Cats and “Kouli!”

I left off at the end of my last blog entry in the anxious moments before I met my host family. I will forever refer to this day in my mind as ‘Adoption Day’. I spent all day nervously awaiting to learn where I would be living for the next two months. Whoever I was placed with, these are the people who would introduce me to Moroccan, Muslim, and Middle Eastern culture, henceforth shaping my initial views of these ways of life.

On Thursday afternoon, all 35 students in the SIT Multiculturalism and Human Rights program sat in a light-filled classroom on the third floor of one of the annexes of the Center for Cross Cultural learning in the Rabat medina, awaiting to receive a sheet of paper with our host families assignments. These papers listed our new addresses in the medina, the names of the members of our family, and whether or not we would have our own rooms. As the sheets were distributed, the noise level in the classroom grew as more students were given a few small pieces of vital information about our futures. Once we all had our assignments, an instructor gave us a debriefing on the basics of Moroccan family life, on such subjects as eating habits, religious practices, and necessary words.

After the presentation was completed, we were sent downstairs to be picked up by our families. My two new sisters had come to pick me up and I found them fairly quickly. We dragged my heavy bags through the streets, turning down so many streets until I was entirely confused. Once we arrived at the house I introduced to my new family members, shown around the house, and directed to where I could unpack. When I finished putting my things in the drawers in the corner of new room, I sat in the “grand salon” (referred to as such because there is another smaller salon in the house) and had tea with a few members of the family.

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My street plate.

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The door on the right is my door (I sometimes imagine I live in a castle). The door on the left is a men’s prayer center.

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My room.

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Looking through the window down into the courtyard.

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Kitchen, part 1.

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We have ten birds in various cages throughout the house.

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We also have three fish.

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The stairway to my room.

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My drawers.

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My room, seen from beside the fish tank.

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The office space and bird room.

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The main hallway. Behind me is the kitchen and to the left is the main salon.

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More of my room.

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The window seat in my room.

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The main salon.

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The elaborate doorway to the main salon.

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Couches lining the walls of the main salon.

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The view out the window of my room.

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My new sister Hawla brought us tea and cookies while my sister Asma (who speaks practically fluent English) and I got to know each other while my new host father Ibrahim (who only speaks Arabic) looked on. That afternoon I learned what felt like hundreds of new Arabic word, frantically writing them down as they were taught to me. I discovered that I really like Moroccan mint tea, as long as it has minimal sugar in it. After a lengthy conversation, having slightly overcome the feelings of shock that accompany having a formal tea time in a large salon with 25 foot ceilings, my host sisters invited me to go on a walk around town. We went on a stroll by the waterfront before stopping to buy bread for dinner. When we returned I made a solid attempts to communicate with my host father while we sat down to have a traditional Moroccan dinner, complete with a tagine and an assortment of side dishes. After finishing dinner with my family, during which I met my new brother Mohammed (who speaks Spanish and Arabic), my sister Asma and I transformed the smaller salon into our bedroom and went to sleep.

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The view from my family’s rooftop terrace.

When I got up on Friday morning my sister Hawla (who speaks French and Arabic) prepared breakfast for the whole family, before she walked me to school. Breakfast in our house has so far been very filling, even though it is the equivalent of a continental breakfast in the United States. We typically have hubz (Moroccan bread) and comi (French baguettes) with butter, jam, honey, olive oil, and black olives. Moroccan mint tea is served schoona (very hot) every breakfast, and my sister Hawla also makes me a carafe of coffee with milk. I am grateful that most days before school I have just enough time to consume one piece of baguette before I need to dash off to class. When I am allotted a few hours to enjoy a meal I will straggle and nibble on bread for hours. When the family was done with breakfast Hawla walked me to school and I had my Arabic class before all SIT students went over to the main CCCL building to briefly present on various research topics about Rabat and debrief our orientation over the past week. When we completed these tedious sessions, Hawla picked me up and we went home for lunch.

Fridays are very important in Muslim, and especially Moroccan culture. It is considered the holiest day of the year, and therefore weekends in Morocco begin on Friday and end of Saturday night. Most people don’t go to work on Fridays, and instead work on Sundays (although this definitely varies depending on the industry you work in). For those who do work on Sundays, they are home by lunch between 1 and 3. Lunch is always a large tagine of couscous with lamb and vegetables and a large number of side dishes, such as tomatoes, olives, or potatoes. In traditional families, each member scoops the couscous out of the tagine with their fingers, lumps it into a ball, and eats it. However, my family eats their couscous with spoons, for which I am eternally grateful. I have heard stories from my friends of the small piles of couscous that lay on the table and floor around them after they attempt to eat the dish with their fingers.

