Friday, October 9, 2009

Reasons For Leaving Morocco

I’m back in the U.S. now, and I probably owe absolutely everyone an explanation as to why. In short, I don’t feel I would be learning what I came there to learn.

Backing up. First off, Morocco’s awesome. Except for that one kid who tried to pickpocket one of my younger host-brothers (my host brother kicked his ass and chased him away) and the guy who tried to charge me 200 Dirhams for showing me around a handful of streets in Rabat (he got nothing after a very long discussion about why you have to specify first you’re doing something for a price), everyone I’ve met here’s been ridiculously nice. We’re talking “grab you by the arm and walk you somewhere if you’re lost” nice, and while they’re doing that, if they don’t know the way, they’ll ask other Moroccans for directions. Just for you, they’ll people will go so out of their way to help. It’s incredible.

And except for the one piece of graffiti I saw with the word “Juif” in a phrase in French that included a swastika on one wall somewhere in Rabat, I’ve felt no anti-Semitism. On the contrary, people have been really accepting. When I told my various host-brothers I’m Jewish, they didn’t seem phased. When I told them I speak Hebrew, they asked me to write their names in Hebrew. My older, soldier, host-brother’s friends asked me to talk to them in Hebrew. When I fasted Yom Kippur, my host-mother told me I’m going to heaven. To break my fast, she cooked me up some Harira and Shbekia, traditional ramaDan break-fast treats. I fasted, so it made sense to her to do this for me. It was more touching than I can ever explain. When I got to Rabat before coming back to the U.S., a very nice mad walked me for 10-15 minutes helping me find the synagogue. I talked Israeli-Palestinian conflict with another stranger who helped me find a watch-shop. I didn’t catch everything he said, but it included the words “Banu Adam” (children of Adam) to describe humanity, shaking his head in disbelief when miming a suicide bomber and talking about heaven, and telling me he knows one of the few remaining Jews of Rabat. When, at the end of the conversation, the man asked me if I’m Jewish, I told him I am. Before we parted ways, he gave me a big hug and an uncomfortably wet kiss on the cheek. Honestly, if one was stupid enough, one could get so very lost in Rabat until oh…say 3:30 in the morning while wearing a kippah with a giant Jewish star and menorahs all over it and with his tzit-tzit hanging out and not get crap for being Jewish. If one was careless enough to do this, people might ask if he’s “Yehudi” or “Juif” and then go right on not caring about that and giving him the correct directions home. I’m not saying I was all too cautious about it, I definitely pushed the envelope whenever I felt safe (which was eventually all the time), I’m just saying that the people I’ve met are so accepting. It’s an incredible thing to see.

But I guess that’s part of the reason I left. When I came to Morocco, I wanted to learn about Islam as it relates to “Radical Islam.” Morocco just didn’t seem the place for that. So many women walk around in shirts/pants (as opposed to the very flowy robes) without Hijabs. Women drive cars, and some smoke in public. Men with beards aren’t too common. People in my village (and I’m not saying this applies to everywhere in Morocco) and Morocco didn’t adhere to a strict version of Islam as is more common in Afghanistan or other places in the world known for Radical-Islam. Not that people weren’t religious. God-phrases were everywhere, and my host-mom prays five times a day. But it’s significantly different. People are friendly and helpful. They’re very respectful of my religion, nobody tried to convert me. When I asked a few people about the lack of beards, I got responses that all included other parts of the Islamic world, oppression of women, and how Moroccans just can’t understand how/why people do that.

So learning about Islam and how it relates to Radical-Islam in Morocco definitely did not look like it was going to happen for me.

Then there’s the Arabic. Darija (Moroccan Arabic) is significantly different from Standard Arabic (which is very close to Levant/more Middle-Eastern dialects).Darija uses the “V” and “”G” sounds absent in Standard Arabic, lacks the “TH” sound, drops a LOT of vowels when people speak, and the grammar’s all different. I could pay a tutor to teach me Standard Arabic while there, but I can do that anywhere. And the lack of everyday people to speak Standard Arabic to means there’s really no advantage of doing that in Morocco than anywhere else.

Peace Corps is amazing, and the work they’re doing around the world and in Morocco is incredible. To stay with them, volunteering at a Youth Center in Morocco would be completely worthwhile. Would be, if I wasn’t so goal-oriented. Staying in Morocco would push my goal of understanding/working on eliminating Radical-Islam/terrorism off by at least two years. I would be learning a very different (and more tolerant) brand of Islam, and a different Arabic than I’m after.

But I’m glad I went. I got to see that people in a Muslim country can modernize on a grand-scale without the hatred for “the West” you see on the news. I learned firsthand that poor, uneducated (sometimes illiterate) religious Muslims, who are supposed to be the group most susceptible to Radical-Islam, can also be the group most accepting and respectful of others. And that makes me so, so hopeful of the future.

