l-eid l-kbir: The Big Holiday

When God told Abraham to kill his son, he obediently knelt to do so but found a ram in his place, its throat cut.




Abraham passed the test, and now Muslims honor his actions by slaughtering sheep on Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice. Other traditions include wearing new clothes, visiting family and friends,

I celebrated the three-day holiday, Islam’s biggest, with my host family. We woke early, slaughtered a ram, ate a LOT, and enjoyed each other’s company. Here’s a smattering of pictures from the weekend. You can find a bonus video below! (Warning: it is pretty graphic.)

Sheep stomach

Dried figs

The family birds
An offering
The aftermath, pt I
The aftermath, pt II
Abdu in his new clothes
Mind your ras (head)
Most of the family at breakfast

Where’s My Bus?

Morocco is larger than many people imagine.

It is 172,414 square miles in size, slightly larger than California. Add on Western Sahara – referred to as Moroccan Sahara by Moroccans – and the size increases 63%, becoming slightly larger than Texas. That’s a pretty big area, even if Peace Corps Volunteers were allowed to own and drive cars.

Throughout the year we attend various trainings, go on vacation, and take weekend trips, and some of us have to travel just to get money from the bank. How do we all get around?

Grand Taxis

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Between cities/towns/villages and within bigger cities. Sometimes you can only find taxis for the next city over, but bigger transportation hubs can have taxis that can transport you to a city hours away, like from Meknes to Errachidia, for example, which takes about 5.5 hours.

Set by the government based on the distance, it costs roughly 1 dirham (~$0.10) for every two kilometers.

Type of vehicle
Most are old Mercedes cars but they are slowly being replaced by the Dacia Lodgy to improve air quality.

In the Mercedes cars, two passengers squeeze next to the driver, four passengers squeeze into the back, and luggage goes in the trunk. In the Lodgies, one passenger sits in the front row of seats with the driver, three people sit in the second row, and two in the last, and luggage goes behind the third row and/or on the roof.

They are obligated to start at their designated taxi stand and end at another designated taxi stand. The driver can let you off early as long as it is on the designated path. However, you can request to be taken farther than the taxi stand, but you will need to negotiate an additional price.

Drivers always wait until the taxi is full before departing, so you may leave immediately if you are the sixth passenger, or you may have to wait a while for it to fill. If you want to leave faster, you can pay for empty seats; for example, you could pay for six seats if you’re the first passenger there in order to leave immediately.

My most recent grand taxi ride: from Errachidia to my city. I was against the door behind the driver. In the back with me were three other men, two older and one university student. Up front were two women with the driver. There’s a cultural rule regarding women in grand taxis: if there is only one woman on the journey, she sits next to any door (normally the front one, in my experience). If there are two women, they sit in the front. Essentially Moroccans limit the amount of men that a female passenger has to sit next to in order to travel. The taxi driver often directs passengers where to sit in accordance with this unofficial policy.

Petit Taxis

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Within cities.

In smaller cities there’s a flat fee. Larger cities’ petit taxis are metered, but always ensure the meter isn’t “broken” like the driver will tell you. Otherwise, negotiate a price before you get in. Passengers can be picked up and dropped off at any time, and as long as the driver is a good person, he will adjust the price you pay accordingly.

Type of vehicle
The make and model vary, but they’re all compacts and each city has a specific color for their petit taxis: Ouarzazate’s are tan, Rabat’s are blue, Meknes’ are red, etc.

Petit taxis are legally allowed to carry only three passengers at a time, one in the front, two in the back, and luggage in the trunk and/or on the roof.

Like typical taxis, Moroccan petit taxis will stop wherever you tell the driver, but if a taxi is going one direction with a passenger and you need to go somewhere in the opposite direction, the driver won’t pick you up and you will need to wait for another.

Whenever you hail a taxi.

My most recent petit taxi ride: in Rabat, from Peace Corps headquarters to the bus station. I was the first passenger picked up and the driver started the meter. By the time I reached the bus station, it had raked up 22 dirhams (~$2.20), but along the way we had picked up two more people who were going further. I ended up paying about 15 dirhams (~$1.50) for my share after some negotiation with the driver.

