Search This Blog

Loading...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Photography


            A conversation with my dad sparked the idea for this post. He said it would be really nice if I could add some photography to my blog, especially for posts like the last one. You may have noticed that I don’t really post many pictures of Moroccans or my site, but I can promise you, there is a very specific reason for that. I realize that most of you will never have the chance to see Morocco, especially the small or rural towns. So perhaps I have some sort of duty to show you all what it’s like here (since I do have that privilege to experience being in this place) through my photographs. But I can’t.
            In some ways, I really wish I could. I would love for all of you to get to see how freakin’ cute my host kids are. Or how completely full of men souq is. Or even my girls at the middle school “playing” basketball (a better description might be handball, but with a hoop). But I can’t. First of all, there are a number of Moroccans do not like having their picture taken at all. They feel that it disrespectful to depict people in photographs or paintings. This is rooted in Islam, so some people really do take it very seriously. And some people totally don’t. Most people in my site love when I take out my camera and will pose (albeit usually not smiling at all) and then want to see the picture afterwards. So I really do take lots of pictures of people, but most of them (especially my host dad) request that I not post them on the internet. And I really do feel that I should respect their wishes on this. I will print the pictures and give them to the people in the photographs, an event which is usually followed by us sitting down and looking at every photo they possess. And no matter how many times I've seen the pictures, I still smile and say how nice everyone looks.
            Ok, so people don’t always like getting their picture taken or having it posted online. Couldn't I just do it anyway? Or take their pictures when they are not looking? When I started my Peace Corps service, I decided that I was absolutely not going to take pictures of Moroccans candidly or without their permission. There are many photographers who do not have a problem with this and I have seen many tourists taking pictures of people as though they are part of the scenery. And that’s exactly my problem with it. It would be pretty weird if someone just started taking pictures in the States of people out and about, in a park or at a farmer’s market. Sure, it happens, but it’s not really even the same thing. Because here, they tourists come in with their money and their private drivers and act like they own the place. That the Moroccans are just there for them to get their shot of “the locals” or of “poor villagers.” I can’t do that to people here (or anywhere frankly) because I know and recognize them as individuals. I know their families. And they are so much more to me than a postcard shot. So, I am sorry that I can’t share more of the photographs that I do have. The ones with laughing kids or un-smiling adults. But they just don’t want me to. However, feel free to visit us here anytime, we’ll provide you something much better than any “great” photograph ever could.
            Before I leave here, I have decided that I will take more pictures. Especially of the people I see often, like the shop owners or the girl at the post office. And when I get back to the States, I’d love to share these with you so that you too can see what life is like here and the people that have made my experience such a wonderful one. They deserve that much and I think you’ll enjoy them too.
            

