The views, opinions, and observations expressed in this journal are my own and in no way reflect the views, opinions, or policy of the Peace Corps, Peace Corps Morocco, nor any other governmental or non-governmental organization.

Nor is anything written here necessarily drawn from my own views, opinions, and observations. Please consider all postings and pictures complete fabrications with absolutely no bearing on reality. For legal purposes, please additionally regard the author as utterly imaginary.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Have yourself a moldy little christmas


Krista and I jumped ship to Vienna and Budapest for Christmas. It took over 30 hours in transit on the way there, and 30 hours in transit on the way back. We spent six days abroad. I don't want to compare those ratios, but I can say that it was absolutely, totally freakin' worth it. Holy hell. I love vienna and budapest and christmas.  It was like heaven, being with Krista there over the holiday.  I'll throw up some pictures on this thing when it's working properly, but I don't want to talk about the trip. It was too good.

Soon after arriving back, I broke down for the first time since arriving in country, some 9 months ago.  Returning from vacation is always difficult, but especially so here. I chalk it up, at least partially, to that phenomenon.

We left Budapest at 3 am, switched flights in Milan, and landed in Casablanca in the late morning. We had to wait until 11 pm before our train left and it didn't arrive until 9 in the morning, so we walked in the door at about 10:30. Long trip, with not a whole lot of sleep. We were happy to discover our cats were still alive, and the house wasn't totally destroyed (there's not much to destroy anyway). However, we also noticed two things, both of them highly unfortunate, although one in particular was really bad news.

For some reason our internet no longer works. I attribute this to the absolute morons who work for Morocco's largest telecom corporation, the same guys it took 6 personal visits and 2 weeks of waiting for them to flip a single switch, have screwed up again. I get frustrated when things don't function like they should. Usually this frustration comes out as anger or sarcasm. But not this time. I wanted to call home. I missed Christmas with my family and wanted to talk to them while they were all together. And I wasn't able to because of some idiots.

The second thing we noticed was mold. Shit. I either have a cold, or there is mold growing in my lungs. There is mold on our fridge. on the faucet, on my bags, on some hats, on some clothes, on some books, on the walls, on the ceiling, on the bed mattress, on the couch mattress, along the walls, on the food. there is fucking mold fucking everywhere.  My nose drips into the bucket of bleach as I fry my hands in this soupy biocide. We'll probably have to throw away hundreds of dollars worth of stuff, which is no small sum given our monthly allowance of 250 bucks.

This seriously sucks. The suckiness of the mold and of the internet got me down.  But that wasn't all.

I was lesson planning, or at least, trying to lesson plan. Then I realized that I don't like lesson planning. I'm not going to teach somebody how to speak English in 2 hours a week. I don't like pretending that it's possible. It seems silly and pointless. I'm not an English teacher. Why the hell am I spending all my working time teaching english? Why aren't I living in Budapest where I can drink a nice draft for 1 dollar?

All these things combined and I lost it. Cried. For the first time since being here. Thank God I have Krista to help me. We scrubbed out the mold as best we can, we're yelling at the telecom people today, have confronted our landlord to do something about the falling-apart building, and am making plans to diversify my workload.

I don't mean to say that I hate teaching. Once I get to the class itself, I enjoy myself.  I taught a great intermediate class on Saturday, a discussion about a passage in one of my favorite books, Ishmael. And it was great. But realizing while planning, particularly for beginner classes and grammar-heavy lessons, that the students are not going to really learn how to speak english, even after your best efforts, for the simple reason that there's not enough time, is difficult for me.

So, in order to make sure the next 17 months are as happy as possible, I am making some sincere new years resolutions.

1. Make sure each class is, in some way, fun.
2. Get regular, non-English-teaching-stuff going by the end of January
3. Get working on a larger project by the beginning of spring
4. Get rid of mold

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Been a while, so here's a picture

Krista teaching one of our beginner classes. This is at the new dar shebab (good lighting, clean, lots of books). The other one is fairly dreary.

This was basic, present tense verbs.  The 33 students here range in age from 8-mid40s.

(Click on the picture to get the full effect.)

Tragedy in Connecticut

I learned about the shootings in Connecticut at the elementary school within 12 hours of them happening. It seems that, along with information, the internet can also carry emotions. The killing spree is incomprehensible to me. It took not only a mentally sick person, but a mentally sick person with a gun.  I believe the following:

What happened in Connecticut? 

Deranged person + guns. 

There have always been and there will always be mentally ill people. And there will never be a time when all mentally-ill people are accurately identified and successfully cared for. Simply put, there will always be that variable, whether you think it's caused by God or by evolution or by brutal chance, there will always be some sick peopl
e out there.

But our sick people occasionally brutally murder a lot of others. This doesn't happen so much outside of the US (recent terrorism in Norway being the exception that proves the rule). Our people kill others because they have guns.

The relevant moral factor in the gun deaths at the elementary school is guns, not mental health care. Yes, we can have better care, and we should have better mental health care. But the reason why this person was able to kill so many children is because he had guns. He couldn't have done it without them.

Without the guns, there wouldn't be so many dead children, both at the Connecticut school and in cities around the country. Americans made a moral choice to allow firearms to whoever wants them. That is the moral choice that led to these deaths as well as tens of thousands of others every year. If you support guns, you are complicit in these murders, accidents, and suicides.

It is highly unlikely Americans change this- more than half of Americans support the legalization of semi-automatic firearms. We are a people who, on average, place the fleeting adrenaline rush of shooting off pistols in a firing range over and above the lives of thousands and thousands and thousands of our fellow Americans. This is a moral choice that we made and it is the wrong one.

Proponents of 'gun rights' argue you need a gun to defend yourself. This is utterly non-sensical. There is absolutely no factual basis to the argument that more people with guns leads to increased deterrence of gun violence. Actually, it's the opposite.
Proponents of 'gun rights' argue that guns don't kill people, people kill people. This is also utterly stupid. Yes, people do kill other people and sometimes without using guns. But the man in China who stabbed 20 kids with a knife didn't kill any of them. The man with the gun in Connecticut killed all of them. It was the gun input that led to the deaths.
Proponents of 'gun rights' argue that it's a constitutional right. There is no constitutional right to a semi-automatic 100-clip gun. The amendment was written to support sheriffs who were usually armed with clubs, not with guns. The amendment has been twisted over the centuries into something it was never meant to be.

Why not follow some other countries on this one? We don't need guns. Fuck hunting.

When things like this happen, I feel bad for being over here in Morocco when there are so many problems back home that could use my support. I come from a violent country.  I am grateful that, so far, no Moroccan has asked me about the massacre, as I couldn't possibly explain what happened and the laws that made it possible. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012


A peace corps volunteer serving in Paraguay wrote an article for the HuffPost last month which sparked a small, but impassioned debate amongst those volunteers who enjoy regular internet access.  The article was about her struggles with the feeling of guilt.

Usually, guilt is not something that drags me down. I don't feel guilty when I buy things. Most things anyway. I don't feel terrible taking vacations, and I didn't decide to do peace corps because of white guilt. I don't typically feel like I'm a disgusting human being when I drink a 3 dollar Starbucks concoction. But today I felt guilty. Viscerally, painfully guilty.

I've had an ongoing problem with my host mom, from the family who housed me for the first two weeks in my final site. The problem is over money. She asks for it, usually through her daughter. She needed it to buy the sheep for the biggest holiday of the year. After struggling with what to do, I told them that I could help a little (after all, I would eat some of the sheep) but I couldn't buy the sheep for them because I have no money. Later, I offered her something- about 200 Dh which is somewhere around 25 dollars, but she wouldn't take it. This was confusing and, also, infuriating. Why would she ask for money and then refuse it? Was I missing some cultural thing where you're supposed to offer it over and over and over again before it's accepted? What was the point of making me feel like crap? I don't know.

This is the family who housed me, who fed me, who gave me water and a bed in their living room. Their son gave me his time and his network to help ease me into life in my community. They may have tried to give me sour milk to help when I had dysentery, but they meant well. And my mother would tell me I am biHal weldi (like my son).

Today my host sister called and said that my host mother is very sick and needs help with money. I said I didn't have very much money, and I couldn't help. She said okay, that's okay. I said can I help any other way and she said no. That made my feel guilty.

There's a difference between being lucky and being guilty. Am I lucky? Yes. I am undeniably, unbelievably, unimaginably lucky. I am lucky in so many ways, there isn't enough space on all the internets to list them. One of the ways, however, is that I have money.

I don't feel guilty for being white. I don't feel guilty for being American. I don't feel guilty for being a man. I don't feel guilty for being wealthy through no effort of my own. You are born to whom you are born. Nobody is responsible. It is called luck.

Like all Peace Corps volunteers all over the world who don't look like the people in their communities, their apartness is automatic. And there are things that come with that separation- people in the community want help, people want advice, and at the same time, people will treat you like a child, point you out to their kids and say there's a foreigner, and assume that you have money, and by comparison, you do. Sometimes this is a pain. But I don't feel guilty for looking the way I do and being who I am.

Luck just happens, (and there's no avoiding the fact that I look like a rich white tourist here, and that's 2/3 correct). The feeling of guilt, on the other hand, is fairly easy to avoid when you grow up where I grew up. Even the homeless people on the street- you can simply look at the other side of the sidewalk when you walk past them. And some people who join the Peace Corps do so, in no small part, because they don't want to take the easy way out- they want to confront what's out there- to take a hard, close look at the people who don't have it so good. But you don't need the motivation of guilt to join.

What is my host mom sick with? I don't know. How much would it cost to help her? I don't know. But I didn't want to ask, "well how much would it cost?" And then get an answer and then say, "um, I don't know if I can help thaat  much." There is no question of degree- there can be no token payment for guilt, at least not in my book.

There are two prisms through which I can look at this. Firstly, there is the prism of my job. I am a volunteer. I am here to do youth development. I am given enough money to live like a local. I am not here to save anybody. Dependency brews helplessness. I am not supposed to help with the medical needs of individuals in my community. I am not supposed to provide meals out of my budget for the street children selling cigarettes and plastic bags. Through the prism of my job, it is wrong to help my host mother and I should feel guilty for doing so. I met my host family because of my job.

But, on the other hand, I could probably pay for whatever it is she needs (I'm assuming it's not some major surgery, which it could possibly be). As an individual, I could afford to help. Even though living on my peace corps budget day-to-day means boiling water on the gas stove before putting it in a bucket and pouring it over myself every third day and calling it a shower. Even though, at the same time ,everybody tries to rip me off because I'm the white foreigner. Even though I have to put up with it from both ends, I am probably financially capable of helping to pay for my host mom's medical care. So, I feel guilty.

But what can I do? I can help her, but I won't. I'll feel guilty going to Europe to celebrate Christmas instead of spending my money on her medical care, but that's just the way it is.

Why do I feel guilty? Because I know her. I could spend the money on malaria tablets in some other part of Africa. I could pay for mosquito bed-nets. I could pay for HIV education, fight polio, or support for women's education in Pakistan. But that's not how guilt works. You can only feel guilty for what you see. (Whether or not this means you can only be guilty for what you see and don't act upon is another question).

So the whole thing is seriously shitty. Telling myself that I'm not here to hand out money doesn't help very much. Saying well, I came over here and am doing the freakin' peace corps and isn't that enough doesn't help very much either. Those are called rationalizations. Can't fight down emotions with rationalizations, and if I could, then I wouldn't be treating myself honestly.

The article by the volunteer in Paraguay who I mentioned before is below:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Yes, I have read the Quran

Oftentimes an absolute stranger will ask me if I know about the Quran. Well, now I can say yes. I can say that I've read it. All of it. Sort of.

I worked my way through a copy that had the English translation alongside the Arabic alongside the transliterated Arabic pronunciation. This copy has the title prominently displayed across the front. The title is "The Meaning of the Holly Quran".

I feel as though something may have been lost in translation. Unless this particular copy was actually part of a limited-edition Christmas release.

So I assume that this version is not perfect.  And even with the little Arabic I have, I was able to tell that it wasn't quite right. Many times a single word would be translated into several, and sometimes whole extra sentences were thrown in. Furthermore, the English was written to mimic the bible. So there are a lot of 'shall's and 'ye's, which strikes me as kind of silly. I didn't have much choice though- it would take years of studying Classical Arabic (an older version of the current standard language in media across the Arab world) before I could read the original. And even then it would be hard.

The book continually refers to past events and stories. It refers to the Ad and Thamud people who were destroyed. It refers to Moses throwing his snake-rod which ate up the Pharoah's wizards' magic tricks.  It refers to Jesus being born next to a palm tree. And it is very repetitive.  Continually, ad nauseam, it talks about the gardens in heaven and the fires in hell. Over, and over, and over, and over again.

Now it makes sense when people tell me about the fire and the gardens. You remember that stuff when it's drilled over and over and over again. And over again. Of course, now that I've read it, it's expected that I believe it. Surprisingly, I am able to read hundreds of pages telling me I will go to hell and come out totally enervated.

There are, however, a number of things I took away from slogging through it.

  1. It is clear that the book comes from desert people.  The good things are what people living in the desert want (streams, cool water, shade, gardens), and the bad things are what people living in the desert are stuck with (boiling water, fire, thirst). 
  2. Muslims are really into there being only one God. He can't have any kids. Because he is too great to be divided.
  3. It was a huge deal that a holy book was in Arabic. A huge deal- over and over again, it explains that it's in Arabic so that the people can understand. It is the sign to them as the scriptures were to other peoples in the past.
  4. Most of the stories are poorly told- they are choppy, start and end immediately, and constantly refer to other, totally unrelated events.
  5. Everybody is either going to heaven or to hell, but it's gonna be at some indeterminate point in the future, and everything will be judged.
  6. God chooses who are believers and who are non-believers. But the non-believers will go to hell because of their actions. So, basically, you're screwed if you're a non-believer and there is nothing you can do about it. God wanted you to go to hell.
  7. There are a lot of arcane laws- a number of them regarding wives and slaves
  8. Paying back murder with murder has God's 'okay'. But you can also choose to pay the family of the murdered instead. -- "We ordained for them: life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal. But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself, and if any fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are no better than wrongdoers"
  9. Praying is important
  10. Charity is important
  11. You're not supposed to get too mixed up with orphans
  12. God has a lot of names
  13. The jews and christians were wrong and are going to hell. But the Jews more so: -- "Strongest among men in enmity to the believers will thou find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest amont them in love to the believers wilt though find those who say "we are Christian": Because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant."
  14. Basically, you need to become Muslim because otherwise you're going to Hell. -- "What cause can we have not to believe in Allah and the truth which has come to us, seeing that we long for our Lord to admit us to the company of the righteous."
  15. Don't look for, nor point out, contradictions. It will go badly for you if you do so. -- "Some people before you did ask such questions, and on that account lost their faith."
And then there's this:

Surah 33, line 53: "O ye who believe enter not the Prophet's houses until leave is given you for a meal, and then not as early as to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited, enter; and when ye have taken your meal, disperse, without seeking familiar talk. Such behavior annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you, but Allah is not ashamed to tell you the truth."

This comes about 2/3 of the way into the Quran. By this time, Mohamed has been revealing the surahs for a long time and there are, I would think, a lot of people stopping by to ask him for certain favors. He probably doesn't like this.

But my favorite part came at the end. And I plan on using it when pushed about Islam and becoming Muslim:
قل يأيها الكفرون
لا أعبد ما تعبدون
و لا أنتم عبدون ما أعبد
و لا أنا عابد ماعبدتم
و لا أنتم عبدون ما أعبد
لكم دينكم و لى دين

Say, you unbelievers: 
I do not worship what you worship. 
Nor do you worship what I do. 
And I will not worship that which you worship.
And you will not worship that which I worship.  
You have your way (religion) and I have mine.

Now this I can work with!

I admit, I am guilty of giving the "highlighter version" of the Koran. The one that is favored both by fundamentalists and Islamophobes (as the woman in the video link below explains). But I'm not sure how else to present it. I can't recite it for you. It'd be very long, and not comprehensible, even if you were a fluent Arabic speaker. 


In short, I remain unconvinced.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Holy crap it is cold.

It is about 45 degrees. It will be 40 degrees tonight. Two nights ago it dropped to just above freezing.

I know what you're thinking, "oh yeah, big deal, 40 degrees is nothing, blah blah blah". Well, my response is, shut the hell up.

It's cold. It's damn cold. It's two pairs of wool socks and I'm still cold. It's wear a hat to bed and I'm still cold. It's spend all my time eating hot soup and making hot totties and popping hot popcorn and standing in front of the oven and I'm still cold.

You see, the problem is that there's no heating. And there's no hot water. And the building is made out of concrete and tiles so it retains cold the whole day, and we can't afford carpets. So any time I want to wash dishes, the water is just above freezing. Or take a shower. Or wash clothes, or do anything.

The bathroom is the coldest room in the house.

I could drop a bunch of money for a hot water heater, but the peace corps wouldn't reimburse for it. Thanks a lot.

Monday, November 26, 2012

ups n downs

At the swearing-in ceremony, some two months after landing in country, another volunteer performed a 'dramatic reading'. The piece focused on how the peace corps experience is, essentially, an accelerated maturation. When you first arrive with your host family, you are sort of like a baby- unable to communicate, unsure of how to use the toilet, and probably crying a good deal. Then you move up to child status, teenager, and so forth. The PC administration's hope, I believe, is that the volunteer reaches the level of young adult by the end of the first two months. The expectation being: you are able to survive on your own. At the time, I thought the reading was poignant and disturbingly accurate. But I also thought I'd made it to adulthood. I suppose most people sincerely believe they've matured into fully functioning adults at a number of times throughout their lives: 13 years old, 16 years old, 18 years old, 21 years old, and so on. And what I felt may be similar to that. But anyway, I thought I had made it to what I'd always considered the lengthy, flat plateau of being an adult.

Not so! At the age of 25, men's brains have finished filling out the frontal lobe (I think this happens at about 18 for women). This means, in theory at least, they are directed more by reasoning, rather than the fickle dictatorship of the emotional lizard brain. This is the hallmark of adulthood: no more radically fluctuating emotions.

But, over the last 8 months I've had more emotional ups and downs than perhaps at any other time in my post-12-year-old life. Simply put, the two months training before swearing in was not enough to even me out. One day is fantastic, and the next is miserable. One hour in the classroom is exhilarating, and the next hour of teaching is painful.

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving in Oujda with 4 other volunteers and another American. Krista heroically made a 4.5 kilo chicken, a cheesecake, gravy, cornbread stuffing, and buns. I competed as well as I could with some green beans and pumpin/ginger soup. Somebody else made mashed potatoes, and we washed it down with cheap wine and Budweiser. We decorated a plastic tree and listened to Christmas music. We played Boggler, Settlers of Catan, and Cards Against Humanity. It was  like heaven.

Today, we caught a grand taxi back just after the sun had set. Krista was sufferiong from severe back cramps when we got stopped by border patrol for the first time. At one point the driver stomped on the break at 90 kph, and went into a controlled skid-swerve around a donkey that was standing placidly in the middle of the road. We got the best seats in the house for that show as we were smushed into the passenger seat (also known as the 'death seat'). That was a bit of a downer.

The great news is, the highs are really high. The bad news is the lows are really low. And I'm still trying to decide whether or not the mercurial emotions of my Moroccan teenage self are a good thing.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


eyum alshkr: "day of thanks"

I am thankful for my family who allow me to go live abroad without cutting me off, who support me from afar, and who I miss every day.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to embark on a 26 month adventure, on Uncle Sam's dollar.

I am thankful to have regular work that isn't overwhelming.

I am thankful for a good meal, and because of Krista, I've been having plenty of those.

I am thankful for Krista. Without having her here with me, I would surely go insane. She is a constant source of support, fun, encouragement, help, food, and I am incredibly lucky that I found her.

I am thankful for the cats: Anton and Mina, especially when they don't poop where they're not supposed to.

I am thankful for America. We have everything: diversity, every type of food in the world, widespread tolerance, secularism, pork products, education, money, travel, seasons, energy, creativity, and endless drive. We are the mixing pot of the world, and, as it turns out, when you mix everybody together you get some damn good values: freedom, equality, individuality, hard work, and the ability to laugh at oneself.

I am grateful that my country thinks it worthwhile to send thousands of people like me all over the world to help with whatever we can. I am here, not to convert people, not to suck money out of people, not to kill people, but simply to improve lives; to open minds and hearts. I am grateful that I have this chance.

And I am thankful for those Moroccans who have welcomed me: the families that have sheltered me, fed me, and taught me; my students who choose to show up at my classes; the store owner on the corner; and countless people who've invited me to share food and tea.

I am grateful for my education. I am grateful for the internet, for books, for towels, for running water, for shelter, for my stovetop, for my fridge. I am thankful for my friends nearby, for my Peace Corps brethren, for my friend Sam, for my cellphone, for my gradually strengthening immune system, for my roof, for Tide, for music, for my computer, for socks, for long underwear, for clementines, pomegranates and yogurt. I am thankful for sandals, t-shirts, and contraband. I am thankful for cooking gas.

I am a very lucky person.

Friday, November 16, 2012


This blog service is really terrible with photos, but hopefully I'll find the patience to put up some photos of Paris. Which is, without a doubt, the nicest place in the entire world.

If you are a peace corps volunteer, I highly recommend visiting terrible, ugly places. It's the philosophy of the dad in Calvin and Hobbes: you have terrible vacations so work seems nice. What other time in life can you visit South Sudan or Eastern Europe and think: "Well, that wasn't too bad at all?"  Unfortunately, the less-glamorous neighbor destinations for PC morocco, Algeria, Western Sahara, Mauritania, are all closed off to us and everywhere else in Africa costs at least 600 bucks to get to. So (poor us), have to go to Europe.

Ah, Europe. A beautiful place. Parks, drinking chocolate, art/museums, diversity, restaurants, no trash, things you would actually want to buy, cheese, cheese, good bread, cheese, beer, beer, beer, beer, wine, restaurants, indoor heating, hot water, working infrastructure, and not getting stared at. And seeing my parents for the first time in 8 months. Wow. It was all I imagined and much more. So much more, in fact, that it's a little bit tough to come back.

Given that I went to Paris for 6 days, I thought I could go a week without being asked if I was Muslim. No chance. Made it 20 minutes after landing. I just interrupted writing this to kill half a dozen flies before they drive me absolutely insane (the dripping water in the bathroom isn't helping).

But, there's nothing I can do about it. Just got to grit my teeth and get through the next few days- hope to even back out. Thank God I've got Krista with me or I'd really go nuts- start screaming at people in the street.

Today, while trying to buy some thick blankets (85 dirhams a piece), we met an interesting man at a shoe-repair shack. He wanted to talk about Morocco and America's long history of friendship. This is actually true, and fairly common knowledge here: Morocco (or at least the king of the area at the time) was the first to recognize the United States. He was telling this to us while smoking hashish and holding a closed bottle of some sort of alcohol. Then he played the flute for us and gave us some tea. Typically weird experience.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November 7th, 2012

As they say here,


الحمد الله

"Praise to God"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Nothing in particular

It is November 4th and it's 87 degrees outside. Teaching has begun in earnest just in time for me to go on vacation. To Paris, where I believe it's about 40 degrees cooler. But it's not the cold I'm looking forward to.

Imagine a magical land, where people don't stare openly at you constantly, or, every day, ask if you've become Muslim yet. A land where you can eat pork products, and it's not a big deal. A place with regular trash collection. Toilets that you can sit on. A city with hot water and internal heating. Parks. Green spaces inside a city. The possibility of outdoor exercise. Low risk of contracting dysentery.

Yup, looking forward to it; I'll be there in just a few short days, and then I'll be back once again. By now, I've pretty much established my work schedule-
Sunday-Monday is my weekend.
Tuesday, 3-5 pm, beginners English class at the nearby Dar Shebab; 5:30-7:00 pm, class of undetermined level at the far Dar Shebab
Wednesday, 2-4 pm, high school English extra classes at a french institute (co-teaching with a Moroccan college student)
Thursday, 3-5 pm, intermediate English class at the nearby Dar Shebab; 5-6 pm, another intermediate class
Friday, 4-6 pm, high school English extra classes at the french institute (co-teaching)
Saturday, 10-11, beginner class; 11-12, intermediate class at nearby DS; 3-4:30 beg. class, 4:30-6:00 advanced class at far DS

Excepting Saturday, my mornings are free. This is awesome. It means I can wake up when I want to, prepare for classes, and relax. Nearly all of the classes at the DS I co-teach with Krista, which helps ease the pressure and make class preparation easier. I have a total of 15.5 hours a week at the front of a class. Which is exactly what Peace Corps Morocco recommends. And it's enough. It's tough, and it's draining to deal with the boss's crap, but it's going well so far. After three months (sometime in mid-January), I'll be resetting this schedule with the aim of subtracting some hours of teaching and adding some hours of other development work (no doubt initially with something simple like a health club, environment club, and/or exercise club at one of the DSes). So things are pretty good.

With the one unfortunate fact that I don't really know English. I don't know the grammar. I don't know the types of conditional sentences, and, according to my students, I don't pronounce things correctly. It may or may not help if Peace Corps were to supply us with lesson plans and a curriculum, or a textbook, but they don't. We do have countless resources thanks to the incredible library we have in Rabat, but sometimes even that won't cover certain questions from the students.

For example, 2 days ago, one of my older 'youths' (he's 46) came up to me after class to ask my help and advice. The problem is that he was fired from his position as a postman some 11-odd years ago, accused of stealing 200,000 dirhams, and sent to jail. He says this was all a fabrication and he didn't steal anything. Surprisingly, I couldn't come up with a solution. I'm not sure what about me yells "international lawyer" (maybe the flip flops?). What am I to do? I suggested he write to the national online newspaper in Morocco, got on my bike, and rode to the other dar shebab. Kids threw rocks at me on the way there. I wonder if there are a lot of rock-throwing kids in Paris?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Linguistic Realizations

If you have no interest in linguistics, language history, or dialects of Moroccan Arabic, read no further.

As I've mentioned before, in the east of Morocco, the people speak a subdialect of Moroccan Darija. It's called Sharqiya, and is spoken in Oujda, my town, Al'eiun, Taourirt, and a number of other smaller towns in the area. Of course, from town to town there are variations within the Sharqiya dialect. The term Oujdiya is alternatively used for Sharqiya. Sharqiya means 'of the East', and Oujdiya means 'of Oujda'. (I'm not sure how to translate any of this stuff exactly).

Since it's a dialect, I generally assumed that it's some sort of pidgin Darija, backward, non-grammatical, and nonsensical.  However, I have heard that some of the Arabic dialects tend to have more classical underpinnings, while others are closer to contemporary modern standard Arabic. For example, while I have found the verb Arad-a, conjugated to 'ureed' (meaning 'I want'), in the Quran, I've also read that the verb Bgha is a classical alternative (conjugated here to 'Bgheet' for 'I want').  And although many people claim Moroccan Arabic is not really Arabic, it appears to be the only modern dialect which retains this classical oddity in its most basic lexicon.

