Thursday, July 14, 2011

After a long morning of cleaning the daily layer of dust out of my apartment I retreated to my bedroom where I am now hiding from the heat of another July afternoon in Morocco. As I was catching up on my friend’s emails and blogs it occurred to me that I haven’t blogged lately.

After a few moments of contemplation I came to the realization that this experience has simply become my life. I much more infrequently look at my life here and think, “wow, that was a weird interaction, I should blog about that”. I have begun to accept the unexpected and simply live from day to day. But I also came to the realization that although my life has become very “normal” here it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t document it. So in a spirit of recreating and updating this blog I will run you through a quick synopsis of what has been happening the last few months and add more entertaining stories soon J

Life in Azilal

-My apartment is finally feeling like a real home, with new trinkets I have been collecting I have added the nice homey twist I was looking for.

-Due to the summer dust storms my apartment is NEVER clean and I have daily dance parties as I squeegee my floors.

- I found a lizard on my ceiling the other day. I began to scream and jump around on my bed until a fellow PCV came and shooed it out of my room.

- My work has died down in site due to the hot weather and closing of both my women’s center and youth center. This gives me more time to do art projects, make posters and, make up questionable recipes

Other fun adventures

-This summer I am coordinating a partnership Peace Corps has just begun with an orphanage program called SOS villages and I am loving this experience and it gives me an excuse to travel and work more with some other volunteers. I think my colleagues also have appreciated the fact that all of the meetings I hold for this project have taken place in air conditioned McDonalds; In my opinion one of the most productive atmospheres for PCVs in all of morocco.

-I just returned from an amazing trip to the beach town of Essaouira where our own Small Business Development volunteers held one of their annual craft fairs with small town artisans. I definitely spent a chunk of flus (money) on these amazing products.

-This week I venture to El Jadida to partake in a 10 day English Immersion summer camp. I am excited for the break from site and scheduled activities however I am also a little weary of spending over a week with 80+ cranky, hot teenage Moroccans.

Wish me luck ;)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Camp Moroccan Style

What is Moroccan spring camp? Whenever I think about camp, pictures of lake-side cabins pop into my head. I think of arts and crafts and swimming and outdoors activities. Let me make it clear…. Moroccan camp is a week of a different sort. So to start off with, how did I, as a youth developer become a camp counselor? Well as youth PCVs as a part of our job we dedicate 3 weeks a year to teaching at English Immersion camps, 1 week in the spring and 2 again in the summer.

So last week I got the distinct privilege of being one of the 4 peace corps volunteers at the Khemisset English immersion spring camp. The days flowed, or were at least scheduled to flow similar to camps in America. In the morning we got up bright and early and sang some high energy camp songs, then breakfast with a lack of true coffee (which in turn caused me to wake up even earlier to grab a much needed cup from the corner cafĂ© nearby) . Following that we had 2 hours of English class, 2 hours of sports, 1 hour of free time, lunch, and then “clubs” (ie, art, music, theatre, dance) for the afternoon. Then dinner and a fun activity/ dance party at night.

So ideally it looks like a packed schedule right? Have I mentioned yet in this blog that I am working in Morocco, where the schedule has NOOOO power ? So in reality not one single day did we complete this exact schedule. But nonetheless we all found time to have fun. I taught my 35 English students to say phrases such as “your get-up is ballin’” or instead of greeting my fellow PCVs in arabic or proper English, my kids were running around screaming “yo, yo, yo, wazzzzup?” to everyone.

One of my favorite moments was during one of my spontaneous salsa dancing classes when I began to teach a little bit of hip hop and the kids ate it up and insisted we create a full routine to do at the final show the next day. Although it was a crazy week the enthusiasm and truly universal things 12-17 year olds do, made me smile the whole week through. By the end I had girls crying on my shoulder in the bathroom saying how much they were going to miss me which, a week later, has resulted in about 800 new facebook friends, half of whom I am not even sure attended spring camp J

I loved the experience; it reminded me what it was like to be going through those truly awkward, early high school years and it made me appreciate where I am now. I love being able to help these kids learn how to dance, or speak English, or throw down the newest slang but it’s more then that. Weeks like last week remind me about the passion and desire of each individual kid I meet, whether there be a linguistic barrier or not. If for no other reason, I hope my time here can touch just a few individuals. I think one of the major things lacking in the lives of the youth I work with is a true support system for their passions. I hope that through showing interest and giving whatever help I can, these amazing kids can feel just a little more empowered to reach for their dreams.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Written the week of March 10th:

Life here is all about the little adventures. It is about the times you say “wa7a” and just agree to go with whatever happens around you that produces the most amazing days. The past few days have been a series of these small adventures.

After a week long Peace Corps meeting in a town up north, I returned to Az with a new found appreciation for my town. I came back with a new passion and drive and told myself that I was going to get out of my comfortable apartment and push myself more into the heart of this community and experience. So here are a few small adventures I partook in this week:

  1. Agreed to a long overdue Friday lunch with a student’s family—aka playtime with my student’s young nephews
  2. Attended an over the top, disco ball, flashing lights, cultural center opening in which all of my youth center kid’s strutted their stuff in suits and dress outfits (they are too dang cute!). – and to my surprise both the “governor” and a scary imitation of mickey mouse attended.
  3. Went to a Diabetes testing/info exposition at which all the older Berber women interrogated us (as only they know how to) about our names, houses, jobs, and most importantly marital statuses.
  4. Completed “Azilopoly” a game probably only us mountain PCVs find amusing—yes my town is the 3rd most desired property on the board, be jealous
  5. Jen and I dug through thousands of shirts to come up with 20 usable, non-stained, non-smelly T-shirts to make into team T-shirts, only to be quoted a “white person’s price” at souq and had to walk away spouting words of disgust in both Tamazeight and Arabic—and yes the same thing happened at the next table at souq. What can I say, we are now natives and that $0.50 is more of a matter of integrity than anything else.
  6. Wandered around the big town an hour and a half away with all of our groceries trying desperately to find fresh flowers—2 hours later we succeeded, but my newly purchased cheese melted on the walk :(

There are so many small happenings that truly make or break my days here. This week was a funny, somewhat tiring but laugh filled week of excursions. I can’t even imagine what is waiting for me in the coming week, but insh’allah it will be as entertaining as the last !

Monday, February 14, 2011

Daily routine of one PCV

Sorry this blog entry has been a long time coming. I keep stopping and sitting down to try and write but then I get overwhelmed with the magnitude of different topics I could tell you all about. So, this morning after a warm cup of coffee (thanks for the French press mumJ ) I decided to just start writing, because I am sure anything I write is more interesting then checking my blog and not having anything to read!

I am now sitting in my apartment which is slowwwwly coming together. I have to stop myself because I keep thinking—if I only had one Target trip with my voute 100 friends I could have this place DONE—but sadly Target doesn’t exist in Morocco and definitely not on a PCV budget. But each big souq (market day) I get a few more things. Last week I got a bedside table and a new hilariously “Moroccan” flower blanket. I also got a care package from my amazing mom which contained perfect covers for my couches so my living room is also beginning to look a little more hospitable (still pretty empty, but better!)

So besides cleaning up and furnishing my apartment what have I been doing? Well, here is what I do on a typical week in my site:

Tuesday: Wake-up, teach a yoga/pilates/exercise class with my site mate Jen at a women’s co-operative in town. Come home for lunch, plan my lesson for the night, then go teach 2 beginner classes at the youth center (each about 1.5 hrs) then I am home around 8/8:30pm.

Wednesday: Grab a cup of coffee, then head back to the women’s co-operative with Jen to teach a beginner English class. Then do some errands (go shopping, visit the post office, talk to my police (they always like to check in and see how I am doing), etc… ) Lunch and then 2 hours of English activities at the youth center at night .

Thursday: Souq in the morning, which a lot of nearby volunteers come to, then we usually all grab lunch together and catch up. Thursday nights are my advanced students so I have a 2 hour discussion/ lesson with them.

Friday: I have Arabic tutoring in the morning and then usually get asked to eat the weekly couscous meal with one of the families I know in the area. Then Friday nights are cultural nights at the youth center where we all sit and have a discussion about western/american culture and culture here in Morocco.

Saturdays: Vary here, sometimes I entertain other volunteers who are in town, go on adventures or attend events at the youth center.

Sunday/Monday: My weekend! Mostly I go food shopping, clean my house, do my laundry… all kinds of fun stuff like that!

That is about it. Each day is a new adventure and each night when I fall asleep I have to try to remember what exactly I am doing the next day and when I have to be where. But I am loving it, my students seem to be enjoying me make a fool of myself in class and even though I make them dance and sing songs they seem to be coming back and new kids arrive everyday! I am also very fortunate to live in the capital town of the region with so many willing volunteers around me. I have had at least 7 different PCVs come teach, talk and play with the kids at the youth center. I love having the company and I know the kids love meeting the new crazy Americans.

The amazing thing about Peace Corps is that this schedule is definitely not permanent. In a weeks I will be taking off for a weeklong meeting up north. I also have a kid’s spring and summer camp to help facilitate and when the youth center closes in the summer I have the freedom to search for new and exciting projects around the country.

Friday, December 31, 2010

I thought I knew the extent of Moroccan kindness… and then I started on the adventure of moving into my own apartment. In any culture, city, or situation moving is difficult especially when you are doing it on your own. In the good old college days each time I moved in/out of school the family scrambled and tried to push the responsibility to someone else, but regardless of the inconvenience there was always someone there to help me move.

The amazing thing is that once I mentioned the need for help my Moroccan community jumped to my aid. The whole escapade started on Monday when I officially signed my contract with my adorable, probably 90 year old landlord “Haj”. We signed the papers then went and had them legalized at the association across the street. Then I was handed the keys and my doorman showed me all the ins and outs of how to open and lock my door (harder than you would assume). Then I was told that for the electricity I would need a copy of my passport. I nodded and explained I had it and went on my way. Panic only set in later that night when I realized I had no idea how to set up my electricity account!

Luckily on Tuesday with the help of about 3 convenience store owners I was ushered into an office with a very friendly man who had known the PCV before me and took care of everything. He insisted that the electricity meter would be put in that day and my electricity turned on.

After asking a few people about where the building was to turn on my water and receiving different answers each time, I gave up and called it a day. Wednesday my host mom, insisted that she escort me to the building of the water company. She took me in the taxi but had to carry on to a doctor’s appointment so there I was again, standing outside of an office that looked fairly like a house without the faintest idea how to explain where my address-less apartment was and what exactly I needed for it. Then I met ‘Hmed.

Turns out I was brought to the regional water department, not the city, but that didn’t deter ‘Hmed, the director of all water in the province. Rather, he took my information and called down to the city office. He then took his helpfulness to a whole other level. He walked me across town and sat with me as they changed the bill to my name. He then took me to the bank to pay for the meter they had to install, then back to the office to personally choose a mechanic to come with us that moment and install the meter for me. I took him to my apartment and within 10 mins he and 2 other technicians had the water on and running in my apartment.

So there I was, with electricity, water, a lot of clothes and not much else. When I told a girl from my youth center that I was moving in with nothing, she offered to come help me Wednesday afternoon. So at 2 ‘oclock after a quick lunch from the morning water adventures I met *Fatima. She came up looked at the apartment and we decided the most important things I needed were a bed, a few Moroccan couches and a stove top. So out we went. I bought a bed and 2 couches at the first store we went to I also got a stove top, and some kitchen and cleaning things. Then we returned to my apartment and before we could pick up the big furniture Fatima insisted we clean the apartment. She rolled up her pants and went to it. We scrubbed all of the floors in record time and then got a man to deliver all the big furniture.

So here I am Thursday, 2 days early from my move-in date and all I have are a few more bags to move in. I am going to make one more 20 min walk with the rest of my stuff and then I am in. I am, for the first time, going to spend tonight in MY apartment.

A reality that I realize wouldn’t have been possible without the kindness of so many of my community members. The men who walked me around for hours setting up my water and electricity, the countless hanut (convenience stores) owners who directed me in what I needed to do, my amazing doorman, the girl who literally scrubbed my floor, and the others who offered, and especially to the man who carried my queen size bed and 2 couches across the busy street and up the countless stairs to my third floor apartment.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Integration... what is that exactly?

Peace Corps has slated our first three months at our site as being a time solely for integration. And over the past few days I have been wondering how one goes about actually doing that. How do you integrate into a city of 50,000+ ? I have accepted that in a city of this size I am never truly going to become a part of the city, but what does integration mean for me?

Well after a week of walking around aimlessly, stopping at cafes and blindly saying “hi” to people on the street, today I felt one huge jump in my comfort level in this town. My “perfect day” began with breakfast with my host mom and sisters and then I invited them all to do yoga with me. As we rolled around on the floor, I realized that I’m comfortable here. Not sure exactly when that moment happened, but it did and there is no going back. Visa versa I have told the girls (my new host sisters, Khowla 9 and Chaima10 years old) to correct my Arabic and today we reached a point where they are pulling apart my every sentence, baby steps but good progress for just under 2 weeks.

