July 20, 2007 Plane from JFK to Casablanca
This journal will be a collection of focused reflections on my trip to Morocco in the summer of 2007, between my junior and senior years of high school.
Why I decided to go on this trip:
I have only ever traveled to geographic locations similar to my own origin (North America and Western Europe). It was time I ventured outside of my comfort zone. Compared to the rest of the world, I live in great wealth. I go to a wealthy prep school which surrounds me in material comfort as does my wealthy family. Neither is extremely ostentatious, however, my lifestyle has reflected that money aint-no-thang in my sheltered teenage world. It has bothered me to live in this way fully knowing that most other children are living in poverty. There is absolutely no justification for this inequality except that for some strange reason God decided that I would be born in Redmond, Washington and the other child in Darfur. Since life is so unfair for no reason it seems to me that God has left it up to us to compensate for it all.
Sure, an easy path in life would be to choose a financially profitable major, marry a person just like myself, settle in the safety of suburbia, vacation to places like Hawaii and Paris, and live the American lifestyle without stopping to consider its implications. When one person on this Earth has more than they can possibly consume or need and another is left without enough to even live, there is a serious problem — one I want to face up to. Call me communist, but that makes perfect sense to me. By embracing American culture, and no other, it is as if we are wearing blinders like horses. Who wants to settle with one lifestyle and the ignorant belief that it is the best when you have no idea what treasures and enlightenment others provide? Many people subscribe to American lifestyles because they equate comfort with the high degree of consumerism — I'll admit that I do too. But with my decision to go on this trip I am hoping to free myself from at least some of the bonds of materialism. I don't want to be dependent on a Starbucks latte, a nice car, and oversized food portions for comfort. I want to immerse myself in poverty in such a way that I can't come home and bring myself to spend $200 on designer jeans like I have before.
Besides the material aspect, I also wanted to learn about a country that is Muslim and African. French, unfortunately, did not fit into my schedule this past year, but I do remember a fair amount of my French language and that will help me get around. I hope to learn some Arabic. Current events have reflected the inescapable fact that fundamentalist Islam and democratic U.S.A. don't mix. It's crucial that we learn about "terrorist" countries' cultures because only then can we overcome our differences, and view them for what they really are instead of simplistically condemning them as "terrorist."
I'm going on this trip for one month with 12 students and three faculty members with the Global Service Learning Program from my school. I don't even know what service we will be doing yet, but I look forward to the opportunity to serve especially because I was not able to make service a high priority during junior year.
Reflection on Ms. D's Argument against GSL:
As a reporter for my school's newspaper, I interviewed Ms. D's, my math teacher, who was resigning because she had issues with the administration's implementation of the school's mission, particularly the Global Service Learning program. Her point of view was definitely new to me — who could have a problem with global service learning? Her perspective actually made a lot of sense. She saw it as an unnecessary waste of resources which disregarded a local need for service. Why waste thousands of dollars, fuel for the plane, and so on when students could instead be helping the situation at home in Seattle and experience what she believed would be the same "transformation?" She thought students should wait to go overseas until college or after when they would be more prepared for the experience.
For the most part, I agree with her. I do, however, have reasons why I still think I should go to Morocco...I will be stuck for a full month when I can't just retreat back to my own shower and my own comfortable bed at the end of the day. Morocco is the closest place where I will get to live in a Muslim state. I will really get to live like a Moroccan in a personal and intimate Moroccan family home stay. Sure, there is poverty in Seattle, but poverty is more wide-spread and deeper in Africa. I get to face the challenge of living with people with whom I do not share language. Seattle is my own familiar culture — Morocco is entirely different. Perhaps this trip will have such a transformational effect that it will influence my choice in what colleges I apply to. I am stepping into an adventure knowing it will change me...but not knowing exactly how.
July 21 Bus ride from Casablanca to Rabat
When I was getting my passport stamped at the airport in Casablanca by this cute young worker, I couldn't stop smiling because I was so excited to be in a place where security men were actually friendly. (It felt like pre-9/11 America.) He asked me with a grin, "Why did you leave out your maiden name? Aren't you married yet?" I responded, "Non monsieur. J'ai dix-sept ans. Je suis trop jeune!"
The organization who is hosting us picked us up in a bus. Every little hut and house we pass has a satellite dish atop. Mr. B (who lives and teaches in Seattle, but is a native of Morocco) explains that basically every Moroccan home, no matter how poor or uneducated its inhabitants, has a TV and a satellite dish. They don't pay a cable provider, but they essentially "steal" Turkish, Spanish, French, and other channels. They watch lots of soap operas, but also more serious news channels like Al Jazeera. As the press is government-controlled and far from free in most countries across Islam, Al Jazeera (their cable news which is not government sponsored) is considered the real news. It is technically illegal, but too rampant for the government to control. Pornography, according to Mr. B is a big problem. Such "immoral programs" empower the Islamists who blame Western influences and don't want any of it allowed in their country. The people respond to such immoral influences by clinging tight to their traditional religious beliefs.
July 22 Hotel in Rabat
Yesterday we walked though the Medina. It's the old, traditional, authentic part of the city of Rabat. It was basically a wide alley way surrounded by shop stalls on either side selling shoes, CDs, bras, pig legs, rugs, hookahs, pastries, jerseys, skirts, olives, toys, etc. My hips and shoulders brushed those of others as I walked through the crowed of shoppers and others who seemed to be there merely to see and be seen. The Medina had a majestic/rustic/old time aura with its structure that could have been centuries old.
As I walked through the Medina, men were aggressive with their eyes as they looked me up and down. They would whistle and say things in what I think was Arabic. This surprised me because it doesn't seem to jive with the conservative Muslim culture. I think they did this especially to us because we looked different. I certainly was not asking for it with the modest clothing I wore.
A young boy, who actually looked like those you see on TV so poor and hungry that the fleas bother them as if they were road kill, came and touched by arm begging for money. I wish I had something to give him but I painfully forced myself to keep walking and ignore him.
July 22 Home stay in Medina, Rabat
Friday is like the Sabbath, but for Muslims. They usually have a special large lunch of communal couscous. This is what Elise (from my group), I, and part of my host family ate upon arrival at their home. We ate a lettuce and tomato salad, a large dish of couscous with cooked vegetables and chicken on top, bread, and fruit (honeydew, cherries, and peaches).
My 15-year-old "sister," Fatima, who picked us up speaks French, English, Arabic, and classic Arabic. I was a little taken aback when she told me I spoke French with an American accent — ouch! Sometimes she understands my English better, but sometimes she understands my French better. (It's especially disappointing when I'm trying to explain something in French and she asks me to "speak French!")
My "parents" are both very friendly and welcoming. My "dad" speaks some French. Fatima has a 10-year-old sister, Karima, a 12-year-old brother, Larby, and several older brothers who live outside the house (one works in Chicago at McDonalds, and another lives with and takes care of their grandmother).
Their house seems sparse and simple compared to my own and my friends in Seattle. I get the feeling, however, that they are relatively well-off Moroccans. All the rooms open up to a sort of courtyard in the center of the house. There is one bathroom with a Turkish-style toilet and shower, a small kitchen adjoining the dining room, a family room with a long couch that goes along three of its four walls, the room Elise and I share, and a master bedroom. Fatima, Karima, and Larby share one small room in which three small beds take up most of the space. The walls are decorated with pages torn from magazines of celebrities (Usher included!).
July 22 Rabat Home
After the Arabic lesson we had this morning, our sisters took us next door to their friend's house where Brandon (from our school group) is staying. There we met 18-year-old Hanane, her 22-year-old sister, and their older brother. I grabbed my cards and we played some hilarious rounds of spoons. We also taught them B.S. which they managed to pick up very quickly. It was a really cool experience to have such a fun time at playing cards even though we can't understand each other well.
The four girls took Elise, Brandon, and me on a walk through the Old Medina, to the beach, and through the New Medina. Karima is like a silly little monkey tickling and tapping me. She is adorable and by the end of the night she had officially nicknamed me "Jackie Chan." Fatima is very nice. In general, she understands my French better than my English. It turns out that they can't understand any of our French speaking very well. So that made me feel a little better about mine and my accent. The beach was such a cool gathering place at sunset. Some people were playing drums or soccer while others were there just to socialize.
Fatimah managed to answer many of my questions on topics like smoking, marriage, anti-Semitism, politics, and so on. She said that smoking is technically forbidden, but it is acceptable for only men. I asked her if she thought this was unfair and she did, but she seemed nonchalant about it. Dating is not permitted by parents here unless you are considering marriage. She said that sometimes it is done in secret anyways, but you are not even to kiss until you are married. Girls get married between the ages of 18 and 30, but once you pass 30 you will never get married. People in Arabic countries are anti-Semitic, but only because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are on the side of the Palestinians. At the same time, Jews live among them and Muslims like them fine, get along with them and treat them like they would a fellow Muslim. It is only Israelis who they are racist against. She said they don't like President Bush or Tony Blair, but they like Americans very much. They asked what Americans thought of Arabs. I tried to explain that we love Arabs and that is why we have come, but that there are many uneducated Americans who equate Arabs with terrorism. She told us that she knows about these simple-minded Americans who accept anything they see on TV.
The old Medina was extremely crowded and exciting. The girls would look after us and physically guide us with their hands. Intense stares followed my fair skin. I wished I could have blended in more. Fatima told me that all the boys looked at me and tried to talk to me because I was beautiful with my fair skin. Why is it that the minority skin color is always considered more beautiful? In the states where most are naturally fair skinned, dark tans are highly esteemed. In the Medieval ages when most labored outside and couldn't help getting tan, the few with fair skin were labeled beautiful.
We saw vendors selling roasted corn, snails, popcorn, pirated DVDs (some which are still in US theatres), and gelato. When a couple girls bought themselves bags of chips they practically begged us to eat some. This is such a contrast to American kids and even adults who avoid sharing.
We walked though the New Medina, which seemed more Western, and much less soulful. It's a big street lined with palm trees, chain stores, and tourist attractions.
We didn't return home until around 9:30. I was expecting to be greeted by an angry mother who'd had to keep dinner waiting. But instead the mother was just happy to see us and feed us.
July 23 Rabat Home
We visited the King's main palace today. Thanks to Mr. B's communication skills, we were able to get pretty close for a picture. There were an impressive number of uptight guards.
Mr. B explained that the present King's father was basically a dictator and had many wives who were kept hidden from the public eye. He was not sensitive to the people's wishes. The current king is very modern and intentionally so. He has only one wife and he is fine with her having a public status. He tries to divide his time well among many different cities so that he is in touch with the people.
The drivers are crazy here and the pedestrians most certainly do NOT have the right of way. You have to run in order to not get run over. Drivers just plow through groups of pedestrians. Drivers dance around other cars and pedestrians as they dodge right and left as if their cars do not have breaks.
July 24 Rabat Home
This morning we took the bus to Salé, a city across the river from Rabat. As we passed a slum crowded with tiny shacks, Mr. B said that families around the size of 7 to 9 live crammed into those small one room shacks (smaller than the size of my parents' bathroom). He said that Salé is very poor and young. There is very little employment there so people only sleep there and go work in Rabat. For this reason they call it the "dorm."
We visited the Association Amal Salé where kids attend classes and summer camps. I helped kids draw and paint birds. It was all boys between the ages of 8 and 13. I drew a portrait of one of the cute little boys named Ahmed. He liked it very much and was very proud. A large group of boys crowded around and watched while I drew.
I helped teach English including names of colors, animals, fruit, and the alphabet. It was the highlight of my trip so far. I sat next to and talked to this adorably timid boy. Despite the fact that I couldn't communicate much at all with them, we still managed to have a blast pointing at things and repeating each other's words. Working with those kids for only an hour and half was amazingly heart warming. They were all polite, happy, playful, and eager.
