Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where (I)t Stands

Contrary to the recent, disquieting events in the neighborhood (North Africa/ Middle East), Morocco has remained relatively peaceful. Local protests have maintained modesty and are not expected to reach the epic levels witnessed in the rest of the region.

One of my local friends made interesting remarks as to why he believes Morocco will not follow the forceful, and in some instances violent footsteps of other Arab nations. It is worth sharing.

Morocco (Unlike The Others)

The high points:

  • Moroccans, in general, are satisfied with their government, particularly the king. They see him as a young active king that has made much progress throughout his reign
  • Moroccans have had and currently have the freedom to protest without fear of government sanctions
  • Moroccans have had and currently have mobility with regard to creating associations and various activist groups
  • Moroccans have had and currently have mobility with regard to internet usage

my tidbit

One way in which a government can successfully operate without revolt is to allow the voices of its people to be heard or at least give the impression that it is listening to the people. While many Moroccans may desire change within their government (as is the case within most governments), there are numerous means by which they can perceive themselves as autonomous agents, able to effect such change.

In other news:


  • I honestly believed I was going to escape Morocco unscathed by the microscopic powers that be---you know, the 'microscopic powers' that have an affinity for rendering volunteers lifeless and begging on their knees (or stomach or back or side or anywhere within aiming distance of the turk) for mercy. Alas, my blind faith was not enough, I have giardia aka ruthless parasitic infection aka little shits swimming about in my shit (click here for info). Symptoms include excruciating stomach pains, diarrhea, vomiting and inability to function outside of the home. As directed by the Peace Corps doctor I have taken a large dosage of tinidazole, that is an antibiotic aimed at annihilating these tiny, yet hugely troublesome, sons of bitches. I am not bitter. I promise.

nighttime yoga

  • I have been doing yoga at 12am. Who does that? Who am I? Good questions to ask, at midnight, while doing yoga.

post peace corps (grad school)

  • I/O Psychology or Positive Organizational Psychology are grad programs I have been considering. Locations include: Southern California, Seattle, Portland, New York, Chicago and Atlanta. Time to make some decisions.

landlord (the characters in my life)

  • My landlord, who I love and adore, wants to sell the apartment I am renting. He has been making random visits with random neighbors to show the place. Today he came over, and after listening to his gruff voice huffing through the window, as per usual, saying my name "wuss, wuss," I gathered enough energy to wobble down the stairs and answer the door. Apparently my gym shorts complimented by a dressy v-neck sweater, overall disheveled appearance and undoubtedly gaunt face (the result of a weekend escapade with 'the micro powers') made it clear that I was not in the mood for guests. He made a joke to me, chuckled at his joke, ignored the potential buyer waiting to see the house and walked away. I shut the door and went back to bed. Hehe

Monday, September 27, 2010

Year In Brief.

Peace Corps year in brief (most of the highlights):

Language and Culture

  • When speaking Arabic, the average English speaker uses their mouth and throat in ways they never dreamt possible.
  • Currently in Morocco, social tensions are fleshing themselves out as the Amazigh majority is working towards equality within a country of a ruling Arab minority. One of the huge points of contention is the struggle for the Amazigh's right to legitimize their language.
  • You will never go hungry in Morocco.
  • Things move at a much slower pace here---this can be both awesome and dreadful.


  • Saffron is my new spice of choice.
  • I love wine and cheese! (absolutely nothing to do with Morocco---the love rediscovered in France)
  • The burnt pieces of fat on the bottom on the tajine are my favorite.
  • L'bin, an odd mix between buttermilk, yogurt and sour cream, is a new found treat to put on my cous cous.


  • Still focused on promoting health---mentally/ spiritually, physically and socially.
  • I love teaching---although not necessarily English;).
  • Everyday is work.

Life Lessons

  • Authentically opening oneself to cultural practices that appear vastly different than one's own is a test of patience, flexibility and strength. Thus my venture into a serious yoga practice:)
  • It is important to distinguish religion from the people who practice a religion and to steer clear of the fallacy of equating the two.
  • We all want the same thing but go about it in different ways.
  • The media's job of maintaining objectivity in it's reporting is a near impossible task. There are countless times where media institutions horrendously fail the public. It is unfortunate the power it has over so many individuals in any given society.
  • Turkish toilets rock. I am thinking of installing one in my home. I will make sure it can accommodate everyone:)
  • Make fun of's funny.

Moving Forward

It's the start of my second and final year. Often times over seas volunteers become disenchanted after delving into the world of "development work." After the novelty of the host country fades away, one must reconcile with what they set out to accomplish, what has actually been accomplished and what is doable within the remaining time. I am satisfied with where I have come, where I am and where I am going. Lots to be done but all doable within the upcoming year.

