Author Archives: Katie Sweeney

2013! And…the Welcome Home post.


Well, hello again, Blog! It’s been awhile. Last I posted was a day or two after my little brother’s birthday, which was in September. In the intervening months, I read a whole lot of philosophy (that’s my major. Nice and practical) and did a bunch of other stuff, too. Turned 21. Started baking bread. Considering running away to Japan to study Zen soon as I graduate. Applied to graduate. Applied to graduate!

Remember that one time I studied abroad in Morocco?


Around Thanksgiving, a friend of mine who was studying in Rabat at the time (WASSUP MAMA SAM!!!) asked what the transition back home had been like, because it looked like it was going to be a rough ride.  When I started to reply, I realized that it was the first time I’d really thought about it–about putting that transition into words for another human being to read. I think it turned into a bit of a novel. Oh, well. So as we all kick off the new year, I’m going to tell you about transitioning home. All yous guys coming back from study abroad, this is for you.


In a way I’m still adjusting back from Morocco. I’ve got some pictures and my red blanket hanging on my bedroom wall, I doodle Arabic on my class notes, I make Moroccan tea ALL THE TIME. My experience in Morocco informs the way I think, behave, and interact with the world to this day (or whatever). It’s not as though you get back, endure 3 weeks of shitty culture shock, and then everything’s back to normal.

Nah. It’s way, way better than that.

(Ooh, that was dramatic. Suspense. Suspense. Woo!)

Here’s the thing–you get to Morocco, and what’s it like? HOLY CRAP NEW CITY NEW CULTURE NEW COUNTRY NEW LANGUAGE WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA and every day brings you new awkward experiences, new laughs, new places you never thought you’d be, new words you never thought you’d say. It’s a constant barrage of discovery, and even when you start forming routines and begin to feel like you have an “everyday life” of some kind, you’re still not done adjusting. It’s a bit like that coming home, except…actually, no, it’s not like that coming home at all. Well, maybe just a bit.

Because let’s be real: studying abroad, particularly in a place like Morocco, is like climbing into a cannon (like the ones at the circus) and blasting yourself straight out of your comfort zone. In fact, the explosion obliterates your comfort zone. You don’t even have one anymore. So for one thing, you’re better equipped to handle the transition back than you think you are–hell, you already handled the transition
there. Possibly the worst thing you’ll face when you come back is your own disillusionment, and maybe some frustration with how little this world has changed compared to how much you’ve changed.

But seriously, you’ve probably only gotten more awesome in your time away. You’ve gained a lot of valuable skills in a lot of areas, you’ve thought new thoughts, you’ve left the bubble, and you’re looking at returning to the bubble, and maybe that weirds you out a bit. It should. It is sort of weird coming back. But it’s also not weird at all, because it’ll be so, so familiar. You’ll eat a bagel or a hot dog and LOVE it. You’ll hear some new Britney song that you don’t know all the words to. You’ll have missed some internet thing like YOLO or Friday or whatever. You’ll have some awesome stories to tell.

You’ll realize that you can answer those questions you’ll get that seem so obvious, even ignorant, to you – “did they make you wear a bourka?” – with patient “no, actually…”s, and you’ll be able to answer that silly old question that everyone knows is ridiculous but asks anyway: “so, how was Morocco?”

It was good. How was your quarter?

Because, well, it was good! Parts of it probably sucked, but at least for me, those parts were worth it–and, in retrospect, necessary for that experience to have been what it was. Sure it was life-changing, or whatever, but epiphanies are rare things, and life is always changing. And maybe, in the grand scheme of things, four months in Morocco isn’t the hugest deal in the world. And that should be a relief. And the transition home won’t be a super massive upheaval, probably. You’ll be okay.

I guess I’d say allow your past experiences to inform the way you shape your outlook on the present, in small ways. I cook dishes my family taught me to make sometimes. I speak darija to myself sometimes when I’m cleaning. Sometimes, I listen to Cheb Khaled while I do my homework. And then again, sometimes I don’t. It’s whatever. I keep in touch with my host family, on and off. They’re still wonderful.

I don’t think culture shock is always as crappy as it’s made out to be, it’s just a handy term for getting-used-to-where-you-suddenly-find-yourself. Going to college is culture shock, in a way, and I imagine graduating college is going to be a kind of culture shock too. I mean, hell, we live our lives in a constant state of evaluating and re-evaluating the way we live them, and we’re always striving to do something good with whatever that might be. Or something.

