Thursday, September 27, 2012

Goal #3

Pop quiz! Who knows what the 3 goals of the Peace Corps are?
Just kidding, I'll tell you, they are quite simple (and I am paraphrasing here):

1. Helping the people of my host country to develop new skills.
2. Helping to promote to my host country a better understanding of Americans.
3. Helping to promote to Americans a better understanding of my host country.

Goals 1 and 2 are part of my everyday life - teaching English, doing activities with women, talking to people about American culture, lots of the things that I often write about on this blog. What I don't often write about is Goal 3 - teaching Americans more about Morocco and Moroccan culture. That's where all of YOU come in - part of the purpose of this blog, in addition to chronicling our travel/cooking/work adventures, is to teach you a little about Morocco - its people, culture, religion, food, history, geography, you name it. And hopefully I've done a bit of that over the past year.

One of my intended goals over the next year is to do more "Goal 3" activities - and I've started it off with my first pen pals! Through a Peace Corps program, I have been matched with a family who runs a home school in Connecticut and I will be starting a monthly correspondence with them, talking about my experiences and teaching a bit about Morocco along the way. Check out excerpts from my first letter - Got a little excited about writing real letters and had some fun with the markers :)

What I would LOVE over the coming year is to have more opportunities to talk to people in the U.S. about Morocco - with so much ignorance and misinformation out today, particularly about the Arab/Muslim world, I think it's important for Americans to hear voices of people (particularly other Americans) who are actually living here. And I knew so little about Morocco before I came here and have discovered that it truly is a wonderful country with an amazing culture that others should know more about. So, if you can think of any opportunities for me to speak about Morocco, I'd love to have as many as I can! Some ideas could be:
- Writing a guest blog post
- Skype calls or taped videos with a classroom or another group
- Articles in a local newspaper, journal, or magazine about culture, travels, recipes, music, etc
- Corresponding with a religious group, or a religion class in school, about things I've learned living in a Muslim country
- Setting up an information exchange with one of our English classes

If you might have opportunities for groups with which you are associated, please leave a comment or email me. I'd love the chance to tell more people about this great country!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jews in Morocco... Part One

I just returned from a week of travels in Rabat and Marrakech, helping the Peace Corps to plan and run some training sessions with the newest group of Volunteers. On Monday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend services in a Marrakech synagogue for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). It was a small group of people attending services, no more than 20, in a little building that you'd never know was a synagogue from the street. Through the experience, I felt like I joined a rich Jewish history in Morocco that, while dwindling today, began nearly 2,000 years ago and saw at its highest close to 350,000 Jewish people.

I've learned a bit about Jewish history in Morocco and thought some basics might be interesting to share. The history of the Jews in Morocco began during the spread of the Roman empire, in which an increasing number of Jews began to settle in what is now modern-day Morocco. Over the centuries, as rule over Morocco shifted between different groups (Romans to Arabs, Almohads to the Spanish, multiple ruling dynasties to the French, and finally, independence), the treatment of the Jewish population has ranged from very good to heavily strained. Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the majority of Jews emigrated from Morocco to Israel, and today, Israel is home to nearly one million Jews of Moroccan descent, around 15% of the nation's total population. Today, approximately 7,000 Jews reside in Morocco, mostly in Casablanca, and some in other major cities (Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, Rabat). Many Moroccans with whom I have spoken are quick to point out that Morocco has a strong relationship with the Jewish people; in fact, the king's top advisor is Jewish.

Below are a few photos from the Monday service as well as some photos of Jewish sites that I have seen on my travels in Morocco. As I continue to learn more about Jewish history over my time here, I'll be sure to share it. Wishing all of my Jewish family and friends a sweet, healthy, and happy New Year filled with inspiration, forgiveness, and love!

Just before Rosh Hashanah services in Marrakech - the view from the women's section.
Mezuzzah at the synagogue in Marrakech.
A synagogue in the old medina in Fes.
Remains of a synagogue in El Jadida.
Overlooking a Jewish cemetery in Marrakech.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Winds of Change..

Something that I have noticed about living in Morocco is that I really feel the time changing, much more so than I did in the U.S. For example, since we do not have air conditioning or heat in our apartment (very few people in Morocco do), I can truly feel the changing of the seasons. In the last week or so, I have been very excitedly anticipating the beginning of fall because I have been sleeping with a BLANKET (imagine that!). And in our market, I love watching produce come in and out based on the season (I was sad to see strawberries leave with the coming of summer but they were replaced with the most amazing watermelons I have ever eaten!). And because we spend lots of time walking around town, we've seen the dynamic of the community change over the last few months - from school ending and families traveling, to Ramadan ushering in a more nocturnal schedule, and now to families preparing again for the beginning of the school year.

The seasons are not the only things that are changing - Over the next few months, we are seeing lots of new developments in our personal and work lives. First off, we'll be starting classes (and hopefully other activities) in early October and we're spending this last month getting prepared. It's been nice having extra time, but I'm looking forward to having a bit more of a daily routine. Next, we'll soon be saying goodbye to a round of Peace Corps Volunteers, many of whom are now our friends, as they will be closing out their service and heading back to the U.S. - and when that happens, we will have reached our halfway mark! And lastly, the most recent change is that our sitemate Robin has left Tiflet to return back to America. We had a goodbye dinner the day before she left, and you can see some photos below.

So the winds of change are blowing ever so strong this month! But I have to say that our experiences here have helped me to hone the traits of patience, adaptability, and flexibility - Whereas before I might have looked upon changes with nervousness, now I relish them, because with those changes come new experiences and adventures!

Justin and Robin (and our maps and bikes).
My first try at homemade sugar cookies, pretty good!
The one on the bottom right says "Rebha" which is Robin's Moroccan name,
 bestowed on her by youth in the community.
The spread - Yogurt-marinated kabobs, saffron rice with almonds and raisins,
vinegar slaw, and cookies. Have been doing lots of cooking recently -
more on that in another post!
Robin and her heart cookie :)