Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pros & Cons

Pro: The heat has finally (finally) broken. It's officially no longer hot.
Con: This means that the long winter of struggling to type because my fingers have gone numb has begun.
Pro: The lack of heat means that the flies have disappeared and I no longer run the risk of smacking myself in the face trying to swat bugs away from me.
Con: I found four (!!) inch long bugs with giant (relative to their body size so, in fact, not actually giant at all) pinchers on my clothes when I took them off the clothesline.
Pro: They definitely weren't scorpions.
Con: They were on my underwear.
Pro: They were easy to kill and I found them before I put said underwear on.
Con: I can't even begin to describe how much I don't want to have to call the PC doctors if I get bitten (pinched?). They will ask for pictures and even if it's for medical purposes, I try to avoid emailing pictures of my lady bits to people.
Pro: Did I mention the part where I can walk places and not end up a sweaty mess by the time I get there?
Con: It's uncomfortably cold at night.
Pro: I do love sleeping curled up under blankets.
Con: But it's cooooold.
Pro: At least it's not hot.
Con: By cold, I mean it was 90° (32° C). And okay, that's like 50° cooler than it was in August, but it's 90° and I've been wearing a sweatshirt all day.
Pro: It won't get colder than ~70° (~20°) this winter.
Con: I won't be in Morocco this winter, so really, my countdown to going home (22 days!) is also a countdown to my death, since I'm going to step out of the airport and most likely immediately die from the cold.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

way more complicated than it needed to be

I was diagnosed with asthma back in February.  I blame Morocco's constant dust storms and the heat, but I blame most things on the heat.  I caught the plague while on vacation (I was in Florence, there was no chance I was calling it anything else), was horribly sick for two weeks and then never quite bounced back and never stopped coughing.  After five months (and friends threatening to call the doctors for me), I finally called the doctors, got to spend a few days in the capital and an inhaler, which cleared up the cough in a matter of days, and that was that.  I used the inhaler every day for a couple of months, but after a while, I started forgetting and when the cough didn’t reappear, I put the inhaler away and hoped that I was better, at least until the next time I got the death plague.

This summer, however, the dust storms were terrible, and between the lack of humidity (hovering around 15%) and the temperature (hovering around the high 130s/high 50s), the air was just painful to breath, and when I started coughing again, I wasn't surprised.   I unearthed the inhaler, but instead of clearing up, the cough kept getting worse.  It was just a dry, shallow little cough, nothing painful or distracting, but it felt like there was something in my lungs and it wouldn’t go away and I had been firmly instructed to call the damn doctor if I coughed for more than two weeks.  Finally, I was trying to sing to the kids at the orphanage and realized I was too out of breath to get through a verse.  That’s when I called the PCMOs (Peace Corps doctors, because it's not the federal government if we're not constantly using acronyms).  

The PCMOs upped the dosage of my inhaler, prescribed a steroid and told me to call them in the morning.  I ventured out to the pharmacy, but the one down the street from my house was closed, as was the one further down the street.  I ended up walking clear across town (and it’s not a small town), past eight pharmacies, but every one was closed and each one had an identical piece of paper taped to the doors. It was written in Fusha and I only speak Darija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic), so I have no idea what it said, but I assume it was Fuck You, Sick People.

Fun story, the only other time I've been sick enough to need to go to the pharmacy, they were also all closed.

I called PCMOs back with the news and we discussed me making a trip to Marrakesh (the nearest town) for the medicine, but Kesh is an hour and a half away and it was too late in the day for me to make the round trip, plus due a screw up at the bank, I don’t have a working bank card and was going to be hard pressed to buy the medicine and make it to Rabat for training next week without throwing in a round trip to Marrakesh.  They decided to give it a day for the cough to improve with the inhaler, and when that didn’t work, told me to head for Rabat early.

My site to Rabat is a fairly easy trip (grand taxi to the next town over and from there a train straight to the capital) and it’s a trip I’ve made often, since Peace Corps is based there.  I’ve down it countless times without a problem, but this time, not so much.

I left my house around 8:00, walked to the taxi stand and caught a taxi to Ben Guerir. The woman sitting next to me said she was going to Casablanca, I said I was going to Rabat, we talked about the weather (hot) and when we got to Ben Gurrir about 20 minutes before the train left, which was not quite enough time to walk to the train station, she suggested we share a taxi. Instead of hailing one of the small taxis, though, she tried to get a grand taxi.  Grand taxi’s have set routes, usually only travel between towns and also, don’t leave until all six spots are full, so I double-checked with the taxi driver to make sure we were going to the train station.  The taxi finally filled up six minutes before the train was suppose to leave, but trains are usually late here, so I was hopeful.  We sped down the road towards the train station, and then we sped right on past the train station and out of town.

"Wait," I said. "That's the train station. I need to go there."

The driver kept on driving and said they were going somewhere else, somewhere I'd never heard of.

"But I need to catch a train," I protested.

