Our Morocco Bucket List

We just got back from a ten-day English Immersion Camp on the beach (which we’ll post about in detail soon-ish deba. But get a sneak peek on my Instagram). During one of my classes, I taught my students about American idioms—including “kick the bucket” and the accompanying “bucket list.” As homework, I assigned them to ask the other camp counselors about one item on their bucket list. Here are some of my students’ personal bucket list items:


Awesome, aren’t they? 😀

In the spirit of camp, we’re posting OUR bucket list items for the next two years. Everything we dream of doing during our service! In the spring/summer of 2017, we’ll revisit this list and see which items we can check off! …Here we go:

  • Let’s start with the Big List… places to visit: (bolded means we’ve visited already as of the publication of this post)

Rabat, Marrakech, Casablanca, Meknes, Fez, Agadir, Essaouira, El Jadida, Oualidia, Beni Mallal, Ouzoud, Oujda, Berkane, Asilah, Tangier, Chefchaouen, Zagora, Merzouga, Ouarzazate, Moulay Idriss, Ifrane, Safi/Asfi, Mohammedia, Tetouan

  • Take a ferry boat from Tangier to Spain
  • Learn to make couscous, harira, and rfissa
  • Camel trek in the Sahara, camp out, see the stars
  • Hike Mt. Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa
  • Learn enough Amazigh (Shilha or Tam) to have a basic conversation
  • Attend the Imilchil Wedding Festival
  • Attend the Gnaoua Music Festival
  • Have a snowball fight in Ifrane
  • Get massages in a spa hammam
  • Play on the beach in Sidi Ifni
  • Successfully bargain for rugs
  • Visit University of Al-Karaouine, the oldest university in the world (founded by a Muslim woman, FYI!)
  • Make pho at home
  • Dar Bellarj and Majorelle Gardens
  • Take a bus through the infamous, winding Tichka Pass
  • Visit Ceuta and Melilla (“fake Spain”), Spanish colonies still within Morocco
  • Technical work related bucket list items:
    • Robert: Sustainable science club. Regional (or even National) Science Fair. Training of Trainers for health issues. Space camp. Health, First Aid, & Safety workshops.
    • Julie: Create a successful creative writing/journalism program. Continue the Write On Program as co-coordinator (and next year, inshallah, as coordinator) as wonderfully as my predecessors did. Write at least one other grant besides the Write On grant for programming in our site. Training of Trainers for TEFL.
    • Both of us: Geography program/map project on Dar Chebab wall. As many camps as we can!
  • And last but not least… out-of-country travel! Paris for Christmas, Marseilles to visit Zaina Wahda, Spain & Portugal, and Italy.

We’ll add more when we think of more! 🙂

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie


The Journey Is My Home

A few times when I was a kid, my family tumbled into our Expedition and took winding road trips down the west coast. We’d drive until we saw a light—grab some roadside dinner at 11pm, find a random hotel at midnight. Maybe the beginnings of my taste for adventure. Just this week, my family took another Washington-to-California drive, without me, to escort my little sister to Berkeley, where she’s starting university. I feel far away. I feel homesick.

But just this week, we’re trekking to Agourai, our first home in North Africa. We haven’t seen our Agourai family since the end of March. I’m dancing at the thought of seeing those faces and kissing those cheeks again. I feel anticipation. I feel homesick.

But just yesterday, when our train pulled up at our city’s station, we felt a mountainous relief—a slacking of shoulder, a breath of reprieve. The feeling of arriving home again after a long journey. We’d been away for ages, working at an amazing language camp on the beach. I missed our apartment. I missed my friends. I missed the familiarity… Some of you know that we’ve been having some trouble holding our site in our hearts. And so it took me a moment before I recognized why the knot in my stomach eased out. I had felt homesick.

This is the price we pay. These are the riches we reap. The blessing and the curse of having so many homes. Of loving people all around the world. Of being a global citizen. No matter where I go, no matter where I am in this world—I will always be homesick.


Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Klmatic Monologues: BRAND NAMES AS WORDS

Klma = Word. Klmatic Monologues is a semi-regular series on words in Moroccan Arabic (Darija). Note 1: I am neither a linguist nor a native speaker, so this should be taken as amateur antics. Note 2: Darija is not a standardized written language, like Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa) or Standard English, so my Latin letter transcriptions are subjective. In other words, spelling will always be questionable.

For more Klmatic Monologues, go here.


This post is not about any specific word. Instead, I’m going to write a quick blurb about the phenomenon of generic trademarks in Moroccan Darija. Also known as proprietary eponyms, these words are trademarks or brand names that have become the general words for products.

English has them too. Some examples: Band-Aid. Google. Thermos. Aspirin. Chapstick. For Native English speakers learning Darija, some of the generic trademarks can be funny-sounding—but we have to remember that we have just as many! They’ve just become normalized to us.

And some are crossovers. For instance, in English, we use “Kleenex” as a general word to mean “tissue.” However, in Darija, there isn’t even another word for “tissue”! The word “klinix” means “tissue.” Safi.

Here are some other brand names that are Darija words:

  • “Teed” (aka TIDE) = laundry detergent
  • “Danoon” (aka DANNON) = yogurt
  • “Poulet Kentucki” (aka KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN) = any fried chicken
  • “Indomie” (aka INDOMIE BRAND RAMEN) = any ramen/instant noodle package
  • “Pay-say” (aka PC) = computer
  • “Sinial” (aka SIGNAL) = toothpaste

In our opinion, these words make it infinitely easier to learn some aspects of Darija! Instead of a complex Arabic word with no common cognates with English, we get some words with easy-to-remember associations. Yay!

And so the language adventures continue along with all of our other adventures. 🙂

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Posh Corps

Not all Peace Corps Volunteers have the same experiences. The common vision of “mud hut in the middle of nowhere” is essentialist and absolutely inaccurate. PCVs around the world live in anything from yurts to huts to apartments. Some of us have internet access, some of us need to take a trip to reach wifi. Some of us have running water, some of us don’t. Some of us take bucket baths, some of us have showerheads with hot water, some of us go to public bathhouses.

In Morocco, we have more access to “luxuries.” Volunteers from more mskeen countries have dubbed services like ours “The Posh Corps.”

There are some PCVs in “Posh Corps” countries who take offense to this. And to some extent, I understand. It trivializes the hardships we do have. In no way am I saying our work is easier—the core of the hardships are human-to-human connections, and those are difficult everywhere in the world.

However, it is simply a fact that we are able to live “posher” lives. I mean… Right now, I am literally typing this while sipping an avocado milkshake at a lovely cafe with excellent wifi on the beach. My life often feels pretty opulent.

Just last week, we popped over to Marrakech and indulged in an exquisite luxury: sushi! We planned on going to a mid-range restaurant we looked up, but it was about to close when we arrived. Disappointed, we were about to trudge out to find some other on-the-road snack when a teenage girl ran up to us and asked what we were looking for. We told her that we wanted a Japanese restaurant, and she said that the only one open in Marrakech during the afternoon hours was a place on the roof of a five-star restaurant. She and her father insisted we hop into their car, and they drove us all the way there! (Also turns out that she’d been on a volunteer trip with CorpsAfrica before!) …It was GLORIOUS.


We knew that the sushi would be way out of our price range… but on a whim, we decided to treat ourselves. After all, we hadn’t done anything special for our two-year anniversary. We decided that this would be a belated date. Well worth the splurge.



Another wonderful luxury from the big city… frappuccinos from Starbucks. Our friend Gina brought us this amazing treat!

I was pretty thrilled.

I was pretty thrilled.

