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.

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.


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.