16 November 2010

So-Youn Died 1 Year Ago

I am having the best time in Marrakech. I just missed Tahannoute and my friends and family here so much, and the cleanliness of of 'Kech. Today I woke up in the clean air of my host family's house, ran 7 miles on the beautiful mountain road towards the highest mountains in North Africa, went to souq to buy pumpkins, had lunch with Youssef's family, and went to the dar chebab, and then had dinner with my host family. FANTASTIC. I love life.

But today, I am remembering the night that I spent last year on Nov. 16, freaking out because one of our own had passed away. So-Youn Kim died on Nov. 16, 2009 of an infection due to a "confidential" complication. Her death also led to an internal investigation and the firing of all 3 doctors who served the volunteer community.

So tonight, I want to post the last poem she posted in her blog, to remember her love of life and how far we've all come (sorry for the cliché).

http://fabulouslymundane.blogspot.com/2008/10/i-was-asked-what-kind-of-revolutions-i.html

26 October 2008

i was asked what kind of revolutions i believe in

my revolutions?
pens that heal with words of love
for community

jolt life to a halt
quintessential question is
"what are you doing?"

re-evaluate
trajectory of our world
where do we end up?

plan for the future
plant gardens in empty lots
intentionally

paying homage to
abandoned child (hood dreams)
how could we forget?

name the secret truths
they're no more real than me
even when they hurt

tears. freedom to feel
compassion: "suffering with"
laughter lives here now

choose your family
offer self for scrutiny
belonging at last

recreate moments
we wish would last forever
if we don't, who will?

then what's important?
strip off the unessential
move gently in love

a new world order
welcomes the tired and poor
calls us daughters/sons

"personal bubbles"
walls of insecurity
flawed nomenclature

destructive patterns
of generational sin
"none of the above"

reaching out for you
knowing your warmth is comfort
incomparable

living and dying
solitary existence
find another way

inconsequential
unless i believe in a
new revolution.

14 November 2010

Submissive?

REPOSTED FROM "PICTURES OF MUSLIMS WEARING THINGS"


These are Pakistani policewomen. The lady on the right is wearing delicate henna on her hands, and both submissive Muslim women are wearing a girlish lace-trim on their encumbering headscarves.

The Letter I Actually Sent to Peace Works

Dear Volunteer Community-

Volunteers and their romantic relationships with Moroccans: It happens, everyone knows that it happens, and yet there is so much fog and mystery surrounding all of it, that often, there is also a lot of “collateral damage” resulting from these relationships. We, who have been or are currently in relationships with Moroccans, need, as guests in this country, to consider the implications of our actions, and work to be more respectful with our relationships, especially towards our communities.

For us as volunteers, being in a relationship with a Moroccan in Morocco means that we have to follow the Moroccan rules of dating. You are only here for two years, and your primary responsibility is to work.. You can make sacrifices, and there is always time to negotiate between American-ness and Moroccan-ness in your relationship.

Before we started dating, both my boyfriend and I had seen the volunteer I replaced and her Moroccan boyfriend be very public (holding hands in the street, him coming in and out of her house during all hours of the day and night) with their relationship. We saw the damage it had done to her reputation and that of other foreigners in site, including me, and the increased harassment it had caused in both her and my lives. I didn’t want my replacement to go through what I went through.

So, he and I decided to keep our relationship secret, but more importantly, respectful. Just as you wouldn’t walk around in your site in a tank top and shorts, you can’t go parading your relationship around either. We wanted my reputation to stay positive in the community. We also didn’t want to cause problems for him and his family, because he was a teacher and he too had a reputation to maintain. From our experience, I can offer a few concrete suggestions:

• Explain to your girl/boyfriend that you want to be respectful of your community and overly conservative in the way that you date. They will understand what you mean.
• Especially at first, try not to let people in your community see you together very often, especially your neighbors; meet in a bigger city if possible, where you both know less people.
• Don’t hold hands in public in your site.
• Kissing in public anywhere in Morocco will get you in a lot of trouble, don’t do it.
• If you have to work together, keep a “brother-sister” distance at work.
• If you are going to have him or her come over to your house, have him or her come or leave at at night or with a big group of visitors.
• Don’t tell people in your community, except those you trust with your life.

