Monday, August 30, 2010

Mabgitsh nsyam

OK, so I did an involuntary fast on Saturday. Two Fulbright scholars from Fes came down for the day. I wasn’t hungry before they arrived, but had planned to make a nice salad for lunch. Then I find out that they’re both fasting. So there go the lunch plans, and I know they’re thirsty, but it’s not like I’m gonna drink in front of them. So instead, off we go to the meetings I’d set up for them w/the Adwal women and the ATPF Association women. By the time they leave and I run a couple of errands, it’s l-ftr time (break of fast at dusk) and I’m very lightheaded since I’ve been sweating up a storm all day long. I drink some water and eat a shbekya (fried dough slathered in honey) that the ATPF women were making. Have a bit of dinner. Feel like crap. Watch some download TV shows. Go to bed and read. Until 3am. Not sleepy. No energy all day, seriously dehydrated all day long in 110 degree heat, then feel like crap when I finally consume something. I had no motivation whatsoever to fast before, and now having made it only a single day, I’m not going there again.

We did have a good day talking w/Adwal and the ATPF women. Lauren and Rebecca are researching the impact of microfinance on women’s business enterprises and both want to stay after their Fulbright money runs out to develop training on domestic violence. They’ve both got great language and had good discussions with all of the women they met. Lauren had her camera to take shots of the women making shbekya and I hope she remembers to send them to me-it’s such a tradition. Of course, they also fell in love with the women and REK-naturally. Is it any wonder that I love ‘showing off’ REK and the wonderful people here?

Then yesterday I was invited to join Khalid and Siham in El Menzel for l-ftr. I haven’t been travelling as much during Ramadan this year, so had not really checked out the late afternoon transport situation. Mushkil. Nothing running out of REK after about 4:30pm. Nothing-unless you want to buy out a taxi for round trip fare. (Taxis take 6 passengers-2 in the front passenger seat and 4 across the back. You want to buy it out, you pay for all 6 seats. And if they aren’t otherwise going, you have to pay r-t fare. Gets pricey to say the least!). Imagine-no means of transport out of your town after 4:30 in the afternoon, until the next morning. Of course, it’s hard to blame the drivers-they’ve been driving while fasting all day long in the heat and want/need a break. Fortunately El Menzel is the next closest town, so buying out r-t fare was all of 60DH, or about $7.50.

Khalid met me and took me to Siham’s family’s house. What a nice house, ie; western toilet and tp!, and a wonderful family. Naturally we all sat around and watched the DVD of their wedding-both DVDs, maybe 3 hours worth. This is very typical-visitors are almost always brought family photos to look at and wedding videos. The difference here was I wanted to see the video since I wasn’t able to go to the wedding (it was while I was in Uganda).

We had l-ftr and then went for a walk around town. I was absolutely amazed at the number of people out walking around. Since there is almost no vehicular traffic (only a few personal vehicles on the road), the people flood the street. I didn’t realize how much bigger El Menzel is than REK until I saw the streets so filled for such a distance. Everyone comes out and walks around after l-ftr and they’ve got full bellies and are hydrated and it’s cooled off a bit. It’s a parade of ‘meet and greet’-feels festive every night. I think this is my favorite thing about Ramadan.

I also had an interesting discussion w/Khalid about enforcement of fasting. He mentioned that Max at ‘the Clock’ refused to serve some Moroccans who came into the café since it was Ramadan. Case it point, it was reported yesterday: ‘Moroccan police arrested two minors in Marrakech because they were eating in the street during daylight hours this month of Ramadan, reported the Moroccan daily "Assabah". According to the newspaper, the juveniles were arrested and are waiting to be brought in front of a judge. The newspaper quoted an eyewitness, who said that the minors were arrested after an officer of the security forces saw them eating in public in plain view of several people. Article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code punishes public eating during daylight hours during Ramadan with a penalty of between one and six months in jail and a fine of about $150.’ So how is ‘the Clock’ responsible if they serve a Muslim person? And how do they know that this “Moroccan” person is Muslim? After all, even if born Muslim in Morocco, they may have converted. And this is a café that serves food all day. Maybe just to those who look like ‘foreigners’? Could Max and the café personnel be held liable if they serve a practicing Muslim who breaks the fast ‘publically’ in the café? I asked Khalid what he thought. He thought Max did the right thing-it would be hard for the café staff to see a Muslim eating during the day during Ramadan. Hmm. Interesting.

Anyway, Khalid and Siham had to go to work today, so they had a friend who was going to take them to Fes also return me to REK on the way last night. But first we had to stop back by Siham’s house so she and Khalid could have some dinner (it was now around midnight). Despite the insistence that I eat, I told them that since I don’t fast, l-ftr was my dinner and I didn’t need another meal (I mean really, just take a look!). They’ve invited me back for couscous anytime, and if they lived closer, I’d readily take them up on it-such a lovely family. Shukran bzzaf.

Friday, August 27, 2010

New Tune

Looked back over recent postings. What a bitch-not me, the weather and the boredom! Yes, I need to get a new tune.

Soooo, what does one do in times like these?
1. Bake-made brownies. Hey-it’s not like it’s gonna heat up the kitchen
2. Do laundry-to get your feet wet and to have something that smells fresh and clean.
3. Shower. Multiple times daily. I’m not kidding.
4. Dishes-without having to heat up a kettle of water to rinse.
5. Learn chess. OK, so I’m just playing the game on my computer and have lost all 32 games I’ve played, but hey, it’s taking longer to lose each time. That’s something, right?
6. Count the # of liters of water consumed to see if I break a new daily record.
7. Plan trips-like post-COS Spain trip to Seville and Barcelona-and Seattle in January-can’t wait!
8. Skype. With everyone. And anyone. You online?
9. Research topics interesting and obscure-see #10.
10. Post to my blog. Again.

That call to prayer I’ve referred to? The one that sounds like a symphony when 20 mosques start simultaneously in the Fes Medina? Here’s a bit more about it:

It’s called the Adhan and Muslim are called to prayer five times a day. The call to prayer is heard at dawn, at the midday, about the middle of the afternoon, just after sunset, and at night fall about an hour after sunset. It is virtually identical the world over (ie; slight variations for Sunni and Shiite Muslim), the same each of the 5 times every day.

The muezzin is the man appointed to call to prayer and typically is no longer required to climb the minaret; instead he will use a loud speaker.

Responding to this call on Friday afternoon, praying in the mosque, and making the pledge to Allah, is the only thing needed to become a Muslim. At this point one crosses over from ‘Dar ul Harb’, the house of the pagan, into ‘Dar ul Islam’, the house of Islam (submission).

A prayer carpet may carried by the Muslim to the mosque, or to the place of business if he cannot leave to attend mosque. At the times of prayer, he will determine the direction of Mecca, roll out his prayer carpet, and say his prayers to Allah. Women do not commonly attend mosque, and if they do, there is a segregated section in the back or side for the women to pray. Whether the Muslim can attend mosque or not, or if they are otherwise occupied during the call to prayer, the expectation is that they still take time out 5x/day to pray. If you are in a business transaction or a place where music is playing, both will be suspended until the end of the call to prayer.