We ate couscous for lunch with the Association teachers, all of whom have great senses of humor. Only a couple spoke French and a couple English so it was yet another fun challenge to communicate. They taught us some fun name and rhythm games. One guy pulled out a drum and they all began to sing loudly together for us. They sang several upbeat Arabic songs and pulled us up to dance with them. It was incredible the way they all sang together so happily. When they asked us to sing some of our songs for them we sang parts of a couple songs, but we had a hard time coming up with even one good upbeat song everyone knew and wanted to sing. What a shame that our pop culture (at least from our generation) has not produced any songs one-tenth as good as theirs in terms of singing together for the sake of a good time.
Jules and I had a conversation on the way back about the way American media often portrays the Arab World as fundamentalist. From our home stays we have learned that most members of a typical Muslim family do not pray five times a day, nor do most females wear headdresses.
I really like the cheek-cheek kiss because it is intimate yet less awkward than a hug can potentially be.
Much of what they watch on TV is Hollywood with all its promiscuity. It's interesting how some of that stuff gets a reaction out of my own mother at home, but here they just watch it and don't even really recognize it — in the same culture where girls are not allowed to date, certainly not kiss, and are expected to wear very modest clothing. It is my interpretation, however, that they are simply not influenced nearly as easily as most ignorant Americans.
It seems like the little brother, Larby, is not as nice to his mother as his sisters are and he gets away with it because he is a male. He and his father never step foot in the kitchen. Even my sisters do little to help out. My "mom" does basically all of the food preparation.
July 25 Rabat home
I wish I had wire to shoot all my thoughts from my brain to this journal because there are so many things I want to write about. As I take time to write one thought down I think of five others, but by the time I have finished writing the first I have forgotten the others.
The first five days of this trip have been absolutely amazing. I have essentially no complaints. I am very grateful for all the work the leaders have done. They have made the logistics, transportation, and so on seem effortless. Mr. B is amazing the way he communicates for us with everyone. I really don't think we could get by without him. It would not be easy to travel in Morocco alone/with a friend/or even with your family. It is arguably not a good idea to travel alone here as a woman because there are many restrictions on where you are welcome. A woman is not welcome in certain neighborhoods and cafes and are not supposed to be out after dark.
Random observation: my "mother" burps after dinner like it's nothing. Burping is not regarded as rude or gross.
I have been impressed by all the traditional aspects I've seen still very much alive on the streets and in the home. Most all the food we've eaten seems to be traditional Moroccan food. Moroccans are still obviously very religious, and this is reflected in countless ways. The souk (market) seems as if it could be transported from a century back. While tradition lives on in all these ways, there are traces of globalization every where: McDonalds, cell phones, nice cars, TV, pasta, coca cola, fashion of young people, computers/internet, and lots of the products they use whether it be shampoo, Kleenex or the washing machine. It is my sincere hope that globalization never fully eclipses Moroccan culture.
We heard a lecture on "Morocco in the Context of Globalization" given by a Moroccan university professor. Three other names for it are "Americanization," "McDonalds vs. McJihad," and "Internationalization." We learned about Fundamentalism which has been the reaction against globalization. There has also been a Feminist Islamist Movement which defends "a woman's right to decency" — that women should get to cover themselves. While cafes have been dominated by men, McDonalds has become a place for women.
We were walking past an old solemn man in the Medina today when we suddenly heard a deep voice in English, "you know you love me." Yes, it came from that same old man.
Upon our request, our mom taught us how to make the sweet mint tea we are served five or six times each day. She showed us how to break off clumps of stem with mint leaves on them and wash them in the sink. You put a large handful of these leaves in an empty pot with a heaping spoon of tea (from China) and 4 big cubes of sugar. You poor in a little boiling water and poor it out through the filtered spout. Then you fill it with boiling water and let it steep. It takes much more work than the tea I make at home and a hell of a lot more sugar!
July 26 Rabat Home
I tease Larby about not helping in the kitchen. He will not even clear one dish. When he needed something cleared he asked his sister to do it. When I offer to help, the brother and father tell me I don't need to.
Mr. B told us about a practice they do here called dar, a system of lending and borrowing. An example would be each person/family puts in $100 a week and one person/family each week takes it all (i.e. $1000 if there were 10 participants). Then that person can use it all to buy a TV or something big that they wanted. Dar literally means turn. You are taking turns borrowing and lending with no interest. I think this is a very clever way to eliminate the middleman.
The statement "humans can get used to anything" has proven true in the case of my family's Turkish toilet. During my first day here, I dreaded having to use it. By the third day I was completely used to its smell, the squatting, the taming of the flow, and the bucket of water flush technique. I have also grown accustomed to most everything else: the huge amount of food many times a day including dinner at 9 or 10, the TV on during meals, the getting laughed at when I say or do something wrong, and so on. I think I will miss all this very much.
July 28 Bus from Rabat to the Village
I love the dining/lounging set up of Moroccans with their long couch style booths along three walls with one table in the center. It's very comfortable with pillows and cushions and also has a more family together feeling.
Yesterday we heard a lecture on the Amazighs (Berbers) and their language given by a female professor friend of Mr. B's. She talked about the stigmatization that they have experienced being thought of as lower class. Their culture and language had barely been recognized until the 90s when the late King Hassan II admitted that his mother was Amazigh, so therefore he was also. This was remarkable because most Amazighs until then would try to deny their Amazigh identity. Also, Moroccans identify with their father's background, not their mothers, which made this speech of the King a significant ideological shift. The professor who gave the lecture was a linguist and talked about identity, dialects, and languages. Moroccan Arabic is spoken at home by Muslim Arabs. Classic Arabic is spoken and taught at school, along with English and French. The Amazigh language is usually only found in Amazigh homes. French and English are the "prestigious" languages — they give you an edge during job interviews.
This morning I said a sad and difficult good bye to my Rabat family. I hugged and kissed each of them many times. I will definitely miss them, but I hope we stay in touch and maybe even see each other again in the future.
July 28 The Village
We rode six hours on the bus from Rabat to a small rural Amazigh village in the Atlas Mountains. The driver whipped around sharp turns honking without slowing down to warn whoever may be around the corner because there was no way of actually seeing.
We reached the village and threw all our bags atop a van. We all crammed inside. The small van was so crammed I'm surprised we made it up the hill. I felt like we were about to tip several times even though we were only creeping along at around 10 mph. When the van could go no further, we piled out with our bags and trekked up another hill to the house of our "host," the Hajj, where we were served tea. As he called out host family assignments, Mr. B called my name third and I went forward to kiss who would be my "mother" for the next three weeks. Mr. B said "she speaks no French, English, or Arabic — only Amazigh, but you will have a lot of fun with her." She kept laughing and talking. When I picked up my bag to follow her home she took it from me and loaded it onto a donkey along with the bags of my classmates Brandon, Zoe, and Kevin and we all began to descend the hill together.
During the journey my "mom" along with all the other townspeople who walked along with us or watched from the side of the road laughed and laughed. I wondered "do they always laugh this much or are they laughing at us?"
We were greeted by my new sister, 12-year-old Hafida, when my mom, Fatima (like my sister in Rabat!), and I reached home. Hafida immediately took my hand and led me into a small room with a bed, a rug, a small table and a soccer poster. This was the guest room where I would sleep. She sat down with me on my bed and was very touchy and smiley. She speaks French and we communicate well. She is extremely friendly. I met her 15-year-old brother, Lahssen, who is also very friendly. Hafida wears a matching red sweat outfit that says "pretty." Lahssen wears a Harry Potter t-shirt. I met their 9-year-old brother, Rachid, who is cute, shy, and doesn't say much. Today was their last day of school. Their dad works in Marrakesh.
I told them that I play piano and they brought in a small electric keyboard that they were very proud of. None of the keys worked — only the button that made a little rhythm melody. They also brought in the speakers and DVD player of their TV to use as a stereo to play CDs. Hafida and Lahssen danced together in a Hindi style. It was so cute the way they danced with each other with so much energy.
My mom brought in bread, an oil and jam concoction, Nutella, cheese, and yummy sweet milk and coffee drink. I was so full from the tea and bread before but of course I had to eat in answer to their yelling at me "mange mange!"
I helped peel tomato, potato, and carrot to go in the tajine we would eat for dinner with a very dull knife that was difficult to use. My mom cooked the tajine upon a gas tank that sat on the ground.
Hafida took me into another small room that had a small fire in the corner made of leaves and sticks. She let me plop dough on top of it and it baked on each side for just about five minutes. This is the good bread they eat all the time with everything. They use the wheat from their fields and bake it fresh each day.
My sister took me to meet her neighbors with whom Zoe and Brandon were staying. Every one was super smiley. About half the people I have encountered speak French — usually the older kids.
Fatima, Hafida, Lahssen, and Rashid all sleep together on the floor in one bedroom that has a small TV. We watched a Hindi film that was very Bollywood with a sappy love story, dancing and singing. Hafida is extremely cuddly. I don't know why Americans aren't more like this. It's like we aren't as loving the way we maintain such a large personal bubble. It feels nice to cuddle with a "sister," while watching TV for instance, because it is a great form of interaction and feeling close with someone.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening little neighbor boys would stop by and hangout for a little while. They wouldn't even say much, but I could tell they were intrigued by the way I looked different because they would stare at me with their beautiful dark wide eyes like my little brother does.
The tajine we ate was simple with just chicken, tomato, potato, and carrot. This family lives a very simple life. I would call it simple, but not poor, because they are certainly not lacking. They seem far happier than Americans the way they smile, laugh, and socialize with each other and their neighbors so much. They have what seem to be all the essentials in life: loving family and community, enough food, and a roof over their heads. It doesn't even matter that they don't have a shower, clock, phone, computer, bed (I was given the only bed they have), reliable running water, or washing machine. They don't have democracy...and that does not seem to be an issue. They have each other and happiness...that is my first impression.
I asked Hafida about the marks on her mother's forehead and cheeks. She said that a long time ago when her mom was very young she was tattooed — it used to be a custom.
I'm writing in my bed right now with flies buzzing all around me as I watch bugs crawl across the walls. That may sound terrible, but I'm actually already comfortable here. When I arrived just 8 hours ago I was very apprehensive and afraid I would be suffering for 3 weeks. Now most of my fears have already subsided.
July 29 The Village
I woke up this morning at 6 to the sound of sheep, chickens, cows, and donkeys. I got out of bed at 8 to eat breakfast of bread, cheese, and sweet coffee milk. I followed Rashid and two other little boys up to the center (the place where the teachers are staying where we meet each afternoon). The whole way they whispered amongst each other and smiled shyly at me.
We had an Amazigh class at their school which is really nice because it was built and donated by a Moroccan bank.
When I came home around noon I met two more daughters of my "mom." One was 18 named Nzha engaged to be married this August. The other, named Mina, is 23 and had a cute little 2-year-old boy. Both girls just stared at me for quite some time and called me beautiful. Mina speaks no French. They are very touchy-feely as well.
The group met at the center to learn how to make bread. I ran what usually takes 10 minutes to walk. It felt great to run for the first time in a while. We were told later that we should conserve energy by not being very active so as not to suffer dehydration.
I've encountered only 2 townspeople who speak English. Only kids between the ages of 10 and 18 speak French. Most of my peers have a very difficult or impossible time at verbally communicating with their families. My fairly easy time at communication is out of the ordinary. It would have been cool to have the experience of not sharing any languages. I do get a little of this with my mom, but Hafida is usually there to translate.
They always graciously give me one of their few pillows or this sheepskin (that smells really bad) to sit on, while they just sit on the ground.
July 30 The Village
Yesterday we made bread at the center by sifting flour (they grow their own wheat here) and mixing it with salt, yeast, and water. You have to knead it for 5 or 10 minutes and pat it into a flat circular shape, which we stuck in the oven for another 10 minutes or so.
