Monday, December 1, 2008


Happy Happy Happy Belated Thanksgiving!
The other day I finally retrieved my luggage from the CTM station. It took me four trips to the station before success. My site mate told me there’s no point in trying to do more than one errand a day. Anyways, I dug out my calendar. The last thing written was my flight information from Boston to Philly. That was just yesterday but so long ago. Now I'm sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I've made my way to my site. I watched a community cry as the previous volunteer said goodbye. And I'm already sweating, jogging and laughing with these women. Did this all really happen? How am I here? Wow. (Photos of Swearing In. Top: Welcome new PCVs. Bottom: Morocco Country Director, me, and Program and Training Manager.)

...Of course the next question is what do I do now?! I don't understand what being a PCV actually means. But for now, I'm asking a million questions. I'm stumbling to speak clearly in Darija. I'm doing anything that comes my way, including waking up at 6am to jog with the women. I’m balling up couscous with my hands each Friday. I’m binging in clementines. And I'm learning how to breathe.

In the meantime, enjoy my ode to Thanksgiving. I can’t believe it’s been a year since the Halfway House hosted Thanksgiving dinner. That was of my favorite days in CP.

I’m thankful for the constant stream of emails and love from home.
YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HAPPY IT MAKES ME. So keep telling me about your lives in the motherland. Period.

I'm thankful for my fellow trainees.
During the first week of training, I remember talking to the Country Director’s wife (a former PCV which goes by the acronym RPCV, meaning Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). She mentioned how she’s much closer with Peace Corps friends than college. And I said to myself, “Umm… that’s because you don’t have the college friends I have… or my loves from high school.” Now of course you guys are irreplaceable. But I’m so grateful to trained with such amazing people. Those who went through PST ’08 share something special. (Photo of Rabat roommates: Kate, me and Lynn.)

I’m thankful for the PCVs in my neighborhood.
This past Saturday I celebrated Thanksgiving in Tiznit! That made my week/weekend. It couldn’t have been more wonderful. Candles were lit around the courtyard and room. We had two bookshelves full of food. PCVs brought their guitars. We stayed up late singing, laughing, talking. I have another great community with those in my providence.

I'm thankful for Moroccan trees that know what's up with fall.
During the last week of training, we were given a couple days to learn as we pleased. A group of us decided to hike in a nearby town. We walked up a hillside and along a little spring. We also explored an abandoned TB hospital. I bet you're jealous. How many people get to say they played in an abandoned TB hospital? And then jumped in a pile of fall leaves? Well, now you know that someone. hahaaa. (Photo ofMike in front of the TB hospital.)

**On a side note: according to my fellow trainee, the TB hospital was abandoned after the French colonists left. UNSUSTAINBLE DEVELOPMENT!! Where was the skills/resource transfer?! What about capacity building?! Maybe probably did NOT know about community maps. They probably didn’t start this project with PACA tools. Hahaha. Ok. Enough.**

I'm thankful to have found many "sympathetic interpolators" here in Morocco.
Every PCT has to take a Language Proficiency exam. Each language proficiency level (i.e. Novice High, Intermediate Low, Intermediate Mid, etc) has a hilarious description. One level's description goes along the lines of this: you can only be understood by "sympathetic interpolators," who are patient and accustomed to foreign speakers. One states that you can’t even be understood by the most patient person. (FYI- I did well! But I know the real test is here and now- trying to make a community understand what the heck I want to say.) Anyways, you would never guess how excited people get when they hear a funny-looking Chinese girl speaking their language. It turns heads. Suddenly people have questions for me and want to help me out! Awesome, right? I’m happy to find sympathetic interpolators almost everywhere.

I'm thankful for space saving plastic bags. Without them, I could have never shoved so much crap into my bags.

I'm thankful for shared chocolate mousse.

I’m thankful my host family has a cow, turkey, sheep, goats and chickens.

In case you were wondering, I’m integrating well into this farm family. The other day, the cow licked the side of my pants. That’s real love. And the goats and sheep didn’t turn around and run from me as they did the first day. I’ve yet to love on the turkey and chickens. They’re a tricky bunch.

I'm thankful for Moroccan red wine, especially when combined with song and guitar.

I'm thankful for anyone who loves to play with their shadow and understands the fun of shadow fighting.