I’m generalizing, I know, and I’ve heard the complete opposite experience from other volunteers. I have heard horror-stories. But from what I saw first-hand, I think absolutely every stereotype I was expecting to encounter in poor/rural area of a Muslim country was proven false it’s just too much to make me think the answers I’m seeking lie in Morocco.

So now I’m back in America, still trying to find a way to understand Radical-Islam, still trying to end the terrorism that took Albert’s life, and currently trying to come up with a different approach. That was the reason I went to Morocco in the first place. I thought I would find the answers in Morocco, but if my short time in a Muslim country has taught me anything, it’s that I was wrong about so much, that things aren’t always as bad as I imagine. I couldn’t be happier to be proven so wrong, to find everyday people in a Muslim country so warm and accepting. I’m usually so cynical, so pessimistic. For the first time in along time, I’m actually optimistic. It’s weird while simultaneously so relieving.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Host Family

At a cybercafe, using a French keyboard, so forgive me if my spellings off, but the keys are all screwy and im not used to their positions on the board.

Been living at my first host family for a few days. I have 5 brothers and a Mom. My oldest brothers in the army and speaks a little English, the next is almost fluent... and Im pretty sure were BFFs by now, the next is cool but only speaks very little English, and then theres the twins. The twins try to help me with the Darija, but they try to explain one word by using a whole mess of others, none of which do I understand. They also talk REALLY, and I cant stress that enough, REALLY fast when trying to explain a word to me.

My mom may be the nicest person ever, though. She also gets really attached really fast. My first night, she told me Im her child. She also said shed miss me when I go back to America. That caught me off guard, I had been there maybe an hour.

Ive got my own room, which is one of two bedrooms. Theres a living room, kitchen, and one other room. We have a running water, electricity, a fridge, and a squat toilet. The kitchen has a drain in the corner by the fridge, so we hang up a curtain in the doorway and boil-up some water when I want to take a bucket bath.

Language classes are going well. Its me and 3 other PCVs in this town learning Darija. Weve all become close, theyre awesome.

In other news, its nearing the end of RamaDan, and Ive been fasting every day. Honestly, its not that hard, its kinda like every days Taanit Ester though. RamaDan ends in a day or so, and my soldier brother came back to celebrate the end-of-RamaDan holiday with the family.

What else has happened? Ive busted out the ukulele, turns out my BFF brother really like Heaven by Brian Adams, and I just so happen to know how to play that. My other brother plqyed me some Moroccan rap on his MP3, so I introduced him to some Jurassic 5 and Black Eyed Peas via the uke. He asked me to write down their names so he can download the songs. BFF brother and I were talking the other day about everything and anything. Got a little confusing when he confused Rome with Romania. He the ntaught me the Darija names for a few other countries, including Germany. Germanys name sounds nothing like the English equivalent, but the people are called Jermans, which he explained was due to Hitlers Aryan race agenda. Then I brought up how far Hitler went to make hi s country Aryan and what he did to the Jews. My brother asked me if Im Jewish, I paused for a moment then told him I am.

A few notes about that:
1) He asked me to write his name for him in Hebrew
2) He told me that they teach Hebrew at his college and he has Muslim friends who take it
3) Were still BFFs, seriously, were tight
4) We spent the next...well, it was a while talking about Jeish history, he asked me where my people come from, which for definitely is a complicated question

Salaam Auleikum, thats Arabic for Peace Out Yall

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bought Me Some Soap

Yesterday most of us new PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) went to the nearest town to buy some supplies.

I bought soap. All by my lonesome. Speaking only broken Arabic.

I also bought some candies for my host family (I meet them tomorrow), a towel, and some shampoo. I bought each item in a different store. The storefronts all had different things for sale, and apparently the soap guy didn’t have much soap in stock. After selling some to another PCV, he literally left his store (there was another guy working there, too) and walked me around all the other storefronts, trying to find me someone who sells soap. We eventually found some, and I bought it. I found the Shampoo guy myself. When I went to buy it, he asked me “Inta Muslami?” (are you Muslim?). I told him “La” (no), but it was weird being asked, and being asked if I’m Muslim as opposed to Christian or something (do I look Middle Eastern/Muslim?). I thought he gave me the wrong change after I told him I’m not, but another PCV explained that they make 10 Dirham coins (not bills), and that I definitely had it. When I bought a towel, I tried to do it in Darija (Moroccan Arabic), but the merchant switched to FusHa (standard Arabic), and then to English (didn’t know he spoke that). We had a good laugh about what actual language we were speaking.

We got back to our hotel, and I played the Moroccan version of Rummy with some Moroccan staff and some PCVs. You ever talk while playing a card game…but with some people doing it in FusHa, some in Darija, some in French, and some in English? It was a good time (and I won, which may have helped). After dinner, I hung out with some more PCVs `til the early morn.

Today we learned about transportation safety, some survival Arabic, which of us are going to what town for our host family (there are four other PCVs in my town, each of us has a different host family), and the names/members of our host family. My family consists of a widow and her five sons. I get my own room, electricity, running water, and there’s a bathroom (that bathroom part’s important). Not sure if I’ll have internet there, but I’m ready to go.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some Things I've Learned

Since coming to Morocco a few days ago, I’ve been absorbing a whole mess of random (and some relevant) information. For the past few days, I’ve been staying in a hotel with all the other new Morocco PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and host-country staff, it’s amazing the things you’ll learn when you’re surrounded by very smart, very open/giving people. Here’s what I got so far:

The word for “And” in Farsi is “Va” like it is in Israel, though it’s “Wa” in the Arabic-speaking world.

The Darija (Moroccan Arabic) word for “Eight” is “Tlata” though it’s “Thlatha” in FusHa (standard Arabic) and “Shlosha” in Hebrew (maybe the pronunciation I’ve been taught for “Three” in Aramaic really is “Tlata” and not “Thlatha” like I had assumed).

Impromptu jam sessions involving flutes, violins, and ukuleles are ridiculously fun.

Nobody speaks FusHa “standard Arabic,” the type spoken in the Qur’an, not even in Saudi Arabia or Mecca. I’m told it’s like Latin to the Arabic-speaking world, but most books/newspapers/news shows are in FusHa, and everybody learns it in school/uses it to communicate with other Arab countries.

Without FusHa, Darija speakers can’t understand Middle-Eastern Arabs, nor can those in the Middle-East understand Moroccans.

At least one member of the Moroccan (as in from here) staff has Israeli friends on facebook.

The acting ambassador’s wife is Jewish, and has no problems in Morocco. The last name of the new ambassador (who’ll be sworn-in soon) Kaplan, he’s Jewish.

Those last two points make me feel a whole lot safer.

The sky is just as blue in any part of the world. Not that I’ve never been abroad before, but it’s always weird to me. For all I know, I could be on some sunny beach in the U.S. with a large Moroccan population. It doesn’t intrinsically feel like a new place, just a place. that’s weird, but nice.

Grasshoppers can fly in Morocco. They can’t fly well, though, as they’ll repeatedly crash into walls.

After sunset on Ramadan, this town gets crazy. I haven’t gone out at night, but from my window I can see the lights/hear the music…and it’s loud.

Learned a new finger-picking technique for the Ukulele.

Shwarma was introduced to Morocco in the past few years. As far as I can understand, Falafel, pita, and laffa are pretty unheard of here (except maybe in a Lebanese or Syrian restaurant…except for the laffa, nobody here seems to know what that is).

Pop-ups in America are pretty much all for sex. Pop-ups in Morocco don’t show girls (let alone girls showing some skin). They’re all in Arabic or French, but I don’t think they’re for sex/hook-ups/finding yourself a girl-or-boyfriend.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of right now.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Woke up too early (8:00ish), showered, got my complementary breakfast, and ate/talked with some other PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). Printed some song chords I wanted to take, and eventually we all made our way onto the bus. We got to the airport about four hours early, so we all put our stuff down (security made us move our bags a few times as we cluttered up the place). Got some lunch, chilled some more, and eventually we were allowed to check in.

At the terminal, I met a Mexican Ashkenaz black-hatter. Yeah, didn’t quite know they existed but they do, apparently there are a lot of Jews in Mexico (and frummies too). On the flight, I ended up sitting next to a Liberian (that’s West-Africa, folks) missionary. We had a very long discussion about G-d, Liberia, Africa in general, Jews of Africa, tribalism, his mission, countries he’s been to, and Peace Corps (apparently he met some PCVs growing up). By-the-by, I initiated all the topics of conversation, he’s not the preachy type of missionary (he works mostly with community development).

Got to Morocco, and had to go through customs. I said “good morning” to the guy behind the desk in Arabic, and we ended up having a conversation. I understood maybe 30% of what he said (and he said it fast), but whenever I responded, he seemed to smile and would carry on the conversation from the point I just said, so I assume I was actually part of it.

Bus ride from the airport was long. We eventually made our way to the hotel. I’m in a small room with three other guys, and will be for five days. We had lunch, then a meeting (about the Peace Corps Morocco staff and some medical stuff).

Afterwards, we chilled some more. Made my way to the lounge where there was some (British?) movie on TV with Arabic subtitles. From what I saw, it seemed to be about a Holocaust survivor who finds the Nazi responsible for his family’s murder. Crazy theme for a Muslim country, maybe I’ve misjudged. A Jewish protagonist, vilified Nazis, and no Holocaust denial from that channel. And they had Arabic subtitles, so it’s not like the network just didn’t notice: someone had to go through translating it. Went to the beach with some other PCVs after a few minutes of that. We met a Moroccan surfer who went to college in L.A. He was nice. Morocco’s kind of rainy, I didn’t expect that.

Dinner (break-fast, it’s RamaDan after all)’s soon. Not much else. The other volunteers are all cool/nice. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Today was staging. From twelve `til sevenish, we were in the meeting room of a hotel. First was the ice breaker. We had to find twelve people, ask them their names/where they’re from/a question. The questions had to do with Peace Corps (such as what have you done to prepare? what do you think’ll be most challenging? When was Peace Corps founded?). After, we split into groups and had to draw representations of what we’re most anxious about and most excited about. Then we split into new groups and each group was given a potential problem we might face. The groups had to write a list of how to prevent and/or reduce the problem. We then split into new groups again and had to act out a scene demonstrating one of six Peace Corps policies (mostly dealing with social interactions and potential obstacles). Afterward, we went over the schedule for tomorrow (waking up, going to the airport, a little bit of what’s gonna happen once we land).

All in all, there are 63 of us, ranging from mid-twenties to senior citizens. About half are working in Youth Development, and half in Small Business Development. Splitting into groups was good, definitely helps with the name-learning, though I’ve still got a ways to go.

Then we went out to dinner. Peace Corps gave us money to cover it. I went with a few other volunteers to a pub, got a burger. Really, we all had a good time there. All the volunteers seem pretty cool, looks like we have a good group going to Morocco.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Hours

Staging begins in roughly twelve hours. Staging is the final step before all Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) leave for our assigned country (Morocco for my group). We all meet at a hotel, go over a few things, and leave for our country one day later. Twelve hours, It’s soon, but I’m ready. Like I’ve said earlier, I’ve been preparing for this since my sophomore year of college.

More recently, though, I’ve started jogging more (figured there won’t be a gym in my village, so I should get in the habit of jogging for exercise).I’ve been reading other Peace Corps Morocco blogs for months now. I bought/read a few books on Morocco (the language, the culture, etc.). I finally bought that watch that’s also a Super Mario World LCD video game (it’s awesome, it’s like having a really cheap Gameboy on my wrist at all times). Bought a hard-case for my ukulele, and a couple of songbooks. Bought new shirts (haven’t done that in over 4 years, all my old ones were free and most say something Jewish on `em). And you remember the Sonic the Hedgehog comic where Sonic gets roboticized? No? Well, I do. My parents bought it for me before we went on a road trip years ago. I must have read it a million times over…but it was only part I of a two-part story. Well, I was in Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago, and they had this Sonic the Hedgehog comic book collection. Lo and behold, they had part II (and only part II) of that story as part of that collection. It wasn’t that good, but it’s nice to finally know what happens (they roboticize Knuckles, he beats up Sonic, then they both go through the roboticizer again and return to normal).

I feel like I’ve wrapped up most every loose end. I’ve visited/said goodbye to most of my friends in Chicago and Maryland (sorry to those I haven’t seen, my schedule’s been more than a little crazy as of late). I’ve caught up on just about every movie/show I’ve been meaning to watch. I’m not seeing anyone (yet again, crazy story there). I’ve got a whole lot of art supplies for my time in Morocco. I know some Arabic. I should be okay.

Then there’s the matter of leaving everyone/thing I know. People have asked me how I feel about that. Weird as it is, that just doesn’t factor into my mind as a problem. I think I’ve done it so many times that it just seems normal by now. I’ve lived in three different cities in my life, and went out-of-state to college (though my family kind of moved twenty minutes away from me after about a year). I’ve been on my own before (Uganda, working at an overnight camp in New Hampshire) in places where I knew no one. Really, this is all standard issue for me.

Am I nervous? No. I realize I’m going to a country that doesn’t really like Jews. Yeah, Morocco’s more tolerant than most Muslim countries…not hard, Jews left Muslim countries first chance they got once the state of Israel was established. Most Moroccan Jews left too. Still, a few thousand remain (way more Jews than any other Muslim country has left). I’ve read other blogs and talked to people who’ve been. There’s a lot of hatred out there for my people. Some Moroccans call others “Jews” as an insult, others unapologetically profess their hatred for Jews, still others are okay with or even fond of us. The king especially is tolerant of Jews, that goes a long way. Still, I’ve got to be careful not to let on that I’m Jewish. Not a fun thought, as I’m very proud of my heritage. Still, considering my reasons for going, it’s worth it.

Eleven hours left. Preparation’s finally over. Let the real work begin.