Hijrah Diaries: Coming Down the Mountain

HD
It has been two years since my family of eight moved from cosmopolitan Casablanca, Morocco, to a ram-packed earth house in a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains. Insha Allah, by the time you read this we will have traversed the two hour windy road down the mountain and then driven several more hours to our new seaside home and I will have already installed our dishwasher, stocked the fridge with our much-missed favourite condiments and have taken over an entire room in the house to serve solely as my office-studio. But right this very moment I am in that unique waffling space between annoyance at everything in my current environment and being excited at the possibilities with the move. In this spirit I thought it best to reflect on the best and the worst of my experiences way up here.

Things I will miss about living in a rural farming community in the mountains:

* The immense beauty
It is incredible here. When I think about how much time I spend indoors here and wonder what difference would it make where I live, all I have to do is tilt my head and take a peek out the window. Subhan Allah.

* The wildlife
My kids have learned plenty about the food production cycle by watching and helping our neighbours raise their own animals, but they have also had several memorable interactions with wild animals. We have provided hospice care for a falcon and a woodpecker, both were injured and died in our care, but still a good experience for us to appreciate Allah’s (SWT) creations. Ever held a falcon or a woodpecker in your hands? Incredible creatures. We have also had a baby squirrel pass through our home and we regularly have a variety of frogs and toads (I think those are toads!) living in our shower. My girls make a very distinct, playful kind of scream specific to when an amphibian jumps into their bath. “Froth!” Asiya exclaims.

There was the morning we had a visit from a frightening, but magnificent, spider as big as my hand with my fingers outspread. We have also encountered innumerable insects outside our home, including humming beetles, glowing grubs, enormous caterpillars and a moth so big that we argued whether or not she was a bird! Oh and storks. Storks are beautiful, though also a bit intimidating as far as birds go. And once Amine (10) and I spent several minutes chasing after someone who we couldn’t agree on whether they were a hummingbird or enormous moth (it was a moth).

* Fresh milk
We buy organic, raw milk from our neighbours and it is incomparable to the bottled stuff. As a bonus we have kept about a kazillion milk cartons out of landfills since we reuse containers to collect it.

* Less waste
Overall, we have kept a whole lot of waste out of landfills the last couple of years. Most of our foods come to us without any packaging. We also don’t have many opportunities for impulse shopping or partaking of any consumerism in general.

* Rocks
No but seriously, I am a jewellery maker and I love rocks. Gemstones – thousands of years of dirt/minerals pressed together to eventually become a beautiful thing – are awesome and the mountainside is covered in a gorgeous and exciting variety of rocks.

* Free range children
Currently I can holler out the front window of my home and my kids can hear me calling them from just about any point in the village. My husband isn’t thrilled with this practice, but I am happy that my children get plenty of exercise and outdoor playtime but are still within my vocal reach. I am sure that my children will not have as much freedom back in a city, but we will live very near the beach! Which brings us to my looking-forward-to-leaving-behind things.

Things I will not miss about living in a rural farming community in the mountains:

* Mice
I hate mice. They are adorable yet nasty little creatures. They leave their waste everywhere and eat everything. We have had several articles of clothes, important papers and toys ruined by nesting mice, though my new habit of screaming continuously while I chase them down and kill them is a very special entertainment for my kids.

* Lack of variety
There is a very, very small selection of foods available locally and being creative with them got tiresome real fast. I suppose this why my neighbors cook a steady stream of only tagine and couscous. Also the processed and junk foods that are available out here are very poor quality. I mean, I grew up believing Kool Aid is better to dye your hair and clothes with than to put it in your body, but the instant drink that is available out here has a warning on it that it is dangerous to be consumed young children and pregnant women. Yikes.

* Gender disparity
There’s a lot of it and it’s just not Islamic and it’s just not right. I look forward to being able to do many things in the city which I just cannot do out here, such as going shopping if I need to. Women do not generally do any of the shopping out here and it has been really frustrating to have to rely on my children to shop for me. They often have to make extra trips to return items that are not what I wanted or are poor quality. Of course it has been a good experience for my kids to learn how to shop, but then again they often have to make extra trips. There are plenty of examples of the disparities, but finally I really understand why illiteracy is so dangerous to women, if they cannot read then they have to rely on someone else’s interpretation of Islam and from what I have experienced out here those interpretations often do not support women’s Allah-given rights.

* There is no place to go
Often outings go hand in hand with spending money, which I don’t have much of and can be wasteful anyway, but, there is no place to go out here! Even going for walks gets bor-ing in a one road village. I look forward to meandering, window shopping, visiting bookstores and libraries and of course shopping, even if just for groceries. Oh, the joys of picking out my favourite foods!

* The rugged environment
It’s beautiful, but man does this the terrain eat up shoes and anything pneumatic, such as bicycle tires and soccer balls. I had wanted to take the kids on a bicycle tour of the valley, but we can’t seem to keep all of our tires unpopped at the same time. It’s also pretty brutal on our skin.

* Needing seasonal clothes
I grew up in a Fall/Spring kind of climate with the rare ‘sweater weather’ in between. I bought clothes for style much more than for function. I hate having to manage so many different articles and kinds of clothes for seven people, especially when there isn’t a boot sale for half a day’s ride away. Somehow last winter my four year old only had one sweater and winter was nearly over by the time we managed to figure that out and get her some more. Give me a consistently mild climate any day, please and thank you.

