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).
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)
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-Say goodbye to most friends, family and co-workers
-Organize/store stuff I'm leaving behind
-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!
I am currently serving in Peace Corps, Morocco, as a small business developer working with artisans since September 2008. I have a Master of Fine Art, in studio art from Washington University in St. Louis.