Monday, March 31, 2014

Bringing the World Home (the Peace Corps Third Goal)

"The logic of the Peace Corps is that 
someday we are going to bring it home to America." 
President John F. Kennedy, 1961 

What makes Peace Corps service unusual (amongst many other things), is that service continues long after volunteers leave their host countries! I have written in previous posts about the goals of the Peace Corps that volunteers are expected to work towards - Here's a quick reminder:
1. Helping the people of the host country with technical skills.
2. Helping to promote to the host country a better understanding of Americans.
3. Helping to promote to Americans a better understanding of the host country.

Goals 1 and 2 were very much a part of my time in Morocco. I was able to take small steps towards Goal 3 during my service: through this blog, through time spent with visitors, through a pen pal program with a home school in Connecticut, and a few guest blog posts here and there. But the real work on Goal 3 started when I came back to the US.

A lot of Goal 3 seems to happen informally as we catch back up with friends and family, but I am also on the lookout for chances to speak about our experiences in larger settings, and Justin and I were recently fortunate to have our first opportunity to speak formally about Morocco; in this case, to the 8th grade class of The Emery/Weiner School from Houston, Texas! 

How did I manage to connect with 8th graders from Houston you might ask? Through my lovely friend Nishta, a high school classmate and teacher at The Emery/Weiner School. Nishta and I have been able to stay in touch through the wonders of Facebook and I even wrote a guest post for her fantastic blog while in Morocco. When I got back stateside, Nishta and I reconnected and set up a time to speak to her students when they came to visit Washington, DC on a class trip. So earlier this month, Justin and I put on our coworker hats once again and collaborated on a powerpoint presentation to deliver about our experiences - ranging from why we joined the Peace Corps, to the type of projects that we did, to some of the key lessons we would want Americans to learn about Morocco. We weren't sure how our presentation would go over, but to the credit of these mature, respectful, and talented students, we spoke to an excited and engaged crowd of 60 with tons of interest and lots of questions!

Huge thanks to Nishta and the wonderful folks at The Emery/Weiner School for the work that they do with these great students. We were really impressed by their interest in Morocco and the Peace Corps and questions that showed real thoughtfulness, but beyond that, when having a dialogue with the students about volunteerism and service, we were also incredibly impressed by the volunteer activities that these students were already doing back in their own communities.

Incredibly thoughtful thank-you notes from Nishta and her students.

It was truly a fantastic Goal 3 experience and we're looking for lots more of them! If you're interested or know of opportunities, please let me know. And if you're interested in seeing the presentation that we gave to Nishta's students, you can download it from here.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What I Wish You Knew about Morocco (Peace Corps Week special)

In honor of Peace Corps Week, current and returned volunteers worldwide have been asked to share messages on the theme of "What I wish Americans knew about my host country." It's been over half a year since I returned to the US (cannot believe how quickly the time has flown!) and hardly a day goes by where I don't reflect about my life in Morocco, compare cultural differences, or think about some of the lessons that I gained over my two years. So in honor of Peace Corps Week, I thought I might share some of the key things I learned.

Let's start with some basic ones:

1. Morocco was the FIRST (yes, first!) country to recognize American independence, and has signed the longest unbroken peace treaty with the United States in American history. Moroccans are very proud of this relationship; it's something that I heard from friends and strangers almost every day.

Moroccan children hanging with Mrs. Clinton at the Embassy.

2. It's not just deserts! From rolling hills to snow-covered mountains, massive forests covered in cork trees to oceanside resorts, rocky plains to yes, the Sahara desert, the country has some of the most diverse landscapes that I have ever seen.

From Tangier, to the Sahara desert, to the snow-capped Atlas mountains.

A few that dig a bit deeper:

3. Moroccans are literally the most hospitable people that I have ever met. There's a reason that Moroccans all call each other "brother" and "sister" within just a few minutes of meeting. It is so common to meet someone on the street, ask for directions, and all of the sudden a few minutes later you find yourself on the way to their house for tea and then dinner and you are meeting the full extended family. During my Peace Corps training, I was warned not to compliment someone too heavily on an item, because they would surely try to give it to me - this happened several times when I forgot! This isn't to say that people don't have arguments or issues amongst each other, but there is something deeply inherent in the culture and religion to be open, generous, and hospitable towards others.

Justin and I with our Moroccan family.