Really, I’m not too sad about coming down the mountain. I had expected this to be a temporary situation and I am feeling glad that we were able to stick it out for two years, which is one year longer than I expected. It is slightly harsher living, the climate itself isn’t too harsh but things such as access to medical help and other things we needed and wanted, heartier chores, occasional power outages and water shortages made it a less easy lifestyle for my family. There isn’t much to romanticise about mountain living as is standardly lived, but I do hope that what sticks with us is a deeper appreciation for Allah’s (SWT) provisions. It takes a long time and a lot of resources to grow one chicken, which my family can devour in less than ten minutes! Similarly, I hope we have better attitudes towards our trash, our personal items and especially our time. I am thankful that I don’t have to spend the majority of my time raising and preparing my daily sustenance, so the question now is what will I do with my time?

Brooke Benoit is contentedly a stranger, a dreamer and a tumbleweed.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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The Hijrah Diaries: Reflections on the Lands of Plenty

Fuzzy sunrise at the top by Eldest Child
Fuzzy sunrise at the top by Eldest Child

A forced lightening of our carbon footprints has been one of the benefits of relocating my family of eight to a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. My neighbours are nearly all self-sustaining farmers with limited supplemental incomes. What is available to buy and acquire locally for food, housewares, clothes and so on is hauled up here for people with very low incomes. My family’s daily food choices, which were hacked down considerably when we moved to Morocco from the US several years ago, have been further whittled down to about a dozen various seasonal vegetables to choose from, shelf-stable processed cheese, four kinds of dry bean, homemade breads, chicken or goat for meat and milk. Luxury items that are sometimes locally available include jam, spaghetti, rice, additive-laden yogurts, poor-quality cookies and chips – a meager selection of those processed foods city folks are commonly trying to avoid these days.

While food has been one of the biggest preoccupations of our adjustment to “simple living”, there are other challenges, such as not having electricity to run our space heaters on some of the coldest nights of the year. Since our water pump is electric we sometimes also run out of water. We can’t locally buy shoes that won’t be quickly ripped apart by the rocky hillsides – actually, most of the products available here are poor quality and need replacing sooner rather than later. I am familiar with the concept of ‘planned obsolescence‘ back home where electronics, fashions and other goods are designed specifically to need replacing well before they are worn out, but in Morocco I was surprised to find everyday goods made of such poor quality that they break very quickly, especially household items made of thin plastics.

When my mom came to visit Morocco for the first time last year I was eager to spend several days with her in Marrakech – land of supermarkets and malls – but I was also nervous about how material obsessed my whole family was with the pending visit to the city. We made lists of the foods we wanted to eat and all the things we needed or wanted to buy while in the city, including better quality homewares found in some supermarches. While I think it’s natural to want to do some shopping and have some fun, I was also worried that we would be making up for a year’s worth of waste reduction and light-living in just ten days.

The thing is our carbon footprint has been so greatly reduced by living, well, away from temptation and excess. If and when my family ever comes down the mountain for good, I don’t know how I am going to keep from sinking right back into gross over-consumption habits. Walking the walk is hard to do on streets overflowing with tempting offers. Not only do I enjoy eating out (something impossible to do here where there are no restaurants), but I am a working mum and some of those excessively packaged ‘convenience’ foods are a necessity. Here in the hills, with all the labour needed to process direct-from-the-ground foods, my family was struggling to get regular hot meals before we hired someone to cook for us. This solution may not be viable if we were living in a city though, where convenience foods have already exploited low paid labour and are more convenient than paying a fair wage to a cook.

I expected to learn plenty of things about life anew when we moved to a village in the countryside, but I fear that many of these lessons will not stick with me once I come down the mountain for good. Wastefulness is truly a middle and upper-class problem. We are the ones who gobble up the supplies, even when there is no true demand.

Reflections on our lighter living
Utilities
You have never seen a city girl conserve electricity until she has only a few kilowatts left on her prepay electricity card that could not be refilled until the next day or so. When our electricity has nearly run out, the entire family – even the children – unplug appliances, hang out in one lit room together, turn down the fridge and do anything we can to make that precious electricity last just a little bit longer. Once that card is refilled, forget about it. It’s back to everyone doing their tasks alone under one burning light bulb each, PS3 games ‘saved’ indefinitely with the screen and game box on, heaters more readily turned on and so on.

I wish I could say that my family is more conservative with water, that, like the Prophet (SAW) we each only use a mudd of it to make wudhu, but we are not. It seems that as long as these things are within easy reach, our nature is to thoughtlessly grab at them. I am sure that my neighbours who still haul their water from wells and streams use far less water than my supposedly khalifa-conscious family.

While my husband uses public transport to come in and out of the valley every couple of weeks, this is still far less diesel use than when I had a car and used to think nothing of getting into it to pop across town for one specific item or a particular kind of eatery I was craving. Casablanca was the first city I have lived in for a long time and not owned a car. It was inconvenient to not be able to drag all the kids along to whatever outings I needed or wanted to do, but again my carbon footprint was forced to be lighter than the one I may have stepped if I had owned a car. My family talks about buying a car (or two) if we go back to suburbia and I can only hope I would be more frugal with my use of it.

Our trash pre-burning, post-treasure hunting
Our trash pre-burning, post-treasure hunting

Post-consumer waste
In my Hijrah Diary series for SISTERS Magazine I wrote a bit about the horrors of dealing with my family’s trash out here on the mountain. Not only is it an icky and toxic mess to drag the rubbish a distance from the house and burn it, but it is also extremely embarrassing how much trash my family produces compared to my neighbours. We are still using far more convenience foods than most semi-sustainable farmers and our bin reflects this with its packaging from milk containers, grains, margarine and yogurt tubs, treat wrappers and so on. Of course, much of this has to do with the fact that we are not farmers and don’t get our foods directly from the source, but that has been the big part of my awakening out here – recognising how far removed I am from natural cycles.

