Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Luxury of a Hot Shower

I am blessed in many ways, including by having a shower in my apartment where I live down in the Sahara. Unfortunately, I don't have hot running water, which means that when I take a shower at home here in Morocco, it's a cold shower. Consequently, during this time of the year, in autumn and winter, when I'm in my town, I delay taking showers for as many days as I can, to avoid taking cold showers during cold weather.

Thus when I was in Rabat this week for my MSM (mid-service medical exam), it was with great delight that I took a hot shower last night in the hotel where I was staying. I reveled in the luxury of it. It was so much more enjoyable than hot showers which I've taken in the states, surely because it had been so long since I'd had one. Looking back at how I failed to appreciate hot showers as much when I still lived in the US, I thought of how, so often, we don't appreciate something until it's gone. And how many of us take for granted conveniences we have which others, living elsewhere in the world, don't have.

Monday, November 28, 2011

MSM (Mid-Service Medical Exam)

Today I had my mid-service medical exam (MSM) and my annual dental cleaning here in Rabat. If a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) has developed a medical condition or a dental condition which the Peace Corps can't accommodate, then the Peace Corps will medically separate a PCV (meaning that, under the medical separation, the PCV's service ends and the PCV gets sent back to the US). All went smoothly with my MSM and my dental exam. So, all I have to say is, onward with my Peace Corps service!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Set Our Eyes On What Is Unseen

Last night I came to the town of one of my fellow PCVs, between Marrakech and Casablanca. She and I were in the same small CBT (community-based training) group together during our PST (Pre-Service Training) in our first couple of months here in Morocco. Yesterday, I visited the Dar Chebab (youth center) here in her town. I was watching my friend teach English to a dozen people, mostly children. I asked her if they come regularly for English class, and she said that they do. I've felt challenged insofar as I've started teaching English at various points in my town and usually people stopped attending class after a few classes, which I found frustrating. I've also been frustrated by teachers saying that they want to work with me, but then when I ask them what activities or projects they want to do together, they don't tell me any. I also find it frustrating that they don't want to work on activities or projects I suggest to them. I get frustrated by these responses partly because the Peace Corps wants our activities to be sustainable: they want host country teachers to be carrying on our activities and projects after we COS (close, or finish our Peace Corps service).

After I visited my friend's Dar Chebab yesterday, perhaps I saw my challenges and benefits in and related to my site in a new light because I wasn't in my site, and thus had some distance from my daily situation in my site. As I was walking back from my friend's Dar Chebab before she finished teaching her class so I could get some work done at her apartment before she got home, I thought about her regular English class students. It suddenly brought the benefits and challenges in my site into focus from a broader perspective. I pondered that I tend to see the consistent, predictable benefits in my service as not being related to the work that I actually do, whereas I tend to find challenges in my service as being related to my work.

I'm thankful to God that I can attend a Bible study group with other Christians an hour from my site, especially given that I'm living in Morocco, which is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. I'm thankful that I'm not extremely isolated. The closest other PCVs to me are about one hour away from me. I'm thankful that I'm only a little over an hour from a small city. I'm thankful that I have a palmerie, which is a massive grove of palm trees, and hills and mountains, where I can go for a quiet, serene, contemplative walk in nature in my town.

As opposed to these predictable benefits, which don't arise out of my work, and some of which don't even arise out of my town, I find some of my most consistent challenges as arising out of my work, and thus as arising out of my town. In my town, I often find it difficult to get people to attend classes and to otherwise engage in activities and projects.

I'm thankful to God for the benefits I do have. I'm just also very conscious of the challenges, and not quite sure how to effectively address them. I've told myself that I can run activities and projects by myself, despite how those activities and projects nevertheless will probably not be sustainable. Essentially I sometimes tell myself that it's better to do some work which might turn out not to be sustainable in the long run rather than not be working at all. It has also occurred to me that although an activity or project might appear to be unsustainable, I don't know what effects it will have. Work we do as PCVs which seems unsustainable might profoundly effect a certain individual, having long-term impact on that person, improving that person's life, and we might never know it. Thus, for this reason, and for many other reasons, I try to live my life following the guiding light implicitly described by 2 Corinthians 4:18: "We set our eyes on what is unseen."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving in Morocco, Part Two

Yesterday I was very happy to share in my second Thanksgiving celebration this year. I went to the home of some of my friends from the US who live in the city that's about an hour away from my town, whose home I visit often, including for Bible study with them. There were many folks from the US there yesterday at their home for the Thanksgiving celebration.

