Posted in Uncategorized by Diana on March 31, 2010

“Please don’t hit [or punish] Diana and Crisi.”

–       My protective 7-year-old host brother’s words to my (strict) LCF/teacher

Familianu means my family in Tashleheit. For the record, my LCF does not use corporal punishment to discipline us. My fellow PCTs and I usually gesture when we speak to further our point, just in case our language skills are incomprehensible. As such, we point to our watches every morning, indicating that our LCF is strict and does not like when we are late.

Who knew that my very own family in the US would prepare so me well with the skills I’d need for PC? I mean that in every sense – foreign language, different culture, eating habits, family values, respect for different people, an open mind and a willingness to learn from others, sharing information, humility, and the list continues.

There are gender roles and gender restrictions in Morocco and Muslim culture. The community and head of the family usually define the extent of these. Women are less visible here even though they maintain pivotal roles in the family and society. In addition, some have more freedom than others.

Clearly, I don’t agree with every aspect of the culture. Luckily, I’m not expected to conform to all the norms. I find that when I don’t agree with a practice or cultural norm here, I don’t blame it on anyone or anything. Rather, I try to understand the situation. This really helps me grasp reality and to not feel offended when a local woman reacts negatively when, for instance, she realizes I have more freedom to be independent during my time here than she does.

There are different strategies for community integration. Two big ones: language learning and community interaction. My language isn’t stellar so I guess that means I’ve been doing a lot more community interaction. No complaints – I’ve enjoyed PST and the company of my host family immensely.

Speaking of host family, I really enjoy being around my host siblings. The 3 oldest are genuinely interested in learning. While I realize teaching English to them is also helpful, I did more basic arithmetic with them tonight! I even had the two girls complete their own multiplication tables. I figure knowing multiplications, and being comfortable doing them, will help them more in the next few years of school than speaking a lot of English, plus they’re already learning Arabic and French.

I talked to them about school tonight. We talked about going to university and the two oldest, girls, seem hopeful about it, inshallah. They know what it is and they know where one is. The third oldest, brother who I quoted above, said he doesn’t want to go to because he doesn’t want to learn Arabic anymore. I hope that perception changes soon. He can study whatever he wants at university! Plus, he’s a really smart boy. He helps out around the house, does chores, and (as noted above) looks out for his family! The girls do chores around the house too. Honestly, all of my home stay siblings are great kids!

A PCT noted I seem to be really happy with my current home stay family. Yes, that is absolutely true. Another commented on how well I interact with the kids. I can’t help myself – they’re so fun to be around. On top of that, they are so patient with me when I try to speak Tashleheit with them.

placement interview, religion and education

Posted in Uncategorized by Diana on March 30, 2010

Moroccan olives (black and green) are delicious! Final site placement interviews took place today!

This morning, we learned how to conjugate verbs into the past tense. Hope I remember how to, inshallah! Conjugating verbs is like a puzzle – placing the verb with the pattern that it fits into (or the exception).

After lunch, each PCT had her site placement interview with the Health Program Assistant. We were told to expect 15-20 minutes for each. Not surprising, mine took longer. 🙂

PC/Morocco staff members – director, medical, program, and LCFs – are fantastic. Not only do they take the time to get to know who you are before you arrive in country but, as a PCT (at least), they take the time to listen and get to know you more when you’re finally in country. They don’t just do a cursory read, they study the information provided to them on questionnaires that I completed before I reported to Staging. They know about your work experience and interests, they ask you about your preferences (with the caveat that there’s no guarantee for anything).

During my interview, I shared a few anecdotes about my PCT and home stay experiences thus far. I was prompted to indicate some preferences about final site placement. My old office got a shout out, too! Apparently, Morocco used to be a PEPFAR country but now the government has funds set aside for HIV/AIDS-specific programs. I’m encouraged by the feedback I received. The Program Assistant also shared tips on how to transition/integrate into the next home stay since 1) I won’t have class anymore and 2) this will be my site for two years.

I walked out of my interview feeling really excited. This is it – Peace Corps is happening! It’s here! (As if this hasn’t been PC already.)

When I got home, I practiced Tashleheit with my sisters. I “talked” to them about school and education, asking them how many years they still had in the “little school” (elementary) before going to “college” (middle school). I tried asking the oldest where she wanted to go to school or if she’d go to the college in this douar.

This evening, between evening tea and dinner, I spent time with my host family. First, I made a calendar of my remaining time – yikes! Yes, CBT is halfway over! Only one month left! – in Agouim. It’s going to fly by so quickly. When it was done, I explained it to the family and I had the kids help me decide where to post this calendar. We all agreed to post it outside my room. Each day after school, we’re all going to cross out a day on the calendar, indicating that day has past. Maybe this will give them some indication of time (since “time is timeless” here and it can definitely stretch a long way).

Next, I brought out my map of Morocco. I explained (or attempted to) that all the PCTs in Agouim will be leaving on May 1st and showed them some of the other CBT sites. Then I tried to explain that I won’t be going home after this but that I’ll be assigned to another douar in Morocco. I gestured that I was sad about leaving Agouim. I think this message got across because my host mother said something afterwards. Fortunately, we didn’t dwell on this bittersweet topic for too long, otherwise it would have been awkward.

The family became fascinated with the map. They “showed” me places in Morocco and told me where they’ve been. They showed me where some of their family members live. It was an interactive activity.

Afterwards, I hung out with just the sisters. I taught them both English at first but later split between English and Math (basic arithmetic). They, along with their younger brother, seem to enjoy learning and I want to encourage that. Good for them!

During dinner, however, I felt a different vibe at the dinner table. I still don’t understand a majority of conversations but I think, and I could be wrong, that the parents wanted the children to learn Tashleheit, not English. Earlier, I also felt higher education was not discussed, as if the parents have other plans for their children. I hope it’s not to stay within the douar, inshallah. I hope the daughters have the same educational opportunities as the boys in the family.

Children start learning and memorizing pages of the Koran while in elementary. Clearly, religion is an important of the culture and I respect Moroccan’s religion and devout faith.. But…a part of me wants to ask, to what extent? Not only do “more traditional” communities hinder the intellectual development of their females but Muslims (and religious people in general) should not be scared of learning new methods and adopting new ways to improve their socioeconomic status. One can be religious and intellectually curious at the same time.

something different

Posted in Uncategorized by Diana on March 29, 2010

New experience in Morocco: feeling tired, slightly sick.

Symptoms: slight nasal congestion, body aches, feeling cold but face is warm, tired, and drowsy.

I attribute this to not sleeping well last night. I want to write more but I’m listening to my body and will take it easy tonight.

Today: school and minimal contact with family tonight. Sick and achy does not make an engaging me.

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you high and dry.  My thought of the day:

Make me think – inspire me.

Ankrim: I weave with Berbers

Posted in Uncategorized by Diana on March 28, 2010

First SDL day that I didn’t have concrete plans to travel with other PCTs. This worked out in my favor in that I got to a preview life as a PCV.

I “slept in” until 8:30am. I greeted my host family (everyone was already up and moving) and quickly ate breakfast. I kept my word on helping to clean the house – I swept water out from the back of the house to the top stairs. I braided my host sister’s hair. I agreed to visit extended family.

This “visit” turned out to be a full-day affair. I walked with host sisters and cousin to Ankrim, the next (small) douar that’s on the hill across the dry riverbed. Walking through green (albeit often polluted) fields and hopping across streams made me feel like I was in a scene from the “Sounds of Music” movie sans matching green outfits made out of window curtains.