An awesome book, really.

Human waste
This here is going to be some real talk. Our own human waste has been considered extensively since we moved into this ram-packed earth house with its ‘squat toilet.’ Not only did some family members have to learn how to use this style of toilet, but as a curious homeschooling family ought we also gave much thought and some research to where this waste was going when our landlord expressed concerns about us overfilling ‘the pit’ with our more-excessive-than-any-neighbours’ water usage. We learned about how some folks both here and all around the world don’t have indoor plumbing and use traditional farming technique of recycling their own human waste right along with that of their cows and other livestock. In short, I have learned that disposing of human waste via water is an environmentally messy business and that once again convenience and the ability to afford such luxury as flushing away our waste is something the ‘haves’ are doing that is ruining things for everyone. As disturbing as it may be to any porcelain-toilet owners’ sensibilities, pooping among the cows is actually a much better way to do it. And if one doesn’t own cows, they could use a compost toilet like the sister on page 52 does. I don’t yet, but I have aspirations…
While I worry about many of my bad anti-eco habits resurfacing once I return to the lands of plenty, one thing I am optimistic about is creating a grey water system for my family, even if just continuing to collect dish water runoff and hopefully setting up at least one compost toilet in our home. It’s a privilege and luxury to have so many choices and I pray that if my choices broaden again I will have the strength to be able to choose in a more deen-conscious way, insha Allah.

Brooke Benoit is the World editor for SISTERS Magazine and a self-proclaimed eco-jihadi, among her other various hobbies.
This article appears in the May 2014 ‘Green’ issue of SISTERS magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women.

Link Self-Love: It Happened to Me at xoJane

IHTM xojane

For my three readers who don’t use Facebook- here is a link to a little something I recently wrote- ‘It Happened to Me: I moved out of the country with my five kids and didn’t tell my mom‘. There are a few too many comments to wade through on the original post, so if you would like to chat me up about anything other than Christmas trees, please comment here- k?

Before the mind and body-wracking trip of 24 continuous hours of flying with five children (including a two-month old), I spent months accumulating passports and various needed official documents for seven people; researching vaccinations and how to combat traveler’s tummy; browsing rental apartments online with the aid and frustration of using Google translate; trying to figure out what to do with my mail and how I would get a new driver’s license without a physical address in the US; sorting, packing and weighing clothes and other essential items aiming for exactly 840 pounds total; and even writing a 10,000 word feasibility report for university credits on moving my family of seven to Morocco.

While tending to this endless to-do list, I decided not to tell my mom that I, her only child, and her five grandchildren were splitting town and moving overseas, for good.
It’s not like she didn’t know that I would ex-pat at some point. Before marrying my Moroccan husband, I had agreed that it would be “cool” for my someday kids to be “exposed first hand” to half their heritage and “live for a while in Morocco,” which I had only recently looked up on a map. With two kids in tow, the husband and I finally visited his birth country and I realized that I would love to live there long term and returned home to prepare to do so….”
The rest of the article is available here.

 

 

Link (self)Love: OnIslam Coming Home with the Cows

Being one of those Muslims who spent a lot of time using the resources available online while coming into my deen (and I still do of course!), it is especially exciting for me to have written an article on parenting, nature and green stuffs for the site OnIslam.

“Allah also gave me an opportunity to get away from it all. I don’t mean the five-star sort of getting away; rather it was a chance to try this simple living thing that so many people pine for, though I had never.”

Recently I read an interview with Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, the author of ‘Green Deen,’ in which he laments about how and why so many Muslims are out of touch with the nature and therefore, apathetic to environmental issues.

Seated 1200 feet above sea level in my mud house located in a mostly self-sustaining farming community in the High Atlas Mountains, I was geographically so far away from Abdul-Matin in Brooklyn and living a much different lifestyle, still I embarrassedly felt that he spoke exactly about me.

Before moving to Morocco, I assumed that I would relocate there, creating my long dreamed of suburban family home, but with Arabic (or French) subtitles. I don’t knock myself (or anyone else) for having such dreams.

I wanted a big chunk of Allah’s glorious bounty: my own semi-private yard, a comfortable car and enticingly displayed foods for sale within a short driving distance.

Please keep reading here.

I Go To School… At Home

Asalam alaikum, my name is Zakariya and I am eleven years old. I have always been homeschooled, so I really don’t know what a typical day at school is like, but I do have an idea of what an ideal homeschooling day would be …
My perfect day would start with a big breakfast, including waffles and hot chocolate, but usually I just make myself a sandwich with honey and homemade peanut-butter. I really like to have extra sweet coffee or black tea, but my mom usually only lets me have chamomile or green tea. We don’t live near a bakery, so my mom pays my brother and I to make our own bread, which is pretty awesome because I get money and homemade bread is delicious.

Zak
On a perfect day I could jump into my favourite projects right after breakfast, but actually I have some chores to do. My brothers and I take turns washing dishes; we also feed our food scraps to our neighbour’s cows, chickens and cats. Sometimes I have to clean the hammam (bathroom) or wash my clothes, which we don’t have a machine for. In an ideal world, we would have a washing machine and I would never even have to use it!
After chores we have ‘project time.’ Right now my main project is learning about architecture and doing architectural drawings. I draw with pencils and the computer. I’ve used some architecture software and am hoping to get some better illustrating software soon.
I tried making three dimensional building models with balsa wood, but found out that I really like making toy guns instead. I also draw a lot of comics and have been thinking about writing a whole story about what World War III might be like.
Lunchtime always sneaks up on me while I am working on a project. On an ideal day, we would have Chinese take-out or pizzas with fountain sodas delivered, but actually, just like with chores, my brothers and I take turns helping to make lunch, which is usually our biggest meal of the day. My mom says that I am really “detail oriented” so she usually has me cut vegetables into small pieces for fresh salads or sautéing.
After lunch my parents like to have “quiet time,” which for them and my little sisters usually means taking a nap. My brothers and I like to use the computer during this time, either to watch a movie or play video games.
The athan for Asr lets us know that quiet time is over, and, after we pray, we can play outside until Mahgrib if we don’t have any chores to do. I usually use this time without my brothers and sisters around to do my own work on the computer, like right now I like to take a lot of math tests online or make stop animation movies with Lego or paper cutouts.
Usually right after Mahgrib we eat a simple dinner of leftovers or other simple food and then begin getting ready for bed. Most nights we have ‘story time’ and my mom reads either a storybook for my sisters or a chapter from one of the books we have on our Kindle. We don’t live near a library, so most of our reading is done on the e-reader, and after story time my older brother and I take turns reading on it. Right now we are reading through all of Rick Riordan’s books. If it’s not my night to use the Kindle, I usually draw for a little while before I go to sleep. Occasionally I actually stay up longer than my parents and having the whole house to myself is really perfect – the best way to end the day!

~~~

Originally published in Discover- The Magazine for curious Muslim Kids, Issue #3

Hijrah Diaries: Into the High Atlas Mountains

Mountains in the distance with a sprinkling of trees and shrubbery in front in a valley, from SISTERS Magazine’s November ’12 issue.

Day 2: While I was in a fairly frantic speed-settling mode, first thing this morning The Kids (#1- #5) burst out of the house with their homemade arsenal of wooden weaponry and introduced themselves to the neighbourhood. Though I was happy to get them out of my way, I really didn’t feel this was the most effective approach to meeting the neighbours, you know, sharing cookies maybe… but it actually went really well, which just reinforces how little I understand the male species. They were happy, their new friends were happy; the injuries were few and superficial, and still, I got next to nothing done. Perhaps this is because I have a continually nursing one month old and unrealistic expectations.

A small circle of men had gathered round and were discussing a pressing problem in the village – our children.

This is one of the many things I am hoping our move up here into the mountains will do for me. I am hoping that I will learn to let go, to “hand it over to Allah (SWT)” as they say. Though I certainly don’t consider myself a “control freak,” I am open to the possibility that I could be wrong. I know that I do too much, but I don’t know what else to do – or not do! The problem can’t be prioritising as there is nothing on my list that I can give up: I cannot give up nursing Asiya – it is her right and was extended to all of her siblings, so that would just be too wrong for me to do. I do truly feel that nursing her is a blessing and our relationship is symbiotic. I don’t interrupt her feedings for anything, and I also don’t walk around while feeding her (I am lacking in grace and coordination) so at least breastfeeding forces me to SIT. I also cannot give up on working, and even though I sometimes fantasise about giving up homeschooling, the kids won’t let me at this point, as they say “We won’t get on the yellow bus!” Obviously I cannot give up the bare essentials: praying – I already don’t feel that I do enough acts of ‘ibadah and should be adding in this area; eating – I am perfectly content to eat simple foods, but the family has been really spoiled by my SIL and trying to one-up each other in the kitchen the last couple of years. I’m sure eating gruel three times a day isn’t going to be an easy adjustment for the husband and kids to make (though I will serve it up); and sleeping – even though for decades I have tried to reduce my sleep time, Alhamdulillah my body won’t deny me that right. And there is so much more I want to do, like hiking in these beautiful mountains, and everyone else manages somehow. So ultimately I lean towards thinking that my problem is about time management, though I have an inkling that it is worse than that – it’s a problem with my belief. I believe that I can do it all and just haven’t found a way yet, but I may be wrong there. Allah (SWT) may just show me what I have to let go of – I hope!

Day 7: Zaynab, the nearly six years old, has quickly assimilated the local schedule. She knows exactly when the bread starts to be baked in the outdoor ovens and makes the rounds looking for scraps. “Please don’t let your children go around begging for food,” the Husband whined. Of course I assumed the ladies just gave it to her because she’s so cute, masha Allah, but upon questioning it turns out she demands it. In her limited Tshilhit, Zaynab goes around saying “Give me bread.” Lovely, she’s not a beggar, she’s a forty pound bully. And today I saw her coaching the three year old on how it’s done.
Day 9: Husband went back to Casablanca after Fajr this morning and I just want to bawl about it, but I am really too tired and dehydrated to shed a tear. There is just so, so much not the way I want it. I have no idea how to refill the prepaid electricity card and no idea how long it will last, and neither does the landlord or anyone else because who knows how excessive we Americans will be in our use? And I don’t even know where he lives or how to use the phone to call him or anyone else! I forgot to ask husband to explain how this phone works as it has a passcode and uff!

