Link Love – Itto’s ecole vivante Annual Report

I like our school: there are books, toys and food, and we make
funny things and the teachers are always nice with us.
(Saïda, 7 years)

Lot’s of great news and happenings out of the little valley– they are up to 24 students and received enough help to build their fabulous compost toilets! They have also begun extended education courses for other folks in the area.

Direct from Itto’s Journal:

Salaam aleikoum dear friends and readers,

Over one year passed since the opening of our primary school “école vivante” in September 2010, mashaallah – A lot happened over this year: a lot of work and personal growth, a lot of joy and blessed moments, subhanallah. I would have never been able to imagine how this whole project enriched and in which ways it changed our lives, Allahu akbar. God is the Best of planners and I am deeply grateful and happy to give you some actual updates:

As you might remember, last spring I travelled, together with our daughter and our class teacher, to Switzerland to an advanced training in our partner-school – and as every time, also this meeting was a most helpful and enriching time and the intercultural exchange took again place both ways, alhamdulillah.

In early summer’11 motivated friends from Germanycreated a circle of friends called „Ait Bouguemz e.V.”, that is a registered non profit association with the aim to support our project, inchaallah.

Soon after, we went online with our own multilingual homepage (I still have to translate some parts into English and French, but alhamdulillah, it is already very detailed in German).

In July’11 already the summer holidays began. Our 16 pupils reached the expected aims and a beautiful celebration with all the children, families and friends marked the end of a successful first year and the school got, both locally and internationally, positive feedback and encouraging approval, Alhamdulillah!

Due to generous donations we were able to add new furniture and a classroom and to become larger after Ramadan – more than half of our own house is now for the school.

The team was extended by a new teacher and after the busy time of the new enrolling we have now, since September, 24 pupils, mashaallah.

During the whole last year a continual supportive exchange took place with our Swiss partners and in October two of their lovely teachers came to visit to further develop our trend-setting pedagogy together with the local team. These times are always very inspirational and an important part of this interreligious and intercultural project.

Since November a French language course for the young women of the valley takes place outside the main school hours and other public activities are in planning. We have lots of demands and many new ideas and it is such a blessing to feel accepted by the public, alhamdulillah.

Further donations allowed us recently to finally finish the pupil toilets in the backyard of the school. As you already know, they are so-called compost or humanure toilets and now our school also sets ecologically seen innovative examples.

Read Itto’s whole account here.

And check out the official detailed report for ecole vivante’s social development program here.

The Hijrah Dialogues: Part Three

Part Three: Brooke Benoit talks with Dr. Jamillah Karim, professor of religious studies at the all female Spelman College, “anthropologist at heart” and author, about her mini hijrah to Malaysia and how becoming an immigrant and Other will help Karim in her life’s work within the ummah.

What brought you, your husband and your two young sons to Malaysia, and is it the only Muslim-majority country you have visited?
Malaysia is the first Muslim-majority country that I lived in and visited. I traveled to Malaysia the first time in 1997 as part of a forty-member Muslim youth delegation, invited by the Malaysian government to see an example of Islam thriving in a modern society and to then apply our discoveries in our home communities. At that time, our group was impressed with the way in which the Malaysian government sought to apply traditional Islamic thought and law in ways that accommodate modern values.  As ethnic and religious minorities in the United States, we found it especially compelling that Malaysia emphasized Islam as the majority religion at the same time that it embraced its religious and ethnic diversity.  We also found the treatment of women in Malaysian society favorable. Women in traditional Muslim attire appeared to fully participate in the public sphere.  

After that visit, I traveled to Cairo for an eight-week Islamic Civilization course, to Mecca and Medina for the hajj, to Fez as part a ten-day interfaith pilgrimage, and to Istanbul for my honeymoon. In 2010 my family lived in Malaysia for a year while my husband to attended the International Center for the Education of Islamic Finance (INCEIF). My husband has an MBA in finance from Georgia Tech, but he has always been interested in Islamic Finance and exploring how this alternative system could be applied in the American context.

 I appreciated and embraced the display of diverse religious communities.

Was there anything markedly different about how Islam is presented in Malaysia compared to the other Muslim-majority countries you visited?

 

It had been over a decade since my first visit to Malaysia and with my travels and acquired academic background in the studies of Islamic cultures I did have insight of the unique features of Malaysian Muslim socity. Many of the features of this society that stood out back then reemerged during my recent residence in the country. Certainly, what makes Malaysia unique compared to all of the other Muslim-majority countries that I visited is its substantial non-Muslim population. Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and other religious groups make up forty percent of the population. I appreciated and embraced the display of diverse religious communities. This appreciation is influenced, I am sure, by my American ideals of religious inclusion, but not even in America do you see minority religious holidays recognized with such high public profile in the way that you see them celebrated in Malaysia. I kept my eye toward the Chinese and Indian Malaysian experience in the country, as opposed to that of the Muslim Malays, which was definitely influenced by the fact that I lived in an upper-class expatriate area where a substantial number of Chinese Malaysians lived or owned businesses.  My eyes were opened as I listened to non-Muslims describe their feelings about social policies that favor Muslim Malays and the recent proposals made by political groups to create laws that impose religious standards or preferences.

