Sunday, February 14, 2010

my life, a 'hands-on' approach

People eat lots of different things. I love eating raw fish paired with a ball of rice that has been seasoned with vinegar and sugar. Others love to suck the marrow out of animal bones after eating the flesh around them. Still others enjoy a soup made from an aged preserved bird’s nest, while someone else might eat a worm that has been pickling in the bottom of a bottle of tequila. How about scorpions, lard, dog meat, …you get the point.

People also have many ways to eat those things they enjoy. Some use shaped bits of minerals to transfer food into their mouths, others little sticks. Some use no utensils and only one hand to eat, while some might prefer to drink their food. Here in Morocco, using metal utensils to eat is quite normal. But forks and knives have not eclipsed the triumvirate + bread method, or that of thumb, forefinger, and middle finger aided by a morsel of bread. I hope that this method never dies out, nor do I think it is in danger of doing so. I really enjoy eating in this manner, and it is something I want to bring back to my American life. I might just be saying that now because I am in Morocco, but I think from now on I will eat more with my hands. (I don’t like to say I am going to do something without following through on it, though I know I am guilty of this, as you probably are too, from time to time.)

At home here we generally use our hands to eat from the main communal dish. Salad is served from a large bowl onto small individual plates, or rather, usually one plate for me and one for everyone else, and we eat it with tiny spoons. Their size matches the diced morsels of tomato, onion, cucumber, and lettuce that usually make up the salad. This is how it is done. For example, when I prepared the salad one day the size of my lettuce shreds caused a chuckle. I tried to explain that chez moi we usually serve the lettuce in bite sized chunks, but this did not fly. The size of the salad morsels here make them rather difficult to eat with one’s hands; maybe next time I will suggest cutting the veggies in bigger pieces so they are compatible with the triumvirate + bread method (and thus less prep work for the cook). Perhaps this style of salad is residual from the colonial period. How to phrase that question in Arabic…? I am not quite there yet.

Speaking of hands and their proximity to food, I would like to spend a few minutes pointing out some observations I have made concerning Moroccan habits and customs. Some are critiques, but I don’t mean to be critical in an offensive or orientalist way. It is much easier to point out the idiosyncrasies of a society when one is an outsider. It is also very easy to assume the point of view that the way we do things at home is the only way to do it, which is far from accurate. I would love to read a Moroccan’s observations of life in the US and whatever critiques they might come up with. That said, with the risk of offending or seeming like the American assuming a superior attitude that I would like to avoid, here we go:

-hygiene and cleanliness: handwashing is not a common habit when food preparation is involved, nor do I always observe my family washing their hands before we eat from the communal plate. Think about that in light of the Islamic cultural norm of eating with your right hand because left hands are reserved for other business, and you see the contradictions emerging. Also cow hoofs and goat hoofs are commonly available in the markets, and I am told they are a specialty (Aura was welcomed for her first meal at home with hoof, mmm). But I think about that as a delicacy in light of the other cultural taboo of eating pig because it is a dirty animal. Hmm, feet strike me as some of the dirtiest parts of any animal, but that may just be me.

-Motor bikes: people buzzing around the Medina often use their helmets to protect their handlebars, as opposed to their heads. Hmm.

-Minimal effort is made to keep the streets in the Medina clean during the day. People usually throw their trash on the ground without thinking twice, though there are a few trash cans on the biggest streets in the medina. You often see shopkeepers scrubbing the few feet of pavement in front of their doorways in the mornings. Every night the streets are swept by garbage crews (using big palm fronds) and the trash is collected in trucks. No sort of recycling in the formal sense with bins and collections that we have it in the States, but that doesn’t mean recycling doesn’t happen.

-Energy and resource demands for the Moroccan household are less than in the US, but that goes without saying. Less water is needed from washing fewer dishes and utensils and from shorter and less frequent showers. Energy needs for heating the home are nonexistent for some, minimal for others, and probably significant for a small minority. Gas for cooking and heating water is the extent of fuel needs in my house. I will do a bigger entry on environment and energy in the future.

-Screen Time: Television, according to more than one Moroccan, is "like another member of the family." I agree completely with this sentiment. The TV is on probably 10-16 hours per day, depending on whether or not Farida has to go out. It is sometimes more like background music rather than active entertainment, but it's on none the less. It is very important to turn off lights when they are not in use, but the TV is only turned off when the house is empty. For example, the power was out Sunday afternoon. They ran an extension cord upstairs from the neighbors house, and guess what it was used to power...the TV of course!

Perhaps they dont realize that TVs use more energy than probably all the lights in the house, but I think everyone would benefit from less screen time. I think more quality family time could be discovered with less TV time, and maybe people would start reading for pleasure more (something I have yet to witness). Of course people in the States would all benefit from less screen time in our lives, though it seems that the trend of technology and society is taking us in the opposite direction.

In the context of a discussion about the subjectivity of knowledge, Aura and I started talking about things that are universal. See Aura’s blog for her take on this topic:

The best example I have, and the most inescapable, is the cycle of life from birth to death. Everything that can be said to have life is ‘created’ (in some way or another) and must eventually die. Of course one can debate the qualifications for having life, like whether a virus is alive (I don’t know if science has settled that one yet); but you know what I mean when I say life. A similar example is time, as in we are all subject to the ticking of the clock. The process of aging will take its toll on all of us, and gray hair seems to be a universal sign of this (for some sooner than others haha).

We were also thinking about universally recognizable signs or symbols across any sort of border. Like laughter and a smile, which as far as I know always signifies happiness. How about different ways of greeting other people, especially those people we already know. It pretty much always involves some sort of physical contact, either touching hands, shaking or otherwise, embracing each other, a form of kissing, or some combination of all of the three. That’s all that I remember, but if you can think of any let me know. Or if you have any corrections for me, I would always appreciate that too.

Okay time to wrap it up. Casablanca this weekend was fun, it was good to get out of Rabat. More on that trip later, including pictures of the inside of the incredible Hassan II mosque (3rd largest mosque in the world). This weekend we have our big excursion around the country for a week, which we are all very excited for! Just 8 americans, our Moroccan RD (probably several drivers and guides), and the open road. Fez, Marrakesh, dessert camel rides, Gnaouwa musical performances (descendents of slaves who have retained that as their cultural identity), and more. It should be a blast.

The man next to me is smoking and listening to American pop music out loud in the internet cafĂ©, including the artist known as Lady Gaga. I know she’s talented, but I thought I would escape her by coming to Morocco. Apparently that is not possible. I miss craisins, teddies peanut butter, chocolate covered pretzels, and all of you! Also Boston, 30 glenville avenue #1, riding Maeve (my shiny purple bike), Rhonda the Honda, Artemis, Birdy, Athena, Preston, and Crystabel. Okay Ma’salam, bislemah, love and goodbye.

1 comment:

  1. I am POSITIVE I commented on this earlier today. Maybe it's just firefox? Anyway, I love your philosophical musings and tales of life there. Pix of Casablanca are amazing.