Southern Sahara Living, Part One

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The Cartoon Controversy


The Moroccan street: No to violence, no to Western disrespectFrom taxi drivers to professors, Moroccans weigh in on the cartoon controversy.
By Mark MacNamara

Moroccans in the capital city of Rabat protest caricatures of the prophet Mohammed last week.

Feb. 9, 2006 IFRANE, Morocco -- The Mohammed cartoons are the talk of Ifrane, a town of 10,000 one hour's drive from Fez up into the Middle Atlas Mountains. They are the talk in the marché, where Berbers and Arabs, academics and shepherds, women veiled and not, come to shop and chat; in sidewalk cafes, where TVs play soccer matches and burning embassies; in small apartments in back streets, where women stand at the stove and men mull over the many rumors; and in mosques, where Friday prayers also serve as a community gathering. "You can insult me, my mother, my father, but not the Prophet," my friend Abdelghanni tells me, going on to explain the heart of the matter. He's 45, an Arabic teacher in an English-language high school. "If you draw a picture of the Prophet, you will make a mistake. It will be false. We already have his description from the Koran: his eyes, his nose, his face, his hair, and so we don't draw him because we don't need to and because we don't want" -- he searches for the word -- "to pollute our image." If nothing else, the Mohammed cartoons, first published last September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, have highlighted a great mystery about the Muslim world: how the mere depiction of Mohammed -- much less cartoons portraying him as a terrorist -- could be such an invasion of privacy, such a violation of one's contact and contract with God. Perhaps one revelation to come out of all this may be that by drawing Mohammed down to such an earthly plane, you're fooling with the hope mechanism of millions of believers, just at a time when modernity has never seemed more oppressive and, in many places, the pain of feeling backward has never been stronger. In Morocco, which is nearly 100 percent Muslim, the reaction to the cartoons has been muted, which is the nature of the country, and which, some would say, reflects its distance from Israel and Palestine. Still, with this incident you can hear all the old cacophonies, all the old questions: Why isn't such a once glorious civilization more advanced, and can the state ever be separated from faith in an Islamic society? And will the fear ever go away? In the past few days, I've talked to a variety of Moroccans whose views stretch from conservative to liberal. They are tradesmen, academics, officials, students and journalists. The consensus, contrary to the apocalypse on television, is that the cartoons are highly disrespectful, but violence is neither warranted nor part of Islam. The consensus has become a unifying force. But on the question of what significance this event has, and who should apologize, and how much, and whether other measures should be taken, such as drawing the United Nations into the matter, the answers are more diverse. Many Moroccans lay the uproar at the feet of the European press, but I didn't speak to anyone who advocated burning buildings or flags, or even honoring a boycott. Regardless, all the Muslims I met say they feel locked in a cold war between the East and West with no key in sight. Mohammed, a young taxi driver I've gotten to know in the last year and a half, tells me what he thinks about the cartoons. He's studied law; his father is a shepherd. Like a lot of other people, Mohammed can't find a better-paying job. "It shows great disrespect," he replies and shakes his head. "But better not to make too much out of it. And anyway, history is not going to change."Ifrane lies on the edge of a forest and at the foot of an ancient volcano. The town is atypical of Morocco, not least because of its red-tile chalet-style architecture, a legacy of the colonial period, when in the 1930s the French fashioned tree-lined streets, lakes and elaborate parks as a reminder of home. The town is also atypical because it rides along on a tourist economy, winter and summer, and because it is home to Al Akhawayn University of Ifrane, a small, select, American-style school of 1,200 students. Last Friday, the imam at the university gave his Friday khutbah, or sermon, and addressed the issue of the cartoons. "I was afraid he might put more gas on the fire and trigger protests," says Bouziane Zaid, an associate professor of communications. "But he didn't do that at all. He gave a message of love and peace and said simply that the best way to defend the Prophet is to obey him, follow his example, and be kind to others." Zaid adds that the imam also mentioned something Zaid and many people he knows have come to believe -- that these cartoons are all part of a war against Islam, which has greatly intensified since 9/11. In Morocco, the Friday sermons are orchestrated. This is in keeping with the patriarchal nature of the country. Each week, every imam receives the same talking points from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and these points form the basis of the Friday khutbah. This is not only a way to influence public opinion on worldly matters but also a way to tune the country theologically to what the highest-ranking religious leaders think is most significant. The official line in Morocco regarding the Mohammed cartoons was delivered last weekend by Le Conseil Supérieur des Oulemas, the supreme council of imams, which is presided over by King Mohammed VI himself. A council statement condemned the cartoons and exhorted "les sages et les décideurs" to protect liberty and moral values from the menaces of irresponsibility, hatred, rancor, perfidy and bad taste. That reference to the "wise ones and decision makers" to maintain official standards is no doubt a diktat to the media. In Morocco, there is no divide between the government and the press. In 2003, a journalist was given a three-year prison sentence for insulting the king with satirical cartoons and articles. Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog group, states that TelQuel, one of Morocco's only publications that does in-depth reporting, faces continual harassment from Moroccan courts. Ali Bouzerda, a spokesman for the government station TVM, puts the cartoon controversy this way. He says he is speaking only for himself. "The government is saying we cannot accept this, and we want to send a signal to the Western media that freedom of the press is OK, and we understand that the Danish government can't dictate to newspapers, but people in authority need to consider the effects of irresponsibility and hatred. "At the heart of this discussion is the feeling that America is trying to divide the world into two parts, Christian and Islamic, and now mythologies are being spread, so that everything that is part of Islam is bad, and every Muslim is a terrorist. This is the West's caricature of the Middle East." I speak to several men from Ifrane and the surrounding area, all professionals. One is an architect; another, a contractor; and a third, that odd civic player first developed by the French as an informer, who serves as an intermediary between the local government and the people. His job is to know everyone in a town or district, resolve small problems, and report suspicious activities to the governor, who may then make a report to the Ministry of the Interior in the capital. The men ask not to be identified. That's typical of people in all professions, including academia. There is a fear of being noticed and identified with a viewpoint, and perhaps questioned by police, a legacy of les années de plomb, when, between 1956 and 1999, some 50,000 people were imprisoned, detained, murdered or raped, or simply disappeared. Even with a truth commission, old habits of fear linger. The men all agree that it is critical for Muslims to react to the insulting cartoons so that in the future the West might think more in terms of responsibilities than rights. They wouldn't go so far as the Lebanese cleric who suggested that had the fatwa against author Salman Rushdie been carried out, this would all never have happened. But, they say, "a warning shot is required." They say the only way to resolve the situation is for the Scandanavian countries, where the cartoons first appeared, to apologize. As for the separation between government and the press, one of the men replies, "It is like you have a family with four children, and one of them is bad and one day he does some damage to a neighbor. The only way to resolve that is for the father and the three good children to go and apologize. You see, the father is like the government, and the press is like the errant boy." One man explains that in the Sunnah, the second most authoritative source after the Koran, the hadith says that if the Prophet is profaned, the perpetrator must apologize or be killed. "It's like this," he says. "It can't be changed." In Rabat, the capital, a friend who travels in diplomatic circles comments that in the last few days Arabic-language newspapers were reporting that more and more cellphone text messages were carrying the product codes of Danish products, as Muslims were trading information about which Danish products to boycott. Diplomats in Rabat express amazement that things have gone so far, and the general feeling is that there's not going to be an easy way out of