Cheers to Organic Vegetables and Splurging on Craft Supplies
There’s something quite pleasant about a silver teapot placed in the middle of a group of people, with its brewing technique so distinct and its cultural significance rather fundamental. There’s a teapot wedged on top of two rocks and the amber blend of tea leaves, mint, and sugar starts to bubble over. Safi. Pouring and returning the tea from the teapot into small, simple clear glasses happens 3 times in order to circulate the flavors. The tea leaves are swirling and your arm is holding the pot rather high in the air, to generate a foam of bubbles on top of the glass. You pour a sips worth into the glass in order to taste. That is now your glass. Once all the glasses are equally poured, a soft “Bismillah” (in the name of God) is repeated and you drink.
It’s 9am on the dot. We’re meeting at the corner that i’d say marks the middle of my new town. Backpacks full of fresh vegetables, charcoal, blankets, and our silver teapot. Were headed up to the mountains to hike and eventually find a promising spot to cook a tagine and enjoy the beautiful landscapes. That day I learned 1) its fully possible to cook a tagine for an hour and a half using a cheap lighter, rocks, and 3 able minded people 2) you should always pay attention in Morocco because when you see a large moving object in the corner of your eye, it could be a camel passing by and lastly 3) my life here was starting to feel more like my life. I’m not sure if i’ll ever say “comfortable” because asking for comfort in Peace Corps is like asking for a genie to appear in front of you with 3 wishes. Pretty unrealistic.
Since I last wrote, a lot has happened in the past few months. I’ve been a part of lots of amazing moments and accomplished quite a bit, so here’s a little update, I’m sorry I can’t tell you guys about every single one. I’ll start serious and then share some of the laughs I’ve had because as every PCV knows, you can’t finish 2 years of service without laughing at yourself quite a bit:
-Moved out of my host family’s house (don’t worry I see them almost every day) and have my own apartment, furnished and all, l7mdullah
-Frequent souq (weekly market) every Saturday morning to buy my weeks worth of vegetables, fruit, chicken, spices, never rising over 50DH ($5), those are the days I don’t buy a whole chicken
-Started teaching English at the Dar Taliba 3x a week (a place for girls to be housed and fed during the week while they attend the high school here because they live far away in rural areas). I’m teaching an English class for women, mostly teachers from the area 2x a week, and next week I’ll start at the Dar Chebab (youth center) 2x a week for boys and girls. Still figuring out how I’ll organize them because I’ve gotten interest from ages 9-40 so that’ll be fun…
-Have met for 20+ tutoring sessions in Darija with a English teacher at the local high school. These meetings are such a rich part of my learning process here. They provide me an outlet to ask questions about anything including language, culture/religion in Morocco, things I find challenging or intriguing, a space to share ideas about projects, or even just a place to share my humor and some laughs to someone who will understand it.
-Successfully learning to manage a salary that is drastically different than what I’m used to (40DH ($4) a day for walk around food/incidentals + rent + a small allocation for travel). Now I walk down the aisles of Carrefour (a French/Western style grocery store) in Essaouira and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s is waaay out of my budget (90DH), but I still walk down that aisle anyway just to satisfy that small part of myself that still craves super American things like Ben & Jerrys “Half Baked” or Jif peanut butter.
-Attended an Arabic lesson for women that are illiterate, wanted to learn how to read and write, in one of the mosques here, entered inside with a jellaba and headscarf, and heard the muadhin (guy who calls the prayer) call the adhan from inside the mosque
-Traveled back and forth to explore Essaouira, the closest city to me, which is an hour by taxi and so incredibly beautiful. To anyone thinking about visiting me, google Essaouira, and I guarantee your decision will be made for you.
-Organized a creative writing competition with my tudor and the help of the high school, where we had 60 kids participate and write on a topic given to them that day, all in English! PS..English is their 3rd language learned in school so I think this is incredibly impressive. My next task this week is to read them all, type them up and send them to Peace Corps for judging.
Now for those haha memories:
-Dragging my overweight suitcase through a monsoon in Essaouira looking for transportation back to my site before dark because the taxi station had closed and taxi drivers just don’t drive in the rain I guess
-Rode with a horse up the hill of my town carrying a new mattress, fridge, and stove we had just aggressively bargained for (shoutout host mama) because I’m inept at bargaining in the 2 currencies they decide to use here in Morocco
-Went to hammam (public bath house) and bathed with women in my community for 4 hours while managing to explain to them over the echo of a 100 degree room in Darija why the heck there’s an American in a local hammam getting scrubbed from head to toe (Maya/Mais/Anna our summer decision gave it away, so I thought of you guys in this rather awkward experience)
-Watching the chicken I wanted to buy get snatched by the neck, put on an old fashioned scale weighing a little over 2 kilos, slaughtered, feathered and wrapped up for me to take home and prepare, still warm…
Sorry for the vegetarians out there…
-Realizing I couldn’t even make tea correctly, something that’s a right of passage for being a Moroccan…another reason why I’m at the same level of learning as a child.
