Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Baaad Day for Sheep

Last month was L3id Kbid, so I’m posting this article very late and without any pictures. I wrote this the day of, and edited slightly afterwards. Again, for unobvious reasons I delayed its publication. Enjoy.
This week was L3id Kbir, the Islamic holiday that takes place about two months after the end of Ramadan. Here in Morocco, as with most Islamic countries and cultures, the holiday is celebrated by each man of each household (man is qualified any man that has a wife here) sacrificing a goat of sheep in the name of Allah. I was invited to partake in this ceremony by my friend and Arabic tutor, Said.
Waking up before 8 in the morning was strange, to be honest. I hadn’t awoken before 8 in some time as my work has not required me to get up so early. This said, I was blown away as to the beauty of the sun rays piercing Debdou over the eastern cliffs in early November. I walked up one side of the box canyon that is my town, towards the south and perpendicular the sun, at about 8 in the morning. I arrived at his house early enough to a eat breakfast of tea and xoringo (a type of oily, porous pancake), and proceeded to the roof where Said’s father and unmarried brother (unmarried=no goat) were preparing to kill the first goat. This goat had impeccably impressive horns. Whether or not he knew his fate was unclear, but regardless he did not seem to enjoy being manhandled and pinned to the ground. He fought, and bleated, but to no avail. Kudos to him for never giving up, but alas he had no chance of reprisal or pardon. Said’s father held a large knife to the goat’s throat and without pause drew it across the neck, severing the jugular veins and esophagus. The goat, aware now of its present predicament, began thrashing and kicking, but the blood was already pouring out, spurting out in thick columns and saturating the white fur around its neck and the ground surrounding. It tried to moan, it tried to gasp for air. It farted profusely, but all it accomplished was in producing horrid sucking sounds from its flailing esophagus.
Being a brisk November morning, the heat of the escaping blood caused its fluids to immediately begin steaming. I had been expecting the animal to give in quickly, but to my amazement it kept struggling for minutes afterwards. The violent kicking subsided after a while, but its body continued to twitch and spasm for quite some time. The pool of blood grew, and after a while the general heat of the heap dismayed and evaporated.
This was the first animal I had ever seen to be slaughtered. I found no fault with its struggle, and believed that he had fought admirably, although, realistically, who was I to decide on the judgment of God’s creatures? Surely God above had better things to be doing, like protecting other sheep….
The second beast to be slain, a sheep, died much like the first. Its neck was sliced and it bled out quickly. Still kicking and reaching for ground, it inadvertently landed its feet violently on the head of its companion. By the lack of any reaction by the first goat I could finally affirm that the he was dead. Blood escaped the wide and deep gash in the sheep’s neck, covering more of the ground bright red, mixing and pooling with the blood of the first. Some had splashed on my boots, but not having done the killing I can safely say I was not the most affected. Said’s hands and those of his father were drenched in blood, as were their sandals and the cuffs of their pants. They barely seemed to notice.
Said then made a deep cut into one of the sheep’s rear legs with a long incisor. He inserted a deep straw, placed his lips upon the hole and began inflating the corpse with his breath, as to separate the skin from the flesh underneath [I had no idea this was possible]. It blew up like a party balloon, and Said would test its inflation by banging on its stomach. When it had expanded to nearly twice its normal size, Said began skinning it. I helped.
