Category Archives: Morocco

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 19: Bittersweet Transitions

There are multiple moments in my life where transitioning from something comfortable into the unknown has been electrifying, yet all together bittersweet. Leaving behind people and places in order to embrace the unfamiliar is never easy, and I have done this multiple times throughout my late teens and early twenties as I moved away from home and subsequently made my way all around the world.

Though I feel that this transition into some semblance of an “adult” life is well underway, it has brought up lots of of reflections on all the people and places in my life that were once brand new– all the strangers that became friends, places that became home.

I always think back on these people and places in fond reminiscence, and there are so many little triggers that quickly jog my memory of them. I can smell Burkina Faso. I can dance San Francisco. I can drink France. I can hear Morocco. I can walk Spain. These small things, which act as portals and transport me through time, if only for a minute or two, so that I can relive a beautiful moment, in a beautiful setting, surrounded by beautiful friends. And when I come back to the present, it’s always with a smile and a sigh. A smile of thanks for all the day’s that have been seized, and for all of the amazing people whose presence has graced my life. But also, a sigh of longing for the days gone by,and the people who are now so far away.

Thus, today I am thankful for the smiles and sighs, because I have been blessed with countless opportunities to discover the world and to befriend genuinely amazing people. They are a reminder that each one of my fond memories was once an uncomfortable new beginning, which blossomed into something worth longing for when it passed.

And if I am able to remain aware through discomfort of the new life chapter I’ve begun, I can let the wave of bittersweet memories wash up on the shore of the present moment, and offer up some gratitude to those people and places who have made my life so meaningful.  I must continue to breathe myself back into the present moment, so that I am able to create new memories here and now that will ultimately be worthy of a smile and a sigh sometime down the road.  There-were-some-memories-1024x884

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Quelle heure est-il au paradis? Musings on time

Pass time. Spend time. Waste time. Kill time. Lunch time. Me time. On time. Find time. Good times. Tea time. Daylight savings time.

Our reality leads us to believe that everything is quantified in terms of time… even the quarter life crisis that prompted this post. But really, how (!?) does time bend and change? Why does it seem to speed up and slow down as you age, as you travel, whilst in love? How do we perceive time, and in what circumstances do we interact with time differently? What are the relatives? The constants?

These are all questions I’m not sure I’m fully capable of answering, perhaps for fear that my head might explode, but I would like to find a way of expressing how I’ve experienced a change in my concept of time during this past year in Morocco.

untitled (126 of 127)Punctuality, a cultural non-constant, can be viewed on two different scales–mono and polychronic. In a monochronic society, such as the U.S., time is rigid and task-oriented. You’re late if your not 5 minutes early. Having been socialized in this type of society, the adaptation process to Morocco’s polychronic concept of time took, well, time… Here, time is more flexible and agendas are far from strict.

The term “Inshallah,” which means God willing, is not just religious, it is also a deeply engrained  concept of cultural time. And to those of us raised in a monchronic community, even the very hint of being made to wait (or worse, being stood up) for a rendez-vous, cuts to the very core of our values and beliefs.

“See you tonight at that really important thing we have been planning.”

“Inshallah.”

*GRIMACE* “No, but seriously. See you tonight?”

I’ve frequently begun to ask myself why such a beautiful phrase can render me so uncomfortable. Don’t I  constantly talk about living in the present moment and trusting in the infinite and great plan of the Universe…shouldn’t God’s willingness to let me partake in social gatherings make me feel elated and grateful? So yeah, I sure do feel like a big ol’ hypocrite when my muscles tense at the sound of a non-committal “Inshallah.” But then again, it’s my upbringing. I am a result of all my previous experiences and growing up in a place where time is directly related to money, and money directly related to happiness, has apparently been imprinted on my psyche more than I’m proud to admit.

The beauty of this cross-cultural experience for me, however, has been that whilst living here, I have  begun to loosen my suffocating concept of time. And I’ve come to realize that  I deeply admire  how much polychronic societies value interpersonal relationships. Because, what is time really worth if it isn’t passed with those whom we love? If everything is fleeting, then we must ask ourselves what we value most of all. To me, family and friends hold their weight in gold, and everything else is but a means to the end.

So, what time is it in paradise? You decide.

