Tag Archives: Morocco

Abroad Blog of the Week: كوين ف المغرب (Quinn in Morocco)

I love Peace Corps Volunteer blogs. 1. They are always in interesting locations. 2. They always have great interactions with local people. 3. I can live vicariously through them. I started following كوين ف المغرب (Quinn in Morocco) almost four months ago for all of these reasons. The blogger, Sarah, is an Atlanta native who studied art at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) and now finds herself teaching English to the local children in Tamslouht, Morocco. Having finished her first year as a PCV this coming November 17, Sarah’s blog is full of great insight into the Moroccan way of life. Her blog highlights everything from Ramadan to Moroccan weddings to current political and religious issues in the country. I was excited to “meet up” with Sarah via email to learn all about the PCV experience.

What is a typical day for you as a PCV in Morocco?

 A typical day…oh, what a faraway dream from another land!

I have found that there is absolutely no such thing as a typical day in Morocco. Even my best-laid plans are always disrupted by invitations to tea at a complete stranger’s house, last-minute excursions to the city, meetings that I had no idea were happening, students not showing up to my classes (or showing up at my front door in droves when I had no idea a class would be meeting), donkey traffic jams preventing me from getting anywhere on time…the possibilities are endless. Additionally, life in Morocco is really seasonal. By this, I mean that my “typical” Tuesday during the school year is very different than a Tuesday during the summer. And a Tuesday during Ramadan is a completely different animal entirely!

If I had to draw up a “this is what I spend most of my time doing” schedule, patched together from the most common occurrences of my life during any given time, it would probably go something like this:

In the morning, I wake up around 6am to the alarm that I optimistically set the night before— you know, to go running and do that whole “healthy lifestyle” thing. I rarely make it out of bed. I sleep in until my next alarm around 8 or so and then spend a bit of time checking emails, reassuring people I’m alive, etc. My mornings revolve around last-minute lesson-planning for my English classes at the local youth center, teaching those classes, or spending time at the local café studying Darija with my tutor. Lunch usually occurs in the 12-3pm timeframe, and this can be anything from a depressing concoction from my own fridge (Lentils? Third day in a row? Why not!) to a delicious meal at a friend’s house. I always cross my fingers for an invitation. The afternoon involves more last-minute lesson planning, classes, meetings with associations, and possibly activities at the youth center. In the evening, I go home, to a friend’s house, or to my host family’s house. The latter two options involve sitting around, watching Turkish soap operas dubbed in Darija, and eating more delicious food. Bedtime comes pretty soon thereafter.

You’ve got great packing list! Of all you have, what three things could you absolutely not live without?

 A quick aside about my packing list— that was composed after coming to Morocco and seeing what I actually needed (as opposed to what I brought with me). Let me assure you, those things were completely unrelated.

Nevertheless, the three things that I absolutely can’t live without are:

  • My small book: This was a going-away gift from the museum I used to work for. It’s pocket –sized and perfect for writing down new words that I learn in the various places I end up during any given day.
  • My computer: It’s not particularly fancy, but it has enabled me to communicate with the outside world during the past year. Even without an internet connection, ending the day with an episode of the West Wing in the comfort of my bed (as opposed to the local cyber café) is a wonderful, purely American comfort food.
  • My glasses: Not only are they practical, as I really can’t see anything without them, but they’re always a good conversation starter with little kids (“Can I wear your glasses?” “Wow, look how goofy I am!”). In big cities, they also diffuse a lot of unwanted attention. It’s like I’m a mystical creature with large black glasses instead of a foreign woman to hassle.

 What is your favorite thing to do with visitors when they come to Tamslouht?

I have taken every visitor to the local café that sits right in the heart of Tamslouht. It’s a really cute, very Moroccan establishment that I visit every day, if not multiple times a day. A cup of coffee or a soda is less than a dollar, the owners (Marwan and Mustapha) know and love me very much. From their plastic chairs, I can literally see everyone in the town walk by if I sit there long enough. It has that “rustic charm” that only stray cats napping on the chair beside you and soda delivered in glass bottles can offer. For American visitors, it’s also extremely entertaining for them just sit and observe the rhythm of Moroccan life for a bit. The donkeys pulling carts of vegetables and small children are always a hit.