On the way, we saw two groups of tourists (easily identifiable by the attire both men and women were wearing – shorts and tank tops). I derived some satisfaction from discussing that I am not a tourist. I am their sister; I am part of the family. 🙂

When we arrived, we were greeted by one of three sisters (six siblings total – five gals and one fella) who were home. We were immediately taken to the guest/visitor room. Turns out we were visiting my host cousin’s cousins. We didn’t stay there long. We migrated into the kitchen, where we met the second sister who was preparing late-morning tea. I spoke some Tashleheit and laughed a lot more because I didn’t understand enough to keep the conversation flowing. Third sister appears. We returned to the visitor room for tea.

Following tea, a few of us walk around the douar to visit (or look for) someone. When we get back, I meet host cousin’s friends. Then it’s back upstairs for lunch – tagine-prepared eggs and sardines with onions, cilantro, and a few other ingredients. Bread is the utensil and carb in the meal (as it is for most meals). After lunch, we hang out in the visitor room and watch some TV. This family has a computer in another room. They turn it on and prompt me to use it but 1) there’s no internet connection, 2) I don’t know what they want me to do with the computer, and 3) it’s in French (minor inconvenience). We return to the visitor room and relax for a little. At this point, I’m no sure how long we’ll be there/I hope we’re not just sitting there for an extended time or else I’ll fall asleep. Sister who I met in the kitchen suggests we take a walk around the douar. YES! That’s something to do.

We end up hiking a hill to see another family member. I don’t mind, I had pretty much blocked out most of this day for host family anyway. Special treat: there’s a carpet/rug weaver in this house! Not only does she have her own weaver’s “frame” (for lack of a better word) but I get to see it up close and, soon enough, help weave the carpet she’s making! I ask questions about it (i.e., how long a big rug takes to weave, how big this one will be) and watch how two women adjust the frame to lower the completed portion of the carpet and tighten the strings holding up the rug. I’m happy I got to learn because I wanted to during PC and I got to do something other than sit, watch TV, and listen to women talk around me without understanding anything they’re saying.

[For the record, I think my childhood and upbringing prepared me well for PC because I did a lot of that when my parents would take my brother and I around to visit their friends when we were little.]

I don’t know how much time passes during my weaving. Soon enough, it’s time to leave. We bid farewell to the family members (grandmother dressed in traditional Berber garb, the mother steering the rug-making project, and the sister who came with us). We return with another sister who came later with my other host sister.

Back at the house, we have afternoon coffee-with-milk and cake. Yummy! We leave the house but before we can bid farewell, host sisters, host cousin, and her cousin decide to walk to a scenic part of the douar (for what’s essentially a photo shoot with my camera). By this time, young people and kids were peppered around the neighborhood peering at the foreigner (me) walking around their douar.

As we were leaving back to Agouim, the host sisters invited me to sleepover at their house. It was a really nice gesture but I declined. I have class tomorrow, I said. Then again, it was nice being around local people closer to my age.

Host family members and I walk back to Agouim. I noticed the women take a roundabout way through the fields and back roads to avoid walking through Agouim’s main street. The first time I saw this happen, I didn’t understand it. However, after a cross-cultural discussion at hub, I think I understand it better: public spaces (i.e., the main road in Agouim) were historically places where only men walked. (LAME.) I was pretty tired at this point, so I wanted to ask why we were taking the main road but 1) my vocabulary isn’t extensive enough for that yet and 2) I was going with the flow to see where we’d go. The roundabout path worked out because we ended up meeting up with my host mother and brothers.

As we approached the main road closer to the hill of houses, I parted ways with my host family. The other PCTs were hanging out at a café and I needed some time to relax, decompress, and recharge my energy. Ended up going to another PCT’s house for tea before returning to mine.

