the barn to the roof, which happened to be directly above my room. At night, I could hear it running across my ceiling. I was tempted more than once to set that sheep free. I wanted to tell him to run far far away. Your days are numbered silly sheep! Escape while you can! …I didn’t do that. Surely, I would have been kicked out of their home. I would have also failed Peace Corps’ goal for culture-exchange.

December 9, 2008. L’Eid El Adha. This Islamic festival celebrates humility, charity, family and community. The festival of sacrifice is based from the story of Ibrahim and Ishmail. Ibrahim was ready to sacrifice his only son Ishmail, showing his faith and submission to God. However, a sheep appeared in the thicket. God told Ibrahim to sacrifice the sheep instead. Thus, Ishmail’s life was spared.

My family all left to pray the morning of L’Eid Kbir. Then it came time for the slaughter and a whirlwind of activity. I don’t think I have the words to describe. So here are pictures to recapture the day’s highlights.

Are you still with me? I’m incredibly proud of my Pre-Peace Corps-vegetarian stomach. It battled through a week of kabob after kabob. It digested odd body parts with only minimal issues. And I came away from this holiday with unforgettable family time! My father is one of eight children. So you can imagine the numerous lively gatherings we had throughout the week! Each night was filled with laughter, dancing and excited chatter.

Taroudant Craft Fair
Coming to Morocco, I’m well aware about the differences in gender roles. Then ago, I didn’t really understand until the Taroudant Craft Fair. From December 26th to January 4th, a Taroudant Artisan Federation hosted a craft fair. Artisans from all over Morocco gathered in Taroudant, just an hour’s trip from my village, to showcase their work. My village is an hour’s taxi ride from Taroudant. Of course we would like to be there.

Although the Taroudant Craft Fair runs from 9am until 9pm, attendance the first couple days was almost zero until approximately 6pm until 9pm. No one from the Association can be at the fair two days in a row. Therefore, no women can stay overnight. And each day, the women need to be at home by dark. That meant we had to leave around 5pm. This was particularly important for the unmarried women. With such limitations, it became clear that this was not worth the necessary time, travel and food money.

These women are extraordinary and motivated. They’ve grown so much since the nedi doors opened in 2003. Since then, they’ve begun to see themselves as dynamic and creative. Their identities have expanded beyond that of a caretaker. Some of them have even traveled without a male relative for training workshops. However, they are still Moroccan women. Their work in the nedi and association oftentimes is in addition to their duties at home.

This was a reality check and eye-opener for me. And perhaps traveling to exhibition after exhibition isn’t what they need. I’ve begun questioning the association’s officers about their past experiences. I also conducted a series of informal needs assessments. Hopefully by early February, I will have a clearer understanding of their goals and possible projects. There is work to be done.

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