Monday, April 30, 2012

Poor Thing

At the end of the week, whether it's here in Morocco, or back in the US, I'm often ready to decompress. Sounds pretty normal. Except that when you're in a foreign country, the concepts of personal space might make it more complicated to relax than it would be back in the states. Every country has its own customs on how much time people spend with each other. Here in Morocco, when a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) wants to be alone, perhaps in order to rest and rejuvenate, Moroccans often don't understand.

Soon after I had first started living in this town down here in the Sahara, one of the boys who frequents the dar shebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center," where I do most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV here in Morocco), expressed his concern to me about how I live alone. He said to me in English, "You go home, and you are by yourself. This is very bad."

Here in Morocco, one's family is central to one's identity. Typically Moroccans live with their families until they get married, unless someone gets a job far away from one's family, perhaps as a teacher. Indeed, often a Moroccan continues to live with his or her family once he or she gets married. In such a case, his or her spouse is welcomed into the family not just with warm gestures and platitudes, but is further, literally welcomed into the home as he or she starts living there.

If one lives alone, at times one is called "meskeen," which, in Darija, means "poor thing." It was in this context that the boy from the dar chebab was expressing his concern for what he saw as my unfortunate plight of living by myself. I had a hard time trying to convince him that I was glad to be living alone. Facing the psychological challenges of life in a foreign country, I'm glad to go home and escape for a little while!

Living here in Morocco, I face challenges which many PCVs face, not only here in this country, but in other foreign countries. Even at this relatively late stage in my Peace Corps service, in my everyday life I encounter a lot of stimuli which still seem foreign to me. I certainly don't understand a lot of what's said during conversations. In many other ways, the modes of operation here are not only not the ones to which I was originally accustomed; furthermore, they're ones which still don't come naturally to me. When I'm trying to have a conversation with someone, and someone else arrives and interrupts, it still seems disruptive to me, and jarring. While I've adjusted somewhat to the lack of lines, including when I go to shop at corner stores, I'm still not entirely used to the practice of an unstructured mass of people waiting to be served at a store. So all of these customs can get to be a bit much to process at times. Of course, they don't seem that way to Moroccans. To them, it would be better to use the term cultural norms: such behavior is normal, and therefore not a source of stress for them. Thus with this gap of how acculturated they are to life here, as opposed to how unadjusted I am, one can start to better appreciate why they might not realize how life here can be difficult.

Thus at times here, as is often the case for me when I'm in the US, I feel that I have to recharge. To do so, sometimes I feel like I need to retreat into solitude. Or at least I need to be with people who aren't going to be too demanding of me in various ways, who won't be expecting me to make a lot of conversation with them, who perhaps will be OK with me being alone in the next room for a little while, who are comfortable separately and quietly doing our own activities in the same room for part of the day. Sometimes I feel that I just need to gather my thoughts without being asked to engage someone else.

I could go on, but I think that you get the idea. Sometimes it all gets to be a bit much, and I feel like I have to retreat.

However, I don't think that I take a better approach to spending time with people than Moroccans do. Sometimes I just happen to need a little time by myself, or at least with a little less social stimulation. It's just a personal need I have, and in taking some personal space at times, I don't intend to be implicitly making a value judgment on Moroccan culture. Rather, as I think about the matter of personal space, which leads me to think about the importance of family, I feel that I have some things to learn from Moroccans. In the US, often people don't take care of their family members, and even fall out of touch with them. Here people seem to cherish their family members. Perhaps one of the ways I can learn from life here in Morocco is how Moroccans value family as highly as they do.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I Am Not Fine

While I was at Spring Camp up in northeastern Morocco earlier this month, one of the Moroccan staff members sometimes would ask me in English, "Are you fine?" After I had replied, I would ask him if he was fine. Sometimes he would answer, "I am not fine. Because: I am very, very, very good."

I've been in high spirits since Spring Camp, and especially since returning to the town where I live down here in the Sahara. So when some kids here in town have asked me how I'm doing, I've said to them, "I am not fine, because I am very, very, very well."

I'm in such good spirits because in general, Spring Camp went well. I was glad to be working with such talented kids who are interested in developing themselves. I worked with some fantastic Moroccan staff, who are energetic, attentive and good at what they do. I learned some things about helping people, and about teaching, and even more specifically, about dealing with classroom misbehavior. I saw more of Morocco on my way back south. I definitely enjoyed visiting some friends who are fellow PCVs on my way back down here. I'm glad to be done traveling; I'm glad to be sleeping in my own bed again, to be back in my own apartment. I'm very grateful that when I went to the post office upon arriving back here in town, I was greeted by five care packages and two letters which family and friends had sent to me.

I'm also happy to be at this relatively late stage in my Peace Corps service. I've been enjoying helping and serving people here, and thus trying to do what God wants me to do. In this latter period of my service, I'm enjoying considering what I've been doing. I'm looking forward to doing more.

I've enjoyed the simpler, mellower, slower pace of life here. While I miss my family and friends in the US and elsewhere outside of Morocco, and the culture in the US, and therefore am looking forward to returning to the US, I am certainly enjoying the simplicity and calm of life here. I'm glad that I made the change to move here so I could experience this life. I do think that I'm feeling so great this week because I'm back here in town enjoying the pace of life here.

So at this point, I'm looking both back and looking forward. I'm feeling happy about having come here, about what this life has had to offer, and about doing this work. And since I'm enjoying it right now, I'm looking forward to the rest of my time here.

In addition to feeling as if I made a good choice to come here, I'm also feeling grateful once I ponder how happy I am with that choice. So, I am not fine. Because: I am very, very, very well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Heed Traffic Signs

After the travels I described in my last blog entry, I was continuing on my way back here to the town where I live in the Sahara. I took grand taxis between the towns; each time I arrived in a town, I would pick up another grand taxi to the next town. Generally between these particular towns, as is often the case here in inland, rural Morocco, there wasn't much in between one town and the next one. It's usually an undeveloped, even desolate desert landscape.

At one point, we passed a traffic sign which had a camel on it. Not too much later, we encountered a flock of camels. Some of them were right next to the side of the road. The grand taxi driver had to stop since some of them started walking on the road. He beeped his horn at them, which didn't prove to be all that effective in getting them to move faster than the leisurely strides they were taking. They were on their own schedule!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Security Checkpoints

After Spring Camp ended, I visited the Mediterranean coast. I figured I should capitalize on being so close to the coast. In the town of Saidia, I went for a pleasant stroll on the beach. After thoroughly assessing the beachside cafe and restaurant options, I settled on a place where I could get a fish sandwich for a low price. I paid for what I got. The baby shrimp panini for 35 dirhams wasn't that good. However, as I ate it, and after I ate it, I watched the waves crashing on the beach, which, in soothing splendor, thankfully eclipsed how lamentable the sandwich was. After enjoying the view, I caught a taxi back south.

The next day, I headed south from the city of Oujda. Until the turn for the town of Jerada, the landscape was verdant. After we passed the turn for Jerada, the landscape was stark, brown and barren. Consequently, it was a long bus ride to the town of Figuig, where I was staying for the night.

Soon before arriving in Figuig, our bus was stopped a couple of times by the gendarmes, who are the local law enforcement officers. The first time, the gendarme who came onto the bus asked me to step off the bus with him. Then he asked me for my passport. He asked me the purpose of my visit to Figuig. I told him that I wanted to walk in the palmerie, which is the massive grove of palm trees there. I'd heard it's a beautiful town and area, and had been wanting to visit for a while. The gendarmes asked me some basic identifying information in addition to that which they could glean from my passport. Then they let me get back on the bus. The second time we got stopped by the gendarmes, I had a similar interaction with another gendarme. While there are security checkpoints in various places here in Morocco, these gendarmes were more inquisitive than gendarmes usually are at security checkpoints here in Morocco. Why? Figuig is very close to the border with Algeria; in fact, it's so far east in Morocco that Algeria is only a few kilometers away. Figuig is surrounded on three sides by Algeria. And, the border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed for years now. So, it seems that the gendarmes are conducting checks to ensure border security. Anyway, the gendarmes were agreeable and professional enough, so I didn't have any complaints about those interactions with them, also considering that the delays in our voyage south were minor.

When I arrived in Figuig, I was happily surprised by the price for my room at Hotel El Meliasse. Based on my research about that particular hotel, I had expected to pay 60 dirhams for the room. That hotel indeed charges 60 dirhams for some of its rooms--if two people stay in those rooms. Since I was staying in the room by myself, I only had to pay 30 dirhams. For those of you who aren't familiar with Moroccan currency, 30 dirhams is the equivalent of about 4 US dollars. And no, the room was not disgusting. While the paint on the stairwell walls is peeling, no paint was peeling in the room in which I slept. The floors seemed reasonably clean. Some of the blankets seemed old, and others seemed new. I was glad to be paying the price I was paying for the room I had. I've paid more for rooms which were not as nice here in Morocco.

While I was there in Figuig, I enjoyed one of my favorite Moroccan culinary offerings, shfinj, which are deep-fried doughnuts. Given how Moroccans love to add sugar to things, I'm a bit mystified to report that there's usually no sugar of any kind, either powdered or granulated, on these doughnuts. Despite my sweet tooth, I always enjoy these doughnuts, which have no sugar on them. I've had them in various locations in addition to Figuig, including the town in which I live, as well as Marrakech, and also on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

After enjoying one of these doughnuts, I headed off for a walk into one of the villages of Figuig. After a little while of walking on the narrow streets, the passageways became covered. Overhead were ceilings formed by palm tree trunks, which also served as floors for the buildings which extended over the passageways. On my way back to the main part of town, I walked through the palmerie, past the irrigation canals channeling water through that desert territory, making arable but dry land more fertile.

The next day I headed out from Figuig on an early morning bus, then caught a late morning bus for a longer segment of my voyage west. At one point early in that second part of my journey, our bus had gotten detoured onto a dirt and gravel road. Given the terrain of that road, the driver was driving quite slowly. Once we had gotten back onto the main, paved road, the driver sped up. It occurred to me that perhaps my journey that day could serve as a microcosm of my Peace Corps service. Early on I seemed to be moving slowly, but later time seemed to be passing more quickly.

Later that day, I enjoyed visiting a friend and fellow PCV in his site. We always have laughs together, so I'd been looking forward to spending time with him. On my way back south, I've enjoyed seeing some new countryside. However, I'd been looking forward to spending time with people again. While I enjoy seeing new landscapes, I've been reminded of what brings me most joy: enjoying the company of others and giving each other mutual support. After all, that's why I came here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Camp 2012

For the last couple of weeks, I've been very far north in Morocco working at Spring Camp.  Moroccan kids had two weeks off from school, so some of them attended camps all over Morocco to learn more English and to engage in various extracurricular activities.  Some of them only attended camp for one week; others attended camp for both of the two weeks.  At this particular camp where I was, the youths ranged in age from 10 to 18.  The vast majority of kids who attended this camp came from the city in which this camp was held, or from the immediately surrounding area.

While it was a camp, it was located in a city.  Taxis run regularly on the street where the camp was held.  Grocery stores are within a block of where the camp was held.  So, the camp was held in an urban area.

The camps are run by the Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports.  As PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) we help to conduct activities at the camps.  In addition to me, there was another PCV, Stephen, working at the camp.  He too is a Youth Development PCV.  He's in his first year of his Peace Corps service.  He lives in the city where our Spring Camp was held. For the duration of the camp, he and I both slept in our own room, in the same building in which the youths were sleeping.

At Spring Camp, the kids wake up between 7am and 8am.  We, the PCVs, the kids and the Moroccan staff, ate breakfast together at the camp a little after 8am.  Typically it's tea and coffee, milk, croissants, some bread, either baguettes and/or the usual round, flat Moroccan bread, perhaps accompanied by butter, apricot jam, and sometimes hard-boiled eggs and Vache Qui Rit (French for "Laughing Cow") cheese.

For an hour or two in the morning, the kids attend English class.  At this camp, since only one other PCV and I were teaching English, there were only two different levels of English classes.  I taught the beginners' class.  In this class, some of these kids knew no English, whereas others knew more English.  As I usually do when I teach an English class with multiple levels of students, I took the approach of teaching the basics while simultaneously throwing in words and phrases closely related to the topic which even the more knowledgeable students would not have been likely to know.  For example, one day I was teaching the students how to tell the time in English.  While I taught them how to say "2:15," I also explained the phrase "a quarter after."

While teaching English during Spring Camp, I encountered the classroom misbehavior of students which I usually face while teaching here in Morocco.  Usually they're just unruly by talking nearly non-stop during class.  During Spring Camp this year, I dealt with their rowdiness partly by splitting them into teams and having them compete against each other to see who best knew English.  I was pleased to see that it often worked well.  On the first day of English class, as we were nearing the end of our almost two-hour-long class, some students were standing up, asking if they could go.  Right after they stood up, asking if they could leave, I figured that the time was ripe to start a game, so the game immediately commenced. About a minute after starting the game to see which team could correctly spell the numbers I was saying, it seemed like they had completely forgotten that they had wanted to leave the classroom.  Each time their team scored a point, the students on that side of the room erupted into cheers.  Moroccan kids love to compete!

However, I also had the kids play games in English class to practice speaking their English, and to get them to be social and get to know each other.  On the days when I was teaching them about greeting each other, and learning others' names and ages, first I taught them the grammar and vocabulary needed to have such conversations.  Then I had them practice such dialogues in English, performed in front of the class.  Then I had them get up and mingle and try to meet as many of their peers as possible.  Then I split them into teams.  During each round of the game, I had a student from each team at the front of the class, asking each one what the other student's name and age were.  I was a little surprised that the kids didn't know more of each others' names, so it seemed that the game helped them not only to practice their English, but that it also helped them to get to know each other.

After English class, the kids played sports and did aerobics and gymnastics for an hour or so.  The other PCV and I sometimes played sports with the kids.  One day I played soccer with the kids, which I enjoyed.  (Moroccans, like much of the rest of the world, understandably call soccer "football."  They say "American football" for what people in the US call "football.")

In the early afternoon, we PCVs, the kids and the Moroccan staff ate lunch together.  For lunch, we often ate salad, followed by a tajine, which is somewhat like a Moroccan stew, as usual, out of one large serving dish.  We tear off pieces of bread and use the pieces of bread to dip into the tajine sauce, and to get vegetables or meat from the communal dish.

After lunch, there was a little over an hour of free time.  Some of the kids used the time to nap.

In the middle of the afternoon, we PCVs ran clubs for the kids.  The other PCV ran a club of team building activities.  I held a club on the culture, weather and topography of the US.  One day I spoke with some of the kids about New York City and New York State.  On another day we talked about California.  I tried to spend our club time with all of us having a conversation, rather than me giving a lecture, about these places in the US.  I asked them what they knew about these places.

When I asked them what they knew about New York, they said the New York Yankees.  One girl who seemed to know more about New York than the other youths mentioned the Empire State Building, Broadway and New York University.  I shared pictures of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Statue of Liberty with them.  I also told them how one can eat great pizza in New York City.  I tried to get them to grasp how good the pizza in New York is by analogizing it to tajines in Morocco. I noted that one can eat a great tajine here in Morocco, but one is hard pressed to find an outstanding tajine in the US.  I then explained that similarly, one can eat fantastic pizza in New York City, since there are so many Italian immigrants there, but one can't find pizza that's that exceptional here in Morocco.

On the day we discussed California, when I asked them what they think of when they think of California, they said, "Hollywood."  We talked a little bit about how movies are made there.  I told them that while there are palm trees in California, there are many more palm trees in southern Morocco.  We also talked a little about San Francisco.  I showed them a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.  On the map I'd drawn on the dry erase board, below the US, I drew Mexico, and asked them to identify that country. One of them answered that it's Mexico. I explained that many Mexicans go to the US, including California, to work, especially to harvest fruits and vegetables grown in California. During club time each day, after our discussion, they made posters, on the one day depicting New York, and on the other day representing California.  I taped up their posters in the dining room, to reinforce their artistic tendencies, to try to instill a sense of their artistic skill in them, to remind them of what they'd learned about these places and the culture there and the people who live there, and to implicitly encourage their interest in cross-cultural exchange.

In the late afternoon, the kids also participated in activities run by some of the Moroccan staff running the camp.  Typically the Moroccan staff ran activities involving art, song and dance for the kids.

On another day, a gentleman came to the camp and gave a presentation on the spread of HIV in Morocco. Given how touchy a topic HIV is here, I suspect that he provided some very helpful education to the youths that day.

After these late afternoon and early evening activities, we, the PCVs, the kids and the Moroccan staff, ate dinner together.  For dinner, first we always ate harira, which is a type of Moroccan soup which contains chickpeas, and sometimes also lentils, among other things.  Sometimes after the harira, we ate spaghetti and meatballs.  On some nights after dinner, we ate yogurt for dessert.  On other nights, we ate fruit, such as bananas, for dessert.

One night after dinner, the other PCV and I held a trivia contest for the kids.  We had written questions in the categories of US culture and Moroccan culture.

For example, we asked them, "Which country gave the Statue of Liberty to the US as a gift?"  One of the teams knew that France had given it to the US.  We also asked them which US President had founded the Peace Corps.  One team correctly answered that President John F. Kennedy had founded the Peace Corps.

In the category of Moroccan culture, we asked one team which mountain was the tallest in Morocco. They correctly answered that it's Jbel Toubkal. That team also knew that Volubilis is the site of ancient Roman ruins which once served as Roman baths.

On another night, as on many of the nights of Spring Camp, some of the youths performed in talent shows.  Usually they sang or danced.  Sometimes they acted in skits, which they performed in Darija.  On one night, one Moroccan teenager performed live rap in Darija.  That same night, the Moroccan staff insisted that I sing into the microphone, so I sang "And I Love Her" by The Beatles, editing out lyrics which I thought might be culturally inappropriate, given the relatively conservative relations between the genders here in Morocco.

During each of the weeks of Spring Camp, we went on field trips to beautiful spots in the local area, where we took short hikes.  In the first week of camp, we visited a forest.  In the second week, we took a trip to a river.

To get to the forest, there were so many of us that we took both a bus and a mini-bus to get there.  I was riding in the mini-bus with some of the Moroccan staff and some of the campers.  As we headed out on our way down the street, away from the complex where the camp was being held, and toward the forest, a petit taxi began to pull out in front of us just as we were about to pass him.  The man driving our mini-bus exclaimed, "Hmar!"  Strictly speaking, that word means "donkey."  In this particular context, however, he was calling the other driver an idiot.  I don't hear people using that epithet that often here in Morocco.  Parents use it in addressing their kids when they're behaving especially poorly, but, it seems, usually in private.  In any case, each of the vehicles was moving quite slowly, probably more slowly than 10 miles per hour, so they didn't touch.  After our driver was done berating the other driver, we were continuing on our way to the forest.

We went on a pleasant walk in the forest despite the rain which steadily increased during our excursion.  Since that locale is home to some beautiful landscape, and thus is a tourist destination, we crossed paths with some cars and camper vehicles with license plates from European countries.  Most of the time here in Morocco, when I see a vehicle from Europe, it's from France.  I often see vehicles with an "E" for "Espana," or "Spain," or a "D" for "Deutschland," or "Germany." From time to time I also see vehicles from Belgium and the Netherlands.

As we were looping back on our hike toward the vehicles which had brought us to the forest, the rain was falling down upon us and made an unexpectedly pleasant melody.  One of the boys enrolled in the camp was carrying a drum, and he stopped playing it so we could listen to the song which the raindrops made by pattering on top of the drum.  Amidst language difficulties here in Morocco, I often muse that certain kinds of communication are universal.  I believe that nature, through its beauty, serenity and subtlety, is one of them. I also believe that music is another one of them.

I think that humor is another.  Of course one slowly learns about what one can acceptably joke in certain cultures, as well as what natives of that culture are likely to find amusing.  When we had finished our hike, we ate our lunch comprised of the food which the camp cooks had prepared early enough for us to take with us when we left the camp facilities that morning.  As I was eating lunch, a tajine of chicken and potatoes, with some of the girl campers, I noticed that one of them had some potato in the several strands of hair which had escaped from underneath her headscarf.  I pointed this out to her. She started laughing, and it took her a while to recover from the case of the giggles which she developed.  In the end, her friend helped her to remove the little bit of potato from her hair.  And she tucked the few strands of hair back under her headscarf.

At the end of camp, the kids shed many tears. I too was sad to part ways with them and the wonderful Moroccan staff with whom we worked at camp this year. Once again this year at camp, I'd enjoyed working with some remarkably talented youths. One girl who was at camp sings incredibly well. Amidst the tearful goodbyes between campers at the conclusion of the first session of Spring Camp, I said in Darija to this Moroccan teenager who had been belting out stunningly beautiful melodies during camp, "One day I'm going to see you on 'Arabs Got Talent,' and then I'm going to say, 'I met her when she was only 14 years old!'"

Yet I felt even more encouraged by their humility and by their desire and inclination to serve each other. After we ate our meals, some youths cleaned up the tables, not just removing the used silverware, glassware and dishes, but additionally wiping the tables free of crumbs and other food. I was glad to see that they did not see this work as being below them, or as unworthy of them, or as an imprudent use of their time. I tried to clear tables after our meals, and was directed multiple times not to do so. There's a tendency in Morocco to see certain work as being inappropriate for particular people to do since it doesn't match up with those persons' social standing. However, I prefer to see actions in our lives as opportunities to serve each other. When we have chances to serve each other, we have opportunities to give to each other, and thus to love each other. I was pleased that these youths are humble enough that they value service and what it represents. Approaching life with such a generous and nourishing spirit, they're going to not just help others, but in the process simultaneously grow as individuals in some of the most profound ways possible.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Likely To Succeed

Last week, when I was in Fes, I met some of the new PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) who arrived here in Morocco last month. They're in the thick of their PST (Pre-Service Training), living with Moroccan host families, learning Darija (Moroccan Arabic), and learning about the culture and customs of Morocco.

While I was speaking with them, I was glad to hear that they are prone to employ coping strategies which will serve them well in the long run. One trainee was happily showing her fellow trainees and me a greeting card which a friend had sent her in the postal mail. She was gushing about how she loves sending and receiving correspondence in the postal mail. I too greatly enjoy using the postal mail, including sending and receiving postcards, letters and care packages.

As I've mentioned in a previous blog entry ("Tips For PCVs and PCTs" in August 2011), I certainly recommend using the postal mail. I encourage people to use the postal mail for multiple reasons.

One can find it therapeutic to put pen to paper. When you write, you're communicating how you're feeling. Often when you express your feelings, you'll feel better.

Also, by using the postal mail, years from now you'll have mementoes of your Peace Corps service. Like a diary or a journal, written correspondence can help you preserve your memories for posterity. Electronic communications tend to be more transitory, and either have no record, as with chat histories, or can be deleted with merely the click of a mouse. It's harder to lose a handwritten letter or other written correspondence.

And in the short term, you and others will probably enjoy your correspondence more if it's written. People stick postcards they receive on their fridges. You can tack a letter up on your wall, so you can see it everyday, thus bringing warmth and comfort to your living space.

In utilizing the postal mail, you can also make your communications more special and personalized. You can include things in an envelope which you can't send in an e-mail message, like magazine articles and newspaper articles which you can't find online. You can also make handwritten letters more personalized by using more distinctive envelopes, stationery and postage stamps.

While we were talking about using the postal mail, I shared with them my appreciation of stamps. While living here in Morocco, I've retained my philatelic tendencies which I developed in the states. I enjoy looking for various postage stamps to use when I send postcards and letters to family and friends. I not only want to make what I'm sending more interesting for certain people who are inclined to enjoy such reflections of the culture of Morocco, but I'm also continuing to pursue my hobby of collecting and using a variety of stamps. I do recommend keeping your hobbies, especially those of you who are PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). Surely you've been expecting to make adjustments, and have been making adjustments to life in your host country. Sometimes in making adjustments, you might not be able to do everything you'd like to do in your free time while living in your host country. Sometimes you can continue some of your hobbies. If you can, then definitely do so. It's one way to maintain your emotional resilience amidst the emotional and spiritual challenges you face while in the Peace Corps. While you might think that I'm sharing obvious advice here, some PCVs develop tunnel vision. They focus on what they don't have, or don't like, rather than on what they do have, or they can do, under the circumstances. Do what you can, and what nourishes you and others.

I was also glad that the trainees asked for advice about how to deal with rowdy kids in the classroom. As Youth Development PCVs here in Morocco, we spend a lot of our time teaching and tutoring youths in English in dar shebabs (Darija for "youth centers"). And oftentimes the students are indeed disruptive in the classroom, mostly by talking out of turn--and not just occasionally, or frequently, but rather nearly non-stop--during the lessons. I shared with the trainees that sometimes I use humor as a means of refocusing students' attention on the lesson before them. I was glad not only that the trainees asked for ideas on how to handle classroom misbehavior, but I also was happy to share my experience with them, and I was further pleased that they seemed receptive to my suggestions.

After speaking with the PCTs, I reflected that they are prudent to use such healthy coping strategies and that they're humble and open-minded to ask for guidance. Having such qualities and taking such approaches, they're much more likely to succeed, especially in giving the love to others which they came here to give.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

One Way To Avoid Overpaying

Last week, after visiting the town where I had first lived here in Morocco, I spent a day in Fes.  I took a grand taxi to the city.  When I arrived in Fes at the grand taxi stand, I caught a petit taxi into the center of the city.

When I got a petit taxi there in Fes, I followed the advice of my friend and fellow PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer), Jack, whom I had visited the previous week near Marrakech.  He had told me that when he approaches a petit taxi driver in Marrakech, he asks the driver if the meter is working.  If the driver says that the meter isn't working, my friend takes a different petit taxi.  Last week after my friend had shared this advice with me, I asked him how much he usually pays for petit taxi rides in Marrakech.  I acknowledged that one will pay varying amounts on different petit taxi rides, because the final amount you pay depends on the length of the trip, and every trip is of a different length.  But I also noted that he and I probably often travel between the same places.  He said that he usually pays about 10 to 12 dirhams per petit taxi ride in Marrakech.  I noted to him that I'd been paying 15 dirhams per ride, such that I'd probably been overpaying, but not by a lot.

Nevertheless, I don't want to be paying more than I have to be paying, especially on a relatively meager budget.  Thus, I was sure not only to remember his advice, but also to put it into practice.  When I got a cab in Fes last week, I asked the driver if the meter was working.  He said it was working, which I confirmed, and we were off on our way further into the city.

I must admit that I felt a little silly upon considering that I hadn't been making sure that the meters were working when I had been taking petit taxis in Marrakech.  A little later, however, I considered how I often visit Ouarzazate.  In that city, the petit taxis always charge 4 dirhams per ride during the day, and 6 dirhams per ride at night.  Thus I'd gotten used to not making sure that the meter was working and on.

Still, I thought about how I'd used the MP3 files of recorded language lessons which the Peace Corps provided to me and to others once we'd accepted invitations to serve as PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) here in Morocco.  I'd started using the MP3 files before arriving here in Morocco, so that once I arrived here, I'd had some exposure to basic Darija, that is, Moroccan Arabic, including numbers and subject pronouns.  Once I had started living here, I continued using the MP3 files, since the more advanced ones cover some very common, and thus very helpful, conversational phrases.  Among them are "Wesh l-kuntur xdam?" meaning "Is the meter on?" and "Xdam l-kuntur, Eafak," meaning "Turn on the meter, please."

I've devoted some thought to my experiences with petit taxis here, and how I'd forgotten those phrases from the language lessons.  I came to such a basic and elementary conclusion: I've considered that I have to remember what I've learned.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Giving Thanks For Warmth And Comfort

Last week, as I was continuing my journey north in Morocco, I went back to the town where I lived in 2010 during PST (Pre-Service Training) in my first two months in Morocco.  My host brother, in whose home I lived back then, met me at the taxi stand when I arrived in town last week.  We retired to his house for a healthy lunch of a tajine of lima beans, peas and beef, which we ate, as usual, out of a communal dish by grabbing morsels of food with small pieces of bread.

As I spent time in their house again that afternoon, I reflected on how far I've come since I first arrived in Morocco.  In light of how I'm more adjusted now to life here, I recalled how rough those first couple of months were.  Consequently, with the benefit not only of hindsight, but also of a good deal of time, I have come to appreciate even more, and be all the more grateful for, how warm, welcoming, caring, generous and concerned my original host mother and host brother were during my first couple of months here in Morocco.

In addition to visiting them, I also wanted to visit other families there in town who are also wonderful.  While it was still lunchtime, I headed to the home of another family who hosted another PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) at the same time as me back in 2010.  I wanted to catch their son, a real character who always hams it up when greeting people, before he returned to school after having lunch at home, as Moroccan youths typically do between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. I arrived at their house while it was still lunchtime.  Accordingly, within a few minutes of sitting down, the father in that household was sitting at a table with me, and we were enjoying a large plate of turkey.  He kept ripping off large pieces of turkey and putting them in front of me.  When it came time for dessert, I ate a banana.  As usual, the Moroccan host told me to have another piece of fruit, so I then ate an orange.  Then he noted how I had just eaten lunch, and, gesturing to the next part of the living room, he told me that I was welcome to take a nap there.  After eating a second full lunch, a nap sounded good to me.  He removed some of the large, heavy, embroidered cushions from the no-back sofa continuously lining all of the walls of the living room.  He also set me up with a blanket before heading off for his own nap.  As I lay there with a surely full stomach, warm underneath a heavy blanket, I heard the heavy rainfall assaulting the roof, thankful not only that I was warm, dry and comfortable, but grateful even moreso for the warmth, generosity and hospitality of so many giving and considerate people.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Expressing Gratitude By Helping Someone Else

After my recent visit to Marrakech, I continued up to the coast, where other PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and I prepared for our imminent work at Spring Camp. While we were there, some of us PCVs met with the men and women who will be the directors of the Spring Camps where we will be working. More recently, I was glad to get to visit another friend and fellow PCV, Eric, who lives relatively close to Rabat. He cooked some delicious food for me, including banana pancakes, and falafel with a delectable dipping sauce, for me and other friends.

I tried to give him some money to help defray the costs of cooking for me. He refused the funds, explaining that I was his guest. When he found me washing dishes, he told me to stop, again because I was his guest. While I would have preferred to contribute and/or reciprocate his efforts, I certainly appreciated his hospitality. And I've come to realize that, while I will still hope and aim to express my gratitude by trying to be generous and thoughtful in turn, due to circumstances, some acts of hospitality will not be immediately--and perhaps not ever directly--reciprocated. However, when we can't give back directly to the person who gave to us, often we can show our appreciation by being kind to someone else. In effect, we can express our gratitude by indicating that we like how the person treats others, by emulating the generous person generally in our lives, whenever we have the chance.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Space Is At A Premium

I've mentioned previously how Moroccan taxi drivers jam passengers into their taxis. Two in the front passenger seat. Four in the backseat, which would seat three in the US. During my travels in taxis in the past week, I've once again experienced such cramped traveling spaces. However, last week I think I might have been more impressed during my trip back into Marrakech from my friend and fellow PCV's town. On the return trip back into the city, I caught a ride in a transit van (which the locals shorten to "transit," and which they pronounce with a French accent, as "transeet." The other transit passengers and I weren't partly sitting on top of each other like we would have been doing had we been riding in a grand taxi. I was just impressed by how they fit so many of us into the van. Although the van was so crowded that it was difficult for me to get a clear view so that I could accurately count how many people were in the van, I was pretty sure that there were at least 20 adults, including the driver and me, and 3 kids younger than 10 years old in the van.

After I'd arrived in Marrakech and gotten out of the van, I thought about how jam-packed grand taxis and transit vans are here. I compared transportation phenomena here with those in the US. It made me consider that while people in the US might consider a certain vehicle as being full, others elsewhere in the world might not view it the same way. It depends on your perspective.