Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Hi family, friends and assorted blogstalkers! Hard to believe it's been since August that I updated this thing. Part of it is that I've been really busy and haven't had the time for a proper update, and part of it is that I have not been busy with work, which is what I assume you all want to hear about. In fact, I have been busy with anything but.

Seeing as it is Christmas Eve, happy holidays everyone! Truthfully I would have forgotten it if other volunteers hadn't reminded me. My cues are usually that obnoxious music on the radio, scary people on the road and scary people at the mall. This year I have to suffer none of those things. Instead, I celebrated the Eid Kabeer with my host family. It is the biggest holiday in the Muslim world and commemorates Ibrahim's sacrafice of his son Isaac. As you might guess, each family slaughters a sheep. (NB - I had no part in this and refused to watch.) 40 people in my extended family hiked outside the village to a small oasis with our sheep, vegetables, and flour and we spent the entire day baking bread and cooking duez under the palm trees.

Some volunteers will be getting together for Christmas this year, but I'll be home in my site. A year ago I would have thought Christmas alone would be a depressing affair, but I'm looking forward to the quiet and solitude. My friend, a volunteer, came over and we decorated my house for Christmas with some ribbon and origami decorations we made. I'm having guests over tomorrow night. I decided that since my host family shared their holiday with me, I'll share mine. My original plan was to cook up a traditional dinner, but since my host family doesn't really like food they aren't used to, we're just going with couscous instead, with apple pie for dessert.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was a huge affair. A group of us gathered at a volunteer's house near Ouarzazate (about 4 hours away from me) and cooked up a storm. We had two turkeys, two chickens, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread, cranberry sauce, lemon meringue pie, pumpkin pie, brownies, banana bread, cookies... all made from scratch by PCVs. Our set up was pretty sweet, too:

In the last few months I've been lucky enough to have five friends come to visit and do some travelling around with them. I've made it up north to the ruins at Volubulis, west to Marrakesh and Essaouira several times, and Rabat and Azrou for work.

In sadder news, my cat Frieda died from drowning in the well. I adoped another kitten in Azrou during training and smuggled it into the hotel, where it proceeded to poop all over the room. Unfortunately that one was very sick and died before I could get to a vet. So now I have adopted another from a volunteer. His name is Salvador. This is him perched on top of my friend Kathy:

Beyond all that, I've been spending my days slowly learning Tashelheet, spending time with my host family, and planning for future projects. The biggest one on the plate is still the Women's Association, for which we have a big meeting coming up Sunday. Wish us luck!
Thanks also to friends and family who are writing and sending packages. Even if it's just an email, it means a lot to me. As I immerse myself fully in my world here, I need to stay connected to family and friends back home. Love to you all.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Slices of Life...

I'd love to update on some great project or meaningful development work I'm doing here, but frankly, it won't happen for a while. This is the norm for volunteers at this stage - we are still trying to learn our local language and get familiar with our communities and needs before we start anything big. It looks like what my village needs and wants the most is a women's association, with a building and a craft/education center, which I am REALLY excited about spearheading! It will be a long and slow process, though, as we organize the women into a cooperative, contract teachers, apply for funding, hire construction workers, etc. So, friends and family back home, be patient with me - I'll keep you updated as things progress!

So instead of a work update, I'll just share a few pieces of my daily life here.

I have moved into my own home now, but it is attached to my host family's house, so my biggest challenge these days is redefining my boundaries with them. I love them, but really value my independence and privacy. I tried to communicate this, but interestingly, there is no word in Tashelheet that means "independence" or "privacy"! The conversation went something like this:

Me: Auntie, thank you for always making me food, but I want to cook for myself.
Auntie: Why? You don't like our bread?
Me: No, the bread is yummy, and I love the family! I just need to be... (tries to find the word "independent")...
Auntie: In the kitchen! Ah, yes, it is good for a woman to be in the kitchen.

Not exactly the message I was going for, but at least I'm cooking on my own now.

Up until recently, I have been really dependent on them for getting anything done - going to the shop, buying eggs from the neighbor, etc. Now that I want to do those things on my own, I've gotten a little resistance and have really had to put my foot down. I feel like a rebellious teenager!

Conversation that occurred when I tried to go to the shop by myself:

Me: I am going to the store to buy flour.
Auntie: No, just use ours! We have flour!
Me: Thank you, but I need to buy some for me.
Auntie: (Reluctantly) Ok... we will go to the store tomorrow.
Me: No, I will go now.
Auntie: Now!! Alone!?
Me: Yes, alone.
Auntie: No!
Me: Why?
Auntie: It is.... difficult.
Me: I am going now.
Auntie: (Angry) FINE! Go. You want to go alone, go. Fine. Ok. GO.

At this point I started wondering if there was something I didn't know about going to the store alone, if I was making a terrible mistake, but it was too late to turn back. I set off across the river bed, and got about halfway when I heard Auntie frantically yelling "MALIKA!" and running after me. Oh no, I was thinking, what now? Is she going to forcibly restrain me? Is she going to guilt-trip me? And panting, out of breath, she said, "Malika. Please ask if the shop has chocolate. Your sister wants to bake cookies." And that was that.

Having a sense of humour keeps you sane around here!

Sunday, August 10, 2008


What you are looking at in the picture below, if you look closely for the little black dots, is a plague of locusts. Like, the Bible plague kind. ON MY BED. I haven't been sleeping terribly soundly, needless to say! They come in droves... at first all you here is a pitter patter, like rain in the distance, then suddenly the whole house is swarming with maggots.

In other news, it's pretty damn hot during the day. Below is another photo I took of my thermometer. It stays about this temperature for most of the daylight hours, but I'm not sure if that's because it just can't read any higher...

Even the locals are saying it's way too hot now. Almost every conversation I have consists of, How are you, how is your family, how is your health, no problems? No problems. You are well? I am well, thanks be to Allah. The sun is very hot toay. Yes, very hot. That is because it is Month Eight. Yes. Month Eight is hot. VERY hot. Yes, VERY hot. You think it is hot now. It will become hotter. That will be very hot. Yes, very hot. So you are well? Yes, I am well... etc.
Such is life these days...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What is THIS thing?

I found it in my kitchen. It's about 7 inches long. Do they bite? Is it poisonous? Is it a centipede? Do centipedes even GET that big?

I also found no less than 3 scorpions.

Gotta love Zagora wildlife.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kitty-Monsters and Rising Temperatures

So I adopted a cute, quiet little kitten from a farm. She had big green eyes and was malnourished and so affectionate, I HAD to take her home. Now she is quite comfortable in my home, has fattened up a bit, and is a little monster! She meows CONSTANTLY. Not just for affection, not just for food, but just to hear herself sing. She doesn't let me sleep. Her favorite games include: Scratch Paws Against Metal Door To Make Horrible Scraping Sound, Bite Mommy's Toes, and Chew Mommy's Hair.

Anyone have any cat-training suggestions for punishment? I've already tried splashing her with water, but she LIKES that.

Kitty issues aside, life goes on in my village. It's coming up on August now, which we call the Hot Month. This makes me a little nervous, because it's already 120 degrees and I sweat when I sleep at night... how much hotter can it get? We will find out...

I've managed to travel a bit lately. First to Marrakesh for a weekend with some friends from the states. I like Marrakesh, but it's a hassle for tourists. Essaouaira was much more laid-back. It's a beautiful little coastal town established by the Spanish with Mediterranean-looking architecture and a thriving artisan culture. Kind of a hippy paradise. It was nice to see some water, too!

Tomorrow I will be moving out of my homestay and into a house of my own. My host family has been really wonderful and I'm looking forward to visiting them often, but I am dying to have my own kitchen again!

Thanks to everyone who has been keeping in touch... it means a lot to get a little "hi, how are you?" in an email when I come in to the city.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Birth Celebration

It's usually the celebrations and sacred events that I wish I could photograph or video to share with you all back home because I want you to experience the feast of colors and sounds that make Morocco beautiful, but these are also the occasions when it is absolutely inappropriate to take pictures. So I'll try to give you a verbal description of the birth celebration I attended yesterday.

