Larache, my home away from home!

Larache was my home for two years. Geographically, it is a coastal city of about 300,000 people about an hour and a half south of Tangier in Morocco. It is in between rolling hills, where the city itself is mainly set upon a large hill.
 A lookout point in the Old City

There are several daily markets but the serious business comes with the market on Sunday that is large enough to give Picadilly a run for its money. The market on Sunday is in an area of town that is called: Market Sunday, so you are sure to find it.

Historically, the city was colonized by Spain so the culture, language and architecture of the city, especially at its center, is almost purely Spanish. Coming into the center of the city… the plaza, rightly named Plaza Espana, is a place for large gatherings like parades, the Africa Cup Triathalon that takes place every May and many, many other celebrations.

 gathering of a parade
 
aren’t the buildings beautiful?
 entrance to the old city
Many cities in Morocco can boast of an old city (medina qdima) the most famous being of course, Fes, Marrakesh and Chefchaouen. But many smaller cities have claim to them as well, one of them being Larache. The old city in Larache is smaller but still has a Spanish flair, if a traveler knows what they are looking for they can find remains of an old Synagogue as well as an old church. 

 

 

 view of the city and old city from the lower part of Larache
The main plaza in the old city, not all of the old cities have one of these.
Larache was my home for two years. To say that in the past tense is a little surreal, but having lived there I can speak to the fact that the people of Larache are its most prized possession. Our friends that we have come to known will forever be in our hearts. The students we taught at the Youth Center and its director were the center of our world for the past two years. As we learned their language and they learned ours, there were moments of all kinds: frustrating, happy, momentous, and crazy. Having difficulty in the most basic of conversations has been our ‘normal’ for the past two years, it will be interesting being able to communicate effectively everyday, all day!
 some of our students with their certificates
our amazing Youth Center director who made our service the best that it possible could be!
 students from a Summer Camp
 students from a Spring Camp
 a musical group that we saw perform several times throughout our two years
Leaving the beautiful city of Larache on Sunday was very emotional, as we don’t know when we are able to return. Our friends left us with many gifts, memories and of course delicious tea and cookies. We are trying to process our return to the States and in that frame of mind, I wanted to give you another small tour of our city. It is not a top tourist destination but it has plenty to see and do, the most unique aspect about the city is its’ feel. The culture, history and the people give it a tangible feel that is different from any in all of Morocco.
Linking up today with:
 A Compass Rose : Travel Tuesday
Let’s be Friends: Southern Beauty Guide
an amazing sunset picture from our roof… We will always have Larache in our hearts
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My day with the two Latifas

or juj Latifat (two Latifas) if you will.

My upcoming program for International Women’s Day has been a bit like a rollar coaster… meeting and planning the budget, grant stuff, emotions, denial etc. etc.

Anyway, last Friday was a high point. The escalation of nervousness and feelings that grows until you are right at the top of a hill on a coaster before you fall… I used to LOVE* that feeling… the ‘EEK’ that would come out, the nervously looking over the side. The ascension is the best part on a physical rollar coaster and in the rollar coaster of life.

I met my counterpart Latifa at the preschool she runs before we went out for the day. She had told me the day before we were going to talk to high schools about getting girls involved with the event. On the way out of the preschool, we met another Latifa who is the president of another women’s association that I have worked with… and out the door I went with the two Latifas. I was surprised that we were walking but I told myself it would be good exercise since the high schools are pretty spread out. We didn’t go far though… next thing I know we are at a local pharmacy telling the pharmacist and another lady about the event. They seemed to be talking about the details so Latifa (we will call her Latifa one) and I went outside to look at the roundabout in front of the pharmacy.

