Hosting the Host Fam

I missed my host brother’s wedding. Ever since I arrived here over a year ago, my host family has been talking about this wedding and my crucial role in it; like the previous volunteer at our host sister’s wedding, it was written that I would be the photographer and token foreign dude singing songs in Tamazight. Unfortunately, the stars didn’t align and I was asked to present at two Peace Corps trainings the same weekend of the wedding, thus giving my community a new reason to claim my inferiority to the previous volunteer (I highly doubt it will dethrone any of the top 3 most-frequently-cited reasons: 3) “The other American used to buy meat and bring it over to our house,” 2) “The other American bought new desks for the preschool,” and my personal favorite, 1) “The other American took my kids to Rabat when they had heart problems, paid for a deposit so they could stay in a private hospital, and arranged for them to see heart specialists.” Yes, that really did happen, and yes, that’s a tough act to follow, especially when you don’t think it’s within the role of a Peace Corps Volunteer to do something like that. But more on that another time…).

Fortunately, I was able to do one favor for my family. Moroccan weddings generally involve inviting the entire extended families of the bride and groom to stay at the house of the wedding and inviting the entire community to attend the party, packing the house to the brim with people. So I didn’t think it too strange when my family asked me if they could use my living room to store some of their furniture for a few days while the wedding was going on. I assumed this was a standard request and considering they housed me for 2 months in their living room, the least I could do was let them put a few chairs and ponges in my living room while I was away at the trainings. So I gave them my key, kindly asked them to stay out of my bedroom and restrict who is allowed in my house, and left for work.

A week later, traveling since 5:30AM, I returned to my house at 6PM in the aftermath of the wedding. “Aftermath” seems to be the best way to describe it, since weddings in my town begin at 11PM and last until 7AM, so everyone who attended is essentially wrecked the next day. Exhausted from travel, I trudged towards my door, barely noticing the soiled diapers and tighty-whities strung on the olive tree in my front yard. Here I should interject that part of me had dreaded coming home– I trusted my host parents implicitly, but my host brothers seemed apt to use my house as a safe-haven of debauchery if they managed to get a hold of my key. I opened the door, half expecting to find broken bottles and piss stains on the wall. As I stepped in, I heard a fan running– not my fan– and I turned the light on and looked into my living room where the furniture was to be stored. The room included, among other things: a fan, a large refrigerator (plugged in and quite loud), a stack of clothing– men’s and women’s, thrown around as if people had been dressing there–a few random sacks of food, a queen-sized bed complete with its wooden frame, and, notably, my host father asleep on it.

Knowing I should be surprised but too tired to actually feel surprised, I took off my backpack and walked through my house assessing the situation. My bedroom was untouched; my kitchen included a washer-dryer but was otherwise as I left it; and my hallway was unchanged except for a new floor plant, placed next to the mirror in the corner– exactly where one would put it if one had such a plant and were inhabiting my house. I went to the bathroom which included a few new toothbrushes, soap bars and shampoo bottles, at which point my exhausted mind finally concluded, with the kind of detached interest one might feel after dosing off during a mystery film and waking up during the reveal, that my host father and perhaps some number of family members were living in my house.

Despite the awkwardness of the situation, and the aforementioned underwear hanging on my olive tree, I was mostly grateful for this opportunity to lend a hand (or a bedroom) to a family that has done so much to welcome me in Morocco. I didn’t know how long it would be before I’d have my house to myself (turned out to be roughly 24 hours), nor did I know exactly how many people had slept in my house or planned to in the future; but I felt lucky to return the favor in this particularly appropriate way. After all, how many volunteers get the chance to host their host family?

I walked back to the living room and looked again at my sleeping host father who stirred at my presence. “ahh Mbarek… salaam…… let’s …have tea, he croaked in that half-awake, he-wasn’t-supposed-to-see-this kind of way.

“Your house or mine?,” I asked.

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Man vs. Beast, Moroccan Edition

I’ve tried to start writing again a number of times and the task always seems daunting. I promise my next post will provide a legit update on work, cultural experiences, and generally insane events that make up my everyday life, but, as usual, I feel more inclined towrite about nature—specifically, the beasts Mother Nature, the world’s cruelest referee, has selected put in the ring with me. I’ll get to them in a minute, but for now I’m going to jump to the present since, as always in Peace Corps Morocco, the present demands our full attention.

