Friday, June 13, 2014

Bslama, Au-revoir, Goodbye

This is it! My last post in Meknes. In some ways, it feels like I’ve been here for so long, but then in the next moment it feels so brief. I think a month was the perfect length, though. I have had the time to fall in love with Morocco, but I’m ready to be back home too.

I didn’t expect today to be as difficult as I thought it would be. I went to Le Nid one more time for a final goodbye to all the little babies. Incidentally, we ended up helping to take a group of babies to another clinic for their shots. I had absolutely no idea what we were doing either; they just handed us each a baby and told us to follow, then we piled in a van and headed toward town. (And in case you didn’t guess – no car seats, just babies in laps.) It wasn’t until we were sitting in the waiting room and heard the first baby wail that I realized what was going on. But, I got it together and held that little guy while they poked him. I have to say, I now have a true appreciation for mothers, because I do not know how you people sit and watch that torture multiple times. It made my heart hurt.

Then I drove the nail in a little deeper when I said goodbye to my little angel. He was so happy to see me, I almost couldn’t cry. Then I put him down in his crib with his new blanket, so he pouted his lip out just a little for having been put down. And the dam burst. It’s hard to believe how attached I have become to a four month old, but harder to believe that I’ll probably never see his beautiful eyes again. It’s definitely proved to me that it doesn’t take very long to fall in love.

Some of my fellow ELAPers and I took a final trip to the medina to walk around and find a few last minute gifts for ourselves. The heat today definitely reminded us we were in Africa. But it was nice to be miserable and laugh and avoid creepy old men together one last time. I’m not sure how I’m going to handle shopping in the states again – there’s just something so thrilling about being able to barter your way down to a good price and find the bath soap next to some Nikes. Shopping inside is overrated.

We leave at midnight tonight for our bus ride to Casablanca. We have to be at the airport by five for some of the students to make their morning flights. It’s going to be such a long couple of travel days, so I’m not sure if/when I’ll check in again. If anything, I’ll have one last post next week to reflect on my whole experience here. Everything is still surreal to me right now, so I’m going to give it the time to sink in. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to wrap my head around the fact that I just spent a month in northern Africa. But maybe not.

Our final roomie picture - (clockwise) Cassie, Katie, Carol, me, Shelby, Sophie

Until next time!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hosting a Henna Party

What. A. DAY.
Today was so special and fun and definitely not the kind of day I needed to make leaving Morocco easier. This morning I went to Le Nid and got to take the toddlers outside to play. Their outdoor play area is on the roof of the hospital. There is basically just an awning and a fence up there with a bunch of ride on toys. I can’t say I ever thought I would be playing with babies on the roof, but it happened. And they were so happy to be outside. Their little faces lit up as soon as the wind met their cheeks. It was a beautiful morning.

Also at the nest this morning, I delivered the little surprise I have been working on. If you’ll recall, I experience my first “deal” a few days ago and acquired a bag full of maroon wool yarn. The purpose of the yarn was for me to use to crochet a security blanket for one of the baby boys. He’s a beautiful little angel who stole my heart the moment I first held him. I have continued to hold him and sing to him and fall madly in love with him for the last three weeks, so I just didn’t feel okay leaving forever without having some kind of connection to him. Mouhsine helped me make sure it was alright that I give him a special gift that would be his to keep. I got to put the blanket in his crib while he slept and he wrapped his tiny fist around the threads so tight. I’m not sure if my gift will ever mean anything for him, but it meant all the world to me.

This evening I got to test my skills as a hostess! I set up for our apartment to have a henna party. In Morocco, you hire a woman to come to your home to paint henna. You invite friends over and host a small party with music and food while everyone gets beautified. It's time to be social and it forces you to talk to each other because henna takes absolutely forever. I thought it would be a good way to spend our last full night together as roommates. I even cleaned the house and baked cookies, so I guess I did alright. We all had an awesome time and the henna came out stunning for everyone. And of course, our henna artist blew my mind. Her art is absolutely a gift.

Tonight was a great send off. Tomorrow will be spent saying goodbyes and trying to find a way to pack all my stuff in my suitcase, insha’Allah (God willing)… For now, I seriously need to sleep. Playing Martha Stewart takes it out of you.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Too Young to Wed

I’ve definitely seen plenty of things here in Morocco that I will never forget. But today, I saw something that I know will be burned in my memory and on my heart.