And yeah, the first few weeks do suck, or can suck, or might suck, but it gets better. And try not to presuppose that it definitely will suck, because maybe it won’t. Who knows?


That’s all I can think of to say, at least out of my own experiences. You’ll be great.


I always feel fancy when I do the above three-centered-asterisks-subject-change thing.

I’ve heard some people, bloggers, teachers, say they wish study abroad-ers would come back and write a bit more in their blogs after coming home. Updates on the transition, and all. So here it is, blog-sphere! Here I am!

Though the transition back to normal college life was a lot harder than I expected it to be, I’m doing really well, everyone. Hello, world! I’m still alive! Probably going to graduate on time, too! Definitely want to go back to Morocco sometime!

And wasn’t it just a wild ride?

I’ll probably come back to this blog, sometime. When I travel. When something cool happens. When I learn something cool or read a new Morocco-book. When I feel like it. You stay cool, gentle reader. Catch ya on the flip side.


MOROCCO SIBLINGS AND ROOMIE!!!! SMILES!!! Boy, how I miss these kids. Pax in terra, everyone.



Happy Birthday, Tom!


Tom’s my little brother. I don’t think he reads my blog, and his birthday was actually four days ago, but I did start writing this post on his actual birthday, so happy birthday anyway, Tomo! WOOHOO! PARTAY!

Here’s where I was four days ago:

Well, I’m all packed, my bedroom is – gasp – tidied up, and I’m enjoying my last real day of absolutely-nothing-to-do. Tomorrow, I hop on an airplane to Seattle, will hopefully paint my bedroom up there (the colors are ghastly), find myself a wardrobe, learn a metric crapton of music in time for Tuesday, and SCHOOL. Wait, what’s school?

In short, this nine-month break from my university is giving way to one more year of undergraduate classes, and then I’ll have to start Real Life. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Right now, I’m concerned with the ending of my nine-month break from class, during which I saw a whole lot of the world…

And that’s all I had to say about that. I got distracted, probably by Tom’s birthday cake. School starts tomorrow. Anyway, got choir stuff today. Room painted, wardrobe built, music (sort of) learned – I mean, I’ve even bought my books. I don’t think I’ve ever been more and less prepared for school to such extremes before.

So there’s that, for what it’s worth. Hello!

And THIS is your last update before I turn to Nicaragua and possibly more Morocco stuff. I swear. Not sure what else I’m going to write about. Maybe I’ll take up quasi-Moroccan-cooking again. Zip! OH HEY! Tip (haha preemptive pun AND RHYME WHOA): Never say zip, or zipper, in Morocco, because it sounds like Arabic slang for the male anatomy.  We thoroughly embarrassed our intensive Darija teacher with that one in our very first week. We were an illustrious bunch, you can be sure.

Stay classy, world. Kiss kiss.

The BBC, Ovid, and shopping for lamps: a study in not-being-bored.


So. Sunday, September 9, 2012: Spent the past few weeks watching British TV, reading books, and generally not doing things. Developed an odd habit of absentmindedly dating everything 2010. Got a haircut and a new lamp.  This week, I’m in love with Martin Freeman and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I still have plenty of Nicaragua stories to tell you all, which I’ll probably get to at some point in the sort-of near future. For now, our latest news from the land of lakes and volcanoes concerns the eruption of the San Cristobal volcano, the largest in the country. Wishing all the best for the 3,000-odd evacuees.

In other news, I smell very good today. It’s 75°F, clear, sunny, and beautiful, so I’m going outside. Concept of the day: dialetheism!

Keep laundering those undies, champ. Till next time! Toodle-oo!


Para Español, Oprima 2!


…And THAT’s the extent of my Spanish! ZOP!

Hola, amigos! I’m in Nicaragua, the land of volcanoes and churches and “temperate forests” (aka JUNGLES WOOO) and coconuts and cacao and AMAZING fruit and Waslala and Matagalpa and Managua and León and wait, where am I again?!

My cousin John! And me! Ironically, a lot of our family call him Juan, while his Nicaraguan friends all call him John. Or Johncito, which means little John, which he clearly is. Duh. Anyway, he lives and works in Waslala, Nicaragua. He is an electrical engineer. He is great.