My biggest concern is the kids. Salams, my name Brooke is and I am a permissive parent. And if I don’t get a hold on things fast we are all going to really suffer. They are completely out of the habit of doing any chores as the extended family did everything for them. And even though I insisted to the husband that “I can do this with or without you,” since he needs to take care of things in the city too, truth is, it’s less than ideal to be out here all alone (but I know that I am not alone, I just have to remember that). Many of the women around me have husbands and other relatives who emigrate to Morocco’s cities and beyond for work, but they also have extended family to help with everything from chores to dealing with the kids, and I just moved away from that help. I am having plenty of doubts, but then I just look around me at the incredible beauty of this valley and the amazing opportunities to learn hands-on so much about nature and life… I’m continuing to make a lot of du’a and begging for guidance.

Day 15: I am exhausted. Snoring and drooling into my pillow exhausted. The domestic workload around here is just too much. I said I could do it without a fridge and a washing machine, as it was too much of commitment to drag them up here in case we didn’t like it and did only stay a month, and I am doing it – but exhaustedly. Yesterday, I finally “let something go” and got out of the house for the first time in nearly a week! I went for a walk in the orchards and fields with my friend who lives in the valley and came into the village for Jumu’ah. She was shocked to hear that I am handwashing nappies – every other day! But how could I not?! How could I distribute my toxic disposable nappies into these (nearly) pristine hills? And just as I was asking her that, we serendipitously passed by a plastic nappy caught up in a blackberry bush. And then we came upon a few more along with other non-biodegradable debris caught in the branches above the river. These signs did not encourage me to quit, but less than 12 hours after my friend insisted that “all the locals use disposables” (as evidenced by them hanging about!) I sent one of the kids to the hanoot to get me some. I am weak. And tired. And plotting how to get a washing machine, insha Allah.

Day 19: Husband is back less than a day and walked into one of his worst possible nightmares this afternoon. Turning to leave the mosque after Dhuhr prayer, a man pointed at him and called out “There’s the father!” A small circle of men had gathered round and were discussing a pressing problem in the village – our children. Seems they had a blast in the communal irrigation canal – the Splash Mountain meets Children’s Museum Water Table kind of fun. They ran through it and filled it with rocks and opened all the gates to let the water rush out into the fields. Yeah. It never occurred to anyone of them this may be bad, even when they vaguely understood the village children’s admonitions that “the water is bad for the plants.” How could water be bad for plants my smart children insisted? I have read that home-schooled children can occasionally be a little too self-confident.

The community was very understanding, and explained to my husband that the kids were welcome to play in the water as the other children do, just not to interrupt the flow in any way, such as blocking it with small boulders or bodies and not to open the gates. What a great teachable moment about the sunnah of shura, the history of aquaducts, the importance of being humble – after my husband recovered from his mortification, of course.

Day 21: Camp is over! The Husband has installed a gas water heater and has therefore redeemed himself of every wrong he has even considered committing towards me. Even though it vacillated between scalding and freezing, it was still the best shower I have ever taken. I had to seriously resist making cooing Mr. Bean like noises while I was in there. Instant hot water is such a luxurious blessing, Alhamdulillah.

Living in the High Atlas mountains with her husband and six home-educated children, Brooke Benoit is (mostly) savouring living in a community where hands-on and doing from scratch are the norm.

This article originally appeared in the November ’12 issue of SISTERS Magazine- the magazine for fabulous Muslim Women.

Hijrah Diaries Update – Into The High Atlas

Brooke Benoit returns to her long running series about gracelessly adjusting to living in Morocco- this time in the bled.

Many people (read my mom and two of my dearest friends) have asked me to update my series about moving with my husband and five children (now six) from Alaska, USA to Casablanca, Morocco.  I’ve been uneager to write since the time in Casablanca was full of hardship for my family as we experienced many of the discomforts familiar to muhajiroon: unfulfilled expectations, too-close quarters, financial strains, new cultural clashes between spouses, culture clashes between three generations of family, and just a whole lot of general discomfort. Let’s not dwell, again, on the heat, the pollution, the unIslamic behaviour, and the bedbugs! But finally I have good news, some relief and a little inspiration to share: we have given up big city living and have moved to a rural village in the High Atlas mountains.

Nearly 2 years in: We are fast coming up to our two year anniversary here in Casablanca and facing my incessant demand of “What next?” I begrudgingly agreed to live in an apartment with too many people that is much-too-small-for-mosts’ comfort for two years – a seemingly infinite amount of time – and though it has crept by quickly enough, I am still very, very ready to move on and out. These last few months, I have really felt the strain of nearly every movement I make being restricted by my worrying about how will it affect someone else. I mean every movement. And while I am uber eager to know what the next move is for us, the husband doesn’t have any idea or tangible options, so I am scurrying around looking for possibilities of what to do with ourselves. I am willing to move either the entire family or just the portion I birthed, but we must move some bodies very, very soon!

A friend of mine has been suggesting for a few years that I go live near her, out in the deep, deep bled (countryside) which she loves so much. While I have been skeptical about what I would do there and how I would manage such a different lifestyle, the idea has really grown on me. Access to nature has been so depressingly lacking in our home-educating experience here in Casablanca and this would surely be remedied by living in a mudhouse in the mountains. Or maybe it’s the only option I can really see happening at this time. Either way, I am pestering the husband to “go get a place there” and not thinking too much about the harrowing logistics of dragging my kids and furnishings up a narrow, windy road into the Atlases. And while I am excruciatingly nervous about actually doing this move, recently I remembered how, when I was a teen, I would frequently drive up the coast of northern California with my mother or friends and dreamed of someday living in a small, rural, artsy community in the woods. Was that dream so far off from what I am anticipating now? Several people have told me that they “would love to do that!” But what is that? Some people want to do the whole live-off-the-earth/back-to-the-land thing, while others want to stockpile for a vacation or a retirement in the relaxing countryside. I can’t and don’t want to do either. While my husband often says that his “hands are tied,” I feel that my hands have been turned.

Access to nature has been so depressingly lacking in our home-educating experience here in Casablanca and this would surely be remedied by living in a mudhouse in the mountains.

