My Summer, 2015

DepositI had this moment today driving through the Catskills where I realized I was sipping Pepsi in a glass bottle as I drove a red, Ford truck from the early ’90s, and I just felt overwhelmingly American. I couldn’t help but be a little culture-shocked. Before me were acres of pristine, seemingly untouched conifers lining the mountainside and surrounded by fields of corn. In the valley sat large red barns, black-and-white cows as if from a painting you’d find in Cracker Barrel, a run-down Harry Ferguson tractor or two, and the vibe of rural America in all its depressed, hard-working love. Appalachia stretches all the way to New York in more ways than geography.

To me, this is how America should be seen: on the road – and not the interstate system – sipping a Pepsi. But it was so foreign to what I’ve come to believe is “New York” (living in what’s basically the Hamptons) that I felt somehow removed and jarred by it all. It was one of those strange moments where I could peer over the last five, even ten years of my life and think on the many roads I’ve ridden over that brought me to this one. And how vastly different those roads have been.

In some ways, this summer has been one of the most wonderfully-strange summers in recent history. And I think it’s because of moments like that one. Where you just open your eyes and realize you’re driving through the Catskills and it’s all a little surreal somehow, because you never quite saw your life unfolding in that way. My summer started off with earning a series of certifications I needed (“Team building initiatives,” “First Aid & CPR,” “Lifeguard Manager,” “Food Handler’s Certificate,” etc.) to be able to run the camps where I work. On my birthday, the day after I earned my CPR certificate, I was walking around in Greenport with Johnny Gall when a man collapsed and started bleeding on the street. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever actually had to direct someone to call 911 (and for a complete stranger at that), and that it happened the day after I finished my certificate was, well, just one more of those surreal moments.

A few days later (and this has become a regular thing that sometimes annoys me), someone visiting [one of the two] camp[s] where I work was just beside himself that I was in the kitchen serving him food. “I don’t understand,” he said as nicely as he could, “You have a seminary degree from Vanderbilt, and you want to be here, doing this?!” [This is sort of a general theme I encounter often: that “camp” is not a “big-boy job,” and when are you going to get your “big-boy job,” especially if you have a Master’s degree.] I don’t think anyone means it harshly. It’s just that it’s a position that tends to be associated with someone who’s in their early 20s and still figuring out life, and yet, as I served the food, I couldn’t help but think, “But wouldn’t you want to be doing this?” In St. Louis, I went to a seminar with a friend that was all about achieving financial freedom, and the underlying message of the seminar (which I don’t agree with at all) was that what people are really looking for in saving up their money is to be able to have the freedom to do what they really want to do. If you can plan out you finances early on and in a smart way, you can retire early enough to achieve your real dreams. That sounds stupid to me. Somehow, I managed to figure out how to live on a friggin’ beautiful island only accessible by ferry – and do it cheaply. I’m two hours from one of the greatest cities in the world, and I can take a bus or a train there almost whenever I want. Want to kayak? Sure. Learn how to sail? Why not? Travel around for work? Yup. Live in a haunted cottage? Well, okay, maybe not that one. But help young and old alike learn how to find their true selves all while getting to do the rest of that stuff? Yes. I could go get a “big-boy job,” whatever that even is anyway, or I could just live a little of that dream now. And have a meaningful impact on people’s lives while I’m doing it. But even that is yet one more of those surreal things. Was I right to choose this path that people don’t usually take, that I chose to defy some of the “normal” expectations to money-making and living and dreaming? I don’t know.

Ford

Still, as I was driving around this afternoon, and I was thinking about all the roads I’ve crossed and the different directions I could’ve taken, I kept thinking how much I loved the endless skyscape out here. I know those two clauses don’t seem like they go together, but hang with me. Something about the mountains makes the sky so much more grand. Maybe it’s because the sun has more to work with when it’s busy painting its sunset or sunrise not just in the sky but in doing wondrous things to make green trees yellow-orange. Or maybe it’s how much more blue the blue seems against a green backdrop. You do not get this effect in the bay as much. A sunrise over the sea is unquestionably beautiful, but it’s a very different kind of beautiful. It’s one kind of blue flowing into another kind of blue. It’s the kind of beautiful that is repetitive and predictable (seriously, how many sunset pictures can you take before it’s kind of a tired meme?) – and while I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, it does make the mountain sky a little more appealing to watch at times.

