The contents of this website express personal opinions and do not reflect positions of the United States or the Peace Corps.

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My Fellow Humans….

It’s been just about one year since I set off on this adventure of living and working in Morocco.  While I’m sure the normal thing to do would be to write a post about all the things that have happened in the past year and reflect on my life and Morocco…. I’m just not in the mood for that right now (I promise pictures and stories coming soon).   Instead, I think I’ll chat a little bit about current events and the way we live with each other on this world of ours.

As I read the news today, I see that there have been protests around Northern Africa and the Middle East over a film produced in the United States.  Before I go any further I should remind you that “The contents of this website express personal opinions and do not reflect positions of the United States or the Peace Corps”.

I’m not going to make a right or wrong statement about the film (I haven’t seen it). I’m not going to make a right or wrong statement about the reaction in the Muslim world (though I will say I’m a little more sensitive to that reaction in that I currently live in the Muslim world).

What I’ve been thinking the last 15 hours or so is that, as humans, we really must start defining ourselves more by the things that make us similar than those that make us different. This isn’t a new idea, and I’m certainly not the first person to bring this to your attention, but it’s become a much more tangible part of my existence over the past year.

I spend much of my day-to-day life observing all the things that are so very different about living in Morocco. I look at Moroccans and still manage to see them as “others”. Now there are certainly things that I would change about this country; corruption, the education system, and women’s rights to name a few. But when I really look around at the individuals that I meet here in Rich, all I see are people just like you and me. My neighbor across the street tends to hang out by the local hannut (bo-de-ga) and reminds me, each time I see him, of my Uncle Paul (the man exudes kindness and caring). The student that swings by my house to explain his new idea for a car motor that runs off nothing but magnetic power is the Moroccan incarnation of my friend Dave in high school (a young man who would preach of the financial goldmine that could be the carbonated soup market). When I have had the pleasure to eat with a Moroccan mother I am constantly reminded of my friend’s mother Sara (the similarities between Jewish and Muslim mothers do not end with my overly full stomach).

So often in our everyday lives we use the essential (and necessary) tool of grouping people together in order to simplify situations. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “Suburban Soccer Mom” working in politics I’d be a wealthy man. We group people together because we lack the capacity to take in every individual we see and make a true evaluation. It’s just easier to see a Muslim and check the mental “Muslim” box in your head.

I don’t have a problem with grouping, it’s an important skill to use. But the next time you see that “Muslim”, do your best to see the ways that this “Muslim” is similar to you, not just different. Maybe he’s also a “Teacher” or a “Father”.

Yesterday, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer that served in Morocco from 1983-1985 was killed. His name was Christopher Stevens and he was the United States Ambassador to Libya. He was killed because some “Muslims” saw him as just another “American” standing behind a film made by some “Jews”.

I hope we “Humans” can do better than that in the future.

Working to balance the debt…

One truth that has become apparent to me these last 6 months in Rich is that I will inevitably get more out of this experience than the work I do for the people of Morocco can possibly make up for. I’ve been given the gift of time, quiet contemplation, travel, music, food, friends, and a beautiful view of sky and mountains that amazes me more with each sunset.

This isn’t to say that all these gifts don’t come at a price. Each day continues to be a struggle with language, culture, religion, travel, the double edged sword of quiet contemplation, sickness, and the constant underlying stress of never being completely comfortable in your surroundings. But these cost pale in comparison to the lessons learned and the growth gained.

It is the work that I try and accomplish that helps me think that maybe the people of America have made a good investment in sending me across the world to Africa. With that in mind I thought I would share a little bit of the work that I have been doing here in Morocco.

The most consistent job I have is that of English Teacher at the local Youth Center. I am now teaching 6 classes a week that range from beginner to intermediate high. While I’ve come to appreciate the routine that having scheduled work provides me this work doesn’t strike me as making enough real difference to calm my fears of inadequacy as a volunteer. I want something bigger.

With that in mind, at the end of last year, my sitemate and I sought funding for a local community park. We acquired the funds and set out to build a community gathering place for women and families with the hope of finishing the project by the end of March. A month and a half later and I’m sad to say the park is still in construction though we did manage to put some plants in the ground and build some benches that are being used by mostly children and women. With the help of the local government (never a given) the first phase of the project will be done in a couple of weeks. I did take some pictures of the planting day that you can see below.

