Eid Mubarak Said! Happy Eid! Today is Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Another Ramadan has come to an end and I feel as though I can add another check mark off my timeline of service. I’ve stayed occupied at a house for 8 hours to then eat that last meal before fasting (3-4am), indulged in all the nighttime foods, learned about Islam and the traditions of Ramadan, found a routine, and felt that sense of oneness as the whole village breaks fast at the same exact time. I remember last year, Ramadan was a turning point for me in that first year of service. It was when I finally felt confident in my language ability; it took 8 months. This year at 21 months, with my second Ramadan down, I feel content. With around 4 months left, content with the people I have, the work I’ve done, this new life I’ve adapted to, and content with my personal journey through service.
It’s April 12th, 2019. A calm but radiant Friday afternoon in Talmest, Morocco. You’re in your second year of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Actually, about 19/27 months in. If you asked yourself 5 years ago, a sophomore at college in upstate NY, what you’d be doing now, maybe you’d give answers like “living abroad, learning a new language”. But to express what you have now? Sitting on your own porch in some Moroccan village that you weirdly feel is part of your home now, not likely. You rang in 24 in this village and now couldn’t have asked for a better place for your life to be. You’ve learned a lot, made lots of mistakes, felt lots of emotions, but you’ve grown as a person in more ways you think you’re aware of at the moment. Since September 2017 you’ve…
- learned a new language
- explored a new country
- felt unsure and lost
- feel deeply integrated into a new culture
- embarrassed myself in a multitude of situations
- felt independence
- felt love
- felt my lowest of the lows
- succeeded in projects (& very much failed)
- built strong, beautiful relationships
Your routine has changed a lot. Remember the days when you woke up at 6:00am to put on a stiff LOFT-y outfit and march out the door to join the parade of commuters ready to repeat the day you all finished just hours ago last night? Here are some things you can do now, that you probably couldn’t have before.
You can sit in a room for 3 hours drinking tea and shooting shit without thinking of what you could/should be doing in that “wasted time”. You move pretty slow these days. You’ve been forced to adapt in some ways while finding a balance between adaption and staying true to your values.
You could be thrown into a room of small-town community members you’ve never met before, speaking a different language, definitely feeling as though you’re “the outsider”, but you’ll make it work.
You can have strong, powerful discussions and conversations in a language and words that aren’t your own.
You can love and feel connections and emotions to people when you look at each other but see few cultural and personal values in common.
You can do all these things, but you’ve learned here are some of the things you cannot do/be/become.
You cannot be Moroccan. Feel what a Moroccan feels or know what they want from their community or country.
You cannot decide for these people. Tell them how to think or act. You can just offer a different, new perspective.
You cannot stay here forever. There’s a reason Peace Corps is 2 years. This is not your home or your country and it never will be.
When the time comes to pack up and leave, you cannot dwell on the past. You must channel these intimate memories and experiences to move forward in your life.
You feel a lot each day, whether that be happiness, loneliness, power, love, confusion, belongingness. Your emotions are heightened and vulnerable. You think way too much. But before you go to bed, you tell yourself that every day is a new day. One day you will look back and you’ll miss the things you won’t have. The groups of noisy children playing outside your windows every evening at 6pm, the call to prayer echoing through the village, the mountains, the knocks on the door, and the faces of people who have helped you and made you feel like you belong here. You’re not sure where you’ll be in 5 years…happy, unsure, fulfilled, energized? Time is sneaky and moves quick, so make each day, week, or moment meaningful over there in Morocco and enjoy this all while it’s still here.
Women’s Day (March 8) has passed with lots to look back on. The women in the association of my village organized an afternoon of activities including competitions, poems, and a chance to showcase to the community their embroidery work. I got a chance to read a Rupi Kaur poem about women’s strength in Arabic in front of over 60 women. My host siblings and I made a video reportage for my host mom about why she is so special to us and surprised her with a new outfit, pizza, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. But one student wrote some words that I want to share. This essay is in the running for a competition hosted by the U.S. Embassy and the Olive Writers Program in Morocco, a creative writing program for young writers in Morocco. I sent along the call for applications and a few days later, I received a Whatsapp message from a boy named Abdennour with this included:
Iron Women, Strong Women, Pretty Women
By Abdennour Alouach
Iron Women, Strong Women, Pretty Women, Ambitious… All are descriptions of a mother struggling to prove herself, fighting time for her family, for their happiness and success and everything good about them. But no one knows the suffering and sacrifice she endured to become what she is now. Many women embody these descriptions, but this one happens to be my mother.
She is not famous in the world, in any field or in her community. She didn’t write a book summarizing her life to appear on television or tell her story to gain self-satisfaction from others. She owns a family, maybe a bit big to recognize her efforts. In 1971, Khadija Daoudi was born in a rural village called Talmest of a father working as a merchant and mother of a housewife. She was the eldest daughter and after one year she had a brother. After reaching the age of going to school, she didn’t go like the other girls the same age as her because she had to help her mother with the housework and raising her brothers, which in turn still need nurturing. The years go by and she has not gone to school but is taking on great responsibility for herself. This was the situation for years. Every day her brothers waited until they came back from school, to then take a book and make the most of it; looking and thinking about its content and story. My mom, too, was there, seeing the words but not understanding a thing.
When she was 16 years old, like when all the other girls in the town reach the same age, her parents saw her as a grown up women who must marry, just waiting for a suitable husband. But my mother took another way. She started selling the seeds of Argan, raising chickens to then sell their eggs, and after a whiles time she started to form herself. She became apart of the community along with other people and learned some new life lessons. She completed what she was, at the same time staying involved in her family. She worked with her parents but didn’t ask for money from them. Not looking too much at the business of it all, she began to think about her own life; buy clothes, jewelry, and even traditional beauty products. More important than this though was thinking about marriage and starting a family. It didn’t take much time, but she married her cousin who was a working teacher and he taught her some reading and writing. Then she made a promise to teach her children and raise them to have the best education she could give them.
Seeing as though my mother has not studied in her life, she is very careful and motivated to teach us because of the fact that she couldn’t achieve her dreams due to her family circumstances. She is able to influence my thoughts with her own charm and convince me that education is a human need to live a normal life. It is the food of life; it is the highest human experience to deal with the situations you encounter. She encourages us to seek knowledge for self-development so that I communicate with others and exchange information with different foreign cultures. She helps us to discover everything new like when we visit new places, search for information, read stories and scientific books. Sometimes more difficult at times, she supports us financially and morally to achieve our goals and ambitions by seizing the opportunities offered by life.
She recommends us to stick to our values; the values we have learned from her wisdom. To be honest with everyone in our actions and words, do charity and support those in need, and help people, especially children, to learn and fight ignorance to let us improve and develop our society.
