Everyday Details: Snapchat & 1 SE

One of the things we miss most is knowing the small details of our friends and family’s everyday lives. Even though modern technology allows us to be super connected, communication and “quality time” with our American loved ones is extremely different when we live so far away. When we video chat or message each other on Facebook, we usually only talk about the Big Things in our lives. The almost 6,000 miles between Seattle and here is bridged by some things, but some things seem unbridgeable.

This is one of the main reasons we’re starting a new 2016 Project: 1 Second Everyday. Every day this year, we are going to record a one-second long video of the details in our everyday lives. On January 1st 2017, we will (inshallah) have a 366-second video of our daily moments in Morocco. (It’s a leap year, so we get an extra second!)

Here’s January’s Video Compilation:

Every month, we’ll update the 1SE videos here.

Furthermore, we’re encouraging our friends and family to get Snapchat. We love getting photos and videos that are too frivolous to put on Facebook or Instagram. These glimpses of your everyday lives remind us of home. Despite how jealous we get when people send us pictures of food we can’t get here or the Pacific Northwest landscape, we still love seeing them! Add us (username: juliefeng) or use the snapcode below.

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(Also we can send each other cat pics, hehe.)

 

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Put Your Floos Where Your Fmm Is

This post, we’re taking you on a quick grocery shopping trip with us! Marhaba, marhaba. You will get a better sense of where we get our food, as well as about the value of a dirham. We’re putting our floos (money) where our fmm (mouth) is!

These are the main places we get our groceries:

1. The vegetable cart that wheels past our street every day at either 11 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon. We love this guy because he never speaks French to us AND gives us the price in dirhams instead of ryals or francs. (Learn more about the confusion of Moroccan currency here on our friends Matt & Anne’s blog!) This is yesterday’s veggie haul:

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This pile of ultra-fresh beauties set us back a whoppin’ 18 dirhams, aka about $1.80. Actually, the peppers were thrown in as a freebie—a super common thing for veggie sellers to do.

2. Hanuts in the neighborhood. Hanuts are little shops you usually can’t walk into. Most of them, you stand at the window and ask the mul hanut (shopowner) for all the things you need. We love this because it forces us to improve our Arabic! Plus mul hanuts are generally awesome people.

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We have a few main hanuts we go to in our ‘hood. We have to make sure we hit all of them regularly in order to say hi to our mul hanut friends. Also, only one of them carries Milka bars, our new favorite candy. (A strictly splurge-only treat at a whole 10 dirhams/$1 per bar!) Here’s the regular haul from our main mul hanut:

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Milk: 8 dh (80 cents)

Round of bread [only half pictured]: 1.2 dh ($1.20)

Eggs: 1 dh per (10 cents per)

Coffee: 15 dh ($1.50)

Cocoa: 10 dh ($1.00)

Muesli yogurts: 2 dh per (20 cents per)

Indomie instant noodles: 4 dh (40 cents)

Tea: 15 dh ($1.50)

Aicha tomato sauce: 7 dh (70 cents)

3. The Shtayba, the large daily market in our city. Because the Shtayba is a half-hour walk away, we only ever make it there about once a month. It’s like souk, but souk is on Sundays only. Unlike everyone else in Morocco, we never go to souk. The Shtayba is great because it’s got a lot more fruit and veggie options than anywhere else!

4. The Carrefour. About a 15-minute walk away from our house, this French supermarket is one of the main chains in Morocco. We’re very lucky to have one in our small city. We usually go once every two weeks to pick up the special items that hanuts and veggie carts don’t have. (The Carrefour is the only place we’ve found broccoli so far, and it’s only there once in a blue moon.) Here’s a receipt from a particularly expensive Carrefour trip two weeks ago:

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Luxury items of note:

Spinach wraps: 25.90 dh ($2.60)

Vermicelli noodle packet: 23.50 ($2.40)

Nutella: 37.50 dh ($3.80)

A whole rotisserie chicken: 36.95 ($3.70)

In total, we racked up 281.95 dh of stuff! That’s about $28. Whew… We’re going to have a tough time grocery shopping when we go back to the states.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Simo, Sanae, Salah, and Soukaina

Readers of this blog may have a good idea of our day-to-day life, but what is life like for a member of our community? Our Moroccan lives have intersected with some fascinating people with all kinds of different lives, passions, and dreams. Here are four mini profiles of people we know!

*Identifying information, such as names, have been changed to protect privacy.

Simo

Simo is ten years old. He attends public elementary school. He has one sister, Samira, who is thirteen and attends the colége (middle school). School is from 8am to 6pm every day except Sunday, with a two hour lunch break. After school, they often go to the youth center. It’s a place where they can play billiards, foosball, chess, and ask intrusive questions to the weird American teachers! Before they started coming to the youth center, they spent most of their time chasing donkeys, throwing rocks at each other, and various other activities that made adult passersby yell a lot. Simo’s family doesn’t have a lot of money. He and Samira share one pair of sports shoes. Simo thinks he should get the shoes more often because he plays soccer more, but Samira has seniority. When he grows up, he wants to either be a teacher or Lionel Messi.

Sanae

Sanae is twenty-six years old. She’s a doctorate student at a university in Casablanca, but she lives in our city with her parents and siblings. She is studying to get her PhD in environmental chemistry. Every other day, she takes the hour-long train ride into Casablanca to attend lectures, work at her lab, and collaborate with her professors. She is able to work on her thesis anywhere though, so she doesn’t feel like there’s a need to move out of her home. Sanae often feels frustrated at the lack of opportunities in STEM fields—for women, for non-Native English speakers, for people from “developing” countries. She takes advantage of every resource she can, so despite her busy schedule, she rarely misses an English class at the youth center. Sanae is an extremely devout Muslimah, and she often writes philosophical pieces connecting religion and spirituality to principles of chemistry.

Salah

Salah is in his forties. He owns a hanut (a little shop) and always has it stocked with the same items as the Carrefour (the French chain supermarket in town) for the same prices. Every kid in the neighborhood knows Salah because he’s been known to add some extra candies to purchases. Salah uses a wheelchair, so to grab the hanut items from the top shelves, he’s devised a system of pulleys and long hooks. It’s ingenious, and it makes shopping for toilet paper a lot more fun. To every kid who comes by his hanut, Salah tells them, “qra myzien” (study well). He thinks that it’s sad that so many Moroccan youth want to leave Morocco. He understands that it’s because economic prospects are bleak and the system is difficult. “But,” he says, “If the youth today study well and work hard, they can make Morocco better.”

Soukaina

Soukaina is probably in her late fifties or early sixties, but she’s not sure. She doesn’t have a birth certificate or any official papers that indicate her birthday, so she’s never known the date and has forgotten the year. It’s not important to her anyways. Her husband, who died many years ago, had been a vegetable seller. Soukaina has three kids and five grandkids. Her eldest, Shayma, lives across town. Shayma is the source of all of Soukaina’s grandkids (so far). Her son Sayid has recently gotten married. However, he lives in Italy because he can’t find a job in Morocco. He wants to send for his new wife as soon as he can, but for now, she lives with Soukaina and Soukaina’s youngest unmarried daughter, Sarah. Soukaina is illiterate, but she has recently started attending the Arabic Literacy classes at the youth center. She isn’t sure she wants to continue because she thinks she’s too old to learn well, but she is excited that she is starting to be able to read the titles and credits rolling across her favorite Turkish soap operas.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

 

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

5 Community Codes We Never Knew About Morocco… And 1 We Realized About America

Before we arrived in Morocco, we were told that Moroccans are hospitable and truly value community. We thought we understood what that meant—but it turns out, we had no idea. Every single facet of Moroccan culture and society is rooted in the importance of each other. We’ve written before about how Moroccans will go the extra mile for you, how they might even give you the shirt off their back if you simply complimented it. Every day here, we are in awe of how Moroccan culture embodies human-to-human connections. These are five “community codes” that demonstrate how pervasive these values are:

1. Sharing the Load

If two American friends are walking together and one of them has a heavy tote bag, who carries it? Well, that’s easy—whoever owns it! But in Morocco, the friends will carry the bag together. Each friend will keep the bag in between them with one hand. It’s a common sight: bags, backpacks, buckets, whatever! Two people plus one item always equals a fair share of the load. It’s especially cute to see two old men in jellabas carrying groceries together!

2. One Water Cup

Germophobic Americans might shudder at this, but at most Moroccan meals, there’s only one water cup for the whole table. Before we got to Morocco, we already knew that Moroccans eat meals from a communal dish. Everyone digs into one huge plate in the middle of the table. However, we didn’t learn about the one water cup practice till we were eating our first meal with our host family. It might seem like a small detail, but it’s another detail that shows how sharing-minded EVERYTHING in this country is. (Note: tea is an exception. Everyone gets their own tea glass!)

3. Greet Everyone in the Room

We’ve written about this cultural norm before.

In Morocco, when you enter a room, you must greet every single person in the room if it is possible. In America, no one expects you to greet strangers. You’d only greet strangers if you were introduced to them specifically. But enter a Moroccan room, and you must greet everyone properly and equally—whether they are your best friends or people you’ve never seen before. Everyone is a member of your “community.”

4. Just Show Up

One day, a few months into living here, our host mom chastised us for not visiting her more. “Sorry, mama!” we told her, “Just call us whenever you want us to come over, and we’ll be here!” We thought it was a polite, non-intrusive promise.

But Mama Ryqqia did not agree. “Shame on you!” she scolded us. “You don’t make an appointment to see your parents! You just come. Why would you make me call you to come? Just come whenever. Any time!”

“But in America, we do call our parents before we go visit them,” we told her.