The skinning process was exhausting, from what I could tell by Said’s exasperation. After decapitating it and removing the feet, he cut through the fur to reach the flesh and began peeling back the skin. He cut tough spots with his knife, but mostly he performed this task by soaking his hand in water and knuckling the gap between the carcass and the fat layer on the interior of the hide. It was awkward and took fucking forever. He and his mother had been propping it up, but when they needed another hand I complied. I took hold of one of the sheep’s hind legs with one hand and its tail with the other, pulling the fur taut away from the body. This left me in the fortuitous position to be staring directly into the dead beast’s anus. As Said worked away at the hide, the flesh around the sheep’s rear became relaxed, allowing for its asshole to slowly expand, upon which the cold air penetrated and began emitting thick steam from the dropping pellets nestled calmly inside. It was, in a word, foul.
Having removed about half of the pelt, Said strung and hung the carcass up, securing its hind knees to an overhanging beam with rope. He continued knuckling the skin away while I held onto its warm and bare legs for stabilization. It was not fast. On the contrary, it probably took another twenty minutes or so before Said placed his bare foot on the skin bridges between its front legs and its neck and pressed down to finally free the pelt from its body.
The evisceration was gross. Removing the organs was fine; I had no issues with that. Removing the contents of its intestines, however, was horrible. Every inch of its digestive track was filled with green shit of varying concentrations and consistencies. The guts were rinsed thoroughly in a bucket, and another bucket collected all of what would have eventually become excrement, had the sheep not died on that roof. I watched for what must have been half an hour in silence, transfixed on the woman, bent over a bucket, squeezing green goat shit out of intestines like they were yo-gurt.
My walk home was pleasant; on this grand holiday people are dressed well and everyone is friendly. Said’s house is uphill from mine, so in walking down the main road, I observed the slow accumulation of the goat and sheep blood that had been washed off the roofs and butchering areas of every other household between his and mine. The streets literally ran red with the blood of sacrificial goats and sheep. By the time I reached my house, I had had to cross the river of blood numerous times as it zig-zagged across the road. Not one house in my town is without a dead goat right now, save mine, so visualizing the amount of blood in the streets may be difficult. Just imagine what it would look like if, say, great iron veins lined every street of your town and they all oxidized and began leeching out at once.
Throughout this morning I cannot help but compare this holiday with the seminal Christian holidays in America, specifically Christmas and Easter. While L3id Kbir could be seen as horrific, barbaric, or what have you, it strikes me as much more of a genuine, practical, and non-nonsensical pledge of religious devotion. First of all, everyone’s gotta eat. Many people in America, me included, have never really seen or asked where their food comes from. Given the task of observing, let alone performing an animal slaughter in the name of mere sustenance, Americans may become disgusted or ill. Here, the whole family is involved. Death and sacrifice are a necessary element of eating well for everybody on the planet (excluding vegetarians, who by this point probably won’t still be reading this anyway). A society that embraces this fact may very well be much more adjusted than one where people have no idea whence their meat comes. Second, the religious aspect of it is very true-to-form. It’s a simple procedure; killing a goat in the name of God, so that He may continue to bless your family with health and fortune [As most of you know I’m not religious but I can see how others would find this appealing]. Plus, you get to keep the goat! Win-win! There’s no commercialization of it, there aren’t millions of dollars spent frivolously, nor nerves racked nor emotions and expectations crushed. There are so many ways to fuck up Christmas [at this point I began writing a lot about my issues with Christmas, but I’ll spare you].
What I’m trying to say is, even on one of the grandest holidays of the Muslim calendar, the celebrations are simple and meaningful. I ate with Said’s family for lunch: grilled goat liver (mafuf), goat tajine, and cooked goat head. I wouldn’t recommend the head.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pretend you're reading this in August

