Spring renewal

Thank you to everyone who responded to the previous two posts.   Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) there are now many donations coming in, in fact it looks like enough money for more than just the three families I mentioned.  It’s wonderful to feel like there is a community out there caring for those who have nothing here.  I am very excited that certain key elements are manifesting for the long-term vision as well.  It’s all wonderful and even a little scary to think about.

Spring is here and I had the chance to go on a three day retreat in the countryside, all alone.  Those of you with young children know how precious this is.  I marveled at my own ability to do nothing but watch the clouds, mountains, stars, sunlight and full moon for hours.

At the same time, I can’t believe how much I got done, creatively speaking.  By 7:30 in the morning I would find that I had already accomplished all the “me things” that I would hope to do in a normal day: reading from that most beautiful of books, the Quran; practicing that most noble of arts, Arabic calligraphy; writing much; reading my favorite author (Barbara Kingsolver) and Steven Covey’s book The 8th Habit.

I feel I have lived a lifetime, or at least a good season’s worth in these three days.  By the end of my retreat though, the wind started to howl and shake all the doors and windows, and I felt the same way inside from missing my family.

Atlas mountains Ourika Morocco blog

olive oil, bread and moroccan tea

khatt ar ruqaa

march blossoms

cactus in morocco

sunlight on cobweb eucalyptus leaves

khatt naskh


Hide your kids, the Boujloud are coming!

What’s that holiday called where kids dress up in scary costumes, knock on your door and ask for treats, threatening mischief should you refuse them?



Gotcha, you were thinking locally weren’t you.  Think globally.. . and let your thoughts take you to a tiny Amazigh village in Morocco.  A few days ago, each family has slaughtered a sheep or a goat….now you have a whole load of smelly skins and nothing fun to do with them.  Unless…

boujloud, goat boy, Marrakesh Morocco blog

The boujloud are coming!  If you are a kid, you hear the drums beating and run out to meet them.  Or alternately you find a place to hide.  After all, you have spent the last day in terrified anticipation of them, exchanging horror stories with other kids about what might happen to you if you don’t give the Boujloud some money. They take all your food and break  your furniture…they pick up little kids by their feet and hit them…if the boujloud man goes to a graveyard at night, the goat skins will stick to his body!

I remember this from my own childhood, mapping out hiding spots with my friends.  In my mind the Boujloud were a fierce and fearsome band of boogeymen.  This Eid, I saw the same delighted fear on my children’s faces.  And I could see now that the Boujloud are just a bunch of local youth, out having fun.

You can’t buy costumes like this in any store.  I love the creative re-using of these getups.  The Goat Boy is the star of the bunch.  It is actually quite an impressive (read scary) experience to see him up close.

boujloud, berber dressup, Marrakesh Morocco blog

No children were harmed in the making of this blog post:

boujloud, berber Eid tradition, Marrakesh Morocco blog.

It was all (fairly) harmless fun and exaggerated posturing.

boujloud, berber tradition, Eid, Marrakesh Morocco blog

Interesting note: the money raised by the Boujloud is donated to the local mosque.  Not your typical fundraiser, but it works.

Eid: thoughts, teachings, snapshots

“These are days for eating, drinking and remembering God”.  That is a description of Eid, which we celebrated this past week.  And that sums it up pretty well.

Eid comes as the celebration marking the end of each year’s pilgrimage season.

Some of my favorite things about Eid are…

…thinking about those who have made the pilgrimage, their stories, their light filled faces as they return.  Thinking about the year that my husband made that journey, as I stayed home 7 months pregnant with Karima.  That is a story worth its own blog post.

…Eid prayer, a special communal prayer held outdoors.  Normally we go to the one on the road to Ourika, with tens of thousands of people.  This year we had the good fortune to be out in the countryside, where a gathering of the entire community means a couple hundred people.  As we arrived and settled onto the straw mats, we were greeted by the most peaceful singing “dear Lord, make us among the thankful”.

…the beautiful teachings related to the slaughter of the Eid sheep.  As part of the celebration, it’s traditional to slaughter a sheep (or goat, cow or camel), feeding family, friends and giving away a third to charity .  It’s a very real experience, that puts you face to face with your own meat-eating.  Certainly for me there is a heaviness associated with it.  I’d much rather just grab some meat at the store, but as Barbara Kingsolver put it, you can’t run away on harvest day.  The Islamic teaching is to accompany the animal through the door of death in the best possible way.   That is, to speak softly and soothingly to it, to not show it the knife, to not slaughter it in the same place as another animal so that it won’t smell or see blood, to use a well sharpened knife and to make the slaughter itself as quick as possible, and finally to utter a prayer a the moment of death.  One of two things will happen if you witness or participate in this event, either you will become a vegetarian, or you will come away with more gravitas, a much deeper awareness of the responsibility we have as meat eaters.  Where does our meat come from?  How was the animal raised?  How was it killed?  The answers to these questions are so directly relevant to our own humanity.

…family time, food time.  See pictures below.  What I love about this set of pictures is the light, notice the light.

1-On the way to Eid prayer.  My son and my father.

Walking to Eid prayer, Marrakesh Morocco

2-Planting feathers.  An ambitious endeavor.planting feathers

3-Let the feasting begin.  Moroccan tektouka salad, made with roasted red bell peppers and tomato.
Moroccan tektouka salad

4-My plate.  Spinach artichoke dip, the famous liver brochettes of the first day (meat needs to wait till day 2 to taste better), guacamole, broccoli (a treat in Morocco, trust me on this), and tektouka.  I didn’t actually eat the liver brochettes, sorry, not a fan.  But my kids love them, and broccoli too, contrary to the common kid stereotypes.  Moroccan food on Eid

5-This is my identity expressed via the medium of cookies.  One one hand, the all American fave, chocolate chip (chip here is singular).  On the other hand, Moroccan “slipper” cookies (shaped like a belgha), which are, incidentally, filled with peanut butter.  I had an “I am baker, hear me roar” moment when I baked these and they actually came out looking and tasting as good as store bought.  I always thought Moroccan cookies were well beyond my scope.  chocolate chip cookies and Moroccan slipper cookies

6-Last food pic I promise.  Indian carrot pudding (much, much more heavenly than the name connotes).  And Moroccan tea.

gujarella and Moroccan mint tea

7-My daughter is wearing a dress that my sister, and later I, both wore as girls.  I think it was used to begin with.


8-Just the light.  It almost made me cry, all day, it made the simplest things so beautiful.

Olive orchard, Ourika valley, Morocco

9-That night we stayed in one of the few houses in the area still without electricity.  Candle light is also so peaceful and lovely.candle in moroccan lamp

A life…examined…sort of

When it’s a day like this…and I am looking at this…

…I ask myself, seriously, why don’t I live here?…  Oh, of course, there are lots of rational responses, they have to do with troublesome details like…commute time…our family’s vastly different schedules…my dependence on town luxuries, like electricity…(my intense fear of change)…

…but in my heart of hearts (the fearless one), I sit on the patio of this blessed stone house…

…watching the olive trees dance with the wind…and my children (they’ve turned back into wood dwelling elves and no one has seen them since)…

…and someone appears with this…and I look up and say…thank you…

The Chronicles of Nezha

In the Red City, there lived a young woman.  She had many blessings; she enjoyed good health, had received instruction from learned teachers, had married a good and true man, and together they had had 3 children who lit up their hearts with love, like stars in the firmament.

And yet this young woman had one problem: whenever she received a blessing, she would soon grow accustomed to it, as if it had always been there, and as if it were her right.  She grew complacent in offering prayers of thanks to the Giver of blessings.  And so her heart grew numb.

One night she had a dream, in it there appeared a wise woman, clad in a cloak of light.  She spoke to the young woman “What do you wish for?”

“I wish to break down in tears over the blessings I have been given, but I can no sooner do that than granite stone can spring forth with water” said the young woman.

The wise woman clad in light said to her “Then you must go, enter the Ancient Labyrinth of Sorrows.  At its heart, you will find She Who Has Nothing.  She will give you what you seek”.

The Chronicles of Nezha, Part I:

Where you’re from, what does poor mean?  Does it mean wellfare checks from the government?  Food stamps?  Soup kitchens?

Then imagine that are poor in Morocco, and that none of that exists.  Imagine that if you fall, there is no net, so you will just free fall, on and on.  I once followed a beggar woman home.  She had a 4 month old baby boy on her back, and 18 month old baby boy walking beside her.  She was proud to show me the room where they lived.  It was the size of my bathroom.  They prepared food, ate and slept there.  The rest of the time she spent begging for money, for their next meal.

Her name is Nezha.  She can’t read or write.  She can’t tell her mother that she has 2 children and no husband.  She has no skills, except domestic ones.  She has no hope that her circumstances will change much.  You’d think she’d be totally depressed, right?  But it’s the opposite.  Nezha works hard, doing the basics of life, of survival.  She has a quiet strength, the ability to endure blow after blow of bad fortune.  I’ve rarely heard her complain, instead she has a kind of cheerfulness, of steadiness, of substance.

I’ve been “working with” Nezha for the past 4 years.  I’m not quite sure what I’m doing, except that I’d like to think I was there for her at her darkest hour.  The winter when both her boys were babies, when she did not have enough blankets both to serve as beds and to cover with.  When she did not have enough money to change their diapers more than once a day.  When she had no money for formula, so would give them regular milk.  When an electricity bill of 125 dirhams would mean her out, begging with the two of them, as many hours as it took to get that much.  When her rent of 350 dirhams (35 euros) a month was breaking her back.

A lot has happened in the last 4 years.  Some of it good, Nezha eventually learned a skill, and became a henna artist in Jemma el Fna.  She’s proud of it.  But I know that if there is no business there she is forced to beg.  Nezha’s two boys, ages 4 and 5, are now in a pre-school, and know the alphabet in Arabic and French, more than their mother.

The boys’ father has been in and out of their lives.  That’s a whole other story.  I met him a few times.  He’s a drinker, so he has his ups and downs.  At one point they were all living together, and he was supporting them.

Then Nezha called me one day and said “I’m pregnant”.  She was already 6 months along when I found out.  We’d been out of touch for a while, since she’d been somewhat stable.  And just like that, another baby came.  And even though she delivered her baby alone, with no doctor attending at the state hospital, even though she almost bled to death after that, even though it was the hospital maid who helped her dress her baby…There she was, a few days later, with her baby girl, so proud, so happy, so in love with this new soul.  Although she never planned to have three children, they give her life a purpose.  There is no existential angst when you have children, their needs are too physical, to immediate for that.

And every time I visit Nezha, I remember how to be grateful.

Here are some photos I took last time I saw Nezha, as I was making a delivery of some donations: food and sheets and towels.  Remember that this isn’t the room the Nezha lived in when I first met her, this is a much bigger room that she’s totally happy about.

The entrance:

Nezha and baby Khadija, now 2 months old.

That’s the kitchen end of the room (no fridge or running water).  Nezha’s preparing tea for me:

That’s the sleeping and living end of the room:

The entertainment center:

Nezha’s finally a little relaxed with me taking her picture, I love this one:

She’s insanely happy as she goes through the donations.  Some lovely sheet and towels, boy’s clothing, food staples.  She can’t stop thanking those who donated.  I want to be as thankful as she is.