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!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reunion in Europe

A few months ago, my friend from high school, who is teaching English in Spain, posted that she wanted to go on vacation over her Spring break. I immediately jumped at the chance to also travel during that time and asked where she was going. When she responded with Prague and Budapest I was positive I needed to go as well. Turned out our travel dates were the same and we found tickets to meet in Prague, travel to Budapest and we would finish in Rome. It was my first vacation since arriving in Morocco seven months ago and it was absolutely wonderful.

I arrived in Prague and had a few days to myself before my friend Amanda joined me. Since I wanted to explore Prague with Amanda I decided to explore the outskirts of Prague until she arrived. One day I also left the city to see Karlstejn Castle which was a cute little city about 30 minutes outside of Prague.

Once Amanda arrived in Prague we set out to see all the sights. The historic old town was beautiful and we were lucky enough to have an amazing tour guide for our walking tour. The city was also decked out for Easter and we enjoyed all the delicious food that was to be found in the Easter Markets. We spent an afternoon walking around Prague Castle which has amazing views of the entire city of Prague. The Castle grounds are extensive and its not a castle per-say as much as city enclosed by a wall. Charles Bridge was also fun to walk around, listening to music groups perform, watch artists draw caricatures and enjoy the overall atmosphere. We sat down at a cafe just off Charles Bridge and enjoyed some wine as we waited for the sun to set and see the city lit up at night. Prague is an amazing city and I definitely recommend it to others for a travel destination.

I was most excited about traveling to Budapest as my grandmother was Hungarian. I was not let down one bit. Budapest is split into two cities by the river Danube. One side is Buda and is hilly and has excellent views of Pest. Pest is flat and is home to churches, thermal bath houses, city markets and lots of history. When we arrived we walked over to the Buda side and walked up to the top of Gellart Hill. Not only is Gellart Hill a fun place to walk around but it has phenomenal views of Pest. Our first morning we did a walking tour and explored more of Pest and the UNESCO world heritage site of the Buda Castle district. One of the coolest things I saw was a lock statue. It was a gate around a tree with hundreds of different locks on it. The story is this, when you find your true love, you should buy a lock and engrave your true loves initials along with your own onto it. Then you put it onto the gate and throw the key away into the Danube river. There were a few combination locks which our guide said were for those who have short romances. There were also a few huge locks with lots of little locks on it which she explained were for those who had many loves. I thought it was awesome. I really enjoyed learning more about Hungary's history and culture.

In the afternoon, we decided to further explore the culture by visiting a thermal bath house and spent a few hours enjoying the 20+ different pools available. It was a little piece of heaven for me. After the bath house, we met up with a very distant cousin of mine (a friend of someone my mom met who happens to have the same last name as my grandmother) who took us to the Citadel so we could see Budapest at night from above. It was absolutely breathtaking. Our final day we went to Margaret Island and enjoyed relaxing a bit in the park.

We were in Rome at a very exciting time as it was Easter weekend. We weren't sure how much we would be able to see but our first day was long and we saw over 20 attractions. Our first stop was the Colosseum and Palatine Hill/the Roman Forum. The line to get in was wrapping around the Colosseum and for a split second we didn't think we would get in. Lucky for us we were approached by a guide asking if we wanted to join a tour group. We jumped at the chance to be able to go in so a little later we were in the historic Colosseum. The Colosseum has been through a lot and because of that it is mostly restored and not much is still original. However, it is still a must-see while in Rome. Our next stop was Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Again, it is such an experience to walk through the remains of buildings that have been around for so many thousands of years. We could have spent hours walking the grounds but we still had a lot to see!

We weaved up and down streets for the rest of day walking to see different churches, archeological sites, fountains, piazzas and buildings. By the end of our first day we had seen most of the south western corner of Rome. Our second day was Easter Sunday and what else do you do on Easter Sunday in Rome but go to St. Peter's Square? That's what we did and by some miracle, we actually ended up in the square. We heard the Pope's address, we saw the hundreds of people watching from outside the square and in, and we enjoyed being a part of it. Afterwards, we found a small little restaurant and enjoyed a delicious Easter lunch. The rest of the day we spent weaving up and down streets again seeing some more of the sights like the Spanish Steps. Even though it was Easter, there was so much to see and do! For my short two and a half days in Rome I feel like I really was able to see it and experience all that the city had to offer.

This vacation was exactly what I needed. Right before leaving I was having trouble with my main job being teaching English. I am not a teacher and I do not really enjoy teaching enough for that to be my only job here. When I returned, I found out that I will have the opportunity to help out with Special Olympics at the end of the month, my AIDS awareness grant will be getting underway soon and I have a few other small things to keep me busy. I feel rejuvenated and refreshed and am ready to get back to work. So with that said, bring it on Morocco. Show me what you got. I'm ready.