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Showing posts from 2011

Moroccan Cooking Practice

Mmmm. Just a moment. Let me savor the memory of these dishes while I look at the pictures.
Okay. First: I have heard that Moroccans like to eat a lot, but I was not prepared for how much food these recipes actually made. The recipes I used noted that they were good to feed 6-8 as part of a meal. For the three people who were eating these dishes, I cut the recipes in half. Still, there was enough food for several meals of leftovers. Second: Moroccans take great pride in their gastronomy, and these recipes show it. The food requires lots of preparation. An example:

Here we have a very typical Moroccan dish: Couscous with 7 Vegetables. The couscous grains were first rinsed and allowed to dry while the grains swelled with moisture. Then, they were steamed over a broth. Then, they were taken out, moistened a bit more, tossed, rolled out, cooled, and dried. Then, they were steamed again. Finally, they were taken out and fluffed one more time before being served. The vegetables stewing underne…

Questions and Answers (part two)

What is the Peace Corps all about, anyway?

Most people tend to have a vaguely positive impression of the Peace Corps, but couldn't really tell you what it does, exactly. Some people I've talked to think it's some kind of anti-war group, and others think it's a institution for cultural imperialism. Both are inaccurate.

First, let me show you where the Peace Corps operates today, and then I'll explain its philosophy.

The darkly shaded countries are the ones in which the Peace Corps currently works, and the lightly shaded countries are sites of past projects. Often, volunteers are pulled out a country if the political situation is getting too hairy, but will be replaced after relative stability is reached. Notice that North America, Australia, Japan, and Western Europe are excluded. Also note that almost all other countries have at one time or another been included (noticably absent is Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and several Middle-Eastern countries).

As you might have gu…

Practicing Moroccan Cooking: The Plan

Those of you who know me well know that I like to cook, and one of my short-term goals is to familiarize myself with Moroccan cooking. To this end, I have planned a Moroccan meal to prepare for the family for Christmas. Here is what I hope to make:

In this part of the world, bread is sacred. If someone finds a piece lying on the ground, the custom is to pick it up, kiss it, and set it someplace safe. Moroccan bread is chewy, soft-crusted, absorbent, and makes for a great utensil. I plan to have plenty of it.

Mixed Herb Salad & Carrot Salad
Moroccans begin their meals with a series of hot or cold salads. I'll have two kinds prepared, plenty of herbs and spices in each.

Harira Soup
This is a traditional soup. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day. At sunset, they break the fast with this breakfast: Harira Soup and a bowl of fresh dates. The soup of course has many spices, as well as the addition of smen, a cooked, salted butter.

Djej Masquid Bil Beid or C…

Questions People Have Asked Me About Morocco (and the Peace Corps) (part one)

A few common reactions I get from people when I tell them I'm going to Morocco for the Peace Corps:

A: "Oh, how great! Are you having to learn French?" B: "Morocco, where is that?" C: // uncomfortable silence, perhaps slow nodding //
The people in group A know enough about history and geography to engage in the conversation. The people in group B don't know as much, but are still engaged and want to learn. They are not ashamed of their questions. Group C people do not know where Morocco is, but also feel as ifthey can't ask any questions about it, because that would reveal that they do not in fact know everything in the world, and that would make them feel foolish.
Well fear not, unquestioning ones, for I am about to share the fruits of the labors of those who have mustered up the courage to let their curiosity show. Here is the first:
Cool, Morocco! Where is that?
Morocco is the country in the Northwest corner of Africa.

Spain protrudes from the top of the pic…

Four More Months

In four months, I will be settling in to my training routine in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. This will begin my 27-month Moroccan adventure. It is hard to prepare for such a journey; there are just too many ways I can ready myself and not enough time to do it. For example, I want to learn the language. But which language do I learn? Currently, I am focusing on two. For Modern Standard Arabic, I am working through Mastering Arabic 1by Wightwick & Gaafar. And for French, I am working through Ultimate Frenchby Living Language. Even so, MSA, while widely understood in the Arabic world, is not the language spoken by Moroccans. Instead, most Moroccans speak Moroccan Arabic, also known as Darija (or Derija (or Darja)). In the cities, they may speak French (or even Spanish). In rural areas, they may speak a Berber dialect, the language of the indigenous people of Morocco. To complicate matters further, I've read that while French-speaking Moroccans can understand foreign French…

Language Time

I've been especially frustrated lately with my lack of discipline in regards to language learning. Somehow, I always manage to find a way to put it off, even while finding time to do stupid things, like hang out at coffee shops.