Now, onward toward starting this year off right. I am going to see one of my counterparts, Lhoussaine Rahhou, to help write a grant to fund a school bus which aims to prevent school drop out in one of the rural regions here in Morocco. Lhoussaine is a local English teacher that has been super supportive and communicative with regard to ideas and what he perceives as community needs. It helps that he is a superb English speaker.

HUGE KUDOS to Lhou!!!

(With the new year comes new commitments---like blogging:)

Thursday, December 24, 2009


(adapted email to Leslie Watson)

In the urban centers, Fes, Casablance, Rabat, Marrakesh and a few others, there is a Target-esque store called Marjane. Everyone, volunteers and natives alike, speak about Marjane as if it is the next best thing to eternal bliss and that the only experience exceeding its glory is sitting in the presence of Allah Himself.

After about a month and half in our training sites (we were in tiny towns and it should go without saying that there was nothing to speak about in the way of super markets) we went to Fes, and to the magical Marjane.

Upon entering the excessively enormous building (think typical Target size, but not as big) with automatic sliding doors and the word “MARJANE” written in hip, stylish font above the entrance, myself along with Anna and Leigh (CBT mates) found ourselves wrapped in a mix of excitement and knee-quivering fear.

Is that AC? Is someone speaking on an intercom? Beep...beep...beep...cashier scanners? Cashiers? No. Way…ICE CREAM!?!

After we were able to muster enough energy and coherency to move in a straight line, we searched the store for the essentials, which seemed to have been checked with our luggage, on September 8th, 2009 at the JFK airport.

Do you need deodorant? I smell? Shaving cream? No, I’ve been using soap and water---sometimes just water. Q-tips? S***, I forgot we even do that.

If I could hardly handle the Marjane, I just may very well fall to pieces the next time I got to a super market.

Quote of the day: "Jesus, chocolate milk is good." ---an instantly classic line by Mari Yogi

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What's A Guy To Do...?

Peace Corps Morocco has four (4) different sectors:

  • Environment
  • Health
  • Small Business Development
  • Youth Development

Each sector has specific roles and goals that are to be fulfilled and achieved. While possessing fixed objectives each program allows considerable flexibility for volunteers to create and carve out niches within their respective communities.

I work in Youth Development.

Here are some ideas:

TEACHING ENGLISH: Not my idea—it’s mandated, one of the sector’s objectives. Most straight forward. Prepare the lesson and teach. Lots of room for cool projects within lessons.

CREATING YOUTH RELATED GROUPS: Running, biking, outdoor groups, dancing?---Moroccans love to dance. The boys are not shy and more often than not can sustain the beat. The girls---they just got it going on. Again, activities in this arena are straightforward. Build it and I am sure they will come.

WORKING WITH IGHIR (pronounced: ee-ghir/ “gh”=gutteral cat hiss): Bare with me---this project demands some background and an explanation.

At a morning hour unbeknownst to me (I’ve recently relinquished myself to the joys of waking up at my leisure---I’m on Moroccan time now), a tiny, white minivan meanders about Tinghir, picks up a few of its citizens and brings them to Ighir.

Ighir is a one of-a-kind, exceptional organization that hosts numerous productive economic and creative endeavors. The children and adults come equipped with unique skills and abilities whereby they learn from and work alongside one another. Inside the modest Marrakech-red (think peach and pink infusion) compound, complete with a comforting courtyard, are various rooms buzzing with an assortment of projects from welding metal to crafting pottery to sewing clothes to creating one of a kind stationary. The end result of their work is beautiful handmade furniture, ornate jewelry, intricately woven garments and other various valuable products.

At first glance, Ighir appears as though it is work for the small business development sector. That’s because, it is.

How I Fit In

All of the individuals who partake in and who are the wonders of Ighir are either physically or mentally handicapped and in many instances, both. It is one of the few facilities in Morocco that caters to such people.

Interestingly, Ighir doesn’t use diagnostic tools of any sort. Individuals with mental and physical disabilities simply arrive at the shop and the day’s proceedings carry on from there. No questions asked. No progress check. No assessment. Just attendance and participation.

After various observations I could comprise a spreadsheet of names in column “a” with corresponding diagnosis in column “b”.

