Saturday, June 30, 2012

I believe it is obvious to all that I am not so great at this blog thing. There is no real reason why I don't update as often as I should. However, the more time passes, the less motivation I have to actually write about my life in Morocco. Atlas, the time has come when I've downed 2 cups of coffee, and have forced myself to sit and update my friends and family. It's been months since my last post, so let me try to break it down for you.
My grant for my woman’s' center was approved. It took a few months to hear back, but I finally received the funds to make the project a possibility. Starting things from scratch is not always easy, and this has been proven to me over and over again. Ever since I told my association our grant was approved, MANY problems have arose. First, they told me it wasn't enough money. The frustrating part about this is that they think I can just call up the Peace Corps and ask for more. It's difficult to explain to anybody about the grant writing process. The hours I spent writing up the proposal, the days it took to get an accurate budget using this strange foreign language, and talking to community members about an action plan. After withholding my sudden urge to throw rocks at their children and taking MANY deep breathes, I did my best to explain that was not possible. I am certain that $5000 is enough to build a 1 room center, and told them this is all we have and must work with it. The second issue was finding a space to build. The only land available is literally a rock cliff where they have to bulldoze the land to flatten it. However, the bulldozer isn't cheap, and wasn't included in the budget, so we had to figure an alternative, which I think was decided last week. Third is that now it is summer. It is time for the harvest, and Ramadan is only a few weeks away. Therefore most of the men who will be building this center are too busy to begin at the moment. That and the fact that my counterpart is gone for the summer, I highly doubt we will begin building until September. At first I was disappointed and exceedingly frustrated. However, I accepted the fate of my project, told myself it was out of my hands and I literally did everything I could have possibly done, and haven't let it bother me since. Such is life.
In addition to this project, I started a girls club that I LOVE! We meet 4-5 days a week. I teach them English, talk about empowerment issues, and they also color. Every day right on schedule the girls bang on my door, with their notebooks and motivation to learn, and tell me the classroom is ready. The other day all the classrooms were locked so I held class in my tiny house. After we finished I turned on some Daddy Yankee and started dancing, mainly moving in a way that a girl shouldn't in a Muslim society. They mocked everything I did, so I started to booty pop. It was by far the funniest thing I've seen in my site. Thirteen young girls in their scarves and long skirts, booty popping to reggaeton. I'm certain it is something they will never forget, nor will I. It's moments like these in a Peace Corps service one has to cherish.
At the end of May began my summer of fun. Part one: One of my best friends from college, Brian, and his lovely girlfriend, Lauren, came to visit me. The visit was only a few days, but it was absolutely wonderful to see them. I think the funniest part for them was to watch me speak Tashlheet. They even took a video of me bargaining. It was amazing to show people I love from home around Morocco. Part two: Visiting Spain with my dad and little brother, Matthew. We stayed in an apartment with a washing machine, ate ridiculous amounts of cheese and pork, and just sat around together while drinking beer and wine. Matthew and I went out on the town with some people I met on the airplane as well. We drank beer in the center, and went to clubs where we shook our booties until 3am. Words cannot describe how refreshing it was to be around my family. It was heavenly. The only regret I have is that I didn't hug my dad enough. Part three: This will be happening next week. Something I'd like to call my dream vacation. My wonderful friend Sara, who lives in Abu Dhabi, is getting married in the Maldives in 2 weeks. She asked me to be her maid of honor. I will be flying to Abu Dhabi for a few days to hang with her, then we fly to the Maldives for a week for her wedding. I will be staying on an island resort where I'll lay on the beach, drink mimosas before noon, and my biggest worry for the day will be whether I want to go diving in the morning of afternoon.(for those interested I will be staying here:  After this I am meeting my friend Hanna, who I volunteered with in Honduras, and we will explore India for a little over a week. For as long as I can remember, India has been my top travel destination. I couldn't be more excited that my dream is becoming a reality and I get to share it with Hanna. So yea, lots of good things ahead!
May 25th marked my 1 year anniversary as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. Now the countdown to coming home begins. Only 10 months left, and I know they will go by quickly. I remember 2nd year volunteers telling me many months ago that you just have to get through the first year, survive through all the BS, and your 2nd year is your gift. Now that I am at this point of my service, it makes sense. Through all the tears, overwhelming feelings of self doubt, frustration, homesickness, coupled with Veronica Mars TV marathons and devouring way too many candies sent to me in care packages, life here has suddenly become easier. I'm not saying every day is rainbows and puppies, but Morocco has become familiar, and the anxiety of stepping out my front door has slowly faded.
I often like to reflect on how much I've learned since arriving to Morocco in March 2011. I think that the most important thing I've learned thus far is patience. Sitting and waiting for hours for a bus to arrive does not faze me. There are times where I just stare at my wall, and am completely content. I've also learned to not feel so guilty. One thing Peace Corps drills in your head during training is to be as social as possible. I used to feel like the worst volunteer if instead of having tea with my community, I would sit in my house all day and watch an entire season of Dexter while eating ungodly amounts of popcorn. However, now that I am completely comfortable in my tiny village, and have developed strong relationships with much of my community, I allow myself to stay inside every now and then, guilt free. Another thing I have noticed is that I am no longer the strange foreign girl living by herself. I am just Leila (my Moroccan name). This, I believe, to be a great achievement. Two of the three Peace Corps goals are to help promote a better understanding of the American people AND to help promote a better understanding of others to American people. It took me a while to believe that having tea and going to the fields with my community was actually work. As Americans, we often need something tangible to measure our levels of success. This is one reason why the first year for many volunteers is so challenging. There is nothing we can actually touch to show us our job well done. However, these past few months I've noticed people that I've never spoken to greeting me by my first name, children stand on the hills in my village as I'm walking home yelling for me to come have tea with their families, and whenever somebody cooks cous cous, I'm always invited, as everybody knows it's my favorite. So, maybe my woman’s center project isn't going as smooth as I hoped thus far, however, whenever I feel frustrated and wish my mom was here to rub my head and tell me it's going to be alright, I step outside, revel in the serenity of my village, and enjoy the moment. Because before I know it, 10 months will have passed, I will be back in America the beautiful, and my life will never be as simple as it is now.