This was written at the end of August, but for some reason I neglected to upload it then… woops!
As I write this, I’m sitting in a train station. I was called to PC Morocco HQ in Rabat for training, so I’m taking the train. What I didn’t know was that the train schedule changes during the month of Ramadan. Instead of four Rabat-bound trains passing through this station every day, now there is one and it doesn’t arrive until 6 hours from now. So, I’ve got some time to kill and I may as well make the most out of it; I haven’t updated my blog in quite some time, despite the wealth of free time I’ve had this past month.
It’s Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. From dawn ‘til dusk, every Moroccan may not eat food, drink water, smoke cigarettes, or copulate. Compound that with incredibly long, excruciatingly hot summer days. Due to the discrepancy between the Muslim (lunar) and Gregorian calendars, Ramadan begins 15 days earlier each year. Some years Ramadan occurs in winter, where the days are short and cold, thus minimizing the risk of dehydration. Such is not the case in August. I attempted fasting for some time, but without water in the daylight hours one gets quite loopy, and I basically cannot function without that cup of coffee each morning- my fasting stint didn’t last long. I don’t eat anything in the day as it’s too hot for an appetite to even exist. Friends of mine in town have invited me to break fast at sun-down with them and their families, and breakfast can be quite tasty; dates and olives, egg dishes, and Harira (Moroccan specialty soup).
I sleep until noon or later each day just to pass the hours. It gets quite boring in a small town where all of the cafes, stores, and businesses are closed nearly all day every day. The night life is flourishing, which is a plus.
OH! I got a house. That was nearly two months ago so it’s kinda old news by now but I haven’t really updated with anything substantial in a while. I’m living in the house that the previous volunteer occupied, and I inherited a lot of his stuff; stove, oven, space heater, 5 ponjs (couches), a full spice rack, and a lot of other goodies. He really hooked me up, so I am very grateful for his generosity. The house itself is spacious and well lit. It’s got two bedrooms, a salon, a big entrance area, a large kitchen, an indoor bathroom with separate shower room, and a private roof equal in size to the square footage of all of the aforementioned rooms. It’s too big, almost. I can’t really fill any of the rooms. Not like I’m complaining, though. I’ve got plans for the second bedroom, sort of. At this point I’m leaning towards a hammock and potted plants, although I’m open to suggestions.
I spend much of my time in the salon, as there is a faint Wi-Fi signal from a nearby cyber café that seems through the walls and provides me with free email checking and internet browsing. The signal is weak and it cuts out often, but it’s better than nothing and I get much more than what I pay for, which –again-is nothing. The salon is nice- it’s where 90% of my stuff is. I eat in there and I’ve hung a bunch of maps that my parents sent me to liven up the walls a little. The only problem is the poor ventilation in the salon. There’s a window, but the way the room is shaped prevents good air circulation. It gets hot and stagnant in there easily.
I’ve been travelling a little bit. I went to a small town on the Mediterranean coast for the Fourth of July weekend with some other volunteers in my region and we sat on the beach, drank some beers and ate some pork. It was magical. America would be proud. A couple weeks later I traveled to a small mountain city in the center of the country for a week of ‘Post Pre-Service Training’. The training itself was valuable, but it was much more important seeing all my training friends after a couple months of separation. I also go to stop in Fes on my ways to and from PPST, which was a lot of fun. Fes is a beautiful city with plenty of good street food. Not as many fezzes as I’d been expecting, though.
My reading has slowed considerably. I finished Blood Meridian (a fucking fantastic book, to those of you I haven’t already proselytized) and then read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I’d always heard good things about it and I’d read some of Eggers’ short stories so I was eager to receive it from a friend. It’s a good read, full of funny stories with a solid basis for a story. I felt it kind of petered out at the end, as autobiographical accounts of youth may seldom have strong finales. Eggers’ writing style is unique, characterized by rambling neurotic soliloquies and a constant editorializing of events that, by his admission, probably didn’t happen with any similarity to the ways they’re described. I feel if I were to ever attempt any longhand writing it may read like Eggers’, just not as well. Beyond that I haven’t picked up any other books. I’m going to check out the PC HQ library tomorrow to see if they’ve got a few titles on my list.
Podcasts have been occupying a bit more of my time of late. Most of the podcasts I subscribe to last around an hour, which is about the same amount of time I take to cook each night. My favorites are The Nerdist and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Not only are they funny and interesting, but it’s refreshing to have an earnest slice of Americana each evening or every couple days. It grounds me, and reminds me that there continues to be a world that I left at home.
Work hasn’t begun yet, as the schools are still out for the summer and everyone (myself included) is so unmotivated during Ramadan that any efforts to begin anything would be virtually fruitless. When work does begin, I’ll probably fall into a more structured routine and maybe even update this blog with more frequency than every two months.
It’s wicked hot here. No joke. It hits 100F every day. I know I’ll regret saying this, but I’m anticipating the cold embrace of winter with excitement.
That’s where I ended. Reading through it, it’s certainly not my best work but I don’t have the motivation to edit it at all, so that‘s what you’re getting. Regarding the last line, I’ve come to regret saying that. It’s gotten cold, and every day it’s getting colder. Looking forward to next summer!

Monday, July 11, 2011


I've decided to remove the name of my site and replace it with TOWN in all previous entries. It was just too easy to google search my name, or peace corps with the name of the town and find my blog. Not that I don't want people reading it, but if anyone from the town were to attempt the search with the aforementioned keywords and come across it, they might interpret my statements unfavorably. OK? OK! Actual updates forthcoming.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Yesterday marked the four-week mark of my stay in TOWN. My routine hasn’t altered much since I got here; I still spend a good amount of time sitting in cafes and reading, taking breaks to engage in short conversations with people about the weather, and then more about the weather. My language is still improving thanks to my tutor, with whom I meet about four evenings a week. He’s impressed with the progress I’ve made thus far and he’s confident that after a year or so I’ll be quite functional in conversation of any topic with locals. Most other people in town don’t have the patience to talk with me, which is understandable, and the conversations with them are generally relegated to weather or simple pleasantries. I’m not upset about it but it does make it difficult to practice language outside of the tutoring sessions.
I’m reading a lot. Too much, perhaps, because I’ve almost finished all of the books I brought from home. I read Ernie’s War by Ernie Pyle, a conglomeration of his best dispatches as a WWII correspondent in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and the Pacific. I’ve read a few of his other books but this one definitely feels like a true greatest hits collection. It’s filled with solid, passionate articles throughout and contains a visible arc of his own sentiments of the War as he progressed from Africa to Europe and finally the Pacific. Next up was Catch 22, which I had started in high school but never finished. Countless chapters are funny as hell, and the book contains much of the absurdity you’d find in the writing of a 30 Rock episode. I couldn’t remember why I’d never finished it the first time round, but near the end of the book I was reminded of how slow and depressing it becomes. No matter, still a great read. I’m now halfway through Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, which I read two summers ago and absolutely loved. It’s just as good this time through, and I feel like I’m catching more (or at least I have the patience and time to read more slowly and reread bewildering passages). The story centers on a gang of American renegades and murderers horseback riding around the America-Mexico border in the 1850s, scalping Apaches for profit. Like The Road, it’s horribly violent but McCarthy has an innate way of making it all so beautiful. Also his descriptions of the geology of the American southwest are second to none… purely astounding.
I’ve attained my Carte du Sejour- my Moroccan residence permit- after weeks of meetings that felt more like interrogations and negotiations with the local Gendarmes (rural royal police force). It took abnormally long because apparently I’m the first PC volunteer to be working directly with the education delegation. There’d been no precedent so they had to draw a bunch of new papers and forms together. It’s all done now, so I’m a legal resident of Morocco and I can begin working with my counterpart, the local high school. I’m going to be a regular fixture in the school but I won’t be teaching every day. When the school year starts in September, I’ll probably be teaching English or environmental science upwards of twice a week. I’m not sure of my duties exactly, but I’ve been formulating some basic lesson plans in the aforementioned subjects. The director of the high school is an incredibly nice guy and I’ll be meeting with him a lot after the students’ national collegiate entrance exams finish next month.
It has become very hot here, and it’s still only June. The sun is oppressive and the heat in near unbearable between noon and 4pm. Consequently, this is when most businesses are closed and people return home to eat lunch and nap. Likewise I spend this time indoors, in the house of the host family that will be putting me up until I move into my own apartment. It’s hot at night, and keeping the windows open allows for ventilation but also bugs. To defeat the bugs one can sleep with a blanket (bed sheets? what are those?), but this is just as sweltering as having the windows closed. The end result is that every morning I wake up drenched in sweat and covered in fresh bug bites. I got to stay in a hotel in a nearby city for a regional PC meeting a couple nights ago and my room had A/C. I was thrilled, but simultaneously depressed by the fact that it would be a good long time before I would enjoy that luxury again.
I got food poisoning last week and was miserable for a full 24 hours. I would’ve killed for some Tropicana, and when I asked if my family if there was any juice to drink they brought me a glass of oregano tea. They told me that it’s supposed to cure disease, but I really just wanted some nutrients I could keep down so I passed on the brewed oregano and ate some watermelon instead. I kept it all down and felt better, but this still led to every single member of my family explaining to me how bad watermelon is for your stomach. “It makes you sick!” they’d say, and I would respond with something like “It’s delicious, nutritious, and it’s the only food that won’t make me vomit immediately.” They didn’t believe me and days later I’m still running into townspeople to whom my family relayed the story who are now also telling me how watermelon makes you sick. Ugh.
The largest annoyance I’ve encountered here in TOWN is convincing the locals that I’m not the past volunteer, Brian. Not literally of course; they know I’m not him, but they expect me to be nearly identical to him. Every single person I’ve talked to, without exception, has asked if I’ve talked with him. I haven’t and I tell them this, but they still ask me to say Hi for them. Many people will tell me how they were such good friends with Brian and will compare me to him. I understand that his language comprehension was far beyond that of my own (I would certainly expect so, as their latest memory of him is from when he’d lived here for two years and near perfected the language). He hiked a lot, which I’ve been told I must do to be like him. He also had many little go-to interactions with people, which have been explained to me and are now expected of me to continue. For example, when going through pleasantries, a normal question is, “Is everything good?” Brian’s response to one man was always some permutation of “TOWN is good. The weather is good. Tea is good. Brian is good. Everything is good!” This man told me about this exchange and now, if I don’t respond in the same fashion, his face darkens and he will either scorn me or leave without saying anything else. I’m sure everyone that reads this blog knows that I like to do things my own way, and I don’t like being compared to others. It’s frustrating to have to win cultural affection by playing these silly games and fitting myself into the mold of their memory of Brian. I’m competing with an infallible ghost whose presence in town may or may not grow stronger as time passes. My only hope is to surpass their collective memory and establish myself as a separate entity from Brian. This may take time, and I’m hoping I don’t crack until then. I do need to state, however, that I hold no resentment towards Brian or the people of TOWN. He did a lot of great work and was respected by everyone in town, and I can tell that he is genuinely missed.
I’m moving into Brian’s old apartment in a week or two, as soon as I get my house check approval from PC. After that I’ll furnish it with everything I’ll need that Brian did not leave for me in storage and settle into a nice routine. Post-Pre Service Training is in a few weeks in Azrou, where I’ll get to hang out with all of my friends from training that I haven’t seen in a month. I’m looking forward to playing youker and people who understand my references and words.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How's Morocco, homeslice?

This was a question Brian asked me in an email. Well, it was the entirety of the email but that's besides the point. The point is that my response is a good overview of what life at site has been like. It's free of vulgarity so I figured I'd just publish it here for my family and any other interested parties. Forgive the punctuation; these keyboards really are annoying. There are only a couple jabs at Studwell. See if you can find them!

morocco's kickin. im living in a small mountain town as the only non-moroccan, which has given me quite a bit of perspective of being the minority. my arabic is coming along, but everyone likes to joke that i know nothing, which i understand in arabic, thereby refuting their point. its hard to get that idea across, though. for the most part everyone is really nice and welcoming, especially among younger people. the village elders can be quite distant towards outsiders, it would seem. im going to be working with the high school, which just got out for summer so im basically going to be spending the next three months sitting in cafes and getting to know people while improving my language skills. there isnt much to do here, and most of the adults are unemployed so they spend their time sitting and playing parchesi and rummy. ive been reading a lot, which i can see is one of the only things to do to pass the time in a small town where you dont speak the language well. im praising my ability to be patient, as it has eased my transition here and will continue to be a vital asset as i spend the next two years. a more fidgety person might go stir-crazy in just a few hours. i keep thinking about how much you would hate it here; nothing to do, no-one to talk to, nothing to drink and a very limited menu. the scenery is beautiful, as i mentioned in one of my blog posts, and i hope to upload some pictures soon. im planning an extensive exploratory hiking trip of the surrounding ridgeline mountains in the next week or so, it really just depends on weather.
this cyber cafe business is driving me nuts, what with the terrible french and arabic script formatted keyboard, the slow and public access, and the infrequency with which i can read the news or check email. im going to buy a usb-modem, as most people in this country with personal computers are wont to do, but im afraid ill just spend all day online and not talking with people and learning, which, as far as i can tell right now, are my only real duties.
i was elected to the volunteer advisory council by my peers as the representative for our "staj"- our class of spring 2011 environment volunteers. its like a student council, and i was happy to be elected for reasons other than but also including 4 paid trips to rabat each year. adam eldahan is the rep from the 2010 health staj, so ill be seeing him regularly until he finishes his service next year. small world, right?
im trying to obtain my work papers- or that is i have been trying since i first got to my site a week and a half ago- but the bureaucracy here gives new meaning to the phrase 'ludicrously inefficient'. i have until tomorrow to get the receipt of my papers to peace corps. wish me luck!
the spanish enclave city of melilla (sp?) is quite close to my site. i will be using it as a much needed getaway from time to time. if youre ever touring europe in the next two years....
i hear youre becoming a fireman? i neednt point out the obvious and documented trend of pyromaniacs in firefighting brigades to you, do i?

Yes, Brian is becoming a fireman. But you should ask him about that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sworn in!

We swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers today. I'm heading to my site tomorrow. CBT is over and I'm looking forward to my two years in TOWN. Saying goodbye to my host family was hard, but I've promised them I'll visit. That's about it. Wooo!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Site Visit

I’ll kick off this post by acknowledging the recent bombing of a café in Marrakech. I’m fine, obviously, as are all other Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco. I won’t delve into my sentiments of, or reactions to, the events surrounding but I will say my sympathies go out to the families of all those affected.

Three weeks ago, the Peace Corps sent us on our site visit. I got to see the town where I’ll be spending two years (beginning in two weeks) and meet the PCV, Brian, who was wrapping up his service there. Brian showed me around town and introduced me to a lot of his friends and counterparts. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, likely due to the precedent Brian had set by his many accomplishments, friendly attitude, and dedicated integration into the community. It was great having a knowledgeable guide and an appreciated forerunner, but also very intimidating considering the standard of excellence Brian has portrayed. I will do the best I can, but it may be hard to distinguish myself from Brian- both in terms of personal ideology and integrative potential- to the community that may expect quite a bit from Peace Corps Volunteers. Who knows! It’s going to be interesting regardless, and I guess given the other two options (disappointing precedent or no precedent), I certainly don’t think I’m in the worst position.

