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Monday 22 December 2008

'Twas the weekend before Christmas

'Twas the weekend before Christmas,
When all through the house.
(Despite 18 girls being here) not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse (thank Allah we don’t have these here).
There were no stockings were hung by the chimney (although if there were they would have been hung) with care,
And no hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there (this is why Santa can make it across the whole world in one night – he just has to kick a few gifts off the side of the sleigh for the Euros living in these countries and then he keeps on flying). The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Terres d’Amanar danced in their heads.
And Latifa in her 'kerchief (more of a headscarf, really), and I in my cap (beanie),
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,When out on the lawn (no, actually it was in the salon) there arose such a clatter,I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter (thank you Claire for the new DVD player).Our awesome weekend began when Maryk and Cees kindly brought us the DVD player that Claire had donated for the girls. There was much excitement, and after a Friday night session of Disney’s Magic English the girls are all wandering around saying,
“Hello Mummy. I love you.”
“Hello Bambi. I love you”
Maybe not the most useful conversation starters, but great for when they head home!
The girls were so thrilled – they were glued to the TV after dinner, until it was time for homework. (On a Friday night!)

And, the next day. Well, Claire, you have made one man at the Asni souq very happy. At 5 dirhams per DVD, the girls came home on Saturday loaded up with entertainment! I was a bit worried, but they have bought Berber movies (incredibly poorly made, but I think it is nice for them to watch something a little familiar) and some music. This was mainly funded by some visitors to the house who gave some of the girls some money for cleaning the house. Although only a few girls got the money, their purchases benefited everybody.

On Sunday, we took the girls to Terres d’Amanar. Outside of Tahannout, this huge leisure centre has (among other things) a high ropes course and some big flying foxes. We spent the day trying out the equipment, then completing the course, then flying through the air attached to some very long cables. The views were stunning!

The girls had such a ball!!

They were all utterly exhausted when we got home – just a perfect night for watching one of their DVDs. This morning, everyone had woken up in states of agony as every muscle in all of our bodies hurts! The tales from school are hilarious – I imagine we are not their teachers’ favourite people at the moment!

I am off now for the Christmas and New year period to renew my visa. So, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!!

Thursday 18 December 2008


Well… You may have thought the bloodshed was just reserved for the Eid, but wait… Today, we got a gift.

Some clues…

They are long and thin…

They are soft and hard…

They cause a little pain, but for a good result…

They can be tricky to hold…

And… You can use them to flick little flecks of toothpaste at other people!

That’s right! Toothbrushes!!!

Latifa and I lined the girls up and gave them all a brush. This was followed by me giving a demo on how it’s done. This was a little tricky – speaking with toothpaste in mouth and trying to translate!

The girls then set about cleaning their own teeth. They find it really difficult to hold the toothbrush, and when they use a nice circular motion, there is LOTS of blood. A little bit of gum disease, but hopefully the brushes will sort some of that out.

They couldn’t believe it when I cleaned behind my front teeth, but when they tried it, and worked out they could flick toothpaste at each other, they all clean behind them now!!!

Then, they came up and made me inspect their teeth one-by-one. For some of them, they actually have white teeth under all of that yellow build up!!!

They were so grateful!!!!! Thank you!!!

Friday 12 December 2008

The Festival

For breakfast the next morning, I was charged with feeding the baby sheep, as I chose not to eat the head. It is cut into bits and steamed. The brain is then scooped out and tajined, but I missed this meal as I went out to watch the festival. But first, it was time to eat. A tajine, beautifully prepared with prunes and almonds.

The festival. Not quite what I was expecting. A hoard of men from the village dress up and travel from door to door asking for money for the village. They have the younger men dressed up in black, chasing people and whacking them to get money. I did get whacked. The older men have a range of costumes and instruments. By far the most disgusting is Goat Man.

Whilst the sheep are being massacred for the Eid, a few goats around town are secretly killed also. Their skins are collected, and then the men strap them on for their journey around town. Freshly skinned, they smell putrid. They also attach two hooves to their arm, so when they go in for that hug the hooves are right there on you. One of the goat men chased me – much to the amusement of … the WHOLE village. Hooray for being a tourist – I did want excitement.