this. That view is based on the notion that extremists all over the region seem intent on one-upping each other in violence. At the same time, there's a sense the real damage may not only be that negative stereotypes of Arabs are reinforced but that the West will lose heart in promoting positive change. Says a friend, "There comes a point when you've got to handle your problems yourself -- you can't go on forever blaming poverty and colonialism and relying on your image as a victim." I ask Driss Ksikes, editor in chief at TelQuel, a well-respected journalist in Morocco, what he thinks about the cartoons. "I have no red line as a liberal person, but there is a question of politics, particularly the way this [issue] has been used by fundamentalists to say 'We shouldn't talk about certain things,'" he says. "This also comes at a particular moment -- the Hamas victory, the situations in Iran and Egypt. It makes you wonder: Islamists are getting more and more power around the world, and they're trying to use whatever weapon they can against liberal thinking. Above all, they want to show that Islam is a victim of the West. But we should not yield to this type of lobbying." "I hope this type of incident may help people reconsider who think there is no war of civilizations," Ksikes continues. "It has dramatized what could become a reality, if more and more extremists determine the political agenda." At Al Akhawayn University, and at the high school associated with it, the cartoons are a hot topic. Most of the students, particularly at the high school level, come from wealthy, if not well-educated, families. "If their faith was strong enough," says Sarah, 17, referring to the violent protesters in Iran and Lebanon, "an image wouldn't bother them. But these are uneducated mobs. They need justification for feeling put down, so this gives them a concrete image of being put down." "I was pleased and deceived at the same time," says a 21-year-old woman, "because I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in any form of freedom, but freedom means respect. I only saw provocation. But this shows how much these [Danes] are afraid. Maybe they're just becoming aware of what crimes they've supported." Alia Lahlou, 17, says: "One of our neighbors says every Muslim should be demonstrating because Western papers print these cartoons but they don't talk about the Palestinians dying every day. I disagree. I think these demonstrations feed the image of violent Arabs. You see these signs at the demonstration: 'Europe, your 9/11 is coming.' The West accuses Arabs of being terrorists, and then Arabs act like it." Professors are equally caught up. I sit with two political scientists, each with opposing views. They share the same office and are so angry at the other's position that each walks out while the other is speaking. One, a Muslim who graduated from the University of California-Santa Cruz, says the cartoons raise the "big" question: "What are the inherent contradictions of a liberal democracy, and what are the limits?" The other, an Armenian-American, scowls. "The Jyllands-Posten may be a right-wing rag, and the material is clearly offensive, but the problem is, if we restrict its right to demonize, then we're going in totally the wrong direction. The only solution is to have more free speech." Another academic, Nancy Hottel, is the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. She grew up in Virginia, obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, married a Moroccan, and has converted to Islam. She has twin daughters, wears a veil but not across her face, and teaches comparative rhetoric. She remembers the time 30 years ago, during a cross-cultural workshop for teachers of Southeast Asians, when an American told a joke as an analogy to show how offensive jokes about religion could be. The joke was, "Do you know why they crucified Jesus? Because an electric chair wouldn't look good at the top of a steeple." "Not funny, is it?" says Hottel. "I was deeply offended just to hear it cast as an example. Well, that's roughly the effect on Muslims of these cartoons. And can you imagine if the situation were reversed, if this had been someone outside the religion making jokes about Judaism? You better bet there would have been the same reaction." Another professor insists on going off the record so he can speak with urgency. The great danger, he says, is that journalists keep referring to the furor over the cartoons as a clash of civilizations. "It's true, there is a clash, but every time you say it, every time people hear it, it becomes more of a reality." Once the mold is set, he says, more people act from that perception. Stereotypes harden, fear increases, and possibilities narrow.


