Monday, November 30, 2009

Big Holiday Round 2

Last year Eid Kabbir was new and exciting mostly because I’d never seen a whole sheep slaughtered and butchered and then eaten piece by unappetizing piece. I’ve seen enough things slaughtered and butchered this past year that the sheep business didn’t really faze me. This year was worlds better than last year simply because I chose to celebrate it with my neighbors (who have really become my family here) and their entire extended family, which is a hilarious and wonderful group of people. Last year I felt like I just got shuffled around from house to house, drinking tea and eating meat and feeling awkward the whole time, but this year I felt like part of the celebration. Feeling like a real part of a family makes holidays a lot more fun. My choice to celebrate with my neighbors instead of my original host family (much like my decision to break fast during Ramadan with my neighbors more often than with my host family) definitely was noticed and almost certainly caused some offense. But hey, my neighbors are much more fun.

No Butterball Turkey

Ever since last Thanksgiving when someone in the village felt sorry for me and roasted some turkey kabobs so I could celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ve been planning a real Thanksgiving dinner for this year. This year Thanksgiving fell two days before the really big Muslim holiday (Eid Kabbir), on a day when everyone is supposed to fast to get ready for the big day. So I took the liberty of moving Thanksgiving up two days and celebrating on Tuesday.

My two lovely turkeys on their way home from the market

Turkey #1 hanging out on the kitchen counter waiting for the festivities to begin

Turkey #2 about to be plucked

Turkey #2 stuffed and squeezed into my neighbor’s butagas oven

My neighbors’ and friends’ first Thanksgiving

Overall, I had a great time and I thought my first ever solo attempt at turkey and stuffing and hot spiced apple cider and pumpkin pie turned out really well. After some discussion, however, my guests all decided that the turkey would have been better roasted on kabobs and the stuffing better if we’d used rice instead of bread. So the verdict still stands that it was cute of me to try, but I still need some serious cooking lessons before I can even think about ever finding someone to marry me.

One Year in and Still Naïve

It’s now been 12 weeks since the road was destroyed and surprise surprise, it is still not fixed. Every week rumors spread around the village that this is the week it’ll be fixed and I get excited and believe them and then another week goes by and of course nothing changes – the sheep vans still have to take the “village bypass” road (just two tire tracks that run around the outside of the village through the tall grass of the open prairie). And everyone else still has to park at the top of the road and walk the mile and a half into the village. Comical, really, if it weren’t so frustrating.

Possibly the best Halloween pumpkin I’ve ever carved

People thought this was hilarious though extremely strange:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More great publicity

For those of you who can't make it out to Morocco to take part in our couscous-rolling workshops, this article is a good walk-through of the process.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another example of Moroccan hospitality at its best

Last week we had a great group of students come visit the village to make couscous and then do a one-night homestay with some families in the village. The weekend was intended to be a learning experience for the students - both about the art of couscous-rolling and about life in a super rural village - and we expected some discomfort on their part (how will we communicate? will we just sit and stare awkwardly at each other all evening? how do I flush a toilet without running water?). The girls took it all in stride, however, and it was the host families who were the confused ones - this was the first time any of them had ever been offered money in exchange for a bed - they all tried to give the money we offered them back, as it is second nature to let a guest spend the night and no one would ever think to ask them for money. Even when we explained that no, it's okay to take the money, this homestay program is one of the ways the Association is helping its members generate a little more income, they were still unsure what they should do. It was actually really refreshing to see, after so many times when I've felt like I'm being ripped off on everything just because I'm a foreigner. The host families saw these three relatively well-off girls not as rich foreigners but as tired travelers far away from home who needed a place to sleep and a hot meal.

You can read the students' summary of the weekend on their blog, here:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My own great uncle's son-in-law's niece

After months of wondering, I finally found the missing link connecting my original host family (Cheikh and all his daughters) to my new adopted host family (my fantastic neighbors). Which means I have figured out how I (as daughter of my first family) am related to myself (as daughter of my second family).

My 2nd host father's brother's wife's father's sister's son is my 1st host father. Said another way, I am my great uncle's son in law's niece, or the reverse, my uncle's father in law's great niece.

I'm still working on drawing the family tree of the entire village - it's already pretty overwhelming - but it's fun to see how everyone fits into the picture.

Big Publicity in Fes

Someone wrote this great article about us on the biggest expat blog in Morocco, A View from Fes. You can see the whole article (with pictures) at

Monday, November 02, 2009
Moroccan couscous - the traditional way

Couscous, or seksu as it's know in Moroccan Arabic, is one of the staple foods of the Maghreb. It's made of ground semolina that's moistened and rolled in flour.

Moroccan couscous

These days we usually buy ready-cooked couscous in packets from the supermarket, but there are parts of Morocco where it is still hand-rolled by village women and the difference in taste is remarkable. This is the 'real thing'.

Cynthia Berning, a US Peace Corps volunteer, has been working with a women's association in the small mud village of Khoukhate, some 130km south of Fez in the Middle Atlas, with the aim
of bringing back an appreciation for the art - and taste - of hand-rolled couscous.

Cynthia Berning

"The majority of women and girls [in the village] are still illiterate and thus have few opportunities to contribute financially to providing for their families", explains Cynthia.
"Enter the Association ENNAHDA ('rebirth' in Arabic), an association with the goal of increasing the standard of living for all residents of Khoukhate through the creation of employment for the women of the village."

When the operation started two years ago, it was limited to couscous production. But the business has now grown to include jams made from locally-grown fruit - fig, apple, apricot, orange, carrot and watermelon, there's herb-infused olive oil, almond butter, and the Moroccan high-energy snack 'zmita'. All the products are marketed under the name 'El Karma', which is Moroccan Arabic for fig tree, and is also the name of the natural spring in the village.

Now the association has an eco-tourism project where groups of visitors are welcomed to Khoukhate to learn the secrets of a good Moroccan couscous, and at the same time experience traditional rural life. Visitors roll their own couscous from scratch with the local women, and then cook it and eat it for lunch.

Couscous preparation: step 1

Step 2: sifting the couscous

Couscous ready for sale

The association has teamed up with Fez Food and Cafe Clock and it's now possible to learn this traditional art in Fez - great for people who don't have the time to go out to the village. There are monthly couscous workshops at Cafe Clock, conducted in English, French and Darija. The three-hour session begins with fresh vegetables, wholewheat flour, and water brought from the village spring. It finishes with lunch, and could be the best couscous you've ever eaten.