He kept driving and I told him to stop and let me out.  There was no hope of catching my original train, but we were only ten minutes outside of town by car and I could walk back to town and catch the next train. The taxi driver kept driving and the other passengers assure me that once we reach our destination, I could catch another taxi to take me to the next train station.  I pouted for a little bit (I mean, I was essentially forcibly taken to an unknown place against my will and also, probably going to miss my doctor's appointment, I think being a little out of shape is allowed) (I should preface this by saying at no point did I feel unsafe; the taxi was full of sweet old ladies who were patting my leg and calling me a poor thing, and I truly think this was do to a misunderstand, although I'm not sure how, because I know I can say “take me to the train station” correctly).

We got to our destination thirty minutes later; a tiny town that was more of an intersection than an actual town. My fellow passengers offer to get me a taxi, but since I wasn't sure I would be able to catch up to the train, I opted for a bus.  They led me to the appropriate patch of dirt by a dude selling grapes to wait for the bus. Eventually a bus to Casablanca passed through, and I decided that I would rather deal with the Casablanca bus station than standing in the sun on the side of a road, being stared at.  (I'm 100% positive I'm the first foreigner to ever show up there and all the attention was a bit uncomfortable.)  I took the bus to Casablanca, transferred to a bus to Rabat and made it with just enough time to still see the doctor.  They gave me the appropriate medicine and my cough cleared up almost immediately.

This was way more complicated that it needed to be.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Two Years

September 2011 YD Staj
PC Morocco, September 2011 Staj @ COS Conference
Peace Corps Morocco, September ‘11 YD Staj PST (October, 2011) → COS Conference (September, 2013)
Two years in country today. We made it.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

coming clean

One of the side effects to the spate of break-ins this spring was that there were a lot people in my house.  Obviously, that's implied in the name of the crime, but not just the thief.  My host family, neighbors and the police also spent a lot of time in my house, which was... messy.  Yeah, let's go with messy.  It sounds better than shitstorm.

I am not naturally a tidy or organized person.  I like living in a clean space, but actually cleaning is really boring and there are all sorts of storage issues in my apartment (mainly, there's not any) and yeah, basically, the only times my apartment has been properly clean since I moved in a year and half ago has been when I've had someone spending the night, and even then, I tend to toss all the random crap from my living room into my bedroom and shut the door, so my bedroom is always especially messy. 

After the first break-in, when it took me forever to determine what had been taken since I couldn’t tell if something was missing or just lost in the clutter, I started (slowly) unfucking my habitat, one room at the time.  (I spent the week before the second break-in taking everything out of my kitchen and scrubbing all the things.  Progress was being made!)  It's not like I can't take care of my house; I just don't, and normally I don't really care, but it was a bit embarrassing when all of a sudden, my trashed-out house was full of Moroccan housewives judging me.

The evening after the second break-in, my downstairs neighbors came to check on me and said she would come over the next day to move some furniture.  Or something.  I don’t know, it was in Arabic and it was late, which isn’t a great combination for comprehension.

The next afternoon, she knocked on my door and asked, “Do you have a rag to scrub the floor with?" as soon as I opened the door.

"Um, I have a squeegee?" I told her. 

She sent her son to go find a rag and the appropriate buckets (mine weren't the right size?), and told me she was going to clean my bedroom.

"That's okay," I assured her.  "You really don't have to," I said, but she didn't listen, and over the next two hours, her son, one of her daughters and she picked up all the crap in my bedroom (which involved her eleven year old son holding a bunch of my dirty underwear *facepalm*), threw away all the trash (which involved me running after them saying, “No wait, that’s not trash.”), removed the rug so she could scrub the floor by hand (which I have never done and, let’s be honest, will never do) and rearranged the furniture (I'm not sure why).  Then she took all the furniture out of my living room so she could mop that floor.  (I'd like to point out that my living room was actually clean.  Okay, so I had thrown most of the junk into my bedroom.  And I hadn’t mopped it in ages, but it was clean, dammit.)  Then she moved on to the kitchen, which as previously mentioned, actually was clean.  (Also, there were a half dozen liquor bottles hidden in the corner by my dishes and I REALLY couldn't let her see those, so as she mopped my kitchen floor, I wedged myself in the corner and bodily blocked my shame.)

Three hours later, my apartment had been cleaned from floor the ceiling.  It was simultaneously incredible kind because the mess, especially the bedroom, was overwhelming, but also incredible embarrassing because she was, in the kindest way possible, judging the hell out of me.  I had to keep excusing myself to another room so I could claw at my hair and wish I could call someone to flail at. 

I spent the next two weeks going through my now clean apartment and actually organizing everything.  I threw away a bunch more stuff, shoved even more stuff in my suitcase to deal with when I leave and finally hung up some artwork (okay, cut-up calendars) in my bedroom.  I also tackled (and conquered) the absolute mountain of dirty laundry (and when you have to wash it by hand in a bucket with a washboard, laundry takes a bit longer), and by the end of June, my apartment was well and truly clean for the first time possible ever.

That was two months ago (almost three, if you count from the original cleaning date) and my apartment is still clean.  I mean, I haven’t mopped the floors and I’ve only washed my sheets once, so it isn’t clean by my neighbor’s standards, but I wake up every morning to a clean kitchen, a clutter free living room and I sweep my floors every other day (thank you, dust storms), which is pretty damn spotless by my standards.

Maybe I’m finally maturing?

Anyways, now that I no longer have to ashamed of people seeing my apartment, here's a tour of my house.

The video’s actually from the end of June (I’ve been meaning to make this post for a while).  Since then, I’ve bought a fan and my wall of cards has turned the corner and is marching towards the next window.

Monday, August 5, 2013


I was at the orphanage the other day, like I am most afternoons, when Troll Baby projectile vomited all over me.  It was actually really impressive that a child that small could throw up that much; it was a regular Old Faithful of formula milk.  (Troll Baby, who has only existed in this world for 13 days, has thrown up on me roughly half of those.  I think he doesn't like his nickname.  Don't worry, baby, you'll grow into your face someday.)  Anyway, I mopped up Troll Baby's little face, then went to the bathroom to clean myself.  My skirt was pretty light and filmy and would dry fast, but my shirt was drenched in regurgitated formula, so I just took it off, scrubbed it in the sink, and one of the caretakers hung it on the roof to dry.  It was 118 degrees that afternoon, which is awful on so many levels, but it does mean that laundry dries very quickly.  I had worn a cardigan to work over my T-shirt (no short sleeves in site, so I end up wearing a lot of T-shirts with lightweight cardigans that I can take off once I'm no longer outside), but it was hot, so I didn't bother to button it up.  Hey, we were all ladies or boys under the age of four; I wasn't too worried about spending an hour or so topless so long as I could avoid Troll Baby barfing in my bra.  (My life is so glamorous.)

ANYWAYS, my shirt dried quickly (thank you extreme heat and total lack of humidity), but when Bouchra brought it back to me, Abdellatif was sitting in my lap and I didn't want to to move him just to put my shirt back on, so I tossed in on the counter and waited.  It's not like anyone ever visits, right?  Wrong.  Around 6:00, right when the evening caretaker usually arrives, there was a knocking on the door, but instead of being Faiza, it was a woman I had never met before and her thirteen year old son.  And there I am, sitting on the ground, topless.  Oh, and did I mention it's the middle of Ramadan.  It's not as bad as it could have been - I was wearing a cardigan, it just wasn't bottomed, so at least my shoulders and arms were covered, and the four year old on my lap was hiding my front.  I clutched Abdellatif to my chested to hide my state of dress and hissed <i>sit</i> in his ear when he started to squirm.  Luckily, mother and son weren't there long and they left without noticing, or at least commenting, on my state of dress.  So yeah, the story of the time I was caught topless by a teenage boy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

[police and thieves in the streets // oh yeah!]

So, a couple of months ago, back in May, I noticed that I was running through money at an alarming rate.  I couldn't remember making any big purchases or spending out of the ordinary, and honestly, there’s just not that much to buy in my town, but every time I checked my wallet, I had less money than I thought I should.  A few days before for Marché Maroc, I took out 600 dhs (~$70) to pay for transportation and the hotel, only to find that I had less than 100 dhs (not even enough to get me to Rabat) the day before I left.  Despite everything, though, I chalked it up to human error.  My budgeting can best be described as spending money in my wallet until I don't have anymore, and then going to the bank and getting more.  As long as I’m in site, I would be hard pressed to spend my entire living allowance in a month (I can easily feed myself for an entire week on $10, and that’s with buying cheese, which is by far the most expensive part of my diet) which means I usually have a little extra money in the bank and I don’t really have to watch what I’m spending, and I just assumed that spending blindly had caught up to me.  Plus, the only other option was that I was being robbed and the only place I leave my purse unattended is my host family's house and just... no.  I didn't even want to contemplate that.

I had a great time at Marché Maroc and bought so many cute things and ate out at many of Rabat's fine restaurants and spent my weekly souq budget on Dr. Peppers (I regret nothing!) and came back to site with zero monies.  In fact, I so broke that I had to have Peace Corp reimburse me while I was in Rabat instead of including it in my next paycheck, which meant that I knew EXACTLY how much money was in my wallet because, for the first time since I got to Peace Corps, I was going to be pushing it to make it through the rest of the month.  Once back at site, though, the money continued to slowly disappear, expect this time, I was taking notes on what I was spending and I knew down to the last dirham how much money was in my wallet.

At the time, I suspected my host family might be stealing it.  I visit often, and I usually just dump my purse in the salon and then wander into the bedroom or kitchen or wherever people are.  I keep closer track of my belongings when I’m other places, but this is my host family.  I lived with them for a month and a half.  I trust them.  I noticed money disappearing twice that week, the first time  200 dhs that I noticed the day after having lunch with them, and then another 100 dhs that I noticed immediately after Couscous Friday.  Despite the fact that I knew the money was being stolen and it looked pretty damming, I was still hesitant about saying anything because I didn't want to ruin my relationship with my host family.  I was sure that one of them was the thief, it was only one person, not a family-wide conspiracy (my sitemate and I spent a solid half hour trying to exonerate various family member based on who had the opportunity be alone with my purse), and I didn't know how to have that discussion with them without it overshadowing our relationship for the rest of my time here.  I spent Friday afternoon dithering over what to do, and finally decided that on Monday, I would call Peace Corps and ask for advice about how to politely accuse my host family of theft.  Man, am I ever glad I waited.