Premium Buses (CTM and Supratours)

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Between cities, short- and long-distance.

As you may expect, it depends on your origin and destination. Prices can increase the closer you buy tickets to your departure day, especially during bigger holidays. You can buy tickets far in advance if you so choose, or you can try your luck at buying them the day of your departure. Tickets can be bought online. If you want to “check” your luggage (a.k.a., put it under the bus) it typically costs 5 dirhams for up to two bags.

Both CTM and Supratours have their own stations or kiosks in the cities in which they stop. Mostly they stop big cities and towns that fall on the road between big cities. There are certain routes that can drop you off in a town that doesn’t have a kiosk, but you cannot embark a CTM or Supratours bus in such towns.

Buses will run more often between larger cities. Along less-traveled routes, they may run just once a day. For example, my town sees two CTM buses every day running in opposite directions and two Supratours buses also running in opposite directions.

CTM and Supratours are known as premium buses because they are always air-conditioned, well-maintained, and often more comfortable than souq buses (see below). Also note that Supratours is a subsidiary of ONCF, the national train system, which will often allow you to purchase longer-distance routes that require both train and bus with little “layover” time.

My last premium bus ride: I had stayed the night in El Hajeb, north of Azrou, but El Hajeb doesn’t have a CTM kiosk, so I had to take a grand taxi to Azrou, then a CTM from Azrou to Errachidia. I bought the CTM ticket a few hours before the departure because buses to Errachidia tend to be rather empty. I checked one bag for 5 dirhams (~$0.50) and had two seats to myself for the entire 5-hour journey.

Souq Buses

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The term “souq bus” is one coined by Peace Corps Volunteers at some point in the past for unknown reasons. It simply refers to any intercity bus that isn’t run by CTM or Supratours.

Between cities.

Again, it depends on your origin and destination, but it is 5-10% cheaper than the premium buses, and you can buy tickets up to a day beforehand or even once you’re on the bus. Luggage normally costs 5 dirham a bag which you pay to the man who loads it for you. He will also monitor the luggage area at stops.

They stop in approximately the same places as CTM and Supratours, but all of the souq buses stop at city bus stations (known as the gare routiere in French). Nonetheless, you can tell the driver to stop wherever you want him to in the city or town, meaning souq buses take more time to reach their destination than do premium buses.

Despite posted schedules at each bus station, the actual buses are usually 15-30 minutes late, and sometimes don’t come at all.


  1. The quality of souq buses range from as nice as CTM and Supratours (read: with air conditioning and even WiFi, which standard CTM and Supratours buses DON’T have) to dilapidated pieces of mechanical nightmares.
  2. When you walk into the city bus station, a group of men will ask you where you’re going. Tell them; they will lead you to the bus company office within the bus station which has the next scheduled bus to your destination.

My most recent souq bus ride: I was heading to another volunteer’s site nearly two hours away from me, but due to available transportation I was required to take a taxi to a town 30 minutes away and then transfer to a souq bus. This bus was very dilapidated, with foam coming out of the seats and no air flow until someone finally opened one of the top emergency exits. After that, the trip wasn’t so bad and I could listen to my podcasts without sweating too much.

Trains (ONCF)

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Between cities or inside larger cities.

Trains are the most expensive form of travel. The price varies depending on origin and destination, of course. For example, a trip from Marrakesh to Casablanca in 2nd class costs 95 dirhams (~$9.50) while a premium bus is 90 dirhams (~$9.00). This isn’t too bad, but the price difference increases the further you go.

For 2nd class tickets, some cars have 8-person compartments and the others are open with seats all facing the same direction. (I have never been in 1st class, but I hear they’re nice.)

Trains only run in the north and west. They go as far as Oujda in the distant northeast, through Fes, Meknes, Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh, Tangier, and several smaller cities nearby these metropolises.

Once again, this depends on your origin and destination. For routes between the largest cities, you can find trains that depart every hour or so.

My most recent train ride: from Casablanca to Meknes. It took about 4.5 hours due to some unexpected (by me) stops in smaller cities along the way. At first I was standing near one of the doors due to how crowded 2nd class was, but eventually I was able to sit with a family in a compartment.