 

Living in Malaysia I gained a better sense of the ethnic and religious tensions and realized how the substantial minority presence actually contributes to Malaysia’s reputation as a progressive Muslim-majority. The diverse voices, even within the Muslim population, continue to push the society to think about and embrace ways to identify as a Muslim society in which religious minorities feel fully recognized and integrated in the society.

Do you feel that you practiced your deen any differently while living in Malaysia? How has living there improved your deen, if at all?

I loved the way in which decorations for Eid were put up well before the holiday and the way in which Eid was cherished as a time to spend with family. It reminded me of the Christmas holiday season here in the US. In the convert community in which I grew up, I saw Eid practiced as a community affair, but now with my generation having children and our Muslim families expanding, Eid is increasingly becoming more family-based, being experienced as a time for extended family to come together as well as community activities. Otherwise, I wouldn’t say that living in Malaysia made a great difference in the practice of my deen. Islam as practiced in the United States is so rich and accessible that I never imagined traveling abroad as a critical component to increasing my personal faith, except for the pilgrimage to Mecca, of course.

On your blog you have said that as a stay at home mom in Malaysia you had the unique opportunity to connect with women from all over the world and this would be the #1 thing you would miss when leaving Malaysia. This was a little surprising to me, after all we both come from The Melting Pot where diversity is loudly touted, so what was the difference that made these connections possible in what, I would think, is a less diverse country than the US?

In the states I live in a black neighborhood in a majority-black city, I work at a black college for women, and I attend a black mosque. Depending on where you reside in the United States, there may not be opportunities to connect with people from all over the world. In my book I highlight the ways in which many of us are tied to ethnic locations in the United States while occasionally we have the chance or we deliberately make an effort to cross ethnic boundaries. Living in a diverse expat area in Kuala Lumpur, I had neighbors from all over the world. I wasn’t the only one making this observation. I remember an expatriate from Australia talking about how wonderful it was to meet people from everywhere.

Before going to Malaysia you were very candidly told that you would experience racism in more “direct” ways than in the US. Why wasn’t racism a deterrent for going abroad and how was the racism different than what you experience in the US?

It wasn’t a deterrent because we wouldn’t let the scare of racism prevent us from missing a once in a lifetime opportunity. Perhaps too it is because we haven’t experienced racism directly like our parents and grandparents did to really be scared. When my husband mentioned to his aunt that people said we might face racism, she responded that we don’t even know what racism is as our ancestors had experienced it in the last century.

Racism in Malaysia was different in that it was direct, but not just towards black people. Malaysia is a very race and ethnic conscious country and it is understood that people are preferred in different situations based on their race. In the United States, if you call an apartment complex to inquire about leasing, no one’s going to ask you directly or immediately about your ethnic or racial background. Perhaps they will take cues from the way you speak or discriminate after seeing you, but they wouldn’t directly ask you if you are black or immigrant on the telephone as I experienced in Malaysia.

In your book, American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class and Gender within the Ummah, you explain some of the dynamics which keep the ummah in the United States from being more unified, especially among immigrant and African American Muslims. How has living as an immigrant in Malaysia evolved your perspectives of these dynamics?

I thought about this question a lot. I am now more understanding of the dilemma that immigrants face as they try to make it in a new country.  How is it even possible to integrate into the new society without ascribing to some of the long-standing race and class dynamics? I still agree with the tone of my book as it celebrates those immigrants who’ve tried to resist wholesale assimilation into these racial patterns, but I’m more sympathetic to those who haven’t.

How long have you been back in the states and are you experiencing any of the repatriation discomforts? What, if anything, are you missing about Malaysia and do you have any plans to live abroad in another Muslim-majority country?

I have been back in the United States over two months and I’m experiencing hardly any discomfort. I’m very happy to be with my family and community. Of course I think back fondly on my time in Malaysia. I miss the friends that I made, especially those in the expat Muslim community. I’m missing the Malay family that took us in last Ramadan. I’m missing the food, sweet and savory and halal. I’m missing all the vacationing and tourist stuff we did in Malaysia.

