Friday, December 26, 2008

M'bruk L'eid dyali!

Alright, so this time around it was my holiday with my crazy traditions I was trying to force upon my family. It mostly involved sweet treats so there was a warm reception. Christmas Eve I asked my family to leave out their socks so that Papa Noel could put treats in them. No no, clean socks. Yes, I am a crazy foreigner. Alright, so "Papa Noel" did leave some candy for everyone, and oranges, the next morning. However, since this isn't a holiday of Moroccans, no one had the day off and everyone was going about business as usual. So it was a little awkward with the delivery of the sock-goodies. No problem. I even got some extra surprises in my sock from a mysterious elf.

I spent the rest of the day baking and making dinner, which was a success overall. I had no idea who of the family would be around for dinner, and it ended up that their wasn't such a crowd as I expected even with my language-tutor there, and we had a ton of food and sweets to split between us. The photo doesn't even show the pizza that my host-aunt made (it was her Birthday as well). I think I may finally be ready for a baking-break, as is often the case after the holidays.

Last weekend two volunteers from my "staj", Jon and Emily, came up from their smaller town to visit and grab some supplies from town. I immediately employed them in making a gingerbread house with me. Considering we are all artist I was sure we would come up with something great. We had a lot of fun and I thought our Moroccan gingerbread house came out unique. Unfortunately, we aren't architects, so we had some issues with it coming, and staying, together. It just acquired more character with time is all. We also made eggnog and some other holiday treats and enjoyed the nice change of weather.

I hope to have another post shortly on the New Year, until then, Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Soo...maybe I am french after all...

One of the many things I have to laugh about and except is that I am going to be spoken to in French the entire time I'm here. I can see why it would help to know french. Not because I can't communicate in darija (Moroccan Arabic) but that people will assume when they see me that I am french, or understand french. I completely understand, considering Morocco's past connection to France, and continued tourism from France. Even other westerners who visit Morocco are likely to know French over darija any day. Let's face it, I look like a "westerner" of European descent. It is only polite to address me in "my" language, french!

Of course, this confounds my darija learning. Particularly in the beginning, nothing would take my confidence away like going up to the shopkeeper and being told prices and such in french. Sometimes I'm still not sure if someone is just saying something in darija I don't understand or if they are trying to talk to me in french. I've gotten much better at understanding the difference though, which I think means progress!

Another reoccurring instance is where someone will see me and greet me in french. I will greet them in darija. They will try to speak to me in french. I let them know I don't understand and that I know a little arabic. They will speak arabic for some time, have trouble getting me to understand what they are saying then start speaking to me in french again. What hurts the whole process is that sometimes there are words in french that sound similar to english, so occasionally I do understand the french better than the darija. This perpetuates the idea that english and french are basically the same language.

All in all, I have to keep a sense of humor about this, because it isn't going to go away as I will always be meeting someone new who assumes I speak french. Eventually I may cave and learn some basic french (once I have more darija down), thus perpetuating the stereotype.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The silencing of the the lambs

You know how between Thanksgiving and the New Year you feel like you are eating an increased amount of sugar and fatty foods? This year I’m getting a little extra bonus called l’eid kbir (or more properly eid al-adha). This holiday revolves around the sacrificing and consumption of a sheep. In order to commemorate the sacrificed sheep God sent in place of Abraham’s son, every family buys a sheep of their own and kills and eats it…all of it.

I documented the actual death and dismemberment of the animal. I hoped that having my eye behind a camera lens would give me a layer of distance from the blood. However, in coming up to the event I decided that as a meat eater, I should bravely witness the full process of getting that meat on the table. It was difficult to see a magnificent animal letting go of life, but the man knew what he was doing, and it seemed that it was over in an instant. Next began the stripping away of everything until I could hardly connect the meat and wool to the creature that startled me in the stairway the night before.

You could compare l’eid kbir to Thanksgiving, in that one revolves around eating a sheep and the other around eating a turkey (I was asked by one of the boys if my dad slaughtered the turkey as they slaughter the sheep). Only, imagine the difference to be that the turkey is much bigger, much fattier, and the only thing on the menu for the next few days. The only thing you’ll see that resembles a vegetable is maybe the onion used to flavor the stomach and intestines.

Tired of meat? Well, I suppose there are plenty of sweets to enjoy as well. Yesterday we had noodles with raisins, cinnamon, and sugar to complement fried lamb ribs. It was good in a rich breakfast food sort of way. For dinner we had the head and the…ahem…testicles, although I avoided my slice (it is one of the last things I’m hanging on to as what I will not eat, since I unwittingly caved and ate brains a few times). We have plenty of meat to last quite some time, and considering it is couscous Friday I’m sure we will see some of our friend buried in the couscous for lunch.

All in all, it is an interesting experience with culture, and I enjoy the festive atmosphere and company. Just think, Christmas is just around the corner! I hope you all back home are getting into another sort of holiday spirit!

Monday, December 1, 2008


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving wherever you celebrated!

Of course, I was determined to bring Thanksgiving to Morocco, and I feel pretty good about the results. On Thursday I cooked a pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, turkey breasts (not a whole turkey), and green beans for a house full of people--all from scratch! Many thanks to my host mother who helped me with a lot of the grunt work in the kitchen. It all turned out fairly American, except that I didn't roast the turkey breasts, I cooked them in the pressure-cooker with rosemary and they came out nice and tender.

My host family loved the food, even the strange dessert made from squash. Pictured are the leftovers,

On Saturday I turned around and did it again for volunteers in town, cooking more pumpkin pie, green bean casserole (without the convenience of a can of mushroom soup), mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet-potato puree, and stuffing. We bought roasted chickens that time around, and someone brought along a can of cranberry sauce (which you can't buy here...oh how I miss cranberries) and delicious pumpkin cheesecake (very dangerous!) to round our our calories for the evening. The company almost made it feel like I was back home in the US.

Another moment of being back in the US was when I stepped into the new "Label Vie" store, which is something like a walmart (although not quite as big as they get in the US). It is the biggest store I've been in for going on three months. It was exciting to find out a big store was opening in my town since it means I will have access to a large variety of food (still no cranberries or brown sugar). It is a cooking paradise. However, after the initial excitement of such convenience at my fingertips, I felt the familiar distaste of the box-store. Right now I love the little harnuts, the corner stores that sell fresh bread and milk, nuts and candy, and the vegetable market bursting with fresh seasonable produce. It was strange to be walking through the store holding my host-mothers hand with my host-brother in tow. It was as though I had brought them out of the Morocco I had started to form into my mind and into the America of stereotype.

