Sunday, July 24, 2011

How To Get Repeat Customers

Arriving in Marrakech today, I was exhausted. When I exited the bus station, I saw some vendors selling fresh-squeezed orange juice. Thinking about how exhausted I was, and how I didn't think I'd want to venture out later for fresh squeezed orange juice like I usually do in Marrakech, I thought that perhaps I should just enjoy some orange juice right away, there adjacent to the bus station. So I asked one of the vendors if his orange juice had sugar. He said it didn't. Later I realized that if an orange juice vendor in Marrakech pours the orange juice immediately out of a pitcher for you, it probably is adulterated, since many fresh squeezed orange juice vendors in Marrakech add water and sugar to the orange juice they sell. (Keep in mind that Moroccans add sugar to many of their drinks).

Dissatisfied with the orange juice I drank at that stand adjacent to the bus station, later in the day I went to a stand I had patronized weeks ago, where the young vendor actually had squeezed the oranges for me while I waited. Today when I approached his stand, I gestured to the pitcher, and asked him in Arabic if there was sugar in it. He replied that yes, there was a little sugar in it. I asked him for some orange juice without sugar in it. He proceeded to squeeze the oranges for me while I waited. And that's why I'm going to keep going back and giving him business.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Capital Improvements and Construction of Churches

I live on a short unpaved street; thus, it's a dirt road. When I walk out of the front door of my two-unit apartment building and turn left and walk a few hundred feet, I reach the second most prominent street in my town; it has many shops, including hanoots (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "grocery stores") on it.

Last month, when I left my town to go to IST (In-Service Training), the town was preparing to pave that road. When I got back from IST, they had finished paving the road.

Although I've seen the workers using a steamroller when they are finishing a paving job here in town, the road isn't completely smooth once they're done paving. There are some loose bits of gravel on the road, which eventually make their way to the edges of the road. Even then, the rest of the road isn't completely smooth, because the bits of gravel which are molded to the road aren't completely flattened into the road. The more prominent road in my town, the main road, is paved a little more smoothly, since it's part of the road system which you see on a map of Morocco.

Earlier in the year, the town had ripped up certain roads and was making improvements to the sewer system. Once they had made the improvements to the sewer system, they then paved those roads.

In sharing these developments in my town, I'm led to point out some things about countries in which the Peace Corps places PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). Since some of you at times have sounded surprised about the level of development and infrastructure in Morocco, keep in mind that the Peace Corps sends PCVs to developing countries which are at different stages of development. Consequently, some countries in which PCVs work are more developed than some of you might expect.

Also, remember Morocco's history, which has in large part been influenced by its geographical location. Being at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco has long occupied a strategic spot. As a result, many peoples over time have tried to occupy and colonize Morocco. The Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans invaded Morocco. The Phoenicians established the port cities of Tangier and Essaouira, as well as Tetouan. Roman ruins remain at Volubilis in northern Morocco. Arabs also migrated to Morocco, bringing Islam with them in the 7th century. And of course, much later, the French colonized Morocco, resulting in the Treaty of Fes in 1912, which made Morocco a French protectorate until Morocco gained independence in 1956. Over time, 100,000 French nationals settled in Morocco. In the 20th century, the French built their "villes nouvelles," or new districts, in many Moroccan cities, in which the French lived. The French also made significant changes to the infrastructure of Morocco, installing electricity, paving roads, laying railways, and establishing Casablanca as a major port. So when thinking about the level of development in Morocco, remember the historical context in which this development is occurring.

Also, when noting that there are churches in Morocco, remember the historical context in which these churches arose, and who built them. European colonists set up churches in Morocco for their own use. These churches remain in many cities in Morocco, among them Tangier, Tetouan, Fes, Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir, Essaouira, Marrakech, and Ouarzazate. However, they are overwhelmingly attended by tourists and other non-Moroccans living in Morocco.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


In my town there are garbage men who come to pick up trash, usually every week, and usually more than once a week. However, they don't always come on the same day of the week.

In light of how people here rummage through the trash cans and bags of trash which people leave outside their homes, often spilling trash onto the street, I don't leave my trash out in front of my apartment overnight. I don't care whether people know what's in my trash; indeed, there is nothing remarkable or embarrassing about my trash. Rather, I want to do what I can to avoid trash being scattered on the street. I've seen someone on my street sifting through trash, causing it to spill onto the street, even just within the fairly narrow window of time in which the garbage men here in my town usually arrive, between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.

So, I don't even leave it outside in the morning. Instead I wait to hear the garbage truck approaching, usually honking its horn to help announce its presence, then I get up and take the trash outside. However, sometimes they collect all of the garbage on my street before I can make it outside in time to catch them. So it can be a tricky matter, just trying to get rid of garbage!