After an afternoon of card games and silliness with the girls, I took off downtown, hit the internet for a few minutes and then took the long way home. As I passed my future apartment I waved to my doorman (yes, I have one, can you believe it?) Then salaamed my way down the road smiling and responding to each of the “bonjours” with an Arabic greeting of my own. On my way up a scenic road that gives one a panoramic view of the mountain valley I now call home; I bumped into a small girl I had stopped to talk with on a previous walk. After greeting her and her timid younger sister who stared at my blond hair and blue eyes all the way down the road, I continued on my way toward my cozy host apartment for teatime.

Even though I live in a city and will never get the sense of community a lot of PCVs get in their smaller towns, I can sense that I am beginning to form my own community here. Each day I run into someone I know on the road and almost everyday I meet and talk with someone new. I am at a point where the screaming little boys make me laugh, the double takes give me a second chance to smile at nearly everyone I pass and each “salam” is an opening for a new friendship.

“Little by little” (my personal motto here) everything is coming together. My first week here: I found a tutor, got all my residence/working papers together, found an amazing downtown apartment, and started working with my counterpart on a SIDA (AIDS) project. Sounds like a lot, but in reality I spend most of my days trying to figure out how to waste the rest of my week while looking productive. Just counting down the days until the first of the year when I get my own house, a real schedule and real work to do!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sheep Slaughtering and spiked hair

*I wrote this last month on Eid but couldn't post until today. enjoy :)

Morocco is a country floating between the traditions of the past and the incentives of the waves of modernization. Today, the biggest religious holiday of the season was an amazing display of this dichotomy.

A quick intro: Eid Kabir is an ancient religious festival based on the story of Ibrahim and Ishmail. Ibrahim was about to sacrifice his only son to demonstrate his faith and submission to God when a goat / sheep appeared in the thicket and God spoke to Ibrahim telling him to sacrifice the goat instead (the same story as Abraham and Isaac in the Bible and Torah).

My first eid kabir in Morocco started at 7am when I was awakened by the constant calls to prayer from the local mosque. I stumbled out of my room around 7:30am in my normal jeans and T-shirt and was greeted by a bustling living room where all of my host family were puttering around in completely new and shiny clothing. Upon greeting me and praising me over and over again in numerous religious phrases, which I had no idea how to respond, I was ushered into the salon (formal living room)-where we NEVER eat and my host mom, siblings and I had a breakfast of lmsimum (fried bread), skuta (cake) and many varieties of cookies. YUMMMM

Then my sister, baby bro and I went from house to house to meet the mother's of all of my sister's friends. I was asked to eat and drink at each house and my "No"s just weren't a good enough answer, nor was " I've already eaten 5 times." So, before 10am that morning I had been forcefed six breakfasts and nearly ten classes of tea.

Then back to my house around 10:30 when my host father came home from mosque in his formal, white, jlaba (formal robe attire in Morocco) and around 10am it was announced that the king of Morocco had slaughtered his sheep and the people of the nation should start their own religious sacrifices.

The deed went down on our 2nd floor, the ram was held down and my host father prayed over the animal before he slit it's throat. Then bled the ram, skinned it and removed all of the innards. Then I went next door and watched the neighbors do the whole thing over… boy were those six breakfasts close to coming back up again after the 3rd showing.

In Islamic tradition the liver and stomach are eaten the 1st day, then 1/3 of the remaining meat is preserved for later consumption, 1/3 is given to close relatives and 1/3 to the poor.So, I know you are wondering… did I eat the ram my brother and I had played with the day before the sacrifice? The answer is.. YUP! I proudly ate 4 pieces of sheep liver kabob (not that bad) and to my host mother's disgust, only 1 piece of the sheep stomach stew we had for dinner. BUT I tried it, I did it and I haven't thrown up yet :) So I consider it a success.

Then, in the afternoon I went with my host cousin/neighbor Fatima Zara to the salon she works in in the neighboring town. Little did I know, after prayers, over eating and animal slaughtering the Moroccan thing to do is to put on new clothes, do your hair (or have it done) and prance around town. WHAT A SHOW!

After 2 hours or so at the salon seeing the dozens of girls prepare for the days "display" I moved to a downtown cafe, prime viewing spot, with another host cousin and PCV. We sat at that cafe for hours with our coffees watching the sparkly, over accessorized girls prance in their fancy boots and high heels and we gawked at the strolling guys in their too-tight jeans, neon shirts and spiked hair.

I came home to a normal, comfortable night cuddled on the couch under piles of blankets with my family as we watched the jarija dubbed, horrible Mexican soap opera. I fell back into my comfort zone, after a bizarre day began to wonder if I could have experienced a day like this one in any other culture in the world…