About the town itself: the name of the town is TOWN. The population is around 5,000 but there’s no official number and asking around will give you a wide range of guesses (depending on what’s being considered the town limits and which neighboring villages are being included). The town sits in a box canyon, surrounded on all sides by short mountains. Beyond the mountains is a vast plateau that extends far to the south and rocky plains to the north. The entire town is on an incline and people are always walking around outside; with the exception of ski resorts, overpriced stores, and yuppies, the appearance of the town is not entirely unlike Park City, Utah. The roads are paved, all buildings have electricity, there are multiple cyber cafes, and the tap water is the best I’ve drank since leaving the states. I think I’m going to fit in just fine in TOWN.

TOWN is in the province of Taourirt in northeast Morocco, around 100 km from the Algerian border. It’s close to the Mediterranean Sea, also. The climate in the surrounding plains is near-desert, but the kind of desert you’d see in New Mexico or a spaghetti western. Sergio Leone could have shot The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly here and the only difference would be all of the extras would have spoken Darija instead of Italian. In the valley of the canyon it’s lush with vegetation, and there are many olive and date groves to be found. I understand that it gets very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter (although I think the Moroccan standard of cold is around 50’F). TOWN is a souk town, which means that once a week local farmers and merchants flood the streets with their goods and people come from miles around to buy a week’s worth of fresh food and household products. This is great for two reasons. First, I get to explore the market every week and meet new people. Second, I don’t have to travel to a different souk town to buy my fruits and vegetables every week. I guess this could be a downside if I was looking for an excuse to get out of town, but I’m glad to have that scenario as an option rather than a necessity.

The geographical location of TOWN is great, in my eyes. It’s isolated, for sure, which will mean long stretches of not seeing Peace Corps staff, volunteers, or other Americans. I’m happy about this, as I think I’ve equilibrated isolation with ‘genuine experience’. I’ve met a few solid PCVs in nearby areas that if I ever need a slice of Americana it won’t be hard to arrange. TOWN is a 30 minute cab ride from a small city that lies on the main Rabat-Oujda train line. Thus, travel to and from northern Morocco’s big cities- Rabat, Fes, Meknes, Taza- along this train line will be uncomplicated and reliable (hopefully). Two hours north of TOWN is Melilla, a Spanish enclave city on the Mediterranean and a perfect place for European getaways if and when they are needed.

OK, enough about TOWN; I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say and show (sorry, no pictures this round) when I head there in a couple weeks.

Community-based-training has been going well. The language is coming along well, and I understand a whole lot more of the casual dialogue between my host family members than I used to. Our 5 person group designed and implemented an environmental education lesson in the local elementary school. It was basic education about trash and proper waste disposal, but we included a bunch of fun activities and taught it completely in Darija. The kids enjoyed it and I felt we did a good job using the language we’ve learned to communicate some stuff we know.

My 24th birthday passed without much of a bang. I concluded that, of all my birthdays, it was the least unlike all of the days surrounding it. Well, we did watch a movie that made me nostalgic for many things America [fuck yeah!]

This is not to say that all my past birthdays have been extravaganzas or that this one was especially disappointing, but it was certainly boring and a probably a good indication of what most birthdays as an adult will feel like. Thanks to everyone who sent e-cards or facebook posts, although the intermittent void of internet access has introduced a comical new interpretation of receiving belated birthday greetings.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Just a few things about Darija: it’s a slang of Arabic that’s spoken only in Morocco. Other Arabic speakers can barely understand it, if at all. Algerians can, but the further east you head in Arabia, fewer and fewer words will be understood. It’s a very informal version of FusHa (tradition written Arabic), and there’s even wide variation in vocabulary and pronunciation within Morocco.

Darija has no written form. All street signs are in French and FusHa, but many Moroccans are illiterate. We’ve been learning it by using a standardized western approximation of Arabic sounds. Many Arabic letters have English equivalents, like b, k , l, and s (among many others). There are some English letters for which there is no equivalent sound in Arabic, like j, p, and v. The tricky part is to understand the Arabic sounds for which there are no English equivalents. I won’t go into too much detail, as they are challenging to pronounce, let alone transcribe. Just think of anytime you’ve heard someone speaking in Arabic and all those crazy sounds you thought were impossible to make with your mouth. Those are the sounds we’re learning. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I think a few sounds in Hebrew are similar to Arabic so y’all should go crash your nearest Bar Mitzvah.

I’m pronouncing the language well and my comprehension of grammar and vocabulary is encouraging for only 4 weeks of study, but sometime I come across a word that baffles me. There are some words that have little to no vowels in them, and others that sound nearly identical but mean very different things (I guess that can be said of all languages- I recall instances in Intro Spanish class in which students were asking each other how many anuses they had.)