This roundabout has the ability to be breathtaking, unfortunately at its current state it is more than a bit lacking. Garbage bins are overflowing, the ‘fountain’ is broken and filled with trash and the landscaping is non-existent. Latifa (one) started chatting about the things we would do for this wonderful little roundabout on International Women’s Day. Latifa (two) walked out of the Pharmacy and told Latifa (one) and I that she had received two large donations from the pharmacist and the woman, who turned out to be a dermatologist. We took that as  good sign and started walking to the doctors, butches, and stores around the roundabout to ask them for donations for the day. It was a very* successful day and with the bumps that we had had in the last couple of months, it left me feeling like we were still riding to the top of the coaster!

These couple of hours reminded me of how generous and supportive Moroccans can be, most of the donors within seconds were willing to help out in some way. It surprised me that we were able to just walk out with cash-in-hand donations. Those few hours also reminded me of why I wanted to join Peace Corps in the first place, the feeling of working with other people successfully towards a mutual goal was absolutely amazing.

The afternoon continued with Latifa (one) inviting Tyler, my tutor and myself to a cous cous lunch (the typical cuisine on Fridays). It was wonderful… by far the best cous cous I have ever had in Morocco. It was one of those ‘I’m really full but will continue to eat type of meals’.

While we were eating, some of her little preschoolers were returning from their at-home lunches. Usually when I come to the preschool,we are in the confines of her office and I don’t get the opportunity to interact with the little ones. This was a different kind of day and one little boy caught my eye. His name is Reda and the fact that his pants were a little* too short made him more endearing. Most of the little ones were shy in disposition at first, but after we were there for awhile,  the kids were dancing around us trying to get our attention. Within the hustle and bustle, one little boy ended up hitting Reda. Latifa stood up and went to talk to the boy about how wrong his behavior was. The little boy immediately started crying and yelling at Latifa. Because his tears were streaming, his words were a bit muffled for me but my tutor started laughing almost immediately.

Apparently, the little boy, whenever he is upset, he starts yelling that he will buy a sheep and he will eat it all himself and not share it. This time, he yelled it over and over, including little bits about telling his father that Latifa had hit him. The little boy took his experience with his family buying a sheep for l’eid kbir and thought that the most hurtful thing he could say was to not share his sheep. This would be akin to a little boy yelling that he would buy a Christmas turkey or ham and not sharing it with his teacher. In that moment of almost spitting out my cous cous because I was laughing so hard, I was reminded again of why I joined Peace Corps. The moments that you share with people in more than one language that creates wonderful relationships.

The day ended with a wonderful surprise Valentine’s Day dinner of turkey burgers and french fries and delicious homemade chocolate covered strawberries.

And that was my day with the two Latifas.

Moreover Monday-Violence Bill proposed

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131204/morocco-islamists-under-fire-over-women-abuse-bill

Morocco Islamists under fire over women abuse bill

A long-awaited law to combat violence against women is currently under study in Morocco, but the Islamist-led government has had to revise its proposals after sharp criticism from rights groups.

A preliminary version of the bill, which is still in the drafting stage, threatens prison sentences of up to 25 years for perpetrators of violence against women.

In addition, the bill would take unprecedented steps towards criminalising sexual harassment, with those convicted risking possible three-year jail terms.

As in numerous other Arab countries, sexual harassment of women is commonplace in Morocco, despite the adoption of a new constitution in 2011 that enshrines gender equality and urges the state to promote it.

But despite the progress that this new law would represent, women’s associations have strongly criticised the proposed legislation.

In particular, they accuse Bassima Hakkaoui, the minister for women’s affairs — herself a member of the ruling Islamist Party of Justice and Development — of excluding them from the drafting of the bill.

“We have waited for years for this law and we are now very disappointed by its content,” said Najat Errazi, who heads the Moroccan Association for Women’s Rights, speaking in Casablanca at a meeting to discuss the bill.

According to a study published by the state planning commission (HCP) this week, nearly nine percent of women in Morocco have been physically subjected to sexual violence at least once.

Sexual violence of a physical or psychological nature has affected some 25 percent of women overall, and a startling 40 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Last year, Hakkaoui acknowledged the problem by stating that six million women have suffered physical or verbal violence, more than half inflicted by their husbands.