4. As the US is an incredibly diverse country, so is Morocco. Morocco is primarily a Muslim country (about 99% identify as Muslim) but I observed an incredible diversity in people's perspectives and views - some are what we might call more conservative, some more progressive. I saw many women dressing in a western style, many others fully covered, and pretty much everything in between. The Moroccan Arabic language is most commonly spoken but the accents and vocabulary change between every community and region in the country. And that's not to mention the parts of the country heavily influenced by the Spanish and French, and an incredibly rich history - Morocco has some of the most beautiful Roman ruins in the African continent.

Roman ruins in Volubilis.

5. The word "inshallah" is a defining aspect of Moroccan life. It means "If Allah wills it" and comes into play when thinking about everything from plans for a meal, to an upcoming trip, to meeting a future husband or wife, even about death. It means accepting that God works in mysterious ways and is in control of plans. But interestingly enough, there is a line in the Koran that says that while God is in control of plans, people must still put in a strong effort and work hard and will be rewarded. 

A group of students in our job skills training class.

And one last one that's kind of fun:

6. Maybe you have heard of argan oil? It has now become famous in the US and is included in all sorts of cosmetics, and pure argan oil is extremely expensive. You might not know about the traditional method of extracting argan oil, and here's where it gets fun. Goats in Morocco climb the argan trees. The goats then eat the argan nut. The nut passes through the goats, the waste matter is gathered and the argan oil is then extracted from it. So this expensive, famous, extravagant cosmetic... is derived from goat poo. I can't make this up.

Goats in trees! Where argan oil begins :)

Monday, February 10, 2014

An unfinished project, now complete!

I've written pretty extensively on this blog about my work related to gender issues and women's empowerment as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco (if you're new to the blog, you can read some of those posts here). About halfway through my service in Morocco, I started a project with an amazing group of young Moroccan girls from GlobalGirl Media, an organization that empowers young women from underserved communities by teaching them new media and leadership skills. 

These girls were passionate about creating a video on an issue that affects girls and women in Morocco and in other countries throughout the world -- sexual harassment. I wrote a grant for their project, to cover the costs of filming people throughout Morocco - women and men, old and young, in small and large communities - as well as the editing and production of a video with their findings. Unfortunately, the filming took longer than expected and I left Morocco before the project was completed. I'm happy to say though that these dedicated individuals remained committed to the project along with other Peace Corps volunteers and have completed an amazing 3-part video! It's really exciting to see what these girls have been able to accomplish and to know that I played a role in helping them to express themselves and to stand up for issues in their country.

If you are interested, the 3-part video can be viewed on the below links (they have English voices dubbed over):
Part I: Is this Normal?
Part II: Let's Talk about Normal
Part III: Time for a New Normal

In other news, Justin and I are enjoying our time with the adorable Katie and exploring DC as much as possible when it's not covered in snow. We're counting the days until springtime, cherry blossoms, picnics and bike rides! More updates to come soon.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The newest member of our family

World, meet Katie!!

Those of you who have kept up with this blog from the beginning might remember Sandy, the adorable pit bull whom Justin and I fostered for 4 months before leaving for the Peace Corps. We absolutely loved our time with Sandy and had been itching to have a dog to call our own since then. Two and a half years later, we're so happy to have this wonderful dog join our family!

Overlooking the Potomac River in Georgetown.

Katie is about a year and 2-3 months (we don't know for sure), a beige and white American Staffordshire Terrier mix, and 43 pounds of goofy, loving, energetic adorableness. 

At the dog park, an example of her goofiness!

We adopted Katie from Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, a foster network of volunteers who work hard to find families for homeless and abandoned animals (I would definitely recommend them to anyone in the DC area!). We knew that we wanted to adopt a pit bull, for several reasons:
1) They are ADORABLE and have a wonderful disposition, and 
2) Pit bulls get a terrible rep and more than anything we want to try to change people's perceptions. Our hope is that by seeing us on the street with Katie, or in reading about or meeting her, perhaps people might start to think a bit differently.

Who could think these dogs are anything but adorable?!?

If you've read this long, then here's your present - Lots more adorable Katie photos!! Enjoy :)

Katie gets to know Pimento, our pet turtle.
Surrounded by her toys. 
With Justin and our friend Bryant.
Playing with a Chanukah present from her
Uncle Neal, Aunt Erin, and Cousin Maple (the dog).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Time flies!

