Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Christmas is just 5 days away!!  I have been getting into the Christmas spirit since, well, Thanksgiving.  This will be my fourth Christmas as a PCV, celebrating away from family and friends.  I was looking back at my past PC Christmases and thought I would just post a few pictures.  I hope that everyone has been enjoying the holiday season and no matter where you are for Christmas, remember that Christmas will come without packages and strings (to quote one of my favorite Christmas time movies).  Merry Christmas to everyone!

My first PC Christmas I spent in Bangkok, having my wisdom teethe removed.

My 2nd PC Christmas I spent with friends in Lezha.

My 3rd PC Christmas I spent with the R, A and X part of team RELAX!

I will be spending this Christmas in Essaouria with some of my favorite girls :)

A picture from my 2nd Christmas ever.  What a cutie I was!!

One of my favorite Christmas time memories.  My parents and I right before Christmas 2004.  I can't wait to spend Christmas with them again next year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Morocco How To #4: Travel

As it approaches the holiday season in America most of you will be traveling for one reason or another.  I thought I would give you an idea of how travel is done in Morocco.  This will give you an insight of what it is like for both Moroccans and PCV's.  This will only cover grand taxi travel and souq bus travel.  There are also regular buses but that just seems to easy to have to explain it.  That two hour drive you have to make to see family will seem like nothing after this!

How to Part A: Grand Taxi Travel
#1: Find a spot on the road or walk to the nearest taxi station and wait for a taxi to pass by or fill up.  Remember that in a grand taxi two people sit in the front with the driver and four people sit in the back.
#2: Strategically place yourself in the taxi.  For a woman this means, put yourself so that you are next to a window or next to other women.  Keep in mind that the worst seat is the middle seat in the front.
#3: Depending on the size of the other people traveling with you you may be required to put your arm up on the backseat, lean forward or sit on your side.  The elderly are less likely to make room for you to fit and don't underestimate the hips on that Berber woman!!  Secret tip: sit down and don't be afraid to hold your ground.  Otherwise you may end up incredibly uncomfortable.
#4: For long distance grand taxi travel, be prepared to shuffle around frequently as body parts go numb or other passengers move.  Don't be scared to fall asleep on your neighbors shoulder because if you don't do it first, they might beat you to it!
#5: For those traveling with large bags or packages, do not be surprised if your bag or packages shares space in the trunk with livestock.  They are well trained and most likely will not eat through the fabric of your backpack or go to the bathroom on it. Also, don't forget your bag or package as the taxi most likely will speed off once they see you walk away.
#6: For grand taxi's that travel a short distance but handle a heavy traffic of people, be ready to get out and get back in frequently.  As listed in step #3, don't be afraid to claim a spot.  Even if it requires you to get out and back in every few seconds, you'll be happy you're not in the middle of the two men who look a little too friendly.
#7: There is no starting and stopping etiquette.  For example, if someone requests a stop close to yours do not feel obligated to get off as well.  Go ahead and make him drive the extra 3 feet before asking the driver to stop again.  No one will judge you.
#8: Paying.  If you are leaving from a larger taxi station, there will usually be a guy in charge of collecting money.  Most times you do not pay until you reach your destination.  If you do not know the cost, agree on one before getting into the taxi.  Some taxis will even have a list of charges on the dashboard.  Do not hesitate to argue if the price does not seem right.
Congrats!  You have survived your grand taxi ride!

How to Part B: Souq Bus Travel
#1: Walk to your nearest bus station, stop or a good looking spot on the road.

  • If walking to a bus station, tell the men calling out names of towns where you want to go and they will walk you to a bus and handle the money to get you a ticket.  Be prepared to wait up to two hours as the bus fills up.
  • If walking to a bus stop, wave down the bus as it approaches.  You are not guaranteed a seat and you may be standing for awhile if it is a busy bus route.  Even if you do not have a seat, you are still required to pay.
  • If waiting on the side of the road, be prepared to wait for awhile until a bus passes that is going where you want to go and stops for you to get on. 
#2: Seats are not assigned so look for a seat that is not in the sun, has a curtain to close in case you end up in the sun, is strategically located next to a window that opens or has a working air conditioner vent.  Also check for broken foot and arm rests, broken seats that are always in recline or that the bottom may slip forward every time the bus is required to stop.
#3: Traveling with a buddy is recommended but not always possible.  When traveling alone, look to sit next to a friendly woman or a respectable looking older man.  Stay away from teenagers, people eating sunflower seeds or crumbly food, all too friendly young men and families with babies.  For women traveling solo on souq buses, one way to avoid awkward conversations with the all too friendly young men, wear a fake wedding ring.  Make sure that when you talk about your 'husband' you give him a solid Muslim name like Mohammed otherwise they will tell you that you need to marry a good Muslim man.  
#4: For those traveling with larger bags or packages, you will need to put them under the bus.  Usually you will be charged a 5 dirham fee for this service.  Make sure to check on your bag on longer stops or as you're waiting for a bus to leave a station.  Try to keep valuables with you on the bus.  As with grand taxis, do not be surprised to see livestock traveling under the bus with the luggage.  
#5: On longer souq bus routes, there will be longer food stops and other stops.  However, you can never tell when those stops will be made so come prepared with snacks.  There are no bathrooms on the bus so control your liquid intake.  Plastic bags are readily available for those who get car sick.
#6: If not traveling to the final bus destination, be careful to pay attention to where you are.  Names of the stops are not called out and it is easy to miss your stop if you fall asleep on the bus.  People are willing to wake you up if you tell them where you are going and also able to help if it is your first time traveling to the destination.  
#7: Souq bus travel is usually loud from multiple people talking on the phone, different sources of music, small children crying, unusually loud bus engines and different forms of body noises.  Bring an ipod or something to help drown the noise out.  Also extremely helpful if you sit next to someone who wants to talk the whole way and you just can't talk in Darija another minute.  
#8: The last thing to remember when traveling by souq bus is that tickets are bought before getting on the bus or immediately after getting on for those joining the adventure after the initial station.  There are ticket windows at the stations where you will get the correct amount.  The men who are calling out the names of towns do not always work for the company that you end up on and do not always give the right price.  If it seems sketchy, don't be afraid to ask someone else. 
Congrats!  You have survived your souq bus travel!!

I hope this helps you readers to understand what it is like for us when we travel.  Even though some of the places we go look extremely close on the map, it may take a long time to get there.  Travel in Morocco can be long and tiring but it is all part of the adventure.  Day trips sometimes mean, four hours to get there, an hour there and then four hours to get back.  Makes that two hour drive seem like a piece of cake doesn't it?  Hope you all have a great holiday season and safe travels to those of you traveling to be with family and friends!!!   

Saturday, December 10, 2011

12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, a pomegranate tree!!
On the second day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!
On the third day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!
On the fourth day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!!
On the fifth day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, five cenitimes, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!!
On the sixth day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, six goats a-climbing, five cenitimes, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!!
On the seventh day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, seven plates of couscous, six goats a-climbing, five cenitimes, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!!
On the eight day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, eight cups of mint tea, seven plates of couscous, six goats a-climbing, five cenitimes, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!!
On the ninth day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, nine taxis speeding, eight cups of mint tea, seven plates of couscous, six goats a-climbing, five cenitimes, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!!
On the tenth day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, ten donkeys mating, nine taxis speeding, eight cups of mint tea, seven plates of couscous, six goats a-climbing, five cenitimes, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!! 
On the eleventh day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, eleven roosters crowing, ten donkeys mating, nine taxis speeding, eight cups of mint tea, seven plates of couscous, six goats a-climbing, five cenitimes, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!! 
On the twelfth day of Christmas a Moroccan gave to me, twelve children drumming, eleven roosters crowing, ten donkeys mating, nine taxis speeding, eight cups of mint tea, seven plates of couscous, six goats a-climbing, five cenitimes, four ram feet, three stray cats, two toy pigeons and a pomegranate tree!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Thanks in Thanksgiving

When you think of Thanksgiving do you think of all the good food there is to eat or do you think of the people you'll eat the food with?  Do you think of the football games on t.v. or do you think about how lucky you are to be able to afford a t.v., electricity and cable?  Do you think about all the leftovers or the fact that you do not have to worry about what you will eat for the next few days??  Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all that you have in your life.  With each passing year that I'm away from my family during the holidays, the importance of them becomes clearer to me.  This year I have so many things to be thankful for.

Our Thanksgiving feast; roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, string beans, Moroccan squash, cranberries and biscuits!
I'm thankful for; family and friends, PC and PCV's, a working computer, internet, my camera, external hard drive that entertains for hours, a house with no holes in the walls, real pillows, big coffee cups, American coffee, popcorn and cheesy popcorn topping, a dar chbab complete with amazing mudir, hard working students and enough electric sockets for all the new computers, living close to the ocean, camels on the beach, living close to a big city where I can let my hair down, being able to buy soy sauce and granola, people who understand sarcasm, the ability to laugh at situations that are frustrating, friendship scarves and necklaces, random phone calls from America, skype dates, care packages and letters, the #17 bus, Tuesday souq where I can buy a week of fruits and vegetables for under $4, big bakery where I can walk behind the counter, my nook, working headphones, unlimited free meds from PC, the phone plan, utorrent, media file exchanges, goats in trees, camel herds outside my town, sunny days with a gentle wind,  little kids that say 'hello', lightweight cardigans, movie nights, power and water 24/7 (usually), Fannie Fan McFanster, clothes that have survived Albania and Morocco, friendly people in Inzegane, homemade holiday decorations, sitemates, being able to sleep through the first call to prayer, msm and hrira, tie-dyed lizars, windows that are open in grand taxis, air conditioned buses, McDonalds in the Marrakech train station, online news sources, people who don't laugh at my baby Darija or Tashalheet, international sign language and pictures of all the wonderful people in my life!

I'm thankful for the company and food I had this year on Thanksgiving!
Last but not least, I'm thankful for you!!  Thanks for following me during this adventure and sending your support.  I hope that you had an amazing Thanksgiving and have just as many (if not more!) things to be thankful for.  Now it's time to break out the Christmas decorations and play all my favorite Christmas music.  This is indeed the most wonderful time of the year :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A is for America

A is for America, and all the conveniences that you find there
M is for movies and bowling and being able to go out all day long
E is for everything.  You can buy everything in America!
R is for relatives and friends who help you celebrate the important things like birthdays, baptisms, and holidays.
I is for information technology.  You can find whatever you need online.  Weird, huh?
C is for coffee, big, enormous, steaming cups of coffee, and cooking pork products at all times of the day
A is for America, my favorite country in the world.

About a week ago, I returned from a two week visit home.  It was absolutely wonderful.  America did not disappoint.  I had a great time catching up with family and friends, going out, dressing up, eating all sorts of marvelous foods, and just generally enjoying myself.  It made me realize that I'm starting to get to that point where I'm ready to be home for good.  I said starting to realize people!  I'm not coming home tomorrow or next month, but I am starting to look forward to going home after I finish this service.

Life in America is still pretty much the same as I remember it.  Sure there are a lot of new crazy contraptions out there but I'll figure them out some day (electric cigarettes; who knew?!).  I can still go to a store and find an entire aisle of just bread.  I can still go and have breakfast at 2 am or 5pm or anytime I feel like it.  Americans still drink coffee by the gallon.  America is just as amazing as I remember.

While I was home, my aunt threw me an early Thanksgiving dinner with all the classic dishes.  It made me realize how lucky I am to have a family to support me through all of my adventures.  I am very thankful for all that they've done for me over these past 3+ years with the PC.  All the care packages and cards and skype dates have helped me make it this far.  I am so lucky that they are and always will be my family.

There's so much more I could say about my trip home but I'll keep it short today.  Overall, great trip home and America is still awesome.  'Nuff said :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Another Reason Why I Love My Job

Just before I was about to leave for my trip to America, my kids at the dar chbab threw me an early birthday party.  One of my counterparts arranged for me to get henna in the morning before the party in the afternoon.  I had promised to bring brownies to the party and since I wasn't sure who else was bringing anything I was baking right up until my sitemate, Beth and I left to walk up to the dar chbab.  This is Morocco however and when there is a party, there are treats!

I shouldn't say I was surprised at the amount of treats that they brought but it made me feel really good that they took the time to bring things.  There were two cakes, numerous sodas and they even brought me presents!  I really hadn't even thought about if they would bring me presents or not.  I was really surprised at their generosity but then again it's Morocco and I should have known better.  After we sang happy birthday and I blew out the candles, I cut the cake and we all dug in.  Everything was so delicious!

After eating and digesting for a little bit, I opened the presents.  There was a candle holder, a framed piece of art and a really cute 6 piece coffee cup and saucer set.  We had gone shopping about a week earlier for a present for the mudir and they didn't want to talk about what to get me then but they had been secretly asking my opinion on things that they thought I might like.  They know how much I love coffee so they decided on the coffee cups.  I still can't get over the fact that they bought me presents at all.... the cakes themselves were present enough!

One of my cakes!!

It's little moments like this where I really love my job.  I can tell that I'm making connections with people in the community.  Two of PC's main goals is cultural exchange between Americans and host country nationals and I know that those goals are my favorite to work on.  In a community like this, it's hard not to love!  Just another reason why I do what I do :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Break a Leg!