On Saturday evening, I stopped at the hanut for eggs and milk on my way home from work.  Sunday morning, I woke up, stumbled into the living room and noticed that my backpack was lying on the ponj in front of my computer.  Huh, I thought.  That's weird, I don't remember leaving this on the ponj yesterday night.  In fact, I don’t remember doing anything with this yesterday night.  I moved it so I could sit down and found my wallet lying on the ponj underneath it.  Um, I thought to myself.  I REALLY don't remember taking my wallet out of my purse last night.  I looked for my purse, which was on the ground, halfway between my door and the ponj, with half the contents strewn across the floor.  Oh shit, I thought.  I really don't remember doing that.  I frantically checked my wallet, which was devoid of all cash, even the little useless centimes, and the front clasp on the front was broken.

"Well, shit," I said, out loud this time, because I knew there had been money in my wallet when I got home the night before and now there was none, which meant that while it wasn’t my host family robbing me, someone else was, and they were doing it by breaking into my house while I was asleep, which isn’t actually any better.

I spent a frantic few minutes trying to discover what else was missing.  Computer, present.  Camera, on the floor next to my table.  iPod, next to my bed.  Then I checked my rent money, which I keep in an envelope in my backpack, the very backpack that first tipped me off that something was wrong.  My landlord lives in Italy and I pay my rent ever few months when he comes back, which means I often have several months rent in my house at one time.  I used to keep the money in the bank until it was time to pay rent, but it’s not like I get any notice when my landlord is coming to town and I can only take out two months rent from the ATM a day, so it was just easier if I kept the money in my house.  I should have had two months rent in the envelope, but when I checked, half of it was missing.

I spent the first few hours pacing around my apartment, trying to think of some other possible explanation and hoping that maybe I would wake up and this would all be a terrible dream, but no such luck, and finally I called Peace Corps to report the break-in.  After determining that I hadn’t been physically harmed, they told me our Safety & Security person would call me back during business hours on Monday, and I settled down for an uneasy evening.

The thing is, I'm not sure how the thief got into my apartment.  There are two doors in my house: the front door and the door to the roof.  When I checked my front door, it was still locked, and while I normally sleep with the roof door open for ventilation, it had been unseasonable cold the night before and I had shut it, which meant dead bolting it from the inside.  The kitchen and bathroom windows were both open, but I live on the fourth floor and coming through a window would have meant repelling off the roof, which seemed unlikely.  Not knowing how the thief broke in made my anxiety worse, because it meant that I didn’t know how to stop them from breaking in again that night.  I locked every possible entrance to my apartment that night and curled up for a restless night’s sleep with my washboard and butcher knife next to my bed, just in case.

I talked to Peace Corp’s Safety & Security officer the next day and she told me to file a police report and change the lock on my front door.  I went to visit my (thankfully non-felonious) host family and explained to my host mother what had happened.  My host mom is a wonderful, wonderful woman who very much sees me at her ninth child, and while that can be a little overbearing and smothering at times, it was exactly what I needed right then.  She inspected the scene of the crime (her theory was that the thief had come through my kitchen window, since there is a grate below it that the thief could have stood on while boosting himself through the window), talked to my neighbors (who had been at a funeral in the countryside all weekend and could thankfully be eliminated as suspects) and then marched off to talk to the neighborhood sheikh and find the proper authorities to report this to, all the while muttering haram, haram under her breath and holding my hand.  I had spent the night trying not to think about what could have happened if the thief hadn’t just been after money and was a bit shaky and overwhelmed and having someone else, someone who spoke Arabic, take over was exactly what I wanted.  All I had to do was answer her questions and I can almost always understand my host mom. 

The sheikh took us to the local police station so I could officially report the theft.  At first the police were solicitous and worried – a few guys even came to my house to dust for fingerprints and take photos of the crime scene, which wasn’t much of a crime scene thanks to the intervening day between the break-in and me filing a police report) – but once they realized that the thief had only taken money and there was no obvious means of entrance, things went poorly.  They clearly thought that I was lying since no one would pass over the opportunity to grab my electronics, which were worth considerable more than the cash that was taken.  (I’m not imaging things; the head office directly told me, "I think you're lying.  No one was here."  All I think is that it means that the thief was smart enough to realize that money can't be tracked, my MacBook Pro is pretty unique in this town and they have enough self-restraint to not grab everything in sight, which most likely means it's an adult and not a children, which DOESN'T MAKE ME FEEL ANY BETTER.)