This morning the garbage men came. They had already left my street by the time I got outside. However, this morning my garbage bag had a lot of food scraps in it, including onion skin, a few bad olives, and residue of pasta sauce, and I didn't want to keep it in my apartment as it would have continued causing odors which likely would have attracted various bugs. So I went off in search of the garbage men. First I walked to the end of my street, and immediately found the garbage men on the street perpendicular to mine, and handed my bag of refuse to them.

I'm certainly thankful that my town has garbage pickup. Not all PCVs in Morocco live in towns where their garbage is picked up. I'm also thankful that my town has garbage pickup given how many Moroccans often deal with trash.

Many Moroccans just drop articles of trash as they are walking outside. For this reason, I am glad that in addition to the pickup of household trash by the men with the garbage truck, there are also municipal employees who walk around the city with wheelbarrows collecting trash.

However, it has also occurred to me that perhaps people drop trash outside since they expect these municipal employees to pick it up. One day I thought that perhaps because the city provides that service, that that is why I once saw a girl discard a juice carton by placing it on top of a small pile of trash by the side of the road. That is, perhaps she left it there because she knew that someone was going to come along and take it away while picking up trash with a wheelbarrow.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

First Visit Back to the USA

So, in the last couple of weeks I made my first visit back to the USA since I started to live in Morocco in September last year. It was a lot of fun!

To take things in order: the morning I left my town, I showed up to the office of one of the bus companies here in my town and found out that the early bus out of my town was going to be full. I always go to the bus company office the day before I catch a bus to buy my ticket for the bus I'm going to catch the next day. But the day before I left my town to head to the USA, the bus company office was closed both times that I went to it that day. So that morning that I was leaving my town, after finding out that the bus was going to be full, I headed to the grand taxi stand in my town. Given that there are multiple ways of leaving my town, I wasn't concerned about making it to the airport in Marrakech for my flight the next day. Nevertheless, as I was waiting for a taxi to fill up, I appreciated how I saw a truck drive by with a large sticker on its windshield that said, "Don't Worry."

In fact, once I got out of a taxi at a stop about an hour from my town, I managed to get on the bus I had been told was full when I had still been in my town. Apparently the bus was only full until that stop where I got on the bus. I was thankful to be on a bus and not crammed into a grand taxi during most of the ride to Marrakech.

Later that day, I arrived in Marrakech, which provided the context of the blog entry immediately preceding this current one. I was glad to be on my trip!

Early the next morning, I checked out of my hotel and began walking toward the nearest petit taxi stand there in Marrakech. Before I got to the taxi stand, a middle-aged guy approached me and asked me if I wanted a taxi. I replied in Arabic, "Yeah, but it's going to be expensive." He replied in French, "No, seventy." I had heard from another PCV that a taxi driver in Marrakech had told him it cost 100 dirhams to get to the airport. Further, after dusk and before dawn, taxi drivers in Morocco charge one-and-a-half times the regular fare for any particular taxi ride. So, when this driver told me it would only cost 70 dirhams, I figured I was being charged less than the usual price, and took him up on his offer. On the way to the airport, I was thinking all of this, especially in light of how some taxi drivers in Marrakech clearly had tried to overcharge me on previous visits to that city. So after I paid him, when I was getting out of the taxi, I told him in French that he was an honest man, and told him in Arabic, "God be with you."

I was very glad that my flight from Marrakech to Casablanca, and my flight from Casablanca to Brussels, Belgium both went without incident. I happily ate some delicious food in Brussels, stayed overnight there, and the next day continued my journey to the USA. Finally, after one grand taxi, one bus, two petit taxis, one train, four trams, one metro, five planes, and one car ride, I arrived at my parents' home in the USA, 72 hours after I left my apartment in the Sahara.

I was very happy to spend time with my folks, and also with my sister, who was also visiting them at the same time. In addition to enjoying their company, I also was very happy to eat food I can't eat, or at the very least, can't easily come by, in Morocco. My mom made some delicious lasagna. I loved having bacon for breakfast (remember that Morocco, being a Muslim country, does not have a lot of pork, bacon and ham in it, except in cities, and more likely in the larger ones, and even then, it's not ubiquitous).

Another stark difference of which I was very conscious: though I hadn't forgotten, nevertheless, on my visit back to the USA, I was very conscious of how women are not covered up like women are in my town here in the Sahara. As I visited restaurants and shops, and walked around on sidewalks in the USA, I was repeatedly struck by how women in the USA often wear clothing which shows all of their arms up to the tops of their shoulders, their legs well above their knees, and, from time to time, exposes their midriffs. I was taking this all in in contrast to the women in my town here in the Sahara, who are covered sometimes literally from head to toe (that is, everything except their faces and their hands). If they're not that covered up, then they are only exposing below their ankles, even now, during the hottest part of the year, here in the Sahara. If a woman is exposing herself any more than that in my town, it is rare (unless she is visiting this town from a larger city and/or is a tourist).