ADHAN:The Call to Prayer
1 Allah u Akbar, Allah u Akbar
-- Allah is Great, Allah is Great
2-Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah - Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah
-- I bear witness that there is no divinty but Allah
3 Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasulullaah
-- I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger
4 Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasulullaah.
-- I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger
5 Hayya la-s-saleah - Hayya la-s-saleah
-- Hasten to the prayer, Hasten to the prayer
6 Hayya la-l-faleah - Hayya la-l-faleah
-- Hasten to real success, Hasten to real success,
7 Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar
-- Allah is Great, Allah is Great
8 La Ilaha ill Allah
-- There is no divinity but Allah

Adhan is now completed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Suf. KanHtarm dyn dyalk, 3afek katHarm dyali. It was inevitable. The religion discussion during Ramadan. Just didn’t expect it from the Busta boys. Trying to pick up my package from Peace Corps. They’re holding it hostage as they double-team me with questions. Do I fast? No. Do I pray? No. Do I believe in Allah?

Htarm. To Respect (Darija). verb 1: a relation or reference to a particular thing or situation 2: an act of giving particular attention: consideration 3a : high or special regard : esteem b: the quality or state of being esteemed

Now I know that a lot of PCVs tell little white lies during Ramadan-that they’re fasting, etc. I simply choose to be honest with whoever asks. If they want to know, I’ll tell them. I don’t go around advertising that I don’t fast or pray. Neither do I eat or drink in front of anyone else outside of my apartment. That’s simply being considerate.

I do believe however that there is value in honesty surrounding fasting during Ramadan. The goals of the Peace Corps include helping people of other nations to better understand people of the U.S. In my case, that is someone who is not religious, but respects the beliefs of others. If I’m not honest with them, how do they learn about our differences and similarities and debunk prejudices?

So thank goodness I was inspired by all the cooking last week in Ain Leuh. I just polished of the remainder of the Asian chicken salad leftovers-made it 3 full days. Lovin’ that! And of course with a chaser of a liter of water. These days the only exercise I’m getting is walking to the bathroom after I’ve downed yet another liter. Lost count today of how many I’ve consumed. Fortunately the power and water have held on through this heat, so I can refill and refrig the empties.

Now I’m down to mind-numbing boredom. No one and I mean NO one is working these days. Go by to get the info from Hind that she was proofing in Arabic. Gave it to her 2 weeks ago. Not done. Meriem’s office is closed, so will have to wait to update her on the PCPP. Hassan’s hanut closed so can’t get the memory card I need for the Coop’s new camera. Fortunately the Couscous Coop women are working hard-making bread and miloui for l-ftr, and I confirm that they’ll do a workshop for tourists with Gail on the 7th. If it wasn’t for my computer and internet, I’d be pulling out every grey hair on my head. I’m counting the days, the hours. Goin’ crazy. So I’ve started some lists….

Things I will not miss from Morocco...

Eating with bread as my utensil, food cooked until it’s mushy, lack of lines, prices in ryals (equivalent to nickels), long boring evenings, lack of insulation/air conditioning/heating, washing my laundry by hand-esp in freezing weather, my buta gas oven w/o thermometer, donkey poop on the sidewalk, Ramadan and Leid Kbir, stuffed transits, 12 hour bus rides racing thru the Tishka pass w/people vomiting right and left, no napkins, no hot water in the kitchen, being stared at, stuffed w/6 other people in a grand taxi, needing Pepto Bismol on a regular basis, electricity and water outages, running out of phone credits when you really need to use your phone and there’s nowhere to buy minutes, the intense heat of summer and intense cold of winter, sheep heads and intestines in the zwiqa, saying what I WANT to say-not what I CAN say, reporting wherever I go, not being able to drive myself wherever I want to go, Turkish toilet and making certain I’ve brought in Kleenex for tp, sharing a single water glass, corruption, waiting-and waiting-and waiting and fighting with the petit taxi driver to katstml l magana!

And for fair balance, some of the things I will miss from Morocco...

The incredible hospitality of the people, my friends, the women of the Coop and Jam3ia-I really love them, couscous Fridays, miloui, Fatima’s family, all my dear friends in Fes, Café Clock, Jess, having ns ns in the café downstairs, the view of the zlul and mountains from the Coop, festivals, long walks w/Fouzia, the affordability of seeing the country, the concert of simultaneous calls to prayer from the 20+ mosques in the Fes Medina, the amazing availability of public transportation to get almost anywhere in the country-from the largest city to the smallest duoar, sweet mint tea, zllij, homemade bread every day, donkeys, meeting someone on a walk and being invited in for tea, Amina Yabis and her incredible initiative, American Club, Fes and its fabulous medina, Moroccan prices, summer breezes on the roof and incredible star gazing at night, the quiet of the country, purple olives and fresh olive oil, did I mention the women of the Coop and Jam3ia?, not worrying about hair and makeup, not having to drive anywhere, the beautiful diversity of Morocco-landscape, people, cultures, Moroccan greetings, their loyalty, watching the wave of men in their white gandora flooding to Friday noon prayer, sitting at a café as long as you want, taking the train, watching the women weave, getting the Coop to the point of asking for information-not money/design and color choices/finishing quality, clementines and pomegranates…the list could go on.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Daily Summer Life

So I managed to get to Fes on Friday just in time for l-ftr. I mean just in time. As in I managed to flag down the only taxi still running. Everyone in Fes was eating/drinking. We sped all the way across town, including blowing through stop lights, because there was no other car on the road-in all of Fes. Had to sit outside the locked door of the hotel until they’d finished eating before checking in. Normal Ramadan life.

Saturday I got up to head over to Marjane (as close as Morocco gets to a Target) to get a number of items. Got there around 9am, figuring that they’re big enough, they’d be open. Nope. Didn’t open until 10, and by that time I was joined by about 30 others who also were unclear on Ramadan hours. Normal Ramadan confusion.

I did buy the Adwal women a digital camera. PCV Ali from down south has one that she was going to donate to the Coop, but I’ve not managed to get it and the next opportunity won’t be until late September. Since I don’t know its condition and need to train the Adwal women, esp. Nora and Ferida, how to use it, I don’t want to wait until the last minute. Thus this purchase which will be my gift to the Coop.

I then went on a lamp hunt. In Morocco, buildings are finished with bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and most people leave them as is. This is the case in Adwal’s new showroom that’s nearing completion. I decided to get them traditional Moroccan light covers-carved brass-that were going to need some modifications. I finally struck a good deal deep in the medina, and dragged my sorry ass back uphill to Boujeloud, got my computer and parked same sorry ass for several hours at Café Clock to use their wi-fi. It’s where I can eat and drink during the long Ramadan day-and it was so blazing hot out that I needed the water. Note-cafes do not have a/c in the medina. I had a chance to quickly Skype w/Debbie and wish nephew Philip a Happy Birthday ‘live’. Nice.

I also managed to finally connect w/the woman who makes goat cheese out of Meknes. She wants me to come and see/talk with her before bringing the ATPF Association women out to see her. I need schedule this, as it would be SO much easier to get the Association’s questions answered in Meknes vs the long trip down to Ouarzazate. Inshallah I can put this together.

I decided to stay another night in Fes and sleep in the luxury of the a/c at the Boujeloud Hotel-for 150 DH, it’s quite a deal (that’s about $20).

