Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Islam and Me in Morocco

This is a sensitive topic (again) so I’m going to apologize ahead of time for the offensive things I write and the errors that I make. Also, as regular readers of my blog would know, my perspective on Morocco is no way representative of the country; someone living in Fes for two years would have a different perspective on religion in Morocco. What I’ve written here is by no means exhaustive.

99+% of Moroccans are Muslim. I believe that it is illegal to renounce Islam or convert to another religion. So there isn’t much religious freedom here. If a non-Muslim man wants to marry a Moroccan woman, he must convert (since lineage is patriarchal, a non-Muslim woman is not obligated to convert). The closest thing I’ve had to a girlfriend here (which consisted of some conversations and a few late night text messages with a girl from Fes – quite scandalous) ended when the girl asked me if I would convert to Islam.

Islam came to Morocco in the 8th century when Arabs invaded the country. The history books I have say that the Amazigh people (also known as Berbers, the natives) accepted Islam without coercion. Islam’s message of egalitarianism and respect for one’s parents were jived well with Amazigh values. Since that time, Islam has been a huge force in shaping Moroccan history. The best monuments in the country are religious ones. Beautiful mosques, schools, and entire towns were built with religious money. Fes and Meknes stand out in my mind as having the greatest religious monuments.

There are five “pillars” of Islam that a Muslim must follow (there is an order to these, which I am ignorant of). First, witnessing that there is one God and his prophet is Mohamed, Second, prayer: The observant Muslim (and most people that I meet are observant) prays five times a day: sunrise, midday, afternoon, dusk, and after nightfall. There is no freedom in prayer: you say the same thing every time with the same routine of bows and kneels. Third, fasting: one lunar month a year (Ramadan) Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, bad words, sex… from sunup to sundown. Fourth, pilgrimage: every Muslim who is financially able must make a pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia). Fifth, alms to the poor.

Enough about Islam that you could read in a book. The thing that makes the biggest impression on me is the way that Islam and God are always on people’s minds. God is ubiquitous. It is difficult/impossible to have a conversation with someone here without mentioning God. There is a “God phrase” for just about every feeling and situation. I plan to do a post at some point listing all the God phrases I know. Here is a quick taste: Bismillah (in the name of God) precedes every meal, journey, meeting, etc. Inchallah (God willing) follows any discussion of future action. Humdulillah (Thanks to God) can follow any expression of a positive feeling or outcome. People in my village like to say “kulshi rbbi” (everything is God) to explain most anything. When I say it people tell me that I’m smart and wise. I used to think that the frequency with which people used God phrases cheapened them into platitudes, but I’ve recently changed my opinion. God really is on people’s minds all the times and these “God phrases” are not platitudes, but expressions of people’s worldview.

Conversion: people in Morocco try to convert me to Islam frequently. It happens less often now in my village (been here for over a year), but it still happens. I react to it differently depending on my mood, the person trying to convert me, and how polite and respectful they are about it. The worst conversion attempt I had was with an employee of the local government who I generally don’t like. He told me to say the “shHada” (the phrase that you say to become a Muslim) in front of a group of people. I went through my typical defenses (my religion and my prophet are God’s too, it’s important to follow the religion of your parents, would you convert to Christianity if you went to America?) but he wasn’t really listening. He just kept saying, “Say it.” I stopped with the polite responses and started saying “no.” This exchange repeated itself maybe 8 times before I walked away.

This sort of conversion attempt is very frustrating. The person isn’t interested in having a conversation about beliefs; they just want me to say the shHada. After the first time that I say “no,” shouldn’t it be obvious that, even if I did say the shHada, that it wouldn’t be sincere? I’ve found that this sort of attempt comes more often from non-observant Muslims. Guys that tell me about how they drink alcohol, see prostitutes, don’t pray, smoke, etc etc tend to be the most likely to demand conversions like this. I’ve started telling them that they should worry about saving their own soul rather than mine (which always gets laughs from bystanders).

