Lost in the last Wednesday

So here it is my friends… 7 1/2 days out until we fly home! It is incredible to think about all of the things I won’t have to miss in such a short time… it is hard to sit idly here at night knowing all that we have to do and all that is to come. This morning I attended my last women’s aerobic class. That class saved my life. From my first week, it has provided my an important outlet and lesson for myself. That being physically active not only relieves stress but it helps me escape it, during a run, yoga or workout class… I can pause mentally from whatever is plaguing me. Especially here in Morocco, that was vital to my sanity. It wasn’t only the classes, it was the 20 minute bike ride to the Sport’s Center and the 20 minute bike ride back. I will admit, I have gotten tired of the ride the past couple of months and opted to lazily hop in a taxi but today… it was a nice ride down memory lane.

From the Sport’s Center, I make a right where I bike up a pretty terrible but short hill. I take a left and see the apartment building where I would see someone’s horse stand in front of the door as if he were Mr. Ed and just rang the doorbell to chat with a friend. 

I continue down the street where there are plenty of stray animals wandering about looking for food and notice the place where I fell . I make a right into the round about and see the supermarket that often served as a sanctuary for my ‘store fix’ as it has lots of canned goods, hygienic items,  packaged spices, noodles etc. etc. stuff that is commonplace at a supermarket in the US. I merge onto the main road and pass a delicious restaurant that could be the place where the Hubs and I eat our last meal.

On the main road there are too many memories too count. At the beginning of our time in Larache while living with a host family who lived in this part of town, we spent quite a bit of time walking up and down this street. Without bikes and not wanting to spend the money on taxis we would walk the hour and a half one-way to the Youth Center and back… sometimes twice a day. 

I pass the Anapec (an employment organization) where we went once to try to organize an employment workshop series for a women’s association. 

I pass one of the high schools and smell something being deliciously fried,  this has been the scene of many boys yelling at me but also where we attended an English Class party for a couple of our Youth Center students. 

I continue to go straight around my favorite roundabouts in Larache, called Cuatro Camino (4 roads), it is a breathtaking fountain 

Where I see a man that lives on the corner and seems like he is constantly giving a speech to a large group of people…

I race down the street and let myself let go a little bit as I glide down the hill to the post office, which holds memories of frustration, joy and lessons of patience

I glide around the big roundabout that boasts itself to be the center of town… I take a glance at the ocean

  
before I take a right onto my tiny little street…..

 I have done this ride almost three times a week for a year and a half now. Each time has been different in some way… whether it be my bike tire a little flat, lots of traffic, my body having more/less energy. But both the class and the ride give me a sensation of empowerment. They reassure me that this is the place I am supposed to be at this time… it wipes away a lot of the frustration and gives me a “you can do this, no matter what” feeling. As I ride up to my door, I let myself get lost in the revery of my very last Wednesday in Larache.

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I feel the earth movin’ under my feet

NEW NEWS: I have been listening to Carole King lately, I have to say that I am likin’ it!

Old NEWS (but still exciting): We are coming home soon!!!

Crazy News: WE ARE COMING HOME SOON!

I thought processing to leave America for Morocco was going to hard, but trying to process going back has seemed insurmountable lately. Which is why I haven’t updated on our impending leave. Being in Peace Corps sometimes feels like a ‘forever thing’. Realistically, you know it isn’t but sometimes two years seems like SUCH* a long time, especially if this is something you have wanted to do since you were 18 or had been working on the application for almost three years! It is hard to realize that I have not only checked something off of my bucketlist but that I have achieved a dream. Peace Corps has been a long journey, by far the longest I have done or that Tyler and I have done together- right now we have been married longer in the Peace Corps than we have been out of it, CRAZY! But we never would have made it through without the support of one another but also the amazing support of our friends and family… to think in three short weeks I won’t have to miss Parmesan cheese, Hershey’s chocolate, ranch packets, taco seasoning packets… I will be able to buy tortillas!!! I will forever be thankful to those who sent us such wonderful gifts to keep us from missing things from America too much… we appreciated everything so much! It touched our hearts the kindness and warmth that would come through in the contents of the box!