The women’s co-op in Bassatine put on a photography exhibition today entitled “Trop Jeunes pour le Mariage” – Too Young to Wed. The exhibition displayed a photography project sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and is a visual representation of the reality of child marriage and parenthood in the world, particularly Africa. 

The projects website states:
“UNFPA expands the possibilities for women and young people to lead healthy and productive lives. UNFPA is the lead agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. These three goals go straight to the heart of development and relate directly to the issue of child marriage.” Too Young to Wed
I could go on a very long time about the statistics and aims of the project, but I would encourage you all instead to check out the website. It is extremely well done and informative, and I promise it will make you feel something.

The exhibition itself had me in tears, literally. Especially in reflecting on my own situation as a well-supported, grown women about to marry a man I love very deeply, I was profoundly disturbed at the images and stories of innocent little girls becoming brides and mothers. I cannot imagine being engaged at the age of five, married at eight, pregnant at twelve to a man literally three or four times my age (or more). I wanted to rip the poster down and tear it apart, as though that action would somehow remove the suffering from the world. The photos are eerily beautiful, perfectly capturing feelings of betrayal, anger, and terror on the faces of tiny wives and mother. Girls who should be learning who they are and how to love themselves instead of how to please a husband and raise another little girl who she will watch suffer the same fate.
Loosely: "They decorated my hands with henna, but I did not know who would get married. My mother came and she told me "Come my daughter." Then, they celebrated my marriage." - Tehani, married at six years old.
Ghulam, 11 years old, and her husband Faiz, 40. 
For the rest of the day, I tried to go out and keep myself from obsessing over the images. My roommates and I went to the medina yet again to explore and enjoy one of our last few summer nights in Morocco. I even bought some henna powder, so those of you who want me to beautify your hands when I come home can get excited. I’ll be leaving in just two short days. I wish I had just a little more time, just a little something more that I could do before it’s time to go. But I guess every adventure has to end eventually.

Until tomorrow. 

Moroccan Nights

Sorry for the late post everyone! I got home so late from the medina last night I just didn’t have it in me to write anything. But, I finally have all my gift shopping done! Now, to fit it all in my suitcase…

Speaking of the medina at night, it is a whole different ballgame. Right about the time it is getting actually dark, the shops are starting to close up and the people start filling the square and the restaurants. It’s almost as though there’s a huge summer festival every night, with street performances, fires, and (my personal favorite) corn on the cob stations every ten feet. Morocco really comes alive at night.

Yesterday was another great Tuesday at Le Nid and teaching English. It’s hard to believe it was my last Tuesday here. At the hospital, I got to spend time with a few of the different classes including the special needs class and an early elementary class. I met a little girl who is essentially the spitting image of Sara Toombs circa 2001. She knew that we didn’t speak Arabic, so she proceeded to point, gesture, and mimic to let us know exactly what she wanted us to do. She also very clearly let us know when what we were doing was wrong, and made sure that we were aware of how good she was at counting and writing her name. To top it off, her name is also Sarah. So, you know, there’s a little Moroccan me. Who knew? She did teach me how to write our name in Arabic, which I am pretty excited about.

My English class at the women’s co-op went well, as usual. The women are very eager to learn and quick to laugh at themselves, which is a recipe for a great classroom. Sometimes teaching is really challenging for me though, and I’ve kind of discovered my own lack of patience on this trip. But I’ve also gained a lot of respect for the people who do it every day. Especially English teachers – God bless your souls, because there is no logic in this stuff. “If finger is fingers, and leg is legs, why is foot feet and not foots?” Good question. I can’t answer it.

It’s getting really close to time to come home. I’m excited to be back, but it’s going to be so hard to leave here with all this work left unfinished and these friendships I have made. I guess that just means I have to come visit someday.

Until tonight. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Teach the Change

A busy Monday in Meknes!

