2019 Year In Review

Over the past week, I’ve seen a lot of people post about how they are glad that 2019 is coming to end because it was such an awful year. At first, I was like ‘yeah! Me too!’ but then I stopped and thought about and realized 2019 was actually a good year.

I brought in the new year in Odesa, Ukraine with a friend and then continued to travel through Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Caucasus for two and a half months. Most of this was solo travel and I learned a very important lesson – I LiKE to travel solo! I then spent six months in the US hanging out with my family and friends and trying to figure out the next phase of my life. I spent a few weeks road-tripping with a girlfriend and hanging out on my cousins’ boat. I ate all my favorite foods that I missed while living in Morocco and drank way more Dr. Pepper than I should have – but it was worth it. I moved to Hanoi to earn my CELTA teaching certificate, met some really cool people and saw lots of cool things. And I read A LOT of books over the year (81 to be exact).

The bump in the road was my Mom being hospitalized and finding out she has advanced pancreatic cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy and it seems to be working – it’s just extremely difficult on the body. I’m currently home helping take care of her and spending what may be her last holiday season with her.

Is 2019 the end of the decade or do we have one more year? There seems to be a lot of debate about this. All I know is that I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring. I don’t necessarily have resolutions, but I always have goals and a never-ending bucket list. My goals are to make healthy choices in all aspects of life, read more books from around the world (especially by female authors) and travel to new places. I move back to Vietnam in a couple of weeks to start my new teaching career in Vinh, a coastal city. I hope I make an impact on those I teach and others I come in contact with.

Life is full of ups and downs. It’s what we learn from each of these that determines our outlook on life and our future. I’m thankful for the good and the bad – that’s how I grow as a person.

2019 is in the books and 2020 is a new story waiting to be written.

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2019 Books

The annual list of the books I read this year.  My goal was 50 and I read 80 (plus one re-read).  Four and Five star ratings are highly recommended.  Several of these books fit in my Reading Around The World goal. And many were by female authors – on purpose.

Rating      January

5 stars     A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

5 stars     The House by the River by Lena Manta

3 stars     Marry Me by Sundown by Johanna Lindsey

5 stars     The Queen: Aretha Franklin by Mikal Gilmore

3 stars     Power Moves: Lessons from Davos by Adam M. Grant

February 

5 stars     War Childhood, Sarajevo 1992-1995 by Jasminko Halilovic

4 stars     It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs

4 stars     In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

5 stars     Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo

March

4 stars     The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman

4 stars     Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King

1 star      Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

5 stars     Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali                        by Kris Holloway

4 stars    Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution                        by Caroline Weber

5 stars     The Malta Exchange (Cotton Malone, #14) by Steve Berry

4 stars      The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan

4 stars     A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker

3 stars     The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

April

3 stars     Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

5 stars     Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen

5 stars     Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

4 stars     The Beautiful Brain by Hana Walker-Brown

4 stars     A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain

5 stars     First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

4 stars     Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

3 stars     Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

May

5 stars     I Remember Abu by Humayun Azad

3 stars     Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelwald by J.K. Rowling

5 stars     Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

4 stars     The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

5 stars     Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch by Ruth Cowen

5 stars     Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

5 stars     Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI            by David Grann

5 stars     Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

1 star      Tenth of December of George Saunders

3 stars     The 3-Day Effect

4 stars     A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves, and Legacy of Ruth Rappaport                  by Kate Stewart

June

5 stars     Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

5 stars     The Sugar Detox: Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Look Years Younger                      by Brooke Alpert & Patricia Farris

5 stars     The Night Tiger by  Yangsze Choo

5 stars     The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

July

5 stars     A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

5 stars     Temptations Darling by Johanna Lindsey

5 stars     Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

5 stars     From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

August

4 stars     Rage by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

4 stars     Guns by Stephen King

5 stars     Christmas Past: The Chronicles of St Mary’s #8.6 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     A Perfect Storm: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #8.5 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     The Battersea Barricades: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #9.5 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     The Steam-Pump Jump: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #9.6 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     And Now for Something Completely Different: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #9.7 by Jodi Taylor

