Saturday, December 3, 2011

f l-mgrib: Month Two

(A very belated month two wrap up. In my defense, I was pretty busy at the month mark, what with swearing-in and moving to a new city ALL BY MYSELF, but it doesn’t bode well for this month wrap-up idea if I’m already making excuses this early into the project.)

During my first month in Morocco, everything was new. New country, new friends, new language, new family – everything was new and different, and it wasn’t until my second month that I started to find my footing and feel at home in Morocco. Part of it was just exposure to the culture and after two months here, I had learned my way around Sefrou, my CBT town, and knew my host family’s routines.

Part of it was my increasing language skills. As the month and my Darija ability progressed, I started going beyond basic fact-based statements (today, we ate tagine for lunch) into a little more depth (today, we ate French fries for lunch, but I ate my French fries with a fork, because I don’t like to eat French fries with bread like Moroccans). During my last week in Sefrou, my host-sisters and I had a conversation about why Americans are fat and Moroccans aren’t, even though Moroccans eat way more bread than Americans do. Being able to actually commutate, no matter how grammatically incorrect that communication might be, has done a lot to make me feel more comfortable.

My host family was wonderful, and put up with a lot of terrible Darija in an attempt to make me feel at home. Simo, my host brother, and I had a running joke where he told people he was from America. It started when Simo was playing a driving and shooting computer game and one of the levels was set in America. I told Simo he was violated American traffic laws. He told me he wasn’t. I reminded him that I was, in fact, from America and was quite familiar with American traffic laws, especially the ones involving not running a red light to ram a cop car, and Simo informed Soukayna and I that he was actually from America.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Which state are you from?”

“I’m from Florida!” he told me.

“Which city are you from?” Soukayna asked.

Simo, not knowing any cities in Florida, leaned over and whispered to me, “What’s a city in Florida?”

“Miami,” I whispered back.

“I’m from Miami, Florida,” Simo informed us, and that night at dinner he told the rest of the family that he was now from Miami, Florida, and continued to remind us for the next few weeks. A week or so later, my host mother made me a separate pot of tea with dinner because she knew I like my tea without sugar. Simo poured himself a cup from my teapot, took a sip expecting the saccharine mint tea Moroccans usually drink and immediately started gagging.

“What’s the problem?” I asked. “You’re from America. This is American tea.”

“You are from America, right?” his sisters chimed in.

“Yes, I’m from America. I can drink American tea,” Simo reassured us, bug-eyed, then took a tiny sip of my tea and a giant spoonful of jam to prove it. His sisters stole the jam and demanded that he keep drinking. Poor kid. No one deserves to suddenly get an extra older sister.

Fatima’s Birthday Party
Simo, tiny Moroccan thug, and my sitemate Jenn. Just before this picture was taken, Simo was disco dancing. Americans disco dance, right?

l-عid l-kbir, biggest holiday in the Islamic calendar, was in early November and I celebrated with my host family. I thought the most important holiday was Ramadan, or would at least involve the Prophet, but l-عid celebrates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. At the last minute, Allah replaced Ishmael with a sheep, saving his life. Now, on the tenth day of the last month in the Islamic calendar (du l-Hijja), Muslims have a sacrificial feast to commemorate the occasion.

My family slaughtered a sheep. The sheep spent the night in the front hallway (which is in between the bathroom and the rest of the house, which made for an unexpectedly exciting late night trip to the bathroom), and on the morning of l-عid, my host father and sister killed it, skinned it and gutted it in front of the house. I stood on the front step and watched. The entire sheep is eaten during the holiday, and until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know it was possible to eat a sheep’s face. I had already told my host family that I was vegetarian (they tried to convince me that lung and heart don’t count as meat) so I mostly ate bread that week, but my sitemate Kim ate an eye and was tricked into eating sheep testicles. Her host mother offered her some meat that looked like fat, and Kim asked what part of the sheep it was from. Her host mother patted her stomach, but once Kim had eaten it, she leaned over and swung her hands back and forth like a pendulum to explain that actually, it came from a little bit further south.

Henna @ l-عid l-kbir
During l-عid, it's traditional to decorate your hands and feet with henna to ward off evil spirits. The day before l-عid, Naعima came over and drew henna on my hands. It's drawn free-hand with a syringe, which makes the results even more impressive.

Henna @ l-عid l-kbir
The final product of the henna with a glass of mint tea. It's my iconic Moroccan photo.

My family's sheep hanging from a tree over the irrigation ditch in front of our house after it had been skinned and gutted.

l-عid l-kbir
After it was decapitated, the sheep's head was taken to a fire pit where a couple of guys cut off the horns and roasted it. You know, for the eating.

During month two, we started doing technical training at the Dar Šabab, which also helped make me feel at home in Morocco. We started the month by doing PACA activities with the kids. (PACA, Participatory Approach for Community Action, is the Peace Corps guide to community analysis. It’s about as interesting as it sounds.) Then we spent a week teaching English at the Dar Šabab, and we ended the month by holding a “camp” for the youth. I’m not sure how much help the activities were in terms of actual technical training — two 40 minute classes does not a teacher make, and the camp was held right after l-عid and was sparsely attended — but it was a great chance to meet and interact with the youth of our town.

The camp was supposed to be the big, final project in CBT, but it fell flat. Not only did we not have nearly enough time to plan for it and only a few interested youth, our original idea for the camp, a talent show/art exhibition, didn’t go over well, so we mostly just hung out at the Dar Šabab and talked with the kids. One of the boys taught me know to write my name in Arabic, Mariam helped me review my numbers and, pressured to sing, I sang Amazing Grace, because it turns out the only songs I know well enough to sing a-capella are either religious or patriotic. On the last day, the youth performed a variety show (like a talent show, but without the practice) with song, dance, poetry and skits. They were a great group of kids, and I hope they get a permanent volunteer soon.

PACA Tools at the Dar Šabab
Girls (and Kelly) at the Dar Šabab after making a community map, one of the PACA activities.

I went to a bunch of parties during month two. There was a birthday party for Fatima (my LCF), a Moroccan dance party at Hub, and a going away party my last night in Sefrou. Turns out, Moroccans like to dance a lot. At the two parties in Sefrou, we danced to music videos (both of traditional Moroccan music and more western music, including something that sounded almost like Gangsta's Paradise). Men weren’t invited to either party, so the women were free to shed some of their layers, take off their headscarves and have fun. The day after Fatima’s birthday party, we were discussing it in class, and learned that in Darija, there are two words for to dance: shth which means to dance and rdih which means to crazy dance.

For the dance party at Hub, Peace Corps hired a traditional Moroccan band (like the ones that play at weddings). The band consisted of drums and horns, and the songs were long - up to twenty minutes long. After each piece, the performers had to rest and catch their breath before starting to play again. Everyone joined hands in a circle around the band and danced around in a circle.

Everybody, shthu!

Despite all the fun I had and progress I made during my second month here, most of the month was overshadowed by an abrupt change in LCFs. Due to a dispute with Peace Corps, Fatima had to resign with three weeks left in training. Her departure was sudden and perhaps not handled as well as it could have been by everyone involved, and the experience left me with the impression that the well-being of my training was very much secondary to Peace Corps. While another LCF was eventually brought in, I know that my training, especially my language training, suffered a result. It was an unsettling introduction to how Peace Corps bureaucracy works, but it’s behind me now and I hope the rest of my service is smoother.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Two years ago, I started poking around (again) on the Peace Corps website over the Thanksgiving holidays. I started my application sometime that week. I spent last Thanksgiving at the dentist, having cavities filled as part of the medical exam for my Peace Corps application. I didn't even eat dinner that night because my mouth was too numb from the Novocaine to manage something as complicated as chewing. This Thanksgiving, I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer, and it's easy to be thankful.

I'm thankful that the long, frustrating application is over and that it I'm finally a PCV. I'm thankful that I'm in Morocco, with all its crazy charm. I'm thankful that I spent my Thanksgiving evening at my Dar Shabab, making awkward conversation in broken Darija with my mudir and then watching a Moroccan scout meeting, which involved a lot more singing than I imagine goes on at American scout meetings. I'm thankful that I ate chickpeas seasoned with salt and cumin that I bought from a roadside stall as part of my Thanksgiving dinner, and I'm thankful that I have Internet so I could Skype home after dinner and talk with my parents. I'm thankful for everyone I've met in Morocco: my government-appointed family, my two host families and all of the wonderful Moroccans who have gone out of their way to welcome me to their country.

