Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Parable of the Lost Shepherd

In order to get a different voice on my blog, ive asked my mom and sister to post their impressions of Morocco during their trip here. Here is a post from my mom.

So Franny and I had an uneventful flight to Marrakesh, although Fran’s luggage had a vacation in Orlando and Madrid. The extra days spent in Marrakesh meant that we didn’t get to do some of the hikes we had sort of planned. But it was GREAT to see Duncan / Sma3eel! He’s gone so native! But in a very respectful way: he’s super conscientious about what is polite and what is not, very adapted to the cold (although his feet look rather sketchy) and folks light up when they hear a Westerner speaking the Berber language. Folks here are immensely polite as well. A hawker (in M-kesh) might come up to press us to go to this hotel or that restaurant, but when they discover Dunc knows ‘Tash,’ they give us the addresses of their families back home and tell us we are welcome to stay with their families on our travels. It was also fun to meet up with other Peace Corps volunteers traveling for the holidays.

After Fran’s luggage arrived, we bussed 8 hours through mountain passes to arrive at the home of Dunc’s first home stay family outside of the rose capital of Morocco. You can read more about this family in Dunc’s previous posts, but suffice it to say we were feted with food, tea, henna and evenings of relaxing with a complex array of family members. This would be an ideal homestay situation [aside from the generosity of the hosts], because the children are available for language training! We were served a delicious wheat / sugar / spice mixture scooped up with a spoon for breakfast, which went immensely well with the milky coffee served as well. That was followed by a thick chicken broth with spices and barley. Lunch was a tajine of root vegetables and a chunk of chicken or beef, which was divided for all sharing the pot. The veggies and juices were scooped with a yummy bread. Dinner was couscous with veggies and meat. All meals are eaten from a common plate or pot.

What with all the eating and drinking, it was a challenge to get away for a hike. The first day we had a tour of the family fields where beans, grains and vegetables are cultivated. The little plots are lined with fruit and nut trees (apricot, peach, figs) and rose bushes. A ‘rock garden’ is laid out for drying everything for storage. One of the funny little items ‘lost in translation’ is that I wondered if we could have some almonds for our travels; of course they gave us a bagful, but alas, they were still in their husks. I guess I expected them to come shelled the way they are at Kroger’s! We also hiked along the river valley that separates them from the next series of mountain ridges.

Family members arrived and departed on mysterious errands to and from other households or other towns. Actually just about everything was mysterious to me, given that the only thing I could say is “I don’t know Tash!” On our second day there, a story came from across the river and up the mountain that a sheep had wandered over the edge of the mountain facing us, and the shepherd had followed it over the edge. They were now stuck on the side of the mountain, and had been for 15 days, where apparently the shepherd had gone without food or water. I went up on the roof of our compound with some of the young adults and they were able to find the guy in my binoculars. They said they thought that the sheep must have given birth, as there seemed to be a lamb with the sheep. No one knew how the guy was going to get off the mountain. I could see a tall figure in a dark jellaba, but I’m not sure I saw any sheep.

It is hard to express both the sumptuousness of family life, the extent to which the rhythms of life are connected to harvest and food preparation and the raw simplicity of the family we visited. Nobody has anything of their own aside from their clothes, and these folks are relatively affluent for rural Moroccans. But they have this complex web of relationships that links them to their place and their time. It is good to be here in the harshness of the winter so that it is impossible to romanticize the easy life of a semi-nomadic people based on the bounty of the harvest. These folks work hard in extreme circumstances. We have just landed in Duncan’s permanent site, where there is far, far less than we have experienced so far. All of us are stuck on a mountain somewhere. The lesson of the parable eludes me at this point.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Excuse my short and inconsistent posts while I travel.

I met my family in Marakech, where we stayed for three nights while we waited for Frannys bag to be rerouted from Orlando Florida. Kind of a bummer but at least it came.

Marakech was OK. After 10 months in Morocco its about time I went there; since probably every tourist to Morocco has been there. Its really busy, full of tourists, lots going on, expensive (for Morocco). Worst part is that everyone there harrasses people to buy stuff. You cant leave your hotel without someone giving you a hard time. So that gets exhausting after a while. But there are really nice gardens there, cheap orange juice, and people there loved it that I spoke Berber. I mean loved it. It probably saved me like 100 dirhams and everyone was giving me the address of their house in another city to go to. So nice to me.

Then we went to my training host family near Klah Mgouna. If you are a old fan of my blog, you may recall that they are a big family that was really nice to me and I liked a lot. Well nothing has changed. They liked meeting my mom and sister, even though communication was difficult. And they were thrilled to see me again. They stuffed us with good food and it was good to visit. I definitely hope to go back again, maybe next august when they are harvesting all the fruit trees.

Going there highlighted some aspects of my community that I hadnt noticed. The people in Klah are much better to their women; it was really good to see that. The women have a lot more freedom and their lives arent as hard. Also it made me realize how poor my current community really is. My training family is pretty well off for a rural Moroccan family and they do not lack any necessities.

The other big difference was the language. Im pretty decent at Tamazight by now, but the language down South is much different. I understood, but not as well as I do in my community.

Tonight we are in Midelt. Tomorrow we go to my site for a few days. Im looking forward to going home. Which it does feel like. Hopefully there will be a longer blog post on Wednesday or Thursday of next week. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

L-Eid Ixatr (Literally, The Big Holiday)

L-Eid Ixatr (Literally, The Big Holiday)

First let me reply to Jasmine. I would love to give you advice, please give me your contact info or email me at

It’s taken me longer to post this time because I had some problems with my USB. Also, be forewarned, the next few weeks the posting might be more irregular as I will be traveling with my mom and sister.

Let me just apologize in advance if I get any religious aspects of the story wrong here. My excuse is that I’m learning about this all in Tamazight, which is not my first language.

L-Eid Kabeer, as it’s known in Arabic, is celebrated every year by Muslims. It is a day to remember the story of Brahim (Ibrahim) and Smaeel (Ishmael). Just in case there are readers out there who don’t know the Old Testament, the story goes like this. God told Ibrahim that he should slaughter his only son, Smaeel, as a way of proving his devotion. Ibrahim was devout and going to listen to God. He took his son, following God’s every instruction, and was about to slit his throat when God told him that his faith was proven and he didn’t need to actually kill his son. Instead he was told to slaughter a sheep. Personally, I never liked the story (what kind of sadistic God do we have?), but anyways this Old Testament story is the basis for the biggest celebration in the Muslim world. Given that my Moroccan name is Smaeel, it was also a day for young men to make plenty of jokes about slaughtering me.

Every year, thousands pilgrims make the trip to Saudi Arabia to fulfill one of the five pillars of faith of Islam. The culmination of the Hajj, as it’s called, is on L-Eid Kabeer and is a big deal in the life of a devout Muslim. Other Muslims all around the world mark the celebration by slaughtering a sheep (or more) and having a day of prayer. Like any Christian holiday, I believe that there are some folks who are more into the religious aspect of the holiday and others who enjoy the day off and all the food.

Here in small town mountain Morocco, we celebrated as well. About a month ago, my host family bought a smallish goat and kept it in their barn to fatten it up. They’ve been talking about the size of the goat all month long, eagerly anticipating l-Eid and the celebration.

This morning, Tuesday, I woke up at 6:30 am and went to my host family’s house. With my host dad and four other men, we visited each man’s house. My house was exempt from this tour because I don’t have a wife and obviously am unable to prepare food for myself or others. We sit down in the nicest room in the house and tea is poured. Little cookies/cakes are served and everyone snacks on them. After a little while the snacks are removed and aharir (a kind of milky barley oatmeal sort of thing) is brought out. We eat a little and then go onto the next house. This ritual of visiting other people’s houses is observed on two other yearly holidays as well. It’s nice for me to get to go to people’s houses who I haven’t seen before, but at the same time it means that I drink a lot of tea. Since we’re visiting five people’s houses, no one wants to eat or drink very much at any house, but every host still has to go through the ritual of insisting on you eating more. And who wants to wake up so early on a holiday?

Afterwards, everyone met outside, near the mosque in the center of town. It’s a nice time of year because all the young men who work outside of the town come home for the holiday. So everyone’s socializing and talking and having fun. There was nice weather today, so that made the experience even better. Then the call to prayer goes off and many of the men enter the mosque to pray. Me and the rest of the sinners hang around outside some more. On the other hand, hanging around outside is what most people do every day, so it’s hardly that different. “National holiday” has a different meaning when you’re a self-employed farmer.

After the prayer, (which was about an hour long) I met my host family at their house. We went to the barn and got the goat out. (I don’t know what the Koran says about slaughtering a goat as opposed to a sheep). The goat had grown pretty big over the month and my host parents were happy with it. First, some barley is brought out and fed to the goat (Why? Because that’s what God told Ibrahim to do with his son before he almost slaughtered him). Then some sort of makeup is messily applied to the goat’s eyes. (Why? Because that’s what God told Ibrahim to do with his son before he almost slaughtered him). Then my host dad knocked the goat over onto its side. My host mom grabbed the goat’s legs, all the while saying stuff like, “God help this poor goat.” I assumed a good position as photographer. (My host family had been telling me for a week not to forget my camera. Glad I didn’t. Important note, there are pictures of the slaughter below. They are not for the feint of heart. If you don’t want to see a raw picture of a goat being slaughtered, don’t look.) My host dad said a prayer and slit the goat’s throat with his knife. It died pretty quickly.

Next up is skinning the goat. You would think that by the age of 72, my host dad would be pretty good at skinning a goat by now, but no. It took a while. Our neighbor started slaughtering at the same time and finished a good half an hour before we did. Meanwhile my host mom is making smart ass remarks about how our neighbor is doing such a better and quicker job of skinning his goat. Luckily my host dad is pretty good at tuning her out. Hilarity. To be fair, it is a difficult thing to do and he is an old man. I helped with the skinning. The best thing I did was blow out the intestines. You take one end of the intestine, open it up, stick your mouth over the hole, and blow for all you’re worth. This pushes everything towards one end of the digestive tract (not actually sure which end) and makes the skinning easier. My host dad didn’t have the lung capacity to really blow the shit far enough (literally) so he handed it over to me. I was happy to oblige. Later on, my host dad kind of messed things up: he accidentally cut the stomach/intestine of the goat and spilled its semi-digested contents over the rest of the carcass, which isn’t exactly sanitary.

The goat was finally skinned and we went inside to eat lunch. We had chicken, carrot and potato tajine (what we have for almost every single other lunch). The only difference is that there was much more chicken and many fewer vegetables than normal. I went to my house and read for a little while, then went outside and found a game of soccer to join. I passed some more time talking to people outside. Everyone wanted to know if I had slaughtered the goat. Luckily I had some blood on my pants to prove that I had at least participated in the slaughter.

Around six o’clock I went back to my host family’s house. We watched some TV, drank tea, and I showed them the pictures from the morning, which they loved. We watched the news on TV, which was mostly just pictures of people slaughtering their sheep across the country. We got to see the King slaughter his sheep, which was the biggest, cleanest sheep I’ve ever seen. About eight people surrounded the sheep, holding it down and keeping a white sheet between the King and the sheep so he wouldn’t get any blood on him. He walked up and sliced through that neck like it was butter. Then we set about preparing dinner, which was goat meat. My host mom brought out the plate of the goat’s innards and set it down on the table in front of my dad. He then prepared some delicious food. The goat’s liver has been steamed. Cut up into little chunks, the liver is wrapped in something that literally means “the fat of the innards.” It’s some sort of fatty tissue that lines the inner cavity of the animal. The chunks of liver, wrapped in fat, are put onto skewers and then cooked over coals. Unsurprisingly, the room filled with smoke. I didn’t care: the meat was delicious. The liver is hardy and dense. The fat is soft and yummy. I had three skewers worth of the stuff. My host mom meanwhile had cooked some other organ (not sure which one, possibly kidney) by sticking it in on a skewer and putting it directly in the stove. It was pretty well burnt, but tasted good with salt and cumin on it. I was pretty full, but the main course still remained: goat and potato tajine. In the tajine were the lungs of the goat, which were squishy and moist. The meat itself was pretty darn good as well. As we say here, I ate until my stomach burst. We sat back to relax and watch a film dubbed over in Syrian Arabic, which neither my host dad or I understand.

I left the house and walked back through the snow with calls of “don’t let the cold make your stomach sick” following me to my home. An inch or two of snow had already accumulated.

L-Eid, Day two

Day two wasn’t very different than day one, except for the absence of prayer and slaughtering. We woke up with about four inches of snow on the ground and I went to my host family’s house to help them shovel it off of their roof. The road was cut, but it didn’t matter since no one is going anywhere at this point anyhow.

I was invited to my friend’s house for lunch, so I went over there around 11:30. About 10 other people were invited, so it ended up being a little party. We drank tea and talked, waiting for the food. Typical topic of conversation: is there snow in America? Answer: yes, but not as much as there is here. Then came the food. The first course was a sheep tajine. First time that a Moroccan has served me cauliflower here and it was pretty good. But the meat was the highlight of the meal; it was tasty and there was lots of it. The second course was couscous with sheep meat on top. It was also pretty good.

I spent the afternoon playing soccer and resting, like yesterday.

In the evening I went over to my host family’s house for dinner. The appetizer was similar, but when we ran out of liver meat, we used heart meat instead. Not a huge different. The main course wasn’t quite as good. The meat was stomach and intestine parts. There weren’t that many vegetables and it was very saucy. I’m told that tomorrow we’re eating the head.

