Friday, November 23, 2012

Mural Painting at Ouled Zerrad

Remember when I use to write things here?  Yeah, neither do I. 

Last Saturday was my one year anniversary as a Peace Corps Volunteer!  I've been in Morocco for a little over fourteen months, but the first two months were spent in training and technically I was a trainee, not a volunteer.  I feel like I should be able to look back on the past year and take something away from it, some lesson or growth or change, but really, all I got is that I just washed my hair for the first time in two and a half weeks (don't judge, it's gotten really cold) and legitimately did not give a shit, so yeah, I don't know.  Maybe once I'm home again.

Anyway, I celebrated my PCVersary by helping with a mural painting project in one of the duwars (tiny rural communes) in the bled (countryside) near my site. 

Mural Painting @ Ouled Zerrad

Back in March, my sitemate Lucia helped an association from Ouled Zerrad write a grant to purchase art supplies for a mural painting project to decorate the middle school and the clinic in the duwar.  The event was suppose to happen in April, but ~things~ happened and the event didn't actually take place until last Saturday, which was a plus for me since I was busy during the original date.  Mike, Lucia and I got to Ouled Zerrad early Saturday morning and spent a few hours playing exotic zoo attractions for the middle schoolers while we waited for the event to start.  And look guys, I'm *used* to being stared at for being a foreigner where foreigners usually don't go, but I have never felt quite so much like an animal at a zoo before.  As we were being hemmed in on the porch of the middle school and Lucia and I were making wtf eyes, one of the association members leaned over and told us we were interesting because we were strange.

The associations invited a couple of artists from Kelaa and an artist from Casablanca to help with the mural paintings, and after introductions and breakfast, everyone walked out to the wall surrounding the middle school and watched them start to paint.  Unfortunately, there was a short rainstorm about half an hour after we started and the first few murals were a wee bit washed away. 

Mural Painting @ Ouled Zerrad Mural Painting @ Ouled Zerrad
Mural Painting @ Ouled Zerrad

After the storm, one of the artists, an art teacher from Kelaa who is one of Mike's students, led us over to the clinic, a sad, abandoned little building with broken windows and no doctor or medicine.  He sketched out some pictures in chalk, and then put us and the kids to work painting.  I painted an apple and a flower!

Mural Painting @ Ouled Zerrad Mural Painting @ Ouled Zerrad

We ate lunch with the association (three different types of tajine and spicy couscous - the food was *really* good at this event) and finished the last of the paintings.  In all, the association painted twelve murals at the middle school and the clinic, which isn't a bad way to start the (Islamic) new year.

Mural Painting @ Ouled Zerrad

Mural Painting @ Ouled Zerrad
Happy PCVersary to us! We've made it a year!

The rest of the photos are here.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Hi!  So, it's been a really long time since I wrote anything here.  I'd say I was busy, but that would be a lie.  Really, I was just lazy.  Pretty much all of these deserve their own entries, but since that's unlikely to happen, here's the past three months.

So, since I last blogged, I:

-- spent two weeks working at a camp for orphans in Rabat

-- fasted for Ramadan, which was long and hot

-- went to England and Wales to see Pru for a week and a half

-- went back to Rabat to help Peace Corps write a manual for spring camps

-- went to a moussem and a fantasia.

-- fielded a lot of worried phone calls from people back home who were worried about the protests in North Africa.  There have been a few, non-violent protest in Casablanca and Rabat, but things have otherwise been calm in Morocco.  I managed to freak myself out when the new broke about Libya, but then I sternly told myself to get it together because it's not like this was my first experience with sudden political tenseness.

-- had my one year anniversary in Morocco.  I spent the night at a party with some of my stagemates.  We drank a lot, and cooked dinner and talked about our summer vacations and our plans for the next year. We made a rule that anytime someone spoke in Arabic, they had to take a drink, which was really hard. I hadn't realized how much Arabic had slipped into my English conversation until I started trying to avoid it. We ended up just translating the God phrases into English and walked around the house shouting, "To your health!" and "My parents and yours!" and "If God wills it!"

-- had a tiny bit of a meltdown about the situation with my mudir (which is not... great) and oh God, what have I accomplished in the past year, what am I even doing here?  And then I pulled myself back together, because there's no crying in Peace Corps.  (That's a lie, there's definitely some crying in Peace Corps.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ramadan Kareem

It’s Ramadan, the most hungriest time of the year! (Apologies for that.) So, you ask, what is Ramadan? The holy month of Ramadan, which started on July 21st (in Morocco), commemorates the month when the Qu'ran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During Ramadan, all healthy adult Muslims abstain from food, water and sex from the Fajr (morning call to prayer, about an hour before sunrise) to the Maghrib (fourth call to prayer, just after sunset). Today, that means fasting from 4:12 AM to 7:26 PM, not that I’m counting the minutes or anything. That’s a little over fifteen hours, in the desert, which is rough. Children, the sick, pregnant women and travelers are exempt from fasting, although many travelers continue to fast, which can lead to some painful train rides, let me tell you. Fasting for Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and in Morocco, it’s the most important.

People have been telling me about Ramadan since I got back from Spain in June. No one was pressuring me to fast (except my host mother, who informed me I would be fasting all month, but I'm secure enough in that relationship to know that I could eat as much as I like during the day and still have a standing invitation to dinner every day of the week), but people wanted to make sure I knew that Ramadan was coming and what the rules were. And when I say everyone, I do mean everyone. The guy at my local hanut. The guy at the other hanut where I buy bulk goods. The man who sells me tomatoes at souq. My mudir and his friends guys who sit with him at the Dar Shabab. My sitemate's mudira. My host family and my neighbors and my friends and random people on the street. Hey look, it's the Italian girl*. Let's ask if she’s fasting.

People told me that Ramadan was a spiritual month and that they felt stronger and peaceful after fasting. They also told me fasting would make me thinner. Luckily, two years in Korea means I'm pretty much inured to incredible blunt comments about topics that are taboo back home. (I was looking at pants in the Marrakesh souq a few months ago and the shopkeeper took one look at me and said, "For you, big size!" before scurrying off to find a larger size. I just laughed and laughed, because hey, it's true.)

I’m fasting for Ramadan, even though I’m not Muslim. Ramadan is so important in Morocco and I wanted to experience it with my community. Religion is so important on such a basic level in Morocco, and as a non-Muslim, I usually can’t participate. Fasting for Ramadan is one of my few chances be involved, however tangentially, in that part of Moroccan culture. It’s also about respect for Moroccan culture. Everyone fasts during Ramadan. In fact, it is illegal to serve food to Muslim adults during Ramadan. Most restaurants are closed for the month of Ramadan, and the few that are open have signs posted saying they won’t serve adults Moroccans during the day. As a foreigner, I’m not required to fast, but I feel like fasting is the only respectful thing to do, especially while I’m in site.

Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to in the past two weeks has asked, “Wesh saiyma?” (are you fast) and been thrilled when I respond, “Ieyah, kansum f Ramadan.” (Yes, I’m fasting for Ramadan.) No one has doubted my answer, which I guess means I look just as fried as everyone else. Then we take a moment to commiserate about how we are ji3anna (hungry) and 3tshana (thirsty), but they always make sure to end by saying how fasting is good, and you know what? They’re right. It is good.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Can't win for trying

The past month has been not so great. I'm pretty resilient and I haven't actually been unhappy, at least not for long, but in the six weeks, I've had someone break into my apartment, then try to break into my apartment again, had food poisoning, had some not so good stuff happen with my supervisor, not to mention a killer heat wave and too many cockroaches to count. My luck hasn't changed yet, because last Friday I was robbed.