It can be very frustrating to abide by so many new rules in addition to the other challenges of being a volunteer in a foreign country. Neverthless, with patience and flexibility it can be done. We can't expect everyone to be as accepting as our fellow Americans. We can and should expect volunteers to be non-judgmental but it’s not realistic to expect that from your whole village as well...

Additionally, if you have a friend who is dating a Moroccan, be supportive of them. You may disapprove of the relationship, but it is our duty to support our fellow volunteer – and not to judge them – no matter what decisions they make. You are not going to change their mind, and you are not going to help the situation by being judgemental of them. Dating is challenging in any context, and balancing a relationship in addition to the struggles that we all face is no easy task.

We should be aware of our responsibility to ourselves, to our communities, to Morocco, to our friends, to our replacements, and to our jobs. When dating, especially in Morocco, we should stop and take time to consider the repercussions of any of our actions, especially our public actions in a culture where there is such a dichotomy between the public and the private.

Thank you.

Despite Bedbugs, I Belong Here

Whenever his own tribe won a victory in a battle with another tribe, Si Abdallah el Hassoun inwardly rejoiced. At the same time he considered this pleasure a base emotion, one unworthy of him. Thus, to fortify his sanctity he bade farewell to his students and went to live in Sla, which is by the sea.

It was not long before the divinity students of his schoool sent several of their number to Si Abdallah, imploring him to return to them. Without replying, the saint led them to the rocks at the edge of the sea.

How turbulent the water is! He exclaimed. The students agreed. Then Si Abdallah filled a jar with the water and set it on a rock. yet the water in here is still, he said, pointing at the jar. Why?

A student answered: Because it has been taken out of the place where it was.

Now you see why I must stay here, Si Abdallah said.


~ from “Points in Time,” Paul Bowles


(Thanks to Becki for the quote!)

03 November 2010

Summary of a Trip

Many bug bites, proof of battle and why I couldn't write for so long.


Rachel and I in the new, zwin, train car on the way up to Tangier.


Sunrise over Gibraltar the morning before we get on the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier.


Hafsa talking to the students on the first morning.


What it looks like when a camel stands up.


Some of our students at Hope for Salé Association, holding a anti-terrorism banner.


The ruins of the mosque at Chellah.

Northern village in the afternoon sunlight.


An intense discussion about religion ensued.


Obligatory group picture.


Blue Chefchaouen medina.


Some of the girls at our visit to the Spanish mosque above Chefchaouen.


I am an Old Woman

13 Oct. 2010

With this last group, I don't feel like I did a great job of going deep or doing it fast enough. Katy said I need stories - intense stories about my/other's experiences in Morocco. Stories I have - especially of poverty, and great hospitality in the face of obstacles we upper middle class Americans would consider unsurmountable. Even sitting here on a day off in Tangier, a fairly well-off, overly-expensive city, I see it.

With a view of Spain, I'm eating a filling afternoon lunch of green salad & fish. The early October sunlight has turned the bay blue and the building seem more white than grey. But two events put a spin on this view that I don't know if normal foreigners who visit Tangier would take the time to see.

First, a lady comes up to the restaurant. She's wearing an orange-brown jellaba under a very dirty traditional red and white striped Rifian wool skirt. Covering her shoulders and her head, she's wearing an itchy-looking green cloth, tied at the neck with a purple string. Her shoes are also purple - plastic sandals that do nothing to support or warm her ancient looking feet. With most of her teeth missing and the sun-damage to her face, she looks 80 or 90 years old, but knowing what I do about how living in Morocco ages a person, I would say she's 55 or 60 at most.

I give her 10 dirham, more than my usual sadaqa (alms) of 2 or 3, because she doesn't ask me for it. She just waiting to see if the kitchen has extra food for her. And she thanks me with God-phrases I haven't even heard before. The restaurant has no food, but when she comes back to check again, I see she has a clear plastic bag with a BIG sandwich. And when the waiter lets her sit down to wait, I realize this is probably the first time she's sat down all day. I'm so thankful I'll never know the feeling of having to walk all day to find one meal. Well, inchallah I won't have to.

What really struck me about this woman was that after she finished eating her sandwich - small bite by small bite - she saw a cute little girl running around, went up to the little girl, and offered to give her a dirham. She may have been destitute, but she still wanted to make this child's day. Fortunately the mother of the child saw what was going on, and instead offered to buy the woman a coffee.

The other event was slightly less poetic. I saw tourists - in a big tour group, obviously - walk past, completely oblivious to a friendly-could-turn-ugly fight between two glue sniffers. In Morocco, poor people who can't afford beer or hash or any other drug buy a 5 dirham tube of glue, pour it into a plastic bag, and breathe in and out of that bag (like someone hyperventilating) to get high. To me, it's so glaringly obvious who the glue sniffers are - I mean, they are carrying around very worn plastic bags - but I watched closely, and these tourists didn't seem to see a single thing.

And the poverty divide continues!

The REAL Letter I Wanted to Send

Dear Volunteers-

I am a YD ’07-’09 still living in Morocco, so of course I want to meet up and hang out with volunteers. It’s been great the past few months, to still be welcomed into the groups of new and older volunteers, and invited to come out to dinners and such while people are visiting Rabat. Lately, however, I’ve been hearing some disturbing rumors about behavior in the volunteer community, and within the administration, and it distresses me.

Maybe you know where I’m going, but let me give you an example. This is of one of my dear friends who was dating a man, not from her site, and decided to get married. One weekend group of volunteers was at her site for VSN training and decided they needed to tell her their opinions about her relationship and her decisions. Then, these volunteers, who were all supposed to be learning how to listen non-judgmentally in order to support their fellow volunteers, decided to go and complain to her brother-in-law about the very same issue. Fortunately, he was supportive of her, and helped her smooth things over with the volunteers.

Volunteers and their romantic relationships with Moroccans: It happens, everyone knows that it happens, and yet there is so much fog and mystery surrounding all of it, that often, there is also a lot of “collateral damage” resulting from these relationships. My thesis here is twofold: We as friends and volunteers need to support our fellow volunteers and not judge them based on their relationship choices. I would say that this is also true for staff and official policy in Morocco (but that is always a touchy issue). We, who have been or are currently in relationships with Moroccans, also need, as guests in this country, to consider the implications of our actions, and work to be more respectful with our relationships, especially towards our communities.

The idea that dating a Moroccan is somehow shameful or makes a volunteer less worthy or less effective in their work has always struck me as ridiculous and more than kind of racist. We are supposed to be open-minded and openhearted to all kinds of new experiences. I think that, during my service, I was lucky to have a very accepting staj who were too involved in their own projects and lives to worry too much about who I, or anyone else, was dating. Because of this, we were able to introduce our significant others to our staj-mates, so that they could “meet the other” so to speak, and see what cool people they were.

In my observation, this has not been the case in other stajes. I have had many people come to me and ask me for support and for advice regarding their Moroccan relationships. What struck me the most was how reluctant they were to talk about anything in the beginning, and how most of them made me swear to keep the relationship a secret, especially from their stage. I even know two girls who, like me, stayed in Morocco after they finished their service, and still were very protective of their relationship within their group of friends.

My suggestion is for people to mind their own business, first. Gossip in the volunteer community is notorious for being vicious, and we definitely don’t need to add to it. Just because you think all Moroccan men are horrible – which they aren’t – and could never find that intellectual and emotional connection with anyone in your site, province, region, doesn’t mean that someone else has had the same experience. Maybe they met a goofy Ph.D. student from Rabat who regularly uses words like “fiasco” and has read Foucault in French and in English (true story).

Second, if you do have a friend who is dating a Moroccan, be supportive of them. You may disapprove of the relationship, it is our duty to support our fellow volunteer – and not to judge them – no matter what decisions they make. Dating is challenging in any context, and balancing a relationship in addition to the struggles of volunteering that we all face is no easy task. And you never know when you may be in their position: I had a friend who swore up and down that she would never, could never date a Moroccan. She’s now engaged to one.

Now I want to speak to my fellow “daters of Moroccans.” For us as volunteers, being in a relationship with a Moroccan in Morocco means that we have to follow the Moroccan rules of dating. You are only here for two years, and your primary responsibility is to work. Whether it’s putting on two conferences in your region a year, or just going to tea with your neighbors, you should not let your dating get in the way of your work. You CAN make sacrifices, and if you end up marrying the person, you will have the rest of your lives to negotiate between American-ness and Moroccan-ness in your relationship.

In my case, as YD volunteer, I was very visible to impressionable teenagers, I never spoke about my relationship to my kids, or anyone in my community. Additionally, both my boyfriend and I had seen the volunteer I replaced and HER Moroccan boyfriend be very public (holding hands in the street, him coming in and out of her house during all hours of the day and night) with their relationship. We had seen the damage it had done to her reputation and that of other foreigners in site, including me, and the increased harassment it had caused in both her and my lives.

Very early on, he and I decided to keep our relationship secret, and respectful. We didn’t want to cause problems in the community for me, OR for my replacement. We also didn’t want to cause problems for him and his family, because he was a teacher and he too had a reputation to maintain. We often met in Marrakech, and if we did work together at the dar chebab, we kept a “brother-sister” distance from each other. If he came over to my house, he always came at night, and then left again at night, or if he came during the day, he would only come and leave with a group of people. It wasn’t ideal, but I would have rather had a secret relationship than have lost relationships with my neighbors and host family. I don’t know if it would be safe to say that NOBODY saw us, but I do know that I worked very hard to gain the respect of my community, and no rumors got back to me about people seeing me with him.

My suggestion here is clear. Date a Moroccan sure, but if you are dating someone from your site, be VERY VERY CAREFUL. Better even to date someone from a nearby city instead. Explain to him or her that you want to be respectful of the community, that you want to be overly conservative in the way that you date. Just as you wouldn’t walk around in your site in a tank top and shorts, you can’t go parading your relationship around either. To Moroccans, it’s a matter of respect. So, if you want or need to go on “dates,” go to another city. Don’t hold hands in public with them, don’t let people see them coming over to your house, and don’t tell anyone in your community that you don’t trust with your life. It’s not our way of having a relationship to be sure, but patience and flexibility is key, and, trust me, you will be glad you kept it a secret. In addition, hopefully your friends will have read this article and will be willing and able to listen to your struggles and joys. :-)

Finally, closing a site because a volunteer and a Moroccan choose to get married is a truly abhorrent practice. If anything, sites should be closed where people dated and DIDN’T marry. If this were true, almost every region from the Zagora to Oujda would have to be closed. Yes, harassment happens, and it definitely can be worse for a volunteer to follow a marriage in a site. But a practice like this is basically saying that staff doesn’t approve of Moroccan-American relationships, but is too worried about their image to actually tell their volunteers they don’t recommend it.

Being a volunteer is not easy. We all need support and a kind ear at one time or another during our service, and no one should have that support denied to them. Dating is a choice that adults are free to make, and we should respect them in that. That being said, we should also be aware of our responsibility to ourselves, to our communities, to Morocco, to our friends, to our replacements, and to admin. When dating, especially in Morocco, we should stop and take time to consider the repercussions of any of our actions, especially our public actions in a culture where there is such a dichotomy between the public and the private.