Monday, November 5, 2012

Space


            A friend came over the other night to cook dinner and catch up on Downton Abbey.  While we talked, the subject of space (as in the space around us, not the one above us) came up.  As women in a foreign country, space is an element of life that has a great deal of importance for us-we deal with it in everything from how much “personal bubble” space we get in a taxi with six other people to what spaces we are and are not allowed to occupy.
            It has become clear over my time here that space is very much a cultural creation.  I think many people in the States come to expect a certain amount of personal space.  That space ranges from the literal space around us to the space we can demand from others in the form of privacy or alone time to the space to make our own decisions and choices about things we want to do and who we want to be.  For many people, I am also certain that they feel that they do not have as much space as they wish and that expectations, demands and merely the existence of others affect their space in various ways.  So the short and long of it is that even within my own culture, the ideas and expectations that surround space can be problematic.  In many ways however, it is easier to navigate these than it is to navigate the expectations that surround space within a culture very different from my own.
            In the US, at least in my experience, public space is just that: public.  It is for everyone and as such, people’s behaviors within that space are meant to follow certain mores and norms.  In Morocco, this is not necessarily the case and is certainly not the case in the small town in which I reside.  In this place, public space is male space.  Any space outside of the home is the space that belongs to and is governed by men and by their behaviors and expectations.  Here I must credit my friend because she suggested that one of the reasons we (as female volunteers and as women) experience so much harassment is that men react every time we encroach upon their space, otherwise known as leaving the house (unaccompanied by a male to help us navigate this space). They notice this non-compliance with cultural norms and they acknowledge it. The reactions range from everything from a prolonged stare to a verbal assault.  While I hesitate to reduce harassment to such a simple level (I think it also relates to a certain powerlessness that men feel as a result of economic and societal factors), it does help to explain some of the possible motivation behind what we experience.
            I want to make it clear at this point that I do not experience a great deal of harassment in my site.  The men here tend to be courteous to me and the only time I generally experience problems with harassment are during the weekly market when there are many men from out of town.  But the fact remains that I do reside and work in a place in which the outside world is for the men.  Women’s work is regulated primarily to the home or to what we would describe as traditionally “female” trades such as teaching and nursing.  In my community, there are no women that work for the local association.  There are no women in leadership positions.  There isn’t even a space for women to gather outside of their own homes.  If one were to walk through town in the middle of the day, one might imagine the place to be inhabited only by men and school-aged children.  And then that weird foreign lady on the bike.
            The effects of the male/public space are not limited to me being the only woman amongst 500 men at the local souq.  It influences my work, my free time and how people think of me.  Before I talk about work, I do want to point out that I think these different ideas of space affect us as female volunteers because we are female but also because we are foreigners.  I, of course, am not a male volunteer so I cannot write about space from their perspective, though I believe that different ideas of space still affect them, just in different ways.  As a female volunteer, I can speak about my experience as such.  Since arriving in my site, I have felt that a male volunteer would have been more successful in terms of work.  This is not a community where women play much of, if any role in the public sphere.  I have often felt that the men with whom I have tried to work were amused by me but didn’t necessarily take me seriously.  That of course may be related to the fact that I am younger than them, but I also felt that it was because I was a woman.  Because I cannot not take part in the social lives of these men, our relationship remains purely worked based.  While I feel that that is appropriate, I don’t think I was able to build trust and a strong relationship with these men as a result.  They tolerate my encroachment upon their space, but they do not enjoy it.  In Peace Corps trainings we were often told that we got to play the role of the third gender.  I think this is true in many respects.  Although they do not necessarily enjoy working with me, the men here still do it.  I am allowed to exist in their space which I am not sure would be necessarily true for a Moroccan woman.  My status as a foreigner gives me some leeway to break out of assigned gender roles and spaces.  And Hamduallah for that.  But I have still struggled to work with these men and to have them see me as an equal player in that work.
            Over the last year and a half, I feel that I have learned to navigate these different expectations of space and place. I’m pretty sure that a lot of people in my community still think I’m a crazy French lady with short hair who rides her bike all over.  But I’m ok with that.  I get work done.  I meet people. I have friends and people are really nice to me.  And I think it’s good for people to realize that ideas of space and place are not universal.  Privacy and enjoying alone time are very much Western concepts.   It’s been good for me to realize these things and I hope I have helped at least a few people here realized that their own concepts and ideas about things do not exist everywhere.  I hope at some point more women in this community can begin to feel that the public space, or at least parts of the public space, belongs to them too.  Maybe they’ll build a women’s association or a cooperative so that women’s space gets to be expand past the four walls of their concrete homes.  Inshallah.  And now I’m going to go enjoy my giant personal bubble that is my house.  And I’m going to do it alone.  And it’s going to be great.      
           


Space


            A friend came over the other night to cook dinner and catch up on Downton Abbey.  While we talked, the subject of space (as in the space around us, not the one above us) came up.  As women in a foreign country, space is an element of life that has a great deal of importance for us-we deal with it in everything from how much “personal bubble” space we get in a taxi with six other people to what spaces we are and are not allowed to occupy.
            It has become clear over my time here that space is very much a cultural creation.  I think many people in the States come to expect a certain amount of personal space.  That space ranges from the literal space around us to the space we can demand from others in the form of privacy or alone time to the space to make our own decisions and choices about things we want to do and who we want to be.  For many people, I am also certain that they feel that they do not have as much space as they wish and that expectations, demands and merely the existence of others affect their space in various ways.  So the short and long of it is that even within my own culture, the ideas and expectations that surround space can be problematic.  In many ways however, it is easier to navigate these than it is to navigate the expectations that surround space within a culture very different from my own.
            In the US, at least in my experience, public space is just that: public.  It is for everyone and as such, people’s behaviors within that space are meant to follow certain mores and norms.  In Morocco, this is not necessarily the case and is certainly not the case in the small town in which I reside.  In this place, public space is male space.  Any space outside of the home is the space that belongs to and is governed by men and by their behaviors and expectations.  Here I must credit my friend because she suggested that one of the reasons we (as female volunteers and as women) experience so much harassment is that men react every time we encroach upon their space, otherwise known as leaving the house (unaccompanied by a male to help us navigate this space). They notice this non-compliance with cultural norms and they acknowledge it. The reactions range from everything from a prolonged stare to a verbal assault.  While I hesitate to reduce harassment to such a simple level (I think it also relates to a certain powerlessness that men feel as a result of economic and societal factors), it does help to explain some of the possible motivation behind what we experience.
            I want to make it clear at this point that I do not experience a great deal of harassment in my site.  The men here tend to be courteous to me and the only time I generally experience problems with harassment are during the weekly market when there are many men from out of town.  But the fact remains that I do reside and work in a place in which the outside world is for the men.  Women’s work is regulated primarily to the home or to what we would describe as traditionally “female” trades such as teaching and nursing.  In my community, there are no women that work for the local association.  There are no women in leadership positions.  There isn’t even a space for women to gather outside of their own homes.  If one were to walk through town in the middle of the day, one might imagine the place to be inhabited only by men and school-aged children.  And then that weird foreign lady on the bike.
            The effects of the male/public space are not limited to me being the only woman amongst 500 men at the local souq.  It influences my work, my free time and how people think of me.  Before I talk about work, I do want to point out that I think these different ideas of space affect us as female volunteers because we are female but also because we are foreigners.  I, of course, am not a male volunteer so I cannot write about space from their perspective, though I believe that different ideas of space still affect them, just in different ways.  As a female volunteer, I can speak about my experience as such.  Since arriving in my site, I have felt that a male volunteer would have been more successful in terms of work.  This is not a community where women play much of, if any role in the public sphere.  I have often felt that the men with whom I have tried to work were amused by me but didn’t necessarily take me seriously.  That of course may be related to the fact that I am younger than them, but I also felt that it was because I was a woman.  Because I cannot not take part in the social lives of these men, our relationship remains purely worked based.  While I feel that that is appropriate, I don’t think I was able to build trust and a strong relationship with these men as a result.  They tolerate my encroachment upon their space, but they do not enjoy it.  In Peace Corps trainings we were often told that we got to play the role of the third gender.  I think this is true in many respects.  Although they do not necessarily enjoy working with me, the men here still do it.  I am allowed to exist in their space which I am not sure would be necessarily true for a Moroccan woman.  My status as a foreigner gives me some leeway to break out of assigned gender roles and spaces.  And Hamduallah for that.  But I have still struggled to work with these men and to have them see me as an equal player in that work.
            Over the last year and a half, I feel that I have learned to navigate these different expectations of space and place. I’m pretty sure that a lot of people in my community still think I’m a crazy French lady with short hair who rides her bike all over.  But I’m ok with that.  I get work done.  I meet people. I have friends and people are really nice to me.  And I think it’s good for people to realize that ideas of space and place are not universal.  Privacy and enjoying alone time are very much Western concepts.   It’s been good for me to realize these things and I hope I have helped at least a few people here realized that their own concepts and ideas about things do not exist everywhere.  I hope at some point more women in this community can begin to feel that the public space, or at least parts of the public space, belongs to them too.  Maybe they’ll build a women’s association or a cooperative so that women’s space gets to be expand past the four walls of their concrete homes.  Inshallah.  And now I’m going to go enjoy my giant personal bubble that is my house.  And I’m going to do it alone.  And it’s going to be great.      
           


