Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vacation time!

Justin and I have only been teaching for a month, and now with our students' winter break comes a 2-week vacation. If the pace of life in Morocco is wrong, I don't want to be right!! 

We are happy to have the break, though - It's been an adjustment jumping into the role of a teacher. Each night, we scramble to review the lessons from that day and to adjust and create new lesson plans based on the students' progress. We are teaching 7 different kinds of classes: Beginner Adult, Beginner Kids, Beginner High Schooler (Moroccans study English in high school), High School English Exam prep (high schoolers here take a major exam at the end of their last year - like an SAT on steroids - and English is a big part of it), Intermediate, Homework Help, and Advanced Speaking. While some of those classes have similar lesson plans, we have to adjust the content and nature of the lesson for each audience, and of course, make sure we know how to say it in Moroccan Arabic! Needless to say, it's been a little nuts but our students are all very patient and respectful and we are learning just as much (if not more) than they are! 

Other than catching up on lesson plans, I'm trying to spend more time working on new recipes in the kitchen - recent successes have been falafel, tortillas, lentil chili, and cornbread (all fully from scratch!). I'm planning soon to put up a page on the blog detailing my cooking extravaganzas, so keep an eye out for that. 

And next week, we will travel to Mehdiya (northeast of Rabat, just on the coast) for a week of training with the Peace Corps - we'll be reviewing the things that we have learned in the few months in our community, and beginning to talk about future projects that we may want to implement. I'm looking forward to the chance to step back and think a bit more about my goals for the upcoming two years, and a change of scenery for a few days will be nice too!

Those are all the updates for now! Enjoy the below photos, from a recent excursion to the nearby countryside with our Moroccan friends (notice the essentials for any Moroccan picnic - tea (a lot), bread (even more), and don't forget your drums, or a device that can double as a drum). And Justin and I spent an afternoon being tourists in Rabat last week, which was a fun change!

our friends leading us into the countryside..
you can't see it, but at least 3 drums are being carried along!
Surprisingly the area was full of people. We found out that people were trying to hunt
wild boars (not to eat, just to kill). Didn't know that they had them in Morocco, and enjoyed
watching people spending the whole afternoon running back and forth after these guys.
Important Moroccan picnic items: Don't forget your tea glasses, your teapot,
your tajine pot, 10 loaves of bread, and a pound or so of sugar :)
Tajine success! Pretty impressive for cooking over a fire... beats my Girl Scout days!
Justin and I pose in the countryside
And the last important element of the Moroccan picnic is
the drum - any object that you can beat on will do!
Justin and I touring Rabat - this is the door to the Kasbah.
I love having the guy in the photo to get a sense of how big it is!
Inside the Kasbah. To me it looks like pictures I've seen of Santorini in Greece!
the water! Justin looks out in the direction of New York (we think) :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Peace Corps Morocco Packing List (or, why I love spreadsheets)

Updated January 24: Thought of a few new things to add!

In a little less than 2 months, a whole new group of Peace Corps volunteers will be descending upon Morocco, to go through a similar experience to the one in which you have followed along with me over the past 4 months - learning a new culture, a language, host families, new cities, new food, new friends... I could go on and on. 

Two months before leaving for the Peace Corps (in early July, we left in September), I remember feeling crazed - Justin and I somehow thought it would be a great idea to plan a 6-week long international and cross-country trip right before we would leave, so almost all of our packing needed to be complete by mid-July. I spent a LOT of time reading blogs of then volunteers in Morocco and one of the most helpful things for me were packing lists that volunteers posted. So, to add back to the interweb karma that helped me in July, this blog post is all about my packing list. Peace Corps Morocco provides some guidelines in their welcome packet, but this is my take.

Getting Started
To start, my best advice is to start early and make lots of lists. For me, that meant a massive spreadsheet. Being the child of an engineer, there are few problems that a good spreadsheet can't solve (thanks Dad!). So, my PC Prep spreadsheet included a checklist of things to get done before we left, a packing list divided by type of item (you'll see more on that below), and a list of items that we needed to buy. The spreadsheet helped to keep me sane as the days ticked by quicker and quicker. Another piece of advice is not to stress and go as crazy as I did... truly, anything you might need is available in Morocco, so bring what you think you need and for everything else, it will be fine. I promise :)