Just over two weeks ago, the Acting Out Awareness group had their first official performance in Inzegane, a town about an hour north.  After months of rehearsals, changes in props and finally finishing the set, they were really ready to take on their first live audience.  We met up just after 8am to pack up the van and head up where we were greeted by the mudir and an assistant and treated to a Moroccan breakfast.  The Inzegane dar chbab staff seemed to be very interested in what we were doing and they were also eager to share what programs they have to offer their youth.  I was impressed with the information available at the dar chbab about AIDS.

Opening scene.... the little guy is the AIDS virus

There were already about 20 kids hanging out at the dar chbab when we arrived but not more than five minutes after we pulled up another 20 kids came running up.  As we were setting up and talking to the staff there, kids kept popping their heads into the room to see what we were up to.  I noticed several of them point at me and go "That's an American!"  I know what my part in this whole project is and if I can help out more just by being the American that every one comes to see and look at, fine by me.  By the time we were ready to start there were close to 60 kids in the room.  

Captive audience

The performance went perfectly except for one small flaw at the end.  There are these six boxes that they turn around to spell out an awareness slogan and they flipped the boxes around out of order.  A small mistake that they realized and fixed by the end.  As I was watching the kids in the audience watch them, I could tell that they were fully engaged in the performance and that they were getting the message.  They even got a standing ovation at the end!  No Moroccan activity is complete without dancing so there was a little dancing and a few games after we finished to fully round up the activity.  We also had a discussion with several members of a theater group at the Inzegane dar chbab to discuss how we could do joint projects in the future.  Everyone seemed pleased at the idea of working together and sharing resources.

Defeating the AIDS virus

This was just the first performance out of eight.  I think it went very well and the kids in the group were pleased with their performance.  It will be interesting to see how they improve over the next seven performances and see how many people will end up hearing their message.  These kids impress me every day by their dedication to this project.  I'm just happy that I can be a part of it.  The next six weekends will be the other performances most likely.  With that said, break a leg guys!

Some of the participants

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Morocco How To #3: Tajine

Tajine, a traditional food of Morocco, is actually not a food but the type of pot that you cook the food in.  A tajine is a clay pot that is flat on the bottom with slightly raised edges and a triangle shaped cover.  Traditionally it is cooked over coals but you can also cook it over a flame on a stove top.  There are both clay and metal tajines but I would recommend the clay tajine as would most Moroccans you might talk to.  There are many different things you can cook in a tajine but I will only give you the how to for one.  The following how to is on how to make a traditional chicken tajine.

#1: Gather your ingredients and clean them.  You will need, a tajine, oil, 2 big onions, 4 big tomatoes, salt, a chicken (cleaned, cut and sectioned), 1/4 kilo olives, and cilantro.
#2:  In the tajine, pour enough oil to completely cover the bottom.
#3:  Cut the onions into small sections.  Size is up to your personal preference.
#4:  Cut the tomatoes into small sections.  Size is up to your personal preference.
#5:  Sprinkle salt over the top and cook until the onions are slightly brown.
#6:  Place chicken into the tajine so that it is spread out into one layer.
#7:  Pour a little more oil over the chicken and let it simmer for a few minutes.
#8:  Cut cilantro over the top of the chicken.  Cover the tajine and let it cook for a about 10 minutes.
#9:  Uncover the tajine and turn the chicken over.  Add a little more oil and the olives and recover the chicken.
#10:   Let the tajine cook until the chicken is tender and cooked all the way through.
#11:  Serve hot and eat with bread.  No silverware allowed!

This is approximately what your tajine will look like when it's done

Hope you will find this helpful and delicious!  Keep your eyes open for the next Moroccan how to!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Year.... and Going Strong!

One year ago today I landed in Morocco with about 60 other Americans.  As we traveled by bus from the Casablanca Airport to Mehdiya, I remember looking out the window and thinking "Can I do this?"  My first impressions of the country was that it was brown, fairly clean, the roads were flat and straight, it was hot, and it was NOT Albania.  As most of you know, I absolutely fell in love with Albania.  I was at home in Lezha with my friends and Albanian family, my freedom to do almost anything and was comfortable with the things I had in my life.  Here I was in Morocco about to start from scratch.  What the heck did I get myself into??!!

Over the past year, there have been things I have struggled with, am still struggling with and things that I have done that I am proud of.  There have been good days and bad days.  There are things here that I like a lot and things here that I don't really care for.  My job is not what I expected it to be but it is evolving and becoming more like what I want it to be for my second year.  I still have no idea what projects will actually finish before I leave and what projects will still only be ideas.  I DO know that I have made an impact on my community and that they will remember me after I'm gone and for that reason, I know I've been a successful volunteer.  

So on this anniversary of my arrival in Morocco, I wanted to list out some things that I've done and some things that I still want to do.  These lists are by no means complete but they are a good representation of my first year here.  

Things I have Done
-PST, PPST and IST!! (pre-service training, post pre-service training and in-service training)
-One academic year of English classes with two of my students graduating high school
-Spring Camp in Agadir with 40 kids
-Summer Camp in El Jadida with 80 kids
-Month long day camp at my youth center with about 200 kids between 3 sessions
-World Map Project
-Coordinated the SOS Village in Agadir and worked at one of the summer sessions
-Volunteered at Special Olympics 
-Co-lead workshops on English and Customer Service at Marche Maroc Essaouria
-Won a VAST grant for an AIDS awareness campaign put together by the youth at my dar chbab
-Helped at a PCV led Women's Wellness Conference 
-Helped to redesign and improve PST for the new group that arrived in country YESTERDAY! (welcome new group!)
-Learned some basic Tashalheet 
-Improved my Darija
-Made Moroccan friends in my community
-Learned how to wrap a lizar
-Learned how to make mint tea and tajine
-Traveled around to multiple areas of Morocco without getting lost, injured or pick-pocketed
-Learned how to live as a meat loving vegetarian
-Successfully stayed single (even with all the marriage proposals)
-Survived having a wisdom tooth pulled in country
-Killed my first cockroach
-Successfully integrated well enough into my town so that I no longer get "Bonjour"-ed!
-Learned how to make tortilla's and alfredo sauce (literally learned yesterday so I could put it on today's list)
-Survived the Moroccan summer
-Survived my first Ramadan!

Things I Still Have to Do
-Finish my AID's awareness campaign with my dar chbab
-Start a girl's sports club
-Start a Health Club/Environment Club
-Become conversational in Tashalheet
-Help a friend find funding and start a tourism project for our town
-Learn how to make msmn
-Learn some basic French
-Complete a 2nd year of English classes at the dar chbab
-Work at spring camp, summer camp and day camp next year
-Continue coordinating for SOS Village in Agadir
-And anything else that comes up!!

My service in Morocco is nothing like what my service was in Albania.  It's not better.  It's not worse.  It's just different.  Morocco is growing on me more and more as the days pass.  I'm starting to feel more at home here.  Time has been passing quickly and it's hard to believe it's been a year already.  If my second year in Morocco is anything like my second year in Albania, it's going to fly by.  I'm excited to see what I can accomplish in my remaining time here and anxious for all my new projects to start.  It's been a good first year Morocco, let's keep up the good work!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ramadan Kareem!

August is over half-way done at this point and so is my first Ramadan.  Ramadan, for those of you who don't know, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which lasts for 29 or 30 days.  Since the Islamic calendar is based on the moon, the dates change every year.  During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and yes, sex, during daylight hours.  It is a time for Muslims to reflect on their spirituality, their humility, patience and submissiveness to God, or Allah.  Ramadan is one of the most important holidays to Muslims as it celebrates the first time that a verse of the Qur'an was read to the prophet Mohammed.  The following has been my experience with Ramadan so far and my plans for the rest of the month.

The first day of Ramadan fell on August 2nd.  I was at summer camp at El Jadida and experienced it along with about 80 Moroccan youth, 16 other Americans and several Moroccan counselors.  We went to bed as usual on August 1st but around 4am, those of us preparing to fast woke up to eat a small meal of bread with cheese, yogurt, orange juice and fruit.  This was to prepare us for the day as we would not be eating again until around 7:30pm.  We went back to bed and woke up around 10.  Our day with the campers started at 12:45 and you could tell it wasn't easy for anyone.  The campers were tired, quiet, and lethargic.  For myself, I found it became hardest around 3pm.  That's when I first became hungry and started getting a head ache.  I couldn't believe I still had to wait another 4 1/2 hours until break fast.  I didn't know if I would make it.  I had a break and decided to take a power nap.  My power nap got me through it and I ran to the food hall along with everyone else when the bell sounded that it was time to break fast.

My first break fast was exciting, delicious and painful.  For those of you who have ever fasted, you know how delicious food tastes again once you eat.  You're so hungry and everything just tastes twice as good as usual.  You also inhale your food which is where the pain came in.  For all of us first timers, we overdid it and left feeling over full.  How could we resist the spread of soup, bread, cheese, msmn, hard boiled eggs, jam, orange juice, dates and sweets??  We vowed after that the second day we would eat slower so as to not leave in so much pain.  The second day was easier.  I didn't feel hungry until right before break fast and at break fast, I paced myself so I didn't overdue it.  I also started staying up until 4 in the morning so that I could eat my last meal before going to bed.  It worked out well and I felt good during those days of Ramadan at camp.

Since leaving camp, I have continued to fast.  I had to stop for a few days because I got sick.  The Qur'an states that young children, the elderly, pregnant women, sick people and travelers going farther than 60km do not need to fast.  It has been an enjoyable experience and not as hard as I thought it would be.  It has been hard to refrain from drinking water during the day, and I have slipped on occasion, but overall I think I have done well.  I have found it easier to fast when there are other people with me also fasting.  It's so easy to cheat when you're by yourself!  I am back in Rabat to help out with a focus group so these next few days should be easy fasting days.  I am going to continue fasting for the entire month as long as I am not hindered from doing so (ex: sickness).

For those of you who are still confused about Ramadan, think about it like the Islamic equivalent of Lent.  During Lent, you give up something for 40 days.  For Ramadan, Muslims all give up the same thing for 30 days.  It can be hard but then challenges make successes that much sweeter, don't they??  Many people have asked why I am fasting.  I am not Muslim.  I am fasting because I am living in a Muslim culture where my neighbors and friends are fasting.  I wanted to experience what they do every year.  This might be one of my only chances to truly experience Ramadan as it should be.  Even if I wasn't fasting, my life here would have had to change.  Business hours are different for Ramadan.  Things sold in stores change during Ramadan.  Transportation has become more scarce in my town.  Life continues late into the night now.  This is my first Ramadan and I have been mentally preparing for it since I arrived in this country eleven months ago.  It is here and I am enjoying it more than I thought I could.  The bell signaling break fast is about to go off so I will end here so that I can get ready to go and eat.  Ramadan kareem everyone!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summer Camp in El Jadida

Summer time in Morocco.  The thermometer reads much higher than you would ever like to see it.  Juicy melons cost mere pennies.  Laundry dries in an hour or two instead of all day.  Beaches are crowded with different groups of campers.  Youth Development PCV's take their turns working at summer camp in El Jadida.  This is summer time in Morocco.

After having had a few days to rest and recuperate, I am now ready to describe my experience at summer camp.  As some of you may know, I was partially dreading camp because of stories I've heard from years past.  I was also excited about it because it was camp.  Who doesn't love camp?!  I arrived a few days late because I needed to finish up a few things in site but arrived at the same time as the campers so I didn't miss much.  We started off right away with get to know you games and general shenanigans.

Campers were given a language proficiency test when they arrived at camp and then were divided into English classes, clubs and teams.  The teams they were put on were able to gain and lose points throughout camp for good behavior, bad behavior, helpfulness, attendance, participation and winning challenges.  Clubs varied from arts and crafts to dance to games to creative writing to theater.  English classes were from beginner up through advanced.  Every day they would line up for announcements and songs and then go to English class, followed by an activity, lunch, another activity, club time, snack, an activity, dinner and then more activities at night.  At least for the first few days before Ramadan but we'll talk about that later.

The beautiful schedule
Some of the activities included a fashion show, team competition of talent, a trivia game, a talent show, a presentation from an astronaut, workshops, field trip to neighboring Azemmour and going to the beach.  The fashion show, as you can imagine, contained some true fashion, some out there fashion and some just plain old, "what were you thinking?!" fashion.  We had four categories, modern, hip-hop, crazy and traditional.  I am happy to say that one of my girls, Zora won 1st place in the hip-hop category.

Some of the team captains showing their team pride on fashion show night

The team competition of talent went well with some skits, songs, physical demonstrations of strength and team cheers.  There were two trivia games; one was more like jeopardy and the other required teams to search for the clues based on the number of spaces they had moved on a game board.  The astronaut who came to camp (no she wasn't wearing a flight suit....) was an American astronaut brought to Morocco by the American embassy to promote girls to follow science studies.  We had several different workshops on leadership, environment and gender.  The trips to the beach were enjoyed by all and one day we even went swimming in an indoor pool!  I was just as happy as the campers that day.

Ben, Beth, Donniell, astronaut, me and Rachel

The day before Ramadan was supposed to start (we'll talk about that later), we went on a field trip to Azemmour, a town about 30 minutes away.  The trip started out slightly chaotic since we did not know what to do and we were in a small market filled with lots of other people.  Once we started moving it was much better.  The old town of Azemmour has murals painted all over its walls.  The murals are new but beautiful and colorful.  There is also a wonderful park next to the river where we sat for awhile.  We also were able to go into a section of the old town where we could climb the outer wall of the city and take some amazing pictures of the town.  It was a really cool old town in the sense that it was old and touristy but not completely taken care of.  There were buildings in need of repair and doors that you can tell are the first ones from when the city was first built.  I liked the mix of traditional with modern.  We returned to camp just in time for dinner and found out that Ramadan would not start until August 2nd.

Looking at the "new" through the "old"

One of our night time activities during Ramadan was Halloween.  The kids were encouraged to wear costumes (most of them just dressed up) or get their faces painted.  The PCV's put together a haunted house which I heard scared most of the campers.  There was also bobbing for apples, face painting and we showed them the movie Hocus Pocus.  It was a great way for the campers to enjoy one of the best American holidays.  On our last night at camp we had the talent show.  Campers were able to dazzle us with their singing, dancing, drumming, acting, poems, and overall thoughts of camp.  We also celebrated everyone who had a birthday during camp that night.  There was delicious cake to follow our dinner outside.

My girl drumming her heart out!

I don't want to get into too much detail about Ramadan as that will be a future blog post but I'll give you some basics.  Ramadan started on August 2nd.  Those of us who were fasting, woke up around 4am to eat a quick snack before the first call to prayer and fasting began for the day.  We continued on with our normal schedule, only a few hours pushed back, and broke fast around 7:30.  Breaking fast is an amazing experience but like I said that will be in a later blog post.

Camp ended on the 5th and as the campers left so did many of the PCV's.  About 5 of us ended up going into Rabat for medical reasons after but we've all recovered, hamdullah.  There is talk of redesigning summer camp so we'll see what happens but I hope next year will be just as much fun as this year. Either way, next year I'm only going to look forward to camp, not dread it.  And for those PCV's out there who didn't like camp, I ask you, what's not to love about camp??!!! 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

World Map Project

During my dar chbab's day camp last month, we had one day where we started painting the outside walls. My mudir is a painter and I knew it would only be a matter of time before we started adding color to the otherwise bland new dar chbab.  Along with some supplies donated from the American School in Rabat, my mudir donated some of his own paints so that this project was possible.  The world map is something I've wanted to do since getting to site so I proposed we start it while we had a large number of kids to help.  My mudir agreed and we set a few kids out to start painting the backdrop.

One of the students outlining the countries in black

The world map is a Peace Corps initiative to create a better cultural exchange between host country nationals (HCN's) and the global community.  It's exactly what it sounds like.  PCV's go into their communities and paint a world map with their community partners.  In my case, the world map was done with the campers at the day camp and the counselors.  We started it on the day that we were doing murals and finished it the day before I left for summer camp.  In total we worked on it four days.  The first day we just painted the backdrop.  The second day we traced out the grid.  Tracing out the grid takes the longest and is the most important.  If you make the squares uneven, your map will be too.  You can also use a projector and trace it but not everyone has a projector (I didn't).  The third day we traced out the countries.  Make sure that older kids do this as some of the countries are oddly shaped and it's harder for the smaller children to follow the outline.  On the final day we painted in the countries, outlined them in black and wrote in the country names. 
Tracing out the grid.  Yes that's a broomstick we're using.

This is a simple project to do in site and doesn't require to many materials or money.  Usually this project can be funded entirely by a community with about $50 depending on the cost of paint.  Our world map did not cost the community one cent because of the paint donated by the American school.  The kids had so much fun painting and guessing the names of the countries.  My hope is to use the map to talk about different cultures and use it for future English lessons.  My mudir is very happy with the final product as were several other community members who watched its progression.

This is before the country names were written in
For any PCV's out there looking for a simple summer time project, I recommend the world map.  Gather up a few kids, find a blank wall or some sidewalk and get your pencils sharpened.  This was a fun project for my community and me.  Now I know even after I'm gone, they will remember me when they see the map.  I've left my mark.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Go Bananas!

Over the month of July, my dar chbab held a month long day camp.  In total it was three 10-day sessions, with about 80 kids in each.  Over the course of the month, we played games, sports, did arts and crafts, went on excursions, ate amazing food, had dance parties and painted the outside walls of the dar chbab (to be described in a later blog post).  Before the day camp started I was stressing out about how long the days were and being able to speak to the kids who mostly only know Tashalheet, however it was the best thing I've done in site to date.

One of the arts and crafts activities

The first few days were tough since I went from working a few hours a week to working 12 hours a day.  After my body adjusted, it was actually exciting to get up and go to the dar chbab every morning.  As soon as I walked through the gate I would be tackled by little girls who wanted to greet me by kissing my cheeks or by little boys who wanted to shake my hand.  It felt so good to be welcomed by that by people who didn't always understand me.  Since these were littler kids not all of them have learned Darija yet.  I only know simple commands in Tashalheet.  A lot of times it would be them asking me long questions and me responding with "ur snH" (I don't know).  They would laugh, I would smile and we would move on.  I ended up learning a bit more Tashalheet from the kids throughout the camp and I taught them some English.

Marching the kids to our spot on the beach

One of the things that most impressed me from the camp was hygiene.  All the kids would wash their hands before eating and brush their teeth after.  It was so cute to watch them get out their little toothbrushes and toothpaste and go to town in the courtyard.  One day there was a group of doctors who came to camp and they did a teeth brushing demonstration.  What made this hygiene even more impressive was we did not have water until the last week of camp.  We had a water reserve which they would have to get water from first before washing their hands or teeth.  On our excursions we would bring multiple jugs of water as well so that they would still be able to do both as well.

Brushy brushy brushy!!
Each session we would go on 2 excursions.  The first one to an area between the neighborhoods filled with trees.  The second one to the beach.  The day we went to the trees was always very pleasant.  Not only did we have lots of shade but it was a very relaxed day.  The kids would play different games in the morning and after we ate lunch we would do a big group activity.  The beach was a little more stressful just because of crowd control but still fun.  The kids would do activities in the sand and we would take them in the water in small groups.  One day we went it was a little chilly but the kids still had a great time.  My favorite part of the excursions was the way we traveled.  We would get 3 trucks and all the kids would be standing up in the trailer singing and clapping the whole way there.  Needless to say, we made a scene true Moroccan style.

Taking one of the groups in to swim

Something else that we did each session was a more traditional activity.  The kids would all bring their best traditional clothes and of course, I was dressed up too.  One time we did a re-enactment of two tribes fighting over a water well.  Another time we did a scavenger hunt type activity where the counselors each played a role and the kids would have to do an activity with each.  These activities were always fun to watch and helped me understand a lot more about Moroccan culture.

After one of our dance parties

There were of course the traditional sports, arts and crafts and songs as well.  The camp favorite was "bananas".  If you don't know it, it goes like this: Bananas of the world unite!!  Peel banana, peel, peel banana!  Jump banana, jump, jump banana!  Go bananas, go, go bananas!!  Overall the camp was a huge success.  One day there was even a delegation from Rabat who came to see the camp.  They were impressed with the staff and the activities we were doing with the kids.  I did not get to see the end of day camp since I had to leave for summer camp but I hope that the time I spent at day camp will help my future projects in site.  That is day camp in a nutshell.  It was amazing, wonderful, inspiring, and exhausting.  All in all an excellent chapter to my Peace Corps experience in Morocco.

On our way back from the beach!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Marche Maroc Essaouria

This past week I was fortunate enough to participate in an amazing craft fair put on by several SBD volunteers in Essaouria called Marche Maroc.  It brought together artisans from around Morocco to one place for them to sell their products, participate in workshops and network.  I was brought in as one of four YD volunteers to lead a customer service workshop with a little English mixed in.  The first day of the craft fair, the governor of Essaouria stopped by to see the event.  The artisans proudly showed their handiwork and were able to discuss how their specialty items were made.  Overall, I was very impressed by the fair and the work that the SBD volunteers had put into it.  Congrats to all the participants on a job well done!

One of the artisans preparing her booth on opening day

An artisan from Taourdant talking to the governor of Essaouria

One artisans craft; jellaba button necklaces!

The governor of Essaouria talking to a PCV about his artisans work

The artisans along with some PCV's

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Celebrating America's Birthday

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays in America and this year I celebrated in true American fashion; lounging on the beach with a campfire and hot dogs.  In years past when I have been away from America on this, one of its truly festive holidays, I have felt homesick and longed for all that the 4th has to offer in America.  This year I felt like I celebrated as much as possible with what I had to work with.  It was a truly amazing celebration in honor of my favorite nations' birthday.

On the 3rd, I spent the day at a more secluded beach with students from my dar chbab.  For them it was an end of the school year party but we managed to celebrate one of my students' birthdays as well as Americas'.  We rented a little room where we ate breakfast, lunch and kaskerut (afternoon tea).  I was impressed with the cooking skills of the boys but gave them a hard time while they were cooking which they took in good fun :)  

It was a little chilly in the morning but we still had fun wandering the rocks and playing with crabs and borrowing fishing rods from some of the older men.  Sadly we did not catch any fish but we had a good time being splashed by the waves.  It warmed up in the afternoon and the boys took turns wrestling one down to the ground and then throwing them into the ocean.  No trip to the beach is complete with some frisbee which my students really enjoy.  We were able to have some snacks before being picked up by our transport and heading back into town.    

Later that night I headed over to Beth's and we officially kicked off our raging 4th of July party!  It was so crazy we needed to have a guest book in order to keep track of who attended.  Unfortunately, I'm joking.  We had only two guests but we still had an amazing time.  On the 4th, we headed over to the beach.  We arranged to rent a tent for the night.  After dropping off our things we headed down to a part of the beach with less Moroccans so that we could be a little more Hshuma (shameful).  After an enjoyable afternoon of frolicking in the ocean, building sand castles, playing frisbee, napping and running to move our things from the high tide we headed back to our tent to start making dinner.  

My patriotic look...... thanks for the t-shirt Mom!

We decided that since dinner would take awhile to cook we went into town to grab a snack.  When we got back, the manager of the camp and the kitchen staff helped us to wrangle up some wood for our campfire.  Dinner was roasted potatoes, green peppers, carrots and hot dogs!!  Of course we sang some of our favorite patriotic songs and wore all our red, white and blue to show our pride.  We even had patriotic temporary tattoos.  And no 4th of July campfire is complete without............. marshmallows!!!  Delicious :D  The only thing that would have made it better would have been fireworks but you have to take what you can get, right? Overall, I think it was my favorite 4th of July away from America.  

4th of July cheers next to the campfire

I hope everyone enjoyed their 4th as well.  Happy birthday America!!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

School's Out for the Summer!!

Summer.  As a kid, you long for the days of summer when you can sleep in, play outside all day, go to the beach, do all the things you can't do when you're stuck inside at school all day.  Summer time has arrived in Morocco and instead of me looking forward to travel plans and sleeping 14 hours a day, I have a busy schedule for the next 2 months.  Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about it and happy that I won't spend my days sweating inside my house.  I'll be outside running after kids, teaching silly games and songs and sweating through every piece of clothing I own.

My first project is my VAST grant, Acting Out Awareness.  The theater group at my dar chbab and I will be traveling around to different dar chbab's presenting our AIDS awareness skit and then doing a wall mural at each as a long lasting reminder of what they learned.  The start date has been pushed back because of getting money late, exams for the kids and dar chbab's being closed but it will be done this summer!!  Now that the exams are done, the kids are back at rehearsals and getting geared up to get this show on the road!

My second project will be working at the Agadir SOS village.  For those of you who don't know what an SOS village is, it is an orphanage where kids live with a "mom".  These "mom's" come from the community and live with the kids.  They live in this family unit and do everything together.  They cook together, learn together, play together and live in the same house.  It's an amazing model and I'm really excited to work with them.  There will be several camps over the course of the summer but I will be working mainly as a coordinator between the SOS village and other volunteers.  I have a training this week and then will go and meet with the director and see what they need so I can start setting things up.

Another big plan for the summer is a month long day camp here in site.  There will be 100 kids who will meet at the dar chbab every morning at 8 for one whole month.  About 15 adults/older students will be in charge of leading them in games, arts and crafts, songs, lessons, day trips etc.  I'm slightly stressed about this one because it is EVERY DAY for a month from 8am until 6pm but I actually will only be there for the first 20 days because then I will leave for.....

SUMMER CAMP in El Jadida!!!  Along with about 17 other volunteers and approximately 80 kids, we will have a two week session with English lessons, going to the beach, games, sports etc.  I've heard many good things about summer camp in the past so I'm very excited about going.  The only problem I foresee is that our session has 5 days during Ramadan.  This means that we will sleep in until 11 or so and then stay at the beach without food or water until we break fast after the last call to prayer.  We will stay up until 1am or so after that playing sports.  Some people have said it works out well and others have said it's not too good.  We'll see how it goes.

As for Ramadan, I plan on trying to fast for the first week to see if I can do it.  If I can do it without dying, I will continue to do it.  I'm looking forward to breaking fast for the first time.  I'm not so excited about not being able to drink water.  If anything, I might bend the rules a little and sneak water during the day.  I'm sure it will be ok.  Muslims have been doing this for hundreds of years without too much difficulty so I should be able to do it for a few weeks right?   I'll let you all know how it goes.

Anyway, those are most of my plans for what's turning out to be a ridiculously hot summer.  I hope everyone reading this is enjoying their summer up to this point (especially those of you with a/c!).  Keep your eyes open for updates and pictures that will be coming soon!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Look at my Dad(s)

Most people spend their lives only knowing one father.  Some people will know two.  I am luckier than most because I have four.  This Father's Day I want to take a look at these four men who have made an impact on my life and thank them for all they have done for me.

My third day in Albania, I walked into a small apartment in the town of Cerrik and was welcomed by my host mother, Vushje.  Later that night I met my host father, Mesiti.  Mesiti had two sons who were around my age and I wasn't sure how he would feel about becoming a host dad to a 21 year old American girl.  To my luck, he greeted me with a big smile and a firm handshake.  Over the next three months, Mesiti became my protector, my teacher and my Albanian dad.  Even though I would pretend to be frustrated when he corrected all my grammar mistakes, I secretly loved that he pushed me to be better than I was.  We went for walks every night with my host mom and he would teach me vocabulary using our walks as a teaching tool.  I looked forward to those walks and showing him what I had learned that day in class or using words he had taught me the day before.  One night we visited a family friend and the man was asking Mesiti about his two sons.  Mesiti answered him, "My sons are doing well and my daughter is my pride."  At first I didn't understand what he had said but then he repeated it and I caught the last word.  It was then that I truly felt that Mesiti had accepted me as his daughter.  Those first few months were challenging and difficult but having Mesiti as my host dad made them much more enjoyable and I enjoyed visiting a few times during my service.  Happy Father's Day Mesiti!!!

My second unofficial host dad in Albania was a huge reason why I was so successful during my two years.  I saw Nikolla almost every day during my time in Lezhe.  Sometimes it would be for a coffee in the afternoon, usually we had lunch together and a few times it was just to warm up in front of his space heater at his pharmacy during the cold winter months.  As soon as I would see Nikolla, he would get a huge smile on his face which would make me smile.  Whenever I needed information or help, Nikolla would introduce me to the right person or help me himself if he could.  Nikolla also had two sons around my age as well and we always joked that I was his daughter with his American mistress.  People in town would refer to me as Nikolla's daughter.  Even his sons would call me "sis".  I loved being invited to all the family functions and being part of their life stories.  Nikolla helped show me real Albanian culture at it's finest and I in return liked introducing Nikolla to all my visitors.  We spent many afternoons teaching people to dance or showing people around town.  I still talk to Nikolla through his wife on Facebook some days and I'm anxious to go back and visit.  Happy Father's Day Nikolla!!!

Nikolla and me on my 23rd Birthday

My second host family in Morocco introduced me to L'Ichem.  I was intimidated at first by L'Ichem because he was a moqqadem or a local mayor.  My intimidation turned out to be unnecessary because L'Ichem already had three daughters and was more than willing to welcome a fourth into his house.  His eldest had already married and I guess I was a type of replacement.  Because of his job, L'Ichem wasn't home a lot.  He left early in the morning, came home for lunch, went back to work, came home for tea, then went out again until dinner.  The times when he was home he would always ask me how things were going and if he could help me with anything.  He was also patient and understood my baby Darija very well.  One day, the King was coming to a town nearby so everyone in my town traveled over by the bus load.  Everything went well on the way there and as we waited for the King to drive by.  On the bus on the way back, a boy was saying inappropriate things towards myself and another girl on the bus.  My host dad was so angry with him, he kicked him off the bus on the side of the street in the middle of nowhere!!  Needless to say he had my back.  It was nice to know he was just as protective of me as his was of his own daughters.  I still see L'Ichem a lot on the street and I've been back to the house for tea and he is still just as nice as ever.  Happy Father's Day L'Ichem!!!

As is tradition, I have saved the best for last.  My very own 100% biological father is my favorite Dad of all time.  He has been there for me over the past 24 years and has let me do many things that some dad's never would of.  Some of my favorite memories include, putting barrettes into his hair when I was little,  going to the beach in the summer, Girl Scout Father Daughter Dance in Elementary school, walking away embarrassed from him doing "I'm too sexy" in a public area, and going to Chicago for a day of fun, just to name a few.  I may be too big now to stand on your feet when we dance but I'll always be your little girl.  I love you so much and I can't wait to see you when I come home.  Happy Father's Day Dad!!!

Dad feeding me when I was just a itty bitty baby.

I may be grown up now but I'm still his little girl.

So for all of you still reading, I encourage you to pick up the phone and call your father's and let them know how important they are for you.  For those of you far away from your dad, send an email, get on skype, send a message somehow to let them know you're thinking about them.  Many of us wouldn't be who we are today if it wasn't for our dad's.  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Special Olympics Morocco

Special Olympics is a well known organization operating in many countries around the world. Not only does Special Olympics (S.O.) help educate people on disabilities but they also provide medical services to their athletes. Free medical care for athletes is a big deal in many countries where S.O. operates. The mentality in many places is that a child with a handicap is shame on the family and they are kept hidden in their house for their entire life. These forgotten children are never offered the opportunities to learn, to play or to live a life. S.O. is reaching out to the people with this mentality in developing countries and really starting to make a difference in thousands of lives. When I received an email from my program manager a few weeks ago saying that PC Morocco and Special Olympics Morocco had finally signed a MOU (memorandum of understanding), I was excited to be able to help at any upcoming event. This past week I had the fortune of helping at a regional meet in Tangiers.

Even after working several other S.O. events, I was surprised by the talents and skills that the athletes in Tangiers had. I was assigned to help with the gymnastics athletes. There were only 6 doing gymnastics so it went fast. The athletes were asked to do a few somersaults and cartwheels and one was able to do a few other tricks at the end. One little boy just wanted to do somersaults all day. He would get to the end of the mat and just keep going, realize he was off the mat, turn around and keep going. When we finished gymnastics, I floated around to the other events at our location to watch. There was ping-pong, weight lifting, badminton and bocce ball. Tennis and track and field events were held at another location.

Overall the event was amazing. I was very surprised by how helpful the staff from the different centers were. They understood their athletes and were able to help entertain them during the down time. The athletes were also very well behaved and we were not chasing after them all day bringing them back to their events. For it being one of the first S.O. events in Morocco, it went way smoother than I thought it would. I look forward to helping at more events and watching as the program grows here.

For those of you back home who are waiting to leave for your Peace Corps journey, I highly recommend looking into S.O. events in your area. S.O. is starting to operate in many PC countries and it would only be to your benefit to have a little experience with the organization before heading to your future site. For those of you back home who have a little extra time on your hands, I also recommend you look into volunteering with S.O. It is a great cause and highly rewarding. With that said, below are pictures from the event. Enjoy!

One of the teams.

Tangier team in traditional dress.


The little boy who wanted nothing more than to somersault until he could somersault no more.

One of the weight lifters

Awards Ceremony

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Morocco How To #2: Lizars

In the south of Morocco, especially the Souss and Sahara regions, you will find women do not dress with the more common jellaba or caftan. Instead, they wear what is known as a lizar. What is a lizar you might ask?? Well, a lizar is basically a sheet. It is approximately 3 meters long and about 1.5 meters wide. If you are interested in making your own lizar creation to wear around, you can buy any fabric with those dimensions and follow the below steps. At first, lizar wrapping is challenging and you may find yourself fighting to get out of the fabric but keep with it and in no time you can be a lizar wrapping pro!!