Friday, August 31, 2012

Because I Ate One Too Many Starbursts Tonight...


I’ve been bad about blogging lately. What’s new. Sorry everyone, I’ve been enjoying lots of time in my site, getting to know new people, etc. I have also finished 3 ½ seasons of West Wing and the book War and Peace.  So obviously, getting things done.  Anyway, today I am feeling inspired to make a short list of things that have made me feel successful and/or like an awesome person/real PCV. Or something.

1)     Finished a grant application. My first one. And it was pretty hard and definitely tedious but it’s done. Hamdullah. Now I will just chill and wait for it to get accepted, inshallah.
2)      Perfected a spice cake recipe.
3)      Fasted. Mostly.
4)      Killed 5 cockroaches in one night. With my bare hands. Ok, that’s actually a lie. I did kill a bunch, but it’s because of this chalk that you draw with on the floor. It’s from China and probably full of a super large amount of chemicals that are not legal in the US but it’s really effective.
5)      Started learning the Arabic alphabet.
6)      Watched shooting stars with my host kids.
7)      Got chased by a dog while riding my bike at night. I almost lost. Then my bike seat broke off, for the win.
8)      Made a chocolate cake that everyone liked (harder than one might imagine…baked goods just don’t go over quite the same here as they do back home).
9)      Told a joke that everyone thought was funny.  It was related to having a “food baby” after breaking fast.
10)   Reinstalled Microsoft Office on my computer. Open Office just doesn’t cut it. Also, OneNote is the bomb.
11)   Cut my own hair.
12)   Managed to acquire a drum, headband, earrings, cup and saucer and Berber doll house. I wanted none of these things, but it’s basically impossible to say no…
13)   Paid my first water bill. Hard to say if it was for one month or maybe three, but I was impressed with the existence of a receipt.
14)   Decided to learn how to do henna. Prompted by my ugly henna-spotted toenails, a design which one of my friends decided to test on me...needs fixing now…
15)   Rediscovered my love of fresh figs. If you’ve never had a fresh fig (and you probably haven’t), do it. Fig Newtons (my only previous experience with figs) are like the lame older sibling that still lives in your parents’ basement compared to fresh stuff. Downside: ff (fresh figs) do not travel back from the city well and fig mush isn’t really so tasty…

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Operation Smile, Take 1


I saw him and his mother when they were on the way to the clinic to get his vacinations. I have to confess that I got excited when I saw his face peeking out from the blanket tying him to his mother's back: he had about a half-inch gap running vertically from the bottom of his nose to where the bottom of his top lip should start. I got excited because I had heard about an Operation Smile (you know, the ones with the TV commercials about saving kids' lives) mission just a couple of hours from my site.  I knew that if I could convince this family to make the journey that we could make a huge difference in this child's life.

The day after I saw them in the clinic, I asked one of the nurses if she knew anything about Operation Smile, an organization that provided free surgeries to people with cleft palates and hare lips.  She hadn't heard of it and didn't seem all that interested-she hadn't even taken note of the name or duwar (village) of the little boy or his mother.  I headed to Rabat later that week and was quite excited to find a flier
in Arabic for the Operation Smile mission.  I brought this information into the clinic when I got back and immediately, the other nurse said "we have one of these!"  I was so excited-"I know," I said, "do you know his name or where his family lives?  I want to take them for the operation.  He told me he would call the mother and have her come back into the clinic so I could talk with her.

