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.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Figuig Christmas

We took a couple days away from Berkane and headed for a desert Christmas. If you look at the map below, of places I've checked out in Morocco, Figuig is the most South-Easterly. It is surrounded on three sides by Algeria, maybe 400 km away from Berkane, most of which is an endless, perfectly straight road with nothing but broken rocks stretching out to either side as far as the eye can see. Maybe every 40 kilometers you can spot a nomadic herder. It's way out there. And absolutely worth the trip.

Figuig is an incredibly beautiful place. We stayed with friends who live in an 800-year old, mostly mud-brick neighborhood set in the middle of a date palm oasis. Paths wind between small plots of land, protected by high mud-brick walls, sometimes up to 10-12 feet. There are countless dark tunnels, with wooden crossbeams supporting houses above. I'll collect some photos from others who were there.

Christmas was celebrated in the right way, with eggnog, carols, cookies, good food, and good friends. Visiting a community so much smaller and more relaxed than my own makes me supremely jealous of other volunteers. I hope to go back there as soon as possible.

I'll need to step on it, as there's less than 5 months to go.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Every once in a very long while, for a couple of hours, I almost forget that I am in this weird place. Many things are weird about Morocco. Everybody stares at me. I see sexual harassment in the street at least once a day. It's 65 degrees in the middle of December. But the strangest thing, for me at least, is Islam.

And not just Islam, but the fact that 99.9999% of the people around me actually believe in the literal reading of the Quran. The stories are not parables; they are not lessons. They are iron-hard scientific facts and prescriptive rules. No interpretation necessary or allowed.

I don't mean to hate on Islam, (although I hate, hate, hate the sexual harassment and suffocating patriarchy which is, in a very real way, tied up with religion). I'm sure that I would feel out of place in any homogenous religious society.

Anyway, yesterday I was invited over to eat lunch with a local teacher who works very hard and who helped me a number of times last year. K and I went over there and we'd been speaking English for a couple of hours and I was starting to feel comfortable. Danger sign.

We were eating some pomegranates and talking about the word in various languages. In German, it's apfelgranate or granateapfel or something like that. Anyway, it has apfel in it (apple), and this reminded me of something I had learned.

Me: You know, many people think that, in the Adam and Eve story, it wasn't an apple-- it was a pomegranate.
the teacher: What?
Me: Well, there were no apples in the region where the story comes from, but there were pomegranates, and I think the words in the ancient language are the same, or very similar.
the teacher: what do you mean where the story comes from?
Me: What, I think it was in Syria or Iraq or something
K: Yeah, Syria, I think.
the teacher: No-- we don't know where it was- of course, they were in Heaven or some place like that, not here on Earth.
Me: Oh. okay...

Whoops. I managed to forget for a minute where I was.

Monday, December 9, 2013


On Thanksgiving, the entire PCV community congregated in Rabat for Turkey and flu shots. In some ways, it was a stereotypical Thanksgiving- some people in the extended family opted not to come, some made great food, some started drinking in the late morning, and some brought their decades-younger, locally-sourced wives/fiancees. It was great. It's always great to go to Rabat, which is starting to seem like a real city. As we travel West on the train, things start to get fancy. And when we travel East of Fes, it's like going back in time.

After the big celebration, we had a mini-thanksgiving at our apartment with 8 guests. The food was outrageous- lamb stew, roast chicken, cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing, green beans, nutella cheesecake, pumpkin pie, cinnamon ice cream. We drank mulled wine and played classic Thansgiving games like pick-up-sticks.

While it has warmed back up since then, it was 43 degrees that day and raining. Since we had the oven and burners going, and 10 people's body heat inside our bathtub of a house, condensation was streaming down the walls. The next day we had puddles of water on the ground and everything in the house was damp. I'm hoping this doesn't mean we'll get another mold infestation like last year.

It's great to have people come visit. Everybody gets sucked into the problems and issues they have with their own towns, and seeing it through other volunteers' eyes can be refreshing and uplifting.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving Round 2

eyum alshukr - Day of Thanks

I am thankful for family, and their unflagging support over the duration of this insane thing I'm doing.

I am thankful for visitors--old friends, uncle & aunt, dad & mom & grandmom, and other volunteers who make it to my town.

