If you like this blog…

…then puh-lease vote for it!   This blog is in the running for the Best of Morocco Blogs awards, otherwise know as the Bombies. Voting starts on New Year’s day January 7th over at www.moroccoblogs.com

The main reason I want to win is: it would be nice to keep that bling-y badge over on the right.  Just kidding.  Sort of.

This blog has been such a wonderful way to share my little insights about life in Marrakesh that I already feel like I’ve gotten an immense amount of reward out of it. When I started blogging, my voice was tentative and faltering, not really sure what to say or who was listening.  One of my favorite quotes kept ringing in my ears.  Don’t be paralyzed by your fear of imperfection. So I started, knowing that my blog wouldn’t be the funniest, the deepest or the most gorgeous blog out there.  It would just be the way I filter the world, and that filter has gotten a lot of fine-tuning from blogging.  I started blogging because I found that although there are many English language blogs about Morocco, hardly any of them are written by Moroccans.  I realized that I had the benefit of access to this culture.

And I have stumbled on a real supportive and thoughtful group of readers.  With you listening, I found my voice.  Thank you so much.  I cherish each comment.  I even reply to every 11th one.

This blog has taught me that everyone has a story.   There is never nothing going on. And every story is worth telling, worth considering.  So I wrote about Nezha, el gardien and Chaima’s mom.

This blog…has made a lot of people hungry.  One of my friends says she makes sure she is full before she opens up this page.  You never know when you might find pictures of Seffa, couscous, or all that yummy food I had in Jordan.

When I first started blogging, I did not mention anything explicit about my spiritual path, Islam.  I gave myself a number of good reasons: I’m no expert, I don’t want to limit my audience, religion makes people uncomfortable, and so on.  I actually thought my blog was just going to be funny (humor and cussing seem to be two of the ingredients of blogging success).  But two things happened that made me change my mind.  One was the whole mosque controversy which made me realize how little is known about Islam, and how much hatred and poison there is coming from certain sources.  My own experience as a Muslim has just been so positive, so healing, that I just can’t see the connection between the Islam that I know and have experienced all my life, and this other totally distorted image that I see on certain news channels.

The other thing that gave me the courage to speak was spending two months in the United States this summer (although I’ve spent time and lived in the States before).  This time seemed different.  Maybe it’s just that when you turn 30 you start to be a lot less awkward (which has been just awesome).  I was so comfortable being myself, a Muslim woman, answering various questions that came up.  I even gave a talk/slide-show about this blog  and its various topics, and it went well.  I realized that all the reasons I’d given myself for being quiet were not true: I’m not an expert, but I know enough…my audience will determine itself so no need to try and please everyone…and religion distilled to its essence does not make people uncomfortable, in fact quite the opposite.  So I wrote about the altered state of fasting in Ramadan (my most popular post), praying in the Koutoubia mosque, and the transformative power of charity, which are three of the five pillars of Islam.  (I have not made the pilgrimage, yet!).

What else?  This blog is not really about my kids, but they have slipped in here once in a while.  Karima’s birthday trip to El Jadida, or the letter I wrote to Amin on his fifth birthday.

I wrote about how not make a complete fool of yourself when you’re invited to a Moroccan home.

And my plans to 2011?  I hope to write the famous American women married to Moroccan men article I’ve mulled over so much.  I hope to be a tourist in my own city, and take my kids to all the famous spots: Jardin Majorelle, Medrasa ben Yousef, Bahia palace, etc.  They’ve never been!  In fact I can’t remember the last time I’ve been.  For shame.  I hope to post my secret recipe for how to make cheesecake in Morocco.  I hope to write an article on Moroccan proverbs and what they reveal about the culture, like this one: entering the hammam is not the same as leaving it.  I hope to slip in an article about Yousef, my little 3 year old, just to be fair.  And I hope that my readers (sounds so pretentious, sorry) will send me awesome suggestions for what to write about!

To recap: vote for this blog in www.moroccoblogs.com starting January 1st.  Spread the word.  I’ll remind you on January 1st, oh don’t you worry.

Also, let’s hear your New Year’s resolutions.  Here’s one of mine: Spend more time cloud-watching.

My Nikon, my friend

Since these pictures did not find their ways into their own blog post, here they are grouped together.