~~~

Day 1: I cannot believe the van the husband rented to get us here. It’s rented with a driver- actually three drivers which is problematic considering our family alone is over maximum capacity, plus we have a few tons of stuff and the van is miniscule! The whole while the kids were dragging their stuff downstairs to be loaded into the van, Husband kept saying “Is there more?! Is there more?! It won’t all fit!” Yeah, it didn’t. Ok, I fully admit that while he has agreed to one month with the possibility of two or three more, I have packed for one year, but still. He knew the size of the vehicle he was renting and he knew I was adamant about getting all of the bikes in good working order before we left, so why didn’t he understand that they were supposed to go with us? Alhumdulillah, the bikes, the dozen baby chicks eldest son just bought specifically to take with us and the children’s playstands were the only things left behind. Oh, and of course the box with my books didn’t make it and we brought the power cord but not my laptop! We did bring the other laptop though, so alhumdulillah. Somehow Husband managed to bump off one of the drivers too, so just the two drivers traded off during the several hour drive which we did overnight and I got a little extra leg room while husband squeezed himself up front.

Apparently, these journeys regularly happen by leaving Casablanca at one in the morning to avoid the baking midday heat in the mountains. Sure we missed the scenic drive, but I am so thankful to do it this way as otherwise I would have been horribly carsick and almost completely useless to care for the kids other than being handed the baby to breastfeed. I took motion sickness pills – both over the counter and homeopathic – and slept through most of it along with everyone else, except the incredibly chatty drivers. At about seven in the morning we arrived in the little town that was three-hours from our destination and had a quick breakfast and bathroom breaks before the hardest leg of the journey- the slim (but paved) roads that wind through the Atlas valley, the loveliest bit of the ride I’m sure, but I took more drugs and passed out again. The half hour or so that I was awake to nurse the baby was a sickening enough blur of cameo colours outside the thankfully curtained windows to make me not want to do the drive again for at least a year. We stopped at a little trickle of a waterfall, but I didn’t trust my legs enough to stand and see it. Instead I sat at the side opening of the van staring off to the other side of the valley at a simple lone house nearly blending into the dirt from which it was made. I thought to myself, ‘Why do they chose to live this way?’ then had the sudden realisation: ‘Oh God, why did I choose this?!’

A half dozen ridiculously friendly kids of varying ages met us upon our arrival in the village and helped dragged our dozens and dozens of pieces of luggage and odds and ends into our truly lovely mud and thatched-roof rental house. I was absolutely paranoid about leaving anything of need or value tucked somewhere into a fold or crook of the van, but was too dizzy to do much more than make a silent du’a and bark something incoherent to the husband. Feeling like a stinky disheveled mess, I just wanted to scurry into the nearest room to hide from any and all potential helpers or visitors, but none of the rooms had doors! None of them. Not even the bathroom or the shower. And the bathroom is… a traditional… very common around the world… even luxurious to many people… hole in the ground. With a little porcelain foot base thingy, of course, but not what we (me and the kids) had hoped for. ‘Hope’ being all we could cling to since Husband would not answer any questions about the bathroom, which he had seen when he procured the place a week ago and now we know why he had kept mum. But really- no door?!?! When the homeowner said it was “unfinished”… no bathroom door?!?! And when he said he would finish it before we got there, he didn’t mean to install a bathroom door?!?! And then I remembered that we forgot the water heater, also not provided with the rental…

~~~

Living in the High Atlas mountains with her husband and six home-educated children, Brooke Benoit is (mostly) savouring living in a community where hands-on and doing from scratch are the norm.

  This article originally appeared in the October 2012 of SISTERS Magazine.

A DIY Birth Kit and Plan

Two weeks ago I gave birth to my 6th child by way of what is commonly called an unassisted childbirth (uc), though my husband- and only my husband- actually gave me a good amount of assistance, so I don’t like to call it a uc. This was our fourth homebirth and I have never (publically) written much about my homebirthing experiences, but this time I am feeling a pressing need too (yes, birth puns!) yet not sure where to even begin. So, figured I would post my birth kit and “plans” for now as I really appreciated other people doing so while I was in my planning stage.

Birth Kit

On Hand:

Hot water bottle

Suction bulb

Embroidery thread

Warm socks

Lavender

Need to buy:

Blood test (need proof of type)

Rent Car

Birthing Stool (Carpenter)

Paper Towels

Baby wipes

Sheets 2

Chux/Disposable sheets (Pharmacy)

BIG sanitary pads (Pharmacy/Carrefour)

Betadine (Pharmacy)

Rubbing Alcohol (Pharmacy)

Ice Pack (Pharmacy)

Phone Number for Clinique Urgencies

Ibuprofen (Pharmacy)

Stainless Steel Scissors (Kasseria)

Bucket EXACTLY like white bucket we wash dishes in (Derb Ghalef)

Homeopathic remedies (Maarif)

  • Arnica
  • Nux Vomica
  • Chamomilla
  • Hamamelis Virginica
  • Lanolin

Case of Juice (I choose flavours)

Chamomile Tea

Flex straws (Carrefour)

Wash cloths (Maarif/Kasseria)

Baby Supplies:

Something to put Asiya’s clothes and diapers in

Bassinet (Maarif/Derb Omar)

Cloth diapers (Kasseria/Maarif)

Nursing Bras (Maarif)

Swaddle Blankets (Kasseria/Maarif)

 

 

To Do At Birth:

 

Steep Tea in 3-4 litres of water

Sterilize Scissors

Put chux/disposable big pads on bed

Have cool juice/water for Brooke

Clean Bath Tub

Have trash set-up in bed room (put bag in dirty laundry hamper)

Put birth stool next to bed

Keep people out of bedroom and bathroom

Now for a rundown of what I did and didn’t use:

Hot water bottle- Didn’t use. Previously I have used one on my abdomen, even tucked one in my pants when we went to the hospital with my first labor, and do recommend doing so. This baby was born during an unusual heatwave, so I skipped the hot water bottle.

Suction bulb- Used. Dad loves to suction his babies’ boogers, so it was an extra special treat for him to suction Asiya Eve’s mouth.

Embroidery thread- Didn’t use. Birthing her in Morocco I had less shopping choices for my birth kit than when I have birthed at home in the states. Unable to find umbilical cord clips I was going to use DIY birthers’ suggestion of embroidery thread, but then a friend kindly sent along two clips and that was definitely much easier to work with and appreciated!

Warm socks 2 pairs- Didn’t use. I think I have always worn them before, as some birthers get the chills, especially after labor- but again, heatwave.

Lavender- Used. Fresh from the countryside, I steeped it with the chamomile right after my water broke/leaked heavily- about 14 total brew time and then poured into a bath and I soaked in it for a bit.

Need to buy:

Blood test (need proof of type)- Didn’t get or need.  Was told that the hospitals would require this, so best to have a card like Moroccans generally do otherwise it could hold up an emergency. We just figured if it was that much of an emergency they ought to trust that the husband and I know that we have the same type.

Rent Car- Didn’t do or need. I didn’t want to have to walk the block to the ER if we truly needed to, but they have ambulances so we didn’t bother- and a good thing because she came several days later than the ultrasound guessed.

Birthing Stool (Carpenter)- Used. An excellent investment and a family heirloom! We had the stool made locally and I used it for one good push with the baby and a sort of push/wishful thinking with the placenta.

Paper Towels- Used. Mmm, I’m not really sure if the husband used these, but it seems he must have.

Baby wipes- Didn’t use.  Got these for me, but didn’t need them.

Sheets 2- Used. Right after I took my bath I puked all over myself and my clean sheet- happy to have extras!

Chux/Disposable sheets (Pharmacy)- Used. Put under the birth stool and on my bed.

BIG sanitary pads (Pharmacy/Carrefour)- Used, of course.

Betadine (Pharmacy)- Used. Midwives usually ask me to put a little in a peri-bottle along with water and clean/rinse with it after ever pee once the water has broken, but I just made plain water istinja this time. Also, for the umbilical cord stump I like to use a little Golden Seal and then just clean water, but it made my hub and in-laws feel better to use Betadine, so I did this one time.

Rubbing Alcohol (Pharmacy)- Used to clean the scissors.

Ice Pack (Pharmacy)- Didn’t use. Previously I have used an ice pack after my homebirths, but recently read an article about how this may not be best for the body so I was considering not using it. My perineum really felt good after this birth, and I felt no desire to sit on ice.

Phone Number for Clinique Urgencies- Got, but didn’t use. AlhumdiAllah

Ibuprofen (Pharmacy)- Used. Uff. Didn’t realize the strength was considerably stronger than in the states and took three on an empty stomach, which may have contributed to my subsequent puking.

Anti-nausea suppositories (Pharmacy)- Used. I have vomited during all my labors and it is horrible. In the states all I could get over the counter was homeopathic nux vomica, here I got suppositories and started using them when my contraction started picking up- no puking! At least not during labor.

Stainless Steel Scissors (Kasseria)- Used. Cut the cord with them and then gave them away, thank you- don’t need to resee that every time I use them.

Bucket EXACTLY like white bucket we wash dishes in (Derb Ghalef)- Used. Husband got one bigger and it didn’t fit under the stool, so he went back for a second, which fit perfectly and almost filled to the brim with birth-stuffs, like the placenta.

Homeopathic remedies (Maarif)

  • Arnica- Used.
  • Nux Vomica- Used.  Very worried about nausea, sucked on these too.
  • Chamomilla- Didn’t use.
  • Hamamelis Virginica- Used. Before and after for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
  • Lanolin- Didn’t use, yet. For wool diaper covers.

Case of Juice (I choose flavours)- Drank it all and still am. I really like to have a lot of juice on hand to drink straight or diluted while building up my milk supply.

Chamomile Tea- Used. Steeped with the lavender right after my waters broke/leaked- about 14 total brew time and then poured into a bath and I soaked in it for a bit.