Let's start off with the basics. Two pieces of luggage. I think you can pay to check a third piece of luggage if you want, but you will need to be able to carry everything from town to town, so I would recommend against it. While I was a bit nervous, it's really not that tough if you plan out your packing (the hardest part is keeping the bags under the weight limit). Because you are staying with host families and often are in smaller quarters, Peace Corps will have you leave 1 bag at the training site which you will only be able to access every few weeks. Just something to keep in mind. I suggest the following:
- Large suitcase with wheels: I got mine from Eagle Creek (they give a Peace Corps discount) and it has been great - very durable so far. I would recommend that you pack this suitcase with things that you don't anticipate needing for a while, as this would likely be the suitcase that you leave at your training site (for those coming in March, pack the winter clothing here as it should hopefully be warm by then!).
- Hiking backpack: Again, I got mine from Eagle Creek and it has been great. Pack the things that you need for training (basic clothing, toiletries, etc) in this bag.
- Duffel bag: You can use this as a carry-on, but it will also be helpful once you get lots and lots and lots of books from the Peace Corps - so don't pack it full. For me, I brought an empty duffel bag for the additional items picked up during training and it was helpful.
- Shoulder bag: Either a purse or a man-bag that is big enough to carry books and notebooks (and a laptop, if you are bringing one).
- Backpack: Recommended to bring for day trips - a bit easier to carry around than a duffel, and also helpful carting teaching materials to and from our Youth Center.
- TSA luggage locks: Definitely recommended, just to be safe.

Linens, etc
- Sleeping bag: It wasn't needed during training, but was really helpful once I moved into an apartment and didn't have a bed or blankets for a few days. Also helpful if you want to visit other Peace Corps friends who don't have extra places for sleeping. I read that people recommended a sleeping bag liner to keep it away from dust, but I haven't needed one.
- Lightweight towels: Definitely bring. I would recommend two. Also, the towels I have found in Morocco don't really pick up water so much as move them around, so you could bring 1-2 kitchen towels for your future apartment as well (or, just have those sent to you in a care package).
- Don't bring: sheets and pillowcases - you don't know what size bed you'll have, and you can find these here (not as great as in the U.S. but I didn't care too much about it). 

- Business Casual Outfits: You will need 1 outfit for staging (the event held before you leave the country) and 1 outfit for arrival in Morocco. Bring something that you can wear on the plane and something that is country-appropriate (skirt mid calf to full length, nothing too tight). I brought a skirt along with 2 shirts to alternate.
- Jackets: Shockingly before I came to Morocco I thought it was warm all the time. And while it is bright and sunny in mid-January (something that makes me not miss New York!) it gets really cold at night. I would recommend bringing 1 fleece jacket, and 1 lightweight waterproof jacket. If you wanted, you could also bring a cuter lightweight coat - I didn't and would love to have had something with me.
- Sweaters/Sweatshirt: Bring more than you think! I have 2 somewhat-heavy sweaters and right now I wear them all the time. I would recommend 3-4. I also brought a hooded sweatshirt that I wear a lot around the house when it's cold.
- Long and Short-Sleeved Shirts: Great for layering. I got some thin ones at Target that are loose and long.
- Cardigans: These have been great to throw on as an extra layer. I brought 3 lightweight, long-sleeved cardigans. 
- Tank tops: Bring as needed for wearing around the house. So far I have just layered them under shirts when it was a bit on the warmer side.
- Pants: I brought 2 pairs of jeans (not too tight) and a pair of black pants. I wore the black pants once but wear the jeans almost all the time now.
- Skirts: I brought a bunch of long skirts to wear, and they were great when it was really warm when we first arrived in Morocco. I bought a skirt online from Maccabi Skirts and it is fantastic - super durable and lots of pockets. Remember that it should be long or mostly long.
- Leggings: Great to wear under skirts when you need a bit more warmth - I brought 2 pairs.
- Underwear and socks: Great advice that I read on another blog is to keep in mind that your underwear will be hanging on the roof, drying in the sun for all Moroccans to see - so edit your bringings as appropriate :) Also, bring a pair or two of thick socks for the really cold days/nights.
- Other great warm stuff to have: Gloves, hats (a warm one and a more casual one), scarves (for wrapping your hair after getting out of a shower - Moroccans are very concerned that wet hair will make you get a cold!), and thermal underwear. Just a note though, if you don't own a heavy coat or lots of warm clothes, you don't need to buy them if you are arriving in Morocco in March. It is all available here for cheaper than in America, and you'll stick out a little less if you wear what the locals wear!
- Things I brought but haven't used yet: Athletic shorts (maybe will wear around the house when it's warmer), bandannas (I have heard that they have uses but none yet), belt, sweatpants. 

- Dress Shoes: Just one pair needed to go with the nicer outfits. I brought a pair that is both somewhat dressy but also easy to wear every day if I wanted here (i.e. no heels).
- Everyday shoes: For me, I recommend Tom's - I have 2 pairs and I swear by them.
- Sneakers: For running/hiking/etc.
- Sturdy sandals: Throw out those bad flip-flops! At least get Crocs which have more support. I have learned my lesson.
- Slippers: I didn't bring them and they are on their way via USPS now! We have tile floors and they get SO. COLD.
- Don't bring: Snow boots. So far I have not seen a drop of snow, and if you need them, you can buy them here. 

- Jewelry: I didn't bring anything super valuable, but I did bring a bunch of pairs of earrings that I really like and I alternate them almost every day.
- Cheap watch: I got one at Target and highly recommend bringing one. Helpful when you need a timer too. 
- Hair clips/bands/ties: If you are a lady... or a man with longer hair. I brought a bunch of bands to hold back my hair which has been helpful when I'm not styling my hair (which is, to be honest, every day).
- Sunglasses: Haven't worn mine but only because I keep forgetting to bring them with me. There seems to be sun almost year round! 

- The Basics: Brush/comb, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss shampoo, conditioner, body wash, shaving cream, razors - I brought one extra of each which was helpful to get through the full 3 months of training without having to think about it. I very much recommend bringing floss to combat the massive amount of sugar that you take in here!
- Makeup: I brought a small supply and have only used it twice. But nice to have as an option.
- Lotion: I'm finding that my hands are super dry, both from the weather and from harsher soap (keep in mind that you do laundry by hand). It seems like lotion is kind of expensive here, so I would recommend bringing at least a bottle to last you for a bit.
- Hand wipes and hand sanitizer: These are KEY as you adjust to squat toilets and lack of toilet paper around. I made myself a small little bag that I carried with me that had hand sanitizer, hand wipes, and toilet paper.
- Lady supplies: If you take birth control, bring a 3 month supply. And I recommend either the Diva Cup or reusable pads that can be easily washed.
- Other helpful items: Hair scissors, nail file and scissors, extra pairs of glasses if you wear them. No need to bring medical items or sunscreen/bug spray as they are provided by PC.

- Camera and supplies: Important to document your experiences! I recommend getting rechargeable batteries and a charger to use.
- Flash drive: Helpful for sharing files with the Peace Corps and your fellow PCV's, and for using at cyber cafes.
- Computer: Be sure to insure it and get a good virus-protection program on it. If you use flash drives at cyber cafes (as I noted above) always scan them for viruses afterwards! Also, bring a case for the laptop to protect it.
- Flashlight: I brought a big Maglite and also a small little flashlight that attaches to my keychain; both have been super helpful.
- Headphones/iPod: I brought the iPhone that I was using before leaving and it's nice to have the music when I need to zone out or just want a taste of home (in December, my Christmas holiday mix was in full swing!). 
- External hard drive: If you have one, it's great for storing photos and files on your computer. Also, PCV's like to (illegally) share TV shows, movies, music, ebooks, etc. 
- Memory card reader: We have a cheap one that reads almost every kind of memory card, and it has been really great to have to share our photos with friends and also to get photos from people with all sorts of memory cards.
- Outlet adapters: I only brought 1 but it might be helpful to have 2.
- Don't bring: surge protectors (not necessary), a shortwave radio (we have internet in our apartment so we can listen through the interwebs). 

Job-Related Supplies
- Books: I got a Kindle as a gift shortly before leaving, and while I was opposed to it in theory originally, it makes a lot of sense when living in another country.
- Notebooks: Super helpful for having during training and for using when planning activities/classes in the community. I brought 3 and still need more.
- Markers: A last minute decision to bring and glad I did - it has been helpful when making posters for class. I also brought dry erase board materials - a mini dry erase board along with markers and erasers - they don't have the materials in our Youth Center so I'm glad I brought them.
- Scissors: Very helpful to have.
- Language-Related Materials: Index cards, an English dictionary, a French-English dictionary, all are helpful to have (you will get a Moroccan Arabic-English dictionary once you get here).
- Writing Utensils: Pens, pencils, etc.
- Mailing envelopes: Good to have!
- Folder or Binder: You get lots and lots of paperwork from the Peace Corps. I brought an expandable file which I can label which has been really helpful. 

Kitchen Things
- Plastic bags: I brought assorted sizes and they have had lots of uses.
- Vegetable peeler: Haven't seen one here and glad to have it!
- Nalgene water bottle: Nice to have in the apartment and when on the run.
- Things I wish I brought: An oven mitt, measuring cups, and measuring spoons - haven't found any of them here.

Other Misc Items
- Umbrella: Good to have!
- Duct tape: So many uses.
- Sticky tacky: Great for getting things onto the fully-tiled walls. 
- Games (Uno, cards, etc): Bring 2 extra sets as a gift for each host family - they love Uno here! 
- Exercise equipment: I brought jump rope. Wish I brought a yoga mat.
- Pictures/Postcards from home: Things to remember home by! Justin and I asked friends and family to send us photos and messages and we printed a photo book online, which is so nice to flip through from time to time. 
- Tote bags: Great to have when going to the markets to buy food.
- Small sewing kit: Great for the inevitable mishaps!
- Swiss Army knife: A bazillion uses. Just a heads up that according to the Peace Corps, these are technically illegal in Morocco (didn't find that out until after we got here with ours).
- Travel alarm clock: Or just use your watch.
- Maps: U.S. (great when telling people where you are fun), and Morocco of course!
- Hair dryer: It's up to you. I have used mine once so far, so if you bring one I would recommend a small one that doesn't take up much room.
- Peanut butter: My husband insisted that I add this one. They have PB here but in small containers and only available at supermarkets in the big cities (and also a bit on the expensive side). We have a big jar coming en route from Mom :) And while we are on the food subject - you will really miss having CHEESE here! But fortunately you can have hard cheeses shipped that don't need to stay refrigerated (i.e. parmesan).
- Don't bring: Bicycle gloves, Coleman camp shower, money belt (I just use a safe, well-zippered purse)

I hope that this is helpful! Please feel free to post comments or contact me if you have any questions. And for those coming in March, I look forward to meeting you :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Boundaries (and children)

It's my first blog post of 2012! I hope everyone is off to a great start in the new year.

The inspiration for this blog post came from one of my daily trips last week to and from Rabat for physical therapy (if you read my last triumphant post, my cast is now off and the doctor has recommended a month of physical therapy – so far, so good!).

In order to get from our site to Rabat and back, we take what is called a “grand taxi” - essentially an old Mercedes Benz that would be fairly spacious, except that 6 passengers (along with the driver) are packed into the car – 4 in the back, 2 in the front, plus the driver. This is a fairly common way that I've seen in Morocco of transporting people from place to place. So there I am, in the back of a grand taxi, waiting for 2 final passengers before the taxi would leave, when an older woman gets in the backseat along with a young child, maybe 2 years old. I make pleasant conversation with the woman for a few minutes as we begin riding back to Tiflet, and then she proceeds to hand me the child (without my asking), who sits and plays on my lap for the rest of the trip. The child was adorable and I enjoyed the distraction which made the 45 minute ride go by much quicker, but it also highlighted two cultural observations that I wanted to share: 

1. Moroccans love children 
I mean, everyone loves a cute kid here and there, but I have never seen such a love for children that this country seems to share. People coo and smile when a small child enters a room and kids are passed around from person to person (whether they know them or not) to coddle them endlessly. Which leads me to... 

2. Thin boundaries, no barriers 
I knew before coming to Morocco to expect less physical boundaries. The grand taxi experience is one of many in which spatial relationships are very different than in the U.S. Here, many families sleep together in small rooms, greetings always involve handshakes and more often than not hugs and kisses (even amongst strangers), boys think nothing of sitting on each others' laps or walking arm-in-arm. And then there's the passing around of children. I laughed to myself trying to compare my situation to the U.S. - what would happen if I were sitting on a subway train in New York and a total stranger sitting next to me struck up a conversation and handed me their child to play with?

While I expected there to be fewer physical barriers, I have been surprised that there are fewer emotional barriers between people as well. Greetings involve hugs and kisses; that's because you almost instantly become close friends, even family. And what I found most interesting about my experience in the grand taxi was not necessarily that of our spatial closeness, but rather our emotional closeness. That this woman seemed to feel as comfortable with me after 5 minutes as someone might feel after 5 years.

One of our friends from the Youth Center invited us over for lunch today, and this was the first time we met the rest of his family. They fed us a huge lunch (rfisa – recipe forthcoming, as I am determined to learn how to cook because it is amazing!), and then immediately after which they asked us to stay for kaskrot (the next meal following lunch, several hours away). When we said we needed to prepare for upcoming English classes, they sent us away with a bag of lemons, a massive jug of olives freshly brined, and a full bottle of fresh zeit bldya (traditional olive oil) . All this after 1 hour spent with the family - which of course, involved lots of time spent playing with the children.

In other news, we traveled to Ifrane on New Year's Day with friends from our Youth Center. En route, we made a few new friends (photo below). And the apartment is coming together. We cooked our first meal this week - a little taste of home. Enjoy the pictures! 

In a shop in Azrou, on the way to Ifrane
One of our new friends
My Italian in-laws should be proud!!