My Day to Day

A week ago a friend suggested that I blog about what my daily schedule is like. I had been thinking about doing this but wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested. I mean for the most part my day to day is pretty basic. But I understand that friends and family think I’m living this ultra exciting life and are curious about it. So here’s a week in my life.

First off, I no longer set an alarm unless I have early transportation to catch (or we are at Peace Corps training). I have a basic routine every day, but sometimes I choose to just sit and stare at the ceiling or chat with fellow volunteers for hours. I listen to tons of podcasts and audio books. I read a lot (as you know from a previous post) and occasionally I spend hours watching movies and TV shows.

Monday – woke up at 7:15 and stayed in bed until 8:00 listening to podcasts

8:00-9:30 … breakfast/drink tea/workout and yoga/meditation (I’ve been following a 30 day fitness app since August)

9:30-10:30 … went to weekly souk in next town south of me. This is the weekly market where I buy fruits and vegetables and a few other foods. You can pretty much buy anything at souk (household items, school supplies, clothes, and animals). I usually go every other week to get fruits, veggies and olives. Once a month I buy a kilo of pasta, raisins, almonds and walnuts.

11:15 … washed up and dressed

11:50 – 2:00 … at the Dar Taliba for Project Soar. I eat lunch with the director at 12:20 and we start our program at 11:45.

Afternoon … at the beginning and ending of each Project Soar module the girls conduct a survey. So today we started a new module and I had to prepare the surveys and results and send to the Project Soar Headquarters. In addition there is a report and attendance to be done for each workshop. The rest of the afternoon I prepared for my English class tomorrow, chilled out, read and did wifi stuff.

6-8:30 … kaskrut with my host family. Kaskrut is tea time and a regular part of most Moroccan’s life. During this time I drink many glasses of Moroccan mint tea, eat a lot of bread and olive oil and watch Turkish soap operas. I also my food scraps to my family for the sheep, goats and donkey.

Back home I crawl in bed under 4 thick wool blankets, finish reading a book on my Kindle and fall asleep around 10.

Tuesday – woke up at 7:15 and stayed in bed until 9 listening to podcasts. It’s really cold and I don’t want to get out from under all the covers.

My morning consists of eating breakfast, enjoying a cup of tea, going over notes for English class, talking to Jessica from Project Soar, working out/yoga/meditation, and reading.

Noon – 2:00 … at the Dar Taliba. The bread isn’t delivered until almost 1:00 so no English class today. My counterpart and I discussed the Project Soar session for the next day – she had to hand write some stuff to use for the activity. Peace Corps teaches you patience, flexibility and resiliency.

Afternoon … Fellow PCV Natasha came over. She’s in the town I go to for souk. Her computer charger died so she’s been coming over every few days to charge her computer. The rest of the afternoon was spent reading, doing wifi and making sure I have everything for tomorrow.

7:00 … made dinner and cleaned up

8:00-10:00 … podcasts under the covers!

Wednesday – woke up around 7:30 and listened to podcasts until 9

9:00-11:30 – usual routine, but no workout or yoga today (my back is not feeling it today!)

Noon-2:00 … Dar Taliba for Project Soar and lunch

Afternoon … stopped at 7anut (small store) to get toilet paper. The rest of the day was the usual wifi and reading time. Around 5 I ate a yogurt with musli and some fruit.

7:00 … started listening to podcasts and fell asleep around 8:30. Apparently I was tired!

Thursday – pretty much the same morning routine as before. Did a little yoga to help with my back pain.

Noon – 2:00 … lunch and tutoring at Dar Taliba. On Thursday’s I do tutoring, which consists of about 10 girls with various questions on their English homework.

Afternoon … same old same old. Fixed dinner around 5.

6:00-11:00 … listened to an audio book while cuddled under a pile of warm blankets

Friday – it’s couscous day!! Seriously my favorite food in Morocco (maybe ever?)

8:30-9:30 … finished listening to the audio book

9:30-11:45 … breakfast, tea, podcasts, yoga, and reading. WhatsApp’d with Ayoub, a university student from my site who is studying English in Marrakech; he asks me clarification questions on words and phrases he finds in books and movies – I consider this a form of tutoring.

