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.

A post about nothing…

Some days, I wake up absolutely bursting with creativity. These are the days that I write a to-do list, get excited about the day and look forward to everything that can be accomplished. Usually around 2pm, I feel a creativity-crash. Over the last 22 months, this crash has had to do with a lot of things, the realization that some things I just can’t do here in Morocco, that in order to do some things- it requires going outside, and mostly that although I should treasure the days I can read for endless hours… at this point, I have had enough of those kind of days.
At the beginning, I was so excited to keep this blog. I wanted it to be rich with stories about people, culture, and descriptions of places! I wanted it to be an intimate way to record our memories  for family and friends, but mostly for myself. However, as time went on, I didn’t find myself wanting to share the things that happened, mostly I found myself counting the days/months/minutes until we would safely be back on US soil. As we prepare, somewhat, for our return- interviews, job applications, etc… I find myself in a very obscure place. Yes, there will definitely be things that I miss about Morocco. Yes, I am very excited about the idea of going home. But the in between things… those are the things that I am frustrated with- the thought that I may have become a more negative person, really bothers me. The knowing that I have changed, but not being able to identify how… and if it is good or bad. The ambiguity of where my work ethic is and if it will ever be the same? My laziness has taken on a new shape and it cuddles with me 95% of the time. I am not comfortable with how acquainted I have become with my laziness, I would like some space but so far it has not moved an inch. It makes me impatient, frustrated and discouraged, to have such an experience with inactivity. During the phone interviews that I have had this week, I can see a glimpse of the aspects that I love about myself…. direct communication, enthusiasm, prompt response to structure, organization and  positivity. Most of those characteristics, I am sad to say, are aspects I don’t see of myself every day here.

One of the biggest realizations that I have had most recently is the concept that I am not sure how to bring back those characteristics I appreciate in this environment. It is such a short time until we return, but now that I have become conscious of everything, will the day-to-day be tolerable?

I recently have read some posts written by members of the group that arrived in mid-January. Most of them are so excited and practically bursting off of the screen. This is wonderful to see and it does remind me that being able to experience something like Peace Corps is a privilege. The recipes I have made, the knitting I have learned, the books I have read, the shows and movies I have watched, the language I have absorbed, the places I have seen, the people whom I have met, the time that Tyler and I have had together– all of that is irreplaceable and unique and special. I will treasure all of those memories forever and they will keep me in a place far from regret, but does all of that mean as much if a person feels lost during all of it?

Moroccan Livin and Wearin {4}

Friendships were the absolute last thing on my mind when preparing for Peace Corps. I was so worried about what sweater to bring, what change would come and making sure I ate all of my favorite foods to even consider other Peace Corps volunteers.

Let me tell you, it is no small or easy task to be shoved in a new city and THEN* a new country with 100 other Americans. One hundred other strangers. Keeping people’s names, stories, and faces straight is sometimes just as overwhelming as the new country and language itself. This for someone who has considered themselves somewhat of an extrovert. I adore meeting new people and learning about them, building some kind of new connection or bond… usually these kind of interactions are exhilarating. However, in the first ten days in the capital city Rabat did not* give me that feeling. It was a feeling similar to the first day of middle school, hoping that you have the right* clothes, you make the right* friends and most importantly you say the right* things.  I wanted to hide in my hotel room and savor as many hot showers as I could (Lord only knows what the showering situation was available in my training site). That feeling of feeling overwhelmed and nervous when together as a large group of 110, then 100, then 90… now I think we hover somewhere in the 80s, did not fade until we met at our In-Service Training (which takes place at 6 months of service). Only then did I feel comfortable because I had formed beautiful and amazing new friendships. Which, quite unexpectedly, has been a very big highlight* of my service. Other PCVs are a new family, who will provide some* headaches but ultimately are a system of endless support.

This fellow volunteer was in my training group. We went through the thick and thin of it all at the beginning…. the crying, frustration, anger, confusion,language breakthroughs and moments of happiness. We, and others in our CBT (Community Based Training), came out with with an irreplaceable bond. DSC05363My CBT group with our fabulous language teacher. Seems like FOREVER ago!

Of course, we were placed pretty far apart when we received our final sites. She is in a tiny* one-street town right outside of Agadir while we are a few hours north of Rabat. Her site gets blistering hot during the summer. However, she is unable to change her wardrobe to accommodate this heat because of the conservative nature of her town.

 IMG_3160

Scarf: gift
Purse: purchase in Marrakesh
Boots: gift
Button-up tunic: Target
Leggings: Target

IMG_3159 IMG_3158It is important to keep in mind that she is not able to wear this in her site with just leggings, as it would be inappropriate. She saves it for the fabulous times we are able to spend time together and create even more wonderful memories together.

I am so thankful to have her in my life even though we live far apart. She has taught me that I should have been looking forward to the deep, wonderful connections that I would form with some volunteers.

Living and Wearing in Morocco {3}

Ogosh! I haven’t written in sooo long! I will write a better update soon but I wanted to get these fabulous outfit posts up for the new group coming!!! Can you all believe you leave incredibly soon?! Then, before you know it, you will be like my staj who are getting ready to leave in the next 4-5 months! NUTS!

You all are probably done shopping for things but I am going to do a post everyday this week so you have a better idea of everything!!!

Today our fabulous volunteer has an incredible style that is part grunge, part cute and part chic. She is the site mate of my first featured volunteer. She lives a little bit south of Casablanca and has a pretty large site! She wears her boots all of the time… she said they were a bit on the expensive side but they have lasted through EVERYTHING Morocco has thrown at her and they are still in FANTASTIC shape!!!!

IMG_3151

Boots: Doc Martens- $100
Dress: Target- $30
Cardigan: H&M- $10
Scarf: J.Jill -gift

This dress is one of the fun* items that my friend suggests you bring. This volunteer said that she wears the dress in site over jeans and then in Rabat with leggings! Her advice to  everyone is the same, don’t forget your cute outfits AND* bring a good pair of boot. Take care of those feet!

IMG_3153

Spend as much time you can with your loved ones!!! Remember that you are about to go on an adventure of a lifetime…. and you can look fabulous while doing it!

Also don’t forget to check out another volunteer’s post on clothes if you haven’t yet!

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.

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.