I suppose that I was struck on my recent visit back to the USA by how relatively uncovered women in the USA are, even though in my everyday life in Morocco, I have been very conscious of how covered rural Moroccan women are, because throughout my life, I've been used to women dressing as they like. In other words, I was raised under certain customs, and those are still the ones to which I am most easily accustomed. Which brings me to a larger observation I had during my trip back to the USA. As I was processing my thoughts about what it was like being back in the USA, often out loud, in conversations with my parents and sister, finally my mom paraphrased my many observations, and said, "So, being here feels normal." And I said yes, that it just felt normal being back in the USA. I wasn't experiencing reverse culture shock, since I must say that I don't feel Moroccan. While I've adjusted to life in Morocco, I still feel like a citizen of the USA living in Morocco. So while it wasn't a gigantic relief to be spending time in the USA, it just felt good because it felt natural.

That is to say, I haven't adopted the customs of Morocco as my own. While I feel like I've adjusted to living in Morocco, I don't think of it as my own culture. When I got back to the USA, having been constantly faced with rural Moroccan women so covered up, it was a major change to see women so relatively uncovered, as I have for most of my life. I felt like I was returning to a culture which felt more natural for me, and for that reason, among others, I was enjoying my visit.

After a good visit with my folks and my sister at my folks' place, I flew to New York, where I again met up with my sister. When we had our first lunch there, I had such a good pastrami on rye sandwich. The pastrami melted in my mouth! At that meal, I also had some of the best cheesecake I had ever had.

I continued onward and then spent time with more of my extended family. The next day, a relative threw a barbeque where I got to spend time with a good number of my relatives. It was great to see them. They had a lot of questions for me about my life in Morocco and in my town, and about my work. At that barbeque, I loved eating a variety of things I don't get to eat here in Morocco, among them pulled pork.

The following day, I attended the wedding of a friend of mine to his sweetheart. I see their wedding as reflecting another difference between culture in the USA and Moroccan culture. My friend is Jewish, and his wife is Christian. By contrast, over 98 percent of Moroccans are Muslim. And on top of that, many of the relatively small number of Moroccans who are not Muslim are not that recognizable.

At the wedding, as throughout my visit back to the USA, people were asking me a lot of questions about Morocco and my life here. So of course I was talking a lot about life here.

On the rest of my trip, I was happy that I had the chance to see other friends. Among them, I met up with a mentor of mine, who had also been a teacher of mine years ago, and who had been a PCV himself before me. While we had previously spoken about our Peace Corps experiences, we spoke more over brunch about being PCVs. He told me that when he was a PCV, he left his town twice in one year, since it was so isolated, and since there were so few transportation options. While I have many times thanked God for the many blessings which have been bestowed on me, including during my time as a PCV, I became even more grateful for my current living situation once he told me how isolated his village was. I was also thankful and appreciative of his guidance and support.

It was great to get to see my friends while I was back. I feel recharged after spending time with them and receiving their encouragement. And, I was happy that, during the last couple of days of my visit in the USA, I shared great food with them, including more bacon, ice cream, and cupcakes, among other tasty morsels.

Once I split off from my friends and started heading for the airport, though, I was looking forward to getting back here. As I was on the way to JFK, I was thinking that since I wasn't going to get to see any more of my family or friends, and since I wasn't going to visit anywhere else in the USA or do anything else there, I just wanted to get back to Morocco. To get the long trip back done.

After I landed on the last of my three flights back from the USA, and was about to exit the airport in Marrakech, I decided to utilize the information desk at the airport. As I approached the desk, I saw a few Moroccan girls huddled together in conversation. I asked them in Arabic where I could catch the bus. They directed me to where I would find it, expressing surprise and smiling as they commented that I was speaking Arabic.

Having gotten the tip from a second-year PCV to take the bus from the Marrakech airport into the city of Marrakech, rather than being charged more for a taxi, I was happy to only pay 20 dirhams to take the bus to my hotel. And, it didn't even take significantly longer than a taxi would have taken.

The next day, I woke up late, exhausted from so many days of traveling over the previous two weeks. I caught a morning bus back down here to my town. Traveling through the High Atlas mountains, I was again surprised and pleased that in the summer month of July, with no snow visible on the mountains, I saw waterfalls flowing down some of the mountains.

I arrived back in my town late that afternoon, exhausted, but happy to have spent time in the USA with my family and friends, including at the wedding of one of my best friends.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Life Is Good

About a year ago, when I found out that I was going to be a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) in Morocco, I read a blog entry by a Youth Development PCV in Morocco. In it, she was consciously being grateful of the wonderful experiences she was blessed to be having. She wrote something very much like, "I'm on a roof in the middle of Marrakech. Life is good."

Early last night, when I was in Marrakech, I was on the roof of my hotel, enjoying seeing familiar places from a different perspective, admiring the beautiful, extensive and intricate tilework on the roof, and just being glad that the hotel in which I was staying had a roof for guests. Looking out across the city, I thought, "I'm on a roof, in the middle of Marrakech. Life is good."