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

GLOW CAMP-video!!!!

Hey everyone! I know I made it seem like the GLOW Camp updates were done, but just kidding!!!!

The most important thing!

One of the volunteers that helped to put this amazing/fabulous event on made an INCREDIBLE video!!!

Also* the music in the background? That is the girls throughout the week!!! The same volunteer recorded them whenever they did cheers or songs (aka ALL* the time) and them embedded it into the video! AMAZING!!!!

*notice about 7:15 it is the Darija version of “If you are happy and you know it”!

*at 8:03 it is a war between tomatoes (matisha) and potatoes (btata)

*at 10:20 you can see the beautiful Larache coastline while the girls are doing their “Arooshtasha”

*at 12:33 the last night there was a wedding! The chant they are doing is one that is traditionally done at weddings and big events

*at 14:10, our caterer is leading the girls in the French version of Auld Lang Syne…. I guess ANYTHING can happen!

Also, follow me on Bloglovin’ if you use it! It is an amazing blog reader where you can read all your blogs plus news plus EVERYTHING in one place!

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On the home stretch: Yoga

I have decided that I am going to make a goal of blogging more frequently…. I am hoping that this will give everyone much more of a sense of what our life is like here. Peace Corps is not just about going to live in another country… but more about the day-to-day interactions with the culture and the people. So I have a couple of ideas on how to bring more Morocco to this blog but we will just have to test it out!

A shorter post today since Toubkalla was a bit lengthy… I do have to amend one fact though it did in fact take us between 16 and 17 hours the second day, I was thinking and realized that 14 was wayyyy to short. We were definitely walking almost the entire day but I forget the breakdown of the hours :(. Sorry about that!

Anyway now that we are in the last 7 months of our service… I wanted to talk about teaching yoga! In my own practice, I am a beginner/ close to intermediate but since the arriving in Larache,  it was something I wanted to share with my women. Especially with my 3x per week women’s class! I wasn’t sure how to bring it up (self-promotion sometimes freaks me out) and then a fellow PCV was visiting and she mentioned it for me! Problem solved! My teacher then asked me if I would start doing 20 minutes of yoga during the class.. OF COURSE!!!! She even invited me to teach at another location, where her sister taught the workout class! So exciting!!! But of course… it began to drop off. After we went on vacation, I only led a short ten minute session sometimes. However, by this point I had gained some confidence both in my Arabic to teach the class but also to lead a good flow! So…. I walked into a place I had been eye ballin’ for over a year and by eye ballin’ I mean almost stalkng/drool coming out sometimes. All-in-all not a pretty picture.

What is this place you may ask? It is a local gym, that is absolutely fabulous! It costs about 250 dirhams a month, has treadmills, strength machines, spinning bikes- THE WORKS! But 250 dhs is WAYYYYYY outside the Peace Corps budget. So I knew there was no way I could join the gym… but teach for free and maybe use the equipment? A possibility! It can’t hurt to ask! The Men’s days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and the Women’s Days are Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On a day that was a man’s day, I gathered enough courage and walked in (the door is closed on the women’s days and it was always too intimidating to ring the bell) and asked to speak to the owner (who speaks a little English) and told him I could teach yoga for free!!! He said to come the NEXT MORNING!!!!!!!!!! Very* exciting (bonus! he said that I could use the equipment when I wanted!)…. it was a little difficult to work out the schedule at first and then of course came Ramadan… but now it has started up again and I am teaching 30 minute sessions 3 times per week! I don’t have consistency  with attendance with that class yet but my other class has started to…. ASK for yoga during the regular workout time! I know! Very exciting!

I am sharing as much as I can about the practice, breathing, clearing the mind, inviting one’s body to accept the position. Although, it is often difficult to explain. Yesterday, I told my class that we were going to do some imagery and a girl asked me what that was…. woof. There was no way that I could explain it in detail in Arabic so I attempted to do what I could and she seemed to grasp the idea….kind of.

