Thursday, May 19, 2011

America, OHH how I miss thee... let me count the ways...

Posted by Allison Spence at 8:49 AM 0 comments
It's official! A visit home this summer is happening people! And I hope you can tell from all the exclamation points I'm using, that I'm very excited!

**Side note... how funny is it that before coming to Morocco, I was so certain I wouldn't be or want to visit home once over the two years. Silly Ali, you were so wrong...

I feel like a blog just listing the things I'm most excited for is in order...

These are all the things that Morocco has taught me to appreciate more or maybe even for the first time... like I definitely took carpeting for granted and being able to run outside in shorts.

Let's do this people....


WHY I MISS AMERICA

1. Family! It's been almost 15 months since a hug from my mom and I don't care if I'm almost 24... I feel like I'm 13 most of the time and mom hugs help in any situation...

2. Friends! There are too many of you to count that I'd give anything to just be able to pick up the phone and easily call when things are at their worst (and best).

3. Driving... So much wasted time waiting on public transportation... ugh. Not to mention the hassle it is if I want to visit someone more than an hour away.

4. Sliced bread... I miss sandwiches. Ham and cheese, Turkey with tomato, not to mention all the fancy ones from the many sandwich places in the states. I appreciate a good sandwich now. Oh the convenience, oh the deliciousness...

5. Beer and other adult beverages. Is it true that in America, you can walk to almost any gas station, corner store, super market, um BAR, and buy a drink? Wow... I miss that.

6. Bacon and other pork products. I hope my family greets me at the airport with a plate of bacon or maybe one of those fabulous BLT sandwiches I remember eating once...

7. Music, movies, news! I feel very disconnected from American culture and who knew I'd miss that so much. Granted I still am able to download Glee and 30 Rock every week, but it's just not the same!

8. Dates... Dating in this country is one of the more trickier things I've attempted. I miss the days where going on a date just meant taking an hour to get ready, boy comes to door, out to a good meal, movie, drinks, and then back to my comfy bed. Here it means almost 8 hours of traveling by taxi, bus, and train...

9. Working! I miss working more hours than I spend doing nothing.... the ratio of work (job, school, volunteering, etc.) to down time is almost unbearable. Give me a job Peace Corps, any job!

10. Feeling comfortable in my own skin... Sorry to get serious on you folks, but it's hard being a foreigner here and on top of that.... harder still to be a woman. I have a thick skin, but some days all the stares and the cat calls and the Bonjours are too much. Also feeling on guard all the time can be really tiring... I'll be glad to walk around my hometown and feel comfortable and protected again.

Well I'll limit it to 10, because honestly I could keep going and going.... wearing tank tops, effortless communication, meetings that start on time, parks, concerts, football games and tailgating, going to classes, feeling challenged, jogging... yeah I better stop myself there. ha

Alright America it will be nice to see you in less than 2 months! Huzzah! USA. : )



One year of service down, one more to go…

Posted by Allison Spence at 8:37 AM 0 comments

May 5th this year was not only a day to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but more importantly, my one year anniversary of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. I haven’t written in a while and feel like now is the perfect time to reflect back on this past year and share some experiences, thoughts. Of course a short update of my life in Morocco at the present moment is in order, although to be honest… there isn’t much to report. Sigh.

Where to begin… where to begin…

This time last year I was living in Tagleft, Morocco with a Moroccan family. I was enthusiastic about my service even while enduring a two month long struggle with digestive problems, cockroaches, and a less than helpful home stay experience. I looked forward to teaching when school started again in the fall and working with a particular association in my village.

Then as the summer turned into fall my enthusiasm had all but disappeared. Unfortunately, I was having trouble obtaining permission to teach in the schools, the association I wanted to work with never met and weren’t very active in my community, and I was having trouble with my land lord. So after six months in Tagleft, off I went to In Service Training (IST) feeling pretty down, desperate, and unsure of my role here in Morocco. I was looking forward to seeing other volunteers and hoping for a morale boost.

What I got at IST was more than a morale boost, but a whole new site to focus on. After sitting down with my program assistant, he suggested that I move sites and start working in the nearby town of Ouaouizert. I left that meeting so excited and happy that I almost cried from relief when telling my closest friends. I had been struggling in Tagleft and I saw this move as a fresh start and another chance to make my service seem meaningful.

