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Friday 28 November 2008

The donkey boy

In a testament to the list, you’ll be happy to know that Latifa and I braved the Asni souq this week for the second time (with a revised list of the week’s requirements). It had rained during the week, so the ground was a little more like a swampy sty than a market, but we survived…Thanks mainly to our new helper. Latifa found a boy with a donkey, and for the bargain price of 20 Dh, he met us at the souq, took our purchases to the house, and then met us on his way back for his payment. This will be a regular friendship! Latifa has spent wisely and has reduced our shopping budget dramatically, mainly because she can see which items are in season and we can adjust our menu of the week to suit the ‘specials’ – there’s the supermarket shopper coming out in me (my arms are thanking me for not visiting a Sainsbury’s recently, as I would always take advantage of the 3 for 2 offers!).

On Samedi, the girls usually come home in dribs and drabs to have lunch and visit the souq. We decided to try something new this week – we told all of the girls to come home for a later lunch at 2.30pm. This was a great success – it gave Latifa and I enough time to come home, unpack the groceries and prepare the lunch. And, all of the girls came home happily satisfied with their souq purchases this week.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The Lunch - What a Success!

On Sunday, we held a fantastic fundraising lunch for the organisation in Marrakech. The guest list was full of inspiring people, and we spent the day enthralled in a range of interesting conversations. I have not spoken so much English so fast and for so long in about 2 months, so during my presentation my voice started to fail! I’m a teacher for goodness sake! Oh, well! I’ll have to get back into some vocal training. I did actually wake up today with a cold - this may be to blame!

The guests included members of the association, sponsors, donors, potential donors, and interested parties from Morocco and abroad. Besides consuming a delicious feast, we spent a lot of time discussing the future of the girls and assessing the goals of the project. It was a really insightful debate.

So, returning from the lunch, I have set a few things in action:
- In the Informatique lessons this week, the girls are practising their typing whilst writing a letter to me to tell me how they see their lives at the age of twenty.
- In the English lessons, I am teaching the girls the French and English names of the most used utensils as well as teaching them the recipes of their two favourite cakes (and the icing)
- In order to counteract the last point, I have had contact from an agency regarding applying for a visit from some dental specialists (this will take a lot of coordination, so I am gearing up).

Finally, Latifa and I have instigated a house calendar, through which we have allocated each girl one Friday night to cook us her favourite dinner recipe from her home. I can’t wait! (And neither can the girls!)

Oh, and another addition to the family! We don’t know any details yet, but Khadija’s mother has had her baby… in Imsker… at home with Granny’s help!!!!!!!!!!!

To market (for real this time)

Last year, Latifa relied a lot on help from others to run the house, but this year, she has decided that she would like to take charge. To do this, we have been keeping accounts, questioning how things run and how we can be more economical, and working on our food requirements. We have spent a few weeks making a menu of the week and using that to make a shopping list. This week was it. Souq – here we come. I was a little concerned about the finer details, but thought I would just ride it out. I tried hard to maintain my cheerful disposition on Friday when, as we were preparing the lunch, she casually pondered what we might like to buy at the souq tomorrow. After I reminded her of the list (and sprouted some grey hairs) we were fine – yes… We have a list…

Everyone was shocked to see Latifa in the market. For one thing, women do not go to the souq. Also, she must be far too busy and incapable of buying what she needs. So, every person that she saw who knew her stopped her to ask what was going on. In a big flurry of hands, lots of pointing and shouting (just talking actually), she was thoroughly questioned on what SHE was doing at the souq. When questioned, she promptly whipped out her list, and presented it, brandishing it like a sword, saying, ‘It’s easy! I have a list.’ At this, at least 4 men would be drawn towards her, looking at this marvel. Well, thinks Mohammed, I’d like my wife to give me a list so that I don’t get in trouble for forgetting something! And, the man at the vegetable stall thought it was great! Latifa just jumped in, started grabbing what was on the list and then piling it all onto the scales. He just sat in his seat working out the bill – and then reporting the cost of each item to Latifa! I think he might have needed a mint tea when he was done with us!