And that was that.  The head officer told me, repeatedly, to not be afraid until I lost my temper, rounded on him and snarled, “Excuse me, a strange man broke into my bedroom while I was asleep, how DARE you tell me how I should be feeling.”  He left, clearly regretting his decision to take English in school and ended up on crazy foreigner duty.  My host mother left to threaten everyone she knew in the neighborhood about my safety (at least someone believed me) and I sat down and cried because I knew the police weren’t going to do anything and a thief who had broken into my house at least four times was still out there.  It wasn’t my best day.

I spent the next week a bit freaked out.  It’s a lot harder to sleep when you know there really are things that go bump in the night and I couldn’t even tell my parents what had happened because one of us had to be calm for that conversation and, at least for the first few days, it wasn’t going to me, but I didn’t have any further problems and I was hopefully that my host mother rousing the neighborhood’s sympathy (so many people stopped me to ask if I was okay) and a visit from the police would be enough to deter the thief and I could get on with my life.  My friend Bethany also visited for the weekend, and having another person in the house made me feel safer and distracted me.  The weekend was hot and we even opened the roof door while we slept without any issue.  By the time Bethany left, I was feeling much better and while I meant to keep my apartment locked up, when I woke up in the middle of the night because of the heat, I didn’t hesitate to opened my roof door and bedroom window.

The next day, I checked my wallet as I was on my way out the door for work, and discovered that all the cash was gone, again.

Which, fuck.

I went to talk to my host mother again, who sat down and had a pow-wow with my downstairs neighbor.  They wanted me to go to the police.  I refused; I just didn’t feel like I could handle being told I was lying again without some support.  My host mom wanted me to move, but the only apartment open in the neighborhood was in the same building as my host family and I decided that was just a little too close for comfort.  Also, it's pretty obvious that the thief is watching my house, and he would see me move (plus, he's undoubtedly someone in the neighborhood and if I moved, there would be plenty of talk, including, I’m sure, discussion about where I was moving to) and if he did decide to follow me to my new apartment, I would be all alone without neighbors who would be looking out for me.  Plus, I was angry.  I hadn’t done anything wrong; why should I have to move, pay more for a new apartment (I had just helped my sitemate find an apartment; I knew exactly how much the average rent was and it was considerable more than what I was paying) and start over in a new neighborhood where I would be stared at and followed and harassed every time I went outside?

I called Peace Corps back, but they weren’t super helpful.  I explained why I didn’t want to go to the police, and while they were understanding and assured me that they believed me, they also didn’t offer to come and help me deal with my police. They suggested that I talk to my landlord about getting bars for my window on his next trip back, but that was it.  Nothing was being done about the fact that this guy, whoever he is, is still out there and was still viewing me as a convenient neighborhood ATM.  At least this time, I was too pissed off to be scared.

That was early June, and I haven’t had any issues since then.  Two of my windows have bars and I keep them open at night, but I’ve been paranoid about keeping everything else shut when I’m asleep.  I bought a fan to help with the heat – I just can’t sleep outside anymore – and while my electric bill is horrific, at least I’m more or less comfortable at night.  I keep waking up the middle of the night to double check that all the windows are shut, I jump at the least sound at night and I’ve woken up a few times, convinced I’m going to see a dark shape looming over me.  The worst part of my day is checking my wallet every morning to see if my privacy has been invaded while I was asleep again.  Every time someone is misplaced in my apartment, I'm convinced it's been stolen, and I hate that that’s my default reaction now.  (When I got back from summer camp, I couldn’t find my paring knife and I found some seeds under my sink, and while I'm aware that breaking into my tightly locked house to steal a kitchen knife and leave behind part of his snack is an incredible dumb theory and it’s far more likely that I simply misplaced the knife while doing the dishes, I can't quite convince myself that someone wasn't in my house while I was gone and worrying over it like it’s a sore tooth.  I also still can't find that damn knife, and it’s really inconvenient.  Of course, I also spent two days convinced that some of my Tupperware was stolen, only to find it full of cucumber yogurt in my fridge, so this isn’t exactly a rational response.)  Word has spread around Peace Corps and someone at camp turned to me at breakfast and said, "Oh, so you're the girl who had her house broken into while she was asleep." 

So yeah, that's been my fun brush with home invasion.  I’ve learned the difference between burglary, theft and robbery and all sorts of new Arabic vocabulary that I wish I didn’t need and have an inherent distrust of people’s willingness to help if I’m not being physically attacked.  Overall, I had almost an entire month’s living allowance stolen and thanks to having to make up the missing rent money, I had no money for the past two months.  It’s been a blast.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Marché Maroc, 2013

Marché MarocMarché Maroc is an artisan craft fair that was started by Small Business Development (SBD) Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in Morocco in 2009. SBD volunteers are often assigned to work with artisans in small, rural villages who have few opportunities to sell their work, and Marché Maroc was created to provide an opportunity for artisans to sell their products directly to the consumers and cut out the middleman. It's been a mainstay of Peace Corps Morocco for the past four years (I went to the one in Marrakesh last January), but Peace Corps has phased out the SBD program, and the last SBD volunteers left in November. However, instead of letting Marché Maroc end, the artisans who had worked with SBD volunteers and attended the original marchés formed their own association in hopes of continuing Marché Maroc, and the first artisan-run Marché Maroc was held last weekend in Rabat. Yay, sustainable development!

