How the (halal Moroccan wedding) Sausage Gets Made

Moroccan weddings are old hat at this point in my tenure as a Moroccan interloper. I anticipate the organization of the entire evening around five bedazzled dresses engulfing a stoic bride. There’s always the feeding of the dates and milk by the in-laws, the infinite cookies that no one actually eats at the wedding but rather packs away for later (I made that mistake several times), the lifting up of the bride and the groom in the 3mariya, the traditional wedding meals of chicken and then beef with prunes, and the endless hip-shaking that, try as I might, I will never, ever be able to emulate. I know that makeup and glitter will live long and prosper and that the event will always last longer than I think it will. After some trial and error on my part, I understand that everything gets filmed, and when the camera man shines his light on you, you’re not actually supposed to wave or smile at the camera like an idiot gouriya (westerner). I know the music will be loud.

So, when my sister-in-law invited me to her friend’s wedding, I managed to not have the wide-eyed look of excitement/confusion that usually graces my face here. Sure, yeah, that sounds like fun.” Bam. Invitation accepted. Plans made. No gawking committed.

To allay any suspicions that this happened to be the one wedding that didn’t fit the mold I just described, I’ll skip ahead for a second and say that it was exactly (for once) what I was expecting. There were small deviations from the formula (two 3mariyas?!), and I will admit that this was my first all-night wedding—so I got to have breakfast in addition to two dinners. However, like I said, nothing to write home (blog) about. Just another really lovely Moroccan wedding down in the books.

What ended up being the most fascinating aspect of the wedding was the preparation.

I was absolutely aware of the necessity of makeup and nice hair and pretty clothes when you attend a wedding. I just wasn’t so familiar with how everything, you know, got into its proper place. Like laws (and sausages), no one likes to see what it takes to Moroccify someone for a wedding. Usually I borrowed everything from other people last-minute and/or it was forced upon me. Never before had I attended a fancy city wedding where people rented dresses (!) and got their makeup and hair done at salons.

First on the pre-wedding to do list: rent a dress (or a takchita, to be precise). My SIL’s co-worker/friend/certified Marrakchi badass, Ghizlane, “knew a guy” around the corner. We went into a small little mall-like area that was probably the Marrakech equivalent of the clothing district. It was a maze of small stalls, all packed full of takchitas, gandoras, jellebas, kaftans, and then casual clothes. Clothes on clothes on clothes. And we tried on takchita upon takchita upon takchita. Some of the stall owners just wanted to fuck around (after we located and tried on a takchita, it turned out to not be for rent) or bestow a westerner’s tax upon me. Ghizlane would have none of this. She was a force to be reckoned with and a TV program to be watched. She brought down the curses of her ancestors upon these stall owners, shaming them to hell and back for whatever was their transgression du jour, and then, somehow, she would leave in smiles and amid gushing promises to return. They loved her. I loved her. I was also kind of afraid of her.

We finally found a female stall owner who had dresses that met our criteria: able to be rented immediately, in good condition, and for the price of 150 MAD each, or the equivalent of a little less than 15 USD. I want to take a moment and reflect on the fact that Rent the Runway cost my sad little graduate student ass 90 bucks for one dress. They did, however, throw in a pack of gum, which was very kind. No complimentary gum for my takchita, but at least it was an item we could all successfully mark off the list.

Next up: the salon.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I made a massive faux-pas while walking from the clothing stalls to the salon. In an effort to contribute to the conversation (and out of sheer curiosity), I asked how much the hair and makeup would cost. I was mentally tallying up the extreme difference between the cost of wedding prep in Morocco versus America. The response was vague: “I’m not sure…expensive. Ghali.” Hm, okay, that doesn’t help with precise calculations. “Okay, expensive, sure, but, about how much? Ch7al ta9ariban?” Again, came the same response. No estimates made, just proclamations of expense. An insignificant detail, apparently. We walked on.

