MarocMama

eat well, travel often, dream big!

So you Wanna Marry a Moroccan Man?

One of the most often read and commented posts on my website is about assumptions people make when you tell them you married an Arab. I tend to let the comments section just roll as people share their own stories and experiences. Some are good, some are bad. When I wrote that post I really wanted to share some of the crazy, and sometimes rude stereotypes people had and felt no need to censor, sharing them openly with me.

I am really blessed that my husband and my marriage has largely defied those stereotypes. I know many other women (and men) whose relationships also defy them. I know yet others whose relationships fit the stereotype. So in this post I’m going to be brutally honest with anyone who is considering marrying a Moroccan man. Some of what I share transcends Morocco, but as I’m not as familiar with others I’m not really qualified to talk about them.

1. Family and children.

These are essentially the two most important things in Moroccan life. Both men and women see marriage as a very important life milestone and aside from a select few, having children is a desire. If you can’t have children either for health reasons or because you’re past the age of conception, you really need to think long and hard about how sincere and honest your partner is being if he says he doesn’t want children.

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My Money or Our Money: Navigating Finances in an Intercultural Marriage

Well what  a surprise! I really wasn’t sure how this new thread of conversations on relationships would go but after the response last week I can say I am looking forward to sharing a lot more. Today’s subject is touchy, it might rattle nerves and I’m guessing several of you might disagree with me. It wasn’t until recently that MarocBaba and I have been able to look back at the beginning of our marriage and laugh at some things and apologize to each other for mistakes we know we made.

We were really both kids, just barely adults when we got married. When he landed in the US we literally had about $250 between us. I know what you’re thinking,

“how irresponsible, how could you even think of marriage when you weren’t in a secure financial position…”

Here’s the thing, there’s a million reasons why people will say you should wait to get married, or wait to have a baby, or wait to buy a house, or move overseas. You get my point. The truth is there is no “right time.” We get so stuck waiting for the “right time” that time blows past and before you know it you’re 65 years old looking back at your life and wondering what if you would have taken that chance, what if you would have just gone with it? Would things have been easier if I would have been done with university, in a stable job and he came with a loaded bank account? Of course! Do I wish we would have waited for that point, no way!

I am a just go with it person. I believe if things are meant to work out they will. If they’re not, they won’t and then I’ll figure out a different plan. So we went for it head first and were determined we would figure out a way.

I don’t regret that for a second.

Chances are whether you’re the immigrating spouse or your partner is, one of you won’t be able to work for awhile. This can cause some serious friction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard couples in this situation exclaim in an exasperated tone, “but it’s my money! I’m the one working, I’m not going to buy that for him!” Or vice versa “really why does she need to spend all MY money buying that crap?” If this is your mindset you need to stop right now and put your nuptials on hold.

We made plenty of mistakes but one thing we never did was claim any money was mine or his.

It was ours.

When we were eating lentils for dinner three nights a week because we were broke and had to make our rent payment we were both eating the lentils. When we were literally digging through our pockets and couches for coins to take the bus to work, we were both stuck looking. When we had a bit of extra money it was spent in a way that was most beneficial to both of us (and if I’m being honest most of the time that meant him getting me something I wanted or needed). This was the case when I was the one working, or when he was the one working – because we’ve been in both scenarios.

If you’re marrying a Moroccan man, or a Middle Eastern man he’s going to face an extreme amount of shame when he comes to the US and is legally unable to work until he receives the proper documents. There’s no need for you to make him feel even  worse by rubbing it in his face that it’s “your” money. Depending on how much experience he has either at home or elsewhere it’s going to be a shock to understand how finances work in his new home. You should sit down as soon as possible after arrival to go over what your monthly expenses are and what income is coming in. This is also the time when you need to talk about sending money home to his family.

I know you’re shrugging that off saying, “no way we’re stretched as thin as possible, I refuse to send MY money there!” (see there it is again!) Whether you like it or not this is going to be a part of your relationship forever unless you’ve managed to snag a Saudi prince. You’re not marrying the man, you’re marrying the family. I’m not saying to automatically agree to whatever sum comes up, but what I am saying is you need to figure out a way to help him meet his obligations to the family he was born to as well as the family he chooses to create. Maybe it’s sending a little bit monthly, or saving to send a lump sum at holidays but 9.5 out of 10 times some money will be expected to be sent home.

Do not shy away from these conversations because it will help avoid a lot of misunderstanding and stress down the line. 

Money is a very sensitive subject in every relationship. Couple that with cultural differences, possibly limited language abilities and the challenges that come with adjusting to a new country and there are bound to be even more challenges. But, if you know what to expect it can make things easier. If you’re thinking this is just all too much, then you should step back and consider your relationship because there isn’t enough love in the world to make these issues disappear. 

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How To Use the Moroccan Hammam

Maybe you’ve heard of it, and maybe not. The Moroccan hammam is one of the most widely loved and yet puzzling experiences for people who have never visited or Morocco nor had the opportunity to try a hammam. Many “must do in Morocco” lists include take a hammam but just what does that mean and why is it such a revered tradition?

It’s hard to imagine but not so long ago it was very uncommon for people to have their own shower or bath in their homes. I can remember my grandparents telling stories about taking a bath in a metal tub once a week. Water, and especially hot water was a precious commodity before the era of hot water heaters. In Morocco a practical solution was created to get around this difficulty. The hammam.

Today you’ll find a wide range of hammams in Moroccan cities. The most traditional variety are found in neighborhoods everywhere. You also will find luxury hammams in major cities. A third variety are a step up from traditional hammams but more affordable than luxury style. Depending on which you will visit, your experience will vary.

courtesy Moroccan National Tourism Board

courtesy Moroccan National Tourism Board

Visiting a Luxury Hammam

If you opt for a more upscale hammam your experience will be similar to that of a spa. While each is slightly different you’ll be asked to undress (leave on your underwear), and given a robe. You’ll be escorted to a warm/hot room and asked to sit and relax. Next, savon beldi is used and rubbed all over then rinsed off. Now comes the interesting part. Using a kess, an exfoliated hand mit, a woman will scrub your entire body. Yes, it may feel rough but this is what removes the dead skin. If it’s too hard, let her know! Bshwiya means slow down or soften up. You may be asked to turn over, move around or lay down. Once she’s satisfied then she’ll either continue bathing you by washing off with your soap, and shampooing and rinsing your hair as well or she’ll leave you to do this alone. The entire process takes 30-45 minutes.

Visiting a Neighborhood Hammam

What you’ll need to bring;

  • a full change of clothing
  • savon beldi (a blackish looking soap made with olive oil)
  • a kess 
  • your own regular soap and shampoo
  • water bucket and small cup or bucket for scooping water
  • a small foldable mat for the floor
  • razor, facewash and any other toiletries you use when bathing
  • a towel and/or robe
  • plastic flip flops or other shoes that can get wet
  • brush and any other products you use after a bath
Moroccan Hammam Supply Checklist

PIN FOR LATER!

Going to a neighborhood hammam is a completely different experience. One of the biggest differences is that the screen of privacy is removed. A local hammam reminds me of a three part locker room shower house. On entering you will pay someone, usually a woman at the entrance. If you want to bathe yourself it’s 10-20 dirham (depending on the hammam), if you want to be scrubbed it’s about 50 dirham. The next room you enter has long benches. This is where you change your clothing. Take off everything, wrap up in your towel and wear your flip flops. You’ll then give your bag of clothing to another woman who monitors the cubbies of belongings. Take with you the items you need for bathing (soap/shampoo etc).

You’ll then be greeted by the woman who does the scrubbing. For someone who has never been to a hammam it may be a shock to discover not only will your attendant likely be naked aside from underwear, the hammam is full of other women of all ages in a similar state. Most people are caught off guard as they assume the conservatively dressed women outside would be more guarded. Not so.

Moroccan Neighborhood Hammam

Neighborhood Hammam entrance

 

Your attendant will bring you into the bathing area and set aside your towel. Once inside you’ll notice three different rooms. They start with a warm room, than a warmer room and finally the hottest room. Let her lead the way! Find a spot and get yourself set up. She’ll use your water bucket and possibly others that are there to use. You’ll want to remember only to use your water buckets. They’re filled by spigots in each room and that can mean a wait at times if the hammam is busy. Don’t steal someone else’s bucket!