Flex straws (Carrefour)- Used.  And then hid away the rest for special occasions and sick days.

Wash cloths (Maarif/Kasseria)- Used. Got them primarily for my perineum, but didn’t have a chance/need to use them. Wiped baby off a little with a couple.

Baby Supplies:

Something to put Asiya’s clothes and diapers in- Got her some drawers.

Bassinet (Maarif/Derb Omar)- Still waiting on this one…

Cloth diapers (Kasseria/Maarif)- Found some locally, though only medium wraps which she is leaking out of…but I also found my stash of small prefolds, so need to do something about those wraps…

Nursing Bras (Maarif)- Found to different styles locally and an old but not too worn one.

Swaddle Blankets (Kasseria/Maarif)- Very happy to find a couple of cotton ones, though it’s too hot to swaddle her.

To Do At Birth:

Steep Tea in 3-4 litres of water- Did that right away when my waters broke/leaked.

Sterilize Scissors- Hubby and sister-in-law did this just before they cut the cord.

Put chux/disposable big pads on bed- I did that and put some under the stool.

Have cool juice/water for Brooke- Put some in the fridge and freezer when my waters broke.

Clean Bath Tub- Sister-in-law did this. I recommend a sitz bath after labor- very nice and comforting.

Have trash set-up in bed room (put bag in dirty laundry hamper)- Didn’t happen, husband managed clean-up just fine while I sound asleep.

Put birth stool next to bed- Did that first thing after brewing tea.

Keep people out of bedroom and bathroom- They (the kids) mostly stayed out and just before we were really ready for her to come on out I asked the kids to stay out of the room and “off my door” and they did!

I’m still ruminating on what I want to say about the birth, but in the meantime- it went really well- alhumdiAllah!

Casual Container Gardening – Unschooling

I’ve been meaning to start-up some container gardening for, uh, a couple of springs now, but haven’t been able to get sprouting. At the beginning of this year Jamila of Successful Muslim Homeschooling issued a Gardening Challenge and oh how I love a challenge, so here we go!

One of the many things I have learned about myself since moving overseas is that I tend to get very and unnecessarily caught up in details. Though haste can make waste, over-thinking and especially thinking I need specific tools/items to do projects also makes a waste of both time and money. Let’s not talk about the stuffed cupboards and baskets I have of craft supplies waiting to be used. I did need containers to start my garden on my balcony as we already reuse and recycle the few things that could have been used and I easily enough found containers which fit perfectly on our balcony ledge, but previously I have always gardened using little starts from the nursery or sometimes seeds. Here in Morocco I began a futile and time-wasting search for vegetable and herb seeds while I scrapped seeds from my souk-bought produce into my compost bin. Yeah, I know, a bit dense sometimes.

Clockwise from top left: Pumpkins 1, Red Bell Peppers, Pumpkins 2, Avocado

My rigidity didn’t wane too quickly though, the kids and I began googling which seeds needed to be dried and which could be used immediately and then finally I had my khalas moment! We began just soaking any and every seed we came across, including a few bean varieties from the pantry. In the photo above the 1st pumpkin seeds had already sprouted inside the pumpkin- easy enough! The red bell pepper seeds never started, think those probably need to dry out as I discovered my mother-in-law does to them. The 2nd pumpkin seeds are my favorite (sweeter) local variety. And the avocado, well, I did read up on how you are supposed to do that stabbing-submerging thing, but didn’t have a sunny windowsill to put it on, so maybe that’s why it never started. Going to try that one again now that it is warmer.

Currently we have on our balcony sweet peas, lentils, chickpeas, navy beans, and two variety of pumpkins. We also threw in some strawberry seeds found in the bottom of our smoothie cups, but got no sproutage from those either. The thirteen year old researched which local bean varieties produced the prettiest flowers, but in the end that which sprouted got planted and that which didn’t- didn’t.

We actually have about eight pumpkin plants growing in just three containers and I am dreading doing any transplanting- worried about killing them! But plan to ‘just do it’ sometime this week, insha Allah, and will try to get some new pictures up as per instructed by The Challenge, which you can follow on facebook: Successful Muslim Homeschool.

Unschooling Muslim-style Among The Stacks

Sitting in the library yesterday I looked up to see my ten year old praying in a corner next to the circulation desk. The library is basically one long rectangle with the big circulation desk at one end, an L-shaped table covered in computers at the other end, rows of long tables with chairs in between, and full bookshelves all along the wall. There is a very small room annexed off this main room which houses reference books and new arrivals, and a lovely garden with cushioned seating off the main room. Little offices and other rooms are tucked away out of sight, but obviously they are there as the building is two-stories plus a basement.

I snickered a bit when I saw him praying there in the corner as he is who we, the family, call “The Oblivious Child.” Now, my little blog entry here could easily be spun into some pro-hijrah propaganda, but truth is- I’ve never seen anyone else pray in this small library in a huge city in a Muslim-majority country. I know there are other Muslims praying in there, there is always a little congestion around the one bathroom during prayer times and the tile floor often reveals the tell-tale puddle of the aftermath of several wudu-makings. When I pray at this library, I borrow a prayer rug from the security guards or the librarian and take myself out to a side of the garden where I am less likely to be distracted by hushed (and not so hushed) conversations and the sensing of people coming and going behind my prostrating-self. My thirteen year old follows my lead and heads over to the same corner when I hand him off the rug. But my ten year old is the only person I have ever seen openly, unabashedly praying in front of dozens of people in the library.

Of course I’m happy for him that he isn’t shy about who he is and what he needs to do, as he shouldn’t be—neither here nor back in the US. But the thing is- I can’t include this as one of the “Blessings of Living in A Muslim Country,” because, like I said, I’m not seeing this as normal behaviour ‘round here. His lack of conforming to social norms has much more to do with him being home-educated than with him being a Muslim, living in a Muslim majority country. I’m pretty sure he would have done the same thing back home in a US library, even though I know few people who do such things. Myself and friends have “hidden” ourselves away praying in the “stacks” at the university library and one student librarian told me about a woman actually be harassed by a lead librarian while the woman was praying in the ‘berry.  Normally when I pray in public places, I try to tuck myself away a bit, mostly due to not liking “to be butt-up in the air” in public, but really I seldom saw anyone praying in public back home and not so much here either. Though theoretically it should be perfectly acceptable for us to pray in the Land of The Free and in the Land of The Muslims, that’s just not the reality for all, everywhere.

As we continue on this home-educating journey, one of the many things I try to objectively-as-possible observe is this interesting thing of when and where my kids conform and don’t conform. I fully admit to having to actively resist forcing trivial norms on them, like telling them to change their clothes or change their childlike legit, yet socially-unacceptable behaviors. I pray they are given the strength and wisdom to remain steadfast to the right things.