Dec. contd.

Through the Woods to Grandpa’s House

As I sat in my seat during landing, I was so excited that I was about to see my mom that I couldn’t sit still. I practically ran off the plane and into my mom’s arms. My sister Paris was there and so was my cousin Fairley. It had been about seven months since I had seen my mom and almost 15 months since I had seen my sister. I wanted to hug them for forever and it was so nice to finally be with my family.

I tried to explain all of my adventures that had happened to me along the way but my English was not up for the task. My sister and cousin just stood there staring at me as my mom translated what I was trying to say. After all, moms can always understand. I got my bags and we headed back to grandpa’s house.

I missed my grandpa so much this last year and I was so happy to see him. I ran into his room and woke him and my grandma up, just like I used to do when I was a little kid. Even though I told him it was late and that I would see him in the morning, he insisted on making me a late dinner. He was also a little taken back by my speech and when he presented me with a late night slice of quiche, my entire family went into shock as I ate it using just my right hand.

That night, I slept on the floor next to my sister and even though it was so great to be with my mom and family, I couldn’t help but cry. I explained to my mom that I cry every night and it was normal. But, we both knew that this time I was crying for different reasons. I knew I didn’t belong in Morocco and now I felt like I didn’t belong home. There were just so many emotions that flooded my head that it was all so hard to process. That night I spoke Arabic in my sleep and kept my mom and sister up all night.

Bacon! Bacon!

The next morning I woke up pretty early to the smell of my grandpa cooking breakfast. He was making bacon and eggs especially for me, along with his famous coffee. I felt like I was in that commercial where all you can see is my nose chasing after the bacon…I couldn’t get enough of it.

Thinking I would have to find a lighter and wait an hour before my hot water heater would light up…I remembered that the hot water just appeared, like out of no where…and for as long as you wanted. And the water pressure, oh my goodness, I was on cloud nine. There were also clean towels…Did I once live like this?

Later that day, my mom, sister, and I went shopping and it was pretty overwhelming. Just the fact that I could drive (in a personal car) to a store, get out of the car without getting harassed, walk into the store without having someone come out and beg me to enter, browse around, try something on, decided not to get it, and then leave without being harassed…WOW. It was just amazing! And, did I mention the lines?

I bought some clothes, of course, and followed my sister around like a little puppy dog…trying not to get run over. There were several occasions when I just had to stop and stare at all of the varieties of everything…that was when my sister had to pull me to tell me to keep moving. Don’t even get me started on Walmart or Target!

I thought I entered heaven when we finally made it to Starbucks. I was so nervous about ordering that I just stood in awe as my mom ordered me a nonfat eggnog latte. I loved the fact that there were fresh pastries in the window and that my coffee was ready so fast, and of course that the coffee wasn’t Nescafe. When we sat down with out drinks, I looked around and everyone was typing on their laptops or having a conversation or…get this…reading…alone! This is unheard of. No one was facing the outside, harassing the girls that walked by and there were no beggars asking for money. It really was heaven.

That night my uncle, aunt, and cousins joined all of us for dinner. I had asked my grandpa to make pork for dinner and it was wonderful. My little cousin Saren had grown so much and she had gotten so tall. It was also nice seeing my uncle and aunt and sharing stories about living in third world countries…the difference being that they actually enjoyed the Nescafe! I think I slept like a baby that night, but of course there was still the sleep talking in Arabic.

Out of Morocco

The next day we drove to our beach house. Greeting us at the door were my brother and my step dad. I had missed both of them so much. I probably hadn’t seen my brother for more than 17 months because he left on tour before I left for Morocco. He looked like a completely different person, with long hair and football (soccer) clothes. I had missed him so much.

My mom and step dad did so much work on our house. It looked absolutely amazing. As my brother hauled my big suitcases up to the attic, with one hand no less, I got the completed tour and was amazed at all of the work. It looked like something out of a magazine…and I lived there.
My cat Calypso made her appearance and kissed me, making up for all the time I had been away. The biggest surprises about the house were the new bathrooms, the furniture, and the Jacuzzi outback.

We all sat in the dining room and shared stories, even though mine were told much slower than theirs. It was a little hard to keep track of everything and my brother made a joke that he would have to reprogram me…my parents also made the same joke about some of my new political views.

I slept in the attic upstairs next to my sister. Even though we had both changed a lot, it still felt like we were having a sleepover…the way it always did even after our parents got married.

My dad visited and it was really nice seeing him. I always give him a hard time because I don’t hear from him as much as I would like but I hope he knows how much I think about him.

Christmas was spent opening presents all day long, in fact, it was probably one of our larger Christmases. I felt like I got more than when I got when I was little girl. I got some great presents, new clothes, a DVD player from my dad (that I use every single day because my computer doesn’t play movies anymore), and my favorite, the whole series of Sex and the City. I actually cried when I opened it.

My brother and I made a trip out to Seattle so that I could meet up with a dear friend of mine and also so that he could take me shopping. I met up with my friend Bonnie and we had a great time, catching up on old times and just talking about life. My brother took me to the mall and we spent all day together just having fun. I know I have the best brother in the world and I am so lucky. I really love him and I really miss him.

I had a couple of dinners at our favorite restaurant, The Depot. The chef, Michael, made me a special pork dinner, I think he put it on his menu just for me. I brought Michael and his wife Nancy back some Moroccan spices that I hope they enjoyed.

During New Years we had a special guest, a friend of Paris’. He was a nice guy but we all voted and decided to kick him off the island…no offense Paris! The decision was followed by fireworks on the beach.

My uncle Graydon and my cousin Emily drove down with my grandpa. I hadn’t seen them in so long so it was a special treat. The sad news was that my aunt Patty wasn’t there. Emily had grown into a young woman and I barely recognized her. She is so beautiful and so talented and so tall! Why was I the only granddaughter to get the short jeans (genes)?

My mom and I packed up the car and I had to say goodbye. We were going to spend the night in Seattle because my plane left very early the next day. It was very hard, especially because I didn’t want to leave. I knew I had to finish my commitment but part of me just wanted to stay and be with my family. With me crying so hard, my brother buckled me in and said goodbye, hoping that we would be able to get together once his tour hit Spain. And then I said goodbye to my scarecrow, Brett, my step dad.

It took us a long time to get into Tacoma because there was flooding on all of the roads. If we hadn’t had our car, we would have been stuck. My mom and I went to a couple of stores to buy presents for my friends back in Tinejdad.

That night, I finished packing my bags and laid all of my stuff out for the next day. I really didn’t want to leave. I had the hardest time thinking of reasons to actually go back but then I thought of the few good people that were waiting for me and I knew I had to go back to them.

The next morning we took a shuttle to the airport. I tried to exchange some money into Moroccan currency but the woman at the desk said that that “was too exotic for her”…I could only smile and say, “Well, that’s the exotic country I’m going back to.”

My mom bought me a cup of coffee and I promised I wouldn’t cry. We hugged goodbye and I didn’t let her see a tear until I was at the security check…even though I know she knew I was. I waved goodbye and blew a kiss, thinking of the long journey I had ahead and all of the new adventures that waited for me.

Bond…Jane Bond

During my first year in Morocco, it was always hard traveling to other cities because the harassment was just unbearable. But no matter how bad it got, I thought that I could escape back to my little village and people would see me as a person and not as an object. In my little neighborhood I feel safe, I know everyone and they all take care of me. But, that little neighborhood only exists for about two blocks and then it is no man’s land. Even walking the five minutes to my dar chebab is frustrating.

The things I thought I had learned about Morocco and people in my town completely changed this September. I don’t want to go into details but I want to explain why I have a negative attitude towards Moroccan men and why the underlying theme in all of my writing is frustration and longing to go home. Almost three months ago I was walking to my host family’s house at six o’clock at night when three men grabbed and hit me. I got away and I was okay but the emotional and psychological elements hurt me much worse. I was scared to do anything, even going outside was a real life nightmare. My site mates Nate, Summer, and Andy and my Moroccan pal Hussaine helped a lot but it was still really hard.

Now I know this could have happened anywhere and to anyone, but it didn’t, it happened to me. I knew going into Morocco was going to present me with challenges but I didn’t think that this would be one of them. One of my dear friends had this same experience and she decided to go home afterwards.

I felt like I had turned into a completely different person, scared of everyone and trembling when I walked by men. I cringed in large groups and always felt paranoid.

I was glad that I had decided to visit home for Christmas because I found strength there and I decided to come back. I did this with the help of my family, deciding to put me through an intensive self-defense training session for two hours a day for an entire week. My brother’s Taikwandoe/Karate master was an amazing man and he taught me the skills I needed in order to regain confidence, not only physically but mentally. My sister joined me and we learned some really helpful stuff. I can now call myself a “scarf fu” master and unless you want some bruises, don’t even put your hand on me.

I knew I was taking a risk coming back to Morocco. It’s not just because I’m an American in this country, but the fact that I’m a woman in a Muslim culture means that hard experiences should be expected.

I’m doing much better but I still long for home and I count down the days. The harassment really gets to me and I feel like I have so much anger and sadness inside of me. I know some would say that if I’m that unhappy I should just leave, but the thing is that apart from college, this is the first real commitment I’ve made in my life and I want to see it to the end. I know I will face harder things in the future but the fact that I will be able to look back and say, I did that, I know I will find the strength I need.


December 2005

Medical Adventures

After the first year of service, all volunteers have a midterm medical where they have to be checked out by the doctor. Mine was in the beginning of December and lasted about three days. The hard thing about the stage was not the actual medical part itself, but rather getting up to Rabat. I traveled with a couple of my friends but even though we were in a group, we still faced many problems with harassment and annoying people. But, we arrived safe and sound and where able to do a little Christmas shopping on the way.

The three days in Rabat where full of adventures, from trying to find all of the labs, to going to fun restaurants, to being culturally inappropriate with friends, and to hearing about everyone’s new experiences and challenges. But a particular adventure took place during my physical exam with the doctor.

The doctor on staff is the nicest man but it is hard to keep a straight face around him because his accent is just hilarious. He says things like, “Youa must bol z milk.” Meaning, you should boil your milk…it takes a while to translate.

When we all met together before our each own individual exams, he told us that we would each be seeing a dentist and that we would have to get x-rays of our teeth. He explained that we would be getting the “big” x-rays because “bigger is better.” He also told us that we all had to give a stool sample and that we had to deliver it to a lab no later than half an hour after it was given. For some it was harder than others.

During my exam, he diagnosed that I had “z allergies becaz you have z sand in the lungs.” I could only laugh…of course! That’s why I had been coughing non-stop for months on end, even after my bronchitis. I was lucky in that I was expecting to have at least 3 parasites but I didn’t have any…they must have already passed.

‘Baggage’ Check

At 7 o’clock in the morning on December 15th, my bags were packed and I left for the train station. I was so glad that two of my friends were also going to be on my flight. One of them was going home for a visit and a wedding, and the other was returning home for good because her daughter was diagnosed with cancer. It was very sad because she was a great volunteer with a big heart.

I didn’t have a lot of bags but for one person, it was hard to manage it all. Of course, I got some help from strangers pulling it up the stairs for me and loading it onto the train. You have to take two trains in order to arrive at the Caza airport. It was hard switching and it would have been impossible if I were by myself.

I checked in with the airline and had to go through the “oh my gosh you speak Arabic game” with everyone I met. That included the gendarmes who checked my bag. This game kind of goes like this:

Standing in the airport is an American girl, you can tell by her clothes and her expressions, and of course her nice baggage.
But then, she speaks Arabic, “Who could this girl be?” Whispered the gendarmes as their eyes checked her up and down. Pulling her out of the crowd, they decided they would check her instead of any other passenger traveling on board. They asked her to bring her bag up to the counter and proceeded to ask her some questions.
“How do you speak Arabic?”
“I live here.”
“In Morocco, same as you.”
“Are you married?”
“Do you want to get married?”
“No thank you.”
Since the girl would not give any of her information out, one of the gendarmes decided to ask her for her carte de sejour (national identification card) to see where she lived. She handed it to him and after he looked to see that she lived in the Sahara, he pretended to check her bags.
“Why aren’t you married?”
At this point the girl became upset. She was trying to act politely but had had enough. “Look, even though I would love to continue this conversation, frankly it’s non of your business. So, will you just check my bags and let me go?” she said to them. They just kind of stared and gave her the signal that she could leave.

But for the remainder of the line, they kept calling out her name and asking, “Can you cook couscous? Are you going to come back to Caza? When are you coming back?”
She could only ignore them.

This little game continued with the man at the passport check, the man at the café where I bought a soda before getting on-board, and all of the male passengers who heard me speak Arabic on the plane. It gets really old.

Berber in Country

When I arrived at JFK, the first thing I saw was a line. A LINE! (note, they don’t stand in a straight line in morocco. ) I hadn’t seen one of those in a long time. I stood in the line, feeling so proud to be part of one and looking forward to all of the lines I would be in during my visit home. I wanted to kiss the ground.