5 stars     A Short Ride in the Jungle: The Ho Chi Minh Trail by Motorcycle by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

4 stars     The Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton

5 stars     Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

4 stars     Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

3 stars     The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson

September

3 stars    American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt by Karen Harper

2 stars    The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg

5 stars    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (re-read)

5 stars    The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

3 stars    The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

5 stars    Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

October

5 stars    Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson

November

3 stars    You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

4 stars    The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

5 stars    Hope for the Best (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #10) by Jodi Taylor

4 stars    Midnight Son by James Dommek Jr

4 stars    You Can Thank Me Later by Kelly Harmes

5 stars    When Did You Last See Your Father (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #10.5) by Jodi Taylor

December

5 stars    Without a Country by Ayse Kulin

5 stars    Baghdad Without a Map by Tony Horwitz

3 stars    Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

5 stars    Getting Stoned with the Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J. Maarten Troost

4 stars    1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

4 stars    The Monk of Mokha by David Eggers

3 stars    Rose of Sarajevo by Ayse Kulin

3 stars    The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

1 star     A Castle in Romagna by Igor Stiks

4 stars    Essentials of English Grammar by L. Sue Baugh

5 stars My Grandmother: An Armenian-Turkish Memoir by Fethiye Cetin

4 stars Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer

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A Childhood Memory

When I was a little girl I loved to read. Our farm had a creek that was far away from our house. There were many trees and lots of grass. It was very quiet and peaceful. The creek always had water running through it. I loved to sit there with a good book. I would sit there for hours, dreaming of the distant lands I hoped to visit one day.

I still love to read. I also love the sound of water – whether it’s a creek, the ocean, a river or a waterfall. Both of these activities are calming and peaceful.

This is one of my favorite childhood memories.

 

*This post is written as an example for my final teaching point in the CELTA training course. The students first had to draw a picture from their childhood, then tell their partner their story (while determining if they had anything in common). Then they worked in pairs to write a childhood memory story as a blog post. Below is the picture I drew of my childhood memory*

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Life Update

It’s been a minute since I’ve posted about what’s going on in my life, but that doesn’t mean life has been uneventful. I just haven’t taken the time write a blog post. So here’s a quick update to get everyone up to speed.

As you may know, I COS’d (Closed Service) from Peace Corps Morocco in December, 2018. Over the next 100 days I traveled to 35 cities in 20 countries. And I had a blast. Honestly, I didn’t want to come back to the US. Curious of where I went? Here’s a quick list of where I traveled to: Budapest (Hungary), Vienna (Austria), Prague (Czech Republic), Brussels & Bruges ( Belgium), Dresden, Berlin, Frankfurt, Nuremburg, and an undisclosed location near Frankfort (Germany), Odessa (Ukraine), Chisinau (Moldova), Bucharest (Romania), Sofia & Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Thessaloniki, Lesvos & Athens (Greece), Dubrovnik & Zagreb (Croatia), Perast, Kotor & Budva (Montenegro), Mostar & Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Milan and Turin (Italy), Tbilisi (Georgia), Alaverdi (Armenia), Baku (Azerbaijan), Istanbul (Turkey), Utrecht, The Hague & Amsterdam (The Netherlands). I don’t really like to re-visit places because there are so many more places in the world I want to visit, but there are definitely places I traveled to during this trip I want to return to.

For the next six months after returning home I spent a lot of time visiting with family and friends, reading, eating all the foods I missed, and readjusting the life in America. During this time, I also was planning my next phase in life. I had initially planned to do a second Peace Corps stint, but when that fell through I started researching teaching options to be able to teach English around the world. I decided on a program in Vietnam and began the application process.

So now I’m living in Hanoi, Vietnam and earning my CELTA Certification in order to teach English as a foreign language. The course is four extremely intense weeks with tons of new vocabulary and very long days. There are eight of us in the course: 2 Americans, 3 Brits, 2 Vietnamese, and 1 Indian. We are divided in to two groups and each of us teach twice a week each week. We are being evaluated on how well we write lesson plans, our knowledge of grammar and how we manage a classroom (among many other things). The course is affiliated with Cambridge University and is part of International House World Organization.

