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Navigating our Site

Hello! Welcome to our blog. This is where Stephen “Joe”, and Meredith “Jane” will document their experiences overseas while serving in Peace Corps. Please enjoy their stories and adventure. Under the respective tabs you can read their writings about their experiences. This blog is meant to help share the good, the bad, and the amazing that they will encounter while living in a different country and culture. Also, they aren’t trying to stay secretive with aliases U.F.O Joe and Jane are cartoon characters that have come to be a metaphor for Stephen and Meredith’s relationship. They are the brain children of Stephen’s youth.

Some housekeeping: all the posts are mainstreamed here on the main page, if you want to see just Meredith’s posts or just Stephen’s head to Joe or Jane. Also an instagram will be up and running at some point. We will post about it here so you can see if.

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Where Have I been?

Well, I think a lot of you might be asking that question. Kind of.

I want to apologize for not posting in such a long time. Then again, I don’t. It has been a little over six months in site, and I haven’t posted one thing! It also has been a very busy, confusing, stressful, happy, cold, sad hot six months. I haven’t made enough time to write, even though I have the time, but I don’t know if I’ve been in the best place mentally to write.

If you are friends with me on Facebook you know kind of what’s going on in my life. Stephen and I still post a lot there. Here’s a somewhat chronological breakdown of the great things that have happened in the past six months of so of our lives!

  • Saw a baby calf born at our host family’s house, and drank boiled colostrum milk. In subsequent months we have heard about the multiple others that have been born, too. It’s a great talking point when we visit with our host family.
  • Moved into our own apartment and have installed Wifi (a big game changer since not all volunteers are able to have that)
  • Opened a P.O. Box (allllll the care packages are welcome, send American candy)
  • Met our local high school principal, who worked with PC in the 80’s when he was a newly minted English teacher.
  • Visit our host family almost every Friday to eat couscous and catch up. It one of my favorite times.
  • Figured out how to buy things at suq/weekly market (this is actually a continuous process, but we’re getting there)
  • I’ve also figured out how to use the public bathhouse. A literal lifesaver when it is so cold.
  • I’ve started Yoga/ English class at the Nedi Neswi.
  • Traveled to Marrakech for training and got to visit with all the other volunteers.
  • Celebrated Valentine’s Day, my Birthday, Stephen’s Birthday, and our younger host brother’s Birthday. Birthdays really are the best.
  • My twin sister and younger sister came to visit. It was a great trip and an awesome cultural exchange. They got to see a lot of the places and people we’ve experienced in country.
  • We ran a day camp during spring break for the students preparing for the University entrance exam. In hospitable Moroccan fashion we attended couscous in a nearby duwar (small village that uses our town for a lot of resources such as suq, and school) with some of the students from the day camp.
  • Adopted three kittens that were born at the house of our host grandmother
  • We experienced our town’s yearly festival which includes lots of vendors, horse fantasia with loud hand cannons (I’m less inclined to call them guns because they were as loud as cannons are), and music at night that goes till early morning.
  • Talked with a couple who are joining the new staj of volunteers arriving in September. Shout out to Nils and Kat.
  • Gave a volunteer who is near by one of the kittens.
  • I attended a training about building a library and I am working with a teacher at the high school, and the principal to help realize that dream.
  • We have started the month of Ramadan and we have experienced some lfturs, which literally means breakfast, with some of the community.

Sprinkled through these months we have slowly met more and more of our community. Moving into our apartment was a game changer. We moved to a  different part of town and it was like being in our site for the first time in a lot of ways. We’ve spent a lot of time informing people what Peace Corps is and why we are here. We’ve found some awesome English speakers along the way, which is so exciting because we can have higher level of conversation. We’ve made friendships with the local corner store owners and street children. Friendships with the street children are particularly important for a few reasons:

  1. Once they know our names and know we can speak their language they don’t yell Bon Jour and other phrases at us to get our attention.
  2. They inform the other street children of who we are.
  3. They take pride in saying hello to us when we pass, and ask what we are up to
  4. We feel safer. Nothing is more annoying than walking down the street and having an intimidating group of six 9 year old boys running after you yelling random French phrases and giggling when you ignore them. We’ve desensitized their calls and have made us (the weird foreigners) less foreign.