It has been such a great experience teaching yoga because I can already see some of the women begin to improve. It has also provided me with some consistency in my schedule – the summer was a bit dead with everything other than my workout classes- and gives me something to look forward to every week.

I did find another gym in Larache when I was in the taxi the other day… this is another drool-worthy gym but I have yet to decide if I have enough room in my schedule… I will probably go for it, I mean, why not? Go big or go home, right? If I don’t do it now, I will probably never know!

P.S. I wanted to use a yoga pun as a title, but for some reason, couldn’t think/find one! Does anyone know of a good one?

GLOW Camp- Hfla / Health Day!

So we are nearing the end of my narration of events of GLOW Camp… this was the last full day and by this point we were a little tired but still excited for the girls. So we started the day off with my fabulous exercise teacher (who, I am not sure if I have mentioned, has a black belt in Taekwondo) teaching some easy self-defense moves…

selfdefense-002 selfdefense-014 selfdefense-016Then, unfortunately our SIDA (AIDS in French) presenter was sick and we were not able to find another. But we were fortunate enough to have a presentation in Arabic that our wonderful counterparts were able to present.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For me, the mudawana (family code), sexual harassment and SIDA workshops were the most important. These workshops are often difficult to implement on their own so I felt that these were topics that were vital for the girls to experience, think about and hopefully talk about later.

Then we prepared for the afternoon Hfla (or party) to celebrate the end of camp! Which meant that the girls took hours getting ready- doing their hair, makeup, changing outfits. For the afternoon time an amazing counterpart come in and do some art with the girls as well as set up exhibitions to talk about Larache history and culture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcutting the tie to the afternoon events

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfabulous glass painting

Then we began our Hfla events. It is customary with every accomplishment here in Morocco that everyone is given certificates… so we handed out certificates to the workshop presenters, the girls and also gave them a fabulous t-shirt!!!!!!!

We were also fortunately able to provide gifts for our presenters and my counterpart arranged for an all girls Genoua group to come and perform. Genoua is a very traditional type of music performed in Morocco.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGenouan girls in purple comin’ to start the party!!!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhanding out certificates, obviously (me) someone forgot to do their hair

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the gift for our workshop presenters OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgifts for our amazing counterparts that were there throughout the entire week!!!!

The party/celebrations continued into the night, as the girls danced, laughed and just enjoyed each other’s company and the new relationships that they had formed.

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some of the campers, volunteers, and workshop presenters!

Even though this was our last full day, we knew that we still had a lengthy morning of goodbyes ahead of us!

Stay tuned for reflection and goodbyes!

 

GLOW Camp- Career DAY!

Whoops! Got a little lost there… September FLEW by… now it is October and I haven’t finished updating everyone on GLOW camp! It is crazy… GLOW camp has been apart of my Peace Corps life- whether it be “finish grant” on my to-do list or email this person- talk to this person or meet with this person, I have to be honest, I have been in a post-planning funk. I recognize the feeling from after the wedding was over, when I would sit on the couch and think, shouldn’t I be doing something? Like then, I do have things to do but they don’t *feel* the same way, I know that getting a report done or doing my site profile (to prepare for the next volunteers -EEK!) won’t culminate quite the way GLOW camp did. So I am in the process of finding things that feel similar… we went to our regional meeting in Fes and then I stayed after for a bit to spend time with friends. Then last week, a beautiful and wonderful friend had a birthday so I went to Rabat for that! Hopefully our English classes get started again soon and we can have a sort of routine going. But… without further ado.. to help me get out of my post-planning funk I will tell you about CAREER DAY!

We had exercise of course in the morning…

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then we had our regular team-building exercises….

teambuilding-015Then we started off the morning with workshops on Goal Setting

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And a workshop on building a C.V. (or as we call it, a resume!)

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a break for lunch, which of course being Friday they brought out delicious* cous cous!