And yet, I am called to the sea. For as much as I love the mountain sky, the waters of the open ocean refresh me whether they’re stilled and calm or churning in a mad splash that threatens drowning. Last week, a gale bringing in gusts of around 80 miles an hour passed over the camp knocking down a few trees and setting a transformer smoking (and eventually on fire). Somehow, I woke up before the storm began at 5:45 in the morning and sat through it in the stairwell of my cottage watching a 100-year old oak sway back and forth like it was a sapling and listening to trees literally five feet from my cottage crack, split, and hit the ground with a thud. Immediately after the rain passed, I rushed outside to check in on campers, review damage, call the electric company, etc. I was at home with myself in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever been. Here on the sea, I knew what to do. So much of life is spent juggling between what we think we love and where we really belong, and sometimes those things can match up, but the greatest sadness I have ever experienced is in discovering where those two things pull us in the most opposite of directions. You can love the skyscape of the mountains, but will you know your heart and calling belongs to the sea? Can you accept that truth not just when the seas are calm but also when the gale threatens to blow your house down? Can you – as surreal as it may be – love the mountain for what it is, temporarily gracing it with your presence, but then return to where you actually belong when your days in the woods are done? Either way, you should at least try sipping a Pepsi in a glass bottle while you drive a red Ford through Upstate New York sometime. I highly recommend it.

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.

Some thoughts on a rainy afternoon on a train from Oujda

Had time time this afternoon to write, so this is what I jotted down:

I’m sitting on a train in Oujda waiting to leave, and there’s pellets of rain slapping the windshield pretty viciously.  Thought I’d kill some time writing and studying.  Doubt the studying will happen, though.  It’s been a good trip to the Algerian border (we call this part of the country “Peace Corps/Algeria,” because the Arabic here is a little more influenced by Algeria than Morocco, and well, it’s just so far away from the majority of the other volunteers).  I got in yesterday and ate dinner at McDonald’s with my friend Meetra who is from Ohio.  It’s always nice eating an American French Fry even if I wasn’t really a big fan of McDonald’s back in the States.  Plus, I was so hungry after my taxi and bus rides that I could’ve eaten at Arby’s.  Actually, Arby’s sounds great right now.  Or some Wendy’s.  Whatever, I need to avoid that topic if at all possible.

So Meets and I went to a hotel but got turned away because the stamp on our passports said we’d been in-country for more than three months.  I was hoping the receptionist wouldn’t notice this small detail, but alas, this was what, in Morocco, we call a “mushkil kibir,” or a big problem.  After three months in country, you’re illegal unless you apply for the Carte de Sejour.  I think I’ve mentioned that before.  Anyway, it’s a resident card similar to a license required for every Moroccan.

The train just started moving.  Side note that I’m hoping I can get a taxi from Guercif to my site when I get there, because I hear that’s very difficult to do, and I really don’t want to spend the night in Guercif.  I mean, I couldn’t get a taxi to Oujda on the way here, so I had to take a bus, but a bus was a better choice anyway.  It was just surprising because Oujda is a big city and my site is so small, so shouldn’t it be more likely to get a taxi to a big city than a small one?  I dunno.  We’ll see.

So yeah, anyway, I’ve applied for the Carte de Sejour, which is good news, but I forgot to bring the receipt with me proving I had done so and officially making me an illegal resident in this country.  Bad news.  The hotel receptionist wanted to call the police, but we decided we’d try a different hotel first and hope for better luck there.

Success.  They gave us the keys no questions asked, so we put our stuff away and then headed out to Marjane, the Wal-Mart of Morocco.  You can find one of these in pretty much any major city in country, and they have everything you could ever want, though it’s expensive.  It’s basically a supermarket, like I said.  So what’d I buy – a nice heater (tried to get a Whirlpool, but they were sold out), brie cheese, chocolate, and a Michelan Map of Morocco (that should be checked off the list soon).  Oh, another side note, the guy across the seat from me just finished eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Like, what country am I in, seriously?

So Meets and I stayed up munching on cheese with my spork, eating chocolate, and chatting it up about our past lives in America which seem so far-removed now.  Really, it’s just kind of interesting how a place and circumstances in it can change a person.  I don’t know that I’m changed or different, but I keep hearing volunteers say this experience does change you, so I guess time will make that more clear?

Meets mentioned that I seem really optimistic on the blog, which kinda shocked me, and I’m not sure if she was contrasting that with how she thinks I am in reality, but we sort of agreed that there are many aspects of living in a foreign country that make life difficult but simultaneously worth the experience, if that makes any sense.  I guess that is to say that I have had days here where I’ve been overwhelmed or felt inadequate to be able to do everything I want and need to do (i.e. learn the language, make a positive impact on my community, etc.)… days when I just don’t have the energy for it, but then something happens that makes me smile or reminds me of why life really is good.  I mean, to use the trite phrase, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” seems to sum it up well.  I’m not aiming for some magical moment where it all comes together, makes sense, and is perfect.  I’m aiming to ride the roller-coaster, the goods and the bads, the bumpy-cart ride so to speak… to explore both the best and worst of life and to appreciate all of it together.  I think thats what’s changed for me.  It’s not that I’m suddenly Mr. Optimistic.  It’s that I can suddenly appreciate the bad news in a way I haven’t been able to before now.

