31 March 2011

Another Week, Another Trip

I've been working a lot lately, having 3 trips almost back to back. But I'm still managing to do a good job, touch some hearts, and (hopefully) change some lives. Here is an email from a student on my most recent trip:

Hi Zineb!

Here's some of the pics that I took when we were in the RIF mountains, as well as the picture of us all at "Hope for Sale". Let me know if you need me to send them in another format!

Thanks again for being such a great leader. It was such an amazing trip, I already want to come back. I am also glad you shared your experiences as a volunteer, I have been thinking a lot since then about whether i'd like to do a program like that after graduation!

Keep in touch!

Hope for Salé, an organization on the "wrong side of the river"
that helps youth, ages 7 to 30.

Discussing village life and politics over lunch.

Going in for the couscous!

My students bought jellabas!

Antonio, the Spanish teacher, and Anas, the son!

Double tea pouring!

Anas with his frisbee... kid is actually pretty good.

30 March 2011

Morocco: Not Libya

Recently, I have been getting many emails from people back in The States about Morocco. I do appreciate that people hear about Libya and Egypt and Tunisia (and, if they’re paying attention, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, and Bahrain), and then think of me and hope that I am okay. Nevertheless, really, in the end, it is very frustrating that some of my friends and family cannot take 5 minutes to Google a map of the Arab/Muslim world. I don’t blame anyone for their ignorance, especially if they are busy working, raising a family, or going to school. Nevertheless, if someone is going to take the time to email me to ask me if there is any danger to me from missiles being dropped on Libya, they have the time to look at a map.

Morocco is a country about the size of California, and to the east is Algeria, a HUGE country (in comparison with the countries in Europe, anyway) that would take at least 2, if not 3, days to drive across. Then, much smaller, but still between us and Libya, is Tunisia. So we are really really safe here, at least from Libya.

Politically, also, there is not much going on here compared to the rest of the region. Morocco has been a parliamentary monarchy since 1956, though most of the power is in the hands of the king. Mohammed VI is a new king, relative to the other leaders or ex-leaders in the region who have recently fallen, and is known as the king of the poor, and much more of a reformer than his predecessors were. I personally do not see an overwhelming amount of concern in his actions for the poor and the working class, but he has tried through multiple reforms and development projects throughout the past 11 years.

Protests really began in Morocco in February. The educated youth of the country (of which there are much less than the other countries - Morocco is the poorest country in the region by far) started a movement they call 20 February Movement. At first, its aims were not clear - and some would say they are still not clear - but as the weeks passed, the theme of responsible governance and anti-corruption really came to the forefront. Morocco, considering how developed it is in some places, has some of the highest rates of corruption in the world. (It is somewhat ridiculous to watch how blatant it is in some places…).

There are also various organizations that are taking advantage of this time of reform and pushing harder for the reforms they have always wanted and, in many cases, desperately needed. Teachers, handicapped people, various unions, but most of all, students. Students who have MAs and Ph.Ds and who are, apparently, guaranteed by the constitution, to have first pick at government jobs.

Personally, I support these people in their protests, because I am always in support of people working for change. It feels like this opportunity to protest is the most political hope these people have had in a long time. Yet, at the same time, it feels a lot like people are expecting the government to fix everything for them, that there are unlimited jobs and the government is supposed to just hand them out. I know that many of them are being filled through favoritism and bribery, but I also wish there was some other way. The protests so far don’t seem to be doing much - then again, what do I know, I don’t read Arabic - and from what I’ve read and seen of the Moroccan government, I really don’t expect them to change all that much. They all like the power they have too much, and there is very little accountability. In the end, I try mostly to ask people questions and listen to their opinions in order to get a general sense of the problem, because it is much more complicated than I had originally thought.

In the end, there was one week where protests were followed by violence - burning cars, breaking windows, etc. - but most people were saying that these were just “young hooligans” and not legitimate protestors. After that week, police and auxiliary forces were sent out to every major city, and, as a glorified tour guide, I took the opportunity to point out these guys to my students and their teachers (mostly so that they could go home and tell everyone how safe and normal Morocco is). I am in a bind because I wish that more radical change could happen in Morocco, but at the same time I know that that would mean much more upheaval than my friends and “family” here are ready for, or really want at all in their lives. Plus, selfishly, it means I would probably have to leave.

So, don’t worry about me, really. Morocco is changing, for sure, but very much more politically stable than other countries in the region. On a cynical note, tourists and foreigners are much to valuable to the country’s economy for the government to let anything happen to us.

29 March 2011

Driving to Ouezzane

I’m riding in the front of the van. It’s spring in Morocco, which so far has meant mostly that the sun’s warmth has gone from “wow, nice, I’m glad the sun has come out to keep me warm” to “ouch, that’s hot! where’s the nearest shade.” We’re on my favorite part of a trip right now, the morning ride into the countryside.