We walked into a very Marrakechi salon, where there were about 4 people working and maybe 5 times that watching. It was a bare-bones joint. A few chairs for clients, a few benches for waiting (there was an ample amount of that to be had), and a single blow-dryer passed back and forth between the four stylists. Ghizlane marched up to one of the women working and did her little dance—forceful words, no fucking around, but leaving in smiles and greetings to each other’s grandparents. I was then instructed, in detail, to sit and wait my turn. Wow, these instructions are very specific…it’s almost like they’re leaving and wanting to make sure that I know what to do. Ding ding ding! Nailed it. They left, I sat. Alone. For three hours. This wealth of free time helped me to realize my transgression—by exhibiting too much interest in the price, they must have assumed that I was trying to indirectly indicate that I didn’t have enough money to cover whatever ghali ended up being. This was Ghizlane’s way of helping out the impoverished gouriya. When I first realized this, I had my American reaction of being pissed off. Why didn’t she just ask me?! Am I a child?! The answer was immediately obvious—no matter how many weddings I go to and think I understand, yes, I am essentially a child. Especially when making critical cultural errors like asking about the price of something.

So, I waited. A gouriya in a very ch3bi (“of the people”) salon is a sight indeed. I didn’t wait in silence for too long, though. The pattern is this: someone will speak to me in French, quickly realize I don’t know French, and then we discuss how and why I “know” Arabic. Like clockwork. As it turns out, there were many weddings happening that day, so I watched as a bride and what seemed like 36 of her family members got their makeup and hair done. One of the bride’s distant cousins sat next to me and chatted my ear off. Within minutes, we had gone from “hellos” to “Why don’t you have children yet? Oh, is it because you have a problem?” I found out that she was married but separated because of a problem with her in-laws. She also volunteered that the bride sitting about 5 feet away from us had already been married, but after a month, was divorced. “But she hasn’t been touched. Do you understand what I mean?” Just your typical salon chit-chat.

When it came time for my hair and makeup, I braced myself for whatever interpretation of “light makeup, please” would end up gracing my skin. I always get nervous when the eyebrow pencils get involved. But, as it turns out, the cheaper salon gave me some great bang for my dirham. For the price of less than 6 dollars, I had my makeup done (with fake eyelashes!) in a Moroccan version of “light”. 3 more dollars got me a blow-out. I looked like a new woman—and definitely someone appropriately outfitted for a fancy Marrakchi wedding.

The Day(s) Trip: Or, an Exercise in Examining One’s Mortality

I started out this past weekend by contemplating my own mortality. This thought pattern emerged rather organically as I sat in the front of a transit (the equivalent of a van that has had its windows welded shut, about 6 too many additional chairs inserted, and always seems to be on the verge of breaking down and/or exploding). Transits or minibuses (“mini-beese”) are a common form of public transportation here in Marrakech. You pile in, you align yourself with the energies of a sardine for 20 minutes, and then you unfold your origami-ed self and carry on with your day.

What was a bit different about this particular ride was that I wasn’t in my typical transit that runs between Marrakech and Tameslouht. That trip follows a predictable, flat, straight path that involves two right turns. Literally. Instead of this routine, I was heading to Orika, a beautiful mountain village and popular local vacation spot. The purpose? We were going purely for the joy that comes from a day trip with the family (more on the precise meaning of a “day trip” in a bit). This ride starts out similarly to the Marrakech-Tameslouht route, but quickly becomes more exciting: a gradual ascent into the mountains coaxes the road into a curve-hugging adventure that loops upwards in carefully-tiered layers. Looking down is not advised, not just because of the distance between your tiny self and the ground below, but also because you might notice the distinct lack of anything existing between you and a very dramatic free fall.

At our last stop before the winding, narrow, un-guard-railed road began, our driver was replaced with a pinch hitter. This guy hopped into the driver’ seat with (who I assume was) his 2 year old son. Logistically, this meant one arm around the child, one hand on the wheel. My inner equilibrium between “going-with-the-flow” to “a-desire-to-continue-living” began to tilt dangerously to one end of the spectrum.

Because my blood pressure wasn’t high enough at this point, Mr. Driver’s phone started ringing. Luckily for the greater good, he sacrificed the hand that was holding his son (who had fallen soundly asleep, obviously unconcerned with his own mortality) and had a lovely conversation while maneuvering the hell outta those mountainous curves. Mustapha’s mother—smushed next to me in the front seat—proactively offered to hold the kid. Our driver smiled and was like, “Oh no, I’ve got this!” How reassuring!