So, I hear you asking, ‘what was your role in all of this?’ Out of concern that the prices would be inflated on seeing a foreigner (Latifa cannot believe this practice and she is appalled at her countrymen), I was parked in a corner as a dumping point for carrying the purchased items. I was also sent off to scout out some nice looking produce for the trickier items. This was all fine, until we got to the meat. Now, I’m not a vegetarian (anymore) but I’m also not a great fan of meat. So, when I was parked in the meat ‘department’ I stood in shock for a few minutes. To my left were a stack of chickens (pulled from a drum when stocks were running low) with the heads still attached. Don’t be concerned – these can be lopped off if you no longer want them, and they won’t be added to the bill. In front of me, in direct eye line, was a row of heads. No, not just heads. Huge, fur covered skulls, oozing blood, with glazed over eyes peering out at you. As if this was not enough (I haven’t even mentioned the pools of blood on the ground or the trails of innards floating around), but to my right was a scene reminiscent of an episode of Bewitched. It was as thought, by some act of sourcery, whatever animal was on my right had disappeared. Vanished… Leaving only the cloak of skin that it used to inhabit. Truly sensory overload. I don’t think I should attend the Aid Celebrations.

Anyway, after the day was done, it was all worth it to see Latifa, with the biggest smile on her face, reporting the events of the day. She was so proud of herself, and all that she had achieved. She was especially excited about the list! This will definitely be used again! In fact, after a visit from a friendly neighbour, who came to see if she would like anything, Latifa promptly replied that she didn’t, thank you very much! She was fine. In fact, she is now going to be like Linda. When she told me this, I asked ‘how so?’ I shouldn’t have. The response…

“I want to be like Linda. She is the man and the woman. I want to be the man and the woman.”

Oh, what a journey of self-discovery this has turned out to be…

When is my birthday??

Today was Fatima Boustta’s birthday. I discovered this during the week in my English lessons as I have been working on the months of the year, birthdays and ages. I was concerned when some of the girls said that they have no idea when their birthday’s are, and even more surprised to find that a number of them are born on the 01/01 or 12/12 or 10/10 (a customary procedure in Morocco). They’re pretty sure of their year of birth, but the actual day is not recorded precisely. So, we set about having a big celebration. It was Saturday, souq day, so one stall in particular faired well from this special occasion. Fatima received 15 lucky dip boxes from said stall (1 Dh each), therefore receiving an average of 4 of each item. She was thrilled!

During the day, we played in the yard with the sports equipment that we have – some hackey sacks, two balls, some markers and a skipping rope. I love moments like this when Latifa will open up some unknown part of the house, drag out some fantastic materials and say, ‘What’s this? So and So gave me this, and I don’t know what’s this for?’ It’s hilarious, but exactly the same as if anyone sent me half of the things you find floating around the souqs. They have a clear purpose but it is a mystery to the outsider. So, after a few demos of the equipment (thank God they don’t know how it is actually supposed to look) the girls were off and racing. They don’t often go outside, and it’s the first time they have really played, so Latifa and I left them to it. Not even a visit from our lovely guests Clare, Vivian and Helen (and Monsieur Mike) could distract them!

After dinner, I treated the girls to a long slideshow of all of the photos and film clips I have taken whilst in the house, as I had a projector for the charity lunch on Sunday. They were so excited and they all wanted to know how the projector works. They loved the photos and were in hysterics over the films! We then sang a few versions of Happy Birthday, opened the gifts and then ate the cake. It was such a fantastic day – Fatima was absolutely glowing!

Monday 17 November 2008

When in Marrakech...

On Friday, the house was abuzz after I received a package from my friend in Australia! You cannot even fathom how long we spent, and how much fun we had, going through the Woolworths (like Sainsbury’s) brochure! I explained everything to Latifa – the most interesting parts were the loaves of bread, the cold meats for sandwiches and the orange juice in a bottle (imagine it – why not just squeeze it yourself!!). But, the piece de la resistance was the cooked chicken. Imagine buying the chicken already cooked! What did you do all morning???!! Whoa!!