The strange part about deflecting conversion attempts is that it makes me pretend to be something that I’m not. To everyone in my community, I am a God-fearing Christian. I would never tell someone my true beliefs here: I would be ostracized. During a recent, more nuanced conversion attempt a couple days ago, I found myself passionately arguing that Jesus is the Son of God. The person I was conversing with kept saying that Muslims don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God (they do believe he is a prophet) because God is not like humans and cannot interact with them like that – only a mortal can have progeny. I totally agreed with what he was saying, but there I was, confusing myself. And I don’t have the language skills to express the idea that the “Son of God” may not be literal, but metaphorical.

One more thing about the conversion attempts: most people in my village have not tried to convert me. It’s really just a minority of annoying people while the rest are more respectful.

I can’t have a “Islam” post without discussing religious festivities in my community. I’ve already done posts on Ramadan, a sadaqa, and L3id Kabeer (the big holiday), so I won’t rehash those. Just Friday afternoon there was another event. We’ve been getting a lot of big rainstorms recently, which means the river overflows its banks and floods fields. So my entire community slaughtered some sheep and goats in order to ask God for better weather. Although I find such requests ridiculous, the nice part of the event was that everyone in the village ate as a result of this ceremony. All the men in the village gathered near the mosque (which happens to be next to my house). Couscous was brought out and we all ate outside. Then we ate the meat of the animals that were slaughtered. Women ate in small groups in their houses. So it was a nice community event. A transit overflowing with people from another village drove through as the event was beginning. They were all invited to eat with us and lots of nice words were exchanged. The expression “sharing couscous” is used in Tamazight to signify your intimacy with someone.

Despite the illegality of renouncing Islam, there are Moroccan non-believers. A few of them have “come out of the closet” to me. It’s always a big deal for them to reveal this big secret to me. They mostly tend to be educated professionals – I imagine there are more of them in cities. There are also some people who are openly atheist. There is an Amazigh (Berber) pride movement that is anti-Islam because of its Arab roots. Arabs are seen as colonizers, thus their religion is rejected as well (this is a very small minority).

People here like to ask about how I pray. I tell them that we pray on our knees and we say things like, “In the name of God, God is great, God knows all, thanks to God for everything, God have mercy, God forgive my faults, forgive my parents, etc.” People really like that – it is similar to their prayers and their beliefs. Muslims must pray facing Mecca (to the East for Moroccans). I used to get a lot of shit for saying that Christians do not have to pray facing any particular direction until I started telling people that God is everywhere and that He hears you no matter what.

I’m getting better at saying that sort of thing. I tell people that the different prophets (Mohamed, Jesus, and Moses are the Big 3) are all God’s. I say that our prayers and your prayers are all for God. That God is in everything. I like saying stuff like that because it is closer to my own beliefs that demanding that Jesus is the Son of God. I also like to say things like that because it minimizes the differences between me and people here – we’re all God’s.

Unfortunately, as close as I get to winning people over with my “everything is God” attitude, it’s not quite enough. The fact of the matter is that there are many factors (speaking Tamazight, living here, having kids here, spending time with people) that determine whether or not someone is Oumoussa (a citizen of our tribe). One of those factors is saying the shHada, being a Muslim. There will always be a divide.


Most of my work lately has been recruiting women for the traditional birthing attendant training that I’ll be coordinating this fall. I like the recruiting process (most of the time) because I meet new people in different villages. The other day I rode my bike out to this very isolated village and met with a man there who had agreed to help me find women. When I got there he was not in his house so one of his small sons accompanied me to his field where he was plowing. I sat and waited for him to finish. It was a beautiful day, we had lunch, and the field was up on the mountain. Right as he was finishing the field it started pouring rain and we took shelter under a tree. I was sitting there with two farmers and their three little kids on the side of a mountain waiting for a rainstorm to end. I felt 100% comfortable. It was definitely a Peace Corps moment. The rainstorm delayed our recruiting, so the guy invited me to stay at his house rather than riding back to my village. If I hadn’t had other work to do the next day I would have stayed.

