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"


Nicole said...


And you're welcome. :)

william said...

The unsaid but implied revolation about technology is not only do Peace Corp volunteers benefit, but also the people where they a stationed.

kay said...

I agree that technology can help with PCV's getting information to and from each other. And technology is essential in developing countries (and the underclass) to close the digital divide . . . BUT as a dinosaur PCV in Morocco in the 1980s, I do believe I learned the language more quickly and more fluently because I did not have that ready connection to back home with a few clicks of the mouse. I'm still anti-technology in my own life, though, so I realize I am odd in that way.
Beckie, I think you would have survived without Skype and internet. We call can . . . although the more "hooked in" we become, the more it feels like a necessity.