That afternoon, I realized that my wallet wasn't in my purse. I searched my purse, my locker in the dorm where I was staying (I was in Rabat working at a camp for a week and a half), shook all my clothes in case a wallet might fall out and then checked my purse again, in case I missed it. I hadn't missed it, so then I swore.

I had paid for a taxi the night before and then walked straight back to the camp and hadn't left since, and I think my wallet was left in the cab, which meant I had no chance of finding it again.

First, I needed to file a police report, so I could get a replacement for my carte de sojour (official ID) and cancel my bank card. Luckily, Tarik, one of the counselors at the camp, speaks beautiful English and offered to accompany me, which was a huge help. I'm pretty sure my Arabic was up for the task, but I'm glad I didn't have to find out. (There would have been tears.) First, we went to a local police station, but were told to go to a different police station where taxi drivers are suppose to bring lost items. No one had deposited my wallet (I wasn't surprised), so from there, we walked to the main police station in Rabat to file a police report, only to be told that I couldn't because I didn't have any ID.

"No," I explained. "My ID was in my wallet. Which is gone. Which is why I'm here."

They berated me for not having a copy of my ID or my passport with me, and then told me they couldn't help me because I didn't live in Rabat, and that I needed to go back to my site and talk to the police there, even though the theft had happened in Rabat. I called Peace Corps, who argued with the police for me, and the police finally agreed to let me file a police report if I could provide a copy of some form of ID, which Peace Corps had. Peace Corps even offered to drive a copy of my passport over, but before I could tell them what police station I was at, my phone, which refused to charge that morning, died.

I maybe swore again. I definitely thought about crying.

Next, Tarik and I walked to the bank to ask what I needed to do about my back card. They also told me to go back to my site (even though my back account was set up in Rabat) and then berated me for not traveling with my bank statement, but finally agreed to help me if I brought a police file and a copy of my passport.

Next, I headed to the Peace Corps office to get some ID and call my Dad and have him deal with my US bank cards (which were also in my wallet), but, as a Ramadan miracle, when I got to the Peace Corps office, I was met by a staff member waving his phone at me and saying, "She has it."

Turns out, "she" was Leah, one of the other volunteers at the camp and "it" was my wallet, sans cash but with my debit cards and my carte de sejour, lHimdulilah! I went to the lounge and called my mom and cried for a little bit (it had been a rough day) and then walked back to the camp. As I was getting close to the dar talib where the camp was held, a women ran out of her house and explained that her kids had found my wallet, and recognized me from the pictures on my ID because they had seen me walking in the neighborhood with the kids from the camp, so they took the wallet back. (Which, actually, that's a really lovely way to end a day that had me questioning my faith in the decency of humanity.)

My wallet had been trashed. They took all the cash (and there was a lot), an 8 gig zip drive, a recharge card for my phone and a note my parents had slipped in my lunch when I was in sixth grade, saying they loved me. (I've carried it ever since and whenever I'm sad or lonely, I pull it out and read it. I'm actually more upset about the note than I am the cash, which is just money and can be replaced.) I'm a little concerned about my debit card, even though I've checked my account and there's been no activity. I would cancel it, just to be safe, but I'm going to England next month and there's zero possibility of me getting a replacement card before I leave, so for now, I'm just going to be diligent about checking my account every day.

I guess this had a happy ending, or as happy of an ending as it could, but it still sucks, especially on top of everything else that has happened since June. I could really use a break.

Friday, July 13, 2012

So many feelings, none of them good

I just found (and then killed) two cockroaches in my house.  And one of them was on my ponj, which, how am I suppose to scream like a little girl and leap onto the nearest piece of furniture if the cockroach is actually *on* the furniture?  I *sleep* on those ponjs.  (The clearest sign of how much I've changed in the past ten months is that I didn't even consider screaming like a little girl and leaping onto the nearest piece of furniture, and instead immediately grabbed the nearest bottle of water and killed it.)

Also, cockroaches are terrifying hard to kill.  I was pounding the cockroach with a five litre bottle of water and it kept twitching and twitching.  Why won't it die?  Or the time I herded a cockroach into my toilet and dumped an entire bucket of water in after it and it CLIMBED BACK OUT, like some sort of terrifying sewer monster.

And now, every time I see something move out of the corner of my eye, I assume it's another cockroach, scurrying about my apartment, and between the wind blowing everything about and the fact that my apartment is legit infested with birds that like to walk around my livingroom and kitchen, I'm doing a lot of twitching right now.

So many feelings, none of them good.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy Birthday, America

Happy belated birthday, America!  I celebrated the 4th of July by doing the most patriotic thing I could think of and applying for my absentee ballot.

Did you know that Morocco was the first country to publicly recognize America's independence and the first piece American public property outside the United States was in Tangiers?  I wanted to tell my host family about it at dinner last night, but there's no way my Arabic is up to that.

Also, Morocco very kindly put on a miniature fireworks display for the 4th.  And my miniature fireworks display, I mean the schoolyard across the street from my apartment caught on fire (because it's really hot, my host sister told me) and I stood on my roof at 1:00 in the morning and pretended the flames were fireworks while praying that someone other than me knew about the fire and was dealing with it.  Eventually my neighbors came out to the roof as well and I asked if the fire was a problem.  They told me no because it was contained by the school walls (which are covered in scorch marks now), and after about an hour, a firetruck showed up to take care of the blaze, answering my question of whether there are firetrucks in Morocco.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Food Poisoning (Is Way Worse on a Bus)

Fair warning, I really tried to clamp down on my Peace Corps induced case of chronic over-sharing, but I am talking about food poisoning and I didn’t have a lot of standards BEFORE I joined PC.

I woke up on Saturday morning with food poisoning, or at least that's what I now think it was. At the time, all I knew was that I felt terrible. I tried curling up in a miserable ball before it became abundantly clear that wasn’t going to suffice.  Look, I’d never had food poisoning before, but I can only imagine it's way worse when you're staying at dormitory style government housing and going to the bathroom means running down the hall.

I threw up four times that night, and when I woke up the next morning, feeling like a truck had run over me, and drank some water, I immediately threw that up as well.  I was 200 miles from home for a meeting and had already bought my bus ticket home (on the fancy bus line since PC was footing the bill).  I sat on the bed after returning from the bathroom, sweaty and disheveled from throwing up five times in as many hours, and told my sitemate, "I don't know if I can make it back to site."

"Here," she said, handing me a plastic bag. "You can make it."

“I think I need two,” I told her, but that was exactly the attitude I needed, so I hauled myself off the bed and to the bus station. I bought a bottle of water and took lots of tiny sips, because I had never been so thirsty and yet unable to drink in my life. The bus from Agadir to Marrakesh is three and a half hours and goes through some stunningly beautiful scenery, but I spent most of the trip trying to doze against my headrest. I kept taking tiny sips of water and made it all the way to the outskirts of Marrakesh before my stomach rebelled and I threw up everything I had managed to drink that morning.

Lucia looked over in the middle of me dry heaving into a plastic bag and made a sympathetic face. "I am so sorry for being a terrible traveling companion," I whispered.

"No, it's okay," she assured me.  “I have headphones.”

We sat in the bus station in Marrakesh for a while before finding transportation back to site.  (The quickest route back to site is a grand taxi, which is seven people shoved in an old model Mercedes sedan and there’s no room to throw up in the back of those.)  Luckily, loitering in the bus station meant we ran into two other PCVs from our stage (small damn world) and managed to catch one of the two nice buses with AC that goes through town.

I managed to drink half of a Sprite on the ride home, which at least gave me a little bit of energy, but as we pulled into town, my stomach began to flop again.  You're almost home, I told my stomach, but I kept feeling worse and worse. We flagged a cab to take us home, but I threw up again as we were getting in the cab and then again just a minute down the road.  Lucia had to give the driver directions to my apartment because I was too busy dry heaving into a plastic bag to speak.

Once I made it home, I called PCMOs (PC doctors) who made concerned sounds about my inability to keep liquids down in this heat, and prescribed me anti-nausea medicine so could try to start re-hydrating. I took Lucia up on her parting words of "anything I do to help" and begged her to go buy me medicine, since I wasn't sure I had enough energy to make it to a pharmacy, much less across town to the bank.  Then I laid down on my ponj because my stomach was upset again and I really didn't want to throw up for an eighth time, and fell asleep.  I woke up a few hours later when Lucia called me to tell me that she had walked all over town, but all the pharmacies were closed.

"Bwuh?" I said.

"I know," Lucia said.  "They all have the same sign hanging in the window saying something about June 30th to July 7th, but that's all I know."

I called PCMOs back to let them know that the pharmacies in town were all closed and after going through my (limited) options, the nurse suggested that I take a couple of Benedryl to knock myself out and hope I had stopped throwing up in the morning.

That’s when I cried for a little bit, because I had used up my daily allotment of being a brave little toaster and dealing with shit like a mature adult.  Then I took the Benedryl and slept for twelve hours, and while I have spent the last two days alternating between napping and reading, I haven’t thrown up in two days and have managed to eat a piece of toast and some grapes, so I think I’m on the mend.

Food poisoning is the worst and I will never eat somewhere called Mickey Burger’s again (I knew I should have gotten the pizza), but once I made it home, I pretty quickly reached the stage where I realized I could either laugh or cry about it, and I would much rather laugh.  Plus, you're not a real Peace Corps Volunteer unless you have at least one gross, over-sharing disease story, and at least I got mine in style.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


1) It's 116° (47°) in my town today.  Just in case anyone was wondering.  I haven't bought a fan yet (and now it's too hot to walk to a store and buy one), and it's surprisingly not as terrible as you might think.  I even managed to stand over a stove and cook tortillas this afternoon and not die although, not gonna lie, I was really grateful it was a small batch.  (PC emailed a warning about the heatwave on Friday, which is nice of them, I guess, but I managed to freak myself out about the heat Friday evening, and worrying about the heat was a lot worse than the actual heat.)  That being said, I'm definitely not leaving my house before dusk and I slept on my roof in just my underwear and a tanktop last night.  (I've resigned myself to being caught in a state of undress on my roof by my neighbors.  It will be embarrassing, but more embarrassing for them than me, so there you go.)  Anyway, it's very hot, and the heat wave is suppose to last through next week.

2) I went over to my host family's house for Couscous Friday, and my host brother taught me card games.  My favorite was Xamstash (Fifteen), where we tried to make our cards add up to 15, although I'm a little worried by how much trouble he had with the very basic addition and subtraction.  I also taught my host niece to shoot a Nerf gun and how to make sound effects when you shoot a toy gun.  Zineb is two and she killed me and her aunt Layla very very dead.  It was super cute.

3) Zineb is left handed, and her mom is trying to train her to eat with her right hand (it's super rude to use your left hand to eat in Morocco), so I spent the entire meal holding Zineb's left hand so she couldn't use it.  Zineb seemed fine with it, but she kept patting my arm and my hand and my shoulder all meal, so now I need to wash mashed couscous out the sweater I was wearing.

4) My work has more or less dried up.  My students took their Bac exam (giant high school exit exam that determines if you graduate high school and what universities you can go to) two weeks ago and the rest of my students took their regular exams last week, and now that's it's summer and really hot, no one is coming to the Dar Shabab anymore.  My mudir asked me to finish my classes by July, so I'm pretty much done with work until sometime in mid-September.  Right now, I'm really enjoying the time off and the total lack of anything to do, but this is going to get very old by, say, August.

5) Regional meetings are on the coast next week.  I don't have to be there until Wednesday, but I thinking about leaving tomorrow because it's only 100° there, not 120° and it's not like I have anything going on in site.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mabrouk! - My First Moroccan Wedding

Last week, a friend and fellow PCV who lives in the neighboring town married her Moroccan boyfriend. I told my host family that I was going to a wedding, and then suddenly everyone knew about it, because I’m a foreigner and therefore interesting to talk about, and yesterday at the Dar Shabab, while I waited for students, my mudir and some of his friends asked me about the wedding.

When they found out the bride was an American who married a Moroccan, they were excited.

"Would you marry a Moroccan?" they asked me.

"Eh, maybe? If I meet the right man."

"There's three men right here! You should marry Mustafa. He has a car!"

I laughed and said maybe and the conversation moved on. This is by far one of the least awkward marriage conversations I've had, since at least I knew all the guys in question and no one was particularly serious, although my mudir did tell a story about another PCV who married a Moroccan and then at the end of her service, they went back to America, which lead to a conversation about whether I could get someone a green card, which led to a lot of me waving my hands around and telling them that I really don't know the particulars about green cards and visas into the US, seeing as I don't need them, and no, I won't look up that information for you.

Still, much less awkward that the time my taxi driver spend the entire ride asking me to marry him.

Kelly's wedding was my first Moroccan wedding.  It only lasted a few hours, so it was more of a Moroccan wedding-lite, a fact for which I'm grateful since Moroccan weddings are intense and I'm glad I got a trial run before my first real one.  (Traditional Moroccan weddings start sometime in the afternoon with parade, and then the party last all night.  No seriously, all night, the bride's family is responsible for serving breakfast to all the guests the next morning while the couple has some, ahem, alone time.)

The wedding party was mostly Moroccans, but there were a couple of PCVs in attendance, and it was fun to see friends who live across the country.  There's no real religious component to a Moroccan wedding, and the couple didn't go to a mosque or stand before the Imam or any other Muslim equivalent of a Christian wedding.  Kelly and her new husband, Karim, just signed some paperwork in the his family's living room and then we danced and hung out for a while everyone took super posed pictures with the bride and groom.  We ate cake and roast chicken and chicken and prune tajine (in that order) before Kelly and Karim headed to Marrakesh for their honeymoon and the rest of the guests headed home.  Kelly's mom couldn't make it to Morocco for the wedding, but she watched the entire party via Skype and the PCVs made a point of sitting with the computer so we could translate what was happening.

Mabrouk to Kelly and Karim.

Kelly's Wedding
Kelly's wedding henna and her ring.  There was also henna on her feet.

Kelly's Wedding
Kelly finishing her makeup at the hair salon before the car ride to her wedding.

Kelly's Wedding
PCVs!  From l → r: Ally, me, Bethany and Carrie.  I'm the only one not in traditional Moroccan clothes because I found out about the wedding the day before I left for Spain and didn't have time to get a caftan once I got back.  Also, this is the first time I'd worn a tank top or my hair lose since getting to Morocco.  I had to pile clothes on before I could go back to my site.

Kelly's Wedding
Kelly and Karim signing their marriage paperwork (I suppose it's the marriage license).  I can't believe she's married.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hell of a Welcome Home

 I’m pretty sure someone broke into my apartment today. 

I don’t think anything is missing – my camera, Kindle and both my passports are sitting on my living room table - but there are a pair of flip-flops in the doorway of my bedroom, and they are not my shoes.  I've never seen them before, and all of my shoes are present and accounted for, so there's no chance that I accidentally wore them home by mistake.

(My first thought when I saw the shoes was whoops, it's going to be really embarrassing to call the woman I just had tea with and tell her that I accidentally stole her husband's shoes, and then I saw the shoes I was wearing today, kicked aside by the front door, and it stopped being funny and started being creepy.)

It wouldn't be that hard to break into my apartment.  I keep my roof door open all the time, because it's really windy and I have to use giant jugs of water to prop the door open and it's a pain in the ass to move them, so I just don't shut my roof door if I'm in town.  Technically it's a private roof, but someone could climb over the wall between the public roof to my roof, assuming they could get into the building, although we keep the door to the building locked most of the time.

