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?

 

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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?

The Future of this Blog

I’ve been keeping this blog for about three years now, though with some major gaps between posts.  I’ve been thinking about what I want it to be and how long I’ll continue it for.  I’d really like to be able to be more consistent in the coming months and years for several reasons.
When I was trying to decide what to do my masters in, which programs to chose, and which specialization was right for me, I found it very helpful to read other peoples’ blogs.  It gave me an unbiased view of what social work careers are like.
I hope that what I write about my experiences can be useful to others in the same way that reading blogs has been useful to me.  For example, I want people who will never visit Morocco to be able to learn a little bit about what it’s like to live here.  In the future, I hope that what I write about my masters can be relevant to those who are considering social work, who already are social workers, or who just want to learn something new.
And finally, I love writing posts and getting comments.  I enjoy reading what others have to say about each topic, and I like putting my thoughts into short posts.
For the moment, I intend to post at least once a week.  I’ll post on life in Morocco, and then on the process of moving to the U.S.  I hope you enjoy reading, and I’d love to hear what you think!
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I ❤ my readers!

Thanks, Morocco!

Earlier this week, my husband told me that he was calculating the outcome of his time in Morocco.  He said he had spent money on his studies and on living here, probably more than he had earned in three years of working.  But, he said, he still thought he had received far more than he had given.  He learned how to do his career, even if the studies and unpaid internships were expensive.  He learned how to live on his own and how to support himself.  He gained a community and served the same church for ten years.  He became a better singer.  He met his (lovely) wife and began married life.  Overall, he gained more than he lost.
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Awwwwwww!

I’ve also learned a lot since first coming here four years ago.  How to find an apartment and pay my taxes, how to keep myself healthy, how to teach and how to lead a group, how to speak other languages, and how to work on a team.  I gained the experience necessary to choose and apply for a masters, I saved some money, and I made new friends.  I got baptized and I got married to my (amazing) husband.  But the biggest thing I think I have learned is pretty simple.
The most important thing I’ve taken away is that nowhere and nobody is really so different from what I know. Even here in Casablanca, I can make friends, find people with similar interests, and enjoy when my neighbor blasts my favorite Taylor Swift song (Love Story).  Of course, not everyone has the same opinions, traditions, or beliefs, but I know now that I could live in many different places in the world and feel at home.  I know that I can become friends with someone from any culture or from any religion or any upbringing.
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Fishermen in Oualidia

But along with that, I also feel more empathy for those in need in many situations.  Before, when I read news stories about the Middle East, war-torn countries, or plane crashes, I brushed them off as things that could never happen to me.  But now I can imagine myself or someone I know being in a city that was attacked or being on a plane that was lost.  Those places, and the people in them, now seem closer to home.
I hope I will soon become a social worker who works with refugees, and I hope this will help me do a better job.  But I guess I’ll have more to say on that later!

Don’t You Dare Say Hi to Me!

Sexual harassment recently became illegal in Morocco (finally!), but I’d actually like to write about a related problem.  Often when I walk down the street, men will call out to me just with greetings.  They’ll say “bonjour” or “ça va,” as if they know me.  Generally I just ignore them and keep going, assuming that they are up to no good.  This certainly is not sexual harassment, and I am not going to report to the police that a man I do not know had the nerve to ask me how I’m doing, but it is pretty irritating just to feel so many eyes watching me as I walk down the street.  And it has been getting me into some awkward situations lately….
The method of the language center where I work involves switching teachers around each week, and we usually give classes with no more than four students who may come in as little as twice a month following an online portion of the course.  This means that there are some people who I meet only once or twice, and overall I’ve worked with probably more than one hundred students.  I also have a big church community, and many people know who I am since I got married there and am one of only two Americans, whereas I don’t remember some of the people who I haven’t talked with much.  The combination of my work and my church communities means that there are a lot of people in Casablanca who I have met but probably could not pick out of a crowd.
A couple times in the past few months, a man has greeted me on the street, but in a way that makes me think I might know him.  One man asked me if I was done teaching, making me think he was a student of mine.  Really he had just seen me come out of the library at the French institute, where I had been reading during my break.  Another referred to me as “my sister,” so I thought I might know him from church.  I don’t like to be rude, so I stopped to talk to these people.  In both cases, it became painfully clear that I did not know them when they asked me to meet them the next day “to share.”  Share what?  I don’t want to know.
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A couple of men said hi to me as I walked down this street in Laayoune, all of whom I ignored.

