Thursday, December 4, 2008

9 Months and 4 Days

First Id like to respond to the post by c a ben.

I appreciate your input and your opinion. I type my blogs quickly, which can lead to mistakes, especially when discussing serious cultural issues. So if I mischaracterized Islam, I apoligize.

I realize that Islam forbids alcohol and extra marital relationships. In fact, the point that I was making is that it is this very prohibition that can lead to an unhealthy relationship with both alcohol and relations with the opposite sex. I would argue that similar prohibitions in other cultures can lead to the abuse of the same things.

Also, I am sensitive to the statement that the people that Im living with are less Muslim because of their activities. It is a common accusation of the Amazigh (Berber) people that they are not true Muslims because of their race. Not having had extensive experience with Arab Muslims, I cannot say whether or not the same behavior exists, but my guess is it does. For me, belief is what defines a persons religion. And only the person themself (and God) can assess their own belief. Thank you again for your input. Now onto the scheduled program.

9 Months and 4 Days

No, this is not the title of a movie about pregnancy. That’s how long I’ve been in Morocco. It’s by far the longest time that I’ve even been out of America (previous best was 3 months spent in Spain). It’s also 6+ months that I’ve been in my site and 3+ months since I moved out of my host family’s house and into my own. 9 months of 27 months in country is one third. I’ve finished a third of my time here. So it’s as good a time as any for a little reflection and an expanded update on what I’ve been doing recently. I haven’t been writing as good as posts recently because I lost my USB, which meant that I had to write the posts at the Internet cafĂ©. Hopefully this one will be better (bought a new USB for about 10 dollars!)

I’m feeling very integrated in my community. Clearly it can get better, but I’m doing well. I still spend a lot of time hanging out in public spaces, which I think a lot of volunteers stop doing once they finish their first few months. Partly I do it for language and integration reasons, but mostly I do it because it’s better than sitting in my house all day long reading. I’ve started playing cards and another game here with the guys. People are surprised, they say, “You know how to play cards?” (The game we play is Rummy, so of course I know how to play. I want to tell them: ‘you’re playing my game’).

Now that the winter months are here, I’m also spending more time in other people’s houses. It’s mostly just 3 people’s houses: my two friends’ and my host family’s. I don’t like to have my wood stove going all day because it burns so much wood, so it’s nice to go over to someone else’s houses. They almost always have their stoves going. It’s also nice to get to know a few people especially well and to spend time with the women of the village (who spend almost all of their time indoors when they’re not working). Both friends have baby daughters less than a year old who are fun to be around. It’s also nice to eat meals at other people’s houses now and then so I’m not eating alone all the time. I’ve tried inviting people over for meals, but they refuse because a) I don’t eat meat at my house, b) I don’t eat bread at my house, and c) I (and not a woman) will be cooking. Another advantage of eating at other people’s houses is not having to dishes with freezing cold water.

That’s right, winter is here. We got our first big snow of the year on Tuesday. It’s hard to tell how much because the snow drifts a lot, but it was probably 6-8 inches. It was enough to close the road out of here for two days, not that I wanted to leave anyways. From talking to people, it seems like we’ll get big snows like this every so often and the road will be closed for a day or two until the snow plows make it out to the sticks. But mostly the road is open and no big deal. It’s not super cold; during the day it gets above freezing and the snow starts to melt.

Some people here complain about the snow, others like it. Obviously, for subsistence farmers and herders, inclement weather is not good. But people are mostly prepared for the winter and used to it. When it snows a lot, just like in America, people have to shovel snow. But here they are removing it from their roofs. I helped my host family with their roof yesterday. If you don’t remove the snow from your roof (which is flat), then you will have a leak, or worse, as the snow melts (because your roof is made of mud). The roofs are at least a foot thick, so they have potential to absorb a lot of water and become really heavy, potentially collapsing. So that’s why you shovel your roof here. The people who like the snow are mostly kids. Kids here sled by taking a walking stick, setting it between their legs, sitting down on it, and sliding down on the stick and their own two feet. Definitely inferior to American sledding. I would love to concoct a sled out of a piece of cardboard and some plastic and show them what they’re missing out on, but people here might think it ridiculous that someone my age is sledding. Very undignified.

My language is pretty good now. I feel as though I write that every time I talk about my language, so it’s probably hard for the reader to differentiate. At this point, the biggest whole in my language is vocabulary. Before, I might not understand a phrase because my ear wasn’t used to it. Now, if someone says a word I know, I will almost always understand it. Having this comprehension means that if there is a word I don’t understand I can isolate it and have it explained to me. As for speaking, I can always get my point across. I might have to rephrase something or simply repeat it, but people will understand me. Syntax and grammar here is very different/difficult. There are some nuances that are very hard to pick up on because you can’t read about them in a book and will only be apparent to you if you’re listening very carefully. It’s always gratifying when I hear a construction that is new to me. One sign that my language is decent is that a joke amongst the boys my age is to speak Arabic to each other around me so I can’t understand. However, since their Arabic is pretty bad and filled with Tamazight and unbeknownst to them I’ve started studying Arabic, I hope to be speaking that language better than them before I leave.

Another language note is that my French has improved a lot as well, from speaking with my nurses/doctors/other non-Tamazight speakers. I started reading a book in French to improve my vocab.

As for work, I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve accomplished during my first 6 months of service. The midwife training was a huge success. And the tooth-brushing thing, although small, has gone over well.