City Buses & Trams

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Image result for rabat tram morocco

Within cities

Every time I’ve used a city bus or tram, the fare is fixed regardless of your destination. Pay for buses when you get on and pay for trams on the platform.

All fixed just like in the States.

Typically you won’t have to wait for more than 20 minutes at the bus stop or tram platform, but this varies from city to city.

My most recent bus ride: from Fes city center to Fes airport. There is a specific bus (#16) that goes from the Fes train station straight to the airport. The fixed fare was only 4 dirham (~$0.40) and the trip took about 45 minutes.

My most recent tram ride: in Rabat from a hotel to downtown. There’s a fixed fare (6 dirhams, ~$0.60) and you MUST validate your ticket once you embark the tram, otherwise the conductor will charge you 50 dirhams (~$5.00). The trip to downtown took only 15 minutes.


Image result for casablanca airport

Domestically or internationally.

Like any flight it depends on how far in advance you purchase your ticket and where you’re headed.

Casablanca is the main international airport but there are smaller airports that serve Europe as well as provide domestic flights, such as Agadir, Al Hoceima, Errachidia, Essaouira, Fes, Marrakesh, Nador, Ouarzazate, Oujda, Rabat, Tangier, and Tetouan.

My most recent airplane ride: from Fes to Madrid. I used RyanAir, one of the most popular discount airlines for Europe and the surrounding region. It cost only $100 roundtrip. I took the city bus as described above to get to the Fes airport.

There you have it! All the ways to move around Morocco and get to Europe!

Personally, I choose grand taxis to reach the cities and towns closest to me. I’ll use souq buses if I’m going a little further, but will switch to CTM or Supratours buses if I need to travel more than two hours. I have no access to trains where I live, but I use them if necessary when I reach the west or north. Overall, I prefer the premium buses because Errachidia, the closest big city to me, is a transportation hub and CTM in particular offers direct trips to Ouarzazate, Marrakesh, Meknes, Fes, Rabat, and Casablanca.

This post was adapted from the unofficial Peace Corps Morocco website which I redesigned and currently maintain.

Ramadan 2017: Why I (Sort of) Fasted

All good things must come to an end, so they say. Yesterday was the last day of Ramadan and today everyone is celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the two-day holiday full of family, gifts, and food.

Most people in my site with whom I’ve come in contact know that I’m not Muslim. Even so, during Ramadan I received an inordinate number of questions involving exactly that. One specific conversation was with the computer teacher at my middle school.

Last day of life skills class!

It was my last day teaching there for the year. As I was about to climb the stairs to my classroom, the computer teacher greeted me with a big, “Ramadan karim!” (essentially, happy Ramadan.) I responded back similarly, and we quickly arrived to the big questions.

Saida asked, “Are you Muslim?”

“No. You know that!” We both laughed because humor is how I deal with religious harassment. (For the record, Saida was not harassing me. On the contrary, she’s one of my favorite colleagues at the school.)

“Are you fasting?” she continued through her broad smile.

I shrugged and responded, “I am trying.” Of the two words in Darija meaning “to try”, one means “to attempt” and the other means “to experience”. I meant the latter.

“Good luck!”

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year. There are several features to Ramadan, the most important and most visible being complete abstinence from food, drink, sex, and smoking from sunrise to sunset. Nearly every Muslim is required to fast once they reach puberty, though I have come across a few examples of families that encourage their children to start earlier in an effort to prove the family’s religious devotion.

The idea of fasting is to bring Muslims closer to God and to remind them of the suffering endured by the less fortunate. In addition, many Muslims give zakat, or donate money, to charities and often feed the hungry and poor. Overall, it’s an exercise of self-restraint and charity.

There are, however, specific groups of people who are exempt from fasting, namely: pregnant women, menstruating women, people traveling, and those who are sick. Such people must make up their missed days at a later time.

One night of Ramadan is more important than the rest. It’s called laylatu l-qadr (“night of power”). This night – one of the last ten of the month – has no definitive date because it was revealed only to the Prophet. Different countries celebrate laylatu l-qadr on different odd-numbered days of Ramadan; in Morocco, it’s the 27th. All people go to mosque to pray, separated within the mosque by gender. From sunset to sunrise, the imam (a religious leader) reads the entirety of the Koran. Some people believe that the sky opens up in the meantime and wishes will rise straight to Allah.

What fasting looks like

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The others are the recital of the declaration of faith (shahada), praying five times a day (salat), almsgiving (zakat), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).

Fasting is a healthy experience, according to my host family, my friends and their families, and everyone else around town who asks me if I’m fasting. Though I’m not convinced that eating a bunch of food close before you go to sleep is entirely healthy, I spent most nights gorging myself with my host family… let’s examine my typical daily schedule when I visited them.


We start with breaking the fast in a meal called lftur around 7:30pm; the time changes daily based on sunset. As soon as the fourth call to prayer rings across the oasis, we first dive into the small pile of dates on the table, either the smashed ones or the unsmashed. My host dad and brother leave almost immediately to pray at the nearby mosque. I stay with the women to eat our way through shbekia, khubz l-7arr, hard-boiled eggs, harira, zameta, tea, coffee, lbn, and juice. Eventually the men of the family return and eat the remnants aplenty.

shbekia: fried dough in the shape of roses, slathered in honey

khubz l-7arr: two layers of flatbread with peppers, onions, and spices between

harira: a soup with lentils, chickpeas, cilantro, parsley, noodles, and a bunch of spices

zameta: a nutty, crumbly substance that I absolutely love

lbn: a sour, buttermilk beverage that I absolutely hate

The most popular TV shows during this time? Up and down and across Morocco, families start with the Turkish soap opera Sam7ini dubbed in Darija.

As an aside: My training host family named me “Kamal” after a character in the show. SPOILER ALERT: He died in a recent episode, giving whole new meaning to Kamal matt (“Kamal died”).

Then, after ten minutes of commercials, we watch Mshiti Fiha, a mix of Candid Camera and Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d.

The proliferation of watching TV during this time is becoming a moral problem in parts of the Muslim community. Some people see it as an example of the abandonment of tradition, much like when stores host Ramadan inventory sales and sell things like plates that are “great for your Ramadan meals”.

About an hour after beginning our meal, we finish eating. The family goes their separate ways to either clean, watch more TV, do work, or hang out with friends. I typically use my laptop in preparation for a camp and a couple classes.

I leave the house around 9:30pm to set up for my photography and videography workshops at the dar shabab. The streets, normally empty at this time of night, teem with women in traditional shawls shooting the breeze with one another, men walking to and from mosque (the final call to prayer is near this time), young men stealing WiFi from cafes, and children playing soccer.

The photography and videography workshop students.

My workshops end at midnight. Even at this time, particularly because I must bike through the city center to reach my house, the streets remain lively. Fewer women are out due partially to safety and partially because they are preparing the next meal.

Yes, there’s more food.

Around 2:30am – again, based on sunset and sunrise times – the final meal of the day, called suhur, is served. This meal is like a normal Moroccan lunch, at least with my host family. We eat mrka (meat, potatoes, carrots, and turnips in a broth, sometimes with French fries, olives, and/or tomatoes) and fruit one day, some more mrka and fruit on another. The first call to prayer of the day (around 3:30am) marks the end of suhur. Then… it’s time to sleep, fast from 3:30am to 7:30pm, and start the whole process again.

Why I (sort of) fasted

“If you’re not Muslim, why are you fasting?”

“You should fast because you live in Morocco.”

Some Moroccans understand why a non-Muslim fasts here and some don’t. Some Moroccans don’t understand why a non-Muslim fasts here and some do.

It all comes down to the individual. Among the non-Muslim Peace Corps Volunteers, as I’m sure is true of other non-Muslims living in or visiting Morocco, we each had our own reason for choosing to fast or not. Personally I fasted from food but not from liquids, but even then, I was very careful about when and where I would drink in order to respect others’ fasting.

The reasons I still drank liquids:

  1. I’m not Muslim, so I wasn’t obliged to fast.
  2. The temperature in my site had been hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit for all of Ramadan, and I needed to stay hydrated.
  3. My body was not used to the heat nor the fasting.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, waiting until lftur was a fantastic way to connect deeper with my community. I spent many meals talking with several families and learning more about Moroccan culture as it relates to Islam.
  5. It was also convenient: I stayed awake until two in the morning (or later if I ate suhur) and I would wake up late, so waiting until 7:30pm wasn’t too difficult. I also became very accustomed to it.

The Art of Public Bathing

Over the past month, the weather has been strange. Rain, wind, lightning, hot sun, humidity, dust, all in one day? Check.

As you can see, the 7mmam is a necessary place in my site. I live on the edge of the desert and, for a few weeks each year, my city sees ajej. I should say “my city fears ajej” because, as it turns out, sand pelting your face in 50mph wind gusts hurts.

Once the dust and wind settled down for this season, I craved the 7mmam. I hadn’t visited one since my training in Tiflet six months before, and, despite showering two or three times a week, I could feel the layers of dirt and dead skin covering my body. Sometimes, if I was sweaty enough, I could rub on my arm and pull off little shreds of dead skin, much like I do whenever I get sunburned.

And so I finally made it to a 7mmam with two of my best friends, Abdelghani and Adam.

Some 7mmams have two entrances that delineate two completely separate sections – one for men and one for women. The 7mmams with just one section have specific hours for each sex. Such 7mmams in my town are open for men for a few hours early in the morning and a few late in the evening; women claim it the rest of the day. The one Abdelghani, Adam, and I went to is the two-section kind, so the men’s side is open all day. I was surprised once we stepped inside that we were among the few men there, but after some thought, I reasoned why.

Though my site is big on agriculture, the city center is full of cafes, shops, banks, tailors, retailers, and government buildings. Men are much more likely to work in such places and so they must go to the 7mmam before or after business hours. It’s a probable explanation for why there were so few at our 7mmam.

Women, who tend to work in the home, have time throughout the day to wash. A symptom of their extended hours (though maybe it is the cause) is the ability to chat. The women’s 7mmam is perhaps the only purely female space. As such, they are free to talk about whatever they want, including things they might never say in front of men. They also have the ability to talk for extended periods of time unlike in the home. Naturally, they tend to stay inside the 7mmam much longer than men.

7mmam dressing room
A 7mmam dressing room.

My 7mmam experience this time was similar to that of six months ago, though with far fewer people. First we stepped into the changing room, a small space about half the size of the one in this photo. There were two long wooden benches lining the walls and shelf space above and below to store our bags. We stripped down to our underwear (nudity is shameful), stored our clothes, and took our shampoo, soap, 7mmam-owned buckets, and other necessary toiletries through the door to the 7mmam.

The first room we stepped into was about – and I am completely guessing here – 100 degrees Fahrenheit, about 15 degrees hotter than outside. There was one man sitting there, leaning against the tiled wall. We pushed aside a heavy mat hanging from the ceiling into the second room, about 20 degrees hotter than the first (maybe). Here we set up our base camp.

We filled our buckets from two faucets jutting out from the wall, one dispensing scalding hot water, the other freezing cold. While Adam tended to the buckets, making the water just the right temperature, Abdelghani and I ventured into the final room. It was a sweltering 140 degrees, I imagine. It was nearly impossible to breathe normally, and even more so when we took advantage of the heat to loosen up our muscles. We stretched for a few minutes and attempted to talk, but our voices echoed too much through the room the 10ft by 20ft room to understand one another.

I returned to room #2, sweat already pouring out of every pore, and helped Adam finish filling the buckets. We blocked off a corner using the buckets as a wall. Meanwhile, Abdelghani, armed with a bucket of water and a squeegee, washed away any remnants of whoever had been there before us. Then… we sat.

And sat.

And sweated.

Until it was time to get clean. There’s this scrubber thing called a “kees”. It looks a little like an oven mitt without the thumb part, but rather than padding to keep your hand safe from a burning pot, the kees is rough and scratchy and is designed to exfoliate.

Moroccan exfoliating glove, the kees
This picture makes the kees look WAY too elegant.

Most men scrub themselves with their keeses, removing layers upon layers of sweat, dust, skin, and anything else they may be covered in. Once they finish scrubbing their face, arms, legs, stomach, and neck, they employ someone else to scrub their back.

That was my intention. But then Abdelghani insisted on giving me the full 7mmam experience. With all my dead skin and dirt loosened from the heat, he took my kees and annihilated my arms. He liquidated my legs. He butchered my back. He wrecked my neck and beat my feet until I was like a tomato, red and raw. The only part of myself I got to clean was beneath my underwear, which I performed delicately in the bathroom.

That was just the first round, because after all the dead skin and dirt was removed, it was time to use soap and actually clean into the pores. So, using my kees, Abdelghani went to town again until I was like a soapy tomato. He also tried to stretch my leg and arm muscles, but half the time I didn’t understand what was happening and instead flexed instead of relaxed. I’m sure the man and his young son in another corner were laughing, but there was too much echo and I couldn’t see anything anyway since my glasses were a long way away in the changing room. The whole time I was confused, in pain, and blind, but fortunately I got to wash my hair myself, and used a rough rubber-bristled brush to exfoliate my scalp.

By this point we had been in the 7mmam for about two hours. More than enough. I escaped into the relatively cold changing room and gulped down liters of water, replacing quite literally all the water that had evacuated my pores. And then I sat on the wooden bench.

And sat.

And sweated.

Until Adam and Abdelghani exited room #1 and started to change back into street clothes. We dried off and pulled on track suits. Generally used for sport among young men our age, they protect slowly-closing pores from the environment as one walks back to one’s home.

Traditionally, once one returns from the 7mmam, it is time to nap. I welcomed such a treat because, let’s face it, I nap almost every day anyway, and at least this time I had an excuse. I turned on my new fan, turned it toward my face, and woke up four hours later.

Overall, just as I thought in Tiflet, the 7mmam was not a fun experience, but it was a necessary one. Thanks to Abdelghani’s determination, I have never been cleaner.

Essaouira, the “Little Rampart”

Essaouira (“es-swera”) is a port city on the Atlantic. Though it was formerly named Mogador, its current name means “little rampart”, referring to the old fortress wall that surrounds the old part of the city.

It is a very touristy place which, if it was like Marrakesh or Fes, would usually mean shop owners would harass passersby to come look in their shop and consider the “very good price” of random items. However, Essaouira is not like Marrakesh or Fes. It has a familiar aura of a beach town in America: people are more relaxed, life moves more slowly, and everyone really seems happier; plus, it’s cooler and breezier than any place inland.

Arguably its best quality – as I observed during my… two days there – is its focus on the arts. Rug makers, musicians, artisans, weavers… it’s known particularly for gnaoua music and has art galleries on virtually every corner.

When I visited Essaouira I brought along my DSLR, as I intend to do the next dozen times I visit, inshallah. These photos are some of my favorites.

Language, Part juj

There’s a word in Darija. It means “to collect”.

This word is pronounced jm3 (how do I pronounce 3?), and it’s written جمع.

I chose this particular word to illustrate a very common pattern in the language here. Many times, if you take a verb and add some extra sounds to the front, back, and/or in the middle, you end up with words that have a connotation related to the original verb.

Maybe that’s a little confusing. Let’s listen to jm3 and some of its related words:

  • to collect/gather (verb stem): jm3
  • mosque (where people collect to pray): j-jam3
  • association (a collection of people doing something similar): jm3iya
  • university (where people collect to study): jami3a
  • municipality (a government building that oversees people): jama3a
  • Friday (the main prayer day at the mosque): jumu3a
  • group (a collection of people): mjmu3a
  • total (the collection of all prices): mjmu3
  • the name of some girls: Jma3

If we really think about this pattern, we realize that it isn’t especially unique to Darija. We have such patterns in English, too. Look at the verb “to employ”. We have employer, employee, employment, employable, and employability that are all related to it.

So this concept isn’t a new one for me. However, these patterns do make learning the language a bit tougher.

Someone else: “Meet me in front of the mosque.”

Me: “The university? We have a university here?”

Someone else: “No, the mosque.”

Me: “Which association?”

Someone else: “No, the mosque!”

Me: “Oh, in front of the municipality.”

Someone else: “NO, THE MOSQUE!”

Me: “Okay, the mosque, I get it! Sorry.”

There’s another layer I don’t think I’ve yet mentioned fully in my blog. In my site many people speak an Amazigh dialect called Tamazight. There are many dialects of the overarching Tamazight language in Morocco which can be separated into three dialects: Tamazight (called “shilha” in my site, it is spoken generally in the east and southeast of the country), Tashel7it (in the south and southwest), and Tarafit (in the northern mountains).

Eventually I will learn the Tamazight dialect in order to integrate further into my community. Fortunately, my work here doesn’t absolutely require it. Until I start learning Tamazight to communicate with some of the older – sometimes illiterate – people in my community, I can focus my studies on Darija.

My language goal in Darija is to become “advanced low” by the end of this year. This shouldn’t prove too difficult because I achieved “intermediate middle” during my language placement interview. My Tamazight goal is to be “intermediate low” by the end of my Peace Corps service. And my French goal is to be “novice high” by the end of my service.

On Sunday, My Bike was Stolen

Here’s what I know:

  • On Sunday morning I awoke in anticipation of visiting another volunteer in a site two hours from mine. The plan was to watch a documentary she made with one of her counterparts and give them some notes.
  • I walked toward the taxi stand but, on the way, I remembered I needed to briefly visit the gendarme. I am still in the midst of applying for my Moroccan ID, and I needed to give them original copies of some documents.
  • I returned home to get my bike and then rode it to the gendarme.
  • Having missed the 10am bus and not wanting to be any later, I left my bike at the taxi stand and took a taxi. I fully intended to return in five or six hours, and I had previously left my bike unlocked in some places for longer than that without any issue.
  • By the time the other volunteer and I began watching the documentary, the last taxi returning to my site had gone. I stayed the night there, worrying that my bike would be stolen.
  • The next morning, after eating delicious banana and strawberry pancakes, I returned home and was completely unsurprised to find my bike was no longer at the taxi stand.

I explained the situation to the police and one officer took an informal statement. He told me to come back the next morning to check if they found anything, or if the situation would be taken to the chief (with whom I have a positive relationship). Other than the police, I notified a couple used bike shops, the curti (taxi stand facilitator), and several of my friends and students.

Lo and behold! While I was walking toward the police station the following morning, the curti stopped me and told me the other curti had seen a newer bike left at the station and took it to his house for safekeeping. It was mine!


This situation got me thinking about the system of law and order in Morocco, or at least the institutions of authority in my site. I am still confused about which authority does what, and their jurisdictions… all I know for sure is that I should never be unsafe in my site.

First, at the lowest level, is my muqaddem. He is essentially the warden of my neighborhood. This man, Mustapha, dresses in plain clothes, a fact that made it difficult to find him once I was told I needed to give him a passport copy. Fortunately, he found me one day and, after some confusion on my part of why this man needed my phone number, I realized he is the muqaddem. If I understand correctly, I am to call him if there are any issues in my neighborhood.

Next is the qaid. I have no idea what its jurisdiction is, or if I ever need to communicate with it. Some volunteers, particularly those in very rural sites, only have qaids as authority figures; my guess, then, is that they are responsible for specific villages.

Then we have the gendarmes. I dealt and am dealing with the gendarmes while working on my ID application because I began the process when I lived with my host family, whose house is in their jurisdiction. Though I now live in the police’s boundaries, I still need to finish the ID process with the gendarmes.

Finally, we have the police. Whenever I leave my site or have other volunteers visiting me, I am to notify them. I am also to go to them for any safety concerns or typical crimes (such as bike theft). Fortunately I am on very good terms with the police chief who has been very patient throughout the ID application process.

Legal living.

I mentioned the Moroccan ID above. Because my initial stay in Morocco was limited to 90 days and later extended to six months without residency, I have to eventually get an ID known as a carte de sejour. Many times when attempting official things like reporting the bike theft and trying to get WiFi (still, I don’t have it), I am asked for my carte. I have to tell them I don’t have it yet before I show them my passport.

Other than official conversations, I’ve had a few chats with students or friends about living in Morocco. And without fail they eventually ask how they can move to the United States. I think a lot of the time they ask simply for comparison purposes rather than actually wanting to move, but everyone has a different motivation.

I end up telling them that it is very hard to gain residency in the United States, particularly for Arabs and/or Muslims. This has been true for some time but is especially true in the current American political environment. I try to emphasize that my residency in Morocco has been relatively simple primarily because of Peace Corps’ reputation and relationship with the Moroccan government. That’s true – if I tried to live in Morocco without Peace Corps’ help, it would be much more difficult.

Still, it is undeniable that it will be much harder for a Moroccan 24-year-old person to move to America than it is for this American to live in Morocco.

Term of Today: Tiyb

As it turns out, I can cook (Tiyb), more or less.

I’ve never truly been in a situation where I’ve had to Tiyb for myself. College is a big exception, but even then I had many options – healthy and otherwise – to eat outside my dorm or apartment. Another exception is when I worked at the Oregon legislature and lived in a small house nearby. I had a functional kitchen, but I shared it with two others, and I still had delicious options on the legislature’s campus and elsewhere.


Now that I’m in my own house, my kitchen has become a little home within my home. Though I do have several little food joints in my site, I am trying to use PC as a way to learn to Tiyb.

My first full-on meal took three hours to make. Enjoy the recipe below!

Pollo Asado Fries on February 3, 2017

  • 1 buta tank (125 DH for the initial purchase, only 50 DH for refills)
  • 1 valve with rubber washer (15 DH)
  • 1 extra rubber washer (0.5 DH)
  • 1 two-meter buta hose (8.5 DH)
  • 2 valve clasps (1 DH each)
  • 1 pan (25 DH)
  • 1 three-burner stove (200 DH)
  • Lighter (free, leftover from previous Volunteer)
  • Leatherman multi-tool ($65, bring with you from the US; optional)
  • 1/2 chicken (30 DH)
  • 3 avocados (~15 DH, bought in bulk)
  • 1 extra-large potato (~2 DH, bought in bulk)
  • 1/2 red onion (~0.5 DH, bought in bulk)
  • 1/2 tomato (~1 DH, bought in bulk)
  • cilantro (1 DH for one bundle)
  • olive oil (45 DH for 1.5 liter)
Recipe (serves 3 or one very hungry person who didn’t realize how much food he actually had):
  1. Purchase and transport buta tank from the local 7anut to your house (allow for 30 minutes).
  2. Open buta tank’s safety seal (allow at least 30 minutes for first time; don’t give up! It’ll get easier with future tanks). You may need to saw it open with your Leatherman. Feel free to listen to the whole soundtrack of Spring Awakening while you work.
  3. Attach one end of hose to the valve and secure with valve clasp (1-2 minutes).
  4. Attach other end of hose to the stove and secure with valve clasp (20-30 minutes, depending on your strength and tenacity).
  5. Screw valve onto buta tank (2 minutes max).
  6. Make guacamole by adding salt to three pitted and mashed avocados, diced tomatoes and onions, and finely chopped cilantro (20 minutes). Store in fridge if you have one yet.
  7. Slice up chicken – breast, thigh, leg – into bite-sized portions (15 minutes).
  8. Tiyb chicken on stove with leftover onion, tomato, and cilantro, and add salt and any other spices at your disposal. Chili pepper and cumin work wonders (20 minutes). Set chicken aside.
  9. Cut potato into thin strips and fry in olive oil with a little salt. Bonus: this is a great way to determine whether your PC-provided smoke detector works (15 minutes).
  10. On a plate, make a bed of guacamole. Place chicken on the guacamole, and top it off with fries fresh from the pan. (3 minutes).
  11. Enjoy with potentially tainted water from your faucet or boxed, unrefrigerated, ultra-pasteurized 0% milk.
Total price: 470.5 DH (around $47), not including the Leatherman.
Total prep and Tiyb time: 2-3 hours, depending on how fast you realize you can saw the safety seal off the buta.