Tuesday, June 29, 2010


So updates… Having my mom and sister here was such a gift! We had a wonderful time! That was the most consecutive time I have been able to spend with my mom and sister since I was like 23. Plus now that they have been here, they will better understand when I tell them stories from my life and experiences here in Morocco, they "get it" a little better now. We started out in Rabat then went to, Marrakech, Esaouira, Imswan, Ouarazazate, Kelaa M'Gouna, Ait Toumert (my village) Fez, Chefchaouen (again), Sidi Bouzid and then back to Rabat and Casablanca, where my mom and sister flew out of. When I travel for work, it's just me; so lonely hotel rooms and no one to walk around with in the evenings when the cities come alive. Plus I generally get harassed, bad, when I'm traveling alone. It makes me a target. I ignore it, but it does get fucking old after a while. So you can imagine how fun it was for me traveling with my mom and sister. We laughed a lot. 

Having them in my village was the best part. I'm really glad they got to meet the people I share my daily life with and I think the people in the village were really excited to meet my family and get see who I come from, a little bit. I know they seemed as excited as I was about my mom and sister coming. And then Ait Lhajmi (my very favorite old man in the village, the dad of the family I made Biscuits for) made a bunch of special meals for me and the family. My mom didn't like any of it, but she is also a foodie or whatever that term is. The funny thing is when I first got here I didn't eat the meat because it scared me and my mom would tell me it was bad manners not to eat what people offer you. But she pretended to like it and it meant a lot to me that Ait Lhajmi made special meals when they were there. He bought turkey which is a splurge and made a special soup made from wheat and butter milk, it was kind of not good. The soup was presented as desert after we had already eaten so so so much. And I looked at my mom and sister and said you better eat it! Don't even think about not eating it. But they of course did. Then Ait Lhajmi ate four bowls to show off, because he loves attention, he's ham :).

My sister drove the whole time we were in Morocco and everyone in the village was so impressed that this little white girl knew how to drive. Not many women in Morocco know how to drive and no people in my village have their own cars. So this is an example of why Ait Lhajmi is my favorite. Because Allie drove into the village, Ait Lhajmi asked me if I can drive and I told him, not any of the cars in Morocco because they are all manuals and in America I only ever drove an automatic. And he said "don't worry Zahra (my name here) I don't drive cars either, I only dive the donkey". Lol… Anyway it was great having them here!

Work is going good which I'm so thankful for. I just went with Samira, who teaches the women's literacy program, to Ouarzazate to see about getting the government to start paying her for her work now that the program is successful. We took all the program documentation to show him. I've been telling her that we need to take attendance everyday and give a test every month to the class so we can demonstrate attendance and literacy progress when we go talk to the government about paying her. This was a good idea because the guy seemed impressed with all the documentation we had and said they could start paying her a monthly salary starting in September. This is great because she's been doing it for free because she's awesome and the only woman who can read and write. I can't even explain how happy and how much joy it makes me feel that the women are learning to read and write. It's been months now and they are all still going every day, all seventy of them.

I finally finished my Women's Center proposal. The community built a building and the deal was that Peace Corps/me would provide everything else needed to turn the building into a center were the women can learn to make textiles so they will have access to personal income. Maybe then they'll stop shaking me down for all my ibuprofen. Inshallah, lol… Peace Corps has this grant template thing where you just fill in the boxes and then send in the proposal. Its pretty idiot proof, so even people without developed writing skills can get a grant approved. It's a good thing though, because a person could be a great volunteer and not have any writing skills, so the template thing makes it super easy to submit grant proposals. Like the way I think I'm a good volunteer but my language is still pretty atrocious lol… But this project will require a lot more funding then the $3000 US dollars the PC grants provide. So I had to write this big grant proposal. I had never written a grant proposal before so I sort of felt like I did not know what I was doing with regard the structure and formatting. I didn't have internet at the time so I couldn't look at examples. But I spoke to my boss this week and he said it looked good and we should get the funding by the end of the July!!! This is sooo good and such a relief! I get stressed out every time I walk past that building and see it standing their empty. Not to mention the community took all the spare money they had, building the structure because they believed in me that I would turn it into a women's center/neddie (that's what they call it, neddie). You can understand why this is a huge relief. I'll attach the proposal in case anyone is interested:

I volunteered to participate in this camp for girls living in the slums outside Rabat and Casablanca next month. There are these shanty towns around the edges of the major cities here, like Rabat or Casablanca. They are clusters of these shacks put up with sheet metal and chicken wire. They are usually about the same expanse as a football field. There is no running water, or solid waste removal and would absolutely qualify as poverty. I know they are that bad because I have seen and smelt them. It's no where anyone would want to live. The government has this program where they bus these girls up to the Mediterranean for a girl's empowerment camp they would otherwise never get to, go to. If I say "supposedly" a lot here it's because this will be run through the Moroccan government, which I have mostly found to be corrupt and inept. Supposedly the camp will provide women's/girls development/empowerment activities and environmental lessons. Our/my roll (8 Peace Corps volunteers will be participating) will be to support the ministry in carrying out their planned actives for the girls. The Peace Corps Country Director (the head guy) in Morocco told me that Islamic radicals recruit young kids out of these shanty towns, into terrorist operations. But the government obviously doesn't want this or for people to know about it. So they have come up with this camp solution?

The county director told me that there are secret police that handle terrorist activity and that's why the public isn't really aware of this recruitment; it's all handled/investigated secretly. At least they're doing a good job keeping this a secret, because I have never met or heard of anyone who expressed any type of sentiment like that. I would describe Moroccans as an incredibly warm people. He explained that it's just that easy, because whatever the radicals have to offer is basically a step-up from living in tin shack in a shanty town, which smells like waste. So the gist of the idea is, get the girls out of the shanty, take them to the beach, and teach them about "life choices" and "environmental preservation" (I'm not sure how the environmental preservation ties into the camp objectives at this point?). Provide the girls an experience allowing them to see, do, and, learn ideas/things that they would otherwise not be exposed to. And then hopefully they will be less likely to end up prostitutes or getting recruited by Islamic radicals, etc…

However, I don't think two weeks of camp is going fix the bleak outlook of these girls' lives. It will be special for them though, no doubt. But this program seems to me, like a Band-Aid fix on the part of the Moroccan government to me. A better, more comprehensive approach might be to investigate the factors that led those people to be living in such miserable conditions to begin with and how can we fix those problems. Rather than send them somewhere pretty for two weeks. ¯If I were president…. Lol… Anyway, it will be interesting for me to work/spend two weeks with these city girls. I have only worked with my extremely rural (as you've seen from the pictures) village population. Most of the women in my village have never left the village itself, better yet seen a city or shanty town. Overall, I am looking forward to participating in the camp and getting to see the Mediterranean, I haven't been to that area yet.

The wheat harvest just finished in the village and that was lots of fun. The whole community/village participates. Takbilt is a real old word that means the "whole village working together in solidarity"; I think that's how you'd translate it? The oldest record of Tamazight is from like 200 BC; so translating is sometimes tricky, plus the language is so tied into the culture. At any rate, during harvest time there is lots of "Takbilt"; everyone is working together and excited about the harvest. Generally life moves pretty slowly here, thus the harvest is a big exciting event. I've never participated in anything where everyone was happy to do their part. No complaining or bickering about why or who has to do what. It's was truly fun and exciting; it's an excitement like at Halloween where everyone is out and there is electricity in the air. It's really a congenial feeling to get to part of something where everyone has a job and is excited about what's happening. Everyone's day-to-day routine changes during the harvest; everyone is out of the house, working in the fields; their fields, or their friends' and families' fields.

They work in a synchronization and cooperation that is amazing, like ants or something. But as I write this it occurs to me that they would have to be extremely coordinated and proactive to get all those fields cut and then hauled miles away, and sooo fast and all by hand. For example, some of the women from a house go to the fields, and the rest cook/bake extra that day and bring them breakfast out in the fields, and such. And the women in the fields all sing in rounds while they cut the wheat; it's beautiful.

I think the holiday-like excitement I mentioned before is also created by the demand for a "big push" during the harvest, which changes the normal day-to-day routine of the village. Normally pretty much different variations of the same thing happen every day in the village. It is soothing or comforting; in a rocking chair on the porch sort of way. But once the wheat is ready be cut that is all anyone does. If it's not cut at just the right time, it can affect the final flour product. I think pretty much once its golden colored, it all has to be cut, but as I said, once its ready- time is of the essence. Cutting all the fields in the village seems to take about three weeks. I'm mostly just in the way, but I try to help lol…. After all the wheat is cut by hand, a man comes to the village with a combine/thresher that's rented by the hour and every family has a turn having the wheat from all of their fields run through the thresher. Because it's rented by the hour, once they start they don't stop till they're done with all of a family's wheat. Thus the family and everyone else helping ends up staying up all night to feed the wheat into thresher thing. Which doesn't seem safe to do in the dark to me, plus that thrasher looks rather old, run down and not safe. My mom is an industrial hygienist and she would be dismayed to see how close/far down into the thresher they put their arms/hands.

(This is Ait Lhjami soo tried after working the thresher all night the same day I made the biscuits and brought the soda over )
(All the fields harvested, corn will be next and so it goes... at least here where life moves in a seasonal rhythm)
I did make some biscuits and buy soda that I brought over to my favorite family's/Ait Lhajmi's house the morning after they were up all night working the rented thresher. They seemed to like that. One of the old women I like a lot walked in to kitchen and asked where the biscuits and soda (soda is totally a luxury item they don't buy for themselves) came from. When her daughter said I had brought them, she walked over to me and patted me on the cheek in a motherly way. It was a kind gesture and I appreciated it, it was nice for me. Plus you know you're "in" when the old ladies genuinely like you. Generally they are the most cantankerous and dismissive.


k-I think that's all my updates. That's what I get for procrastinating so much, the list of things that need covering keeps growing.

Love and Peace,



Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Milkshake Brings All The Girls to The Yard

Whos got the right answer?

This old lady is just so inspiring! She comes everday

Samira handing out the text books

Samia doing her thing

Yes….. The meeting and subsequent implementation of the women’s literacy project has gone as well as I could have hopped for. 78 women attended the informational meeting! It was decided at the meeting that every Sunday the women that had never attended school would have class from 2-4p.m. and the women with roughly the equivalent of a second grade education would have class from 4-6p.m. each Sunday. I had to travel to Rabat and would not in the village the two weeks following the implementation meeting, but I felt that the teacher, Samira, would be able to start the classes without me just fine. Furthermore, I thought my absence might make the first few classes less bumpy for her: sometimes my presence makes people behave differently than they would if I were not there. I gave Samira the 1st and 2nd year teacher’s manuals and textbooks and got on the transit (an early ‘80’s big manual Mercedes van) to go down the mountain and start the long trip to Rabat.

I retuned from Rabat to find that Samira and the women had reorganized the classes. The amount of women that were completely illiterate and wanted to attend the classes was much larger then Samira and I had anticipated. We didn’t expect that so many of the older women (age 40+) in the village would be serious about learning to read and write. Originally, roughly 65 women and girls made up the 1st year group and only about 15 women made up the 2nd year class. The classes were reorganized so that the 1st year students would have class everyday. They reasoned that, with which I completely agree, it would be better to focus on getting the majority of the women caught up to the comprehension level of the 15 or so women ahead of the larger group. Once the larger group has covered the material in the 1st year textbooks the entire group of interested women can move on the 2nd year textbooks. Subsequently, the small group of women that would have comprised the 2nd year group will not have a literacy class available in the time being. Still, I only have one classroom and one Samira, and I think the solution that they came up with makes the most sense. I was really, truly encouraged to come back and find that they had reorganized the class schedule so that they were attending on a daily basis! Not to mention that there was such interest in the program: Samaria asked if it would be possible for me to get fifty more 1st year txt books from the Delegation of Education! I'll take that.

Also, and this has been the best part, the 50 women of all ages attending literacy class at the school everyday has created a positive buzz and excitement in the village. It’s something to talk about, it’s a new happing, it’s considered positive and funny, it’s been the porch talk and it’s definitely helped my popularity and clarified why I'm here.

As Samaria requested, I went to Ouarzazate to get fifty more 1st year textbooks. I had Peace Corps’ staff call the delegation of education to let them know I would be coming by to pick up the textbooks. When I got there the guy that gave me the books before (the same guy I mentioned in the previous blog posting) told me that they were completely out of 1st year and only had year two and above left. So, here I am, in this giant disorganized room full of textbooks, and now the men at the delegation are trying to give me books I didn’t want. I had already explained to them the women who needed the books had never been to school and required year one and I suspected they were pretending not to understand. So I called Samira and had her talk with the man: I knew she’d yell a little, which was going to be necessary. After I threw my flirty, yelling fit, miraculously, a second room was unlocked and a box of 50 1st year books was produced. The guy from the Delegation said that he had forgot there were more in that room or something, I didn't really listen; I knew he was lying and I had the books I needed. I decided it would be best to take a box of fifty 2nd and 3rd year books with me right then, while they were there in front of me.

I have attended the classes this week and I’m so happy to see how well it’s going. While the women have been meeting for three weeks now, this week was the first opportunity I have had to sit-in on the class on a regular basis. Prior to my visit, the group had been using 30 textbooks for the 65 women the class. I went Monday and helped Samira distribute the extra textbooks and observe. She’s doing an excellent job. I told Nadia that maybe God/Rabbi sent Samira to me/Ait Toumert. She does a great job with the women: she engages them and makes each take a turn answering, but she is patient and thorough. And she doesn’t put up with any nonsense from the clusters of giggly teengage girls. Her background and who she is make her the perfect person for this job.

Samira is educated and has taught women's literacy classes before (and it shows) in another village before marrying and moving to Ait Toumert. But she has lived here in the village for three years now. She is well liked, respected, part of the community, etc.... When I began planning the literacy program, I didn't know that Samira was living in the village. Last fall when I stared this project I approached a female teacher in the village and asked her if she would consider teaching the literacy classes. She gave me a bunch of run-around that eventually ended in her telling me that “mountain women can be difficult” and she didn't have time. Even though this teacher grew up in Kelaa, which is only a transit ride down the mountain, her attitude represents a type of classism among some Moroccans. Some think they're just more civilized. Really, I can't explain, but I hear it. People from cities that didn't grow up in the “bleed” as it’s called come up here or the middle of nowhere where there's women giving birth in barns, have a air of: let it be known, “I'm not from here, I'm not like these people, my family’s not from here, the government assigned me here and its not my first choice.” They feel compelled to explain this to me as though, they don't want to be judged as equal or grouped-in with these people in my foreigner mind.

It was after the things fell through with the teacher that Nadia informed me that there was a woman living in the village that “could do it”. I don't know why she didn't tell me that earlier. I'm sure she knew all along that Samira would be better suited and more willing to do it than the teacher. Besides being good at teaching the women, I can tell Samira really enjoys it. I don't get the impression that teaching the classes in anyway interrupting her life as a house wife, the house wife of a husband that lives in Spain at that. She's good at it and seems happy when she is teaching and certainly understands the need. I would imagine it is probably a nice and challenging change from the day-to-day. I'm just grateful for her.

This is why it works out wonderfully that Samira is from the village and considered so. Yes, she's educated and lived in cities before living in Ait Toumert, but she has lived here awhile now and her husband’s family who she lives with is from the village, she has her little girl, and does enough of the “women's work” to be considered “one of them”. Yet her professional handling of the class has really helped the way the project has been received by the women. That's what a good job she does. If there were no Samaria and I had to rely on a woman like the teacher I first spoke to, things might have fallen apart in that week I had to go to Rabat. I can just hear the explanation the women have would given me when I asked what happened. Why'd people stop going? - They’d say the teacher’s name, Ashia, hotly and then nosily spit on the ground. And that would have been all she wrote. Finding someone else that lived within walking distance that was capable of and willing to come teach women's literacy classes for free would have probably been impossible. After Samira and Ashia, there is only one other literate women in the village, and she doesn’t have the technical teaching experience Samira does or any teaching training for that matter and would struggle to handle the class the way someone with the confidence that comes from experience the way Samira does. So, with vary little help on my part the women put the literacy class together for themselves.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I have been pretty excited about the woman’s literacy program I’ve been organizing for the village. It was just about to kick off when a situation almost caused me to have a heart-attack yesterday.. I went to the school with the woman teacher, Samira, and Nadia to talk to the principal (who also lives at the school) about using a classroom for an informational meeting this Sunday as well as for ongoing weekly classes. While I had already gotten permission to use the school from his boss in the city of Ouarzazate BTW, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce Samira to the principal, explain that were starting next week, having a meeting at the school this weekend, etc... I thought this would be polite and professional and wanted to confirm everything was a go. I knew it would also be important to show the principal respect, in this way, to get on his good side.

The principal said that we could use the school for the meeting this weekend, but not for the weekly classes; which I had already confirmed with his superior who said that it would be not a problem as long as it wasn't during school hours. I thought my heart was gonna stop! Not only has every woman in the village age 14 to near death been asking about the literacy classes since I got returned, I had assured Samira that I had everything in line. Furthermore, I had already gave her the teacher’s manuals to start reviewing and explained that I wanted to do periodic testing to measure the learning of the women and everything. We the principal told me that we wouldn’t be able to use the school for our weekly classes, panic and crushing disappointment came to me and I felt rather embarrassed in front of Simira and Nadia. The women were already confused and uncomfortable about having to translate my protests about how I had permission from the Delegation of Education in Ouarzazate.

Finally, I asked the principal what had changed so that we were no longer able to hold our weekly classes at the school. He explained that the only available classroom didn't have tables and chairs……Relief immediately came over me. I explained to him this was fine, we just need a room. I said we could start off on the floor for now and I would see what I could do about the desks and chairs later; we really wanted to start and now. He laughed; I guess he found this amusing. I honestly can't tell what his impression is of me; but I wouldn't be shocked to learn that he doesn't take me seriously. (We will see about that! Hmu the president of the Ait Toumert community development association used to think I was a little nutty and probably incapable of being any help to Ait Toumert, and now we are allies; we got the village running water together). As the principal turned to go into his house (a room next to the school) I turned to Nadia and Samira and said hemdullah! And the three of us slowly started to exhale. It felt like we had all been holding our breath during the tense discussion with the principal; confronted with the possibility that we were going to have to explain to everyone that the literacy program wasn't gonna happen after all. This shared hemdullah was such a comforting feeling, a good moment for me. It’s rare that the people in my village and I experience strongly felt, common emotions like that. Because this was so important to us and we had already invested so much time into the planning process, it was pure relief that washed over the three of us when we realized we would be getting the use of a room after all. Even sharing “knowing looks” is something that I rarely get to do here. This commonly felt relief, followed by shared laughter (the type that would follow this type of scare), was a nice feeling. Such a positive excitement, and I got to share it! Moments like this do a lot to combat the lonesomeness that can start to whisper defeatism in my ears at times. We get to use the school! I'm gonna meet Nadia on Saturday to scrub out the classroom and I have a plastic mat I can place on the floor for now. So there you are.  Bellow are pics that I took during the meeting:
This is just Nadia and I discussing how well the meeting went! We're pleased!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Done with Homestay # 2

Yes I finally have gotten to a computer that I’m not paying by the minute to use and… this is not a French key board that I am typing on. So I can actually include exclamation points and such. However, the French key boards are forcing me to FINALLY learn how to type without looking; and it’s about time. There is a health volunteer about a 40 minute walk from me that has been do kind enough to let me type stuff on his computer in my leisure time, so then I can then save whatever it is to my flash drive and then just copy and past it into the blog or email or whatever. There is no way I would ever have time/money to type this out in the cyber. Plus he is pretty cool, which is sweet, because it’s nice to be able to sometimes go hangout, speak English, watch movies, whatever.

So CTB is over (hallelujah) and I have been living in my site for about a month and half now (see uploaded pictures which will without a doubt evoke jealously over how beautiful my new home is) and I am starting to feel at home. It really is beautiful here. The only drawback is that it is really remote/rural. Due to the remote location of my site, it comes with a bit backwards behavior. Kind of like if you moved to tiny town in the backwoods of Kentucky where no one went to school past the 8th grade. But everyone spoke a language you didn’t know so you hardly ever understood what the hell was going on/the backwoods behavior. However, I think that is just part of the whole deal. If the people in the village were well educated and cosmopolitan esq; they wouldn’t need my help.

The big drawback to being so remote is that the only way to get out of the village is to take one of the two transits (aka an automatic BMW van with bench seats welled into it) owned by the two competing transit drivers in the village three hours down to the nearest town, Kelaa M’Gouna. The transit leaves at 4:00 am after the first call to prayer. But by far the best part of the whole transit situation is that because women here don’t often travel, they often get motion sick coming down from the mountains. This means that the whole transit smells like vomit the entire way. Last week I got stuck sitting next to a pucky woman and it was the weirdest thing. When the rest of the women in the transit tried to give her plastic bags to throw-up into, she refused them, preferring rather to through up into a washcloth. Although, as you can image, one can’t really throw-up into a wash cloth. I found this behavior strange and could not for the life of me understand why she refused the bags; however it didn't really seem like an ideal time to inquire as to why she didn't want the plastic bags. I dealt with this by closing my eyes and listing to Emmylou Harris on my mp3 player (thank you Brandi, because of you and the Emmylou you gave, this situation was much more bearable), it did a pretty good job of soothing me to the point that I didn’t start throwing-up. Thank you too, Ernie for the help with the Mp3 player/computer. Coping with situations like this would be much more difficult sans the music.

It stormed for days this week, and the sound of the thunder roaring thought the mountains was amazing and deafening, it sounded like the were jets flying yards over the village. I have never experienced storms like this. It thundered all day and then finally the rain came- hard. And the heat lightning, omg, for someone that loves storms this was super exciting. I think that my host family thought it was weird that I went and stood on the roof with an umbrella to watch, but, whatever.
The host family is good people. Six of the nine children are still living in the house and anytime one needs another rather than go find then they just stand in one spot and scream their name until the person yells back or they get tired of yelling. This can be a bit overwhelming especially given that I was lived alone for years prior to joining Peace Corps. Honestly, it feels like I am living in the Moss house circa 1998 and all four Moss girls and Nancy are a yelling at each other all at once. But the family is really good to me and helps me get around and integrate into the community everywhere they can. For example, if I need to get out of the village they will go with me and assist me in figuring with of the two transit guys is going to be going down to Kelaa in the morning and make sure that they don’t leave with me. The oldest daughter Nadia, and I have become friends and I value this friendship immensely. She is kind and thoughtful and always helps me to help me be “in the know” about what’s going on in the village. Sometimes she advises me as to how to proceed with my work and usually her suggestions are much better ideas than the course of action I was going to take. I think I would be really lonely if it weren’t for Nadia. Plus she is one of the only people that can understand me despite my “accent”/shity pronunciation.

Good, wonderful, spectacular news though! I found a house this week. When I got here, I was told that here was not a house that was empty that I would be able to move into. I was incredibly worried about what I was going to do about my living situation because this meant that I would either have to move to a different village and most likely would have end up working in that village or live with the house family for two years. The latter was not an option! This would have really sucked because then I would have lost out on and been unable to build on the work the volunteer prior to me did. She told me it took her the entire first year to get the village to understand she was here to do development work and not a tourist. The host fam told the previous volunteer that there was not a house available she could rent and therefore, she never moved out and the family subsequently ended up being paid the rent money we are allotted, for providing her with housing. However, I think that the having to contend with a complete lack of privacy made her service much harder then it would have had, had she had her own house. Anyway, I am just elated about this development! Plus I have already gotten comfortable here and started to build a rapport with the community, so I was very, vary relieved when the house magically became available. Basically I just told them that if I couldn’t find somewhere to live I would have to go live and work in another village and then all the sudden they seem to remember that there was a house available that I could live in. I can’t wait to have my own kitchen. I pretty much have to eat what they eat and last week they cooked a goat head that had been sitting in a bucket of lukewarm water for days and then I throw-up for days. K that’s all I have time for now. But next time I blog…lol (I just think that its so funny that I blog, who knew that my life would ever consist of anything worth bloging about?) I will talk about/cover the projects I’m gonna be working on and my trip to Marrakesh and Rabat. Which was awesome…. Later I can’t really keep my eyes open anymore now.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Upon Arrival

Hey All,

So I don't even know where to start.... I love Peace Corps/Morocco!! K, now I will try to explain. I have been in country for 17 days now and “home” and the life I had before I got on the plan seems/feels like I left it so long ago. I think this id due mostly to the fact that nothing feels the same here. Morocco is beautiful. The terrain is more varied and breathtaking than I could have possibly imagined. There's beaches (which I have yet to see), snow capped mountains, desert, green rolling hills- and it changes so suddenly. One second your driving through green rolling hills with rivers and lakes and literally go around a bend in the road, and the geography turns to rocky arid red earth, scarcely spotted with different varieties of trees. Its spring here and the trees are blooming, which just makes the whole sight/experience that much more awesome. I can't wait to begin traveling around following CBT (Community Based Training). Right now I'm in my second of eight weeks of CBT training. The name of the village I and the other 5 members of my CBT group are stationed in, is, Ait Mhamed. During CBT training which is basically language acquisition and culture training; we are not allowed to travel or spend the night outside Azilal. Azilal is our “hub sight”. Meaning the nearest actual city, its roughly 40 minutes away. Azilal is beautiful as well. Even more beautiful then Ait Mhamed. Our CBT group and out LCF (Learning C Facilitator) travel to Azilal once to twice a week to meet with the other CBT groups of Environment volunteers, get shots, and what are basically survival presentations. Like what to do if you get stung by a scorpion, ringworm, get a snake or dog bite (rabies is a problem here and there are packs of feral dogs that roam around the village), etc...

My host family is amazing. I totally lucked out! They have nothing (no seriously, nothing) and I mean this in the most respectful way possible. Besides, I adore Njma (my host mom) and would never speak badly of her. But laugh all the time and are exceedingly kind and patient with me. Njma, her daughter, niece and mother live in two bedroom house. I am now living in one of the two bedrooms which I feel real guilty about, but what can I do. The grandma is pretty sick and stays/sleeps in a little room/storage area above the house most of the time. So I don't see much of her and she is not really into chatting with me in my horrendous Tamazight; which I completely understand. Njma, Zinup, and Ilham are some of the most inspiring people I have ever meet. They are simply- good people. The first night I got to Ait M'hamed I got really sick for some reason and started vomiting. They were so good to me. They took me to the bathroom and stood two feet away looking extremely concerned while I pucked into a Turkish Toilet (not a pleasant experience) and then brought me back to my room, brought me water, extra blankets and pillows and proceeded to check on me periodically throughout the night. Pretty much what anyone would want if they were throwing-up, night one in someone else's house, in a foreign county where the language spoken simply sounded like gibberish. I didn't even know where to go to throw-up. But I communicated the issue pretty clearly through nonverbal communication; it came fairly naturally. Lol... Njma only has a index finger and thumb on her right hand which, from what I can tell she simply excepted years ago. Neither her nor any of the other woman in the village seem to notice. She is not slowed down by this in the least- shes a weaver by profession. Her daughter Ilham, is deaf and mute. Njma and Zinap communicate through a sign language system that from what I can tell, they have developed themselves said it works great for them. They seem to have less frequent miscommunication then my mom and me and we can both speak. They crack jokes to one another all the time. I miss/can't figure out the content of a lot of them, but it is comforting to me, to see the moments joy and laughter they display everyday. They have a much reason as anyone to feel bitter or jipped. However it doesn't seem like it would even occur to them; why, would one waste time with that when you can take pleasure in life and those around you. They laugh at me quite a bit. My lack of wife/women skills, my Tamazight, the way I end up acting everything out after 10 minutes of failed attempts to communicate in Tamazight. Zinap usually figures it out right away, which makes since.
There is not a man in the house which has been a huge relief since a lot of the training I received during stagging before coming to Ait Mhamed dealt with handling and minimizing harassment from men, which can range from men in the village to possibly your host father. Plus this allows us to be more open with each other. For example I showed them pictures of me and my family and some where from the Oregon coast and Allie, Elliott and I were naturally in bathing suits. This would have been a major taboo had there been a man in the room. The women “shouldn't be looking at pictures of men without shirts and pants on and it would be inappropriate for a man to look a picture of a woman in a bathing suit with other women around”, basically I would have just made everyone uncomfortable. Plus we get to laugh and have girl jokes. Or the other night they played me some Tamazight music and showed me how to dance, they were really, really good. This was so fun! This too however would not have been permissible had there been a man around. Women don't dance around men, really, from what I gather. It would be considered somewhat promiscuousness or a sign of promiscuity.

With this said, please don't take these has hard and fast cultural standards. These are simply generalizations for the sake of explanation. What is considered taboo varies from region to region and village/cities within the different regions of the country. Also from what I understand, things are staring to be much less conservative in the bigger cities. Your not going to see a woman wearing a tank-top by any means, but perhaps a man and women holding hands or a women in heals. I obviously do not have contextualize understanding of the culture and the point, which is primarily based on values associated Islam.
The language is really hard but I feel I'm doing ok, or at least keeping up with my group.
I will add more later when I get I chance but am out of time for now.

Take care and best wishes!



Monday, February 16, 2009

Starting My Blog

This is my first entry. Brandi (far left) is helping me set it up.