To be fair though, these luxuries are not available in the city we live in. We have to travel to Casablanca or Marrakech or Tangier or Meknes or Rabat to get them. And we feel now, more than ever, how privileged we are in life. We feel now, more than ever, a great appreciation for what we have.

In Seattle, we went to the bar with friends most weekends. We went out for a dressy dinner at least once a month. We regularly ordered fancy coffees at fancy coffeeshops. We had open access to an amazing variety of foods. We shopped at grocery stores where we could find anything we took a fancy to. Feelin’ fondue? Hop on over to Trader Joe’s and grab some emmental and gruyere! Cravin’ tiramisu or cedar-plank salmon or bleu cheese burgers or hazelnut chocolate cheesecake or any of our favorite delicacies? Easy access always.

And the thing is, we didn’t consider of these “luxuries.” They were simply parts of our lives that we took for granted. And now that we have less easy access to these things, we don’t feel more empty—we feel fuller. We don’t feel deprived. We feel lucky. Happiness isn’t luxury. Happiness is understanding and appreciating and gratitude. Hamdullah.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Falling for Ouzoud

Another weekend, another adventure! 

For Rachelle’s birthday, a group of Americans and Moroccans went on a camping/hiking adventure to Ouzoud, a beautiful series of waterfalls located East of Marrakech. Being from the Pacific Northwest, Robert and I LOVE these sorts of excursions—and we’ve definitely missed them a lot! (Our marriage proposal moment was during a camping/hiking trip. That’s how much we’re into it!) 




Ouzoud is SPECTACULAR. We descended down a rocky path, past palms and olive groves, to the foot of the falls. There, we set up camp under a drapery of rugs and Amazigh print fabrics. Cozy and cool. 


Wandering around the shaded waterfall bottom was a welcome break from the summer heat. We drank strong tea and ate Amazigh omelettes (heavy on the tomatoes and delicious). Some of us swam. Some of us played guitar and sang. Some of us chilled and chatted. Some of us fell down 15-feet waterfalls. (Everyone survived.) 



At one point, during lunch, a man saw one of our Peace Corps t-shirts and asked, “ntuma mutataw3ian?” (“You all are volunteers?”) Turns out, he’s met many generations of PCVs who’ve wandered down into the caverns of Ouzoud before! He took us into his snack shack and showed us this mural: 


Check out the words at the bottom!

Towards the evening, we split up into two teams—Team Snack and Team Fire. Team Snack (my people) trekked back up into town to grab cookies, chips, ice cream, and one member of our team who arrived late! Team Fire built us a roaring bonfire in front of the waterfall. 


Camping in America is super regulated. You buy a lot to pitch your tent, and there are tons of rules. And there are constant burn bans. At Ouzoud, it was so easy. We asked if we could make a fire—and they were like SHRUG! That would never happen in the states. It was amazing!

When we gathered together again, we dug into fire-roasted tagines under the stars and cascades. The more musical members of our group began serenades. It seemed to me in perfect harmony with the crackling of our fire and the quiet roar of the water.

The next morning, we packed up to go to the birthday girl’s site, a little town a busride away from Marrakech. As we were leaving, we made friends with some little Amazigh girls.

Yimini and the child he stole.

Yimini and the child he stole.


Then, after some transportation adventures, we trekked back to Rachelle’s wonderful home. A shower on the roof. Milkshakes. More music. More laughter.

Bochra and Shawn enjoying Rachelle-made milkshakes!

Bochra and Shawn enjoying Rachelle-made milkshakes!

We couldn’t think of better people to have this adventure with. We feel so lucky to have made such amazing friends here, both Moroccan and American. Adventure is all about exploring exciting new places and experiencing exciting new things—but sometimes, it’s the people you’re with who are truly the heart of the adventure. 🙂



We are the champions!

Yours Truly, 

Robert & Julie

Klmatic Monologues: BZAF

Klma = Word. Klmatic Monologues is a semi-regular series on words in Moroccan Arabic (Darija). Note 1: I am neither a linguist nor a native speaker, so this should be taken as amateur antics. Note 2: Darija is not a standardized written language, like Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa) or Standard English, so my Latin letter transcriptions are subjective. In other words, spelling will always be questionable.

For more Klmatic Monologues, go here.

كلمة: BZAF / بزاف

One of the things I love most about learning Darija is how simple it can be sometimes.

I know, I know. You’re like, WTF JULIE ARABIC IS EASY???

Oh, don’t you worry… I am not saying Arabic is easy! I still struggle with it every day. I get by just fine with the horrible Arabic I already know, but I won’t ever be truly fluent in it. And Arabic FusHa is definitely not easy! BUT. Darija is a different beast sometimes.

What I mean is that Darija has way less vocab words, synonyms, and word variations than English. I’ll demonstrate by talking about one of the most prevalent Darija words: bzaf.

In Darija, “bzaf” means: much, a lot, a great deal, too much, very, very much, many, too many, very many, numerous, a large quantity, so much, and sooooooooooooooooooo much.


couscous bzaf

Bzaf has bzaf meanings.

In English, we have all these synonyms to express the same idea. Furthermore, they don’t all have the same meaning. There are differences that are difficult to explain to English language learners. The difference between “so much” and “too much,” for instance. We say “too” when we mean it in a negative way, if the quantity is undesirable or otherwise contemptible.

“That kid is too clever for her own good,” we might say about a troublemaker. “He has too much time on his hands,” we might say to criticize a lazy person who isn’t doing anything. “He gave me too many books,” we might say while trying to lug home a library haul that’s slightly more heavy than we can handle. “I ate too much food,” we might say after a Moroccan meal—a concept Moroccan mamas might not completely understand.

In Darija, no matter what, you can use “bzaf” to mean A LOT.

And you can use it for countable nouns, uncountable nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and even propositions!

3ndhum floos bzaf! (They have a lot of money!)

Kayn shimisha bzaf lyum! (There’s a lot of sunshine today!)

Ana mrida bzaf… (I’m very sick…)

Hiya zwina bzaf. (She’s very beautiful.)

Kayn l-Hut bzaf f had l-wad. (There are a lot of fish in this river.)

Sloughi kaytmmsha bswiya bzaf (The sloughi–a breed of Moroccan dog–walks very slowly.)

Kanbghik bzaf! (I love you a lot!)

In English, the meaning changes depending on which word you pick. (Ex. I have a lot of food vs. I have too much food.) But in Darija, there’s only one word for it all. I think it’s simple because in English, if you pick the wrong term, the sentence is grammatically incorrect. (I love you much = INCORRECT … They have very many money = INCORRECT … There’s very fish in this river = INCORRECT) When you’re learning English, it’s sometimes hard to know which one to use! But for us Darija learners, this part’s a snap. Sahil bzaf! (Very easy!)

You can even sometimes replace “bzaf” where “too” is implied. Example:

Instead of “bkri” (early)–

Host mom: You’re leaving now? Stay!

Us: We can’t! We have to go to sleep now.

Host mom: Why? What time are you getting up tomorrow?

Us: Eight in the morning.

Host mom: Ahhhhhhh bzaf!!!

One of my fave uses of “bzaf” is in combo with “swiya.” Swiya is the opposite of “bzaf.” It can mean any version of “little bit of.” Sometimes, people will say “swiya bzaf” or “bzaf swiya” and we think it’s hilarious. But it makes complete linguistic sense! After all, in English, we say things like “a little too much” or “very little.” It’s used the same.

Sorry, sorry… rambling on too much here! But what can I say? I’m a linguistic nerd!

We hoped you learned bzaf swiya from this post! We hope your day is wonderful bzaf!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Blog It Home Contest

Our blog is a finalist in the Blog It Home Contest!!!