We leave Rabat and head north on the autoroute. It’s fascinating to me every time we’re on this autoroute that this is the ONE highway in Morocco. A country the size of California has just one north-south highway that goes up from Marrakech, and then splits off somewhere north of Rabat, one branch going up to Tangier, and the other branch going East to Oujda. That’s it. There are not interchanges, no interstate 794 and 494 that merge into being just 94. Just one long road that runs along the coast. But I digress.

Now we’ve left the highway and are on what they call here “the national route” meaning the free road, the normal road that you don’t have to pay to use. And we come back to the Morocco that I knew as a volunteer. But greener, because we are in the North, where it actually rains more than once a season.

There are long stretches of flat, bright green fields, where I see a mix of yellow flowers and what I think could be lettuce, soy, or some low growing plant. Women walking on the side of the road wear brightly colored baseball caps and full hijabs that they pull over their face to keep the pesticides out of their mouth, nose, and even their eyes. Men and women leading small herds of sheep and cows walk with, against, and in front of the traffic. My students “awww” over the lambs that really do frolic.

We drive past high fields of sugar cane irrigated by raised concrete irrigation “canals” that also serve the purpose of providing shade for the occasional stray dog. There is a place where the road is lined on one side by a row of fat squat palm trees that always surprises me, especially after we have just driven through a small eucalyptus tree forest. And there are always the ubiquitous rows of cactus and blackberry bushes separating one farmer’s land from another.

The smell is different too. Gone is the vague smell of cigarette smoke and smog and ocean that saturates Rabat. Through the cracked window, I can smell slightly damp earth, fresh plants, dust from the wagon paths, and the diesel of tractors. We pass vegetable stands that if we drive by slowly enough, you can catch the smell of tomatoes or even oranges.

I try to point these things out to my students, I try to capture the feel of the Moroccan countryside in writing, but I often feel like I fail to explain why a scene you could find in much of the rest of the world’s countysides, captures me so much. Maybe it’s because it is so different than the world in which I grew up; maybe it’s because I realize more and more everyday that this world turned me into an adult; maybe it’s because I truly fell in love with humanity and specific people in this kind of place; maybe it’s because of the famous Moroccan hospitality. I don’t know. All I know is that in the 3arobiya, the countryside, I’m content.

27 March 2011

The Princess and the Pauper (a Moroccan folktale)

adapted by Amy Friedman and illustrated by Jillian Gilliland

Long ago in Morocco there lived a princess who was driving in her carriage from the palace into the city when suddenly the sky opened, and a dragon swooped down out of the heavens and picked her up.

It was the work of the Jinns, evil spirits who had sent the dragon to capture the princess. They put her under a spell and hid her away.

When word spread of the capture, many princes attempted to rescue the princess, but no one returned to the king with good news. Rather, each prince came and said, "Alas, I could not find her."

Time passed.

One day a poor orphan who was all alone in the world decided to go to the city to find work. Abbas was the young man's name, and he began the wearisome trek from the countryside.

After he had walked all day, he came upon a tall, crumbling structure. It began to rain lightly outside, so Abbas decided to stop at this place.

He knocked on what was left of the door.

When no one answered, Abbas cautiously walked inside, calling into the darkness, "Is anyone home?"

Suddenly, out of the dark shadows, a hand carrying a lighted candle floated toward Abbas. A finger beckoned to him.

Abbas was a fearless young man, so he walked toward the hand. Soon he discovered he was walking down a dark flight of stairs.

At the bottom of the stairwell, Abbas saw an alluring palace. He followed the hand into an extravagant room rich with tapestries and tile. In the room was a table laden with food.

Abbas was starving, and without stopping to think, he began to eat until he was full. Then he turned and saw the hand beside him. Once again the finger beckoned.

Again he followed, this time down a hallway into another room. In this room was a big bed, and on the coverlet laid a silk dressing gown.

Abbas dressed in the gown and climbed into the bed. He slept deeply through that night, until the hand tapped him on the shoulder at dawn.

Abbas woke feeling rested and strong, and from somewhere in the distance he heard a voice. "You are a brave man," said the voice. "You are the first who dared follow me. Promise to wait patiently for the next three nights without running away or calling for help, and you will break the spell of the Jinns."

Naturally Abbas agreed to wait. "I promise to break the spell," he said, though he had no idea what that spell was.

That night he feasted again, and again he slept in the big, warm bed.

At midnight he heard a creaking sound and the doors to the room opened. In marched an army of men carrying clubs. They began to beat Abbas most viciously. Still, true to his word, he did not run or cry out. At dawn the army departed and the hand reappeared.

This time the hand carried salves and balms and liquid medicines and it treated his wounds and bruises. Within minutes he was cured.