This brings me to Sharqiya. I've noticed over the last few days as I slog my way through the Quran, that there are a number of distinctly classical words that Sharqiya has retained, while the rest of Darija has let them slide. 'L'afiya' means 'fire' in the West, but over here, people say 'nar'. They claim it comes from Algeria, and that they're speaking Algerian Arabic, which may well be correct. However, I've also noticed that 'nar' appears repeatedly in the Quran- always associated with hell (the fires of hell, the fire of punishment, etc.). Next up, 'sxhoon' or 'Har' means 'hot' the the West, while the Berkanins say 'Human' for hot weather or 'Hamii' for hot water. The root of that must be H-m-m.  And I just found it in the Quran as well, so that's another point to my local lingua in terms of classicalness. Lastly, 'Gu'ud'. This means sit as an imperative (hard G-ayn-dal with two dummas as vowel markings). The rest of Morocco says 'Gliss'. This term appears in an account of American sailors in 1815 who washed ashore on the western Sahara (now Western Sahara/Morocco), so it appears the term has been around for quite a while, and over an extended area.  But... I was very excited (geeky, I know) to have recently found q-ayn-dal in the Quran meaning 'to sit'. Our people tends to turn the Qaf letter into the hard G sound (Qlb, meaning 'heart' in the rest of Morocco is pronounced Glb here). So, it turns out, 'Gu'ud', what I thought to be a true hallmark of the madness that is Sharqiya, turns out to actually be quite close to the classical verb. (Those who have studied FusHa know that m-qaf-ayn-dal is still used for seat/chair/couch, and if you're a volunteer in Morocco you know that you were supposed to visit your local Qaid- same root?)

I've reached my nerdiness limit of the day, so that's enough for now.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

sacrificing the sheep

I think I prefer Christmas. 

As I said last time, Eid is a special (and weird) time.  I woke up in the early morning two days ago to the sounds of screaming sheep. Or maybe it was just the neighborhood donkey, I'm not positive. I got on a bike and headed out of town to where my old host family lives. 

Just like on Christmas, Eid has its own last-minute shoppers so I saw a few people with sheep in little carts attached to the back of their mopeds. There's definitely a charge to the air- nearly every family has their own sheep, and they're all killing it at the same time.  Smoke billows up from all areas of town as people grill on their roofs and in the streets. I could look down from the top of my host family's house and see half a dozen different sheep being slaughtered. 

I got to my house, and we killed a sheep. There was a lot of invoking Allah's name and 'God is Great's right before and as the sheep's throat was being slit. I believe that the Koran says Abraham was about to kill Ishmael (not Isaac), because God demanded it of him. But at the last second, God sent down a sheep to be sacrificed instead. I'm not sure what God was trying to get out of this, but anyway, that's the story behind Eid.

 The father of the family is usually the one who does the sacrifice. The neck is cut open so it bleeds almost entirely out (the Koran says you're not supposed to eat blood), often spraying everywhere, onto the wall and rushing out of the sheep.  Then, less than a minute later, the mostly-headless animal starts to kick violently, almost running in place while on its side, for about 30 seconds. Once this stopped, my host father cut the head off, then cut open the skin near the back legs, and took the skin off. He snapped the front legs off (it was impressive), and then we hoisted the sheep by its back legs and hung the carcass upside down. Next up was removing the skin/organs. Organs are really nasty. The strategy seems to be you pretty much root around in the animal with a knife and pull everything out- being careful not to rupture anything. When taking off the skin, they're careful to leave the layer of fat, which is then removed and stretched out to dry. Then the women got busy cleaning the organs while Kamal and I grilled the liver. We cut the fat into strips and wrapped smaller pieces of liver and grilled them. Then we ate it. At about 9:30 am.  It was pretty good, but I think I'd prefer to eat that kind of thing a bit later in the day.  Meanwhile, at her host family's house, Krista was served sheep testicles at 8 in the morning.

Then, you sort of sit around for a few hours, and then eat some more sheep- for lunch we had a tajine which included heart, liver, throat, stomach, and some other stuff I don't want to think about.  I wasn't a huge fan of this. I left as soon as possible, went home, and avoided eating anything at all.  The next day, woke up early, went back to their house, and had some more early morning sheep, this time the ribs. Really good, but again, wrong time of day, and I was starting to get overwhelmed.  Then we had a late lunch of sheep. I left as soon as possible to go meet with a potential counterpart who runs an environmental association and museum.  He treated Krista and I to a second late lunch. Which was also lamb. Oh my god. I avoided eating anything for the rest of the day, and am pretty sure I can feel my arteries thickening, hardening, cardiac arrest lurking on the horizon.  I have eaten almost exclusively sheep for the past 60 hours. 

As for my feelings while the sheep was dying, I honestly felt a fairly strong adrenaline rush. It's a bit contagious, and everybody is ecstatic that they're fortunate enough to have their own sheep and are going to eat richer food than they do at any other time of the year. And everybody's joking about the sheep. I told my host sister, "poor sheep. He knows what's coming." and she responded "yes, he can feel it". I do feel bad for the sheep.

One unfortunate part of l'Eid is my continuing awkward relationship with my host mother. This started when I was staying with them and she gave me a note in English, which she can't speak or write, requesting help for her children to get to the US. Before Eid, she asked me indirectly for money for the sheep (a good sheep runs you more than 200 us dollars). She'd do this through her oldest daughter sending text messages to Krista, or talking to Krista over the phone. I responded at one point that I would be willing to help with the sheep, since it is expensive and I would be partaking in it, but that I couldn't help very much, could only cover maybe 10-15% of it. There's the old peace corps budget constraint, but furthermore, I'm not here to be in the business of helping people individually with financial obligations. Peace Corps doesn't give us much money because we're not supposed to be making these kinds of donations. Then at the door when I was leaving yesterday, I tried to give her that money and she refused it. What the hell. And I don't know how insistent you're supposed to be in the culture, so that adds to the confusion.  So I got to feel bad about it twice- when I didn't know what to do, and then when I got turned down for trying to help. Shit.

Also my host grandmother told Kamal he shouldn't be hanging out with me because I'm an unbeliever (aka not Muslim). I picked up on this because I recognized the word from the Quran. In one of the chapters I read recently, the book was quite explicit about not taking as friends non-Muslims, if you have potential Muslim friends. So maybe that's where she gets that. 

Anyway, happy EID! 

sorry sheep friend, you're about to go down that drain


These are organs. I'm not sure which ones. But we ate all of them.  That thing on the ground is the skin. Now I know how exactly a sheepskin rug is removed.

Organ cleaning party. The little girl, my host sister, is cleaning all the food out of its stomache. That's the kidney and testicles in the brown bowl closest to me. The heart, throat and other stuff is in the smaller bowl over by the pole, and the disembodied hands to the right are picking through the intestines.

pretty nasty


upside-down head. That's not a smile. I didn't stick around to eat this one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

dbeh houli u hayawanat akhrain

Slaughtering sheep and other animals:

At the risk of coming off as one of those cloying, cat-obsessed memesters, I've pasted below a few pictures of us with our new small friends. Their names are Anton and Mina. Anton peed in the corner today and Mina tore open my toe with her claws this morning. Plus, we have to steal sand from nearby construction sites for use as kitty-litter. But in general  I'm quite pleased with our larger household, despite the increasing scatological issues.

On to sheep! 
Which brings me to one of my favorite holiday songs,

"It's the most wonderful time of the year, 
with the kids jingle belling,
and everyone telling you "be of good cheer",

It's the most wonderful time of the year
It's the hap-happiest season of all,
with those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings,
when friends come to call,

It's the holiday season here. But it's not Christmas, it's Eid Lkibeer. 70 days after the end of Ramadan, everybody who can afford to, purchases a sheep. They keep it around for a few days so that the children can grow attached. And then they slaughter it, eating its organs first. This is scheduled for Friday, but until then, we have a growing petting zoo outside our window. Our neighbors often spend their time out on the roof; keeping their sheep company, feeding it grass, playing it music. It's a festive time. 

I realize Christmas must seem equally silly to the outsider. Every family goes to a parking lot and buys a small tree, puts it in their house so it sheds all over their rug, drapes it with crap that usually fills maybe half of their total household storage place, puts toys under the tree, and plays music about Jesus/Santa/reindeer/old men bearing spices. 

To gain further perspective on Islam, I've started to read the Koran (simultaneously balancing it with the unflinchingly racist account of Lawrence of Arabia)- stay tuned for dead sheep and Koranic quotes!

Krista, Mina, sunset from window
Mina napping

Mina doesn't like this, Anton doesn't care.


newest neighbors, future dead sheep

petting zoo

Saturday, October 20, 2012

More Classes

English is a difficult language. I never really appreciated that before. Our words are so freakin' long sometimes, and the pronunciation is nuts. And the Moroccan public education system, when it comes to English, sucks. I mean, it's not good. It's bad.

I met some students yesterday who were in a class I was helping out with. They've been studying English for three years. I asked them "When is your test". They didn't understand. I asked "which unit are you on in the book?". They didn't understand. Then I looked at the book. They were reading complex passages featuring such classic English expressions as "pieces of information" and "audio chat".

English may as well be a dead language for them. They read it, and some can even write it. But listening and speaking is at almost zero. Most of the teachers in schools do not speak English- and so they explain the lesson in Arabic. What's the point?

And so this leads to a situation that I'm entirely unfamiliar with, from a teaching perspective. Do I start from zero if listening comprehension is at zero? Some of these students don't even know the alphabet in English, because it's always been explained to them in French. And their teacher can't really speak English, but he's very adamant that he Does speak English. And he knows some insane vocabulary, but I have trouble understanding anything he says because the pronunciation is completely off. Many students here are adamant that they are using "British" English, and that's why I don't recognize the pronunciation. Which is silly.

Anyway, I kind of prefer the beginning English class, because then I don't have to worry about overcoming years of damage.

On a totally different note, SANDSTORM.
Here, they call them J-Jaj, which really means "glass". And that's exactly what it feels like -- shards of glass flying through the air. Two days ago there was a massive sandstorm; I could barely go outside. Sand swept in through all the little cracks in my apartment and covered everything. Then, yesterday, it poured rain for the first time (i.e. since I got here back in May). The drainage system isn't the best and so I waded through a street-river of trash, dirt, vegetable scraps, and chicken shit to get to the other side of town for a class. I have no idea whether or not I should be expecting more sandstorms or more thunderstorms in the months ahead.

Monday, October 15, 2012


That's what I asked the lady working at a bakery nearby. The above question means, in the half-swallowed eastern dialect of Moroccan darija, "didn't you see her?"

Krista and I were returning from across town, about an hour and a half walk. We'd been to an elementary/middle school so that we could make announcements at the school and lure potential students with our intriguing Americanness. This takes very little effort on our part. Krista said one word in Arabic and a class of fifth graders literally burst into applause. We command a great deal of attention with next to no effort. We're kind of a big deal.

This was one of the few occasions in which this phenomenon works in our favor. That's to say, every single place we go, we get stares. And we get comments.
"Foreigner!", "blonde?", "French people", and so forth.

At a certain point on the way back we split paths- Krista to the local market, and I to a private school to invite more students to our classes. After that task, I bought a loaf of bread from the bakery and asked if the lady had seen Krista, the "foreigner", the "blonde woman". She said she hadn't. Turns out within the 5 block walk back to the apartment in the middle of the afternoon, one guy followed her in a car and another on a moped demanded to meet her.

I would like to personally castrate every single Moroccan man who does this. Unfortunately, this isn't yet feasible, but remains for now merely an intriguing potential development project.

If you are reading this and happen to be a female volunteer (or an asian-american/african-american/anynonwhitelookingamerican) serving in, well, most peace corps countries, you're probably thinking, "give me a freakin' break- what does a guy have to complain about when it comes to harassment". I agree. I don't have a leg to stand on.

Buut, it's more than a little bit irritating. It means I'm on edge at all times I'm in public. Later today Krista and I were walking to another school and a guy yelled from his car. I stopped and turned, ready to yell something like, "Ila kat3oud, gatmoot ghuwetan" or "siir taHwa" or just meaningless rapid-fire harsh throatal noises. Then I realized it's a nice guy who works at the grocery store. I should probably reign-in the aggression a bit.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

So it begins (for real)

It is October 13th, over 200 days since I first landed in Morocco and classes have just begun. I so far have 14.5 hours of teaching or co-teaching (only English classes) per week. As with all things, the demographics of the first classes are not quite what I expected.

I am here for 'youth development'. In the US, you may be a youth if you're mid-teens or younger. Here, the term means unmarried and reasonably young, say, under 30 or so.  I think at a certain age you pass into spinsterhood but I'm not sure what the cutoff is exactly. Anyway, there are a number of students who do not exactly meet the main 'youth' criteria. That is to say, Krista and I have multiple male students in their mid-to-late 40s. Yup. Youth development.

Now you would think that our boss, the head of the Dar Chebab would have informed them that we are working in youth development. And you would also have assumed that the name of our workplace, the 'Dar Chebab', i.e. 'house of youths' might have alerted these late bloomers that they were in the wrong building. Of course, you don't want to turn anybody away and so we'll continue to teach them as long as they acquiesce to singing songs and playing with finger paints.

In other news, we recently went to Rabat. again. In the course of one week, we went from Rabat to here, then here to Rabat, then Rabat to here. We leave home, walk 20-30 minutes, take a grand taxi for an hour, and then a train for 9-10 hours, and then a small taxi to wherever it is we want to go. Sometimes, there's air conditioning on the trains, and usually you can find a seat somewhere. On one of these trips our train car managed to get hit by stones on two separate occasions. The first time a window cracked and the second time the entire window shattered but fortunately none of the glass fell out- I guess car windshields are designed to break like that during impacts. I guess kids like to throw rocks.  They're no doubt starved for entertainment because all the classes at youth houses are full of aging men.

Anyway, it's good to be busy. I'll probably regret that statement within the week.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Country Roads..

As I said, I am BACK. Riding in that 'grand' taxi over the mountains, Krista and I smooshed into a single seat with a large, cardboard box full of loudly meowing cats on our laps, the landscape looked almost welcoming. I would never have thought the hills could seem green to me. Even coming from cities like Marrakesh and Agadir, I'm starting to feel comfortable with my dirty-orange colored city.

Where did I go? Taza, Fez, Beni Millel, Foum Ansar, Ouzzoud, Jebel Toubkal, Marrakesh, Agadir, Rabat, Oujda, and back. I've taken every single mode of transport available in this country, and managed to avoid pooping in my pants in all of them. Practice makes perfect I suppose.

In Taza, I went to a training for active listening and co-worker counseling. The night I got there, I attended an engagement party. Another volunteer was getting engaged. She's been here approximately a year and, by her own admission, is not exactly fluent in Darija. She's getting married to a fireman. I did not see this coming. It seems in almost every group of new volunteers, somebody marries a HCN (that's peace corps speak for 'host country national', an oddly sterile, government acronym for these volunteers' husbands and wives). To get married in the peace corps, you must have the country director's approval. In Morocco, to get married, you must have your family's approval. I don't envy the country director having to meet a whole new set of in-laws every few months.

Following Taza, I went to Beni Millel. I mean, I wanted to, but Krista and I got stuck in Fez. This is standard. It's impossible to buy a bus ticket unless you are at the station. So if you need to change busses at some point, you're probably screwed. This happened to us. Eating breakfast at the hostel in the morning, we met a volunteer from Burkina Faso. I think he may have been just a bit jealous of us.

Our friend Sam's village is right outside Beni Millel. If you're a tourist and considering visiting Beni Millel, Don't. Sorry Sam- just didn't get a good vibe. If you'd like to visit foum ansar though, Sam'll make you some mean friend chicken and mashed potatoes. Ahhh, America.

Next up we enjoyed some nature. Waterfalls in Ouzzoud and the tallest mountain in Morocco and north africa- Toubkal. There were monkeys in Ouzzoud. These same monkeys I later saw chained up for visitors' enjoyment, in the main square in Marrakesh. Ouzzoud is in Azilal province, which is known for schistosomiasis. This is also known as snail fever. Essentially, some parasites move through the intestines of snails, and then burrow through your skin and hang out in your liver. Anyway, I think after a few years of schistosomiasis, your spleen gets really big. So hopefully I don't have it. But at the close of service in 20 months, I can get them flushed out anyway, which I think I will do.

Toubkal was awesome. I've got some pictures up of the trek. We stayed one night at base camp, and woke up at 4:25 am to hit the trail. The sun rose at 7:15. This means that we were hiking in full darkness- sky full of stars. Unluckily, our one flashlight was dead so we used our cell phones. Yep, we used our freakin' cell phones. I also hiked in sneakers and pajamas, which wasn't a very good idea. But we did survive the trek. Hit the top at sunrise, hung around for 10 freezing minutes and then turned around. On the way back, we realized we probably shouldn't have attempted the climb at night. Whatever. Mike 1, Mountain 0.

After Toubkal, we had our IST (training) in Marrakesh. One week with 100 other peace corps volunteers. We stayed at some government complex. Government workers here have it made. There was a pool. It was nice, that's all. Marrakesh is kind of cool. I feel like I know it well, as I took many city busses all over town trying to find someone who could fix my computer. There are monkeys on chains, as I mentioned. And there are snakes. And there's lots of people trying to get your money. And there are more white people than I've seen in a long time.  The most jarring moment for me though, was seeing a construction site on the main square of Marrakesh. That's the square that you visit, if you're visiting marrakesh. They were rebuilding a cafe that was blown up in 2011, as in terrorists blew it up. I don't really have anything to say about that. Other than perhaps I'm very happy I live where I do, which probably isn't worth visiting if you're a terrorist.

From Marrakesh, Krista went on to Rabat, and I headed to Agadir for a health workshop: "how to teach/ do health stuff in your community". Agadir is really nice, especially if you've been missing Indian food, real Italian food, and beer. It's got a great beach too. On the third day the beach was completely destroyed by a storm- totally covered in trash. Two volunteers from Michigan went in the ocean for the first time in their lives,... after the storm. One saw a floating dead rat and the other saw a used condom in the water next to her. I hope they give the ocean another chance sometime.  Along with your typical white-person tourist demographic, there are a number of rich Saudis who go to Agadir. Which reminds me of something-

As I learned at IST during a training on AIDS, there's a lot of AIDS here. But, the government doesn't report it because Morocco enjoys a robust sex tourism industry, and you wouldn't want to scare away the sex tourists. Some of these tourists are coming from Saudi Arabia. Which means, if you're a Saudi Arabian and reading this, I recommend you do not come to Morocco for some sex. I see from my blog statistics that two people in Saudi Arabia actually read this last month- so don't say I didn't warn you.

In Agadir for the health clinic, I learned a good deal of disturbing information about health, particularly rural women's health here. There is nowhere near enough education or resources in the form of rural doctors. One of the most disturbing take-aways from this training was learning that some women clean their hoo-has with bleach. This is not good. The thing is, doctor's visits are free here! You can get 4 pre-natal exams for free! But there just aren't very many doctors in the rural areas.

One of the guys who helped lead the health workshop was a Moroccan named Hakim who is wheelchair bound because of a bout of polio in the country some 45 years ago. He was a young kid when he got it and moved to a center in Marrakesh for physically handicapped children. A peace corps volunteer worked there, and Hakim still remembers them and is thankful for the impact they had on his life. Now, that center is closed. In fact, there are NO centers. Why? I do not know.

So, after Agadir I went to Rabat by way of a mcdonalds in Marrakesh, met Krista, and the next day we took the 10 hour train across to Oujda. Stayed a couple days in Oujda, picked up two cats that now live with us (Anton and Mina) and made it home. The city seems very different now that it's swarming with kids. And we've been busy advertising for the start (FINALLY) of our regular English classes (oct. 11, be there). Our boss is being a pain, as usual, but hopefully we'll pull this thing off. Strangely enough, tomorrow we're going right back to Rabat for a few days' meeting.

This is dragging on way too long, but I just want to write one last thing. I saw today an absolutely perfect example of the Moroccan dating ritual:
Two girls walking down a sidestreet, wearing their all-white school smocks, holding hands and giggling. They were followed by two guys with, I kid you not, matching greased-back mullets, wearing identical fake Louis Vuitton-style small backpacks. These guys were also holding hands with each other. About 15 feet back from the girls, they were yelling, whispering, catcalling, and whistling at the girls. I consider this harassment. But this is apparently normal here. Two dudes holding hands with each other following some girls.

On second thought, I'm not totally comfortable here yet. This still seems really stupid and weird.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

more photos- catching up

Here are some more pictures from the last month- climbing Jebel Toubkal

This is base camp. Paid 62 dirhams for a mattress and 50 dh for one of the worst dinners I've ever had. On the way down the following day, we went hungry rather than get ripped off.
great view of the sunrise, nearing the top of Toubkal


sun (just before 7 am)

from the top, down the back side of the mountain

volunteer sam, being awesome

I ran into this guy on top. As can be clearly seen by his hat and cigarette, he is french. He asked me something like "est-ce que vous-etes francais?" and I said "non, americain". He said something like "ah hahn hahn, les francaises sont premiers". and I said "la, lmghrba lluwl". This means no, the moroccans were first. This french guy's moroccan guide laughed heartily and then translated it to him and he slunk off.

sun and rocks

least-well-outfitted toubkal expedition in history. We did most of the climb up in absolute dark using our cellphone flashlights to find the path.
way up


Way up

Krista, surveying some rocks

Waaaay up


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

some photos

Here is an excellent post by a friend of mine, a current volunteer in Morocco, about a trip she took to Chris Stevens' town.  Stevens was the ambassador to Libya who was recently killed in a terrorist attack and who also happened to be a Peace Corps Morocco volunteer some thirty-odd years ago.


I've been away for a solid month. It's going to take a while to catch up, so please bear with me.  I'm having some issues with uploading photos, as you can see in the last one of these.  Hopefully tomorrow or the next day I'll get some more photos and some anecdotes from the month up here.

Returning here after such a long trip, it feels like coming home.  In other news, Krista and I now have two cats- Mina and Anton. We stole some sand from a construction site nearby for their litterbox.

Taza, old city

Taza doorway

Taza over the city

rooftop discussion
Fes, medina

Ouzoud fall, azilal province

again, the falls

Krista and I

Sam and I, before jumping

valley below toubkal

hotel rooftop, Imlil

Another Monkey
trail up Toubkal

Monday, October 1, 2012

mat? la baqee --- translation: dead? not yet

I am still alive.

My computer died several weeks ago. I traveled to Taza, Marrakesh, Agadir, Rabat, Fez, Beni Millel, and climbed Mount Toubkal in the last month. I bought a new (three years old) internal hard drive from some guy's street-side stand, and another volunteer installed it, as well as a new operating system and I'm finally good to go.  

Much more to come soon.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I'm Voting Obama

As is noted in the disclaimer above, the following is my personal opinion, and not that of the Peace Corps.

I am a Peace Corps volunteer serving in the Kingdom of Morocco, where I simultaneously love and abhor having a regular internet connection. I am following the election closely, and as November approaches, I grow more and more anxious every day. While Obama has enacted countless policies over the course of his tenure that I strongly disagree with (hit-lists of American citizens, increased deportation of immigrants, weak position on gay-rights, continued dawdling on climate change, no action on campaign finance reform), the election of Romney would have disastrous consequences for the work I do here. In fact, he and the party that has adopted him, through merely their campaign, have already managed to obstruct the goals of my job and of the Peace Corps.

Most basically, the Peace Corps is meant to promote peace. Romney, in an effort to appear strong-handed, is agitating for war all over the map while only a candidate. He encourages a trade war with China, renewed confrontations with Russia, attacking Iran, and vastly increasing the already bloated and spoiled defense budget. To what end? The entire, 50 year cost of the Peace Corps is equivalent to what we spend on defense in just 5 days.

War-mongering Romney recently went to Israel where he made some blatantly racist and anti-Islamic comments in an effort to appease his billionaire, Israel hawk sponsor and encourage war with Iran. People here, in Morocco, know this. (The fact Sheldon Adelson is Jewish doesn't help, either). What am I to tell them? Yes, a prominent man who may be president thinks you are all culturally, racially, and religiously handicapped. For the sake of a few votes Romney is selling us down the river. Here, we're trying to fix the damage done by decades of oil wars in the Middle East, eleven years of widespread anti-Islam hysteria, not to mention one crazed man in Florida burning a Koran. How can we claim to be working for peace when this man, representing half our population, agitates on all fronts for war?


Moving on, the Peace Corps has three goals. Firstly, providing technical assistance to those countries that ask for it. Secondly, helping people outside the United States understand America and American culture. And thirdly, to help Americans understand the cultures of other countries.

I'd like to examine the first one: technical assistance. In my case, this means working in youth development. Here in Morocco, diversity is rare and education consists mostly of rote memorization. Along with a religion that's practiced by recitation and not interpretation, this leads to a general shortage of open-mindedness, critical thinking, introspection, and empathy with the 'other'. And these are exactly the values I will be targeting here over the next two years. It's easy in a place like this to lock into your own beliefs, and not understand how any other ways of life, religious ideas, or values could be legitimate. This is a good way to brew extremism. The Romney-Ryan campaign is denigrating all of these values in their pursuit for the presidency.

The campaign is repeating blatant lies and gross distortions in the belief that objective truth is overrated, and in order to create your own truth, all that's needed is repetition and reverberation in the media sphere. Here, anti-semitism is taught by repetition, as I noted in an earlier post. In this year's campaign, people have stopped expecting truth from public leaders, and instead are fed repeated, demonstrable falsehoods (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/30/speech-lies-and-apathy/).

Romney and Ryan's crass behavior is diametrically opposed to those American values I am attempting to impart to Moroccan youths. If they hear news of America, it is of what passes for public 'debate': a debate devoid of empathy, developed ideas, or even logical consistency. Instead they are witness to a teeming market of peddlers in fear, racial tension, and bullshit. Volunteers here are encouraging young people to think critically, openly seek the truth, and develop ideas about themselves and the broader world. How does this align with the discourse coming from America? Romney believes in a world without facts. "We won't let our campaign be dictated by facts," says Neil Newhouse. Perhaps, as Stephen Colbert famously said, "reality has a well-known liberal bias". Maybe this sheds some light on the campaign Romney and his advisors are currently running.

The second and third goals of the Peace Corps are more about cultural exchange. While Romney makes birther jokes, counts on anti-Arab sentiment,  and whines about 'american exceptionalism', Obama has worked to reverse the image of America as trigger-happy, international cowboy. From my perspective, there are very real goods to be had by understanding Moroccan culture. There's a sense of communalism- all generations look after one another. And people are unbelievably generous with their belongings and their time. Meanwhile, Ryan would like to burn the social safety net and sacrifice all the old people in America to health insurance companies. Looking after others is considered scornful. For Ayn-Randians, it's straight-up immoral. Generosity is viewed as creeping socialism. Caring is anti-capitalist. Poverty is personal failure, wealth is moral eminence.

Romney, humanoid-robot, is not exactly priming the american population to expand its cultural and ethical horizon. Instead, he is closing it off from the outside, protecting radical elements of the republican base from perspective and truth. In this environment, how are we to bring cultural values back home? And why would Moroccans have any desire to learn about, appreciate, and admire American values when they have become so deliberately twisted and deformed in the public space?


I'm voting Obama. My biggest problem isn't Romney's sick desire to increase the wealth disparity in the US. I haven't even started in on Ryan's war on women. (This other volunteer has more to say on that subject than I do: http://maggieinmorocco.tumblr.com/post/29917052701/my-toughts-on-todd-akin). And it's not that he has zero international experience. It's not that he is anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-science, anti-poor, anti-female, and anti-old people.

The problem with the republican campaign is that they're anti-reason. And they are opposed to what is best among American values: equality, integrity, honesty, and empathy.

They are against my mission as a Peace Corps volunteer.


The views, opinions, and observations expressed in this journal are my own and in no way reflect the views, opinions, or policy of the Peace Corps, Peace Corps Morocco, governmental or non-governmental organizations.

Nor is anything written here necessarily my own views, opinions, or observations. Please consider all pictures and texts here to be complete fabrications with absolutely no bearing on reality, this one or any other. For legal purposes, please additionally consider the author to be utterly imaginary.