“That is normal in America?” she asked, incredulous. “Okay, but this is not America. You are my children. I am your parent. In Morocco, children just go to their parents’ houses any time.”

Turns out, just showing up at someone’s house without scheduling a meeting is completely normal for anyone you’re close to. In America, you’d definitely risk that person not being home, not feeling like hosting, or not wanting you over. We’ve found it extremely difficult to just show up, despite our Moroccan loved ones’ constant insistence on it. We’ve never gotten as many invitations to “come whenever” as we have this past year, and it’s not just because we’re foreign and hyper-visible. It’s just the Moroccan way of life!

5. Everything is Offered

In our second month in Morocco, we went souk shopping with our Arabic teacher. We asked him how to buy water from a vendor, and he shook his head, saying “You don’t need to buy it. They will always give you water if you ask.”

When we went on a picnic with a friend, a random man came up to us and asked, “Can I have some food, please?” Our friend, without hesitation, ripped off half of her sandwich and handed it to him.

Once, we complimented our favorite shopowner, Tarik, on the homemade bread he sold us. The next time we went to pick up eggs and milk, he stuck a few loaves in the bag without us asking, completely free of charge.

Even though things like this happen constantly, we feel a little jolt of surprise every time we witness these generosities. The surprise makes us realize how materialistic we Americans are. We grow up immersed in the “mine” mindset.

Moroccans think nothing of giving and giving and giving. There is boundless generosity here. Although our American selfishness is still ingrained in us, it’s true that the longer we live here, the less attached we feel to our stuff.

Plus, one Moroccan taught us that we still have new realizations to make about our own culture as well…

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1. An American Cultural Code: Opening the Door

Last week, the headmaster of our neighborhood’s technical high school was regaling Robert with tales of his experiences in the United States. “It was wonderful,” he said. “Americans are so nice.”

“What, really?! You think so?” Robert laughed, “I feel like Americans are so rude and self-centered compared to Moroccans. Moroccans share everything and spend so much quality time with each other. We don’t usually encounter so much hospitality and generosity in America.”

“Yes, these things are important to Moroccans,” he agreed. “But the thing is, most Moroccans have all the time in the world. We can take time to make tea and sit and talk forever. Americans never have time. They’re always busy, always in a rush. When I was there, even I felt busy and rushed! But the one thing that has stuck with me all these years, is that no matter how rushed Americans are, they would always hold the door open for people behind them!”

We suddenly realized that we had never really experienced Moroccans holding doors open for us. We never noticed because we were too busy noticing things like neighbors knocking on the door with platters of couscous. But the headmaster had seen American culture in the same way we were seeing Moroccan culture.

The headmaster went on, “In Morocco, we are rich in time, but not things. We can afford the time. But time is precious to Americans because Americans have so little time. Time is money, as you say. So when an American would take their time to pause and hold the door for me, I felt like it was so generous.”

Fatema Mernissi wrote, “Travel helps you figure out who you are and how your own culture controls you.” When we learned the headmaster’s perspective on culture and generosity, we realized how true this was.

We’re always learning—about other cultures, about our own. And we’re looking forward to which “never knew” we’ll add to “now we know” list next!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Klmatic Monologues: RAS

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: RAS / رأس

Literally, “ras” means “head.” Some people might know it from the name of that Batman supervillain. In Moroccan Arabic, “ras” is used in abundance metaphorically.

“Ras” is a synonym for “self.” It refers to the human being in their entirety, so in Arabic, the head is the locus of everything that makes the self what it is. The body, in this metaphor, is inconsequential. Ras + possessive suffix = reflexive action.

“B rasu” means “by onself” or “alone.” Similarly, “mn rasu l-rasu” means “on one’s own.” However, it also implies that the person should have accepted aid. Mn rasni l-rasni. I did it on my own… but I should have asked someone for help.

The word “rais,” meaning president, comes from “ras” too. People also use “ras” to mean the beginning or end of something. The extremities. It’s the source of the river and the peak of the mountain.  The start of a story and the top of a page.

Ras al Mt. Toubkal, the tallest summit in North Africa.

Ras al Mt. Toubkal, the tallest summit in North Africa.

A common thing we say when we say goodbye is “thalla f rask,” which means “take care of yourself.” Because it literally means “take care of your head,” there’s a joke that we hear a lot in which someone replies to “thalla f rask” with “b shampwan” (with shampoo)!

Other ways to use “ras”

baraka f rask = blessings on your head = blessings on you (what we say in times of grief and loss)

diHa f rask = mind your head = mind your own business

Ras al Hanut = the head of the shop = the name of the mystery mixture of spices found at almost any shop or spice vendor

3mel b rasu / dir b rasu = to do in the head = to play or act, faking it

dyal rasu = of the head = independent, free, to do what one wishes

fiq m3a l-rasu = woken up/gotten up with the head = sharp, astute, observant, discerning, shrewd

rasu xfif = light head = to be intelligent, quick-witted

rasu tqil = slow/heavy head = to be dense, slow-witted

rfed r-ras m3a = to give a hard time to / to be prejudiced against

3la r-ras u l-3in = on the head and the eye = you’re more than welcome, gladly/with pleasure

ras l-3am = head of the year = New Year’s Day.