Teaching and a park project along with helping Peace Corps train the new volunteers and some other small work with local English classes and clubs keep me fairly busy but not feeling completely satisfied.

As Daniel Burnham once said “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” (Quick book plug for The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson)

In the next few months I’m hoping to start working with a local women’s association that is looking to market and sell their couscous at local markets (this would be my first real experience helping the women of Rich), and I’m starting to work with another PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) to develop a Dar Chebab (Youth Center) curriculum that could be used by other volunteers to teach, not just English, but other important skills like technology, public speaking, and entrepreneurialism. The hope is that this curriculum could be used as a sort of “Youth Development in Morocco for Dummies” and help volunteers Develop Youth rather than just teach English.

I know it has been a long while between posts on this blog but please take the time to comment and tell me how you are doing. I’ll be looking to post again soon with a little more about how my life is going and give a glimpse into my mindset but for now I hope this finds you happy and working towards a life goal.

-T

P.S. The internet isn’t working well enough to let me load pics right now but I’ll try tomorrow.

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A day in the life of a PCV…

One Day – Two Takes

The Pain – What am I doing here!?:

It’s 8:15 and those damn kids are already yelling… it’s too early, I’m going back to sleep….

It’s 9:15 and I have to be at the Dar Chebab…. despite my best efforts, it’s time to get up.  The stupid water is sooooo cold that I skip the facewash and just throw on the same dirty clothes I wore yesterday… Man the damn coffee is taking forever… Why can’t they just have coffee machines in this country!?

I’m late because I can’t walk down the street without 5 people stopping me to have the same meaningless conversation everyday!  And all this to go play stupid games with these kids (how is this youth development?).  After counting down the minutes till I’m free, I go and sit in the cafe by myself and hopefully get a chance to just read…. but of course, someone makes their way over to my table (just as I was starting to relax) and wants to talk about god knows what… I can hardly understand this language and I’ve been here for 5 months, what the hell is wrong with me!?

I think to myself that I just have wait it out and he’ll go back to reading his paper and I’ll get some peace and quiet.  I’m about to head home when he invites me to lunch….. oye, today of all days… but it’s my job to integrate so I grudgingly go with him.  At least I’ll get a chance to relax tonight…

It’s the evening and that means I’m seconds away from starting dinner and watching a movie….. Then a BOOOM comes from my doorway.  Moroccans don’t knock, they shake the foundations of your house, via the door.  I want to ignore them but I know they saw my light on… and so it goes that I’m in for an hour and a half of chatting.  They’ll have to leave for evening prayer I think to myself…..

It’s been another long day and I’m tired of all this integration crap… I just want to watch a movie and take a hot shower….

The Joy – Wow, I live in Morocco!:

It’s 8:15am when my cell phone starts to chime.  My eyes open to a astoundingly blue sky and the sounds of children playing competing with the birds for the right to welcome me to a new day.  A fresh cup of coffee and This American Life get me going enough to make some fresh potatoes and eggs for a delightful breakfast on the roof.  As I dine my body warms itself in the sun of a new day.

At 10:00am it’s off to the Dar Chebab.  Each day a couple new people greet me in the street, I’m getting the hang of this!  They know my name (Elias) and they know I’m headed to the Dar Chebab.  They will ask about Samir (my sitemate) and my family and tell me that I will be getting a cold if I continue to wear my shirt with my sleeves rolled up.  I thank them for their wisdom and continue on my way.  At the Dar Chebab I play some ping pong or chess and hopefully break through the barrier of another kid that hasn’t quite warmed to me…. hopefully they’ll come to the next English class but at the very least I’ve shown them good sportsmanship today…..they need a role model….

A trip to the cafe after the Dar Chebab means time to lesson plan for evening classes and organize my life.  I read with the sun in the sky and enjoy the occasional interruption from the local shoe shine boys or a friend just shouting to say hi.  It’s a beautiful day and if you turn your head just right you can catch a glimpse of the gardens that were built here during French colonization.

A friend stops by and we talk about racism and corruption in Morocco vs. America.  I learn that corruption in Morocco is better today than it was 10 years ago and I hear the hope in his voice as he talks about the next generation of leaders having honor.  It’s a good talk and afterwards we sit together as he reads the paper and I read my book.  So often in the US we don’t take the time to sit with each other…..  When it’s time for lunch he insists I join him and his family.  I’ve eaten there before but this is the first time that all the women of the house have chosen to eat at the same table… I laugh to myself as I think of a scene from What About Bob?…. Baby steps to gender equality….

That evening a knock at the door brings my tudor, Charrouf, and a couple of his teacher friends.  I invite them in for some tea and as I’ve been reading the Q’uran a bit, I have some questions.  We talk about Islam for an hour or so sipping our tea during which I have convinced Charrouf to read the book I have just quoted, Half the Sky, a book about the oppression of women around the world (Thanks to Kristin for the book!)…. Baby steps Bob, Baby Steps……

We look at the time my friends have missed the evening prayer at Mosque so they ask if they can pray in my home.  I sit quietly in my salon as I watch the 3 men do a ritual that they do 5 times a day, but to me is still an amazing cultural experience.  After prayer, Anis (the science teacher) sings a couple of verses from the Q’uran and we all say good night…..

It’s an amazing day and one that I could have nowhere else in world.

The Truth:

The truth is that most days are somewhere in the middle.  A little joy and a little pain, the bitter with the sweet.  I’ve had some of the most rewarding days of my life in Morocco.   I’ve also had some of the worst.   On the good days, I’ll do my best to thrive.  On the bad, I’ll do my best to survive.  Through it all, I’m determined to learn and come out the other side of Peace Corps a better person.

Some Pictures of a hike, a trip to the Sahara, my house, my town, and some other stuff….

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Home(ish) for the Holidays

It’s been nearly a month since my last post and I’m pleased to say that it is not due to a lack of stories to tell or experiences to share.

I’ve been trying for some time to write a blog post about a typical day in the Peace Corps but I continue to find that, for now, a typical day is anything but.  I’m sure I’ll settle in to a nice routine some day.  I’ll be begging to get out of this tiny little town in the middle of nowhere… but I count myself lucky today.

The most “typical” thing I do is grab a cup of coffee at the café.  I use this time to practice language (if I’m with someone else), read a good book, organize my chaotic life, or plan a lesson for my next English Class.

Just another day at the Cafe

Each new week brings its own exciting adventures.  A trip to Outerbate to visit a couple volunteers 3 hours away, a taxi ride to Midelt for a training about AIDS, or a nice Christmas Party and some friends up for New Years Eve.   Through all this, I’m doing my best to learn a new language, integrate into a new city, make new friends, find a house to rent, and maybe get a little time to watch a good movie or play the guitar.

The good news is that my language is progressing (ever so slowly), I’ve just moved into my own place (pictures coming next time), I tend to know at least 3-4 people everytime I take a walk, and the guitar hasn’t been totally neglected.

This Christmas and New Years were my first spent away from my family, but I’m happy to say that I was able to spend time with new friends and that home didn’t feel nearly as far away as I thought it would.

In lieu of writing a ridiculously long post about my past month I’ll just tell one story about The Night Before Christmas….

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

Not a creature could see, not even a mouse…

The stockings were hung on the wall with Duct Tape

And the Tree on the wall was still in good shape.

The fuses had blown, and no light could be found

Chicken Dinner in the electric oven…. My smile had frowned

So, quick as a flash went my Moroccan Friend and I


To fix the fuse box……but the box was too high!

Up, up and Away, On my shoulders he did get

But the fuses in the house were pieces of shit.

We cut up a cord for some new copper wire

And hoped our repair would not start a fire

Flipping the switch, our fingers were crossed

But no light could be found and our Christmas was lost…

When out on the door there arose such a cladder…

The Landlord and electrician to see what was the matter!

Christmas was saved, electricity was there…

But we still got woken up by the damn call to prayer!

The Christmas Crew!

New Years was blast too!  Below are a ton of pictures from both the Holidays and just walking around Rich. I hope you like them and I hope you all had a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Much Love, Taylor

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Looking inward…

Trying to write a blog post about Peace Corps is an interesting thing.  I keep thinking that I should be explaining the day to day life that I lead and tell you all about Turkish Toilets, the garden project I’m working on, the café that I sit at each day, and the general lack of insulation that Moroccan houses have.  But when it comes time to put all this information down on paper it seems lacking.  The biggest moments in my day to day life are internal.

Integrating into a completely new culture forces you to seriously self reflect.  At home I often feel defined by those around me.  My family and friends know me.  They know my faults and my strengths, my shortcomings and my successes.  None of that matters here.  I am defined daily by each new person that I meet…. It’s a dangerous place to be if you don’t have a solid definition of self!

And so, as I walk through the town that will be my home for the next two years, I find myself thinking about how I am viewed by others and, more importantly, how I view myself.  It’s my own little crisis of identity.

Travel seems to limit your natural (or learned) inclinations to judge, be quick to anger, be close-minded, or make any assumptions about anything, ever!  It’s as though the world acts as a counterbalance against all the things you thought you knew, and that includes much of what you knew about yourself.

So what has come of all this self reflection?

For starters, I’m pleased to say that I like where I’m at (always a good first step).  There is a lot for me to learn but I feel like I’m starting from a pretty good base (Thanks Mom, Dad, Family, and Friends for that!).  Over the next two years I’m hoping to get an idea of what motivates me and how I can chase it.  I’m looking forward to working with others in new ways.  I’m interested in learning if I like living outside the US for an extended period of time, away from friends and family.  I guess the whole point is that this experience is allowing me to grow as a person, and that’s always a good thing.

I’d like to end this post with some great, inspiring quote about how great Peace Corps is and such but the quote that has stuck with me this week is from the book I’m reading, The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov (tip-o-the-hat to Danny for the rec.)  It’s just great imagery and is a good reminder, during this holiday season, of how a simple life can be grand.

“When the May thunderstorms came, and water rushed past the blurred windows and through the gateway, threatening to inundate the lovers’ last refuge, they would light the stove and bake potatoes. Steam poured off the potatoes, the charred potato skins made their fingers black.  There was laughter in the basement, and after the rain the trees in the garden would shed broken twigs and clusters of white flowers.”

I hope this post finds you well, living the life you seek, with laughter, love, and charred potato skins that make your fingers black.

P.S. Extra special thanks to the Kirkpatricks, Reingardts, and Drays for the Christmas Cards!  My first mail in Morocco!

Rich, Peace Corps, and Looking Forward

I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer now!  Up to this point I have been in training but I have now sworn to uphold the constitution and such and am a full fledged volunteer.  Our group swearing in even made the national news!

At the swearing in

Rich

I’ve now been in my new site for a little over a week and I’m glad to say that I really like it.  It’s actually a lot like the Moroccan version of Fort Collins.  It’s about an hour north of the nearest big city, Errichidia, and is just a little ways into the Atlas Mountains.  The first thing you notice about Rich is the incredible mountain views all around the city.

It is a truly beautiful city!  It is slightly bigger than I would have imagined heading into the Peace Corps but that also means that there is a lot of work to be done.  The youth at the Dar Chebab (Youth Center) are pretty engaged and want to learn and you get the impression that if they just had a few more opportunities that they would really thrive.  I’ll get a chance to see if that is the case first hand in the coming two years.  Also, I am now a resident here and have my very own mailing address:

Peace Corp Volunteer

Taylor (Elias) Dunn

BP 106

Rich 52400

Province De Midelt

Morocco, Africa

If you take the time to send me a letter I promise to do the same!

My site mate, Galen, has been in Rich for a little over a year and a half and he is a great resource and has done some really great projects.  In the coming weeks I will be taking over about half of his classes at the Dar Chebab and we will also be working on a project to build a couple of parks/gardens around town.  Women in Rich don’t have much opportunity to gather outside of the home, but public gardens are an exception and we hope that by bringing a couple of new gardens to some neighborhoods that it will encourage more activity in the areas.

It's been a little cold here recently.... I'm staying in the pink one.