I'm thankful I am getting to embark on this crazy, two year Moroccan adventure, and while things are still a bit lonely and difficult right now, I'm thankful for the opportunity to get to stick around and make this home.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


September 2011 YD Staj
Lyum, hna mutatwi3in m3a Hay'at Ssalam.
Today, we are Peace Corp Volunteers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Site Annoucements

Site announcements were last Wednesday! Most of PST is spent at our CBT sites, but every few weeks, the entire staj comes back to Fes for a few days of group sessions, and this trip Peace Corps announced the permanent sites we’ll spend the next two years living in, i.e. the one thing I’ve been dying to know since I first got my invitation.

On Wednesday, the day of the announcements, Peace Corps drug the process out, and we spent all morning in sessions that no one paid any attention to because we all just wanted to know where our sites were. After lunch (which was half an hour late *insert face clawing*) we had yet another session with Abdelghani, the Youth Development program manager, introducing the regional managers, their duties and the regional system (a new introduction to Peace Corps Morocco) and other probably important things that I didn’t really pay attention to because I just wanted to know where I was going to be living. *insert more face clawing*

After the session, we were divided into our regional groups, which was a cruel tease because know we knew the general area we would be living in and who our neighbors would be, but still didn’t know our site, our home for the next two years, and we still had to sit through another ten minutes of talking. After region announcements, the groups met separately and our regional manager gave everyone a folder with the name of our site, a form about our new host family and a couple of pages of information about our the town. (People who are replacing or joining a current volunteer got a site journal written by the PCV, but since I’m the first volunteer in my site in a while, I got a generic form filled out by Peace Corps staff.)

My immediate thoughts were along the lines of OMG, I’m so excited, I can’t wait to see it, I love this place and am invested in its well-being ALREADY, must Google immediately, followed by Wait, Sra-what? I don’t even know how to say that! and Hmm, so I wonder where this is? It was a surreal moment.

My home for the next two years is Kelaat Sraghna (I can still only somewhat say that), a city about an hour and a half north of Marrakesh. Kelaat, or Qlaat or El Kalaa des Sraghna (there seems to be some confusion about the proper name and spelling) is big, about 65,000 people, and the economy mainly revolves around olive agriculture. There’s a high school, two Dar Šabab (youth centers where YD volunteers work), a sports center and a Marjan (think Wal-Mart, only nice and with an entire aisle devoted to cheese). I have a sitemate, Lucia, from my staj who I like a lot and think will be great to work with, there’s a Environment volunteer named Lena who lives 40 minutes away and Kelly, my current CBT sitemate and Peace Corps twin, is only an hour away. Kelaat is at the base of the High Atlas Mountains, just a couple of hours from the beach and close enough to Marrakesh’s transportation options that I’ll be able to travel easily. It sounds like an amazing town and I can’t wait to get there!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Amazing Moments in Stupidity

Part of being a foreigner somewhere is putting up with unwanted attention because you’re different. People stare, children shout things as you walk by in what they think is your native language (in Morocco, they all shout in French) and sometimes, you don’t get the same treatment that a native would receive because you’re different. It can also work the other way, and expats get away with all sorts of cultural faux pas because they’re foreign and people assume they don’t know any better. Either way, it can feel like people only react to the fact that you’re different and not to you as an individual, and it can be difficult to remind myself that sometimes it’s my actions that are causing the commotion, not my nationality, ethnicity or inability to speak the language.

Case in point: Last night, one of the innumerable cousins (I assume, I never did get a straight answer to who this guy was) came over. He spent the evening on the computer, which is in the living room and has a direct line of sight to my bedroom, where I was sitting on my bed, trying (unsuccessfully) to memorize adjectives. Every time I looked up, the cousin was staring at me, and after a bit, I started to get hostile. Why’s he looking at me? I fumed mentally. Hasn’t he seen a foreigner before?! I’m dressed appropriately, I’m minding my own business and I’m in the safety of my home. I’m not Moroccan, woop-di-freaking-do. I have to put up with enough attention all day. I shouldn’t have to deal with this at home too! What a creep! I spent the better part of the evening annoyed at the guy and sending him a covert stink-eye whenever I caught his glance.

And then, hours later when I got up for dinner, I realized that hanging right above me head, in plain view to the entire house, were a row of underwear that had still been damp when I took them off the line this afternoon.

Dude wasn’t looking at me. He was trying to figure out why I was displaying my undergarments so wantonly, especially when there was a male guest present. This had nothing to do with me being foreign and everything to do with me being kinda dumb. If I hadn’t immediately jumped to the conclusion that his attention was because I’m American and not because of something I had done, I would have looked around and noticed my laundry and could have saved myself some embarrassment when I had to sit down, red-faced, next to him for dinner.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Fkkr (Sorry Mom, there's a bunch of swearing in this entry. In my defense, it's most as a pronunciation guide.)

Darija can be an incredible dirty sounding language to an English speaking. I know there are examples in every language of perfectly innocent words being dirty or offensive in another (my college Latin professor loved to remind us that we can’t decline sex in Latin), but in all the languages I’ve studied, Darija is the worst (or best).

“I ate” is klit. “Please” is afak, which sounds a lot like “oh fuck” and promptly became a swear word around Hub. (I left my notebook in my 5th floor room, afak!) We’ve started threatening to cut a bnt (girl) instead of bitch and last week, I asked Jenn the name of her hooha (brother). (That one was mistake. Hooha means "her brother" and I should have asked about the name of her non-dirty sounding hook (your brother).) If you woke up this morning, you fqt (which sounds very similar to fucked), but my favorite work is “to think,” which is fkkr, pronounced exactly like you think it is. (There are actually two works for “to think, dnn and fkkr, which has lead to us saying dnn-fkkr a lot.) We’re not exactly mature about it, and poor Fatima spends a lot of time rolling her eyes as we titter over things like Kat-fkkr (you think). The best moment came when Kelly, frustrated over forgetting a word, tapped her head and said, “Fkkr, fkkr, fkkr,” in a horribly obscene reference to Winne the Poo.

I really love my CBT group sometimes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

f l-mgrib: Month One

Friday was my one-month anniversary in Morocco. My staj arrived in Morocco early on the morning of September 14th, after an overnight flight from JFK. We were met right off the plane by Peace Corps staff, whisked through the diplomatic line at immigration and loaded onto a bus for the four hour bus ride to Fes by 8:00. The first day was long, busy and exhausting, especially since I didn’t sleep on the plane or the bus. We met Peace Corps training staff, had the first of many immunizations and dealt with reams of paperwork that goes along with entering government service. Siad, the assistant training director, took a picture of each of us that afternoon, then printed them out and gave them to us as a memento shortly before we left for CBT. In my photo, I’m tired, unwashed and giving the camera a bitch face, but things have only gone uphill from there.

It’s been a busy month, and one unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The first week was spent in Fes, which only barely felt like living in Morocco. I was surrounded by Americans, the Moroccan staff all spoke excellent English and I rarely left the training center for more than a quick run to a hanut, the small convenience stores that abound on every street corner.

Then, after week, we moved to our CBT sites, which was a jarringly different experience and I was suddenly living by myself with a Moroccan family who spoke little English (at a time when my Darija was pretty much limited to telling people my name, where I was from and my marital status). My stomach was in knots all morning the day we left for CBT, and I had to make a fist to keep my hands from shaking as I entered my home for the next two months. That evening, I was sitting alone on the couch of my new home, nervous, clueless about how to start a conversation and dreading the long evening in front of me. Then Soukayna, my 17-year-old host sister, drug me over to the family computer so she could show me her Facebook page and took me outside, where I met the neighbors and we sat on the steps and listened to Barbie Girl on Soukayna’s phone. During dinner, Simo, my 11-year-old brother, made sure to find an American movie (Twister) subtitled in Arabic to watch, so that I would be included. All evening, my host family went out of their way to made sure I felt included and welcomed. I had anticipated a long and lonely evening, but instead went to bed feeling hopeful and optimistic about the next two months.

For the most part, living with a host family has been a positive experience. As my Darija abilities have developed, I’ve been able to start to actually talk with them, and one of my favorite times of the day is sitting around the dinner at table and trying to chat with my host mom and sisters. My host sisters and I have jokes, and my host brother and I play computer games and soccer together. They always introduce me as their sister, and last night, I told Simo I had three brothers. One was 23, one was 20 and one was 11.

“I’m 11!” he told me.

“I know,” I told him. “You’re my 11 year old brother.”

They’ve also been helpful when I’m studying. Ranya, my 13-year-old host sister, sits with me in the afternoon and helps me review my vocab flashcards and corrects my pronunciation. My host mom in particular is good at correcting me when I talk when her, but not correcting me beyond what I’m suppose to know. We learned present tense last week, and as soon as I started using it in conversation, she started correcting my mistakes, but last week when all I knew was the past tense and would attach deba (now) to any statement I wanted to be in present tense, she let it slide.