The next workshop is at 11h30-14h30 on Friday 13 November at Cafe Clock. For details and to book, contact Fez Food. Fez Food also runs excursions to the village.

For a peek into Cynthia's adventures in this tiny village, visit her blog, Couscous Chronicles. Information on the women's association can be found here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Road Rage

Five weeks have now passed since our road was destroyed by that last flash flood – five weeks of having to walk half an hour to get in or out of the village, carrying everything on donkeys (including the new computer and nice printer we just bought for the association. I wish I’d taken a picture of the $500 printer on the back of a donkey and sent it to HP.) In those five weeks, people have not stopped talking, and fighting about what should be done. People from the next town down the road, the “Izzies” (who now have to walk an hour to get to the new improvised parking lot at the top) started using the private road that the rich landowners built for their own private access to their fields and mansion, the landowners got mad (after all, those Izzies are “bad people”) and blocked the road with one of their tractors so no one else could use the road. A band of Izzies broke the tractor in the middle of the night, and started ambushing the landowners’ nice shiny cars with rocks every time they tried to come or go. Then they went into town and filed a police report saying the rich landowners had chased them with his rifle, threatening to shoot them (this didn’t actually happen at all, though it’s a quite believable story considering what the landowner said a few months ago about taking that rifle and killing them all if it weren’t for the police.) There was a big police investigation, and every night the men would sit around and argue about what should be done, and whose responsibility it was to do it.
Finally this past week, money arrived from the government to divert the water and fix the road. The Izzies retracted their false police report and slaughtered a sheep in reconciliation. And rumor has it the road will be fixed (and paved!!!), starting this week! I can't even imagine what kinds of drama people will create once the building begins, but I'm sure it'll be fun!

An Honest-to-Goodness Farmer's Tan

For the first time in my life, my farmer’s tan has come from actual farming. This summer I got into the habit of going to the fields to work with my host brother occasionally if I didn’t have anything to do, and since in all my former lives everything I’ve ever planted and tried to grow has promptly died, it’s exciting to see vegetables growing and being productive. In just the last few weeks, I’ve harvested carrots, green beans, white beans, tomatoes, and corn, planted barley and fava beans, washed, shucked and sorted all of those, and had a great time doing it. Next I think comes olives, then harvesting the new beans and barley, then pruning all the apple trees to get ready for next year. And pretty soon planting all over again. And maybe someday I’ll try gardening again on my own.

Just Kidding about the Cat

I got back from Fes last week to find that our dog had literally eaten the kitten. From my neighbor’s description of his shredding the cat meat off the little bones, it sounds pretty gruesome.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Newest Member of the Family

Last week this little thing wandered into my house and into my life:

Road Turned River

About two weeks ago, a storm came through and flooded a bunch of places in Morocco, including, of course, my village. This time, though, the flash flood that came through was worse than anyone had ever seen it, and took down stone walls and parts of people’s houses, and after three days of raging through town, the river had carved a canyon in the middle of the road.

I feel a little bad for complaining for the past year about how bad our road was, when now I would give anything to have our bad, bumpy, rocky road back. Now the village is completely inaccessible to cars, trucks, sheep vans – the only way in and out is by foot or by donkey. Yesterday morning I was coming to Fes for an exposition and had to bring a suitcase full of couscous to sell. I woke my neighbor’s ten year old son up at 5am and we loaded the 88 pound suitcase onto the back of his donkey to make the long, slow half-hour trek in the dark, up to where all the vans now have to stop. Twice, he and the suitcase fell off the donkey into mud puddles and had to be remounted. When I installed running water a few weeks ago, I joked that running water might change my status from a “Peace Corps” volunteer (volunteers who live in the “bled” with no amenities) to “Posh Corps” volunteer (volunteers who live in cities and have internet and hot showers in their houses). But I think my donkey trek out yesterday morning proves I belong in the Peace Corps category.

Ramadan Reflections, Part IV

So Ramadan is over. And truth be told, I kind of miss it. I miss the structured days, with everything based around breaking fast, and I miss not having to worry about cooking or meal times because my neighbors just took care of me and I ate whenever they did. When Ramadan began, I told myself I just had to fast this year, and then maybe not ever again, but now I think I’ll definitely fast next year, and any year I happen to be in a Muslim country. Everyone I know who didn’t fast hated Ramadan, with the weird schedules and the being woken up in the middle of the night by the guys who walk around banging drums to wake people up so they can eat before dawn, and they hated that all anyone wanted to talk to them about was whether or not they were fasting. The volunteers who did fast seem to really have enjoyed Ramadan. It’s pretty cool, the day after Ramadan ended I felt the same way I felt the day after I ran my first marathon – really proud that I’d completed something that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do, and actually enjoyed myself while doing it. I really did get used to it – by the end of the month I was back up to my normal running distance and pace, even after 13 hours without food or water, I wasn’t getting headaches at all, and one day I took an 8-mile hike in the middle of the day and was fine. It’s pretty amazing, actually. Before Ramadan, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed for the whole month I’d be so tired and hungry, but it really wasn’t that hard.

Friday, September 11, 2009

School Bathroom Nightmare, Part III

Twenty days into Ramadan (a full month after the estimated completion date), and the bathrooms still aren't finished. The foreman only shows up to work every few days, and then got most of the measurements wrong ("if you didn't want me to add anything onto the plan you drew, you should have told me not to add anything."), meaning we had to buy more bricks, cement and steel. Then he forgot to leave a space for the windows. I've passed the point of frustration and now everything that goes wrong just makes me laugh. Though I do want to somehow (without creating any enemies) make sure that the association realizes that if we'd gone with the original foreman, the bathrooms would have been completed a month ago, to the exact measurements we wanted, under budget, with windows. School starts in six days, and there's still a classroom full of cement, random wood pieces and a duct tape, to-scale drawing of the plan on the floor.

School Bathroom Nightmare, Part II

Once the 550 bricks, 200 kilos of cement, 175 kilos of steel and everything else we needed were safely in one of the classrooms, the drama began. The association president was upset that we didn't take anyone with us from the association when we bought the stuff. The vice president of the association was upset at our choice of a foreman, other random men showed up who hadn't been at our previous meetings demanding to know why they weren't picked to be the foreman, and everyone was upset that we'd agreed to a daily wage rate that was $3.50 higher than the current going rate for a foreman. We debated for hours, Jed and I saying that we'd been clear from the beginning that we needed a foreman, that if people didn't come to the meetings when they were invited, they can't complain about not being selected as foreman. The association members (for some reason I'm sure I still don't fully understand) were adamant that we not use the foreman we chose. The president claimed that the toilets were so simple to build that we didn't need a foreman, so everyone would work for free. We agreed to this, skeptical but tired of fighting. After two days, they changed their minds and decided they needed a foreman, but couldn't agree on whom, only that it not be the one we'd hired. The guy we hired gave up on us and went back to Midelt to find real work, and the association decided on three different foreman - one would be in charge of the foundation, one the building, and one the roof. This worked until the wall guy decided he had better things to do and quit. Then the association hired a guy I'd never even seen before to be the foreman for the whole rest of the project. Jed and I just wanted to see the thing built, and Ramadan was only a couple of days away, so we agreed.

School Bathroom Nightmare, Part I

Since my first week in the village, the school director has been talking about the urgent need for toilets for the school. The government I guess is in the habit of building classrooms in villages, but not building bathrooms, so the students have to either hold it all day or use the fields around the back of the school. School bathroom building is a pretty common peace corps project in Morocco, and my site mate Jed is a health sector volunteer who was interested in taking this on, so everything seemed pretty straight forward. We held a series of meeting with the parents starting in April, telling them we would supply all the materials if they agreed to each contribute one day of labor for free. We asked around and found a guy who knew how to build stuff and hired him as our foreman. Jed filed all the paperwork, we involved the association, and received the money from USAID in June. Once we had the money, we arranged with the foreman a day at the beginning of July to go together to Midelt and buy everything we needed and bring it back to the village in one trip. Everything was going great and we had plenty of time to finish building these simple bathrooms before Ramadan started. I was busy getting excited about the blog post I was going to write when it was all finished ("my most concrete project yet").

One year in, and still loving it

So I've been in Morocco a year now. Good time for reflection, I think, and a mass email to make sure you all haven't forgotten about me.
Favorite moments in the past year of service:
1.Evening exercise sessions with my host sisters - turning up loud techno music and dancing our hearts out until we're pouring sweat and can't dance anymore, we're laughing so hard
2.The day we started construction on the school toilets, knocking down the old ones, collecting the rocks and pieces of wood, and being excited that it was finally underway
3.Riding my mountain bike down the dirt road into the village - all downhill and fast and absolutely gorgeous
4.Sunset runs out between the plateaus with my dog. Even after almost a year of daily runs, I'm still blown away by how pretty it is every single afternoon. Sunrise is pretty too, but I'm not very good at getting up for that
5.Hanging out with my host brothers when they sell kitchen ware at souq - taking over for them when they go off to run errands, and pretending like there's nothing strange about an American selling tea glasses, cheap plastic Tupperware and silverware in a random rural market in Morocco
6.Long underwear dance parties in winter whenever volunteers get together - turning out the lights and setting our headlamps to "strobe" while we dance to last year's now-out-of-date pop music.
7.Daily afternoon soccer games with the boys, especially when my host brothers come out to play and I get really competitive
8.Watching my neighbors/landlords/family slowly climb the social ladder with every month's rent I pay them, and knowing there's not another family in the world that I would rather see succeed
9.Harvesting barley, weeding the tomato fields, pulling up carrots, or doing whatever random agricultural work there is that day with my host brother, even if it's hard and tedious and gives me horrendous blisters
10.The day a friend and I set out on foot to find a path to this lake that, according to Google Maps, was right over the mountains and through the forest from the village. Drinking tea in a nomad tent, then thinking we'd lost ourselves in the middle of the mountains and then seeing the blue of the lake after six hours of hiking. When we were tired and hungry, being invited to eat lunch at the lake with a fantastic family who then offered us a ride home and invited us to a wedding that weekend, and whom I still track down at their stand whenever I'm in souq, just to say hello.

So those are the great parts of Peace Corps life. Needless to say, this line of work has its frustrations too. A year in, and our couscous business has yet to find a major client, or really anyone who can be counted on to buy more than a couple of kilos a month (I thought for sure we'd be selling in every major supermarket by now). All my hundreds of hours of grant-writing have resulted in less than a thousand dollars of grant money (I thought we'd have a brand new couscous-making facility, and goats and rabbits and a cheese operation by now). And as good as my Arabic is compared to the majority of volunteers here, there are still countless interactions a day where I simply fail to understand or to make myself understood. And the speed at which this past year has gone by makes me afraid that the remaining fifteen months won't be enough to accomplish everything I think I should be able to accomplish.

Ways you can help me, if you're interested:
1.Put me in contact with anyone you know in Morocco, especially if they own/work in a hotel or restaurant or supermarket or travel agency
2.Mail me as many broccoli seeds as you can find, literally. No one here grows any winter vegetables so I want to get some of the farmers to experiment with broccoli, not to mention I miss broccoli more than probably any other food.
3.If you know anyone who's planning a vacation to Morocco, suggest that they take a few hours and stop by the village to make couscous with us - it really is still the best couscous I've ever eaten, and people seem to really enjoy our cooking classes
4.Send me any suggestions you have for anything, really: i.e. grant opportunities, online travel forums I should post to, ideas for other money-making projects or places to sell our couscous.

"You know I have an association. . . "

One thing I find very amusing here is the sheer number of associations there are. Everyone and their mother seems to have their own association, from the taxi driver that drives from Zaida to the village, to the guy I buy vegetables from, to the guys who run the cyber cafÈ. I rarely go one day out of the village without at least one person telling me about their association and asking for my help. It's great, I guess, that this seems to be one area of the government devoid of any and all red tape - one man in the village was talking to me on a Friday about how he was thinking about starting his own association, and the next time I saw him, Monday afternoon, he said he'd started it and filed all the papers and was ready to go. And it's great that people feel like they have the potential to help their communities. But the number of associations that get created and then do absolutely nothing is astounding. Which is why I laughed out loud when the rich land owner told me the other day that he was going to start his own association. "To do what?" I asked. "Everything." "Everything like what? You can't have an association that does everything." "You know, stuff to help the village, like a road and a hospital and whatever it needs." People seem to think that there's just all this money floating around that associations are entitled to the minute they file their paperwork. There is money out there, for sure, but I'm finding that it's really really hard to get.

