PeaceWorks Peace Corps Moroccoâ€™s Literary Magazine
The Staff Executive Editor: Kelsey Holmes Production Editor: Young Kwon Literary Editors: Cassandra Ernst & Michael Triozzi Photo Editor: Senju Rajan
Front Cover art by Bethan Owen Back Cover photo by Kelsey Holmes
Letter from the Editor Welcome to the Spring 2018 issue of PeaceWorks, Peace Corps Moroccoâ€™s art & literary magazine. This issue focuses on a ritual that has been kept alive for centuries in cultures across the world: storytelling. We asked volunteers to tap into the rich storytelling tradition of Morocco to tell their own. Through the words of volunteers across Morocco, we can see into their daily experience and gain a better understanding of their interpretation of the world where they are immersed. This issue takes a thoughtful, critical approach to the life of volunteers in Morocco, and serves to tell not only the highlights of service, but to give a better idea of the whole, true story. Life is not without its ups and downs, and thus our stories should encompass the whole truth. Our stories range from raw intimate reflection on the struggles and successes of volunteer service, to deeply personal prose relating intrapersonal relationships built among volunteers and their communities. We experience the feelings of displacement and change though poetic works by Julia Mckeown and David Rojas. Artwork and photography submissions deepen our understanding through poignant visual storytelling. ShanĂĄ Braxton and Hunter Levy transport us to another place entirely with their descriptive prose while Julie Sherbill provides us with a satirical viewpoint for comic relief. It is our hope that these stories help the reader better understand Peace Corps Morocco service in its entirely. We have carefully selected pieces to portray the whole story â€“ its beauty and its less ideal moments. As always, we warmly welcome the opportunity to read and publish your submissions and are proud to provide a medium to tell your stories. This is our experience. These are our stories. Regards, The PeaceWorks Editorial Staff
In Search Of Home
With A Roof Top View David Rojas
Solitude stretches along the terrain and breaks and dips to rise again. That knoll is the color of khubs! The olive trees bring a shade of green over sections of the slow hills. The hills, these hills, are colored by the not so distant memory of rain, washed over with the hope of its return, ever tainted by its uncertainty; no one here knows if it will ever rain again. Westward, the soil is the color of rust. The sun reflects off that single asphalt road that sweeps and curves and there are sheep that cross it just because. The homes of stones and clay are over the hill, their walls are filled with knowing that has been forgotten by most, so they buckle under the weight of what has been lost; the expectations of generations are a lot to forever bear. I'm uncertain if time made those walls beautiful or if they are beautiful in spite of time, but I want to be buried within them so as to share in our mortality just a little bit longer. I find myself atop one
of these empty, newer houses, built of gray concrete blocks, that somehow lacks some intangible matter; it feels broken and unfinished, rebar just juts out the top reaching, like exposed phalanges, for the rain. The roof lays flat in expectation. The walls echo a sound that is unfulfilled. The hollow clatter of a man riding a donkey, as they trek their way uphill, is in some way soothing at first. I think that's the road home! but who can be sure where that is anymore? The donkey is gray and old and small, it struggles with and against the gravity of the man. Then there is the single shadow of them, lagging but unbroken, until a hand gripping a stick rises and descends. Hoofs beat the concrete more violently. Now, they are yonder, over the hill, and their shadow dissolves into the sun. The hoofbeats are carried to me for some time after they disappear, until all that I am left with is the color of rust.
photo by Rachael Diniega
photo by Fay Cowper
Sidi Mousa Hunter Levy
photo by Rachael Diniega
A family sat huddled closely together around their furnace. It was the middle of January in Ait Bougamez, a village of the High Atlas Mountains, during the first big snowfall of winter. The mother, sitting atop a small stool, bent at her waist as she blew air into the furnace with a bellows. The father lay back against the wall under a mound of blankets, a cup of steaming mint tea wrapped beneath his twisting fingers. Two children pressed their bodies against the furnace as best they could without burning themselves or their blankets. Through the cross-stitched window above them, a flurry of snow could be seen. Moans and creeks came with the rising and falling of the wind that pressed against the adobe walls of their home built deep into the hillside.
The children were fraternal twins, one daughter and one son, born ten years before. Both had dark features, the boy with jet-black hair sticking straight up, while the girl’s tucked unseen beneath her zif. Where the boy’s face was long and sharp with an aquiline nose and horse-like cheeks, the girl’s softened at the jaw and showed roundness that betrayed her Berber heritage. She appeared like an owl in the moonlight, looking about with startling intensity. The mother rose up from her bent position and swung the hatch down overtop the furnace’s opening. She removed the stool from beneath herself and slid into her place across from the children. Settling down with a sigh, she allowed her body to relax and warm amongst the blankets and the heated air that suffused
throughout the room. The people of their valley gathered together and shared their body heat to endure the harsh winter cold, a subconscious understanding, and this family was no different. Particles of smoke wafted from the back of the furnace. The daughter wriggled her face out of her blanket and asked, “imma, can you tell us a story?” The mother smiled wide at this. She could neither read nor write, but many legends had been passed down to her from her mother and her mother’s mother before her, any of which she could conjure up at a moment’s notice. “Yes, my daughter. I will tell you a story about immahllu, my grandmother.” The daughter rose up slightly and shifted her body towards her mother, interest washing over her face. The boy and the father remained as they were.
travel to the end of the valley to attend school and to learn the language of the letters, while she stayed home to continue to work with her mother. Her desire to search the valley grew as the boys began leaving, but she remained quiet, as she didn’t want her parents to think her ungrateful. It was like this for many years, until one day her father, noticing the hunger in her eyes, asked her to do something very special for him. At the age of fifteen, she began to make the trip up to Siddi Mousa, once each month.” “The same Sidi Mousa in the middle of the valley?” questioned the daughter.
“Yes, the very same,” responded the mother, “but back then at the top of the mountain was a big building that could be seen from all over the valley. It shown like a star up above and took a long time to climb to the top. Immahllu’s father gave her money he had “Many years ago, your great grandmother was saved from his work and he told her to climb born here in this same valley that we live in. up and give it to the man at the top, as he She was the first of seven children to be born would save it for the family and keep it safe. but was the only girl. Her brown skin was as Each family was given a space in this building clear and dark as the river where she washed to keep their valuable things, and the man acted her brothers’ clothes. Even as a little girl, she as a guardian for them all. At first, it was very looked for adventure, always finding something difficult for immahllu, and the walk up the to climb. As the boys grew older, they began to mountain exhausted her. She was small and had
Photo by Young Kwon spent all of her life in the house, never growing strong like her brothers had. But as she grew older and made the trip again and again, she grew stronger, and she began to look forward to it each month, knowing it was her chance to escape the home and reach the top of the mountain where she could look at the beauty of the whole valley below. “One day as she started her journey up the mountain, snow started to fall. She tried to go faster, but as she rose higher, the snow fell harder. With each step, she stumbled and struggled to keep her balance. She continued on, however, determined to make it all the way, and soon the building at the summit was in her view. Just as she was about to reach it, she slipped and fell, cutting her leg on a rock beneath the snow, making it impossible for her to continue the climb. She lay on the side of the mountain for hours curled up into a ball to try to stay warm, wondering how much longer she could survive. “Finally, the storm passed, and she got up to her knees. The money she had been given was lost in the storm, and so she slowly crawled back down the mountain. The ground was wet and she shivered the whole way, in much pain from her fall. Her breath was gone, her vision blurry and her muscles weak. About halfway
down, one of her brother’s found her, shaking and barely breathing. He yelled to their father and other brothers, who were all out in search of her, they came to him. The boys carried her weakened body back to their house, afraid for the worst. She stayed in bed for seven days, resting and recovering, and it was said that she came as close to death as anyone ever did, but she found her way back. “She did return to her old health, but it never was the same after that. One of the brother’s took over her job of going up the mountain and she became quieter. From then on, she never left the house, always cooking and cleaning, always waiting. By the time I was born, her fiery spirit had been extinguished by the snow, only to be recalled in the stories my own imma told to me.” With this, the mother relaxed her shoulders and leaned back against the wall. A mournful, acceptant look remained on her face as she finished her story. The room was quiet. Soon, the wails and howls of the wind grew again, relentlessly buffeting the house. The daughter’s face wrinkled and she turned her gaze out the window. She looked intently into the endless whiteness of the storm, her eyes determined and full of wonder.
Art By Bethan Owen
From the Heart of my Neighborhood David Rojas
The calls to prayer serenade my day with those deep reverberations that pulse through the slow sky, then burst overhead with the gentle manner of a dandelion. The notes fall as feathers to my ears and the birds wing in and sometimes I stop and I remember to breath and I listen.
&Hleeb Art & Story By Bethan Owen
ur landlord was Tom Selleck, if Tom Selleck had been born in the depths of the Sahara and crushed the sand under his heel to emerge from the heat and make a life for himself in Rabat. Our landlord had also taught himself to build houses and fix pipes and wires, which, to my knowledge, is not something Tom Selleck excelled at. Our landlord has a car, and this very winter was able to afford to send his wife to France. Tom Selleck probably had many cars and I’m sure never balked at airline ticket prices, but as an American celebrity this does not carry the same significance that it does for our landlord in middle-class Morocco. They really aren’t very similar, our landlord and Tom Selleck, except for the mustache. Our landlord goes by his last name—Adam, with an emphasis on the daaamn—and he wears leather jackets and gleaming aviator sunglasses. He is forever speaking to me in French. “Le robinet fuit a nouveau?” he will say to me. “I don’t speak French,” I inevitably reply, awed that he has spoken to me and ashamed that despite the generous way he has been tossing French phrases to me over the past year, I still have not picked up the language. He looks at me from behind his shining aviators and nods slowly. Coolly. “Pourquoi pas?” he says, and strolls slowly into his house, leaving me to reel in his wake. He once asked me what my name was, after my husband and I had been renting his property for ten months and had shared countless couscous lunches with him and his wife. He knows how to hurt without trying.
Photo by byKelsey photo Kelsey Holmes Photo by Blake Steiner
Photo by Kelsey Holmes
ur cat is basically garbage, if his breath, birthplace, and propensity for location are any indication. He once ate a lump of red wax because it smelled like cheese, and one of his fondest pastimes is to lovingly lick his genitals while maintaining exacting eye contact with whatever unfortunate person is in the room with him. His name is Hleeb, because he’s sort of white-ish like the milk he is named for, if you only look at half of him. Hleeb is also a satisfying sound to bellow across the kitchen after he has pulled a serving spoon down onto his head and frightened himself into knocking over the trash can. You can hold those double Es forever. Along with his dreamy green eyes, Hleeb has one other positive trait. He can shake hands and give high-fives like a politician trying to be respectable and hip at the same time. You can’t fool him; hold your hand high or low or halfway, his paw will meet yours like lightning. Even when you don’t offer your hand, he will often doggedly reach up and bop a thumb in the hopes of scoring a bite of your lunch. This is all assuming, of course, that you have a treat for him. As an educated cat, Hleeb knows that if you’re good at something, you should never do it for free. Extend a hand to him without a treat in the other, and he will give you a look that could wilt flowers. These two personality powerhouses, my cat and my landlord, came head to head one fateful day in the fall. Our pipes had erupted or shattered or whatever technical term causes a pipe to gush uncontrollably, and Adam had just finished the repairs. He was strolling through the house towards the door when I stopped him.
Photo by Christopher Seamon
“Look,” I said, pulling out all the stops in order to impress this man, this neighborhood movie star. A treat in one hand, I offered the other to Hleeb. “Nice to meet you,” I told him in Arabic, shooting nervous glances over my shoulder at Adam. He was watching. Hleeb knew the drill, and he smelled the treat on the air. He dropped his paw into my hand and we shook, sealing a comfortable and long-standing agreement between us. I gave him the treat, and Adam nodded approvingly. “Hm,” he said. His mustache bristled with admiration, and sweat broke out along my forehead at such high praise. And then he crouched down next to Hleeb and reached out his left hand. His other was damningly empty. “Nice to meet you,” my landlord said to my cat. For a moment, time stood still. The landlord was frozen in place, reaching out his hand to this lowly street cat, as was Hleeb eternally staring at his own reflection in those aviators. And then it broke. Hleeb looked at Adam’s hand, and back into the aviators. His eyes narrowed into cold green slits of condescension, and he yawned his terrible dead-fish yawn into Adam’s face. Adam got to his feet. “Hm,” he said again. I didn’t dare to speak. Adam left in the same slow strut that he always had, but now his steps had a sting of rejection in them. Hleeb and I watched him go. The door closed firmly behind him. I held out my hand to the cat, with a treat held high and proud in the other. We shared a poignant, interspecies high-five. And Hleeb tucked his head neatly under his back leg, to redirect his attention to where it was needed most. 15
Driss, Thy Name is Driss David Rojas Photo by Senju Rajan
The third person to inquire tonight about my religion is a boy, he lives in my neighborhood. I see him everyday. We've shared earphones a few times and I played soccer with him, once. He is standing in the corner of my znqa, we do our little handshake, some dope antics, and the inherent five minutes of bkhirs. He can't come to the classes because he works as a mechanic's assistant during the day. He's been greasing at his uncle's shop since he grew into his man sized body, which is so new it's awkward. The boy is frowned upon in the neighborhood but he's always smiling and I like him for it, until now; instead of offering me the usual hash â€“ which I've always declined â€“ he just asks me if I'm Muslim. Not this shit again, I'm fresh out of grace. I just stumbled through this conversation with the mul hanut and then again at the goddamn gym. Did the whole town today get a memo from Mo?
No. I reply. He starts to say something. I'm hungry, see you later, I tell him. I turn around and two other boys his age, but that haven't dropped out of school, are standing behind me. Handshakes and bkhirs all around. What are you then? he asks. I tell him. Do you pray? he asks. I make the sign of the cross, only for simple things like chicken tajine, I tell them. The boys laugh and a new one offers me a joint. I politely refuse but thank him for his hospitality. I've got to eat, I tell them, and I start doing the goodbye handshakes all around; but the original boy keeps hold of my hand and draws me close. He asks me to repeat after him. He locks into my eyes and I feel annoyed and in someway divested so I stare at a pimple on his nostril and then at a grease spot on his forehead. He speaks slowly. His tongue ladles some words that are loaded with intention and as if by their own weight they don't evaporate, but fall fat and splash at my ears like spilled drops of consonant soup.
I oblige and repeat because I don't want to nut check the kid; he's usually cool and despite all this I still like him for some reason, but my attention is far from focused on his intonations and I want to get the fuck out of this conversation. I regurgitate the words but they are hollow and empty, they resonate with the frivolity of a burp. I think about tajine and chicken cutlets and cookies. He asks me to remember those words, to repeat them every night, or better yet all the time. I tell him but of course, but what I mean is piss off, and I yank my hand back to awkwardly half-hug pat the boy on the back - I'm not sure why I do this. I head home. After I have a belly full I begin to feel a kind of remorse that I can't dismiss. I ate too fast, too much, and I didn't pay attention to a word the kid fed me. I've had similar conversations dozens of times but this time
something about the way he spoke has stayed with me. His voice vibrated with such sincere concern for my soul that I am rattled, touched. I should have savored his utterances and swallowed each syllable whole for safekeeping within, but I didn't and I begin to reflect on my own ephemeral concerns, the shallowness of my appetites and their desperate necessity for satisfaction. How dare people put aside their unyielding aloofness to show genuine interest in anything but themselves, much less something so vague and foreign as someone else's soul, jerk. His voice cracked with a certain urgency. His voice vibrated with such sincere concern. I burp. Thank you, kid. Tomorrow, I will learn your name and repeat it, like a prayer, every time I see you.
There’s no place like home... click click. It’s winter in Morocco. My daughter has come and gone. I dislocated my shoulder tripping over a stupid hunk of concrete in the middle of the sidewalk. I am recovering from the flu. It is so cold outside and inside. My two favorite street kitties have died. I could blame myself for both deaths. I do. I keep catching myself saying out loud, “I’m so lonely.” I miss... Being Myself. Having conversations. Sharing the love of reading with children Friends Family A supermarket International food Movies Baseball Basketball Wine Restaurants Takeout An oven Pets Central heat
Air conditioning A toilet Gardening Driving Choices Not being the weird old foreign lady My hikes on the weekends Live theater The beach The Bridge Hanging out at my sister’s house Healthy meals Everything What’s keeping me here... I have a grant open to create a library at the high school. I need to finish that. My sister and her husband are coming in April. Going to France in June. Taking Zakaria to English camp in August Continue my little French and English classes My host family and Mounia My pride The readjustment allowance I have nowhere to live in the US I have no car in the US I can actually save a bit of money while living here The wind has finally stopped and it is probably beautiful outside
Photo by Young Kwon
art by Julia Smucker
CENTER STAJ Hard-hitting journalism straight from ~the field~
Rex Tillerson to join Staj 100 of Peace Corps Morocco the people I’ve met from those countries love me. I know Arab Recently dismissed from his post as culture very well. So I know that U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson I’ll have no problem integrating in plans to join the 100th Staj of Peace Morocco.” When his recruiter asked Corps Morocco after passing his what he will do if placed in a noninterview with a recruiter last week. Arabic speaking site in Morocco, On Thursday, Tillerson commented on Tillerson reportedly gave a confused, his plans in a press conference with blank stare. surprised reporters. “I’ve had a long and established professional career in For more insight on his surprising the private and public sectors. I’m at next move, pundits point to the a point where I’m seeking the kind of formative impact that Boy Scouts of personal growth and optimistic spirit America (BSA) had on Tillerson’s that Peace Corps offers.” life. From 2010 to 2012, Tillerson was BSA’s national president, and In his personal statement, according he has described being a volunteer to sources inside the Peace Corps scout as “the highlight” of his “youth headquarters, Tillerson expressed and adolescent years.” As a white specific preference to be a Youth boy from Texas, Tillerson saw Scouts Development Volunteer in Morocco. as the safe space that empowered He cited his affinity for Arabichim, allowing him to achieve his speaking countries during his tenure current success. He hopes to use these as CEO of ExxonMobile, when he experiences in resilience and tenacity worked with oil exporters Saudi to bring the same opportunities to the Arabic, Qatar, and the UAE. “I have youth in Morocco. experience with Arabic and usually WASHINGTON, DC
Volunteer Receives Carte De Sejour On Time SIDI SMAIL Staj 99 PCV Freddie Prinze Jr., Jr. reportedly received his Carte de Sejour from his local police station just one month after settling into his site. When he held the card in his
In his press conference, one reporter asked if Tillerson’s eagerness to reduce the State Department budget, freeze hiring, and remove over 2,000 career diplomats contradicted his decision to join the Peace Corps. “On the contrary,” Tillerson replied with admirable confidence. “I’m a firm believer that we need less real diplomats, and more citizen diplomats. Sometimes—no, all the time—real relationship building comes not from closed-door meetings, treaties, or agreements, but rather a glass of mint tea with your host family. Our Peace Corps Volunteers are the real heroes.”