The spread was very impressive for dinner, including turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, turnips, candied carrots, corn and peas, and potato salad. My friends also served sweet potato casserole; I commented that it deliciously tasted much more like, and had a texture much more like, sweet potato crumb cake than casserole. I was equally impressed by the number of options for dessert, which included pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, lemon pie, two kinds of fudge, pumpkin chocolate brownies, and banana bread.

But honestly, much more than the food, I was happy to be spending time with my friends. And much more than just being happy about spending time with friends, I was much more happy to be spending time with other Christians. In doing so, I just feel supported at a much more profound and deeper level. In applying to the Peace Corps, and in accepting an invitation to join the Peace Corps, I did make a conscious decision to remove myself to a place where I expected to not be around other Christians for the sake of work. I suppose that I appreciate their support and encouragement and company as fellow Christians all the more since I didn't expect to have it from anyone in person while in the Peace Corps!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Living In Exile

At times during my Peace Corps service here in Morocco, I've felt like I've been living in exile. I'm in a land which is foreign to me. I didn't grow up here. Although I've been learning about the culture and customs here, there is still much I don't know. And even when I do know of cultural norms, often I still am not naturally predisposed towards them. While I've been learning a language which Moroccans speak, namely Darija, that is Moroccan Arabic, I'm not fluent in it. In short, at times, I have felt as if I have been in exile here.

But then not too long after feeling like I'm living in exile here, it occurs to me that I am not in fact in exile. Generally, when one is living in exile, one doesn't know when one is returning to one's native homeland. I, however, am blessed insofar as I know when I'm going to be heading back to the US. Barring any unforeseen occurrences between now and November 2012, I am currently scheduled to COS (close my service) next November.

Also, when one is living in exile, typically one has been either forcibly removed to the country of exile, or has fled to the country of exile to escape persecution of some kind. However, I am blessed also in the sense that I did not come here to Morocco under such circumstances. Rather, I came here to Morocco of my own free will. As another PCV said to me months ago, when she experiences rough patches, she sometimes tells herself, "No one made me come here. I decided to come here."

Thus I too remind myself that I decided to come here to Morocco. And I remind myself why. To help people, and more specifically, to help impoverished people, and, even more specifically, to help them better themselves.

It was in this vein, of learning how to live well in a foreign land, with all of its attendant challenges, when reading the book "Run With The Horses" by Eugene Peterson, that I found a certain passage especially helpful. In the book, Peterson analyzes the prophet Jeremiah, and why he was as admirable as he was. Given the context in which Jeremiah lived his life, partly during the exile of the Jewish people to the land of Babylonia, Peterson discusses how one can live well in exile. Although there are some significant differences between life as a PCV in a host country, and the life of the exiled Jewish people whom Peterson discussed, there nevertheless still are some important words of guidance one can derive from his book as a PCV. Peterson writes:

Exile . . . forces a decision: Will I focus my attention on what is wrong with the world and feel sorry for myself? Or will I focus my energies on how I can live at my best in this place I find myself? It is always easier to complain about problems than to engage in careers of virtue. George Eliot in her novel "Felix Holt" has a brilliantly appropriate comment on this question: 'Everything's wrong says he. That's a big text. But does he want to make everything right? Not he. He'd lose his text.'

Daily we face decisions on how we will respond to these exile conditions. We can say: 'I don't like it; I want to be where I was ten years ago. How can you expect me to throw myself into what I don't like--that would be sheer hypocrisy. What sense is there in taking risks and tiring myself out among people I don't even like in a place where I have no future?'