One Mystery Solved

I've figured out what all the men and teenage boys do between breaking fast and midnight dinner - this was a big mystery to me the first week of Ramadan, when they'd all disappear to the mosque to pray the evening prayer and then not reappear until midnight or one o'clock. In the absence of coffee shops or cafes or any real place to hang out, the teenage boys all hang out outside one of the village's little hanuts (corner stores), I presume the one that sells cigarettes. The men at the same time drink coffee on the patio of the rich land owner's house and talk business and whatever's going on in the village. I stumbled into this the day I got invited there to break fast, and have wandered up there a few times since just to sit and listen. I'm probably the only woman who's ever attended these informal meetings, and I'm not sure if it's inappropriate for me to be there with all the men, but it's fascinating. Yesterday the topic was a truck load of something (I never figured out what) that somehow on its route from the village to Rabat "lost" sixty crates full of whatever it was transporting, worth several hundred dollars. And no one knows who stole it. I'd never really thought about the village as a place of business - to me it's just this happy place where everyone's nice to me and we eat and play soccer and celebrate holidays and drink tea. It also made me really wish my Arabic was better - I understood most of what was being discussed, but I could never participate in conversations like that - the few times one of them turned to me to make sure I was following I just felt like the dumb little kid that you have to speak to in small words. I have the feeling that when it's not Ramadan, these evenings include beer instead of coffee, which means I should probably not attend them. Unfortunate, really, since it's so much more interesting than sitting at home alone or watching TV with the women, and it gives great insight into village politics and social relationships and all kinds of things I still don't know about this place, even after almost a year.

Ramadan Reflections Part III

So Ramadan is now more than half over. People are definitely getting used to it - the first few days when sunset was approaching, everyone would gather around the table, staring at the food, waiting to hear the call to prayer and then dive in immediately. Now it's a lot less important to be there right at the right moment - the call to prayer almost seems to catch people off guard, as they're still preparing food, or bringing in the cows, and what's another minute or two if you've been fasting all day? I've noticed I'm eating a lot more now than at the beginning of the month - I guess at first it felt all wrong to be eating in the middle of the night, and I think my stomach would shrink during the day so I wouldn't be able to eat much at break-fast. But my body's gotten used to the reversed schedule and I'm eating normal amounts of food again, just at abnormal hours. I've stopped eating anything at 4am, just drinking water, since it's never really hunger that's bothersome, it's thirst.

Running Water comes to ____ (This is where I would write my address if I had one)

I've never really minded pulling my water up out of the well (I think the novelty still hasn't worn off, and it makes me feel like a real Peace Corps volunteer). But my neighbors who share my well use way more water than I do, as they actually wash their floors and do their laundry and cook and clean a lot more often than I do. So when I realized that I could buy a pump for the well and set up running water for both of our houses for only about $150, I decided that would be a nice thing to do for the family that has all but adopted me the past seven months since I moved in next door to them. So finally after about a dozen trips to Zaida to pick up the pump, then exchange it for a different one, then buy more tubing, then pick up this or that part that we'd forgotten, I have two working faucets in my house - one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. Living in luxury now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ramadan Reflections: Part II

Five days into the month, I’ve settled into a pretty nice routine:
12pm wake up, lie around until I’m too bored to stay in bed longer
2pm do some work for the association – work on grant proposals or brainstorm for new projects or meet with the president
5:30pm go for a slow, easy 5-mile jog
6:30pm get home, shower, wander over to whoever’s house I’ve been invited to break fast at
7pm (or whenever the sunset call to prayer is heard) break fast with dates, tea, bread and soup, and try not to be annoyed when everyone tells me I am drinking too much water and should eat more instead
8pm hang out there or go home and do some more work
12am eat a small dinner, usually wherever I’ve broken fast
1am say I’m going to sleep but really just go home and work some more or read, trying to stay up as late as possible so I can sleep longer during the day (I usually only make it until about 2 before I fall asleep)
4am wake up to chug a Nalgene and eat a bowl of cereal and brush my teeth before the morning call to prayer, at which point fasting begins again and I go back to sleep

So by the time I wake up, there’s only six or seven hours before I can eat, which isn’t bad at all, considering I just lounge around my house the whole time, distracting myself from hunger and thirst. People seem really impressed that I still run every day, but I have it much easier than most – my host father still has to drive his van around all day while fasting, my neighbors still have to weed and water the tomato fields all afternoon while fasting, and all the women still clean and bake bread and do laundry and then prepare breakfast and dinner while fasting. I’ve spent one day so far awake and active (went into town to get my computer fixed and used the internet), and by the middle of the afternoon I was exhausted and miserable and had a horrible headache. But time passed and I survived another day of fasting. I think it’s going to be a very slow (but also incredibly productive, hopefully) month.

Ramadan Reflections: Part I

The month of Ramadan, when everyone fasts during the day, began last weekend. I’ve been partly dreading the start of the month, knowing that fasting is something I really should do but will probably be pretty unpleasant. I fasted a couple of days last year, and it really did make “iftor” (breakfast) with people a lot more satisfying, plus I know I could use some work developing patience. The other part of me, after several weeks of travel and weddings and overall stress, was looking forward to just sitting in my house and relaxing for a whole month, taking care of some grant-writing and other work that wouldn’t require me to get dressed or leave my bed. I still think maybe a whole month is a bit excessive, but I do like the idea behind fasting – that for one month, everyone is equal – the poor and the rich are eating exactly the same food and even the king knows what it’s like to be hungry. Outside of the Arab world, I doubt very many kings or other heads of state have ever once really felt hunger. Another thing I really like about Ramadan is that it would be so easy to cheat without anyone knowing, and yet everyone holds themselves to this high standard. Fasting during Ramadan seems to be the one part of Islam that absolutely everyone takes extremely seriously. I know a lot of people who drink alcohol regularly (forbidden in Islam) and a lot of people who rarely pray (5 times a day is required), but I don’t know a single person who doesn’t fast. It seems like for a lot of people, being good for a month during Ramadan – not drinking or going out with girls, actually praying when you’re supposed to – covers you for the next eleven months of doing whatever you want to. Not a bad deal, I guess.

New Housemates

One of my favorite random things about summer is that all of a sudden there are thousands of frogs everywhere. Two particular ones decided they really liked hanging out in my house, and after a few weeks of catching them and throwing them back outside day after day, I finally gave up and just let them stay. It adds some excitement to going to the bathroom, as I never know where they’ll happen to be hanging out, and seeing how much they love splashing around in the permanent puddle that is my bathroom floor, they give me an excuse to not squeegee or mop the floor as much as I probably should. A win-win situation for everyone.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Windows XP Sweet!