Another project that I’ve been trying to wrap up for months now is a story of frustration. I was going to do toothbrush/paste education and distribution in a nearby school. Rather than speak to the teachers to organize the event (what I normally do) I decided to involve a guy from the village who had been asking me to work with him for a while. My guiding principle for work here is: involve local people whenever possible. This was in April, right before I went to America. I asked him how many toothbrushes I needed to bring and he told me 70. He told me to come back to his house the next Wednesday and we would go to the school together. I got to his house at the scheduled time, but he wasn’t there. I went back to my house (1.5 km walk). A couple hours later he shows up at my house on his motorcycle and we drive to the school. I do my routine with the kids there, but it turns out we are 30 toothbrushes short (because he told me the wrong number). So we skip half the school. I promise to buy some more brushes and that we’ll finish distribution when I come back from America. I get back from America with my brushes and I set a date with him. I show up on that date and the guy is, again, not there. I leave the brushes at his house and walk back to my house. He does not show up on his motorcycle later that day. I show up at his house a couple other times over the next few weeks, but he is never around. When I finally find him, school is out for summer, so we cannot distribute the brushes there. I ask him what the solution to our problem is. He tells me that he will get all the names of the kids that need brushes and he will organize the event. OK. Well I go to his house on the scheduled day and he is asleep. His daughter wakes him up. He bullshits me for a while. I ask him about the project; he says, “I forgot you.” Then two kids come in. He starts asking them the names of the kids in grades four, five and six (the grades that need the toothbrushes). The kids have a (understandably) difficult time remembering all the kids who are in these grades. The list that they come up with is obviously missing a significant number of names. So the guy looks at me and says, “What do you want to do? It will be difficult to get all the kids together; many are out in the fields or somewhere else.” I tell him to forget about it. I’ll do the whole school again in the fall. If I had just done my normal routine of speaking directly with the teachers, the project would have been finished months ago.

Unfortunately, these sort of delays and frustrations are typical with my work here. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a big project, regardless of the status of the person that I’m working with, that I have worked on here that has not had a problem like this. For our hammam project another volunteer and I are working with an agency within the Ministry of Energy – government officials working out of the capital. They set a date for a big meeting with hammam owners then pushed back the date of the meeting three weeks later after we had told all the owners about it. Strangely, they had been pressuring us to have the meeting at the earlier date (in order to meet a funding deadline) even though we were unsure if we could be prepared in time.

That’s it. All is well. I’m trying very hard not to get sick this summer in order to prove to my host mom that heat does not cause illness.

Friday, June 19, 2009


“Patriotism: Pride in or devotion to the country somebody was born in or is a citizen of.”

I am a patriot. Living in another country for a year has only made that belief stronger.

Over the years, patriotism has gotten a bad name; it has come to be associated with fanatical devotion to one’s country. Fanatical patriotism demands unquestioning uniformity and smothers dissent. Under the tenets of fanatical patriotism, to question the decisions of one’s government is to undermine their authority. Additionally, fanatical patriotism has taken on many of the characteristics of xenophobia. National identity is valued to the point of distrust of other nations and cultures. Both of these aspects of fanatical patriotism: unquestioned uniformity and xenophobia, are not the qualities of a patriot.

Fanatical patriotism has always been present in American culture. The past century provides many examples. In the name of national security, American citizens of Japanese origin were imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. The end of WW II brought an even more pernicious form of fanatical patriotism: McCarthyism. Suspicion of Communist activity suppressed any form of dissent. Furthermore, capitalist, Western ideals were put on a pedestal and Communist, egalitarian ones were demonized.

