Reflections on Month One

I was thinking this morning about the small day-to-day experiences I have in Morocco that I haven’t yet shared, but that in many ways are more significant than my ramblings about chilblains, youth centers and learning Darija.  We have now lived in Morocco for more than a month, and when I reflect back on my time here so far, I can pinpoint many examples of how I am adapting really well to life outside of North America.

We encountered these sheep (looking less than sheepish) on a walk around the village.

We encountered these sheep (looking less than sheepish) on a walk around the village.

My early assumptions about what it might be like here are gracefully shifting into understandings (albeit basic understandings) of how things generally work in a semi-rural Moroccan town. Living here is certainly different from how I lived back in North America, but many of the differences are quite positive.  Over the past month I reminded myself frequently that I have choice in how I approach the cultural differences. Further, I realize more and more that my choices can impact both my overall happiness, and also how successfully I integrate into both our current community and wherever we end up living once training is over.

Three Examples:

Some village dogs, taken from a distance as I didn't want to be seen taking pictures of dogs.

Some village dogs, taken from a distance as I didn’t want to be seen taking pictures of dogs.

Animals in Morocco: From what our Language and Culture Facilitator has told us, both dogs and donkeys are considered unclean in Islamic tradition.  There is such as different cultural perception of these two animals that when when someone says either donkey (hmar) or dog (kalb), the person may choose to follow the word with ‘hashak’ which sort of translates to, “forgive me for saying this word.”

Donkeys are used for transport in our town, and this young fellow seemed happy to have his picture taken.

Donkeys are used for transport in our town, and this young fellow seemed happy to have his picture taken.

I realized a few weeks ago that my interest in talking about, photographing, cuddling, cooing at, or ‘saving’ the hundreds of dogs and donkeys in our town does not need to be shared with most Moroccans I meet.  My appreciation of dogs and donkeys is tempered strongly by my deeper desire to not look like an idiot to the local people.

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Valentine’s Day walk in the hills around our town.

Exercising in Morocco: Although I was initially anxious about how to get enough physical activity given the gender norms of our community, I am pleased to report that I have now worked out ways to ‘work out’ in Morocco that integrate my love of exercising outside.  I have let go of the more western concept of what is and is not ‘robust’ or ‘intense’ or ‘worthwhile’ exercise, and have settled into enjoying whatever amount of brisk walking I can accomplish each day.  Our village is rife with hills to climb, and the last few days the weather has allowed for long walks both by myself and with others.

Yeah, I took a selfie on a solo walk while I was enjoying some 80s rock music.  That's how I roll in Morocco!

Yeah, I took a selfie on a solo walk while I was enjoying some 80s rock music. That’s how I roll in Morocco!

The fresh air and beauty of the landscape provides me with a deep appreciation for my overall health and well-being.

My Diet in Morocco: Prior to moving to Morocco I adhered to a fairly rigid diet most of the time: I ate some version of savory oatmeal for breakfast every day, and avoided processed foods whenever possible.  I was the chick who gladly ate kale salad thrice daily if the opportunity presented itself.  I also often had feelings of guilt when I enjoyed something ‘naughty’ too much.  While I referred to myself as vegetarian, truth be told I ate fish regularly.  I was also sometimes an eater of eggs, and an occasional eater of cheese (especially when visiting my father).  Long story short, I had lots of rules for myself around how and what I ate.

My attitude towards eating has changed so much for the better since I arrived in Morocco!  I am now quite happily living that great 12-Step adage: “Let Go and Let God.”  Staying with a host family means I eat what they provide, and many of their meals include meat or poultry.  Although I initially tried to explain my rather convoluted “I eat vegetables and fish, and sometimes eggs” diet when we first arrived, I was pretty unsuccessful at getting my meaning across, and I soon realized that my refusal of all meat and poultry was making me look like an asshole.  Lala Fatima and Zakia have a genuine desire to nourish us well, and for them, eating meat is not a dietary preference, but instead is a basic cultural reality.  While legumes and vegetables are often the basis of meals, they also regularly make dishes that have some sort of animal-based protein included.  So I decided to find some middle ground and I started eating poultry.  And oh, how happy this has made Lala Fatima!

Those are live chickens (and someone's dinner) on the back of his bicycle.

Those are live chickens (and someone’s dinner) on the back of his bicycle.

“Kuli! Kuli! (Eat! Eat!)” Lala Fatima says during each meal, handing me bread and pushing additional food towards my part of the communal dish.  Sharing d’jej (chicken) and bibi (turkey) with the family has, I think, made them view me as an actual member of the household instead of perceiving me as a picky house guest.

In addition to changing what I eat, have also shifted from being an overly insistent, “Shwiya shwiya, shukran” (just a little, thank you) person to graciously accepting however much food is provided at meal time, whether the meal is quite large or more modest.  I have come to embrace that while living with our host family I will sometimes eat more than I was accustomed to back home, and that’s OK.  Nothing truly terrible will happen because of it.  Since moving here I have almost completely let go of food-based fears, and I have a new sense of well being as a result.  I have to say this has been the most positive difference I have discovered so far between living in Morocco and living in North America.

Puppy (on the left) leading the pack.

Puppy (on the left) leading the pack.

I am not sure if I will continue to eat poultry once we have our own place, but that’s ages from now, and I don’t really have the energy to over-think it.  However, I do know I will find some oats and enjoy some savory oatmeal as soon as we are settled in our final site!

So, there are a few key learnings from month one of 27 months here in Morocco.  I feel quite happy and healthy, in large part because I am trusting that all is as it should be in my life at this time, insh’allah (God willing)!

Erika

 

  3 comments for “Reflections on Month One

  1. Amy Anderson
    February 15, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    I loved this post! I remember having many of the same thoughts/dilemmas when I was in Madagascar, and it’s wonderful to hear you are adjusting so well. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  2. February 15, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    I started a note and then it disappeaared. Oh well. Just said I can use some of those life lessons right here in Seattle. Especially the letting go ones.. I love Thomas’ smile – he truly looks happy and your selfie is lovely.

    Thanks for sharing your learning. I feel close to you both and knowing how you are navigating this new world makes me happy.

    Have a great week!

    Lots of love,

    Rebecca

  3. Judith Stoloff
    February 16, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Glad the giving (up) of food restrictions has felt like an opening. I am learning a lot from your posts. Thanks, Judy

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