Even with all these perceived successes I’ve had a really difficult six months. Moving out of our host family’s house was difficult. We have to find a lot of furnishing for our apartment which took a lot of time and effort. Things in Morocco don’t usually have a price tag attached. They are haggled for. We don’t know the supposed price of everything, and converting the price to dollars doesn’t help because most things here are way cheaper than they are in the states. We have a stipend and moving in money but we need to make sure we are being given the Moroccan price, not the Tourist price. Haggling is stressful. I don’t know what the actual price is. I don’t have the Darija phrases down prod the vendor to give me the correct price. I try to haggle and they don’t budge so does that mean I haven’t haggled well enough? Is that right price? Should I walk away from the deal and see if I can find a better priced item at a different stand? Luckily, we’ve been able to furnish the apartment to be comfortable enough by this point in our service. We have a good enough kitchen to cook tasty meals, and a comfortable living space. This is so important to us and our mental health.

These six months have also been challenging work-wise. In PC Morocco we are given some institution options to work at in our sites (usually, sometimes there are exceptions.) Here in our site we have three institutions that are under the Office of Youth and Sports. This is the government office that PC has a partnership with. The Dar Chebab (Youth center), Nedi Neswi (Women’s Center), and Dar Taliba (Girls Boarding House) are literally placed on the same street next to each other. This gives us a lot of “options” of places to create work at. I say options in quotations because there are always strings attached. We’ve tried to do some things at the boarding house but we’ve been kindly told that a higher up figure doesn’t agree that we should be doing programing there. The informers give us different names when we ask who, so we take that as a kind suggestion (from people in the community) to go a different route. As I mentioned I’ve started some yoga/exercise classes at the women’s centers but they aren’t perfect. I feel, as many volunteers feel at least once in their service, inadequate. I have practiced yoga on and off for about 5 years. I enjoy the stretching and deep breathing aspect. I’m not into chakras and lifestyle change and nor do I think the 18 year old girls who are learning how to knit crochet and sew are either. It comes with time though. I’m still creating a relationship with them to feel out their opinions on this exercise thing and help change my approach to make it work better for them. I’ve just change my approach to help make the program more of their responsibility than mine. We’ll see how it works out. Then there is the Dar Chebab, it’s a beautiful, new building that is almost empty. I think our community expects us to help create it as a place where youth come all the time. That’s a lot of responsibility, especially given the language, cultural, and networking challenges we have. Also Peace Corps, and many other national and international aid organizations, have changed their tune to help their work be more sustainable. I’m not just here to bring in programs and activities I am here to help the community develop and build programs and activities that they want to do and that they are able to support. This is much more difficult to explain to my community. As I said, it all comes with time. I am aware of this but some days I forget it and that’s what makes this job challenging

I also have had homesickness on and off. When my sisters left it kind of started. As I see more of the graduations, and summer activities back in the states I feel more twinges. I get homesickness also not from missing family and friends but missing familiarity in culture and way of living. For example, there are no restaurants in my town. You can get cook meat from some cafes and street stands here and there but otherwise if you want a well prepared meal you are making it yourself. And you are making it from raw materials. There are some canned goods, and processed items like stock cubes but most meals need to be made from scratch or leftovers. And if you don’t plan ahead to have some items then you need to run and get them from the corner store, which sometimes take so long because there aren’t really lines in Morocco, and the owners love to have conversations when they see you. I would guess that about 70% of my effort in country goes into living. This includes making food, cleaning, and doing laundry. It is exhausting. It’s humbling in order to know how some of the households work here, and to understand my community’s challenges from a personal perspective but it’s very difficult to acclimate to. I think some of my homesickness also stems from the news that been going on with our government. As a government worker myself I can’t need to respectful but as an American citizen I am also encouraged to be involved. You’ve seen the news, you know stories. This is hard.

So to wrap up the post: Peace Corps is the hardest job you’ll ever love. This is a common PCV piece of advice circulated around the world. I am so thankful every day to the amazing people and experiences I’ve had so far. I definitely have hard days, and weeks, though. I’m going to try to post more this summer. I suspect I will have more time. In the meantime, thanks for reading. Hope you are doing well :]

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A New Different 3am

3am in Darija means year. No, you don’t say “three” in the front, that’s the letter used to express a sound that isn’t in English. I’m still working on my language post, and I think it might be a three part series. It’s getting there.