The Mosque and the Church  (Marrakesh, Morocco)

mosque and church in Marrakesh Morocco

Amin picking out carrots (Marrakesh, Morocco)

Amin buying vegetables

Double Rainbow (Taos, NM, USA)

new mexico rainbow

Filling my eyes with sky (Taos, NM, USA)

cloudy sky in Taos New Mexico

Yousef  filling his cup from the endless source (Imam Jazuli’s tomb, Marrakesh, Morocco)

tomb of imam jazuli

A perfect moment (Ocamora, NM, USA)

yousef in archway

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Jordan highlights

Highlights of the Amman workshop, before they totally fade from memory:

Meeting a group of highly accomplished, strong, loving, happy women.

Presenting my blog to these amazing ladies and feeling very appreciated and affirmed.  What a gift.  Thank  you ladies.  Feelin the love.

Sitting on the sunny terrace dreaming up a fictional character with “the fiction group”.

Doing portraits of each other, with Christina (Denmark) and Rita (Egypt).  We each came up with 3 questions and took turns answering them.  The answers diverged in all directions, giving us a good thin-slice of each others lives.  I learned about “bawwab culture” in Egypt (what will the doorman think? ) and being a vegan in Denmark.

Hearing the adhan (call to prayer) from the nearby mosque and feeling it stir up my cells in a way that was both home and foreign.

A crazy whirl-wind tour of Amman with Hala and her friends.  Saw the Roman theater, Citadel and old Ottoman railway station.  They were all closed but it was the best tour ever.  Beat the crowds.

The discussion about whether or not to use English as the language for our collaborative work. Some felt that English was the best tool, despite the fact that it wasn’t anyone’s native language (except me, so I mostly kept quiet on that one).  Others felt that it was an inauthentic way of expressing themselves and preferred to blog in Arabic, French or Danish, even if that meant less accessibility.  I appreciated the dialogue that place, it felt very real and for lack of a better word, very democratic.

The excitement of working on a collaborative project with my fellow bloggers, to be presented at the next workshop in Copenhagen.  Content is being added as we speak to the website www.blog-on.net Ahem, some of us are a little behind with our contributions.

Meeting a Dane who spoke excellent Arabic. That’s some dedication.

Being interviewed for Danish TV about being a woman blogger.  Me: I’m a little nervous,  reporter: nah, you’re a natural, me: thanks, I’ve been practicing all my life.  Jokes aside, it was another good opportunity for me talk about the same stuff I blog about…appreciating beauty in the smallest of things…considering the needy around us…the positive experience I’ve had on my spiritual path…discovering photography…food of course…and basically looking at the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

Did someone say food?

Jordan, Middle Eastern food

This one is hummus, bits of meat, and pine nuts:

hummus with meat and pine nuts

Tea or coffee:

tea or coffee

Sugar.  Good thing my kids weren’t around, my kids + freely available sugar = disaster.

sugar

Artsy photo of something old:

chandelier

The best ceramics workshop on Rainbow street:

jordan ceramics

This style of ceramics is originally from Jerusalem (an hour away).  This little store is reviving the tradition.  A few tiles made their way home with me:

ceramic tea set jordan

Arabic calligraphy that reads la ilaha illah Allah, Muhammad rasulullah.  No god but God, Muhammad is a messenger of God.

Arabic calligraphy, la ilaha illa Allah Muhammadun rasulullah

Amman, Jordan. My epic journey.

Mosque in Amman, Jordan

I just got back from Amman, Jordan.  I was there for 4 days attending the Arab-Danish Women Blogger’s workshop.  I received an invitation to this event back in November…but didn’t want to blog about it till it was a done deal.  So many times plans change.

I’ve attempted to blog about the event several times.  I keep feeling like I won’t do it justice.  Words can’t possibly describe what a truly epic journey this was for me.  Well, maybe thousands of words might.  But with my self-imposed 1000 word limit per post (give or take a few hundred), synthesis will be a necessary process.

To really describe what this journey meant to me, at this moment in my life, I’d have to tell you all about the last nine years of my life.  You know, those years where three beautiful souls made their way to this earthly plane via my body.  Where my greatest joy and best means of survival was through surrendering ever more to the microcosm of my home life.  Those early years where I needed, viscerally, to be on the same wavelength as my babies, so that I could distinguish each cry (tired, hungry, gassy, bored, you name it), and anticipate each need.  Those years where sleep was the most precious commodity.  Those years where the jewels of the universe where laid at my feet, time and again, in the form of my daughter’s smile, my son’s newest words, or the softness of a sleeping face.

So to be able to leave home for five whole nights is shocking, so abrupt in a way.  I don’t want this whole phase to just roll over and give way to a new one without at least pausing to honor it.  (And even “pausing” is a new luxury).  I have been in the trenches for so long that I forgot what civilian life was like.  You mean, when you are tired, you just sleep?  I’m going to need some major re-integration to assimilate all this.