with a blurred out picture of the card in question and a “feeling relieved” status, Prinze Jr., Jr. talked about how great it felt to finally, legally reside hands, he thought it was some kind of in the country that he’ll call home for prank. “I texted my CBT Whatsapp the next two years. “Before receiving group to see which of them goofballs my card, it felt like I was constantly did this. But they all swore they knew keeping a hacky sack in the air. Now nothing about it. Then we sent each that I have it, it’s like—I can finally other hilarious memes about our drop the hacky sack and just breathe.” #struggles.” In a sappy facebook post The post got 4 likes.
BilDiva, New Health Food Line, Launched by RPCV Morocco “Naughty Na3na3” for when you’re feeling edgy. Both are sugar free “I came in trying to change Morocco; and 100% natural. BilDiva recently came out with a recipe book and but in fact, it was Morocco that pre-packaged ingredients including truly changed me,” commented Tofu Tagine and what Tanner calls, Staj 98er and San Francisco native, “couscous a la carte” which is Ashley Tanner. She recently used essentially traditional Moroccan the entrepreneurial landscape of her couscous but without the couscous. home city to start a new organic The book describes it as “all the and environmentally friendly edible flavor, none of the carbs.” product line called BilDiva. Tanner credits her time in a rural Moroccan BilDiva’s products are not cheap, at village as the true inspiration an average of $40 per item. Yet with behind her line, which combines the Moroccan word Bildia “(of the land)” positive reviews and record sales, Tanner remains humble. “I wanted and Diva. to bring the amazing cuisine and BilDiva’s selections feature authentic, culture of Morocco to the U.S. I’m Morocco-inspired products catered to glad the millennials of San Francisco appreciate what I enjoyed so much American tastes. Their teas include over the past two years, just getting “Luscious Luiza” for relaxation and SAN FRANCISCO
PCVs advocate to reclassify “Treat Yo’self” from annual to weekly holiday LOS ANGELES “Treat Yo’self two thousand ‘leven,” sing Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle in Season 4, Episode 4 of the sitcom “Parks and Recreation.” The idea for the “Treat Yo’self” holiday immediately struck a chord with many of the shows watchers, as it gives them permission to reserve time to indulge and do whatever they want. Mental health advocates promote the idea of treating yourself as a manifestation of self-care and selflove principles. Yet real life often looks different than on screen. While Tom and Donna celebrated “Treat Yo’self” once a year, many wellness advocates are in favor of having
back to basics and living off the land.” When asked about the less-thanenthusiastic reception of the Health Food Line from Moroccans and Moroccan-Americans, Tanner had no comment.
“Chwiya bchwiya” Officially Declared an Overused Phrase RABAT The Moroccan government has declared “chwiya bchwiya” to be an overused phrase, cautioning anyone who speaks Darija or is learning Darija to exercise restraint and self-awareness when saying it. The phrase translates to mean “little by little” in English and is often used to express lenience while learning something new or adapting.
multiple “Treat Yo’self” days per year. At the forefront of this fight are current Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco, who advocate the importance and urgency of very frequent “Treat Yo’self” days, at least once a week.
While the official declaration specifically cited U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers as the primary abusers of this phrase, Moroccan officials did not mention Peace Corps in their announcement for fear of offending the newly inducted Peace Corps trainees.
Current volunteer Sculie Jerbil (name changed at Volunteer’s request) says, “I live outside a major Moroccan city. I’ve realized that going into this city as often as possible, drinking wine, and getting my haircut is really more of a need than a want.” Jerbil insists that treating herself is what she needs personally in order to be the “best Volunteer she can be.” Clearly, while “Treat Yoself Day” originated from a comedy show, the dire need for such a holiday is no laughing matter at all.
Meanwhile, a new crop of blog posts entitled, “Chwiya bchwiya” were recently released into cyberspace. The posts talk about how learning language and settling in is a slow and challenging process, but it’s important to focus on those small moments of personal success to keep moving forward. Moroccan security forces have deemed the posts excessive and are still investigating the perpetrators.
Confused, First Year PCV Realizes “Drari” Just Means Kids CHICHAOUA Many Peace Corps Volunteers talk about “drari” in their site. Even when speaking with one another in English, Volunteers continue to use this Darija word in place of an English one. Volunteers might say, “you’ll never guess what the drari in my site did this time,” or “I just can’t with the drari today.” First year PCV T.J. Henderson never actually learned what drari meant, but using context clues from PCV conversations, he always thought that
“drari” was a monolith of uniquely misbehaved Moroccan youngsters. However, in his Darija tutoring session, Henderson finally learned the translation of drari to mean simply, “kids” or “children.” Henderson brought up his confusion to older PCVs, asking why they don’t have the energy to use the word “children” or “kids” when talking in English with one another about the young people that they’ve met in Morocco. A perplexed Henderson continued, “I just don’t get it— there are children in basically every
inhabited place on earth except for nursing homes. Are the ones in our Peace Corps sites so exceptional that we have to use a different language to describe them?” The older PCVs responded to Henderson’s questions with the wise, cynical laughter that comes with an extra 12 months in the Peace Corps. They insisted he just, “didn’t get it” but he’ll understand once he’s integrated. Then they continued trading stories about what those crazy drari did this time.
“More Than a Native Speaker” Lauded by Morocco PCVs RABAT It can be tough when your native language is also considered to be the top international language in which most world affairs are conducted. That’s the hardship that a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers face when they move to their sites. Everyone seems to always want to learn English from PCVs, for some reason. PCVs, however, often want to do coolersounding, more sustainable projects. Luckily, the Peace Corps office got in a fresh shipment of “More Than a Native Speaker” and has been distributing them to Volunteers in need. While this book talks about how to be a good English teacher, it also reminds PCVs that they are so much more than the fact that they never had to learn the language that
dominates global institutions, organizations, Photo: youtube.com/watch?v=VTA52v4zKmQ and markets. PCV Matt McGuire says that “More Than a Native Speaker” Disclaimers: resonated with his struggle of finding • This content does not reflect meaningful work in site. “I get that the views of Peace Corps nor many of the youth in my site are the U.S. government. working hard to learn English to • The accuracy of stories cannot even think about being part of any be confirmed or denied, as we international projects in their future. are in an era of fake news. But at the same time, sometimes • The content of the articles is I feel dehumanized when people not meant to offend, but instead want to learn English from me, just to start conversation because I’m from the U.S. I’m so • Please send any feedback to much ‘more than a native speaker.’ Center Staj’s editor-in-chief, The authors of this book just really email@example.com get me.”
Photo by Senju Rajan 24
ME Joshua Eugene Griffin I wonder if you saw me Would you see me THE REAL ME Not the idea you’ve built But the me who has lived 28 years in this skin Could you look past my ethnicity See the me that’s always been Does my STATURE plus INK intimidate you My HEIGHT allows me to look past bigotry My body is street art permanently painted by experiences I am a walking Smithsonian Few have explored my many levels My depth is deeper than thanking I am Mona Lisa’s smile when I speak poetry STANDING ROOM ONLY Remove the poetry Remove the portrait It’s only me Standing amongst myself in a crowd of stereotypes Athletic – Rapper – Drug Dealer – Womanizer Compassionate – Passionate – Believer of Humanity Exoticized I’ve been Woman of my past wanted to date the race More than they wanted to date the ME So the question is If I were a book Would you open the story and read Or would you stop at the cover If the pages lacked words Would you write your story Writing truth at all times Or would you write what you think I’d want to read I am NOT your idea Nor am I alive to be checked off your to-do-list If you wish to know more than you see If you truly desire to know the REAL me READ - Joshua Eugene Griffin
By Bus through Morocco ShanA Braxton
Photo by Kelsey Holmes
Life is full of golden nuggets that we find in moments of contact with the people around us.
Travel between cities in Morocco is always unexpectedly memorable. By bus, traveling consists of the normal shenanigans -- like people being picked up and dropped off in places with no houses in sight, only mountains and trees. The drivers throwing bread out to the dogs that are resting at each curve in the mountains. A ticket attendant yelling down the aisle to see who needs to purchase their bus pass. Riders persistently closing the curtains wherever they sit to avoid contact with the sun because they think it’s dangerous. Not to mention the occasional argument between riders and ticket attendants about who knows what. Sometimes we are told we’re
going to one place when we’re actually going to another place, on the side of the road, to meet up with another bus that is supposed to take us to our final destination. Oh, and don’t worry about time because you’ll never get there when they say you will. Just sit back and enjoy the ride! And be sure to pay attention to the words that the ticket attendant is calling out, because it just may be a warning call for an upcoming bus transfer to your final destination. One time, I decided to take the bus instead of the taxi to Rabat. Usually, I prefer the taxi because it is a shorter ride than the bus. Nevertheless, two important factors influenced my decision to ride the bus this time. First, riding the bus is cheaper and I was
low on Dirhams Second, I was not in any particular rush to arrive in Rabat. During this ride, the ticket attendant yelled out a series of, “Rabat, Rabat, Rabat” calls. Suddenly, I began thinking to myself, “we are not in Rabat.” Normally, this kind of thought is my signal to ask for clarification. “Is the bus going to Rabat or do I need to get on another bus?” Rushing to remove baggage and transport people from one bus to the other, the ticket attendant yells to me, “Aji, ají,” which means come here in Darija. That’s my cue to move quickly so I don’t miss my next bus. I grab my bag, placed in the seat next to me and proceed to the second bus.
he shoved half his sandwich in my hand commanding that I eat. Then he gave me half his bag of fries. I was extremely grateful for his kindness because I had gone the whole day without eating. I was worried that if I exited the bus to buy food, the bus may pull off without me.
Another act of kindness happened one day during a bus transfer. An elder woman tapped me on the shoulder to ask me to hold her bag. As I began walking, I realized it was heavy, which is why she requested my assistance. I held her bag while making a few complaints to me, myself, and I. When we finally got onto the bus, she repeatedly thanked When riding the bus I generally me as she sat down seemingly meet very kind people who take a exhausted from her journey. I liking to me. Kind gestures make was carrying a bag of bananas the rides worth the exhaustingly with me and decided to offer her long hours. For instance, once one. She took one and we both before an 8 plus hour journey began eating. When I turned to from Marrakech to Oulmes, I sat look in her direction, I noticed at the very back of the bus. The that she had peeled off a piece of only thing I could do was sleep her banana and gave it to the guy to let the time pass. On occasion sitting next to her. In Morocco, the ticket attendant came back to this type of behavior is common. check on me and to ask about my After eating, we wrapped up the final destination. Then randomly, peels and placed them in my bag. during lunch time he came and sat All of a sudden, the guy she gave in the back across the aisle from a piece of her banana pulled out a me and began to unpack his lunch. pomegranate and gave it to her. I I didn’t think anything of it, until heard her saying thank you as he
proceeded to pull out a knife. Next thing I know, the pomegranate was cut and I was handed one half. I thanked both of them as I enjoyed its delicious flavor. Living in Morocco has heightened my awareness about the significance of building relationships with people. The truth is, as we sit on the bus, we are all living in our own bubbles, focusing on our own life’s events. When we experience kindness from one another, our bubbles bond together expanding our views, attitudes, and perceptions. Personally, I make an effort to make contact with people as I travel from one point in life to another. Interpersonal contact builds character, and it is the glue that makes memories stick in our brains. As you travel and connect with the world around you, make an effort to be kind to the people sharing your journey. Not for the gain of material benefits, yet for the gain of enhancing your character. Life is full of golden nuggets that we find in moments of contact with the people around us. If we are paying attention, we can appreciate the moments when we have those golden nuggets of life in our possession. 27
Photos by Fay Cowper
A tiny Amazigh woman makes her way up the stairs, past my front door, and through the gate that leads to the coop of chickens who have been my jovial neighbors for the past year and a half. Almost at the gate, she stops and turns to me – sitting on my balcony having my morning coffee – and says hello to me. She laughs as my cat, Lalla, jumps over the balcony. “Ah, mshisa!” she chuckles, eyes sparkling as she watches the cat timidly interact with her chickens. This is Ina, which in Tashlheet means “my grandmother.” She is the matriarch of the family. I live with and was the last wife (of seven) of my recently deceased host grandfather. I’ll admit that despite my time here, learning Tashlheet (the language spoken in this community) in addition to Darija (Moroccan Arabic) hasn’t been my biggest strength. We stumble through a conversation filled with gestures and laughter, both walking away happy, if confused. As I watch her tend to her chickens, I am happy to have the opportunity to connect with someone whose life has been vastly different from my own. From the moment I met Ina, she was always smiling. Each interaction I have with her is a slightly awkward combination of pantomime and giggling, and usually ends in a dance party of two – just dance and you’ll figure it out eventually, right? Somehow, although we don’t understand each other, we share an understanding. During one of the first weeks I was living with her family, she took me up the side of the mountain our homes are carved into to
introduce me to the chickens. The way she cares for them speaks for the way she cares for all those around her – with love and devotion. One day, I saw her up on the side of the mountain, hacking away at a cactus with an axe. It was a sight to behold; a woman barely five feet tall wielding a heavy axe, facing the elements without the slightest hesitation. “What are you doing?” I asked. She responded, saying something about her beloved chickens. My neighbor translated, “One of her chickens likes to rest in the shade here, but the cactus have grown over where she used to sit. She’s making sure this one is comfortable and can enjoy.” A week after I moved into my new house, next to the chickens, a family of swallows also decided to make their home on my balcony, building a nest. Making her daily trip up the stairs, she stopped, pointed, and flashed me the widest, sweetest smile. “They’re good luck, you know. A blessing.” A blessing is exactly what Ina has been in my life. She is an inspiration. She goes about her tasks, having raised, children and now grandchildren, without the slightest complaint. Her story is one I continue to read, discovering more about her each day. Although I can’t completely understand what she says, I can tell that she’s funny. She has little shame; she knows her place in the world and is unafraid to be herself. I am happy to know her, and each time I say the family name, Achoukhane, I feel a surge of pride at being associated with someone so kind, hardworking, and caring. To me, Ina represents the feeling of peace and belonging I have here. To me, Ina is home. 27