As the year comes to a close, and a new and different one comes ahead I’ve reflected. There is a lot of alone time, even if I have my husband, when living in a foreign country. I socialize to the best of my ability and I am successful but since I don’t have a lot of language so I’m left to my thoughts for a good amount of time.

I remember where I was a year ago for this very night. I and a lot of great friends had a wonderful New Year’s Eve party at my sisters house. It was full of joy, reflection, yummy food and drinks, and laughs. I realize how lucky I was to be with such a great group of young people. This years celebration will surely be different. For one, I live in a dry country so no bubbly for me. I also live in a country that doesn’t eat pig, so all you reading this please eat an extra spoonful of sauerkraut and pork for me. I will truely miss it.

The most interesting experience I’ve had while preparing and thinking about the new year is the reaction I’ve received from the people of Morocco. I recently have stumbled upon a wonderful group of women who participate in cooking classes at the cultural center here. In first meeting they thought of things that they knew about my culture, Christmas and papa Noel were brought up. Then they said Happy New Year. I looked at them confused because the new year wasn’t until this weekend, so it felt odd be congratulated so early. They saw my confusion and elaborated, they said “arfti? 3am jedid dyalkum?” 

This translates to “you know? The new year that belongs to you all?”

I was confused because it’s every ones new year, not just mine. 

And then I realized it’s not. 

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. It follows the cycle of the moon. It’s what dictates every holiday such as Ramadan, Eshura, and even the Prophet’s birthday. In this calendar there is also a New Year. This year it was on October 3rd celebrating 1438 years since Mohammed traveled from Mecca to Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. This is marked as happening in 622 ad. And as lunar calendars go they change yearly. Stephen remembers playing soccer with muslims in high school, and those years Ramadan fell in the fall when the soccer season is in full swing. Now Ramadan is in early summer/late spring. It moves. Also, what makes the calendar stronger, so to say, here is because there is not separation of church and state like we are supposed to experience in the states. Religion is tied into the society life.

In my time here in Morocco I’ve felt a lot of things that are different about the culture I have and the culture the people live by here. There’s nothing wrong with that! I like experiencing this culture. There are some fundamental things that are similar such as going to school, getting a job, celebrating holidays, enjoying the summer by traveling if possible, the importance of family, and other aspects. There are things that are very different, such as how they go to weekly market instead of using a super market, how they eat from a communal plate with bread, and how they treat some spaces as being more male than female and vise versa (We do this also in America, but not in the same way)

I wasn’t expecting there to be a difference between New Years, though. Especially the way that this holiday tomorrow is attached to me as an American, a “Westerner”, or any other label the women were considering me as. It is a bit sobering to feel this feeling of difference. More importantly I think this feeling can be reversed. If I feel this out of place by a comment like this, what could others feel on the flip side? People who are refugees and living in an entirely different culture. Or even just people who might be traveling to another country and want to express their culture and the things they hold dear to their hearts?

Luckily enough these women were happy and excited to talk about “my” New Year with me. If anything it was a great way for me to explain how I celebrate it, and to ask how they celebrate their holiday. This is exactly the cultural exchange that Peace Corps wants to happen. I only wish all people all around the world wanted it too. I’m not being made fun of by celebrating this new year, nor am I being suppressed because it is a holiday that isn’t celebrated with the same weight. That something not everyone experiences.

There are more than likely Moroccans who do celebrate the New Year on January 1st here in Morocco. These group of women are only a subset, so don’t assume all Moroccans take a stance like this. Do take it as a lesson as I have. This world is full of amazing cultures that celebrate things differently and just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Happy New Year to all who are celebrating. I know 2017 will be something of a trying year for many reasons. I think if we can remember the similarities and celebrate the differences it will make our year a little bit better. 

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Life Update

A lot has happened since my last blog post.

Life is moving fast.

So as of today, December 9th, 2016 I am an official Peace Corps Volunteer. Up to this point I have been considered a trainee. My CBT group and I completed a series of language and cultural courses along with other experiences to help prepare us to use the resources and programs that Peace Corps has available.