In the present, I am going on 36 hours of diarrhea and dehydration headaches caused by heat exhaustion (when I lean over, it feels like an anvil slides from the back of my head to behind my eyes), listening to the daily, afternoon thunderstorm that breaks the 120-degree heat down to 80 and threatens tornados (at least that’s what my Midwestern sense tells me—I don’t know if there has ever been a tornado here but if there were one, I am confident my suicidal house would happily offer itself to the swirling tempest). I’m also periodically scanning my room for scorpions and camel spiders. If you have never heard of a camel spider, I suggest you preserve your innocence and never, ever, check out the Wikipedia page here.

Those of you who deliberately disregarded my warning and visited that Wikipedia page or lost your innocence sometime before most likely presume I am already dead. While I will do everything in my power to defend myself, I must tell you that everything you read is true: camel spiders run faster than you and most frequently towards you, they’re mean-looking sonsofbitches and their guts explode all over the place when you kill them (I don’t know if you read about that last part, but it’s true and it’s wicked gross).

And then there’s the stuff they don’t want you to know. Camel spiders are beautiful Russian spies in disguise. Camel spiders bit the Jonas brothers, displaying a very literal poor taste in music. Camel spiders invented credit default swaps. Camel spiders bit a hole in the Deepwater Horizon.

OK so maybe I made up that last one but it’s one of the more plausible theories out there. I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist, but I do have workable evidence camel spiders may be conspiring with Iago and possibly Glenn Beck to rule the world, starting with my house (thankfully, Glenn Beck has yet to appear within these porous walls but I figure he can’t be too different from a camel spider since they are in the same family (Scarious Pestious Thatus Threatenid Allia Thatis Goodia Indis Worldus)).

Which brings me to the Kill Board. My house may be willing to let creepy-crawling intruders and anti-Semitic mice in, but once they’re here, they enter a world of pain (except for Iago, who has deftly thwarted all attempts to kill him (attempts that have resulted in twelve, yes twelve, of his comrades’ deaths), and continues to find new ways to offend me, like when I woke up the other day next to a mouse turd 3 inches from my face on my pillow… the bastard). With the notable exception of Iago, my right shoe and I have been quite successful against this pest invasion. Note the tallies below, each one representing a near-death experience for me, and an actual death experience for them:

Mark vs.

Camel Spiders: IIIII II

Scorpions: II

Mice: IIIII IIIII II

Iago: (none…. yet)

Note: I refuse to kill giant beetles that number in the hundreds in my house because they appear to be blind and senile, and, while certain anti-Semitic mice may try to convince you otherwise, I am not a cruel man. I’m generally OK with a few flies, until I’m not anymore, at which point I enter a berserker-ninja-jedi rage that ends when my house can be officially designated a no-fly zone. As for the hordes of Jack Bauer cockroaches cohabitating my house, I humbly surrender to them. I once tried to kill a Jack Bauer cockroach by stabbing it at full force with the point of a chef’s knife—the blade refused to pierce the exoskeleton, leading me to believe these are greater beings than I have the power to contend with.

Helpless beetles, evasive flies, and Jack Bauer cockroaches aside, from the stellar numbers posted above, you may think I am winning this war. Alas, it is I who live in fear. Emperor Glenn Beck and his First Lieutenant Iago wage a war of attrition, hurling great numbers of minions in my general direction, caring not for lives lost. In a moral world, one cannot win against such heartless beasts. No, in my house, the rule is kill or be utterly grossed-out and possibly injured for a day or so.

Thus, I will leave you on an appropriately grim note. Legend has it camel spiders earned their name by eating camels. Lots of them. So, if you want to know how I’m doing and I haven’t updated or corresponded in a while, keep hitting refresh on that Wikipedia page and pray it never shows up as “Mark Spiders.”

