Monday, November 24, 2008

First Impressions

Sunday, 23 November 2008

I don’t have daily internet access in my new site, but I do have internet access one or two times per week depending on how often I need to go to my souk town.

As I had previously written, my village is small, but not as small as others within my training group, and health and environment volunteers have smaller, more remote sites than me. I am lucky to be so close to a major city. Once I have my Peace Corps issued bike, I’ll be able to bike into town once a week. The number of people living in my village is yet to be determined. I live within a family of 12 (one is away for the military) while there are several houses with 5 or less. My guess is there are under 600 people living on my village which makes up a set of three with village lines distinguishable only by where each Mosque begins. The nedi I will be assisting is located in the village next to me and there is a teleboutique in the village next to that one. There are between 2-3 hanuts in my village, one of which is owned by one of my new brothers. Moroccan families tend to be quite large compared to American families. The haja of my family has around 5-7 children (still unsure), one of the wives of a son has about 7 siblings, etc. I now currently have family of some sort located all throughout Morocco between my current family and my CBT family which is really cool.

Thursday we had our official swearing in ceremony in Fes. We got on a bus around 8:30am and drove the nearly 2 hours to Fes where we listened to speeches given by the ambassador of Morocco, some delegates, our country director and two members from our training group. At 11:30am I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer with the US Government. It’s weird to think of myself as now currently working for the US Government. We had our swearing in ceremony in a beautiful hotel in Fes and had an interesting buffet dinner with members from our CBT sites. I was very happy that my older host sister was able to come, J. We had 4 other women from our host families there as well as our cook and friend. It was so nice to see everyone again. Then after fighting through the buffet line Moroccan style (no such think as a line here), we chatted, took photos, said good-byes and then left to return to Azrou where I finished packing, ran a few last minute errands and prepared to leave. It was very sad leaving everyone and everything that had become familiar to me in Azrou. I still miss my first host family very much, they had become my second family here in Morocco and we had been matched very well.

Friday morning I caught the 8am bus to Errachidia with a few other SBD volunteers and several YD (youth development) volunteers. We then ate lunch before heading to our final sites, a few were staying the night in Errachidia. I arrived in my village around 2pm and had lots of fun carting my luggage through the mud. Apparently it had been raining for two days and there are no paved roads in my village, haha. Lucky for me as I was struggling along, a brother-in-law of the family saw me and offered assistance for which I was thankful. I then spent the rest of the day unpacking, etc.

Saturday I woke up around 10am and attempted to speak with the muldar (landlord) of the departing volunteer’s home to discuss renting it in her place and seeing if I could put a hold on it for the two months I am staying with my host family. Alas, he was not home. I then went to Errachidia with the help of another brother-in-law to get my large suitcase from the CTM station. Yay for host family members. He showed me the day souk of Errachidia, very large. And I hear the Sunday weekly souk is even larger. Crazy! Got my other bag successfully, then taxied it back to my host family’s house before heading over to visit with his and his family. I then attempted to speak with the muldar again with no luck and had dinner with the brother-in-law and his family. They are very sweet.

Today I slept in till noon after a semi-late evening. I was awoken twice by family members. They didn’t understand that I just like to sleep. Spent 5 minutes explaining that I was not sick, just tired. After waking up I went to check out the last volunteer’s house. Wow, very messy/dirty. I can see why she has had scorpions in her house. I spent about an hour cleaning parts of it which will need to be better cleaned using tide. They use tide for everything here. But before I do too much work, I want to have it cleared with Peace Corps. It needs a few repairs, nothing major. Then after doing some cleaning I came back to the house and learned how to weave a shag carpet. Pretty simple. I can already think of a few things to advise later on about improving the quality of the carpet. It’s nice living with two members of the cooperative. After some attempted weaving, tried speaking to the muldar again, again, not there. So ended up having tea with a really nice family of whom I am still uncertain of any names, etc. Everyone knows me, so rarely does anyone actually introduce themselves.

So that is my current update. Quite a bit has been happening these last few days. Tomorrow I am to experience the hmmam in town with one of my host sisters before making a day trip to Errachidia. Goal is to visit the gendarmes tomorrow to start my carte de sejour (residence permit) process, check out the post office, and visit the souk. Tomorrow is my first official day of work, but due to the nature of my community, I feel I had already begun doing that a bit. My host sisters and several others in the village have been working on the rug and I have watched my host sisters doing some crochet work, etc. I’ll start asking questions and such once I get a better handle on the language. First things first.

I am learning that it is almost at times a whole new language down south. Accents are different and some vocabulary is even different. I am slowly learning bit by bit, day by day. Some days are better than others of course. I spend much time saying “Shnu” and “Eawd” and “Mafhmtsh”. Which are: “what”, “again” and “I don’t understand.” I am trying and they are being very patient and trying as well. Very few speak any English or French, so I believe I will learn the language very quickly if I am ever to communicate anything, haha.

I am beginning to like village life. Everyone knows me and soon I will know everyone, it is very peaceful and calm and no tourists. I’m rarely greeted with bonjour or hola here in the village which is very nice.

24 November 2008

Today I woke up at 9am, then after being told the gendarmes close in the afternoon, I left at 10am. It took awhile to get a taxi, I then arrived in Errachidia around 11am and started at the police station who directed me to the gendarmes who had very little idea of what they were doing. After two hours of confusion we went back to the police station who told the gendarmes I didn't need further documentation. They thought I needed extra paperwork. Then the gendarme went with me to get notarized copies of everything which took nearly 2 more hours. All in all I have all my neccessary paperwork now and will return tomorrow to drop it all off. It is quite the process here and even more interesting when they don't even know where your village is located. But all in all they were all very nice and helpful.

I was unable to check my mail as I forgot my keys and too tired for the souk. So I grabbed some coke, pringles and awesome cream filled cookies and a banana for lunch. Now that I have updated this I will return to my village and massive family for more darija learning! Maybe some hammam, today took much longer than planned.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Moroccan Culture

Thought I would write a blog on some of the some of the culture I have witnessed and will be partaking in. Morocco is more conservative than the united states, but it isn't as strict as many may believe. Some women veil their faces, more so in the south, while others veil only their hair or in the larger towns/cities and more liberal villages many go unveiled. While in Ain Leuh my family went unveiled while in my new village everyone is veiled. Although, not to the same extent as other places. Many women simply cover their hair. There are two sides to covering one's hair. Many do so for religious beliefs where in the Koran it states that one must cover their head, but this is not mandatory. While others cover their head for cultural reasons and many others for logical reasons. In the south it can get very windy and women cover their hair to protect it from sand/dust as well as from the sun. The head scarf is an interesting subject here in Morocco. In my village I have not worn a headscarf yet, but I am toying with the idea for the mere fact of protecting my hair from the elements as well as to blend in and I just think they can be very beautiful.

Also, it is respectful to cover your arms, legs, butt and collar bone. My village is not so conservative that I can't show my wrists, ankles or neck, but generally my pants and shirts cover my wrists and ankles anyway. It is not required that I cover my head or wear a jallaba, but I would like to invest in one just because they are so practical and beautiful. As for covering one's butt, that means shirts that cover your butt over whatever skirt or jeans you may be wearing. In my village many women wear bedsheets or large veils of fabric over their clothes. Generally it is of a thin nature and they wrap it around themselves much like a headscarf/jallaba mixture. I am unsure of the proper name of the attire at this time, but it is very neat.

Moroccans do eat with their hands here and use minimal eating utensils. Generally one slurps one's soup, or harira as all soup here is called. As for tajines, one grabs meat/vegatables with bread using one's right hand. The left hand is considered dirty and is not used to grab food or shake one's hand. Also, they generally only use one glass for water at meal time that is shared between everyone, but individual glasses for all other liquids. As what I can glean from our moroccan staff, they do not know the reason for the one water glass other than it is a cultural thing.

Many ask about my status as a woman here. Generally I do not walk alone when I can coherce someone to walk or travel with me, but I can travel alone as well. My future village is fairly safe in this respect. I do get much attention in larger towns/cities like Azrou, but generally minimal and nothing life threatening. Just young boys giving catcalls, etc. I am often mistaken for french as many moroccans are amazed when they meet an american, french are more popular as tourists. I have experienced amazing hospitality being an american peace corps volunteer and they marvel at the fact I am learning their local language of darija.

Hospitality is major here in Morocco. Never will you visit a Moroccan in their home and not be offered very sugary mint tea and cookies or sweets of some kind. On the street Moroccans tend to stay to their own space, but once in the home they are much more open and very friendly. The home is their safe space where they are free to be themselves. But they also have a high degree of saving face and can be very indirect if something displeases them. Or, they can be very boisterous in voicing their opinions. It really depends on the people, circumstances, subject, etc. Family is very important and very heirarchical. The parents or grandparents are always at the top of the chain with everyone filtering afterwards. Many Moroccans would never marry without the approval of their family it is so important to them.

Hmm...unsure of other cultural views at this time. I will definitely write more entries such as this over the next two years as I experience more culture. One of the goals of Peace Corps is to inform the natives in the country we are serving in of American culture and American ways, but another of the three goals is also to inform Americans of the culture of the people we are serving. I learn new things each and everyday and I enjoy sharing my experiences with those of you back in the states. It really is a different world here, but people are still people and still desire the same basic needs, :).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dance Party

We had our language exams on Saturday and I did much better than I thought, :). We were required to achieve novice high and I achieved intermediate low after only 2 months of language study! This was very good news for me. I was told my grammer is good and I have good pronounciation, :).

Then that night we had a dance party where we learned some moroccan dances and taught a few american dances, then just had freestyle dance between moroccan music and american music. I had a blast! The moroccan women keep asking me where I learned to dance, haha. Finally, a place where I know how to dance!

We have a talent show tomorrow night and I was planning on doing a performance, but we'll see. Out of the arabic music on my computer none are quite what I want. There was one during the dance party I liked, so maybe I can borrow it from someone. It will definitely be an improvisation, but I'm pretty good at that. Thanks Inna!

Otherwise been working on another cross stitch. I am learning that moroccans seem to have a high regard for this particular art which is really cool, especially since the women I will be working with do embroidery, :).

Well, 2 more days of classes and then the big day of swearing in before officially heading to my final site for two years. It's scary to think I'll be on my own soon, but I'm sure it'll be fine. These two years are going to fly. Today we learned about how to properly connect a buta gas tank to a stove and about buta gas safety.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Azrou Update

Salamu Ealaykoum,

Been in Azrou for about a week now, nothing too exciting to report. Been suffering from a head cold since Monday and started taking antibiotics yesterday (Thursday). Not sure what I have, something between a sinus infection and bronchitis. So been staying in and resting as much as possible between studying and classes. Movie nights are great. That's when we convert the third floor salon into a small movie theater, :).

I have my language proficiency exam tomorrow, hoping it goes well. The goal is to achieve novice high which is basically being able to create with language. I think I'm around that range, some days are better than others, but generally able to have decent conversations. We'll see, inch a'llah.

Going to do some shopping before I head back down south. They make these really nice flannel jallabas and I think one would be amazing for winter and traveling. I think jallabas are great, you can wear whatever you want underneath.

Well, that's my exciting update! Just eating, hanging out, studying and resting, :). Can't wait for my cold to go away!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Village Life

I made it back safely from my weeklong site visit. I left the bus station in Azrou at 8am on November 1st and arrived in Errachidia around 1pm where I had lunch and met the volunteer I will be replacing. Then we took the 15 minute taxi ride to my small village, still not sure on size, but under 1,000. There are 3 villages kind of running into one another. I then met my host family of 11 people. There is the mother, then two of her single daughters aged 22 and 30, then 2 married couples (one husband does not live at home as he is in the military) and then 6 children between the two coupples. There are two newborns (2-3 months old), then there are four children aged 4,5,10, and 11. It's pretty crazy between villagers and other relation visiting, but good. The house if huge. There is a date tree in the middle of the house which is an open space, then there are about 6 rooms surrounding the central space. They have a well in the house as well as tap water and electricity. They are building an amazing house across the street where they also store their animals. They have a cow, calf, some chickens, a turkey and a sheep or two. So I get fresh milk and eggs everyday, :). The new house is also gorgeous, all tiled on the inside.

The rest of the week was spent meeting women, visiting the nedi where the women work, etc. The women share the school that was built. They meet when school isn't in session and share half of the space. Otherwise they work in their homes the rest of the time and do a little bit of everything. They make knitted sweater pants outfits, crochet doilies among other items, embroider sheets, make beaded jewelry and a little rug weaving with natural wool and dyes. I'm excited to learn more about their projects. They also grow olives and have begun making books with paper made in a neighboring nedi that I think could have real potential.

Overall country life in the desert was a complete shock, but it's good. There are some awesome volunteers near me and it's a great area for bike riding. I don't have internet in the village, but I might be able to work something out, inch a'llah. My internet/souk town is Errachidia which is only about 15 km away. The plan is once I have a bike to bike it once a day for the workout. My village has a few hanuts with the basic needs, but no veggies or fruits or anything like that.

I went on a very nice hike on Monday with one of my host sisters and the volunteer I will be replacing to the nearby forest where the village does their farming. I will have delicious fresh olive oil soon enough, :). My new addiction is pomegranate and they have a few trees there.

Overall it is beautiful with oasis all around me, great biking terrain and warm! I won't like the summer I'm sure, haha. It's been in the 70's all week for me, but evenings are very cold, been sleeping with three blankets every night.

I do have two funny language barrier stories to share. The first one is when I was unable to shut the current volunteer's door to her house. I wasn't quite strong enough and couldn't get it bolted. So I went back to my host family's house and tried to tell them I needed help shutting the door. She kept asking me about a key and I kept trying to tell her it wasn't the key that was an issue, but actually physically shutting the door. After some miming the message was finally relayed. Then this morning when I was to leave for Azrou, they were trying to tell me they had spoke to the guy who had a grand taxi in the village who was to take me, but I didn't understand and wondered why they wouldn't just let me walk to the road and wait, but it all worked out, :).

I ended up catching the 8am bus back to Azrou alone as the other volunteers were having hotel check out issues. Passed with no problem, I did almost miss my stop though as I didn't recognize that part of Azrou. But all is kulshi bixir, :).

Now I am in Azrou until next Thursday at which point I will be swearing in as an official Peace Corps volunteer, inch a'llah. The ceremony will be in Fez, then the next day I travel back to my village for the next two years! So far the people have all been very nice and my conversational skills are improving drastically as everyone only speaks Darija. There is a really cool nomadic family living next door to my future home, inch a'llah. The 8 year old neighbor girl decided to name me Halima which means dreams in arabic, :). Many already recognize me, so I haven't been overcharged for anything yet and have connections in Errachidia already with a family who is currently hosting a volunteer.

Also: Obama won! I was able to watch the elections, so that was really cool, :).
Hope you enjoy the photos!
My village!

View from my village.
Street of my village.

This is the center of the house I stayed in for my site visit.