Sunday, June 21, 2009

No joke.

First, a couple of random photos, as I don’t have anything to illustrate this post:

Coral (or salmon, take your pick) was the in color at last week’s in-service training in Marrakech.

My new students at the nedi neswi, or women’s center.

And now, the lesson of the day.

Peace Corps works toward three goals:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

So far, I’m frustrated in my (lack of) abilities to do much related to the first goal, but I do my utmost to work toward the second and third – here in my village by discussing American culture and habits with my new friends and students, and in this blog by sharing the culture of a typical village in a typical Muslim country.

The other day I woke to find a mass-distributed “joke” email from an old friend – someone I think greatly of, someone smart and empathetic and educated about world affairs, someone who's been most supportive of my work here:

Don't forget to mark your calendars. As you may already know, it is a sin for a Muslim male to see any woman other than his wife naked. He must commit suicide if he does. So next Saturday at 4 PM Eastern Time, all American women are asked to walk out of their house completely naked to help weed out any neighborhood terrorists. Circling your block for one hour is recommended for this anti-terrorist effort.

All patriotic men are to position themselves in lawn chairs in front of their house to prove they are not Muslims, & to demonstrate they think it's okay to see nude women other than their wife, & to show support for all American women. Since Islam also does not approve of alcohol, a cold 6-pack at your side is further proof of your anti-Muslim sentiment. The American gov't appreciates your efforts to root out terrorists & applauds your participation in this anti-terrorist activity.

God bless America!

It is your patriotic duty to pass this on. If you don't send this to at least 5 people you're a terrorist-sympathizing, lily-livered coward & are in the position of posing as a national threat.

Sigh. Obviously I have a ways to go in achieving Goal 3.

Say it with me this time: “Muslim” does not equal “terrorist.” Islam at its core is a peace-loving religion that, in a very few places, has been co-opted by power-hungry factions that instill fear – much as certain U.S. politicians have used 9/11 to instill fear in Americans -- for their own political or capitalist gain.

To belittle another’s religious customs only points up the effectiveness of that xenophobic fear-mongering.

(Then there’s the misogyny implied in the “joke” – that women are useful only as sexual beings, and that all-American men are base creatures who want only to watch naked women parade around them, beers at the ready.)

Morocco is only one example of the majority of Muslim countries that are peaceful and increasingly progressive; Turkey and Indonesia and India (largest population of Muslims in the world even though Islam is the minority there) and many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are just some of the others. It’s time, too, to start recognizing the substantial Muslim communities in such “developed” countries as France and Britain and Canada and, yes, even the United States.

The wonderful people I meet here are the same as the people I love and miss back home. They are not terrorists. They are mothers and fathers and grandparents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. They love their families; they eat three meals a day plus snacks; they pray; they work and cook and clean and laugh, and they hope their children will have it better than they did. There are some slight cultural differences in what we wear and how we pray; but while the specifics may vary, the concepts are the same.

The more we can all realize our commonalities, the less we will fear each other. The less we fear each other, the less likely we are to attack each other. This is human nature. This is part of why I’m here.

Some people will read this and make fun of me for not being able to take a “joke.” I’m OK with that. I would only ask that they imagine their own family had been born on the other side of the world, still loving each other, still doing a hard day’s work, still practicing a religion – a religion far more alike than unlike the one they practice currently. Imagine the joke’s on you. Still funny?

My day.

I don’t really have a “typical” day, especially as the dar chebab’s continued closure has left me without a specific workplace to frequent. (I’ve taken a peek inside the new building, by the way; it’s lovely and really, really should be open by the time I return from a work-related trip to Rabat next week.)

I do, however, think this is a rather representative look at life for one Peace Corps volunteer in one Moroccan village:

7:30 am: Wake up; obsessively check email; update podcasts to my iPod.

8:30 am: While listening to yesterday’s news, wash two basins of clothes (one darks, one whites) by hand in the kitchen sink, then hang them to dry on the clotheslines in my courtyard

9:30 am: Shower; write a little bit while waiting for my hair to dry; obsessively check email.

10:30 am: As sun beats down, erasing any evidence of my morning shower, walk equivalent of three or four blocks to my tutor’s apartment; arrive drenched in sweat. Spend a couple of hours asking for new vocabulary and points of grammar (Kifesh kangulu -- "how do we say" -- “crickets”? Kifesh kangulu “They’re driving me crazy!” Lend her my Internet modem for a couple of days (I could use the break, frankly).

12:30 pm: Walk to host family’s house; no one’s home but the youngest daughter, Khadija. Spend some time with her, watching a Bollywood musical on the telefaza. Sweat.

1:30 pm: Stop by the supermarche before it closes for the 2-3 hour lunch break; treat myself to a couple of croissants instead of the staple round of unleavened, unenriched bread.

2 pm: Lunch on croissants, cucumber with green melon, an orange, yogurt with peanuts, and mint iced tea. Think of all the paperwork I didn’t get around to yesterday but really, really will get to today.

2:30 pm: Decide to pop in a movie while lunch is settling; it’s too hot to move, even sitting directly under my new fan. Wish I could obsessively check email.

4 pm: Wake from movie. Take clothes off line. Think of all the paperwork I really, really will get to this evening, after the heat of the day passes.

4:30 pm: Read from one of half a dozen unfinished books lying around.

6 pm: Wake from reading; walk to hanut (store) to buy a new lightbulb to replace the one that burnt out during the cricketcide I waged last night. Enjoy being hailed by several groups of kids, young girls stretching up to kiss my cheek with dirt- and sugar-sticky lips. Do not enjoy l3jej, the afternoon desert wind that threatens to lift my skirt, Marilyn Monroe-style, just as I pass a posse of brooding young men.

6:10 pm: At the hanut, a young girl asks me for flus (money); I tell her I don’t have any – I’m a volunteer. But I agree to visit her home, hoping to talk with her and her mother about activities at the dar chebab (when it reopens). Khadija is 15 and elated to have company; younger brother is 12 and bratty; neighbor girl is 14 and insists on speaking French; grandmother keeps telling me she doesn’t understand French, while I’m speaking to her in Arabic. On the way to the house, Khadija tells me her mother is a little sick; I arrive to find a woman my age lying on the bedroom floor, writhing in pain from a twisted leg. She’s visited the doctor and has medicine, which she offers for my perusal. I tell her I’m not a doctor and can’t read Arabic. She’s surprisingly chatty in between bursts of pain. The daughter and grandmother offer me tea – well, there’s no tea, but they offer me bread and olive oil. I eat their food, food they likely can little afford to share. The girl asks me again for money, or for clothes from America if I have any that are too small; I say “inchallah.” I ask her to come to the dar chebab; she says “inchallah.” We each know what the other means by "inchallah."

7:30 pm: My heart hurts on the walk home; I know some volunteers get asked for money or medical advice on a daily basis, but it hasn’t happened very often to me. I don’t know what the right answer is, what would be best for them, what would make my heart less heavy.

7:35 pm: Crossing the highway, come across a man of European descent standing with two Moroccan men in front of two stalled cars. Thinking I might be of some help, I ask in French whether he speaks English. “Non,” he scoffs, barely able to spit the single word my way. My attitude turns bitter, disdainful.

7:40 pm: Try to do some yoga; still too hot, and my stomach, still too full of bread, rebels at the notion of any inverted poses. Quick, cold shower to rinse off the day’s grime.

9 pm: Paint toenails in honor of impending trip to the big city. Too hot for dinner. Chew on some cold, cooked green beans I’d meant to turn into an elegant salad involving walnuts, brie and fresh ginger, all of which I inexplicably possess and never get around to using.

10 pm: Start writing blog post; begin nightly ritual of killing bugs large and small. Crickets and roaches and beetles, oh shit.

Midnight: Lights out; decide to listen to a podcast under cover of darkness instead of reading by flashlight, to avoid attracting more bugs. Asleep before host finishes introducing her guests. Dream of paperwork I didn’t get to today but really, really will get to tomorrow.

Quote of the week:

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

Podcast of the week:

Here On Earth’s episode on “The Blue Sweater,” a new memoir about the dependencies fostered by traditional means of international aid, vs. creating participatory, entrepreneurial partnerships with local communities.

Currently reading: “In Morocco,” Edith Wharton

Currently listening to: “Killin’ the Blues,” Allison Krauss and Robert Plant

Shout out to: My fabulous and inspiring Peace Corps recruiter, who had a beautiful baby boy this week!

An extra dose of love to: My dad. Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Life in the city.

The Earth Cafe, Marrakech -- hands down the best restaurant I've yet visited in Morocco.

I’m back home in my dusty little village, after a weeklong in-service training in Marrakech. Training was … training. Actually, many of the sessions were both useful and inspiring, as they were led by fellow volunteers who have actually used the tips they were sharing. And it was great to see everyone again … though with so many workshops, so many people and such hot weather, the week was maybe a day or two too long.

But we briefly reaped the benefits of life in the big city. Our bungalow was not the zwinest, but it did sport this crazy new invention called air conditioning, and that more than made up for the fly-ridden, cold-water shower. And I got to bust out some outfits I would never wear in my conservative site -- good gracious, my calves were showing! And my upper arms! Hshuma 3liya -- shame on me!

I spent too many dirhams, but it was totally worth it for the amazing food I was able to sample. I’m not knocking tagines or couscous, or even my own rotation of salad concoctions, but it’s nice to branch out into some other fare once in awhile. Seafood swimming in red coconut curry one evening, authentic Italian another. My favorite meal by far, though, was my second visit to the Earth Café, a wonderfully hip vegetarian eatery just off the Djemma El Fna, Marrakech’s central square of food, souks and free entertainment. Goat cheese baked in phyllo pastry, atop a bed of balsamic-roasted veggies ... I can still taste it melting on my tongue.

And then there was cocktail hour … glorious cocktail hour. Mmm, cocktails … In a country where alcohol is forbidden for Muslims and hard to find for travelers, it’s hard not to turn into a high-schooler, continually cruising for the possibility of scoring a bottle or two. We found a bottle or two. ’Twas lovely.

Danice and me in color-coordinated garb.

A not-so-strange not-turn of events.

Here’s a shocking surprise, upon my return home: My dar chebab is still closed! (cue sarcasm). Couldn’t even find the director for a few days, though I finally tracked him down this evening. The new library/informatique building is finished, actually, and looks lovely, with a tiled floor and peach and lavender walls. Soon’s they clean up a bit and move all the computers and books into the new room (and out of my classroom, which currently looks like a storage locker), we’ll be back open for business. So, I’m guessing, maybe another month or so. (Sorry, can’t seem to turn off that sarcasm feature.)

My women’s class is too busy to meet, and will be on vacation soon. The young women I was tutoring for their final exam have taken the test and disappeared on me. Even my dar chebab regulars are nowhere to be found. I have one last class at the women’s center tomorrow before it closes for the summer.

I feel utterly useless at times. I know this is normal for this time of year, this slowness. But I’ve already felt idle for a couple of months now. Hard to ward off that American mindset of work = success = reason for being. The one thing that calms me is afternoon tea with my host “mom” (again. two years younger than me). It’s not your fault the dar chebab’s closed, she reminds me. Everyone’s taking tests anyway, she reminds me. And then they’ll just hang around the house all summer. It’s too hot to do anything else. It’s OK, she says. Relax. Breathe.

So I try.

Plenty else going on, though.

* Both of my host sisters have new jobs that, I hope, will help them each feel more successful. Though it means I likely will see far less of each of them.

* Their sister has been visiting from Germany, where she moved about a year ago after marrying a professor she met in Agadir. The grandmother’s here, too, from her home out in the country. It’s been lovely to see the family dynamics evolve into a constant house party atmosphere. There is nothing lovelier than the idle, comfortable laughter of a houseful of female relatives.

* I bought a bed today, my first big purchase made solo, with no one to interpret or bargain for me. I’m pretty happy with it and look forward to feeling more at home once I have an actual bed to sleep in at night, to spread out my books and journal and music. (For months now I’ve been camping out in my living area, on a mattress considerably narrower than a twin bed and lumpier than Pamela Anderson, which is not a plus in my book.) Pictures to come once it’s built and delivered.

* Still making friends everywhere I go. Yesterday I spent time talking with a trio of women, two of whom spent most of the time trying (in vain) to convince the third that I was speaking Arabic to her, not French or some other exotic language. (I know what she means, though. It’s all Greek to me, too, honey.) Today it was a lovely older woman who held both my hands the entire time, saving when she had to use her own to waggle her substantial breasts at me while indicating the number of kids she’s raised. I can only be thankful she didn’t waggle mine while trying to comprehend why I haven’t had any.

Proud to be a citizen of the world.

I’m still a little bit out of the loop, newswise (my amazing new internet connection seems to be more predisposed to ridiculous and random Facebook quizzes than to information about the serious news of our day), but I did manage to catch Newt Gingrich’s speech in which he proudly declared, “I am not a citizen of the world. I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous!” Much has been made of the statement, especially how it contrasts with GOP hero Ronald Reagan’s quote a mere generation ago that he was a citizen of both the U.S. and the world.

The brouhaha seems to be over semantics. Newties are afraid the word “citizen” puts them in league with the dictators and commies of the world. For the more open-minded, less literal among us, it’s just a term of solidarity – with people, not governments. Being American does not make us superior – only very fortunate.

Huma huma, as we say here – People are people, the same everywhere. We all try to roll over for a few more hours of sleep in the morning, then get up, get the kids dressed and fed, do our daily work whether it’s at home or elsewhere, make another meal, crash in front of the telefaza, laugh a bit, fight a bit, fall asleep and do it all over again the next day,

That, more than anything, is what I’ve gotten out of my Peace Corps service so far.

And it seems to be a meme of sorts, at least in the news bytes and podcasts that have been coming my way this week.

Here on Earth has a recent episode on “Travel as a Political Act” – the idea that exploring other worlds brings home to us the reality that we’re all more similar than we are different. And that we’re all motivated essentially by two things: Fear and love. Fear of change, and love of our families.

We’re like spiders in that respect … the “other” (society, religion, etc) is just as afraid of us as we are of them. A very good reason to get to know our world neighbors better … and let them know us, the us defined by everyday life, not by our show of force.

Other good resources on the topic:

* On Point had a discussion this week on global education for high-school and university students – not only for the lower cost, but to make them more comfortable in / understanding of the larger world.

* Rita Golden Gelman, author of the greatly inspiring book “Tales of a Female Nomad” is trying to drum up support for a formal “gap year” program, a concept Michelle Obama has already embraced.

Quotes of the day:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrowmindedness.” – Mark Twain

“Not to know is bad. Not to want to know is worse. Not to hope is unthinkable. Not to care is unforgivable." — Nigerian saying (according to Facebook and the innerwebs, anyway)

“There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.” — Christopher Morley

“You don’t have to be unhappy to have the blues.” – Little Ed (of Little Ed and the Blues Imperials) on “Wait, Wait – Don’t Tell Me,” June 12, 2009

Currently reading: “In Morocco,” Edith Wharton; “A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation,” Charlotte Parnell

Currently listening to: music from Gnoua Festival 2008

Currently solidaritizing with: The brave, green-wearing women and men of Iran

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dar hlwa dar.

I should be sleeping so I can get up early for the journey to Marrakech in the morning – my training mates gather for a weeklong In-Service Training, the first time we’ve all been together since we swore in as PCVs and departed for our separate villages. Looking forward to a fun reunion and a new teaching tip or two. 

But, before I leave, I wanted to put up a couple of pictures of my new digs. Long story as to the why, but I’m so happy I’ve moved. No more late-night worries, no more all-hours noise from the autoroute below my former apartment, no more dust flying in my windows from the vacant lot across the street.

This place is a bit more dated, but homier. A small patch of courtyard out my back door is all mine, site of a future pot garden, inchallah

Some definite drawbacks: I've killed more cockroaches in the past few days than I care to think about. The landlord's family upstairs is given to late-night arguing and TV-blaring, and the 3-year-old has temper tantrums on a schedule as regular as the call to prayer. No sink in the bathroom, but I can live with that, I think. Thanks to an emergency extension cord purchase, I’m now able to use my hot water heater. 

Despite all that, I'm happier here. There is quiet. There's an outdoor space. And a sense of being in a neighborhood, surrounded by families.  

Funny, I’d meant for ages to put up some photos of family/friends at the old place, yet never seemed to get around to it. This time around, it was the first thing I did after unpacking. Nothing makes a place feel like home to me like being surrounded by my books and pictures of the people I love.

Anny approved the fung shui. All I know is I feel more at home here than I have for a long time.

Obama's new beginning.

It’s nearly midnight, and I just don’t have the energy to go where I want to in dissecting President Obama’s speech in Cairo this week. You can read it for yourself here:

Text: Obama's Speech in Cairo 

Obama’s reaching out is definitely being talked about in my village. He even gave a shoutout to Morocco for being the first country to recognize America as a country back in the 1700s. (Fun fact: Morocco was also one of the first countries to invite Peace Corps.)

My favorite Obama quote: “A woman who is denied an education is denied equality.”

And as for those who ask “why isn’t the Muslim world apologizing to us?” the best analogy I can think of is this: Do we expect the entire Christian world to apologize for the murder of Dr. George Tiller by a misguided extremist? (Sorry it's not a better-crafted argument, but my head is nodding off even as I add this... maybe I'll try again later.) 

This just makes me laugh every time I see it.

A display of pressure cookers at my favorite mika palace (home of housewares and all things plastic). Take a close look at the box. If your eyes are failing like mine are, allow me to translate: It’s the “Happy Rebecca” pressure cooker! The woman on the box looks happy indeed (surely because she’s not sweating over a hot stove) and looks not completely unlike me.

Quotes of the day.

“There are two kinds of people, those who finish what they start and so on.” – Robert Byrne (courtesy Cheri C.)

“You have powers you never dreamed of. You can do things you never thought you could do. There are no limitations in what you can do except the limitations of your own mind.” – Darwin P. Kingsley (courtesy D. Lillie)

"When you look for the bad expecting it, you will find it." – Eleanor H. Porter, “Pollyanna: The First Glad Book”

"The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all.” – George Eliot (in reply to Socrates)

Currently reading: May 25 issue of The New Yorker from Amrika (thanks, Mattchoo!)

Currently listening to: Holly Golightly, Juana Molina (thanks, iTunes!)


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More surfing on the innerwaves.

The Los Angeles Times has an article today on increasing numbers of Peace Corps applicants, and the hopes for increased funding and more volunteers: 

More Americans Turning to Peace Corps

I'm not sure how I feel about increasing the numbers of Peace Corps volunteers. Actually, I'm all for it -- if we also increase, even if only slightly, the amount spent per volunteer/site. Not to give away funds to local communities -- I'm totally behind the Peace Corps concept of teaching rather than giving. But just a little bit more money would go a looonnnnggg way toward giving volunteers better training before heading into their sites, and better resources/support to help their communities launch projects. 

I'm also so happy to see Peace Corps re-entering Rwanda, Liberia and Ethiopia. I sometimes wonder whether Peace Corps remains too long in certain other countries ... at some point, shouldn't those countries be better equipped to do their own development work? Certainly in Morocco, in my sector, in my own little village, I can count several local young adults who have the education, the job-specific training, and most important the desire to do my job -- they just can't find any paying work. When should a country be considered ready to take over and offer these opportunities to its own residents? Are we sometimes a crutch, relied on long past necessary? I don't know the answer; I just wonder about it sometimes. 

In other news ... 

* Tomorrow is moving day, inchallah. But not until 7:30 or so, after the sun starts to go down and takes the heat of the day with it. I suppose, with how little I have, I'll still have plenty of time to unpack at least the essentials before bedtime. I just counted ... not even during college freshman year, I'm betting, have I moved in fewer than 15 boxes. What doesn't change, however, is the percentage of those boxes that hold books. 

* We've gone to Moroccan Savings Time for the summer, until Ramadan begins in late August. So now I am 6 hours ahead of CDT, instead of 5. Except when I'm not -- some people here operate on "new time," but some adamantly remain on "old time." Adjust your clocks accordingly. 

* An encouraging email from PC headquarters: This month’s theme for Gay and Lesbian Pride Month is “Your Rights, Our Rights, Human Rights.”  This theme is particularly germane when one considers that, the U.S. recently joined 66 other U.N.-member states in signing a decree for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and that many of our Volunteers and staff members serve in societies with limited rights for gay and lesbian people.  With this in mind, let us reflect upon how we can build toward a more inclusive society. 

* I've collected paperwork from all but one of my summer camp kids. They're so adorably funny when they're excited ... and they're so adorably scared-looking in the accompanying "mug shot" photos. 

* I am NOT getting a sore throat. Nope. Huh-uh. Not happening. 

* Shout-out to Mom and Dad: My emails to you are STILL bouncing back to me. Maybe check your spam settings ... maybe it's because I'm overseas? PS: Please send tortilla chips recipe!