You know you live in Morocco when…

…you preface every business or casual meeting by listing all the possible ways you are related to the person you’re meeting with.

…this text message makes total sense to you “ba9i 3andi shi7aja”.   And forget about google translating it.

…you get in the right-hand lane to turn left.  It’s a wide turn.

…you don’t see flies as disease-carrying yucky germy varmints, rather as moderately annoying household companions, like puppies or toddlers.

…bread + x = a meal    {exceptions: couscous}

courant d’air (cross-breeze) is your biggest mortal enemy.  Window open + door open = pneumonia + imminent death.

…you buy your car kleenex from the guys at the red light.

…when someone hints at having a “coffee”, you’re not sure if they’re referring to an actual cup of java or to a bribe.  Awkward.

…you finally realize that there’s never a bad time to tip.  The guy who pumps your gas, the lady who mops the public bathrooms, the boy who delivers a gas bottle to your home.  When in doubt, err on the side of tipping.

…you alternate between feeling really sorry and awful for the street beggars and  feeling invaded and used by them.

…you have a room in your home called a salon, it’s your nicest room and it’s for guests only.

…you learn cursive in kindergarten.  During the French half of the day.  And Arabic alphabet during the other half.

Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant

Doesn’t that sound good!!???  I’m so very excited and happy to announce that this dream is finally coming into reality.  I’m in excitement overdrive right now about the whole thing so bear with me.  

Last time I wrote about how we had decided to establish this project as a non-profit.  We had a general assembly, elected a board of 7 members from among the women.  Naturally, it made sense for me to be the president or director of the non-profit, Lalla Khadija is the treasurer, and a lovely woman named Meriem is the secretary.   After we did all this, we had to iron out our statutes.  We stated as our basic goals:

To establish a training center in Moroccan cooking and pastries for at-risk women to rescue them from poverty.

To establish a simple restaurant to sell the products of the training center.

Then we put together a dossier that contains the statutes, the list of board members, the minutes from the general assembly, and photocopies of each of the members’ ID cards.  All of this of course in seven copies, each page notarized, as is the custom here in Morocco.  A person’s signature here is worthless unless it is notarized.

But we still needed one crucial document to establish this non-profit, and that was a rental contract.  That’s right, to register any kind of business or non-profit in Morocco one first needs to have a rental contract.  If a person is a homeowner then they can use their home address temporarily.  But none of us are, so the final step of renting a place was crucial for us.

I’ve been looking for spaces to rent since about May/June.  I’ve hired samsars (kinda fly-by-night agent that helps locate rentals), knocked on doors, found places that I got excited about but that weren’t meant to be, and spent probably 100s of hours day-dreaming and obsessing about “our space” (and the project in general, I even had very realistic dreams that we rented such-and-such a space).  I made a lot prayers, especially the prayer of asking for God’s direction in making a decision salat al istikhara.  It goes something like this:

Allah, if you know that this matter: renting this house for the women’s center, is best for me in my spiritual and worldly affairs, in this life and the next, in the immediate and the long-term, then will it for me, make it easy, and then put blessing in it for me.  And if You know that this matter: renting this house for the women’s center, is bad for me in my spiritual and worldly affairs, in this life and the next, in the immediate and the long-term, then drive it away from me and drive me away from it, and will goodness for me wherever that may lie.

A beautifully simple and liberating prayer.

Everyone I met and told about this project also would make prayers of ease and blessing.  Allahumma yassir, Allahumma barik.  We work and strive in this world of cause and effect, but ultimately where things are truly determined is in a realm far beyond us.  I never know who’s prayer is being answered or if it is a confluence of collective prayer…

Finally, the right space for our project materialized.  It’s the downstairs of a villa in the Gueliz area.  It has a wealth of light and all out good vibes.  The street is lined with trees, the house is south facing so receives good light all day, there is a nice garden for outside dining and an herb garden, and plenty of space inside to create a great training kitchen, dining area, and display area for the pastries (I’ll try to post some pics soon).  Thanks to private donations, we were able to pay the first year of rent in advance!

