Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Saturday Thanksgiving in Morocco

A turkey in Morocco

We had to wait until Saturday, and our little group did not include all of the American Muslims in Marrakech, but we had our own Turkey Day here.   Why would we acknowledge a secular holiday like Thanksgiving Day in Morocco? The answer is simple: the food. 

Everyone who came brought something. I made the macaroni and cheese.  Our hostess made a 30 pound turkey. It was the biggest turkey I have ever seen. There were 2 chocolate cakes, apple crisp and pumpkin pie.  There was mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, salad, enormous dinner rolls, oranges, deviled eggs, Craisins (as close as we could get to cranberry sauce), and 3 kinds of soda.  

Thanks to the internet, the 4 guys watched the previously unseen (by them) Packers vs Lions football game on television. The 7 kids played outside.  It was about 73 degrees.  There were a couple of American Muslim women I met for the first time. There were 6 women in all. We spent about 3 hours getting to know each other and talking about cultural differences and similarities, healthcare, and education in both America and Morocco.

Any occasion, excuse or opportunity for us to be together, sharing the experiences and journeys that brought us to a live in a Muslim country is something to be thankful for.  Especially when the occasion involves stuffing.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Outdoor Ramadan Prayers

 photo from Wikipedia

I have a favorite mosque that I like to walk to for taraweh, the extra prayers said each night during Ramadan. The mosque has a large courtyard and takes up a small block. The streets are blocked off so that counting inside the mosque, courtyard and surrounding streets, there are about 4,000 people attending the prayers. I love to pray there, always outside, as the night breezes begin to cool the city.  It is about half a mile from my house, though, and this year I simply did not have the energy to trek there and back again after fasting 16 hour days in triple-digit heat.

There is another large mosque just 3 blocks away, but it has no courtyard and just as I expected, the first night I went there it was miserably hot inside.  Still, I wanted to make taraweh at the mosque rather than alone at home. The taraweh prayers are optional, as is going to the mosque to say them.  But the beauty of the rectitation and the spiritual energy of crowd in the cooling air was something I craved. The next night I resolved to just take my time and get to the further mosque.

That evening I left the house with a trashbag in hand.  On the way to the dumpster the bag leaked all over my hands and feet.  I stopped at a store and bought a bottle of water and rinsed myself off on the sidewalk.  I was nearly at the mosque when I realized I'd left the stool on which I sit for prayer on the sidewalk where I'd bought the water.  I hurried back, praying my stool was where I'd left it.  It was, but by then I knew I was late.

I reluctantly started to go to mosque where I'd have to pray inside.  That's when I made a wonderful discovery.  This smaller mosque faced a busy boulevard, but the back of it open onto a small side street that was blocked off. I never took this route past this smaller mosque on the way to the larger one  during Ramadan, and so I had never seen the people praying outside. But here they were.

From the chain of events starting with that leaking trash bag, Allah led me to a Ramadan mercy. I could pray close to home and still be outside after all.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Sound of One Friday in Marrakech

from Wikipedia
I cannot explain the power of the adhan.

I awaken  when it's time for fajr,  the before-dawn prayer. The still morning air is carrying the overlapping sound of adhan from mosques near and far away.  The multiple calls to prayer serve as a gentle and peaceful start of the day.  But I am not quite awake yet.  In 15 or 20 minutes, I hear the prayer over the loudspeaker, and the soft recitation of Quran draws me from my bed to go and make my own morning prayer.

I  hear the adhan again around noon, reminding me that today is Jummah, Friday, and the Jummah prayer will start in one hour.  Time to wrap up Muslims all over to wrap up business, studies, play or sleep, and get ready to go to the mosque.  And sure enough, an hour later comes the first of three successive adhans.  Three adhans.  There is no mistaking the importance of this weekly prayer.

Today the first adhan is almost crisp, business-like.  Time for prayer.  Get to the mosque now.  The second adhan is so full of pleading and remorse that it nearly stops me in midstep.  Regrets pile upon my shoulders and bend my back.  There is just so much, so much to ask forgiveness for.  The third adhan soars to the heavens with longing.  Almost painfully, my whole being  resonates with the need to follow the sound of that final adhan up and into paradise.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Another Marriage Proposal

I am at the suq, the open air marketplace, looking for bargains on fruits and vegetables.  As always, I am with the mother of my Moroccan family.  One of the vendors knows her and her family.  He knows that I am American.  He is delighted to meet me and right away proposes marriage.

We should get married and move to America.  He practices what may be his only English word on me.  Money. Money. He mimics putting a ring on his finger.  Finally, he thinks to ask my companion what my name is.

He is handsome and charming. I laugh and say no, no.  No, no. No.  He throws in an extra potato or two into my bag.  He gives me a small cabbage and a pomegranate. This brief flirtation nets me about 10 pounds of various vegetables at bargain prices.

Later, I am slightly stunned to discover that both the mother and father of my Moroccan family are taking the proposal seriously.  My would-be suitor is known to be a good Muslim man.  Divorced.  Eligible.  A good catch.  Do I want them to invite him over for tea so we can meet?  Their son would act as translator.

