Raising kids in Morocco

Hello blog, hello dear readers…I’m still on vacation.  Yes, vacation is a lot of work.  No, I’m not scared of work.  I neither love nor hate work. It just takes up time, when I could be blogging.  Plus, where has my inspiration gone?  If you see it, can you tell it I’m in New Mexico, not in Marrakesh. It needs to hop on a plane and join me. (but that reminds me of a good quote: “Inspiration is the result of writing, not the cause”).

And you know, when you have small children, and someone asks you “how do you DO it?”.  I think about that, and it’s not so much what you DO, but what you ENDURE.  Because really folks, it’s not that complicated to feed, clothe, play with, and enjoy 3 children.  I do it every day, so do many of you.  But here’s what’s hard for me.  I’m a quiet person.  To begin with, I have a soft voice, you can barely hear me when I talk.  When telemarketers call, they ask if my parents are home.  I say no, and hang up.  I’m not exactly loud or boisterous by nature.  But that doesn’t work with my kids.  If I am just quiet, I almost disappear.  Then the kids will be like “where did mama go?”.  Then I’ll have to re-materialize.

When you read child-rearing books, (it’s been a while since I’ve cracked one of those open), they always say “talk to your child as you go about your daily chores, narrate each activity that you do together”.  I was always such a quiet mom, even to my first child.  Everyone said that she wouldn’t talk early, etc. But she did talk early, or one time at any rate, and was lacking in neither quality nor quantity.

Wait, I though I was reading a blog on Morocco, not some self-analytical mommy blog.  Click.

Hold your horses, I’m getting to the Morocco part.  You see, the wonderful part about raising my kids in Morocco, is that Moroccans are nothing like me.  Almost every Moroccan I meet has a similar relationship with kids.  Moroccans generally celebrate children, whether their own, or others.  They love to engage, laugh, tease, even provoke.   My kids get kissed a lot, by other kids as well as adults.  Adults are not afraid to interact with other people’s kids, since we don’t yet live in a fearful, or litigious society.  Once we were at my work, and a man kissed my littlest boy, and he said to me “You see mama, the man LOVES me”.

Susu sticks to our dear friend Si Mohamed, as a wedding procession goes by.

When my daughter was younger,  she didn’t yet get the Moroccan sense of humor.  So when someone (a playful adult) would say to her “that’s not your baby brother, he’s mine, I’m going to take him home”, well my very literal daughter would burst into tears.  I had to train her to recognize what we call “Moroccan joking”.  Now she is a pro, and she teases and plays with the best of them.

Once, when Amin was about 1 and a half, we went to one of the outdoor restaurant/playgrounds (Station Afriquia, for those of you who know).  Amin didn’t want to eat with us and wandered through the tables.  There was another family sitting a few tables away.  Before I’d even noticed, the father picked up Amin, put him on his lap, and hand-fed him for the entire meal.  They waved to us, we waved to them.  I said “Allah y jazikom bi khair” (May Allah repay you with goodness).  And that was that.  Now, I’m sure that the other family didn’t think they were doing anything special.  They didn’t have to overthink it.  To them, a hungry kid is a hungry kid.

In Morocco, when you are eating, even if it’s just a piece of bread, you offer some to anyone near you, whether you know them or not.  My kids have learned to share, both in accepting what’s offered, and offering their own food.

Many people recognize that raising the child is not just the parents’ responsibility.  If you see a child, then you interact, not quite to the degree that you would with your own, but still.  Some foreigners find this a little too invasive. I have learned to take advice, and even criticism, because I know that it’s not being dished out maliciously.

Some specific examples come to mind.  There are a few things that Moroccans seem to universally agree upon.

One is that running is not a great idea. I’ve probably heard “Mat jreesh” (don’t run), about a million times, directed at my kids as well as every other Moroccan kid.  This is because sidewalks are not great in Marrakesh, they’re about a foot wide, and change topography continually. It’s easy to fall, get hurt, or get hit by oncoming traffic.

Right up there with not running, is not getting dirty.  If you run, you might fall and get dirty.  Moroccans like cleanliness.  Moms are used to washing out clothes by hand, and so they try to get the kids to keep the clothes clean for a few days.  Even now that washing machines are more common, there is always the economical question, of wasting water and electricity.

The next thing is avoiding the sun.  And the sun in Marrakesh is really hot, many people underestimate it, then bam, heatstroke.  So people will always tell my kids to get into the shade.  Or they will ask me to put a hat on the kid.  My favorite time was when I took my 2 year old on a walk to the end of the street to the little store, in the middle of the day.  A woman stopped me and said “please, don’t take this boy out at this time”.  I said “we’re just going to the hanut“.  And she said “Well, that’s not the hanut that’s closest to you, you need to go to Moh’s hanut“.  I did not even recognize this woman as one of my neighbors (my bad), yet she knew where I lived and therefore which hanut was closest to my house.  Now, I could have taken offense, but why would I do that?  I’m getting a little too old to grumble at my elders.  I must have said “wakha” (ok) and continued on.

At least it’s interaction, you know?  I appreciate it, because I know that it’s real.  I think my kids have benefited immensely from all the interaction they’ve had with people in Morocco.

