Friday, October 31, 2008

A couple of shoutouts before we move on...


I just wanted to let everyone know that I added a few links. Samir, my CBT sitemate and hmmam buddy, is featured under the blog name, "From the Cold Land with the Hot Sun." Now you see, we had a similar CBT experience (being in the same town) however his writing style depicted our experience so much more vividly. I'll be following this one regularly and I suggest all of you to do the same.

The second link is the site that our CBT group created. The construction of the site was done primarily by one person, Nora, and we all contributed content to it (Samir, Jamila, Touria, Mariam (Emily), and myself (Karim). The link is called "Association Atlas Fil et Couleur." Check it out and if you're in the neighborhood of Itzer, you should hit them up for a trek!

Lastly, the third link takes you to a directory of Morocco Peace Corps Volunteers' sites. The link is labeled "Peace Corps Journals," or something like that. If you've got a few extra minutes sometime, it might be worth checking out. The site might be a little intimidating, as there are tons of links...each taking you to a different experience. Exploring this site would be a more long-term project.

Tonite, besides being Halloween, is also the night before we head out to our Volunteer site!!! We know a few details about this host family, namely that there is a mother and no father. She has 3 kids, an 18 year old son, an 11 year old daughter, and a 6 year old daughter. This family dynamic will be totally different than our last family, which was mostly nuclear (a mother and father, a 22 year old daughter, a 19 year old daughter, a 15 year old son, and an 8 month old daughter).

Our site, which I will call "Minnehaha," is known for it's mineral springs and delicious water. I don't really know too much more about the site, besides the fact that it is approximately a 3 hour taxi drive from our seminar site. Minnehaha's artisan groups keep themselves busy with woodworking, metalworking, embroidery, knitting, and other small crafts. Women do not weave in an association in Minnehaha, but, like in many Moroccan towns, they weave in their own homes. The area is actually known for a particular style of weaving, which is good for Emily!

Wish us luck in the next week, as we get to know our Volunteer site, our future co-workers, and our future home!


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Farewell to CBT

So, we have been in our CBT (community based training) site approximately 25 days, eating Moroccan food, experiencing Moroccan customs first-hand (a 3 day wedding, among other things!), and speaking Moroccan Arabic. Well, at least we're learning the four days, we will part with this small town in the Middle Atlas Mountains and return to our Seminar Site, 120km northwest of here. It has been very eye opening to see the differences and similarities of Moroccan and American lifestyles, especially regarding the differences of food and sense of space and the similarites of humor and family ties.

Some days, it feels like I have no language ability, but then other days, I'll manage to hold my own in a conversation, even cracking a few jokes here and there.

Overall, the experience has been fairly easy. Maybe it's because our family is very patient with our broken, slurred words and incomplete sentences. Maybe it's because we're not yet fully alone. We have not only each other, but we are also with 5 other American Peace Corps Trainees and an awesome LCF that speaks pretty good English.

It helps that we've had successes: Emily has an enthusiastic Moroccan projectmate, Aziza, who is eager to learn new ways of crafting her bags to make them more useful. Emily is applying many skills in this project, including design, sewing, and, of course, language. Take a look at one of the maquettes, resembling Aziza's bags, that Emily made.

And a sketch of a pattern that Emily used to create a maquette.

Emily's main design modification is the addition of the bottom, which gives the bag more volume and usability. Hopefully, this project will not only influence Aziza and the other weavers of the association, but it will also increase the value of the bags.

And I have been collaborating with an artist named Mohammed. Mohammed is a very prolific painter, sculptor, and comic art creator/designer. He paints murals and has contributed politial drawings to a few local newspapers ("jurnalat" in Darija). I discovered, however, that he has never photographed, catalogued, or recorded any information concerning his artwork. So, I have been working with him in photographing his work, naming it, and producing a catalog. The plan is that he can use these skills to archive his own works and the works of his art association. Now that the association has a website, this information can be put online, increasing the likelihood of sales.

In a future post, I'll include the website that one of our CBT groupmates created, which will feature photographs of the artisans' works.

All for now. Unfortunately, we will be leaving the awesome internet of our site's PCV. So I don't know when we'll be able to post alot of pictures. While the bandwidth's nice and fat, here are a few:

Emily in her wedding Khaftan (sp?)

Dung beetle. After all, there are alot of donkeys!

Emily and I in front of our beloved CBT site!

A quick photo during a mid-day stroll through our site!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Moroccan Culture: Part 1

So, there are no pictures in this blog post, sorry to disappoint. Also, it might not read logically. Again, bear with me. There are lots of items regarding Moroccan culture that are popping up in my head right now, so I just had the idea to record some of them down. Based on a month of observation, here goes:

The concept of hot and cold is pertinent to many rural Moroccan families, especially pertaining to physical health. One is persuaded against staying out in the cold, especially when he is underdressed. And, upon coming in from the cold, one is warned of the health problems of lost body heat and the cold in general. Wetness complicates this matter: if it is cold AND rainy, there is even more pressure against experiencing the elements. "Brd," a Moroccan would say, referring to the cold. I find this word easy to remember because it sounds like "brrrrr...," something Americans might say after coming in from the cold.

