Have you Ever Tried Tree Watching?

There is not a lot of difference between the culture in Boston and in Chicago, but New England does have a few unique traditions.  Because of the beautiful fall foliage all over the region, going on trips to look at trees is quite popular these days.  Tree Watching might not sound very exciting (though it is sometimes called Tree Peeping, which sounds a bit illicit), but it actually seems to be pretty popular.  I’ve already heard quite a few conversations that go something like this:

“What are you doing this weekend?”

“I’m going up to New Hampshire.  I’m going to look at trees!”

“Wow, have fun!  I heard they’re especially beautiful this year!”

At first, I was a bit skeptical of this tradition, but I did go on a hike last weekend up to an outlook where we saw a beautiful array of colorful trees.

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You can see a tiny little Boston in the background!

I also started taking pictures of the trees near the lake by my apartment to keep track of the change.  What’s more, I have started buying different kinds of squash each week, and put pumpkin spice in my coffee each morning.  I am glad to be enjoying fall again, even if I don’t think I’ll go all the way to New Hampshire to watch trees any time soon.

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The lake in October.  Luckily I walk by here and check almost every day, so I don’t have to just sit and watch the trees change.

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

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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!

Culture

I have been wanting to write about multicultural relationships for a while, but I keep feeling blocked.  I do not think that my relationship with my husband is particularly affected by the fact that we come from different cultures, or at least not as much as one might think.

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What is it that really makes up culture?  Of course nationality is important, but what about religion, political views, social class, whether you grew up in a city or not, who you were friends with growing up, and what kind of school you went to?  The U.S. is so big and diverse in cultures that I can easily find other Americans who have a culture very different from my own.

Before I was openly dating my husband, I had a friend in Morocco tell me that her mother had advised her not to date someone from another culture.  Her mother had said that marriage is hard enough, so you should not add cultural differences on top of that.  To me this seems like a lazy approach to a relationship, and her statement ignores the fact that culture is not black-and-white.

There are certainly things that my husband and I do not have in common.  He likes eating meat (with the bones!) more than I do.  I like to always plan ahead and be on a schedule far more than he does.  We don’t always have the same taste and we express ourselves differently.  But in general, those differences complement one another.

Just the other day we ate an African dish at a restaurant, and he wordlessly spooned his vegetables onto my plate as I handed him the parts of the chicken that were attached to bones or skin. And I thought, what would we do without each other?

Random things I’ve learned from teaching

A fun thing about being an ESL teacher is that you get to learn a lot of little details and facts from other people.  I get the opportunity to talk about politics, religion, culture, and also just daily routines and opinions about life in Morocco with my more advanced students.  Here are some completely random but interesting facts I’ve picked up.

On visas:

If someone who is not French marries a French citizen abroad, that person can acquire French nationality after four or five years through a local embassy, without ever stepping foot in France (if only Americans could do the same!)

Moroccans do not need visas to visit Turkey, so the combination of that and the popularity of Turkish soap operas make it one of the most popular countries for Moroccan tourists

On religion:

One reason why eating pork is forbidden in Islam and Judaism may be that pig meat spoils easily in the heat, since both religions have origins in hot climates.

In Islam, the day that each person will pass away is predetermined and cannot be changed (which is not the case in Christianity)

Completely random:

Drinking hot coffee actually makes your body colder, but drinking hot chocolate warms it up (as if I needed another reason to consume chocolate)

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But what if you eat chocolate with coffee?

There is no wage gap between men and women in Morocco – but that’s not to say that there aren’t more men in leadership positions.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country, just after independence.

What Will Boston Be Like?

I have not been out of Morocco for almost two years now.  I think it is safe to assume that I will have some surprises come August, when I will arrive in Boston for the first time, alone, and after a 28 hour trip.  Last time I was in the US, I almost cried when I realized how much less flavorful the carrots, eggs, and olive oil are in America.  I was shocked to see men walking around shirtless or with saggy pants, and I was very confused about the “no gun” signs that popped up around Chicago after concealed weapons had been made legal.  It was not easy to readjust, even after only one year away.

I am trying to predict what will shock me and my husband in Boston, both to prepare myself and because I’m sure it will be funny to look back later and see how far off I was.  Here is what I expect to experience when I move to Boston:

  • I will be invisible.  I get a lot of stares and comments as I walk down the street in Casablanca, but I expect to blend in when I am in Boston.  The challenge will be to stand out, not to fit in.
  • It will be surprising how much people drink.  I’ve gotten used to alcohol being mostly out of the picture.
  • The season changes will be amazing.  There was a drought this year in Morocco, so it barely got any colder.  I cannot wait to see the leaves change color and to play in the first snow!
  • My husband will learn new holiday traditions.  I discovered last Christmas that he is not familiar with Christmas music, other than church songs.  He has also never done an Easter egg hunt.  He has a lot to learn.
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Christmas in Morocco

  • Not everyone will know where Morocco is.  If they do, they will ask me if I was afraid of terrorists, if I had to cover my hair, or if I was able to access the internet.  And absolutely no one will understand how I met my husband in Morocco, who is not even Moroccan. (Actually, during our visa application process, the National Visa Center in the US asked my husband to send police records available only to Moroccan citizens.  We suspect that the application was read by a machine, because not many humans could confuse “Central African Republic” with “Morocco.”)
  • It is going to be nothing like what we expect.  I would not be so surprised if what shocks me turns out to be completely different from what I’ve written here!

Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock?  What surprised you about your country?

Fasting

It has now been about two weeks of Ramadan.  What always strikes me during Islam’s holy month is the solidarity between people in Morocco and how much fasting brings people together.  More or less everyone is fasting in the day, so everybody shares the same feelings of thirst, hunger, or sleepiness, along with the same traditions of breaking the fast at night.  I usually choose to fast for several days each Ramadan so that I can feel that same sense of unity with those around me.  That way, when I walk to work, I know that it is not just me who skipped breakfast, but an entire community.

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Breakfast/dinner of dreams

Fasting is not specific to Islam.  During the past few days, quite a few of my students have asked me about whether Christians fast.  We do occasionally have days of fasting at my church, sometimes related to important dates, and sometimes just to reflect about a specific topic as a group, but it rarely lasts more than a week.  Another local church is currently having a “year of fasting,” where each month the members are encouraged to give up one thing that distracts them, such as television, facebook, or coffee.

I looked up fasting in some other religious groups, and found that Coptic Christians in Egypt fast for the forty days of Lent by giving up all animal products, or basically becoming vegan for that period.  Fasting is required at different periods in Judaism, Bahaism, and Catholicism.  The purpose of fasting during Ramadan for Muslims is to remove mundane desires to increase spiritual reflection, and for all Muslims to feel what it is like to be poor and to increase charity.

According to the bible, fasting is not necessarily about food. We can read in the book of Isaiah what a fast should be: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)  This sort of fast requires charity, generosity, and a fight against oppression, but mentions nothing about food other than that it should be shared.

The New York Times recently published this article on the health benefits of fasting, unrelated to religion.  Apparently, regular periods of fasting can promote weight loss and longevity.

As you can see, there are a lot of different methods of fasting and reasons to do so.  Have you ever fasted?  In what way?

 

Moroccan Superstitions

I sometimes teach an English lesson on the first conditional where I ask about superstitions. For example, a student must correctly express something like, if a black cat crosses my path, I WILL have bad luck. This always comes up with some interesting responses about superstitions and myths.

Moroccan society is not particularly superstitious, as superstitious beliefs are not compatible with Islam.  Usually the first response I get is “we don’t have any superstitions,” but after a bit of prying, I can get students to come up with these three responses…although most Moroccans will claim that they are 100% true!

  • If a pregnant woman craves a food and does not get it, she will begin to scratch her skin.  This will result in the baby having a birthmark either where she scratched, or in the shape of that food (I have heard both).  I do not believe that this is backed by science, but it is a pretty good excuse for pregnant women to get exactly what they want.  You would not want to find that your child had a little fig-shaped birthmark on his arm just because your husband wouldn’t go out and buy some figs.

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  • If you eat dinner late, you will have nightmares.  Everyone who has told me this claims to have confirmed it with personal experience.  But I wonder, could we be more likely to have bad dreams if we are absolutely convinced that we will?

 

  • If you go outside with wet hair, you will get sick. I have never seen a woman in Morocco go out with wet hair in the morning. I’ll admit, I have also gotten into this habit; I really feel like something is not right if I my hair is damp when I leave for work.  Who knows?  Maybe it is true after all.

 

Do you believe any of these?  What are some superstitions from your country?