The next month and a half I spent time in Ouaouizert, meeting with a few officials, teachers, and just feeling things out. It seemed like finding work wouldn’t be a problem and that the youth center was looking forward to working with me. I had a lot of hope when I left for my Christmas vacation in England.

I spent two weeks in England with a great friend and her family. This was my second time visiting her and we were able to travel to London, Bristol, Brighton and few other towns. It was a much needed break, but also reminded me of how much I missed home and all the luxuries that I took for granted (washing machines, driving, speaking ENGLISH!).

Upon returning in January, I was stressed and feeling the winter blues. A week after returning I moved sites (with less support from PC than I had hoped for) and if you think moving in the States is stressful, just try moving in a country where you don’t speak the language, but need to find a moving truck (no UHaul here). Oh yeah and paying two rents was really hurting my wallet.

Needless to say things started off slow in the new site. I didn’t have a host family to visit and practice my language with. I was now in a town twice the size of my old site and felt even more foreign than before. I didn’t feel like trying to start work until I was introduced to hospital staff by my Peace Corps manager and that didn’t happen for a couple weeks after the move. All in all… January, February were very slow months.

March was the turn-around month. It started with getting everything in order and planning a trip to Paris. Then March 10th, I ran off to Paris with a boy and had an amazing time. Who knew that spending five days in Paris was just the pick me up I needed. I came back (reluctantly) but with a new attitude. For the first time that year, I felt determined to try getting work started in site and wanted to branch out and meet my community.

I connected with my tutor, who is a teacher at a school outside of town, and started discussions of establishing a weekly health lesson with his classroom and eventually the other classes at the school. At the end of the month, I taught my first health lesson on brushing teeth and it went really well. I was excited and felt like I was putting my time here to good use.

Then I started meeting with the principal of the youth center almost every week, trying to establish when I could start teaching English classes. He was helpful in the beginning and seemed like he really wanted my help in the youth center. My starting classes, however, depended on meeting with the delegue of youth and sport in Azilal to obtain permission.

April was a busy month starting off with spring camp. I traveled up north to Taza and helped at an English language emersion camp that is run by the youth and sport delegue and Peace Corps. The camp was a great experience. Since I know very little Arabic, I was given the advanced students and was really impressed by their proficiency in English. I tried to make the week as fun as possible for them.

The last day I wanted to focus on American culture and decided to play musical chairs, but exposed the kids to all types of music and mixed in a little bit of grammar practice too. Not only did we listen to everything from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Lady Gaga, but I also taught them a few sweet old school dance moves. I think the kids got a kick out of learning the “Lawn Mower”, the “Sprinkler”, and a few disco style moves. We ended the day with a cultural talk that encompassed everything from how important do you think money is, to how do you value education as opposed to marriage. It was refreshing to talk to enlightened, ambitious, Moroccan teens in a language I understand!

After the spring camp, I spent a few days in another volunteer’s site hiking and helping with some projects. This was another set of projects funded by a group of British teens who came to hike and do development work. This was similar to the project I helped with in October just bigger. It was a nice week away from site and a reminder of what life is like when you’re busy with “work”.

April ended with a visit from my bestest English friend! We only had a week in Morocco and so I tried to pack it in as best I could. We visited Essaouria, Marrakesh, Ouzoud, Azilal, and spent a day in my site. Unfortunately, I was sick and feeling down on Morocco and didn’t feel like I was as an enthusiastic host as my friend deserved. Somehow she managed to put up with me and we still had a good time.

Our last day was spent together in Marrakesh, the day of the bombing in the Djemma el Fna square. I was supposed to spend the weekend in Rome with her, but for safety reasons and the fact that Peace Corps was checking up on all us, I didn’t go. Huge disappointment!!

Now we’re caught up to this month. This month has been full of… reflecting. I have not done another health class, because soon after my first class the teachers were on strike, what felt like every week. Also my tutor never got back to me after the first initial strikes were over and in a way it felt like the enthusiasm I had for starting health classes wasn’t shared like I first thought.