I think I’ve mentioned before but I’ll say it again I am not here to do programs for two years then leave. That’s not sustainable. I’m here to help my community run programs through counterparts that I find in the community. Hopefully that experience will empower them to continue on the work we did together. Some of the programs that Peace Corps has developed along with USAID are Healthy Lifestyle, Life Skills, and Employability. The organization has trainings and manuals available for volunteers and counterparts to attend. In our CBT site we used our teacher to help us facilitate a lesson about cooperation and set backs from the Life skills program and a lesson about looking ahead into the future from the Employability program. We are lucky because our teacher has worked with PC before so she was familiar with what her and our responsibilities would be in the lessons.

We were able to utilize the youth center to target youth from ages 12 to 16. At the end of the Employability program we created a time capsule of the children’s drawings about where they want to be when they are 30. The new volunteer in that site will be able to open it with the youth and create a teachable moment.

When we weren’t busy creating the lesson plans we were preparing for our LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) This is a type of test to make sure we are on the correct language level and that they feel safe releasing us into the wild. Almost all people pass it, and if they don’t they get some extra tutoring and all is well.

The last week in our CBT was very fun. It included a lot of together time. The five of us all lived in families where the women live nearby, their children are similar ages, and they participate in a cooperative with embroidery. They are something else. They loved us as fiercely as they loved their own children. Towards the end all the Moroccan Mamas understood we would be leaving soon so many lunches and cascrutes were organized to help us all visit together. It is unfortunate that as soon as our experienced started to “click” we were taken away. We have such an awesome place to return to, though. We know that should we want to visit we have 5 Moroccan mamas ready to house us, wrap our heads and feet with blankets, and tell us to eat more.

The goodbyes were sad but since a volunteer from our staj is going to that site we will still be connected!

This past week we spent in sessions in Meknes in a beautiful hotel. Last minute content sessions, pre-service training feedback surveys, and a few current-volunteer led sessions helped us wrap up what was 12 crazy weeks. On Saturday 106 of us leave to all corners of Morocco to help communities big and small to develop the youth of all ages in their communities. I am sad for this time to come to an end but I am also extremely excited to get started in my new community. I am also excited to hear about the stories my fellow PCVs can tell me about their places! I have met some really interesting people and made some rewarding friendships. I look forward keeping them going as a way of support for myself and for them.

So as for now, thanks for reading, and send me all the positive thoughts as I go into the unknown. I have many support systems should I need them, but for now it’s just me, Stephen and our 8 bags.

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My Moroccan Day

 

I want to explain to all my friends and family what the heck I’ve been doing for this first two months while in Morocco! I’ve posted on facebook, for maybe even called you but this is meant to help every one understand what my general day looks like.

So, as anticipated, I have intensive Darija classes. (for all those longing to find out more about Darija, stay tuned! I am planning on posting about the language and my experience learning it) I wake up by 7:30 eat breakfast, and are in class by 8:30. I have class till noon, a two-hour break for lunch, and by 2:30 I start back up and I not home till about 5:30/6:00. In the beginning our afternoon classes were dedicated to learning the Arabic alphabet, but now we’ve finished with that we use the time to plan and implement lessons for the Dar Chebab (youth center). Our days are pretty full and they leave me exhausted, but in a good way.

Once 6 o’clock comes around I go back to visit and integrate with our host family. This can almost be as challenging as Darija class because of the lack of our language. I ever so much want to communicate and share things with our family but it hasn’t been until recently that I could do that fluently. I’ve learned a lot of verbs and how to conjugate in almost every way to we’re getting there. Shwi-uh b shwi-uh. (little by little) I have host sisters who know some English so they help us a lot. Other wise I have just the most patient and caring host parents. Our host father usually is the one to joke and our host mother gives us a loving hug and tells us we’ll make it. She calls me “bneetee” which means my daughter. It’s quite endearing.

We are so lucky in our training cite. We have a currently serving Peace Corps volunteer who is basically superwomen. She has helped us a lot in introducing us to our families, the youth of the community, and one of the possible experiences of a youth center. I say that because it has been stressed that not one of our experiences on our community will be the same as another’s. It is dangerous to compare. She has given a good experience with perceived challenges and successes. Also, our host family was her host family and so personally she has helped me to integrate within our house because she visits often.

