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"Chance encounters are what keep us going." -Murakami

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NEW BLOG ADDRESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!




Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Muskil on the Mountains

Note to Readers: I am in the process of changing my blog to wordpress. No more of this Blogspot shenanigans. So just beware, and it should be switched over in the next few weeks, and you will find a link when it is finished!

The season is winter here. Temperatures have started dipping, the sunlight has reached an all time low for the year. We have had a little bit of rain, a couple of nasty weeks of weather, and probably enough rain.

However, the mountains near my town sit at about 10,500 and 11,000 ft respectively. As of right now, they only have a dusting of snow. From what I understand, this is the way the mountains usually look in November or in May. However, this is January. The heart of winter should be upon us. Instead, unseasonably warm temperatures have resulted in only rain in the surrounding areas, and just a little bit of snow at high elevations.

Yay for me though. Winter gives me the blues, and so these warm temperatures have kind of kept my sanity. When we have a sunny day, it is absolutely gorgeous, and the temperature gets up to around 50-55 Fahrenheit.

Talking to the local people and hearing the stories from other volunteers, last winter was excruciatingly brutal. Temperatures were bitter cold, and the amount of snow and precipitation we had was the most in about 30 years. It seems that this year is the opposite, and I hear about these 5 year cycles, where you have one or two "normal" years, and one "wet" year, and the other two or three years are "dry."

This region, and most of Morocco, have been in a drought over the past 20 years. Recently there has been a period of normalcy, but still, not enough to make up for the lack of precipitation over the long period of time.

The lack of snow on the nearby mountains worries me, and worries the people in the villages. This region relies heavily on Apple production, so much in fact that it is a export monoculture (other than wheat and corn for self). The snow on the mountains provides water into the dry months of summer, and allows for trees to maintain growth, and apples for ripen as they should. Apples also tend to be water intensive crops. Also, people in some villages have periods of dry wells and streams in the summer. In fact, most streams are dry as you get further away from their source.

So hopefully by now you can realize what problems this region might face in the summer. I worry about this, and worry that the lack of below freezing weather and snow on the mountains will crush the income generation of the region, and leave some villages without water for months on end during the summer.

Recently, over the past 30 years or so, this muskil (problem in Darija) has become worse due to two reasons, and potentially three. I will lay out these reasons, and let you come to your own decisions on if you choose to believe them.

The first reason is development. This is a good reason. As the region I live became accessible to farming, to consumerism, and more developed, the amount of resources used per person has increased. People are striving to have a better life, and build better communities for their families. You certainly cannot slight people for this. The people everywhere in developing countries deserve all of this.

The second reason is population growth. This region has doubled in population over the past 10 years. It is due to the development, and increase in living standards (health care, electricity, potable water). You also take the increase in resource use per person, and this exacerbates the problem even more when it comes to specifically water use. More farmers growing more apples equals more water needed and used. It also adds to more environmental degradation, in terms of pollution and wood use, the two major issues environmentally speaking.

The final reason is the sensitive, debatable issue. This issue is climate change. Now, before you naysayers get all uptight, just listen. Trends, whether it is just a long term cycle loop, or actual global climate change, it has hurt this country, and this region of the country. On the issue of global climate change, there are winners and losers in terms of countries. Morocco is repeatedly a loser, as the already dry regions become dryer, and the sahara/sahel regions encroach on the land here, and desertification becomes and issue. Because once an area loses its green (usually what little green it has) there is no way to return.

These trends in Morocco over the past thirty years have the potential to affect everyone. Morocco is the breadbasket of Europe, and a large majority of Europes food imports come from Morocco. So it becomes not only Morocco's problem, but Europe's problem as well. Whether you want to buy into the fact that this is due to global warming or just another cycle, that is your choice. BUT, looking at the data, Morocco has been a loser over the past 30 years or so in terms of lack of precipitation in the rainy season and increased temperatures.

I encourage you to read the book "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, who is an utmost expert on the issue of environmental degradation and cultures. I would call it Environmental Anthropology. Diamond puts all the evidence out there for the ways civlizations both now and in the past has collapsed. Probably one of the best books on this topic I have ever read.

Much Love, and Hope that you are doing well! Happy New Year and Happy Belated Holidays for those of you that were celebrating!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It Gets Serious Now

Note to Readers:
Up until now, I tended to blog under the umbrella of the subject "cultural points." Today this changes, to an extent. I am going to begin focusing on work, some controversial issues, and trying to be more reflective and critical.

Second Note to Readers:
My apologies for not posting as frequently as I had hoped. I am attempting to change this nasty neglectfulness regarding my blog, and my outlet to you all.

Now on with the rest.

Lakefront Village

I just returned home today after traveling all day on a combination of transits, cars, taxis, and buses. The only type of transit (available in Morocco) that I was lacking was a train. I am sitting here writing, armed with a warm cup of Lipton Green Tea, and a bowl of some sort of Red Beans and Rice that my loving parents shipped (thank you!). I give you this set up, not because it is important to the story, but because in my 3 hours back from my trip, I have not yet had enough time to reflect on my previous five days away. So I may prolong and procrastinate in the entry, as my thoughts change, and as my fingers go in and out of being numb from the cold in my house.

This past week, I spent traveling, in order to work/help out on another volunteer's project. This project was a event based around health and wellness. Specifically, an association from El Jadida offered to come to this PCV's village and give up to 500 free diabetes tests, along with free eye exams. If you needed glasses, you could get them at the cheap rate of 100 DHs (13 USDs). I must also add that while the El Jadida association was heading this up, there were 2 other outside associations that combined forces.

So in all, here are the partners for this event.
- Three Associations outside of the village
- One Association within the village
- The Department of Water and Forests (In Name only)
- Three more than willing PCVs
- One PCV organizing all of the above into a great event

So myself, and 2 other PCV's traveled to my buddy's village (4 of us in all) to assist in this wonderful event. Our initial plan was to connect on the theme of wellness and healthy living for a community that was motivated and identified this as a need and want. We would conduct tooth brushing demonstrations, and also do a sort of recommended daily guidance of sugar. We were armed with toothbrushes, ready to shoot them out into the mouths of those willing to accept. We also had plans to play a little soccer, and potentially Frisbee.

We met up on Tuesday, so we had a few days to plan the event well, get ready for it all, and relax a little. About the setting: My buddy's village lies on the shores of the second biggest lake in Morocco, in the middle of the wheat belt. It is still warm in his site (like spring or fall-like), and so this provided a break from the cold, and a new part of the country to see and experience.

It is a rural village (as most environment PCV's are in rural locations), and there are no cafes and people hang out in various spots throughout the village just "shootin' the shit." I must add here that I was in an area of the country where ONLY Darija was spoken. This meant I was unable to communicate well with townspeople. BUT, this changed, and I realized I could use my context cues and non-verbals along with the verbals I knew to get by just fine. It was great getting to learn/practice Darija, and I feel like I learned a good amount.

So during this time we hung out and relaxed, and got all our work done. The dynamic we had as a group was nice, as we were all very relaxed, and it seemed as if nothing stressed us out on the surface. This created an atmosphere allowing for success. On a personal note, it also allowed for a break from some difficult times recently, and was very fulfilling.

The event itself went phenomenally, with about 200 people being tested for diabetes, and 27 people ordering glasses to be picked up at a later date. The group of us PCV's spent the day helping out, getting things when needed, and doing a tooth brushing demonstration, along with playing soccer with some of the boys (we wanted to have a girls game, but decided to not approach that idea.)

In addition to the actual event, we tried to use this event to publicize Peace Corps within the local area. My buddy (sorry I am not mentioning names) is the first volunteer in his area, and so Peace Corps is not well known. He has made some big strides since being there, and this was another sort of jump. EVERYONE of importance in the area showed up for the day. The gendarmes were there for security and order (including the boss), the Kaid was there, the Commune President as well, and the Water and Forest counterpart of my buddy. They were great, and while seeing what Peace Corps is all about, they were able to see other Americans, and have a slightly different perspective. (Side Note: My friend has long hair, as do I... I now think everyone in the village will think all American Men in their 20's has long hair)

Seeing how motivated the association within the village and in the Dept. of Water and Forests made me happy for my fellow PCV. They love him in their village, and rightfully so, as he has already done so much for them.

As the day went on, I was able to do some networking, and hopefully this sort of testing can be done in my community. I had some wonderful conversations, and one of the doctors who was volunteering himself came over, and the two of us conversed for a bit. At one point in the conversation we were thanking each other, and when he told me, "thank you," he added that "It makes me happy and is so great of you to come and help the people of my country."

It is comments like that that make my day, and I think I almost teared up. With the recent hard times, those sorts of comments re-energize me, and get me re-focused on what I am doing here.