No, I don’t have any plans to live abroad. I’ve always been exceptionally hopeful and excited about the great things American Muslims are destined to do here at home. I’m grateful to be among the first generations of Muslims in America. I look forward to making a contribution and continuing the legacy of establishing an American Muslim home and community for my children.

~~~

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of SISTERS Magazine (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women).

Normally I wouldn’t: Tale From The Moroccan Countryside

As much as I had hoped to educate myself about my host nation, I have gotten excruciatingly weary of guide books and websites and cookbooks and so on that claim to know-it-all about Morocco, but are actually full of inferences and assumptions and, just uff. What may be true in one house, for one family, for one Moroccan-verily cannot be true for all. So recently when an elder Moroccan Amazigh woman brought us some tales from her vacation in the countryside I was enthralled to hear her version of something I had read similarly about in a guide book. Here’s my interpretation of what was interpreted to me through one woman about what another woman witnessed in one community:

Like many villages, once a week the souk comes to this rural community a little south of Marrakesh and all the menfolk head over to what is part farmers’ market, part flea market and purchase their weekly food and supplies. While the men are away for the day, all the womenfolk of the village come together for a picnic and chit chat. I was told that these villages are very, very quiet unlike our traffic-congested Casablanca neighborhood and though made of thick mud, the houses are not at all sound proof, so any kind of disturbance or raised voices are easily heard by neighbors. Therefor, once a week, these women come together and cut loose quite a bit. The gathering is actually called something to the effect of “Bad word gathering” as the women do on these occasions cut loose with their language as well.

These gatherings are known of to the men and they also know to stay away from these women-only events. On the rare occasions that men have either intentionally or unwittingly happened upon these picnics, they have been beaten up by these ladies! Once an oil seller was passing through the region and stopped by the group of women not knowing what he was intruding on. Not only did they beat and scratch him, but they also ripped off his clothes! This really shocked me and I asked how could these Muslim women defend their actions of attacking an innocent man and exposing his awrah  (portion of the body that should not be exposed to others)? Wasn’t this a hshuma (shameful) act on their part?

The elder woman explained to us that it was necessary for the women to pro-actively defend themselves and their honor from the intrusion. Firstly, their diligent behavior is a way to discourage any man from willfully spying or intruding on their events, and also necessary to defend their honor–no questions will be asked as they take action before any man can.

My guidebook made it sound like these occasions were just a bunch of cantankerous old women being meanies. Now you know the truth. Er, one truth. Fierce.

The Hijrah Dialogues: Hijrah Hopping with Jayla

From discussions of identity, belonging and race, to home and family – SISTERS brings you The Hijrah Dialogues, chronicling a diverse body of brave adventures and trials as muhajiras seek out their own spot on the spaciousness of Allah’s I earth, in search of that elusive greener grass.

Part Two: Brooke Benoit discusses hijrah-hopping across the Middle East with education specialist and EFL instructor, Jayla Muhammad, and her American-born children who have lived in Kuwait, Egypt, UAE, Qatar and now, insha Allah, are readying to move to Oman.

 
What is your family background?
My uncle was the first to become Muslim in my family. My other
uncle became Muslim next, then my mother and grandmother. After
a while all the cousins who were not born into Islam as well as my
two aunts took their shahadah. At one point in my life I gave myself
a year to make up my mind. I wanted to have a religious life and
I knew that I could not straddle the fence forever. I am grateful to
have been exposed to more than one faith and I think that I have a
deeper understanding and compassion for people from many walks
of life. I have a respect for others’ views and after giving myself that
year of learning and discovery, I chose Islam. So now, we have five
generations of Muslims in our family.

 
What was the first country you made hijrah to and how did you go
about doing it?
Egypt. I hated it from the first day. I got mistaken for being Sudanese
all the time. This is not a problem for me, but but it seems like the
people I ran into didn’t like people from Sudan. I was called every
name in the book! At first it didn’t bother me because they were
calling me names in Arabic, but after I learned what they were saying
it drove me crazy.
I was hired to teach at a fairly new school in Cairo which needed
teachers from the US to help them get certified. We did all the
interviews over the phone and they never saw me or any other
teacher. All together there were twelve teachers from the US, four
of us were black and all four of us got fired before the ninety day
probation period was over.

 
What other Muslim-majority places have you lived in?
I have lived in Kuwait, Egypt, UAE and Qatar. I didn’t like Kuwait and
I left because I didn’t feel safe as I had men follow me home from
work and shopping. From there I went to the UAE, which I really
enjoyed. I lived there for three years and made some great friends
and felt as if I could stay there for a long time. My kids all took Arabic
classes, had great friends and there were tons of wonderful parks
for them to play in or just to spend the day flying kites in. They were
happy and that alone made me happy.
We had to leave when I lost my job as I couldn’t find a replacement
job that I liked. I was offered many positions, but all of them required
me to take off my abaya and/or wear coloured scarves. Not that I am
of the opinion that a woman has to wear all black, but I’m not going
to work for a company that makes that choice for me. I knew Allah
I would provide something for me as long as I did what I knew in
my heart was right. I went to Doha and well, it didn’t really work out
for me so I returned home to the US.

 
You said you didn’t think you would ever go back to the ME after the first
time, what changed?
When I returned home I felt like I was in my own skin for the first
time in a long time, but that feeling didn’t last. After the honeymoon
wore off I started to feel like an outsider. I lived in Texas and there
are not many people in abayas there. I started to just wear hijab
and normal clothes, but I felt naked – I just couldn’t do it. I was also
uncomfortable in the abaya as people stared at me. Once, a lady had
rushed to grab her child away from where I was standing, insinuating
that I was going to do something harmful towards her child. I really
felt so low at that time. I don’t think I ever mentally recovered from
that day, and from there things just went downhill.
I started questioning everything. Why do I feel the way I do and why
am I allowing my children to deal with these issues? I wondered
what my life would really be like, if I would ever have the quality of
life I had before and would my children want to be Muslim as adults
or not? I felt that I was putting too much pressure on my children.
Then my children started asking me when we were going to go back
overseas. Our lifestyle in the US was very different when compared
to the UAE. My daughter was the only one in her school with a hijab.
Although this was not an issue for her, as she is she is very selfconfident, it did make it harder for her to make friends. We lived in an
apartment, we had an old car, we were struggling and it was hard on
them. In the UAE life was just better for me and my children.
Not many people have teens and tweens that want to move
overseas. Alhamduillah, I did. I think I needed that time away to really
appreciate the Gulf. Right now, we’re living in Egypt and while I can’t
see us making this home, I think I do feel better about being here
than I did about being in the US. Insha Allah once I am in Oman I will
be more at peace.

 
What are your long-term plans?
Well, we have several options. My husband wants us to settle in
Egypt. He has land here and wants to build an apartment for us in
Alexandria, but I am not sold on that idea. There are other countries
with large Muslim populations and I don’t and won’t just settle for a
place because it is convenient.
Once I retire, my kids can always sponsor me and that way I won’t
have to move. Or I can save my money, and once I find a place I
like, that offers a visa, I will retire there insha Allah. I find that saving
money is easier in the Gulf, after the first year it is easy to save up to
a quarter or even half of your salary. The first year I will have to set up
my home and buy a car, and if I work another ten years I can retire
with a nice piece of change. The one thing my children all have in
common is they all say they want to see the world. None of them
can even imagine a life without travelling.

 
*At the time of printing, Jayla was considering separate job offers in
Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

Brooke Benoit is an American artist who is home-educating her children
in Casablanca, Morocco. She hopes, insha Allah, that life in The Mahgrib
is the first leg of her own hijrah endeavours. Amongst her many interests
and concerns are radical education reform, sustainable living practices,
self-expression and discovery through art and sisterly love.

**This article originally appeared in the SISTERS Magazine (The Magazine for Fabulous Muslim Women) October 2011 issue.

Ramadhan Melange in Morocco

My family’s relocation from Alaska to Morocco last year should have had me eagerly anticipating my first Ramadhan in a land of the Muslims. However, some technicalities like fasting while exclusively nursing a new baby, while being away from hubby – my constant fasting companion of twelve years – in the parching heat of a foreign country, with family members I didn’t know very well, were not encouraging me to get the holiday giddies. As was planned, my husband and eldest son returned to the States for work leaving me newly expatriated with our four younger homeschooled kids and not knowing what to expect for Ramadhan in Morocco.

“It will be easy. We make it simple,” insisted my sister-in-law, Khadija.

Not that I thought she was lying, but one cook’s idea of simple suppers is another cook’s nightmare of gastronomical endeavours. “We’ll have soup and pancakes,” she said. Now I really didn’t believe her. However, she was not kidding.

Suhoor
I was pleasantly surprised to find the center of our pre-dawn meal
was a burger and milk shake! I had seen heavy meat-based dishes
at countless lavish iftars but at suhoor? However, it certainly made
sense. Meat moves slowly through the digestive system ensuring
gradual release of energy throughout the day. Burgers may not
sound appetizing at four in the morning, but in prior years while
pregnant or nursing during Ramadhan, I had boosted my protein
intake with turkey sandwiches at suhoor. Therfore, for me, turkey
burgers were an easy enough adaption. I was happy to find
avocados on the side. However, those went in the shake! Similar to
using bananas in milkshakes, but with triple the potassium, avocados
also have more good fat than olive oil. Sweetened with a little sugar
avocado milkshakes are creamy, delicious, satisfying, and a common
treat in Morocco.

I learned that burgers may not be on every suhoor table in Morocco,
but another power-packed specialty called sellou likely is. Roasted
almonds, sesame and unbleached flour ground with sugar, spices
such as cinnamon and anise, and loosely bonded with smen
(clarified butter) makes sellou dense in calories, protein and good
fats – just like nutritional bars I had eaten in past Ramadhans. My kids
likened it to “granola” and naturally stirred it into their yogurt whereas
the local people prefer to drizzle honey over its crumbly texture. Our
family’s suhoor is balanced just right to satisfy and nourish us while
keeping shopping, planning and cooking to a minimum.

Iftar
I sheepishly admit that while I was maintaining some kind of a quasiguest status, Khadija did nearly all of the cooking. She served soup
every night, alternating between harira, a Moroccan minestrone-like
soup, and askeef, a traditional Berber hot grain cereal served salty
with olive oil. Also just as Khadija had warned, we did have pancakes
every night. Again alternating nights between behrir – Moroccan
yeasted pancakes, and US traditional style, but never once was there
a drizzle of maple-flavoured syrup. Think of the pancake as the fresh
flipped bread, like crepe, tortilla, injera or roti. Khadijah’s pancakes
were served with spreads and toppings to appease both the sweet
and savoury tooth: spreadable cheeses, bananas, chocolate, fresh
fruit compote, jelly, natural peanut or almond butter, and melted
butter mixed with honey.

Normally my in-laws have rejuvenating juices with their iftar, but
because of the high sugar content versus low nutritional value of
juice I preferred to dilute it with water, especially bubbly, or used it
in smoothies. We agreeably switched to the latter – every iftar I made
smoothies or panaché, made from an abundance of local fresh fruits.
A few nights, I cheated by bringing home yummy looking things
from the bakery. In hindsight, the additions were truly a waste, both
of money and food. My in-laws’ rigidly simplistic and unfaltering
Ramadhan menu is so vastly different from the years of both
spontaneous and fastidiously planned feasting my family had
partaken in, both privately and amid Muslim communities in the
United States. However, there is an abundance of wisdom in the diet
based on decades of fasting experience and genuine nutritional
needs. When one’s niyah is to fast all day and complete the entire
recitation of the Qur’an during the nights, it is smart to eat like an
athlete training for a thirty-day marathon.

Looking Forward
There are plans for two new traditions this Ramadhan. I will be doing
half the cooking, and instead of pancakes we will likely be making
bread puddings and frittatas since they can be slipped into the
oven and left behind in the hot kitchen while we go read Qur’an or
distract some little kids who keep demanding to know when we will
eat, again.

Brooke Benoit is an American artist and educator currently living in
Morocco. In the midst of other adventures, she is also experimenting
with new materials in the kitchen, such as slaoui, warqa and raib. She
has chronicled her expat experiences in The Hijrah Diaries for SISTERS Magazine.