IMG_0173-001 IMG_1795 IMG_2011-001 IMG_0105 IMG_0169 IMG_0170 IMG_1868 IMG_0123 IMG_0131 IMG_2709 IMG_2710-001 IMG_2115 IMG_2114 DSC09877 IMG_0692 IMG_3506 IMG_1794Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all of the love and support you all have provided over the last two years, we are so blessed!!!!

 

 

Moreover Monday- “Spiritual Security”

http://www.trust.org/item/20131212010325-jkva6/

Women provide “spiritual security” in Morocco

Thu, 12 Dec 2013 Samantha Harrington

RABAT (Thomson Reuters Foundation)—Boots on the ground, drones in the skies, and government surveillance of electronic communications have become standard American tools for warding off extremist violence. The Kingdom of Morocco has armed itself with a dramatically different weapon: using the soft power of religious women to quell violence before it happens. They call it “spiritual security.”

After 9/11 shook the world, Moroccan leaders began to think, “It could happen here,” and it did. In 2003, a dozen suicide bombers with ties to al-Qaida blew themselves up in Casablanca, Morocco’s economic center. Now the country knew firsthand the trauma of terrorism.

In response, Moroccan leaders came up with an idea dedicated to foiling religion-based violence by using religion itself. In 2006, under the leadership of the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the mourchidat program was born.

Sanae Elmarouani, 23, already holds a Master’s degree in Islamic studies.  But she’s happy being back in class at Dar al Hadith al Hassania, studying in a prestigious program to prepare her for a vocation in religious service as a spiritual guide.  Her school is a small, ornately decorated building in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat where men train to become imams, Islamic priests, and now ––since 2006 –– women prepare to become their female counterparts, mourchidat.

The setting for this unique school, its high ceilings intricately carved and tiled, is rich in Moroccan tradition.  The goal of the program is similar. When asked how women with religion as their only weapon can possibly expect to beat back the forces of radicalism, Sanae is confident.

“Our religion in general forbids extremism. So the program is like a representation of Islam. The role of mourchidat is to unify the constants of the Moroccan nation.” She cites the guiding principles as honoring the King, who is commander of the faithful, and adherence to the Maliki doctrine and Ashaarit creed, approved by the Islamic Ministry and taught at her school.

The daughter of an imam, Sanae was a teacher in a mosque when she heard of the mourchidat program. She moved quickly to get her application in and felt lucky when she was accepted.

The program is meant to promote women’s rights, giving Moroccan women unprecedented opportunity and authority.  Their work takes them to all parts of the community.

“We work in mosques,” Sanae says.  “We work in prisons, hospitals, and we teach and lead women in all parts of their lives.”

A SELECTIVE PROGRAM

She and her peers at Dar al Hadith were selected from a large applicant pool. The program is selective. In order to be admitted, women must hold university degrees and be able to recite sections of the Qur’an from memory. Students take a variety of courses, with the main focus on religious training. But in the real world, helping people deal with anger, disappointment and pain, their classes in communication and psychology will be useful. “I’ll use body language first,” Sanae says.

After graduating, Sanae will likely be placed in one of the many mosques that dot Morocco’s cities and countryside. She will use the Islam that she has learned at Dar al Hadith in all aspects of her work, teaching values of respect and tolerance and diffusing extremist thought.  She will lead circle discussions and answer questions about faith but she will not be allowed to lead men in prayer.

In some ways, mourchidat can be compared to Catholic nuns. Both are religious women connected to organized groups. Both start from a place of personal spiritual commitment and apply their advanced studies to the needs of their faith communities.  But since they are women practicing in male-dominated cultures both have limits to their religious leadership. Religious orders of nuns are subject to Church hierarchy and Catholic women are denied access to the priesthood. Mourchidat –– although trained to perform the same duties as imams –– are not allowed to lead men in prayer.

Sanae Elmarouani is one of 50 women in her program. Another 150 participants are men studying to be imams in a parallel program.  Mourchidat take an additional course which focuses on women’s issues like marriage and dress. Using this broad portfolio, the mourchidat bring traditional Islamic values to their duties at the mosque. Program creators see their presence as a way of keeping radical forces at bay and providing “spiritual security.”

“[Spiritual security] simply refers to saving people from the different currents that may end up…throwing them into the hands of the people they’re not supposed to deal with,” says Khalid Saqi, Assistant Director of Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania.

