Monthly Archives: October 2012

October Foodie Penpal and Aunt Ethel’s Enchiladas

Earlier this month you may have read my post about becoming a foodie penpal. Well today is the day that all the foodie penpals share about their boxes. My box came from a lovely woman named Emily from Midland, Texas and within it was all kinds of Texas delicacies like Texas Trash (a sweet concoction kind of like puppy chow) and Amazing Corn (kind of popcorn but kind of not). I was especially excited for the Hatch Green Chiles in the box because they were perfect for a Mexican-inspired dish that I learned from my Aunt Ethel. Aunt Ethel was my dad’s oldest sister and since she didn’t have any kids of her own, she loved to spoil her nephews and nieces with her amazing cooking. She made the best fried chicken, red velvet cake, and ranger cookies that I’ve ever had.  Another one of her great recipes were her enchiladas. With my Hatch Green Chiles, I had everything I needed to make them for dinner last night.

Aunt Ethel’s Chicken Enchiladas (yields 4)

  • 2 large chicken breast cooled and cubed or shredded
  • 1 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 4 oz. diced green chilies
  • 1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1 pkg. large flour tortillas (I substitute whole wheat tortillas instead)
  • 1.5 cups of shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  1.  Spray 10 x 15 glass baking dish
  2. Mix soup, milk, sour cream, chilies and green onions.  Spread one cup of mixture on bottom of baking dish.  Reserve 1 ½ cups for top.
  3. Add chopped chicken to remaining mixture.  Spread a roll of filling across the center of the tortilla.  Roll and place, seam down, in pan.  Cover with remaining sauce and cheese on top.
  4. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

Thanks to Emily for all the great Texas goodies!

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Abroad Blog of the Week: كوين ف المغرب (Quinn in Morocco)

I love Peace Corps Volunteer blogs. 1. They are always in interesting locations. 2. They always have great interactions with local people. 3. I can live vicariously through them. I started following كوين ف المغرب (Quinn in Morocco) almost four months ago for all of these reasons. The blogger, Sarah, is an Atlanta native who studied art at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) and now finds herself teaching English to the local children in Tamslouht, Morocco. Having finished her first year as a PCV this coming November 17, Sarah’s blog is full of great insight into the Moroccan way of life. Her blog highlights everything from Ramadan to Moroccan weddings to current political and religious issues in the country. I was excited to “meet up” with Sarah via email to learn all about the PCV experience.

What is a typical day for you as a PCV in Morocco?

 A typical day…oh, what a faraway dream from another land!

I have found that there is absolutely no such thing as a typical day in Morocco. Even my best-laid plans are always disrupted by invitations to tea at a complete stranger’s house, last-minute excursions to the city, meetings that I had no idea were happening, students not showing up to my classes (or showing up at my front door in droves when I had no idea a class would be meeting), donkey traffic jams preventing me from getting anywhere on time…the possibilities are endless. Additionally, life in Morocco is really seasonal. By this, I mean that my “typical” Tuesday during the school year is very different than a Tuesday during the summer. And a Tuesday during Ramadan is a completely different animal entirely!

If I had to draw up a “this is what I spend most of my time doing” schedule, patched together from the most common occurrences of my life during any given time, it would probably go something like this:

In the morning, I wake up around 6am to the alarm that I optimistically set the night before— you know, to go running and do that whole “healthy lifestyle” thing. I rarely make it out of bed. I sleep in until my next alarm around 8 or so and then spend a bit of time checking emails, reassuring people I’m alive, etc. My mornings revolve around last-minute lesson-planning for my English classes at the local youth center, teaching those classes, or spending time at the local café studying Darija with my tutor. Lunch usually occurs in the 12-3pm timeframe, and this can be anything from a depressing concoction from my own fridge (Lentils? Third day in a row? Why not!) to a delicious meal at a friend’s house. I always cross my fingers for an invitation. The afternoon involves more last-minute lesson planning, classes, meetings with associations, and possibly activities at the youth center. In the evening, I go home, to a friend’s house, or to my host family’s house. The latter two options involve sitting around, watching Turkish soap operas dubbed in Darija, and eating more delicious food. Bedtime comes pretty soon thereafter.

You’ve got great packing list! Of all you have, what three things could you absolutely not live without?

 A quick aside about my packing list— that was composed after coming to Morocco and seeing what I actually needed (as opposed to what I brought with me). Let me assure you, those things were completely unrelated.

Nevertheless, the three things that I absolutely can’t live without are:

  • My small book: This was a going-away gift from the museum I used to work for. It’s pocket –sized and perfect for writing down new words that I learn in the various places I end up during any given day.
  • My computer: It’s not particularly fancy, but it has enabled me to communicate with the outside world during the past year. Even without an internet connection, ending the day with an episode of the West Wing in the comfort of my bed (as opposed to the local cyber café) is a wonderful, purely American comfort food.
  • My glasses: Not only are they practical, as I really can’t see anything without them, but they’re always a good conversation starter with little kids (“Can I wear your glasses?” “Wow, look how goofy I am!”). In big cities, they also diffuse a lot of unwanted attention. It’s like I’m a mystical creature with large black glasses instead of a foreign woman to hassle.

 What is your favorite thing to do with visitors when they come to Tamslouht?

I have taken every visitor to the local café that sits right in the heart of Tamslouht. It’s a really cute, very Moroccan establishment that I visit every day, if not multiple times a day. A cup of coffee or a soda is less than a dollar, the owners (Marwan and Mustapha) know and love me very much. From their plastic chairs, I can literally see everyone in the town walk by if I sit there long enough. It has that “rustic charm” that only stray cats napping on the chair beside you and soda delivered in glass bottles can offer. For American visitors, it’s also extremely entertaining for them just sit and observe the rhythm of Moroccan life for a bit. The donkeys pulling carts of vegetables and small children are always a hit.

 How do you use art to work with your students?

I spend the majority of my time teaching English. However, because of my personal background (I studied art and art history in college) and my desire to make learning fun, I really try to implement as many creative activities into my curriculum as possible.

Mostly, I use art as an English-teaching method. For example, if we’re studying adjectives, I’ll make students randomly pick an adjective and a noun and draw a picture combining the two. This ends up being not only fun and an effective way to learn (how can you not remember something like “fat table” or “sad tajine”), but I also end up getting free classroom decorations. The kids really dig it.

 What have your students taught you?

 More than I’ve taught them. I swear.

 For new PCVs, what advice would you give them to have a successful start?

Just laugh it off. Peace Corps usually ends up being an amazing, life-changing experience….that is simultaneously a complete emotional rollercoaster. We volunteers joke with each other a lot about the way that the tiniest, slightly-negative experience can send the most even-tempered volunteer to tears. Also, living in another culture, you have a lot of things said to you that are completely normal, if not even complimentary in this culture— while being simultaneously offensive to you as an American.

The best example I give people is the frequency with which people call me fat. It’s a huge (ha ha ha) compliment here, although not so much to an American. Just a week or so ago, I was at my sitemate’s host family’s house for dinner. We had walked over in the pouring rain and they insisted that we change our clothes as not to get sick from the cold. My skinny sitemate had no problem slipping into his host brother’s sweat pants; I, meanwhile, literally could not button the “largest pants they owned.” Direct quote. This is a family of very small-boned, genetically-blessed women, and they were very entertained by the fact that I couldn’t fit into the largest pair of pants that they owned (probably the equivalent of a size 6 in America). They kept telling me that my stomach was huge! I was so fat! Ha ha ha! This is the kind of situation where you have two choices: break down and cry because it’s the 6th time today where someone has called you fat and you’re beginning to believe it, or just laugh and take it in stride. Seriously, if you look at everything the right way, you’ll see that it’s all complete sitcom material— even the stuff that can really hurt and make you want to pack your bags. Taking things lightly will not only make your Peace Corps experience exponentially easier, but it will make all of the potential for cross-cultural misunderstandings null and void.

Uganda Beads

I received my own first set of Uganda beads a few years ago from a dear friend. She was in law school at the time and as part of an international law project, she was able to go to Uganda to meet the women and children in the internally displaced people camps outside of Kampala. Several non-for-profit organizations work within these camps and teach the women how to make beads and sell them fair trade. While meeting these women, my friend was able to buy my beads direct from the artisans who made them.

If you can’t go to Uganda yourself, Beads for Life provides a great opportunity to get your own Uganda beads. Beads for Life is one of the organizations that work with the Ugandan women to sell their beads at fair trade prices. To share their goods, they’ve started a Bead Party program. To host your own Bead Party, you register with Beads for Life and they send you a full supply of Ugandan bead necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.  With reasonable prices and beautiful jewelry, the Bead Party is a perfect event to socialize with friends while helping a great cause. I went to a Bead Party a few years ago and it was a great event. Not only did I get most of my Christmas shopping done but it was also a perfect way to talk about what is going on in the world amongst friends.

And if you’re real brave, you can also try out the Ugandan-style bead making yourself with just a little wrapping paper and glue. Here is a great tutorial if you want to try your hand at your own Uganda beads. After attempting making my own beads, I think I’ve decided it may be better to just host a party. 🙂

Exploring the Hajj from Home

With new friends from Iraq and Bangladesh, the Hajj and Eid al-Adha were topics of discussion this past week. As a Christian, I will never be allowed to experience Mecca during the Hajj (it’s a Muslim-only event) but I decided to at least do some research and learn a little more about the biggest religious gathering on earth. (This year it was estimated that 4 million pilgrims attended the Hajj; 1.7 million were from abroad.)

After some perusing on You Tube, I found this great 14 minute documentary by Suroosh Alvi, a Muslim from New York City. He snuck a handicam into Mecca on his own personal Hajj last year and shared his own thoughts on the experience but also the process and rituals that were required to complete the Hajj. It really helped me understand a little more and I would really recommend viewing it if you’re curious about the Hajj.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires each Muslim who is physically and financially able to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Of the pictures I’ve seen of the Hajj before, the one that comes to mind is of the Kaaba, the black box that the Muslim believes to be the house of God. As part of the Hajj, the pilgrims must perform Tawaf where they circle the Kaaba seven times and then kiss the black stone (or point to the stone if the crowds are too bad).

The next ritual of Hajj is to go to Mt. Arafat, where the prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, and pray. Mt. Arafat is also known as the Hill of Forgiveness and is a highlight of the Hajj as the Muslim pilgrim spends the afternoon in contemplation and prayer.

The ritual of stoning Jamrat Al-Aqabah follows the day at Mt. Arafat. Jamrat Al-Aqabah can be found in Mina and consist of three columns (recently replaced by three walls) that represent the Devil. For the ritual, the pilgrims must throw 21 stones at the columns symbolizing their defiance of the Devil.

Once the stoning is complete, the pilgrims must slaughter their sacrifice in celebration of the sacrifice that God provided Abraham in replacement for his son (for Christians and Jews, this story may be familiar). This holiday is celebrated by all Muslims whether in Mecca or not and is called Eid al-Adha.

After stoning the Devil and slaughtering the sacrifice, the final rite of that day  is shaving the head (for men) or trimming the hair (for women). The hair cut symbolizes an important stage of the Hajj and almost all restrictions are lifted from the pilgrim after this point.

When these rituals have been completed, the pilgrim returns to the beginning and once again prays and circles the Kaaba seven times. These rites are completed by both men and women of the Muslim faith, although the rules are slightly different for the sexes. For example, women cannot complete the Hajj while menstruating, nor can they attend Hajj without a male relative to escort them. But once the Hajj is complete, whether male or female, they are given the honored name of Hajji.

I will admit that this account is far from detailed, and despite reading multiple websites and watching several videos, the Hajj is still a bit of a mystery to me. But considering even devout Muslims need a guide to help them through the Hajj, I decided not to feel to bad. However, I am still curious to learn more and welcome any comments from my more experienced readers!

 

Heartbroken Over Algebra

I recently have started helping a young man from Iraq with algebra. Thankfully I’ve been studying for the GRE and I’m not too rusty. But after two and half hours and only 30 math problems into the 50 problem homework, I felt disenfranchised with American education and walked away heartbroken for this young man.

This 15-year-old boy came to the US having been out of school for over 5 years due to the war in Iraq. Knowing no English, he was still placed in a public high school only to fail his first year. Now having been here for a few years, his English is pretty incredible and his accent is almost non-existent. But when it comes to knowing words like denominator, quotient, or divisible, those are not in his repertoire. As one of many students in his class, the likelihood of getting individual help is pretty slim for him, and the chance that he’ll ever catch up on the five years of education he missed is grim at best.

I’m far from saying that I know the best solution for this boy, but I feel he is being done an injustice. I am ever so grateful that my country has become a safe harbor for him and his family. But while he is protected from the bombings and shells, the effects from the war are still ever-present in his life as struggles to do 9th grade math with a 4th grade education.

Say a prayer for me, dear friends, that I will remember the rules for graphing a line, solving for x, and completing the quadratic equation. And most of all that I will have the ability to explain them in a way he can understand.

 

Abroad Blog of the Week: Taking Nominations

Image credit: birdsandshoes.com

Well, dear readers, I need your help. After more than 20 great Abroad Blogs of the Week, I want your recommendations and nominations. Who should I be reading? Who is doing great stuff abroad? Who have you added to your reader recently? If you write a great abroad blog or know of someone who does, read through the directions below and nominate your favorite abroad blogger via my new form. I can’t wait to get some new reading recommendations!

Criteria to be an Abroad Blog of the Week:

  1. The blogger must either be about to go abroad, currently abroad, or recently returned from abroad
  2. The blog must predominately be about culture/travel
  3. Posts should be fairly regular (at least once or twice a week).

Requirements to be an Abroad Blog of the Week:

  1. Let me ask you 4-6 questions via email
  2. Send back your responses by the following Monday
  3. If you want (i.e. this is not a requirement), welcome any new readers from Global from Home the day I post our interview.

Easy, peasy.

If you would like your blog to be an Abroad Blog of the Week or know of another blog you think I should scope out, let me know! You can anonymously submit your nominations at the Abroad Blog of the Week Nomination Form.

 

Culture in Unexpected Places

Everyday I drive by this cute little florist shop called A Date with Iris. Their store window is creatively decorated for Halloween with skulls and spider webs and has an atmosphere which draws you in. At least it drew me in a few weeks ago. The owners are lovely and welcoming and the shop is full of gorgeous flowers and unique gifts. It is also now my go-to for Oklahoma postcards for my Postcrossing correspondence.

But not only is A Date with Iris overflowing in local hospitality, but currently they are serving as hostesses with the mostest to an international guest. As part of an entrepreneurial exchange through the University of Oklahoma, A Date with Iris is hosting a florist shop owner from Taka, Bangladesh named Tanya. Upon finding out about their exchange, they graciously invited me to meet her. So yesterday I sat in the back of their florist shop and we talked culture, food, politics, and education.

One of the most fascinating parts of our conversation was to hear Tanya’s views on wealth and her questions on why Americans send their jobs to Bangladesh and China. She expressed her great frustration on how America places stipulations on regulations on other countries while not paying any more for the goods or being knowledgable of the economic and social structures of the countries it is dealing with. One of the most challenging aspects of our conversation was about child labor. Tanya’s explained that many factories in Bangladesh have large signs across them that say, “We do not use child labor.” However, she explained, if a child doesn’t work, it does not mean he is in school or will be taken care of by the government like here in the U.S. Instead the child will be on the street begging and hoping someone will feed him. She asked me the question, “So is it better for the child to work or for the child to starve?”

Sitting a florist shop in the middle of a neighborhood in Oklahoma City, I had a conversation that I doubt I will ever forget. I  learned so much in that 90 minutes and found culture in an unexpected place.