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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

This computer only has 11 minutes of battery life left

... Make that ten.
Mission today: speed post

Yesterday I went directly from my class teaching little kids to the taxi stand. Caught a taxi up towards Nador. I got out at a round-a-bout outside of Nador, waited on the side of the road for all of five seconds, and found another cab to the town of alAroui. Why? Site development. Site development is when the Peace Corps sends current volunteers to towns and cities where there aren't yet any PCVs. The staff and security teams already check out all of these new potential places, but each one has to be visited by a volunteer as well. We figure out whether or not it would be cool/safe for an American to go and work there. We also check to make sure that the boss of the dar shebab isn't totally insane and whether there seems to be enough to do there, etc.

AlAroui seems like a perfect site: great Dar Shebab, great 'club socio-sportif', great gymnasium ("covered room"), women's centers, schools, a college nearby, tons to do. There are also a couple of absolutely huge houses with well-tended estates. When driving by one with the head of the youth house in Alaroui, I asked who lived in it. He said, 'mul fluus', meaning "owner of money". I've heard that there's a great deal of money coming through Nador thanks to the drug trade up to Europe, although I've never seen any direct evidence of it. Whether or not it's accurate, drug mob was the first thing I thought when I saw personal guards outside of that house. But maybe it's just normal business, who the hell knows.

The peace corps encourages volunteers to stay overnight when they do site development, although this isn't always possible and is almost never desirable. Staying overnight thrusts you back into the surreal world of host-family-dom. You never know whether the toilet can take toilet paper, whether there will be toilet paper, whether you should wear slippers everywhere, what you're allowed to NOT eat, how much tea you have to drink, where you're supposed to sleep, how rude it is to be yourself, and so on. This host family is great though- seems they speak a mix of Eastern Moroccan dialect and more Fez-sy dialect, so they're easier to understand than your typical Berkanian. 

Speaking of, it is a huge ego-boost to hang out with a new Moroccan family as far as language proficiency goes.  I warned them that the new volunteer is not going to speak Arabic and may spend a lot of time crying in his room because he feels lonely. The host mother said, 'how could he feel lonely? there's a tv!"

The end. 2 minutes battery left.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Highs and Lows

Note: today it has been 9 months since I swore in. 11 months since I arrived in country.

I used to be a member of a certain group in college. We met several times a week and usually one of the things we would do is share personal highs and lows from the past week. This helped us to stay apprised of what was really going on in each other's lives- what mattered to each person- what was really taking them for a ride but they didn't necessarily have the best opportunity to divulge it to their friends. Some highs were really high, and some lows were really lows. A major reason why I chose to go for the peace corps is that I heard you'd get some pretty freakin' serious apices/zeniths/apogees and some god-awful nadirs/perigees. It's exciting.

Anyway, one thing that strikes me all the time is how extremes co-mingle here. Donkey carts pass BMWs, ragged farmers talk on cell phones, drug dens sit next to cyber cafes, burning piles of trash outside the hospital. There are rich people and there are poor people, and, unlike in the US, they don't live all that far from each other.

Of course, there are also major gaps in education. Some private schools can be really good, and some public schools are generally missing their teachers (because they're busy working at the private schools for more money- lots of them have multiple 'jobs' like this). Some students are stuck in a broken system, and some have access to an emerging one. I'd like to tell two short stories to illustrate this:

The Broken:

As I mentioned in a previous post. Cheating. is. common. There is one test that matters. It's at the end of high school, and everybody cheats. And I'm not talking scribble a few answers on your hands cheating, I'm talking about James Bond stuff. Chinese hacker stuff. Students run headphones from hidden phones up through their clothes- girls have an advantage here since they can hide them under their hijabs. Because of this, the only day every girl can be guaranteed to cover their head is exam day. The students work in teams- some of them will sacrifice that year- signing the blank exam sheets with their names and then taking the exam out to the hallway where they work on it with the other students and relay messages in to the students who are taking the test. It's all very sophisticated. So the teachers are waging cyber warfare in response-- they wear radios on their belts and walk among the students. The radios pick up on interference when the kids are using their hidden phones. It's crazy.

These kids entire school careers hinge on the result of this test. And everybody cheats. Why study at all? How can you get by withOUT cheating? Advancement is dependent upon your ability to cheat well, not your ability to learn the material. So you end up with people employed in high positions who have zero skills other than sneakiness.

The Emerging System:

There is a teacher here who runs a private school for kids. His focus is on English. His students will make movies about cultural preservation in English. They'll give speeches in English. They'll sing songs that they wrote in English. They'll do volunteer projects in their communities. They'll thank each other, give constructive criticism. This teacher finds out what they're passionate about, he gives them the tools, and he says, run with it. Make it yours, do it in this language, and help each other. Be kind to one another. Be responsible for yourself and your friends here. He is teaching not just language, but leadership, practice of values, kindness, and everything that you'd want your kid to be learning.

But it is a private school. It's not available to most people in this city. Why is this guy not in charge of the entire education system? Could be because he didn't cheat well enough on his own high school test, and couldn't secure a government job. He had to found his own school out of his mother's basement with $80. But he freakin' did it. That's my high for the week.

(I am hoping to send this man to the US through a State Department program next year).

Monday, February 18, 2013


Krista is back. Humdullah.

Yesterday I went out to the country with some of the French folks in town who work for an environmental organization which employs rural, house-bound women and does environmental workshops for kids.  The women weave traditional-style baskets, except out of used plastic bags and alfalfa, and then sell them in France. Hopefully I'll be helping them to enlist local shepherds to collect the bags in the future. 

We went on a 20 km walk around the mountains, including through Zegzel- a canyon. Other than a brief period walking along the road (Morocco has the 6th highest rate of auto-accident-induced death in the world), and the very end when I had to wade through a creek of human feces, it was quite nice. Especially the bit which was through a canyon. At the end of the canyon, suddenly there was blaring music and hundreds of people. It's a popular spot with Moroccans, but only the area that you can get to easily from your car.  

The very end was a path that wraps around the side of the mountains. It's great to get out of the city and breathe real air.  Here're some photos.
A well. That bucket is made out of an old tire.

view from inside an old house

stream through the canyon

stone house



path around the mountains

Grotte de Chameau. Cave of the camel. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

BwaHidi on V-day

My hands are very cold and I just got an email from our medical staff warning against 'chillblains'. It seems like something out of a Dickens' novel, but apparently it still exists. Work, for the first time since getting to Morocco, has actually picked up and I'm busy. Not totally sure if that's a good or a bad thing. It does help, though, to keep my mind off of the fact that I'm by myself.

I thought that I would spend 2 years in Africa absolutely alone, possibly traveling up to 10 hours on any given weekend in an effort to see another American and commiserate over our loneliness. But instead, I met Krista.

Depending on who I'm talking with, she is either my site mate, my work partner, my girlfriend, my wife, or 'the other american, the white one, she teaches too'. Non-big-city-Morocco is not very positive on the whole non-marital relationship thing. Given that guys often don't marry until they have a job, and there's a massive youth unemployment problem, that makes for a lot of unhappy dudes. Then when they do get married, it's usually to people much, much younger; case in point, Krista's 21 year old host sister considered marrying a 35 year old truck driver she'd never met. So we are an oddity. We don't go on many double-dates is what I'm saying. This is my ode to her.

Krista is perfect. I mean, we moved in together about 2 months after meeting each other, to an apartment in a backwater minor city in Muslim Africa and we're doing damn good. That's amazing. When I'm having a bad day or week or month, she pulls me out of it. She is a constant, constant source of help, optimistic ambition, humor, good conversation, hard work, emotional support, linguistic aid, and everything that is good. Everything.

And not only is she a huge Bonus in my life and in my peace corps service, but she also has probably saved me from insanity. Like Cabin Fever. Or The Shining. Last fall I lived by myself for a few months on Martha's Vineyard as it descended into winter.
It started innocuously enough; singing in the shower, talking to myself, locking certain doors. I guess I realized I was starting to lose it when I bought a Gumby costume (long story) and hung it over one of the doors. Many times I would turn away and then see it again with its big plastic googly-eyes and scare the hell out of myself. Sometimes more than once in a single day. Then I started to think I was seeing other things- scurrying away at the edges of my vision. In retrospect, this may have been a combination of an extreme caffeine addiction thanks to my job in a cafe and the dozen or so espresso shots I'd consume in a day; and regularly going on multi-hour, flashlight-runs at night in absolute darkness. Then again, those seem pretty nuts too. So yeah, when I'm alone, I go crazy. So that's what I expected coming here.

But then I met Krista and I am insanely glad that I did ('insane' here being a positive thing). She has been gone the last week, helping to teach the new group of volunteers in a small town near Fez. This is the first time we've been away from each other for more than 4 days in the last 10 months. I'm still holding it together. No hallucinations yet.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cap de Trois Fourches

Instead of using the weekend with prudence, to wash my clothes, to air out my mold-infested belongings, or prepare for classes, I went on a little road trip with some French folks. We drove up to the point at the top of Eastern Morocco, passing a couple towns and the Melilla castle on our way. At the end of the peninsula there's a small preserve with a very poor, sparsely-populated village. The few people who were out and about made up for their lack in numbers with their impressive staring abilities.

It was beautiful though. I was hoping for some sort of fish-shop, but I didn't see any kind of store at all. Did see some donkeys though- click on the pictures to see larger versions of said donkeys.

good road

great paint job on this house

lighthouse. There were some army officers there who were on the lookout for illegal immigrants from more southern Africa on their way to Spain

good friend


eyore's cousin

I'm not sure what these people grew- I just saw rocks and cacti

very sleepy village

that's the door to a house built into the rocks

awesome square house

With the rest of my weekend, I went to a nearby school and helped out with an environmental 'sensibilisation' for four and a half hours. Which went pretty well. One kid thought it only took a month for a plastic bag to biodegrade (in reality it's between 100 and 400 years).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

America back on top!

My worries about the rise of Saudi-style extremism have been dampened, if not fully extinguished. America is back.

I say this for two reasons. On Sunday night I traveled about an hour in order to watch the super bowl with half a dozen other Peace Corps volunteers in a nearby city. Somebody had managed to procure pretzels and Lays, Krista and I had spent hours making tortillas and baking them into chips to eat with some guacamole, and somebody else made hot wings (no idea how). We had the huge projector and a live stream and everything. It was awesome. Inevitably, there was a major technical failure. Surprisingly, it wasn't on our end. Turns out New Orleans, and probably the entire United States, could do with some serious infrastructure projects.

Anyway, you would think the power outage during the game would have me feeling down about the state of the States. And I did. But on Monday something happened that made me feel a whole lot better.

A former volunteer, current culture guy at the US embassy was in the city and happened to give Krista and me a ride back to town in the huge, probably-bullet-proof embassy car. He was headed to our town for a small cultural event at a private after-school place in town and invited us to meet him there later, which we did.

These kids could speak English! I mean, they could express real ideas and show actual critical thinking in English! It was crazy. There were dozens of them. I had no idea there were so many kids in my town who were capable of that. The topic of the discussion they had was about "preserving our culture". Most kids were wearing skinny jeans. And speaking English. Ironic.

Of course, they're probably the richest kids, so not exactly my target group, but it was great to see how good they were at English, and, by extension, how awesome America is.

The second thing in the last couple days that made me feel like we stand a chance against the Saudis was that I met an American.  There are, incredibly, two other Americans living here. They play for the basketball team as professionals. The one I met went to LSU. He has been here for 4 months. This is absolutely amazing to me. And was equally amazing to him, especially since he speaks no French and no Arabic. That brings our ranks to .0021% of the town population. We're taking over.

In totally unrelated news, I need to be better about cleaning my cooking pot. Heated up some water on the stove for a shower after dinner and wound up with some noodles in my bucketbath.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Language Notes and the fear of Saudi Islamists

This will be a brief post in two parts.

Part 1: Language

As I've noted before, the local language is strange. We currently have a friend who grew up in Casablanca visiting. As a native speaker, he too, is confused. Things are a bit different. We've got a strong Algerian Arabic dialect influence and, when you throw in the old people speaking mountain language, which has a completely different historical development from Arabic, you get some interesting stuff.

And sometimes, it sounds funny.

Personal favorite so far:               hak-a-dak, yak?     :::     "Like this, right?"

A fairly common combination of ideas.

How about:                                 MuDub-bub          :::       "foggy"  (this term arises all across Morocco)
Old favorite:                                tg'Adu g'A            :::       "everybody stand up"

In the previous phrase, the g'A is for گاع . If you don't read arabic, that sounds somewhere between a duck quacking and the sound you would make when expressing extreme disgust over rotten food.  

New one I just made up:            tGdGdu hta mdgdga :::    "knead it until you're exausted"

Combined with some modern standard Arabic old favorites: ("milf"=folder, "FuQit"=only, "Kunt"=corner), you end up with a fairly hilarious language.

Part 2: Uh-oh?

Yesterday, Krista and I were teaching English at one of the youth centers.  Most of our students opted to go to another event that was scheduled for the same time. The event was led by a Saudi Arabian man, in full Muslim dress, who was giving some sort of 'human development' talk. The seating was separated for men and women/boys and girls. It is not often that I see this in Morocco. I have no idea what the talk was about, but you can bet your ass it was some religious stuff.

This reminded me of something I had just read in one of Friedman's books. He says, essentially, that the US has been giving tons and tons of money to oil dictators/ royals in the Middle East by relying so heavily on their oil. This means that, over the last couple of decades, there has been a lot of money coming out of the places that practice a more austere, 'desert islam'. These places have been flooding other countries with money, whether it's through building religious schools that often serve as bases of terrorism, or to more open islamic countries like Morocco.  A good local example of this is rich Saudi businessmen buying the major grocery chain in Morocco and banning alcohol in a number of those stores.  Because of this trend, radical, desert islam is beating back more moderate, urban islam you may see in more cosmopolitan places like Casablanca or Cairo.

An interesting case to look at, from this perspective, are the recent evens in Mali.  Radical islamists from the desert, with lots of heavy weaponry, sweep into Timbuktu and establish their interpretation of Shariah law, which includes chopping people's hands off if they steal, and destroying centuries-old Sufi marabouts.  Of course, the people in Timbuktu are muslim as well, but of a more moderate variety, who were horrified by this- so when the French president triumphantly swept into the city yesterday, after beating back the islamists into the desert, he was greeted by the Muezzin wearing a kufia in the colors of the French flag.

Basically, what I'm saying is, Did I just lose my English students to a Saudi-style Islamist?



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.