I went on a walking tour with Ms. M, Eunice (the son of the Hajj who can speak English and French) and two of his cousins, Rahal and Osama. They all speak a little English, but better French. They were all very gentleman-like the way I conversed with them and they would offer me their hand in more treacherous areas. We talked about sports, school, studies, and what we wanted to be when we grow up. None of them usually live in the village. Most of them live in Marrakesh I think. We saw an old fashioned shower with a non-electrical heater. They took us up the hill a ways for a beautiful view of the whole village. You could see a long distance all around because the mountains aren't very tall. Mia and I discussed the adjustment our group has experienced with less personal time and space. This morning was my first meal of the whole trip that I ate alone and that was only because the kids were probably out tending to the animals.
I was served another tea when I arrived home with those pancake/crepe things that are very good. I helped make them by folding this thin dough several times and then into a square shape and cook it on top of a stove in lots of oil. Later they took out a package of spaghetti and asked me if I knew how to make it. Of course I knew how to make it but I was a little apprehensive about using their unfamiliar tools and spices. I made the tomato sauce by grating tomato, cutting up green bell pepper and tossing that in with meat (I'm not sure what kind). We used salt, pepper, parsley, what I thought smelled close to oregano but it could have been thyme, and she accidentally threw in some saffron. It turned out pretty darn good and they seemed to like it too. I stayed away from eating the meat because the way they prepared it turned me off. They only own one or two forks, one of which they gave me to use, while they all had a difficult time eating spaghetti with the few spoons they own. I helped wash a bunch of dishes which was more like rinsing and using a bit of Tide soap.
I mostly cooked with Nzha and we bonded. She told me about her fiancée who she has kissed, but her parents mustn't know. She said he is very handsome and it sounds like she is very excited to marry him — when she will get her hair done and wear a pretty dress. He harvests vegetables in the next town over. I asked her if she would have that job also. She said no, that she stays home and has babies. She kept calling me her sister and saying "je t'aime. Je t'aime" and kissing me. I asked her if there were some girls here who don't want to get married. She said no, but her brother came in and said yes, there are some girls who don't want to.
The older sister, Mina, who is 23 with the son, cannot read or speak French or English. She just studies me a lot and says "zwina" (beautiful). She showed me that she is pregnant and had me feel her tummy. She also told me (her sister would translate for her) the she is hot all the time — her head and forehead — while pregnant. She told me through gestures about having a baby and how painful labor was. It was pretty graphic the way she mimed the scary ordeal. They explained to me that they don't go to the hospital, they don't have a doctor, and they just have the baby at home. How can it be that in the 21st century women are still giving birth at home with no doctor?! She didn't even need words to scare me away from wanting kids anytime soon. She also said it was dangerous. I wonder how often women die in the village from child birth.
They took what looked similar to dried parsley and ground it up with a stomper thing. They added water to a paste and applied it over a stencil pattern thing on my palms, the sides and bottoms of my feet. All these girls/women are so nice and did such a careful job at my henna. It was 11 at night and we were outside in the dark so they asked to borrow my flashlight. We had to wait a little bit for it to dry and then peel it off to leave a pretty orange tattoo. They also did Mina's hands and feet and some scorpions on the arms of the boys. It reminded me of a group of girls back home together painting each other's nails. At that moment I felt very close and at ease with these women.
I have witnessed farting, burping, and picking of the nose with much less notice given to it than at home. It is essentially ignored as if it is not gross at all like scratching an itch.
From the abilities of the different age groups here I can tell when the school taught what. When now 23-year-old Mina was growing up she didn't get the opportunity to go to school so she is illiterate. Now-18-year-old Nzha knows French, but not as well as those younger than her. They didn't bring back Amazigh to school curriculum until after now-15-year-old Lahssen's age group. Hafida (12) and Rashid (9) both have been taught Amazigh and there has been more focus on French during Hafida's school years than Lahssen.
I played games with Rashid and Lahssen. Moroccans play checkers with chess pieces. Both boys cheat a lot. I let them look at my Cosmo, which was probably not the greatest idea because there were a couple promiscuous pictures that caught their attention. I wonder what they think when they see luxurious commodities in magazines like that or on TV when they have never owned anything near that fancy in their homes.
I wish I was a really good drawer so I could capture the amazing character in the faces of the people in this village. The faces of all the little children are beautiful with their wide dark brown innocent eyes and their shy smiles. Beautiful is not the word I would use to describe the faces of the adults here. They are withered but very alive. They have crows feet wrinkles branching out form the outer corners of their eyes from smiling and laughing so much. My sister, Mina, the 23-year-old mother, has a tainted look in her eyes that her 18-year-old sister has not yet acquired.
A Moroccan value is sharing to the extreme. When I told Hafida I liked her necklace she took it off and gave it to me. I tried to resist, but she insisted. If you consider how little they have this is really significant. It's the same with hospitality in Morocco. Everyone is incredibly gracious.
We learned how to make tajine at the center.
Before we began we had a "group meeting" about the S in GSL — service. Mr. B began by asking what we thought we could contribute to this village that is sustainable. Ideas included building a school, giving English lessons, and litter pick up. Mr. B explained that the village is now well-outfitted with schools. Could we build something else to benefit the village? Actually, unemployment is a big issue. Many of the village men seek work. If we built something for them it would be taking away precious employment opportunity. As for English lessons, English is essentially useless in the village. French would be far more valuable. If we picked up their litter, it would actually be perceived as an insult as if we thought them incapable of taking care of their own litter. The village already has an established village association and they take pride in helping themselves.
The group of students who came last year with Mr. B built the village a school. At the ceremonial opening of the school, the Hajj (president of the village) gave a speech. He asked the towns people if they wanted to rely on foreigners to come to their village and build their schools for them. They responded with a resounding, "no!" He asked them if they wanted to take responsibility for taking care of their own needs. They responded with a resounding, "yes!"
With all this explained to us, Mr. B explained that we would be doing no physical labor like in the conventional sense of community service. The service component will really come after we return home from this trip. However, by learning all about their culture (language, cooking classes, and other workshops) and teaching them about some of ours, there would be a cultural exchange would act as service in itself. We would grow to understand each other better, which will positively impact the perception Americans have of Berbers/Moroccans/Arabs, as well as the perception they have of us.
This idea of service by mere interaction was a new perspective for me. After digesting Mr. B's explanation, I came to the conclusion that I whole-heartedly support it. Sure, lugging bricks and painting walls may make us feel good about ourselves. But the most effective way to help is giving them what they truly need — friends and empathy in the First World. They have no need of us building for them, English lessons, or litter pickup.
In just a week and a half I have already learned so much about the culture of Morocco, which includes Muslims, the Arab World, and Amazigh (non-Arabic village-dwellers like in the village). In a day and age where our country is at war against terrorists and many Americans are confusing all of Islam with Terrorism it is crucial that we make an effort toward greater understanding. The U.S. declaring "war on terror" has been terrifyingly destructive and it is my belief that misunderstandings are at their source.
When you learn about another culture, you are led to compare it to and examine your own. You analyze your personal lifestyle and question its quality. America lifestyles are characterized by affluence, consumerism, and materialism. During this trip I have consumed a lot less than what I would at home. I use less water for showers and washing and very little fuel for automobiles. I don't wear make up, eat in restaurants, or use computers, phones, and other technology. Despite how much less I consume, I am just as happy as I am when I'm at home .This leads me to believe that consumerism is certainly not the key to happiness.
Mr. B also mentioned the popularity of the US as a country which has been low in the past several years. We are helping paint a prettier picture of the American people for the Moroccans we have interacted with. Last year's group did not feel that what they did — building a school — was the best thing for the above reasons. So this is why we will simply learn about their culture for the duration and this will hopefully inspire creative ideas for us to carry out when we get home.
During our first day here in the village I began to think of home. I wouldn't call it homesickness, but just thinking about looking forward to what I would be doing in August. I was a little worried about how slowly the next few weeks would go. Yesterday and today have been much better. I've grown comfortable and happy already. I don't doubt that the next 20 days will go by very quickly.
We went on a hike up to the top of a mountain with a view of the village which consists of four small villages/neighborhoods. It was windy and gorgeous up there.
When I got home Nzha dressed me up in a very special dress, belt, and shoes and danced with me. She's a very good dancer and can shake her booty like Shakira. She also put this liquid eyeliner stuff on me.
My "mom" pulled out a box with an image of a salmon on top (given to them by Christine, from last year's group), which contained all their important documents and pictures. They only own a precious few pictures, two of which they gave to me. The box also contained their Dad's passport, parents' proof of marriage, report cards, and a program brochure about cultural exchange/partnerships with a photo of Nzha, Rashid, and Hafida on the cover because the photographer had come to the village.
They had some weird porridge stuff for dinner. Mina and her son left to go back home this morning. I tried to wash myself a little with the faucet. Later when I finally take a shower, it should be interesting.
July 31 The Village
Our third Amazigh class felt monotonous.
For lunch we had couscous or skso — my favorite! They ate with their hands by skillfully molding the couscous into balls with one hand to pop into the mouth. They would lick their fingers really loudly and thoroughly, which turned my appetite off a little.
My mom is so strong! We had arm wrestling competitions and she beat everyone. She is a really tough woman who manages a house basically as a single mom very well.
The kids are pretty rough with each other and make one another cry from time to time. Even the mom is rough with them. Little Rishid got a buzz cut he is embarrassed about so he's been wearing a hat all around. They will just pull it off him — even the mom — and he will cry and they just laugh.
We made this traditional Moroccan soup, Hrira, at the center which consisted of tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, celery, onion, flour, rice, lentils, and garbanzo beans. Many of us, including myself began to feel tired and sick. It's been really hot and some of us walk a ways to get to the center. I had a stomach and head ache. I feel like we're such a wimpy group of Americans, but we really can't help it. We aren't used to the heat and other different aspects of the lifestyle. The best way to respond is drink a lot of water, rest, and don't exert oneself. Yesterday, one girl from our group got really dehydrated and started crying and hyperventilating. Today another girl broke down crying. We joked about how we are dropping like flies. One girl is sick too.
I wrote my blog on Ms. M's computer. It felt a little strange to use a keyboard again.
We've started The Sacred Night as assigned reading. It's good so far.
When I got home today I was really tired, but I helped make dinner anyway. We made some tasty French fries and a variety of other small dishes.
I just now noticed white splotchy things on my arm. I really hope I don't get sick. My allergies are really bad so I doubled my dosage.
August 2 The Village
Last night was the worst night of sleep I've had all trip. My allergies were acting up and I felt feverish. Add to that: I haven't taken a shower for 5 days and my mattress and pillow feel harder than the floor.
When my family does dishes they put all the food scraps in a bucket of water. When they are done they simply throw the contents out across their courtyard. It is probably the cause of all the flies we have here. Each morning when they wake up around five or six, Hafida sweeps the courtyard.
As I explained in the beginning of my journal, one of my hopes for the trip was to become less materialistic. I was expecting for this to be facilitated by pure guilt and the concept that if these people are so poor it would be unfair for me to have more. This hasn't been the case at all though. It would be easy to go home and continue my same luxurious lifestyle. However, I can take this opportunity to meditate on the meager lifestyle of my family and take away from that the realization of real need. The question I will ask myself is "how much do I really need to be happy?" This question is addressed by many of the philosophies I studied in the Philosophy elective I took this past spring.
What I have already learned so far on the trip that I expect will be solidified by the remaining two weeks is that these people I have lived with, who probably have 1/100th as much as my real family, seem just as happy. They may not all know how to read. Their TV may receive only one staticky channel. They may not own a fridge, shower, phone, or more than one bed. They may never visit/see beyond the closest Moroccan city. The women may get pregnant over and over without access to birth control. Despite all this, they never lack reason to smile, laugh, hug, and kiss each other.
They prize hospitality so highly that they are more than happy to welcome me, a stranger, into their house to sleep in their only bed, and eat the little and basic food they can afford for 3 weeks. You don't need to worry about make up, answering the phone/email, kids getting into drugs, owning the hottest pair of jeans, or getting into the best university. There are always plenty of siblings around to play with, the whole family does chores together, they eat every meal together and they smother each other with kisses whenever they feel like it.
Nzha does all the kitchen work. I have tried to help her and do everything she does when I'm not tired and don't need to read or write in my journal. She works so hard all day long. As soon as she makes one meal she must do all the dishes and begin making the next meal or make bread or tea. She amazes me. I can tell she's tired, but she hides it well. You can tell she works much harder than the boys because she eats three times as much. Nzha is too old to go to souk (market). At 18-years-old she is supposed to stay at home. Only girls younger than 14 are supposed to go.
Every small thing is so much more precious here. Bread scraps are saved. Each meal if it has any at all, consists of very little meat. (This precious little meat is always pushed at me because they are so gracious to guests). Water is used sparsely and reused for several tasks. Last night we had fruit for the first time for dessert. It was a special treat for them to eat melon.
Instead of a cooking workshop today we had a group discussion. We deconstructed the art of cooking here to explore what culture can be found in it. The people in the village have a much more direct relationship with their food. They use lots of fresh ingredients that are grown locally. Everything is made with care and they devote a lot of time to it. They are still using the same recipes that their ancestors made centuries ago like tajine and bread. It is all "thanks to God" that they are blessed with this food and it is for that reason that none is wasted.
We talked a lot more about "service." What are we doing here to "serve?" Americans have the mentality that they will go out and "fix" aspects of other cultures. Americans want to "gift" others with the way they do things because it is the best way. This is exactly what we should not think. We should recognize similarities and respect differences. We should realize that they are in many ways the same as us, and in whatever ways we differ, ours is not necessarily superior and we could probably learn something from them.
I've been wishing I was a boy so I could experiment with execution of some tasks that are reserved for women. I would insist on helping do dishes like I do now as a girl, but I would be careful to not offend because it would definitely be going against the status quo of men not doing house work. My attempt would be to inspire and open their eyes to the idea that men helping in the kitchens is not ridiculous, but actually makes more sense than if the boys just sit around.
The "bucket shower" I took at lunch today was actually rather pleasant. Nzha warmed water on the stove and poured it into cooler water so my shower was comfortably warm.
I got the low down on drugs. Girls certainly don't do anything here. Boys on the other hand may smoke sheesha (hookah), marijuana, or cigarettes, or drink when they get a bit older.
August 3 The Village
Last night I gave my families the presents I bought in Seattle: a Seattle photo book, canned salmon, tea, a candle, a ceramic bowl, and lotion. They were very excited and happy, but Lahssen mumbled something about "nothing for the boys..." I went back to my room to grab some chocolate and a pack of brand new cards. After that, everyone was satisfied. They loved the sweet scents of the lotion and candle.
They asked me to write them a letter when I went back to Seattle. I promised I would. They said that's what Christine (the Lakesider they hosted last year) said, but she never did. I said I would write at least two letters. They asked about email because their brother has email. They also asked for my telephone number. Nzha said she would have a telephone when she moved in with her new husband.
Right now I honestly kind of wish I was home. My allergies are killing me.
...I wrote the above several hours ago. Now it is 10 pm and I am happy to be here. My morale goes up and down a lot here. There are two things that rejuvenate me: group hang out time — I love our group (my classmates) and we joke around a lot — I realize that I am not alone in whatever way I am suffering and it gives me comfort; and family time — my host family is a lot of fun and we joke around a lot. I have laughed so much on this trip. While I have been in discomfort I think I have laughing to thank for boosting my morale. When I am not feeling well — whether it's a headache, stomach ache, or bad allergies, my morale sinks very low. That is because all I want to do is be alone. So I usually go in my room and sleep or read. This doesn't help. It is only until after I am forced to meet with the group for an activity or eat a meal with my family that I am happy all over again and realize my suffering is minor and it will only pass.
During the past two days my allergies have been the bane of my existence. I've used up three packs of Kleenex, using each tissue several times over. My nose has been rubbed raw from blowing it and it still does not cease to run. Taking extra allergy medicine has not improved matters.
We made three lentil/bean dishes at the center today. I spent most of the time discussing various issues with peers rather than cooking because only so many people could help cook at once.
Ms. R is really sick right now. Mr. B was gone all day taking Ms. M to Marrakesh to make her way home. Mr. B brought back absinthe but only the plant not the drug.
A lot of kids are fired up because they feel they have been misled to think they would be doing the service on the trip when it appears we won't be. I disagree with them and I see where the teachers are coming from. There is nothing we can think of right now that we could do to help the village. The village is already on its feet and doesn't need much help. If we think of some service we can do for them then I think our leaders would be very supportive. This trip is pure opportunity for us and we can make out of it whatever we wish. I'm going to devote myself during the rest of the trip to learning as much as I can about their culture. I know I will have plenty of opportunity when I get home to apply my learning to some project I come up with that may benefit the village or some other village.
Many of the kids are still set on doing a service project here so they asked the leaders for "structured unstructured time" when kids could talk without the leaders there. We had that today and came up with an idea of putting on workshops for kids of the village (i.e. soccer and tae kwan do — good for girls to get to play soccer and learn self defense). We still need to work on developing that idea further.
I had an interesting conversation today with Eunice and his two cousins on polygamy. They think it's a fine practice and that it's a woman's job to have babies because that is what makes a woman a woman. I told them I wanted five husbands. They laughed a bunch. I said if one man can have two, three, or four wives then I deserve five husbands. This idea had obviously never occurred to them before because they seemed a bit puzzled.
There are so many questions I have surrounding gender, religion, and politics that I want to ask my host family members. I began interviewing Nzha with my questions, but soon the whole family joined in so I guess I will conduct my interview the same way Moroccans eat their couscous — communally. I got fascinating answers so far. I also want to draw the faces of each of my family members.
I gave Nzha Advil because she has been complaining of a stomach ache. My mom asked me if I had anything for a head ache so I gave her Advil also. It's amazing that they don't have any medicine.
August 4 The Village
Today is the Fourth of July! I'm a little sad that I'm not at home with all my cousins setting off bunches of fireworks and eating lots of good food.
I told Audrey yesterday that I may have seen two products of marriage between two first cousins (two mentally ill children). Audrey said that the offspring of first cousins will usually turn out totally normal. The American myth that their children will be deformed was started by monks who wanted people from different families to intermarry in order to create more peace in the region. I'd be curious to know a Muslim perspective on why someone is mentally ill — whether they accept it as God's will or if they perceive them as evil or something.
This morning instead of another Amazigh lesson, our group went to the Souk. The Souk, or market, is held only on Wednesdays in the next village over. It was overwhelming with donkeys, poop, children, raw meat, and vegetables everywhere you would turn. Some vendors only sold mint while others sold a huge variety of products (they carry around to different souks in their trucks) from spices to flashlights to soap. Many of the children we saw had splotches on their face, red eyes, and had an expression of disillusionment on their face. My best guess is that they are out in the sun too much. It's also possible they have some kind of disease. There was a row of butchers. Mr. B said this meat is not refrigerated, but comes from animals that were killed just this morning. Much of what we saw being sold would be considered garbage in the States (crab apples, old vegetables, and alarm clocks that no longer work). Wednesday is the only day to buy stuff except for the teeny shop in the village.
Mr. B came by my house later to check on me and my family. He talked to my mom for a while and they basically laughed the whole time. That's how all Moroccans seem — fun loving with great senses of humor. He also talked to Hafida and Nzha. When he heard about Nzha's engagement he told Hafida to stay in school and go to university. He seemed confident enough that we wouldn't offend Nzha's choice to marry and at the same time stress the importance of education and getting married at a later age.
Right now I'm with Nzha and Hafida next door at their cousin's house watching a Mexican soap opera. It is absolutely ridiculous how sappy and dramatic it is. I don't know how they stand watching it. At our house they own only 2 DVDs that they watch over and over again all the time. One is a Bollywood flick with a really sappy love story, lots of singing and dancing.
August 6 The Village
This morning, a man from the village led us into the woods to show us how to make drums. He had two animal skins laid out for us. The sight and especially the smell were absolutely disgusting. We were supposed to pick the hair off these skins with our bare hands. I know I wouldn't be able to because only the sight made me sick to my stomach. A few brave souls stepped up to do the gross task. We were given branches of myrrh to hold to our noses in order to replace the terrible scent of the skins. After the hair had been removed, he washed the skins and stretched them over circular wood structures. The excess skin that he cut off he used to cut threads for sowing the skin to the wood. We took turns sewing the drum. While disgusting, it was pretty cool to watch. I was pretty determined not to touch it though. Tons of flies, attracted to the strong odor, swarmed all around us.
Afterwards we were given time to discuss the service project we want to do without teachers in the room. We talked about putting workshops on for the kids (soccer, tae kwan do, American cooking, hemp bracelet/necklace making). Audrey presented the idea to Mr. B and Ms. R and they liked it! They are going to talk to the Hajj about logistics and figure out gender stuff (i.e. girls can't play soccer with guys, but American girls could play with all the guys).
A few hours ago I wished desperately that I was home away from this place. Now I'm happy again to be here. I know I sound really bipolar — I think the heat, unfamiliar, surroundings, and homesickness makes me emotionally fragile. My happiness is like a rollercoaster. Every other day I want to be home, and at the other times I'm supper excited to be here having all these physical and mental adventures.
Today the group began working on a skit that we will perform for all the host families at the party at the end of our stay. I had an idea of "A typical Day in the village" in which we'll use a bunch of the Amazigh words we know.
We had a great first discussion on the book we're reading, The Silent Night by Tahar Ben Jelloun. We discussed Islam, feminism, gender roles, and individuality. Main points people brought up included: a woman is a daughter, wife, and mother — not an individual; expectations for Moroccan woman and Moroccan men are very different — kif kif (same same or ditto) Moroccan woman and American woman — kif kif American women and American men; Moroccans use "God's will" to excuse a lot of events, but you are also supposed to will yourself to work hard.
I realized the families living around my family's house are actually all cousins, aunts, and uncles. Each day when we go pick up Brandon I pass these stairs at the top of which the Grandma sits all the time. How cool is that to live in a house surrounded by cousins? Any random little kid I see running around (there are always lots) I ask them if they are a cousin of Hafida and they usually are! I can't imagine how fun it would be to live in a bunch of houses filled with my cousins.
Brandon's sister (also a cousin) is 17 and beautiful. From talking to her Dad, Mr. B found out that she was pulled out of school last year. They pulled her out only because she was beautiful so there is a potential danger of her mixing with boys. They want to keep her at home where all she can do is learn how to be a good housewife. She will probably be married off in a year or two. Mr. B got really frustrated when he heard this because he knows she is unusually intelligent. He told the Dad that it was very important he put her back in school so she can go to University so that even if she doesn't have a career, she can help out her kids with the education she has received. Mr. B said later that he wanted to talk to her Dad again "about Brandon," but his plan is to actually try to persuade the Dad to let her go back to school.
My mom is one hilarious woman. She burps loudly after meals and then asks with motions of burping and farting if that is mzien (good) in America. I just pretend like sure, it's normal, Americans do it too. She loves laughing about that.
THE TRIP IS HALF WAY OVER TODAY!
August 7 The Village
Today was our last Amazigh lesson. Afterwards, we had a little group meeting about the workshops we're organizing. I was starting to get so frustrated about having to accommodate for gender restrictions here. The village girls won't get to play in the big village game — they have to play separately. We can't teach them Tae Kwan Do because that would involve body contact. We need to make sure no males are around during the cooking workshop so that the women participating will feel at ease and comfortable enough to talk. Just talking about all these things made me feel so claustrophobic and angry. All these girls must feel so trapped and suppressed. How do they ever let out pent up energy or emotion. Boys can run around, fight each other and even hit their sisters, but sisters rarely hit back and they are not really supposed to play soccer or run around much. It all just makes me want to scream and then beat some guy's ass.
We met at the center for a drum lesson. They have this traditional drum beat consisting of four men with four basic goatskin drums. I volunteered to try it out. They also did a little singing and dancing. Lots of little kids gathered around. At one point they were all belting out the traditional melody — so cool sounding! The beats and the girls singing were fun to listen to, but I found the men's singing whiney. We sang for them Lean On Me.
