Sunday, October 19, 2014

Training and Toubkal

Went to a Peace Corps sponsored training on project design and management with Moroccan counterparts and had an awesome few days hashing out details of projects we are really excited about for this year. Was a great opportunity for everyone.

Afterwords, Zach and I took advantage of a small window of available time to do something that has been on the wish list since being here. Hiking Toubkal- the tallest peak in Morocco and North Africa. It was incredible. Just insanely beautiful and gratifying after the work it takes to get up there. 


Monday, September 22, 2014

Camps, camps, camps

We had three consecutive 10-day camps in August. Need I say more? Here are some photos and 2 honorable mentions. First, Grassroots soccer is an awesome organization using evidence based curriculum to teach about Aids using soccer. Second, Zach is now famous for being the fastest fish in the pool and having a mean rendition of "Old Mcdonald had a farm" in Arabic that keeps kids entertained for days.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ramadan 2.0 - July

Because religious holidays in Islam are based on a lunar calendar, the date changes from year to year. This year Ramadan, 30 days of day-time fasting, came at the end of June. It was our second while being in Morocco, different and still good.

If you don't know much about the holiday, check out last year's post for more information and our experience both fasting in solidarity. This year, we decided not to fast. We would be studying for the GRE and wanted full brain power; we had our experience with it last year; it isn't obligatory for us being outside the religious tradition; etc. The first day of Ramadan was our wedding anniversary and we stayed holed up in the house cooking an amazing Mexican meal knowing we were the few, if not only, able-bodied people in our community eating that day. 

The second day, however, we went out to a friends house for Iftar, a meal to break the fast at sundown. We went early to help with cooking and watch the World Cup games. I was the official taste tester in the kitchen of all the dishes my friend was relying on intuition to season. It was fun but markedly different from my Iftar cooking before. When it was all ready, we all sat down around the table waiting for the call to prayer that marks sundown. It came, I grabbed a date, and waited for that whooshing feeling I grew to love last year. It didn't come. It was just a normal meal. I turned to Zach afterwords to tell him, "I miss fasting." He had been thinking the same thing. I don't know if I can describe the feeling, but it felt like we were on the other side of the window looking in on Christmas or something. 

The previous year Zach had really appreciated the spirituality of fasting and the feeling of growth he had felt being deliberate about spiritual and character goals for the month. He decided to fast again fully. I admittedly mostly missed the self control and the community of it, and decided to kind-of fast drinking water and eating when I got h-angry. 

Where last year, still new in our town, we broke fast with someone new almost every day of the month. This year we spent it almost exclusively with one family. It also coincided with the World Cup, which we watched every night. We traveled more this year to camps and events. Walked around our town a lot at night and enjoyed the energy of it. Studied for the GRE during down time in the days. Generally enjoyed being a part of it again, and are looking forward to how we feel next year when Ramadan comes again and we are no longer here. I have an inkling we will have a moment at our own dinner where we will look to each other and say "I miss Morocco." 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer Break - June

School let out. Classes stopped. Tests were taken. Students were tired of studying, and we were tired of teaching. Attendance at clubs and other activities had fizzled with test prep and test recovery. It was time for a Moroccan endless summer part 2.

June started with a Peace Corps training I participated in with someone we hoped we could work with. A few times a year, Peace Corps will offer opportunities for volunteers and people they work with in their communities to get trained in programs to meet organizational goals.  A big part of being a volunteer is identifying and working with leaders in your community that can help you in current projects and carry them on when you leave. We call those in-country volunteers "counterparts." Many posts in other countries assign this person to you, but in Morocco, you are on your own. Finding this person is a sometimes tricky balance of potential, dependability, and compatibility. Thankfully, we have no shortage of awesome youth and young adults we've been able to work with. For this program and training however, I didn't make a smart or fully informed choice on who to work with, which was disappointing and stressful. The venue was beautiful though; the content was awesome, and the staff and participants were great. My partner and I couldn't get on the same page, and it was an extra lesson that I had to learn the hard way. 

Also that week: I have been really digging this artist Stromae. We were able to sneak away from the training and see him perform in Rabat. 