It’s certainly not an easy language, and its applications do not reach far outside Morocco, but I’m ecstatic to be learning it and I can’t wait to be fluent. I’ve been studying nonstop: in class, at home, and with fellow trainees. We're all making good progress, but suffice to say I'm very satisfied with my progress.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Salam walekum (peace be upon you)! I write this second entry to my Peace Corps Morocco blog this from the comfortable confines of my windowless bedroom of the home of my host family in the small (and, as per Peace Corps regulations, unnamed) town in the Moroccan countryside outside of Ouazazate. It’s a beautiful village of ~8,000 very pleasant and curious Moroccans, with snow-peaked mountains with the north and west and rolling grassless hills to the south and east. Despite the proximity to the mountains and very low humidity, it is hot here and growing ever warmer: a dry heat permeates every day that makes it hard to stand in the sunlight for more than a few minutes, which is easily avoidable due to the 25’F degree drop in the shade abounding in every alley and awning. There is electricity and running (drinkable!) water here, as well as good cell coverage. However, the walls of the houses are so thick that receiving or making cell phone calls indoors is nearly impossible. The upside is that the houses are incredibly insulated, and the indoors are substantially cooler than the dry heat outside.

My town. You can't see the mountains in the background, but they're there. I swear!

My experience with my host family has been fantastic so far. It’s a large family, as I said before, with varied personalities and understanding of verbal and nonverbal language. Other than pointing at things and asking what they are, I’ve been relying heavily on my charades skills to communicate more abstract thoughts and topics. My comprehension of Darija is growing incredibly fast- faster than I would have expected- due in part to my apparent affinity for language and an incredibly helpful and patient family. I also spend a lot of time playing with the younger children. Mustafa is my favorite; he’s 3 years old and is quite fearless. He’s an avid climber of seated persons, including myself.


The food in Morocco is fantastic; I’ve been eating well and have thoroughly enjoyed every meal I’ve had. Tajine is a popular dish, as is cous cous or rice with boiled chicken or beef. We’re had some more western dishes like fried fish or spaghetti, although they have their own distinctly Moroccan attributes (the spaghetti sauce wasn’t what I’m used to- why were there pickles?!?). They also drink a lot of tea here, but Moroccans prefer it incredibly sweet. Like, 30% sugar. I’m reminded of when I would go to Chinese food restaurants as a kid and in lieu of soda my family would insist on ordering tea, but because of my stubborn nature and fondness of sweet drinks I would attempt to make ends meet by supersaturating the stuff with all the sugar packets available and sometimes even the sugar substitutes as well.

As part of our community integration, we are urged by the Peace Corps to cook a meal or two for our host families. I chose chicken parmesan (as it’s the only dish I know how to cook well back in the states- Doug, Dave and Demakos can attest). The preparation was much more labor intensive than I’ve ever experienced- I deboned two whole chickens (no packaged cutlets to speak of), cooked the sauce from scratch using tomatoes, peppers, an onion, garlic, and oregano (no Newman’s Own, either), and made my own bread crumbs by, well, crumbling bread. The meal turned out delicious, and was consumed wholly by myself and the 18 other members of the household (I’d also never cooked for such a large crowd). The food was tasty and sufficient despite the fact that I had made chicken Parmesan with neither parmesan nor mozzarella (cheese is NOT big here). My host brother Abderrahim helped a lot with the preparation, aided by my own broken Darija and miming.

Chick Parm. Baller.

Every day I’m feeling more and more comfortable here. It used to be the only time I would desire to return home was when I woke in the morning (probably because I would sleep until noon if I could), but even now that’s passed. Life isn’t exactly easy, and there are some aspects with which I’m still uncomfortable; namely the absence of internet and the mandatory use of Turkish toilets. I’m growing accustomed to the changes as the days go by. One major drive keeping me focused is the desire to dominate this language as quickly as possible. At the end of the first two months, before we head to our permanent service sites, Peace Corps Volunteers are given a language proficiency examination. The expectation is that all volunteers will garner a rank of novice high by that time. I want to score an intermediate medium status at least- or an intermediate high if I’m lucky. I think I can do it.

I haven’t had a beer in over two weeks, which is easily the longest I’ve gone since I turned 21. My thoughts are clearer than usual and my energy is high. Who’d a-thunk it? My health is good, with the exception of a minor 3-day cold I had earlier this week (I think it lasted longer than usual because I couldn’t drown myself in Tropicana OJ like back home). No serious GI problems yet, but I fully anticipate that there will be- only a matter of time, really.

That’s it for now. I hope everyone is doing well. Send me some emails or facebook messages if anything interesting is going on; I can respond to each one within a week, at the longest.