We are overjoyed with the space.  The villa is old and needs some work, but the general feeling there is that it’s a safe and beautiful place for these women to learn and grow.  Honestly it feels like a haven.  The next phase is to make the necessary alterations and aesthetic improvements.  An architect friend is kindly donating his time to draw up a plan of the space and make suggestions on how to proceed.  Then next week we will bring in a builder to start tearing down some walls, putting a few doorways and windows in, etc.  By the end of December, inshallah, we’ll be ready for equipment and furniture.  Then the actual work and training can begin, yeah!

At this point, like I said, we’ve received some very generous support for the rent and repairs.  We are now looking to raise the funds needed for the equipment and furniture.  I’m appealing to you, dear readers and blogging community, for this support.  I’d like to invite you to be part of this project with any donation that is possible to you.

I’m planning on asking some of the major equipment companies in the Food Service industry if they’ll sponsor our training center via some kind of donation of equipment and/or discount.  I’m talking about Promark, Arcade Equipment and Foyelec.  We don’t need a lot, but there are minimal pieces of professional equipment that we need like a big refrigerator, good range top and oven (I could go into great detail about what we need, I’ll save that though for a future post).  Maybe one of my readers is somehow connected to one of these companies.

Here is the bank info for the Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant:

Bank name: Attijariwafa Bank
Account number (R.I.B) 007450000806500030059496
SWIFT code: BCM.AM.AMC

Here’s our name and address:

Association Amal pour la Cuisine et les Gateaux Marocains
Villa Simone
Angle Rue Allah ben Ahmed et Ibn Sina
Quartier l’Hopital
Gueliz, Marrakesh, 40 000 MAROC
 
Phone number: +212 613 10 84 60
email: amalnonprofit (at) gmail (dot) com 
(website coming soon!)
Facebook: AmalNonProfit 

Please support these needy and at-risk women with whatever donation is within your means.  Peace and blessings to you all.

Traveling to Morocco during Ramadan: 10 do’s and don’ts

This year Ramadan runs from about July 20th to August 19th, so right in the middle of summer holidays.  Marrakesh is usually bursting with tourists at this time of year, despite the scorching heat.  I have seen groups of sunburned, dazed and confused looking tourists walking around, probably not too sure about what’s going on, except that Macdonalds seems to be the only restaurant open for lunch.

The new moon marks the beginning of the month of Ramadan.

What’s going on is that everyone is fasting from 4 a.m. to 7:35 p.m.  and that each individual is in a somewhat different state, and the whole country has collectively shifted gears.  I can only imagine what it must be like to experience this as an outsider, but I’ve tried to put together some points here that might help you make sense of it.

1-Don’t pity us.  Yes, I know it’s 47 C outside here in Marrakesh (that’s 118 F)  and you can about boil a pot of that famous mint tea on the sidewalk.  I know that this Ramadan has the longest daylight hours in the last 33 years.  It sure must seem like we are suffering terribly.  But here’s the thing: we like to fast.  We look forward to this all year long.  It’s like a beloved is returning to us.  My dear non-Muslim friends, I appreciate your sympathy.  “It must be really hard” you tell me.  And it is.  You apologize to me, wishing you could offer me a glass of water.  And I thank you sincerely.  But I wouldn’t trade a moment of this in for anything.  No need to apologize, I’ll drink that water later, for darn sure.  But right now I am emptying out, disengaging, and so is this whole country, all for a chance to come a little closer to the awesome and mysterious Divine.

2-Don’t call the ambulance just yet.  It’s not dangerous to fast.  Ok for some people it is, and they shouldn’t be fasting.  In Morocco diabetes is of epidemic proportions, so on average there is at least one person per family not fasting.  Pregnant or nursing women are excused from fasting.  But you’d never know that a good 10-20 percent of people aren’t fasting, because Muslims would feel weird eating in public.  For the rest of population, those blessed with good health, I’ve never heard of any risk or danger from fasting.  It does mean downing water all night long though.

