Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Second lEid iKbir

If there is one thing that I love about the Islamic culture, it’s lEid. (pronounced like laaid)

LEid occurs approximately 2 months after the end of Ramadan. I guess you could consider it the Muslim equivalent of Christmas. This is the biggest holiday on their calendar, and consists of sheep slaughtering, community and family gathering, and lots and lots of food. (There is also a smaller lEid that occurs at the end of Ramadan, without the sheep slaughtering.) LEid iKbir is the one time of year where all families rejoin to celebrate and spend time together. 

Having been through four of these holidays now, (2 small lEids and 2 big lEids) I’ve realized I’m probably going to miss it most out of anything here in Morocco. The whole community is like a family. Throughout the morning, the community visits everyone and all are out wishing everyone a congratulatory lEid, with plenty of hand shaking, kissing all over and hugging. I never feel more connected with my community than I do during and after these holidays. This last one especially just really hit the spot. It made me realize how far I’ve come in my service, how much I’ve accomplished, changed, integrated and learned. One really incredible, great day can somehow make up for all of those lonely, mind-numbingly frustrating and completely disabling days spent in the Peace Corps.  

It’s that laugh I can share with someone. It really is. To have my language constantly tested and beaten down to the point where some days I just feel like I can’t say or understand anything, to then find myself and a women playfully joking about nothing. To be able to share a genuine laugh (not just one where they or you are laughing AT one another for some type of cultural faux paux), to make someone laugh, to have them make me laugh--is incredible. It really feels amazing when that happens. I think it’s a true indicator of how much a person’s language and integration has come. And it also shows that they are getting to see me as I truly am, and not just a quiet, foreign white girls who just says hi and talks about the weather or food because that’s the only conversation she can have. 

The best part about this last lEid was that. My community somehow morphed into this pseudo-Moroccan-style family while I’ve been here. There are times when I just can’t help but fall into this black whole where I think I suck and everything sucks. The whole world sucks. But then something so simple as a laugh happens and everything is better. I don’t think any of the people here will ever realize the extent of how they’ve helped me or jaded me. How one little comment or action they said or did either smacked me down or sent me soaring. You almost feel bipolar here on some mental level because no matter what you do, or how subdued that rollercoaster of emotions gets, it still happens. (Recently I even reread some of my journal back when I began Peace Corps--I sound like a mental case.) I’ll find myself complaining about how terribly misbehaved and evil the children are to me here, and then the next thing you know, a little boy or girl in my village jumps into my arms to say hello….and then everything is better. 

Anyways, back to lEid….
After everyone gets done with the initial prowl in the village, and after they’ve done their first round of praying—it’s time to kill some sheep. I really like this. I suppose I’ve always been into gory things, but the process as a whole is really incredible to me. After they cut the sheep’s throat, they let it die, then immediately begin the process of disassembling it, starting with skinning, and then dissecting the innards and whatnot. They have it down to an impeccable science that is pretty admirable.

This may also sound morbid, but I am appreciative of the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to watch something die through a religious process. I think it’s just an intriguing experience to have witnessed. A lot of people like to claim that they’d rather not witness anything other than the vacuum sealed Purdue chicken in the grocery store, but I’d like to think the more you see and do only enlightens your knowledge on a broader scale and helps you understand the world just a little bit better. I will always believe experience to be better than ignorance, good or bad. My bad experiences have shaped me into who I am just as much as the good. 

(Tangent thought: Can you imagine how immediately annoyed you would get with someone if all they’ve ever experienced were good things?)

The persuasive epitome of all this argument regardless is that the meat is the best and most fresh you could ever taste. Not to say that I am a fan of organs such as liver,heart, lungs, or intestine…but muscle meat is delicious. And, not to mention-it keeps on comin! Oh, you finished your kebab? Here’s another. We have a whole sheep’s worth to eat, and only a matter of days to do it--says each and every family.

Well then, let’s eat.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Flies In My Coffee

I don’t know if I ever properly articulate well enough when I write/talk about Peace Corps. I want to explain all of the different things I’ve experienced, and share with you all of the ridiculous stories that have come from my life here, but I’m worried they’ll be interpreted differently than I would like. 

As PCVs, we complain. Sometimes a lot. However, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t happy we’re doing what we’re doing. Our character gets tested constantly, and when we reiterate a story, it may sound pretty negative. 

However-we love our stories. 

What would this whole experience be if it weren’t for those? Right now, I could go nuclear with the flies that are incessantly landing on my face and coffee cup in this café as I wait for a bus-and ironically, as I typed that, one literally just flew into my coffee. No lie. 

I’m probably going to dump that coffee in the toilet before taking the cup downstairs to the counter. Having the owner of this café as a friend of mine means I’ll do silly little things like that to “save face.” 

Anyways, the point I’m (very inarticulately) trying to make is that I’ve come to realize that all of these little daily trifles I go through, as well as the big setbacks, are really some of the key reasons I signed up for Peace Corps. Not that I signed up so that flies could land in my coffee….but I guess rather that, one day, I’m going to consciously appreciate coffee that doesn’t have any flies in it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Picture Post

 Above is the one section of the Gorge du Dades near my village. This is where the road and river align, causing lots of flooding problems when it rains.

On the left is my house--below a garage...

My kitchen--complete with butagaz for the stove top and oven (the green metal box)

The beetles that like to crawl in my pants

More views of my house and the surrounding village with the mosque nearby.

My sister, Ang, is hiding under those covers somewhere on the left...these two pics are when they visited my house in December. Adam's peeking out on the right. They survived!

Eyeglass workshop in Zagora---Great workshop. Through an association in the UK called "Eyejusters" we were able to provide eye exams and corrective lenses that the people can easily adjust themselves to the proper strength.

 Imichil Wedding Festival (Sept. '11): Provided blood pressure screenings and education about the causes of high and low blood pressure.

We like to play with camels after work :)

Some of you may know this, but I had a really bad eye infection back in the fall and had to travel many, many hours to see an eye doc--this is what I ended up looking like...

When we're bored, we go to the's just what we do (and it's all we have to do)...and when we remotely attempt to blend in and hide ourselves when it's late and we're not supposed to be out, this is what we end up wearing...ineffectively making us stand out more.

Now, what would this picture post be without that of my cat?? I know, I know...skip 'em if you want. This is my baby Franklin! He pretty much hid like that the entire first hour I brought him into my house from my neighbors barn

He's a very good cuddler when we're all alone together in my house :)
This is a view of one village in my area during the winter. Hello mountains!

 Where my "multisport court" project will hopefully be implemented....pending funds!

MMM....fresh sheep organs on L3id Ikbir (kind of like Morocco's version of "Christmas")

Traditional wood bread oven

....where those organs came meat you'll ever have in your life though!

Nomad Hike! We backpacked from the town of Tamtattochte to M'smrir (approx. 45km) over the course of a few days and provided bars of soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste (along with improptu educational lessons) to the nomadic population. (Sorry, no pics of the nomads)
Scrounging up some food because we were starving
Trying to be happy campers even though the one spring available was under an overhang where we had been trying to retrieve freshwater while slumping over, knocking our heads and getting dripped on..... and having our pump break.

Spring Camp in Ouarzazate--Time to teach some intense English.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes....

We painted an amazing mural of Morocco, if I do say so myself. Getting those proportions right required some back pocket architecture skills from my first year of undergrad

(Sorry there isn't much rhyme or reason to this picture order)...Camels at the edge of the Sahara on New Year's

My Aunt Bernie came prepared with those instant mini travel toothbrushes (sorry I'm not a fan!) when you have no water...or when you just spent the night in the middle of the desert. We look great.

Okay, that's it--Hope you enjoyed a few pics!

Friday, June 29, 2012

My Sweat is Sweating

Well, I’ve upheld the common society failure to not follow through with my New Year’s resolution. I have no excuse other than to declare that I don’t have one. So…here’s a long overdue update…

The weather finally started to improve—so much to the point that I am continuously finding myself in an on/off sweat cycle throughout the day. Looking back on this past winter, I always thought I loved the cold…until I lived through that season here in Morocco. This country varies a lot in terms of temperature, so I am only speaking from my own personal experience, but the cold was bone-chilling in my site. Because I live up in the mountains I am in one of the colder sites, not the coldest by any means, but the winter was not fun. It doesn’t get as cold here temperature wise as it does in PA, but when it’s 30F in your bedroom, it’s not exciting to see your breath under the covers. 

The biggest problem was that there was no escaping the weather (and now it's the same concept only with heat), even having piles of blankets over me, my face still felt like it was going to fall off at night. Doing dishes and laundry was miserable and taking a bucket bath was even worse. I could heat up water on the stove, but even changing my clothes was dreadful, so completely undressing to wash with a bucket was terrifying. I can’t even tell you the embarrassing amount of times I opted to remain smelly as opposed to bathing. 

...I hoped that reminiscing about the freezing weather mere months ago would relieve some of this heat….still waiting for it to kick in…


Okay, enough complaining.  I figured that within a couple months of the cold ending I would find myself in a catch 22 of wanting winter again because I’m now sweating my butt off.  And I’m not quite so thrilled to tell you all that the bugs have arrived! The second it started to warm up the monstrous ants and spiders began invading my house. I even found myself wearing a pair of pants for about 20 minutes before realizing a 1.5 inch beetle was residing in them. However, as long as there are no bed bugs involved, I’m good. And I own a wonderful bug catcher, who not only eats them, but provides hours of entertainment, aka: my cat.

In other news, it was great to celebrate the “one year mark.” There’s an extreme high of “yay! I’ve been here a year!” to an extreme low of, “omg…I have a whole additional year of this.” The positive definitely outweighs the negative however, so I’m happy. I really believe that this second year will fly by much faster than the first. (It already is.) I am settled in my niche, I’ve got a good work flow going, and I’ve made some amazing friends here—both Peace Corps-wise as well as Moroccan. Recently, the staj of volunteers that arrived a year before I did just ended their service. This really made me realize that I am going to miss so many people once this time is over.

This whole experience will always be a rollercoaster as I've mentioned time and again. There are times of highs and lows that sometimes seem more extreme than normal because of the unusual situations we’re placed in as PCVs.  I don’t think I’ve ever truly grasped the concept that “attitude is everything” until I started this whole mind-warp. 

Also, I wanted to remind people of the “letter gift” I received from a bunch of family and friends before I left, where they all pre-wrote me letters to be read throughout my service and were dated accordingly for the next years so I was able to ready about 2 a month. I just want everyone involved to know how appreciative I am for those gifts. I can’t tell you how happy I am when I open an anonymous envelope to find that an old friend or family member wrote me an inspiring, funny, nostalgic or appreciative letter. So—thank you.

On that same note, I just finished visiting with some family from my Dad’s side! It was great spending the quality time together—touring, eating, swimming, more eating and drinking, talking, and eating and drinking…and more talking and eating…

And they “willingly” endured some very graphic and parasitic stories I shared with them. Being real though, I had an amazing time, we did so many different things and made some great memories. And one in particular that has provided me with some worldly advice that I would like to share—If you go to Gibraltar, make sure you prepare yourself to be attacked, and see others be attacked, by monkeys…with no staff to help you, because you are in the middle of the forest, on the top of an enormous rock, alone. 

And some additional advice: Definitely go do it.

We spent some time together in Spain and they also made it down to Morocco.  They definitely were forced to experience a taste of the wonderful heat wave currently sucking the life out of everyone.

I’d say I feel bad for them, but I don’t. :)

Ramadan is coming. To fast or not to fast? That is the question. 

Well, maybe the real question is…which TV show with the most seasons should I start watching? Which book series should I start reading? Or which movie trilogies should I download? (Aka: Ramadan 101-How to keep yourself occupied during extreme lengths of heat and boredom)

Things I’ve learned:
11)      Teaching my family how to dance like traditional Moroccan Berbers is super entertaining, and I think my village would agree if they had the chance to see it.
22)      Don’t leave your carte de sejour receipt at a hotel in Spain when you’re waiting for your new one to arrive at the Gendarmes and this is your only Moroccan residential proof.
33)      I miss air-conditioning.
44)      My sweat production is always 99.9% greater than the average Moroccan, even when I am only wearing one layer of clothes and they have on four.
55)      Cheesecake and pork products are delicious and I can’t wait to eat more when the time presents itself. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Work, Family Visits, and Dropping Temperatures

It’s pretty funny to read my last post and realize how different work has diverted from my original ideas and outlooks. 

The solid waste management project was pretty much shot. Not going into details. The option to teach about proper waste disposal is still definitely out there, but anything else I mentioned in terms of this line of work is not in any functioning state…not to say it never will be, but the outlook is bleak.

Anyways, other work has finally been picking up and going great. I started helping a teacher with literacy classes for a group of women which have led to health lessons with the grade school kids. I’ve also been working a lot with a health club and leadership club at a high school. The kids are really bright. It is honestly a breath of fresh air when I work with them because it helps remind me that there are better kids out there than the ones who throw mud and rocks at my house. 

I’m also currently working on a large project with a principal/school director in my area regarding four different primary schools and two nurseries/ kindergartens. We went around to each location and performed a “needs assessment” using his information and the information of the local teachers. A lot of the schools and nurseries either need bathrooms or the already existing bathrooms need repair. Other projects involve anywhere from leveling and paving a ground for a play area, to installing new windows to building new walls, etc. Currently we’re in the process of configuring a timeline for all the work as well as a budget, and then (fingers crossed) I will magically have a beautiful grant written and approved! Tada! 

In other news—MY FAMILY CAME TO VISIT ME!!! It was absolutely surreal. The funny part was that I was all choked up when they first arrived and they were rather distracted by the fact that none of them had received their luggage. So needless to say I was the awkward emotional one while they were just angry. Looking back I can’t help but laugh about it. 

I hope that they all had as entertaining a time in Morocco with me as I did with them. It was a nice reminder to see them experience a lot of the funny and entertaining cultural exchanges that I had when I was first here. After being here for so long, in a way, you forget how weird some things used to be that now are normal. I was worried about how they would handle themselves with some things, but they were all troopers (especially you, Aunt Bernie!). I can’t get into the details of the entire trip, but it was a blast. I especially loved our camel trek into the Sahara over New Year’s Eve. And I’m glad my family got to experience the icebox that is my house. I think it made them more empathetic to my living situation. (By the way—I had to move a third time, back in October. Long story short, my landlord was renting me a house that was already being rented. So you can imagine the tornado of events that followed when the tenant living there before me shows up demanding to know what I’m doing in his house. Story for another day.) 

I dragged them around Morocco for one week and then they treated me to a trip in Milan, Italy for another. Obviously, I did not want to return to Morocco and depart from the developed world afterwards, but here I am! And I am especially missing that central heating right now. My hands are completely frozen as I type this.
But you shouldn’t have much pity, for I will be traveling yet again come mid-March. One of the beautiful perks of serving in Morocco is that there are very cheap flights available to Europe. A few of my friends and I will be spending some time over St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland. What better way to celebrate the holiday and our one-year-anniversary in Morocco?

Not sure what else to update on, and my hands have just about had it with typing and need to retreat under a blanket, so this is where I’ll leave you all. 

New Year’s Resolution #1: Update blog more frequently than 5 month intervals. 

Take care everyone!