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.

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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.)

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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

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.

Scary Stuff

Halloween 2016: the day I learned where I will serve for two years. Scary stuff.

On November 1st all trainees in my staj dispersed across Morocco to visit our sites. I won’t post the name of my site here for security purposes.

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My site is a mid-size town of 18,000 people in mideastern Morocco, only around 50 miles from the Algerian border. The closest big city is Errachidia.
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I will work both in the town and outside of it in a few duwars – such as the one pictured – which are sparse neighborhoods along a main road.
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I first will live in this house in a duwar on the border of the town oasis and the desert mountains. The second story is currently under construction.
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My host family is very patient and welcoming and great at cooking. I have parents, three sisters, and a little brother, plus two other brothers and another sister who live elsewhere.

I’m already in love with my site. I can’t wait to swear in as a volunteer and return here in December!

I Guess I’m a Teacher

I’ve been in Tiflet for only one month but I’ve already changed. I feel like I have passed the first bump in the Darija road. I know when one word ends and another begins; I can express what I have done in the past tense; new words are easier to learn now than others were a week ago.

But I have also changed professionally. PC Morocco has made me push my comfort boundaries further than ever before. Many of you know that I taught percussion over the summer, but until last Wednesday I had never taught in a classroom setting.

Feel free to call me Mr. Rogers now.

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My five CBT group mates and I each taught an English lesson at the local dar chebab (youth center). This was essentially a test run for what we could be doing in our final sites, so we all picked a topic and prepared a lesson plan. The lesson plans followed a specific format developed throughout the years by PC Morocco volunteers and staff. (As we become more comfortable in our final sites, we are free to change the format as needed.)

On Tuesday, Nikita taught ordinal numbers and the top ten countries in terms of size. Wednesday is when I taught basic music theory. On Thursday, Matt taught language used in American restaurants and Andreina taught nutrition and food groups. Then on Friday, Caleb taught language used in sports and Bethan taught opposites.

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Many of us taught English for the first time.
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The youth and adults alike were eager to learn and apply their new knowledge.
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Seeing them challenge themselves while having fun was immensely inspiring.
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One week of teaching down… two years to go!

I chose to teach music theory for a couple key reasons other than my passion for and background in music. First, there is interest. One day I asked Majid, my LCF, about music education in Morocco. He told me that many Moroccans don’t know the theory behind the music they play, despite inherent rhythmic talent around the country. Because music is an integral part of the culture, he said Moroccans would be extremely interested in learning theory. His thoughts were echoed by a few other of my closest Moroccan friends, including one of my host brothers.

Second, music seems to be one of the main reasons I was selected for PC. Four of the eight regional managers, one of whom will be my main point of contact throughout my service, came to Tiflet during training to interview each of us about our final sites.

We spoke for nearly 20 minutes about my skills, interests, and preferences. While I expressed no preference about my site, we did discuss my film and music backgrounds in depth. The managers seemed very interested in projects I had brainstormed and even gave me ideas of possible projects. They absolutely strive to place volunteers in sites where we can use our skills while also meeting the needs and wants of the communities.

(cover image and video by Andreina Santamaria, aka Jamila)

Life in Three Bags

Somehow I have to fit my life into three bags. One will be a carry-on during my flights; two will be checked.

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Here’s everything.

Certainly I will buy many things in Morocco, but there are some things money can’t buy. Flags from every country I’ve visited… a pennant from my university… a tiny framed poster of Frodo in The Two Towers. You know, things that money can buy but have certain memories attached to them.

Then there are those things that a lot of my money went into buying. A laptop… a Columbia Omni-Tech coat… a camera. Obviously those have to come with me, too.

And finally there are those things that I could buy in Morocco but may not be of good quality and/or are ridiculously expensive. Bed sheets… soft underwear… hiking boots. I’m bringing those as well.

So how do I go about packing everything?


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Bag 1 (21.5″H x 14″W x 11.5″D)

My carry-on. An Evecase DSLR/Laptop backpack with all sorts of pockets. An inch and a half deeper than what Southwest Airlines allows – and two and a half inches deeper than American Airlines allows??? – but smaller in height and width. (Nobody tell them.) This bag is the only one of the three with expensive valuables, aka…

  1. Laptop
  2. Kindle
  3. iPod
  4. DSLR camera, including lenses, memory cards, and accessories
  5. Audio recording equipment, including microphones and accessories
  6. External hard drives

This bag will essentially be permanently attached to me – thanks to the waist and chest buckles – from Portland to Casablanca. No theft here.


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Disclaimer: picture does not include clothing.

Bag 2 (24″L x 16″W x 8″D)

Checked bag 1/2. The bag that goes with me to training. It’ll include most of my clothes, towel, some toiletries, bed sheets, office supplies, shoes (like my new, unofficially-required Chacos), and a small jar of honey. This last is a gift for my host family.

This bag flies free on Southwest and on American! Cha-ching!


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Disclaimer: picture does not include clothing.

Bag 3 (27″L x 18.5″W x 9.5″D)

Checked bag 2/2. The bag I’m leaving in Peace Corps storage in Rabat (see Bad Dreams), meaning it won’t have anything I will need for the three months of training. Bye bye, hiking boots, kitchen utensils, a couple pots, room decorations, and cleaning supplies. I’ll place some of my more wintry clothing in here because training ends in early December when my bag and I will be reunited.

I’ll keep a second jar of honey in this bag for my second host family in my permanent site.

This bag flies free on Southwest! Hooray! It costs $100 on American. Boo! This ultimately shouldn’t be a problem, however. Simply showing the desk agent some of my PC documentation should waive the fee. If not, PC will reimburse me.


Bonus: personal item

My camera tripod in its carrying case. It’ll probably hang out next to my feet during the flights, but if I can manage to get it in the overhead bins… again, don’t tell my airlines.


Although I have never really had issues with packing for extended international trips, this time is different. It is more difficult knowing that I’m moving to another country rather than visiting. It is more difficult to decide what stays and what goes. It is more difficult having to leave certain things behind, things that I want but don’t need.

It’s gratifying to have trouble fitting my life into three bags. It’s disappointing that I can actually accomplish it.