3-Don’t feel like you’re torturing me by eating in front of me.  It’s really ok.  Go ahead, drink that glass of water.  No, I’m not drooling over you salad.  Fact is I’m around food a lot during the day.  The kids still need their breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and all that.  What I’ve noticed thought is that when I’m fasting, food is like dead to me.  I’m just in the zone.  I’m not attracted to it in the least, don’t crave or obsess over it as I do when I’m not fasting.  And I think this applies to most people.  So when I see non-Muslims eating during the day, it’s not a big deal for me.  The general rule is you don’t have to hide it, but you shouldn’t flaunt it either.  Seeing tourists sitting in restaurants eating lunch doesn’t bother anyone, but seeing someone walk down the street chugging an ice cold Pepsi, ouch, that does hurt a little.

4-Do try to get invited for ftour.  That would be of course the breaking fast meal around 7:40 p.m.  It’s such a family oriented event in Morocco, and there is always much care and love put into food preparation.  Moroccans eat a small meal at break fast and another dinner later on.  The ftour is almost the same for the whole country, dates and water, some kind of soup either harira or barley, boiled eggs with cumin, chebbakia and slilou which are some complicated sweets that I won’t bother describing, and a smoothie like avocado and milk and sugar.  It’s a shared ritual for sure.  If you want to have a very Moroccan experience this is definitely it.

Gathered for the ftour meal

5-Don’t smoke in public.  Yeah I’d put more emphasis on this one than on not eating/drinking, for several reasons.  One is that there are smokers all around you who are in some state of nicotine withdrawal and that’s more intense than mere food deprivation.  Two is that the actual smoke can break people’s fast.  Of all the cranky fasters, I’d say the deprived smokers can be the worst, so bad in fact that there is a specific term used to describe a smoker who is losing it during Ramadan “maqtou3”, literally “cut off”.  A blanket term used to explain the occasional flaring of tempers in the late afternoon.

6-Do appreciate the silence.  That last 30 minutes before the call to prayer that marks sundown.  The streets start to empty save for those last minute crazy drivers who know that traffic laws are not in effect at sunset. Then after the call to prayer, it’s a ghost town.  Not a soul is out and about.  In Marrakesh, a city of 1 million, there’s no other time where you could literally run down the street with your eyes closed and not get run over by anything.   Not by a bus, truck, taxi, horse-drawn carriage, mule cart, donkey, moped, bike or walker!  It adds to that special Ramadan “expect the unexpected” feeling.  One minute the streets are teeming with last minute shoppers buying baghrir, jben or avocados  for ftour, the next minute it’s like that dream where you are the last person on earth.  Savor the moment.

7-Don’t expect much.  In the daytime that is.  With the fasting day being 16 hours long, and it being August vacay mode, believe me there is no impetus for waking up early.  In our family we wake up between 9 and 10 a.m. and if you go out it’s like it’s dawn and you’re the early bird.  The shops around here don’t throw open their blinds til 11 or 12.  Cause they plan to open all day, close for ftour, and re-open at night.  As afternoon rolls by, you can expect some blank stares, people can just start to get spaced out.  Chapped lips, bad breath.  Crankiness.  Be compassionate.  Know that the fast is different for each person, they may be having a particularly difficult day.  Love them anyway.

8-Don’t be alarmed if you hear the canons roar.  The pirates are not attacking the coasts.  The city fires off canons to to mark the start and end of each fasting day, in case any doubt remained.  Some neighborhoods have air raid sirens that go off to mark the fast.  Where I live now I can only hear the canons.  This way even those who live far from a mosque can still know it’s time to break fast.

9-Do shake your head at the irony of it all.  Ramadan is a time of giving up food and drink for a certain time, but ironically we Moroccans consume a lot more food than usual.   There are always the special reports from the Ministry of Agriculture assuring everyone that there will be enough eggs and chickpeas to meet “the increase in demand”.   The shops totally cater to the frenzy as well.  This year maybe the heat slowed people down a little.  I do try to make the ftour meal special, but ours has lots of juice, fruit and salad.  Hard to resist this:

10-Do enjoy the nights.  Because in Ramadan, the nights are the real days.  There are night prayers in every major mosque that start about an hour after sunset and last for an hour and a half.  For Muslims, these prayers are the other half of the Ramadan equation.  After the emptying out all day, this is the replenishing.  I was interested to see a long line of tourists sitting near the Koutoubia mosque, enjoying the night breeze and watching the night prayers that are held in the open courtyard outside the mosque.  The courtyard fills with some 5000 people who stand, sit and prostrate as the imam recites passages from the Quran.  This is probably the most public prayer conducted year round so I can see why people would want to see what it’s like.  After the prayers, the streets, cafes and shops come to life all over again, and it’s a light, almost giddy feel.  After the inward breath and contraction of the day, this is the great expanse again.