I leave you all with this quote, by one of my favorite authors, that I have been pondering lately:

"But who can say what's best? That's why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives." -Haruki Murakami (From "Norwegian Wood")

Much Love, and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Snow-Capped Mountains...

Winter solitude--
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
-Matsuo Basho

Ah yes, the return of winter. I came across this poem (a haiku, really) the other day. I enjoy it immensely.

For those of my readers that are unaware, I live at an elevation of 6200 ft... or 1950 meters, whichever you prefer to use. Many people think that "Oh yeah, Morocco is that desert country." When you live at elevation, at this latitude, you still get snow. The other day we got what I will call "the first snow on the mountain."

We have generally had gorgeous weather recently. It gets down near freezing at night, and during the day up to 60F (15 C). As long as the sun is out and beating on you, you feel quite warm. The other day this all changed (just for a brief couple of days).

We had a day of strong wind, a day of changing weather. I could tell (due to the wind) that it was going to get cloudy, and I knew this meant potentially getting rain or snow. It rained off and on for the better part of two days. The clouds were low enough that I knew once they cleared that there was a good chance of snow on the nearby mountain-top, which sits about 10,500 feet. I definitely was in anticipation, because the top of this mountain is brown and lacking in any color. When I first came to my village in May, I found snow-capped mountains. Absolutely striking in color and appearance.

Sure enough, when I awoke the next morning, I went outside (after bundling up) and checked it out. White tops and sun reflecting. I dislike cold (absolutely hate cold weather), but I figure if it is cold, we should have some snow to glance at.

One thing I am not exited for is trying to stay warm. As of right now, I am still wood-stove-less. I need to get on that. It is not super cold in my house yet, probably hovers around 55 degrees. Yes, I know that seems cold, but I just layer and sleep under numerous blankets and a sleeping-bag. However, the temperature in my house will continue to drop, and become unbearable.

In terms of the wood I will be using, I will be burning a combination of cedar and oak wood. This wood is likely harvested illegally, and it tells the story of the people here in this area, and country. Wood is necessary, but the regulation of wood-harvesting is difficult. The burning of wood, in addition to the lack of re-planting, and rapid population growth in the past 10 years (doubling) has contributed to the biggest environmental issue here... deforestation. In reality, I am now a part of this problem. But I need to stay warm, and this is the cheapest and safest way to stay warm in the coming winter. It is one of the moral issues that I face dealing with the environment here (the other being personal trash disposal...more later).

But, back to the return of winter!

It is cold here now, and while very serene and nice to have a fire going (unable to do this yet), it is going to be a long couple of months. People here tend to layer up and stay inside, so work becomes slow, and sometimes my road in/out of town becomes blocked with snow. It should be super-interesting, and eventually, I will post pictures.

With all of this said, I am glad to see the picturesque snow return to my village.

Much love to my readers (and anyone who reads this!) and hope your Thanksgiving was fantastic.


Monday, November 23, 2009

In Memory of So-Youn Kim

This past week (a week ago today), Peace Corps Morocco lost one of our fantastic volunteers unexpectedly. Her name was So-Youn Kim, and she was a Youth Development Volunteer. She was 23, and while I certainly will not go into details, it was an unexpected illness.

While I certainly did not know her as well as some of my colleagues, we are a tight knit family, and I knew her as she was my post-buddy (a sort of pen-pals sort of thing we do here with fellow PCV's) and I met her just once, at a volunteer gathering.

Her kindness and her intensity were awesome. She did some amazing work in her year here as a volunteer, not just teaching English to youth, but also working with a local pottery co-op. I recently learned that she was teaching German (she was fluent in that as well.) It is just a testament of her wanting to help and assist the people where she lived. It is so sad losing someone that was just an amazing person, and so young at 23. This past Saturday we held a memorial service in the Rabat, and many people came to this to remember her and give our respects.

Here is an article about So-Youn, some of her fantastic work, and some memories via other blogs from PCVs. While I knew So-Youn a little, I knew many of her close friends well, and knowing how many lives she touched just within her year of being here makes it that much harder to lose such a vibrant, caring, an fantastic person.

Her Family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers.

Marrakech Madness

A few weeks ago I went to Marrakesh for a training. I was able to see Hilary Clinton, as well as stop a would-be pickpocket. Those you already know about. Now it is time to just tell you about the experience that is the tourist mecca of Morocco, the city called Marrakesh.