Or we can say: 'I will do my best with what is here. . . . God is here with me. . . . It is just as possible to live out the will of God here as any place else. I am full of fear. I don't know my way around. I have much to learn. I'm not sure I can make it. But I had feelings like that back in Jerusalem. Change is hard. Developing intimacy among strangers is always a risk. Building relationships in unfamiliar and hostile surroundings is difficult. But if that is what it means to be alive and human, I will do it.'

Fenelon used to say that there are two kinds of people: some look at life and complain of what is not there; others look at life and rejoice in what is there. Will we live on the basis of what we don't have or on what we do have?

After reading these words, I felt that I was led to examine how they could apply to my life here in Morocco. As PCVs, some of us focus on what we don't have, and bemoan what we don't have. And I myself have certainly done that, so I find that tendency understandable. Especially during the first six months or so of living in one's host country. But it also certainly seems to be such a better approach to redirect one's attention and energies toward how one can live well in the present in one's host country. How one can best help people there, since, after all, that was the whole reason for joining the Peace Corps!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Long Goodbye

My friend Ben just COSd (closed his service) as a PCV last month. After he COSd, he was traveling around Africa for a few weeks. He recently returned to Morocco during the course of his travels, but I'd already bid him farewell more than once, each time thinking that I wasn't going to see him again before he left Africa. As I was on a bus on my way back to my town yesterday, I received a text message from him. He asked me if I was still planning on not being in my town that night. I texted him back and told him I'd be there in 20 minutes. I didn't expect to see him again until sometime after I COS myself. I'm currently scheduled to COS in November 2012, so I didn't expect to see him again until sometime after that, and I didn't expect to see him until we were both back in the US.

When I arrived back in my town, I learned that he was immediately trying to get on a bus. I knew that he had been planning on leaving the province that day to make his way north out of Morocco, on his gradual way back to the US. However, once I received the text in which he said he was in my town, I thought that he would just want to stay the night in my living room, and leave the next morning. He quickly ascertained that all of the buses were full, so it became clear that he would be crashing at my place last night.

We took all of his belongings to my apartment, and I got to host him one more time before he heads back to the US as a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). This morning, on our way to the town square, he stopped at the post office and bought a large box. He emptied some of his belongings into the box. During the process, he gave me a couple of things, including a backpack! I was grateful for it, and thanked him for it. Then he sent the box to his family in the US, so he would have fewer things to carry on his circuitous travels back to the US. Once he had finished dealing with the box, we continued up to the town square, and, more specifically, to the taxi stand for folks headed north. After we loaded his bags into the grand taxi, we were waiting for the taxi to fill up. The guys running the taxi stand, as always, asked how many places he wanted. Ben replied, "Wahd," meaning "One," since he was traveling by himself.

He and I then passed the time while waiting for the taxi to fill up partly by taking pictures, including of his stuffed teddy bear. Ben is making an adventure picture book for his young niece in which he is chronicling the adventures of his bear, Jillabo, during travels around the world. As Ben travels, he places Jillabo in various locations around the globe, making it appear as if Jillabo is doing a variety of things such as climbing towers, sitting on sidewalks, and traveling in taxis. During our wait for Ben's taxi to fill up, one of the guys at the taxi stand again asked Ben how many places he needed in the taxi. Ben again replied, "Wahd." The Moroccan guy replied, "Lla; juj," meaning, "No; two," as he pointed first to Ben, and said, "Wahd," and then pointed to Jillabo and said, "Juj." When you like a joke someone tells here or some other humorous comment, often you shake the person's hand, so I shook the guy's hand for that one.

And a little later, "Safi, baraka." That's it, enough. The driver said it was time to go. The taxi had filled up. Ben and I hugged each other and he got into the taxi. It promptly pulled away as he finally headed out from the province.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving in Morocco, Part One

Today here in my province, other PCVs and I got together to have an early Thanksgiving celebration. Given various other activities and commitments we all had coming up, we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving together the weekend before Thanksgiving. Most of us at our celebration were PCVs about halfway through our service as PCVs.

I was grateful that a few of the PCVs decided to cook dinner for all of us. Our host just asked us to contribute 50 dirhams each to help defray the cost of the ingredients which were used in cooking our delicious meal. Speaking of which, here is the menu of the delicious food we ate:

First Course (Appetizers):

pumpkin-apple soup
mixed salad with garlic herb vinaigrette

Second Course (Entrée):

turkey with bacon on top
squash cornbread stuffing
whole wheat lentil stuffing
sweet potato casserole
green beans seasoned with garlic and butter
twice baked potato casserole with bacon bits
cranberry sauce
freshly baked hard rolls

Third Course (Dessert!):

apple pie
pumpkin pie
banana bread
caramel apple cake

I didn't even think that I was eating that much, and after we had finished eating, my host (who knows that I love to eat) asked me if I had had enough. I thought about it for a moment, and replied that I was only slightly stuffed. I added that I was able to eat more, but then I would have been really stuffed. In retrospect, I suppose that it makes sense that even though I didn't think that I was eating that much, I still wound up being slightly stuffed. I was only eating the equivalent of one full plate, followed by a sampling of three of the four desserts (I didn't realize that there was any banana bread, or I would've tried that, too). But I rarely eat that much at once here in Morocco. So even though it was less than I usually ate on Thanksgiving Day in the US in past years, it was a greater quantity of food than I usually eat during any particular meal here in Morocco.

There was plenty of food! I certainly appreciated the delicious cooking. I thanked my friends for it. When I said grace before we chowed down in earnest, I thanked God for the delicious food. I also thanked God for the wonderful people who had prepared all of the food, and for the other wonderful people there with us. Immediately before our Thanksgiving celebration, I'd had a stretch of a few weeks where I didn't see any other PCVs (or any other expats at all), so it was nice to get to see them all.

That night, we settled down in beds and sleeping bags for our slumber. I was spending the night in a room that was maybe slightly smaller than 9 feet by 9 feet with 5 other PCVs. At one point, another PCV and I were reading as others were already dozing off. A few minutes after she finished reading and rolled over, I turned off the light and settled down for the night. By the dim light of a streetlamp filtering in through the small window high above us, I discerned the rough shapes of my fellow volunteers under landscapes of sleeping bags, sheets and blankets, as they unconsciously comforted me by reminding me of their presence through their sonorous respiration like bullfrogs croaking in a moonlit marsh, a pleasant chorus of reassurance which gradually lulled me to sleep.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Moroccan Independence Day

Today, November 18, is Moroccan Independence Day. Before it gained its independence, Morocco had a long history of invasion, occupation and colonization, including by the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Spanish and French. Arabs came to Morocco in the 7th century and stayed with the indigenous Berber population.

Under the Treaty of Fes in 1912, Morocco became a protectorate of France. Under that treaty, Spain took control of areas in northern Morocco. Also under the treaty, in theory Morocco retained its sovereignty, but in reality the French and the Spanish were exploiting it pursuant to the terms of the treaty. In 1956, after rising violence in Morocco accompanying discontent over colonial rule, Morocco gained its independence from France and Spain.

Because of the holiday, the post office and city hall are closed. Students also have the day off from school today.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

PCV Doldrums Remedies

On one recent night in my apartment, I looked yet again at a box of macaroni and cheese which my brother and sister-in-law had sent to me more than a few months ago. I thought, "I should make that soon." I next thought, "Why not right now?" There's no time like the present. So I went ahead and made the mac and cheese. Then I ate it out of the pot while lying in bed in my pajamas, listening to Blondie songs. One remedy for the doldrums as a PCV is to do something nice for yourself.

I also have more to share on coming up out of the depths of despair, but on a deeper, spiritual level. I recently felt myself slipping into despair amidst this current slow work period and isolation from other expatriates, including other PCVs. I decided to take it to God. I prayed, "God, please take this pain away." Instantaneously I felt tremendously better: instantly I felt better than neutral; I felt wonderful. And then I thought, "I should blog about how God took my pain away."

