Productivity is a pretty weird concept. If you’re reading this, just for a minute think about how you define productivity. Is it commuting an hour and back in order to show up to work, is it teaching a day of classes that mentally exhaust your brain, is it a meaningful conversation where you have that light-bulb moment and realize something you didn’t know before? A year ago my definition of productivity looked a lot different than it does now. A year ago, it was a full day of work in the cafe I worked at, plus fitting in a trip to the gym and sending emails or applications to important people selling myself as some extra qualified college graduate who was worthy of a $40,000 entry level office job. Back in New York you all know that’s barely enough to support yourself, which is pretty crazy to me because I now make nearly a 1/10th of that salary.
I’ve been in country for around 7 months. The way I define productivity has visibly shifted, prompting me to think about that classic “to-do list” mentality I came here with 7 months ago. I now have a job description with only 3 bullets (not as easy as it sounds, I swear), the three goals every Peace Corps volunteer is placed in site to carry out.
1) To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2) To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3) To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Goal one encompasses most of those projects that jump to our minds first. The projects we may see from start to finish and can easily evaluate results from. The English classes that prepare kids for the national BAC exam, the soccer camp you spend months planning, or the life skills curriculum you may teach to a group of youth. Yes, these projects are critical but there are still two other goals of Peace Corps that are just as important and in my opinion, have even more sustainable impacts. Goals 2 & 3, a form of people-to-people diplomacy. Taking the time to understand and promote a better understanding of each others cultures and values, acting as a positive ambassador for America, which is more important than ever these days. I’m sure some of you are thinking what does that even mean? Eating couscous and talking to people, that’s work? If eating couscous and pretending to laugh at some grandma’s jokes you didn’t understand one word of makes that family think of Americans differently, I think us PCV’s are doing a far better job at diplomacy than some of those powerful people in America at the moment (not naming names).
The big communal clay bowl couscous is served in. And no I definitely didn’t make this.
This week was a school holiday in site, similar to Spring Break. It’s a one week breather before exam preparations start, before Ramadan, and before summer vacation. Lots of kids travel back home if they live in another village and just attend school in my site, they visit family, work in a family restaurant, or maybe just sleep through the holiday. It’s not all that different from school vacations back home. Holidays are a time when I don’t feel all that productive. I don’t teach and I’m not talking with as many people as I usually do on a daily basis. Today I took some time to reflect on my week and maybe I didn’t clock in the amount of hours taught, but worked on Peace Corps goals in another way possible.
This week I spent a lot of time with my older host brother. I finally cooked a meal that we didn’t have to eat with bread, don’t get all that excited it wasn’t a plate of homestyle lasagna or dad’s legendary skirt steak (TBA), just some sauteed chicken and zucchini eaten off a real individual plate! We joked around about proper table etiquette in America and Europe for the most part. Holding your fork or knife like this and not like that, asking to be excused in a certain way from the table, or folding your napkin on your lap. He got a kick out of the fact that there are some people out there who pay hundreds of dollars (thousands of DH, the local currency here) in order to learn “etiquette”. In Morocco it goes more like say “Bismillah” (In the name of God) and dig in with your hands. There is etiquette here, don’t get me wrong but it’s not all those “stuffy-napkin dabbing” rules some families take so damn seriously. When you sit at a table, usually in a circle, you only eat from the communal bowl/plate with your right hand. You also only eat out of the section in front of you. It’s rude to start using your piece of bread to pick up the food in someone else’s triangle. Really, don’t do that. You also shouldn’t lick your hand/fingers then dig in again. For example, the way you eat couscous. You’re making a ball and tossing it in your mouth, which can get pretty messy and I still have yet to master the art. I won’t forget this one couscous Friday I saw all these women licking their hands and the littlest part of germaphobe in me was shook if they were going back in for seconds. I was wrong, it meant they were finished. We also watched Forrest Gump, I taught him how to play the card game “Spit”, throwback to Italy villa tournaments shoutout Curto Fam, we talk about our big families, share music (I now have a playlist of Darja/French songs on Spotify if anyone’s interested), he attempts to teach me about the soccer obsession that exists here in Morocco, and we spent the day exploring Essaouira.
Our time together is really special to me. It’s always a mix of English and Arabic, helping each other out and teaching each other new things. It’s laughing together and creating a safe space to talk about anything in addition to supporting each other. Something as small as a day trip to Essaouira really switched up the normal day to day routine that gets somewhat repetitive in site and was something really enjoyable, freeing in a weird way. Walking along the beach, learning about the history of Jews in Morocco as we walked through the Melah, the Jewish quarter of the city, or coming back at the end of the day and exchanging new words we learned in English/Arabic and challenging each other to talk about the day in that language. Yes, all of these moments took place outside of the classroom but they’re part of my job, the part which I think is the most impactful and that I love the most. Peace Corps Volunteers love this kinda stuff. Goals 2 & 3, baby.
I also had the chance to meet the whole family of one of my good friends here, Hisham. His family is well-known and very respected in the community and some of them came back to visit. We always joke around, Hisham legitimately knows everyone and everyone knows him. Hanging out with him is probably half the reason people know who I am and Dad, he’ll be your Moroccan PR guy rocking a Yonkers Tennis t-shirt all the way over here in Talmest. Getting to know Hisham and his family, talking about each others backgrounds, and sharing a meal with them was another great moment. To observe the role of family on a personal level and its value of importance in society is something I really enjoy about serving with PC in Morocco. It’s one thing to read about family dynamics in Morocco and it’s another thing to be immersed in it. It’s hard to not see some similarities that families in Morocco have with my big Italian-American family back at home. When you gather with the extended family, you have the kids running around, the one sister or aunt whose always joking, the scent of home cooked food coming from the kitchen, and the warm hospitality and welcoming nature towards your guests. I think we could both agree, there’s always room for one more head at the table.
Hisham, his niece, nephew, and I exploring some beautiful hidden spots
It’s already mid-April and these holidays are a small test of what Ramadan, the month-long Islamic holiday, and following that, what the summer may feel like for me. Less teaching and more opportunities for experiences like these. Reaching out to people and sharing an understanding of each other. An understanding of our culture and the things that are most important to us, things that we feel proud and are excited to share with others.
These special relationships I’ve come to build, at the end of the day, have helped me look past pretty large surface level differences that may have prevented me from breaking through that line of comfort with someone before. I know dominant aspects like language and religion in a different culture can be intimidating to look past and can sometimes be difficult to have access to & understand in a candid way. Peace Corps gives me the chance to spend real time cultivating these connections and sharing them with you all.
I’m hoping that if you had to choose something to get out of these blog posts, one goal is for you all is to feel a connection to the people i’m interacting with on a daily basis and to develop a better understanding of a community of Moroccans not many Americans get the chance to live among. I’ll be that bridge for the next year a half so any questions are welcome unless any one of you has that urge to come learn Darija with me and ditch the utensils… If so, mar7ba (welcome)!
Beautiful sunset right outside of Talmest