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!