~~~

This article originally appearred in the August 2011 issue of SISTERS Magazine–The magazine for fabulous Muslim women! And as planned, I am cooking this year and have added fritatas, bread puddings (croissant, raisins, bananas and chocolate!) and a Morning Glory cake to the iftar table on my nights. 😉

The Hijrah Diaries #8 via SISTERS Magazine

Day 150: The culture shock books don’t say how long it should take me to stop bristling under my skin every time someone wags a “no” finger at me. This is perfectly acceptable, not-at-all rude and frequently used here, which is completely different from my own cultural training that dictates finger wagging as a very, very rude action only used to scold particularly naughty people. I’m pretty sure that I grimace each time someone wags at me, which must seem pretty weird.

Day 158: Today I negotiated to buy a fixer-up bicycle – fixed up. Well no, I’m not completely sure what I negotiated. We seemed to agree at 400 dirhams, but I’m not too sure what that includes. I think I’ll get a frame and new gears that the mechanic will transfer from the mountain bike we were both gesturing at, and I hope he puts on new tires because he kept saying “mzee’in,” meaning “good” – but what’s good? Ok, good, he’ll do it or no, the threadbare tires are good so he’ll leave them on? And I felt confident that the pick-up time was agreed upon for one week from now, but in hindsight, dude pointing at his watch and making rolling motions with his index finger and my response of counting off the days of the week in English on my fingers – that doesn’t seem very clear does it? I have no idea what was agreed upon!

Though it was a little rusty, the frame was nice, but purple –  which I don’t normally like, however I’m trying to get my preconceived aesthetics anyway. I am curious to see how he fixes it up for me, kind of like when I would go to a new hair stylist and say “do what you think is best.” I am so excited about having a bike and someone to occasionally watch my littlest people so I can actually go riding with the bigger ones.

Day 165: The bike situation is not going well. I got it. He seemed disappointed, perhaps I came back later than he expected – more pointing at his watch. I am really disappointed with the work and not sure how to proceed. He didn’t change the wheel and in addition to it being threadbare, all of it is warped. I peddled away feeling kind of wobbly, thinking wow, I was really rusty. Uh, no, it’s the tire! And some spokes are broken. The breaks do not work at all; found this out going downhill to the beach. He only put gears on the back, none on the front. Grr. Unsurprisingly, the husband is not happy that I adventurously handled this transaction by myself. Yeah, yeah haste makes waste, but I’m just not willing to wait a few more months for a bike, nor are the kids who are now expecting to go to the beach every weekend. I’m negotiating for every other weekend and holidays off. But first I need to go back to the mechanic and do a lot of pointing and fingering wagging. And I’m going to continue to try hard not to read into why the dude felt he could do such shoddy work on my bike. Female? Foreigner? Allahualim—my business is getting a rideable bike!

Day 170: The sister-in-law and I are going to try an organised cooking schedule. This forced meals at specific intervals is killing me, but I concede that it probably is best when you’re feeding eight to ten people at non-arbitrary times. I am very used to squeezing food in-between all the activities and stuff the kids and I were doing, but now the meals are central and squeezables are much more rare. We are going to try switching off for whole weeks at a time, she will be in the kitchen for one week, then me the next week and so on. Not only are we going to trade off the cooking, but it will be overall kitchen management, so also cleaning and shopping. The days of living like kings will now come to end for my boys, who will be back to regularly contributing to cooking and cleaning. They are huffing and whining about – gasp – having to wash dishes by hand! But they are looking forward to cooking and making their favorite dishes again. They are also plotting science experiments and have started a list of needs, including food coloring, cupcake wrappers, rock salt and cornstarch. These kids know their crafts and snacks!

I’m hoping to reduce production time in the kitchen. I could easily, and sometimes do, spend four to five hours a day cleaning, preparing and cooking food – plus sauces and vinaigrettes are made entirely from scratch, as most Moroccans do. It’s not uncommon for folks here to make mayonnaise from scratch – no way! Sometimes I feel like my sister-in-law and I are one upping each other, getting far too grandiose creating multiple dishes for each meal. Living in the Mediterranean is really a gourmet delight, but it’s just too wasteful to spend so much time pleasing our tongues. So, I want to find ways to satisfy eight to ten different preferences and dietary needs and not be too extravagant about it. And we are going to have to get some canned tomatoes in this pantry.

