Margaret Wade in Morocco

The contents expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect views or opinions held by the Peace Corps or the Kingdom of Morocco.

The Last One.

It’s been about 3 months. Isn’t that crazy? I wrote a blog post and then deleted it about the ridiculousness of social media and technology… something that I’m still learning to love, but simultaneously hating at the same time. Why when I go out to dinner and drinks does everyone have their cell phone on the table? What is snapchat and why does it exist? But also, GPS is amazing… as are mobile check deposits. So as much as there is to complain about, there is to celebrate? We’ll see.

But in my final post on this blog, I won’t complain about social media or even talk about all of the delicious food I’m eating in America… I’m ready to dig into what it means to be a lady… locally, domestically, professionally, politically, and internationally. Everyone seems to go on their own journey during the Peace Corps… I think I went on many… working with kids, working in the arts, working in development… I’ve been drawn to and hooked on all of these paths… but at the end of the day, how I view myself and my fellow ladies in the socio-cultural realm of THE WORLD has been my most prominent lesson. Let’s start at the beginning….

In my sophomore year of Foundations of Drama, our teacher asked us to raise our hands if we considered ourselves feminists. I did not. My 20-year-old-self thought the word feminist meant “bra-burning, no-shaving, man-hating oddball.” So I kept my hand down while some girls launched theirs up, some boys awkwardly bobbled theirs up and down, looking at their male peers, and some, like myself, kept them at their sides.

Fast forward to about four years later as I sat in a small room with a wood burning stove with my new Moroccan family. My host dad was out teaching extra tutoring hours at the school and my host mom was getting ready to go to work as a mid-wife. She had just spent the entire day cleaning, doing laundry, and cooking, and after dinner was on the table around 11 pm, she would be out the door for another 7 or 8 hours of work delivering babies at the “hospital.” We sat on the couch together, and she told me why her family chose to host an American: “It’s good for my daughters, they can learn English” and then she paused “They can see what other cultures are like” she paused “I don’t want them to get married” longer pause “It isn’t fair.” I knew what she meant, as she went to go check the pressure cooker, and my host dad walked into the room, kicked off his shoes, stretched out on the couch, and said “wake me up when dinner is ready.” And thus begins my journey as an accidental feminist.

You could look back on this blog and see all of the obvious examples of my work and interest in gender and development. From “Taking the Lead” in both Errachidia and Tata province, to my opinions about how American politics based in women’s rights affected our work as volunteers in Morocco, I slowly dug into the deep-rooted conversation of where women stand, why they are there, and what their trajectory is in Morocco. But I was missing a main part of the puzzle… what was happening back in America? I mean I KNEW what was happening in America. Politicians Wendy Davis, Nancy Pelosi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and entertainers Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jenny Slate, Chelsea Peretti… there is/was a lot of obvious role models, positive voices, and confident examples of women on the rise. But something is/was still happening in the work place, the gym, and the constant every day locations that aren’t projected onto our television or computer screens that still mark an impression of women’s inequality. In America? 

I joined a gym back in December, and decided to try a spin class. About mid-way through the class, the female teacher was doing the usual pep talk and said “and maybe some of you can turn up your resistance… maybe not the girls, but maybe some of you stronger men” I almost spewed my Gatorade. Really? And as I looked around the room, sure enough the guys turned up their resistance and the girls giggled at this poorly chosen comment and stayed at their current level. What if the instructor had given everyone the opportunity and not  planted the idea that the men can do it but the girls can’t? What would have happened then? In Morocco, whenever I or another female PCV would complain about harassment to host country nationals, we were often met with “that’s just the way men are, they have to say those things because that is their nature and they can’t control themselves.” And while Moroccan girls giggle when a Moroccan man hisses at them, literally like a cat, American girls giggle while being surpassed in strength and endurance by men in the same class, with the same experience—because men are just stronger than women, right? It’s just their nature. Is that the idea?