And these are a couple that I’m not sure of the literal meanings for, but I know the common-use meanings:

Hdi rask = Be careful

Tlq rask = Hurry up

This isn’t a complete list, of course. Do you know any more? Add your “ras” phrases in the comments below. And thalla f raskum. 🙂

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Day to Day

It has officially been one full year since we’ve seen Seattle.

In honor of this important milestone, we’ve written a chart that compares and contrasts a typical day we might have had in Seattle to a typical day for us in Morocco! In other words, we’re comparing The Typical Day in 2014 to The Typical Day in 2015.

Seattle Day

Morocco Day

6 AM – 8 AM

Wake up to blaring alarm clocks. Get up fast. Turn on the coffee percolator. Get ready for the day. Robert eats breakfast, while Julie just fills up her huge to-go coffee tumbler. Julie takes the car to work. Robert takes a free shuttle (run by the University of Washington Hospital) to the university gym. They both listen to NPR on their commutes. Robert usually works out with his friend Elischa in the mornings. Sometimes Julie joins them when her work schedule is more flexible. Still sleeping.

8 AM – 10 AM

Julie arrives at her office. In the mornings, she works from the office of a company where she writes educational materials and creates new study programming. She also writes freelance for publications. She spends her mornings in front of the computer, typing away while refilling her coffee tumbler a few times. Robert walks to his lab from the gym (they’re on the same campus). He works as a biomechanics researcher. Scientists don’t have exact work times, as long as they get their data, so Robert often doesn’t arrive until late morning. On many days, still sleeping… When Robert and Julie finally wake up, slowly and leisurely, they light the gas stove to make coffee in their French press. Julie sits down on the sofa with a huge mug of coffee. Robert, who often makes tea instead, sets up at his foyer desk.

10 AM – 12 PM

Productive work time. Julie writes, trying to keep on top of her deadlines, and works on whatever projects she has. Robert collects data from hawkmoths, uses a 3D printer to build fake flowers, and sets up rigs for experiments. Lots more coffee for both of them. Some days, it takes until this time to finally start the day. Robert usually spends his mornings playing video games. Julie works on her computer: lesson planning, grant writing, organizing for programs, scheduling, etc. She writes during this time too. For both of them on certain days, this is also the time to do chores and run errands.

12 PM – 4 PM

Robert and Julie both eat lunch while working. For Robert, it’s usually a sandwich or an avocado brought from home. Julie uses the microwave in her office to heat leftovers or frozen meals. On some days, she goes out to lunch with her office mates. They continue being productive at their respective jobs. Robert and Julie cook and eat lunch. On most days, they make fresh meals from vegetables they bought the previous day. They have more leisure time at their house. Robert continues to play video games. Julie reads on her Kindle, scribbles in her notebook, and watches shows on her laptop. Around 3, their vegetable seller rolls his cart down their street, shouting “carrots! onions! potatoes!” One of them goes out to buy a few kilos of fresh produce. Right before his class, Robert puts together his lesson plans.

4 PM – 8 PM

Julie leaves her office and goes to meet her students. She is a freelance academic tutor. Her students are mostly wealthy private-school kids. She drives to their homes or meets them at Starbucks. Sometimes her students’ parents will buy her coffee and that makes her day way better. On most days, Robert goes home during this time. However, on some days, runs science events for kids. He works part-time as a program manager for a STEM outreach organization. Robert and Julie go to the Dar Chebab, the city youth center where they work. They teach their classes and run their programs. Julie teaches Advanced English, creative writing, and journalism. She also runs a Girls Leading Our World club and a Teacher Training workshop. Robert teaches Beginners English and Intermediate English. He also runs science & health workshops and a kids’ film & art club. This is their only “real” work time.

8 PM – 10 PM

Robert and Julie arrive home separately. Both are exhausted. Sometimes Robert cooks dinner. Sometimes they have the crock pot going all day. Sometimes (very often, actually) they go out to eat. There are just so many delicious options in Seattle! They relax in the evening as they finally have time for their hobbies. Robert plays some video games and Julie reads and watches internet TV. Robert and Julie arrive home together. They take turns making dinner, although Robert still predominately cooks. Like lunch, their dinners are usually homemade and fresh but lacking in variety. Some days, instead of making dinner, they hang out with their host family and eat the kaskrut meal with them. Some days, they go to a cafe and hang out with friends.

10 PM – 2 AM

Sleeptime! They go to bed around 11PM to prepare themselves for another early start the next morning. Robert works out. Julie reads or watches internet TV. In Morocco, Robert and Julie don’t usually go to bed until very late. Midnight is an early night for them.
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J & R in Seattle, attending an art exhibit | J & R in Morocco, in front of their youth center

We just have one thing to say about this chart. We thought it would highlight the differences between our American schedules and our Moroccan ones, but we were surprised to find that there were way more similarities than we thought there’d be! Turns out, no matter where we are in the world, we have the same self-care methods, work habits, and passions!