11:45 … started boiling water for a bucket bath/enjoyed bucket bath

12:50 … call to prayer. I wait until I hear the call the prayer before heading to my host family’s house for couscous. The kids leave for school at around 1:20 so I chat with them for a bit as they get ready to head out. The rest of us eat after my host dad gets back from mosque – usually around 1:45.

3:00-5:00 … English Club at the high school. When I showed up today I was told it was canceled so I trekked back to my apartment. Again, flexibility! Spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with fellow PCVs and friends/family back home. Finished reading a book.

7:00 – Audible finally updated my monthly credit so I downloaded the book that my book club back home will be discussing tomorrow (I’ve tried to stay up with the books they are reading). Listened until around 10:00.

Saturday – woke up at 8:15 and listened to audio book

9:30 … breakfast and tea while listening to book, plus a little yoga

Noon – 2:00 … lunch and Project Soar at Dar Taliba

2:00-6:15 … finished listening to audio book then a little wifi (yes, I finished 4 books this week)

6:40 … FaceTimed with my book club! It was so awesome to see everyone and chat a bit about my life as well as the book. Hoping to make this a regular monthly thing now.

7:30 … podcasts until I fell asleep around 10:00

Sunday – woke up at 7:30 and listened to a podcast until 8:00, when I had breakfast and tea

8:30 … washed my hair

9:00-11:00 … did laundry, yoga, straightened up around the apartment

11:00-4:00 … the weather has been back to normal February weather the last two days so I went to Tinzouline (the next town south of me) and hung out with Natasha at a cafe while she used my charger and we both did wifi stuff (including me working on this blog). Grabbed lunch at another cafe around 2:00. Saw my English Club counterpart and we discussed some upcoming activities (he also said we will no longer be meeting on Fridays). Completed the Project Soar reports and attendance for the last two workshops. Bought some bananas and oranges for the week.

Back at home I put away the fruit, went to the 7anut for more toilet paper and had to make two trips cause I didn’t take enough money the first time (I planned to buy 2 four-packs but he had a new 12-pack!), finished this blog and grabbed my laundry from the roof.

Not sure what I’ll do the rest of the evening but it will probably involve a book or a few podcasts. Oh and I need to prepare for Project Soar for tomorrow!

In addition to listening to podcasts and audio books and reading, I sometimes watch movies from my hard drive or shows on Netflix (my wifi resets on the 18th so I try to use all my unused data on the 17th). Also, some of my reading each day is reviewing language.

Sometimes on Sundays I don’t leave my apartment cause I need a mental break.

During the winter I clean my house once a month (though honestly it’s been since just before everyone was here for Christmas!). During the rest of the year, when my windows are open, it’s at least once a week if not more because of the dusty wind every day.

Every couple of weeks I go to Agdz, which is a 40 minute taxi ride away. This is where the bank and post office are and I hang out at a cafe (usually with other volunteers), eat pizza and get food I can’t get in my site (oatmeal, cheese and Nutella). I also dump my trash here because my site has no garbage collection.

Once a month I travel to Ouarzazate, two taxis and under 2 hours away, to pay for my wifi, hang out with other volunteers, eat msmne (delicious flat bread similar to naan), chicken nuggets and fries, and get food (peanut butter, musli and strawberries/peaches and such in season fruits that aren’t available at my sou).

While my technical work day is only about 2 hours a day, my work includes all interactions with host country nationals every day and time preparing for each class/workshop. Because I eat lunch at the Dar Taliba every day (and with my host family on Friday), I try to use school breaks to eat with other community members. It’s starting to stay light later now so I’ll soon start having more kaskruts as well.

I’ve been asked what is a bright spot and what’s the hardest each day. Sometimes gathering the mental strength to leave my house is the hardest. Some of this is due to the language barrier – I’m far from fluent and I struggle understanding most things some days – and some is due to constant harassment. I’ve been reluctant to talk about this with friends and family back home as I want to be careful of casting an unfair light on this country that I do enjoy living in. But it’s a daily reality and I’m working on a blog post to address this. The bright spot is knowing I am making a small impact on everyone I come in contact with every day.

This has been a really detailed and long post! But I wanted to leave you with a few pictures.

