Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Adventure Continues...

Greetings to my gentle readers!!! I am currently back in Alaska, but I have loads more fun pictures and adventures to share about Morocco.

Just let me get through the school Christmas Concert, Staff Gift Exchange, Door Decoration Contest, baking a million cookies, and my jet lag.

Then the stories and pictures will be back. I promise.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Sheep Souq

So, you've been to the Tahnaoute souq with me a few times. Now I'm about to show you a different kind of souq: the sheep shouq. Well, I can't exactly call it THE sheep souq. It's more lke A sheep souq. There are a lot of them this time of year in Marrakech in preparation for the Eid holiday.


During Eid each family sacrifices a sheep. So, the sheep souq consists of people selling sheeps as potential sacrifices.

Note to readers: I am fully aware that the word "sheeps" is a completely inappropriate pluralization. I just think it's cute. I may also use the word "sheepies" sometime during this post. Consider yourself grammatically warned.


It was kind of bizarro to see a bunch of men standing around holding sheep by the head. Potential buyers walk around, pick the sheep up, and pat them. It's kind of like 4-H. Except that the sheep are really dirty. And there's no ribbons.


I would like to take this opportunity to remind my gentle readers about my phobia of taking pictures of strangers. Also, I didn't want to have my touristness result in a skyrocketed price for Brahim while purchasing his sheep (in fact, I pretty much walked at least five meters behind him at all times). Almost all of these pictures were taken with my camera at my waist shooting randomly. Sometimes that resulted in decent pictures. More often, it resulted in pictures like the one above.


Sometimes the pictures were a cross of decent and completely useless. I never would have taken this pictures of a sheep's backside on my own, but I kind of like it. By "like it," I mean it makes me laugh in a visual slapstick sort of way. It must be the Alston in me.


Once a sheep is purchased, it has to be moved to your vehicle of choice. This is not an easy task. Somehow, I think the sheepies know that they are going to be sacrificed, and they are extremely uncooperative. The wheelbarrow method was frequently used to force sheep mobility.


I also saw a lot of sheep being passed overhead. I was very grateful not to be under any of the sheep.


We paid a guy a few dirhams to carry our sheep in a cart (the terms "we" and "our" are being used very loosely here...).


The guy really earned his dirhams when he carried our sheep to the car.


Brahim helped the guy put the sheepie in the trunk.


Note to animal rights activists: this blog does not make any official statement of approval of keeping live mammals in the trunks of cars. It is merely objectively reporting typical behavior in Morocco. Thank you.


The legs were tied together to keep the sheep from getting too crazy in the trunk. Although, we did hear a fair amount of banging going on.

Note to animal rights activists: please refer to the above caption. Thank you.


People concerned for the welfare of the sheep as we drove from Marrakech to Tahnaoute will be happy to know that Brahim stuffed cardboard in the trunk to keep it from closing all the way.


He even bought tape to keep the trunk closed enough to prevent the cardboard from falling out.


Good thing he had his pocket knife with small scissors, huh?


We put the sheep in the little open air courtyard at home.


He (and I know it's a he because only male sheep are used for the sacrifices) only stayed of a few hours before he was relocated to a neighbor's stable. But, it was long enough for Karim to look through the window and make sheepie noises.

Stay tuned for upcoming details about the sacrifice!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shishmaref Scrapbook


This picture looks like something boring. It is, however, something very un-boring.


Before I came to Morocco one of my coworkers brilliantly suggested that I have my kids help me make a scrapbook about life in Shishmaref.


I ordered prints of a bunch of my Flickr pictures. Then I had the kids write descriptions of what was in the pictures.


They described different types of Eskimo Food...


and Eskimo games. They're written descriptions were pretty good. They even included some Inupiaq words where appropriate. I was proud.


One of the best parts of the scrapbook was the mini-bios. Every student in the school filled out a questionnaire about their favorite foods, activities, etc., even the little kids.


My big kids did it too. Their bios were slightly less adorable (due mainly to the fact that they largely avoided the spelling errors of the elementary students), but no less enjoyable to read. (Hey Big Kids! Just because I think the little kids are adorable doesn't mean I love you less!)


It was a lot of work, but the above picture shows the reaction of the Moroccan students. They were fascinated, and they crowded around the book so they could each see every page. Worth it. Definitely worth it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bahia Palace

One of the cool things about spending so much time in Marrakech is that there is an endless supply of fascinating and beautiful things to see. Every so often, Brahim will come up to me and say, "Do you want to go to (fill in the blank with any number of fascinating and fabulous sites in the city)?" That's how we ended up at the Bahia Palace.


My Lonely Planet Morocco book says that the Palace was originally owned by two grand viziers. To be honest, I didn't really pay much attention to any of the historical details while I was at the palace. I was too busy looking at the stunning details. Like the magnificent ceilings.


And the plaster carvings.


Everything inside was dimly lit by overhead lights. It kind of gave the whole place an intriguing ambience.


This is possibly the world's most weak sauce photo, but it illustrates that there were several courtyards in the palace. Each courtyard was surrounded by a series of rooms.


This courtyard had a fountain!!!


Brahim wanted his picture taken with the fountain. I'm not sure if this is what he was expecting...

Bahia Palace, another one of the beautiful places brought to you by Marrakech.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fun With the Siblings

Have I mentioned that I love my Moroccan siblings? They have a lot in common with my biological siblings: they're funny, they love to laugh, and they love me! :)

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So, when I busted out Photo Booth on my laptop, it was an instant success.

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The four of us had a great time getting into wacky poses and making ourselves look as silly as possible.

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The two-headed monster was a pretty popular pose.

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As was the "we're-getting-sucked-into-a-wind-tunnel."

Note to readers: I do wear makeup sometimes. I promise.

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We started laughing so hard that Brahim scolded us. I guess there are neighbors or something.

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Our quietness lasted about fifteen seconds because Karim convinced Zourikha to get in on the act.

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And that was pretty funny all by itself.

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I showed these pictures to Khadija later, and she laughed hysterically. Then she created the above gem.

I love these guys.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Moroccan Family Eats Fajitas

As a pitiful attempt to say thank you for all of the food that's been prepared for me, I made one of my favorite dishes for my Moroccan family: fajitas!!! In the great tradition of blogging cooking shows, I thought I would share the experience with you.


This culinary exercise was an adventure in substitutions. I wanted to make homemade tortillas to go along with the fajitas (Steve and I are sort of famous for our homemade tortillas), but I couldn't find shortening anywhere. Or lard. Or anybody who knew what either of those things were... So, I had to use butter.

(You will be happy to know that I even bought this butter all by myself with my mad Arabic skills. "Nuss kilo zebda." That means, "Half kilo butter.")


I mixed the butter with flour, salt, and baking powder (trying to describe baking powder in the grocery store was another adventure...).


Brahim provided this picture (and most of the other ones). This shot is to prove that I, in fact, was the one preparing the food.

Note to readers interested in making tortillas: using butter is slightly more difficult than using shortening. The shortening is softer and easier to mix with the other ingredients (I even left the butter out overnight, to no avail).


While the tortilla dough sat (they taste better if the dough is allowed to rest for a while), I chopped yellow peppers...


and red peppers...


and green ones.


I did the onions last because they make me cry.


I peeled the outer layers of the onions off with my hands. Brahim thought that was hilarious. I'm not sure why. He was really intent on taking a picture of it. (It's kind of relaxing to have somebody else take pictures of you cooking. Usually I have to stop cooking, wipe my hands, take a shot, set the camera somewhere safe, and resume cooking. I wonder if my budget would allow for a full time cooking photographer...)


Fresh garlic!!!!! Usually I have to use the stuff out of a jar. This time I got to mince it myself.


Sara helped me shape the tortillas.


That was really nice, especially since there was no tortilla press or rolling pin, and I had to press all the tortillas by hand...


We used some of the dough to make this adorable crocodile, complete with scales down his back. We're awesome.


Another picture demonstrating the difficulty of making tortillas by hand. (Hey Steve! I missed your mad skills with the tortillas press!)


We cooked the tortillas on a skillet on the gas stove. They turned out pretty well.


We covered the tortillas to keep them warm and then prepared to sautee the vegetables. The only oil we could find was olive oil, and I wasn't quite sure that was the flavor I wanted. So, we used butter.


Onions first so they get nice and tender.


Then we added the peppers and let them steam while we cooked the chicken. I was lucky enough to find a bottle of "Mexican Seasoning" at a supermarket in Marrakesh. I'm not exactly sure what was in it, but it was sufficiently fajita-ish.


We let the chicken steam to finish, and we added cilantro to the vegetables.


The final dish looked like this. The serving platter is typically used for couscous, but I took a few cultural culinary liberties...


I showed the family how to assemble the fajitas Alston style. (Steve's family spreads the sour cream on the tortilla first before adding the rest of the filling/topping.)

Note to readers: I couldn't find sour cream, so we used plain yogurt mixed with salt. I think I liked it better than sour cream.


The set up. Loubna is pretending that she doesn't notice I am taking a picture.


This is kind of a lame picture, but I wanted to show the homemade salso I made. It's in the blue tupperware tub on the left. I used canned corn, fresh tomatoes, fresh onions, cilantro, and lemon juice. Ordinarily I would have used lime juice and added black beans, but...I couldn't find them. It was still yummy.


This is Sara assembling her fajita. In addition to the "sour cream" and salsa, we also had cheese. It wasn't cheddar cheese. It was an orange hardish cheese. In fact, it was the only orange hardish cheese in the Marrakesh supermarket.

The verdict: two thumbs up from EVERY SINGLE family member, even though Brahim preferred to eat the filling with Moroccan bread instead of the tortillas. :) Wahoo!!!