Thousands of women in prayer at the Koutoubia mosque

For more advice on Moroccan culture and etiquette I recommend the book:
Cultureshock! Morocco (Cultureshock Morocco: A Survival Guide to Customs & Etiquette)

I wrote about Ramadan last year here.  Ramadan Mubarak!

Preparing for Ramadan 2012

Wow I sort of forgot I had a blog.  It’s less than a month now until Ramadan, and I realize that inshallah this will be my third Ramadan “on the blog” (and maybe 22nd or so Ramadan in real life, alhamdulillah).  Already there is an electric feeling of anticipation, houses to be cleaned (Moroccan no-joke cleaning: wash the walls, wash the carpets…do they still take the stuffing out of the pillows and wash it?), delicious stick-to-your-ribs-straight-to-your-hips shebakia and slilou to be prepared, schedules to be turned completely on their heads (hello 4 a.m. breakfast)…but the deepest preparation is the feeling that my soul stirs and awakens from its hibernation, anxious and yearning another season of nourishment.   Another time when this world slips away of its own accord and we are yet again allowed to experience other possibilities.  There is also a tinge of apprehension, for me personally, and I get this before every Ramadan.  I think, will it be ok?  Will I be able to do this again, now the days are even hotter and longer?  I didn’t ever use to have this fear, then I took some Ramadans off while pregnant and nursing, and it sort of broke my flow.  That fear usually subsides after the first day when I realize, yest this is hard, but so worth it.  The great thing about fasting in a country where everybody fasts is that we all agree to reduce our mutual expectations of each other to bare minimum.  Work dwindles, productivity is not even mentioned, faults are overlooked as being just side effects of the fast.

At the same time we are all busy trying to wrap up the year’s work in time.  The women’s baking project is slowly but surely turning into something wonderful.  We are trying to establish it as a proper women’s cooperative.  The aim is to train and employ women from among the most vulnerable strata of society: poor or even destitute, illiterate, divorced mothers, single mothers, older women who have no one to care for them.  Already the number has grown to 12 women.  We have submitted an application to become a cooperative, and as I understand, it should be *only* six months before the final seal of approval is given.  There are many, many stages to the application, including a phase where a committee actually visits the house of each woman.  In the meantime, we continue to look for a good locale for the restaurant, continue to have training days, continue to chase the paper trail, continue to brainstorm as to the big picture.

It’s all very exciting for me and for the other women.  Things are moving slowly which is good because it has allowed me to process in many stages what it means to invest myself into a project like this.  It’s no longer simple volunteer work, a few hours here and there taking someone to the doctor or time in the kitchen working on a new recipe.  The compassion that spurred me to action is no longer sufficient to carry this project to term.  Now there is a long list of questions the only seems to grow.  Will the cooperative model work with women who come from such intensely needy backgrounds?  These women are not used to a democratic structure, will they even want that, or do they prefer to have a boss who runs a tight ship.  I really want the core spirit to come from them, not from me.  Together some of us visited an embroidery cooperative called Al Kawthar, for handicapped women.  It’s a beautiful space deep in the old city, a nice light-filled workshop with large windows, very well organized with shelves of different colored threads.  There are 40 women in the cooperative, with about 7 of them forming the board.  They were very gracious in talking to us, showing us their business structure, talking to our women about how they run their coop.  It was enlightening.

So, all in due time.  If we could only find a space…that’s the piece that’s driving me crazy.  There are places that are too busy and crazy, and other places that are way to quiet and remote, so hard to find a decent place that strikes a medium.  My ideal space would have a garden and a few indoor rooms to set up in simple Moroccan decor.  Like the bottom floor of a small villa, nothing fancy, somewhere in the Gueliz/Asif/Isil/Daoudiate areas.  I’ve also looked at cafe spaces, apartments, etc.   If you happen to have any leads for us, please pass them on.