The extremists Saqi speaks of, the ones that people are “not supposed to deal with,” are those whose unbending ideologies morph into social destruction and who bring others along with them. Before the 2003 suicide bombings, religious extremism wasn’t a prominent cause for concern in Morocco. But after Casablanca, the government began to take preventive action.

“We were dealing with a kind of people, a kind of ideology …that in some cases we were not even aware of and then all of a sudden they surged out of nowhere and we were facing a phenomenon that had to be dealt with,” said Saqi.

Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, Founder and Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, says that the program is effective in promoting the “spiritual security” Saqi speaks of and directing ideological power away from fundamentalist sects.

“I think it’s filling that gap that only Wahhabis and Salafis were filling—the gap that people needed someone to explain religion to them –– especially in a country with so much illiteracy and where religion is such an important part of culture. In the past you either had to follow the Wahhabis or Salafis or you were not Islamic,” said Cherif.

Both the Wahhabi and Salafi movements practice strict, uncompromising forms of Islam which have often brought them into conflict with Western values. While these strands of Islam are not always violent, the intolerance they practice can lead in that direction. The 2003 Casablanca suicide bombers were self-procalimed Salafis linked to al-Qaida. Another violent attack, this one in 2011 in Marrakech, “was not connected to any organized terrorist groups,” the US State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Terror states, but the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior described [the bomber] as a Salafist and an admirer of al-Qa’ida.”

In the official Islam of Morocco, the King is the commander of the faithful and moderation is the style of religious expression. The preferred religious code is the Maliki School of Jurisprudence which is also practiced in many nearby countries with positive relationships with Europe and the US. The Maliki school takes a traditional approach to Islam and is heavily based in the lives and actions of those who lived close to the Prophet Muhammad. The mourchidat are trained to use the official Maliki Islam.

MOURCHIDAT PROGRAM DRAWS SOME CRITICISM

While the mourchidat program is well liked, it does have critics. Skeptics of the counterterrorism aspects of the program point out that the 2011 bombing in Marrakech occurred well after this program had been established. Other critics are women’s rights proponents who claim that the mourchidat program hasn’t fulfilled its promise of improving the lot of women—that it doesn’t go far enough.

Asmae Lamrabet, one of Morocco’s leading female Islamic scholars, voices those concerns. She is the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Islam in Rabat which is associated with the Rabita Mohammadia, Morocco’s main organization of Islamic scholars. Lamrabet recognizes that the program has benefits, but has not yet seen real gains being made for women in Moroccan society.  Islamic tradition holds that men and women are equal, she says. But where is the equality in Morocco today?

To make her point, Lamrabet cites a seventh century Islamic scholar— Aisha, the Prophet Muhammad’s youngest wife –– one of the most respected Islamic scholars in the years following Muhammad’s death. Aisha was integral in spreading Islamic thought and unafraid to speak out.  She publicly disagreed with misogynistic teachings of the powerful Calif Omar. Her example endures to this day. Lamrabet says Aisha’s courageous voice is heard as a powerful call to  Islamic feminists across the world.

Lamrabet calls the Islam that mourchidat are taught at Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania “very official, traditional, classical and orthodox, there is no progressive ideal in this kind of speech.” To achieve its goal of expanding women’s rights, Lamrabet wants the program to encourage women to think independently rather than strictly follow government teachings.

“[The mourchidat] are going to transmit all the patriarchal messages –– the same message, the same traditionalist message. Yes, we have women in the mosque now, but it’s not a very big deal. We have to do more.”

While its achievements may not seem enough to Lamrabet and other critics, the program is popular. It provides a way for educated women to contribute to social change, for themselves and the communities they serve. Although only 50 women are admitted each year, applications have increased dramatically. In 2009, according to the US Embassy in Rabat, 800 women applied for the 50 seats.

PROGRAM SPREADING TO OTHER ARAB COUNTRIES

Other Arab countries are getting interested as well. Moroccan mourchidat have traveled to the United Arab Emirates to help train Emirati mourchidat, and Saqi has heard reports that an Algerian mourchidat program is in the works.

Even as the model it provides is being replicated elsewhere, the effectiveness of the mourchidat program has not yet been documented.  No research has been conducted to collect data on its real impact.  The US State Department, however, has bought into its anecdotal success, using supportive language in its 2009 Country Report on Terrorism. In that document, Morocco was commended for continuing, “the pioneering experiment…of training and using women as spiritual guides.”