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(each table had two giant plates and then of course lben (buttermilk-yum!) to drink

Then art time, making friendship bracelets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Of course our snack HAD to be delicious too- normally I am really full on cous cous days, but when they brought out bastilla (a delicious pastry stuffed with chicken) my stomach thought it was going to explode!!!!

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At night our workshops were about good governance of organizations

and career gender stereotypes, which, I wish I had a video of because the girls got very heated about what career belonged to which gender!

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This day was particularly interesting because we had to deal with a problem that never in 1000 moons would we ever have thought would happen. Even with all of the planning and thinking about insurance, safety, and rules, I ALWAYS know that there is going to be something else, but I am still never prepared for it. However fortunately, the provisions that we had put in place helped to relieve some stress off of the situation and we were able to solve it. Thank goodness!!!

We were ready to go for our Beach Day!!!!

GLOW-Gender Day!!!!!

So, on Gender Day we were on our second full day of camp! It seemed pretty surreal at this point, the camp was going- and going well!!!!! Of course, the girls still stayed up all night to chat, sleep in each other’s beds and talk on their phones but* they were becoming closer and closer!

Gender Day was one of the most important days for me to have at the camp. I wanted them to realize how special it is to be a woman. How many advantages they have, versus a lot of the disadvantages that they might see, that they truly have the power to change things BECAUSE of their gender and not in spite of it.

We started the day off with exercise, of course!

Then some fabulous teambuilding!

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this icebreaker became a favorite and was done at least ten times per day

Then we had workshops with these two fabulous ladies!!!!

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These ladies also deserve more recognition than just doing some amazing workshops on Gender day, because they are some of the reasons that the camp even happened!!!! During the planning time, they were available to translate anything and everything, and also provide feedback. I don’t know if I can ever truly express how humbling it is to,literally, not be able to write. Morocco is a very bureaucratic country and often our mudir wants the documents he has to turn in to be perfect. But, we can’t provide any of it! Especially because our computer separates the Arabic letters if we try to type it in a Word document. Our assistant mudir has an email, but I have to type a message in google translate (that is most definitely wrongly translated) and hope that it at least says some* of the right things. This makes the process of getting anything done 3 to 4 times longer than it should (it also means about 1000 hours of printing new documents out). These two were there for us throughout the entire week to help out with anything we needed, but they were there months before that making the camp happen from a distance. My gratitude towards them is never ending. Then to add to it- they presented some pretty fab workshops….

A workshop about the Mudawana Code (which is the family code written by the government) which includes clauses about divorce, inheritance, marriage, kids etc. etc.

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And then a Sexual Harassment Workshop

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Then of course we had art time!!! For art time the girls worked on “Stop Sexual Harassment Signs”

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Our workshop at night was on self-development and presented by a wonderful woman who works with a women’s association here in Larache.

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This was also the day that it felt like the girls were becoming a cohesive unit because of all the time that they had been spending together… this resulted in our first “wedding” of the camp…

409and continuous singing during meals- don’t ask me how they ate and sang the entire time during meals but they did! What can I say? These were some fabulous ladies!!!!

a video of these shenanigans would be here- if I had better technology skills (SORRY*)

One of the most interesting aspects about the concept of a Gender Day is, the word for gender in Arabic is the same work for sex. This is confusing especially when my counterpart becomes extremely bashful when she sees on the schedule that she is doing a “Sex Workshop” when the meaning is supposed to be “Gender workshop” (completely understandable!). I know in English it is a fairly new concept to treat gender as an entity and sex as an entity, but throughout my lifetime they have been two different ideas and always been presented as such. At first, I did not understand the confusion and still struggle with attempting to explain the difference when it is the same word.

All in all though- Gender Day was a complete success!!!! I hope the girls learned that they are special and unique because of their gender and it is important to be a woman and speak out!

 

“Like, I am woman, hear me roar”

Happy International Women’s Day!!!!