 Friday night dinner, set up in a traditional style: rice soup, hard boiled eggs, dates, dried figs, honey covered fried pastries, and bread. 

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After we finished our couscous my family watched tv and took naps while I worked on homework and my blog. Around 5, when everyone began stirring again, my host sisters Asma and Hawla and I walked through the market in the medina, around the Oudaya neighborhood and then went down to the amusement park by the river to go on a few rides. Asma wasn’t interested, but Hawla and I enjoyed the rides which spin you through the air backwards. We ate a bit of cotton candy and walked along the waterfront during the sunset so I could take pictures of the river and the Oudaya neighborhood before returning home to have tea, and a few hours later, dinner.

The streets of the Oudaya neighborhood…

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The Kasbah wall…

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Inside the Kasbah…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My host sisters wandering the garden inside the Kasbah wall.

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The Oudaya neighborhood, seen from a distance.

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A cafe in the Oudaya neighborhood, overlooking the river and the city of Sale.

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Sale, seen from across the river.

Rides at the local amusement park by the river…

 

 

 

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Seen along the river dividing Rabat and Sale. 

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On Saturday morning I had breakfast with my family before heading off to a cafe with my friends. One of them had heard about a cafe which served chocolate mousse and would accommodate women. I wasn’t expecting much other than perhaps an upscale coffee shop, so imagine my surprise when we arrived and it turned out to be a restaurant with a terrace. There were booths carved into a rock wall on the terrace, strewn with brightly colored pillows and shaded by large canopies. We set up camp with our notebooks and laptops and began to work on our reading assignments with varying levels of focus. At some point we ordered Moroccan cookies, caramel flan, chocolate mousse, coffee and tea. Everything was fairly inexpensive and, typical to Moroccan cafe culture, we were allowed to sit for hours after our initial order, regardless of how much money we spent.

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Chocolate mouse at Cafe Dar Naji.

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Delicious caramel flan.

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My friends and I on our Saturday excursion to Cafe Dar Naji.

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Our waiter elaborately pouring us coffee.

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Around 2:30 I needed to go home, so we all left and when my friends went to the Arab Cafe I turned left and walked through the market toward my house in the medina. Once I arrived home we had lunch and I took a nap before waking up to do more homework and have tea with my family. At some point in the evening my friends texted me to tell me that they were down at the beach and to come and meet up with them if I wanted. I walked over to the Kasbah and we wandered through the Oudaya neighborhood in the fleeting light of the early evening. On the way home we ran into our friend Helen who we hadn’t thought would be able to make our outing. Since everyone was going back to their houses for dinner Helen and her host brother walked me home. We only made two or three wrong turns, which after roughly two days of residence in the medina, I considered a resounding success. After I arrived home my family served dinner and I continued working on homework.

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My friends crossing under the medina wall.

On Sunday I got up and persisted in my rapt attention to my Arabic studies, as well as completing my politics reading assignment. When I began nodding off I transitioned to finishing my weekly blog entry and then took a brief nap. Eventually my family completed their house cleaning related tasks and ate lunch. After we ate lunch I went out to complete an assignment for my Arabic class. We were tasked to make a map of our route to school through the medina and label various landmarks with our new vocabulary in Darija. I invited my friend Helen, who is in my class, to make her map with me, but she doesn’t live anywhere near me in the medina and she was with her host family visiting extended family members in Sale. I spent a few hours wandering around the back alleys of the medina in order to extensively map all of the streets branching off the main road that I walk down on the way to and from school.

Doors of the Rabat medina…

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My friend Simeon’s door, down the street from me.

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An elementary school.

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A mosque.

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In the Oudaya neighborhood.

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I have no idea who lives here.

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When I got home I compiled the various pages I had written into a one page map while I had tea and a snack. My friends told me they were hanging out at a cafe doing homework, so I decided to go meet them and finish up my map with Helen. However, it was fairly late at this point, close to 8, and it was getting dark. Since my friends could only stay out for another hour, I decided to take what I thought was a short cut to get to the cafe. I ended up taking a wrong turn and getting quite lost. Though it wasn’t overly challenging to find my way home, the streets were quite crowded at that hour, and it was overwhelming to be so turned around in the winding streets of the medina on a school night with only a sense of which direction to walk in. One of the most confusing things about living in the old city in Rabat is that the streets follow no logical patterns, while many maps have been made of the city, very few are accurate, and it’s hardly relevant when even the streets with names do not have signs. About an hour after I left I returned home, tired and frustrated. Fortunately, my family understood, and encouraged me to take a shower, eat dinner, and finish my homework before going to bed.