Day 177: The house next door has been sold, emptied and demolished in the past couple of weeks. We are now the last house on the block, and one of the few remaining houses in the neighbourhood, which is full to capacity of zone-allotted six-story apartment buildings. Actually, they follow the silly European protocol of calling the second storey the “first storey” so we are shadowed all around by seven storey buildings. And due to the unique, non-uniform shape of our block – we are now wedged between three concurrent construction sites. Two are immediately next to us on the north and south side of the house and another is just about five meters off of the east/back side. I could stick my arm out several of our windows and reach a construction worker. Nice. That’s three different angles from which we are hearing construction sounds all daylight hours, six and even seven days a week. And they occasionally drill and hammer holes into the outer walls of our house to do various things for their sites. We have new and bigger cracks in the plaster all the time. Whenever someone slams a door in the house or the Chergui winds swirling around the house slam the doors, a grandparent yells something about how the front balcony is going to fall off.

I’m trying to remain positive. After all, the construction sites are endlessly interesting for the kids to watch and learn from. The work is done quite differently from the States; much more is done with bare hands and even bare toes in sandals! Still, I can’t help but feeling the very literal encroaching of urbanism all around us and it is choking our dreams of a little land, a vegetable garden and some animals. The “BAM, BAM, BAM. DUHG, DUHG, DUHG. TUNK, TUNK, TUNK” is chipping away at my sabr, sabr, sabr.

~~~

As originally published in the June 2011 issue of SISTERS Magazine–while you’re over there, check out their article “The Down Low, Let’s Talk Clinical Depression.”

Iqra! Women’s Literacy in The Mosques of Morocco

A few folks have asked me about the murchidates program (women religious leaders) here in Morocco, so for SISTERS Magazine’s June issue I spoke to a student (grandmother of seven, masha Allah!) of the program. By the time she told me that she “would be nothing”  if she hadn’t learnt to read through the program, R’kia and her interpreting son were both crying. I, of course, remained stoically professional. Below is the full article from SISTERS and you can also read about the production of and watch the documentary, “Class of 2006,” about the murchidates program online at the PBS site.

I was recently able to visit the Sunna Mosque in Rabat and saw a couple of dozen women studying as a class, in small groups and individually in the vast women's areas off this courtyard.

~~~

Grandmother of seven, R’kia Irda, grew up in a rural valley of the
Atlas Mountains and never attended the mosque as child. Her
mother died when she was very young, and left her with no one
available to take her to the mosque or to school. She had never
learnt to read and only memorised a few of the shortest surahs to
recite in her prayers.
As a young teenaged mother, R’kia moved to a rapidly developing
neighbourhood in Casablanca. Like many young women emigrating
from the countryside, she seldom left her home – and never without
her husband – and she kept the tradition of staying away from the
mosque.
R’kia was in her forties when her oldest teenage daughter began
her journey to the deen by attending the Friday prayer and a host
of lectures at the mosque. R’kia began to join her; first for the Friday
prayers and later attending the women’s classes by herself. Every
Friday for over a decade, R’kia has regularly gone to the mosque for
her classes.
In 2007, Morocco commenced the free nationwide Mourchidate
programme to educate women; it included lessons on Islam as well
as a literacy campaign. R’kia heard about this programme at Jumu’ah
and was excited about the opportunity to learn to read.
When the programme was first announced the excitement
surrounding it was tinged with controversy. There was unease about
women teaching religion, about exactly what would be taught and

even disagreement about who should benefit from the programme.

With Morocco’s illiteracy rates amongst women being about 60%
in 2007, some people who supported the program felt that “old
women should be sacrificed” and that the resources would be better
used directed at younger women and children.
R’kia heard about this problem – that some people wanted the old
women to be excluded – but she says that many women had long
been campaigning for a literacy program and by the time it was
formally announced at her masjid, they were assured that the classes
were going to include grown women.
Looking back, she says she “would be nothing” if she hadn’t learnt
how to read. Through the Mourchidate classes she can now read in
Arabic, she has better learnt the surahs she previously only heard
and she is also learning many longer surahs. She has learnt the duas
for the different positions of prayer and she can now understand the
lectures she attends.
Recently the literacy program began testing its pupils to determine
the success of the program and its participants. Last week Grandma
R’kia anxiously prepared for her first exam ever. As of today she hasn’t
received her results yet, but for her they are superfluous. For the
literacy programme at the mosque has enabled her to learn to read
and she can now continue to learn her religion and better herself.

Hijrah Diaries Seven: J-O-B

Word cloud with the word "Solace" central forming a coffee/tea cup with steam rising out. "Finding Solace" appears below.

Day 112: Ok. I know that happens. I know some brothers have multiple wives on multiple continents. I know some of those wives by name. But – as if I don’t have enough on my plate right now – I really don’t need women projecting their fears onto my life. I know that! I know brothers do that and I know it is their right and I know my rights too, thank you very much. Allahualim, what is to be will be. I just don’t need to be wasting any of my energy worrying about that or about much of anything. I am struggling to be in the moment while simultaneously planning for the future, appreciating that Allah is the best of planners and being patient. This is a really tall order for me. So just shut up already. I’m going back into my cave now.