Sanae Elmarouani, looking at the upheaval in the world, particularly in nearby countries of the Middle East, understands the expectations that she and other mourchidat will carry on their shoulders. But she has faith, education, and the role model of her late father, the imam, to guide her. She is optimistic and self-assured.

“I adore my job because it has two gains: one for life and one for an afterlife with God,” she says.

Samantha Harrington spent several months in Morocco on a SIT Study Abroad program and produced this story in association with Round Earth Media, a non-profit organization that mentors the next generation of international journalists.   Khadija Boukharfane contributed reporting.

Moreover Monday- A Day in the Life

This video this is a heart-wrenching video that is incredibly difficult for me to watch. For me, this reflects parts of my life in Morocco. Although, I never allow myself to get that close to a group of boys / men nor do I venture out at night by myself- parts of this video feel familiar. I won’t say that, for me, Morocco has been this difficult or suffocating but the parts that feel familiar leave my a pain in my heart for these women who experience this type of invasive and horrible treatment every day.

Powerful Sexual Harassment PSA Puts You in an Egyptian Woman’s Shoes

In a powerful PSA by United Nations Women, viewers are put in the position of an Egyptian woman as she experiences terrible sexual harassment everywhere she goes.

Though not a new issue, sexual harassment in Egypt has come under recent international scrutiny following the many horrifying accounts of sexual assaults that came out of the Tahrir Square protests of dictator Hosni Mubarak and then of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. 91.5% of Egyptian women say that they’ve been groped by strangers in public and 99.3% say that they’ve encountered some form of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, these women are often victim blamed and their complaints are rarely taken seriously.

“When we try to complain, even to friends or family but especially to authorities, they say we are to blame because of the way we dress, the way we act, where we were walking,” May Iskander, a student women’s rights activist at Cairo University, told Buzzfeed. “And you can be a full women in a full niqab [headscarf] and still be harassed. Whoever doesn’t know this doesn’t live in Egypt.”

The United Nations Women PSA attempts to make men better understand the daily plight of Egyptian women, stating “Every day she faces humiliation, anger, she lives in fear, and she experiences violence… put yourself in her shoes, instead of finding ways to blame her.”

In watching the PSA, it becomes clear that this kind of sexual harassment is not a specifically Egyptian problem. Women all over the world face unwanted touching, comments and seedy behavior from men in a variety of circumstances, whether it be riding the bus, walking down the street or simply attempting to exist in the public sphere.

Moroccan Livin and Wearin {2}- Rif Mountain Style

One of the most important facts about Morocco is its’ climate is diverse as its’ people. Contrary to popular belief during the winter months it gets cold, the country is not all desert. By cold, I mean 40’s at night most places around the country and 50’s during the day. This is not even mentioning those sites that get snow…

Keep in mind that it is very rare for any* Morocco homes to have heating. There is no form of central heating, that I have seen at least. Where it snows, some families are lucky to have a wood-burning heater or a heater that uses butane gas.

So when I mean 40’s, I mean I am under a 2-3 blankets with fleece pajamas. In my site, I am sure I really don’t know what it means to be cold, all I can do is reminisce about during my training when it snowed. I feel for those that live in the mountains.

This lovely volunteer lives in a very small village named Moukrissat near Chefchaouen, which is in the beautiful Northern Rif Mountains. Her village has about 300 people, recently numbered at 301 with the birth of a neighbor baby!

Last year, a volunteer had a SIDA (AIDS) event near there in December and I remember it being one of the coldest I have ever felt.

Marshall’s jeggings : $14.99
A tank underneath to cover quote “her shameful areas”
Wool long sleeve: souk (market in site)
Long sleeve : H&M
Peacoat: souk 20dirhams ~$2.60
Scarf: Fes Medina 40 dirhams ~$5.00

This is just another way that a volunteer is culturally appropriate, comfortable in her clothing for a good price and most of all…. warm (note*she is wearing 4 layers) in her mountainous village where it can get snowy white during the winter months!

Cheers and Slainte!

I realized that I never posted about our fabulous trip to Ireland and England!

It was our first trip all-together, (Tyler, Mama and Papa Duff and I) and it was amazing!

