Saturday, October 16, 2010

26 Down, One Month to Go

Some days, it feels like the past two years flew by, other days I feel like I've aged ten years in the 25 months since I wrote my first "Couscous Chronicles" email to you all. I won't even try to sum it all up in one email; you should check out my blog if you want a fuller picture of what I've been doing here in this tiny village for two years. (

Top Ten Things I'll miss about Morocco: (see attached corresponding photos)
1. Long, non-hurried jogs down empty dirt roads between plateaus with my dog
2. My dog (even if he is arguably the world's worst dog; his favorite activities appear to all my neighbors to be biting little children and eating kittens)
3. Waking up whenever I wake up, without an alarm, and then sometimes having nothing better to do than sit all day with my baby chicks.
4. Eating fruit right off of the trees, olive oil straight from the stone press, and vegetables right out of the ground
5. Wowing (or at least amusing) everyone with my awesome Moroccan dance moves (a still picture can't really do this one justice. Ask for a demonstration when I get home)
6. Manual labor and its tangible results
7. Camel burgers
8. This little girl who squeals "SEEENTEEEYA!" every time she sees me.
9. Endless village drama over minor things (my under-$2000 projects result in endlessly entertaining drama)
10. Sunsets like this one from Thursday, over these snow-capped mountains

My post-November 12th Travel Plans: I'll be spending a week in Portugal and a few days in Spain before embarking on a trans-Atlantic, 14-day cruise that arrives in Puerto Rico. After a few days in the rain forest, I'll be flying home to Cincinnati, where I'll be until I figure out my next steps. At some point in the near future I'll start looking for a job, but also plan to spend some time visiting friends in DC and my brother in San Francisco. Depending on how long the job search takes, I may have more time to visit more of you in all your random places. My temporary address will be my parents' address: 5556 Nickview Dr, Cincinnati, OH 45247 in case you want to send me anything. Starting December 17th, I'll be reachable by cell phone at 513-504-6680.

Finally, several of you have asked if there's any way you can help out with my projects or if there's anything you can send to people in the village, and after thinking this over and talking with the director of the primary school, I've decided that the best thing would be, if anyone is interested, to provide scholarships for the girls in the village who want to continue their studies past the sixth grade but can't afford to pay for room and board at the closest middle school, a boarding school about 50 miles away. Currently, there are a handful of girls who still come to class at the primary school every day even though they should be in middle school because they really want to be in school. It's sad because the costs only come to about $30/month per student, so approximately $300 for the whole school year, which includes room, board, and transportation back to the village to visit their families for holidays. If any of you might be interested in sponsoring a girl for a month or two (or for a whole year), let me know and we'll figure out logistics.

So, thanks for all of your emails and letters and wall posts over the past two years. I'm sorry that I've been slow to respond, and I'm sure I've over-used the "I don't have internet access" excuse. I hope to see you all and catch up soon!

Marriage Musings Part IV - Jessica

Danielle's younger sister Jessica is fifteen. This spring she finished her last year of middle school and was preparing to start high school in the fall, when her aunt proposed that she marry the oldest of her cousins, 29. Since she was born, it was assumed that she would marry one of her cousins, as she was one of only a few girls in an extended family of dozens of boys, but we didn't know that her aunt wanted her for her son so soon. In the course of a couple of weeks, she had to decide (at the incredibly unstable age of fifteen), whether she wanted to drop out of school and get married, and move to the city to live with her husband/cousin and his whole huge family.

She had been almost a little project of mine - I was teaching her English and drilling her on her homework, always talking to her about being the first in her family to get a high school diploma and even go on to college, about all the possibilities she had for careers and futures. We talked news and politics and pored over my map of the world. I honestly intended to invite her to spend a summer or a year with me in America someday so she could learn English and see a bit of the world outside of the village. And then came the marriage offer. Her aunt insisted that even though they wouldn't have the wedding until next summer, she would have to quit school and move in with her husband's family immediately, to help out around the house and get used to her new life. The legal age for marriage in Morocco is 18, but no matter how many times I brought this up and tried to argue that there's a reason for this law, the family would just bring up examples of women in the village who had married at 13 or at 14, and they're happy.

My (unconfirmed) interpretation of the situation was that the aunt had wanted this girl as her daughter-in-law from the beginning, and was afraid that if she were to finish high school, she would not be satisfied marrying one of her uneducated cousins. I think her aunt was also getting older and tired, and with only one daughter and a house full of boys, wanted an extra hand with the housework as soon as possible. Jessica had to decide whether to stand up to all the pressure from her aunt and her own family, finish her education and possibly not ever find a husband (since there definitely is a preference for uneducated, young wives), or marry her cousin, who she knows is a good man from a good family, where she would be treated well, not have too hard of an adjustment to make, and she would still see her own family all the time.

Marriage Musings Part III - Danielle

For the first year I knew her, I never knew that Danielle had ever been married. She never talked about it and I just assumed that she was another of the many unmarried women in their 30s in the village. Her story is that she married young, at I think 16, to a man she had never seen before the wedding. She wasn't married long before it became clear that he was an alcoholic and soon after, began to treat her poorly. She was faced with the choice of staying with him, even if he was a terrible husband, or leaving him and moving back in with her family in the village, knowing that as a divorcee, she may never get another marriage offer. She left and came back to the village. Now, at the age of 30, she's still unmarried, wants nothing more than to be married, but has no real way to go about meeting men, and no one wants to arrange a marriage for their son or brother or nephew with a woman who is clearly not "pure".

A misdialed number led to a conversation that led to a secretive text-message relationship with a man that went on for several months before they agreed to meet. She spent a weekend with him, lying to her family about going to visit an aunt or a friend somewhere, and then later I helped her meet him again by telling everyone she was going with me to Fes and then sending her off to his town instead. Even at the age of 30 and even though she was divorced, she still could not tell her family that she was going to see a man. After their second meeting, he told her that his mother disapproved of his marrying a divorcee (he was almost 40 but still couldn't stand up to his mother regarding whom to marry). But he continues to send her texts, urging her to come visit him. She has to decide whether having a secret lover who will never marry her is better or worse than having no one at all.

Marriage Musings Part II - Heather

Heather grew up in the village, the very beautiful daughter of a young single mother whose husband had abandoned her a few months after her daughter was born. At eighteen, she decided she was bored with village life and went to live with her aunt in one of the big cities, helping her aunt take care of the children and working occasionally at a call center. Living with an aunt busy with her own children, and having the excuse of work allowed her an enormous amount of freedom to hang out with friends and to start dating secretly. For five years, she dated a man that she was madly in love with, and they had secretly rented an apartment so they could spend time together out of sight of her aunt and cousins, and his four children from a previous marriage. Though he loved her and they appeared to have a wonderful relationship, he claimed he was never going to be able to marry her, because of complications with the children, and other problems I never really understood. Heather accepted this situation and turned down the many offers of marriage that came to her, because she loved her boyfriend.

This past year, however, came an offer from a man who had come several times before to ask for her hand, was a little older and had a well-established small business, and was extremely nice. Heather was faced with the choice of staying in a relationship that would have to stay secret, meaning years of lying to her aunt about where she was going and maybe never being able to have children herself, or leaving the man she loved to marry a man she didn't love but that she knew would be good to her, provide her (and their children) with a nice house and a comfortable life, and allow her to live a life in the open without lies or secrecy. She chose marriage and is now pregnant, but confesses that she still thinks about her old boyfriend all the time even though she knows she has a wonderful husband who loves her more than anything.

Marriage in Morocco - Musings, Part I

One of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers just got married to a Moroccan and held a completely traditional Berber wedding, which I attended. This got me thinking it's about time I wrote about marriage in this country, and not just a recounting of the different weddings I've been to and how many hours of dancing I participated in. I've been skirting around writing about this issue for two years, afraid of judging another culture's traditions before I fully understood them. And while I don't claim to understand everything even after two years, I don't think my understanding is going to deepen much in the next month, so I'm going to go ahead and write. There are a lot of things that turned me off about Morocco and Moroccans two years ago and that I have since learned to appreciate and even like, but at the end of the day, there has never been a moment when I wished that I was girl born in rural Morocco. The next couple of posts are going to be marriage stories about some of the girls I've gotten to know really well here and who have shared their "boy problems" with me (I've changed their names).

(I fully acknowledge that these girls' experiences are not universal across Morocco and may not even be typical, as cities are quickly evolving and becoming more and more "Western" every day, with more and more liberal values. But it's still hard to listen to my friends tell me these stories and ask for advice, when I have no idea what kind of advice to give.)

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's Apple Season in Midelt, the province so proud of its apples that it built this lovely fountain in the center of town:

The month of the year when everyone is employed full-time, and when literally every time I leave my house I come home laden with the sweetest, juiciest apples I've ever eaten, freshly picked from one of the village's orchards. I eat at least four or five apples a day and still acquire them much faster than I'll ever be able to consume them.

I find the apple trade here fascinating - it's well known that the richest people in the area (after the corrupt politicians) are the apple farmers, many of whom have orchards with thousands or tens of thousands of trees. An orchard right outside of my village has 45,000 trees and brings in over a million dollars a year in apple sales. Every morning during picking season, they send trucks out into the surrounding villages at 5am to load up hundreds of workers who then pick apples all day, taking precisely-timed breaks, and then drop them all off in the afternoon, "Grapes of Wrath" style. The richest farmers also build giant refrigerators to store the apples and sell them throughout the year as prices rise.

The perfect, happiest time to be spending my last month in Morocco.