So my computer crashed last week and I had to reformat the harddrive. I took it to a guy in Midelt who said he could reinstall Windows. Has anyone ever heard of Windows XP “Sweet”? It sounds not exactly legitimate, but it seems to work so far like Windows XP, except that everything on my computer is in French now.

Going to Weddings like it's my Job: Part II

A recounting of all the weddings I’ve gone to this season:

1. Ifrane: Wedding season got off to a great start with this unexpected and super fun wedding. My friend Kristen and I showed up in her training village hoping to interview her host family for a movie we’re making, only to find that half of the village was missing, gone to a wedding in Ifrane. So of course, because we had to get these interviews in, we went too. After the sheep-and-gift parade around the streets, we spent the whole evening and night dancing and eating the best Moroccan food I’ve had so far (excepting my association’s couscous, of course).

2. “Tabbie” village: I found out about this wedding around 5pm the day of, when my neighbors told me I should come along with them later, even though I didn’t know the couple or really anyone in that village. “Not a problem,” they said, “we’re just going to watch.” So I went over to my neighbors’ house, dressed and ready to go at 10pm, then we ate dinner and all fell asleep until 1am until someone received word that things were getting going. Nothing super exciting happened, since I guess if you’re not invited to the wedding it’s okay to sit and watch, but not to actually dance. Came home around 4am.

3. “Tabbie” village again: This one I should have seen coming and run for my life in the opposite direction. It was the women-only part of the wedding, and I’d been told we’d go and eat lunch, so I was pretty hungry from the beginning. Then we sat with about 60 women in a little, extremely hot room. The five minutes I got up and danced with my neighbor did not justify the four hours of my life I spent in that room, dripping sweat and waiting for the sun to set so it would all be over. I swore I’d never go to another women-only wedding “lunch” again.

4. “Debbie” village: I had a group of other Peace Corps Volunteers visiting me one weekend, and we all got invited to a wedding of yet another person I didn’t know. But I knew the family a little, and everyone I knew was going, and I got about fifteen separate pleading invitations to go, so I figured I should stop by. I thought I’d be clever, though, and use the new trick I’d learned the week before – if you wait until the middle of the night to show up, you don’t have to sit in the super hot room waiting for a dinner you don’t really want to eat. So four of us walked out around 1:30am, sure we’d missed dinner and could just join in the music and dancing. But our plan was foiled, as dinner wasn’t served until about 2:30am and we were forced to eat it. The worst part was the two guy volunteers (who didn’t know a single person in town) had to eat with the men while Kristen and I ate with the women in a completely different house. The men always get served first at weddings, so they finished eating around 2am and then had to wait around an hour outside waiting for the women to finish. By then everyone was exhausted and they all had to leave on the 6am sheep van, so we danced for a few minutes and walked home to catch an hour or two of sleep.

5. Some village I can never remember the name of: I’d been told this wedding was for someone in my neighbors’ family and that we’d go for the whole day to help them prepare, so I waited in my house all day, ready to go, until around 5 when we finally left. The village is an hour away by foot, and turned out to be not too fun at all, since I didn’t know anyone except my neighbors, and most of the festivities centered around the “haydous” (men in a line beating drums and chanting things I don’t understand, for hours). I discovered, though, that every wedding has a couple of sleeping rooms, where people can go to nap if they get tired. Mostly it’s children and old people, but I snuck in a few hours of sleep and woke up again around 4:30 am to catch the end of the wedding. No one seemed to notice and the haydous was still going on, so I don’t think I missed anything. The party broke up as soon as it began to get light out, and we made the long trek home at sunrise. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how beautiful my village is at sunrise, with all the plateaus and random people on donkeys. That walk home (after which I collapsed and didn’t wake up until the middle of the afternoon) made the whole long boring wedding worth it. Turns out everyone went back the next day too for either another wedding in the same place, or just another day of the same wedding. I hear it was way more fun, but I needed a day off from weddings.

6. My village, finally: Ever since I arrived here in November, my host family has been talking about their neighbors’ (and cousins’) plans for a huge wedding this summer. Originally it was supposed to be a joint wedding for a brother and sister, but the sister decided at the last minute a couple of weeks ago that she didn’t want to get married after all, so it was just a big wedding for her brother. I went the women-only lunch reluctantly, remembering how miserable the last one I went to had been, but I guess I was at the fun table this time, because it turned out to be a blast, and I couldn’t believe that when most people got up to leave, I didn’t run for the door, but rather stayed and danced more and hung out until we got kicked out of the room at sunset.

7. My village again: The wedding itself was two days later, and I decided this time there was no way I was getting caught in a room full of women waiting to be served dinner. So I showed up in the middle of the afternoon with an apron on, and planted myself in the garage (converted into kitchen for all the food preparation) and refused to leave. Plucked and cleaned and seasoned and cooked 32 chickens, guarded all the food against flies for a couple of hours, piled into a sheep van with the whole family to go to the town 10km away to bring the bride, and when the wedding finally started, ran dishes back and forth to the various rooms, washed tray after tray of tea glasses, and reported back to the garage every few minutes the eating status of all the different rooms. The work finally ended around 1am and the dancing began. I decided since this was probably the last big wedding of the season, and certainly the one where I knew the most people, I wasn’t going to waste it sitting and watching with all the women who were too shy to get up and dance. So I hung out in the back with the group of guys my age that I play soccer with; I still don’t know whether that was really inappropriate. But it was really fun. At dawn my neighbor and I went back to the house, changed out of our wedding clothes and headed out to the tomato fields, fully intending to put in a good morning’s work weeding. It only took about an hour to realize we were pretty useless having had no sleep, and gave up until afternoon.

8. Reprise: Bzou: I stopped by a good friend’s site on my way to Marrakech and discovered that the evening agenda included a big wedding at her host family’s neighbor’s house. I was pretty sad that wedding season was coming to an end so I happily donned a borrowed sparkly pink dress, learned the wedding chant that I’ve been meaning to learn for almost a year now but never had - “slah slem la rasu llah. Ila jayna ja sidna Mohammed, allah ma ja la-ali” (and then a lot of ululating). We left early, around 2 or 2:30, which I felt a little bad about considering I was pretty sure that this time it was the end of wedding season, but the previous month of wedding-related poor sleeping habits had taken its toll. All in all, a pretty good wedding season. I hear that there’s another month of wedding season after Ramadan ends; I think we all need this month-long break.