Excitement aside, on Saturday Latifa and I went to Marrakech. We bought some reading books for the girls and some items for the house. We bought a range of books – from the more basic Arabic books for the girls who come only speaking Berber, to some advanced Arabic romance novels (my desire to learn Arabic just stepped up a notch), to some French stories for young adults. Coupled with this, we have also had a delivery of more advanced French books from Mike. You can imagine it, I’m sure – something for me to organise – so I have spent the day recording the details of the books and cataloguing them. I’ve decided we’re going to go all out and have a library style borrowing system, followed by a Friday night book club. Each week, a girl will be chosen at random to tell about the book that she is reading!

Latifa and I also needed to buy some containers to assist in the reduction of food waste. We are working on our stocktake and ordering to minimise wastage – I’ll keep you posted! Since the delivery of the oven, we have saved an average of 25 dirhams a day as we are able to reheat the bread from the previous day.

Lastly, when my mum and I were in Marrakech, I kept on trying to get her to try snail soup. Last night, the situation was reversed, so I poked my sharp little stick into the side of my half dead victim. When in Marrakech, after all. Just as I went to put it into my mouth, it poked out its eyes and opened its frighteningly human mouth. It was actually very tasty, but I couldn’t come at drinking the broth of salty snail water that it came in.

Friday 14 November 2008

Deer oh Deer

Well, I know that I have kept you waiting – and that the question on everybody’s lips all week has been, “What did you do with all of that deer???” On the eve of its arrival, we had a feast of sorts – deer brochettes (kebabs) with deer pasta bake. The brochettes were prepared outside, like any good BBQ, and then put on the fire to be grilled. You should have seen the smoke billowing from our house! And the rest of the deer has filled the entire freezer, sure to keep us busy for the next few weeks!

After returning from their weekend at home, the girls returned to school for 2 days, only to leave again for the Independence Week celebrations in Morocco. So, on Wednesday, Latifa and I were alone in the house – oh, with one of the girls. Admirably, she decided that if she was to return home, she would be obliged to cook and clean the entire time, therefore she asked if she could stay with us (a pretty huge revelation and proof that our work here is changing a mindset). She did try to get out of studying once in a while, but I was only too happy to clean – with her just showing me the way (Noah would have been proud of me for surviving the flood)! I thought I would also give Latifa a break from the cooking, and cooking for three is my forte, so she endured a number of Australian meals over the three days with us in the house. How many ways can you make an omelette???

In the most ironic of situations, I even treated the girls to an Australian style Moroccan chicken, the way that I would make it if I was at home. The roasted chicken and vegetables were a hit, the yoghurt with mint was loved, but when they heard the couscous would take five minutes, the drama started. Couscous in Morocco takes a few hours of steaming and fussing. When I still hadn’t started cooking it at 7.15pm (to eat at 7.30pm) Latifa was talking to Fatiha in a tone not dissimilar to the one that I use when I see the hearts and livers come out of the fridge. I thought I might have to make an emergency batch of cheese on toast, but guess what….they loved it. To quote Latifa, “I would make this. It’s nice. Why do I cook, cook, cook the couscous all day?” Look out!!!!

Now, all this talk about food reminds me of a ‘funny’ (gritted teeth) incident. After being in Morocco for a few weeks now, I’m starting to field questions from home as to whether I have found a nice Moroccan man. Despite this being impossible as I rarely leave the house, it seems that Moroccan men like their women a little plumper than me. So, when I received my first ‘second look’ from Mohammed, who works at the government boarding house (and hearing from Latifa that I look nice and fat now) I have embarked on a diet and exercise regime. It’s not extensive, but I am very concerned.

Thursday 13 November 2008

A short presentation put together by the girls

Below there are two links to a presentation the girls (with a little help) have put together. Each girl designed, constructed, typed and imported images in to their own slide and remember, before coming to the house they had never used a computer.

The presentation is available as a PDF and as a zipped PowerPoint presentation:

Monday 10 November 2008

What life is really like…

So, my blog has been a little flippant about my experiences so far (mainly because everyday I find myself shaking my head at some peculiarity - today is another example, but you must keep reading). But, during the trip out the visit Mouna’s family, I did see a bit more of the reality of life here that consolidates my reason for being here. And, the importance of the house.