Not that living with a host family is always perfect. I miss the privacy and autonomy I had when I was living at home. My host mother decides everything, from when we eat dinner (answer: always later than I want, the latest has been 11:30) to when I can take a shower. While in theory I have my own room (a Peace Corp requirement), my host siblings are constantly in and out, the door I make sure to shut when I leave is always open when I return and after the first week, I realized that when people visit the house, my host mother immediately takes then to see my room.

I spend most of my day at school. I leave the house at 8:00 in the morning, and if I’m lucky, I’m home by 6:00. We study language all morning, and it’s amazing how fast I’m progressing. A month ago, I didn’t know a word of Moroccan, and now I have conversations. I’m comfortable, if not always adept, talking to shopkeepers and the neighbors, and yesterday I had my first program at the local dar chebab entirely in Darija, and it didn’t end in tears or fire or confusion. (Granted, I did write out the directions ahead of time and read from my notebook, but I also answered questions and talked with the kids and understood at least a large percentage of what was said, so I call it a success.) We’ve learned the entire Arabic alphabet, and I can slowly sound out street signs and write out simple notes.

I’m busier than I’ve ever been. In addition to being at school for ten hours a day, I have homework, grammar to study and vocabulary to learn, and when I’m not studying, I’m spending time with my host family, which is it’s own form of studying. There’s a stack of Peace Corp books on procedure and methods that I’m suppose to read before I swear in sitting on my desk, and every few weeks, I have reports on my progress to turn in. I live in a constant state of being behind on blogging and uploading photos and all my grand ideas of visiting other CBT sites during my one day off a week have gone out the window. I’m starting to feel a little frayed around the edges, but everyone I’ve talked to says that the pace slows down once you get to your site, and I can last another month.

Last Monday was National Woman’s Day, and the Peace Corps provided us with You Can Dream: Stories of Moroccan Women Who Do, a documentary about female leadership in Morocco, and one of the women featured lives in my town. Ten years ago, a Peace Corps volunteer had the idea of turning l3qad, the buttons from jellabas, a traditional Moroccan dress, into beads and using them to make jewelry. They applied for a loan and started a local artisans co-op for hand-made crafts. A decade later, the l3qad buttons and the co-op are still around. My host mother runs a shop at the co-op and sells jellabasand other traditional outfits. l3qad jewelry are now sold around Morocco and the women in my neighborhood sit on the front stoop and make beads while they gossip and watch their children play. I’m inherently skeptical of how much of a lasting impact I can make in only two years, but this co-op and the industry has made a real impact in the lives of the women here. Watching the video made me think that I have a chance of also making a real impact on my community, and reminded me of why I applied to the Peace Corps in the first place.

Mosque Medina of Fes-el-Bali
Usteda u Xti
(Top Left: Entrance to a mosque near the Medina Fes-el-Bali (Old Medina); Top Right: Beautiful saqiya, public water fountain, in the Fes medina. Saqiya are all over the medina, and are still in use; Bottom: (from l to r) Fatima(my teacher) and Soukayna (my oldest host-sister)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Moroccan Hamam

I went to the hamam, a public steam bath, for the first time yesterday, and it was wonderful. (Okay, so I almost passed out, but that was due to user error, and I fully expect my next trip to be fine. Turns out, exhaustion and health related dehydration [remember that gastrointestinal distress I mentioned before] plus extreme temperatures isn’t the best combination, though honestly, I could have passed out and it would still have worth it to be this clean.)

Hamams are common in Morocco and all across North Africa. Almost all Moroccan towns have at least one small hamam, and going to the hamam is common. Most Moroccan homes don’t have showers (or even hot water), so lots of Moroccans make due with bucket baths during the week, and go to the hamam once a week for a good scrub. It’s about more than just bathing though. Going to the hamam is a social event, and friends will go and spend a few hours at the baths the way American teenagers might go to the mall or a café to hang out. (Only, you know, everyone is naked. And people think Muslim cultures are repressed.)

I went to the hamam with Kim (a fellow PCT), Soukayna (my host sister) and Fatima (my Arabic teacher*). When we got the hamam, we paid our fee and Kim and I bought ssabun lbldi (special soap made from olive resin) and l-kiis (the abrasive washcloth used for exfoliating), then went to the changing room, where we stripped down to our underwear (and just underwear, not underwear and bra). Right, the whole naked thing. You’re naked at the hamam. Naked around other ladies (hamams are segregated by gender) and the people you came with. You will see other women naked and other people – total strangers and people from the neighborhood – will see you naked. Some women even go sans-underwear. Nudity is such a non-issue at the hamam, and once I was in the steam room, I almost immediately felt comfortable, but I still had to steal myself (gird my loins, if you will) before taking off my bra in the middle of a crowded changing room, and I spent the past two years going to the Korean public baths, which are also sans-clothes and privacy.

So, once we were properly naked (and possible hiding behind our stools, like Kim), we entered the steam rooms. There were three rooms, ranging from super hot and humid to regular type hot and humid, but all of them were hot enough for my hair to immediately go POOF. We went to the hottest room to fill up our buckets (decent sized buckets, probably as tall as my knee) with water, and then retreated to the medium heat room to claim a corner and wash. First, using small cups, we wet ourselves and rubbed the sabun lbldi, which looks like a thick, black goo, all over our bodies. We let it sit for a few minutes, rinsed it off and then, using the kiis, began exfoliating. I like to think I keep myself fairly clean, but I’ve never done a full body exfoliation before and I was amazed by how much dead skin came off. It reminded me of those deep cleaning pore strips every girl used on their noses in middle school: you’re horrified by how dirty you were, but every pore strip filled with gunk (or in this case, l-kiss covered in a white film of dead skin) makes you feel virtuous and proud, because at least you’re no longer that dirty. Scrubbing took a long time, probably close to an hour, which I didn’t think was possible when Fatima told us about the hamam in class. I just kept scrubbing, and the kiss kept coming back with dead skin on it. Turns out, my armpits were full of dead skin. (Sorry, that’s probably TMI.)

After about an hour at the hamam, I started getting dizzy. I’m sick, sleeping poorly, not eating much and thanks to last weeks bout of gastrointestinal distress, I’m just a little dehydrated, none of which is good when combined with long periods in a hot steam room. I stumbled out of the baths and spent twenty or so minutes sitting on a bench in the changing area until the world stopped spinning around me, and then took the rest of my bath in cold water in an attempt to keep my body temperature down. It felt like such waste, since I’ve missed hot water so much, and when I finally had an unlimited supply of it, I couldn’t use it. Next time I go to the hamam, I’ll make sure to drink plenty of water during the day and eat lunch, and I’m sure I’ll be fine. And there will definitely be a next time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so clean, and it was the first time I’ve felt completely clean since arriving in Morocco. Plus, my skin was noticeable softer today, even my elbows, which are normally dry and rough. I want to make going to the hamam a regular part my life here.

  • I’m glad I went with Moroccans, because I would have been a bit lost by myself, and the hamam might be the one place where I don’t feel comfortable looking around to see what other people are doing.

  • Soukayna and Fatima brought stools and a plastic mat so they wouldn’t have to sit on the ground, which was nice.

  • Bring a spare pair of underwear. Most people bring an entire change of clothes (my host mom was horrified that I came home from the hamam in the same clothes I wore there), but the underwear is the essential part, since the underwear you wear to the hamam will be soaked.

  • You can pay more to have an employee scrub you. I opted to scrub myself the first time, but at some point I’d like to experience a true hamam experience.

  • There’s usually a separate area for shaving. Look around and see what other people are doing before you whip out the razor.

  • I’m serious about the water. I bought a liter and a half bottle of water on the way home, killed it in an hour, and still slept through the night without having to wake up and pee. I was pretty seriously dehydrated.

  • *An aside about Fatima. She’s 25, making her the youngest person in our language group. She’s feisty and independent and confident and ambitious and everything America’s perception of women in Islamic country isn’t. She can speak six languages, has absolutely beautiful English that is being corrupted by our horrible American slang (we taught her the proper way usage of duh and the word doohickey today) and just got accepted into a graduate program in Fes. She can wear a pair of purple and green paisley parachute pants and make it work. Yesterday Jenn commented on how cute Fatima was and I agreed, saying that Fatima could hold a baby panda and still not be any cuter, that she has reached maximum cuteness. I’m really glad she’s my teacher.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    s-salamu 3alaykum mn l-mgrib

    s-salamu 3alaykum mn l-mgrib. I’m learning how to write Arabic script as well, but I only know 7 letters so far, which limits my written vocabulary to delicious turkey, grow, girl, door and room, so a proper greeting written in Arabic will have to wait. swiya b swiya.