My mother remains a strong symbol of women in my mind. She is my role model. There she is, put right in front of me by the Earth, to work on developing myself to a great extent. I have and will become someone of great standing thanks to ideas inspired by a woman, perhaps this iron, strong, pretty, ambitious mother, who is proof of the saying “women are half of society”.
“What about a lemonade stand? Or a bake sale?”, I said. Thats what we always did when we wanted money to go on a school trip or get new jerseys for the volleyball team. We had each person make something; brownies, cookies, cupcakes…and then the community would contribute in small amounts. It always worked and it was always looked highly upon. He said, “It’s not the same here. It’s not apart of the culture in a place like this.”
I thought long and hard about his answer. This conversation took place between Mohammed and I, 2 weeks after I tagged along to watch the Youth Karate Championships in Marrakech with him. Mohammed started an association in my town, the town he grew up in, about 15 years ago with a friend, to organize sports activities, karate classes, and outdoor excursions for youth in the rural areas. I could speak on and on about his commitment to volunteerism, youth development through sport, and passion for his work, but that would require another blog post and enough Arabic skills to send him those words of gratitude I have for him.
[Flashback 2 weeks ago]
I woke up at 5:00AM that Sunday morning. For Peace Corps Volunteers, this is just a laugh, but i’m so glad I woke up with the chickens that morning. Mohammed picked me up outside my house and then we went house by house to collect the 3 young boys that were competing in the competition. It felt like the days we’d carpool for Downstate volleyball tournaments in high school. The sun still hasn’t risen, you’re tired but anxious for that first match that’s approaching. Stop at a Dunkin’ Donuts to get your coffee and breakfast sandwich. In this case, some plastic chairs next to a butcher for a pot of tea and eggs with bread. I got in the car that morning with three kids from Birkouat (the village next to ours) who looked at me sitting in the drivers seat with curiosity & confusion.
Then I became a car buddy, a cheerleader, a “mother” who’s carrying the jackets to sit closer to their competition court, and I find myself saying “win or lose, you tried and thats what matters guys.” Each of them lost their individual technique rounds but as a team, they got 3rd place, which qualified them for the National Championships in Rabat. I’m no expert on karate. I walked in thinking people were going to be kicking each other in the faces and karate-chopping wood. This clearly wasn’t the case and the competition was pure technique. The kids were judged on swift, clean movements. After the 30 seconds of showing the 5 judges what you’ve got, anticipation arises as to whether they throw up a blue flag or a red flag (depending on the belt color of the 2 participants). Majority wins. Gosh, I’ve turned into such a sucker for the sad sports moments. When a kid competes and he looks around at the judges and not one flag is in his favor…c’mon, give the kid a flag dude. Look at that face. He’s only like 12.
After lots of flags out of our favor, it was time for the team round. Our kids were tired. They woke up at 5AM in their villages, sat through a 3 hour car ride of nerves and uncertainty, and were thrown into the competition in the first 15 minutes. I’m sure some of these teams had the privilege of staying over in Marrakech the night before, getting their rest and easing into the morning. I saw the teams from the cities compete, they were good. They probably had nice gyms and facilities, equipment, opportunities to travel and compete in various competitions. We were clearly the underdogs. I felt like we were Moroccan “Rudy” or something.
I’ll never forget the kids faces when 3/5 flags shot up red. They jumped up and their faces lit up of joy. We’re shooting thumbs up and smiles from the bleachers and they’re living. This qualified them to participate in Rabat in a few weeks, the National Championships of Morocco.
I assumed my role and grabbed the jackets to meet the kids outside. They showed off their shiny certificates and took pictures. I was so proud of them and so was Mohammed. They had energy and played back the whole situation out loud, until one kid goes, “Why would we go to Rabat? It’s not worth it.” Everyone got quiet. I couldn’t help but feel sad at the whole situation. Self confidence is something thats so important for kids. It’s internal but also influenced by your external surroundings, like parents, community and support networks pushing you forward and telling you that you can do it.
I remember when our volleyball team in high school would come back from States. Win or lose, the Fire Department and the parents would organize a car-parade. We’d start about 10 minutes outside the village, gather, and form a huge line and make our way down. Horns were honking, parents were cheering, shop owners would come out of their stores and shoot a thumbs up and sometimes even offer free desert (s/o Silver Spoon). I remember feeling important and special. It made me want to go at it again in the future, knowing people are out there supporting you and rooting for you. These people whether they knew it or not, were contributing to my own 16 year old self-confidence.
I knew we weren’t heading back to a bells and whistles parade, but I would have hoped that people were proud of them and would push them to move onward. Mohammed explained that one of the biggest challenges he finds working and organizing activities is a lack of support from the parents, let alone the community. Either there isn’t time to bring their kids to activities because of work, money for gym dues and travel is last on the list when you have to prioritize other necessities, or people are scared. Scared to take risks and step out of their comfort zone. He knew that the boys would find serious competition in Rabat, they wouldn’t have a chance to qualify, but the experience would expose them to so many new things. New people to bond with, a new city they may have never visited, and a new opportunity to test their self-confidence and grit. And he was even willing to drive them in his own car, chaperone and act as their “coach” while there, just like this time.
I could tell deep down the boys wanted to go. Who wouldn’t? A trip to Rabat, National Championships? A fun bonding experience with your friends and new kids from all over the country? Mohammed explained to them it wasn’t about whether they would win or lose in Rabat, they should be proud of themselves for what they’ve done in Marrakech and have confidence in themselves. Get rid of this mentality that once you finally step out of the box, you keep going. You don’t jump back in. I think by the end of the car ride, I was convinced they were going to Rabat and I was so excited to tell people in the village their accomplishment.
[Flash forward two weeks]
We’re sitting on the bench in Mohammed’s gym before aerobics class. “What about a lemonade stand? Or a bake sale?”, I said. “Moroccans love to cook, why doesn’t everyone make something and they stand on the main street in Birkouat and sell it? If their parents can’t afford it, have the community help out a little. They should be proud of those kids, right?” “It’s not the same here. It’s not apart of the culture”, Mohammed said.
The kids ended up not competing in Rabat. They returned home and people were happy for them, I’m sure they got a few congratulations, and then the buzz faded. Morale was lost and when they looked at the big picture, Rabat, it was out of the question. Money, time, priorities, fear of failure. I thought the community would be happy for them. They’d want to show off these two kids in the shiny capital who came from a small, rural village and were competing in a National Championships.
I was annoyed and upset at the situation. I saw those kids faces when they won and we had spent a great day together. They deserved a chance, just like I had when I was a kid. The volleyball tournaments, school trips, summer camps.
