Fuck Politeness

In Peace Corps, a volunteer may find they have a lot of time to themselves. This is true, even if they are working a lot. I have SO MUCH time to myself, but I also know that I am always working. A big reason for feeling this way is the how the American perception of “work” is challenged in PC.

My Nora, cuddling a toy my mother so graciously sent- to which Nora then destroyed.

Work is work, though, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I absolutely “go” to work, being my women’s center, but no because of all of the time it take to create or prepare the lesson for a class-whether t be a fitness, or health class. This work-from-home or prep time has truly only recently entered the conversation as work, to this I say THANK YOU to so many teachers (bc honestly they’ve started that convo). Also regarding “no” is stated within the 3 goals of PC (1. Provide technical help to countries;2. Share American culture with host nation;3. Share host nation culture with Americans). Work is Work only applies to goal 1. But goal 2 (and 3) requires a volunteer to truly tackle and break down this concept. Woh Goal 2, a volunteer learns that walking to work, is work; eating couscous on Friday with families is work; letting my dog run and chase the neighborhood kids is work; and well, you get the point. Simple things that at home in America I would consider a normal part of a day, is now work. Put even more simply: Relationships are work, and existing is work.

In January I traveled to Amsterdam!! I quickly fell in love with the canal-filled city

I don’t mean these two statements as sarcastic, self-deprecating humor. I mean them very seriously (and as sarcastic self-deprecating humor)! During our training, PC even states that being a PCV is a “24/7 job.” What PC doesn’t say is “being a person is a 24/7 and your job is to literally just be a friendly and open person. Just make a friend!” THAT is probably the hardest job of all. Truly, making friends is hard work and it taking a lot of energy! Don’t believe me? Add to this, navigating a different culture, in a language you’re only just learning. Like I said, hard work. What in America seemed to be easy and natural, like taking my dog out for a walk, just walking by myself in general, or going to the store, now has turned onto it’s head.

Ankles beware, Nora’s dig another hole

This takes me now to the discussion of boundaries. How do we recognize our boundaries? How do be establish our boundaries? Now this is actually a difficult task, PCV or not. But, when you’re job is to literally just make friends and be open, what about boundaries then? Most of you may not know this about me but I love true crime. I find it horrifyingly fascinating! My favorite podcast, My Favorite Murder hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, is a true crime comedy podcast. No they don’t make fun of true crime, but rather they share true crime stories and their commentary, or their processing of the story, adds the comedy aspect to it.

There is in fact water out in the desert! Just not much of it…

The hosts also successfully discuss real issues regarding mental health, addiction, sexual abuse, general safety, and toxic masculinity. They have a saying, “Fuck politeness.” This means, if you’re in a bad situation, or don’t feel comfortable, then say fuck politeness, and get back to safety. This goes for everybody of course, but is aimed towards females because we are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual assault and abductions. On top of this, women have been culturally taught to be polite in all situations; to be female is to be polite, delicate and quiet.

Bethany and I goofing around at our mid-service Training

I have a job that requires me to form relationships. And this is a good thing! However, with this requirement comes the pushing of personal boundaries, or even worse, the pushing of safety. Recently I helped a fellow volunteer with an event. This volunteer lives quite close to me and so after it was done, I decided to walk home. It was only takes 40 minutes. The time was just after 7 pm, and I knew that sunset was around 7:20. Being the true New Yorker that I am, I am HUSTLIN’! I mean it I got my horse blinders on, power-walking arms swinging back and forth and I am blazing past these slow-pokes like they were standing still.

All of a sudden I hear, “RANIAAAA!” From a familiar voice. Who the f-what?! I think to myself as my feet skid to a stop and I pivot to see who the friendly caller was. It was a neighbor, Khalid! With a big smile on my face I greet him, which is a good 5 minute endeavor. He tells me he HAS to show me something, despite explaining that I really need to go, I’m serious, my dogs gotta eat Yanno? I reluctantly follow him to a green house across the street. He proudly shows me the trees flowers and herbs that are growing here. As we venture future and further from the fire of the street, I become increasingly wary and uncomfortable. It’s not appropriate for us to be alone back here. What would people think or say if they saw that we were alone, together, I’m thinking. As we begin to exit I also begin my farewell. “No no” Khalid says, “you must stay for tea. It’s necessary, you can’t leave before we’ve had tea” to which I reply, “I’m sorry but I really need to go, it’s late now, I need to go.” This went back and forth for a while.

Supported by the good words of other people, I think, I don’t like this, but he is a good man, who has helped me on occasion, and I sometimes life sweeps you up, I should take he opportunity to strengthen a relationship. So I stay for tea, all the while not feeling quite comfortable, and knowing my gut is telling me I should have left.

All goes well, and I arrive at home about a half hour later than I had originally planned. I meet with two friends outside my house and I explain to them my day. “You WHAT?!” They gasped as I retold my tree&tea time wii Khalid. They then gave me their own version of “fuck politeness” and explained that I don’t owe anybody anything and to never be in that situation again.

I recognize that I should have listened to Karen & Georgia, and especially my own gut. I am lucky that everything had worked out in my favor but who is to say that will happen again? Boundaries are hard to recognize, and they are even harder to establish & enforce. Boundaries are also culturally informed. Boundaries can be challenge by individuals, culture, and work requirements. For me, I’m still learning when to say “fuck politeness” or be open to relationships.

This example that I have just put forth is also on the more extreme end. I struggle with boundaries with women too, specifically my landlord’s wife, who love to come into my house, stay for a while, critique how I decorate and demand to know how much I paid for utilities, or for my furniture. Her presence to me is unsettling and often feels like a violation of privacy. An old counterpart also LITERALLY told me AT A PEACE CORPS TRAINING that he wanted to-I sweat to god, word for word- “BREAK DOWN MY ICE WALL.” Two weeks later, and then upon hearing he inappropriately asked my male fellow volunteers “how to deal with an American woman he knows,” I cut off ties. But unfortunately now I don’t have a counterpart despite knowing this waste right decision for me. With all of his though, she is my landlord,he was my counterpart, as he is my neighbor, and my job is to build relationships.

I’m very much still learning about my boundaries. I think I’ve probably developed new ones since living in Morocco. Peace Corps is a challenging job, and it’s hardest challenges aren’t lying in using a squat toilet or taking bucket baths once a week (of every other week). Peace Corps’ hardest challenges lie within the PCV. For me this challenge often comes in the form of boundaries.

(Quick note here to state that I am always hyper aware of my safety, and if I ever feel that my safety is in immediate danger I have no doubt that I will kick, punch, slap, scratch, scream, hoot, holler, and RUN in order to get out of the situation.)

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Controlled Falling

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A small town right outside of Imlil

365 Days. I have officially lived in Morocco for three new and sixty-five days. I’ve called both a small North/Central rural town and a mid-sized Southern city home. While calling these places home, I have also called three other U.S. towns & cities home. Home is where ever I find my people. My people consist of many different types of personalities, and they can be found in many different types of places. 

I find home in the Hudson Valley with personalities I’ve known and loved my whole life; I find home on the shores of Lake Champlain with those I’ve danced and laughed beside; I find home in the middle of the cornfields of Illinois in the embraces of a supporters who push me and others to be better.   

I find home in the olive tree groves of Morocco where televisions are blaring the woes of a soap opera, and bellies are filled with bread of love; and I find home in the Sahara, with people whose willingness to help is as warm as the sun. 

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The trail towards Sidi Chamharouch & the Toubkal Refuge; Peek the Donkeys

The school year has just begun, and with that comes a full year of work! This passed first year included three months of I-don’t-understand-anything-except-khobz(bread), then three months of what-the-heck-am-I-doing, thankfully leading into three months of OK-I think-I-got-this, but then interrupted by the last three months of everything-is-closed-and-it’s-too-hot-to-move. I’m looking forward to what this school year will bring. I have begun planning a women’s health class, as well as a girls’ and boys’ leadership camp with a fellow volunteer. I also plan to continue my aerobics fitness and yoga classes. Being a volunteer in the youth development sector, especially in Morocco, I feel confined to work during the school year. The summer, and summer in the South specifically, is difficult to work during because a large amount of families travel, and due to the closing of schools, majority of women’s centers (my workplace of choice) are closed as well. This means then that I really only have this coming school year to achieve my personal work goals. Thankfully I’m ready to take them on!! 

Over the weekend, a close friend and I hiked/climbed/crawled to the top of the highest mountain in Morocco, N. Africa and of all Arab nations; Mount Toubkal. Standing at 4,167 meters (13,671 ft) in the sky, I felt… Hungry. But other than hunger I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. The full hike took us two days, let me describe it for you now. 

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Following the donkey caravan

After a winding 90-minute taxi ride from Marrakech, Chems and I began our ascent to Toubkal in the mountain town of Imlil. Filled with trees and fresh mountain air, we felt invigorated and read to begin out 5-mile hike to the Toubkal refuge. Naturally, we had no idea where we were going and after backtracking a few times, we met up with a donkey caravan and made friends with the Moroccan men riding them.  

Ghadi ntb3ukum wakha (We’ll follow you ok)? We asked. 

Merhaba bikum (Welcome)! They responded. 

The hike to the refuge was gorgeous! It was also much more challenging than I expected. We met up with a large group of hikers lead by 4 Moroccan guides. I was proud of myself, and Chems as well, in our ability to communicate so well with the guides. Through much code switching between Darija and English, we got to know the guides and they got to know us. In true Moroccan hospitality fashion, they made sure on the group’s lunch break that we had a plate of food as well. During our lunch break we sat overlooking the shrine of Sidi Chamharouch. At this place we saw many guides leading donkeys with women sat atop into or out of the shrine. We learned that it was at this place that many women came to pray for good fortune; praying for fruitful marriages, and healthy children. 

Continuing on for another 2 hours or so, we eventually found ourselves at the foot of the Toubkal Refuge. Hamdullah!!! With weak legs and sore shoulders, we through off our backpacks and asked for two beds in the cold and dark stone refuge. Not too long after arriving we had a delicious classic Tajine dyal Khodra u Djaj (Vegetable and Chicken Tajine), and some tasty fresh melon for dessert. Immediately after dinner, we hit the sack knowing we had an early start to a long day ahead of us. 

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The Adventures of Chems & Rania continue!!

We awoke at 3:30 am, climbed over beds and shuffled into the bathroom. The electricity was off, and we had to get ready for the climb all in the dark. After a quick breakfast we headed outside only to be stunned by an open sky filled with more stars than I have ever seen in my life. Surrounding us were eerie jagged black walls we soon recognized as the mountain peaks enclosing the refuge. Off we go! But wait… we didn’t know where the trail began! We asked three men who were starting alongside us if we could follow them, since we were unsure of where the trail began. This was a big mistake. I got to the top of the stairs and I was out of breath! I honestly was unsure if I could make it to the top of the mountain, since clearly, I couldn’t even make it a small flight of stairs without wheezing. I pushed that idea out of my head, and Chems and I fell back, with those three men hiking out of sight. 

Up and Up and Up we climbed. Every few steps we took was partnered with a pause to catch our breathes. While I never felt truly exhausted climbing to the top, my legs sure used a lot of energy to perform each step. Some sections were harder than others. At times I was convinced I would slip, and roll down the mountain side! About an hour into our ascent, our phones lost enough battery that we couldn’t use their flashlights anymore. We didn’t even think about head lamps! We pulled over and sat on a boulder, waiting for the sun to rise. During this time, I just looked up in constant awe of the sky above me. I thought of how long it took the universe to create these stars, and just how many of them are all burnt out, but whose light is just now arriving on earth. I don’t even remember how many shooting stars I saw, but I know for each one that passed my eyes, I accompanied them with a wish.  Some wishes were work related, others were more personal.  

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View from the Toubkal Refuge. We stayed inside in a warm bed, not the tiny orange tents.

When it became light enough for us to continue, we started off slow. After starting of slow, we continued… slowly still. Marveling at Chems’ speed and endurance since she was much further ahead than me, I continued pushed myself, knowing that each step brought me closer to the top. A song came into my head, and I played it on repeat… 

‘Cause I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
I’m on top of the world, ‘ay
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, ‘ay
Been holding it in for a while, ‘ay
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world 

(On Top of the World, Imagine Dragons) 

At 4,000 meters we stopped for a quick break and breather. I took out my phone to snap a photo of the view- dead. No worries!! I opened my pack and took our my DSLR camera. Two photos later it died! While as frustrating as it was, I allowed myself to take it all in, and look around at the progress I made, and the trail I had yet to climb. It took anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour to climb the last 167 meters. I didn’t feel sick from the altitude, but I felt my muscles weaken from the lack of oxygen. At one point, I looked up and there it was- the summit!  

WOW. 

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View from the Summit of Mt. Toubkal, 4167 m.

With a pang of hunger in my stomach I found a not so comfy rock to sit on and I ate a few handfuls of barbecue Fakiat (taste like Fritos!), a granola bar, and 5 pieces of sliced deli turkey bought from the Marrakech  Marjane. Looking out onto the tops of the High Atlas Mountains was more magnificent than I could have imagined. The mountains looked as if they had hues of red and purple within them, matching their intimidating and regal demeanor. It was a perfectly clear day, with not a cloud in the sky. Our lips were chapped, and faces were wind and sunburnt as we tried to smile and laugh congratulating each other on making it up to the top. 

We did it. I’m so proud of us! Chems and I repeated to one another. 

Wow, wow, wow.  

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View from 4,000m

It is recommended not to spend more than45 minutes at the summit due to the altitude. After we spent 30 minutes atop of the summit, we began our descent. This should be quick and easy, we thought. We thought wrong. Going down the mountain was slippery and dizzying. Both of us slipped and fell a few times but we’d bounce back up quickly and continue our descent back to the Refuge. Everything looked different in the light of day. The last leg of the descent, which we made previously during the dark, was completely unfamiliar to us. Apparently, we had crossed a stream in the beginning of the hike that morning. We were completely unaware until we found ourselves hopping from rock to rock as we arrived back at the mountain house. Only allowing ourselves enough time to change out shirts and refill our packs with clothes and items we left at the refuge, we begin our next leg of the trip back to Imlil.  

Naturally, we had a hiccup in the beginning of our return trip where we found ourselves on the wrong trail. Unwilling on backtracking completely to the refuge in order to start on the correct trail, we saw a way to short cut through a would-be stream, climbing down on large rocks until we met with the trail. When we finally found it, it was like nothing wrong ever happened and we swiftly continued our way. This trail back felt like it was never ending! Every landmark we met felt like hours and hours in between when in reality we were making great time. Eventually we made it to a large riverbed where we knew Imlil was close! About to pass a man and a woman in front of us, the man turned around and smiled at Chems and I. As I was about to ask her why this man looked so familiar to me, He quickly whipped back around and greeted us with a big smile and a big congratulations on our trek. Turns out, he was the man who took our money at the Taxi stand in Marrakesh the day before! What are the chances?! He offered us a ride back into Imlil, and even helped up find a place to stay for the night. 

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Excuse the chapped lips, but Heck Yeah!!!

As I think back on my Toubkal adventure, and even larger Moroccan adventure, two concepts stick out to me, and I find that these concepts are two of my core values. These values got me both up and down Mount Toubkal, they are what’s getting me through Peace Corps, and ultimately what will guide me through life. Perseverance, and Trust in myself. Without perseverance, I would not have made it to the Summit. Pushing through the pain and the exhaustion and trusting my body’s strength to get me there. Trusting myself, in both my mind and body guided me back down. As I gave into myself, and trusted that my body would catch itself, I made my way back down to the refuge and to Imlil.  

I have written about working through tough times before. Looking back, I know that what has gotten me through is perseverance. To have perseverance is to push through; it is to have persistence in doing something despite difficulties and despite delays in achieving success. To persevere is to know that there will be difficulties and delays, but that success WILL come! I WILL reach the summit of this mountain! Summer was tough for me. My work slowed in April and completely stopped in June. When your purpose and your life revolve around work, as it does in Peace Corps, it is easy to sink into low mental valleys when you have that taken away from you. With perseverance, however, I was able to make it through to the other side of Summer and now have optimism and hope for the new school year. This issue is the same for life.

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Strike a pose!

Trust in myself got me down the mountain. Trusting my body to catch itself and trusting that my mind knew where to place my feet below me to carry me back to the refuge. I’ve heard that descending steep mountains is like “controlled falling.” You must allow yourself to fall downwards, but trust and control your body so that you don’t faceplant!  As I was “controlled falling” down Toubkal I thought of how I feel like I am often “controlled falling” through my life! So often I feel that on my way to achieving my goals, life happens TO me, rather than from me. This makes sense though, since life isn’t a culmination of only my actions but truly of the interactions of my actions and the actions of others. Life isn’t happening TO me, nor FROM me. Life is happening WITH me and I need to have trust in myself that I will do what it takes to achieve my goals. I must trust in myself that I am the intelligent, strong, bold, daring, loving, and caring young woman that has already made it so far, despite difficulties and delays in achieving my successes.  

I’ve been a part of Peace Corps and lived in Morocco for a full year now. That is kick-ass!! I feel that right now I am at my summit. No, I haven’t “peaked.” Instead, I’ve summited. I’ve persevered through the unknown of this past year and can look back on the progress I’ve made. Now, I must trust in myself to do what I need to do to finish my goals and achieve success. 

12 months down, 15 months to go! 

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On the trail to Sidi Chamharouch & Toubkal Refuge

Something like a Braid

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This past month, I was lucky enough to travel back to my home in New York, for two weeks. I was reminded that location doesn’t compare to the people that make home, home. I saw great friends, and basically my entire family. This was because I also was lucky enough to not only attend but participate in my sister’s wedding! As (mer)maid of honor, I was honored to be a participant in such a magical and fantastic day of love. I was so grateful to see my family, and my friends, everybody who I have missed so so much. I also did a lot of talking during these two weeks in New York. Of course, everybody wanted to know the same thing: how is Morocco? What is it like living there? What do you do? and the most popular question- how hot is it over there? Well, I’ll tell you… It’s really friggen hot!!!

I was inspired to write this post by two influences; 1. To explain Peace Corps and my awkward/unfamiliar place in Morocco and 2. By my sister’s wedding officiant’s homily. The Pastor for the ceremony discussed how relationships, and marriage create something entirely new. He comically explained this concept by comparing marriage and relationships to that of chocolate milk; made by two separate parts- chocolate syrup and milk- mixed together to create something new. Being a pastor and a man of God, he also explained this same concept, as a braid. A braid has three parts, he explained. Two parts represented each of the individuals in the relationship, and the third representing God. When they come together in partnership, they create a new thing, a braid, this braid being more strong and beautiful that each other the parts are separately. This got me to thinking about my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco.

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My sister, the Bride (LEFT!!) and me!

To be a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) is to strive to become something like a braid. A braid is itself a single entity but is made of different parts. You have one string, which in this case represents the volunteer’s “Americanness,” or America’s culture, social & political histories etc. and the second string representing the host country’s culture, social history, political history etc. The third cord represents the volunteer her or himself. This last cord is necessary to make the other two intertwine in such a fashion that their distinctiveness becomes distorted. When you wrap the three strings or cords in such a fashion they become something new, while still holding their three individual components. To be a Peace Corps volunteer means to act as something like a shipping port. An American port giving and receiving to/from others in foreign lands for cultural exchange.

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A beautiful and fairy-woodland-princess vibe for a beautiful fairy-woodland-princess that is my Sister!

I am serving as a volunteer in the Kingdom of Morocco. I am in Morocco as an invited guest of the Kingdom, intended to support initiatives adopted or promoted by the country’s Ministry of Youth and Sports. I serve as a representative of the American people, the Peace Corps program in Morocco and the Peace Corps organization as a whole. Being a part of an international development organization requires me to understand my role in development. I am not expected to solve the problems that exist in Morocco. To expect this is to be met with immediate disappointment. Peace Corps works to provide sustainable development. As a “doer” of development, the problems of a country are far too large for me to tackle. I can however create change in the micro level, and this is far more tangible for the people of Morocco. According to Peace Corps, my mission for the two years of my service is “first and foremost, capacity building (Volunteer Policies and Procedures Handbook, Peace Corps Morocco 2017: 9).” Capacity building, defined by the United Nations is the “process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world (Academic Impact, United Nations 2017).” For the PCV, this is accomplished by assisting the community members in assessing needs, making connections with existing resources and transferring new skills and ideas to enable individuals to make positive change in bettering their own lives (Volunteer Policies and Procedures Handbook, Peace Corps Morocco 2017: 9). Often, we are left without seeing a physical result from our work. Sometimes, this isn’t true. For example, I recently met with a returned Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV); she served in Morocco in the early 1990’s, over 20 years ago, working in maternal and child healthcare. During her service, she told me that she met knew a young girl, who was born early in her service. When this girl was around 1 or 2 years old she was incredibly malnourished. Her parents could not bring her to the hospital in the closest large town. This large town, is now a city, and is the location of my own service. So, this woman brought the girl to the hospital, and stayed with her there for days. Eventually, this volunteer closed out her service after her second year and do what all volunteers must do- move on and move forward with our own lives. This RPCV returned to Morocco, and she visited her small host village. She was equipped with only names and old photos. She found this girl, who is now a young woman. She is healthy, and happy. This is nothing short of amazing. I could only hope that I have such a profound impact on my community as this woman had on hers.

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My Best Good Friend, Tara, and I during the wedding reception (approximately too many drinks deep)

Peace Corps Morocco has changed greatly since this RPCV’s service. Now, volunteers all serve under one sector, Youth Development. I, and my fellow volunteers in Morocco, are contracted through Peace Corps to work under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports. We often work at Dar Chebabs (Youth Centers) or Nedi Neswis (Women’s Clubs) or other local associations (Volunteer Policies and Procedures Handbook, Peace Corps Morocco 2017: 9). I work at a Nedi Neswi and another separate local association for women. At these women’s centers, I engage women and girls in capacity building activities, such as fitness, yoga, life skills and women’s health. These activities work to provide knowledge and skills to the women frequenting these centers and to provide them a background to lead healthier lives and to make educated life decisions for themselves and their families. Work hours are not fixed. It is up to the volunteer to network and build relationships with different community partners in order to establish work activities and hours.

Work, how little or how much and what kind, is up to the discretion of the volunteer. Living in a foreign country with an incredibly different culture, while also working for a governmental international development agency, the volunteer can use this same discretion for little else in their life. Living in Morocco as an American female, I am akin to a performer on stage, every day, and every minute of my service (Volunteer Policies and Procedures Handbook, Peace Corps Morocco 2017: 10). This happens to be obvious to me, since there is no time I am not stared at while outside, or have my whereabouts questioned by anybody on my street.

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View of Agadir, Morocco

Like any performer, I have a costume. My dress has requirements by both Peace Corps and Moroccan culture, and as volunteer of Peace Corps, and a resident of Morocco, I have a duty to adhere to these expectations. While there is diversity in dress and conservatism, especially in the large cities, over all it is appropriate to generalize that Morocco is far more conservative than the United States. I must cover my shoulders at all times, and where long pants or skirts. To detract unwanted attention and adhere to the conservatism of the country, it is expected that I wear loosely fit shirts that do not have a low neckline and are long enough in length to cover my backside. I have 24 months to test my respectfully test my boundaries. This also works to influence a more thorough and authentic perception of who I am; the American, the volunteer and the individual (Volunteer Policies and Procedures Handbook, Peace Corps Morocco 2017: 11-12).  My travel is also more or less generally controlled. During the training period, the first and last 3 months in site, and various other times throughout the year, volunteers are confined to traveling only within their province, or sometimes not at all. These travel restrictions are for many reasons like community integration, and closing of service projects and for example, in Morocco, volunteers are restricted from also travelling at night, due to safety and security concerns. There are also restrictions or guidelines regarding marriage, paternity/pregnancy, sexual behavior, alcohol and drug consumption, and more. These same facets of human social life are not only confined by the guidelines and restrictions of the Peace Corps, but of culture as well.

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Another BFFFF of mine, Molly. Fun Fact: Molly traveled all the way from AZ to NYC  to see me for 3 hours while I was home!

In Morocco, I have found that being confined by culture first and foremost is adjusted by one’s gender. There are only two genders recognized in Morocco, male and female. I am recognized and identify as female. However, because I am unmarried, despite my legal age, I am still considered a girl, not yet a woman. I have seen the concept of gender have a hand in deciding the activities, whereabouts and overall conduct of Moroccan life, in both its private and public spheres. As an American, I am in a unique position, due to stereotypes of American girls/culture, leniency in adhering to Moroccan culture for foreigners, and expectation of adherence to Moroccan culture for culture’s sake. As a volunteer, I toe this same line.

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I missed this little booger when I was away! Look at that sweet face!

Similar to many, and dissimilar to some, I had not visited Morocco prior to my entrance as a trainee/volunteer. My first glimpse of Morocco were distance farm fields from the window of my airplane, and palm trees against the backdrop of a fading sunset on the airport tarmac. Everything about Morocco was completely new to me. From the language, to the dress, to the mint tea. However, I knew that I did not come to Morocco as an individual, but as a part of and with responsibilities to the Peace Corps mission. Despite Peace Corps and Moroccan social constrictions, I am encouraged to explore the country, learn the traditions of the Moroccan culture- how they conduct marriage ceremonies, their relationship with food, expectations of children. I am also encouraged to share my own culture and share Moroccan culture with Americans. I, the individual, am constrained my social and work forces. These constraints require me to learn how to live as I am, entangled and braided with them. I have taken three cords- America, Morocco, and myself- and have created an entirely new entity, one which is stronger, and more beautiful due to its creation. I have created a world where there is a little more understanding, and a little less fear of the unknown. This world may be entirely my own, but I doubt that. Because of me, and altruistic volunteers in Morocco and other countries around the world, we have created a large network of people that fear a little less and love a little more.

That’s pretty f*cking cool if you ask me.

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Nora being a ham!

Eat, Pray, Love: Peace Corps edition

It’s warm!!

” width=”439″] Rabat, before my trip to London in May

Note that I said WARM and not hot! Today the high was about 97 degrees Fahrenheit and that has been described as warm, not hot, by the Moroccans I’ve discussed this issue with. It’s summer by work standards, and just a few days away from the Summer Solstice! Recently, I’ve been feeling very lost and frustrated. I also have realized that in order to remedy these feelings, I need to focus on myself, and what I need most. I want to discuss that now.

” width=”387″] Rabat, before my trip to London in May

Ramadan, the holiest of months in the Islamic calendar, has just passed. During Ramadan, one is supposed to forgo all desires, including food and water from sun up to sun down. By forgoing actions that are beloved, man is supposed to practice discipline and self-control. The month of Ramadan also brings a higher sense of charity, since going without food or water may also teach empathy for the poorest in society. This means that this month is the perfect time to do some self-reflection.

Many of the fellow volunteers fasted alongside community members for the entirety of Ramadan, and others didn’t make it the whole Lunar cycle. I’m in the latter group. I commend those that made it through the whole month! This is no small feat!! Prior to Ramadan, I decided that I would fast to feel a greater sense of community, and to have a new experience. Also, before Ramadan, I was warned by volunteers in Staj 98 (I’m in Staj 99) that I will have an overload of free time during Ramadan, and if I’m lucky, I’ll keep up a decent work schedule. Well, I definitely had a lot of free time, but I did not keep up a schedule by any means.

” width=”475″] Iftar with my site mates! I made the crepes!!

I had asked the women that I would work at the Nedi Neswi if they would like to continue fitness, yoga and English classes during Ramadan. I got a lot of shaking heads and exasperated “no’s” from all of them. I asked again, and I was explained that they just wanted to come to the center in the mornings, do a little sewing and then return home. This meant that I was only teaching preschool English. While I enjoyed this class while I was teaching it, it was always a difficult class to get to because I knew that it wasn’t sustainable, nor was it with the population I was supposed to be working with! Suddenly then, I only had work for 3 hours a week, supposedly. This turned out to be even less because for many classes, the kids didn’t show up until a half hour or so after class started, so I would wait until an acceptable number of students arrived to begin my lesson.

I was faced with the most terrifying concepts: Time. I felt as though I was at the beginning of a long tunnel, where I couldn’t necessarily see the end of. It wasn’t just Ramadan you see; after Ramadan my workplaces wouldn’t reopen due to the summer break from school. To fill my days, I found myself sleeping a lot. I’d be staying up quite late since I’d walk my dog and talk with my Moroccan friends after Iftar (break-fast). During the day then, I would wake up quite late and take another nap to make the day go by faster. You probably don’t notice how much time eating and food preparation takes up until you can’t eat! What could I do with my days though? I couldn’t just sleep my life away, could I?

” width=”347″] Nora sure can sleep a lot! She also loves to cuddle with her giraffe.

After the women told me they were done for the year, I began to question myself, and my service. Was I wanted here? Why was I placed in such a site that, honestly, doesn’t really need Peace Corps volunteers? I felt unsatisfied in my work, my relationships and dissatisfied with myself. While, yes comparison is never good, I couldn’t help but look at so many of my peers and feel as though they were excelling, and I was… Mediocre. I honestly felt that I could leave Morocco and not a single person (Moroccan) would notice or miss my presence. Who knows, this could still be true; Even writing this, despite working on changing my outlook, I still very much feel this way. In May, I was able to attend a project review for Peace Corps Morocco and I made sure to tell my focus group facilitator that I felt as though my placement, and the post of Ouarzazate wasn’t for the community but rather to keep good relations with the Ministry of Youth and Sports. I felt, and still feel like a pawn in a diplomatic game of chess. I am not too jaded to think that despite this I can’t have a meaningful or impactful service. I can! And I am determined to fulfill this!!

So, what did these emotions and feelings mean in terms of Ramadan? I was fasting for about a week and a half and during this time I felt my mental state becoming vulnerable. With so much of my life being out of my control now-in Peace Corps in general- and my daily schedule being destroyed, I found myself grasping at anything that I did have control with and it ended up being food. I found myself around the time of Iftar to be pushing my meals back; thinking “well I’ve gone this long, and I didn’t do anything with my day. I shouldn’t eat until I did one productive thing.” I’m going to be quite honest now: in University I struggled with healthy eating habits because I would use food as a tool of guilt or reward. If I felt that I wasn’t productive, I wouldn’t have a full meal, or I wouldn’t eat until I felt that I deserved to eat. When I did, I would “treat” myself. So, during Ramadan, when there is supposed to be a greater lesson of discipline and self-control, I pushed myself so hard. I felt myself slipping, or at least in a very vulnerable position where I could slip back into old, bad habits.

” width=”448″]  I got the chance to visit my Host Family in Nzala for a weekend! It’s so beautiful in the spring time!

I am very fortunate to have grown as a woman so much that I can recognize this vulnerability and be self-aware enough to know that I need to remedy my situation. So, what was this remedy? It was simple: do not participate in fasting during Ramadan. When I took a step back to evaluate, I acknowledged that I was under no circumstance mandated to fast during Ramadan; this was a choice! I am not Muslim, and I was still able to break fast with community members. In such a large site like mine, not many people are in my business and know my every move. Once I stopped fasting, I immediately noticed that I had less stress. I also felt a little bit more motivation to do work.

What work though?! Like I said, I have now stopped physically frequently my workplaces. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t have work! Very simply, I am still a student as a part of the (now ceased) master’s International program. I am currently working on my research while also serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. Now, I have plenty of time to dedicate to focusing on my research. I also have found that the Health education here is severely lacking, and not many people have much basic health knowledge, and even fewer people have any knowledge on women’s health/ sexual& reproductive health. I decided to develop a health curriculum! After looking at other Peace Corps resources for health curriculums on PCLive (a knowledge/resource Hub for PCVs), I also found that there isn’t a curriculum that necessarily would work well in Morocco, since it is a more conservative culture.

Ramadan is over, and Summer is here. I’ve been told that this is the hardest time for volunteers in Morocco. And so far, I agree!! I am not feeling confident, I am not feeling motivated or satisfied. I am feeling every emotion the strongest I could possibly feel them! When I am happy, I feel like I am flying but so fast will the littlest of things tear me down. And recently, when I feel down, I am there for too long. Even the next day I feel awful. I’ve been calling this “an emotional hangover.” They are ROUGH!!! I allow myself to sit in my low moments, and let myself really feel them; evaluate how I feel and why. I think it is a strength of mine; I’m not ignoring my emotions or pretending that everything is fine when it’s not. However, I can’t get caught up in negative thoughts. I recognize that I have such an amazing opportunity. I am lucky enough to get the chance to have my own “Eat, Pray, Love” self-discovery time, as well as contribute meaningful work to a needing community. Not many people can do either of these things in their life, and I happen to be able to do both.IMG_7037[1]

While I didn’t fast for the entirety of Ramadan, I did a lot of self-reflecting. I recognize that despite being self-aware, I need to work on my gratitude, and my motivation. These are two skills that I want and need to develop further. For summer my goals are to exercise more, work on my research, and develop a comprehensive health curriculum. I’m in a dip in my service, it sucks to feel unmotivated and unsatisfied.  However, I know that it will get better. And the first step in making sure that it gets better, is putting myself first, and recognizing the important of myself in my life. My service is what I make it. Life is not a spectator sport, right?! Well, neither is Peace Corps.

If any of you have tips and tricks for building your own schedule in a schedule-less world, or building gratitude and motivation, I would LOVE to hear them!!

” width=”351″] Pro Tip: Find a hotel in your site that will allow you to use their pool!

Hello? Is Anybody Home?!

Hello, yes, I am still here. Where have I been you ask? A little over here, a little over there, and nowhere all at the same time.

Welcome, loved ones.

These past two months have FLOWN by. Which is the exact opposite of how I felt in February, as you saw in my last blog post (An Issue of Time and Other Things).

What have I been doing? A little of this, a little of that, and nothing all at the same time.

I’ll start in March!

March:

The first half of March brought some stability back into my life. My schedule balanced out a bit, and I got into the groove of teaching again. This felt great! I may complain sometimes about work (who doesn’t) but I am so proud to say that I genuinely love my job. I love that my job boils down to just being a good person and creating relationships. Whether that be one by sweating through a fitness class, or stumbling through my English Lesson, I find that showing my humanity is my most powerful development tool. Half way through March my Staj (cohort) and I had our first In-Service Training (IST). This was a week-long training in Marrakech- the Red City. Words cannot describe how excited I was to go to IST. Up until then, we were not allowed to leave our regions, which meant that many of us hadn’t left our sites since our arrival in December. While I did leave once for Christmas, it was not enough, and I was feeling all sorts of cabin fever, I also missed many of the friends that I had made during the 3 months of Pre-service training (PST).

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Don’t wanna bump into this! A prickly cactus in Marrakech.

As soon as I stepped off the bus in Marrakech-the America of Morocco- I knew what my first goal was; STARBUCKS! Yes, while expensive (but no more expensive than the States’) It was so worth it! As soon as the cool liquid of my Grande-iced-caramel-macchiato-with-an-extra-espresso-shot touched my lips, I was transported to a simpler time; exiting Target with a bag full of things I didn’t need.

After Starbucks, my friends and I hit the mall, and spent too much money at H&M (although we SWEAR we needed everything we bought) and Zara, and oh you know I can’t forget Dominoes. I am not even a fan of dominoes, I think it’s pizza tastes similarly to carboard, but oh my lord… I WAS IN HEAVEN! Another reason why Marrakech is the America of Morocco is that there are tons of bars, and restaurants sell alcoholic drinks! That night my friends and I found a small bar, called Barometer (punny yeah?) and had ourselves a well-deserved cocktail. And then another two more for good measure. We loved this place so much, we returned nearly every night we stayed in Marrakech!

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The most delicious wine cocktails of death. 

Unfortunately, IST disrupted the stabilizing of my work life. After having to cancel all my classes for a week, I came back to Ouarzazate hoping to find that everybody was as ready as I was to get back to work. This was certainly not the case! Instead, I had to cancel 90% of my classes for the following week and a half as well, since We had Mother’s Day celebrations and belated Women’s Day celebrations. I struggled to find my footing again. With all the cancelations, this lead to a decrease in participation rate for whenever my classed were held. It has been said to us at trainings, that for every week of class canceled is takes two times as long to get your participation numbers back up. This was pretty discouraging since I had to cancel two and a half weeks of classes!! I tried my hardest not to let it bother me. While my work life was struggling, I found that I was forging new relationships in my neighborhood. During the month of March, as I walked my dog, Nora, I met a former student of my site mates. As it turns out, he lives on my street! We would casually bump into each other and exchange pleasantries, until one day he asked me if I wanted to volunteer in the mountains with him and his friends. I said yes since I’ve learned to never say no when opportunities like this come up. The next day I met him and his friends outside and we hopped into a taxi where two other people were waiting for us. I am still unsure of how they found this association and all the details of this volunteer trip.

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a view of the village; taken on our way to eat more, probably.

We headed into the High Atlas Mountains. Driving on the windy Tichka road, I found myself once again in awe of the geographical diversity in Morocco. In one moment, you’re in the desert with its red rocks, but so soon you are in the mountains, surrounded by conifer trees. After about an hour and a half of driving, we found ourselves in a tiny village in the Tidili Commune. There must have been at most, 500 people in this village; half of them being under the age of 10. Honestly, I don’t doubt that there were less than 500 people living in this village!! I was met with stares and smiles, thing that I have become quite used to. I was also met with a bunch of blue-eyed kids! This, I am NOT used to! Immediately my friends pointed this out and made me hold a small baby girl. Something to know about Moroccan culture, it is entirely acceptable to pic up a child. No, you don’t have to know the child, nor their parents. If it is cute, and you want to pick them up- pick them up. I don’t know if this is something I will be picking up during my time here in Morocco.

As in typical Peace Corps fashion, the day unfolded quite unexpectedly.

What we expected to do: Hand our blankets, and assist Medical team providing free healthcare to villagers

What we were told to do: Entertain the tiny children on their school lunch break

What we did: Ate a lot of food and then napped in a field of grass

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A view from the fields.

At the end of the day, when we were eating Kaskrut (I told you all we did what eat!), my new friends expressed their frustration and slight disappointment in our uselessness. I explained to them that days like this were nearly the epitome of Peace Corps.  We have grand expectations, tumble and fumble but find that we accomplished our goal because what we did was make relationships and show kindness to others. The simple gesture of coming into the village with the intention of helping was an accomplishment, and I’m sure it meant a lot to the people of this village that complete strangers would give up their day to visit them with the intention of helping in any way they could*.

What month comes after March? Oh right

April:

I wish I could say that April brought stability. I can’t. I had the first week of April where EVERY SINGLE CLASS was held! This was one heck of a week! I remember feeling SO PRODUCTIVE! That quickly ceased since the second week was a school break. When the schools are closed, the Nedi Neswi’s (women’s Centers) are also closed. This meant that all my classes were canceled yet again! I luckily had plenty of company! A friend of mind also has a pupper, named Drake. Drake is Nora’s brother! This friend was going on a desert excursion with her Host Family for a few days and needed somebody to watch Drake. Of course, I agreed! Drake is such a cuddle bug of a dog, and Nora needed some fellow doggy play-time! These three days solidified that I can only hand one dog. As much as I loved watching the two of them play, it was just so much energy!!! However, the nighttime cuddles were amazing! Imagine a puppy sandwich! AND I WAS IN THE MIDDLE!!

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Nora giving her brother, Drake, some love

Week three of April was another Peace Corps training. This time, it was with only a handful of volunteers from my Staj. Luckily, this training was being held in my site of Ouarzazate, so I got to sleep in my comfy bed every night!! In this training, we were learning the indigenous language/ dialects of the Amazigh tribes of Morocco, Tamazight/Tashelheet. The reason for two different dialects is because of the separation of tribes, and geographical barriers. For example, it is more common for Amazigh people north of the mountains to speak Tamazight, but for those in the south, to speak Tashelheet. However, sometimes it differs between tribes rather than between regions. This can be epitomized by how the Amazigh people in Kellaat M’Gouna (about 1 hour east of Ouarzazate) speak Tamazight, whereas majority of Amazigh people surrounding Kellaat M’Gouna speak Tashelheet.

This training was crazy intensive!! I feel as though I learned as much Tashelheet in 5 days as I did Darija in 3 months!! I believe that this is because we are constantly in this language learning mode. I feel like nearly everyday I learn a new work in Darija (whether I remember it or not) and that many of us volunteers’ brains are like language sponges right now. Also, those of us who participated in this training did so out of choice, which meant that we had a general need to learn this language and so we had specific questions, and a high motivation to learn. Although I don’t remember majority of what I had learned only two weeks ago, I know it has benefitted me. Already I have impressed my landlord’s family with just a few phrases. Something useful that has come out of this training for me is now the ability to recognize when people are speaking to me in Tashelheet. Darija has highly influenced Tashelheet, and so many Darija/Arabic words are now used in Tashelheet. Prior to this training, occasionally I would feel as though I was awful in Darija and that I didn’t understand anything. However, now I recognize that it wasn’t what I haven’t progressed in Darija, because I have, but rather that these people weren’t speaking Darija at all! They were speaking Tashelheet, which was why I couldn’t understand them!!

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My weather app understands Morocco.

The last night of the Tam/Tash training was a Friday. Peace Corps invited a traditional Amazigh band to perform for us. This band consisted of different drums and women singing/chanting. We were sitting around waiting for them to start, everybody having their own side conversations when suddenly we felt the vibration of the first drum. Boom, Boom, Boom. This deep base drum, shook us all to our core. Soon the smaller drums began, and the women start to chant and clap. Words can’t describe the emotions that were felt by us volunteers. You could both hear and feel the traditions and histories of the Amazigh people in their performance. Within the first 5 minutes of the performance, we all got off our seats and began to clap and dance like the women showed us. For the next few hours we were all smiles as we held hands and danced around the drums. I felt so privileged to be a Peace Corps Volunteer and to have opportunities like this to learn and take part in this cultural tradition.

This same night there was a horrific sandstorm. To make it even worse, I returned to find that my windows were left open and I had essentially the entire Sahara Desert inside of my apartment (ok, I exaggerated a little). This wind continued but had no effect on my excursion the next day. The day after training completed, two of my friends and I visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait BenHaddou. This Kasbah is located about 25 minutes away from Ouarzazate and is most recently known for being he City of Yunkai in season 3 of Game of Thrones. While as annoying as the weather was, we found it hilarious and I honestly wouldn’t have changed it for a second.

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Ait BenHaddou

Due to the sandstorm the previous weekend, the following week I was forced to cancel a fitness and yoga class. I began to feel as though I haven’t worked in months, which I guess is true to an extent. As I mentioned earlier, when class is canceled, you can expect your participation numbers to bounce back about two class sessions/ two weeks later. Due to the constant cancellation and inconsistency in class scheduling I felt that it was necessary to cancel my Life Skills class. Although this was probably my favorite class that I taught, I felt that the impact the lessons could have was not being met due to the lack of participation & class inconsistency. However, with both the month of Ramadan and Summer break barreling towards me, I am choosing to find the good in the sudden emptying of my scheduling. Now, I have time to evaluate what went well and what I can improve upon when I start my classes up in September. I’m also still a Grad student!! I’m currently working on my master’s capstone and with more time out of my classes, I can dedicate more time to working on my research.

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I found *decent* pizza in Morocco! Bonus: it’s within a minutes walk to my house!

Now, it is May:

I had the privilege of participating in the Project Review for Peace Corps Morocco this past week in Marrakech (yes, I indeed made a trip *or two* to Starbucks). A handful of volunteers, counterparts and mudirs (supervisors) from each region are selected to hold small group discussions to assess what PC Morocco does well, where it can improve, and if our current model of development is fulfilling the mission’s goals. In our discussion there was a lot of talk of site development, topics to teach and strategies of how to teach them. I was so grateful to learn a bit more about the partnership between Pace Corps and the Moroccan government during this review. After about 3 hours of discussion, we presented recommendations to the other groups, as they did for us as well. It was clear that the understanding of Peace Corps role and volunteer’s jobs varied widely between volunteers and our mudirs, while the counterparts laid clearly in the middle. This was a little discouraging, since we felt that our mudirs were out of touch with what our purpose was, but ultimately it was very beneficial to learn how out mudirs viewed our presence in the community and their association.

May is also bring me my first vacation!! A close friend that I made in training and I are going to London!! I have about 6 days until I head out, and I am beyond excited! Although I was just in Marrakech, I an itching to get out of Ouarzazate and Morocco in General. I shouldn’t really say Morocco in general, but I am excited to visit somewhere where I have no responsibility. Both times I traveled out of site to Marrakech I did so for a specific work purpose; it wasn’t a vacation. In London, however, I’ll be a tourist and will be allowed to forget about work for a short amount of time!

After typing this post up, I am amazed by how quickly these months of passed me. While I felt that I haven’t done much- in terms of classes I guess that’d be true- I have experienced a great deal in my service thus far. Summer is approaching quite fast, and I expect time to slow down again as the days continue to get both longer, and hotter.

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Friends brought me to an old movie set on a Sunday Afternoon in April. The set has been destroyed due to the heavy winds and sandstorms.

Hopefully my next post won’t be too far away, I’m curious, what would you like me to discuss?? Leave a topic recommendation in the comments!!

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Throw ’em up. Boom. Call me Khaleesi.

An Issue of Time and Other Things

Does anybody else think that February is such a tough month? While this past January felt like a literal 4 years and February has gone by in a minute, February has got me fuuuuugggggeddd up.

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View of the High Atlas Mountains on the Tichka Road

The last two weeks of January there was a school break, and this meant my Nedi Neswi was closed and I didn’t work. These two weeks I planned to do SO MUCH work! Administrative sort of clean-up work regarding Peace Corps, and work on my research as well. Honestly, not much of either went down. By the end of my first week I got a dog and the second half of the break also consisted of awful weather. It snowed (!!!), for the first time in 40 years, and was overall incredibly cold and cloudy and miserable. Not to mention I just got a dog and so I was trying to figure out what the frigg I just did to myself (I still wonder that often).

After this two-week break, my schedule BLEW UP. Seriously, it nearly doubled in the time span of a day and a half. My mudira of the Nedi Neswi told me she wants me to teach a Friday morning English class to the Preschoolers; adding to the already consistent Monday and Wednesday morning classes. The next day I also solidified my new Life Skills program at another association, Oxygen. This added a Thursday meeting with my counterpart, and the two-hour Friday afternoon session. Also, add to this, I walk half an hour (approximately 1.3 miles) to and from work at both associations. That is then an hour travel time for each class. So, somehow within a day, I added nearly 8 hours to my work week.

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A quick photo of Nora, Post bath and all clean. This level of cleanliness lasted about 2 hours.

Unfortunately, since starting work again on February 5th, I haven’t had a single week go according to schedule! Class sessions have been cancelled, sometimes without my knowledge, so I walk to work only to find that I’m not teaching, or simply just pushed back. Meetings have been rearranged, or also cancelled; I could go on but I’ll spare you the boredom.

I’ve never thought that I was a person who needed a routine or a strict schedule in their life. I’ve never wanted a desk job, and when I had one I wanted to rip my hair out from the boredom of sitting in the same place all day. Since being in my official service for 3 months now, I’ve come to realize that routine and a weekly structure are good things! In fact, I crave them!! I am craving dependability, and the ability to know definitively what my week will look like in advance. I was discussing this issue of routine, schedule and time with a friend not too long ago, and while we are in two different spots in our lives, we both felt the same way. This made me feel much better!! We discussed how both of us always felt that filling up your days with remedial work or just something to do was a bit silly! Go forth with your life and do something your passionate about! Don’t work all the time because work hurts the soul if you aren’t in love with it! Yet, both of us also are craving routine, and looking for ways to fill our time. Is this contradictory? Absolutely. But as I said to him, I believe that being a full human often means having contradictions within ourselves, and that is perfectly fine!

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A view of (part of) Ouarzazate, close to my apartment.

Time is weird in Peace Corps. I think I’ve said this before! The days go by SO SLOWLY! But I feel as though in the time it takes to blink, another week has passed me by. It’s Wednesday of the last full week in February, but I swear I just swore in as a volunteer three days ago???? I remember asking my mentor in August something along the lines of, “can you believe it’s been a year since you moved to Morocco?!” and she said fundamentally the same thing; she couldn’t believe it had already been a year, but then it also felt like she had been in Morocco for a life time.

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February is always the toughest of months because it’s what I like to call, “deep winter.” It somehow is often colder than December and January yet you know spring is around the corner but you can’t see around the bend. Add in the irony then that it is also the shortest month out of the year. How can this be?! It’s like the Universe is laughing at us. This February has been especially tough on me because I’ve been feeling very homesick. Similarly to my craving of routine, I’ve been missing the luxury of availability from home as well. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it but I’ve been thinking about my future out of Peace Corps quite often recently. I don’t mean to say that I want to early terminate my service- not at all! Rather, I’ve been dreaming of the day, in a little over 2 years from now, when I am back in the states, and if I have work, I go to work for the day; or if I need literally anything at all, I just hop in my car and I go and get it because I KNOW that there is a store that will sell what I need Surprisingly, since adopting Nora I have cried more within these four weeks than I had for all of 2017. I think she set off a switch in me; one where I finally had a tangible source for my frustrations and struggles and I found in her the things that I missed were a part of the luxuries of availability. I miss the availability of my friends & family as well. Living 5+ hours away from my friends and family is hard, when I am free, they are not and vice-versa. I am incredibly grateful for these relationships though, and the work we all put in towards sustaining them in spite of the difficulties of living across an ocean.

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Nora on the steps of the neighborhood mosque, looking quite doggo-like and not so pupper-esque as usual.

I’ve hit a rut this past month. There is no going around that. In the Peace Corps’ Cycle of Adjustment and Vulnerability, I am right on track. This makes me feel better!! I know that what I am feeling is normal, and I also know that I will feel better! If there is something I’ve learned since moving to another country, it’s that I sometimes my accomplishment for the day is simply existing. Some days, or weeks or months, existing is harder than others. February is just one of those months!

Onto March, please…

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Said neighborhood mosque.

The Dog Days are Just Beginning…

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Nora, on the first day there was actual sun since she came home!

Yes, I got a puppy. This is an actual thing that I did, and yes, this pupper is the cutest one you have ever, and most likely will ever see. It’s science.

On January 27th, 2018, I crossed over into doggy-parenthood. For weeks leading up to that day, I had been wrestling with the thought of adopting a puppy. I made pro-and-con lists; I talked about it with friends, both Peace Corps and from home; I even called my Peace Corps Regional Manager, just to get the opinion from somebody who has worked with dog-owning volunteers before. Here was a look at my pro/con list:

PROs:

  • Companionship; I have the opportunity to be LESS lonely!
  • A reason to get out of my house
  • A way to meet people in my neighborhood
  • Possible men-deterrent when it gets bigger
  • Emotional support
  • Adventure dog!
  • Possible theft deterrent/protection
  • I have a good support system of ppl in OZ

CONs:

  • More expenses
  • Inhibits random travel
  • Will stray dogs chase us?
  • Who can/ is willing watch my dog?
  • Big responsibility, do I want that?
  • Will having a dog limit my ability to do projects?
  • I have site-mates and friends already, so I’m not technically all secluded and alone

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Nora her brother (pre-bath)

After much thinking, and discussing I decided to do it. Recently I had been so beyond frustrated with the persistent street harassment, and I was disappointed in myself, for the lack of desire to leave my home, and to spend time in my neighborhood & integrate. I reached out to some volunteers who have dogs of their own and they explained how having a dog increased their rate and level of integration very much!! Now you may be thinking, “wow, just like walk around or go outside what’s the big deal?” I’ve mentioned it in a previous blog post, but it’s difficult to enjoy spending time outside, or have the simple desire to leave your house when you are consistently met with sexual street harassment. It doesn’t exactly make for a welcoming environment. Also, I am not fluent in Arabic/darija or even knowledgeable in French, so small talk can be difficult. I often review words and practice what I will say while I walk to work or the store. It’s actually amazing how much work existing in a foreign country can be (that is, more than a simple vacation).

So yes, I got a dog. I wasn’t even planning on adopting one so soon after confirming with my RM (regional manager) and Mul Dar (Landlord) however, my friend in the next site over (Skoura) knew of a litter of puppies that were to be 8 weeks old at that point and her host family notified her that these puppies were soon to leave their den in the family’s garden. I had to act fast! The next day I caught a taxi to Skoura and my friend and I walked over to where the puppies were. I saw their momma about 50 feet away and became nervous to grab one; what if she was incredibly protective and ran over? Luckily, she wasn’t, as was evident when one of the puppies ran over to her and she tried to run away from it!!

I was examining all of the puppies that were on this pile of rocks. They were predominately black, but appeared to look border collie-esque with white chests. I zeroed in on one of the puppers and decided- you’re mine!! I promptly picked her up off the rocks and we scurried away. She was so scared! After a bath (which she didn’t necessarily enjoy) and a nap in my lap, and lunch the pup and I headed back to our home in Ouarzazate. During that day, I decided to name her Nora, which means light, as in happiness, in Arabic.

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Oh the life of a puppy…

Having a dog/puppy is quite a different experience in Morocco than in America. Simply due to the large acceptance of dogs as pets, and the culture that surrounds dog/pet owning in America that simply does not exists here in Morocco. Luckily, I’m in a large site and in the two grocery stores we have, there is both dog and cat food. They are relatively expensive, but there is no shortage of good vegetables and meet, so I could make Nora food myself if I wish. Also in my favor is that I found a vet in Ouarzazate that can administer Nora her puppy shots! This vet is actually a veterinarian for livestock, but there are enough people here that do own pets that the vet stocks up on cat and dog vaccines. Unfortunately, there are no pet stores or places where I can buy a collar, leash or toys. The closest store is across the High Atlas Mountains in Marrakech. Within the first week of having Nora, I became incredibly homesick. This was definitely the opposite of how I expected to feel with a dog! I was missing the conveniences of home; the ability to hop in my car, any time I needed, and drive tops 20 minutes to the nearest PetSmart and stock up on all the doggo-necessities. There are no PetSmart’s here, and I’m not even allowed to drive. Yanno how when you’re walking your dog and you stop and say, “WHAT ARE YOU EATING WHAT IS IN YOUR MOUTH GIVE IT TO ME DROP IT STOP EATING THAT OH GOD NO!” Well to have a dog in Morocco is either to freak out because of all the litter on the ground or to throw your hands up and accept that yes, the dog will probably eat or chew on something it shouldn’t, but you can’t prevent it from chewing on everything. I KNOW I let Nora chew/eat more than she probably should. But the simple fact is that garbage/recycling culture is different in Morocco too. There is far more litter on the ground than in the U.S. and that means that there are far more chances your dog will eat or chew on something you don’t want it to. With Nora, of course I try my hardest to prevent her from eating trash, however surprisingly she is good about not eating everything in the street. I knew having a dog, and even more so- raising a puppy was going to be a lot of work!! Having a puppy in Morocco though creates an extra obstacle. I try to look at it through as a chance for her to become a great dog in comparison to what she could have been if I adopted her and raised her in the States.

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Being a model- peep the ratchet shoelace leash!! I have since bought an actual leash we’re managing!

Since snatching Nora of that pile of rocks, I have felt that I have actual roots here in Ouarzazate. I am out in my neighborhood so much more now, and am doing so unapologetically. The kids that play on my street were quick to accept Nora as a friend and despite many Moroccans’ fear of dogs, I found that so many people have gone out of their way to (try to) pet her, ask me her name and where she is from. Remember how I mentioned that small talk is difficult? Well when you have a new puppy, small talk becomes pretty easy! Yes, I’m repeating myself 40 times a day but I am now comprehendible in my small talk! I have met mothers and fathers and students, talked about Nora, as well as my job, and what I am doing here in Ouarzazate. I was even invited to my first Kaskrut at a neighbor’s house! Nora came too! Without her, I don’t know how long, or if I ever would have met as many people as I have now. I can see my relationships grow in the future now and am excited to see where they go. Regarding the “men-deterrent,” while I may not be deterring anybody now since Nora is so cute small and fluffy, I am happy to say that the attention is now more or less not directed solely at me! Many people try to get my dog’s attention, and as much as that is a pet peeve of mine, I mentally and emotionally can handle that better than persistent cat-calling. Lastly, while I do have multiple site-mates (shout out to you three, ya’ll save me), I am still lonely. I can go days without seeing them, and anybody who has lived in a city can tell you that being surrounded by people is often a very lonely experience. Now add a language barrier!! With Nora, I get to walk around Ouarzazate and feel confident, and that I am joined with a companion- and that’s because I am! Even when she is laying on the ground, refusing to walk, I get the opportunity to just laugh it off and accept that my existence in Morocco is mostly embarrassing! And that’s fine!! I’m not lonely in my house or on the street.

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Isn’t this the happiest shadow you’ve ever seen?!

None of this is to say that my problems or all negative emotions have gone out the window. Dogs don’t work like that. Not necessarily. I am also now very overwhelmed!! I have a puppy, and all of those responsibilities, as well as an increase in work, (new project just started up heck yeah!) and then I am stilla technically a graduate student, so I am continuing to work on my capstone. I am busy! I am stressed! I am overwhelmed!! These are all true and will probably be true for the rest of my life. I just have to learn how to balance it all and hope that even when something falls and breaks, I have the strength and resiliency to pick up the pieces and continue with the balancing act. That’s all we can really ever do right?

Puppies are hard! There is no going around that. If you don’t have a difficult puppy then I assume it is actually a stuffed animal, or that you’re a delusional liar. Nora is an amazing dog, and I really do believe that by anybody’s standard she is a well-behaved dog. Of course, she is still a puppy and so there is of my hands, and sometimes face; peeing in places I don’t want her to pee; but then there are the puppy yawns, and cuddles and oh my god have you looked at her crooked ears?!

So, this is my life now; Peace Corps Volunteer & owner of a pupperoncino.

P.S. if you have any pup-training tips send them my way!

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napping, classic.