Yesterday bright and early I headed back down to Place Seffarine in the old Fes medina to pick up the light covers. Hamdullah they were ready for me and the changes had been made. Now I hope the Adwal women will pay a few DH to have them installed in the showroom. I was about as hot as I could get by the time I made my way back up and out of the medina, grabbed my bags and headed for transport back home.

Once home I headed to the rooftop to do laundry. Really it was an excuse to get wet in cool water. It did the trick and my huwaj smells fresh and clean. Got the house all cleaned up-switched out my neighbors siddari that keep breaking-meaning my bed mattress is now on the floor and those siddari are under my salon ponges. Nice to have the house all cleaned up.

Khalid (ex-tutor) and his new wife Siham came over a bit later to share their wedding photos with me. Khalid had downloaded them (200+) on my USB yesterday at Café Clock, but it’s much better to look at them w/the 2 of them. I asked Siham how many outfits/jellaba she wore. She told me 6. Looking at the pictures, we counted 7. She forgot one! This is very typical of a Moroccan wedding. The photos are beautiful and I was relieved to find that a friend of theirs was the photographer so they got a good discount on printing all those photos. Unfortunately (but perhaps fortunate for me), they forgot to bring the video. It is also a Moroccan custom to show your wedding video to whoever comes to visit. And it’s mostly of people sitting around the room staring at the camera, not talking. They’ve invited me for l-ftr next Sunday, so perhaps I’ll see it then. I also walked them through my place to show them what I was planning on giving them when I leave-it will be my wedding present to them, as they’re starting from scratch.

Hamdullah, Khalid was also able to put his computer expertise to work for me. I showed him how my fixed internet line had been snapped when one of the girls tripped on it last weekend. I was bemoaning how long it was going to take Maroc Telecom guys to come out and repair it. One kitchen knife later and Khalid had my internet line fixed. God bless his parents!

Now it’s Monday souk day, and I need veggies, but I’m gonna wait until late afternoon when they shut that down and bring the leftovers back to the village-too hot to go traipsing around souk. Invited Pete over for dinner-good excuse to cook and we need to catch up.

Meanwhile, as I catch up on emails, I received an amazing note from Trish from Uganda. They’ve brought home one of the orphans from the “Rehabilitation”/Prison for a week. They’re feeding Angela, getting her medical attention. Fortunately she’s not HIV +, but has TB, Malaria, amoebas, UTI, a respiratory infection and is severely malnourished. Three years old and only 16 lbs. This is a lucky girl to have the nourishing help of the Manarin family, if only for a week. The work of this amazing family continues. Bless them.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I had l-ftr (break-fast at sundown during Ramadan) with my CBT host family last night. Now of course, I hadn’t fasted all day, so wasn’t that hungry and you should have seen the spread before us. I’m talkin’ apple/milk juice, orange/carrot juice, dates, shbekya (fried dough slathered in honey), harira (the traditional Ramadan soup of Morocco-and all other Harira in Morocco are measured against Khadija’s), bread, hard boiled eggs, cake, fried fish, fat bread (kinda like a thin vegetable calzone) flan, hot sweet milk /w Nescafe. Despite my modest appetite, I managed to still be full several hours later-it’s food that really fills you up. All of this consumed w/Khadija, Driss (who did his usual slurp of Harira, dates and off to the café for the night), Ahelan and Ayoub. All in their newly decorated salon, served w/new zwin pitchers. Tbarkalikum.

We (the 7 of us here in Ain Leuh for “Adult Summer Camp”) had been down earlier in the day to the Coop while I did a workshop on Product Quality/Development and took them through the requirements to attend the Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival. They didn’t know what it would cost them, even if they were accepted and received funding to attend the Fair. I walked them through all of those costs, as well as the volume of product they’d have to produce to take with them to make it worthwhile. I think they got a lot to think about, but at least they’ll now be making an informed decision. Hopefully they are able to attend either next year or the year following, as I think they’d do amazingly well w/their beautiful work.

I also got to see the progress that Khadija has made on the hanbel that she’s weaving for me. Inshallah it will be done before we leave. The intricacy of the design can take one of the weavers 4 months to complete a 1.5 x 2 meter hanbel. Angie also ordered a hanbel for Khadija to make.

Anyway, once we were done with the workshops, Khadija invited all 7 of us over for l-ftr. I told her it would only be me, but if others decided to come as well, I’d give her a call. So of course I felt bad when I realized once I arrived last night that she had indeed cooked for all of us. However, I also know that they’ll manage to eat all the food-nothing goes to waste around here.

The worst news of the day by far was that Lisa’s camera was stolen. Every morning several of the group has been going out blackberry picking (“camp” is scheduled to coincide w/Ramadan and berry season). They were up on the main road thru town, picking on a large bush. Lisa had put down her camera and berries with her sweater on top. Now during Ramadan, there’s no one around a 7am-they’re all sleeping. Someone managed to come up to the other side of the bush and take the camera w/o Lisa seeing them. And her’s is a fabulous camera. Fortunately she has insurance on it, and spent the greater part of the day (and a couple hours last night) filing a report w/the gendarmes and getting a copy to send to her insurance carrier. We told everyone we saw in town all day long about the theft and to be on the lookout for the camera. It definitely will stand out-not one that you’d typically see in Morocco, especially in the countryside.

I should have counted the # of jars of blackberry jam that they ended up making out of all the berries picked. I don’t know how they’ll get through it all before we leave. Most impressive! And of course, we ate blackberries at nearly every meal (cooking and eating being a focal point of Adult Camp)-on French toast, cheesecake, ice cream, smoothies-you name it, we ate it!

Fortunately for Jon, Colin came over in the afternoon from Azrou (1/2 hr away) to keep him company and raise the testosterone ratio. This was after we made him join us for a group pedicure (only one banyo or bucket) while watching downloaded Project Runway (I’d downloaded 3 episodes of the most recent season).

So Camp 2010 is over, the summer heat is back and all but Angie and I have left, and we’ll be heading out in a couple of hours. She’s returning to her site and I’ll be going home via overnight in Fes. I’ve got some things I need to check out there and will head home tomorrow morning when I can get a direct taxi (vs having to wait for and take 5 different transits to get home from Ain Leuh).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Community Creamery Contributions

Wahoo-my PCPP (that’s a Peace Corps Partnership Program) grant request was accepted and it’s now posted on the PC website. What is this? Recall my request to fund the Marche Maroc Rabat craft fair event this past May? Well, I have one last request for my service.

The 11 women of the ATPF Association (Jam3ia Mawahib Wataqat Nisaiya or Association for the Development of the Talents and Potential of Women), formed in March 2010-yes, just this year-need additional supplies to generate income in their Community Creamery. They’ve already progressed at light speed and need a bit of help to continue to move forward with their mission.

The Association seeks to empower their members by developing their skills and knowledge to apply for social or economic gain. In addition, they will use the Association proceeds to develop programming for the women of the surrounding area. They have also identified the need for a space for women to get together in Ribat El Kheir. The male dominated cafes make it difficult for women to gather and discuss social issues outside of their houses. They have rented and renovated a space for their Creamery and are already open for business. Note-the Creamery is open to both men and women.

