Friday, October 26, 2007

Literal Realization of the Family Tree

How do you know when you've really been accepted into the family? When you've got an orange.

This past week, we had one week fall break with no school. Hassan and I left Casablanca on Saturday night toward Agadir and on to his mother's village for a couple of days. The house in which his mother lives has a courtyard of sorts in the center. A square area mostly open to the sky. At the center of that square area is a square planter of about 1 yard square, built into the concrete floor. In that square planter is a small orange tree. Currently there is a small crop of ripening oranges on the tree. Varying sizes and shades of green. Now the fun part -- everyone in the family has been allocated a specific orange on the tree. Everybody knows whose is whose and all are watching them ripen in hopes that his/hers will be the sweetest. Rumor has it that each year's small harvest is indeed sweet. Part of the fun of it is the gamble involved. I've never before considered the natural selection of fruit, but Hassan's orange broke open and fell off the tree early in the game.

I'm sure I'll be forced to share now.

This is a photo taken the last time we were in the village, August, just before we moved to Casablanca.
L to R: Family Orange Tree, Hassan's sister Keltoum, niece Fatima, me, sister Aicha.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Spices Gone Wild

One great thing to take home from Morocco for souvenir (and personal use) is spices. The spices are usually sold at open markets in open baskets and bins... usually piled up appealingly, as illustrated below.

Some info from a website called gapadventures: There is something called Ras al-hanut, or ‘best of the shop’ – a complex spice blend used in many Moroccan dishes. It’s subtly curry-like with a spicy yet floral fragrance and robust but not overpowering flavour. Spice shops often employ experts who create the mixture using their own secret recipe and up to twenty-seven different spices. The tough part is in getting the proportions right, as spices can vary in intensity and flavour depending on how old they are or where they came from. Putting in a pinch of this and a teaspoon of that just doesn’t give you world-class results. Side note: I was too lazy to dig through my pictures, so I plagiarized these from random websites.

As you can imagine, things bought from an open market in a third world country are sometimes risky. I've found my share of stowaways in pasta and spices... but never anything quite like what is described here in two emails from the SistersT... they explain it in general hilarity, as always.

September 24, 2007 -- email from FrancesM.
that huge bag of spices we brought back with us from morocco... yeah, they hatched last week. thousands of tiny black cock-roach looking bugs, that evidentlycan't live in our atmosphere, because they died right away. so strange. they straight up, war-of-the-worlds killed over. how's life in casa treating you? i hope you've been well, and make sure you boil everything before eating it!!

September 27, 2007 -- email from T.Jo
I dunno if Frances M mentioned it, but she brought back some tahjin spices in the spring and guess what? They hatched out!!! She warned me this weekend about them basically taking over one area of her kitchen and I happily rooted around until I found those spices. As luck would have it, my bugs were mostly dead--but maybe 20 or so were alive still and slowly crawling around--perfectly sealed in a Glad plastic bag. I felt that the Glad company really lived up to its name, just seeing all those bugs perfectly sealed up in there, unable to invade my sanity and sense of cleanliness. I have a feeling actually, that those were some kind of weevils. It was a bit of a weevil holocaust. There were hundreds who didn't make it (depending on how you define make it--they hatched all right, just didn't live very long, best I can tell--very glad I skipped the larvae stage!!!).

Just more protein, that's what I say.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Story of Home -- 2 of 2

Picture it, Casablanca, August 2007...

The school in Agadir closed, and with it, our stay in that last apartment. Our old boss was gracious enough to let us stay there until Denise and I returned to Morocco from our three week trip home to the States in late July. When we arrived back on 4 August, we began to pack up (solidly -- my least favorite thing to do), and get ready to move to Casablanca. We both accepted jobs at the same school here, and housing was part of the deal. Only one catch. One apartment left, so we would have to share. We hesitated, so they said that normally the Principal lives in the apartment above the Admin offices of the school. It is bigger than the other teacher housing apartments, so they offered us the bigger principal apartment to share, and this year's single principal could live in the teacher apartments. We accepted and accepted our fate to share an apartment for the next year.

We had come to the school to sign contracts in early July, just before we left for the States, so some of the the pictures HERE were taken on that visit, and some were taken when we first arrived to move in. Some things had been changed around... and some have changed since. So, don't be confused about the sofa wandering from room to room. And perhaps someday I'll get an after picture of the apartment all well lived-in. Almost two months, and almost unpacked! It's a place with lots of character. Old, and a bit crusty in places, but cool. Lots of the furnishings are Moroccan craft stuff. Many of the rooms have walls painted with a texture pattern to them... adds a certain something. I don't think I've gotten any pictures of the lanterns on almost every cieling fixture. I've spent some time debating on how to possibly get one of those back home in one piece. And check out the photos for the painted designs on the tables, cabinets, and doors. Very cool.

