Monthly Archives: May 2014

Jambo #5

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Zanzibar, Zanzibar, Zanzibar is really far
you can’t get there in a car
Zanzibar is really far
Zanzibar, Zanzibar, in Zanzibar they don’t have tar
you can’t get there in a car
Zanzibar is really far
Prior to arriving in Zanzibar last Saturday, the only thing I knew about Zanzibar were these song lyrics from this weird song that my 8th grade science teacher, Mr.Gendreau, used to play for us. Not exactly useful information. . .

A traditional eastern African fishing boat called a dhow.

But since being on the island I have learned quite a lot. Zanzibar, for those of you that aren’t familiar with it, is an island off the coast of Tanzania in Eastern Africa. It has been a part of Tanzania since 1963 when the people living here gained their independence from the Omani sultanate that had been ruling here since the 1800s, and joined with the mainland, which at the time was called Tanganyika. An interesting fact, the word Tanzania actually comes from the combination of (Tan)ganyika + (Zan)zibar + Azan(ia) (which is the Greek word referring to Eastern Africa). Before the Omani sultanate, Zanzibar had been used as a port of trade by both the British and the Portuguese who brought spices here from the east and grew them on the warm, fertile land. This cultural melee is easily seen in the island’s current residents. People living here are of African, Middle Eastern, Indian, and European descent. However, 95% of Zanzibarians are Muslim and there are over 50 mosques on the island, which has a population of about 1.3 million. Here, the Arab greeting “salam u alaykum” is just as likely to be heard as the Swahili “Jambo.” So just when I thought that I was leaving Morocco, it seems as if it’s following me just a little bit. Zanzibarians also frequently say “hakuna matata”–that’s right, like The Lion King (which uses several Swahili words–for example, the monkey named Rafiki is the Swahili word for friend). I still haven’t quite gotten used to that and think about the Lion King just about every time I hear it.

Just like in Morocco, every day we go out here, we get approached by several people offering us tours of the island, local art, or drugs. We know they’re just trying to make a living, but it gets a little annoying after awhile.
After spending our first two days in Stonetown, the biggest city on the island, we took a local bus called a DalaDala north to a city called Nungwi on the northern tip of the island. Nungwi is an interesting place because the village is like any other you might find in Africa–no running water, children running around with no shoes, and dirt roads. But just beyond the village is a stretch of the most beautiful beach, lined by fancy resort hotels (like the Hilton Doubletree). It reminded me of photos I had seen of Tahiti–white sand beaches, the most crystal blue water you’ve ever seen, and beach huts with thatched grass roofs. A paradise right next to a squalid village. We stayed two nights at a cheap beach bungalow and during the day time arranged for a trip out on a traditional dhow (an African fishing boat) which included a seafood lunch and snorkeling in a marine conservation area. It would have been quite nice if I hadn’t gotten seasick. . . oh well. But it was a truly beautiful place.

Gorgeous white sand beaches.

Gorgeous white sand beaches.

The only hard part about it, as I mentioned before, was that people would constantly come up to you and try to sell you things. “Jambo! Would you like to go snorkeling?,” “Jambo (#2)! Would you like to buy a wood carving with your name on it?,” “Jambo! (#3) would you like to buy some mango or pineapple?” There was even one moment when we were swimming and a guy was shouting at us from the beach about going scuba diving. We kept telling him that we weren’t interested, that we’d talk to him later, but that didn’t seem to work. He literally stood there for 10 minutes trying to get us to come out of the water and talk to him. Not exactly the relaxing swim I was hoping for. . .

But as I said before, Zanzibar is a truly unique place and one not to be missed if you’re coming to Tanzania or Eastern Africa. The unique mix of cultures creates an atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

Truth and Reconciliation

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Many of you probably don’t know this, but I cried when I left for the Peace Corps. Not tiny little tear drops, but gushing streams of water that soaked my shirt. The reason most of you don’t know this is because as I said my goodbyes to all of you, I was stoic, I didn’t shed a tear. I might have even seemed cold. Before saying my goodbyes I had decided that the only way I wouldn’t break down was if I was to remove all of my emotions when I gave you my last hugs. I know it sounds terrible, but we do what we have to do to tell ourselves that everything is going to be alright. It wasn’t until I said my last goodbyes and went through airport security and then finally sat down alone while I waited to board the airplane to Philadelphia that I realized how alone I would be over the next two years. How, even though I would Skype with all of you throughout my two years and make new Moroccan friends and volunteer friends, this was a challenge I was facing alone. And that’s when the tears started to flow.

Now as I’m in the last week of my service, I find myself wanting to come clean about what being here has meant for me over the past two years; to share with you the whole truth even though its picture might not be as pretty as the one you had painted for me in your mind. Why is it that at the end of our days, we can say all the things we couldn’t say before? Perhaps there is some liberation in speaking about the past. That remembering what happened exactly as it did frees you from the weight of future lies in which you create a fictional truth to impress your listeners.