Considering big stores were often the subject of my artwork in the US, it might be interesting to be a part of this town in the next two years. I came in right as this store opened, I'm interested to see if it has any effect on the hundreds of smaller corner-shops. The Label Vie is just inconvenient enough, requiring either a short taxi or bike-ride, that I doubt I will frequent it like I do the walkable vegetable market and the little harnuts.

Then again, I'm the type to prefer the inconvenience of making Thanksgiving dinner from scratch.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The bread I make pleases me, will you show me how?

If you are wanting a glimpse into my life right now, pick up a copy of "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sadaris and flip to the chapter "See You Again Yesterday", that sounds about right. I'm slowly losing my english-speaking crutches and will soon be completely on my own trying to figure everything out. In the language test I took a little over a week ago I placed at "Intermediate Low", which isn't terrible for 2 1/2 months. The reality, however, is much more irregular, some days I would say I go up to "Intermediate Mid" other days I'm more at the "Novice" level. Which can make for amusement and confusion.

At least I know I'm not the only one having to go through this. Anyone who has been dropped in a place that doesn't speak your first language has to go through this, I'm sure. But shwiya b shwiya I'm getting it. Little by little I have let go of the crutches and stand on my own weak language legs, and little by little they're growing stronger.

I just arrived at my site on Friday. As soon as I put down my belongings and went to attended the going away party for the volunteer I'm replacing I got requests for help. Mostly right now I'm getting people who want to learn English. I think this would be good in small quantities, but is not the reason why I am here. It does sound like there are a lot of artisan organizations I can look into. I'm excited and a little intimidated because of my language (see above). It is good to establish some of these connections now though, even if I can't act on them so easily right now.

Alright, back to business. I have a good internet connection here, so continue to expect regular updates from me. I may not be as verbose as some, but do check out my photographs on flickr! Pictures are worth a thousand words after-all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Before the Dive

I lift my head up from the sink, splashing water on my face and looking at the mirror. Over my shoulder and out the door to the roof I can see the remaining embers of the sunset behind the mountains--now here is a scene the artist never tires of. The next moment I am peering over the roofs edge absorbing the hush of dusk. The color drains from the sky and intensifies the twinkling display of lights on the far hillside. In the rapidly cooling air, I can smell the smoke of all the wood-fires freshly lit, and watch it materialize in the streetlamp.

The street stretches into and out of town. I was up here not even a week earlier when I caught the sound of a motorcycle zooming into a fatal collision below. I recall this violent memory despite the tranquility. What road lies before me?

There is a lot of beauty here. I have become even more appreciative of a beauty that lies beyond language. I’ve also a new understanding of humbleness. The humbleness of a child that can’t communicate effectively the battle that goes on inside. My inner monologue becomes richer as my tongue struggles to develop the leanest sentences. However, I delight in my successes from the last ten weeks, and I feel strength building in my language and confidence.

Tomorrow, this country will become my home for two years. I’m as ready as anyone can be, knowing the biggest struggles and lessons are yet before me. I am in the arms of a country that has already shown extraordinary hospitality and kindness, as well as misunderstanding and harassment, humor and humility. I come equipped with my own talents, insights, and shortcomings.

I leave the roof as the sun leaves the continent. Tomorrow, I finally swear in as a volunteer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The "city" is where I'll be

Needless to say I've learned a lot in the last week. I went out to my site and saw where I will be living for the next two years. I got to speak and explore the city with the volunteer I will be replacing, which gave me some insight into the work and town.

I wasn't sure how to approach this post because so much has happened all at once. I'm not a fan of writing really long posts, so I will make a series of short ones over a period of time.

To start, my impression of the city.

It is perhaps the largest site for Small Business Development volunteers. It is the capital of the province it is located in, and a short distance east of Rabat, the capital of Morocco. It is located on a major thoroughfare and it is easy to get transport around the country. This also means that it will be much easier to come visit me than if I was out in the "bled" (country). The weather sounds moderate, it is on a plain closer to the coast so it is getting more of the warm coastal weather. There are palm trees and lots of greenery, people have potted gardens outside their houses and on their roofs. Orange and olive trees line the streets. You can see the mountains in the distance if you get just outside of town and away from all the buildings. It isn't a site where you can walk out of your home into mountains, desert, forest, or beach, but none of these things are too hard to travel to from my site (maybe the desert, that is pretty far south).

In the streets it is still possible to see cats (a lot of cats, but not many stray dogs), donkeys, horses (they are a means of transportation in little coaches or "coochies"), and chickens.

The town is big enough that the current volunteer says it is still possible for her to get turned around if she strays to far from her normal routes. If I stay in the neighborhood she is in now, I think most things will be within easy walking distance. Although perhaps I am not facing some of the struggles of living in the bled, I think the city will provide other challenges for me. I will always be just a foreigner to harass to random passersby. I may get to know the community I work in, but not the whole city. Also, I have to be careful about being out in certain areas at certain times if I'm alone.

Since the town is large and easy to get to, there is a large selection of food available to me. There is a large daily vegetable market out on the streets, a large fish market, a few "supermaches" (think 7-11 with staple foods), countless harnoots (small bread/food places), and a weekly souq (huge outdoor market). To top it off they are opening a marjon in the next few weeks, which is apparently like a walmart (mixed feelings on this, but I will likely be able to find most of what I need and want).

Best of all there is an amazing pastry shop that uses real chocolate! Expect food posts from me in the future (for you foodies who are reading).

Okay, that was a short run-down of the site. More to come!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wrapping up CBT

I am amazed at how quickly time is flying by. I have already had to say goodbye to my host family at my Community Based Training site. They showed real Moroccan hospitality, and I will miss them.

A brief description of what my project was there: I worked with another trainee to improve the visibility of the coop in Ain Leuh. We started with many possible directions to take the project, and ended up focusing on distributing their brochure to the local hostels and creating a new sign for the front of their building.

The brochure project involved walking in the rain on a number of occasions. We did get the women excited to come up with us and talk to the hostel owners, but on the day we went up the hostel owner was unexpectedly out of town. Overall, the women seemed enthusiastic about going back later and picking up the conversation with the hostel owner, and from an earlier conversation, the hostel owner was eager to establish a relationship with the coop. Inshallah, they will pick up where we left off.

The sign project sprung from the fact that the sing outside the coop merely stated that they were a coop, not that they had anything to sell or that visitors were welcome. My partner and I came up with wording, and I drew icons (universal language) to put on the sign. We proposed our idea to the women, and they were excited about it. The fabrication process was primarily conducted by the women, they knew the metal worker and an artist who could create the sign from our designs. Success came on the last night of our stay in Ain Leuh when the new sign went up on the building.

