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, July 30, 2012


Camp finally ended.
What a way to see the education system in Morocco.  After that fiasco, we went to Casablanca, where approximately fifty other volunteers had congregated to see the new batman movie.  It showed in the "morocco mall", which is an absurdly decadent place, including shrubberies trimmed into consumer goods such as headphones, and an enormous aquarium including sharks.  I couldn't afford to buy anything.  Saw the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

It's funny what happens to you when you're used to having nobody around who understands English.  We were sitting and watching the opening ceremonies, the beginning of which was less than awe-inspiring.  Krista said something along the lines of "why did we trust the British with this". And a guy on the other side of us said something along the lines of "hey!".  He was British.  I don't think there's ever been a British person in my town.

After Casa we spent a night in Sefrou, our old stomping grounds with our former host families.  It was great to see them, and actually made me feel better about my Arabic- I think I've improved a little bit in the last two months, hoora!  Other highlights included my 3 year old host brother throwing a knife at my mother's face and my host father smacking my host sister.  I gave them some milk, yogurt, dates, and chocolate, and they gave me some sfoof.  Ramadan karim.

Here's some pictures from the Mosque in Casa.  I'll probably put some up from the camps in the near future.

Monday, July 23, 2012

That makes sense

So a kid in my group was sliding down the banister, fell off, and dropped between 12 and 15 feet, landing on his head.  Counselors immediately picked him up and tried to have him walk around, despite the fact that he was all sorts of confused/concussed. 

A counselor then told Krista that's why they beat the kids, to keep things like this from happening.  And, furthermore, it's your fault for not beating them, that's why they're out of order. 

Yeah, that makes total sense.  Thank god the kid is okay

Violence and Propaganda

I think it would be safe to say Krista and I are not going to come back to this camp next year.  Nor do I have any plan to work with the Ministry of National Co-operation again.  Since Ramadan has begun, the other counselors don't have a great deal of patience.  They're starving themselves all day while the vast majority of kids continue to go about their day normally, i.e., drinking water and eating three meals.  Apparently a good outlet for frustration is beating kids.  Yesterday, at dinner, the kids weren't being particularly quiet or orderly, which is typical, and one kid threw a grape at another.  A counselor pulled him out of his seat, smacked him across the head a couple times, threw him into the middle of the room onto the ground and stomped on him and punched him and lifted him up and kicked him and punched him back into his seat.  The kid is lucky that he didn't get a concussion, although I guess he'll enjoy long-lasting emotional damage.

Naturally we were upset, Krista in particular.  The boss said it was normal and fine because it's just the first time, and a female counselor defended the action as called for by their religion.  However, in a meeting later, the boss showed us that he was filing a report to be sent to somebody in Rabat.  This person is supposed to be responsible for the safety and protecting the rights of the children.  Supposedly the guy who beat up the kid won't be coming back, although I wouldn't count on it.  And he works with kids year round.

So, we considered leaving.  But decided to stick it out for the next three days, and defend the kids when we can.


I had thought the propaganda extended no further than yelling about the Sahara and the team names (co-operation, ethical education, freedom, co-operation again, forgiveness, participation).  The national anthem, 'long live the king', 'our morocco our sahara', and so on, is constant.  However, this morning was about Israel/Palestine. Awesome. No, kidding, not awesome.

We've heard a song about Palestine and 'our tears going out to Hamas' about eight times so far, including a coordinated dance from the girls.  They performed the dance four times in a row and then the boys came in to act out the subject.  One kid sat and read with two little ones playing at his feet.  Two kids representing Palestinians ran in with two others wearing Israel flags and carrying fake guns chased them into the room.  The Israeli kids started firing wildly while the Palestinians threw rocks and one of the kids was hit.  Then there was a fake funeral for the kid.  I left as soon as the kids wearing Israel flags came in, but Krista told me about the rest.  I experienced a visceral reaction to the stupidity, brainwashing, and fucked-upness of the whole thing, from which I'm currently recovering.

I don't think I will ever understand this Palestine obsession.  Like all people endowed with basic reasoning skills, I know all of Israel's policies are not 'good'.  But it is inexcusable to brain wash kids from an early age, constructing a building of hatred.  Telling them, you don't need context, you don't need information, you don't need history or a diversity of viewpoints on the conflict, you just need to listen to the music and copy the movements.  Disgusting.  Maybe the play wouldn't have been as 'entertaining' if it had included some Palestinians shooting rockets at the Israels, or strapping themselves with explosives, or picking up the kids and using them as human shields. Absolutely awful. 