Culture is the hardest thing to change. And even just typing that, should we be trying to change it? It’s one of the hardest things to go back and forth with while trying to do projects as a Peace Corps volunteer. In this situation, I would look at a lack of community morale and lack of support from parents, to give kids an overall empowering experience, as a negative thing. It’s something that should change. Because it’s obvious that opportunities like this help youth develop in so many ways; socially, physically, internally, mentally. Is this response a product of my own culture and the values instilled in me as a kid? But Mohammed feels the same. To fill the void, he offers activities for development and exploration through sport, supporting experiences like karate competitions and hikes to Mt. Toubkal (the highest peak in North Africa). He told me that everyone tells him, “Your place isn’t here. You belong burra (abroad), with people who agree with you and have a similar mindset as you.” He replies, “But that’s not my home. This is my country and my village. And there’s nothing like your home.”
I just finished a book called Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In by Anjali Kumar. A great choice for my inquisitive yet jaded self of year 2 in Morocco. Kumar goes on a spiritual quest around the world, essentially “stalking God” through a diverse variety of spiritual practices. From wickens, laughing yoga gurus, mediums, and Burning Man “Burners”, she dips her feet into communities a lawyer for Google never thought one would. In my little world over here, I’m not necessarily stalking God but rather existing in a community that’s already found him.
Where I live, religion is present, very blatantly, in every day life. It starts at dawn, around 5:30am, as the first call to prayer echoes through the village. If any of you have ever traveled to Muslim countries you’ve probably heard the adhan…or if you’ve ever watched American spy TV shows like Homeland or 24 that more often than not highlight scenes in the Islamic world, I’m sure you became familiar with it as well. I too, had watched the shows and walked past the mosques, but what were they actually saying in those spiritual, unfamiliar, and rhythmic word patterns? Below is what is repeated, 5x a day, the Arabic transliteration and English.
God is Great
(said four times)
Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
(said two times)
Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
(said two times)
Hurry to the prayer (Rise up for prayer)
(said two times)
Hurry to success (Rise up for Salvation)
(said two times)
God is Great
[said two times]
La ilaha illa Allah
There is no god except the One God
For the pre-dawn (fajr) prayer, the following phrase is inserted after the fifth part above, towards the end:
As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm
Prayer is better than sleep
(said two times)
If you came here and just observed, just watched, without speaking to anyone, I’m sure the word some variation of the word “religion” would pop into your head. It’s noticeable through the amplified prayer calls, the clothes people choose to wear, and the Quranic calligraphy stickers stuck on the back of parked cars and busses. There are also more subtle, intimate, aspects of devotion and religion through language, food, and behavior which take a little longer to pick up. Learning Darija has given me front-row access to many of these channels, some of which I now even participate in. I now inherently say “inshallah” (God willing) instead of “hopefully”, “lay 3wnk” (may God help you) instead of “goodbye” and “Hamdullah” (thanks be to God) instead of I’m fine, thanks. Phenomenal learning opportunity but kinda confusing, right? I’m not Muslim. Should I be saying these things?
I grew up going to Catholic church on Sundays (most of the time in which brunch was involved after), kneeling down and repeating the Apostles Creed (holding back giggles from my little sisters playing footsies on the pew), and making my confirmation in 8th grade (‘grats, the Church thought my awkward 13 year old tomboy self was now becoming an adult). As I grew up, religion became separate from my everyday life. It existed in the peripheral. Holidays, family gatherings, and unfortunately, funerals of my peers that had passed all reminded me of that religion I grew up associated with. I started traveling and it was upon studying in Turkey for 6 months, where I started becoming friends with people that felt really connected to their religions, mostly Islam. I remember not knowing all the answers to the questions they had for me, brushing off my beliefs but curious about their fulfilled relationship with theirs. It was a refreshing reminder to me there are still young people who feel a strong connection to God and are able to explain and educate me about the faith they practice. Me, I still hadn’t felt that connection.
A few years later, I find myself in Morocco where Islam is practiced by 99% of the population. I see it and I’m reminded of it every day. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about religion so much in my life until I came here. It’s become normalized, yet exhausting. Sometimes the words “inshallah” come out of my mouth and I think back to myself, “Do I really mean ‘if God wills it’, this meeting will happen tomorrow?” Probably not, but its become apart of Moroccan language and culture here to say “inshallah” after making plans, so naturally, it grew on me.
I started reading parts of the Quran last week. I know what some of you are thinking after reading that sentence. Wait, she’s reading the Quran? Is she like Muslim now or something? I see it as a learning opportunity and what better time to do it than a place where I have the whole community to ask for clarification. I’m sure there’d be many willing faces to sit me down and answer my questions about how modesty is written about in the Quran. For example, Chapter (Surah) 24 “The light”, Lines (Ayat) 30 & 31:
30. Tell the believing men to restrain their looks, and to guard their privates. That is purer for them. God is cognizant of what they do.
31. And tell the believing women to restrain their looks, and to guard their privates, and not display their beauty except what is apparent thereof, and to draw their coverings over their breasts, and not expose their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, what their right hands possess, their male attendants who have no sexual desires, or children who are not yet aware of the nakedness of women. And they should not strike their feet to draw attention to their hidden beauty. And repent to God, all of you believers, so that you may succeed.
The words “headscarf” or “burqa” or “veil” aren’t even written in the Quran, as I just assumed they would be. In addition, modesty isn’t just asked of women, its requested upon men as well. I want to be able to go back home, inshallah, and do my best to clarify situations of confusion or even ignorance towards Islam and its teachings given this unique opportunity I have.
The other day I was driving back to my site with a friend from my community and I told him I had a question about Islam. It was Friday and the prayer had just been called. I asked if he would go to mosque when we arrived back home. He replied, “Darouri” (Absolutely). I then asked how much significance Friday prayers had in Islam. Here I was asking about prayer times and what would happen if you can’t make it because work ran late but more importantly, there was something he responded with that stuck with me. He said, “Islam isn’t a religion that says go to mosque every day and study the Quran page by page. It’s about how you live your every day life. Be good to people, respect your family and community, take care of animals and nature, don’t steal or say bad words, help those in need. Those people that read the Quran during the day but lie, steal and inflict harm upon others aren’t true Muslims. People say one thing and they do another. It’s a problem that unfortunately distorts the true meaning of our religion.”
The more time I spend here, the more I learn and develop an open mind to understanding the religion that is at all times in front of me. But at the same time, I still feel confused about my personal connection to religion and question my own beliefs. That’s why I picked up Kumar’s book, the story of a lawyer who goes on a spiritual pilgrimage to answer the questions she knows her 3 year old daughter will ask one day:
Why are we here?
What happens when we die?
Is there a God?
Each chapter tells the story of a new discovery. Whether its talking to her dead friend through a “Vogue-looking” medium in a Tribeca coffee shop, having a spiritual epiphany while experimenting with the Andes hallucinogenic drug “Ayahuasca” in Peru, sharing sweat spinning to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” as a collective cult at Soul Cycle, or joining a “laughing yoga” community via Skype in Mumbai. Kumar searches for the answers to these pivotal questions for over 3 years, hoping to experience some grand spiritual enlightenment. What she learns is that there are all these unconventional spiritual channels to worship through but the three human needs: health, happiness, and love are desired by everyone. Back to this common theme of Peace Corps service and understanding humans in general, we’re all more similar than we are different.
- Here’s a great TED talk about what the Quran really says about the women’s hijab:
- A link to read the Quran in English
- Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In (I have the e-book if you want send me a message!)
- Never heard the adhan? Here’s what it sounds like:
I’m kind of like a weird kid grown-up. By that I don’t mean my maturity is questioned here or my physical appearance is confusing to people (well sometimes it is), but my access to spaces, both public and private, is pretty across-the-board. The reason for this is a blend of things: gender, identity, my job. Gender. I could write a whole post about this but I’ll keep it simple until I’m able to organize my thoughts on it all. There are pros and cons to being a female volunteer in Morocco. I remember my first month, I was attached to my host mom at the hip, allowing me the chance to be in the house with her and learn all the responsibilities of caring for the house and her family, attend kaskrouts (I’ll describe this as 5pm decadent social snack-times) and visit other women’s homes with her, ultimately allowing me to integrate and get to know people in my community. If I was a boy, I wouldn’t have had this same type of intense integration experience with her, allowing me to see the private spaces women occupy where men aren’t really present. On the the flip side, harassment and unwanted attention have unfortunately become normalized for me at one year of being here. I’m lucky that in my site I barely receive harassment and people do respect my presence but there are the occasional times I’ll walk to class and hear “I want to marry with you!” or “Bring me to America”, yelled by a group of boys. Just the other day my host brother and I walked past 2 boys sitting on the side of the street and he heard “take care of that bitch” whispered behind us. There are so many ways I could react but unless I feel physically threatened, I’ve chosen to just ignore it. Unfortunately, this is reality for not just me but all Moroccan girls and women and something they live with on a daily basis.
I find myself having access to different spaces because of this unique identity I’m capable of interchanging. Yes, we’re volunteers but we’re also teachers, mentors, average community members, sons/daughters, friends, brothers/sisters, and guests. I always joke that all my friends are kids or people a good 10 years older than me because its kind of true. I’m all over the place. I’ve chatted about everything from the new candy they have at the hanut to the soaring price of oranges these days at souk now that they’re out of season. So since honorary “Mean Girls Oct. 3rd Day” has passed I might as well treat this little introduction of neighborhood sub-groups like Cady Heron’s guide to the cafeteria.
You have your neighborhood kids. Just the other day I came back from the gym and sat on my doorstep with a group of 8 little kids surrounding me. I was scrolling through @NewForkCity’s Instagram (priorities) to catch up on all the new food fads in NY these days and after each click of a picture we let out a collective “Whoaaa” together. I sure wanted that 5 scoop ice cream covered in peanut butter and chocolate and they sure as hell did too. We bond over that mindless feel good stuff. Don’t get me wrong though, they’re exhausting. Around 6:30pm everyone has returned from school and thats their cue to occupy the streets. There’s soccer games, jazzy hand shakes, rocks and sticks, and chants. They’re also great hanut (bodega)-runners. My host brother and I had a pizza/movie night at my house and noticing we forgot to buy olives, just a holler out the window to Hamza and a drop of 2DH in plastic, we have olives in 5 minutes. If I leave my house around this time, I know i’m not just passing through the courtyard joining our little cluster of houses unnoticed. I’ll get pulled into a hand game, a lollipop put in my pocket, or 10 questions about the new nail polish I put on that morning. Patience, I repeat in my head. I opened my door and sat out on my doorstep that day and I think that meant open invitation to cross the boundary of in my culture I define as privacy. To knock on my door from 6:30-8:30, sit with me in my house to keep me company because being alone is loneliness, and do it again the next day. I’ve quickly learned that something I need to work on personally is setting boundaries for my own peace of mind. But for now, they’re harmless. They listen to my half-assed Arabic without a blink, make me smile on a particularly workless day and bring me flowers on my birthday.
A step up from the kiddos are the drari (this word in Arabic means kids but PCVs use it to identify the boys & girls we most likely work with). I walk the road up to the high school and its mobbed with teenagers blasting beats from their cellphones, groups of girls and their giggles as I walk by, tables of boys and their wacky Ronaldo-like haircuts hanging out in the qhwa (coffee shop) in between breaks, and then there’s me. This kind of teacher/friend/neighbor/American girl strolling through battling the culturally appropriate balance of smiling at everyone or just keeping my professional gaze straight ahead through a wave of energized teenagers. I’ve taught some of them English in the Dar Chebab, been invited to some of their houses for meals, and some I’ve never talked to before but still shoot a smile and hello so I feel approachable at any time. I’ve met some really intelligent students that shock me with their goals for the future, their determination to succeed, and curiosity to learn about other cultures. I’ve also met some students who just hang around and stare at me when I walk by, and thats okay too. We’re in the process of writing a proposal to start an English Club at the high school to accommodate the older students (since mostly younger students come to the Dar Chebab), where we can have debates, film discussions, reading circles, and exchange ideas on a variety of topics all in English, so inshallah we’ll begin one day.
Did I mention I joined a gym? Well its women’s aerobics class 3x a week that is taught by a male community member, which in Morocco culture is a very uncommon concept, but at the same time it’s kind of awesome and I applaud my site for being accepting of this practice. Mohamad is trained in karate, probably all other different types of sport, and an avid hiker. He’s a well known community member, spearheaded a multitude of projects on sports and the environment, and just loves what he does. The past few weeks we’ve gone out to nearby spots on Sundays discussing some ideas of developing a hiking/outdoor leadership group of about 10-12 kids that will eventually climb Mt. Toubkal together (the highest peak in North Africa), Inshallah. A group of women approached him because they wanted to do aerobics/lose that bread weight we all gain over here so he created a workout program as well as a diet plan for the women who don’t have a problem working out alongside a male. There’s about 12 of us now. Its honestly the highlight of my days. Workout classes are always a little intimidating to walk into, and that first day I wore my “step out of your comfort zone” mindset like a boss and opened the door to a place I’d never entered with no idea what to expect. All I heard was “join the gym with the women, come at 6 on Tuesday. Very specific, but it was awesome and I legitimately sweat through my shirt because it was so intense. Now it’s my routine. The first 10 minutes is chat time, catching up on the kids (I just sit there and smile), what we cooked for lunch, swapping each others weight loss amount so casually (I was shook the first time this happened). Then we jump into cardio for 20 minutes, a mix of aerobics and kickboxing, break for a second, then begin ab/arm/leg/workouts. After an hour, I’m feeling better about myself already. Maybe its the adrenaline pumping through me or the mere fact that it never takes me just an hour to feel so productive in Morocco but I feel like I got this whole IRBing thing (a term PC uses to refer to intentional relationship building), I can schmooze with anyone, crack jokes in Darija, and end my day on a positive note. So hamdullah for endorphins and still stepping out of your comfort zone a year into site.
