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.

Friday, May 16, 2014


I am in Casablanca airport and depart for barcelona in 45 minutes. This is very strange. I am no longer a peace corps volunteer and so I need to find a new self-definition. It's kind of like graduating from college. What am I now? I'm looking forward to getting home. But maybe I'll do the peace corps again. It's got to be easier the second time around.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Left Berkane two days ago. The final couple days were very tough, and we didn't make it any easier on ourselves. I didn't get to see all the people I wanted to. The final going-away party, which we had on Sunday morning, was very touching. One-by-one students and counterparts stood up and said thank you and how they appreciated us and how we taught them about volunteering and how they would miss us and so on and so on. It was too much for me and I wasn't able to keep it together. The old emotional rollercoaster has been back for the last week or so- particularly since we gave up our cats as well, and we don't know whether they're being looked after properly. Never expected that I would be so worried about them, but it's been one of the hardest parts of leaving.

It is completely surreal, but we are almost done. I am sitting in Rabat with only a few more papers to be signed and then I'll be on my way out. I don't think it will hit me until a while after getting home that we've really left. I'm not thinking clearly enough right now to right anything coherent-- maybe tomorrow. We fly out on May 16th, and we'll arrive back in NYC on May 30th, fully 800 days after departing. I'm looking forward to it. In between, barcelona and istanbul.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

pictures from the last couple weeks

krista and I with zaki and simo

special needs training for educators

after the activities

Add caption

english camp, team competition

English camp obligatory certificate shot

awesome hotel, fez

outside of fez


again, with tom and christine

special needs workshops

Still Working

It's funny that I am now past my last official reporting period with the Peace Corps. I guess, technically, I'm not really working for them anymore, or at the very least, what I'm doing isn't recorded in any way. It's ironic, particularly since the last couple of weeks have been some of the most productive of my entire service. I organized and ran a week-long test preparation camp for 30 high school students who are gearing up for their BAC exams. It was stressful, but hugely successful and, incredibly, fun. I'm now devising ways to make sure it is replicated in other sites in future years. Then, last weekend I hosted a couple of other volunteers who ran a two-day training on autism for special education teachers and interested parents. It was the first of its kind in the area, and we broke down some real barriers, both between local organizations working in this field, and on the personal level as well. One woman, with twin autistic boys, had been told by multiple doctors that there was no hope for them, they'd never talk, dress themselves, or learn how to use the bathroom. All of this was completely wrong and she was indescribably happy and relieved to hear that they do have a shot, it will just take a lot of focused work on her part. And I think she's up for it. Another woman hadn't taken her autistic, 42-year old sister out of their house for years and years. She was a big hit and loved the activities at the end of the second day.

In between those work times, I went to Fez for an incredible stay with family friends at one of the nicest hotels I've ever seen. And after the training I went spearfishing with local friends.

These last couple of weeks have been hugely satisfying, and I'm really glad that, when I'll be reflecting back on the Peace Corps, all of these will come to mind. It's good to end on a high note-- now I just need to sustain it for the next 10 days...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Still Weird

I'm nearing the end. I think (am absolutely sure) that I have about 40 days left in my site before jetting off, first to the capital, then to Barcelona, then to Istanbul, then to NYC, then to DC. But things are still happening here, and things are still very weird on a daily basis. I haven't been writing as much this school year. It's not because everything is totally normal. It's not that I no longer have occasional, radical emotional explosions. It's because 1. I'm busy. 2. weird is the new normal.

I was just in Rabat for our final close-of-service meetings. We reflected on our time here and talked about preparing for the future, including mundane and soul-crushing things like writing CVs and health care options. While there, some of us had a series of medical exams, in which we had to give up the majority of every variety of bodily fluid we contained. When I went to the testing center to have my blood checked, the doctor was crestfallen that I didn't say 'bismillah' before he plunged a needle into the vein in my arm. Which is the same thing you're expected to say before slitting the throat of a sheep or getting into a bus. This was kind of funny, but that's all. Not particularly notable. The only reason why I'm writing about it is because I feel guilty for not writing anything recently. the new normal. Or a random, 60-year old woman coming to my English class and quoting the Quran at me today. Totally fine. who cares. Or walking 40 minutes in the pouring rain back from class yesterday because I didn't want to pay 1 US dollar for a taxi. Obviously. Or our water turning off for a few hours yesterday and then coming back stained deep brown. Whatever, drank it anyway. Speaking of, at one of the doctor's appointments I learned that I still have some parasites. I'm also the same weight I was when I was 13 years old.

So in the remaining 6 weeks or so, I don't expect to write very much. The biggest reason is the 'new normal' phenomenon. But I also am quite busy. I'm organizing a week-long test preparation camp, a training for people who work with autistic kids, and still teaching my normal load of classes. At the same time, I'm desperately searching out work in Paris for the coming year. Things are hectic. But I'll try to put up pictures at the very least.  This is a strange time, over all. I feel as though I am in some sort of limbo, but at the same time, furiously running in place.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

City Life and Moral Boundaries

I am growing suspicious of anthropological and sociological narratives about communities, particularly ones that are quickly changing and unstable. But at the same time, I can create all sorts of stories about why people in my small city behave the way that they do. One of the stories that is commonly told, and not by me alone, is that the people in this town don't know how to live in a town. They come from villages and are ill-prepared for the social contract necessary for city life. Whether or not this is actually true, I do see many things to which I could point as evidence.

People do not know how to cross the street. They simply go- no looking left or right. No doubt their parents never told them to look both ways because their parents didn't grow up with cars. Same thing goes for no helmets. Parents don't make sure their kids go to school when they leave the house in the morning. And why would they? They never went to school themselves.

There is a radically different set of rules which hold sway inside of different spheres. In family life, people are usually conservative and generous. Outside on the street, however, it is the law of the jungle. Young men behave literally however they want to.

Outside of the home, you are on your own. This means that when K confronts somebody on the street who has harassed her (an all-too-often occurrence), others stand and watch. People like to watch things and not become involved at all.

Right before departing for vacation at the end of February, I saw a young woman and a young man arguing in the street. I was biking back from the youth center when I saw her trying to pull away, telling him that he had no right to hold her captive. He started to smack her in the face. There were other people on the street- a couple of adult men nearby and some young teenagers riding around on bikes. They all stopped to watch, making no movements toward the pair to stop the abuse. I stopped and yelled at the "man", telling him I would call the police. He told me to mind my own business. The boys on the bikes came nearer and followed the couple as they walked away, towards a busier part of town. All I did was make sure they reached a more well-lit area, but there is no reason why the woman was safer in that space. It was terrible and I felt awful for not having done more.

I should have gone to the police.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A sad local story

One of my very best students came on Wednesday for English class. Nobody else showed up, so we did what we sometimes do, which is tackle the Arabic-language version of "The Little Prince"- translating it into English. However, before we got going, she told me that a schoolmate and friend had killed herself the day before. Doing such a thing is unfathomably shameful here, as Islam forbids it. Of course, this being a not-so-big town, the story circulated and I heard different permutations of it from others.

Based entirely on hearsay, the story is as follows: The girl (high schooler, probably about 16) was three months pregnant. Her boyfriend had said, at the beginning of her pregnancy, that he was prepared to marry her. Later, he changed his mind and told her he'd have nothing to do with her and she would be on her own. Sometime shortly after an argument with her mother, the girl committed suicide.

Given the associated shame for the family involved, I don't think there are any statistics kept here about how common this kind of thing is. However, I do know that this person is but one among many teenage girls who end up doing this because of what they see as an inescapable, life-time prison waiting for them. Over the last couple of years, two girls who were forced by their families to marry the men who had raped them have opted to do the same thing.

Women here do not have options, particularly if they are single and have children. The local girl who decided to end her life was probably aware of what was waiting for her. What could somebody have told her? "It'll get better, you don't know what the future will hold, maybe things will improve"? I'm not sure that you could honestly say that.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Things are going pretty well at the Dar Chebab. I teach English a few times a week, to little kids and adults. I do an art class, and I teach a life-skills program four hours a week. I went to a number of schools today to talk to administrators about sending some of their best English students to participate in our annual spelling bee, which is on Saturday. Most of them were helpful.

At one school, I walked right in, asked a random person if there were any English teachers around, and was directed a a guy I'd met last year. He's a good teacher and had helped me before. But he told me I needed to get off the school property quickly, because the administration doesn't allow foreigners inside. 

Although it's strange, I can understand that rule.


in general, the bureaucracy here is awful. Absolutely terrible. Every tiny, meaningless government post seems to be staffed by a blowhard, self-important ass. And, as a basic rule, the higher you go up in the chain of command, the less people do. The boss of my boss, for example, regularly goes on vacation for weeks at a time. Most recently, she took three weeks off to go to a circumcision party for a family member.

My youth center director and I have been petitioning to teach the same life skills course we do in our town at a tiny little mountain village about 30 km away. We want to do it at a boarding house for children from even more remote villages who stay there in order to attend school. We are volunteering our time and have been approved by the local government person and the administration of the boarding house. But it took three months to get a stamp from the 'Qaid'. You may recognize that word as a dubiously acceptable Scrabble entry. It comes from the verb Qad, which is 'to drive'. This guy sits in his office, the only heated office in the whole town, and does nothing. 

The director of the youth center, the director of the boarding house, and myself went to his office last week. We went to talk to him, and right before my eyes, I saw the two directors turn into elementary-school children at the principal's office. They were terrified of him. They whispered to each other about what to say. He spoke down to them. 

I've noticed that empty-headed bureaucrats here always employ some sort of verbal tic, which is used to keep others in their place. One director I know uses 'fahemtni, fahemtni, fahemtni?' constantly. It means, 'did you understand me'. This guy in the tiny village used a sort of 'huhh,' with a slight rise at the end, as if to say, 'right?', 'am I right?' He demanded photocopies of our national cards, my passport, our birthdates, and an exact plan of everything we were going to do. None of this stuff will be read by anybody, but this guy, like so many others, uses the power of his stamp and holds it like a guillotine over everybody else in town. 

