Sunday, January 13, 2013

Christmas in the Olive Groves

Christmas is my favorite time of year - period. I love the carols, decorations, parties, food, snow and celebratory atmosphere. I start listening to my 27 hour Christmas playlist in mid-November and will hear nothing but Amy Grant until the New Year. Driving through a winter storm on the way to a Christmas party is my ideal Saturday night: the friends, warmth and love on the other side of the drive make it worth the effort. Despite my freezing fingers and toes, I always feel internally warm during the holiday season.

This year it was slightly more difficult to get into the spirit of things. I frequently played my Christmas playlist, but it rarely felt appropriate. I watched "Love Actually" and "Elf" which made me cry more than get me in the mood. I even taught Christmas traditions to my classes, but I still felt far away. Spending Christmas in the desert is simply not normal for me. I found the last week in site particularly difficult; the combination of being far from home, general fatigue from work and anticipation of an extended vacation made every day feel long. As much as I love my Moroccan home, I was ready for a break.

After a long weekend of classes, cleaning and saying my goodbyes, I collapsed on the CTM on the morning of December 23. Arriving early in Ouarzazate, I spent the day singing Christmas carols and reminiscing about Christmas past with Susan and Emily. Wearing winter coats and gloves in the kitchen, we powered our way through delicious Christmas treats and tried our best to remember the lyrics. After a short night of sleep, we dragged ourselves onto a morning bus to Beni Mellal.

Morning yoga
Roughly eight hours later we arrived in the center of Morocco where Leah (our host) and Elizabeth met us with a bag of Christmas cookies and cheer. We jumped in a taxi to Leah's site, a few km outside of the city, and prepared for Christmas eve. The apartment smelled like ginger, molasses and love. Leah and Elizabeth had spent the better part of the day baking and preparing for our arrival, including decorating the apartment and hanging up stockings. After mulled wine and cookies we snuggled into our beds. Despite my headache (exhaustion, stress, lack of normal nutrition), I was grateful to be among friends.

Christmas morning we rolled out of bed, devouring countless date balls and cookies before morning yoga. Upon Leah's return from class we made pancakes and poured on epic amounts of the real maple syrup so rarely found in Morocco. We opened stockings, took pictures and eventually went on a walk around Leah's site. Despite being far from home, I felt loved and happy with my Moroccan family.

All snuggled in for stockings
On our final day in Leah's site (Boxing Day), we were invited to visit the olive groves of Leah's host uncle. After a morning kaskrut (snack/tea time) of freshly baked bread, freshly pressed oil and honey, we wandered through the groves. After three months in the south, seeing mountains, grass and animals was enough of a treat! We learned how to shake out the olives from the trees, explored the countryside and surrounding groves before finishing off with lunch. As we exited their home, Leah's family offered us each a liter of olive oil - such an amazing gift - not to mention the tastiest oil in the world!

At the Olive press

Host uncle's olive groves and bee hives

We finished our day with a trip to the olive press. After a final night of relaxation, we said our goodbyes. There was no snow, minimal decorations and no one else in the city celebrated the holiday; however, I celebrated a unique and magical Christmas with my fellow volunteers and lovely Moroccans. So grateful.

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