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, December 31, 2012

Have yourself a moldy little christmas


Krista and I jumped ship to Vienna and Budapest for Christmas. It took over 30 hours in transit on the way there, and 30 hours in transit on the way back. We spent six days abroad. I don't want to compare those ratios, but I can say that it was absolutely, totally freakin' worth it. Holy hell. I love vienna and budapest and christmas.  It was like heaven, being with Krista there over the holiday.  I'll throw up some pictures on this thing when it's working properly, but I don't want to talk about the trip. It was too good.

Soon after arriving back, I broke down for the first time since arriving in country, some 9 months ago.  Returning from vacation is always difficult, but especially so here. I chalk it up, at least partially, to that phenomenon.

We left Budapest at 3 am, switched flights in Milan, and landed in Casablanca in the late morning. We had to wait until 11 pm before our train left and it didn't arrive until 9 in the morning, so we walked in the door at about 10:30. Long trip, with not a whole lot of sleep. We were happy to discover our cats were still alive, and the house wasn't totally destroyed (there's not much to destroy anyway). However, we also noticed two things, both of them highly unfortunate, although one in particular was really bad news.

For some reason our internet no longer works. I attribute this to the absolute morons who work for Morocco's largest telecom corporation, the same guys it took 6 personal visits and 2 weeks of waiting for them to flip a single switch, have screwed up again. I get frustrated when things don't function like they should. Usually this frustration comes out as anger or sarcasm. But not this time. I wanted to call home. I missed Christmas with my family and wanted to talk to them while they were all together. And I wasn't able to because of some idiots.

The second thing we noticed was mold. Shit. I either have a cold, or there is mold growing in my lungs. There is mold on our fridge. on the faucet, on my bags, on some hats, on some clothes, on some books, on the walls, on the ceiling, on the bed mattress, on the couch mattress, along the walls, on the food. there is fucking mold fucking everywhere.  My nose drips into the bucket of bleach as I fry my hands in this soupy biocide. We'll probably have to throw away hundreds of dollars worth of stuff, which is no small sum given our monthly allowance of 250 bucks.

This seriously sucks. The suckiness of the mold and of the internet got me down.  But that wasn't all.

I was lesson planning, or at least, trying to lesson plan. Then I realized that I don't like lesson planning. I'm not going to teach somebody how to speak English in 2 hours a week. I don't like pretending that it's possible. It seems silly and pointless. I'm not an English teacher. Why the hell am I spending all my working time teaching english? Why aren't I living in Budapest where I can drink a nice draft for 1 dollar?

All these things combined and I lost it. Cried. For the first time since being here. Thank God I have Krista to help me. We scrubbed out the mold as best we can, we're yelling at the telecom people today, have confronted our landlord to do something about the falling-apart building, and am making plans to diversify my workload.

I don't mean to say that I hate teaching. Once I get to the class itself, I enjoy myself.  I taught a great intermediate class on Saturday, a discussion about a passage in one of my favorite books, Ishmael. And it was great. But realizing while planning, particularly for beginner classes and grammar-heavy lessons, that the students are not going to really learn how to speak english, even after your best efforts, for the simple reason that there's not enough time, is difficult for me.

So, in order to make sure the next 17 months are as happy as possible, I am making some sincere new years resolutions.

1. Make sure each class is, in some way, fun.
2. Get regular, non-English-teaching-stuff going by the end of January
3. Get working on a larger project by the beginning of spring
4. Get rid of mold

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Been a while, so here's a picture

Krista teaching one of our beginner classes. This is at the new dar shebab (good lighting, clean, lots of books). The other one is fairly dreary.

This was basic, present tense verbs.  The 33 students here range in age from 8-mid40s.

(Click on the picture to get the full effect.)

Tragedy in Connecticut

I learned about the shootings in Connecticut at the elementary school within 12 hours of them happening. It seems that, along with information, the internet can also carry emotions. The killing spree is incomprehensible to me. It took not only a mentally sick person, but a mentally sick person with a gun.  I believe the following:

What happened in Connecticut? 

Deranged person + guns. 

There have always been and there will always be mentally ill people. And there will never be a time when all mentally-ill people are accurately identified and successfully cared for. Simply put, there will always be that variable, whether you think it's caused by God or by evolution or by brutal chance, there will always be some sick peopl
e out there.