There are certainly some pros and cons of living above a school, and above one's own workplace. Pros - can sleep in till last minute, have office reaaaally close if you need to put in a few hours on the weekend. Cons - No fake sick days, have office reaaaaally close if you need to put in a few hours on the weekend. Mostly, things are working out beautifully. I do feel a bit left out of the fun. The other teachers who were provided housing all live on the same floor of an apartment building. It's about a 30 minute walk or 10 minute taxi ride from the school to those apartments. Sure, I know that might get old for several reasons... being so close to so many co-workers. But it would also be fun to be around for the last minute runs. Folks over there have identified a place that makes outstanding fresh strawberry juice, a cheese sandwich worth much discussion, and there is talk of an affordable salon. Not to mention the English bookstore around the corner. It's pretty much just us down here on Rue des Papillons (roughly translated Butterfly Route -- cool address, huh?).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Story of Home -- 1 of 2

Picture it... Agadir... October 2006.
8ish months after my arrival into the country, I finally get my own place. This was expected from the beginning, but that plan fell prey to "Moroccan time." On any given day I could inquire with my old boss, Moulay, and I could always expect to hear that he had spoken to the lawyers recently, and that the contracts or escrow or whatever would be finished in about two weeks. Thus, we two-weeked ourselves through 8 months. It is important to note that within that 8 months, Moulay had graciously provided us with a washing mashine. Read Denise's account of that fabulous marvel HERE.

And in October 2006, that beautiful washer moved with us into the new apartments. It was a three story building with an open roof on the 4th. The bottom apartment was accessed by a door on the front of the building. Then if you walked around to a small side alcove, there was a stairwell door which took you up to Shannon and Hassan on the 2nd floor, Denise and Lahcen on the 3rd, and on up to guinea pig Nigel on the roof (Nigel was formerly Jermaine, but when Tito died... how can you have Jermaine without Tito?).

There were many pros to the new apartments, and a few cons... but it was a good life. Our two apartments had the only access to the stairwell and roof, so it was a nice space we shared, while not sharing too much.

HERE are more photos of the place. It should be noted that I picked out little to none of the fabrics, decor, or furnishings. Some were wedding gifts. Some were provided by my boss. It makes for an interesting mixture. Hassan picked out the covers on the sofas. Not too shabby, but he was working with pillows to match. His credibility gets taken away when you see the very mod curtain hanging in the extra bedroom. He didn't see much difference in those patterns. He didn't really understand why I refused to cover the sofas in that orange print. Those curtains were originally provided by the boss as a bolt of fabric to use for exactly that, covers for the sofas. Instead, Hassan had one of his genius days and installed a closet rod across the entire length of the guest room. The free orange fabric magically became bearable enough for a curtain if it would hide my huge new not-quite-a-closet.

And one other interesting note... The blue thing you see on top of the house in the exterior photos is the tent being erected for the wedding party we had up there.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Is that the word I was looking for? I dunno. Seems too simple.

My new office smells distinctly of bug spray.

Where else to begin after months of not blogging?

Well, it does. Strongly, at that. All I can assume is that it has something to do with chemicals used to treat the pressboard desks that were recently assembled therein.

I have a lot of catching up to do. It's a long history, and I'm not known for my ability to tell a linear, tangentless story.... perhaps I should break it up a bit. I'll focus on smaller subject-related stories that take place along the same timeline. What's that called? I can't come up with that word. I hate it when I lose words. Separate stories that are happening at the same time... I'll remember it as soon as I hit "publish post" I'm sure.

For now, I'll tell you I'm well. I'm a little overwhelmed by the new school/new job that I will eventually tell you about. My husband (still seems strange to say that) just started a new job. I'm making new English speaking freinds, and I can't fully express how great that is... but I'm really missing my old standbys. It's almost the first of October. Three more months to turn good on my New Year's prediction of staying in better contact this year.

Oh, and I just finished reading the last Harry Potter.

Monday, April 23, 2007


This morning, I found what can only be described as a filthy beast in my kitchen.

Here are the events of the morning:
I hit snooze a few more times than the world normally deems necessary. I had forgotten all about the plan to head to the school early this morning. So, Denise had come to the door when I was less than half ready to go. I dressed myself. I grabbed by toothbrush and paste and sleepily wandered into the kitchen to brush away the funk.