My day started off on a pretty intriguing note with a discussion about sexual harassment. The ELAP students and a group of Moroccan students gathered in the ISA office for a group discussion led by Mouhsine. The purpose of the session was to have students of both cultures sound off about sexual harassment in general, but more specifically the attention that females receive on the streets here in Morocco. It did end up being a little heated, but that’s to be expected almost anytime you tread the waters of this topic. I’ll admit that the conversation was a little frustrating for me, because I could see that there are certain elements of the harassment type behavior that are too ingrained in the culture to be seen as harmful. Some of the comments from the boys were that if the attention is positive, than women shouldn’t be offended by it. It was a good opportunity for some of us from the other perspective to weigh in on the fact that any unwanted attention is negative. I think the personal issue I have with the male/female dynamic here is this: If I were a man, I could walk down the street unaccompanied without concern for where my eyes make contact or how passersby see me. As a woman, I am unable to exercise that right, and am forced to build a wall and carry it with me every time I enter the street. And while the boys insisted that the attention is usually harmless and “just for sport,” I don’t think they completely realize the pressure this places on every encounter a woman has. Because when you cannot tell the difference between “sport” and threat, everything becomes a potential danger. One boy said his opinion is that men and women should be treated the same and that we have to be the change we want to see. I agree with him, but I also think it's important to teach the change too. 

After the rousing ELAP discussion, I headed over to IPDF for my last day of work with my very good friend Soukaina. She was also interning at the association, but finished today and will be leaving to travel very soon. I am so grateful for her kindness and translating – I could not have survived in the placement I so desperately wanted to be in without her. I hope that we will be able to see each other again someday.

This evening a few friends and I braved the Medina for some souvenir shopping. I’ve never been to the shops in the evening before and it is a whole other animal. Walking through the narrow alleys is a bit like trying to push your way to the front row at a sold out, standing-room only concert.  But it’s absolutely exhilarating, and one of those moments that makes you think “holy crap, I am not in Kansas anymore.” We got a lot of good shopping down with our semi-effective haggling skills. The funniest moment of the evening by far came out of my bullheaded determination to find a place to buy wool yarn. We looked forever, and then decided to ask a vendor (who is a friend of Mouhsine’s) if he would show us the way. I followed him through what I can only describe as a crack in the wall to a little alcove where a very small old man was working on a loom. They had a heated five minute discussion which seemed a little intense to be about yarn, but the next thing I knew the vendor was handing me a bag of random spools and telling me to give the man 50dh before he changed his mind. At this point, I was pretty sure I was experience my first ever drug deal, so I gave him the bill and left quickly and quietly. Luckily, the bag was in fact full of yarn and not any questionable substances, so I chalked it up to another memorable cultural experience. I was just excited to have the materials for a little plan I have cooking up.

We finished off the night with a snack of fresh corn on the cob and fruit juice. Then it was back to the apartment to get ready to do it all again tomorrow!

Until then. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

If You’re Going to Get Food Poisoning…: Asilah, Morocco

If you’re going to get food poisoning, you might as well do it on a weekend excursion instead of during the week when you have to go to work. And you might as well do it when you’re in a beautiful beach town like Asilah. And you might as well get it from some really tasty seafood.

But even then it sure is not fun.

I wasn’t able to update over the weekend, so I’m putting this excursion all in one post. But luckily I am able to cut Friday down pretty short and sweet due to the fact that all I really did was have a really delicious lunch that tried to kill me. We arrived in Asilah in the early afternoon, had a short tour of the Medina, and then lunch next to the ocean. As it turns out, even (really, really) fresh seafood can be bad! So the rest of my Friday was spent on the floor of my hotel bathroom face-to-face with the toilet bowl. But I lived to tell the tale and (eventually) eat shellfish another day.

Saturday I was very glad for the tranquil speed of this weekend’s excursion. It was very much a beach vacation, so I got to spend the day relaxing and enjoying my absolutely beautiful surroundings. The majority of our group left early in the morning for a beach farther away, but I wasn’t feeling quite up to it, so my morning and early afternoon were mine to spend in peace and solitude. I took a long walk beside the water, listened to some music on the sand, and took a nap in the courtyard of the hotel. It was a pretty perfect way to recuperate and get some time by myself to reflect. And, to take some pretty great photos.

