Friday, December 28, 2012

Ringing in an exciting new year

It's hard to believe that an entire year has come and gone! As we move towards 2013, I can't help but reflect upon the past year and think about how much has developed and changed. This time last year, Justin and I were new residents of Tiflet, knowing a handful of people, not sure about what we might plan or accomplish during our time in Morocco, and certainly very nervous about our new lives. Today, we have established strong relationships with people young and old in the community, we have developed some great programs, and we now look at each obstacle and challenge with confidence and readiness. And another big difference from last year - I haven't broken any bones!! 

In looking back on some of the goals that I set for myself at the end of last year, I wanted to call out a few for which I am particularly proud of my progress:

1. Take better care of myself
Coming out of a year in which I broke bones in both my hand and leg, I wanted to make sure that taking care of my health became a priority. And I am happy to say that I have made amazing strides. In November I had a mid-service physical check-up and the doctors reported that I am in great shape - not only that, but I have lost 44.5 pounds since I came to Morocco! This has come mainly from exercising regularly and eating lots of healthy vegetable-rich meals that we cook for ourselves.

2. Explore and travel 
If you've kept up with this blog, then you have seen lots of travel-related posts. I'm happy to have had the chance to see many of Morocco's beautiful places and in the coming year, I hope to visit many more! (Going up to Tanger for New Year's, my first time up north, stay tuned!)

3. Develop a support network
Over the last few months, I have begun to develop some truly strong friendships in our community. And with these friendships, I have been able to learn much more about Moroccan culture and to teach about American culture. Beyond the support network in our community, I have developed a strong support network of Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco and friends and family in the U.S. who have provided more love and strength than I could imagine. Please know that I am so very grateful for it! 
It's been a tough year, full of uncertainty, confusion, and disorder - but out of all this has come so much learning, beauty, and adventure - and I wouldn't trade that for anything. I cannot wait to see what the next year has in store!

From Justin and me, wishing you a year filled with learning, beauty, and adventure
I look forward to continuing to chart our journey in 2013!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Women and exercise

Yesterday, I held my first women-only aerobics class at our Youth Center. In my community (and in many others in Morocco) women do not seem to have access to enough exercise opportunities. Boys and young men play soccer morning and night everywhere you look, and while younger girls run around outside playing with friends, older girls and certainly married women seem to get very little exercise. I run several times a week and rarely do I see any females running or walking, and based on what other Peace Corps Volunteers have told me, in some communities it does not happen at all. There are several gyms in our community, but all are men-only, either by rule or in practice, as far as I can tell.

Now don't get me wrong, women work quite hard in the home - cooking, cleaning, taking care of the house and the family - but they don't have the opportunity to do cardiovascular exercise. The top reported cause of death in Morocco is coronary artery disease - with the most common risk factors including obesity and lack of exercise. And a recent study reported that 67% of chronic diseases in Morocco are due to unhealthy nutrition, lack of exercise, and smoking (though this affects mostly men as women seen smoking are, in many communities, presumed to be prostitutes, so few do), with only 20% of Moroccans exercising regularly and 40% not consuming adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. In comparison, 50% of Americans report that they exercise regularly, and think about how much we hear about Americans' health problems!

So I think exercise and nutrition for women are both really important areas to which I can contribute during my time in Morocco (and hopefully I can discuss nutrition more in conjunction with the aerobics class). The reason I chose to make this a women-only class is simply to help women to feel comfortable. We have women-only gyms in the U.S., but I think even more so in Morocco, for many women to be willing to come to classes, they need privacy and a separate environment from men. For my first session, I had 7 girls and women show up, ranging in age from 16 to 35. It's great for a start, and hopefully in time that number will increase. The class went really well - all of my years doing aerobics classes at gyms paid off and everyone loved getting the chance to move around and listen to fun pop music. After the class was over, 3 of the girls stayed around and danced to the music for a while because they enjoyed it so much!

In case you are curious, the playlist from the class is below. I spent a LOT of time finding the latest "cool" music that Moroccans like to listen to, some American, some Moroccan, and some international. A lot of the songs are available on YouTube if you don’t recognize some and want to know what is popular with the youth here, but for the next class I got requests for more Pitbull and Celine Dion!
1. Warmup Song: Moukana Wein, Myriam Fares
2. C'est La Vie, Khaled
3. Rain Over Me, Pitbull feat. Marc Anthony
4. On the Floor, Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull
5. We Found Love, Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris
6. Mr. Saxobeat, Alexandra Stan
7. Love you Like a Love Song, Selena Gomez
8. Glamorous, Fergie feat. Ludacris
9. Run the World (Girls), Beyonce
10. Waka Waka (This Time for Africa), Shakira
11. Cooldown song: Inas Inas, Mohamed Rouicha

I'll post more updates as my class continues!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Morocco 101: Funerals

One of the most amazing parts of living in another country is getting to experience its cultures and traditions firsthand. We've experienced observances of life - birthday parties, engagement and marriage ceremonies (I haven't seen these in person yet, only from afar and through people talking about them - hoping for an in-person experience in the coming year!), traditional events for a newborn baby... each with its own set of music, festivities, atmosphere, and food. And now in addition to those observances of life, we have experienced an observance of death. Recently, Justin and I returned from our travels to learn that our landlady had passed away. Since death is an important part of any community's culture and traditions, I thought it might be interesting to talk about how Moroccans observe death.

Moroccans follow Islamic tradition by burying the deceased within 24 hours of their death. The body is prepared at home by family, or if needed, by someone in the community who has some experience. The body is typically wrapped in a simple and modest cloth and some perfume may be applied to the cloth as well. After prayers have been said, the body is carried through the streets as a mark of respect, and then buried in a cemetery facing Mecca. 

It seems as if almost as soon as a person dies, a tent is erected right next to their home. Neighbors immediately mobilize to prepare food for the family in the tent (it is truly an amazing show of community!). For three days, family and friends gather together in the tent to mourn and read parts of the Qu'ran. After those three days, the tent is removed and the family (particularly the spouse) continue mourning for 40 days, and during that time friends and family come by to pay their respects. 

Justin and I visited our landlady's family during those 40 days of mourning. We had returned from our travels and were doing laundry on our roof, when we heard a neighbor yell over to us from an adjacent roof to tell us about our landlady's death. We were spending that afternoon with two of our good friends who speak English well, and so we asked them to help us understand what we should do when visiting the family. They advised us to bring two large cones of sugar, a typical gift that is brought to families on a wide variety of occasions, and to greet the family with a traditional phrase in Moroccan Arabic, "Baraka f rassk," literally meaning "Blessings on your head" but metaphorically meaning something more like "May God grant you grace." The following day, we went to our local shopkeeper (who also made sure we knew about the landlady), bought our cones of sugar (8 pounds worth) and headed to our landlady's home. We arrived there just as a group of other people were leaving. The family brought us into the "salon," the Moroccan equivalent of the living room. They brought out tea (no Moroccan observance seems to be without it) along with some cookies and traditional breads, and we ate and met new members of the family. Our friends had advised us not to stay too long, so we left after an hour or so. The family seemed really touched that we came there and took the time to understand the customs and traditions.

Certainly there are many variations in funeral observances throughout Morocco - the Imazighen people, for example, have their own set of customs, and Moroccan Jews (which I talked a bit about in a previous blog post) observe death very differently. As our last year ticks by, I hope to experience much more about Moroccan observances of both life and death that I can share with you!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mountains and camels and pumpkin pie, oh my!

Greetings and happy December! Justin and I are settling back into Tiflet after a few weeks of traveling - first with friends from the U.S. in Morocco and Spain, and then with Peace Corps Volunteers in a small town in southern Morocco for an authentic Thanksgiving celebration. I was very happy to have lots of travel and adventures this month, because this same time last year I didn't do much more than stare unhappily at the cast on my leg! Thankfully, this year we were able to spend the holidays with new and old friends and take on new experiences, explore new places, and eat lots of yummy food :) Enjoy a few photos from our Moroccan adventures below - photos from Spain will come in another blog post soon!

Justin and I and snowy mountains! Never thought I would see this in Morocco!
Our friends from the U.S., overlooking Ait Benhaddou
Camel trek in the desert near Zagora! My ride for the afternoon :)
I'm not sure if this is just me, but I swear that Justin and his camel
have the SAME facial expression :)
I have been wanting to ride a camel for a while, so you can see I am very excited!
Camel shadows on the desert
Our Thanksgiving feast, some of which required key items to be shipped
from the U.S. (thanks to Justin's parents!). Stuffed chicken (no turkey to be found),
vegetable quiche, cranberry sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, green bean casserole,
sweet potato casserole, stuffing, and gravy. I think I'm still full from it!
Even some authentic apple and pumpkin pies!
A very happy group of Peace Corps Volunteers, about to partake in the meal.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Squeeeeeeee!!

Squee, \skwēē\
verb: To squeal with glee; from a combination of the two words.
noun: A feeling of excitement and happiness, such that one feels like squeeing.

I don't usually post much about my personal life on this blog, but for this one I just must share! See this little cowboy?


This is my big brother Neal (well, only a little over a year older, so not too big). And this is Neal and his girlfriend, Erin.


So what does my squeeing have to do with my big bro and Erin? Well, one week ago today, Neal proposed!! 

That's him proposing!!!

I am so, so sad to be far away from home when such wonderful things are happening, but Erin and Neal are planning a trip to Morocco in the spring and I'm very excited to get to spend some time with the two of them. And thanks to the wonders of Skype, I'm able to hear about everything that's happening and feel like I'm a part of it. AND next fall, I'll be coming back from the Peace Corps to a big fat North Carolina wedding - So what else is there to say but squeeeeee!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Happy anniversary to us!

It is officially one year since Justin and I were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers! As I enter into my second year, I am truly beginning to understand why Peace Corps is a two-year commitment and not just one. Over the very recent months, I have gained a new level of comfort with my language skills, with my community, and with the ability to confidently try (and maybe fail) in developing new projects. And beyond that, we've started to develop incredibly strong friendships with women and men in our community, friendships that simply can't just grow in a month or two, but have been cultivated over time and with a lot of effort from both sides. With improved language, confidence, and growing relationships, I am so excited to see where the next year will take us.

Here's a photo from exactly one year ago today, with our training group and language teacher at our swearing in ceremony in Rabat:



As we get closer to the new year, I'll write a bit more about my thoughts on the last year and my plans for the coming one. But for now I'll just be thankful about how far we have indeed come!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Moroccan Travels, Part Five... El Jadida

This week, Justin and I have four friends from the U.S. visiting! We'll be playing tour guides for part of their trip and then having some new experiences in Morocco and beyond. I'll leave those as a surprise for a future blog post... But in the meantime, I'm very much looking forward to their visit and it's put me in a travel state of mind

I introduce to you El Jadida, a city that Justin and I visited back in September. The Portuguese settled in El Jadida in 1502 and built a fort that they named Mazagan. The city quickly became a major center of trade, given its location on the Atlantic. In the 1700s the sultan expelled the Portuguese from El Jadida and dynamited the city as they fled.  The city was resettled by Arab tribes and a large Jewish community in the 19th century, after which it was called El Jadida (which means "the new one").

We only spent a short time in El Jadida, but here are some of the sites that we saw. First, an underground cistern built by the Portuguese in 1514. It was first used as an arsenal, then an armory, and finally a cistern in the mid 1500s. The reflections of the columns and vaulting on the water is truly breathtaking and even a bit mysterious, which might explain why it was used in Orson Welles' film Othello back in the 1950s.


We strolled through the old medina (medina means "city" - the older cities in Morocco all have what's called an old medina, which is where a lot of the historic sites are located) and looked over the city and water from the ramparts which surround the medina.


As I mentioned, El Jadida had a large Jewish population in the 19th century, most of whom emigrated to Israel in the 1950s. We did get to see a deserted synagogue which interestingly had a Star of David with a crescent floating above it - it's a bit small but you should be able to see it near the top of the building:


We also took a quick day trip to Azemmour, a small coastal town just about 20 minutes away from El Jadida. Azemmour also had beautiful ruins of ramparts, old gates, and a kasbah - but what we loved the most were murals that were painted all along the inner walls of the old medina. Here's a cool one by an artist called "El Hani," whom I learned has been painting since the age of 9 and mostly uses sticks, old credit cards, and his fingers!


Thinking about everyone still recovering from the hurricane and the Nor'easter. I hope that you are rebounding and able to move forward without too much pain or difficulty. I've been reading about all of the people in New York and New Jersey who have mobilized to help others and it is really beautiful to see. Missing everyone!

Monday, November 5, 2012

An ocean in between

For the last week or two I've found myself glued to the computer, constantly checking for news updates - watching every movement of Hurricane Sandy, reading reports of the damage, and looking at photos of the aftermath. Sometimes I feel very connected to everyone and everything happening at home, but at times like this I am reminded of the large ocean that lies between us and our friends and family in the U.S.

But, you want to know a nice thing that has happened here since the hurricane? I cannot even begin to count the number of Moroccans who have reached out to Justin and me about our friends and family - Are they okay? Have we spoken with them? What are people doing to rebuild? Many don't even know where we are from in the U.S., they just know that a terrible disaster happened in America, and perhaps we might have connections to it.

It's been really hard to be so far away from home when such awful damage has happened to many on the East Coast. But while there's an ocean between us and our fabric of friends and family back home, I have realized that on this side of the ocean, we have been able to weave our own fabric of friends and family here. One that from now on will always feel connected to our world. A friend who just returned to America from Tunisia posted a comment from one of her students that stuck with me: "For the first time, I feel worried about other people without knowing them just because I know you."

So maybe that ocean in between isn't so big after all :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Morocco 101: Eid al-Adha

Today is the third day of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important celebrations in the Moroccan calendar. "Eid" means "Festival" and "al-Adha" means "of the sacrifice." We spent the day with one of our good friends and his family, so I thought I would use this blog post to talk a bit about the day and also include a few photos from our experience (don't worry, nothing too graphic!).

So what is this sacrifice?
Eid al-Adha honors the story of the prophet Ibrahim (or as many may know from the Bible, Abraham), who was commanded by Allah (God) in a dream to sacrifice his first-born son Isma'il (Ishmael), as a test of his faith. Ibrahim blindfolded himself as he could not bear to see the sacrifice of his son, and as he cut Isma'il's throat and removed his blindfold, Ibrahim was astonished to see that Isma'il was unharmed and instead, he found a slaughtered ram in his son's place. As a reward for his faith, Allah granted Ibrahim the good news of the birth of his second son, Is-haaq (Isaac).

Wait, didn't Abraham sacrifice Isaac in the story?
This is slightly different from the story that many may know. In the Torah and the Christian Bible, Isaac is the son that Abraham was about to sacrifice, whereas in the Qur'an, Ibrahim (Abraham) was about to sacrifice his first son, Isma'il (Ishmael). The theological importance of the distinction is that Jews trace their descent from Isaac and Christians believe that Jesus was a descendant of Isaac, whereas Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was a descendant of Isma'il.

Special Practices during Eid al-Adha

Preparing for Eid
To prepare for Eid, Muslims are encouraged to put on new or best clothes available, and to ensure personal cleanliness (people get haircuts, sometimes women will do henna). Muslims pray in the morning of the first day as a congregation before performing the sacrifice.

Justin and I in traditional clothes (the sheep, in his birthday suit)

The Slaughter
Muslims who can afford it purchase an animal prior to Eid to be slaughtered after the morning prayers. Those who cannot afford a sheep buy a goat or a less expensive animal. Justin and I guesstimated that there were about 10,000 sheep in our town the night before Eid, and we could hear the "baaaaaaaa's" echo through the night! After the morning prayers on Eid, the head of the family slaughters the sheep, or in some families, a butcher comes to the house and performs the ritual.

The men getting the sheep ready for the slaughter (don't worry, I didn't post a photo of that!)

Charitable giving  
As with many other Muslim holidays, in Eid it is important to give to the poor, through money or through sharing meat of the sacrificed animal.

The Hajj
One of Islam's revered observances, Eid al-Adha corresponds with the end of the Hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that annually draws 2 million Muslims.

Greeting Friends and Family
It's important during this time to visit friends and family and to wish them a "Mbrouk L'Eid" (Congratulations on Eid).

The Foods

Breakfast
Families eat sweets and cookies for breakfast, along with traditional bread-based fares. Here are some of the foods that were on our breakfast table!

Milwi, a traditional pancake type dish. Also called msemen in some places.
Lots and lots of cookies!

Post-Slaughter Meal
It's Moroccan tradition to prepare organ meats such as the liver and the heart on the day of the slaughter. What seems to be typical is wrapping pieces of the liver and heart in a fatty film that surrounds the stomach, skewering these on kabobs and grilling, and then eating with bread and spices.

Making kabobs with the family
The spices: cumin, salt, and hot pepper (here they call it sudaniya).
The finished kabobs... pretty tasty!

Other Meals
The days following the slaughter are very meat-heavy, as families continue to eat the remainder of the animal. Almost no parts of the animal go to waste - even the head and legs, these are roasted and eaten in the days following the slaughter.

And there are a wide variety of cooking methods, from roasting to grilling to slow cooking in tagines or otherwise.

Sheep head and legs roasting on the fire (I won't be eating this!).

This was our second year to celebrate Eid al-Adha (last year was during our training period). I found that it's a really great feeling to be experiencing things a second time around, to compare our experiences from town to town and year to year, gaining a better understanding of how customs and traditions can differ even within the country. And once in a while, having an idea of what to expect can be really nice when each new day in Morocco can bring us something very unexpected!

On an unrelated note - Thinking about everyone on the East Coast with Hurricane Sandy approaching. I hope that the damage is minimal and passes through quickly! And doesn't mess too much with Halloween :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Feeling inspired

Just came back from an inspiring few days! This week, I attended the quarterly meetings of Peace Corps Morocco's Gender and Development Committee (GAD), which helps to provide support, encouragement, and resources for Peace Corps Volunteers in conducting activities around gender roles and empowerment. (You can read some older GAD-related posts here.)

In each GAD meeting, we review activities in the country and plan new initiatives for the coming months, but for me the real highlight of the meetings are our invited speakers. We are constantly trying to reach out to individuals and organizations in Morocco who, like us, seek to build awareness of and respond to gender issues in the country. We have spoken with professors, students, movement leaders, and association members, all of whom share our passion for working towards gender equality in Morocco.

The speaker for this meeting was the dynamic, driven, inspiring Majdoline Lyazidi, the 21-year-old founder of SlutWalk Morocco. If you haven't heard of the SlutWalk protest marches - they started in Toronto in April 2011 as a movement against excusing rape by referring to a woman's appearance - and have since grown into a global movement. For Majdoline, the movement in Morocco is about raising awareness of sexual harassment in Moroccan society. The group is no longer called SlutWalk - they chose to adjust the name to one that ties closer to Moroccan culture, beliefs, and language - but they continue to do amazing work in the fight against gender-based forms of violence and the way that women are treated in society.

I hope that you've been inspired by her, too! With that, I will leave you with a few quotes from Majdouline:

 "The message is very clear: Stand up for yourselves
and demand respect, shame has to switch sides."

And, in response to a question about the best advice received since beginning her journey (I love this):

"It's a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that I go by: 
'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.' "

Monday, October 8, 2012

Back where it all started...

On Friday and Saturday, Justin and I attended a Peace Corps planning workshop in Fes, held in the same site that was used as a training hub during our first 2 months in Morocco. So the building brought back a lot of memories - especially the second to last stair on the staircase, the scene of my majestic slip the day before we were sworn in as volunteers. Here's a photo to jog your memory (newer blog followers, you can read all about the incident here). Crazy to think that was almost a year ago!

 

Onto much better memories - After our meetings ended on Saturday, Justin and I hopped in a taxi to head to Moulay Yacoub, a town about 20 minutes outside of Fes where we chiefly spent our time during training. For 2 months, we lived with a host family, attended "school" along with 3 other volunteers for language, cultural, and technical training, and tried to do some of the work of Peace Corps volunteers in the community - meetings with community members, assessments of youth needs, and English teaching and other activities at the Youth Center.

Teaching kids a dance at the Youth Center
A "quilt" that girls created in an activity

Overlooking MY with our training group
With our host family

Justin and I spent 2 days catching up with our host family in Moulay Yacoub, and more than anything, being back where it all started made me realize just how far we have come. Whereas before we could only have basic conversations with our family, now we were able to talk about an incredible range of topics - politics, culture, travel, future plans, youth in Morocco, marriage, school, careers, I could go on and on. And whereas before I walked around taking everything in for the very first time, now I have a year's worth of living in Morocco to give me a more confident manner and a trained eye. Even the cultural side has come so far - knowing the appropriate phrase or response to say, understanding the roles of women and men, being able to relate better to our family's way of life - all of these things seemed to come so much more naturally now. 

Sometimes I get caught up with the daily struggles and challenges, and experiences like this help me to step back and truly appreciate how far we have come in our first year in Morocco - which can only lead to so much more for our second!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Back to school!

A short post for this week... we're finishing up class planning, which starts a week from today. In preparation, I have released my inner creative spirit in making new posters for the classroom! Enjoy the art and feel free to critique my work - including my mom, who is an art teacher - though hopefully she will agree that I improved a little from the first semester :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Goal #3

Pop quiz! Who knows what the 3 goals of the Peace Corps are?
Just kidding, I'll tell you, they are quite simple (and I am paraphrasing here):

1. Helping the people of my host country to develop new skills.
2. Helping to promote to my host country a better understanding of Americans.
3. Helping to promote to Americans a better understanding of my host country.

Goals 1 and 2 are part of my everyday life - teaching English, doing activities with women, talking to people about American culture, lots of the things that I often write about on this blog. What I don't often write about is Goal 3 - teaching Americans more about Morocco and Moroccan culture. That's where all of YOU come in - part of the purpose of this blog, in addition to chronicling our travel/cooking/work adventures, is to teach you a little about Morocco - its people, culture, religion, food, history, geography, you name it. And hopefully I've done a bit of that over the past year.

One of my intended goals over the next year is to do more "Goal 3" activities - and I've started it off with my first pen pals! Through a Peace Corps program, I have been matched with a family who runs a home school in Connecticut and I will be starting a monthly correspondence with them, talking about my experiences and teaching a bit about Morocco along the way. Check out excerpts from my first letter - Got a little excited about writing real letters and had some fun with the markers :)

What I would LOVE over the coming year is to have more opportunities to talk to people in the U.S. about Morocco - with so much ignorance and misinformation out today, particularly about the Arab/Muslim world, I think it's important for Americans to hear voices of people (particularly other Americans) who are actually living here. And I knew so little about Morocco before I came here and have discovered that it truly is a wonderful country with an amazing culture that others should know more about. So, if you can think of any opportunities for me to speak about Morocco, I'd love to have as many as I can! Some ideas could be:
- Writing a guest blog post
- Skype calls or taped videos with a classroom or another group
- Articles in a local newspaper, journal, or magazine about culture, travels, recipes, music, etc
- Corresponding with a religious group, or a religion class in school, about things I've learned living in a Muslim country
- Setting up an information exchange with one of our English classes

If you might have opportunities for groups with which you are associated, please leave a comment or email me. I'd love the chance to tell more people about this great country!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jews in Morocco... Part One

I just returned from a week of travels in Rabat and Marrakech, helping the Peace Corps to plan and run some training sessions with the newest group of Volunteers. On Monday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend services in a Marrakech synagogue for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). It was a small group of people attending services, no more than 20, in a little building that you'd never know was a synagogue from the street. Through the experience, I felt like I joined a rich Jewish history in Morocco that, while dwindling today, began nearly 2,000 years ago and saw at its highest close to 350,000 Jewish people.

I've learned a bit about Jewish history in Morocco and thought some basics might be interesting to share. The history of the Jews in Morocco began during the spread of the Roman empire, in which an increasing number of Jews began to settle in what is now modern-day Morocco. Over the centuries, as rule over Morocco shifted between different groups (Romans to Arabs, Almohads to the Spanish, multiple ruling dynasties to the French, and finally, independence), the treatment of the Jewish population has ranged from very good to heavily strained. Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the majority of Jews emigrated from Morocco to Israel, and today, Israel is home to nearly one million Jews of Moroccan descent, around 15% of the nation's total population. Today, approximately 7,000 Jews reside in Morocco, mostly in Casablanca, and some in other major cities (Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, Rabat). Many Moroccans with whom I have spoken are quick to point out that Morocco has a strong relationship with the Jewish people; in fact, the king's top advisor is Jewish.

Below are a few photos from the Monday service as well as some photos of Jewish sites that I have seen on my travels in Morocco. As I continue to learn more about Jewish history over my time here, I'll be sure to share it. Wishing all of my Jewish family and friends a sweet, healthy, and happy New Year filled with inspiration, forgiveness, and love!

Just before Rosh Hashanah services in Marrakech - the view from the women's section.
Mezuzzah at the synagogue in Marrakech.
A synagogue in the old medina in Fes.
Remains of a synagogue in El Jadida.
Overlooking a Jewish cemetery in Marrakech.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Winds of Change..

Something that I have noticed about living in Morocco is that I really feel the time changing, much more so than I did in the U.S. For example, since we do not have air conditioning or heat in our apartment (very few people in Morocco do), I can truly feel the changing of the seasons. In the last week or so, I have been very excitedly anticipating the beginning of fall because I have been sleeping with a BLANKET (imagine that!). And in our market, I love watching produce come in and out based on the season (I was sad to see strawberries leave with the coming of summer but they were replaced with the most amazing watermelons I have ever eaten!). And because we spend lots of time walking around town, we've seen the dynamic of the community change over the last few months - from school ending and families traveling, to Ramadan ushering in a more nocturnal schedule, and now to families preparing again for the beginning of the school year.

The seasons are not the only things that are changing - Over the next few months, we are seeing lots of new developments in our personal and work lives. First off, we'll be starting classes (and hopefully other activities) in early October and we're spending this last month getting prepared. It's been nice having extra time, but I'm looking forward to having a bit more of a daily routine. Next, we'll soon be saying goodbye to a round of Peace Corps Volunteers, many of whom are now our friends, as they will be closing out their service and heading back to the U.S. - and when that happens, we will have reached our halfway mark! And lastly, the most recent change is that our sitemate Robin has left Tiflet to return back to America. We had a goodbye dinner the day before she left, and you can see some photos below.

So the winds of change are blowing ever so strong this month! But I have to say that our experiences here have helped me to hone the traits of patience, adaptability, and flexibility - Whereas before I might have looked upon changes with nervousness, now I relish them, because with those changes come new experiences and adventures!

Justin and Robin (and our maps and bikes).
My first try at homemade sugar cookies, pretty good!
The one on the bottom right says "Rebha" which is Robin's Moroccan name,
 bestowed on her by youth in the community.
The spread - Yogurt-marinated kabobs, saffron rice with almonds and raisins,
vinegar slaw, and cookies. Have been doing lots of cooking recently -
more on that in another post!
Robin and her heart cookie :)