The summer really didn't start, however, until we had visitors come and a perfect couple of weeks being reminded again how cool Morocco is. Zach's sister and bro-in law came in via Spain; they let us show them our favorite places and travelled with us to places we'd been wanting to go. We always love being around them, but traveling together was even better. For Zach and me, being abroad for so long is a dissonant pull between exploration/newness and missing people/things. Having both at the same time when visitors come is our favorite. We took this route, avoiding the heat by staying in the mountains: 

Here are some favorite moments: 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


My experience in Morocco has largely been affected by my gender. Both my happiest moments and biggest challenges have stemmed from navigating the boundaries surrounding it. It has given me the ability to be in places, conversations, and activities that Zach can't experience. It has given me new perspectives on friendship and sisterhood. It has allowed me to meet and learn from fellow strugglers bravely and creatively challenging the status quo here in their country. It is also what makes me take a deep breath before leaving the house, daily preparing for relentless harassment on the street. The threat of violence, verbal and physical, delineates when, where, and with whom I go out. If you ask me what I love about Morocco most, I'll be at a loss to tell you just one. There are too many things I cherish. However, I am often asked variations of the question, "what do you not like about Morocco," and I know this answer. It is hard to be a woman here, and harassment is the daily reminder of that reality. 

First things first; don't paint any broad strokes with this paint brush. I want to be very clear that this should not bolster the stock stereotypes, half-truths and dichotomous discourse that makes the East the great Other of the West, expressly the Arab or Muslim part. Do men here harass because they are Arab? Do they harass because they are Muslim? With the insidious information given, I wouldn't fault you for at least thinking for a moment that the answer could be yes. However, I have been harassed in America, in small towns and big cities, along with many others that are groped, insulted, catcalled, coerced, or assaulted daily. A moment of reflexivity shows us the absurdity of the conclusion; they harassed me because they are Christian (insert religion), or they harassed me because they are white (insert ethnicity).  Here is a broad brush that we can paint with: In every country, every language, and every culture in the world, women and minorities experience unparalleled levels of harassment, which is not normal, or cool, or acceptable, anywhere.

That said, Morocco has got it bad.
"Sexual Harassment is any unwelcomed or unwanted sexual behavior or pressure which embarrasses, humiliates, or intimidates an individual. Sexual harrasment can be physical, verbal, and even non verbal and visual (such as staring or gestures that are suggestive or sexual)."   
I have lived here for 1.5 years now in a semi-urban environment with my husband. I am harassed every. day. that I leave my house alone. This ranges from icky stares, to hisses, to icky pass-by "compliments", to proposals, to yells across the street, to being followed, and on a few occasions being brushed or groped, and I feel lucky compared to many of my colleagues who have faced more serious assaults or don't have a husband or male site-mate to rely on. Some say it is because I am a foreigner, but this happens to nationals as well, and is much less temporary. I've had conversations with 12 year old girls that have already began taking strategic, longer, routes to school to avoid it. I've talked to grandmothers that are still experiencing it. In a participatory analysis activity, women identified sexual violence for them and their children as their number 1 fear. It is pervasive and relentless, and while I can only write this post from my own experience, it isn't just me who thinks so..

Here are some posts from both perspectives: 

Below is a video of Moroccan women sharing their stories.

Sexual harassment is a problem because with it women are perpetually de-humanized. This objectification is the first allowance towards violence. If you see me as an equally valid and capable human being with hopes, fears, needs, and dreams, would you reduce me to a sound for calling animals? Could you assault me if you saw my humanity? It is a problem because this dehumanization has larger social, economic, and political implications. Fear restricts the activities of women and ability to contribute to an educated society, a healthy labor force or impact policy changes. Studies routinely confirm that that many victims experience feelings ranging from irritation and nervousness to anger, powerlessness and humiliation. They have also shown that victims can eventually become ill when subjected to sexual harassment on a regular basis triggering a wide range of ailments, including stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure and depression. I can't imagine us wanting 1/2 of our society in that boat.