    I’ve been in Morocco for two weeks as of today, but it feels like I’ve been here forever. We spent the first eight days at Hub (a government owned youth center, like the dar chabab will I’ll eventually work) in Fes, where we got to know our staj (the staging group of 40 I came with) and learned some very simple Darija and basic life skills, such as how to poop on a Turkish toilet. (For some reason, the Turkish toilet session was on day three instead of the VERY SECOND WE ARRIVED IN COUNTRY, which lead to some foul smelling bathrooms while we tried to figure out how the hell to flush the things.) (I took photos of the Turkish toilet lesson.) (Of course I did.)

    Then, seven days ago, our staj was broken into small CBT groups (I’m in a group of four) and we moved to small villages and towns around Fes, where we live with host families and study Darija, Arabic script and Moroccan culture. I really like my CBT group (three other girls and Dave, the imaginary guy we invented to we could practice the masculine pronouns and conjugation) and I adore Fatima, our teacher. My family has been great about letting me practice my pidgin Darija on them, although I end up getting laughed at a lot. Yesterday night, my host mama was trying to tell me something about eggs (l-bid), but I heard room (l-bit) and couldn’t understand her. Finally, she flapped her arms like a bird, squawked a few times and pretended to lay an egg so I would understand. Everyone, including me, got a good laugh out of that and my host siblings kept imitating her all evening.

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well language training has been going. While real world application can be a bit shaky, two weeks ago all I knew was half of hello and now I can say whole paragraphs, especially if the listener is willing to be generous with my pronunciation. There aren’t nearly enough vowels in Arabic for my English conditioned throat and that 3 in s-salamu 3alaykum at the beginning of the post is actually a letter. (It’s properly written like a swoopy backwards three, although I’m told it looks different in script. I refer to it as a backwards 3 and it sounds something akin to an /a/.) Inshaallah, my pronunciation will improve, because half the time when I say something in Darija, I’m met with blank stares.

    Two weeks into my service, I already have a reduced standard of hygiene. My family doesn’t bath with American regularity, probably because they perform ablutions before prayer, and I feel like a bother asking them to move everything they store in the shower area every night, so I’ve started washing my hair every few days instead of daily. I’ve also mastered the Turkish toilet, even with a bout of mild gastrointestinal distress, so I’m feeling pretty good. (Feeling good about my Turkish toilet skills, not in general, due to the aforementioned gastrointestinal distress.) (Also gone, any compunction I previous felt about talking about bodily functions. Poop was pretty much the main topic of conversation at Hub.)

    I’m super busy with lessons and studying and getting to know my family, but I’m happy. The application was such an arduous process, and when things get uncomfortable or hard or I simply miss home, I remind myself how hard I worked to get here and that things only get better from here.

    I am so lucky I'm getting to do this.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Casablanca or Bust

    I leave for Morocco in an hour. Literally an hour - I'm sitting at the gate at JFK, waiting for my flight to leave. This time tomorrow, I'll be in Fes.

    I'm really calm about all this. I expected that at the last hour, I would be awash with nerves and second guessing myself, but all I really feel is excited. I was worried before I left for staging, the one day long orientation in Philadelphia where we turned in our paperwork and got our government employee passports. For the past two weeks, I've had this free-floating anxiety that latched onto to really random things that didn't matter (including how I should have studied more for my planetary geology class 4+ years ago which, while true, is also irrelevant at this point). I wasn't worried about anything specific. I've done the expat thing and I'm pretty confident that I can handle whatever Morocco throws at me, however naive that is, but I was still worried and nervous and anxious.

    And then I got to the airport at Asheville and said my goodbyes (which were awful and heartbreaking and I'm choking up thinking about it) and walked through security and poof, all the butterflies beating in my stomach disappeared. The die was cast, I'm was on my way, and while I'm still apprehensive about things* I'm not nervous anymore. Now I'm just excited. It's time to do this thing.

    * We had a whole session about our worries at staging. Camel spiders and sexual harassment were chief amongst our concerns.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Peace Corps Chronicles, Part ! - The Application

    I first applied to the Peace Corps during college. I finished most of the application and one of the essays before freaking out and pretending the application never existed. Joining the Peace Corps was a big step; frightening and unknown. I was worried about not speaking the language, living without the amenities I was use to, meeting people and making friends in a place so different from home, and I chicken out and never finished applying.

    Two years later, I ended up moving to South Korea, so I guess the jokes on me. The key was, I think, not having time to think about what I was doing. I needed a job, Korea was offering one and from the first interview to boarding the plane only took a few months. By the time I grasped the implications of what I had done, I was on a bus from the airport to my new home, pinching myself to stay awake so I wouldn't fall asleep, miss my stop and spend my first night stranded in a bus lot.

    Of course, I absolutely loved Korea. I loved the country, I loved Seoul, I loved teaching and I loved the adventure of living abroad. I was already thinking about a second year by the end of my first month. As much as I loved living in Korea thought, I didn't like how isolated expats were from the country we were living in. I didn't like how contemptuous so many expats were about Korea, how they seemed to hate where they were and the "my way is the only right way" attitude so many foreigners had. I hated how I wasn't expected or even encouraged to learn anything about Korea. My best friend had joined the Peace Corp shortly after I left for Korea and the more I listened to her stories, the more I felt like it would be a good fit for me.

    I started the application again while I was home in between year. (In December 2009, which yes, is over a year and a half ago.) It took me about a month to finish the (very long) application, stress out about the essays and wrangle my recommendations (turns out Christmas is not the best time to ask people to fill out crazy long and complex recommendation forms), but I finished by mid-January and, as luck would have it, the Peace Corps regional recruiter for my area was speaking at few schools in WNC the next week and I was able to schedule an in-person interview.

    Peace Corps Recommendation
    A screen shot from one of my recommendation letters (sent to me after the fact). They, alas, changed the bit about the Cretans before sending it in.

    The meeting went well. I woke up that morning crazy sick, but managed to get through the interview before I lost my voice for a few days. My recruiter seemed impressed with motivation and my experience. Everything was going great until she asked when I wanted to leave.

    "Oh, next April or May," I told her. I had already accepted a contract in Korea, had boxes and boxes of things stored in a friend's parents' garage and I had done enough research to know that waiting for medical and legal clearance takes a long time (the average Peace Corps application takes about a year) and I wasn't established in the US in a way that would make that sort of a wait feasible. In Korea, I could live on my own, have a job (a real job, not a minimum wage job flipping burgers or making coffee), and be doing something I wanted to do with my life while I waited. Going back to Korea was an easy decision.

    "You mean in a few months?" my recruiter asked.

    "No, in a year and a few months. You see, I'm moving to Korea for a year next month."

    She was stunned; normally people want to leave as soon as possible. "I'm not sure I can actually nominate you for a program that far in advance," she admitted. She thought the Peace Corps would be a great fit, but they weren't equipped to deal with applications with that long of a waiting period. She put my application on hold and told me to get back in touch with her a year before I wanted to leave.

    While it wasn't the news I wanted to hear, it also wasn't a rejection, so I headed back to Korea and in May I emailed my recruiter, asking if she could nominate me for a program now. It took about a month, but on June 2nd, I was nominated for a Community Service program in Central/South Asia, leaving in June 2011. Nominations are for a geographic region, not a specific country, but it's usually possible to figure out what country the nomination is for based on what countries in that geographic region with that program leave during the specified month. Obsessive internet research of community service programs leaving in June revealed that I was probably nominated for Mongolia.

    A nomination is a recommendation, not a guarantee. It's dependent on getting medical and legal clearance, timing, availability of the program once you have clearance and great deal of luck. After you receive your clearance, your eligible for an invitation to serve. An invitation is more of a guarantee, and is for a specific country with a specific departure date. A nomination is great, but it means there's still a long, uncertain wait ahead of you. None of the Peace Corps Volunteers I know were invited to serve in the country they were nomination for, and since it's August and I'm not in Mongolia, neither was I.

    That was all in the future though, and right then, I was so very very excited.

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Packing, Part I

    I had my first Peace Corps related packing nightmare this morning. I never used to have any packing related anxiety (and I still don't once I actually start packing), but before I left Korea, I kept dreaming that I got home and realized that I had forgotten to pack half my apartment. I would wake up in the middle of frantically trying to reach Siobhain and asking her to save my yarn/books/clothes/super awesome SNSD coffee mug before my replacement threw them out, see the familiar walls of my apartment and think Oh thank God, I still have time to pack everything. (Incidentally, the dreams stopped the moment I started actually packing.)

    Today, I dreamt that I arrived in Morocco without any shoes or my Arabic workbook/flashcards/notebook, saw the familiar walls of my room and thought Oh, thank God. I still have six more week to deal with that.

    I think this is a sign that I should at least start reading packing lists.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    No Longer Friday Five

    Remember when I use to post here regularly? Yeah, me neither. Friday round up, posted on Saturday because I got tired and went to bed.
    1. My grandmother turned 84 in June and to celebrate we hiked up to Big Rock in Dupont State Forest for a picnic dinner and views of the full moon. I made a spring quinoa salad and a broccoli pesto with orzo, Mom made sauteed leeks with goat cheese, Leah made chocolate chip cookies and we hiked up just before sunset. It rained briefly and part of the meal was eaten huddled under a tarp, but then the clouds cleared after a short shower. We found out after we arrived that the moon wouldn't rise until close to midnight, but there was a lovely sunset, and we played cards by the light of the many headlamps I still have floating around in my purse and no one tripped on the hike back to the car in the pitch dark.

      Picnic Dinner Rain Sunset From Big Rock

    2. We also celebrated the 4th of July with my grandmother. I had my traditional Independence Day meal (Indian food and non-American beer), we played more cards and then watched the fireworks from her backyard.

      Fireworks Fireworks Fireworks

    3. I've started going to trivia night at a local bar with my brother and some friends. We do okay (one win, a couple of second places and we would have won last night if I could have remembered that the '92 summer Olympic games were in Barcelona), but mostly I just enjoy the chance fix my hair, wear something besides yoga pants and a t-shirt, have a drink and made sarcastic comments about Chuck Norris with friends. (So far, there have been two Korea related questions [which city was chosen to host the 2018 Winter Olympics and who is the Secretary General of the UN] and both times, I insisted on writing the answer in Korean [평창 and 반기문] because (a) I'm TOTALLY that person and (b) I spent a whole two hours teaching myself Hangul by reading subway signs and, so help me God, I will use those skills whenever possible.) (Trivia caller: Man, someone is a dork. Me: YES, WHAT'S YOUR POINT?!) (I bet you thought I would stop writing in Hangul know that I'm no longer in Korea. THINK AGAIN!)

    4. Speaking of Korea, people following me on Twitter or Google+ (or, you know, real life) know that I can't freaking shut up about how much I want some kimchi jjigae, because (a) kimchi jjigae is really 맛있어요 (which, even after five months back in the US, is still my default way of saying delicious) and (b) I really miss Korea, guys. It snuck up on me; at first I was busy enjoying being back in the US and seeing my family and friends, and then weeks turned into months and I realized how much I miss it. I miss laughing with Audrey about the name of the stations on the Bundang line and I miss the 4th grade cleaning crew who kept giving me Korean homework. I miss Seoul and SnB and seeing the cherry blossoms with Siobhain. I miss my apartment and my neighborhood and, God help me, I was looking through photos from Pru's visit in January and I got nostalgic because omg, that was my Paris Baguette, the one where 친의 convinced me to buy her a kimchi pastry in exchange for a terrible ugly pillow she had made in home ec which I will cherish forever. I miss Nicole teasing me about my terrible Korean while I refrained from mocking her ridiculous ridiculous shoes. I miss having co-workers I didn't actively want to stab in the eyeballs.

      Moving to Korea was one of the best decisions I've ever made for myself.

      Kimchi Cleaning Crew Cherry Blossoms

    5. And hey, look, I'm on Google+. I'm unclear how well I'll use it, since I routinely forget I have a Facebook, but I am a big fan of all things Google, so there's hope.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Questions I have so far been asked about Morocco and the Peace Corps:

    MoroccoMorocco? Where's that?

    Morocco is in North Africa. It's south across the Straits of Gibraltar from Spain, west of Algeria and north of Western Sahara/Mauritania (Western Sahara is a non-self-governing territory that is under control of Morocco, so while the southern border is technically Western Sahara, the de facto border is with Mauritania). Morocco has an Atlantic and Mediterranean coast. The capital is Rabat and major cities you might have heard of include Fes and Casablanca.

    So, not Monaco?

    No, not Monaco. It is a monarchy, though.

    Oh really? Tell me more.

    Morocco is a constitutional monarchy. The current king is Mohammed VI.

    Um, Mohammed? Does that mean...

    Yes, Morocco is an Islamic country. Culturally it's more Middle Eastern than it is African. It is, however, more tolerant than many Islamic countries. No one wears burkas and I'll even be able to wear pants. I'm actually really excited about moving to a Muslim country. Part of the reason I'm joining the Peace Corps is to experience a new culture and while I know very little about Islam, I'm looking forwards to learning about it.

    What language will you speak?

    The official languages are Standard Arabic and Tamazight (a Berber language), but Darija (Moroccan Arabic) is the most common native language. I'll be learning Darija. As a result of French colonization, French is widely used, especially amongst the upper class.

    Can you speak any of those languages?

    Nope, not yet, but I'm excited about learning. I've ordered a book of Moroccan Arabic, so hopefully I won't be completely lost when I get there.

    When are you leaving?

    I leave on September 12th. Eighty-four days to go!

    How long will you be gone?

    Peace Corps service is twenty seven months: three months of training and two years of service.

    Where will you be living?

    Um, in Morocco. I won't find out where my site is until the end of training.

    Tell us more about this training?

    First, there is a day or two of training in the US (called staging) where I'll fill out paperwork, meeting my group, get any vaccinations I need and officially be sworn in as a Peace Corps trainee. Then I'll fly to Morocco and have three months of training in language, culture and my assignment. During the time I'll be living with a host family.

    Tell me more about this assignment. What will you be doing during your two years in Morocco?

    I'm a Youth Development volunteer, which means I'll primarily be working at a youth center (Dar Chabab) teaching English, which I'll use as a springboard to organize activities and clubs outside of the classroom. There's also an emphasis on girls' education and empowerment. I think this is going to be an awesome assignment for me, based on my prior experience and interests.

    Won't you tell us more about the application process?

    Ahahaha, I'm working on it. (Okay, no one has actually asked me that. I'm just going to tell anyways. I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS!)

    Isn't Morocco super nice? Won't you basically be living on a resort?

    No, not so much. Like most developing nations, Morocco has a vastly uneven distribution of wealth, so while there is luxury and money in Morocco, especially along the coasts, most of the country lives a far more impoverished lifestyles. However, since Youth Development volunteers are posted in urban areas, I will mostly likely have electricity and running water at least part of the time.

    Friday, June 3, 2011


    TestySo, there's this cardinal that lives at my parent's house. This is not a bird over endowed with brains, and he is convinced that his reflection in the windows of the house is a rival bird. Whenever he sees himself in the window, the bird (nicknamed Testy, short for Testosterone) repeatedly flings himself into the offending reflection in a testosterone fueled attempt to become the alpha cardinal in the area. From sunrise to sunset, the house echos with the thoinks! of the cardinal ricocheting off the house and the swears of my dad threatening to go outside and backhand the thing with a tennis racquet. It's particularly bad in the kitchen and my parents bedroom (both are surrounded by trees and shrubs for him to perch on while contemplating an attack), and my parents have had to drape the windows of their bedroom with sheets and towels in an attempt to hid the reflections, lest Testy wake them up at sunrise by headbutting the house. It looks like someone ineffectually tried to mummify the house.

    This has been going on for a month and Dad has cracked. He came into the living room today with a gun in one hand and murder in his eyes. I'm praying for poor aim, but I think Testy's days might be numbered.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    April is for Avocados

    April was a pretty awesome month. It started with white-water rafting and jungle hiking in northern Costa Rica, plus some really awesome news that made me jump up and down on the side of a Costa Rican highway. (Hopefully May will be the month that I feel certain enough about the news to talk about it.) I spent the next thirteen days bouncing around Costa Rica: Sarapiquí, Sarah's village, San Jose (twice) and Manuel Antonio National Park to see some monkeys.

    White-Faced Capuchin Monkey @ Manuel Antonio National Park

    After Costa Rica, I spent a week at home and my oldest youngest brother came home. He been building a log cabin in the woods of Arkansas since January, so this was the first time I had seen him since February of last year. Then, the next day, my other brother came home for Easter break and for the first time since Christmas 2009, the whole family was together under the same roof. It was... loud and my little sister, who was briefly an only child for the first time in February, informed us that she liked the idea of having siblings more than the reality.

    The next day, my parents, sister and I set off for Mexico. For years, my parents' church has supported two orphanage (one in Colima and one outside of Puebla), but this was the first time I wasn't working or in school during the annual mission trip. This year we went to the orphanage outside of Puebla (about three hours southeast of Mexico City) and it was so lovely. I can't say I was thrilled with traveling in a group, but the orphanage was amazing and the kids were precious and hilarious and endlessly forgiving about my butchering of their language. Also, the food was amazing. (I ate everything put in front of me, including every bit of sketchy chili-doused roadside fruit and had no problems. Almost everyone else in the group, the people who avoided anything that could have possible come in contact with the water and totally missed out that time we went to a market in Acatzingo and I tried to eat everything in sight, was ill at least once, which just goes to show that chili powder and lime cures everything.)

    Hogar de Amor Hogar de Amor

    While April is now over and I'm probably going to stop getting fresh avocados every time I turn around, my travels aren't quite done yet. I'm heading to Washington DC on Thursday to spend a week with Riah, one of my closest friends from Korea. I've only been gone from Korea for two months and I've already lost touch with so many people, and I'm really glad Riah and I have managed to keep in touch.

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Friday Five, or March in Review

    1) I left Korea on February 28th and the culture shock of returning to the US was both easier and harder than last time (i.e. the time I ended up with my hands over my ears in line for security at San Fransisco because I'd lost the ability to tune out other people's conversations and was going into sensory overload). It was easier because I knew what to expect and harder because Korean habits had had two full years to form. It took me a few weeks to stop bowing at people and I'm still muttering in Korean. The one thing that I didn't have trouble adjusting to was having a car again. I still make sure to hand cashiers my money with both hands and slip my shoes off before entering a house, but I'm loving being able to drive again.

    2) No sooner had I made it home than I left again. I got home Monday night and left Wednesday morning for Chapel Hill to go to a wedding and see friends from college. Unfortunately I didn't get to see much of my university friends, but the wedding was lovely and I got to meet my senior year roommate's new baby. I also bought a new computer. (In my first 48 hours in the country, I went to the bakery, the library and the Apple store. I have my priorities in order.) My old computer had been slowly dying for the past eight months and I'm loving having a computer with a working mouse again.

    3) Being home has been really nice. I've spent a lot of time with my family, specially my little sister, who is now 16, holy crap, when did that happen? I've also been cooking a lot, taking advantage of my mom's kitchen, which has all sorts of fancy utensils I didn't have access to in Korea, like a blender, measuring spoons and an oven.

    4) I've also been to the library at least a dozen times. I have a Kindle, which was easily the best purchase of 2010 and is great if you live in a country where English isn't spoken, but not so good if you want to build a fort out of books. I also have a new library card for the first time since high school. I've never been good at returning library books on time and by senior year, my fine had reached an amount so large that I stopped using my card and started using my mom's instead. For years, I've been convinced that the fine was eighty or a hundred dollars, but when I finally checked, it turned out I only owned twenty four dollars, which might have seemed huge to me ten years ago, but is easily payable now.

    5) Being home has been nice, but also a tad boring, since I don't know anyone in Brevard anymore, so at the end of March, I left for two weeks of vacation in Costa Rica. I spent the first week with a friend who lives here, and now I'm on my own, trying to remember to speak Spanish instead of Korean.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    The Trip Home

    Musings on my trip home, AKA, no I wouldn't like to talk about it, but I'd sure as hell like to yell about it.
    • Dear people who asked me how my trip was,
      Think of Monday. Think how fun Monday usually is.  Now imagine a Monday that lasts for THIRTY FOUR HOURS. THAT was how my trip was.

    • Things started so well. I allotted myself so much time to get from my apartment to the airport bus stop that I was actually able to catch an earlier bus than planned. I was at the airport three hours before my flight, check it only took fifteen minutes, neither of my bags were overweight AND since my school didn't force me to overstay my visa this year, I didn't end up in a small room filling out reams of paperwork while being yelled at by immigration officers. I was sitting at my gate two hours before my flight.

    • Incheon has free wireless for the entire airport! This is the last time on this trip I can say that, and one of the reasons why I love love love Incheon, my all time favorite airport. I sent my mom an email saying, "Already at the gate, two hours in advance. Totally going to make my flight!"

    • On the flight to Narita, I discovered that the downside to having a Kindle is that your book is an electronic device that must be turned off during take-off. I read a lot of SkyMall and was cranky. Next flight, I'll make sure I bring a paper book too.

    • Also speaking of books, I bought The Hunger Games for the flight and it was omg, so awesome. I was told that it would be hard to put down, that I would end up finishing it at 4:00 in the morning, tired and exhausted, but too caught up in the story to stop, so I bought the book to read on my 24 hour trip from Korea to the US and ended up being the furiously cranky girl in line at customs because she had to stop reading briefly. My full review at Goodreads is here.

    • My flight to Narita was uneventful. I didn't have yen, didn't want to deal my card being flagged if I used it in Japan and also, my carry-on bags were really heavy, so I didn't buy lunch during my layover. My flight out of Narita was delayed an hour, but I got a seat at the gate, so all was well. Man, this trip is going well.

    • We board the airplane, buckle ourselves in and sit. And then sit some more. Finally, the pilot announced that we were waiting for a delayed flight from Taipei with several passengers who were making a connection to our flight. The Taipei flight was suppose to arrive "soon" and folks, we're just going to wait a short bit for them to arrive, but we'll be gettin' on our way real soon. You could tell it was an Atlanta based flight crew. We finally left an hour and a half later, bringing our total delay to two and a half hours which, consequentially, was about how long my layover in Atlanta was.

    • The flight, omg, the flight. The flight from Narita to Atlanta was terrible. There were turbulence THE ENTIRE WAY. ALL TWELVE HOURS OF IT. Some were mild, some were more serious, but the fasten seat belt sign was never taken off. I don't mind turbulence, they're like a mild roller coaster which is welcome entertainment on a long flight, but eventually you need to use the restroom and stretch your legs. Luckily, the flight crew was understanding of people ignoring the fasten seat belt sign and the pilot warned for mild turbulence vs. severe turbulence.

    • Somewhere over Colorado, the pilot came over the intercom and asked that anyone on the plane with medical experience please go to the back of the plane, there was a passenger of need of aid. I'm a little disappointed he didn't ask if there was a doctor on the plane (Hollywood, you lied to me), but relieved to see several people responded and even more relieved that the passenger wasn't ill enough to necessitate an emergency landing.

    • We finally reached Atlanta, several hours late, and were put in an holding pattern. Luckily we only circled Atlanta for thirty or forty minutes, but the weather was terrible and the landing was even worse. I've flown on a lot of planes in a lot of different weather and I have virtually no fear of flying, but this landing was rough enough that my stomach turned over and clutched my armrest a little tighter.

    • I reached Atlanta, cleared customs and immigration (filling out my customs form was a delight after having lived in Korea for two years; I have acquired a lot of stuff) without problem and rushed off to the gate for my connection to Asheville, only to get bowled over my exhaustion (I didn't sleep at all on the flight to Atlanta), hunger (turbulence interfered with food service on the flight from Narita and plus, it was airplane food) and the weight of my carry-ons (I was worried my checked bags would be overweight, so I crammed as much as I possible could into the bags on my back). I staggered up to the nearest eatery (a Burger King), was stunned by the idea of ordering food in English, took two tries to find the correct currency to pay with, carefully handed my money over with both hands and then bowed to the cashier. Culture shock, I has it.

    • I arrive at my gate, ten minutes before my plane was suppose to depart. Lucky for me, the flight was delayed an hour and I didn't have to go running to the gate, shouting and waving my arms, to catch my plane. (You laugh, but it's happened to me before.) I borrowed a cell phone to let my parents know I was delayed and they told me the delay was because of the torrential rains and a tornado watch in Asheville. I looked at a weather map and the forecast of the weather front in Asheville making its way south to Atlanta and swore. A lot. And not under my breath (I'm still adjusting to the idea that people around me can understand me). All in all, I was only stuck in Atlanta for four and a half hours, which could have been so much worse, but I had been away from home for a year and traveling for over twenty four hours and I just wanted to get home, hug my mom and go to bed.

    • I made it home! Eventually. It took 30 hours from leaving my apartment in Korea to pulling up at my parents house in America, but I made it and I'm home.

    Sunday, February 27, 2011

    Korean Officetel

    Tonight is my last night in Korea. I finished packing Friday night and spent the weekend searching for the corner of my apartment I surely forgot to pack, because there was no possible way I was finished packing two days in advance. I've been having nightmares of weeks where get back to America and realize that I had completely forgotten to pack up my apartment, but I think I'm finally done.

    I spent the week before last last week cleaning my apartment, partly because trying to pack a messy apartment means you end up packing the mess and partly because when I was cleaning, I didn't have to be packing. I ran out of things to clean on Saturday, but I took some photos of my apartment before I started to tear it apart and stick it in boxes.

    So, my apartment. I live in an officetel. Officetels, which comes from office + hotel, are usually one room studio apartments. The first four floors of my building are commercial (a pharmacy, a half dozen clinics, a billiards hall, a couple of restaurants and a butcher shop), and the top five floors are apartments. Some people complain about noise or smells from the businesses below, but other than getting the side-eye from clinic patients in hospital gowns hooked up to IVs taking a smoking break by the back stairs when I take my trash out at night, I've never had any problems.

    Koean Officetel

    This is the main room of the apartment, looking from the door. The bathroom and kitchen are to the left and right. On on the left side of the room is the table, couch and bed. On the right side is the closet type thing, the dresser and my desk. The far wall of the apartment is all windows, which was nice during the summer and really cold during the winter.

    Koean Officetel

    Standing next to the bed, looking back at the door. The recessed area by the door is the only part of the apartment you're suppose to wear shoes in. The light over the shoe area is motion sensor, but it's erratic and I sometimes trigger it when I walk into the bathroom or the kitchen.

    Koean Officetel

    A closer look at the closet thing. It was put up by the previous teacher, and while I'm grateful for somewhere to hang my clothes (the dresser isn't very big), it did severely limit how I could move furniture around. Underneath the clothes are my crafting stash bags, luggage and spare bedding.

    Koean Officetel

    A closer look at the desk, which is the only part of the apartment I really decorated. The red box is full of stationary products which, yes, I know, I have a problem. Stationary is ugly and overpriced in the US, so it's a get-it-while-you-can situation. The painting was done by my little sister. The trashcan has pandas in airplanes quoting R. Kelly lyrics. Also, my light-up devil horns from the World Cup.

    Koean Officetel

    This kitchen isn't technically a separate room, but it's tucked away in a corner and if I pull out the counter space from under the stove, it almost has four walls. I have a hot plate, a rice cooker, a electric kettle, toaster, microwave and, after I absorbed Margaret's spices while she was in America this winter, a spice rack with four different containers of curry powder. The contraption above my sink is the sterilizer, so I can UV my dishes after I wash them.

    Korean Officetel

    The bathroom was my least favorite part of the apartment. The sink-shower meant that the bathroom was *always* wet. I can't keep anything in the bathroom since it would get soaked daily, the floor stays wet for hours after a shower (or a load of laundry, since my washing machine drains onto the bathroom floor) and standing water on the counters means I risk electrocuting myself every time I blow my hair dry. Also, the hot water heater only runs at night, so once the hot water is used up, that's it for the day. It's more than enough for a shower but, let me tell you, washing the dishes with ice cold water during the winter was LOADS OF FUN.

    So, that's my apartment. I actually really like it. It's small, but how much space does one person actually need. It's in a good area - buses to my school stop in front of the building, a subway station is three minutes away and a much larger bus stop is only a ten minute walk away. There's a Daiso next door, a market two buildings down and in that three minute walk to the subway, I pass six coffee shops and a ho-tteok stand. In good traffic, I can be in Seoul in half an hour. It's smaller than my last apartment, but the bed's a double, the ondol worked all winter and I don't have to stick the AC hose in a trashcan to keep from flooding the apartment, so I count it a win.

    It was a good home.

    Saturday, February 26, 2011


    Yesterday was my last day at school. I spent the morning cleaning off my computer, and then left around 11:00 to finish packing. A group of my former 6-1 boys were playing soccer in front of the school when I walked out and they shouted hello.

    "Teacher," they told me, "we going to middle school now."

    "I know," I said.

    "Where are you going, Teacher?"

    "I'm going to America," I told them.


    "Well, I'm from America. My family is in America."

    They huddled together for a quick consultation and finally the most advanced boy asked, "So, Teacher not Canada person?"

    Turns out, my ENTIRE school thought I was Canadian all year.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Goodbye, Part 1

    One of the hardest parts about teaching in Korea is how transient the expat community is. Contracts are only for a year and once their year is up, a lot of teachers go home. I was lucky my first year and none of my close friends left, but this year Omega left in May, Tony and Christine left in November and Riah left a few weeks ago.

    On what was suppose to be Riah's last evening in Korea, we (Audrey, Caroline, Riah, Siobhain and I - the ladies I spent Christmas with) were sitting in Cold Stone in Gangnam, feeling morose, when Caroline suggested we make a scrapbook as a going away present. She had a Polaroid camera. I had many different colors of pens. We had a notebook and stickers. And scissors. And tape. Look, I'm friends with a very crafty group of people, okay!

    Scrapbook: The Making
    I love that I'm friends with a group of people who, when someone suggests making an impromptu goodbye scrapbook, ACTUALLY have all the necessary supplies on hand.

    Scrapbook: The Making
    Caroline and Siobhain examining a Polaroid.

    And so we made a scrapbook. It was a rush job; Cold Stone kicked us out at 11:00, the Coffee Bean we relocated to kicked us out half an hour later and Audrey and I needed to catch the last train home at midnight. The first half of the scrapbook was detailed (or at least had interesting asides) and had introductions and dinosaurs and fun lessons learned in Korea (even in Korea, don't assume people don't understand English is an important one) while the second half consisted of unannotated Polaroid pictures hastily taped onto blank pages while the Coffee Bean employees gave us the side eye for still being in their shop ten minutes after closing.

    Scrapbook: Selections
    Riah's introduction page. When pronounced with a Korean accent, Riah sounds an awful lot like the word liar, so Riah specified that her pants were not on fire. And, underneath No Pants On Fire, I added 불 바지 없어요, which says, in what I'm sure is truly atrocious Korean, No Fire Pants. It was hilarious at the time.

    We adjourned to the street outside to say our final goodbyes, which were awful. Saying goodbye is never fun, but it's especially hard in such a ephemeral community because Korea, our common ground, isn't a permanent location for any of us. My group of friends from university still meets up in Chapel Hill periodically, but the odds of seeing this group of girls again in the US are slim. Also, for me, saying goodbye to Riah was the first on a long list of goodbyes I have to say this month.

    Scrapbook: The Making
    Riah gave us matching bracelets from Cambodia as a going away present.

    So, we were standing on the street of Gangnam crying and promising to write and it's awful and cold and then Audrey and I realized that if we want to get home, we have to leave RIGHT NOW, only we didn't realize the time quite soon enough and just missed our last transfer. I've just barely caught a lot of last trains home, but in two years of living here, this was the first time I actually missed it.

    Luckily, we were both able to find taxis willing to drive out to where we live with minimal fuss.

    I woke up the next day, Wednesday morning, to an email from Riah. The snowstorm that ate Chicago (are we calling this one Snowpocalypse?) meant that O'Hare was closed and Riah was stuck in Korea until Friday night. Suck it, Chicago. On Thursday, Riah, Audrey and I went to COEX, and during our shopping breaks, we finished the scrapbook. We captioned the photos and wrote lists based on our experience here: crazy English names Korean children give themselves, Things We <3 About Korea, Places we <3 in Korea, How to Anger a Korean, Important Konglish Words, Important Korean Words.

    Our list of Important Korean Words is possible the most worthless list of Korean ever and contains such gems as kimchi dumplings, old woman, fleece lined pants and fish (the animal, not the kind you eat). Others - Samsung, Hyundai, soju (Korean rice liquour, like drinking rocket fuel) and bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef) - don't even have an English translation. We had more, actually useful, words, but it turns out we don't know how to spell the Korean we use the most. We spent five minutes trying to figure out how to write thank you, a word I say ALL THE TIME.

    After several failed attempts, I said, "You know, we are surrounded by people who know how to write 감사합니다."

    We looked around at the cafe, full of Koreans. "Yeah," Riah and Audrey said.

    "We could, you know, ask any one of them."

    "Yeah," they said again. We stayed seated and left thank you off our list.

    Audrey and I said goodbye to Riah again Friday afternoon, after spending the morning at the jimjabang. It still sucked, and I still cried, but it was easier the second time. It was easier when we weren't rushed. It was also easier because, during her extra days, Riah and I made plans to take a road trip once we're both back in the States. Wisconsin and North Carolina aren't that far apart.

    Scrapbook: The Making
    Me and Riah

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    죽을래, Blog?

    Long time, no blog. Since I last wrote I have:
    • Turned 26, which was anticlimactic since I had already turned 27 Korean age a few weeks before.*

    • Pru came for a week and we went to many palaces and markets and ate lots of food. Some of it was in a tent and some of it was deep fried and on a stick.

    • Pru also got me started on K-dramas. We mainlined Secret Garden in four days and now I'm watching a bunch of K-dramas, three of which are about cross dressers (I swear that was an accident) and something called Joseon X-files (oh yeah, aliens in 16th century Korea). *faceplam*

    • Said good-bye to Riah, who left for the US. On Tuesday, we made an impromptu scrapbook in Cold Stone and cried on the streets of Gangnam and Audrey and I missed our train home. On Wednesday, I woke up to an email from Riah telling me that the snowstorm that ate America meant that O'Hare was closed until Friday and I got two and a half more days with Riah! Suck it, Midwest! [More here]

    • Celebrated 설날 (Seolnal, lunar New Year) by making a spectacle of myself with Riah and Audrey at the aquarium, one of the few places that was open. Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit!

