Sunday, November 28, 2010

Home front.

I'm home now ~ whatever that means. For now, it means living in the computer room of my brother's house, still feeling dislocated, out of place, out of shape, aimless. Looking for a job, which isn't easy without a car or a phone ... or, right now, a computer (apparently it wasn't thirsty for the bowl of cereal milk I rather unceremoniously dumped on it my second day back). Feeling somewhat homebodyish, shy about getting back into my old routine. Haven't yet seen people I really am eager to see

Still ... I've made it through much harder situations than this. I guess that's one thing I've learned ~ three, rather. Patience. Flexibility. Perseverance. I feel blessed to be surrounded by so much family, so much love ... so much English! (On the long plane ride home, I was pondering things I had to accomplish back in Nebraska, and was still practicing how to frame the questions and how to understand the answers ... when I remembered, Oh, yeah! They speak-a my language!)

The local  newspaper has a feature story today on the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary. While I'm a bit disappointed that my main message didn't make it into the piece (that by living in a Muslim country I learned, and am now trying to share, how much more we are all alike than different ... i.e., how far apart we should keep the words "Muslim" and "terrorist"), it's good to be quoted and good to see Peace Corps get so much local press. Here's the link:

50 years later, Peace Corps continues breaking down barriers one person at a time

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Whenever his own tribe won a victory in a battle with another tribe, Si Abdallah el Hassoun inwardly rejoiced. At the same time he considered this pleasure a base emotion, one unworthy of him. Thus, to fortify his sanctity he bade farewell to his students and went to live in Sla, which is by the sea.

It was not long before the divinity students of his schoool sent several of their number to Si Abdallah, imploring him to return to them. Without replying, the saint led them to the rocks at the edge of the sea.

How turbulent the water is! He exclaimed. The students agreed. Then Si Abdallah filled a jar with the water and set it on a rock. yet the water in here is still, he said, pointing at the jar. Why?

A student answered: Because it has been taken out of the place where it was.

Now you see why I must stay here, Si Abdallah said.

~ from “Points in Time,” Paul Bowles

Last days ... my Peace Corps family.

Our swearing-out ceremony. 

Planting a tree in memory of So-Youn, 
the colleague we lost last year. 

Meeting Rep. Keith Ellison 

 Our assistant program manager, the inspiring, 
optimistic and indefatigable Amina Fahim. 

Candace jumps for joy

Faye and Marissa, positive energy forces  

Eric, Toubkal hiker and youth developer extraordinaire

My nearest neighbors: Vish, and Joy in spirit 

Stamping out: Safi, baraka, Peace (Corps) out. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Last days ... friends and family.

You can click each image once or twice for a larger view.

Host grandmother, "mother," sister, and me.

Malika and Fatna, the two young women
from the nedi nesswi who took charge
of our local health workshops and
became such good friends to me.

Fatima, who crocheted me a hijab,
and her adorable son, Youssef.

Last day at the dar chebab.

Last henna ~ the amazing freehand work
of my host sister Kabira. The left hand
is "moderne," the right hand is
traditional Tashelheit designs.

With my completed henna, wrapped
up in the new lizar I gave my host mom.

Granny shelling almonds from the farm.
Last couscous, and the most delicious
one yet (in the end, it turned out to be
my second-to-last couscous).

Last days ... my village.

The sign on the edge of town (notice, in the
background, the badly painted concrete "orange,"
one of two pillars
flanking the road into the village)

My village's main square (actually more like a triangle)
Main Street in the Souss

One of my two "nut guys" in Taroudant,
where I buy cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds
and the amazing local almonds

Buying last-minute gifts from my jewelry guys in Taroudant

My mul karusa (donkey cart guy) regally
hauling my boxes and luggage to the
post office to be shipped home

And then I found 5 dirhams.

I don't know if these'll be as hilarious to non-PCVs (Peace Corps volunteers) as they are to me, but the following stories, told anonymously at our Close of Service conference last month, cracked me up. Thanks to Colin for typing them up for posterity. (PS, unfortunately, none of these stories is mine; in a few cases I've added some info in brackets for non-PCVs.)

