Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy 50th Anniversary Peace Corps

A little bit of peace corps propoganda that I received today. It's only fitting that while we celebrate 50 years of service...I am celebrating what (a year ago) was the unthinkable...1 whole year in Morocco and still going strong. And the best is still to come

From: Message From The Director
Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2011 2:11 PM
To: *PC Global
Subject: Commemorating 50 Years of Service

March 1, 2011

TO: Peace Corps Global
FROM: Aaron S. Williams, Director
SUBJECT: Commemorating 50 Years of Service

Please join me today in recognizing and celebrating the legacy of 50 years of Peace Corps service. And, let me take this opportunity to thank you for your outstanding commitment to helping create a better understanding of Americans among the people whom our Volunteers serve.

We are commemorating our 50th anniversary throughout 2011 and hope that each and every one of you will consider participating in a community service project to honor the work of our Volunteers and the vision of President Kennedy and our founding Director, Sargent Shriver.

Sadly, Mr. Shriver is not with us to celebrate our 50th anniversary. Nevertheless, his legacy of idealism will live on in the work of current and future Peace Corps Volunteers. It is truly amazing to consider how many staff and Volunteers have been inspired by his life and commitment to helping others and promoting world peace and friendship.

Since 1961, over 200,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in 139 host countries. In our 50th year, over 8,600 Americans, ranging in age from 21 to 86 and from all 50 states, are serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in 77 countries. Currently, there are more Americans serving as Peace Corps Volunteers than any point in the last 40 years. Our Volunteers are grassroots ambassadors for the United States, and they represent America's values, generosity, and hope.

Although much has changed since 1961, our mission has not changed. The agency was established to promote world peace and friendship through our three simple, but monumental, goals, and we have been committed to our mission for five decades. Today’s Volunteers face many of the same challenges and opportunities President Kennedy and our first Director Sargent Shriver envisioned. Poverty, disease, famine, food security, and illiteracy are issues that still challenge the countries where we serve, and it remains our responsibility to support our Volunteers as they respond to those challenges.

In this, our 50th anniversary year, we honor our past and continue to advance our mission of world peace and friendship through education and engagement. Thank you for being an integral part in helping the Peace Corps continue the important work it has been privileged to do for the last 50 years. Together with our Volunteers, we continue to carry the torch of President Kennedy's dream.

President Obama recognized the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and honored the men and women who have served as Volunteers by issuing a presidential proclamation.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lots of things to think about...

Alot has taken place in the past three weeks, since I have last blogged, but the one that has been at the forefront of my (and many PCVs in Morocco) mind is the effect that recent protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries will have on Moroccan citizens. A month ago, I found myself excited to hear about the protests that thousand of people in the Middle East and North Africa were having regarding seeming government disregard for high unemployment rates (even among the highly educated), corruption, and dictatorship. As people risked their lives to peacefully and forcibly demand change, I was inspired. However, I have come to realize that what I have seen in other countries, through the little bits of news that I can see and understand from Arabic news reports that are televised in cafes in major cities, that if the Moroccan people also stand up against the corruption (which I see first hand on a weekly basis) or the lack of jobs for the increasing population of educated young adults...then my time in this wonderful country could be limited.

No country is perfect and coming to Morocco has helped me see the U.S. through a new lense, however I am shocked and conflicted by the fact that my support for citizen-led protests against the government (sidenote: more information on the type of government that Morocco has in the below article) has been curbed due to the fact that any violence that could possibly come from it could mean that all PCV are evacuated from country. It isn't an easy decision for Peace Corps to make when they evacuate, but we have been asked (as we always are) to be on constant alert and be prepared to leave our site at anytime. Peace Corps Morocco has a detailed and advanced emergency action plan, which can be enacted for political or environmental events (such as the earthquakes or civil unrest that could negatively affect PCVs). Although I know it is all routine, the thought of having to leave when I am still establishing who I am and what I can give to my community...its helped me be more introspective. It's also helped me put a more personal face to the people that have to live within a country that is literally fighting it's government for freedom.