Going to Weddings like it's my Job: Part I

I guess it kind of is part of my job, but I think I can reasonably say that I’ve spent way more time at weddings in the past couple of weeks than I have doing any kind of association-related work. Ramadan is fast approaching, meaning everyone and their mother has to get married right now. If there’s one thing all these weddings have shown me about Moroccan culture it’s the seemingly endless attention span of Moroccans while doing extremely dull, repetitive activities. The main activity at any wedding, baby party or other celebration is several hours (no joke) of call-and-response chanting, each chant accompanied by exactly the same rhythm on these sheep-skin drums. They never seem to get tired of this, and even if I did understand what they were chanting about, I doubt the words are interesting enough to justify several hours of this (in my opinion.). This is also usually done with some 50 women crammed into a room with no furniture, sitting on the floor against the walls and against each other, suffering in very uncomfortable heat. For about five minutes of this, women will get up and dance, which I admit is fun to watch and take part in, but the rest is pretty miserable.

The wedding I went to last night included another version of this same call-and-response chanting, this time with men all in a line, called a “hay-dous”. This is a traditionally Berber wedding ritual, and they stood there in this line, shoulder to shoulder, bouncing up and down a little, for probably seven or eight hours in total during the wedding. The wedding guests joined them at one point, with everyone in this big circle, swaying back and forth and repeating the same chants over and over again for about two hours. It was fun for me for the first maybe ten minutes, then it just got old. But the rest of the guests couldn’t get enough and every time I was sure they’d run out of lines to chant and we could all sit down, someone else would come up with one and they’d keep at it. It almost seems like weddings are supposed to last until dawn (maybe so everyone can then walk home safely in daylight?) and they just have to fill the time, no matter how boring it is or how much everyone wants to throw in the towel and go home. Or maybe they really do all love it. Especially for the women, it must be an excuse to get out of the house and hang out with their friends so they try to stay as long as humanly possible. Every time I go to one, people ask me how Moroccan weddings are different from American weddings, and each time I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying “ours aren’t nearly as long and boring.” And even though I cringe every time someone suggests that I have a Moroccan wedding, I smile and say “inchallah. . .”

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Cows Came Home

So the first week I moved to the village, in November, the Association was really excited about the herd of cows they were about to get. I got all excited about an ice cream project and a cheese project and all the yogurt I was going to make. And then every week for the next seven months the president of the Association told me that we were really close to getting the cows, just one more piece of paper work that had to be submitted in Khenifra, or Midelt or Meknes or Itzer. Well, after about 30 weeks of waiting, the cows finally came home last week. I wasn’t there to see this production, so it all feels a little anti-climactic to me, especially since it turns out we got the kind that don’t even produce that much milk. The one funny thing that happened though is that two of the baby cows (they brought home 16 cows that each had a baby) got switched as the truck was being unloaded, and the two people whose cows suddenly refused to nurse the babies had to find each other and switch them back.

Update on the Kookie/Izzie feud

I found out some more of the history behind what still seems to me to be the silliest feud I’ve ever heard of. It turns out pretty much the entire area, for miles on all sides of the village, was the property of this rich Arab guy a really long time ago, who was descended from some important saint in Fes. He settled the area and brought all of his slaves with him. So basically everyone in the village is descended from either that guy’s family (his descendents have the huge house and include the president of the Commune), or his slaves. And all of the land legally belongs to this family, with the rest of the town basically squatting on it. The people of my village get along well with the rich family, know that they’re all descended from slaves, and continue to all work for the rich family. I used to think everyone had their own plots of land that they farmed, but I’m realizing that really they’re all just working for the rich family and only have really small plots themselves. So the Kookies have come to terms with this arrangement, which feels a lot like serfdom to me. The rich family employs most of the men, and everyone more or less gets along.

The Izzies are another story. Their village is on land that belongs to our rich land owner as well, and they’re all squatting too. However that village was settled by a group of Portuguese people a long time ago, and in the beginning the rich land owners didn’t mind since they had so much land anyways. But then the village grew and grew, until now the Izzies outnumber the Kookies almost 2 to 1. And as the village grew, they became more and more insolent and uncooperative, for example addressing the current rich land owners by their first names, instead of showing them the required respect of calling them by their full names. And not immediately pulling their sheep vans over off the road when the landowners want to pass in their big fancy cars. And I guess they don’t show the proper gratitude to the landowners for widening the road all the way down to their village so that sheep vans could drive on it, when before it was just a narrow donkey path. The most interesting – and horribly disturbing - quote I’ve heard on this topic (from one of the current rich landowners) “If there were no police, we’d march down there and kill them all.” There are times when I feel like I’m very well integrated and understand this culture and know these people really well, and then someone talks seriously of wanting to massacre an entire village of people.

This is the second highest mountain in Africa, really?

A group of us climbed Jbel Toubkal a couple of weeks ago, the highest mountain in North Africa, and second only to Kilamanjaro in Africa. It was surprisingly (and a little disappointingly) easy for being so high, and felt more like an uphill walk than a serious mountain climb. We just set off from Marrakech in our sneakers and whatever clothes we had with us, and walked up almost to the top, slept in the lodge close to the top, got up early, reached the summit, and walked back down and went back to Marrakech.

As easy as the actual hike was, we were not at all prepared for how FREEZING cold it would be at the top. Even in the middle of June there was almost a foot of snow on the ground for the last hour or so of the climb, and the wind was vicious. I survived a pretty cold and miserable winter in the Middle Atlas this past year, but that was nothing compared to how ridiculously cold the top of this mountain was. My fingers hurt now just thinking about it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Inauguration Day Dance Party!

Yesterday was the day that the newly-elected presidents of all the communes took office. Our commune has had the same president for the last 12 years, and he was re-elected again this year for a third 6-year term. I don’t particularly like the guy, and I’m not sure anyone is especially impressed with his work for our commune (still no paved road, running water, or working street lights), but the whole village came out for the dance party in the street that went on (with a few breaks for tea and meals and an afternoon nap) from 8am yesterday to about 4am this morning. It was hilariously fun, especially since I’m getting pretty good at the Moroccan butt-shaking dancing thing. I hear the real party though, is Saturday night, when we’ll get to do it all over again. The first three big parties I went to in Morocco, during training and then right at the beginning of my time in the village, were horribly boring and I’ve been dreading wedding season ever since. But then I went to a wedding last week which was one of the most fun days of my time in Morocco yet – we paraded a sheep around the streets, stopping traffic, with the men blowing these super long skinny horns and carrying wedding gifts on their heads. And then we danced and ate amazing food all night. And now I can’t wait for the next one, or really just any and all random excuses to dance in the streets.