Ok, I think that gives a pretty good background as to where I’m coming from.  How about we talk about the trip then.  I was totally thrilled to be in a new country, for one.  Amman is a beautiful city, laid out on seven hills; it’s been continuously inhabited for longer than almost any other city in the world.  The local people that I encountered were warm and quite respectful.  In fact I felt more comfortable walking around in Amman than I do in Marrakesh where I’m likely to get stared at, commented on by gawkers, hustled by tourist guides, and otherwise had my space invaded.  Amman rules, in that way.

The flip side?  Everyone smokes.  Amman, I will miss you, but I brought part of you home with me, in the form of second-hand smoke carefully stored in the lining of my lungs.  I had no trouble collecting this souvenir, opportunities were ample. Seriously, I hardly met anyone who wasn’t a smoker.  From dainty ultra-slims to sheesha, that exotic water pipe a la caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.  There is no gender gap in smoking, either.  Yay!  Um, not.  I imagine Virginia slims looking down approvingly from high above the smoke cloud.  You’ve come a long way, baby.  I was slightly nauseous the whole time I was in Amman.  I need to either take up smoking (gag), or go detox in the Himalayas.

I spent a lot of my time comparing and contrasting Amman with Marrakesh.  Here are some of my notes, which may not mean much to you, unless you live in either of these cities.

Music.  Same music on the radio, alternating Usher and Rihanna with Tamer Hosny and Nancy Ajram.

Mixed identity architecture. Same way the city is half construction-site, half slick, shiny buildings…half ancient and half that kind of globalized modern look that denotes nowhere in particular.  That’s familiar.

Weekends. In the Middle East, weekends are Thursday and Friday.  I went out Friday morning and there was not a soul out or a shop open, it was a “Sunday feeling”.  And Saturday was be “Monday”.  It makes total sense for a predominantly Muslim country, since Friday is the community prayer day for Muslims.

Language. I know it’s all called Arabic, but Moroccan and Jordanian are so vastly different.  I didn’t even bother speaking Moroccan, I just spoke Modern Standard Arabic, trying to add a Middle Eastern lilt.  My vowels gave me away though, everyone could guess right away that I was either Tunisian or Moroccan.  But seriously, our languages are so different.  For example, in Morocco we say siri toul, which means “go straight”.  Well in Jordan it’s, dalli doghri. Don’t bother looking for similarities.  It just made me realize that the North African identity is very different from the Middle Eastern one.

Food. After having eaten in Middle Eastern restaurants all over the world, I was thrilled to be eating hummus, baba ghanoush, kibbeh, lebneh etc. in the Middle East.  The food was so perfect, I almost cried.  And so colorful, and varied.  Fyi, it has nothing in common with Moroccan food, which is also amazing.

Well folks, it’s I’m-gonna-regret-being-up-this-late-tomorrow o’clock.  So I’ll wrap up with a few pics.  As for the actual workshop, well, there are so many insights, inspirations, beautiful connections, stimulating discussions, that I want to give it its own blog post…soon insha Allah!

The pics.  My first Middle Eastern meal.  Clockwise from top left: Arrugula salad, Lebneh (cheesy yogurt), Hummus, Salata.  On the sides were wraps stuffed with Zeit ou Zaatar.

hummus and baba ghanoush, middle eastern food

The view from the workshop site.Amman, Jordan

Amman by night:

Amman, Jordan by night

The oh so rare self-portrait.

Nora Fitzgerald

 

This is Broken. My Very Own Top 10 List.

I recently watched a video on TED called “This is Broken”.  It’s about things that are broken, simple everyday things, mainly pertaining products and business models: a rebate that’s too hard to cash in or missing your plane because there were not enough signs at the airport to direct you to the right terminal.  In fact, the speaker, Seth Godin, was inspired to start his website www.goodexperience.com after trying to catch an a cab from an airport.  There were 75 people waiting in line to catch a cab, and 75 cabs, and it took an hour, he says.

As I was watching the video I couldn’t help telling the screen: brother you ain’t seen nothing! I kept waiting for him to come up with some really good bad examples.  Gimme the juicy stuff.  I want my mind to be boggled, I want to laugh and cry because it’s so bad it’s awesome, I want revel in the sheer brokenness of our products and systems.

But he never quite hit his stride, in my very humble opinion.  That is why I’m very humbly offering to help him out here.  After all I am indebted to him for my newest favorite catch line, say it with me, this is broken!.