Marché Maroc, 2013
There's still some Peace Corps presence. My friend Carrie, who was originally invited as a SBD volunteer and attended Marché Maroc with the artisans in her site, has been working with the association to help organize and promote the fair, and she arranged for twelve PCVs to come and help out. We were originally there as translators, but the fair was at the American Club in Rabat and largely attended by ex-pats living in Morocco, most of whom could speak either French or Arabic, so we ended up helping to sell goods and explain Marché Maroc's mission. (And sadly watch other people shop at the commissary and buy precious, precious American food and booze. And drink Dr. Pepper.)

Marché Maroc, 2013
The fair went really well. Both days had good attendance both days, all the artisans made a profit and the association is already planning for the next fair. Marché Maroc was full of other Peace Corps success stories too. Several of the artisans are also involved with Anou, an online e-commerce platform designed by another Morocco SBD volunteer to let Moroccan artisans independently sell their artwork. Think Etsy for developing nations.

Marché Maroc, 2013
One of the top sellers on both Anou and at Marché Maroc were the jellaba bead jewelry from the Khenifra Woman's Cooperative. The jellaba bead, or l3qad, are small buttons that are stung together and used to embellish jellabas, a traditional Moroccan outfit. A PCV in Sefrou teamed up with a Moroccan artisan named Amina to make jewelry out of the beads. There's a segment about it in the You Can Dream documentary. The former PCV in Khenifra helped a group of twenty women form an association to make and sell jellaba bead necklaces and earring, and they're now a mainstay at craft fairs around Morocco. Each item is labeled with the name of the artisan who made it, and while only one member of the association was at Marché Maroc, I watched Fatima diligently mark down who made each piece of jewelry that was sold so that each artisan would get their profit. Many of the women support their families with the profits from these sales.

Marché Maroc, 2013
Marché Maroc, 2013
We talk a lot about sustainability in Peace Corps. Peace Corps is a two year commitment, which really isn't that long in the grand scheme of things, and once we leave, what will be left to show of our time here? Marché Maroc was full of stories of sustainability. The SBD volunteers who worked with these artisans are long gone, but the skills they taught and the framework they created are still being used. Ola, a UPenn student doing research on incoming generating activities amongst Moroccan woman, came to the fair to interview the artisans, and many of them told her that is was PCVs who encouraged and inspired them to take an active roll in improving their livelihoods. The SBD program might be gone, but those volunteers helped to change the lives of these women.

Marché Maroc, 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013

El Jadida Spring Camp

Last week, the first big heat wave rolled through Morocco, sending temperatures soaring into the 100s, but I was thankfully not around to suffer since I spent last week on the beach, working at spring camp.  I walked around comfortable in jeans during the day and wore a wool hat and a hoodie at night.  It was pretty great.  The rest of camp was pretty great too.

Every April, the Moroccan schools have a two-week spring break, during which Peace Corps and the Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports run English camps.  This year, I spent a week working in El Jadida, a coastal city about two hours south of Casablanca.  Camps are, okay, camps are crazy and hectic and non-stop and a lot of work, but they’re also really fun.  This was my third camp in Morocco, and I’ve really enjoyed them all.  The El Jadida camp was incredibly well-run and the Moroccan staff were excellent, making this the easiest of the camps I worked.

Technically, the spring camps are English camps and we teach English in the mornings, but things are pretty relaxed since it is the kids’ spring break.  I taught the advanced students, which, wow, teaching kids who already speak English is a totally different experience.

The first day of class, I propped a whiteboard against a tree next to our table and Widad wailed, “Oh no, teacher, are we the bad class?  Only the bad classes have a whiteboard.”

“Well,” I said, “what do you want to do instead.”

“We just want to talk,” Maryam said.

“Talk about what?” I asked, since usually getting my students to speak is about as pleasant as pulling teeth.

“What about what we would do if we were the opposite sex?” Omar suggested.

“Well, okay then,” I said and they proceeded to have a thirty minute discussion about gender inequality in Morocco and what exactly a girl looks for in a man, a tangent spearheaded by Omar who was CLEARLY trying to figure out how to get himself a girlfriend.

The PCVs also taught clubs in the afternoon.  I taught a creative writing class, which meant I mostly had my English class again.  I had a bunch of Pixar shorts on my computer, which I used as prompts.  The first day I showed them "Jack-Jack Attack" without the audio, and the kids wrote what they though was happening.  At the end of the class, I played the video with the audio, and a bunch of them were worried that they had gotten their stories "wrong," since they were different than the audio, and I had to assure them there is no "wrong" answer on a creative writing assignment.  On the last day, I showed them "Lifted" and had them write what they thought happened the next day.  I've never taught writing before, although I've taken a few writing classes, and I mostly emphasized show, not tell and encouraged them to use dialogue and use their imagination, for the love of God, there is no correct answer on a creative writing assignment.