    • Adhearing to the rule that you should be as clean as possible before getting on a trans-Pacific flight, the morning before Riah's flight, Audrey, Riah and I went to the bathhouse for a few hours. It was my first time at Dragon Hill Spa, which I liked, especially the outdoor tubs, but my favorite is still the green tea themed spa I went to in Boseong.

    • Break is over and students are back for eight whole days before the end of the school year. Yesterday, the 3-1 boys filed in a few minutes ahead of the girls. "Where are the girls?" I asked.

      I was solemnly told, "In Seolnal, they is DIE!"

      죽을래, which means do you want to die?, is a common expression in Korea and I've heard countless variations of it in English in the past two years, but it still kills** me every time.
    All of these bullet points deserve their own entry, but it's unlike I will actually get around to them.

    * Sokay, in Korea ages are counted differently than in the West. You're one when you're born (none of this X month business for the first year) AND you age on New Years instead of your actual birthday, which means your Korean age can be up to two years older than your Western age. On December 31st, I was 25 US age, 26 Korean age. The next day was New Years, which meant I turned 27 Korean age while I was still 25 US age. Since my birthday is in January, my Korean age is normally only one year ahead of my western age, but my little sister, who just turned sixteen in December is already eighteen in Korea. Somewhere my mother just blanched at the thought.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    The reoccurring theme here is "cold"

    Why are my Five Things Friday posts never on Friday?
    • Last weekend, I went to COEX for a haircut and dinner with Audrey and Caroline. There was a thirty minute wait for dinner, so we settled down to knit in a coffee shop until our buzzer rang. I shrugged off my coat, a novel experience during a Korean winter,* and in the rush to gather our bags and get to the restaurant when the buzzer went off, I left my coat (which, incidentally, had my T-money card and iPod in the pocket) at our table. I didn't realize my mistake until an hour later, when I was sitting in the salon after dinner, waiting for my appointment to start. I rushed back to the coffee shop in a panic, only to find my coat still hanging off the back of my chair where I left it, everything still in the pocket. Some days, I really love Korea.

    • Speaking of the new hair cut, I like it. It's short, although not as short as the last time I cut it (and man, the stinkeye I got from the stylist when I admitted that I had last had a haircut in July), but short enough that styling it mostly becomes an attempt to corral the curls. It does mean I need to blowdry it in the morning, which is usually not a problem, but I've spent the last week deskwarming and decided I couldn't be bothered to wake up in time to fix my hair when all I'm going to do is sit alone in my office, which has led to some epically bad hair days.

    • Actually, I haven't been bothered to wake up in time to do anything, not even get to school on time. I keep leaving my apartment after I'm already suppose to be at school. I would feel guilty, except a) deskwarming is stupid and b) on Friday I ran into one of the second grade teachers who was also walking to school half an hour late.

      "I'm late," she told me as she ran past.

      "Me too!" I said.

      "But my students are waiting for me," she explained.

      Lady, you win at being late. At least I was on time when I had kids.

    • So, deskwarming. People who have to do it hate it and people who don't have to do it tell us to stop whining. And I guess it's better than having to actually work, but it's punitive and a waste of time. I'm not suppose to be doing anything while I'm here, but I have to be here for eight hours (well, more like seven) a day. I know all jobs have their annoyances, but in this case, I'm the only teacher who has to deskwarm. The Korean teachers only have to come to school during the breaks when they're teaching. I don't complain when I have to come in and sit during exams or other days when I don't teach because the Korean teachers also have to come it. It's only during the school breaks that it feels like a punishment. Also, my office is really really cold. At least at home I have some control over the temperature or, in worse case scenarios, blankets.

    • Tomorrow is my last day of deskwarming! One more day and then I have nineteen days of vacation. I thought of fleeing somewhere warm over my break, but I've (probably) opted to stay in Korea and save money (fiscal responsibility for the win). Pru is coming to visit (two days until she arrives!) for a week and I'm going to spend the rest of my break savoring my remaining 42 days in Korea.
    *The public schools aren't well heated. On the good days, my classroom/office are tolerable so long as I'm wearing a heavy coat and leggings under my pants and boots and maybe a hat. On the bad days, well, I have a reoccurring problem of liquids freezing in my office. Suffice to say, I've not taken my coat off much for the past few months.

    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    2010 Year End Meme

    That end of the year meme that's been going around, although you'll notice I waited until 2010 was good and over to finish it.

    1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
    Applied to the Peace Corps! Took an overnight train across China.

    2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    My 2010 goals were 1) lose weight (nope) 2) travel more (yep) 3) save money (not as much as I would have liked, but yep) and 4) organize my computer (that would be a no). Next year I want to 1) lose weight/be healthier 2) Travel more 3) Be more fiscally responsible and 4) Blog/write more.

    3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    My co-teacher Yeong Eun had a little boy.

    4. Did anyone close to you die?

    5. What countries did you visit?
    China (for a second time), Korea (not sure if it counts as visiting since I'm living here)

    6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
    More definite plans for the future.

    7. What date from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    Eh, none? It wasn't really a momentous year. A good year, but not momentous.

    8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    I applied to the Peace Corps. I became a better teacher.

    9. What was your biggest failure?
    I didn't get my Peace Corp medical paperwork finished.

    10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Thankfully no, although I do now have an extensive amount of paperwork documenting exactly how healthy I am.

    11. What was the best thing you bought?
    Kindle and plane tickets to China

    12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    Congress for repealing DADT.  My broadcasting club kids worked really hard and I'm super proud of them.

    13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
    Look, I pretty studiously didn't pay attention to the US elections for a reason.  That much rage isn't healthy.

    14. Where did most of your money go?
    Travel, books, Indian food, 문구점....

    15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    Traveling. The Peace Corp. Life in general.

    16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
    OK Go - Here It Goes Again; My Chemical Romance - Na Na Na; Lady GaGa - Alejandro; The Sounds - 4 Songs & A Fight; 이효리 - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

    17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    i. happier or sadder? happier
    ii. thinner or fatter? same same
    iii. richer or poorer? richer

    18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
    Cleaning my apartment, exercising, studying Korean, keeping in touch with people

    19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
    Wasting time (especially my afternoons at work), following celebrity gossip.

    20. How will you be spending Christmas/New Year's Eve?
    I spent Christmas with friends (lots of friends) and I spent New Years at home. I think I technically rang in the new year by reading about the Black Plague.  I never want to do anything on New Years and I always feel slightly guilty about it.

    21. What was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in 2010?
    My sister got locked in my bathroom which was more embarrassing for her, but I was a bit red faced when I had to beg the adjoshi to break down my bathroom door so she could get out.

    22. Did you fall in love in 2010?

    23. How many one-night stands?

    24. What were your favorite TV programs?
    Doctor Who, White Collar, Leverage, Castle

    25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
    No.  I don't really hate anyone.  Sustaining the anger to hate someone is too much energy.

    26. What was the best book you read?
    I read 60 books this year: 12 re-reads, 11 non-fiction, 18 Agatha Christie. My favorites were:

    Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
    Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler
    The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
    Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
    Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers

    27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Oh hell, probably my continuing love affair with K-pop. Basically, my year sounded a lot like this and it was ~awesome!

    28. What did you want and get?
    To come back to Korea for a second year, see the Terracotta Soldiers, my family to visit me in Korea

    29. What did you want and not get?
    I really wanted to be finished with the Peace Corps medical testing by the end of 2010.

    30. What was your favorite film of this year?
    Inception or Deathly Hallows

    31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    I turned 25. On my actually birthday Sarah and I went shopping and out to dinner, and then that weekend a bunch of friends from college came to Brevard and we spend the weekend having Wii tournaments and touring the yarn shops of the greater Asheville area.

    32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    To have finished my Peace Corps medical paperwork.

    33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
    Most days I made it out of the house looking vaguely presentable? I sometimes matched my glasses to my knee socks? Actually, socks in general. I own so many cheep Korean socks now.  Knee socks, plush socks, ridiculous ankle socks.  If they're sold from the back of a truck on the side of the road in Korea, I probably own them.

    34. What kept you sane?
    iPod and Kindle

    35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    Kim Yuna, Johnny Weir, Alex O'Loughlin, Simon Baker

    36. What political issue stirred you the most?
    Relations between North and South Korea, the DADT repeal

    37. Who did you miss?
    Family and friends back home.

    38. Who was the best new person you met?
    Audrey, Caroline and Riah

    39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
    If you want something and work hard enough, you can get it.

    40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
    There are jobs and chores and questions
    And plates I need to twirl,
    But tonight I'll take my chances,
    On the far side of the world.

    -- Far Side of the World, Jimmy Buffett