If anyone is curious about more details on our process, email me or comment here!

As of last night, I know my site for the next two years. I will make more of a post about this after I’ve visited my site (I leave tomorrow). If you are a friend who can’t wait to know, send me an email. I will say that I am close to Rabat and am in a larger city (for SBD). I have water, electricity, internet, and access to a variety of foods.

More later!

Happy Halloween--Moroccan Style

Halloween isn’t celebrated in Morocco. However, that didn’t stop us from trying to share this American Holiday with Moroccans at our CBT site. We bought a squash at the weekly souq (buying a whole squash is a little strange, usually people will buy a chunk of squash for cooking with, when we bought the whole thing our cook thought we were crazy). Monday we carved the pumpkin with our LCF and cook, a traditionally jack-o-latern face. After class we lit the pumpkin, and ate pumpkin seeds (I made pumpkin pie with the innards later that night). The neighbor came over as well as one of the host families.

The initial trying to tell ghost stories was a little awkward. We were trying to tell a story, pause, and have it translated into darija with little success (after all, a ghost story is all in the telling). Fortunately, Moroccan women took over-- the neighbor had a spooky story of her own. The women eagerly passed around the flashlight and told stories. Our LCF translated some, but it was mostly about watching faces and gestures.

At the end of the storytelling we blew out the pumpkin and walked home, past the cemetery. Maybe Moroccans can do Halloween afterall.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nearing the end of Community Based Training

Things I will miss about CBT:

- My 3 year old host brother opening the front door for and running out and scaring away the "dangerous" puppy and kitty hanging out by the bread oven for me in the morning.

- A kind host family that will let me experiment in their kitchen. Hey, pizza was a big success!

- Being in a small room with a little heater with 6 other bodies for the better part of a 9.5 hour day. Needless to say, we've shared everything, particularly colds! I know I will really miss our little group once we are all off on our own.

- Our LCF who has to put up with us crazy americans all day and still has a great sense of humor and amazing patience.

- Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, second snack, dinner prepared by knowledgeable Moroccans.

- Getting the benefit of a workout walking up and down a few hundred stairs everyday.

- Having a 5 year old around to help me learn vocab and to help color my flash cards.

- Hiking in the gorgeous surrounding mountains.

- Easy access to the internet--just down the stairs to town!

- Ramadan (already miss it)

- The Artisans that we've gotten a chance to work with here. They produce an amazing product. Hopefully I'll be able to update you soon on the project I've done with them here, and some more info on their coop.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sheep Head: it's what's for dinner!

-Or, at least it was last night.

This isn't such an uncommon thing in Morocco, so I'm really just being a sill American here, but I will describe my experience anyway.

I came home from class last night and took off my wet clothes (rain rain rain). I was then invited by my host mom to sit down. As I do so she turns around with something wrapped. In one swift motion she takes off the wrapper and a head falls out onto the plate, and then splits in half along it's cut. It's my night!

The brain was divided equally among us. Then a jaw bone was given to the youngest (who then says in darija "My teeth, my teeth!" and pops out the incisors...he's really adorable). The meat was ripped from bone (there isn't a whole lot), and the skull was set aside. Unfortunately, the brain was left under a pile of my meat, so I'm not sure if I actually ate some brain or not. I made a promise to myself that I would draw the line at brain, so much for that!

All in all, a little gamey (lamb), but not at all bad. I was nervous about the experience (mostly the brain). I surprised myself, and maybe confused my host mom at the end of the meal by smiling unexpectedly. I had done it! (I couldn't really explain this to anyone without looking silly).

Friday, October 17, 2008

A typical day

My typical day in Community Based Training (CBT)

I’m not sure if this is of interest to too many people, but for those of you who are curious how a typical CBT experience might go, or for those of you who want to imagine what I’m occupied with for these first 11 weeks, here you go.

Monday through Saturday goes something like this: wake up around 6:30am (by choice, I like to get up early), sneak into the bathroom trying not to wake anyone up (it is a hopeless cause with the children) and wash ala bucket-bath. I then sneak back into my room and study or read or listen to downloaded npr podcasts and do pilates until my host-mom calls me out for breakfast. Breakfast often includes hot milk or tea with lots of sugar and mint. There is always bread with butter and jelly or olive oil, and occasionally there will be cookies as well (not cookie crisp cereal mind you).

At 8:10 I head out the door to class, which is about a 15-20 min walk talking the high road around the outside of the town/valley. We all quickly learned the shortcuts, and to avoid the schoolyard if at all possible. The view is spectacular, of course, and it amazes me how quickly one can get used to seeing such a sight everyday.

The morning is focused on language and cross-culture. We sit and soak up darija. Thankfully, we have a great teacher (Language and Culture Facilitator-- LCF) with a great sense of humor to put up with us crazy Americans.

Snack time at 10:30, more tea/coffee, cookies, bread/muffins/snackcakes. Then back to language until lunch at 12:30. A woman from town prepares our food for us. She does an amazing job, and it is nice to enjoy Moroccan food where you aren’t pressured to eat more than you desire. Fridays we have couscous (siksou in darija), on this and other dishes I’m sure I will write more about down the road.

The afternoon our focus is generally on the technical aspect of things. We visit the women’s coop in town and speak with the women there. Otherwise, we plan on what we will be doing or asking the women. Our LCF translates for us. This week we were required to translate our questions into darija and ask them to the women. If I stop to think about it, I am making progress with everything, but I feel like there is just so much more to learn.

At 4:30 we have our afternoon tea/snack with more tea/coffee, cookies, fried bread/bread/snackcakes (fortunately there is also an abundance of wonderful fruit, which is an option I usually seek out for snack). We continue working until 6:00, and then head home. This last week it has been just after sunset when we walk home. If I am lucky enough to get out a little early I stop by the cyber for a few minutes. This is never close to enough time to catch up on what I want to catch up on, so I try to cut out some extra time by writing my blog entries beforehand.

Once I get home, I greet the family and either study or try to help in the kitchen (emphasis on “try”). Sometimes there is a tea/snack break around 6:30pm, which often includes cookies and bread. Dinner is usually small, a bowl of soup or bread, or lunch leftovers from the family. I try to spend some time with the family and kids, throwing in a sentence or phrase or word when I can. I usually head into my room between 9 and 10 pm and read or study for a little bit before bed.

