Monday, September 21, 2009

cross-cultural tongue lashing and pancakes!

September 14, 2009

So I think Ramadan gave me a mild case of insomnia. I fasted for the first week, so I ended up sleeping during part of the day so I could stay up late to eat and drink. I guess my body decided it liked the schedule, which meant I wasn't able to get to sleep before 6am, when it was light outside. Now that Ramadan is over, I'm hoping I can get back to a normal eating and sleeping routine. Two days ago I tried to get to sleep at 2am, but was restless until 5:30 or so. I went up onto my roof to get some fresh air (read: to smoke, I know, horrible habit, but I'm trying to quit). I noted that it was going to be a beautiful day, so I made the decision to go on a hike to the top of a ridge near my town.
I took off by 5:45 with some ice water and my ipod. I didn't know if there was a trail to the top, so I decided to just go in a straight line up the mountain. I cut through a couple fields (more like skirted the edges of them) until I got to a dried up river near the base of the mountain. Once I crossed the river and up the opposite steep bank, I saw a house maybe 200 yards off, with two dogs that apparently also noticed me. The started barking their little heads off, which apparently woke up the family in the house. Now during Ramadan people tend to be on edge a little, so the second I heard the dogs bark I knew I was gonna get a stern talking to. So I paused my ipod, turned away from the house, and briskly started to walk away. Then I heard a voice yelling at me in the distance. I had two options: turn around and go get yelled at, or jump down the streambank and run away. I chose the former and met the farmer halfway. I figured since I'm the only white guy in town, that he'd eventually see me some day. He instantly reminded me of an Amish farmer (it was the beard and spectacles). He yelled at me in Tamazight, and I quickly realized I don't know Angry Tam, so I started telling him that I just wanted to go up to the top of the mountain and that I was very sorry to wake him up. Either my Tam pronunciation is horrible (pretty likely), or he just didn't want to hear what I had to say. He then yelled at me in Arabic. More apologies from me and quizzical looks 'cause me no speaka da arabic. He then asked me if I spoke french. I said no, more apologies. He started yelling at me in french, so I told him I am an American and that I work and live in the town, and threw in some more apologies. Then, out of nowhere, he asked me if I spoke german and started yelling at me in that language too. Now, I took three years of german in high school and one semester in college; but apparently every word I learned in Tam meant a word of german had to leave my brain, because I couldn't remember a damn word. I apologized one last time and then he just waved me away. I jumped down into the stream bed and followed it for literally two minutes before starting the climb up the mountain. I feel really bad about waking the guy up, but the verbal beating I took in 4 languages was a little much. Left my mind a little sore. I guess I need to learn some Angry Tam and some better apologies.
The hike up the mountain was pretty brutal, and reinforced the idea that I really need to quit smoking. I made it up to the top by 6:45, so the sun was still coming over the ridge, which made for some pretty good pictures. I walked the ridge until it dropped off to a mini cliff. I think I might cowboy camp up their someday to catch a sunset and the real sunrise. It was nice to see some villages on the other side of the mountain that I've heard of but never seen. I then followed the ridge the other way to find a trail down. There actually are a couple trails up the ridge, so next time I go I won't cut through people's fields. The walk down was nice, and I made it home by 8:45. That did the trick to knock me out. I made some post-hike pancakes (thanks for sending the maple syrup mom!) I ended up taking an 8 hour nap after(it was Saturday, so I guess I can sleep whenever and not feel bad about it).
Final note, I've uploaded a bunch of pictures from the last month, so check those out. Take it easy everyone.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vacation from my site (sort of)