To his credit, the driver did make a pit stop along the way to hand off the kid to some dude on the side of the road. This ultimately didn’t make a huge amount of difference in terms of actively working to preserve our fragile lives, as his phone conversations, texting, and what I can only assume was Facebook stalking occupied his right hand for the duration of the ride. But, because I was destined to write this blog entry, we did arrive safely in Orika without so much as a scratch—physically, of course.

Orika is a fantastic destination that I would recommend to anyone who is growing restless in the flat, red, dry expanse that is Marrakech. Lush and mountainous, a river literally runs through it, and an entire summer economy has developed around it: cafes and restaurants are piled on top of each other along the banks of the river, offering both riverside and in-the-river (!) dining. Alternatively, you can rent what I can only describe as a stall— this is a makeshift contraption that offers a designated space and shade from the sun where you can spread out your blanket, hang out, and eat a massive meal.

Orika, in all of its mountainous glory!

Orika, in all of its mountainous glory!

After piecing ourselves back together from that harrowing journey up the mountain, M’s mom and I immediately plopped down in the river. It took me awhile to notice that his dad and brother were not with us. “Where is Hajj?” I asked as a lazy afterthought. Now, here is where Darija gets tricky and why I often have no idea what is going on around me. The answer that I received was he was looking for a place for us—depending on your translation— either to “sit” or to “stay.” I went ahead and assumed it was a place to sit. This made a lot of sense based on the availability of the aforementioned stalls and the fact that, when describing this trip to me, Hajj specifically said that we would be returning the same night. I put the possibility of an overnight stay out of my mind. It couldn’t exist—after all, I brought a book and some sunscreen in my bag. Not exactly the implements needed to maintain acceptable levels of personal hygiene for more than a day.

Imagine my surprise, then, when M’s brother came down to join us in the river and told us that Hajj found us “a room.” Okay, I thought, a room— so that is where we are going to sit. That’s a little, I dunno, fancy, but maybe that’s the most comfortable option. So, we walked upwards (this town is set up in a way that is reminiscent of Moulay Yacocub’s verticality and general love of stairs) and into an apartment. Hajj rented us a single, small room within this apartment. And when I say room, I mean that it had four walls bare walls, a window, and a door. The four of us could nap comfortably here, arranged in a Tetris-like pattern, but there wasn’t space for much else. There was a bathroom and sink outside in the common area, and we were presented with four thin mats for sleeping, a propane tank, two plastic trays, a small teapot, 4 tea glasses, a knife, and two tajines. Still, with all of this evidence before me, I clung to my own original translation of the situation, believing that this was a place to lounge and to eat, but that we would be heading back in the evening and sleeping in our own beds.

The context clue that gave it away was the food. My spidey-senses were tingling when I saw the amount of onions and tomatoes purchased— when it comes to food, Moroccans don’t fuck around. My in-laws in particular know exactly how much food they need to feed four people. Laying before me was definitely more than a generous lunch and possibly dinner’s worth of vegetables and meat. I turned to M’s mom and tried to sound nothing but casual while inquiring, “Do you know how long we’re staying here?” She shrugged her shoulders and responded in an equally unconcerned manner, “I’m not sure. Two, maybe three nights?” So much for the “day” aspect of day trip.

This is where I include the author’s note to please disregard the fact that I wore the same outfit for the entire vacation.

We all got Morocco-ed, in the most beautiful sense of the word. Who needs another pair of clothes, deodorant, or a toothbrush when you have a few extra days in the mountains? For the price of 5 USD per night, we literally had everything we needed, plus nature. I could not help but to compare the price of rent and the commodities allotted to our year in Cambridge. Mom and Dad, I’m so sorry that I couldn’t find a graduate program in Orika.

The highlight of this supersized day trip was our hike to see the waterfalls. M’s brother had already gone solo while the rest of us were mincing the definition of a “one day trip,” and enthusiastically reported back that we all needed to go. I looked down at the only pair of shoes I brought and asked if my sandals were a problem for this particular hike, as they’re super cute but not too utilitarian. “Of course not,” he replied. “There are tons of people who go without shoes.”