Currently they are limited in what they can serve and sell due to limited equipment. They cannot initiate cheese production, make and sell the popular 3asir (juices) or ns ns (half coffee, half milk) until they have cold storage and their single cup coffeemaker limits their ability to serve their customers.

My PCPP request for $2353 is to help them purchase the needed equipment and pay travel expenses to visit an operating cheesemaking Cooperative to learn how to commercialize their efforts.

Any help you can provide in the way of a donation would be very much appreciated. Please go to and search for Project 378-135 Community Creamery to make your tax-deductible donation. And on behalf of the wonderful women of ATPF, thank you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adult aka Culinary Camp-Year 2

Yes, I got my reservation in early, so I’ve got a ponge to sleep on in Randy’s place as we eat and play games and conduct workshops for the Artisan Cooperative all week here in Ain Leuh. We’re a group of 7 this year-2 new and missing a couple from last year.

The blackberry picking is in full force, and we’ve had freshly made syrup on French toast and on homemade ice cream and angel food cake already. There are 2 big pots on the stove today making jam. And that’s only 2 days of picking and we’re not at the peak of the season. Funny, but Moroccans don’t seem to care for the berries-they didn’t pick them last year either, so more for us to enjoy!

Yes, it’s been a festival of eating (we’re thinking of naming the week Culinary Camp)-Peruvian dinner, green curry dinner, freshly made cheese for our lasagna tonight.

Oh, and yes, we do work-gotta earn our pay, yak? Yesterday Joy did a terrific Color Theory workshop for the women of the Cooperative. It was really great to see them all-this is where I did my 3 month initial training. Got to spend some time w/my host mom, see Ahelan and Ayoub-will go back and spend more time with them tomorrow, maybe l-ftr (Ramadan break fast). I’ll be doing a Product Development workshop with the Coop women tomorrow and also help them work thru the decision process of whether they’re going to apply to attend the Santa Fe International Craft Fair next year.

We got to see the work that Randy has done with the Coop-and it’s amazing. She got them to move all their looms downstairs and converted the upstairs, streetfront workroom into a showroom. It’s fabulous. Randy has such a good eye for interior design, and has been really creative in getting things made or buying pieces for the showroom at really great prices. Tbarkalik Randy!

Yes, it is Ramadan, and so far we’ve managed to avoid it almost completely. We did feel kinda bad when a Moroccan friend came in the house yesterday as we were all sitting around eating lunch. Oh well.

In addition, we’ve had 3 days of fall-like weather; cooler, cloudy, some rain in the afternoon, and sleeping w/a light blanket-hamdullah. We’ll get the heat back, but enjoying this respite while we’ve got it.

We’re all feeling a bit anxious about the time we have left-less than 3 months, and so much we all want to do. I told Jess I’d help her with her art exhibition in Fes mid-September and we’ve got a PC conference in Rabat the end of September. I’ve also got to take my Women’s Assn president-Meriem-down to visit the cheese coop in the far south in October. We’ve also got Sarah and Brahim’s wedding in the far SE the middle of September. I’d so love to go, but just don’t see how I’m going to fit it in-minimum 2 days travel each way + 3 day wedding.

Just got called to another game of Bananagram-gotta go. I’ve got my priorities, after all.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

God Bless You John

It’s been a while since my last posting and the biggest news, by far, was the death of my dear friend Miek’s husband John. So unexpected, so young, so incredibly sad. I cannot imagine what she is going through. I’ve not yet been able to connect with her ‘live’ yet-hopefully we’ll be able to Skype later today. They’ve just completed their condo on the Upper Michigan lake Charlevoix and have developed a great circle of boating friends for their summers, just redecorated their home in Indianapolis (theirs is the home that both sides of the family come to gather), and just had their first grandchild. They both retired within the last 4 years. In other words, the next phase of their retirement years ahead of them to enjoy together. My heart is broken for Miek, and only wish I could have been there for the memorial service for John yesterday.

It was otherwise another travel week for me….

Great to catch up w/Jess before she and I both left on holiday (she to escape the 1st 2 weeks of Ramadan in Spain). I got to see a number of her pieces for her solo art exhibition in Fes next month. I can see a piece of Jess Stephens art in my possession in the very near future.

Then it was off to Fes to meet up w/Randy, Kristen, Dan and Dan’s friend Justin who was visiting from the US. We headed out Saturday (a week ago) to Ras El Ma, also known as Cap d’Leau-a small beach town in far NE Morocco on the Mediterranean. When we arrived, there were a total of 19 of us, and the Auberge had put us across the street in a house all together. This was a fabulous set up (incl. dragging the ponges to sleep on the rooftop), until the drain for both showers and toilets backed up on day 2. Mushkil kbir. Plumber couldn’t get it fixed, so we moved back and into 3 apartments. At least we were close together, all had kitchens and increased our ratio to 3 bathrooms/6 persons.

Poor Justin was the butt of laughter most of the week-don’t know what he expected-perhaps a zwin Med/beach vacation-but certainly on a Peace Corps budget we do things pretty simple. He was a miserable camper all week long. Don’t think I ever saw him smile. You know, maybe things don’t turn out as you expect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go with the flow and figure out how to make the best of it.

Anyway, we soaked up the rays and swam multiple times daily in the beautiful sea. Couldn’t get enough of it. We also walked down into town-maybe 1 ½ miles-daily-to eat grilled fish for either lunch or dinner. You go and pick which fish you want them to cook up-lots of fresh calmari, shrimp and sole. Yum. You see, we’re all living far enough inland and w/o refrigerated transport, rarely get to eat good fish in our sites. I think we all made up for it this past week.

It was also a big enough group that there was always someone to do things with, and w/3 apts., space for solitary pursuits as well. We had a nice little balcony that we made good use of all week. Unfortunately the time went quickly and we all had to head home. A few headed home via Melilla-a small Spanish town (part of Spain) on the coast of Morocco. When they got there, 2 of them didn’t have all their documents and couldn’t cross the border. I almost went w/them, but glad I avoided that hassle. Six of us headed back via Fes w/an overnight in a cheap hotel with a/c, great showers, comfy beds-just the right end to the vacation.

Joy and Angie came w/me to my site, and there will be another gathering next week in Ain Leuh for Adult Camp…ahem, I mean for Train theTrainer and Artisan Workshops. I’m just catching up w/folks in town before heading back out.

Great to see Fouzia last night and be able to congratulate her on her new job, but unfortunately that means she’ll be moving to Taza. I’ve put her in touch with Steven, the PCV who lives there, who will help her find an apt. and introduce her to people in town. I will miss our walks and her friendship, but so happy for her.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

And I thought it was slow now….

Just got word yesterday from Fatima that the Coop is closing all of Ramadan. So there goes an entire month of getting anything done-the showroom finished, Nora and Ferida trained up on the internet and digital camera, Fatima weaving the pillow covers I’ve commissioned, etc. I forgot that they worked last year thru Ramadan because they had the table runner order they needed to complete. Otherwise they wouldn’t have worked. I’ll be down to just 2 months left when they return. Yikes!