*  *  *

I thought I made a nice new friend in my town, then one day she disappeared. When I asked people where she went, I quickly found out she went to jail. Jokes around the PCV  community in my area started about how I was going to spring my jail bird friend.

This one time ... I went to an American's Berber wedding where on the final day of festivities everyone was gathered for the traditional haydus. There were many tourists so many of the women were not dancing, so us Americans decided to go up and do our own "bridal" dance. So here we are Berber-ish dancing around our American bride while tourists are taking photos of our "traditional" dance.

I taught my bus guy the pound-and-explode, and now that's how he greets me.

My bra broke in front of 20 male teenagers.

This summer in Fes I got in and told the "driver" where to go before I realized he was not a taxi, just a little red car parked in the middle of the [little red] taxis.

This one time a group of PCVs traveled to Fes. Four PCVs sat in the back seat of the taxi and two scantily clad women sat in the front two seats. During the ride, the PCVs discussed the likelihood that the women were prostitutes. Upon arrival in Timahdite, the taxi promptly stopped at the liquor store where the women bought beers. A small discussion between the taxi driver and the women ensued and suddenly the taxi turned off on a side road. Noticing the detour, the PCVs wondered where they were going (but didn't put up a fight). Eventually the taxi stopped in Mischlifen, where the prostitutes and driver mounted horses and rode away from the cab. It was the craziest taxi ride ever!

Once I forgot the flashcards of fruits and vegetables for my neddi neswi food unit at a hanut [shop], and when I went back to get them the hanut men had studied them and asked me to correct their pronunciation. Hooray!

It was a normal day. I was headed to my aerobics. When I arrived I realized I forgot my workout pants but luckily one of the women brought two pairs of pants (I think she actually just took off a layer). I then quickly put them on so we could begin class. The problem was, they were two sizes too big and I had to run around holding them up. The women began to laugh and run around slapping my butt every time we passed. They then began to critique my body and how "I was miskin because the pants didn't fit me." To this day, every class, they try and slap me from behind as I run by.

There's a cafe I usually go to. I went after lftour [break-fast] one night during Ramadan and sat with the high school teachers who hang out there. We got into an argument about fasting. I said it's difficult and not good for your health; they said it's great. Aziz, the French teacher, ended the argument by finding the middle ground. "Fasting is good because God and the prophet say it's good," he said. "And it's bad because it means no f**king during the day."

I often printed photos from online products to inspire product development. One day, Amina pulled me aside and asked for me to show her something at the cyber. I didn't fully understand, but was excited someone seemed to be taking initiative on the product development front. Getting to the cyber, I discovered she wanted to MSN with a boy from Tangier, and that's how I spent 30 uncomfortable minutes video chatting and chaperoning a date.

First night in homestay in site I got a really greasy milky rice meal. I told my host mom I was allergic to milk, but she told me it was God's will to see if I get sick. Not wanting to start off on the wrong foot I ate the meal. About 30 minutes later, I went to bed. Next day: SICK, SICK, SICK. The whole family could hear me, and my host mom came up to me and said "that's the last time you eat a hot meal and drink cold water."

I once pooped in my pants ... 20 minutes from my destination ... while riding in a souk bus.

I'll never forget asking my CBT [community-based training] mom to let me take a bath that night after ripening for two weeks. Little did I know how difficult that simple task would be and the work I was asking of my host mom. Several nails, date pits, and a tarp later she had prepared my at-home hammam ... in my room ... nowhere near a drain. I never before considered that I would have to call Malika to translate to me exactly what I was supposed to do ~ and that my host mom would in fact use my bath water to mop the house after the whole family confined themselves to the TV room to give me the privacy the slits in my bedroom door did not afford me. And that was my first authentic bathing experience.

[from a male PCV:] It was Ramadan 27, the Night of Power, and I was still in training. My host family wanted to send me to get my picture taken with the 12-year-old girls, but they decided not to tell me. "We're going to rent you a jellaba so you can look nice on Eid [the holiday that ends Ramadan]. Come on. We wandered around town, doing everything we could find that involved neither jellabas nor photos. We got Eid cookie ingredients. We flashed the cable box. I followed. My mom went into a shop. My sister did, too. I followed. Twenty middle-aged women looked at me. Shock! Horror! I smiled. "I'm an American," I thought. "Don't be afraid of me. I bring you peace and friendship." My sister turned on a four rial coin. "Come on, Amin." We walked out. "This is the women's hairdresser. Never go there again." Then I found five dirhams.

