Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The women's room.

Sneaking in a real picture before the "official" group picture ... aren't these women beautiful?

I've misspent a good deal of energy over the past months worrying about how little work I'm doing. Somehow my brain has linked the closure of the dar chebab with my insecurities about my language and my abilities ... that somehow the closure was subconsciously, psychically, karmically, my fault. Yeah, yeah, I know ... but who ever accused me of being logical?

Anyway, in the heat of summer everything tends to shut down, so I'm not alone in facing a lot of lazy days. My mind races with all the things I "could/should" be doing ... preparing future lesson plans, creating on a resource kit for gender issues, reconnecting with the Flickr site that I've sadly neglected since arriving in Morocco, perfecting my yoga practice, finally learning to meditate ... and cook ... and write ...

Instead, the stifling 110-degrees-plus heat of this past week has left me nearly catatonic. Lying atop my bed, the fan trained directly on me, listening to podcasts instead of reading in order to avoid even the movement of turning a page ... still I found myself reclining in a pool of sweat. Dry heat, my ass.

I've spent more than a few days in just this way lately, entire days and nights with no energy even to read. Now that's lethargy.

But ... a recent surge of activity in my social calendar has not only brought some much-needed energy into my days, it's also snuck some psychic energy into my soul.

Take just the past couple of days.

Yesterday Soumaia, my favorite advanced student who recently passed her graduate exams, invited me to her home in a duoar (little farm village) just outside of town. Yesterday was the hottest day yet -- I heard 117 degrees -- and I spent the morning moaning quietly to myself about the moment I would have to leave my beloved fan and enter the furnace outside, walk a quarter-mile in blazing sun, then press myself into a crowded, un-air-conditioned transit van.

But once I got there ... well, I won't say I forgot all about the heat, because it was impossible to ignore. Every couple of minutes someone says the equivalent of "Hooo, it's hot," and unwraps her veil in order to fan herself with it, whipping it around like the hair of an '80s headbanger.

But beyond the heat, there was great warmth. After quickly finishing off the cake Soumaia had baked -- strawberry filling and chocolate icing with sprinkles -- we crossed the highway to visit her friend Rachida across the road. Four chatty, laughing daughters and their welcoming Tashelheit mom who proclaimed herself my twin, letting down her veil to show her own twin braids to match my own.

One by one the other women in Soumaia's family appeared as well, friends and neighbors who naturally congregate on a daily basis. Soumaia and Rachida's is a second-generation friendship; their mothers are close as sisters, finishing each other's sentences, fiddling with each others' clothes, scolding each others' daughters.

We talked about Soumaia's plans to go to computer school. We talked about differences, and similarities, between Moroccans and Americans. We talked about Oprah's newly straight hair. We talked about the heat. We laughed, a lot -- the kind of laughter I could feel was not pointed at me but meant to include me.

There's absolutely nothing better here than spending time with a group of women who obviously enjoy each others' company -- unless it's the feeling that they welcome me as one of them.

Friends for life.

Today, if possible, was even better. First, lunch with my host family, at which I learned the birthmark on my right shin is a result of my mother having looked at a strawberry when she was pregnant with me. Then a two-hour nap with Rakya and Khadija, fading in and out to "The Lizzie Maguire Movie" without missing a single beat in the less-than-complicated plot.

From there I met my friend Sihem, who had asked me home to meet her mother. Another dearly warm and hysterically funny woman -- really, she's missing her calling as a stand-up comedian. She was doing everything but pratfalls to keep me entertained -- making faces, doing impersonations, deadpan lying through her teeth ... then cracking herself up. I haven't laughed so hard in ages. Comedy and good intentions, both persevere through cultural and language barriers. I can't wait to go back.

Plus, I learned that darling independent Sihem, besides riding a motor scooter and working as a compliance officer in a local dairy co-op, has a black belt in karate. And bingo! I have another counterpart for positive activities for girls come fall.

Best of all, once home I finally had energy to do something besides lie in a pool of my own sweat. Made a big batch of my favorite salad -- rice, diced tomatoes and peppers, chopped green olives, cilantro, tuna and cashews -- and one of green melon, cucumbers and fresh mint. Made some notes on advanced English lessons for the summer language immersion camp I'll be working next month. Settled in to write this update. I've done more in the past couple of hours than I've managed in a week.

A year ago I was without a job and without a home (having cut ties with both before my original Peace Corps invitation got messed up at the last minute) and feeling rather weightless, centerless. I've spent much of the past months in the same disconcerting place. I know I'll continue to float back and forth between confidence and angst, but lately I have to admit that I'm not just *trying* to feel as if I fit in here ... I have moments when I actually do.

Masala al fresco.
Dinner on Vish's rooftop.

My social outings aren't limited to my little neighborhood. On Saturday several of us gathered at the home of a volunteer in a neighboring village. Vish treated us to amazing homemade Indian cuisine, bottles of perhaps incongruous but no less satisfying sangria, and an evening of laughter punctuated by comfortable stillness, or perhaps it was the other way 'round. Several of us laid blankets on Vish's roof and slept under the stars and a refreshingly cool breeze.

This weekend, maybe escaping the heat with a trip to Tagazout, Morocco's surfing capital but also supposedly a tranquil beach community.

Turns out being out of work isn't such a chore after all.

In the news.

Here's a short video on the ubiquitous Moroccan djellaba, produced by a young American journalist I met last month in Rabat (her husband and fellow journalist has Nebraska ties). It only scratches the surface of women's wear in Morocco -- for one thing, western garb handily competes with the djellaba in Rabat, the capital; for another, the traditional full-body wrap referred to here as the haik is, far from being obsolete, at least as common as the djellaba here in the conservative south. Still, this offers a look at the variety and fashion of the modern djellaba.

Next, an amusing short piece by a Moroccan-American author on seeing local customs through an expat's eyes. I hadn't before heard of Laila Lalami, but her two novels sound fascinating, and I can't wait to hunt them down.

Finally, a blog post by another American in Morocco who captures quite perfectly the feelings of being an outsider here.

Currently listening to: "Trouble in Mind," Janis Joplin

Trouble in mind, babe, I'm blue,
but I won't be blue always
Yes, the sun gonna shine,
in my back door someday


Anonymous said...

Dear B,

If you are having trouble submitting your blog link to our Expat Women Blog Directory, please type in the data you would like in each box (http://www.expatwomen.com/expatblog/submit.php) and then copy/paste to me in an email and I will try to submit for you from here.

Many thanks,

Andrea Martins
Director, www.expatwomen.com

Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing what a difference a year can make? Man, I can't wait to see what I have to say a year from now reflecting back.

Thanks for continuing to share your journey with us. Although you are miles and miles away, it makes me feel so much closer to my dear friend =)(and continues to fuel my desire to travel again).

Love you!

Krista said...

Good to see the expat women's site is cool. i can't wait to watch/read your links. My swamp cooler is keeping things in the 90's, but sheesh, it's HOT! Love you today!