Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Away I Go (Again)

Here I go again.  I returned to the States two years ago - has it really been that long? - thinking my experiences in Morocco would be immediately transferrable to my dream job, and that I would live happily ever after and everything would magically fall into place for the rest of my life. Wrong!  After two years of applying for jobs all over the world and one grad school in California, and working two jobs along the way, I decided it was time for a change.  I had a really hard time with the decision, because a huge part of me is scared Moscow will be another Morocco.  Although Morocco was a wonderful experience, there were many difficulties that I do not want to repeat.  After trying my hardest to think logically and not emotionally about spending the next year in Russia, I finally came to the conclusion that my fears are (probably) unfounded.
So off to Russia I go.  I will be teaching English until next September, at which point I plan to return and start the grad program to which I haven't yet applied or been accepted.  And then I will happily ever.  Sounds like a solid plan, right? 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stop Trying to Label My Life!

I feel like I have been hitting the snooze button on my blogging for quite a long time now, so here is a rather long entry that does not actually bring you up-to-date.  I wrote this entry on September 11, so I should probably get some credit and appreciation for the amount of procrastination involved.  Either way, the events begin with the most recent.     

Ramadan
Ramadan is a Muslim holiday, based on the Islamic calendar and beginning with the new moon.  It involves a month of no eating, drinking, smoking, or having sex during daylight hours (thank you Wikipedia).  It’s a time of self-reflection, prayer, and for me, a greater appreciation for the hydrating powers of water.  The fast is broken at sundown with lftur (breakfast), and let me tell you the food during Ramadan is a-ma-zing. Traditionally there are dates, shbekiya (doughy cookies covered in honey), and a tomato based soup called hrira.  Boiled eggs, milk, and juice are also typically present, but the table fare varies after that.  I’ve had pizza, fat bread (thick, fried pastry bread filled with spices, peppers, and grease), something similar to baklava, savory pastries filled with chicken and onions, and the list goes on.  Temperatures got up to 105 F where I was, which makes fasting from water the most difficult.  There is a second meal around 3 am, and then at the last call to prayer around 4, all drinking and eating must cease again until sunset. 

Rafting Trip
One of the main reasons I didn’t fast, besides being Baptist, was the enticing alternative I had on my hands.  Through the Peace Corps grapevine, I had heard about a Huck Finnesque rafting trip.  It was to be this great adventure on a handmade raft, floating down a river I didn’t know, with volunteers I didn’t know, to a destination I didn’t know, and everyone was to set off at a yet undetermined date; it sounded like the trip of a lifetime!  It wasn’t until summer camp a month later that I met ‘Finn’ himself and got an official invitation as well as details.  The plan was this:  we would cut down a tree and build a raft in a day, set out from Ksabi on the Moulouya River with our food and minimal supplies, stop at towns along the way to replenish our food, and make it to Saidia, where the river hits the Mediterranean, in ten days.  Now, for those of you who bothered to look at a map, you are probably shaking your heads, laughing, or both.  But what you don’t realize, or maybe what you do realize, is that making it to Saidia in ten days wasn’t our first problem. 
Trusting an axe from souq with the word ‘quality’ carved on the side turned out to be our first problem.  Half the tree was chopped – without my help of course – when a passing shepherd commented on the illegality of our actions.  At first we weren’t deterred, but with the combination of the axe head flying off every other minute and the impending ticket and jail sentence, we decided to call it quits.  We then tried to gain permission from the Ministry of Water and Forests to cut down a tree (obtained for a specific type of tree, none of which were available), we tried to find dead trees to pick up off the ground (illegal), and we also found out that the type of axe we were using was illegal.  After about four days of brainstorming, failing, and being told on numerous occasions we would drown no matter what we did, we were finally given the brilliant idea of tying tire tubes together and floating.
So that’s what we did.  We had a tube each with one additional tube for supplies, tied the three tubes together, attached sticks on top to elevate our bags, tied everything down, and finally set off.  Despite the guilt I feel in leaving out the numerous details and therefore cheating the story, the quick summary is this:  We floated along, staying with welcoming Moroccans who picked from their fig trees, offered us fresh honey, and gave us water to take with us, all the while hoping we’d stay with them forever.  One of my favorite mental images is of Moroccans waving us off in the morning after having stayed with them the night before, while their children chased after us along the cliff face as far as it would take them.  We (as in my travel buddy) tried fishing, and that failed due to extremely muddy waters.  We had a slingshot.  Yeah that’s right.  A slingshot.  We floated and walked through a lot of shallow, rocky water, which meant bruised butts and feet.  But we made it.  And by made it, I mean we made it 5 days until we almost got to the first major landmark, decided it would take more than a month to get to Saidia, and we’d had enough of the river.  We then got out and caught a bus, spending a few days in the beach towns of Saidia, Ras el Ma, and Nador.  Many moments of this trip stick out in mind that I worry I will forget.  For example, the sweet Moroccan that continued to call us even after we were out of the river to warn us about the weather.   Or when I got a fever and the shits and we stopped in the middle of nowhere, and Moroccans still found us and brought us soup and tea.  Or just laying on the riverbed, staring at the sky with no one around.  I have another year to go in my service, and, God willing, many more years to live in my life, but this trip will be hard to beat. 
 