I'm thankful for songs without words. Sometimes words are the last thing I want to hear.

I'm thankful that shared laughter doubles joy. I’m thankful shared tears halve the pain.

I'm thankful for my village and these women. They’re the reason I joined Peace Corps. And I’m thankful for the possibility to make these next two years glorious. It's already been a good week.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Almost a PCV

We're swearing in this Thursday!!! That's when PCTs become PCVs. Sorry I haven't been writing regularly on this blog. Time passes too fast. And I realize that words are inadequate. They cannot capture everything as I'm experiencing Peace Corps. So those are my lame excuses for not writing. But here's an attempt to recount what I've been up to.

Wrapping up CBT

the CBT phase of training has come and gone.
I think I already miss the 50 cent and A-kon hits the school's neighbor had on repeat. Winter winds have swept through town. My family has installed their inferno. Actually, they've installed this inferno twice. I guess the first time was a false alarm. The weather hinted coldness but not enough to keep the inferno out. But within that same week, my host family pulled out the inferno again and rearranged the room for the second time. This reminded me of what my brother and I would do as kids. When we shared a room, my brother and I would come up with a new way of rearranging furniture every couple months.

This also means that my host family asked me if I was cold at least six times a day- when I wake up, while i eat breakfast, just before I leave for school, when I come home from school, during dinner and before I snuggle into bed. I've repeatedly explained that in America, I grew up in the north. Typically, there is snow on the ground from late November until February. I like the cold. Winter is my favorite season. But all that was to no avail. I think they're particularly nervous since I walk around the house barefoot.

In this CBT Phase
, everyone in my group implemented small projects. They all fed into Cynthia's project of creating a website. Go look up our new website: It's a glimpse of the amazing Artisana I was able to work with. P.S. that's my beautiful back on the left-hand corner during a hike to the cedar forests. We hiked nearly 30 km that day!

My project was an attempt to capture product uniqueness. Moroccans originally wove carpets to tell a story.
AFC does not explicitly convey this notion to the consumer. No record exists for the names and meanings behind motifs and designs used in their carpets. Thus, I set out to label, name and organize the motifs used. The idea behind my project was far too ambitious for the limited timeframe we had in CBT. Furthermore, the knowledge behind these carpets did not pass down with the knowledge of weaving. More often than not, weavers knew how to weave designs but did not know the name or meaning. More interestingly, different women called the same motifs different things. Some motifs- such as bananas and boats, came as a surprise since these do not represent Itzer/the region. While the anthropologist in me would love to dive into the history of this, it's more important to sit all the weavers down and have them name their designs and motifs. Taking commission orders would be such a big step for the association. Dispite these obsticles, I was able to make a catalogue of designs. I've handed off my notes and photos to the current PCV in Itzer. And I'm happy to have transferred computer cataloguing skills to an AFC member. A good resource to make this project sustainable!

CBT ended with a community farewell party. I helped make pizzas and apple crisp. Our cook made bastilla, an incredibly delicious mix of philo dough, chicken, almonds, eggs, cilantro, cinnamon and sugar. Moroccans love their sweets. We also had two big cakes! No one left hungry. It was great having all the wonderful host families and Artisana members gather around for dinner. And there was dancing! We had a great cross-cultural experience trading greatest dance moves. Life is better when done with a dance step.

Saying goodbye to my host family took even longer. My host mother and sister started crying. And I cry when other people are crying. It made me realise the different cultural conditioning we have. In the States, I'm never with everyone I love. To a certain extent, I can pick up house, leave and still be happy. With my family, whose lived in this town for generations, people don't come and go. They stay. Inshallah I will get to break bread and drink tea with them again.

Site Visit
Coming back from CBT, we only had two days in Azrou for seminar. There was a wonderful rumble of excitement the night staff announced our sites. It felt like Christmas morning. Though I had a million questions running through my mind, it was exciting to have a name and a location of "home." My site is about an hour from Agadir. Even though I'd like to travel the world, for these next two years my heart will be in this little town an hour from Agadir.

