A wedding, a festival, the souk, “cluster”, and one goat died. October 2-7, 2018.
This has been a very busy week. We took a class field trip to the Souk, a weekly open-air market, farmer’s market meets flea market. It does not look too different from what you might see in the US, except for the donkeys and the dangerously overloaded hay truck. Peace Corps employees are not allowed to drive, so all travel is essentially by taxi. This is the way that most people get around, so there are always taxis, and they are cheap, but remember the wages here are quite low as well. A 20-minute ride is about 50ȼ. We stayed less than two hours but it was great. I enjoyed the visual treat of large piles of fresh produce, spices and many booths with everything from hardware to clothing.
Our group traveled one day to the nearest city for a meeting with 5 other groups. This is called a “cluster” and is just for the day. I know what you are thinking, and no, I did not make that name up. That is the real name for this gathering. We had training on dealing with the changes we are facing. We also go our first real look at our future jobs, working with youth and establishing programs in our final sites. I enjoyed re-connecting with people I had met earlier in the program. Also, I got to spend some time walking around this beautiful city, with lots of parks and a small river running through. This particular city still has a picturesque area of little restaurants close together, women washing clothes at the river, men occasionally watering livestock, but is mostly modern. Most of us enjoyed a coffee or food at a new internet café. Later this week we travel further to a larger city, to meet with more groups for a “hub”. This will involve over-night stay.
Back in our tiny village there were two huge events brewing. There was the first ever Agri-tourism Festival. This was a three-day event, mostly at night, with professional musical performances, both traditional and modern. Somehow Peace Corps was centrally involved in this event. Our Regional Manager was present, as well as other staff, volunteers and trainees from out of the area, for the opening ceremonies (three hours of speeches). Our local Peace Corps group was primarily involved with the kids from the Dar Shbaab in two events, the pre-festival trash clean-up and the girls’ soccer tournament. I have not mentioned the trash before, because I don’t want to paint a negative picture of such a lovely place. It is everywhere and to just throw down where you are is the way it is done. It is good to know, however, that many people in the community acknowledge the need for the clean-up, for themselves, and for tourism. The girls’ soccer tournament was a huge success (kudos to our local Peace Corps Volunteer that organized this event). Even though it is a huge national pastime, many girls had never played before. The teams were divided to make sure they all had a mix of big-little, local-neighboring towns. The top 3 teams won medals and even went up on stage to receive them during the evening performances, the last evening of the festival. This was an absolutely huge event in these girls’ lives and they even got to meet and take a photo with one of the famous singers. I attended the first and last night, but on Saturday I had a family wedding!
My host “sister”, Hassanna, the amazing cook, was married on Saturday. Our house was in full throttle all week with cooking, and family coming in to attend the wedding. I helped with the low skill jobs of pounding/sifting powdered sugar out of rocks, peeling onions, washing dishes, roasting peanuts, slicing biscotti, and such. There is no room in the kitchen, so all the women helping sit on the floor in the passage or small utility room to work. The papery skins are hand rubbed from the peanuts and ground with mortar and pestle, and so on. Hassanna made three types of cookies, 10 heaping trays. I came home from school one day to find they had just finished cleaning a mountain of chickens. The feathers get removed at the chicken store, but washing and separating “innards” is done at home. I have seen three of these chicken stores in my village. Neighborhood butchers that only sell chickens. My oldest “brother”, Jamal, came in from Rabat, where he serves in the Army. My “sister” Amina came in from Tangiers, with her two little boys. Part of the wedding was held at Farid’s new house, so he took Mama to the big city and they came home with all new sofa covers, drapes, and pillows that needed to be stuffed. Picture my little nephew swimming through stuffing while Mama is trying to stuff these pillows.
Hassanna’s wedding was small by Moroccan standards, due to respect for the recent death and also because it was a second marriage for her (even though the first lasted only a month). Still, it seemed quite the production. First, there was the lunch for the women. This included all the PC Americans, all family and many friends. The PC women were very dressed up, with the help of their families. I was in an American skirt. The family and guests were mostly casual, but some dressy. We were first served the cookies and tea. I helped with serving, but did eat as well. My brothers also came to the tables with the hand-washing apparatus before the meal. We were served whole chickens garnished with cooked onions, green olives, pickled lemons and a hot paste on the lemons. There is always a mountain of bread. This course was followed with beef cooked with prunes, my favorite. Lastly, there are plates of fresh melon and grapes. My brother made the apology for no music, out of respect for the dead cousin. We all returned to class. After class I returned to the house and helped to prepare and clean for the men’s party in the evening. They dressed me in a Moroccan house dress and I wore the scarf around my head until it got in the way of my work. None the less, the family was delighted with my attire.
The groom’s party was atop the roof of the same home as the lunch. Hassanna’s husband’s family and her brother have homes in the same building, so while the men had their party above, we women held vigil with the bride below in Farid’s house. Some of the men from the family also came down to visit. The roof was tented, elaborately decorated (from the glimpse I got) and they had live music. Not sure what happened to the “shuma” (shame) for music I heard about earlier in the day. The same fabulous menu was served. Before the roof party, the groom came down and I took pictures of the bride and groom. They were quite handsome. It is customary that the bride change into several beautiful dresses over the course of the wedding, normally 3 days. Hassanna had two for this wedding (simple, but lovely white dress with red embroidered trim for the day, elaborate emerald green velvet and satin with gold trim for the evening). In some places the Moroccan custom still includes the bride and groom being taken to a select chamber where the family waits outside for the consummation and requisite passing of the blood-stained bloomers, proving she was a virgin. No blood, no wedding. Fortunately, in this case we were spared that scene. The groom quietly came in, no hoopla, around 4 am. Several women had fallen asleep on the sofas by then, including me. Most had gone home around 1:30. I pretended not to hear Hassanna let him in, and snuck back to my house shortly thereafter. The whole time I was waiting for some ceremony to join the two, which did not happen. The wedding is made official by the sleeping together, although there are customarily contracts and dowries between the families at the time of engagement. Everyone really likes the groom and thinks this is a happy match.
Americans eat a lot of Sugar, but in a different way, hidden in everything we eat. A 5 pound bag of sugar will last a year in my house. Here, our house uses that much every 3 days. They have granulated sugar, but that is not what they use in tea. The classic mint tea uses black tea leaves, fresh mint and a lot of sugar. The sugar comes in a hard cone of about 3 pounds. It is broken into chunks with a tea glass. This is no easy task, but gets easier as you develop the technique for striking the block just right. It also seems to be the unofficial currency. At the wedding, every man and woman attending brought 1-2 of these sugar cones as a gift.
Mid-week the family’s mama goat died. This means that baby goat has rarely stopped crying since. Still, I think it will be ok and seems to be old enough to get by on what it gets.
During all this action, we continued our classes on culture and language. No excuses, which was kind of a shame, because we were sometimes missing the same cultural events, right in our own town, that we were studying. Still, I do get that every day is a cultural event in one sense or another, so it would be too easy to get de-railed. Or, in the words of my friend Ernest Greer, “we’ve got to have rules or we would be having fun all the time”.
Have I mentioned that I live at Ground Zero in this little town? By this I mean we are at the very center of all the action. The mosque is kitty corner from our house so a larger percentage of residents walk by up to 10 times a day (5 calls to prayer, in and out). There are many businesses on our “street” which is a cobblestone walkway, wide enough to easily pass a man on a donkey. Now that I have spent more time in my village I see lots more businesses, coffee shops, barbers and stores, than I did before. I will get around to counting them at some point. There is really only our main street, several side streets, the perimeter and the main road. Most of the streets are well lit. It takes all of 5 minutes to walk from one end to the other, if you don’t run into anyone you know. But we are also a hub for many friends and family coming to visit throughout the day and evening. The place is very busy all the time. I enjoy it and am adjusting to the noise, quite a culture shock in itself from my normal life. The houses are so close that when a door slams, or someone yells, you can’t tell if it is coming from your house or a neighbor. The people continue to be incredibly friendly, especially my family, which gets bigger by the day. My language is slightly improved but a long way from where I need to be. Still, I speak to them with my actions and I feel very connected.
There are lots of animals, but no pets. There are stray cats and dogs that survive on what they can catch or scrounge. I have never seen anyone pet one of these, nor will I, after PC warnings. Yet, they will wander into any house to try their luck. Wild tortoises are frequently sighted and one was outside the teacher’s gate. Chickens wander around the outskirts of town. There are donkeys and flocks of sheep that are led through town on a regular basis. There are cattle outside town. I have yet to see a rodent (good kitties).