Well, it was actually yesterday…. but its okay if we keep celebrating, right? Okay good…

So March 8th, is International Women’s Day for those of you who didn’t know… and up until last year…. I had NO CLUE that a women’s day existed! Some feminist I am, huh? It definitely puts some perspective on our rights and a feminist dialogue in the media in the United States… basically….there is none.

Yesterday morning, I was reading my emails, which consists of updates from news sources and an obsessive amount of food, fashion, and feminist blogs. As I was reading though, I felt the disappointment and sadness rise inside me. None of these blogs had the SLIGHTEST mention of International Women’s day… I mean on a regular basis I can read anything from an amazing purchase from goodwill, to fudge brownies with whipped peanut butter frosting to the candidates that are being considered for the pope-hood!!! Not-a-one mentioned celebrating women and all they have obtained in the last hundred years or even a conversation about what NEEDS to be done…. finally my disappointment was relieved a bit as I read the feminist posts- which of course mentioned the wonderfulness of the day.

It makes me wonder why this is so… why, as an educator, have I never thought about doing women’s programming? Or that there was a day to celebrate women?! Are today’s feminist voices muffled because of the negative associations with the word, feminist? Why is the day not a highly celebrated, intensely publicized day in the US, when this is a day that is celebrated across the entire world?!

Here in Morocco, our wonderful Gender and Development (GAD) committee sends out emails, provides amazing resources and highly encourages every volunteer to participate in International Women’s day. Likewise, the Ministry of Youth and Sports (the ministry that youth development is under) advocates for the day by promoting it to its Dar Chababs and mudirs (youth centers and directors). When I mentioned it to our mudir a couple of weeks ago, he immediately took the reigns and started calling women’s associations all around the city. There were several meetings where it was decided that we would hold a round table and discuss women’s issues in Larache. Some of the associations involved were Space of Women (the association I recently became involved with), the human rights association in Larache and a women’s political association of Larache- it was amazing!!!! The planning was so exciting (even though my understanding in the meetings were pretty low), I could definitely feel the vibe and excitement for this event! About two weeks before though…. my mudir asked me to present about Peace Corps. He wanted me to tell everyone what Peace Corps does in Morocco for women and similarly, what Tyler and I do in Larache. My first impression of what this round table would be like, was an intimate event with the women’s associations literally at a round table, talking about what we can do in Larache for women. The reality of the event, though, was much different. We held the event this past Thursday and at the start of the event, there were about 100 people in attendance. 100 PEOPLE! It hit me that I would be giving my presentation in front of all these people! Fortunately, I had a friend by my side who helped to calm me down throughout the event, I was able to sail through my part with only a few hiccups. It was amazing and empowering to see all of these people willing to listen to a healthy conversation around the rights of women. Little did I know, that one of my students would be taping the event and then posting it on his online newspaper, Larache 24. Yesterday, as I was walking to my women’s class, I was stopped on my street by a man, who told me that he had seen me on Larache 24. I was, obviously, taken aback but mostly glad that the word was getting out about International Women’s Day and its celebration in Larache. It made me more cognizant of the fact that it is not only important, but vital to create awareness- whenever and wherever you can. Not just for International Women’s Day (of course, this is what I would champion) but about anything that is important. Sometimes, it can be difficult to stand up and speak out for beliefs- there are naysayers and even the apathetic people who might stand in the way of celebrating the important things. Despite that, however, it is the creating and planning something from nothing that might catch one person’s attention and the next thing you know….. you are not only speaking to more than 100 people…. but to an indefinite amount of people about how important it is to celebrate women and all that they have done for the world.

Here is the link to Larache 24, the online newspaper that covered the event!!!! Don’t forget to use google translate 🙂

This is one of the videos from the event. At 1:26 when everyone claps, it is after I tell them that one of the resources that Peace Corps provides is a toolkit to help “Stop Sexual Harassment”…. hope you enjoy! 🙂 And don’t forget to celebrate the wonderful women in your life and ALL of their accomplishments!