Not having a tv (or consistent internet) has been extremely frustration, especially when I'm hungry to learn as much as possible about the evolving revolutions in the countries near Morocco. However, as I talk with friends and neighbors, I'm reminded that they are very much up to date on what is happening and they see the protests, the deaths, the brutality, and the liberation as more than just a news story. They see it as the victory or defeat of fellow Muslims (brothers and sisters).

Morocco is not the same as Tunisia or Egypt. Morocco has a king and a parliament. The king is loved by a majority of the population, as is shown by people's loyalty to the king and the crowds of people that come to welcome him wherever they go. Most of the country's problems seem to be blamed on the parliament, from my interpretation. Although Morocco experiences corruption in many of it's government sectors (the top two being the judicial and health system), the strong (relatively speaking) economy and literacy rates play a crucial role in whether Morocco will have similar uprisings as it's neighbors to the East.

Nonetheless, I'm still here (safe and sound) on my mountaintop, trying to take in history as it happens and learn from it at the same time. No one knows what the future may bring for the people and government of Morocco (which is intertwined with my fate in Morocco) but time will tell.

BBC has a few short articles on the peaceful protests that occurred throughout the country on Sunday. One is listed below:


Thousands of people have marched in Moroccan cities to demand that King Mohammed VI give up some of his powers.

In the capital, Rabat, police allowed protesters to approach parliament, chanting slogans like "The people reject a constitution made for slaves!"

A separate protest is under way in the country's biggest city, Casablanca, and another was planned in Marrakesh.

Protests have spread across the region since popular movements in Tunisia and Egypt forced out leaders.

Sunday's rallies in Morocco are organised by groups including one calling itself the February 20 Movement for Change.

More than 23,000 people have expressed their backing for its Facebook site.

The protesters have not called for the removal of King Mohammed, but for a new constitution curbing his powers.

"This is a peaceful protest to push for constitutional reform, restore dignity and end graft," said Mustapha Muchtati of the Baraka (Enough) group, one of the organisers behind the protest.

Moroccan Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar had urged people not to march, warning that any "slip may, in the space of few weeks, cost us what we have achieved over the last 10 years".

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy February!

Todays marks the 11th months I have spent away from home. Almost a year ago (on March 1st) I said goodbye to family and freiends, packed way more than the allotted 80 lbs of luggage into two suitcases, and drove to Philadelphia with my mother and granmother to start my official first day of work with the Peace Corps. The real stuff didn't come until I arrived in country and settled into my host family's house in Ouarzazate Province, but it's been a whirwind of a journey. I've moved into two host families' house, rented my own (current) house, adopted two cats, gotten sick, made friends (Moroccans and PCVs), travelled to some of the major cities, planned health lessons, gotten into countless arguements (some just heated discussions) about religion, have helped to weed DOZENS of fields (corn, wheat, everything under the moroccan sun), have killed eight scorpions, have gotten bed bugs, made friends in my community (made a few enemies too), impressed my neighbors with my tajine-making skills, planned some successful (and some not-so successful project), hiked with nomads, fallen off my bike countless times, have fallen into irrigation ditches (most recently on Sunday), helped planned HIV/STD outreach, attended weddings, decorated my home with Christmas decorations (with a Moroccan touch, thanks to my neighbors)....and that's only the first 11 months.

Works is really starting to pick up now. I feel more at ease with my language (although the more you know, the more you realize how LITTLE you know). I'm nervous and excited for the spring because these will truly be the defining months of my service. May 5 marks a year in my site (it's so close) and that will also be the weekend of the huge 3 day HIV/STD outreach event at a local festival. Last year PCVs (in collaboration with a ton of Moroccan associations) tested over 500 people for HIV/STDS and coordinated Moroccan volunteers who outreached to over 2000 people. Big shoes to fill, but it should be a great way to celebrate my time here.

There's alot that's coming up in the spring. So much to look forward to:
-Volunteer Support Network Trainings and meetings (I am the representative for our stage)
-Mid-service Medicals in Rabat...where we get poked and pricked to make sure we don't have any dormant (or not so dormant) medical conditions, such as parasites or worms
-Earth Day (hopefully many activities will follow)
-The beginning of the health club at the college/middle school
-Many potential projects surrounding women's literacy and a safe space for women to work and meet
-Health lessons in school (the usual)
-Travelling to Northern Morocco...and more!

Today marks the beginning of a two day meeting in Southern Morocco for health volunteers (yeah, we do seem to have quite a bit of meetings lately, but now is a good time to brainstorm about regional projects and collaboration).

Until I get back home and can process everything. Here are some pictures to look at, from my last 11 months in country. I was unsuccessful (to date) at post them via slideshow on the blog. Enjoy!


Friday, January 28, 2011

A windy, rainy, and chilly day- January 26

So, it's 5pm and I'm bundled up in the comfort of my bed with my two cats snuggled up beside me. I'm responding to emails, contemplating leaving the warmth of my blankets to wash my dishes and take my blankets down from the clothes line, and waiting for some of the girls to stop by to hang out.

I really haven't done that much today...woke up at 8am, went to the center of town to buy some toothbrushes for today's health lesson with the kids, ran into some women in the fields on my way to the hanut (general store), held a 2 hour health lesson at my house (today's main topic: toothbrushing sessions), and crawled back into bed to try and finish some reporting and eat lunch. Well, what should have been a 30 minute lunch break turned into an afternoon of "veggin". Yep, this is what happens on a cloudy, somewhat rainy, and VERY windy day in site.

So, in honor of spring break...I'm taking a bit of a break. I'm going through one of those phases where I am enjoying the "messiness" of my life. Yesterday, as I surveyed what I had done (or HAD NOT done) during the day, I declared myself OFFICIALLY "in a rut". I hadn't done the dishes all day long, I had to pull myself out the comfort of my covers to make Fettuccini Alfredo(SIDENOTE: during the winter, if I'm inside of my house, I'm ALWAYS underneath a layer of blankets because there is no heating in my house and I only like to turn on the small heaters that I have when it is extremely cold...which is usually when I wake up in the mornings to grab an early tranzit at 5am).

However today, after a short skype (typing) conversation with a fellow PCV...I realized that I prepared for and implemented a two hour health lesson with 14 loud, whining 3-14 year olds today....I can take the afternoon off (it's ok...really!)I had alot to be tired from. One child refused to brush his teeth (after screaming for a "cooler" toothbrush) and another child threw three tantrums (within an hour) because I wouldn't let him be the first person to brush his teeth. I then proceeded to kick one of the teenage girls out of my house because she was being disruptive and mocking my accent (and then she threw a tantrum). In retrospect, it seems like an unsuccessful program...but that's just on the outside.

The truth of the matter is that more kids showed up today (which has been the trend) than the day before. The kids are always screaming "usteda, usteda, usteda" (which means teacher) and raising their hands because they want to be the first person (or the next in line) to brush their teeth in the hand washing bin that we use. Most of them are really excited to come and spend almost the whole session starring at their new tooth brushes. Every now and then I have to take a toothbrush away because they aren't paying attention to the health video I'm showing or they are whining/complaining that they want to take their toothbrush home, but the reality is that most of the kids have never had their own tooth brush before. Some of them have shared toothbrushed with siblings, when they were younger...but some have never even had one before. I can't blame them that they are excited to have something that belongs to them and only they can use. I also can't blame them for wanting to take it home and have to put it in a special place...but they'll have to wait until Friday.

So here is the way that the curriculum has gone (granted, keep in mind that this is just a test lesson for how to do toothbrushing lessons in the schools when there are about 30 kids per class).

The first day is an assessment of what the kids know (discussion about general hygiene, microbats (germs), and where germs are found). After a discussion about germs and the places they "live", we watched a video (in Tashlaheit) that was produced by Peace Corps volunteers and features Moroccans (health professionals, kids, and general community members) discussing health topics, such as tooth brushing. Then we end the session with a general question and answer about video. The next day we discuss several methods to toothbrushing (how to make a toothbrush if you don't have one or can't afford it, when to brush your teeth, what foods are good and bad for strong teeth) and practice brushing their teeth with toothbrushes that I purchased from the hanut (note: since these are kids whose families I am close with...I forgot about sustainability and bought them each tooth brushes for 2 durhams each, 40 cents, so that they could have something to practice with in hopes that their parents will buy them some in the future).

The next two days are spent reinforcing good techniques for toothbrushing, learning when to brush and watching videos/discussing health topics on handwashing, toothbrushing (again for reinforcement) and anti-smoking.

Each day there is a treat at the end of the 2 hours. The first day they got oranges (a good snack...I try not to give the kids too much sweets although I always end up giving them sugar highs with the carrot cake that I love making), the second and third day I treated them to a post-tooth brushing dance party courtesy of Taylor Swift (for those of you not in the know, a famous US country/pop artist) and the last day they got to take their tootbrushes home. Before the last class ended, we talked about why it is important not to share toothbrushes, where and for how much they can buy their own affordable toothbrush and toothpaste (toothpaste is a little more expenses in rural areas because their aren't as many pharmacies around), where is a safe clean place to put your toothbrush (so that someone doesn't use to clean a shoe or anything like that, and when to replace your toothbrush. I also spoke with parents to reinforce the lessons, which most parents know but don't do for all of their children.

Overall it was chaotic, fun, informative for the kids, and a good practice for me (language-wise, memorizing all of the kids names-15 kids is alot...especially when there were at least 3 Mohammed's in the bunch). I'd say it was a success....at the very least a reinforcement to school health lessons and lessons taught by parents, but this time done by the crazy tarumeet (foreigner).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Regional Meeting- January 20, 2011

It's good to be back in site.I recently returned from a regional meeting (that included Health, Environment, Small Business Development, and Youth Development volunteers from two provinces). It's good and bad to be home. It's good because all of the contact with other volunteers had led me to developing (or spreading...don't know which one) a pretty nasty cold that requires me to stay put in site for a while. It's also bad because I just found out that good friend of mine is having a birthday celebration down south (Tata Province) this weekend and I would love to be there to celebrate with her. But, as always, the positives surpass the negatives...

Winter break (for schools begins today/tomorrow) so there will be children galour for the coming week or so, which means that it is a perfect time for me to do the week long tooth brushing curriculum that I have been working on/planning and to gather materials for the health club at the middle school. I also have quite a few things that I need to site down and do (reports,be a reader for nominations from the National Abolition Hall of Fame, etc.) The point is...I'm back in site after a great week of productive work, meeting to discuss upcoming projects (with PCVs and Moroccan organizations), lots of good conversations (in English), and sleeping on many different surfaces (which is the Peace Corps way).

Although Peace Corps is a pretty unconventional job...it's still a job where mini-conferences are sometimes needed. Here is a brief overview of our schedule/what we talked about at this last regional meeting.

Afternoon arrival—Snacks
4:00-6:00 – Introductions, Team Building, Schedule Check, Assigning Responsibilities (e.g. timekeeper)
7:00pm – Dinner

8:00-9:00am – Breakfast
9:00-10:00am – Project Updates / General Q&A Session
10:00-10:45am – Working With Associations (Cory & Melissa)
10:45-11:00am – Break
11:15-12:00am – Gender Relations in Morocco (Felicia)
12:00-2:00pm – Lunch Break
2:00-2:45pm – Health/Sports/Yoga Club (Wes)
2:45-3:15pm – Nomad Health Hikes (Hanna)
3:15-3:45pm – Women’s Leadership Conference (Amber)
3:45-4:15pm – Region-wide Event Small Group/Sector Brainstorming
4:15-4:45pm – Tea Break
4:45-5:15pm – Boundary Setting/Clear Communication (Kaytea)
5:15-6:00pm – Wrap-up / Evaluations / Tentative Plans for Next Meeting
7:30pm – Dinner

8:00-9:00am – Breakfast
9:00-10:00am – Departure

In particular, I found the "how to work with associations" session to be one of the most helpful sessions. Associations are usually small organizations within each community. In rural areas, usually each town has an association and (outside of the sbitar-health center- and schools) they are one of the main governing bodies that PCVs work with. In my area, most of the associations are inactive, so I have to find other venues to work through. But associations, that are active, often have elected officials and meet regularly to discuss the needs of the community. They also have some sort of funds for community activities and tend to have motivated individuals at the head (who are willing to coordinate projects and whatnot). Although, like any organizations, there are associations that can be defunct or corrupt, they serve as a sustainable venue to perform projects through by helping to provide capacity building skills to association members so that projects and skills can continue to grow after a PCV has left the community. An example is a waste-management project that two volunteers in my area are doing. They worked with an association and their local sbitar staff to gain support for better waste management which has resulted in an unused landfill being re-groomed, the purchase of a trash motorcycle that will be run by the association/commune, several trash pick-up events and education have been implemented, tons of community meetings have been held, and tras bins/barrels have been placed around the community. The hope is that once the volunteers leave, the association and town will continue to contribute (financially and logistically) to make sure that trash is better managed and therefore less diseases (especially those transmitted by flies and rats) will occur.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Peace Corps- a group activity?

When I was first notified that I was accepted into the Peace Corps, amongst the first things I did was 1.) notify my job, 2.)plan a trip to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, 3.)break the news to my family, and 4.) try and prepare myself for a life of solitude.

There were times when I would drive in my car and purposefully turn off the radio not pick up an incoming call (even though it wasn't illegal at the time to drive and talk...it now is, thankfully)all in preparation for the most challenging (and lonely) 26 months of my life. Flash forward a few months...I've arrive in Morocco and am attending one of my first trainings, led by a experienced Peace Corps volunteer (who happens to be retired), and her story includes the words "these HAVE been some of the loneliest months of my life". So, needless to say, all along I was preparing for an experience of isolation. By isolation, I mean an experience where I would not have access to other people from the United States, to the comforts of USA (food, music, and certainly not entertainment), and a drastic changes in work culture ( I was expecting an environment where collaborating was not an option).

Well...I was wrong.

I could not be more wrong. Even within my first week in country, when it was announced that we would be spending our two-month training periods in groups of 6/7, I was reminded of the fact that Peace Corps (at least Peace Corps Morocco is almost ENTIRELY a group experience). Now, when I thought Peace Corps, I thought of living on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere where you were speaking a language not known to more than a couple thousand people, and with relatively no one to lean on but yourself. I thought...in the tough times, you would have to dig within and rely on the "inner you" to get you through the experience. That was one the reasons I was drawn to the Peace Corps. I wanted to really see who I was on the inside and I wanted an experience that would help mold me into a stronger person (mental and physically). A year before I officially joined the Peace Corps (May 2009), I ran a half-marathon (13.1 miles...about 7.1 miles more than I ever would have liked to have run at once) despite the fact that my body and my mind were telling me that I hate to run and I had no business training months and months for something neither of them wanted to do. But I did it because I figured, if I can prove to myself that I can do this task (something I never wanted or thought I could do), I could begin to think about what it would be like to do the Peace Corps.

So, I was right in two ways. My Peace Corps would leave me in a fairly remote area, where I have to get up at 5am to find transport down the mountain-the only departure time of the day). I was right that the language I speak was used by only a few thousand people in the world, and I was only partly right when I thought I would only have me, myself, and I to lean on....and I'm thankful for this last one.

To sum it up quickly, the Peace Corps community has helped me in almost every aspect of my time here:

Having other people going through the same experience that I am has been a huge emotional support. Every time someone tels me that "I don't know anything", despite the fact that up until that point in the conversation, we have been speaking a language that I had never even heard of until 10 month ago, I know that that happens to everyone. Having other people, doing similar work that I am, has given me a sounding board to bounce ideas off of and an opportunity to learn from others mistakes. Professionally, having other people (from varying backgrounds and experiences) has helped to push me to be a more productive and driver person, which is almost opposite of the environment that I work in-due to the slow pace of progress and the many steps of every minuscule tasks. Having other people here has meant that I have someone to dance with as I try and follow Micheal Jackson's choreography in "This is It" (one of my favorite stress reducing activities), that I have someone to talk to when I simply CANNOT speak another word of Tashlaheit (when I'm on brain overload), and that I can bake carrot cake (and not have to look at skeptical faces taint the beauty that is one of my favorite deserts). Most importantly, running into other Peace Corps volunteers (on the street, at a meeting, randomly at the train station in Marrakech) means that I have someone else (over 200 "someone else"s) to help remind me that, no matter how hard it may seem at times, I am living out an experience that so many people don't have the opportunity to. I am living my dream and I have to live it extra hard because there are millions of people in the U.S. and across the world who will probably never get the chance to give up two years of their life to work as a super super undercompensated volunteer, experience a new culture, learn a language that few people learn as a language other than their first, and live in a place that doesn't even exist on most maps. I'm blessed...and I need to be reminded of that everyday. I don't see Peace Corps volunteers everyday...but once every two or three weeks is enough for me. I've clearly lost most of my social skills..it usually takes a few hours of interactions with other PCVs for me to remember all of the social cues that have been ingrained in me, but hey...this is the Peace Corps after all...

With that said, tomorrow morning (yes, at 6am-when its still dark on top of the mountain and the dogs are barking...loud) I will head to a nearby town to meet with the other PCVs in the area for a regional meeting. We'll discuss everything from innovative ways and places to have health education, the upcoming HIV/STD outreach at a large regional festival, and exchange as much junk(movies, books, clothes, etc.)as humanly possible within two days.

I may be on a haitus for a while (I have to soak up all of the English and all of the U.S.A. time as possible), but I'm sure I'll have alot to tell afterwards. Happy Early Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Cultural Days", January 10, 2011

Recently, I visited a fellow PCV at her site (not too far from the sand dunes) and I found myself staring at one of her walls. She had a make-shift 9 month calendar and each day had an item or two written on it. Some days said "sbitar(health center)" other days said "meet with tutor", "health club at school" or "english lessons". All of these made sense- most of the labels were pretty common for health volunteers. But then i saw the words "community" written on several days and I had to stop and ask my friend what this meant. She told me that these were days that she simply had to be seen out and about in the community, whether she went to the hanut (local convenience store, on a much smaller scale) or whether she hung out at her host family's house for the day and simply relaxed (as people usually do during the winter months, when there is less work in the fields. After I asked her this question, I instantly felt silly because I too mark my calendars with "cultural" days. I guess I was just curious to see what a "cultural day" was to her.

For me, cultural days vary depending on the season and what I need to get done. Some times (like today) I wake up and know that I'm not going to any schools, I won't talk "business" with any community members, and i won't have any official meetings (although every meeting, even a random introduction to someone as I'm walking through the egran-fields- could be a crucial point of contact). Some days I have every intention of getting "work" done, but it turns out to be a cultural day--these days can be hard to deal with because my western trained/outcome-focused education like me to have measurable results at the end of everyday, but somehow I always remember that that is part of the "experience" and I need to go with the flow.

Some days, I schedule nothing more than laundry (which takes forever-especially when I have to walk my stuff down to the river and then walk it all the way back to my house to hang it on my clothes line) and going to the hanut. This may seem like a very lazy day (and sometimes it is, which is ok), but there is alot hidden within these tasks. First, you have to realize that I am "on radar" every time I open my door. Some sees me, sees what I'm wearing, and sees what I'm doing every time I step out of my house. Sometimes, people even see what I'm doing when I'm in my house. Some of my bolder neighbors (in particular a set of brothers who are about 9 years old) love to look into my bedroom window to see if they can find my cats and see what I'm doing inside. It didn't take me long to commission my host father to make me two pairs of blinds. One day (when I first moved in) I was watching a tv show on my computer and I looked up to find several of the men, who were working on the house next door, peering into my living room trying to figure out where the voices were coming from (since everyone knows that I don't have a tv). This is the long way of saying, almost everything I do (including just being here) is a kind of work. This is something we hear alot from Peace Corps staff because it is important that we don't forget that "simply living in Morocco is a job....even when you don't consider our "actual" jobs".

So, with that said, some of my favorite "cultural activities" are:
-playing soccer with a group of kids. the teenage boys have never let me play with them, however, I have noticed that (during the past month) whenever I have joined a soccer game (or just passing around the ball) with younger kids, the teenage boys all of a sudden want to play or take a strong interest in me playing. My goal is that I can gain enough street-credit that the teenage boys will let me play with them next Leid Kbir (which will be next November).
-washing my clothes or blankets at the river-this is a good one. It usually takes hours to wash even a medium size load of clothes. Sometimes I go to the river to help other women wash their clothes, even if I don't have anything to wash. There is a huge sense of community and helping family (even distant family members). Since I don't officially have a family here (although I have a few that have adopted me and try to keep me in the know), a good way to gain trust and become more involved in the community is to take a communal role, like helping to wash each other's clothes
-Working in the field. This is a huge one. During the summer and fall, women (of all ages-include elderly women) work in the fields twice a day (morning and evening) to groom and water the wheat, corn, and barley. There are also big harvest days--everyone helps and then they throw a big party once they are done harvesting and grinding all of the crops (they usually make a soup-like material or cous cous out of the corn/barley...the wheat is used to make bread).
-Henna parties, where we all decorate our hands (sometimes feet) with traditional and modern henna
-coloring sessions and cooking sessions at my house
-Simply letting the kids come into my house and chase the cats around. Nina and Apollo (the cats-which everyone gets a kick out of the fact that they have names)shun me for hours after they have been tramatized by the kids bombarding them with attention. It's a great cultural activity because my community members don't see cats and dogs as pets or members of the family. They have tons of animals around the house/barn (chicken, cows, sheep, goat, etc.) but they aren't part of the family unit and they don't have names. Today some of my neighbors laughed at me when I was trying to calm down a distressed donkey and I referred to him as "Sidi Aserdun" (Mr. Donkey). The kids have gotten better with the cats and many times, when I'm out on walks, women yell out to me "Mayd skart Apollo and Nina?" (How are Apollo and Nina?) before they even ask how I am doing.
-sitting on the cliff by the river, hanging out with the girls/women in my host family

Now that I think of it, I do at least three of these things everyday...and I do them all in another language...so yeah, it is work. It's hard work, but it's also the coolest job that I have ever had. It's great that I get to learn about another culture, about health problems and potential intervention tactics, and a new language...but I think what I like most is that I'm learning how to be a part of a community (other than the one I was born into). The more I hang out with my community members, the more I realize they are just like me, or my uncle, or my neighbor back home, or whoever. I get paid (granted I get paid VERY LITTLE) just to live life. That's pretty cool

Oh and what did I do today....the quick answer. Study the language, wash my laundry, wash the dishes, clean the bathroom, play with the cats, make lunch, write some Peace Corps emails, go to the hanut (which turned into visiting one of my favorite families, plan a henna party for Wednesday, was convinced by my neighbor to run through the fields with her to get her run-away donkey, update my blog, plan an agenda for an upcoming PC meeting, and enjoy the company of my two cats...and I'm exhausted!