Or maybe, knowing that we fought so many battles and experienced so many wonderful moments means that we finally deserve to tell their tales.

So here it is: my truth and reconciliation.

Truth: The gender roles were never easy for me here and I think they were one of the few reasons that I could never fall in love with Morocco. Constantly getting harassed on the street, even if it was just a “Ciao Bella,” turned me into an angry person many days. Every time I’d have to walk somewhere I’d put on my “don’t fuck with me” face and hope that by looking as menacing as possible, and as ugly as possible, that men would leave me alone. I’m looking forward to being in a place again where I don’t have to wear that mask. But even outside of the harassment, some of the very people who were closest to me exemplified the behaviors that I found to be most frustrating. A very close friend of mine, who has also been friends and counterpart to all of the volunteers before me told me recently that he wants to marry a girl between the ages of 16 and 24 (he is 30), that she should not have an education higher than a high school diploma, and that she will stay at home and not be allowed the option of working. While saying this, he sat and made comments about girls’ butts as they walked past us and said that if girls didn’t cover themselves well then they deserved to be stared at. This from someone who I thought would have learned from being friends with strong, independent women! I guess not. In another instance, when my family was visiting I wanted to bring them over to my tutor’s house to eat. My tutor is one of my favorite people in town and I was dying to introduce her to my family. However, before the lunch she informed me that if my family came my father and brothers would have to sit in one room with her husband while the women sat in another room. She said that her customs would not allow her to be in the same room as my father. That she and her husband and her children and me and my parents and my brothers could not all sit in one room together and share a meal. I cried when she told me that. Morocco can break your heart sometimes.

And yet out of all that I now hold closer to my feminine identity than I ever did before. Not that I didn’t feel like a woman back in the US, but I think sometimes it takes someone threatening us for who we are for us to truly understand how important that identity is. Here in Morocco, I faced many struggles because I am a woman, but facing those struggles made me feel more womanly and more proud to be a woman than ever before. It also made me want to work with Moroccan women as part of my job here, and do programs that remind them how important they will be in shaping the future of this country.

I would say that the same holds true for my identity as an American. Here in Morocco, I’ve been confused for an Italian, a Spaniard, a Frenchwoman, an Australian, and a Chinese woman; and yet throughout all of that confusion I continue to make it clear where I’m from. Additionally, watching Moroccans call my Asian-American site-mates “Chinese” for two years because they don’t understand how diverse America is has made me more proud than ever to be from a country that is truly diverse. If there is one thing about being American that should make every one of us proud, it’s that. Not our high GDP, our world power, our army, or our films—our diversity.

Truth: Moroccans are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met—much more so than Americans (sorry guys!). If I’d wanted to, I could have probably eaten every single meal for 2 years in the homes of others. Not only will they invite you over to their house for tea as soon as they meet you, but that tea will inevitably turn into an invitation for dinner which will turn into an invitation to sleep over and stay for breakfast in the morning. And this phenomenon not only holds true for wealthy Moroccans but also for poorer ones. I’ve eaten a meal with families who don’t have much and yet they still manage to scrounge up whatever they have and treat me like royalty. How is it that those who have so little are often the ones who want to give so much? I will never cease to be amazed by this kindness and generosity and I will do my best to make my Moroccan friends proud and carry that tradition back to America with me.

Truth: This final week has been full of tears. The first time I cried was when I gave a thank you letter to my counterpart Nabila, thanking her for everything she’s done for me over the past two years. I don’t think she realizes it, but the majority of the things that I accomplished during my time here would not have been possible without her. In a country filled with “Inch’allah,” tardiness, excuses (“I was late because it’s very sunny today” is something I heard quite often. . .), and sometimes laziness, she was a beacon of light and hope and reliability. She came when she said she would, she came on time, she did what she said she’d do, and more than that, she took initiative. She is a role model for all youth and female professionals in Morocco and I can’t wait to hear what her future holds.

The second time I cried was when I was handing out certificates to my INJAZ students for successfully completing My Company Program. In that moment, I felt so proud of them and everything they had accomplished. Not only did they overcome difficult challenges but they also proved that students in rural Morocco are just as capable as those in big cities. Because of their hard work and determination, they paved the way for thousands more students in rural Morocco who will now also be able to do INJAZ programs. I wish them all the best as they go into the regional competition in Casablanca in June.

Truth: Despite all of the challenges and hard times, I’m going to miss Morocco terribly. In all honesty, I have never felt that I was more a part of a community than I do here. Working with community members to accomplish a goal, engaging with people at all different levels in the community to host events, sipping uncounted pots of tea and discussing the future of Morocco, and working with youth to make El Borouj a better place, are all experiences that I will never forget. And because of this experience, I will be looking for a job in community development when I return to the US.

I could make a list of all the ways that Morocco and this experience have changed me, but I’m not going to do that. You’ll see it when you meet me again in the US.

Alright. This is it. The big one. To all those who have made this experience what it was, a thousand times I thank you. Through the good times, the bad, the waiting, the couscous, the cultural confusion, the tea, and the forced public-dancing, you’ve always been there, right alongside of me. To all of my students, my aerobics ladies, my community partners, my Moroccan families and friends, I will never forget you u ana gan-tuhajtkum bzzef! To my American family and friends and all of my PCV friends, your love and support have made me the person I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful.

As all things must eventually come full circle, so must this blog. So with that, I end with a quote from the first blog post I wrote, “Here’s to continuation. Here’s to the next step of my life. And here’s to never saying goodbye.”

 

 

 

. . . But that’s not it!! I’m going to try to keep the blog going throughout my travels this summer, so if you want to hear about traveling in Eastern Africa—stay tuned!

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You: Just a Few Things I Learned in the Peace Corps

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  • Never do anything on your own. You should always have a host country national helping you and learning from anything that you do. Even something as simple as entering numbers into a spreadsheet, responding to daily e-mails, and definitely grant writing–an hcn (host country national) should always be with you and learning from what you do. Second, when it comes to HIV/AIDS and Women’s Empowerment it is absolutely crucial that you study up on the local customs, practices, and taboos. For example, for a male to talk about condom use in front of a group of women might be totally inappropriate. Especially when talking about potentially taboo subjects, it is better to have a local make the presentation or to be alongside of you to help with any potential miscommunication.
  • Don’t expect for things to get done on time. Try to set realistic expectations as to what you and your partners can actually accomplish in a given time frame. During your first week, carefully observe the people that you work with and try to gauge who is the most reliable and can be tasked with time sensitive material. Just because someone says they can do it, doesn’t mean that they can. And be sure to give people positive reinforcement when they complete good work. Also, when dealing with hcn partners who might not be holding up their end of the work, try to remind them how important their work is the completion of the project and how valuable they are as a team member. I find that ego-boosting goes a long way when people aren’t following through!! Telling them that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do never got me anywhere.
  • Talk to anyone and everyone–from the local town leaders, to the bread man, to the women’s cooperative, to the plumber. Even people that don’t seem that important can sometimes be the ones who might share invaluable information with you or tell you where you can get the cheapest and best quality materials.
  • Never be afraid to admit that you don’t know something. And don’t pretend to know more than you do. They know you’re not a local and will be able to see right through you if you’re pretending to be more knowledgeable about something than you are. Again, this is where involving local partners really comes into play. They’ll be so happy that you came to them for help and feel like valuable team members.
  • Be adaptable to the local culture, but don’t be afraid to hold tight to your own values as well.
  • Try to pick up on the cultural intricacies that exist in your community. For example, not everyone in Morocco likes being called Arab. Some people are fiercely proud of their Berber heritage and will tell you that they’re Amazigh before they tell you that they’re Moroccan. Be aware of the cultural differences that exist in the community that you serve and be respectful and sensitive toward them. Don’t generalize and assume that everyone is the same.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t work out. As the Moroccans say, inch’allah—some things are meant to be, and some aren’t. Even if you’re not Muslim, I think this is a phrase to live by. In the end, all you can do is take a step back, reevaluate, and start over.
  • Moroccans are incredibly hospitable. Much more so than most Americans. Time and time again, random strangers would open their door to me and offer me a steaming pot of mint tea and cookies.
  • Moroccans are also the most persistent door-knockers I’ve ever seen. They will knock on a door for 10 minutes before they give up. I’m not sure whether to find this annoying or just determined.
  • Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Whether you’re getting harassed on the street, not being heard at work, or not being properly understood, be brave and be an advocate for yourself. In the end, people will respect you for having the courage to say what you wanted to say.
  • Moroccan grand taxis might be cramped, but they always got me where I needed to go. If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for me.
  • Being a teacher is rewarding, frustrating, inspiring, challenging, tireless, fun, stressful, wonderful, and surprising. Every human being should be a teacher at least once in their life.
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead
  • Take every opportunity that is presented to you, even ones that may seem trivial or unnecessary. You never know what might come from doing something new.
  • Youth must be given opportunities to learn in non-traditional ways. While traditional blackboard learning is necessary, giving students the opportunity to act, draw, sing, create, explore, and experiment is essential to them developing as well-rounded human-beings. Also, many students struggle to learn by traditional teaching methods and need to be taught in other ways in order to learn.
  • The only way for someone to become a leader is to lead. It is not enough to watch others; leaders must take initiative and do. However, all good leaders must also be good listeners and recognize others for good work.
  • Wherever you are and whatever you do, your happiness should always come first. Life is too short to be doing something you don’t love. But that being said, falling in love takes time and likewise, it can take some to time to figure out how to love what you do. Always be sure to give each thing you a do a fighting chance first, and try try try, and if you still don’t love it, move on.