Monthly Archives: November 2011

Morocco is a Fun Place Too


Yesterday a Moroccan friend invited me to a full-day excursion to an oasis of fun in the countryside just outside of Rabat. At “Le Relais de la Maamora,” we played paintball, had a tasty lunch of salad and chicken tagine, practiced archery, and rode 4-wheeled motor bikes around a course. My studies and work here are serious, but I guess I’m having some fun too 🙂

About once a year for the last few years, one friend or another had invited me to go paintballing, and I always came up with one excuse or another for not going. But yesterday, I finally decided to say yes! And I’m glad I did. I was pretty scared at the beginning. The first round I got hit almost immediately after the whistle blew to set off the game. But the second round, I played the role of hiding sniper. The only problem was that my aim wasn’t too good. So when my teammates went in for the kill and asked me to “cover” for them, I didn’t really do much “covering.” Then I found myself the lone survivor on the team with two guys on the other team still alive. All of a sudden, I had to jump into action. Though it didn’t last too long and eventually I got hit. But still, the adrenaline rush was quite exciting, and the paint bullets didn’t hurt too much. I suppose it helped that everyone was playing a very civilized game: No close range shooting whatsoever. It was also my first time trying archery and driving those cars. Who knew that Morocco would be the place to experience these things?

Warming up with some ping-pong

Don't worry. It's just a paintball gun


Archery at Le Relais de la Maamora

Meeting Rotaract Casablanca SADA


Thursday I attended a meeting of a Rotaract Club in Casablanca (SADA). The group consisted of young professionals, including in the fields of business, engineering, law, and even a Moroccan women’s tennis champion. It was a truly inspiring experience to be with community leaders in my own age group, dedicated to working towards the betterment of their society and reaching out to those in need. The group is in the initial phase of planning service projects for the year. Among the ideas they are bouncing around include building a school and public park, organizing quality internships for top students from the public university in Casablanca, and providing support to other local  initiatives. While I am usually unable to attend the group’s meetings, because I teach at the orphanage on Thursday eves, I am hoping to stay in touch and be of assistance to their projects in any way I can.

At the meeting

Rotaract SADA group pic. DEAR GROUP: Didn't have flash. Please send better pic. Thanks.

Ram Sacrifice of Eid al-Adha


Today is the start of the biggest Islamic holiday, “Eid al-Adha,” commemorating Abraham’s ram sacrifice. In Islam, the story is pretty much the same as in the Jewish Torah / Christian Old Testament, except that Ismail is to be sacrificed instead of Isaac, before the ram gets slaughtered instead. To commemorate the event, Muslims continue to sacrifice rams. They do not waste the animals, but eat all their meat and sell their furry skins (or use them as rugs). However, if you’re not used to seeing animals being killed and lots of blood and guts spilling out, it is a bit of the experience. I definitely wasn’t expecting the ram to keep kicking for several minutes after its throat had been slit and head fell halfway off its neck. I also wasn’t expecting the stench of excrements / half-digested food as the ram’s stomach and intestines were pulled out.  On the other hand, the smell of ram being cooked is a bit appetizing. Shortly after the sacrifice, we ate the ram’s liver for lunch, and we’ll be eating more of the poor fellow for dinner. The holiday atmosphere is quite festive, even out in some streets, where people are cooking their rams or collecting ram skins. To all those celebrating, have a happy and blessed holiday! !عيد مبارك سعيد

UPDATE (Nov. 13): After someone explained to me the concept of Islamic Halal animal slaughter and I did a bit of research on it, I thought it worthwhile to add here that the kicking of the animal after the initial neck cut does not mean that it is in pain. It is basically in auto-reaction, like the way chickens continue to run around after their heads have been cut off. But with no blood flowing to their brains, they are not experiencing pain. The Halal method of cutting an animal’s jugular vein is very similar to the Kosher method.

My host family and a couple of their relatives admiring the ram they will soon be sacrificing.

Pinning the ram down before the kill

Neighborhood collection of ram skins

An Intellectual Moment

Last week closed with the usual once-a-month school graduation ceremony and party for all students. I passed my exam and will officially be moving from Advanced Arabic 1 to Advanced 2. Anyways, I came home from the celebration to a bit of a surprise. There was a strong farm animal stench when I opened the door. I recalled how my host family had been talking about the goat or sheep of some sort that they will be slaughtering on the upcoming biggest holiday of the year, “Ayeed al-Adha.” But I wasn’t totally prepared to open the kitchen door and find a live Ram –big horns and all– dipping its head into some munchies in the cat feeder…
Since the holiday means we will get off school Monday and Tuesday, I thought I could take a bit of time to do some pleasure reading in English. Well, to satiate my guilt about reading instead of working on grad school applications, studying languages, or preparing lesson plans for the orphanage, I chose a book that I expected would combine a captivating story with cultural learning about Morocco. I have an American friend to thank for lending me the book: “Secret Son,” by Moroccan writer, Laila Lalami, who lives in the U.S., and writes fiction about Morocco in English.

It was an easy read that took me only a day to get through, mainly because I was so enticed by the story that I didn’t want to take a break from it. Laila Lalami is like a next-generation Fatima Mernissi (transformed into a fiction writer), continuing the tradition of talented, liberal, Moroccan female writers, who know both how to tell a good story and to poignantly analyze the underlying societal issues and questions of her country. There are also strong parallels to be drawn with Alaa Al-Aswany’s “The Yacoubian Building,” which provides the same kind of critique-through-fiction of very much similar societal issues, but in Egypt instead of Morocco. Some parallels could also be drawn with parts of Khaled Hoseeini’s novels about Afghanistan, especially the secret/illegitimate son or daughter concept.  I am definitely going to ask my friend for Lalami’s other book, “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.”

On the downside, despite Lalami’s acclaim abroad, I was a bit surprised when I mentioned her to some Moroccan friends and found that only one had heard of her. My more traditional host family definitely hasn’t heard of her. It’s also interesting that she chose to write in English, unlike Al-Aswany who wrote in Arabic. And I wonder why Lalami’s books have only been translated into French and not to Arabic. Maybe the Arabic translation is forthcoming? Who knows?

Recommended books:
1. Morocco: Laila Lalami, Secret Son
2. Morocco: Fatima Mernissi, Tales of a Harem Girlhood
3. Egypt: Alaa Al-Aswany, The Youcobian Building
4. Afghanistan: Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner

"Secret Son" by Laila Lalami