All in all, I liked how I spent my day. I learned, saw, and spoke (Tashleheit) a lot. It was productive (in terms of cultural learning and community integration) even if I wasn’t super active throughout the entire day. I was tired and didn’t want to interact with my host family as much afterwards so I completed my homework with great focus and concentration. By the end of tonight, however, I reminded myself that such low-energy moments are part of the experience and that I don’t want such moments to carry over. Thus, I decided to withdraw from conversation without being rude tonight.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow, a brand new day, and hub, later this week.

s-soq, yoga, host family

Posted in Uncategorized by Diana on March 27, 2010

…White people mean business.

– PCT (identity withheld)*

*In reference to the typical experience a foreigner (in particular PCTs and PCVs) can expect at souq.

Everyday contains its own surprises. Today was no exception.

Quick note: I remember dreams more often after I wake up. I’ve also had a few déjà vu’s since arriving in country. What’s the significance?

Saturdays are s-soq (farmers’ market) days. Although married women and some young girls generally don’t go to souq, I consider it a social event, especially for PCTs (and PCVs). You see town officials (i.e., L-Mqaddem and Gendarmes), family members, and townspeople. It’s also a good place to be seen, especially if you’re trying to integrate into the community.

Today, after one-on-one language check-ins with the LCF, my CBT group went without him. We were responsible for buying the week’s groceries (and not getting ripped off while at it). When we got there, we split into two groups and took a divide-and-conquer approach with our list.

In the beginning, the three of us definitely attracted an audience: the douar’s mentally unstable person and adolescent boys. Despite these distractions, we successfully purchased everything on our list. One tactic we used to gauge the price locals pay was to ask the locals – other shoppers – what the price was for an item. We all regrouped and headed back to our lmdrasa (school) together.

On the way back to school, a few of us discussed the souq experience. One PCT commented on some vendors’ tendencies to triple the price for foreigners. Another PCT followed up with “….White people mean business.”

Yes, that’s what the second PCT said, word for word sans a few words before that. Even if I remembered the words that came before that, they’d do nothing to extricate this PCT from this racial comment. Clearly, I was really surprised and (even more) shocked by this PCT’s choice of words. (“Really?? Did I just hear that correctly??” was what rang through my head.)

I caught that comment and quickly responded with “Or volunteers in general” in reference to PCVs not wanting (and refusing) to get ripped off when shopping at s-soq. There was no verbal acknowledgment of this error from the person who said it. Then again, silence ensued for most of the walk back to lmdrasa and as the saying goes, “sometimes silence is louder than words.”

  • For the record, I am Asian American (and not Caucasian).
  • Instead of retorting with “I’m not white,” I carefully chose my words before responding with, “volunteers in general” because PC is comprised of so many ethnicities (vs. more/less of my own).
  • Irony in this situation: during the first few days of PST, current PCVs discussed how instrumental Caucasian/non-ethnic-Americans voices can be in explaining diversity in America.
  • As it turns out, part of the PC experience is to educate other Americans about the people of/in America. There aren’t only Caucasians in America and Caucasian-Americans aren’t the only Americans who volunteer (or perform other duties) outside of the US. Also, I think America would benefit from being on the receiving end of other countries’ volunteers. America is not as comfortable with diversity and equality as it prides itself to be. Some people and places still suffer from an “us vs. them” (or worse yet, “me vs. them”) mindset.
  • Japan has an equivalent volunteer corps to the US PC. Some of their volunteers are posted in Morocco. As such, and in a similar vein to the point above, not all volunteers serving in Morocco are from the US.
  • I am proud, but not arrogant, about being an American-Born-Chinese (ABC). I don’t consider myself better or worse off than others because of this. Rather, I try to use my knowledge, experience, and skills as an ethnic-American to relate and sympathize with others.
  • Finally, I’m really happy with the network of friends I’ve cast for myself thus far. In some ways, they’re different than the friends I have back home. In other ways, they complement the type of people I keep as friends back home. They are open-minded, hardworking, thoughtful, and considerate. They are spiritual but don’t try to impose their religion or worldviews upon me (although they often overlap). We realized we don’t have all the answers so we teach, learn from, and share with one another. We respect, support, and look out for each other. No one’s better than another; each person brings a different set of knowledge, skills, and experiences to these next two years.

