Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My first event!

A few weeks ago, I held my first program in the community! (outside of activities related to English classes)

The invitation to the event

I wanted to do an activity specific to women, because so many boys come to our Youth Center on a daily basis, and not nearly as many girls. Plus, there are so many things that a man can do in the community (go to a cafe, soccer games, etc) that a woman just does not do here - so I wanted to give girls a chance to have an activity of their own in a comfortable and open environment. And selfishly, I wanted to spend more time with the girls and learn about their interests for potential future activities.

Soda and cookies, wrapped in cute individual packages for each girl

I planned the event along with my host sister and mother, and I was so pleased with the end result! Over 75 girls showed up, and we started with a discussion on being a woman. The conversation centered around questions like, Is it important to have children? Or to have a husband? We had a panel of 3 high school girls and an open microphone in which any girl could speak or ask questions. A lot of discussion, and some debate, but generally a good chance for girls to voice their opinions. 

We adjourned the discussion to a much lighter activity, a Moroccan/American dance party, in which I taught - and learned - lots of moves. Following an hour or so of dancing, we took a break for soda and cookies, which my host mom made. Then, we had 3 volunteers painting henna on girls' hands, something that is done often in celebrations and parties. 

For a first event, I was really excited about the result, and it was a great chance to get to know the girls of Tiflet better. And I even learned some valuable lessons along the way: First off, I think it definitely helped my language skills, because I had to talk about things that are not in the realm of my day-to-day activities. Second, I learned the importance of informal interactions in Moroccan culture - As opposed to formal meetings in the US as a way to get things done, here, it seems as if informal interactions, whether seeing someone on the street, before a meal, or in a cafe, often leads to getting more things accomplished. Next, I learned the importance of flexibility - when the inevitable changes occurred, due to scheduling (a Moroccan view of being on time is very different from my view!) or perhaps language misunderstandings, I recognized that it's a part of getting the job done, and while still stressful, I learned to grin and bear it. And lastly, I learned the importance of leaning on others (particularly Moroccans) to help me. My host sister helped me to understand what would be culturally appropriate for the event and the process needed to plan it out, some of the boys in the Youth Center helped me to set up speakers and chairs in the room, my host mother helped to make cookies and accompanied me to the market to find henna materials, and a group of willing girls helped me through the event itself, speaking about being a woman and doing the henna.

A lot of important lessons that I'm glad I've learned early on! Out of respect for the girls and for the safe space that we created, I have not posted any photos with specific faces, but if anyone is interested in seeing more photos from the event, please email me and I can share a private password-protected album.

In other news....
After 4 months in a cast, hobbling around on crutches, and doing physical therapy (remember those posts??) I have officially started running again!! Only about 30 minutes around town so far, but it's nice to be back. I have received a few funny looks from people as I run by, but it's another good way to show people about my life back in the US of A. 

And speaking of the US of A - the Bernsteins and friends have entered the country!! Coming next week, a post with lots of photos about adventures with our first American visitors :)


  1. Hello. My name is Robin and I follow your blog along with several other North Africa/Middle East PCV blogs. My husband and I are leaving for Morocco, Tunisia, or Jordan in January 2013 to teach English. I have put together a small reading collection of Arab culture and have done some research on what to expect as an American woman. I had no idea that I would possibly be able to keep up with my running routine, though, with which I have no qualms. But I see you are able to run! Are the funny looks mainly looks of wonder or of disapproval? As a woman, can I do things like run, ride a bike to work, maybe start a small girls/women-only indoor yoga class? I'm a very active person - it's a form of meditation for me. I imagine I'll be walking a lot so I'm sure I'll still have outlets for releasing pent up energy. Thanks!

    1. Hi Robin, thanks for reaching out to me! In terms of running, it really depends on your site. I live right near a big city (Rabat) so it is definitely a lot less conservative than some other sites. During your training time, you are able to speak with Peace Corps staff about what you might like in a final site and I did say that it was important to be in a site where I would be able to keep up with physical fitness. But other PCVs who are in sites where it is difficult have started running clubs with other women in the community, or teach aerobics at local places... so there are other options if you end up being in a more conservative site. The funny looks I receive are definitely more wonder than disapproval. Often someone will call out "B-saha" to me which is a common Moroccan Arabic phrase meaning "To your health" which is kind of fun to hear as you run along! You can definitely also bike to work - it's Peace Corps requirement to wear a helmet and no one in our community does that, so we do get some funny looks, but haven't had any problems with that. And you can for sure start an exercise class. I do TONS of walking so that definitely helps too. Hopefully this is helpful! If you have more questions you are welcome to email me directly - My address is laurenjamiebernstein at gmail dot com. Good luck with your planning and enjoy your last 6 months! :)