Sunday is our free day. We do have “self directed learning” which means we have to choose an activity that furthers our understanding of the language and culture of Morocco. This is also a great time to take a hike!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookie Attempt #2

This time, I was very determined to make a successful cookie. I planned in advance. I found some good chocolate bars in the bigger town. One secret ingredient I include in my chocolate chip cookies back home is vanilla instant pudding mix. It keeps the cookies soft and gives them a nice (read: not spread out like a pancake) shape. I wasn’t too sure about finding instant pudding mix in small town Morocco, but I was willing to work with what I could find—instant vanilla flan mix! What’s the difference, really?

After buying good-quality flour, more sugar and eggs, I proceed with attempt #2. I’m smarter this time, I use an actual cup as a “cup” to measure out my ingredients, insuring the proper chemistry. The flan mix creates an interesting yellow color, but no big deal. The texture is right, and things are looking good. I stick them in the oven, which looks like a cabinet and is at who-knows-what temperature, and try to keep and eye on them. The bottoms cook way faster than the rest of them, but I scrape off the char and they are okay. Second pan in, I watch even more carefully, the gas has been turned down a bit. They are right on the point of being perfect. Suddenly, a decision is made to put them on lower in the oven to ensure browning on top. Two seconds later they are crispy and brown/black. I scrape off more char.

Attempt number three might have to take place at my next host family, for my reputation is suffering here. However, our schedule suggests we try making a meal for our families on Sunday. I am going to go for the typically American food, pizza. The battle isn’t over with you yet, Moroccan oven!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Welcome back to CBT!

The experience back in our CBT site has been interesting so far. Before we left, a horrible storm blew through on Friday night. There was an amazing amount of rain and extreme winds. Not as much thunder as some of the previous storms, but the wind more than made up for it. The temperature was also much lower at that point, making it uninviting to venture outside to buy anything before heading back to CBT. Fortunately, my site is much larger and has more amenities when compared to other CBT sites.

Saturday morning things had mostly cleared out, a last whip of wind blowing the rain and clouds back out of the mountains. I went up with a fellow trainee to negotiate for a grand taxi to our CBT site. I was impressed with her negotiating abilities, and we were able to get a cheaper ride than originally quoted (which was high for the "tourists"). Once I reached our town, and I had walked up to my house with my bags, it became apparent that the town currently did not have running water. The storm on Friday apparently damaged the water system. It has since come back on, but went off again this morning. This isn't a huge problem yet, the storeowner in the middle of town pulled out a hose that was being fed by the well in the back of his shop, and let people fill up bottles and buckets to take water home. Running water is a luxury anyway.

This morning five of us trainees went back up into the mountains, this time venturing further (still no monkeys though). I'll be putting up photos on my flickr page (see slideshow to the right). Basically, I'm in an amazing area where I can easily get breathtaking views of the mountains. The off-road trails we took were mostly animal footpaths, which created plenty of tree-branch obstacles for us taller creatures.

Friday, October 10, 2008

There might be a reason why "rain" and "Winter" are the same word

This week has been back to technical training. I haven't had too much to report on it here, since it is more for me than for you all. I did want to show off my henna hands. A friend of my host mom's came over the day after l'3id (holiday) and did my hands and the hands of both of the little girls. When all the female trainees got back together we all compared our henna. Although tastes may differ, I'm happy not having been given dark henna feet.

It has been rainy off and on all week, gradually getting colder. My CBT site is more up in the mountains than where we are this week, so I'm expecting frigid conditions. I'm breaking out the long underwear earlier than I thought I would.

I'm keeping this entry brief, I apologize, but I need to finish repacking tonight. We are leaving tomorrow morning and I'll rejoin my family for another three weeks. Honestly, at the end of this week I am missing them much. My host mom's cooking is wonderful! (and so is my real mom's cooking, love you mom!)


(edit: sorry about that, the picture wasn't uploading correctly)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Week Three in Morocco

Realizations this week:
-I am very, very far from home, making me feel completely helpless when something major is happening back there.
-Although I currently both love and hate the Turkish Toilet, it isn’t as big of a deal as I had feared.
-Although I miss warm water, bucket baths aren’t as big of a deal as I had feared (and the hammam is wonderful!).
-Do you remember getting together during the holidays with family when you were in that awkward in-between stage, too grown up to play around with the little kids and not quite mature enough to hang out with the adults all day? That’s surprisingly similar to how I celebrated the end of Ramadan, with my vocabulary of a 2 year-old’s. It was wonderful to have this inside view of Ramadan (which I wouldn’t get if my home-stay was in a different part of the year), but I wish I could contribute more by way of conversation at this point.
-Children are the same everywhere. They are hilarious and fun and crazy, and as soon as their mother leaves the language-limited foreigner in charge for a minute while she runs to a neighbor’s, they will take advantage of the situation.
-The world should cut back on its introduction of plastic into the environment.
-It is possible for this suburban girl to get used to walking across town, passing semi-feral cats and dogs, chickens, donkeys, sheep, goats, cows, and one amazing view of the mountains with hardly a second-glance.
-Any family that will take in someone who barely knows the language and continuously makes cultural faux pas is amazing.
-I was foolishly dependant upon recipes and measurements in my cooking and baking back home. Now I’m putting myself to the test without such crutches---hey, my chocolate chip cookies were edible!
-Morocco has many amazing foods to offer in and outside of Ramadan, particularly by way of sweets.
-You can always eat more food, at any hour.
-Even if you insist you are full, you can always eat more food at any hour.
-Even if you plead and make motions that you might explode, you can always eat more food.
-Eat! Eat! Kuli! Kuli!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Settling in

I am starting to settle in to my new home. The language is exhausting and at times very frustrating, but I'm getting a little more comfortable being part of the family.

An amazing discovery happened the night of a fellow volunteer's Birthday. We were all invited over to her host families home for a surprise party. I did not have the vocabulary to communicate effectively with my host parents that I wasn't sure when I would be home and who would walk me home. After unsuccessfully trying to convey this to my host mother in darija, she gives a look to her husband who suddenly starts speaking English. English had not be previously spoken in the house, which I'm sure was deliberate. Apparently, this event warranted a breech of the no-english rule. Well, it worked, but I'm leaving English to emergencies only.

The rest of my days consists of intense language-lessons and meeting with the local artisan co-op. We have exercises we are going through with them so we are better prepared for our final assignment. I am aware how busy they are, on top of their fasting, so their patience and generosity of time with us is greatly appreciated. They make rugs and fabric on looms by hand. Small, simply-designed rugs can take about 2 months for one woman to complete, and larger, more intricate rugs can take up to 6 months!

I am getting my exercise walking up and down the long staircases to get to the center of town and back to the LCF (language and culture facilitator) house. Well, the rain has stopped for the moment (it has been a rainy week off and on) so I will be heading home. My home is in the center of the photograph at the very top of the hill (I have an amazing view of the town and mountains).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Brief Connection

I strongly believe that putting yourself in a situation where the people you are living with and depending upon speak a different language (that you've only really been studying for about a week), eat different foods in a different manner, have a different social and religious system, and have a different style of toilet (hashak), that it would do a lot of good.

Gesturing and using broken darija only get you so far. It is amazing how much I didn't realize I needed to communicate when living in a home that is tricky to do without the right words. And yet, the family and home life doesn't seem so unusual. We sit around the table in the living room and share l'ftor (Ramadan breakfast) while the satellite dish pipes in sitcoms and dramas for the Moroccan taste. The children laugh, play, cry, and do homework.

"You don't understand?" Is one phrase that I understand very well in darija. However, I also understand that we might not be so different after all.

(As I keep saying, "Ask me again how I feel about this in 6 months)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An electric goodbye

A wonderful electrical storm blew in last night. It started off in the mountains and quickly swallowed us. The lighting show was spectacular.

Today we head off to our Community Based Training sites, where I will spend the next two weeks. This is the same amount of time I have spent on this adventure thus far. I'm sure we are all going to come back different people. It is amazing that we have only known each other for two weeks, it seems so much longer. The Youth Development group has come down a few times for games and movie-watching, which is great so we don't lose contact with each other while we're in the same city. By now most of us have gotten cell-phones, hopefully text messaging will follow.

Otherwise, this week has been intense with language and cultural learning, as well as more information on Small Business Development. We have a little time to go out into the town, and I am becoming gradually comfortable with it. The shop keepers are very friendly and helpful. Many have gone out of their way to make sure I am taken care of (particularly with setting up the cell phone in french or arabic).

More on my host family-- I will be staying with a family with two children, a 5 year old girl and a 3 year old boy. I hope to make friends early on with the candy and crayons I have brought with me. My goal in the next two weeks is to be able to speak on the level of the 5 year old. Right now, I'm sure the 3 year old has me beat. Lofty goals, I know. I hope they will be good teachers!

We are about to head out of the hotel, so I will say goodbye for now. If you don't hear from me here in the next two weeks, don't worry, I will give you an update when I get back.


Friday, September 19, 2008


We received our language assignments today, I will be learning Moroccan Arabic, Darija! The other language possibility was Tamazight, a Berber dialect. This narrows down the possibilities of my final site location, which I won't find that out until late October.

Why I'm excited: We have already been learning Darija, so I won't be starting over once I get to my host family. Learning Moroccan Arabic could be a doorway into understanding Modern Standard Arabic (although the two sound very different) and has the potential to be useful outside of Morocco.

What I'll be missing: Berber pride, learning a language that few outsiders learn, learning both Tamazight and a bit of Darija to function throughout the country

Overall, I am happy with the placement. I gave no real preference, so I was open to either language.

Sunday is the day we travel to our Community Based Training (CBT) sites. I will be living with a host family. The place where I am placed is more urban/suburban than rural, so I may have access to the internet, but likely not with the connivence I currently enjoy. I do have a cell phone now, please email me before Sunday if you would like the number before I head out.

I will hopefully update the blog (and return emails) once more before I head out with some other details about training so far. Right now we are getting ready to regroup with our Language and Cultural Facilitators to learn more language and discuss our CBT site assignments.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I-love olive

I know a particular someone who would have thought it amusing to find that I eagerly devoured pizza stacked with olives and enjoyed every bite. I've always professed a dislike of olives. But tastes change. Considering that likes/dislikes of food are often just a matter of choice, I choose to open myself up to foods I would not have previously enjoyed. Why not? Living in a country that likes and grows olives, I would be missing out not to embrace them.

Olives are pretty tasty. Particularly when piled on pizza.

I know you're somewhere laughing.


On another note, we now have a Morocco PC flickr photo group. It is a great way to see what we've been up to in photo-form. Also, if you are in my PC group and have a flickr account, please join and contribute!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ramadan sweets

For those who are hungering for a food-related post, here is one! All our meals are currently served at the hotel we are staying at during training (well, part of training), and food on the streets is a little harder, and trickier to get during daytime Ramadan. So, I will share what we have been served by the excellent cooks downstairs.

With Ramadan comes special foods that are only served during Ramadan. l'ftor* is the breaking of the fast once the sun has dipped below the horizon. For those of us who aren't participating in Ramadan, this has become dinner. A dinner with a lot of sweets.

To break the fast, one eats a dried date, or tmr (which are better than any dried fig I have had in the US). The rest of the meal includes Hrira soup (with chickpeas and lentils), zmita (loose flour, dried fruit, peanuts, almonds, anise, sesame seeds, etc.), and shbakiya (crispy fried dough with honey). Zmita seems strange at first, looking like a pile of spices, but is pleasantly sweet and nutty. Shbakiya will be my downfall. Thankfully it is only offered during this month, and I will surely miss it once Ramadan is over. I'm not a huge consumer of fried things, but these have the heavy fried taste. The honey lightens up the crispy dough, and oozes out as you bite into it. Hrira is satisfying, but not my favorite soup thus far. Apparently, it differs significantly in preparation from house to house.

More food to come as I am able!

*You will notice that the phonetic spelling of Moroccan Arabic includes a significantly smaller amount of vowels.

photo: Clockwise, starting from the top- shbakiya, zmita, dates

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wake up

Last night I spent some time with my family, specifically my brothers. We were sitting in my brother's, Bryan's, room, along with my other brother, John. We were just talking. Suddenly, I realized the show on the television sounded both surprising and familiar.

"That is just the way the call to prayer sounded!" I said.

"Oh yeah?" Bryan responds.

Then I opened my eyes. The sound wasn't on the television, it was outside my window at 4:30am.


Oh, that's right, I'm not at home.

I think this is something that is going to slowly dawn on me over a period of time. Even though I think I've accepted (and am excited) about this new change for the next two years, of course I am going to miss home and everyone there.

And a week from today I will be living with a new family.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Made it to the next town

Alright, I keep warning people that I won't be able to communicate, and then I find a place of easy and free internet access. It is best to have low expectations though, yes?

Still, the training is promised to be very intense and I will need to spend time learning language and integrating into Moroccan culture, so I will limit my time online. This doesn't mean that I am not thinking of you all!

A few other notes on my time in Morocco so far:

-The food in the hotel in Rabat was somewhat disappointing and not exactly what I was expecting. I think they were catering to their European tourists. Whatever the case, the food at the new hotel we will be staying at this next week is so much better! I finally got my Moroccan couscous, and much better prepared veggies and fruits, and light and delicious flatbread. The fruit was the best end to a meal. It was a type of melon, but sweeter than honeydew and cream-colored. I believe it is a casaba melon, which is apparently available in the US, but I wasn't aware of it! Try one.

-The road between Rabat and our current site took us through dryer lands, but not infertile. It was also hilly/mountainous. It reminds me of a hilly south-west US.

-Baggy clothes are dangerous. At home, I don't usually have a problem over-eating, but when I am presented with new foods that I want to try in a buffet-style, I end up piling my plate higher than I intend. Since my clothes aren't as tightly fitted to my figure, I don't notice the amount of food I've been taking in. In any case, I'm sure I will be walking it all off shortly.

-On a related note, did I mention that I love the bread?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hello PST

Our time quickly comes to a close in the big city. I'm starting to sense the stress to come in the next few months. I've had some of my shots (not so bad), and a lot of introductions. However, I also still feel that this will be a great challenge that I am ready to take on. I'm excited to really start the language training and the home-stay with a Moroccan family.

Right now it looks like it may be best for me to focus my energy on being present and spending an enormous amount of my time trying to absorb the language and culture. This may mean sporadic blog updates, and there might be times when you don't hear from me for a while. Don't worry about me! Also, don't stop emailing or commenting, I will try, at the very minimum spend time online, once a week, if not more. I do plan on keeping you all posted here, but things may be infrequent until I get settled at my site November-January/February.

Right now, there is another beautiful sunset here, followed by a call to prayer and breaking of the fast. I think this may turn out to be a good metaphor for how things have gone here so far, and how I am likely not to get such a nice break in the coming months. Whatever it may be, bring it on!

P.S. Playing cards is a great way to practice saying your numbers in a foreign language, and contains a significant amount of fun.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Made it to North Africa!

Travel went fairly well this long long day that started Monday morning. Of course, sleeping on a plane isn't really sleeping--there was no way to get comfortable. I am still wearing the same clothes as from yesterday as well, just in case you were curious.

But now we are at the hotel in Morocco. I am currently sitting outside in a wi-fi zone on the top floor. The city below is full of sounds of honking horns and activity. A mosque is not far and squarely in front of my view. There is an excellent cool breeze up here which balances out the heat of the sun that feels somehow turned up to a higher intensity. Fortunately the humidity is fairly low right now. It is slowly hitting me that we are no longer in America.

The rest of the afternoon and night we are to stay put. Tomorrow we will get more information and may be eventually allowed to explore some of the city.

I will be here for a few days so please feel free to try to contact me via the internet while I still have easy access!

edit: Just a reminder that we are arriving in Morocco in the middle of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting from food, drink (including water), smoking, sex, etc., during the daylight hours. I am amazed at all the help we have been getting from all the Moroccans during this time, particularly those who are serving food. I'm sure I am seeing a different Morocco during Ramadan than I would see during the other months.
Of course it would be madness for me to try fasting right now considering everything else my body is currently going through (right now a case of jet-lag...with promises of soon to be more exciting challenges). Maybe next year I will try. I am interested in the discipline required to go through fasting, but I would never put my health seriously in jeopardy. I have a year to think it over.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Onward to Morocco

September 8th. I really cannot believe it. What a date. A lot of emotions going on today and last night, but ultimately I am so excited to be moving towards this next step.

Yesterday, we had our second day of staging. More getting to know each other, more getting to know the Peace Corps and Morocco. Overall, I felt that the information was presented in a way that I didn't feel overwhelmed or bored. Which is saying a lot considering how much time we spent in one room. I believe I'm with an amazing group of people.

Last night we had some time to walk around Philadelphia. A group of us went down to the Liberty Bell and then walked around until we found food. Don't look to hard for me in that group shot, I was taking the photo.

I got back to the room early last night to decompress and make a call or two.

Today I will be getting on a bus up to New York and then flying out to Morocco. Once there, my cell phone will no longer work and internet accesses may be more difficult. Be patient if you are waiting to hear from me, I will try to post here when I can.

Onward to Morocco!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


I made it! Well, to Philadelphia in any case. Free internet access in the hotel, so I am taking advantage of it.

My first day of staging went something like this-
Woke up at 3:30am, got on a plane at 7:20am, arrived in Philadelphia at 11:00am. I took a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, that happened to have four other volunteers on it. I then had lunch with said volunteers, followed by a long line for registration (which I'm sure was designed to get us all to talk to each other while waiting). The rest of the afternoon (until 7pm) was spent getting to know the other 57 PC trainees and starting to familiarize ourselves with what the PC is about and our expectations and anxieties.

Tomorrow promises to be long...but perhaps still informative. Hey, when you're excited, sitting through long days doesn't seem so terrible. Then again, ask me how I feel about long days in a month.

This is it

My bags are packed and I'm about to head out to the airport. I'll be in Philadelphia over the weekend. Then, we drive up to New York and fly out of New York to Casablanca. Finally, we drive from Casablanca to Rabat, Morocco's capital. I'll be there the rest of next week, and the real adventure begins!

It is a amazing how many little things needed to be taken care of last minute. I did, however, manage to get about 3.5 hours of sleep, which is honestly better than expected.

See you in Philly!

Monday, September 1, 2008

4 days, 22 hours


-Move out of my studio

-Take down show

-Leave job

-Initial packing

-Say goodbye to most friends, family and co-workers

To do:

-Organize/store stuff I'm leaving behind

-Finish packing

-Final goodbyes to friends and family I have yet to do so

-Paperwork for loans and insurance, etc.

-Tie up all other loose ends


I feel fairly good about my packing. I am under the 80lbs weight limit by over 10lbs, and I only have a few more things to pack. I tried carrying it all at once to see how it would feel. I think I can do it, just not over a great distance. I should be able to hobble around an airport.

Packing has been an adventure in figuring out exactly what to bring-- what will be used, and how to take up the least amount of space with important items.

My understanding from reading material the Peace Corps has passed out and listening to advice from past Morocco PCVs is that in many places in Morocco I will need to be covered in a more conservative way than in the US. This means I need to favor packing shirts with sleeves between 3/4-full length, no low-cut collars (not a big problem for me), and the bottom falling loosely around mid-thigh. That last stipulation caught me, most of my shirts fall right at my hips or slightly higher. It is also my understanding that my pants and skirts (sometimes preferably skirts) need to be both loose and long. I've managed to find shirts, skirts, and pants that will hopefully work by raiding a few closets, finding some bargains at the store, and by a generous gift to help boost my new wardrobe.

The other clothing issue is that I won't know where my final site will be until I am already in Morocco. With Morocco's diverse landscape-- dessert, Mediterranean, mountainous--I could be in extremes from sweltering hot to frigid. I was concerned about stuffing my winter coat, long underwear, and sweaters in my baggage, but I was saved by those vacuum-seal space-saver bags. So I am prepared for most types of weather. Most importantly, I've packed a lot of layers I can take on off during the day.

One issue I'm a little unsure about is the use of contacts. I normally wear contacts, but I know the PC strongly discourages you from using them in-country. it sounds like this is large part due to the poor-availability of sterile contact solution, and risk of eye-infection. However, randomly reading Morocco-PCV blogs has revealed that some do take contacts with them (with a lot of solution). Is it worth the trouble of trying to take all the contact solution, etc? Or is the risk pretty bad for eye infection regardless? I will have two pairs of glasses with me, as requested, and I may just bring my contacts for special occasions with a bottle or two of solution. If any Morocco PCVs out there have any experience on this, I'd be interested to know!

It appears that there won't be too many posts from me now until I'm actually on this adventure. Bear with me in the coming weeks as I try to figure out internet access-- and sanity. I'm excited that all of this is so close to becoming reality. I still can't believe it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Two weeks

Looks like I'm down to two weeks now. I'm completely focused on taking care of business, packing, and saying goodbye. Saying goodbye might be the hardest part of the whole business. I keep asking my friends and family where they think they will be in two years. In part, I want to know that people will still be here when I return. The reality is that people and situations are constantly changing, whether or not I am here to witness the changes taking place. Of course, change can be more obvious and stark when you come back with a stranger's eyes.

But I will have changed too. Just as I have changed significantly in this last year, and the year before and so on. We all move forward, predictably, or unpredictably. So what is "goodbye"? Goodbye is saying "this is the end of this chapter in our lives, we are all moving forward and changing. Perhaps we will say 'hello' again, in person, in a not so distant--but different--future."

Alright, alright, back to packing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thank you Goodwill!

What a relief to finally have purchased my luggage! Now I can visualize exactly what I have to work with.

So...How did Mary Poppins do it?


I've already gotten a couple messages from those who are departing for Morocco in September. How exciting, I can't wait to meet all of you. Please, if you're reading this, and you're leaving in September, or if you are already serving in Morocco, give me a heads up!


Now, off to my art exhibit reception. Time is just flying by!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ticket booked!

24 days from now I'll be getting on a plane to the orientation event, and then on to Morocco. I booked my flight yesterday.

Currently, my belongings are in complete disarray as I am trying to manage getting back from vacation and trying to start gathering the few select items I'll be taking with me. Packing seems daunting right now, but my goal is to work on that before the last minute. So, here's to hoping the deluge now will lead to less hectic days closer to my departure.

I've gotten more information, papers, booklets and forms via mail and email over the last few days (my staging packet did come while I was gone!) from the Peace Corps Morocco desk. So far I will say that I feel they have been very good about giving information, while not to the extent that it overwhelms and causes panic. Of course, we shall see how prepared I feel once I am in training and service, but it seems like they are trying their best to walk you through everything.

To the right of the blog entries I've added a slideshow of my Flickr account, which right now is showing photos I've taken thus far. Shortly, they should include photos from Morocco. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 28, 2008

In the mean time...

Just another update. Hopefully, when I'm in country I'll have more to say.
For now, I have been busy getting ready for a solo art show, which opens on Friday, as well as preparing for a 9-day trip to the North-west coast. I'll be in Seattle, WA, Vancouver, BC, and Portland OR next week. Once I return I'll be able to put my attentions more fully towards PC Morocco.

In the mean time, the PC has been finding more paperwork for us to fill out. I've been trying to squeeze in answers to survey questions between all this running about. I expect the "staging packet" with further orientation and travel information to arrive in the mail in the next couple of weeks (likely while I'm out of town).

I can't believe how quickly the time is passing--and how much I need to do (and people I need to see) before I leave!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Application Status Update

"Peace Corps has updated your Application Status account. "

I have gotten this email message twice in the last two days. I check my email first thing in the morning, and yesterday this email gave me a start. I couldn't imagine what had been updated considering I had already cleared everything and accepted my invitation. My frantic mind quickly went into high gear anticipating a hold on my status, or some other unforeseen problem, but nothing appeared changed. I don't regularly log into my account considering the general lull in information from the PC, so a minute change could have taken place that I am not aware of.

When it happened again this morning, I was much less surprised. I could clearly see nothing had changed in my "Application Status" from the day before. I wonder if this message is being sent in error? Or perhaps I am missing something? Maybe it is a silly thing to be concerned about, but in the past an "Application Status Update" email from the PC most often heralded a significant change.

In other news I bought a beautiful Swiss Army pocketknife a couple days ago and realized my long-lost-girlscout-like fascination with these things. I hope it comes in as handy as it looks!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Two Months

Two months from today I'll begin my journey! After the initial excitement of getting the invitation and sending in a revised resume and aspirations statement to the country desk, things have quieted down somewhat on the Peace Corps end. More waiting, but waiting is something I am getting more and more accustomed to.

I am thinking about what I need to get done before I go. Besides getting ready for my solo painting show, I am trying to practice Arabic from the audio files available through Peace Corps, and thinking about what to pack. Thank you to those who suggested books (and I'm still interested in your thoughts, dear reader). I am also looking to buy a laptop and two pairs of glasses (I normally wear contacts, which is discouraged in the PC).

Anything essential I should consider bringing? If you are a current or returned PCV from Morocco I would greatly appreciate your advice. Of course, any good advice from anyone is appreciated.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

If you were to leave home for 27 months...

and you could only take one (or two) books with you, what would you bring?

It is my understanding that I will likely encounter reading material overseas, but what is the book you would really want to make sure you had? Is it an old favorite, that you could reread over and over? Perhaps, it's a book that's been on your shelf for years and you haven't had the time to tackle it? Or maybe something really dense that would require careful study and rereading?

I'm curious to know your personal response, but I am also looking for suggestions. Or, if you have/are serving, what book did you bring or discover that kept you going?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Countdown

Three months from today. That is my anticipated arrival in Morocco.

Between now and then I have to get ready for a solo art show, travel to Texas and the Northwest coast, pack, move my studio to storage, and prepare myself, my family and friends. So it begins!

--That is, after I call and officially accept my invitation. I wanted the weekend to let it sink in a bit before I jumped and accepted. Speak now or hold your peace. Most likely I'm calling tomorrow.

edit 6/9/08: I called this morning and accepted my invitation!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Peace Corps Invitation

I received the invitation in the mail today.

It seems I have officially been invited with what I was nominated for! I will be in Morocco in the "small business development" program, leaving in early September.

