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.