Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Greetings

“Salam walkeum. Labas. Bexir. Labas. Hennia? Kulshi myzen? Lahemdullah. Labas? Kif Dihr? Lahemdullah."

The above, in English, roughly translates to “Hello.”

It is usually accompanied by shaking hands and then placing your hand over your heart, though sometimes, with those who are not one’s social equals, kissing your hand after shaking is the required etiquette. Also kissing each other’s cheeks is normal. The number of kisses on each cheek relates to the local norms and the level of intimacy. Then the following is usually said:

“Labas? Labas? Bexir? Hennia? Kulshi myzen? Li bark fik. Labas. Myzen? Lahemdullah.”

This, in English, roughly translates to “How are you?”

In some cases it is then followed by the following:

“Labas? Kulshi myzen? Ash Katgul? Ash xbark? Lifti Shwia?”

This, in English, roughly translates to, “Ok, I have just stood here kissing your cheeks, shaking your hand, and talking incessantly for the last minuet, but now I actually want to know, how is everything?”

This is then generally followed by a comment about the weather.

On Shopping for Jeans

I am a skinny person. Though I say it about myself, I think it’s an objective comment nonetheless. Not only am I naturally skinny, but I have lost weight over the last couple of months. I am down a belt size from my normal, slender self.

But I went jean shopping today…

Of the five different pairs of jeans I tried on, I could not get one of them to button. The numbers on the tags didn’t matter (not that I thought that they would) 34 to 44, nothing could make it around my apparently gigantic waist. Of course, one of those numbers is probably in centimeters. The point is, it seemed every pair of jeans I saw had fallen off the back of a truck on its way to the house of someone who is about two inches skinnier then I.

I went home defeated and drown my sorrows in a bar of chocolate.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Dwar

On The Sun

You will never believe what happened today. Today, after almost three straight, continuous weeks of storms and rain, of grey skies and unrelenting cold, of flood warnings and snow-toped mountains, today the sun came out. And it brought joy. Blue skies with lazy white clouds floated over healthy green fields. It was a nice reminder…

On Loneliness

“If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, you’re not alone. And yet you are alone. So very alone. “

One of the biggest challenges facing Peace Corps Volunteers across the world, and the biggest challenge for those PCVs serving in Morocco, is loneliness. Living as the only foreigner, in a small town, hours away from the nearest friend is tough. Furthermore, even as you try to integrate into your community, overcoming language and cultural barriers, the fact of the matter is that, while welcomed by your community, you will never be a full member of it. Your stay is only temporary. You are not expected to marry, settle down, have children or do the countless other things that are expected of full-fledged community members. Because of this omnipresent social semi-isolation loneliness is the most common stressor experienced by PCVs. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Foul Weather

The street outside is more river now then road. The sky is torn and falling. I received the following text message from Rabat:

"Expéditeur: Peace Coprs
It is officially announced
that Morocco is expecting
very bad weather. PLZ keep
high vigilance and contact us
4 any information and
assistance. Stay warm and
safe. PC/SSC"

The truth of the matter is that there is nothing to do at the moment but hunker down and say ‘thanks be to god’. With no irrigation, the survival of the crops depends on a strong rainy season. And when the heat of the summer comes, there will no doubt be a longing for the rains of winter. However, at the moment its disappointing knowing that the dirt roads have all been transformed into muddy rivers and if you want to go somewhere, you can’t. But on the plus side the strongest gusts of wind have died down, the electricity is back on and the rain has managed to find its way in in only two places. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

On Tajine

tagine |təˈ zh īn; təˈjīn |
a North African stew of spiced meat and vegetables prepared by slow cooking in a shallow earthenware cooking dish with a tall, conical lid.
ORIGIN from Moroccan Arabic: ažin from Arabic ājin 'frying pan.'

Today was a momentous day in my Moroccan life. I cooked my first tajine.

I burned it.

Actually, that is not an entirely accurate statement. Through culinary ingeniousness I managed to both burn AND undercook it.

A tajine, for those who don’t know, is the traditional Moroccan dish, served in my region at almost every lunch, save couscous Fridays. I bought my tajine at souq on Wednesday for about $3 (Dh 25). The artisan who made it was from a dwar just 9 kilometers up the road from me and was so impressed that there was an American living in his valley that he took me around the souq to make sure I bought all the right spices and then spent a good ten minuets talking me through how to cook with it. Needless to say I shamed his teaching by not adding enough water and oil. Nonetheless it still smelled great. Live and learn.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Edmund

In January I discovered that my house was not cat-proof when the bedraggled Puddle made his way inside on one nondescript weekday morning. This morning I further discovered that my house also is not frog-proof. I awoke this morning to find a fairly medium sized and nonplussed frog meditating just inside my front door. Though not as affectionate as Puddle, the frog clearly did not feel obliged to hurry out upon being discovered uninvited. I named him Edmund.

On Diversity

Last weekend I visited the town of Ifrane, the location of my Community Based Training. This was the town where, after only five days in country, I was place in a host family to begin my total emersion in Morocco. Having now spent three months in my final site, I realize Ifrane, despite being no more then five hours drive from my final site, is very different. This brought home the idea that Morocco is diverse. From the languages spoken to the traditions observed no town is the same. Even the volunteers nearest to my final site are in towns that emphasize different languages, such as Tamazight instead of Darija, and expect different social norms to be observed amongst the locals. Variety is the spice of life, but who knew there would be so much variety that I would have to learn two different words for bread (hobs, agraum) and water (lma, amen) to communicate in different towns, seven miles apart.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

On Musical Themes

The American traveler in Morocco will notice some significant differences in the themes that make up the majority Morocco’s musical traditions respective to those that comprise America’s.
For an example, if one listens closely, it is impressive how many references to cars and driving are to be found in the music coming from America’s mixing studios. It seems almost every song in the rap genre has a line about a Chevy impala or shiny cars or something along those lines. And it is not just limited to that genre. What would country music be if one were to remove all the vehicular references, particularly those about a man’s truck being destroyed as part of a lover’s tiff?
Morocco enjoys no such automobile related lyrics. Instead it has its own, often-referenced themes, namely those of tea and bread. All the most ingrained and popular songs coming out of Morocco tend to have a line about baking bread early in the morning or having a wife whose duty it is to make the tea.
Different strokes…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Werewolves

A while back I mentioned that werewolf references were a routine part of my experience here.  That bears explaining. The PCVs in the province I work in have chosen as their anthem the song ‘Shewolf’ by Shakira. Through her awkward dance moves and in front of a San Francisco skyline, she sings about how she suffers through her lycanthropic life. Secondly, there is a town in our province whose name is archaic French for werewolf, a name, no doubt given when Morocco was a French protectorate, used to warn away French visitors from its untended mud streets and crumbling mud houses. I routinely go to ‘werewolf’ to visit the PCVs there or see the Gendarmes. Lastly, there was recently a wolf moon, a full moon that occurs in January, named for the hungry wolves who howl to it in the bitter cold of night. Having noticed all these werewolf references, it has become a routine joke to mention the werewolf threat in our province. We joined Peace Corps to help humanity, but there is always the danger that we might, while in Peace Corps, join werewolfkind.  

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Monday

In the wee hours of Monday morning seventeen Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco gathered together at a café, especially open for them, to watch Super Bowl XLIV live, in Italian.  Upon the tables, strewn with empty coffee cups and backgammon and Connect Four sets, the flickering lights of the stadium in Miami shown as the Indianapolis Colts fell to the New Orleans Saints. The five-second lag between audio and video, not noticeable when the commentary was in Italian became perturbing as ‘The Who’ took the stage, their mouths moving to words they hadn’t sung yet.
The game ended at 3am, and the PCVs walked back through the deserted streets, having shared one of the unique facets of their culture with the few groggy regulars of the café, who stayed to see what all the fuss was about. However, those regulars missed out on one of the best traditions of the Super Bowl. The whole game was shown commercial free. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

On Intentional Misunderstanding

One of the rare benefits of being new to a language is that you can get a way with a lot of intentional misunderstandings. It is easy to brush aside comments that you would rather not respond to with an, ‘I am new to this language, I don’t understand.’ In a lot of ways it is an empowering technique. For instance, when the Town Crazy or the Town Glue Snifter tries to engage you in conversation in the café, it is a simple matter to act as if you don’t understand their demands for money or to know your American name. In general, whenever anyone tries to pressure you to do something that you would rather not do (such as giving them money or personal information) it is so much easier to fall back on the, ‘mafimtsh (I don’t understand)’ card. That way you don’t have to be rude and contentious by saying ‘no’. People generally lose interest in you faster if they think that they will have to work really hard to try to communicate. Of course, on the other hand, being new to a language, sometimes you don’t have to fake misunderstanding, because you generally are clueless. Just goes to prove ignorance is bliss…

On Windows

I have been to visit a total of five volunteer’s houses. And what strikes me as interesting is the almost universal attitude towards windows. They are, it seems, eternally closed and shuttered. Its as though they are there as a barrier, blocking out the light of a foreign land so that within the internal glow of a more familiar land can reign. It is a reminder, that no matter how long we are here, we will always be foreign, different, the others.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On Dancing

Most Americans are unable to dance in front of other people while sober. This tragic condition can be seen everywhere from college campuses to weddings, where the sober stand against walls, resigned to watch their alcohol encouraged cohorts bust-a-move, potentially embarrassing themselves in the process. So the question should be asked, for how many months must you remove a party-hearty boozey boogier from being able to imbibe before they are willing to attempt dancing while unimpaired?

The answer is six.

The evidence: yesterday new PCVs at a conference finally let go of their self-conscious selves and went wild on the dance floor, dancing to the sounds of studio 54 and more, all without alcohol.