People don't obsessively lock doors here because in general things are pretty safe.  Also, it's very hot, and the one saving grace is that at least there's always a decent breeze.  It's not even like this is a cautionary tale.  Yes, someone was in my apartment, but they didn't take anything.  I even got a free pair of shoes out of the deal.  I'm just torn about what to do now.  Obviously, I'm going to start locking when I'm out, but I sleep with that door open.  Hell, I sleep ON my roof half the time, and now I feel a little unsafe and creeped out.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Under the Stars

A couple of days ago, I was lying in bed and realized that my walls were actually radiating heat.  It was late and I was so tired because the heat is making it hard for me to fall asleep.  It's only May and I knew it was just going to keep getting hotter and hotter and at 1:00 in the morning, that was a horrible depressing thought.  I got out of bed and wandered onto my balcony, and immediately felt better.  It was at least 15 degrees cooler outside, and the constant breeze made is feel even nicer.

Eff it, I thought.  I'm sleeping out here, potential awkwardness with my neighbors be damned.

I hauled a ponj from my living room to the corner of my balcony that is shaded from the morning sun, then stood in my (hot hot) bedroom and stared at my clothes options.  I had been sleeping in just a tank top and shorts, but I knew that wasn't going to cut it.  (My downstairs neighbors sleep on their roof, which is the same level as my balcony.  Technically, my balcony is private and separated by a wall, but the wall is low enough that I can see over onto my neighbors' roof.  And while yes, it's my balcony, my apartment and I can wear whatever I want, I want to avoid the horrible awkwardness of my super conservative neighbors seeing me sleeping in a tank-top.*  It was bad enough when the father accidentally groped me on the stairwell a few months ago.)  Luckily, I have a pair of light weight pajamas pants and I found a long-sleeve shirt hidden in a suitcase that was super thin and too loose to wear in public, but far and away more appropriate than a tank top.

The first night sleeping outside was a bit unnerved.  I have always rejected camping as a viable life-style choice and firmly believe that sleeping is an inside activity, so voluntarily sleeping outdoors is new for me.  Also, I was a little bit worried that a bird would poop on me, but, let's be honest, that's a viable worry in my apartment as well.  The call to prayer is much louder when I'm sleeping outside, and for the past few nights, I've woken up, disoriented, to the fajr at 4:30 in the morning, but I would rather be woken up by the adhan than the heat.  It was cool to be able to doze off looking at the Big Dipper above me and feeling the breeze waft over me.  And knowing that I would be able to sleep comfortably made getting through the days, when it's been hot enough to work up a sweat sitting still, bearable.

*I basically only wear Aladdin pants and a tank top around my house, and I've started keeping a shirt near the door so I can pull in on when someone knocks.  The other day, I was talking with my sitemate Mike on the phone when someone knocked on my door.

"Gimme a sec," I told Mike.  "Someone's at the door and I need to put on a shirt so I can answer it."

I dropped the phone on the table, thought about what I had just said, then grabbed my phone again.  "Wait.  I am wearing *a* shirt.  I meant put on *another* shirt so I can answer the door."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hot Hot Hot

It’s gotten hot all of a sudden.  I swear, just a couple of weeks ago it was only in the high 70s/80s and I wanted a scarf at night, and then BAM! all of a sudden the week’s forecast looks like this. 

All week my students have been asking me if I think it’s hot.  I admit that yes, I’m a bit warm, usually while trying to shelter in the shade of the nearest wall, and they tell me no, THIS isn’t hot.  Wait until August.  THAT’S hot.  And then they laugh at me.


It’s amazing though, how fast the town has changed.  People don’t go outside during the day anymore.  Yesterday, I went to buy bread at 5:30 and the streets were almost completely deserted, but I can hear kids shouting and playing outside until midnight.  I’m spending a lot of time in my apartment because at least I can talk around in shorts and a tank top when I’m at home.  (It might be a million degrees outside, but I still have to wear a couple of layers to properly cover up.) Also, I keep having to turn my computer off in the middle of the day because I’m a little worried it might catch fire.

My neighbors have started sleeping on the roof (which led to a super awkward, scantily-clad late night encounter when I went to see why the lights in the hallway were on) and while I’m still sleeping in my apartment, I doubt I’ll last inside much longer.

(People back home keep asking me what I’m going to do about the heat this summer.  I tell them pray for death.  They think I’m joking.  I am not.)

The one plus to the hot weather is that all of a sudden cold bucket baths aren’t something I need to psych myself up for.  Despite never actually getting that cold outside, my apartment was a tiny little ice block all winter and there were days I would just shuffle around the house in my sleeping bag because it was too cold to face getting out.  I don’t have hot water (or a shower), so the odds of me getting naked long enough to actually wash my hair were non-existent, and I survived on by weekly trips to the hamam and just got really use to my hair being a grease slick.  And then my hair adjusted to only being washed once every week or so and turns out, all that crap about how your hair will adjust to less frequent washings is true, it just took a couple of really disgusting months for my hair to get with the program.

(True fact: I was searching through my emails for something and I found an email to a friend with the subject line So, I totally managed to bathe before it was two weeks!.  The entire first paragraph is about how my neighbors found me at the hamam and scrubbed my back for me.)

But now, thanks to the heat, all I have to do it stand outside for a few minutes, and a dumping a bucket of cold water on my head sounds pretty awesome.  Also, my pipes are exposed to the sun, so the water from my tap isn’t actually that cold anymore.  So yay, I might actually start bathing more than once a week.

(They said I’d learn things about myself in the Peace Corps.  I just didn’t realize it would be that I have no standards.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I Joined Peace Corps

My bestie Sarah is visiting me in a few less than two weeks!  We’ve been friends since a very important discussion about Harry Potter during PE in 9th grade and we went to university together, but we’ve been a bit flung to the wind post graduation.  Three years ago, she visited me in Korea.  (I fell in a lotus pond.)  Two years ago, we met up in China and went to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army.  Last year, I went to Costa Rica to see her, and this year, we’re spending three weeks in Morocco and Spain.  We might only see each other about once a year, but damn, those visits are epic!

Yesterday, I was over at my host family’s house for tea and to hang out with my host sisters for a few hours.  We had a long rambling conversation, starting with problems with the Moroccan education system.  One of the things I love about my host family is that they never treat me like I’m an idiot just because my Arabic is terrible and they take the time to have actual conversations with me.  So we talked about rural education issues and then the conversation swung to politics. 

Then, my host sister Hanan asked me why Europeans and Americans dislike Muslims and women wearing hijab.

Oh boy.

“It’s because they don’t understand Islam,” I said.  “They only see it on TV and they don’t understand.”

“Did you understand before you came to Morocco?” she asked.

“No,” I told her, truthfully.  “I understood a little, but not a lot.  Not like I understand now.”

“You only knew what you read on the Internet and saw on TV.”

“So I only knew a little.”

Another host sister, Olayya, chimed in.  “All countries are the same.  There are bad people and good people in every country.”

“Yes!” I agreed.

“We didn’t know Americas before you came,” she went on.  “We only knew what we saw on TV, but now we know you and you’re like us.  And we know your mom.  And she’s like us.  And people should come and visit you, so they will understand that we’re all the same.”

And then she whispered to me about the boy she likes while I tried not to be overcome by all the feels.

Those are goals two and three of the Peace Corps, tied up neatly with a bow and severed with mint tea, so I guess I’m doing pretty good here.

I told Sarah about the conversation when I got home that evening.

Sarah: You need to put that in your VRF.
me: I’m putting it in my BLOG!

(And to top it all off, the entire conversation was held in Arabic!  Also, for the first time I actually understood my two year old host niece when she told me my cup of tea was hot and be careful, although that probably has more to do with her developing fine-motor skills and articulation and not my Arabic improving.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I went to my Dar Shabab for class on Saturday, only to find the door to the building closed.

“The door’s locked,” one of my students told me.  “The mudir (director) isn’t there.”

We waited for a while, hoping the director and the keys would show up.  It was only my third day back following spring break, plus Tuesday is a holiday, and I didn’t want to have to cancel class anymore than I have to.  More students arrived, and suggested I call the mudir.

“I don’t have his phone number,” I told them.

“Don’t you have keys,” they asked.

“Nope, I don’t have keys.”

Then they suggested that maybe if I try the door, it would be unlocked.  I tried the door, but it remained firmly locked.  A couple of the boys came over and tried to pick the lock.  (Their idea of picking a lock was to try their house keys.  They wouldn’t make very good thieves.  They did, however, point out that there were no cameras to catch them.)  I held a mini-English lesson, detailing all the different ways we could try to open the door.

“We could kick the door.”

“Kick,” the boys parroted back.

“We could shove the door.”


“We could body-slam the door.”

“Body-slam,” they repeated, laughing.

None of my idea worked on the heavy metal door, so instead we stood around, chatting in Arabic.  I usually use English with my students, since I am their English teacher, but we weren’t in class and I need practice too.  Plus, Saturday is my advance class, and my students’ English is better than my Arabic.  After several minutes of talking about what they did on their spring break and listening to them complain about their teachers, Ahmed turned to me and said, “You speak Arabic?!”

“I’m learning Arabic,” I told him.

There’s was a quiet chorus of she’s learning Arabic.  “Do you study in school?” he asked.

“No,” I told them.  “I have an Arabic teacher and I go to her house for lessons.”

“Who is your teacher?”

“Do you know the English teacher at Lycee Moulay Ismail (the high school next to my Dar Shabab)?  She’s my Arabic teacher.”

“She’s my English teacher!” Ahmed told me.

We eventually gave up on the mudir, and I headed home.  On the way, I stopped by my host family’s house for tea and was invited to tag along with my host mother and two of my host sisters as they went fabric shopping.  We went to half a dozen shops, looking for fabric and brocade for a jellaba.  It was surprisingly chilly, and my host mother was worried that I would be cold.

“You need a scarf,” she told me.

“No, I’m okay.  I’m Moroccan.  I’m wearing three shirts!” I reassured her.

“I’m wearing four shirts,” she told me.

“Well, you are more Moroccan than me,” I told her.

I learned the words for fabric (tub) and pitcher (gula), and the proper pronunciation for the Moroccan (as opposed to classical Arabic) phrase for good night.  I also learned bride and groom, but promptly forgot them.

Today is the end of a three-day weekend this week.  I had lunch with my host family on Sunday and today a friend is coming over and we’re making Thai or Indian, or something involving coconut milk. 

Coming back from spring camp and a couple of weeks away from site was weird, and I spent a few days feeling off kilter, but I feel like I’ve found my rhythm again.  I really enjoy teaching.  I love making lesson plans (dork!) and watching my kids get excited over games (and therefore, learning!).  One of my boys brought me a love poem to approve before writing in a holiday card covered in snowmen.  (I think I know who it’s for, and if I’m right, I hardily approve.)

I’m just really happy here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Of All the Gin Joints

When I got my invitation for Morocco, the only thing I knew about the country was Casablanca.  (At the time, I assumed Casablanca was the capital, which turns out to be false, but I was right about Casablanca being in Morocco.)  We flew into the Casablanca airport when we arrived in Morocco, but were herded directly onto a bus bound for Fes, so it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually visited Casa.

I went with my friends Bethany and Carrie.  I was in town because my mother was arrived bright and early the next morning (!!), and they came to keep me company and to celebrate Carrie’s birthday.  Casablanca isn’t that far from Kalaa, but travel always seems more complicated here, and I ended up missing my train because it took me an HOUR to catch a cab to the next town over with a train station.  (For the rest of the day, I answered the phone with, “GUESS HOW LONG IT TOOK ME TO GET A FREAKING GRAND TAXI THIS MORNING?!” much to the surprise of whoever was on the other end.)  Luckily, there was a bus leaving for Casa within half an hour, so I wasn’t too late getting in, and I was treated to a lovely view of Casablanca as seen from the highway.  From a distance, Casablanca does, in fact, appear to be made up entirely of white houses.   Well named, 16th century Portuguese colonialists.

Our first stop was the magnificent Hassan II Mosque.  Hassan II is the largest mosque in North Africa, third largest in the world and the tallest building in Morocco.  It is also stunning.  (It also, according to my guidebook, has a LASER BEAM at the top of the minaret that points to Mecca, which is AWESOME!)  It’s perched on a promontory in the Atlantic Ocean and is covered in zellij, the tile work Morocco is famous for.  The Hassan II is the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed in, but they are required to be “decently and respectfully dressed.”  That wasn't a problem for Bethany, Carrie or I, since we were all dressed for site (which means wearing all the clothes), but we walked past a group of French tourists in scandalously short skirts.  Every time I go to Marrakesh or Rabat or a bigger city in Morocco, I’m astonished by what tourist wear and flutter about like a Victorian grandmother, hissing Put some pants on, you strumpet at people, but I’m pretty sure these skirts were short even by western standards.

Hassan II Mosque
Hassan II Mosque  Hassan II Mosque

After the mosque, we headed towards Ain Diab, a trendy, beachside suburb of Casa and home to the brand new Mall of Morocco.  Our taxi driver dropped us on the corniche and told us the mall was only a little far away.  We walked along the beach, and sure enough, off in the distance, we could see the mall, looking like a tiny space station on the horizon.  At first, the walk was pleasant.  The beach was lined with empty pools full of trash, and at one point it looked more like a grassy field than a sandy beach, but it was warm, we bought ice cream and I was with friends.  Plus, there was Pizza Hut awaiting me at the Mall of Morocco!  The only problem was we couldn’t get to the mall.  We walked and walked and walked, and yet the mall didn’t seem to get any closer, and after forty-five minutes of walking, we were hot and tired and hungry and, turns out, that close to the mall it’s impossible to find an empty taxi.  Our pleasent beachside walk turned into a forced march, and after an hour, we were trudging single file down the sidewalk - silent, hungry and cranky.  Next time, I'm taking a cab.

The walk was totally worth it though.  The Mall of Morocco is amazing, like a little slice of America.  We ate at Pizza Hut and shopped at H&M and the Gap and marveled at the American Eagle Outfitter.  Carrie bought a coffee at Starbucks and Bethany and I got yogurt at Pinkberry.  We also rode on an escalator, which might not seem that exciting to Americans, but was a treat for the girl in front of us who was clearly using an escalator for the very first time.  There were even attendants stationed at either end to help people get on and off.  We took a bus from the mall to our hotel, and met a Moroccan guy who was impressed by our baby Arabic and that we lived out in the country.  He wanted to know how we did all sorts of basic things, like shopping.

“I go to souq every Monday,” I told him.

“What do you buy at souq,” he asked.

“Vegetables, lentils, couscous, other food,” I told him.

“No, which vegetables do you buy at souq?”

And so I stood on a crowded Casablanca bus, listing vegetables in Arabic.  “Matisha, xizu, shiflur, dnjal, jilbana, lful, korjit….”  The guy behind my new friend was clearly baffled about why this white girl was standing on a bus a rush hour, naming vegetables, and all I could do was shrug at him.  You and me both, buddy.