Peace Corps

I am really amazed at the amount of new things that I do every day.  I wish I could write about every experience that I have here.  Random walks to the bus station turn into expeditions through ancient Kasbahs.  Visiting a family for an hour can turn into an adventure that leads to three Moroccans and myself pushing an out-of-gas motorcycle/truck down the highway at 3:oo in the morning.  A fishing trip turns out to be a trip to a beautiful lake for a day of swimming and sun.  It’s really unbelievable how much I have had the opportunity to experience in such a short time.

Just another day walking a few km to the bus station

Of course, I am not just here to travel and have adventures.  I am also here to make a small difference in the lives of others and spread the goodwill of the American people to the country of Morocco.  In this respect, I think the Peace Corps is worth its weight in gold.  I have had conversations about economic policy, Israel, Egypt, democracy, terrorism, family, and friends.  Each conversation brings people closer to understanding each other.  There are people in this country that think all Americans have maids and don’t know how to do anything worthwhile.  I’m constantly struck by how much international relations have been accomplished without me having done any actual work to this point.  WHY ARE WE NOT FUNDING THIS MORE?!?!

Looking Forward

For the next couple of months I will be working my hardest to learn the language.  It’s a bit of a wakeup call to be dropped into a city where you don’t really know anyone and have to rely on your own language skills to get by.  I have pretty much failed at this point.  I feel like my language is not going well right now and that I will need to make a serious effort to get where I need to be.

I also will be house hunting for the next couple weeks in hopes that I can find a place of my own before Christmas.  While living with a family is great way to integrate, I am in desperate need of my own house with my own bathroom and my own cooking.  It’s just really hard to get into any sort of a routine when you rely on someone else for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Our Thanksgiving Turkey!

Let me know if you like the slideshow better than the other way.  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, please let me know how you are doing, if not in the comments then send an email my way!

That’s all for now but a little quote on the way out…

“ I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Henry David Thoreau

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L3id Kibir (Warning – This post contains graphic pictures of animals being killed)

The Islamic holiday of L3id Kibir is a little combination of Thanksgiving, the 4th of July, and Christmas….

Thanksgiving, because it’s a time of feast and each family has their own sheep (though they actually butcher the sheep here).

4th of July, because they all sit out on the roof and BBQ said sheep.

And Christmas, it’s an exciting time and you can feel the build up to L3id.  It’s the biggest holiday there is in Islam.  Kids get out of school, parents get work off, it’s a time of celebration and family.

My first L3id started early as it was my job to help get the sheep and wheel the poor guy back to the house.  It wasn’t a long trip, but it felt a little like the Green Mile and as we walked back I got the impression that our sheep knew what was coming.

Off we go!

For our L3id we also had to purchase a goat because my host grandmother was coming and she has some health issues that won’t allow here to eat the fatty meat of the lamb.

So the time finally came to sacrifice and we all headed up to the roof to do the job.  It was fairly quick and I wouldn’t say there was much suffering, but it was still a bit of a shock for a guy that’s used to buying his meat at King Soopers.

Next came the butchering as Rachid, Brahim, and I went at the sheep and goat.  We skinned and gutted them both while the women cleaned the meat and other “edible” parts.  When all was done we left the two animals to dry out a bit and took a stroll to the local café to celebrate a job well done.

Master butcher at work....

Following the café we got a chance to BBQ up some tasty kebabs and eat a little sheep and goat sandwiches.  Overall, the meat was pretty good but I can’t say the same for the stomach, intestines, brains, and other “edibles”.  The rest of the week, families slowly work their way through all the meat that they have and ignore any recommendations for a balanced diet. It’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner!  If you’re lucky you might get some fruit after the meat!

Making some Kebabs... Quite Good!

Overall, I really enjoyed my first L3id.  Everyone is in a really good mood and you have to respect a culture that makes you do sacrifice yourself.  Somehow I don’t see it catching on in the US.

CBT (Community Based Training) is now finished and I am writing this post from my new site.  I’ll have much more to say about that soon, but wanted to get this post up and hopefully I will tell you all about my site soon.  All is well here and I’m loving the fact that I am in the place I will be for the next two years, Inshallah.  I’m hoping to get my own house within the next month and that should allow me to have more consistent internet access and a more consistent schedule.

I hope all is well in the states and as always, please let me know what you are up to.

Oh, and I hope you have/had a very happy Thanksgiving!

 

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