If I go running again, I’ll get hungry!

City

Good job, Boston!

I just arrived in Boston a few days ago, and am still getting adjusted.  I have been walking a lot, and everywhere I go I am surprised by how many joggers there are at all times of day.  On Saturday I was walking home at noon in bright sun and 90 degree weather, and it started raining…and there were still people out jogging!  A woman running by herself on the street wearing shorts is already something you would never see in Morocco, but to add being in the rain and heat makes it all the more impossible.  I felt like one of those men who sit in cafés and watch people all day because I could not stop staring at all those joggers.

 

 

 

I’m actually pretty happy that running at all times is acceptable, because that was something I really missed in Morocco.  I’ve been running on a beautiful tree-lined path each morning, and have been breathing in as much fresh air as possible to counter all of the polluted air I took in during the past few years.

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I guess this is sort of pretty

However, the one thing I still have not figured out is where people are getting their food.  Of course, there are plenty of restaurants all over the city, and some major supermarkets along with convenience stores.  But compared to Casablanca, Boston feels like a food desert.  Where are the vegetable stands with all of the fresh produce I could want?  How will I know where I can buy fresh meat if the sheep heads aren’t hanging up in front of the shop?  Where is my neighborhood fig man who yells out what he is selling so I can always find him?

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How it’s supposed to be

My family has suggested using Peapod to deliver groceries, and I was told that there is a good produce store not too far from where I live.  I also found that the man who works at the nearest convenience store is Moroccan, so maybe he has some tips about where to get pomegranates and sheep heads.  But I better figure something out soon, because if I keep going out to run, I’ll only get hungrier!

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Why We Do Not Want to Stay in Morocco

When I first came to Morocco nearly four years ago, it was love at first sight.  The weather was perfect, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and every day was an adventure.

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Beautiful rock formations in Oualidia

I thought my husband and I might stay long-term, to keep taking advantage of Morocco’s beautiful diversity of cultures.  I was so much more in love with Morocco than any of my colleagues, most of which I thought would leave after a year or two.  But as it turns out, my close friends from my first year will probably stay significantly longer than I will.  Here’s why:

  • There are not many job options outside teaching, which is not my career.  I have also worked part-time in two NGOs, but both were pretty shockingly disorganized.  I don’t think I ever attended a meeting that didn’t start at least an hour late.
  • Getting a visa is a yearly challenge, especially for Africans.  My first year, my employer did everything for me, so I never even knew how difficult it was.  These past two years, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble renewing my visa due to unhelpfulness both from my new employer and from the staff at the prefecture.  And my husband has been working for almost three years on a student visa because his employer doesn’t want to pay the fees for a foreigner’s contract.
  • It’s just really hard to walk down the street.  I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to work, but feel so much less lucky when men comment on my clothes or appearance, or especially when they try to follow me.  It’s better when I walk with my husband, except on the occasions when people (men) yell racial slurs at us.  And then there are the broken sidewalks….
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A surprisingly well-organized slum

  • The rising culture of materialism is exhausting.  Like any fast-developing country, Morocco has become more and more focused on material wealth.  The thing to do on the weekends is to go shopping, and having a car has become a status symbol.  I struggle to explain to my students that I don’t have a car because I like to walk, not because I can’t afford one, that I don’t eat at the most expensive restaurants because I actually like to cook, and that I want to become a social worker because I genuinely find that profession fascinating, not because I got rejected from programs in technology or finance.  My idea of a good career is one that I find rewarding, not necessarily one that pays a lot of money.
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This guy probably gets his hair done in a salon every week.

There are things I love about Morocco too; the community I’ve found here, the opportunities I’ve had to meet new people and learn new languages, and the chance to experience another way of life.  The ocean in Casablanca is beautiful, the vegetables are always fresh, and my husband and I have wonderful friends.  But there’s a time for everything, and I really feel like it’s time to find a place to live with more trees than cars, even if it is somewhere with cold winters and no pomegranates.

 

Short Story

My fiancé’s brother dished up one cube of melon on to his plate and looked around the table to see if we had noticed how little he took.

“Do you know why I took just one?” He cocked his head for dramatic effect.

“To try it out first?” I asked.

“Yes. Why? Because I sometimes have a bad reaction to melons. It first happened in France when I tried a green melon, and it really was not good. If this doesn’t go down well, we’ll know right away.” He smiled knowingly, then gingerly placed the cube of light green melon in his mouth and chewed slowly. We waited in silence on the edge of our seats.

“Is it okay? It looks like you don’t like it,” I asked.

“No, no, it’s fine. I think there’s no problem. It’s maybe just the fruit in France that I have a problem with. Those pesticides they use are bad for the stomach. Bad for the health. I have to be careful.”

I was relieved that he had no problem with my melon; it was the appetizer to the meal I had carefully planned out for my mom, my fiancé, and his brother, who was the first member of his family I had met. With my fiancé’s mother unable to travel outside of her country, Central Africa, his father deceased, and his siblings dispersed throughout Europe and Africa, a brother was all my fiancé could muster for meeting-the-family. And the sweet, round, bright yellow melons that had just come in season in Morocco were the best things I could think of as an appetizer.

We sat around the long table together, and started eating my meal of stir-fried carrots and peas, peanut chicken, and rice. I had tried to mix foods I thought we would all like, yet play to my strengths as a cook. Peanut chicken is an African dish, but I had made this particular meal using American peanut butter. I mentioned that to our guest, saying that my fiancé had taught me how to make peanut chicken, but my mother, who was visiting me in Morocco for two weeks, had brought the peanut butter from the U.S. because it is my favorite food. My fiancé’s brother’s comment was just what I had been hoping for; “What a gift God has given us with the incredible diversity of cultures in our world!”

The carrots, however, did not elicit any mention of God nor His gifts.

“Normally, I don’t eat carrots. I’ve had the same problem with them as with melons. They don’t pass through, so I try to avoid them.” He gave his pile of carrots a menacing look.

I wondered if I should have asked my fiancé about his brother’s eating habits beforehand. I had bought more carrots than I needed, so there were also thin slices of carrot in the peanut sauce, and round boiled carrots in the rice. A meal unified by carrots.

His brother looked up at me. “But maybe it’s just in France. In Morocco the food just looks fresher…not like those French grocery stores. I’ll give the carrots a try and see what happens.”

I was eager to get the conversation off of the foods he couldn’t eat, especially the ones I had just served him. I racked my brain for other topics to shift to. I breathed a sigh of relief when my mom jumped in.

“So what is it like to live in France? I know you’ve been there for thirteen years, but how does it compare to your country?”

“It’s a very nice country to live in; very organized and clean, and the university system is excellent. But unemployment is increasing every year. Unfortunately that comes along with racism, and is getting to the point of being quite dangerous, especially for foreigners.”

Our heads nodded at this assessment of what it is like to live in France, or more accurately, what it is like to live in France as an African immigrant. We all knew about how the French are stereotyped as being proud, and had read news of political conflicts surrounding growing discomfort with immigration to France from North and sub-Saharan Africa.

“Even after thirteen years and going through the visa process, I still can feel like an outsider. My name gives me away, my skin color, the way I talk…just having a French passport doesn’t make me French in their eyes.”

“I experienced the same thing,” said my mom, “when I was studying in France as an exchange student. I was always treated as an outsider. Even though I’m white, my name is French, and I even had a French boyfriend. That’s why I didn’t stay; it felt too hostile to me.”

My fiancé’s brother nodded knowingly. “Do you know what? I don’t even have any French friends. Why? Because they aren’t interested in mixing with people like me.   Sometimes I don’t even bother to greet my neighbors. I know they don’t want to be associated with me.”

I thought about my neighbors in my apartment building there in Morocco. I usually greeted them, but we weren’t even really acquaintances. I kept thinking that some day I would try to have a conversation with one of them, when the time was right, but that moment hadn’t come yet. I assumed they were friendly people, but I had never really put that to the test.

The dessert I had decided on was Moroccan-made yogurt with chocolate chunks mixed in, also a product of Morocco, which was a country he had come to for the first time only two days ago. That, I hoped, would be something he could digest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Land of Opportunities

When I was about to land in Chicago, the TV screens on the airplane showed a video welcoming passengers to the U.S.  It showed green lawns, kids chasing golden retrievers, and people of every skin color.  Despite having lived the majority of my life in America and already knowing exactly what it looks like, the video made me pretty excited about arriving in the land of opportunity.

The photos in this post are of bread I've made.  This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

The photos in this post are of bread I’ve made. This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

America isn’t really as perfect as it looks on that video, although that’s not much of a surprise.  However, after being away for a year, there are several things that have surprised me.  First would be the no guns allowed sign all over Chicago (thanks to the conceal and carry law being passed), which is on a lot of public buildings; it’s odd to think that people need to be told that weapons do not belong in public buildings.  Not that I wanted to take a gun into the library, anyway.  Men wearing their pants so low that their butts hang out is not new, but it is still kind of surprising to see after not seeing it for so long (maybe some of them could use a djellaba).  Occasionally getting catcalls when I’m walking to my internship on the South Side is also not new, but is pretty disappointing – I thought I was going to have a break from that!  It is much easier to go for runs or walks here without worrying about what I’m wearing, but it’s not as different from Morocco as I was imagining it to be all of last year.

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Oatmeal bread

Another surprise came to me at Walmart.  I made my first ever trip to the all-American store last weekend, and only now do I really understand the purpose of giving up sugar.  Walmart is full of packaged foods, nearly all of which have sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It’s in cereals, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, and pre-prepared meals.  Someone shopping only at Walmart would truly be challenged to totally give up sugar.  And what’s more, the food doesn’t taste the same here, even if bought at fancier stores than Walmart.  The carrots aren’t as sweet, the eggs aren’t as rich, the olive oil doesn’t taste like olives, and the Philadelphia cream cheese has ten ingredients instead of the four in Morocco’s (or Spain’s) version of the exact same brand.  These were difficult discoveries for me when I arrived; I love cooking and baking so much, so I want the ingredients to taste good!

Challah (egg bread)

Challah (egg bread)

I know from working with refugees that new immigrants (and even those who have been abroad for quite a while) have trouble adjusting, unfavorably comparing everything to equivalents in their home country.  It takes a long time to get used to little differences and to both appreciate what is better in the new country and to stop comparing it to the old.  It’s oddly not that much easier when the new country is also where you are from.  I guess I’ve got six more weeks to work on it.  Well, at least my bread loaves are pretty!

This isn't bread!  It's South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

This isn’t bread! It’s South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

Sister Vacation in London

Although it was hard to leave Morocco, even just for two months, my summer started with the best kind of vacation.  I spent a week in London with my favorite sister (don’t worry, she’s also my only sister).  The week started with a couple rainy days, but once it cleared up we were able to fully enjoy London’s beautiful parks, canal, and numerous free and clean public bathrooms, which most certainly could not be found in Casablanca.

Our toes enjoy the fresh air too.

Our toes enjoy the fresh air too.

There is such a great difference between where life is conducted between London and Casa; in London, one could spend the entire day out of the home, and be able to find easy meals, bathrooms, water fountains, and entertainment.  If you do decide to return home for a meal, you could buy your vegetables pre-chopped so that you wouldn’t spend much time in the kitchen.  In Casablanca, it would be hard to find such accommodations, especially for a female.  Spending time in the home is probably more common, and homes are perhaps more spacious.

Best sisters in the V&A Museum park

Best sisters in the V&A Museum park

My sister and I made good use of the parks, often walking for hours.  We concurrently made good use of the water fountains, public bathrooms, and several coffee shops.  We ate some wonderful Thai food, enjoyed some museums, and went for daily morning runs by the canal.  And of course we took lots and lots of pictures of ourselves, mostly in matching outfits, in celebration of being best sisters.

We are able to match in any length of skirt.

We are able to match in any length of skirt.

The End!

It has now been six weeks of no sugar, meaning that our experiment is over.  I broke my sugar fast with a coffee macaroon, one of my very favorite sweets.  I only ate about half of it (I was surrounded by a hungry flock of three-year-olds), but what I did eat, although delicious, tasted a little too sweet.  That didn’t surprise me, as I’ve gotten so used to eating unsweetened foods.  What did surprise me though was that I got a headache afterward that lasted the whole afternoon.  It’s possible that I got the headache for another reason, although I didn’t do anything else unusual.  So perhaps I’ll be continuing to skip the sugar, whether I like it or not!

Three Weeks of No Sugar

It has now been three weeks of no sugar, but thanks to melon season, my life has not been lacking in sweets.  I got an 8 kilo watermelon a few days ago and am already more than halfway done with it (don’t worry, I shared!)  I’ve also felt like I enjoy natural foods more, like peanut butter and plain yogurt, and have less desire to eat sugary dessets.  The No Sugar Rule has twice given me an excuse to refuse pastries I didn’t want, which I often find difficult when someone baked something themselves.

A rainbow of sweetness

A rainbow of sweetness

I am realizing how difficult it is to avoid sugar when you are not making all your own food, particularly in sauces, breads, and drinks.  Even in Morocco, where high fructose corn syrup is unheard of, sugar is lurking where you might not expect it.  But with the dawn of cherry, peach, and melon season, my life is plenty sweet.

I have three weeks left of the No Sugar Experiment, and I am curious to see if sweetened foods will taste sweeter when I start eating them again.  I’ll let you know!