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.