The second night the same thing happened. Again Abbas did not run away or cry out. Once again at dawn the hand healed him.

On the third night, the army beat Abbas even more cruelly, but he did not complain or run away, and all night he whispered his mantra, "I will break the spell of the Jinns."

In the morning of the fourth day, Abbas waited, but this time the hand did not appear at dawn. He waited another hour, and then another, and at last a beautiful woman appeared. It was she who treated his wounds with magical ointments. Once again he was instantly healed.

Abbas could not take his eyes from this young woman's face she was so exquisite. "Who are you?" he asked.

The young woman told Abbas the story of the day the dragons stole her away and the Jinns' enchantment. "I am a princess," she said, and the moment she finished her tale, she disappeared.

Once again Abbas was in his own tattered clothes, standing above the ruins of the palace. But this time he wanted to find the princess. Alas, he had no money, no horses, no friends to help. Still, he vowed he would travel the world until he found her. And he set off on his quest.

Meanwhile, the princess's spell had been broken and the dragon carried her back to the palace. There, the princess waited and waited. She remembered the young man who vowed to love her, but at last she gave up hope that Abbas would return.

To her father's delight, the princess agreed to marry one of the princes who wished to marry her.

On their wedding day, as the princess was riding in her coach, she noticed a young man standing at the gates of the palace — a young man dressed in rags.

At once she recognized his face. It was Abbas, and she understood that he had tried to reach her. In his eyes she saw tears, and she knew he was sad because he loved her.

"Stop at once!" she called to the coachman, and she turned to the prince. "Some time ago I lost the key to my box of jewels, and I had a new one made," she said. "Then I found the old one. Which key should I use?"

"The old one, of course," the prince said. "The original is always best."

"I agree," said the princess. And with those words she stepped out of the coach and ran to Abbas. She took his hand in hers and led him back to the coach."When I spoke of an old key," she said to the prince, "this is what I meant. When no prince was brave enough to rescue me, this man did, and he won my heart."

And so the princess married the pauper, and they lived happily ever after.

© 2011 San Angelo Standard Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

08 March 2011

Positive Feedback

Back to work! Back to the blog!

Ok, so I am very very late on keeping this blog updated, but I haven't forgotten it. I keep seeing things, or doing things, and saying, oh! I should write about this in my blog. So, since I have less than a year left in Morocco - this time for "good" - I thought I should work on updating this more, and going back to my original goal of using this space as a Third Goal platform. Educate Americans about the people you served as a volunteer.

But first, I would like to share some really positive feedback I got from my past trip. I was surprised to get this feedback because I was sick with the worst cold I've had in years, and for the first two days, I couldn't think straight. I'm sure my thoughts were coming out in jumbles. And I did get some bad feedback about not providing enough historical information at the touristy sites, and someone did say I lacked enthusiasm. But I can take that and work with it, because of these two letters I received.


Hi Zineb,

I never got a chance to personally thank you for our trip. I know a major reason I got so much out of it in such little time was because of your organization and preparedness. I also really appreciated that you repeatedly provided us with unique insight and perspective about Morocco and its amazing people. From a logistics standpoint, the trip was nearly perfect. I remember doubting you when you said on the first bus ride that the trip was “like clockwork”, but it truly was.
It’s hard for me to describe the impact the trip had on me. Today in class, many of my friends asked me about the trip and I found it really difficult and overwhelming to verbalize the experience. I told them the only way they would truly understand is to visit Morocco themselves.

The brief time I spent in Morocco genuinely did make me rethink my future and question my real goals in life. I know the trip will influence my life for years to come and I have you to thank for facilitating that transformation. A and I are already trying to make plans to return. I think we both realized that there is much more to see in Morocco and it is almost not fair to spend only 3 days there.

Thanks again for everything. I (and others on the trip) truly appreciate your passion and organization.
***Handshake/heart touch thing***



Dear A (my boss),

My husband and I jreceived a very long email from our daughter, J, who just attended the Morocco Exchange trip this past weekend. She's a student at Syracuse Madrid. I just wanted to tell you that she had a fantastic experience. She had high regard for your guide, the 25 yr old former volunteer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (my home town!). Please thank this young woman for her hard work and enthusiasm in spreading the mission of your program, ie, the cultural exchange to foster peace and awareness of different cultures.. J said it was absolutely eye-opening for her. She was impressed with the Moroccan people, particularly the young people she met her age. J is a bio chemistry student at the U. of Colorado and has been thinking very hard about what she will do with this major in the future. Your Moroccan Exchange Program has caused her to clearly look at what she could do to help with world health (and other issues) by furthering her studies in bio chemistry and eventually "giving back" to others.

Thank you so much for easing my fears as a parent. Your program is very organized, insightful, interesting and thought-provoking for the students who attend.


E and S