27 June 2010

Missing You

News Link of the Day: How I Became a Leading Voice for Moroccan Women (no it's not ME, but a prominent Moroccan linguist)

Picture of the Day:

This is our Intercultural Dialogue Group working together on learning a haiku they wrote (in both Moroccan Arabic and English), and figuring out how to present it to the larger group.

Thinking about the things that I’ve missed from Marrakech and Morocco, most of them I only realized I missed them upon my return. I missed the donkeys in the morning, I missed the coo of pigeons, I missed the not-so-rare times that birds fly into my living room or kitchen, I missed the way you can be walking along a street, and step between areas of tantalizing smells, and stomach-turning smells, I missed the dry dusty smell mixed with cooking meat smoke of Marrakech, I missed the way that everything is painted the ochre color, down to the electrical cords, and I even missed the way that tourists’ eyes light up when they catch the Jma Elfna at night.

I also missed cultural things, and the way people behave. Moroccans (and I feel like this happens in a lot of other cultures) tend to talk all at once when their in a big group. I bet Americans do it to, but it is much more noticeable to me when they are speaking in Arabic. Probably because I have to do my best just to keep up. I missed being able to sum up a relationship between men and women in two words: “Khoya” and “Khti”, meaning my brother, my sister. I can talk casually with almost any man as long as I use khoya over and over again. Some men, obviously, need to hear it more frequently. Conversely, I can use it to express to a man that he is important to me, but not in THAT way.

I really missed – and this I realized I missed while I was in Milwaukee – the way that speaking Arabic and having “blonde” hair makes me special. I mean, I know that it does, but no one else but me can acknowledge it in the US. Here, I see the way people’s eyes light up, and their smile gets wider, and they open up their personalities to me when I say that first sentence in Moroccan Arabic that makes them believe. Sometimes, it can get old to have to explain myself to 20 new people in one day, but, in the end, I am so grateful for my gift of languages. I am grateful because it opened up for me this completely different country that 95% of tourists will never see. And now that I know that language can do that, I always strive to learn as much as I can of any language.

Tomorrow we start our second week here, and it seems like I never left, but also that I’ve been working with these students and this center for a long time as well. We start the week with a Darija (Moroccan Arabic) test for the students, and then Monday night and Tuesday we are going to visit my town, Imlil, and Ourika. Nothing contrasts more with Marrakech than the countryside that surrounds it.

Until next time!

25 June 2010

A Volunteer's Thoughts on Moroccan Education

As volunteers working with youth, my American friends and I got to observe much of the interactions between students and their schools here in Morocco. Not to say that the US Education System is fantastic, but looking at the experience that most kids have in public school here, I am very thankful for the tax dollars that gave me my fantastic primary and secondary education.

For a more in-depth look at the problems we see with our students, please go here to a fellow volunteers blog. She takes a look at how the Moroccan education is basically set up to help students FAIL, and offers some small suggestions.

Considering I was raised in an academic, education-focused family, this topic is especially interesting to me, and I welcome your comments, suggestions, and thoughts.

24 June 2010

Welcome Back to Morocco!

Salamu 3likom from Morocco! I've been back here since Monday, and it's remarkable how I feel like I never left. It took me exactly 1 hour to fall back into my comfortable patter, my comfortable way of existing. That hour was how long it took us to get from our seats on the airplane to the baggage claim in the Casablanca airport. :-) My skills were put to the test immediately because my co-leader's baggage was lost by (surprise of all surprises) Iberia airlines. Fortunately, he speaks French, so he can deal with the airport employees while I took our students outside.

When we arrived, we were met by Hamza, an American who works for the center where we are working and learning Arabic now. He helped us load on to two minibuses, and, after my co-leader finished getting the information he needed about his bag, we headed off to Marrakech. As jet-lagged as I was, I was too excited to sleep. I watched the fields pass as we drove south on the one highway in Morocco, and remembered the times I had traveled this way. The train rides to Rabat for volunteer trainings, the time Youssef and I drove up to Casa to pick my dad up from the airport, Nicole and Ismail's wedding last year, and also a little bit of our first ever bus ride in Morocco, when my future life friends were just strangers on a bus.