We had a huge soccer match over at the soccer field with all the kids in the village, except only the older ones played. Since soccer is not really my thing I only played a little just for the sake of defying the gender restrictions — no village girls were allowed to play with us. While I was on the side line we reminisced a lot about back home (food, concerts, stories). It's amazing how long we can be entertained by talking about the food we miss.
August 8 Essaouira
Last night, I walked with my family to two houses over to go to a party hosted for a girl who just passed her BAC exam. All the females (babies to grandmas) sat on one side of the big room separated from the male side by blankets hung in the center. Girls who I usually see with no or minor head scarf came to the party much more covered. It was fascinating that they would actually go as far as putting up a blanket partition to prevent males and females from viewing each other! We were served tea, the bread with honey and butter, then a big chicken at each little table, then a bunch of lamb, and the watermelon and honey dew. The amount of food served was amazing.
I sat with Zoe and 3 girls (including Nzha) about our same age. Zoe and I noticed how they seem older than us because they have had to, in a sense, grow up or mature faster to be of marrying age. We remarked that Moroccan guys our age still seem like kids, and presumed that is because they don't get married until they reach their early 20s. My mom seemed so much more subdued, quiet, and serious than she usually is. So did all the other older women. I was expecting some dancing and music, but we ended up leaving shortly after we finished eating. I wasn't sure if this was because we had little kids, because females go home earlier, or because they were tired.
This morning we took the bus to Essaouira. We're staying at a hotel that seems really nice in contrast to the village. We walked to the beach. It was cool and windy, but I dunked fully in the ocean anyways.
We walked though the Medina. This place seems more upscale and touristy than Rabat was.
We came back and took glorious showers — real showers! We ate dinner here at the hotel restaurant. The fish was pretty good — I guess that's what Essaouira is known for. Mr. B invited three musicians to come play for us. There was a guitarist (not really a guitar, but a 3 stringed instrument), a mini symbol clapper/hat tassel twirler, and a dancer. They all sang. They had a really cool beat.
Mr. B was explaining to us how slaves from Mali were brought over to build this city and their music culture was brought here and became traditional for the city. American Jazz can also be traced back here. It's really fun to watch Mr. B get into the music. He will clap, tap, beats on the table, sing and dance. This was the music he grew up with, "he feels the rhythm in his bones," it's the kind of beat that puts someone into a trance. He really got into the dancing at one point matching his whole upper body with the feet swinging forward backward forward. They had us all up and dancing at one point. I can really understand how that beat could put you in a trance.
August 10 Marrakesh
We spent Saturday morning writing reflections about the trip in response to prompts that Ms. R gave us about cultural observations, what has made an impact on us, and so on. Mr. B got us pizza for lunch — what many of us were craving — and soda too!
We went to the beach and I went swimming again. It was so fun to try body surfing. Moroccan boys crowded around us, which was annoying because they got in the way of riding the waves and made Mr. B worry.
We walked though the Medina to do some shopping. We went to a wood work (for which Essaouira is famous) shop. Many of the smaller objects were just 10 dirham or 1 dollar. I got a "tricky" box — I call it that because most people would never be able to find out how to open it unless someone told them. You shift panels to find a key, shift more panels and unlock it.
Mr. B also took us to an area of shops where you find the best silver jewelry (another Essaouira specialty). It was really cool because Mr. B over the years has made good friends with a few of the jewelers so he manages to have them lower the original price very significantly. It was the same case at the woodwork store. They must scam tourists so much!
During our bus ride back to the village, I began feeling nauseous. While stopped at the super market I told Mr. B I wanted to throw up. He walked me over to the shade and waited while I tried and failed. I endured an hour or two (what seemed like 10) of extremely uncomfortable and nauseous bus ride before grabbing a plastic bag and throwing up what distantly resembled my lunch of chicken brochette and fries. Unfortunately the bag I had grabbed had a gaping hole so most all of my vomit sloshed onto the floor of the bus. Everyone was very considerate giving me towel, Kleenex, and water. The bus driver pulled over at the Barrage (the gorgeous dam about an hour away from our home village). I felt terrible when Mr. B cleaned up my vomit and wouldn't let me help insisting I go out and get some fresh air. I felt much better after throwing up, but my nausea soon returned. Mr. B and Ms. R came to my side as I tried to throw up again, but I instead blacked out and had to lie down on the ground briefly. They splashed water on me, told me I had turned completely white and that they were going to take me to the doctor that happened to be near by. They helped me into the front seat of the bus where I threw up again. It wasn't a pretty picture.
I was very dizzy when I stood up so they had to prop me up while I walked into the doctor's office. The doctor was a beautiful tall slender young woman all covered up except for her face. She did a check up. I had very low blood pressure. She gave me Tylenol in suppository form (aah!) She wanted to give me an injection to stop the vomiting, but Mr. B declined. I was laying down this whole time because when I sat or stood up I would get very dizzy. During this time the leaders were calling the school and Mr. B's brothers and sisters who are doctors.
They eventually walked me over to the doctor's house where I would spend the night. The entire time Ms. R would ask me lots of silly questions (like about my favorite subjects) to make sure I was conscious. I still had to lie down and sit up just a little to drink very small amounts of water. I threw up one more time in the doctor's house. It was really hot in the room and I had a high fever. They put cold damp towels all over me. The doctor cooked for me some carrots and potatoes saying it was important I eat to neutralize the acid in my stomach, I ate about 4 small pieces. It was really difficult and painful because I felt like I would throw it up and it was very unappetizing for me. I kept dozing off from exhaustion. The rest of the group slept nearby in the dorms of the nearby high school.
I slept well and when I woke up the next morning I felt a lot better. I wasn't as dizzy when I sat up. I had abdominal pain and a headache. The doctor felt different spots on my belly and concluded that the pain I felt was really located in my intestines from food that was stuck in their upsetting it.
The teachers made up their minds that Mr. B would take me in a taxi to the hospital two hours away in Marrakesh. I dizzily made my way out to the taxi. The taxi drove very fast so I had to keep my stomach in check around the curves and over the bumpy parts. It was really hot and I sweated up a storm.
We got to the clinic and Mr. B held my hand as I walked feebly in. He explained that this was a private clinic where you have to pay as opposed to public clinics where you don't have to pay, but where the wait can be very long. I felt everyone's eyes on me with my fair skin, basketball shorts, and t-shirt (scanty compared to the covered up women all around me). Mr. B had me sit down while he told the front desk that his "daughter" needed to be seen. There really was no wait. A doctor looked at me and decided I should check into a room so that they could re-hydrate me, take care of my constipation, and run some tests.
A nurse rode the elevator with us upstairs to a floor with two plasma screens in the hall, and a pretty fancy waiting area on one end. My room even had a medium-sized plasma on the wall and a balcony. It felt more like a hotel room. Mr. B said money can get you a lot in Morocco.
They gave me an IV in my right hand and took a little bit of blood from my left arm. They've given me probably 6 different packs of liquid through my IV (to hydrate, antibiotics, prevention of nausea, pain killer, and so on). It really freaks me out to think about that needle pumping so much liquid into my small vain.
All the nurses are very nice. I love watching Mr. B interact with them. Even though I can't understand it all, I can tell that the conversations are so playful and friendly. They kept asking him if I was his daughter. He would say "like a daughter," but actually student. He is very considerate and caring. To me he has been "like a mother."
A specialist doctor came to see me — I think that would mean a gastroenterologist. He decided that they should try to "evacuate" my constipation and take an x-ray to make sure everything looks OK even though he doesn't think they will find anything wrong. They are trying to problem solve with these tests to check if it was food poisoning and make sure it's not appendicitis or typhoid fever.
August 11 Marrakesh
So last night I was feeling a lot of pain in the abdominal area and my chest. A nurse came in and massaged my stomach. I walked up and down the hall and that also made it feel better. They thought that the pain was due to my constipation so they carried out the "evacuation." (I will spare the gory details).
We watched some news on TV and Mr. B explained some Moroccan politics to me. There are quite a few parties including a prominent socialist party, a Communist party, and an Independence party. (The Independence party existed before Morocco won independence and now wants an Islamic Republic, which goes against the constitutional monarchy. Therefore it's an underground party and its leader is under house arrest.)
We watched the news channel of the state. The king is always the top news story. We watched an extensive piece on the king opening a new mosque and visiting a girl's literacy program. Most of the people shake his hand and try to kiss it, but he pulls it away before they do. Even though this sounds silly it's actually a Moroccan custom and I've seen people in the village do it. Mr. B said that the king's father didn't shake near as many hands and no one could kiss his.
He showed me 3 newspapers he had bought that day, one of which was by the socialist party and another by the communist party. People in his intellectual circle will buy as many as 5 papers each day, read them all, and try to extract some truth. All press has an agenda here. And smart Moroccans know it.
I find it very interesting how in the States most newspapers present themselves as "unbiased" and presumably present all sides of the story. Yet here newspapers are assumed to be completely biased and it's left up to the reader to distinguish truth. I will have to think about this more, but I might like the Moroccan way better since the reader must always read critically. Perhaps it's unrealistic to expect a media source to be unbiased. And perhaps its naïve for Americans to think the news that shapes their opinions and outlook is (as they like to brag) "fair and balanced."
August 11 The village
I woke up with most of the pain gone and only feelings of soreness and weakness.
They took me down to the basement to take an x-ray of my abdominal area to make sure there hadn't been serious damage. The results looked fine and normal.
I was ready to be discharged and they removed my IV. (I watched them pull it out!)
Mr. B and I packed up and left. It was slightly hard to say goodbye to the TV, comfortable mattress, and familiar sit-down toilet. At the same time I was so happy to be feeling healthy again and excited to rejoin the group in the village.
The same taxi from the day before picked us up — he had stuck around just for us (reminding me of the buying power we First World travelers have in a place like Morocco). We stopped at Marjam (the super market) to pick up some things for the group like T.P. and cough drops. Mr. B explained that Marjam exemplified the schizophrenia of Moroccan culture today with its modern/western feel, but traditional bureaucratic system. We tried to enter through a place other than the one designated entrance. A man stopped us and told us to enter the other way. Mr. B rejected and asked "why can't we enter this way? We aren't blocking anyone." Walking through we talked about how the lower ranks blindly follow whatever top authority dictates. This is a left over influence from highly bureaucratic French colonialist rule. You do exactly what the top authority says whereas for instance at our Lakeside school back in Seattle Mr. B is trusted by the principal to make the authoritative decision on whether or not to administer a final exam.
We stopped at the pharmacy to pick up 3 types of antibiotics — Mr. B said Moroccans are very liberal with medication.
August 12 The Village
At the pharmacy yesterday Mr. B noted that all 3 women wore headscarves. This is a new trend that so many women are wearing them. They do it to be respected in their workplace and also for marriageability. I asked Mr. B if his mom covers her head. He said no, that she has rebelled against the whole system.
When I arrived back at my host home I met my "Dad" for the first time. He's friendly and speaks French well. My mom told me that Rashid cried because I was gone and every one was worried about me. My dad was eager to speak with me. He wasted no time in telling me about the 3 times he had visited France by plane. There is a singing/dancing group made up of village members who travel sometimes. They are traveling to Switzerland in October. He works for 15 straight days out of the month in Marrakesh paving concrete for roads from 3 am to 5 pm — yes, 14 hours! He makes 5,000 dirham ($500) for these 15 days of work — this is good money here. He only sleeps and eats between 5 pm and 3 am. This sounds so extreme! He said it's very hard work but it is a good job and earns much more than what he would in the village. The other 15 days of each month he spends at home as guardian of the school — in other words, he's a maintenance man who takes care of the plants and buildings. He says that 14 hours of work each day in Marrakesh is too much so next time he will look for another job. He joked about me getting him a visa so that he could come work in the States.
