I am ready for anything…..

There’s no looking back! Tomorrow, my fellow volunteers arrive to start this GLOW camp (Girls Leading Our World), which I will write more about later. I haven’t been very vocal about the planning of this project… mostly because it has taken quite a bit of time and well, failure sometimes seems imminent so I didn’t want to jinx myself. I have been trying to reflect during the process and will definitely do a lot afterwards.

One of the most apparent realizations, to date, is how important and vital the support of other volunteers has been. I have said before that other Peace Corps volunteers serve as sort of a new makeshift family during a Peace Corps service. This family of volunteers that has helped to plan and support the project in so many ways and overall made the process a much more worthwhile experience. There are still quite a few kinks to work out… not at all unsurprising even though there are T-3 days until the launch of the camp… but I am somewhat calm. I am really excited to give the girls a new opportunity and spend some time with some of my volunteer family members.

In order to prepare for the camp, I visited souk today and found one of the best finds ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

photo (3)

10 dirhams= $1.20

photo (2)

15 dirhams = $1.90 with my belt that I bargained for at a thrift shop in Dublin!

And last but not least… ladies and gentlemen- you all are never going to believe this!

So the story goes… walking around my main hangouts at souk, saying hello to my homies and getting a feel for what’s going down. Generally, Saturdays and Wednesdays have been my best purchase days but I don’t like to get my hopes up, it is really about getting the feel and trusting your instincts. My strategy is alllllll about the instinctual vibe, if I am looking through a pile and I don’t find anything good within the first couple of minutes… I peace out. Now, yes… this may mean that I might be missin’ out but so far my strategy has led me to some pretty good finds. Anywhoodles, I am at a table of a man who I have been frequenting lately. I am a big fan of the sellers who come back day-to-day and set up in the same locations. I notice he has a lot of pajamas and I am going through them- who knew you could find Winnie-the-Poo satin pajamas? I couldn’t find the bottoms though, so that was a no-go. Then, a kind lady (I like to refer to her as my guardian angel) turns to me and says (obviously paraphrasing), “This is good for you”. I kind of shrug her off and pull up the beautiful garment and this, my friends, is what my eyes beheld…


Obviously, the excited me was not in the snug and warm cuddly-ness of the ONESIE yet! Yes! YES! I found an adult ONESIE for 5 dirhams! THAT IS A LITTLE OVER FIFTY CENTS! AND, and I know you are thinking there couldn’t possibly be any more benefits to this, WITH A POCKET! With this find, I just can’t go back for awhile… this is like hitting a jackpot on a coin machine in Vegas! All I have been able to hear when I think about my new pjs with a cartoon mouse for entertainment on them- is the ching, ching, ching of the coins!!!

I am ready for this GLOW camp, whatever it has to offer, with my onesie by my side.. I am ready for anything!


Ramadan information… part ONE!

Ramadan is the holiest month in the lunar calendar, which can also be referred to as the Islamic calendar. While those that follow the Gregorian calendar know it to be 2013, those who follow the religion of Islam know it to be 2013 AND 1434 A.H. The Lunar calendar follows the moon’s cycles which creates 354 days in the year, approximately. This means that the lunar calendar is about 11-12 days shorter than that of the Gregorian calendar. It takes about 33 years to realign with the solar calendar (or Gregorian calendar). Which means that for those living in the Northern Hemisphere, it has been about 33 years since the amount of daylight hours have equaled 14 or higher. It is quite the feat, fasting from approximately 33o am until about 730 pm, especially in the heat of 100 degrees or higher. But when inquiring about whether people prefer summer or winter fasting, I usually hear summer. The answers vary to the preference for free time (with no school and sometimes less work) to the extreme heat actually making easier to fast (during the summer the body naturally eats less). Regardless of the season though, I most often hear that Ramadan is a favorite holiday.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five Pillars of Islam. During this time, it is believed that the gates of Heaven are open for the entire month and the gates of Hell are closed. With this belief and many others, it makes Ramadan a time for celebration, family and remembrance. Fasting is purposely one of the most difficult things to do, it is intended to remind people to be closer to God, to express their gratitude and remind them of those who are living in poverty. It is is also more than abstaining from food and water, it is abstaining from all sins. Violence, anger, greed, lust (yes this does mean no* sex during daylight hours), profane language, gossip, addictions (specifically, smoking and/or drinking)… the list can go on and on. It has been told to me that during this time, harassment towards women is ***doubly shameful.