Best,

Mbarek

But wait! I don’t want to end on that note, especially since so far, I’m actually faring pretty well against the camel spiders. It’s Iago that’s given me over one year of drama. So, for your enjoyment, I would like to submit the first, short entry in my upcoming Indie rock opera “Mice and Men” about the blossoming, unlikely friendship between myself and Iago (incidentally, it is also an allegory for the conflict in Israel-Palestine). The scene:

I have tried to kill Iago on numerous occasions, accidentally resulting in the grotesque deaths of twelve of his compatriots. Following a horrible snowstorm that nearly brought down the roof of my house (seriously, this happened—someday I’ll backtrack and describe it in another post), I have not seen Iago in my house for a few weeks and I begin to miss him. I also begin to wonder if this troubled house is really worth fighting for. At this moment, Iago returns and bravely sings this song. At first he sings by himself, and since I don’t understand Modern Standard Mousabic, I think he’s saying some sort of racial slur and I try to kill him again. But just before I squash him with my boot, I see the fear on his face; I think of his mouse mom and his mouse dad (who, coincidentally, I may have killed earlier), and I realize this fight isn’t worth it, so I sing the same song. Iago doesn’t understand me and thinks I am singing about the many ways I am going to kill him, so he begins to run away to plan his next care-package heist. But just before he leaves, he sees I am not pursuing him, and he understands through my actions that I want peace, so finally we sing together. This final reprise is the excerpt I have included for you today.

Click here to listen: Mice and Men (reprise)

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More mousing around

Many of my loyal readers (aka concerned friends and family members) have informed me it has been quite a while since I updated my blog. Indeed, I can corroborate this statement based on my primary measurement of time, which indicates I have completed approximately 2 seasons of Mad Men and 1 season of the Wire since the last post. Also the temperature has dropped considerably and the condition of my mud house has deteriorated significantly with the change in weather. My windows have been broken for about a month since an awe-inspiring dust storm blew them open, shattering glass and covering the inside of my house in a layer of dirt; my main lightbulb went out and, due to the faint, wintry breeze I have in most rooms in my house thanks to the broken windows, I lived in dusty darkness for five days because it was too cold to be motivated to do anything about it; my sink is clogged and despite numerous failed attempts to unclog it (shoving sticks down it; pouring hot water, salt, baking soda and vinegar, and what I believe to be sulfuric acid), my landlord tells me I will have to wait for “a warm day” to fix it. Considering I saw snow here for the first time last week and I am currently huddled next to my gas heater wearing my djellaba over enough layers (6) you could easily mistake me for a homeless Jedi, I expect the next “warm day” to be sometime in early March, if my house does not complete its precipitous descent into nothingness before then.

Saving my house from hurling itself into oblivion is just one of many things that have distracted me from updating my blog, but I will try to be more diligent in the future. I will attempt to make up for the silence by completing parts 2 and 3 of the much-anticipated “My Job” series within the next week, and post a world-premiere sample from my up-and-coming smash-hit Emo-bluegrass album.

But seeing as how my readers seem more concerned about Iago’s well-being than my own expatriate experience, I will start with a much-anticipated update about my furry, little, anti-semitic roommate. Well, folks, as of the last time I saw him defiantly scurry across my floor (three weeks ago), Iago was very much alive and well. Since I first wrote about him 6 months ago, he became quite comfortable in my house, too comfortable, and mocked me regularly during nightly appearances in my living room. I would sit quietly reading or using my computer, and Iago would creep out of one of his many holes, walk as close as 3 feet from me, stare at me tauntingly, then, standing on his hind legs with his tail propped rigidly at a 45 degree angle, he would march forth in a frightful interpretive dance evocative of Triumph of the Will. Needless to say it was quite a disturbing performance, but I had come to expect it of my tiny adversary.

I should interrupt to mention I requested my parents send a have-a-heart trap from the states—a metal contraption invented by hippies to spare the lives of even the most anti-semitic rodents. Of course, I had no intention of sparing Iago’s life—I was mostly concerned that he had outsmarted my every maneuver to destroy him, and my best bet was to import a foreign, hippie-made trap, since Iago had certainly never even imagined a hippie, much less a trap designed by a hippie. More importantly, the hippie trap would not allow Iago to die in my walls, thus denying him the last, putrid, pungent laugh.

