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!


Wisconsin Native said...

Although I'm not familiar with the local laws, I believe this great blog post will more than offset any potential penalty for cricketcide. Hang in there!
-- David

Anonymous said...

No Joke--what a really nice blog entry! I'm an RPCV Mali 92-94. I presently work for Morocco Exchange. Please contact me at would be great if you could come and speak with our American student travellers when we start trips again in the fall.

katie said...

Thank you for your critique of that stupid Internet joke. Why do guys think it's funny to tell jokes that disrespect people with beliefs other than their own, and degrade women as well?

Also thank you very much for the link to the podcast.

B said...

it was sent by a female friend, actually ...

Joy said...

Let's meet up! An Agadir escape just may be what the doctor prescribes. And I have errands to run in the city. Happy you moved into a new home. Looks AMAZING! :)