It is customary in Morocco to wear traditional clothes in Ramadan, be more intentional about praying in Mosques and spending time with family. It is also normal for the work hours to change. Normal work hours are from 830-12 with a break for lunch and people return to work from 2 until 6. During Ramadan, however, many many places do not open until 11 or 12, close at 7 and do not open again until 10 or 11 pm, this is even if a place is open at all during Ramadan.

Morocco is one of the only countries to still go by the actual moon- some started on July 9th- but by the moon we go, so July 10th was the start of Ramadan. Other countries are more diverse in Muslim and non-Muslim citizens as well as fasting and non-fasting Muslims. But as it appears, Morocco is more homogenous and even has been known to sentence jail time for those that break the fast more than three times in public.

As a volunteer, this can be a time to really integrate into one’s community. Breaking the fast (also called lftur) with members of the community and even sharing in the pains of fasting- white tongue and all (who knew that not drinking or eating would give someone a white tongue!). Because we live in a larger town (and maybe also because we are married), we  are not often invited to lftur at people’s homes. Last Ramadan, this was heartbreaking to me, because I knew of many many other volunteers, even married couples, to be invited to someone’s house almost every night. However,  it is important to remember to not compare sites with anyone else as well as anyone else’s experience. When we are invited, it is a special treat and we enthusiastically accept the invitation. Last Ramadan, I also felt listless and anxious because we were not doing very much. This Ramadan, I wouldn’t say that I am any more active, but I feel good about the time-using it to catch up on my reading, watch tv shows and movies, and thinking about other projects/ our last TEN MONTHS in country! It has also helped that my schedule has had more to do with teaching yoga (more on this later) than anything else, which is pretty freakin’ wonderful!!!!

So there you are! I hope I was able to share some of the ins and outs of Ramadan!! As I learn more… so will you!!!

Ramadan Karim!

*** not sure if doubly is a word… but sometimes there is just not another word that can be as accurate as made up words!

You’ve got a friend in me

“[Friends], you can see them out on the horizon like a great wave,
its whitecaps approaching. But on the other hand is a levee
that protects us, that of the women we can call anytime,
day or night, to say “I’m drowning here.”

-Anna Quinlen
(Author of “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake”)

The time after college is a very conflicting time. It consists of being on your own, like college, but without the social structure in place. Without friends down the hall, without friends in the next room, without friends just ten minutes across campus. When we moved to D.C., I felt this change immensely. Making new friends was difficult- I tried going out on putting myself out there and trying new things…..”friend” dates and book clubs- after speed reading an entire novel I forgot to read, I found out its not really that NECESSARY for some groups.I was so lucky to have a job that allowed me to meet such amazing people. The complicated part of this new unfounded territory is, the search for new friends isn’t the only item on the list, a huge part of the new life is maintaining old friendships. Some people are lucky enough to have both high school and college friendships to manage and sadly, some don’t make it. Though with social media, it makes it easier to “keep up” with others lives. Press “Like” if an old friend is engaged, married, having babies, getting new jobs, having a great date, getting flowers, etc. etc. One can argue this is a shallow maintenance and in the end doesn’t count for much. Just because someone can “see friendship” doesn’t mean it is really there.