Sunday, March 20, 2011


Salam walekum! Thank you for your interest in my travels in the Kingdom of Morocco. As the first post to this blog, I’ll try to recap everything I’ve gone through very briefly. I’ve been in country for approximately 5 days, with two days of Peace Corps orientation in Philadelphia and travel to Morocco. Orientation was a bit awkward, as expected, but everyone has been pleasant and our group of 60 invitees has been getting along quite well (it would appear the Peace Corps attracts a certain type of personality that is not terribly unlike myself).

Travel to Morocco was stressful and tedious, as travel generally is. We arrived in Casablanca on Wednesday morning and immediately took buses to a hotel complex on the outskirts of Marrakech. Peace Corps familiarized us with various aspects of Peace Corps work and policies, and of life as a Westerner in Morocco. We only made it into Marrakech for a short trip to the sukh, a large central market full of shops, performers, and peddlers. We were obviously foreigners, walking with our eyes frantically scanning the sights of the market and our mouths agape. For this reason we were called to enter all shops and try every kind of food and product. It wasn’t harassment, instead it was actually rather fun. The market workers would try to guess our nationalities, and when I said ‘American’, they returned with “Tiki tiki Slim Shady”, and “That’s what I’m talkin’ bout!”

After Marrakech we came to Ouarzazate. The drive through the mountains was beautiful; the only thing I can approximate is if you were to mix the Rocky mountains with Tatooine (Lucas shot the Tatooine scenes in Tunisia, so not that far off really). The roads were narrow with plenty of traffic in both directions. Our buses were tearing ass up these mountain roads, aided by a police escort clearing the way ahead.

Ouarzazate is a rather affluent city, with millions of dollars being pumped into the economy by the shooting of Hollywood blockbusters nearby. Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and the Mummy series have all had scenes shot in or around Ouarzazate, and the Hollywood aid is visible in the quality of the infrastructure and general cleanliness of the city. The residents are pleasant- I played soccer in the main square outside out hotel for a couple hours last night with a bunch of local kids until the cops told us to stop. This was well after, and thus hopefully unrelated to, I had a couple close calls including a small child and a baby carriage (they were fine).

I finally learned the specifications of my in-country training today (Peace Corps likes to play these kinds of things close to the chest). I’ve known that I’ll be in the Environmental sector since day one, but beyond that I had no idea where I’d be doing my homestay/community based training (CBT), what dialect of Arabic/Berber I would be learning and using during my service, and what my actual project and site assignments would be. Well, now I know where I’ll be doing my homestay and with which other 4 trainees (we’re not technically volunteers yet- we take the service oath at the end of our CBT) I’ll be learning with. The CBT will be held in a small town near Ouarzazate where we’ll be learning Dirija, which is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. There are several dialects of Berber (tribal languages) which could have also been my assignment, but I’m pumped to have been selected to learn Dirija. The way I see it is that the chances of me ever running into someone who speaks Dirija outside of Morocco may be slim, but running into someone who speaks a Berber dialect would be even slimmer (the Berbers are mountain folk- they don’t have much of an international community). PLUS, learning a branch of Arabic will make it easier to understand Arabic in general and will look pretty killer on a resume. The hipster in me was attracted to the exclusivity of Berber, but the pragmatist in me is ecstatic to learn Arabic. Our first lesson with our Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) was this morning, and our group of five covered more practical phrases and pronunciation in two hours than an entire month of an introductory language course in high school or college.

My host family, who I’ll be meeting tomorrow, has 18 members living under one roof. Most other trainees have 4-6 (although one trainee has 22). This is a bit intimidating, but I’m seeing it as a great positive; I’ll always have someone to talk to and learn from, and the way I see it my presence in their household will only represent 1/19th of their entire goings-on. A family of 4, for example, will probably be entirely enthralled with their guest at all times- I feel like I may be a less central part of the dynamic in my huge host family.

That’s about it, for now. The wi-fi in this hotel is crap (and is only slower with 60 volunteers trying to grab a slice of the signal), so I don’t expect I’ll be able to upload any photos or videos at this point. My CBT will last for two months, at which point I’ll swear in as a volunteer and go to my service placement site. Between then and now y’all should expect at least a few more updates, hopefully with some accompanying pictures.

OH! I had a couple trainees cut my hair today. It’d been since September 2009 since I’d had it cut, so it was probably the longest it’d ever been. I’d grown tired of maintaining it and wanted to cut it for a while, so now it is and I can stop worrying about it! It’s not super short but definitely manageable. Think ‘Wesleyan graduation 2009’ length. Sorry, Demakos.

Goodnight, everybody! I love and miss you all.