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Darna Darkum: Our Moroccan Apartment

Time for Robert and Julie’s edition of PEACE CORPS CRIBS! (If you’re interested in the Peace Corps, tip: google/youtube “Peace Corps Cribs” to see tours of PCV homes all across the world, including other Moroccan homes.)

MarHba bikum! Darna darkum dima! (Welcome y’all! Our house is your house always!)

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The dar sitch: We live on the second floor of a small apartment complex. There are four floors total, with a shared roof. Our situation is very different from other PCVs’, even within country. Our dars can be wildly variant. Our apartment is much much smaller than the homes of the vast majority of people in our group, even the single volunteers. We don’t mind so much though. It’s cozy. The only reason we wish it were bigger is so we can host people better.

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Looking up at our windows from the street.

The neighborhood sitch: We live in a low-income hay (neighborhood) 10-15 minutes walk away from our Youth Center. As we’ve said before, our Youth Center is located in the lowest income neighborhood in our city. It has a bad reputation, although we think that it’s an unjust reputation. The hay we live in is a very poor area too, but it has a good reputation. Not sure what the difference is exactly. It’s largely residential, with a few hanuts and hairdressers and bakeries here and there. I feel very safe walking around our hay, even alone. I do get comments every now and then, but it’s mostly irritating and can be remedied with some kindly public shaming.

The roof-view of our street.

The roof-view of our street.

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Some of our favorite neighborhood kids at their usual spot.

Some of our favorite neighborhood kids at their usual spot.

The neighbor folk sitch: Our neighborhood is crowded and busy and loud. And it’s FULL of feral drari (kids) running amok. Being engulfed in packs of 10-20 drari at once is not an uncommon thing. We’ve talked about the gang of neighbor girls (led by the irrepressible Chaimaa) who stalk us. We love/hate/love/hate/love/hate them. We like the people who live around us generally. There’s a coiffeur (barbershop) across the street where a group of thirty-something men hang out. At first I wasn’t sure about it (my everyday rule of thumb: AVOID LARGE GROUPS OF MEN), but they’re cool. We love our downstairs neighbors, Bouchra and her family. Especially their sweet and responsible little seven-year old, Fatimaazahra. There’s one family who lives next door to us, but we don’t know them at all. They asked for our wifi code once, but we didn’t give it to them. We’ll make them brownies sometime as a consolation prize. Our landlady and her family live on the third floor right above us. And another lovely family lives on the roof level. Their bathroom is on the roof separately from their apartment, so it can be awkward to run into one of them as they’re leaving the shower. But we like them!

Okay, now for the grand tour!

The roof.

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This is where we hang our laundry and catch breaths of fresh air.

The foyer.

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The room we enter through. The majority of this room is taken up by Robert’s “desk,” a wonderful plastic table that was given to us as a gift by our host family. This is where Robert mostly hangs out when we’re at home. We also store our laundry machine here, but on laundry days, we have to push it into the kitchen because that’s where the outlet is.

The kitchen.

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Where the magic happens! We have a mini fridge and a tiny broken-ish electric oven, but we feel infinitely lucky to have those things. Our stove, like most all stoves in Morocco, is run by Butagaz.

Our bedroom.

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We’re lucky to have a real mattress and sheets, which are on top of two sddari (Moroccan sofa) frames. We inherited this from our predecessors. Most Moroccans we know sleep on sddari, not mattresses. We have two plastic dressers for clothes. One of them doubles as the vanity table.

Our bathroom.

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A literal water closet. Technically, our bathroom is just a tiny room with a hole, but we like it just fine! The lack of a Western toilet in our daily lives is no loss at all. The Turkish toilet is easier to clean, doubles as a drain, and (we’re not afraid to say it) is a much more natural way for humans to go. We have a sink, a little plastic shelf, and a little mirror. One of our next house projects is to install a second little plastic shelf. Best of all, we have a working showerhead with good pressure and hot water! We like bucket baths, which we’ve taken plenty of, but in the winter they can be challenging. The shower is absolutely the most luxurious thing in our home, besides the wifi.

Our salon.

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The living area where I mostly hang out and where we entertain our guests. Most of the room is covered in a huge mat. In the middle, we have a little plastic table that we haggled over forever but probably still got overcharged on. We have two little ponj mattresses that we stack (inherited from predecessors) and a large sddari ponj (bought from our host family). This room has larger plastic drawers we use to store everything from art supplies to medical kits to caftans. We also have several small storage units. One for files, paperwork, and teaching materials. One for small knickknacks and mementos. One (very important one) for books and the internet router. It’s got nothing on the numerous giant bookcases that used to fill our apartment in Seattle, but it gives us a lot of comfort. Plus a few boxes of teaching supplies that we should organize better.