I was coming back from my best friend’s wedding in the states so Mama and Papa Duff flew with me and then the Tyler (who didn’t come back with me) met us in London!
From there… we grabbed our rental car to drive to Ireland!
It was a little adjustment to drive on the right side of the road… but thankfully our car was hip enough to beep whenever Tyler or Papa Duff might go over the line! Let’s just say that didn’t always receive the most positive response!
pictures of the beautiful English Countryside!
 We stayed in a port town called Holyhead, where few things were open but we found this bar and the men in there were quite* friendly!
Would you be able to tell he tried to give Mama Duff a kiss right after this? Probably… we left shortly after
The next morning we took the ferry to Dublin and spent a few (too) short days in Ireland!
ready for the Ferry!!

Beautiful Dublin!!!! We did so much in Dublin! Jameson Tour… Guinness Tour and for a small day trip we even went to see the Blarney Castle! It was rainy and cold but it would pause just long enough for us to take BEAUTIFUL pictures of the greenery!

kissin the ole’ Blarney Stone! This was actually pretty scary if you didn’t closed your eyes!! 
There were sooo many pubs in Ireland and England that we, sadly, couldn’t make it to them all so if we drank at the pub- one or both of the boys would take a picture in front of it AND if we didn’t- one or both of the girls would take a picture of it!

Then we headed back to England on the ferry, where we wanted to stop in both Liverpool and Cambridge but we unfortunately had to return the rental car. We never* give ourselves enough time for things when we plan trips- it is definitely one of our downfalls!!

Once we returned the rental car, we spent the rest of our days in London! And of course* we took my favorite Double Decker bus!!!!!!!! I ADORE* these buses, I know they are expensive but I believe they are undoubtedly the best way to see cities! We have been on one in almost every* city we have visited (if they have them). And London was EXTRA special because they still have live guides!!!

On our first day, we decided to walk to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace from our hostel near Hyde Park. It was a beautiful walk and we were able to see this funny little guy… isn’t he a crazy type of bird? There were so many of them, I just loved his little feet!

We had quite a good seat for the changing of the guard! Go us! It was crazy busy- as I am sure it normally is!!!
Throughout the rest of the days we were there, we got some crazy-good pictures from the Double Decker!

Took a walking Jack-the-Ripper tour (offered by the bus company)

Ate a delicious breakfast at our hostel every morning

VISITED THE TWININGS TEA SHOP! (FIRST ONE EVER) I never thought I would be so excited!

Of course visited many a-pub

Then hopped on one of the tiniest planes to come back to Morocco…

And that was our rainy, but fabulous trip to England and Ireland!!

HALLOWEEENNN!

A couple of weekends ago a volunteer close to us organized a Halloween party for her Dar Chabab. It was on the weekend following Halloween, though it doesn’t really matter because Halloween as a holiday doesn’t really fall on most Moroccan’s holiday radar.  For all they knew, these crazy Americans were painting their own faces and offering for them to take pictures in front of a weird tree and house [photo booth], put their their heads in a bucket to pick up apples with their teeth [bobbing for apples], sending them through a dark room underneath tables while people shouted ‘boo’ at them [Haunted House] and offered to paint everyone’s faces!
This is the volunteer’s second Halloween party (last year was the first) and this year was an even bigger success!
Last year I was assigned to crazyyyyyyyy bobbing for apples. I am telling you… it was like releasing kids that had had at least 5 red bulls and 10 pounds of candy, each*!
This year, I painted faces. Which, actually wasn’t that bad, I didn’t realize that I had some face-paintin’ skillz that I wasn’t aware of!!!
 one of my creations…
Can you guess what my costume was?
A PIN WIN! (AKA A Pinterest Win)
Culturally appropriate and homemade, I am sure you guessed it, Frankenstein!
Look at those suspenders! 
the games and decorations!
took a bit for the concept of a photo booth to kick-in, some still didn’t get it (see bottom left)
Then a crazzzyyyy cat-shaped pinata at the end!!!And trust me, EVERYONE was in on that party… you can see in this picture some of the mamas gettin’ in on that action!

Halloween is over for another year… next year we will be back in the States (which is crazy enough to think about) so I should start thinking about my costume… I really would like to make it! Only time will tell! Happy Halloween! 🙂