Time marches right along, ever so precise in her movements – an infinite and immeasurable precision that only the quickest of quartz oscillators can even dream of emulating.
My vacillating sensitivities notwithstanding, I hail from an electrical engineering background (you can’t spell geek without “double-E”), where the academia evil-powers-that-be forced us tuition-paying minions to constant renditions and reiterations of SPICE simulations and MATLAB analyses.
Oh, the shudder.
Every decimal point was of utmost significance.
This wasn’t middle school geometry, where π was equal to 3.14 – oh, how delightfully endearing!
It felt (or should I say my feelings toward it felt?) as though these desperate attempts at enumerating the universe - of attaching numbers, neat mantras like “percent efficiency” or “percent error” - was our way of making sense of it, our way of imbuing worth to something.
How beautiful was it that a complex circuit could be condensed to a mere resistor, capacitor, and inductor, right?
Everything could be encaptured by a few numbers.
Here in the countryside of Morocco, precision is unable to make a name for itself and tends to get overshadowed by the larger ebb and flow of months and seasons.
Ask a neighbor when he/she does or will do something, and you will get a response of “morning”, “afternoon”, or “night”.
Eight o’clock is the same as nine o’clock, which really is more or less equal to ten o’clock.
Time is an amorphous and unstructured entity here.
If a public transit driver says he will leave at “juj, juj uns, inshallah” [2, 2:30, Allah willing], it often translates as 3:15.
If a bus claims to be leaving at 9:00, a departure at 9:50 is a much surer bet.
Unlike in the U.S., where there is a frenetic scurry to “be on time” for that teeth-whitening appointment, here there is a palpable “let it be”, “if it happens, it happens” attitude.
Time isn’t considered gold or money. Family, relationships, and Allah are.
If a farmer, on his way to his fields, gets “sidetracked” for an hour or two by having tea, bread, and conversation with a neighbor, no big deal.
If someone shows up late at a meeting, no big deal.
In fact, if no one shows up at a meeting, also no big deal.
It can always be done again another day or another week, inshallah.
As an American of the engineering persuasion, this adaptation to the contrast in the flow of life and importance attached to time has been a slow and measured one.
It is easily one of the “top five” (there I go again with the numbers) sources of frustration amongst Peace Corps volunteers in Morocco.
But mostly, we adjust and adapt.
Or at the very least, we come to some approximate point of equilibration between modest acceptance and grudging divergence of opinion.
We see the beauty of not being enslaved to time.
We let the cards fall where they may.
And if they happen to fall along the lines of a “Full House”, how wonderful.
lHamdulillah – thank Allah.
But if it perchance happens to be an “offsuit” kind of day, no worries: tomorrow will be a better day.
So the 16th of “shr tnaš” [month 12 – all Moroccans that I have met call the months by their numbers and not by their names] marked the passing of nine months in-country.
For the 52 PCVs that remain out of an initial 60 PCTs from March, we have spent a little over six months in our permanent sites, after 10 weeks of “CBT” (community-based training) language and culture learning during “PST” (pre-service training).
After three months in our permanent sites, we had our “PPST” (post-pre-service-training…yes, the acronyms could drive even a Moroccan taxi driver bonkers) in Azrou, which I mentioned earlier.
Now, after six months in site, we recently had our five-day long “IST” (in-service-training) in Mehdiya, next to the beach.
Thanks to (or because of) the incidents of Kate Puzey, about six hours of federally-mandated sexual assault awareness and training were held, wherein it was explicitly said, in clear and unambiguous terms, that a victim will never be blamed and that no one ever deserves or “asks” to be assaulted. It was an evident change of pace from the trainings held in PST, which seemed to consist mostly of videos of women painfully trying to rationalize their horrific experiences by how much alcohol they drank or how little of the culture they comprehended.
Workshops on grant-writing and funding sources, as well as how to teach English (ESL), were held.
We also had another LPI (language proficiency interview), in which I scored “Advanced Low”, an improvement from “Intermediate High” from before and a sign that I am still progressing in my language, despite having no tutor in site.
Yet in spite of this rubber stamp of “Advanced Low”, I still feel severely limited by language, by hampered communication, frustrated by the inability to freely express my thoughts, ideas, and prejudices – not only desiring to express them, but having them understood, and understanding others’ as well. I will expound upon this in a later post, inshallah…
There was also some fun to be had: my friend Jim hosted a spelling bee competition, in which I competed, losing out in the 3rd round or so after misspelling “camouflage”. The winner, Sara, won after correctly spelling “hippopotamus” and “aggraded”.
An idea first brainstormed by a PCV who has since COS’ed (close of service), Jim hopes to spearhead a Moroccan spelling bee competition – most likely starting out as a regional ordeal, but one day, inshallah, becoming national.
The hiatus from the unforgiving cold of the High Atlas was refreshing and much welcomed.On my way up to Mehdiya, I spent a day in Marrakesh, where I saw the Jardin Majorelle, by far the most beautiful garden I have laid eyes on.
A little bit of arboreal paradise on Earth.
And now on to Mehdiya:
A seemingly abandoned, run-down building in front of our hotel.
The Atlantic coast.
Owing to the rich history of Morocco, many old kasbahs [fortified castles] can still be seen in many towns. Here is the one in Mehdiya.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, one truly gets his or her money’s worth out of “cultural immersion.” Becoming submerged under the fold of a different culture; assimilating; integrating; sharing thoughts, ideas, conversations, and laughs with the locals – these are often the most enjoyable and strongest sticking points of a PCV’s service.
From the largest ever survey of RPCVs, in an open form question, RPCVs cited the appreciation they developed of other cultures (69 percent) and the friendships they formed both in the communities they served (43 percent) and with other RPCVs (43 percent) as the top things they most valued from their experience.
Like a plastic neuron that transforms its dendritic branches according to its environment, a PCV also worms his or her way towards plasticity. Peace Corps service – in whatever form it may take – changes one’s view about self, about the world, about humanity and its commonalities, about what America means and what it means to be an American.
My views on Islam - a religion that most Americans do not understand, or even wish to understand– have dramatically shifted.
It’s easy to discriminate against and demonize a sect of society with which one has no familiarity, but the Muslims that I have come to known and live with are among the kindest, warmest, and most hospitable people I have met.
Beyond broad-reaching changes in “worldview”, there is also a subtler process of desensitization, or adapting to the norm.
Things that might give a typical American or tourist some shock – or at the least, some emotional reaction – have simply faded into the norm.
Like the sight of an older man enclothed with a woolen, ankle-length robe [a djellaba] and white cloth wrapped tightly around the head, donning simple, no-frills, black sunglasses and squinting at his five-year old Nokia cell phone.
Or the sight of women garbed with heavy square woolen blankets draped over their shoulders, signifying their clanship [here in Ait Haddidou, these are black, purple, and blue vertical stripes; 80km away, in Ait Azza, these are white and black], intermittently checking the fastening of their headscarves.
The sight of women hauling heaps of hay or alfafa taller than themselves – or their baby – on their backs.
The sight of a six year old girl whose hair and face have clearly not been washed for weeks on end.
The sight of holes – in clothes, in shoes, in socks.
The sight of a young boy riding a donkey, imploring it to move with a string of sounds that would make any linguist go off in a fit of academic wonderment.
The sight of dried vertical streaks of mud along walls inside homes, reminders of the precarious nature of houses made from bamboo, dirt, and hay.
All of these sights have become part of my consciousness.
And so it was, that when I visited Rabat after the end of IST training – a mere hour or so by train – I found myself fronted with a little bit of culture shock.
I had forgotten what it was like to live in a cosmopolitan city.
With all of the cars! So many cars, many of them driven by women…
And all of the baby strollers! How luxuriant…
And more than half of the women without headscarves! Such beautiful hair…
And such fashionable (and expensive) clothes! I felt severely underdressed…
And the cleanliness, the well-kept streets! No empty yogurt containers or plastic bags littering the road…
Rabat is, as referenced, a very modern cosmopolitan city. It has been recently renovated with a brand-new “Tram-Way” system, a far-flung cry from the public “Transit” van in my area, where you are lucky if at least one of your fellow passengers doesn’t vomit during the rickety and tortuous drive, you have enough leg room that you don’t have to contort yourself or have your knees constantly banged up, or that you even have a seat to sit on…
We visited the Peace Corps Morocco office. Such decadent amenities…
We also visited the Chellah, the old Roman ruins of Rabat. It was beautiful.
Veni, vidi, vici, yes?
That’s all, folks. Thanks for reading. Leave a comment if that floats your boat, or ship, or vessel, or yacht.
In : peace corps
Tags: language travel ist morocco marrakesh mehdia
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