Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Am Not A Tourist

Yesterday I bought an average-sized hard-boiled egg sandwich while here in the city an hour north of my town. It cost two and a half dirhams. I was surprised that it cost so little money. At another cafe, which is in the town where I live, I was always paying five dirhams for a hard-boiled egg sandwich. Then one day about eight months ago, I went to that cafe, and there was a man behind the counter who usually hadn't been behind the counter when I had eaten there on previous occasions. After I had finished eating the sandwich, I went to pay him five dirhams. He indicated that I had to pay ten dirhams. I told him that I had always paid five dirhams. He shook his head. Without one of the other guys who had always been behind the counter on my previous visits to corroborate my claim, I felt like I had to pay ten dirhams. So I paid him ten dirhams. I haven't gone back to eat that cafe, except in the rare instances when another PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) has been in town and has wanted to eat there.

One friend who's a PCV simply walks away after she has paid the correct amount and is asked to hand over more money. I've started doing that too.

I try to disabuse Moroccans of the misperception that I am a tourist by speaking to them in Darija, that is, Moroccan Arabic. Tourists in Morocco generally don't know any Darija, and if they do know any Darija, it seems that they rarely know enough Darija to carry on a conversation.

I also try to avoid Moroccans having such misapprehensions by showing that I know how things work here, that I know the customs. Though it doesn't come to me naturally, I try to be in the habit of walking up to the counter of a business when there's someone already being served, rather than politely allowing that person some distance while trying to form a line, which tends to be a pointless endeavor: Moroccans generally don't stand in line when waiting to be served at a business. When I've provided space like that, a Moroccan just comes in after me and walks around me up to the counter. When I've tried to give Moroccans space like that in such situations, they haven't known why I was doing so. They don't feel offended if I don't provide such space. So by not giving Moroccans the space they don't expect and don't understand, I'm showing that I understand the cultural norms, and seeming less like a tourist than I would by not being assertive.

It seems like I hear about other PCVs getting overcharged more than I get overcharged. Maybe I've just become more confident in dealing with Moroccans and less willing to pay the inflated prices that Moroccans sometimes try to charge me and other foreigners. In Marrakech, for example, petit taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging foreigners for cab rides. On one of my last two visits to Marrakech, a taxi driver tried to charge me more than 15 dirhams for a ride to the train station. I told him that I always pay 15 dirhams. When he still didn't accept that I would pay no more than that, I simply walked away. I can't help but suspect that some taxi drivers in Marrakech have had so much contact with unaware foreigners, and so few interactions with foreigners who know the score, that they don't expect a foreigner to be as unyielding with them as I am.

Even though I've gotten more skilled at negotiating with them, I still love it and appreciate it when Moroccans charge me the price that they would charge a Moroccan, as happened yesterday when I bought my egg sandwich here in the city. Partly because I try to treat others respectfully and honorably, I appreciate being treated honestly and fairly too. But I also appreciate being treated well aside from how I want to be treated well because I try to treat others well. I appreciate being treated well because if I am treated well, it is a reflection of how I hope everyone will be treated.

However, I've been reminded that not everyone treats other people well for the same reasons. Not everyone is operating under the same value system. Many people try to claim that there is more similarity and synergy between different philosophies and faiths than I think actually is the case.

Several months ago, I walked into the shop of this fellow here in this city and started speaking with him in Darija. I told him that I live here in Morocco and that I teach English here. He warmly received me. He told me that I only had to pay two dirhams for the postcard I wanted to buy. He said, "Berber price--not foreigner price." Later, I thought that the issue wasn't how much I had to pay. Rather, I thought, "There shouldn't be a Berber price and a foreigner price. There should be one price that we all have to pay." We're all people, and thus all due respect. We should all be treated the same: we should all be treated honestly and fairly.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Another Way to Encourage Girls To Be Confident

One night this week, I was teaching an English class of both boys and girls at the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV here in Morocco. Moroccan kids don't seem to be used to raising their hands when answering questions I pose to them when I'm teaching a class. I direct them that if they know the answer to raise a hand. Often they'll just shout out the answer, but sometimes a student will actually raise his or her hand. I'll then call on a student who has raised his or her hand.

I love it especially when girls raise their hands in response to questions I ask when I'm teaching. It shows that they're confident. It's important to reinforce such self-confidence, especially in girls, who don't get as many chances to assert themselves here. Therefore, I try to be sure not to call on boys raising their hands more often than I call on girls raising their hands. By calling on a girl raising her hand, I'm encouraging her in how she is being confident by raising her hand.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Simple Way to Help Girls Be Confident

As a Youth Development PCV here in Morocco, I do most of my volunteering in a dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"). Mostly I teach and tutor boys and girls in English there.

Since I want them to learn English well, I try to reinforce and otherwise complement the English lessons they have in school. Rather than overloading them with too much information to learn by introducing new vocabulary and grammatical rules in addition to the ones they're learning in school, I teach them about the same material they're studying in school.

Yesterday, I was teaching an English class with a small group of four girls. They asked me to teach them about the rooms of a house and what is often found in each room, since they're studying those words in school. In addition to reviewing relevant vocabulary with them, I was showing them how to use some of the words in sentences. So, I was writing sentences such as "He is making couscous" and "She was hungry, so she asked me to make couscous" on the board.

At one point, one of the girls asked me a question, but she was covering her mouth with her hand. Recently I was reading a Peace Corps publication about doing activities with girls. In it, I read about how a girl who is not confident at times will speak with a hand over her mouth. I also read in that book that by asking a girl to pose her question without her hand over her mouth, you're encouraging her to speak with more self-confidence. Before I'd read that part of that book, I would ask a girl who had posed a question with her hand over her mouth to repeat her question with her mouth uncovered so I could better hear and thus understand the question. However, having recently read this book, last night I asked this particular girl to restate her question while not covering her mouth, for the added purpose of trying to help her to speak with more confidence. Last night, I left the youth center once again reminded that we can encourage and support others in so many ways, some of which are so simple, that often we don't even think of them. However, if we try to be more conscious, alert and sensitive, we will see that in every interaction that we have, we have a chance to show how we believe we should treat others.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Uncomfortable Passenger

Last week I was walking through the town in which I live here in the Sahara. I saw a man riding a motorcycle down the street, clutching his passenger to his chest.

I wished I'd gotten a picture of him! However, I didn't get a photo of them for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't have my camera with me. But second, even if I'd had my camera with me, it wouldn't have been appropriate to have taken a picture of him as he and his passenger passed me. In Morocco, it's expected that you're not going to take a photo of someone unless you ask the person for permission. It wouldn't have been feasible to have asked him, since he was passing me on his motorcycle.

Since I saw him on his motorcycle, I've thought that I'll just have to do with recalling the image in my mind. Perhaps from time to time, I will recall, in my mind's eye, this man steering his motorcycle with one hand, and with the other hand, clutching to his chest a seemingly nervous sheep bleating its cries of protest as they rode down the street.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Teaching English As A Means To Other Ends

The Peace Corps tells PCVs to teach English not just as an end in itself, but additionally to educate host country kids about various issues while also teaching them English. This week I've realized that one can do so more easily and quickly than I had been previously doing.

Here in Morocco, as a Youth Development volunteer, I teach and tutor kids in English at a dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"). Moroccan kids receive their main form of formal education in Moroccan schools, which, for most Moroccan kids, are public schools. Sometimes kids want a little extra help with what they've been learning in their English classes in school, so they come to the youth center to ask me questions about English.

Earlier this week, some boys asked me to explain trafficking in women. One of them had opened his English textbook to a lesson which was discussing trafficking in women. Often in the youth center, Moroccan youths ask me what certain words mean. In this particular case, though, I not only defined certain words in the textbook lesson for them, but I also described how trafficking in women occurs. I related to them how some women are intimidated or deceived into going with men who actually kidnap them. I also explained that some women go with such men because the women feel under economic duress, in the context of the severe economic challenges they face in their lives. It certainly seemed beneficial to not only be telling them the meaning of words, but also to be educating them about how many women are exploited, so that they can be more informed individuals.

Sometimes the youths ask me to teach them vocabulary about topics which, at first blush, don't seem immediately to relate to any urgent current issue. However, often in retrospect, I've realized that when this appears to be the case, one can discuss such vocabulary in the context of the greater societal phenomena in the particular culture and country where one is. More specifically, earlier this week at the youth center, some girls asked me to teach them in English about professions. I seized upon their request to additionally educate them about women working in professions where they might not expect women to be employed. For example, while I wrote the sentence "My father is a lawyer" on the board, I also wrote "My mother is a doctor" and "Her sister is a university professor" on the board. I wrote these sentences on the board partly to remind these girls that women can work in these professions. However, I also wrote these sentences on the board as reflections of how prevalent female doctors and female university professors are here in Morocco. One-third of doctors, attorneys and university professors in Morocco are women. However, these girls might not envision so many university professors being women. Not only are these girls not yet enrolled in universities, but as far as I know, every primary school teacher, middle school teacher, and high school teacher I've met here in town has been male. Thus, in teaching English, one can introduce to youths that not only do things not have to be the way that they see them, but perhaps things are in fact different in other countries, or even elsewhere in one's own country.

In teaching English, one can show youths not only that their worldview assumptions are not necessarily accurate, but similarly, also one can help them gain logical reasoning skills. Last night at the youth center, some boys asked me to teach them vocabulary in English about family. Again, on the surface, one might not see any opportunities to transform a common English lesson into a more challenging activity for youths. However, after introducing the words "mother," "father," "parent," "son," "daughter," "child," "brother," "sister" and "sibling" to them, I then presented them with some sentences, including "All mothers are parents" and "All parents are fathers," and asked them which sentences were true. We continued until they understood that all mothers are parents, but not all parents are fathers.

I very much enjoy teaching English. It brings a lot of joy to me to help others, including when I teach English. But I've found that I spend my time even better when I not only teach English, but while doing so, also help youths learn about important current affairs, help them gain new perspectives, and develop their logical reasoning and critical thinking skills. While it's helpful to know how to speak English, youths will be even better prepared for the rest of their lives if they are more aware and if they seek to more critically evaluate the choices which lie ahead.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How To Stay Warm In Cold Weather

I live in Morocco, which has been called "The Cold Country With The Hot Sun" and "The Coolest of the Hottest Countries." It gets hot here in the summer, but in many places in the country, especially, of course, at higher elevations, it gets cold in the winter.

I certainly don't live in the coldest part of Morocco. But it does get a little cold here.

I'm a bit more challenged by the cold here than I'd be by the same level of cold in the U.S. In the states, I'd just go inside and turn on the heat. While I have a heat fan in my apartment, the last time I tried to use it, a little over a year ago, I blew a fuse, as I mentioned in my January 2011 blog post entitled "Lights Out." Furthermore, the fuse box is in my neighbor's apartment. Given that I don't always know when he's going to be traveling, I don't use the heat fan.

Thus I resort to other methods to stay warm, including drinking hot beverages. Recently I've been enjoying some Hot Love. It's German-made raspberry vanilla flavored tea, with a brand name of "Hot Love." I also thoroughly enjoyed some hot cocoa, using a tin of cocoa I received as a Christmas gift at the end of last year.

More commonly, though, I benefit from the oldest way of staying warm: I sit in the sun. I'm fortunate enough to have a roof on my apartment building on which I can sit in relative privacy. I go up there and read for hours at a time in the afternoons.

It's much more comfortable up there during the day than it is in my apartment. Around the clock it's been around 50° Fahrenheit in my apartment. Last month, it got down to 47.5° in the apartment. At night I sleep under three heavy blankets, in multiple layers of clothing both above and below the waist, while also wearing a winter hat and scarf. That way, I'm warm when I sleep.

I've also taken to growing more facial hair during the winter here. While generally I prefer to have less, rather than more, facial hair, for much of this winter, I've been sporting a beard, mostly to help me keep warm during the colder weather.

I often feel fortunate when I consider that there are PCVs living in even colder locations than me, including in Morocco. Here in Morocco, it snows in Azrou and Ifrane, and on many mountains. While I can't see any snow-covered mountains from the town in which I live, often when I leave town in the winter, within an hour I can see snow-capped mountains in the distance, reminding me that, while I may think it's cold, it's even colder elsewhere, including not even that far away.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Being Thankful For What I've Got

Today I was in the city which is about an hour north of where I live. When I arrived there this morning, I went to a cafe, where I was sitting outside enjoying a hot beverage. As I've considered many times, this morning again I thought about how many PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) don't live so close to a city. As I was newly thankful that the city is so nearby, it also occurred to me that in the winter, that city is often colder than it was this morning. I enjoyed being able to sit outdoors and drink my hot beverage in temperate weather.

This afternoon, I thought back to how I had been sitting there at the table outside the cafe reading my Bible. I mused upon how many people in various places in Africa would run the risk of being imprisoned, or even killed, if they made it known they are Christian. I was, and am, thankful that I'm not currently at risk of being imprisoned or killed because of my Christianity. It reminds me yet again to be conscious of what I have, and to give thanks to God for it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jump For Joy

A couple of days ago, when I left this cyber:

Another gorgeous day here in the Sahara.

Clear blue sky. Not a cloud in the sky.

I was walking down an alley here in town. A Moroccan man was walking in front of me.

Walking towards us was a bright-eyed Moroccan boy, likely 3 or 4 years old.

As the Moroccan man passed the young boy, he tousled the boy's hair.

The boy's eyes widened, and he spontaneously hopped forward, his day brightened by the man's affectionate gesture.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Making Someone Smile

I love when I make someone smile. I've brightened someone's day. And that makes me feel better, too!

So, yesterday, when I was at the bakery at which I buy bread everyday, I told the baker that his bread is delicious. He smiled.

Later, I thought about how I've been buying his bread for so long, and yet how infrequently I tell him how much I enjoy it. When I get home from the bakery, I eat a little bit of the bread before I eat most of the rest of it as part of my sandwich. Everyday I rip out some of the warm inner part of the bread and eat it when I'm in my kitchen preparing a sandwich for lunch. A few days ago, I marveled at how I get to enjoy something so delicious despite being in the Peace Corps and living in a relatively remote town in the Sahara. I was, and am, grateful for his delicious product, so I'm glad I thanked him for it. And I'm glad I made him smile.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cross-Cultural Exchange About Pets

Currently the kids who attend public school here in Morocco have a two-week break. Consequently there are fewer kids coming to the dar chebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center") where I do most of my volunteering as a PCV. Thus I also have fewer kids asking me questions about English.

When I've been going to the dar chebab for the last week or so, I've played some games of pool. The kids are so good at pool, though, that even when I play one of my best games, I still just barely lose!

Once the dar chebab had closed last night, I was walking home, incidentally with the boy who had bested me in our game of pool. We saw a dog at the side of the street, sniffing some sacks piled on the ground. The student asked me if people have dogs as pets in the US. I told him that many people keep dogs as pets in the US. In contrast, far fewer Moroccans keep dogs as pets. In fact, many Moroccans don't treat dogs well. I added that many people in the US keep cats as pets. When Moroccans have cats, the cats don't seem to live at the homes so much as they tend to be frequent visitors. The cats show up often and the people feed them.

I added that some people in the US keep fish as pets. My walking companion noted that people don't have fish as pets in Morocco. Later I considered why he had said that, and I thought that here in town, most people are impoverished. Thus it probably doesn't make sense to buy, in addition to the fish, a fish tank and special food for the fish. Also, they would also likely pay for the additional expense of the electricity for the fish tank.

Then we spoke a little bit about the animals which people here in town often have at their homes. I noted that people sometimes have pigeons, sheep and goats at their homes. However, I often think about how people don't have them so much as pets; rather, these animals help them to survive, since these people often live off of them; that is, they eat them!