Talk with camp girl's mom.
"I'll take care of her, promise."
Came out: "I'll mount her."

During my final site homestay, I tried to always do my own laundry, but sometimes I traveled during laundry day. My host sister (the woman of the house, who is younger than I am) offered to wash my clothes on those days. One time she returned my clean, folded clothes, but she withheld a few items in a separate pile. Later that day she brought the small stack of sports bras and underwear. She'd never seen a sports bra, and, as a well-endowed woman, was quite excited. I offered her one because I'd packed a few others, and she was very appreciative. It wasn"t until our next trip to the hammam that I realized she'd accepted the whole small stack of laundry as a gift, including my perfect hammam undies: black and boy-cut. I couldn't bring myself to tell her we don't give away used underwear in America ~ and I didn't want them back!

I'm at the Casa bus station eating a sandwich. The guy next to me asks,
"Where you from?"
"The US."
"You Muslim?"
Then the guy asks the shopkeeper,
"Is he circumcised?"
The shopkeeper said he didn't know.
So the guy asks me,
"Are you circumcised?"
I respond,
"What? I don't understand."
"I don't understand what you're asking."

This one time, in Morocco, I took a camel trek in Merzouga with my mother, father, brother, and fiance. We rode out into the dunes to watch the sunset. As the camels knelt down for us to disembark, my tiny 5'2" mother flipped off the giant descending camel, catching her bra strap on the camel handle, landing on her feet, like a 60-year old Midwestern Mary Lou Retton.

Once, we saw a fire burning under a camio [pickup] truck parked on the side of the road. Not a random, untended fire, but an intentional one ~ plastic, rubber, goat heads, etc. There were at least three ~ yes, three ~ young Moroccan men studying the fire burning under the truck intently. We decided to stop and walk the opposite direction!!!

I was walking through the palmerie with some of my friends in site. We were surprised to see a group of tourists coming along another path. "Ahh! Do you know what you should do?" Saida asked me. "You need to go up to them and ask for a stylo [pen]! Come on! Do it!" I was laughing so hard that the moment was lost; the tourists walked around a corner, and I never got to try out my French. [young Moroccan children traditionally beg tourists for pens.]

During my first week at my youth center I greeted my director and asked him how his women were doing instead of how his family was doing. [the two words sound very similar in Arabic]

I had just finished memorizing fruits and vegetables, and my host sister had just warned me about mispronouncing words, causing the meaning to change. Later that evening, I went to the hanut to purchase raisins and asked for zbub. [Darija for penis] Awkward turtle.

Before l'Eid Kbir [the main holiday] my host dad took me out to the sheep souk to learn the ropes of how to purchase the best sheep available within budget. As with most activities amongst men in public, it's an opportunity to socialize and catch up on their respective families. My host father approached some sheep and did the customary checking of the teeth, fondling, and picking up the sheep by its hind legs to check the weight, and then lastly the crotch grab. I did everything my host dad did up until the crotch grab. I found the crotch grab weird, but I was more surprised that immediately after my host dad performed the crotch grab, his friend Abdelhaqq came up and they shook hands as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

I bought a bunch of baby chicks to raise, and put them with my host family's chicks so they could all grow up together. But as they grew up, the whole village noticed and laughed about my chickens growing up American like their "mother":
* They hang out in a group by themselves and don't hang out with the other chicks
* They don't like stale Moroccan bread and only eat expensive chicken food
* When summer came and it got hot, they pulled out all their feathers and ran around "naked" all summer

During PST [pre-service training], the Small Business Development sector would often challenge the Youth Development sector in games of skill. Even though YD would participate half-heartedly, they always won.