Found out some other interesting info. The Coop apprentices have been weaving with a new material a lot lately. I really like it and burned it to see what it’s made of-natural 100% cotton. It’s got a real nice feel and look, and the colors are more natural, SO unlike the garish colors of the acrylic they’ve been using so much of. Go figure-the hanbels that the apprentices are weaving with this are the items that are selling-and Adwal has really taken note. In addition, I’m delighted that when they ask me as they begin a design and color combo if I’ll like it, all I have to do is compliment their choice-they’re making good decisions. Yipee!

So I commission Fatima to weave me a cushion cover, in their traditional design, using this nice cotton yarn, in black and cream. Had a bit of trouble convincing her that was what I wanted. No, I don’t need the expensive bldi (natural, hand woven) wool-it’s for a cushion. And no, I don’t want that acrylic you guys use so much of. I want you to weave me what I think tourists will really love. (And of course I’m going to buy 2 of these cushions and then leave them behind for display in the showroom, just as I’m doing w/the Hasir I had them finish for me). I then talk w/Fatima about pricing-just how expensive is this cotton yarn? See, I’m also trying to help them make something traditional to the area, in a more accessible product (price and weight) for tourists to buy. Turns out that the acrylic is actually more expensive than the cotton! Who knew! Fatima was trying to convince me to use what she thought was ‘better’ because it was more expensive. And until we did the fiber burn test, they had no idea what type of fibers they were using. Hamdullah the cotton is cheaper, much nicer quality, and I’m going to work on Fatima to switch out all of their acrylic purchasing as she sees how nicely the cotton weaves on the vertical loom. Keep your fingers crossed!

I also met with Meriem yesterday about the grant proposal for the ATPF Women’s Assn-sent it to Center for Women in Democracy. No reply to request. No acknowledgement. Walu. OK, I’ll put together a PCPP request (which would be funded by my friends and family in the US) if ATPF will come up with their 25%, which amounts to 6600DH-no small task. Meriem immediately says that’s no problem. In addition, I’ll include monies for she and another member to go with me to the Cheese Association in the south to learn more about cheese production/scale-up, packaging, any regulations, storage, marketing and selling fresh cheese. Now I’m working to get this up as quickly as possible so it can get funded by the end of September.

I also received an email from Widad of Women in Technology this week. It included a video highlighting the successes of the women who participated in the program in Ain Leuh. Got me all worked up again. I sent a message to her to see if it would still be possible to do it in REK-and she immediately replied ‘yes’. I had tried this earlier this year, and the ATPF women weren’t interested-IT wasn’t a priority for them at the time, and they couldn’t think of who else to approach. This is such an amazing opportunity, and now with a video in Arabic to show how great it’s been for other women, I’m back on the bandwagon. Took the video, along w/my old notes, over to show Maqoul-cyber owner/IT instructor in town. He watched the video and said that his Association may be interested-enough that he promised to call Widad and the Association in Azrou who has implemented the program to find out more. Inshallah, WIT comes to REK.

And then today. One of my favorite days of all time in Morocco.

I knew to be at the Coop at 9am, when we were leaving for the river to wash wool. They asked me to bring my camera. I figured we were good for several hours in the blazing sun, with me documenting their next step in moving toward natural dyed wool.

Little did I know that this was a real Adwal outing-first of its kind. They arranged for Fatima’s husband to drive the 15 of us (2 in the front w/him and the rest of us in the back of the open truck, with all our stuff for the day) to where we were going to do the washing.

Now, I’d heard that there was a ‘source’ aka natural spring between El Menzel and REK, but had never been there. Apparently neither had most of the Adwal women. Took us about ½ hour, off a less travelled paved road, then off on a dirt road for quite a ways. No public transport-you gotta have someone drive you there, it’s so remote. Anyway, this is a shallow beginning of the river, fed by several springs, opened up for washing/bathing/swimming, etc. It is quite the gathering spot. And we were there for the day.

In the morning the area is filled with women washing clothes (the duars around don’t have running water), carpets, salon slipcovers, wool, wheat. As the day progresses, the women are then fixing lunch on their small buta’s w/pressure cooker, watching their kids, before moving on to the next series of washings. Lots of families come for a swim and lunch. In the late afternoon, the area starts filling in w/teenagers coming to play in the water, cool off and have a place they can be w/the opposite sex.

We get there around 10am and don’t leave until after 6. It was a full day of washing a huge sack of bldi (that’s natural, shorn off a live sheep) wool. We have tea. We have lunch. We have water fights. Lots of them. All of us get completely soaked at least once during the course of the day. Nobody really complained, and it was so great to see the Adwal women having such fun together. In fact, some young guys came by late in the afternoon w/drums and played while the Adwal women sang. It was such a wonderful, fun, relaxing day-even with the wool washing. We sang and ululated all the way home in the back of the truck, getting home just in time to get a little laundry on the line to dry (including what I was wearing!).

Note: It's not until I'm posting some photos that I realized I forgot to mention a couple things about today. Such as, the women go it the water in their jelabas-no swimsuits. Oh, and I've taken Pepto Bismol prophylactically-after watching a donkey leave droppings in the same water that they rinsed our tea glasses in. Things about Morocco that you just accept as normal, hardly worth a mention.

Now I’m off in the morning (after catching Meriem, Inshallah, to sign the PCPP form) to meet and catch up w/Jess. Then I’m off to Ras El Ma-small place on the Mediterranean coast where 12-15 of us are gathering to use up our vacation before Ramadan starts. Can’t wait to swim in the Sea.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Advice for Morocco-bound PCVs

I’m posting an updated “Unofficial Guide” for volunteers who are headed to Morocco-written and just updated by one of my training mates-Colin Huerter. It’s quite comprehensive and right on target. If you appreciate the work he did compiling this for others' behalf, let him know it at

I can only think of 5 things I’d add….buy a hair dryer once you’re here-right voltage and you’ll want it in winter to warm up after a shower…notify your credit card company that you’re going to be overseas for 2 years so they don’t put any fraud holds on it if you use it…and set it up w/someone to have access to your checking account while you’re gone-so you can order stuff from Amazon, ship it to that person, have them ship it to you and reimburse themselves by check (I did this a fair amount for items I found I really wanted, ie; good wool sweaters for winter)…think about getting a Kindle-PC library has tons of English books, but you may not have great access to the library and a Kindle is amazing (note I had a Sony E-reader that has now become obsolete-I bet on Betamax and Kindle is the VCR of e-readers) and get one with a backlight for those electricity-free nights/days in winter-if you’re much of a reader, you’ll quickly run out of reading material otherwise. Most sharp knives do suck here, but you can buy a decent one at a Marjane or Acima in major cities. That’s it. Read on for Colin’s advice (and if my blogging skills were better, I’m certain there’s a way to insert a pdf file into my blog, but I can’t find it, so here goes, courtesy Colin):

"Unofficial Peace Corps Morocco Guide & FAQ
Hello and congratulations on having been invited to Peace Corps Morocco! I wrote this guide/FAQ to address some of the questions and concerns that volunteers-to-be commonly have, and to try and disseminate some information I wish I’d known before coming. I should, however, make it clear that everything here has been influenced by my experiences and is written from my own perspective. I’ve tried to make my advice as general as possible while still being useful, but there is a common (and completely true) adage that every volunteer has a different experience, so keep that in mind and do not take anything I say as gospel.

Here is some basic information about me. I am male, 25 years old, and a second-year volunteer in the Small Business Development (SBD) sector. I am posted in a town located in the Atlas Mountains with a population of approximately 50,000, which makes it one of the largest sites.By volunteer standards I live luxuriously with fruits and vegetables available daily, easy access to transportation, and a large apartment with running water and electricity. I even have a refrigerator,hot shower, and DSL hooked up to my apartment. I never dreamed I would have these things when I applied to become a volunteer, but this is how things ended up and I am grateful for it.

Now onto what you really came for…

Welcome Book
It’s a good resource, and I would recommend reading it. This guide is meant to supplement the information in the Welcome Book, not replace it.

Morocco has a varied geography and many different climate zones. This makes it harder to prepare, because you won’t know where your final site is until just before swearing in. Some places are bone-chilling and there will be winter days where you think you have never been so cold in your life. Others can get so hot you have trouble sleeping at night and during the day you can wash a pair of jeans, hang them up on the clothesline, and watch them dry in minutes. No matter what, you can be fairly sure that for about three months of the year, the weather is going to suck.

There are sites almost throughout Morocco. The only places you are guaranteed not to end up are areas south of the Tiznit/Tata regions and north of the Rabat-Meknes-Fes-Taza axis. In general, it seems that many health education (HE) volunteers get placed in the south (i.e. warmer regions), while environment (ENV) have more mountainous sites, located close to or within national parks and forests. Youth development (YD) and SBD are split fairly evenly.

Site size varies as much as climate. HE and ENV usually have the smallest sites, followed by SBD, and finally YD with the largest. SBD sites have the widest range of population, with some volunteers in tiny villages of 300 people and others in large cities of 100,000+. YD work in dar chebabs, or youth centers, so their towns are necessarily large enough to support a dar chebab and typically 10,000+ people. Staff sometimes will put females in smaller towns to minimize harassment issues, but they can and do end up in large sites.

During Pre-Service Training (PST) we were interviewed by our programming staff and could state any preferences we had such as climate, potential projects, site size, and access to running water/internet/etc. However, none of that was guaranteed and in fact in some cases was completely disregarded and people ended up with exactly the opposite of what they asked for. It was at the whim of our programming staff and where they decided our skills and background best fit.

There’s a lot to be said about languages, no pun intended. Morocco is like a melting pot of languages and almost everyone is at least bilingual. Occasionally you will run into polyglots (some PC staff for example) who speak five or more languages – Moroccan Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), a Berber dialect, French, and English.

Volunteers learn one of three languages. Moroccan Arabic, known as Darija (which literally translates to ‘dialect’), is the most widely spoken in Morocco. Of the three main Berber dialects Tashelheet (Tash), Tamazight (Tam), and Tarafit, PC has language training for Tash and Tam. Tarafit is spoken in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco, where a large percentage of the world’s supply of cannabis is cultivated, thus no volunteers are placed in that area. Tam is spoken by Berbers of the Middle Atlas, and Tash is the language of the High Atlas and the south. Generally, the larger your site, the more likely it is that Darija is the everyday language, and vice-versa for Tam and Tash in smaller sites.I believe all HE volunteers learn Tash and Tam. If any do Darija it is only a very small number.ENV can learn all three, with a bias towards the Berber dialects.
SBD can learn all three. In 2008 there was a bias toward Darija (60%) with a minority learning Tam, and no Tash CBT groups. In 2009, 40% learned Darija, 40% learned Tam, and 20% learned Tash. In 2010 there will only be Darija and Tam CBT groups.YD only get instruction in Darija, you don’t have a choice! But I know of a few volunteers that either switched to Berber after they got to their sites and decided it would be more useful, or started learning Berber in addition to Darija.

Thanks to Morocco’s legacy as a former French colony, French is by far the most commonly-spoken language that any of you are likely to know. Many big-city Moroccans are fluent in it, and even people in small villages usually know a few words. Spanish is common in the Rif area, which used to be a Spanish Protectorate. English is not very widely spoken. Having French knowledge can be nice, but is by no means necessary, and I and many other volunteers have never studied it either formally or informally.

Before anyone gets all excited about Darija and decides that is what they want to learn because knowing Arabic will help them get that dream job after Peace Corps, stop for a minute. Although Darija is related to MSA, it is only used colloquially and they are not mutually intelligible, so the usefulness of Darija is pretty limited outside of Morocco. It might give you a slight head-start if you decide to study MSA, but they are distinctly different languages both in terms of vocabulary and grammar. Moroccans will actually be much more impressed if you can speak Tam or Tash than if you learn Darija. With the changes to training that have occurred since I swore in, I’m not even sure you can express a preference anymore. My advice is stay open-minded and not let your heart get set on anything.

Many people wonder if they should do any independent language study before staging. PC sends out links to some Darija audio lessons and an introductory PDF (which is taken straight out of the Darija language manual that is used for training here), and I believe they also provide access to some French lessons via the website. Forget the French stuff unless you’ve had previous experience and want to brush up a little. The handiest thing would be learning numbers, say up to 20 or 30, because many times when you ask how much something costs, the shop-owner will see you are foreign and automatically reply in French.

Before coming I did not do any of the audio lessons or study the introductory PDF, and I have no regrets about that. Not to say they couldn’t be useful, but one hour in PST is probably equal to ten hours of studying on your own. It would also be a bit of a downer if you spent a lot of time studying Darija and then get here only to find out you got assigned to a Berber CBT group. If you do want to take advantage of those tools then I would recommend going over the greetings and numbers (lessons 2, 3, 19, 20, and 21). Those you can use the moment you land in Morocco, and you’ll need them even if you end up learning Berber.

Regular suitcases are fine and you can use them later in your house for storage or to keep your clothes reasonably organized. Hiking packs are very popular and definitely work well for the many times you will be traveling, since they’re usually more practical than trying to roll a suitcase around. And if you are planning on doing any trekking or camping, then it’s a no-brainer to bring one. I usually stick with a duffel bag or backpack for traveling. Suitcases and duffel/travel bags are in plentiful supply here so you can always buy one later if you need to. A normal backpack or messenger bag is essential. Bring luggage locks with you because you will definitely want to use them when you are traveling around Morocco. There are TSA-approved locks that you can leave on your baggage after it is checked and TSA willnot break it.

If the papers they sent you in your invitation packet are the same ones I got, then you’ll have a flyer which says something about being able to bring two pieces of checked-in luggage but the combined weight cannot be more than 80 pounds. Ignore this; here is what you really need to know:
All major U.S. carriers are now charging for checked baggage; it will be something like $15 for the first bag and $25 for the second. Save your receipts for those and you will be reimbursed at staging. You will not be reimbursed for more than two checked pieces. Also, please save yourself a lot of potential trouble and make absolutely sure that no individual piece exceeds more than 50 pounds. Use a bathroom scale to check before you leave for the airport. Once you go over 50 pounds you will trigger all kinds of ridiculous fees which PC will not reimburse.

On the Royal Air Maroc flight from New York to Casablanca, the limit is basically identical (23 kilograms), and you can check two bags at no cost so you don’t have to pay anything out of pocket. Basically what this means is that you can have two 50 pound bags for a total of 100 pounds, not the 80 that is stated. Finally, do not count on there being people who have room to spare that will take some of your stuff on the flight over.