Step 1: Take your lizar fabric and unfold it completely so that it lies like a runner behind you and it will be easiest to wrap yourself.

Step 2: Take one end of the fabric and hold it under one armpit and then grab behind you for more fabric to wrap yourself once.

Step 3: Tie the fabric over your chest and tuck the ends in so that it doesn't stick out later. This step can be confusing. To tie the fabric, start with the end you started with. Next, grab a little of the fabric that touches the first end by your armpit. Tie into a knot as you would ribbon still on a spool.

Step 4: Take the long side of fabric and pull it up over your head, not pulling it too tight so that your arm will have room to move after the following steps. A good test is to pull the fabric taunt over your head and arms with your elbows bent. This will prevent you from pulling the fabric too tight and allow your arm to move around for the last steps.

Step 5: Take an inch or so of fabric that you just pulled over your head and fold it under to prevent it from slipping during the day.

Step 6: Now you should take the piece of fabric that you left loose over one arm and bring it towards your chin while bringing the long piece towards your chin as well. To keep the short end of fabric tight under your chin, bring the long piece of fabric tightly over it. At this stage you may want to use one hand to keep the two ends tight under your chin.

Step 7: Using the hand from the same side as the long piece of fabric, wrap it behind and over your head.

Step 8: To finish the look, throw the remaining long piece of fabric over your shoulder and drape over your chest.

Step 9: Both arms should now be free to move around as normal. If one arm is stuck, go back to step 4 and try again.

CONGRATULATIONS!! You have wrapped a lizar! You are now ready to visit the south of Morocco and blend in (a little bit anyways). There is another way to wrap a lizar, however it is much more complicated. Small steps friends. Small steps. Hope you enjoyed this Morocco how to and look out for the next installment of Morocco how to: Cooking Tajine!!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Mother's Day to All My Mothers!

"Anyone can be a mother but it takes someone special to be a mommy". It's true that anyone can give birth but it takes someone special to raise a child. I have been blessed with an amazing mom and several other incredible host mothers. As Mother's Day approaches, I want to take a moment to salute my favorite "mothers" from around the world. The following women have helped me to adjust to new cultures, helped me to learn their language, fed me, supported me and given me a place to sleep whenever I needed. Without these women, the past few years of my life would have been very challenging and not nearly as much fun!

In Albania, my first host mom was a woman named Vuschje. I still remember meeting her. We were driven to our site and dropped of individually at our host families houses. I watched as my four other site mates were dropped off and I continued to worry in the back seat of the furgon (minivan). Was she going to like me? Would I be able to understand her? Would she be nice? What was the house going to be like? Finally the driver pulled up to an apartment building and helped me grab my bags. We walked up to the middle door on the first floor and he rang the bell. "Mos u merzit!" Don't worry, he told me. A petite woman answered the door with a broom in her hand, "Pershendetje!" Hello! Her smile immediately put me at ease and I felt relaxed walking into their small apartment. My language teacher stayed with me as we got a tour of the apartment and then after making sure I would be ok, left. We were alone. I went for my photo album and grabbed the Albanian dictionary I had just received. We spent the next hour or so going through pictures talking about who was in the pictures. Vuschje was patient as I flipped through the dictionary trying to find the word for "mother", "father", "brother", "cousin", "friend" etc... That first afternoon was perfect. Vuschje was my best friend during those first three months. I would come home from language class and work on homework and she would sit next to me helping with pronunciation. She even learned some English helping me. I tried to stay in touch with her after moving to Lezhe but I was only fortunate to see her a few more times during my service. Without Vuschje those first few months would have been horrible and I might not have stayed. Happy Mother's Day Vuschje!

My second host mother in Albania was an unoffical one but just as important to my time in Albania. Her name was Dile and she had worked for Peace Corps in the past. She had also worked as an English teacher. When I first met her, we talked mostly in English. By the end of my two years, she would only speak to me in Albanian. Dile helped me to gain the trust of the Roma and Gypsy community. Through Dile, I worked with Youth Parliment, a Women's Club, the Roma population and various other activities. She was also there for me when I needed a day off and would take me to the beach to relax and drink coffee. Dile accepted me into her family with open arms and I can't think of a day when I didn't spend time with her or her husband. I have amazing memories of my time in Albania and at least half of them include Dile. Happy Mother's Day Dile!

My first host mom in Morocco, Fatima, was an amazing woman. We first met at my language teachers house when she came to pick me up. Before we were introduced, I had been given a sheet with my host families information on it. I knew that my host mom was a cook and I was excited! When we were finally introduced we gave each other a big hug, I looked at her and said, "I'm so happy you're a cook because I want to gain weight!" My language teacher translated and man was she happy! She started fattening me up as soon as she got me home. For the next two and a half months, we would bond over food. She would tell me that I don't eat enough and then I would say I eat too much and then she would push more meat into my triangle. It was a game to the two of us and I enjoyed every minute of it. Fatima was a widow and had two children of her own and her best friends daughter lived with us too. She would leave at least one a week to cater a wedding or a big event and when she would come back she would have a duffel bag of extra meat. I found out that she even owned the small apartment we lived in. Her independence and success amazed me. Fatima helped me understand a lot about Moroccan culture during those first months and I am so happy I had her to help me. Happy Mother's Day Fatima!

My second host mom in Morocco, also a Fatima, has been a great help. I am the sixth volunteer they have hosted so they know how it works. While I was living with them, if I was in my room they would never disturb me. She would only come get me if they were about to eat and I wasn't in the living room. Fatima is another incredible example of a successful Moroccan women. She is the president of an association that holds classes for illiterate women, children, and youth in general. I first went to the association on a Sunday which is when youth from all over come to sing and play music for a few hours. The amazing part about this is that it is run by the older youth. Fatima holds a high amount of respect in the community and as such has helped me gain the trust of the community and introduced me to several important people. My first few projects in site have been with her association and there are several more in the works. I haven't gone to visit as much as I should but that is going to change. We are going to start having kaskarut (afternoon tea) together at least once a week. Fatima I really appreciate all the help you've given me and I am so happy you're my host mom. Happy Mother's Day Fatima!

No Mother's Day post would be complete without giving a shout-out to my own fabulous mother. Mom, I know you're reading this and I just want to say I love you. You are the best mom a girl could ask for. You've always supported me and been my personal cheering section. I still remember calling you after I had my interview for PC and you asked how long it was for. I believe you said three months?? Well Mom, I know its been slightly longer than three months but I couldn't have made it this long without all the cards, care packages, Skype dates and random e-mails. Mom, you really are the best and you will always be my mommy :) Happy Mother's Day!