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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Friday, December 30, 2005

History is about the details..

12/27/2005 1:10 AM (I adjust the time of postings, so some of these are out of order, sorry!)

Another night of reading for hours, setting the alarm clock for 7:30 AM with high hopes of finally doing the morning run that I’ve been fantasizing about for a month now, trying to sleep for an hour, and then doing then inevitable: facing the fact that I won’t be able to sleep until I get a few thoughts on paper. One to two AM, I’m discovering, are usually my most productive thought-processing hours. If I’ve read or experienced enough during the day, my brain usually requires a writing-session to develop ideas introduced during waking hours.

Since reading (at least part of) the book, How to Change The World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, I have noticed a marked difference in my approach to work here and many aspects of my life: details. I have been, until this point quite the idealist, as many of my friends or family members would confirm. Whenever asked about what I want to do with my life, what I want to do with my business, what I am doing right now… I usually wax eloquent… in the negative sense of the word, according to Bornstein, author of How to Change The World. He said that one gentleman, in his quest for powerful ideas and potentially effective social entrepreneurs world-wide, looks specifically for flavors of idealism, philosophical language, broad or vague terminology among interviewees. Many people have great ideas, but they don’t spend hours and hours at night, in the shower, over coffee hashing and revisiting the ideas for years and years, fleshing out every potential problem and developing solutions for each stage, each connected branch of the entire idea. When he is interviewing someone, he watches for any signs of idealism and immediately highlights this as a serious weakness. Think about it this way. If you’re an artist, it is the details of a face make it recognizable. Vagueness renders it indecipherable.

I have subconsciously and consciously taken this to heart in many areas of my “work” (life) in Agdz. I recall the days, even in childhood when I would stare into the darkness until early morn just pondering how to make a fairy dress or what my perfect dream-house would look like, but the fact that I stayed awake for hours until I fully fleshed out the idea… those moments I’ve now come to treasure as valuable. Stay awake, hash an idea out. It might be the most productive part of my day.

I played Risk for the first time in my life on Christmas Eve with several friends. We stayed up until 5AM. I lost terribly, but found myself doing something I’ve struggled with in the past in such games as chess: strategizing. I watched every move and spoke little, lost in the dynamics of movement and power-struggles across the “world”. I marveled at how the shape of a continent, or its relativity to another affected a person’s ability to maintain control over it and which certain countries or a region were key to power domination. As I watched the power struggle unfold, history came alive… world wars and ancient stories past through my mind. Every history class should play Risk when learning about World War I and II. History itself has become such an exciting subject for me… understanding of the past is crucial to fully grasping current events and how they are shaping our future. And history (just as the rest of life I’m coming to realize) is made of billions of individual stories. Many are valuable to understanding events of a certain year or even century. I want to know as many of those individual stories as I can, as many lives and institutions, religious revivals, inventions and world disasters that have shaped our world. The chance to find books that slowly fill in the massive picture of Earth today feels like a treasure hunt or a puzzle with 90,000 pieces. I will never have the time to see every piece, much less find where it fits into the picture, but each piece will be treasured by the mere fact that it allows me to see more and more of the realities of the world I live in, bit by bit. Ahh, History.

Sharks in the Desert

Meat, unexpectedly, has become a real challenge for me here. I'm always unsure of what I'm eating or scared to eat. Yesterday I saw my host mother buy a chunk of shark in an out-door market (in the middle of the desert here, faaar from the ocean). It was the first time I flat out refused to eat something. Cow brain, sheep intestines, camel head, okay.. but shark in the desert with flies all over it outside hanging from a bamboo pole in the middle of the desert? .. no thanks!

The Agonies of Hospitality

12/29/2005 10:36 PM

I never dreamed the thing that would bother me the most in Morocco would be that which the Moroccans are most famous for: their warm hospitality. My outings today ended with a heated discussion with a good friend over just this issue. I had been sitting at a café with him and his friends who owned the café. They urged me to stay for dinner and I refused. I had already breached my frustration levels before going and was looking forward to a nice, quiet evening; but when they kept pressuring me to stay longer, eat more, drink more, have some "water of life", meet them on New Year’s Eve at the cafe before we went to a campground for a party, insisting I make a decision, I grew angrier and more frustrated. When they did not stop but kept begging another five minutes, I finally stood up and said I was leaving. My friend paid for me and we departed. I was visibly unhappy and he was certain I was angry with him but misunderstood why. You’re afraid, I can see it. No! I kept insisting, I am frustrated, do you understand frustrated? No. Okay… how do I explain this… when people here, you, your friends, your family, my family, all the people here keep insisting that I drink more, eat more, stay longer, do this, do that… sometimes it bothers me, it frustrates me. Sometimes I can’t handle it. He kept replying that we were friends and that I was a good, beautiful person and that all the people in Agdz liked me, because I would go to people’s houses and go to tea and greet to everyone. I explained that I knew everyone welcomed me and begged me to stay because they liked me and were being very nice. I understood that, but I begged him to understand that sometimes it was just too much, just overwhelming and I needed to go slowly, “Sometimes I need to rest, to be alone, to recuperate.” It was a clash of cultures. Him insisting that we were friends, that he was like my brother and wanted to acquaint me with the ways of Moroccans, to take me around and introduce me to everyone so that I could prosper here. I sincerely thanked him for that. However I kept trying to get him to understand that the very hospitality he proclaimed everyone was extending to me, at times, was the very thing that agonized my soul and made it scream for air.