The Moroccans should spend their energy focusing on reducing the violence they themselves are directing at their children rather than filling them up with blind nationalism and hatred for a religion thousands of miles away.

This post is probably even more poorly written than the other ones, but I'm pissed about this.  And there is nothing I can do about it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Health and Safety

Unfortunately, it is starting to seem as though violence against the children is merely a small part of the overall lack of respect towards kids.  Their health and safety are generally disregarded in favor of attempts at exerting authority and maintaining some semblance of order.  Obviously, American ideas about cleanliness are, admittedly, often a little over the top. However, over the last few days, there have been a number of instances in which Krista and I have felt a great deal of irritation, frustration, and anxiety on behalf of the orphans (and fake orphans). 

-there is no soap in the bathrooms
-they are not encouraged to wash their hands nor brush their teeth
-there were no warnings against diving headfirst into shallow water
-few of them knew how to swim anyway
-they are fed mostly sugar and bread
-they are encouraged to buy and binge on junk food with money from the associations that sent them
-they played a game similar to bobbing for apples, but with tomatoes. the water was taken from the river. two kids got severely sick already.  a counselor told me that moroccans are strong and don't need everything clean.
-nobody was concerned with one girl's throw-up being everywhere
-there is no disinfectant but plenty of open cuts
-the tables are not cleaned after meals

and so on.

And now for something completely different.

Religious harassment has reached a whole new level of absurdity. Kids are relentless with demanding that we say the shahada and 'got is great' and so on. Obviously one's patience wears thin when the counselors too join in.  It's difficult not to lose it completely.  I often have to resort to quoting a favorite passage of the quran, 'la' ikraha fi ldeen' which means 'there is no compulsion in religion'. If a kid repeatedly harasses me, I'll quote that to him and tell him to read his own book before talking to me. 

An additional camp discovery has been how easy, and beneficial, it is to be fake married.  We were warned against one counselor in particular by another pcv who'd worked with him, and told he was a creep and source of a great deal of sexual harassment.  However, since we're pretending to be married (it happened last year, we have a house in the US but had to sell our car), last night he took two chairs out behind the dormitory and told krista and I to sit back there under the stars for the tranquility and romance. 

Hopefully I'll get some pictures soon.  Six more days of camp, Ramadan starts tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Beating Children and a new job

Krista and I have successfully completed (survived) our first summer camp.  The Moroccan education system, and youth work in general, differs from the American system in many ways.  The most immediately obvious difference is that violence against the children is not merely condoned, but ardently encouraged.  At the camp, each American volunteer partnered with a Moroccan counselor to look after a team of kids.  Not much of the camp time was scheduled, and that, along with the heat and enclosed spaces, created the perfect environment for lots of arguments and fighting among the kids.  The country nationals’ response, broadly speaking, was to smack the campers.
             There are a number of ‘moves’ that are commonly used.  I find it fairly easy and morbidly comical to imagine a Moroccan summer camp video game, perhaps something along the lines of Super Smash Bros., involving various fight combos.  The ‘square’ button would have to be the ever-popular smack across the face, perhaps with a clock-wise swipe to make it backhand.  ‘triangle’ button would have to be knocking the top of the head with the knuckles, and the ‘circle’ could be the take-off-your-sandle-and-smack-the-kid-across-the-back-as-he-tries-to-run-away move.  Then, you also have a number of extra credit complicated combinations.  The most extreme one I saw at camp was when a counselor straight up Zidane headbutt a rowdy camper, who I had come to believe may have some sort of learning or development disability.  I also heard of someone chasing their campers with a two-by-four at another campsite.  Unfortunately, the only way I’ve found to effectively deal with the child abuse is with a little bit of light humor.
            One of the counselors had to leave the camp early.  In his departure address, he told the campers that he had a great time at camp, and that he was sorry to anybody who he had hit, but it was for educational purposes. 
            Of course, when your counterpart willingly doles out physical punishment, it’s difficult to get campers to listen to you, when all you can really do is yell, oftentimes in nonsense Arabic.  I also have to admit that I was sorely tempted at times to “adapt” to the culture and hit a kid. Particularly one named Mohamed who got his kicks by teasing and throwing balls in Mahmoud’s face.  Mahmoud also happened to be a gentle guy with down syndrome, who was probably my favorite of the male campers.  He had everybody falling out of their chairs when he got up during a talent show and did impersonations of the counselors.  I’d say I got along best with the ‘red flowers’ team, which was 6-9 year-old girls. 
            Sometimes it seemed as though the counselors should have had counselors of their own.  One of them had a tantrum when his camper messed up the lion drawing he was working on, while another one thought it appropriate to openly flirt with the team of 13-14 year-old girls, who usually broke down crying while fighting over his attention. 
            Now it’s day three of our second camp, an over-night one with a bunch of orphans and a sprinkling of fake orphans (actually have parents).  The counselors here have pointed to the Quran for support in hitting kids.  They say once they’re ten years old, they can and should be hit because they have ‘hard heads’.  Then they kindly explained that it’s the only way for kids to learn.  Then again, while here, we haven’t seen very much physical punishment at all.
            This second camp is much more official.  It’s name sounds reminiscently Soviet, or maybe Maoist: the camp of national co-operation.  And the team names are fun things like “freedom” or “education”, which all the kids yell repeatedly as they quasi-march around in twos.  Krista and I have each been given responsibility of a team of about 12 campers (mine between the ages of 11 to 14, with one troublemaker who happens to be the camp director’s son). One of my campers is named “S3ad son of the tailor”.  This is very difficult and tiring, in part because we have to fill out various forms in Arabic, but also because it doesn’t seem as though the higher-ups in the camp care very much about the kids’ health and safety.  Dinner last night was a classic Moroccan dish of pasta with cinnamon, peanuts, and a heap of sugar on top.  Granted, it was delicious.  Few of the kids have toothbrushes and none have been taught how to use them, and a day at the pool yesterday featured plenty of running and diving into very shallow water. 
            The radically different sleeping schedule is also throwing us off.  There’s a three-hour nap time in the afternoon, but the day starts at 7:30 and the counselors have meetings at night until 1 am before eating a meal.  Krista and I have so far avoided this meal, which last night was ground beef, coke, and watermelon. 
            I am terrified of Ramadan, which is fast approaching.  It looks as though the kids will be allowed to eat while we may not.  I believe I heard in one of our meetings that there are activities for the kids until 2 am during Ramadan, but I hope I misunderstood that.  

