Monday, October 15, 2007

Catchin up

Wow, I’ve only been in Morocco for just over a month- it feels so much longer. Despite what you may have feared, I am alive and well! Sorry for taking so long catching you all up, but it has been a whirlwind here. I was having a hard time figuring out what to call this post, as it will be so horrendously long, so I will divvy it up into short-ish chapters. If one sounds interesting, read it, ya don’t have to suffer through the whole thing. Aw, and before I forget, I do have a cell phone now, so if you want to call me e-mail me, or for a more prompt response, my mom for the number. When I get to my final site hopefully I’ll have more time online. It’s not working right now, but hopefully I’ll have a bunch of pictures up soon, (the link is also on the right)

Bri became a Berber (who knew?)

Some things Peace Corps loves: acronyms, handouts, PowerPoint lectures, and shots. I’ve had 11 shots so far, sat through countless lectures on everything from diarrhea to Moroccan economy, and have more books on health and PC policies than I can count. Without delving into an entire explanation of PCT (Peace Corps Training), I will briefly explain what’s going on so you’ll know where I am and why. PCT is three months long, designed to prepare us for two years of successful service. So us 38 SBD (Small Business Development) PCTs were split up into groups of five or six and are sent to CBT (Community Based Training) sites within two hours of Ouarzazate for short stints with an LCF (a Moroccan Language and Culture Facilitator) for language, culture and technical training. Meaning, half the day is spent learning the language, half working with the artisan association in the village and seeing how we can work with them, then the evening and night we spend with separate host families- which is the real training. So on September 21 I was told I would be learning Tamazight and living in a small Berber village named Hdida, and that was it.


Two hours away from Ouarzazate, which was already beginning to feel like home, I was in another world. I never thought to take the term “oasis” so literally, but wow, absolute nothingness to lush, green wonderland in the blink of an eye. Hdida is a beautiful little village of about two hundred, nestled between the mountains and along a beautiful asif (river). Don’t try and find it on the map, it’s too small to be on there, but is very close to Kelaa Mgouna. I should also mention that “Berber” is often a derogatory term, the real term is Amazigh (singular) or Imazighen (plural), so I’ll try and use that from now on. So we went from 38 Americans, to five, to one; after only a couple hours in Hdida and a very short Tamazight lesson, our new families arrived to pick us up- eek! I was shaking. They immediately gave us all Amazigh names, sorry mom, my new name is Neddia. I don’t know what it means, and I love my real name, but it’s kind of neat to answer to something else. My family is wonderful; though we are somehow related to everyone in the town, there are four who I live with consistently. Mma Aicha, my host mom, is what I see as a quintessential Amazigh woman-quick, loud and strong. She has the traditional tattoos on her chin and can carry more feed on her back than the two years worth of luggage I packed with me. She has one daughter still living with her, who is the same age as me, she’s very sweet, if not overwhelmingly loving that I am here. Then two of mma Aicha’s grandkids, from her daughter (who just gave birth to another boy last week!) down the street live with us too, they are two of the cutest boys I have ever known. One has rhythm like you wouldn’t believe and I keep picturing someone coming into town and “discovering” him, making him famous and then he’ll tell his story on VH1 about growing up in this unknown little village in Africa. Aw, we’ll see.

Don’t let the bed bugs bite

One of my fellow PCTs pointed out that he never thought that saying could be meant literally, but it’s true! It’s a wild world here! I don’t have a bed, but do have an infinite number of big wool blankets, and nightly critters. I managed to seal off my window, so at least my room is now fly-free, unlike everywhere else. But I do have mealworm looking things and big ants, which if I don’t manage to squash before they reach the bamboo ceiling, they get tired and fall onto my bed during the night. There are also feral moths, giant beetles and scorpions (though I’ve only seen one, and it was dead). So don’t be scared, though I’m covered in little mosquito bites, overall it’s not so bad. Because of the asif, there’s also a great abundance in Hdida of frogs, toads and geckos, which I love cuz they eat the other little pests.

Tsh tsh! (Eat! Eat!)

Food is of course on everyones mind, for I know none of you had faith that little Mac n Cheese Bri would ever survive here, wrong! I’m actually doing fine so far. Food is one of the top ways in which you will find cultural integration, as it is a huge part of the culture here. Refusing food is like a slap in the face. As one of my friends experienced, he had food in his mouth, food in his hand ready to put in his mouth and his family was still yelling at him eat, eat! What do you want from me?! Haha. I haven’t been forced to eat too crazy of foods yet though, for Ramadan only just ended (more on that later). Sugar is what’s an issue, I love atay (tea), but it’s more like sugar with a little mint and water in it, same with la qwa (coffee). The sugar actually comes in cone shaped blocks, which they hit with a hammer and put as many chunks as will fit into the bitty teapot. I think I will just tough it out during training, and return to my comfort level of foods when I have my own place. However, I must say, Moroccan produce, veggies and nuts kick the ass of any I’ve ever had. It is incredible here. I didn’t know fruit could taste any better, but it’s ten times better here. I’ve tried so many new fruits, and squash, even figs (though I don’t like them). And I’m so sorry Ashley, but it is absolute pomegranate heaven here! Oh and the nuts! Me oh my, fresh off the tree, almonds and walnuts are to die for. Lmakla tatfut! (the food is delicious!)

