Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gal-entine's Day at the Hammam

Yes, Valentine's Day is a thing in Morocco. As a newly pieced together group that has already professed love for each other, we figured there's only one way to celebrate V-Day in Morocco: MOJ style, specifically the girls (sorry dudes). What better way to get out with the girls than go to the hammam, AM I RIGHT?!

(PS--a hammam is a public bath.)

I'm going to admit it, I was super nervous. I made sure my friends would meet me out in front of the hammam so that I didn't have to go in alone, and before we went in I was a little freaked out. There I was, walking down the street with a towel and a bucket, thinking everyone walking past me knows what I'm going to do. It's not a big deal for people here, but since cleaning yourself is such a private thing in America, I felt awkward and way too public about it.

However, once I got inside and got past the initial stage fright, I realized that it was very relaxing. I thought I'd be more...intimidated?...being surrounded by a bunch of half naked women, and feel way too vulnerable. But everyone keeps to themselves or to their own group, so it's not awkward at all. And it makes sense...if you go with a group, you have someone to scrub your back for you!

So there's a small fee to get into the hammam, and then you go inside and undress. Then you enter another room where the actual bath is, but it's divided into three parts. You hang your towel in the first room, and the last room on the end (which you actually start in) is like a sauna. Very hot! The middle room is where most people stay longest and do their washing, and there are a bunch of faucets lined along the wall where you can fill your bucket. You bring a special type of soap that's either henna or argan based, and a scrubber glove that's just the right amount of rough to get the dead skin off (gross, I know, but you wouldn't believe the amount that comes off of you). I came out of the hammam glowing!

So, that's it, Friday is hammam day with my gals. Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable at first. You never know if you'll like something until you try.

(In case you were wondering, my friends and I feel much closer now.)

Just a quick note--I am traveling this week. Yay, excursion #1! I will be going to Fes, Marrakech, south toward the desert where I'll be riding a camel (!), and Essauoria, with some stops in between. We will be gone for a week. I'm bringing my laptop for when we're in hotels, but I don't know if I'll have time to blog. I'll certainly update when I get back though!



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Doha Makes Couscous

On Friday we got out of language class early for cooking class! It was pretty fun, because we learned how to make couscous but the entire cooking class was in Arabic. I picked up some new vocabulary while learning to make a Moroccan delicacy!

Fridays are for couscous--every week, we get out of school early so that we can enjoy lunch with our families. The most popular type is "7-vegetable couscous" which is what most of our families make for us. For this lesson though, Doha, our homestay coordinator, made a sweet-and-salty version with caramelized onions and golden raisins (YUM!).

(By the way, yes I did make couscous at school, eat it, and then go home and eat more couscous. You can never eat enough here.)

Couscous here is not like in the States, where you can open a box and spend five minutes boiling it and bam, couscous. It's steamed here, and takes at least an hour to cook. It's a meal that takes a lot of time, so families eat it on Fridays when everyone is home due to it being a holy day.

Doha informed us that her mother is much better at making couscous, but we enjoyed it nonetheless!
My classmates smelling the spices.
The mixture had onions, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and tons of other delicious flavors!

Hungry? I don't blame you. It was ladeed--delicious!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"In this house, everyone is family."

Salaamu Alaikoum!

Wa alaikoum salaam!



I understand it's been forever since I updated you all--sorry! Between not having the best WiFi, dealing with a packed schedule, and trying to explore a new country, I haven't had much time to get my thoughts on paper (or screen). But I sure have had a lot of them! And it can be difficult communicating thoughts when you're surrounded by very limited amounts of English and massive amounts of languages you wish you knew (or thought you knew--Spanish!) but don't. So it's nice to have a blog for that.

Wow, where should I even begin?

First things first, you'll notice there's been a bit of a makeover. I figured, I'm not at SMC anymore so I should go for more of a Moroccan vibe. On our first day here, I was so inspired by something Badrdine said that I wrote it down: "The more confused you are, the more you understand's a mosaic; it's not a melting pot."

(Don't you just love Badrdine? So wise!)

That's where the new title came in. This is My Mosaic, a document of what Morocco is starting to mean to me. I'm also very confused (in a good way), so I think this works. The photo is looking down from the second floor of my school, the CCCL. It's a very old building and that mosaic on the floor is the original.

The last time I wrote on here I was about to meet my host family...I was so nervous. Terrified, even. But as soon as they called my name and my sister walked up to me and kissed my face, I knew I'd be okay. I'm glad Azizah was the one to pick me up, though it was a surprise because the info sheet I was given said I only had a mother and four brothers (wow). However, I quickly learned that Azizah is married to one of the brothers (who actually left for California the morning I moved in so we never met) and another one moved with his wife to Australia. That leaves two brothers, Abdelilah and Mostapha, who are the kindest/funniest/most caring people I've probably ever met. Abdelilah is also moving to California (emigration is actually a pretty big issue for Morocco) at the end of this week, so we're all excited for him but quite sad to see him leave.

My mama, Rahma, has been a joy for me since the second we met. I was sitting on the couch in my room (it's a living room type of area with my bedroom curtained off) when she came running through the doors with open arms smiling and saying "Lauren, Lauren!" She grabbed my face for a double-kiss and immediately began feeding me, and she hasn't stopped since. She's an incredible cook and it's hard to turn down food...not just because it's so delicious, but also because it's her mission to make me "fat," according to my brothers. (SIT warned us this would happen--when you finish your food, your family yells "kuli, kuli!" and motions for you to keep eating by pushing bread into your hands). We do not speak the same language, but I find it surprisingly easy to communicate with her through hand gestures. She speaks to me anyway, as if I know what she's saying, and I just smile and she pats my back and that's enough for the both of us. Actually, one of my favorite times of day is right before I leave for school in the morning when I join her for breakfast. We're the only two awake at that time, and I always walk into the kitchen area (which is also a living room/bedroom where my brothers sleep) to find her sitting on the couch waiting for me with bread, cheese, olive oil and a pot of hot coffee. She pats the seat next to her on the couch to motion for me to sit, and I've found that she likes to pour the coffee and make everything for me so I let her do it and say "shoukran" (thank you). We eat together in the quiet and then I say thank you again and get on my way to school.

(By the way, for those of you who know me, you'll be surprised to know that I actually LOVE the coffee here. My mama makes it well because it's mostly warm milk with a little bit of coffee and sugar--Moroccans love their sugar!)

I realized I made the description of the house sound small, so let me clarify: this house is HUGE. When you walk in there's an open square with no roof (a typical architectural style for houses in the medina) and then you can go inside to the rooms that branch off of it. My room is straight ahead, with Azizah's room behind it. The kitchen area is next to it, and the bathroom next to that, but they're not attached so you walk through the open square to get to them (at some point I'll get pictures up here). The bathroom has both a western and a Turkish toilet, but to shower I just use the faucet in the wall with a big bucket (the hammam is still very popular in Morocco, so I'm hoping to try it sometime). The kitchen/living room is a long room with a big couch going along the wall, long enough for two or three people to line up on it to sleep. This is very common in Moroccan homes, and even my bed is more of a small couch.

I haven't seen much of the rest of the house because the whole extended family lives here and each family has their own space. I wait until I'm invited inside, which usually happens with the kids (playtime is a universal language). I did go up to the roof with Mostapha the other day, and it's awesome up there. You can see pretty much the whole medina and I was able to pick out my school (it's the tallest building inside the medina). It's a great reading spot for warm days!

But anyway, the kids! They're great. There's Azizah's daughter, Mellek (meaning "Angel"), who is about a year old. She's a very happy baby and she loves to walk, even though she's not awesome at it quite yet. There's Sivdeen, Bediaa's son, who I guess would be my cousin? He's an adorable little troublemaker who was very shy with me at first. He'd burst into a room yelling something, and when he'd realize I was there, he'd hide behind someone and timidly say "salaam" and then run away. However, it's a good thing I thought to bring toys, because I gave him a slinky and we've been buddies ever since. Sivdeen has (at least) two toddler-aged siblings whose names I can't remember, and there are at least three little girls around here somewhere too. Then there's Oussama, who is a 14-year-old English/Arabic speaking computer whiz and is just as awesome as I made him sound. He was with Azizah when she came to pick me up (he pulled my heavy suitcase all the way through the maze of the medina for me!), and he's been by my side ever since. Although he's technically a cousin (or...nephew?) he calls me sister and I call him brother. He is my resident Fus'ha (Arabic) tutor, and in exchange for his patience and linguistic expertise he gets to play around on my laptop when I'm done with my homework. It's a win-win for both of us.

I have so many great stories about my host family already. As soon as I got here, Azizah showed me my room and helped me get settled in. Then, she took me by the shoulders, looked directly into my eyes and said, "Lauren, everyone in this house is family. YOU are family." I am so grateful that this family was so quick to welcome me into their home and (quite literally) give me all they have to give. I feel like I don't deserve to be treated so lovingly without them even knowing me at first, but now I truly feel like they are my family, just like how I felt the same way about Saint Mike's after a few weeks.

On my first night in my new home, my brothers took me for a walk through the medina and the casbah (a beautiful ancient fortress right on the beach, about a minute's walk and one scary street-crossing away from the medina). In the casbah, they stopped so I could get a henna painted on my hand, and then they bought me cotton candy out near the beach. On the way back home we stopped for soup (I don't even know what it's called but you can find it everywhere and it has chickpeas in it and it's SO good) AND they bought sweets. Then I had to go home and eat dinner! I have to admit though, going for a walk with my brothers is one of my favorite things. We always end up having an adventure, whether it was the day we ventured in a tiny rowboat over to Sale or the time they were teaching me how to get to school from the house and they let me take the lead (I got lost, obviously...but I've got it now!).

Basically, I could not ask for a better family. I'm lucky, too--everyone in my group gets along with their families okay, but it seems only very few of us have formed great relationships while everyone else is more or less left alone.

OH! And my brothers even helped me with my first reporting assignment! I had to write a food story, so I decided to go talk to some food vendors in the medina and eventually chose to write about the snail soup guy. Abdelilah would not stop talking about how good the snails are one day, and it piqued my interest. I asked them to go with me so that they could translate during the interview, and they agreed. I bought us a round of snails, and I thought I would just try one, but the vendor wouldn't quite go for that (neither would my brothers). So, I ate a whole darn bowl of them. To tell you the truth, they weren't bad! I'm definitely glad I had the experience--and even more glad that I feel fine 24 hours later so they didn't make me sick (I was already sick this weekend--I knew it was going to happen, and I'm kind of happy to have gotten it over with sooner rather than later).

My brothers are so cool, they even helped some of my friends with their assignments too. One was having trouble even finding a vendor who would agree to an interview, but since Abdelilah and Mostapha know pretty much everyone (it seems), they got her a good last-minute chat with a fig/date seller.

I could go on forever about how great everyone is, but instead I'll leave you with some pictures of snails. Just think about me eating them. Mmm mmm. Hungry?

People just gather around the cart and the vendor puts a steaming bowl in front of you. You pick up a shell and pull the snail out with a toothpick, simultaneously separating it from the stomach contents. Not very took me a few tries and my bros had a good laugh! 

Snails are very good for you, full of protein and a popular winter snack in Morocco. You can also drink the broth, which is pumped with flavorful spices!