One-year anniversary, “she doesn’t have any bread”, and has school started?

September 1-11, 2019

Though it was a quiet week, mostly filled with cleaning and errands, it seemed to also contain some very important moments.  My first birthday in Morocco was shortly followed by my one-year anniversary.  There were important meetings regarding my new (hopefully, or God willing, as they say here) football league, the Youth Center (Dar Shbaab) re-opened after being closed for nearly 6 weeks of summer vacation.  School reopened, sort of.  It seems I have returned to being welcome at the home of my host family.  The weather is changing.


The actual day of my birthday was spent running around Fes, trying to get a document notarized for the Texas ABC.  A friend researched and provided me with the addresses of 3 notaries.  Despite calling them to verify they were open, and I was on my way, there was only a cleaning lady on hand at the first one.  After the taxi dropped me in the wrong neighborhood for the second listing, a young man walked me (typical Moroccan helpfulness) several blocks to find it.  The notary said they don’t do what I need, in this country they write contracts.  I put her on the phone with the friend and indeed, I understood correctly, out of luck.  I stopped at a third on the way, just in case, but the answer was the same.  So, two bus rides and several taxi rides later, I was home empty handed.  Later in the week, I was able to get the local government office to do the job, though before they had said no.  That evening though, I had some nice phone calls, texts and emails from friends and family in America, turning it to a good day.  My host sister called from Tangier, where she was vacationing, and I told her it was my birthday.  I have been told that adult Moroccans do not celebrate birthdays, but just making conversation.


Later that week, when she returned to town, however, she baked me a cake, with 2 candles (in a town with no fire department, the real number would have been too dangerous), and brought the three kids over to sing me “happy birthday” in two languages.  Each of the kids drew me birthday cards.  We ate the cake and played UNO.  A pretty great birthday.  I invited them to stay for chicken I had cooked.  My nephew wanted to accept, but my sister told him, “no, she doesn’t have any bread”.  She did not ask if I had bread, but typically I don’t, and she knows this.  Without bread, their utensil of choice, I gather the meal is inedible.  She knows I gave up frying chicken in favor of simmering all day, making it very edible, so it was not that.


I will never forget the date of my arrival to Morocco, September 11th.  Yes, even at the time, it seemed an odd date to be flying to an Arabic country.  I suppose the flights were cheaper that day.  So, on September 10th, I had completed my first year.  Only 15 months to go.


It was also the day that the Youth Center re-opened, and the Islamic holiday of Ashura.  Any time I talk about religion, remember, it is all third hand, so may be flawed.  Morocco is predominantly Sunni, and their Ashura celebrations are festive, though do involve fasting.  I have seen videos of parades and fireworks, though nothing like that in our small town.  They are celebrating the time that Moses departed Egypt.  The Shi’ites, however, are very solemn, even flagging themselves, as punishment for betraying one of the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, resulting in his death on this day.  At the Dar Shbaab, lots of youth came in to say “hi” and we had a nice event to commemorate International Literacy Day.


On the 11th, of course I thought about 9/11, 2001.  I remember learning about the attacks, from a friend of mine, one of the viticulturists at Mondavi, thinking it was a joke at first, then praying for forgiveness.  I don’t know why I was not struck first with angry, vengeful thoughts.  Too big, too sad, for that, I guess.  We continued picking grapes, and it was not until that night that I saw the videos.  Today, I am struck by two thoughts.  First, that next year we will have voting adults who were not alive that day.  Their association to the event will be like ours to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The second, is that it puts a very important light on my mission in Morocco.  If the only thing I accomplish here, is that some Americans understand how fortunate we are to have Morocco as our friend, I will have succeeded.  The Moroccan people love and welcome Americans.  Even though they are 99% Muslim, they abhor acts of violence and embrace tolerance.  Even in WWII, the Moroccan Sultan (later King, and Grandfather of the current King) refused to turn the Jewish residents over to the French Vichy/Germans, saying “we do not have Jews here, only Moroccans”.  Their current King is a voice of religious tolerance and modernization in his country and the Arabic world.  These terrible acts of violence by a small group of terrorists, should not be blamed on all Muslims, any more than many historical acts of violence by Christians should be blamed on all of us.  Bad people do bad things, and often use God as their calling card.


Also, on the 11th, the Directors of 4 of the 5 youth associations reunited to continue discussion on how we can further our goal of forming a youth soccer league in our town.  There was a bit of squirming as the reality of responsibility drew nearer.  Now, they need me to form a club, to be adopted by an association.  Will do.  Lots of kids came in, ping pong resumed, and my small library is getting a lot of attention.


A strange thing also happened on the 11th, as I was walking home for lunch, I was met by my two host sisters and the youngest niece.  They asked me to accompany them to the Gendarmerie, where the ex-husband/girl’s father was there, lodging a complaint against my sister.  I won’t go into all the details, but after, I was invited to lunch and now apparently welcome in the family home again.  I had 3 guests for dinner, and the water had been off all day.  That night, my landlady had us out around the back of the house, in a ditch, with flashlights, as some guy filled our buckets so we could at least flush the toilets.  I had visitors coming from America the next day, so the sink full of dishes got the first bucket.  Later than night, the line got fixed.  But is a reminder of how spoiled I am, to have not only running water, but hot water.  Many PCVs around the world, people around the world, have neither.


Schools started the first week of September, sort of.  Even though the schools are open, Moroccans don’t rush into anything.  Students will drop in, meet their teachers, but no one actually begins teaching/studying until the last week of September.  It is the chicken/egg syndrome, as the teachers say “How can I teach to 2-3 students”, and the students say “why bother going if nothing is being taught?”.  Meanwhile, the sidewalks and souk are full of pop-up vendors of school supplies.  I feel sorry for my friends with school supply stores, who provide this service all year, only to have these guys steal their business at the busy time.


It really came home to me that I was getting a little too used to the way things are done, with chicken and a haircut.  I usually buy my chicken from a guy who has the live chickens in a pen behind the butcher station, as is common.  The chickens are always feet up, in the draining station (a row of 1-gallon plastic oil jugs with the bottoms cut off).  Your chicken is de-feathered, cleaned, sometimes while you wait.  During this time there is way too much time to realize how un-sanitary this place is.  Yikes.  It re-enforces the need/practice to wash all the parts in chlorine as soon as you get home.  As I am walking home with my treasure, I see my barber/hairdresser.  I like this guy, and I think he does a good job, but his salon is not clean.  The first time, I remembered to take my own brushes and combs.  But even though I ran the chicken home first, I forgot.  As I sat there, and looked at the brushes, whose bristles had been virtually displaced by the hair of the hundreds before me, I cringed.  Still, I let him cut my hair.


The weather has begun to cool, with a few afternoon thunderstorms and even a full day of rain.  The wheat and hay are all in, and fall discing/planting seems well under way.  The peaches and watermelons are disappearing from the markets, while apples, grapes and prunes are everywhere.


My big project of the week, was that I finally finished sanding, staining and clear-coating those kitchen cupboard doors and frames I had taken off the first day I moved into the house.  Still too wet to install before my guests arrive.