Monthly Archives: March 2014

March 28, 2014

Every day spent in a different country or culture is a learning opportunity. Of course, many of those opportunities are small – a new word, a new connection made between your own life and the lives of those in your community, that eating sheep brain isn’t as gross as you might think. Small things. The big, soul-touching realizations that come, I find are more rare, which might be a good thing, since having your perspective suddenly change can be a big deal.

I had such an experience yesterday.

In one of my English classes, in order to generate discussion topics as well as exposing my students to ideas from around the world, I occasionally will show a TED Talk using my computer. The other day, I came across a TED Talk by a Muslim American man who had created a line of superheroes called The 99, each hero based on one of the attributes of God, things like wisdom, light, generosity. To paraphrase his words in his talk, the goal was to attach positive ideals to the image of Islam in a world where the West is bombarded by negative media representations of one of the world’s largest religious groups.

So in my very Westernized, Christianized background (where images of God and Jesus are a commonplace and expected part of faith, thanks Michelangelo), all that registered to me after viewing the talk was that:

A) my students might be interested in hearing about what someone who shares their faith in America is doing, and

B) superheroes are cool.

Of course I knew about previous conflict over Islam being depicted in political cartoons and the anger that caused. I knew images are not part of Islam. But for whatever reason, on some level, it didn’t register that any image of God, even one that is purported to be carrying a positive message, would be unacceptable to them. As one of my students put it, it is “a line which we should not cross.”

And for the remainder of class, my students managed to change that deeply ingrained idea that “a picture is just a picture” that has been lodged in my head. And they did it by speaking their faith and voicing their opinions calmly, yet strongly, taking the time to teach me something I didn’t know I hadn’t understood. While I’m not sure I fully understand even now or am able to put into words correctly, their view is that God is God and human beings should not attempt to portray Him visually in any media. It is, you might say, a “deal breaker,” a point of faith they are not interested in allowing any leeway to.

Even now posting this, having realized my perspective was wrong, that I should have thought more carefully about how my students would perceive this idea, I have fear in my heart that the reaction from people reading this who knew better than me will be “No kidding, Johanna, how could you be so stupid to not realize.” And maybe I am stupid, but I hope hereafter I am less so.

The point of this blog is to share some of what I have learned here in Morocco, Peace Corps’ Third Goal – telling Americans about your host country. And while pictures of souk are fun, and talking about eating sheep brains has a sort of exotic flair to it, these aren’t the things that will really help Americans understand Moroccans. To understand them, particularly their young people, we should be willing to at least attempt to understand their faith, which governs so many aspects of culture here. We should listen to the young people of Morocco, and of the entire Middle East. They are navigating a world that consistently presents them with conflict and judgment, and their faith is one of the tools they have to do so.

And as they just showed me, if we are willing to listen, they are willing to talk.

Categories: In site, Morocco | Tags: | 2 Comments

March 27, 2014

Today is March 27, which seems like it will pass as any routine Thursday should – tutoring, prepping our Life Skills program with my counterpart, class.

The big deal, of course, is that one year ago today I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, having endured roughly two-and-a-half months of language and technical training. That day there were 95 of us, most dressed in traditional Moroccan djellabas, and if anyone else’s thoughts mirrored my own, scared out of our minds knowing we would be leaving the confines safety of training the next day for our respective sites.

Today we are a few less people – although I’m not sure of what our exact tally is, having seen our stage-mates depart from us due to medical and personal reasons – however as evidenced by the #95strong on our Facebook statuses our original group has stayed in our minds. We have figured ourselves out in this new country, or hopefully (as in my case) are on our way to figuring ourselves out – what is our role, how do we best benefit the communities in which we serve, what’s the best approximation of Mexican food we can come up with without spending 4 hours preparing everything?

We’re also getting ready to see what is known as the “Super Stage” exit the country. The training group who arrived in 2012 came into the country with over 100 members and they became our gurus in the ways of Peace Corps, ready with advice and suggestions as we settled in. To watch them leave, will I think, be an even bigger milestone than today.

As it is, there seems to be no time for celebrations of any sort. I’m working my way through a particularly nasty cold that had me canceling class and remaining glued to the couch all yesterday. Today at least the achiness has stopped, so I’m up and about trying my hardest to not blow my nose in public, which is a taboo action here.

Next weekend the new volunteers will arrive and the next day my stage has to make the trek north to Rabat for our Mid Service Training, which I’m assuming will contain a celebration or two. Immediately upon our return, we have another week of spring camp and then just a few weeks left until my big “vacation” in which I will go to Europe and see my family.

Maybe more than having been here for over a year, the idea that sticks out to me is that from here on out I have less than a year left of my service. Pressure is on to make things awesome.


Categories: In site, Morocco, Swearing In | Tags: | Leave a comment

March 13, 2014

Since my last update, life has been somewhat consumed by the planning and implementation of spring camp. Moroccan students get two weeks of spring break, one week in February and one in April. Both weeks are prime time for organizing camp experience in our Dar Chababs and the planning of those camps is an experience, especially if you’ve never taken the lead on organizing one before.


Most camps across the country are day camps, where students come for about four hours a day to participate in English classes and other activities. Our camp was scheduled for five days, running 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with our activities and English classes centering around health.

A group explains their poster.

A group explains their poster.

Our camp was titled “T– Dar Chabab Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Spring English Language Camp,” which in hindsight seems kind of an extravagant amount of words. “A healthy mind in a healthy body” is actually an expression in Arabic, so the kids related to it.

Learning the parts of the body.

Learning the parts of the body.

Knowing most of my regular Dar Chabab students are in middle and high school, I structured the camp for those age groups. Throughout the week, myself, two other American volunteers (yay for Liz and Leah!!!!), three Moroccan adults, and representatives from two associations collectively provided four and a half hours of English classes, 2 hours of diabetes education, 2 hours of AIDS education and activities, 4 hours worth of sports activities, and one really awesome talent show in which one of the entries was “a series of pushups.”

Trust me, it was impressive.

Trust me, it was impressive.


Not to mention songs and games thrown in at random intervals.

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes...

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes…



While overall the camp was successful, we did run up against some issues that will hopefully be corrected in our next camp (April is coming up fast).

The first problem was our sign up process. I started a sign up sheet and we quickly surpassed our limit of 47 people, after which point I had to begin turning people away. Day 1 of camp begins and only 26 people show up. By the end of camp we had 20. That’s a nice-sized group to do activities with, but not when you consider what the original number was supposed to be. The solution? Parent permission forms and a small fee.

Problem two: while most of the Moroccans working with us at the camp were great, talented, skilled individuals, some of them had never given a presentation before, meaning their workshops were a bit disorganized. Prior to the April camp, I’m hoping to do a training for those who will be working with us to get everyone on the same page regarding the camp’s goals and procedures.

Despite those two issues, however, I thought we put on a pretty good camp.

We had art activities. Sports. Dancing. Joke telling. All the good stuff.

What do you call a fish with no eyes (Is)?

What do you call a fish with no eyes (Is)?


The association at one of the local schools organized a field hockey/soccer game for the boys. They were awesome!

The association at one of the local schools organized a field hockey/soccer game for the boys. They were awesome!


The middle school boys singing during the talent show.

The middle school boys singing during the talent show.

Now. Deep breath. On to April.

Categories: Camp, In site, Morocco | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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