Imagine: outside it is windy. The color of the mud houses is washed out against a dusty sky. You step through the doorway and inside the dirt courtyard are laid out the best rugs in every color and pattern imaginable - flowers, geometric squares, lines, leaves, triangles. Laughing and talking on them are seated over 30 women in their best clothes, looking like a pile of bustling jewels in a secret cave. Fushia, emerald, black, saffron, ruby, lavender jellabahs. Silver belts, gold rings, sequined scarves. Coin earrings peek out from under fringed red and yellow head scarves. Turquise eyeliner pops out around peircing sea-green eyes. White smiles shine. With no men here, the women are freely talking, yelling, teasing one another.

I have already been doused in ginseng scent, and another woman comes around with a cheap cologne and sprays it about half an inch from me 5 times, and proceeds to do the same to every woman there. The smell is heady and sharp. Next comes the incense burning in a small urn. We lift our skirts to allow the ashy exotic smoke to fill our clothing. Next we take a pinch of a yellow powder and rub it on our necks and chest, reminding me faintly of spices and potpourri.

Then the music starts. It is both spontaneous and rehearsed. Five women take out drums and start five rythms, but eventually I can hear more than that. Everyone around claps different rhythms to create a more complex whole. The chanting begins. The songs are already known, but it is a new experience every time - never the same women, never the same number of drums, but somehow everyone knows innately how to play her part, as though the music is part of a deeper group consciousness. One of the younger women in a sky blue jellabah and a wide smile takes a red scarf and ties it around her hips and begins to move to the music. Several other girls join her bellydancing. This would never happen except in the presence of other women, as the tantalizing way the women are able to shake their hips would be "hshuma" to show a man. Their hips move seemingly of their own accord, dictated by the sound of the drums alone.

Several women set to the business of making tea for every person there. I am handed a tiny glass of the incredibly sweet sugar-mint-Chinese green tea concoction. Another hands out handfuls of peanuts, small crackers, and a cookie. Meanwhile, children, who had been away from the watchful eye of their mothers, and are rolling in the dirt in an attempt to dirty their finest clothes, come running back to the promise of a sugar high.

The women around me are thoroughly entertained by my botched attempts at speaking Tashlheet and are now offering me a husband in Tafetchna. One woman says she'll make the tea for my wedding. I explain that I don't want to get married, and when I hear the inevitable "why not?", and I have no adequate answer, I start to pretend I don't understand what they are asking. Eventually they get bored of this game and set about conspiring to untie the belt of another seated woman's jellabah. She catches on to this plan and without turning around yells "I know what you're doing!", eliciting a chorus of cackling from the conspirators.

Then the food comes. Women walk in carrying low tables on which are two large round bread loaves and a bowl of douaz - a traditional dish of meat and vegetables steamed with oil in a pressure cooker until so tender they fall apart. Everyone scoops up the douaz with bread. I content myself with nibbling on plain bread since I don't eat the meat. My host aunt explains this to a round of "the poor thing!" and I have extra bread pushed my way. Every drop of the douaz is devoured, and women and children pick up the tables and carry them off.

As soon as the food is gone, the women get up to leave. No extra attention or gifts to the mother or newborn is expected, but my aunt and I go to see the week-old baby. The mother holds up the baby and asks if I'd like to hold little Mohammed. I take him gingerly and he sleepily opens his big, black eyes, moves his tiny fingers a little, and looks around in a newborn daze, without making a sound. He is healthy and beautiful and the mother is well - no small thing in this village with no doctor, hospital or pre-natal care, and certainly cause for celebration.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Would you like some tea with your sugar?

Life Update...

I am still in homestay, and while I have a great family, I am definitely itching for my own space. Particularly so I can cook for myself. I do enjoy some Moroccan food (I will never tire of couscous, ever!!!) but I am definitely not used to the sheer quantity of oil and sugar that goes into EVERYTHING. Example: this morning I had breakfast at a cafe. I ordered oranges with cinnamon, yogurt, and a coffee. Sounds healthy, right? The coffee came with excess sugar, the yogurt came with honey and sugar, and the oranges came covered with sugar and grenadine. For lunch I had a salad, which consisted of lettuce leaves covered with... you guessed it... sugar. Afterwards the waiter gave us complimentary tea. With lots of sugar. It's been at least an hour since my last sugar intake and I think I may be in withdrawal.