If it is such a problem, why does it happen? First, lets talk about the reasons it doesn't happen. Although many have tried to tell me differently, it does not happen because men are men + insert nonsense about biology and animals and can't help themselves. If this were true, there wouldn't exist the of majority of men that seem to be able to control themselves just fine, and even advocate for and support your victims. Meet prefrontal cortex. “It’s a problem, there’s no excuse for it, I’m embarrassed by it.” - Moroccan male. Along similar lines: "women enjoy the compliment. They dress up for us." If women "enjoyed" the compliment, we probably wouldn't call it harassment. If someone is dressing up because they want to get someones attention, they still get the choice of who and when. Lastly, "I just said one thing, so it is no big deal." This one is answered best by Hollaback! "If you want to tell someone they look nice, then consider the following: if people did this to you everyday, people who you didn’t know, people who sometimes whistled, clapped, BARKED, licked their lips, and interrupted you going about your business, then even if someone did it nicely, keeping in mind the advice above… it might not make you feel so great. That one truly-friendly or well-meant thing might seem like just another threatening, weird, creepy behaviour on the part of a stranger." Single actions by many add up. If everyone threw a piece of litter on the ground, we'd have a landfill. You're right that you can't be responsible for the actions of the guy a block down, but you can be responsible for your own. To the harasser, it is one comment. To the harassed, it is a thousand in one.

What I think the actual reason is: Sexual harassment is a reflection of male privilege. It is a manifestation of the structures and patterns of patriarchy. Sexual harassment is reflective of a broader rape culture that tells men consent is not necessary and that violence is the victims fault. It says men are inherently violent and women aren't fully human. It is then condoned and self-sustained through societal norms like the system of inequality it stems from. Sexual harassment isn't about sex at all. 
"Like we said before, street harassment isn’t about sex. It’s about power.  If street harassment was about getting dates it would be what author Marty Langlan calls a “spectacularly unsuccessful strategy.”  Instead, street harassment is about “putting people in their place.”  Sometimes it’s sexual, sometimes it’s racial, sometimes it’s homophobic, and sometimes it’s all of the above." 
From my gender guru Tiffany, "Harassment–in the workplace, on the street–is a way of telling women “you don’t belong here.” My impression is that the world is full of people (male and female) who want to keep women in their place and that place is in the house. The public space should belong to men...Thanks to [America's] (hard won) cultural shifts it is now far less acceptable to make women feel unwelcome in public spaces...Morocco has not made those same shifts and women suffer for it." 

This has become one of my go-to comebacks, learned from a Moroccan lady I heard speak out to her harasser as I walked past them on the street. "Is this street yours or is it ours?" she balked. To me, this question is profound, speaking simply to the heart of the issue. Is this community yours or ours? Is this country yours or ours? She doesn't know I heard her, that I use her line, or that she gave me the confidence to have my own protests, but I always hope another woman now hears me, that I can be a part of this, that this part of Morocco (and America) will change towards a more safe and equitable future, and that speaking out will get us there.     

Thursday, May 29, 2014

At the souq - Bisara

One of my favorite things about living in Morocco, and our region specifically, is the produce. I go grocery shopping across the street at a daily farmers market filled with fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. With all of this quality and convenience, our diet has changed its focus to creating meals centered around this seasonal produce. This little series, "at the souq," highlights some of our favorite finds and grinds.

This is a recipe using ingredients that are always at the souq and always where ever you are with grocery stores. The tasty to easy ratio here is incredible, and a recent trip up north reminded me how much I love this stuff. You should make this one. You can thank me Morocco later.

Moroccan Bissara

Dried Fava Beans
2-3 garlic cloves
Salt, cumin, and red pepper
1/2 cup (or more) tasty olive oil
Boil fava beans with garlic in preferred amount of water until beans are soft and breaking down. Put in spices and olive oil. Blend with an immersion blender or whatever you have until it is all smooth. Add more olive oil at the end (be generous, this is an excuse to eat good olive oil with a spoon). Depending on the water, you can make this thick like hummus or a very thin soup. Eaten with bread and olives.  
Here is a youtube video!


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