But there’s a lot ahead of me if it’s going to be a successful service. The follow up to the midwife training has been complicated by some things going on at my health clinic. The big news is that the male nurse (the only health worker who lives in the community, the others commute daily) is leaving and being replaced by a female nurse, whose specialty is midwifery. So I think that any serious follow-up needs to first include a meeting between the Ministry of Health midwife and the midwives here in the village…but that has to wait until the new nurse shows up, which could be any time now. The next step in my eyes is to hold a bigger meeting with the women of the village and the new health clinic staff, with the women from the training acting as intermediaries. Two goals: first, to disseminate information through the population. Second, to improve the relationship between the population and the health clinic staff. If you read my community health assessment, then you know that I think that is a big obstacle to health here. Especially with this new midwife. Are women going to walk a kilometer (or more) to freezing cold health clinic (which lacks proper birthing facilities) to give birth with a woman they’ve never met? No. So I think one of the most valuable roles that I could play is as an intermediary between the health care staff and the community, in order to build trust and friendship between the two groups. We’ll see.

The other big project I have going on is the water infrastructure project in an outer douar. For those who haven’t heard, the project is to connect an existing, but empty water tower and local pipe system to a mountain spring some five kilometers away. The water tower is currently empty because people can’t pay for the electricity to pump the water up into the tower. The bill for the project has just been estimated at 310,000 Dhs, which at today’s favorable exchange rates (8-9Dhs/dollar), is about 35,000 dollars. It’s a lot of money. So raising that money is the main work. The other work is negotiating the politics of the Commune (local government) and my own community. People in my community will be mad at me if I do a project in another community, especially because the Commune is interested in working the other community for political reasons. I’m doing the project there, rather than in my community, because there is greater need. But that doesn’t mean people won’t be pissed. I may be seen as a tool of the Commune. One saving grace (sort of) is that the timing of the completion of my project (much later than the Commune realizes) will ruin their political reasons for wanting to work there. Hopefully we will be too invested in the project by the time that is realized.

Another project for the near future is more water work. In the douars without running, centralized water (most of them), I plan to go around and do tests of the water. Hopefully these tests will be followed up with education about how to treat water. I’m having a tough time getting this project going though, we’ll see how it precedes. There are a few other projects that I’m thinking about, but that’s enough for now. It’s very difficult to do work at this point (and probably for most of winter) because most people stay in their homes when it’s cold and snowy.

My final topic for this brief summary is my mental health. I’m doing well. I think I’m suited to do this kind of work/living. Some people have expressed surprise at the austerity of my life style, but at this point in my life it doesn’t bother me (except for doing dishes with cold water). I really enjoy the challenge of getting to know people who are so very different from me and the rewards that come from fitting in and being accepted. People have asked me if I’m slaughtering something for l-Eid ixatr (literally, the big holiday), which is on Tuesday. I tell them that I’m going to my host family’s house and it makes perfect sense to them: to a lot of people, I am my host family’s son. I’ve gained that status by living with my host family, by working their fields, by riding their mule, by spending hours upon hours there, and by helping them shovel the snow from their roof today. In a society that values family so highly, it is critical that I’m seen as a part of someone’s family. Additionally mental health has been helped greatly by having some work to do and feeling productive at it.

That said, this winter is going to be harder. My community is smaller now and less time is spent outside in public space. It’s cold. It’s harder for me to get out and hike, which thus far has been an outlet when I need a break. I’ll probably spend a lot of time in my house reading. And more and more (I thought it would be less and less), I miss home, my friends, and especially my family. I don’t think that’s something that I’m going to get used to. I had a great Thanksgiving and spent it with people that I care a lot about, but it was nothing like being home. Luckily, my mom and sister are coming in a little over two weeks. I’m very excited for that. And Zach’s wedding is just around the corner!

One more thing: a number of people (and not just my parents) have expressed to me that they think Peace Corps may be changing me. I wonder about this a lot. Of course it is, but how dramatically? I feel like the same Duncan, but I think that I may be more expressive than I was before. One part of my behavior that has changed (and I think is exemplary for the rest of my life) is my attitude towards dancing. I used to be a very reluctant dancer who was kind of shy. But now I love dancing and don’t care if I make a fool of myself. (One important caveat: this is only with Americans, I’m unable to let loose with Moroccans).

So all is well. Enjoy the holiday season. This may be my last post (or maybe not) for over a week because of the holiday here. I will be helping my family slaughter a sheep, eating every single disgusting part of it (including its head), and staying warm by the fire.


Franny said...

mmmm... theres nothing like fresh sheep head.

mom and i are getting really excited to come see you! first i need to get past finals and then pack up my room which will probably be much harder than any final but then we'll be on our way!

for thanksgiving, dad, joyce, and i went to iowa. zach and kristen's house is great and the barn is really cool and beautiful. it should be a good time!

see you soon dunc!

Franny said...

oh, and dad and joyce's house is great too. i have a feeling the new den will be a hot spot for 500 and crazy bridge

Colton Bangs said...

so when you teach people to brush their teeth are you telling them to put water on the brush after applying toothpaste or are you having them just go straight for it without the water. because i have heard that water at this point is useless, but i am an avid water user in this regard.

also, i look forward to seeing your new dance moves, too bad they came after paces is out of our lives.

maryellen said...

woo hoo, when you read this we'll say 'see you tomorrow, dunc!' having a tough time packing for beach and desert and snowy mtns and hiking in gorges...can't wait, see you soon! love, ma & fran

jasmine said...

hello duncan
my name is jasmine.i am sitting in my little house in melbourne Australia...dreaming of morrocco. i am a bachelor of midwifery and i want to come to morrocco with my daughter next year and possible find some way of doing a learning exchange with morroccan tba's. So i was googling and found your blog...which is obviously very curious, i am applying for a churchill fellowship to travel to france and morrocco, do you have any ideas? i love your reflections of morrocco.