Then the situation with the youth center has been anything but easy. Here’s a red tape, there’s a red tape… everywhere red tape and no help. I tried meeting with the delegue in Azilal on two different occasions and both times he was out of town. Then I asked the principal for the delegue’s number so that I could call ahead. It took him two weeks to get it to me. When I finally called to confirm the delegue was in the office, I had a very awkward conversation in Arabic (my Arabic skills are on par with two year olds by the way). After that I decided to put my foot down and asked my principal to call the delegue for me, explain the situation, and see what he needed from me. I got no response from my principal until I finally tracked him down at the youth center a few days after making the request.

He had failed to inform me that he decided to go Azilal to meet with the delegue himself. He explained our situation and the delegue was 100% fine with letting me work at the youth center. All he wanted was my basic information; he didn’t need to meet with me. So finally everything had worked itself out after a month and a half of trying to start classes…

So I did my first English class last week and the only way to describe how it went is to say it wasn’t a disaster. Was it a good thing? Successful? Um not quite… The time was changed, the kids came late, the language barrier proved to be painfully apparent and frustrating (all the kids are beginner level and only half speak Berber), and before the school year is over I only have maybe two more chances to teach the class again.

So again I put my foot down. I talked it over with the principal (with the help of my English speaking friend) and we decided to cancel the class. Unfortunately, with the timing of the school year and the problems in scheduling, it just didn’t feel beneficial to the kids or me.

Now time for reflection. These last few paragraphs I know it sounds that I’m really down on Morocco right now and honestly yes, I’m disappointed with how my efforts at trying to establish work have gone. BUT over this past year, my patience has grown tremendously and my understanding and acceptance of Moroccan culture puts all these disappointments into a different light. Yes, I would have liked to start the English classes much earlier, but life just moves slower here. Yes, I was disappointed that the principal couldn’t have met with the delegue weeks earlier, but he wasn’t as concerned with the English classes as I was and was in no rush. We all have our different priorities and the timing for starting the English classes wasn’t ideal to begin with.

I’ve come to learn to just expect less here. Set your expectations low and be pleasantly surprised if things turn out well. Now I know that may seem backwards or sad to some people back home, but in reality it’s just a fact of life here. That getting “work” done in the Peace Corps can be frustrating and difficult. Sometimes the greatest part of a volunteer’s service is the cultural exchange and connection they make with their community and host family. With the site change, I haven’t found a way to connect again, to find my place, and feel comfortable, which unfortunately is for me a huge part of being a “successful” volunteer (quotation marks because that can mean so many different things from person to person).

So now that I’m not a wide eyed naïve volunteer, what do I think of this experience and how this year has gone? I came in with low expectations to start projects, but hopeful that I would be teaching and just enjoying the time off from academia to work on myself. I should have set my expectations even lower and been more mindful that Peace Corps is a government run program, with its problems like any other government program. This has been one of the most mentally and physically challenging (dysentery, diarrhea, fasting) years of my life and I’ve had some rough ones… I’ve learned a lot about myself and where I hope to end up in the future. While I mentioned gaining patience, I’ve also gained enormous amounts of confidence. Not as much new technical knowledge as I would have liked, but you can’t have it all.

The bottom line is that as hard and at times frustrating my own experience has been with Peace Corps and Morocco, I wouldn’t change it for anything. When Peace Corps recruits volunteers, they’re right in saying this is a life changing experience. Indeed I would say I have grown. I’ve met some amazing people that hopefully will be a part of my life for years to come. I have a new outlook on the future after this past year. I feel like my need for adventure has only increased and that while life and time are precious, I’m in no rush to start a career, but have a burning desire to experience more parts of the world (just maybe in shorter doses).

Wow this is a long blog, but it does encompass a whole year. Now, my thoughts are consumed with planning for my visit home this summer… they’re so all consuming that I feel like a blog just listing my favorite things about home is in order…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Paris, Peace Corps, and Productivity

Posted by Allison Spence at 5:06 AM 0 comments

Only two weeks ago from today, I was flying out of Fez to Paris. My expectations were high and so I was somewhat nervous that Paris would not be all that I had dreamed of. Turns out… I had no reason to worry. Paris was amazing.

