Reflections from the 1/3 mark

I sit here staring up at the stars.  The first shooting stars of the night should be come at any moment.  There is no moon—making tonight the perfect opportunity.  It took me a couple minutes to find the darkest place to sit.   A place where the dim yellow light of the city doesn’t interfere with the night sky.  I sit there and stare up at the sky.

That’s when it hits me.  I don’t know how to tell you what I am experiencing.  I can tell you about the stars.  I can tell you about the dim light of the city.  Hell.  I can tell you about the dogs wailing off in the distance—in their eternal fight for more territory.  I can show you the mountain behind my city and how tell you how angry I am that it is being mined into the groud.  I can point out the mosque I can see from my roof and explain to you that I can hear the call to prayer—every day—five times a day.

But that will only graze the surface.  There’s no way for me to paint a picture that properly tells you how amazing this experience is.  How difficult it is.  How I’ve cried for hours.  How I’ve been numb for days.  How I’ve been happier than I’ve been in a very long time.  There’s no way to put 90% of what I see into words.  Sure, I write to you every day in my diary.  I tell you what I encounter on a daily basis.  But I pick and choose.  If I wrote a full account of what I came across every day—I wouldn’t experience as much because I’d be writing for hours on end.

The only way I can get you to understand what I am going through is by bringing you here.  My parents are coming in a month.  As I figure out what to do with their short time here, I’m hit with a strange dilemma.  I want to fit in so much.  But I have to accept that they won’t be able to see what I see.  I can wander this country without being much stress anymore.  That’s not going to be the case with my parents.  It’ll be a whirlwind.  They will understand my life much better.  But it still won’t put them in my shoes.

As I sit here looking up at the stars, I can tell you that I am lonely.  And that’s okay.   Today marks 1/3 of service.  That is a strange comfort to me.  I can feel time passing—a necessity to remind myself that I will be back home someday—even if I do not understand where home is anymore.  It also reminds me of how much time I have left.  A deep reminder that I need to fit as much as I can in to the little time I have left here.

It impossible to tell you about the passage of time.  I look back home and see people living their lives.  A few things have changed, but life remains the same.  Meanwhile, I’ve been sucked into a vortex.  The person I was nine months ago wouldn’t recognize the person I am today.   I could Early Terminate right now.  I could go home.  I could see my friends and family.  You.  I could eat the food I so desperately want to eat.  It would be good for a week.  Maybe a month.  But I wouldn’t know what to do.  How do you explain what has happened to you when you can’t even understand it yourself?

540 days from now, I’ll sit out here again.  Downstairs my apartment will be bare—picked apart my new volunteers who are just starting out.  It’ll be my last night in the apartment.  In the morning I’ll hand over the keys.  I’ll get in a Grand Taxi and say goodbye to this strange town.  Sitting there, staring up at the stars, I’ll breath.  I’ll cry.  I’ll laugh.   I’ll be terrified and excited about the idea of returning to America—much like how I felt in the days prior to coming here.   I will have come full circle—ready for my next adventure.

Until then, I’ll enjoy the ride and continue writing.

5 Viewpoints on the Government Shutdown from an American Citizen Living Overseas

1. Comparing Congressmen to “Babies Having a Temper Tantrums” is just plain wrong.  Political rhetoric is pathetic.  The 535 men and women elected to the U.S. Capitol contain some of the brightest people in the country.  Even if some of them have extremist ideas, the truth is they are working hard.  The problem isn’t that they “babies” or that they are “lazy.”  The problem is the political format of America forces Congressmen to work for their party instead of the people who elected them.

2. The media needs to grow a spine.  Nearly every news outlet I turn to right now is trying to be nonpartisan.  Seriously!?  The facts are facts.  The Tea Party is responsible.  Period.  They are holding up legislation to keep the government running because “democrats won’t negotiate.”  There’s one major problem with this idea.  The democrats already negotiated on Obamacare—which is why the law was watered down in the first place.  But it passed.  The Supreme Court upheld it.  The battle is over.  The blame sits squarely on the Tea Party….or

http://news.yahoo.com/video/government-shutdown-sparks-blame-game-161908447.html

3. The real blame belongs on Our Founding Fathers.  Our constitution is brilliant.  But its few mistakes are rather severe.  One of the worst parts is the Electoral College.  Due to the evolution of voting and democracy since the late 1700s, the Electoral College is dangerous.  It binds us to a two-party system that is destroying us instead of evolving to a multi-party system like you see in Europe.  This two party system led to the absurd rules that guide the House of Representatives, which now allow ten Tea Party members blackmail the Speaker of the House into grinding the government to a halt.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHEDXzOfENI&list=SPqs5ohhass_QZtSkX06DmWOaEaadwmw_D

