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. . .”