I was feeling 90% as I walked up to the center to cook Arzine (bubbly pancake things). All my Moroccan friends were really nice asking how I felt and curious about my hospital adventure. Arzine is fun to make — you kneed, fold, kneed, fold, kneed, fold. A lot of oil is involved and you basically fry it on the stove. They are really good at using their fingers to move and flip it around. We used forks because we couldn't deal with the high heat of the oil like the villagers could.
Eunice's sister and Osama's sister are here visiting. They are college students about 20-years-old. They wear very short-sleeve shirts unlike the village girls. They wear long pants. All girls their age in the village would wear head scarves, but they don't. We had a facilitated discussion with village teens, including them, with Mr. B as translator:
The girls have lived in big cities all their lives (Marrakesh and Casablanca). Most college girls don't wear headscarves. The Koran promotes education for everyone, both boys and girls. There are two main verses that children learn: seek knowledge as far as China; and seek knowledge from birth to the grave — something like that, but more eloquent. The girls aren't pulled out of school for religious reasons, rather for financial reasons. While school is free, supplies can be costly. Girls are needed as helping hands at home. While a family would like to send their girls and boys to school it's difficult to manage to send them all. When choosing between the two, they choose to send the boys because girls can stay home and do housework and educating girls supposedly doesn't make sense when all they need to know how to do is raise children.
And there is also the fear of girls getting corrupted. Parents hear extreme stories about girls who got pregnant and have to leave the village for good. They end up having to take work as a maid somewhere or even end up committing suicide. This paranoia is enough for parents to discontinue their daughters' educations. The teens that go away for college most always intend to return to their families at their birth places. Their generation is definitely a new one in the way girls are getting more freedom and opportunity to get educated and work outside the home. It's like a delayed version of what happened in the States. They are the first generation in which girls who work outside the home and earn a salary may be more desirable as wives.
The village is very different from the cities. City life is much more modern and similar to the States. They asked about our perceptions of Morocco and Islam and about our family life... American teens want all the independence we can get. We eat half our meals with friends instead of family. We go away to college (I'm talking about kids as well-off as me, which isn't the average American teen) and often move to another city for good only to see their parents once a year at Christmas. We don't respect our parents or appreciate them nearly as much as we should. The discussion we had made me want to go home and spend lots of time hanging out with my parents. Moroccans eat most every meal including lunch as a family, communal-style. Their grandparents live with them in the same house, while we neglect ours in nursing homes. It's interesting to consider how our capitalist ideology has shaped and influenced American lifestyle. The way we go away to school to be trained for a career to earn a bunch of money. This all plays into our capitalist system and leaves little room for family.
I'm going to list general points from a group conversation we had with Mr. B: The King is considered to be a descendent of the prophet and, therefore, basically appointed by God to rule. For that reason most Moroccans like the King and trust that he is a great ruler. Most Moroccans wouldn't even entertain a discussion on belief in God because they simply never question it. A civil war or coup is likely in the next decade or two because the Islamists are trying to take over, Berbers are claiming their rights, and there are other parties that don't agree well with the monarch. The present king is working hard to modernize so that more people's needs are accommodated and the constitutional monarchy is preserved. He tolerates much more free speech than his father who would throw into jail anyone who dared speak against him.
Mr. B is convinced that it was the chocolate that Eunice gave me from the souk that Jules and I both ate that gave us food poisoning.
Everyone else is scared from hearing about my "evacuation" of getting constipated. I think it was just a mental thing with the Turkish style "squat" toilet. I did realize that at home I usually eat fruit for breakfast, salad for lunch, meat for dinner, and a little bread hear and there. Compare that to here where I eat lots of bread, very little fruit and only vegetables that have been cooked with oil. No wonder my body got stopped up.
It's so dry, hot, and dusty now. A heat wave was predicted for today so everyone is going to rest at home for the afternoon.
I'm constantly fighting a mental battle of how to spend my time at home. I've put spending time with the host family as my first priority because that is why I came to Morocco. I divide the rest of my time between writing in my journal, reading my book, reading the assigned book, and sleeping. I am never lacking things to write about, it's just a matter of finding the time to write.
I guess they don't get as excited about weddings and fiancés here because whenever I ask about Dreis, Nzha's fiancé, they kind of shrug it off. From my understanding he returned to the village last Friday and hasn't come to visit Nzha. My father doesn't even seem to know the date of his daughter's wedding. Maybe they just determine the month and it's not even practical to set a specific day because village time doesn't work like that.
It's raining! I haven't seen rain since Seattle. This is so bizarre. I'm excited for the relief from the dust but also fear the mud that is sure to follow.
I look around at the Moroccans here and wonder if they are "happy." They seem happy to me. I wonder if "happiness" and "sadness" is an American notion since I don't see sadness as an option here. People — even if times are tough — seem to have a positive attitude about life and its challenges.
It is so hot. I've been sitting in my room all afternoon sweating. I finished the assigned book. I think about home a lot now. I absolutely cannot wait to go home. Things I look forward to: seeing my mom, comfortable bed, shower/being clean, wearing little clothing, swimming, friend hang out time, getting stuff done, exercise, having control of my time/what I do with my day/what I eat...further on I look forward to seeing my Dad and Andy.
I'm in my room wearing a tank top. My door is open. Family members walk by and look in. I wish I knew what they thought of me with my bare shoulders.
I really want to host a foreign exchange student — probably French. I want to show them American culture the same way my family has shown me Moroccan culture. Although the Muslim culture here is much more different from America than French culture is.
We're supposed to conduct an interview with someone. I have been conducting mini-interviews with all my family members frequently. I have gotten so much fascinating information.
The conversation I had with my dad tonight was definitely formal interview worthy, but I didn't have paper with me. Points I remember...He thinks education is very important for boys and girls — without it you are "like an ass." He's very proud of the 7 years of schooling he received as a child. He studied French for 2 years. He would wake up early to study. According to him, you only need 5 hours of sleep — with more you wake up tired. He calls himself very intelligent with "a mind like electricity." He's very proud of how most of his kids are intelligent and attend school. Why did he take Nzha out? Because she cried and didn't like school. Others take their girls out when they reach a certain age because at that age you go away a ways to the Barrage for high school and this is too far away — the girls talk to the boys and this is not good. I said the boys are the ones who are the problem! He laughed and kind of agreed. He said, even though other fathers think differently, he thinks girls should go to school too. He said he can calculate the stars in the sky and the fish in the sea — joking. He can actually do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. He's told me for probably the 6th time that he's visited France 3 times. Lots of Moroccans go to Italy, Spain, and France to work and earn lots of money. They pay a little money to take a secret boat over and come back with loads of money. We compared prices of things.
A shirt that costs a dollar here would probably cost 5 or 10 in the states. 15-dollar shoes here would be sold for $60 in the states, and so on. He smokes cigarettes. He kept asking if I smoke. He asked if my parents smoke and drink. I explained how my parents drink wine like tea or fanta, but that marijuana (I think they call it kif) is against the law in the states. He asked me if I wanted some whiskey. I explained that Americans can't drink until they are 21, that some do, but definitely not on a school trip. They said over and over again that I should stay here and not go back to the States. When I do go back I must write and send photos. When I have babies I must return to visit again. I taught them some English phrases. He said he loves tourists. He seeMs. to like America a lot or at least think it one of the best places to live.
August 13 The village
Yesterday afternoon I was trying to find out about the cheek kisses and I asked Lahssen how many he would give to each family member. When he said he wouldn't give his sister Nzha any I asked why. He said he doesn't like her because in 2004 — 3 years ago! — he overheard her talking promiscuously on the phone to a boy. He threw the cell phone at her and told his dad and older brother on her. She got in huge trouble. To this day he still doesn't like her. I've noticed how they don't acknowledge each other at all. I asked him why what she did was such a bad thing. He didn't have much of an explanation besides simply it's bad for girls to talk to boys on the phone — it's dangerous. He said he wasn't mad at the boys, only Nzha. He could probably talk on the phone to girls if he wanted to. This is such an extreme double standard and terrible version of "protection." And I thought my brother back home was protective! I feel so bad for Nzha.
I slept absolutely terribly last night. It was so hot and dusty. My mattress is lumpy and my pillow is rock hard. Benedryl could not even get me to sleep. When I was trying to fall asleep I was thinking of really nice things. I was in a great mood since I had had such a great conversation with my family after dinner, but my mood soured after a couple hours of frustrating sleeplessness. I was also thinking about all the things I look forward to doing when I get home: bike ride, run, cleaning my car, listening to my music, reading the newspaper, reading parts of my journal to my parents, playing piano...
For some reason I got this irrational fear that I might not make it home safely. I was thinking I really really hope my plane makes it. I never usually even worry a little about plane crashes. I think it's just that I want to make it home so badly right now. I'm really hot and dirty. The running water at my house hasn't been working for the past couple of days.
I got to go over to my classmate Jules' host home after our couscous workshop we had this morning instead of walking home and back in the scorching heat. We watched English TV, which felt like such a luxury. The food her mom prepared was really good: couscous, tomato salad, French fried, watermelon, yummy tea, and cookies. Her house and food are much nicer compared to mine. Luxuries her family has that mine doesn't include a TV that receives more than one channel, chairs, couches, comfy pillows. She even gets to put her water bottle in a freezer! With my living situation here in Morocco it's like I was born into a lower class family. It was hard to leave to return to the center for another weaving workshop.
I had my first conversation on religion with my family tonight. They asked me if I pray — I said yes, but not like in Islam. I told them how I'm Christian and they seemed slightly familiar with the Christian faith. But my dad was like "no, it's not like that." Jesus cannot be the son of God. He said all this in a very factual manner. I tried to explain very carefully and sensitively that I believe differently — he would just say no, it's not like that. I had to repeat myself a couple of times that we just have different beliefs until he dropped the subject. I tried to explain the similarities between Christianity and Islam — I don't think he cared to hear about that. Later, I asked my sister if he didn't like me because I'm Christian. (I knew he liked me, but I wanted to see what they said.) They said that in the Koran it says Christians are just fine.
They offered me cactus fruit which I declined because Mr. B said it gives you diarrhea. They insisted on me eating it because it's good. I tried to explain that my system is not familiar with it so I would get sick. My dad disagreed. He said it's a fruit made by God and everyone eats it. When he goes to France he eats all the food without getting sick. I explained it thoroughly, but failed to convince him.
I made them some of the cinnamon tea I brought from Seattle as a gift to them. They didn't like it. They love the smell and they said it was good, but it was obvious that truthfully they didn't like the taste.
After dinner, American songs played on their TV. Nzha, Hafida, Lahssen, Rashid and I danced a bunch. They were fascinated by my dance moves and would try to imitate them all. We also danced to some Moroccan songs. It was so much fun!
August 14 The village
This morning we went on a three hour hike into the mountains from our village. The ascent was incredibly windy — I would lean all my body weight into the wind and it would basically hold me up. Everybody was pretty miserable at first with their heavy backpacks, the heat, and the dust. I was having fun with the crazy wind. Jules and I sang Destiny's Child songs. There was this little source of water with delicious cool clean water. We rested and ate bread with Nutella. I hate hiking. While the hike was unpleasant overall, there were enjoyable aspects: the company, pretty trees, and a stream. I must admit, the feeling of accomplishment in the end was sweet.
Zoe made cookies for her family with chocolate chips she brought from home. I tried one and they were very good! I'm impressed because it would be hard with the ingredients and instruments available.
For the first time it wasn't terribly hot this afternoon. It was overcast and would rain off and on. It made the trek we make twice each day up to the center much more pleasant.
We had another weaving workshop. It takes two women two weeks to complete just 1 rug that is sold for $60! I was wondering how they could even make a profit off of such a time consuming trade. Supplies must cost 10 or 20 dollars of that and TWO weeks work!
We invited all the little village kids to come draw with the colored pencils and paper we gave them. They swarmed into the room. Every single one is cute and some are amazingly adorable. One girl named Badia who has big round eyes and cute little chubby cheeks would follow me around and sit on my lap whenever I sat down. Wherever I walked, she came holding my hand.