I thought I’d be able to write this wonderful story of Paris and my adventure there, but I’m finding it quite difficult. Maybe it’s partly because it feels like a dream and those are always hard to recount in much detail or maybe because I want to be selfish and keep it all to myself. Either way… I’ll do my best to do Paris justice, but it just might be a place you need to see for yourself.

This trip all started with a spontaneous decision by another volunteer and myself. We had less than a month to plan and we hadn’t spent more than a few days together, so in retrospect it was a crazy, romantic decision with a lot of potential for disaster. **Side note… It turns out we travel pretty well together and no major disasters occurred, except for a stressful emotional re-entry to Morocco, which is another story and to be expected.

We had four full days in Paris and hardly wasted a minute of it. The first night we got in late, found our hotel, and wandered out looking for food. My first meal in Paris was this wonderful sirloin steak with fries and amazing sauce. Oh yeah and a nice cold beer. AC ordered steak tartare and I remember thinking “wow” so gutsy, raw steak. It was both of our first times trying steak tartare and who would have guessed that I’d like it so much. Parisian pub food isn’t quite like the fish and chips I’m used to in the UK or our bacon cheeseburgers at home, but it was delicious.

The next days were filled with tons of walking and lots of sightseeing. The first day we saw the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery, botanical garden, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomph, walked along the Champs Elysees, outside of the Louvre, and the Eiffel tower. Then the next two days we took advantage of the Paris museum pass and saw Centre pompidou, Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame towers, Musee D’Orsay, Louvre (saw the Mona Lisa… kinda had to right?), Tropical Aquarium (Sort of a bust, but they did have two jelly fish!), and more. It was so nice skipping entry lines, ticket lines…

The last day we checked out of our hotel and had our bags to lug around. We saved the Montmarte district for this day and when we had to climb to the highest point in Paris to see
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur … it wasn’t the smartest idea since we had our heavy bags. The reality of going back to Morocco finally set in for me and made me stress out a little. After spending a full five days together, I was pleasantly surprised at how we dealt with each other’s tiredness and end of the trip moodiness. I admit I’m not the easiest person to travel with…

So I’m keeping it short… the trip was filled with wonderful sights, food, wine, and I will never forget it.

Now for the rest of the title of this blog…. Peace Corps…. It’s a changin! Like the wonderful David Bowie song… Cha, Cha, Changes. We recently found out that Peace Corps in Washington has decided to streamline all the PC countries. They want to have less sectors in the countries, so that I’m guessing it can be more organized, efficient?

In Morocco, there are four sectors; health, environment, youth development, and small business development. However! Big news! Listen up! They will no longer be continuing health, environment, and small business. This new group that came in two weeks ago will be the last health and environment volunteers for quite a long time or ever in Morocco.

The news is starting to sink in for all of us. It really only concerns my training group in that, we now know next year when we leave… no one will be replacing us. NO ONE! So any major projects that we get going that take more than a year to complete (which is a lot here, since work pace is slower) won’t be continued. Many people’s projects could just stop or fall apart. It’s a sad reality to think about, but at the same time I’m in total support of the new direction our country is taking.

The youth development program has the most structure, support from the government, and results of any sector here. They have an actual place to work, job description, and are held accountable for what they do and don’t do. The healthies are just sorta thrown out there to sink or swim with so many factors contributing to “success”. It’s hard for most people at home to wrap their heads around… but we don’t really have a “job”.

Now the last part… Productivity. Yep… I’m finally feeling productive or at least want to be productive. I couldn’t say the same before this month. I was ready to be done, throw in the towel, and say peace out Morocco. Now with the changing weather, I’m finding my stride. Everything I have planned are still in the very early stages and could possibly fall apart (cross your fingers they don’t), but I’m optimistic. I have a health class this Saturday and will start a series of topics at one school and then hopefully branch out. Also I’ll be working at the youth center soon doing a weekly English class and tutoring. I have grand ideas for a poster campaign on pregnancy to do at the hospital in my town and possibly outlying towns. I’m crossing my fingers on all of this and hoping that my spirits continue to stay lifted.

I miss home like crazy and can’t wait for the visit this summer. Take care dear readers.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oh the places you'll go!