Photo by Raashnie GopalRai
Bismillah Jamie Kreindler & Jennifer Williams
This is the story of a community arts project in Sefrou. Two third year PCVs, Jennie Williams (Ribat El Kheir 2015-2018) and Jamie Kreindler (El Menzel 2015-2017 / Sefrou 2017-2018), collaborated with 12 participants from the local hospital and boys boarding school to create a collage that tells a tale of healthy eating. Images of tea pots, tagines, fruits, vegetables, soups, stews and families gathering together over plates of cous cous that represent the colorful, diverse, and nutritious food landscape in Morocco. The collages are arranged in a circular pattern to rouse the appetite. As one passerby remarked, “It looks like a plate full of food!” Fixed on the third floor of the Mohamed V Hospital in Sefrou, “Bismillah” enhances and brightens the space. It is one of 13 artworks donated to the public hospital in partnership with the arts organization, Culture Vultures. To create your own community arts story, follow these step- by- step instructions…
Step one: Buy a piece of wood (less than 100 dirhams) and cut a circle. Step two: Paint the front and back of the wooden board. White latex or acrylic paint is preferred over oil paint. Let dry. Step three: Paint the edge of the wooden board with a design and let dry. Use a Moroccan dish for inspiration.
Step four: Gather materials for 1-2 collage workshop(s) and coordinate when/where to implement the workshop(s). Materials include paper, magazines, scissors, paint brushes and glue.
Step six: Assemble the collages on the wooden board. Cut and glue the participants’ artwork.
Step five: Make food-inspired collages with community members during a 1-2 hour workshop. Each participant should be given a blank sheet of paper to create their collage.
Step eight: With the help of assistants, hang the completed artwork at the hospital for patients and staff to enjoy!
Step seven: If needed, iron the collages so they remain flat on the board.
Crackle Cassandra Rose Ernst
Before arriving to Morocco, I anticipated vast expanses of sand blowing through dry heat. Instead, fresh sheets of snow blanket the dirt roads and dirt homes and concrete dwellings as heavy, hovering mist engulfs the mountains, which stand solemnly like gendarmerie at a checkpoint. I need to tone my arms, but instead of chopping wood, I buy a little electric heater for the cold nights. I rest two feet in front of its orange-glowed metal. Metal twisted into a path that leads to a failed promise of heat. My breath mocks me, role playing a chain smoker whose teeth chatter too much to take a decent drag. When my fingers, which don’t constrict but swell in the cold, begin to lose all tactility, I abandon my floor to the heat “Down Under” where my host family resides. I pull back the cartoon-patterned blanket and enter the salon turned sauna. I am greeted by the smiling face of my host mama, who immediately relinquishes her coveted space behind the metal box, which burns dry wood and orange peels – old clothes and recycled paper – plastic bags and plastic bottles. A reminder that while this heat may feel good for my body, my lungs aren’t too pleased.
As I listen to the hiss and crackle of the hidden flames, pressing my stockinged toes against the box—just the right amount of heat if I time my beat right—I imagine the tales told around the open flame. Summer camps with guitars strumming. Personal testimonies and midnight confessions. Failed attempts at scaring other campers. Laughter and shared family memories around the barbeque. Bonfire parties on humid summer nights with tales told to encourage slipping away from the crowd. And in the collective memory of the soul—when the warmth of the fire signaled the safety from foes—stories of warning and inspiration passed down generations, until one day, ink transcribed onto paper. A sudden sound jars me from these memories of old as a new tale around the metal box of fire begins. It’s a tale seen across countries and culture. The crackling of the television from speckled gray to color. A child is missing. Or maybe a lover scorned. It’s hard to keep track, but family is always in disarray. My host sister leans forward, intent on every word. And I find myself drawing a little closer too: telling myself that this is just good Darija practice. I swear I’m not a soap opera junkie . . . But why is that man trying to break down that poor woman’s door? The fire crackles inside, gray-black smoke twisting from the rooftops where drafts of snow settle heavily. If you look closely in the dark and swirling sky—blending verily nearly in with the ice—you can see the concaved white discs that sit on every onefloor dirt home and two-floor concrete dwelling. 31
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