I visited two other girls during my stay. One girl lives with her mother and grandmother. She is classed as an orphan as her father has died – somehow the family come together to support them as the mother earns a very small wage collecting olives. They have one bed, some blankets, a small kitchen that uses very basic utensils, and a small cabinet where all of the family possessions and clothes belong. I could not fit all that I came to Morocco with in that cabinet. They also have a cow – though I am not sure what for because it is very skinny. This is a photo of the kitchen.

There was another family that we visited too. I was beguiled by her baby sister who has these amazingly wise eyes and who ran up to me when she first saw me like I was a long lost relative and smothered me in kisses. I was surprised by the simple mud kitchen with very little items (no fridge, no food stocks – just flour, butter and oil). I was in despair over the one small room they do all of their living in – sleeping 4 people, eating, dressing, sitting etc. And I was overcome with gratitude towards her mother who shared their precious food with me. I can’t believe how little they have. Again – a small cabinet was used to fit all of the dishes, cutlery, teapots, clothes for four people, toiletries – everything. It took all of my energy to keep my composure.

After all of this emotion and going for two LONG walks with the girls, when I returned to the house to see about 100 women in the house, sharing the couscous I had helped to prepare earlier, I begged Latifa to let me go back to Asni. Besides – one more lot of ‘Ish’ (‘Eat’) and I would have exploded. 24 hours of non-stop eating! Latifa was also ready to leave, so we were sent on our way with everyone’s good wishes.

We waited for about an hour for a taxi, until I (the dumb Westerner) suggested that we just hail the next vehicle to some along. Latifa was a willing participant in this expedition, so I can’t be held solely accountable for our experience. We hailed the van. The back doors swung open hopefully. We were staring at the backside of a one tonne cow. Thankfully, one of the men got out of the front and let us ride (four people across) in the front. He turned out to be the father of one of our girls! I spent the entire journey hanging well and truly out of the window, thinking the eau d’cow (see, my French is improving) was evidence of previous bowel movements. But three minutes later, the new stench proved me wrong. Longest 13 kms of my life.

Finally, after Latifa and I returned home (3kgs heavier) we settled in for a relaxing three nights at home, with no girls. I had a shower, put on my new stripy flannelette PJs and my lovely new house socks over the top, they’re pink, with little pigs heads attached. I was just showing them off (scarf less mind you) when there was a knock at the door. The police commissioner (5 stars per lapel) dropped by to tell us the National Security would be coming to look after the King. He was suitably horrified at my appearance, but I think I did notice a smirk when he recovered his composure. This is why they only issue foreigners 90 day visas. We’re all mad!

This just in… We’ve just had a royal delivery! Straight from the King to us! Not quite the package you would normally expect – no royal wax seals – just a few bags of the animal that he killed on the weekend. Not for the soldiers – only for the girls in the boarding house. Who does he think is going to eat the heart…Oh, wait…I’m wrong. The deer was obviously a boy. I'll try a lot of things, but I’m definitely not eating that!!!

Friday 7 November 2008

A new addition

The girls were given a surprise holiday this week – because the King came out to the mountains to go shooting. So, as soon as they heard the news (and once it had been translated for me) they packed their things, I packed my things and we all set sail for a place to spend the weekend. For Latifa and I, the choice was easy! Because… there is a new baby in the ‘family’.

At 7am on Monday morning, two hours after giving birth to her baby, Mouna’s (a girl who lives in the house) mother came by to show off her new bundle of joy. We had the iron gates closed, so we didn’t get to see her, so she just took her home. That’s right – two hours after popping out a baby. Naturally, I couldn’t fathom the idea of staying with a woman with a new baby, but the blankets were rolled out, the food was prepared in mass proportions and we were encouraged to stay for the whole weekend!

In Morocco, when a woman has her baby, all of the women from the family either move in or spend all day in the house, whilst the mother lays exhausted with her new bundle on the floor mattress in a room. What does the new baby need? One swaddling outfit, a few clothes (enough to fit in a small bag) and a blanket. The swaddling clothes have a ring that Saida (Mum) usually wears attached.

The little baby is SO cute. She has kohl painted around her eyes and because she was born with no eyebrows (unsightly) she has a kohl pair painted on each day. This is not superstition, it’s just to make her look nice. She is a neat little parcel that is kept bundled up at all times. Whenever she is unbound, she is quickly re-wrapped and then some type of herb is thrown into the fire (yes, the room is a little smoky – it’s just a pot of fire) and the baby is waved over the top.

So, what does the mother do? Admits she is tired, exhausted and in agony. Forget the brave face that Western women put on when faced with a new baby and usually being left to their own devices – this is real!

Now, how do they name a baby here in Morocco? Considering we have 18 girls, 4 named Fatima and 4 named Khadija, the choices are usually restricted to family and village names. This family already has a Fatima and a Khadija so the scope was widened for this new addition. Everyone (including me! I think my choice caused the mother more pain than the birth) was asked to put their chosen name on a piece of paper. All placed safely in a bowl, the random selection began. A few redraws later and a name was decided – Maraya – but Mum wasn’t happy. I encouraged the non-random reselection of names, but it seems the name she wanted must not have been in the bowl. The next morning, the baby had spontaneously switched names to Huda. So, Huda it is. Still. Seems this name survived the weekend, so it stuck.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Weekends are the best

On Friday night, two of the girls went home for a wedding in their village. So, to celebrate, we staged a mock wedding here in the house. I must go to a wedding because some very strange events took place. The bride was totally covered when she arrived, all of the guests had glitter and lipstick on, and there was a celebrant (I wonder if this is accurate with village life?). There was an exchange of rings and the drinking of pretend liquid (do they drink alcohol in the villages?) and a lot of singing and dancing. It was really fun – and a late night!

During the week, when I had a visit from Mike, he invited me up to the Kasbah on Saturday. I jumped at the chance for a break, and it turned into a lovely weekend! Such a treat. To top it all off, it snowed…SNOW! Real snow, falling from the sky, building up on the ground! It was so quiet! I love being in the house, but the spoil was fantastic!

So, here I am, back in the house. I made cupcakes with the girls on Sunday afternoon – you should have heard the gasps and seen the jaws drop when they saw the cakes had risen! Knowing my cooking record in Australia, you may have had the same reaction! They were iced with chocolate icing and smarties and jelly lollies. One of the girls shared her family recipe (thanks for the idea, Maryk) and made a more sensible banana cake to accompany the cupcakes.

Monday 3 November 2008

All by myself!!!!

Another very busy week! On Wednesday, Maryk and her friend Zoe came out to visit the house. The girls were very impressed and so excited by the visitors as well as all of the gifts they came bearing… It was evident this weekend would bring some cooking adventures with our new oven. It was also a brilliant day for me as I received a huge bag of the warmest clothes I have ever owned from Mike's wife! THANKS!!!

Anyway, Latifa suggested that she needed to go to Marrakech to sort out her nationality card, so Maryk advised her to leave me in charge and go the next day! So, to start the day off calmly, at 7.30 am the Governor ‘popped’ by for an unannounced visit! It was HUGE! There was heaps of pressure to make the breakfast seem amazing and to show that we are doing the right thing by the girls. After he entered the house, with a hot coffee in his hands, he spoke with the girls about his expectations of them and reminded them that he will be back after their examinations to make sure they are working hard.

Latifa left after the chaos had dissipated and the daily house cleaning flood was over. With my rapidly expanding Moroccan recipe book, I managed to prepare a haricot bean soup (basically baked beans), a fish and potato casserole (with plenty of spices) and a fruit salad for the 19 of us. The girls were impressed, and so was I! No disasters, and in the midst of the preparations, I managed to field the bread delivery and a visit from Mike and Gareth. Latifa runs such a tight ship, it was easy(ish) to step in. I won’t be in a hurry to do it again – big shoes to fill!

We also had a visit from Maurice who came with gifts of wood for our fire. Negotiations (in Arabic) took place and a deal was struck with the boys’ boarding house that if they helped us move the wood, they could use some. Three hours later and the wood still piled at the front gate, with ominous rain clouds looming overhead, I sent the girls out to move the wood. Of course, minutes later they were sent back inside and the boys came over – the rain started just as the last blocks were being stored safely out of the weather. I’m learning!

The next day, feeling a bit of household prowess, I cooked a really nice carrot cake with orange icing. All of the girls liked it – miracle! I also used walnuts from one of the girls.