Monday, June 28, 2010

My neighbors just slaughtered a sheep...

This is just one of the many pleasant sound clips from my site mate Lynn. Upon hearing this I didn't even flinch. Instead I started thinking.... how can I get some of that meat!??? I suppose this is just a small example on how my environment has changed the way I think. 10 months ago, this statement would have made a much larger impression on me. "A sheep... they slaughtered it... does that mean they killed it? How did they do it? Wheres the blood? Why?" Now, all of the questions and more have been answered. Additionally, the act of slaughtering an animal seems quite quotidian. I walk through my market everyday with goat head on my left and hanging intestines on my right. The smell always leaves something to be desired, but the sight is merely a part of my everyday happenings. So, for those who ask me about the differences between America and Morocco here is one: you have a much closer relationship with the animals you eat here than the average American.

For the rest of this entry I'd like to talk about the World Cup. As I hope you are aware, the World Cup is currently going on in South Africa. This has probably been one of the best things to happen to me so far in my town. Let me explain why.

The world cup brings people together. More specifically it brings all of the men in my town together for four hours a day at the cafe. Usually, the cafe is full, but nobody seems to go at the same time so it is hard to "run into people". Now, there is a set four hours a day when all of the important, do something, folk in my town are at the cafe. Consequently, it has served as an excellent opportunity for me to hold some business meetings. I get to the cafe a bit early, stake out a prime table. Then when the important community members come in, I invite them to sit down with me. From here we shoot the xra for a while and then I start bouncing some ideas off them. Its great because even if my ideas are horrible, they aren't going to leave because SOCCER IS ON.

This convergence of a few factors has made a huge impact on the productivity of my work. Projects are starting to look like they might happen. An environmental education camp that I am trying to do this summer might actually happen. All of this is a result of the world cup. SI must admit before I came to Morocco I was very much opposed to watching soccer on T.V. But now, I love it. It has helped me network and has given me a perfect space for talking with members of my community. I never thought I would say this before, but can the World Cup please last forever?!

The heat is setting in. Laundry is being done more often. Life is good.

Friday, May 28, 2010

English Olympics

I recently held an english olympic competition for my students. The idea is that each volunteer in this region will hold an olympic competition at their respective dar chebabs in order to choose the top five students who will travel to a nearby city next month. There, the students will compete in a Regional English Olympic Competition. This consists of six teams from the surrounding area testing their english skills with games like pictionary, hangman, definitions, and jeopardy. Here are some photos of my students competing in our local competition. Of course, only girls came. What can I say...

Taking notes while my students take a test... I am definitely going to be a professor one day. That was totally awesome.

The start of the spelling bee. It took a while for me to explain this concept, but once we began the students really enjoyed it.

Hard thinking going on, right now.

More spelling bee action!!!!!

The last one standing. Winner!!

My participants and my mudir. Next stop. Sefrou!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More Pictures

Apparently God only wills photographs to be uploaded in the wee hours of the morning. Here is the Special K morning addition of a photographic journey through morocco.

We begin our journey with the classic shot of a berber woman and a donkey. To be quite honest it took me a while to actually capture this particular shot. I see and hear donkeys all the time, but I rarely carry my camera around with me. I believe the donkey is carrying some fresh spring crops.

The beautiful wild flower fields of my site. There are flowers of all kinds and colors out now. We have your classic whites, sweet yellows, intense purples, warm oranges, and titillating blues.

Moulay Idriss, as viewed from Volubilis. Moulay Idriss is the white town in the background. It is a beautiful village located in the hills outside of Meknes. Part of its charm lies in the fact that it has just recently been opened to non-Muslims. Volubilis, known as Walili in Moroccan Arabic, is a stunning site as well. The ruins here are well preserved and stretch over a large area. Perhaps the most exciting finds for the ancient enthusiast are the numerous mosaics.

The glorious ruins of Volubilis. I had some sweet memories of Greece 2007 when I visited this site. For some reason the song "Yiea Sou Maria" kept repeating in my head.

My fellow adventurers at Volubilis. I can assure you they probably weren't as excited as I was. Granted this might be hard to do.

Chouan. Known for its blue painted houses, it is also a place that up until the 20th century did not know westerners. Unfortunately, now it really only knows tourists. Everywhere you go here you see westerners. However, it is a beautiful little place and offers a nice escape in the mountains. As you wander through the blue-washed narrow streets you feel like you are floating down a river. Much like those turtles I mentioned in an earlier post.

Chouan from above. We took a hike up a gorge and we able to experience a beautiful view of the city. A pearl in the green mountains.

Some Photos

It took a short jump from winter to summer here in Ribat El Kheir. We practically skipped over the entire thing that we call spring in America. Just a couple weeks ago it was cold and now its 95 degrees. However, we did have a little spring. And damn, was it beautiful. Here is my site mate Lynn and our friend in front of a beautiful green field.

Here is a view of my site. Its pretty when everything is green. Unfortunately, its only like this for a couple weeks out of the year.

A waterfall I stumbled upon after a 15 kilometer hike. This was actually my goal for the hike, but upon my return I realized I could have taken a 2 kilometer route... oops.

The river that lead me to the magnificent waterfall mentioned above. This river was awesome. There were turtles in it that we just floating down stream, not a care in the world, surfing it! Sometimes I wish I was a turtle. I guess I forgot my inner tube on this hike. I won't let that happen again.

Hmm. More to come, if God wills.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ramblings, some finds, and a little bit of home

I have been away this past week, working at an english immersion spring camp down on the coast, just a wee bit south of Casablanca. The experience was amazing and one that I look forward to experiencing again during summer camps. The kids are awesome and it was fascinating to see how they bonded after just one week together. The last day was filled with tears, hugs, and exasperated goodbyes even though they were all returning to houses withing a 15 kilometer radius from one another. Perhaps its my hardened, individualized American exterior, but I was awestruck that kids would show this much emotion after just one week. However, it does highlight the more familial based society here. By the end of the camp everybody thought of our group, quite literally, as one big happy family. America has the Brady Bunch, but that is nothing compared to the familial society here.

As I said, camp was amazing; however, I too felt my pangs of homesickness. About halfway through camp I experienced a huge desire to go back to my town, see my kids, hang out in my coffee shop, and walk around the valley. It was the first time I really felt like this place was my home. I was missing it like a desert misses the rain or a dessert misses the cherry on top. And now that I am back it feels great. I'm getting back into the swing of things and have a newfound desire to make english lessons fun after having spent some time creating activities at the camp. Additionally, I may have just found my grail, if you will.

Before I explain what I literally stumbled into I need to tell you about the Peace Corps YD set up in Morocco. Each volunteer is assigned to a specific dar chebab. They go to that dar chebab, teach english and then involve themselves in other youth development projects through different associations that work at the dar chebab. Unfortunatelyt, my dar chebab is small. I have been pinned into the corner of only teaching english on the very valid point that there is not any space to do other activities. Conseauently, because there is no space outside associations do not come into the dar chebab and do activities with kids. This has made it difficult for me to do anything with the youth besides teaching english.

Last night I was rambling around town. I had no real intention of doing anything other than ending at the cafe for a nightcap of warm milk and louisa. On my walk I ran into a bunch of people I know and started talking to them. They asked me questions about what I am specifically doing here and what I want to do here. I told them I was teaching english but interested in doing more youth development oriented activities. It turns out that these folks are all part of an association that actually does work. Most recently they have bought and delivered goats to the poorer people in the countryside in the hopes of creating a goat cheese cooperative. However, they are also interested in forming some projects for youth. They see that youth spend too much time on chat and not enough time working their minds in other areas. I was invited to their association meeting, talked about goats, and then discussed development in general.

To me this feels like a huge breakthrough. I finally have some idea of the specific associations in my town and know who to talk to if I want to initiate a project. Also, I've been invited to all of the future meetings of the association and a fieldtrip to see the goats in the countryside. They want me to look at their project and tell them any ideas I have. I don't know anything about goats, but who knows, it will definitely be fun to check out. Additionally, building good and strong connections with this group of people now will make it easier to work with them in the future on possible youth projects. It was a great night. I never made it to the cafe, but the stimulating conversation on development, goats, and some of the problems of this area certainly were better than any warm cup of milk I've ever had.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm gonna kill that cock....

Last week I made what some might consider a good life decision and what most might consider a horribly stupid one. I decided that I shall arise every morning at six in order to enjoy some much needed sport. I have found a couple local friends with whom I run, stretch, and do push ups. It really feels great! In retrospect, its something I should have been doing for a long time. Waking up at 6 is not hard. Its not like I'm going to bed late. What am I going to do: play crossword puzzles until the wee hours of the morning? Maybe... and I'll be the first to admit that this has happened, but the point is I can easily go to bed around 10 everynight and not miss anything.

However, my health and well-being are not the point of this article. I mentioned earlier that it was easy to wake-up at 6. This is true. However, all great things are accompanied by gloom. Sometimes the gloom is really bad, other times its merely mild gloom. My gloom for this situation is an utterly obnoxious cock that crows at 6 in ther morning. Now, you might say "hey, you're already up! Whats the big deal?". Well, my fine gentleman (and women of course), the big deal is that I have to listen to this thing go off like an alarm clock on ether (just watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)... It gets under your skin, flows through your blood, and annoys the hell out of you. It is one of the worst noises in the world and possible a practice they should try in prisons. Lock a prisoner up with a cock... see how long it taks before the prisoner goes insane or the halls run red with chicken blood!