One great tip I got was to pack an empty duffel bag in one of my suitcases. During PST you get a huge stack of books, manuals, and handouts, not to mention the medical kit. Once I got to Morocco I just got that bag out and put all my training materials in it instead of trying to cram them into my luggage with the rest of my things.

Electricity: almost every volunteer has electricity in their house, even if it’s just one outlet. However, the plugs, voltage, and cycle are the European standard and different from the US. US electricity is 120 volts at 60 hertz, while in Morocco electricity is 240 volts at 50 hertz and the plugs have two round prongs.

Power adapters vs. power converters: an adapter is small device that allows you to plug a North American appliance into a European outlet. It does not alter the power in any way. A converter is larger and bulkier, and will either ‘step-up’ (120v -> 240v) or ‘step-down’ (240v -> 120v, which is what you want in this case) the voltage, in addition to changing the plug so you can use it in a European outlet.

Almost all high-end electronics are self-converting and can accept both 120v and 240v. For example, look at your laptop’s power brick. It should say something like ‘Input: 110-240v, 50-60Hz’. Ditto for things like mobile phone chargers and digital camera battery chargers. If it says that, all you need is the adapter to plug it in.

However, many simpler electronics like hair dryers and curling irons are only designed for 120 volts and in that case you need the more expensive converter like this. Make sure your device does not exceed the wattage rating of the converter.

Solar chargers: I wouldn’t bring one. You will almost certainly have electricity in your house. I believe there are only one or two volunteers in the entire country that do not have electricity.

Batteries: all common formats including AA, AAA, and 9v are readily available here and about as expensive as they are in the US, so save the weight and don’t pack extra. If you have something that takes batteries which you know you will be using frequently, e.g. a digital camera, then rechargeables are a good investment.

Laptops: some people don’t want to bring one and they get along just fine. However, if you are undecided about what to do, I recommend bringing it. There are an increasing amount of surveys, reports, forms, and other paperwork that you need to complete for PC, not to mention any number of other work-related things that are much less painful with your own computer. It’s also a lot more convenient to type up blog posts and replies to emails from the comfort of your own home rather than struggling with French keyboards at the cybercafé. A lot of volunteers find they use their a lot for downloads, watching movies, etc. on those evenings that can become long and boring alone. Be aware that if you have a Mac, hardware and software support may be hard to come by or simply nonexistent.

Internet: cybercafés, or cybers, are cheap and littered throughout the country. The vast majority of volunteers are within one hour from a cyber. I’d say at least 50% of SBD volunteers can get internet in their home, either with a wireless modem through Wana or a hardwired DSL connection through Maroc Telecom. 95% of YD volunteers can get internet in their home. If you are ENV or HE you’ll just have to pray. Not everyone that can get it does, as it takes up a sizable chunk of your monthly living allowance. Computers at cybers all have MSN Messenger and Skype installed already if you want to chat with family and friends. Cyber owners will let you bring your own laptop and plug the Ethernet cable in (some places also have wifi), which is nice as you’ll have all your programs and bookmarks available.

USB drives: watching movies and TV shows is a favorite activity of volunteers and we like to swap movies and music whenever there is a get-together. An external USB hard drive will be invaluable for this and general backup and storage, and highcapacity drives are readily available for less than $100. Don’t forget a small USB thumb drive as well to take to the cyber so you can print things, and make sure your laptop has updated antivirus software.

iPod: essential for relieving boredom during interminably long bus/taxi/train rides. Many volunteers rave about podcasts and download them at the cyber so they can listen to them the rest of the week and keep up to date with the news.

Mobile phones: text messages are the primary method of communication between volunteers, and Peace Corps also relies heavily on mobile phones to get information to us. There are two large operators, Maroc Telecom and Meditel. Both have service throughout most of the country, although I believe that Maroc Telecom’s network is slightly larger. If you have a GSM phone you can bring it with you and get it unlocked here for a few dirhams, saving yourself some money. A new SIM card is 20-30 dirhams. There are some plans but they work differently than in the US and are relatively expensive, so most people opt to buy phone cards and add credit as needed. One thing to note is that the GSM service here is on 900 MHz. If your phone does not support this then leave it at home as it will not work here. Any quad-band phone will definitely work here. Tri-band phones with 900/1800/1900 will also work. Look in the manual or call your phone company to find out which frequencies your phone supports.

Hair clippers: I thought it would be smart to bring one and save money cutting my hair, but it turned out to be a waste of space. Haircuts are dirt cheap here (10-15 dirhams, 5 more with a shave) so I would pack something else.

Insurance: I didn’t get any electronics insurance but I think Peace Corps includes some suggestions in the invitation packet. You can have the premiums automatically taken out of your readjustment allowance as an allotment.

Water: running water is more of a rarity than electricity. If you are a HE or ENV volunteer, I would not count on having it, but you may be pleasantly surprised. Some of you will become very familiar with how to boil and bleach well water. As far as I know, PC here does not supply water filters.

Sheets: since bed sizes vary, and you won’t know until several months into training if you are replacing a volunteer (and will thus have a chance to purchase or be gifted their furniture), you may want to hold off on bringing bed sheets. Your host families may have some, and they will definitely have blankets. I had my family mail me a set once I knew what size bed I would have. Note that they don't sell fitted sheets in Morocco.

Cooking: PC will give you a great cookbook that has been written by volunteers and contains Morocco-specific recipes and advice as well as common translations. Unless you are totally averse to it, you will have plenty of time to improve your cooking skills. You may even surprise yourself!

Kitchen supplies: there are a few spices and other items are hard to find here or simply not available. A few that I can think of off the top of my head are basil, curry powder, vanilla extract, and brown sugar. Many volunteers have them shipped here, but if you think you will be using any of those you can just bring them. I would recommend a basic set of measuring cups and spoons as well. The recipes in the cookbook are all given in standard measurements, whereas things here are usually given in metric. And finally, one thing that I would seriously consider is a decent knife. Even a $15 santoku from Target will absolutely blow away the dull, weak, sad excuses for knives that you will find here.

Personal Care
Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, and shaving cream of major brands are all available here. I used up quite a bit of space bringing three cans of shaving cream and other things that were, in retrospect, totally unnecessary. Unless you need something specific, you can pack something else instead. You can also pick up sunscreen from the medical unit in Rabat for free. The quality of the sunscreen varies depending on what they have at any given time. Previously you could request sunscreen and lotion to be mailed to you, but unfortunately they stopped doing this in order to cut costs, and lotion is no longer available at all.

Razor blades: you can find these fairly easily. I have seen both Mach 3 and Quattro blades in shops in my site, although you may need to go to your souk town to get them. I assume that women’s razors are widely available as well.

Small bottles for shampoo, body wash, etc: it is worth your time to pick up a few of these from the store. They come in very handy since the hotels that Peace Corps uses are pretty basic (besides the staging hotel in Philadelphia) and probably won’t provide anything. You will also use them when you go to the hammam, or public bath, and whenever you travel in general.

And don’t forget a set of shower flip flips, a large towel, and washcloth. You can buy these in Morocco, but they are things you will need right away and you might not have time to go around looking for them since the first few days are so busy. You can look online or at outdoors stores such as REI for lightweight, fast-drying towels that work very well and are nice for traveling. However, a normal cotton towel is also just fine and is what I use.

Contact lens solution: may be purchased in well-stocked pharmacies in larger towns. I believe they run around 100 dirhams ($12) for a large bottle. Bring at least a few months’ supply with you. I’ve never seen hard contact solution here, only soft.

Medical kit: as mentioned before, Peace Corps gives you a small black case filled with various medical supplies. This has quite a few things in it, from ibuprofen and a thermometer to band-aids and condoms. Aside from sunscreen you can also request multivitamins, pepto, insect repellant, eye drops, etc. One thing that is not provided is toothpaste and toothbrushes. Dental floss may still be available unless that was also cut, but it is unflavored and unwaxed.

“Business casual” clothing is mentioned in the invitation materials but is almost entirely a waste of space. You may want one nicer outfit and set of shoes for swearing in, but I wouldn’t put too much thought into it. Ties and polished shoes are totally unnecessary, and a pair of khakis and a button-up shirt should suffice for men. You may catch some flak from the PC Washington staff at staging if you don’t at least make some effort, but the truth is that will have no effect on your service. You can just wear the same clothes for three days in a row – in fact, I would recommend getting used to that!

Cold weather gear: most people envision a boiling hot sun and endless sands when they get placed in Morocco, but the winters can be brutal. The concepts of insulation and interior heating have not quite made it here. As I type this, it is about 40 degrees both inside and outside. I would bring at least the following: waterproof winter parka, warm leather gloves, a fleece top, set of thermal underwear, and several pairs of wool socks. Consider that a starting point, as ENV volunteers in particular will probably want more. The good news is that if you are coming as ENV or HE, you have seven or eight months before you have to face a full Moroccan winter – plenty of time to assess the weather at your site and have your family mail you additional clothes. High quality winter clothing can be hard to find here, which I why I advise bringing it with you. Even if you do get a very hot site, you will be traveling during the winter so these things will still be useful.

Other clothing: jeans are great since they are comfortable, durable, and don’t show dirt and stains very obviously. You will find that dress etiquette in many sites means you can’t wear shorts in public. I have no problem in my site as a male, but I rarely see Moroccan men wearing shorts. A light waterproof shell/windbreaker can be very useful, as the country was in a drought for several decades but has received a surprising amount of rain and snow the last few years. Layering is important, so try
and bring clothes that you can add or shed easily. And don’t forget a swimsuit!

Shoes: I wore x-trainers or tennis shoes 95% of the time in the US, and I do the same here. I took my dress shoes back for good when I went home on vacation. A lot of people live in their Chacos/Tevas and go from wearing sandals one day to boots the next, and straight back to sandals after the winter is other. I don’t think hiking boots are necessary as I hike as much as anyone I know and get by fine withx-tra iners. Many companies offer discounts for Peace Corps volunteers; you just need to contact them to ask about it.

Other items to consider bringing
Sunglasses: you can buy a pair here, but the problem is you can’t be sure if they have UV protection since they are all knockoffs.

Nalgene bottle or Camelbak: I would bring a Nalgene bottle or equivalent at the minimum.

Swiss army knife or Leatherman: quite nice to have, not only for the household uses but also for the bottle and wine openers!

Maps: they make for good wall decorations and you should bring at least a Moroccan map (that includes Western Sahara). Michelin #742 is very detailed, and I also have the laminated and waterproof Borch Morocco map.

Flashlight: the electricity goes out a fair amount, so it’s good to have one of these to go along with your candles. LED flashlights are bright and the batteries will last forever. You can also try and get a phone with a light built in.

Sleeping bag: I use mine all the time, not only when I travel but also when people stay at my house and we run out of blankets.

Pocket French dictionary: sometimes you just can’t explain the word you need in Darija or Berber, but they might know the French word. Also handy for deciphering restaurant menus.

Travel alarm clock: not needed in my opinion. I use my phone as an alarm.

Miscellaneous Information
Bringing money: you shouldn’t have to bring any. Peace Corps will give you well over $100 in cash at staging for per diem and spending money. You may want to notify your bank that you are moving overseas as there are many ATMs here where you can use your bank card in the case of an emergency.

Host family gifts: you will have two host families, one during CBT and one at final site. I brought some candy, crayons, and small souvenir trinkets like key chains and postcards. The first time I met each family I gave them fresh fruit, and before I left I handed out the other gifts. I would not worry too much about finding gifts as you can get things here if need be. Unusual or interesting things are great if you have the time, but they will also appreciate practical items. When I went to the US a year into service, I brought back more substantial gifts for my host families and Moroccan friends.

Bikes: Peace Corps will provide a nice mountain bike once you get to your final site. You also get supplies like a tire pump, helmet, patch kit, etc.

Books: the office in Rabat has an extensive collection of books, both professionally oriented and for leisure reading. There are also things such as GRE study manuals, travel guides, calendars, and periodicals available. M’hamed is the librarian and will mail anything to you on request. Volunteers also trade books around frequently.

Reliability of mail ranges from good to questionable depending on your specific post office (try to befriend the employees and manager). It takes 2 or 3 weeks for things to get here from the US, and vice versa. If you get a package, especially a larger one, expect it to be opened and inspected by customs. You may have to pay a duty, depending on what is in it. All of the packages that have been sent to me arrived without anything missing, but I had to pay duties on several. Some people have had things stolen from packages before they picked them up – sometimes valuable things. The only surefire way to get something from the US to Morocco without duties is to have a family member or friend bring it when they come to visit.

Setting boundaries
I include this as a final bit of advice because many new volunteers aren’t quite sure what to do when a Moroccan asks them for something or possibly starts to take advantage of them. Remember that you always have the right to say no, and the earlier you set your own boundaries the better off you will be.

For example, what do you do if your host brother asks you if he can use your computer for the day? You may like him a lot and feel you can trust him, or simply want to accommodate him because you are living with his family. However, what would happen if it was stolen, or he dropped the computer, or spilled tea on it? It is hard to imagine that he would be able to replace the computer. During my homestays loaned a few small items that were not exactly returned to me in the same condition. It was nothing serious but I took that as a lesson and am very careful about whom I loan things to now. Realize that you are the only one that has ultimate responsibility for your belongings!

That is one example of what boundaries mean, but it can extend into many other areas. If you are full, don’t let them convince you to eat more. They will not stop when they think you have had enough, they will simply keep telling you to eat. Don’t feel bad about saying no because you don’t want to offend anyone – in fact, it is a cultural norm that dictates how they are acting, you just need to learn the proper way to respond to it. If you have any cultural questions, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask your LCF or any other Moroccan staff. Remember, that’s their job!

It has taken me far longer than anticipated to cover what I consider the topics of interest in this guide, but I hope that future volunteers find the information helpful. One last suggestion I have is to read the blogs of current PC Morocco volunteers. There is a wealth of knowledge contained in those blogs and it will give you an invaluable glimpse into what your life could be like in a few months! Thank you for reading this, and if you have any questions or would just like to talk, I can always be reached through e-mail. Good luck and I wish you a fantastic two years in Morocco!

Colin Huerter
SBD ‘08-10"