If we win enough votes, aka Facebook likes, we will win a trip to Washington DC and be able to represent Morocco in a technology tour. Inshallah inshallah inshallah.

To vote for us, please go this link and click “like” on Robert’s photo of the lighthouse on the Rabat beach at sunset!


We would be a million x grateful if you like the picture. Representing in this technology tour means a lot to us. Not only do we want to share Morocco’s beautiful culture with our fellow Americans, but we want to represent diversity in the Peace Corps in a non-tokenizing way. PCVs of color are way under-represented everywhere.

Here, we work every day to break stereotypes of Americans, indigenous Americans, and Americans of color. We also want to break stereotypes of Morocco and Moroccans to friends, family, and countrymen back home.

Here is the voting page again, in copy-and-paste form, if the link above doesn’t work:


The photograph we chose to “encapsulate Moroccan culture” is not stereotypically Moroccan in any way. We discussed using pictures of spice vendors or jellaba salesmen or people on camel treks. While all of these things are wonderful parts of Morocco, we feel that images of them can be sometimes exotifying and orientalist. Also, Moroccans are very private about their pictures being on social media—so we definitely preferred not to use a photo with faces showing. We always ask for permission to post pictures of people, and we didn’t want to put anyone we know in the position of wanting to help us but not wanting their picture so public. Although to be honest, if we could have taken a picture of a Moroccan person pouring tea with a minaret in the background—that’s the one we would have chosen. 😉 Anyways, it was one of the most difficult things to choose a picture that needed to “represent” all of Morocco’s diverse and complex parts!

So we chose a picture that captures the prevailing emotions of Moroccan life: peace, love, and light. People all walking together. A brilliant sun.

Peace be upon you all!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Drop By Drop The River Rises


We live our lives by this Moroccan saying, culled from our trusty Darija textbook.

Nqta b nqta kayHml l-wad. Drop by drop the river rises. 

It’s another version of swiya b swiya. Little by little. Day by day. Always.

I scribble it in my journal as a reminder to myself often.

I need the reminder often.

Life here is measured by small drops. It needs to be. That’s how grassroots programming works. That’s how international development at its best works.

My English classes aren’t going to change the world. But they instill a little tiny bit of knowledge into a few people every day. And hopefully, a little tiny drop of inspiration and self-confidence and love of learning. Robert’s science club isn’t going to change the world. But they encourage kids who might never have thought of STEM as within the realm of their possibility before.

What’s more, all kinds of rivers rise slowly.

The river of joy is one of them. One thing we’ve learned in Morocco is to truly appreciate the little things. Because our joy often comes from the smallest of events.

A student saying hello to us on the street will make us feel brilliantly successful. Finding broccoli (a rarity) in the supermarket will make us beam for hours. A compliment on our Moroccan Arabic from a shopowner  will make us pleased as punch.

So this post is not only an acknowledgement that drops, one at a time, create change—it’s also a celebration of the fact that drops, one by one, can create happiness.

Here are some of the little drops of joy we’ve had in our lives this past six months:

Indulging in mac&cheese made from red ball cheese, a luxury we can only afford once in a while.

Indulging in mac&cheese made from red ball cheese, a luxury we can only afford once in a while.

The little neighbor girls bringing us these adorable gifts.

The little neighbor girls bringing us these adorable gifts.

Our amazing friend Meryem showing up at our apartment to gift us these sweets on our 2nd wedding anniversary.

Our amazing friend Meryem showing up at our apartment to gift us these sweets on our 2nd wedding anniversary.

Iced mochas and journaling in the quiet morning.

Iced mochas and journaling in the quiet morning.

Another mouth-watering splurge. Mangoes, my favorite fruit. Thanks for finding them, Robert!

Another mouth-watering splurge. Mangoes, my favorite fruit. Thanks for finding them, Robert!

We’re filling our river with these drops for now, waiting for the day our river rises. We’ll keep you updated when it happens, of course. 😉

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie