Saturday, September 25, 2010

This says it all ... and then some.

Nicked this from my friend and neighboring PCV Faye, who nicked it from here. This is *so* our daily lives here. There are many, many good points that make up for it, but this is the hard part.

Do you know where your apostrophe's are?

Happy National Punctuation Day! To celebrate, I suggest you go here or here to have a hearty laugh at others' expense.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spinning of wheels.

Actually, I've been getting quite a bit done lately, but it all feels like swimming uphill (like a salmon, and not the GMO version). For every resume I send off or contact I network, it seems my list grows longer and longer (and with few-to-no results as of yet). For every report I check off, two new assignments pop up.

Even so, with my days here ever more quickly running out, I am trying to spend more time with the people I'm going to miss. That's the fun part, though bittersweet at the same time.

*  Kabira and her nonstop Big Ideas, most recently her drive to find some land so her family can build their own home, with a shop on the ground floor. I have no idea how she might manage that financially, but I don't know how she manages most of what she pulls off. I hope she makes it.

*  Her mother Rakya, a source of nonstop love and affection, genuinely expecting nothing in return, a rarity anywhere in the world, the one I know I will miss more than any other, the one I know I will cry buckets of snot over when I have to get in that taxi for the last time.

*  Malika and Fotna, two of my favorite students from the nedi neswi last year. They both earned their diplomes and won't be returning. To break up the monotony of days in their remote duoars, Malika says she's considering launching a nedi in her own home, teaching her crochet skills to other young women in the same stuck-at-home situation. She made me another gut-busting rafisa, then we walked to the next duoar to see Fotna, who insisted on frying up some fresh msamen. Then we went for a blissfully long walk, down to a dry, cactus-filled riverbed. When Malika complained of blisters from her fancy shoes, Fotna insisted on swapping her flipflops. That's friendship.

*  Fatima, another of my favorite students, an upbeat joy to be around, and my hand-picked host "mother" for the volunteer who will come to replace me in November. This week she casually dropped a huge new nugget of information in my lap: She is her husband's second wife. Not as in he was divorced or widowed ~ more as in Wife No. 1 lives in the apartment downstairs. I didn't think any of my women friends were in polygynous relationships. Fatima's so matter-of-fact about it: No, she doesn't like it, no the two women don't get along, but that's the state of affairs, she's happy in her marriage, she adores their young son, and whaddayagonnado? All with a shrug of the shoulders, a beaming smile, and an urging upon me of more cookies and milk.

One thing I am not doing is spending much time at the dar chebab, which is still in disarray from use by an association this summer. It will be cleaned out this weekend, my mudhir tells me. Inchallah.

Speaking of time running out ...

Even though it's corporate-created, The Girl Effect organization and its first video launched a great deal of awareness about how educating and empowering girls benefits not only them but their surrounding communities and societies. Now there's a new video, "The Clock is Ticking," connecting the dots between girls' education, their health and a way out of the poverty cycle. Simple but inspiring viewing.

Not your Peace Corps volunteer's Marrakech.

photo from Conde Nast traveler

I first heard this podcast about it, then read "The Magic of the Medina" in the latest issue of Conde Nast Traveler. For a limited view of the tourist's Marrakech, I suppose it's pretty spot on. And the photos are very pretty. But this is so far from typical Morocco. The podcast especially felt more and more superficial and stereotypical the farther in you listen. But, here it is, if you want to read and decide for yourself. 

The Rabat Express ... doesn't have quite the same ring.

photo from The View From Fes

According to a popular Morocco expat blog, Rabat's extensive tramway project is "due for completion later this year." Any chance that'll happen before Nov. 12? My last chance to take a high-tech spin around the capital city.

(I have experienced the zwin new Rabat train station, however, and am tossing in a couple of photos just to flesh out the visuals of this page now that I am camera-less.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Do I get royalties for a shameless EPL tie-in?

I read “Eat Pray Love” soon after it came out, just as it was beginning to become The Book, and I identified perhaps a bit overmuch with the author’s dramatically romantic around-the-world quest to find herself (and bag a Wealthy Older Foreign Devastatingly Handsome Love Interest, to boot). As the book started to gain popular momentum, I was soon ridiculously flattered by the friends (more than a few) who read it, too, and exclaimed to me, “B____! This is your life! You could have written this!”

(Because I, too, was recently divorced and found myself both free and flailing to follow the path of my own choosing. I, too, had fallen crazily in love at earlymiddleage and then had to step gingerly out of the shards when it broke all around me. I, too, have … ummm … traveled. Even internationally! Even to India! Uncanny, ain’t it?)

It really did hit me in the solar plexus, though ~ her descriptions of diving into love with all (too much?) of your being, the shock of discovering that not only wasn’t it enough but that you’ve lost yourself in the bargain, the wonderful terrifying opportunity to rebuild the life you want to lead only to find the myriad choices too dizzying to comprehend … and then, slowly, discovering that if you wait, and breathe, a right path rises up to meet you.

Even so, the more popular it became, the less I cared to admit how deeply “EPL” affected me. I have a book snob’s distaste for books that become “too” popular, at least those written during my lifetime. I have never read a single "Harry Potter" book, not a one of the "Twilight" series. (The snobbery extends to movies, too ~ I still haven’t seen “Top Gun” or “Pretty Woman.”) So the more popular Gilbert became, the more embarrassed I was to have loved her book so much. By touching so many people, it makes my personal relationship with it ... well, less personal.

Then the merchandising came out. That’s right ~ merchandising. You can now buy “EPL” pillow covers or candles or prayer beads. I am not making this up. Somehow, that killed any authenticity for me. No writer with a Deep Lifechanging Message works out a marketing deal with Bed Bath and Beyond. There are no Philip Roth table runners, no Toni Morrison patio dining sets. Dostoevsky did not ink a deal for a Crime and Punishment Getaway Weekend (complete with lodgings in a Russian hovel!).

Now, of course, there’s the movie. With Julia Roberts. Julia Roberts!?! Julia Roberts is not the protagonist of “EPL”. Julia Roberts is not a quirky, vintage-clothes-wearing, bookish but hip, smart but foible-filled litchick who has to hoist herself, hand over hand, out of the depths of society’s expectations and shattering heartbreak, and into a self-determined, hard-won life of independence and really good food and international escapades. Most important, Julia Roberts looks nothing like me.

And Javier Bardem … well, OK, Javier Bardem I can take. Javier Bardem I can quite easily fantasize imagine myself with. (Sadly, there is not, as yet, as far as my extensive research has uncovered, any merchandising of an Official EPL Wealthy Older Foreign Devastatingly Handsome Love Interest Who Looks an Awful Lot Like Javier Bardem. Now, that’s some marketing I could get behind.)

Anyway. Not going to the movie. (I am, however, rereading the book, which fell into my possession even as I was thinking of writing all this, and that’s a coincidence you just don’t ignore, embarrassed as you might be to be going along with the popular crowd.)

* * *

EPL came back into my mind last week after I read “Twilight Sleep,” an Edith Wharton novel that arrived in my mailbox courtesy of the Peace Corps library. Written late in her career and life, “Twilight Sleep” is no “House of Mirth” (one of my Top 10 books ever read ~ go check out that one or nearly any other Wharton novel; “Summer” is another personal favorite). Written and set in the Jazz Age, a couple of decades past the New York turn-of-the-century aristocracy that was Wharton’s treasure trove, Wharton’s characters and writing both come to feel as superficial as their fast-paced exterior lives.

Most superficial of all is Mrs. Manford, the upper-crusty dowager bent on Doing Good Works while Finding Enlightenment and, most of all, Eliminating Frown Lines. From one guru to another she flits with the waves of public sentiment. One week the Mahatma holds the keys to world and inner peace. Next week he’s out and she’s a devoted follower of the Inspiration Healer. Etc. In between her spiritual quest and all of her benefits and society gatherings and personal betterment, and it’s clear Mrs. Manford is trying her very best to run away from independent thought ~ to keep from being still long enough to truly know herself.

(If only the Marketing Tie-In had existed in Wharton’s Day. The New York Tour of Self-Help Guides! The Nora Manford Flapper Party Dress! Free facelift with every major donation to a third-world country!)

All this fictional searching made me wonder about my own tendency to follow one idea or hobby or desire, and then another, and another, until I get so caught up in doing that I don’t have time to reflect. I could focus on my yoga practice ~ really dig into it instead of halfheartedly starting or giving up again. Or I could finally start “really” writing. Or really teach myself how to cook. Learn how to make jewelry. All things that could provide opportunity for self-realization … or simply diversion from the same.