Just before I left the US my mom became very sick, was hospitalized and diagnosed with cancer. It made the decision to continue on with my life plan very difficult, but my mom insisted I move forward. While this has been much appreciated, it has added additional stress to me as I am concerned about her, how she is reacting to the treatments and her overall mental well being. I’m also aware that not everyone agreed with this decision, but I’m trying not to think about that as I know this is what my mom wanted for me.

I arrived in Hanoi a few days early so that I could adjust to the time difference (they are 11 hours ahead of where I lived) and familiarize myself with the area I would be staying in. I also visited a few tourist sites. I’m slowly learning more about the culture and the food and even a few key phrases. It’s exciting to be in a new place and experience new things, new sounds, new smells. Ideally, I will live here for a minimum of one year (maybe two) and travel the region during down/off time. I look forward to seeing more of Vietnam plus traveling to Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.

Do you have questions for me? What would you like to read about in future blogs?

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me!

Here are a few of my favorite photos from my travels:

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Peace Corps Wrap-Up

I’ve been working on this post in my head for about three months. It’s not easy to wrap-up 27 months living in another country. It’s also not easy to talk about it.  I mean it’s easy to talk about, but difficult to truly express what it was like. You can’t just wrap-up that time, emotions and daily life in a sentence or two. Thankfully I’ve had many friends who were very curious about my Peace Corps journey and have asked lots of questions.

Living in another country, in a culture so drastically different from your own, teaches you a lot about yourself. And you change. And those changes affect how you relate to family and friends – and that can make things rough to manage.

People think that you do Peace Corps or international work to change others. But it’s really about change and growth within yourself. This is not to say that I didn’t have an impact on my community. I know I made a lasting, positive impression on those I lived and worked with daily.

At my age (late 40s) and with my background (professional development training / executive leadership graduate program), I thought I knew myself and didn’t need to change anything. Boy was I wrong! Life is all about learning and growing.

Before leaving for Morocco, many people expressed concern on how I would adjust to living in a Muslim country. But the hardest adjustment has been being back in the US. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a few things that took getting used to living in Morocco. But once I adjusted I found I enjoyed life there and I miss many parts of the culture.

What were the hard adjustments, how did I change and what’s been hard to adjust to being back?

*choices: I learned quickly there are few to no choices in Morocco…if you want an omelette you can have one with cheese or one with tomatoes, but not cheese and tomatoes together; I learned that I like the simplicity of no choices and now am overwhelmed with all the choices we have in the US (way too many in my opinion)

*unrelenting heat: I lived in the southeast portion of the country near the Sahara and while the winters were nice during the day (and fairly cold at night), the heat of the summer was intense; I lived in a cement block building with no insulation and no AC, took taxis that never rolled the windows down and drank 120 ounces of water a day to stay hydrated and now being back in the US I have major issues with air conditioning – it’s simply too cold.

*time: In America, I was used to things happening on time, being on time to meetings and actually knowing what time it is on a daily basis. Not so in Morocco. When you set a meeting with someone they will respond ‘Inshallah’ meaning God willing it will happen. And that means they may or may not show up and if they do they probably will not be on time. Morocco also operates on Old Time and New Time – when the clocks change not everyone changes with them so you always have to ask which time when setting a meeting. While I don’t miss this aspect of life in Morocco, I do miss the more relaxed, laid back, go with the flow lifestyle.

What do I miss?

*food: daily I miss the fresh vegetables and in season fruits I had access to. The fruits in American, even in season, just taste bland. I miss Couscous Friday. I miss the fresh bread made daily.  I miss the dates and olives. I miss lubia (white beans).

*time: as I mentioned above, I miss the relaxed lifestyle of Morocco. I miss sitting for hours at a cafe by myself or with other volunteers. I miss watching the Turkish soap operas with my family and all of us taking a nap after lunch.

*family: I miss both my host families, my counterpart Fatiha, my PC family, and my community – all who opened their homes and hearts to me and helped me navigate this culture so different from mine (I don’t miss the boys who threw rocks at my house)

There are many small things that I miss – too many to name honestly.

Living in Morocco taught me how to truly live in the moment, to be able to sit in silence, to not stress over small things, to not be inconvenienced by inconveniences, to be more flexible and know that everything will work out. Inshallah.

**My Peace Corps service was from September 2016 to December 2018

**I have an exciting new adventure coming up and can’t wait to tell everyone about it so stayed tuned!

 

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2018 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 – my goal was 60 and I read 71! 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 before, during and after 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 Rating

Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America by Shawn Dorman

3 stars

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely

Heroine who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone 5 stars

Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman 5 stars

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malik’s Oufkir 5 stars

Sipping from the Nike: My Exodus from Egypt by Jean Naggar 4 stars

Fascinate: Unlocking the Secret Triggers of Influence, Persuasion, and Captivation by

Sally Hogshead 3 stars

The Judgement of Richard Richter by Igor Stiks 2 stars

February

Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue

Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff 5 stars

Emma’s War by Deborah Scroggins 5 stars

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton 3 stars

Secondborn by Amy A. Bartol 3 stars

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by

Alice Steinbach 5 stars

Servants’ Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance by

Margaret Powell 5 stars

March

Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore 5 stars

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea 5 stars

Balthasar’s Odyssey by Amin Maalouf 5 stars

Spymistress: The Life of Vera Adkins, the Greatest Female Secret Agent

of World War I by William Stevenson 2 stars

April

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee 5 stars

The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman 3 stars

Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery and Murder in Medieval

England by Alison Weir 4 stars

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 5 stars

State of Fear by Michael Crichton 2 stars

May

Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama 5 stars

There’s No Toilet Paper…on the Road Less Traveled: The Best of

Travel Humor and Misadventure by Doug Lanksy 3 stars

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams 3 stars

Tangerine by Christine Morgan 4 stars

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 4 stars

Lost Lexington, Kentucky by Peter Brackney 4 stars

The Designer by Marius Gabriel 4 stars

American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s

Legendary Rise by Joe Drape 5 stars

June

Origin by Dan Brown 5 stars

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman 5 stars

Voices of Resistence: Oral Histories of Moroccan Women by Alison Baker 5 stars

The Birdwoman’s Palate by Lakshmi Pamuntjak 3 stars

Descent into Chaos: The United States & the Failure of Nation Building

in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid 5 stars

July

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and

Heroines by Gail Collins 5 stars

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler 5 stars

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man

Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder 5 stars

Grandma 64 Joins the Peace Corps and Lands in Namibia by Anne Baker 4 stars

The Taliba Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker 5 stars

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown. 5 stars

African Visas: A Novella and Stories by Maria Thomas 1 star

Without You, There is No Us: My Time with The Sons of North Korea’s

Elite by Suki Kim 5 stars

The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester 3 stars

August

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali 5 stars

The Lost Order by Steve Berry 5 stars

Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett 5 stars

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston 5 stars

An Argumentation of Historians by Jodi Taylor 5 stars

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton 4 stars

September

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan 4 stars

Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World

by Christina Rickardsson 4 stars

The Honest Spy by Andreas Kollender 3 stars

The Concealed Sarah Kleck. 3 stars

Splendid Isolation: The Jekyll Island Millionaires’ Club 1888-1942

By Pamela Bauer Mueller 4 stars

October

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover 5 stars

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith 5 stars

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali 5 stars

Circe by Madeline Miller 5 stars

Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari 3 stars

The Bishop’s Pawn by Steve Berry 5 stars

The Museum of Mysteries by Steve Berry 5 stars

The Unkillable Kitty O’Kane by Colin Falconer 1 star

A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medeival Mind and The Renaissance:

Portrait of an Age by William Manchester 4 stars

November

Ten Women by Marcela Serrano 4 stars

The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine by Somaly Mam 5 stars

The Question of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak 3 stars

Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen 5 stars

December

Becoming by Michelle Obama 5+ stars

The Great Passage by Shion Miura 5 stars

**4 & 5 star ratings are highly recommended

Posted in Books, Peace Corps Morocco | 2 Comments

Minaret Obsession

During my two years living in Morocco I became obsessed with minarets in this country. They are as diverse as the country itself.