I think in the end, if not in words, our looks and behavior finally got both his points across to me and mine to his. He still kept asking if I had time tomorrow so he could take me around and introduce me to people while I kept saying, maybe, maybe not. Just let me tell you tomorrow. Okay, I have a solution, he announced. I will send you a message: Are you free? You can send one back, yes or no. Okay, Raja. Okay, le la saida! (Good night!)

I stampeded into my host families' home realizing the dinner I had tried so valiantly to return for was well over. The family coolly greeted me. I decided any acts of independence combined with warm gestures toward my family would be beneficial and might still preserve my sanity which was hovering at the door of my soul, undecided whether to stay or go. I grabbed the bananas I had bought at the souq, and the two bags of milk I had bought in the afternoon, pulled down the blender from on top of the fridge, and proceeded to make a banana milk shake. Those few simple acts felt like I was shouting and kicking in rebellion like a little child, trying to prove I I wasn’t a baby any more. Baba Houssaine charged in to take control, his way of helping me. I asked where the sugar was. He presented the new cones of sugar and proceeded to break apart a few pieces with a glass cup. I almost took the pieces and put them in the blender, but he stopped me with a quick motion of the hand (which always arouses internal annoyance), and told me it had to be ground first. I helplessly stood by to watch while he located a mortor and pestle. He washed them, dried them with a towel, heated them over the butagas stove, dried them with paper and finally proclaimed them suitable for grinding. Still I could not wrest them from him. He took the sugar, placed everything on the floor and ground the sugar for me. He poured the contents in a saucer and placed it in front of me. Finally it was ready. The blender wouldn’t work. We had to use a knife to wedge the on-switch into the on position. I thought I might cry if I couldn’t even accomplish making a banana milk shake. It worked. I blended. We had banana milk shakes. I poured it evenly between five glasses and triumphantly entered the family room. Iman and Lakabira half grinned and thanked me. The thought entered my head that maybe they wouldn’t like it and would think I was rebelling by coming home too late to eat their food and then trying to force my own concoction on them. When I returned a second time, however, their cups were empty. Back in the kitchen I found Houssane already frying onions and tomatoes, having seen me make Huevos Rancheros before. He understood me better than the rest, I believe, and I sometimes find consolation in our times in the kitchen, hiding out, going against convention by making American tea or Mexican eggs. I brought the pan of eggs and a fork into the family room and the ladies quickly confirmed they wanted nothing to do with it. I ate with a fork, yet another act of defiance. By the time the pan was empty, my spirits had returned. I smiled and laid my head in Iman’s lap, contented, amazed what those little proceedings had done to mend my frame of mind.

A Third World Kinda Love...

12/30/2005 12:33 AM

Classical music is something forgotten in today’s America. Classical music is something practiced for a music lesson, something owned by university music faculty, something of which we receive bland enlightenment from NPR nightshift deejays. Jane Austin’s characters often gathered excitedly for a piano performance of some young local beauty, and like Shakespeare’s plays, were high events of a season in a fashion we can hardly imagine. Is it possible that a musical composition generated such a stir in high society of the few past centuries? As conductors attempt to recreate the excitement, the novelty, the brilliance of many a composer, we drone off, thinking about tomorrow’s schedule, about dinner, about what to buy the in-laws for Christmas, or about where to go after the concert. Going to a symphonic orchestra concert is usually an effort done with the motivation to gain something called extra credit, not quite the premier excitement of New York City or Chicago at any given point. The concept that such music at one time was the rave, the cutting edge in entertainment in past ages is beyond the reach of our imagination, seemingly a fantasy that professors created to encourage musicians in their endeavors.

Living in a third world country brings new perspective. I distinctly remember, after having lived in Antigua, Guatemala for merely eight weeks, walking into an orchestral performance in the town square and forgetting everything but the glorious sounds the strings and wind instruments breathed into the cool night air. My date finally urged me to come along to dinner as he was hungry. I remember wondering how he could not be enraptured and still be hungry when we had this masterpiece on which to feed. There was something that no new album by U2, no mariachi band, or even the dove-like voice of Sarah McGaughlin could capture, could not re-create. It had something to do with the preciseness, the clean notes, the creativity and inspiration, the glory of a cooperation of so many instruments thrusting toward a climatic finale that contrasted against the confusion, the dirtyness everywhere in the country, the lack of order and precision or attention to timing in hardly any aspect of life there.

Today I experienced the exact same feeling. Four years later, another continent, another third world country. I had been trying, for a couple weeks to meet a certain music teacher here to play his violin. For some reason, the longer I stay in Morocco, the more I long for my cello, to spend hours making beautiful music contrived in the depths of my soul, to practice scales for hours and finally master a few brilliant pieces from some of the celebrated creators of this glorious music, Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven. He brought the violin by and I shut myself away in my room, feeling a deep attachment to the instrument I never remember feeling before. I could not play that well, considering I haven’t really played a violin in more than a decade, but I remembered some old tunes, some Christmas melodies and bits of Mozart or something. Too soon I had to leave it and depart to meet someone. Later that evening the music teacher returned to retrieve his violin. I regrettably handed it over, my fingers craving my cello and wishing that to think of it would make it magically appear.