El Jadida Spring Camp 2013 
My creative writing club: Omar, Sami, Ayman, Maryam, Widad (from r → l)

Like all Moroccan camps, there were also activities every evening that lasted until almost midnight.  (By the end of the week, even the kids were looking a bit exhausted.)  There were two talent shows (Moroccan youth have a lot of talent to go around) and game and trivia nights, and so many dance parties, many of them impromptu.  One evening, Carrie and I walked out of the auditorium, only to find ourselves caught in a flash mob dancing to C'est La Vie.  My new goal is to learn the dance for Logobitombo and Balada Boa before I go to camp this summer.

El Jadida Spring Camp 2013 
C'est La Vie flashmob
El Jadida Spring Camp 2013 
Wheelbarrow race one evening
El Jadida Spring Camp 2013 
Doha building a pyramid out of plastic cups held with sticks during game night.

The PCVs were asked to participate in the talent show, and in lieu of any actual talent, we performed a short skit in Arabic, about how I threatened to draw a mustache on my more inattentive students and Sherry made her students walk around holding their chairs because they wouldn't stay seated.  It got a lot of laughs, although I suspect it was mostly our accents.

El Jadida Spring Camp 2013 
It was a good week with a great group of PCVs

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lost in Translation

The spring camp where I’m spending the week working has a small library of French and English books.  One of the campers, Khawla, was reading an English biography about Mary McLeod Bethune in English, and she asked me to define slave.

“It’s a person who was taken from Africa to work in America,” I told her.

“I don’t understand,” she told me.

“Umm, it’s a person who has to work, but isn’t paid any money,” I tried.

“Oh,” she said, comprehension dawning.  “Like you!  Mutatwi3in (volunteers).”


Luckily, another PCV knew the French for slave, which cleared things up.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

working 9 to 5 (this subject is full of lies)

Back in early June last year, I went to Gibraltar and Spain for a week on vacation and came back to find that my students had taken their final exams and stopped coming to class. Which, fair, it's summer vacation. I spend a week or two sitting around the Dar Chabab (my last lesson plan is dated June 12, but I don’t think I actually taught it).  After a week or two of spending an hour every evening sitting in front of the Dar Chabab, I gave up and told my mudir I’d be back in September. The Dar Chabab was closed for July and August anyways, and I didn't see the point of walking across town if nothing was going to happen. Also, mid-June was the first of the really bad heat waves and I started spending my days in my apartment, refusing to wear pants. Pants were the worst.

I weathered the summer, mostly by refusing to wear clothes and drinking, I kid you not, about eight liters of water a day.  When September rolled around I started periodically visiting my Dar Chabab again, only it was never open.  I knew there was a regional meeting for PCVs and mudirs at the beginning of October though, so I waited until then to press the issue.

At the regional meeting, I gave my mudir a tentative schedule.  He said it sounded great and also, the Dar Chabab was going to be under construction for the next month.  Apparently, the solid walls surrounding the center, yard and soccer field were giving the Dar Chabab a bad reputation, and so the walls were being knocked down and replaced with a metal slat fence.  Come back in November.

I went to Italy at the end of October, came back with the plague (actually bronchitis and the start of four months of respiratory issues) and by the time I could stand up without getting dizzy, it was mid-November.  I drug myself out of bed and across town to Dar Chabab, only to discover that it was still under construction.  Very under construction.  Well, maybe they’ll do something about the bathroom situation (it was mostly used to store bikes), I thought.  By mid-December, I had been assured that the Dar Chabab would be opened by early January.  Or else.

My family came to visit over Christmas, and once they left I, once again, walked out to the Dar Chabab, which was no longer under construction, but was also not open.  I talked to my host family, who told me that the Dar Chabab would re-open after the Prophet’s Birthday.  A few days later, I ran into my mudir at souq and we hashed out a tentative schedule and I finally – finally – started classes February 13, eight months after I taught my last class.

Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t like I didn’t do anything during those eight months.  I worked at a camp over the summer and helped Peace Corps write a manual about language immersion camps.  I did a couple of projects at a friend’s school and helped my sitemate with her classes.  But the longer I went without working, the easier it became to just not leave my house.  I started skipping Couscous Friday and dodging invitations to tea and started to have more and more trouble speaking Arabic.  I wasn’t bored, because I don’t really get bored, but it wasn’t healthy and I wasn’t exactly happy.

I started out teaching three classes: a beginner’s class, an advanced class and a Bac class (high level grammar class for students preparing for the high school exit exam).  My core group of students from last year graduated, but I have a few return students and a whole crop of girls from the local high school who are absolutely fantastic and really dedicated.  (Of course, there’s also Fouad, a return student from last year who comes to every class, whether it’s the right level or not, asks me to teach him communication and then refuses to talk.  *sigh*)  I have a tentative schedule drawn up through early June and I’m really excited about my classes.