Nicaragua is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen, and we saw plenty of it on the drive from Managua to Waslala! We rattled around like beans in a maraca from Matagalpa onward in our trusty little 4-wheel drive. Woo, dirt/mud/rock roads! It was like a roller coaster, only more life-threatening!

Kiddinnnnggggggg, Juan’s a great driver. And we’re having a BLAST!

These are the family fart machines I’m traveling with: Aunt Mary, a.k.a. Tía Maria, a.k.a. Sharon; my older brother Patrick, a.k.a. Patricio, a.k.a. Furniture; and cousin John, a.k.a. Juan, a.k.a. Johncito, a.k.a. Jambalaya, a.k.a. Juan Beyah en fuego, etc, etc.

I have tales of the jungle, of cipro and fruit juice and GIANT BUGS and HUNDREDS of pictures for you, but don’t feel like typing all that nonsense right now. So for now, here’s a picture of us swimming in our undies by a great big waterfall!


So, friends, I am: not dead yet, only resting, having a blast, drinking vodka (the perks of traveling with the SHARONATOR!), speaking terrible Spanish, alternately bickering and laughing with my older brother, laughing at farts, taking Cipro, meeting people, taking pictures, learning tons, helping out at schools, attending health workshops for rural community leaders, hanging out with mah cuz and aunt and brosky, eating yummy Nicaraguan food, and listening to the wedding party next door.

Oh, I’m in León. I was in Waslala.

Gonna go poop and shower now.


Round is a shape!


That’s what we say when we insist that we’re not out of shape, per se.

Anyway, hola, amigos! I’m not dead yet! I figured it was about time I updated the bloggity blog, since I’m about to go on yet another international adventure. But first, let me update you on my current location: New York, staying with my  cousins. Before that, I was on Long Island, NY, with my grandparents, and before that North Carolina, also with cousins, and before that, California, where I live. With family. And before that Seattle, where I also live. And stuff. That was where we left off with Operation Rosewater, which feels like a thousand years ago.

Anyway, it’s been a pretty tiring three weeks–both tiring and awesome–and I have exactly 5 days to recuperate before I hop on an airplane with my older brother and aunt and head fooooooor (drumroll) NICARAGUA!

Yes, Nicaragua. My cousin John’s been living down there for a year now, doing sustainable engineering stuff. You know, with water and shit. My aunt’s a nurse, and we’ll be helping her out with a clinic and education things, I think. I don’t really know what to expect, actually. It’s all very seat-of-the-pants adventure-y stuff, you know? But still! COOL!

I have no skills whatsoever to contribute to this A+ engineering and nursing combo, particularly since according to my mother, my Spanish accent is awful. Still, I’ve got a Latin American Spanish phrasebook and I’m doing my best to learn at least a little Spanish before I step off the airplane in Managua. Maybe I’ll run into a Moroccan and have an ENORMOUS Darija triumph! THAT SEEMS SO LIKELY, RIGHT?!?!?!

Anyway, this is, I suppose, the capstone blow-off-all-my-savings let’s-do-something-crazy end to my summer of nomadic unemployment, even though my senior year of college won’t start till mid September.
Then what will I write about?! Who knows. Boop.

You’ll notice the newest update to the sidebar of Mr. Blog here–my Twitter account! Woohoo! So you can still see updates even if I’m too lazy to write out an entire blog post! This kind of technology is going to turn me into a narcissistic lunatic. LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ALL THE DIFFERENT PLACES I CAN TALK ABOUT MYSELF ON THE INTERNET!!!!!!

So that’s my update. Here’s a picture for you. This is why I love our family reunions!

Peace out, homiez!

Operation Rosewater


Now THAT sounds cool. Operation Rosewater. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. That’s a great book, you should read it. It’s by Kurt Vonnegut.

Moroccan desserts frequently include ingredients like rosewater, orange flower water, and other such floral…waters. Well, I hiked all over the hill and couldn’t find a DROP of rosewater, orange flower water, or ANYTHING. The closest I came were the shelves upon shelves upon shelves of COCONUT water, which is a craze that I still can’t quite wrap my head around. I didn’t particularly like coconut water when I tried it, though I do like coconut milk. Whatever.