We stopped at Rick’s Café on our way back to the hotel.  Or rather, we stopped at a Rick’s Café.  It’s about eight years old and looking nothing like the iconic watering hole that spawned a thousand quotes.  There’s even dedicated parking out front.  There was a flat screen TV showing Casablanca, a menu with some very expensive drinks and a roulette wheel, but it felt cheesy and touristy.  We had a drink and quoted the movie a bunch, then scurried back to our hotel.
Of All the Gin Joints

All in all, Casablanca was okay, but its charms are in how unlike the rest of Morocco it is.  You can wear whatever you want and buy alcohol and pepperoni and Starbucks, and walking into the Mall of Morocco felt a lot like walking into Southpoint Mall in Durham, but as much fun as that was, I much prefer Marrakesh.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Last week, my mom came to Morocco to visit me! It was super exciting, and not just because she brought me some damn pants that fit. She was in Morocco for a week and we spent the first half to the trip in Kalaa so she could meet my host family and my students and see my souq and my medina and my Dar Šabab. That meant Mom would be staying at my apartment, and when she booked her tickets in January, I said something about huh, maybe I should furnish my home before then. We both laughed.

Fast-forward a month and a half to last week, when we were talking about her trip and I again mentioned my need to buy some damn furniture already. She stopped me and said she didn’t want me to do anything in preparation for her. She didn’t want me to dread her visits because they meant cleaning or other work. Translation: I know you’re a failboat at being a real grownup and keeping house. I love you anyways.

I reassured her that I would never dread her visiting because that meant cleaning because, well, I will just not clean. (We all remember the first time my parents visited my first post-college apartment, which was a) still unpacked, despite having moved in two months prior and b) a crazy junk everywhere, path through the living room, can’t see the table style mess. In my defense, I moved, started work, immediately caught bronchitis (from my boss) but didn’t have any sick days so had to continue going to work, and by the time I had the energy to possible unpack a month later, my apartment had reached daunting levels of mess. My parents spent the weekend helping me clean and unpack, so clearly I feel no overwhelming compulsions to clean before a visit. Maybe I should.) However, I told her, as you can see by looking as this picture of my apartment that I drew for class last week, the only place to sit in my apartment is on the bed. If you want to eat breakfast sitting at a table, I have some furniture to buy.

I have been slowly filling up my apartment since I moved in two months ago. I started with my bedroom and then moved on to my kitchen, but I left the living room empty because I didn’t know how far my move-in allowance would stretch and living room furniture is below a bed and dishes on the list of necessities. Plus, my empty living room made a great place to dump crap when I walked in the door. Also, I’m really lazy. However, last Monday, less than a week before Mom arrived, I told my host mother that I needed to buy some furniture. She immediately leaped into action.

“Because you mom is coming, inshallah?” she asked.

I nodded. “America is very far away. I need a sofa when she comes.”

“Today is souq day!” she told me. “You can buy all your furniture at souq for very cheep. When do you want to go? Let’s go now!”

We walked to souq, my town’s weekly market, where in rapid order I bought two ponjs (giant cushions that serve as couches), two plastic rugs (those are a thing here) and a table. My host mom kept asking me if I wanted to get anything else, and I kept telling her I can’t, I’m out of money. We loaded my purchases onto a horse cart and rode back to my apartment, sitting atop the ponjs like a super comfortable hayride.

I spent the rest of Monday sweeping and mopping and generally organizing, and I’m so happy with how my apartment looks. I’m not done furnishing the apartment. There are a lot of things that fall into the I-don’t-know-where-this-goes-so-now-it-goes-here category, and I want somewhere to dump the piles on the floor. I want an oven and some shelves for my kitchen, and a chair for my roof, and dear God, I need to decorate, but now my apartment looks like someone actually lives here instead of just squatting in the back room.

Kitchen Kitchen
My kitchen. The gas tank fuels the stove and the blue bins hold food and dishes. Also, a close up of my spices and dry goods. I mostly keep them in old jam jars my tutor gave me.

Living Room Roof
My living room. The cushions are called ponjs and I need to buy covers for them so they don't get stained. My apartment has a private balcony/roof (it's a balcony for my apartment, but it's the same level as the public roof for the building). Right now, I mostly do my laundry out there, but I want to get a table and a small garden.

IMG_0185 IMG_0186
My bedroom. The bed is a loan from my host family. The small rug next to my bed is the handmade rug I bought at Marche Maroc. My bookshelf/dresser is the only part of my apartment that is currently decorated, and that fan will cease to be decorative real damn soon.

The bathroom. No toilet, no shower, just a tap, a bucket and a hole in the ground.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Observations Made While Doing Laundry:

-- Morocco is dry. I mean, I don’t live in the desert and there are no sand dunes outside my door, but Morocco is dry. It’s rained three times this year, and this is the rainy season. There’s a fine layer of dust over everything in my life, including me, and my skin is so dry it burns when I put lotion on, but I didn’t realize just how dry it is until I pulled my sodden, soaking wet jeans out of a bucket of water, hung them on the line without bothering to wring them out, and they were completely dry three hours later.

-- Doing laundry by moonlight is not as interesting or fun as it sounds.

-- So, when you do laundry in a bucket, it takes for-freaking-ever for your clothes to be really clean. Rinse after rinse after rinse, and the water is still a dingy grey. I don’t actually know how long it takes for the water to run clean because I’ve never had the patience to find out. Usually I call it a day when the water is no longer sudsy, but there’s always a moment when I look at the grayish water my clothes are soaking in and think to myself, “That’s really gross. You should keep washing.” Turns out, it’s much easier to ignore that moment that when it’s 11:30 and I’m tired.

-- Because I am a crazy person, I like my socks to match when they’re hanging up to dry, but this time when I was hanging my socks up, I ended up with 5 mismatched pairs. I searched my bedroom and dirty clothes basket in vain until I checked the bottom of my sleeping bag and found all the lost socks, plus another complete set. I always wear socks to bed because it is cold, but then my feet get warm and I end up toeing my socks off in the middle of the night and forget to empty out my sleeping bag. Still, that’s a whole lot of socks in my sleeping bag.

--Man, I really do not own non-crazy Korean socks. Makes me nostalgic for weekends in Seoul when I would inevitable come home with at least one pair of new socks that were meant for a nine year old.

Socks Socks

-- Dear God, I just wrote 400 words about doing laundry. The exciting lives of Peace Corps Volunteers!

Friday, March 9, 2012

f l-mgrib: Month Five

I started going to souq during month five. Souq means market, but that’s misleading. A souq is what happens when the farmer’s market and a thrift store have a baby, and the baby starts using steroids. Then steroid baby gets hit by the radiation of a gamma bomb and becomes a giant, sprawling behemoth that takes over several vacant football fields behind my house every Monday when farmers and villagers from the duwar (tiny villages in the countryside) and Kelaa come to buy and sell everything under the sun.

The first few weeks in my apartment, I didn’t do much cooking. My stove wasn’t even hooked up for the first couple of days, and it took me even longer to actually buy pots and pans, but by mid-January, it was time for me for to stop scavenging for food and living off bread, oranges and other people’s generosity. It was time to go to souq.

The haul from souq Souq can be a little intense, which is one of the reasons it took me so long to go. Kelaa’s souq is huge, and is packed with vendors and people and cars and livestock and donkeys. The first time I went, I got a little lost. I can see souq from my balcony, so my sitemate Lucia and I walked over, only to find ourselves in a maze of vendors selling used clothes, power cords, bike handles and kitchenware. There’s an entire row of stalls selling only different types of flour. There are tents with heaping bags of brightly colored spices and an entire section full of chickens, turkeys and sheep in all manner of decapitation. There are guys with music carts blasting Arabic pop music, and vendors selling popcorn, chickpeas and meat kababs. Lucia and I wandered lost for a good twenty minutes before finding what we were looking for, the produce section. The produce section is a couple of blocks large at the far end of souq where farmers from the area spread their produce out on tarps on the ground and sell them. The selection is limited during the winter, but I can’t wait to see what’s available this summer.

Souq is nothing like going to the tailgate market back home, but I love it. It was overwhelming the first time, but now I love wandering through the random sections and bartering for the week’s food and running into neighbors and students. I go every Monday morning.

I also did a community assessment for the Peace Corps during month five. A community assessment is a giant report (ours was 13 pages) that Peace Corps has volunteers fill out about their community. It’s super detailed: it starts with basic things like population demographics (that’s loads of fun in a community of 60,000), community history, geography and local infrastructure, but then gets more detailed. There are sections about gender roles, educational opportunities, health care, social institutions (also fun when you live in the provincial capital, so if these institutions exist in the region, they’re probably in Kalaa) and social issues such as child labor, homelessness and orphans.

I don’t think Peace Corps actually reads these reports: they can’t possible be interested in the recreational opportunities for youth by gender or non-traditional medicine use in all 27 sites from my staj. Mostly, the community assessment was a way to make us start examining our communities. When I first moved to Kalaa, I was diligent about trying to learn about my community. My sitemates and I visited the culture center and the language school. We met with the police and the gendarme and the local officials, and we walked into store and introduced ourselves. Then I started teaching and searching for an apartment, and between lesson planning, looking at apartments and my classes, most of my free time was eaten up. Then I was sick and then I was moving and before I knew it, I had established a nice little routine for myself. I went from my apartment to the Dar Šabab, and not much else. The community assessment forced me to get back out in the community and start meeting people again.

I went to the Dar Taliba (a boarding school for girls from the duwar) and the Neddi Newsi (a woman’s center), and talked to their mudiras (directors) about working with them. We went to the special education school and sat in on a class. We started walking around town again and talking to people, even if it was just a greeting. The report itself was difficult. Kalaa is so big and some of the topics in the community assessment are difficult to talk about, both because they’re culturally sensitive (alcohol and drug use, domestic violence) and because I don’t have the relevant vocabulary (health care and mental illnesses, geography), but I feel like I know a lot more about Kalaa now.

Camel In late January, I went to Marche Maroc for a day. Marche Maroc is an artisanal craft fair run by Peace Corps and USAID. It’s held in bigger, touristy cities like Fes, Marrakesh and Essaouira, and gives artisans, mostly women working with Small Business Development PCVs in smaller, rural sites, a chance to sell directly to customers. I’m not SBD and I don’t work with any artisans in Kalaa (yet), but the January Marche Maroc was in Marrakesh, only two hours away from Kalaa, so I went. Technically I went to help, and I did spend a half hour hauling goods and furniture to the storage space after the fair, but mostly I helped out with my wallet. I bought a small rug, an adorable stuffed camel and a pair of earrings as a belated Christmas gift for my sister. I also spent some time enjoying Marrakesh, and got lost in the souq, bought a pair of Aladdin pants, and had a very expensive dinner at an Indian restaurant and a terrible (yet expensive) beer.

IST: Day 4
Atlantic sunset

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things I've Learned in Peace Corps

Things I've Learned in Peace Corps
My first thought upon losing power this evening was, "Noooo, I don't want to use a Turkish toilet in the dark. Think of the potential for things to go horrible wrong." The problem was solved when my downstairs neighbors brought me a candle (and admonished me not to light my clothes on fire), but it turns out not everything is more romantic by candlelight.

Monday, February 6, 2012

f l-mgrib: Month Four

The big news of month four was that I moved into my own apartment and I’m now living on my own. I lived with two different host families during my first three and a half months in Morocco: two months during training and then a month and a half once I arrived at my final site. Both families were wonderful and I understand why Peace Corps has volunteers live with host families. I learned more about Moroccan culture sitting in my host family’s living room than I ever could in a classroom, and being forced to use Darija every time I wanted to communicate did wonders for my language skills. My host family in Kalaa was invaluable my first few weeks in my site. They led my around town, took me to the store and my work and the hamam, and introduced me to their friends and neighbors. I would have never been able to find or furnish my apartment without them. However, by the end of December, I was getting increasingly ready to move out. I was ready to not have a curfew, to be to be able to do what I wanted without asking permission first, to eat something that wasn’t tagine and to be able to set my own schedule. I was ready to be an adult again.

The lack of a schedule was particularly difficult, especially once I got to my final site and no longer had the schedule of CBT to structure my ever-waking moment. Life with my host family was structured around the meals, but I never knew when those would be. Lunch was served sometime between noon and three, but I could never figure out a schedule. Whenever I asked, I was told “soon,” which could mean hours, and if I tried to skip lunch, my host mother would get upset, so I ended up sending all afternoon waiting around for lunch, regardless of what I wanted or needed to do that day. I was sick for most of December, and I lost my appetite and slept a lot. I would get home from work at 8:00 and go straight to bed without dinner, only to be woken up by my host mother barging into my room and waking me up to ask how I felt and if I was tired. I know they were acting out of kindness, but yeah, by January 1st, I was ready to have my own place.

I spent my first night at my new apartment on New Years Day. My apartment was almost entirely empty; all I had was a mattress on the floor and a loaf of bread to eat, and the loaf of bread was gift from my host family, but as soon as I finished hauling over my things and had shut the door behind my host family and was finally alone in my new home, I felt the tension that had been building up for the last few months start to melt away. Over the next week, I picked up a bed, another mattress (long story), a dresser, a bedside table, a stove and some cooking supplies. My place is still pretty bare, but it’s mine and I’m slowing filling it up.

I was worried that moving into my own place would mean that I would be cut off from the community. As frustrating as living with a family was, my host family was a great way to meet people and be an active part in my community, especially since Kalaa is big enough that I’ll never know everyone. Plus, I have a tendency to be an introvert, and spent the last few weeks with my host family thinking longingly about locking myself in my apartment and refusing to talk to anyone for at least a day. I occasionally have to get dressed before leaving for work at 6:00 because it’s the first time I’ve left the apartment that day, but I’m doing okay. I live in the building next to my host family, which means I see them every day, and I still live near everyone they introduced me to in the neighborhood. I stop by my host family’s house after work at least once a week, and go over for lunch of Couscous Fridays. My downstairs neighbors have taken it upon themselves to make sure I’m fed, and I’m invited over for tea or dinner a couple of time a week. Apparently, they’ve heard that I can’t make bread, which clearly means that I can’t cook. I’ve also had a few invitations for dinner from my students at the Dar Šabab, so I’m still being social.

I started travelling around Morocco during month four. During PST, I didn’t have enough time for a decent night’s sleep, much less to do any sightseeing, and we were encouraged to stay in our sites for the first few months of service. I spent Thanksgiving at site, but Christmas is more important, and I celebrated by going to Marrakesh with my sitemates and some other volunteers from my staj. It was my first trip to Marrakesh, which is an hour and a half south of Kalaa, and I loved it. We stayed in the medina, just off the main square, and it was a riot of people and performers and back alleys full of tiny stalls selling everything under the sun. It reminded me of Seoul, especially the warrens of Namdaemun or behind the main strip Gangnam, only with less neon. (Most of my comparisons to Korea end with “only with less neon.” This restaurant reminds me of one in Seoul, only with less neon. Trash pickup in Morocco reminds me of trash pickup in Korea, only with less neon. There’s a lot of neon in that country.)

Then, two weeks later, I spent the weekend with my stajmates Carrie and Bethany in their site, Boujad. It was my first time travelling alone in Morocco, and my first time taking the bus. There are a couple of different types of busses in Morocco. There’s CTM and Supratour, bus lines similar to Greyhound or Megabus in the US. They’re more expensive, but the busses are nicer, the routes are more direct and you’re guaranteed a seat. Then there are the small intercity busses, which are called kar by Moroccans (no possibility for confusion there) and souq busses by PCVs. They’re smaller and less comfortable – more like a school bus – and they take longer because they stop at every little village or random pile of rocks by the highway where someone wants off. They are, however, cheaper, and run more frequently.

My plan was to take Supratour to Beni-Mellal, a large city near Bejaad, and meet Bethany there. I knew there was a Supratour station in Kalaa, Bethany knew where the Supratour station was in Beni-Mellal and I could look up the bus schedule online. Plus, I’d stories from other volunteers of standing for hours among vomiting children and livestock on souq busses, and Supratour wasn’t that much more expensive. Of course, like many things in Morocco, finding the bus station took a committee and many, many more hours than something as simple as finding a bus station should.

First, I asked Hanan, one of my host sisters, if there was a Supratour station in Kalaa. It took Hanan a while to figure out what I was saying, because I say Supratour like an American and I should be saying like the French, but she confirmed that there was a station and even gave me vague directions. Then, during Couscous Friday, I asked the rest host family if they knew where the Supratour station was, but they did not. In fact, they weren’t even sure that there was a Surpatour station in Kalaa. On Saturday, the day before I was suppose to leave, I asked some of my students at the Dar Šabab if THEY knew where the Supratour station was, and finally found a friend of my friend Hayat who was in the drama club and not even one of my students and knew where the station was. The only problem was the station was on the edge of town.

HAYAT: You can’t walk there! It’s too far.
CAIT: I don’t even know where it is yet.
MUSTAFA: It’s very far away. It’s too dangerous to walk there. And you need to buy your ticket in advance.
CAIT: Still don’t even know where the station is, so kinda a moot point.
MUSTAFA: The station might still be open.
HAYAT: I will drive you there now! We can buy your ticket.
CAIT: Hurray! Someone’s going to tell me where the station is.

I stopped to tell the mudir (director) that I was leaving, and Hayat told him about my trip.

MUDIR: You’re going to travel alone?
CAIT: That’s the plan.
MUDIR: You can’t do that. It’s too dangerous.
CAIT: Right, this is Morocco and doing anything alone, including walking next door, is considered to dangerous. Thank you, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine.
HAYAT: He’s right. It could be dangerous.
CAIT: Okay, potentially dangerous travel would be that time my tuk-tuk was waved down a deserted dirt path by Cambodian soldiers carrying machine guns at 4:30 in the morning. Taking a major bus line and being met by a friend at the bus station in a country where I can speak the language isn’t dangerous.
EVRYONE: You can’t speak Darija.
CAIT: This ENTIRE CONVERSATION has been in Darija. I know my Darija isn’t pretty, but it’s more than sufficient to buy a bus ticket. Plus, I’ve only been studying for four months. I think I’m doing pretty good.
MUDIR: It’s dangerous. My brother-in-law is going to Beni-Mellal tomorrow. He will drive you.
CAIT: Really, that’s not necessary. So close to finding out where the bus station is.
MUDIR: I’ll call him now.

Luckily, the brother-in-law was at the mosque praying, and I was able to convince Hayat that, no really, the bus was the better option. The bus station was closed, but Hayat drove me back the next morning to help me buy my ticket. According to the website, the Supratour bus to Beni-Mellal left at 11:00, but when we showed up at 10:30, the ticket seller was shouting “Beni-Mellal, Beni-Mellal!”

“Why yes,” I said. Hayat bargained for my ticket, told the bus driver exactly where I was going and to make sure that I got off at the right stop, and made me promise that I was being met in Beni-Mellal and would call if I had any problems. After the drama of finding the bus, the ride itself was uneventful through some truly gorgeous countryside. I had two seats to myself, and there were no chickens or vomit anywhere to be seen, although I did see a group of camels being herded down the highway It was only when I arrived in Beni-Mellal at a completely different bus station than I thought I would that I realized that after all that trouble to find the Supratour station, I had ended up taking a souq bus. Oh, Morocco.

The rest of my trip was also fun. I more or less tagged along as Bethany and Carrie went about their normal weekend. We split a roast chicken and bottle of wine for dinner and stopped by what Bethany has dubbed the sugar carts, wheeled carts full of sugary pastries from a local bakery, for desert. Breakfast was miliwi, fried bread, slathered with cheese in their courtyard, then we went to the hamam for our weekly bath and to their tutor, Lamia’s, house for a lesson. I sat in on the lesson, taking notes, and answering the occasional question. At the end of the lesson, we were talking about regional dialects, and I mentioned that even though Kalaa was only about 100 km south of Boujad, I could tell a distinct difference between the way people speak, much to Lamia’s confusion.

LAMIA: Where?
CAIT: Kalaa Sraghna. Big town on the road between Beni-Mellal and Marrakesh.
LAMIA: You’ve been to Kalaa Sraghna.
CAIT: Why yes I have.
LAMIA: … Why?
CAIT: I live there.
LAMIA: … Why?
CAIT: We don’t really get a choice. Peace Corp throws darts with our names on them at a map of Morocco and we go where our dart lands.
LAMIA: Peace Corps?
CAIT: I’m in the same organization as Bethany and Carrie. That’s why I live in Kalaa.
LAMIA: Oh, I thought you were visiting from America.
CAIT: Nope, just up for the weekend.
LAMIA: That explains why you know Darija.
CAIT: Yeah…

Bejaad has a large medina, the old walled part of the city, and Bethany and Carrie live in the middle of it. Their neighborhood is cool – full of history and traditional and the potential to make a wrong turn and get hopelessly lost forever. It was great to see Bethany and Carrie, and now that I know where the bus station is (I walked home, and it is neither dangerous nor that far), I’ll keep traveling!

Madrasa Ben Youssef Boujad Mosque
Marrakech Souq
Top:Bright teal ovens stacked in front of one of the stuff shops in town; Middle: The day after Christmas at the Madrasa Ben Youssef in Marrakesh (left); Cranes nesting in the minaret of one of the mosques in the Boujad medina (right); Bottom: Hanging lanterns in the Marrakesh souq.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Posh Corp

My sitemate Lucia and I went to Marrakesh on Tuesday, because I now live a life where I make day trips to Marrakesh. (My life is awesome!) We visited the American Language Center to check out what resources they have, then ate lunch at Pizza Hut and wandered around the high end shops in the Ville Nouvelle, looking at shoes that cost more than my monthly rent. Before we headed back to Kalaa, we walked over to Jemaa el-Fnaa to take a look at the hotel I ate at on my last trip to Marrakesh.

It was beautiful. The building was covered in tiles and carved wood. There were saqiya (public fountains) along the walls and in the courtyard was a pool surrounded by palm trees and lounge chairs, open to the bright blue sky and overlooked by a traditional mashrabiya (wooden lattice screened balcony). Up on the roof, we walked past a second pool and started out at the nearby Koutoubia Mosque glowing in the sunlight and the snow capped Atlas Mountains in the distance.

It was posh and swanky and other words not normally associate with the Peace Corps, and as I was standing on the roof, listening to French children splash in the pool, I thought You know self, you haven’t bathed in a week. Your hair is basically one giant grease slick AND, what more, you don’t even care anymore. The bathrooms at the hotel were covered in rose petals. My bathroom at site has a hole, two spots for my feet, a faucet, a bucket and that giant cockroach I murderated that morning.

I’m not complaining, not really. I have electricity and running water that works at least 90% of the time and I usually have Internet in my house. Even the cockroach wasn’t that bad. At least I was wearing pants when I saw him. I was expecting a lot more hardships when I joined the Peace Corps and I love my site and my home. But that’s the thing about Posh Corps: it’s less about your amenities at site and more about the amenities you have in your country. There are some very nice, very westernized places in Morocco that an easy day trip from my home, and I keep showing up there unwashed.