Monthly Archives: December 2013

Dec. 26, 2013

Merry (day after) Christmas, everyone!

The spread out when baked to look like Christmas arrowheads. Whatever. I tried.

The spread out when baked to look like Christmas arrowheads. Whatever. I tried.

All this year I was in great fear of being flat out depressed on Christmas. The period of time from Halloween to New Year’s is my most favorite time of year – even though I’m a great fan of Easter and the Fourth of July during the appropriate time of year – and the thought of being away from family for the holidays is pretty heavy for me. There’s no substitute for me being able to hang out with family and enjoy a Christmas feast together, spend a morning opening presents, going on a Christmas Eve cross country ski outing.

As it turns out, my first Christmas in Morocco was pretty lovely. Not as lovely as being at home. But much better than I was expecting.

They may look like plain squares, but really they taste like Christmas.

They may look like plain squares, but really they taste like Christmas.

Since I have guilt issues about canceling class, I decided to stay in site and not travel too far to visit any other volunteers. My classes met on Christmas Eve and Christmas as normal, but were treated to cookies, writing letters to Santa (yay for practicing the verb “to want”), and tonight – a showing of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Jesus is considered to be a profit in Islam, so the story of his birth appears in the Koran (although I’ve been told he is born under a palm tree instead of in a stable) and most of my students had heard of Santa Claus (or Baba Noel) due to the French colonization influence here. They had fun making up ridiculous Christmas lists – what any 12 year old would do with a Ferrari is beyond me – and I received several real and virtual Christmas cards, which made me feel so welcome and accepted and at home in a place that is so far from my real home.

So that was class.

Most of this week, outside of class, of course, was spent on Skype with my family and making a day trip to one of the neighboring volunteers for Christmas brunch and a cutthroat game of Settlers of Catan.

Casserole and beignets!!!!

Casserole and beignets!!!!

Semi-early on Christmas morning, I hopped in a taxi, passed not only the goats in trees but also a herd of camels, to the west to visit one of my closest neighbors. A bunch of other volunteers had gathered there to celebrate the holidays, which we did with homemade beignets, egg breakfast casserole, and Christmas cookies. The nine of us also did a white elephant gift exchange – where you can steal and trade gifts until most people have what they wanted. I brought a knitted potholder to exchange and ended up with a bag of chocolate granola. That takes care of breakfast for the rest of the week!

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

Meanwhile, my family at home has swollen to include my mom’s brother and sister visiting for the holidays and I’ve been spending more time on Skype to feel like I’m not missing any of the Christmas activities. Being on the computer set in the middle of the kitchen watching dinner be prepared is almost the same as being there, right? Not quite, but it’s amazing to be this far away and still be able to see someone talking to you on a completely different continent.

While it would have been much better to be home, my Christmas was still quite nice and I’m excited for the next year!

Categories: Holidays, In site, Morocco | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Dec. 10, 2013 – My packing list, revisited

Depending on your outlook, packing for a trip can be exciting, because you get to look forward to the place you are going, or stress-inducing, because you’re not sure what to pack and if you’re forgetting something important.

If you’re packing up your life for two years in the Peace Corps, I’d say the whole experience leans more on the “stress” side of the equation. If you’re currently working on getting packed to come to Morocco, embrace the stress (because Peace Corps wouldn’t be Peace Corps without some nerves involved) but don’t let it overwhelm you. Even if you completely pack the wrong things, you can sort that out when you get to country. Except maybe don’t forget to bring a really warm jacket… It’s going to be cold when you get here.

Anyway, here is my packing list as posted on this blog last January. This is mostly what I brought and I thought it would be helpful to go through item by item and say whether I was glad I brought that thing. So here it goes. Bold items are things I’m really glad I brought, italicized are things I wish I had brought a different version of, strikethroughs are for things I wish I hadn’t wasted the space on.


  • hiking backpack – good for extended trips in places where there aren’t paved roads
  • carry-on rolling suitcase – if I could have revolutionized my packing process and not brought this bag (and also reducing the amount of stuff I brought) I would have
  • school-sized backpack – for short trips, carrying my computer, hauling notebooks around, buying things at souk
  • duffle bag – awesome for trainings/week-long trips that are too short for the big backpack


  • Columbia jacket with removable fleece lining (wearing on the plane) – I thought I might have been crazy for bringing this, but I’m so glad I did, especially for the fleece lining. It doesn’t look cute, but it kept me warm during training. Also, I haven’t worn it yet since I got to site, but I would have died in a tiny shivering ball of cold if I hadn’t had it those first few months. If you end up not needing a huge jacket, you can always send it home or just not wear it. But remember, there are sites here where your olive oil freezes in the winter.


  • hiking boots – very good for walking through mud
  • Mary Jane-style shoes (wearing on plane) – love them
  • hiking sandals – should have brought Chacos instead. My Keens get too many rocks stuck in them
  • sneakers – I brought running shoes, but since I don’t run in my site, I use them mostly for doing other exercises inside. If you like to work out, bring the shoes.
  • flip flops – great for showering in hostels, walking around town; if you are really strapped for space, you can easily get them here
  • everyday walking shoes – I should have picked a more comfortable pair, my own fault


  • pants (4 pairs, one worn on plane)
  • skirts (all below the knee) – should have brought longer skirts in general (to the ankle) – see previous post on clothing choices.
  • long sleeve shirts for layering (7) – these are lovely in the winter
  • short sleeve shirts (4) – good for wearing under something loose but long-sleeved in the summer
  • workout and pajama shirts (3) – bring your workout clothes!!!!!
  • button down shirts/blouses – these are nice because a lot of them are ¾ length sleeves and a bit cooler in the summer/can serve as something professional looking if needed
  • what are actually sun dresses but will serve to cover the butt for shirts that don’t already do so (4)
  • cardigans (6) – essential!!!
  • leggings (2) – brought one pair that are fully to the ankle and one pair that are to the knee – haven’t worn the to the knee pair yet.
  • Tights (2) – if it’s cold enough to wear tights, you might as well just wear leggins. Not that they take up that much space
  • long johns (2) – you will live in these during training
  • capris (2) – not long enough to be worn in my site
  • tank top (1) – wish I had brought more for either wearing inside the house during summer or for layering under a shirt with a too-low neckline
  • bathing suit (2) – hotels have pools here! I would also suggest bringing a set of t-shirt and shorts you can wear over your suit in case you’re in a place that isn’t strictly for tourists
  • workout capris (1) – too short to wear outside and too hot to wear inside
  • workout shorts (1) – inside exercising FTW!
  • fleece pullover
  • sports bras (2)
  • regular bras (3) – should have brought more, what was I thinking?!?!?
  • pajamas (3) – I have one pair of heavy fleece pajama pants, one pair of flannel and one pair of sleep shorts
  • underwear (20 pairs) – I firmly believe you can never have too many clean underwear options. Also I like to go for ridiculously long amounts of time without doing laundry
  • socks (hopefully enough and in an acceptable combination of short, tall and workout) – I don’t wear socks in the summer, love them in the winter, bring ones that will keep you warm
  • mittens – The problem isn’t so much being cold outside, it’s being cold inside
  • gloves – thin ones you can work or write in
  • fingerless gloves – love them!
  • warm hat – worn constantly in training, usually inside
  • scarves (2) – if you don’t have one you like at home, they are widely available here – nice big drapey fashion scarves that can double as blankets or pillows, I wouldn’t bother with a knitted winter scarf


  • sleeping bag – super great if you are cold or traveling
  • sleeping bag liner – like a sheet for your sleeping bag – during the summer I just travel with this if I’m visiting another volunteer
  • towel – mine is a large or extra large quick-dry thing that packs nicely
  • pillow case
  • pocket knives (2) – mine have screwdriver attachments on them, which is what I use them mostly for
  • silverware kit – this is a spoon/fork/knife combination that folds up, I haven’t really used it much, but I wouldn’t say it’s a complete waste
  • headlamp (2) – I love these for reading at night, midnight bathroom trips
  • flashlight
  • umbrella – hopelessly broke during training. It rained a ton. It kept me kind of dry. If you have space bring one, but don’t expect it to survive the winds.
  • Scissors – small to pack, good for art projects
  • markers – Crayola is my most favorite thing in the world
  • Nalgene bottle – no, I lied, this is my most favorite thing in the world. I bring it everywhere. In the summer I drink about 5 a day. Also, Moroccan custom is to share a water glass for the entire table, so if you don’t want to feel like you’re monopolizing the water, you can bring your own.
  • Sunglasses – there is a lot of sun in this country
  • extra pair of regular glasses – required by Peace Corps
  • earrings – nothing that you’re afraid of losing


  • 3 months of medication – you start getting your prescriptions from Peace Corps at the end of training
  • hair ties
  • deodorant – deodorant here is a bit strange, so if you’re in love with a particular kind, bring several sticks of it
  • shampoo (travel size) – shampoo and other toiletries are widely available here
  • conditioner (travel size)
  • lotion
  • toothpaste
  • toothbrushes – I did bring several extra toothbrushes with me
  • hairbrush
  • floss
  • razors – if you like a particular kind of razor, bring extras
  • nail clippers
  • tweezers
  • Diva cup – this is among the top things I am glad I brought with me, makes everything so so SO much easier. Practice with it for a cycle or two before you leave.
  • sewing kit

Computer stuff

  • laptop and necessary software disks – don’t forget your software disks. Your computer might crash here and you want to get it up and running
  • Nook and necessary charging cord – I love my Nook.
  • electrical outlet adapter/converter set – if it works in Europe, it works here
  • camera – preserve the memories!
  • batteries and recharger – I brought rechargeable batteries and a charger, it’s kind of nice to not have to find out how to dispose of batteries
  • DVD/CD case (including four workout DVDs) – workout programs you can do indoors – they save my sanity


Stuff for me

  • journal
  • sketchbook
  • pencil case
  • pictures of home – they’re a fun thing to show to your host family – just make sure the pictures don’t show you or your family wearing shorts/tanktops or drinking
  • knitting needles in case – if you like to knit, Moroccan ladies will be absolutely thrilled to see you doing something domestic. Crochet hooks have been easy for me to find here, but knitting needles have not been

Cultural outreach items

  • host family gifts (2 sets) – I brought keychains and some other Michigan-themed items.
  • Bananagrams – games of any kind can be hard to find here – Uno is one that Moroccans love and can be played without English

Important paperwork

  • Peace Corps papers
  • immunization records

There’s my list. I think I stuck basically to it, but there might be some things that got thrown in last minute.


My top six items

  • computer
  • Nook
  • Diva Cup
  • Nalgene bottle
  • camera
  • recipe book


Top 5 Items I Wish I Had Brought

  • external hard drive for exchanging movies and such
  • Chaco sandals
  • set of measuring cups/spoons
  • address book with addresses of family/friends
  • more long skirts




Categories: In site, Morocco, Pre-departure | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Dec. 4, 2013 What (not) to wear…

December is here and while I normally would be very excited about the coming of Christmas, since I’m here in Morocco, my excitement now is more directed to the arrival of January. That will be my one-year “in-country” mark (from the day I stepped off the plane at the Casablanca airport) and the coming of the newest stage or training group of volunteers! If any of you guys are reading this, mrHababikum (welcome!) almost!

In December last year, I was in the middle of my packing frenzy, trying to figure out what to take, what I would need, what kind of clothing would make my life easier. Sadly I found the Peace Corps-provided description to be somewhat lacking in most instances and misleading in others, so I thought a blog with pictures showing what I wear in my site most of the time might be useful to women who are coming to Morocco for whatever reason.

First, a couple notes.

Much of what you wear as a female PCV here is determined by how liberal or conservative your current location is. Some sites are more conservative than others. In my site, for example, I’m comfortable wearing shirts that expose my forearms. In other sites that would be a no-go.

Usually, you’ll also want your hair pulled back if it’s long. It doesn’t need to be covered. Unless you want to, of course.

This is how my training group dressed during CBT. It was cold. Notice the hats, scarves, coats - worn inside all day every day. Also, fingerless gloves or thin ones that you can still write or type with are great.

This is how my training group dressed during CBT. It was cold. Notice the hats, scarves, coats – worn inside all day every day. Also, fingerless gloves or thin ones that you can still write or type with are great.

You’ll be arriving in winter, which means it will be cold, but likely not the kind of cold you’re used to. Houses and buildings all over the country are built out of concrete block and don’t have heating/insulation, so it’s usually colder inside than it is outside. And by cold, I mean you see your breath inside. I’m not sorry I brought a down vest and long underwear with me. I also brought my ginormous Columbia winter coat with a removable fleece liner, which I pretty much lived in during training.

That being said, summer will eventually come and teach you a new meaning of the word “hot,” so don’t skimp on light but covering hot-weather clothes.

And, of course, as you can probably tell from the following pictures, fashion is not my forte. I’m less concerned with looking good as with being able to go outside without drawing more stares than needed.

On to the pictures!

This is how I walked outside today to run errands around town. It's cold and rainy today.

This is how I walked outside today to run errands around town. It’s cold and rainy today.

It’s cool here, even in the south, now and I’m wearing pants, a sweater and scarf with sandals.

In many sites, women will want to make sure their shirts cover their butts, at least to the length of where a mini-skirt would fall. As you can see, my shirt here doesn’t quite make that, but since I’m wearing fairly baggy pants, I’m not as concerned. If I’m wearing my jeans, which are much tighter, I wear something that covers my rear.

Sundresses are wonderful for covering up your rear. I brought several with me and use them quite a bit.

Sundresses are wonderful for covering up your rear. I brought several with me and use them quite a bit.

A good option for butt covering are either long shirts or a sundress/skirt that you can wear over a shirt. I went to the local thrift store and stocked up. Also, long cardigans are a good option.

Neck lines in my site are pretty high. Usually I try to go with less than a hand width of skin showing or I put on a scarf.

Winter, of course, is cold, so covering up is something you are compelled to do to keep from shivering. In the summer, however, my site is regularly over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with other sites getting even hotter. You still have to cover up.

My typical summer outfit: ankle-length skirt, light button down to cover my arms.

My typical summer outfit: ankle-length skirt, light button down to cover my arms.

For your own sanity, bring linen pants. They’re light and more bearable than jeans. Also, ankle-length skirts.

Peace Corps information somewhere told me that below the knee skirts would be acceptable here, so I brought several mid-shin skirts for summer wear.

Bad summer outfit: skirt shows my shins, upper arms are uncovered.

Bad summer outfit: skirt shows my shins, upper arms are uncovered.


In my site, it’s to the ankle or people will give you some raised eyebrows. If I could change anything about what I packed, it would have been to not bring skirts that aren’t long enough. Also more linen pants.

This is better - a cardigan to cover the arms, leggings under the skirt. Still to hot for summer though. Just buy a longer skirt.

This is better – a cardigan to cover the arms, leggings under the skirt. Still to hot for summer though. Just buy a longer skirt.

The same goes with capri-length pants. They’re just not quite long enough. Some volunteers, however, are able to wear them, so it really kind of depends on your site.

T-shirt and cargo pants. Maybe some people can get away with it, but I wouldn't bank on it.

T-shirt and cargo pants. Maybe some people can get away with it, but I wouldn’t bank on it.

As for shirts, short sleeves are usually too short. I have gone out before in short sleeves, but ended up feeling to self-concious. Even a looser unisex t-shirt is just about an inch too short in the arms for me.

As a remedy, one of my favorite summer clothing items is a super loose and light button-down shirt that I tend to throw on over whatever t-shirt I’m wearing.

Footwear is much less of a problem. Moroccans in my site wear sandals all the time. I brought a pair of hiking boots (which got most of their use in training when it was muddy all the time), a pair of casual Mary Jane-style Keens, a pair of walking shoes, running/sport shoes, and a pair of Keen sandals.

All the shoes I brought with me. Back row from left - walking shoes, running shoes, hiking boots, Keen sandals. Front - Keen casual shoes.

All the shoes I brought with me. Back row from left – walking shoes, running shoes, hiking boots, Keen sandals. Front – Keen casual shoes.

I’m pretty happy with my shoe choices, except for the Keen sandals. I was planning to be tramping around in the mountains somewhere and thought I would need more toe protection. However, I’m in a city and don’t do much hiking. I wish I had gone for a pair of more open Chacos instead, because the Keens tend to collect rocks when I’m walking, forcing me to stop every so often to empty them out. But that’s personal preference.

I also brought a pair of cheap flip flops, one of which I lost while traveling to site. I’ve replaced them with a pair of lovely plastic Moroccan house shoes, which are widely available here in any color you can imagine.

Mine have flowers.

Mine have flowers.

My final piece of footwear was a pair of tall MukLuk slippers which are nice for sleeping in in the winter when you need six blankets on your bed to keep warm at night.