Here’s a rough layout---

mental disabilities: Asperger's directly left, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to the right, Down Syndrome straight ahead, Conduct Disorder in the corner, Schizophrenia (Not Yet Defined) under the table and OCD across the hall fiddling with the door. The list of diagnostic pathologies would make even the most noble of special-ed teacher’s head spin three times over right before melting into a gooey puddle on the cold, concrete floor like Christopher Loyd’s character in the final scene of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Physical disabilities: deaf and mute; deaf; mute; paraplegia; clubbed feet.

Ighir’s approach to treatment is distinctively progressive and simultaneously cemented in the dark ages.

Let me explain.

What Seems To Be Working

Without intentionally doing so, Ighir is on the cutting edge of strength-focused treatment. Such an approach emphasizes patients’ ability rather than inability. The question and focal point becomes, what can one do in contrast to what on cannot do, what’s right with you over what’s wrong, you have weakness but what we want to know about your strengths.

At Ighir this strength focused approach seems to have yielded impeccable results.

Upon entering the facility, one’s attention is not directed to the reality of disability but rather there is an irresistible gravitational pull toward the industriousness transpiring before your eyes. They GET IT DONE---no messing around. The welding machines thumping and crackling in the background, needles rhythmically maneuvering through fabric keeping the tempo, brains and bodies stirring about combining to complete an orchestrated ensemble brimming with virtuosity. The product is something more than a curious site to see, it’s tangible goods that can be sold for profit.

*One’s attention will also be drawn to the cutest little kids on the planet who, without hesitation approach visitors with necks extended, eyes squinted and lips puckered ready to dispense the most pleasant of welcoming kisses. They are truly something else. So. Damn. Cute.

*A verbal interview at Ighir might proceed as follows: You can’t speak, cool…what can you do? Nice, do it. You have a nervous tick? Here’s a paintbrush---wow, how avant garde of you. You can’t stand? No problem---there is much to be done while sitting.

Where Advancements Can Be Made

At the same time that Ighir's treatment approach is exceptional within the country of Morocco, the approach is undeniably steeped in a haphazard system. In actuality, there is no approach. What I have presented above is an interpretation of events. Need to see the director of treatment? You can’t, the position doesn’t exist. Want to know about measurable progress? Sorry, there is no baseline from which to compare. Want to know about the treatment approach in order to recreate its success? No such documentation.

Insofar as I know, Morocco has yet to possess a solid infrastructure to care for the handicapped. As countries around the world are recognizing the significance of mental health within scope of overall health and wellness and with Morocco being no exception, the time is ripe for treatment facilities to take root and sprout.

Ighir is setting in example for the entire country on how it can help integrate those who have historically been left behind. Establishing a system of record keeping and progress is perhaps the beginning to sustainable development which will not only assist in the development of Ighir, but perhaps in the development of facilities all over Morocco.

Now, what’s a guy to do?

Onward toward construction!!! Little by little---I hope I am not setting myself up here;)

I think I will start with my Beginners English class.

Quote of the day: "One of the best ways to test your language abilities in another country is to get a haircut in that country. If it turns out right, you know you’ve made it.”--- not an exact but concept taken from Duncan de la Feld.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Intro

I am currently in the beautiful town of my final site (for safety and security reasons Peace Corps has asked us to refrain from publicly revealing our locations. If you are curious, just email

Before I tell you where I am, let me tell you where I’ve been.

Morocco is a beautiful country with breath taking landscapes, mesmorizing cities, captivating people and mystery and surprise around every corner. Check out my facebook to see a glimpse of Morocco’s undeniable attractiveness and allure.

For your reading convenience, I present to you an inside look of the past few months, abridged. The following presents some of the struggle that accompanies and completes the splendor.

On September 8, 2009 I hopped on a plane with 55(+/-) other optimistic, idealists and flew to Morocco. I brought a few bags, tons of enthusiasm, high hopes and work/life skills that I couldn’t wait to share with the people I met--not to mention a few more pounds of muscle and a decent level of athletic ability;).

After landing, unloading, trudging through customs with enough jet lag to slow down a Japanese bullet train, we rode a bus to the gorgeous, distinctly Moroccan beach town of Mehdiya. In Mehdiya we started the process of what Peace Corps calls Pre-Service Training (PST). All of us were on the edge of ambition and couldn’t wait to get started. There was no better place to kick off our next two years than at a lazy quaint town on the coast. We spent our weeklong introduction to Morocco with half our days in Peace Corps training sessions, the other half soaking up sun on the beach and our evenings enjoying and getting to know one another.

As the introduction came to an end we were divided into five groups. Each group was shipped off, Moroccan style (seven people to a cab fit with elbows in the face, hot breath and for the unlucky passenger in the front seat next to the driver, a gear shifter in the rear) to various towns in the northern region of the country. In our respective CBT (Community Bases Training) sites we continued learning the language and absorbing the culture of Morocco.