When Tyler and I left for Peace Corps, my biggest concern (and still to this day) were our relationships. I tend to hang on to people and do my best to keep in touch (not just on facebook). But two years is a really long time, especially post college. Little did I know though, I would soon meet many people from all over the country,  from different walks of live and with experiences to share that I couldn’t even imagine. I am now lucky enough to call some of these people friends. Some live close and I see them often, some a little further who I see them every couple of months and some even further than that where it has been six months between visits. But* disregarding the amount of time, we are able to bond in new ways. This experience requires support and a new type of family and friendship. Unfortunately, there are just some aspects of life here that are difficult for people at home- or even those serving in other countries- to understand. Likewise for family and friends back home, everyone is having experiences and living life, and it is more difficult to understand when someone is not there.

With all of craziness, Tyler and I have found friends that reflect the best parts of us, allow us to grow and we can count on their companionship. I have heard people ask, what will we talk about when we don’t have Peace Corps? It may be a similar experience to the “after college” syndrome, but even with that dangling above our heads, the bond that we have created will be a hard one to fracture. Peace Corps service requires vulnerability, emotions, hard times, frustrations which make the good times (usually in Rabat) even more sweet and creates an even more cement-able bond. This bond is a special one also because it some times requires spending large amounts of time with complete strangers whether it be at camps, on trains or buses, or even welcoming them to share my home. These experiences (unless couchsurfing is your thing) are unlikely to be replicated.

This has been a time that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, but the best part about our experience has been the Peace Corps volunteer friends. I have learned so much from them and know that they will continue to enrich my service in a way that I never expected. Much like the way Buzz and Woody forge an unlikely friendship through their adventure with aliens, piggy banks and Mr. Potato head- my new friendships are based unbridled excitement, difficult times and inconceivable moments that even those who experience them- find it hard to believe.

Cheers to Peace Corps friends!!!!

*close with Vitamin C’s song…. Graduation*


25 Tips for Peace Corps Volunteers… a reminder

This list was something Tyler found on socialedge.org and serves as a good reminder for Peace Corps Volunteers.

Here is the list that he found, but I encourage you to check out social edge.org

25 Tips for Peace Corps Volunteers  by Kathy Gau and Lyle Jaffe 


1)    If you want to change the world, change yourself.   You cannot effectively contribute toward growth unless you are growing yourself. If you want to grow, drop your ego.  Learn to identify when your ego is in play and develop strategies to quell it.  Empowerment is the capacity to bear power responsibly.  You cannot empower another person.  But you can empower yourself. 

2)    Use this experience to learn about yourself.  This is the most important lesson.  Try to remember it.

3)    Development is disruptive.  
          a)    It implies changes in power relationships that result in uncertainty and loss.  Few people willingly give up power unless they can see there will be gain.  
          b)    Most poor people cannot afford to change radically.  It takes a huge amount of energy (physical and emotional) for average rural folk to maintain daily life, let alone try to break out of the poverty cycle.

4)    Do not expect a smooth ride.  Do not expect people to fall over their feet to listen to you.  Do not expect people to go out of their way to listen to you.  Do not expect.  People had a life before you came.  They will continue to have a life after you leave.  You are probably not a messiah.  If you are, forgive me.  If not, your two years is a furrow in their field in a single agricultural year.  Most of their years your furrow is not there.

5)    Appreciate the fact that you are one of many who will advocate change and then leave.  Why should people trust you before you have demonstrated results?
6)    You will not see tangible, measurable results in 2 years anywhere close to what you hope or expect.  The saying that “what takes a day in USA takes a week in Africa, what takes a week in USA takes a month in Africa, what takes a month in USA takes 1 year in Africa” is close to true for reasons that you have no control over. So after your first month on the job, when you are still in USA mode, write down what you would like to achieve in 2 months time.  This now becomes your 2 year work goal.  NOTE:  You can achieve more than this if you move into “take charge mode” but not through a capacity building approach. Also, in 2 years, you will probably not move out of USA mode. 

7)    Don’t want it more then they want it (or, don’t show them how bad you want it to work).  Find other ways to deal with your personal and professional frustrations regarding the work ethic, the what could/should/can be in the face of serious  problems.   You are but one step in a very long journey to address these problems.  Concentrate on doing your step well and having fun.

