Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Moroccan Cooking Adventures

Whew, it's been a busy few weeks! After returning from Marrakech, I held a huge party and discussion about women for 75 young girls in the community at our Youth Center. It was really successful and I had many interesting cultural/language experiences along the way - I'll be talking about this in the next post. After the party, I spent a few days in Rabat helping with training for the new Peace Corps Morocco group. But now I'm back in Tiflet, for a few weeks at least.

I was excited to return from the training sessions in Rabat to see that my first-ever guest blog post has gone live! My friend Nishta from high school has an amazing food blog called "Blue Jean Gourmet" and I wrote a post for her about learning to cook in a foreign country. You can read the post here... and check out the rest of Nishta's blog too, she has some mouth-watering recipes and beautiful stories.

And since I'm on such a cooking kick now, I thought I would finally launch a new page that I've been planning for a while, detailing many of the dishes that I've cooked in Morocco. Some dishes are very Moroccan, some are things that I want to eat but can't easily buy here, and some are just fun and interesting. I plan to keep this page updated with my latest and greatest cooking exploits, which hopefully soon will include some of the very traditional Moroccan dishes (tagines, couscous, etc). You can find the page here, and it will also stay in the link list on the right side of my blog. 

You can be sure that I'll keep posting updates on food adventures on the main blog as well! Below are a few photos of some of the dishes I've made (these are all on the new page too). Enjoy, and please let me know if you make any of the recipes and what you think of them!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Moroccan Travels, Part One... Marrakech!

Justin and I spent last weekend in Marrekech - our first real Moroccan sightseeing outside of places that we've visited during Peace Corps training. We set a goal of visiting one new place a month - Not always big things, sometimes just day trips to neighboring communities, but just a small goal to make sure that we can see as much as possible of this beautiful country. And as you will see from the Marrakech photos, we started our travels off with a bang!

Here's a quick look at all of the things that we were able to do in our short visit there (we take our sightseeing very seriously!), then lots of photos below. Hopefully we'll be able to take another trip there soon.
  • The Ibn Youssef Medersa, a Koranic college from the 14th century and one of the most important historic buildings in the city.
  • The Koubba Ba'Adiyn, a small building that is the only surviving remnant of a huge mosque and palace from the 12th century.
  • The Museum of Marrakech, housing a beautiful collection of Moroccan art and sculpture, jewelry, coins, ceramics, and architectural details from buildings - and the building alone is its own museum, absolutely beautiful.
  • The Koutoubia Mosque, just across from Marrakech's main square, built in the 12th century.
  • Djemaa el Fna Square, a massive open space that once held public executions, but today is filled with lots of tourist-trapping entertainment: snake handlers, musicians, monkeys dancing on shoulders, open-air butcher shops, and a huge outdoor market. And at night the square is even cooler, as it becomes an open-air food hall. Chaotic as anything but fun.
  • The Souks, which is a term for a tented booths selling a product. In Marrakech the souks are divided by the type of product sold - leather, textiles, spices, jewelry, medicine, chickens, etc. A lot of hassling from the souk-owners as you walk by (they seem to know every language!) but still quite an interesting experience. When we are finishing up our Peace Corps service and if I am confident about job prospects (that's a big if!!) I want to go back to the Marrakech souks and buy some fun things to bring home.
  • El Badi Palace, built in the 16th century and in ruins now but huge and amazing to think about what it must have been like.
  • Bab Agnaou, which marked the entrance to a 12th century palace (the word "Bab" means door).
  • Bahia Palace, from the late 19th century and beautifully restored.
  • The Saadian Tombs, built in the 16th century and home to about 60 members of the Saadian dynasty.
  • The Marrakech tanneries, where leather is made in the same way as it has for centuries. A stomach-churning smell but an interesting visit.
  • Bab Debbagh, a door into the old medina (old city) near the tannery district. Supposed to have a beautiful view from the top but unfortunately the stairs were closed when we went. 
  • Dar Si Said Palace, now home to the Museum of Moroccan Arts, a small beautiful building with equally beautiful work.
  • Marrakech's Jewish cemetery, in what is called the Mellah, once the largest Jewish district in the country and home to about 16,000 Jews (now, a much smaller number).

The Saadian tombs - amazing intricate details on the walls

The Kasbah Mosque, just next to the Saadian Tombs

Marrakech post office in Djemaa el Fna Square (for those of you who
don't know, Justin and I collect photos of post offices - you
can check out the full collection on my Facebook page)

The Koutoubia Mosque

Bastilla, a traditional Moroccan dish

The evening food stalls in Djemaa el Fna Square

Eating outside in the Square - Justin with the waiters hustling behind him!

A beautiful door in the old medina (old city)

View of one of the tanneries

Beautiful intricate carving on the walls of the Dar Si Said Museum

In the Dar Si Said Museum

one of the many, many, many beautiful ceilings you can find everywhere!

Dyed leather (still with fur in it) in the tanneries

Got on a kick of taking photos of lanterns, they are so beautiful!

Jarred olives, preserved lemons, capers, etc at a restaurant

PCV reunion at the Ibn Youssef Medersa

Close-up of wall carvings at the Ibn Youssef Medersa

Beautiful artwork at the Museum of Marrakech

At the Museum of Marrakech

Beautifully carved Arabic script at the Ibn Youssef Medersa

posing at the Ibn Youssef Medersa

A VERY tasty dessert called "milfay"

Wash the dessert down with an equally amazing juice of banana and avocado!

And maybe for dessert #2 (or #3, I lost count)?

Decorations in our Riad (similar to a B&B)

More of the Riad

Our PCV friends in the oasis on the Riad's roof

The Jewish cemetery

Caught a lovely moment in the Bahia Palace

Bahia Palace
Djemaa el Fna Square by night

Remnants of tiles at the El Badi Palace - after seeing the other beautiful palaces,
I can imagine what this must have been like!

In underground caves at the El Badi Palace

Another part of the El Badi Palace

The Saadian Tombs

The Bab Agnou

A friend I made at the Saadian tombs (for those of you who don't know, I have a pet turtle,
currently living with his Grandma and Grandpa Bernstein in Brooklyn!)

    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Women's day, every day

    This past Thursday (March 8) marked an internationally-recognized day called International Women's Day. In 29 countries throughout the world, it is considered a national holiday (the U.S. and Morocco are not included on that list). International observances of this day date back all the way to 1910, initially having started as a Socialist political event, and then gaining traction in the West many years later with a declaration from the United Nations in 1977 to proclaim this as a day for women's rights and world peace. If you are interested in learning more about the day and its history, you can read more here. And if you are wondering (as I was) if there is also an International Men's Day, there is.

    One of my English students in class tonight echoed my thoughts on the day - why are we just celebrating one day? Shouldn't every day be Women's Day? I enjoyed reading this opinion on the day, and here's a quick excerpt:
    It’s not my day because I am a woman every day of the year. I don’t want 24 hours to remind the world that I will speak what’s on my mind, make my own decisions and not be objectified, simply because I don’t need to be given what’s mine to begin with anyway;  health and safety, education, equal opportunities and control over my body and life choices.

    So here's what I'm doing to celebrate women every day. I have just launched a website for Peace Corps Morocco's Gender and Development Committee. The site has been 3 months in the making, since I joined the committee back in January and felt that there was a need for resources and information to be more accessible to volunteers. The site is intended to help connect volunteers in Morocco and to give them the tools to develop programming throughout the year, for both women and men, to address gender equity issues. Here's a screenshot of the website but please go check it out and tell me what you think! I'll be making lots of changes/additions over the coming months, so if you have any thoughts, please let me know.

    I'm also planning a party for women in my community next Saturday. Most of the time in our Youth Center, there's a very small ratio of females to males - probably 10 males to every 1 female. I really want women to feel more comfortable going to the Youth Center and I also want to meet more women in the community, learn about what they like to do, and possibly discuss activities that I could do with them over the next year or two. So I decided to start with a somewhat laid-back activity to get to know each other - a henna party. Girls here seem to love henna and it should (hopefully) create a relaxed atmosphere for just hanging out with each other.  Here's the front of the invitation - my host sister helped me write the words but I typed the Arabic all by myself - I looked like a grandmother at the cyber cafe, staring intensely at the keyboard, typing 1 key every minute or so! But after a long while, it came together. I'll let you know how it goes!

    Tomorrow morning, Justin and I are off to Marrakech for a quick touristy trip. You can be sure to expect a new post next week (with lots of photos) on the sights, sounds, and smells that we will encounter. Hope everyone is doing well!

    Saturday, March 3, 2012

    Back on American Soil

    Well... sort of. These are the U.S. and Morocco flags flying at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat (technically American soil!), where Justin and I spent a few hours last weekend waiting to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton was traveling through Morocco on business in several North African countries (chiefly Tunisia) to lend support to democratic movements there. We were fortunate that she left time in her schedule for a Meet & Greet in Rabat, and that her people opened up space to Peace Corps volunteers (and living only 45 minutes from Rabat, we jumped at the invitation!).

    Keeping myself busy, taking photos around the Embassy while awaiting Clinton's arrival:


    After lots of time prepping for her arrival and arranging children for a photo, the moment finally came!


    Clinton spoke for just a few minutes, namely praising American support in Morocco and thanking us for our contributions (a few shout-outs to the Peace Corps - you can listen to a short clip here, posted by a fellow volunteer).

    After speaking, Clinton posed for a photo with Embassy, Peace Corps, and other local children, and then made her way through the crowd to say hellos. I efficiently positioned myself right next to the mass of children, so I was in a perfect position for her to cross right over from the kids and SHAKE MY HAND!

    The above is just after she shook my hand. I don't have a photo of it but am awaiting photos from the Embassy, so we'll see if they got it. So very exciting, a quick brush with an amazingly powerful and smart woman. It was also interesting to feel like a part of Morocco's ex-pat crowd, a whole group of people just like me, trying to learn the in's and out's of a new culture and way of life. I'm so grateful for this and many other experiences that I have been fortunate to have in only 6 months here!

    Here are a few photos goofing off after Clinton left:


    And just outside the Embassy, Justin and I discovered "Rue de Tiflet" (the name of our town!):


    In other news... I have a busy month ahead - Launching a website for Peace Corps Morocco's Gender and Development Committee, planning my first program outside of English classes, and a trip to Marrakech with Justin to play tourists. Lots more on these soon!