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Our Daily Bread

Qubz1 (1 of 1)Bread, the ever-abiding food staple, is a sacred part of the Moroccan diet. The frisbee shaped loaves of bread are consumed thrice daily, and are frequently used in place of utensils. Qubs, the Arabic word for bread, is eaten in the morning while scooping up eggs, olive oil or amalou—a delicious almond butter-like paste that is jazzed up with argan oil and honey. In the afternoon and evenings, bread is used to soak up the tagine juices, flavored by  savory and aromatic spices such as salt, pepper, ginger and turmeric. The juices swirl around at the bottom of a pyramid of hearty vegetables and tender meats.

Bread is communal in nature, and every part of its creation and consumption demonstrates the tight-knit values of family and community, which form the foundation of Moroccan society. Bread is made fresh daily, and often baked in communal ovens. Later, it is distributed around low tables and broken into pieces to be shared at large family-style meals. Qubz2 (1 of 1)

A divine reverence is given to this wheat+yeast concoction, and  it is hshouma bzeff (very shameful) to waste or throw bread away in Moroccan culture. For months I harbored a secret grudge against the stale and slightly moldy bread collecting in plastic bags on the food rack in our kitchen. That is, until I was explained the tradition behind the recycling of bread. Here, the respect for bread goes beyond not throwing it away. According to the Prophet Mohammed, if bread falls on the ground, it should be picked up, kissed, and blessed. Then it should be put up on a wall or a fence so that the even the birds may reap the gifts of its crumbs.

Bread fills the stomachs of the hungry and provides energy for the weak. It gives to the people, so that they may give of themselves. The principle is simple: we should never waste food when someone else is hungry. The way I see it, Moroccan’s may observe this rule piously, not just because the Prophet commanded it, but also because the idea of looking after family, friends, and community permeate their collective identity. This notion, coupled with gratitude for all that sustains me—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually—are lessons I will  carry with me throughout life.

Give us this day our Daily Bread.

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Fes and Meknes

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To get to the other side; 7 Tips on Crossing the Road

The seemingly normal act of crossing the street  is a whole new beast in Morocco. Traffic laws and road rules are vaguely optional, red lights are a suggestion, passing on the right hand side is customary, and the pedestrian right of way an alien concept. Thus, getting to the other side is a skillful task, one in which newcomers to Moroccan soil must learn asap.

NOTE: This is a high risk game of Real Life Frogger. 

Some of my earliest technological memories were of this Sega game, and I’m grateful for the early exposure to unconventional methods of crossing the street. If you adhere to my following tips, you will learn to cross the street like a pro and avoid getting squashed by on coming taxis, cars, and other rogue vehicles.

Tip 1: Go forth or turn back from whence you came.

During my first few weeks in Morocco I was terrified to cross the street. Someone would have to guide me, or pull me along so that I didn’t end up standing on the sidewalks edge for 15 minutes hoping for a large enough opening in the traffic to allow my safe crossing to the other side. I was petrified of being hit, thrown up onto the windshield, and carried for some unknown distance (measured in meters) on the hood of some tin-y blue taxi. My fears were semi-assuaged, however,  and I started taking cues from fellow pedestrians. Look both ways, then walk directly into oncoming traffic. It’s the only way.

Tip 2: Stop in the middle of the street.

Don’t tire yourself out. Crossing the street can be stressful and induce fatigue. Take breaks. Hang out in between the traffic.

Tip 3: (For a more advanced approach) try walking with the flow of traffic.

If you can’t manage to find a large enough opening to cross in, step into the road and try walking along between the cars in the direction of your destination. Sure you may be in the middle of the road, but you must learn to amplify your walking time. The more breaks you take, the longer your travel time will be.

Tip 4: Watch out for side-view mirrors!

Drivers don’t usually slow down when driving along narrow streets. A side-view mirror in your rib cage hurts like a bitch. Avoid contact  at all costs.

Tip 5: Don’t take angry honks personally.

Everyone here drives like a drunk driver. This is an observation soaked with irony, seeing as Morocco is a Muslim country and most Moroccans don’t imbibe the adult sodas. But if truth be told, a typical driver’s reaction time here is slow and only to his/her immediate surroundings. Nothing is anticipated. Cars swerve, horns blow, you get cut off — c’est la vie.

Tip 6: There is power in numbers.