As people might know, the concept of time is a bit different in Morocco, as compared with America. Many Americans embody a "time is money" attitude that segments their days into strict schedules. There is much pressure to adhere to these schedules, as we generally tend to base our self-worth on the amount of things accomplished. Sometimes, relationships are sacrificed at the expense of getting the job done. In Morocco, like many other non-Western societies, relationships are valued more than work and time is not strictly adhered to. As a result, the pace of life is generally slower than in the United States and tasks aren't completed as speedily. I have not had much culture shock in this sense, as the Moroccans that we've been working with have been pretty motivated to work with us. However, I have no doubt that Emily and I will experience this in the next 2 years.

Moroccans are generally less direct than Americans. We tend to say what we mean, and mean what we say. To convey a message, we generally rely on what we say rather than how we say it. In Morocco, there is more emphasis placed on the non-literal meaning of a message: what is implied rather than what is directly stated. For example, let's say that a Moroccan friend were to offer you food, drink, or a favor. If you were to say "no, thank you," your friend would generally not take that answer at face value, even though you really do not want what's offered. It would take 2, 3, or even 4 "no's" to get the idea across. An American might feel pressure in this situation to say yes, and this is what often happens. At first, they may not understand why their Moroccan friend keeps pushing the issue! We have experienced this example of indirectness especially during meals. "Kul! Kul!" (Eat! Eat!) or "Zid! Zid!" (More! More!) typically punctuate dinnertime conversation. My experience of mealtimes thus far is that as long as you keep eating food, you will continue being fed. This is a dangerous combination, especially with foods that are new to one's body. If you're full, say it! Shbet, L Hamdullah (I'm full, thanks be to God!)!

The roles of women and men are generally different in Morocco as compared to America. For instance, in a typical rural family, the women (mother and sisters) do all of the housework, and prefer it this way. If men were to do work within the household, the women would be thought of as worthless or ineffective. They would think of themselves this way as well. Of course, there are exceptions (for example, a non-nuclear or single parent household). Rural women go out mostly during the day for running errands. Men, however, are seen at all times in the streets; they are in the company of other men only. They are to be seen congregating at public cafes, which forbid women. The sexes rarely mix in pubic. To do so would create a bad reputation for the woman involved.

Another differing topic is the concept of space. In a typical rural Moroccan household, there are no separate bedrooms. There is generally a sitting room (living room), a salon (a room for hosting guests, which is generally bigger than the sitting room), a kitchen, and a sleeping room (where any combination of family members may choose to sleep). Sometimes, family members sleep in the sitting room. The bathroom may or may not be inside the house. Sometimes, it is an attached structure with its own entry. Families generally store their clothes together and designate a room for changing clothes. Furthermore, there isn't a whole lot of "stuff" that family members own. There aren't piles upon piles of toys for children. There is no clutter that takes up all the room in the house. It just doesn't exist. The family ties are more important than the individual; there is less emphasis placed on individualism and more emphasis placed on collectivism. Living with a Moroccan family has helped us understand how materialistic, individualistic, and direct our own culture is. Not necessarily bad; just different. Its interesting to consider that we don't really know who we are unless we step outside and look around for differences of which to compare ourselves.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

CBT Phase 1

This is the mother of all updates! However, there aren't enough pictures to describe what the past few weeks have been like! I've tried to put all the pictures in chronological order, but it might be off some, so bear with me. Ok, lets start!

When we drove from our Seminar Site to our CBT site (for the first phase), we paused at a stop where barbary apes are known to congregate. I believe it is part of the national park around our Seminar Site. So, we drove up to the hairy lil' buggers and pulled some snacks out for 'em.

There were about 15-20 surprisingly tame apes in their troop. They even took the food right out of our hands. They are clearly fed quite regularly. I kinda wanted to pour a whole box of crackers or cookies out on the ground to see what kind of anarchy would ensue, but that probably wouldn't have been culturally sensitive (among the apes, that is...).

So we parted our primate ways. The trip to our CBT site took about 1.5 hours and was a pretty amazing drive through the middle Atlas Mountains.

The path cut through a few valleys and cliffs, sometimes coming perilously close to the edge! Much of the drive was silent, as we were awestruck with the scenery and linguistically limited. The grand taxi driver tried communicating to us a few things here and there, but didn't have a great amount of success.

When we finally arrived at our CBT, all 6 of us were met by members of our host family, who took us to our homes. Our host sister took us home and we tried to communicate that afternoon/evening about our family, our home, and ourselves in general.

