l'aventure africaine

our travel journal

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Strange things have been happening lately, here in our world. That’s right, the four letter word we despise in America and every volunteer I know craves. To be BUSY! Not all of it is hard-hitting, bringing health to Morocco type stuff, but in reality that is only 1/3 of our job here. So, we may not get "credit" per se from our counterpart, or the community, for that matter, but, in my head at least, I think of every interaction as work. The minute we step out of our doors we are no longer allowed to be mike and Jana, Americans, or even mike and Jana, Americans in another country. We become, like transformers if you like, mike and Jana, PC volunteers from America, trying to bring or exude all things acceptable from America, all the while interacting in a language we sometimes understand. Well, as much of "America" as two white kids from the Midwest can, of course. Two things here. First, we do slip up and little droplets of the first two eek out despite our best efforts. And second, and more importantly, this isn’t to say we don’t enjoy going out. Most of the time we really like it and while we may come back with a smile on our face, we usually come back feeling somewhat exhausted.
So what did this busy week entail for us.

-Visiting a friend who just had a baby. They live in Tata, not in our village.
-Working on a grant for medical waste incinerators at another volunteer’s site an hour down the road.

-Setting up a time for doing a school lesson about teeth care with teacher.
-Preparing said lesson, including but not limited too, writing lesson and finishing large paper mache mouth.
-Tutoring for about 3 hours
-Planning English lessons for two different classes
-Going to previously mentioned classes, 2 out of 3 which didn’t actually happen because there was not prior approval from the director.
-Tracking down contact for English class to find out class shouldn’t happen on said day because soccer always happens.
-Prepping simpler lesson about good foods versus bad foods for our teeth, for preschool kids that we presented on Monday which included a massive drawing spree as well as stuffing ourselves with the candy whose wrappers we used to illustrate bad foods in our little game.
-Spending 4 hours at the internet café trying to free our computer from the grips of nasty viruses that were causing all sorts of evils. Seems to have worked for the time being.
-Attending an event by an association in a neighboring community with whom we have become friendly.
-Meeting with the president of said community’s association to discuss grant options that we have to help them build an actual association building.
-Going to town and buying our necessary items.
-Finishing touches on our health lesson we did at the clinic on Wednesday, the busy vaccination day.
Add to this the fact that we cook our meals and none of them come from a box which not only means more prep time but using more dishes and utensils and thus more dishes in the end. In many ways its great, we eat way more fruit and vegetables but sometimes you just want to open a bag of veggies and some frozen chicken breasts or a mac N’ cheese and have one dish, or maybe even order a pizza (not an option for this part of the Maroc as far as I know.)

Another small story for your pleasure. As I'm sure you know, we have a real cute cat named Jack, and we, as any proud parents would do, have tried to teach him how to be a good citizen of this world, which for jack means: not jumping on the table or you will get sprayed with water, not attacking my hands with your claws or fangs or... that's right, you will get sprayed, and the list goes on like this. Well, after teaching our preschool class and having tea with one of the mothers afterwards, we were walking home, and see to our horror, some intruder cat on our roof with our beloved jack on the ledge. It all happened so quickly, so I can't confirm, but Jana claims the evil intruder pushed jack off our roof. We saw him hang for a brief second, like Cliffhanger, (a movie I've actually never seen) only to fall maybe 15 feet or so, safely, of course, because cats are like that. Anyways, so over the next 24 hours, in my head I was go through all the scenarios for some sort of training regimen for jack, much like rocky balboa would, so that next time some cat enters unwelcomed, he can at least defend himself and hopefully not fall off the roof. I was thinking of maybe bringing in some other cats in for more of a controlled fight where we could step in, and ring the bell if it just got out of hand. Realize that the fiercest thing jack fights are the big ants, flies, and our toes... until he gets sprayed, of course.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Another Sad Goodbye

Michael’s Gramma passed away this past week. Our thoughts and prayers are with his Grampa, Mom, Dad, and siblings. We wish we were there, to say goodbye together, and to be there for you. Know that we love you!!

Mike promised some L’Eid pictures, so they are coming, but they are going to be down the page a little so this can be a warning space. The pictures are going to be a little…a lot…bloody, so please be careful about who’s around you, and if blood is not your thing – don’t scroll down!

In the space until the pictures, I’ll tell you that we have secured a post office box so for the remaining 17 months we are here, we have a real, permanent address! Here it is:

Michael and Jana Huffman

B.P. 61

84000, Province of Tata


Any mail you send or have sent to the previous address(es) will still come to us, so no worries.

Alright, time for some pictures…
So, first is the slaughter. I didn't post any pictures because, well, it is just too bloody. If you guys want them, just let me know... I just didn't want to show too much. This is the beginning of the skinning process. The start at the back legs, and you can see that someone is holding the broken leg... a little handle.
This is the skinning process a little further down the line. We like this one because he is using his whole body -- our host family thought it was hilarious and made sure we got a picture.

Here are the heads of our sacrifices. The little kids thought they were great. This is all a scary adventure for us, but they do this every year and it is a HUGE holiday -- they love it!!

Like Mike said, the first day you eat the organs, grilled in stomach fat. Here is the guys getting it prepared to grill.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Holiday Happenings

The days leading up to this have included various renditions of the “Do you have your hawli (aka sheep) yet?” usually accompanied by a smirk. I, of course, say “no” and then am forced to give some excuse. In a lot of ways, we complain about routine conversations which are still about all we can accomplish with any sort of ease, but the flip side is that at least we can talk about something that we understand. I use that word understand quite loosely meaning we understand the words, not necessarily the why, how, or even always the what, but after several times with the same conversation we are usually able to work out the kinks and thus converse. My excuses usually include something about my lack of killing fortitude, or the fact that we will spend it with our adopted family, both of which are entirely valid.

8:54 standing in a section of the currently unused cemetery, most men of the village have started praying but, as with any event, there are a few stragglers. There is really no set time for anything so to say they are late wouldn’t really be accurate. Children are standing behind those praying, and a few enterprising ones have decided to bring a box filled with candy to sell to the others. As the tradition goes, children have new clothes and shoes, all looking very fancy. The men are all wearing long robes that I described earlier, most have jellabas, generally thicker with a hood, now that it is cold. I finally understand why at seemingly random places all over the country we have seen what seem like a miniature stairway facing east. This is where the religious leader of the community, the faqii, stands while delivering his speech during these gathering outside.

10:55 I’ve since returned, and having eaten our breakfast of oatmeal, Jana and I are out the door to our families house to celebrate and observe the killing of the sacrificial animals. There is certainly a sense of excitement in the air, but I can’t discern if it’s because we all know we will have wonderful meaty tagines and couscous for days to come or if it is something else. Nearly all family members who work or go to school in other parts of the country or in France or Italy return during this time so there are a lot of new faces about town and I think this may be adding to the enthusiasm. Islamic law stipulates that each married man is required to slaughter one animal per wife, either a sheep or a goat. Sheep, I gather, are more expensive, but I don’t get a sense that there is overt bragging or shame based on the animal sacrificed. Within our extended family there are three animals, 2 goats and a sheep.

11:00 We arrive and of course have to drink some tea first off. We are served tea that has been cooked on the small grill that is also used for cooking the first meat. This same grill heats the incense that women fluff their skirts over at special occasions to make them smell all purty, in addition to the cologne. Oh, almost forgot, we too were welcomed with some Masculin 2. (Men take note: The ladies light up when Masculin 2 is broken out, and I know Christmas is come and gone, but it is high time the world start smelling a little more manly)

11:40 Our host uncle who is about our same age and has two adorable little girls gets impatient with waiting for all the proper tools and maybe some of the expertise so we go around back and see him in a nice light yellow shirt holding on to this dear sheep. I made the mistake of asking him if he did it or someone else and he said “Of course, its easy.” I’ll just say, maybe we should have sharpened the knife a little more because it didn’t look hard, but it certainly didn’t look easy either. Nonetheless, after pouring some water over the neck to see if it was still alive, we proceeded to skin it, with the same dull knife. Thankfully, his brother and our host father came with the sharp knives or we might still have been there.

12:15 The insides of the first goat are opened and inside, besides all the usual things, and I do unfortunately mean all, there is a baby goat roughly the size of my hand. It is unceremoniously tossed in the hole located quite conveniently next to their house; thanks to the wall building efforts to enclose the cemetery.

1:46 All told I’ve seen two goats and a sheep get it today, and I’m feeling pretty good. Very generously, they offered to let me do some of the killin’. I declined. Now its time to hunker down, and eat up that delicious liver along with some of the other unknown vitals, wrapped in a thin layer of white stomach fat, kind of like wrapping paper for your meat. Grilled over that small charcoal grill, called a mijmer, and served with some fresh bread, it actually tastes quite pleasant.

3:30 Watch video replay of the Saddam hanging on our family’s satellite TV. Thankfully nothing has been said to us about it except a question about whether we knew it had happened by granny. We assured her that while we don’t have television, we did have a radio that tells us some things.

4:30 Make our way home in order to rest up for the evenings festivities which require a return trip for dinner, but on the way out we see Zahara, our host mom with her goat’s head on a stick, turning it about in a fire, trying to get all the hair off of it. “Could that be dinner?”

7:30 Head back over for dinner and find that Said, who had gone into town to slaughter his brothers animal while he was away with the military has returned so we talk with him a bit. Rest in the sitting room for a while, and then the men retreat to the brother’s part of the house.

9:30 Dinner of olive and goat tagine is served. Said was out and so he missed the meal.

10:30 Decide that its time to go despite the fact its New Years Eve, if we are going to go the Circumcision Party the next day, we best get some sleep.

The day overall was pretty enjoyable. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m glad I got to see it in person. While family returns for this holiday time there wasn’t really a sense that family all had to be together for the slaughtering, our two host brothers were MIA during that part, or even for the dinner that seemed like it was pretty special. I don’t know if that is just our family, or what but it was the most unexpected part of the day. With regards to the Circumcision party, every year the association brings in a doctor to do circumcisions for kids about 3 years or so. This year there were 5 in our village and 2 in the neighboring village. We went because we were told that the “entire community” is there. We arrived, but quickly found we had been mislead, and so, after just a few “short” hours we retreated. Jana was served lunch at one of the children’s mother’s house, whose house we have visited a couple times before. But because I had left before our lunch was served, in typical fashion, she was sent home with her serving of meat and an extra serving for me.

While not exactly Christmas and New Years, it was certainly festive here for a couple days, and while we are full blown members, we are definitely feeling more and more comfortable with our lives here. Hopefully some pictures will follow but Jana didn’t come in to town and I have no clue what I’m doing with this stuff so getting pictures just seems a little too technical for me, sorry.