Tuesday, January 6, 2009

25/11/08

I survived pre-service training and am now officially a Peace Corps volunteer. My group was sworn in on the 20th in Fez in a kick-ass hotel with an amazing view overlooking the city.

This time to get to my site, I and quite a few other volunteers rode the bus from Azrou to Marrakech, spent the night there, and continued to Ouarzazate via the Tichka pass. Marrakech is an awesome city, and the Tishka pass is known for its beauty and its nausea-inducing switchbacks. There are a few scary spots where the road falls away on one side to thousand foot drops. It was absolutely gorgeous. Saw a peacock and his lady along the way and bought some walnuts for my host family. Puked twice.

When we got to Ouarzazate, I and my site mate (the volunteer who lives in my souk town) picked up our entire luggage, paid an exorbitant amount, and were driven straight to our respective sites. I had to cough up 70 dirhams to pay for the ride: in comparison, my bus ride from Azrou to Errashidia (300+km) on a really nice charter bus was 70 dirhams. My site is only 45km from Ouarzazate. 70 dirhams is about 10-12 kilos of veggies, enough to feed a family of 5 for 2 weeks. I hate being seen as a ‘rich’ foreigner here sometimes, especially since I do not have the kind of money people demand from me.

Since I’ve gotten back to my home, I’ve unpacked and arranged all of my things. What a change to not have to worry about packing up and moving again. Permanence is a good thing. My host mom hung a string of lights (kinda like chirstmas lights) in my room, and I hope to get up my calendar mom made and a map or two to make the place homier.

On the 23rd I wanted to walk around the village and see the lay of the land, so I asked my 5-year-old sister to take me around. We walked a bit and she took me to a friend of her mother’s house, where we were invited in for tea, bread and honey. We chatted, or rather I tried to chat, watched some TV, then left. Next, my sister took me to another friend of her mother’s, where we once again drank tea, ate bread, eggs, and honey, and chatted a bit. I was stuffed when we got back home for lunch and exhausted from constantly having to thing in another language. I have a feeling that my sister simply wanted to get some free food…

Yesterday was souk day, so my mother, father, and I all loaded into the donkey cart and road 18k (2 hours donkey cart time) to go shopping. I abandoned my family and went and met up with my site mate to enjoy some English speaking time. We wandered through the town, fought with her potential future landlord (who will no longer be her future landlord because he was being a greedy douche), got my bike, ate lunch with her family, and biked my butt home. The bike ride is rather long and tiring, about an hour over rough terrain and through sandy and sometimes wet riverbeds. I have to say, I do prefer my bike to the donkey cart. Peace Corps requires that I wear a bike helmet; if they catch me without one, it is automatic firing, or what they diplomatically call ‘administrative separation.’ Anyway, I look like a total dork and everyone stares at me 20X worse than they normally do. Stupid helmet.

Today, I need to come up with a plan for something to do. I try to accomplish one thing a day, like today I’ll meet with my counterpart, or today I’m going to visit where the weavers work, just to keep myself sane and busy. Otherwise, I’d just be sitting here staring off into space as everyone stares at me.

It’s hard to get used to being such an object of interest and debate.

26/11/08

Yesterday evening I got caught in the middle an interesting argument, and managed to get out of it with the excuse of “I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

My host mom and I visited her sister-in-law for teatime. An older woman was there (I’d say my host father’s mother just by resemblance) and kept commenting on how cold it must be at my host mother’s house because I was all snuffy and coughy (from cold-ass Azrou, not my host family’s house). She kept on in this vein for quite a while, oh you poor thing, it must be so cold in that house!, and finally asks if I’d like to spend the night in her house to get away from the cold. Mind you, my host mother is sitting across from me, silently fuming at this older woman the whole time.

I totally understood what she was asking and what she’d been saying, but I always have to think about relationships in my new setting. I live in a village of supposedly 500 people; I cannot afford to piss anyone off right now. Maybe later when I understand the power dynamics better… anyway, I have to figure out a way to turn her down without upsetting her or my host mother.

So I play the “I don’t understand” card. My response was something along the lines, “Thank you for making me welcome here. Maybe in the future I’ll spend the night.”

She won’t drop the offer, saying that I need to spend the night TONIGHT so I do not get any sicker in that cold house. I turn to my host mother and ask, “I don’t understand, is there something wrong with my room? I think it is nice and warm at night. Do you need me to stay here tonight? I’m confused.”

After that, she dropped the subject and I went home and curled up in my toasty bed.

Today I managed to take a nice bucket bath and then headed down to the fields to watch my host mother gather clover for the sheep. After about 10 minutes of watching, she sent me up the hill to Bouschera’s house for tea and socializing. Bouschera’s a young woman (probably my age) who laughs at everything and seems so full of life. She was host mother to the last volunteer here and I have a feeling she’d be a good friend to have.

It’s gradually been getting colder. The nights usually get down below 45 and the days are their warmest at 65. Yesterday the wind was blowing cold and I ended up with a heavy film of dust all over my stuff (I forgot to shut the windows. Remember days like that in Arizona, Mom?). Today’s been warmer, mostly because of no wind, but I can see the rain clouds headed this way. It’s actually kind of cool; to the north of me are the High Atlas Mountains and I can actually see it snowing on them.
Tomorrow I should be going to Ouarzazate in order to get my visa and eat out Moroccan Thanksgiving style with a few other volunteers.

28/11/08

Took 2 hours to bike into my souk town yesterday in order to meet up with another volunteer and go to Ouarzazate. We squished into a taxi and were off. 40 dirhams and a few hours later, we had legal work visas for Morocco.

For lunch, a bunch of volunteers from my stage (i.e. the volunteers I trained with) all ate together at an outdoor café, slightly thanksgiving style. I had a turkey sausage sandwich and French fries so it was kind of like turkey and mash potatoes.

Met my delegate, got a small notepad for random vocab I hear, and ventured back into my souk town, where I had tea with my new tutor. My site mate introduced us and since he is the only English-speaking teacher willing to work with us, he’s got the job.

Because it was too dark to bike back, I stayed in my souk town for the night.

Today had a tutoring lesson, was harassed by a crazy drug addict, reported him to the police, ate delicious couscous twice (my site mate’s mom and my mom both ‘forced’ me to eat it) and pedaled my happy butt back home. My butt is a little bruised from the ride though.

I also got a care package today from my parents containing ‘Christmas in a box’: a small xmas tree, decorations for said tree (including blinking lights), xmas candles, a small snow globe, canned ham, and a kick ass candleholder that my mom made from clay. I was grinning all the way home from my souk town thinking about all of it. Can’t wait to decorate the tree.

I really want to light the candle to see the candleholder glow but I cannot find a lighter. Theoretical god hates me…

30/11/08

Interesting cultural difference to note:

The concept of personal space or personal possessions is different here than it is in America. Case in point: I get all of my luggage to my new home, get everything unpacked and arranged the way I like to make my room seem more homey, and then when I’m gone to Ouarzazate for the day, my host mother comes in, cleans, and rearranges everything to how she thinks it looks best.

What was so funny was that I knew she’d been dying to get in here and see what I’d done to the room. Once, when I left my door open to run across the house to get something, I heard her tell her oldest to run to my room quick (before I got back) and report back what I’d done to it.

I do appreciate that she swept up for me, but I can do that myself, she’s got enough to do during the day; and I know she was proud of how she rearranged my room, but I ended up moving everything back to the way I wanted it anyway. I’m locking the door next time I’m away for an extended period of time.

It is definitely an interesting experience to be daily watched and analyzed like some sort of Jane Goodall/Discovery special. Every gesture I make, everything I wear, everywhere I go, what’s in my room is fully examined and picked over by everyone in the house, and to some extent, the village. The feeling of being watched doesn’t bother me now (it pays to be oblivious to attention sometimes) but I could see how on a bad day I’d want to hide or scream at everyone to get away from me.

What’s really fun to do now that my language is improved is to go to tea with my host mother and listen to all of the women gossip about me while I’m there. I’ll pretend to be playing with the kids, not paying any attention, then randomly comment on something one of them said about me. My favorite is “Oh the poor thing. She’s not married, has no children, no family in Morocco. Poor thing!” to which I’ll pipe in, “I’m not a poor thing. I have a lot of family in Morocco. I have three mothers! You all always always always say I’m a poor thing.” This usually causes everyone to burst out laughing.

After two months of living with my host family, I’m allowed to find a house of my own to rent. The last volunteer who worked in this village dropped out of Peace Corps because she had some issues with the job and because there was NO house here to rent. She had to rent a place far away and bike into the village. Supposedly, Peace Corps refused to place another volunteer in this village unless they made at least one place available for rent. They did, so now I am here. Or so I thought.

One evening, I was asking my host mother about the house here that I could rent. She looked confused and said that there is no house here for me to rent. I asked her again, thinking I’d said something wrong but she insisted that there is no house here available to rent. I could stay with her and the family for my entire two years, she insisted. That concerned me, for as much as I love my host family, I cannot live with them for 2 years; I need my own place for the sake of my sanity. So I’ve been trying to get a hold of the housing coordinator to see if he can clear up this situation. Unfortunately, the big holiday is coming up and I don’t think I’ll get him until a week from now.

The big holiday is Eid Kbir, when all families buy a ram and slaughter it in accordance of the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for the lord (it’s also a story from the Old Testament). Depending on the moon, the Eid is either on Tuesday or Wednesday and it is basically a week full of eating the entire ram and getting new clothes. My mom’s bought me a new caftan. Google image one, they’re quite pretty and the traditional dress of Morocco along with the jellaba. We went shopping for the kids’ new clothes yesterday evening and I bought a lighter. My candle smells amazing (it’s clove-scented) and I had to shove it in everyone’s face and tell them that my mother made the candleholder.

We’re having lentils for lunch. I’m excited.

2/12/08

I am not a fan of Moroccan music. If there is one thing that I hate in this world more than a vocorder I have yet to find it; a vocorder is all that is ever used in Moroccan music. It makes everyone sound really whiney to me.

Yesterday didn’t do much of anything exciting. Spent the day reviewing 100 some ought verbs and then tagged along to Fatima’s house. Her son had just retuned from Saudi so they were having quite a gathering. The weather was lovely until the evening, when the wind really started to pick up.

I woke up around 3 this morning listening to the wind absolutely tearing around the house. The house itself is a solid mud and cement construction, so the walls are and easy foot thick and impenetrable to wind.

Thick mud house + wind = April feeling cozy and warm at 3 in the morning despite the weather

The wind’s blowing off of the High Atlas Mountains since last night and it is freaking freezing. If you can manage to stay out of the wind but get in the sun, you’ll be perfectly warm; otherwise, the wind chill knocks the temp down an easy 15-20 degrees. I watched a cat try and walk across the yard this morning. It ended up leaning severely to one side because of the wind as it tried to make it to the doorway. By the time it made it, it looked like someone had run it backwards through a vacuum hose. Funny stuff.

I think I’ll stay in my room most of the day, light a smell good candle, and do some intensive reading of nothing particularly mentally stimulating.

7/12/08

Nothing much has been happening the past few days. The most exciting thing by far was that I helped bury an electrical line in order to give my counterpart’s house electricity. While all the woman worked on digging a really long trench from one house to my counterpart’s, placing the cord in it, and burying it, the men stood around and watched.

I found out that my counterpart’s sisters have hosted at least 5 Peace Corps volunteers in the past and are quite good for teaching me Arabic. Unlike my host family who sometimes correct my Arabic when they at least semi-understand what I’m saying, my counterpart’s sisters really try to understand me, correct my Arabic, and make me repeat the correction. They’re what Peace Corps label as “sympathetic interlocutors.” And the sister’s are not nearly as busy as my host parents, so they have more time to sit and talk.

My host mother works all day cooking, cleaning, gathering fodder for the sheep, washing clothes, and yelling at the kids. My dad’s quite busy digging up clay dirt, making clay, making pots from the clay, gathering wood to fire the clay with, painting the pots, cooking them, and taking them to souk. Supposedly after this holiday is over he’s out of business for a while since no one buys his pots after the Eid and it gets too cold for him to work outside.

Yesterday was my first hammam day in my site. I think it may be one of my last, unless I can go when there are less people and when I don’t have to sit there and wait for 4 hours on my host mother.

The hammam is wonderful, especially when you haven’t bathed for 10 days. You go into the hottest room and just scrub layers of dead skin off until you feel clean again. The only problem was the tiny hammam was very crowded since all of the women went to bathe before the holiday. There were 3 10x10 rooms, each with at least 7-10 bathing women in them so I got in and got out as quick as I could. Once I stepped out of the hammam into the changing room, I started to black out because I’d been in the hot room for too long. After that passed, I got to sit out in the sun for 3 plus hours waiting for my host mother to finish and take me home. One of the women of my village (the hammam is located in another village) took pity on my sisters and me and finally walked us home. My host mom didn’t show up until an hour after we’d gotten back. I think she’d spent a total of 5 hours at the hammam. I don’t blame her; it must be a nice escape, the equivalent of a spa day in the states. But I don’t plan on going back with her and the kids anytime soon. They take too long for my American standards.

12/9/08

So the Eid started out great yesterday. The night before, my host parents fasted, which resulted in Hrira, or Moroccan soup, for dinner (I love it and haven’t had it in a while). She also showed me how to make what I call Moroccan sapodillas, a type of fried brad that you usually eat with honey.

Yesterday started with a visit to my counterpart’s house for henna. I stayed there half of the day and got to watch the ram be slaughtered. The culture shock book I read claimed the Muslim way of sacrificing an animal is relatively stress free and painless to the animal; the way the poor ram thrashed around after having it’s neck slit would tell me otherwise.

Then I watched my host uncle butcher the ram; it’s a rather simple process of stripping the ram of its pelt and pulling out the innards. I think the women get the short end of the stick with having to actually clean out the organs for cooking. That was messy and smelly.

The worst thing I got to see was how my host father emptied out the large intestine of sheep shit. The process involved dumping water into the large intestine from the anus end and then puckering up and blowing air through the asshole of the ram into the intestine, forcing all of the shit out of the other end. It was hilarious looking, my host dad with his lips pressed against the ass end of a skinned ram.

My host mother, on the other hand, had the fun job of cleaning all of the crap out of the stomach and other innards. She then chopped up the stomach into large sized chunks, wrapped the stomach chunks around bits of spiced lung, liver, intestine, and then tied the pouches of stomach shut with the stringy small intestine in a kind of a ram-gut-Hot-Pocket contraption, if you will. My host father hung the Moroccan Hot Pockets from a bamboo pole hanging from the roof. The sun will cook the meat and in a few days, it’ll be delicious…or so I’m told.

Unfortunately, my host dad’s father took sick last evening and had to be rushed to the hospital. The evening was spent with family, waiting for news from the hospital on the grandfather’s condition. The news last night was good; he’s in stable condition and they’ve got meds into him. From what I’ve gathered this morning, they’ve moved him from the souk town hospital to the large one in Ouarzazate. My host dad and his brother left early to go see him.

In the middle of all of this, my host dad took my sisters and I home to feed us. We spitted and roasted chunks of ram over and open coal pot and feasted on more meat than I’d seen in a fortnight (…I think, how long is a fortnight exactly?). He apologized for his father being sick and me not experiencing the holiday as it normally would be. With my limited language, I told him it wasn’t a problem.

This morning, all of the men of the village are outside on the main drag praying together. I can hear snippets of the chant floating over this way between the chatter and the housework. It’s rather beautiful. Today is also a day of wearing all of the new clothes you’ve bought. I’ll get to parade around in my new caftan and head scarf my host mother got me.

Tonight, depending on the grandfather’s condition, my counterpart is supposed to host some sort of party at her house for only women. Women-only party here means dancing, something I’m not partial to in any culture. I’ll be forced to dance and then I’ll be pissed and embarrassed. I hate dancing. Luckily, there will be lots of meat to eat for the next few days. That makes me happy.

11/12/08

My host father’s father pasted away the afternoon of the 9th. What was supposed to be the biggest holiday of the year has turned into a time of mourning.

