Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Marrakech is known as THE place to visit in Morocco. All the action centers around Jemaa el-Fna, a historical square in Morocco. In the evening, we found open-air restaurants, musicians, and "carnival" games. During the day, we watched snake charmers, acrobats, and henna women. We actually found the square to be quite overwhelming- rather than casually taking in the sights we had to keep saying "la" (no) to people wanting to ask for money for each glance we took. (Vickie got henna-ed before she could even say no, and then I had to negotiate majorly so the bill wasn't insane.) Before it became such a sight (until the 19th century), Jemaa el-Fna was a place for public executions. I think I'll take pushy henna ladies over that...

Henna Hands

Open-air restaurant in Jemaa el-Fna. Stall after stall of this, men using American catch-phrases (one man quoted Obama's acceptance speech!) to get us to come and eat.

Wandering around the old part of Marrakech, the medina around Jemaa el-Fna, takes you past many wonderful sights. We walked through the souks, which are regions of the medina that sell specific goods. (I want to return to see the metalwork, basket, and dyers' souks.) As you walk through the medina, shopkeepers invite you to look at their goods and offer "democratic price," like for "family." Tom, walking with three women, received many comments from men saying he was lucky; and was twice offered camels in exchange for one (or all) of us. 6,000 camels for three women.

Tom and two of his women in the medina

A generous portion of saffron, worth more than its weight of gold but found in most Moroccan dishes

A typical spice shop in the Rahba Kedima "Old Square"

Spices backlit by colorful lamps

Selling carpets in the Old Square (in the medina off from Jemaa el-Fna)

A wander through the medina includes places of playful light

at center: Darbukka drum, made of clay body and fishskin head. above: Berber "guitars" with goatskin and wooden bodies.

This shopkeeper taught me to play a Berber square drum (they are decorated with henna). Harder than it looks!

Tom grooves on a Berber guitar

Christmas on a Camel

This year I had a dilemma to solve: how does one spend Christmas in Morocco? We stumbled upon a lovely solution while in Essaouira with our friends Vickie and Krista. In Essaouira we had a little tiny speck of a view of what things might have been like for Jesus... camels in the sand, donkeys around us in the city, people in turbans and flowy dresses, and open markets... Christmas and Camels. Remembering in a different way.

Vickie's camel, two-toe, wasn't enjoying the walk so much and kept sitting down and grunting. If you haven't been on a camel when it's sitting or standing, it's quite the surprising experience... every time. Traveling with these creatures over miles and miles would certainly be a challenging way to travel.

An Essaouira window wishing us the best. (courtesy of Krista)
Our camel beach (courtesy of Krista)
From Front: Vickie on Two-toe, Krista on Billain, Tom on Cappucino, and Karissa on Mustafa

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Making Christmas Bright

As an expat at Christmastime for the first time, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to feel fully present in the holiday. Warm, rainy weather and prevalence of a Muslim culture certainly contribute to my struggle to believe that Christmas is this week.

Some things I miss that have come to define signs of the holiday are: advent, Christmas music, snow, Christmas lights on homes, church, singing with my family, traveling to see loved ones, and of course, being surrounded by family. Smaller things, like my Mom’s Christmas cookies, hot cider, or going Christmas tree shopping the cold day after Thanksgiving seem to be a bit more important than I thought they were. I do not miss the commercial bombardment of the holiday, nor do I miss the horrible renditions of holiday songs playing everywhere I go.

I realize that a big part of what makes Christmas what it is for me is the traditions. Some of these traditions are from the Midwest, where I grew up. Others are from my family or from Tom’s family. This year is our first year together apart from those influences, and Tom and I have the challenge of choosing our traditions and creating our own traditions together. 

We have therefore surrounded ourselves with people in festive circumstances: school sing-alongs, Christmas parties, and baking Christmas cookies. Despite the crazy cost of Christmas decorations in Casablanca, we have decorated three of our plants like Christmas trees. We lovingly packed boxes of Moroccan delights for our family. Christmas day will find us along the ocean, wearing llama sweaters to block from the wind and celebrating with our colleagues (Jim and LuAnn), their children, and our friends Vickie and Krista from the U.S.

Moroccan Camel Ornament with Austrian Stars

Christmas ball on our tropical plant

Wishing you joy as you celebrate Christmas in your own way. Wishing you comfort as you miss those who cannot be part of your Christmas.