Sunday, January 15, 2012

Don't Trust That Map

Last week, my English classes made community maps. Community mapping is a Peace Corp community assessment tool where different groups (in this case, boys and girls) draw their community and label the places where they go regularly, occasionally and other important locations. The idea is to get an idea of how people see their community. The girls drew a highly abstract representation of Kalaa, while the boys got in a heated argument about the exact layout of the roads in Kalaa and then begged to be allowed to use the computer so they could look up a map of the town. One of the girls, Ibtissam, who would have been happier in the boys’ group, was frustrated by how imprecise the other girls were being.

IBTISSAM: Teacher, this is a bad map.
ME: It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
IBTISSAM: No, it is a lie.
ME: There’s no right way to draw a map. I just want to know how you see Kalaa.
IBTISSAM: Don’t follow this map. You’ll get lost. Where do you want to go?
ME: No, no, I’m not trying to get a map of the town for myself. I’m not trying to find anything.
IBTISSAM: This map isn’t true. I will take you where you want to go.
ME: No really, I’m good.
IBTISSAM: Are you busy this weekend.
ME: No?
IBTISSAM: Good. I will show you Kalaa. I will show you everything. Ignore this map.

So, this weekend, Ibtissam and I explored Kalaa. First, she took me to her house for harira and to introduce me to her family. I met her sisters (one of whom I know from a different English class, but had no idea was related to Ibtissam) and made awkward conversation with her father (who I could mostly understand) and her grandmother (who I couldn’t – Darija without teeth sounds way different from Darija with teeth). Then Ibtissam and I headed out. We walked through the medina and stopped by the culture center where the PJD was having a celebration of their recent victories in November’s elections. Then Ibtissam took me through a back alley into a part of town I’d never seen before. There were a herd of goats and sheep munching on trash by a mosque, and Ibtissam laughed at how delighted I was.

“My grandfather has goats and sheep and chickens on his farm,” she told me.

“Mine… does not,” I responded while making clucking noises at the lambs to get its attention.

She pointed out a bunch of buildings I didn’t know Kalaa had and showed me where other buildings were. I now know where the hospital is, not that I’m sure I could find my way back, and the Moroccan equivalent of the DMV. I now know that we have an art exhibit across the street from the old medina and that there are dormitories for kids from the countryside who attend middle and high school in Kalaa.

Ibtissam was right – it was a lot more useful than the community maps my students drew.

Banana Man
Doors In Morocco PJD
Little Lambs Eat Ivy
Top: Fruit sellers at a small souq (market) in the medina; Middle: Continuing with my theme of Doors in Morocco, the back door to a mosque in the medina (left), Party sign of the PJD. A lot of walls in Morocco have a designated area for political messages and graffiti (right); Bottom: A real life Twitter conversation about lambs in my site. @til_midnight: Walked past lambs frolicking in a field on my way home. Frolicking. Lambs. @bethyafarrell: did you remind them of their future 3id kbir fate?! @til_midnight: It's good to know people will be able to eat sheep face for many l3ids to come.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Your Father's Wife

Today's English lesson was about families, which went pretty well. I showed the class pictures of my family, including my sister who was wearing an immodestly short skirt (I could see her KNEES, the horrors, the vapors), but I still introduced her as my sister and not that harlot from next door who likes to photobomb family portraits.

Oh, and then there was this conversation, which it completely legit and only edited to translate it into English:

KADIJA: How do I say my father's wife.
ME: Your mother.
KADIJA: No. My father's wife.
ME: ... Your aunt?
KADIJA: No. *says a word in Darija I don't know*
A DIFFERENT STUDENT: Not her mother, her father's other wife.
ME: Her father's other wife...? Oooh, right, the whole polygamy thing. How many wives does your father have?
ME: Well, I can honestly say this is a linguistic situation I've never encountered before.

I went with stepmother, although that implies divorce, not polygamy. What is the correct term for your father's polygamist second wife?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I was kidnapped for tea (and by tea, I mean an afternoon tea, not just the drink) on my way home today. As I was walking up the stairs to my apartment, my downstairs neighbor rushed out of her apartment, grabbed my hand and pulled me into her apartment. “Come in! You’re welcome in my house! Come and sit. Drink some tea!” she told me as she drug me into the salon, barely giving me enough time to toe my shoes off. Moroccans are incredible hospitable and they love to eat, so the only surprise was that it took my neighbors a week to catch me.

They had just had tea and there were already two types of bread, a plate of cookies and a plate of msemen on the table, but the mother and eldest daughter immediately went about brewing a fresh pot of tea and bringing out a plate of cake wedges, something that tasted like friend wontons, cheese and oil for the bread. Then we sat in the salon and watched TV while I had tea. The wife watched me like a hawk and every time I stopped eating, whether it was because I was drinking the tea or because I WAS CHEWING THE FOOD ALREADY IN MY MOUTH, she would urge me to eat more. “Kuli, kuli!,” she demanded. Eat, eat! When I left, she told me that whenever I was hungry, just come downstairs and she would feed me.

It was incredible kind, and I always appreciate a free meal, especially since my kitchen it still distinctly non-functional (tomorrow, I will buy a frying pan!), and there are certainly greater trails in life than being fed hot fry bread with cheese (seriously, msemen is so. good), but captive hospitality (to steal a phrase from a fellow PCV) can be exhausting. It’s not that I don’t want to get to know my downstairs neighbors who, except for their occasional habit of deadbolting me out of the building in the evenings, have been good neighbors, but between my downstairs neighbors and my host family, who lives next door, I’m almost guaranteed an invitation to socialize every time I leave my house, and unlike in the US, there’s no real way to get out of it. I was lucky today was a holiday (Happy Moroccan Independence Day!) and I didn’t have work, although, come to think about it, in Morocco, “I was invited to tea at the neighbors” might be a legitimate excuse for being an hour late to work.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Year End Meme

2011 - the year I failed at being punctual!

2011 | 2012

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?
Joined the Peace Corps! Visited Africa! Lived with a host family.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
My 2011 goals were 1) lose weight/be healthier, 2) Travel more, 3) Be more fiscally responsible and 4) Blog/write more. 1) A resounding yes. 2) Also a resounding yes. I was basically a professional nomad this year. 3) Not so much. I wouldn’t say I spent that irresponsible, but there was a lot of travel and Peace Corps related purchases, and I was either unemployed or working a minimum wage job for most of the year. 4) Haaaaaaa, that would be a no.

My goals for 2012 are 1) continue to lose weight/be healthier, 2) Travel, especially around Morocco, 3) Become fluent in Darija and 4) Take photos, blog, write, be more active in documenting my life, 5) Keep my apartment clean and organized the majority of the time.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My friend Blair had an adorable little girl. She’s the first of my college friends to start procreating, which means I might be approaching becoming an adult.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, lHamdullah!

5. What countries did you visit?
Bzeef! I lived on three continents this year (Asia, North America and Africa) and travelled a ton. I started the year living in Korea, and spent a week playing tourist in Seoul with Pru in January. In March I moved back to the US and went to Chapel Hill to see two friends from high school get married. In April, I went to Costa Rica to see Sarah and some monkeys and then to Mexico to work in an orphanage with my parent’s church’s mission trip. In May, I went to Washington DC for a week to see Riah before she left for Tanzania. In July, I went to Mexico for a long weekend. In August, I visited Blacksburg, VA to see Amber before I left for Morocco. In September, I went back to Chapel Hill to see friends and then to Charleston for Labor Day with my family. Then I moved to Morocco and have visited Fes and Marrakech (in addition to the two towns where I’ve lived).

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
I spent a lot of 2010 waiting. Waiting for any news from the Peace Corps, and then waiting to leave. I was unemployed for a few months and then picked up minimum wage job working at a summer camp while I waited, which isn’t exactly what I thought I would be doing when I was 26. I feel like most of 2010 was spent in transition: I quit my job in February, didn’t swear in as a PCV until November and after February 28th, didn't live alone for the entire year. In 2011, I want to be doing things, not waiting for them to start.

7. What date from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
June 15th: the day I got my Peace Corps invitation
September 14th: the day I arrived in Morocco
November 17th: the day I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Either getting into the Peace Corps or not going crazy while waiting to get into the Peace Corps.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Hmm, not sure. Maybe learning Darija. I’m actually doing pretty well, considering that 4 months ago I knew nothing and can now carry on conversations, but I also could have studied more, both at home and now that I’m in Kalaa, and I wasn’t satisfied with my LPI score.

Also, I didn’t always handle stress as well as I could, and ended up saying things I regretted later.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yes. I’ve been suffering from an unknown wasting illness (probably a parasite) for the past three months. I’m on meds now, so hopefully I’ll start feeling better soon.

Camera!11. What was the best thing you bought?
My lovely DSLR camera!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
The New York State Legislature for legalizing same-sex marriage. I'm pretty proud of everyone in my staj.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I was certainly frustrated by people in Peace Corp's bureaucracy, but I don't know if I would say they made me appalled and depressed. Well, maybe depressed. I avoided paying attention to the Republican primary for a reason.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Travel (see question #5) and buying things (including pretty much an entirely new wardrobe) for the Peace Corps.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Joining the Peace Corps! Guys, I have wanted this for so long, and for a while this year, I really didn’t think it was going to happen, so that fact that I’m writing this in Morocco, and that this is real and actually happening fills me with so much joy and excitement.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?
Right Now – Psy, Furr - Blitzen Trapper, Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise - The Avett Brothers, Schizophrenia – Jukebox the Ghost

The theme song to Secret Garden will always remind me of my last few months in Korea. And also the lolz.

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

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Writing – much of this year went undocumented and I regret that. Studying – I have an entire new language to learn

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Worrying over things out of my control and wasting time, like always.

20. How will you be spending Christmas/New Year's Eve?
Christmas was spent in Marrakech with Lucia, Mike, Sarah, Bryant, Kim, Sairah and Shannon. We stayed in a beautiful riad in the medina, went to a French Catholic mass (I didn’t understand anything, and when we tried to sneak out early, we got stuck line for a communion station, whoops), and went back to our hotel and sat on the roof and ate cheese and smoked hookah and drank and talked. I called home on Christmas Day and watched my siblings open presents via Skype, then went wandering through the medina with friends and bought scarves.

New Year’s was low key, since I was pretty sick and asleep by midnight. One of these years, I’m actually going to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

21. What was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in 2011?
No idea, although that has more to do with me having low standards than me not doing embarrassing things.

22. Did you fall in love in 2011?

23. How many one-night stands?

24. What were your favorite TV programs?
2011 – the year I got hooked on Kdramas

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Hate is a strong word, but I definitely dislike a bunch of new people.

26. What was the best book you read?
I read 65 books this year, completing my Goodreads 2011 Reading Challenge at the last possible moment, since book number 65 was finished the morning of the 31st.

My five star (non-reread) books are: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, The Hunger Games (and sequels), The Queen's Thief series, The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time and Gaudy Night.

I also read and really loved: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Snuff, The First Americans: In Pursuit of Archaeology's Greatest Mystery, The Wordy Shipmates and The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.

You can see the complete list (and I’ve written reviews for about half of them) here.

Like always, my list is heavy on non-fiction (mostly history and science) and YA fantasy. Next year, I want to branch out and read more adult fiction and literary fiction.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Jukebox the Ghost and The Avett Brothers

28. What did you want and get?
I wanted to join the Peace Corps! I also wanted a nicer camera.

29. What did you want and not get?
As much as I love Morocco and now think things worked out for the best, I spent a lot of this year wishing I had made my original Peace Corps nomination in June and didn’t spend most of the year waiting to leave.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
Lord, what movies did I watch this year? Probably Deathly Hollows: Part II, although I enjoyed X-Men: First Class a lot and though Bad Teacher was hilarious.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 26. I celebrated my birthday with friends the weekend before. Riah and I went to the Seoul Museum of History to look at the dioramas and then went on an epic glasses spending spree in the underground market at Myeongdong. Then I headed south of the river have dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant in Seoul with Siobhain, Caroline and Audrey.

On my actual birthday, Pru was visiting from London. We went to Gyeongbokgung, tromped around Insadong and had tea at a tiny little teahouse in a back alley that was filled with more plants than I thought could survive a Korean winter. Then we went back to my house, ate mac & cheese and candy, finished off a bottle of vodka and watched Secret Garden.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Does anything else think that a lot of these questions repeat themselves? I spent most of this year waiting for something to happen, which was stressful and depressing (and expensive). However, I’m happy with the way things turned out, so I wouldn’t change anything.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Can I answer no to a non-yes-or-no question? No actually, I have an answer. Head scarves. While I don’t technically have to cover my head in Kalaa, most women do and I do feel a bit more comfortable when my hair is covered. Plus, let’s be honest, right now, I’m washing my hair about once a week, so it’s usually a grease slick and a brightly covered scarf is much nicer to look at.

In this picture, my hair is wrapped because it's wet, not because it's dirty In this picture, my hair is wrapped because it's wet, not because it's dirty

34. What kept you sane?
My iPod, as always. Sarah and Riah did a lot to help keep my crazy under control while I was waiting to hear from the Peace Corps. Sam made work bearable this summer. My mother listened to my crazy ramblings and fears and doubts and I will always be grateful. I dealt with the stress of moving to Kalaa by listening to all the old episodes of Pop Culture Happy Hour in about two weeks.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Andrew Garfield, Nathan Fillion

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
The death of Kim Jong-il. The Arab Spring, although not until I was invited to Morocco. The Republican primary is the issue that I tried the most to avoid paying attention to.

37. Who did you miss?
My friends from Korea (Riah, Siobhain, Marie, Audrey, Caroline), friends from home (Blair, Amber, Erin, Sarah) and my family. The downside to being this nomadic is that I leave a lot of people behind.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
The people in my staj, especially my CBT sitemates and my current sitemates!

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.
Ugg, probably something about patience and good things coming to those who wait and don’t have hysterical crying fits from stress for a solid month, but I’m not sure I actually learned that last part.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

Decide what to be and go be it - Head Full Of Doubt, Road Full Of Promise, The Avett Brothers

Thursday, January 5, 2012

f l-mgrib: Month Three

wllf means to adjust, become accustomed to or get used to, and it’s been the watchword of month three. All month long, my host family, my mudir, the mothers of the children at my Dar Šabab, the women at the hamam – everyone - would ask me, “Weš wllfti?” Have you adjusted yet?

Lla mazel,” I tell them. “Šwiya b šwiya, kan-wllf.” Not yet. Little by little, I’m adjusting.

We were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers on November 17th in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. That morning, we visited the Peace Corps offices (which are in a beautiful converted French style villa surrounded by a huge garden) and met the entire staff before being walked to to the Ministry of Youth and Sports (the government agency YD volunteers work with) to be sworn in. The Peace Corps Country Director, Minister of Youth and Sports and the American ambassador to Morocco all spoke, and Sairah, the best Darija speaker in our staj, gave a speech in Arabic. And then we were volunteers and after two months of being coddled by Peace Corps staff, we were on our own.

Swearing In - 11.17.2011
September 2011 YD Staj, just before swearing in

It was up to us to figure out how to get to our sites. I was lucky; I have sitemates, so I was wasn’t alone, and we could take a direct train from Rabat to Ben Guerir, home of my fellow PCVs Kelly and Bryant and only a 35 minute taxi ride away from Kalaa. We were accompanied to Ben Guerir by Bryant’s host brother, who helped us catch the train, walked us to the taxi stand and even negotiated the price of our tickets, but things were a bit more difficult once we arrived in Kalaa. I called my new host sister, Olayya, when we arrived, but the conversation mostly consisted of me saying, “Audi, audi. Smhi li mafhmš.” Repeat that, repeat that. I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Turns out, speaking Arabic on the phone is much more difficult than in person. I eventually understood that Olayya wanted me to take a taxi to one of the local high schools and call her once I got there, but when I was dropped off at the front gates, my phone was out of credit. I was alone on a small, mostly deserted back road at dusk, weighed down with luggage, with no way of reaching the only person who knew where I was.

I considered sitting down on the curb and crying, but that would have gotten my pants all muddy, so my luggage and I walked until I found a hanut that sold recharge credit for my phone. And okay, so the haunt wasn’t far, and thanks to the Peace Corps phone plan that allows me to call staff and other volunteers for free, I wasn’t actually cut off from help, but at the time, the situation was horribly overwhelming.

The first few days at site were similarly difficult and overwhelming, much more so than I thought they would be. My host family, while wonderfully kind people, were little help with the innumerable official things I needed to do to establish myself in Kalaa, and I spent the morning of my first full day in Kalaa wandering around by myself in a futile attempt to find the correct police station to present my residence papers, trying desperately to blink back tears because, dammit, I was not going to be the foreign girl crying on the side of the road. My mudir proved similarly unhelpful and didn’t even show up at the Dar Šabab my first day Kalaa. The accent and some of the vernacular in Kalaa is different from the Fes area, and when I first arrived, I couldn’t understand anything. I spent a lot of my first week in Kalaa on the phone with friends in other sites and going to bed ridiculously early.

And then, slowly, I started to wllf.

I went to the Dar Šabab every night to meet the youth and learn the schedule. I sat in on the music club and the scout meetings and tried to talk to the kids who showed up for clubs or to use the soccer field behind the building. My fourth or fifth day at the Dar Šabab, I was sitting in the auditorium with the music club and one of the members jerked his head in my direction and asked, “Who is she?”

The girls I was sitting next to said, “She’s an American who lives in Kalaa.”

“Does she speak French,” he asked.

“No,” the boys I had been talking to before class told him. “She speaks English and is learning Arabic.”

I coughed to hide my grin. At least the youth at the Dar Šabab are starting to learn who I am.

I’m slowly getting to know people in my community. My first night at the Dar Šabab, Naoel and Hayat, two girls I met at the Dar Šabab (and I use girl lightly, since they’re my age) invited me to their grandmother’s house for dinner, and I spent the evening being force fed dates and harira by a woman who instructed me to call her my black Moroccan grandmother. Hayat and Naoel both speak decent English, their uncle speaks fluent Spanish (and while my Spanish is pretty jacked up, especially after a few months in Morocco, my Spanish comprehension is still pretty high), and for the first time since I arrived in site, I was able to actually have a real conversation and understand people without difficulty.

I’ve started teaching at my Dar Šabab, which is a government run youth center. The government maintains the building and pays for one staff member, but volunteers run most of the programs. Peace Corps warned us that most volunteers don’t have much activity during the first few months in site. In fact, we are encouraged to not commit to too much, because we need time to intergrade with our community and settle down. My mudir, however, had other plans, and as soon as I (finally) met him, he wanted to know how often I could teach.

“Well,” I said, "I suppose to work five days a week, but right now I'm actually pretty busy so maybe in a few weeks...."

“Good, you can teach five classes a week,” he said, and before I knew it, I was teaching pretty much every moment the Dar Šabab was open. Well, I thought to myself, there probably won’t be that many students. Everyone says this is a bad time of year to start an activity. My Dar Šabab, however, is right next to a high school, and thanks to advertising at the high schools, my classes are popular. A little too popular, and I wish I'd had more time to think through what I want my schedule to be, but I’ll have time to rearrange things in the new year, and I’m glad I have enough work and students to keep me busy.

My first Friday in Kalaa, November 25th, was Election Day. On February 20th, as part of the Arab Spring, there were (mostly peaceful) mass demonstrations in Morocco calling for government reform, democratic change and Berber rights. On March 9th, King Mohammed announced “comprehensive constitutional reform” and then on July 1st, a series of constitutional reforms that limited the power of the monarchy were announced. Parliamentary elections were set for November 25th, and for the first time, the King would be forced to choose a Prime Minister from the winning party. (I am obviously simplifying things greatly.)

On Election Day, my host mother and sister invited me to come along when they went to vote. Even though the high school behind their house was a polling place, and several of my host siblings and my host father were assigned to vote there, my host mother and Olayya were assigned to vote at a different school that was much farther away. The polling booth was disorganized; there were six rooms dedicated to voting and each room had a list of residents who were suppose to vote there, but there were no signs to help people figure out which room was the correct room for them to vote in. My host mother and Olayya had to wait in line in each room so they could ask the voting officials if this was the correct room. My host mother found the correct room fairly quickly and voted. She showed her ID, was given a paper ballot, which she took to a table that was hidden by a curtain, made her vote and then dropped the ballot into a locked glass box sitting on the table with the voting officials. Olayya, however, wasn’t able to find the correct room. She talked to the officials in each room – twice – but there no one had a record of her and eventually she gave up and we left without her getting to vote. However, despite the occasional screw-ups, the election was widely considered to be a success and it’s heartening to see at least one Arab country making change without widespread violence or destabilization.

My new host family is big, which is good because I like families. This is Zainab, my almost two year old host niece who is over at our house almost every day. She is a adorable, and was a great ice breaker when I first arrived, because you don't need a common language to play with a toddler.

Moroccan Wedding
My neighbors were married a few weeks ago, and while I slept through the actual wedding, I went to the moving-in ceremony the next day. While the wedding guests and neighbors helped the new couple move the cartloads of presents into their new house, a band played music and other guests danced outside of the building. The nafir player especially was a character.