Saturday, March 24, 2007

On Beauty

This was the sense of the scenery on our training site's side of the Atlas mountains. It was green, fertile, and stunning.

On Transportation

I'm going to try and describe for you what transportation is like momentarily. For those of you reading who were my aunts and uncles in CEE/IMB/and whatever other acronym you want to throw out there, it's like Romania. The little Renaults here look like Dacias and I think Renault actually bought out Dacia because I've seen that name on cars here. Two lanes become six, using the horn is not an option and all the cars seem to start simply based on the will power of the particular driver. I have to be honest, I feel like I'm at home.

So we have several options available to us in this part of the country. Trains don't run down here so drop that. We have Petite and Grande Taxis. The Petite are for within the city, and Grande Taxis go to other cities. Now all of the Grande Taxis are old Mercedes with five seats... HA! So you get to the taxi stand and say you want to go to Ouarzazate from Marakesh. You tell the guy at the stand and you buy a seat, then you wait. You wait for the taxi to fill up. You could buy out the taxi if you have the money, but I'm a Peace Corps volunteer so lets rule that option out as well.

You wait for how many people you say? I'm glad you asked. Besides the driver, there are considered to be six seats available. Needless to say... we're cramped. It is, however an inexpensive way to get around although you never know how long it's going to take because you don't know how long you have to wait.

For places of the beaten path... we have Transites which are vans that don't have a limit on people. If you can fit someone on top or inside... they're getting in. An excellent way to make friends by the way. If you have to sit on someone's lap for an hour or more, you get acquainted.

We also have CTM which are private buses. I don't have any info on them because I haven't taken them yet. When I do, I'll let you know.

That's all I've got to say about that

On Boys Being Boys and Girls Being Girls

I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to share this story, but decided to go ahead since the names and dates will be changed to protect this innocent.

So all of us trainees had some interesting homestay experiences. When my volunteer dropped me off at my host family to fend for myself there really was no apprehension on my part. I've been in the situation many times throughout my life where all you can do is say "Hello, how are you?" and then just nod and smile for a couple of hours. Maybe if you are motivated enough you can point and ask what things are, but that never gets a response of just one word, rather a sentance which is of no help you. No big deal right? Plus they had a kid and a TV that was on all the time so there were distractions from the stupid American in the room.

Dinner went well. It was meager, which was to be expected, and the women and children didn't eat with the host father and I, which I also expected. I just made sure to leave food for the rest of the family who would eat later. So we sat and tried to communicate but gave up after a while.

Many of you reading this blog have ideas of what it means to live within a Muslim society. Without sounding too much like a prick, I'm going to go ahead and lay it out there that most of those ideas are probably wrong. I'm not an expert, so the observations I make over the next two years are from my short time in Islamic Studies and my even shorter time living in Morocco. Among those ideas you have, I think most of you have an sense that there are very defined gender roles in Islam and that things such as sex before marriage are off the table. (Interestingly enough it makes our job as a health educator very difficult on the AIDS front) Now we "technically" have the same stigma amongst our Christian communities in the States, but we all know how that works out in reality.

Ok, now that I've laid that groundwork I'm going to tell two stories. The first is not mine, but one of our other female trainee's. The second is mine and is a story of one of the most awkward nights of my life.

So this female volunteer was talking with the women in her host family and after much hand waving and cross-cultraly communication attempts... ie more hand waving... she understood these women as trying to tell her just how big of a clearing you need to make in a field so you and your paramour can duck down and do what young boys and girls do. I got a kick out of that personally.

Now on to the most awkward night of my life. So after we ate and my host mom, the grandma and the little kid had gone to bed the host dad came back into the room I was supposed to sleep in, which also contained the TV. He proceeded to ask me if I wanted to watch a movie and being that it was still relatively early and you don't refuse things when you are a guest I said yes. Well, I shrugged my shoulders which apparently communicated yes. He then went to get a DVD out from a hole in the wall where it was hiding, put it on, and lo and behold I found myself watching a British porn (subtitled in French mind you... think about that a second and see if you can keep from laughing) with a 65 year old man who was mostly blind. Now since he was blind, he sat about 2 feet from the TV with his mouth wide open. Like I said awkward... but you have to admit simultaneously HILARIOUS!! So we sat there, me trying to write in my journal or draw (I've started drawing my experiences by the way... that's a new thing for me) while he watches his movie. Now when I say movie, I mean just that... it was AN HOUR AND A HALF LONG! When he decided he was done watching, he got up, hid the DVD again and told me not to tell his wife.

So yeah, awkward situation and amazingly funny situation. Now the moral of both of these stories, if you want to call it that... I do... is this...

... Whatever kind of society we live in with whatever kind of rules or restrictions, boys will still be boys and girls will still be girls.

DISCLAIMER: If you've never stolen away with your significant other in your life for some romantic tryst or have never had the more "carnal" (not a fan of that word) aspects of Co-Ed relationships on your mind, then I apologize... you are a rock. For the rest of us, it is somewhat of a comfort that through the cultural/ethnic/religious facade, we're still just people.

The Field Trip

Ok, so I'm finally back... well, finally... I got back early because we were trying to travel around a taxi strike that never ended up happening. You gotta love it. Let me first say that I was completely humbled, embarassed and encouraged this week due to the varying encounters I had. This will be a quick overview of the experience and I'll make some observations in the above posts.

So we left as a group early on Sunday for the other side of the Atlas mountains. It really wasn't all that far but because there was no direct road we had to go around them. We spent the night in a town in the central part of Morocco (for safety's sake I'm leaving out names, but if you want to know them... get in touch with my parents) where we met up with our host volunteers. My training partner was Katie Rosenbaum and our volunteer was April or قاوتار as the people in her village call her.

Right of the bat I was impressed because it was quite obvious that my volunteer dove much deeper into the culture than the others present, for better or for worse. For those of you that know me, you know that would be something I would get excited about.

The three of us broke of from the rest of the group to start getting to know each other and start talking about our week. We left the next day for the town where she does her shopping to get groceries for the week and then it was on to her site another 100 or so kilometers away in the Draa Valley. The landscape changed drastically from our training town to there. We went from a stunningly green, mountainous landscape to Mars as the training staff put it. The ground was dry and very rocky and it was hot and windy. Mind you it is spring so "hot" is not HOT. It gets up in the 130s during the summer and no one wants to do anything and who can blame them.

Our volunteer had decided instead of renting a place in the village, that she would build her own house. It was a spectacular mud house added on to her host family's house including her own courtyard, sitting room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. Needless to say I was rather impressed.

While we were there we visited the local health center and observed a day of vaccinations, negotiated the market, toured the town's water facilities and just tried to glean as much information as we possibly could from our volunteer.

We also spent a night with a host family. It should have been two, but there was supposed to be a strike so we had to leave early. That was a wonderfully awkward evening filled with hand gestures and a lot of surrendering to "I have no idea what you are trying to tell me"'s. The kid, ابدال علي was a whole lot of fun, but he was loosing his teeth due to some major cavities at the age of four... one of the many reasons we're here as health educators.

The next day we left to make our way back to our training town which was a two day journey through Marakesh. We arrived safe and sound with no nastiness along the way. I was among a group of all girls that made it into Marakesh, it was an intersting group.

There's the quick version...

Friday, March 16, 2007

I Got Married!!!

Ok, so I didn't really elope and am now in a relationship for the rest of my life or anything. We were on our way to the دار الشباب (the youth center) on Wednesday to challenge the kids to a soccer game and low and behold there was a cub scout (co-ed) meeting going on. They invited us in and we had a blast playing games with them. One of the games involved a leader "randomly" choosing a girl and a boy and then the girl would get to choose if she wanted to marry the boy or not. My girl kind of facilitated our particular meeting and gave a rather enthusiastic yes when the question was asked. I don't know her name, but she seemed like she was the rebel in the group. What can I say... I guess I'm the "bad boy" with my ponytail and all.

On a completely different note...

...This Sunday we are all leaving to spend a week shadowing a volunteer. Katie Rosenbaum and I are being placed with a volunteer in the Zagora region in the desert. To quote رلشيد (Rachid), our guy in charge of training, it will be just us and Allah. I don't think there's running water or electricity and I'm excited. We've been really pampered over the past week and a half (has it only been that long?) and I'm ready to start roughing it. This will probably be the last entry for about nine or ten days, but expect pictures when I get back.

OH!!! and I almost forgot. We started language training in the Berber dialect today. I got put in the Tamazight group and it looks like my particular class is a motivated one so I'm excited about that. Pretty soon I'll be leaving little messages for all of you in Tamazight.


صامويل كنتر

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Finally Some Pictures

So the process of uploading is quite a lengthy one so don't expect pictures often. The ones I'm posting here are from the drive to the site where we are at now and the view from the roof of the hotel where we are doing training. For security purposes I can't tell you where we're at, but I'm sure if you are resourceful... (cough, cough... ask my parents) you'll be able to find out.

This is a lake on the ride to our training site.

This is the most spectacular view from the roof of our hotel.

And this is us doing out laundry

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Word on Terrorism...

This is a difficult subject to sift through especially through this medium, but for those of you who watched the news today it is a necessary one. For those who haven't heard the news from Morocco today check the link below...

... I want to give you the same word that our in country director gave to us. If you are worried about acts of terrorism being committed against us humble Peace Corps volunteers, don't be! Terrorism by its very nature is an hyper-public act and, as we are going to be stationed out in the middle of nowhere there is very little risk that we will be caught in any cross-fire. I have encountered no hatred, no resentment, and certainly no danger as of yet and although I am not naive in the thinking that the entire country is representative of the few people I have come across thus far, I do know that those who would do harm to a stranger out of sheer frustration at a country's foreign policies are few and far between. The vast majority of the people I have encountered have been horrified that something like this would happen in their country. We are safe, the Peace Corps makes sure of that, and in the unlikely event that we are put in danger they will not hesitate to remove us from that danger.

On a personal note, even if every person I had come across thus far had screamed from the top of their lungs at me and threatened me with bodily harm simply for the eagle on my passport, I would still be here because it is my job superficially as a Peace Corps volunteer and far more profoundly as a "minster of reconciliation" to stand in the face of blind hatred, not with a gun or with hatred, but with love... even though it may cost me greatly. In times such as these, we cannot afford to hide in our corners and objectify each other. We need these interactions to remind us that we are all brothers and sisters who share the same fate on this earth. This is the only way to fight terrorism...

... and it takes great sacrifice.

To creating a world better than the one left us,


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Language Has Started

Ok, so we FINALLY started language today and already we've split into ability groups. There were a couple of us who came already able to read and write (maybe without knowing what it was we were reading and writing) So we didn't have to go throught the learning the alphabet process with the rest of the group. I think the few people we have who know the script are all very dedicated to learning the language and I'm excited about that.

I went out today to get some change and I was quite sure that I wouldn't have any difficulty communicating since I'm pretty proficient in French, but the lady I was talking to had little to now French at all and it was a challange. I forgot what it was like living in Germany and Hungary and not speaking the language. In addition to that our hotel has hot water showers, but not in the rooms and some of us are going ahead and using just the cold water to get used to it since we are going to have to anyway. I forgot what that was like too. I have been in the States for far to long to remember experientially what our life was like in Eastern Europe. It saddens me, but it also invigorates me. I'm pumped up about the next two years.

I'm on our lunch break right now and I just got done playing some soccer with the local kids which was a blast. They weren't running circles around me like the little kids did in Romania and Moldova, but the altitude was definitely getting to me. We are about 2000 ft. up here in this town and combining that with the fact that I am inexcusibly out of shape, it wasn't a pretty sight. Well, I don't think there was much of a sight, but it didn't sit well with me. Some of us are going running later tonight. A couple of us are thinking about starting to train for the Marakesh marathon a little less than a year from now.

I need to get back to my room to study for our afternoon classes but a quick blog administrative note...

... For a while I was thinking about password protecting my blog so that I could be a little more liberal with my stories and words, but I quickly abandoned that idea realizing that it just wasn't practical for the vast majority of people who would be reading my blog. So if you got some sort of email invitation from either Kristy or my mom then just disregard it. Everyone can access. I'm not sure what it takes to comment, but all of you should be able to do that to.

Talk to you soon.

صاموىل كنتر

Friday, March 9, 2007

A pure heart

I am so excited to have this avenue to you. I am also looking forward to taking this journey with you even if only in text. My heart is full of respect and admiration for you. Your life is such a source of joy to all who know you. Life is a better place with you in it. Your family is very proud of you. We will continue to hold you up in prayer............Love, Aunt Sherri


We have arrived at our training site in the Atlas mountains and it is absolutely breathtaking. Strangely enough it reminds me very much of the Carpathian Alps in Romania. A lot of the countryside has reminded me of Romania and it makes me somewhat nostalgic to a certain degree. The drive was very windy though and I was starting to get car sick. I really wish I had my bike though because the climb was amazing both in grade and length, not to mention the view.

We begin language training tomorrow and i cannot wait to get started.

I hope all is well with you.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Finally Here

OK, so this can't be a long post because the internet is expensive and I don't really make that much money as a volunteer...

... We finally arrived in country and made it to the capitol city. We've been in and out of more meetings since we've been here and mostly they have been more general stuff from what we got at staging in Philadelphia. Today, though we had a talk about why we came here.

We all wrote whatever various reasons we had for joining the Peace Corps down and then at the end of that the man leading the session asked if anyone wrote down that they were here for training and of course none of us stood up because that was not our interpretation of the question posed us.

His advice... the moral of the story... we are to set aside whatever idealistic tendancies brought us to morocco and whatever ideas we have about helping people because we start training tomorrow and that should be our only focus.

i have a feeling that out of my time here that the time I will have the least amount of access to communication will be the next 11 weeks of training. Bear with me because I will be intensely focused on something else.

You are all in my thoughts though, and email me when you get a chance. Whenever I get to check email it will be a welcome escape.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Day 1

Well, my first day as a trainee is done. I'm here in Philadelphia with 62 other volunteers headed to Morocco split amongst the Health and Environmental fields. It's strange to think once again that this particular group of people is going to be with me for quite some time, and that I'm not headed home in a short while. It's a lot like the feeling I got getting to know some of the Texas 4000 people for the first time. You have it in the back of your head that you are going to form some profound relationships with these people, but for now they are just an array of trivial facts and possibly names if my memory is working really well.

I'm excited about flying out of here on Monday for Morocco, and the orientation sessions today did little to quiet that restless excitement. I had lunch and dinner with different groups of people and so far it seems that there are a good mix of personalities. It is going to be interesting seeing how everyone does when we take them out of their comfort zones... including me.