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, April 30, 2012

Morocco Time

We've been told things run on Moroccan time.  This means things don't run on time.  They call it being polychronic as opposed to those monochronic americans.  So you go to meet whoever you're supposed to be working with and it turns out they aren't there.  Or, they show up two hours later and it's no big deal.  Further complications arise from Ramadan and strange daylight savings.  On Ramadan all the official business hours are different, and most people stay up all night long so they don't do anything at all in the morning.  As for when Ramadan starts, that's somewhat up in the air too.  Apparently it's when 19 different people in 19 different places see the moon sometime in mid july.  Morocco considers this a more technical/logical method than most of the rest of the Muslim world so Moroccan Ramadan doesn't necessarily coincide with the others.  I'll need to pay attention, because once Ramadan starts it is illegal to chew gum/drink/eat in public.  The daylight savings is also strange.  Last night we turned the clocks forward one hour.  They've only started doing this about three years ago so many people don't really know what's up.  If you're following the clocks that are turned ahead, you're on "new time" as opposed to "old time".  This needs to be clarified before any and all appointments.  In David's household the kitchen clock is on old time because that's the domain of the mother who basically doesn't want to deal with this new time crap, and the living room clock is on new time because the kid goes to school and the other daughter works outside of the house.  So, now, when I'm on new time at least, I am five hours ahead of the East coast.  In a month or two we turn the clocks back (I think).  And then I think in a few more months we turn the clocks ahead again. Whether this counts as new time, I'm not sure.  As they say, "there's always more time in Morocco".

Here are some pictures from early on- we went to a waterfall near sefrou
The only trash bin I've seen
a team
culturally inappropriate
fitting in 
saeed, culturally facilitating us

Friday, April 27, 2012


Every day we accrue more vocabulary.  The content of the lesson is typically something like "clothing", or "jobs" or an ostensibly real category of things.
A few days ago, while in class, we were each interviewed to help determine our final site placement.  This meant leaving the room for maybe 15 minutes.  I noticed what words made the white board during dave's interview:
strange: feshkl
retired: mutaqa3d
spoiled: mfshoosh
socks: tqshiira
to be breastfed: rD3
I think this was the clothing lesson


Teacher S3eed.  proud of our pace

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fez again

Sunday I caught a grand taxi with Krista and Erika and a number of other Sefrou volunteers to Fez to wander around.  The main goal of the day was to meet at some place called café Clock, which surprisingly only took about two hours to find.  We were aided by some asshole in a tracksuit who kept on trying to lead us around to stores he knew so we would spend some flus (money).  Little did he know we have no money.  My big purchase of the day was a postcard I liked.  After telling him to screw off for about a half hour he finally was like, okay I’ll leave but I spend half an hour helping you.  I told him we never wanted his help and he told me go fuck myself (bi Arabee: in Arabic).  It was easier to drop him than I expected actually.

At café Clock we met maybe 30 volunteers.  Some people had Camel burgers on the roof.  I had pancakes.  They were incredible.  Along with iced coffee (watered down, coolish coffee).  The next great Fez-only activity, the first being the pancakes, was a hookah bar.  I thought these places were going to be all over Morocco but they’re actually really difficult to find.  What’s more, in a lot of towns, hookah bars are strictly forbidden.  The rest of the day was pretty much spent wandering around the old city.  There’s a great old school – I’ll try to get some pictures from there.

            Couple unrelated things:

One of the girls in my group paid for college through bowling scholarships.  She’s done a perfect game and her father is the defending senior national champ and an aerospace engineer on the side.  Awesome.

Before you do anything you say bismillah, or in the name of God.  This includes activities like drinking soda. 

My favorite “not in Morocco” activities include listening to techno or country music on the roof and watching always sunny in Philadelphia on my computer.