Enough excitement for one day (and my hands were so frozen I couldn’t take any more photos), so back to the house for… more meat. More tajine and some boiled meat. Again just stuck mostly with the bread, but I think they were on to me – monitoring every bite… Managed to sneak in an orange after the meal to help digest the lung still sitting next to my own.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

The Eid

Well, I’m here. I’ve survived. The journey began on Sunday, when I woke up at midnight, 3am and 4am, worried that I had missed the Imam’s call and not too sure whether or not I would do Ramadan. Upon asking why (Latifa really dreads that one word) I was told that if I fasted on Sunday, I would be forgiven for all of my sins for last year and next year. Sounds like a good deal.

Any doubts that I may have had were rapidly banished when my eyes flung open at 5.15 to hear the first call to prayer. Not so much a call, but a loud, raucous, heaving yell, which would have roused the dead. I knew it would be a special day, so I had to make the decision to fast. At 10am, when the guys came to install the heater, I made them breakfast. The smell of toast, the look of the hot tea… No, I resisted. Then came lunch time. As I was on my own, this was relatively easy. I pulled up a few chairs in front of the fire and curled up for a sleep to forget about my hunger. Then, woken at 2pm by a knock at the door, I thought I was doomed. No more… But, at the door was Hajj Maurice, so named because he has taken the trip to Mecca. He was also fasting and was so thrilled. Lots of ‘tres bien’ and ‘it’s good for you’. So, I stuck with it.

At 5.30pm, in the kitchen, with a lavish meal carefully prepared, I stood in wait. Maybe I missed the call? 5.40 came by – still no prayer. Just as I was about to call Latifa to see if her Imam had called out, his lovely (if a little off key and hoarse) voice rang out through the air. Horray. Scoff. Full… Scoff. And so the night went on.

I arrived at Latifa’s house on Monday where her mother was very impressed with my advanced basic Arabic skills. In the morning, I sat down in the kitchen for the first breakfast. We were joined by a baby lamb that Latifa’s parents somehow acquired – not for the Eid, that would have been too much! Latifa and her mother fed the baby, and then the day really began.

Dressed up like a real Moroccan, we waltzed about town visiting family and friends. Every house had a steady supply of mint tea and halwa – various biscuits. We ate and ate until the slaughter began. We managed to escape all of it, except for the last house we visited. One of Latifa’s uncles was just having his sheep done by Latifa’s father. I think it was lucky to get this introduction to the situation, without having to see the actual death just yet.

It was all over very fast – the sheep were pulled from their room, had their heads cut off, quickly shed of their skin and then all of the entrails were pulled out and quickly placed into the waiting tajine and onto the brochettes. What did I eat? Just one stick (Latifa’s mother would like to send more because I clearly didn’t eat my share) of heart, liver, stomach fat, lung, stomach fat, heart, liver. Can you believe it? The lung was particularly chewy and I could feel it in my throat for the next 12 hours. The stomach fat was the nicest bit.

All of the work followed then – the stomach was cleaned out, the intestines emptied and dried, the heads were charred on the fire and then the wool was scraped off. The same treatment went on with the legs. And, of course, don’t forget the skin. That was covered in salt, ready to be cleaned and dried tomorrow.

Everyone was super busy with their job. I was the chief photographer and cry baby. That’s right. At the moment at which I watched the sheep get its throat cut, with all of the blood gushing out, my eyes just filled up and tears sprung out. I couldn’t stop it and my hosts were a little shocked and dismayed. I was a bit embarrassed, but I think it was good for them to see that for some people, death does not form such a natural part of everyday life.

Saturday 6 December 2008

Aid mo barak said

Today I decided to do Ramadan. In the days leading up to the Aid (this is the Arabic way of spelling it – the western way is Eid – the sacrifice of a sheep to Allah as Abraham did), it’s nice to fast to get marks with Allah. I’m not sure who will be waiting for me when I reach the pearly gates, but I’d like to think I have all bases covered. So, in these 10 days, each day represents a significant event. For example, one is the day that Jesus was born, one is the day that Mohammed was made a prophet, and one way the day that Jonah was swallowed by the whale.