What I need is a concrete goal. Something like this: I will finish all 20 units in my Arabic book by Christmas. That is about two units every week. I think I can manage this. It will be a challenge, but it is not impossible. In any case, it is much better than my previous goal: I will learn as much French and Arabic as I can by the time I leave for the Peace Corps.

A Long Awaited Letter

I've waited well over a year for this letter to arrive. Starting with this post, I am going to record my journey henceforth into life as a Moroccan volunteer.

First steps: 
* read the various packets and handbooks distributed with my invitation.
* read Inside Islam to get a feel for what the 99% Muslim majority believes
* read up on Moroccan history
* begin learning French, the language of Moroccan commerce, politics, etc.
* begin learning Arabic, the official spoken language of Morocco

I'll post updates as I set up my learning schedule and start getting through books.

Seeing All That Is Around You

The stark fact of existence is one of the biggest surprises we have to discover in our lives. We exist. We are. And we exist as. What I mean by that phrase - "We exist as" - is that we (people) only have meaning in a context. We exist as primates, and this is meaningful. Inherent in our primate nature is our existence as social creatures. We communicate dominance and obedience, establish our territories to one another, display might. And while these traits are taken for granted by many people too busy to notice, they are not unused.

We are also curious.

This, I fear, is a trait that has fallen into disuse. What has happened to the bug-collector? Replaced by the movie collector. The star gazer? Replaced by the media junkie. We are curious about our own inventions, but most of us have lost interest in things outside the realm of human artifact. This is not sad. It is tragic. And perhaps ruinous.

You will never feel a surer sense of your place in this world until you foster that c…

Reality as Spectating

Yesterday, as I was meditating (read: trying to meditate), I spotted a very bad little habit that I've come into. So subtle it is, that I do not even know how long I've practiced it. I think it may be causing a great deal of unhappiness, and I am eager to rid myself of it.

This discovery took place as I was trying to rid my thoughts of the heat of the room. I was sitting on the floor with a little desk fan at my back. In order to cool off, I tried to imagine that I was sitting atop a mountain in China, a gentle breeze at my back. I pictured myself sitting there, only the top of the hill peeking over the clouds, and me in my meditative position on top of the hill. I imagined that the billowy clouds were moving gently, rapidly, all around.

And then I thought, Why is it that whenever I try to imagine myself in a situation, I experience the imagination as though outside myself?

I thought some more. Every thought of potential future situations follow this pattern. I view the scene as …

New Thoughts About Old Thoughts

So today I was going through a bunch of old notebooks I had stashed away in one of my dresser drawers. I was curious what kinds of things I had written in these things, some of which date back to my first years of high school.

A few observations:

1) I had an awesome sense of humor. Where did that go?

2) My memories of the past often do not include my emotional state of the time. I read many entries about how miserable I was at certain points of my life, and I have a hard time remembering those feelings.

3) To build on #2, my past feelings aren't the only things that are unrecognizable. Some of those things were written by an entirely different person, somebody I would hardly recognize as myself were I to have coffee with him today.

4) My handwriting varies from wildly illegible to quite good. Why the hell didn't I just always write in the latter style?

5) Some of the events I wrote about are still too painful for me to re-read, even after years of distance.

6) Nevertheless, I found t…

Why the City Gets Me Down

In March, I'm taking a much-needed leave of the city.

Kansas City, thank you for the music, the food, the museums, and the hot hang-out spots, but frankly, you can go to Hell.

A few weeks ago, I found myself standing at my window as the sun was setting, contemplating the streets and buildings below me. What I said came out almost automatically:

"Every man, woman, and child in this city will die by my hand."

Yep. I need a vacation.

The city is just too full of people. Every day that passes, I feel my patience for other people waning, my disgust bubbling over. In traffic, in the suburbs, in the library - it doesn't matter where I am - the people that surround me are rude, ignorant, or worse.

Sometimes, I watch the sun go down over the West Bottoms from the edge of the park across the street. I like to watch the traffic, the trains, and the people in miniature. It's like a little anthill down there. Usually, an eagle or a flock of crows will catch my attention,  will fasc…

Jesus, Lover of my Soul

An old friend and spiritual mentor of mine left a comment on my last "Religious Conversation" Post. It provoked so much thought that I wanted to share it with everybody, because I know quite a few of my religious friends are reading this, and I know quite a few of you who would make a similar statement. Here it is:

There is an element in this conversation that is being overlooked (at least, I presume). There is an aesthetic beauty and, more, an affection, which Steven appears to have for God. This is not illogical; in fact, all human beings exhibit it for something. It may be subjective, and it is not conclusive, but it is completely logical. And I can't imagine an argument that would refute it.It is something like a man saying, "I love my wife. I appreciate her many virtues and charms; I believe her to be the woman most worthy of my affection and lifelong commitment." If I say this and someone were to say to me, "But EVERY man says that of his bride! Would…

Religious Conversation With An Old Friend - Part 8

Hi Stephan. I promise promise promise you that we will get into the historical accuracy of the Bible. I've been so excited to talk about it, actually, that I started piecing together a response. But I won't give it to you now, because that would be jumping the gun. You're only asking for clarification, after all, of the two questions from my last post. I don't want to enter into new territory before we've even surveyed our immediate surroundings, you know?
So here I go:
I don't mean to sound like a broken record, Stephan, but I beg you to recognize this: when you say things like, 
faith & the existence of God was real in an almost tangible way what I was experiencing was consistent with the God & gospel message of the Bible  I've been 'pulled back' and again more fully experienced this relationship with God, which always comes as a result of God changing my heart to cause me to again desire to seek him, and again turn away from the sin that I had…

10 favorite albums of 2010 - #1: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

Big surprise, right? Those of you who know me - you could have probably guessed I would pick Arcade Fire's spectacular album, The Suburbs.

Arcade Fire is the most moving, interesting, and important group making music today. There, I said it. That's a pretty big claim, but after experiencing their third solid gold album, I'm convinced. They can be so somber. Gut-wrenchingly gloomy. And then, so damned uplifting and hopeful. They make me want to take their music seriously. But then, if Arcade Fire wanted me to listen to the their music while giving myself a hot tar bath, I'd probably do it.

But seriously. From the opening track:

     So can you understand
     why I want a daughter while I'm still young?
     I wanna hold her hand
     and show her some beauty
     before this damage is done.

     But if it's too much to ask, if it's too much to ask,
     then send me a son.

Arcade Fire makes some grand statements in this album. Listen to it. And listen to the words. L…

Religious Conversation With An Old Friend - Part 7

OK, well I'll first respond to your first 2 questions, which I think will require some clarification from you before I move on...since I found myself unable to really answer what you asked...

What evidence would it take for me to doubt the veracity of the Bible?
This question is difficult, because it is at the core of my faith – sola scriptura: I know that I can be clouded by emotion & prone to drifting, and this is why my “anchor” is in the Bible, because it is the unchanging word of God I can always depend on & go back to. When I made the decision to follow Christ personally, and make it not just something my parents did, it was because faith & the existence of God was real in an almost tangible way, similar (in some ways) to how I can know that gravity exists: by experiencing it. I found that what I was experiencing was consistent with the God & gospel message of the Bible. Further, I found the historical confirmation & reliability of what was recorded in the …

10 favorite albums of 2010 - #2: The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night

I didn't realize how much I loved this album until I really listened to it. I remember the night well. Laying in bed, I stuck my in my earbuds and started up Are the Roaring Night. By the middle of the first song, I had goosebumps all over my body, and I found myself grinning uncontrollably. This song is really awesome, I thought. The next track had the same effect. And the next.

This is an album that sweeps you up and carries you along in its beautiful, dark melodies. And those are really the best two words to describe this album's sound: beautiful and dark. If you love the theatricality and emotion of, say, The Hazards of Love, you should definitely check out The Besnard Lakes. And don't neglect their previous album, The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse.

So, if you are looking for a transcendent experience, put on some headphones, turn up the volume, close your eyes, and experience The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night.

Religious Conversation With An Old Friend - Part 6

Hi all. I'm posting this one earlier than usual because my sister is coming later today to visit for the rest of the weekend! She's been back from China since early January, but I still haven't seen her. Goodness gracious...

More people are following this conversation than are commenting. I know this because I am receiving private comments on Facebook, through text messages, phone conversations, and personal remarks.

Please do not be afraid to comment on the blog. As far as I'm concerned, here is where the conversation is primarily taking place. I won't deride you for asking a stupid question or attack your personality for questioning my reasoning, and I know Stephan won't either.


Hey, Stephan. I was waiting to say anything in regards to your "mini-response" since there were some things in my last post that covered some of the questions you were asking, and I wanted you to diges…

Religious Conversation With An Old Friend - Part 5

Upon reading the first part of this message, I recognize that I won't be able to put forth the thought & self-examination necessary to continue & thoroughly consider your challenge until at least this weekend - hope you can understand (I just don't want to do so in haste)!

One thing in response to the first part: do you believe that truth can ever be self-authenticating? I believe this is what happened to me: 

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthian…