Monday, September 29, 2008

1 week completed

My first week in my training site has been very good. I have met several relation of the family and all have been very kind and welcoming. I am beginning to remaster the french keyboard, inch a'llah, :). I have bought too many colas, but I spend little money on meals and therefore have the opportunity and the dirhams to splurge on things such as snickers bars and cola. It will be nice once Ramadan is over (wednesday or thursday) because then I will be able to eat and drink during the day again! :).

We have begun working with the local cooperation. They do rug weaving among many other things, but their rug weaving is what they are known for. Our current project during our training period is to sort out what they desire and what they can do and develop a plan of action. It is to prepare us for our eventual site placement. I adore my fellow site mates, I just feel I am often misunderstood or unheard, so I watch and formulate ideas to be implemented at a later time when I receive my site placement. I spend much time interacting with my host family, their extended family and simply observing how they all communicate and interact with one another. I am then viewing how americans think and behave and how moroccans think and behave and attempting to find a way that involves both ways of thought for a more productive meeting and spenditure of all of our time. One difference I have noticed is the american's need for an exact answer. The women we are working with never do anything on a set day, etc., so their concept of time is very different from ours. What I would like to do is speak with the women as they are working in a more conversational way. That way we are not using up too much of their working time. Much of the time I have the sense they are willing to chat and communicate with us, but we are also eating into their workday. Even id they see our questions as useless, we may have more progress if we are asking them as they work and are less pressed for time. Inch a'llah.

I am also suffering from sinus allergies, so breaking out the zyrtec and cough syrop, hopefully it won't mess too much with my thoughts! I missed language this morning because of them, :(. I am trying very hard to learn as quickly as I can, some words stick better than others. I just wish I knew more verbs and more conjugation. I think I will ask my family more questions and read ahead in my book more. I am trying to learn so much in so little time. Everyone is very helpful though which is amazing. It's nice to live in a culture where life isn't continually rushed. I will admit I am scared to be on my own in only another month, but it will be good. The phrase I will keep as a mantra will be "Rome wasn't built in a day".

Inch a'llah!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Birthday Moroccan Style

S-salam alaykoum. I had my 24th birthday yesterday with my host family here in Morocco. I LOVED it, :). Moroccans know how to celebrate. First they dressed me in a pink kaftan and did my hair and makeup. They had also invited my entire training group over as well as a few others. Then they presented me with 2 cakes, an amazing strawberry one and then a delicious chololate one that my older host sister had made. Then their cousin did some Berber dancing in a berber costume, then I got to give it a whirl. I had such a great time. My family is making me feel very welcome here in Morocco.

I don't like walking alone very much, but I am sure I will get used the male attention soon enough. I don't have to wear a jellaba in my training town, but I do cover my arms and legs and try not to wear anything low-cut. The town itself is very beautiful and set in the mountains, I love the views. So far everyone I have met has been amazing as well. I am coming to prefer some muhanut (shopkeepers) over others and am learning to eat breakfast and lunch items that require zero refridgeration. Once Ramadan is over we will have someone cook us lunch which will be nice. My dinners here are amazing, my mom really goes all out for Ramadan. Last night I had amazing kafka, ground beef patties with seasoning. Ground beef is a specialty here. The night before I tried cow pancreas, was interesting. They had a really good fried fish as well. Overall the food is amazing and loving the mint tea, :).

Well, here are a few pics of the b-day celebration:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My New Home

So I arrived in my new town for 2 weeks on Sunday. We took a grand taxi to my new site. Taxi drivers are a little crazy here, so after an almost crash on a turn and not being able to restart the car right away after stopping, I made it to my new home. I met my host family and so far they are wonderful. I have a mother and two sisters. One is studying to be a beautician (age 21) and the other is still in school (13). Good and bad news is, they speak perfect french. I am working very hard to learn darija, but it is not an easy language, ;).

Sunday night I experienced a private hammam. Basically I spent two hours in a sauna like area with my host family. I started by putting a hot oil treatment in my hair, then cleaning my skin with henna, washing my hair, then I scrubbed off all the dead skin on my body before soaping up again. Then after I was finally clean, I redressed and ate fruit while my host sister spoke with their friends near the hammam. It was quite the experience, but I felt very clean. Before all this I had a large "breakfast/dinner". It is Ramadan, so my family fasts during the day. Then after returning from the Hammam, we had flan, then around midnight their uncle came over and we had beef kababs, fruit, etc. Lots of food. I finally crashed near 12:30pm.

Yesterday I woke up and got ready for classes. My host mom walked me partway there so I knew the way. At our language instructor's house I ate breakfast and then we started class at 9am. We learned how to say a few things, then we visited the police station (gendarmiya) and then the mayor, but he wasn't available. Afterwards we went back to school and ate lunch. Me and my fellow colleagues went to the square to buy some food, then we had more language class until 4pm. That night my host family took me along with the aunt and cousin to a party down in the square. During Ramadan the young girls and boys who fast for the first time dress up like Indian wedding brides on the 27th day of Ramadan. So I got to see my host sister have her makeup done and photos taken. It was so much fun, we listened to arabic music and ate peanuts while we did this. Then my host mom's sister introduced me to her son, lol. Earlier that evening they had asked if I was married, they were joking of course! Then I had some flan upon my return and crashed around 11:30pm.

Today was much the same, learned language from 9am until 4pm with a lunch break in which I went to the market area for some food. Not sure what the plan is for tonight, but we will see.

So far I know how to tell time, numbers, if I am hungry or not, and much much more that I forget. I can also describe my family now. As for my host family's house, I have a western bathroom as well as a turkish toilet bathroom (though I have not seen anyone use that one). There are two bedrooms, two sitting rooms and a nice kitchen. They have cable and internet, though I can't get to my gmail there, :(. They also have the cutest puppy and a hamster. I will post some photos once I am able to, perhaps later this week.

Food hasn't been anything too crazy, we had chicken liver for dinner the first night along with a flat bread item called melowee which has some sausage/onion mixture thing in it, hard-boiled egg, salad, bread, milk and orange juice. Then last night we had bread, a rice filled tomato, eggplant thing, amazing roasted diced potatoes, and some chicken item with pomegranite for dessert. We didn't have the late meal that night. I also snack continuously during the day at language learning. Haven't learned too much of what my job will be like that, but that will come soon enough. The language learning keeps me plenty busy at the moment. I am always so tired by the end of the day!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


View of Mosque from hotel roof in Rabat.

View of Azrou from Atlas Mountains

Azrou at dusk from hostel roof.

Laundry day on hostel roof.

Atlas mountains.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Language Decision

Let’s see…today is now Friday. I have now had a full week of Darija lessons and miscellaneous cultural, policy and health sessions. I also had my second rabies shot and my typhoid shot. Be very proud, I didn’t freak out this time for either one! :). The typhoid shot really hurt though, I was surprised. I also learned how to sanitize my water so I can drink it without any bad side affects as well as how to clean my food. I can’t say I have used a Turkish toilet yet, but I will soon. I also missed out on the Hammam (public bath house) experience tonight, but I am sure I will have the chance to go at least once while I am here. I have also had the chance to meet several current volunteers and it is great hearing their stories and points of view.

Today we learned the first big verdict, what language we will each be learning. I will be learning Darija! Very happy as this was my first choice, :). I will be going to a urban area for my community based training which I will have for the next two weeks, then it’s back to Azrou to regroup for more seminar training, then back to my training site. At the end of October I will learn where my placement as a Small Business Development volunteer will be and have the chance to visit it before regrouping again and swearing in as an official Peace Corps volunteer, :). I also really like the people who I will be training with, we will be a total of 6, three girls and three boys. I was hoping to see what a rural area would be like, but at the same time easily found amenities will be greatly appreciated, :). Internet is always good as well, :).

Due to the fact of it being Ramadan at the moment, we will be cooking our own lunch…:). We must also make sure that when we eat we do not eat in front of our homestay family between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Tomorrow we will be shopping for whatever items we have not already purchased as well as food. Last night I went to the Medina (old city) with some fellow volunteers and we managed to find what we needed. I had a list of getting a scrubber called a kiss, a towel to dry oneself after using a Turkish toilet called a futa sguira (small towel), and some sandala (flip flops/sandals). My sandals are really cool, they are a tan leather with a toe loop and band over the foot.

So far the food has been excellent. The main vegetables I have seen are carrots, squash, green beans, cauliflower, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumber, and eggplant. Meats have been varied between beef, chicken, lamb, tuna, and mystery meat.

I have done laundry for the second time since my arrival. Definitely a good upper body workout. I have learned that washing pants are the worst as well as my bath towel.

So far I love the people here. Everyone I barter with and meet are so nice and friendly and very helpful. If you don’t know where something is, just ask a shopkeeper and they will continue pointing you in the right direction. The scenery in Azrou is also amazing. The view of the mountains is amazing and the place in which we are staying is very nice.

Well, I will update more after I have experienced some community based training and living with a homestay family!


Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Monday

Another day of classes completed. Learned some more darija, reviewed the old. Also, learned how to use Turkish toilet. They are...interesting, but in a way cleaner. Definitely need to work on the squats. Basically a turkish toilet is a hole in the ground with two places to put your feet and nothing but possibly the wall to hang onto.

Well, I have less than a week to prepare enough vocabulary to live with my host family. I am looking forward to living with native Moroccans and learning first hand about their culture as I am sure they are interested in learning about mine. I hope to learn the language as quickly as possible. I am getting very good at pointing and communicating with my pidgin darija. When I got my Moroccan sim card last night the woman in the shop spoke zero english and no it was fun. But, I ended up paying a good price and getting everything completed, :). I am thinking I will pick up some needed supplies tonight and maybe attempt to get a pair of sandals or jellaba (long overshirt/dress). I love the souks here, so neat to walk through. I will definitely be buying fresh everything while I am here.

And for those of you who know me well will be shocked to hear this, but....I actually like the vegetables here! They have the most amazing carrots, potatoes and squash. But that could also be due to the seasonings they use, ;). I have had couscous a few times, I am now addicted, :). At times it is difficult not being able to speak the language very well, but the people here are very kind and helpful. When I make mistakes in grammar some actually take the time to correct me.

And the sunshine! Well, dinner time. Bslama!

Sunday, September 14, 2008


So far Azrou is going very well. We arrived on Friday afternoon. I was greeted by everyone in Darija...I had also just woken up, haha. We had an amazing lunch with couscous and the best melon ever. I have no idea what the english name is, but in Darija it is called Birir, or something very similar to that spelling. Then we had a meeting, then wandered the town until our 6:30pm curfew, had "breakfast" at 6:45pm, opted to stay in and then dinner was at 10pm. Due to Ramadan, they have a small breakfast at 6:45pm (after sun-down), then a large dinner at 10pm. I also absolutely love the hostel we are staying in, it is so beautiful and we have western toilets!

Yesterday we started learning Darija…brain overload! I learned many useful phrases and have much much more to learn. Last I walked into the main town (about 30 minutes) and successfully got my French mobile unlocked. We spent about 20 minutes going from shop keeper to shop keeper looking for someone who could unlock my phone. My French has come in very handy since I got here. Then me and a friend took a petit taxi back to the hostel, not too bad. Not too much crazier than any other driver in Europe. I plan on getting a Moroccan SIM card this evening so I can finally be contactable, :). I had learned a few phrases of Darija so that I could ask people about unlocking my phone and then we would lapse into French once my Darija had been tapped. We also learned how to handwash our laundry, the boys have much to learn, haha. Then I stayed up too late listening to some of our language teachers singing moroccan songs.

Today was our free day. At 8:30am I met up with 2 current volunteers and several of my fellow business development peers and we hiked up part of the Atlas mountains. It was so beautiful and a bit steep at times. At one point we had a misunderstanding with a sheep herdsman, but we finally understood. We saw many sheep and goats and a few donkeys. I also finally did my laundry today and checked out a "Cyber Cafe". The owner is the brother of one of our language trainers and very nice. So far all the Moroccans I have met have been very nice and understanding. Some even help teach me how to say things correctly, :). Doing laundry is very labor intensive here.

A bit of interesting information, Morocco is the first country to officially identify the US as a real country and our oldest trading partner. I have found Moroccans thus far to be a very welcoming people. I also love the sunshine! So far it seems to be forever sunny and I love it!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Moving on to Azrou

So far Rabat has been really fun, exhausting of course, but it's been so great to hang out and get to know the other volunteers. I am sad to be seperated from the Youth Development (YD) sector in Azrou for training, but I am sure we will find ways to meet up within the next 2 years. It is hard to believe it has been a week already since flying to Philadelphia and arriving in Rabat.

For the past 2 days we have been free to wonder the city, visiting the Medina (market area) has been really cool as well as wondering a little of the streets and seeing all the stores. So far I am falling in love with Morocco and am very excited to be heading on to Azrou and beginning my language training. I am hoping to learn Darija, but there is a good chance I will be learning the Berber language as nearly 40% of us will be placed in Berber villages. I did learn that Berber has an acient writing system that is being re-taught in schools which is really cool.

I like walking down the street and seeing the arabian women in their headscarves and long djebellahs. I hope to have the opportunity to purchase one soon in Azrou. So far the food in the hotel has been very good. Out teachers have been very kind and wonderful as well. I hope to post photos soon. I am unsure how much connection to internet I will have in Azrou, but the free wireless in our Rabat hotel has been amazing.

I packed for Azrou earlier this evening and the zipper on my large suitcase is already defective, haha. Good news is I can zip it all the way as long as I don't use a single zipper to do so. I am also very thankful for my hiking backpack, so far it has been awesome. Everyone recognizes my matching brown and pink luggage as well, :). I am of course already thinking of what could have been left behind (very few things) and what I will want to be sent to me in care packages. Books are very expenseive here (at least the ones in french were and english is very difficult to find). It will definitely be nice to settle down in one place for awhile so I can stop living out of my suitcase. For the next 2 months we will be moving between Azrou, our training village where we stay with host families, and other field trip areas.

Next time I write I will have more stories of another city, :). And hopefully we will have played more moroccan poker and moroccan 31, haha. Basically moroccan poker is chinese poker in which we say all the numbers in moroccan darija, same thing that makes moroccan 31 moroccan. It has been an amazing way to learn numbers and other random phrases.

Well, I shall write more another time! Bslama!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I Arrived!

Hello everyone! After a 3 hour drive to JFK, 2 hour wait to check-in, 1 hour check-in process, 2 hour wait in the gate area playing Phase 10 and a 6 hour flight...I safely arrived in the Casablanca airport, :). The flight passed by very quickly and I had minimal ear pressure difficulties! Then after we arrived in Casablanca we filled out several entry cards and made our way to our checked bags where none had been left behind, filed onto another bus and took a 2 hour drive to Rabat. The scenery was beautiful, but unfortunately my camera was in my bag under the bus, :(. But not to worry, I will take plenty of other photos during my 27 month journey here, :). We are staying at a very beautiful old hotel in inner Rabat and will depart for Azrou near the end of the week. We will then seperate into our different language learning groups in which us small business developers will either learn Moroccan Arabic or one of the Berber dialects while the youth development sector will learn Moroccan Arabic. It will be very difficult, but I hope to learn a lot.

I am also very excited to explore Rabat tomorrow! We're hotel bound until then and it is also the month of Ramadan here ending at the end of the month. Ramadan is the Islamic religious holiday in which Moroccans absist from drinking any kind of liquid (including water) or food during the day as well as sex or smoking during the entire month. They celebrate and eat well at night. The holiday is in honor to Allah, it is a time in which they celebrate Allah through cleansing their bodies during the day by not eating or drinking. It is all very fascinating and aweing. I might try to participate this time next year after I have acclimated to the climate and schedule and culture. They do not expect non-islamic religions to participate, but they do ask us to not eat in front of them in the public eye out of respect for their religion.

So thus far this is my intro into the culture. I still have much to learn and observe, but I hope to integrate into my future community as much as possible, :).

Monday, September 8, 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, September 6th at 11:30am and arrived at the hotel by noon. I had fallen asleep at 12:30am and woke at 2:30am to make it for my 6am flight from Des Moines. Hence to say I was very tired by the end of the first day! 2 hours of sleep, woo-hoo! The majority of us had gotten very little sleep. So far I have met some really awesome people and am very excited to be leaving for Morocco today, :). Yesterday was spent going over information, purchasing last minute items, re-packing and just having a fun time in the states one final time before heading out for the next two years.

I am not sure when my next post will be, but I will update once I've experienced a bit of Moroccan life, :).


Monday, September 1, 2008

Overcoming Fear

As the day inches nearer my fear begins to increase. I still find it difficult to believe that I will be departing to Morocco in less than a week. When I studied in France, I had no fear before I left. I had been to France before, studied the language for 8 years, knew several french people and had studied the country. France was not so different from America in many ways. For me, Morocco is a mystery, an unknown. I will be learning in a new language in a very short amount of time, I will be learning a new culture, and I will be required to assist a small town/village with so many questions...

I am very excited for this opportunity, and I feel it is the right thing to do and for me with every fiber of my being, but I still fear that I won't learn the language quickly or well enough, that the people I am to assist will know more than me, etc. Probably silly fears, but fears non-the-less. Obviously I was nominated and picked and accepted for a reason. Obivously something in my application and interview spurred the Peace Corps to put faith in me. My friends and family and colleagues also all have tremendous faith in me. I only hope to make everyone proud, to make myself proud, to make a difference.

I know these next two years will be difficult, I am not naive in that view. I also know that I have worked in many difficult positions and that I have overcome many difficulties in my personal life and in myself. I am strong, and it will be that strength that will see me through. I have a certain tenacity when it comes to accomplishing and completing great goals in my life. I have also grown up in a fairly independent manner, I have an open mind, and I have a desire to learn and to help. I know I will be fine, but knowing and believing are two different animals, haha.

I'm still coming to terms with that fact that I leave in a mere 5 days on a 6am flight to Philadelphia before heading off to Morocco. Of course I wish I had read more books, studied more Arabic, taken a class or two...but that time has passed. I know I can do this, :). In the words of one of my employers: "She always tries to say she can't, then when forced to, she realizes she can." That is from another job who told me: "This will be the toughest summer you'll ever love.". I seem to take on a lot of employments that tell me that...haha.

I will end this post with a poem I will always take to heart and a favorite photo taken in Ireland:

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.