Perhaps I have neglected to mention the other reason for the hippie trap. Throughout all those nightly encounters, I had, it seems, fallen in love. Not with Iago—of course not, I hope the bastard’s dead—but with another mouse, Iago’s little friend, Pip Squeak. Pip, cute as a button (provided the button looks like a small mouse), was the antithesis of Iago—a tiny mouse with a tail twice as long as his body and hops like you’ve never seen (we would play a little game: he would look at me, I would clap, and Pip, startled, would jump as high as 3 feet in the air). So for a while, Iago would piss me off and Pip would melt my heart—we reached a sort of equilibrium. As for the hippie trap, it was even more peaceful than it was designed to be—Iago would run over it on his way out of the hole in the wall, and Pip would use it as a spring board for his jumps to grab really righteous air.

But one day Iago overstepped his boundaries and upset me to a degree even Pip’s crazy-awesome three-foot-high backflip couldn’t cool down. I found Iago in my kitchen, where he had been pillaging various goodies I received in care packages from the States. Now, please understand, in the Peace Corps, care packages are sacred. Human or otherwise, you do NOT touch the care package. Naively, I thought this was common knowledge, but apparently Iago had yet to learn, or perhaps he’s just that evil.

Thirsty for vengeance, I reexamined the hippie trap. It’s essentially a metal box with two ramps leading inside, but once the mouse goes in, the ramps flip behind him and there’s no way out. Mwahahaha… diabolical hippie genius. Anyway, while the hippies claimed it functions as a baitless trap, surely they did not anticipate Iago’s cunning, so I modified the trap slightly. Knowing Iago’s insatiable lust for my care packages, I placed two teaspoons of semi-precious Skippy peanut butter in the middle of the trap, cackled once or twice at the thought of finally catching him, shed a tear for the wasted peanut butter, and placed the trap next to a new hole, waiting for the hippies to work their magic.

A few days later I returned home and found the hippie-Skippy trap contained prisoners. Yes, after months of not catching any mice, I caught two at once! I couldn’t believe it. More importantly, I couldn’t believe that neither of the mice were Iago. I had caught my beloved Pip, and some other sad, homeless Mickey who Iago surely duped into inspecting the delicious scent of peanut butter emanating from the harmless metal box. Once they were caught, Iago, the furry, little, social Darwinist, undoubtedly waved farewell, whistled his favorite Wagner tune, and scurried away; leaving his brethren to whatever horrible, hippie fate awaited them.

Alas, I did not know what to do. I had all sorts of maniacal ideas for when I found Iago in the hippie trap, but Pip? What could I do with Pip but grant him his freedom, just as the hippie trap had been created to do. And Mickey? Well he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Can’t hold that against him. After all, it’s Iago I’m after.

So placed the trap in my courtyard and resolved to take it far away the next morning to release the mice in another town—an uncertain fate to be sure, but at least they would no longer roam my house, or my care packages. I would miss Pip. If there were a mouse Olympics he’d surely take home the gold for high jump. And cuteness. Awww…..

Regrettably, I forgot about the trap. Around noon I remembered and went outside to check on the mice to see how they were doing on the morn of their freedom. Pip and Mickey lay in the trap, lifeless, facing each other in a way that seemed to whisper “goodbye, dear mouse friend.” The morning sun had turned the metal hippie box into something of an oven and baked the two trapped mice to a crisp. “DAMN YOU, IAGO!” I cried. But no. This was not Iago’s doing, although I’m sure the sick bastard would love to take credit for it. It was my thoughtless negligence combined with diabolical hippie engineering and the merciless Moroccan sun that killed those innocent mice. And it was thus that Pip jumped one last, Olympic-sized jump into heaven.

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My Job, Part 1: What my community thinks I’m doing

Recently, while I was kicking back, unapologetically feeding my new addiction to Mad Men (have you seen that show? The writing is superb, the acting is convincing, and well, ok I’m comfortable enough with myself to say it—I dig the men’s clothing. OK, before you judge me (perhaps it’s too late), consider these two points: 1) I always enjoyed dressing up for work (I was a founding member of the infamous “tie Tuesday” movement, a reactionary group of 5 guys working at a casually-dressed NGO, nostalgic for dressier, stylish times-past), and 2) I’m sitting in my mud house in Morocco wearing some combination of the 4 t-shirts and 4 pairs of pants I have been rotating for the past 8 months. From my current position cloistered in a poor, rural, Muslim community, roughly 1000 miles and 60 years away, watching a pressed, 3-piece suit waltz into a New York diner with Ella Fitzgerald scatting in background is downright pornographic), it occurred to me that most of you have no idea what I do here. And by “what I do” I mean “work,” or whatever it is you call the time between episodes of Mad Men back home. So, without further ado, allow me to attempt the impossible, and explain “my job.” I’m going to break it up into a few sections to be covered in three posts. Part 1: “What my community thinks I’m doing,” Part 2: “What I’m supposed to be doing” and “Why I don’t do what I’m supposed to be doing,” and finally, the one you’ve all been waiting for… Part 3: “What I’m doing.”

Part 1: What my community thinks I’m doing

I am a Community Rural Health volunteer, which basically means people in my town have no idea what to do with me. If I decide to answer the question “what are you doing here?” with my actual title, people immediately mistake me for some sort of qualified medical professional. Despite numerous trips to the hospital as an accident-prone kid, the only thing I learned was to stop playing sports, and I daresay I am at all qualified to give any sort of medical advice beyond “you should go see a doctor”—which, by the way, I say a lot, usually after “hmmm… let me see that” because hey I don’t want to seem like a complete idiot, and what’s the harm in appearing like I know what I’m talking about if I am never going to give any advice other than “you should go see someone who knows what they’re talking about”?

Anyhow, much of the “what do you do?” conversation is usually spent defining what I don’t do. I am not a doctor, nor a nurse, nor a student—medical or otherwise. Although debonair is usually one of the words I use to describe myself, I am not in the CIA (I actually had to sign a waiver upon joining the Peace Corps stating that I have never been in an intelligence agency nor will I join one within 10 years of my service. Of course I signed it, but do you really think if big brother CIA wants someone to work for him, he’ll run it by Peace Corps—his pesky, idealistic, pot-smoking, little stepbrother?).

About four or five yes-or-no questions into the conversation (answers all being “no”), I usually decide to set the record straight. I am not so much a “health volunteer” as a “community development volunteer.” I make the distinction primarily to set myself apart from past and current “health volunteers” who do things I either disagree with or simply do not want to do (once I write it, see “Why I don’t do what I’m supposed to be doing”). Community development Peace Corps volunteers do not exist in Morocco, which is great, because I can use the title to erase all assumptions people have for me. Well, not quite all assumptions—many people still think I am essentially tied to money, or to a visa to the United States, or that my cell phone is a direct line to Barack Obama—the Wizard of Oz by another name who will magically solve all their problems (little do they suspect my Obamaphone is not my cell phone; rather, a secret red phone I hide in the bat cave under my house).

Around this point in the conversation, I take control. I say something like “I do general community development projects—I help organize various associations (NGOs) in and around my site” (they nod knowingly because they know associations have lots of ideas but little productivity). If they need more, I throw in my well-polished shpiel about the first 2 goals of the Peace Corps—teaching Moroccans about Americans and vice versa. Usually by this point, at least one listener has caught my drift (or thinks he has) and proceeds to explain my job to the other men.* He may or may not be correct, and I may or may not correct him, depending on whether his version of my job sounds more or less interesting than mine.

The fluidity of my job description may sound strange from an American perspective, but frankly, my work—primarily cultural exchange, networking and consulting for associations—does not culturally translate to men who define work as either long, hard hours in the fields, or working in a coffee shop or a store in town. The rest are unemployed—and the rest are numerous. So as far as many men can tell, even ones to whom I have described “my job” in detail, I am getting paid by the American government to sit in cafes, mingle and essentially be unemployed alongside them.

The fact is, and it took me many months to arrive at this fact—it doesn’t necessarily matter what everyone in my community thinks I’m doing here. I am not going to work with everyone during my service, so really what matters is that 1) The people I might work with understand what I can and can’t do with them, and 2) Everyone else understands that I am a respectful American who wants to do everything he can to learn about their culture and help the community to the best of his ability, whatever that ability may be.

So what exactly does my community think I do? Not sure, really, but I gotta run—I’m expecting a call from Barack Obama in the bat cave.

Llay 3awn,
Mbarek

*You may have noticed that I generally only refer to discussions with men. That’s not only because I’m obsessed with Mad Men—actually perhaps it’s the other way around—maybe I’m obsessed with Mad Men because I currently live in the boy’s club that is rural Morocco. Gender in my Moroccan experience is enough for another post, if not another blog or a thesis, but for now suffice it to say I rarely get the chance to interact with Moroccan women on a professional level unless they’re students. Except for a handful of female teachers and one female doctor, I don’t recall ever being asked “what do you do here?” by women. Women in my town ask me things like “how are you?” and “do you have bread in your house?” Sadly, that’s about it.