Day 120: I haven’t been going out much at all, and “out for her needs” means “exercise and fresh air” for me. Those are my needs. I need them! But I feel guilty about dumping all my kids on my m-i-l or s-i-l for babysitting and it isn’t easy to drag five little kids around on foot in Casa, actually I have yet to see anyone else doing it! So, I take them out in pairs, but then this doesn’t really give me a break does it, so I just don’t go out much. This is temporary, I tell myself. This is temporary. And Allah knows best. Oh yeah, socialization is a pretty big need too, but since I have no friends, in the physical immediate, guess that is a moot point. At least the kids have each other. And cabin fever. Gah.

Day 125: Not digging this separation thing with me being alone here in the Hub’s backhomelandia and him being alone (well, with the son) in my backhomelandia. I am stuck in a  cycle of resentment  for feeling that I am carrying too much of our load and I’m angry at myself for being unappreciative. Resentment, anger, resentment. I also have small doses of fear thrown into the mix for variety. I do fear that we will have to do this again next year and maybe every year for the rest of my life, as so, so very many people do. Oh yes, and there is also me recognizing, not really dealing with, just recognizing my feelings of entitlement. While confronted with how so many people live and accept their lives, I am impatient at how we are living ours and I am questioning – very loosely, as I just don’t presently have the concentration for too much deep thought – what kind of life I have been conditioned to believe and believed to think that I am entitled to have versus what my reality is. I feel entitled to something other than what I currently have, and that is a very ugly thing to feel. Still, not keeping my nose out of the resentment, unappreciative, fear cycle long enough to confront this entitlement business. I’m just mad. All.the.time. And like a good ummi, I’m trying to hide it – all of it. Amazingly, the kids seem far more patient with the adjustments, but I do think they have not gotten past the newness of it all, yet.

Day 133: Thinking about getting a job. I see the absurdity as I type this sentence. As if I’m not frustrated enough! Would a job magically cure my ills? It most likely would add more stress to my load, so I keep trying to suck on that unsavory word – sabr – but I know I could buy some tastier whatnots with the few bucks a job would provide. I could even take coffee breaks all by myself!

When we were negotiating our marriage I told the would-be-hub that I wouldn’t work after we had kids. We now have five kids and I have only very briefly held myself to that promise. When we had our first a year after our nikah, I felt a little guilty about handing him the full load so soon, so I kept working – for two more kids! Then I started working from home, as if the lack of drive time makes it any less work. And then when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came up while I was pregnant with our fourth, I briefly went back to work, or rather out to work – remember I never actually stopped working except that other year that we were here in Morocco.  Of course, I was homeschooling that year and all subsequent years. “Teacher” is what I believe the paid position is called. And then I went back out to work again when I was pregnant with the fifth. See, so, I don’t know why I keep thinking this should be such a cut and dry, yes or no decision to make about getting a job – here, there or anywhere – when obviously it is very very very complicated.

The husband has asked me to be patient, ride out this rough patch, but of course if I can find something to do from home as I previously have… Grrr. The major problem with working from home is that the spousal unit has always struggled with recognizing my need for allocated, separated, recognized Work Time in order to be able to effectively work at home. He will recognize this need only when I am stressed out, when things are running smoothly, it’s as if he thinks I have mastered the work stuffs and can add the childcare to my work duties. Then I get stressed out again.  I suspect that the in-laws are really going to struggle with the work-at-home ummi dynamics – on top of their current struggles with the homeschooling thing and not only the kids always being home, but also having such different rules than what Moroccans are typically used to for their kids. Pshaw, even Americans don’t understand why I let the kids play with a water table and sand box in the house! Anyway. Do I continue to let the almighty dollar command my lifestyle? It does anyway doesn’t it? Where is my mountaintop and my goat!? How much do goats cost here?