As I sat in the volunteer lounge before my language exam during my close of service conference, I was going over some words and asking a fellow PCV for pronunciation and vocabulary help. Another volunteer from afar commented that if I didn’t know it now, then I shouldn’t be using it in my language exam, which at the time, I thought was a fair comment. It didn’t cross my mind until I returned why the language exam seemed somewhat unfair. In the past three months, I have been asked hundreds of times about my “experience” in Morocco. No big deal, I was expecting this, and I now have a short few minute speech about my work, maybe a funny experience or a weird food I ate, and a few notable cities I traveled to, all squeezed down into that time limit right before the person’s eyes glaze over from boredom.  But finding that speech wasn’t as easy as I thought… what did I do in Morocco? Obviously I did something; blog posts, journals, pictures, my DOS, all had solid examples of my work, but was this something I had ever truly spoken about? No. In Morocco, it was common for male PCVs to sit and have tea with men in their community and talk about all their “work” and the “associations” they were starting and their “futures”. When I sat in a woman’s house, I was asked when I would be getting married, when I would be having children, how I could bear living alone in an apartment without family or a man, and if I knew how to cook and do laundry. There were never really conversations about my work in the neddi or the dar chebab, even if my site mate and I wanted to plan a project, no one asked us why or how or where or when, we just did it and kids came. No one in my community asked me if I was going to grad school, no one asked me what I wanted my career to be, no one asked me what my hobbies were or what my favorite books were about… they just wanted to know when I would be fulfilling my duties of getting married and progressing the human race. So was it ridiculous that when I took a language exam about my career, my future, specifics about my projects, and my work, I was a little lost… because that wasn’t something I ever really talked about in Arabic. Even in our little PCV bubble of female equality and understanding, there was still this discrepancy.

It would be easy to pass off the last two examples (spin class and the LPI) as subconscious instances. Men look muscular, so we associate that with strength and Peace Corps was our job so we should be tested on our job in our language exam. We, as women, should just make the concession to understand that these subversions are evolving through generations, and maybe one day these comments won’t be made, but for now it’s part of a process. Have you seen this video?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQucWXWXp3k

“And I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking. Making space for the entrance of men into their lives. Not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave. I have been taught accommodation.”

Because we should be letting men push themselves at the gym while we sit back, we should let them express their “natural” impulse to disrespect us in public while we ignore it, and we should let them fill up space in our lives while we shrink to accommodate it. Is that the idea?

Because when a third grade boy at my job wants to join hair and nails club, and I hear a staff person make the comment “can’t wait for you dad to see that” and when I ask my girl power club what jobs only men do, they immediately say “be president” and when I look at the plays, directors, producers, artistic directors, and leaders in my own community track the path of being white and male and privileged and I read this article:

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/02/18/artistic-directors-show-the-world-their-white-guy-blinders-twitter-explodes-in-their-faces

and realize it actually happens in every community, all the ideas I had about what America was and what America stood for in regards to women’s equality is challenged. 

One more video. It’s long, but if you’re reading this, I’d like for you to watch it, maybe load it and listen to it in the car, or take the 20 minutes you were going to check facebook (had to get in a little social media shaming) to do this instead. I’ve never been one for tabloids or the Real Housewives of Community X… so when I started watching this TedTalk, I turned it off after 5 minutes and rolled my eyes as someone trying to justify “gossip”. But it is a Ted Talk, right? There is usually some sort of merit in the speeches and speakers they choose, so I gave it another chance. The turn this video takes at around 9 minutes is boundless. The “celebrity ecosystem” Elaine Lui talks about in this video is the perfect example of how our social culture, specifically as Americans or Westerners affects the way we treat and view women. Do you think when we broadcast these ideas in an international medium, it may be affecting women all over the world, even in Morocco?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFDWOXV6iEM

“And what does it say about our society that the guy who did this [picture of Rihanna after being beaten by Chris Brown], he went on to top the billboard charts? That’s sales. And win a Grammy this year. And get his girlfriend back. […] Is this just a gossip story, their reconciliation? Or is this reconciliation of theirs a reflection of society’s attitude toward violence towards women? […] The fans are supporting Chris Brown, he’s selling records they’re seeing his shows they’re watching his videos, they’ve elevated him to a level of fame he’s never had before. How are they, these fans? You know them. Your sons, daughters, granddaughters, neighbors, nephews, people you live with in your community, people you raised, they are us. So in 500 years when they see that we’ve turn this [picture of Rihanna after being beaten by Chris Brown] into this [picture of Chris Brown holding a Grammy], will we be judged as the society that celebrates a guy who beats a girl? Or will we be celebrated as a society that forgives a guy that beats a girl?”

Yella, Bye Bye, Morocco

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Lately I’ve been using kind of a strange metaphor when I think about leaving. This “inbetween time”, when we are saying our goodbyes and packing up our lives, is harder than I thought (and I think harder than anyone really thought). To me, it’s similar to the final leg of a long journey on public transportation here in Morocco. When you’re on the bus, you have your ups and downs, but underneath it all, you just can’t wait to get home. To sit on your ponge and watch tv or make mac and cheese, or just relax and take a shower. But right near the end, right when I’m pulling up to the stop in Issafen, I get this feeling that I don’t want to get off the bus. It’s because I don’t want to deal with explaining to the person next to me that I’m getting off and can they please move so I can get out (which is usually met with “No, this is Issafen, you want to go to Tata, you are a tourist you don’t want to get off in Issafen, there are no hotels here”), getting off and finding my bag in the rubble of sacks, motos, and sometimes live animals under the bus, walking the 10 minutes to my house, putting away my things, and finally getting to the “relaxing” part that I mentioned before. All of that, in that moment that the bus rolls to a stop, seems daunting and always gives me a bit of anxiety. But then once I get through the “hard parts” I realize it wasn’t that hard, and being able to be alone in my house was worth the journey after all. It’s something that’s hard to explain, and even Peace Corps volunteers understand what I mean immediately, or don’t get it at all. But this anxious feeling is starting to creep up as my service rolls to a stop and I prepare for the journey home.

It’s hard to sum up two years in a few paragraphs, but I definitely know the things about Morocco I will and will not miss, and the things about America I am and am not looking forward too. So here it goes, and thanks to everyone who has supported me and kept in touch over the past two years. Your packages and letters have made all the difference in my service, and in many cases have helped me to keep going during the most difficult times.

Things I’ll Miss About Morocco

  1. Morning runs with Meredith and Rosie – Running in the mountains in Issafen has been an unforgettable experience… especially in the morning as the sun is rising and men from the outer villages are riding their donkeys in to town to visit shops and cafes. I think we ran the same route about 100 times and it never got old.
  2. Long bus rides – the scenery not the puking! Sometimes when I’m on a bus, and half the people are throwing up, and the guy next to me is playing music on his cell phone without earphones, I have to remember to just look out the window at what is most likely a beautiful site. Whether it be the mountains, the ocean, or the Saharan desert, it’s always something worth appreciating.
  3. Cheap travel – pretty self explanatory. A 10 hour bus ride costs about $15.
  4. My Kindergarten students – these past few days have been difficult because apart from telling everyone that I’m leaving, I also have to explain it to an array of 5 year olds who don’t really understand that there’s an “outside” to Morocco. I’m still not sure how successful these talks are going, but maybe that’s for the best.
  5. Along with cheap travel, being a 6 hour and $8 bus ride away from the ocean. Being able to escape to Agadir for the weekend was a life saver. It was like an entirely different world, and it was nice to be able to wear shorts and have a beer. And while I can do this in America, and I can live by a beach if I so choose, the dichotomy of my situation really made me appreciate different aspect of life.
  6. People who were nice and patient with my Arabic – Something I’ve realized since being here is how rude Americans can be about people that don’t speak English. I don’t know how many times I walked into a store and needed something but didn’t have the language, the man at the counter was often helpful, and then complimented my Arabic even though he DEFINITELY shouldn’t have. In America, if someone tried to mime something they needed to a store clerk, I’m sure they would be dismissed or ignored. Also, just generally nice people. Sure there are squabbles, but overall, when I walk down the street, I get more hellos than I probably ever will again.
  7. Leisure time – While my work schedule was always busy, my social one was not so much. In my town we didn’t have bars, or restaurants, or even cafes that we really wanted to hang out in. There were no sports teams, dance studios, art museums, or social activities in general that didn’t involve sitting around a table for hours and drinking tea. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, and learned how to cook a lot of new things… I doubt I’ll ever get this alone time again.

Things I Won’t Miss About Morocco

  1. Sexual harassment – this, without question, will be the number one part of Morocco I am not sad to leave. I debated whether or not to write about this, I think it’s important to stay positive, and I thought there may be a time when the harassment would start to seem easier or trivial. Unfortunately that moment never came. I can only hope eventually Morocco comes around. If not, they’ll begin to lose tourists, and industry they rely on in larger cities and the north. They’ll begin to lose aid and development, and they’ll begin to fall behind on the rest of the globe’s movement towards gender equality. I love Issafen and have loved my time here, but I can’t honestly say I would recommend a female friend to visit Morocco, and certainly not alone.
  2. The times there is no electricity, water, cell phone service, and internet. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but I’m looking forward to it happening less frequently in the states.
  3. Animal cruelty – Probably my second biggest qualm with Moroccan culture. Not only watching children throw rocks and torture animals, but the hypocrisy that underlies it. Whenever I or other volunteers try to address this, we’re met with eye rolls and “you don’t understand”s. No, I think I understand, throwing rocks at dogs (and people for that matter) is wrong, in every culture, anywhere in the world.
  4. People speaking French to me after I tell them repeatedly, in Arabic, that I speak Arabic. This really only happens when I travel in larger cities, and I understand sometimes people see a foreigner as a way to practice their language skills, but I don’t speak French, and when I tell you once, even twice, please listen.
  5. Francs, Ryals, Dirhams… WHAT IS THE CURRENCY OF YOUR COUNTRY?
  6. Bucket bathing and hand washing laundry. I hate it. Washing machines and showers for life!
  7. People telling me that if I sit on the floor I’ll become infertile. Welp, I don’t think that’s scientifically accurate.

Things I’m not excited for in America

  1. Constant technology – sitting at a friend’s house, at a restaurant, or a bar and having everyone looking at their smartphones is going to take some real getting use to.
  2. Everything will be extremely expensive! I pay 75 cents for a liter and a half of water here, paying anything over a dollar for water in America will seem pretty superfluous.
  3. No care packages – I know this seems funny, because why would I need a care package when anything I would be getting in a care package I can buy myself, but I can’t express how much snail mail and packages improved my happiness. Maybe knowing that someone is thinking of me, or just the reminder that small things can make all the difference on a bad day.
  4. Halloween – I only write this now because the holiday has recently passed, but just general excuses for adults to be extremely drunk in public and shirk responsibilities, with or without Halloween, seems like a waste of time and money.
  5. This is less a “dislike” than something I’m nervous about, but I’ve become much more direct (which for some people may be hard to believe) since living in Morocco. I’ve definitely forgotten about customer service in America (“The customer is always right” is definitely not a sentiment they have here), but when something is wrong, it usually results in an argument and I’m not afraid to fight. This, undoubtedly, isn’t acceptable in America, but hopefully I’ll be able to harness that energy in a positive way.
  6. Islamaphobia/general “Idiot-ness” – I’m sure it will happen, questions like “did you meet any terrorists?” or “what are muslims like?”. If you’re reading this blog, don’t ask these questions, and to anyone that does, don’t be surprised at the kraken I will release.

Things I’m excited for in America (figured I should end this on a high note)

  1. Family and friends all the time! I can call them on the phone and meet up with them for drinks!
  2. Food – again, if I want anything, I can drive to a restaurant or a store and buy what I need/want whenever, wherever, YES. I don’t have to wait a week to buy vegetables and I don’t have to travel 5 hours for cheese and peanut butter… it will be amazing. Also, coffee shops where there is wi-fi and women? Yes please!
  3. Technology – While I may be scared of how technology has taken over the lives of most Americans, I’m excited to join the party, in a more restrained way. I’m definitely getting a smartphone, and am excited to be able to look up directions, restaurants, addresses, or anything whenever I need.
  4. English – People are going to speak English! All the time! I don’t have to do charades if I want an obscure object from the hardware store.
  5. Schedules – I’m an extremely schedule oriented person, and while I’ve adapted a lot better than I thought I would to the “Inchallah” lifestyle (Inchallah meaning “god willing” or “hopefully”), and being able to meet in a professional setting without an hour tea break and meeting everyone’s entire family, new baby, and donkey, I’m excited for appointments that are on time and on topic.
  6. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Years – The end of November until the beginning of January is by far the best month and a half of the year. I may hate on Halloween, but I’ll in turn hate on anyone that hates on the “holiday” season. I’m ready for fireplaces, Christmas trees, pumpkin pies, and snow.

I’ll see you all in less than two weeks! Can you believe it?

The Colored Pencil Project

In January of this year, in a small side note of a weekly update from one of our staff at Peace Corps Headquarters in Rabat, was information about an organization in Boston interested in possibly coming to Morocco to facilitate arts education workshops and distribute arts supplies to developing communities. Nine and a half months later, after meticulous project and transportation planning, I’m ecstatic to say that The Colored Pencil Project just finished their 9 day trip throughout southern Morocco, reaching over 1200 youth and visiting some of the most rural communities in a province normally overlooked by most non-profits and aid organizations. They also reached a goal for their organization of reaching 10,000 children worldwide in their final session at the grade school in Tissint. 10,000 children now have access to arts education that didn’t before…. amazing, huh?

When I first received the email about this project, I was immediately compelled to collaborate with them. If you’ve been following this blog, you know a large part of my service has been bringing arts education to my kindergarten classroom here in Issafen. But not just here, with the orphanage/development association in Errachidia, with pretty much every camp I’ve worked at, and every program I’ve been involved with, the arts have been present in my pedagogy.

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I graduated from a conservatory-like program in directing. About 5 minutes into my Peace Corps experience, it was clear that the specific definition of that degree was somewhat lost on me. It wasn’t until I began using what I learned in a more abstract way in my community to realize that what my university experience did prepare me for was an interest in arts education and it’s importance in international youth development. How does a degree in directing equivocate to program management for arts education? My thesis (Still Life with Iris), my experience with Growing Theater Community Outreach, my extra-curriculars and electives; the amalgam of those experiential components led me to how performance and self-expression can touch on the cultural gap of international youth.

 The Colored Pencil Project is a non-profit organization based in Boston, Mass. Their mission is: “to increase the access of art supplies to children in developing countries by distributing art supplies, specifically colored pencils and paper, and providing art curriculum to children in various orphanages, schools and rural villages.” (www.thecoloredpencilproject.org) As I came upon my close of service, helping to bring this sort of programing to not only Morocco, but my community, seemed like the perfect capstone to a slowly building repertoire of arts education platforms. Their organization is inspiring to the international arts education dialogue, as well as personally inspiring to my ideologies.

 On October 5th, Hannah and Kelli (two of the organization’s board members) landed in Marrakech, and so began a 9 day trip from Tameslhout to Ouled Teima to Issafen to Tissint. My dear friend and fellow volunteer, Erin McIntosh, traveled with us the entire way, and the four of us experienced all the ups and downs of Moroccan hospitality and transportation. While I had put together a majority of the “travel plans” in the months leading up to the trip, Erin was literally my rock throughout the entire experience. Whenever a possible misstep was impending, she was there to fix it and assure me that everything would work out. The project would have absolutely been impossible without her. 

The four of us traveled to four sites and worked with various volunteers who opened their homes and worked equally as hard to set up programing with local organizations. Eric Faulk helped us reach 300 children at the grade school in Tameslhout, Tatiana Cary and Lindsay Lockhart set us up with 300 children at the elementary school, youth center, and kindergarten in Ouled Teima, we worked with 200 children in Issafen, with assistance from Kareema Abusaab, and the surrounding villages (elementary schools and the center’s kindergarten!!), and with the help of Melanie Warning and the grade school in Tissint, they finished off their 1200 colored pencil packs and reached their goal of 10,000 children internationally.

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It was definitely the most difficult week of my service thus far, not because of the challenges, but because of the long days and miles and miles of traveling. Erin and I were so thankful to all of the taxi drivers who assisted us along the way… as volunteers we know that the probability of getting transportation without getting ripped off or fighting to get the “local price” is low. We never had an instance of this along the journey. Drivers were where we needed them to be, when we needed them to be there. They were helpful and didn’t ask for anything in return. It was a lot of luck, and we were all thankful to see only the best side of an aspect of Morocco that can be known to be particularly nasty and unhelpful.

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The program was also an extremely positive way for many of us volunteers about to leave to end our two-year service, and was equally as helpful to volunteers in the middle of their service to open doors to new organizations or counterparts for their remaining time here.

I highly encourage anyone reading this post to check out The Colored Pencil Project’s website: www.thecoloredpencilproject.org, to like them on facebook, and to consider one of the many ways possible to help them out (they have a lot of creative and fun volunteer opportunities!) Hannah and Kelli took personal vacation days to bring their organization to Morocco, they and the rest of the board do this from the goodness of their hearts and for the advancement of arts education on a global level. They inspire so many, please take some time to learn about and support them!

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All That Has Happened: Part II - ‘My Life’ Installment

Two years is a long time to be away from family and friends. It’s so long that we as volunteers must create new families and new friends. With our host families, with our Moroccan counterparts, with our neighbors, with other Peace Corps volunteers. I see Morocco as not just a country roughly the same size of California, but as an enormous home. I have “family” and friends in almost every corner… riding a bus for 18 hours to visit someone is normal and done quite often. I would sometimes take the train home from college, and remember needing to gear up for 9 hours of travel. Taking the hour and a half plane ride home seemed daunting (you had to get to the bus stop and then get to the airport and then get off the plane and then drive home… so tiring?). Now I would ride an overnight bus with people throwing up on me to visit a friend in need or to see my old host family’s newborn baby. Our idea of relationships and of family changes.

But soon I will make an 18 hour trip to Rabat to stamp out as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and then another 3 or 4 hour trip to the airport where me, my best friend, and my dog will fly home on a plane (probably around 8 hours?) and I will be reunited with the comfort of everything that came before. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the world doesn’t stop. At the beginning of my service I was much better about keeping in touch with all of my closest friends: emails, letters, skype dates. And often. Very often. As your Peace Corps life grows, however, it’s easier to spend those afternoons with your new life instead of your old one. As your friends get new jobs, new fiancés, as they gain new experiences… you come to this sort of sad conclusion that these two years are going to be the period in their lives that you are simply not a part of. You can’t be at the parties, the showers, the weddings, the holidays.

I wasn’t there to meet my college friend’s new baby! Liam O’Callaghan. But I was able to send him hand knit mittens and booties from a woman in my village!

I wasn’t there to celebrate my best friend’s new job with a Presidential campaign and help her move her life to Boston to make history.  I wasn’t there to watch my best friend starring in the national tour of The Book of Mormon. I wasn’t there to get celebratory drinks with my best friend after getting his dream job with a big magazine publication in Los Angeles. But when I had internet, I was there to congratulate and call, to stalk pictures, to watch videos and send letters. I might not have been there, but I never missed it.

There were harder times as well. I wasn’t there to be with my Carnegie Mellon family as we mourned the loss of our dear friend Crystal Gomes. I watched from afar as the social media world seemed to dedicate itself to her, her work, and her life. I sat in my apartment in Issafen with my site mate while I found out that one of my professors from CMU had passed away, and then listened to “Hey Jude” that night, remembering Mladen singing it to us during his last day as our professor, in some of the last moments I would ever spend with him. Whenever I hear “Hey Jude,” I’ll always think of him.

I also wasn’t there for the things we take for granted, the actions that happen in the lives of our friends and family that we understand as common, but after being away for two years, realize are not so common after all. I currently live in a community where most of my students don’t graduate or even attend high school, so when your cousin finally does, you see it for the first time as a more impressive feat than you may have before. Or receiving the news of your cousin getting engaged, and looking at the pictures of two happy, content, adults making a decision to begin their lives. We often forget that in so many other places in the world, marriage is not a decision made by two happy and content adults together, but out of convenience, money, or power. My dad got a new job! That he loves. And being able work in a place that inspires and challenges you every day is more of a blessing than taking the job that’s given to you by your parents or your small community because they, not you, have decided what your capable of and what your worth.

As an adult knocking off years in my 20’s, I feel as though every week there are more people from my high school getting engaged. More people starting families, buying houses, and getting salary paid jobs or getting their masters. There is a two-year period after we graduate from college that tends to be a bit aimless, a bit of a struggle, and a bit of coming to terms with the fact that we are now adults. Not necessarily missing these two years, but watching them from afar has not only prepared me, but excited me, to enter back into the fast-paced activity of beginning a life. And while I’m sad I missed some crucial moments in the lives of the ones I love, I’ll be back, and more will happen. I’ll be there for the weddings and the babies, the new jobs and the next Broadway debuts. When I sit down with my family for dinner or walk into my favorite Milwaukee bar with my best friend, we’ll act as though I just got off work in summer of 2011, but we’ll have two years of stories about Africa and camels, politics and gun control, new babies and old relatives to fill a void that would otherwise have been filled with talk about the Packers. I think this change is a blessing.

All That Has Happened: Part I - US News Installment

I began watching the new season of “The Newsroom” this week, and in one of the first episodes was reminded of something that happened a few days after we arrived in Morocco. I remember it clearly, sitting in the stairwell of the Centre al Qods in Fes (our training center) and opening up the news to see that Troy Davis had been executed. I turned to those around me to spread the news, and a wave of uncomfortable silence fell on the group. Not only was the (in my opinion) unlawful execution of this man a grave sadness for our country/legal system, but also we had experienced one of our first “displacement tragedies.” Something happened in our home, something that families across the country would be talking about as they sat down to dinner, friends discussed over beers at the bar, colleagues would discus on lunch breaks, but outside the walls of our training center, this news had no bearing on our new country of residence. It was a lesson, of sorts, in dealing with displacement tragedies amongst new strangers/friends, or, at many times, alone.

I sat on a long bus ride a few days ago, thinking about how recent events are starting to make me realize even more prominently that I’m leaving Morocco soon. I’m leaving a world I finally understand and know so well to return to my “real” home, a place I’ve missed, but am scared to see how it’s changed. When I was home for winter break, I was struck by many changes (everyone has a smartphone!) but two main ones were how we as humans waste so much water (watching someone leave the sink running was literally like nails on a chalkboard), and how many American’s think they are exempt from watching the news or keeping updated on international issues. As I left, I wondered once back in the USA for good, what other events over the past two years will have shaped my home country in a different way, for better or for worse?