Side note -- Had to brush my teeth in the kitchen because the bathroom sink is controlled by the same water valve as is the toilet. That valve is shut off because the toilet is undergoing repairs. See, on Friday my birthday gift from my apartment was a flood. I arrived home to hear the beautiful sound of an ever running toilet tank with the cascading sound of water falling into water. Ah, that would have been the 2 inches of standing water at the foot of my toilet. The cause of this indoor fountain was the broken piece of metal in the tank that was no longer holding the floater in place. It had rusted in two. This toilet is only 6 months old, mind you. Why would anyone bother to rustproof any metal intended to live under water inside a toilet tank, right? This is Morocco. Don’t let anyone tell you they run on efficiency and logic here. Welcome to the third world.

Back to the funk. I was brushing. I turned off the water because I’m an environmentally savvy chick in that way. I walked out of the kitchen, still brushing, and tidied the toothpaste and towel back into place. Turned to walk back into the kitchen and HHHWWWWAAAAAAHHHHHH! That’s the best spelling I can do for that closed mouth half-shriek intake of air that let Denise know I had found a monster in my kitchen. I had heard tales lately of an invasion. Denise’s husband Lahcen was innocently lounging in their living room watching TV when he felt the house shake with giant footsteps. Legend has it that he was forced to battle another such beast on the roof yesterday. I never thought the war would come home to my apartment, but it has.

Cockroaches. No, don’t laugh and shrug like I built up the suspense for nothing. These things are not the usual petty nuisances that I have learned to deal with. Morocco is a lot like Midtown Memphis in the way that the war cannot be won. Your enemy will never stop fighting. And never stop reproducing. In Memphis, I learned that one must sign the treaties and accords, and then go on with life trying to defend your territory. Life in my first Moroccan apartment was the same. There were frequent invasions, but mostly by young soldiers unaware of the fate their curiosity would bring them. There was the occasional ½ inch scout sent to see if the territory was still occupied. I think their poisoned screams of agony sent my message well. We have been fortunate in the new Moroccan apartment. We sent the message early that borders would not be crossed with no consequence. And then it was winter. The hibernation of the enemy calmed my nerves. Alas, his time of sleep is over. And he grew. The three beasts we have bested in three days have been 2 inchers. I do not exaggerate. I just stood up and walked across the room to the ruler to check my figures so as not to mislead my public.

I haaaaaaaate cockroaches. I seriously just squirmed typing the word. Here they’re called Ser ahk uh zeet. Oil is zeet. So, it means something like “one who eats the oil.”

My wonderful new husband has the day off today. I finished off his to-do list this morning with “kill ALL giant cockroaches!!!”

Aren’t you glad I blog about the important issues in life?

Friday, April 06, 2007

It's a no go...

We got to Casablanca early Tuesday morning to find that, indeed, the drivers were going on srike. No taxis to be found. Luckliy we found an enterprising young man using his minivan to shuttle some of the people left with no taxi. We found a hotel within walking distance of the consulate, just in case we were still taxi-less on Thursday morning (we were). Then for a couple of days we did little save relax, which was nice. Thursday morning at 7:30am we were at the U.S. Consulate, and after 2 hours of waiting in lines and rooms, Hassan had an interview of about 5 minutes. He was told that he did not currently qualify for a visa. That means I'll be travelling without him when I visit the States this summer.

We had both tried to avoid high hopes, but we're still both pretty bummed. Which made it a less than thrilling trek across town to the bus station (again... no taxis). When we bought tickets at 12pm, the first bus we could get on was at 7:30pm. So, we passed some hours, got on the bus, and got to Agadir at 6am Friday (today). There was one lone taxi at the bus station, which someone else got to first. So, we hauled our bags and tired bodies home on foot. And then we slept.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Off to Casablanca again...

It's 9pm Monday night here. In two hours, Hassan and I board an overnight bus to arrive in Casablanca Tuesday morning. His visa interview at the US Consulate is early Thursday morning. Originally we planned to go up on Wednesday, but the rumor is that the bus drivers may strike on Tuesday and Wednesday over some new law. So, off we go to avoid getting stuck with no ride.

At 7:45am local time Thursday morning, we'll be at the Consulate for the interview. If they like him, he gets to come with me to the States this summer for a visit. If they don't, well, maybe next time. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mawwage. Mawwage is wat bwings us togevah today.

Hi all. I have been trying to sign on to this blog for two weeks now to share the first few peeks at my Moroccan wedding. It did not agree with my methods, and rejected me completely. As is just about always the case, when I finally reached the stage of screaming, "AHHHHH ifsomeonedoesnotcomeandprymyhandsoffofthis mouserightnowiwillshovethecomputeroffthedesk isweariwill," Denise stepped in and figured out a way to beat the system. So (finally) here are a few outtakes.

I was lucky enough to have Frances and Mark here for the wedding. Yay, more people who speak fluent English!

The technichal getting married paperwork happened in a very small, totally unglamourous office. They wrote our marriage contract into a record book which Hassan and I had to sign. Frances has all of the pictures of that on her camera.

Thursday night, we got henna done at home. Here's mine before scraping off the dried paste.

On Friday night, we had the wedding party in a tent room that had been constructed on the roof of our building. First the groom made his entrance.

Then the bride, along with a procession of chanting and drumming in-laws.

First we sat for some photos.

Then we got tired of sitting, so we stood for some photos.

And after what seemed like a long time... and some dinner... we changed clothes and sat down for more pictures. This time they were of us exchanging rings...

and feeding each other milk, and cake, and dates... and kissing each other on the forehead.

After the festivities were over, Frances, Mark, Hassan and I went to Marrakech on Saturday and Sunday. So, I suppose this is a honeymoon photo.
Now that I'm back in, I'll post more details and photos soon.

Friday, February 16, 2007

3 of 3 - few more village pics

One day, I took a walk with the two 18ish year old nieces. We walked to the main road at Aksri. We walked through the olive grove. We walked through the village communal garden plots. We walked up the main road and took in this view. Then we walked to the bottom. Yeah, see those buildings down there? We walked down THERE. Not completely via roads, mind you. I learned quickly that Fatima is part mountain goat. I nearly tumbled down the mountain. She was doing okay, even though she had just broken a strap on her sandal. Yeah, SANDALS. Then, as it goes, we had to walk back UP the mountain. Paradise Valley, my ass.
Here are Hassan and his mother, Keltouma, in the foyer area of her current house. In a traditional Moroccan house, all of the rooms (most of them multipurpose) open off of one central area. This one is open to the sky.
Another view from the roof of the old house. The current house is in the foreground. The one with blue shutters to the right.

And there's the fire out back for baking the bread.
Ok! I finally figured out my problem. Apparently I have the camera set to take pictures with the resolution used to take zoom spy photography. Nice pictures, but big. Denise helped me to resize them, and now this process is much faster.

I'll have to find an older picture of the exterior of Hassan's mother's old house. Didn't have one in this batch. This is the house that Hassan family lived in when he was born. It's up the hill from the house where his mother lives now. This one looks into the open interior from the viewpoint of standing on the roof. There are a couple of rooms up there on the roof/third floor as well. The green door opens to the exterior and I think would have been used as the front door.

This is the view from the roof of the old house toward the village proper (Hassan's mom's house is before you actually get to most of the village... Thank God! Those village roads are not always kind. More about the roads later).

In the kitchen of the current house. The couscous is steaming back there on the stove. The bread has been made. We were all just perched on stools and pillows... alternating between cooking and waiting. I got up to get the camera because it reminded me a lot of my family. 20 people standing around talking in the kitchen while someone is trying to cook for a holiday. Normal, right?
Me pretending to have cooked the couscous. Total fabrication there. Hassan's sister Zahara did it. I watched and tried to learn. I must mention here that Moroccan's don't think it's couscous unless you spend an hour steaming and stirring. Very involved process. Denise makes hers in 5 minutes on the stovetop, and the boys laugh in her general direction.

On Aid, or Eid, however you spell it... we went out visiting. Several sisters and nieces and friends of the family... and the white girl... set out walking through the palm grove. We stopped at several different houses along the way to talk and have tea, and eat some tidbits, and talk, and kiss, and ask about the families, and eat, and drink. Wow. At this house, we happened by at the same time as another group of women. The hostess blessed us all with fragrant oil.

A view from that house (which happened to be built into a mountain) across the palm grove toward the village. I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a picture of this house. It was multi-level. Built into the mountain, like I said. Even had a little room outside the front door for the donkey. Ah, next time.

Niece Fatima at the well in Aksri. Aksri is a small village where you turn off of the main road to go to Hassan's village, Tisgui. We walked up to Aksri several times during my stay. His family doesn't really use this well. There are far less impressive one nearer the house. Fatima was just showing this one off to me. The water bucket was sewn of tire rubber.

This is a restaurant and store in Aksri. It's the landmark for the place to turn to get to Tisgui. This general area of Morocco is known as Paradise Valley. Lots of palm groves in mountain vallies. Beautiful. It's a small tourist destination, so there are neat places like this, and a cool small hotel near this where Hassan's sister Aicha cleans.

Playtime is over. Time to go teach the children. More later.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Pictures from the village

I'm trying to get some pictures up. Still having some troubles. Perhaps I'll have to make it two per post.

For now... there's me with my henna. It was still wet there. When it dried, we scraped it off. The design left on my skin was a reddish orange color. Lasted maybe a week and a half-ish. One of the cousins came over to Hassan's mother's house to do it for me, one of his neices (Fatima) got her hands done as well.

This is two of Hassan's neices, Nadiya and Fatima, on the road leading away from his mother's house.