Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Over and Out

Hello All and Happy New Year to you!

Just thought I'd share the link to my post Peace Corps blog with you all...

You can find my new blog here.


Annemarie x

Saturday, December 1, 2012

When one chapter ends...another begins!

Marisa and Me at The German Institute in Rabat
Goodness this is so overdue. Sorry to have kept you all waiting! I guess I procrastinated...and procrastinated, and procrastinated because the idea of writing a ‘final closure’ to my time in Morocco made it all seem just that much more real. Morocco was a rollercoaster of ups and downs, good times and bad, but it was the most eye opening, life-changing experience I’ve ever had. I have so many amazing memories and stories to share from my time there. And sharing is what I have been doing for the past couple months.
Last pictures my ladies took of their wares in Tounfite
Fadima Hddu in Tounfite
The lost photos: Martil (Northern Morocco on the Alboran Sea) 
The lost photos: Assilah (Western Morocco on the Atlantic)
The lost photos: Assilah (Western Morocco on the Atlantic)
The lost photos: Assilah (Western Morocco on the Atlantic)
Youness and Sarah in Chefchaouan
Me in Chefchaouan
Leaving Morocco was a bit more difficult than entering Morocco was. And I mean that mostly in a physical way.  Coming in the Peace Corps staff were there waiting with a nice big bus to help us get out luggage where it needed to be…I was on my own leaving. On my final day as a volunteer, I had all my check-ups and signed ‘the official swearing out book’ and that was it. Wham you are no longer a volunteer. You are on your own, safe travels home!
Last of the sunsets in Rabat with Marisa
Swearing Out
Signing and stamping 'the book'
''The Book'
So after spending a few days at my friend, Sarah’s house in Rabat, I loaded up my luggage and got in her elevator to head to the airport. Wait, that’s not true, I couldn’t even make it to the elevator without Sarah’s help. To paint a picture, I had a giant hiking backpack (23kg), a massive wheeled suitcase (28 kg), a carry on (18 kg), a laptop bag and a handbag. Let’s just say it was a rough trip. One taxi to the train station and two trains, I could barely move…especially when I had to change trains. To change trains it required getting off the first train which was about three feet higher than the platform so I had to maneuver a ladder, then go down two flights of stairs, back up two flights of stairs, and up a ladder onto the next train. I am sweating just typing about it!

I flew into London Heathrow, where I spent three weeks of quality time with my family.  Lots of eating, drinking and good times were had.  I was reunited with bacon, other pork products and green vegetables, which was almost as exciting as being reunited with my family! After three weeks of gorging, I repacked my bags, this time knowing that there would be the luxury of a trolley involved during all moving of the luggage. And onto NYC I flew. I spent a long weekend there with my two best friends, Nicole and Francesca, again, lots of eating, drinking, pork products and good times.  Francesca and I took the bus from NYC to Washington DC, where Kendall, Francesca’s husband was waiting with their car to bring us back to Virginia.
Mom, Granddad and Me
Nana, my Godmother Lollie and Me
I’ve been here for three weeks now, doing the usual, eating, drinking, enjoying pork products and sharing stories from Morocco. It’s been fantastic seeing my family here in the States, not that it wasn’t in England, but I did get to go back and forth between Morocco and England a few times. I hadn’t seen most of the people here in two years!  Last week was Thanksgiving and my brothers came up from Richmond to eat some turkey. Wait, another lie, Carl is a vegan so there was no turkey eating on his part. I did fulfill my role as World’s Most Awesome Big Sister though; I created an entirely vegan Thanksgiving feast (ok so there was some help in the kitchen, some as in a lot). Okay so it wasn’t entirely vegan, there was a turkey.  Let’s just say Christmas won’t be vegan…sorry Carl! It was good, it just wasn't that good.

Me, Mom, Nicole, Francesca and Katie
Vegan Thanksgiving
I suppose another reason I didn’t write this sooner, is because I wanted to be able to talk about the future, which up until yesterday was still a bit unclear. I knew what I wanted to do, but until yesterday it wasn’t officially happening. And so now I can happily announce that as of the first week in January I will be an ESL teacher in Busan, South Korea…yay!

I have been interviewing via the phone and Skype for a few weeks now and after careful consideration I accepted a position at…wait for it…Wonderland English School in Namcheon-dong, Busan. That’s right, the school’s name is Wonderland. Most appropriately my next blog will be Annemariesphere in Wonderland, but more details to come on that in the near future.

The school is located one block from Gwangalli beach, which is the second most famous beach in South Korea. More excitingly, my new apartment is two blocks from the beach.  Score.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to be all beach time and dolphins for the next year. My hours are long and I am about to be surrounded by small children five days a week, but the benefits are worth it. The school pays for a round trip ticket to South Korea, my apartment is paid for, as is medical and pension and lunch five days a week. Teacher hat on.

For those of you who know me, you can imagine how excited I am for my next adventure. A new culture, new food and a new challenge await me come January.

Until next time,

Annemarie xXx

P.S. You can read more about Gwangalli beach here

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Full Circle

Our 'hot mess shot' of the final Small Business Development Volunteers at our Close of Service Conference...I'm kind of in love with this photo.
My last day in Toon Town.

Where did the past two years go?

My last day....nope it still doesn't feel real. Maybe when I'm no longer in Morocco it will sink in that I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I woke up and went to Driss’s Café where we had sweet green tea and milwee (fried bread) for breakfast. Then I stopped by the gendarmes (police station) to let them know that I have finished my service and would be leaving in the afternoon. They all gathered into the Chief’s office and told me to stay another year. I smiled and told them that two years of volunteering has left me meskina (poor little thing) and that now I need to go and make some money.

They understood, but still insisted that I stay another year. The police chief then said “walayni shuf décor’ngh” (but, look at our décor) and turned the pen holder on his desk around to reveal four of my passport size photos which had been taped to it. So that’s why they asked me to get 17 passport-sized photos when it was time to renew my Carte Sejour (ID card) last January. Good to know.

After the gendarmes, I headed to the post office to say my goodbyes and get the last of my mail. When I returned to my house, I packed up the last of my belongings and assisted my ladies from the cooperative in getting the things they were taking from my house to their homes. Heaps of people I have never seen before kept showing up at my door, blessing me, calling me meskina and lingering awkwardly in the hopes that they too would get some of the taromeet’s (foreigner’s) things.

When the last of the ladies had left, Rabha stayed behind and she and I gave the house a good sweep and mop. After that, sweaty and filthy, I headed to the hemam (public bath house) for one last Toon Town bath. It was about one o’clock when I finished and I headed straight to my host family’s house for a final lunch.

After lunch, I went back to my house to grab my bags and when I got there all of my coop ladies, my landlady and Driss were waiting on my doorstep to say their final farewell’s. I unlocked my door and we all went in. I went into the room my bags were in and the tears started to stream down my face. It is always so sad saying goodbye.  I still can’t believe it’s all over.

I had four rather large bags as I was heading to Ait Hamza for a final visit with my original host family, the ones who have all my heart and love.  Since I was stopping in at my host family’s in Ait Hamza I packed up two very large bags of clothes, kitchen things and odds and ends to take to them. The coop ladies and Driss helped me to carry my bags to the taxi stand and I gave everyone one last tear-filled hug, before setting off for Boumia.

Rabha insisted on riding to Boumia with me, which was very kind and sweet of her. It was a teary taxi ride and once in Boumia I had to wait an hour for a taxi onto Zaida and so there was an hour more of tears and hugs. When the taxi to Zaida was finally full, I gave Rabha one last hug and squeezed into my place among three women who had been working in the apple orchards in Boumia.

There were four of us in the back seat and two more women sharing the passenger seat up front, and of course the driver. I blew Rabha a final kiss and the tears kept flowing. The women all coo’ed over me and told me “safi safi meskina ghors tasans” (it’s okay, enough, poor thing, she has her liver--liver is used in place of heart to show fondness here) the tears and sniffles continued and the women turned to the driver and said “mani l’musica darurui an naqs l’qnndns” (where is the music, we must get rid of her sadness). That awful reverb tin can music that I’ve grown to love blasted through the taxi and the women continued to pat me and meskina me for the entire taxi ride. When we all got out of the taxi in Zaida they blew me kisses as they walked off into the distance.

From Zaida, I took another taxi to Timhidite. At first the taxi driver refused to take me when he saw all my baggage, but after blessing his parents (llay arhem lwalidin) a few times and offering 20 dirhams ($2.50) extra he finally agreed to take me. I got in the back of the taxi and squeezed into my place against the door. As soon as the driver shut my door, the guy next to me started in my ear. “Mani attudut?” (Where are you going?) to which, I responded to see my family in Ait Hamza. He turned to me and said, don’t go there, come to Meknes with me. Obviously, I politely declined his invitation and at the same time pulled my iPod and headphones out as it was clear that this was going to be a long taxi ride. As soon as I got the headphones in my ears, the guy boldly took the headphone out of my right ear and placed it in his. Okay then, it’s going to be a long ride to Timhidite...

From there the conversation went something like this:

Him: “Is tiwilt?” (Are you married?)
Him: “Is trit atiwilti?” (Do you want to marry me?)
Me: “La shukran” (No, thank you)
Him: “Magh?” (Why not?)
Me: “Ellakash” (Because…)
Him (while attempting to seat dance with his shoulders):  “Ghras addud s Meknes” (Just come to Meknes)
Me: “La Shukran” (No, thank you)
Him: “Addud s Meknes, ansirs l’henna, anjaema d familanu, anwiil”  (Come to Meknes, we will put henna on you, gather with my family,  we will get married)
Me: La Shukran
Him: Is ghorm shan tamdakalt yadnin tra atiwil? (Do you have a friend who wants to marry me?)
Me: “Eh, stawil” (yes, hang on) and an attempt to call Marisa and pass the phone over to her for pure entertainment puposes…she didn’t answer.
Him: “she numeronm” (give me your number)
Me: “La addibii aska sbaH” (no it will be disconnected tomorrow morning”
Him (after numerous more attempts to get my number and at least half an hours worth of marriage proposals): “amz numeronu” (take my number)
Me: “Waxxa” (okay) (Number given) “Mismins? (What’s your name?)
Him: sirs “bu sheiky” Me: uncontainable giggle, bu sheiky means ‘the owner of the fancy/poshness”

After a good hour of nonstop persistence, the women sitting in the front turn around and congratulate us. At this point I’d given in and said yes I will marry you, just to shush him. The plan backfired and now the entire taxi begins “ah-heydussing” which is a chanting/singing that is done at weddings and other special occasions. The driver is now blowing kisses in the rear-view mirror at me.  All I could do was wish that Marisa was sitting beside me to witness the most ridiculous taxi ride of my two years.

When I got out in Timhidite, so did everyone else and they enclosed me in a circle while singing and dancing and laughing. I’ll admit it was so ridiculous it was hilarious. Even more so when I realized my future husband didn’t even reach my shoulders. I managed to wiggle my way out of the circle, waved goodbye to them all and got into the next taxi which took me onto Ait Hamza, where I was reunited with my original host family and my service came full circle.

I can’t put into words the place that my family in Ait Hamza has in my heart. Hafida hasn’t stopped insisting that she finds me a husband here so that I can stay and not worry about working, since my new husband will be the one that works. She presented me with a rug she weaved for me and it is fantastic, I couldn’t stop crying when she gave it to me. She weaved her and Mimoun’s name, along with my two brother’s, Omar and Hamza , and my name, Maryem. It’s amazing.

Every five minutes they are offering to pack up a crate of onions for me to take to England. Since Mimoun works in the onion fields they get a free supply of onions. If it isn’t onions, Hafida is offering to bake bread and cakes for me to take to my family in England so they can taste ‘real Moroccan food’. And if it isn’t bread, cake or onions on offer, it’s a dollhouse size replica of a nomad tent that Moroccan’s love to put in their houses as decoration. I’ve told the over and over again, I have no room to take anything else, but God bless their parents.

Sadly, my host grandmother had a stroke while she was sleeping last month and the medicine and scans she has had and continues to have to have, are racking up a large debt. Mimoun recently smashed his middle finger to pieces while working in the onion fields and so he is out of work until that heals. Hafida is five months pregnant and barely has a half an hour to sit down and rest each day. But, they are humble in their struggles and march-on as that’s what must be done to put food on the table each day.

I’ve been trying my best to not spoil them as I know that it won’t do any good once I leave. But I do sneak out each day and buy them milk and a chicken and yogurt for the kids. Ait Hamza doesn’t have a place to buy meat other than chicken, or vegetables or fruit, so contributions of milk and chicken are the best I can do along with the two large bags of clothes and house hold items I brought from my house.

This afternoon we are going to the fields to pick corn, which they hope will provide enough income to get them through the winter. Leid K’Bir ( the Christmas of Islam) and a new baby are on the way though, so Mimoun is determined to be back in the onion fields as soon as possible.

I had some Jell-o and Pudding mix packets and a bag of marshmallows leftover from a care package and so I made that for desert last night. I put canned pineapple in the Jell-o and then put the pudding on top with marshmallows and a sprinkling of shaved coconut. Everything but the coconut was a first for them. Omar picked and the marshmallows out and ate them and then made a mess of the rest of his playing with it.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it and Hafida asked if I could send more marshmallows when I am back in the states, which I happily agreed to do.

Tomorrow is my last day with them and I can’t even start to think about it. It’s going to be extremely sad, as goodbyes always are.  But I keep telling them (as they keep telling me to stay until Leid K’Bir has passed later this month) that it isn’t “Bslama” (goodbye), it’s just “ar men bed” (until later) as I will most certainly return to visit. And then we all chime in together and say “en challa” (God-willing).

Until next time,

Miriam xXx

Coop Ladies and their new spinning wheel and carding machine
Going away party with the Coop Ladies
Fatima (with her new baby) & her mother Fadima Hddu
Me and baby Abdullah
Me and the girls
More of me and the girls
My final time cooking for the host family...they requested Shepherd's Pie and Bill and Jo joined us
Saying goodbye to my good friend Skku, who owns a paper shop with printing/scanning facilities 
A women's cooperative (from Al Hoceima) who help women in rural villages, they came to visit Cooperative Chorouk on my second to last day in ToonTown. 
Saying goodbye to the Maluki brothers, they own a hanut (corner store) and I visited them daily

Hafida and I Skyping with Granddad...Hafida's first time Skyping!

Hamza and MiMi the 'mush' (cat) who Mimoun has trained to be a 'Western cat'...he has a name and comes when you call him and lets you pet him and mold him into strange positions which he will stay in for hours! 
MiMi the 'mush' (cat
Hamza, Hafida and Omar trying Peanut Butter for the first time.
Eating peanut butter by the spoonful

Monday, September 17, 2012

Women's Empowerment Conferences

Rabha teaching Maternal Health and Childcare

Just before Ramadan I started planning a set of Women's Empowerment Conferences. Reflecting upon my two years here in Morocco, I found that the vast majority of my service was spent teaching women that they are entitled to the same opportunities as men are. In fact I even told my Country Director, Peggy McClure, during my exit interview in Rabat a couple weeks ago that the theme of my service was women's empowerment.

Things as simple as running each morning in Toon Town opened women's eyes and showed them that they can do whatever they can dream. Obviously, it isn't as simple as just telling them they can do/be anything they want to do/be. There are cultural barriers and stigmas which can only be overcome in time and by time I mean way more than my two years here in Morocco. 

But, as always the first step is planting the seed and that is what I have tried my best to do. And little by little progress has become apparent. During my last six months in Toon Town I was approached by numerous women while I was running, who asked if they too could run with me. While the grown women never did actually run in public with me, many teenage girls did and at least the older women had the idea that it was something they could do too. It is obvious that change in Morocco will happen by the will and desire of Morocco's youth for a better life. 

My time spent with Rabha has changed her drastically as well. She has travelled all over Morocco with me for craft fairs and is now doing so on her own, a strong and independent woman. She has gained the confidence to speak in public at various events and is now a role model to other women. She teaches regularly at the Boumia weaving school and also travels around to different associations and cooperatives teaching others the natural dye process and showing the other women that a woman's role is not just in the home anymore. I am SO proud of her. 

The Women's Empowerment Conferences took place this past Sunday and Monday and I am happy to say with great success. Sunday approximately 35 women showed up for the conference in Midelt and Monday's training in Boumia also resulted in about 35 women too. It was so rewarding to sit back and watch the women lead and teach the others. In reality all I did was present a suggested curriculum to the two women who run the center in Midelt and Boumia and from there they organized and facilitated the entire operation. 

The program I suggested was this: 

9-9.15am          Introductions & Welcome-Annemarie
9.15-11.00am  You Can Dream Video-Rabha
11-11.30am     Tea Break
11.30-1pm       Maternal Health & Childcare Training-Rabha
1-2.30pm          Lunch
2.30-4.30pm    Moudawana Code & Women's Rights-Saida
4.30-5pm          Tea Break
5-6pm               Guest Speaker-Boutahir Lala Aicha

The suggested curriculum was adopted and presented by the women with enthusiasm. The 'You Can Dream Video' was created by a Peace Corps Vounteer and showcases the lives of six Moroccan women who had goals and successfully achieved them by not giving up regardless of how many bumps in the road there were. In between each woman's segment we paused the video and Rabha asked pertinent questions and encouraged a group discussion amongst the women. The women were engaged and I could not have been more proud of Rabha for her leadership at the event. In fact, on the second day I was so overwhelmed with pride for Rabha that tears streamed down my cheeks as she led her segments of the training. 

The maternal health and childcare training is the same curriculum we have been presenting to the women of the outer duars of Toon Town for the past two years. We tweaked it just a bit as the women of Midelt and Boumia are a tad more educated and know the importance of going to the hospital regularly throughout their pregnancy. Still the information was well received and the women were responsive and engaged. 

For the Moudawana Code and Women's Rights portion, Saida the president of a local handicap association presented two short cartoons which highlighted the women's role and rights when getting married or divorced. The Moudawana Code was put into play in 2004 by the King. Many women have not been thoroughly informed of their rights and so I felt it was important to highlight the Moudawana Code during the conference. 

The final session both days was a guest speaker which the organizer's of each training center identified and invited. Both speakers were women from the region who had a dream of starting their own business and have successfully done so. Both women stressed to the girls the importance of finishing their education (high school and beyond) and the importance of setting and fulfilling goals for themselves.

I also chimed in and told the girls that we are all given one life and that life is what we make of it, so dream big and don't ever give up on yourself. I also told the girls that if there is a career they would like to pursue, find a related outlet where they can get some voluntary experience/internship to give them a good look and step into what it is they want to do. I also explained my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer and how my two years as an unpaid volunteer will (enchalla) help me when I pursue a career. 

It was an extremely rewarding two days and I was happy that my friend Clare who happened to be visiting from London was able to attend and see the work that I am doing here in Morocco. Hopefully the women left feeling just a little more empowered and inspired too.

Until next time,

Miriam xXx

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Random Act of Kindness

Driss with his gifts
Driss's Gifts
A few months ago, I wrote a blog entry about the café owner, Driss, in Toon Town. A grandfather figure during my service, I’ve had many memorable times with him, sipping sweet mint tea and watching the people of Toon Town stroll by the café door.

He is one of the truly ‘good ones’ who has a kind heart and always welcomes me and my friends as his own family. While he only makes a small (tiny) income from his café business, he always has gifts of eggs, milk, yogurt and sometimes, even kefta (mincemeat) and he never accepts payment for tea or soda which he insists you drink until you can’t take the sugar anymore.

‘Driss’s Café’ was and is my most popular blog entry to date. I received many kind words from friends and family who read the entry and also from strangers who just happened to stumble across that entry. One reader was particularly touched by the story of Driss’s Café and contacted me via e-mail after reading the entry. This is the message she sent:

Hi Annemarie,

I recently found your blog on the Peace Corps Journals website.  I enjoyed reading your posts ... especially your recent post re: your friend Driss and his cafe.  Driss sounds like a really kind and thoughtful person.  I would like to send him a small gift as a "random act of kindness".  Could I send it to you, to give to him at your convenience?  It will fit in a small/flat envelope.  If so, can you send me your mailing address?  I appreciate it ... thanks!  

Thanks also for all of the great work you're doing in Morocco.  I'm sure you've helped a lot of people!

-       Shoshana

It was such a pleasant surprise to receive her e-mail also nice to know that my blog is being read and enjoyed by not only close family and friends, but by strangers too.

Shoshana’s package arrived a few weeks later and my friend Sara and I delivered it to him one evening. It was slightly difficult to explain to Driss, where the package had come from. A blog is a foreign concept to most people in my village. I told him that I write stories about my life in Toon Town and post the stories on the internet. I explained that one of the stories was about how kind and nice Driss is and that someone I didn’t know liked the story and also thought that he was a nice person and wanted to give him a gift to say thank you for being a good person. He chuckled to let me know he understood and told me to tell her, “SaHa bzzaf awd lly ar hem l’walidiness” which means, “thank you very much and may God bless her parents.”

The package contained postcards from the National Gallery in Washington D.C. with paintings by Picasso, Monet and other artists on them. There were also several napkin type papers with “Driss’s Café” printed on them along with a hand written card thanking Driss for being a kind person.

It was such a kind thing to do for a stranger and both Driss and I really appreciated it. I wanted to thank Shoshana publicly by writing a blog entry about her ‘random act of kindness’ which I hope will inspire more people to create their own ‘random acts of kindness’…making the world a better place, as we say in Morocco, ‘shwiya b shwiya’ (little by little), one person at a time.

Much love,

Miriam xXx

Driss with Dan & Kristen who recently came back to Toon Town for a visit 
Driss & Sara who also recently came for a visit