Going on site visit means I've already traveled a good bit around Morocco. I've stopped in Meknes, Marrakesh and Agadir before making it to my future home. I'll be chasing beach sunsets for the next two years. The artisan cooperative I'll be working with crochets, knits and embroiders. They're products have evolved over the years. They've made tunics, pillow cases, bracelets, handbands and soap bags. I'll be the third PCV in this site. Previous volunteers have already built a solid foundation for this netti but still is more work to be done. Know that I'm in the right place, coming in at the right time. Talking to the previous volunteer, I could almost see myself and the women two years from now. (Photo of me, Leslie- former PCV and President of the Association.)

Life is good. There are still a million little things which make me smile each day. That hasn't changed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My name is Touriya

Since moving to my CBT site, everyone has started calling me "Touriya." The name means chandelier. In addition, my host family has given me a nickname- "Tutu." I have yet to tell them that in English it means the funny skirt thing ballerinas wear. hahaa. But all my host sisters have similar nicknames- "Zuzu," "Nunu," and "Susu." Sometimes we spend five minutes going around, laughing and calling each other by our nicknames.

Oh and I've posted some more Morocco photos on this website! Cheers :)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Photos from CBT Phase I

I'm back to my CBT site for three more weeks of training. And in typical Joy fashion, I'm behind on uploading pictures, writing blog entries, sending out emails etc. So here are some goodies from CBT Phase I.

The town is tiny. I can walk from either end in less than 30 minutes. There are only two paved roads. No one really owns a car. Those who do jump out of their cars every now and then to push it up hilly roads. It's great! My house lies near the outskirts of town. It overlooks mountains and fields where sheep graze. I wake up a rooster's morning call of a rooster and painful weezing sounds of a donkey. At night, there's always a battle between wild dogs and cute/nervous chickens. I've never witnessed these epic battles but they sound painful.

When you walk into my house, there is a long hallway which leads to the backdoor. The bathroom, bedroom and kitchen are on the right-side. The salon (my room) and family room are on the left-side. The house is tiny but there's to be room for everyone. No one really has any stuff. No one really has their own space. Thank goodness my host family is wonderful or I'd be pulling out my hair.

I've been hiking as much as possible. Two weeks ago, my group walked about two hours out to a lake. The best part of the hike was getting free apples. On the way back to our town, we saw apple pickers on the side of the road waiting for a truck to come. We asked if we could buy some apples. Instead, they lead us into the apple tree grove for some cross-cultural fun. So in exchange for 20 minutes for apple picking, I took home three wonderfully delicious apples. Here's my CBT group on top of a plateau (hiking part II), eating apples!

The town's souk happens on Saturday. And the whole town seems to be out and about. This past Saturday, our group wanted to buy the week's worth of fruits and vegetables at the souk before saying hi to our host family. But I ran into mine anyways! It was a great welcome back along with a somewhat awkward "How are you back already?" hahahaa. The souk has EVERYTHING you could possibly imagine. And people are everywhere. On the group's first souk visit, I lost the others. But it was fun meeting vendors and bargaining on my own! And I learned a thing or two about souk visists. That Saturday, I confidently went up to an apple seller and asked how much for a kilo. When he responded "120," I was outraged thinking he was trying to take advantage of me. I dropped the apples and left his stand somewhat annoyed. Little did I know he was responding in terms of rayls and not dirhams! That would have been a reasonable price. hahaha.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Community-Based Training: Week 1

I've left Arzrou and the comfort of the amazing hostel. And I've completed my first week of community-based training (CBT)! Everyone in my CBT group is getting along fine. Peace Corps still has us busy around the clock. Classes run from 9am until 5pm. However, we've spent a couple days outside the classroom, interviewing the local Artisana Association and meeting individually with the weavers. Their craft is amazing. Today, the Association will be hosting an exhibition. I'll post pictures and details soon!

CBT also means living with a host family. And I think mine is beyond adorable. My host mom and dad are both in their late 70s. They have eight children, three of whom still live at home. The family typically speaks a Berber dialect at home. I'm happy to gain insight on a Berber home. Sometimes when I ask "What is this?" (snu hada) or "What is that?" (snu hadak), I'll get the word in Berber from my host mom! However, my host sisters are always quick to correct her. "No no no, she's learning Darija!" hahahaa.

One of my host sisters has a seven month old baby. He's truly sweet although I don't think he's getting adaquate nutrition. My host mom loves to feed him sabakia (a crispier and sweeter version of fried dough) as well as cafe (which is also saturated with sugar). Oftentimes, I see the baby bounce back and forth fairly violently. Talking with the local health volunteer, I see the need for health education. However, the notion of a health pyramid clashes with the sugary, oily and saturated foods by which Moroccans define part of their culture. Also, I still haven't seen anyone in my host family brush their teeth.

On Saturdays, the village has a weekly market. This market is at least ten times the size of Eastern Market. So you can imagine just how excited I was. They have everything there. From second hand clothing to new shoes, from fruits and vegetables to electronics (although I probably wouldn't buy electronics there). I was excited to use my Darija to ask for prices and bargain. I bought what I think will be a week's worth of vegetables and fruits. My host family mainly feeds me carbs. I'm happy to now include more fiber into my diet!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Better Late Than Never

By popular request, here are some long awaited photos! I'm pretty sure you can click on the photos to view them in a larger setting. Sorry I haven't been taking that many. I completely forgot about taking pictures while in Rabat. I guess that means I'll need another Rabat visit! Luckily I'm with many artist photographers. When I figure out how to make cute links to my blog...

This is one of my first glimpses of Morocco.

SBD-ers are incredibly blessed to be staying in an amazing hostel. Believe me, we're not "roughing it." We eat before we even feel hunger. The owner is incredibly sincere and patient. I like practicing my barely existent Darija. Most excitingly, each room features beautifully geometric patterns. AND we have plenty of space up on the roof. It's probably my favorite spot here. Morning meditation and yoga!

As I had mentioned, a group of SBD-ers went hiking about a week ago. And the hike mixed all things wonderful about my Peace Corps experience thus far. We were blessed with glorious weather, a nice workout, sheep/goat herders, men on donkeys and good conversation. Thank goodness I still get the enjoy the beauty of trees, a variety of shrubs, and cedar forests. All that makes me happy.

We wash laundry by hand, then use the solar dryer. It's wonderful. I love cleaning, that didn't change since coming to Morocco. And my clothes were dry in just a couple hours! Thanks, Mr. Sun.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

S'salamu εalaykum

Hello hello! S'salamu εalaykum (Peace by upon you)

I've been in Morocco over a week now! All 58 of us volunteers made it safely to Casablanca then over to Rabat. To the left is a picture of JFK Airport. On the flight, I sat next to a Moroccan native, who now works in DC. It was nice talking about everything wonderful in DC as well as things to look forward to in Morocco. In particular, we talked a lot about Ramadan. Muslims observe Ramadan during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It's purpose, as I understand, is
purification through forgiveness and self-restraint. He commented, "After 11 months of flirting with the devil, it's good that Ramadan is here." He also remarked that with time, I'll come to appreciate the "Ramadan" side of Morocco. But being in a new place and stretching myself in new ways, it's hard not to appreciate everything Morocco.

We spent three days in Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. Since our flight landed ahead of schedule, we were able to see the Peace Corps Morocco Office, an absolutely glorious compound with lush greens, welcoming flowers and intricate tile designs! Time flew in Rabat. Each day, Peace Corps staff had the day mapped out for us. We got necessary shots, an introduction on Moroccan culture, safety and security, rules and regulation, as well as a visit from the Ambassador. I've been grateful to have talked personally with most of the Peace Corps staff and I can tell you, without hessitation, I'm in good hands.

On another note, I've already had a culture blooper! Before lunch one day, my roommate and I decide to head out to the marketplace and buy an adapter. Sweaty, lost and a bit disappointed, we finally stumble into a store that sold tvs. (TV stores have adapters!) But our Moroccan Arabic (Darija) is just barely existent and my French is not much better. After trying to communicate, I decide it's time for charades. I use my left hand to represent a wall and a sideways peace sign with my right hand to denote the plug. I also change it into a fist to represent plugging a cord. I get the most surprised/disgusted look from the store owner. Who would have known that's one of the most obscene gestures?! Only until flipping through the Peace Corps Culture Manual, did I realize clapping your hand over a closed fist is an obscene gesture. In fact, it says in bold,
"OBSCENE. DO NOT USE THIS GESTURE." I know I won't ever be repeating that these next 27 months! At least we were able to use some Darija to buy adapters!

Now I'm in Azrou, Morocco for about three months of communit
y-based training. The bus ride only took two hours. And though I was exhausted, I couldn't bare to take my eyes away from the window. It's in the Middle Atlas Region, surrounded by rich cedar forests and various fruit trees. Azrou means "rock" in Berber and used as a center for trade back in the day. My Blue Planet guide book describes the town as a "cheerful, hassle-free little place." And my time here, thus far, has been nothing less. I'll explain more in a later post. But here's a snapshot of Azrou, nestled in the mountains.

Take care and send me questions! I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Day 1 of Staging

Each Peace Corps training group meets for "staging" before leaving the States. Staging functions as a mini orientation for the three months of training and two years of service to come. For Morocco's Sept 2008 Small Business Developers (SBD) and Youth Developers (YD), staging takes place in Philadelphia. And I couldn't be more happy! It's close enough that some Maryland loves came to send me off. They even came into the hotel to check me in. When riding up the elevator, someone asked if we were all Peace Corps Trainees (PCT). Nope, just Joy. hahahaa. My friends are more than wonderful.

Peace Corps staff bombarded us with a wealth of information. From Peace Corps101 to safety and security, from hammering out anxieties and aspirations to defining success. It's a lot of information to digest. Before dinner, I needed to run and sort through all which has been thrown my way. I can only imagine how intense training will be. However, my fellow PCTs are incredible individuals. And I've only known them a couple hours! I'm excited to grow, learn and serve along with them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Month Away

It's the one month mark to my leave date! This past Monday, I attended a Peace Corps meet and greet event at Busboys and Poets. The more I talk to former volunteers, the more excited I am for the 27 months to come. Yet, for the moment, I'm wrapping up loose ends, reading everything about small businesses, "learning" Moroccan Arabic, and getting involved with The Center for Arts in Natick. Time is slipping through my fingers. And then again, my leave date can't come fast enough.

To take a step back, I should explain why I'm joining the Peace Corps. Didn't I read "The Road to Hell?" (which explicitly stated the surmounting challenges in international development) in GVPT354?! Wasn't I the big skeptic when Jenny started the application process? The following paragraphs reveal a glimpse into my reasons why.

Once a week, I had the joy of facilitating a discussion on human rights in a DC public high school. The class consists of 9th through 11th graders who only have a 1st through 3rd grade reading level. One lesson came after the students finished taking their PSATs. The difficulty of the exam greatly frustrated the students. During that lesson, I asked the students to draw a picture of themselves or something that represents them. Cheyenne drew a picture of a flower. She said, “Flowers represent beauty. That’s what I’d like to become.” Though years behind her peers in reading, Cheyenne understands the true challenge set before every individual.

My college journey has been an experiment on how I can best be a catalyst for social change. I pursued Economics, hoping to learn the magic models and formulas that can eradicate society’s problems. I eagerly delved into international issues with a hungry appetite. I took advantage of the resources in the university and DC to gain an understanding of social justice work in practice. Through the process, I realized the importance of reevaluating who I am. In the summer of 2006, I took an informal course entitled, “Alternatives to Violence” with Professor Coleman McCarthy. He constantly stressed the importance of our daily actions. During one session, a student asked how we can nonviolently end the Darfur genocide. He responded, “Shut the door gently behind you.” Undoubtedly, individuals can organize, educate others and pressure elected leaders, among other tools. However, our next immediate action is leaving the classroom. We should use even the smallest of actions as opportunities to be a beautiful person.

My internship with Coop America reinforced this notion. As their corporate research intern, I continuously investigated the environmental and social consequences of corporations. I saw how my everyday actions, in particular consumer choices, were linked to larger realities. What statement am I making with my dollar vote? Is that consistent with the values in which I firmly believe? How can I be someone beautiful, even when I’m not writing a letter to free an innocent prisoner?

To answer that question, I see how much I need to grow. My perspective is heavily western. The Peace Corps not only offers an opportunity to work for social justice, but also provides the type of abroad experience I wish to have. Being a Peace Corps volunteer requires an understanding of local culture. I’m excited to step outside of my box and immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment. There is something to be said when individuals work for the recognition of human dignity. There is something even more beautiful when both parties learn and grow in the process. I want everyone to realize their inherent beauty. Hopefully my flower can bloom more brightly as well.