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Resiliency

What is resiliency? It can be described as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  Are you a resilient person? Do you conceptualize events as traumatic or as an opportunity to learn and grow?

In the Peace Corps, we talk a lot about resiliency and ways to work through the tough times we will experience. Each volunteer brings with them different strategies to help them cope.

Back in November, I was part of a resiliency session at one of the trainings for new volunteers. There were four of us who discussed struggles we have gone through and/or currently going through and the strategies we use to cope. For me, my biggest struggle/challenge is the language. Darija (Moroccan Arabic) is not an easy language to learn and I simply find it extremely difficult. Arabic is the second hardest language to learn in the world. Darija is the Arabic dialect spoken here in Morocco. Some days I have to force myself to leave my house because I’m scared to have to speak to people. It’s a catch-22. If I stay inside I don’t have to speak; but if I actually go out and speak then maybe my language will improve; but then again, I’d have to actually go out an speak. Ugh.

I’ve developed a couple of strategies to help me and thought I’d share them here.

*If there’s something specific I need to talk to someone about, I practice what I need to say before leaving the house and as I’m walking down the street.

*I use a notebook or my phone to track new words that I can then review later

*Yoga & Exercise- every day

*Meditation – for me, meditation is about gaining control of my breath and calming my mind; many times I use meditation before leaving the house to think positive thoughts and center myself

These are my main strategies. Other things I do to preserve my sanity is have clear boundaries, hide away and read, spend time with other volunteers and eats lots of chocolate. I also find spending time with my host family to be relaxing and enjoy having couscous with them every Friday and kaskrut every Monday.

Being resilient is not easy. Knowing yourself and what works best for you so that you can learn to cope with the struggles and obstacles that face you is an important strategy for success. For PCVs it’s a vital part of service.

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Project Soar

Back in November, I attended a training for a program called Project Soar (PS). This is a girls empowerment program and I was really excited to attend. I had my counterpart with me who is the mudira (director) of the Dar Taliba (girls center) where most of my work is centered. I was a little nervous that Fatiha would be mad at me due to the intensity of the program — see all I told her was it was about girls empowerment, not how it was structured. But never fear. Fatiha has embraced the program and we have moved forward full speed ahead!

What is Project Soar? It is a 501(c)3 American non-profit association founded in 2013 by Moroccan-based American social entrepreneurs, Maryam Montague and Chris Redecke. The flagship location is based in a semi-rural village on the outskirts of Marrakech. The mission of Project Soar is to empower teenage girls in the developing world. There are 50 workshops of empowerment to keep the girls in school and to prepare them for more productive, fulfilled futures.

What are the 5 Pillars of Empowerment? This is what each of the workshops is centered around: the belief that every girl should have the opportunity to know her Value, Voice, Body, Rights and Path.

A Project Soar Girl…

Knows her Value. She is confident, has high self esteem and respects her own worth and potential.

Knows her Voice. She communicates her thoughts clearly, resolves conflict effectively and advocates for herself productively.

Knows her Body. She understands changes in her body and values her own health and wellness.

Knows her Rights. She embraces her right to an education and understands her right to be free from exploitation, violence and forced marriage.

Knows her Path. She has tools to envision her future, sets goals assertively and conducts action planning with ease.

The curriculum is laid out in 5 modules that focus on the pillars with 10 workshops each. Fatiha and I have completed 2 of the modules (Values and Voice). I’m super blessed to have a go getter counterpart and a captive audience of 15 girls who get more excited each week about this program. Many of the other volunteers who attended training are struggling to get started and maintain interest. Fatiha and I determined that in order to complete the 50 workshops before the school year ended we needed to do 3 sessions a week (taking in to consideration school holidays, breaks and testing). It’s a pretty rigorous schedule but as I said the girls love it.

Each workshop begins and ends with the following Core Belief being said in both Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and English. I honestly get chills every time I hear the girls recite it.

Ana 9awia (I am Strong)

Ana Dakota (I am Smart)

Ana 9adira (I am Capable)

Ana mustahi9a (I am Worthy)

Al fatatu 9uwa (Girl Power!)

The sessions all include education and discussion on the days topic, an activity to reinforce the ideas of the topic, meditation specific to the topic and journaling. The girls really enjoy meditation and journaling (where they get to utilize their creativity). I’ve also watched them shine during a pro / con debate, developing abstract images of themselves, and expressing themselves via song, story and jokes. I have noticed significant changes in many of these girls and can see their self confidence grow weekly. These girls have also taken initiative and will do the Core Belief without me being in the room (they are ready to start or they have to leave for class), and writing on the board to get the session going. Most recently, Fatiha was talking with a group of girls in her office and wasn’t able to get started right away, so one of the PS girls grabbed the dry erase marker and did an overview of the previous workshops!

This is my success story. One of the highlights of my Peace Corps service.

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Books, Books, Books

I’ve always read a lot. Since I was a little girl. I used to become so engrossed in books my parents had to take them out of my hands so I could join them at the dinner table. For the past several years I have set a reading challenge for myself on Goodreads and every year I surpass it. This year was no exception, except that I almost doubled my set goal!! I had several reading goals coming in to Peace Corps: 1) read about my country of service, 2) read general Peace Corps stories, 3) read a book from each of the countries that PC is currently serving and has served and, 4) read all the books on my Kindle that I downloaded during grad school. I’m making great progress in each of these areas! I also have a massive list of books I want to read (kept in an excel file, of course) and the PC Library has been very helpful.

Here are all the books I read this year and my rating for each one:

January

A Life Inspired: Tales of Peace Corps Service                                        4 stars

Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East by Donna Lee Bowen       3 stars

Younger Than That Now by Michael Moran                                           2 stars

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg                                                5 stars

The Conquest of Morocco by Douglas Porch                                          No rating

February

The Sand Child by Tahar ben Jelloun                                                                 3 stars

A Woman’s Passion for Travel: True Stories of World Wanderlust             3 stars

Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times by Margaret Nydell     4 stars

A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco               4 stars

March

White Men Don’t Have Juju: An American Couple’s Adventure Through Africa     4 stars

Literacy, Culture and Development: Becoming Literate in Morocco                          2 stars

Caim by Jose Saramago                                                                                                        5 stars

The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams                                                                4 stars

Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah                    5 stars

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray                                                                 5 stars

April

Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman’s Journey Toward Independence       5 stars

The Unbroken Line of the Moon by Johanne Hildebrandt                                        5 stars

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith                                                    5 stars

Barkskins by Annie Proulx                                                                                                4 stars

A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes           4 stars

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano                                                    1 star

The Secret Healer by Ellin Carsta                                                                                    2 stars

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett                                                                                    5 stars

May

The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner                        4 stars

Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society                                       by Fatema Mernissi                                                                                                         4 stars

Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space by Margot Lee Shetterly                                         5 stars

Medicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois by Sophie Perinot               4 stars

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert                                                      4 stars

The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau                                                                                    4 stars

June

How to Forgive…When You Don’t Feel Like It by June Hunt                                  1 star

An Anthology of Tashelhiyt Berber Folktales by H. Stroomer                              4 stars

Rumors by Anna Godbersen                                                                                        3 stars

Envy by Anna Godbersen                                                                                             3 stars

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon                                                     3 stars

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini                                                     5 stars

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff                                                                 4 stars

The Guardian of Secrets and Her Deathly Pact by Jana Petken                           3 stars

The Gringo Brought His Mother! by Geneva Sanders                                            3 stars

And the Rest is History by Jodi Taylor                                                                       5 stars

The Negotiator: A Memoir by George J. Mitchell                                                    5 stars

July

The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield                          4 stars

Nirzona by Adibah El Khalieqy                                                   1 star

August

Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village                                                              by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea                                                       5 stars

Morocco Since 1830: A History by C.R. Pennell                         4 stars

The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers                               5 stars

Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon                                     5 stars

September

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal            4 stars

Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers                4 stars

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs                                                        5 stars

House of Tears: Westerner’s Adventures in Islamic Lands    3 stars

The Birth Order Book: Why You are the Way You Are by Kevin Leman        3 stars

Lost Geography by Charlotte Bacon                                             3 stars

The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter by J.S. Drangsholt               3 stars

October

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan                                5 stars

Pirates: Myth vs Reality by Helen Hollick                                 4 stars

Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor by Anne Edwards          5 stars

The Last Paradise by Antonio Garrido                                      4 stars

Never Eat Alone: An Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time                             by Keith Ferrazzi                                                                          3 stars

In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Eizabeth Blackwell               4 stars

An Introduction to Islam by David Waines                             2 stars

The Moroccan Women’s Rights Movement by Amy Evrard                           4 stars

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean                          5 stars

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory                           3 stars

November

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain                                        4 stars

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne                        5 stars

The Man Who Could Be King by John Ripin Miller               4 stars

All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and                                                                            the Arab World by Zora O’Neill                                                 5 stars

The Lioness of Morocco by Julia Drosten                                4 stars

Madam Belle: Sex, Money and Influence in a                                                                     Southern Brothel by Maryjean Wall                                       4 stars

Paradise Delayed – Our New Lives in the Wild. Caribbean Island Life in the Beautiful Archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama by Ian Usher         3 stars

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen                                5 stars

December

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas                                          5 stars

Beneath the Wall by Eryn LaPlant                                          3 stars

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of                                                              an African Village by Sarah Erdman                                      5 stars

Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China by Philip P. Pan 5 stars

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chan 5 stars

The Map Thief by Michael Blanding 5 stars

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer 5 stars

Beautiful Tempest (Malory Family #12) by Johanna Lindsey 5 stars

Service Disrupted: My Peace Corps Story by Tyler E. Lloyd 5 stars

The goal I set for myself was 40 for the year. As of today, I’ve read 74 with 2 more to be completed soon. Four and Five star rated books are highly recommended. The big question now is what should my goal be for 2018??  Gonna sign off now so I can go read some more …..

**UPDATE: I doubled my goal. As of the morning of December 31, 2017, I read 80 books! I think I need sleep now.

Posted in Books, Peace Corps Morocco, Travel | Leave a comment

One Year in Morocco

I’ve lived in Morocco for one year now and wanted to share a few things I’ve learned along the way:

1 – Moroccans have this amazing ability to fill every open space beyond normal capacity

2 – I’m learning day by day to let go of anxiety knowing everything will work out

3 – I’ve learned to sit and do absolutely nothing for hours at a café, at my house, at someone else’s house, waiting for a taxi, being in a taxi/bus/train, etc

4 – Donkeys are the most pathetic miserable animals ever

5 – I’m terrified of preteen boys, especially when they are moving in packs

6 – Sleeping under the stars in relaxing – but doesn’t mean I want to start camping

7 – Cement houses in the south are a bazillion times hotter than traditional mud houses

8 – I now fully understand that this is the ‘cold land with the hot sun’

9 – The generosity and hospitality of Moroccans is overwhelming and awesome

10 – Stepping outside your own box can be extremely difficult when you struggle with the language and being an introvert

11 – I used to be an extremely independent individual

12 – Moroccans are not shy about their curiosity

Hope you’ve enjoyed a little insight in to my day to day living in Morocco!  Looking forward to what I’ll learn the next 15 months.

Posted in Peace Corps Morocco, Peace Corps Third Goal | Leave a comment

Traveling Morocco, Part II

Back in January I posted up some photos of my travels within Morocco for the first 4 months being in country. I figure it’s time to post up pics from the last 8 months as well!


Boumalne Dades


The Gorge


Marrakech 


Zagora 


Rose Festival at Kelaa M’Gouna


Chefchaouen 


Taza


Larache


Agadir


Taghzoute

Posted in Morocco, Peace Corps Morocco, Travel | 2 Comments

Mosques

I have a fascination with mosques (Muslim place of worship), especially the minarets (where the call to prayer is announced) in this country. Here’s a small collection to enjoy!

 

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The Big Eid

Eid Al Adha, aka Eid al Kabir, is the biggest (and most holy) holiday in the Muslim world and took place on Friday, September 1. It is also known as the Festival of Sacrifice and honors the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son.  The animal sacrifice is observed in each Muslim family around the world with the head of the household killing (most commonly) a sheep or goat. Traditions within Muslim communities vary and I wanted to share my experience in my small douar in southeast Morocco.

Volunteers were under a travel ban starting on Monday, August 28 through Wednesday, September 6. The main reason for this is the massive increase in Moroccans traveling to visit their families. Because there are more people on the road there is a higher chance of accidents. Also, there is an increase in the cost of travel as bus and taxi fares go up 5 to 10 dh.

I did a little research ahead of time to be prepared for what I should expect and knew people purchased new clothes for the event (similar to Eid el-Fitr celebrated at the end of Ramadan). A few days before Eid I was having lunch with my host family when my host siblings received their new outfits and it was so awesome seeing how excited they were! I confirmed with my host mom what time I should arrive on Friday. She originally said 1 pm for lunch, then noted maybe 8 am or 9 am. Thinking things don’t typically happen on exact time in Morocco anyway, I planned to leave my apartment at 9 am for the 12-minute walk to their house.  I was just finishing up dressing in my new black tunic shirt when I heard a group of men pass by singing.  I knew I’d already missed the beginnings of the celebration!

I rushed outside and felt like a salmon swimming upstream as the males in my community headed to a field next to my apartment to begin the day with prayers. Next year I’ll be prepared to video the procession.  As I arrived at my host family’s house I received a text from a fellow PCV stating she’d already witnessed three sacrifices.  While I wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing this myself, I really hoped I hadn’t missed out.  Not to worry though.  The female members of my family were finishing up breakfast while the male members were praying. They complimented me on my new shirt and the fact I was wearing earrings (not an everyday thing anymore!) Then the ladies started getting ready and I realized my host mom and aunts were wearing the same beautiful dresses from Eid el-Fitr.  This makes practical sense because there are not many occasions to wear dressy outfits and the cost of such outfits would be difficult for many Moroccans.

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With my host mom, Naima

At approximately 10 am the visiting began. This was exactly like during Eid el-Fitr where people went from house to house to extend greetings and pleasantries. These visits don’t last long but they are very important.  After receiving people for about an hour, the men folk arrived and settled in for some chatting. This whole time I’m thinking ‘has the sacrifice taken place and I didn’t realize it?!’.  Finally, one of my host cousins gathered all the guys together and out they went.  The ladies stayed put. So, my concern with how I was going to handle and react to the actual sacrifice was alleviated.  Apparently, my host mom knew exactly how long the actual killing would take and she suddenly called for me to follow her. We stepped out of the house and I was confronted with a dead sheep hanging upside down while my host dad was skinning it. Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. The entire process is very humane, done for a religious purpose and nothing about the animal goes to waste. We took a few photos and then went back inside where I got to witness King Mohammed V sacrifice his sheep on TV. This was actually a replay and tradition in the country is that the King makes the first sacrifice and then the rest of the country can proceed on with their own.

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My host dad taking care of the skinning

The ladies then headed out for a few visits around the neighborhood. We enjoyed some locally grown dates as a pre-lunch snack. Around 2:30 pm we had lunch, which was a traditional tagine of veggies (oh yeah – I had hung out in the kitchen that morning while my host mom prepared this!) and some type of meat served separately. I didn’t ask if it was from that day’s sacrifice, but I assume it was. My host dad suddenly realized I didn’t eat meat (I’ve only been here for nine months) and joked that I could have sacrificed a chicken while everyone else was killing sheep.  He’s a pretty funny guy.

At 4 pm I decided to head home for a quick change of clothes (everyone else had already changed in to more comfortable attire) and a quick rest. I told them I’d be back for tea.  So, at 6:30 pm I arrived back expecting tea to be served around 7:15, only to find my host mom and aunt cleaning the insides of a sheep my host dad killed as I had left earlier. So, I sat there watching them do this incredible task while helping keep the flies away.  At 8:30 my host mom looked at my Aunt Fatima and said ‘go make Laila some tea’.  After tea, I hung out with the guys watching Morocco and Mali play soccer – Morocco dominated the game winning 6-0. My host mom said she was fixing salad for supper, which surprised me with all the meat from the day, so I agreed to stay. Turns out she made the salad just for me cause the rest of the family had what I believe was kidney kebabs.  It may have been liver – not being a meat eater I didn’t get too close to examine them.