In the meantime, it’s summer, the crops are in, the roses are blooming, the kids are swimming, the heat’s a-blazing, and here we are blessed to see it all.

From my mother’s garden:

Mother’s roses and painting:

The one who is almost 5:

There are never enough pics of roses:

Dyed in the wool, using Koolaid.  Done by crafty Karima and her grandmother.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, the ladies were taught to make warqa, that papery thin dough used in so many Moroccan goodies.  Barely there:

Can you see it?  Can you imagine making hundreds of these?:

Peeling them off so carefully:

Cutting them into strips, filling with an almond center, and wrapping them into triangular briwat:

For most this was the first time making these labor intensive sweets:

She stood and deep fried them for hours:

Then dipped them in a syrup made from…coca cola:

Crispy, syrupy, almondy goodness!

Mobiles for Morocco, and other projects

Peace and blessings of Ramadan to all readers!

  1. Good and wonderful things are happening…a few people are in fact interested in homeschooling in Marrakesh.  Whaddya know.  When this seed first planted itself into our consciousness, I prayed that God would send the right people and resources if this were meant to be.  And alhamdulillah, things are in fact coming together.
  2. Amanda (blogger Marocmama) is running a wonderful charity campaign called “Mobiles for  Morocco”.  She is collecting mobiles for the babies at a home for abandoned babies here in Marrakesh.  Read more about it at http://marocmama.com/mobiles-for-morocco  (she lives in the US by the way).  The babies spend so much time in their cribs, mobiles with interesting shapes and soft music would be very stimulating to them.  Please send Amanda your new or used mobiles, or a cash donation.
  3. The next step in the cooking classes project (cooking classes for poor mothers here in Marrakesh) will be, inshallah, to equip these women’s kitchens!  They are learning how to cook, but what good is that when they don’t even own fridges or ovens (for the most part).  Most do their cooking on little camping style burners and even with such meager equipment, they manage to whip up amazing Moroccans goodies like tajines or fried bread (mesemn).  We are hoping to buy the necessary fridges, ovens, pots, pans and appliances that would push these women into another category of cooking.  For Moroccan women, their kitchen is their pride and their creative outlet, and we want to encourage that.  Eventually they may be able to turn their cooking into a side business, cooking for special occasions in the neighborhood.  If you’d like to contribute to this project, please contact me.  We already have a generous donor from Germany who has gathered 500 euros towards this.  Yay!
  4. In other news, our littlest child is not so little now.  He turned 4 last month!  No more toddlers in the house (but still plenty of crying).  The other day Amin (his older brother) got a cut on his toe, so I gave him a little foot bath to soak it in.  When little Yousef saw that he said “Can I have a bloodbath too?”.  When he got better he said “Ok!  I’m back on my foot”.  He cracks us up, and I am glad his brother and sister are old enough to also appreciate the cute things he says and does.
Here is a photo taken at a recent visit to the home for abandoned babies:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ladies cooking:

Birthday boy with the birthday tarte he requested:

 

96 political prisoners released in Morocco, including our brother Abad Maelainin

All praise to the Merciful and Compassionate, and peace and blessings on our beloved prophet Muhammad.

Today is a day of joy!  My sister’s brother in-law has been released from prison after serving 3 years as a political detainee.  He had been sentenced to 20 years, then 10 years after appealing.  Words can’t describe the immense waves of joy that are washing over his family and loved ones.

Here is a photo take from Hespress.com (Moroccan online news site).  Abad is holding his son on the left and my little nephew on the right.  His son is 9 years old, and hasn’t seen his father out of prison since he was 6.  I think they are all pretty stunned.  They are at a press conference immediately following Abad’s release.

Morocco political prisoner free

I thank God the Merciful.  I thank the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen who are risking their lives so that things change on a deep level, so that no more people will be imprisoned for political reasons.  I thank the people of Morocco who protested peacefully to bring about change.  I thank the King of Morocco for initiating the constitutional reform that lead to the freeing of these detainees.  I thank the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) which recommended the pardons to the king.

I had written about Abad’s case a little on this blog a year ago (when he had undertaken an 18 day hunger strike, here and here), but then stopped doing so because there was no good news to report.  How about this for a happy ending?!