So far in our cite I have taught an English class about shapes and patterns then the next day I did an art project making mosaics out of paper to help reinforce the shapes lesson. A lot of the younger children enjoyed the mosaics more than the older youth, who attended my lesson, but it was good to give them resources and a creative outlet. They were all so proud of their artwork. There doesn’t seem to be an outlet, like art class in school, for them to practice making things and subsequently showing them off.

Our training group also practiced a gender equality activity. Don’t get scared by that name, it’s a fancy way of saying an activity that helps empower girls but also keeps boys involved in the conversation. Let’s be real we can’t empower half of society while not including the other half. In our activity we asked a group of youth about 11 years and up what they wanted to do when they grew up. It was a great lesson to have the girls voice their career aspirations especially in front of the boys. In a village where there is no high school to hear from a group of girls that they wanted to be doctors, weather women, artists, and teachers was beautiful. The conversation was able to lead into what us volunteers studied or did in the states before we traveled here. The youth were able to ask us questions about how we got to where we are at in our lives. It was a good example of how diverse America is and how we can take many routes to have a career.

In regards to food, we eat a lot of bread. There is a word here “dih-rory” is means absolutely necessary, and it has been told to me over and over that bread definitely dih-rory at every meal. It is so important because bread is used as both a utensil and a conveyer for other food, such as olive oil, and honey.

Breakfast in our training site from our family usually contains hard boiled eggs and cumin to put on top, type of bread (be it a baguette, wheel of bread, or a thin almost crepe type called miliwheat) happy cow cheese triangles, oil cured black olives, olive oil, jelly, and honey. The bread is almost the main course then you tear off bits to use with the liquid foods. To drink we have coffee, hot milk (milk is usually hot here, even if it has been pasturized), and green tea. The tea comes with a side of fresh mint or wormwood, which is known as sheebuh here. These are additives to help flavor the tea, and it is told that the sheebuh gives you a warm feeling inside in the winter. I have not felt that when drinking it, it is quite bitter in my opinion.

For lunch we eat from a communal dish. This can be as simple as browned onions with seasoned grated cooked tomatoes and meatballs. The dish is set in the middle and with the bread you eat from our triangle of the plate. Or you eat whatever your host mother placed in your triangle because she wants you to be strong, healthy, and full of carbs. We are lucky enough that our host family understands how much we like our utensils so we use spoons and forks pretty often. The dish can sometimes also be more complex with pressured cooked meat (chicken, lamb, or beef) and vegetables that are in season. Right now we eat a lot of carrots, zucchini, potatoes, quince, parsnips, and onions. Side salads are seen, too. They aren’t as big as I’d like. I eat a lot of bread and really just want a giant spinach salad with grilled peppers, onions, and tomatoes. The salads I’ve seen are a mixture of fresh cut tomatoes, onions, cucumber, and/or radishes. It is covered in some lemon juice, pepper, salt, and olive oil. I see myself making a lot of this in the summer.

Then around 6 or 7 it is caskrute. This is called snack time, but the proportions are not particularly snack-like. There are usually a lot of the same foods at breakfast as there is at dinner with the addition or cookies or some traditional Moroccan foods. I think I will create a post about traditional Moroccan foods because this post is becoming quite long. Caskrute is also the time for friends or family to gather and visit over food if there is a reason to celebrate something or to just catch up.

Dinner is a challenge. We usually don’t eat it because it is around 9 or 10. We are tired from the day and stuffed to the brim with food. The Moroccans are very comfortable with telling us to eat and eat and eat. They want to make us feel so comfortable by telling us to eat. Like, “Don’t be shy! You are welcome! Eat as much food as you want!” And they usually aren’t convinced if you say you’re full. So after a day of this it is hard to eat more food. If caskrute is small we end up eating some dinner. Our host mother will sometimes make leftovers for dinner, or a type or porridge that is boiled with milk, lemon peel, and cinnamon. It has been one of my favorites so far. She will also sometimes make another big meal. She is amazing.

My days are about to change significantly. We swear in as Volunteers on December 9th and travel to our permanent site soon thereafter. As busy as these days are it will be hard to transition to self-made days in an uncomfortable environment. There will be a lot of unfamiliarity, and unscheduled time. Our site is new and has not had a volunteer before so whatever we bring is what the people will know as Peace Corps. It is time to start laying the roots and using the training we’ve learned in these past 2 ½ months.

