Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hiking in my Site

Thanksgiving Pics

Our Turkey... it was honestly one of the best Thanksgiving turkeys I've ever eaten. We killed and plucked it ourselves.

Chris and I playing guitar.

Enjoying our feast

A hike later that day. This is Barry and Madeleine on top of a mountain we climbed. I just like this picture of them.

Jamming out in the rug store the next day. I bought one so my room would be just that much warmer. From left to right that's Andrea, Madeleine, Josh, and I. I think we were singing Wagon Wheel.

Bathing and the Hammam

Ok, so let me tell you what happens when you get lazy. You’ve cooked yourself a meal and it took a while to make so after you have enjoyed every last morsel you sprawl out on your couch, loosen your pants, and maybe even let out a satisfied burp. What you are by no means in the mood to do, however, is to clean up after yourself. What awaits you the next day (or if you are like me and don’t have running water so washing dishes means lugging water back to your house) or a couple of days later is pots that are no longer able to be cleaned with a mere sponge. What do you do? Well, you probably fill whatever it is with water and let it soak and then maybe even attack it with some steel wool.

If what I’ve just described isn’t a situation you ever find yourself in then congratulations, you either don’t cook for yourself and you really need to learn, or you don’t ever get lazy. If you’re never in a lethargic mood, then… well… I have nothing to say to you. You’re super-human. Sit there and wait a while, someone is coming with your medal.

I don’t want to tell you about cooking right now, although I did just make myself a spectacular chicken tajine stuffed with almonds and dates. I want you to now turn your mind to personal hygiene and specifically bathing. I live in the bled (countryside), have no running water, and so don’t really get to bathe myself very often and much like the pot I described above when I do get around to bathing myself, there is a lot of… well… collected nastiness that needs an extra effort.

During the summer it wasn’t a major issue because I could bathe on my roof in the sunshine and the sun would dry me before I was even done bathing. Now it is so cold that during the “heat of the day” I’m bundled up in three or four layers and a blanket and I’m still shivering. I end up getting up much later because it takes me a full hour to get up enough courage to brave the cold outside my blankets (all four of them). Yes I know, I’m cold in Africa, go figure. Before I could take a trip into town and visit one of my Peace Corps Volunteer friends who had a hot shower (that would be the Small Business Development and the Youth Development people otherwise known as Posh Corps) and I would be all set. Sadly, however, all of them just COSed (Close of Service… there two years were up) and the new crowd is still with their host families. What is a poor Peace Corps Volunteer to do? Good thing that in Morocco we have public baths that are the personal hygiene equivalent of a long soak and steel wool.

When I lived in Budapest there was a Hammam (public bath) that I went to every other weekend and in Budapest what that meant was heated pools, steam rooms and a massage all for like four dollars. It was spectacular. Granted everyone in there was naked so some of my friends couldn’t really handle that which meant that a lot of times I went solo. The point is, the Hammam in Budapest was a relaxing experience. I would call it luxurious but it was so inexpensive. That is not at all what the Hammam is here. There are a few similarities… there is steam, and there is water, and a bunch of men although they aren’t fully naked. That’s where the similarities end. People come to these places to actually get clean. Who’d a thought?

So let me describe this process with you and I’ll start by letting you in on the tools you bring with you. You of course have your soap and shampoo. What would bathing be without those? Most people, including myself, also bring their razors from some spectacularly close shaving. I have a nice straight edge razor that someone special gave me that I like to use. It’s shwiya dangerous, but it makes me feel cool that I’m using a straight edge which of course makes up for the danger. You also have to bring your “aghlaf” (I’m not sure of the Arabic word for this thing) which is a large container for water about twice the size of a coffee mug. This is what you use to get the water out of the buckets they provide for you and onto your person to rinse away the week long build up of mud, sweat, and, you know… it’s a week without showering, you get the picture. The final piece is what makes this Hammam experience so cleansing; it is the “Kis”. In dishwashing terms, this is the steel wool. Picture a wash cloth that fits on your hand like a mitten but is only a fraction softer than actual steel wool. Sound horrifyingly painful? I thought so too until I charged recklessly into the unknown.

So you pay your fee, usually about seven Dirhams which used to be like 80 something cents, but now is closer to a dollar thanks to the dollar being extremely weak right now.

(To follow a quick rabbit trail, I had the shock of my life while my granddad and uncle were here travelling. I went to go change some money and the teller at the bank told me that I should have brought Canadian Dollars. I’ve lived abroad for half my life, and have never heard anyone say anything remotely similar to that. I almost had a heart attack laughing.)

Then you go into this room where everyone is changing. Now like I said, in Hungary people just walked around naked and no one cared. Here, that is not the case. There is a sense of modesty so as your are putting on your underwear to go into the Hammam area you cover yourself with a towel. You then leave all of your things in a little cubby hole, grab two buckets and head in with only yourself, your underwear, and your “cleaning supplies”.

Now you have two options, you can bathe yourself or you can have someone do it for you. Most of the time I bathe myself, but on the rare occasion that I’m in the mood, whatever that means, I get someone to do it for me. This is an extremely intense experience and I guarantee you that after this guy is done you will be the cleanest you have ever been in your life.

I usually just do it myself so I’ll describe that process. You walk in through three rooms of increasing heat to where the water is dispensed. There’s HOT water and COLD water. Those are capitalized for a reason. You make a mix of the two you deem appropriate and tolerable and then pick out a spot on the floor next to some other guys also dealing with a week’s worth of build-up, wash down that spot on the floor (this part is necessary) and then plop down. I usually just sit there for a bit and pour hot water all over myself while the heat starts to take effect. I then follow that by stretching for a good long while just relaxing and breathing in the steam and letting my pores open.

After I feel sufficiently stretched out, I plop back down and then shave by feel which is extremely satisfying because you are bearing witness to just how close the shave is as you are going. When you have a mirror in front of you, you can be tempted to rely on the visual which can be misleading. You’ll make it to work later and then there’s a whole spot near your Adam’s apple, just below your nose, and under your jawbone that you missed. After the skin on my face is as smooth as I could possibly make it I move on to washing my hair. I don’t think that needs any explanation.

And now we come to my new, favorite part… the steel wool. I put this thing on my hand and then basically scrub my entire body… ENTIRE body… until about three layers of dead skin (and probably some life skin too… I usually come out looking red all over) are scraped away. Is this painful? Not really. It works a lot like a washcloth should, but when you use a washcloth with soap you are basically lubricating the cloth so that it doesn’t work well as a scrubbing agent. The “Kis’s” sole purpose is to scrub and it does a very efficient job at it.

After you are all rubbed down you then rinse off and then pick up your soap. This part, like the shampoo, needs no explanation. Now when I am finished and have rinsed off, I usually do something that most Moroccans do not. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen any Moroccans do this so I guess it’s a little American twist to the whole thing. I fill up a bucket with the COLD water and dump it all over me. I think it’s a nice cool down from the entire experience. I guess you could say it brings closure to the relationship you just had with the Hammam.

You then exit to where your clothes are, dry off, change and be on your merry way with your skin all over feeling the smoothest it could possibly be because it was basically just sanded down and then varnished. If I ever find myself making the kind of money that would allow me to design my own house, I am definitely building myself a personal Hammam. However if my past is any indicator as to the type of salaried jobs I’m likely to see in the future, I’m probably going to having that dream for a great deal longer before it gets fulfilled.

Now if you had someone else wash you the experience goes about the same except it adds a bit to the price, and the whole time (except the shaving) you have someone else scrubbing you down, rinsing you, stretching you, washing you, and then rinsing you again. All of that is spectacular except for the stretching. I’m pretty sure some of the stuff the guy did to me today is going to permanently damage something inside me.

Let me use this opportunity to comment to all of you who cringe at the thought of another male, especially one who, like you, is only clad in underwear, wash you down. If that makes you uncomfortable, no problem… just do it yourself. In America if we see girls walking down the street with their arms linked we think nothing of it. Here it is the same with men. Men who are walking down the street together will hold hands, link arms, etc. They don’t even have to like each other. Two guys in my town who loathe each other had to attend a meeting and were talking on the way there and held hands. I don’t want to offer a public explanation for this cultural difference although I have had many discussions about it, some serious but others comical. I’ll leave the why up to you.

So there you have it. I’m sitting here writing this, listening to Jerry Garcia, Tony Rice, and David Grisman jam out and feeling extremely clean but disappointingly cold. Next time I might write about what happens when I let the dirty clothes build up for a long time… well, that’s a different story. The only communal solution to that is the weekly party the women have down by the river where they wash the clothes and I am most definitely not invited to that party. They have offered to wash my clothes, but I don’t feel comfortable asking someone else to do that for me. I will say this… vinegar in your rinsing water acts as a fabric softener. You learn all sorts of cool stuff like that living here.

I hope this finds you all warm and content in the direction your lives are taking. If times are rough, know that joy comes in the morning. And for those of you who pray, please remember the victims of the attacks in Algeria this past week.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thoughts on Service

I want to take a moment and write something out of character for this blog. If you are looking for experiences about Morocco, cultural insights, or funny stories you can go ahead and skip this entry. Times have been a bit tough lately in terms of work related to Health, yet I must constantly remind myself that I am not just here for the purpose of development.

I’ve been re-reading an old American history textbook from college that I had my parents send me. You can go ahead and laugh, I’m fully aware that I’m a bit of a nerd… ok, very much so a nerd. I’ve also been re-watching the Band of Brothers miniseries. For those of you who know me well or are mildly acquainted with my story with the military as well as my development in relation to patriotism, the fact that I am in the Peace Corps should offer no surprise. Let me tell you though that as many of you are, I too am not a static individual. I never have had all of the answers and continue to discover my own ignorance and immaturity… I am a twenty something after all. I guess that’s all part of growing up. That being said, I want to try to explain to you how I see this time in Morocco…

There is a part of me that is extremely individualistic and let’s be honest… selfish. I guess that’s a part of having moved around a lot and never having to take anyone else into account for very long. That goes for friends and girlfriends on one level, but on an entirely different plane that also includes my country of birth.
I confess that I have been all over the map when it comes to seeing myself as an American. At a younger age I was more enchanted with the dream that is our nation, but as I began to get beyond the “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” account of our story and then found myself living abroad, I began to be alienated from my birthplace. I viewed myself at various points in my life as either a “kingdom citizen” (those who grew up in the Church will understand that one), a citizen of the world, or as some kind of a being constantly creating its own meaning and divorced from any labels. The journey through these paradigms has left conflicting voices in my head all vying for dominance, but let that lie for the moment.

There were many things that factored into my decision to join Peace Corps, some noble, others less so. I’m not going to talk about them right now. Interestingly enough, though, I am coming to find that it is not necessarily what motivates you to begin something, but what motivates you to stay. I’ve had several opportunities to leave; a job offer to which I had applied before coming, an outside shot at joining the world of musicians here in North Africa and in Europe (that’s an interesting story for another day), as well as simply how easy it is to just leave. Every time something has come up that could switch my direction so far, I have done my soul searching and make the conscious decision to stick. I don't know that that means this will always be the case, I can only speak for the present.

Yes, there are times when the work surrounding Health is slow or really non-existent. My Programming Staff has actually looked into changing my site because of the lack of people with which I have to work here. Let me take a moment to explain why that is. Over the past few decades there have been plenty of examples of failed development projects worldwide and the stories mostly go something like this…
X (where X is a large sum) amount of money was donated to buy Y (where Y is some sort of thing that was supposed to make life better) for Z (where Z is some people we consider desiring of our help) and we come and install it. For a certain number of years Z all feast on the bounty of the land that didn’t exist before we got there until one day Y breaks. Z then comes looking for help only to find that we have moved on to Q (where Q is the next new thing that is supposed to make life better) and are now working with V (where V is some other people we consider desiring of our help). The problem was that we dropped something off and didn’t bother teaching anyone how to fix it, or build it or really do anything other than use it. The end result is that we really didn’t help anyone; we just kept people in a cycle of dependency.

What we are supposed to be doing is what we call “Capacity Building” which means we’re supposed to be teaching people how to do things for themselves. So when I talk about a Medical Waste Incinerator project what I mean is that I’m working with people to assist them in raising the money and building the medical incinerator and then helping them educate others in running and maintaining it. Let me just say that although my tone at the moment may sound sarcastic (or maybe that’s just in my head), it’s not because I don’t believe very strongly that this is what should be done. The sarcastic tone is that this approach means that seeing the fruit of your labour is neither frequent nor guaranteed which leaves for a frustrating day to day experience. The difficulty in my site is that there are no active associations with which to work, only farmers who are scattered throughout the hills and aren’t given to working together on any particular anything.

This brings us back to the question of what motivates me to stay. My answer is quite round about, but I promise we’ll get there. Stephen Colbert in his comic genius once said of the Peace Corps that he loves it because it takes all of the people who hate America out of the country and puts a shovel in their hand. Extremely overstated, but at the time it hit close to home. I’m not supposed to make political statements on here (which for me comes close to being impossible), so I’ll tread lightly. Let’s just say that it had gotten to the point where all I could see was who we as a people screwed over in the past, who was getting screwed over in the present, and who we were setting ourselves up to screw over in the future. If I sound like the joker at every party who has to bring up the topics that utterly ruin the mood, the comparison is a valid one. If this makes you feel any better, my pessimism wasn’t simply related to my country, it was also my faith (but I’m going nowhere near that one now).

An unintended consequence of being here in Morocco is that it allowed me to step outside of the bubble of academia and the day to day of my petty political, historical and theological grievances and into the unknown where none of that mattered, and has caused me to reexamine my identification. When one is constantly surrounded by various “end of the world” problems (at least in your own head) and you tend to be of a sort who dives into them with both feet like I am, stepping out can make you really examine what you really cared about in the first place. Let me say really quickly that I’m not bashing academia, I love that world and am probably headed back at some point, nor am I saying the things I cared about were petty. What I am saying is that I lacked perspective; perspective I am still gaining. That being said, being in Morocco has allowed me to drop the pessimism related to my origins.

I’m going to write a sentence that not too long ago would have been impossible for me to write without pages of explanation and obfuscation. I AM AN AMERICAN.

Now back to why I mentioned my true geekiness with the textbook and miniseries. For the textbook, I believe that there is merit in returning again to the stories of your past. Since I’ve been here I’ve been continually coming back to man’s story be it Herodotus and Plutarch, or the Qur’an, Al-Ghazali, and Ibn Khaldun, or texts on European and Economic History, or Theology and its development. I started broad but have recently been delving into my own national identity. I don’t know that I ever allowed for balance in my recounting, but for some reason it took Morocco to make me see that not only do we have our Nathan Bedford Forrests and George Wallaces in our history, but we also have Harriet Tubmans and Martin Luther King Jrs. The point is that we have been forging our history ever since nomadic tribes stumbled on the land while hunting large mammals across the frozen wastelands of the north. And although that forging has not always been honorable, it is our story none the less. I think it was highly naïve of me to assume that we should get it right all the time.

Now on to the “Band of Brothers” miniseries. I got this as a Father’s Day gift for my dad a couple of years ago. It is about the 101st Airborne Division during WWII which happened to be my grandfather’s unit (who I never met). I have always been drawn to service in various areas of my life, and what now seems like three lifetimes ago it drew me to seek an ROTC scholarship in college. I’m not going to go into that episode of my life, but I find myself once again unwittingly serving my country abroad. Some of you reading this may scoff at that idea when coupled with thoughts of the sacrifice made 60 years ago. I understand your skepticism, but let me explain…

The world has changed. What happens in your backyard does affect me and national sovereignty is slowly losing its significance. The United States of America is a world power with its economic and military might stretching across the globe with both positive and negative outcomes and whether we like it or not those negative consequences, unintended as they may be, come back to haunt us. I’m not talking solely of military actions, but also of cultures who one day have no electricity and the next have a satellite signal beamed into their homes with the wonder that is American cinema, TV, and music. We have battles in our own country, as “modern” as it is, over the value of certain types of images. Now imagine a culture that hasn’t based its social contract on the separation of church and state grappling with Chuck Norris, Penthouse, and MTV.

We are here not only to do development work, but also to be who we are… energetic, idealistic, and caring Americans. We are here to bring a little bit more understanding into this constantly objectifying world. We are here to be the counterbalance to blind hatred. We are here to head those negative consequences off at the pass. We are here for ourselves, our country, our world, and all of our futures. It doesn’t come with Purple Hearts, parades, or holidays and no one will ever ask us to stand up during church on a specified day to honor our service, but we are here none the less… I am here none the less.

So now finally to answer the question of why I am still here… Even when work goes slowly, I’m still a part of something greater, and although my part in the play may be small for the moment, I’m still on stage.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

PCV Dictionary

So, for all of those out there reading this blog who are family members of my fellow volunteers here… this one’s for you. I’m going to give you all a little dictionary for words and phrases that might be trickling in to the conversations you are having. These are all either Arabic or Tamazight/Tashelheit words that we use ALL THE TIME! Here is how this is going to work… I’m going to put a word in italics and then give you the definition. After the definition, in parentheses, I’m going to tell what we probably mean when we’re using it or what the context is. The spelling on all of these is arbitrary transliteration so don’t judge me.

Insha’allah- “God willing” (this is probably used in every sentence and is the most used phrase. We use this whenever we say something about the present or future. For example, “I’m going to town today, insha’allah” or “I think I’ll eat nachos today, insha’allah.” Occasionally you’ll hear someone use it for the past tense which still doesn’t make sense to me, eg “I went to Mrirt yesterday, insha’allah.” If you have any insight on that one let me know. Now when talking to someone you have to pay attention to the inflection because it quite possibly could mean, “you are absolutely smoking something if you think that’s ever happening.”

Hmdullah- “thanks be to God” (this is probably our second most used phrase and pretty self-explanatory)

Shwiya- a little bit, marginal (if used as a noun, we’re probably saying it’s not that great)

Bzzef- A lot (On this word people can make some really funny inflections)

Zwina, iHla, izil, iغ uda, ifulki… - good, cool, awesome, amazing, fantastic, etc. (all of these are various regional Berber dialects, except the first is Arabic. There are more, but these are the main ones that I’ve run into)

Imkin- maybe

Souq- this is the weekly market that almost all of us go to in order to get vegetables and random other stuff. (It’s quite the event and depending on your mood could be really stressful or invigorating. It’s also a great place to get crazy used clothes)

Miskin- poor thing (so this is the nickname practically all of us go by. So whenever we answer questions about whether or not we are married, or how long we’re here for, or if we have to cook for ourselves, etc, the invariable response is “oh you poor thing.” We also use this to describe pathetic looking vegetables, animals, or really anything… eg. “Those are miskin looking carrots.”)

So these are some of the words that have become almost second nature to most of us and it pops in and out of our English conversations. There are quite a bit more, but this will get you started. I just thought I’d give you a reference so you can understand your loved ones. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Family Visit

Ok, so this has been a long absence and I’m sad to say that so much has happened between the last time I posted and now, that I don’t know if most of it is going to be told. The good news in all of this is that I have a computer now which means that I’ll be able to write when I feel like it instead of hoping that my desire to write and my presence at an internet café coincided.

So here is the general timeline. My granddad and my Uncle Sam came for a visit which was spectacular. Interestingly enough all three of our first names are Samuel, a fact that was repeated quite often in our travels. We hit Fes the first two nights and crammed the three of us into one room which was alright. I must say though that it was quite the orchestra of snorers. Good thing I’m a hard sleeper. :) The hotel used to be the English consulate way back when and Churchill used to smoke his cigars in the bar. The only site in Fes that we really saw was the old Qur’anic school built in the 11th century if my memory serves. The rest of the time we spent wandering through the maze of souqs.

From there we moved on towards Marrakesh. On the way we stopped for lunch in my souq town, Khenifra, and ate with my region mate Mara. I then got to show them my house. We didn’t stay there long though because we had to head on. We stopped that night in Beni Mellal where we once again crowded into one room.

Beni Mellal isn’t all that impressive; it was just a stopping point on our way down. The next day instead of heading directly south we took the road up the mountain towards Azilal. It’s a gorgeous mountain road that took us winding through the entrance to the High Atlas Mountains. I think Uncle Sam particularly enjoyed driving the switchbacks although I was in the back trying not to lose my lunch. We stopped at the Cascades Ouzoud to eat lunch and were fortunate enough not only to see the magnificent waterfall, but we also got to see some Barbary Apes jumping around in the trees.

When we got to Marrakesh things got a little crazy for a bit. The traffic was bad and we couldn’t find parking near the center of town. After a hard fought battle we finally did and there was a guy there (one of thousands) who offered to show us to a place to stay. Although the place we ended up at was not the one he showed us, he did point us in the right direction.

The Riad we did end up staying at was called Riad Zakaria and was an oasis in the middle of the chaos that is Marrakesh. I really didn’t know what to do with myself on this entire trip. I was taking a hot shower and eating three meals every day, it was quite the change of pace from my regular life here. The guy who owns the place, Zakaria, was quite the find. The man helped us out and hooked us up with anything we could have possibly wanted.

We wandered around in the Jemaa el Fna with all of the snake handlers, wandered through a lot of artisan shops, ate amazing food, visited the royal gardens, and basically just had a good time in Marrakesh. The owner of our riad was also kind enough to throw Papa a little birthday feast. Once again, the food was spectacular and there was a lot of it.

We spent three nights in Marrakesh and then headed off for the coast to Essouaira. Now is Essouaira we met a bunch of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who were on their way to our In Service Training in Agadir the next day.

For the record, Essouaira is now my favorite city in Morocco. Not only is it a beautiful little coastal town with a laid back, artsy feel, but we also had some pretty spectacular seafood there as well. There’s also a well entrenched little ex-pat community that vacationed there and never left. I don’t blame them. It was here that we parted ways and they headed back north while I continued south with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers to Agadir for our training.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts of Departed Friends

Ok, so that sounded dramatic. She just went back to the States, but we miss her none the less...

So here's to Kaylene.

Mara and I

Well here are some pictures of us working. Not actually teaching people becuase let's be honest, I think it's kind of tacky to take a digital camera in a room full of people who can barely afford food and snap pictures for my own benefit.

So these are poses of us working hard preparing our lesson. We actually did work hard, but by the time we got the camera out we were done working, so this is us acting. Mara's a better actor than I. :)

My Friend Alex

I went to go visit my roommate from our training... My brother from a different mother. His site is considerably different from mine as you will soon see.

So he always makes this face for pictures. He's not crazy... well maybe a little, but only as crazy as the rest of us here.

The rainy season has started, and we got caught in a strom on a hike. This is the rain coming down from the mountains.

So his site is actually in the mountains... barren, imposing, threatening mountains. I loved every second of it.

Site Pictures

Ok, these are long awaited pictures of my site. These are shots from the roof of my house.

This is the mosque where I get my water. Someone blew the speakers on the minaret so the call to prayer is a little distorted, but it's become a fixture in my life.

This is the view from the opposite direction. The houses you see on the hills are populated by shepherds. There isn't any water up there so they all have to come down and get water from the same place I do.

This is the line of "hanuts" (shops)... and by plural, I really mean a chicken butcher and a general store.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Amazing Day

So I am kicking myself that I forgot my connecting chord for my camera because I have some good pictures for you. I'll get back online soon, because I need to type out a site report for our In Service Training (IST) coming up next month.

So let me outline the events of the past couple of days. I took an out-of-site weekend to go visit the site of my roommate from training, Alex. He works in an extremely isolated site in the Errachidia province up in the High Atlas. There was a rugged beauty there that had me absolutely breathless. Part of that might have had to do with the higher consistency of smokers, but I'm going to go with the landscape as the cause. It just sounds better. We were in this relatively lush valley, but surrounded on all sides by vast tracks of sun-scorched plains and rocky mountain peaks. I've got pictures, don't worry, you'll just have to be patient. We spent the weekend doing the things we did in training... talking history and politics, playing chess, making fun of each other, and watching Sopranos. Now this is his favorite show, but I had never seen it. I'm shiwa (a little bit) hooked now. I don't have a computer, so I only get to watch movies when I visit other people, and it was a nice change of pace.

The visit was also an interesting insight into my own existence here. My site is extremely different from his, and I couldn't help but ponder how things would have changed if those would have been the circumstances of my experience. I'm not dwelling on that too much, simply because I love my life at the moment. I also stocked up on books. My friend Alex is quite the connoisseur of literature... a good friend to have.

From Alex's site, I proceeded on to Mara's site for another health lesson, and here is where the amazing day begins. So I'm skipping a lot of the trip, but I won't bore you with details...

So we had to get up at five in the morning for various reasons. Two hours later we would be saying that we just had the most productive morning of our lives. If the same set of events had happened in the States and we had described it in that manner, you would probably laugh. All we did was shower and eat breakfast. What you don't understand is that those few actions involve gathering water from the well, heating up the water (normally I don't do that, but it is REALLY cold in Mara's site right now), taking turns bucket bathing, and then cooking breakfast. First of all it was a miracle that we were both clean at the same time, that never happens.

So our clean, well-fed bodies were off to make the 15 km trek to the Health Center where we would be teaching people how to make Oral Re hydration Drink. We spent the morning teaching, which was good. Both of our language skills are beginning to be honed to the point where people understand what we're saying half the time. We got people to demonstrate successfully what we taught, so we know we were getting our message across.

We left the Health Center around noon and on the way out were offered a tea invitation which we accepted. We had tea and talked with some more people and then headed back to Mara's house. We then ate some amazing vegetarian chili we had prepared the night before and took a much needed nap. The nap lasted a bit longer than we expected, but we were up at 3 and went running for the next hour.

What then transpired, I still think was a dream. WE GOT ANOTHER SHOWER!! If you don't recognize the sound you're hearing, it's angels singing. Taking two showers in a day... well it's just unheard of. I usually take one a week.

We then proceeded to make some banana bread to bring to her host family's house where we were having dinner. We stayed there and ate where they made fun of the fact that the last time I was there, I fell asleep waiting for the meal and was snoring... apparently really loud. Now I think they are exaggerating a bit, but none the less it was not one of my finer moments in life.

In order to understand what happened next I need to give you some background. Mara's site is full of apple orchards and over the last week and a half, people have been coming from all over the country to pick the apples. Now Mara has been trying ever since the gathering season began to figure out how to get apples out of someone, but to no avail.

So as we were leaving her host family's house, the brother runs outside with a big cardboard box and fills it up with apples for me to take back to my house. So now I am in the possession of about 60 or 70 Dh worth of apples. Amazing. This would have been a full and amazing day, but it was not yet over.

We got back to her house planning on maybe baking some cookies, doing back rubs, and then turning in for another early morning, but the night before I had asked the family that lives in the same compound as Mara some questions about the Qur'an and they had told me that their brother who is studying to be an Imam was going to be back the next day. So we returned to find that the brother was not only waiting to talk to us (2 1/2 hours) but that he had bought what I assume was about $50 worth of books... an Arabic/English Qur'an with commentary and another book explaining Muslim theology. Mara and I were and still are taken aback by just how amazing the gift was.

After that was over, we headed back to her house, drank some coffee, ate the banana bread, read some poetry and then turned in.

Welcome to a picture of an amazing life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Random Pictures

Ok, so this is me playing the guitar back at the end of May right before I went to my site permanantly. Mara, my region mate, and I were in Khenifra to talk with our delegue staff.

This is my region mate Mara and I at our delegue's house that same week at the end of May. Notice that we are both extremely clean. We were looking at these pictures this week and were lamenting the fact that those days are long behind us.

This is another picture of my region mate Mara. I don't know when this was taken.

This is me at souq staring at some spices back in May

This is Me, Mara, Ann, and Sean in Beni Millal back in June. The other guy in the photo is a Moroccan guy named Cal who now lives in the US and used to play for the Moroccan national soccer team. He invited us to a welcome home party he was having that night.


So this has been quite the exciting week. Not only has Ramadan begun, but I just completed my first “project”. Ok so let’s not get too excited, I haven’t built any wells or cured any strange diseases, basically no one is prepared to build a statue in my honor yet, but give it time. That really is the goal of Peace Corps you know…

So my region mate Mara and I spent a few hours at the Health Center in Ait Oumghar… don’t bother trying to look for it on a map, you won’t find it… teaching dental hygiene lessons: How to brush your teeth, if you can’t afford toothpaste or a toothbrush how to make them, why you need to brush your teeth, you know, dental hygiene. The basic idea is that on this particular day every week, the women from the surrounding area come in with their newborns in order to get vaccinations and since it takes forever they’re waiting around for hours with their babies. We basically have them cornered. So we ended up talking to somewhere around 45 women and their children. Many of them had confused looks on their faces most likely because there were two foreigners speaking their Berber dialect, but there were also a few who wrote down instructions or went and got friends so they could learn too.

There was this really cute girl named Amina who, although was a little shy at first quickly jumped out of her shell and became our little emissary to the rest of the people in the sbitar. She even left and brought friends of hers back on their way to school.

Now you have to realize that we were surrounded entirely by women, so I was a little shy. I’m used to interacting with all men here and the high level of estrogen was a tad intimidating, not only for me but for the women as well. When I talked with them one-on-one they mostly wanted to know if Mara and I were married. Mara, however, is a powerhouse when it comes to engaging people and drawing them in, and where I tend to be silent when I can’t create a grammatically correct sentence, she charges ahead with whatever word she can recall and brings her listeners into an active dialogue where they participate in forming the sentence. The unintended consequence (or maybe intended, I don’t know) is that because the people with whom she speaks end up helping her complete her sentences, they tend to understand and absorb the information far better than when confronted with my timidly formed “correct” sentences.

So I return tomorrow to my site and finally have a plan for work. So you have an idea of what I’ll be working on in the coming months, my nurse and I are working on a plan to get a medical waste incinerator for our sbitar so we don’t have used needles lying around all over the place. I’m also working on designing a system for our community to deal with trash as a community as opposed to just dumping everything in the river. I have In-Service Training (IST) in November and after that I can begin writing grants. I still haven’t started learning Arabic, which I thought I was going to begin last month, but my tutor up and left for a job, so I’m waiting until I get a little bit more comfortable with Tamazight.

I hope this blog entry finds you all well. Sadly I don’t have pictures of this event because both Mara and I felt awkward taking pictures during the lessons. I apologize for the disappointment, but we’ve been trying to keep our work low-tech and low-key.


Let me trouble you once more with yet another failed attempt to give you the slightest glimpse into my world here…

Ramadan has begun and I, along with several of my friends, have chosen to join our communities in fasting throughout the month. For those of you who don’t know how this works, nothing is allowed to pass your lips from sunrise to sunset (which translates to about 4 in the morning to 645 in the evening). It’s a tad more involved than that, but that’s the basic gist of it.

My schedule now looks something like this… I’ll start at the end of the day. Right around 5 my stomach starts to revolt and my lips are parched from a lack of liquids in the heat of Morocco. I’m dehydrated and a little weak. It’s not as bad as all that, but I’m definitely ready for nourishment. I’ve had invitations to break fast at others’ houses every night so far so I have not yet cooked the traditional meal yet. We gather in the salon awaiting that haunting call of “allahu akbar” signaling that we can finally nourish our deprived bodies. We then gorge ourselves on Harira (a Moroccan soup), Shebekia (a Moroccan pastry), dates, hard-boiled eggs, milk and Bousheyergh (I’m not sure of the transliteration on that one, but this is a sweet bread). Oh, and did I mention water? LOTS of water… or as we say here, BZZEF! The food is absolutely amazing, and although one might be tempted to draw the conclusion that it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve spent the entire day dreaming about food… mostly enchiladas and maybe a steak… the Moroccan/Berber cuisine is rather delicious. Remember this happens around 645.

Now we sit around watching religious programming, the Moroccan TBN (or whichever one has the evangelists in the extremely gaudy, golden chairs). Muslim religious programming, however, is far classier than our Evangelical counterpart. I usually go out for a work, sit down with a book, chat with people who are now roaming the streets; basically we just pass the time before we eat again.

Around 1230 or 1 we have another meal... That’s 1230 at night just in case you forgot. This isn’t the race to see just how quickly you can fill your stomach that the breaking of the fast was, but enough to call it a meal. Then we sleep only to wake up around 330 for the sole purpose of getting dinner in before the sun begins to rise. After we’re done we go back to sleep and stay that way just a little bit longer than I normally would. Then I wake up.

The days are a bit lazier as no one wants to exert himself or herself as much as they normally would, although in my region mate Mara’s site it is the apple harvesting season and the workers have to work through the day in the fields without water or food. My day, fortunately does not necessarily involve extended periods of physical exertion otherwise I just might get as crazy as the taxi drivers…

… I guess I need to explain that a running joke here in Morocco is the taxi drivers during Ramadan. They have to drive all day long under the same conditions as the rest of us, and by the end of the day they’re going a little crazy and are a bit on edge. Fights break out occasionally over really little things. It’s actually quite funny to watch two men go to blows and have to be separated by a crowd because one of them leaned on the other’s car. Although I must say that I’ve never actually seen anyone land a good punch. It’s normally been this close-fisted slap that doesn’t actually reach its target. For those of you who know me, you know I am no fighter so I’m not exactly an expert observer, but I’m pretty sure that punch isn’t going to win any fight. I think I’ve reached the conclusion that the two combatants are counting on the crowd to separate them before it gets anywhere near serious…

… anyway, back to my life. I’ll do some work at the little health center in town, maybe hang out on the road with the guys there sitting in the shade…

… another quick diversion. I can tell what time it is simply by seeing where the group of men is loitering. They follow both the shade and whichever hanut/butcher/cigarette seller is open. So if I look out my roof to the road and although the shade is on the east side of the road meaning it’s morning, but people aren’t there, I know that the main hanut owner is about to make his run into town to get everyone’s vegetables, bread or whatever else people need. It’s somewhere between 9 and 930. If I wake up from a nap, walk out my front door and see that the shade is in the west and yet there are people on the east side, I know that it’s around 330 or 4 because people are about to head back to their houses to drink tea, eat a small snack and they want one last cigarette from the seller across the street. You get the idea…

… and then I’ll probably sit on my roof or in my living room and read trying desperately to stay out of the kitchen and away from the sight of food or water. Then around 530 I’ll head off to a friend’s house to prepare to break fast.

It’s interesting. I thought Ramadan would make life difficult, and granted I’m only 3 or so days in so this opinion could very well change over the course of the month,. What I am finding though, is that a life here that up to this point was very erratic now has some kind of strange and new rhythm to which I am learning rather quickly to dance. I work to keep my mind off of the hunger, and yet there is something every day to look forward to, to work towards. Reaching that final call to prayer always brings a sense of accomplishment.

Now some of you may be asking yourselves why I am choosing to fast. It’s an excellent question that has many answers. I had been going back and forth for literally months on this decision. Should I be intentionally different in order to force two different cultures to interact on their own terms or do what I am normally inclined to do and adapt as much as possible? I’m not Muslim so fasting for Ramadan isn’t a revealed and thereby required part of my religious life,, however adopting others’ traditions to one’s own has been a time honored tradition of the Church (that’s big C not little c) I’ve grown up in… December 25 for Christmas being a case in point, but I digress. There is of course the possibility of a cynical, work related answer that it makes integration easier,; a depressing, loner answer that it gives me an opportunity to eat at other peoples’ houses and not be alone in mine,; a career-oriented answer that says that it imposes a routine and enables more efficient work,; a religious answer that it allows me to focus my thoughts on higher things employing the time-honored tradition of fasting,; or a “twentysomething” answer that I’m doing it just for the sheer sake of doing it. All of them have a little bit of weight and are some part of the thought process. It most definitely does not simplify the religious question that is asked every day of me… “is tzallat?”… “do you pray?”. Once people find out I’m fasting, it just leads them back to the same question. So we return to the original question of why… and excellent question. I don’t have an answer for you; suffice it to say that I made the choice to fast. Independence forces one to make decisions even when you aren’t ready to make one or fully decided on a course of action. This was the choice in the “Create Your Own Story” that I picked and now I’m flipping through the book to some new, designated page to discover what’s going to happen to the protagonist next in this particular novel.

For those of you who are interested in what I’ve been reading lately, over the past week I’ve read “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azer Nafisi which was yet another soul-affirming recommendation from one of my friends who seems to be able to always bring me back from the edge of cynicism and remind me, as she so eloquently put it, that although this world groans, it also hopes. I’m almost done re-reading “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which always re-kindles the sometimes-dying flames of my spiritual journey. I’m also reading “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov which is not exactly the most uplifting book I’ve ever read… more along the lines of the most disturbing. It is beautifully written though. I’m also reading an economics textbook, but that’s because I’m a bit of a dork. I’ve just borrowed “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran and “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer and am excited about diving into their pages. Oh, and occasionally I pick up “Arabian Nights” and read a story or two. I’ve been reading politics and history incessantly for a couple of months now so I’m on a little bit of a fiction kick right now.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Hair is Gone

So the ponytail finally came off... and there was much mourning in the land. One of the volunteers I'm here with commented that it changes my personality so much because they've only known me with it. That strikes me as rather hilarious seeming as I've only had the ponytail for about, I don't know, 5/46 of my life. Pretty exact fraction you say? Yes it is.

Just in case you didn't know, the hair will be donated to "Locks of Love"

So here is the process...

This is how I usually go around wearing my hair... in a bun. Although, I try not to pull the karate kid move on too many unsuspecting moroccans

This is of course my tiger face. We all need these. So that's about how long my hair got.

And this is just a wonderfully telling look. Please forgive the monstrosity that is the soul patch. I came into that weekend with a full beard and a body tat hadn't showered in a week so I wanted to get cleaned up and shave and that's the mood I was in. It will be gone soon.

Here is the first cut... and the horror on my face. We bought the scissors that day at market and they were extremely dull. Cuttin anything took us forever.

Here is one of the two ponytails we cut off. Once again... dull scissors. We had to do it in waves.

This is my trusty region mate, Mara, who did the honors of cutting my hair. She's awesome, and if she reads this... thanks again.

I know that this isn't the greatest picture of my new haircut, but it's the best I could do right now... the other's we took are just embarassing. I look like my youngest brother and now that he's taller than me, I look like I'm the youngest. There will be more pictures of me and you'll get better looks at the hair, although let's be honest... it's really not that important.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Home Pics

So this is what so many people have been asking for. Before you actually look at the pictures though, I must warn you that I got VERY lucky with my house and I have a lot of things that some PCVs don't... like a fridge. I'm very proud of that fridge and so that will be the first picture. :) I also want to warn you that I decided not to clean my house before taking these pictures, so this is about how it normally looks.

What you see on top are all the spices and stuff that I have. There is no cabinet space in the kitchen, so everything I have I put either on top of my fridge or on the counter by the sink.

Now remember that there is no running water so I have to go collect that which can really be a pain. I have the conversation almost every day about why I don't have a wife to do that for me. The Peace Corps of course didn't put "Wife to carry water" on the packing list so I didn't bring one. I'm very upset about that and am lodging a complaint through the proper channels. I'd get one in country, but my budget doesn't allow for that.

This is a desk that my landlord left in the house for me. I don't sit at it though because I think the chair would break if I put any weight on it. It's nice to put things on and look at though. It's all about appearances anyway right?

This is the room I spend most of my time in. I sleep here if it's cool, I read here, I eat here, I... well... sit and stare at the wall here. I was going to get carpet and just use that ponj as a bed, but I sleep on the floor and bringing carpet takes, you know, planning ahead and stuff. I'll think about it.

These of course are my beloved books. I do a LOT of reading and if you ever are thinking about me and want to send me something, "BOOKS" is always a good answer. History, Biography, Theology, Politics... I can get novels over here. Anyway... there are my books. Maybe some of you can recognize the ones you've sent me already... I've read them all.

This is my bathroom. It's hidden under the stairs and there is no door. If you look closely you will find no toilet paper... you do what you gotta do.

Last but not least, this is the outside of my house. Looks pretty cool don't it? Yeah, I didn't show pictures of my roof where i do laundry, sleep and read, mostly because it's just a roof. Stay tuned and you'll be getting pictures of the community as well. Ciao

Friday, August 17, 2007

Clarification and Apology

I just got a comment on a post from a while ago entitled "Stupid Sheep". I don't know who posted it, but he/she raised an excellent point and I want to respond.

Morocco is a large and VERY diverse country, not only linguistically but culturally. The poster mentioned that even though he/she is Moroccan that he/she sometimes feels like a stranger in his/her own country when travelling.

If I sometimes use the phrase "in Morocco" I am not trying to make a sweeping comment about the entire country. I can only speak for the very small section of Morocco in which I work. The problem is, however, that I am not allowed to tell you where that is for security reasons, so I end up sounding like I'm making sweeping generalizations. I apologize if it seems that way. If anything it is because I'm a lazy writer and I'll try to be more discerning in my words.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Where Can I Go?

Just listen to the words...

An Eventful Weekend

It all started with the earthquake then the next night there was a spectacular meteor shower around 1 in the morning. I know this because I sleep on my roof where it is cool. The shower was happening literally above us. One landed on the other side of the mountain from my house. Some of them were streaking all the way across the sky from horizon to horizon. I wish you could have been there because I am not one for poetic description.

Those two awesome displays of nature, and the wonder in which it had entranced me was broken yesterday.

There was yet another bombing in Morocco. This time it wasn't in the far off coastal city of Casablanca, it was in Meknes, one of the Imperial Cities. To set your mind at ease... Meknes, although considerably closer to me than Casablanca, is still about 140km away from me. So don't worry about me, worry about Morocco and worry about our world, and if you pray, pray for us all.

We, all of us, are in the fight of our lives. You and I are warring against indifference in our own lives, and the objectifying influence hatred and ignorance have on all of our hearts. As long as we live in a world with and "us and a them" we will be at war. Until we finally discover that there is nothing but "we" we will always be fighting. Those of us here attempt to stand in that gap and are struggling against both ourselves and other forces to bring two wayward families together, or at least to remind all of us that we are family.

There are always times of doubt here because sometimes because the immediacy doesn't always seem that evident.

It is.

From an imperfect and humbled minister of reconciliation...

Sunday, August 12, 2007


So last night I was sitting on my bed reading my History of Europe... that's right, I'm a geek, get over it... and my bed started to shake for about 4 or 5 seconds. I started to chuckle because for those of us who have gone to college and lived in dorms, that usually indicates something. I'll let you figure it out.

Once I realized however that that wasn't possible cause I was the only one in my house, my next thought was that it was an earthquake. Now we have an earthquake region here in the Rif Valley up in the north near the Mediterranean which is one of the reasons we don't have volunteers in that area so I figured it was a relatively powerful one from up there, but I got no call from Peace Corps and my friend who lives further north and closer to the region didn't feel it. I called my region mate, Mara, and she felt it.

So today I was looking online to see what I could find. There was no news of devastation so that was a good thing, so then I looked the earthquake up.

It was a 4.8 and the epicenter was about 25 miles from where I live. So congratulations to me, I just lived through my first earthquake.

On an unrelated note, I finally got my camera working so hopefully I'll get you pictures of my new house next time. I would have gotten them today, but my house needs to be cleaned a little first :)

Thursday, August 9, 2007


There is a revolution going on in Morocco right now. This particular revolution "will not be televised" but that of course is because most of the people I work with don't have electricity... hence no televisions. So maybe that means the revolution will be televised? I don't know. Regardless there is a revolution going on and I am bringing it back to the States with me.

Citizens of the United States of America... throw away your mops and prepare yourselves for the miracle that is THE SQUEEGIE.

That's right, no more mopping the floor then squeezing the water out then mopping again and continuously repeating the process until you resign in frustration and leave up a "Wet Floor" sign, praying no one slips. Now you can treat your floors the same way we treat our windshields... scrub them and then just squeegie that water right off. No more need for endless squeezing of the mop.

Now I know that the revolution is not going to be easy. We all know that "Big Mop" has billions of dollars of profits at their disposal to perpetrate their smear campaign against the truth, but you can't keep the truth hidden! They have you caught in the lie that you need both a mop and the thing that squeezes the mop. SQUEEGIES OF THE WORLD UNITE!

Monday, July 23, 2007

New House

So I'm finally moving off on my own. I spent today shopping for all those wonderful things you need in a new house like, well, you know... stuff. Pots, pans, stove, blah blah blah...

... I hate shopping. However, shopping here means that I'm finally getting my own space which I am REALLY excited about. The other thing it means though is lots of bartering... the horror. It's ok. I've got most of what I need for my kitchen except for the fridge. I'm lucky enough to have electricity so I can get one of those. I don't have running water, but the source of water is only like 20 meters away from my house.

I would upload pictures but I don't have any yet because my batteries have died and I keep forgetting to get new ones. Lame excuse I know, but true none the less. Getting anything here takes so much time and I sometimes forget what I came into town for.

So here's a little description of the house. I've got three rooms which means it's huge. I have a little turkish toilet hidden under the stairs to the roof. I have my own roof which is awesome. I have a kitchen and a little room for bathing. It's right on the main road and I'm not that far from my souq (market) town.

Because I have three rooms this means that you should all come and visit me because I have room to house you. Seriously... come visit me

Change of address

Ok, so now that I'm moving I have a new souq town and am going to have to get a new Post Office Box. So for those of you who know my address, put a hold on whatever wonderful surprises you were about to send my way and wait until I've gotten the new PO Box. I can still receive at the other one, I just won't be in that town often anymore. I'll get the new address out as soon I get it.

Thanks for all those who have sent letters and books. I miss you guys.

Stupid Sheep

So let me ask you a question, and then I'm going to answer it for you since of course this isn't really a conversation. Would you say sheep are hopelessly stupid or insanely intelligent?

Your answer of course is that they are one of the dumbest creatures on the face of the planet. In fact they are practically a synonym for stupid.

Why would you say they are dumb?

Because they follow each other around and would follow each other off of a cliff it that's where they were led. I've seen them repeatedly walk into a fence to try to get to the other side when the door is 3 feet away. Not the brightest animal in God's creation.

Now I live with a bunch of farmers and shepherds here in Morroco and I've had the same conversation and answered much the same way that you did... that sheep were dumb... and you would have thought that I had just spit on their mother. They insisted that sheep were incredibly intelligent and when I asked why enough times for them to give me an actual explanation they gave me the same exact reasons you gave for them being dumb. They follow the leader and don't deviate from the group. All you have to do is lead one and the rest follow.

The sheep here are the same sheep in the rest of the world, the only difference is what the people deem praiseworthy. I'm going to let you draw your own conclusions about what that says about our cultural differences.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

All Wet

I went camping last weekend with a bunch of environment volunteers. It was quite an amazing weekend actually. we had two guitar players, a mandolin player and some great singers all around a campfire. So pretty much paradise for me.

Before leaving for this weekend of camping however I took a look at what I was bringing and saw my rain jacket but thought to myself... it hasn't rained here in months, why on earth would I bring that?

Several hours later there were nine of us huddled in a tent built for 3 shivering, and trying to eat the food we had that had been soaked through with the rain. It was actually quite a spectacular storm. The wind almost blew our tents away and the lightning and thunder lasted all night.

The moral of the story is that it only rains in Morroco when you plan on sleeping outside.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Building a Well

The landscape...

My friend going down to dig...

Stayin out of the sun...

Work site...