Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Double Rainbow

So, to pick up where I left off in my last blog entry and to say a little more about the weekend on which I posted my last blog entry: I was away from my town for some training in another village which is a couple of hours away from my town. There were a dozen other PCVs at the training.

On one of the afternoons of the training, one PCV said that the moudir (director) of her Dar Chebab (youth center) had invited us over to his and his wife's house for kaskroute, or afternoon snack. Moroccans are quite hospitable, and certainly magnanimous with their hospitality. So, we went over to their home for kaskroute.

In addition to tea and coffee, some of the offerings included home-made doughnuts. Since some of you might be curious what the doughnuts, or shfinj, were like, if you think of the texture of the kind of doughnut in the USA which has a hole in the middle and which is powdered, they were of that texture, but without the powder. There were also some baked goods which seemed to be a little like brownies.

In addition to enjoying our hosts' hospitality, and the food, I also was enjoying how my fellow PCV's moudir was playing his guitar for us. Among other things, he played some Bob Marley for us, which was fun to hear.

When we emerged from their home, we were delighted to see a double rainbow. I only remember having seen one once before, in or near Yellowstone National Park, so I was happy to see that double rainbow earlier this month.

Upon arriving back in my town, I barely had enough time to shower, change my clothes and eat a very late lunch before I went to my Dar Chebab to tutor someone in English in one of my regularly scheduled sessions. He's actually a teacher of Arabic. Since he asked me to tutor him in English, I have been tutoring him twice a week. I find it very satisfying, as he is very attentive, and takes a lot of notes, and asks me questions, and comes up with new sentences to test his understanding of English.

It could be that I didn't feel down upon arriving back in my site because I immediately got to work. And, more than just getting straight to work, I immediately set out to helping someone. I have often found that when I feel down, I often feel better after helping someone else.

However, I can say, now that a couple more weeks have passed, that I also am just feeling more comfortable. I feel that I am coping better with being away from family and friends in the USA. And I feel more comfortable not being in the USA, being in a foreign country, in a foreign culture, being in Morocco, and living in my town. I'm here. I live here. This is where I'm living my life. And I'm enjoying helping people here. I'm happy doing this work.

I'm appreciating actually seeing and hearing Moroccans express themselves about what is important to them, instead of just reading about it. I was teaching an English class earlier this month about family trees. When I was teaching the students the words "aunt," "uncle," and "cousin," one of them incredulously asked me in Arabic, "What?! If I want to tell someone about my Emmi, Emmti, xali, or xalti, what am I going to say?"

(In Morocco, in Darija, speakers say "Emmi" for "my father's brother," and "xali" for "my mother's brother," whereas in English we say "uncle" for both of these people. In Morocco, in Darija, speakers say "Emmti" for "my father's sister," and "xalti" for "my mother's sister," whereas in English we use the word "aunt" for both of these people. In Morocco, there are multiple phrases for cousin, namely "wld Emmi," for "son of my father's brother," and "bnt xalti," for "daughter of my mother's sister." Through this greater vocabulary regarding family, you see that Moroccans place a high value on family. Islam plays a prominent role in leading Moroccans to value family; for example, Islam provides that children should take care of their elderly parents.)

I told the students that if one of them wants to tell a person that someone is his or her "wld xali," for example, he or she could say that that person is the son of his or her mother's brother. And then I added that in English, we typically just use the word cousin.

So while I was teaching English to the kids, we were actually teaching each other about our respective cultures. This little story, I believe, reflects how PCVs not only have different roles to play, among them both teacher and student (that is, that as PCVs we not only have things to teach, but also to learn), but also how we often end up quickly shifting between these roles. To phrase it differently, while the "first goal" of the Peace Corps is to "help the people of developing nations meet their need for trained men and women," in the process of doing exactly such work, simultaneously PCVs also often inextricably work on the second and third goals of the Peace Corps. That is, while PCVs are helping to train host country nationals, PCVs often at the very same time help them better understand US citizens and also gain a better understanding of those same host country nationals.

Not wanting to stay too theoretical, however, I sometimes deliberately try not to be too wrapped up in my own thoughts, so that I focus on my interactions with others, and open to what may come along. Yesterday on my way here to the cyber where I check and send e-mail around the corner from my apartment, a couple of the kids who play soccer on my dirt road where I live, called to me after I had passed them. I spontaneously played a little soccer with them, which was fun. I was a little amused by how one of the kids reacted with approval when I blocked the ball he had vigorously kicked to me.

To continue on, and to close on, a lighter note, yesterday I was amused for various reasons about how, during a tutoring session, I was teaching my student the difference in pronunciation between "dessert" and "desert." Of course, I was amused partly because we live in the Sahara Desert here. But also, I found it appropriate that I was educating on this point, because there is no paucity of sweets here in Morocco! And lastly, I was enjoying teaching on this point, because I myself love dessert, as those who know me well can testify.

Monday, March 14, 2011

PPST (Post-Pre-Service Training) and After...

So in late February I was glad to be at PPST (Post-Pre-Service Training) in the town of Azrou for about a week with the rest of the PCVs who arrived here in Morocco at the same time as me last September. At PPST, we received training mostly on planning youth development projects. Peace Corps staff also gave us our next LPIs (language proficiency interviews). I was happy that the Peace Corps thinks that I have become more proficient in speaking Darija since my LPI at the end of PST (Pre-Service Training).

After leaving PPST and arriving back in my town, I went through another rough patch. It's always rough after getting back into my site after hanging out with other PCVs, since I go into withdrawal from the camaraderie I've just experienced.

It certainly helped to remind myself that I came here to Morocco to help impoverished people who need and want my help. When I did so, I didn't feel as much despair.

But again, at the same time I was going through a rough patch, I was reading a very appropriate book which directly spoke to my concurrent difficulties. This time I was reading "The World We Have" by Thich Nhat Hanh. In that book, he explains that the Buddha advises us to face our fear. By doing so, we reduce the strength of the fear. Consequently, we are better able to cope with the challenges we are currently facing, while simultaneously we also better understand ourselves with the new insight we have gained by looking at ourselves.

So I took a look at my despair, discomfort and fear. I acknowledged to myself, stated, "I am feeling despair." Once I did so, I felt not only immediately, but also tremendously, better. I'm grateful for these newfound insights, strengths and approaches I have been discovering.

Now a couple of weeks after PPST, I've been happy to be at a training on HIV and similar infections this weekend with a dozen other PCVs. In addition to learning some new information on such infections, I've also appreciated benefiting from the experience of PCVs who have been in Morocco longer than I have. They've shared their experiences about how they've worked on various projects and activities. I love how we can and do support each other in our work and in our lives.