So, despite it being couscous day, I decided to join Latifa and some of the girls in this experience. I dragged myself out of bed at 5.15am to head to the kitchen for breakfast before Ramadan began. Yesterday, Latifa slept through the call to prayer, and thus did not eat anything all day. So, as I crept into the kitchen, I found the whole house was quiet. Do I eat, just in case they sleep through the call? As I debated making tea, walking backwards and forwards between the oven and the sink, you can only imagine my horror as the call to prayer started. I must admit that it did cross my mind to scamper to the fridge, pull out the first edible item I could find and wolf it down in a style more suited to Gollum…

No, I thought, I’ll wait it out and do it properly. Sure enough, Latifa and the girls emerged shortly after and assured me that this was the first call, and I had until the second call to eat. OK, so with breakfast out of the way, I headed back to bed. Of course, I tossed and turned contemplating why I was fasting, and before I knew it the alarm went off. I trundled downstairs to make the breakfast – at this point, with my belly still full, I was doing alright.

Things were looking a little grimmer as I prepared the couscous for the girls. The smell of the vegetables and the couscous started to get to me. I also agonised when I decided to treat the girls to fruit smoothies for dessert, rather than the usual fruit salad. How would I know if it tasted right? It did smell sensational, but I was sure I would have to test it out. This sparked a pretty big philosophical debate between Latifa and I. Why are we doing this?

After the meal was set down on the table, I dawdled off to my room, determined to have a little sleep to ward off any hunger. Now I know why it was hard to get decent service during Ramadan! When I woke up, it wasn’t the hunger that was getting to me, but the thirst. So, I headed down to Latifa to enquire as to why Allah might not want us to even ingest a little bit of water.

With three hours to go until the break-fast, I took a little walk up the mountain. By this stage, my throat was really dry, and I thought I would have to break the deal. BUT… images kept flooding into my mind of Fatima telling Latifa it would be too difficult for me.

No, I was determined.

So, I’ll spend a bit of time on the Internet to take my mind of it all. Oh, my friend Trisha had sent me mouth watering photos of her wedding cake – with white chocolate flowers – that was sitting in the fridge at this moment in Australia, waiting for the big day. Torture!

But, I got stuck into a little project, and when I looked at the clock, I had one minute to go until the call to prayer was to ring out. Usually I put my head under the pillow when it disturbs my sleep – not today! I raced out into the garden, rejoiced, then ran straight to the kitchen to EAT!!! (And drink – four different drinks!!)

So, I made it.

Will I do it again?

Tomorrow, if I fast, Allah will forgive everything I did wrong last year and everything I will do wrong this year… Pretty tempting… I’ll let you know!

I’m off to celebrate the Aid (you need to say it at full volume AAhh-EEE-d) with Latifa’s family – a very special time, but a lot of blood will be shed. Am I prepared for this?

Aid mo barak said (AAhh-EEE-d more bar-ark Saahh-EEE-d). Happy Eid!

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Annie in a headscarf

This weekend, the girls stayed dans la maison as they are going home next week for the Aid holiday. They have had a big two weeks at school, with lots of exams, so they were thrilled to have a very welcome house guest on Saturday night. They had bought some new clothes at the souq for the Aid, so as soon as Sam from Eagles Nest arrived, she was treated to some of the girls singing and dancing in their new outfits.

The girls were thrilled to spend the day with Sam learning first aid and CPR. I spent the day up at the Kasbah promoting the organisation, so I missed out on all of the fun! But, when I got back… The girls were all wound up in bandages, they were having a ball learning all of the ways to help people, and they were all fighting fit in a battle of the bandages! They learnt so much – most of which they had never seen or heard before. They loved Resusci-Annie, and the bandages. We even had our own little emergencies (real life) which were able to test out Sam’s skilled. With a bit of TLC, the injuries are now cured – thanks to Sam’s first aid prowess. The gifts that Sam brought with her have provided hours of fun – especially the balls and the globes! The world is a huge place! We also now have lovely new posters up on our walls.

We had a special menu over the weekend of all of the Moroccan favourites – mesmen, harira, a tagine and couscous – oh – and don’t forget the mint tea – plenty of it! The girls were so excited – for the whole weekend – that by Sunday night they were utterly exhausted! On Monday, when they came home from school to find that Sam was not here to share lunch with us, their faces fell and it made for a very sad occasion! Thank you, Sam! You’ve made a HUGE impact on the girls!