A few months ago, I wrote up a little top ten of sorts covering my life in Sefrou. Since then, I’ve moved and settled into my new site, the location of which I’m not allowed to disclose. Actually, a word or two about that is in order. The Peace Corps is the United States Government. I mean, I work for the State Department, but it’s far-removed from the military (which also doesn’t disclose location). There really isn’t much need for keeping my location secret, I don’t think, but I suppose the real reasoning behind that is our safety and security, which 20/20 recently criticized:
About that 20/20 – I don’t want to dwell much on that, and you can watch Parts 2 and 3 on Youtube if you’re that interested, but I will say this one thing – blaming the Peace Corps for our safety is about like blaming NASA for the safety of the astronauts. Sure, they’re responsible, but we knew what we were signing up for when we went through the application process. There are risks involved (though probably not comparable to living in downtown Detroit or Chicago; that’s just entirely unsafe). One of my friends actually watched the 20/20 and joked afterward about calling 20/20 and complaining that he doesn’t have running water or internet at his site. They could run a follow-up report, “PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER LACKS INTERNET IN HIS SITE! WHAT IS PEACE CORPS HEADQUARTERS THINKING?!”
Of course, I shouldn’t joke too much about our safety, and all of that is not to say that the Peace Corps handles every situation perfectly. It’s a large, bureaucratic organization that must rely on many different people to make it run like butter, so what do you expect? Either way, safety and security is a good reason for keeping our locations secret, though I suspect that they are keeping our locations secret from angry American ex’s (we all have a few, right?) more than they are protecting us from people in our own communities.
At any rate, without being able to name O-oops, almost said it, on my blog, it made logical sense to me that I needed to be able to refer to O-I mean, my site, as something other than “my site” all the time. I settled on the ever-lovely town Mos Eisley from the Star Wars Universe as the new name of my town in Morocco, and I would like to make a case for why this is an appropriate name for my lovely, desert abode. I’ll start by quoting the Wikipedia article on Mos (yeah, I’m gonna call it “Mos” for short; don’t judge me): “From a distance, the spaceport looks like a haphazard collage of low-grade concrete, stone and plastoid structures that spread outward from a central power-and-water distribution plant like the spokes of a wheel. Also, at a distance, the smooth circular depressions of launch stations look like craters pockmarked the landscape. The town is really larger than it looks, as a good portion of it lies underground. In fact, the town has a population of around 40,000–60,000 people, varying seasonally. It had been built from the beginning with commerce in mind. Even the oldest of the town’s buildings had been designed to provide protection from the twin suns. The buildings looked primitive from the outside and most of them actually were. The Mos Eisley Cantina used to be one of the spaceport’s original blockhouses. Incidentally, the first view of Mos Eisley in A New Hope is actually a shot of Death Valley in California from near the “Dante’s View” lookout, with a matte painting added in the distance.””
If you actually read all of that, you’re weird.
But to say that you can’t think of Star Wars when you walk around Mos, you’d be kidding yourself. Case in point, it’s a rare-known fact that the Jedi robe is actually taken from the Moroccan djellaba (or so I hear). Don’t believe me? Read about it for yourself: Moroccan djellaba dominates fashion scene.
1. And so, with this in mind, I hereby begin this edition of my top ten list (in two parts and in no particular order) with the official naming of my little town in Morocco – “Mos Eisley,” with only one small clarification. Mos, as lovely as she is, should not be confused with what Obi Wan has to say about the real Mos Eisley (please, sit down), namely that she’s a hive of villainy and scum. See for yourself below (it’ll also give you an idea of what the djellaba looks like and what my town looks like; it’s really close, actually):
2. The Zitoun, or the Olive Orchard. On the outskirts of Mos Eisley is a small, quaint Olive Orchard with trees that probably stretch back a few hundred years or so. It’s an escape from “city-life” and a major source of revenue for the people living there around harvest time (early December). I managed to make friends out there my first week in site when I went with an American here to a “sabora,” or baby-naming ceremony, which traditionally happens seven days after the baby is born. There is lots of prayer and lots of food (like good Methodists), and the mother is waited on and cared for and pretty much allowed to do whatever she wants (probably one of the only times in her life she’ll have no major or immediate responsibilities). The night I went, we were served what I like to call “sweet spaghetti,” because it has cinnamon and sugar on it instead of tomato sauce, and we were then served the main course, a large, beautifully roasted chicken. Yum, yum.
So, naturally, all of that was enough to convince me to go back, and yesterday, I returned to visit the family. When I got there, I started to sit down on a pile of blankets (looked really warm) only to realize as the father walked over that I was about to sit down on little Mohammed Amin who is now two months old! I guess when I leave Morocco, he’ll be a toddler, so long as I don’t sit on him on accident first.
After avoiding that international crisis, I talked with them some about my English classes at the Dar Chebab and about an imaginary monster named “Tayab” who I need to find out more about. He’s apparently really hairy and eats a lot, though. Go figure.
3. Cooking in Morocco. All this talk about food makes it fairly obvious what should be number three on my list, especially since I bought a new oven this morning. Several women standing around gave me a “miskeen,” which essentially means, “oh you poor thing,” when they found out I wasn’t married and had to cook for myself. Yeah, tell me about it. Cooking is difficult, hard work, and props to anyone who can do it.