I got the call on the morning of our training for the Gnaoua festival and left 12 people in my house to bike quickly to the clinic in order to meet the little boy's (Omar) mother, Fatima.  I sat with her for a few minutes and explained that we could take Omar and that they would do a free operation for him.  I showed her the fliers (on which there was a before/after picture) and she asked me if Omar would look like that afterwards.  I was so happy to be able to tell her that he would.  Before then, she hadn't even realized that there was anything to be done for him.  I told her I wanted to come to their village to sit and talk with them more and get them on the phone with someone from Peace Corps who could explain much more clearly to them what would be happening.  She gave me her husband's phone number and we parted ways, with me promising to call them and arrange a visit the next week.

I didn't end up making the trip to their village but did meet with Rachid, Omar's father, explained everything to him and put him on the phone with someone from Peace Corps just to make sure everything was abundantly clear.  We decided on a meeting place and time for the following Monday, the first day of the OS mission.  I showed up lugging my backpack and Rachid and Fatima were dressed in their djlabas (an outfit people wear for both traveling and special occasions) carrying a plastic bag of diapers and milk; Omar was tied on Fatima's back, in the common Moroccan fashion.  We traveled first by truck, then car.  I figured out that there was going to be a problem pretty early on.  I was emasculating Rachid and making him seem weak by paying directly for our food and transportation.  In Morocco, men take a great deal of pride in being able to provide for their families, and though we had agreed that I would be paying for things, me doing it directly was embarrassing for him.  It took me quite a few hours to work out a strategy, but I finally figured out that I could
just give the money subtely to Fatima and she could give it to him.

We got to the hospital at about 11:30 and walked around and asked 4 or 5 people before we finally found the place for Operation Smile.  Once we finally found it, I realized that we should have left about
2 hours before we did...there were hundreds of people waiting, with everything from cleft palates to burn scars.  I finally got us a number (196) and we settled down to wait.  When we got our number, they were calling 80...so we had some time to kill.  They would call about 5 numbers at a time, bring
people into the gate and then close it.  I had no idea what we would meet when we got inside, whether or not they would be able to help Omar or if they would send us right home.  We chatted up the people around us; one of the babies had a repaired hare lip and I could tell that Fatima was excited about the 
prospect for her own son.

We took a break from waiting at 2 to grab lunch.  Now comes the part where I tell an embarrassing story about myself.  By the time we got back from lunch, it had been about 7 hours since I had used the restroom...and things were becoming urgent.  I quietly asked one of the women next to me if she
knew where I might find a bathroom; she asked another woman who pointed behind the tent they had set up for the people waiting.  I assumed there must be some kind of toilet or outhouse back there, but all I saw were some trees.  I asked another woman who grabbed me by the hand and took me behind the tent to the trees.  She asked a man if he would leave and then pulled me behind there where I saw
lots of evidence of all who had been there before me.  I balked...there was no way I was going to pee in the bushes outside of a hospital...talk about hygienic.  I told her I couldn't do it, she said "no, no it's fine, my daughter came here earlier."  I said that really, no I couldn't and started to walk away. She laughed at me and followed.  I began to walk around trying to find some place. I asked a guard who pointed me into one of the buildings.  It did have a bathroom, but it was locked.  I realized as this was going on, that I was being rather ridiculous.  I refused to pee in the bushes even though all these worried parents and family members seemed to be able to suck it up and do it just fine.  I realized that I was using my position as a foreigner to get things that others couldn't get. However, what kind of public hospital doesn't have a freaking bathroom for people to use?!  Finally, an old man dragged me to the gate and told the guard to let me in to use the bathroom.  I did, it was fine, and I even got to catch a glimpse of what was to come...there were tons of people and stations to go to, starting with medical records.  It was busy, but there seemed to be an order to the chaos.