-Accidentally bought my mom the mint that the goats eat instead of the mint you put in tea
-Had no work for 2 weeks (legitimately nothing) so my brother and I watched the whole Breaking Bad series during the school holiday and cooked lots of tagines
-Met some man in a qhwa (coffee shop) and had a whole conversation in Arabic with him, even though he had no teeth and was still managing to puff his cigarette and speak to us, about how I could connect his friend’s argan business to a potential buyer in America
-Was gifted a Quran from my local gendarmes (authorities whose responsibility is to make sure i’m safe, mom & dad they do quite the job, do not worry…)
-Somehow ended up at a student award ceremony and had my hands hennaed by one of my student’s sisters (definitely not a verb but you get the point)
-Spent 5 hours hand washing my clothes and actually cut my fingers for rubbing my clothes too hard together
-Boil 3 teapots of water and pour that hot water into a bucket in order to shower over the turk, for those of you who don’t know is basically just a hole in the ground
From a few months ago, when I was dropped off in a village where I knew no one and had no idea what I would be doing for work, let alone that first hour in a new place with all new people and a new language, I’ve slowly started building a life here. I have students who continuously teach me and motivate me by their knowledge and passions. There is so much eagerness to learn, an eagerness in kids I’ve never seen before. I have a family that took in some random American girl and has helped me with everything from carrying my new dresser to my house over a rock wall to knocking on my door and bringing me warm harira (Moroccan soup) when the week got extra cold. They’ve taken such good care of me and I always feel a little at home when I’m with them, so thinking about how I’ll leave them makes me a little teary eyed because they’ve truly become my best friends. I have friends and community members who are looking out for me and other PCVs who I can call and talk to for hours about anything, sometimes just to justify the fact that they’ve also freaked out when they saw the chicken get killed in front of them and that I’m not crazy.
Somedays are harder than others. I’m living in a culture that’s really different than my own and that takes time, a really open mind and patience to adapt to. “Meskina” (poor thing) was just a normal response in the first month from people after I told them what I was doing, volunteering and living alone, away from my family for two years. Not meant to be rude of course, but I just wanted to respond, “Imma a strong, independent, woman…I’m fully capable of living alone in another country despite my 23 year old girl face!” But of course I responded with an awkward smile and “nice to meet you”, to spare the Ilana from Broad City “Yaas Queen” rant about “girls doing whatever the f*** they want in 2018”. I know during my service, parts of my identity will be tested, and at points they have been. Whether that be gender, values, beliefs, or decisions I’ve made, some of those aspects of my identity may need to be put on the back burner for my protection. I am navigating how to express my opinions and be true to myself while respecting others opinions and ways of life.
But I also know these challenges I’ve faced from the beginning and challenges in the future will have a positive effect on me. They help me grow into a stronger, more confident person each day. I’m learning to get rid of the fear of asking for help, realizing that I can’t do everything on my own and that’s totally okay. To go with the flow in an unstructured environment with answers that most of the time aren’t always there and accepting things aren’t always going to go the way I planned. Not caring about what people think and that making mistakes is okay. Work does not always have to be tangible, like the 100 page report you type for your boss or the grant you got approved, it can be a new relationship you’ve worked to build which then gives you access to a new space or a meaningful conversation you had which then gives a girl a new perspective on her future.
It’s kind of nice to step away from the concept of productivity and work environment in America, especially from what I’ve experienced and seen growing up around New York. I’m spending my time learning things I would feel “unproductive” doing back at home. My new thing is to try and do yoga every day for 30 minutes, I’m learning how to cook (not just boiling pasta from a box, but really cooking), I’m journaling, reading new books, learning how to clean a house without a vacuum or swiffer aka dumping buckets of water on the ground and at the walls and squeeging it out the front door, studying new language, getting nifty aka using cardboard boxes to make cool DIY house things, and maybe during Ramadan since there’s ample amounts of free time, picking up a new hobby like sketching or calligraphy. I’m really getting creative over here without a nightlife, which I’m actually kind of enjoying. Cheers to fresh organic vegetables and splurging on craft supplies!
The main room, the salon, in my house where I do just about everything
Now I pick rocks out of my rice!
I was just reading off a blog called “Girls Night In”, (that’s life now), check it out if you want a new funky book list, self care ideas, or a little justification for taking some time away from participating in the work hard play hard life in America.
“Your worth isn’t measured by your productivity”.
So shoutout to all of the PCVs in Morocco and even around the world who are working a 24/7 job, slowly yet surely, to promote such an important type of work the world could really use, especially for 2018.
PS. I’m working on a mini video clip about my last month in Morocco I’ll post in March!