Friday, March 13, 2009

Six months along.

My new women students are far more enthusiastic than they look here.

Has it really been half a year since my group landed in Casablanca and started our respective journeys, fanning out across the country? As of this week, it has.

I’ve turned some kind of corner; I’m feeling settled here. Far more comfortable in the day-to-day dealings of a culture, language and setting vastly different from my familiars.

Even a recent strange episode (which I won’t go into here, but a few of you know what I’m talking about) has, I think, turned into a positive. Notice has been taken; I’m proud to be a role model for women here. Certain things no one needs to put up with. (Certain things up with which no one need put? Please … not even a real English teacher would insist on that.)

Yesterday evening my host mother dropped by* unannounced. She doesn’t like to leave the house – but even more, she doesn’t like to be home alone. So with Khadija out at her grandmother’s village, Reduoane working at the supermarche and Kabira at her Internet class, Rakya decided to pay me a visit f dar – at home. I was proud to be able to serve her tea (American style, Constant Comment to be precise) and kaskrout, or snack – some fruit and nuts. We chatted for a couple of hours, quite comfortably, about some things any middle-aged women would chat about … and some things no woman should ever have to go through, much less share with a host “daughter” who’s three years older.

Other good things have been happening as well.

Last week, a group of women approached me, asking for English classes. There are at least five of them, with more, they tell me, to come. Most are older than me, a couple are younger. One is eight months pregnant with her fourth child and as serenely radiant as any cliché. They are teachers at a private preschool and members of a local women’s association. They are warm, funny and welcoming. They’re also persistent, insisting on three classes a week, which nearly doubles my workload. And with motivated students, I’ll have to actually start teaching for reals.

Other good things are happening, too. For International Women’s Day, I did my first activity at the nedi neswi (women’s center). I showed some cartoon films about changes in the moudawana, the Islam-based family law that has been updated over the past few years. Most Moroccans know the moudawana has changed, but they don’t know the specific ways in which women’s rights have increased in terms of marriage. My new friends and I have some ideas for future work at the nedi, such as me teaching them yoga classes and them teaching me how to cook.

A young man approached me the other day at the dar chebab. He’s leading a local troupe practicing for a SIDA (AIDS) awareness national theater competition in Rabat this spring. I try to steer as clear as possible of adult men, especially young men, not so much out of outright fear as out of fear of appearing inappropriate to my fellow villagers. Chatting with Ayoub was a good lesson in needing to follow my own instincts and not worry overmuch about gender dynamics. He’s enthusiastic, well-educated and eager to do more SIDA awareness activities in his community.

Combined with my new contacts at the SIDA association in Taroudant, and the news that there’s a female doctor at the local clinic, I can see plenty of possibilities for creating a SIDA awareness day both at the dar chebab and the nedi neswi.

And the possibility of showing my youths that men and women can work together without improprieties.

Ladies night.

Kabira's a talented henna painter.

Jenny, the volunteer I replaced (though there’s no replacing her!) was in town for a couple of days with some friends from Minnesota. We had an old-fashioned slumber party last night, we four Americans and our friend Kabira. Henna painting (above), hair braiding, way too much junk food, dissing boys … the whole deal. Surprised my little place can sleep five comfortably, but we had a cozy little time.

It’s gonna be a hot one.

View on a recent bike ride in the country.

Remember how eager I was to live down south here, far from the cold, bitter winters of the mountains farther north?

Lately, early March, the afternoons are already approaching 80 degrees. One walks slowly across the dusty expanse, so as to avoid sweating under one’s culturally necessary long skirt and sleeves. L3jej, the stiff desert wind that keeps every surface coated in a fine layer of grit, is a welcome relief; at least it’s a breeze, even if it’s a warm one.

Next foray to Taroudant will have to include a search for a fan. Already. It’s only March!

I’m determined not to complain too much come July-August. Not too much. I did ask for this, after all.

For now, trying to soak up as much as I can of the still-green spring landscape, freshened by an unusual amount of rainfall for this drought-susceptible region.

My bicycle has been leading me off the exhaust-fumed highway lately, onto the dirtpacked, single-lane roads leading to the duoars, tiny villages of orange grove workers that dot the countryside. The surrounding fields are alive in spring bursts of yellow and white daisies, the mountains beyond still tipped snow-white.

This is the closest I’ve been in some time to the joys of single-track, and I find myself chuckling aloud as I navigate road ruts, sand traps, wayward branches and vegetation. Surprised the occasional thornbush doesn’t shred my tires – they may nick an ankle, but I just chuckle again. I laugh at adversity!

Your assignment.

Several people have wondered what they could send me to make life here a little easier. Really,

I’m pretty well set up in terms of creature comforts … though I’ll never turn down a care package!

What I’m in really need of are some easy, fast recipes to expand my pathetic, kuzina-phobic repertoire. Vegetarian, of course (though I’m not vegan and still eat some fish) … and did I mention fast and easy?

Most fresh produce is available here in season – and here, the season for most veggies is pretty long. Most spices, too, though if it requires something like garam masala or curry powder, I’m out of luck. Rice and dried lentils, garbanzos and fava beans … no black beans, to my great dismay.

Also dismaying is the pitiful selection of cheese. There’s a soft, spreadable, bland cheeselike substance, or there’s “red ball,” which is kind of like Gouda and which has to substitute for cheddar, Parmesan, mozzarella and anything else a recipe calls for. (I’m told there’s a fromagerie in Agadir, but it’s probably out of my PCV budget except for special occasions.)

Also not much in the way of canned goods. I’m OK with that.

Keeping to those parameters, send me your favorites, whether by Word .docs, Web links or good old-fashioned recipe cards. And thanks for feeding the cause!

Phrasal verb of the day: Drop by. This one fascinates my tutor, for some reason. She loves asking me to “drop by sometime!”

Lament of the day: My cobbled-together Internet connection suddenly won’t let me download podcasts. I may be comfortable in this culture, but I still want my daily dose of news from home via “Democracy Now!” and “The Diane Rehm Show” …

Song of the day: “People Got a Lotta Nerve,” Neko Case (thanks for the dedication, Miz Amy!)

Currently immersed in: “Madame Bovary,” Gustave Flaubert

Currently trying to read, bit by bit: The Koran

Currently welcomin-ing: The 61 new Health/Environment trainees who’ve just arrived in country!


Melissa said...

Your recent messages and blog posts certainly tell how you've turned a corner with your surroundings. All that in six months, six months!!?!! You are too amazing for words.

Anonymous said...

I've been making a lot of simple casseroles on Sunday evenings that last me for a couple days at the beginning of the week. Most of the recipes I've gotten from which is a really great resource. I'll look for a few vegetarian ones to send to you via email. ~ N. from O.