As a side-note, I have decided not to post photos or specific information about host country family members or other host country nationals until I get permission.

One day soon after our arrival, the Peace Corps volunteer that works in our site showed us her apartment. We went to the roof (what a view!) and I snapped this picture of Emily. Notice the plateau in the background. We later hiked that plateau...there are pictures of the hike a little bit below!

One morning, as we walked to school, I turned around and snapped a picture of our family's house (The upstairs one with the blue windows).

We took an amazing trek one Sunday. Our group plus our Language and Culture Facilitator, the president of the town's association, and another random guy all went. The hike was pretty exhausting, but well worth the sweat! At our first "checkpoint," we took a quick break to admire the view. Unfortunately, as it was Ramadan, we were unable to drink water in plain sight of practicing Muslims.

Here's the view facing the direction that we came.

We walked up and down a few more valleys and ended up at a giant dam. The last valley before the dam was lush with fruit trees, especially apple. Here's a nice shot of the valley looking with the dam in the distance.

As we walked back toward town, we passed a few farmers with crates upon crates of apples! One of us asked the farmers if we could buy a few apples from them and they refused us! In fact, they offered to take us up to their trees so that we could help them pick some apples and take some for ourselves - for free! The apple trees were so small, but were bursting with fruit! This was an interesting cross-cultural experience. It turned out that one of their managers that was on site spoke a little bit of English that he learned from a Peace Corps volunteer a few years back. After this experience, we headed back to town and started phase 2 of our trek.

As mentioned above, we hiked to a plateau that is visible from our town. The hike took about 40 minutes, and we basically walked along the path of a grass-covered stream path until we got close to the base of the plateau. In the above picture, a flock of sheep were seen grazing close by. I couldn't resist taking a quick shot with the plateau in the background.

Of course, once we got to the base of the plateau, it was a quick hike up to the top (maybe 10 minutes max). However, it wasn't an easy hike. The plateau was quite steep in places and there wasn't an established trail that led to the top. No biggie. We made it up safely, and took some photos, and rested, and feasted on some AMAZING apples! They were the most delicious apples that we've ever had, to be sure! The above shot is our CBT site from the top of the plateau.

Random gorgeous rainbow picture!

Here's a shot of our CBT group as we make our way through the older quarter of our town. We were on our way to the home of 1 of the 6 weavers of the association whom we interviewed. The women were all very hospitable, offering us food and drink, even though they were all fasting. Many of their homes were quite amazing as well, resembling a series of caverns with their large, open rooms and short, narrow hallways.

Midway during this first CBT phase, the president of the town weaving/artisan association organized an art exhibition at a local dar shebab (youth center). A few bits of information are necessary for background purposes. The town has NEVER had an art exhibition before and the dar shebab had not been in use for a very long time. So, naturally, we trainees felt that this was a very amazing opportunity for learning and integrating within the community. The president was very encouraging about our participation, so we all helped out in the ways that we could. Emily and I helped to organize the artwork and assisted in hanging rugs/paintings/etc. The above picture is a shot of us in our jellabas. Well, not OUR jellabas, but ones that were furnished to us by our family! Jellabas are traditional Moroccan clothing that is worn over shirts and pants.

Here is a sample of the artisans' work. There are about 6 really motivated artists in this small town that do the majority of the weaving.

In addition to weavers, there are artists in the association who draw, paint, and sculpt. Here is a shot of one artist's work in particular. These "bone sculptures" were quite a conversation starter! In his sculptures/wall hangings, this artist not only used locally obtained animal skeleton fragments, but he also used pine cones, partially woven fabric, wool yarn, and various shockingly bright colors of paint among other media. Quite interesting!

We took a walk out in the street in our jellabas and couldn't resist taking a shot of this thuggy/grim reapery image.

In addition to language classes, we were also doing analysis of our interviews of the 6 local weavers. Emily and I had incorporated some of our cartooning abilities in this analysis, and our group mates took this picture as they were making fun of the fact that we were similarly dressed. We actually did not plan to match...

Here's the completed "Daily Schedules" graphic that we were working on. It basically lists how the 6 women spend their time during Ramadan (the 9th or 10th month of the Muslim calendar, I forget exactly) and during the rest of the year. The key is at the bottom of the poster.

Here's the completed "Seasonal Calendar" graphic that Emily drew and helped design. The donkey (hashak) in the middle was just for fun! This basically shows how different aspects of life change for the weavers throughout the year.

And lastly, here is a beautiful shot of the skyline near our home. There were so many opportunities for pictures like this.

Our second phase of CBT starts this Saturday (October 11) and lasts until Halloween!! We are looking forward to increasing our language, completing projects (for the association) that we have devised, and generally furthering our aptitude in this society. We may or may not do blog updates during that time. We have access to internet there, so it all depends on our amount of spare time.

It will be cold, however. We'll be sure to bring much warmer clothes this time around!