Monday, November 26, 2012

Squeeeeeeee!!

Squee, \skwēē\
verb: To squeal with glee; from a combination of the two words.
noun: A feeling of excitement and happiness, such that one feels like squeeing.

I don't usually post much about my personal life on this blog, but for this one I just must share! See this little cowboy?


This is my big brother Neal (well, only a little over a year older, so not too big). And this is Neal and his girlfriend, Erin.


So what does my squeeing have to do with my big bro and Erin? Well, one week ago today, Neal proposed!! 

That's him proposing!!!

I am so, so sad to be far away from home when such wonderful things are happening, but Erin and Neal are planning a trip to Morocco in the spring and I'm very excited to get to spend some time with the two of them. And thanks to the wonders of Skype, I'm able to hear about everything that's happening and feel like I'm a part of it. AND next fall, I'll be coming back from the Peace Corps to a big fat North Carolina wedding - So what else is there to say but squeeeeee!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Happy anniversary to us!

It is officially one year since Justin and I were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers! As I enter into my second year, I am truly beginning to understand why Peace Corps is a two-year commitment and not just one. Over the very recent months, I have gained a new level of comfort with my language skills, with my community, and with the ability to confidently try (and maybe fail) in developing new projects. And beyond that, we've started to develop incredibly strong friendships with women and men in our community, friendships that simply can't just grow in a month or two, but have been cultivated over time and with a lot of effort from both sides. With improved language, confidence, and growing relationships, I am so excited to see where the next year will take us.

Here's a photo from exactly one year ago today, with our training group and language teacher at our swearing in ceremony in Rabat:



As we get closer to the new year, I'll write a bit more about my thoughts on the last year and my plans for the coming one. But for now I'll just be thankful about how far we have indeed come!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Moroccan Travels, Part Five... El Jadida

This week, Justin and I have four friends from the U.S. visiting! We'll be playing tour guides for part of their trip and then having some new experiences in Morocco and beyond. I'll leave those as a surprise for a future blog post... But in the meantime, I'm very much looking forward to their visit and it's put me in a travel state of mind

I introduce to you El Jadida, a city that Justin and I visited back in September. The Portuguese settled in El Jadida in 1502 and built a fort that they named Mazagan. The city quickly became a major center of trade, given its location on the Atlantic. In the 1700s the sultan expelled the Portuguese from El Jadida and dynamited the city as they fled.  The city was resettled by Arab tribes and a large Jewish community in the 19th century, after which it was called El Jadida (which means "the new one").

We only spent a short time in El Jadida, but here are some of the sites that we saw. First, an underground cistern built by the Portuguese in 1514. It was first used as an arsenal, then an armory, and finally a cistern in the mid 1500s. The reflections of the columns and vaulting on the water is truly breathtaking and even a bit mysterious, which might explain why it was used in Orson Welles' film Othello back in the 1950s.


We strolled through the old medina (medina means "city" - the older cities in Morocco all have what's called an old medina, which is where a lot of the historic sites are located) and looked over the city and water from the ramparts which surround the medina.


As I mentioned, El Jadida had a large Jewish population in the 19th century, most of whom emigrated to Israel in the 1950s. We did get to see a deserted synagogue which interestingly had a Star of David with a crescent floating above it - it's a bit small but you should be able to see it near the top of the building:


We also took a quick day trip to Azemmour, a small coastal town just about 20 minutes away from El Jadida. Azemmour also had beautiful ruins of ramparts, old gates, and a kasbah - but what we loved the most were murals that were painted all along the inner walls of the old medina. Here's a cool one by an artist called "El Hani," whom I learned has been painting since the age of 9 and mostly uses sticks, old credit cards, and his fingers!


Thinking about everyone still recovering from the hurricane and the Nor'easter. I hope that you are rebounding and able to move forward without too much pain or difficulty. I've been reading about all of the people in New York and New Jersey who have mobilized to help others and it is really beautiful to see. Missing everyone!

Monday, November 5, 2012

An ocean in between

For the last week or two I've found myself glued to the computer, constantly checking for news updates - watching every movement of Hurricane Sandy, reading reports of the damage, and looking at photos of the aftermath. Sometimes I feel very connected to everyone and everything happening at home, but at times like this I am reminded of the large ocean that lies between us and our friends and family in the U.S.

But, you want to know a nice thing that has happened here since the hurricane? I cannot even begin to count the number of Moroccans who have reached out to Justin and me about our friends and family - Are they okay? Have we spoken with them? What are people doing to rebuild? Many don't even know where we are from in the U.S., they just know that a terrible disaster happened in America, and perhaps we might have connections to it.

It's been really hard to be so far away from home when such awful damage has happened to many on the East Coast. But while there's an ocean between us and our fabric of friends and family back home, I have realized that on this side of the ocean, we have been able to weave our own fabric of friends and family here. One that from now on will always feel connected to our world. A friend who just returned to America from Tunisia posted a comment from one of her students that stuck with me: "For the first time, I feel worried about other people without knowing them just because I know you."

So maybe that ocean in between isn't so big after all :)