In the past two years, America experienced three of the most deadly and destructive shootings, consecutively, in our history. I felt as though every day I opened the news this spring, there was news of another shooting. And not only the shootings, but the administration’s push to address the situation politically. The way in which we receive news here (especially in Issafen) is always a little strange. When the Sandy Hook shooting happened, my mom texted me in the middle of the night knowing I didn’t have internet, and the next day I ran to get a recharge as soon as our local shop opened. I remember reading the coverage over breakfast with Meredith, my site mate, as we prepared to go to teach our own students of the same age.  I remember the Colorado movie theater shooting, and the immense sorrow I felt over the Sikh Temple shooting next to my own hometown in Wisconsin. I remember reading reports of how people were rushing out to buy guns after these shootings because they were scared of the administration’s impending policies. I remember feeling sad that an American’s reaction to 20 children being murdered by a gun was possibly to, in return, buy a gun.

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I remember sitting in a hotel room in Agadir, and a friend on facebook posting “prayers for Boston.” I watched as on social media and various news sites, it was disclosed that there had been attack on the Boston Marathon. Having friends in the Boston area, and a few I knew running the marathon, I immediately kept my eyes pealed to their facebooks. It was one of the only times in my life that I was thankful for facebook. Because the phone lines were down/cut, one by one, they started posting that they/their companions were safe. I, myself, had run a half-marathon in Marrakech a few months before, and while I had an incredible time, Meredith (a seasoned runner in the states) told me that I should be SO excited for races/marathons in America. It was hard to understand why someone would ruin such a happy, healthy, celebratory time.

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I stayed up late the night of November 6th, refreshing various news pages until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I decided to go to bed, and knew when I woke up that one of two man’s names would be scrawled across every page of the internet imaginable. I woke up around 5 am (about midnight USA time), turned my computer on, loaded the Washington Post, and felt a wave of relief/happiness/pride to see “OBAMA WINS” written across the headline. I was up just in time for his speech and just in time to see Tammy Baldwin win the Senate seat for Wisconsin. I switched between the news, facebook, twitter, trying to get as much information as possible and also to technologically celebrate with my friends who were back home.

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I was reminded of how national attitudes can change so quickly. I watched late one night as the SCOTUS struck down Prop 8 and DOMA. Within the same 72 hours I watched a woman with a back brace stand for a 11 hour filibuster to protect women’s rights in Texas. I watched as thousands of supporters lifted her voice as the Texas senate attempted to silence her. In these 72 hours I was truly proud of my country.

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Not too long after, I opened my news sources while traveling in Spain to see that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, and was acquitted on self-defense. I felt like, for the 500th time in my life, that the Florida legal system is an embarrassment. Within a similar time period, the Texas senate took a re-vote of the abortion clinic bill Wendy Davis fought against, and passed it. The high of the SCOTUS decision and Wendy’s bravery from just a few weeks before was soon turned to frustration. I forget sometimes that we live in a place where my idea of “good” and “just” is not always the same as my neighbor’s.

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I watched various politicians say idiotic things about women’s reproductive rights. I was angered every time I opened the news and saw someone stating that if a woman is impregnated because of rape, it’s because she liked it, or that if girls don’t want to be sexually attacked then they should think about the way they are dressing and acting. I watched as sex scandal after sex scandal was uncovered in the military and I listened to male leadership within the military refuse to address the situation. I felt that for the first time in the past 5 or 6 years, women’s rights has started going backwards, under the disguise of reproductive health. I’m eager to return to America so I can add my voice to this fight.

All over the world there were earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Our military attacked innocent civilians with drone strikes. An American compound was attacked in Libya and an ambassador and former Peace Corps Morocco volunteer was killed. We found out the government is watching us! And listening to our phone calls! But what I listed here, in detail or not, is only very lightly brushing the surface of two years of watching from a couch in the middle of the Saharan desert, with a weak internet signal.

I think America will be a very different place from the one I left 2 years ago. I think what is and isn’t appropriate to talk about at dinner parties will also be different. I think people will be more “plugged in” than ever. I think I’ll have friends that will have changed their tune to certain political and social issues. I think, in some ways, I’ll have changed mine as well. 

I’m working on a Part II of this post which will be more focused on all the things in my personal life that I’ve observed from Morocco. From births to deaths and everything in between. Happy August! 

Ani Difranco

—Hour Follows Hour

I’ve returned to Issafen after some incredible travels both in and out of Morocco. While I have pictures, stories, and updates (I know I haven’t posted in far too long), something I’ve been reminded of this past month on the long plane, train, bus, taxi, and boat rides is that is how important it is to reconnect with music from my past.  The songs that live in the dusty CD cases or, now in the digital age, at the dwelling depths of our iTunes, that show the marks of wear from long ago can have a renewed meaning, or at least draw to mind a delightful memory. It’s astonishing how listening to this song on a stifling hot train in Morocco or a bus in Spain can bring back such vivid memories of Milwaukee summers spent on the lakefront or in the up north woods. Hope you’re all having a happy summer. More to come soon xx

