Thursday, November 27, 2008

simana luwla dyalna f Minnehaha (our first week in Minnehaha)

Right now, we're at a cyber cafe in Minnehaha, which is pretty inexpensive (4 dirhams/hour, which is the equivalent of about 50 cents). This doesn't seem to be a bad option, as there are at least 10 cyber cafes in our town, and it is much less expensive than having internet in our future apartment (~300Dh/month). We'll see.

Our first full day as volunteers was quite nice. We took a walk around town and went to the summit of a nearby hill to get some photos. Our view was obstructed by some trees, so we decided to walk a bit further along the ridge of the hill. We came upon a shepherd who warned us of his dogs that were ahead a bit. He accompanied us toward a safe spot and after we got some shots, he invited us to his house to "shrb atay" (drink tea). His place was small, but warm. It was made of mud. He also had satellite television. Moroccans LOVE satellite television. It was a strange mix of old and new, archaic and technological.

When asked what we were doing in Minnehaha, we introduced ourselves as American Peace Corps volunteers. He approved. We talked about our families, how long we had been in Morocco, how long we had been studying Darija, etc. We mentioned the man that we were working alongside, and he nodded, indicating that he knew our counterpart from the mosque. After that, we was like peas and carrots. He invited us over to his house for l'Eid Kbir as he vigorously demanded that I eat more olives ("kul zitun! kul zitun! kul! kul! kul!) But I think i'm getting better at resisting the command "kul." Both of us are. If only we had such resistance during the CBT phase; we could have avoided 2 months of GI trauma.

The next day, Sunday, we went with our little sisters to a "running" practice. There are a few men who volunteer as coaches and meet with about 50 or 60 kids. The kids do warm-up exercises, run, stretch, do various training drills, and play athletic-oriented games. We met at a soccer field and walked with one of the volunteers to a small wooded hill about a half mile away from the field. The kids ran. I acted mostly as a photographer; after a short while, Emily started exercising along with the kids. She said it was a good way to keep warm. After a few hours, we walked back to town, and upon departing, the volunteers invited us (or me, I wasn't quite sure) to a cafe for later in the day.

As women are mostly forbidden from cafes, I thought it wise to go by myself. We talked about the Peace Corps, and what Emily and I would be doing in Morocco, and for how long. I don't think they believed me, or maybe it's just that they didn't understand me, because they kept asking for clarification. After that, they started talking among themselves. I don't mind this, because our weakness is understanding Moroccans when they speak. Whenever I get the chance to listen, I definitely take advantage of it. Later, when we departed, one of the volunteers invited both Emily and myself to meet one of his friends and an American student the following day. Of course, I accepted, as I was very curious why there was another American in this small, secluded town in the middle of Morocco.

We met the following day at a cafe and talked about lots of things, mainly Amazigh-ism, and its importance in Morocco today. Many have heard of the term "berber," but that term is viewed as derogatory by Moroccans who identify with their heritage. They would much more prefer to be referred to as Amazighs; "berber" is a term given to them by the French in the early 20th century. It translates, roughly, as "animal." Needless to say, pro-amazigh-ism is an important stance among the residents of the Middle Atlas, especially in Minnehaha.

This week, we also met with the artisans of our association. There are 12 woodcarvers in the co-operative; I got to meet with 10 of them. Emily met with 2 of the women of the adjoining neddy (a neddy is a women's association...its a general term, neddy's can produce any number of things: weavings, crochet, knitting, embroidery, etc).

One woman that Emily met with was working on a cross-stitch pillowcase and the other was crocheting a washcloth that people use to scrub themselves at the Hammam. The men that I met with were working on bowls mostly. Very large low bowls in which women knead bread. It's all very awesome and we will undoubtedly have many pictures later!


Unfortunately, we are not going to bestow upon our host family an amazing dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie!...hopefully, we'll be prepared to do that for Christmas.

Talk with you all later,

Emily and Jon

Monday, November 17, 2008

site visit, LPIs, cedar forests, and beyond...


Hello friends and family! Emily and I have been back in our CBT debriefing site for some time now. We spent a week in Minnehaha, and got to meet our host family there, our work counterpart, and various other members of the community. Most of the week was very VERY rainy and cold, and we pretty much just stayed inside. However, on the Thursday of that week, it became quite gorgeous! So much so, in fact, that we emerged from our host family's house and took a walk around the town and took care of some business that was assigned to us by Peace Corps (meeting with local officials, finding out where resources are in the town, and laying down some legwork that will generally make it easier for us to integrate into the community).

Roofs are very zwin (good) in Morocco. Most people here DO NOT have mechanical clothes dryers, and "landrymats" largely do not exist either. After either a) handwashing their clothes or b) using their washing machines, the women hang up the clothes on the roof of their house to dry in the sun. Seems pretty efficient to me! Morocco, even in the cold months, has a pretty hot sun!