Peace Corps itself can be that escape, if you let it. Why did I choose to do this in the first place? Was it selfless, or an escape? (Or a trap door?) A quest, or a bravado-filled personal one-upmanship? Have I been seeking, or hiding? Questions that are all bubbling up again as the end of this volume nears and I prepare to return home. (And is “return” the right word? And if it is, is it the right path, or is it a step backward?)

With so many choices available, and so much work to do to realize any one of those choices, the result is an endless game of freeze tag with myself. The path of least resistance is to do none of it ~ to, instead, lie here on the sofa in an overwhelmed stupor, eating cookies and rereading books I’ve already read.

In preparing to go home, I see so many opportunities to reintegrate into my community through volunteer work. The literacy council. The food bank. Mentor an international student at the university. Be a Big Sister. My previous gigs at Community CROPS, Planned Parenthood. All causes I want to support, and things I’d actually enjoy doing. But doing it all leaves little time to do justice to any one (not to mention time for gainful employment). And doing it all may be just yet another way of running away from myself.

Maybe I need to start thinking of my own marketing tie-ins. Ride the Emotional Rollercoaster! The Hairshirt of Self-Doubt ~ it’s the fashion accessory of the season! All-Expenses-Paid Trip to Angstville with every purchase!

Random thought of the day:

Is it bad that I’ve taken to eating my meals (stirfry, rice/veggies, etc) straight out of the pot it’s cooked in … and bringing a spatula to table with me so I can catch every last dreg?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You may ask yourself, How did I get here?

(apologies to David Byrne)

A belated 3id mabrouk ~ happy holiday! I celebrated the end of Ramadan with my host family and then duruing around to visit some families in the village. Enjoy the photo documentation while you can ~ my camera stopped functioning shortly after this was taken, and I'm not sure I'll be able to get it repaired or afford a new one during my last two months here.

That's right ~ less than two months, actually. Still hard to believe. Time moves through some kind of wormhole here. That first year was at least five, and this second one can't have lasted more than a few months ... Now that Ramadan is over and school started today, I hope to get in a little time at the dar chebab and nedi neswi before my time here is up.

Meanwhile, I'm working on brushing up my resume. Those of you back home, PLEASE pass my name around (I can send you my resume if you want to pass that around, too) and keep an eye out for anything related to communications or public service. Now that this whole repatriation thing is becoming an actuality, I'm kind of freaking out about what I might be returning to. I've never left a job without having the next one lined up. I won't lie ~ it's kind of scary.

FYI for your COS

To that end, for my Peace Corps colleagues working on all the paperwork associated with completing service, here are a couple of good sites for writing your own letter of recommendation:

(Thanks, Meleeska, for passing these on!)
Improper usage doesn't pique my interest, it just makes my irritation peak.
Bad grammar that has annoyed me lately, in several places, and that may similarly come in handy for those PCVs writing such COS documents as their DOS or VRF or even WTF:
It's Gandhi. Not Ghandi. Not Gahndi. Gandhi. A wise man would give a wise man proper attribution.
Something piques your interest. The word is not "peak." I can understand the assumption here ~ it suggests an increase, which could be translated physically. But it's wrong.
Similarly, something whets your appetite. Again, I can understand the misunderstanding. But just because the smell of bacon makes you drool, don't assume it means it "wets" your appetite.
And for Pete's sake, if you're old enough to be online, you're old enough to know the difference between "your" and "you're." Though even those born in days of yore have trouble with this.
Ditto for "there" and "their" and "they're." If you're not 110 percent positive, look it up before you type it up. Heck, look it up anyway ~ you might be surprised. 
Contact me for private lessons if you need an unforgettable way to remember when to use "lie" vs. "lay."
News roundup.
In the context of the current anti-Muslim fervor in America, I think Tuesday's podcast of On Point ought to be required listening for all Americans.
Also to that end, I think Nicholas Kristof makes a good point here. If you don't know any Muslims, you might try meeting a few before letting the media make your assumptions for you.
If I ever had to go back to Tangier, I'd do my best to get lost, too.
Here's a pointedly funny sendup by a Moroccan writer about the Saudis' ban on Moroccan women. If you haven't heard, Saudi Arabia has banned Moroccan women "of a young age" from traveling to Mecca ~ thus banning them from one of the five pillars of Islam. The stereotype in the Arab world that Moroccan women are prostitutes was news to me. If they visited my village, or any village I've visited here, they'd see how utterly ridiculous that is.
Then contrast that story with that of the Moroccan-American woman who has to sue Disneyland in order to wear her headscarf to work. Their "solution" essentially sends her to the back room ~ which is a lot like sending her to the back of the bus, imho.
I could say so much more about how men mis-shape the notions of what women are, what they must wear, who they must be ... but, luckily for us both, it's nearly 10 p.m. and that's my new daily deadline for turning off the Internet and doing something ~ anything ~ else. Goodnight.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bounty from l-bosta.