On any given day we learn an odd collection of vocabulary.  Today’s included lburdiil (whore house), fuut alrumpwan (past the intersection), Haraqa (political movement), and quuq (artichoke). 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Very Odd Cultural Experience

I am now officially Abdulrahim (or maybe Abdelrahim)

Last night I went to what they call the countryside for something they call an engagement party.  A few days ago, when my host family told me what the plan was, I assumed I had misunderstood.  Of course, I had, but surprisingly only partially.  I had thought I was being offered a fifteen year old cousin in marriage- I was wrong about that part.  Yes, she is fifteen and a cousin but she’s not for me.  She’s getting engaged, and will be married in two years.  Next, I thought my family was saying that she’s getting engaged to her cousin.  I turned out to be right about that part.  It’s a bit odd because it’s known here that marriage within a family is dangerous because mental disorders are common among the children of married cousins.  But I guess whatever floats your boat.  Also, 15 is somewhat young to be engaged here.  It seems many people aren’t really sure how old they are because birthdays don’t really matter, so she could easily be significantly older that fifteen.  It seems to me people are more likely to lose track and underestimate than overestimate their ages. 
            So anyway, we get in a minibus on the outskirts of town and ride about 5 or 6 kilometers up into the hills to a small town- the kind of place where there’s one paved road through half of town and plenty of animals, alive and dead, in the street and hanging from shops (respectively).  Very strangely, there was a chock full karate studio we walked by.  We walked straight up this scrubby hill- lots of exposed rock, some mint and bushes and trees and a couple donkeys along the way.  At the top of the hill there were about a dozen houses and a mosque.  And as we were walking the sun set and all the mosques on all the other little hills surrounding the village sounded the call to prayer at the same time, and the sounds reverberated back and forth between them- it was wicked cool.  And it turned out to be the best part of the trip.  From the hill you could see Sefrou and a bunch of surrounding mountains. 
            Once we arrived at the top, we went to the neighbor’s house, which was visibly older than any other place I’ve been in Morocco- the roof was basically made of crossed sticks below some cement (I think), but I felt some water leaking through a few times, so not sure what was going on there because it wasn’t raining.  The house, however, was actually fairly large.  A group of men in one of the rooms read verses from the Quran together out loud for a while and my host brother told me it was because of the engagement. 
            It turns out that for an engagement party, at least in this case, everybody is strictly segregated by gender.  The men are in one house (in this case the neighbors, who didn’t seem to mind at all), and the women in the other.  I could hear lots of drumming and singing and probably dancing and other fun activities from the women’s house, but the men basically watched tv on a fuzzy screen for about 8 hours, including an unbelievably shitty John Travolta movie where he’s a fireman (English dubbed into French so I couldn’t understand any of it).  We ate two dinners in a row for some reason, one of which was three whole chickens.  Reminded me of Boggis and Bunce and Bean.  Except, of course, there was no drinking of any kind.  I started falling asleep on myself by 10:30 and at around two I asked my host brother if we were going to be staying the night or going back to Sefrou.  He said he didn’t know.  I asked when we would know.  He said he didn’t know.  At around 4:30 I started to fitfully sleep and was woken up at 7:30, splashed my face with some cold water, and one of the cousins walked us down the hill. 
            One surprising take-away I got was a bunch of the guys in the husband of the aunt’s family had really good teeth.  Which is incredible- everybody’s teeth are terrible here, they don’t brush them and they obviously can’t really afford dental care.  Also, even though the family sort of lives in the countryside, they seem to be comparatively well off.  The cousin who walked us down the hill had a little red car of his which he drove us back to Sefrou in.  He had racing seatbelts, the interior was red, and he had a strawberry smell-thing handing in the car.  He also had a big Snoopy sticker across the top of his windshield, which I’m pretty sure would be illegal in the United States.
            We got back to Sefrou and I had about 20 minutes to get my stuff together and walk to class where I found out that I will Not be allowed to go to Fes for the weekend because the Peace Corps decided we can only stay overnight out of site on two occasions during the training and surprise, one was last weekend but they didn’t feel like telling us until now.  I can tell I’ll be seriously upset with the peace corps for curbing our freedom in the name of security in the future.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

more pictures from spring camp

Team Best Friend Eagles

Teaching Rappers Delight.  Important cultural point and good practice for making the "P" sound.

Making it Move with Daoud

No idea what they're singing.

Snow and September 11th

A few things of note from today-

When I woke up at 6:15, grabbed my bucket and soap etc., and walked to the Hammam, I saw something wholly unexpected: snow.  Goddamnit it’s cold.  There was snow on the windshields of parked cars, and yesterday there were a few bouts of hail.  What the hell- a week ago it was 80 degrees.  Hopefully this is the last bout of cold so I don’t have to waste 4 dollars on gloves.  Things that don’t help with the cold: no heating indoors, everything is constructed out of concrete, the tap for washing is outside, and there’s no water heater.  No problem.  It’ll probably be 90 degrees tomorrow and I’ll wish it were cold.  Lesson: shut up; I can’t do anything about the weather.  I’m starting to realize wherever I’m sent, it’ll either be wicked, wicked hot or else super cold 6 months of the year.

Second thing: as part of our training we walked around and met random people.  One of the Hanut guys who we talked to requested permission to ask us a question that was slightly political, and didn’t have to do with what we were explaining our job is over here.  He asked about what we thought of Muslims given September 11th.  He really, really wanted to know; it’s interesting to hear what questions people have when given the chance to talk to Americans.  With some help from Sa3eed, I told him there’s been some anti-Muslim sentiments due to 9/11, but we all thought that everywhere in the world there are some good people and some bad people; religion is not the problem, crazy people are the problem.  We told Sa3eed something like “that is logical”, and he also said “terrorism has no religion”.  Guy was a good dude.  Another person we talked to was sort of a pain in the ass- he was only semi-joking when he said he knows what our job is on paper, but what are we really doing there.  I’m confused as to how anybody could think we’re spies.  What exactly is there to spy on? I spied a few donkeys today and a vegetable market. 

Further news, I need a Moroccan name because Mike sounds too foreign.  I could go for Mika’il, but that isn’t particularly common either.  I’m thinking Abdelrahim, Yusuf, Yunis, or Waliid.  My host mother is pushing hard for Abdelrahim- her father is named Abdelrahman, which is allegedly the same thing.  We look similar.

Lastly, and completely unrelated- tea, sugar, and diabetes.  Basically everybody in Morocco has tooth problems and diabetes because everything is coated or full of sugar.  Not least of which is the tea.  The mint tea is incredible.  It is delicious.  But there’s usually a whole hell of a lot of sugar in it, and so I feel semi-drugged all day, going up and down on the sugar high-lows.  At home, it’s essentially impossible to drink fewer than four cups a day.  With the typical two tea breaks a day in class, during which I usually have two cups of either tea or coffee or both, that puts my caffeine intake at about 7-8 cups a day.  Granted, most of it is tea, not coffee.  Additionally, I have soda all the time to keep the sugar going, usually one a day.  So, in conclusion, operation Don’t Get Diabetes needs to start immediately. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Moo-khigh-im Rbee3h

I’m sitting in my house typing this up because I can no longer stand the French keyboards in the cyber cafes.  Unfortunately, the cold is back for now and I can see my breath inside.  I should have brought more sweaters, but the word is that warm weather is coming back this next week.   
This week has been absurd.  Our group had our first teaching experience through the spring camp.  The Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports decided to put on dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds, who the hell knows, spring camps throughout the country, in part to inspire more of the young Moroccans to come to the Youth Houses.  The Peace Corps partnered with them on this project and so we showed up at the local school where the overnight camp was being held.  A volunteer from a nearby mountain town stayed with the kids the entire time while his wife worked at the other spring camp in the city.  Since we taught and ran activities in the mornings, we couldn’t devote much time to studying Darija, but the experience in the camp was worth it. 
Firstly, the kids, at least the ones at these camps, are pretty awesome people.  Most of these were between 13 and 17 or so.  They’re more respectful and more willing to listen than your average US teenager, and they’re probably better educated too.  I am continually astonished by the level of education here.  I expected it to be like Egypt, in that everybody lacked the most basic knowledge of everything going on in the world, and the only ‘facts’ in common knowledge were propagated by the government-media complex run by Mubarak.  Anyway, the camp ran well- our group of six split into pairs to co-teach three different classes, one of which was advanced (the best friend eagles).  There are hundreds of pages of resources for different lesson plans, and we had almost absolute freedom as far as what we wanted to teach.  My primary goal was for the kids to enjoy English teaching, and hopefully inspire them to show up to their Dar Shababs in the future.  Content, for me, was secondary- I don’t expect any of the kids in the “Barcelona” group (beginners, almost all guys between the ages of 14 and 17) to remember “yellow” or “blue” or “go left”, but I do expect them to remember “louder” and “clap”.  They’ll probably forget “softer” and “slower” though.  My goal for myself is to try and get over the nervousness of standing in front of a group of people not much younger than myself and having no clear picture of how much of what I’m saying is understood.  Things worked fairly well, and I’m stockpiling good and bad practices for the future.

Things got really crazy at the end.  On Friday, after teaching classes and leading activities and having lunch at the school with the kids, we headed back to Saeed’s house, which is our home-base for lessons and where my laundry is currently drying out, hanging across the living room.  At lunch I showed the girls at my table some pictures of my family (hopefully the picture of our table makes it up onto this thing).  One of them was very interested in Andy.  I think she’s 17- she was asking if he’s married and talking about how good-looking he is.  Andy, you should probably come over here.  Although this talk of marriage seems fairly commonplace;   I was offered somebody’s cousin, who’s in Belgium and known as the best-looking one in the family, just last night over dinner. 
After going on about how hot my brother is the girls tried to explain to me that I should become Muslim because after I die I’ll go to hell otherwise.  I guess that’s nice of them- looking out for my best interests.  Given my few short weeks of Moroccan Arabic experience, it was fairly difficult for them to get this idea across, and something may have been lost in translation.  Scratch that- I’m sure a lot was lost in translation.  So after lunch we went back to Saeed’s house, hung around, did some studying, and I went out to try and buy dvds for a slide show of the camp for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as pick up some bread.  First I went to my favorite Hanut (shop) where Mohammed runs the show, usually accompanied by his 5 or 6 year old daughter.  I met two kids there, probably around 16 or 17 who were hanging out and talking to Mohammed.  They both had limited English and so we sort of went back and forth between Darija and English.  So about that well-educated stuff- one of them asked what I studied in college, and after hearing it was philosophy, he started asking my opinion on Kant and if I liked Sartre and so forth.  Apparently here they consider conceptual math to be philosophy, and people like Einstein to be philosophers as well.  It was nuts- I was not expecting to find that here.  Saeed, our LCF and one of my closest friends here, also knows all about number theory, advanced math, and philosophy, but he worked as a construction worker and sold fish in his 20s.  I have a growing sense that what Moroccans need is greater opportunity, not necessarily a re-vamped education system.  That said, one thing I do not understand is why the Baccalaureate exists.  Everybody spends a year or two or three studying to pass this standardized test-which would drive me absolutely insane and probably isn’t the best possible indicator of someone’s abilities. 
I left from Mohammed’s hanut to try and find some dvds.  On my way a group of maybe a dozen kids threw something at me, but I didn’t really think much of it.  I looked for DVDs and bread and so forth for maybe half an hour.  Failed on the DVDs and on the kind of bread I was looking for, ran into my host father and talked for five or ten minutes, then headed back.  The kids were still there and as I got closer to Mohammed’s hanut and Saeeds house, they threw a bunch of little rocks at me and a few of them used slingshots.  Nothing hit me but I was pissed off, so I went to talk to Mohammed about it, asking things like “do you know their parents, those kids threw rocks at them, I don’t want it to happen to any of the other volunteers”.  Mohammed called them over and chewed them out, told them off, explained what I was doing here and said a great Moroccan phrase which basically means “give respect to get respect”.  Surprisingly, to me at least, a bunch of the kids went in to his shop and bought little snacks afterwards, so I guess little kids will respect adults here who discipline them.  One of them said something obnoxious I didn’t quite catch as he was leaving, and one of the older kids I was talking to earlier at the shop cuffed him.  It’s good to have friends in the neighborhood.  The little kids weren’t dangerous, they were probably only like 11 years old or something, but we keep on being told that the streets aren’t safe at night, so nobody leaves their house after a certain time. 
Anyway, the spring camp.  We went back that night for the end-of-camp party.  Things got weird really quickly.  For some reason there was a brass band of young Moroccan women wearing heels and skirts and playing traditional Moroccan music every once in a while.  Things got started only an hour later than they should have, and different groups of campers did a bunch of various short plays and dances, all incredibly well-coordinated and run.  A few other campers were dressed up and acting like court jesters or something, pumping up the crowd.  Some were dressed like clowns and one 16 year old kid who usually greased his hair and made a little trouble in class one day was wearing a native-american costume and had painted his face like a mime.  Next up was a dance with about a half dozen of the girls from camp doing a number for Allah.  I couldn’t make out all of it, but it was in Darija, which is sort of strange because I thought all that stuff was supposed to only be in classical Arabic.  Safe to say, if the same thing had been done for Jesus it would have been at least as oddly creepy for me.  Juxtaposed with that was group of girls, many of them the same as from the first group, dancing to Akon, with one of them wearing a very short skirt and a sleeveless shirt.  At a government-condoned event, it was odd.  I got to thinking that there is almost certainly going to be some sort of feminist revolution here probably within the next decade or two.  It will be interesting to see.  The event ended around midnight and we rode home.  All we had was the truck of Krista’s host uncle (or host brother, I can’t tell).  He runs some sort of food delivery business so he has a small truck and the back is a refrigerator.  Seven of us somehow managed to squeeze into the fridge, with Saeed hanging his legs out of the back.  Two more fit up front in addition to the driver. 
Tomorrow, it’s back to class. 

damn computer

i have a long post i wrote in my fridge of a room but cant transfer it to these cyber computers. stupid.  but here are some photos from spring camp

The Mullet is still cool.  teaching what frisbee is.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What is this?

What is the point of this blog?  I’m not sure.  Who cares? 
I can’t promise anything but I’ll try to get better at writing.  And do things that warrant writing about.  Picture books are better than normal books so I’ll do my best to take some shots of Sefrou without getting my camera jacked.

Best friend eagles

Well this is going to be another ramble.

My stomach miraculously still appears to be functioning almost normally, thanks to daily double doses of the cheap equivalent of pepto-bismol.  Luckily, the meds come in chewable form so I can still enjoy the flavor.  I’ll be looking to get gummi-vites in future care packages (hint hint).  Somehow I’ve started to wake up naturally, usually around 7:15-7:30 in the morning.  I’m pretty sure this hasn’t happened in at least a decade.  My body seems to be functioning normally, although exercise is still tough to come by.  But yesterday I ran for the first time in a while- went to the track and did some loops.  The track is made of mud and encircles a soccer field made of mud.  I’d been warned away the track by one of the kids in my neighborhood; he told me there were “bad people”.  He also said there were packs of mean dogs in the hills so I couldn’t go there either.  He was wrong about the bad people but I’m not sure I want to risk the dogs just yet.  Anyway, while at this track, somebody called me over by my name.  He’d been doing pushups and situps and squats and so forth with a few other guys- and I had no idea who could possibly know my name.  It turned out that it was a guy who works in the local government who we’d all been introduced to last week.  He told me his exercise group meets Monday Thursday and Saturday at five pm (fortunately we’d learned the days of the week in class yesterday).  I’m thinking I may show up on Thursday and show these guys how we do in America. 

It turns out it’s easy to be recognized when you’re one of the three young white dudes in the whole city of Sefrou.   Somebody else came up to me in an internet café today and knew my name and sort of what I’m doing here, because I’d met his friend in the Hammam (don’t ask).  Things get weird in there.  What happens in the Hammam stays in the Hammam.  He told me that he really likes American culture and doesn’t like being in Morocco.  He really likes basketball (Lakers fan) and was pumped about the US climbing to moon and walking around.  That sounds simplistic and stupid but only because my functioning language level is simplistic and stupid. 

Moving on, I went out of Sefrou for the first time- all the way to the big city of Fez/Fes.  Turns out it’s only about 20 minutes away and costs a dollar, if you’re willing to be squeezed 7-8 in a car that fits 5.  The temperature swung from 50 degrees to 86 during the previous 24 hours, so it felt hot as hell.  Amanda was there; which was crazy, and crazy awesome in part because she’s the first person from the rest of my life to see me here.  We wandered around in the Medina and looked at/smelled the tanneries, which are allegedly 800 years old.  No wonder they smell like complete shit.  I am definitely glad that we are stationed for now in Sefrou, which is much smaller and less hectic than Fes.   Not to mention the tea in Fes was about 4 times as expensive as out here in the “burbs”. 

Something completely different: we’re now about half way through spring camp.  We’re working with maybe 75 kids of varying English ability and aged between 12 and 18.  We teach a bit, which is good experience, but the time frame is only a week and we rotate classes so the goal isn’t really to teach anything substantive.  Thanks to my low expectations regarding work-output gleaned from my time in Egypt and my early retirement this winter, I am adequately prepared for the experience.  On the first day, I was surprised we met our students after only an hour or two of sitting around.  I think tomorrow we’re going to learn some good English songs.  Of course, we’re going to have to learn each song line by line.  And when you look at the lyrics to just about any song line by line, you can read some pretty serious political stuff and sexual innuendo or both at the same time (think R Kelly).  Bieber fever has hit Morocco but hopefully we’ll avoid that. 

Oh, and the title of this entry?  It’s the name of our group of kids at spring camp from the first day.  Technically, they elected to just call themselves the eagles, but it was a close win over the best friends, and I’ve been pushing for the Best Friend Eagles, and I think it’s going to happen.  It just makes sense.

Friday, April 6, 2012


..means rain in Moroccan Arabic (darija).  Or something like that.  Anyway it’s been raining for something like a week now, which isn’t cool.  You can never really get warm and my feet are always wet.  But many of the Moroccans are really pumped about it.  I’ve been told by a store owner and the head of the police that the Americans have brought luck with us.  There’s been a severe drought for the last few months, and apparently food prices are way higher than they normally would be, so the rain is a blessing, particularly for the farmers.  And I think something like 40 percent of Moroccans are farmers.  Hopefully we’ve brought enough luck and the rain will end soon- it makes everything more difficult. 

Yesterday we had our first “Hub”, which is when a number of groups from the area all get together in a central location for a sort of debriefing and check-up on how things are going so far.  We had it in an old church-type building which served as an icebox since it was somewhere around 40 degrees.  Rough weather, but really great to see some of the others who are in the region, see how they’re doing, and hack some sack.  Yeah, hackysack is back.  Anyway, I finished off the day with one of the best things I’ve discovered in Morocco so far- the Hammam.  This is a public bathhouse with tons of hot water where you go and scrub, or have a friend scrub, all the dead skin off and lie in a sauna for an hour or two or three.  It’s awesome, and it cost a little less than a dollar.  Usually the men pair off and stretch each other out and scrub the living shit out of each other with these really rough sponges.  It was awesome to get clean, and I’m hoping to work the Hammam into my routine. 

Speaking of Hammam, often in class we put together tongue twisters to help us remember things and practice listening/speaking.  One of the good ones is LHem LHmmem Hlal Lhem LHmar Hram.  Which means the meat of the pidgeon is Halal, the meat of the donkey is forbidden.  It gets more complex when the pigeon is in a Hammam.  That is to say, when the lHmmem is in lHmmam.  Listening remains the most difficult aspect of the language for me.  Remembering words is much easier here than it was in Egypt, and sometimes there’s an added bonus of a French or Frenchy-word to give you an edge, but understanding when somebody is speaking quickly is difficult.  Many times I hear some word that I think I’m familiar with and thoroughly know and use all the time, but I have trouble recognizing it because so many of the vowels are nonexistent and the consonants collude. 

I’m rambling here.  Overall though, things are good.  The Hmmam was a huge highpoint.  We have something called “Spring Camp” coming up on the horizon, but we know very little about this and there is no indication that we’ll know any more before we jump into it.  That will be next week, and then we’ll have a few weeks of primarily language study.  The more the better.  One thing I have realized, however, is that I need some time to escape and either listen to music in English or watch tv shows or something other than drowning myself in Darija study.  It will certainly be a number of months before I feel comfortable in the language, but I think it is progressing.  Unfortunately, my English is rapidly deteriorating.  

im at an internet cafe and there are two guys looking at dirty pictures next to me...together

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fii Sefrou Part Two

We spend all day attempting to learn the language.  Apparently the word for exhausted sounds something like “mdgdg”.  There aren’t really any vowels.  However, once in a while a true linguistic gem turns up.  I’ve noticed three in the last couple days that I particularly like.

Firstly, there doesn’t appear to be a verb that corresponds with the English “to love”.  The verb that’s in common usage translates somewhat to “I want” with the object “you”.  This is the same verb that’s used for “I want to sleep”, “I want to use the bathroom”, and “I want to buy toilet paper immediately”.   But there’s another verb as well, which appears in our textbook as “to be dying for/ to love”.  It’s “maat 3laa”.  “Maat” is to die and “3laa” means “for” (sort of).  I guess there’s nothing really to be said other than I dig that the verb that most closely captures “to love” literally means “be dying for”. 

Another gem is a word ma3lish.  This means “sure, whatever, it’s not important, no problem, yeah it’s fine, who cares, etc.” all muddled together at the same time.  “M…ish” is a form that negates whatever appears in the middle.  This word, ma3lish, negates the word for “why?”.  “Ma3lish”, then, is a negation of the question word “why”, suggesting, to me at least, that “there is no why”.  Which is totally dope and seems to be an appropriate and healthy response to any and all questions about Morocco, particularly at this point, when communication is painfully limited.  

Lastly, there’s an expression “ma fiiya ma ya…..”.  This one is tough to explain.  Basically, fiiya means “in me”, and a verb follows the “ya”, the sound which acts to conjugate the verb into the third person singular.  In this case, the third person singular is the hypothetical pronoun “one”.  The “ma”s both function as negation words.  Basically, the expression means something like this:

I am unable to imagine myself (or look in myself for the person) as the one who’s doing whatever it is.  I look inside myself, try to put myself in that place, but I can’t. 

Of course, it’s not as dramatic as all that.  If I say “ma fiiya ma yakul”, it just means I don’t feel like eating.  But there’s a wealth of insinuation in the structure of the phrase.  The concept of “putting oneself in another’s shoes” is inherently built into the grammar.  That’s cool.

Hopefully one day I’ll come up with some good Arabic puns, but I think that’s a long way off. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fii Sefrou

Things have really gotten started now.  Two days ago, my group and another arrived in Sefrou, a small city about an hour outside of Fes in the foothills of the Middle Atlas.  So now there are eleven white people in the city.  My first and second impressions were “holy shit there are a lot of kids” and “every single person is openly staring at us”, in that order.

I have two host brothers, a host sister, and the parents.  The father is missing from most meals; he’s retired so now works full time chilling at cafes with saHabu (his friends).  Shout out to Tommy – my host father always wears a Redskins winter hat.  With all the money the government’s giving you, (so far I’ve received $92.25, which is actually more than enough), maybe you should send another one over so he can keep reppin’ the district. 

Maybe I’m just slow but I’m having a very difficult time understanding my host mother- for whatever reason, her accent really gets me.  My host brother, Hussein, is the one I talk with the most.  He’s studied English, French, Spanish, and Classical Arabic in school, and is about fifteen, but I sometimes still can’t get certain ideas across.  He is the only one in the household, as far as I can tell, who prays regularly.  My host sister is ordered around everywhere.  She’s maybe 11 or 12 but it seems as though she does everything.  She’s the one who brings the table and food into the living room/dining room/tv room and she’s the one who cleans up afterwards.  I have yet to hear a word of complaint from her- hopefully she starts asking why when she hits her teens.  As for the last brother, he’s an unbelievably cute three year old.  It took me a while to figure out if he’s speaking Arabic or babytalk.  I think it’s mostly Arabic.  He follows me around and asks me to “say table”, “say bed”, “say wall”, “say table”, “Table!”, but I usually can’t understand him.  That puts my Moroccan Arabic at the level of a two year old.  Maybe two and a half.

As for the house, it’s fairly small- in an apartment building towards the edge of town, but only a few minutes from my teacher (language and cultural facilitator)’s house, where we spend most of the day in class.  I have a room of my own, there’s another where the whole family sleeps, a small kitchen, a room that functions as the “Saloon”, and a outdoor patio area where clothes are hung to dry.  There’s no shower, no sink outside of the kitchen, and the bathroom is a “Turk”, as they say. 

From my perspective, I tend to distinguish between certain things that I consider cultural “differences” and other things that I consider cross-cultural normative ethical challenges.  In the first category, I would put using a single, communal cup for water at meals, eating with your right hand only, wiping with your left hand, the father being absent most of the time, and so on.  In the second, I’ve noticed two things in particular that have struck me.  Firstly, the status of the daughter.  She (Loubna) certainly studies and goes to school and so forth, but it appears that she does the majority of the household tasks as well.  The mother is constantly telling her daughter to do things, and then she does them.  I need to keep my thoughts to myself about this.  The second odd thing was when the three-year old “Nourdine” was jumping on top of me and the mother told me to “Drbu”, or “hit him”.  When he’s doing something bad, the family usually gives him a little bit of a slap on the back of the head, kind of like a really really mild spanking.  Maybe I’ll get to a point where I feel comfortable slapping my host brother, but not on the second day.  Overall, the family is super nice and wants me to be happy.  Since my language is so limited, there’s really no opportunity for disagreement anyway.  My host father tried to talk to me this morning and I picked up the words for “united nations” (thanks al-Kitab), “America” and “sahara”, but I just said I didn’t know.  I’ll probably always say I don’t know for topics covering conflict zones and the US in international politics.


Everything here is super cheap.

After our class on the names for different vegetables and fruits, we went to the Sweeqa to go shopping.  This is like a small outdoor market.  We probably bought 25 kilos of food for 50 bucks or something.  Including a chicken.  It was a little more than three dollars.  We walked up to the stand where they had a bunch of chickens in a cage, they weighed it, and a boy who was maybe twelve then slit its neck, threw it in a bucket where it spasmed and kicked for a while, dunked it in scalding hot water, defeathered it, cut off the feet, gutted it, pulled out the good stuff, cleaned that, put it back in the chicken, and tossed it in a plastic bag all in about two minutes.  It was insane.  We could see the liver still twitching as he put it back into the bird.  And it was still hot.  The shop owner thought it was hilarious we wanted to see the boy slaughter the chicken.  Since we’d gotten to know them so well (I guess), we left all our food with them for a few hours and went to get food.  You make friends quickly here, which is nice.

Lastly, today I was a victim of Moroccan hospitality.  After going for a run with a friend from my group, I was invited by her host family in for coffee.  They gave me coffee and maybe half a dozen different things to eat, had me watching the video from their family reunion (which was basically an hour of women dancing), showed me pictures from the old days, and told me all about their family.  There are four generations in the house, including a 98 year old grandmother with Berber tattoos on her face.  Her son leads her about the house as if she were a two year old, which is kind of hilarious.  In an old picture the son looks exactly like John Belushi.  Anyhow, I had a hard time explaining that I had to leave, not to mention I was disgusting from the run and the no shower for a few days. 

That does it for now.


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.