I’m not bitter, I’m just more aware. More importantly, I’m not going to let this person’s comment negatively affect my (thus far positive) experience. Rather, this was a teaching and learning opportunity during CBT. Moving on to the rest of my day…

I helped prepare the ingredients for lunch – fajitas! Absolutely delicious! Who said you can’t bring other cultures to Morocco during PC service? 🙂 While the food was cooking, a fellow PCT described my outlook on life by asking questions on four different categories: animal (personality), color (how people see you), white room (death), and sea (sex).

After lunch, a few of us studied on the roof of the lmdrasa. The weather in Agouim is warming up – woohoo! I stayed for yoga, too. This marks my first time working out since I arrived. I like yoga and its calming effects but I tend to laugh and chat during class. We’ll see whether I stay with it for the rest of CBT. Not to worry – I have P90X waiting for me. I’ll start that once I have my own place (and more room to move around) at my final site.

I’m really happy with my host family. My language is improving (imik s imik, swiya b siwya) so I can communicate with them in broken Tashglish sentences now. This is a really exciting development for me. J Not only do they remind me of my family back home – by the way, my host mom is the disciplinarian and reminds me of my grandmother – but they treat me as an actual member of their family too!

Take this evening: Myself and three other PCTs went over to another PCT’s house for a movie. I told them I’d be home at 9:30pm but arrived closer to 10:00pm because my PCT-neighbor and I walked the other two girls home so they wouldn’t have to walk alone. I hoped/thought they would’ve eaten dinner while I was out but they completely waited for me!

As mentioned above, today was s-soq day. While the host mom prepared dinner, she unpacked some of the bags from the shopping my host father did there this morning. When she brought out a honeydew, I asked how much a kilo cost. She didn’t know (since her host father does the shopping) so off went one of my host sisters to ask the father. Little did I expect, this would segue into an interactive conversation at the dinner table.

First, I told them my friends and I went to s-soq. We bought vegetables and fruits; the ustad (teacher) bought the chicken. Back at school, we cooked chicken and veggies for lunch. I listed the ingredients. Then I started to ask how much a kilo of certain items normally cost. Next thing I know, I’m pulling out the shopping list to review with the family. This marks the first extended conversation I’ve had with host father, who is a good, hardworking family man. It was a fun and interactive experience. I would state the item, tell him and the family the amount I bought and the price and paid, and verify whether it was a mzyan (good) or ur myzan (not good) price. (I’ve yet to learn the word for bad).  “Mzyan,” he’d reply and smile after each line item. I think he and my host mother were happy that I didn’t pay an extravagant amount while shopping at s-soq. Me too!

To be fair, ustad did tell us how much each item usually costs before we embarked to s-soq on our own, but I’m really happy that I got to share this experience with the family. Host mother and sisters got to see how much veggies and fruits cost at the s-soq (and that a woman can shop there!).

What else…oh yes. Methinks I agreed to help wash the house and do field work on Sunday (technically today since it’s 1:22am). This will be the first full day I spend with the family (assuming I don’t meet up with the other PCTs) since I don’t have school on Sundays and I won’t be traveling. Host mother asked me if I’d make lunch for them tomorrow (half jokingly, I think). “Inshallah,” I replied and quickly added, “maybe next week.” Hahaha. We ate lots of fruit after dinner, too – honeydew, banana, apple, and orange. Yummy!

Question of the day: What does one American cook for a Moroccan family of two parents, four children (age 10 and under), and possibly a 20-something year old cousin?

Suggestions welcome!

PC: I’m finally caught up to where I want my life to be. I’m in Morocco. I’m living abroad. I’m learning a new language and living in a different culture. I’m so happy to have my dream and goal come true. No need to pinch me, I’m fully awake. I love my life. 🙂