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Showing posts from May, 2012

Moving On, or: Why I love the Peace Corps Phone Plan

Swearing-In took place on May 24th. My official acronym has changed from PCT to PCV.

This may not seem too significant, but it's importance cannot be stressed enough.

Firstly, it means that I'll now be living on my own. Until now, the Peace Corps has held my hand (and looked over my shoulder) at every moment of every day, tracking my whereabouts, calling me, sending me emails and phone-calls and visits from administration.

Now, nothing.

After swearing-in, Peace Corps took us to their compound in Rabat, fed us lunch, and said, "So long. Good luck finding your way back to the hotel and then to your site."

I possessed piece of paper with a name and a phone number, along with a limited vocabulary. Despite the circumstances, I managed to make arrangements with my new host father. In addition, I was expected to arrange transportation on my own, which to my general astonishment, worked without a hitch. Perhaps my Darija is better than I thought.

Secondly, and perhaps more importa…

Ifrane and Azrou

During training, I had two getaway weekends. One was in a little place called Moulay Yacoub, and I've already mentioned that trip. The second was a double-whammy trip to a French Garden Town called Ifrane and nearby Azrou, situated in the Middle Atlas mountains.

Ifrane is a completely different world from Fes and its proximal towns. First, it's new. The French created it during the protectorate period as a Hill Station, a summer retreat for French citizens wanting to escape the oppressive heat of North Africa. Therefore, it is very European. It looks like somebody transplanted a Swiss town right into the middle of the Atlas Mountains (it's nickname is "little Switzerland"). The houses are very European, and one might think they were in Europe if it weren't for the giant stork nests perched atop the chimneys around the city.

Next we went to Azrou and checked into a hotel. Azrou is also fairly new, though it has an old section. It has very few tourists, especiall…

For Mother's Day

The Lanyard By Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard. No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother. I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother. She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, p…

Food Matters

Some of you are wondering, no doubt, about the food situation here in Morocco.

You can be sure of two things:

1) It is nothing like American cuisine
2) It is nonetheless delicious

I've posted about food before, but now that I've been living here for two months (and eating with Moroccan families), I can update you on the chow-down sitchiashun.

The first thing a newcomer will notice at the Moroccan dinner table is that the times are quite different. Moroccans have breakfast, of course, when they wake up, but lunch is typically served later than noon - maybe 2:00 or 3:00. At 7:00 or 8:00, a mini-meal called kaskrout is served, typically consisting of sweets, bread and jam, tea, and occasionally a treat like mlwi or bgrir, things I will describe later. True dinner is served very late, sometimes 10:00 or even as late as 11:30.

Once the meal times are adjusted for, the visitor will next notice the preponderance of bread. Moroccans treat bread reverently, as they believe it is a gift from …

Around Fes

Fes is a big city. It is the 4th-largest in Morocco, after Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakech, with a population of about 950,000. It contains a huge royal palace, and an absolutely enormous Medina.There are basically three parts, Fes el Bali (the old, walled city), Fes-Jdid (or "new Fes") which includes the old Jewish quarter (and which is only "new" relative to Fes el Bali), and the Ville Nouvelle (the really new part, created by the French). Fes el Bali is considered the world's largest contiguous car-free urban area. It is absolutely packed with shops and people and merchandise and from what I'm told, lots and lots of poverty. All of the old city is considered a UNESCO world heritage site. Included are beautiful mosques, countless artisans, museums, mysterious relics. The oldest continuously-operating university in the world is here as well - University of Al-Qarawiyyin (founded 859).

Fes is an old city, established in 789 by Idris I. During three separate…

A Moulay Yacoub Kind of Day

Fes is big.

Too big.

I need a break from big.

Actually, I needed a break from big, and I got it (come to think of it though, I could use another).

Weeks ago, several of my friends came together, and we traveled to a nearby town called Moulay Yacoub. Built on a hillside, Yacky looks out over rolling hills blanketed with dill, cereal grains, and shepherds with their flocks. Underneath the countless stairs and hills, trapped in the earth is a simmering cauldron. These hot springs have been diverted into the Hammams of Yacky and provide a sizable stream of tourism.

Members of my group walked through the Hammams, but we weren't interested in what was below as much as what was above. After a quick walk through the town and the procurement of picnic items, the group set off over the hills. It was a muddy adventure, and the wind was constantly thwarting our attempts at finding quietude, but the view was absolutely gorgeous, and we couldn't help but enjoy ourselves immensely.

Highlights inc…

My Moroccan Family

Like I explained in my last post, the Peace Corps pairs each volunteer or volunteer couple with a host family.

For the sake privacy, I'll shorten their names. We'll call my host family the Zs. There are five Zs in my host family:

Mama Z is always very considerate and kind. She treats me as if I were her own son, and she is always finding ways to make me feel welcome in the house. Additionally, she is a very devout woman, soft-spoken, and hard-working. Her cooking is tremendous and generously portioned. When she laughs, the whole room brightens.

Mus-Z is the oldest brother and hence the oldest male in the house. He rides to the city center on his motorcycle every day to work. He is a man of fashionable taste and few words, and he often wears a serious expression. Mus-Z took me on my very first Hammam trip and oriented me to the layout of the community.

Mou-Z is the middle brother in the Z household. He goes to school every day and seems to be a serious student. He is especially int…