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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New friend.

Now that I have a functioning camera again, I've been trying to add some video to my photo library documenting the past two years. Unfortunately, none of it seems to want to upload to Blogger. Maybe when I get home and the connection is faster? We'll see.

In the meantime, you can meet my new little visitor. Never seen one so tiny.

In other news ....

* Voices of Our Future is an inspirational initiative to encourage women around the globe to become citizen journalists. I've been acting as a "Listener" (evaluator/encourager) during the monthlong application process, in which more than 500 women from 86 countries are writing weekly assignments about how they can change their communities for the better. At month's end, 30 of those women will go on to a more intensive Correspondents program, and I've already signed up to be an "Editorial Midwife," offering mentoring and editing assistance to one participant. Many of the applicants' stories are quite powerful ~ check them out here.

* Nicholas Kristof's Sunday column gives you a chance to test what you think you know about Islam ~ and the Bible. Give it a go; it'll take 5 minutes, and I guarantee you'll learn a thing or two.

* has some very moving stories, told in support of GLBT teens who are struggling mightily to survive middle and high school. It *does* get better, promise! My only complaint is, why must we expect these kids to just wait out their teen years in promise of a better future. They should have the same chance to enjoy high school as anyone ~ free of bullying and taunting. I'm pretty sure I participated in some level of teasing gay kids (or presumed gay kids) when I was that age. I'm deeply ashamed now. And I don't remember a single adult ever telling us it was stupid or wrong.

* Another story on the origins of Peace Corps, 50 years ago ...

Currently reading: Lonely Planet Paris

Currently listening to: Backlog of World Cafe podcasts

Currently quoting: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ~ G.B. Shaw

Monday, October 11, 2010

... And we're back. For now.

Peace Corps headquarters in Rabat: Tell the truth, what I'd really love to do after COS is to be the official PC Morocco gardener, and just wander the lushly planted grounds, barefoot in the rare cushiony grass (photos by John Wayne Lui)


Pizza and brownies at the country director's home

Good company and 10 dirham falafel sandwiches

Sorry for the absence, but I've been ... absent. Just returned from more than a week in Rabat, the capital and home of Peace Corps HQ, for our Close-of-Service conference, followed by our final medical checkups, followed by Gender and Development Committee meetings. I'm meeting-ed out.

COS Conference, good and bad: Sessions were beyond lame. But we ate a lot of good meals. Was so wonderful to catch up and spend time with the amazing group of volunteers I came in with. Yet sad to hear so many stories of difficulties, professional and personal. I truly love so many of these people. We were thrown together and bonded in this world that soon will not be our world anymore. I probably will never see most of them again, and while they'll always be in my heart, it's hard to imagine a world where they won't be in my daily life.

Medicals: I still don't have tuberculosis. No word yet on parasites, as my shy constitution refuses to function on command, and I had to bring back the home version of the 3-day "tests." Which led to my favorite Peace Corps text message yet: "I have the stool sample kit for you at the med unit." At least it wasn't on speakerphone.

GAD Committee: I will miss this aspect of my service, collecting and sharing ideas and resources for other volunteers to better serve and educate both genders. We have an amazing film coming out soon, thanks to Cortney's hard work, profiling several women across Morocco who have become community leaders through nontraditional paths. It will be a great way to encourage girls to complete their educations and follow their dreams. I can't wait to show it to you all.

Oh, I also did a bit of shamelessly self-centered shopping ...

Peace Corps in the news:,0,1879850.story (bet you didn't know Michelle Obama's uncle was one of the first PCVs)

Currently celebrating: 

Currently hoping to move beyond celebrating:

Currently quoting: "Sometimes you've gotta do what you've gotta do, and pray that the people you love will catch up with you." ~ Mary Gauthier, "Drag Queens in Limousines"