Posted by Allison Spence at 2:28 PM 0 comments

So here is a really quick update about my life in Morocco!

A week ago a fellow PCV and I decided to visit our first host families we had during training. The new group comes in only one week and we wanted to remind them of how awesome we are before they got a brand new volunteer.

We went a really long way and basically did a lap around the Atlas mountains. Being down south reminded us both of how lucky we are to be north of the mountains in Azilal province. Greenery is very rare south...

Our host families were incredibly excited to see us. It was nice being able to actually understand more of the conversation unlike in the beginning when I knew nothing. Also it was crazy to see baby Omar walking and talking!

In a few days I'll be flying off to Paris. I'm incredibly excited to see the city. I could talk about all the amazing sites I plan on visiting... but I can't! It'll be better when I have tons of pictures to go with all my site descriptions.

Next month my bestest bud Chloe will be visiting me in Morocco for a week and then we're off to Rome!

So progress has been slow in my new site, but I have these few trips to look forward too. One amazing opportunity Peace Corps allows a volunteer is to travel... and I'm taking advantage of it for sure! Until next time...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Deja Vu

Posted by Allison Spence at 9:39 PM 0 comments
It's after 4am here in Morocco and I can't fall asleep. After trying my numerous tricks such as reading, watching tv, counting sheep, etc.... I gave up and started browsing the web.

I've been online doing the mundane, boring, pointless web surfing for almost 2 hours, when I realized! This situation is all too familiar. Why it was just last February that my sleeping patterns were all off and I was so anxious about leaving for Morocco that sleep almost never came. So I figured why not write a blog while sleep deprived! Let's see what my brain can come up with at this hour...

So here it is... a short update/random ruminations....

1. We recently found out that the new group coming in March will have their training in the same area as we did. My community based training site is being used again and I'm determined to visit my first host family before they get a new volunteer. I want to remind them of how awesome I am and they were pretty darn amazing too. I could use a Moroccan family style pick me up.... lots of tea, nice words about my language, and hopefully lots of hugs from the kids.

2. Progress in my new site is going slllloooooooow, very slow. As hard as it was to live with a host family for almost 2 months... I'm now truly seeing the benefits by realizing how hard it is in the new site without one... Oops! But even so... still don't think I could do the tagine everyday for lunch thing again. No thanks.

3. My charade skills failed me at the pharmacy when I tried to ask for a receipt... why is it so hard to get a receipt in this country? And it still blows my mind that you don't need prescriptions to pick up almost any drug you want in this country. Craziness!

4. I'm not proud to admit this but it's part of my reality here... I'm on bi-weekly bucket baths. Meaning once every week and halfish (or more) I muster up the courage to take a bath while it's freezing in my apartment. I wash my hair wearing all my clothes and hope that I don't splash too much. It helps that I have so many hats in country. I never leave home without one.

5. I'm not alone in this... but I'm constantly re-evaluating my service and my commitment here. Why'd I come here again? What am I doing here again? Um... hello Peace Corps a little help please? ha Well you really got to help yourself out here in the bl3d (country). Easier said than done...

6. Egypt is going nuts! Everyone staying on top of the situation in Egypt?! I'm not visiting the pyramids anytime soon.

7. Sporcle.com is addicting... if you ever get bored dear reader, check it out.

8. Made home made sweet and sour sauce... not half bad. I can not wait to cook for family. I have gained points in the kitchen.

9. Every Wednesday there is souk (weekly market) in my town... This is my weekly shopping list.... half kilo onion, peas, green beans, peppers, potatoes, zucchini.... kilo tomatoes, oranges, cucumbers, cauliflower, lentils, chick peas. So that's not every week, but almost... All of that probably costs me less than 10 dollars. I can only hope that I live near a farmers market or have my own garden someday. There is nothing better than fresh, (mostly) locally grown food.

10. I have the travel bug and it's taking me to Italy and either France or Spain soon. My first solo traveling trips... I'm excited, nervous, but mostly excited.


So it's about time to try a second round of falling asleep tricks... maybe the soothing sound of a British accent talking about mountains or forests will put me to sleep... I'm talking about Planet Earth people. It's amazing.

Hope all is well at home.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Been too long!