The last two days the town has stopped by my counterpart’s house to pay respects. When I walked into the house, I’d never seen such a quite Moroccan gathering. With that many women in one room you usually can’t hear yourself think with all of the commotion, chattering, yelling at kids, and yelling at each other. It was very much like a wake in America.

I have seen my host parents off and on for the past few days; mostly, they’re busy shuttling food to my counterpart’s house feeding the mass of guests. They took most of the second ram and the entirety of the first ram my host father had slaughtered (he slaughtered two rams; one on the eve, and one that they’d been raising themselves on the day of the Eid). I waved goodbye to the delicious meat with tears in my eyes.

Yesterday was a difficult day for me; everyone was out of sorts anyway and the atmosphere was just so sad. I yelled at the oldest sister when she kept asking me if I was going to go to my counterpart’s house. I kept responding, “I don’t know,” because I did not know if it was culturally appropriate for me to show up while they’re mourning as they were. She kept asking and asking (perhaps thinking that I did not understand the question) and I could not explain in my limited language that I didn’t know because I didn’t know if it was appropriate. Finally, I just exploded and yelled at her in English, “Jesus Christ, I don’t freaking know!”

In America, this would have been inappropriate and at least raised an eyebrow or two in disapproval; here, outbursts are a way of life. If you’re pissed, you yell, you don’t let it pint up.

So she didn’t think anything of it, she just stopped asking me the question. I tried to spend the rest of the morning in my room since that outburst had left me close to tears but the girls were all in the house and wouldn’t leave me alone. They’d sit outside my door and tell the 2 year old girl, “Tell Hsna this…” or “Say that to Hsna…” and the little girl would come running in, say it, run out, and everyone would giggle. I had to keep my temper in check and remind myself that they’re only 10 at the oldest… Finally, I got up and bolted the door and it stopped. Sort of. After an hour or so, they left me be. I spent the morning playing with my DS and chilling out.

The rest of the day went better, and this morning I went for a walk through the oasis. It freaked everyone in my family out. The two oldest girls were home and as I left, I told the oldest one where I was going. She looked confused and asked me, “You’re going alone?” then yelled at her younger sister to go with me. Then a small fight ensued since the younger girl did not want to go but the older sister was ordering her to. As I was walking off, the younger sister went running to her mother (at the neighbor’s) to scream out that I was going to the oasis alone and that her older sister was trying to make her go with me but she didn’t want to go, make the older sister go with me. I was out of earshot to hear the response to that. As I topped the hill and came into site of my counterpart’s house, my host father saw me and demanded to know where I was going. I answered and luckily he left it at that.

The oasis is in no way dangerous unless you slip and fall into a puddle and drown, but it really freaked them out that I wanted to go alone somewhere. Alone is a strange thing, something to be avoided. When I finally got back my host mother wanted to know where I’d been and why I’d gone by myself; in fact, all of the extended family was asking about me. I got a little feeling of teenage rebellion as I explained that being alone does not bother me and it’s normal in my culture.

17/12/08

The most exciting thing to happen today was when I let the girls do my hair and walked to my counterpart’s house with my new do. All they did was pull half of it back into a ponytail; nonetheless, all of the women just stared.

The volunteer in my souk town ventured out to my site on Sunday despite the horrible wind that’s beginning to plague the village. We hung out a little bit, spoke some English, and amazed my host sisters.

Yesterday, attended my first tutoring session and tomorrow I go back for more. I have homework, but as of now I’m too darned tired to try doing it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Final Site

Back in Azrou for some more pre-service training. Since I’ve last typed, I said goodbye to my first host family, learned where my permanent site is, met my new host family who I will be living with for 2 months, took a language test, and will be sworn in as an official Peace Corps volunteer this coming Thursday.

My final site assignment (where I will be working and living for 2 years) is down south, near Ourazazate. It’s in the area where Hollywood comes and films movies (Alexander, Babel, etc.) so it is absolutely gorgeous. The town is only 500 people, no internet, no teleboutique, and my father uses a donkey and a cart to get to the souk. I’m also 5k away from the paved road. I either walk or bike to get to and from my site.

My new host family consists of a mother, father, and three little girls (2, 5, 10 years old). My father is a potter and my mother is a weaver. My father’s sister (a weaver) is the counterpart that I will work with and all male members of his family are the village potters. So, the artisans I will be working with are either the potters or the weavers.

As for now, life is boring.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Looong Post

9/14/08

Finally a day of rest. It’s hard to believe I’ve only been in Morocco for about a week; it feels like a lifetime.

This morning about half of the group went hiking up the mountains that surround Azrou. I didn’t join, think about how out of shape I am and how grueling simply climbing the hill to the medina is. I stayed behind on the rooftop and finished off some homework and studied some darija. Once I gain more stamina I’ll attempt the lofty peaks of…whatever that mountain is called.

After lunch, a trainee and I took a walk up to the medina, she for a cell phone card and I for a headset to use with scype. Got to use my mad Arabic bargaining skills to talk the sell down 10D. These skills have not been used since the days of Egypt and crazy taxi drivers.
While walking home, I picked up two new boyfriends in the form of a 10- and 12-year-old boys. Sorry G, your affections cannot compare to these two new love interests. They tagged after me for a couple of blocks, calling to me in Arabic and French. Peace Corps warned us of the harassment we’d be facing, but I don’t think they meant these kids.

(14/10/08) Explaination

Part of Peace Corps training is living with a host family and actually applying what we’ve been taught on a trial basis; thus, we’re shipped off in groups of six with a language and culture teacher to work in some town with a local association for a five-week period. This is all to prepare us for living in a Moroccan town and working on our own with our Moroccan counterparts and associations.

The town five others and I are training in is a really small village close to Azrou. It’s a cute little village in a small valley surrounded by fields, some cypress trees, and low mountains. There are about 1200 people living here, no green grocers, and three hanuts (small dry-foods shops). Veggies and fruits are bought in Azrou or in the Tuesday souk held near Azrou. Depending on where you live, in most places running water only works at certain times during the day. The main livelihoods come from farming cereals and herding sheep and some cows. There’s a primary and middle school, but older kids, if they continue their education, must either live in a dorm in Azrou or trek to the town every day to attend the high school. We’re supposed to be working here with a local weavers’ association (4 women), but our group has had problems trying to meet with them and get thing done.

My host family consists of the mother (26), father, his mother (70), and the two little girls (5 and 10). My grandmother is a hilarious old Berber woman who says anything she can since she’s old and can get away with it. The girls are cute and half the time I have to beat them off with a stick to get anything done. The oldest tries teaching me darija. My host father often sits down with me and teaches me the language or else comes up with some game that involves learning new words. My mother is the best one out of my training group (I’m convinced and so are some of the other trainees). She’s an amazing cook, insists that I come home for lunch if she knows that we won’t have a cook that day, insists on feeding me breakfast everyday even though that is not part of my living arrangement, grabs my laundry and does it while I’m at school, plans all these cultural outings and experience for me (henna, dancing, and a new outfit for the end of Ramadan), and is the actual incarnate of Christ himself. They’s good people.

The house I now live in is a good-sized place for this town’s standards: I have my own room, which was the master bedroom, there’s indoor plumbing (i.e. a working Turkish toilet and running sinks), a large living room, a kitchen, an upstairs, and a storage room. We have running water all day. My family owns the teliboutique/chicken butchers next door, some chickens, and two cows that I know of. They may have more livestock, but I haven’t seen it.

The typical day here is get up around 7:45, eat breakfast with the mother and 2 girls, get to my teacher’s house and study or shoot the breeze until class starts at 8:30, learn language until 12:30, and eat an amazing meal prepared by our talented cook. During our first stay here, we’d continue language after lunch until 5 unless we had a meeting with our weavers; nowadays, we are on our own after lunch to study the language or prepare the technical aspect of our project for the weavers until 6. When 6 rolls around, it’s Kaskrut (tea time) and I go home and eat bread, olives, zmeta (a delicious ground-up nut mixture), and drink tea. The evenings are either spent with the family or in my room studying. Dinner is a late affair and we usually eat at 9:45 to 10ish. I usually retire after dinner and either read myself o sleep or listen to my ipod.

12/10/08

Currently I am hiding out in my room for some ‘me time’. My host mother is at the hamam, so I’m here with only the grandmother and the father, neither of whom I feel like talking to right now because I am so bushed and my mental translator is currently in the ‘off’ position.

Moroccan mint tea is famous the world round and synonymous with Moroccan hospitality. If you’ve never had true Moroccan tea, allow me to describe it: one trainee said that it was like drinking liquefied Wriggley’s Spearmint gum. It is very very sweet and very very miny. Most volunteers ask for a pot without sugar and the Moroccans always as, “Are you diabetic?” Tea without a lot of sugar is no tea at all to them.

Today, I went hiking with hiking guy (a trainee), another trainee, and our cultural facilitator, …I want to say bad idea, but I survived and had fun, so maybe not-so-good idea is a better label. We hiked up one of the mountains here, which was great and I got to see my entire small village from above, but the guys wanted to go down a different way than the way we’d come up. It was a steep descent in some places, and it turns out I have a major fear of falling (yet I’m not scared of heights, go figure), and steep descents scare me.

But I survived.

I got one hell of a workout, and I gained a lot of confidence when it comes to hiking. I’m not going to take on K2 anytime soon, but I’ll feel better descending a steep mountainside from now on. Or I could just take a donkey next time.

If there is a hill here, there is a donkey on it.

13/10/08

Our group had an interesting discussion today on what is appropriate and inappropriate. One trainee brought up the fact that she did not appreciate some of the language and coarseness she was hearing in the classroom. It was definitely a fascinating conversation since what she and another trainee described as inappropriate was what we of the younger generation don’t even bat an eye at. We are a foul-mouthed bunch….

Other than that, I got hold of a Nintendo and Super Nintendo emulator with all the games made for both of them. I will try to limit my playtime so that I can maybe get some work done.

Maybe.

14/10/08

We journeyed to the big souk today in order to purchase much-needed veggies. The souk is always an adventure: hundreds of people show up with all their sheep, cows, goats, donkeys, fruit, veggies, spices, appliances, clothing, house wares, etc. and go into a buying/selling frenzy. There’s garbage, animal shit, food, and people everywhere you step. It’s quite fun.

Afterwards, when we managed to get home, us women went to the hamam (public bath), soaked in the hot room (getting rid of the souk dust), and came back to a delicious tajine of chicken, caramelized onions, and Moroccan raisins prepared by our lovely cook. Life can be so hard sometimes.

The only problem we’re facing is difficulties within the group dynamic. The generation gap is really hindering us right now, as is the underlying resentment some harbor at being called crude and inappropriate. Also, we’re such a diverse group in terms of personalities. Some are take charge, get it done types, while others are laid back let’s drink some tea and talk for a bit types. I’m the latter and the former types are rubbing my nerves raw. I’m sure the feeling is mutual though. I feel jibbed sometimes since other Peace Corps training sites seem to have teams that get along so well and have so much fun.

Only three weeks to go until I find out my final site.

19/10/08

It does not feel like five days since I last typed up an entry; you lose track of time really fast when your days are so scheduled from sunup to sunset. G was a little bit upset that I’d forgotten to call or even text him on the 17th. I do feel bad about that, but I really have forgotten the time.

Time runs differently in Morocco. It’s always, “Inshallah, it’ll happen when god wills it.” Once I get out of the structure regiment of class everyday, I’ll have to keep myself from falling into this mindset and be strict about getting things done. I tend to fall into laziness if I don’t have a set schedule, and it’ll be interesting to come up with my own and try to stick to it. The current PC volunteer who’s been working here says that a good day is when she can get one work-related thing (usually a meeting) done; an amazing day is when she can get two things done.

Once again, the group dynamics are in the toilet. One of the older trainees is having a difficult time learning the language and is very frustrated with her family and the group. Some days she’s all right, but most others she’s been really upset and had to pull our LCF (language & culture facilitator, our teacher) aside and try to talk to him about her problems and how he can help her with learning the language. They’ve both ended up upset by these talks, to the point where the LCF has left the room to cool off a bit because of some sort of cultural misunderstanding. Apologies were said all around, and now both parties seem a bit happier. However, other little things and remarks have reared their heads. One trainee thought up an idea and another one wanted to take the idea and run with it. This upset the first trainee and the poor LCF had to hear all about this problem from both sides. A different trainee did not want to do a certain homework assignment for fear of upsetting her host family and the LCF had to hear about that as well. Then there’s all the bickering and apathy that happens when we try to work as a group.

After all of these small squabbles and problems, the LCF breaks down and says to us that he has never worked with a group that had so many problems before. Mind you, he’s been doing this job for more than a few years. You know it has to be bad when an indirect Moroccan raised in a society where saving face is of utmost importance decides to actually speak up and say something to the group.

11 days until I find out my final site.

I’ve learned a new term: Moroccan Tupperware. When you go to any event where food is served most of the women pull out plastic bags and take some of the food home for their families or for whoever couldn’t make it. There’s never any leftovers for everyone takes stuff home. This is a really funny when you provide lots of cookies at a gathering, given that no matter how often you restock the cookie tray it always comes back empty. PC volunteers have seen women upend whole trays and dump them into their plastic bags. When my group went with tea and cookies to the weavers’ association the other day, we experienced the phenomenon of Moroccan Tupperware. Nothing goes to waste here.

This coming Wednesday, I’m scheduled to go and meet with the weavers we’re working with and have them answer a questionnaire I’ve developed about their yarn and it’s quality. They work with a crap quality yarn and are having problems producing and selling carpets because of it. If I had a year or more to work with them I could probably help this association, but this is only training and we’re not expected to accomplish much of anything. It feels like we go in, take up their time with questions, give them hope that we can help them, and leave. It sucks.

Peace Corps has allotted our group a budget of 1000 Ds to use on our projects. The other trainees have figured on leaving the weavers with a scrapbook of pictures or a brochure outlining possibilities of what they could do, but so far, I’ve come up with nothing to leave them in so short a time. I might just throw my share of the 1000 Ds in with one of the people who have an idea and need it. I need to think this one over some more.

The bathroom in my house has a light switch that is too high for the littlest girl to reach. The other night she comes running into the salon holding her crotch and doing the international “I need to pee” dance. Rather than saying I need to potty or another childish equivalent, she dances around the salon desperately crying, “Bgit lbula! Bgit lbula! (I need the light, I need the light!)”

20/10/08

This evening’s Kaskrut was fried bread and honey…and delicious! My teeth are going to rot and fall out with all of the sugary things I’ve been consuming lately, and I’m surprised more pimples haven’t popped up.

Nothing much has been happening lately; life has settled back into the normal routine.

21/10/08

This evening’s Kaskrut consisted of the usual: bread, butter, tea, zmeta, and one interesting addition: boiled sheep head. I tried to eat some, but I just couldn’t do it. It was too greasy and I couldn’t get over the texture. It was squishy and fatty.

Like jello.

During my first home stay, they fed me spitted sheep eyes. It’s not as gross as it sounds because they’d been grilled to the point you couldn’t really tell what they were and they weren’t oozy at all. They tasted like a really well aged rib eye and had the texture of a chewy beef tendon. I highly recommend them not only for taste, but also just to say that you’ve eaten sheep eyeballs.

Maybe they’ll feed me sheep testicles next. I can only hope.

The group is still in… basically a perpetual state of ruin. There were almost fisticuffs when the schedule we’d set up for interviewing the weavers fell though. We were supposed to break up and go in small groups to interview them starting this Monday and ending this Wednesday. The group that was scheduled for Tuesday had to fight with my group, interviewing Wednesday, when they found out that the weavers would be at the souk in Azrou on Tuesday rather than in the town. So now both groups have to go on Wednesday. Oh the drama.

9 days until my final site.

We’ve been together too long. I feel bad for our LCF.

22/10/08

Eight days until I find out my final site. It’s almost like Christmas.

Last night a few of us went up to the current PC volunteer’s house and ate popcorn, baked cookies, and watched The Office. Good times had by all I think.

Currently it is colder than crap outside so I am sitting my happy butt right next to the small wood-burning stove in the kitchen watching my host grandma weave a massive carpet on her rickety handmade loom. She’s humming Berber songs to herself as the rain’s falling on a plastic tarp on the roof. It’s all rather calm and peaceful right now. I should bed down in here and just go to sleep.

Today one volunteer and I had to interview the weavers and ask them questions concerning our project. Since there is only one language translator for the two of us, while the other volunteer used him to translate, I went over to the weavers on the loom and just started asking them the questions I had already written out. They were fairly easy questions with really easy answers, i.e. who buys your yarn, where do they buy it from, etc, so the whole process was rather simple. They understood most of what I asked and I understood most of what they answered. I’m proud of myself.

Afterwards, they invited us to stay for tea and snacks. In Morocco, there’s this bread they served that taste just like our cornbread back in the states, so I was excited to see that with the tea. Almost right after we left, we trekked over to our cook’s house, for she’d invited us for Kaskrut. Tea again, cornbread, milawi (a fried bread), and fat bread, a bread stuffed with spices and a bit of fat of some kind. It taste like a really good pizza minus the cheese.

My host mother is currently cooking couscous as I sit here. Kaskrut was an hour ago, and dinner will be in 30 minutes. I don’t think that I can do it. Too much food.

It sucks, the last time I had couscous I got sick the next morning (not from the couscous); however, every time I have it now reminds me of getting sick and I can’t eat much of it. This is a major problem since couscous is served at least once a week and is the national dish of Morocco.

My mother’ll insist I eat dinner and I CAN’T DO IT!!!!

23/10/08

7 days until I find out my site.

Today one of the head honchos showed up to ask us a few questions about where we would like to be placed. For my final site I’ve requested a town like this one, relatively small in population but close enough to a bigger city so that I can have Internet access once or twice a week and shopping nearby. I prefer cold over hot and really don’t care what kind of artisans I’ll work with, but I’d favor working with women over men. I also said I’d like a site where a PC volunteer has already lived.

Last night, my grandmother taught me how to weave on her loom. Well, she taught me one way of weaving. While we were behind the loom, the two girls were having “school,” basically the oldest tormenting the smallest. The oldest would ask the youngest to write out a word then she’d yell at her about her horrible handwriting. There’s a lot of ruler smacking, screaming, and gesticulating from the oldest that accompany every word written. The littlest girl was sitting there absolutely frustrated and helpless. It was really funny.

It’s gotten cold and has been pouring randomly for the past few days. After a long drought Morocco is now suffering from massive floods in some parts of the country. Today we watched it hail marble sized chunks for about 15 minutes and the electricity has gone out and come back on sporadically these last two days. The word for ‘winter’ and for ‘rain’ is the same in Darija.

This afternoon was rather cozy in the LCF’s house. Usually his house is a cold cement cave that never sees sunlight but today with all of the bad weather, electricity out, and candles lit, it was nice, especially when our LCF whipped out his lute and taught us a song. We all clapped along and learned an old Moroccan love song in the candlelight.

25/10/08

The power has been cutting in and out randomly for the last two or more days. We’ve been without power most of the day today and all of the day yesterday in the LCF’s house. That would mean it’s been freezing cold because we didn’t have power to run the electric heater, but the heater is a piece of crap that doesn’t heat even with power, so it’s been cold as heck with or without the electricity. This morning I basked in what little sun there was before it got overcast and started to shower again.

Last night, some of us visited the current PC volunteer’s favorite family and they cooked her favorite dish for us. I wasn’t particularly fond of the dish. Its main ingredient was some sort of really smelly, bitter seed that makes your pee stink worse than asparagus and that you stink like for days after eating it. Despite the meal I love the family. They’re energetic and really fun to be around. The mother made us all learn how to make milawi (a thin, fried bread), the tiny father threatened to take on our 250 lbs trainee, and the girls love to sing and dance.

Right now I’m snuggled up to the ferno (the small wood-burning stove) and trying to get this typed up despite the many interruptions by small children who want to type on the computer. God kids can still annoy the crap outta me.

26/10/08

Today’s been really fun. I was supposed to go to another Peace Corps training site to attend a wool-dying demonstration, but it was raining hard this morning and cold, so I never dragged my butt out of bed. Instead, I slept in until about 10, got up, was fed milawi and honey (food of the GODS) and managed to get most of my Peace Corps report done. Later, we visited the house of my host grandmother’s very sick brother and ate lunch there.

This man has been on and off of his deathbed for the past few weeks. Two nights ago the entire family gathered at his house convinced that that was his final night. When I visited him today, he was sitting up, talking and eating. Turns out that the family had been using a doctor in Azrou until yesterday, when they found an American doctor in a larger city. He came in and took the sick man off of all of the meds the other doctor had prescribed and viola! He’s cured.

On another note, the first word of Tamazight (a Berber dialect) that anyone will ever learn here is “ICH!!! ICH!!!!” which means “ Keep eating! Keep eating!” Moroccan custom dictates that in order to be a good host, you must stuff your guest until their stomach bursts. When my grandmother first told me to ICH! I looked at her jokingly and started scratching my arm saying “Itchy, itchy!” Turns out that English itchy also means itchy in Tamazight. Strange that two totally different languages share the same random work.

The itchy/ichy joke expanded further when I found out that the Darija word for corner (qunt) sounds very much like ‘cunt’ in English. I told my grandmother that cunt is a naughty word in English, so she automatically combined ‘ichy’ ‘qunt’ and started miming scratching at her crotch yelling “ichy qunt!”

Then my host mother had to know what a man’s penis was called in English. I told her dick, which set off another round of vulgarities. Dik, in darija, means rooster, so they combined corner and rooster to say:

Dik f lqunt. (A rooster is in the corner)

which sounds really close in English to “dick in cunt.” All night all of the women and little girls ran around saying, “Dik f lqunt! Dik f lqunt!” until the father got home. Then, when the youngest accidentally said it in front of him and started giggling, she got shushed up really quick.
Now everything is located, for my benefit, in the qunt. If I ask where something is inadvertently the answer will be: it’s in the qunt.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

SOUP!

I am in hog heaven. Someone asked me once if I’d rather have ice cream or soup for life; I answered soup.

And I have found my people.

Soup and stew are what they eat here with every meal after breakfast. Lentil soup, bean stew, chicken broth soup, cilantro, cayenne, onions piled in, thick and rich, soak up the last of it with the homemade bread. And the fruits and veggies are all locally grown and bought fresh daily in the local souk (market). And they gorge on cassava melon for dessert, which is sweeter than any melon I’ve ever had store-bought in the states.

I’m going to gain 100 lbs at least. But Lynn pointed out that all we ladies had to do was wear a jallaba and it’ll hide all of the weight.

One volunteer during lunch was too full to finish off what was on her plate. Another jokingly said, “You better clean your plate. You know there are starving children in Afri...” awkward pause when he realizes where we are sitting, “…here!” So much for mother’s reliable idiom.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shots

The call to pray which ends the fast at the end of the day starts with a giant explosion. Literally, some one lights a huge firecracker and boom! fast’s over. I hate to admit it but almost every time, some of us Peace Corps kids out on the terrace hunch down a bit and look around in terror. It does sound like a bomb going off if you’re not expecting it.

Found out or schedules for the rest of training though I don’t have it with me so this will be a gestimation:
Tomorrow, we leave for our main training site, Azrou, and live there in hotels for about a week. Then, we break up into groups of about 6 people and go to community based training and live with a host family for 2 weeks. Then back to Azrou for debriefing for 5 days (I also find out my final site location at this time) then back to the host family for another week. Back to Azrou, debriefing, then going to my actual final site to introduce myself and meet my new host family, back to Azrou to be sworn in as an official Peace Corps volunteer. After this, I’m off to my final site and my new host family for good. All during this training process, we’ll have a language and cultural facilitator who’ll come with us, teaching us the entire time. At times, I’ll be doing at least 4 ours of intense language training a day, not to mention all the hands on technical training. I’m looking forward to all of it, but a little bit daunted by the days ahead.

So, if you don’t hear from me that often, don’t be surprised.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I’m sitting on the terrace of the hotel in the middle of Rabat listening to the call to prayer, waiting for the sun to set in order to eat. The weather’s a perfect 75ish and there’s a slight breeze on which I catch the scent of food cooking in the downstairs kitchen. If I crane my neck a bit, I can catch the tiniest bit of view of the ocean butting up to the city. Life’s so hard sometimes.
The trip to the airport yesterday was rather hectic. Getting 58 people onto a bus with each carrying about 4 pieces of luggage, then offloading all of that into the airport was quite a task. The flight was fine, slept some, and so was the bus ride from Casablanca to Rabat.
Morocco, or rather, what I’ve seen of it between here and Casablanca, is brown. The land, the sheep, the dogs, the cows are all the same shade of the earth, with splashes of color popping up in the form of houses (usually white) and litter (mostly plastic of some sort).
We were welcomed at the Peace Corps main office in Rabat and driven to the hotel and fed. I don’t remember much else since I was dead tired.
Today consisted of shots (hep A and rabies), safety and health advice (concentration: diarrhea), and a visit from the US ambassador to Morocco. John Wayne tried to get the hotel staff to join him in a round of ‘if you’re happy and you know it’ but failed miserably without Arabic.
Looks like it’ll rain soon, so I’d best be moeysin’ in right about now.
Oh, note on the cold weather: some of the trainees are on the terrace with me. I’m in a t-shirt and jeans and doing fine, but most of the others find it too cold and are wearing jackets. I hope this bodes well for my bodily being when it does start to really cool off.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

End of an Era

I officially leave the US tomorrow.

Today ran pretty much the same as yesterday, only longer and without a plane ride. Orientation in the morning, lunch break with a group of Peace Corps-ees at an organic restaurant called The White Dog, more orientation and logistics for tomorrow’s departure, and dinner near Independence Hall with two of my favorite Corps-ees.

Many of the others are going out on the town tonight for one last American style hootenanny, but I’m currently enjoying the peace and solitude of the hotel suite. I figure this is probably the last time in a loooong time that I’m actually going to be alone. Collectivist culture may be the death of me yet.

Tomorrow at this time I’ll be in Morocco! We fly into Casablanca, bus to Rabat and chill in a hotel there for a few days before moving on to our training site in Azrou, where I’ll be placed with a host family for the duration of my pre-service training (11 weeks). After that, I’ll be sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer and sent to my permanent site, where I’ll live with another host family for 2 months and start working in that community. The long time spent with the two host families is supposed to help integrate me into my town and is also a basic crash course in Moroccan language and culture (none of the host families speak English). This is the aspect of Peace Corps that I’m the most excited about.

That's all for now. I hope Lyndsay has gotten her Peace Corps situation worked out, and my boyfriend is the most amazing man in the universe (I’m under contractual obligation to post that).

Oh yeah, post your address in the comments box or email it to me and I'll send you stuff when I have the time. I'll sen out my address when I get one.