Saturday, September 26, 2009

Morocco Update 9/26/09 (I think)

THE CONTENTS OF THIS WEB SITE ARE MINE PERSONALLY AND DO NOT REFLECT ANY POSITION OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT OR THE PEACE CORPS. Since this site is public, specific details are not given so email me personally if you’d like more information.

9/15/09-/9/26/09 - Arrived at our Hub site later than planned since the busses were late in picking us up – welcome to Morocco!! Too late to travel to our individual sites that night so we spent the night. Ahhhh, a chance for a hot shower, probably our last for quite some time and since I haven’t had one since Philadelphia, a welcome treat.

Our six hour bus ride was on pretty decent roads. Since it was a almost a week ago, I’ve forgotten much about it. Perhaps it is the time of the year, but when I think of Morocco’s landscape I see brown. I’ve seen little “good” soil, (lots of rocks) although I’m told they have some somewhere? I saw lots of olive trees and probably almond trees on our trek. We wound ourselves through mountains and valleys to arrive at the hub.

Village - The village I live in is about 20k out of the hub site and takes about 20 minutes to travel to by Grand Taxi. They pack six people into the taxi and costs each of us about 8d (approx $1) each. There is not a city center for my village but instead it consists of clusters of homes scattered about and the clusters seem to be primarily family groups. Three of us volunteers live in my cluster and I live with a sister of another volunteer’s brother and uncertain how the third volunteer’s family fits in but betting it does. The road traveling to my home is paved and along the road are tahanuts where you shop. I have seen three tahanuts here, but have been told to avoid one of them since his prices are too high. The hanuts are really basic, bare necessities in them, certainly could not stock your kitchen for meals from them. We are able to buy water, coffee, tea, soap for washing clothes, etc., but little fresh produce has been seen. We have been told that our village has a souk on Sundays and that many vendors will be there selling everything from cattle to plastic ware, to fresh produce. Unfortunately, our first Sunday here is a Ramadan holiday so we will have to wait a week.

Home - My home is made of cement not mud as I was first told it would be. You enter into it through a small courtyard. It was a very muddy courtyard on the day I arrived. We have two water faucets our there and on the two days a week that we receive water they fill every available bucket and container. We do not have a faucet or sink, for that matter, in the house. Our bathroom is a 3x3 room and there is a squat toilet in it (that’s it!) This area is used for most everything concerning water. This is not a very appetizing room in my opinion and is almost always wet and stinky. If we want to douche (shower) we are to take a bucket of water in there with us and wash down. I have been bringing a small pail of water to my room and sponge bathing there. If people brush their teeth, they also do it there and quite frankly this grosses me out so I’ve been brushing outside. When the weather turns, we’ll see what I do? Frankly, I spend as little time in this room as possible. My bedroom is right inside the door and near the bathroom. It is painted BRIGHT yellow with a bit of chipping paint for white accent and black (hopefully not mold). My bedspread is HOT pink and quite frilly. Perfect for me don’t you think? I have color in my life!!! Initially I thought the bedspread was newly acquired, but on closer inspection, I think not. I imagine I have taken over someone’s room for this temporary stay. We have a small cooking area where there is a hot plate with two burners, a separate propane cooking unit and a kind of oven. Fabric is hung across the bottom of the two counters to work as doors and also as hand wipes (wondering if they ever wash them?) There is a larger room in the middle of the house where the refrigerator is located, as well as a cabinet where the dishes are stored. We wash the dishes in this room on the floor in pails. I’m not feeling they are particularly clean when the process is done, since the floor is frequently not that clean to begin with. Sometimes we heat water to use for dishes, sometimes not. There are two bedrooms other than my room and then kind of a sitting/living room. We have benches surrounding the room with thick cushions on them. Everyone has a television in Morocco, complete with a satellite dish, and this is a very popular room. People sit for hours in there watching it (not so different than in the US).

Family - My father’s name is Said and his wife’s name is Abouch (I’m probably older than they are). Said is a serious fellow who rarely has facial expression – and I’ve seen little communication from him. Abouch has a smiling face and at this time I’m uncertain what she does around the home, except to jump when Said says something. The daughter-in-laws seem to do most of the work. They have one son (Baujmaa) living with them, along with his pregnant wife, Hayat. Baujamaa is 25 and Hyat t is 19. Their other son died in an accident and his widow Khaddoug (age 25) lives with them also, along with her son Hameed who is 4. Appears that once a woman marries she becomes the husband’s family’s responsibility. She seems to be at the bottom of the totem pole and I have been given to her to take care of. Not only is Hameed’s father “imut”, but he is a son and a treasured commodity – he is very spoiled and catered to. Having me in the home is a new experience for this family and they don’t know what to do with me. Initially they showed me my room and I felt like I should stay there. They brought a small table in and served me my meals on a tray. I have since talked with my LCF (Language/Culture Facilitator) and asked her to talk with them about this and she has and my inclusion has improved. I feel like they expect me to know the language and that they don’t understand why I am such a dummy. How do I get across to them that I’ve only had a few days of exposure to this Berber dialect??? Cut me some slack!! I’m hoping this will improve, but my house does not feel like a warm, comforting haven to me. They meet my physical needs and I get my warmth elsewhere. One of the other volunteer’s homes is most inviting and warm feeling, and luckily I can spend some time there. Again, trying to not be so hard on my family – this is a new experience for them. They are getting paid to house me and feel like they should treat me as a guest. Hopefully it will improve as time goes on. Since writing the earlier part of this paragraph, I have learned that they have two other sons and two daughters. One son, Mohammed is a teacher and lives in a nearby town with his wife Tooli and their two daughters Heba and Hooda. They spent last weekend with us and I enjoyed them very much and was sorry to have them leave. Mohammed spoke a little English so I could confirm some of the words being spoken and it helped a lot.

Food - Hard to tell what the food is really like since I’ve arrived during Ramadan. My family actually fasts from sun-up to sun-down during Ramadan. I hear someone preparing food around 4:30a or so and those that are interested in eating/drinking get up shortly after that to do so. They then don’t eat or drink anything until the end of the day when they break fast. That is usually eaten around 6:30-7p. That meal has consisted of the same soup each night (there is a name for it – can’t remember), several kinds of bread (which they bake daily) sometimes some figs/dates/grapes, usually a drink made with apples & pears blended with milk, coffee and sweet tea. We had an omelet sort of dish made in a tijene which we scooped out with pieces of bread which was very good and another night we had mini-mini meatballs cooked on top of tomatoes & onions which we also scooped out with bread. Very little silverware is used or for that matter plates are seldom used. We generally eat from a central dish or off the table with our hands. The soup is served in individual bowls. Drinking water is stored in a cooler type container, but a shared cup is just dipped in to refill and I’ve chosen to buy bottled water at this time. I’m told the water is safe to drink and if I could just get it from a container with a spicket I would probably do so, but the way my family does it I’m not comfortable drinking it (at least yet) The family then has a very late meal , around 11-11:30p. I haven’t stayed up to join them yet since we have class early each morning and I have to get up. Other than Khaddouj, my family has been sleeping when I get up and leave. My breakfast has been brought to my room on a tray and it consists of two kinds of bread w/very strong olive oil and SWEET coffee w/half of it being milk. I’m getting a bit of my caffeine fix, but not quite enough. Guess the sugar is meant to keep me going? Ramadan will end on 9/21 and then our meals will change. Hopefully dinner will be served earlier so I can join them. We will typically have a large lunch at our training site since we have a cook to prepare it. I’m told that lunch will be a balanced meal – and doesn’t much matter what I’m fed after that. So far our lunches have consisted of what we bring for ourselves. I always have bread available at my house and I’ve picked up some cheese and some fruit when it is available. I need to make more of a point of drinking water since I’m not drinking nearly enough.

Training - Our LCF is Samira and she is from southern Morocco which is where I will likely be placed. Not necessarily in the Sahara, but north of it. She is 24 years old and attended the university for three years. She works with the PC as a sub-contractor for training periods and works other jobs during the rest of the year. She is very patient and explains well. I am struggling with the language – no bones about it. Not only do I find it hard to articulate the new sounds, I haven’t refreshed my English grammatical skills in years and my foreign language experience consists of one year of Spanish in 1964!! Two of the other volunteers in my group are mid-20’s and they are getting a good grasp of it. The other volunteer is late 50’s, speaks French pretty fluently and is also learning better than I am. I’ve had moments of great frustration (just can’t get it!!) and I’m being told to go easier on myself. Just not sinking in it seems – even the simplest thing. Of course I’m getting myself in a knot and already worrying about the proficiency test and I need to get a grip. Even if sent home – what an experience! We meet each day from about 8:30a-5:30p. We have four hours of language, break for a bit and then have cultural/country training. Our CLF lives in a home by herself that the PC is renting for this period. It is sparsely furnished, but functional.

We went into a nearby town this week to do grocery shopping for our cook. Their supermarkets are not much bigger than a 9x12 room. No fresh produce or meats are available in them. The storekeepers have known a bit of English and have been most helpful. We then visited the souk - yeow…. At least a hundred vendors – with many of them selling the same things from soup to nuts (as we would say in the US). It is full of people and animals and a challenge to maneuver through. Samira advised us to be careful here since she trusted no one and to keep our bags/purses close to us. It was a hot, dusty, exhausting experience and I’m told I will likely have to visit a souk twice a week if I want fresh produce. We didn’t buy any meat here since most of it was covered with flies and had been out in the open air for hours. We didn’t have time to go to a butcher shop, but I’m told that is where our meat should be bought. I can’t imagine my family buying from a butcher….. We had lunch in town – nice cucumber/tomato/onion salad (cut up into very small pieces), ¼ of a grilled chicken and French fries for 25 dh or a little over $3. It was tasty and hit the spot. Women do not frequent many of the cafes, but this seemed to be a place where women went and were welcome. Granted the clientele was primarily men, but still possible to join in.

Everywhere you look you see dogs running wild. My family has one they feed leftovers to named Bisbis (or something like that) but I’ve never seen them show any affection toward it . People seem to be afraid of them since they seem to believe they will attack and bite. Of course, I think this is quite possible since most of the time people throw rocks at them. The dog may approach in a timid manner with his tail wagging and then someone yells and throws a rock at them -- I might develop a bit of aggression too! At night the dogs bark endlessly and I swear their bark is different than an American dog’s. I’ve seen a few cats, but not many and of course there are donkeys everywhere.

We visited a nearby town to see the cascades (waterfalls). It looked a bit touristy, but the area itself was lovely and nice to see something new. We have a day off on Sunday (9/27?) and we are going into the hub town to catch up on some emails at an internet cafe. We’ll be back in on October 1st, but the PC has our time planned pretty tightly, and rarely enough time to catch up. Looking forward to the day.

Please send me lots of positive thoughts re language learning. I can use them since I have found this to be the most stressful part of the process so far. I am relishing the experience, have questioned my decision to do this, but staying the course and moving forward. My apologies if you’re bored with details. I wanted to set the stage so that you could visually picture where I am. Promise to not bore you with minute details forever. Miss you all. Love & Hugs

Monday, September 14, 2009


9/8-9/10, 2009 Philadelphia’s one-day staging was primarily a get-acquainted time. Played games, shared stories, etc. Most of us split up into groups for dinner and became better acquainted. We were bused to JFK with hours to kill and many of us landed in a wine bar where we savored the fruits of the vine immensely since it is publicly forbidden in Morocco and who knows when we will next have the opportunity to enjoy it?
9/10-9/14, 2009 Arrived safely in Casablanca at 7:45a. We boarded a bus to a seaside facility north of Rabat. Some of us slept on the flight/bus, but many of us were up for 24 hours+. Can’t believe they held sessions that afternoon. Most of were nodding off and retention was nil. There are 63 of us and about a third are mature adults (I fit that category – right?) We represent America well (culturally, racially, etc.) Breakfast is from 7:30-8:30 and consists of coffee, orange juice, bread, croissants and condiments. I will definitely gain weight on this diet. I have made friends with Fatima (dining room attendant) so I am able to get my coffee early and I’ve been enjoying it on the rooftop with an ocean view before breakfast. Sessions begin at 9a and lunch is at 1p. We start with huge trays of salad fixins (without the lettuce) i.e., olives, beets, eggplant, hard boiled eggs, etc. usually followed by a small plate of meat (i.e., meatballs) then followed by another huge tray of meat and vegetables (yesterday chicken, peas and carrots), then followed by apples (soft, not crisp). Plus, big baskets of bread are available at every meal. Training sessions begin again at 2p and last until near 6p. Many of us have been taking walks at this time and we have found a place where we can get ice cream. I’ve enjoyed a lovely pistachio/almond ice cream and the walk back via the beach. We have been advised to not walk about alone and we must be inside before its dark (7p). Dinner is at 8p and it starts with soup/bread (of course) followed by a meat dish (last night lamb chops) and pasta. Dessert was packaged pudding, but we’ve had yogurt mostly for dinner dessert. Groups then gather on the rooftop for conversation, lobby area for internet access. And the lounge for card/other games.
Our days have been sunny, hot and humid. We are in a dorm like facility and I have three roommates (two are recent college grads from Mich and one is 40+ and originally from England). We have community bathrooms and our showers are cold, but we have modern toilets rather that squat toilets and we are thrilled. Only wish they would keep them supplied with toilet paper!! We had a free day on Sunday and most of us traveled to a city north of where we are living.. Cell phones were the purchase of the day and I will gladly share that number if you ask for it via my gmail address. I’ve received HepB, Rabies and Meningitis shots with more shots to come later in the week. We are learning survival Arabic at this time, and will concentrate on our specific dialects when we are moved to our hub on 9/15. The small business group will travel to our hub in the foothills of the mountains by bus and we’re told it will be a 6 hour drive or so. We will then split off into groups of 5 individuals and head to our village where we will live individually with host families. Each day the 5 of us will meet for 4+ hours of language training and the remainder of the day will be spent on learning the culture or jobs we will be undertaking.
We’ve had the luxury of having the internet on-site, but can’t imagine I will have it with my host family or in the village where I will live for the next nine weeks. When we travel to our hub site (every couple of weeks or so), I imagine it will be available, and I’ll update this at that time. Bslama……

Sunday, September 6, 2009

September Update

s-salamu alaykum. I’m off to Morocco….. Scheduled to arrive in Casablanca at 7:45a on Thursday, September 10th. 63 new volunteers will then board a bus for a 2.5 hour ride to Mehdya, a small beach town north of Rabat. We will meet the training staff, medical team and the country director at this time. We will stay here until Tuesday, September 15th. I will then move to Azilal which will be my hub for small business training. After just a brief stop here, small groups of us will move to our community based training site where we will live individually with host families for the next eight weeks or so. I’ll update you when I know more. Bslama