And once I decided to blog about the restorative power of his grace, I recalled some helpful words which I recently had heard about praying, and other helpful things to remember when one is experiencing trials which lead one to pray. And I realized that I had been previously receiving some of this guidance from various sources, and been trying to follow it, for a while now, which, I believe, is why my prayers were as effective as they were.

First, I have been getting reminded in various ways that trials, stressful events, occurrences which cause us grief, happen as a part of life! They happen in some form or another to everyone, whether they be deaths of loved ones, grave illnesses, job loss, becoming homeless, being sent to prison, being victimized, or misfortune befalling us in other forms.

However, when trouble strikes:

As I was recently reminded, I have seen that it has helped me to have previously established a relationship and a connection with God when I then seek His help. I try to be in regular contact with God. I try to communicate with God frequently. Which means communicating with God about good things which happen. Giving thanks for benefits large and small. Giving thanks for positive events which happen once, and thus specially, and blessings which God gives to me everyday, and thus specially, because they are generous, sustaining, vital gifts from God in my life.

And then, when trouble strikes, as I have been advised, I turn to God. I seek God. I've been reminded by others that I need to declare to God that I trust Him for the solution. That is, I must also acknowledge that to solve the problem at hand, I'm not relying on my own strength, but on God's strength. I have to admit to God that I'm not strong enough to handle the problem on my own. I have to tell God that I know that I don't have the resources to overcome the obstacles I face. That I know that unless he grants me the wisdom and grace to respond effectively to the challenges I face, I won't have those necessary qualities when I need them during crises.

I've also been reminded to try to keep my eyes and ears open for the messages which God sends to me. I read the Bible every day. I believe that it's true, how it says in Revelation 3:20, that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, and if I let Him in, he'll show me the way through my troubles. If I remain receptive to what He has been trying to tell me, then I will continue to see that He has been trying to show me the way.

And after seeking this help, those who support me have reminded me that I must then praise God. I thank God. He is in control of the situation, and in control of my life. I try to turn it over to God.

And, I must say, I'm invariably pleased with the results. While the obstacles are challenging, I also realize that they present opportunities to grow. And so I try to welcome the challenges, when they come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Real Reason For Feeling So Wonderful

In a couple of months, a friend of mine from the states, Melanie, is going to visit me here in my town in Morocco. Unfortunately, she can't really stay with me in my apartment, since my town is so conservative that at least some people here in the community would poorly perceive her staying overnight in my apartment with me.

So, yesterday I visited the various lodging options in and near my town. I visited every place I could find, which turned out to be nine different options. I looked at rooms at every place with the exception of one, since at that one place all of the rooms were occupied when I went there. I got all of the relevant information about the hotels and other lodging options, which I e-mailed to my friend today.

Having gotten that task done, I felt GREAT. Please keep in mind that so much of the time while I've been a PCV, I rely on others to show up, to show their interest, and to take action that I don't have authority to do, but that they have authority to do, by virtue of their positions. Consequently, I end up WAITING a lot. And in general, I'm fine with waiting. I'm glad that I get to cultivate patience in myself as a result of being here. Sometimes, though, it gets to me when I'm not accomplishing things for the reasons I described above.

And so, yesterday, when it was only up to me to get the job done, I was very happy to get out and get it done. Having set out to accomplish a task, and having accomplished it quickly, and almost completely thoroughly, I felt great. In comparison with how I often don't get much done here since I'm waiting for others.

If you're applying to the Peace Corps, or if you're currently a PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) or a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer), I urge you to keep in mind that things will not always happen on the timetable you want. Also, recognize in which ways you have control, and in which ways you don't. And then conduct yourself accordingly.

If you do become frustrated because you feel like you're not accomplishing much, I recommend retreating a bit. Take the time to evaluate how you are approaching the situation.

Lately I've been helped in this respect while I've been reading the book "Soundings: A Thematic Guide For Daily Scripture Prayer" by Rev. Chris Aridas. In this book, Rev. Aridas addresses a few dozen different themes, centered around how we can best live our lives, guided by passages from the Bible. In one section, he addresses how we, especially as citizens of the USA, want to accomplish things, how we want to be productive. But then he suggests that it's more important to first make sure that we simply are truly being ourselves. He maintains that someone accomplishes things when one is true to one's own identity, rather than because one has completed an activity or a project. As the best example, he asserts that Jesus succeeded because he was true to who he was, not simply because he did anything in particular. He concludes this particular series of thoughts by explaining that when we accept this axiom, the accomplishments will naturally come later.

After having read these musings of Rev. Aridas, I then applied this conceptualization which he describes to my own life, and, in particular, to my recent day in which I researched the lodging options for my friend. It occurred to me that by doing the research for my friend, I was expressing my true identity. That is, in doing that research for her, I was expressing the most crucial part of my identity, which is reflected when I help others. And that makes more sense to me, that I felt so good because I had helped someone else, in this particular case, my friend, which is so important for me to do in my life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Being a Foodie in the Peace Corps

I love food. I am, most definitely, a food lover, or, as some say, a "foodie." Back when I lived in the states, I lived in, and visited, towns and cities which offered so much great food. I began to realize that with so much great food around, there's no reason to settle for mediocre food. Even a burrito for less than 4 dollars could be a real treat when I bothered to go to the best taqueria in the city, rather than just uncreatively opting to go to the nearest place.

So this week I was happy when I had some of the best tajine (essentially a kind of Moroccan stew) at some Moroccans' houses for lunch. And during one of those visits, my host told me that his spouse had baked the cookies we were eating, which were also some of the best cookies I've eaten here in Morocco.

There at his house, we ate the tajine of sheep meat, prunes and almonds out of a communal dish, breaking pieces of bread off from large, round, flat bread, and using those pieces of bread to grasp food from the communal dish. When we had finished eating, the host's son arrived with some of the tajine oil, or sauce, and poured it into the communal dish out of which we had been eating. I was shocked that no one else leaned forward to mop it up with some bread. I gladly did so. There was still a good amount of oil left in the dish when his son took it away. The sauce was so delicious, that I was glad to get to have more of it!

Later that night, when I was back at home, lying in bed in the dark, soon before falling asleep, I thought of my day. I thought of how I had gone to their house for lunch. I thought of how much of a foodie I am, and how delicious that meal was earlier in the day. And then I laughed out loud, gratefully and joyfully, as I thought, "Even in the Peace Corps I eat well!"

Monday, November 7, 2011

Peace Corps Didn't Train Me How To Do This!

A couple of nights ago, I was walking down the street in my town here in the Sahara. I looked to the side of the road and saw a boy sitting on top of a donkey. He said to me in Darija, that is, Moroccan Arabic, "Llah harm l-walidin," meaning "God bless your parents."

This phrase sometimes is said as a way of thanking someone with much gratitude. However, it is also used when asking someone for help, especially when one feels that one really needs the help. Accordingly, when I looked to the ground and saw a middle aged man trying to lift a sheep, I asked, "Wesh nawnk?" meaning "Can I help you?" The boy nodded.

I replied, "Bllati," meaning "Wait," as I moved to place on the ground the carton of peach nectar that I had just bought. I then bent down to help the man. I saw that he was about to pick up the hind part of the sheep. That left me to pick up the front part of the sheep. Unsure of the best way to do so, I just tried to pick it up in between its neck and its legs. As we were moving it from the ground up to the boy on the donkey, I felt what I worried was an unfortunate vibration coming from the neck of the sheep. It occurred to me that I might have been cutting off its air flow. As I walked away from them, hoping that I hadn't injured the sheep, because I didn't know how best to pick it up, I thought, "Peace Corps didn't train me how to do this!"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Watch What You Say

Yesterday I thought it best to make another run to a bakery or two, and hanoots (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "grocery stores"), here in town. Here in Morocco we're on the verge of L'Eid Kbir, a major Islamic holiday (see my November 2010 blog post "Eid Kbir" for an explanation of this holiday, and my December 2010 blog post "Holidays," my August 2011 blog post "Summer Camp 2011," and my October 2011 blog post "Women Drivers" for more about Islam). Some shops and stores are going to be closed for much of next week, so I figured it would be best if I made sure that I have plenty of food at home.

At one of the hanoots where I was buying food, I noticed that the "mul-hanoot," the shopkeeper, had his fly unzipped. Immediately, I decided that I was going to inform him of this fact. Next I realized that I couldn't remember the word in Darija for "zipper." Next I thought, "Well, whatever I do, I have to make sure that I don't say the English word "zipper." Here you find one of those unfortunate linguistic intersections which can, and, at times, does, embarrass many an unsuspecting foreigner in Morocco. The word "zip" sounds perilously close to the Darija word "zib," which is the word for the male reproductive organ.

Added to this linguistic landmine was the awkwardness created in this particular situation not just by the presence of other customers in his shop, but women at that. And he was directly in their line of sight. Once I had his attention, first I partly zipped my jacket up. I hadn't thought of how he was also wearing a jacket. Of course he responded by zipping up his jacket. Once I got his attention again, I again zipped up my jacket, this time all the way up. Of course he responded by zipping his jacket up all the way. I tried to explain this gesture the second time by saying, "Lla; laxur," meaning, "No; the other one," but he just shook his head in confusion. 

At this point, the other workers in the hanoot were beginning to look at me, perhaps wondering what I was trying to tell the mul-hanoot. I decided to busy myself in loading the groceries which I had just bought into my bag. I glanced over at the mul-hanoot again. One of the other workers in the shop told me in English, "Just say it in English." For one thing, I didn't want to announce to the entire shop that a man's fly was unzipped. For another thing, I also knew that if I said it in English, it would probably be misfortunately misinterpreted given the Darija word "zib."

The mul-hanoot came over to me, this time out of view of the women in the store. This time I whispered to him, "Lla; taht," which means, "No; down below." He then looked down at his fly and understood.

Later that night, when I was at home, I chuckled, thinking that when I had finally successfully communicated to him that his fly was down, as he was zipping it up, he was yelling across the street to someone. In retrospect, I laughed at how I had been so concerned about embarrassing him, when it turned out that he wasn't self-conscious at all about it. It reminded me that just because a cultural norm exists in one's own country, it doesn't necessarily mean it exists wherever else you happen to be. You might think that this conclusion is a bit obvious, and shouldn't be that surprising, especially to a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). But I think that to get more specific, I think that what was surprising to me was that the cultural norm here is to cover up. Given the potential risk of exposing oneself, and how poorly that would be viewed here, I would have thought that he would have been more concerned and/or embarrassed by learning that his fly was down. So I suppose that yesterday I was reminded that while I've learned that there are certain cultural norms here, I've yet to learn all of the parameters of those cultural norms, and how those are or are not prominent in a variety of different situations.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Early Termination

Last week, the other PCV who had been living here in my town decided to ET (early terminate), that is, he decided to stop being a PCV early, and return to the USA. During the few days between when he decided on early termination of service and when he left town, when speaking with me and also with others, he most frequently cited his relatively poor language skills as why he decided to ET. I suppose that I will admit that his Darija, that is, his Moroccan Arabic, wasn't the best I've encountered in other PCVs.

However, there are a variety of ways in which one can be effective as a PCV. Here in Morocco, enough kids, teachers and other community members know enough English that one can help a good number of Moroccans using English. One can also do work in the community which involves little or no speaking. Given these options, in combination with what he told me about himself, I was reminded of the maxim that to be capable of attaining things, one must believe that one is capable of attaining them. One must have hope, faith and confidence. Without those qualities, whatever one tries to do becomes that much more difficult.

Having said all of this, I must say that I am not in a position to judge his decision. While I would have preferred that he stay here, I'm just simply not positioned to assess even whether his decision was the correct one. He makes his own decisions. Furthermore, I don't know what God has in mind for him. He may be back in the USA now to help fulfill an important purpose there.