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Greetings, Hospitality and Personal Space

As my time in Morocco is coming to an end I’ve been reflecting a lot about what I’ve learned from this culture and about myself. Today I thought I’d share with you some things that are very different here vs. the US. First I’d like to point out that Morocco is a collective society, meaning that the views of the group are the primary entity. What that really means in Morocco is that individual people do not own anything – if something is mine then it’s yours. Headphones are not used because if I’m watching a YouTube video everyone around me wants to watch/listen as well, right? Food is always shared. And if you leave clothespins on the roof someone will use them. In the beginning this was a very hard adjustment but after two years I’ve come to embrace the ‘what’s mine is yours’ concept.

Greetings are a big part of a Moroccans day. You ALWAYS greet those you pass and everyone in a room when you enter. Here’s how I greet people in my village:

*words I use: Salam! Labas? Kulshi mezyan? Hamdullah! (Basically, Peace, are you fine, everything good, Praise God) Some people now simply say to me ‘Laila labas?’

*how I greet men (or large groups/people I don’t know) handshake and then place right hand over the heart (I will probably continue doing this for a long time!)

*how I greet women, especially those I’m close to: cheek kisses (or presses really); this one gets tricky because everyone does it different. Some times it’s one kiss per cheek, some times it’s one on one side and two on the other, and some times it’s three on one side only or three and one. You kinda have to just go with the flow. And with my host mom and counterpart there is a little bit of lingering on the last kiss – kind of like a hug.

*greeting older women: older women, especially if they are your grandparent or parent, comes with a special greeting of kissing the hand – then she kisses yours and then break free and put your finger tips to your lips (sometimes I place my hand over my heart). Adult children usually kiss the forehead of their parent or grandparent. This is a sign of respect.

When walking down the street it is the responsibility of the person walking to greet those sitting or standing on the road. Most of the time I simply say Salam! and wave my hand. Because I’m a foreigner, I do get a lot of ‘Bonjour! Ca va?’ but I always respond in Arabic. French is the second language of the country (the third language for many people) and Moroccans assume you speak French over Arabic. Those who speak some English will greet with me ‘Hello!’ And I’ve started responding in English because it helps them become more comfortable speaking a language they are uncomfortable with.

Morocco is known for its hospitality. Being from the south in the US I thought I knew what hospitality meant, but no. Random strangers will invite you in for tea or a meal. You are encouraged you to make yourself comfortable and it’s even ok to take a nap in anyone’s house! As I mentioned before, food is always shared. You can show up at someone’s house unannounced and they never blink an eye. They immediately start fixing tea and tell you to stay for food. This is honestly one of my favorite aspects of living in this country.

Personal space. Shew. As a pretty individualistic American I’ve always craved my personal space and didn’t want anyone encroaching on it. My own personal space is an arms length or more. When I sit down in public places I always look for a space as far away from people as possible. Tiny, crowded spaces have always given me anxiety. But it’s hard to live in Morocco and not adopt some of their non-personal space ways. Moroccans literally fill in every tiny space possible. I’ve watched women squeeze in between people and fit perfectly in a space that not even a cell phone would fit! In my area we routinely put 9-10 people in a taxi designed for 6. Families all sleep in one room and crowd around small tables eating out of communal dishes. When I lived with my first host family up north I always found myself sitting on the opposite side of the room from everyone else. Now I find myself squeezing in to the tiny space next to my host mom while I enjoy tea. Women next to you in taxis/buses/trains will put their hand on your knee. When volunteers get together we sleep several people to a room and I no longer find this weird. I’m not sure how I will react to personal space when I return to America. But for now I find comfort in sharing my space with those around me.

This is just a tiny glimpse in to some of the ways I’ve changed and what I’ve learned from this beautiful culture.

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Communication

After two years in Morocco, I think I finally have the communication style figure out. I don’t always understand it and for a long time it frustrated me, but it kinda makes sense now.

Moroccans tend to communicate both directly and indirectly depending on the situation and the person (Americans tend to be fairly direct in most cases). When I first arrived in site and was walking with the previous volunteer, people would ask her my name and where I was from. We were both frustrated by this since I was standing right there and they could have asked me. But this is part of the indirect communication and sense of hierarchy. She was the senior volunteer/foreigner so had higher authority. I get it now.

Other forms of indirect communication include having your gendarme call other volunteers to find out where you are (I’m usually in my house); the gendarme calling multiple members in your community when they need you to come to the station for carte de sejour stuff (residency card); when you are at a wedding and sitting awkwardly showing too much leg (or my tattoo?) and someone tells the person sitting next to you; being at same wedding and a guy has an interest in a girl so therefore tells someone in the family of the couple getting married and that person approaches you to see if you are also interested. This form of indirect communication is very common due to the separation of public/private spaces and lack of dating culture by American standards. When a guy likes a girl he finds a mutual acquaintance and expresses his interest which is then relayed through the mutual acquaintance or a family member to the girl.

When it comes to social media, males are very direct and will contact you through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp without even knowing who you are. They look for keywords/locations and randomly type in phone numbers (I had a guy once tell me that he got my number from a book of pages). Both sexes will immediately ask for your Facebook and WhatsApp upon meeting you (whereas in America even family members aren’t connected).

Direct communication includes things like very personal questions that Americans tend to avoid. How much is your rent? How much did you pay for those shoes? Are you married? Why not? Are you lonely? To be honest, many American families harp on those not married and without kids. But the difference is, in Morocco this is often one of the first questions people ask you when you meet.

I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out exactly what constitutes a direct vs indirect question. But friends and family shouldn’t be surprised if I now directly ask them what their salary is and indirectly inquire whether they want to grab a coffee.

**please note that this is a very generalized view of both Moroccan and American communication styles and based on my own personal experiences

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Harassment

I have struggled the last 6 months to write this post – as I promised I would in the last post. It’s not an easy subject. And harassment is not something exclusive to Morocco. I am also cautious to not cast an unpleasant light on a country I have come to love and call home.

But harassment in Morocco is a very real thing. There are many different levels of harassment and I’ve been fortunate to be victim of only the mildest kind. Because of that I will only speak to my experiences during my time here. I define harassment as any unwanted attention that makes you uncomfortable.

On a day to day basis, I mostly deal with things like kids/boys throwing rocks at my building (yes I’m sure they are looking for attention – but it’s irritating); unwanted comments from teenagers/young adults (including some pretty lewd & graphic things said); bicycles, motorcycles, cars and trucks flashing their lights at me, honking and swerving in to the space where I’m walking.

In some ways I understand the comments from the young men. Morocco is a society where the genders are separated: women are confined to the home (or private space) and men are allowed to dominate all public spaces. Once you reach puberty, there is very little interaction between the sexes (except among family members) so in order to let someone know you like them and want to get to know them, men catcall. With technology and the availability of Facebook and WhatsApp some of this is changing. But technology also opens up whole new ways for men to harass women (I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve had to block on FB Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram). Also because public spaces are considered men’s spaces some men feel women deserve the attention/catcalling/harassment simply for being outside/sitting in a cafe. *Please note that I do not agree with these methods nor do I believe that every male feels this way – it is a huge generalization and an attempt to understand the society in which in I live.

On a more physical level, I have had men purposefully sidestep into me at souk or on the sidewalk in order to brush up against my breasts; sit way too close in a taxi or on the train; and slide their hand under my butt as they are getting out of a taxi. I have been with a volunteer and a friend visiting from the States who’ve had their asses grabbed.

Many volunteers experience harassment on a much higher level (to the point of assault). Many women in Morocco experience this on a regular basis as well – it is not just aimed at foreigners. I cannot speak to their experiences because they are not mine. What I’ve come to realize living in Morocco and with the recent Me Too explosion is that women all over the world are targets for men who feel they should be allowed to do and say whatever they want. Again, I know that not all men think or act this way – but we can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore the facts.

As I stated earlier, the harassment I’ve received is very mild – but it’s still harassment. My coping mechanisms include meditation, ignoring as much as possible, and attempting to understand the root of where it comes from. This is the only way I can survive day to day.

Harassment is real. And it needs to stop.

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