If this sounds like a rant, it’s not (entirely).  And it’s not about Morocco per se.  There are broken things everywhere, I just happen to live in Morocco so naturally the things on my list are, well, things that exist in Morocco.  And I hope you appreciate the subtle difference that I’m trying to underline here: this is not Morocco-bashing, it’s systems that I encounter in my every-day life that I feel could be improved.  I love Morocco so dearly and am so grateful for every blessing that I receive here.  Not about to turn all that on its head just for a measly blog post.

This is Broken.  My Own Personal Top 10 List.

(ok not really the TOP 10, just randomly generated off the “top” of my head)

10-Sidewalks. No really, they’re literally broken.  Or too narrow to walk on (2 feet is just enough to walk single file, so very convivial).  Or over-planted in such a way that leaves no space for us to walk.

Simple solution: pass a law that requires each homeowner to maintain their bit of sidewalk in good repair, unobstructed and free of plants.

9-The lines that were painted in the middle of the road. My husband and I were driving down one of the main streets in Marrakesh.  The dashed lines dividing the avenue into lanes had been freshly painted a nice cheery yellow(in preparation for the Royal visit).  A small marker had been placed on every other dash.  The dashes that did not have a marker had ALL been smeared with yellow tire marks shooting out of them.

Simple solution: paint the lane dividers at night.  Or close off one of the lanes so people would not keep changing lanes.

8-Birth certificates. Every time I need to prove my children’s ages, I need to produce a recent copy of their birth certificates.  The copies expire after 2 months.  And since we lived in different parts of the city when each child was born, they are each registered at a different muqata’a.  That’s a day spent running around town with my family book, hoping that the clerk will not say those dreaded words: come back this afternoon to pick it up.  (I am guilty of blog recycling on this one, I wrote about it in one of my first posts ever)

Simple solution: A photocopy of the family book should be enough to prove their ages.  And birth certificates should never, ever expire.

7-Car got towed.  First of all, never park on Jema el Fna square, no matter how many other cars are parked there, and no matter if an official gardien assures you it’s ok.  It’s most assuredly not.  Nothing is more deflating that spending a morning in the souks, happily browsing around, haggling, filling your bags with all the pretty things you found, la la la…then walking to your car…or the place you are sure you left the car, which is now gapingly car-free!

There is nothing to be done but spend the next two hours in a cab going to the all the right places.  First stop will be the towing lot, la feraille, because I’m (I mean, you’re) the kind of person who leaves her car papers in her car.  During the taxi ride you can make “the phone call of shame” to your husband and tell him that the car got towed.  When he asks where you were parked, you suddenly wish the taxi would drive out of cell range.  Hubby is both sympathetic and irritated.  Not nearly as irritated as you will be by the time this is over.  Once you retrieve your car papers, and brace yourself cause this is the hard part, you have to wrench yourself away from your car (you were so close, you even sat in it for a minute and it felt so right).  Then you catch another taxi back across town to the central police station.  Are you still with me?  It’s exhausting even in funny-blog-format.  At the police station you pay your fine (only 25 dollars, now that’s not Broken), then catch  your last taxi ride back to la feraille, were you and your car are finally reunited.  Sitting in cabs for the last couple of hours makes you appreciate your own wheels oh so much.  Pick up life where you left off.

Simple solution: Can’t we pay the fine at la feraille?

6-Cocotte.  My pressure cooker is going to kill me.  Oh the cocotte-minute, Moroccan cooking pot of choice.  It’s fast, cheap and easy (because it cooks food faster, it uses less energy).  The big bummer: these pressure-cookers are made of aluminum, a powerful neurotoxin that has already been linked to Alzheimers.

Simple solution:  As in most cases, the older ways were better.  Nothing beats cooking in an unglazed clay tajine pot.  Pile your meat and veggies in and let is slow-cook, preferably on a charcoal fire.  No neurotoxins, the onions caramelize and stick to the bottom (mouth-watering), and best of all, you can eat out of the same dish you cook in.  Amount of dishes to do: one.

Look out for part two of this post coming soon…in which I reveal the rest of my top 10 list.  Sorry if you feel cheated, I know, I say top 10 list, and it’s only 5. So sorry for the false advertising and all.  I like to keep my posts under 1000 words is all.  There will also be a brief analysis of why things are broken.  And because I’m really more of a glass half-awesome type of person, I promise to palliate all this ranting with My Life: A Good Experience.  My Personal Top 10 List. (will this top 10 list also only have 5 items?  Maybe, maybe not.  Depends on how many I can come up with at a time and how concisely I can enumerate them.  No promises).

Coming soon…insha Allah.