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A Moroccan Wedding

Something very important to remember when reading about some of the cultural posts on here is that as different and odd some of the cultural norms I experience in Morocco it is dangerous to generalize my one experience or to stereotype it. In this post I’m going to write about the wedding we attended with our host family. There are some general rules to the experience such as the bride changes into multiple dresses, and the event goes on throughout the night but there are some of differences that we saw compared to other weddings that go on here. I’ll try to denote those details when I can Keep an open mind, an open heart, and remember we have things in America that have similar aspects to them.

Let’s begin!

The day was roughly split into two aspects: preparation for the wedding and attendance of the wedding. When our family first told us we were going to a wedding I was excited. I thought that it was something that might happen often. Family ties in Morocco are huge both in importance and in length so families can attend a lot of weddings in a year. It wasn’t until the preparation that the weight of how big this wedding was going to be set in. We left our small town and drove to a bigger city where our host sister lives. Her apartment was the setting of our preparation. We first went to the Medina, or market, to buy some things. Our host brother needed a new pair of pants. We went to a store, bought some, and then we walked through the small ally ways, which were clearly built many years ago. It was interesting to see modern stores in the old cobblestoned alleys that fit 2 people across. The stores weren’t name brand but sold soccer jerseys or perfumes. We arrived at a sector that seemed to be about clothes. Making clothes, altering clothes, buying materials for clothes. There were rows with men (usually) at little tables that had belt run sewing machines on them. We walked up to one and our host mom bargained a price to hem the pants they had bought for our host brother. It was fascinating to see the transaction go down. We walked a little down the way and my host sister bought some embroidery floss. We returned 10 minutes later and he pants were finished.

After we went to a store to rent my caftan. A caftan is a long flowey garment women wear. It has long sleeves and is embellished with beads or gems along the collar area and down the midline of the person. There are varying degrees of embellishment and for this particular wedding it seemed the highest level was acceptable if not necessary. We rented one for me, since buying would be very very expensive. It was a light turquoise color and had white pearl-like beads. There were two layers to it a sleeveless silk under part and a sheer beaded top. There were probably about 6 pounds of beads on the top layer, it was amazing that the sheer almost lace-like layer was able to hold all of the weight without tearing. Once the price was haggled we went back to the apartment for lunch and a rest.

Slowly the women got ready. My host sister painted our nails. She is also the one who helped do my hair and makeup for my anniversary. We hung around the apartment for a little more while mama and baba went out to do some errands. Around 8 pm me and my host sisters went to a salon across the street and got our hair curled with blow dryers. My sisters had their makeup done by the beauticians but I elected to do my own. It seemed the makeup would be thicker than my fair skin might allow. The men were waiting patiently at the apartment. Once we were all dressed and beautified we left for the wedding.

I had a nice conversation with my host sister comparing how people in America have weddings and it is very similar here, too. You can find small weddings, or you can find big weddings. The size of the wedding can depend on the amount of money spent on it. People will take out loans sometimes. The average couple wants to have a bigger wedding with the most they can afford. We talked about the wedding Stephen and I had. It was out of the normal since it was smaller and didn’t follow the stereotypic schedule. You can find those in Morocco, too.

The wedding we were going too was not small, and it was known to have a large budget. This was apparent by the size of the room, the amount of people, and the music there. We arrived on a red carpet with video cameras recording our entrance that we live streamed on tv’s that were placed in the reception room. We said hello to the family members there and found a seat at a table with the brother of our host mama. Not soon after our entrance the bride and groom arrived. The bride was carried in on a jeweled platform. Music was played and the bride was carried/danced a pattern on the floor. The party attendants gathered around, danced, cheered and performed a hand gesture that communicates beauty and shiny. I can’t accurately say how long it went on for but if I had to guess it was about 15 minutes. The men with video cameras followed the bride around for the rest of the night and showed what was happening. Once this part finished the bride and groom went and sat on a big sofa while a musical performer came out to sing.