After rinsing off you start by using savon beldi and rubbing it all over. Leave it on for 5-10 minutes, sit back and relax. Moroccan women go to the hammam as much for a bath as they do to catch up on gossip! When it’s time your lady will come back and rinse you off. She’ll ask for your kess and will start scrubbing. This isn’t a delicate procedure! Remember bshwiya means go softer. You may feel like a toddler again being flipped over and handled while she ensures you’re cleaned top to bottom. When she’s satisfied she’ll start rinsing away all the skin that’s been removed.

Then you’re on your own to soap up and rinse off, wash your hair, shave your legs whatever it is you typically do in the bath. She’ll continue to bring you water to use as needed. When you’re done, gather up everything and make your way back to the changing room to get dressed. Voila! Expect to spend at least 45 minutes at the hammam but take your time. Many Moroccan women spend several hours!

Hammams in Morocco are very unique and can be a wonderful way of experiencing local culture. Leave your modesty at the door and let the experience speak for itself. Trust me, you’ve never felt as clean as you will after a hammam!

Have you used a hammam before? What other tips would you share?

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Get Out of my Things: Privacy and Personal Space

I get asked a lot of questions about cross cultural relationships, specifically having to do with Moroccan/American relationships. Often I end up sending back an email and thinking, “gee I should really just write a blog post about this.” I won’t promise a new topic each week but I’ll do my best to be consistent. I’m going to be very honest in my posts and chances are you might disagree with things that I have to say. No two relationships or people are the same so of course each person’s experience will be different. Because our dynamic is that of an American wife and a Moroccan husband, that’s the dynamic I’ll be using. After 10 years of marriage I feel I do have some legs to stand on.

Today’s topic is on personal space and boundaries.

Get Out of my Things! Privacy and Personal Space in a Moroccan-American Marriage

It’s safe to say that the American sense of personal space and the Moroccan sense of personal space are two completely different things. This is a lesson I learned hard and fast not long after knowing MarocBaba. Few people in Morocco have the amount of actual physical space the typical American family has. The way I grew up was with my sister and I each having our own bedrooms and my parents having their own room – which was somewhat off limits to us. We had our own bedrooms at my grandparents houses and learned early that you give people privacy. In a typical Moroccan home there may be a bedroom for the parents but it’s not out of the ordinary for children to sleep on couches made up as beds each night. The concepts of a communal life are developed from a young age.  This idea was completely lost on me.

MarocBaba on the other hand thought it was completely absurd that my mom would call me before she stopped by the house. In Morocco it’s normal to have someone show up at any time of the day without calling ahead. They may even show up with luggage and expect to stay a few days. Never mind if you have any other plans, the assumption is whatever you may have had planned will be put on hold for your guests. You’ll also be serving them at least tea if it’s a short visit, or providing meals for them if it’s a longer stay. This took a long time for me to understand. In my mind (and I still feel this way) it’s completely selfish and presumptuous. I realize it’s just a different way of doing things and it has merits however I doubt my bias against this will ever go away!

If you live in a large home or multi-family home in Morocco unless your belongings are under lock and key (literally)  people will see them as “community property” unless you’ve drawn some strong boundaries. In many cases people won’t even ask to use something they’ll simply take it. One example, I had a favorite knife that I couldn’t find for weeks. Then one day it showed up on the table at lunch. I had served something using the knife weeks earlier and my sister in law liked it so she kept it downstairs, without any mention to me.

If you’re not planning to live in Morocco you probably think why does this matter to me? But, if you’ve got an immigrating spouse than this is important for you to know.