Then last week, two guys came up after my “advanced” class, which wasn’t super advanced (four students spoke zero English) and asked if I had a more advanced class.  Like, one that was actually advanced.  And conversation based.  And maybe not so full of children. 

“I *can* have that class,” I told them.  “Let’s ask the mudir when there’s a free room.” 

So Yassine, Abdallah and I went to the mudir’s office to schedule another class, and when the mudir started to make noises about how the Dar Shabab was too busy for another English class, Yassine took over and argued until we had a classroom.

pkane says whaaaaaaat?Our first conversation class was yesterday.  I printed off an article about the effect of linguistic diversity on the Moroccan education system, wrote a bunch of questions in a vain hope of keeping the conversation flowing and hoped for the best.  I tried to teach conversation classes last year, but it was like pulling teeth to get the kids to actually talk and I was skeptical of actually getting students to talk for a full hour, much less have an actual debate, but we had an hour-long conversation about the roll of French and Amazigh in the Moroccan education system, the possibility of a secular government (Morocco is a theocracy; it’s possible to watch the King at Friday prayer on TV, I know because I watched him yesterday) and evolution (which isn’t taught in Morocco).

You can’t see my face right now, but it looks a lot like this. -->

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spelling Bee Morocco

Last year a PCV down south ran a spelling bee for his region.  He got local English teachers involved, and ended up having a regional tournament in Ouarzazate for seventeen schools.  MATE (Moroccan Association of Teachers of English) loved it and what started as a small regional tournament for just a few provinces is now a Morocco-wide competition.

My host sisters started telling me about the spelling bee back in December.  MATE and Jim Dana (the PCV) sent out a packet of information to schools across Morocco, including sample lesson plans, word lists and a copy of Akeelah and the Bee.  In January, schools across Morocco held individual tournaments, and last weekend was the district spelling bees.  The coordinator of the district spelling bee asked if my sitemates and I would help out, so last Saturday I was the pronouncer for the Kelaa District Spelling Bee.  It went really well, except for the one teacher who kept complaining about my lack of a British accent (which, sorry dude, I can get the southern out of my voice, but me trying to fake a British accent isn't going to make anything clearer), and I was really impressed by how well-run the spelling bee was and how well the students did.

There were three parts to the spelling bee: the novice team spelling bee (which was limited to ninth grade students), the general team spelling bee and the solo spelling bee.  In the team spelling bee, groups of three had thirty seconds to write down the correct spelling of a word, while the solo spelling bee was a more traditional spelling bee.  The winning word was typhoid, which I can spell, but it was the only one of the final round words I could spell.  The top six solo spellers and the top two groups will go on to the regional spelling bee in Marrakesh later this month, and there will be a national spelling bee in Rabat later this spring.

El Kelaa District Spelling Bee  
Team spelling bee

El Kelaa District Spelling Bee
Solo Spelling Bee
El Kelaa District Spelling Bee
The winners of the novice spelling bee.  They got metals, a trophy and an English dictionary for their school.
El Kelaa District Spelling Bee
All the spellers from the eleven participating schools.  It was a pretty good turn out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ridiculous Peace Corps Injuries

During the winter, I only bathe at the hamam because look, it is cold enough in my apartment that I'm writing this from inside a blanket fort so kudos to volunteers who are brave enough to strip for more than the five seconds it takes to get dressed, but I am not one of them, especially when once a week I can go to a bathhouse and have unlimited hot water and warmth and offers from strangers to scrub my back.  And sometimes oranges.  I love the hamam!

So, the water at my hamam is heated by a massive wood fire under the building.  (The fire also heats the public oven, so there's always the smell of fresh bread wafting out from under the hamam.)  Inside the hamam, there is a hot and cold tap in each room.  The cold water tap is hooked up to the town's water supply and the hot water is hooked up to the boiler under the building, with the pipe running along the outside of the wall.

Wood for the fire piled in front of my local hamam.

So, on Tuesday, I was at the hamam, waiting in line to fill my buckets.  The area next to the taps was really crowded and in a shuffled attempt to get out of the way so someone could get to her bucket, I accidentally leaned against the hot water pipe.  TURNS OUT, metal with near boiling water running through it is VERY VERY hot.  I only touched the pipe for a second or two before the SEARING PAIN IN MY ARM caused me to jerk away, but that was long enough to do some damage.  I poured cold water on it immediately and avoided washing the entire area, but by the time I was done, there was a decent sized blistered burn on my upper arm.

So yeah, that's the story of the time I injured myself BATHING.

Anyways, I've been really careful to not touch the burn and rubbing argon oil on it (at least that's plentiful here) and the blister had started to go down, and then last night I was flopping around in my sleep, as I am wont to do, and apparently I rolled onto my burnt arm and popped the blister and when I woke up, my entire upper arm hurt and the burn is red and angry looking.

So that's the story of the time I further injured myself sleeping.

So yeah, I don't even know.  It looks not great and it's partially an open wound at this point and I'm leaving town tomorrow and going to the desert and there's going to be sand everywhere and yeah.  Who injures themselves bathing?