Day 135: Oh. So I just revisited some websites about the stages of expat culture shock and apparently I am exactly where I am supposed to be. The stage has even been coined “The Irritation and Anger Stage.” Excellent. I am clinically where I am supposed to be and I haven’t even been doing it right. These expatry expertys recommend A LOT less dependency than I have been partaking in. They suggest taking the bus! My God, no one in this family does that. I mean I tried to figure out the bus routes and was guffawed and discouraged by the other adults in the family. Again, too much dependency. Maybe instead of a goat and a mountain, I should figure out how to get a donkey and a wagon.

 ~~~

This article originly appeared in the May issue of SISTERS Magazine. Other entries can be found around my blog here (will organize them soon, insha Allah) and a few HERE on the SISTERS site.

Hijrah Diaries: Traditional Medicines of Morocco

Here is April’s Hijrah Diaries from the print edition of SISTERS Magazine:

The Hijrah Diaries

In Part Six Brooke arms herself and prepares to take on the Moroccan herbal scene but learns that there aren’t any concoctions that miraculously create extracurriculars.

Day 97 Last night I was introduced to yet another herbal concoction by the in-laws. The first Moroccan remedy I was ever introduced to was when a friend of the family wanted to give my first baby louiza tea (lemon verbena) on an especially fussy-filled evening. My gut reaction was to say “NO!” But I second-guessed myself since this woman had her five, healthy grown children, masha Allah, and I had just one newish little baby. I sheepishly agreed. He drank the tea. Loved it. And slept well and long, Alhamdulillah.

Since being in Morocco I have seen lots of cooking herbs brewed and chewed and poulticed and pumiced. Initially I tried to just politely and quietly accept the practices, but I could hear my doubtful tongue weakening and I decided it would be best to arm myself with some knowledge before I have another louiza incident. The Biologist (sister-in-law), The Husband and I all sat around the computer researching the various herbs that their family has used for generations. Cute past-times we have, eh? Most of them are common enough that we knew their names in English, so off we went on a lovely virtual flower and herb tour. This has, of course, seeded a bunch of homeschooling projects, and flower seeds for grandma have been added to the list of stuff to bring back from the states. Before this demanding study was undertaken, my conscience kept waffling – mythical old wives’ tales that are good or mythical old wives’ tales that are bad? Are there both kinds? Or only one kind? I mean, I’m as crunchy as they come. I home-birthed most of my babies and happily use homeopathic remedies straight out of their hermetically sealed packages. Still, I had nagging doubts about the validity of the remedies.

Well, it turns out that everything herbal taken by the grandparents for whatever conditions they suffer from, have been scientifically proven to actually work for those conditions. The kids, as in the hub and his sis, momentarily considered retaining this information from their parents, but ultimately it was a millisecond of pride swallowing on the kids’ part and a parental response equivalent to, “well no duh.” The parents have endured sideway glances for decades, but they always knew they were right! I’m still taking my coffee with milk and sugar, no thyme thanks.

Day 103 Finding extracurricular activities for the kids is proving to be really complicated for reasons I, once again, cannot wrap my head around. I keep having that pestering thought that maybe it is easier for wholly expat families, not one foreigner and one citizen, like us. The cultural stuff is so complicated to maneuver and as a clueless expat I could just mindlessly barrel through it all. Obnoxious little fantasy, a’udhubillah. And so much more obnoxious when compared to the experiences of immigrants to my country. I do know that many things that would be so difficult for me to accomplish as a foreigner are pieces of halawa for the husband or his family to accomplish. But then again, things which I think should be so simple to accomplish seem to need unnecessary nagging and persistence to get done, or are still not done!

Maybe one challenge is that which I can only recognize as “hang ups,” that which I know I would have if I were on my own home turf. Like, I wouldn’t take the kids to X because it has a bad reputation or if I knew of someone who went to Z once and hated it. So sometimes I am being saved from those kinds of situations.

What I think may be happening is that the husband and his family have preferences or avoid certain places and things based on their own assumptions and experiences. Some places look just dandy to me, but it’s possible that the husband or his family don’t like the neighbourhood or the street or have heard something about the owner or something. It’s the same with me at home in San Francisco, there are certain places I try to avoid or give an undeserving preference to – not necessarily based on direct experience, but just gossip or reputation. Or maybe it’s something else even. The pace is different, the priorities are different, and the urgencies are different. Different does not mean more than or less than. It means not the same. This, I must make my mantra and repeat over and over. I just don’t know what the delay is and I am frustrated that I have very active little kids and no parks and no recreational facilities, no bike paths, no yellow pages, and I need some Kung Fu or Jijitsu or something! For them, of course. For me, I have found a lovely little lady-friendly cafe with delightfully delicious petit fours and crepes and briouats and panaches. All of which I am in need of right now.

Day 105 Hassan and The Oldest Child are packing to leave tomorrow and I am being a big baby again, as per usual. I’m in here pouting while they strategically calculate how many pairs of socks to take. I am trying to hold onto the positive aspects of this trip; less people to share the bathroom with and an excellent father-son opportunity. It will probably also be easier to adjust to this extended-family living stuff. As much as I complain and fuss, it may be hardest for Hassan since he sits at the center of the spokes and he is constantly worrying about everyone’s well being. He’s like a cultural attaché 24-7, explaining me, explaining the kids, explaining the parents, explaining the cultures – and of course not getting it all right and often having to make further amends. Very confusing for me, but surely very stressful for him. A little break, a change in the programme, may do us all good, insha Allah. Although this will increase my sister-in-law’s work load (‘The Interpreter’), oh yeah and mine (‘The Primary Care Giver’)… grrr… very, very hard to remain positive and thankful right now. Alhamdulillah.

Day 107 My 12 year old baby is going to miss Ramadhan in Morocco. I didn’t point it out to him because he seems pretty excited to do some more travelling or whatever it is he’s excited about. But I am a little bummed. Not only is it going to be nice to have big suhoors in the house with a bigger family, but we will also be fasting with the ENTIRE NATION. The son is too young to know what he’ll be missing out on, but I’m stoked! Of course, never one to just accept that gift horse-thingy graciously, I am also a bit worried. Our Ramadhans in the States have evolved so much since I was first married that I currently have a bundle of persistently hungry little joys. I have learned to be a keeper of K.I.S.S. – keep it simple sister – and very fearful of what may be expected of me to contribute in the kitchen. The in-laws insist that they also keep it simple and don’t do a lot of work – but we have very different ideas about what “a lot of work” is. Well, since Ramadhan is a few more months away, I guess I can go back to worrying about other stuff, like childhood illnesses and parasites and homeland security, oh – or my deen. Think I’ll go worryfully work on that right now.

~~~

Here’s some tea recipes for using louiza (lemon verbena) and other herbs Moroccan style. The louiza is my favorite and I drink it iced all summer.