The other thing that made last night so surreal was that we had a big rainstorm (which I got caught in the middle of coming back from a run), followed by the craziest flash flood I’ve ever seen – the road through the village turned into a raging river that continued all night, hours after the rain stopped. Reminded me of the random floods Houston would get, when we’ll all go play in the flooded fields and streets. Except in Houston, when the water recedes you still have roads and sidewalks and life goes back to normal. Our village road got completely washed out, pretty much rendering it impassible to anything but tractors. Even my really good mountain bike couldn’t get past some parts of the road this morning, which has turned into a sea of boulders and gravelly sand. As if getting in and out of the village wasn't already enough of a hassle, it'll be even more of a pain until the commune decides to send people to fix it. And with the busy week of sheep-roasting and dancing that the president has planned, I’m not sure when that’ll get done. But in the meantime, I'm planning to put on my new party jalaba and dance.

New Time or Old Time?

Every westerner with a blog in Morocco has I’m sure posted exactly this same entry sometime in the last two weeks. The last two years, Morocco has started doing a summer time-change for the same reason most other countries do it: to save a lot of money in electricity bills. The difference in Morocco is that this time change seems to be optional. Probably close to 50% of people I interact with have changed their clocks, while the other half are still operating on “old time”. This of course doesn’t make sense at all to me, as it seems a lot easier to take the ten seconds and move the hand on the clock, than to spend all summer having to clarify whether a quoted time is in “old time” or “new time.” I hear there are entire towns that have just decided not to switch to new time, including the whole old medina in Fes and other big cities. The first couple of days it was funny to have to clarify new time or old time, but now, two weeks after the time change, it’s just annoying and I’m almost looking forward to Ramadan (when the time will change back) just so the country can all be on the same time again. My neighbors, for example, are on old time while I’ve switched to new time. They don’t work in an office or take scheduled public transportation or have meetings, so they just don’t see the need to change their clock. I wonder whether America had this problem when we first started changing the clocks, whenever that was. And how many years it'll take for Morocco to accept and acknowledge the concept of daylight savings. I'm not holding my breath.

On Canadian Radio. . .

So my handoff of couscous in the London airport made news in Canada! Here's the link to the radio show that features an interview with Kate, the woman I sold couscous to in London at the end of April.

The part about our couscous starts a little before halfway through the show if you want to skip over the other random (and less interesting, I'm sure) stories.

Monday, May 18, 2009

El Karma Couscous, the Famous International Brand

True to my suitcase-of-couscous traveling style, I packed about four times as much couscous as clothes and toiletries for my trip back to the states. I had arranged a hand-off in the London airport to a woman who runs a (rather shady looking) business importing hand-made food products from around the world and selling them on her website. I’d barely cleared customs and was terrified I’d get arrested for smuggling couscous into the UK. But the police didn’t even blink when Kate asked whether I’d brought “the goods” and we proceeded to make an extremely obvious handoff right under his nose of a poorly-packaged box that was spilling small brownish-crumbs all over the floor.

So I can check “export couscous” off my list of things to accomplish during my two years here. That made lugging a heavy suitcase across Morocco and onto a different continent, and all the paranoia, all worth it.

Check out Kate’s side of the story on her website:

Another case of an abrupt change of plans, mid-stride:

This afternoon I was on my way to my tutor’s house after lunch for our normal Thursday afternoon tutoring session, walking along, making a mental list of topics to cover with her. Up pulls a truck with one of my (many) “uncles”, offering me a ride for the 200 yards or so to my tutor’s house. Those 200 meters were enough to convince me not to go to Hanane’s house, but instead go with them on some mission to this place where they dig paint up out of the ground, grind it and sell it. They assured me it would be a short and super fun field trip that would only take an hour and I could just go to tutoring late.

Five hours later, I’d:

Climbed this mountain (and then slid all the way down it while all the men watched.)

Colored on myself with this freshly-dug up paint.

Traipsed over a plateau to find and hang out in this nomad camp.

Where we ate this guy’s (“the cheese man”) freshly-made cheese. I wasn’t a huge fan of it – a little too goopy for me. .

Gained a whole lot of respect for this river-fording, mountain-climbing, sheep-swerving, bush-whacking car.

And discovered that views like these exist only a short harrowing hour drive away from my village:

Dance, Monkey!

My host mother and the other women in the village never get tired of watching me try to dance Moroccan style. I try not to be offended when they’re like, “Dance!” and then I get up and dance for them, while they all fall out of their chairs laughing at me. This happens almost every time my host mother has guests over. I tell myself I'm the comedian and not the laughing stock of the village.

Mmmm... hedgehog

The other night I was on my way to my house, looking forward to a quiet evening with a book or maybe a movie, when I was intercepted by one of the neighbor boys, excitedly trying to show me something he was carrying in the pitch blackness. Turned out to be a hedgehog, which I think I’ve decided might be the cutest animal in this country. I’d never seen a hedgehog run – their tiny little feet are so comical and cartoon-looking.
Look at how freaking cute he is:

And it turns out the hedgehog is known as the smartest animal here. I got to hear all the hedgehog tales, of hedgehogs killing lions, and how hedgehogs have one and a half brains. But I guess this one wasn’t smart enough to outwit my neighbors - we ate him for lunch yesterday!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Should I Change my Title from “Traveling Couscous Salesman” to “Travel Agent”?

A couple of weeks ago I was going to Fes for a Peace Corps meeting, and beforehand I took orders for couscous from the Peace Corps office in Rabat so I could bring them couscous. I packed my rolling suitcase full of bags of couscous (about 50 pounds of it) and lugged it across the country, onto and off of half of dozen modes of transportation and up and down several flights of stairs and all around a not-very-roller-suitcase-friendly city to make the hand-off to the Peace Corps staff that had come for the meeting. And after that whole ordeal, I realized that the profit for the Association came to about $5. I discovered that I would have rather just given the Association $5 instead of struggling with that ridiculously heavy suitcase. That was the moment I decided that there was no way couscous could be our answer to the development of our village. It just isn't worth the hassle.

And so I made the executive decision to enter the tourism industry. I linked up with an American travel agent in Ifrane, a city a few hours away, who organizes tours for small groups of Americans coming to Morocco on vacation. The week of our meeting she had some tourists coming through who wanted to do a cooking lesson, and as luck would have it, her normal cooking lesson man in Fes was going to be out of town. So I offered to bring one of the women of the Association to Ifrane and we would lead a couscous-rolling and couscous-cooking lesson for these two American tourists. The president of the Association was a great sport and trusted me enough to come along even though she probably had no idea what was really going to happen, just that we were going to be cooking couscous in the house of a family we didn’t know, in some other town, for random people we’d never met.

Except for a couple of small kinks (one of the tourists was feeling sick and couldn’t really eat anything, and the woman whose kitchen we were using insisted on hovering over us telling us we were doing everything all wrong), I think it went well. And the profit we took home from that was more than we would get by selling 300 kilos of couscous.

The next month is going to be a busy one. . . two girls coming this Monday for a cooking lesson, and then two groups of tourists coming in May to have lunch in Khoukhate, and then maybe a group of study abroad students for a weekend; and I’ll be in the states at a wedding in the middle of all this. So much for thinking I’d have lots of time in the Peace Corps to read books and write letters.

A Moroccan Tupperware Party

A couple of weeks ago my host sisters and I got invited over for tea to this house in our village where a group of other sisters lives, and I didn’t think anything of it, because I get invited over for tea all the time to random people’s houses. The spread was more elaborate than usual – all kinds of cookies and different breads and oil and jam and nuts and olives and pretty much everything. But even this isn’t really abnormal, because even now, five months into my living here, I’ve found people still serve more and fancier tea snacks when I show up. But then after we were done eating, the women pulled out this big bag of clothes that they then expected us to buy. And it all made sense, that’s the only reason we were invited over in the first place. So this caused quite the moral dilemma for me, which I still haven’t quite resolved: should I have bought something from them or not?

Reasons I should have bought something:

· I’m a small business development volunteer, so I should be encouraging entrepreneurialism whenever I can

· I could definitely afford them, and the women definitely needed the money more than I did

· I did eat a lot at tea-time

Reasons not to buy from them:

· I don’t want to set a precedent for buying whatever people bring to me to sell, even if everyone already knows I probably do have more money than anyone else in the village

· There wasn’t really anything that I especially wanted or needed

This same dilemma is the reason I still haven’t bought any carpets from anyone, even though I need/want some, and there are women who make beautiful ones in the next town that I would love to support. I’m just afraid that people will start coming to me every time they finish a carpet asking me to buy it, which I’ve heard has happened to volunteers in the past. And so far people don’t seem to see me as a walking bag of money. I’m still trying to figure out a sneaky way of buying things, like taking them to a craft fair and selling them to myself.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I’m sorry it took almost two months to get these pictures up, but finally, this is my house:

My lovely kitchen.

My super soft turtle blanket. Maybe the best thing about my house

My living room. (Actually, just the other half of my bedroom)

My well, right outside my door.

There goes my French

I’ve felt this moment approaching for a couple of weeks now, but I think I can safely say my spoken Arabic has surpassed my spoken French. The turning point was last week when I was going over this grant proposal with my tutor, who speaks perfect French and was editing out all my mistakes and putting in much prettier language. Even just a month ago, I was regularly using my French to explain what I was trying (with difficulty) to express in Arabic. But last week, going over this or that wording in the grant proposal, I found myself using Arabic to explain what I was trying to express in French. I don’t know whether to be really proud of my Arabic or terrified about my loss of French communication skills. Pretty soon I’m going to need French tutoring, I think.

Release of our newest product – Zmita!

So zmita is hands-down my favorite food in Morocco (yes, better than couscous!) It’s this mix of ground up nuts and seeds and sugar and oil so it has the consistency of cookie dough, and you eat it with a spoon for breakfast or at tea (or just hanging out in your house like I do, any time of day). It’s one of those things that everyone makes at home but I’ve never seen packaged. Here’s our sweet label (I spent probably an hour setting up the photo shoot for the perfect label picture. Just so there’s no confusion, there are not actually any ground up flowers in the zmita, those are almond tree blossoms, and there are almonds).

The Izzies vs. the Kookies

One of the goals of Peace Corps Morocco is to spread Peace and Friendship between the US and the Arab world. But that goal is looking to be a piece of cake compared to spreading Peace and Friendship between my village and the one a mile down the road. Because we’re not supposed to post exact locations on our blogs, I’ll use nicknames: the izzies and the kookies. (There are also the debbies and the tabbies in our area, but I haven’t come across any drama with them yet.) I live with the kookies, but I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time with the (evil) izzies, for two main reasons: my tutor/best friend lives there, and there are about twenty times more kids there than in my village, which makes for hilariously chaotic soccer games, hikes up the mountain, and impromptu yoga classes in the mud. Sunday mornings are my favorite time of the week for this very reason. It’s a great little town, and way more lively than mine. Too bad I’ve been expressly forbidden on several occasions from going there by my host father (“izzies are bad!”).

The schism runs deep: there seems to be an invisible line somewhere that no one crosses – my host sisters have literally never been down there, and every time I try to get the boys from my village to come with me to play soccer with the izzie boys, they shake their heads and look at me, shocked like I’m wandering into a haunted forest and warn me about the mean and horrible izzie boys lurking around the corners. The women of the kookie association don’t have very nice things to say about izzie women either, making fun of their southern accents (this is definitely the best part of the rivalry - they’re one mile south of us!!).

Every time I head down south to izzie land, the izzie women ask me about helping them start an association. In my opinion, the best solution is to absorb them into our kookie association, since there are a million hoops to jump through to start an association, and I’m not sure Morocco really needs another carpet-making association. I’m picturing someday in the future when the global demand for our couscous gets to be more than we can fill in our little one-room association, we can have a satellite association campus there, and I’ll go down with a donkey once a week and bring up the couscous they make, pay them by the kilo, and put our label on it. The izzies make way more carpets than we do up here and I think it would be in everyone’s interest to take their carpets along with us when we go to trade fairs and expositions. But somehow I can’t see that idea going over so well with the kookies.

By poking around a little, I’ve come to learn that the feud goes back about twenty years, when there was a land dispute between the izzies and the Cheikh of the whole area (who’s a kookie). The izzies won and the Cheikh has held a (pretty excessive, in my opinion) grudge ever since.