Sara Soujar, another activist speaking at the meeting in Casablanca, argued that the bill fails to include provisions relating to single women.

“This category is totally absent… Reading the text, you get the impression that violence basically only affects married or divorced women, even though others may be more exposed,” she said.

Her concerns resonate with the findings of the HCP study, that around one in every two unmarried women in Morocco was subjected to sexual violence — whether physical or verbal — during the year that it was carried out.

“Young women who work in factories or as housemaids, many of whom are minors, are no less exposed,” Soujar said.

Others criticise the draft law for lacking clarity, noting that it deals with sexual violence against women and children in the same clauses.

In the face of these objections, the government has been forced to set up a committee, headed by Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, to review the draft law and demonstrate its willingness to cooperate.

Progress is being closely followed in Morocco, where many have had traumatic personal experiences of a kind that the proposed legislation is designed to deter.

Last weekend, dozens of people gathered outside parliament in Rabat to denounce “all forms of violence against women”, among them members of civil society groups as well as relatives of the victims.

“The ex-husband of my daughter used to beat her every day. It was like torture,” one victim’s father told AFP with tears in his eyes.

“On the day that he learnt she was going to ask for a divorce he killed her,” the man added, holding close to him pictures of the injuries inflicted on his daughter.

On Monday, two teenage girls who were sexually assaulted in Rabat finally saw their aggressors jailed for four years for attempting to drug and rape them.

Many considered the verdict too lenient.

Moreover Monday- I wasn’t always dressed like this

An amazing article and more amazing documentary…

“I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This”: A Documentary Exploring Hijab as a Choice

November 11, 2013 By

The concept of wearing hijab tends to stir controversy around the world, especially in the media. For some, hijab may be a piece of cloth that women wear as part of social traditions; for some others, it is a form of religious devoutness; yet, for others, it is a symbol of oppression and injustice towards Muslim women.

While some women are forced to wear hijab by their husbands, brothers, or fathers, others do it voluntarily. This is the central theme of the documentary I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This. Aiming to convey this notion of free choice, the documentary explores the experiences of three UK Muslim women who have chosen to put on hijab.

Director Betty Martins interviews three women in the 33-minute documentary, addressing mainly three themes: first, the journey that these three women have had to go through to make decisions on hijab; second, what hijab means personally for each one of them; and finally, how the surrounding community views those women as they opt to cover their hair, and in one case, her face.

The first lady is a French convert, who was raised accepting the mainstream French discourse about the hijab. She visited Palestine, and felt a need to answer the call to prayer in Jerusalem. That was when she decided to convert, and the idea of hijab became more appealing.

The second lady is a Syrian, who comes from an artistic family. Her father was not keen on his daughter wearing the headscarf, because “it will limit her choices,” especially that she was attending a music school.

The third is a British woman who was born Muslim, but knew nothing about Islam. Her interactions with people surrounding her, including an incident at school when she was 13, led her to ask questions about Islam and hijab in particular. Studying feminism led her to believe in the need to wear niqab as a way of hiding her face and body from the “unnecessary” glances of men around her.

The film takes an interesting approach, presenting stories of Muslim women who were free to make the choice to cover their heads. Putting on a headscarf was a way for these women to define their appearance in public, and try to change other people’s perspectives on hijab.

Scene from I Wasn’t Always Dressed Like This. [Source].

The film does not go into the concept of wearing hijab as a way of hiding beauty; it presents it as part of the beauty these women have. For example, the first lady admits to trying the hijab on before putting it on. She took time picking colors and designs that match her style, which, in return, adds up to her natural beauty.  She even mentioned the idea that in France black hijab is always associated with fundamentalists; this is why she refrains from wearing headscarves with dark colors. In her case, the color and style of her hijab is not just for beauty purposes, but it is also meant to defeat any preconceived ideas of fundamentalism and extremism.