The only thing that ruined my perfect line was the man standing behind me, the same Moroccan man who had not stopped staring at me ever since he overheard my conversation with a Moroccan woman. This was typical behavior in Morocco but we weren’t there anymore, and yet, this man was still trying to hit on me…in my own country! How do you escape it? Right when I about turned around to say, “Listen. I guess that kind of behavior is ok in Morocco, but we’re on my land now so I would appreciate it if you would stop talking to me”…I had come to the front of the line and said goodbye to the last Moroccan man I would see in a long time.

My bags made it and that made me so happy. In the last 15 minutes, I had not only stood in a line, but I all of my bags had arrived and I could tell that other good things were on the way. All I needed was a Starbucks and I was home.

When I left the baggage claim, I all of a sudden became anonymous. I was just like everybody else and it felt so good. At least, I thought I was anonymous until a little old Berber woman wearing a scarf over her head and a jllaba reached out to me and asked me for help. She must have remembered me from the plane because she only spoke to me in Arabic. She was looking for her son and didn’t know what to do. I translated her story for her to someone at the airlines and they located him for her. The person at the airlines was like, you speak what?

I left the terminal and felt so free. I navigated myself through the JFK terminals and onto the shuttle with such grace. The only thing that scared me was that I realized that I could understand every conversation everyone was having, behind me, in front of me, across the room…it didn’t matter! What a concept to have everyone speaking and communicating in the same language! It took a little while to get used to.

My moments of release and grace drew to a quick stop when I came to the Jetblue terminal. Everything was electronic and it seemed as though everything ran so smoothly without anyone pushing one another or any gendarmes getting in the way…What was this place and could I ever fit in? The only thing that gave me courage was the line.

I made my way slowly to the gate, looking at everything and taking pleasure in eavesdropping on others’ conversations. I felt like I had no idea where I was nor what I was looking at. My language skills were not that good either, any English sentence took a while to put together.
My head was gazing at everything and all of the beautiful people. Had I stepped into an ultra universe? It was as though I was a deer in the headlights and didn’t know what to do. My eyes became huge when I came to a magazine stand. I took out a 20 dollar bill that I had saved for 15 months and felt honored to use it all, buying three beauty magazines, a sandwich, and a café.

I decided I would just sit and read my beloved magazines until my flight was ready. Thinking that there would be no more surprises, I was wrong. I looked around and everyone was holding their laptops on their laps…and I was guessing…was online! When did this happen? There’s wireless…in the…airport? I just sat frozen until my flight came.

On board, I made the mistake of telling my row partners that I was a PC volunteer in Morocco. So for the next six hours of my flight, I answered questions about my life in Northern Africa…and almost jumped out of the plane when the stewardess announced that they would be selling food. WHAT? Why would the airline make you buy food? Again…the question of the day was, “When did this happen?”


Planning to see the world at age 10.

I was 10 years old when Janet Jackson's "Runaway" video came out.

It was so exotic and she danced and jumped all over the world. I wanted to be her. That Halloween my Mom made me a costume exactly like hers in the video!


"Don't you have any HAPPY holidays?"

January 18, 2006

During my trip home, I met one of my good friends for lunch. She brought her family and I brought stories from Morocco. We talked for what seemed like forever about life in Morocco until finally our waiter told us that we needed to order. I was amazed at the abundance of cheese in my burrito and of course all of the ice in my glass, things that are hard to come by in my little town. I tried to explain what my life is about in Tinejdad with my limited English skills and it was so nice to have someone actually ask questions and listen to me without getting bored about Moroccan life.

See, that was the only hard thing about being home. Aside from my family, when people found out that I’m living in Morocco, they asked questions out of curiosity but seemed to want the Cliff Notes version. I can’t sum of my last 15 months in a five minute conversation…even though I tried. So with a lot of people back home, I felt like I was just talking about the past when all I really wanted to do was find out about their own lives and what they have been doing this last year. That’s why I feel really lucky to have my mom, because whenever I talk to her, I’m not talking about what happened but what is happening. But on lunch that day, my friend wanted to listen to every story and was the nicest audience I had during my trip home.

One of my favorite parts about lunch was when her two boys asked me, “Do you have any holidays in Morocco?” I didn’t really know how to respond but said, “Well, we have one holiday where you fast for an entire month.”

“What is fast?” her youngest son asked.
“Fasting is when you do not eat. In Morocco, they fast during Ramadon from sunrise to sunset. There is also another holiday where everyone slaughters a sheep and eats the entire thing, head, feet, and all.”

That was when the boy just looked at me and said, “Don’t they have any happy holidays?”
I could only laugh because he was completely right. I had never really thought about it like that before. I guess to an American child, holidays are about presents, candy, costumes, and money. But none the less, every Moroccan child I know looks forward to the day of Leid l’Kbir, when every family slaughters a sheep and hangs its body in the doorway, followed by a three day feast of meat.

Last year during Leid lKbir, I went to Meknes for two weeks to spend the holiday with my host family. It was an amazing time and I had a lot of fun. But this year, I stayed home and had a different kind of experience.

Leid lKbir is celebrated about two months after the end of Ramadon and is the time when Muslims make their pilgrimage to Mecca. This holiday remembers the sacrifice by Abraham, who was told to do this by Allah, instead of sacrificing his son... Allah provided a sheep.

At 9 o’clock on Leid morning, Andy and I met outside dressed our best. It is traditional for everyone to wear a jllaba, or a kaftan (a more fancy jllaba for women), and for children to wear new clothes. I wore my new jllaba that I had tailored a couple of months before and Andy wore his as well. We had so many people to visit that we decided that we would walk to Tinejdad and say “Mabrok Leid” to all of our friends.

We started with my old host family, then Rachid’s mom’s house, and his grandfather’s house. At every house, we were given tea and cookies. It was hard to say no to all of the delicious foods. My jllaba attracted a lot of attention and because of that I will put it away in my closet until another festival comes along. All of my guy friends were like, "wow, look at Aura in her jllaba!" I guess the only way to look like a supermodel in this country is by wearing a bag of fitted fabric over your body.

We walked all the way to our host family’s house, keeping count of all the slaughtered sheep we saw along the way and not trying to step in the blood. When we got there, we watched Moha skin the sheep with help from his son Mustapha. The first time I saw this, I was pretty bothered by it, but this year it was no problem.

More tea filled our bellies and Zoura’s delicious cookies kept us company as we all waited for lunch. At lunch we ate brochettes and liver kbabs (they are really good), followed by a big platter of the best meat which we just ate with bread. My new site mate Moshay only eats chicken so he didn’t embark on the sheep eating feast.

After lunch, we all hit the breeze and had a fun time just talking and telling jokes. At dinner time, we had the same meal and it was just as good and filling. That night Andy and I walked the 40 minutes home in the freezing cold because we were so full that we had to walk it off.
The next night we visited Rachid’s grandfather’s house for another amazing meal of meat. All of his cousins were there and it was fun seeing everyone.

This last week I have had so many invitations to eat at people’s homes, and of course it is hashuma to decline. After about the first three days, families start to eat the head and ears and stuff, things I’d rather not enjoy again after last year. So, I was lucky this year in that in every house I went, they served me the good meat instead of the intestines.

It has now been a week since Leid and things are starting to get back to normal. People have returned to their jobs and children are going back to school. My dar chebab will start up again tomorrow night and tutoring will as well. It was a nice break to have after coming back from being in America. There are some really special people in Tinejdad that have touched my life and it is hard to think that ten and a half months from now I will be leaving this foreign place to start another adventure.

news item

Over twenty people die in road accident close to Marrakech.

Marrakech, Jan.10 - Twenty-four people were killed and 63 others were
injured, on Tuesday, when two buses collided in the road linking the
southern cities of Marrakech and Agadir, local authorities told MAP.The
accident occurred nearly 20 km from Marrakech, said the same sources,
blaming it on high speed. The injured were transported to hospitals in
During the last ten years, road accidents increased at a yearly basis of
3pc, causing enormous economic losses. They cost the State about USD 1.2
billion a year, that is 2.5% of the GDP.