I am writing this blog post from New York, where Justin and I have been spending the Christmas holiday with his family. It's so hard to believe that we have been back in the U.S. for nearly 5 months! I've been a bit delinquent on posting (it's on my New Years resolutions list to be more frequent!), so let me catch you up on the last few months.

New City:
We're now settled into Washington, DC where we are slowly but surely getting used to life there. It's a slower pace than New York City and certainly very different from Morocco! The transition has taken a while but I think we are finally getting used to both life in the U.S. and life in our new city.

New Apartment:
After living in a temporary place for a month or so, we moved into a permanent apartment in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, which I just recently read has the largest concentration of returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the world! So I'm happy that we're in good company. It took a few months but we're almost fully unpacked and settled in.

New Jobs:
Justin has started back at school to get his PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland (proud wife brag: It's the number one program for this in the country!) and he's doing really well and enjoying the work. I am working as a Marketing Manager at an amazing education technology company called EverFi. The company creates interactive, web platform-based programs to teach critical skills to students that might be missing from either the school or their home (for example, financial education for high schoolers or alcohol abuse prevention for college students) and partners with corporations to bring these into schools free of charge. It's very much a change from my days working in corporate advertising, and I love coming to work knowing that my work has the potential to enrich and improve people's future prospects.

New Year:
Now that we are finally feeling more settled, I'm so excited to begin the next year and to see what adventures are ahead! From our home to yours, wherever you may be in the world, wishing you a year filled with learning, wonder, and beauty. I look forward to continuing to chart our journeys in 2014!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

One Month Back

Today marks 1 month since Justin and I returned to America. In some ways I feel like we never even left the US and in other ways I am reminded daily of our 2 years spent away from it. It’s been a whirlwind for sure and I cannot believe that it’s been so long since my last post! I do plan to continue blogging, to talk about our experiences transitioning back, teaching others about our time spent in Morocco, and maybe some other fun stuff in between :)

So, where to start?

So many people have asked about our experiences in Morocco, and it’s hard to give a concise answer about something that has changed and affected me in so many ways. Truly, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life – to learn about a culture and way of life quite different from my own, to have the opportunity to affect other people’s lives, to figure out how to solve difficult and uncertain situations with limited language and technical skills, to be able to truly experience another country for more than a brief visit…  each of these would take days to expand on how they have affected me.

If you’re curious about some of the work that I did in Morocco, you can look at my Peace Corps Description of Service, which you can access by clicking here. This is an informal version as Peace Corps limits us to fewer pages, but I wanted to include as many details as possible!

Since coming back, we’ve spent lots of time in between New York and Washington, DC (our new home) and in the coming month we’ll be moving into an apartment, starting a new job, starting school (Justin), going to a wedding (my brother’s), catching up with lots of old friends, and continuing to adjust to our new lives – so I’ll have lots to cover in future posts! In the meantime I’ll leave you with a photo from one of our last trips in Morocco and our favorite city to visit, Essaouira.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Our Last Days in Tiflet

A short update: We said tearful goodbyes to friends and family and left our 2-year home on Wednesday morning. For the last few days we've been finishing up paperwork at Peace Corps headquarters in Rabat. We will be returning to the US tomorrow and I'm excited to come back, but I remain very reflective about our experiences living in Morocco.

In our last days in Tiflet, we took some photos to help remember things by. I realized that I haven't posted a lot of photos of our community on this blog, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites.

Tile pieces inlaid into cement - lots of houses in Tiflet have this and I love it!
In downtown Tiflet.
Justin in front of our Youth Center, where we worked.
Our favorite animal in Tiflet! Most donkeys/mules are used for work purposes
and are usually tied up by the legs or neck. This guy, on the other hand,
does not appear to have an owner and we often see him lounging in the
grass or slowly meandering across the street blocking traffic. I tried to get
close for a photo but being the independent donkey that he is,
he wouldn't let me too close :)
Wood piled up for burning to heat a hammam, or public bath.
Traditional honey-covered Ramadan sweets.
Piles of fresh vegetables at our daily market.
Our post office. Justin and I have a side hobby of taking photos of
post offices which we haven't done much in Morocco but look forward
to resuming when we're back in the US!
Sunset along the main road to Rabat, with a mosque minaret on the right.