Each week we endured 8-9hrs of class Mon thru Fri, 6hrs on Sat and then another 15-24hrs of immersion training everyday as we stayed with our host families—in case you missed it, that’s 24hrs a day and then some;). Training, appropriately so, was painstaking and rigorous—if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen sort of deal.

Culture shock was a bit of a blur. Often times I couldn’t tell if I was coming or going. Here’s a run down of my inner dialogue:

  • Why is this guy still holding my hand?
  • I will do anything if you just bring me some TP.
  • What’s that mystery meat in the tajine?
  • Awe—Moroccans are so great!
  • I am not French.
  • Why is it that I am eating all the time but I am still hungry—oh, it’s probably just the parasites.
  • I LOVE my host family.
  • Is this Hshuma?

For the most part, I maintained a level head and most of my frustrations originated, not from being in country, but rather, from the strict structure imposed on us by Peace Corps (which was necessary and now, appreciated—sort of).

My CBT crew was awesome. Anna, Juan, Leigh, Mari and Seth---I love you guys (Duncan, I love you too!)!!! Everyday we would share with one another the stories of our home stay families and the cultural adjustments we all had to make. We talked about how our families huddled around us when we had diarrhea and wished to be alone and have a clear path to the bit’lma (bathroom), how our moms told us to eat more when another bite was very well going to make us explode, how our dads would offer us the “family glass” only to be met with our Nalgenes, a frightened face and a nervous, “No thanks, I have my own,” how going to the bathroom took as much mental energy as a final exam (Where’s the toilet paper? Oh, it’s not here, okay, how do I wipe? Hmmm, did I bring the hand sanitizer? Geeze, my legs are tired) and most importantly how the people of the town became family in our most vulnerable moments.

As I said earlier there was a TON of class time. On numerous occasions in the middle of sessions we would find ourselves caught in the throws of comical hysterics---laughing uncontrollably, unable to stop of our own accord, left to ride out the humorous wave until it subsided. In many ways our fits of laughter acted as self-preserving reactions to keep us from succumbing to fits of crying.

Upon reflection our reality seemed so absurd. In many ways it was funny—downright hilarious---however, in other ways we all knew we had lost parts of our selves, parts of our lives that sustained us and brought us joy. In order to optimize this experience, I knew it was imperative to harness creativity and expand understanding of what constitutes and regulates contentment in life. Like I said, it was hard. Yet, it is the conquering of those difficult times I believe people thrive. The moment we realize, “Oh I can do this—I am pretty awesome.” We not only conquered; we totally dominated.

Finally I can’t forget to tell of the greatness of my host family, the Aberannes. During CBT, my host family was nothing short of amazing and they will always be a part of my Peace Corps experience and beyond. There is an intense bonding that occurs when you plop yourself in another country and a family takes you in as one of their own. The entire family from my dad down to my youngest brother as well as my father’s friends, my sister’s husband, the neighbors, aunts, uncles, numerous shop owners (the list can go on and on) didn’t skip a beat when it came to helping me out. At any given night my father, mother or sister would tuck me in at night---as silly as it seems you wouldn’t believe how comforting it was. My nickname quickly became baby mskeen (poor baby). I didn’t mind it, often times it was true, I needed as much help as a child--maybe even more.

Fast forward and here I am in my final site. After living in the family room for a little over eight days, I have moved into my own room. Thanks to the once-in-a lifetime-you-must-meet-him rpcv and friend, Ned Epps (LOVE YOU!) I am living with a new host family--there was trouble in paradise with Ned’s original host family. The catch, I had to wait for a room. Not a problem, until you realize that Moroccans are in no hurry to get you away from them---in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It is an inextricable part of a Moroccans daily life to insist that you stay for some tea and bread and in my case sleep in the living with them. Even if you persist and make a case that Johnny Cochran couldn’t refute as to why it would be better for everyone if you have your own space there is still a cultural element that doesn’t translate. To them, living by yourself is like being sick—why would you want something so horrendous and why aren’t you doing everything in your power to keep it from happening to you. After a little cross cultural exchange and plainly saying on several occasions I am moving upstairs to my room now, they got it. For the most part it's endearing, however, there is a time and a place where an Amereican has to say, "Wait, I'm still American."

Now, I am sittin’ pretty in a gorgeous room fit for the king himself (maybe an exaggeration, but as of late, they could have given me a cardboard box and as long as it was mine I would have been singing their praises).

What now? Let me get back to you on that:)