Wednesday, September 10, 2008


As I walk to lftur, I look at the moon – it grows a little bit each day – and at the sun (today I saw a huge rainbow!). The sunset call to prayer (that is, the time when a black thread and a white thread held up together become indistinguishable, though I don’t think it’s really done that way – each mosque’s call is at a slightly different time, so that there’s a cascade of call) is the signal to say, “bismillah” (in the name of God – what you do when you start anything – most often I hear it at meals and in taxi rides) and pick up that date (I didn’t know until last year that you started the breaking of the fast with a date – somehow I missed that in training). Lots of parenthetical statements there, but I wanted to note that while watching the moon grow and the sun set I feel some admiration for those who are still connected to the moon and the sun.

And I should mention the 3:00 am drumming – the first couple of days I heard this loud drumming and wondered why it would be so loud as to wake me up – and then I remembered that the purpose is to wake people up so that they can eat before the sunrise call to prayer. It must have been only for the first week – certainly I’m not sleeping through it. In Timhadite and at the Auberge it was a drum and a horn. In Sefrou over the weekend there was a siren from the medina mosque at sunset – maybe with a wider range than the call itself.

Yep, I went to Sefrou over the weekend! Rose is working on a proposal and she wanted me to meet some of the people involved and offer my opinion. I hadn’t accounted for the fact that people sleep late during Ramadan, so getting to the taxi stand early meant waiting a long time for the taxi to fill. I arrived in the middle of the meeting but could catch on to what was going on; the debriefings later were more of a chance to contribute. Some other volunteers were there too; we took a walk and went shopping for dinner (heard the siren and had to rush around to get some eggs and yogurt) and then took a walk the next morning. Then we played some rummy and listened to music – I never actually took a look at the proposal, so we’ll have to get together again! Still want to go to the Jewish cemetery in Sefrou, too, inshallah.

As I have lftur I have been thinking more about religion. I tried to remember what knowledge and impressions I had of Islam before I came here. As I was growing up I thought of Moslems (because that’s what they were then) as different, with their own dress and customs. I knew about the Crusades but in those they were the bad guys. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking or learning about much else. September 11 made me read a little bit more, but I still feel I heard about unrest among immigrant populations in Europe more than anything else. When I was in Cape Town I visited the Muslim area and learned yet more – but I guess most of what I know about Islam I learned here. So I do feel an obligation to learn even more (we had talks about it in training and I talk with my host mother, counterpart and others but I haven’t read much, I’ll admit) and share with people both now and when I return to the U.S.

My friend Linda once said she was impressed with the homogeneity here and how tied the religion is to the culture – really, you can’t separate it. I had just come back from Spain, so my response was, “you mean like in 1492 when the Catholics expelled everyone else and Spain became a homogeneous culture?” I wonder what it was like here when it was more multi-cultural. There is something to be admired in the shared culture and religion here, I agree with Linda, but I wonder if something was lost.

And then I started thinking about the U.S. and the increasing influence of the Christian right. It’s not a new trend, and it has disturbed me for years, but watching the presidential race from afar and how important it is for the candidates to publicly declare their religion makes me wonder what happened to separation of church and state and the principle of religious freedom on which the country was founded. There are more than a few extremely Christian Peace Corps Volunteers here – is that reflective of the country as a whole, and I just didn’t run in that kind of crowd, or did they self-select for service and for wanting to experience a Muslim country?

Linda (of Bob and Linda, not of the culture discussion) gave me a great recipe for Mskuta, easy Moroccan tea cake. I brought it to lftur at Youssef’s family on Friday night. Moroccans don’t always like the things I bake (they couldn’t get the concept of banana bread, for example – bread and sweet don’t mix) but they like their own things! I tried to double the recipe on Sunday night before going to Abdou’s but I didn’t have double the time, and it wasn’t ready. I flipped the bundt pan onto a plate just to prove that to myself, therefore ruining any chances it would ever be presentable. Time and lftur wait for no man! I did stick it in the oven when I got home and I cut a big (presentable) arc for him, so all was not lost (I have had to eat the rest by myself…).

Mskuta (easy Moroccan tea cake)
1 Danone vanilla (which then becomes the measuring cup – note, yogurt here is about half a cup…)
3 eggs
½ cup melted butter or vegetable oil
1 package baking powder – I should measure this, but it’s a lot more than I put in mst recipes – maybe a tablespoon
3 cups flour
¾-1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Options: add raisins or choc chips or lemon juice (recipe says you can substitute lemon yogurt, but I have never seen it here)
Blend dry ingredients
Blend wet ingredients
Blend everything.
Bake in oiled (and floured) tube pan. Bake for 20 minutes or as long as needed according to your baking appliance. Serve with tea.
(With the lemon option, you can top with lemon glaze (lemon juice and powdered sugar blend). Linda has also seen with chocolate drizzled as frosting. Usually it’s just served plain. My notes – my host mother puts half the batter in the pan, mixes a couple of tablespoons of chocolate powder into the other half, and pours that in – I will try that next time! I am going to her house tomorrow and said I would bring it).

Another thing I keep meaning to talk about is water – there was an interesting article about it in the last Peace Works (reminds me that I liked engineering – but you can’t go through the desert or over dry watercourses without thinking about it). There are 116 major dams here, which supply households with plenty of water; right now there is enough, but as each year brings less and less rain and a growing population, it could be a problem. Sixty-eight percent of collected surface water gets lost in the system, either through evaporation or leakage or not being fully captured, it goes out to sea (note – I am glad some makes it out to sea – wildlife needs it too – but that wasn’t mentioned in the article). Leaks in the distribution system mean that only 70 percent of what is pumped into the system reaches the taps. There is a big discrepancy between north and south – 79 percent of water is in 27 percent of the territory (the south has about a third of the population and I am not sure what portion of the territory). Agriculture uses 88 percent of the water in the dam/reservoir system, leaving only 12 percent for households. There is a movement towards drip irrigation but that will take a while, and there is a movement towards using recycled wastewater in agriculture, but it is expensive. Another major problem is bureaucracy – there is a World Bank loan on the table for additional dam construction, but the condition is that Morocco streamline its water management institutions and simplify decision-making. Here’s another statement – in rural areas, 70 percent of the households have running water, compared with 14 percent in 1994. I’ll bet that is about the same for electricity. In short, I found a lot that was interesting in this article!

This is another busy week – but again, staying home more during Ramadan means feeling more productive (just when everyone else is NOT productive!). I haven’t even napped so far this week – though I have had afternoon headaches. On Monday I went out to Ain Leuh with the Al Akhawayn students – I think they are going to do a great job of building a web site and training the artisans to maintain it. On Tuesday I went to Abdou’s and went through most of my pictures of his rugs, categorizing them by tribe, which is how he wants his web site organized, and started uploading those ( I’ll upload what I have and take more and teach Abdou – and Kathy said she would help as well. I’ve been working on my COS Site Survey, the form that will go to the next volunteer – ten pages’ worth of information and counting – and I started to pack some boxes (I’m trying not to pack things I’m still using, so while my apartment looks lighter it doesn’t look as though I am moving – yet. I feel I still have some shopping to do, too). There are more COS documents to do and lots of other things I want to work on (such as writing to my partner school), and I am going to review the metal worker’s revised web site with him; maybe the rock-carver’s too. It’s been thundering a lot and raining a little every day, and it’s been cool enough to sleep under the covers the last two nights. I’m embarrassed to think that I used to keep the air conditioning on so that I could sleep under the covers in Chicago – from now on I think I can sleep over the covers.

On Friday the new trainees arrive in Azrou, and I am going down to the Auberge to give an orientation talk. I still remember a lot of what Lee said in his talk – he drew a community map (a PACA tool!), he talked about his work, he talked about Ramadan, he talked about life in Morocco – he was the first actual volunteer we heard from. I hope I can leave as much of an impression on at least some of the trainees as he did on me. I am doing that and GAD and haven’t been asked to do other trainings – that’s all right.

The picture is of the labyrinth near the painted rocks. I had wanted to make a labyrinth for the zen room – sometimes I walk around on the rug in there and contemplate, but walking this reminded me that it’s not the same. Ren is doing some art in the states and I asked her to make me a “personal labyrinth” that I can put on the floor and walk on (and the rest of the time maybe it can double as a tablecloth!).

I still don't understand when people sleep during Ramadan. Everyone goes to sleep very late because they can't eat at night until late. Then they are awoken at 3 am to eat before sunrise. Do they get 2 hours of sleep a night? But you also mentioned that they sleep late. Do they eat in the middle of the night, then go back to sleep? It all sounds so disruptive to normal biorhythms.
Having lived there, I would have to take a stand against your comparing the "rise of the Christian right" in the US vs. Islam in Morocco - there is just no comparing, in terms of homogeneity. There might have been 50 years ago, or in certain areas of the country, but really, where in America are you shamed for not showing up in church on a Sunday (compared to being shamed for eating during Ramadan?) Where in America do people wait to buy alcohol until they know all the religious people will be at church (have you been to Marjane on a Friday???).

I'd love for you to write more so I can make sure I am understanding, because I really don't see it as being a fair comparison at all!
Steph - good point. I wasn't actually meaning to mind was just wandering during the Ramadan TV programs and I was thinking of the role of religion in this society and the U.S. But they can't be compared side by side!
All year, dinner is late - around ten or so (I never ate because I didn't want to eat that late) -now it is just pushed to later. People stay up. Those who wake up at 3 (and the drums were back this morning, by the way) wake up, eat a little, and go back to sleep for a few hours (neither host family I lived with got up for this, which was fine with me, though my host mother now gets up at sunrise to pray and goes back to sleep). You might then take an afternoon nap. Yes, it is disruptive, but so is not eating or drinking during daylight hours. People who work in offices have shortened work hours (and no lunch break) so they can go home and either rest or prepare. My counterpart told me that the Prophet ate all night and slept all day - disruptive, yes, but then it doesn't seem like as much of a sacrifice. Everyone says you get used to it and I guess over the course of the month you kind of do....
Oooh thanks for the mskuta recipe! I'm going to try it this weekend, having never actually made it myself (in Morocco, who needs to learn to cook when everyone you know is great at it!?)

A note: Moroccan baking powder (the stuff in the little red packets) is less potent than American; I would guess half a teaspoon of American baking powder would suffice, for those folks trying this at home.
HI, Sharon,

I don't know how you managed your timing, but I got a lovely postcard from you just after I left you a note. I do so enjoy your musings and commentary about your life in Morocco. The labyrinth picture is nice. We have a walking one at our UU society here in town so anyone can access it year-round.


Good note about the baking powder. When all of my (American) recipes call for 1/4 tsp I have used 1/4 tsp, never realizing it's less potent. I wonder if I could use 1/4 tsp in this recipe too! I have now had success doubling it - the single recipe makes a flat and small cake. The double fills a bundt pan - though my host mother turned it (what I would consider to be) upside down!

Cindy - just luck with the mail, I think! And you have just reinforce my desire to get a personal labyrinth!
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