Our number got called at about 5pm.  I went through the gate with Fatima and Omar while Rachid waited outside.  I realized later that each patient was only allowed 1 family member, but I again shamelessly exploited my position as a foreigner to be able to stay with Fatima and Omar, and boy am I glad I did.  We got through station 4 before someone finally said that we wouldn't be getting an operation.  It was too difficult and there was too much construction that would need to be done.  We were told to wait with a few other patients until someone could come talk to us and tell us what our options were.  We waited for over an hour; Fatima was being to get antsy.  She didn't understand why we were waiting or what the problem was.  She had heard the doctors talking about us having to make a trip to Marrakech or Casablanca, so I could tell that she was worried.  Finally, at 7:15, the vice president and co-founder of Operation Smile Morocco took a few minutes to tell us what was up. Omar's condition was too complicated to be dealt with during the mission.  She told us we would need to come up to Casa in order to have the operation done at the large hospital there.  We would need to come on the first Monday of the month; but they were all going to be on vacation in August so we would need to come in September.  She asked me if I would be able to sponsor their travel; she said she could pay for it out of her own pocket if she had to, but I insisted that I could pay.  My dad donated some money so that I wouldn't have to use my  Peace Corps allowance to do so.  

So that was that.  I sent off Omar, Fatima and Rachid at the bus station.  They said that they wanted to go back home that night, instead of staying over.  I shoved a few bills in Fatima's bag, she "hashuma-ed" me (said shame on you), they God-blessed-my parents (one of my favorite phrases here) and we went our separate ways.  I'll be meeting back up with them on the first Sunday of September in order to make it up to Casa in time for Omar's 12:30 appointment on Monday.  This time, I take lots of pictures and you can see Omar's beautiful new smile for yourselves.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Home....and Home Again

There are not many of us that can call more than one place “home,” yet I feel that I am able to count myself one of the lucky ones in this respect. Last week, I made a trip home-yet it was to a place I have never called home: the eastern US. I have to confess that as I exited the Royal Air Maroc flight at JFK, it didn't really feel much like home. Although I could understand pretty much everything that was being said, I have become used to a sort of polite greeting custom in Morocco that just doesn't exist in the States. I looked rather questioningly at the passport checker-surely he would ask me what I was doing in the States, why I left to live in Morocco, which one I liked better, if I lived with my family and what my marital status was-but no, he barely looked at me and waved me through. I clung to the Moroccans around me, preferring to ask them to borrow a cell phone, knowing it would be given with a smile, rather than ask any of the Americans crowding around the baggage claim...I figured I'd probably just get a weird look and lame excuse. That was probably an overly harsh judgment of the Americans, but I just didn't really know what to expect from them...I just felt more comfortable with and knew what to expect from the Moroccans (who did, by the way, ask me all of those questions I was expecting from the passport guy).

After sitting on a bus for three hours in NYC (at 5 on a Saturday afternoon?) traffic and asking many strangers how to find the way to Penn Station (really, who thought it was a good idea to put a train station under a stadium...talk about confusing any person not from New York), I found myself at the ticket line. I thought maybe I would just go talk to someone to buy a ticket, but realized there were electronic ticket machines right in front of me. I put my card in, bought the ticket for the next train to Philly and, amazingly enough, out came a ticket with my name and everything...I didn't even have to type it in. I was very impressed. The train itself was even better. There was WiFi and an outlet for every seat....I even updated my Facebook from the train. It was at that moment that I really began to enjoy myself. Although it had been more than a year since I had stepped foot on American soil, I could still navigate my way pretty well and nothing had changed so drastically that I didn't recognize it. It was pretty easy to just fall back into things, to remember how things were and to expect things to be a certain way. I was home!

My first stop was Philadelphia for a Mother's Day/graduation celebration with my mother, aunts, grandmother, cousins, uncles and friends. There's nothing to make a place feel more like home than a gathering of family. So it wasn't really home, but they certainly had good food. Whoever thought of serving a plate of many bite-sized desserts to each person deserves a prize. After the party, I had a few days of hanging out. It was great-I got to lounge and flip threw TV channels. Somehow, even after being gone for a year, I still have seen every Law and Order that they rerun on TNT. I rediscovered the existence of bagels (perhaps forgotten after my own disastrous attempt at making them in my Moroccan oven) and hummus, of going out at night and looking at old family pictures.