Knowing what I know now, I brought too much clothing. You will start wearing the same clothes for a week at a time just because you won’t be able to do laundry as much as you want. Everyone else does it. You can get by with fewer sets of clothes. And if not, you can just go buy some at the local souk for cheaper than you could in the US.

So that covers every-day outside wear. You should also bring an assortment of tank tops and light shorts that you can lounge around your house in. I never had indoor clothes in the US, but I sure do now. I’m planning to go through my packing list sometime in the next week to sort out what I’m glad I brought and what I wish I had left behind.

Categories: In site, Morocco, Pre-departure | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Dec. 2, 2013

Would you like some more gravy on your couscous?

Why, yes, thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving from Johanna and Liz!

Happy Thanksgiving from Johanna and Liz!

While my heart may have been home in Michigan with my family, my stomach this past week was at the Peace Corps headquarters in Rabat (a palace of amazing things like grassy lawns and supplied toilet paper) along with over 200 other volunteers for a round of flu shots and Thanksgiving lunch/dinner.

Our country director and staff have once again proved their awesomeness in arranging a feast for us, both to make us feel a bit less homesick and to celebrate an American holiday in the company of other Americans. Complete with imported Butterball turkeys cooked in a neighborhood bread baking oven because no one on staff has ovens big enough to cook a whole turkey in. Heaven.

Everyone waiting in line.

Everyone waiting in line.

Our journey started Wednesday, with Liz, Leah, Dani and myself taking a combination of bus/train up to Marrakech and then on to Rabat where we crashed at a hotel after a 12-hour journey north. We certainly don’t have to travel the farthest to reach Rabat, but it’s a long day just the same.

Thanksgiving morning, there was no access to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is my morning-celebration method of choice, so we settled into a pastry shop and enjoyed strong coffee and croissants before taking the tram over to HQ.

Each volunteer was asked to contribute a dish, whether desserts, sides or beverages. I tried making biscuits (from scratch not from a can) which turned out relatively well, although would have been better minus the extra day of travel. Liz provided her signature lemon bars and it was a special challenge to not forget our various plastic Tupperware on any of the vehicles we found ourselves in.

In one door and out the other.

In one door and out the other.

Getting 200 people through a buffet line is no joke, but the logistical geniuses responsible for setting everything up made it work like a charm. After picking up plates and utensils, we got couscous and gravy (as a substitute for mashed potatoes), turkey, green beans, and a delicious concoction of caramelized onions and raisins. Then on to the second table, containing the various salad/savory foods brought by volunteers. Finally, outside under the giant Moroccan wedding tent were no less than three tables of desserts, each becoming more and more ladened as more volunteers arrived with their contributions.

Behind my dear friend Monika is a Moroccan wedding tent, which you will usually find set up in the middle of the street or an empty lot somewhere. They are all white on the outside and red and green on the inside.

Behind my dear friend Monika is a Moroccan wedding tent, which you will usually find set up in the middle of the street or an empty lot somewhere. They are all white on the outside and red and green on the inside.

Two solid hours of eating and chatting later, the food was pretty much gone (all 10+ turkeys!) and we were all ready for naps.

The carnage.

The carnage.

My table did a round of “what are you thankful for” while we ate. My thankful thing was for my Peace Corps service and the support of my family to do so, but could have been expanded to everything from “this food” to work finally picking up at my Dar Chabab.

This was our only chance during our service to see almost everyone serving in country in one place, and there were many people I didn’t recognize from the stage that arrived in country before us. It was also a chance to see friends I hadn’t seen since our In Service Training in June, and good times were had by all.

The next day we were all up at 7 a.m. for flu shots. I also had to get the final round of Hepatitis A, which hurt way more than the flu shot in my other arm. Ouch. After that, it was back on the train south, with an overnight stop in Marrakech, where, in honor of Black Friday, I did a bit of shopping and bought myself a new scarf and a beautiful woven blanket that is now adorning my bed.

We’re finally back home and I have spent the day lesson planning to make up for not having class all last week due to travel.

Perhaps the most significant event of the week was Liz organizing a “sauce off” competition between myself and our friend Ted, who also claims a certain culinary prowess. The gauntlet of a three-round sauce making competition has been thrown and while I feel fairly confident in two of the categories, I need to find a winning curry sauce recipe to perfect before January when everything will go down. The search begins…

Categories: Holidays, Morocco | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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