At the moment I am in my capital city. I came in three days ago to take care of some paperwork, but the office I need to go to has been closed since I got here so I'm basically waiting for it to open again tomorrow (inshallah!). Meanwhile I'm enjoying having internet access and fresh fruit and veggies. :-)

As far as site work goes, it has been a slow process starting. I know that the water in my village is untreated, but why this is, no one seems to know. There is running tap water, but no one knows exactly where it comes from. I have been doing local research and have been told endlessly contradicting things: there are two water chateaus, one works; there are three water chateaus, none work; the nurse treats the village water; a man named Hamu treats the water; Hamu does not exist; people do not drink well water; people only drink well water; people treat their own water; no one treats any water. I have no idea as yet what is actually going on, so this is my current project: figure this stuff out!

Thanks to everyone who has sent me cards and letters - the contact with home is always a lovely surprise at the post office.

Ar Min Baad (Until next time)...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Pictures of my home!

My Kittens...
My house from the courtyard, with the fig tree...
My room from the inside. The mosaic on the wall was made by the previous volunteer.
The mountains here are unbelievable.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why not? Anything is possible!

It's official - I'm a volunteer. Our stage swore in on the 19th and took the oath of service. This all happened at probably the swankiest hotel in the region - a 5 star resort built exclusively to cater to movie stars coming through town to film in Ouarzazate. We spent the afternoon lounging by a beautiful pool surrounded by cushions and palms. It was a weird contrast to what we were about to go into.

I am settling into my site pretty well, visiting people in the village, learning how transportation works, registering with all the correct officials, setting up a PO box (in a language I do not speak), and all sorts of other daily challenges. I'm glad right now it's the hot months and I'm not allowed to leave my site because I have a long road of settling in and integrating ahead of me. My host family has been wonderful, though, cooking me vegetarian food, serving me tea WITHOUT sugar (a rather unusual request around here!), and helping me learn Tamazight.

Right now I am updating from my souq (market) town. It's about two hours from my village and in order to get here I have to leave at 5:30 am. This is my nearest internet cafe, grocery store, pay phone, etc., and I should be here one every week or two weeks.

In other news, we hosted a volunteer talent show at the end of stage, which was a really good time. Someone had suggested that I fire spin, which I declined because 1) I am nervous in front of crowds and 2) did not have my fire poi with me in Morocco. At a friend's insistence, I agreed to do it if he could find me the materials to build fire poi, giving him a ridiculous, impossible list of hardware to source - in Morocco - not knowing any of the local words. I should have known better. Peace Corps Volunteers are notorious for ingenuity and resourcefulness. A few hours later I had some rotating keychains, lengths of chain, paraffin and 4 meters of wick! It turned out pretty well actually until flaming bits of it started flying off, though no one seemed too terribly concerned about this. I am 100 percent certain that if I tried that at a hotel in the US I would have been escorted out!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Site

I've been given my final site assignment. I will be in the Zagora region of southeast Morocco - not terribly far from the Algerian border. I think it is officially part of the Sahara. It is definitely desert there, at any rate! Most people in my stage were really glad not to be assigned there, but I'm really excited. The desert has a really distinct beauty that I've always been really drawn to.

As for my village... it's fairly isolated. It will take me two hours (on a good day) to get to my nearest town with internet and a grocery store. (Read: updates will be sporadic!) Because it's so isolated, a lot of the community has intermarried, causing a good deal of health problems from generations of people marrying first cousins. I don't know yet whether or not this will be something I can address as a health volunteer, though.

My work in the site is probably going to start with the water supply. I was really sick when I visited there for the first time. I didn't figure out why until I realized that my family was drinking water from an open-air cistern with contaminants openly floating in it. Protecting and treating water sources is definitely priority Numero Uno.

The rest of my work there will be rather unstructured. I officially work in the local clinic, but there is no doctor and only one nurse who works there, and he is rarely in the clinic at all. When I first met him he told me how much he hates my village and doesn't want to be there. Which, I gather, is a sentiment held by most government employees sent to the region.

The challenges don't stop there, but that will be subject matter for later posts. There are some perks. My host family there are really, really nice people. They have hosted a volunteer before, so they know about Americans and our weird ways and are really sensitive to my vegetarianism. I have an oasis just outside my site with really deep water and you can jump off the rocks into it. Nearby is a naturally sparkling spring. (side note: I was not aware that this actually happened - bubbly water from the GROUND?! Who knew??)