The way that I will break this down is based on the five senses. That seems a good way to do it, as the city is a sensual overload (well, the touristy Medina portion).

Why chose sight to discuss first? I see it fitting as you see, well before you are able to do anything else (unless you have super other senses, or happen to be visually impaired).

I will first start with the bus station. A crazy mess of people running around, trying to get you to come over and talk, buses coming and going all over the country. Seeing traffic and all the different people. Different in the way they dress, more liberally dressed women, more cosmopolitan both male and female. Somewhat European dress I suppose is the best way to describe it. Groups of individuals congregated talking or playing a game of chess. Old men and women beggars standing and sitting waiting for people to drop a Dirham or two.

The Medina is up next. Old Marrakesh... Pulling up on the city bus at the Jemaa El Fna (mosque marking the area and entrance to the Medina), you see buses of tourists, and off in the distance a mass quantity of lights. This is the entrance to the Medina, the square of all squares. Chances are you have seen this in pictures before. From a distance, you can see the stalls, and see the people, so many of them just crawling around. As you get closer still you make out the different kinds of people. Snake charmers, Henna artists, fortune tellers, balloon sellers, and of course, the food stalls.

You want snails, they are here for you. Juices... step right up. Orange or Grapefruit??? Maybe you are looking to buy fresh spices for your meal making endeavor later. Paprika, curry, red pepper, cumin, salt, saffron (fake and real), rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, ginger, etc. etc. You want some dried fruits, step right up and see the dates, apricots, raisins, prunes. If none of that suits your fancy you can see all the other fine fresh foods.

Salads, Soups, Potatoes, Chicken, Beef, Lamb, Goat. Heads, legs, breasts, brain, eyes, stomach, liver, hearts, testicles?. Organs, organs, organs. You want it, you got it. Just take a seat on one of the many benches that fill the square and have your pick.

Stall owners wave to you and try to get you to come over. Sometimes you even see them reach out to grab you.

As that was just the outside of the medina, I still must discuss the inside. You enter and immediately see covered tight streets, with all of the shops. Carpets, wood, shoes, djellabas, metals, fruits, incense, leather. So many and so many more. It is a maze, and if you like to follow a map, good luck. My favorite thing to do was to just wander around aimlessly, seeing whatever was around. I saw a fight as well, but not a fist-fight. People here seem to be too cowardly for that, and just yell at each other, over seemingly little things.

You get off the bus into the city, and you smell the fumes of cars and buses. I am not used to this, and I have come to enjoy my fairly pure mountain air. Lots of cars unregulated means lots of nasty fumes.

You get to the medina after being on a tightly packed bus, with the normal smell of the people around, which may or may not be okay. You instantly smell the food from far away. As you creep closer it becomes more intense. Until finally, you are in the mix. You want to everything, as smell and taste go hand in hand. But there is never enough time for it, and you have to be choosy as to not fill up your stomach. Smells in the square are intense, all sorts of the above mentioned foods being grilled and cooked. Smelling so appetizing.

Inside the Medina, not so many smells, but some new smells every once in a while. Smells of butcher shops and grilling foods. Smells of urine and musty old things. Carpet shops sometimes smell of old, as they hold onto carpets for what seems to be forever. After a while you kind of get used to the smells, unless something crazy strikes your senses. Like incense or something of that nature.

So intimately related to smell, I must discuss it now. I suppose I have to discuss the things I ate, the things I did. I ate soup. It was a traditional Harira, a fantastic tomato based soup with small pasta, chick peas, lentils, and some beef? maybe it was goat or sheep. I am awful at distinguishing between those three. I enjoyed the snails. They were cooked in this broth, and it was so fantastic and not overpoweringly seafood-like. I recommend them, and they are cheap too. I drank a glass of OJ, for only 3DH it was worth it, and even though there was a lot of sugar in it, it was tasty. I also drank tea, which has a special assortment of spices in it. It was not at all good, and I had trouble drinking it all. I also got offered a date... the fruit... and gladly accepted, telling the man I would taste it, but I wasn't buying any. Also the taste of cigarettes, as people were smoking, and I would have one as well, just because. It was nasty, as it usually is for me. By the way, the brand, called Marquise, is awful, and tastes and feels like you are burning your mouth and throat. Mmm.

I ate gelato, wow was that good. I miss ice cream being readily available for me.

This was another sense that was overloaded quickly. I am used to my quiet mountain town. In the city, you get honking, and traffic, and yelling, and talking, and new languages. People come up to you and hassle you. OH THE HASSLING. I kind of liked it though. Guys that would come up to you and offer you drugs, or offer you a place to stay. This is just the bus station (it really is not that bad though I promise). Then you add trying to get around where your language is not really spoken, you feel a bit off. But, luckily somebody understood me, and helped me out (thank you bus attendant guy).

You get to the Medina, and the low-sound of a mass quantity of people talking just fills and pollutes the air. Maybe pollute is too strong of a word. I find it somewhat appealing, but it pollutes the silence. Either way, people abound. I hear all sorts of things, French, Spanish, German, English, Arabic. People wanting me to come to eat their food, me to stay at their place, me to buy their goods, or go to their shops, buy the drugs (I have said this a lot, and it probably has to do with my appearance (Dad, I know, I should really get a hair cut), but yes, I get offered drugs a fair bit.) Potentially these are all people who are out to get a penny, make money and take advantage of me with their words.

Street food vendors telling me to come eat at their place, and then calling me names or other nasty things when I refuse. I got called a "bed-wetter." I found that humorous that he chose to use those words. Women have it hard, I felt somewhat lucky. Women get harassed in all sorts of ways with the words people speak. It is a sad fact of life in the Medina, and can be quite annoying or frustrating.

I luck out in Morocco, and I always meet people that speak the sounds I know, the languages I speak. I was called over by the snake-charmers. Rather than refusing (more on this later) I accepted, and came and spoke instantly in my Berber Language. Luckily, they were from near where I live, and we spoke, and they wanted me to sit down. I was listening to the snake-charming music with a two rattlesnakes and a cobra not more than five feet away, having a conversation with these folks about life here in Morocco, and what I am doing here. While I am going into sights again, I could see the tourists walking by and just looking at me as if to say "what the heck is that white-dude with long hair doing over there." I enjoyed that.

I had a similar conversation with some carpet shop and trinket owners. One group was super-welcoming. Another carpet shop owner, after telling him I was just looking, and not planning to buy, got upset and asked me to leave. Oh well, he was a jerk.

I did not touch a lot of things. I got grabbed by some folks and tried to get to buy a few things in stores and eat some food. Generally I dislike this, and it crosses any line. I touched some of the wool carpets, and the food I was eating, and the hot bowls of soup and cold glasses of juice. That really is about all that is worth discussing with touch.

The Medina was crazy, and certainly is not for everyone. But I absolutely loved it. The Medina was super-intense, probably one of the most sensually overloading things I have experienced. OH yeah, and by the way, I act super-different, or probably "react" is the way to put it. I walk around like I know where I am going, what I am doing, and I speak the language, almost never speaking in English. I wear sunglasses a lot in the day, and walk around with a cigarette in my ear, and have no backpack on (not safe to do really). When people try to talk to me, I welcome it, give them my quick attention, and then they stop. They know that I am not worried or am uncomfortable with this. I go into a number of shops, and instantly tell owners I live here and will not be buying anything and will just look. They say "okay." and just leave me be to look around without trying to get me to buy buy buy. If I want to know a price, I ask, and often times I always say "too much, I am not a tourist, I live here." This helps a bunch in the bargaining process. Often times knowing the language gets me better initial prices.

I enjoy Marrakech, and even though I had a sad pick-pocketing experience, and there is abundant hassling and craziness in the Medina, it is so intense and if you want intensity, at least for a day, do it up. But my advice to you is go with the flow and not get too irritated at the people there (yes sometimes they go too far.) They are just doing what they do. If you want a laid-back medina experience, go to Fez, it is also intense, but no where near Marrakech.

Much Love!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the List for Hillary Clinton

Not writing for a span of a month does not mean that times were boring. In fact, times were busy, and tiring. I recently got over being sick... what I sum up to being a day that my body decided I was able to get sick and fully recover without missing anything big. I had been fighting it for about a week I think, but whatever. That is not important so much anymore. What IS important is that I was able to do a whole lot of things, including meeting (kind of) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It just so happened that my training coincided with Sec. Clinton's visit for the "Forum of the Future" conference. This conference had representatives from all the G-8 countries as well as many Middle East and North African Countries, and was co-sponsored by the governments of Morocco and The United States.

Rumors about Sec. Clinton's visit abounded in the weeks preceding my recent training in Marrakesh. I had heard via a PCV who had heard via our training manager that they were trying to co-ordinate a visit from the Secretary or vice-versa, that we would go to see her. But as all rumor mills go, you take it with a grain of salt...potentially a bag of salt.

When I got to training, I found out from our Country Director that yes indeed, it was in the works, and would be Monday or Tuesday. Sec. Clinton arrived in Morocco from Israel/Palestine on Sunday, and would be leaving for Egypt on Wednesday.

The schedule changed about 15 times I believe, and what originally was supposed to be Monday, turned into Tuesday. We found out Tuesday morning that we were going to visit the Forum, and meet with Sec. Clinton. Everything that followed was kind of surreal, and a taste of what truly being "on the list" means. By the way, I have been on the list before, but never for one of the most important figures in the political world.

All 70 of us PCVs and staff loaded onto two buses, and headed off to the forum. When we got close, we saw the super increase in security, we saw the golf course surrounding the hotel, and then the hotel itself. It was an absolutely gorgeous place (naturally, right?...) We sat on the buses for a few minutes, while a group photo was finished of many of the attendees. When we got off the buses, we were met by US Embassy security staff, and we stood there for a few. They were super-kind, and it was nice to chat it up in kind of a "we both are serving our country" sort of way. We were then ushered into the hotel grounds, where we were put into two lines as to be orderly. We also had a security person checking our names off of the list provided by our Country Director (we all had passports as well).

We were led inside the conference center, where we passed all of these big shots dresses in suits and various business formal wear (think middle east business wear.) We went down inside this conference room, and there we sat and waited. While we were waiting a number of things happened:

1. Sec. Clinton's schedule changed five more times.
2. The new US Ambassador to Morocco spoke (We had met him on Sunday at our hotel)
3. A few PCV's spoke (including the now famous Muriel Johnson See CNN ARTICLE )
4. Then we got the procedures for when Hillary Clinton comes through the doors

Secretary Clinton came in, said a few words ( Transcript found HERE ) and then shook some hands of PCVs sitting on the rows, as well as the US Embassy staff and guests. The Secretary then bustled out the door, onto her next lunch or other meeting. We then waited about 45 minutes for her to leave the conference center, as no one was aloud to go near the motorcade (tight tight security eh?). BUT, this gave us a chance to once again talk with US Embassy staff about their jobs, and see what it is like for them to do what they do so so well. Also, they were interested to hear about what we did, and it was kind of humorous to think that some of them have no idea about the life we live as Peace Corps Volunteers.

So this is the story. Now my reaction to it all. Even while writing this now, It all seems pretty surreal. Initially I really did not think I would be impressed. But instead, I was floored with all the security, and the craziness of it all. I felt very privileged not only to have been a guest for a Embassy meet and greet (150 people i think) with the Secretary of State Clinton, but also that I had met and talked to the Ambassador to Morocco not just once, but twice in the span of three days.

I think what I am trying to say is that I felt special (wow that is cheesy eh?), but not in that stuck up "I am on the list" sort of way (yeah I know, it is the title of this post right.) INSTEAD, I felt that sort of camaraderie about being somewhere and serving your country, and that there are so many of us here just in Morocco doing that, where it be within Embassy posts, PCVs, Fullbrighters, USAID people, and so many others that I probably forgot or do not even know.

Sometimes, just going through the day to day basics of being in the same place, I tend to forget how privileged I am to be actually representing my country. This is not to say I take it for granted. I feel lucky everyday to be able to be in this amazing place, doing this amazing work, and meeting and learning some amazing things. There are just times that because of what I am doing here I get to meet some pretty amazing people, and it is a sort of "reality check." Hopefully you understand what I mean by this all.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Caught Red-Handed

So it has been a good month since I posted anything, and a few things have happened since then. I have been swamped with work, and had a training this past week in Marrakesh. While I certainly will write about other topics, I wanted to address this topic first. Mainly because it is super-fresh in my mind.

I like to think that people are generally good people. But, sometimes, I know that there are crappy people that look to harass you or try to swindle you out of your money or things.

The past week I spent in Marrakesh for a training and was fortunate to meet up and hang out and catch up with other volunteers from around Morocco. It was also a chance for me to experience a new place, probably the most touristy in all of Morocco.

I had heard from others who had gone previously that I would not like Marrakesh, due to the harassment of guides, vendors, and random street folks. Kind of sad, but I would expect that in a place so touristy.

While all of those things were present, I absolutely enjoyed the city, and all of the various people watching that came along with it. Sure, I got harassed, was asked to leave a store because I was just "looking" and not "buying", and was called a "bed-wetter" (I am still wondering how he knew!!! hehe) when I would not let a guy help us find somewhere. In a future post I will tell you of my adventures in this touristy place, but in fact, I do thoroughly enjoy 'Kech, just as much as I enjoy Fes (for different reasons of course). But I have a story that trumps it all, and needs to be shared.

One night, I was making my way to the train station, to see what times trains were leaving the next day. I was carrying a backpack, and had a plastic bag and a plant in one hand (right hand), and the other hand (left hand) was free. I happened to be at a place called Jemaa El Fna. If you have never heard of such a place, you have certainly seen pictures. This is the place where all the food vendors set up shop, selling everything from OJ, to dates, to snails, to brains, to soup. It is a hustle and bustle of a place, probably the most touristy in Morocco, and the place happened to be full of people. It was a holiday, the Green March, celebrating Morocco's march into the Western Sahara region.

Having finished indulging on the food and people watching, I was waiting at the nearby bus hub for bus number 8, that would take me to the train station. The bus area was full of people. So when my bus pulled up, everyone crowded around the one door. Moroccans have difficulties in waiting their turn and lining up, and this situation was no different. While I hate doing it, I had no choice but to join them, and to kind of push my way towards the door. The only problem was that my hand was full, and I did not want to drop anything.

As I started to push to the door, I thought to myself "this is the perfect time to be pickpocketed, your hands are full and you are in a crowd with almost no space between people." So being kind of vigilant, I recalled a little boy unzipping my bag a few months back. It just so happened that during this time, a little boy (maybe 5) was fidgeting with my backpack. I kept giving him looks and tried to separate distance. But then I saw he was messing with a book, and I thought, "little boy, you can take my book if you wish."

At the same time I was paying attention to this boy, the group of us were still pushing for the door. The next set of events still are kind of blurry (at least the first few), but it got crazy.

I turned my head around, and swore that I felt something rubbing against my pocket. I looked down, and did not really see anything. I looked back up, and instantly realized that in fact I DID see something going on underneath my shirt that was hanging over my left pocket. I looked down again, and this time saw fidgeting in my pocket, and felt it. I instantly (kind of instinctively) looked up to see the guy next to me peering down towards my pocket, and his arm extended the same direction. I knew instantly this guy was in my pocket. (Remember, this is all within a few seconds)

I, like many of you, dislike when someone reaches into my pocket without invitation. So I then pulled his arm out. I did not let go, and was able to get an arm bar so he could not quickly bolt. I held on, and once again, instinctively, began yelling as loud as I could "Thief", in Moroccan Arabic. About as instantly as I yelled this two things happened.

The first thing was that the guy gave me my money back. He had in his hand my change purse. If you know my change purse, it is a cute Winnie the Pooh purse. In it, I had about 7 DH in change. Not much, the equivalent of about .90 Cents. His reaction in my opinion was priceless and ludicrous. He just handed it back, as if to say "You caught me, you win, here is your money back." I continued to hold onto his arm and then feel my pocket to make sure I had my camera and cell phone, both of which were in that same pocket.

The second thing that happened almost instantly after I started yelling, was that everyone stepped back, and basically created a circle around me and the thief. This allowed the thief no where to bolt through, and after I finally realized I had all of my belongings, I let go of his arm. The circle aloud me to face the guy, where I got in his face and shamed him in front of all the people. He then kind of walked off, and I think took his jacket off so he looked different.

I was glad my hand was full, because I really think I would have punched and or tackled him and held him to the ground until the police came. But I realized that would not have been smart, as he may have been working with other people, or he may have had a knife. But yes, I really wanted to hit him, and decided just to get on the bus instead.

I got on the bus, and talked to a guy who told me my knowledge of Moroccan Arabic saved me. After telling him I spoke no Darija, I spoke a berber language, he asked if I was a PCV. He told me I did the right thing (which I knew I did). The adrenaline rush continued for a few minutes, and eventually it wore off.

Afterward, I have replayed the situation over and over. I know I did everything right, and for that I am proud of myself for reacting so fast the way that I did. It is never comfortable to have that happen, but I know that hopefully in these situations I am prepared.

Lastly, if you do ever travel into places that are swarming with tourists, be on guard. I have had too many friends be pick-pocketed or held-up at knife-point in places like Rome or Paris.