In the evening I was feeling back up to normal speed, so I went with a group of friends to shop and explore the medina. We watched the sunset from a high lookout, and while we were taken completely by surprise. A few local Moroccan boys about our age stripped their shirts and shoes off and dove from the wall into the ocean. I can assure you that with the abundance and placement of rocks far below us, this was not a safe cliff dive for even the most adventurous of people. I was so certain that I had just watched someone die. My stomach still hurts just thinking about it. But, several minutes later they came back dripping wet, ready to jump again, and way braver than I ever will be.

Today we were able to drive the short distance north to Tangier where Morocco is separated from Spain only by the Strait of Gibraltar. So, I still haven’t been to Spain yet, but I’ve seen it from Africa! We got a chance to explore the city a bit as well, which is pretty well-defined as a modge-podge of Spanish, French, English, and Moroccan culture. You can literally see the different influences divided into different parts of the city. We ate fresh figs we bought from a market vendor and saw Gran CafĂ© de Paris (apparently they shot a scene in Borne Ultimatum here?). Then we headed back to Meknes and I took a long, hard nap on the four-hour bus ride home.
Spain - so close I could almost touch it!
This weekend definitely had its ups and one major down, but I’m so glad to have experienced Asilah and Tangier. Northern Morocco is full of culturally eclectic and stunning locations that I will rave about forever.

Back to work tomorrow!

Buenas noches! (Because, you know, Spain.)

P.S. Happy birthday to my amazing Nana! I can't wait to see you when I get home! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Moroccan Sisters

Dear parents: If you ever want to discourage your teenage daughters from becoming pregnant teenage daughters, I have discovered the most effective method of birth control on the planet. Send them to work at an orphanage on bath day.

I really love the work that I am doing at Le Nid – truly, I do. Holding those little babies and seeing them smile is something I could do every day forever. But dear sweet lord did I need prayers for patience today. I get emotional and upset so easily, and it isn’t easy to control that when I’m in the middle of an assembly line of babies being fed, changed, bathed, and medicated. It makes you want to scream and take all the children somewhere far away, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Also, screaming babies are screaming babies; it grates on your nerves regardless of how much compassion you feel. So this morning was exhausting and heavy, but I still loved being there. The sound of babies’ laughter has officially become one of my favorite songs. There’s a little boy with the most beautiful brown eyes that I love to hold, and today I sang him to sleep. He giggled when I started singing and continued smiling until he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore. I know it will be one of my favorite memories.

Cooking class this afternoon definitely revealed my personality, namely my complete lack of ability to be organized. Today’s American recipe was brownies. As soon as I got to the association, I realized I had forgotten the butter in the refrigerator, so Amina had to take me to a corner store to buy some. Then later, I was literally in the middle of mixing the batter when I realized I had also forgotten the eggs. Amina managed to save the day again and ran (literally) to buy me eggs. Next it occurred to me that there was not an appropriate brownie baking pan available to me, so I poured the batter in a skillet and stuck the whole thing in the oven. I was quite embarrassed by this point, so of course then I burned the brownies. I wasn’t really hitting any home runs in the baking department today, I’ll tell you that. But is anyone really surprised?
Things turned out, as they usually do. I scraped the burnt off of the brownies (my mom taught me well), and they came out delicious. We ended up with another great week of America meets Morocco baking class and a ton of great tasting treats. The Moroccan gatos this week were a sesame shortbread cookie with powdered sugar coating and a savory gato with corn meal, tuna, and onion. (Explanation – Gatos can be sweet cookie type treats or savory snackish treats.) I am actually thinking about trying to make the tuna ones at home, so we will see if I can continue my terrible baking streak in the states.

To top off today’s class, Amina gave me a beautiful bracelet and a ring as a late birthday gift. I tried to give it back, but she insisted. They even sang happy birthday to me (in multiple languages, of course). The women at IPDF are absolutely amazing, fun-loving, and kind people who make me feel so blessed to spend time with them. They’ve taught me a lot about being a support system for other women and how powerful those relationships can be. It has brought new meaning to my understanding of sisterhood. We are all sisters, and it’s so important to be a mentor or friend to another woman. There could be a time when those relationships are all she has.

I have to get to sleep now because tomorrow we are up bright and early to head to Asilah. I’m hoping I’ll be able to update this weekend, but if I can’t you’ll hear all about it on Sunday.