Ass backwards

What comes in must come out! Part of the PC experience is sharing information with each other that you would never have shared within your normal realm. Bodily functions and issues rank top of the list, next to where to get good cyber or a cold coke. I have been fortunate enough, though I say this quietly, to not have had any big illness or issues as of yet, but the lbit lma (toilet) is an eerie experience on a good day. We are blessed to have sit-down toilets in our hotel in Ouarzazate, but nearly everywhere else you find the turk, or the squatter, whatever you want to call it. The Turkish toilet is basically a hole with two steps on either side, very simple design, for a simple purpose. Not so simple of course for the leisurely westerner used to the grand sit down toilet. If you want to stay limber in your old age, get a turk! So in all honesty, it has been a challenge, but the other day my CBT mates and I had the most exciting bathroom experiences ever, as one girl found out that we were simply all doing it backwards! (the things PCVs get excited over are relative) haha, so the turk is getting better. And to go even further into what I’m sure none of you want to know, I must share with the ladies how exceptionally wonderful the Divacup is, and the only way I think I could handle that lovely monthly friend here. If you don’t have one, get it, use it, love it. Ah, and other hygiene issues. Well I pretty much don’t shower in Hdida; the bucket shower in the lbit lma is something I’m still not understanding, I’ll update more on that another time.

Language and Laughter

I am trying to keep posts on the brighter side, for life here over all is positive, but I don’t deny it’s already the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s incredible the swings I’ve been in, like puberty all over again! Learning Tam has been the most challenging aspect so far, it’s just not sinking in! Generally, if I can remember or understand a phrase or two a day I feel some level of success. It’s hard because Tam isn’t a test I have to study for and then I can forget it, learning Tam is a huge portion of my job here. I feel bad when I get home from class, exhausted and don’t even want to try to practice with my family. Everyone wants to talk to you all the time, and it’s a universal mistake everyone makes; if I don’t get it, raise your voice while saying it over and over, and then maybe I will, ugh. Ultimately it takes the age old patience, practice and time. However, I LOVE script. I’m slow, and it’s difficult, but I actually get it and enjoy it, so days that end in script lessons are the best days! But laughter has been my true savior. Laughter is a universal language, past the awkward, I don’t understand you, but you’re laughing so I’ll laugh, that is. I don’t consider myself a particularly funny person, but I made a great joke the other day with my host sister and we laughed for a good half hour- it was exceptional bonding. I also introduced my family to Pop Rocks, which was a huge hit and prompted another half hour of laughter.

Ah, and then its back to Ouarzazate, and another kind of laughter, like being home, the laughs and smiles I have with my fellow PCTs. I knew it would happen, but am still surprising myself to find such great people here, and loving America and Americans again. It was very intimidating at first to hear about all the great things people have already done, but here, were all just regular people trying to find a place and do the work. I haven’t laughed like this since Ashley and it feels good and refreshing. I really do hope the Peace Corps will be one of the great experiences of my life. Looking back on college and still feeling like had I known what it was going to be I may not have done it is not a good feeling. Whether the Peace Corps presents me with the opportunity or I have to seek it pout myself, I hope that I am mature and intelligent enough to take it on fully and look back with pride. No matter what, this experience will inform what happens next. I honestly have no idea what I want to do next/for life. What still freaks me out is being where I’ve always planned to be, I don’t have a plan for after. My job is to be here now. I actually think I’m doing a better job of it than I had expected. There’s no longer time for living up to things, just living now. I was afraid I’d get here and be ultimate serious, no smile face like I used to be, but I’m actually enjoying myself- which as we all know makes the work so much better!

I’m not missing too terribly yet, but of course my family is always on my mind, and not being able to share my daily life/ ins and outs with Ashley is still hard, I miss her so much! I’ve also got a mad craving for mac n cheese- the best comfort food, peanut butter, Swedish pancakes, etc. But all in all, life is good, and I’m happy to be here. I have to say again, I love and miss you all very much, wish I could hear your voices, see your lovely faces and give you big hugs!

P.S. ugh, I wrote this a few days ago and need to catch you all up on l-Eid, not being allowed to dance and my first trip to the hammam, but I’m too tired, and need to go get dinner, now that I’ve finally figured out how to get my comp to work (p.s. Vista sucks!) I will hopefully be online more regularly. I still can’t get my Skype to work, but will be in cell range for the next 3 days if ya wanna call me!