While walking out to the dry riverbed in site to go jogging, a man was 200 yards or so away pulling up his jellaba going to the restroom as most men do out in this part of town. As I start placing my earphones in, I hear, "Ca va gazelle? Baby," followed by cat calls and hissing ~ yes, the guy was hitting on me while taking a dump.

One day in late winter, I was walking to work and saw something that looked like snow on the road. As I crouched to examine it, I realized it was soap suds. When I looked down the street I saw the source ~ they were cleaning a well and there was a mound of suds covering the two-lane road that was as tall as my waist. There were kids playing in it of course (as I would have if I were 10). One of the kids was shouting to the other "climb Abdelkader, climb!" Luckily I have it on video.

There is a traditional medicine-maker in my site. One day he pulled me into his shop; I was greeted by a two-foot-long dried lizard guarding the door and rows of herb-filled glass bottles on shelves lining the walls. He told me that he would perform tukkl on me, and proceeded to pull out a string and measure my arm. After comparing the combined length of my fingers with that of my arms, he told me I had microbat [microbes] in my stomach. I didn't see the connection, but was impressed nonetheless that he had diagnosed my recent GI problems. Next he wrapped the string around my head and proclaimed "you never get headaches," which is also true. Since he was on a roll of correct diagnoses, I permitted him a third test. This time he made me lie down on the ponj [mattress] and felt my chest for a little longer than I was comfortable with. Then he grunted "good." I still don't really understand.

We were at CBT for the last day. The next day we would go back to Azrou for seminar sessions and find out our site assignments. My host mom decided to wash a few items of dirty clothing that were in my room, including my towel. I was worried that they would not have time to dry overnight, but she assured me that it would be fine. The next morning, I went up to the roof and discovered that my towel, sweaters, etc. were frozen solid! I had to snap the ice and fold them into a plastic bag for the ride back to Azrou ~ and that was one of my last memories of CBT.

First year after spring camp at Tim's house when I tried to prove I was strong or tough as the boys. Bad idea; I woke up with bruises.

Whilst stranded at a flooded bridge on the road to Imilchil, I got into a conversation with an Irish transvestite living in Morocco who owned a dog named Obama. After turning down an invitation for tea in his Winnebago, I watched as he declared he'd wait no longer and attempted to cross. As his Winnebago stalled halfway across the bridge and in the throes of the river, I smirked. Best tea refusal ever.

Going to the sources with artisan women to wash wool in the river, and they end up in a full-on water fight ~ buckets of water on their heads. Wrote about it in my blog. Went back to explain photos that women were fully clothed in their jellabas ~ that just seemed normal to me, but photos probably needed explaining.

My host family witnessing my apparent transition to womanhood as I unwittingly applied chapstick in front of all of them at the dinner table. (I am male)

I once woke up in the middle of the night and found that a stray cat had curled up with me in bed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Books I've read in Morocco.

September 2008:
1. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books: Azar Nafisi (Nonfiction=N)
2. Franny & Zooey, JD Salinger (Fiction=F)
3. Culture Shock: Morocco (N)
4. Working With Youth: Approaches for Volunteers (N)
5. PACA: Using Participatory Analysis for Community Action (N)

October-November 2008:
6. Loving Frank, Nancy Horan (F)
7. The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff (N)
8. Rules of the Volunteer in Development: Toolkits for Building Capacity (N)
9. Stupid White Men, Michael Moore (N)
10. A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen (N)
11. The Te of Piglet, Benjamin Hoff (N)
12. The Rough Guide to Morocco (N)

December 2008:
13. Peace Corps Morocco Youth Development Teaching and Community Development Book (N)
14. Peace Corps Volunteer Ongoing Language Learning Manual (N)
15. Resources for the Dar Chebab, Peace Corps Morocco 1997, Karen E. Martin (N)
16. Resources for the Dar Chebab, Peace Corps Morocco 1998, Karen E. Martin (N)
17. Peace Corps Life Skills Manual (N)
18. Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny, Suze Orman (N)

January 2009:
19. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, Daniel Quinn (F)
20. If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino (F)
21. The Delicate Prey, Paul Bowles (F)

February 2009:
22. Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, Paul Sheffield (F)
23. The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell (N)
24. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, Anne Fadiman (N)
25. Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, Geraldine Brooks (N)(second reading)