The music of the night consisted of a few musical groups. First, there was a more full band that included a saxophone, some strings, a traditional Moroccan drum, a drum set, a trumpet, and a dj/singer. He controlled some audio settings as he sang the songs. The singing of Morocco is very different than singing I am used to in America. Here is an example of some of the songs I think we heard. If anything, they are a good example of the type of singing we heard.  There is a lot of sustained notes that flow across many pitches. It is not my favorite, and I feel bad to say that since I love and want to appreciate all music. Stephen and I have agreed that is it somewhat similar to opera in that sense. That’s the best comparison we can make. Anyways, after the bride and groom sat down the first big performer came out. We are unfamiliar with Moroccan pop singers but there were 3 celebrity singers at the wedding that debuted throughout the night.

Music and dancing ensued. At around 1:00 am we were served dinner. This consisted of 3 courses. The first course was a soufflé of sorts that had a lot of seafood and fish in it, after there was a long rack of what I remember to be sheep? It had olive, mushrooms, dates, and other things stuffed in and around it. Lastly, a traditional dessert of a fruit salad presented in a tower-like manner. There was frozen yogurt on the top. It was very satisfying and tangy. The rest of the night was music and dancing! At one point a candle performer came out and threw flaming candles around. It was fun.

The bride changed into 6 different dresses throughout the night. Between the dancing and food we waited for the bride to come down the stairs in a new dress, she was usually then lifted up again in a platform, danced around, then spent a little more time on the big couch. Something interesting about her arrival was the choir of uniformed women who chanted every time she made an entrance. I do not know if they were family members, or part of the hired staff for the wedding but they stood on the stair and called out a chant to notify everyone of the bride and groom’s entrance.

We later learned in a culture class that one of the dresses the bride wore signifies that she’s from the region of Fez. It was the one that surrounds the bride entirely. Her upper body almost looks like a cobra in the way that the material reaches on a horizontal plane.

Also, as you might see in some of the instagram pictures, there was a point where large gifts were brought out. These are gifts from the grooms family to the bride. They contain beautiful clothes, tasty food like dates and nuts, and household items like a tea set.

One thing that was interesting to me was that the wedding was mostly about the reception aspect. There was a small 10-15 minute section where the groom sat down at a table with an official and papers were signed, some quotes were read then that was it. In American weddings the ceremony can be a whole length of a Catholic mass but here there isn’t an apparent separation of ceremony and reception like we see in the states.

At about 5:30/6 am she came down in a while ball gown and the groom was wearing a traditional tuxedo. They cut a multitier cake, ceremonially fed each other a piece, took some pictures, and left. By this point in the night Stephen and I were exhausted. The speakers had been very loud, the lack of sleep was amazing, and we were full of tasty food. Breakfast was served but we did not stay around to eat it. We weren’t particularly hungry, and we needed to get home to sleep. We stopped but the apartment picked up some things and left for home.

We slept like mummies.

Despite the lack of sleep, we had a great time and an awesome cultural experience. I hope to attend another wedding during my service.

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Moroccan Wedding Anniversary 

So as you may have heard Stephen and I celebrated our first year of marriage on October 3rd. I would be downplaying the situation if I said that our wedding and Peace Corps were separate entities. One of the reasons we married when we did was for Peace Corps. Don’t confuse this with the idea that we married *for* Peace Corps. That is not true. It is very cool to see the experience come full circle, though. 

One year ago we got married at the Edinboro Methodist Church by the wonderful Paster Lisa Grant. She helped us build a ceremony we wanted and was very flexible at the last minute as we rearranged the ceremony placement because of hurricane Joaquin. A close group of friends and family gathered there, then at my grandparents for food and cigars, then at the Erie Otter’s home opener. The day was so much fun and absolutely exactly what we wanted.

Within this first year of marriage we’ve graduated from college, moved two times, vacationed on road trips, and somehow emotionally and physically prepared for Morocco without, using the words of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis, calling the whole thing off.

Upon arriving at our host family house the first thing we wanted to communicate was that our anniversary was coming up soon. It took a few conversations and help from the current PCV to translate the message but we got it across. We weren’t warned that anything had been prepared so when we got home from our language class that afternoon we asked if we could get ice cream or something. We really didn’t want to make it a big responsibility on them to help us celebrate, they just met us 4 days earlier there was literally no pressure to provide for us. They share their extra room, amazing cooking, and endless bank of patience as we mess up their language. We needed nothing but an ice cream cone. My host sister quickly shut down the idea and showed me the cake they bought, informed me someone was coming over to do my henna, and that the one host sister came home for the big city to help do my makeup and hair. It was also the new year in the Islamic Calendar so she claimed she came home for that but there was very little done to outwardly celebrate the new year. Maybe it entailed more about praying and Mosque time, but it wasn’t very apparent to me. So she could have been telling me that to make me feel better. This is one of the cultural ambiguities I’m still trying to figure out. Not having a grasp of the language definitely feeds that feeling.