A note on Moroccan homes in general: 

Opulent mansions in big wealthy cities. Concrete farmhouses in the Atlas mountains. Painted seaside villas on the coast. Ramshackle mud huts in the Sahara. Despite the extreme variations of homes in Morocco, they all have one thing in common: they are all built for hospitality.

Literally. When the director of our youth center took us to see the construction site of his million dollar mansion on the outskirts of our city (mudirs make pretty good bank and his wife is a successful lawyer), we noticed that from the very foundations of a home being built, the #1 consideration was “how can we host?” On his tour, he skimmed past the balconied bedrooms and focused on the stage he was building in the salon so musicians could be hired for parties, and the kitchen island that would aid in having to cook for dozens of people. (Mudirs have a lot more free time than lawyers, so he does the cooking rather than his wife, an extreme rarity in Morocco.)

Furthermore, most all Moroccan homes—from these decadent mansions to the smallest huts—are furnished in the same patterns. Maximum seating against the walls, usually sddari, with little tables in the middle. Always perfect for groups of guests to sit and and eat out of a communal dish.

Our home, as many Moroccan friends have commented on, is not furnished in the same pattern. We compromised. It’s half Western and half Moroccan. We have our little corner for guests, where we could ostensibly eat together. But we’ve also designed our space so that our Western habits can be accommodated as well: namely, privacy.

We feel welcomed whenever we enter any Moroccan home, and we hope that our guests feel welcome too. But we still feel comfort in our ability to be secluded. (Being on the second floor helps. Can’t imagine how our privacy would be interrupted by well-being folk if we were on the first floor!) “Homes” in the American mind are places of refuge for individuals. You get home, relax, get into your pajamas, make yourself some tea, etc. “Homes” for Moroccans are for welcoming anyone and making other people tea. Even as we clutch onto our American way of being “home” though, we know in our hearts that when we eventually go back to America, we will be bringing a bit of Moroccan home with us. Wherever we live in the future, we won’t be able to help but consider, “Now where would be the best place to serve someone tea?”

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Why We’re Here: Peace Corps Personal Statements

Our first post on this blog was about where we live, what we do, and how we are. This one is about an even more important question: why we’re here. To that end, we’re going to share our personal essays from our Peace Corps applications. They ask for two main statements, one of motivation and one on cross-cultural experiences. These are our motivation essays, aka our official reasons for joining the Peace Corps! We wrote these in 2013, but we stand by these words still.

The Prompt:

“Peace Corps service presents major physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges. You have provided information on how you qualify for Peace Corps service elsewhere in the application. In the space below, please provide a statement (between 250-500 words) that includes:
• Your reasons for wanting to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer; and
• How these reasons are related to your past experiences and life goals.
• How you expect to satisfy the Peace Corps 10 Core Expectations (please be specific about which expectations you expect to find most challenging and how you plan to overcome these challenges).”

Who knew we'd end up here? (Swearing In Ceremony, April 2015)

Who knew we’d end up here? (Swearing In Ceremony, April 2015)

Robert’s peace Corps Personal Essay:

To me, serving in the Peace Corps is an opportunity I cannot let slip away. It is a program that encompasses so many of my dreams because it allows me to fulfill many of my own goals while simultaneously helping others.

Although the list of things I wish to accomplish in life is long, it is astounding how many serving in the Peace Corps will accomplish. I want to learn a different language, I want to be immersed into an entirely different culture, and I want to travel. One of my primary goals in life has been to help people in a meaningful way and I feel that Peace Corps uniquely provides me with that opportunity. By serving in Peace Corps, I would be given the time to truly understand what the problems are in a community—not only on a superficial basis, but in a cultural context as well. This in-depth understanding would allow me to help problem-solve ‘with’ the community as opposed to doing it ‘for’ them.

What motivates me most is how well Peace Corps overlaps with my life aspirations. I plan to go to medical school to become a primary care physician. One of the most overlooked things in medicine is the need to make a bond with your patients, the need to make a connection with each person on an individual level. I truly could not think of better training for this than being thrust into a different culture where one’s success as a volunteer is dictated by the connections one makes in the community.

In my desire to help people I have come to understand that no problem can be fixed overnight. It takes commitment, it takes patience, and most of all it takes respect from both parties. The only way to gain this respect while living abroad in a different community is to follow the cultural norms and practices of wherever you are living. This to me will be the most challenging part of serving abroad. However, this is not to say that this will deter me. I feel emboldened by this challenge, because this gives us an opportunity to show our community different cultural norms.

I cannot wait for the adventures and challenges that Peace Corps will present my wife and me, and I hope that through my service I will be able to leave a lasting effect on my community.

Julie’S PEACE CORPS PERSONAL ESSAY:

Whenever I thought about my post-graduation, pre-grad school plans, I always came back to the same themes. Traveling. Teaching. Volunteering. I want to serve as aPeace Corps Volunteer because I want to share my passion for language and creative expression with other people by empowering their own individual voices. The Peace Corps is an opportunity to do everything I’ve ever wanted: to travel, to live abroad, to teach my passion, to be a global citizen, to empower youth, to help alleviate poverty through self-determination, and to be directly involved with education equity issues.

I have been a volunteer and advocate for education equity for many years, and because of my experiences, I have come to realize the vital role that language plays in the world and the inflaming effect it can have on individual lives and social justice movements. The Peace Corps is a focused and hands-on way to impact the issues I care about most. Not only will serving with the Peace Corps build the skills I need as a future teacher, but it will allow me to continue to make a difference while engaged with my passions. I want to continue serving my community—and why should I limit the borders of that community?

The Peace Corps’ core expectations ask volunteers to serve “under conditions of hardship, if necessary.” I know that my service will present challenges that I cannot foresee or directly prepare for, which is why “effective service” requires flexibility. While I can say with certainty that I hope to dedicate my career to cultural understanding and community service, I admit that these are idealistic phrases that are often difficult to reconcile with the concrete daily challenges I might encounter. Because of this, I will need to truly utilize my adventurousness—a code word for my adaptability, open-mindedness, and appreciation for difference. I will need to constantly expand the lines of my comfort zone.

I’ve dealt with linguistic barriers as a former ELL student and a current ELL teacher. I’ve addressed issues of race and gender as a woman of color in the United States. I’ve worked under unfamiliar rules and regulations, complex social situations, and the pressure of improving human quality of life. These obstacles have made me into a more empathetic teacher and a more creative problem solver, but they will be on a much larger scale in the Peace Corps. Committing to my work will be a greater challenge in every way—and it is a challenge I can’t wait to undertake.

 


 

This post is also the first in a new series of posts we’re launching this year: Should I Join?. It’s all about the whys of our journey and the whats of our futures. The vast majority of our readers who contact us are people who are considering the same path we’re on, and we hope that this series will help them! Questions we will answer (based only on our experiences, of course) include:

  • Should I join the Peace Corps?
  • What should I expect when I’m applying for the Peace Corps?
  • What should I expect when I join the Peace Corps?
  • Should I join the Peace Corps as a married couple?
  • Should I join the Peace Corps as a person of color?
  • Should I join the Peace Corps if I want to go into academia as a career path?
  • Should I join the Peace Corps if I want to go to graduate school for something other than international development/public service?
  • Should I join the Peace Corps if I want to go to medical school?
  • Should I join the Peace Corps Morocco Program?
  • Should I join the Peace Corps Youth Development Sector?

You should definitely join us for this blogging journey, at least! There will be much more to come.

Yours Truly, 

Robert & Julie

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Christmas in the City of Lights

Being Americans in Paris is one thing, being Americans-who-have-lived-in-Morocco-for-a-year in Paris is quite another.

On our first night in Paris, we ate at a diner called Breakfast in America. No regrets. A bacon cheeseburger and beer for Robert, a ham/bacon/turkey club sandwich and root beer for me. We overheard a funny conversation in which an American waitress explained to her French coworker what a root beer was. “No, no, it doesn’t have alcohol…”

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In 2011, when I was studying in Rome, I was so insistent on eating only Italian food. When my classmates went out to a Thai place in Trastevere, I adamantly refused despite my love for Thai food. “I’m in Italy. I’m going to eat Italian food,” younger and sillier Julie said. Not that I regret any bit of my carbonara and gelato diet, but Julie in Paris in 2015 is having a good laugh about it. Cos French food? Sure. But for real, this trip was all about Foods We’ve Missed. And you can bet that means we had Thai food.

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Christmas Eve lunch

It also means we walked down to the Quartier Chinois (Paris’s Chinatown) on Christmas Eve and ordered two large bowls of pho. As we walked back, I overheard a guy behind us say the word “Chinois” and my fight-or-flight response immediately kicked up as it does on Moroccan streets. I whipped around, my mouth automatically about to form some Arabic swear words. My heart rate beat back to normal as I realized it was just a Chinese-French dude talking about a restaurant with his girlfriend, and not a gaggle of Moroccan young men harassing me.

Whew, I thought. I needed this vacation a lot. 

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We split our stay into two parts. The first week, we sojourned at an antique hotel in the Quartier Latin, surrounded by stately aristocratic buildings and cobblestone streets. The second week, we rented a modern flat five minutes jaunt from the Eiffel Tower. It included a microwave, which we squealed over for a while.

