Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps


6/24/10 Missing Morocco

So I've been in America almost a month now. (One month tomorrow, actually.)

And I already miss Morocco.

I don't miss everything. I don't miss the ice-cold tap water, or the never-ending language confusion.

But I do miss ... so many little things.
I miss my baby brother's smiles.
My host mom's hugs.
And her cooking.
Especially her couscous.
I miss seeing people light up when they realize I speak their language.
I miss the pace of my self-structured days.
I miss walking. (Here, all transportation is car-based.)
I miss having people understand me when I speak Arabic or Tam. ('Cause I still do speak them both, if I'm not thinking about it; just now, my sister asked me a quick question, and my reflexive answer was, "Isul l-Hal." Which I then had to translate to, "Not yet.")

And I miss the physical intimacy of Morocco.

I know I've talked before about it, but it's probably been a while, so here's a refresher:

In Morocco, you have to greet everyone you see. And by "greet", I mean touch and speak to. If you walk into a crowded room, you take a minute to walk around and greet everybody. (Unless it's really crazy-crowded, in which case a quick wave at the crowd can suffice.) If you pass a friend on the street, you stop. Extend a hand. If it's an opposite-gender friend, a quick touch of the fingers passes for a handshake, and you ask about each other's well being, then move on. If it's a same-gender friend, you grasp hands, kiss each other's cheeks, and keep hold of each other while you ask about each other's well being, the wellbeing of each other's families, friends, etc. Then you might even kiss cheeks again before saying goodbye.

And when you're sitting in a room with someone of the same gender, you sit *with* them. In each other's personal space. Usually touching them.

I miss that.

The firm press of a friend's/sister's/neighbor's leg against mine as we sit cross-legged against a wall. The weight of a little one leaning back against me.

When I first got to Morocco, I found myself oppressed by all the constant touching. I craved personal space and alone time. I still need both of those things, but now only in moderation - and I now find myself craving the friendly physical contact that is so readily shared in Morocco.

And couscous.

I really miss Ama's couscous.


6/22/10 Goal 3 Plug

As I've mentioned before, the Third Goal of Peace Corps is to share world cultures with Americans. In other words, help Americans broaden their perspective beyond their own borders.

And tonight, I have an opportunity to do that.

I know I have some loyal readers in Northern California. If you're free tonight, come to the Arden Branch Library in Sacramento, where I'll be speaking (along with a couple other RPCVs) from 6 to 7:30. Marhaba!

For logistical information:


6/13/10 10 Words I'll Miss

Earlier, I handled a honeydew melon, and murmured, "Aftiikh...just one of the many words that I'll probably never use again."

I spent two years trying to learn a language that's not used outside of Morocco, and not understood by most of the folks there, either.

And while I don't mind letting go of shpulel (snail) or abkhosh (black), there are a few words that are just SO HANDY that I'm going to miss them. Or maybe stubbornly insist on using them, despite the confusion and communication FAIL that results...

1. Marhaba. Usually translated as welcome, marhaba means a wealth of things. Make yourself at home. What's mine is yours. Help yourself. Be my guest. Do what you will.

"Hey, can I get the last cupcake?"

"I'll be in your town next weekend."

"Is this seat taken?"

2. Safi. This one short word (almost rhymes with "coffee", but the vowel is more of an ah than an aw) means enough, I'm all through, that's that, I'm done, that's all she wrote, etc.

"No more couchsurfing for me. Safi."

To a vicious pest (whether beggar child, harassing male, or overzealous clerk): "Safi! Safi-safi-safi."

"Hey, did you ever get that massive project finished?"

3. Yalla. It's used in all the ways that "Let's go" is in English. We're leaving now. Hurry up. Hey, c'mon already. In Iron Man, the bad guy uses it with his minions, when they're not working fast enough to please him.


4. Kif-kif. Same thing. Same deal. Same difference. It's all the same. Whatever. I don't care.

"Do you want ice in your water, or not?"

"Are you on Team Edward or Team Jacob?"

5. Maashi kif-kif. NOT the same.

"Folks keep saying, 'Ooh, yes, I've been to Morocco. It's just so Westernized!' And I have to explain that the tourist cities and the rural villages are maashi kif-kif."

"When I left for Morocco, phones had *numbers* on them. Now they're shiny blank plastic things. It's not a phone anymore, it's a Star Trek tricorder-communicator thing. Phone. Computer. MAASHI KIF-KIF."

6. Zween. Fancy. Pretty. Chic. Attractive. Deluxe. Elaborate.

"Ooh, check you out! You're all zween!"

"The public areas are full of zween features like 2-foot-tall cushions and store-bought rugs, but the family rooms have one-inch cushions and (imho, prettier) hand-made rugs."

7. Shweeya. A little bit. Also used in the expression "shweeya b shweeya", meaning "a little at a time" or "bit by bit" or "step by step".

"Are you readjusting to life in America?"
"Shweeya b shweeya."

"Do you want some more cake?"
"Shweeya, thanks."

"All the grass and trees growing everywhere make the air so oxygen-laden that I feel shweeya loopy half the time."

8. Inshallah. If God wills. As God wills. Idiomatically, hopefully. In Arabic and Tam, you can't talk about the future without adding the specific caveat that all plans are subject to the will of God. After 27 months, I can't make absolute statements about the future anymore. In English, I use hedges like, "I'm planning to..." or "I hope to..." or "Hopefully..."

"See you tomorrow!"

"Will you be in the Bay Area all summer?"
"Through August, inshallah."

"So Kauthar, you're going to go to America, find a man, and then bring your man back to Berberville so we can through you a big Berber wedding, right?"

9. Lhumdullah and al-humdulillah. Both meaning Thank God or Praise God, the former the more common, more informal version, the latter the more correct and more emphatic form.

"My father's cancer is in total remission!"

"I found that thumb drive I borrowed from you."
"Oh, lhumdullah, that's great."

"How've you been?"
"Lhumdullah." [Shorthand for "Fine, thanks to God.]

10. Bismillah. Technically, In the name of God, but idiomatically, it's more, OK, let's begin. When you start anything - a meal, a car engine, a journey, a new book - you invoke God's name, to establish that every action you take is done for God.

Climbing into a car: "Bismillah."
Taking the first bite of a meal: "Bismillah."
Taking the first bite of a really fabulous looking dessert: "Bis-miiiii-laaah!"

It's no coincidence that several of these are "God phrases". I *like* the God phrases, even more than most other PCVs. In America, at least in the major metropolitan centers where I've spent the past weeks, God's name isn't part of the educated white vernacular. In English, I feel like I'm taking God's name in vain if I say, "Oh, thank God!" or "God willing" or a half-dozen other expressions that I can routinely use in Arabic. And I *like* thanking God for all good things, and acknowledging that I'm submitting my will to God's, and all the other things that I can do in Arabic without a second thought, but can't do in English without feeling like I'm coming across as a "Bible-thumping Jesus freak," as one friend would say. (Yeah, you know who you are.)

Part of me wants to keep using these ten words/expressions, because they're just so handy...but the point of words, handy or cumbersome, is communication. And if nobody understands me, I'm not communicating anything.


6/12/10 On Re-Entry

I'm readjusting to life in America.

I still looooove hot showers, but I no longer flip out when I see *hot*water* emerging from the wall.

Tonight, I attended a fancy dinner, and while I did flip out over the leafy greens* (there was spinach in the salad, and swiss chard in the couscous!!), the table-full of flatware didn't bother me. (It helped a LOT that we only had one fork, one knife, and one spoon apiece.) We did each get two glasses, but there was still enough white space on the table that it didn't feel overwhelming.

Grocery stores are still overwhelming.

As are jumbo stores like Target and Walmart.

When I know I'm going to one of those, I plan ahead, take deep breaths, and carefully limit my field of view. I very deliberately shutter myself - add invisible blinders, so to speak - so that I don't see enough to freak me out. If I don't, and I let myself see the entire Temple To Consumerism, my pulse speeds up, my gag reflex engages, and I kinda hate America for a minute. (Seriously, people, how many kinds of white-flour-and-corn-syrup combinations do you need to eat breakfast??)

What else...

I almost never walk down the middle of the street anymore. Which is good, 'cause my friends kinda thought I had a death wish for a while, there. It's hard to make Americans understand that I'm more used to seeing sheep, donkeys, and pedestrians on roads than cars.

I still swoon over all the vegetation in America. I'm in the San Francisco area now, and I can't get over all the flowers and flowering trees. The air smells like perfume. The good kind of perfume. I'm breathing flower-laden, sea-level air...after two years living above 7000 feet, in near-desert conditions, this much oxygen (and *freshly*generated* oxygen, at that) kinda makes me permanently ... high. Happy and loopy, anyway. :)

I'm still bedazzled by how fast internet is in this country. I can upload photos in no time flat. I can watch streaming videos (which never worked for me in Morocco - they'd spool a few seconds, then get caught in a buffering loop they'd never emerge from). Ooh, hey, I bet Hulu will work for me now! I gotta get on that...

I'm still hopelessly out of touch with pop culture. Thanks to Facebook and PlanWorld, I've *heard* of shows like Glee and Dexter and all those vampire teen shows, but I've never seen a single episode, or even a preview for one. I've watched (far too much) downloaded movies and TV shows, but since I haven't watched American TV in 28 months, I really have no idea what's been popular. Who's Megan Fox, and why is everybody raving over her?

I don't trust my sense of style. I've spent two years trying to look like a potato. (It's far and away the easiest way to disguise the actual shape of my body: lots of layers of bulky clothes.) I've also spent two years in a different fashion culture, where women wear nightgowns as outfits, bathrobes as coats, and sequined capes as attention-getters. I think sequins are pretty, now. I know when I first got to Morocco, I found them tacky, but now they're just so shiny and zween!, which is why I no longer trust my own taste.

Alarm clocks. Unless I had a transit/bus/train/plane to catch, I haven't set alarms for two years. I tend to wake up when the sun makes it up over the mountains, around 7am in the summer, 9am in the winter. That's early enough for anything I needed to do. This whole obnoxious-noise-wrenching-me-from-sleep thing has GOTTA GO.

I'm still a little afraid of the dark, but more willing to recognize it for what it is, laugh at myself, and head out into the shadows anyway.

So, yeah, I'm adjusting. Bit by bit, day by day... Shweeya b shweeya.

*I don't remember if I've mentioned this before, but there are no dark greens or leafy greens in Morocco. The closest substitute is beet tops, and only if your veggie guy doesn't cut them off before putting the beets out for sale. There's no spinach. No broccoli. No kale. No collard greens. None of the frilly, nutritional kinds of lettuce. No lettuce at all, except for iceberg lettuce in the most expensive tourist restaurants. I'm hereby adding dark green veggies to the list of Stuff I Didn't Know I'd Missed.


6/1/10 Stuff I Didn't Know I'd Missed

When I was in Morocco, I didn't miss too much *stuff* from America. I've never been particularly materialistic (which drives people nuts when they want to know what to buy me for Christmas), and whenever people offered to send me care packages, I'd draw a blank as to what I wanted from the USA.

But now that I'm here, I keep seeing things and remembering how much I like them. I'm delighted to be reacquainted with things I didn't know I'd missed.

Like pretty cars. Most cars in Morocco look ... weathered. They're the rugged old cowboys of cars, the ones whose leathery, lined faces tell stories of thousands and thousands of hard, sun-drenched days. Replace sun damage with dents and dings, and you get the idea. But here in America, I keep seeing shiny MiniCoopers and classic Corvettes and VW Bugs (new and old, but all shiny and well-maintained). Cars that just make me happy.

And root beer. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed root beer until a year ago, when I was in the home of our Country Director, and he had a bowl of American sodas on the table (courtesy of the Embassy Commisary), and the root beer made my eyes bug out of my head and I found myself bouncing with excitement at the very idea of drinking some.

And bookstores. OK, I did kinda know how much I missed bookstores, but it wasn't till I walked into the Barnes & Noble on M St. in Georgetown - a store where I've spent many, many a happy hour - that I realized just how much. Smelling that unique scent of paper and ink, faintly overlain by odors wafting down from the upstairs cafe...hmmm... I felt positively lightheaded with glee. I spent hours wandering among the shelves, reacquainting myself with the printed English word, discovering what Americans are (apparently) buying these days, and rolling my eyes at the enormous Twilight exhibits. Bookstores make me happy.

And TREES!!!!!

I love my Berber village, from its scrubby prickly ifsi bushes to the top of its brown mountains, so I hadn't let myself dwell too much on what it lacks. Because while we do have poplars lining the stream/river banks, and a handful of apple orchards, Berberville is otherwise naked of trees. And nearly naked of grass. But here in America, trees are EVERYWHERE. So's grass. I'm getting drunk off all the fresh oxygen, and reveling in the profusion of green everywhere. These aren't carefully cultivated and irrigated lawns, or lovingly transplanted and handwatered trees...America's hillsides burst with a wild explosion of vegetation. (Well, eastern America. The great West is different, but I haven't gotten back out there yet.) I just can't get tired of it. I hope I never take it for granted, this profligate profusion of photosynthesis...

So, yeah, it's fun to rediscover all this. I think it's part of my generally positive disposition that I tend not to miss things when they're gone, but I'm still sooooo grateful to have them in my life again! :D
Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps