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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The poll has closed.  Given that more people think I need a baby pool than hot water, I'm going to throw out the whole survey.

It's amazing how different my small city looks coming home from a lonely desert town vs. coming home from Hoceima.  We had a few days of meetings about 200 miles east from our site, on the coast.  It's on the map from the previous post (al-hoceima).  Anyway, great beach town, incredible 5 dollar plates of local sea food, and lots of good company with all the volunteers in our region, which extends from Asila on the Atlantic across to Oujda by the Algerian border.  There are about 12 of us in all.  That's about it.  Oh, and in Hoceima we were witness to an outdoor concert.  In the space of fifteen minutes we watched two different dance-frenzy-suddenly-turn-into-fights and one attempted robbery.  I didn't realize this could happen without any alcohol input.

Speaking of alcohol, it was nice to have a beer.  I can think of no better indicator of successful assimilation into Peace Corps life than a sober roof-top dance party; the following night we had another after a few beers, and it's up for debate which one was more fun.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Another Wedding

On Wednesday night, Krista's former host sister invited us to a wedding in some place called Bouarfa. Realizing that we were unlikely to accomplish anything work-related with the rest of the week, we opted to go along with her. She told us it would be one night and about 3 hours away.  On Thursday, halfway there, she informed us we were actually going for two nights and it's a good 6 hours away.

This image was stolen from the internet.  My city is in the North East, we travel Oujda and straight south to Bouarfa, near Figuig, passing Ain Beni Mathar and Tendrara on the way.  Both towns can be passed through in less than 2 minutes- this area of the country is mostly empty.

After crashing out on a sheepskin at maybe 10 pm on Thursday, we woke up to some fairly impressive heat.  44 degrees celsius, that is, or 111 degrees fahrenheit.  My lack of clothing, serious sweating capabilities, and severe digestive discomfort helped set the stage for another all-night Moroccan dance-party, the second in a week.  But surprisingly, it wasn't all that bad- was even fun for a bit, and the apogee of the evening occurred at the dinner table rather than in the bathroom.  I was explaining what I'm doing here (which is still somewhat unclear) to a table of friendly-looking guys when one asked me what I thought about Bush.  I said I wasn't a huge fan, and he said:

"yes, he is very racist"
"well, I think he maybe didn't know what he was doing"
"yes, the Jews"
"The US congress is full of Jews, I know"
"Well, that's not really the truth, nor objective"
"you're not jewish right? you're a real american?"
"no, I'm not Jewish. I can't talk about politics in my organization"

That's nice- real consistency, very self-aware.  Luckily this kind of conversation is fairly rare, but never particularly fun to engage in.

Anyway, the groom showed up around midnight or so, and the party started at 1, ended at 5, when the entire wedding party piled into vans/cars (there were 11 people in ours), and drove four hours north, through the sunrise, to Oujda where the party continued.  Very strange.

Anyway, tomorrow to Hoceima for our regional meeting where we'll learn a bit more about what we're doing.

On another note- I've posted to the right a survey about what I should get for the apartment, as well as a list of books.  Judging by the number of responses, I've enjoyed 4 visitors in the last few days, which is strange because the internets are telling me this blog was visited on 18 separate occasions in the last 2 days from Ukraine.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

apartment and stuff

I’ve heard it said that everything in Morocco works at about 80%.  I haven’t spent enough time yet in country to determine whether this estimate is correct.  In fact, I believe today or tomorrow marks the 3-month point in this whole ordeal.  It’s also the summer solstice, I think.  Meaning, of course, that this experience has tremendous, cosmic significance.  Anyway, enough bullshit- long story short, our faucet broke.  This high-quality piece was installed with the help of our landlord (the one with the diploma from the streets, remember).  Without warning, a crack appeared and started spraying water directly in my face, and all over the apartment in general.  This was in the midst of conducting an ultimately failed attempt at gnocchi and a wildly successful stab at homemade jam. 

Luckily it only took about 18 hours to get things straightened out, i.e., running water again; this with the help of our local hanut-owner.  After despondently realizing that we had purchased exactly the same faucet as the one that had broken, I wandered over to the corner to ask about a wrench (hoping to avoid any further economic interactions with the landlord).   He (Mohammed?) called up Sufyan who arrived on his moped with a backpack full of plumber stuff 5 minutes later.  Mohammed sent over some dude along with Sufyan, so I’d know I was being looked after.  Sufyan installed the thing and I told him I had no idea how much this type of thing cost (Mohammed had told me maybe 50 Dh).  He said something like “as you wish, whatever you think it’s worth”.  I said “40?”, and he responded “sure, 40, 30, 20, whatever”. I said “30?”  Basically, still don’t know how much a plumber costs, but apparently for something small, it’s about three and half dollars, maybe.

On a completely different note, very little happened yesterday, and then nothing at all happened today.  The king has left, I never saw him, and hopefully people start working again now, although nothing is certain.  One thing that is certain is Krista and I are going to Ifrane, which is basically like heaven, from July 16-28th to work at an orphanage there for a special summer camp they’ll have for the kids.  Still waiting to hear about another orphanage near Casablanca from August 1-20th.  Here are some pictures and explanations of the apartment.
quasi-living room, and map of morocco, with location of the 8 near-by volunteers (less than 5 hours away) marked.  Any visitors, you will be sleeping on those mat things

dining room/fridge and sink room

mad nice kitchen.  the oven to the right is the one that nearly blew my face off while Krista had no problem making some complex pastries I don't even know the names of.

bedroom window


the shower has the added bonus of also being the toilet! This adds a whole new dimension to the long-standing debate over peeing in the shower.  The hole is covered with a plastic bottle. 


other side of the roof- our apartment is the right side of the picture

sunset from bedroom window

burning trash on hillside

yeah yeah, another sunset picture

Monday, June 18, 2012


The last few days have been a series of odd contrasts.  Two days ago, Krista and I went to the Dar Shabab around 10 am to check out an all-day camp there for little kids from a local public school.  An environmental guy showed up to do some classes, a doctor, and a dentist, and my host brother led songs in another classroom.  There were arts and sports and so forth- all somewhat loosely-run, the idea being that the kids could, to some extent, choose what they like to do, and experiment with that whole construction-of-self thing that kids do. 

At noon we met up with the only other blonde in the city, a French woman who’s running the reusing-plastic-bags NGO.  She took us out to the countryside for a leisurely lunch with a whole bunch of French expats.  The lunch included wild boar, wine, whiskey, beer, liquor, cheeses, and so on, not particularly Hallal.  I spotted some peacocks wandering around the farm. 

After lunch we headed back to the Dar Shabab for the last hour or two of activities before taking the bus out to my host family’s house.  After hanging around doing nothing for a few hours, we went to a wedding in the neighborhood.  The bride and groom showed up around 1 am, and we managed to duck out at 4.  The whole thing ended around 6 in the morning.  And that’s “old time”, so really 7 am. 

My first Moroccan wedding was quite the experience.  I believe I was granted special privileges as a white person, and allowed to stick close to my host mother, sisters, and Krista.  My host brother Kamal cleverly stayed up all the previous night so claimed he was “sick” and avoided the entire affair.  Mostly Moroccans wiggle their shoulders and stomp their feet for dancing.  This is done almost exclusively in single-sex groups, usually in a circle.  The music is very, very loud, and very, very repetitive, and the guests alternate between sitting down and watching other people dance, and getting up and dancing themselves.  Women dress up for the event, but men mostly just wear tshirts, jeans, and sneakers.  And this goes on pretty much all night.  The bride and groom show up, then leave, change clothes, come back, the leave, change clothes, come back, then leave, change clothes, maybe 5-7 times throughout the night.  Anyway, afterwards I was a little tired.

The following day, after sleeping off and on until 3 pm, our landlord took us over to Saidia, the beach-side community.  I thought we were just going to the supermarket to pick up some things like butter and cheese, which we can’t get in town, but we didn’t come back until 9 pm.  But we did get his life-story, which he told us over some sheesha, sitting in a swanky cafĂ© near the beach.  This is almost immediately after he informed us that sheesha is illegal in public, but fine in your own home. 

Apparently he was a butcher, drug-dealer, and international smuggler before being imprisoned briefly and deported from France where he had married a “French Jewish woman”.  (Later he told us that, in his opinion, Hitler had some good ideas, although he executed them poorly.  He’s also a fan of Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, and, get this, Nelson Mandela because they all have similar ideas).  Now he owns five different buildings, even though he has no education past the age of 12.  He did, however, get his “diploma from the streets”.  Driving back to town, he played Wiz Khalifa’s Black and Yellow maybe 8-10 times. 

Anyway, it was all a bit strange.  In recovery-mode today- the king, I guess, decided not to come yet.  Today I enjoyed a fire-ball in the face from our semi-new gas oven.  Managed to burn some hair, fry my “mustache”, and singe my nose-hairs severely.  Mom and any other relatives, who may read this, please don’t feel the need to email me about the lack of safety involved with a gas grill- I think I understand. 
dentist class

excited about art

the majority of the day was spent taking photos to document the activity

environment man arrives

future bride

with krista and host mother


breaking it down

americans showing the moroccans how we dance.  The song was "what is love"

watching our moves

guy dancing like he was about to have a seizure

ecstatic groom, 17 year old bride

bride and groom dance while others stick 100 dirham bills in their clothes

this is how we do it

Dar shabab activity

Friday, June 15, 2012

The King is Coming

His Highness Mohammed VI will be visiting town between Monday and Wednesday of this coming week.  This is very exciting news for everybody. All the curbs have been re-painted.

He tours around fairly regularly to officially open various buildings and check up on those that he opened in the past.  Included on this list is the women's center here.  I'm still entirely unsure how active this center is, although I was told yesterday that they do indeed regularly help very poor women in bad situations.  Naturally, the King will want to see how his center is doing.  Unfortunately, people are worried about the King meeting poor people; naturally, poor people might not know how to conduct themselves around him.  So, the center is spending a good deal of money hiring rich women to pretend to be poor women for the king's visit.  This seems quite silly, but is supposedly normal.

A similar story involves an organization that works with handicapped kids.  For whatever reason, they didn't have as many handicapped kids as they had hoped, to show the King, that is.  And so they called up another organization in order to "borrow" their handicapped kids.

Mohammed VI drives around by himself all the time, and has a fairly realistic idea of how his people live, despite the absurd lengths people go to.

The timing of his visit is quite unlucky for us.  Nobody is willing to work with us on anything because they're just oh so busy preparing for the King. I won't know what camp I'm supposed to work at in July, nor what is expected of me, until the end of June.  On the upside, we have time to do whatever.

Some of this time was spent meeting a French woman who lives and works for an NGO that employs rural women in making bags out of recycled plastic bags.  Last night she had Krista and I over for dinner and I had the first pork I've eaten since March 18th.  The prosciutto was magical.  Tomorrow night might be a wedding, who knows?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Apartment, New Life

It's finally happened.  Host-family living is over, possibly for the rest of my life.  It was good for a while.
Krista and my apartment is on the sixth floor. This means that it's super cheap and the majority of potential Moroccan thieves couldn't summit the building in a single day.  Our neighbors include a clearly audible donkey, which sounds like it's getting tortured all night, and a family two stories down which includes the loudest snorer in the world.  Combined with blaring, Arabic tv until 4 am, it may take a while to adapt to the sleeping environment.  But who cares! Freedom!

Benefits of non-family living include:
being able to wear shorts
could be in a room by myself
no more overcooked vegetables
less sugar
don't have to drink soda constantly
can drink water without being made fun of
can choose not to eat
no more bread
don't have to drink old milk when I'm sick
don't have to eat fried fish when I'm sick
don't have to talk to people when I'm sick
don't have to wait around
don't constantly get made fun of for not understanding
can read in peace
don't have to watch tv
belongings aren't moved to random drawers

clothes don't disappear and reappear washed
imminent total disintegration of spoken Arabic

Moving in is a little strange.  We have about 800 american dollars to furnish the apartment for two people for two years. So it's pretty empty.  So far we have 3 beds, a plastic carpet, plastic chairs, WOODEN table, fridge, stove top, giant gas tank, blender, dishes, and that's about it.  On the wishlist: oven, shelves, side table, lamps, carpets, hammock, hot tub, waterslide, sauna, and pet donkey.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Our regional meeting has been postponed indefinitely.  On account of the king visiting.  In Oujda, the large city nearby, all the Dar Shababs have been taken over by the police, so there's no work there are all for the volunteers for the next two weeks.  We received an email with this, at the top of the attachment:

This seems fairly typical.  It is unclear what we will be doing.  As usual. Ma'alish ('who cares/whatever/no problem/there is no why'). 

I'm excited to be moving into an apartment with Krista and out of the host family house.  After two and a half months with other families, it's time to cut the cord.  We are treated like babies- led everywhere and practically forbidden from doing anything on our own.  Given that I have no separate room, I am constantly fair game to poke and slap and hold hands with.  My host brother is 21 and has an important role with one of the associations, teaching younger students, but he sometimes seems like a six year old younger brother: attention-craving, which can be more than tiring. 

Last night I lost it for a minute, perhaps for the first time in Morocco.  After the whole day with my brother, we were sitting at home and he was telling me about how the tea from Morocco is so famous and it's only in Morocco (a conversation I've participated in at least 50 times), and the United States is only famous for the military.  A little irate, I said what about democracy?  And he started talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, and I interrupted him and said something along the lines of "oh yes, the Taliban, everybody is happy with the Taliban.  People are so free with the friendly Taliban, all the girls go to school and are free to do things they want, yaaaay".  Soaking in sarcasm.  Probably not something we're supposed to do. But losing it for one minute in the first two and a half months ain't bad, as far as I'm concerned.


Several days ago my host mother gave me a note, written in English, which she does not speak, asking for help transporting her children and helping them find jobs in the US so that they can help her, because there's no future in Morocco, etc. This presented a new challenge, and one that will no doubt repeatedly arise over the next two years. 


I met somebody who speaks English today, or some English anyway.  Almost immediately he asked about converting to Islam.  The highlight of the conversation was probably

him: in order to learn about the religion, you must have operation on your penis
me: I don't want to

the end

Monday, June 4, 2012

pictures from the roof

Almost recovered from the sickness- it's not that bad cause it passes so quickly.
One benefit of having hundreds of other volunteers in this country is you always know somebody else is having a harder time.  I wonder if anybody has amoebic dysentery right now?

great freakin' evening colors

one "block" away

Sunday, June 3, 2012

oh crap

I have dysentery.  Normally I would say that poop is funny.  But it's not.  Pretty sure my kids died of this on the Oregon Trail. 
Anyway, the worst of it has passed.  Not, however, due to my host family demanding that I eat yogurt, oily potatoes and coffee.  Thankfully we have doctors in Rabat and suitcases of drugs so I'm doing better. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Don't talk about it

There are a number of topics we're advised to avoid: Politics, Religion, and the "Western Sahara". I put the last in quotations because that name does not exist here.  Of course, they do come up.  My host uncle really, really wanted me to explain why Christian priests can't get married. I tried to tell him that there are tons of different kinds of Christians and I don't really know anything about it anyway.  This is sort of how the conversation went:

I said to him, "you know, like there are different kinds of Muslims."
He said, "there are different kind of Muslims?"
"Yeah, like, over in Iraq and stuff"
"what do you mean?"
host brother: "oh he means like sunni and shi'ia"
host uncle "no, they aren't muslims, we have Mohamed here, they don't"
me: "okay."
host brother: "you eat dinner now?"

I decided to tell my host brother I'm not really Christian, or Muslim, or really anything.  This is difficult to understand for him because America means Christian.  Many volunteers advise us to simply lie about religious affiliations if we aren't Christian or Muslim, to avoid religious discrimination and harassment over converting.  I decided, screw it.  I'm not going to present myself as something I'm not. I'll just call it cultural exchange.  I did enjoy having a conversation with a girl who came up to me and started talking to me in Oujda.  It went like this (her mostly in english, me mostly in darija):

her: "hello"
me: "hello"
"you speak english?"
"yes, I'm from America"
"I love the English"
"What you do here?"
"I'm here for two years as a volunteer in ------ working at the Dar Shabab and teaching English"
"Oh, are you Muslim?"
"are you christian?"
"what are you?"
"how do you live?"
me: "let me ask you something; are your parents muslim?"
"that's why you're muslim. My parents aren't really Christians and that's why I'm not really Christian"
"I like the way you speak"
"thank you"
"you have the facebook?"
"I have to go now. Nice to meet you. bye"

My host brother has given me 2 books on the life of Mohamed. They're in Arabic so I can't read them.  It is important to me to show you can be a volunteer and attempting to help and not be a person "of the book" so to speak.

As for politics, it's unavoidable.  It is cool though to hang out with University of Oujda students (moroccan and algerian) who are discussing the presidential run-off in Egypt.


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.