One of the first things I wanted to do in Paris was spend an afternoon at Shakespeare & Co, the famous bookshop originally opened by American expat Sylvia Beach (who was the publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses). It was magical to walk through an English language bookstore—running my hands against spines, flipping through pages of possibilities. I was reminded of Moroccan sociologist Fatema Mernissi lamenting the way bookstores are set up in Morocco (something I lament as well): “In Rabat, a bookstore owner might throw you out if you dared to touch any of his displayed publications: You are supposed to buy the book before enjoying the sensuous pleasure of opening it. In a country where bargaining and touching goods are an integral part of the buying game, books are probably the only items that escape these traditional rituals. You can’t touch the books and you can’t negotiate the prices, which explains the extraordinary pleasure I have in Western bookstores.” Morocco does fresh groceries and bread and fabrics and leather and even coca-cola better, but the Western world has them beat on bookshops.

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I spent a long time skimming books and scribbling in a corner of the shop. Although Robert kept asking me if I was ready to go yet, he ended up being the only one to buy a book. I refrained because we only brought two backpacks to France, but he couldn’t resist a science book he’d been wanting to read for a while. (Anyways, I had my iPad filled with books to placate me.)

In the Latin Quarter, we satisfied our peripatetic urges. We wandered the streets, no end goals in mind, and explored. We were only a few minutes from the Notre Dame and the Pantheon.

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On the night of Christmas Eve, we sat outside of the Notre Dame as the bells rang for mass.

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We found little corner cafes that appealed to our sense of coziness. We ordered Irish coffees and vin chauds (and sometimes crepes). Robert pulled out his find from Shakespeare & Co., and I downloaded a Fatema Mernissi book in which she in part talks about a book tour she had in Paris. We sipped our warm drinks and drank in our warm books. Mernissi’s book was so good, I kept scribbling down quotes in my moleskin (a goodbye gift from my bosses at the library I worked in during university). Every once in a while, over our cups and wordless wording, we’d look up at each other and just smile.

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Although our paltry paychecks prevented us from eating out every meal, we had no regrets. Visiting the Monoprix and Franprix (two top-notch French grocery chains), we loaded up our cart with all delights we’d been missing: charcuterie, cheese (brie for me, bleu for Robert), wine, etc. We added in some essential French must-tries like pate, fois gras, terrine, macarons. Then for good measure, we also grabbed all the making for hot toddies. Important note: France is full of CHEAP and extremely delicious wines and cheeses, because (surprise, surprise), this is where they come from and thus no import fees on them. We thought two-buck Chuck was alright back in the day, but in Paris, we consistently found 2-3 Euro reds that tasted a couple digits better. (Our method was waiting in front of the wine section until a confident-looking French person came up and grabbed a bottle. We’d just grab the same kind. 100% success rate.)

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Dinner one night: fondue, baguette, potatoes, broccoli (!!!!!), prosciutto, pâté en croûte, wine, and macarons for dessert.

Dinner one night: fondue, baguette, potatoes, broccoli (!!!!!), prosciutto, pâté en croûte, wine, and macarons for dessert.

However, this didn’t mean that we didn’t splurge a bit! And boy, were our splurges worth it. The first big one was at the world-famous Angelina, where we had lunch and then indulged (“drank” is definitely not the right verb) in cups of their hot chocolate.

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Fois gras cream soup at La Coupole on Christmas Night.

Fois gras cream soup at La Coupole on Christmas Night.

Veal and potatoes.

Veal and potatoes.

On Christmas Day, we reserved a table at La Coupole. Two glasses of kir royal and a couple of tastbud-heaven courses were pretty good substitutions for a home-cooked meal. Lunch had been a picnic of cold cuts, cheese, and crackers at the Luxembourg Gardens.

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On the day we had to check out of our hotel and head towards our other abode, we decided to nix the expensive taxi and continue our peripatetic theme. It took an hour and a half (including a stop for gingerbread lattes) to get across the city. We dumped our stuff at the flat, ran to the Monoprix and stocked up our fridge, and then went exploring!

We found some pretty cool stuff, I'd say.

We found some pretty cool stuff, I’d say.

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This half of the trip, we knew what we wanted: Christmas markets! And lots of them. The one down the Champs-Élysées was the best one. By this point, we’d already had quite a few glasses of vin chaud in cafes, but vin chaud in big plastic cups at an open-air market fair—well, it was tres magnifique. Other market delights: roasted chestnuts, beignets, gaufres with Nutella, churros, oysters, hot cider, raclette sandwiches, and walking in an extremely crowded public space feeling safe from stares & comments.

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On New Year’s Eve, we decided to avoid crowds and noise, and opt for some sparkle instead. We brought a bottle of rosé champagne, Robert’s favorite, and found a little spot where we could see the Eiffel Tower’s first glow of 2016.

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Paris was everything I’ve ever dreamed. We explored. We ate. We relaxed. I wore a different lipstick every day. We’re back to “real life” in Morocco now. Vacation was a taste of paradise. But our real lives are pretty nice too. As we trudged from the train station to our house, the call to prayer started and our neighborhood kids greeted us enthusiastically. The sun had been cold and winter-white in Paris, but as the golden shimsh beat down on us and the familiar palm trees and broken concrete rose up in front of us, we felt content to be home.

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Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie