Cultural Misunderstandings & Moroccan Integration

English: Extension of Moroccan Arabic (Darija).

English: Extension of Moroccan Arabic (Darija). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I need to talk about yesterday. Out of nowhere, yesterday became my biggest step forward with regards to integration.  At the same time, I made a mistake that will likely come back to bite me.  All in all, the day was busy and worthwhile.  I went to sleep unsure of how to interpret everything…but that is happening more and more here in Morocco.

The day started normal.  I woke up late.  I walked around town.  I read at the park.  That part of my routine is set.  It’s perfect for what I want to accomplish here.  I need to integrate, so walking around daily is a must.  I meet at least one new person a day.  The reading in the park is something that came out of nowhere.  After being told that “I’ve never seen a person in Bhalil read in public,” I decided to do it every day.

When I got back, my family whisked me off to lunch at my mother’s parents’ house.  I’m starting to get to know everyone in the family.  More importantly, my Host Uncle has taken a liking to me.  He tries harder to communicate with me than anyone I have met here in Morocco.  After lunch, he took me to his barbershop.  At first, I thought I was going to be forced to get my hair cut.

Turns out I was wrong.  The barbershop is kind of a local hangout.  A dozen people came and went throughout my three hours there.  I met several friends of the family.  We had conversations about language, indoor heating, money, and clean energy.  It was fantastic.  Later, the English teacher at the local high school dropped by.  We had a long conversation and suddenly I have another counterpart in my work here.  Those three hours at the barbershop integrated me as much as a week’s worth of walking around town.

I headed back to my family’s house.  As we ate, the conversations somehow turned to how long I’m spending in Morocco (two years).  That quickly turned into whether or not I would marry while in Morocco.  This isn’t the first time a conversation has started about me being single.  Back in Bouderham, it was an ongoing joke between the postman and I.  So when the topic came up, I gave an overenthusiastic, “No, no, no, no.”

This is the first time the subject came up with my host family.  They were confused why I was so adamant.  It’s not that I’m adamant against it…it’s more that I can’t see it.  Back in America, I really wanted to have a house and a good job and be more like 30 when I started a family.  If my ideals play into it—religion, writing, etc..—I just don’t see marriage anywhere in the picture during my two years here.

Problem: How do you translate that into a language you’ve been studying for two months?

I missed my opportunity to explain myself.  Instead, my host mother asked me if there was a girl back home.  I said no.   My mother decided my “no” was a little sheepish and interrupted it as a “YES I DO!”  Before I could do anything about it, the conversation flew by me.  I was only asked one more question, “Is she still studying at University in America?”  Unsure of what else to say, I just said yes.

So my host family things I’m halfway to engaged.  This being on the heels of me suddenly feeling single again.  I want to set the record straight with my family…but bringing it up would be inappropriate.  The best I can do is set the record straight if they bring the subject again.  But what am I supposed to say?

Back in America I would explain it eloquently, “We never officially dated, but we were defiantly together.  We never officially broke up, but we are definitely not together anymore.”  In Darija, I will inevitably sound like a bubbling idiot.  I live in a culture where dating is considered inappropriate.  I quickly discovered that it’s not as much of a big deal as I was led to believe.  Still, it is quite a strange situation.

Every day here is unexpected.

I love that.

But it’s exhausting.

10% Done With Service


logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Today marks a 10% completion of my Peace Corps service.  80 days down.  720 to go.  As I settle into my community, I am having my fair share of successes and failures.  I feel comfortable walking all the streets of my gorgeous mountainside town.  Youth that will be in my English classes come up to me all the time to talk in broken sentences (Broken Arabic from me; broken English from them).


I’m enjoying going to the park on a daily basis and reading.  On my first full day here, I went to a park and read for an hour.  This 20 year old approached me and told me I was the first person he had ever seen read in public in Bhalil.  I was kind of in awe of that statement.  He said that, when it wasn’t time to study, all the students really cared about was soccer.  After walking around town, I believe him.  There’s always at least one game going on in some part of the town.


Before he left, he asked me about America.  He followed up by saying he was going to get there some day.  It’s not the first time I have heard this.  There’s this “Path to a Better Life” that most people in developing nations tend to follow.  Here in Morocco, step on is to get into University and become fluent in English and a European Language while studying something important—like becoming a doctor.  Knowing the language and the study will help them get to their European country of choice.  For my stranger in the park, it was Germany.  But Germany is not intended to be the final destination.  America is always the final destination—even in today’s world.


For my friend in the park, “I will die in Las Vegas, if God Wills It.”


These are the moments that I live for.  I’ve already had several.  Yesterday, I found a road that looped around the outside of the entire town.  After taking a wrong turn, I found myself at a dead end.  It was beautiful.  The road dead-ended because it reached a cliff that overlooks the entire town and the entire countryside around the town.  I stood there for maybe 20 seconds before a man approached me.


His English was perfect and he didn’t let me speak in Arabic.  We talked for half an hour.  He lived in the States for 18 years during the prime of his life.  His life story was incredible.  I wanted to keep talking to him all day.  His perspective was unlike anything I have ever heard before.  At the end of the conversation, he pointed to a building next to this beautiful overlook and told me it was for rent—and almost perfect for my budget.  I can’t wait to go back and check it out.  His business is right downstairs from the apartment.  I would love to be next door to a person who can tell a great story.


Things are going well.


Let’s keep it that way for the next 80 days.




Day 39 in Peace Corps Morocco

I went without decent internet for more than a month here in Morocco.  Now that I have a steady connection, I’m going to try to update on a daily process.  I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Fes (a pretty big tourist city) for training.  We got back yesterday evening.  Today, I went back to studying.  Our teacher decided to step things up in class because we now have only four weeks of training left before going to our final site.  After the first hour, all five of us were thinking the same thing: Oh shit.  It’s not like we don’t know the language…it’s that every question or phrase can be worded so many different ways…and it’s difficult to recognize what is being asked sometimes.

I decided to make it one of my personal goals to get to an advanced or better speaking level during my two years here.  I know that means a tutor later.  But right now, that means an hour or two of studying each night.  Since we do 4-6 hours of class, the amount of content we cover requires that of me.  I learn a bit differently than how I am taught…although the classes do give me a good overview of how the language works, I need to drill in order to memorize verbs and nouns and adjectives and everything else.  It is difficult, but I am getting there.  I want to prove myself in these four weeks before we get sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers.

In other news, having the internet is a strange change.  My relationships with everyone back home are changing now.  I can talk to my girl whenever we are both awake–which is difficult but great.  The distance is hard but I didn’t expect any less.  With regards to friends, it is much easier to keep in contact with several people.  I like being able to talk to everyone rather that figure out who I can talk to in my precious small amount of time on the internet.  One of the best parts about having the Internet has turned to out to be staying in contact with family.  With aging grandparents  parents who are nearing retirement, and a sister with three girls in school, I miss a lot if I’m out of touch for just a weeks.  It’s nice to be back in the loops.

Now that I’m in the Peace Corps, I’m going to alternate between uploading old writings and Peace Corps writing.  I’m starting with some old writing because I used most of today studying Moroccan Arabic.  Today’s update was an assignment from 11th grade.  We had to write a horror story that followed a few steps for the genre.  I really like what came out.  I don’t know if I’ll ever write more than short stories in this category, but it is fun.

Isabel’s Ballroom


Video Blogging and Heading to Fes

Tomorrow we head off to Fes for the start of our Pre-Service Training.  From there, I will head to the Atlas mountains to start working with children in a building called the Dalshabob.  It should be amazing.  I am having plenty of up days and couple down days.  It is all culminating on tomorrow when we meet our host family.  Once I get through tomorrow, I think my worries will start to wane.  I’ve been told I will live in a home  owned by a Moroccan solider with two adult sons.

Today I will be uploading one of my most popular pieces from when I was a teenager.  I called it Imminent Death.  I used people I know in short skit crazed situations.  This was a way I got in touch with the side of me I didn’t realize I had until my first really close friends brought it out of me.  Here is the first one.  It is very short.  I am having problems uploading the other nine.  I will try to upload more the next time I am on (I have no idea when that will be).

Imminent Death: Problem With Furbies


Day Four

Casablanca from the airI just practiced my Arabic for a good hour or two.  I can now count from one to ten, introduce myself, go through the basic greeting and say goodbye in the dialect of Arabic that works in Northwest Africa.  I feel like I need to as much or more language practice compared to the other people here.  I have always had a difficult time learning languages.  I just don’t enjoy memorizing.  But I am—slowly—getting it down.  I am going to have to do this every day to keep up with the lesson.  If all goes well, I won’t be kicked out when training ends because I just can’t get by with the language.

I have continued journaling on a daily basis.  This will be my main form of writing while I am here.  During my training, I doubt I will get by fiction writing done.  Once I get into my two year service that may change.  That isn’t until late March.  I still need to master the language to the best of my ability.

Today is my girl’s 21st birthday.  It has been especially hard today being away from here.  Part of me wants to be where she is.  Part of me wants her to be here.  In the end, it honestly does not matter where we are.  I just want to be with her and celebrate with her.  As I complete my fourth day of 800, I can’t help but imagine what the next 796 days will be like without her.

This is going to be hard.  But amazing.


Living Wills & Other Difficult Questions

I’m spending most of my days learning Arabic and going through hundreds of pages of manuals for the Peace Corps.  I am trying to do as much as I can right now so I can take a couple days off and truly kick back and enjoy myself for Christmas.  It seems to be going pretty well.  I believe I just finished the last of the readings.  Now I just have a checklist and lots of language preparations left.

There are a lot of interesting questions that have cropped up.  Cross-cultural understanding.  Universal rights.  A lot of these questions I will encounter once I make the move to Morocco in 23 days.  The big question right now is a living will.  I am leaving one behind with my parents.  We’ve talked about it before, but I understand the need to put it all in writing.  It’s strange thinking through the multiplicity of way you could find yourself in a end-of-life situation.  Moreover, I’m a little surprised at my own beliefs …and how little I would want to be kept alive artificially.

Here are today’s poems.  Enjoy:

We as One

Our Truth

‘Twas a Problem


2012 in Review

I learned the first three letter of the Arabic Alphabet yesterday.  It’s going to be difficult, but I think I can pull it off.  I need a good way to fill my time over the next 29 days.  Spending a good deal of time learning a new language sounds like the best way to occupy myself.  Now I just need a good place to study.  My coffee place seems to have decided to start making shitty coffee….which kind of throws me for a loop.

For those of you who do not know, I am a Broncos fan.  I have lived my entire life in Northern Colorado.  This team has always been mine.  It has been an incredible season.  Even though I am more of a baseball fan, this is hard not to get excited about this season.  I mean, nine wins in a row.  Come on!  I’m starting to think about how far they can go….and I hate that I won’t be in the country for the conference championships or the Superbowl.  I will have to find a way to watch them with fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

Today’s writing is actually my year in review. I do this every year.  Same 40 questions.  Feel free to steal the questions and fill it out for yourself.  It’s a great way to reflect.

2012 in Review

Overdose of Peace Corps

I read through all the documents in my Peace Corps packet again.  With 39 days until I leave, it seems necessary to figure out as much as I can.  I sent an email to my director.  I got a response this morning that my Peace Corps Passport has already been issued and will be waiting for me at the staging even on January 14th.  I should get more information on the staging event before Christmas…but from what I’ve read, it looks like it may be in Philadelphia.

Over the next 39 days, my time will be divided up between learning Arabic, reading, writing, and hanging out with friends and family.  Oh, and watching the Denver Broncos kick some ass.  As a result, I will be updating new stuff sporadically based on what I am doing each day.  I will, however, continue uploading old pieces for you daily.  I really like the one for today.  I hope you do too:

’cause I know