Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Freedom From Things

I'm scheduled to finish my Peace Corps service in October, so I've been trying to pass on all of the things in my apartment, the vast majority of which I inherited from previous PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). David, the new PCV who lives here in town, and Ariana, the new PCV who lives a half dozen kilometers south of me, have already taken everything they want from my apartment. They took a lot, but a fair amount is left. Since I'm eager to unload this stuff, I was excited yesterday when a PCV who lives about 70 kilometers, and at least an hour south of me, arrived to take away more things!

I've been repeatedly noting that I don't miss things that people have taken. Consequently, I want to give away more things as soon as possible. I don't want a lot of things dragging me down.

After my fellow PCV left with a load of things yesterday, I went into the kitchen and went to grab the cinnamon jar to use some cinnamon on a snack. I discovered that many ants had infiltrated into the jar! While I'd latched the lid shut, I hadn't noticed that the lid hadn't evenly met the mouth of the jar, leaving an entranceway for the ants. Then I thought, "Well, I've been wanting to get rid of more and more things. Now I'm going to throw out this cinnamon, too!" I realized that the loss of the cinnamon in fact could be a gain: the gain of more freedom, freedom from another thing, which could enable me to live a simpler lifestyle.

A little later I went out to run some errands. I noticed that the folks at a shop here in town were making "shfinj" (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "fried doughnuts") as they sometimes do. I picked up a couple of doughnuts for a dirham, about the equivalent of 12 or 13 cents. I brought them home and enjoyed them after I'd sprinkled some granulated sugar on them. It occurred to me that I didn't need the cinnamon. I still had the sugar. Even if I hadn't had the sugar, I could have eaten the doughnuts plain, and they still would've been a great treat.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Don't Forget To Have Fun!

One day recently I was at my favorite bakery here in town down here in the Sahara. After I had gotten my bread for the day, I crossed paths with the baker's son, whom I've taught English at the dar shebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I've done most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco.

He told me that he was headed on a trip to visit some relatives in another region of Morocco. I told him to have fun. He asked me what "fun" is! I explained "fun" to him by way of some examples. I told him that if you laugh with someone, you have fun with that person. I gave him some other similar examples, and he said that he had understood.

After we had parted ways, I thought about how apparently I hadn't previously taught him what the word "fun" meant. I couldn't believe that I hadn't taught him that word! And then I pondered a little more. I considered that it was more important that, in addition to teaching him English, I had tried to have fun with him; I had attempted to show him what I considered to be "fun," laughing with him, and having a good time with him over the last year and a half.

As I continued to meditate on explaining a concept, as opposed to knowing it because one feels it, I remembered that one can know many sensations, which is different from explaining them. I then recalled how Thomas à Kempis, in one of my favorite books, "The Imitation of Christ," muses, "I would rather feel compunction than be able to define it." It makes me think that how we live our lives is more important than what we say. And it has also made me think that I hope that I've taught here in Morocco through the way I've acted, perhaps hopefully moreso than in what I've said.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer In The Sahara

Down here in the town where I live in the Sahara, the summer is in full swing. I haven't been here for a significant part of it, since I was traveling, and then I was off working in cooler, coastal climates. Given that I've used up all of my vacation time, and that I didn't set up any work outside of town for right now, I'm here in town for the time being.

The dar shebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center") is closed for part of the summer, so I'm currently working very little. I've been spending much of my copious free time reading, which I've been enjoying. I'm currently reading, among other volumes, an anthology of Christian poetry which includes works by Sir Walter Raleigh, William Blake, Longfellow, Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot and Edna St. Vincent Millay. I've also found the time beneficial insofar as I've also been spending it praying and meditating.

It helps to have something sedentary to occupy one's time. I've found that I don't have to move around a lot to start sweating in this heat! Even if I stay relatively still, nevertheless I start sweating, but at least I avoid sweating for a little while!

It's remarkable what a difference not many degrees can make. In the last week or so, at one point it was 98° Fahrenheit in my apartment. I was sweating profusely in such heat. In the summer, but especially in the highest temperatures, I've been utilizing my fridge and freezer a lot, letting water almost freeze and then drinking it. But in the last few days, the temperature has been inexplicably dropping. This morning it dipped below 91° in my apartment, and it's often been 93°. Even though the temperatures are still in the nineties, I'm finding the heat to be much less oppressive!

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's All In The Smile

Today here in town where I live down here in the Sahara, I ran into one of the kids who regularly comes to the dar shebab (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "youth center"), where I've done most of my volunteering as a Youth Development PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here in Morocco. I stopped and shook his hand and spoke with him for a bit. I asked him how he's been, since I haven't seen him for a while, not for a few weeks, since I hadn't seen him since I got back from my two week long stay in Rabat. He's been well.

In addition to the custom of shaking someone's hand when you stop to speak with them, there's also the custom here in Morocco of shaking hands with the other people present. So I shook hands with the two men who had been standing there speaking with the boy. The boy told me that one of them is his father. I'd seen his father numerous times working in the post office. While he'd been working, I'd never seen him smile. Today when the boy introduced his father, his father smiled. Instantly I saw the resemblance. Not so much a physical resemblance, but a similar mirthfulness. Suddenly I saw the resemblance because they have the same smile!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Are You Moroccan?

Moroccans don't expect foreigners to speak Darija, that is, Moroccan Arabic. I speak basic Darija. In the town where I live here in the Sahara, people know that I live here, and many of them have spoken with me, so they're not surprised when I speak Darija with them. When I travel, though, Moroccans are often surprised when I speak Darija.

Sometimes while I've been up in northern Morocco, while I've been wearing my turban, I've spoken Darija, and it seems to have confused a few Moroccans. Apparently seeing me in the turban, and hearing me speak Darija, they've been thrown off by these phenomena which they don't expect from someone who looks like me, and they've asked me if I'm Moroccan.

I've thought that it's been a silly question to ask me in particular. I've never been told that my physical features look Moroccan. I figure that the people who ask me if I'm Moroccan are thrown off because I'm speaking Darija, and because I'm wearing the turban. After all, I've never been asked if I'm Moroccan when I'm only speaking Darija or when I'm only wearing the turban!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Will You Marry Me?

I was happy to attend Mass at the Catholic church in Marrakech this past weekend. On the vast majority of the days I've spent here in Morocco, I haven't knowingly interacted with other Christians. Consequently here in Morocco I often crave spiritual community and fellowship with other Christians. Given my usual lack of interaction with other Christians, I'm grateful whenever I get to worship in a church.

In addition to getting to worship in a church, I was also happy to hear the choir there in that church. Although I'd attended Mass at the Catholic church in Marrakech before this past weekend, I'd never heard the choir there. I so enjoyed hearing them sing, since they sounded so light and free, so joyous and celebratory. After the Sunday morning service, I asked about the origins of the music. They had been singing songs from a variety of locations, including the Congo.

After the service, the priest said that there were a couple of announcements. Then a Frenchman who was in one of the front pews walked up to the lectern. He spoke for a short time in French, and when he stopped speaking, I heard some of the female choir members up in the balcony gasp. He had just asked his girlfriend to marry him. The choir erupted briefly into apparently spontaneous song. Once they had finished singing, she walked up to the altar and the priest blessed their engagement.

When I had been in the church the previous day for the Saturday evening service, in the back of the church, I had seen photos of European couples getting married there in that church. When I arrived for Mass on Sunday morning, I saw rice scattered on the ground outside the church. I suppose I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was to hear his marriage proposal to her!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Get In Line

I've learned not to expect lines to form here in Morocco. When buying just about anything, most likely there won't be a line, so if you get someplace first, it doesn't mean you'll be helped first.

Considering this context of lines tending not to form, yesterday morning I was surprised when I was buying my ticket at the train station in Rabat. As I was standing at the counter speaking with the attendant, at a couple of different moments, people came up to the counter and tried to buy their tickets before I had finished buying my ticket. Without giving them any information or selling them tickets, the attendant directed them to go back and form a line.

However, it wasn't as if a revolution had begun in which people far and wide were being directed to form lines here in Morocco. Yesterday afternoon after I had arrived in Marrakech, when I was in the bus station trying to buy a bus ticket back down to the town where I live in the Sahara, Moroccan men were walking up to the counter where I already was, inquiring if certain buses were full, and getting their questions answered before I'd bought my ticket.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Summer Camp 2012 Part One

For the last couple of weeks, I was in northern Morocco working at a summer camp.  Moroccan kids have been out of school since June, so some of them have been attending camps all over Morocco to learn more English and to engage in various extracurricular activities.  At this particular camp where I was, the youths ranged in age from 11 to 17.  The kids who attended this camp live in, and thus traveled to this camp from, various locations in Morocco.

While it was a camp, it was located in a city.  Taxis run regularly on the street where the camp was held.  Hanoots (Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, for "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 were three other PCVs working at the camp: Cassandra, Rachel and Josh.  All of them are also Youth Development PCVs.  They're all in their first year of their Peace Corps service.  We all traveled to this summer camp from the different towns where we live in various parts of Morocco. For the duration of the camp, we slept in our own room, in the same building in which the youths were sleeping.

At 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 and apricot jam.

For a couple of hours in the morning, the kids attend English class. At this camp, two PCVs taught beginner level English classes. I taught an intermediate level English class. Another PCV taught a more advanced level English class.

Not only did I know that I would be teaching an intermediate level English class, but since three of us PCVs interviewed the campers on the first day of camp to assess their English speaking abilities, I had a sense of what the students in my class both knew, and also found confusing, in the English language. I was entering the classroom aware that I could help by clarifying when to use the simple present verb tense and when to use the present continuous verb tense. So, I was helping them to determine when to say "I swim" and when to say "I am swimming."

While teaching English during this summer camp, I encountered difficulties in teaching which I usually face while teaching here in Morocco. Often there are students who aren't particularly focused on the lesson and who don't seem motivated to learn. During this summer camp, I decided to move such sluggish students so that they were no longer sitting next to each other, but instead were sitting between bright, motivated students. It seemed to help. The previously lethargic and uninterested students started taking more notes and following along more than they had been.

After English class, 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.

After lunch, there was free time.  Some of the kids used the time to nap.

In the late afternoon, sometimes we PCVs ran activities for the kids.  One day a couple of the other PCVs taught yoga to the kids. On the 4th of July, a couple of the other PCVs made chocolate chip cookies, which were delicious! The kids seemed to enjoy them too. On the 4th of July, I led a discussion with the kids about the 4th of July, why and how US citizens celebrate it as a holiday, and how the USA declared its independence on July 4. From there I explained that the 13 stripes on the US flag represent the 13 original states, and that the 50 stars represent the current 50 states. The other PCVs and I then explained where we come from in the USA, pointing out our geographical origins on a map of the USA which one of us PCVs had made. He'd also made a map of Morocco. We had each of the campers come to the front of the room and say where he or she is from, and write his or her name and city on the map. We left the maps taped up to help campers get to know each other and us, and to implicitly reinforce the cross-cultural exchange we had been trying to promote.

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 song and dance for the kids.

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 covered with powdered sugar and ground nuts, or meatballs in a red pasta sauce with some bread.  On some nights after dinner, we ate yogurt for dessert.  On other nights, we ate fruit, such as muskmelon, for dessert.

On the final night of the camp, some of the youths performed in a talent show. Some of them sang or danced.  Others acted in a skit, which they performed in Darija.

When the kids were leaving the camp, some of them were crying. I noticed that one girl, who had seemed to be uninterested in English class and other activities, was crying when the time had come to leave. I noted to one of my fellow PCVs that it seemed counterintuitive that she was crying because camp was over, after it hadn't seemed like she had enjoyed the camp. Then it occurred to me that perhaps she was sad because previously she had been unhappy due to a lack of connections and emotional closeness in her life. Perhaps she found such nourishment at the camp, and was sad because she was leaving what she had been craving and had finally found.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Sound Of Culture

One night while I've been here in Rabat, I found a public phone and used a calling card to call a loved one in the states whose birthday it was. While I was on the phone with him, a procession of cars drove past me, honking their horns. The sound of the car horns was loud enough that it was transmitted through the phone to the U.S. My loved one on the phone asked me what the sound was. I told him that cars were driving by and honking their horns. I explained that people who are attending a wedding here in Morocco often honk their horns as they drive their cars on that night. I liked how my loved one back in the states, even though he wasn't here, still got a sampling of the culture here, even though he was merely on the phone with me, through the sound others were making here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Little Taste Of Home

One reason I appreciate coming here to the city of Rabat is that other PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and I get to enjoy a variety of different cuisines when we come here. Since I've been here this month, other PCVs and I have eaten delicious food in various spots. Several days ago, we ate authentic Chinese food in one restaurant. Today we went to the American Club here in Rabat. The American Club is only open to US citizens, and serves some food found in the US, including cheeseburgers and onion rings. So it's always a pleasant treat to get a little taste of food from home when we get to eat at the American Club.