August 24, 2009

So it's been a long time since I've updated this here blog, and a lot has gone on, so let me fill you in a little. In the middle of July I moved into my own house, and it took about two weeks to get some things in order. The last week of July I went to two weeks of technical training. It was nice to see all of the people that I arrived in country with, and the hotel we stayed at felt like little America. The two weeks of training consisted of 4 two hour sessions with meals surrounding class. In the afternoon we'd walk around the town, which has about 45,000 people. I spent a miniature fortune on Magnum bars, which are the best ice cream bar EVER! I had my 26th birthday during training, a day shared with my doppleganger friend (same birth date, but a pretty opposite person from me).
After training I went back to my town and spent a lot of time by myself. At training I mainly spoke english, so my tamazight got pretty rusty. Use it or lose it I guess. It has been nice to get comfortable with my house, and with cooking and all the chores that go along with having your own house. This past weekend I had a very fun little vacation. It was a four day weekend in Morocco (Thursday and Friday were Moroccan holidays), so I went north with a group of 6 other volunteers to Chefchauen which is a very beautiful city about 3 hours south of Tangier. It was a pretty relaxing little vacation, travel aside. I spent Thursday traveling about 4 hours north, but waited until pretty late to get a taxi to my friend's site. Friday morning we left early and took a cab one hour north to Fes, waited for 3 hours for a bus, and then took a pretty comfortable bus 4 hours northwest to Chefchauen. The city is known for it's medina, which is painted white and shades of blue. The town has only 40,000 or so people, so the copious amounts of tourists were much more noticeable than in Fes, which is much larger. While waiting to eat dinner, we were surprised to find out that Ramadan would be starting Saturday instead of Sunday. That made Saturday pretty interesting. Some cafes were open for tourists, but most of the shops were closed all day. We met a group of 4 other volunteers at the hotel we stayed at, which was a pleasant surprise. It's always fun to hear more experienced volunteer's stories of their service. I made it to Fes the next day but ended up getting stuck there for the night, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I stayed with two other volunteers on the roof of a hotel in the medina. We explored the streets around the time people were breaking their fast, which was interesting, the streets were basically empty, and all the clothing shops were closed. That medina is a tourist trap during non-Ramadan daytime, so it was cool to see it empty. This morning I tried to fast while traveling the 5 hours south to home (pretty difficult to not drink water while trapped in a hot taxi). I felt I had to hydrate upon returning home, so I was unsuccessful in my first attempt to fast. I still “broke fast” when it got dark with my favorite snack shop owner.
I have posted pictures of my trip to Chefchauen, so check those out. I will write again about my first Ramadan experiences another time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New House!!!!!

July 15, 2009

So I am finally on my own!!! I moved out a week past the day I was allowed to move out. I enlisted the help of some friends around town to find a place, and the 8th day of looking did the trick. I love the house, and I’m slowly getting things settled. There are a few major purchases left to make before I feel the house will be really comfortable. I must say the paint job is horrendous, but I don’t really judge a house on it’s color. My bachelor-pad has 3 rooms, a kitchen, a large main room with a skylight (covered in thin plastic to keep rain and bugs out), a water closet, and a giant roof that was the selling point for me. I am happy to report that I have electricity and water 24/7, something I didn’t have at my host family’s house (the town is currently in the third year of a three year project to get consistent water to every household, and my host family’s house is in one of the last two neighborhoods to get the improved water service). I have posted some preliminary pictures of the interior of the house, and of the view from the roof. I think the picture of my main sitting room should be an advertisement for 3M tape products. Duct tape is wonderful! My house is right behind the main government building, and a family of storks has made a home on top of the old main government building. My favorite activity this last week has been to sit on the roof and watch the behavior of the storks while listening to music. One other activity that I have found relaxing is laundry. It takes quite a while to do it by hand, but it’s kind of therapeutic. Note, hand washing snotty handkerchiefs is not fun. The stuff just re-hydrates into a slimy mess. That’s where the plastic bristled brush comes in handy. Still disgusting, but my mucus to hand contact is lessened to a degree. On that note, I’ll leave you. I’ll update you later on my first attempts at cooking.

Monday, June 29, 2009

song choices, people, come on!

June 29, 2009

Just a quick note. On my walk back home last night from my host father’s cafĂ©, I heard a familiar song being played on a cell phone by a group of young guys on the street. The song was “In Da Club” by 50 Cent. Now, I am not a fan of this song because of how over-played it was when it first came out. It was played on the radio all the time when I went to Sweden in the summer of 2002, and it was annoying then. Seven years later, it has still not lost that ability to bug the bejezus out of me. Fortunately I do not have the Tamazight language skills to ridicule the song choice, so I avoided an incident. Why can’t people from other countries choose to listen to better American songs. It would be so refreshing to hear kids playing more classic American songs, like something by the Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, or Elvis. My dream would be to hear John Denver or Barry Manilow. Anything but “In Da Club”/ Well, I just recovered from my first bout of stomach sickness in Morocco. 4 months without any problems is pretty good I’d say. I’ve been lucky, but I jinxed myself by saying that my stomach is made of steel one day before it all started. The two days of eating just bread and drinking copious amounts of water really did help.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mullets and Flying Sheep (sorta)

June 24, 2009

I have not written in a while, sorry about that. Things have been going well, but I just have not gotten around to writing. Nothing much is new. I have, however, seen a few things lately that have made me laugh and therefore want to share with others. As the title of this entry says, I have seen my first Moroccan mullet. It happened on a market day, and when I first saw it, I didn’t believe it. I did a double take, really. The kid’s mullet is pretty spectacular. The hair in the front is poofy but respectable. The back, however, is pretty curly and shoulder length. If the front of his hair is all business, then the back is like a giant New Year’s Eve party. I have since seen 3 or 4 more mullets. I guess since I’ve seen one and now know that the hairstyle exists in this country, I see it everywhere. If these guys are just getting haircuts they see in movies, then bad 80’s B-movies from India and the US are to blame. I have seen Rambo, Running Man, and the first 3 Superman movies in the past week, so……….
The other part of the title sort of explains something I witnessed this past weekend. I went traveling to the nearest medium size city, which is about 2 hours and 2 taxi rides away. On the first ride, the van I was in was following a little pickup truck full of sheep. One brave male sheep apparently had enough of that nonsense of being transported around in a pickup, so he had the brilliant idea of jumping out of the back of the moving vehicle. The back of this truck had a 3 or 4 foot metal cage with no top attached to the bed. The sheep did not jump high enough. His back leg caught the top of the cage which caused him to faceplant into the side of the truck and land on his back on the road. Everyone in the van I was riding in gasped and then just started saying, “oh, he’s dead, enough, he’s dead.” My van driver alerted the driver of the pickup of the escapee. A guy got out and approached the motionless sheep. When he got about 5 feet from it, the sheep popped up and took off into a field. The sheppard guy was having a lot of trouble trying to catch that probably shocked and concussed sheep. We sped off before I could see the end of the chase, so I like to think that that little escape artist evaded capture and ran to freedom in the mountains. Male sheep are pretty expensive, so I can guess who ended up the victor, and it’s not the wooly one with horns. If only he had jumped a couple inches higher, his chances would have been a lot better.
I get to start renting my own house in about 10 days, so afterwards I will definitely post some new pictures. The house will only have one window to the outside, so it’s going to be pretty dark, kind of like my own little fortress of solitude, but with a porch and roof access. Until next time.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lots of travel, by foot, taxi, and DONKEY!!!!

May 29, 2009

It’s been a pretty interesting few weeks. Well, this last week in particular was pretty full of traveling. I’m loving traveling in Morocco, because every experience is different in some new/strange way. I went to a town an hour and a half to the east on Monday to try to find a tiny stamp for my carte sejour, which is the document that foreigners in Morocco must have if they stay in country longer than 3 months straight without leaving. This particular town had the stamp that I needed, but to buy it I would have to buy a stamp that cost 3 times as much. So I then had to travel 45 minutes south from there to a bigger city that I’m becoming more and more familiar with. This city is not in the mountains, and therefore is oppressively hot. This is me talking about the weather in the spring. I’m so very glad that my town is high up in the mountains. My Alaskan pigmentation and constitution can’t handle extreme heat. Anyway, I only stayed in the town for about an hour and then got back in a taxi to head back home. All toll, 5 hours in 4 very hot taxis for a tiny, expensive stamp. That adventure was very tiring, and I vowed to stay in my town for at least a week before traveling again. Well, needless to say, that didn’t happen. On Wednesday Peace Corps practiced the Part of their evacuation plan for the country and told me to head to my consolidation point, which is about 25 km south of the hot city. I was supposed to get a text message on my phone telling me to consolidate at 7:30 in the morning. I, unfortunately, did not receive any notification until around noon. I hurriedly got my bag ready to go and went to inform my host father and the local police where I’d be going. Around 1:30 I finally got on the road, and then realized that I had lost about 10% of my monthly living allowance. Damn my shallow pockets, it must have fallen out when I was getting my phone out of my pocket. That made the first hour and a half taxi ride no fun. 3 total taxi rides and about 3 and a half hours later I made it to the hotel where we’re supposed to meet if we have to evacuate the country. I was the last one of my group to arrive, and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get back to my town before dark. Peace Corps had reserved one room at the very nice 4 star hotel, and I kind of lucked out that I wouldn’t be able to get back home, because I got to stay at said nice hotel. It was a very relaxing evening I’d say. I took full advantage of the wireless connection and was able to talk to a lot of family via skype. I got to swim in a pretty sweet swimming pool, and took not one, but two showers! The next day I made my way back to my town, and made a pit stop in the hot city to find some big sheets of paper for my artist-tutor. I saw an old man carrying a big bladder of water get struck by a car. He stepped out into the road from between two parked cars and the car nailed him. There was water everywhere, and the man looked like he was definitely in shock. I think the water bladder actually did a good job of protecting him from the impact. While struggling to ask people where a certain bookstore was (people in the city speak Moroccan Arabic, not Tamazight), a nice Moroccan guy with a cockney English accent helped me locate the store, which ended up being closed. We had coffee across the street and chatted while we waited for the store to open. It never did, but I really enjoyed talking to my new friend. Every other statement out of his mouth seemed to end with a “F’in Hewll”. He apparently lived and worked in London for 9 years, which explains the accent. I had no problems getting back the rest of the way.
Today some people in town cut down this huge tree in the middle of town that was dropping a lot of cotton-like pollen all over the place. I think this particular tree has been the cause of my allergies. I was kind of sad to see the thing cut down, but also happy that I’ll be able to breathe easily again. After asking about the tree (I wanted to know if it did the same thing every year), I learned that it was planted a long time ago by the French military people who lived and worked in the town.
At dinner my host mother and I watched a camel auction in a middle eastern country (I think it was Saudi Arabia, but neither my host mother and I could understand what the people were saying to confirm where it was held). I have no idea still what makes a good camel. Pardon me for being specist here, but all camels look the same to me. This might be because I might have watched the same two camels being paraded around, but it looked like 4 sales were made, so I’m thinking it was two pairs. Watching this auction reinforced something I’ve noticed about watching tv here. I am enjoying not being able to understand what is said, because it gives me the chance to try to guess what is going on by body language. I tend to think things are funny that shouldn’t be when we watch crappy B Bollywood movies. I also get to make up my own storylines, it’s kind of like watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, but only without anyone around to understand my tasteless jokes. That’s all for now.

May 31, 2009

Today was another day of travel, sort of. I hiked with one of my tutors to the town where he is a teacher (about 4 km away). I had been invited by a friend of his to watch his sheep being sheered. He paid a group of professional sheep sheerers to give all of his sheep haircuts for the summer. It was a pretty big event, everyone in the area came to watch. I guess I was sort of a side attraction, and I was able to impress them a little bit with my Tam. I watched a couple hours of the sheering and then was invited inside for lunch. What a feast. Skewers of sheep meat followed by tajine with the most meat I’ve seen stuffed inside a tajine. Pretty delicious, but there was a lot of oil involved, so I feared for my stomach’s safety. I turned down their offer to stay the night and headed back in the afternoon with my tutor. We ended up catching a ride into town with a group of people on mule-back (is that even a correct way to say that, they say horse-back, so why not mule-back?) Well, I got the honor of riding the one donkey up the mountain and down the road back to my town. I tell ya, what a way to travel. It wasn’t time efficient, I probably could have walked faster than my poor little donkey (I named him Eeor). It was the first time I’ve ever ridden for a far distance on an animal. I figured my legs would thank me for not having to hike the whole way back, but I found out that my rear end does not have sufficient padding to comfortably ride 4 km. I guess I can blame my ass for being sore right now (you decide which ass I’m talking about). It was a bumpy ride. Now I am tired, and the people I’ve told about my ride back to town think it is hilarious. If I had a little more money, I think I’d buy a donkey and ride it around town. Pretty fun, and I think my body would get used to it. I’ve loaded some pictures of the day.

Friday, May 22, 2009

May 21, 2009

Today was one of those days where I had no idea what was going to happen, in retrospect. I took up my counterpart’s (with the Department of Water and Forests) offer to ride along with some of the foresters to see what sort of work they do. I thought I’d ride around with them for the morning, and then go back to town, so I planned on doing a bunch of things in the afternoon. Well, the day started off bright and early at 7am, and I rode with 4 other guys in their truck to meet up with about 4 other guys from other W&F offices in the area. It was tricky from the get-go, because most of the guys spoke darija (Moroccan Arabic) and French, and a few words of English. I thought to myself “great, my limited Tamazight knowledge is sure going to help me out today.” I found out later in the day that most of the guys also spoke Tamazight, so it was just fine. The task for the day was to locate points on a map with GPS units. These points were supposed to be forested areas, problem was, they were incorrect, so we ended up in a couple fields. They measured the distance to an actual forested area, and then they marked and described 20 trees close to the GPS points. I actually comprehended the task when they explained it, which amazed me. Every year after this a W&F specialist will visit the spots to see if the trees are still there and in good condition. After doing two such plots, I was feeling kind of hungry and figured we’d head back to town and that would be that. Boy was I wrong, and I’m glad I was wrong. We stopped in a small village and picked up another W&F guy and had lunch at his neighbor’s (or family member’s, I’m not quite sure) house. What a feast. We had tajine AND cous cous, followed up with a plate of bananas (you can guess how I reacted to that) and delicious honeydew melons. The guys quizzed me on the basics of Tamazight (what is: table, tea, tajine, house. Yeah, I got it).
After lunch we headed in the opposite direction of my town for about 30km to what I guessed was our last plot point. I guessed right on that one, finally. The area we were in was absolutely gorgeous. I’m happy I felt that way, because we spent the next 4 hours hiking up and around a mountain range, trying to locate that damn point. That was some of the steepest hiking I’ve ever done, and several times I thought I was going to slip and tumble to my disfigurement or death. Some of the "trails" were about half as wide as the width of my foot. It was so much fun. I was pretty tired afterward, but I think the day went swimmingly well, and I came away with some nice new acquaintances/friends. It was nice to come back to town and be able to kinda/sorta communicate with my friends in Tamazight. Well, I’ve got pictures up from my first three weeks in town, including today’s hiking.