How to Contact Me

Life on the central plains can get awfully lonely at times, so feel free to drop me a line! Here's how:

D'Abravanel, Jed
B.P. 6



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Battles With Bureaucrats

Life in America may be considered constrained by bureaucratic red tape by some, but in comparison to Morocco it is a cake walk. A three hour wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles may set you back half a day, but the application process for a Carte de Sejour may set you back three weeks - and still not arrive after all paperwork is completed and submitted for another nine months; if you are lucky. And if you aren't, well, then you are like everyone else - because from what i've seen no one is that lucky with the Bureaucrats.
Case in point, an AIDS (SIDA in french) testing that I was helping to plan with a Moroccan association in my souk (market) town. In order to work on planning this testing I came in to my Souk town bright and early at 8 am on a Monday - for what looked to be a half days worth of work - I hoped to return to my village and my own bed by the time the sun set. Rather my early morning meeting with the President of the local association got pushed back - as he disappeared into the ether - until 8 pm that night. It wasn't too big a deal, and I was still patient at that point. We discussed logistics, came up with an action plan and a list of government officials whom we would need to contact. We agree to meet the next day at 10 am to start the process of getting all the relevant signatures - from the local clinic, from the office of the caid and from the president of the commune. The next day rolled around - and we at 10 am - as I sat drinking a cup of tea with one of my Souk town volunteers, Logan, who should appear at the cafe where we sat if not the Nurse Chief Major of the local clinic - just the man who I needed to meet with! What luck, we started to chat, inquire as to each others health,that of our respective families and of course discuss the weather. After a few moments the president of the association who I was working with appeared as well, everyone who needed to be involved in the conversation that needed to happen was present. The president brought up the topic of the SIDA testing, the Nurse Chief Major smiled shook his head and chuckled slightly.
"A SIDA testing here? Wonderful, who gave you this idea?"
My friend the president of the association informed the Chief Major that it was the provincial minister of health who had contacted him to organize the testing. The Chief Major nodded sagely and slowly brought his hand up to his head, ran it through his thinning silver speckled hair and brought it back down to rub his chin before replying.
"Of course, we will talk about it tomorrow when you come by the clinic. Come in the morning, after all today is a holiday."
And so ended the work that was accomplished on my second day in my Souk town.
The next day rolled around and by ten the president of the local association and I had met. We soon dived into the morass of the bureaucratic world of Morocco, and with deft handling on the part of the president and with me standing by smiling and occasionally inquiring as to peoples health and other trivialities, basically doing my job of adding legitimacy to the whole undertaking, by 11:30 we were done and all the permissions needed were gained and the project planned. Then I decided to work on getting permission for my upcoming vacation to Italy. Now Peace Corps regulations require that I notify the local ministry of health if I plan on taking vacation days, I don't need their permission but I do need proof, in the form of a signature, that I made them aware of my intentions before submitting the form to the Peace Corps for approval. The Peace Corps doesn't care who signs it - so long as it is signed by counterpart or higher authority.
Upon showing the pertinent form to the Chief Major, who I ran into on the way to the Mosque, he told me to show it to the clinic doctor as he didn't have permission to sign such a form. Rather then argue I acquiesced and left my Chief Major to his daily prayers, and made my own way to the house of my souk towns doctor. Upon showing him the form he also refused to sign - saying once again it wasn't within his powers to sign such a form for me. At this point I called my assistant programming manager, Rachid, after explaining the problem I handed the phone to the doctor to straighten the issue out. Suffice it to say it didn't get any straighter - rather the doctor refused to sign it before taking to the Provincial Minister of Health in Khenifra the next day. So he asked me to return the day, in the morning, and stated that after he talked to the Minister permission (and a trip to Italy) would be mine. So be it. I would stay in my Souk town another day.
Moments after the previous interaction had come to its conclusion I received a call from Mina - the Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer - stating that I needed to go into the Gendarmery the next day. Why? Because a new rotation of gendarmes had recently transitioned in and the new Chief Gendarme couldn't find record that I had applied for a Carte de Sejour, and didn't believe that I had a receipt for one or was legally in the country. At this point I was wavering between an all encompassing rage on one hand and a black pit of despair on the other, one deeper than the Abyssal Trench. But instead I just went and had a cup of tea - thankful that at least I had good friends in my souk town who wouldn't mind me spending yet another night on their couches.
The next day I presented myself at 10 am at the clinic, and the doctor promptly showed me into the office and called the Ministry of Health. The line was busy - perplexed he came to a final decision.
"What you must do is submit the paper to Khenifra, we can mail it, which will take 15 days. Or you may hand deliver it - in which case it will be signed as soon as presented. But I will not sign it. It is not permitted."
I then ripped my hair out - strand by strand. Or rather I felt like doing so, rather I politely excused my self from the clinic silently cursing him and the system in which he operates. When my counterpart had submitted his own vacation forms to the ministry that 15 day period had turned into two months - and he did not receive the necessary signature until the day of his own vacation. As for traveling to Khenifra - I did not relish the thought of six hours of travel on a cramped, cold, overcrowded bus - plus likely a day of having to wait in a small stifling office as Ministry official after official stopped in to greet me and submit me to cup after, after cup of over sweetened tea. Instead I called my assistant programming manager and told him what had occurred.
"Ohhh, don't worry about it Jed. Just submit it - we don't need the signature."
Of course, if the clinic knew I hadn't submitted it, issues would emerge. I'm not going by again until after I get back.
As for the Chief Gendarme, after five minutes in his office he had found the form he hadn't been able to find. The key was he looked through his files - of course he couldn't have done that if I hadn't been in his office. With that cleared up he sent me on my way - saying I should have my Carte de Sejour in no time and that I should come back before leaving to Italy to get my receipt of application stamped so that I don't get turned back at customs. It has now been a month, went back in today and no carte de sejour and now I must return next monday to get another form.

Oh and the SIDA stage? It got canceled when it snowed - the officials from Khenifra didn't want to try and blaze a way through the 1/8 of an inch that covered the road. So is life in Morocco.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Service Training Report

I recently had an Inservice Training, and for it I had to write a report about my site - background, health conditions and priorities - after writing it I realized that it might help explain to those of you reading my blog a bit more about my site, how I spend my time in it and what kind of work I do and am trying to do. All place names have been replaced with a series of X's due to security concerns. Enjoy!

I. Background
The Commune Rural of XXXXXX is located on the extreme southern edge of the Middle Atlas, with the majority of its population located at and around the base of an extinct volcano, L’Rais. The commune was created by government decree in 1992 and is situated on the extreme northeastern edge of the province of Khenifra, and is bordered by the communes of XXXXXX. The ancient souk town of Itzer, is the administrative headquarters of the region and is where most government services are to be found for the surrounding communes, including: postal service, medical, police and caidat.
The commune itself is composed of roughly 15 douars, with the population predominantly found in three clusters. The first, and primary cluster of douars is located along Rural Route 503, constructed in 1946 by the French, which traverses the commune and serves as the primary transportation artery, which culminates in Fez, roughly 3 hours travel by public transportation. The principal douars which one encounters along RR 503 are, in order of location west to east: XXXX (560 people ), XXXXX (492 people) and XXXX (463 people). In addition to those douars located adjacent to the road are those scattered between XXXX and XXXXX, each located roughly one to three kilometers from RR 503: XXXX (164 people) and XXXXX (an artificial government conglomeration of three separate small douars which share a Moshe but little else) (190 people). The second cluster is located along a dirt road that branches off from the main road just prior to the Commune building in XXXX and is composed of: XXXX (298 people), XXXXX (157 people) and XXXXX (476 people). The third and final cluster is found along a road that branches off approximately four kilometers past XXXX traveling eastwards along RR 503 and is located at the edge of a plateau. It is composed of three douars: XXXX (413 people), XXXXX (560) and XXXX (471 people). The total population of the commune is believed to be 4,244 in approximately 700 homes, spread out over roughly 3000 Sq. Km.
Geographically the majority of the commune is pre-Saharan scrub plain interspersed with two large agricultural areas and the remnants of a once extensive forest ecosystem which has been logged into the aforementioned scrub plain. The soil of the commune is largely volcanic, and while well suited for agriculture is also exceptionally rocky. The agriculturally productive area of the commune is restricted to two areas, those sections watered by the spring La Rais and those at the edge of the plateau composed of those douars in the third population cluster. The spring La Rais is a viable source year round, with a late summer flow of 10.16 M3/S, this spring currently served the agricultural needs of all of the douars in the first population cluster – extending 10 kilometers from source – and has traditionally served those douars that compose the second population cluster, but due to an extended period of periodic droughts in the region, beginning around 1980, the water flow has steadily, if slowly decreased. The second agricultural area is at the edge of the plateau on which the Middle Atlas Range is located, and benefits from a sudden and extreme elevation drop of at places up to 80 meters which results in numerous seasonal and year round springs – estimated at between one and two dozen. As such while the remainder of XXXX often appears arid and lunar in the summer months, those areas at the edge of the Plateau are graced by natural grasslands and extensive non-irrigated stands of trees as well as extensive fields of crops not cultivated in other areas of the commune.
The primary economic activities of the commune are agricultural in nature, including subsistence and cash crop farming as well as the raising of domesticated animals, for local consumption. The primary cash crop of XXXX, as in the entire region of Midelt, is the apple. While landownership is somewhat restricted, with a handful of large farms producing the majority of the apples, small holders also contribute a significant amount to local production. Generally the farm practices are fairly modern, with a majority of producers, though not all, utilizing drip irrigation, large scale refrigeration facilities and with some limited use of nylon orchard covers. All and all though, while apples have provided a significant influx of financial liquidity into the local community – which manifests itself in the near universal presence of Pour Flush Latrines within the commune – with the increasing aridity of the region apples are likely not long to remain a reliable crop.
Ethnographically the population of XXXX is mixed, with roughly equal portions claiming Arabic or Berber origins. The question of ethnic origin though is not reflected in language use within the commune where nearly 80% of the population is proficient in Arabic and where no more then 40% routinely use Tamazight, either inside or outside of the home. A trend exacerbated by the prevalent ignorance of the children of Berber parents of the Tamazight language. The tribal structure of the commune itself is complicated with seemingly every village claiming a separate tribal identification. The name of the commune itself is derived from the name of a local tribe, Ait Ben Yacoub, a group which itself is not the most numerous group within the commune and while it historically dominated the area is now mostly found in the douars of XXXX, XXXX and in the mountains between the commune and the town of Giegou (province of Boulman) where they are found more extensively. A further example of the tribal variety is the village of XXXX, a converted Ksar, and primarily Arabic village, whose inhabitants have lived in the region for at least one hundred and fifty years but whose ancestors originally migrated from the region around Meknes, where they had migrated from the Draa Valley in the sixteenth century. This tribal variety is found not only between douars, but also within them. For example the douar of XXXX is composed of no less then five groups: the Harritine, Sahrwein, Ait Cherouchen, Cherfa and the Ait Ben Yacoub – who are themselves divided into three-sub clans: the Ait Lahcen, the Ait Makha and the Ait Omar. Suffice it to say that this ethnic diversity poses difficulties for the formation of inter-ethnic and tribal cooperation outside of traditional religious forums – such as the village mosque, which in some douars such as XXXX is not itself free from strive (from the middle of July until the end of October the Mosque has had four separate Fiqhs).

II. Methodology
If I had been asked to write this report after residing in XXXXX for only a short period, a week, a month, three months, then I would have written questions – put together a form, and gone door to door blundering through awkward conversations with absolute strangers in a language I don’t understand – speaking in a way that those I asked wouldn’t have understood either. Rather then that tact, I took a conversational, dialogue based evaluative method – one where I knew what kind of things I wanted to learn, one that held those desires in the back of my mind at all times, but one that also restrained me from asking those questions, until the time was right. So that even if I was learning things about the commune, about the health of the community, it didn’t seem like I was interviewing every one I spoke with, because I was foremost building connections, relationships and sometimes friendships – friendships that would make asking those awkward questions about health and health practices seem less awkward and more like the concerns of a friend, a neighbor.
Coupled with a conversational, relationship based interview style I have always kept my eyes open – so that I learned as much from simple observation through the sharing of a single communal village space as from interview and discussion. So that while my methodology may not be quantitatively rigorous it is qualitatively rich, dripping with experience and knowledge – knowledge much deeper and more truthful then plain statistics on a page. Because, while now I could get those statistics if I had a need to – for grant or government project – they would not have given me in the past any kind of worthwhile view into the life experience of the inhabitants of Ait Ben Yacoub, and the gathering of those statistics would likely have served to separate me farther into the category known as “Aromi” and I would remain, and always would remain known, not as “Jed”, but as the “American”.

III. Findings
Birthing Practices
Learning about birthing practices, while always a difficult task for a male in Morocco, is exceptionally difficult in XXXX due to an incident that occurred five years ago. At that time a child died during the birthing process, which led to a crackdown by the local gendarmerie on Traditional Birth Attendants in the area, including both verbal and physical intimidation and continual harassment. The aim of this intervention on the part of the Gendarmes was to eliminate the use of Traditional Birth Attendants in the area – a task they seemingly succeeded at – and redirect all births to govement operated birthing centers in Zeida, Midelt, Azrou or Khenifra. I say they seemingly succeeded because no women that I have spoken to in the Commune will admit to using a Traditional Birth Attendant, and no women will admit to currently being a Traditional Birth Attendant, though after five months of continuous habitation in the village of XXXX my host mother admitted to in the past practicing Midwifery before Rheumatism and the crackdown on the part of the gendarmes forced her into retirement.
Family Planning
Family planning is widely practiced within the area, with the most common request in the Sbitar being for Birth Control Pills. In addition to the simple request for pills there is also proof of their use, with families averaging three children today, as compared to the past when seven to ten children was not unusual.
Diarhial Diseases & Sanitation
The most common ailment in XXXX, especially among children and infants, is diarrhea. This is related to both issues with water sources and a lack of sanitation within the home – most often due to a lack of soap within the home. The concept of diarrhea, while understood is often unclear and I am unsure if people separate the concept of diarrhea from regular bowel movements.
Water Sources
An ongoing and omni-present problem in XXXX is water; simply put there isn’t enough of it. The average well depth is between 30 to 50 meters and for large periods of this past summer ran dry. The Sbitar only received running water two weeks ago, and the vast majority of homes in all of the douars do not have running water. XXXX and XXXX each have a system of community fountains and both are in the process of upgrading their water systems using government loans and limited community fundraising – with a goal of providing running water to all of the houses in their communities. The remaining douars remain off of any sort of grid and rely on personal and community wells as well as a smattering of small community chateaus. In addition to community and personal wells, the springs around XXXX & XXXX and the spring La Rais provide water mainly for agriculture – a troubling finding when one considers the situation in XXXX. XXXX is located in a former Ksar. Where the majority of people make use of personal wells rather thean the abundant springs which surround it, these wells are often located less then ten meters, from both pit flush latrines and barns a situation that has resulted in the presence of Fecal Streptococal Bacteria in all wells that were tested during a Ministry of Health visit in late July.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually transmitted infections are not addressed in the Sbitar in XXX and people remain largely in the dark as to what they are, how they are transmitted and how to prevent their transmission. I have reason to believe it to be a large problem in the area though – due to the prevalence of STI’s in Boumia and the extent to which men travel to Boumia and the amount of time spent in the café culture of Zaida.
There is a lack of knowledge of the importance of micro-nutrients in diet, especially Iodine, Iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin D. This knowledge deficit is especially common in women, especially older, who have had little formal education and whose food landscape is being transformed by the increased industrialization of food production in Morocco.
Dental Hygiene
Is an area of central concern, as among a large portion of the adult population knowledge is near nonexistent and practice is nonexistent. This leads to a serious deficit in the children of the area who are not receiving instruction in the school or positive reinforcement at home in regard to dental care while their diets incorporate increasing amounts of processed and refined sugar into their diets.
Skin Diseases
Corresponding to the scarcity of water and lack of a hammam in XXXX, is the prevalence of skin diseases. In addition to those caused by hygiene and easily identified, there is a disease that leads to the appearance of extensive white spots across the body, La Birsa in Arabic, that I don’t’ believe to be either Vitiligo, Tinea versicolor or Pinta.
Sbitar Staff and Physical Condition
The Sbitar itself is staffed by one nurse, who specializes in children’s vaccination and minor injuries, all other medical issues are referred to the doctors in either XXX or Zeida. Since my arrival their have been no rural vaccination drives, though the doctor in XXX did visit the sbitar in XXX one day a week for three consecutive weeks for consultations. Medical waste is disposed of by simple trash fire, which do not reach a temperature at which sharps would be rendered harmless, though the medical waste once burned is disposed of in a rock field roughly 50 meters from all human habitations and rarely visited by anyone aside from sbitar staff.

IV. Health Priorities
The areas that I have identified as being in greatest need of work, as well as most realistic to work on, are as follows – in order of priority:
1) Assessing and addressing deficits in water supply and in
cleanliness of sources.
2) Improving sanitation facilities in schools.
3) Improving the physical health infrastructure of the local clinic, as well as working to bring knowledge, skills and attitudes from outside health organizations into the clinic to improve the health conditions of those in site more quickly then possible through government initiatives. For example: optics organizations, SIDA testing organizations, skin disease organizations. This also includes health education within the sbitar on vaccination days.

V. Conclusions
After six months in my site I am still learning about my site, still encountering obstacles and still making contacts. My time has been complicated by not speaking Arabic, which has impacted my ability to work with a large portion, if not majority, of my population. My work is also challenged by the lack of interest by organizations in doing any work not guaranteed funding from the start and by the lack of interest on the part of people in starting any new organization. While I understand this to be a common difficulty for a first volunteer, I find it no less frustrating knowing it to be a common difficulty. Due to the difficult nature of civil society within XXXX I will focus on what can be done utilizing outside resources, as relaying on resources and organizations within XXXX would at this point result in little but two years of headaches and afternoons spent twiddling my thumbs. Hopefully though I will be able to include more members of the community in my work as they begin to see tangible benefits from my time spent within XXXX, if not within my time then in that of my successor.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sudden Death and HIV

One of the more peculiarly named holidays I’ve run across has got to be Youth Day (or Young People’s Day, depending on the translation), a day that is celebrated every year in honor of the Kings birth. Now, don’t get me wrong I appreciate a good holiday as much as the next under worked, yet strangely overwhelmed PCV. But all the same, a holiday named Youth Day, which honors the day every year that the King gets farther away from his youth strikes me as a little odd. But, in honor of the Kings disappearing youth I did what all-good, dedicated, young people who see their own youth rapidly diminishing, do on that day – I went on holiday, and then just for good measure I took the next day as well.

The holiday itself was refreshing, serving to recharge all those proverbial batteries that seem to so rapidly diminish. So that Monday morning when I stepped into my Post Office, smiling and greeting all those that I saw I was completely unaware of the change in atmosphere between the inside and outside of the Post Office. At least until my postman brought me back.

“Hassan, is dead” My postman simply said staring through me with his own often twinkling eyes for once solemn and somber, twin pools, deep as the ocean.

“What, how?” I stammered out, not entirely sure I believed him. I’d seen Hassan, sitting in the very chair his friend now occupied not a week before – healthy and smiling behind his blackened, braced teeth.

“He went, to sleep, and he did not return – he did not wake up”

In Morocco we as PCV’s face many challenges. We live in a society whose fabric is deeply intertwined with that of Islam, one of the few countries that PCV’s serve in that can be unarguably called a nation of Islam. A nation ruled by a descendent of the Prophet, both head of state and leader of the faithful. A place where the roosters’ role as alarm clock is replaced by that of the call to prayer; a call, that in Rabat, echoes from Mosque to Mosque – with their electrified clarion calls – for three quarters of an hour accompanying and welcoming the dawns outstretched rays.

While Moroccan society seems in deep conflict with itself today – with the modernizing urban sector rampaging through the nation and the traditional rural village in a state of siege, the small community in which I find myself remains set in its ways. Ways very different from those of America, or even Dar Beida. A place where alcohol remains haram and women remain behind closed doors. Where as in much of Morocco the Jew is not welcome, a creature of myth and Israel – not of reality. A place where inter-gender education is difficult for a women and nearly impossible for a man, and where any mention of sex or the diseases of it is an instant challenge to the social order.
Taxing as Morocco can be, it thankfully does not hold the greatest challenge I can imagine – the challenge of having to say goodbye everyday to those we have grown to love. The challenge of death, the challenge of SIDA, the challenge of AIDS. More then anything else walking into my Post Office, to find a man who had grown to be a part of my life, gone forever, reminded me of how lucky we are to find ourselves in a country not haunted by the specter of AIDS. How lucky we are to be in a country where we are not forced to become numb to death.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ramadan In Review

My Village Mosque at Dusk.

October is possibly my favorite month, refreshing, cool, filled with rain and most importantly – located chronologically after Ramadan. Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is observed the world over by Muslims. It is marked by an increased devotion to the faith of the Prophet Mohammed, manifested by increased attendance at Mosque for the five daily prayers, abstention from all food and drink between sunrise and sunset, a prohibition against all getting funky with it between man and wife, and a return to religious orthodoxy for even the most non-practicing of Muslims. Suffice it to say that for an agnostic Jew from northern California it was a bit of a departure from business as usual.

First, the outline. What exactly is Ramadan? Well as I said above it is the holiest month of the Islamic Calendar, but the Islamic Calendar does not correspond to the Gregorian Calendar and so the exact dates of Ramadan are ever changing from year to year based on a lunar cycle. So while this year Ramadan corresponded roughly with the month of September, starting on September 2nd, next year it will begin 10 to 11 days earlier (in the deep heat of august). Does this Lunar Calendar mean that across the Islamic world Ramadan begins at the same time? Of course not, that would be far too simple, rather every country determines when it starts based on their own practices – in Morocco the Ministry of Islamic Affairs determines when Ramadan begins based on the sighting of the new moon. While crazy Libya, started two days before everyone else in the Islamic world (the people in my village blame crazy Quaddafi and his little green book) – and Saudi Arabia started on September 1st. So while everyone in the Islamic world observes Ramadan – not everyone observes it at exactly the same time or for exactly the same length of time. Though in general Ramadan is observed for one Lunar month, 29 or 30 days, depending.

Now for what’s involved. Straight off – a lot of prayer; If normally observant Muslims are expected to pray five times a day, during Ramadan nearly everyone becomes an observant Muslim. But not just observant, but publicly observant as well, the Koran permits prayer in the home and does not discriminate against it; but during Ramadan regular attendance at the village Mosque literally goes through the roof as most every man who has or is currently passing through puberty attends Mosque for every prayer. This increase in outward piety increases throughout the month as the Laylat-el-qadre or “Night of Power”, approaches.

“The Night of Power” is the night on which the Koran is said to have been revealed – through the Archangel Gabriel, to the Prophet. The exact date of when this occurred has been lost to everyone but the Prophet – as he was the only one there – and so it is celebrated on different odd numbered nights within the last ten nights of Ramadan throughout the Islamic world. In Morocco it is celebrated on the 27th night. The “Night of Power”, at least in my village, is marked by the reading of the Koran, in its entirety by the Fiqh or Imam between sunset and sunrise, with the entire male population present in the village Mosque. The reading of the Koran is interrupted only for intermittent breaks of Couscous, haunches of meat and Mint Tea. I did not observe the “Night of Power” prayers myself, as while half my village said it would be fine –the other half was not as encouraging and as a foreigner, a new comer and most importantly not a Muslim, I did not feel comfortable placing myself in that environment. So instead I stayed the night at my host families and joined my host mother Tata, and host sister Fatima in watching the King and 104,999 others pray in The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, second only to that of Mecca in size and capacity, as broadcast over the state channel 2M. I was very tired the following day.

But then I was tired for most of the month, because a month of fasting is, if nothing else, exhausting. Fasting in this context might not be the type of cleansing fast that hippy dippy California types are necessarily familiar with. To start with from the first call to prayer until l-fdur, typically from around 5am until 7 pm, no food, water, chap stick or medicine is allowed to pass through your lips and into your body - a command that even smokers and heroin addicts adhere to. When the fast ends at sunset though, it ends with a feast - the closest thing in America that I can compare breaking fast to is thirty days of thanksgiving. Thirty wonderful days. Because if the Thanksgiving feast is my favorite part of the American Holiday experience then breaking fast during Ramadan is my favorite Moroccan.

The meal is typically composed of dates, sweet breads, regular bread, fat bread (a stuffed bread), eggs, often flan, a semi-fermented yogurt drink, coffee, tea, fruit juice and a smoothie. Keep in mind that after all of this comes the best part: Harira - a soup developed over hundreds of years to keep you as fit, energetic, and well hydrated as is possible during the hard, hot days of sleep and prayer that so often compose Ramadan. But the nights, the nights even in small villages like mine, especially in larger cities take on a carnival atmosphere as people promenade the street late into the night, visiting friends and accomplishing all the work that they didn't do during the day as they hibernated in their homes.

My Host Families Ramadan Spread

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Hammans, are magic - distilled and placed in set form a gift from on high. But such sentiment is not shared by all, far too often Hammans and the public bathing house as a form disparaged as little more then breeding grounds for disease. But they are far more then that. They are both a haven for health and hygiene and a hallowed home for women and men, a place where Hsuhma takes a back seat to the vital social functions of society.

But first a geography lesson on the lay of the land found within each and every Hamman: basics being that their are three rooms. One hotter than hell, another the Mohave in summer and the final a reasonable San Diego spring day. Running through each of these rooms is a constant stream of men, babies and boys - i'd comment on how the other half lives but aside from its social function their isn't much that I can say about it as Hammans are sexually segregated affairs. Meaning I have little first hand experience with the female half of the Hamman. How Hammans are divided differs from region to region and village to village, with a sharing of space more common the more rural you get. If a single Hamman space is physically shared then it is temporally separated - with men in the early mornings and evenings and women the remainder of the day.

As for the process of visiting a Hamman, it is a virtual minefield. Or at least it would be virtual if it wasn't a real place with real concerns and dangers. Or at least that is the way it is presented to the unwary foreigner - and possibly that is the way it would be if it wasn't for the infinite patience and generosity of the moroccan people. But that said their is a right and wrong way to go about acting in the Hamman. For one, even though it is a public bath, men are never fully unclothed as it is both shameful to be seen naked and shamming to those that see you naked. But women, women are a different story - they are allowed to be most free when in the Hamman. When they are hidden from the judgmental eyes of society, where men and women's interactions are circumscribed, as women are allowed to be most free only around other women.

As for what goes into visiting a hamman, to be prepared for the experience you must be well hydrated and carry with you a change of underwear, a towel, a pair of sandals and a glove whose texture most closely resembles that of sand paper. Once you arrive at the Hamam you purchase for half a dirham a black tarry soap substance called Sabon Beldi, or "soap of the country" which you rub over your body after sitting in the Hamman - the hot room - until your blood feels as though it's boiling. At this point the cleaning begins - the rhythmic rubbing of the sandpaper glove all over your body. A process both disgusting and refreshing, but which eventually came to be for me the most relaxing part of the week. Along with the deadened grey skin my worries and concerns from the previous week all float down the drain towards the non-existent sewer system I prefer not to think about.

If you prefer not to scrub yourself the Hamman often employs a man whose job it is, for a donation of around 20 dhs, to scrub you clean. But be warned if you make use of this service you will be rubbed red and raw and resemble more a lobster then you had ever previously resembled a lobster, which for me at least is one creature i've never felt the slightest desire to resemble. Most often Hammans are a group affair - where two or more friends go together and rub each others backs, so that when one goes on their own one often ends up with one or two new friends.

The concept of the public bath, is one that is often equated with homosexuality in the United States but in Morocco such concerns are considered irrelevant and in fact if one was to mention them would result in deep embarrassment on the part of the person being asked, that you would feel a need to bring up such a subject. This embarrassment does not mean that homosexuality is common in Morocco - but rather means that the concept is so far from the realm of the possible that the mention of it is more likely to elicit laughter then serious concern. Homosexuality is viewed as a condition of the developed world - something to be found in France or Italy, Spain or even the United States but never to be found in Morocco. Why? Because Morocco has religion. End of topic, end of discussion, end of subject.

But not the end of our visit to the Hamman, because we have yet to cover possibly my favorite aspect of the Hamman - the final chapter - the act of shaving a weeks worth of beard growth from my sun kissed visage. And so we exit the Hamman - walking into the sunset - anticipating the next weeks visit to the Hamman.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mr. Saids Wild Ride

Now the thing about transportation in morocco is that all that matters is if you have it: safety, liability, pollution, cleanliness, none of these things matter when confronted with the twin choices of driving or walking under the beating sun. In a country where the temperature routinely breaks 100, you really don't want to be walking under the hot southern sun (tafusht) so maybe you put yourself into circumstances that back in the states wouldn't be your first choice - or that wouldn't have even made your top 100 choices. But in Morocco, they really are your only choice. Especially when you are with your host family and they see nothing wrong with your transportation option - no matter how "interesting" it may seem to you.

So I was standing by the wall to nowhere on monday, more about this wall to come later, waiting for the noon bus from Fez - sitting on a nice little pile of rocks basking in the shade of the wall to nowhere. Now, if I was travelling in to souk on my own I would have waited for the bus, but with my host mom and host brother - all bets are off. It was at this point that Said and his late eighties vintage Renault (the car of the Moroccan People) bounced his way down the road from Zeida and into my life. I say bounced because rather than, as most cars do, driving down the middle of the road his rust colored chariot careened from side to side - turning towards the center only when Said noticed the change in the grade between the asphalt road base and the volcanic fields that surround the road.

Suffice it to say at this point while I was entertained, I was not expecting to enter Mr. Saids wild ride, but after a y'alla (come here) from my host mom I piled into the car with the six other intrepid souls. Bouncing aside, the car ride was not unlike any of the other seven person taxi rides i've taken over the last four months. The ride got interesting though as we went down one hill and started to ascend the next hill, and Saids car being a stick shift he shifted - and the shifter snapped in two. This is the point at which people would get concerned in the United States, but in Morocco - one doesn't bat an eyelash - rather one just sits back, smiles and laugh as the car comes to a natural stop at the crest of the next hill.

Now how is a situation like this solved in two minutes or less, without spending even a single dirham? Why with a steel rod strategically discarded at the same point we slid to a stop at of course! Said, using only a large rock, delicately pounded the steel rod into the shifter case - and away we bounced down the road towards Zaida, souk and safety. As a postscript after arriving in Zeida we each paid our five dirhams for the ride and Said turned right around and bounced into the sunset to pick up another load of intrepid travelers to ride in his wild ride.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sheep Shearing

It’s been a bit since my last update, and that means a lot has happened: last days in CBT, lightning storms, language proficiency exams, hours spent in seedy Moroccan bars (which do exist), karaoke, hunts for ice cream, a talent show (including fire dancing and musical comedy), swear in (in Ouarzazates only 5 star hotel, the Berber Palace), host family members stuffing plastic bags full of food, pool games, tearful goodbyes to now old friends, the meeting and making of new friends, the invention of card games, the sacrifice of watermelons to bu-itran (bu, means owner, while itran means stars– so that particular god phrase literally translates as owner of the stars) and the slow process of integrating into a community that has almost no idea why I’m here and even less of an idea what I do; But then for that matter some days neither do I.
That will have to suffice for this posts update because instead of rehashing old events I want to jump right into the events of last Sunday. Now, Tamazight, is for me, far from the easiest language in the world – that said I’m not known for my grasp of languages other than English. This means that a lot of the time in my conversations I’m grasping at straws or carrying water one thimble at a time; which has led to some interesting situations in the past and this time led to me spending a day, mostly watching, occasionally helping, shear 180 sheep in the mountains above my community.
I involved myself in this expedition to the heart of the Middle Atlas through a conversation with a twelve-year old boy in my village, Said, who invited me to accompany him and his family into the mountains to possibly see an alpine lake and possibly go fishing. Somewhere along the line I also got the impression that sheep might be involved, but on that point I was unsure. All I knew for certain when our business was concluded was that I was going to the mountains and that going to the mountains involved leaving the village at 5 am.
A 5 am departure was complicated though as that very morning when we were to depart at 5 am coincided with Morocco’s inaugural use of daylight savings time. This meant that I, in my desire to not be left behind or complicate matters arose at the new 4:30 am, which had previously been 3:30 am – while the reminder of those involved choose not to be concerned by anything as technical as adding an hour and arose at what was now 5:45 am or what had previously been 4:45 am. This confusion of time continued on and off for the reminder of the day, and the next day when government offices were open; was even more interesting to observe.
Precisely at 5:30 am, Said came and collected myself, and my 29-year-old host brother Ismail (who had likely been roped into watching me, foreigners can’t be trusted to guide or watch over themselves after all) and led us to the bitterly cold road to wait for the transit to arrive. I might sound like I minded this, I didn’t, because I had another lightning bolt, or an “I’m in Morocco” moment, as I call them; while watching the sun paint the sky above the plains at the edge of Atlas Mountains surrounded by some of the most welcoming people I have ever spent time with.
Soon 12 others and myself were piled into a Transit, a topic for another time, traveling into the mountains. We took the road to Itzer, turned up the road to Timhadit and Azrou, before turning off of the main road onto a tiny dirt track, a track that was soon eaten by the rolling hills and endless grass meadows of the Middle Atlas. A landscape whose bleak beauty, was given life and warmth through the patches of red and purple wild flowers which dotted the hills upon which one could see distant Shepard’s flocks. Into this transplanted Scottish or Irish moor we traveled along increasingly erratic tracks, the only reminder of my location the occasional mud brick house and the dozen Moroccans slumbering by my side. The men slumbering by my sides were themselves a cross section of modern Morocco: the older men dressed in traditional djilbas, the younger generation in either Italian designer or addidas tracksuit knockoffs, and those in between dressed in a purely Moroccan syncrinistic fashion: djilbas mixing with baseball caps, three piece suits with turbans, and the footwear anything from a pair of crocs to combat boots.
After an hour of travel our carriage came to a halt in a remote mountain hillock, with a house distantly sheltered by the alternately smooth and craggy hilltops. This was our days destination, this house nowhere near anything that could claim to be a pool, let alone a lake – I was suspicious. My suspicions were soon confirmed by the 180 sheep clustered tightly in a corral around the front of the mud brick house. Rather then feeling disappointment at the lack of a lake, I was exhilarated by the presence of so many sheep, as with my limited knowledge of all things related to sheep and to Morocco I deduced could mean only one thing: a sheep shearing party!
What is a sheep shearing party? Why it’s exactly what you would expect it to be: men working hard and singing work songs praising allah as they manhandle sheep from as near to dawn to as close to dusk as it takes to shear 180 sheep. All the while, as the men work in the stuffy, low ceilinged rock barn the women keep the mens stomachs full by feeding them delicious, mouthwateringly greasy fry bread while keeping their energy up with enough tea to drown the Persian army – but only after giving it diabetes (this is because Moroccan tea, while wonderful and offering a window into the Moroccan way of life, is still more parts sugar than tea).


