A Deserved Recap of Recent Events, or When Ignorance is Power, or Lots of Random Thoughts from the Last Few Weeks

I haven’t had a chance to post in quite a while.  Part of it was that I just wanted to make sure everyone read “Sound of God.”  I said a few things in that post that I wanted to make sure were shared.  So it’s been a couple of weeks, and quite frankly, a lot has happened.  I’m going to try to give a recap, and sadly, I don’t yet have the pictures uploaded to go along with the story.  My friend Liz took all of the pictures from the past week or so, and it might be a few days before those are available.  In the meantime, you’re stuck with words.

So, first things first, as I write this, I have no idea what time it is.  Morocco, as a country, began observing Daylight Savings Time last week.  I guess, on a technicality, that means that Morocco’s major businesses and government offices have now “sprung forward” an hour.  However, not everyone chooses to observe the new time change, which translates as me having to ask constantly whether it’s “new time or old time.”  Then, there’s also the confusion as to what time it actually is that we’re jumping from originally (that part actually shouldn’t be confusing, but for a reason I have yet to figure out, it is).  I haven’t changed my phone to “new time” yet, because a lot of my life appears to be on old time.  But let me throw another kink into this little gem: it seems as though some Moroccans shift on a regular basis.  Some days, they just don’t seem to feel like jumping to new time.  So they decide it’s going to be an old time day.  At least, that’s how it played out at the Spring English Immersion Camp I coordinated this week in Missour.  I’ll say more about that later.

This very different approach to handling time might be one of the most foreign things I’ve experienced in this country.    It’s also one of those things you hear about when you talk to people about experiencing a different culture that I think you can’t truly appreciate until you’ve been there and experienced it yourself.  In America, where time is also money, we can’t afford to lose any of it.  We’re obsessed with it.  It guides our every moment.  We plan our lives around it.  We use it, and it uses us, as we become almost enslaved to it and to the expectations we create for ourselves based on this almost rigid, scheduled lifestyle.  Not in Morocco.  There’s more of a “let it be” attitude when it comes to time… if “time” as a concept even exists really.  Aside from a few exceptions (like school or important appointments), the idea of being “late” isn’t really an idea that comes into this culture the same way that it does in America.  Life is more laid back and relaxed which has both its advantages and its disadvantages.

For me, it’s mostly just “advantages.”  I mean, in America, I was generally always on time and followed the rigid schedule I made for myself.  Here, it’s been kind of nice just… not worrying about time.  Letting the cards fall where they may, if you get my drift.  If you have a meeting scheduled, and someone shows up late, no big deal.  If you have a meeting scheduled and no one shows up at all, again, no big deal.  It’s one of those things that could really frustrate that American sensibility to “be on time,” but I guess going into it knowing and understanding the more laid back culture – just having that foreknowledge – can give me an appreciation for that way of life.  Of course when it comes to getting things done, it can make things a little more challenging, but it’s a challenge I’m usually up to facing.

Last week, my friend Liz came up in preparation for Spring Camp.  I showed her around my site before we headed to Missour, and we decided to walk out into the Zitoun (Olive Orchard).  There’s a mud-brick mosque in the middle of the Zitoun that one Moroccan tried to tell Avery was over 10,000 years old.  Of course, that’s, like, ten times older than Islam, but at the very least, Avery and I figured the mosque could theoretically be over 120 years old or so.  A mud medina fortress surrounds the mosque, and we were told the fortress served as a kind of “Alamo” for skirmishes between neighboring villages when there were fights over land and water.  Some of these fights have continued into today, though are not as violent as they once were.

As Liz and I were walking around checking out the Old Medina in the Zitoun, one man almost ran over us in his bike and then invited us to have tea with him.  After tea, he started to walk us around his land and stopped along the way handing us almonds off his almond trees, beans in his fields, and finally, a prickly pear off of a cactus, which we refused to eat when he tried to hand it to us without cutting it first.  The whole experience was one of those moments that reminded me that I really am in the Peace Corps living in the middle of Morocco.  Sometimes, living in a medium-sized city, as opposed to some very rural village, with internet, leather couches, and red-ball cheese, it’s easy to think this is, as we joke, the “Posh Corps” instead of the Peace Corps.  But little moments walking around an ancient mud village or picking almonds off a tree with a friend, and the simplicity of life comes flooding back to me, that we need so little to be happy and that we can let our surroundings either overwhelm us or comfort us.  Life is a little of both of those things, though, so maybe sometimes, we need to be overwhelmed.  Maybe other times, we need to be comfortable.  Either way, walking out into the Zitoun – the poorest part of my site –  is always a good reminder of why I’m here and the impact I can hopefully have….

Of course, a lot of that impact has revolved lately around what Caity and I call “the glasses project,” an attempt to bring free, readjustable glasses to people all over Morocco.   I mentioned this project in a previous post or two.  The good news is, we know we’re going to be able to get free glasses for distribution to younger youth.  The bad news is, we can’t get free ones until January, and glasses for adults are not free.  Thus, Caity and I have gone into grant-writing mode and have had one grant rejected already, but we have three more moves up our sleeves ready to implement this week.

In addition to Liz working the Spring Camp, I also got to work the camp with my best friend Caity and her two best friends, Alexa and Angelica.  Then, another friend of ours, Aly, came up to help out as well.  That’s right: me, five American girls, and 70 or so Moroccan youth (mostly girl-crazy boys).  It was… a week to remember.  Each morning, we woke up and taught English for three hours and then had lunch and a lengthy siesta before dinner and a night of talent shows, games, singing, and dancing.  For the talent show, the girls choregraphed a dance to Shakira’s Waka Waka.  Hopefully, I’ll have video of this to share soon, but for now, here’s a Youtube link to the song.  Meanwhile, Aly and I sang (for giggles) the Elephant Love Melody from Moulin Rouge.   All of this was probably bordering on the shameful (Hshuma) side just a smidgen, but no one seemed to mind.  In fact, when it was all said and done, despite the fact that Liz and Aly were both judges and contestants, we won our own Moroccan talent show.

Then, if that wasn’t enough, we were asked to perform again and again, it seemed, constantly being dragged into dancing or singing, whether it was the National Anthem (which we might have slightly botched but did not forget to yell “play ball” at the end, and that’s what really matters), and then, during theater night, Aly and I performed “Blackbird” by the Beatles.  I won’t even bother linking to a Youtube video of Blackbird.  If you know me, you should know that song.  By the end of the week, I was beginning to feel like my job revolved solely around singing and dancing with Moroccans, and indeed, it’s an incredibly important part of this culture.  I don’t know – even though many Americans both sing and dance – that you would say the same of America.  But singing and dancing seems to filter into every aspect of life here.  It even found its way into many of our English lessons.

And like any camp, there was the usual drama and tension among campers with an occasional tussle here or there.  Sometimes, that was difficult to manage, especially in the classroom.  On one of the first days, I was intrigued by the fact that Caity seemed to be facing more trouble than those of us with lower level language skills.  One of the students made a joke about Caity not being Muslim and Americans hating Muslims, and Caity was immediately offended and explained that she loved Morocco and chose to live in this country for two years, that not all Americans hate Muslims… that’s just not true.  Caity was at a bit of a disadvantage in that she understood a large majority of what was being said to her, though.  The rest of us could ride on ignorance, on the fact that whatever happened, whatever was being said to us, we couldn’t all understand enough to be frustrated or even to carry on lengthy conversation.  Alexa pointed out that her experience in the classroom was pleasant if for no other reason than the fact that her inability to understand her students kept her from having to worry about anything they were saying that would have been negative.  It gave her more control and was, in a sense empowering.  She could focus them toward the primary goal to learn English without having to worry with the ins-and-outs Caity was facing when she could carry on full conversations.  It’s one thing to teach English without a common language (difficult but manageable).  It’s a whole other ball game when you have to play the role of disciplinarian as well.  Funny.  They say ignorance is bliss.  This time it was even empowering.

Until it wasn’t.

Midway through the week, I got a call from my Gendarmes asking me to go by the Police Station in Missour to ask about my Carte de Sejour (the residence card that proves I’m legally living in this country).  When I arrived, the Police insisted that my visa had expired because my paperwork was turned in late.  As a result, they were giving me two options: either cross the border to get a new stamp on my visa.  Or pay them 7000DH (a little under $1000).  Uhm.  No.  Of course, whereas problems communicating had been a blissful experience in the classroom, now problems communicating were essential to whether or not I was illegally living in this country.  As it currently stands, I am pressing my Gendarmes to get me a new receipt for the Carte de Sejour.  It’s entirely possible I’ll be making an emergency trip to Spain in the next few weeks.  We’ll see.

That’s about it for now.  I’ve got a busy month ahead of me, which ends with me taking a work trip to Ouzzane (close to Chefchaouan) to represent Peace Corps in a national event.  More to come on that later.  Hope everyone is doing well back home.  You can Skype me now almost anytime.  I finally have internet at my house.

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