4.  Representative Randy Neugebauer is either a moron or an asshole.  In the year 2013, all elected officials know they need to watch what they say 24/7.  That means it’s really hard to hid stupidity.  Representative Neugebauer presented this stupidity in a very public manner.  It is nearly impossible to finish watching that video without wanting to punch this man in the face.  How dare he.

5.  The Shutdown is affecting US workers overseas.  I work for the Peace Corps, but this extends to every agency that works overseas—the State Department, the CDC, etc.  Since you work overseas, you can’t be furloughed.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us.  Our counterparts in D.C.  are furloughed—leaving many communication lines down until further notice.  If this continues for more than a week, you will hear of serious consequences.

The Staj of Love: The Story of Zero Early Terminations

Swearing In Ceremony

I am going to write this entry as carefully as I can.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am advised to write about my experiences rather than the Peace Corps itself (as is the case with all government jobs).  But something special is happening here in Morocco—and I feel I must address it.

95 new volunteers came to Morocco on the 16th of January.  This size is fairly large—but that’s because Peace Corps is rather active in Morocco.  On average, each incoming group will lose around 1/3 of their group over the two years in country.  A lot of these are volunteers are lost during the intensive training process.  Many more are lost when the work dies down for a month or two.  In the end, every group losses a significant part of the group.

My group has been in Morocco for 20 weeks.  There are still 95 of us.  No one has left.  We went through the same intensive training and have not lost a single volunteer.  We made our adjustment to our final site and have not lost a single volunteer.  Many volunteers have been extremely sick—but they have not left.  One of our volunteers even lost his father—but he returned to his site after the funeral.

One of the best parts of Peace Corps is that you can Early Terminate whenever you like—no problem.  You will not receive the benefits of being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, but you are not punished or given a “dishonorable discharge.”  This great policy, however, also plagues the Peace Corps.  Without any real punishment, it is extremely difficult for them to curb the 30-33% crop out rate.

So what is happening in Morocco?  I’ve spent plenty of time talking about this subject with other volunteers.  The longer we last without losing anyone, the more we feel like we are becoming part of something special.  That being said, the longer this goes on, the harder it will be for someone to leave if they feel like they need to.  So, I want to let the other 94 volunteers know that none of us will look down upon you if you find the need to go home.  Our mental and physical health comes first.

All Peace Corps Morocco Volunteers are about to hit the difficult season.  Summer in Morocco gets so hot that many cities and youth centers shut down for an extended amount of time.  However, the PC administration in Morocco seems to have listened to the troubles of past volunteers.  We were brought into country in January so that we would be somewhat integrated before this downtime.  Plus, we have plenty of opportunities to continue working through the summer.

But what I really want to point out is the people.  We refer to ourselves as “The Staj of Love.”  With 13 married couples and several volunteers with significant others back in The States, we have far fewer single volunteers than most incoming groups.  But what I find most impressive is the way our group has bonded.  We have built such a support system amongst ourselves that each person seems to have an outlet and a mentor.

I, for one, have severely considered the idea of Early Termination twice so far.  Both times I have talked with fellow members from “The Staj of Love.”  They helped me change my perspective.  They helped me realize that I am here for several reasons that I had never realized.  Although I have only become close to a few members of our group, I have witnessed and heard of the support that we have been giving each other—and I can’t help but be impressed.

I know our “Zero Early Terminations” headline will soon disappear.  There are too many circumstances.  Difficult situations in site.  The death of family members back home.  Unforeseen circumstances.  I know that we will not go our full 27 months without seeing someone go home.  But that doesn’t matter.  The fact is, we are about to go to a training that will bring us to five month in-county.  Five months in Africa without losing a single person.

I am proud to be part of “The Staj of Love.”

A Day in Peace Corps Morocco

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I’ve come to realize that most of my writings revolve around specific events.  However, in order for you to understand those events in a larger context, you need to understand what daily life looks like in Morocco.  In order for you to understand, here is my average Wednesday—the strangest and fullest day in my week.

I wake up every morning around nine in the morning.  I may live on the edge of town, but it is busy enough to wake me up.  I live in an apartment complex over a builders’ supply store.  I often wake up to the owner negotiating with customers.  If his voice doesn’t wake me up, it will be the fishman.  Every two or three days, a man will walk up and down my street at eight in the morning, yelling, “Aji!  Hut!”  This means “Come! Fish!”  His voice has never failed to wake me up.  I often go out and watch him.  A lot of the wives in the neighborhood buy from him (my town is known for having fantastic fish).  I enjoy watching the feral cats try to steal the small leftovers.

I make a simple breakfast every morning—usually just eggs and cheese and olive oil.  Since everything is so expensive here, my only form of cooking is by turning on the equivalent of a propane tank which is hooked to a portable stovetop.  After I finish, I turn off the propane so as not to die a couple hours later.  I eat breakfast while watching a TV show (currently, I am watching Community).

When I’m done, I go to Souk.  Souk is the weekly market.  In Bhalil, it is Wednesday.  I walk down the tall hill by my house.  Overnight, the dirt field by the taxi stand turns into a massive market.  I squeeze to get into one of the two small entrances.  I go mainly for vegetables (a kilo of potatoes, tomatoes, onions, or oranges only cost 3 dH….with is about 30 cents).  Once I stockpile a week worth of vegetables and fruit, I trek back up the hill back to my apartment.

Lunch usually consists of a vegetable stir-fry.  I tend not to eat meat on my own because I don’t like buying meat here….I don’t like watching them kill the animal I intend on eating.  Plus it saves me money.  Anyway, I tend to watch a movie over lunch hour because I don’t have anywhere to be until the late afternoon.    After the movie is over, I gather up my things and head off to the Youth Center.

I got an apartment far away from the Youth Center so that I have to walk each day.  After lunch, I make the long trek to the other side of town.  I usually show up early so I can set up for my English Class.  Class starts at 4:00.  Students usually don’t show up, to be honest.  I’ve had a couple show up a couple times, but I’ve had a hard time getting these classes going.  I usually stop class by 5:45pm.

I get to the Cyber nearby by 6:00.  I have a regular class there.  This is my group of BACH students.  BACH is the program that all youth have to go through in their final two years of high school.  I help them build their English.  Usually the lesson evolves into more of a cultural exchange (because I am not really here to teach English…I’m here to encourage student to become active in their community).  This class usually ends around sunset—which is 7:30 right now.

I stick around the Cyber and talk to Adil (the owner) and some of his friends.  Meanwhile, I use his Wi-Fi to download movies.  We talk about everything t from movies to religion.  He’s become one of my closest friends in town.  After a while, I head back home and piece together dinner.  I watch a movie or a couple TV shows.  If I need to plan for classes or do any Peace Corps work, I do it.  If not, I read or relax.  I’m usually in bed around midnight every night.

That’s a busy day.  There are plenty of days that don’t have that much.  Those days usually involve a couple hours at the Cyber Café.  Some days I want to get away and I head up to Fes.  The one constant is that every day has strange complications that make it extremely difficult to define a “normal day.”  I hope this explanation helps you understand life here.

The World of 2015

I will be back in the United States in 2015.  I’m not really sure when, but it will be 2015.  There are some early Close of Services in March.  Then again, I want to travel.  It’s all too far away to think about with any precision.  I will be back in the United States between March and July of 2015.  When I do, the country will be mostly the same.  It’ll be the small things that will have changed.  That’s what I spend a lot of time thinking about.

Family
-My dad will be 58 and getting closer to retirement.
-My mom will be 57 and about to start her last year of teaching.
-My sister will be turning 30 around the time I get back.
-Dasia will be 15 and probably have a Driver’s Permit.
-Jade will be 13 and getting ready for High School.
-Kyra will be 10 and starting Middle School.
-Sidenote: My parents will likely have a new dog!

Technology
-IPhone 7 will probably be the big thing.
-The PS3, the XBOX 720, and independent game systems will be on the market (I want one).
-The new technology will likely be “flexible tablets.”
-Google Glasses will be on the Market.
-Supermarkets will have more “do it yourself” checkouts than human checkouts
-Space Tourism will allow civilians to orbit the moon in a “Lunar Hotel”
-Self-driving cars will be on the road, but not ready for general sale.
-Personal Computers will have up to 100 TB hard drives.

Politics/News
-The New World Trade Center in New York will be open
-The first Presidential Candidates for 2016 will already have announced their candidacy.
-The Defense of Marriage Act will be overturned.
-3D Printing will render gun control obsolete.
-For the first time since I was 12, the United States will not be at war.

It’s strange to think about a lot of these things.  Everything moves so quickly in the world nowadays, that a lot really does change in the course of two years.  It’s all very exciting and scary.  By the way, if you find this stuff as fascinating as I do, I get most of it off a single website.  Check it out.

http://www.futuretimeline.net

 

 

The Fishbowl Effect

Sad T-Rex

Sad T-Rex (Photo credit: iJammin)

There’s a pain that comes with Peace Corps service.  At least it accompanies the first 100 days of service.  I can’t pretend that it won’t also be a part of the next 700 days, but it will be less intense.  It’s something that Peace Corps warned us about.  When they told us about it, I didn’t understand.  How could I?  Now I’ve been through it.  Now I understand.  Now…how do I explain it?

Peace Corps’ description: You are always “on.”  In the Peace Corps manual, you will find a list of Core Expectations.  I have number five circled: “Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.”  Add that on top of the reality that you are the only American in town, and you’ve got yourself quite the fish bowl.

This hit me hard today.  I wanted to do some writing.  I needed some inspiration, so I looked through some old pictures.  The pictures stabbed me with memories.  Beautiful memories of a time that feels so long ago.  Whenever I get like this, I like to go for a walk.  It clears my head.  But I can’t go for a walk.  My host family will ask where I am going.  I’ll tell them I want to walk.  They’ll tell me it’s not safe with all the dogs out at night.

How do you deal with this?  My host family has a puppy.  I thought I would love it.  The thing is, that little dog reminds me of my two dogs—who died within two months of each other right before I left for the Peace Corps.  But I can’t be sad.  I can sneak into my room—because that comes across as antisocial.  And I can’t cry.  Having someone ask questions would only complicate the situation.

But…I move into my own apartment in 13 days or so.  That’s the small light at the end of the tunnel.  It’ll be nice to have a whole apartment rather than a small room.  It’ll be great to control my diet.  It’ll be nice to not be expected home at a certain hour.  Most of all, I can go for walks whenever I want.  It’s this beginning part—these first 100 days of service that have worn on me.

I know there’s a part of me that will always be “on.”  That part of me will either learn to adjust or sigh a long awaited sigh of relief when I finally hit American soil in 2015.  That’s such a strange thought.  The idea of being here two years is realistic now.  The thought of returning home is so…surreal.  All the food.  The flat sidewalks.  Movie theaters.  Strong Internet.  Not having trouble understanding someone in a basic conversation.

I feel like I’m in a constant state of over-alertness.

I need a vacation.

Making a Life-Long Project Better

I’ve been doing the Everyday Project for six and a half years now.  I knew joining the Peace Corps would add a unique spice to my project.  Two years of projects with weird landscaped and veiled women in the background?  I loved the idea.  It will make my project stand out.  When I started getting used to being here in Morocco, however, I realized there was another advantage to being in the Peace Corps.  Time.

There is a lot to do in the Peace Corps.  I spend a lot of time hanging out with my Host Family, eating, and teaching kids.   But, inevitably, there is a lot of free time.  I knew this would happen.  As a result, I made a nice long list of personal goals I wanted to accomplish during my 27 months here.  Most of them were writing goals.  But there were a few random ones.  Genealogy was one.  Another, however, involved my Everyday Project.

I’ve seen a couple projects that aligned the eyes in their pictures.  They are some of my favorite projects.  If you can find a way to align the eyes of the pictures, you can go as fast or as slow as you want.  For me—without aligned eyes—I dare not go faster than ten pictures per second.  Even at that rate, my face bounces around enough that it is slightly disorienting.  So I put it on my list: Align the eyes in my Everyday Project.

I knew it was an ambitious project from the get-go.  To start, I wasn’t sure how to do it.  I tried several different projects over a week in February.  Finally, I realized the best way to do it was with the Ruler option in Powerpoint.  I did three months that week.  Later I realized I was making the pictures too large.  I started again.  It takes about half an hour to do a month—a little less than a minute per picture.  I’ve been doing this for six and half years.  That’s about 2,200 pictures.  Like I said…it’s an ambitious project.

When I started working, I thought it would be a rather monotonous project.  It is, at times.  But, more and more, I find that that is not the case.  I see my face and realize things.  I have a slight tilt to my head.  My eyes look better in the sunlight than in the faux light of the indoors.  I can see when I had been crying—eyes still red.  I can tell when I just got out of the hot tub—hair still wet.

More importantly, I look to the background.  This is the part that brings back memeories.  I like it when I am not home in the pictures.  It’s great to try to figure out where I was…and why?  Who was I dating at that point?  How long till we break up?  Who was I hanging out with?  What did we do?  These pictures hold my life in their pixels.  I’m loving this “monotonous” part of this fantastic project.

Here’s a quick look at what I am doing.  I am currently 300 pictures in.  If you are looking to start your own project (which I strongest suggest you do) or need any advice on aligning eyes, feel free to contact me.  I love spreading this project.

10% Done With Service

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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.

 

 

 

A Feeling I Cannot Shake

Something is off.  I’m doing well in my Final Site.  This is something else.  Not the strangeness of the place, the people, or the food.  This has to do with home.  I know most people would simply call it homesickness.  But that sounds to simple to me.  This is more.  To be honest…even if I Early Terminated right now and went back “home” to Colorado, I would have this feeling.  It’s an intense detachment.  I’m seeing all my connections fade.  I should have know this was inevitable…but was there even a way to accept it before?  I don’t believe so.

I don’t talk with friends back home very often.  When i do, I either feel a pang in my stomach or can’t find much to talk about.  The same, strange enough, is happening with my family.  Our conversations feel shorter.  Through no fault of anyone, all of the relationship’s I’ve built up for 23 years are fading.  I guess that is what happens when you are an ocean and and continent away.  It’s a pailful experience   I didn’t notice it until my kinda-relationship back home was put on hold.  This was also expected…but that doesn’t make it any easier.

I find myself relying on the support structure that I’ve built over the last ten weeks with other Peace Corps Volunteers.  Given, it is a strong support system.  I have no fear of going without advice and help.  It’s the transition of going from my usual support system to something entirely different that is getting at me.  I have these people who I regarded as immovable pillars in my life back home.  To know that I can not rely on the pillars in strange…and awkward.  I miss my friends.  I miss my family.  I miss my special someone.  I will always love them.  24 months and counting…

A poem I wrote today:

Inescapable 

on Writing in the Peace Corps

As the weeks pass, I feel that I may be among the lucky volunteers here in Morocco.  We have all be told a dozen times that we will have long stretches of down time.  This isn’t a Peace Corps thing.  It is a cultural thing.  Our job is to work with kids.  When it’s raining all winter or approaching 130 all summer, it is inevitable that whole communities forgo activities for extended amount of times.  Many of the volunteers that I have met fear this.  I understand their fear, but don’t share it.  There is an incredible feeling of purpose that comes with being busy.  To complement that, however, there is an incredible feeling of uselessness that comes with not having much to do.

I’ve experienced the uselessness before.  For me, however, I have an inexhaustible hobby that can take up hours or fit into the small crevasses of free time.  Currently, during training, my writing has fallen into the latter category considering learning a new language (and culture) comes first.  I’m well aware that this will change.  When the activity level dies down and I am sworn in as a volunteer, there will be days where it’s obvious not much can be done.  For that, I am thankful for my hobby.  I have five writing outlets in place at this moment.  First, I write in my diary everyday.  Secondly, I write a letter several times a week.  Those are the two that I currently fit into the small moments of free time.  Thirdly, I have this blog.  Fourth is a script I’ve been hoping to write (This will be a long term goal that will probably take off in the heat of the Summer).  Lastly, I have a short story I desperately want to write (even though it’s still in the theoretical stage).

With all these outlets, I am not afraid of the free time that comes with two years of service.  Writing is my way of untangling the thoughts in my head.  The more I write while in Morocco, the more I’ll understand about the people and the culture I encounter.  I’ll already spend two weeks realizing that the construction of a culture in sci-fi novels is one of the most fascinating and exciting elements of pre-writing….just because I’ve landed myself in a new culture.  I love the realizations that being in Africa are giving me.  They will make me a stronger volunteer and a stronger writer.

Today’s short story comes from my teenage love for zombies.  After seeing “Land of the Dead,” I was fascinated with the differences between all the zombies movies.  I wanted to give another take on the zombie story.  This story came out as a set of diary entries.  It is quite short.  Enjoy.

Day to Die