"My Experience" … or Being Alone in the Desert

Before leaving for Morocco, I had preconceived notions about what may or may not happen… obviously. Everyone tells you not to think about it, not to try and guess, just “be open to everything!” But it’s impossible to literally sit there and have no thought cross through your head about living two years abroad. One aspect I was especially curious about was what the volunteer to volunteer relationships would look like… would I make any other volunteer friends? Or would I spend some classroom time with them, move to my city, and integrate fully with the host country nationals never to speak to an American? Part of me honestly thought I may not make any friends. I’m a driven and dedicated person, I don’t mind tooting my horn on this because it’s not always a positive thing. As my current site mate will tell you, it can create tension and confusion in my relationships with people when I feel stressed or overworked I have trouble communicating that I need help… I often try to solve all my problems all on my own. But in regard to the Peace Corps, I was already reading as many blogs as possible, trying to get an idea of successful volunteer projects, thinking about how I may incorporate my background (the arts) into some of the work other volunteers have done, all while making it sustainably relevant. I wasn’t sure where time for “making friends” would fit into attempting a successful project in only two years. I also figured that PCVs wouldn’t be in touch with each other much… would I have internet? Would I have a phone? Would phone calls be expensive? How far/close would the closest PCV be to me? I’m a pretty personal and introverted person who takes proximity in great strides… if someone isn’t close, in distance to me, I usually lose touch, so not being around people would inevitably mean not keeping in touch with them.

Safe to say I have friends. And the ability for volunteers to interact is alarmingly easy. Every time I open my facebook, I see numerous posts in our country’s facebook group… some questions, some comments, some jokes, some criticisms. At first this was a nice outlet, you’re not alone when your ice always tastes like salt and your community isn’t the only one in Morocco where boys kick puppies, but now I’m starting to question whether or not this is a good thing. PCVs have a lot of opinions, we’ve lived and breathed in a community for two years, and sometimes forget that even though we are all in the same country, we are all having different cultural experiences. It’s important, and at times difficult, to remember that someone who lives 2,3,8,14 hours from me is having a completely different “experience” than I. Possibly, the person living in the same community as me is having a completely different experience.

Don’t get me wrong, there are so many cultural similarities that span this country: cous cous, weekly vegetable markets, a difficult visa renewal process, having at least 5 people puke on any bus or transit you ride… there are many. But one thing I find comfort in, aside form these similarities, is knowing that my specific and individual relationship with my host family is unlike any one else’s. And while we can all offer advice to others about how to deal with certain situations, we only learn by living them.

For the past few months, times in Morocco have been difficult. It’s not a secret or a feeling I’m trying to cover up with exuding positivity (as many volunteers do during rough patches at the beginning of their service). It has much more to do with an impending move back to the place I call “home.” Two years ago, my experiences here were something I couldn’t even imagine or prepare for. Would I be living with electricity and running water? How would I acclimate to new and mysterious food?

It’s safe to say that the Peace Corps experience in Morocco is very different than what President Kennedy foresaw 50 years ago. MOROCCO is very different, in itself, than what it was 50 years ago. I was surprised to be accepted as a service volunteer considering I didn’t know how to irrigate an organic farm. I don’t know how to advise people medically. I didn’t speak another language. I have no idea how to organize and set up a microloan organization. But I know how to interact with children.

For the first year of my service, when I lived in Errachidia (a big city), a part of me thought, and requested, a big city because I thought of the endless resources, the high attendance rates my class would have, and all the association support. As one of the youngest volunteers in my group, I felt inadequate and essentially unable to move to a small community… it just seemed too hard. What I soon learned, however, is that comparing myself to other volunteers, (whether it’s age, work ethic, or experience) is the only thing that could deter me from my work and my capability to be a successful volunteer (whatever that may mean). We often try to trick ourselves into believing a certain definition of “what a good volunteer” is or isn’t. And in order to be truly happy in Morocco, as cheesy as it sounds, I’ve had to create my own definition of being a “good” volunteer and tune out the haters. It’s not about resources or a big city or a small city or past experience or money, it’s about what you do with what you have, and in the end no one really knows what my experience was except for me.

I’m a big fan of the idea that challenges and failures are our biggest allies in learning. And while we could be angry, frustrated, and pessimistic about having challenges and failures during our Peace Corps service, in the end it’s sort of beautiful that we will be able to look back and say we were able to walk this path alone.

"Marreed" (Town festival/Art Expo). Issafen, Morroco. April 6-7, 2013.

Certificate Presentation, Taking the Lead. Tata, Morocco. March 31st, 2013.