March 2009:

26. The Koran   
27. The Comfort of Strangers, Ian McEwan (F)
28. Best American Essays 2007 (N)
29. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (F)
30. Kiwis Might Fly: A New Zealand Adventure, Polly Evans (N)
31. Various GGLOW camp manuals, Peace Corps Morocco (N)
32. Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman’s Journey Toward Independence, Leila Abouzeid (F)
33. The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles (F)

April 2009:

34. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (F)
35. Sweetness in the Belly, Camilla Gibb (F)
36. Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor (F)
37. Patience and Power: Women’s Lives in a Moroccan Village, Susan S. Davis (N)
38. Running With Scissors, Augustyn Burroughs (N)
39. Uncivilized Beasts and Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent, John F. Burnett (N)
40. “Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker” (N/Poetry)
41. “Quick Fix Vegetarian: Healthy Home-Cooked Meals in 30 Minutes or Less,” Robin Robertson (N/Cooking)

May 2009:
42. “In the Mind’s Eye: Essays Across the Animate World,” Elizabeth Dodd (N)
43. “Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World,” Edward Said (N)
44. The Best American Non-Required Reading 2008 (N/F)
45. “Double Fault,” Lionel Shriver (F)

June 2009:
46. “All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s,” Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman (N)
47. “The Kid (What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant): An Adoption Story,” Dan Savage (N)
48. “Meditation: A Beginner’s Guide,” Charlotte Parnell (N)
49. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Stieg Larsson (F)
50. In the Land of No Right Angles, Daphne Seal (F)
51. Ornament and Silence: Essays on Women’s Lives, Kennedy Fraser (N)
52. Best New Games: 77 games and 7 trust activities for all ages and abilities, Dale N. Le Fevre (N)

July 2009:
53. Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America, Natalie Goldberg (N) (reread)
54. Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey, Alison Wearing (N)
55: Rick Steves’ Spain 2006 (N)
56: In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore (N)
57. A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco, Suzanna Clarke (N)
58: The River Queen: A Memoir, Mary Morris (N)
59: The Best American Travel Writing 2008, Anthony Bourdain, editor (N)

August 2009:
60. Road Work, Mark Bowden (N)
61. Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World, Mary Pipher (N) (read while on vacation in Spain)
62. Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, Natalie Goldberg (N) (third read?) (on vacation in Spain)
63. Unaccustomed Earth: Stories, Jhumpa Lahiri (on vacation in Spain) F

September 2009:
64. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (2nd read? in Spain) (F)
65. The Best American Short Stories 1999, Amy Tan, editor (read in Spain) (F)
66. On the Rocks: The KGB Bar Fiction Anthology, Rebecca Donner, editor (F)
67. A Street in Marrakech, Elizabeth Warnock Fernea (N)
68. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle (N)
69. The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, His Holiness the Dalai Lama (N)
70. Salvation Blues: One Hundred Poems 1985-2005, Rodney Jones (Poetry) 

October 2009:
71. Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town, Paul Theroux (N)
72. African Visas: A novella and stories, Maria Thomas (F)
73. Best New American Voices 2007: Fresh Fiction from the Top Writing Programs, Sue Miller, ed. (F)
74. Icy Sparks: A Novel, Gwyn Hyman Rubio (F)
75. Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, Natalie Goldberg (N) (reread)
76. Sun After Dark: Flights into the Foreign, Pico Iyer (N) 

November 2009:
77. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck (F)
78. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (Memoir)
79. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky (F)

December 2009:
80. Selected Stories, Andre Dubus (F) (read on vacation in U.S.)
81. Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival, Jen Marlowe et al. (N) (read on vacation in U.S.)