Summer Camp
In July I traveled to Al Jadida to work for about a week at a summer camp.  The camp consists of daily clubs and activities, such as geography, aerobics, journalism, debate, leadership, as well as English classes almost every morning.  There are excursions planned throughout the week, and in the evenings, either the Moroccan or American staff coordinate ‘spectacular’ events.  The great part about the camp is that it is a mix of both scholarship and city kids.  Scholarship kids are nominated by volunteers, and therefore are usually from rural areas.  So when they come to Al Jadida, which is a larger, less conservative city located on the beach, they are blown away.  I was able to see kids swim in the ocean for the first time, girls play dress up with each other, and even the city kids who thought they were too good for activities in the beginning, lightened up and engaged in camp as the week progressed.  It was a great opportunity for all the campers and counselors, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again next year.   


Gnaoua and Marche Maroc
Both of these events took place in Essaouira, a small beach town pretty close to my site.  Gnaoua is a yearly music festival that attracts artists and tourists from all over the world, and as someone who only held the All American Rejects in her concert repertoire (thanks Disston), I was really looking forward to it.  My college friend and fellow Russian Studies major flew in on her way back from Georgia (the country), and she came along for the fun, so it made the trip a million times better.
I returned to Essa some forgotten period of time after the festival in order to do an English workshop with the Small Business Development volunteers.  As I mentioned in a previous post, PC is streamlining the sectors into Youth Development next year, and SBD will therefore cease to exist after our group leaves.  This announcement was made to the Moroccan artisans for the first time during our session, and I, along with several other YD volunteers, taught a two-day workshop to artisans on basic greetings and customer service techniques in order to aid in their sustainability.  It was the first time I had done something like this, and it was not only fun, but actually a success.  We gave them advice, seasoned artisans chimed in with what they had learned over the years, and all seemed to enjoy the sessions.  We had several of our students come up to us afterwards and tell us PC had held workshops like this in the past, but ours was by far the best.  Score! 
Afterwards we volunteered at the Marche, handing out brochures to tourists and Moroccans, sitting in for artisans if they needed a food or bathroom break, and going on lunch runs.  It was a nice change to do cross-sectoral work, and I wish them the best of luck in building a self-sustainable program in the next year.  

Back In Site
I know I said I would start with the most recent, but I thought I would mix things up and keep it fresh.  I am now back in site after an amazing and eventful summer.  My dar chebab opened in September, and my site mate and I are getting activities going and keeping the kids out of trouble.  I received two separate donations of books as well as one donation of art supplies, so I was able to start a library.  The kids like the books, but LOVE the art supplies.  My site mate and I are putting up the kids’ artwork all over the dar chebab, and the kiddies thrive on the encouragement of simply asking them about their drawings and telling them how great they are.  It’s amazing how far a little support can go. 
Along the same line, last week I started a kids’ craft class.  The ages ranged from about 5-10, so I am keeping the activities simple and I am aiming to use simple art materials and household products.  The first activity, drawing and decorating your own hand, went over really well and this week’s activity will most likely be Halloween-themed. 
Other potential activities include a science club, soccer tournaments, my site mate is putting together a women’s empowerment blog (sweet idea, right?), English classes (also my site mate), and anything else we can think of.  The last week has seen a huge spike in attendance, so my site mate, the newly hired guardian, and I are struggling to keep all the kids entertained before they lose interest in us and we find ourselves without any youth to develop. 

And that’s it for now.  I’m slowly making changes to the blog, adding some things here and there.  So take a look-see.  

Artwork from the OWS exchange, now hanging in my DC.

We carved pumpkins from Halloween in my DC.  Strange for them at first, but they really got into it.  
From Summer Camp (July).  We had a Halloween Night, which involved bobbing for apples.   


Pictures from around my site.  This is a door.  

More of my site.  

Me and a DC buddy.  