The three women concur that people should not be judging them on their looks; instead, people should get to know them better, because hijab is part of the identity they hold, and part of the choice they made. In an interview she gave to the University of East Angalia, Norwich, UK, Betty Martins said:

“In this film, we hear first-hand about their experiences as women, discover what freedom is to them and what beauty is for them. I want people to see these women as they want to be seen, not as people would like to see them.”

I was deeply touched by the three stories.  The strength and resilience demonstrated by each one of these women as they face a community with little knowledge about or appreciation for hijab is quite inspiring. In some way, however, I found that the first two stories did not present a compelling turning point, as I had expected, to explain what drove the two women to embark on the hijab-wearing journey.  For both women, it was more about “answering a spiritual call” than reacting to an incident or a series of incidents that brought forth curiosity about Islam and hijab. I had always thought that a woman who decides to cover her hair must have gone through an incident that is a life changer. I have seen many women in my life whose loved ones passed away, for example, and as a result of such incidents, they would put on hijab. But listening to those stories in the film, I was surprised to see women who could just put on hijab because of an inner call, or a different feeling they had.

The documentary has attracted much attention in the locations in which it was screened. In an interview she gave to the Emirati newspaper The National, Martins recalls someone making a comment about the film.  She notes that “someone who saw (the documentary) told me that before she never agreed with the hijab. Now, after hearing the narratives in the film, she at least respected their choices as women.”

I believe the film’s message is incredibly powerful in these critical times where hijab has been at the center of clash of civilization debates around the world. If some women make the choice not to cover their hair, that free choice principle should equally apply to those who are willing to do it. That was what the three women in the film did, and they could still go on with their lives normally like any other person. At the end of the day, a woman wearing hijab should not be labelled in any ways; she is just a person who made a choice like any other choice in our lives.

Moroccan Livin’ and Wearin’ – {1}

As a Peace Corps volunteer coming to Morocco, there is so much to think about! And it is so difficult because it is hard to find any information about what to expect. Yeah, you can read blogs and do research on the internet but the experiences vary so* much that it is hard to get a grasp on what might be to come! I remember feeling so overwhelmed especially with clothing choices. I knew that I didn’t have to wear a Hijab… but* what could I wear? Before I left, I finally felt like I was getting into my groove with professional dress and of course, like the Emperor, I wanted to threaten anyone who was going to throw that off.Thinking about dressing drably for two years was a terrible thought to me… I know, I know… how you dress does not reflect the person that you are etc. etc. but* it does sometimes have an effect on how you feel* about yourself. And in the turmoil of being thrown into another country, another language, another culture- feeling weird about what you are wearing is really not something that you need to worry about!!!!

It also depends on the site you are in, my site which is about 200,000 people, the women dress fabulously ALL* the time! I wish I could take pictures of their outfits, they truly are amazing! In smaller sites, I am not sure if this is the case but Moroccan women are very stylish as a whole, so sometimes this can leave volunteers feeling a little mesqina (poor).

I will be debuting one volunteer per week. These volunteers are very* into their own groove and wear appropriate but fabulous clothing!

This volunteer is in a larger site close to Casablanca. Her site has about 100,000+ people. Keep in mind this might not be something she wears everyday but it is* something she could wear everyday if she wanted! She is a particularly fabulous volunteer with her style staying chic but very much on the edge of funky/cool!!!

 Dress: Thrifted from Goodwill
Boots: Old from Target
Belt: Old from Buffalo Exchange
 
 
 

Isn’t she fabulous? Love it! One of the best things that you can do is shop at Goodwill… there is no need to spend a lot of money on your clothes before you come! Next week, I will show you some fabulous volunteers that keep up their style with secondhand souk shopping here in Morocco! So, know whatever you don’t want to bring or can’t find at home… you will have opportunities to find things here in Morocco!!!!

Here is another example of how to turn a fabulous Maxi dress into a Morocco-appropriate outfit!
MoroccanoutfitCollagePS. I bought the jean jacket I am wearing at the secondhand souk here for about 15 dirhams, which is a little under $2.00.