So, overall, it is going to be a difficult two years and lots of hard work. But as I keep telling people, I didn't come here to join the Vacation Corps - I knew it would be challenging and I knew what I was getting myself into. I would have been disappointed with anything less.

In other news, I passed my language exam and in only a matter of days will be swearing in to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Wow, three months went by quickly!

Until next time,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How to milk a difficult cow, and other life lessons

A lot has happened since the last update so I'll try to catch up...

We just got back from our third CBT (Community-Based Training). It has its ups and downs. One the one hand, 8 hours of language classes a day is really draining. Living with a host family is its own stress - I can only bathe once a week, I don't understand anything they say to me, and even when I do understand them its usually really personal questions I don't want to anwser! On the other hand, my village is quite possibly the most beautiful place on earth. The Festival of the Roses is approaching and the roses are in full bloom all over the valley, in the fields and on the cliff overlooking the river. I haven't had a chance to take my camera out to the fields yet, but I will get some photos next time, inshallah.

The photos below are of my village from a rooftop (sorry about the poor quality, better ones to come!), my bedroom at my host family's house, and my CBT group of trainees cooking lunch.

The women in my host family have slowly been letting me help them out with their daily work. I went to the fields and picked roses to sell, collected figs for dinner, learned how to make couscous from scratch, and carried the huge bag of feed from the fields strapped to my back as the Berber women do. I also helped wrestle a cow. Yeah, you heard me. Apparently cows really don't like to be milked the first time! The process is as follows: tie cow's head to ground, hold by horns. Meanwhile, two women tie a rope around one of the cow's hind legs and hold it tight. A fourth woman holds the baby calf and a fifth proceeds to try to milk it. Optional: have 3 other women stand around and yell at the cow for not cooperating! I left before this spectacle was over, but the next night our family had agho with dinner - a sour homemade yogurt from fresh cow's milk - so I guess it was successful!

Television is a central part of every household. Every house in Morocco - even mud huts without running water - has a TV and a satellite dish! Every night I sit with my family and watch Mexican telenovellas dubbed in Arabic (which no one in my house understands). What I found a little odd was that the only thing considered inappropriate on television is embraces between men and women. Graphic violence or drug use? No problem. Husband and wife kissing? Channel change!

Another part of our experience has been dealing with tourists. Tourism provides a lot of income for my village and all of Morocco, but tourists themselves are often really obnoxious. For example, I frequently see Europeans walking around in little more than a bathing suit - in a country where women DO NOT show their arms or legs. One woman and her husband stripped down in the river in our village in front of some local women, and then proceeded to take pictures (without asking) of the women doing their washing. Most of this stuff you wouldn't even do at home in Europe, so why would you do it here?!! I can only attribute that level of insensetivity to a kind of "zoo" mentality, as though the people who live here are mere attractions to be photographed.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Field Trip to Zagora!

We got back yesterday from our field trip where we visit and work with a Peace Corps Volunteer in the field. I and one other girl went to a village in the Zagora province, which is mostly desert. Our host was great, and it's certainly an eye-opening experience, since most of our training takes place in cities. This is our first chance to observe what volunteer life is actually like.

It is also becoming more and more clear why we are needed here. Walking through Rabat or any other big city you see Chanel and D&G boutiques, and you wonder if you are actually in a developing country. But the rural areas... it's like night and day. The clinic for our village has one nurse, no doctor, and the nurse only works 12 hours a week. This clinic serves a region of 11,000 people!! The medical waste is dumped outside the clinic, so the ground is covered in used needles. Much of the village smokes, but people claim not to be able to afford toothbrushes. Clean water has finally come to the middle school, but it isn't enough to make the latrines functional. The potential for improvement is certainly there.

We got to participate in our volunteer's projects, including working with an association of handicapped people. There is much misunderstanding here regarding people with disabilities. Namely, the belief that if you have a physical handicap, it is because you have done something wrong and Allah is punishing you. The association works to dispel those myths and improve living conditions. At the school, we visited the student Health Club, assisted with teaching an English class, and began a mural of a map of the world. Children here, we found, had little understanding of geography - they could pick out the United States on a map, but had no idea where Morocco was located!

And just so friends and family back home can stop worrying, the living conditions of volunteers here is quite comfortable. Our host lived in a one-room adobe hut with concrete floors, and he had an electric light and a water pump outside. We ate well, too - fresh fruits and veggies are very cheap, as are pasta, beans, rice, couscous, bread, eggs, and cheese. So far I haven't had too hard a time being a vegetarian here. It will be easier when I have my own place and can control my diet, though. While we were at our host's site we were invited to lunch with the school officials and the menu was couscous with vegetables... cooked with cow ears and cow brains. Quite a delicacy. I did my best to eat around it, but I still felt a little ill afterwards.

All in all, best part of training yet. Pictures to come!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Isminu Malika

The title of this entry is “my name is Malika”, which is the name given to me by my host family in my CBT site. I think I’ll keep it!

I got back yesterday from my first CBT (Community Based Training) week. I lived with a Berber family in a small village in the Atlas mountains there and studied Tamazight. It is a really difficult language. It’s actually called Tashelheet in my community, which is actually another Berber language, but the lines aren’t very clear. The dialects are fluid, and borrow words from each other as well as Arabic, Spanish and French. Vocabulary varies even between neighboring villages! So the Tamazight I am learning now may not even be exactly the language spoken in my final site. This is probably the most challenging and rewarding aspect of Peace Corps training.

My family was very patient with my feeble attempts at language, fortunately! For the most part I followed around my host-grandmother (MaHlo). She’s a tough lady. We went to the fields to cut clover for the animals and fed and watered her cow, donkey, chickens and goats.

The village itself is beautiful. There is only one paved road that goes through, and one phone. The sky is perfectly clear at night. All the houses are clay and it is situated up in the mountains next to a river with fertile fields lining it. The people of the village grow walnuts, almonds, olives, and roses. The famous festival of the roses is coming up in a couple of months and I’m really excited that we will get to be there for it!

Eventful Week…
The day we arrived, another trainee’s host brother died. So there was a lot of commotion in the village about that. The next day, another sick brother returned from the hospital, so there was a two day feast to celebrate, complete with the slaughtering of two sheep. The it was the Aeid for the prophet Mohammed’s birthday, so family in other cities all came home. This was when I discovered that there are at least 24 people in my host family who come and go from the house! Meanwhile, our LCF (language teacher) was sick, and ended up quitting. So we had an interim teacher from Rabat.

Health Issues
I started to get a feel for the kinds of health issues I’ll be facing as a health volunteer. There are a lot of dental problems in the village because the local free clinic doesn’t have a dentist and the private clinics are very expensive. As for sanitation, hand-washing here is treated very differently; it is more ceremonial than practical. Soap is used only after the last meal of the day, not before eating – unlike in America, where we do the opposite. Cups are communal, which could easily spread sickness through a family.

What particularly interests me is nutrition. There is no shortage of food here, the question is whether people have a balanced diet. The bulk of the diet is bread because it is filling. There is no distinction here between being “well-fed” and “nourished”. Vegetables are varied and easily available, but they are always peeled and overcooked so very little nutritional value is left. Sugar is also a HUGE part of the diet – I was drinking up to 8 cups of sugary tea a day! I was told that tea is good for you because it gives you energy… which is half true. It does give you a pretty intense sugar high! I have to wonder if that quantity of sugar has caused any health problems.

The challenge for a volunteer is to draw the line between not criticizing cultural practices, but also presenting information about preventive medicine, nutrition and sanitation. I certainly have my work cut out for me.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Say Cheese

So this isn't a great photo, but this is me in the Casbah in Rabat at night by the pirate republic of Sale. More pictures to come, but the internet connection here isnt great and it takes a while.

Today we leave for Community Based Training (CBT). I will be staying with a host family and doing language and culture immersion in a small Berber village in the mountains, about 2 hours from Ouarzazate. So I will be incommunicado for the next week or so. I'll be sure to post about it!

Interesting cultural point: the TV show "Sex in the City" is known here, but it is called "Hshuma f-al Medina" - literally, "Shame in the City".

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Learning Berber!

Today we got our language assignments. Turns out I won't be learning Arabic as I expected... I will be in a Tamelzight region. Tamelzigh is the name the Berbers call themselves, as the name "Berber" came from Greek and Latin for "outsider" and later "uncivilized". I also know I will be in a very isolated location, probably in the mountains and not near the coast. I was hoping to be assigned a Darija (Arabic) region, and preferably somewhere warmer, but I'll make the best of what gets thrown my way.

Peace Corps mantra: Patience and Perseverence!

One of our trainees went home already. I have heard there is a high percentage of volunteers that dont make it through two years. I'm not surprised... it is going to be hard. But I didn't come here to have it easy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No ice cream on the fifth planet, and other encounters

So a few of us wandered down to the Casbah the other night, where we met an interesting character. He greeted us with Bonjour, with glazed eyes as big as saucers, and proceeded to explain to us that he was from Planet Five. He sometimes visits Planet Four. When we asked for clarification, he told us "cannabis". I guess every city has at least one, right??

The other adventure involved a search for ice cream. At one shop we were told, completely seriously, that it does not exist. Another place told us it was "out of season". I guess the ice cream crop isn't ripe yet?

Humourous anecdotes aside, things here are going well. We are getting more proficient with the language, washing clothes in buckets, and using turkish toilets. Speaking of training, time for language class!

Sunday, March 9, 2008


I have now seen 3 political demonstrations while here. Just now, outside an internet cafe, a group of people marched past with the Palestinian flag. I didn't catch exactly what it was about, but it's a very important and sensitive topic here. In Rabat there was a demonstration by college graduates who can't find jobs. It is legal to protest here, as long as you have a permit. These students did not, and from the bus window I saw an officer hit a student with his baton. One was carried off from the street, presumably unconscious.

As Peace Corps, we steer clear of these and do not endorse any political message. I thought it would be interesting for those back in the States though to see the differences in political expression between here and home.

Rockin the Casbah

It has been a pretty intense travel week! I have now gone from Philly to New York to Casablanca to Rabat to Ouarzazate. I have pretty accessible, though not necessarily reliable, internet here in Ouarzazate, so I will update as frequently as possible. And as frequently as I can deal with the French keyboards. It is similar enough to the American one to be familiar and usable, but different enough to be completely infuriating!

Rabat was interesting... our hotel was situated very close to the palace of Mohammed IV, a large mosque, and a stones throw from the ancient pirate republic of Salay of Robinson Crusoe fame. Cool, no?! We tried to make it over there but got lost in the Casbah. I have some pictures, which I will post when I find a computer in this country with a USB drive.

We have had some intensive language training in survival Darija (Moroccoan Arabic). Which of course led to some interesting linguistic blunders. Actual conversation which transpired:
M to Pharmacist: "keyf deyra?"
Pharmacist (in perfect English): "you have diarhhea?"
Pronunciation is key...

I can hear the call to prayer right now. I love hearing it in the morning.

I have to get back to our training site for lunch now... until the next post, please keep sending emails/comments/love letters or anything else you feel compelled to do!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Camp Peace Corps

I just finished staging in Philadelphia. It's where we discuss the goals of the Peace Corps in more detail and do a lot of "get to know your 50 new best friends" kind of things. As I have affectionately been calling it, Camp Peace Corps.

Everyone here is great - we're making friends quickly. I have now also started a bluegrass band with some musicians in the group. I play spoons! :-)

That was pretty much the highlight... beyond that, there wasn't much new information in the last couple of days. What I really want to know right now is: where EXACTLY am I going? What exactly will I be doing? What is my address after May? How will I wash my underwear? These are the burning questions on everyone's mind...

We fly to Casablanca today... I can't believe this day finally came. I also can't believe I managed to start running a 101 degree fever the DAY BEFORE. This flight won't be particularly fun for me. And yes, we have doctors there, so I'm sure I will be fine.

It's time to check out and catch a flight... the next post will be from MOROCCO!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Counting Down the Hours...

Hello friends and family,

I've decided to start a blog for my Peace Corps tour in Morocco. Internet access may be sporadic, but I'll update as frequently as possible! I'd love it if everyone kept in touch. My address for March - May (my training) will be:

Melissa White, Trainee
s/c Corps de la Paix
2, rue Abou Marouane Essaadi
Agdal, Rabat 10100

I'm excited, terrified, happy and stressed out simultaneously.

Lots of last-minute things to do before I leave... TOMORROW!