Anyway, we were supposed to start on Tuesday evening. We had planned on bringing the passport photocopy and other information with us to the class. But the director of the boarding house called my director and said that the Qaid wouldn't permit us to work until he had the passport stuff. The Qaid also said that his office closes at 3 pm. Absolutely ridiculous. 

But this is standard in small towns. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be in Berkane, where there are so many work opportunities. If somebody is super slow or not a good worker, I can just go someplace else. But whole communities are often stranded due to basic bureaucratic incompetence and malaise. If the guy in charge doesn't want something to happen because it's new, or because he doesn't like it, or because he doesn't want anything that might mean a minuscule increase in his work load, it will not happen.

Hopefully we can start next week.

So you're thinking about joining the Peace Corps

I wrote an article for my friend's blog about what it's like to be in the Peace Corps. You can find it here. 

This is how it starts:

Gao×wri   (noun)Definition of gaowri1: a foreigner, especially a white person 2: a person who appears to be from Europe plural — guu×wur
Have you ever felt out of place? Have you ever felt out of place for 27 months in a row? This is, perhaps, the most salient, ever-present fact of existence for Peace Corps Volunteers. We are foreigners. We are unusual. We are the ones everybody in town vaguely knows about. We are the weirdos. Do you remember that person in high school who would walk around barefoot and rub mud in their hair? That’s us.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A new blog

For any semi-regular readers: some friends (back stateside) and I have recently started a new blog. Here are the first two pieces I wrote for it

Philippe Petit and Man on Wire, a spirited review

Self and Time: Am I Who I Was Who I Will Be?

Friday, January 24, 2014

figuig pictures, and Morocco in the news, and a brief look back

first off, here's some pictures from figuig!-- to see them better, click on one and it will let you scroll through them.

Thankfully, the law that encourages rapists to marry their victims has been amended. While the ruling was a definite victory, it was a small one. You can read why in the following NYT article:


Morocco actually ended up on the front page of the paper (front electronic page, that is) for two days in a row. Today an article appeared about a small Berber village that is protesting a silver mine, which has used up and/or polluted most of their water supplies. The Amazigh (the free people) simply walked up tot the top of the hill and turned off the mine's water pump, where they have continued to stage a protest for the last couple of years. Naturally, the mine is owned by the King of Morocco. You can read the piece here:


In other news, last weekend I went to Rabat. Among other things, I ran a couple of training sessions for fresh-from-the-promised-land peace corps volunteers. One hundred and four Americans arrived maybe two days before I was up in front of a group of them talking about how to start clubs at the youth center. I was the first current Morocco volunteer they'd met, so I got a lot of questions. For the first session, after a couple minutes of failed attempts at getting it started, I just sat down and fielded questions.

They are at the stage where I was about 22 months ago. A number of things have become totally normal to me, but seemed to frighten them. Generally speaking, those things had to do with toilets, showers, and intestinal problems. And some work stuff too.

But what was really incredible is that I basically couldn't put myself back in their place. I couldn't really remember what it was like. I don't know how I was feeling in those first couple of days. So it's a good thing I've been doing this blog.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Change is Good

The Moroccan government is currently considering amending a law. This law essentially states that if a rapist marries the rape victim, then they are no longer a rapist. I'm not sure exactly why this is the case. I gather that there is no law prohibiting rape if the two parties are married. But I don't know whether this rule becomes retroactive. Underage marriage is legal with parental consent. What this means is that many parents (read: probably the fathers), once they realize their daughter have become victim of rape, push for marriage as a way for them to save face.

A number of girls, most recently a 16-year old, have committed suicide following their forced marriage to their rapists. This has drawn media attention and scorn from abroad (Europe, not other Arab countries). So maybe the Justice Department will amend the law.

This is just one example of a legal system that systematically turns its back on the rights and safety of women. I would estimate that the majority of female peace corps volunteers here are physically, sexually harassed at some point during their service. Morocco, along with every other Arab country, is consistently rated as among the worst countries on Earth to be a woman.

All of this is sickening, but what's really crazy is that the current situation is actually a dramatic improvement over years past. I just finished a book by a Moroccan woman who grew up in Fez during World War two. She lived in a harem and much of the story is about her growing understanding, as a child, that she lived in a cage. Women were not allowed to leave the home except on special occasions. One of her prison-mates, who lived with her, had been captured as a slave and sold in Fez in the 1930s. At the time, it was the Moroccan nationalists who were pushing for a more modern role for women. The people who were struggling against the French occupation were, at the same time, encouraging girls to go to school for the first time where they would learn, among other things, French. Very Strange.

Morocco has come far in a short period of time, but it has not come far enough. I wish I were allowed to join the protests in Rabat in front of the Parliament as the new law is considered, but as a pcv, I am forbidden from doing so. As I become more aware of the legal and social injustices in this country, I find myself wishing the peace corps had a role as a political organization. But it doesn't.


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.