[Of course, having written that earlier this afternoon, I came home to some especially bad news, that one of youth from my Church back home, Juri Bunetta, was killed in a car-wreck this weekend.  It’s put me back a little, and I dunno I want to say more about that right now other than to ask that prayers be with his family and with the Church.  Juri was a wonderful kid.]

So, someone knocked on my door at nine in the morning (that’s early for me); it was the receptionist, and he had just realized that I was in the country illegally.  Mushkil.  Kibir.  I had my camera with me, though, and it had a picture of my receipt for the Carte de Sejour.  That wasn’t enough.

He called the police and they told him to bring me and Meetra to the station.  Uh oh.  I joked with Meets about it a little, something to the effect of, “Well, four months in-country without going to jail was a pretty good run while it lasted, right? I mean, what do you think the punishment is for being here almost illegally?  Just deportation, not decapitation, right?”

So, at the police station, Meetra shares her receipt, and we explain that I had one like that but forgot it.  Sorrryyyy.  heh.  They tell me to remember to bring it next time, but it’s okay.  Obviously, I’m writing this from a train instead of a jail cell.

Meetra and I made the best of our early morning and went to the Old Medina where we bought some malawi and cheese and ate breakfast across from an art gallery while a kitten begged me for some of my cheesy, sugary pastry.  Then, of course, we figured we’d check out the gallery, but it was empty.  The two men standing in the doorway realized we knew a little Arabic so we talked with them some about the gallery and Picasso and drank some tea.

And that was it.

Now I’m on a train heading home and excited about the upcoming week.  The rain is gone and the view out my window is absolutely tremendous – rolling green hills with rosemary covering the small cliffs in the distance.  Here and there is a copse of trees whose branches twist and turn and remind me, “This is Africa.”  Here and there a herder stands alone with his sheep and goats.  The low-lying clouds, like a flock of sheep themselves, grace in the sky, spotting the ground below to provide an olive grove with a little relief from the scorching sun whose rays still can burn on this cold day.  I could empty my head and stare out this window for hours.

All about my new home, or What I learned so far

On the ride to my new site, I felt like I was riding with Andy Day again on our way to the Grand Canyon (here’s to hoping this Christmas is not spent vomiting in a desert again, though).  The way the landscape changes – and drastically, I might add – is unbelievable.  One second, you’re surrounded by mountains and trees; then, suddenly, the world becomes a large, flat, dry desert for miles and miles.

I should clarify, perhaps, that by “desert,” I really do mean something a bit more like Arizona or Southern California and not the dunes that are found in the south (you know, where Star Wars was filmed and where I certainly hope to visit, enshallah).

As for the drive to the desert, though, there are multiple ways to get to my new home from Fes, but for the first trip, Eric Sneathen, the volunteer I am replacing (and who I’m indebted to for his kindness and willingness to help me get acquainted with the place), came to get me so we could take four Grand Taxis southeast.  From Fes, the first stop is Sefrou, which is actually nice to know that my current host family is “on the way” and relatively close (considering most of my friends are two days away, I’m thinking four hours is “relatively close”).  From Sefrou, we taxi to Boulemane, a bitterly cold city in the Middle Atlas Mountains and then on the other side of the mountains to Missour, the capital of my province.  From there, we took the last, long, endless road to my final destination thirty or so minutes north.

Alternatively, from here, you can bus or taxi north to Guercif, which is in-between Fes and Oujda (on the Algerian border where my friend Meetra is living).  Guercif is a rail stop, so on the way back, we took the two hour train to Fes.  I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

My site itself boasts a scenic view, for sure, but not the kind of “scenic” one might expect.  There’s no close mountain to climb, very little green, and mostly what is here might be considered miles and miles of endless, flat land that stretches all the way to Algeria.  You can see the Atlas to the west, and they begin to incline about thirty minutes away toward Tirnest (a town where two volunteers – Avery and Caity – currently reside), but there are few places where you can get a good view of the mountains or of the town itself, for that matter.

So, what’s the scenic view?  Skyscape.

With so little backdrop and miles of empty desert, the sky becomes its own theater telling a timeless tale of sorts – a story of seasons, of birth and death, as the weather shifts from the hot summers to the cold winters.   When they said Morocco is “the cold country with the hot sun,” they weren’t kidding.  In some ways, the weather here seems very similar to Tennessee, but I’ve found myself freezing cold and hot…at the same time.  I’m not really sure how that works, but Outat can be a very windy and dry place, which can make for an interesting combination (and chapstick essential).  Sandstorms are not common – or at least, not strong enough to move through town very often – but they do happen.  I look forward to sitting in a cafe and watching a distant sandstorm or lightning on the mountains, if not also a snowstorm or two.

Speaking of the cafe, there are several in town and spending time at the cafe seems to be a good start to integrating myself into this new community (when I’m not walking around saying hello to people who are staring at me awkwardly).  It’s a good place where the men go to sit, watch soccer, or meet and chat with friends.  There’s always a crowd there, it seems, but that may not be too surprising considering the size of my town.

Outat is a transit town, meaning it’s a nice stop-off point on the one road between Guercif and Errachidia.  There’s always people coming and going here.  For example, Sunday and Monday is “souq” day, or the day the market is open and the men from the army base nearby will crowd the streets to buy whatever they need at souq.  Luckily for me, fresh produce (and more importantly, red ball cheese) is available year round, and clothes – since mine may wear out quickly given the frequency I will wash them – are cheap.

Of course, the people are incredibly pleasant and wonderful, as is usually the case in Morocco.  My host family is large, and it’s taking me a while to figure out who is who, especially since the women are currently keeping a distance confining themselves to the kitchen.  We don’t even eat together, which is much different from the way things are in Sefrou, where Fatima is so clearly the “head of the household.”  Still, I expect this will change once my host father moves to Spain after Eid El Kibir.

Poverty is also common here.  There are no couches in my home.  We eat on the floor or on blankets with pillows surrounding a small table.  I was given what may be one of the three or four ponges (like a body pillow) to use for my bed and a blanket that smelled suspiciously like a mule.  Beyond that, my room is empty.

That’s not to say there’s not money in town – an entire section of town, known as the Cartier, boasts nicer homes, but it doesn’t appear to be well-inhabited.  The Cartier is separated by a large bridge to a river that looks like it’s straight out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The Dar Chebab, where I work, is on this side of town, along with the Gendarmes (think, military police of sorts) and the hospital.

The Dar Chebab (house of youth and sports) is only a few years old and Mohammed V, the current King, came himself to the opening ceremony.  It boasts a computer lab (currently without internet,  but I hope to change this, enshallah), a nice soccer and volleyball field, a classroom, a library (in the works), and a small stage with sound equipment.  What more could a guy ask for?  I am ridiculously excited about this and about working with Hasan, my mudir, or director.  He appears open and excited to let me do pretty much whatever I want, and the freedom to be creative is the very environment where I thrive.

Aside from English help, especially for BAC students (I’ll explain the BAC later, maybe; just know it’s really smart teenagers who are learning Arabic, French, English, and reading Jean Paul Sarte and Immanuel Kant; they put American education to shame), I’m looking forward to playing lots of soccer with the new balls just purchased, organizing the new library (along with getting some chess boards up), or even writing grants for new projects or new “stuff.”  This last week, in fact, I helped Eric with an art project promoting peace that drew nearly 120 kids.

Anyodd, those are several scattered thoughts, and this blog is a bit different from the ones I usually write, but I wanted to give something concrete about Outat to kind of draw a picture for you.  I’ll close with two brief stories:

The first night I got to site, there was an “event” at the Dar Chebab put on by an association (Atlantis) that was basically a talent show.  There were probably easily fifty to seventy people there complete with Moroccan songs, poetry, and dancing.  One dance in particular included five guys and one girl dancing the macarena to “It’s a Barbie World.” This was epic and certainly the best introduction to Outat I could’ve asked for.  Enjoy the German version, especially if you’re one of my pledge brothers (in which case you know what I’m referencing).

Later that week, I walked into my room to find a kitten curled up in my socks next to my bed.  I asked one of my host brothers to come to my room and showed him the “problem.”  As he got closer to the cat, it hissed and began running around the room and then around the entire house swiping at people like it might bite them at any second (hello rabies).  Suddenly, the house was astir and noisy.  We chased the cat toward the door, hoping it would leave, but instead, it climbed into a hole in the wall and then got stuck in a pipe where it whined for several minutes.  One of the brothers took a bag and held it open over the hole hoping the cat would crawl into the bag.

And then it happened.  The cat was in the bag.  The cat was actually in the bag.  My brother, Hamza, then let the cat out of the bag just outside the door where it whined the rest of the night.

And that’s my village in a nutshell.

Maroc Arrival: Day 1

PassportWell, it’s finally here, and that sixty or so hours of traveling (from Nashville to Philly to JFK to Casablanca to Mehdya, where I am currently) just completely took it out of me.  I’ll keep this first post short, as I mostly just wanted you to know that I made it okay.  I’ll have a decent internet connection for the next four days or so.  After that, it’s spotty, probably.

In the first thirty minutes of being in Africa, I managed to see horses, cows, sheep, pelicans (or some kind of bird like that), and donkeys.  The morning consisted of security and medical briefings.  I won’t bore you with the details of those, but I just got back from hanging out on the beach, where five camels walked by somewhat randomly.

Morocco is truly a beautiful country with a beautiful landscape, all kinds of wildlife, and many wonderful people I’ve already met.  I’m ten times more excited than I was when I was nervous a week ago.  This is going to be good.  Real good.