When I first came to Morocco, I thought that I would find a husband here. I have found, however, that being an American here is like being a Hollywood celebrity or a millionaire.  People often don't see you, they see a door to a fantastical material world to which they don't otherwise have access.  It is human nature, is it not, to want to better our lives?  There is no fault in it.  But what I want is to be a companion, not a door to another world.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Another Eid al-Fitr in Marrakech

By 7 a.m, thousands of people already filled the boulevard.  The street was lined with plastic woven mats for people to sit and pray on, but the crowds were larger and spilled over onto the sidewalks, the island dividing the street, the doorway of the police station and the small sports arena.  People moved the barricades to make more room.  Men and women place their own small prayer rugs over the plastic mats and then directly on the street where the mats have ended. Eventually, there were probably ten thousand people there.

The cool morning breeze competed with the intense rays of the sun rising almost directly in front of us. The temperature, already in the 80's, was expected to climb to 107 degrees. People began turning their backs to the sun's rays while they waited for the prayer to start. Some of the women shaded themselves with the ends of their scarves.  Some put their prayer rugs over their heads to block what seemed to be laser-like heat from boring directly down into their skulls.  Female volunteers carried cups and gallons of water through the crowd of women, providing water to whichever women or children signalled for a drink.

Most of the men were dressed in long thobes--white, beige, grey, brown, black, striped, even plaid.  The women wore every color and pattern imaginable.  Not just black or brown, but magenta, teal, green, blue, turquoise, rose, and lavender in solids, geometric designs, flowered patterns of cotton, silk, synthetic materials.

At 6 a.m. the call over the loudspeakers had started:  Allahu Akbar, Subhanallah, Allahu Akbar. I could hear it clearly from my house 2 blocks away. Last year the crowd could hear the imam perfectly. Unfortunately this Eid, the 2nd speaker system--where we were seated and about more than a city block from the imam--had degraded in quality as time went on.  At a little past
by 7:30 a.m. when the time the prayer started, pretty much all we could make out were the Allahu Akbars and the Salaams at the end.  There was just no hope of hearing the khutbah, and at least a couple of thousand of us left right after the salat.

Yet even with the technical failure, I realized afterward that when we stood and made the prayer, I had forgotten all about the heat of the still rising sun.  During the prayer, it just wasn't hot anymore.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ramadan Eating in the Town of Yousouffia, Morocco

Tagine in a meal cooked slowly in a clay dish over a low fire

Every Ramadan is different.  There is no way of knowing at the start of any Ramadan what blessings will come from it, what lessons will be learned, or what difficulties will be relieved.  Ramadan has been so full for me this year, I don't even know where to start.  There is my Moroccan family, which welcomes me and will feed me so much that, if I'm not careful, I could find myself gaining weight even though I'm fasting. 

There are new friends.  I spent the second week of Ramadan in a small city called Yousouffia. The food at the end of a day's fast, was excellent.  I had a Moroccan vegetable for the first time, the Arabic name of which I've unfortunately forgotten, that looks and tastes almost exactly like a cucumber.  It's a bit longer than a regular cucumber and even though it's the same dark green on the outside and light green on the inside, it has slight furrows or ridges down the length of it, like a pumpkin.  It's served grated and chilled, with a tiny bit or sugar or some other preferred seasoning.

The house in Youseffia was a large, rambling single-story home with a large yard that tended to stay about 20 degrees cooler inside than outside, even without air-conditioning.  The yard is landscaped, with lime trees, grass, and potted plants.  In the backyard, there is a pen with space for turkeys, chickens and a rabbit.

The mother was a well-organized cook who prepared meals early in the day that were chilled or easily reheated for breaking the fast.  Each day she made and then chilled yogurt for the next morning's meal.    She prepared her version of traditional Ramadan tomato-based soup with lentils or garbanzo beans, called harira, for dinner each day, letting it simmer slowly for hours.  Homemade pizza or meat-filled turnovers were baked in the oven outside the back door (which kept the heat out of house).   

She made bread in her backyard oven as well, or made pancakes called beghrir or pan-breads early in the afternoon. There were also sweets and a sort of Moroccan granola, called seelo, that she made and stored beforehand in huge quantities enough to last the whole month of Ramadan.  Seelo is toasted wheat, not oats, so it has a finer texture.   All of that food, except for the morning yogurt and ceelo, were ready for iftar, our first meal when we broke fast at sunset.

After Maghrib, the sunset prayer, and the food, we left for the big mosque for Isha, the night prayer, and taraweh, the special Ramadan prayers. Walking slowly and talking with friends most of the way, we generally arrived home around 11 pm.

The main course, to be eaten around midnight after all of the special Ramadan prayers were done, was often a tagine, a meal of meat, chicken or fish and slow-cooked with potatoes or other vegetables in a clay cooker over a slow fire.  This was also cooked early in the day and heated to a finger-burning hotness when it was time to eat. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Marrakech-Menara Airport

The airport in Marrakech is small, with plenty of parking. It is located right within the city, making it easily accessible by bus or taxi.  Although there is a project underway to add a second terminal building, for now it is just the one terminal.
The Marrakech-Menara Airport is small, with ample parking, and is traveller-friendly

Flights from here go everywhere--within Morocco and internationally, but the airport is rarely crowded and usually the airline counter check-in is the only line that may take more than a few minutes to get through.

One day I was actually able to go from airline counter check-in, exchange my currency, and pass through security all in less than 20 minutes.

The airport has only 8 gates, so that a gate change for a flight simply means moving from one end to the other of what amounts to just a large room.  It is the  only waiting area for outgoing flights.

When it's time to board your flight, you walk outside, cross the tarmac, and climb a set of narrow, metal, portable stairs to get into the plane.  Strictly old-school.

All airports should be this easy to navigate.