Anyways, so I took a shower to clean my hair. One of the neighbors, who has the cutest little button of a daughter, came over and spent about 30 minutes piping henna onto my hand with a syringe. After that they dressed me up in a dress covered in beads and gems. They gave me a gold watch, necklace, bangle, and pair of earrings to wear. Mama later told me to keep the earrings. No amount of arguing changed her mind. She was having none of it. My host sister dried my hair and did my makeup while mama and my other sister put on nice clothes and set the salon up with candy and cake in dishes. We sat down as a family and hung out for a little. It was a beautiful time and an absolutely memorable first year anniversary. I can’t wait to celebrate my 2nd and 3rd here too!

If you want to see pictures some have been posted on our instagram! If you go to the main page there is a block of pictures on the right hand side. I believe if you click on them it takes you to the instagram.

We thank all our friends and family who wished us well. Interesting fact: the Obama family also celebrates their anniversary on October 3rd! Along with a fellow volunteer’s brother. It  a good day to be married.

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CBT

CBT stands for community based training. That’s how we are training for most of our Pre- service training. Community based training has a lot of benefits, as you could probably guess. We learn the culture, language, and customs through immersion. It is a beautiful time filled with mistakes, “ah-ha” moments, and lots of love and support from our host families, and fellow Peace Corps trainees and staff.

Our CBT is an hour north of the big city of Meknes, as the crow flies is it probably shorter but this region is where parts of the Atlas mountain range runs through so there is a lot of climbing hills and swerving roads. The city is small, think Edinboro sized, with villages that people come from for the market and other things. We’ve seen donkeys, chickens, sheep, and lambs. The lambs are especially cute, but also tasty in kebabs. The rooster’s wake us up in the morning, kind of. We hear them in the night and afternoon also so we just kind of hear them all the time. There is this one rooster that doesn’t caww the right way. It’s a nice comic relief to the continuous animal sounds.

Our host family is amazing. Item-wise we have luxuries some other people don’t such as a western toilet, a private room, and a shower area. This is nice since we don’t have to struggle learning a different way to live, but also can be a hindrance since we won’t stay in this home our entire service. At some point we will encounter a Hammam (public bath house) and Turk (or squatty potty.) Persona-wise our host family is so caring and patient. The first meal we had was right after arriving in site. Mama brought everything out and gave us the name and made sure we repeated it. We have Darija lessons with our LCF but I never imagined how much our host mother would be a teacher, too. I know very little Darija. It can be challenging to hold a conversation or give information back and forth. There is a universally understood phrase in our household: shwia b shwia (shwee-uh buh shwi-uh). It means little by little in Darija. Every failed communication ends with this phrase. It’s really comforting. The frustration of not being able to communicate “I have class tomorrow at 8:30 so I will eat breakfast at 7:30” feels as if my fundamental needs can’t be yet. When Mama looks at me with her aged eyes, and glowing smile and says “shwia b shwia” I feel this sense of relief. I make a crude drawing or act out the sentence in an even sillier way and at least get a simple understanding of the sentence across. This isn’t to say I’m floating in an ocean without a raft. Our LCF (Language Cultural Facilitator, who is a Moroccan native) is a great resource in communicating important information that is more complex and needs explained in depth. The importance of our family, and especially mama, in helping us feel welcomed was something I didn’t expect. She calls me her daughter and I tell her that my mother would be so happy to know that a Moroccan mother is looking over me with the same heart American mom does.

In other news: I have been given a Moroccan name. It’s Marwa, sounds like mar-wuh but the /r/ has a flipped sense to it. Somewhat like a /d/ but not exactly. There isn’t a /th/ sound in Darija, there is in Fusha (foos-ha/ Standard Arabic)  so Meredith is a little bit of a challenge. Marwa is just easier.

I know you have heard about our wedding anniversary but I’ll make another post dedicated just to that. Keep checking back!