So, the motley crew decided to go, outfitted in cute sandals and the like. There were a lot of makeshift stairs and stretches of upward-reaching, compacted dirt. I began noticing—as only someone wearing cute sandals enduring a very vertical hike through the mountains does— that there were less and less man-made stairs and an increasing amount of rocks. Not small, pretty, decorative rocks. Big, aspiring-boulder rocks. I was doing a lot more climbing than walking, needing to pull myself upward with my arms rather than push myself forward with my legs. I tried to ignore the fact that, in a vein similar to our transit ride, there was a very steep ledge right next to me and my cute sandals. No guard rails, and definitely no hospital within a manageable distance.

Don't look down.

Don’t look down.

When my mental assessment of the situation brought up the hospital concept, that pesky, “go-with-the-flow” to “desire-to-continue-living” equilibrium started to teeter off-balance again. The thick flow of fellow waterfall-seekers in both directions managed to quell my concerns (and provide an appropriate amount of peer pressure to continue onwards and upwards). After all, I had been on the trail for at least 30 minutes and hadn’t seen a single person fall. That’s reassuring, right?

We finally reached the waterfall.

M’s brother was the only one to get in the water; M’s mother and I were both, um, recovering mentally from what we just endured. I looked around at the swell of fellow hikers who had managed to arrive at the destination in one piece. No one looked the least bit concerned or even self-congratulatory at the ascent. I looked up and quickly realized why.

Bordering the waterfall was, you guessed it, more mountains! Mountains beyond mountains, and beyond them, more mountains. That’s the thing about mountains. There are always more of them. All that work, and we had reached the equivalent of a base camp— the first level in a video game. There were more who aspired to the next level, including M’s brother. His mom and I watched as he somehow climbed up the mountain and looked down at us from way, way, way above the waterfall. The highlight of having our focus upwards was watching a man who was obviously a little bored with this routine. He literally ran down this rather steep drop in his little plastic flip flops, and then continued going like it was his daily commute to work. It’s safe to say pretty much no one blinked an eye at this phenomenon either.

See that blue speck? That's M's brother.

See that blue speck? That’s M’s brother.

The theme of mortality bookended our day(s) trip in a purely poetic way. The day that we left Orika, we piled into yet another transit. M’s mom turned around and whispered, “It’s the same driver.” Sure enough, there he was, the master of our destiny! His son was noticeably absent (probably still chillin’ with the guy who took some days before on the side of the road) and his multitasking skills were there in full force. He delivered us to Marrakech safely, but not without ramming into a car along the way. Our driver and the driver of the damaged vehicle both got out (in the middle of a very thin, winding, mountain oad) engaged in an epic battle royale of words that made the Darija student within me blush. Ultimately, though, our driver rubbed his hand over the massive white scratches suffered by the other’s car as if to say, “It’s just a flesh wound!” This seemed to work and we were able to leave the crime scene without surrendering a thing. No money, phone numbers, or insurance company information exchanged. Everyone seemed oddly fine with that.

For the third time in a long weekend, I found myself running through the what-ifs of the situation and pondering my own mortality. I guess a day-trip, no matter how long it is, will do that to ya.

Fluent or not Fluent, that is the سؤال

“Are you fluent in Arabic?”

Trailing only behind “Morocco….? Wait, where?” and “But like, ISIS. Is it really safe there?,” the question of my fluency in Arabic pretty much trumps all else in the list of the FAQs Sarah (and, apparently, most PCVs) gets regarding Morocco. One might also go ahead and assume it is the most straightforward to answer (and maybe the only one that doesn’t elicit an accompanying eye roll). A simple “Kan tkllm l3arabiya b7al chi maghribiya” (I speak Arabic like a Moroccan) or “No, I speak to everyone in English, and THEY LOVE IT” would likely satisfy.

The reality, however, is that I have no idea.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question for a few reasons. First, the time on my hands these days could be measured in metric tons. I’m working, yes, but they’re half-days and, well…it’s Ramadan. One can only do so much when a country is shut down between 3:00am and 7:30pm. The second reason is that I’ve re-entered the linguistic airspace of Morocco and have had to dust-off my year-old Arabic skills. I’m meeting tons of new people in the process: students, their parents, co-workers, and family I didn’t know existed, among other random interactions I have to survive while buying Snickers bars at the corner store. I’m either constantly needing to speak in Arabic to these new people (aforementioned Snickers example), or I’m getting introduced as someone who speaks Arabic and shoved into the deep-end of a high-level conversation about the intricacies of the TOEFL exam. Or my favorite—I get spoken to in rapid-fire French and get to sit and nod politely until someone notices I have no idea what’s going on….or they don’t notice. That’s always fun. But I digress. My love (lololol) of the French language always causes me to digress (see second to last paragraph).

Why not ask a neutral third party to assess my language level? Well, that would make the information in this blog entry a little too legit for my liking, but also— I have gotten reviewed. Quite often, in fact. The problem is that those reviews are extremely mixed and approach contradictory. Within the same day, I’ve heard myself spoken of as “3arfat l3arabiya, tbarkallah” (She knows Arabic!) and “Kat fa7m….chwiya.” (She understands…a bit). My sister in law introduced me to her family and told them that if you speak slowly to me and use the simplest words, I will be able to understand (Honest. Harsh. I’ll take it.) Alternatively, one of my students boasted that my Arabic is “wa3ra,” or awesome (Generous. Affirming. I’ll take that too). I surprise people when I make witty remarks or plays on the language, and I confound people when I cannot think of the word for something basic. I’ve walked away from conversations beaming, congratulating myself on how awesome my accent sounded, and crawled away from others, trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered dignity as they exploded with every mis-conjugated vowel.

When I try to explain this consistent inconsistency to people, they either think I’m being modest or that I’m exaggerating my proficiency. How can someone who lived in Morocco for 2.5 years not be fluent? Alternatively, as far as Arabic is concerned, how can anyone ever become fluent?

I want to just go ahead and blame everything on the wild, untamed beast that is Moroccan Arabic, or Darija. Ladies and gents, this ain’t your mama’s Arabic. Actually…no. It’s EXACTLY that. It’s your mama’s Arabic, not your textbook’s Arabic, or, really, not anyone’s anything that’s written Arabic. I don’t have the benefit of being able to pour over a newspaper or book every morning to sharpen my Darija skills or teach myself new words—that’s all written in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the “official” Arabic that no one actually speaks anywhere but that is taught in school. Sure, MSA and Darija have significant overlaps. Some of the more official words, like “school” and “surgery” are the same in both dialects. Darija, however, is generally less fond of vowels than MSA. In Darija, I get to put sounds like “t” and “n” and “f” all together in one slur. For example, the MSA pronunciation of “Marrakech” is a rhythmic “Mahr-AH-kosh.” Meanwhile, in Darija, it’s a rapid-fire “Mrrrrrrrrraksh.” This vowel-lessness adds legitimacy to both those who find my Darija impressive (when I’m able to make those rigid consonants flow like buttahhh) and, simultaneously, incomprehensible (when I completely butcher the pronunciation.)

Darija-or-Standard-Arabic.-Morocco-World-News

So, to learn a vowel-lite, non-written language, one obviously has to go out and talk to people. Except your mama’s Arabic is different than my mama’s Arabic. People from the north have different accents and different words than those in the south. For example, in Fes, I’m hearing a lot of “ntina” (her) instead of Marrakech’s “nti.” People ask “fu9ach” (when) rather than “imta.” Moroccans have no trouble entering into this linguistic dance with fluidity and grace, but for a gouriya who is eternally learning, it trips me up. And if your mama actually speaks a Berber dialect, well, we might as well speak to each other in German and Chinese.

The whole French thing drags down my fluency score as well. I took a half of a semester of French in college and stopped because, well, why would I ever need to learn French? Minus one foresight point for team Sarah. Not being a standardized language, there hasn’t been any need to update Darija’s lexicon to keep up with new technologies and the like. So, here come the French in all of their colonizing glory, swooping in and shaping people’s tongues. Searching for a word to describe the stock market? If the MSA term doesn’t come to mind, try it in French! Can’t think of the word for “application” in Arabic? Say it in English, but in a French accent! The “iPhone 6” is described as such in French. People gawk when I translate that into Arabic—it makes sense, but no one would actually ever say that. Government, high-level meetings, academia, and the upper class that run in these circles: French, French, and even more French. So, instead of being able to reach into my magical French bag of tricks and pull out the word for “screen resolution,” I attempted to explain it to my niece yesterday in Arabic by saying “the thing that means whether something is very clear or not.” You know what she told me? “Wow, you’ve really forgotten your Arabic.” Because I didn’t know a French word. Sacrebleu!