The school policy is that we have only one camera for the entire group. I took the group's camera home with me and took photos. My family got a huge kick out of playing with the camera.
I found out my brother kisses girls while he's away at school. When I asked if it would be ok for Nzha to do those things he said no. There's that double standard!
I can tell my dad is used to getting all the attention and respect. I definitely try to respect him completely, but I pay equal attention to everyone else and more to Nzha and my Mom because they don't get as much as they deserve.
August 15 The village
This morning I found my toothpaste with holes chewed in it. I remembered hearing gnawing sounds last night, which creeped me out, but I thought it was just mice in the walls or something. I used the toothpaste to brush my teeth anyway. That just shows you how I've gotten so used to gross things like last night when I found a nasty cricket-looking thing in my room the size of two of my fingers together. I've gotten used to so much: Turkish toilets, brushing teeth with no water, wearing the same socks for days, drinking little water, using the same tissue many times over, eating out of a bowl with the rest of my family licking their hands and sticking them back in, knowing the meat and diary products I'm eating were not refrigerated, using only hand gestures to communicate with my mom, having my nails clogged with dirt and food, hairy legs, and the list goes on.
We cooked Rfissa this morning at the center. You shred up Arsise (pancake stuff) and put chicken, onion, and lentils on top. It's juicy, rich, and absolutely delicious. I want to make that and couscous when I get home. I'm glad to be visiting a country where the food is all so good! One explanation for this may be all the oil they use.
A group of us students made American brownies and chocolate chip cookies that we will serve to the families tomorrow night at the party. They were both a challenge. The brownies got badly burnt all around the exterior, but the un-burnt parts tasted delicious. The cookie dough wasn't super tasty and the cookies cooked unevenly if they didn't burn. I'm excited to see how the village people like them.
It stormed today and rained really hard. When it rains here though, it's only in short spurts. I let my clothes get soaked through until Mr. B told me to get out of the rain.
I took Nzha and Hafida to the center with me today to make pizza. We asked them to help us make 3 rounds of the bread they usually make. We grated tomatoes and added tomato paste from cans for the sauce. We sprinkled grated cheese on top of this and sliced onion, green bell pepper, black olives, and thyme. We cooked them in their oven and it actually turned out great! I was really happy about this because I kind of took charge since I've made pizza at home a few times. The point was to teach the girls how to cook something American that they would be able to prepare again later (a part of the cultural exchange). As I watched them eat some it definitely looked like they didn't like the taste. None of them would admit that they didn't like it because they're all very well-mannered and ate their entire slices. I tried to figure out from Nzha what it was they didn't like. I gathered that they don't like the tomato sauce and the cheese.
We had a discussion with the group of teenage girls. It was cool to even just see them outside their homes because they can't get out much. They asked us about marriage, how we like the village, and so on. They told us about how they have noticed that American girls and boys can interact without being romantic and it's fine. Most of them are very happy to live in the village. It's embarrassing for them if they're not married by 22.
The Hajj (village "big man" or president) gave us a lecture about the Association. They had a serious drought in the 1980s. The Hajj went to Casablanca to collect money so that he managed to buy the village a pump. They had only one precious water pump. The Association's first project was to provide drinking water for everyone. The Japanese embassy sponsored the project and contributed $40,000. the village Development was founded in 1995. "Integrated development" was its mission — to improve conditions of living by recognizing sociological projects while respecting pre-existing institutions. There is a body of people who meet to come up with modern strategies that the village will accept. They made a 10 year plan to develop infrastructure, train people through schooling, and pursue income generating projects. Concensus is big in village politics. All projects had to be accepted by every village member. They use a "work bank" in which each household must pay a fee of 120 dirham or $15 or contribute three days of labor to the Association. Past projects include dirt roads, 16 springs equipped with water pumps, electricity, training centers, preschool, informal education, and reservoir.
Hafida told me about how she wants to learn English, Spanish, Hindi, and Chinese. She wants to know about all the countries. She is so curious and intelligent. She wants to become a doctor, help poor people, improve Morocco, and help its people. I admire her and her personality so much.
I gave my mom 2 skirts and a shirt that I bought for this trip that I know I won't wear at home. She liked them a lot.
I'm so comfortable with my family now. It will be so hard to leave in 2 days.
August 16 The village
This morning we took all the younger girls with us to the soccer field for an all girls' game of soccer since usually they would be left out while the boys get to play. I asked if Nzha could come. My dad said she had to stay home and make lunch. "But it's only for one hour." I said. He said her fiancé wouldn't want her out and about. I wanted to scream at this injustice but bit my tongue. The soccer game went pretty well except that the younger girls would all swarm the ball. It was really hot out even at 8:30 am. Their concrete soccer field is situated beside a cliff so it was a pain when the ball would roll off.
We taught the kids how to make knots and hemp bracelets. It was like a circus with string and beads everywhere.
My family's cousins and aunts came over to give Zoe and me henna. We had to sit in an uncomfortable position for a long time. After about an hour they peeled the stickers off and used knives to shave off the henna. They still won't let me wash my hands so I'm trying not to get this journal dirty as I write.
One of my "cousins" who came over, named Maria, was probably the most beautiful little girl I've ever seen. Even though we couldn't communicate, but could only smile at one another, we somehow developed this bond. Throughout the afternoon and evening she would come over and I would invite her to sit on my lap. I really didn't want to ever say goodbye to her. The vivid memory of beautiful kids sitting on my lap will be a lifelong souvenir of this trip for me.
August 17 Bus to Marrakesh
Before I headed up to the center at 6, Nzha applied a bunch of liquid eyeliner on me. She applied magenta lip gloss, which she also used for my eyelids and cheeks. When my classmate Kevin saw me for the first time he exclaimed "Holy Shit! What happened to you?" I guess that explained how whorish I looked.
The moms of a few of us girls brought fancy traditional costumes to dress us in. I wore a blue and gold robe-like dress with a cardboard belt, a big colorful red headdress with tassels and coins hanging down over my forehead. I felt like I was ready for battle. Jules said I look like a Mongolian Princess.
The Hajj's courtyard was outfitted with mats all over the ground, lighting, and lots of small tables. We felt everyone's eyes on us Americans all dressed up in crazy outfits as we crossed the courtyard. Men and women were segregated to either ends of the courtyard. The men were getting served tea first when we were told to go over to the next door neighbor's house to eat. The party was technically supposed to start at 8, but of course on Moroccan time people didn't show up until 10 and we probably didn't eat until 11 or 12. All of us girls ate separately with the women. They served tea, then beef tajine with bread, then the sweet delicious pasta stuff and finally watermelon.
We were summoned around 1 am to rejoin the men to watch Awash (traditional performance with drumming and singing). As we walked in, the strong drumbeat had already started. It was the coolest sound. My ears could feel the reverberations coming from the many hands striking the goatskin druMs. . Soon the whiny singing commenced. It sounded really cool this time since it was produced by many trained voices at once. My dad was leading the drumming and singing men. I was completely mesmerized for the first few numbers. After a while a group of women, led by my mom, joined in. They were all dressed up in silver and white robe-like dresses like the one I wore with red headdresses. They stood in a line, shoulders touching, bouncing up and down, side to side a little, and clapping their hands in a synchronized rhythm. A couple of the women every once in a while would let out this crazy shrill cry with their tongue shaking up and down ending with iyiiii! Mr. B called to me and motioned for me to join the rhythm. I was ready to try it so I went up and stood next to my mom. Pretty soon I had the clapping rhythm and foot movements down and the rest of the American girls had joined me. Half the time, I felt ridiculous, and the other half of the time, I was part of the village community and just having fun. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life - surrounded by most of the village gathered all in one place. The performances lasted quite a while and the performers worked up quite a sweat. A group of the performing men handed their druMs. over to their sons including Lahssen while they danced in a line.
The Hajj followed the two-hour Awash performance with a long prayer. Everyone said the equivalent of "amen" throughout his message. At the same time, there seemed to be less reverence than when a group of Americans pray at home because many people were talking and having side conversations throughout.
Before heading home, we divvied up the cookies and brownies we made to take home to our families. Mine liked the brownies, but not the cookies because they were stale.
I walked home in the dark with my family and a bunch of our cousins. We only had a couple small flashlights among us so I almost wiped out quite a few times. I felt so close to my family at that time — like I was just another daughter. It was after 3:00 by the time we got home. I was exhausted from wearing all that clothing, dancing, and eating all that food. So for the first time in 5 days I was able to fall asleep right away.
I set my alarm this morning to allow for more time than just packing so I could spend a final hour with my family. They all came in to my room to hang out while I finished packing .With each little thing I did I thought of how it was the last time I would ever do that: squat over that Turkish toilet that I got to know so well, carry the little round table back to the kitchen after eating my last breakfast of that tea and homemade warm round of bread, stepping on donkey droppings the whole walk down from the house.
While we were chilling in my room as a big happy, but sad family, Hafida started tearing up a little. I didn't expect to cry because I'm not usually quick to tears. But I couldn't help but choke up and soon tears were running down Nzha's, my Mom's, Rashid's, and my own cheeks. I didn't want to leave this family or this place. I was so ready to leave, but I wasn't. It was really difficult to swallow my tears and I had to spend all my energy on trying my best to not cry again. Even Lahssen's eyes were watering a little.
My whole family walked me out with my stuff to the tree where the rest of the group awaited us. I kissed Nzha, Hafida,and especially Fatima (my mom) many many times on the cheeks. I even kissed Rashid, Lahssen, and my dad good bye and it felt fine even though I had an inkling that a girl my age wouldn't usually do that with guys like that in their culture. As we walked down the road away from them the tears I had held back began to flow. I was excited and ready to move on, but very sad to leave them with the thought that I probably will never see them again despite the number of times I half-jokingly reassured them that yes, I will return — I will come back with my brother, my parents, my husband, my babies — come back to the village and meet my brothers' and sisters' babies.
Mr. B bought us deliciously cold water and coke from the little store. Then we headed off to Marakech.
After checking into our relatively luxurious hotel, the first thing I did was take a shower. We ate lunch at the hotel's restaurant. We were laughing a lot about how we all talk about the grossest things with each other like throwing up, diarrhea, B.M.s , and constipation all the time without feeling uncomfortable.
We got to go swimming in the hotel pool! So nice! I happily took a second shower.
We took a bus to this big square called Djamaa El Fna. Mr. B separated us into smaller groups of 3 in which we were to stick close together, but would allow the larger group to spread out a bit more. We hesitated on the outskirts of the square to prepare us for what we were about to jump into. Once Mr. B. gave the "let's go," we were off! I had to focus on making sure I stayed close to Mr. B and Jules. I felt consumed in smoke as we approached the food area. It was this really cool outdoor eating system where even large families could sit at picnic-style tables to be served all kinds of fried food. Some served purely escargot. Mr. B said that these food vendors were famous for food poisoning until the government cracked down and now with very strict sanitary rules they are probably more than safe.
The rest of the square was littered with circles of people crowding around events happening like boxing, violin playing, and other performances. We saw palm readers, henna artists, horse carriages, and vendors of magical ingredients. There was no such thing as a personal bubble as men brushed against you, and beggars grabbed your arm, one of whom was lacking eyeballs. We walked to the back of the square and through an isle of stalls similar to the old Medina in Rabat, but more organized, and slightly less hectic. We found a nice old lady who sold fezzes and other traditional Moroccan hats. All of us wanted to buy some. They were only 15 dirham a piece ($1.50). I got one for Dad and one for Andy.
We stopped by one of the magic supplies vendors to check out hyena skulls, other bones, cobra skin, teeth (who knows whether human or animal?) and many other mysterious powders. I asked Mr. B if magic goes against Islam. His answer was that a Muslim wouldn't really call it magic, but the work of Allah. It's equivalent to Christian "miracles."