Monday, February 27, 2012

February, Morocco, emotions, grants, and animal slaughters

            It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a year since I arrived in Morocco. I remember the beginning months of my service and not being able to see the end. Thinking that May 2013 would never come and that the next 2 years would literally be spent not being able to communicate and drinking too much tea (while accumulating a few more cavities). However, I am finally starting to feel comfortable here, and, dare I say, it feels like home. Sure, I still get frustrated when the kids in my village ‘bon jour’ me even though they know damn well I’m not French, or those days that I wait hours for transportation, and I’m especially exhausted from being so cold I can see my breath in my house. I am also getting tired of this rollercoaster of emotions I’d like to call ‘My life as a PCV’ but overall, I feel that I am at a very good point in my service.
A few weeks back I went up north to a training to speak to the newer volunteers. I know I say this a lot, and I’ll keep saying this, but I HATE traveling in this country. The waiting, the inconsistency, the harassment, it’s exhausting. To get home I stop off the main road, take a 45 minute taxi ride to the center of my site, then I either walk an hour or if I’m lucky, I catch a ride to my village. On my journey back to my site from the training, I was exhausted, smelly, and irritated from spending hours on a bus and train when I finally stopped off the main road. Immediately my feelings of frustration faded when the cute butcher gave me a chair to sit at his shop while I waited for a taxi. Once I caught a taxi and made it to the center of my site, I ran to the vegetable man who lives in my village to see if he was still around. When I saw him cleaning up, I yelled his name in excitement, and asked him if he would take me home, as that walk in the dark would most likely result in me getting bit by a rabid dog. He laughed and took me home minutes later. It felt so good to be home. It’s nice I am finally feeling this way about my site.
 Yet, there continue to be days where feelings of homesickness are overwhelming, and I stay inside to eat tootsie rolls or an entire box of Mac and Cheese mixed with bacon bits (thank god for care packages) and watch ‘Breaking Bad’ or whatever TV obsession I have that week. The other day, I was on Facebook and I was looking at a page my friends from college started for events and such. As I was looking at this, and realizing all the times I was going to continue to miss out on, I cried. Now, I can probably name very few times since being here that I’ve cried, but there is no denying how much it pains me that I will miss out on being with my loved ones back home. No need to worry, this cry was short lived. And yes, this was one moment where I ate 15 tootsie rolls in the matter of 5 minutes. Don’t judge.
            Last week I finally submitted my first grant proposal to build a women’s center in my village. I am fortunate enough to have found English speaking counterparts to work with, however, the most challenging part of this whole process was getting a legit budget. Since my counterpart is a teacher, he left for 2 weeks for vacation. During this time I was left all by my lonesome to meet with people and get a price list for all materials that are to be needed. Getting this budget took me about a week, usually of me going out everyday and finding Mohamed, or Hamid, or Mostafa, or Rashid, or some other Moroccan name to get an answer. This, mind you, was all done in Tashlheet. I would walk around with my Tash dictionary and all my papers just to find the right person who could give me an answer. The majority of the time I would ask somebody where the person was I was looking for that day, then they would write the name down in Arabic, and I would continue walking around showing this piece of paper to whomever I passed until I was successful in my mission. After getting a budget, I spent about a week writing up the grant. I should hear back from the organization in a few weeks if my grant has been accepted. Fingers crossed.
            About 2 weeks ago I went to another festival with animal slaughtering where Angelica and I witnessed the massacre of 6 cows. Then we went to a friend’s house and ate delicious tajine and pasta with tea and nuts. I know this is going to sound absurd, but I love me any Moroccan holiday where an animal is slaughtered because whatever I am going to be fed is going to be DA BOMB! Pictures are posted on Facebook, with a warning in case you’re not in the mood to see dead and bloody cows. I have a video of the slaughtering as well, but I didn’t think too many people would appreciate that.
            Now that my grant has been submitted and my weeks of being consistently busy have faded, I am trying to find ways to entertain myself. That’s the thing about life as a PCV, there are days when you are so busy you barely have time to fit in one episode of Dexter, and then there are days when you go through an entire season way too quickly. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming a lot. Most of these thoughts are spent on FOOD! What I would give for Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, my moms’ lasagna, my Magrandes’ tacos, BACON, loaded nachos, thin mints, sushi, a killer breakfast made by my older brother, greasy happy hour food, oh and a Blue Moon. I would kick a small Moroccan child in the face for a tall glass of Blue Moon. Until that fateful day when I step foot on beautiful US soil, I’ll have to continue life as I do, not eating these foods. Is it May 2013 yet because I’m starving????

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Madrid and post Madrid reflections

            After 11 days of debauchery in Spain for the holidays, I have returned home to my quiet little village. Spain (aside from the robbery) was fantastic. The minute we landed we all felt free and giddy, away from Muslim norms, and back to the comforts of the Western world. We ate tons of pork, delicious cheeses, and of course, drank decent amounts of beer and vodka. It felt amazing to go to a bar, not be the only women there who weren’t prostitutes, and to not get harassed by perverted men. It’s been 10 months since I arrived to Morocco, and I easily forgot what the world outside was like. I wore whatever clothes I wanted, put on make-up, and spoke a language I easily understood. There were times where I felt I could skip through the streets of Madrid, enjoying the fact that I was in a country where drinking at noon was a norm and that I wasn’t getting harassed by every man who walked by. Christmas day was spent lounging around our beautiful apartment, eating (lots of bacon and cheese of course), and then ending the night watching ‘Love Actually.’ Our apartment didn’t have wifi, however, I thought it was probably better to not talk to my family on Christmas day, as I figured it would depress me. New Years Eve was pure insanity, as most everybody went out to the center, wore crazy wigs, ate grapes at the stroke of midnight (a Spanish tradition), then stayed out until all hours of the night bar hopping. It wasn’t the same as going to Prescott with my Wildcat crew, but I still had an incredible time. Although it was sad to leave Madrid, I felt that by the end of the vacation, it was time to get back to Morocco.
            Being in Madrid has made me reflect on my life here in Morocco. The truth of it is that as a country, Morocco is not fun. There really isn’t much to do, and when volunteers get together, it’s usually a group of us sitting in a hotel room, drinking crappy vodka or wine (or both), and maybe venturing out to the closest prostitution bar where we boogie to really bad music. There are other times when we just sit with each other in our houses, and talk for hours on end. As a result, we may know each other too well and we have to make our own fun. This has been an obvious challenge for me, because, as most of you know, I really like to have fun. However, I have come to the realization that being here, in a Muslim country, is probably the best thing for me. I have a lot of time to think, reflect, and learn about things I would otherwise never learn, and have even began to think of this as my own personal rehab. I have realized how lucky I am, being an American woman, and having opportunities like attending college, traveling, and marrying whomever I want (if I so choose to even get married). I am also lucky enough to have some of my closest friends only a few kilometers away from me, so if I do need an American outlet, it’s only a short walk away. There will be no other point in my life where I will have this much time for myself, and instead of dwelling on the fact that I have a year and a half until I am back home with my loved once, I instead am going to embrace this experience and enjoy all it’s quirks. I still have a lot to learn about life, and what better way to do it than with this once in a life time experience?            
            Although I am here to help the people in my village, I have also realized that I have a lot to learn from them. Life is much slower here, which has therefore forced me to develop more patience. Sitting and waiting has become an every day part of my life, and I am surprisingly okay with it. Also, the kindness of the people in my village continues to astound me. I can barely communicate with them, yet they still care about me. If I say I’m sick, an hour later somebody is knocking at my door with soup they made for me. If I need help carrying something to my house, nobody hesitates to stop what they are doing to help me. I often think that if this were the US, and a strange foreigner arrived and did not speak an ounce of English, hardly anybody I know would give them the time of day. So yes, I often get annoyed with the backwards mentality of the people here, and still don’t understand how they can eat and do the same thing every single day. However, there is a lot to be said about a group of people who fight for me to go to their houses for tea or lunch, even if I can barely have a conversation with them.
            On a side note, I have a funny story. I went to my neighbors’ house yesterday for couscous (couscous every single Friday. It’s delicious) and when I tried to leave, she told me I had to stay for something. Moments later, a large group of women came over and laid out a mat. Next to the mat was a pot of cooked corn kernels. I had no idea what was going on, but was intrigued and decided to stay. Then they took about 3 or 4 children, set them on the mat, and placed a silver bracelet and a block of sugar on top of their heads. After that they took a large heaping spoon of corn, and poured it all over them. They told me that this was supposed to give the kids healthy teeth. Never mind the massive amounts of sugar they put in their tea, or the fact that they give babies sugar cubes to suck on, but a shower of corn will do the trick.
            Although it’s good to be back, I can’t help but wonder when my next get away will be. There are some volunteers who are planning on doing St. Patty’s day in Ireland, but I doubt my liver and lack of funds can handle it. Radiohead will be in Berlin the beginning of July, but I have a feeling I’m going to need something sooner than that. My closest planned vacation will be in July, when I go to the Maldives to attend my beautiful friend Sara’s wedding, as her maid of honor (sooooo excited!). July can not come soon enough, so if anybody feels the need for a European vacation, holler at your girl J
Hope you all had a fantastic holiday. Sending my love all the way from Morocco. 
Leigh Anne

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I swear I will get better at this blog thing....Insha'Allah (god willing)

So apparently, I’m pretty bad at this blog thing…..

            It’s been almost 3 months since I’ve written, so I’ll make this as precise as possible. The beginning of October my awesome friend Annie came to visit me for 10 days. We started with the overnight bus to Fes where we walked around the medina, ate delicious street food, and wandered to the smelly tannery (where a Moroccan man shoved mint leaves up my joke). We inevitably got lost and had to pay a small child to show us the way back. The next day we went to Chefchaouen, which was by far my favorite part of the trip. The gorgeous blue medina, which was surprisingly hassle-free, made us feel as if we were in Greece. We ate cheese salads, and this made me happy. We then spent 2 nights in Casablanca, which was interesting. We toured the mosque (set so scenically on the beach) then went out for a night on the town. I won’t write too many details here, but let’s just say that Annie and I were the only women out who weren’t prostitutes. Therefore, I got sassy and yelled at a Moroccan (okay I yelled at a few). Then we went to Marrakech, and then she came to my site where she got to meet my site mates and get her henna on. I was sad to see her leave, but then the next week my parents came for a visit.
            The original plan was for my Dad to come alone, but to my great surprise at the airport gate in Marrakech my mom was with him. I cried and screamed, then pointed and laughed at her because she was in Morocco. They were only here for 5 days so we spent a night in Marrakech, then I took them to my site. My mom was a good sport, and even used the Turkish toilet. We went to Angelica’s house (along with Alex and Alexa) and made them burritos for lunch. The last night we went to Marrakech where they took me out to one of the fanciest dinners I’ve ever been to. I had a caesar salad, steak, and cream brulee. Not to mention a few bottles of wine. It was heavenly. I have to admit, it was a bit stressful showing them around. Morocco is a difficult country to travel in. There are days where I wait 3 hours for transportation and am often crowed between people in the crazy taxi rides. However, I think that overall they enjoyed their time here. I am glad they came because they now have a slight understanding of my life here. I doubt my mama will come back, but I may be able to convince my dad to return (or better yet, meet me in Portugal) J
            Now we are in November. Most of this time was spent getting to know my new community and celebrating Eid. (I don’t feel like explaining this holiday, so if you want to check out the Wikipedia page: all your questions will be answered) A lot of volunteers don’t particularly like this holiday, but I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Give me a holiday where I walk around my village and am handed meat on a stick, and I am a happy girl. The beginning of the day was spent watching 2 sheep get slaughtered. Maybe Morocco has made me immune to things that I would normally find disturbing, or maybe it’s because I have become accustomed to seeing the meat I buy hang ever so lovingly at the butcher shop, but I didn’t find the slaughtering as troubling as I expected. My neighbor took his knife, slight its throat, then it started to bleed to death. No need to feel bad for this sheep, because Moroccans don’t waste a single part (they eat the eye’s, heart, tongue, EVERYTHING). I spent the day eating liver wrapped in fat kebabs, meat tagine, and of course, Moroccan cookies and tea. Families came home, everybody was in their best dressed, and the entire village was lively. It was like Christmas, expect instead of giving presents to each other, they sacrificed a sheep for Allah.
            Other than that, I have been putting my efforts in to assessing the needs of my community. I have been so lucky to live near some amazing teachers (who speak some English!) who are eager to work with me. I had a meeting with them and they gave me some great ideas for larger projects. They are interested in building a library, new desks, and are in need of science materials. Also, I spoke with the president of an association and he is very willing to help out on building a neddi (women’s center). After vacation, I will start writing up a grant to get things going. Also, come January they are giving me a classroom 4 days a week. I will probably start off teaching English, but once I get in the groove of things, I’d like to do some basic health lessons and art projects. Also, Alex and I are planning on starting an English club at the middle school which is 4 kilometers from my village. My site, Tidili is made up of 49 villages (population is about 17,000) and within Tidili, there are many elementary schools, but only 1 middle school. The closest high school is in Ouarzazate, which is about 2 hours away. Therefore, these kids need some motivation when it comes to their education. This is why I’d like to spent most of my time working in the schools.
            Now we are in December. I just spent the past week up north at a beach town an hour away from Rabat for my last Peace Corps training. The days were spent in sessions and the evenings were filled with hanging out with my fellow volunteers. As usual at these trainings, the evenings were a bit livelier. I slowly made my way back to site, and now I’m home for a few more days until I head off to SPAIN!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve been in Morocco for 10 months, and this is my first time leaving. I am in desperate need of a break from this place! It will be my first Christmas away from home, and while it will be difficult, I am fortunate enough to have found good friends to spend the holidays with. We rented an apartment in Madrid so we will be able to make dinner (pork, pork, and more pork please), Christmas cookies, and watch Love Actually (always a Christmas favorite). I’ll be back in Morocco on January 3, so once I’m back, I will (hopefully) feel refreshed and motivated.

Happy holidays to everybody back home. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Surviving Ramadan and a site change

I know it’s been a while since my last entry, part of which was due to limited internet access, being surprisingly busy, AND being too lazy to write about my life. That said, let me give you all a brief summary of my life these past 2 months.
            Ramadan….it came, it past, and I survived. Not much happened during the month of August. I spent my days watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I heart Spike), working out, reading, and chatting with other PCV’s on the phone (thank god for the phone plan). Boredom throughout the daytime really set in within the first week. I noticed that I was going slightly crazy one day when I was sitting on my roof and staring at the sheep. In the distance I noticed a large white tent. (For those of you that don’t know, I am located in the Ouarzazate province, home of a large movie studio. Here movies such as Gladiator, Prince of Persia, and Sex and the City 2 were filmed). I watched the tent and started wondering if maybe, just maybe, James Franco was filming his next movie in my little village. He would then discover that a Peace Corps Volunteer lived nearby and knock on my door. He would look past the fact that I haven’t showered in days and dress like a homeless person, and we would instantly fall in love. Suddenly I thought “What am I, 12 years old sitting in the back of my Magrande’s truck with my cousins and truly believing that it is Jonathan Taylor Thomas driving behind us?” I immediately went inside and called a friend for moral support. Turns out I’m not the only one with a crazy imagination. I suppose that’s what happens when you are the only English speaker in a village of 400 people.
As the night started to fall during Ramadan, I would walk around and in no time, I would get an invite from somebody in my village to break fast. Initially I was worried about breaking fast, as I was getting tired of the typical Moroccan dishes served to me during home stay. However, I was pleasantly surprised when instead of being served tagine and cous cous, there would be an array of deliciousness such as fresh figs, dates, soup, pastries, etc. I was also surprised to find myself enjoying spending time with people in my village, especially my host family. I was able to practice my language (which continues to be atrocious) and often get laughed at when I would sit around not knowing what the hell was going on. This was, in a nut shell, my life in August….
Now we move to September, which was a very busy and somewhat stressful month. I will make this very long and complicated story short: The closest volunteer to me had an incident which involved a site change. Because I have to travel through her site all the time to get to Tamalkout, Peace Corps decided that for safety precautions, I too needed a site change. Three weeks went by and we both moved to another site (still in the Ouarzazate region) called Tidili. I now have 3 AMAZING site mates and after all the confusion and stress, I feel very content with my move. Not only is my new site absolutely gorgeous, there is a lot of work to be done. I do, however, worry because I am in the mountains, which means that winters will be quite harsh. As I am used to my sunny Arizona winters, I am beginning to mentally prepare myself for the large amounts of suffering I will endure come November. Until then, I am enjoying the beautiful weather.
In addition to my site change, and a rockin’ birthday celebration in Ouarzazate, I went to Rabat for my first VSN (Volunteer Support Network) committee meeting. Rabat was fabulous. It was modern, clean, and had all the food a person could ask for. Because I have spent so much time in the rural parts of Morocco, Rabat made me feel out of place. My mom told me that maybe once a month I should go to Rabat just so I could have normal interactions with people. After experiencing multiple James Franco and Spike fantasies, I am beginning to think she is right.  
The other day I got together with my site mates (Alex, Alexa, and Angelica) at Alex’s house to discuss potential projects. We then made lunch, discussed our Halloween costumes, and then played darts. This all happened on a Tuesday between 10am until 4pm. When we were walking home we started to laugh, wondering at what other moments in our lives would a day like this make for a productive Tuesday afternoon? Gotta love the life as a Peace Corps Volunteer. No need to worry though, there are many projects to be done in Tidili, so your tax dollars won’t be a complete waste.
Yesterday Alexa and I walked through my village and stopped to sit on a rock next to a creek. An old man walked by and handed us some walnuts. He then took them out of our hands, cracked every single one for us, and left us with a delicious snack. When we were done at least 2 more people handed us walnuts and apples. The day before that we met up with each other in our souq town, and after doing our shopping, we got a beverage and decided to sit down on the side of the road to chat. A man saw us and not only brought us a table and chairs to sit in, he gave us a bowl of walnuts and made us tea. Say what you will about Morocco, but the hospitality in this country, especially in my site, never ceases to astound me.
My wonderful, beautiful, and amazing friend Annie, that I taught with in Honduras, is coming to see me tomorrow. It’s been a little over 2 years since I have seen her, so it will be a lovely 10 days. Also, in 2 weeks, my dad is coming for a short visit. Seeing how I haven’t gone longer than 3 months without seeing him, his visit will be quite amazing. Also, I will not be coming home for Christmas. As much as I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to go home, I worry that going back to Morocco, with still a year and a half to go, would be difficult. Instead I will be traveling up to Spain with some friends.
Hope everybody is doing well back home. When you eat bacon or drink a beer on tap, think of me.
Leigh Anne

My new address is:
BP9 Inghrom N Oudal 45253
Ouarzazate, Morocco

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pre-Ramadan shenanigans

            First of all I would like to apologize to those I tried to set up multiple skype dates with this past month and was not available. With the time difference, zero internet at site, and the inconsistent internet when I am able to connect, skyping is difficult. Please know that I would never intentionally ignore any of you.  
Last week we had PPST (Post pre-service training) up north. It was Quad’s birthday a few weeks ago so a bunch of us went up to Fes for a belated celebration. I always felt that transportation in Morocco was awful compared to other places I have been, however, this day verified my opinion regarding the bus system in this country. The plan was to meet Alex on a bus towards Marrakech, then catch the train to Fes. This entire trip should take on average 12-14 hours. I left my house at 8am, and finally met up with Alex at around 4. Take note that the trip from my site to his site should only take 2-3 hours. We finally made it to Marrakech (city of American goods such as McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut) around 9pm. I know that these restaurants are not usually recognized as delicious cuisine, however, live in Morocco for 5 months and trust me, you will change your mind. We got off the bus and immediately headed to Pizza Hut. Alex and I walked in to the restaurant looking frumpy, sweaty, and wildly unattractive, and were surrounded by modern Moroccans and foreigners. As we ate our delicious stuffed crust pizza (with real pepperoni), we sat and stared at the beautiful people, as if we’ve never seen girls in short skirts and nicely groomed men. The lifestyle in our rural, bled sites is quite different than a big, modern city like Marrakech, so we sat and enjoyed the cheese and attractive people. This is what living in the bled does to a person, scary to think I have 20 more months of this life. We safely made it to Fes and 8am the next morning. Total travel time: 24 hours. We ate McDonalds twice while in Fes J  
            I finally returned to site on Monday and will be here (with the exception of heading to the city for internet and a birthday BBQ for James next weekend) until the end of August. To be honest, it feels good knowing that I can put all of my time and energy in Tamalakoute. My daily schedule consist of waking up, working out, making my coffee, then I start my ‘work.’ Like I have mentioned before, I haven’t, nor will I, start any real projects for a couple months. Part of this is because I need to assess the needs of my community and I want to work on my language (which is still appalling). Therefore, work for me right now is going out on walks, getting invited to tea, and sitting awkwardly with everybody as I try to speak tashleheet. Getting tea invites takes no time, as most people in my village are eager to get to know me. It must seem like a joke to most of you back home knowing that your tax dollars are going to people like me who, at the moment, their job consists of drinking tea with Moroccans. Therefore I am hoping that I can eventually astound all of you when I actually start real projects. Until then, I am a slave to this rigorous and time consuming work schedule.
 After talking to other volunteers at PPST, I have realized how lucky I am to be in the Ouarzazate region AND to be in a small village. The people in Ouarzazate are amazing, especially in small villages where everybody knows one another. Tamalakoute is great because I can wear t-shirts, I can paint my nails, and wear my hair down (mostly signs of a prostitute). Also, men greet me and sit with women for meals. There are areas where the women don’t even leave their homes, so living in Tamalakoute is quite the positive experience when it comes to living in a Muslim country.
            Ramadan starts on Sunday night and I have to admit I am frightened about the whole month of August. I have to leave my site to get food (other than basics like jam and eggs) so I am not sure how to get out of site when people will be fasting. Many volunteers like to fast during Ramadan, however, I have opted to do otherwise. Experiencing Ramadan in a Muslim country is a rare experience, but I have no desire to not drink water in 100 degree weather. Needless to say, August is going to be rough. If anybody has any book recommendations to get me through this, please send me an email or message on facebook. Thanks!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Brief highlights of June

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and much has happened in the month of June, so I will give you a quick overview of what’s been going on. In the beginning of the month, a group of us (a mixture of older volunteers along with us newbie’s in the Ouarzazate province) went on a nomad hike. The purpose of these hikes is to trek and locate groups of nomads and to survey certain health related issues within the families. We then send off the questionnaires to the Ministry of Health with hopes of providing mobiles in the region to give them vaccinations and an opportunity to see a nurse or doctor, since clinics are not easily accessible to nomads. After they answer our questions, we provide them with soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. The newbie’s couldn’t do much because our language is still very limited, so we mainly shadowed the other volunteers. The trek was more strenuous than we predicted, and after the first day we questioned if we were ever going to walk again. We did make the best of our pain, often by busting out in to songs by Lady Gaga and even performed Nsync’s ‘Bye bye bye’ for everybody on top of a mountain. However, most of us were happy we did it, and now have a better understanding of how to do these treks, which is something many of us want to continue to do.
            Last week I went to a music festival in the beach town called Essaouria. About 70 volunteers all over Morocco were there and we rented 2 ‘hotels.’ Not only was it great meeting other volunteers, it was amazing getting out of the Ouarzazate province for the first time. Needless to say, it was a much needed good time.
            After arriving in Morocco in June, I have been living out of my suitcase and living with 2 different host families. Living with a host family is although a good experience, is extremely tough. We have no control over what we eat (tagine EVERYDAY), and are always checking in with our families. However, that all changed a couple days ago when I FINALLY reclaimed my independence and moved in to my new house. Although it’s not as posh as other Peace Corps houses, I love my new casa. It has 4 small bedrooms, a living room, a nice kitchen, a bathroom (no shower so bucket baths will be had for the next 2 years), and a roof with a 360 degree view of the mountains. Getting everything I need for my house is a pain, especially since I am so rural and have to haul things from the city to my village every time I want to buy something. This week I have made 3 separate trips to the city and still need many more things to get my house in order. I’m trying to get everything done before Ramadan (beginning August 1st), as transportation during that time will be scarce. For my first meal to celebrate my newfound freedom, I cooked up a box of Velveeta shells and cheese, sent to me in an awesome care package from my wonderful parents. It was the best batch of Velveeta I’ve ever eaten in my life.
            The other day the transit from my site to the main road arrived and as I opened the door, there was a giant cow sitting there. The driver told me to sit up front and I just closed the door and sat in the front seat. It took me a minute, but I turned around and laughed to myself. I’ve only been here for 3 months and do not find the fact that a large cow sitting in my transit was odd. It made me think of a conversation I was having with fellow PCV’s and how after being here, certain things that we would find unusual is now ordinary. We laugh at how crazy we are all going to be upon completion of our 2 years here. I suggested that the Peace Corps provide us all with intensive therapy once we go home, just so we can get back to ‘normal.’ Everybody agreed….
            After heading to a friend’s house in the city of Ouarzazate for a 4th of July party (no bacon or hotdogs were eatenL ), my standard group of volunteer friends in my region are working an English immersion camp for the week. A group of about 15 high school students were selected to attend this camp where we will provide them with activities such as theatre class, volleyball classes, leadership exercises, etc. It will be a lot of work (days start at 8:00am until 10:30pm), but so far, I am enjoying working with young Moroccans.
Hope everybody had a wonderful 4th of July!