January 2010:
82. Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communication of the Dying, Maggie Callahan and Patricia Kelley (N) (read on vacation in U.S.)
83. Best American Essays 2009, Mary Oliver, editor (N)
84. Best American Short Stories 2006, Ann Patchett, editor (F)
85. Everything That Rises Must Converge, Flannery O’Connor (F)
86. A Whistling Woman, A.S. Byatt (F)

February 2010:
87. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our
Families: Stories From Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch (N)
88. Waiting, Ha Jin (F)
89. The Conservationist, Nadine Gordimer (F)  
90. The Best American Travel Writing 2009, Simon Winchester, editor (N)

Mach 2010:
91. We Share Walls: Language, Land, and Gender in Berber Morocco, Katherine E. Hoffman (N)
* Way too much time reading online in lieu of books

April 2010:
92. The Best American Short Stories 2009, Alice Sebold, editor (F)
* Way too much time reading online in lieu of books

May 2010:
93. Eleven Minutes, Paulo Coelho (F)  
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho (F)
95. Best American Travel Writing 2006, Tim Cahill, editor (N)
96. Morocco: The Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges, Marvine Howe (N)

June 2010:
97. A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold (N)
98. This Blinding Absence of Light, Tahar Ben Jelloun (F)
99. The Spiritual Gifts of Travel: Best of Travelers’ Tales, edited by James O’Reilly and Sean O’Really (N)
100. Walden and Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau (N)

July-August 2010:
101. The Spider’s House, Paul Bowles (F)
102. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, Tracy Kidder (N)
103. Up and Down the Road and Other Stories, Jilali el Koudia (F)

September 2010:
104. Twilight Sleep, Edith Wharton (F)
105. A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Writer Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (N)
106: Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert (N) (reread)

October 2010:
107. Lonely Planet Paris (N)
108. Berlitz French phrase book and dictionary (N)
109. Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence (F)

November 2010:
110. Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda (N)
111. ???
My Top 10:
A Language Older Than Words, Derreck Jensen
If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
We Share Walls: Language, Land, and Gender in Berber Morocco, Katherine E. Hoffman
The Spider’s House, Paul Bowles
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
Everything That Rises Must Converge, Flannery O’Connor
Franny & Zooey, JD Salinger
In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Surprise connections.

I've always been proud to come from the same state as the great Ted Sorensen, who honed his inspirational speechwriting abilities at the doorstep of our state Capitol, with the statue of our city's namesake featuring his Gettysburg Address.

Among the many homages to Sorensen upon his death yesterday, I found an interesting connection in this one: JFK’s Wordsmith…Ted Sorensen. Not only did Sorensen have a mighty hand in crafting Kennedy's legendary speeches inaugurating Peace Corps, but it turns out Sorensen's own daughter was a Peace Corps volunteer right here in Morocco. This country has come so far, in many ways, from the world she described in letters to her father only 15 or so years ago ... and yet much of what she describes is so warmly familiar to my life, here, now.

Just on my way out the door now to spend the day with the new volunteer for my village, who is here for a site visit for the next few days before she completes her training. Oh, these final days are moving way too quickly ...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The big finish. (Almost.)

Two weeks from tomorrow, I'll be signing my name to become a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Here's what comes to mind as the clock winds down ...

What I'll miss:

My people ~ my host family, my dedicated students, the meek and brassy (by turns) girls at the nedi nesswi, the many, many women who have reached beyond language, culture gaps and suspicion to bring me into their circles of laughter and comfort

The call to prayer, especially that first one, just before daybreak, in the sweet mellow voice of my neighborhood muezzin

Walking to the hanut around the corner in my jammies if I've run out of bread or milk

Walking everywhere ~ and, if it's too far to walk, using only public transportation

Never being in a hurry

Cries of Boki Boki Boki Boki Boki!!! from the little kids in my neighborhood each time I enter their view

Eating truly local and making virtually everything from scratch

The late-morning smell of fresh sunshine and terra-cotta charcoal braziers

Wide-open sunsets, and stars visible in the night sky, even in town

No snow! (not down here in the Souss Valley, anyway)

The overpoweringly sweet smell of a bunch of mint peeking out of a souq bag

The funky bright red/yellow/blue pattern of my sleeping pad, which I usually leave uncovered by sheets because I love the happy pattern (also because I'm lazy)

The repetitive, metallic, high-pitched whine of Berber pop music on the taxi radio

The thrill of a lukewarm Especial tallboy, snuck home from MarJan in the hidden depths of my backpack