The reverse of this situation is an even more embarrassing problem.  I sometimes see someone I DO know and ignore them or don’t even look at them, assuming that it is just one of many men who do not like to respect boundaries.  And then the next time I see the person at church or work, they ask me why I did not want to talk to them.  I of course feel bad about acting impolite.
So which do you think is better?  Having unwanted conversations, or being rude to my acquaintances?  I am sure it is ever going to be illegal for men to start conversations with random women, so I better figure out what to do.  Let me know what you think!

When I Grow up I Want to be a Polyglot

As I mentioned in a previous post, next year we are going to be living in the U.S.  I’m doing a masters in clinical social work with a specialization in trauma counseling and refugee issues.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know how important these issues are to me. I have already chosen my classes, and I am in the process of finding a field placement to start in September.  Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I think, if it were next year already, I’d be on my way to learn about human behavior or to meet trauma patients!  I’m excited about it.
During these last few months, I am trying to enjoy the things I’ll miss about Morocco (like pomegranates), and to prepare for next year.  One thing I’ve been doing is studying Spanish at the local Instituto Cervantes.  I studied Spanish in school, but I want to be at a level where I’m comfortable having a conversation or giving information, as I think that will be really useful as a social worker in the U.S.  I’m also enjoying the opportunity to study another language now that I have more language learning tools under my belt.  Here are some things I’ve learned from studying French (more info on that process here) and from teaching English.
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I hope I am going in the right direction.

  • There is no reason to be embarrassed about making mistakes.  When I was learning French, I felt like it was like riding a roller coaster because I would get so emotional about successes and failures.  It might be easy to worry whether my fellow students like me or think I’m smart, but it is more important for me to practice speaking Spanish than to not say something stupid in front of a group of people I don’t know that well.
  • Motivation is perhaps the most important factor in language learning.  Learning a new language takes time, so it is crucial to be dedicated and to put in time studying, listening to music, reading, and reviewing.  Three hours a week of class isn’t enough for anyone to learn a language, so it is really up to the student to learn or not.
  • Personally, I study best alone.  I think everyone needs to find how they learn best, and I make the most progress reading and doing exercises by myself.  I love to read, so finding books I like makes a huge difference for me.
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I would like to study on this lovely rooftop in Rabat.

  • You don’t need to find a special method or spend a lot of money to learn a language.  I find that one of the best ways to practice is just to try to describe a situation in my head in Spanish while I’m walking to work.  For example, I’ll imagine that my teacher might ask me what I did last weekend, and I’ll go through my answer in my head.  Once I get a chance, I’ll look up whichever words I wanted to use but didn’t know.  This is a good way to expand useful vocabulary.
  • Finally, language learning is a lot of fun.  Once I got to the point in French where I was no longer translating in my head but instead was just coming up with what I wanted to say, it started to be so much fun to speak in French.  Once I realized that I could read novels or watch movies in French and enjoy them, a new world of culture, literature, film, and friendships opened up to me.  I can’t wait to have the same experience with Spanish!

Sisters in Marrakech

As you know if you have been following my blog, my big sister is the best.  Not just among all of my sisters, but probably among all sisters everywhere.  Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I got to spend a long weekend with my her in Marrakech.  Not only did we go swimming every day, do yoga on our balcony, and spend some quality sister time together, we also took hundreds of photos documenting our sisterhood.

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We’ve gotten better at matching over the years.

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My sister is now really good at yoga, so we were more creative with our sister photos this time than usual.

Not all photos were a success, but we came out with some great ones in the end!

My Best Sister now lives in the U.S., and is quite happy being there.  My husband and I are planning to move to Boston next fall, where I’ll do my masters.  Thanks to my sister we are excited about things like seeing my family regularly, living somewhere with more trees than cars, and eating yams and black beans.  And of course, having much more regular Best Sister time.