8)    There is no “us and them”.  Human beings are the same everywhere.  Could you do it if it were you in their shoes?  Don’t think for a moment that because you live in a hut and don’t make much money that you are in their shoes.  In your life in the USA, how much of your achievements to date really reflect on you? Or did you just make good use of the opportunities provided you? For certain you did not need to build the systems, government and schools associated with creating these opportunities.  Perhaps your great grandparents did, but not you.

9)    It doesn’t matter how right you think you are, if you haven’t developed a working relationship with someone, if you don’t approach your suggestion with the most sincere humility, you will not convey your message effectively.  Think:  do you want to be right or effective?

10)    Learn how to yield effectively to win.  Their life is not about your principles.  Neither is mine or anybody else’s.  Try to understand why people do what they do and then don’t judge.  Work the problem with them, and your emotions with you.

11)    What you experience is a sliver of time and space.  Be careful not to generalize beyond this.

12)    Pay attention to the way you feel when you spend time judging.  If it feels bad, if you feel worse, then don’t do it.  It isn’t pretty to watch people sit around doing the “these people syndrome”.  If you find yourself doing it, it’s a sure sign that you have something to work out within yourself.  Find it and work it out.

13)    Do not think for a minute that your attitude towards people is unfelt.  Everyone feels when they are being put down.  Make people feel that they have grown in your presence.

14)    Do not be the money volunteer.  Personal interactions should be linked to building genuine relationships, encouraging positive self esteem and confidence.  

15)    Build open, sincere dialogue.  Be sincere.

16)    The basic logic associated with problem solving and analysis is weak.  You may need to catch people up on foundation skills, including sorting, sequencing, matching, opposites, etc.  In your personal time, this can be done in a fun way through puzzles, chess, card games, etc.   Just don’t show people that this is a learning exercise or it will come across as patronizing.  The added benefit is that they may start to play these same games with their children.  You have no idea how much difference this can make.

17)    Over a 2 year period, your task is really teaching.  Teaching is all about 1)  finding people’s starting point and thereafter, 2) experimenting with teaching methods that will walk people through the steps of awareness and skills development through applied knowledge.  It might take 3 steps or it might take 21 steps.  There is nothing right or wrong about the number of steps so do not judge as this is the same as saying “I have no hope that you can learn”. 

18)    Introduce people to the process of problem solving and constantly 
refer back to the process.  Define the problem and its root causes (problem-objective trees), turn the problem into SMART objectives, develop activities to reach the objectives, break the activities into tasks, monitor, and adjust.  Action – Reflection – Action.

19)    Understand that your frustration is about you.  It is about a diminishing sense of self-importance.  Where else do your expectations regarding tangible achievements within your own timeframe come from?  As a teacher you may not be using appropriate teaching methods.  No one gets it right the first time or the second time.  Good teachers are forever experimenting with new methods and trying to match proven methods with new students and situations.  Everyone is more than capable of being a good teacher,  provided they are prepared to adjust to the student. You need to constantly go back to the drawing board and revisit your starting point and your methods until learning takes place (at times learning needs additional intervention i.e.) to address  emotional issues etc… but you will only know this if you first go through the process of elimination phase).

20)    Do not give up and do not give in.  Unfortunately, the process of development can not be shortened.   Respect that those you work with drew the short straw, appreciate that you did not.  After you die, you can ask God about all this.  For now,  your anguish, guilt and questions about this will just distract from the task at hand and are really rather self indulging, if you think about it.

21)    Keep a lot of irons in the fire.

22)    Be a positive role model in your personal life, someone that young folk can aspire to become like.  Healthy living and all that, including “walking your talk” regarding your sexual relationships.

23)    Peace Corps is first and foremost a cultural exchange program.  You will learn more than you will give.  Be prepared to change your understandings.  You can only balance the formula if you change both sides of the equation. This may not seem like much but refer back to step 1.  It may impact a co-worker a lot.

24)    It takes five years to be a player at management level.   

25)    If you follow any of the above, you will be out of step with most of the development world and time frames.  But at least you will grow and have fun.