My first Christmas in Morocco. December 22-26, 2018. Naturally, I really missed home, but I filled the holiday with new experiences, and introducing Moroccans to American Christmas. In the Peace Corps there are many types of activities to connect us with our communities. One type is a “splash” activity, a one-time. very visible event, hopefully to showcase youth participation. American holidays are a great vehicle for this, so I threw a Christmas party and posted invitations around town. My youth helped make decorations. My favorite being the garlands of Christmas sayings and drawings (Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Santa is Coming, Joy to the World, Peace on Earth, Candy Canes…). Many of the youth also helped with the party itself, greeting guests, and serving hot, spiced cider (apple juice really) and cookies to our guests. I had American music playing on the laptop. There was a very good turn-out of at least 60 people over the 2 hours (no one during the VIP hour). The nice thing is they was a good cross-section of the community, all ages and affiliations. Moroccans absolutely do not like warm apple juice. I think that many were afraid it was alcoholic, since I was asked if it was ok for all religions to drink it. I was also asked if it would make them sick. My host sister made the cookies. Even though I had someone serving the cookies, children would grab them off the table and stuff them in their pockets. She was mortified and wanted to take them all home. However, I put my foot down. I paid for them, for this purpose, this party. I don’t want a houseful of stale cookies. However, it was funny that even the 17-year-old boy helping me described the scene “They are like animals!”. I wore my Santa hat and many people wanted their photo with me. My only downer of the day was the music “teacher”. Despite all my pleadings, and his constant agreement, he kept allowing people to play instruments (yes, including a full drum set), drowning out my American Christmas music. I was not amused. I am really not sure if he intentionally wanted to burn me and make me feel unwelcome, or if he was really that clueless.
After the party, I went to see my first potential house. A really nice house, but a bit far from work and host family. It also had a problem of needing to go into the common entry to access the bathroom, even though it is for my private use.
Back to Dar Shbaab to clean-up. Host sister waiting for me to help. I must have looked pretty beat when I got home because they invited me to have a shower for the second day in a row. Yes maam!
All that done, I now turn to the Christmas party with my fellow American volunteers. I tried to sneak out a little before 7, but was locked in. My host sister insisted on walking me to the taxi stand. No taxis to Sefrou right now, so she put me on the “nackle”, the “market van” I described in an earlier post. We finally left town at 8. Petite taxi across Sefrou, grand taxi to Immozzier, bought my sweet potato medley ingredients at the souk and then another grand taxi to my old village. Even with all that I was in town by 10:15.
It is purely coincidence that the gathering was in my old town. The PC Volunteer that lives there invited the entire region to her house for a party/sleepover. The “new” volunteers are not permitted to leave our region for three months so giving us this gathering was a great kindness.
Before making it to her house I saw two host brothers, dropped my stuff at the PCV’s house, then she and another of the hosting “old” volunteers, and I, went to the girl’s soccer game that she organizes every week. I was very happy to see all my favorite little hoodlums. Apparently, I was very prominent in the television coverage of the swearing-in ceremony, so my fame has only grown, (with 11-year-old girls anyway). I saw two of the former host families on the streets.
I dropped in on my former host Mom, the other PCVs came and we all had tea. Then we met two more incoming volunteers and walked (45 minutes each way) to the goat cheese farm, for a lunch of, well, goat cheese. It was a beautiful day and setting. As we returned, the rest of the volunteers arrived. There were 10 of us in all, including one married couple. We made our pilgrimage to the Muqaddam’s office to have our passports photocopied, etc. I saw my former host sister, her husband, Dad and the youngest of my former host brothers on the streets. I shopped at some of my former hanoots and got to see those folks. Most of us cooked something for the dinner and it was a pretty great day. Everyone chatted, some past 2. I have met all these folks at the large meetings, but only one of them did I know well enough to call a friend, my first roommate in Philly. These are the people who will be my nearby support for the next 2 years, so very glad to get to know them a little better.
I woke up at 6, laid there till 7. Well, somebody needs to be first. Left the house at 9 without a single eye opening. Hung over you say? Not, says I. Just late sleepers. A couple of people had a little Moroccan wine (I tasted. Neither France nor California are in danger of losing market share, but drinkable, very drinkable at their age), but really very little was consumed. And none of that one-way-ticket-home stuff. I went to the little restaurant and had coffee with the owner, one of the former host family Dads. Then tea with my other former host sister and her youngest son. Back to the Volunteer’s house. Along the way I hit the new donut shop and ate one while he fried me 24 more. We all made a great brunch and then had our “white elephant” gift exchange. The spending was supposed to be 30 DH ($3). I bought and gave a nice black scarf, warm socks and a decent pair of scissors. I received a lovely scarf and a hand made bracelet of cedar beads and stones. One of the “old” volunteers also made a darling baked clay miniature for everyone. Mine was supposed to be a little mug of hot chocolate, but it disappeared by the time I went home. Boo.
After the busy morning, I went to my old home as my Mama wanted to go together to the souk in Immozier. Before leaving we took some lunch to Grandma, who is doing about the same. The hand with mobility problems is kept wrapped, rather than being exercised. At this time Mama informed me she was not eating the chickpea soup because she was saving herself for the chicken lunch I was going to buy her. Hmmm. Remember the story about the trip to Fes?
One of the volunteers joined us at the taxi stand. It is amazing to watch my Mama run in front of 8 people waiting for a taxi and expect to grab 3 spots. After that failed, we caught one up the hill. Taxi, souk, met my host sister, “no I don’t want to go into a Hammam again”, “yes I will buy you chicken”, back before dark.
A quick visit to two more host families, then joined the two “old” PCVs for Kaskaroot at another host family’s house. Everyone else has gone home. Back to the house, watched “Elf”, which I really liked. Bed.
Up at 6, taxi stand at 6:30, no taxis. By 7 I am walking up the hill, met a taxi going to Fes. Well, a little out of my way, but fewer transfers, ok. Fes, petite taxi, grand taxi back to my new village by 10:15. Shopping, but unable to find many of the ingredients I had just seen yesterday in Immozier. Got into a dispute with a produce vendor. Could not find a chicken store open, but got referred to a guy in a regular hanoot that ducked out to go kill me a couple. Not kidding, bodies still warm when you get them home. They clean the outsides well, but you have to gut them and remove the neck and rectum.
My dinner was ok, but not nearly as good as the Thanksgiving dinner, even though I was shooting for the same menu. Still, the family was very sweet and complimentary. They all joined me in a hand-holding prayer and listened to Christmas carols throughout. Since I cooked, someone else did the dishes. I did not buy gifts.
I had lots of texts from loved ones and got to talk with Sandy and Louis. I tried more calls but could not get a signal. I have still not received any mail, even though several people say they have sent me something. Audible sigh.
Moroccans have lots of holidays, but Christmas is not one of them. Driving through the cities you will see lighted decorations that look like they are Christmas, because they are green and red. However, those are the colors of the Moroccan flag, so just another coincidence. Those who have heard of Christmas think it is New Year’s Day, which is a National holiday here. There is some logic, since the “year-of-our-Lord” calendar changes on the first. Since they eat big, home-cooked meals, with lots of sweets every day, every day is a holiday in Morocco by American standards. Even on their own holidays, there seems to be little difference in the day from other days. I know this will not be the case for Ramadan.
Lastly, yesterday I saw 5 houses. Two seemed very good, with good locations. I emailed the interim Regional Manager and hopefully he can come this week to inspect.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, with a Happy New Year ahead. Please drop me a line when you can. Notes from home are always appreciated.
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