I am thankful for Krista, without her, I don't think I could have lasted this long.

I am thankful for having 6 months left-- it's enough.

I am thankful for America -- friends, bourbon, trash bins, traffic laws, green spaces, English speakers, diversity, religious tolerance, dish washers, washing machines, central heating, warm water, foreign food, sports, and higher education.

I am thankful for Morocco -- my work counterparts, my peace corps brethren, my local friends, cumin, coffee, my stove, cooking gas, the illegal food market, the contraband clothes souk, oscar pizza, my bike, the roof over my head, the abundance of sweaters, the peace corps library, my students, how I feel like what I'm doing is appreciated, hot tea, socks, long underwear, my phone plan, my internet connection, electricity, my fridge (and freezer!), the generosity of strangers, my food stipend, and Krista's cooking.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I just returned from Paris and visiting my parents, which was amazing. I want to live there and read important books and drink coffee and eat cheese. Now I'm back in country and headed into the final stretch.

If the Peace Corps were college, I just started my senior year. After the two month training, K and I were sent to our site. We've finished 18 months of peace corps service, and we have 6 months to go. I'm not sure how I feel about it. My goals are still evolving.

Even a few months ago, I envisioned myself trying to build large, physical things. Doing projects that require sweat- digging holes and building churches and stuff. Just kidding about the churches. I thought, now that I've found a few good partners for development work, I can finally construct something 'real'. That may have been foolish.

Many people apply for grants at some point during their service. I don't really expect to do so. Using money almost seems like cheating to me, at times. Why should this town or this group of people get an injection of capital, but those others not get anything? Randomness. Living itself is to rage against randomness. Why work in development? Why put efforts towards any end?..

If I were to raise money from home, and then use it to create a physical thing, where does that leave me? People might thank me, but in many ways, I would just be increasing their sense of dependence upon financial help from others, and possibly exacerbating the feeling of victimhood/helplessness that comes with living in a developing country that has easy access to information. Building things with money from abroad, in a sense, simply extends and strengthens the same instruments that are responsible for the randomness that has left Morocco poor and America rich. Connections to wealth create more wealth. Connection to my randomly being dropped in this town, would lead to an injection of wealth, however small.

I am probably overly-rationalizing my own failure to identify a good school that could use some new toilets dug out. But what I really think I'm doing is coming to grips with the fact that it's perfectly okay to 'develop people', rather than build objects. That kind of 'aid' seems less capitalistic and insidious.

Over the last 18 months, the thing I am most proud of, isn't a thing at all. We have inspired a few people to help others. There are people volunteering in this town, leading workshops in middle schools, cleaning and looking after the youth center, and teaching English, who had never reached out and helped their community before. They are doing so because of us. I can only hope that they continue to do so once we've gone.

I don't dream anymore of digging the foundation for a new center for social enterprise in town. Instead, I think about leveraging the people in my classes to volunteer themselves and their time.

Newest idea: Add an hour of English a week for the adult beginners at the youth center. However, do so only on the condition that each pledges an hour of teaching, whatever their area of knowledge may be.

Apologies for any pretension - and no offense intended towards volunteers who are building toilets and computer rooms and so forth. Any improvement in health, freedom, and access to information is a net positive, in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

god and death and stuff

I've started teaching a 52-hour life skills curriculum with two groups of 16-28 year olds. The classes are in fancy Arabic and K and I have been leading the classes along with two or three local counterparts. One of whom is the director of my youth center, the second is the president of an association that helps out street kids, and the third is some guy named Mbark. We just had the first two over to our apartment, to eat dinner and to prepare for some upcoming lessons. We served up some fried chicken, mashed potatoes, coleslaw and cornbread. Told them it was southern food. While it was all damn good, I fried myself when some air got trapped under the chicken liver and the oil exploded onto my wrist.

Worth it.

Anyway, just like last time they came over, they managed to direct conversation towards a favorite topic: Allah. Let me be clear, they are not aggressively pressuring us to convert; it's more like they're curious about what the hell we think is happening with the whole universe/life/death thing. The director of my youth center, Z, asked me a sneaky question first off (we were talking about how insane climate change is now and how he can't remembered any November as warm as this*). He asked the old "what do you think happens when you die? You just become soil or something?" As usual, I didn't want to get too involved in the topic, as I'd prefer not to think about the end of myself, but I went along with it, telling him "it's impossible for me to imagine what I am after I die." So then he took off on descriptions of heaven and hell and how Muslims have various levels of the two and you can move up levels and everything in the afterlife is operating on a different dimension, one that isn't necessarily physical, and so on. Oh and he pointed out how our cat is very well-designed, and something that could create our cat can probably create some pretty crazy higher-dimension stuff. Our cat seems to mostly be made out of fat, so I told him it doesn't seem too complicated. In the end, he extended an invitation to convert which we turned down.

I'm not sure what I would be converting from. How do you explain to somebody that Islam, Judaism, Christianity, I see them all as slight variations of the same story-- the only reason why I don't get much religious harassment is because everyone assumes I am Christian. I'm not even sure what I am, maybe I'll leave that for another post. But how do I explain, without insulting Z, that I think it's more than a little bit insane to let a possible afterlife be the primary factor in all currentlife decisions. How do I explain that evolution gives a damn convincing answer to the question: why are cats so complex? Above all, I think it's borderline solipsistic to think a greater being has the slightest interest in what I do with my day.

And the fact that 99.99 percent of people in this country all share the same religion makes it even less compelling for me. Talk about unoriginal.

*As a side note, every high-school educated person in Morocco seems to know and understand (somewhat) about global warming. Why is it that every high-school educated person in America doesn't know or understand?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Environmental Club in Action

While the first half of the week was cancelled, due to the Islamic New Year and the celebration of something called "The Green March", the second half is turning out to be fairly productive in terms of work output. Yesterday the new environmental club at the run-down dar chebab kept the momentum going and pulled-off another event. The adults got a pretty good workout, tearing out all the crap that's accumulated in the garden over the past 5 months, while the kids helped out with sowing some seeds in used yogurt cups, to be transplanted once they sprout. Then the small ones created wallets out of used juice containers. After that, they picked up some trash, while the adults finished with planting some bigger trees. The last move of the day was a simple mural and the obligatory cookies and soda. Today I've got 4 straight hours of teaching, including class #6 for the IYF program, which I will describe in an upcoming post. While I'm doing that, Krista will be running a Halloween party at the old dar chebab; hopefully she has enough candy.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

visiting friends

Krista and I went to another volunteer's site this weekend. As usual, leaving our city and seeing somebody else's setup was both refreshing, and good exercise perspective shifting. She lives in a tiny town which is connected to two other tiny towns along the river, all of which are collectively known as Gafait. Her town had maybe 300-500 residents. The surrounding hills and mesas are strongly reminiscent of the south, and the town's fields look incredible when juxtaposed with the stones around.

It took about 3-3.5 hours to ride out there, although it's really not that far away. Getting into the minibus for the last leg of the trip, it seemed as if everybody already knew everybody else. We told the driver to drop us off at Yahiya's store. We spent a lot of time walking around the hills and fields and were woken up by livestock in the morning. It was great. 

I would love to spend more time visiting other sites, but I'm not sure when/if I'll have the opportunity. 

People here love to take glamour shots. here's mine.

overlooking town

some fields


town again. mosque just recently had its loudspeaker installed


new friend

very, very, very old walls

Incredible pomegranates. 


again with the pomegranates. I probably ate a kilo of these things over the course of a day

her town

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Memorable Wedding

Have you ever been to one of those Moroccan weddings where the groom's brother generously sprays some sort of poison gas everywhere during a brawl outside of the tent? Probably not. Neither had I until last night.

I spent about 2 weeks dreading this wedding. After attending more weddings here than in America, I can unequivocally say that I like American ones more. The deafening music until sunrise, brutal heat/accompanying body odors, and unchanging, limited stock of appropriate dance moves get old real fast. I found myself hoping that I come down with another severe stomach problem, or maybe get hit by a car, anything that would allow me to avoid it. While I wasn't able to avoid it entirely, it did end much earlier than expected. Be careful what you wish for.