It’s wonderful and momentous to feel the winds of change blowing through this land.

How you can help

poor single mother in Morocco

Chaima, Khadija and mom pose for their first family picture ever.

So now what?  Thank you all for your overwhelming responses to Sa’eedah’s story, both by email and in the comments section.  I am blessed to have this little community of blog readers who take the time to really read and feel the stories.  And care!   It makes blogging a worthy use of my time.

A number of you out there asked how you could help.  As I see it, single mothers like Sa’eeda and Nezha need both a short-term relief plan as well as a long-term life-transformative plan. The short-term plan is about survival.  It’s about all the little things we take for granted.  Nezha calls me about once or twice a month.  Several times she’s mentioned that her feet get so cracked that she has a hard time walking.  Now, I get the same problem in summer, it’s a small thing that can become very painful.  I advised Nezha to rub olive oil on her feet and wear socks all the time.  Her response? I’ll save up for some socks. She did not own any.  You can be sure that the next time I saw her I took her three pairs of socks.

For Nezha and her kids, being poor means a diet that consists mainly of bread, olive oil and tea.  My family’s morning omelets would seem an extravagant indulgence in protein to Nezha, who uses eggs as a rotation in her main meals, along with beans and the occasional bite of meat.  Nezha buys food on a daily basis, just the amount needed for the day’s meals, a dirham(10 cents) of flour, 2 dirhams (20 cents) of sugar, a potato or two.  Hot water is poured over used tea leaves to squeeze another pot out of them.  There are no leftovers (nor any fridge to store them in).

Every now and then, donations will come in for Nezha.  It is such a pleasure to deliver the treasures to her: 10 kg bags of flour and pasta.  20 cans of tuna.  Yes, most American cats and dogs eat a much richer diet than this family.  What would Nezha think of the cat food section at Costco?  In my mind, it’s hard for me to accept that both realities exist at once.  That what Nezha and her children need in a day (for everything, not just food) is the same as what an average American might spend on a latte and blueberry muffin (and maybe not even finish the whole thing).  Ok, I know, it’s easy to pick on US consumer habits…so let me just look at my own life for a minute, because I’m as guilty as they come.  There are enough inconsistencies and hypocrisies in my own spending habits, outings with the kids where we pay to eat, pay to play, pay for cheapy plastic stuff that I hate.  Yes, it is only due to my amazing levels of cognitive dissonance that I am able to do this.  (I can only hope that as I become more aware of others, I can eliminate more and more frivolous spending).  It’s not about beating ourselves up for every cent we spend, but yeah, it’s about our shared responsibility on this earth.

We must never underestimate the power of giving, even if it is 10 cents, a dollar, 20 dollars.  Of course there is always the debate over “aid versus trade” and does welfare make people lazy and are they going to buy drugs with it.  The short answer, in the case of these single mothers, is no.  As my father always says “if you err on the side of kindness and generosity, you won’t be wrong”.  In fact we must see each opportunity to give as a blessing for ourselves…that is one less dollar that we might have wasted and now we’re relieved of the burden of spending it.  Islamic teachings say that a good deed is rewarded tenfold, and sometimes it’s uncanny to give something away, only to receive a totally unexpected gift a few days later.  Wealth does not decrease through charity.  Giving away a portion of ones wealth only blesses and purifies the rest of it.  Give freely, give from what you love, there is enough for us all.

More concretely, here are some of my ideas:

1-Short-term help for three single mothers (Nezha, Chaima’s mom and Sa’eeda).  I believe there are a lot of people out there who would like to help with the immediate needs of these mothers.  What an honor for me to be the medium that connects between you and these women.  If you live in the US, please email me at nora@clcmorocco.org and we can discuss how to make a bank transfer.  I have a US account which facilitates things a lot, because I can withdraw the money from an ATM here.  Even 5 dollars helps a lot.  What would be great would be monthly pledges of 5, 10 or more dollars.  Some amount that won’t really affect you, but WILL affect them in a huge way.  If you live in Europe, I think it’s also fairly easy to transfer to a US account, but I’ll  have to research this.  I’d love to be able to offer something to these mothers similar to those “sponsor a child” programs, where the mother can count on a monthly contribution of 30-50 dollars for each child.

2-I will research what resources are currently available for women and girls in Marrakesh.  I will be your eyes and ears on the ground and compile the information necessary to assess what is needed in terms of infrastructure.

3-For the long term, I am reaching out to all of you for your ideas, resources, connections, experience, dreams, prayers…anything that comes to you for our common vision.  This is the MOST IMPORTANT PART.  In this whole process, my motto is “start small, THINK BIG”.  Even as we help someone survive day to day, we have to use these super-educated brains of ours to think creatively about poverty.  Vision.  Then planning and execution.  Don’t be paralyzed by your fear of imperfection.  So let our vision quest begin.

Morocco blog baby

A week

This last week I was honored by a visit from Christina.  We had met in Amman where we were both attending the Danish-Arab women bloggers workshop.  Christina and I found that although we were from very different worlds, we both had similar curiosity about the world and each other which inspired many conversations.  Luckily, the wonderful Danish organizations that funded our workshop also funded the bloggers to spend a week in another city.  So Christina and I were able to continue our conversations, this time in Marrakesh.

Coming from sub-zero temperatures in Denmark, Christina appreciated many things in Marrakesh that I take for granted.  Birds singing in the morning, smells of lemon trees and the daily appearance of the sun.

We did a little site seeing too.  Made more interesting (in my opinion, and I think hers too) by the fact that we took between 1 and 3 of my kids with us wherever we went.  The children have a way of bringing a place to life and interacting with it in new and creative ways.

At Jardins Majorelle for example, the boys set up their playmobils in different places.  A few people spotted them and promptly took photos of them (the playmobils, not the boys).  It was like a happening.

jardin majorelle marrakesh blog
jardin majorelle marrakesh morocco blog

Group photo of the now famous playmobils:

marrakesh majorelle gardens

Group photo of Christina, Amin and Yousef:

marrakesh morocco majorelle jardinsThank you Christina for sharing this fun, chaotic, sunny week with us.   You can visit Christina’s blog here, she also blogged about her visit…in Danish.

PS: last day or so to vote for this blog over at www.moroccoblogs.com I also voted for Itto’s Living Faith under Best Culture Blog, and for The World is her Playground under Best Expat Blog.  Thank you for all your support.

Edited: Ok I guess the voting is closed.  Thanks for trying.

A tour of Marrakesh

I had a chance to go on a great tour of Marrakesh a few days ago.  We hit all the major tourist sites, which of course I almost never do, but I should because it was an enriching and beautiful experience.  It renewed my connection with this city that I’ve called home for so long.  I’m sorry I’m not great with dates and history, if I don’t take notes then it evaporates almost instantaneously off the surface of my brain.  Not to mention the late, late hour that the blogging itch strikes me, which is not a peak time for cerebral activity.  I’m going to have to fall back on good old “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

But let me just say this, these places are beautiful in and of themselves.  And if you can find a great guide to connect you with the richness of Moroccan history, so much the better.

These first two photos are at Medrasa Ben Yousef, which was one of the first examples of governmentally institutionalized learning in 1550.   Before that, students would simply find a teacher and learn what they wanted to learn.  This Islamic college was hailed by some as a positive initiative, and decried by others who felt the government should stay out of the business of education.  I guess the home-schooling debate is not as recent as we think!  Anyway, this college fell out of use in 1960, after the French had installed their own educational system in Morocco.  Sigh.

Marrakesh Morocco blogMy mother, who is an artist and has studied Islamic art, points out that this following picture contains four out of the five elements of Islamic art.  And they are (from bottom to top): complex star polygons, arabesques, repeat linear patterns and calligraphy.  Brownie points if you can name the fifth element of Islamic art, not in this picture.

Marrakesh Morocco blog

The Menara basin and pavilion…used to be an swimming school…and now is a great place to catch a view like this with the Atlas mountains as a backdrop, or feed some of the colossal fish that swim in the murky waters.