Thanks to Darien books for these much-needed donations!

I walked to lbosta (the post office) this morning and walked home with 24 pounds of cool stuff ~ some for my dar chebab, some for me.

First, a long-anticipated donation from Darien Book Aid, a small but mighty American nonprofit that distributes donated books from the States to Peace Corps and other volunteers around the world. I received about 15 pounds of books in English, collected to meet my specific requests for my students' needs. We have a lot of beginner story books, a great picture dictionary, some basic YA novels, a couple of craft guides and even an encyclopedia on CD-ROM (if only we can get the computer room up and running!).

I'm really impressed by how this organization matched books to our profile. Several of the stories are about shepherds, goatherds or desert life. All of the characters are modestly dressed. Just what we'd asked for!  

I hope you'll consider Darien Books when you make your next charitable donation. They do great work and put a lot of thought and effort into what they do.
Can't wait to add today's swag to our bookshelves!

Still, as you can see, we have a long way to go before we can call this room a library. And if you've read my previous posts here and here, you know what I think of our current collection. I'd love to give my kids more beginner English picture books, simple dictionaries, simple poetry, very basic YA biographies ~ essentially, lighweight, thin volumes, easy shippable.

This is where you, dear reader, potentially come in. With only two months left in my service, it's a little late for me to be suggesting this, but I'm gonna give it a shot anyway.

If any of my dear family and friends would like to do something to support the amazing kids of my village in their collective quest to learn English, pass their exams and conquer the world, here's an idea: Consider sending us a small box of gently used books!

They could be tomes your own kids have grown beyond, or a few inexpensive selections from The World's Greatest Used Bookstore (or some other awesome locally owned shop if you don't live near TWGUB). Shipping internationally can be a bit pricey (here are various USPS rates), but a few friends working together could share the pain and spread the love.

Some ideas and caveats, should this idea interest you:

  • Any simple English picture books would be most welcome, from toddler board books to beginner YA novels (but the simpler the better, for even my older students).

  •  My kids love science, nature and geography. I think they'd like poetry, too.

  • It'd be cool to have stories that display America's wonderful diversity (including our Muslim sisters and brothers).

  • Small picture dictionaries would be great (and Arabic-to-English dictionaries would be aMAZing!).

  • I would only ask that nothing be sent that shows people in immodest dress or proselytizes any religion.
If this idea appeals to you, let me know ASAP! It takes about 2 or 3 weeks for a Priority Mail package to reach me ... and my time here is running out. If you don't already have my contact information, drop me a line and I'll get it to you.

Please know that whether or not you're able to make a donation, the fact that you've read and commented on this blog over the past two years, showing your support for my work here and the amazing kids I get to hang with, has meant so much to me. LLah yrhem l-waladin! ~ God bless your parents, as we say here.

But wait! That's not all!

As if the fabulous box o'books weren't enough, I also got what is likely my last care package. (So strange to be already marking the "last" this, "one more" that ...)

Peanut butter! Saline solution! Black beans! And, best of all, more of the adorable kitchen towels my mom makes for me to share with my women friends here in the village.

My mom's amazing handiwork

The ladies always ooh and aah over her work. I sometimes think Mom would make a great Peace Corps volunteer ~ small business development, helping women artisans with color coordination, patterns and marketability.

Icing on today's cake: Not one, not two, but three young boys offered to help me carry my slightly unwieldly boxes home from the post office today.

What I'm reading today:

This makes me so very, very sad: American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?  

This one makes me think, too little, too late: Planned Quran-burning could endanger troops, Petraeus warns 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy campers.

With my boys ~ Brahim (left) and Abdsamad ~ on the beach in El Jadida.

Summer camp in El Jadida. Seems so long ago now, though it was only just before Ramadan. Is it OK to simultaneously celebrate the facts that (a) it was, as per usual, much more fun and rewarding than I'd anticipated, while (2) I never, ever have to do it again?

(Note: Go here for a full description of the experience that is U.S. Peace Corps English Immersion Summer Camp in Morocco.)

This year, I won the coveted role of "librarian," generally considered the easiest gig at camp. Widely considered to involve little to no work ~ no lesson plans to prepare for English teachers, nor craft projects or other plans for club leaders. Just sit back and check out the occasional book. Right?

Actually, for those two or so hours every day, I felt like I was more than earning my paycheck* for a change. In addition to the expansive library of English books provided by the U.S. Embassy, this year we also had a shelf full of books in Arabic ~ much more accessible to the average camper.

Browsing the stacks.

For 10 days, I collected collateral (ranging from a dirham to a frayed friendship bracelet to top-of-the-line cell phones and one girlie magazine, the latter subsequently confiscated) in exchange for books and board games. And what started as a friendly competition ~ for each book read and summarized to yours truly, a camper could earn points for his or her team ~ quickly became yet another lesson for the teacher.

The kids ate those books up! I had crowds of teenagers fighting to be the next to sit with me and describe the trials and tribulations of Tommy the Turtle. Moroccan kids rarely have access to books for pleasure reading, and while at first it was all about the points, over the course of camp I developed a steady corps of regulars who were obviously in it for the sheer fun of reading ~ and of sharing what they'd read. Best of all, some of my most dedicated readers were the official camp "troublemakers" ~ the ones you wanna smack upside the head and instead karate-chop the air beside them, grumbling, "Why, I oughta ...."

Not during library time. During library time they were quiet angels ~ except when jockeying for position to be the next to read to me (one young lady, doing impressions of various volunteers one afternoon, characterized me by swinging her hands in giant circles and screaming "Line up! Line up! You have to stand in line!"). And if I asked one of them to help me straighten the shelves or put something away, you'd think I'd given him a gold medal. It was fun, all in all.

Immersed in reading.

In other successes, the two scholarship boys I brought from my dar chebab shone as brightly as I'd hoped they would. By the third day of camp, each had already won Star of the Day honors. Brahim, especially, was taken under the collective Peace Corps wing, with Seth and Christa turning him into a mad Frisbee champion and Marissa coaching him to Rubik's cube solution success.

Abdsamad, meanwhile, got a taste of life as a typical American teen. He was mopey for a few days in the middle there, and I couldn't coax him out of it. Marissa, in trying to commisserate, asked him one afternoon: "What's the matter ~ girl problems?" To which Abdsamad threw up his hands and essentially said: "I don't have a girl ~ that's the problem!"

Here are a couple of videos of my boys:

And, if that's still not enough for you, Moroccan television station 2M (that's deuxieme, 'round these parts) visited camp one day and spent some time in the library: Click here and fast-forward to about 11:50.

Oh, camp. As usual, the best group of volunteers I could've worked with, and not too much work at that, and that part of my Peace Corps service is over now.

* We won't note here that I'm not actually earning a paycheck, so much.

More camp photos.

The cistern in El Jadida ~ gift of the Portugese, made famous in Orson Welles' "Othello."

Jeremy and campers getting crafty.

Marissa launches a sneak Super Soaker attack on kids returning from the beach.

Anthony and friend examing escargot.

Last-night photo shoot.

How I've spent the month of Ramadan.

*art by Hyperbole and a Half ~ via the amazing Rachel

Hiding inside my house (both to escape the outrageous heat and to disguise the fact that I'm not fasting) 

Reading the entire innerwebs (this task up to approx. 79% complete, but I still have a few days left)

Killing an average of 5 large insects in my house per day. Grasshoppers, cockroaches, crickets, moths, giant ants ~ oh, my. (This does not count mosquitos and the occasional what-I-really-really-hope-are-not-bedbugs.) No scorpions, for which I am grateful.

Sitting in the back room of Kabira's hanut, practicing my dough-rolling skills for future employment as a non-OSHA-compliant baker

Completing the Moudawana (Moroccan family law) education manual that has sat at 90% completion for the past 13 months.

Contemplating a long list of other writing/reporting tasks: updated resume, quarterly reports, Description of Service, site journal for new volunteer,

Not following any of the above through to completion

Not journaling

Not "writing" writing

Editing the projects of anyone else who asks (rather than working on my own)

Not perfecting crow pose

Not exercising, per se

Throwing out my back (aGAIN), likely a side effect of not exercising

Stalking you on the Internet

Watching various personal dramas from afar

Trying to remember what it's like to have personal drama

Mentally paring down my possessions (again) as a result of panicking over what to ship back home, and how, and how to pay for it

Savoring the muezzin's morning and evening calls to prayer, knowing how much I will miss these lovely daily interludes

Wondering what comes next ...

Puns I have enjoyed this week:

"Eat Pay Leave" ~ Tshirt currently popular in Bali in response to the "Eat Pray Love" juggernaut

"The Audacity of Taupe" ~ NYT headline on the Oval Office's beige makeover

Blogs I am enjoying today:

Nicholas Kristof's reminder that the current Islamophobia is only the latest in a long American tradition of fear-mongering when it comes to new communities.

Hyperbole and a Half: Thanks, Miz K! And now I see that this delightfully nerdy blog is also where Miz R "borrowed" the artwork I "borrowed" from her to launch this post, and isn't that a tidy little full circle?

Friday, September 3, 2010

My day.

I hate when a woman in a vividly patterned lizar greets me, and so I greet her effusively, assuming I've met her before and just don't recognize her behind all her wrappings, and so I'm all touchy and chummy with her so she doesn't catch on that I don't even recognize her ... and then come to the realization that I don't know her at all, she's never seen me before, she just wants a dirham.

I love being greeted by a trio of my rowdy dar chebab boys, walking around on nhar jma3 (Friday, mosque day) in their crisp white or beige summer gandoras.

I hate having to break up a fight among other boys in my neighborhood when I can't begin to comprehend what they're fighting about.

I love when two of those same boys are willing to go find me an electrician and drag him to my house, on a moment's notice, then make a run to the hardware store for him, and wait politely for the man behind the counter to finish his Friday prayers before bringing back the parts ~ and my 3 dirhams' change.

I hate, and also love, when the electrician, a young man who's never met me before and has a pregnant wife at home, won't allow me to pay him for his work or time.

I love when my host mom, after an impassioned discussion of the Saudi men vs. Moroccan women issue (see yesterday's post), tells me I need to go home and study to be a women's rights lawyer.

Good reads.

I get tired of this, too.

Vagabonder Rolf Potts visits the "wrong" town in Morocco.

It's Time to Play 'Bush, Obama, or Imam?'

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs.

Ramadan continues. One recent day in Agadir, two friends and I (both PCVs, one Muslim) came across this sign at the McDonald's on the beach. "To our customers: During the days of Ramadan, only children and adult non-Muslims may be served here."

As with much involving Ramadan, I'm not sure how I feel about this. I do think it's important to be as respectful as possible during this holiday. Fasting from sunup to sundown takes its toll, and there's no reason to flaunt food in the face of those who are abstaining. In addition, as I previously mentioned, Moroccans are presumed by birth to be Muslim, and so are legally as well as religiously prohibited from eating and drinking in public during Ramadan.

On the other hand, what business is it of McDonald's ~ or of anyone else, for that matter? There are many circumstances that allow a Muslim to break the fast during Ramadan (travel, illness, menstruation, pregnancy, for example). What about parents who want to bring their children, too young to fast, in for a treat? And, if they're not fasting, why is it up to McDonald's, or anyone else, to police them?

Meanwhile, I feel as if I'm cowering inside my house, emerging only near sunset to visit others' homes for lftr (the yummy meal that traditionally breaks the fast) or to forage for food on my own. Part of it's the heat, which has been unbearable, in the 110-plus range with no relief from insulation or shade trees or air conditioning. But it's also to avoid the inevitable "Wech sayema?" Are you fasting?

I'm trying, I say. Which is a lie. A white lie, I hope, intended only to not cause offense. The question, or any following admonitions, generally isn't intended to be rude. It comes out of basic curiosity, and a genuine wish that I experience the same benefits of this month that they consider the most holy and cleansing.

Think about it. Not fasting is as strange and foreign in this culture as the idea of fasting, or of Islam in general, is to most of my Midwestern friends and family back home. Part of my work here is to exchange culture ~ to show Moroccans what Americans are like (and to show y'all what Moroccans are like, that Muslim does NOT equal terrorist, for example). So for my friends here to see that I am not Muslim but I respect their religion, that I may not fast but I'm still a good person ... that seems to me to be important.

So I say I'm trying ~ but that I'm not Muslim, and this is something I haven't adjusted to, especially in this heat. People usually accept this answer. I hear reports from some other volunteers that they get hassled, so I feel grateful that people here seem to understand that it's OK for me to be different. (But oh, how tiring it can be to constantly be so different!)

Many Peace Corps volunteers actually do fast. I have mixed feelings about that, too ~ for non-Muslims, that is. If it's out of respect for their fellow villagers, I can respect that, though I think there is nothing wrong with eating and drinking in the privacy of one's home if one isn't a believer. If they're doing it as a personal test of their own strength and willpower, more power to them, though I worry about the health ramifications of not drinking water all day in this brutal summer heat.

But for some I think this, as with so many things we do here, is simple (and misplaced) competition. Look, it seems to say, I'm fully integrated into my community. Which of course means I'm a better Peace Corps volunteer than you.

Or maybe I'm being overly sensitive. Back to keeping my eyes on my own paper.

A hole in the ground.

Yup, this is my toilet! (It's really a lot cleaner than it looks ... just highly discolored from plumber's putty or some such thing.)

All during training, my first few months in Morocco, I did everything I could do avoid using a squat, or Turkish, toilet. I'd wait half an hour for the one Western stall to be free. When a squat was unavoidable, it took me forever to roll up my pants or gather my skirt, get my feet into the proper position, and hope for the best.

Of course, as soon as one is sent to their little rural village, one is no longer able to avoid the inevitable, and thus the squat became a part of my daily life. I'm so used to it now that it'll never faze me again.

Now, Slate has an article touting one of the main benefits of the squat. You might be surprised how much, um, easier certain tasks are on the squat. Let's just say there's no need for a reading rack in the Moroccan bathroom.

Not to mention the hygiene factor.

There are negatives, however. I learned early on, for example, that Turks are not vomit-friendly. Just a tip from me to you.

Call me! Text me! Email me!

Here's another way Peace Corps volunteers compete: I use less technology than you! Early-generation volunteers especially like to tout how they were airdropped into an African field, told "So long, see you in two years," and had to fend for themselves without benefit of running water or electricity, much less wifi. (And they had to walk uphill 10 miles to and from school every day ~ just substitue "sandstorm" for "blizzard.)

Things have changed. NPR ran a recent story on how technology is changing life in the Peace Corps ~ a welcome change not only for volunteers, but for the communities they serve. (The article also features our former assistant country director, Gordie Mengel, newly relocated to Rwanda and king of the original Peace Corps badasses.)

Personally, I feel blessed to have Internet access ~ in my own home, no less. Call it Posh Corps if you will, but I'm not sure I could've survived the early months without the ability to Skype with my family back home. I couldn't plan my English lessons without the Internet (it's not as if Peace Corps gave us a curriculum or teacher training, believe me). I'm able to connect easily with other volunteers to plan larger projects. All of our required Peace Corps reports must be done online.

It's easily used as a crutch, true ~ a way to hide out and forget, however temporarily, that you're living in a developing country. But it also has multiple benefits ~ and not just for the volunteer. Last night my "sister" Kabira asked me to help her write an email to a friend. Then we looked at online photos from a previous volunteer's wedding. Then we had a miniature geography lesson, expanding her notion of the world around us.

Cell phones especially have helped poor people around the globe ~ not just to keep in touch with family, but to receive news and perform business. Internet cafes are a boon to entrepreneurs and rural users alike. Families can Skype relatives working overseas to support their families back home. The flood of news that otherwise wouldn't get to remote areas is amazing.

Technology is part of our world ~ not just the Western world. It has its drawbacks, but to deny it to people in "developing" countries seems the height of condescension. And why shouldn't volunteers take advantage of it, not only for themselves but for their work?

In other news ....

Moroccan women controversy: The idea that the Middle East considers their Moroccan Muslim sisters as loose at best, prostitutes at worst is completely unbelieveable to me, living here in this village where women generally cover themselves head to toe whenever they venture outside the home. Looks like ridiculous negative stereotyping isn't limited to the USA, after all.

On the other hand ... coming from The Onion, this article is obviously just a joke and not at all true or typical of Americans. Right? Right???

Currently listening to: The entire Black Keys backlist (thanks, Nicole!)
Currently laughing at: You Suck at Craigslist
Currently learning from: A brief guide to life
Currently quoting: "Don't focus on the one guy who hates you. You don't go to the park and set your picnic down next to the only pile of dog shit." ~ from "Shit My Dad Says"