The first day, all we did was hand out cell phones and a weekly stipend of (gasp! so much!) 400 dirhams to the students, and then we sent them off with their host families. Thankfully, each family has a host brother or sister who speaks English well enough to facilitate communication, so we didn't have to worry about the students. And then my co-leader and I were each shown our apartments. His is shared with two University of Georgia students who are here, also studying Modern Standard Arabic. It is very French (we are living in the old French quater, after all), and very fancy, with marble countertops and new couches and pillows, and nice wood furniture all around.

MY apartment is not as fancy, on an American scale, but it is FANTASTIC compared to my previous experience with apartments in Morocco. I am in a complex of two apartments, so I have a gate, and a mini garden where I can leave the bike I am using right now. The apartment has a large living/dining room, a decent sized kitchen, a seperate bedroom with a window into the living room, and a wide wrap-around roof/balcony. And of course, there's a nice bathroom with not ONLY a sit-down toilet, but also a shower with an electric hot water heater. The most awesome element of my apartment, however, is the air conditioner! I can't believe how lucky I am to have AC during a deathly Marrakech summer... The staff at the language center keeps apologizing for the state of the apartment, but I couldn't be happier. It is a bit dirty from the previous tenants, but that's a small price to pay.

The school/language center where we are working is also fabulous. There are air conditioners in each classroom, which of course makes learning that much easier. For this first week, the students are learning Darija, and the teachers are using what's called the communicative method. It's teaching the way that babies originally learn languages, without translation. So the teacher in the class that I attend has spoken less than 10 sentences of English during the last 4 days of class. It's great for me to review my Darija, but I can't imagine learning the language this way. It must be so frustrating. No wonder babies cry so much!

This weekend should be good, and I have a bit of time off, so hopefully I'll be able to update a bit more...

Until then, happy Thursday from Morocco!

20 June 2010

Heading Off!

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I've been busy since the 8th, buying gifts, packing, and getting together everything I need for Morocco.

Tomorrow we leave. I honestly can't believe I'm going back, more than I couldn't believe I was leaving. Everything in my life has been awesome lately, and I think part of me is just waiting for the bottom to fall out...

I also had two great little goodbye nights, one with my 2 best Milwaukee friends last Friday, and one with my 11 best DC friends this past Thursday. Everything is starting out so much better than 2007... and that was a pretty phenomenal start.

I have so much more to write, but I am exhausted from training (with and without our group of AMAZING students), and we have another busy day tomorrow, so I will update you very soon, inchallah, posting from Marrakech!

Take care of your heads (a literal translation of how you say "Take care" in Darija), and I'll catch my American friends on the flip side... and my Moroccan friends and family in less than two days!

08 June 2010

Lions and Diplomacy

My sister just moved to D.C. to work for Causes.com, and on her way to work the other day, she passed this!

This picture both excited me for my imminent return, but, more importantly, prompted me to go to the Embassy website. I was surprised to discover a very well-put-together site that offers much information - if somewhat cursory - about Morocco.

I would guess many of you did not know that Morocco has the oldest treaty of friendship with the United States, and Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the independence of the American colonies in 1777. This fact is one that many Moroccans know off-hand, and they never failed to remind me of what their government did if we ever got to talking about US-Moroccan relations, or US-Arab/Muslim relations, or Arab-Israeli relations for that matter.

Additionally, this means the oldest American consulate in the world is located in Morocco! It is actually the Tangier American Legation Museum now, but it was the site of the American diplomatic mission from 1821 to 1956. After independence in 1956, all of the embassies and such moved to Rabat. The building then served as a consulate, and an Arabic language training school for diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers until 1975. With the help of Marines (painting on their days off) from the Kenitra Naval Base, the museum opened just in time for the bicentennial in 1976.

I visited the museum with volunteer and Moroccan friends during the summer of 2009, and we had a lot of fun looking around at historical artifacts, like a dispatch from Washington notifying the consul of the death of Abraham Lincoln, as well as a letter from the sultan of Morocco to George Washington. It basically said, "Yeah, ok, you guys are the U.S. now. That's cool with us." A rough translation. Obviously, we weren't able to read the Arabic - think of how much trouble you have reading any handwriting from 1777 - but Washington's response began, much to our delight, with "My Great and Magnanimous Friend:" I wish we started letters like that nowadays.

But, as far as letters go, our absolute favorite was one from a 19th century consul to Washington, posted in its original, as well as a typed, form on the wall of one of the conference rooms. (You can see me reading the letter on the wall in this picture to the left.) The consul was panicking because the Sultan (via the Pasha, or Basha, kind of like the mayor of Tangier) had a gift of (2 female, I think) lions delivered to the Consulate, and the delivery boy - and the Pasha - were saying that the Sultan would have them beheaded if the consul did not accept the gift. He describes how he locked the lions in a room as he went to write the letter. The website of the legation museum elaborates more on the situation:

In 1833 James R. Leib, the Resident American Consul in Tangier at the time, had accepted from the Sultan a lion and two horses as gifts to the Untied States. He sent an urgent communication to Washington recommending use of the horses Tangier and seeking authorization to ship the lion to Washington. Washington replied suggesting getting rid of the lion but sending the horses to Washington if they were any good. The cost of feeding the beast was $1 per day, and Leib's salary was only $2,000 a year. By 1835, Leib had spent $439.50 on the animal, but had not received a reply to his appeal to Washington to take the lion off his hands. He could not sell the animals for fear offending the Sultan, and he was in a diplomatic bind.

Leib's successor was persuaded to accept yet another gift of lions from the Sultan, only when the Pasha assured the Consul that he (the Pasha) would lose his head if he did not deliver the lions, and began depositing them on the street in front of the Consulate. This time, however, Washington came promptly to his aid by authorizing shipment to the US.

I wish I could find the text of the original letter online, the wording and the tone were priceless.

Needless to say, American-Moroccan diplomatic relations go back a long way. Professional and personal relationships, although hugely less well-documented, are of no less importance, and I hope to try to illuminate some of the bonds we have throughout the life of this blog.

04 June 2010

Cold Coffee?

While I was in Morocco for 27 months, I had a lot of time to daydream, and I came up with a few "Brilliant!" ideas.

Some of them were probably never going to happen, like my grand idea for a 5-story riad (Moroccan bed and breakfast) with a library and a floor with 20 dh beds for volunteers and Couchsurfers (and we would be the primary sponsors of the first ever Morocco Ironman race).

My other idea was to start a Starbucks. Or some other kind of American-style coffee place. This idea stemmed from the fact thatone of the things from"Amrrrica"was (a) iced coffee and (b) coffee that you can TAKE WITH YOU. It's a novel concept, taking food and eating it on the go, in Morocco. It's understandable, because food is used for socializing, and is a big event, so it doesn't make sense to people why you would not take time to enjoy the food. The same with coffee. It is served a la francais, it tiny tiny cups and is also a socializing tool. No one is in a hurry - like most Starbucks customers are - and so "fast" food is completely unnecessary. Well to everyone except for me, because I enjoy carrying my coffee with me.

So, since I can't (YET) bring Stone Creek or Starbucks to the cities of Morocco, I decided to bring my very own Starbucks Venti To Go Cold Cup Tumbler with me this time! I already have a thermos for hot coffee, but I'm going to be there in the summer, so I need to take that iced coffee with me. Joy!

My plan is to make friends with some server at a cafe near wherever I will be living in Marrakech, and hope that he can fill me up on the way to work. And by "fill me up" I really mean just give me two or three shots of espresso, and then I would add the milk (and ice hopefully). Or I could just make coffee myself at home, but that's too easy!

I will keep you updated on the iced coffee adventures!

01 June 2010

News- and Note-worthy

Here are some articles that I have found interesting recently:

On Slate.com, a Muslim perspective on the French burqa ban. What I find most noteworthy about this article is the debate that goes on in the comments. I was saddened, but not too surprised, at the plethora of negative opinions and ignorant stereotypes posted about Islam. I was also disappointed that there were not more Muslim women posting their opinions.

From a few days ago in the New York Times, US Marine women sent out to win over Afghani women. I was fascinated by this story, and if I could quickly learn Pashto or Dari, a situation like this would be the only way I would ever consider joining the military. I was also fascinated by the similarities in what rural women are lacking throughout the world.

This was not posted recently, but I just came across it. Called "And I've Been to Morocco," it shows how differently people can view the same country. If you know me, you know how much I love Morocco, and love its people and its complexity (or ridiculousness...). The author, however, chose to focus solely on the negative aspects, and not try to dig beneath a surface observation and see the complex reality. Reading about her experience makes me sad that not everyone can love it as much as I do.

To end on a high note, Elton John successfully puts on a show in Morocco. His private life is his private life, and doesn't seem to affect the fans opinions.