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, November 26, 2012

ups n downs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2012


eyum alshkr: "day of thanks"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am a very lucky person.

Friday, November 16, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November 7th, 2012

As they say here,


الحمد الله

"Praise to God"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Nothing in particular

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.