Normally I would sleep right through this and not be bothered by the terrifying high pitched crow that emanates from under my house. That was beauty. That was my eden. My palace of protection. I was like the Buddha: having not ventured out of palace, I knew not of death, disease, and crime. My naive self did not even consider the fact that something this unholy could take place at that godforsaken hour! I should have realized that unholy and godforsaken are partners in crime. But I was blinded by the green, fertile garden of naivete. I should have known about this, I studied religion for God's sake (this made me chuckle...). But alas! I am now trapped in its grasp and cannot be released. I now know about this event and am destined to endure the screeching cry until judgement day.

Unless of course this problem was "taken care of"... I have had a craving for chicken lately... and it seems like the Greek Mafia might be in need of some business (oh yea, I got connections) All I'm saying is that "everyone needs a little KFC"

Safi. LLay auwn. (Enough, god help you... used instead of goodbye)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Success Story

I must let you know why my posts have been so infrequent. I have a wireless internet modem which is awesome. I can take my computer practically anywhere and get internet access. I'm not sure there is anything like this in the states. However, as you might be able to guess its not perfect. I have good internet connection and can get to any site I want except google. It seems that my modem or computer or internet does not like google and its affiliate sites (one of them being blogspot). Thus even if I have internet and I can get to other websites I can't get to google, blogspot, picasso web albums, etc... I have no idea how to fix this, but sometimes, lets say once in a blue moon, I can connect to these sites. It always brings a smile to my face.

I have for you today what Peace Corps Morocco would call a success story. Now you will understand how "success" is measured here in PC morocco. About three weeks ago I was taking a beautiful hike with my site mate lynn and my friend from college Will. We were meandering along a gorgeous path that skirts the edge of the plateau on which my town is situated. After a good thirty minutes of hiking we ran into a older looking building with a mule standing in front of a large open door. We ventured to see exactly what this building was and it turned out to be an olive press. Not just any olive press, but a traditional mule powered olive press. Even in Morocco these are becoming rarer as they are being replaced by their 20th century electric counterparts. No doubt this was an awesome find.

We ventured into the olive press and found four men working. At this point we introduced ourselves, they sat us down, opened a wooden door in the floor, and scooped out some freshly pressed olive oil. I guess this would be called the most virgin olive oil you could have! We proceeded to enjoy this delightful green liquid with some fresh bread that the kind workers provided. Soon after we were engulfed in a clusterfunk of trilingual conversation. My friend Will speaks french fluently. Consequently, the olive press workers were speaking to us in Moroccan Arabic, french, and the little english they knew. It was really quite a scene.

We made such an impression on the workers that the manager of the mill invited us back to his house for tea and more conversation. We graciously accepted the offer and joined his family and friends for some sweet moroccan tea with Sheba (mint is out of season know so everybody is using sheba - absinthe - and no, it does not make you see little green men). At the house we met a few of his wife's friends. As I am teaching english at the dar chebab, I very stealthily suggested that they come to one of my english classes. I did not think anything would come of this suggestion, but its always good to ask.

The following Tuesday two of the women came to my english class. Not only that, but they have become some of my better students. At class last week we were talking about food. One of the women asked me what my favorite Morcoccan dish was. Of course I responded couscous. I didn't think anything of this, but two days later I found that I had an invitation to join the women's family for couscous lunch on Friday (every friday family's have couscous). I immediately accepted the invitation as it was definitely going to be better than the eggs that I would normally make for lunch.

I went over to the house, ate couscous, and had a great time with the family. They have a son in North Carolina (if you ever find yourself in Raleigh and meet a moroccan ask them if they are from Hermoumou... you probably have an 85% chance of being right). While the parents don't know english they have visited many parts of America and know a bit about the culture. We talked for a couple hours while I ate my weight in couscous. (Couscous expands in your stomach... so don't eat until you are full because you will only become more full. A friendly word of advice!).

I left the house with a free bottle of fresh olive oil, some eggs that a chicken literally just popped out, leftover couscous, and an invitation to join them every friday for lunch.

This is a Peace Corps success story. A chance encounter turned into a fruitful relationship where cultures are shared, ideas are exchanged, and relationships are built. I know it might not seem like much, but it was absolutely the highlight of my week. Below I've included a few food pictures to whet your appetite!

A vegetable stand. This was taken in another town, but they all look kind of the same. Its where I buy my greens.

From my training site. Our friend has just made us a traditional Moroccan dish: Chicken topped with french fries. I swear that I have eaten more french fries here than I ever ate in the states. But somehow the grand ol' US of A gets the reputation for consuming those oily devils.

And finally.... Couscous or Scscou or Ta3am. It goes by a number of different names. However it always looks the same. You can eat it with a spoon or for the more adventurous you can try the hand method.