Moreover Monday- Conditions Improving

http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/generalnews/2013/11/15/Morocco-female-condition-improving-says-Minister-Benkhaldoun_9623250.html

Morocco:female condition improving says Minister Benkhaldoun

Step by step, long road ahead, says scientific research minister

Delegate Minister for Higher Education Soumia Benkhaldoun Delegate Minister for Higher Education Soumia Benkhaldoun

(by Cristiana Missori) (ANSAmed) – Rome, November 15 – The situation of women in Morocco is improving, Delegate Minister for Higher Education Soumia Benkhaldoun said Friday.

”The condition of women in our country is improving step by step: since 2011, the number of female ministers rose from 1 to 6 on a total of 39, while the percentage of women in key positions rose from 5% to 16%”, Benkhaldoun said ahead of a meeting of the cultural commission of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) Parliamentary Assembly at Italy’s Lower House.

”And that’s not bad at all”, said the engineer, university professor, and founding member of the Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party, who was appointed minister in October this year. ”Things are improving, but there is still a lot to be done.

We took several steps forward in terms of legislation in 2003, 2006 and 2011”, she told ANSAmed on the sidelines of an crafts exhibit opening at the second Morocco-Italy Intercultural Day, which is ongoing through November 16. ”In Parliament, there are 67 women out of 393 MPs. That’s approximately 17.8%, slightly under the European average of 22%.

We need more women in all key roles in society”, Benkhaldoun went on, adding that women as well as men must change their mentality. ”This is an old story, which all Mediterranean women share”.

In the case of Morocco, a more integrated family policy is needed. ”We still need to put in place policies that favor part-time work, telecommuting, and state-run kindergartens”, the minister pointed out. ”We are still far from the family policies adopted by Scandinavian countries”.

Benkhaldoun, whose ministry is also in charge of scientific research and executive training, wants to develop that sector through international cooperation: ”Moroccan budget, international expertise – such as Italy’s, for example”, she explained. ”We need to develop our energy and geophysics sectors. Also, our country is rich in medicinal herbs, which could have many applications in the health care field”.

Her government, she said, needs to increase its scientific research budget, which is currently 0.8% of national GDP .

”In developed countries, that number is 2.3%”, she pointed out. International cooperation is the key. ”We just obtained 30-million-euro extra-budget financing to field projects that will be open to foreign research labs as well”, said Benkhaldoun ahead of a meeting with Italian Undersecretary for Education and Scientific Research Marco Rossi Doria.

”I will ask him officially for Italy to take on one of the deputy presidencies of the Fez Euro-Mediterranean University”, the minister said. ”We want Italian professors and researchers on hand by the time the first academic year starts in 2014”.

Lookin’ fine as can be….

So… things have been going really really well this week! Crazy* well, I feel so incredibly blessed… but I will share more about that later.

This morning because of said fabulous opportunities… I was unable to go to my regular work-out class. A blessing in disguise, really, because it is a rain-ful day. Some say hamdullah (Thanks be to God), I just blegh and want to stay inside with my teddy bears disguised as cats and eat a lot of soup!

Anywhoo, my yoga class on Fridays was changed to 11:30 in the morning because my illiteracy class started up again so I put on my lovely orange rain coat and ventured into the wetness. Since, I missed my morning workout, I decided to put a few miles in on the lovely* treadmill (I try not to abuse this amazing privilege). Obviously, I am beautiful at this point- hair soaked with sweat and not-to-mention I put my shirt on backwards… whoops! Essentially, I was lookin a-hot mess….IMG_0214

More or less… exactly* like this… only without my tennis shoes. Hot huh?

Well, I will tell you… I got not one, but three* cat calls…

First: Hola, Guapa

Second: Oh my God!

Third: ahhhhhh, guapita!

(guapa and guapita mean beautiful in Spanish)

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen… here I thought I was lookin’ a hot mess and I am as fiiiinnnneeee as can be! Who knew?

It makes me wonder what they* think is ugly? A question to ponder, I suppose!