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I’ll explain more later

But I thought you might be interested to watch my first performance at an international music festival (“international” primarily and solely because I was playing at it). There were a few thousand people there, and in case you didn’t recognize the song from the Billboard top 40, I am singing a medley of traditional Berber folk songs. Enjoy!

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Ramadon’t Wanna Do Anything Today…

Turns out, food and water are necessary for survival. Also, they appear to be directly correlated with brain function, so please forgive any errors, vagaries, oversights, misspellings, semantic confusion, fraud, slander, treason or vehicular manslaughter found within the following post.

Contrary to popular belief, Ramadan does not refer to a flying, horned dinosaur. It is a holy month on the Islamic calendar during which all Muslims (and some culturally inquisitive non-Muslims like yours truly) fast from food, water and bad thoughts every day from sunrise to sunset. It is a time for reflection, soul-searching and prayer; for reaffirmation of community and familial bonds; for empathizing with those who cannot afford to eat and drink everyday as we do; and it is a time to indulge in endless marathons of The Office, Arrested Development and Rome (OK, so maybe that last part isn’t exactly what the Prophet, peace be upon him, envisioned—although I’m sure he had heard a thing or two about Rome—but this is how I get through the hot, August day without passing out or dwelling too much on the fast).

Now on the 8th day and still going strong, lhamdullah, I’m starting to figure out my Ramadan schedule:

3:15 AM – Wake up for sHor, the pre-sunrise meal. Down 1.5 liters of water and savor 2 yogurts with muesli (purchased in a special trip to the disturbingly comforting Moroccan WallMart) before the 1st call-to-prayer sounds from the mosque down the street. Watch one episode of The Office to keep me awake enough to digest my food.

3:45 AM—sobH, the 1st call-to-prayer, which roughly translates to, “Mark! Put down the spoon and go back to bed.”

Sometime between 9:00 AM and 12:00 PM—Wake up, for no reason in particular. Commence epic battle against Time. Waste it before it wastes me. Must make it to 7:00 PM…

3:00 PM—Consider my to-do list and reflect momentarily, albeit disinterestedly, on why I have not done anything on it. Watch an episode of Rome. Maybe Octavian’s shrewdness will inspire me to achieve something during my day.

5:00 PM—Two hours left until break fast… Why, in two hours I can do so much! I could watch six episodes of Arrested Development or The Office, two of Rome, or all sorts of innovative combinations of the three shows, if I put my mind to it!

7:00 PM—lmghrb, the 4th call-to-prayer, and absolutely my favorite time of day (well, maybe runner-up to the 15 seconds during theme song of The Office). Just before the call sounds, I love to sit outside with my host family and watch men, women and children giddily race home to lftur, the break fast meal. Not sure why, but the excited commotion always reminds me of The Little Rascals. (Fun-with-linguistics note: In Tamazight, the 4th call-to-prayer is called tinwoochi. Literally, tinwoochi means “time to eat”, but I like to think of it as an exceptionally appropriate onomatopoeia for the sound made when people fly past you on their way to break the fast. i.e. tinwooooooocheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!)

After prayer, families gather together for lftur to break the fast. I have been inviting myself over to my host family’s house nearly every night of Ramadan. The meal begins with my host mom’s amazing banana juice, made all the more amazing by a long day of self-induced famine, along with dates, figs, olives and shebekia, a delicious, sweet and sticky thingamajig (I do apologize for my lack of eloquence, but I am not Alton Brown—I cannot tell you what is in shebekia because the only thoughts I have while eating it are ‘yes…. finally ….body recharging….yum.’ Who cares what’s in it if it makes me feel good? Yes, I’m aware I sound like an addict).

Then my host mom brings out the aghrom n tadunt, literally “grease bread,” which is at least as delicious as it sounds. My family likes to joke that it’s “pizza,”—it is not pizza, although I imagine if people in my town tried Chicago pizza they might name it something like “grease bread.” Again, don’t press me for the ingredients (maybe I’ll get them after Ramadan), but suffice it to say “grease bread” also makes me feel real good.

Of course, we’re drinking the requisite tea, which never tasted so divine (and I have never been so glad to consume such exorbitant amounts of sugar) and the occasional Nescafe. Just when we’re all nearly full, the harira comes out—a delectable, soupy concoction containing an assortment of ingredients, ranging from macaroni to cow cheek. I’m actually still not sure what the common denominator is in harira—perhaps I’ll figure that out when I start caring enough to distinguish between ingredients again in 3 weeks. But for now, I’m pretty sure the equation is:

harira + desperation-induced indifference = sweet, sweet sustenance

After the meal, we come to the 3rd best part of the day (after the theme song of The Office and tinwooooocheeee!)—I go outside with my host dad and we lean against a mud wall, gaze up at the stars and enjoy the cool breeze off of the mountains. We usually sit in silence, slowing down, pausing to appreciate each breath (I have to concede my host dad appreciates them even more than I, since this is his first cigarette since breaking the fast).

Despite the long days, during which, to the casual observer, wasting time seems to be my only goal*, I am extremely grateful to experience Ramadan in a Muslim country. The whole country is on the Ramadan schedule—all the restaurants and cafes are closed during the day, transportation is difficult to find and potentially dangerous if you find it (trust me, you don’t want end up in a taxi trying to tinwooooocheeeeee home in time to break the fast), and the streets are essentially empty until lmghrb. Families and friends are together every night, and while fasting can definitely lead to some short tempers (perhaps for another blog post), the struggles and celebrations of Ramadan ultimately bring people together. Even though I’m not a Muslim and everyone knows it, I form a bond with my community when I fast with them and break the fast with my family. And I have never seen people so happy here or anywhere else as when I wish my friends “ad i3za rbbi ramdan (may God glorify your Ramadan).”

Ad i3za rbbi ramdan,

M’barek

*Now, you may be wondering—do you really have to waste the whole day? I’ve had a lot of time to think about this question, and the answer is yes. When I’m fasting, #1 on my to-do list becomes survive until break fast; everything else (i.e. work and actual responsibilities) takes a backseat.  Clearly, this is a huge productivity killer because it creates the illusion that, merely by making it to 7PM, I have accomplished something worthy of celebration and my day was a success. In some ways, that’s part of the point of Ramadan—to value that which we normally take for granted. I’m not suggesting we need to value lethargy, but sometimes we expect so much of ourselves that we don’t realize that it is an accomplishment to survive a single day, especially for those who rely on charity and fortune to provide their next meal. So whether you are fasting or not, consider taking a moment at the end of today to pause and appreciate the very fact that you’re alive. It’s simple—but it’s everything.

If that doesn’t convince you, taxpayers and concerned family members please take note that I am not the only one bound by the Ramadanian shackles of inactivity. Yesterday, I ventured outside my house at 4:00 PM to find a lone man sitting outside of the mosque. I asked him what he does on a typical day during Ramadan. He said, “I get up at 3:15 for sHor. Then I go to sleep until 10 or noon. Then if I feel like it I might walk around for an hour or so. Then I don’t know, I guess I’ll probably go back to sleep until I wake up to break the fast.” I bet you a kilo of shebekia (and you know how much that means to me) that if he had 5 seasons of The Office, he’d sacrifice some sleep to watch it. So really I’m working… er… surviving on the same schedule as my community.

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Mousing around

Now that I have moved into my house, I am basically alone. I write “basically alone” because I wouldn’t want to overlook the scorpions, lizards, birds, insects, spiders and mice that live there too. In the past week I have killed a scorpion, heroically battled a mouse (read on for details), and contemplated ways to rid my roof of the 50 birds that nested up there while no one was living inside (I’ve considered throwing a Molotov cocktail up there and setting my roof ablaze; learning their language and diplomatically talking them down from the roof; or creating a 35km trail of breadcrumbs to lead them to the nearest PCVs roof. Suggestions welcome).

There are two newts that live in my bathroom—Jorge and Emilio—I actually kind of like those guys so I hope they stick around for the duration. Then there’s Frank, the perpetually disgruntled iguana who sulks around my front yard. I like to think he’s depressed because he wasn’t born a chameleon (clearly the superior lizard), which I believe also lives in my yard, but you can never be sure.

