Ali from Azrou

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When walking down an alley way in Azrou a man walked by me and my friends and said “hello how are you.” Usually I ignore people saying anything to me as I walk by, but then my friend said hi back. He then asked us where we were from. This then led into a 30 minute conversation. This man was Ali and he spoke very good English. We talked about Morocco and America which then led into Americans’ views on Muslims. He then asked if all Americans are afraid of Muslims. When he asked that question my heart broke. Here was Ali, a father of 2 with a kind soul, asking me the questions I’ve been dreading to hear. “Are Americas afraid of Muslims???”

Here I am in Morocco, a country where 95% of the people are Muslim. Where the Moroccan government has asked us Americans to come and help their youth. A country where I have felt nothing but love. Where the hospitality is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. A country where when I hear the call to pray I am reminded there is something bigger than me. And our President has decided to instill fear in Americans, that Muslims are people to be fearful of. So in honor of Thanksgiving, I am here going to give thanks to Moroccans. To share times when I have been so thankful for the people that I have met in just the 2 months I’ve been here…

First my language teacher is Hamind. Six days a week for 6 hours a day Hamind is teaching my fellow CBT mates and I Darija. Teaching a language to someone is hard enough, especially when it’s your first time and you’re fresh out of college like Hamind. Now add the pressure of teaching 6 Americans a language so they can survive, that is a whole different ballgame. Not only is he our language teacher, but he’s our cultural teacher. Teaching us about the culture of Morocco and the does and don’t so we don’t do anything stupid. He also helps us translate things when we just have no idea what we are trying to say. He’s basically our parent, teaching us how to go from toddlers to adults. And all of this in a 2 month span so we can survive and be successful in our 2 years of service. Needless to say I’m extremely grateful for Hamind!

Then there’s that time I got sick and my aunt made me rice oatmeal for dinner. That meant my 12 other family members had to eat oatmeal for dinner too because the meals here are communal. All because my family wanted to make sure I was well fed and feeling good.

For all the Moroccan Mamas who have had me in their homes for tea and kaskort!

When I had to go around my community and ask for help on my homework. Everyone I talked to was so patient as I stumbled on my words. There was even a time I asked the guy working at the “7aunt” (store) for help and everyone around become so intrigued. Before I knew it I had a whole crowd around me helping me with my homework. Every single one of them say “Marhiba”, “Morocco welcomes you!”

Walking down the street as the girls from the Dar Tileba running up screaming “hello, I love you, your so zween (pretty)”.

The man at the bookstore got so excited that I was speaking in Darija he gave me a little Moroccan keychain.

The time I went to the 7ammam (public bath house) and laid flat on stomach and then my back while Maggie’s (another PCV) sister, Sona, scrubbed the dirt off every inch of my body.

For Malika (Peace Corps staff) coming with us ladies to help us bargain for fabric. To then translate to the tailor what we wanted.

The lovely tailor who made my Jillabodor. And every time I’ve stopped in her shop she has had a treat waiting for me. Either a bowl full of dates, fresh apples, or a loaf of bread fresh out of the oven.

For all of the Peace Corps Morocco staff!!!

And of course, I am thankful for my host family!!! For my host parents giving up their room for me. For my host Dad buying me little snacks from the 7uant (store). For my host Mom telling me that I don’t need to be shy about treating her home as if were mine in America. For my bother Anas always saying “I’m Moroccan and your American and your my friend!” For Niza always telling me the names of every food and table wear during meals. For little Doha always putting a smile on my face. For all of them keeping me safe. For making sure I feel so loved. For feeding me and washing my clothes. For being so patient as I went from only saying “hello”, “yes” and “no”, to slowly being able to put together a sentence. Words can’t describe how thankful I am for them.

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And lastly for Ali from Azrou. Even after asking whether Americans are afraid of Muslim he insisted we take his number, saying if we are ever in any trouble to call him. That the next time we are in Azrou we will have to have tea together.

For many years our country has had a rocky, complex relationship with Muslim countries. And unfortunately many Americans have been told the same stories. Like that so many Muslims are terrorists we should be cautious even fearful. But as I stood there talking to Ali, a man who I had only just met, a man who was telling us if we ever needed help to call him, a man who just wants to sit and exchange culture over tea, I’m reminded of what Peace Corps is also about, sharing my experience with MY fellow Americans. So here I am sharing the time I have felt so beyond grateful for the acts of kindness I have received here in a country of 95% Muslims.

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All our Moroccan!!! Mama Fatima on the fare left

Kuli! Kuli! Kuli!

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It’s time to talk about food and the all the women behind all the wonderful meals that I eat.

For anyone Moroccan or not, the word they will hear the most when invited for a meal is “Kuli! Kuki! Kuki!” (Eat! Eat! Eat!) You’re told right when the food hits the table. When you take a break to breathe, even when in mid-bite. Moroccan moms love to cook and they love to make you fat. They love food so much that they have 4 meals a day. I’m not talking 4 small meals or 4 medium meals, or 1 small meal and 3 medium meals. I am talking 4 bigger than your face, family size meals!!! The food in Morocco is also incredibly diverse. Every Moroccan Mama has her own touches and secret ingredients that they swear by. And for every house I’ve been at there’s always something I’ve never had before. But I’ll only be talking about my host mom’s cooking.

So let’s dig in!!!!!

Starting with breakfast. For breakfast I will always find a basket of baguettes fresh from img_0648the bakery down the street, a bowl full of dates, olives and fruit. There usually will be some spread for the baguette and this could range from chocolate spread (like Nutella), cheese, olive oil, or my host mom’s home-made jam, which could be anything from apple jam to orange jam.

  • side note – my host mom makes the best jams/jellies in the world!!!! I know I said it. Sorry Huetteman family, but it’s true. Grandma, you got a run for your money!!!

Sometimes if I’m lucky I’ll get scrambled eggs sprinkled with cumin and of course this is always with tea and or coffee.

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Tajine

If I had to pick the biggest meal it would be lunch. Usually consisting of one big dish with lots of little side dishes. Lunch can range from llubia (beans), fried fish, lbisara (pea soup), l3dss (lentils), couscous (but only on Fridays) and tajine. Tajine has become my favorite meal. God is it good!!!! Tajine is usually made in a clay shallow pot with a cone lid. It’s typically made with vegetables, meat and spices. It all get slowly cooked (about any hour) and because of the cone lid, magic happens inside the tajine. All the flavors are magnified with a bit of a smokey taste. You just have to come to Morocco to try it for yourself because my description doesn’t do it justice.

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Tajine Pot

Now it’s teatime! At around 6-8pm we have Kaskort (snack), but this isn’t your American

idea of a snack. This is like another meal. Kaskort usually consists of lots of baked goods like cakes and bread. The two most common kaskort dishes are millwe and harcha (cornbread). Harcha is just like a thinner crisper version of America cornbread, but honestly it’s better! Millwe is a flat flakey bread usually about the size of a big plate. It’s common to eat it with jam or chocolate spreads. Millwe It’s so good, like dangerously good!!!! Before you know it you’ll have eaten 5. And of course there is tea with a ton of sugar. It’s more like sugar with tea, at least in my family.

And now we end with dinner. Moroccans eat dinner really late. I mean really late!!! Like from 8 to midnight. I usually skip dinner because my family has dinner at 11:30pm and well I’m just way to tired and full from kaskort to eat dinner. But when I do have dinner it’s common to have Moroccan Soup 7ahra, pea soup, rice with milk or dessert pasta. Yes you read that right, dessert pasta with almonds, raisins, cinnamon and sugar.

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Dessert Pasta

Another really important thing to know about meals in Morocco is that they are communal. Everyone eats out of the big plate and you eat out of your little triangle. You don’t eat out of someone else triangle and you never eat with your left hand because that hand is for cleaning yourself. Also, everything and I mean EVERYTHING is eaten with khubz (bread). Khubz is your spoon, it’s your fork. You also eat khubz. Khubz is considered very holy in Morocco hence this is why it is eaten at every meal. It is made with so much care and love. It is never wasted. You will never find bread in the trash. If there are leftover scraps they are put in a separate bag which is then left out in the street for anyone to take. To give you a better picture of how sacred bread is, one day I was walking down the street and I saw an old man kneel down to pick up a little scrap of bread that was left in the street. As he picked it up he kissed the bread, said a blessing, and put it on a window sill.

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khubz on khubz on khubz

And with that I just want to give a HUGE shoutout to my host Mom. She is 26 years old and the strongest woman I know. Besides making amazing meals she takes care of the house, does all the shopping and cleaning on top of taking care of 3 kids plus me!   Thank you to all the Moroccan Mommas for making sure I am loved, for showing their affection by yelling “Kuli! Kuli! Kuli!” as I’m mid-bite, and for making sure I go to sleep with a belly stuffed full of food. I feel your love, a little too much! Now I gotta go run a marathon to work off this bread!

1 Month in Morocco

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I can’t believe I’ve been in Morocco for a month, and I’m not just saying that. I really can’t believe it!!!! The days feel soooo long, but when I look at the calendar my jaw drops because I can’t believe we are halfway through October!

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Downtown Sou9
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El Hajeb!!!

So what have I been doing for the past month you ask??? Let’s start with my family. For about a month I’ve been living with a loving family in El Hajeb. My Baba, Alilous, is an Art Teacher at the local school. My Mama, Fatima, is a stay at home mom and an AMAZING cook! Hands down the best!!!! I have 3 siblings Anas, Niza, and Doha. Anas is 7 years old and loves to sing really loud and show me his dance moves that he learned from the Bollywood soap opera channel. Niza is 4 years old and boy is he crazy!!! He’s just a ball full of energy and doesn’t seem to understand that I barely know what he’s saying half the time. Then there’s Doha, the queen of the house. She’s 1 years old and a sweet heart. She loves to come into my room with a big smile on her face and check in on me. Sometimes she even likes to snuggle with me and watch movies. I got pretty lucky with my family.

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Now let’s talk about the other part… the language. The first couple of months volunteers have to go through what’s called Community Based Training (CBT). The main focus is learning the language (Darija), integrating into the community, and practicing some facilitating/leaning projects in our community. Monday through Saturday from 8:30am – 5:30pm with a 2 hour lunch break, alongside 5 other volunteers, I’m in the classroom. So the days are long and exhausting to say the least. My days usually go something like this….

Wake up to the call to prayer at 5 or 6. I don’t really know what time exactly. I’m usually half asleep. Roll out of bed at 8:00am and eat breakfast with Niza.

From 8:30am – 12:15pm, language. The time when we learn what feels like 100 new words/phrases each day. While learning these new words we also try to stay as calm as humanly possible and keep our freak outs, “Oh my God I’m never going to learn this!!!!!” to a minimum. (But they occasionally happen. I mean we are learning a completely new language in less than 3 months. Also, when writing with Roman letters they use 3, 7 and 9 in some of the words because there are no English equivalent letter sounds.)

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Can’t you see the  “Oh my God I’m never going to learn this!!!!!” look on my face???

From 12:15pm – 2:30pm I go home for lunch and eat my bodyweight and bread. I do a lot of smiling and act like I know what’s going on. Then slowly I build up the courage to say something in Darija. This usually consists of a lot of confusion for several minutes. Then with the help of drawing and acting out they usually can get what I’m trying to say…. I think.

2:30pm – 5:30pm, back to language class. Learn about the culture, play some language games and try really, really, really, hard not to fall asleep in class. Or try not to cry because I’m so tired.

From 5:30pm – 10:30pm attempt to study whatever I learned on that day. Usually doesn’t happen because my siblings are so excited to see me. In fact as I’m writing this Niza is sitting on my back asking to see pictures of America. Doha is jumping on my bed and Ana’s is showing me his homework. This is a pretty typical night.

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Trying to do my homework part 2
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Trying to do my homework part 2

After we have tea and kaskort (snack) we watch a couple episodes of whatever is on the Bollywood soap opera channel. After a couple cups of tea, several loafs of bread, and episodes I usually call it a night. This is around 10:30pm and then I repeat the whole thing again.

Even though the days are long, the language is hard, my body hurts from sitting too much and I’m at a constant state of exhaustion, this month has been pretty great. Pretty great indeed!

Side note:

Yesterday I taught English at the Dar Telliba (Dar Telliba is a boarding room for girls) and it was AMAZING!!! I was told there were only going to be 6 girls, but 30 showed up. 30!!!!!! 3!!! 0!!! As if I wasn’t nervous enough to teach 6. Once I got in front of the class, Camp Counselor Audrey came out and I felt right at home. It was incredible, rewarding, nerve-racking, all the feelings!!!! Being surrounded by all those girls reminded me of why I packed up my bags and moved halfway across the world!!!

Next week the Regional Managers come to watch me teach. Wish me luck!!!

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24 Going On 1

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I was told that Peace Corps, especially CBT (community based training), is a very infantile experience full of highs and lows. It’s already been 1 week of CBT and I can say that statement is 100% true! I feel like a 24 year old going on 1 years old! No really I am like a big 1 year old who knows how to say “hi” (salam alaikum), “I’m fine” (labas), “thank you” (shakron), “I’m full” (shaabt), “I’m tried, I want to sleep” (Ana eana, bghit nass), and a couple other random vocab.

The language barrier with my host family is very prevalent which also makes it hard to be independent. I’m still trying to figure out what is appropriate for me to do. The gender roles are very defined when you step out of the big cities. Woman stay at home and the men hangout in the cafes. So as an American woman who is used to being able to go where she wants to go and when she pleases, it’s been a challenge to figure out what’s appropriate for me to do. Especially when there is a big language barrier. With time I’ll hopefully have a better idea. It’s still early.

But with the lows there are the highs.

Like my host Mom waking up early on Saturday mornings to make me breakfast before I got to class when she could be sleeping in.

Or the excitement your siblings get when they see you walk through the door.

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Experiencing the weekly souk (market) for the first time.

When your host brother draws out what he’s trying to tell you.

The delicious food!!!!

mint tea, couscous, tagine, and the freshest, most tastiest fruits and vegetables I’ve ever had.

My host mom patiently trying to explain things to me in Daraji.

Literally being pulled into a house for mint tea and being greeted with tons of kisses.

Your little brother bragging to everyone that you’re his sister for America.

Hanging out with the other volunteers.

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And with that I remind myself what my Dad keeps telling me “Peace Corps is a marathon. Take it one mile at a time” appreciate all the highs and lows, it’s all apart of the race.

So here I am a big 1yr old at the beginning of the race trying to find my rhythm.

1 Week Down 107 To Go!

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It officially has been 1 week since I packed by bags and boarded my flight to Philly where I met the other 112 volunteers (yes, we are a total of 113 volunteers! and I’m still meeting someone new everyday!). Then all 113 of us boarded another flight to Casablanca, then hopped on a bus to our hotel outside of Rabat to start orientation. Our days have been jam packed with information. For the most part our days have gone a little something like this….

7:30am – Breakfast, consisting of lots and lots of bread

8:30 – 10:30am – Language training, the time where I try to not freak out about how hard the language is.

10:30 – 10:45am – Tea time, always say “kan-šrb atay bla skkar” (I drink tea without sugar) or you’ll end up with 5 cavities.

10:45 – 12:30pm – Go back to hot room.

12:30 – 2pm – Lunch, usually consisting of a bomb chopped salad followed by a massive plate of meat. I’ve given up of trying to be a vegetarian here…. it’s too hard.

2:00 – 4:00pm – Go back to hot room and try and not fall asleep again.

4:00 – 4:15pm – Tea time

4:15 – 5:30pm – Sit in hot room and try and not fall asleep while PC gives you a ton of information

6:00 – 8:00pm – Hangout with volunteers, play games, go to the beach, try and exchange money, and try to buy things with our broken Darija

8:00pm – Dinner consisting of more meat

By the time dinner is over we all pass out on our beds.

So that’s been pretty much it. We haven’t had any time to go into the Midina (City) until Sunday when our LCF (Language Cultural Facilitators) took us lost little PCVs who only knew how to say “hello, thank you, yes, no” in Darija to Rabat. God bless their souls! We went to The Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the tombs of Moroccan king and his two sons. And explored the narrow alleyways of Kasbah of Udayas.

The day looked a little something like this…

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Just hanging with some cool kids

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And The Hero’s Journey Begins

IMG_7961As I’ve been soaking up my last couple of days in America the anxiety and doubts start to sink in as well.

My Dad lends me some words of advice…

Dear Audrey,

You are at the beginning of a great journey. It is what some people call a hero’s journey. We can all choose to go on the hero’s journey, but many people play it safe. We all can be the hero if we decide to take that journey. In the hero’s journey a person is called to the journey. At first, we resist, we hesitate. Fear holds use back and many never start the journey. If you take the hero’s journey, you go into the unknown. It is scary! We face our fears. The road is hard and challenging – it takes work! You may want to turn off this road. Along the way, you will find help, often from a stranger or where you least expected it. Overtime, you will discover the rewards of your journey. You will have a new awareness of life. You will be changed. You will be transformed! And in the end, you return home a transformed person. You will be different from other people. Your life will be richer, more full and those around you will learn from you.

On this journey, I have four pieces of advice for you:

Be Observant

Use your artist’s eye. Observe, discover. Find wonder. Look for the little things. Meditate. Take it all in!

Be in Community

You are joining a new culture, new customs, new religions – a new community! Embrace your new community. You will find that this community is very generous, very welcoming. They will embrace you. Feast, dance and celebrate with your new community! Let it happen!

Form New Relationships

You are not alone! Strangers will help you on your way. Be open to generosity, take a chance. You will have a new family. A Moroccan Amma and Bua (Nepali for mother and father), Moroccan sisters and brothers. You will have a new community of friends, your fellow Peace Corps volunteers – a phone call away! You will add to your treasured list of best friends, you will find a Bob and a Ram.

Be Transformed 

Your Peace Corps time will be hard, it will sometimes be scary. But it will change your life! Stay through the hard time because the reward is great. Your second year will probably be much better than your first year. There is a famous poem by Robert Frost called “The Road Not Taken.” It describes the journey you are taking with this famous line: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Your experience will live with you for the rest of your life – it will make all the difference! 

And with that I take the road less traveled to start my hero’s journey.

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My parents in the start of their hero’s journey  Peace Corp Nepal 1983-85
 

 

What 27 months of STUFF looks like

 

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Yep thats it!!!

5 Pants, 2 Leggings, 1 Long Skirt, 3 Running Shorts, 7 Long Sleeve Shirts, 4 T Shirts, 2 Tank Tops, 7 Socks, 5 Underwear, 5 Sports Bras, 1 Down Jacket, 1 Rain Jacket, 1 Hoodie, 1 Beanie, 1 Hat, 1 Scarf, Gloves, Chocas, Boots, Hiking Shoes, Running Shoes, Slip Ons

Toiletries, Plug Adapter, Hard Drive, Headphones, Head Light, Pen Drive, Disk Drive, Laptop Charger, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad, Travel Pillow, Hammock, Water filter, Cooking Supplies, Jump Rope, Exercise Bands, Yoga Mat, Art Supplies, Card Games, Ukulele

Plus or minus a few

What The Heck Is Audrey Doing In Morocco???

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Q & A

Q: Where will Audrey be posted?

  1. Desert  

  2. Mountains

  3. Coast

  4. She may not know until December  

Q: What project will she be going?

A: Youth Development at Dar Chabab (Youth Center) and or Nedi Neswi (Women’s Center) with a focus on

  1. Health

  2. Recreation

  3. Teaching English

  4. Art

  5. Empowering Girls

  6. Any of the above

Q: How long will she be gone?

A: If all goes well, until January 2020. Yeah you read that right… 2 and half years!

Q: Can I come visit?  

A: HELL YEAH!!!

Q: How can I communicate with her?

A: What’sApp, Facetime, Skype, Facebook, email, handwritten letter, or just ask my parents