 How do you use art to work with your students?

I spend the majority of my time teaching English. However, because of my personal background (I studied art and art history in college) and my desire to make learning fun, I really try to implement as many creative activities into my curriculum as possible.

Mostly, I use art as an English-teaching method. For example, if we’re studying adjectives, I’ll make students randomly pick an adjective and a noun and draw a picture combining the two. This ends up being not only fun and an effective way to learn (how can you not remember something like “fat table” or “sad tajine”), but I also end up getting free classroom decorations. The kids really dig it.

 What have your students taught you?

 More than I’ve taught them. I swear.

 For new PCVs, what advice would you give them to have a successful start?

Just laugh it off. Peace Corps usually ends up being an amazing, life-changing experience….that is simultaneously a complete emotional rollercoaster. We volunteers joke with each other a lot about the way that the tiniest, slightly-negative experience can send the most even-tempered volunteer to tears. Also, living in another culture, you have a lot of things said to you that are completely normal, if not even complimentary in this culture— while being simultaneously offensive to you as an American.

The best example I give people is the frequency with which people call me fat. It’s a huge (ha ha ha) compliment here, although not so much to an American. Just a week or so ago, I was at my sitemate’s host family’s house for dinner. We had walked over in the pouring rain and they insisted that we change our clothes as not to get sick from the cold. My skinny sitemate had no problem slipping into his host brother’s sweat pants; I, meanwhile, literally could not button the “largest pants they owned.” Direct quote. This is a family of very small-boned, genetically-blessed women, and they were very entertained by the fact that I couldn’t fit into the largest pair of pants that they owned (probably the equivalent of a size 6 in America). They kept telling me that my stomach was huge! I was so fat! Ha ha ha! This is the kind of situation where you have two choices: break down and cry because it’s the 6th time today where someone has called you fat and you’re beginning to believe it, or just laugh and take it in stride. Seriously, if you look at everything the right way, you’ll see that it’s all complete sitcom material— even the stuff that can really hurt and make you want to pack your bags. Taking things lightly will not only make your Peace Corps experience exponentially easier, but it will make all of the potential for cross-cultural misunderstandings null and void.


Abroad Blog of the Week: The Cantaloupe Tales

When I came upon The Cantaloupe Tales a few weeks ago, I was reading through study abroad posts on WordPress. It’s my favorite tag as I do love me a good ole study abroad blog – one that has pictures of the Eiffel Tour or the experience of a student eating her first Italian gelato. But what I enjoy the most is when I find ones that are unique, filled with character, and so funny that I almost wet my pants.  Well, Cantaloupe Tales is one of those blogs.  The blogger, Katie, is witty. She can tell a great story and has made me laugh to the point that Hubby has come in our office to see what is going on. If you’re having a bad day, read this post from Katie. I promise you’ll be tearing up from laughter by the end.  Katie’s humor doesn’t end there. I have had the wonderful privilege of emailing with her and she answered a few questions about her blog and experience in Morocco.  I hope you will enjoy her writing as much as I do.

Katie from the Cantaloupe Tales

Why did you name your blog The Cantaloupe Tales?

You know, I don’t really have a good reason, except that it was the first thing that popped into my head when I sat down to create it in January. Maybe I got confused between which snack I wanted to eat and what I wanted to name this new blog; I do that sort of thing when I’m hungry. It also sort of sounds like the Canterbury Tales, which makes me sound educated and clever. The first post is called “A Melancholy Tale,” (get it?) and it’s a very short, very dumb story full of puns about two star-crossed lovers who also happen to be melons. The last line is: “‘I love my melon lover,’ sobbed the melon, “but now we cantaloupe!”  I know, I know. I can’t believe I have readers either.

What surprised you most about Morocco?

Healthcare. Is. So. Cheap. (For US-ians, anyway). When I came down with intestinal parasites (avoid those), I dragged myself out of bed to a private practice Moroccan doctor, who made us wait forever but only cost 200 dirhams (approximately exactly $22.7110). Then I went to the pharmacy and got my meds. Long story short, you just walk in and tell them what’s wrong with you. For Moroccans, I know that this isn’t exactly chump change, but as someone whose paycheck (when employed) comes in dollars, it was a bit of a relief. Also: don’t eat unwashed salads. Parasites suck (ugh, literally. Ugh, get me off the Internet).