The traditional break-fast meal during Ramadan: Harira (a tomato-based soup with chickpeas and spices), dates, hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with cumin, and chebekiya (a sticky-sweet pastry drizzled with honey and sesame seeds)

Leaving my private courtyard door wide open, all night, to welcome in the crisp evening air

The extra fervor and linger of that last bump of cheek against cheek that shows just how pleased my friend is to see me

What I won't:
Bargaining the price for everything from a piece of furniture to a kilo of tomatoes

Standing out / Constantly feeling as if I'm on stage

Dripping with sweat most of the time

Ca va, gazelle, labas 3lik, HellowHowAreYouFiiiiiine? (and worse)

Having to work out, in advance, anything new I want to say

Cockroaches and other home invaders

Being assumed to have money, because I am American

Being squeezed six to a taxi, plus the driver, plus any produce or packages or, sometimes, livestock

Being asked whether I pray; whether I fast; whether I drink or otherwise act hchuma; whether I eat couscous; why I speak Arabic; why I don't speak better Arabic; ...  

The rigors and limits of traveling only by taxi or bus É the waits, the breakdowns, the sweltering heat, the crowds rushing to push each other out of the way

The constant, high-pitched screeching of the family arguments upstairs

Meeting a woman in the street, having what I think is a heartfelt, understanding and mutually appreciative conversation about the work I do here, how wonderful Morocco is, and how much we are all alike ~ and then still being asked for dirhams, or clothes

The trials and errors of communication and culture when I am not fluent in the local language
What I hope I'll leave behind

The notion that a woman can lead an independent, productive life on her own terms

A few more kids who'll pass the English portion of their baccalaureate exams and go on to university

All the extra layers of clothing, especially in the dead of summer

My occasional bouts with agoraphobia

What I hope to bring back with me:

New friendships

Cumin on hard-boiled eggs

Touching my hand to my heart after shaking hands

The breakage of the Diet Coke addiction

Fresh vegetable juices (cucumber, beet, carrot)

Making simple, edible meals with only fresh, local ingredients

Outdoor shoes come off in the house

Making do with what I have, what I can afford, what's available

A greater respect for the greater world (particularly the Muslim world) among my acquaintances

More strength, patience and perseverance
What I fear about going home:

Being able to find a job that can sustain both my soul and my renewed Western lifestyle

Driving (after 2 ½ years ~ and in the snow, no less!)

Too many choices

Too high expectations

What I look forward to back home:

Spending extra time with the niece and nephews (and their parents and grandparents, of course!)

Rekindling old friendships

Hanging out at my neighborhood coffeehouse (or even, gasp, bar!) without being taken for a prostitute

Bookstores and libraries 

Iced soy toddy lattes, sipped on the go or (gasp!) in a public coffeehouse

A garden!
A gym!
A washing machine!

Set prices

Screen doors

Feta cheese
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Basically, any kind of cheese



Maggie's, YiaYia's, Oso, Grateful Bread, Open Harvest, new local discoveries

Beer ~ anytime, anywhere, in multiple varieties

My people ~ parents who support me unequivocally even when they don't understand me, a brother, sister-in-law and amazing niece and nephews who keep me laughing and feeling warm, girlfriends like sisters, everyone who gets me and makes me laugh and makes me think

* * *

Finally, my most fervent hope is that those of you at home, reading this blog, who might otherwise experience Muslims only through the prism of mainstream media, have come away with a more balanced perspective. Muslims are conservative and modern, righteous and carefree, black and white and all shades in between. They laugh and cry and love their families and sometimes get angry and usually feel badly afterward. They want to learn and grow, and they also want to share and give. They eat and sleep and shop and watch TV and read the news. They go to school, to work, to visit their families. They have a vast range of clothing, and of ideas. They disagree about their politics ~ and about their religion. They are just like ... the rest of us. They have been my caretakers, friends and family here. I have learned to second-guess my assumptions, to appreciate our commonalities, to recognize when I'm being played by those whom my fear would serve well.

I hope I have shared all of this adequately with you.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Shameless self-promotion.

This afternoon at the dar chebab I asked three of my favorite "little" girls ~ Hind, Imane and Houda ~ to say something on film for me to bring home so I can remember them. (Click the photo above to watch the video.) How cute are they?!? Basically, they're saying that I'm like their sister, their teacher, their mother, and that when I go home I am to say hello to my friends, my mother and father and brother from them.

We had a good afternoon. My three little girls and I oohed and aahed over some new Arabic books we've received from the U.S. embassy, then they drew me some pictures while a couple of high-school girls dropped in to review their formal English lessons from the past week; then my little friends, inspired by the "big" girls, asked for an English lesson of their own.

Then I chatted awhile with my new friend Malika, who's won the green card lottery and is moving to Seattle in a couple of weeks. I'm so worried about her ~ her English is not at all good enough to survive on her own in the States, and while she says she has friends there, she's a bit vague and I suspect they are merely loose connections. I had to show her where Seattle is on a map, and she was visibly shocked by how far it is from New York. I hope she will find at least a few Americans who are as patient and kind with her as the bulk of Moroccans have been with me here; but, especially considering the current xenophobic anti-Muslim fervor over there ... well, I fear what's in store for her is not the paradise she imagines.  

News feed

Speaking of the anti-Muslim fervor, here's a great new site created in honor of Juan Williams: Muslims Wearing Things (wow! they're just like us ~ imagine that!)

Morocco Pushes for Law Against Gender Abuse, Child Labor

Observatory created to improve image of Moroccan women in media

Friday, October 22, 2010

More on moudawana.

A poster describing moudawana reforms in Arabic, Tashelheit and French

Yesterday we organized what likely was my last event here in the village, welcoming Tafoukt Souss, a women's rights association in the nearby city of Agadir, for an afternoon discussion of Morocco's relatively new moudawana laws. You might remember me mentioning moudawana a few times before. It's an issue close to my heart here, a long campaign that has produced laws giving Moroccan women far more rights in marriage, family, property and divorce.

The average woman here knows about the reforms, but often doesn't know what they specifically govern. A few brief highlights:

* Both women and men must be 18 to marry legally. (There are exceptions, but the girl and her parents are supposed to agree.)
* A woman can conduct her own marriage contract, without approval of a male relative.
* The legal requirement that a woman must obey her husband has been eliminated.
* The division of marital property is to be determined by a written contract between the wife and husband.
* Polygamy is allowed only if both the first wife and a judge authorize it.
* Divorce can be made official only in front of a judge (a husband can no longer simply say, "I divorce you," and leave a woman without a home or money)
* A mother with custody of her children has a right to housing in the event of divorce.

Zahara and Khadija fielding questions.

Khadija and Zahara, our two new friends from Tafoukt Souss (it means "sun of the south" in Tashelheit, the local indigenous, pre-Arabic language), are simply my newest heroes here. Forget your assumptions about Moroccan or Muslim women being submissive or second-class. This duo is sassily passionate about educating all women about their rights and responsibilities as full citizens and marriage partners. They were relaxed, confident and funny ~ and they brought out all of these qualities in my small crowd of sometimes shy women and girls, who quickly opened up and had an intimate conversation about their changing roles in their changing world.

After the event, Khadija, Zahara and I went home with Saadia, one of my favorite women in the village, who is holding together her household just fine without the deadbeat who left her after she gave birth to their third daughter (no sons). She wants to get a divorce but can't get the necessary papers. Thanks to this convergence of the right connections and the right information at the right time, she now has access to a legal support network.

Saadia, by the way, is a wedding consultant. She does the bride's hairdoes, rents out the expensive gowns that must be changed at least half a dozen times at a typical wedding, and also rents the hardware ~ the gaudily ornate thrones the bride and groom sit on, stoically, for upwards of seven or eight hours, late into the night. She insisted I pose with the goods, and when I asked, "Where's the groom?" everyone laughed and cried out, "You tell us!"  

No, things are not yet pefect for women here, the road to equality is a long one (just as it has been and continues to be in America). But progress is being made, and I'm encouraged by the strength, perseverance and outright confidence of those on the front lines, new heroes like Khadija and Zahara ... and all of the local women who take the time and initiative to educate themselves and have the courage to think of themselves and their roles in new ways.