The picture above was actually taken from the roof of the volunteer that we are replacing! The mountain in the distance (well, a small mountain anyway) offers a splendid almost-360 degree view of the land surrounding Minnehaha!

I had to include a picture of my 2 month old beard. I chopped it recently, but here it was in its full splendor. Note the neck hair and the toothpaste around my mouth! I'm a tenacious brusher! Needless to say, Emily was sad to see the beard go, but not the neck hair.

So, we bid our host family goodbye, and came back here in order to do some last minute preparations for the Language Proficiency Interviews (LPIs). We just took those the other day, and Emily and I both did pretty well! We both have the same rank: Intermediate Low. The rankings go like this:

1. Superior
2. Advanced High
3. Advanced Mid
4. Advanced Low
5. Intermediate High
6. Intermediate Mid
7. Intermediate Low
8. Novice High
9. Novice Mid
10. Novice Low

The highest that anyone got was Intermediate High, and I believe all of those people had prior language fluency in Arabic or other languages, which makes me feel better about our scores!

To give you an ide a of our ability, I'm going to quote a passage from a language book that we recently got:


Can speak on familiar topics, ask and answer simple questions, initiate and respond to simple statements, and carry on face-to-face discussions. Can pick out the main idea in a friendly informal conversation. Often speaks incorrectly but by repeating, generally can be understood by native speakers who regularly deal with foreigners. Frequently can understand native speaker if her or she repeats or speaks more slowly.

New topic - HIKING! Yesterday, we went back to the cedar forests that make this city such an awesome place to hike and enjoy nature! We went primarily for 3 reasons: a) we only get one day for exploring per week, b) we wanted to see the giant tree called "Cedar Guru" or something like that, and c) we wanted to see/feed more monkeys! We were successful in all three of these goals, as you will see...

These little buggers are smart! They know how to open bottles of water and actually seemed to prefer beverages over food. For example: I offered a few dirty apes dried bread and sugar cubes and they smacked them out of my hand! THE NERVE! However, one of our volunteer friends was practically bitten until he gave up his delicious bottle of Sidi Ali! I should have brought pop or an energy drink or something. That would have been funny!

Unfortunately the tree was dead. It was big though. It's hard to tell from the photo, but I'm sure it was probably 8 to 10 feet thick at the trunk! The tree was surrounded by little tourist shops. Tons of fossils and gemstones that make our Rock Shop look pretty pathetic. There were ammonite fossils the size of dinner plates and geodes the size of soccer balls!

The forest was absolutely gorgeous. The colors were vivid and the light streaming through the branches laid out shadows in all directions. There was an atmosphere in the forest that reminded me of a fairy Lord of the Rings or the like. We hiked until we were tired and then turned back to feed the monkeys some more. I managed to capture this shot of Emily with a little one. His mom was near, but he was still very timid.

On our way back home, we came across a herd of sheep, although there was no shepherd. At least we couldn't see one. Continuing our walk home, we had a pretty nice view of the countryside and a few houses among the hills.

I'm going to backtrack a bit. Saturday evening, we had a dance party to celebrate our completion of the LPIs! Americans were teaching Moroccans dancing and Moroccans were teaching Americans dancing as well! Personally, I thought the Moroccan dances were alot more fun! A few girls, including Emily, formed a dance troupe and performed a choreographed dance for all of us! I took a bit of video during the party and later composed it into a movie! However, I couldn't include the movie because the bandwidth here is very narrow and sometimes it's impossible even to upload pictures! You can imagine how awesome it is, right?

Well, to conclude our week, we had a few last-minute seminars and an awesome talent show. We had an super sweet art fight that was inspired by a friend of one of our friends here. Check this link out:
There was a panoply of talent exhibited at the art show: singing, dancing (belly, choreographed, and many others), spoken word, other musical performances, and even amazing video art!


Today, we took an oath to, among other things, protect the Constitution of the US, and to serve the people of Morocco so as to preserve their dignity. We were in a pretty awesome hotel on the top floor, overlooking the older section of Fes, which has been preserved largely intact since the 11th century! We only stayed in Fes for a few hours...afterward, we came back here to our Seminar Site, to spend one more night among our American friends!

Tomorrow, we go back to Minnehaha as full fledged Volunteers! Some of the tasks that we will be working on in the next 2 months include: looking for an apartment, getting our Cart de Sejour (proof of residency), looking for tutors, continuing our language learning, and trying to meet as many people as possible!

Hope all is well at home. I just saw that gas is $1.80/gal! Hope that trend continues! Have a happy Thanksgiving and Christmas if we don't hear from you! We'll try to make some phone calls from public phones, as that is much cheaper than calling the states from our cell phone.


Jon and Emily