My mom and I headed to Boston next for my sister's graduation, to be joined later by much of the rest of the family. Boston has not always been my favorite city, but I certainly got a lot out of it this time, including Thai, Indian and Mexican food (didn't quite measure up to SoCal Mexican, but that would be pretty hard to do). I managed to physically get on every “T” car that my sister did and enjoyed my fair share of tastings at Harpoon Brewery. Best of all, I got to hang out with my sister and her roommates at their super-zwin apartment (thanks ladies!). We got to have some girls' nights out with many (rather embarrassing) videos and pictures. My dad and I got to check out Bukowski's Tavern and my mom and sister were champions with helping me get all my shopping done (I need just a few...ok, more than a few things to keep me going in my last year in Morocco). So as much as staying in a hotel on an extended vacation can feel like home, Boston did.

Before my trip back to the States, I had told my sister that I wanted to visit a Moroccan restaurant. In my mind, I would walk into this restaurant, start speaking Darija and the owners would clap and smile and give me tea and misimin (a delicious fried bread kind of like a tortilla). My first encounter with a Moroccan outside of the airport in the States was, to say the least, a little disappointing. I was getting my hair cut and my hair dresser informed me the the hair dresser next to us was Moroccan. After my haircut, I greeted him in Darija and told him my story. He answered in English, and while he was nice and told me that I was doing good work, it wasn't really what I was expecting and hoping for. As I walked into the hotel later, I heard one of the doorman speaking Arabic. I only caught a little bit, but I actually thought it was Arabic from a different country because it sounded kind of strange. However, later on, I greeted the man in Arabic and he stared at me. “How did you know I was Moroccan,” he asked me in Arabic. I laughed since I hadn't actually known but continued the conversation. He was amazed...well, maybe baffled is a better word. He stopped me and asked in English if I was Moroccan (he added that I looked like I was....score). I told him I wasn't but that I was living and working there. As we talked, he brought over another doorman who was also Moroccan and was from and area near my site. They were both so happy to be able to speak to me, some random American woman, in Arabic. And I was happy to bring a little bit of home to these men who were so far from their own.

Sadly, my trip came to an end, as all good things do. I flew from Boston back to JFK. Although my bag was 11 lbs. overweight, the woman at the JetBlue counter told me to keep up the good work and that she wouldn't charge me for it (this Peace Corps thing is starting to pay off). I learned that you can check into international flights 4 hours before the flight leaves. I was there with 6 hours before the flight so killed some time catching up on my shows and drinking my last corn-syrup coke for a year. Once the counter opened, I checked in. Not surprisingly, the Royal Air Maroc people didn't say a thing about my overweight bag...many of their customers are from countries where rules and regulations don't matter in the same way that they do in the States so I guess they figure they'll pick their battles (aka the 100 lbs bag, not the 60 lbs. Bag). I enjoyed my last hours in America eating pizza and drinking blue moon while watching CNN. The boarding of the plane ended up being chaos. I thought since we were still Stateside that there would be lines and orderly boarding. Not so. 
 Even this passenger:   (yes she was on my flight and I was super excited)



had to wait in the crowd around the gate. After a long and loud (somehow, it is possible for babies to cry for 5 hours non-stop) flight, we finally landed. I chose the passport line with 7 people that took longer than the line with 15 (welcome back me). I did finally manage to make it through, retrieve my bag and get on the train. I was on a bus back to my site by 9am (pretty much the only benefit to a flight landed at 6:30 am) and arrived home by mid-afternoon. I hadn't had much sleep or much food and my house was covered in dust. But it felt wonderful to be home.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Updates, News and Other Fun Things


            I’ve decided to make this post more of a general update type of thing…lots of things have changed in site since I last wrote and I have good news to share!