All in all, my experience with Eid al-Adha was just as incredible and mind expanding as every other experience I’ve had here in Morocco. I love seeing how people celebrate and enjoy the things in their cultures and traditions that are so very far from my own way of life.  Trying to explain to Moroccans that we don’t celebrate Ramadan, Eid al-Adha, or drink tea the way they do can be difficult and mentally exhausting when you don’t have the language skills. But it is also a great cultural exchange to help them understand that other people in the world are different from them. And I hope that blogging about my daily life and experiences are helping my fellow Americans understand this as well.

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Moroccan Packing Tips

As the new staj is preparing to join us in Morocco, I thought a post on things I was glad I brought, wish I’d brought and should have left at home would be timely.

Glad I Brought

*Microfiber towel – they dry quickly so are great for travel for trainings and visiting other volunteers

*Uno and Phase 10 – card games in general are good; they are easy to pack and perfect for long train rides, visits with volunteers and playing with your host family

*shower shoes/flips – necessary for bathing and the hammam

*external hard drive filled with movies – mine is a 4 TB and about half full; it’s also a great back up for all your work

*extra USB – Peace Corps Morocco gives you one with PC resources, but if you are like me you are likely to misplace it (a couple of times)

*Bestek converter – #gamechanger;  best purchase ever

*fresh undies in your stored bag during CBT – just trust me on this one

*travel size toilet paper – great for when traveling around the country

*Crest toothpaste – I’ve used Crest my entire life and it’s not readily available

*Kindle – with tons of books downloaded (although I’ve mainly been reading books from the PC Library)

*Qtips – good quality ones are hard to find here

*Carmex – in general chapstick is hard to find, but I’ve been a Carmex fan since high school so I brought a large supply

*Gatorade/Propel packets – necessary for living in southern Morocco (I brought a small quantity and have requested more)

*Sleeping bag – perfect for visiting fellow PCVs and staying warm on cool nights

*Excedrine Migraine pills – I’m prone to migraines and these are the only thing that help.  Peace Corps provides us with a medical kit to cover every thing from headaches to bug bites to allergies to dehydration, but I knew I’d need something more intense.

Could Have Left at Home

*multiple bars of Dove soap – for some reason I collected like 20 bars of Dove soap (for two years??) yet Dove is sold in Morocco

*hairspray – when you only wash your hair once (maybe twice) a week and wear it in a ponytail every day, hairspray is completely unnecessary

*extra makeup – I’ve only worn makeup once in the last nine months

*vitamins – the medical office will provide if requested

*shortwave radio – all I can say is ‘what was I thinking?’

*ipad – didn’t use it at all the first six months; have been doing some reading and using a yoga app the last couple but I could definitely live without it

Wish I’d Brought

*slightly small computer – I have a 13 inch MacBook Air and I wish I’d bought the 10 inch

*travel backpack – I thought I’d bought the right size but it’s only good for one night

*index cards – necessary for studying and aren’t available in country

*small notebook for new words – I found one about a month in to CBT but I wish I’d had it earlier)

*scissors – the ones in country are not good quality

*a cooling towel – cause it’s freaking HOT down south and one of these bad boys would be oh so handy

*sweatshirt/sweatpants – thanks to my good friend Teresa for sending me some!

*rain boots – the rainy season hits toward the end of CBT; although I don’t need them now in the south

*ziplock baggies – I’m not sure how these didn’t get packed (thanks to my good friend Amy for sending!)

*washcloth (or two) – cause bathing

*2 pair of shorts – instead of one (no females can’t wear them in public, but you need them in your own home when it’s HOT)

*whiteboard markers – the ones in country are not good quality; thanks to my good friend Shelley for sending these!

 

 

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My Ramadan Experience

Now that Ramadan (the Muslim holy month) is over, I thought I’d share my experience and why I kinda fasted.  Briefly, Ramadan the month of fasting from sunrise to sunset (more about Ramadan at the end of this post).  I decided I wanted to fast as a way to understand more about what my community members were going through. Everyone asked me if I was fasting and when I said yes they were surprised and excited that I was. No one tried to convert me to Islam and I appreciate that they appreciated I was being a part of the community. I enjoyed the lftur (breaking of fast) with my family and others in the community. Things went pretty well the first two weeks. Then I got sick; had some female issues; and the heat soared to around 105 degrees every day. At this point I was drinking water during the day just to try to stay healthy.

How My Day Was Structured

I’ll start with just before leaving to go to lftur, I typically rinsed off all the sweat that accumulated through the day, drank 20 oz of water and headed out to someone’s house about 7:00 pm. Most people were utilizing the coolness of their courtyards or roofs for the evening’s festivities. Tables were usually already set up with some of the food displayed. The call to prayer that indicates fasting is over when sound around 7:30 – 7:40 pm and everyone would immediately grab a date and say ‘bismillah’ (In the name of God – said when you begin an activity such as eating, drinking, working, studying and traveling). Water was gulped down and then bowls of harira (traditional Moroccan soup) distributed. Yes, even in 100-degree weather, hot soup was eaten. At this point, everyone would take turns praying. And then the juice came out – mostly carrot or beet juice and it was all delicious. About an hour later we would have a hard-boiled egg, chebekia, and sfouf, as well as some type of bread and Moroccan mint tea. Chebekia and sfouf are typically served only during Ramadan and other special occasions. Chebekia is a sesame cookie folded into a flower shape, fried and coated with honey and it is addicting. Sfouf is a unique Moroccan sweet made from toasted sesames, fried almonds and flour that has been browned in the oven.

**harira and dates (first photo);  chebekia

At about 9:00 pm the final call to prayer happened and the men would head out to the mosque (a few women in my community would also attend at this time). Now it was just the women left in the house and we would use this opportunity to nap or rest for about an hour. Around 10:30 pm fruit would be brought out (mostly watermelon since we grow it in our region) and I would head to my house around 11:00 pm. Occasionally, someone would serve couscous and I would eat that before heading out. Moroccan families typically eat a lunch type meal around 2:30 or 3:00 am.

Once at home I tried to stay awake until around 4:00 am, drinking more water, doing yoga, watching movies and reading. There was a group of guys who played soccer in front of my house around 1:00 am. I would eat something light around 3:00 am (scrambled eggs, yogurt, fresh veggies).  I would wake up around 11:00 am and try not to move too much or even think too much cause it was way too hot. I listened to podcasts, played solitaire on my phone and traced the design in my ceilings. Once a week I did my laundry and 1-2 times a week I’d walk up to the 7anut (small store) to get eggs and yogurt. I would do this around 5:30 because everything is closed during the day due to the heat. Around 4:00 you would start smelling food being cooked to prepare for the nights feasting. And then it would all start over again.

Eid

Eid al-fitr is the festival that breaks the fast and marks the end of Ramadan. The last night of Ramadan I stayed the overnight at my family’s house. My host mom did henna on my hands. The henna process in the south is different than the north. In the north, they pipe on designs by hand. In the south, stencils are used with huge chunks of the henna and your finger tips are completely covered as well. They made up a sleeping palate on the roof for me. I think I went to sleep around 1:00 am – it was hard to sleep that early since I’d been staying up late. At 6:15 am my host sister woke me up for breakfast, everyone cleaned up, put out fresh mats, rugs and pillows, put on new clothes and started visiting and receiving visitors. This was a really cool time with streams of people coming through wishing everyone Eid Mubarak Said and generally being happy that Ramadan was at an end. Mid-morning, we had a snack and then lunch around 2:00 pm. I headed to my house at that point being completely exhausted and happy that I had survived my first Ramadan.

1st Photo: my henna; 2nd Photo: with my host mom, Naima (in pink) and aunt Fatima in our new Eid outfits (mine was borrowed); 3rd photo: my host sister, host brother and host cousin in their new Eid outfits

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the night month of the Islamic year. There are several features to Ramadan, the most important and most visible is complete abstinence from food, drink, sex and smoking from sunrise to sunset. Muslims typically start fasting once they reach puberty, although some families will encourage their kids to start earlier (usually every few days during the month).

 

The idea of fasting is to bring Muslims closer to God and to remind them of the suffering endured by the less fortunate. In addition, many Muslims give zakat, or donate money, to charities and often feed the hungry and poor. Overall, it’s an exercise of self-restraint and charity. There are specific groups of people who are exempt from fasting: pregnant women, menstruating women, people traveling, and those who are sick. These people must make up their missed days at a later time.

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