We’re so used to going to the grocery store and buying a can of soup or cereal or any processed food. It’s easy, and with a microwave, we can fix it up pretty quickly. But here in Morocco, where you have to shell your pees, chop your tomatoes, make your own tortillas from scratch, a simple meal that might take twenty minutes to prepare back home with little work could take up to three hours by yourself over here. I’ve mentioned that in brief before, but I really wanted to drive that point home, because it’s still so fascinating to me, just the time that goes into my cooking process. It’s a huge chunk of my day. In fact, I cry about it almost every single time I have to cook, except usually, that’s because I’m chopping onions.
My favorite meal, thus far, of course has been “Mos Eisley” Tacos, and no, I don’t actually call them Mos Tacos. Just replace that word with the real name of my city if you actually know it. But Mos Tacos are kind of a rare event at the Dar Yanayr dyal Fouad (once every two or three weeks), because I only make them when we have at least three or four people over. One person on guacamole, two on pico de gallo and chopping responsibilities, one to make tortillas, and one to make rice, stir fry, and heat the bibi (turkey). We can usually cut the cook time down to two hours when we’re doing that. Oh, and of course, Mos Tacos would not be complete without the appropriate background music, much of which is music from Mali, courtesy of Avery Schmidt, volunteer extraordinaire who lives about an hour up (literally) the road from me. Here’s a really short sampling of some of what Mos Eisley Taco night sounds like (the first band that plays is one of Ave’s favorite, music from Mali):
Anyway, in the past two weeks or so, I’ve managed to cook banana pancakes, pumpkin curry soup, a curry stir-fry, tomato soup, and tonight’s plate will hopefully be a quesadilla dish.
Here’s a few recipes (taken straight from the Peace Corps Cooking Guide) in case you’d like to join in the adventure and make a meal from scratch:
Pumpkin Curry Soup
1.5 kg pumpkin, peeled and cubed; 1c water; 4 Tbls butter; 1 lg onion, chopped; 4c chicken stock; 1 tsp salt; 1 bay leaf; .5 tsp curry powder; .5 tsp ginger; .5 tsp nutmeg; pinch of cinnamon, white pepper to taste; 1c milk
Place pumpkin in steamer basket in pressure cooker; pour water over top. Seal and cook for 12 minutes. Remove from heat and puree pumpkin. Discard water. In pressure cooker, saute the onion in butter until soft. Add remaining ingredients (except milk) and pumpkin; bring to a boil. Seal and cook five minutes. Remove from heat. Discard bay leaf and puree soup. Return mixture to pot and add milk. Heat gently until warm.
Cream of Tomato Soup
2.5 Tbs butter; 2 Tbs Tomato paste; 1 celery stalk, chopped; 1.5 tsp dried basil; pinch of ground cloves; 2 Tbs flour; 4c chopped tomatoes; 1 sm onion, chopped; pinch baking soda; 2.5c vegetable stock or water; 1.5c milk; salt and pepper.
Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, basil, and cloves; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is limp, about five minutes. Stir in the flour. Next add tomatoes, tomato paste, baking soda, and stock; bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes. Let cool briefly, then puree in a blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and add milk and salt. If the soup is too thick, thin it with additional milk or stock. If the tomato flavor is not rich enough, deeper it by stirring in a little more tomato paste. Reheat and serve hot with a sprinkling of pepper.
4. Carnivale Mos Eisley. That’s right, the carnival is in town. Complete with a Ferris wheel and bumper cars. To answer your question, no, I haven’t ridden any of them yet, but every time I see that big Ferris Wheel, I think to myself, Mos Eisley is moving on up economically. In fact, I’d say this little town is quickly growing in a positive direction, as is the entire country. In light of the tensions and protests surrounding North Africa right now, Morocco comes out as a kind of shining beacon, the country where all is calm and well, while the rest of North Africa is slowly falling apart. I forwarded this article to my parents recently illustrating that point, and I think it’s one worth sharing.
But for a town that had no paved roads just a year ago, Mos has changed drastically, and it’s good to see the place thriving with plenty of things for youth in the town to do that are either fun or educational. Case in point, I recently found out that there is a gym being built near the Dar Chebab that will house a pool, a soccer field, and a basketball court. I suspect I’ll be involved with working there some, maybe. I’d love to teach swimming. But in the meantime, there’s always bumper cars!
5. Friends. I’ll close up Part 1 of my Top Ten List with a few words about one of the things that’s really made life in this part of Morocco truly great these past few months. In fact, thinking back on the blog I posted about “deciding to be happy,” I think the community that surrounds me is a big part of why I’ve been so incredibly happy lately. Their names? Avery, Caity, Meagan, and Nicole. I mentioned them a while back, when I first moved to Mos Eisley, knowing that, when English-speakers are rare, you value the ones you have, but I didn’t know before I moved here just how lucky I would be.
“Lucky” might seem like a strange word to use, but the fact is, I’ve had a chance now to meet quite a few Peace Corps volunteers in this country, and not to hate on all of them, but a lot of us, myself included, are a little weird. A lot of them, I can’t say I’d want to be good friends with in all honesty. So the fact that I arrived here and realized almost immediately that I was surrounded by good people who are doing good, solid work that will impact their communities – people who deeply care about making a difference in Morocco… well, I figured I was in the right place. A few movie nights later, and it was solid fact: I’m blessed to have these friends.
It’s funny, really, the way people enter your lives. I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the way they exit your lives, but for the first time in a long, long time, I have a solid group of friends I see on a regular basis, all of us working toward the similar goal of improving the lives of the people we are in community with, and really, I just can’t ask for much that’s better than that.
So, that’s a wrap. For now. I’ll bring you Part 2 next week, Inshallah, complete with music, kefta (goat meat), Gendarme’s, and more! Also, be on the lookout for some pictorial revamps of the blog upcoming.