But for now, I would like focus on the story of one extraordinary animal, one who has thwarted my every attempt to destroy it. Iago is the mouse that lives in the mud walls of my house, and he is one tough, self-destructive sonofabitch. I first met Iago one night a couple weeks ago, when he popped his deceptively cute, grey head through a hole in my living room, ran to the door, and then, once he was sure I saw him, scurried back into the hole. I glanced at the other PCV in the room, who shared my “he’s cute but he’s gotta go” look on her face, which was enough for me to go to the kitchen to grab an old, copper mousetrap left over from the last PCV.

Snapping my own very un-mouse-like fingers numerous times, I rigged the antique trap as best I could, placed it at the same hole from which Iago had made his grand entrance, and resumed watching reruns of Boston Legal.

Fifteen minutes later, Iago appeared, gave the trap a once-over and then looked at me as if I had offended him with this meager attempt at mousicide. “Hey rookie—you think this old piece of junk is gonna take me out? If you’re gonna get me you better damn well finish the job. You could really hurt a guy with a thing like this!” I watched in amazement as he stepped defiantly onto the mousetrap and placed his paws on the trigger, pulling on it madly, wildly, suicidally—if Iago was going to die it was going to be because he wanted to die, not because some clumsy giant had set a shoddy trap indiscreetly next to the most obvious hole in the wall. The trap didn’t spring. “Of course it didn’t spring, you fool,” glared Iago. “Let me know when you’ve got a trap that works.” To drive his point home, he hopped confidently onto the trigger and past the mousetrap, went for a quick jog around the main room and the kitchen and returned the way he came, muttering something that sounded anti-Semitic before returning to his hole.

I examined the trap. It snapped on my finger.

So I set it again, careful to make the trap as sensitive as possible, and placed it where a mouse as condescending as Iago would expect it least—in the exact same spot. I turned the light off and went to get ready for bed.

SNAP!

I ran back to the living room thinking “Mwahaha he’s mine!,” flicked the lights on and there was Iago, unmoving and lifeless, with a copper bar around his furry, grey neck. No more condescension, no more provocation—Iago was no more. My reality TV version of Tom and Jerry ended abruptly, 10 minutes into the first episode. What have I done? Is this what I wanted? All the excitement was gone; the thrill of the chase, ended. Minutes after meeting my furry little roommate, I was left with only a dead mouse, and a guilty conscience.

I reached for the dustpan, dragged my feet over to the corpse and bent down to scoop him up. I didn’t know what I would do once I had Iago in my dustpan, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I was an undertaker on his first day on the job. My right hand, clutching the dust broom, inched nervously towards Iago’s body, and when it was close enough that any live mouse would have felt it and jumped, Iago felt it and jumped. HOLY CRAP HE’S ALIVE! That rat BASTARD!

The trap was still around his neck and it was holding him to the ground, like a necklace with a real grand piano as the pendant. Again, I inched towards Iago, thinking maybe this was just like a decapitated chicken, and maybe mice have a few jolts left in them before they go into the next world, which I imagine resembles the land from the Redwall series. This time Iago’s jolt was more successful. Summoning the force of ten thousand mice (conversion: force of ten thousand mice = force of my left pinky) he cast the vice-like death necklace off of his body, hopped into the air, started running in-place on the way back down until his feet picked up enough friction to move away from the site of his brief imprisonment and got the f!@# out of there, again mumbling something that sounded anti-Semitic.

Needless to say, I was pretty stunned. Sure, my reality TV Tom and Jerry was back on the air but I was no longer sure I wanted to be on it. I was pretty entertained by reruns of Boston Legal; moreover, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do battle with an immortal mouse, as epic as that sounds. I have since seen the mouse scurry across my floor a handful of times, and it once scampered over a fellow PCV while she was sleeping in my living room. On a related note (Iago, I hope you are reading this), I have also purchased some heavy duty mouse glue, which I have been instructed to apply to cardboard sprinkled with tomatoes, bread crumbs and other temptations, and once I have successfully immobilized the mouse, I am told “the glue is highly flammable.” While Iago may be quite a nuisance, I’m not sure burning alive is the appropriate sentence for the crime. But I’m not ruling anything out.

Llay 3awn, especially if you’re a mouse,

M’barek

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