And then there was….water!
            I finally finally finally have running water in my house!  Now when I turn on my tap, water flows out…all of the time!  It’s great.  For those of you who don’t know, since July when I moved into my house, there has been the promise of running water coming to my community “very soon,” or even “this month.”  Don’t worry, I wasn’t completely naive when I came here, I figured even though they were saying soon, they really meant a few months.  Deadlines came and went and still no water.  I hadn’t invested in a water pump (a device that would bring water from the cistern in my kitchen up through my faucets) because it was expensive and everyone recommended that I just hold out for when the government would be providing it.  So I went about my life sans pump-I created a routine and got a whole system going to get the water I would need every day.  I stored it in buckets and containers for later use.  I got a ton of exercise pulling up bucket after bucket of water, sometimes three or four times a day.  I figured out the best way to drop a bucket down a short well in order to get the most water.  I learned to appreciate how much water it took to do certain things like shower or flush the toilet since I was so involved in making that water available for my own use.  To be fair, people in my community have been dealing with this situation much longer than I have (especially those without pumps), so I don’t have much room to complain.  Plus, I didn’t even have to leave the house to get my water like some other PCVs.  So all in all, I had it pretty good.  But, that doesn’t mean I’m not super stoked that I can abandon my old system and take a big leap into the world of luxury.  At this point I should also give a ton of credit to my kind neighbor men who installed my plumping pipes, dug holes, got things through walls and many other things to ensure that I could use the new system…and all for free. God bless their parents, as we say in Morocco.






old water system                                         
                                                     new one!

Lots of work too, Hamduallah
            The first few months for most PCVs are pretty slow in site, especially those of us who got here right as summer began and most of our neighbors left for vacation in other parts of the country.  I had no complaints with this slow start, and frankly I needed a little break after the intensity of training, learning the language and living with two different host families.  I did lots of home improvements, cooking experiments and caught up on my reading.  As the months passed, I tried my best to do a community assessment: speak with many different members of the community and use my own observations to determine what kind of projects I could begin to work on with various other people in my site.  I went to the clinic (sbitar) everyday at first, then a few times per week as other things came up.  I started to work with my local commune government to get a trash clean-up project in the works.  I planned for many projects and present ideas to people, but nothing was really sticking.  I finally got permission last month to begin working in the schools and teamed up with the English teacher at the middle school to work with the students learning English.  Even with these things though, I felt like I wasn’t doing as much work as I was able or had time to do.  I asked my supervisor from Peace Corps to come to my site and have a meeting with some of the local leaders to see if we could determine some more projects for me or places where people might want my help.  Although the meeting lasted less than two hours, things changed drastically for me.  I discovered that my community had been able to get funding for the trash project without me, which was great.  I also found out that many people in town still didn’t know why I was there and thought I was trying to convert the children to Christianity.  After my supervisor assured everyone that this was not the case, the director of the Dar Taliba (the dormitory at the middle school where the girls can live during the week since many of them live quite a few kilometers from school) asked me to start doing classes for the girls there.  I am now teaching typing/word processing, English and I have an exercise class every week with the girls.  They are a great group and are really enthusiastic about doing my classes.  Last week’s exercise class which involved two hula hoops and dancing to Shakira is one of my highlights of my time here. 

Party Time
            An important feature of Islam in Morocco is a structure called a “mossem” which houses the remains of a person who lived an especially good life or did many good deeds, rather like a saint in Christianity.  Every year in the part of Morocco where I live, there is a festival that makes its way around all the mossems in the area and ends with a big celebration in Essaouira.  My town has two mossems, one small and one big.  We had the festival celebration at the small mossem last week.  In Arabic, the word Hfla means everything from party to assembly so when everyone kept talking about the “party” at the mossem, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  It was pretty much a bigger version of our weekly souq (market) with more clothes and trinkets as well as food to be eaten while walking around.  This week is the Hfla at the big mossem and apparently this one is a really big deal-people come from all over to attend.  And the party is already starting.  Normally, my town is dead on Sundays and most stores aren’t even open but today when I went into town, it looked like a busy souq day…and today is the smallest day…come Tuesday, things are gonna get pretty crazy around here, Moroccan style of course.
                                                                                   the mossem      

                                                                      candy!