L-Eid, Day Three

Only one thing from day three deserves reporting: dinner. We ate the head of the goat that we slaughtered two days ago.

I had imagined the head being served intact, but instead it was broken up into many pieces and served over couscous. I also thought that a head was mostly bones, but it actually has a lot of meat in it. Some people eat the brain, but my family gave it to the cat. My host mom says it tastes like eggs.

Eating the couscous, I was worrying the whole time about the meat coming at the end of the meal. The head juice has soaked into the couscous and it didn’t taste great. Once we finished with the couscous, the meat was divided and we dug in. I started with a piece of tongue that was given to me. It was tough and chewy; its taste was OK. Next, I dug into the skin of the head. There was surprisingly a lot of meat on it. When I finished with the skin, the eye caught my eye. My host dad and I had each been given an eye (only men get to eat eyes). The eye is accompanied by the surrounding skin. I ripped the skin of the eye away and ate that part first. Then I tossed the whole eye in my mouth. Its texture was kind of squishy, but the taste was OK. People cook everything to death here, so I guess it all kind of tastes the same. Finally I had an ear to eat. I took a bite of cartilage and made my first complaint of the meal: “It’s hard.” My host dad didn’t miss a beat, “You have teeth don’t you?” (This comment is even funnier considering he doesn’t have teeth). All in all, the head was OK. It’s not as good as regular meat, but it’s definitely not disgusting. If I slaughtered my own goat, I would not eat the head myself. But sitting down with my family, I don’t mind chocking it down.

My evaluation of l-Eid Ixatr? Any holiday that requires you spend most of the day with your family eating good food until you burst is all right with me.

Extended Update

This past Friday I went to my most isolated douar, which is about 28km from mine. Those people have a tough life, let me tell you. They are higher in elevation and so the weather is colder. Due to poor soil, over harvesting of wood, and overgrazing, there is hardly any wood for them to burn there. Those with money buy wood from a nearby douar, but those without get by burning dried up shrubs. The road from the community to market market town is about 54km, but it took us 5 hours because the road is so terrible. 5 hours to get to a weekly market! Most families don’t have the money for buying food anyways, so they don’t go. People get by on what they can grow in the cold conditions: wheat, barley, turnips, and potatoes.

I went to the community to visit with a woman who attended our Traditional Birthing Attendant training. I was hoping that she would, with my encouragement, lead a meeting with other women about what she learned in the training. However, she was unwilling to do it on her own and I was unable to help because of my gender. So hopefully I will go back another time, accompanied by a female.

The trip was quite successful, however, for another reason. I met with a local association president there and we talked about a number of projects that would benefit the community. The president had also set up a meeting for me to lead with a number of men where we talked about health problems and how they could be solved.

Back in my market town, I met with another man from that community and we had a good talk about further needs there. I hope that working with these two men, we can do something for this isolated community.

Other work news is the meeting I had the women in my community from the TBA training and the new doctor and nurse at our health clinic. The meeting was supposed to reinforce what the women learned during the stage and to plan out ways for the women to have a forum to speak with other women. It went very well and I am happy with the new doctor and nurse (who is a midwife). They seem motivated to reach out to the community and do education, so I hope to be working together with them a lot in the future. One negative thing: despite having a midwife assigned to the community, births will still be done in the home. Our health clinic has no equipment needed for delivering babies, so our midwife expects that she will probably not deliver a single one. Unbelievable.

Final big work news is the water project I have going on in one of my outer doaurs. We just got the estimate for the project and it’s a lot of money: 310,000 Dhs, which is about $36,000. Unfortunately, Peace Corps doesn’t provide a lot of money for volunteer projects (about $3,500 for the two years), so I mostly have to raise the money on my own. So if anyone knows where I can find that kind of money for development work, let me know. Seriously. I have some help from Peace Corps people on foundations that I can apply to, but I need all the help I can get.

Well that is all for now. I hope all is well back home. The goat that we slaughtered over a week ago is still being eaten. We ate its stomach tonight. Gross. Like I mentioned above, my mom and sister are coming to Morocco and I am taking my first vacation of my service to travel around with them. Right now the plan is to go to Marrakech to meet them, then K’lah Mgouna (where I had my training host family) then Tinrir (where my host mom is from) then Merzouga (sand dunes) and then my town, where we will stay for a little while. Once my mom and sister are sick of the cold, hopefully we’ll head up to a bigger city like Meknes or Fez and spend some time there before they head home. It’s very exciting. Look forward to reading their blog entries in this space, as that is their assignment over the course of their travels.

The Bush shoe throwing incident has been wonderful for life here in Morocco. I loved it, people here love it and they love it that I love it.

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.