On Monday morning I allowed my sister Hawla to walk me to school in order to avoid getting lost with the limited time I had before class. Despite the fact that it was Monday, I was very excited to go to school because my Arabic teacher Tammam planned to take the entire class to a cafe to practice ordering coffee and tea. He is the kind of teacher who believes that learning takes place in all types of spaces, and that classroom lessons are best supplemented by real life application. Our exercises at the cafe were fairly simple- all we had to do was order and ask each other what we were drinking. After we were done with our required Arabic exercises we were allowed to hang out at the cafe and discuss our weekend plans with each other. We were pleased to discover, when we waved the waiter over to our table to pay, that Tammam and the CCCL Arabic department covered our tab- free tea!

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Tea at a cafe with my Arabic class.

After lunch on Monday we had our first politics class of the semester. I greatly wanted it to be a fascinating dissection of current events in Morocco and an examination of what each individual was interested in further researching, but instead it was terribly boring. I like our instructor in the realm of being the SIT program director, but I don’t particularly enjoy him as a professor. Unfortunately, because Arabic is his second or third language, he speaks very slowly and frequently repeats himself. This wouldn’t be the worst situation to find myself in while studying complex political topics in a new country, because it lends itself well to easy note-taking, but the class is also after lunch when everyone is extraordinarily sleepy and our professor also likes to review everything that was in our homework before moving onto to introduce new material.

After everyone woke themselves up from their class-facilitated naps, I helped my friend Kat move her belongings out of the house of her old host family and bring it to school to meet her new host family. Though I personally love my host family, not all the students in my program were so lucky, and some were placed with families that did not work out, for a variety of reasons. In Kat’s case, her family did not pay enough attention to her, but other students in my program moved because they had significant linguistic communication barriers with their family, or they were overwhelmed by the lack of privacy (due to excessive residence in the household), or the lack of necessary amenities (like a basic shower). I was lucky enough to be gifted a host family who is not only able to provide for me, but is also interested in getting to know me and is willing to include me in all their family activities, from simple trips to the supermarket to a family vacation in Marrakech. While we were shopping after school on Monday, my sisters quizzed me on my Arabic vocabulary, making sure that I knew how to say the name of everything we were buying.

Food with my family…

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A traditional Moroccan tagine.

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Moroccan “salad”. Pretty much just sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and potatoes.

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The Moroccan equivalent of French toast.

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Moroccan flat bread, called Bghreer. It has the texture of a floppy English muffin and is served with honey. 

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Milwe (Moroccan fried bread, like Roti), Bghreer, and crissonts for an afternoon snack.

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The breakfast spread. Honey, jam, butter, olives, olive oil.

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Moroccan pizza, complete with beets, tuna, and olives.

Tuesday was a relatively eventful day, as we were again let out of Arabic class early in order to attend a cooking demonstration by one of the instructors at the Center for Cross Cultural Learning. The conference room in which it was held was packed with students from all the various SIT programs, and we all sat with our stomachs grumbling for the hour the demonstration lasted. Though the food looked good and smelled amazing, only a few people were able to have a bite of the dish, as it was mostly being prepared for the purpose of teaching us how to say the various ingredient names in Arabic. When we were dismissed for lunch, we ravenously dashed upstairs to inhale carbs and subsequently sleep through the our afternoon guest lecturer.

Moroccan cooking lesson in Arabic…

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Doha explaining to our class, in Arabic, how to make couscous.

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Ellen and Maddie

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Helen

After school my friend Helen and I went to the Arab Cafe in the Ville Nouvelle district of Rabat and began writing a loose script for our Arabic presentation the next day. We had fantastic coffee and hung out with a lot of other students from our program who also frequent the shop, mainly due to the generous provision of free wi-fi to anyone who purchases a small beverage. When I got home I had a shower, ate dinner with my family, and then sat talking with my host sister about life, school and boys before going to bed. It was great bonding time, and I am really happy that we are growing so close.

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Helen in front of the medina wall.

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Vanilla coffee at the Arab Cafe.

Wednesday brought our final day of Darija lessons and our oral presentations. There were no specific instructions other than to use as much of the vocabulary we have learned as possible. My class, as we are relatively small, with only ten students, decided to do a presentation with our entire class in order to diffuse any nerves which inevitably accompany being forced to speak in front of your peers in a foreign language. We wrote a skit about study abroad students attending a Moroccan dinner party. It was challenging to plan and write in one hour, but it was fairly fun. After Arabic classes we were dismissed for the day, so I decided to walk home down a new road, since I was leaving from a different building than I normally do. I got a little turned around and ended up on streets I had only been down once or twice before. At some point I recognized one of the markets and was able to orient myself around one of the minarets in the medina in order to get home, in addition to following the smell of mint tea.

 

The various sights and streets of Rabat…

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The view from the terrace of my school.

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The view from the other terrace of my school.

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One of the streets of my school buildings.

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A quiet hour on one of the main roads in the medina.

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I was completely exhausted from being out in the hot sun, so I took a nap when I got home and then got to work writing an assignment for my fieldwork class. Once I had completed my writing assignment, I hung out in the kitchen with my host sisters and gossiped with them while I watched them cook. Later that evening, after dinner, my family was watching the news and since our television is always tuned to the stations which play new from across the Middle East, we ended up talking about Iran. I asked my sister how Morocco’s relations to Iran are, and she said since that since the two countries don’t have much reason to disagree, they have relatively few problems with each other. My host father chimed in that with the new nuclear deal between Iran and America, he hoped that the two countries would be able to restore diplomatic relations over the next few years. Needless to say I was surprised, but I am also a bit pleased, because he seems to be of the opinion that if Iran and America can find common ground, then they can resolve the issues they have with each other. While this may be a bit optimistic, I am glad he is a very accepting person who wants nations and individuals to get along.

Our Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) lessons began on Thursday, and while nothing of memorable significance occurred, I continue to be pleased with my professor. He has the enthusiasm of a kindergarden teacher and the patience of a saint, both of which are very necessary when trying to keep college students on a study abroad program both focused and motivated through three hour language classes every day. While my classmates and I were walking to the other CCCL building in the medina at which we eat lunch, we saw a box of baby kittens sitting on the side of the road on one of the side alleys off the main market street. We all stopped and took a bunch of pictures with them, as they were just a few days old. After lunch we all had some free time, so we hung out on the terrace and listened to music, enjoying the sea breeze blowing off the ocean two blocks away. Here are a few pictures from the terrace on the roof of our building- it is the ultimate viewpoint from inside the medina.

Sunny afternoons on our school’s rooftop terrace…

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Katherine

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Kat, Katherine, Maddie, Ellen

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Audrey and Sophia

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Helen

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Maddie

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Ellen

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Girls hanging out, the ocean just a few blocks away.

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The spectacular view from our school’s terrace- study abroad or vacation?

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After school on Thursday the older of my two host brothers came over with his kids to plan our trip to Marrakech for the upcoming religious holiday. My host sisters and I played with the kids while Abdullatif and Ibrahim discussed logistics for dates and transportation. They are both quite adorable, though bit shy, and I am looking forward to spending more time with them in Marrakech during our holiday. Though it was fun to have the entire family together for an evening, I still had homework to do, so I was grateful when everyone went back to their normal evening routines by 9.

Adventures in the kitchen with my sister Hawla…

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My host sister Hawla toasting almond cookies called Faqas.

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My sister Hawla making traditional Moroccan bread.

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Me trying to make bread like my sister Hawla.

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Hawla frying potatoes for dinner.

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Friday I woke up at the same time I always do and walked to Arabic class, taking my obligatory cat pictures along the way. When I got to class I was surprised, but pleased, to learn that Aysha and Sarah, two other girls from my Multiculturalism program here in Rabat would be joining my class. After Arabic I went home to shower and have traditional Friday couscous. Of course, because everything in Morocco runs on its own time schedule, one that is very fluid and largely up to interpretation, our lunch didn’t begin until close to 2:30. At that point, I had to shovel couscous, vegetables and chicken into my mouth and rush to school to get to my human rights class at 3, (which also did not start on time).

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A really terrible picture of my family’s couscous. It has chickpeas, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, artichoke hearts and chicken.

After class on Friday I returned home and spent the evening working on my homework and my blog. My host sister Asma invited her best friend from a nearby town to stay for the weekend, and at some point in the evening they dressed me up in their jellabas and took my picture. It was both fun and amusing, but I also have never felt so out of place or like I was appropriating a culture which did not belong to me. Thankfully, it only lasted briefly, and they soon sequestered themselves to talk for a few hours while I packed my bags and went to sleep. The next morning my friends and I planned to go to Casablanca for a brief overnight trip.

Me in my host sisters’ jellabas. 

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Sold on the streets of the medina…

I. Bread

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II. Tagines

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III. Vegetables

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IV. Dried fruits, dates, nuts, and spices.

11986402_10207604655377342_2627066512091402882_n 11181629_10207604554574822_1643714162509246208_n

V. Raw meat

11990538_10207604649377192_3836397511386256529_n 11224107_10207604315928856_8660370694087976958_n 11108841_10207604314128811_4982815560102240883_n 11988410_10207604435971857_2347348402128473479_n

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