  • Have a discussion with your partner or spouse about the American notion of personal space and privacy. This should include expectations when you’re visiting other family members and what is or isn’t appropriate.
  • A confusing paradox may be when permission is given. For example, my parents or grandparents would tell him to “help himself” to drinks in the refrigerator. They really meant it however, you would never ever do this in a Moroccan home. I had to explain that while you shouldn’t go raiding someone’s things, when they’ve told you it’s ok to do so, they really mean it.
  • Understand where they are coming from. It used to drive me crazy when I would ask MarocBaba if he would like something to drink, he’d say no, and then proceed to drink my drink. Drinking from a shared glass is normal in Moroccan homes but I wanted MY OWN cup and for the longest time this would cause us to bicker! Once I realized why this was happening it was easier for me to make peace with it.
  • When friendships are developed some discussion should happen on showing up at someone’s home unannounced and that this is generally not done. It could lead to an awkward situation and leave the immigrating spouse feeling offended that they possibly were not warmly welcomed.
  • I have learned that Americans hug a lot. It’s common for friends or family members of opposite genders to say hello or goodbye with a big hug. This puzzles Europeans too but for Moroccans it can lead to anger. This is a touchy subject because you don’t want to upset your friends by rejecting their embrace but you want to respect your spouse.

If you’re the immigrant and moving to or living in Morocco some helpful things to keep in mind;

  • While it’s fine to call ahead and see if someone is home, it’s equally acceptable to show up unannounced.
  • People are generally more candid and can ask questions that seemly highly personal and offensive to an American; such as “you look fat, you’ve gained weight!” It’s not meant as an insult in most cases.
  • If you live in a family home or are staying in a family home you should put away, and even lock into a cabinet anything you don’t want other people to see or use. If you have special food items or things you’ve purchased for yourself keep them in your room and put away.
  • People tend to sit much closer to each other than is the case in the US and are more affectionate (same gender).
  • If you’re staying with family you should greet each person in the room when you enter by kissing, shaking hands or acknowledging each person individually. Every time. If you’ve gone out of the house and come back, you should do the greetings again.
  • If you buy food or something from outside it’s rude to not buy enough for everyone, or to share what you have purchased.

I’ve got a list of ideas in mind for future posts but I’d also love to know what you would like me to talk about! Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to include them in future posts or write a post specifically on your topic or questions.

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Moroccan Art for Kids {and Adults too!}

Morocco has a long history of inspiring artists, writers, and other creatives. I’d be lying if I told you I personally am not constantly inspired by the colors, scenery, and people of this country. Some of my best writing and artwork happens when I’m on a rooftop overlooking the city or countryside. The mid-20th century brought dozens of writers to the country, while decades before it was artists who came to capture the images on canvas. One thing that most artists have in common is their depictions and themes that resonate through all of the work.

  • Color
  • Pattern
  • Abstract (mostly)

It’s these three items that run through all of the artwork produced both by Western and Moroccan artists. For children (and adults) who want to learn about and have more experience with the art of and art produced about Morocco there are several artists and styles to consider.

Western Art about Morocco

Delacroix is one of the biggest names in the art world who created pieces inspire by his time in the country. His work is classified as of the Romantic period and he later went on to inspire artists such as Picasso. Later artists wouldn’t produce works that were as highly technical and detailed. Delacroix, while focusing on the subjects is well known (in his Moroccan pieces at least) to capture the entire scene and create a sense of place through this portrayal.

Jewish Wedding in Morocco, oil on canvas by Eugène Delacroix, 1837–41; in the Louvre, Paris

Jewish Wedding in Morocco, oil on canvas by Eugène Delacroix, 1837–41; in the Louvre, Paris

Almost 100 years after Delacroix, Henri Matisse visited and painted his own interpretations of Morocco. The artist came in 1912 and 1913. But these two had little in common. Whereas Delacroix felt the scenes were begging to be depicted as is, Matisse refused this notion and, in his characteristic style interpreted them as his own. Matisse came to Morocco for the light and when viewing his works in person that feeling transcends the canvas. Instead of heavy applications of oil as is, he instead opted to thin down paints and use them almost as watercolors.

The Moroccans Matisse

 

Moroccan Artists 

Moroccan traditional artwork can be found everywhere in the styles and designs that are associated with the country. Intricate chipped tile mosaics (zellige), carved wood and plaster, and furniture making a few examples in which traditional art styles can be seen. Islamic art is largely geometric, as the depiction of creatures is frowned upon.

Mohammed Ben Ali R’bati

Perhaps the first known Moroccan artist creating images similar to those of the great “master” painters is Mohammed Ben Ali R’bati. Born in 1869 it was through a chance encounter with Sir John Lavery, a court painter for the Queen of England that he learned to paint and traveled to Europe – eventually finding his way back to Morocco. His style, while simple is very uncharacteristic for Moroccan artistry of the period.

Mohammed Ben Ali R'bati

Mohamed Mrabet 

Mrabet is best known for his work with Paul Bowles who translated many of his stories and later writing his own material. His early stories translated in English were a departure from anything else coming out of Morocco as they were true translations of stories that hadn’t been orientalized or changed for an anglo-audience.  He also is an artist. Born in 1936 he lives near Tangier, Morocco. To this day he holds exhibits of his work.

Mohamed Mrabet

 

Zakaria Ramhani

Moroccan contemporary art is pushing the line between old and new, and what is and isn’t acceptable. The work of Ramhani represents one artist doing just this. Ramhani’s work mixes the art of calligraphy with artwork and often times portraiture. His work is controversial, especially pieces related to politics. At just 30 years old he has won many awards and held exhibitions across the world.

Zakaria Ramhani - Faces other young man

 Want to make your own Moroccan art? 

If you’re inspired by these artists, why not make your own Moroccan inspired artwork? Some project ideas;

  • cut out or purchase geometric shapes to arrange into a pattern similar to Moroccan tiles. Learn about traditional Moroccan patterns with the help of this great resource from Crayola.
  • Create a piece of art using the style of cubism (like Matisse) be inspired by your local environment!
  • Like Mohamed Mrabet, take a large image (like a hand) and fill it with smaller images. Zentangles are a great example of this technique!
  • Use the written word to create a picture. Like the style of pointillism (a repetition of dots and dashes) repeat single letters or words to create an image. The more spaced out the letters are the lighter an area, create depth but putting them closer together.
  • Use modeling clay and make your own ceramics (or models of ceramics!)

Do you have a favorite Moroccan artist or Moroccan art element? 

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World Cup Fever in Spain

I’ve just returned from a week in northern Spain with one of my best friends from childhood. Suffice to say we saw quite a bit of the country, ate some delicious food, and enjoyed catching up on many years of life that we have lived away from each other.  One thing we couldn’t escape was the World Cup. Spaniards love football, a lesson I learned in Lisbon during the Champions League Final last month. Opening ceremonies for the games start tomorrow and I know my oldest son will be glued to the TV throughout the tournament. For the entire tournament I’m partnering with my friends at Multicultural Kid Blogs in a series to teach others (and especially kids!) about geography and global cooperation.

 

world cup fever in spain

Each time Spain plays during the tournament I’ll be sharing a post about the country.  You can follow along with the other bloggers as they share about their respective countries on the MKB blog. Their first match is on Friday against the Netherlands with the other two scheduled match on June 18th and 23rd. I chose Spain because it’s close to Morocco and my son is a huge fan of FC Barcelona. To get started here are some interesting facts.

10 Facts about Spain and futbol

1. Spain is the defending World Cup Champion having won in 2010 during the South Africa World Cup.

2. There are 4 professional soccer leagues in Spain with games running from September to May. The Spanish League is one of the most competitive in Europe.

3. Spain has many sports newspapers devoted almost exclusively to football, where player’s public and private lives are analyzed. Marca is one example.

4. Gambling on football games is legal and organized through a system called quiniela.

5. The first Spanish football association was formed in 1909 and known as the Royal Spanish Football Federation.

6. Spain is credited with introducing the style of Tika Taka to the football world. This is a style of quick passing and tight control of the ball.

 7. Spain holds the world record of remaining unbeaten for the most number of consecutive international matches.

8. The unofficial nickname for the Spanish national team is La Furia Roja (the red fury).

9. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are arguably the two most famous teams in the country with hundreds of millions of fans worldwide. Many of the players for these teams suit up for the Spanish national team or other nations during the World Cup.

10. In this year’s competition Spain is the 2nd ranked team based on number of goals scored in international matches, just 2 fewer goals than Germany the #1 team. 

Spain Soccer

At the Champions League Final – my son’s favorite player, Messi, who will be playing on the Argentinian squad.

There it is! 10 Facts about Spain and futbol.  Be sure to come back throughout the World Cup as I share more about Spain and  my experiences in this beautiful country. 

Additional News and Info:

There’s a great resource pack available on the Multicultural Kid Blogs website to get your little ones excited for the event and learning!  

World Soccer Cup Activity Pack (PK-Grade 4)

Just in time for pool parties, backyard barbecues and summer adventures; Tea Collection’s Semi-Annual Sale is featuring the entire Morocco line at up to 50% off! This line is bold, filled with the brilliant hues found in the Marrakech medina, and buzzing with patterns that line Morocco’s streets in the intricate tiles. And now, all of these beautiful styles are on sale—desert and surf inspired graphic tees for boys, twirly patterned dresses for girls, colorful floral onesies for babies and more—all filled with the magic of Morocco. Personally, I’m loving this honeycomb silk tank for me! 


Also don’t forget there’s still time to enter the giveaway to win a trip to Morocco! Remember the winner will get a stay for 4 in Marrakech, a food tour with us, plus spending money! Enter Here: (must be a US resident)

Tea Collection’s Let’s Go to Morocco Sweepstakes

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Great African Tour: Zambia

As soon as I began to tell people we were moving to Morocco, a country in North Africa, I was almost immediately asked about various wildlife; lions, elephants, tigers etc. Most people were surprised to discover Morocco has none of these. This wasn’t “Africa” to them.  There is a very singular understanding in the US of what constitutes Africa, and that it somehow is a very large monolith.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. Did you know the area of the continental United States would fit 3 times into the continent of Africa? Just imagine how diverse the US is culturally, politically, and geographically – now multiply that by 3 – at least.  I thought it would be interesting to reach out to other expat bloggers that are living around Africa and have them share about their adopted country. Over the next few months I’m going to take you on a journey all over the continent I now call home.

First Stop: Zambia

Zambia

Jody Tilbury is the author of Mud Hut Mama. She first came to Zambia in 1998 as a Peace Corps Volunteer and met her husband, who was born and raised in Zambia, at that time. Although we have lived in a variety of places since then, Zambia is where we feel most at home. The remainder of this post is an interview between she and I.

   River view Zambia

 

What are some of the major cities in your country? How much is urban vs rural?    

Lusaka (the capital), Ndola, Chingola, Kitwe and Solwezi. Most of Zambia is rural, my guess is about 70%. You can take a look at a rural community here. (live after 10/29/13) 

What are the primary industries people work in?

Mining (predominantly copper), agriculture, small business enterprise and tourism

Blue Wildebeest

What types of wildlife are predominant?

There are 19 national parks in Zambia with a good representation of African mammals, as well as over 600 species of bird and numerous species of reptiles and insects. Black rhino had been extinct from Zambia but was reintroduced in 2003.

 

African Elephant

What are some of the staple foods/meals that people eat?

Nshima (make it at home!) , a thick porridge made from maize meal, is the staple food and generally eaten with green leaf vegetables, okra, mushrooms, beans, fish, meat or chicken. Nshima from maize meal is eaten throughout the country but depending on the region it is also made from sorghum, millet or cassava.

Nshima & Relish

What is the education system like?

It really varies. In the capital city there are some government schools that provide a good standard of education and others that do not. There are also a variety of private schools in the cities and missionary schools in some of the outlying areas. Government schools and community schools in rural areas are typically understaffed and under resourced. You can take a look at one rural community school here. 

Tell us a little bit about the ethnic groups, religions, and languages represented in your country.

There are 72 tribes and almost as many languages or dialects. English is the official national language and is used by government and business. The five most widely spoken Bantu languages are Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, Lozi & Chewa. Zambia is a Christian nation with many different denominations present. Islam and Hinduism are also represented in many areas particularly in Lusaka and in eastern Zambia.

River Bed

What is one (or more) misconception people have about your country?

That there is an abundance of wildlife throughout Zambia. My husband works in conservation so we have lived mostly in national parks and protected areas where there is a lot of wildlife but that is not indicative of the rest of the country. While there are definitely instances of elephants raiding farmers fields in communities that border protected areas leading to human / wildlife conflict, there are also many Zambians who have never seen any of the large African mammals.

Open Plain

 What is your favorite part of living in this country?

The large uninhabited spaces and the opportunity that we have to raise our children surrounded by nature and wildlife.

Lioness

  What would you like to share with readers about your country that they may not know?

That Zambia is a beautiful country with a rich culture and a welcoming population. It is a great place to live or to visit. Zambia’s tourism tag line is “The Real Africa” because there are still so many wild places you can visit that are relatively untouched. 

Are you an expat or citizen of an African country currently living in an African country? Please drop me an email if you would like to participate in this series.  I am hoping to have every country represented and there are several I am still in search of. 

Zambia Image

If you’d like to learn more about Zambia and connect with Jody you can find here;

Blog: Mud Hut Mama http://www.mudhutmama.com

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Today’s guest post comes from Julie of Open Wide the World.  I met Julie through an online group I’m a part of for multicultural bloggers.  Her blog is currently on hiatus but there’s so many great resources and stories to discover! You can also find her on Facebook and Pinterest.  I hope you’ll enjoy this story and the experience of Julie’s family. 

“Food is the great unifier.” Isn’t that an expression somewhere? Never have I experienced the unitive power of food more evidently than in the South of France. Back in the early 90s, tensions between the French and North Africans, at least in Midi (a.k.a. Mediterranean France), were running somewhere just below Meursualt levels (remember Meursault? the main character of Albert Camus’ l’Étranger), and my city, having a high North African population, was no exception. In almost every neighborhood, tension between the groups was palpable.

typical architecture of the Midi-Pyrénées , France (wikimedia commons)

But there was one quartier (neighborhood) that was different. This particular part of the city was home to students, artists, travelers, and various world citizens who were going it alone for a phase. Without the security and comfort of being surrounded by their own peer and culture groups, les voisins (the neighbors) in this quartier seemed to live outside of the judgements and tensions, and really just get along. Beyond merely getting along, in fact, ces voisins-là (these particular neighbors) seemed to enjoy one another’s differences, and in particular, one another’s cuisine of heritage. In the midst of the surrounding tensions, this neighborhood was truly something special, and shared food somehow seemed to hold it all together.

And so when Amanda sent me her recipe for Moroccan tagine of beef and apricots, I was instantly transported back to a magical, enchanting time and place that has become almost mythical in my memory over the 20 years since. I could almost feel and smell that neighborhood again, remembering les voisins du maroc (the Moroccans) and their fragrant and flavorful dishes. What a thrill it would be to share this memory, and recipe, with my own family! Such a thrill, in fact, that we decided to make a party out of the event, by preparing the tagine and picking up a few “extras” from a local Moroccan restaurant.

beef & prune tagine, maakouda, and basbousa

From Amanda’s initial inspiration grew a feast, including her phenomenal tagine, a pile of maakouda (Moroccan potato patties from the restaurant), and giant piece of basbousa (a semolina and coconut cake in orange blossom syrup, which is technically more Middle Eastern than Moroccan… but it sounded so delicious that we fudged a little on the geography when we saw it on the menu).

The whole family thoroughly enjoyed the tagine, which, despite a surprisingly short list of ingredients, was remarkably flavorful. My husband Kam and 5-year old Mag both asked when I would make this again, although Mag further requested hers be served without fruit next time. (I used prunes, but Amanda’s original recipe notes that apricots are also common. I think I’ll try apricots next time.)

And the maakouda? Not sure if I’ll ever eat mashed potatoes again, after trying maakouda! Just a few quick steps more than making simple mashed potatoes, and infinitely yummier. Why didn’t we order a double order? Well, next time…

And that delicious sounding orange blossom coconut cake? Not quite as delicious as it sounded, unfortunately. Normally, cake is a winner; fruity syrups are winners… but this combination somehow smelled and tasted like sunscreen. Even the two sweet-tooths in the house (Mag and me) couldn’t eat more than a few nibbles. But we enjoyed the chance to try it, nonetheless.

At the end of this wonderful evening, I have to thank Amanda for inspiring this fabulous dinner, and even better, the return to a magical memory of  a time and place that I’m all but sure is now long gone. Merci infiniment, Amanda!

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