But our sick people occasionally brutally murder a lot of others. This doesn't happen so much outside of the US (recent terrorism in Norway being the exception that proves the rule). Our people kill others because they have guns.

The relevant moral factor in the gun deaths at the elementary school is guns, not mental health care. Yes, we can have better care, and we should have better mental health care. But the reason why this person was able to kill so many children is because he had guns. He couldn't have done it without them.

Without the guns, there wouldn't be so many dead children, both at the Connecticut school and in cities around the country. Americans made a moral choice to allow firearms to whoever wants them. That is the moral choice that led to these deaths as well as tens of thousands of others every year. If you support guns, you are complicit in these murders, accidents, and suicides.

It is highly unlikely Americans change this- more than half of Americans support the legalization of semi-automatic firearms. We are a people who, on average, place the fleeting adrenaline rush of shooting off pistols in a firing range over and above the lives of thousands and thousands and thousands of our fellow Americans. This is a moral choice that we made and it is the wrong one.

Proponents of 'gun rights' argue you need a gun to defend yourself. This is utterly non-sensical. There is absolutely no factual basis to the argument that more people with guns leads to increased deterrence of gun violence. Actually, it's the opposite.
Proponents of 'gun rights' argue that guns don't kill people, people kill people. This is also utterly stupid. Yes, people do kill other people and sometimes without using guns. But the man in China who stabbed 20 kids with a knife didn't kill any of them. The man with the gun in Connecticut killed all of them. It was the gun input that led to the deaths.
Proponents of 'gun rights' argue that it's a constitutional right. There is no constitutional right to a semi-automatic 100-clip gun. The amendment was written to support sheriffs who were usually armed with clubs, not with guns. The amendment has been twisted over the centuries into something it was never meant to be.

Why not follow some other countries on this one? We don't need guns. Fuck hunting.

When things like this happen, I feel bad for being over here in Morocco when there are so many problems back home that could use my support. I come from a violent country.  I am grateful that, so far, no Moroccan has asked me about the massacre, as I couldn't possibly explain what happened and the laws that made it possible. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012


A peace corps volunteer serving in Paraguay wrote an article for the HuffPost last month which sparked a small, but impassioned debate amongst those volunteers who enjoy regular internet access.  The article was about her struggles with the feeling of guilt.

Usually, guilt is not something that drags me down. I don't feel guilty when I buy things. Most things anyway. I don't feel terrible taking vacations, and I didn't decide to do peace corps because of white guilt. I don't typically feel like I'm a disgusting human being when I drink a 3 dollar Starbucks concoction. But today I felt guilty. Viscerally, painfully guilty.

I've had an ongoing problem with my host mom, from the family who housed me for the first two weeks in my final site. The problem is over money. She asks for it, usually through her daughter. She needed it to buy the sheep for the biggest holiday of the year. After struggling with what to do, I told them that I could help a little (after all, I would eat some of the sheep) but I couldn't buy the sheep for them because I have no money. Later, I offered her something- about 200 Dh which is somewhere around 25 dollars, but she wouldn't take it. This was confusing and, also, infuriating. Why would she ask for money and then refuse it? Was I missing some cultural thing where you're supposed to offer it over and over and over again before it's accepted? What was the point of making me feel like crap? I don't know.

This is the family who housed me, who fed me, who gave me water and a bed in their living room. Their son gave me his time and his network to help ease me into life in my community. They may have tried to give me sour milk to help when I had dysentery, but they meant well. And my mother would tell me I am biHal weldi (like my son).

Today my host sister called and said that my host mother is very sick and needs help with money. I said I didn't have very much money, and I couldn't help. She said okay, that's okay. I said can I help any other way and she said no. That made my feel guilty.

There's a difference between being lucky and being guilty. Am I lucky? Yes. I am undeniably, unbelievably, unimaginably lucky. I am lucky in so many ways, there isn't enough space on all the internets to list them. One of the ways, however, is that I have money.

I don't feel guilty for being white. I don't feel guilty for being American. I don't feel guilty for being a man. I don't feel guilty for being wealthy through no effort of my own. You are born to whom you are born. Nobody is responsible. It is called luck.

Like all Peace Corps volunteers all over the world who don't look like the people in their communities, their apartness is automatic. And there are things that come with that separation- people in the community want help, people want advice, and at the same time, people will treat you like a child, point you out to their kids and say there's a foreigner, and assume that you have money, and by comparison, you do. Sometimes this is a pain. But I don't feel guilty for looking the way I do and being who I am.

Luck just happens, (and there's no avoiding the fact that I look like a rich white tourist here, and that's 2/3 correct). The feeling of guilt, on the other hand, is fairly easy to avoid when you grow up where I grew up. Even the homeless people on the street- you can simply look at the other side of the sidewalk when you walk past them. And some people who join the Peace Corps do so, in no small part, because they don't want to take the easy way out- they want to confront what's out there- to take a hard, close look at the people who don't have it so good. But you don't need the motivation of guilt to join.

What is my host mom sick with? I don't know. How much would it cost to help her? I don't know. But I didn't want to ask, "well how much would it cost?" And then get an answer and then say, "um, I don't know if I can help thaat  much." There is no question of degree- there can be no token payment for guilt, at least not in my book.

There are two prisms through which I can look at this. Firstly, there is the prism of my job. I am a volunteer. I am here to do youth development. I am given enough money to live like a local. I am not here to save anybody. Dependency brews helplessness. I am not supposed to help with the medical needs of individuals in my community. I am not supposed to provide meals out of my budget for the street children selling cigarettes and plastic bags. Through the prism of my job, it is wrong to help my host mother and I should feel guilty for doing so. I met my host family because of my job.

But, on the other hand, I could probably pay for whatever it is she needs (I'm assuming it's not some major surgery, which it could possibly be). As an individual, I could afford to help. Even though living on my peace corps budget day-to-day means boiling water on the gas stove before putting it in a bucket and pouring it over myself every third day and calling it a shower. Even though, at the same time ,everybody tries to rip me off because I'm the white foreigner. Even though I have to put up with it from both ends, I am probably financially capable of helping to pay for my host mom's medical care. So, I feel guilty.

But what can I do? I can help her, but I won't. I'll feel guilty going to Europe to celebrate Christmas instead of spending my money on her medical care, but that's just the way it is.

Why do I feel guilty? Because I know her. I could spend the money on malaria tablets in some other part of Africa. I could pay for mosquito bed-nets. I could pay for HIV education, fight polio, or support for women's education in Pakistan. But that's not how guilt works. You can only feel guilty for what you see. (Whether or not this means you can only be guilty for what you see and don't act upon is another question).

So the whole thing is seriously shitty. Telling myself that I'm not here to hand out money doesn't help very much. Saying well, I came over here and am doing the freakin' peace corps and isn't that enough doesn't help very much either. Those are called rationalizations. Can't fight down emotions with rationalizations, and if I could, then I wouldn't be treating myself honestly.

The article by the volunteer in Paraguay who I mentioned before is below:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Yes, I have read the Quran

Oftentimes an absolute stranger will ask me if I know about the Quran. Well, now I can say yes. I can say that I've read it. All of it. Sort of.

I worked my way through a copy that had the English translation alongside the Arabic alongside the transliterated Arabic pronunciation. This copy has the title prominently displayed across the front. The title is "The Meaning of the Holly Quran".

I feel as though something may have been lost in translation. Unless this particular copy was actually part of a limited-edition Christmas release.

So I assume that this version is not perfect.  And even with the little Arabic I have, I was able to tell that it wasn't quite right. Many times a single word would be translated into several, and sometimes whole extra sentences were thrown in. Furthermore, the English was written to mimic the bible. So there are a lot of 'shall's and 'ye's, which strikes me as kind of silly. I didn't have much choice though- it would take years of studying Classical Arabic (an older version of the current standard language in media across the Arab world) before I could read the original. And even then it would be hard.

The book continually refers to past events and stories. It refers to the Ad and Thamud people who were destroyed. It refers to Moses throwing his snake-rod which ate up the Pharoah's wizards' magic tricks.  It refers to Jesus being born next to a palm tree. And it is very repetitive.  Continually, ad nauseam, it talks about the gardens in heaven and the fires in hell. Over, and over, and over, and over again.

Now it makes sense when people tell me about the fire and the gardens. You remember that stuff when it's drilled over and over and over again. And over again. Of course, now that I've read it, it's expected that I believe it. Surprisingly, I am able to read hundreds of pages telling me I will go to hell and come out totally enervated.

There are, however, a number of things I took away from slogging through it.

  1. It is clear that the book comes from desert people.  The good things are what people living in the desert want (streams, cool water, shade, gardens), and the bad things are what people living in the desert are stuck with (boiling water, fire, thirst). 
  2. Muslims are really into there being only one God. He can't have any kids. Because he is too great to be divided.
  3. It was a huge deal that a holy book was in Arabic. A huge deal- over and over again, it explains that it's in Arabic so that the people can understand. It is the sign to them as the scriptures were to other peoples in the past.
  4. Most of the stories are poorly told- they are choppy, start and end immediately, and constantly refer to other, totally unrelated events.
  5. Everybody is either going to heaven or to hell, but it's gonna be at some indeterminate point in the future, and everything will be judged.
  6. God chooses who are believers and who are non-believers. But the non-believers will go to hell because of their actions. So, basically, you're screwed if you're a non-believer and there is nothing you can do about it. God wanted you to go to hell.
  7. There are a lot of arcane laws- a number of them regarding wives and slaves
  8. Paying back murder with murder has God's 'okay'. But you can also choose to pay the family of the murdered instead. -- "We ordained for them: life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal. But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself, and if any fail to judge by what Allah hath revealed, they are no better than wrongdoers"
  9. Praying is important
  10. Charity is important
  11. You're not supposed to get too mixed up with orphans
  12. God has a lot of names
  13. The jews and christians were wrong and are going to hell. But the Jews more so: -- "Strongest among men in enmity to the believers will thou find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest amont them in love to the believers wilt though find those who say "we are Christian": Because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant."
  14. Basically, you need to become Muslim because otherwise you're going to Hell. -- "What cause can we have not to believe in Allah and the truth which has come to us, seeing that we long for our Lord to admit us to the company of the righteous."
  15. Don't look for, nor point out, contradictions. It will go badly for you if you do so. -- "Some people before you did ask such questions, and on that account lost their faith."
And then there's this:

Surah 33, line 53: "O ye who believe enter not the Prophet's houses until leave is given you for a meal, and then not as early as to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited, enter; and when ye have taken your meal, disperse, without seeking familiar talk. Such behavior annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you, but Allah is not ashamed to tell you the truth."

This comes about 2/3 of the way into the Quran. By this time, Mohamed has been revealing the surahs for a long time and there are, I would think, a lot of people stopping by to ask him for certain favors. He probably doesn't like this.

But my favorite part came at the end. And I plan on using it when pushed about Islam and becoming Muslim:
قل يأيها الكفرون
لا أعبد ما تعبدون
و لا أنتم عبدون ما أعبد
و لا أنا عابد ماعبدتم
و لا أنتم عبدون ما أعبد
لكم دينكم و لى دين

Say, you unbelievers: 
I do not worship what you worship. 
Nor do you worship what I do. 
And I will not worship that which you worship.
And you will not worship that which I worship.  
You have your way (religion) and I have mine.

Now this I can work with!

I admit, I am guilty of giving the "highlighter version" of the Koran. The one that is favored both by fundamentalists and Islamophobes (as the woman in the video link below explains). But I'm not sure how else to present it. I can't recite it for you. It'd be very long, and not comprehensible, even if you were a fluent Arabic speaker. 


In short, I remain unconvinced.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Holy crap it is cold.

It is about 45 degrees. It will be 40 degrees tonight. Two nights ago it dropped to just above freezing.

I know what you're thinking, "oh yeah, big deal, 40 degrees is nothing, blah blah blah". Well, my response is, shut the hell up.

It's cold. It's damn cold. It's two pairs of wool socks and I'm still cold. It's wear a hat to bed and I'm still cold. It's spend all my time eating hot soup and making hot totties and popping hot popcorn and standing in front of the oven and I'm still cold.

You see, the problem is that there's no heating. And there's no hot water. And the building is made out of concrete and tiles so it retains cold the whole day, and we can't afford carpets. So any time I want to wash dishes, the water is just above freezing. Or take a shower. Or wash clothes, or do anything.

The bathroom is the coldest room in the house.

I could drop a bunch of money for a hot water heater, but the peace corps wouldn't reimburse for it. Thanks a lot.


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.