Cross with fellow pedestrians. The more numerous you are the better your chances are stopping the traffic coming at you.

Tip 7: Use the force.

Put your hand out, young Jedi. It signals to the cars that you see them, you do not fear them and that you wish for them to heed your command to let you pass.

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May the force be with you.

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ACCESSible Inspiration

For the past four months I have been teaching a group of exceptional Moroccan students as part of a US State Department English Access Micro-scholarship Program. The program provides English instruction to under-privileged youths in the Rabat-Sale area, as they follow our high school level curriculum.

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At AMIDEAST, most of our students are upper-middle class Moroccans, who have the means to pay for English instruction. Therefore, the Access program is unique in that it strives to open educational doors for exceptional students who would otherwise not be able to pay for their classes.

My students are all stand outs, and in comparison to my other high school classes, their motivation and determination to master the English language is actually inspirational. They are thirsty for knowledge. They ask poignant questions. They are appreciative of their educational opportunities.

Not all my classes are like this, however. Last term, I taught three sections of Inspiration 3 (the name of the 3rd level high school course). I would frequently refer to it as un-inspiration 3, or constipation 3, or kill me, I can’t stand this class 3. My (paying) students would come to class and play with their iPhones, chat with their friends, and take all sorts of liberties with their break time. I would leave work on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s after a grueling 3 hours of blank stares and snotty girls with raging teenage hormones, and crawl into my bed exhausted and disappointed.

Finally, I decided to stop wasting my energy on those who were killing me softly. I decided to focus on the students who showed up prepared and ready to engage…… and I’m a better person and teacher for it.

I believe that students need to take responsibility for themselves. Especially high schoolers. I don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks, but at a certain point I had to realize what was effective and what wasn’t. What proved effective was to cater my classes to those who wanted to learn.

My Access class was (and still is) the uplifting end to my work week. They continue to amaze and motivate me to be a better teacher. They demonstrate time and again that education is the most valuable thing a person can possess. Nobody can take it from you. It’s yours forever, and you are responsible for cultivating it.

Education is like a tree. If we plant firm roots in rich soil, we can grow our branches and blossom beautiful fruits and flowers and leaves. What’s more, trees are also active participants in the well being of the rest of society. They transform CO2 into O2 so that we may all breathe clean air. A responsible, well educated person can also do something of the sort.

I think we all need to ask ourselves more often: in what ways can our education serve as our foundation for service. How can we help to create a more healthy society for everyone to live in? What are our talents? How have we honed them thus far, how can we continue to hone them in the future?

** This post is not an official AmidEast or Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent AmidEast, the Access Program, or the Department of State.

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Twenty-13

Dear Lizzie,

I was about to wish that your every dream come true. That you find yourself surrounded by friends, laughter and good times. I almost wished that your every cup runneth over financially, romantically, spiritually, and creatively. That good health be your faithful companion, peace your guarded ally, and love your perpetual guide. When suddenly, it dawned on me that as an infinite, powerful, fun-loving gladiator of the Universe, with eternity before you and the power of thoughts to shape it….It’s you, Lizzie Guerra, who will be granting wishes this year.

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The Universe

Dear Universe,

Thanks! I appreciate your eternal support and confidence in all of my endeavors. I will continue to place one foot in front of the other with a smile on my heart and swagger in my step. I can’t wait to find out what kind of wishes I will be granting this year!

Always and forever,

Lizzie

Happy New Year to all my friends, family and fellow earthlings. What are your New Years resolutions, reflections, conclusions, new beginnings? This year I am going to take to the kitchen and concur my fear of grocery shopping!

Facelifts all around, starting right here with my blog…I’ve revamped the layout and the title so that they better reflect my current life style. Though don’t be misguided by the photo either. I’m not living in the sandy dunes of the desert. The new cover photograph was taken on a trek through the Sahara last year. My subject was our Berber guide; a fitting picture to go with the title Nomad–emphasis on the OM.  I will continue with my posts, but expect more music and photographs, and (inshallah) some recipes of the new cuisines I will be learning to cook!

P.S. If you liked my note from the Universe sign up to receive them yourselves from tut.com! They’re amazing!

 

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Mi-chemin; at the intersection of tradition and modernity

“Morocco is…,” is a  statement I try to avoid making, because it is cumbersome, stereotypical, and leaves no room for the brilliance of our imagination and the diversity of reality. Frankly, I don’t know what  Morocco is  at all. There are so many different Morocco’s, as each person lives and experiences this country in a different manner.

I live my life on what the French call “mi-chemin,” which literally translates to “mid path.” I love the idea of always being mi-chemin — on a journey — somewhere in the in between. But I also think that this word can translate  to an intersection or the crossing of two paths. In this case, I’m also living at an intersection; one of culture and identity, and more specifically, one of tradition and modernity.

Recently, I’ve begun observing a fascinating juxtaposition between tradition and modernity. The more I think about it, the more aware I am of how these two worlds weave their way through the lives of those who call Morocco home. Tradition versus modernity? Not neccesarily. It’s not completely a versus — not black and white. Rather, it’s more of a mi-chemin. An intersection.

At this point I find myself with the necessity of defining modernity and tradition. This is a feat in itself, and one I do not wish to over simplify. Therefore, instead of defining it, I will give you examples of how I have experienced these these criss-crossing worlds.

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1. A donkey on the tram

A friend recently told me he saw a man trying to bring his donkey onto the tram. The tram, which runs two lines across Rabat, is the very essence of modernity for this city. Not only does it look like a silvery gray spaceship, but for a minimal price you can conveniently commute across town. When he told me about what he saw, I laughed because it was simultaneously ridiculous and exactly the kind of thing that would happen here. The donkey, of course, is a symbol of tradition; it’s the very antithesis of rapid, convenient technology. And yet, these two worlds collided mi-chemin as this brilliant man attempted to coax his ass onto the tram. I don’t blame him for trying.

2. Micky D’s and conterfeits

Commercial colonization has penetrated itself into Morocco. That’s to say, those who can afford Western name brands, which include both fast food chains and clothing stores, are gung-ho. McDonald’s, for example, is one of the most adored restaurants in this city. It’s posh and American and oh-so-fantastically modern. It’s always chock-full of customers dressed to the nines. Right down Avenue Mohammed V, where McDonald’s and big stores flamboyantly boast their presence, there’s the medina — the old city. Where a westerner such as myself feels like they’ve stepped backwards in time. It’s bustling and chaotic and noisy and the informal economy reigns supreme. Vendors sell their goods from stalls or in the streets and anything is possible if your patient and willing to haggle. The informal aspect of the economy  is what I consider to be the keeper of tradition in the medina and throughout Morocco. Though McDonald’s hasn’t stamped its name in the Medina (yet), many other name brands can be informally purchased there. So friends, place your orders for the newest software and technology, because copyrights do not exist in Morocco. You can purchase the most expensive up-to-date products for a fraction of the cost in the Medina. A true (and amazing) intersection of tradition and modernity.

3. A Moroccan wedding

Last weekend I attended a “traditional” Moroccan wedding. I was a guest of the brother of the groom, and he advised that I wear the traditional costume, a takcheta. All the women would be wearing one, and I would stand out  if I wasn’t properly garbed. It was fun, and I felt a bit like my 7 year old self, as I dressed up in my princess gown for the ball. Upon arrival, it was clear that I had made the right decision to wear the takcheta. All the women were decked out. But as I looked around the room, there was one lone man wearing the traditional white jalaba. Every other man was wearing his nicest suit and tie. Again, an intermingling of old and new.  The fashion here in Morocco, is very much a melange of these two narratives. You see both men and women wearing traditional Moroccan clothes, as well as those who wear western name brands. They are not mutually exclusive, however, and many people mix it up depending on the day. I, myself, have been on the hunt for a jalaba and I just purchased my very first pair of babouche slippers. I have a feeling they will soon become a staple in my wardrobe.

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It doesn’t feel abnormal to me. In fact, I actually think that it’s really cool that Moroccans have found  so many ways to retain their heritage while simultaneously transitioning between the stark and contrasting worlds of tradition and modernity.

En silence avec ton ombre

A friend recently passed on a piece of advice: Fuis ton ombre, il te suit. Suit ton ombre, il te fuit. Flee your shadow and it will follow. Follow your shadow, and it will flee. 

The symbolic meaning of the shadow has been a cognitive presence in my life  since it first came to me in a dream back in 2009. I have never forgotten the power of that dream, in which a voice urged me to beware of my shadow. I have returned to this dream time and again seeking to analyze and re-analyze its meaning. According to psychologist Carl Jung, the shadow represents our dark side and our instinctual self. Though it often appears in nightmares, its presence in deeply valuable. The shadow has been said to represent a goal that you harbor, and its primal energy will help you conquer obstacles. Therefore, my dream was not as I first perceived it–a warning–but rather, it was telling me to cultivate an acute awareness of my inner most desires and goals.

As my friend recounted this tid-bit of Jungian wisdom to me, she explained that it applied in all aspects of life including money, relationships, and your life’s purpose. At first I wasn’t sure if I agreed. How can people succeed if they do not actively pursue their dreams? However, as I’ve pondered this a bit more, I’ve begun to find some logic in her statement. This does not mean that I believe in lethargy, but that I find  something must be said about an unnaturally forced pursuit. Just as we can’t catch our shadow, neither can we chase down something that is not meant to be. If we are forcing something to happen for the sake of satisfying our ego, we will not attain what we desire.  What I did not agree with, however, was the idea of fleeing from our shadow. To flee is to deny, and to deny will only generate negativity. What I believe is that in stillness we gather all the clues we need in order to be fully present and aware in our bodies. If we can sit  in silence and cultivate awareness towards our life’s purpose, our inner most desires and our goals, the universe will naturally conspire to help us attain them. It is when  you are still that you can be one with your shadow, and you are capable of dialoguing with it.

In suit, here are some photographs of the Medina in Salé, Morocco. On the day I shot these photos I sought to capture glimpses of my shadow and the shadows of others.

Amen, Right On, Shalom, Saalam, Namaste,

Liz

Need anything from the hanooot, eh? The little Moroccan conveniences.

One of my favorite local conveniences here in Morocco is called a hanut (pronunciation: hanoot). A hanut is the Moroccan equivalent to a quickie mart, and there are multiple on a single city block, which offer a plethora of quick and convenient buys. I love the idea of the hanut for a variety of reasons, including it’s pronunciation, which I believe is best pronounced by Canadians.

More seriously, however, I love the idea of small businesses in Morocco. Everyone here dabbles in a little bit of everything. When asked, many Moroccans will tell you that their occupation is “business,” which to my American ears sounds as Shady as Slim. To their credit, however, I truly believe that Moroccans have an innate ability to network and seize opportunities; the hustlin’ spirit of entrepreneurship runs in their blood. Therefore, the hanuts, were particularly interesting to me because they take the business concept of a superstore and condense it into one small roadside market.

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On our street, we have two juxtaposed hanuts. We began frequenting the larger (super) one due to its relative proximity to our house, though the other one is literally a few steps further. From my doorstep to the entrance I have to walk a grand total of 50 paces. Its exquisite convenience aids my lazy cooking habits and my late night chocolate cravings. Food is not the only thing offered at the hanut, though. If you  so wish you can buy cell phone minutes, cigarettes, cleaning products, bread, toilet paper, shampoo, razors, assorted nuts, milk, propane gas, eggs, vegetables…Everything. Kolshi as they say in Darija.

I love the melange of products, the small local environment, and of course my hanut friends. My interactions in broken beyond repair Moroccan or Berber languages with the hanut boys have become some of my favorites. They try relentlessly to teach me the words for eggs and bread and butter, and then they humor me when I pretend to have understood. They never (openly) judge me when I show up in my pajamas looking for milk or eggs, and they have even gone out of their way to retrieve products from neighboring hanuts if they are lacking. I’ve developed a sense of fierce loyalty to my hanut and would now go out of my way to shop at their store even if it wasn’t convenient, just because I enjoy seeing their smiling faces thrice daily.

Last and least, because I can never resist a good metaphor, I like to think of the country of Morocco as a hanut. Aside from it’s obvious inconvenient distance from home, the country itself if fabulously convenient. Here, I feel like I can have it all with small compromise. Morocco, is a super synthesis of all my interests: Africa, France and the Middle East. Include a big kid job, great roommates, a cheap standard of living, and a unique cultural experience in the equation and I’ve begun to feel like I could stay here as long as the convenience serves my higher learning. How long will that be (surely the question on my parents lips as they read this) ? Time will slowly reveal the Master plan.

Salaam.

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