Since I'm not trained in business, I was a little wary with the title "small business development" but I also half expected that. The details in the rest of the booklet talk about working with small, community based artisans/artisan groups improve their businesses. This includes: access to new markets, identification of product, product quality control, training in basic business and financial management including inventory control, product pricing, credit and marketing plans, access to new information and technologies.

Two examples they gave of activities implemented by previous SBD volunteers were developing or enhancing an existing web page for start up artisan enterprises, and transcribing certain oral traditions in handicraft or artisan product design into written/electronic form to help preserve the traditional designs.

This sounds like it will be challenging and exciting for me. It is a little out of what I do, but I think I can appreciate a lot of this from the point of view of the artist, and having had to market my own work.

I have a lot to think about now, and for the next couple of months as I prepare.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I got a call...


-details to come.

Application Status Update

"Peace Corps sent you an invitation kit on June 2, 2008."

Mail from D.C. usually gets here 4-5 days from when it was sent. I will probably know Thursday or Friday where I will be headed! Since I never got a call from my placement officer, I can be fairly certain I will be headed to Morocco or Jordan in September.

Details to come when I get them.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Motivation Statement

Still waiting on a final word from the Peace Corps. I know I won't hear anything this weekend, so I'm taking a break from the stressful anticipation.
In the mean time, I'll post the two short application essays for your reading enjoyment. 

Motivation Statement

I have a desire to share my knowledge and experience, my culture, my hands in labor, and likewise to be receptive of the same from others. I also believe that to have the expectation of "saving the world" by coming into a developing country does a disservice to all involved. From my own experience, I find that open person-to-person interaction is often a powerful influence for positive change.

I am enthusiastic about becoming immersed in another culture and all the joys and trials that come with it. To some small extent I have been on the other end, hosting students coming in from another country to experience American culture first hand. This was an important part of my high school experience, putting a crack in that "me"-oriented notion of the world. Although these exchange students did not come here with the intention of teaching, or aiding our development as a community, their presence did just that.

My formal education has largely centered on becoming a professional artist and teacher. However, to do either well, I believe one must first be a member of the world. I am rewarded every time I broaden the circle around myself. I find that I get so much out of listening, teaching, and learning. As an artist I appreciate creative solutions and challenges, and welcome unique perspectives. I will, in some sense, always be an artist even if my present activity might not outwardly be considered "art". Art is about communicating an idea, emotion, or message, either simple or complex. It is my lifelong goal to continue to have something to communicate by continuing to push myself and engage with humanity.

The man who had my heart was also one of the best examples to me of how to love and serve others. He worked for a Christian non-profit organization and had also volunteered to teach English in Taiwan for a year. We had hoped to help with the AIDS crisis in Africa through his work connections this coming summer. Tragically, these plans quickly derailed when he passed away in September. His life is a continued inspiration to me. However, I must emphasize that my interest in the Peace Corps is not that I feel I must do this for him, or anyone, but through him I realize that this is something I could do. He was an example of strength through adversity. Overcoming and enduring difficulties have strengthened me as well. I feel empowered to help others, and to live in the moments that we are given to make a difference on an individual level.


Cross-Cultural Experience

"You aren't like a typical American girl," was commonly directed at me during my recent trip to Paris, in October 2007. I knew the stereotypes I was being compared to. More importantly, it made me aware of my own preconceived notions about the city and culture I had placed myself in and how those ideas were continually reshaped or destroyed.

This was my first trip abroad without family, and my first trip to Europe. I was staying with another American friend who had been there a month before I arrived. However, I was largely in charge of exploring the city on my own. Completely dependant on myself and the kindness of strangers, this experience forced me out of the comfort of the known.

I had never taken a French class. Although many Parisians have some grasp of English, I was determined to use the limited French I knew when I could. It is easy to be the tourist who demands the locals to bend to his/her wants and expectations. I found it to be much more enriching to be the tourist who acknowledges that I am a visitor to another culture. I took pride in the moments when I could communicate in French without falling back on English, such as when I successfully confirmed a restaurant reservation.

There were several instances that may have proven inconvenient under normal circumstances that were heightened by their taking place in a city and language unfamiliar to me. The transportation strike drove me to find alternate routes and come to new understandings of how to get around. In turn I saw sides of the city I may not have otherwise encountered. At the end of my stay, the 20-hour flight delay out of Paris caused headaches for many of my fellow passengers. I decided to view it as an opportunity to have extensive conversations with a man from Spain and a woman from a city just north of Paris. On the flight back, the seat next to me was occupied by a French West-African, Bido, who broke the ice with: "I saw some of these people here arguing with the airline yesterday trying to get their way. I decided to not let this situation anger me, and instead accepted where was in the moment. I see that all of us ended up on the same flight."

I agree with Bido, in that some situations call for higher levels of patience and understanding. I came into the trip determined with a sense of adventure and openness to something new. This served me well. I also found how important flexibility, a willingness to learn, and keen observation are in facing a foreign environment and culture.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

No news yet

I'm sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for word overseas. If they can accommodate my medical condition (mild persistent asthma), I will be going to Morocco or Jordan in September. If not, then I will have to stay in Peace Corps limbo for a while longer. 

I was told it can take 7-10 days to hear back from the in-country PC staff. Today would be 7 days, but, with Memorial Day weekend, only 4 business days (this was not specified). I really hope I hear back this week. 

I know it will work out in the end, but now I am becoming impatient. I'll take suggestions for getting my mind off of it!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Is this really the beginning of something?

By starting this journal I'm admitting that I may be a Peace Corps Volunteer in the near future.

I wasn't able to admit to this too easily. I didn't want to get up a hope in something that wouldn't happen. However, I don't believe it is wrong to hope. I don't believe it is wrong to hope for something and then receive a different, perhaps better or more challenging reality than I had originally hoped for.

In any case, this is the beginning of a journal. How long it lasts is not determined, or important.

Here is my Peace Corps application timeline to this point in time (as best as can be recreated):

Mid-November, 2007: Went to first Peace Corps informational meeting, started to consider the PC more seriously

January, 2008: Started filling out application

February 20-something, 2008: Finished application

March 3: Interview

March 5: Nomination to go to Morocco or Jordan to work with artisans

March 7: Medical Kit mailed from D.C.

April 15: Sent in completed medical forms (Yes, it was a lot of work to get this done in just over a month!)

April 29: Dental cleared, undergoing Medical review, needed extra test/information from physicians

May 20, 2008: Medically cleared, limited to countries that can handle my medical conditions--Morocco/Jordan still a possibility, checking with in-country PC staff

And that is where I am today!