I have a great friend, Raja, she’s been there for me and the kids ever since Karima was a baby.  She’d knock on the door, just when I was slowly losing my mind, and she’d bring all this cheerful Moroccan energy into our home.  She’d laugh with Karima, and celebrate her in ways I was maybe too close to do.  She’d take pictures of her, talk to her, play with her, etc.  And Raja was only 18 or so a the time.  She would babysit so happily.  (I was not anywhere near that helpful when I was the same age).  I used to take Raja for granted.  I had just come to expect that Moroccans are generally cheerful, hardworking, and helpful.  Now I am too old to take anyone for granted.  I am trying to learn how to be more like Raja.  Now that my kids are a little older, I try to help out other moms with babies.  I try to hold the baby, if she’ll have me, and I’ll tell the mom “go, do what you need to do, your baby’s fine”.  Cause every mom needs that.

Raja indulging Susu's every whim

How did this post get so long?  When it rains, it pours.

More from the Moroccan Tashelheet Wedding

Where were we?  Oh yes, we were following a joyful musical Berber wedding procession down a dusty dirt road.

Kenzilisa over at http://moorhenna.wordpress.com asked if I had any pictures of henna.  As you may know, in Morocco women decorate their hands with henna for special occasions.  In this little procession, all the hands were clapping…

There were lots of smiling faces…

Here comes the rosewater…

Now we are in the front yard of the bride’s house.  The dancing caftan is already having fun…

The bride appears…she is so striking in her white taksheeta and veil…many blessings to you and your husband…may God bless you with laughter, light, children, and strength, come what may…

And then disappears…

Later that night, after we are snug in our beds with the lights out, I hear it.

The drumming.

The real festivities are beginning…

it’s around midnight, and I half want to sleep…

but the drumming is sinking into my skin and changing my heart rythms…

I slip my contacts back in, throw on a too-plain caftan, and head off down the dark road…

The front yard is now packed with about 100 women sitting on plastic chairs…

oh I’m so self conscious…

luckily another neighbor grabs me and sits me down…

I got to see the bride in one of her many outfits that she wore that night, and the groom in his modern suit and tie…

I won’t post their pictures though, too private, they looked like they had a good connection and didn’t look too nervous…

however, I did get my wish, to see the traditional Ahwash drummers, and they really wanted their pictures taken…

This image captivates me…

Many circles linked together to create one…

A Moroccan Tashelheet Wedding

I am here in Taos, New Mexico.  But I still have a lot to share from back home in Morocco.  In fact, yet another benefit of blogging is that I can stay connected to my Moroccan home, and revisit some things that touched me.

A few weeks ago, at my parents’ farm out in Ourika, we heard lots of music and noise.  My first thought was “world cup fever”.  We grabbed the kids and rushed outside.  We didn’t see any football fanatics, thank goodness.  What we saw was a beautiful, joyous wedding procession.

Now, I am kind of a city cynic, I tend to be fatigued with all things urban, and all rosy eyed about anything that originates in the countryside.  (Please don’t burst my bubble).  This wedding procession is a perfect example.  What I saw was pure joy, real celebration.

The people who live out in the country are called the Amazigh, they are the original inhabitants of Morocco, long before the Arabs came from the East.  Although the Amazigh and the Arabs still maintain very different identities, (language and culture esp.), they do co-exist seamlessly, peaceably.  The Amazigh are most commonly referred to as Berbers.  Not sure if this term is politically correct.  Anyhow, they don’t call themselves that.  They refer to themselves by one of three main tribes.  In Ourika, they are part of the Tashelheet tribe.

Maybe this is a stereotype, but I do have a special fondness and respect for Tashelheet people.  They tend to be honest, direct, open, and have a great sense of humor.  Maybe this is true of all people who live close to the natural world.  The Amazigh accepted Islam from the Arabs, in large part because Islam contains a lot of symbolism and imagery from the natural world.  It resonates perfectly with a people so in tune with the natural cycles.  Reflection and meditation on the natural world is something that all Muslims are encouraged to do.

On to the pictures.  Because I value my sanity, I will only try to include 3 or so photos in this post (I still can’t stop apologizing for my last post, way more pictures than I planned, and a lot of text that disappeared upon publishing).

In this first picture, note the three percussion instruments that the men are playing: the castanettes, the tambourine, and the tray.  In the background you can see a white caftan hoisted on a bamboo stick, topped with a bouquet of flowers.  So festive.

And here is a tray of goodies: dates, a bowl of milk, a giant cone of sugar, 2 rosewater shakers, candles, incense, and roses.  I love the henna on her hands.

This is the whole procession.  They were accompanying the bride to her house, where the wedding would happen later in the evening (much later).

I will try to post more pictures of this blessed event, but later, insha Allah (God willing).

From Marrakesh to Taos

Hello, salam alaykom!  It’s been a while!  The kids and I made it safely through 3 days of travel to arrive in Taos, NM.  Praise be to God. 

On July 4th we went to the little town of Arroyo Seco to see the parade.  Now, I do not exactly have patriotic fervor (fever?).  As an American born in Morocco, I have never had a strong sense of attachment or belonging to either place.  (let’s leave the identity politics essay for another post).  However, I like to think that I appreciate the good things that both countries have to offer. 

On this 4th of July, I was reminded of some of the things I appreciate about the US.

1-Organization and Order:  the parade started promptly at the scheduled time of 1pm.  People lined the street and kept orderly of their own accord.  They were rewarded by being sprayed with water from the fire engine.

2-Low key and sense of humor:  The parade floats were all home made with not a lot of fuss or money spent.  Most of them had a funny theme.