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.