Posted by Allison Spence at 6:19 AM 0 comments

It’s been a long time since my last entry. So much has happened since then I’ll try to cram it all in now. Let me see… what is the easiest way to do this? I know! Poor grammar and incomplete sentences!

December started with a trip to Fes. One of the oldest cities in Morocco. It was nice, but I’m still partial to Marrakesh. Decided to travel from Fes to Marrakesh on a souk bus (the kind that stops like a taxi)… I was on the bus for 12 and half hours. Never again! NEVER will I do that trip on a souk bus.

I found out that I would be getting a site change. My program staff and I discussed at In-service training about me switching sites due to lack of work in site. So when I found out everything was approved, I was super excited. After Fes… it was packing time! Yuck… and soon being in site became really awkward. Knowing I would be leaving soon for England and then be moving after that. I wasn’t very social with my community in the last week or two before leaving for my trip. Also I was way too distracted and excited to leave, I couldn’t even try to think about work or studying language.

Left for England the 22nd! The snow did not ruin my plans, thank goodness! I flew out of Marrakesh into Gatwick, where my bestest bud Chloe met me. My whole visit to England and staying with Chloe and her family was great. If Illinois is “home” and Morocco is my “2nd home” then I’d have to say Durrington is my “home away from home”. Chloe and I were busy almost every day and it was so nice having plans and work. Sigh. It was a nice taste of what life used to be like…

So what did I do in the UK? So much! I was able to volunteer at a day camp for special needs kids where Chloe works. Then peel vegetables for a Christmas lunch for the homeless and then help serve food. All of my good deeds were because of Chloe! Had an amazing Christmas dinner with the Ellis family. They made me feel like part of the family. Shopping, Harry Potter, London, Science Museum, Pubs, Mexican food, New Years in Bristol, clubbing in Brighton… It was a much needed break from Morocco. I’m in love with the UK and hope to someday be there for longer than just a few weeks.

I flew back to Morocco on the 4th and was a little less than excited. As I waited for the bus to come to the airport, I met an American about my same age. Her story was pretty fantastic. She had been living in Southern Spain and traveling around Portugal for the past three months. She was going to spend about three weeks in Morocco, traveling around on her own. It was like looking into a mirror if I had worked my butt off the year after I graduated instead of just waiting for Peace Corps. Her plans were to travel for about a year until her money ran out. Needless to say I was envious of her. It also got my wheels spinning… who says I still can’t do something similar? Right?

I stayed in Marrakech for a few days before heading back to site. I needed to slowly, mentally prepare myself for the move and make sure all was in order.

The stress I experienced up until the move was pretty intense. I had less help from Peace Corps than I was hoping for and had to rely completely on my tutor in Ouaouizerth. I was really nervous and worried that my truck driver wouldn’t show up, because the concept of time and meetings in Moroccan culture is not quite what Americans are used to. They are much more relaxed when it comes to times and getting things done.

With all my worry, the move went rather smoothly! It turned out my truck guy’s job is actually to move people! And I thought my tutor said it was an old guy who was a friend of the family. But he knew what he was doing, so he brought a friend and with the few volunteers that helped we had my apartment cleared out in less than 20 minutes. The whole move was finished before 10 in the morning! I did feel bad that my first time back to site was the time I was clearing everything out and leaving, but we did it early enough that most people didn’t even know. Also unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see my host family, but alas… we never had the best relationship. I’m sure I’ll be visiting my old site at some point…

So now what? Now I’m moved and unpacked…. And! Before I left for the UK I had the hopes of starting health classes at the youth center or teaching English. But… now… I’m finding my transition a little harder than expected. I haven’t been able to find the motivation I was hoping this move would give me.

My head is in the clouds… dreaming of other countries… of other possible plans for the future. For now… I’m in Morocco working my way through my 1TB hard drive full of movies and TV… still crossing my fingers that lightning will strike and my purpose here will reveal itself. In the meantime… I’ve planned a few long weekend excursions, Madrid at the end of March! (only $60 round trip) and Rome at the end of April. Who knows where I’ll be in May and June? Time will tell.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My very first L'Eid Kbir! Yay Meat!

Posted by Allison Spence at 8:56 PM 0 comments

Last Wednesday was the Islamic holiday of L’Eid Kbir (Big Celebration). This is the holiday in which they remember Abraham’s sacrifice and they too slaughter sheep! It’s one long, fun, filled day of killing and eating sheep or goats. Reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving in that family travels to be together and most of the day is spent eating, talking, napping, and sometimes watching football (soccer!). Sound familiar?

Let me recap how I spent my first L’Eid. It started the day before when one of my friends in town came over to do henna on my hands. I was in the middle of making the best pasta/cheesy dish and told her I’d head over after I was done eating. After I get to her house, she meant business. She had the henna, her needle, and everything set. I love getting henna done by her, because she’s pretty creative and she had the English movie channel on… I got to watch an hour of Two Weeks Notice and felt right at home.

Afterwards I headed to my host family’s house to ask what time to show up the next morning. My host dad said oh 7:30 is a good time, but you have to eat dinner tonight! I ask my host mom… her answer 6:30. I was like Whoa whoa…. That’s early, Dad said 7:30! She compromised and decided on 7. The nice thing about Moroccans and setting times… usually you can get away with coming later, earlier… whenever you want. So 7 meant I was coming at 7:30. Ha

I had dinner that night with my host family and it proved to be a preview of the day to come. Dinner was tagine. Tagine usually has meat, potatoes, onion, and other various veggies sitting in a pool of oil and spices. This tagine was basically just meat. A purely meat tagine, with one little onion cooked on top of it. How my household divides the meat is… every veggie is eaten first (we eat everything using bread, no forks, no knives, NO) and then the meat is divided equally by someone at the table (usually my host mom or aunt). That night we divided the tagine by 8 people and I had enough meat that I couldn’t hold it all in one hand. Times that much by 8 and that’s how much meat was in that tagine. It was probably half a small goat (that’s an exaggeration for sure).

The next day I woke up at 6:30. I was dragging, but threw on my awesome tejlabit (check out flickr pics, it’s like a big one piece w/ a hood), put in the contacts (lots of pictures were to be taken, must look fancy for family events), and made myself a cup of instant coffee.

As I walked to my host family’s house, I was greeted with many hellos and Mbruk Laweshk. (which is just a way of saying happy celebration, it’d be like saying Happy Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas). I also got tons of funny looks, smiles, confused faces, because every time I throw on the traditional Moroccan dress I get even more attention. Look at the crazy foreign lady wearing the tejlabit! Silly foreigner. Indeed, I am that.

When I got to the host family’s at 7:20… of course no one was ready or even started thinking about breakfast yet. And to think my host mom thought 6:30 was a good time! Ha! I sat around for a while watching the morning news and decided to head over to the friends who did my henna. There I had another cup of coffee, amazing cake/bread, and more plain bread with oil. That was my first breakfast of the day… My second was cookies, tea, and more bread at my host family’s. They also had rice, but I have become very skilled in refusing food.

After breakfast, the family photo shoot started. I knew I’d be taking lots of pictures that day and would be taking tons of requests from my family and other friends. This is when the attempted matchmaking by my cousins began! I had one time! ONE TIME! Asked about where this older guy cousin of mine was and ever since his sister brings him up every time I see her. It was pretty cute and funny… at first. So this guy had come to town for the holiday and the sister was insisting that he and I take a picture together. I was like “uh… okay… but hey you get in” and I’d grab another cousin or someone. Well they managed to get a picture of just the two of us and I look frustrated and he looks a little annoyed himself. We may not speak the same language, but we were certainly on the same page. Stupid little sisters/cousins!

Finally we all started walking to where the town gathers to pray together for these holidays. We kinda, sorta, missed it. Oops. As we made it through town everyone was already walking back. I did observe the community prayer for L’Eid Sgir, so it wasn’t such a big deal.

Back at the house I started getting antsy waiting for the actual slaughter. I heard that people will wait until the King slaughters his goat/ram and it’s broadcasted on television. I went with a cousin down to where our family keeps its animals and my uncle had already started on his family’s huge goat! The first thing I noticed was how incredibly red and bright the goat’s blood was and the poor thing’s tongue was sticking out.