On an unrelated note, we've been given a new job, as of about a week ago.  The higher-ups recently sent us an angsty email about how we are here at the invitation of this government ministry and must work for them and they can rescind the invitation.  Apparently, we went from being development workers to unpaid, lowest-rung government employees of Morocco.  Without the benefit of bargaining rights.  It seems to many of us that the Peace corps went to the market of the Moroccan government, but didn't realize they were supposed to bargain.  A good analogy is when I go to the store and buy a 1000 dirham mattress and learn later that it's only worth 400: getting totally screwed.  When we first came here, we were told to teach English at the dar shabab in the beginning as a jumping-off point for other development work of our own design.  Now it's not clear what we're supposed to be doing, other than hang around until the ministry tells us to do things (see earlier post about miscommunication).  

Monday, July 9, 2012


Yesterday, we finally came to Midelt.  In my town, there's a giant orange in the city center.  In Midelt, there's a giant apple in the city center.  Other notable differences include the color of buildings, and more harassment for women.  It also may be hotter here, although I'm not sure.

As for the travel, we left the house at 8 to catch an 8:30 bus to Nador.  The bus was only an hour and a half, but we were told it would be best to take the early bus in order to get a spot on the 1:30 bus from Nador.  Unfortunately, that bus was full, so Krista and I sat around for 6 hours in Nador, playing sporcle and eating fish pizza.  The fish pizza was damn good.

Next bus, 4:30 pm to 1:00 am.  And it was hot.  Travel costs amounted to 17 hours of our lives, about a pint of sweat, and 15 dollars.

And this morning, camp started.  A Moroccan man and I have the group of 13 -14 year old boys.  They are mostly douchebags, as all 13-14 year old boys are.  My partner deals with this problem by smacking them across the face and/or hitting them with his shoe.  I haven't resorted to this yet, nor do I know if I am legally able to do so, but the disparity between the two of us has already done quite a bit to weaken my authority in their eyes.  Woo. Hoo.

The schedule was almost completely open today, although we did have naptime.  Naptime may have been more appropriate for the 6-year-olds than the 14-year-olds but there wasn't any distinction made.  Hopefully there's more to do tomorrow, otherwise it's going to be a looong weak.

extra note: i hate flies

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4th


Peace Corps has this thing called a 'personal day'.  You can take up to one a month.  It's kind of like when you don't want to go to school and so you tell your mom that you have a tooth-ache.  The only difference being, the pc medical team won't show up and take you to the dentist.  Judging by the smiles around me, I'm not sure if there even are dentists. 

So, my personal day is today. July 4th.  Our nation's sort-of birthday.  I'm beginning Team of Rivals, about Lincoln, and going to the beach in an hour to read and wish there were beer and fireworks.