While walking back to meet the bus, we encountered the craziest traffic I've ever experienced in my life. There was this one really busy road with cars zooming past and loads of pedestrians attempting to barge their way through. We had to assume Moroccan technique and venture across in the midst of all that traffic. Many of the buses and cars wouldn't even stop. I felt them whiz past me only inches away. What a thrill!
We were too late for dinner at the hotel so Mr. B had his brother pickup groceries for us. I ate this jumbo delicious PB and J sandwich and an apple. Our TV had one channel similar to MTV that played music videos. It's nice especially when they play American ones we know. After a delicious breakfast of all kinds of fruits and cereals, we sat around the hotel forever waiting for the leaders to take care of the four people who were sick, get medicine, and so on.
We bussed four hours to Rabat and checked into the same hotel at which we stayed the last time. We took the bus to the old Medina to meet our Rabat families at Cara's former homestay house. It was a gorgeous house surrounding/overlooking an open courtyard and with lots of mosaic tilling on the walls and authentic wood carving/architecture. It was so nice to see Fatima, Karima, and their mom. We kissed and hugged a lot. It felt like being home again. Even walking the streets of Rabat felt homey. We ate tea and pastries with all our families there. They were curious to hear how we had spent the past three weeks. They said Larby had wanted to come but they hadn't been sure if he was welcome — we all wanted to see him. So they called him to join us. We didn't see him until we had walked outside while we were saying goodbye. We said long goodbyes. I felt so sad, but we promised to stay in touch on email and joked/dreamed about me coming back in a year or two to stay with them. It was weird because drinking tea at that home seemed so luxurious and "civilized" (I hesitate to use that word with its negative connotations but I can't think of a better one). Four weeks prior I would have thought that house to be humble. After coming from the village it felt nearly extravagant. I think this is really good for me in particular because I'm used to expecting so many extra comforts most people don't have. It's an ugly thing when society gets polarized in such a way that you have trouble relating to the people with whom you share the earth. In that way they get dehumanized and wars are more easily justified.
We returned to the hotel and got to just chill for a little bit. We were hungry for world news and were delighted to discover BBC in English. I've been in the dark on world affairs for the past month. The only thing I've been informed of is a higher security threat level in both Morocco and the states. What could that mean? Had there been a terrorist attack that they didn't want to tell us about? We had no way of knowing with the newspapers written in Arabic. We found out that a plane crashed in Brazil, an assassination was attempted on a Russian guy, and that Pakistan was close to a state of emergency.
Will, Leo, and Brandon hung out in our room. We had a heated discussion for probably about four hours on political ideologies, and history. It was an incredibly nerdy conversation — we joked how our school has brainwashed us to conduct classroom style discussions outside of classes with no teacher even present. We talked about totalitarianism and libertarianism. Will and Leo, who both consider themselves libertarians and don't like the welfare system, explained to me the libertarian ideology. I couldn't disagree with it more. Leo said in its purest form, yes, it would be ugly at first, with some suffering from extreme poverty but the goal would be to have such an effective economic/productive system which would provide more than enough for everyone. I think it's absurd to not provide a safety net for the losers in the capitalist scramble — government programs like welfare, social security, and healthcare. Why should some people be deprived when other have excess? It turned me off the way they can obviously afford pursuing this extreme ideology because who are they but rich spoiled kids whose families would benefit form exploiting the poor more than we already do. I like the system of the US because it provides for all the good sides of libertarianism (maybe just not as extreme) plus the socialist programs we do have to shield us from the ugliest attributes of raw, unbridled capitalism.
August 20 Plane to USA
After breakfast yesterday morning, the leaders gave us prompts on which to write a one-hour reflective essay. Their questions included how have we developed as global citizens, how will we bring home/utilize our experiences/learning, and what kind of presence have we had here.
We got to meet up with some of our families again in the Medina to do two hours of shopping. Fatima, Larby, and Hanane (Brandon's sister) came in our group. At first I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to get. Before no time I spied many different things I was interested in. Morocco just has so much cool stuff. I've traveled quite a bit and I don't remember ever being so charmed by the things a country has for sale. Perhaps this is because I've learned the significance of some of these things and/or I've grown sentimental toward things. I got a brown pair of flip flops for 50 dirham ($5). I got 5 little colorful coin pouches for $1 each — for friends. I got a colorful jewelry box for my mom. I got a pearl necklace for $16. I looked desperately for a ring. There were so many cool ones, but none of them were quite right.
I had fun bartering. I learned that their first offer is usually ridiculous because they think you are a stupid (and rich) tourist. I usually ask for a little more than half of that. They usually try to raise that, but I learned if you are really stubborn with one price they'll usually give it to you. I felt like I did well at bartering, but I wish I knew just how much I was ripped off. Larby was really cute about looking out for us and making sure we didn't get lost.
We said a final farewell to Fatima and Larby. We dropped our stuff off and walked to Mr. B's sister's house "to pick up our pottery." He gave us the option of coming up to his sister's house. We were all curious to meet Mr. B's family. We met his mother, 3 of his sisters, 4 of his nephews, and 1 niece. His nephews are all at least bilingual if not trilingual. One of them who was born and lives in France can speak French, Arabic, English, and Spanish fluently! Dang, I'm jealous. One of them looked uncannily like Harry Potter.
Mr. B told us the story about his little niece. His sister had found her when she was only one-year-old... abandoned on the street. It turned out her birth mother was a house maid who simply could not support a child. So the sister adopted the child to be her own despite that she was single and didn't have much money. So Mr. B has played a large role in providing for the girl. He said if he had it his way he would take her with him to the states, but it's much too complicated to have to get permission from the government and Mr. B already has 5 kids of his own.
Mr. B asked us if we were hungry for lunch. We replied yes. He said I guess my mother could cook for us. We soon found out that this had been the plan the whole time. The mom had already prepared for us two massive couscous bowls. We all agreed that it was the best meal of the trip — a huge amount of vegetables and tender chicken. The best part was that Mr. B said he had requested that they make a healthier version and leave out the extra butter and oil. So it wasn't too rich and fatty like the ones we often ate in the village. I ate until I was full to the brim. They followed it with platters of delicious fruit. Much of the fruit was foreign to us, but it was all deliciously juicy.
Mr. B's family sounds so cool. One of his sisters we met was a former philosophy professor and is now a published author and freelance writer. She writes about feminism and Islam. Her husband is a reporter stationed in Lebanon and Kuwait. He told us more about his mom and the 2nd wife his dad took. His mom often stood up against her husband—actually looking out for the second wife and making sure she was treated well. His mom would even receive calls from the second wife and she would take the public bus over and stay with them, yell at her husband until she was reassured that the second wife would be treated right. Mr. B was 16 when his dad took the second wife who was only 18!
We took taxis to meet with the members of the Sale Association one final time. It would be a question-answer session to help us develop our ideas for what service projects we wanted to pursue at home in the future. My notes:
- The Association has partnerships/contracts with state organization who provide for their financial needs
- The Association helps girls who have dropped out of school with language skills in order to recommence their educations
- They are in need of larger classrooms and a larger locale for language classes
- They need computers, volunteers, and language teachers
- The city of Sale needs training centers for youth that can take people with degrees to develop their skills further
- The Association puts on summer camp
- Banks sponsor scholarships
- One scholarship costs 310 dirham ($31) for two weeks of educational and fun camp on the sea
- Important goal: establishing real connection with an American association. (While Americans can traveling throughout the rest of the world, that opportunity to connect with people from far away is not possible for many others.)
- Visible needs of students: backpacks, school supplies
- After the Association pays their rent, they have little money left over for equipment
We woke up at 5 this morning to eat an early breakfast and board the bus for an hour ride to the airport. Security was intense at the Casablanca airport yet not as uptight as it is in the US. They checked our passports four different times. They rummaged through my backpack and even felt up my body.
I can't believe we're going home. The trip was awesome and I don't like thinking about the fact that I'm leaving Morocco, but I'm so ready to be home.
A surprise on this trip was learning about the "rise of Islam" that is still happening today. That refers to the rise in popularity of fundamentalism. More and more women are covering up more for instance. This was so interesting since it seems to contrast with the modern movement of secularization that the West is undergoing. It fascinates me that discontent powers a civilization to swing like a pendulum from conservative to liberal (as the USA did through the 20th century). Today Islamists are swinging to the right...resisting secularist democracy and capitalism.
To revisit Ms. D's position on the GSL position...I still think she presents some important points on conserving resources and the already locally existing need for service in Seattle. At the same time I can't stress enough how invaluable it has been to get to experience the Arab world. That is something that never could have happened in Seattle. The trip brought Islam "home" to me. It's no longer abstract and foreign. I now understand many of its values and how religion shapes an Arab country. I have learned the importance of the "empowerment of women." At a ONE Campaign conference a few years ago I was asked which G-8 summit goal I viewed as most crucial toward eliminating poverty. At the time I responded that secondary education was most crucial toward eliminating poverty because I believed education to be the most empowering tool a person could acquire. Now, if I were asked the same question I would say the empowerment of women because of the tremendous benefit an educated mother has on the whole family. Second — any education can be made available, but with powerless women kept prisoner to house work, the entire family suffers. The suppression of women is a huge problem today that is even escalating with the rise of a fundamentalist brand of Islam. I believe this is an unfortunate set back for Muslim society and it would be a huge shame if we just stood back and let it happen. On the other hand, how appropriate is it for us — even if we are well meaning — to butt into their "internal" and social affairs? Is it right for me, a Western Christian, to presume to know what is right for an Arab Muslim? Do gender quality issues trump those concerns? I really don't know. I used to have an aversion to what seemed overly feminist emphasis placed on global gender issues. This trip has made me realize their relevance and importance and I look forward to working on improving the problem through projects I will pursue.
I just reread the first couple pages of this journal on why I was going on this trip and what were my hopes. I have never been further outside of my comfort zone. I rarely get homesick, but since I was in such foreign situations, I ended up getting significantly homesick. I had never visited a poorer place than the village. I was constantly on edge about assuming an appropriate gender role as a teenage girl in Muslim surroundings. The world of Islam is complex. I am by no means an expert on it, but I now understand significantly more about it.
The whole equating it with "terrorism" thing doesn't make any sense to me at all. I had kind of expected to learn why they hate America, but the reality is that Moroccans love Americans. They aren't fans of George Bush and this is for the same reasons that I'm not either. So the reality is that only select Muslims who are more fundamentalist find reason to hate the US enough to attack us. The real reasons behind this hatred I have yet to learn.
This trip did not have the effect on my materialistic mentality in the way I expected it would have. I can't say that I have been overcome with enough guilt nor do I come home thinking I should consume less because it's unfair that others are lacking. The experience I did have in this regard was surprising — I simply experienced hands on a simpler lifestyle. I didn't pity them as much as I expected to. Yes, I felt bad that they can't afford to send all their kids to go to school, and many of them haven't been outside of Morocco. At the same time, this wasn't pity because who said those are requirements for happiness.
I think it's a beautiful thing that many aspects of their traditional lifestyle have been preserved in part thanks to that being the only affordable available option. Young adults are able to go away to the cities to get a university education, but they will return to their families to put food on their table and grow old together. They could assume nicer lifestyles (in the Western sense) if they opened the village to commercial consumerism, but they have their priorities straight — it's more important that the authentic innocent village life is preserved.
Living with them for 3 weeks, I learned that Moroccan villagers are happy with what they have. I also learned that my relative affluence doesn't necessarily make me a happier person. Of course, the village is a village that has its stuff together and there are many places in Morocco that experience a poverty that causes real suffering.
I'm not flying home feeling sorry for my Moroccan family and friends. I don't want to bring to them "superior" elements that are American culture. They don't want or need that.
This trip has made me slightly less materialistic. I would feel disgust if I followed such a month long trip with a shopping spree. I just don't need that. I've also grown to appreciate being in a more natural state (i.e. no makeup, less time spent grooming and natural unprocessed foods). I'm sure these feelings will carry over to the way I live after returning home.