Also, when inside a Moroccan family’s house, everyone wears their pajamas all the time. One gets dressed to go out. Brilliant! It was fantastic. Bring your jammies.

Did you pick up any local habits/customs while living abroad?

I read this question to my mother, who laughingly replied, “Well, look at what you’re wearing!” She was right: I’m wearing a Moroccan gandora, which is a traditional garment that my host family gave me the day before I left Morocco. I also wear harem pants now. Other than my increasingly dubious wardrobe, though, it’s hard to say: when living in Morocco, I picked up plenty. I ate with my hands, mastered the squat toilet and bucket operation, and grew accustomed to haggling in the souk. Lots of small things come to mind, tiny and huge lifestyle changes that add up to making a new home as the months pass.

What have I brought back to the U.S., of all these customs and habits? I’m still not sure. People use forks and toilet paper, and it’d be crazy to try to haggle at Target. I like to think I’ve brought back something, though. A puffy Hello Kitty bathrobe? That little purple rug? I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

From your experience, was it harder to go to Morocco or to come back home?

BOTH. I know that’s sort of a weenie answer, but let me explain. I struggled with adjusting to Morocco: I missed my friends, culture shock, the works. Yet adjust I did, and as my airplane departed Casablanca, the last thing I wanted to do was completely change my way of life—again. I love Morocco and its rich culture, history, politics, and mostly, its people. Slipping into all of my old U.S. habits was easier than forming new Morocco habits had been, but once home, I realized that nobody (except for a select few) knew or really cared about Morocco. That’s been weird.

So both were challenging in different ways. No matter which way the cookie crumbles, though, you’ll forget where your comfort zone was and replace it with some good, wholesome awkwardness. I’d do it all again, and not change a thing. Well, except for waiting so long to see a doctor about those parasites. Seriously.

What three pieces of advice would you give someone who was planning to live/study in Morocco?

1.     Travel as much as you can, Morocco has pretty great public transit. Go to Chefchaouen and Asilah! Climb Mount Toubkal! Run around on beaches! Play soccer with Moroccan kids!

2.     Don’t be too paranoid about people ripping you off in the souk. Get some ballpark prices from Moroccans for certain items, and haggle away! Don’t be shy! But honestly, you’ll end up paying a bit more for some things because you’re foreign anyway. When it’s a difference of 10 dirhams, what’s one more dollar to you? You’re boosting their economy. Smile. Make friends with the shopkeepers. Have a ball.

3.      Learn Darija and talk to people. All the time. Never stop talking to people! Ladies, just ignore the catcallers, but talk to people! That’s the point, right? Crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries. Seriously, learn Darija. It’s fun. Chat ‘em up! Good luck! Have fun!

4.     I know you said three, but I just thought of an important one. Bring hand sanitizer. There’s never soap, and when you’re using a bucket and water, you’ll want to wash your hands thoroughly. Oh, yeah, and eat lots of couscous. Go to a wedding. Beware of leben. Okay, I’m done. Thanks for reading!

Thanks for the interview, Katie!

Moroccan Short-Cut Lunch

For the Friday student lunch, I was adventurous today and made a meal from a place I’ve never visited: Morocco!  Once again, with limited resources I had to cheat a bit and bought a good bit of the cuisine, but I still did my research.  If I had actually made these items, I would have used the following recipes:

But as it was, I was short on a kitchen and on time so I took the following short cuts.

  1. Buy roasted chicken from grocery store, add lemon wedges and olives, and microwave for 1 minute.
  2. Purchase Athenos hummus, scoop into a bowl and serve with pita wedges
  3. Order tabouli salad from pre-made section at Ralph’s and pour in serving dish
  4. Slice oranges and sprinkle with cinnamon – this one is a real recipe so it isn’t really cheating.

In the end, it was a delicious meal and it looked pretty good too!

Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Olives

Olives, Tabouli, and Hummus

Cinnamon Sprinkled Oranges – so good!

Take 1: Cleaning the tabouli out of our teeth!

Take 2: Me and my wonderful students