This was my DC Halloween activity for the kids' art class.  These were my examples. 

Walking to the equivalent of the city fair in my site.  

Playin'
More Summer Camp Halloween night.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hot Dogs

One of my greatest smallest joys in life is listening to podcasts.  They give me a chance to discover things I would not otherwise stumble upon during my time on the Internet or in books.  They also give me the joy of waking my neighbors with my hysterical laughter at 7:30 in the morning while listening to the last three weeks of Wait Wait! (seriously, go there and subscribe, it will change your life).  I find it fascinating that I can listen to programs on bird watching, food, politics, running, art, health, ANYthing, all the way over here in Morocco.  It is absolutely fantastic.  All of that is to say one day, not too long ago, I was listening to my iPod, probably doing my dishes, and that particular episode featured an interview with Jonathan Kaplan.  I had previously read about his involvement with the Flip and current restaurant endeavors, but knew very little about both and cared less than I knew.  But the interview sparked an interest, as Mr. Kaplan was extremely self-motivated, and had attained his current position through a lot of hard work and elbow grease.  One particular quote stood out to me, and is the motivation for this post.  When asked to give advice to entrepreneurs in a shaky economy, Kaplan said this:

'Stick to your idea, stay focused, and be sure that you're as passionate about your idea as you're telling everyone you are.  Because if you are, if you're willing to eat hot dogs, if you're willing to take no salary, if you're willing to hear 'no' so many times that it sounds like 'yes,' then you'll probably be successful.'

Although Mr. Kaplan said you'll probably be successful, I think his words still ring true and it is important to remind yourself daily to stay passionate and focused on your goals, whatever they may be.  All the while keeping in mind you might still fail miserably.  

Yesterday marked my one year anniversary in country (WOOP!) and I'm working on an actual blog entry that will update ya'll on all the things I've been trying to do here.  I'm about half way there, so maybe today or tomorrow I'll have it up.

And to give credit where credit is due, go here for the Kaplan story or just Google him.  I can't guarantee the links work, as my connection was too weak to check them myself.  However, I will return in a few days and fix any problems. 

'And as always in parting, we wish you love, peace, and soul!'  


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I check my stats.  I know that may seem a little egocentric, but I like to see who is reading my words, where they are from, and what led them here in the first place.  If it eases your suspicions of my bravado, I probably check less than you think I do.  So after checking my stats this afternoon, I found that a Google search of 'peace corps goals not working' led someone to my blog; a little disconcerting to say the least.  For those of you who don't see where this is going, I now feel the need to stand up for my employer and myself.  Brace yourselves.
The goals of the Peace Corps are something I consider very important, probably because my ability to successfully achieve them are something I struggle with on a daily basis.  Maybe reading this article by the Boston Globe, and the current meaning of the Peace Corps will give you a better grasp on what I am talking about.
First of all, in case you didn't read the last boring and poorly explained post about Peace Corps' goals, there are three, one of which focuses on training and development of host country nationals, and the other two of which are about cultural exchange, both on the part of Americans and the country in which the volunteer is living.  The previously mentioned article's qualm is mainly with the development aspect of Peace Corps, questioning the sustainability of its projects, mostly given time constraints and resources available to volunteers.  All true, all things I have dealt with.
This is where I rabbit trail and tell you all about what I think and deal with and your eyes glaze over and you go back to checking Facebook.  Despite what the article says, it is my firm belief that a country, village, or person receives what a volunteer puts in.  Boston Globe discusses the lack of resources, the idea of constantly reinventing the wheel.  It also says that although volunteers understand a community's needs, the organization of the Peace Corps is not set up for sustainable development.  I of course cannot speak for any Peace Corps country outside of my own, but I disagree.
I have found that as a volunteer work is available on request.  I can spend all day in my house on Facebook, looking to see who has had a baby this week, catching up on all the movies I'm missing (how I spent last night), and basically wasting my life.  Or, I can research grants, donated materials, scholarships, and other resources for my site, and put together project plans.  I can attend a knitting class everyday in hopes of beginning a women's cooperative, meet with a counterpart and discuss potential work in my community, and the list goes on and on.  Granted, none of this has materialized into anything tangible that would make Boston Globe happy, but it is a start.  And a trend I have noticed among volunteers, especially as time goes on and they lose focus, hope, you fill in the blank, is they would rather do the former than the latter.
Branching off on that, I would also say that one of the biggest problems with developing countries, or at least the one I am in, is their mentality.  The individuals of any given community, even respected, well-off individuals, either do not understand or do not want to understand what it takes for their community or country to change.  Basic skills, mostly logic, are lacking.  This makes it difficult to implement sustainable projects, when it is first necessary to train a generation's mindset.
So what does this mean.  And what does it have to do with the Peace Corps goals, mainly concerning development, not working?  It means that it's hard, really really hard.  It's like waking up every morning and running into a wall.  Only to get up off the ground, move a little to the left, start going again just to run into the same wall.  But is development possible?  Yes.  Would it be easier if the government gave us a bunch of money and told us to work with big organizations?  Maybe, but that wouldn't fix everything.  There are plenty of resources available already, but like I said, the main problem is the mentality.
The BG article discusses problems with Peace Corps staff, but come on guys, that has nothing to do with the foundation of the organization.  If you have problems with staff not supporting development, then hire better people.  And if 'more than one-third of volunteers quit' before their two years is up, then maybe you should rethink your interviewing process and stop letting in a bunch of pansies.  I wholeheartedly welcome change to the Peace Corps, but we should be looking at the right things.
I'm not sure if any of that made sense.  Probably not.  But hopefully you got some small glimpse of what I was trying to say.
I haven't written in a while, so here is a breakdown of my other updates:

  • Marrakech bombing - I'm not allowed to talk about it.
  • Magic no longer in the playoffs - I'm a little ashamed of my team.  I hope Dwight comes back next season, but wouldn't be surprised if he didn't.  Whether or not he comes back, the rest of the team needs to figure out how to be just that, a team.  I'm sick of watching Dwight and his Superman BS.  
  • Steve Nash - My latest obsession.  
  • Special Olympics Morocco - Where I'll be next week.  So stoked, you don't even know.
  • 21 - How old I'm turning next month.  
  • Gnaoua - Music festival I'll be attending in a couple weeks.  ON THE BEACH.  Boo ya!  
  • IST - In-Service Training.  Week-long training for PC first of next month.  ON THE BEACH.  Boo ya!
  • Three friends/family tentatively scheduled to visit Morocco this year - self-explanatory.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Integration, What?

So I have a new goal.  I'm not going to tell you what it is, because I hate sharing goals and then failing at them, forcing me to face the disappointment of both myself and others.  But let's just say I'm excited.  And it involves jogging.  And I'm really bad at secrets, so if you can guess it I'll probably tell you.

Also, this morning I finally went to the Monday souq (weekly market) by myself.  Way to integrate Lacie, it's not like you've been here 5 months.  The way my town works is we have a daily souq, which is about 10 minutes from my house, and a weekly (on Mondays) souq which is also about a 10 minute walk in the opposite direction.  A lot of volunteers only have a weekly souq, and some have to travel out of their site to even get to to it.  So that means I'm lucky to have both a daily and a weekly market.  I have only been to Monday souq once, and it was with my site mate about two months ago.  Why?  Because I have to tell you, cultural integration can be intimidating.  All of those men walking around squinting at you like you don't belong.  In places I frequent, I'm really good at staring them down like they're the ones that don't belong, but my first time at a new place always gets me frazzled.  But Monday souq is as much of a cultural norm as the hammam.  So much so that my site mate got shuma'd, semi jokingly, for not going last week.  So I was determined to go today, and I did.  I stepped in sheep pee, cow pee, goat pee, and human pee, but I went.  And it was fun.  And my tomatoes were 2 dirhams a kilo instead of the usual 10 DH I pay in town, so you bet your bottom I'll be stepping in pee again next week.


As far as Earth Day goes, all of my counterparts have unofficially backed out of the plan, and Earth Day is in four days.  Way to go guys.  I'm a little disappointed to say the least, but I'm still trying to work something in.  I have several back up plans, all of them small activities that involve me doing and funding everything myself, the opposite of self-sustainability.  Not sure what to do about that, but my Moroccan go to guys don't want to work together, and Earth Day has an important message.  You know, save the planet and all that.  Stay tuned for more exciting updates.  

Aaanndd I went to camp two weeks ago!  I know, I know, a lot of updates.  But this is good stuff, I promise, and I'll try to keep it short.  All volunteers from the youth development sector are required to attend Moroccan run spring camps for a week, held all over the country.  My camp was in Boulemane, a two-day trip from my site   Spring camps, as aforementioned, are primarily run by Moroccan staff, but are co-run by about 4-6 PCVs.  The first adventure was on the train ride up to camp, when I met a family in my compartment who offered me a place to stay for the night.  Don't tell, but when I asked them if they knew of a hotel where I could spend the night, I was hoping they would offer their Moroccan hospitality.  I'm so happy they did, because now they have offered me a place to stay whenever I pass through their way, as well as a husband and tips on converting.  

Once at camp, the week was spent playing with Moroccan teens from 8am to 12am.  It was seriously THE most fun I have had in my entire life.  Well, almost.  These kids were the most sincere and sweetest souls I have ever met, and I was happy to meet them and sad to leave.  The camp could have been run better, with less free time and more planned activities, but I hope that the kids had fun, and maybe learned a little from all the questions they asked.  Examples being, 'Do you like Obama?  Do you like Michael Jordan?  Do you know George Bush?  Are you Muslim?  No?  Are you Catholic?  Do you love me?'  

OH!  And oonneee more thing.  I checked my blog stats today, and someone found my blog by searching for 'smoking pot in the peace corps.'  Now that's pretty freaking funny.  Have a good day everyone.  (And thank you Cha. for these pictures)

Hanging out with the girls.  There were only 10 girls out of the app. 65 campers.  

Mock Moroccan wedding.  The bride and groom posing for pictures, even though I think smiling is against the rules.

Talent Show/Dance Party.  These guys are really good, they won first place in a contest in Fes.

Group shot!  This was the last day, so sad :(


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Updates

So the last time I posted, and I know you read my last post, I discussed an activity I was working on with a group of teenagers in a local school.  I would like to reference the fear I had that my students would not receive their package of artwork and materials from a participating country, leaving me looking like the village idiot.  Yesterday I faced that fear as I walked into the post office last minute to mail our small package, and the price was 777 dirham (about 100 bucks).  Umm..what?  That’s how much I pay for rent.  Needless to say, I gave the gentleman behind the counter an awkward grimace, took my package, and went home.  There was always the option of convincing my counterpart that there was never a return package in the deal; between his bad English and my terrible Arabic, I was pretty sure I could make him believe I never told him he would get anything.  By the end of the day, I had come up with about five illogical and completely useless backup plans.  What I actually did was dump out the contents of my huge box, putting all the supplies into a lightweight envelope hoping it would reduce the price, which it did. 
What I learned from this activity:  Don’t be an idiot.  I need to make sure that I plan out every single detail.  This was supposed to be free.  My site mate and I ended up paying for art supplies and shipping costs.  What we should have done was find an organization to fund us, which in the end is better for sustainability, participation, and doesn’t cut into my ability to buy food. 
Earth Day (April 22) and Global Youth Service Day (April 15-17) are fast approaching, and we will see if it will be epic fail or success.  Up until now I have relied mostly on Moroccans to lead activities, and now I am initiating activities and coming up with my own ideas.  This implies responsibility and grownupness, foreign concepts to me.  Yesterday I met with my host mom, whom I adore, as she will be my counterpart for ED.  Tentative projects include tree planting, mural painting, discussions on deforestation and the importance of trash pick up, and a Dar Chebab hike into the mountains.  I think I have another meeting on Friday at 11 with someone somewhere about something related to ED, which probably makes you raise your eyebrows in confusion.  But now you know how I live everyday of my life over here.
Next week I am taking off for a week to work at a spring camp.  What I know about working at a camp:  nothing.  However, from the emails I have received, I can tell you that I will be expected to sing and dance in front of Moroccan children, teach them all I know about English, run subject specific clubs, and basically keep them entertained for most of the day.  It can’t be too difficult, right?  Either way, I get to travel out of my site, see Morocco, meet new volunteers, and work with kids.  Good stuff. 
And fye, I now know how to cut of the water to my apartment and give myself an enema.  Thank you, Peace Corps, for these life lessons.   

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Little Less Talk...

My site mate and I have been working on a cultural exchange project, where a group of 25 students are told to draw, paint, or photograph something that represents the culture of their country.  We send their pieces off to One World Classrooms (http://www.oneworldclassrooms.org/), who then exchanges it with a participating classroom from a different country.  The following are pictures of the first half of the project:



Hard at work.


Done.

We will send these pictures, along with their paintings, and a couple other items to OWC as part of the exchange.

Our coworker from the DC goofing off.

The group.  The second gentleman from the right is the students' art teacher.

Taking a break with the director of the school.


The students did a great job, bringing in items from home and spending time outside of class to finish the project.  Among other things, they painted henna, Berber alphabet characters, tagine, and traditional jewelry.  My worst fear is that they will receive nothing in return, and I will have to frantically paint enough American flags, apple pies, and McDonald's to impress 25 middle school students. 

Other items of importance:  This week marks my 6 month anniversary in country and the beginning of March Madness.  I would say it is a very good week.