Monday, May 5, 2008

Under The Shadow of La Rais

Well I have a home for the next two years, and it’s in the north. My site is at the edge of the Middle Atlas Mountains, at the base of a black mountain from which a spring named El Rais flows. The spring is used to irrigate many of the fields in my site and is used as a source of drinking water in some of the Douars. What I didn’t mention about the mountain from which El Rais flows the three kilometers to my village, is why it is the only black mountain in a line of brown hills: it is a volcano. Before you get concerned though let me reassure that I’ve been informed by reliable sources that it is in fact inactive, possibly dormant, and hopefully extinct. Though a little bit of me has to admit that it would love to wake up one morning to see it smoking – among other reasons, so that when I’m old and grey I can say I’ve lived in the shadow of a fiery giant.

Another reason I wouldn’t mind an active volcano would be the winter – because apparently ill be needing all the winter clothes I brought and then some, just to keep from freezing when using my bit lama (turkish toilet) – which makes a volcano capable of keeping the snow down a lot more attractive. Just because my site is on a plain doesn’t mean I don’t get the cold, as while my site is located on a plain –the plain itself is nestled between the High Atlas and Middle Atlas at an elevation higher then that of Denver. That said I still have it pretty good – I’ll just need to take precautions in my house : like buying a wood burning stove to keep my bit lama from freezing over in the winter.

The people in my site seem incredibly welcoming and kind – and those who speak Berber are defiantly filled with Amazigh pride. The Province my site is located in, Khenifra, is known throughout Morocco as a locus for Berber pride, and during the French period and early years after independence as a center for Amazigh resistance to the central, Arab dominated, government in Rabat. As a result of this history the king, Mohammad the 6th, has only recently paid his first visit to Khenifra province – an event of much excitement in this country as a visit by the King is viewed much like that of a rockstar is viewed back in the states – except the king has power and can make things happen.

This first visit of his to Khenifra province led to the transformation of any town he might possibly pass through or see from an adjoining road – a transformation that included the sudden appearance of hundreds, if not thousands, of Moroccan flags hanging from any and every possible surface, bathing the towns of the province in a red and green glow. In addition to a spike in flag sales the Kings visit also brought a shake up in the Provincial capital, Khenifra, where both the Governor and Minister of Health were shown unceremoniously out of their own offices and into the street. The reason for these sudden forced retirements is shaded in “official” mystery, though the word on the street is both administrative inefficiency and corruption on the part of the governor and Minister. The new Minister of Health is an unknown figure, but the new governor is a native of the province and a Berber and so his appointment has elicited wild joy within the majority Berber province.

The Province of Khenifra though is not entirely Berber, or Amazigh as Berbers prefer to be called (Berber is derived from the Greek word Barbarian), a reality that exists within even my small slice of Amazigh heaven. Of the eleven Douars in my site, which contains roughly 4,200 people, three of my Douars speak only Arabic and an additional two are mixed. My site itself is spread out over 28 Kilometers, with my furthest Douar 15 Kilometers from my Sbitar (rural health clinic). This area is serviced by one male nurse so I’ll be doing a lot of traveling, on my Peace Corps issued Trek Mountain Bike, to get the lay of the land before starting any big projects. As no matter how dedicated your healthcare professional, that’s a lot of space and a fair amount of people.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Peace Corps Crazy

I started my last post by talking about how two years in Morocco could drive one a little over the edge, so I thought in this post i'd relate just one of the crazy volunteer stories i've heard.

This particular Peace Corps story involves a volunteer who served in Morocco two or three volunteer generations in the past - or in laymens terms - roughly four to six years ago. This volunteer had requested to be posted to a very remote site, deep in the High Atlas Mountains, far from other volunteers or other americans or forigners of any type. Throughout training he had always been a little stand-offish, not anti-social per say, but far from the most gregarious member of his stage. With this background it was not unusual for him to dissapear into his remote mountain site for weeks at a time with no contact with the outside world. About a year into his service though volunteers around him began to grow concerned, as even those with whome he shared a souk town realized they hadn't seen him in more then two months. This alone wouldn't have caused too much concern if not for the rumours about the strange american that started to make their way from Moroccans into the Peace Corps grapevine. From the volunteer community the rumours then made their way to the Peace Corps Office in Rabat and a staff member was dispatched to investigate the Kurtz like rumours eminating from the Atlas.

Upon encountering the long lost volunteer nothing seemed amis, he seemed well integrated into his community and was seemingly healthy in appearence. In fact the staff members concerns were quickly disarmed by the volunteers pleasent demenor and warm greeting. The volunteer quickly invited the staff member in for hamburgers, which the staff member gladly accepted. As he entered the volunteers mudbrick home the staff member was quickly struck by a pungent odor, but the volunteers home seemed clean and in order. That is until the volunteer opened a closet and pulled a hunk of rotting, maggot infested meat from a pile that reached to the volunteers thighs, and began to mold it into a hamburger patty. The volunteer was medically seperated the next day - and was back in the states by the next week.

Hence the term Peace Corps Crazy. Now how true is this story? I have no idea - likely it is just a Peace Corps urban legend. But still, it makes you think.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


After two years in Morocco you'd be a little crazy too. This is my conclusion after three days in the Dades river gorge north-east of Ouarzazate visiting a current Health Volunteer. Once again I can't tell you exactly where her site is but suffice it to say that it is one of the most breath taking places I have ever been. The austere beauty of this remote site, nestled deep in the High Atlas, is testified to by the hundreds of French tourists that I saw practicing for the qualifying round of the Paris-Dakaer rally in their spacious and luxiouriously appointed RV's. These RV's which contained anywhere between 2 to 5 european individuals would - if used by Moroccans - have contained around 15 seated passengers, 10 standing, 5 on the roof and 6 clutching for dear life to the rear of the vehicle. I know this because my transit up the Dades valley managed to hold this many people - with room to spare for the occasional goat. All without the benefit of closable doors, air conditioning or windows that could open - I was in Peace Corps experience heaven.

The transit up the valley floor was not the only astounding point of this journey up the gorge. The next days brought surprises aplenty. The most jarrring to me was when we went to tea at the home of a local family who were close with the female volunteer we were visiting. For those who aren't familiar with Moroccan gender roles, women and men do don't interact once they come of age, unless they are members of the same nuclear or semi-extended family unit. Imagine my surprise then when upon my entering this Moroccan home and removing my shoes, a sign of respect, and waiting for my turn to be greeted by the women of the house I was greeted by a big 'ol , wet peck on the cheek by one of the family matriarchs! Now this may not sound like a lot to those of you back in the PDA heavy states - but let me put it in perspective: the volunteer we were staying with had never seen or heard of any male forigner, and only a very few non nuclear family member males, being greeted with a kiss in her village or in those surronding it. Why this greeting? I can only chalk it up to a "crazy" rumour circulating in the village that I, the strange man from America, had been seen making dough two days previously. A rumour that I can only shamefully confirm to be true, proving once again that the ability to make a killer pizza opens doors the world over, or at least in rural Morocco as well as in America.

Ice Cream In Oz

There is a cloud in the sky, and therefore my little Moroccan world is being rocked. Why? Because after one month in country I am shocked if the temperature in Ouarzazate in the middle of the day is not approaching unbearable. But that said, in Morocco there is an ice cream season – and it doesn’t start until lack of ice cream leads to cerebral hemorrhaging. It’s bad to generalize, and I know this – but that said, of all the Moroccans I have spoken with about Ice Cream season the universal response is one of consternation in regards for my desire for Ice Cream when the distant High Atlas Mountains are still snow capped – never mind that on the plains birds avoid laying their eggs in direct sun for fear of their eggs being hard boiled and turning bad before even touching their nests. Thus without Ice Cream and with heat like that, a fieldtrip up the lush and cool Dades Valley Gorge to visit and experience the life of a current volunteer couldnt come at a better time.

Monday, March 24, 2008


The casbah of Rabat. Thats right - the Clash's Casbah.

Sunset in my CBT site - my host family owns the Hainout on the right.

The human blob infront of the Medina of Ouarzazate. From top right, counter clockwise: Liz, Elizabeth, Mel, Brian, Odyssey and Alex.

A shot of my CBT site at sunset.

Morocco Jed in front of an old abandoned Casbah (fort) at my CBT site.

My She Iron Dwar

The first CBT (community based training) of four is done, and I’m back at base camp in Ouarzazate – showered, shaved, rested and surrounded by English speakers – surreal surroundings after a week in a remote village nestled in a river valley carved into the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. The valley is a sea of green with fields of wheat bordered by almond, fig, walnut and peach trees. More then by trees the fields were defined by roses – for my CBT site is located in the Valley of The Roses. The roses (lord in Tamazight) have not yet begun to bloom, but with every field surrounded, when they do the imagery will be stunning.
What brings order and life to this oasis surrounded by jagged peaks, sudden mesas and distant snow covered ranges is an intricate system of irrigation troughs that channel the water from the river (asif in Tamazight) to the farthest fields more then a mile away from the entry point to the irrigation system and half mile inland from the river. The traditional irrigation system of the valley is managed by a figure known as the Ahlm, it is the Ahlm’s role to call for community workdays to maintain the irrigation system as well as arbitrate disputes over water rights, which may emerge in the use of the system. In my week at CBT I didn’t have time to meet the Ahlm, but I hope to in the coming weeks, I feel he’d be both a vast store of knowledge on the village as well as a useful community contact in working to investigate, discover and address the health issues of the village.
But enough setting of the scene, time for some anecdotes. The people of the village are just as wonderful as you would expect to find in such a setting. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t managed to be in some completely ridiculous situations among them. My first night in the village (douar in Tamazight and Moroccan Arabic) my family had couscous, which in Morocco is traditionally eaten with the hands. As a guest and as a foreigner, my family thoughtfully provided me with a spoon – believing that I wouldn’t be able to artfully make a couscous ball in my hand and then gracefully arc it into my mouth as they can. I of course was having none of that kind of treatment, so I dug right into the communal couscous (souksu in Tamazight) platter with my right hand and proceeded to attempt to mimic the actions of my host brothers and host father Mohammad. This course of action quickly led me to discover that not only does ones shirt become a piece of pop art if one doesn’t know how to roll a couscous ball but that, American hands are in no way prepared in day to day life for the steaming inferno that is a pile of couscous. I exited this situation in the only way I knew how with zero language skills: laughing at myself, getting the rest of the room to laugh at me and then saluting my host father and calling him “chief f souksu” (chief of the couscous) in honor of his perfect couscous ball making skills.
As for my host family, after that introductory anecdote I should probably describe them to you. As best as I can figure out 13 people live in my house, though numbers do very – from a high of 18 to a low of 8 during the five days I was at CBT. These people share the house with various animals, including: one mule, two cows, six cats, roughly a dozen hens and half dozen roosters, two goats and six sheep. The people though have names and identities, while the animals do not – so I’ll explain a little more about them to you:

Mohamed: My host father, a twinkle-eyed man, always to be found in a djillaba and white turban. He spends most of his time outside of the family hanout (store).

Mohl: My host mother, without a doubt the backbone of the house. She’s the president of the village tapestry association, and a mover and a shaker in the local community. She is always very concerned over my well-being and asks me many questions which I can only answer by saying: “ur fhmq” or I doubt understand. Which is my issue not hers.

Khadija: My host sister, she makes some great kahwa (coffee) in the morning.

Hadijia: My host sister-in-law, she’s from Casablanca so she speaks French and no Tamazight – whereas I’m from the United States and speak a little Tamazight and no French. We have a lot of very interesting, slightly exasperating and frequently hilarious moments.

Miriam: Hadijia’s four year old daughter. She’s a terror on two feet and is in love with me. I have a backpack pocket filled with seeds she kept on bringing me, enough said.

Hamid: My host brother, Hadijia’s husband and Miriam’s father. He disappears for long periods of time – I assume to work – my language isn’t their yet. He is crazy according to Hadijia and likes couscous – Hadijia doesn’t like couscous. I think that might be related to why he’s crazy.

Ahmed: My host brother, he teaches me Tamazight, I teach him English – it’s a good system. He can also roll a perfect couscous ball. Like his brother Hamid I have no idea what he does during the day. I think it involves Tea at the local café.

Ishmael: Either my host brother or nephew, he is the cool kid on the block – and is amazing because of it, for a variety of reasons too numerous to list here. He is also my shadow, meaning if the strange American wants to go for a walk he follows me to make sure I don’t get myself into trouble.

Rashid: My host brother, he’s a little shy and is somewhere into his teens. He humors me and my poor soccer skills by letting me play – at an altitude of a mile and a half – for about 15 minutes at a time, when my lungs and heart explodes.

And Naima, Ali, Mohammed the Younger, and two others with whom I am still working on names.

To be provided after my next CBT update…

Sunday, March 16, 2008

CBT Site

I know my site – well my CBT site at least. I’d let you know where, but seeing as how the interweb is public space the Peace Corps in its wisdom has ordained that I can’t post its location. But I can tell you that it is 150 klicks east of Ouarzazate in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. What does this information mean?

Among other things, it means that I am learning Tamazight, the most widely spoken Berber dialect in the nation. While not Moroccan Arabic, I am stoked! Why? Because, as I most emphasize, Tamazight is the most widely spoken of the three Berber dialects of Morocco: Tashlaheet, Tamazight and Tarifitt AND most importantly with Tamazight I can end up in the Mountains and NOT the 120 F desert where Tashlaheet volunteers are normally sent.

I guess at this point I should explain what CBT means, though I should explain firstly that no organization I have ever been involved in has as complicated an alphabet soup as the Peace Corps. Anyway, CBT stands for Community Based Training, which is a method of training that involves living in a rural village with a host family (more about my host family later) and nine hours of language, cultural and technical training Monday through Saturday. Also in this village are four other trainees and an LCF, or Language and Culture Facilitator, which is Peace Corps speak for a HCN (Host Country National aka a Moroccan) whose job it is to help us learn how to survive our two years of service.

So, Sunday I leave for my first CBT, which will last for five days, ending next Saturday. Over the next nine weeks I will do four visits to my CBT, each of increasing length, hopefully at the end reaching a Novice High level in Tamazight – so as to avoid ETS, Early Termination of Service.

Next time the first installment on life with 13 Moroccans and six cats…

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


To kids and men from the fourth planet I am from the arabic world - this is what I have learned over the past three days in Ouarzazate. I know this from two hilarious interactions with HCN's - that's Peace Corp speak for 'host country nationals' aka people who live in the country - anyway the first included a group of Moroccan children who when introduced to my friends and I in the square had a hard time with me being named Jed and with ,me being 'mirikan' and not 'maghreb'. With my arabic - thats an enormous complement! The second incident was on the edge of the old casbah of Ouarzazate, this one included the man greeting me with bonjour, my replying with assalam alaykum and his *naturally* assuming I was tunisian or Algerian! Another great moment in intercultural communication.Which i'm continuing right now - making friends with my local cyber owner Amin! I think he's inviting me to atay - tea in arabic - as I type - not today but maybe another.Anyway - i should get going, but don't forget to write those emails qnd letters! I love getting every one!


Saturday, March 8, 2008

First Impressions Of Al Maghreb

Been here for four days and already the US seems a distant past. From the way books smell when printed in Morocco to the sound of the Muezzin - call to prayer - at dawn. A call which acts as a universal alarm clock - echoing from neighborhood to neighberhood as the mosques each take up the call in turn. An action made all the more stunning by the silence which encompasses Rabat - for example - before the call to prayer. A silence whose presence is only sharpened by the periodic crowing of the family roosters nestled beneath me in the sea of satelite dishes which dot every rooftop - clumped together as though seeking protection from a fierce storm with their brethren.
My first night in Rabat - between jetlag and a bakery in my stomach turning out thousands of knot shaped pretzels an hour - I had trouble sleeping. This is what made it possible to experience the call to prayer - as well as another astonishing ritual of Morocco: the collection of garbage.
To those of you in the states this may to seem like an interesting subject. But the paradox's of Maroc made it a delightful experience for me to witness. Modern garbage trucks' pulling up to the streets - collecting garbage - and unloading a man at the corner of the street with a palm frond and a garbage can. To do what you ask? To sweep the streets with the palm frond of course - next to a 150000 dollar brand new garbagee truck.

Anyway I have to go - i'm at a cyber cafe at an arabic keyboard - so excuse the spelling errors. Next time though i'll introduce you to Ouzerazate and tell you why George W's buddy - Ambassador Riley - thinks i'm pretty up on my game.

Until then


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shaking Up A Storm

As the last post demonstrates, I'm getting a little nervy - and with two days left 'till take off I'll share a secret with you: those nerves are not going anywhere. On the plus side though they make it really very easy to operate on 10 to 15 minutes of sleep a night.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Times They Are a Changing...

Well, I could not back out now even if I wanted - which I do not - why? Because I have had my official, family sponsored, societally mandated, going away party. How was this going away party? Simply put, illuminating - it was a wonderful, warm environment - the memory of which will be prominently featured in the mosaic of my life.

Fundamentally this party wiped the film from my eyes and helped shatter any illusions I may have had regarding the enormity of the journey I'm undertaking. The self is identified primarily as it is opposed to the other, so is the individual defined and so is the culture defined. But in joining the Peace Corps I am placing myself in a situation which is the essential negation, the anti-matter, of me. This journey serves as anti-matter, in that by journeying to a culture such as that of Morocco I am leaving behind those with whom I have a shared identity - an identity which is as ephemeral as the wind without the anchors that family and friends provide. Each anchor serving to hold in place a different, interlocking, puzzle piece that collectively define who I am.

This loss of self is what scares me most.

I know that Morocco will serve to widen my definition of self. It will test me and stretch me, I will have many less anchors to rely upon, and will have to cement myself in new ways to a new reality. A new reality that will in many ways turn the reality and the culture I am leaving behind into the other. But, I know that by journeying into the other - transforming my current reality into a shadow - I will eventually shrink the "other" and grow what I think of as myself.

Or more simply put - I'll grow. Maybe even up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Start...

Todays the day the final piece of the Peace Corps puzzle fell into place: I received my staging packet. For those of you who don't know, the staging packet is the last communication with the Peace Corps one has before physically traveling to a location to begin training. In my case i'll be flying out of San Francisco and into Philadelphia on Friday, February 29th. I'll then be in Philadelphia for about two and a half days, during which time i'll receive the last of the immunizations I need for Morocco while the Peace Corps processes various forms that allow me to not be thrown into debtors prison, along with a basic introduction to, and overview of, training.

Then it's off to JFK and a thrilling flight across the Atlantic to Morocco, where I will emerge eight hours later into the fabled sun of Casablanca. From this fabled sun I will quickly be ushered into a bus to take me to the capital of Morocco, Rabat, from where I will depart with four or five other volunteers to do 11 weeks of technical, language and culture training in a small Moroccan village. After that training I get placed in a village and the Peace Corps really begins.

SO to summarize:
February 29th: Depart SFO, arrive Philadelphia
March 1st-3rd: Introduction to the Peace Corps, Paperwork and Shots
March 3rd: Depart JFK
March 4th: Arrive Casablanca
March 4th- May 21st: In country training
May 21st - May 31st, 2010: Peace Corps