As for that camp in Midelt...
I got onto the bus for the first leg of the journey, with my bag all packed up for a good month's trip.  I pull out my phone to send a message to our duty officer, letting him know that I'm leaving site. I see a text message from around midnight the previous night: the camp has been delayed until next week.  The boss there didn't get his money from the ministry for the lunches.  So I got off the bus and walked to a meeting with our boss in town who told us we probably won't have our camp either.  Here's hoping the one in Ifrane pulls through.

Monday, July 2, 2012

incompetence, confusion, and waste

Before coming over here, I assumed that I would be dogged by the same irritations that made my experience in Cairo so damn frustrating toward the end of my stay there.  Abstracted by time, these tough spots lost much of their emotional bite, and I could satisfy myself with obscure hopes- "I will learn patience, and endurance, and how to accept not having control".  I thought Cairo would be the junior-varsity to my Moroccan Olympics.

Like all fore-thought, these ideas could not capture the complexity of the situation; the impossibility of comparing a term abroad in one North African country with a Peace Corps experience in another.  However, I will try to compare them anyway, at least in one respect.

In Cairo, I was more of a consumer than a (so far mere wanna-be) producer.  I woke up and attended class, tried to take in knowledge, use the school facilities, use the school buses to get around the city, play squash in a sports club for a fee, and went on a couple short trips around the country.  The frustrations arose from impediments to my consumption: the poorly-run university, the terrible teacher, the lazy students, the traffic, how nobody worked during the day, how the air quality made outdoor exercise painful.  In my town, what eats at me is whatever thwarts my attempts to do a 'job'.  Essentially, everything is bogged down by mismanagement, waiting around, miscommunication, and confusion.

For example:
Krista and I return from a productive meeting in Hoceima along with our boss, regarding how we can work together.  We arrive back home invigorated, excited to get on with things now that the King's visit is finally past and perhaps people will be willing to meet with, and work with, us now.  The next day we go to our Dar Shabab and find a notice, announcing that we will be running a summer camp there, from July 8-18, and another one from August 20-30.  Unfortunately, this was news to us.  In fact, we had managed to meet with our delegue after a few weeks of bothering her, and explicitly informed her that we had signed up for another Peace Corps summer opportunity working at a camp from July 15-27, as everybody had told us nobody would want a summer camp here.  We met with our boss the day after seeing the notice, and she was quite upset that we were planning on going elsewhere, rather than working there with her.

The story, from the Peace Corps' side: they sent the Ministry of Youth and Sports a notice, saying that any place with two volunteers could do a summer camp, if that's what the Ministry wanted.  The Ministry responded, the King is coming and we are too busy for this, and besides, nobody will want to do a summer camp here because it's too damn hot and there are better ones on the beach and in the mountains nearby.  The Peace Corps left it at that.  Meanwhile, we had arranged through PC, to work in Ifrane and at another camp in Midelt from July 4-13, and were waiting to hear back about another camp opportunity near Casablanca from August 1-20.  Then, following the King's visit, somebody in the Ministry found that same email, and said, hey, let's make the summer camp here, and stamped and sent out the notices about the camp.

From our boss's side: the Peace Corps should have let the Ministry know that we were going to work at Ifrane.

I've got to side with the Peace Corps on this one.  Mostly because I find it disheartening to think my job was to wait around this town for somebody to finally meet with us on the off-chance that something might happen in the next two months, rather than get some experience and make an impact, by pursuing opportunities elsewhere in-country.  

It is frustrating that nobody was willing to meet with us, the Ministry ignored explicit information from us regarding our plans, and then people are upset that we aren't entirely at their beck and call.  I do not want to sit on my ass all summer.  Anyway, how things now stand-- I am headed to Midelt tomorrow to help out at a camp there, while K waits back in our site to see whether we indeed are going to have a camp here (so far, not a single person has signed up, surprise, surprise).  Hopefully she will meet me in Midelt, or in Ifrane.  Ifrane, also, may suddenly not happen. 

So, in short, the junior-varsity vs. olympics comparison isn't particularly apt.  The frustrations arose from different perspectives, which impart distinct flavors to the vexations.  In Cairo, I could rage against the indeterminate mass that hampered me from acquiring what I wanted.  In Morocco, I am confronted with the actual individuals, who are working in a shoddily-constructed network.  I see that I, too, as much as I may want something to work simply and smoothly, end up being another poorly-oiled cog, barely clanking along, powerless to the inefficient larger whole.

The only true constant between Cairo and Morocco has been gastrointestinal distress.


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.