Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Partying All Night Long

So having been in country a year I have quite a deficiency of family functions to my name. My region mate Mara seems to be at weddings, engagement parties, and baby dedications every other day but I’ve only seemed to manage one engagement party which I had to leave early because of a meeting the next morning. This weekend all of that changed. My landlord’s daughter just recently got engaged and myself and the two new volunteers in my souq town (Anna and Ian, you’ll be hearing more about them in the future) were invited.

So in Arabic we call this shin-dig a “khoutouba” (the ‘KH’ is pronounced like you’re trying to dislodge something caught in your throat) and in Tamazight it’s called a “thuthra” and it’s a two day celebration. The basic idea of which is that the heads of the families of the soon-to-be happy couple get together to negotiate the wedding, the dowry and all such important matters while all the extended family parties. The downside of all of this, as far as I can see, is that the soon-to-be happy couple isn’t invited so while everyone in their respective families are having a blast; they get to stay at home.

Ian and I didn’t go the first day because it was reserved for the ladies. Saturday, however I met my landlord’s son Asherraf in the middle of town around 6 in the evening where there was a large crowd gathered around some musicians beating drums, singing and blowing on horns. The horns looked like the ones people in funny outfits blow right before the town crier reads a proclamation of the king or something. Anyway, it was quite the long procession from the center of town all the way to the house. The women were grouped in the front and were dancing and throwing their hair around (you just have to see it) and to be honest it did my heart good to see the women letting loose some.

We made it to the house where the entire procession moved onto the roof where, as the music and dancing continued, we sacrificed a ram. I ended up having a conversation later on with someone later that evening who asked me if we could do that in the States. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that there is some kind of code, or law, or something that would prevent you from sacrificing a ram on your roof. I don’t know why, I just get that feeling. If there is, it’s a shame. After being here for a year now, I’m quite partial to sacrificing a ram/sheep for major family events. So we sacrificed the ram and three hours later were eating it.

After the sacrifice the whole thing calmed down for a while as the patriarchs went to go do their thing. Ian and I got escorted to the equivalent of the singles table although it wasn’t a table, it was a different house. We were there with about twenty other Moroccan men in their 20s and from about 7 until midnight we sat there being grilled on everything from our opinions of Morocco, the Berber language, student politics at the University of Meknes, American divorce law, the Democratic Primary, secret girlfriends, and on the list goes. For the record, everyone here loves Hillary because apparently a member of her family married a Berber and she’s visited here twice. I don’t know about the accuracy of the visits, but that’s what they tell me. It probably goes without saying that covering such diverse topics and being the center of attention for 5 hours stretches one’s language ability. Anyone who has lived abroad knows that some days your mind just clicks and it all makes sense and then other days it seems like you don’t understand a thing. I was lucky and having a good language day.

The food took quite a while to come out, but when it did we had three courses. The first was a chicken seasoned with, among other things, saffron and olives, the second was the lamb meat cooked with prunes which was excellent, and finally we ended with fruit. Of course all of this was eaten with the hands and bread. Now when we had finished, Ian and I gave each other that look any ex-pat knows that says “alright, now let’s start the process of getting out of here.” I use the word ‘process’ intentionally because it is most definitely that. After about 45 minutes of goodbyes and “no don’t go yet”s we were finally on our way back at around midnight. We hit a snag though and ran into some people who had left and were on their way back for the all night dancing and they were a bit more persuasive (read “physically grabbed us and dragged us back”) and so we ended up right back on the roof. At the time I was a little frustrated, but mostly just exhausted. I am so glad that we stayed though.

Once we got back the “alun” (drums) were pulled out and we started the dancing. Now two things here… one, the dancing is pretty much just standing shoulder to shoulder and bouncing up and down… two, it is now 1230 and they were just then bringing down the food for the women to eat which is why female Volunteers hate going to these things. So we got to dancing, just the guys and were having a blast. They handed me the drum to play along, but I can never seem to keep the rhythm of the music here. They eventually asked me to sing a song from America and the unanimous request was Bryan Adams’ “Everything I do, I do it for you”. It’s OK to let out a chuckle right here. So I sang and they sang right along. These guys couldn’t speak English, but that didn’t stop them from knowing all the words to a Bryan Adams song.

We stuck around for another hour or so, but that was about all we could handle. We walked home and I passed out.

Now I don’t have any pictures because I don’t feel comfortable going to a family function and acting like a tourist, but the son of the landlord was taking pictures so I’m hoping to steal his and pass them on so I’ll do that when I can.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New Site...

Well the deed is done. Friday night was my first night in the new site.

Let me catch you all up on the craziness of the last couple of months. The story goes something like this… The area I was working in was so spread out that effective work was extremely difficult. I was hiking around the hills talking with random farmers and shepherds whose paths I would cross and that was about it. There were no associations with which to work and no potential for projects onto which I could stick a “sustainable” label so the Ministry of Health and Peace Corps finally decided to take me up on my proposal to change to an area where I had contacts and potential for work.

So below are pictures of the new house. I’m definitely taking a step down in amenities. I still have electricity and although I didn’t have running water at my last site, there was a source of treated water only 50m from my house. Now I’m about 800m from a source of drinkable water which is actually probably going to be the crux of my work over the course of this next year. I’m also a bit more isolated, but I’m in a gorgeous area. The Middle Atlas Region is one of the most spectacular areas I’ve ever lived in which is saying a lot since some of those places include the Black Forest, East Tennessee, Central Texas Hill Country, and northern Quebec. I went on a hike with some friends a couple of days ago and discovered lush cedar forests, breathtaking waterfalls, and some near extinct wildlife. Those pictures will have to wait for another time. Of the five of us on the hike, no one brought their cameras… go figure.

So here is the vew of the new house...

This is my bed. As you can see it's not actually a bed, it's just a couple of blankets on the floor. It's comfortable enough though.

This is looking the other direction in the room where I do my work very close to the floor.

And this is my kitchen... not much counter space I know...

There was quite a bit of trepidation about starting over this late in the game, but the past couple of days, I’ve actually been quite excited about hopefully getting some work done where I could potentially see some of the fruits of my labor.

So coming up this week is an exciting date. As of March 6, I will have been in country for a year. It is amazing how quickly the time has flown. I don’t have any plans as of yet to celebrate, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out… or not, I don’t know. I’ll probably just go on a long hike and maybe camp out somewhere, the stars have been spectacular as of late.