What an experience this all is. I sit down on a stoop with a 8 year old girl and hear about how her teacher hit them today for not paying attention, or go on a walk with a 14 year old boy who talks to me about those confusing times in middle school we all felt, or sit in a cafe with a male teacher to talk about starting a project as the smoke swirls around the room and the TV blares the latest soccer highlights, and sit on a gym mat with ladies before their jellabas get slipped back on and we part ways after class, to talk about healthy recipes to incorporate into our routines. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not always feeling enthused by this versatility.
Sometimes I feel lost and I’m unsure of which category I fall in. At the end of the day the neighborhood kids get rallied up for bed, the drari go out with their friends, and the women return to their houses to prepare dinner and make sure everything’s in place for the next day. Sometimes I wish I could have my 20-something year old friends next to me, to talk about whatever 20 something year olds in America talk about these days and do what they do. Or to come home to my family sitting around the dining room table immersed in a new discussion every night. Instead, I walk up the hill, say my hellos and goodnights, and slide the key into my own house. I walk up the stairs, turn on whatever Spotify mood of music i’m feeling that night, and cook dinner for myself. Sometimes I get all fancy and put a face mask on and scroll around the NY Times for different topics to talk about with people (or just process in my own head if my Darija skills can’t cover sexual harassment scandals in the U.S. Supreme Court) or browse around Pinterest for different recipes I can improvise with in my spare time. This is what 24 looks like and I’m okay with it at the moment.
So for now, I’m navigating spaces and learning how to navigate my versatility in all of them.
Next on my reading list with all this being said, “Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in the Modern Muslim Society” by Fatima Mernissi, a famous Moroccan feminist writer and sociologist.
Sometimes you just can’t avoid cliches. My door is propped open with a dusty Chaco to keep it from slamming shut by the faintest bit of newly arrived September breeze. We’re sitting on the front steps with my creaky door open for those still intrigued by what’s above the stairs that peek out from the doorway. We’ve learned probably 3 chords at this point and barely have down the opening to Morocco’s most cliche ballad, “Zina”, but that stuff doesn’t really matter because in 2 minutes…there’s a 3 year old boy mesmerized by the strings move, a 10 year old girl listening near my door but still keeping her distance by sitting on her sparkly pink bike, and a 19 year old student playing remixes to Drake’s “Kiki” song that everyone seems to have memorized here.
Summer was long and I was fortunate enough to travel quite a bit but summer’s over and it’s back into the swing of things. This “swing of things” seems like a lot to figure out and organize in my head at the moment. New students, new relationships, new projects, and finding my place in those turning gears of the town. Some mornings I wake up with 20 new ideas and top notch confidence to accomplish what I want to get started and then the next morning I tell myself I’m not leaving my house, bqi wqt (there’s still time), things will fall into place. Its even easy to do the latter because I don’t have someone giving me tasks or projects to complete by the end of the day, we’re on a very self-driven work schedule here. And in times when you need to leap out of your comfort zone and start up what you want to get done, thats really hard to get behind. Everyone gets those back to school jitters, but it’s definitely harder when you’re away from those sweet spots you’ve become acquainted with. Like returning back to my little K-12 school every year, knowing 99% of the people around me because we probably shared crayons together in 2nd grade. Or the group of college friends I saw repetitively in my classes for four years and knew we’d share the feeling together of becoming big kids after graduation one day. I knew we were all in it simultaneously. Here, I naturally feel more disconnected from those routines a community goes through together. With that said, I’m telling myself I’m way more connected than I was last year and there’s still potential for so much good work.
So, summer’s over and I got myself a guitar. Maybe I’m feeling bold or PCV cliche or just really bored but why not channel some jittery energy into something that’ll bring 3 different humans around me in a matter of 2 minutes. There’s a dull day turned into a bubbly evening. Plus, I have a pretty motivated host brother who says to me after our fingers are hurting all too much, “We’re off to a great start Adriana, we’ll be legends.” How can I argue with that? To the start of year two…keeping my door open, bringing people together, continuously learning, and leaping not stepping out of my comfort zone.
Plus, a guitar is like a pet dog here, its an easy conversation starter and something not all that ordinary. All you have to do is hold it and people think you’re some sort of weird rock star or something.
“Are you fasting?”
…said the guy at the post office who handed me my overstuffed care package full of guilty pleasure peanut butter, said the mul hanut (neighborhood corner store guy) who has been preparing his food supply for the influx of ramadan grocers, said the teenage girls I work with every week eagerly asking if I’d be breaking fast with them, and said my taxi driver to Marrakech as I stunned him with the fact that I look kind of Moroccan, but I’m not, but I speak Darija?
Everyone in my town for the most part knows I’m not Muslim, but I’m sure there’s a little curiosity to know if the American is going to try fasting with everyone. The decision to fast is one that every PCV makes based on their own individual preference.
I admit, before experiencing Ramadan here in Morocco I didn’t know too much about it. I knew that Muslims fasted from food, drink, and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset and there was a spiritual meaning to the month but that’s about it.
The night before Ramadan my host brother came over and like always we chat about stuff but tonight of course, Ramadan was the topic of conversation. I was totally ready to pick his brain about what Ramadan means to him and the many Muslims around the world, and I knew after learning I wanted to share it with all of you to give you a very personal meaning to what Ramadan really is.
It’s the holiest month in Islam, believed to be the time the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Fasting is one the 5 pillars of Islam that influence a Muslim’s life and everyone shall fast, excluding kids before puberty, the sick, elderly, and women on their periods. Not only do Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during the day but the fast is more than just this. It’s a fast from all things haram (forbidden) and a month to purify the soul and refocus your mind and attention to God, through self-discipline and self-sacrifice. During Ramadan you’ll see people dressed more conservatively, women who may not wear scarves will cover their hair, and a lot more people pray the five prayers in the day. The 27th night of Ramadan also called “Laylat al-Qadr” or “Night of Power” is believed to be the night that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The blessings and acts of forgiveness during this night are stronger than 1000 months of worship and it is reported that the Prophet said: “Whoever stays up (in prayer and remembrance of Allah) on the Night of Power, fully believing (in Allah’s promise of reward) and hoping to seek reward, he shall be forgiven for his past sins.” (Bukhari & Muslim) My host family and most of my community went to the mosque and they spend the whole night praying or reciting the Quran.
The rhythm changes
Ramadan for me has been an interesting time to learn more about Islam and the traditions surrounding this month in Morocco. My day to day schedule has definitely shifted and I’ve noticed there is a different feeling in the air among people, more spiritual and communal.
I guess you could say my day starts at around 3-4pm. Usually I’ll head over to my host family’s house and start to help my host mom prepare ftur (the meal to break fast). The spread of food varies from fish to eggs to fresh juices to briwat to tagines but you’ll always find a small bowl of dates on the table, as the Prophet said if available, you should break your fast with dates. You’ll also find a famous Moroccan sweet called shbekia, fried dough coated and dipped in honey, and the popular tomato-based Moroccan soup called harira that has lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, and cilantro in it. Around 5 or 6pm lingerers start to wake up and emerge from their houses. The hanut has a line onto the street with kids grabbing last minute groceries for their parents, dads with their sons bringing fish from the village and local venders selling fruit and fresh bread. Around 6:30pm the drari (kids) are all out and the scents of kitchen preparation fill the air. The boys are playing their last minute soccer matches, working up the appetite I thought would already be there coming on the last hour of fasting, and everyones awaiting the adhan (call to prayer). The time of the adhan changes every day based on the sunset but usually happens around 7:30pm. The table is set and the door is open as we wait to listen for “Allah Akbar” which means the fast is now over and you can eat. As soon as you hear the prayer, its fair game…the feast begins.
Staying up ’till 3am is normal
Ramadan TV weirdly reminds me of ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas or Superbowl commercials for a straight month. The same series play every night and now I’ve watched my fair share of corny comedy sketches which always happen to be on the TV no matter what house or town I eat ftur in. At around 9pm, it’s time to go to the mosque to pray asha (night prayer). An additional prayer called “taraweeh” is added during Ramadan where long sections of the Quran are recited. I stay back with my host mom and sister while my host brothers go to mosque and we usually watch movies or rest or start preparing dinner. In larger cities like Essaouira and Marrakesh, everyone is out in the streets at night during Ramadan…families are walking around, boys are sitting in coffee shops, girls are strolling the streets with their friends at like 1am. In my town there’s not too much to do but from what I’ve noticed the boys usually leave and I can imagine the cafes are filled, sometimes there are soccer matches, and people will try and stay busy until suhur (the final meal before the fast begins again, usually around 3 or 3:30am). I’m usually chugging water and eating until my belly is stuffed but when you hear “Allah Akbar”, the fast begins again, the fajr prayer is prayed, and then we all go to sleep. I’ve had the cool opportunity to spend most of Ramadan with my host family and I’ve totally claimed my ponj (couch) spot in the salon to sleep on when I’m too lazy to walk the 2 minutes back to my house after suhur, which is basically every night. By 4:30 or 5am everyone’s in their spots and if you’ve ever been to my house in New York it’s a playroom situation. Falling asleep together with your siblings was always something that was exciting and comfortable. This felt the same and that first night was a really special moment for me. I couldn’t help but teach them the word “sleepover” in English and fully embrace thats what we were having every night. We sleep until 11 or 12 in the afternoon and then we do it all over again.
A time of self-reflection and spirituality
It’s been quite an amazing month to experience Ramadan in a place where everyone is observing. There are definitely sleepy moments, I’ve barely worked but if I do teach for an hour or 2 I’m exhausted after and just want to sleep. But the moments of sharing time and food with family have been the highlight of this past month. There’s something about knowing that no one is eating or drinking for 16 hours then breaking fast together that fosters a beautiful, powerful connection when you sit down at the table together. That is one of the reasons I fasted, to experience a similar connection my community was feeling and also as many Muslims believe, to step into the shoes of the poor and the hungry and to be grateful for your blessings. Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam but the practice of charity or zakat, is another. Muslims are encouraged to give a certain percent of their income or a charitable gift to someone they know in their family or community who may be poor or homeless. This gift can be given directly or distributed through the community mosques.
Without a doubt, Ramadan is an important and special time in Morocco. From what I’ve learned its a time to step out of your day to day routine and reconnect with your spirituality and your connection to God. It’s also a time to spend time gathering with family and practice self-discipline. Fasting gives the opportunity to teach endurance, strength, and patience and the chance to appreciate what you have, which is a angle I would have never considered before coming to Morocco and experiencing daily life in Ramadan first hand. Describing the feeling of Ramadan can be difficult, especially as a non-Muslim but these accounts have personal reflections of friends and family in them and the opportunity to experience these reflections in such a open, welcoming, and peaceful community of Morocco has been a blessing in itself.
Count your blessings, my friends.
Productivity is a pretty weird concept. If you’re reading this, just for a minute think about how you define productivity. Is it commuting an hour and back in order to show up to work, is it teaching a day of classes that mentally exhaust your brain, is it a meaningful conversation where you have that light-bulb moment and realize something you didn’t know before? A year ago my definition of productivity looked a lot different than it does now. A year ago, it was a full day of work in the cafe I worked at, plus fitting in a trip to the gym and sending emails or applications to important people selling myself as some extra qualified college graduate who was worthy of a $40,000 entry level office job. Back in New York you all know that’s barely enough to support yourself, which is pretty crazy to me because I now make nearly a 1/10th of that salary.
I’ve been in country for around 7 months. The way I define productivity has visibly shifted, prompting me to think about that classic “to-do list” mentality I came here with 7 months ago. I now have a job description with only 3 bullets (not as easy as it sounds, I swear), the three goals every Peace Corps volunteer is placed in site to carry out.
1) To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2) To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3) To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Goal one encompasses most of those projects that jump to our minds first. The projects we may see from start to finish and can easily evaluate results from. The English classes that prepare kids for the national BAC exam, the soccer camp you spend months planning, or the life skills curriculum you may teach to a group of youth. Yes, these projects are critical but there are still two other goals of Peace Corps that are just as important and in my opinion, have even more sustainable impacts. Goals 2 & 3, a form of people-to-people diplomacy. Taking the time to understand and promote a better understanding of each others cultures and values, acting as a positive ambassador for America, which is more important than ever these days. I’m sure some of you are thinking what does that even mean? Eating couscous and talking to people, that’s work? If eating couscous and pretending to laugh at some grandma’s jokes you didn’t understand one word of makes that family think of Americans differently, I think us PCV’s are doing a far better job at diplomacy than some of those powerful people in America at the moment (not naming names).
This week was a school holiday in site, similar to Spring Break. It’s a one week breather before exam preparations start, before Ramadan, and before summer vacation. Lots of kids travel back home if they live in another village and just attend school in my site, they visit family, work in a family restaurant, or maybe just sleep through the holiday. It’s not all that different from school vacations back home. Holidays are a time when I don’t feel all that productive. I don’t teach and I’m not talking with as many people as I usually do on a daily basis. Today I took some time to reflect on my week and maybe I didn’t clock in the amount of hours taught, but worked on Peace Corps goals in another way possible.
This week I spent a lot of time with my older host brother. I finally cooked a meal that we didn’t have to eat with bread, don’t get all that excited it wasn’t a plate of homestyle lasagna or dad’s legendary skirt steak (TBA), just some sauteed chicken and zucchini eaten off a real individual plate! We joked around about proper table etiquette in America and Europe for the most part. Holding your fork or knife like this and not like that, asking to be excused in a certain way from the table, or folding your napkin on your lap. He got a kick out of the fact that there are some people out there who pay hundreds of dollars (thousands of DH, the local currency here) in order to learn “etiquette”. In Morocco it goes more like say “Bismillah” (In the name of God) and dig in with your hands. There is etiquette here, don’t get me wrong but it’s not all those “stuffy-napkin dabbing” rules some families take so damn seriously. When you sit at a table, usually in a circle, you only eat from the communal bowl/plate with your right hand. You also only eat out of the section in front of you. It’s rude to start using your piece of bread to pick up the food in someone else’s triangle. Really, don’t do that. You also shouldn’t lick your hand/fingers then dig in again. For example, the way you eat couscous. You’re making a ball and tossing it in your mouth, which can get pretty messy and I still have yet to master the art. I won’t forget this one couscous Friday I saw all these women licking their hands and the littlest part of germaphobe in me was shook if they were going back in for seconds. I was wrong, it meant they were finished. We also watched Forrest Gump, I taught him how to play the card game “Spit”, throwback to Italy villa tournaments shoutout Curto Fam, we talk about our big families, share music (I now have a playlist of Darja/French songs on Spotify if anyone’s interested), he attempts to teach me about the soccer obsession that exists here in Morocco, and we spent the day exploring Essaouira.
Our time together is really special to me. It’s always a mix of English and Arabic, helping each other out and teaching each other new things. It’s laughing together and creating a safe space to talk about anything in addition to supporting each other. Something as small as a day trip to Essaouira really switched up the normal day to day routine that gets somewhat repetitive in site and was something really enjoyable, freeing in a weird way. Walking along the beach, learning about the history of Jews in Morocco as we walked through the Melah, the Jewish quarter of the city, or coming back at the end of the day and exchanging new words we learned in English/Arabic and challenging each other to talk about the day in that language. Yes, all of these moments took place outside of the classroom but they’re part of my job, the part which I think is the most impactful and that I love the most. Peace Corps Volunteers love this kinda stuff. Goals 2 & 3, baby.
I also had the chance to meet the whole family of one of my good friends here, Hisham. His family is well-known and very respected in the community and some of them came back to visit. We always joke around, Hisham legitimately knows everyone and everyone knows him. Hanging out with him is probably half the reason people know who I am and Dad, he’ll be your Moroccan PR guy rocking a Yonkers Tennis t-shirt all the way over here in Talmest. Getting to know Hisham and his family, talking about each others backgrounds, and sharing a meal with them was another great moment. To observe the role of family on a personal level and its value of importance in society is something I really enjoy about serving with PC in Morocco. It’s one thing to read about family dynamics in Morocco and it’s another thing to be immersed in it. It’s hard to not see some similarities that families in Morocco have with my big Italian-American family back at home. When you gather with the extended family, you have the kids running around, the one sister or aunt whose always joking, the scent of home cooked food coming from the kitchen, and the warm hospitality and welcoming nature towards your guests. I think we could both agree, there’s always room for one more head at the table.
It’s already mid-April and these holidays are a small test of what Ramadan, the month-long Islamic holiday, and following that, what the summer may feel like for me. Less teaching and more opportunities for experiences like these. Reaching out to people and sharing an understanding of each other. An understanding of our culture and the things that are most important to us, things that we feel proud and are excited to share with others.
These special relationships I’ve come to build, at the end of the day, have helped me look past pretty large surface level differences that may have prevented me from breaking through that line of comfort with someone before. I know dominant aspects like language and religion in a different culture can be intimidating to look past and can sometimes be difficult to have access to & understand in a candid way. Peace Corps gives me the chance to spend real time cultivating these connections and sharing them with you all.
I’m hoping that if you had to choose something to get out of these blog posts, one goal is for you all is to feel a connection to the people i’m interacting with on a daily basis and to develop a better understanding of a community of Moroccans not many Americans get the chance to live among. I’ll be that bridge for the next year a half so any questions are welcome unless any one of you has that urge to come learn Darija with me and ditch the utensils… If so, mar7ba (welcome)!
There’s something quite pleasant about a silver teapot placed in the middle of a group of people, with its brewing technique so distinct and its cultural significance rather fundamental. There’s a teapot wedged on top of two rocks and the amber blend of tea leaves, mint, and sugar starts to bubble over. Safi. Pouring and returning the tea from the teapot into small, simple clear glasses happens 3 times in order to circulate the flavors. The tea leaves are swirling and your arm is holding the pot rather high in the air, to generate a foam of bubbles on top of the glass. You pour a sips worth into the glass in order to taste. That is now your glass. Once all the glasses are equally poured, a soft “Bismillah” (in the name of God) is repeated and you drink.
It’s 9am on the dot. We’re meeting at the corner that i’d say marks the middle of my new town. Backpacks full of fresh vegetables, charcoal, blankets, and our silver teapot. Were headed up to the mountains to hike and eventually find a promising spot to cook a tagine and enjoy the beautiful landscapes. That day I learned 1) its fully possible to cook a tagine for an hour and a half using a cheap lighter, rocks, and 3 able minded people 2) you should always pay attention in Morocco because when you see a large moving object in the corner of your eye, it could be a camel passing by and lastly 3) my life here was starting to feel more like my life. I’m not sure if i’ll ever say “comfortable” because asking for comfort in Peace Corps is like asking for a genie to appear in front of you with 3 wishes. Pretty unrealistic.
Since I last wrote, a lot has happened in the past few months. I’ve been a part of lots of amazing moments and accomplished quite a bit, so here’s a little update, I’m sorry I can’t tell you guys about every single one. I’ll start serious and then share some of the laughs I’ve had because as every PCV knows, you can’t finish 2 years of service without laughing at yourself quite a bit:
-Moved out of my host family’s house (don’t worry I see them almost every day) and have my own apartment, furnished and all, l7mdullah
-Frequent souq (weekly market) every Saturday morning to buy my weeks worth of vegetables, fruit, chicken, spices, never rising over 50DH ($5), those are the days I don’t buy a whole chicken
-Started teaching English at the Dar Taliba 3x a week (a place for girls to be housed and fed during the week while they attend the high school here because they live far away in rural areas). I’m teaching an English class for women, mostly teachers from the area 2x a week, and next week I’ll start at the Dar Chebab (youth center) 2x a week for boys and girls. Still figuring out how I’ll organize them because I’ve gotten interest from ages 9-40 so that’ll be fun…
-Have met for 20+ tutoring sessions in Darija with a English teacher at the local high school. These meetings are such a rich part of my learning process here. They provide me an outlet to ask questions about anything including language, culture/religion in Morocco, things I find challenging or intriguing, a space to share ideas about projects, or even just a place to share my humor and some laughs to someone who will understand it.
-Successfully learning to manage a salary that is drastically different than what I’m used to (40DH ($4) a day for walk around food/incidentals + rent + a small allocation for travel). Now I walk down the aisles of Carrefour (a French/Western style grocery store) in Essaouira and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s is waaay out of my budget (90DH), but I still walk down that aisle anyway just to satisfy that small part of myself that still craves super American things like Ben & Jerrys “Half Baked” or Jif peanut butter.
-Attended an Arabic lesson for women that are illiterate, wanted to learn how to read and write, in one of the mosques here, entered inside with a jellaba and headscarf, and heard the muadhin (guy who calls the prayer) call the adhan from inside the mosque
-Traveled back and forth to explore Essaouira, the closest city to me, which is an hour by taxi and so incredibly beautiful. To anyone thinking about visiting me, google Essaouira, and I guarantee your decision will be made for you.
-Organized a creative writing competition with my tudor and the help of the high school, where we had 60 kids participate and write on a topic given to them that day, all in English! PS..English is their 3rd language learned in school so I think this is incredibly impressive. My next task this week is to read them all, type them up and send them to Peace Corps for judging.
Now for those haha memories:
-Dragging my overweight suitcase through a monsoon in Essaouira looking for transportation back to my site before dark because the taxi station had closed and taxi drivers just don’t drive in the rain I guess
-Rode with a horse up the hill of my town carrying a new mattress, fridge, and stove we had just aggressively bargained for (shoutout host mama) because I’m inept at bargaining in the 2 currencies they decide to use here in Morocco
-Went to hammam (public bath house) and bathed with women in my community for 4 hours while managing to explain to them over the echo of a 100 degree room in Darija why the heck there’s an American in a local hammam getting scrubbed from head to toe (Maya/Mais/Anna our summer decision gave it away, so I thought of you guys in this rather awkward experience)
-Watching the chicken I wanted to buy get snatched by the neck, put on an old fashioned scale weighing a little over 2 kilos, slaughtered, feathered and wrapped up for me to take home and prepare, still warm…
-Realizing I couldn’t even make tea correctly, something that’s a right of passage for being a Moroccan…another reason why I’m at the same level of learning as a child.
-Accidentally bought my mom the mint that the goats eat instead of the mint you put in tea
-Had no work for 2 weeks (legitimately nothing) so my brother and I watched the whole Breaking Bad series during the school holiday and cooked lots of tagines
-Met some man in a qhwa (coffee shop) and had a whole conversation in Arabic with him, even though he had no teeth and was still managing to puff his cigarette and speak to us, about how I could connect his friend’s argan business to a potential buyer in America
-Was gifted a Quran from my local gendarmes (authorities whose responsibility is to make sure i’m safe, mom & dad they do quite the job, do not worry…)
-Somehow ended up at a student award ceremony and had my hands hennaed by one of my student’s sisters (definitely not a verb but you get the point)
-Spent 5 hours hand washing my clothes and actually cut my fingers for rubbing my clothes too hard together
-Boil 3 teapots of water and pour that hot water into a bucket in order to shower over the turk, for those of you who don’t know is basically just a hole in the ground
From a few months ago, when I was dropped off in a village where I knew no one and had no idea what I would be doing for work, let alone that first hour in a new place with all new people and a new language, I’ve slowly started building a life here. I have students who continuously teach me and motivate me by their knowledge and passions. There is so much eagerness to learn, an eagerness in kids I’ve never seen before. I have a family that took in some random American girl and has helped me with everything from carrying my new dresser to my house over a rock wall to knocking on my door and bringing me warm harira (Moroccan soup) when the week got extra cold. They’ve taken such good care of me and I always feel a little at home when I’m with them, so thinking about how I’ll leave them makes me a little teary eyed because they’ve truly become my best friends. I have friends and community members who are looking out for me and other PCVs who I can call and talk to for hours about anything, sometimes just to justify the fact that they’ve also freaked out when they saw the chicken get killed in front of them and that I’m not crazy.
Somedays are harder than others. I’m living in a culture that’s really different than my own and that takes time, a really open mind and patience to adapt to. “Meskina” (poor thing) was just a normal response in the first month from people after I told them what I was doing, volunteering and living alone, away from my family for two years. Not meant to be rude of course, but I just wanted to respond, “Imma a strong, independent, woman…I’m fully capable of living alone in another country despite my 23 year old girl face!” But of course I responded with an awkward smile and “nice to meet you”, to spare the Ilana from Broad City “Yaas Queen” rant about “girls doing whatever the f*** they want in 2018”. I know during my service, parts of my identity will be tested, and at points they have been. Whether that be gender, values, beliefs, or decisions I’ve made, some of those aspects of my identity may need to be put on the back burner for my protection. I am navigating how to express my opinions and be true to myself while respecting others opinions and ways of life.
But I also know these challenges I’ve faced from the beginning and challenges in the future will have a positive effect on me. They help me grow into a stronger, more confident person each day. I’m learning to get rid of the fear of asking for help, realizing that I can’t do everything on my own and that’s totally okay. To go with the flow in an unstructured environment with answers that most of the time aren’t always there and accepting things aren’t always going to go the way I planned. Not caring about what people think and that making mistakes is okay. Work does not always have to be tangible, like the 100 page report you type for your boss or the grant you got approved, it can be a new relationship you’ve worked to build which then gives you access to a new space or a meaningful conversation you had which then gives a girl a new perspective on her future.
It’s kind of nice to step away from the concept of productivity and work environment in America, especially from what I’ve experienced and seen growing up around New York. I’m spending my time learning things I would feel “unproductive” doing back at home. My new thing is to try and do yoga every day for 30 minutes, I’m learning how to cook (not just boiling pasta from a box, but really cooking), I’m journaling, reading new books, learning how to clean a house without a vacuum or swiffer aka dumping buckets of water on the ground and at the walls and squeeging it out the front door, studying new language, getting nifty aka using cardboard boxes to make cool DIY house things, and maybe during Ramadan since there’s ample amounts of free time, picking up a new hobby like sketching or calligraphy. I’m really getting creative over here without a nightlife, which I’m actually kind of enjoying. Cheers to fresh organic vegetables and splurging on craft supplies!
I was just reading off a blog called “Girls Night In”, (that’s life now), check it out if you want a new funky book list, self care ideas, or a little justification for taking some time away from participating in the work hard play hard life in America.
“Your worth isn’t measured by your productivity”.
So shoutout to all of the PCVs in Morocco and even around the world who are working a 24/7 job, slowly yet surely, to promote such an important type of work the world could really use, especially for 2018.
PS. I’m working on a mini video clip about my last month in Morocco I’ll post in March!