Marrakesh Morocco blog "Menara gardens"

Marrakesh Morocco blog Menara pavilion

The Koutoubia mosque, which I talked about before:

Marrakesh Morocco blog mosque islam

And here are some of the storks that live on the wall of the Bahia palace.  Stork in Arabic is “laq-laq”, and if you’ve ever heard the sound a stork makes, you’ll understand exactly where the name comes from.

Marrakesh Morocco blog Bahia palace

PS. Voting is still ongoing over at www.moroccoblogs.com If you can spare 30 seconds, please hop over there and vote for this very blog “Life in Marrakesh” under Best Overall Blogs.  Thank you, shoukran, merci.

The best, easiest cheesecake. Step-by-step recipe with photos.

lemon cheesecake with strawberries, Marrakesh, Morocco

It’s recipe time!  When I was growing up, my mother had Francis Moore Lappe’s book Diet for a Small Planet.  It’s a book about moving towards a diet that’s both nutritious and sustainable for the whole planet.  We learned a lot about how to combine vegetarian foods to get complete proteins.  One of my favorite recipes in that book was/is Ricotta Cheesecake.  My mother made a lot of nutritious desserts, but for me, cheesecake was the ultimate.  It’s so delicious, smooth and creamy and lemony.  And hey, if this is what it takes to save the planet, then so be it!

And I’m keeping up the tradition in my own family, although my kids are still fairly suspicious of the oxymoron “cheese cake”.  Chocolate cake is much more natural collocation.  I’ve made cheesecake many times for my Moroccan friends, and it’s been very well-received indeed.  I’d like to get at least some credit for this important cross-cultural contribution.  In fact, this recipe is mostly for those living in Morocco, as you’ll see from the ingredient list.

The ingredients. Now if you live in Morocco, you’ll know exactly what each of these things are.  My secret about cheesecake is that I never make it the same way twice.  I throw in a combination of whatever I have in hand.  These ingredients are enough to make a large sized cake, enough for 24 people.  I made it recently for a potluck at work, and managed to photograph all the stages of the making.  I didn’t even get that much cheesecake filling on my camera.

Ingredients for Cheesecake:

Crust:

4 packets Sable biscuits

100g of butter

Filling:

24 kiri (about 12 ounces of cream cheese)

1 can Nestle sweetened condensed milk

4 perly yogurts

4-6 eggs

1 lemon, zested and juiced

Garnish:

Strawberries/a little sugar

cheesecake ingredients from the hanut, Marrakesh Morocco

Here’s the thing about the ingredients, you can make infinite substitutions.  There’s no perfect recipe.  If you don’t have Nestle for example, just use about a cup of sugar.  If Kiri is too fattening, you can use ricotta or white cheese (jben).  Perly is also not necessary, you can use any plain yogurt.  I chose a lemon flavor here, but you can put in vanilla instead.  The eggs can also be increased, I used 4 here, but I think the original recipe has more than that.  So there is a lot of choice in the matter of ingredients.  As they say in Morocco, 3aynek meezanek (measure with your eyes).   And of course taste it and adjust the flavor to your liking.

Method:

1-Pulse the biscuits in a food processor:

making cheesecake crust

2-Melt the butter and add it to the biscuits.  Mix again:

pulverizing the cookies for cheesecake crust

3-Pour the crumbs into a glass pan and pat them down with something flat.  Bake for 10 minutes:

pat down the crust

4-While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

Pour ALL the ingredients into the food processor: kiri, perly, eggs, lemon juice and zest, and the can of nestle.  You can taste it now to see if it’s sweet or lemony enough.  In this recipe I actually added another half a can of nestle.  The filling will be very liquid:

5-Remove the crust from the oven after 10 minutes.  Don’t burn it!  Pour the filling in.  It should look like this:

cheesecake for 24

6-Bake on VERY low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour.  It should feel firm and set.

Prepare the strawberry garnish: slice the strawberries, add some sugar, and set them in the fridge to chill and become syrupy.

7-Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool.

Once it’s cool, it needs to be chilled in the fridge.  It’s best to make it about 4 hours in advance or even overnight.  The longer it sits before eating, the better it tastes.  (Don’t do what I did and serve it lukewarm.  That’s not cool, literally).

Enjoy it if you manage to get a slice.  It goes fast!