Anyway, after a grocery store, Trader Joe’s,anda natural foods co-op yielded no results, I decided to screw it. I’d make my own. So here’s my makeshift rosewater operation:

Big pot is on stove, with water and rose petals a few inches deep. Empty mug is sitting on top of a thingy inside pot. Lid is on pot upside down. Ice cubes added to top of lid. Is this making sense? Basically, as the rose petals simmer, the steam rises, cools, condenses, then drips back down into the cup sitting, empty, inside the pot. Here’s hoping that it’ll turn out to be rosewater! I mean, that’s basically how distilling works, right? Well, steam distillation. I’m pretty sure there’s around 39,045,802 ways to distill stuff.

I should probably get a job. I’m spending days making makeshift stills and boiling rose petals. HAH! Well, anyway, if this works I’ll be able to make some Moroccan desserts, which nearly always involve almonds, sugar, and rosewater. Cool. Go me. OH! The spiced eggplant was delicious, except it gave me a wee bit of an upset tummy. Huh.

I’ll let you know how the rosewater turns out! If it’s good, then all you need to make rosewater is a bouquet of roses and a little ingenuity. Science is cool. Peace out, friends!

Spiced Aubergine (and zucchini) and Ghobz, sorta…


HEYA, Morocco-foodies! Today, I’m attempting ghobz (bread), which didn’t turn out all that great, and a spiced aubergine (eggplant) recipe to which I added that wilting zucchini I’d forgotten about. And tea, duh.

This my first time ever baking bread from scratch, so I’m forgiving myself for the strange consistency. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’d post pictures, but my camera’s in California. Imagine those round loaves of bread we ate every day in Morocco, except baked by a total newbie. Yeah, not super interesting.

The spiced eggplant I’m excited for, though! EEE!

Before I tell you about that, though, this is the cookbook I’m using: Made in Morocco: A Journey of Exotic Tastes & Places, by Julie Le Clerc and John Bougen. I bought it at that big ol’ book fair we attended in Casablanca, back in February. It’s a pretty good cookbook, full of beautiful pictures and information about diverse cities and regions of Morocco and their varied cuisines. It’s great because it’s full of Moroccan recipes adapted for the Western kitchen, which is a blessing for this clueless college student cooking in her under-stocked kitchen with a temperamental oven and a motley pile of pots and pans.

The book’s not exactly full of the food we ate on a day-to-day basis; after all, it’s a “journey of exotic tastes & places.” It’s full of special-occasion food, though a few of her recipes are SPOT ON. I’m going to be tweaking her beghrir recipe, perhaps with a little baking soda and a bit more water, and probably simplifying some of the fancier recipes. Anyway, as a bemused beginner taking baby steps into the world of Moroccan cuisine, I wanted to share with you my home-base cookbook. You’re welcome for the plug, Julie Le Clerc and John Bougen.

So, for example, this eggplant stuff is out of her cookbook. The couscous I made last time was my own improvised recipe based on what I’d seen my family cooking. The tea I make is also based on what my family made. Have I told you how to make it?!? Here’s Katie’s Moroccan Mint Tea recipe!!!

Stuff you’ll need:
Loose leaf green tea, gunpowder pearls
Fresh mint leaves
…Water. Duh.

What to do:

Heat up some water in a saucepan on the stove. Add green tea. Steep that mo’fo.

Fill a glass jar/cup/whatever with mint leaves, enough to fill up the glass. Don’t stuff them in and leave no room for the tea, just fill the glass and leave some space. Add 2 tbsp sugar to the glass. Yes, to each glass. I’m serious. Or, add sugar to your taste, but know that back in the day sugar was extremely expensive in Morocco, which is why mint tea is so sugary: it’s meant to honor the guest/family/whoever. The sugar is pretty essential. Sugar: the taste of Morocco. ANYway!

Once the green tea’s steeped, pour it into the glasses with the mint and sugar in them. Stir. Enjoy! You can use the mint for multiple servings, I just keep adding tea and sugar. Mint is potent stuff.

If you have rose water, you can add a little bit of that in with the tea as well. My fambam did. It’s awesome. I haven’t found/bought rose water yet, but if you have it, go for it!

YUM YUM YUM The spiced eggplant/zucchini is simmering away happily on the stove, and it smells pretty good in here. The bread’s weird, but I’m sure it’ll be much better with this spicy veggie stuff!

I’ll let you know how it goes. Over and out, homeskillet! (GET IT!?!?!?!!? HAHA!)