Under the Bush Jr. administration, fanatical patriotism has further sullied the name of the American patriot. The contemporary fanatical patriot is epitomized by the bumper sticker that proclaims: “These Colors Don’t Run.” The contemporary fanatical patriot has grown distrustful of other cultures, particularly Islamic ones. This has not been helped by the administration’s slogans, such as“ the War on Terror” and “you’re either with us or against us.” I’ll never forget the story my best friend, a Pakistani, told me several weeks after 9/11. His sister’s tires had been slashed and she had been tormented for wearing her headscarf. Both my friend and his sister have lived their entire lives in America and their success in the country embodies the American Dream. The contemporary fanatical patriot has also discouraged dissent within America. Those against the Iraq/Afghanistan wars were cast as being anti-soldier. Administration policies were not to be questioned; even those that were counter to American values such as wiretapping and terrorism were to be accepted without dissent.

So I am writing now to reclaim the good name of patriotism for patriots across the world. Patriotism is simply love for one’s country. This is not the extreme nationalism popping up throughout Europe. And this is not the unconditional love demanded by the fanatical patriot, but a critical, demanding one. I protested the Bush’s administration choice to go to war in Iraq not just because I feared the loss of innocent Iraqi lives, but also because I did not want to see my country tarnish its name and reputation. My identity and self-image is influenced by many factors: my family, my beliefs, my hometown, my education, etc. Amongst other factors is my identity as an American. I am ashamed when my country does something shameful and proud when it does good in the world. I demand the best from my country in its treatment of its own citizens and its actions in the international community. Even someone who has only shame for America is expressing a kind of patriotism: his/her identity is tied up in America.

How am I still an American Patriot when my formative years were a time of shameful actions on the part of my government? When disgraceful events litter our history?

Before I express my American pride, I want to be clear: the line between patriotism and xenophobia is a thin one. I do not wish to cross it. My patriotism means that I generally prefer American culture to others, but it represents a positive feeling to America rather than a negative one towards other cultures. My patriotism derives from my being habituated to American culture, not from a belief that American culture is objectively better. I am biased and I know it.

I love American food for what it is and for what it steals from other countries. American food means many things to many people, but my favorite is grilled meat in the summer, beer, and fresh fruit.

I love American freedom (I know that sounds corny). But experiencing the lack of freedom in other countries gives me an appreciation for what our government grants us in America. Journalism in America is incredible. This country is founded on dissent and protest. American democracy is not without its fault, but I am thankful for what we have.

I love American culture (mostly). Since World War II, no other country rivals the variety and creativity shown by American musicians. We are fortunate to be blessed with people from all over the world that bring new and different influences. Wow. I love American sports (although I love soccer the best). I love American literature and art. Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Salinger, Irving, Vonnegut, are my favorites, but that is just a start.

I love American individualism. While living in a collectivist society has been good, I prefer the recognition of the individual.

I love American gender relations and the freedom that American women have. It’s not perfect but it’s something.

I am proud that America has elected Barack Hussein Obama as its president. I will be proud of his successes and ashamed of his failures.

I love these things because I am habituated to them; I love them because I grew up with them. I would have different biases if I had grown up somewhere else. I am proud that America represents these things and more.

I do not overlook or attempt to hide America’s shortcomings. They define what it means to be an American as much as the positive things. I believe that by exposing our shortcomings and having an honest discussion about them we can move forward. I see a nation that has progressed and has been a world leader in many important areas. I have hope that this will continue and that further progress will be made.


Not to be a broken record, but: everything is good here in Morocco. Since coming back from America, I have a new level of comfort in my community. It is partly because I have passed so much time here, but also due to witnessing new volunteers struggle in this culture. It reminds me of how far I have come.

Work is good. I’ve been recruiting women in several different villages for the midwife training this fall. With the help of a nearby volunteer I’m able to reach out to a greater number of villages, some of which are very isolated. Recruiting is difficult and takes time, but we’re making progress.

Other work: STI education with sex workers is going slower. When doctors came to do physical exams a couple weeks ago, they were overwhelmed by demand so decided to just conduct verbal interviews, which were not sufficient and nearly worthless. So we are hoping to identify a smaller group of interested women and get the doctors back.

Our hammam project has hit a slight road bump. The Moroccan agency that we’re working with has pushed back the meeting for hammam owners from July 7th to late July.

About a week ago there were nationwide exams for high school students finishing their studies. The exams are very important for a student’s future studies. There is one girl from my village who attends high school in a nearby city (Midelt) who had to take the exam. She was home the week before the exams to study and her dad asked me to help her as she studies English. Helping her was a lot of fun as her English was pretty good and the topics she was studying were interesting. One of the questions was on sustainable development, one on international organizations, and another on globalization. So they were right up my alley. Yesterday I talked to the girl’s father and she got very good scores on her exams; he was grateful. It was satisfying for me because her father had told me that girls weren’t smart, that only his boys would do well in school. I kept telling the dad that his daughter was smart and knew English well. When the father told me how well his daughter did, he told me: you were right, she’s smart! So that was satisfying. She’ll probably continue her studies this fall in a university in Meknes.

This past week I helped my family out some more with farm work. Having harvested a field the previous week, this week we fertilized and irrigated the field in preparation for plowing. Irrigation of fields here is interesting. Using irrigation canals, people here flood their fields. But the unevenness of the land requires them to carefully direct the water to certain parts of the field with strategically placed, temporary canals. Another complication of irrigation is that water is a precious commodity. So a family only has rights to the water canal for a limited amount of time before it is someone else’s turn. These rights and the schedule are legislated by a local group of men. The fact that the community is able to successfully organize a very complicated community situation gives me hope for future collective action. The social structure for distribution of a public good exists.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


After my post a couple weeks ago that was critical of both Moroccan and American cultures, I resolved to only have positive posts for a while. However, elections in Morocco have just happened. And, like anywhere else in the world, politics brings out the worst in people in my community. Talking about local politics has been interesting and I’ve learned a lot about the community over the past few weeks.

The current elections are nationwide, but they are local elections, not national ones. People are electing representatives for the commune. In rural areas, a commune consists of several villages. My commune, for example, contains eight villages and around 4,500 people. In urban areas, a commune consists of the city and the surrounding area. The commune is responsible for administrative issues and development.

In my commune of eight villages, there are 11 elected leaders. The name for this position is mulsheih. Most villages elect one mulsheih, but the three biggest villages in the commune elect two mulsheihen. The mulsheihen serve five-year terms. After the election, the mulsheihen of the commune meet and, from that group of eleven, elect a president for the commune. The election of the president of the commune is significant as he has much more power than the mulsheihen. As far as I can tell, the president is pretty much all-powerful. He has control over the budget for the commune and over hiring and firing at the local administration building.

Everyone over 18 years old has a vote, man and woman. Unlike America, convicted felons do not lose their right to vote.

Now the post will turn negative. Politics here are completely Machiavellian. Corruption is pervasive. People have little faith in the current candidates. When I ask my host dad about who he will vote for, he says that he will throw his ballot in the fire (not actually true). He says all the candidates are the same – worthless and greedy. People often ask me if I know what politics in Morocco are. I say no. They say: politics is just another word for lies. There are unfortunate norms here about what the role of elected officials is. Here in my community, the ideal of politicians being public servants has not taken hold. The power that comes with the elected positions of mulsheihen and president is to be bought and sold.

People talk openly about candidates selling votes. My friend told me that he sold his vote for 50 dirhams (about 6-7 dollars). However, family connections tend to play a larger role in election decisions. I ask lots of people around town whom they will vote for. Mostly people dodge my question and don’t answer. Those who do answer invariably say they are voting for someone because he is the son of their uncle or their brother or their father in law. I have heard one person make an argument for a candidate based upon his/her qualifications. My host mom told me she was voting for someone because he is literate – but the candidate also happens to be related to her. Many people have told me they will not reelect our current representative because he is corrupt. Although it is too bad that we currently have a corrupt mulsheih, at least people recognize that and unwilling to reelect him.

Considering that candidates do not have platforms for their candidacy, it could be no other way. I have not heard a candidate say anything about what he promises to do if elected. Thus money and connections decide people’s votes.

The greatest power that the president of the commune has is hiring and firing administrators at the one government building in the commune, which happens to be in my village. There are maybe 10-15 employees at this building. There is probably enough work at the building for one or two full-time employees. Since most of the employees do nothing all day long, filling the posts with competent people is not a priority. Instead the power that the president has of hiring and firing is used to a) make money and b) further entrench his power. Jobs at the commune building often go to the highest bidder, with the president collecting the money. The one person who works at the commune who has the power to expose the corruption is afraid to do so for fear of losing his job.

Roughly speaking, my commune is made up of two tribes: Ait Sliman and Ait Moussa. My village and two nearby villages make up Ait Moussa. Ait Sliman, however, has more people and thus has a little more power in the government. Most of the commune employees are from Ait Sliman. This angers people in my village and they say that the president of the commune just gives the jobs away to his family and his connections so they will keep voting for him.

Many of the commune employees are illiterate. Considering that the jobs at the commune mostly involve paperwork, this makes these employees nearly useless. They make tea. During the winter, they cut wood for the stoves in the commune building. Other than that, they sit around outside, talking. I am friends with many of the employees. I asked one of them (who is illiterate) how he got his job. He told me that his father is connected (he is from Ait Sliman). Another illiterate employee told me that he bought his job from the president. I can’t really blame the employees for exploiting their connections to get a job: they tend to be the people in town who can afford to send their kids away to better schools.

Everyone is completely aware of the corruption. It is accepted as a fact of life. Most are complicit. Honestly, it’s a depressing subject to talk about with people. Talking about politics inevitably leads to people slandering their neighbors. I had a conversation with a friend on election day and he told me, “We’re bad. The people in this village are bad. Seventy percent of people here are bad. Thirty percent are good.” These generalizations about how bad people are often turn into generalizations about Moroccans on a national scale. Someone else told me that America should not let Moroccans into America because they would corrupt people there until we were all corrupt.

There is one new development that lets me put a positive spin on a generally negative situation. A new law was just passed in Morocco that creates special posts for women in the commune government. Each commune is obligated to elect two women to the posts of mulsheihen. These women have their own elections for new posts. So instead of 11 mulsheihen in the commune, there will be 13 this year. It’s great that the Moroccan central government is mandating the inclusion of women in politics. I wonder what role the female mulsheihen will have in government once the elections are over; I fear they will be marginalized. The marginalization of women in politics is taken for granted. Obviously, it is a major obstacle to women achieving equal status in the community and household.

Although they are mostly excluded from elected government, women are able to vote. I have limited access to the politics that go on in the household, but what I have seen is interesting. My sense is that husband and wife (and their children of voting age) vote for the same candidate. I believe that political interests are conceived of in terms of a collective family unit, rather than individually. The way this decision is made varies from household to household. In my host family (which is exceptional, given the advanced age of my host dad), I witnessed my host mom explaining how to fill out his ballot to my host dad and making sure that he knows how to vote for the right person.

As someone who is working for the development of this community, witnessing its political process is disheartening. My ideal of a public servant is that he/she should govern with the interest of his/her constituency in mind rather than personal interests. An elected official in my community and I should be working together on projects, but our interests do not often overlap. I see the political sphere as a great opportunity for a community’s advancement, but that is nearly impossible in this environment.

I’ve recently read two books on development theory that were very critical of the west’s efforts to aid the third world, especially Africa. Government corruption and the failure of public institutions are often cited as obstacles to development. Witnessing this election drives that point home for me. Promoting “good governance” as a part of development has been popular for decades now. How an outside force can reverse a culture of corruption, I have no idea. I am interested to see how that works. One of the programs that I’m looking at for graduate school has a specific concentration that focuses on training development workers to promote good governance. I’d love to take some of these classes. It seems ridiculous to me that you could train someone promote good governance. Here in my community I tell people what politics is like in America and hold it up as an ideal. They agree that that is a good way of politicking, but do not change their ways.

Sadly, I do not think this is simply a failure of the elected officials to uphold high standards. Like I said above, people here are complicit in the corruption. The election is seen as an opportunity to further the interests’ of one’s household by voting for a relative or selling one’s vote. If a community collectively decided that its votes could not be bought or dictated by relationships and connections, it could hold its public servants to a higher standard, judged by their performance in office.

….I’m tempted to write a brief description of the corruption in American politics as a comparison. But I don’t think I should be making such comparisons for fear of idealizing the American political situation and condemning the Moroccan one more than I already have. Suffice it to say, my little community in rural Morocco does not have a monopoly on corruption or poor governance. The ability of politics to corrupt otherwise good people is unaffected by cultural differences.

Elections Part II – After the Vote

The votes have been tallied and some people are happy with the result and some people aren’t. Having taken a couple days to reflect on what I wrote earlier, I want to add on to what I said.

Things aren’t as bad as I wrote. Despite the ugliness of the elections, the people in my village really are good people. And although people make their election decisions differently than I would, that doesn’t make them invalid. The election did reveal a vibrant political scene that everyone in the community was involved in.

The other important thing to add on is that I have a very limited view of the political process; I rely mostly on what people tell me. Speech here tends to be absolutist. People used to say that I did not know any Tamazight, even though I could have basic conversations. Now they say that I know everything, although my vocabulary is limited, my listening comprehension could be vastly improved, and I generally speak like a bumbling idiot. When describing a person, he/she is either good or bad. Everything is well or the very sky is falling down upon us. Since I am dependent upon these absolutist judgments for what I pass on to you all, my conclusions about elections are bound to lack the subtly that would accurately describe the circumstances.


On a positive note, there are non-political institutions that do some good here in Morocco. The past week I’ve been recruiting women for a traditional birthing attendant training happening this fall. I rely on local associations to help me identify good candidates for the training and they have been very helpful. The people that I’m working with do not directly benefit from the help that they give me, but are nonetheless very willing to help me out.

In addition to recruiting women for the training, I’ve been helping my host family with their annual barley harvest. It’s hot work. The most enjoyable part of the work is listening to the songs that people sing while they work. They are very soulful and express the difficulties of life in the mountains. I hope to get hold of a microphone and recorder before the wheat harvest so I can capture the sound.

There is one funny story from harvest. Having loaded up our mule with a relatively small load of grass, my host dad and I started walking back to our barn. My host dad was walking very slowly and told me to go ahead. I told him I didn’t know right way to take the mule. He told me to go ahead anyways. When I came to a fork in the road, I tried to go right, but the mule refused to budge. I assumed the mule knew better than I, so I went left. This led me to a precarious road, upsetting the mule and causing him to shake his load free. As I was trying to calm the mule and reload the grass (a difficult task for one normal person, impossible for me), my least favorite person in my community came walking down the road from the other direction. For those of you who have been following my posts from the start, there was a guy who threatened me in my first few weeks in my community and was subsequently sent to prison for six months. Ever since his release from prison, he completely ignores me and will do a 180 degree turn if we are walking towards each other. Well he saw me struggling with the mule and stopped in his tracks. He stood there awkwardly, trying to hide behind a tree for about a minute, watching me fail to get the grass back on my mule’s back. He couldn’t turn around, however, because he had come to fetch a carpet that was laid out to dry only 10 feet from where my load of grass was dropped. I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. He eventually got the courage to pick up his carpet. Once he walked away, a couple kids spotted me struggling to reload my mule and came to help me. They took me back to the fork in the road and pointed me on my way (I had been right. Lesson: never trust a mule’s brain over your own).

Things are well. I had been in site for about 10 days before coming into my market town today. I’m feeling comfortable here. I’m glad to be busy with work and helping my family with their harvest. People are good to me.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Extended Update

First, in an earlier post entitled “America,” I wrote some things that easily could have been perceived as very critical of American culture. I’d just like to say that I meant the tone of that post to be joking and light – I didn’t mean to express that I don’t like America. I had a great time in America and I love the country.

Next, several people have asked why I wrote my last post, “No To War.” I wrote it for a creative writing group that I am a part of. The prompt for that essay was: Is war ever justified? That was my response. I posted it on my blog because a) I thought people would be interested and b) there aren’t enough people saying publicly what I said.

About a week and a half ago, I spent two days in Midelt working on a project with hammams (public baths) there. As I’ve explained before, our project with hammams is to convince the hammam owners to convert their stoves to a more efficient kind of stove in order to reduce wood consumption. When I was in Midelt, two other volunteers and I went around to all the hammams in the town (21) to collect basic diagnostic data from the owners and briefly explain the project. We got data about wood consumption, their current furnace, and how many clients frequent their hammam. Using this data we hope show the owners how much money they would save (in reduceed wood costs) if they convert to the more efficient stove. I thought the meetings went very well. Luckily we have found a local man who is interested in the project and well connected. He accompanied us to the hammams, which was very helpful. Some of the hammam owners were very interested in the project, others not. But I’m hopeful that after we make our big pitch to the owners (early July) that at least one hammam will convert.

After my time in Midelt, all volunteers in the country had a consolidation drill. Peace Corps wants all the volunteers to be able to get to consolidation points (spread throughout the country) in case of an emergency. So I was called to Meknes. It was a lot of time and money just for a drill, but the drill meant that I got to watch the Champions League Final (which I otherwise would have missed), so it wasn’t all bad. Also I like Meknes and the people there.

Back at site, I only had a few days before leaving again. I tried to hang out with people as much as possible. On Saturday I went to Tounfite for a going away party for David and Kristin LaFever. On Sunday night I accompanied them to Casablanca (where they caught their plane) and I went onto Rabat.

In Rabat, all the health volunteers who swore in with me (over a year ago) had mid-service medicals. We all got physicals, a dental check-up, and tests for tuberculosis and parasites. I got a clean bill of health! My biggest health problem was “a little dandruff.” I weigh 4 more pounds than I did than when I came into country over 15 months ago. Although this is partly due to being healthy in Morocco, it may also because I stuffed my face with delicious food for 2 weeks in America. My favorite part of the health check-ups was definitely the dental clean. No cavities. In a sort of backhanded compliment (or fronthanded insult) the dentist commented on the discoloration of my teeth and said that it was due to all the fluoride in the water in America. Then he said that the fluoride was why I didn’t have any cavities, so it was a good thing. Uh, thanks.

In addition to the health stuff in Rabat, I also had fun seeing all the people from my stage, most of whom I haven’t seen since November. I also really like Rabat and I enjoyed walking around. The best day I had there was Tuesday, when I had no appointments. I bought a half kilo of apricots (which are my favorite fruit at the moment) and a half kilo of cherries. I took the fruit, a book, and my ipod down to the beach and relaxed for several hours.

The other notable thing about Rabat was my interactions with the other volunteers. Volunteers here have wide range of experiences and perspectives on Morocco and their time here. Unfortunately, some volunteers are quite unhappy here and have very negative attitudes. They are quick to anger and they expect the worst from Moroccans. It made me grateful for my happiness here. Also grateful that the volunteers around me are positive people.

Wrapping up, being back in Morocco has been good. I miss America and family and friends there, but at the same time I’m excited for the next year. My comfort level in the country and my ability to navigate social situations is way up, making things easier. I’ve learned some Arabic, which means that I have an easier time interacting with people in cities. This summer is going to be full of rewarding work (inchallah). And the summer is the most beautiful time of the year in my site. It sucks that David, Kristin, and Mara are gone, but I like the new people around me.

I hope all is well back home, take care.