Saturday, June 30, 2012

My parents visit Morocco!

Here's the second installment of updates from the last few weeks. After our regional meetings in Azrou ended, Justin and I hopped on a train to meet my parents who were arriving in Casablanca! They spent about a week in Morocco with us and we used the time to catch up on many lost months, with sightseeing, shopping, partaking in wonderful Moroccan food, and of course, enjoying lots of family time together. Hope you enjoy the photos from a week that went by far too quickly!!

Overlooking Rabat's Kasbah and the Atlantic Ocean
A Jewish synagogue from the 17th century in Fes
A break from sightseeing, and enjoying some mint tea!
A musician in Rabat's Kasbah
With a guard, in front of the Mohammed V Mausoleum in Rabat
A traditional breakfast food called "milwi" - very good!
Beautiful fountain
Mom and Dad in a garden in Rabat's Kasbah
Overlooking the Fes tanneries, where leather is dyed by hand! Quite a smell but really cool to see.
Close-up of blue dyed leather
I have developed an affinity for taking photos of beautiful Moroccan lamps :)
In front of the Hassan Tower in Rabat
Dad does his famous Weinrich act (pretending to run into something) in Rabat
A spread of yummy Moroccan salads!
Pouring tea
Doors to the King's Palace in Fes
Called "bastilla au lait," a very tasty dessert!
Lunch with our host family in Tiflet
My Moroccan and American parents together :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Regional meetings and GAD

Apologies for the delay since my last post! Lots has happened over the past few weeks which I will cover in posts over the coming week or two. So, what has happened? A little bit of work and a little bit of play - So for today's blog post we'll start with the work. Just days after we finished our last English class and as some of our Baccalaureate students were sitting down to take their English exams, Justin and I set off for Azrou to attend regional meetings. Peace Corps Morocco is divided into 8 different regions, and the groups gather together once a year to discuss updates from the field, share ideas, and generally plan for the coming year. 

The regional meeting was a great opportunity for me to both learn from others and to share helpful advice and ideas. I discussed a lot of ideas for future projects in my site, and I'll be planning much more on this over the summer. For today, I wanted to talk about a new initiative that I helped to launch with Peace Corps Morocco's Gender and Development (GAD) committee and shared with volunteers during the regional meeting. For the past few months, the GAD committee has been soliciting ideas from volunteers on a yearlong gender-related theme - The idea behind this was to find a gender-related issue that a large number of volunteers might be interested in and might relate to their work, and then our committee would develop resources to help teach volunteers more about that issue and give them potential projects that they could do in their communities.

The committee gathered 7 different theme ideas from volunteers across Morocco, ranging from parental relationships, to notions of beauty, to education around health or computers. Once themes were gathered, we posted them online and asked volunteers to vote on which theme they would be most interested in. The winning theme received over a hundred votes (pretty good since we only have about 250 volunteers in country) and was developed totally by youth from Ouarzazate (a city in the south of Morocco). The youth named the theme "Pssst... I Protest! Stop Sexual Harassment."

Screenshot from the GAD website, with the winning theme

What I was so pleased about is that the winning theme came from youth themselves - So it's not just an idea that Peace Corps is pushing on a community, but rather an issue that youth feel is both pressing and important. During regional meetings, the GAD committee presented a short one-sheeter to educate volunteers about the context of sexual harassment in Morocco and gave them some simple discussion questions in both English and Arabic (developed by the youth from Ouarzazate) that volunteers could use to help start one-on-one discussions in their site. Over the coming months, the GAD committee will develop a toolkit of projects related to sexual harassment that volunteers can do in their sites. 

So that's the highlight from our regional meetings. Right after the meetings ended, Justin and I headed to Casablanca to meet... MY PARENTS! More in the next post :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Moroccan Travels, Part Three... Casablanca

Justin and I are finishing up our spring session of classes and had some extra time, so we decided to take a day trip to Casablanca. It's a beautiful city, Morocco's largest, with close to 3 million people, and right along the Atlantic coast with gorgeous breezy weather. We spent hours just walking around and taking everything in. 

The biggest highlight of our visit was seeing the Hassan II Mosque, which is situated on an amazing position on the coast and is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. It is also the largest mosque in North Africa and the third largest in the world, with room for 25,000 inside and a further 80,000 in the courtyard. Justin and I also walked along the coast and among some of the beautiful gardens and outdoor areas in the city. And lastly, we saw one of the coolest post offices we have ever encountered! Side-note: Taking photos of post offices is a hobby of Justin and mine - we like that in many places, the architecture and look of the post offices reflects the location, and often the post office is a great way to remember a visit. If you are interested, you can check out my Facebook photo albums with post offices spanning across 4 continents here and here

As you will see in the photos below, Casablanca is a beautiful, beautiful city. It was a short visit and there are still several sites that we would like to visit, so we'll definitely return again over our time here!

Posing in front of a fountain.
This is the famous post office. So beautiful!
Approaching Hassan II Mosque... almost looks like a painting!
Close-up of tilework on the minaret.
Not sure if you can see the tiny black figure to the right of the
white van, but that's Justin - just to get a sense of proportions!
Justin and a fountain, with beautiful tiles- you'll see a close-up below.
Beautiful tilework! Sometime I am going to post all of the designs I have seen here.
View of the Atlantic coast from the mosque.
Waves crashing against the side walls near the mosque.
Justin looking out over the mosque.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Justin's first event!

Back in March, I wrote this post about the first big event that I did in Tiflet (outside of teaching English classes and miscellaneous smaller activities). Now, it's Justin's turn! 

A couple of months ago, Justin was approached by a friend of ours, who is also the president of one of the local associations in Tiflet. He wanted to put on a festival for a rural underserved community, and explained that with Tiflet being a larger city (about 80,000 people), youth have access to resources that can help them to learn and develop in new ways - for example, a Youth Center and along with it, clubs and associations that do activities involving sports, music, theater, or art. This association wanted to provide something for rural youth that would give them access to some of those same resources, help to teach them skills, and forge a partnership with the community for potential future activities. Justin had previously mentioned that if the association ever needed money for an event, that he might be able to help them find funding sources - and this was a great opportunity.

For several weeks, Justin worked with the association to apply for a microgrant, which helped to provide the funding for supplies, transportation, food, etc. Once the grant was approved and the planning continued, Justin helped along the way, talking with the planners to help make sure all of the bases were covered. And Justin and I both attended the 2-day festival and helped out in any way that we could with limited language - setting things up, taking pictures, dancing with the kids, and helping with a workshop. I watched a lot of the kids from this community really come out of their shells over the two days and was really inspired by what our community's youth were able to do for others. Enjoy the photos and descriptions below which will tell you a bit about what went on there.

Day 1:

Arrived bright and early to help set up a stage, banners, some speakers, and lots of other fun stuff, along with other youth from Tiflet and teachers at the community's school:

The first activity was a soccer tournament, starting with 4 teams/2 games on the first day, and a final on the second day.

If you noticed, the photos above were all boys - That's because soccer here is mostly focused on boys. For the girls, the association put together a running competition. Not quite as big of an event as the boys', but still good for them to participate, and it's great that the association included physical activity for girls, something that often seems to be overlooked.

Next came a puppet show, with the theme around the importance of studying and going to school (at least that's what I think, based on not totally knowing everything they were saying!).

Then, a set of clowns to get the kids excited!

After some dancing with the clowns, we continued with a "cultural competition" - sort of like a quiz show around Moroccan and Islamic culture.

Next was an art workshop which I helped to run... just a chance for them to draw and express themselves.

And last (but very important) for day 1 was LUNCH! And since it was Friday, it of course had to be couscous. This was one of the MANY platters of couscous passed around.

Then, Justin and I went home and COLLAPSED.

Day 2:

The day started with the final soccer game to determine the tournament winners. Tensions were a bit high amongst the coaches (the kids' teachers) and lots of cheering went on!

After the game ended, we continued the excitement with a small dance party - And I learned some moves!

Next was the awards ceremony for the soccer and running. All of the kids were given certificates for participation in the festival too.

Somehow in the midst of all of this, Justin got put into a "jellaba" - a traditional Moroccan outfit. Quick photo break :)


Activities continue with performances that the kids have been practicing in school in preparation for the event - comedy routines, dances, theatrical performances, songs, even short speeches. All really impressive!

And last but definitely not least - the festival concluded with a "fantasia" performed by members of the community - a traditional equestrian display in Morocco that has been practiced for centuries (you can read more about it on the Wikipedia page). The fantasia involves horses and riders in traditional dress, riding along a straight path at the exact same speed so that they form a perfect horizontal line. All riders are carrying traditional guns and at the end of their short ride towards onlookers, they all fire into the sky at the exact same time. Pretty cool! As they were setting up, Justin and I got to pose with one of the horses, and I also spent time taking photos and admiring the beautiful traditional dress on the horses.


All in all, a really successful event, and I'm proud of Justin for the work he put into it and even more impressed by the amazing youth in our community who conceived of and organized the festival. I can only imagine how many more great experiences like this we will witness over the remaining year and a half here!