After eating dinner, bidding goodnight to the family, reading and writing for a while, I put on my headphones and got lost in Sarah Chang masterfully recreate (on violin) some pieces by Kerr and Faust, and Yo Yo Ma perform some magical orchestra-accompanied works. I shut my eyes and gloried in it. I awoke from the dream and wondered why never in the states did this music have such an affect on me. The contrast was refreshing in a way difficult to explain. That morning I had waded through sheep dung, careful not to get trampled by the livestock and the jalabba and turban-cloaked throng; shoved my way through an open-air souq, acted as a pack animal for two larger women as they bargained for a week’s worth of vegetables, swatted away flies, tripped over tarps and stones, silently watched as my host mother demanded little boys to dump vegetables on the scale into black plastic bags and hand them to her; squatted in the squalor picking through bruised specimens to find a decent carrot or mud-encrusted potato…these beautiful stories in musical prose elegantly whisked me away and suddenly it all seemed to make sense. Morocco is walking though a stage of development probably comparable to Europe a century or so ago (exceptions exist in many key technology areas such as the cell phone or internet) and the music with which Beethoven filled concert halls probably elicited similar sensations of serenity, civility, elegance, of clean, precise, beautiful notes far from their everyday worlds. I suppose that in the modern era of the New York minute, of sparklingly clean aisles and rows of fruit in modern grocery stores, Ipod shuffle that allows one person to listen to a random mix of ten thousand songs, the chance to bathe and wear pretty clothes every day, everywhere, all of these things take away some subsconscious cravings for neat, beautiful, creative, elegant, modern, and maybe, in some strange way that is a sad thing… because it means that most of humanity in the modern world miss some of the glory of classical music. It might require moving to a foreign, mysterious land like Morocco to fully appreciate some of our own musical heritage.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Oh the funny things...

Thought I would share a few fun moments..

BURPING:: There’s no such thing as “excuse me” here. I’m sitting quietly with my family watching TV and you hear these low rumblings grow into despairingly loud explosions.. and then it’s quiet again. No one even notices. No flinch, no comments, nothing.

HAVING SEX: Apparently if you’re alone with a man, there is absolutely nothing else you could be doing. I arranged to meet a local music teacher and wanted to go to his house to play his violin. He had mentioned bringing a friend along, but for some reason I didn’t even think about it. The whole way to his house he began casually talking about how in such a rural area people get these silly ideas and think that if a man and women are walking to his house, they must be going there to have sex. He kept talking about it and politely laughing. I laughed and agreed how silly it was. Until I realized that he was Moroccan. Moroccans are subtle about things like that. He was telling me that this was absolutely not a good idea. My “father” happened to be at a coffee shop that we passed. He ran out into the the street, “Raja, Raja, snu kat diri!?” I’m going to play violin at his house. Oh.. okay.. and he walked away. The teacher said, “Okay, you stand outside about 100 yards from the house where everyone can see you. Watch where I go.. that is my house. I will bring a book out to you so everyone will think that you just came to pick up a book and will see you walking back home with it.” Okay.. I had no choice but to stand in the middle of the street and wait. I noticed that the once-empty dusty street was filling with little children who lined my path, just watching me. He returned with the book, I took it, laughed, shook his hand, and turned to head home, purposefully displaying it for all the world to see. It was my salvation. A little 3 year old boy braved a “Bonjour” and when I returned a “Salam alaykum” they just stared, waited until I passed, and then doubled in giggles. I walked back home, walked in the door, and sat down in my bedroom. It had taken about an hour to get a book I didn’t want to read and not play violin, which is what I set out to do. Funny sex wasn’t on my mind.

TIDE COMMERCIALS: You’re watching CNN Breaking News and it cuts to commercials. Some happy mom merrily tosses her kid’s grass-stained shirt in the wash, pours in the Tide, and out comes a white shirt. Then it cuts to that inevitable photo of the shirt: half of it washed in Tide and sparklingly white; the other half was washed with “X” brand and is still green with stains. Tranfer this moment to Morocco: You’re watching Al-Jazeera News, it cuts to a break and you’re in the middle of a Nomadic tribal war, men in Jalabas and turbans, brandishing machetes and galloping across the desert on horseback. A box of Tide (pronounced “teed” here) is floating around in the background. They cut to the split screen: two men standing between their horses, both in linen Jalabas. One’s white.. the other’s not.

Merry Christmas from Morocco!

Merry Christmas everyone! I wish I could be home in Kentucky with the rest of the Beach Clan (inside joke that anyone in Somerset who reads the Commonwealth Journal should get), sipping hot chocolate by the fire, cuddled up with my whole family, staring out the windows at the lake and snow (if there is any), wrapping presents, buying stocking stuffers, coming up with some infeasible menu to help cook on Christmas day, sitting around the table with candlelights, eating some of Mom's delicious turkey or Dad's exotic eggs for Christmas morning breakfast, begging anyone to help me find decorations for the Christmas tree and getting lost in the twinkling Christmas lights after everyone's gone to bed, ahh.. that all sounds so far away right now.

I'm sitting in an internet cafe in Ourzazate today, the temp is mid-forties, cloudy, muddy and cold .. it's hard to imagine that tomorrow is Christmas here, as no one celebrates the holiday in this Muslim culture. I think that helps.. reduces sentimental thoughts. I just saw my first inkling that Christmas is tomorrow.. a Santa in a restaurant window. I almost squealed I was so excited. Christmas is real! Dear me..

I'm really frustrated I haven't been able to blog or email more and feel like there are so many friends and family members with which I haven't been able to keep up a regular correspondence. There is a rumor that Jan. 1 we might have DSL internet so that in period of two hours I could do more than read two emails and attempt to reply to one. I hope so!

This past week was a hard one. I went from very low to high to low again in seven days. I initially was very exhuasted by the culture, and lots of little things were getting to me.. like always worrying that people are watching my every move, such as freaking out when I forgot and accidentally hugged my site mate, Antoine in the street, or pushing myself to speak Arabic non-stop. By Sunday I was retreating... I had planned to hike Kisane again but I was so exhausted. Antoine and I still went, meeting two girls from here that wanted to join.. I didn't want to not go because it is so rare that you get a girl to do something so adventurous as hike a mountain, that I didn't want to spoil the opportunity. But as we went along, I lost the little trail among the stones and stared up at the peak, didn't feel like tackling it, sat down on the lone big rock on the hillside and we just munched on peanuts, drank coke and talked for hours. It was quite refreshing.

This week, feeling empowered again, my mind begain racing with a million ideas for the community. I think and read late into the night most evenings whether I want to or not. As a Small Business Development volunteer I have both more freedom to develop my own projects while facing the pressure to learn the language quicker so I can be more effective and actually understand all the components and needs of my community. I've pushed myself to meet as many people as I can: families, store owners, NGO and assoc. directors, the members and going-ons at my assigned association for development, sat in on many meetings that planned to start anything from Art/Theater clubs for children, a preschool, computer classes, etc. throughout the community. Usually I understand very, very little, but sit, intently listening for 2-3 hours (Moroccans have lots of patience.. they will talk through an idea for hours with little sign of weariness) until my brain feels like its trying to explode. One of my last meetings at my association, I asked one guy another guy's name that I had forgotten (there are probably twenty people associated with running the assoc. and they all expect me to know their names from one introduction, on top of trying to comprehend everything that is going on..).. he looked at me and frowned: "you need to try to remember our names." I wanted to punch him. I know he didn't mean to be rude, and he doesn't understand how exhausting it all is for me, but I just couldn't hardly handle it at that moment. I took a deep breath and started the English class. (I'm teaching the assoc. directors English while we wait for me learn enough about what they do and for my language to catch up enough to be effective.) At another meeting about starting a preschool (which is not what I came here to do), I had no idea what they were discussing and this same guy kept looking over at me and asking if I had any ideas for "play groups" yet. I just smiled and said, "La mazel." Not yet.

Another day I spent an hour walking around town trying to find my counterpart's other office .. her directions were confusing. She would tell me to meet her at once place and when I got there, she was on the other side of town...when I finally arrived, she promptly led me up three flights of stairs, walked to her desk, sat down and immediately started sorting papers. I felt so awkwardly stupid. I just sat there watching her work. She was clearly too busy to talk, to busy to explain what she was doing or what this office did. At the same time, I didn't want to just get up and leave after looking for her for an hour. I wandered around, read the org. mission statements in French and discovered that the office (she being the only full-time employee) was an NGO working Agdz, promoting development work and projects such as carrying electricity to six villages in the area and providing support for all local assocations that needed it, etc. I was excited to discover there was actually an NGO and my eyes were opened even more.. every day there are new discoveries. I sat for a little while just dumbly watching her. A man came in and they looked through a stack of receipts, apparently making a financial report. Carefully I asked her a few questions, then realized they were talking about me and finally said I needed to go. "Elash!?" (why) she asked. I felt stupid staying, I felt stupid leaving. Bother.

On the other hand, during my high moments, I consider how much Arabic I can speak (and a little inevitable French).. an language I had never heard 3.5 months ago. I can get across most any point and have made my own rather extensive dictionary that I carry with me and write in whenever I learn a new word.. which is usually every few minutes. I have become close friends with three families and met many more. I walk around town and everywhere I go men and children (women on the streets are rare) call, "Raja!" (my name here). I've learned about and interacted with many organizations, I'm teaching English, I've attended a graduation for girls from a sewing program, met delegates, hiked Mt. Kisane, read lots and lots, and I'm already incubating lots of ideas from the people I've talked with here, such as organizing computer classes for girls who didn't finish school, and plotting a trash-clean-up day for Marchish. I've been in site for 3.5 weeks. The key, I think now, is not to keep pushing myself sooo hard to figure out everything and be fluent immediately. Peace Corps recommends a six-month period for all of that... I just sometimes feel that since I don't have a specific job I'm doing like Antoine, basketball teams, teaching English, etc. that I have to be much more responsible and productive with my time. Time is a beautiful thing. Lots of time...I have two years. Not two months here..

Soo... that is the latest here. In a few hours I'll be on my way to Skoura for a Christmas party with a few friends but mostly volunteers I haven't met yet. It definitely won't be a normal Christmas, but that is exactly what I asked for, moving to Morocco. Just being with other Americans who know what Christmas is and who speak my language.. that will help. In my heart, though, I will be home with my fam and calling all of my friends all over the U.S. to wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Friday, December 09, 2005

We seek the Living God

12/6/2005 12:51 AM:

I received suitcase number three via CTM today. I’ve spent the past five hours unpacking it, sorting items that I will use now and ones to throw back in the stowed luggage. Each phase of this trip has required packing, repacking, sorting, cleaning and repacking, all based on a specific time period and the items necessary for that period. Three days in Philadelphia, a week in Rabat, a couple weeks in Azrou, a week in Khenifra, a week in Azrou, seventeen days in Khenifra, a few days in Azrou, a week field trip, a few days in Azrou, a week on Assignment site investigation trip, a few days in Azrou, four days in Khenifra finishing CBT Phase 3, a few days in Azrou, a week in Immouzer, a day in Fes, a night in Immouzer, travel to our sites and then .. unpacking for two months! I think that covered all the bases.

Guess I thought I hadn’t traveled enough in the past ten weeks and took off for Tinjdad this past weekend, and then worked in an overnight in Ourzazate to see the delegate on official business today. It worked well, but then it was another packing expedition. This past weekend was probably one of the first times in my life I have traveled for more than one night with only a backpack in tow (computers and purses don’t count). Maybe I’m actually learning to pack lighter! However, it was quite a joy to be reunited with items I’ve stowed throughout Stage, such as my green mud facial mask, vitamins, and MS Office CD’s to install Arabic on my computer.

After an overnight in Tinjdad, I booked a room in the standard Peace Corps hotel in Ourzazate, sleeping, eating, reading, writing, thinking alone for hours can produce some well-processed ideas. It can also drive one insane, and dare I admit it, make one … lonely. I have encountered the thought more often than I would like, that I have just been here three months and plan to stay another two years. That is a long time. I already miss my family terribly, and have construed gravely sentimental memories of Christmas and evenings by the fire, with Andrea Bocelli playing in the background. Today, however, I came to a healthy side of the sentiments. I remembered the many times I detained myself longer than a holiday or weekend at my parents’ home. I often grew restless, eager for another land or to return to the big city and my own life. Family was wonderful, but one cannot stay in the arms of a parent forever, for sentiment and love’s sake. Good, loving parents raise children to effect inspirations with action. I have good parents. I cannot sit idly, letting go by moment each thread of my dreams. I pursued my dreams. I am in Peace Corps. Isn’t that what they and I wished?

I then turned to my own life in Cincinnati, my adorable apartment, my work in developing The Play Connection, Inc., my dear friends Melissa, Shauna and Lexi. I loved all of that life, but if you ask anyone of my friends there, they will tell you that I was ever ancy to be off galavanting around the world, finally delving into my career aspirations of development work. Now I am here, and wishing I was back in location number one, cuddled on my parents house. This, I’m discovering, must be a sentiment that pursues one wherever she travels. Always a longing for another place, another person, a family member not present, a more comforting home, a more exciting adventure. This life is not fulfilling. Each stage will not bring the ultimate gratification it promises, for that part longed for during another phase, once gained, may require the sacrifice of the first, for the second, upon fulfillment, alters the circumstances within which one finds himself, and the elements of the first situation, now being changed, inherently remove the qualities of the first. For example, a bachelor sits on his couch, drinking beer to wash away the grievances of singleness, loneliness, and longs for a wife. A year later the bachelor is no more, but a husband, with many things to be busy about and a beautiful wife beside him. However, she is one who has needs and commits transgressions (as all humans do), and he longs for the quiet happy days of his bachelor life. He remembers only those qualities no longer present (freedom and peace from the concerns and distractions of another human being), but does not recall that with that life, came the ache for another being to love and live with, to share his thoughts and life with. Such is life. Such is our state of affairs. This is where a contentment unnatural to man, but a gift from God is required. A contentment that understands that none of these circumstances will provide the joy nor fulfillment sought, that nothing in this world can give what we seek.

We seek the living God. God has placed eternity in the hearts of men. Our true longing is reunion with a loving God, and a place where joy and perfection, love and beauty never cease. Until then we can search but futilely.

I can't articulate.. but I can speak Dirija and find an apartment

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Today was a marvelous day. It started out with the most restful happy sleep I’ve had in a good many days. I was up until 1AM unpacking my final misrouted suitcase, (a week late). I sorted all my papers and make a bookshelf of all my books. Just looking at them all lined up, waiting for me to read them made me happy inside. I took Melatonin and slept like a baby. This morning I woke happily, ate sweet Ns/ns coffee that Baba Houssane promptly prepared for me upon my appearance, took more vitamins, wrote out my homework assignment and headed off to class.

Class went well. Touria had to leave early, but that gave Antoine and I more time to do what we wanted. Strangely enough I’m quite content filling the days with my own agenda and almost dread having to go to the association for more of my days soon… kinda holding off on that. We went to coffee to discuss our weekends and make a plan for the week. We met Abdusamed and made plans to hike Kisane on Sunday. I can’t wait; that mountain reaches out to me every time I walk through the streets. I gaze upon it and get lost in its face. I went home for lunch and had the strange sensation that I had been comprehending quite a bit with the people I’d met in the morning and with my family during lunch. There was a talk show on the television. I stared at it, realizing I could pick out a good number of words. The sensation never left all day.

I went to visit the Gendarmes finally. He asked for more copies and notarization of all my Attestaciones. I skipped off to accomplish the tasks. In the Balidina, I chatted away with the notaries – who all knew my family. I came home to ponder my life here and then went on a walk in the Palmery with Antoine. The Palmery is glorious. We walked all the way through until we came to the clearing below Mt. Kisane and discovered a gorgeous river separating us from the mountain. It wound out of the palm trees in the distance and swept past us. I was mesmerized.

Antoine and I had yet more stimulating conversations. He is very wise in many matters, over a decade my senior and I am taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from him. We discussed my frustration with being unable to articulate. I explained a conversation I had with a fellow volunteer. (This friend was very emotional and erratic in responding to everything I said, not really hearing the point I was trying to make before raging off about an almost completely unrelated and emotional topic.) I just shut down when I encounter similar characters: people who are highly opinionated and passionate on certain topics, but seem to have a skewed perspective, or one that blindly holds fast to a (American political) party line without stopping to ask questions or consider the many facets of an issue.

Most political issues are complex. Most historical accounts have many components, not all of which are included in any given account, but many of which are important. I explained to Antoine how I feel that I lack an opinion many times, because I am confronted with someone who strongly holds to one view while I realize they do not grasp the whole story; yet neither do I feel equipped to defend a forgotten aspect with my limited knowledge. I just want to shut myself away for years and study many historical accounts and current political figures. However, no human has time for that… unless you’re privileged enough to hide away in one of America’s “Ivory Towers” with “Daddy’s money”. That was a nice stereotype. (Speaking of, that is another subject that I want to write about soon.)

Anyways, I really appreciate Antoine. Many times I feel uncomfortable discussing political ideas with many people because they are either too forceful with their own perspectives or condescending when I appear to lack adequate knowledge of the subject. I seem to either have friends who think I know volumes and volumes about current world affairs or people who make me feel stupid and tongue-tied.

It is true, I’ve determined, that I cannot articulate well. It is a fact that I have tried to ignore or prove false for years, but after failed attempts in the debate team, frustrations as a sales rep, and as a norm, a weak conversationalist when I least wish to be, I am coming to accept the fact. It doesn’t have to be detrimental. Maybe facing the fact will allow me the chance to more seriously work on articulation. Maybe speaking slower and clearer might be a good start.

Today does not end there. We returned in a hurry to meet a young gentleman named Zachariah. I had met him the day before on the street near my house. He introduced himself and said his family knew Maureen and Elisabeth well and extended and invitation to me for the following day to come for tea in the afternoon at 5 O’clock. I had up until this point refrained from much conversation one-on-one with males, but he seemed genuinely friendly and knowledgeable about Peace Corps volunteers. I made introductions with Antoine when we found him waiting and all headed off to their home. Again, I chatted away in Dirija until we had arrived at his house and I realized there had been little to no awkward silence. Maybe I was talking too much… poor Antoine is struggling with Dirija and my chattering and interpreting probably makes him more dependent, not less.

The family was very welcoming and sweet. We talked for almost two hours with little silence, looked at pictures of Elisabeth’s family, and explained our new jobs here in Agdz. It was rather strange to look at the intimate photos of the life of another American whom we’d never met, but they were quite eager to share them. The father, Abderrahmen, trained with the U.S. Military for two months in Errachidia back in 1985. He proudly displayed his certificate. They also told us about their grandfather… a man who is apparently 130 years old. I asked them to repeat his age several times. They kept showing me on two hands how he had outlived seven Moroccan kings. He walked by foot to Casablanca in 1896 to see the king (when he was inaugurated or died or something??). (I later confirmed the fact with my family, but my sister said she thought he was 120, not 130. I really want to meet him. If it’s true, he’s one of, if not the oldest person in the world!!)

The father also showed us a painting that Elisabeth had made of American and Moroccan flags and hands shaking .. with Peace Corps, Acuna written below. I don’t know what Acuna meant, nor did they, but it was beautifully done and framed.

When we finally pulled ourselves away from the sweet family, with promises to return Friday lunch for Couscous and hopes that Zachariah would join me Sunday to hike Kisane, I even more strongly wondered at my ability to understand and converse. I have only been in country three months. Not even, actually. A week and a half ago when I returned to Agdz my family asked if I’d forgotten all my Dirija. Now I understand and speak more than ever. I’m guessing tomorrow will be a downer day... but maybe not. The happiest thought on the matter is that in learning Dirija, I will be here, immersed for two years, so I cannot help but improve. The idea that someday soon I will be quite fluent is bizarre. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be fluent in another language. Now I don’t have to hope, I will know, Enshallah (God willing). I thought that would be a naïve hope for two years, but even Jessica, who has only been here for six months already converses extremely well (fluent to my ears), in Tashelheight – an even more obscure and complex language. I hope that eventually I can make similar progress with French and maybe Fusha (Classical Arabic, spoken throughout the Muslim world, but very difficult to learn)..! Enshallah.

We departed and I floated through the door of my house, a bit mentally exhausted but quite content. Imane was preparing to leave for our sister Nadia’s house. She insisted I join her. I tried to beg my way out, with excuses of studying and being tired, but didn’t want to be rude or spend too much time away from the family. I’m already concerned that I spend too much time in my room or wandering around town, not with the family. They seem patient enough. I went. Little baby Rahab was sick: she had her vaccinations today. Her little brown eyes flitted about and lips puckered until there was a hole just perfect for a nipple. It is amazing how God created babies; how beautiful they are. I sat for a bit, toured Nadia’s house (which was quite impressive, I must say), and then received a call from Antoine. He was with Aendir, a gentleman he had met over the weekend and was preparing to go tour two new apartments. I readily agreed to join and rushed off to meet them in the town center.

The apartments proved a match made in heaven. We were first shown a pair that invited little appreciation. The view was bad, the windows few, the layout poor. We went around to the other side, to find two apartments overlooking the palmery and beautiful Kisane ... and high enough to gaze over other apartments. A canal of sorts ran in front of the house and when the dam was closed, the river was channeled right in front of the apartments. The first apartment had a large L-shaped room, several other nice rooms with windows, a larger kitchen and open area with a large skylight/courtyard of sorts. The bathroom, however, was tiny. I liked it but had the feeling the best was yet to come. The second apartment in the set, on the second floor, offered an even more glorious view of my lovely Kisane and the palmery. Even in the dark my heart leapt. The rooms were laid out well, the large skylight area was surrounded with a wall.. (which I hope they can lower somewhat) and I imagined lining the top of it with hanging plants. The kitchen was delightfully large, with a an L-shaped, white-tiled countertop. There is a perfect space for a kitchen table; the rooms had windows from one room to each other and added delightful character. The bathroom was huge! (as bathrooms go here) and the builder still planned to put in a water heater (a rare commodity) and shower. The rooms were spacious with windows to the mountains in the East, meaning I would get morning sunshine, but not during the hottest part of the day. Then they took us up to the roof. It was a roof privy to just the two apartments. There were openings gazing out upon the same mountains and palmery, and the builder said he could widen them even more. In addition, the roof was divided, so that ugly satellite dishes and a laundry line were hidden on the far side; the rest of the roof was painted clean white with high walls to promote privacy. I conjured images of me laying out in my bikini, or staring at the stars late at night, or hosting glorious parties boasting a bottle of wine or two without displaying our sins to the surrounding Muslim world. It was a glorious oasis. I almost squealed.

We turned on our heels, hearts beating fast to inquire of the price. 1000Dhs ($100ish). My heart dropped. Our budget, to my knowledge lay somewhere between 400-700 Dhs. I sadly explained our limited budget and he lowered the price to 900 Dhs. It was still too high. We agreed to return on the morrow to see the place in the daytime (and negotiate a better price). Antoine and I rushed back to my house murmuring that there must be some way to make it work. I checked my papers, but didn’t have the latest limit requirements from Peace Corps. He left, and texted me from his house: the last volunteer put 800 Dhs as a normal price in her COS report. If we could reach 800 Dhs that was only 100 Dhs difference. Maybe we could budge Peace Corps up 50 and the builder down 50. Hope stirred. Tomorrow we will find out if it’s possible. My heart melded with the place, just as it had instantly with my apartment in Cincinnati. There must be a way.

Sorry habits and bleeding donkeys

12/9/2005 12:31 AM

Today was another lovely day. I woke up late. I’ve developed a “sorry” habit of reading, writing or staring into the darkness, lost in thought until the wee hours of the morning. For so long I’ve anticipated the chance for significant time to read and develop ideas without the associated guilt of needing to do some other type of productive work. These first few months here I am supposed to take it slow, allow my language to catch up with my ambition, and learn all aspects of the community and my association here, before taking on any projects. Lots of time and patience equals lots of reading and thinking. (Btw, most everyone I meet here keeps commenting on how well I already speak, not three months into my Moroccan experience!) I’m quite pleased.

I had not been able to shower for days… after the first shower here, my family said there was no more butagas to use for the hot water heater. It is scary how quickly I’ve accustomed myself to not showering for four days or so without noticing. This morning, however, I woke up and thought I must somehow bathe today, I simply cannot go on forever with a random steaming at the public bath hammam. I still could not stomach the idea of a cold shower on a morning when I was already shivering in my clothes. I marched to the kitchen, pulled out a pot, filled it with water and proceeded to light the gas stove. If other volunteers could bath with heated buckets of water, I could too. My dad came in, asked what I wanted, Gir bġit douche sxon! (I just want a hot shower!), I almost begged. He laughed, pulled out the big butagas can from the back of the aluminum oven, dragged it across the kitchen, connected it to the hot water heater tube, tightened the connector, flicked a switch, waxa! That’s all it took to get a hot shower? I laughed, and gleefully trotted to the bathroom, shampoo in hand. Ahhh.. the luxury of a hot shower.

Afterwards, I met Antoine at a café and we headed to the Thursday Souq (big, one-day-a-week outdoor market). I have never been to one before. Outside a herd of bored donkeys dumbly waited for owners to return. Next, a crushing mass of people waded through shepherds babysitting their goats for sale; each goat’s neck was tied to a happenstance rock. A stonewall surrounded the football-field-sized market area. One arched gateway was the only entrance for all foot traffic, jeeps, donkeys and scooters. We pressed through. I almost smashed against a donkey that was dripping blood from his mouth. A jeep tried to pass while dozens and dozens of turbaned men squeezed between the wall and jeep bumper. Finally it roared through, almost crushing one man against the wall who couldn’t resist the opportunity to squeeze past at the last second. He jumped through, with a guilty-stupid smile and a surge pressed forward as the jeep moved on. Inside, all across the ground, haggard Berber women and turbaned men laid out tarps and piled turnips, carrots, bright oranges, and numerous other vegetables and baskets of spices. Little girls in headscarves with faded, lively designs followed us about, staring at my purse. We reached the back of the souq to a cement-block encompassed, tarp-covered indoor market area. It reeked of fish. I turned in surprise to find a shark’s head staring at me. I was in the middle of the desert and there lay rows of tuna, eels, even a manta ray. Who in their right mind bought these fruits of the sea here?

We left and grabbed a taxi headed down the road a few miles to Tanm~ where Geoffe, another Peace Corps volunteer worked. His town was composed of numerous Kasbahs, those great Adobe cities of desert nomads, seen rising from the desert floor in old movies about Arabian nights. We spent the afternoon chatting on a veranda overlooking a luscious date palmary and, as always, a gorgeous mountain backdrop. We wandered through the palm trees on irrigation channel paths toward the river, a bridge, and the main road. As the afternoon sun faded among palm branches and shimmered across the rushing water, we bid Geoff goodbye and headed back into Agdz town center.

I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up...

I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up…

I aspire to be a social entrepreneur. For many years (in my relatively short life) people have asked what I want to, what my goals are, what field I want to pursue a career in, and the best I could do was answer… well my dream is to be in the Foreign Service. It was the closest career I could think of that involved politics, economic development, international relations and social work (of sorts).

I experienced a moment of truth during my Foreign Service interview back on January 25th in Washington, D.C. The State Department asked me (during an eight hour oral assessment) why I wanted to be in the Foreign Service. I answered as best I could a question that was fuzzy in my own mind. “It sounds like you would rather work for U.S. AID or another development organization, not the Foreign Service. Right?” Maybe they were right. A quiet voice inside of me responded, “yes…”.

I am in the middle of a fantabulous (yes, I know that’s not a word, but I like to use it anyways … a fusion of fantastic and fabulous) book called How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, by David Bornstein. Rather an ambitious title, I know. However, if you look under the cover, you will discover amazing stories of men and women around the world who are changing the world, social entrepreneurs. They are people who have developed a passion to remedy a particular sore spot in their society. They find specific, practical ways to unravel the foundational issues and fix the problem. Many of them have affected (improved) the lives of millions of people, literally. For instance, one lady in India, named Jeroo Billimoria, created an organization (now a part of India’s government) named Childline. It is a toll-free hotline for street children. Children anywhere in the country who are suffering from abuse, need medical attention, or just need someone to talk with can call this number in any city (with over 1 million residents) and immediately be helped. Trained former street children answer calls, register a child in a national database and either connect the child with a local organization that can help them, communicate with problematic authorities or hospital staffs, or actually send out a team member (former street children) in uniform to recover the child and taxi them to the appropriate organization that can help. Childline brilliantly created teams out of city institutions including hospital staffs, counseling services, police commissioners, thousands of child service organizations and Non-Governmental Organization’s already in place all across the country. They created a database, so that any adult or child who needed to find a particular kind of help for a child, could look up the available (screened) institutions. In approximately five years, building minimal infrastructure, and operating on a minimal budget, Childline answered the calls of 2.7 million street children. All the stories are just as inspiring.

A social entrepreneur is someone with “powerful ideas to improve people’s lives”, ideas they have “implemented across cities, countries, and in some cases, the world.”1 I may have no powerful ideas to implement across the world right now, but the idea of a social entrepreneur encompasses all intersecting avenues of my interests. The idea summons an eager confirmation from inside me. Social entrepreneurs operate in many formal sectors, but usually work across a broad range of conventional roles (i.e. Rosa, a man who brought cheap electricity to thousands of Brazilians and acted as an engineer, a technician, a government bureaucrat, a facilitator, an educator, and an Non-Governmental Organization/business president).

Whether I work for the U.S. State Department, US AID, an Non-Governmental Organization, another AID organization, go to law school and defend human rights around the world with the International Justice Missions (www.ijm.org), or assist in a project like Hernando De Soto’s, legalizing shanty towns in South America to bring the poor into the legal sector, I hope to occupy myself in work that could readily be identified as social entrepreneurship.

It's nice to know how to explain what I want to do with my random collection of interests before I find out what I actually plan to do... I'm doing something right now, eh?

1: How to Change The World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, David Bornstein. Oxford University Press, 2004. Pg. 1

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Photos from Stage...

THE PHOTOS BELOW ARE A COLLAGE FROM THE PAST SEVERAL MONTHS: (I don't have DSL Internet in Agdz, so I will not be uploading photos as often ... here's a bunch for now)
One of my most memorable moments (so far) in Morocco: the Megribi wedding musicians blasting into the wedding party with their powerful drums, chanting and loooong trumpets. We danced the night away.

Our Double "Wedding" .. Frederick & Christine, bride & groom #2 .. eating the traditional celebratory foods: a cone of sugar, dates, and milk. They through candy to all of us and opened gifts... then we were in for a treat:

Our Double "Wedding" .. Segun & Kelsie, bride & groom #1.

"Babs" or "B-Smiley" as we fondly called Barbara, was our oldest (77 Years Old) and most endeared volunteer. She sadly had to depart on Medical Separation. But we will never forget her. (Pictured above, I'm giving her a rose tatoo :)

Jehan, one of my dear SBD friends and Moshay's little puppy, Muskila (which means "little problem") ... she was sooo cute!

Oooh who wouldn't fall in love with that?? Bart and Muskila

Me and Mahmoudi, our Safety & Security coordinator for Peace Corps. He's great. Couldn't resist a photo of him in his sharp suit.

Lena, a YD volunteer and great friend. I think our outfits nicely portrayed the full gamut of "costumes" at the Swearing In: an American professional suit and Moroccan formal attire.

Scottie, Jess and Katie, my bubbly, wonderful friends.
YD (Youth Development) Dudes & I: Mark, Scottie, Me, Moshay, Bart

Me, Sara & Katie .. our last few days before taking off to corners of our new world..

The Hotel Madiera in Fes was fantabulous. The view even more so... I spent a good amount of time with my nose pressed to the massive windows or out by the pool overlooking old city.

KHENIFRA: This is one of my favorite street shots from my CBT site, taken on the day of Laid Sgira (big holiday here)

The Frenchie & his Mexican Chiwawa: In Marakesh one sees .. well all kinds of sites. One morning, we were sitting at a cafe eating breakfast when this character strode up and sat down near us. He began smoking a cigar; it was 9AM. A begger walked by; the little chiwawa plunged into action, barking and growling as furiously as his little body could.. on his owner's knee. The disheartened begger departed. The Frenchman didn't blink an eye. Another vendor walked up, and a child.. the scene repeated itself. The Frenchman calming looked over and (in French) said: "My dog doesn't like beggars, vendors or children. She likes Champagne, restaurants and airplanes". We were in stitches. He gladly posed for a photo.