Here’s a basic how to slaughter a sheep/goat:

1. Don’t let them eat for at least 24 hours. Have to make sure the inner piping is as clean as you can... this reduces the chances of bacteria infecting the meat SIDENOTE** (there was still A LOT of digested food/ crap in the stomach/intestines)

2. Pose for pictures with the animal.

3. Pin animal to the ground, facing Mecca, and slit throat.

4. Keep animal pinned down while it bleeds and kicks around, pose for more pictures.

5. After animal has finally gone to the other side, make a small slit near the ankle of one hind leg.

6. Use bike pump to pump air into slit thus separating the skin from the meat.

7. After bike pump breaks, use your mouth! The animal is like a balloon!

8. When you are satisfied with the amount of air between skin and meat start removing the hide using a knife.

9. Break the hind leg and hang the animal up by its tendon. Oof.

10. Little by little remove the hide. Oh and head on or off at this point is optional… (uncle left the head on.. host family removed it right away)

11. After hide is completely off… pose for pictures! Insist the crazy American touches the animal in one picture.

12. Slit underside of animal… watch intestines and other inside bits fall out.

13. Throw water all over the animal and try to keep the insides clean as the intestine is removed first.

14. Remove all inside bits, wash stomachs out, and get ready to start making kebabs!

So I watched two animals meet their ends and I was surprised by how little the gore fazed me. Sure there was a lot of blood and watching them break the hind legs was a little rough, but all in all I enjoyed being a part of the process. I felt like part of the family and was happy that I could take pictures for the family. Also the nerdy biology part of me was really excited about seeing the different organs and how they’re all connected. Where’s the heart?! Lungs?! What is that?!!! I had fun.

When it came down to eating our ram and goat… the insides are eaten first. This means liver, lungs, heart, stomach, and all that fat. They cooked everything over coals and seasoned with salt and cumin. I already knew that I hate liver! Stomach! Yuck! And I’m not a huge fan of eating just a hunk of fat either. My host dad read my mind, because he made me kebabs of just meat. I was very grateful. I did try the heart, which was rather tasty. At one point I did eat something that took me almost 5 minutes of chewing before I had to swallow it whole. That was rough.

After the first round of meat with the host family, I walked around town to other families. I was lucky enough to only have to drink two cups of tea and eat one piece of liver. Again, I’ve gotten good at the food refusal dance.

When I headed back to my host family’s for dinner… I knocked on the door... No answer. Again... nothing. The neighbor lady across the street yells at me... Just go in! It’s your house too! And so yeah, she’s right... I head in. I walk down the stairs and go to the back room. I walk in and everyone in my family is sleeping. The room is completely full with sleeping people. It was 7:30pm… I was so confused. Why are they all sleeping right now? I shrug to myself and make a “Well, now what do I do face”. One of the little girls pops her head up and starts bursting with laughter. Every one of my family members starts popping up from under blankets, laughing hysterically. Yes! My Moroccan family played a prank on me. For a half hour, my host mom kept making impressions of my face and laughing to herself. It was a pretty great moment… you know you’re part of the family when they start playing jokes on you. Least I hope so… ha.

Later that night was round two of inside kebabs. My uncle and host dad had their respective stations and had a rhythm going. They used the all-purpose tables and had the meat just sitting there. The liver and lungs were slightly cooked and then wrapped in fat and cooked again. As kebabs were finished my host mom would go from person to person and they would grab a piece of meat of the skewer using bread. If a lot were done at once, everyone got their own. I think for lunch I had 3 full skewers and 2 for dinner.

The next day I spent both lunch and dinner with my host family. I tried brains… almost puked brains. Not a texture I would call appetizing.

All in all it was a really good experience that I won’t forget. I was afraid of getting sick, because of the less than sanitary meat handling practices. We were warned that a lot of volunteers have digestive issues after L’Eid, but L’hamdullah I did not get sick.

Now I’m looking forward to our own Turkey day. I will be heading to the gorgeous Bougamez valley and excited to eat the turkey that the volunteers bought. I wonder how close to a Butterball it is. Hope everyone at home as a wonderful holiday. Words cannot express how much I wish I were in Illinois for the holidays, but the nice thing about Peace Corps is that we’re a family too. So don’t worry about me… I’ll be with family.