After maybe two hours of fairly enjoyable dancing, with the least-abusive music I've heard yet, the party was broken up in a big way. Suddenly I saw everybody in the tent covering their noses and mouths, while one person frantically signalled for everybody to leave while another signalled the opposite. There was a stampede for the entrance to the door as a couple of young "men"(read: idiot children) fought it out.  As panic spread, a 200-year-old berber lady with face tattoos who was sitting next to me got this terrified look across her face as she inhaled the gas and her very first move was to hit the floor in the full, prostrate-prayer position. I'd seen her limited mobility earlier and so I did a probably not very islamic thing and, along with another woman, grabbed her up from the ground and helped to haul her out of the tent and into the house.

While I wasn't hit hard by the gas, just an itchy, irritated nose, many were retching and throwing up. One guy who got it particularly bad was on the ground sucking air, fighting to breathe, for several minutes. I have no idea what the stuff was. The only thing I suffered was the loss of my favorite sweatshirt, as I didn't think to grab it when trying to get the old lady out of the tent.

 After the gas cleared a bit, the ratio of men to women in the tent was no longer as inviting, and it seemed as though the remainder of the wedding was rushed, as it ended at around 3:30 AM (or 2:30 if you're on old time, which is now new time, or maybe not, I don't know). The bride, my host sister, broke down and cried at the end, and I don't know if this was because of what had happened, or just because the whole thing is a huge change in her lifestyle. Anyway, I got home and was asleep soon after, alHumdullilah.

I'm gonna try to avoid all remaining weddings.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Eid part deux:: holidays moroccan and american

I really should write in this thing so that I can look at it post peace corps and convince myself that this stuff actually happened. Things have been fairly busy- last week was the biggest holiday of the islamic year. Reasonably enough, it's called "the big holiday" in arabic. Every family that can afford it buys a sheep and sacrifices it and then feasts on innards and meat for about 2 weeks. Our sheep refused to die, but I'd rather not remember that so I won't write more. You can see in one of the pictures below the aftermath of Krista's host brother wrestling with the sheep as it was in its death throes. 

It seemed like the entire population of our town gathered together on top of the tallest hill in town, separated women and men, and prayed in the morning. I have a few pictures of that below. I felt very foreign walking through this, but still took some pictures because what the hell, I can't stand out any more than I already do.

After a week of moving from house to house and eating lots of sheep guts (intestines, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.) we went to Oujda, the big city, for an american style holiday. A number of volunteers in the group ahead of us are done with their service so we had to send them out in style. This week has been brutal workwise, and will be even worse tomorrow. It's been rough but one program in particular is taking off which I'm really excited about: IYF. I'll talk about this in another post soon, if I can pull it together. Another wedding. I swear to god this is the last wedding I will go to in morocco. Tomorrow night, I expect to stay up until the sun rises.

hill prayer. good move by the lady with the chair

good looking sheep

sacrifice time. The holiday celebrates when god gave abraham a sheep to kill instead of the original request: his first-born son Isaac

abdelaali: 1, sheep: 0
on a side note: I had a lengthly conversation with abdelaali as we were watching tv. It was a channel I'd never seen before, the state-run syrian station. Lots of videos of heroic looking soldiers shooting stuff, almost pornagraphically violent, with proud music and lots of flag waving (including one flag which essentially means destroy israel), and so forth. abdelaali then told me about how much he likes Assad and how there was no proof chemical weapons were because of him and that it was a set-up and so on. It would be impossible to overstate the influence television has on people's opinions here.

sure, i'll eat some raw sheep heart


cleaning poop out of the intestines

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Some things are happening now- classes and such- and it's good to be busy. But for some reason I've been aching to get out again, already. Despite the fact that I was basically just abroad- in Italy in July, a mere 3 months ago, I would like to leave again. This is not a good thing.

That said, I felt completely differently a couple of days ago. I felt fine- kind of enjoying biking to the youth center and back, the thrill of dodging cars and donkeys. I went running with some local friends down some streets I didn't know existed, which had trees and nice things like that. I was good and then, a few days later, not good. I often recognize what sets off these swings, but still can't control them.

Yesterday I biked across town, then found there was nothing to do at the youth center. Then I discovered that I forgot to bring the books to prepare for my afternoon class. Then I realized a bird had pooped on my. Then I ran into a guy who's annoyed me before- treating me like an idiot, asking for my 'american money', and so forth. Then I learned that he works for the education ministry and is actually kind of important. Then I started sweating heavily because it's still 85 degrees, despite it being mid October. Then I biked back and found that the cobbler was charging me 4 times as much as is typical. Then I discovered that the running water in my house is out again.

None of the above are terrible things, and I can take one or two in stride, no problem. I rallied in the afternoon and taught three hours, two of which were fairly successful. But when these small inconveniences just pile on top of one another, they deflate me and make me want to leave. I feel that I may have lost all perspective on this stuff- is it reasonable to get down after a morning like that and still be hungover from it the next day? Or am I still captive to the total emotional unpinning of peace corps life?

I've built up a little momentum but that is about to be broken by the holiday in which everybody sacrifices a sheep. Then things will start up again soon after. While I have something tomorrow, I'll have a few days "off in the middle of the week.

Keep on trucking.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

travel space-time friends

It's been awhile because I've been away and gotten lazy. I also went on a whirlwind trip through the south with chris coco, an old friend, and a new friend, Florian, we met in marrakesh who came along for the ride. You can check out how much more filled-in my morocco visiting map is with the link in the upper right of this page. I also have a ton of photos, some of which are below.

We went to ouarzazate, agdz, tinghrir, erfoud, the desert, fez, and back to our town. The south is different. The people are poorer, generally more open, kind, generous, and welcoming, and there is a heavy berber influence. Most people are very proud of their ethnicity as non-Arabs. In Agdz, the women were more conservative and I heard the most formal and religious of responses to salaam 3laykum I've ever heard. The desert was indescribable, particularly at night up on the sand dunes. Absolute quiet and immense darkness, reminding me of a passage from the Dharma Bums having to do with the "roaring silence" of the desert. We experienced an interesting variety of travel, in a single day we moved by camel, 4x4, grand taxi, souk bus, foot, and small taxi. We had to pay/hitchhike a couple of times and chris and florian got to experience some of the uncomfortableness. We slept outside twice in 3 days, and generally had a damn good time. It was like going to another country for me in terms of freshness. 

I am intensely aware of how easy is it to travel with all guys. I am never on edge- the worst thing somebody can do is cheat us of money and who really cares? (just kidding-- i get seriously pissed off when that happens). People may stare, but they don't leer menacingly. Maybe it had to do with traveling through a tourist corridor, where people in every town asked immediately if I was Peace Corps once they heard some Arabic. But traveling with dudes is low-stress. It didn't matter if we needed to hitch rides in packed cars. It didn't matter if maybe we had to stay in an unknown town or at seedy hotels, if we had to be packed in to taxis and souk buses with sweaty people. 

Once Coco and I returned to my town we were joined by another friend from college, Emily! We went to the beach and the mountains and generally relaxed. Relaxing would have been easier if we weren't battling a lice infestation and water outage in the house but it was still all good.

It was very strange to have these friends here with Krista and me, in our Peace Corps world. They are the only two outside friends to have visited, the only two who will have some idea of these years of my life. And they are the only two friends who I have seen- all other people have essentially been cut off from me- this time, and who they are during this time, is foreign to me. We existed together again for a brief period in a little space-time bubble. Very odd.

As for time, Morocco was supposed to do daylight savings time. Then, twelve hours before this was going to happen, the Ministry of Time (a real thing) decided to delay the change for another month. Why this couldn't have happened earlier, and what the Ministry of Time does during the rest of the year, I have no idea. But it meant that all the times for Emily's flights were simply wrong.

As for water, it was cut off because we never got our bill. I realized this, went to the office, and tried to pay. They office didn't allow me to pay, so I said fine, I'll do it next time. Then we got a notice in the mailbox saying in 8 days your water will be cut off unless you pay and pay a fine. But the 8 was scratched off and somebody had written 0 and simply turned off the water. So not only did the utilities company never deliver our bill, but they were also so late in warning us that we had no time to respond. Assholes. Maybe they were furloughed because of a government shutdown? oh wait that's america. 

Here are some awesome pictures... Click on a photo in order to enlarge and scroll through them.


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.