So, am I fluent in Arabic? It depends. Where is your mother from, and how much French does she know?

Eat, pray, love and… eat!

quinninmorocco:

Well, there’s no denying it– I love food! Peace Corps’ blog, Passport, featured a modified version of my post eat pray love. They wanted me to focus a little more on the eating aspect, which wasn’t too much of a stretch. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Peace Corps Passport:

Quinn_food

There is a word in Moroccan Arabic for “hospitality,” but it might as well be “food.” On our first day in the country, the Peace Corps Morocco medical team broke the bad news to us PCVs: on average, they see a 15-pound weight gain over the course of 27 months in country. But just in females, of course. Our reaction was denial. Who has ever heard of a Peace Corps volunteer gaining weight?

Then we met our host families. Denial was no longer an option. On a daily basis, there were fresh fruit juices, savory and sweet tajines—meats, vegetables, and spices named for the terra-cotta dishes in which they are slow-roasted— and hot couscous on Fridays. Holidays saw sweet chebekiya, or fried dough soaked in rose oil and honey, rich white harira, a porridge of sorts, and the most delicious kebab sandwiches that can only be described…

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Liz-dom (Rhymes with “wisdom”)

Despite being an outdated grandma of the Peace Corps world at this point, I’m amazed by the amount of people who still reach out to me as a result of this blog. It’s humbling and lovely, and also a massive reminder to all the kiddos that your 13 year old selfies will live on in infamy thanks to the internet. Google searches can still find you! Boolean search terms (eh? eh? dusted that one off for the internet nerds out there) like “How is life in Morocco?” or “Traveling alone in Morocco” or “sexy Morocco girl time” (forreal) for better or for worse orient people to my blog. So here’s a pot o’ gold for all of you who, for whatever reason, stumble across my blog in search of wisdom. don’t really have any, but I’ll pass you along to someone who always pulls through with shining nuggets of it.

Everyone who knows me is aware of my massive girl crush on the one and only Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s the entire package– intellect, good looks, and a wit that will slap you across the face and make you love it. I (shamelessly) follow her on Facebook and may or may not get teary eyed when she posts stories and inspirational anecdotes. Liz (can I call you that?) also posts some super sage advice, due to being enlightened and more zen-ed out that I could ever aspire to be. This recent post is chock full of Liz-dom (GET IT?). I dedicate this to all of the females who have emailed me to find out about what it’s like to travel in Morocco alone, or even those just interested in traveling period. There are some quality reminders for all of us– veteran to novice travelers alike.

I myself have always had great experiences traveling alone. While there are certainly dangers, I have found that the same factors that make you vulnerable as a woman also make you powerful. What I mean to say is, a woman on her own does not telegraph a threat to anyone—which means that strangers all over the world will welcome you and trust you. They will let you into their houses. They will let you play with their babies. They will tell you their stories. They will give you a place to sleep. They will offer you assistance, food, directions, affection. I feel that, as a female traveler, I have had much more intimate experiences with new people than any man could ever have. They know I’m not going to hurt them, and so they open up to me. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

That said, do be careful—or at least alert. There are places in the world I would not travel alone. There are places in my own state I would not travel alone, for that matter. If you don’t see any local women walking around the streets at night, you probably shouldn’t be walking there either. Other tips:

DRESS MODESTLY. I keep this rule just about everywhere I go in the world that isn’t Miami. In developing countries or more conservative countries, I am especially careful to wear long sleeves and loose clothing. It’s more comfortable, for one thing. (Less sunburn!) It also tends to attract less male attention. But most of all, in places in the world where modesty still reigns, dressing carefully will win you the favor of local women—whose good graces you will always need. If you’re walking around in what looks to a nice Indonesian woman like underwear (tank top and shorts) she will be too embarrassed to interact with you. Try not to make people of either gender feel either aroused or embarrassed.

PACK LIGHTLY. I never travel with checked luggage…not anywhere, not for any amount of time. Carry-on only. Never bring more than you can comfortably carry. Being over-burdened makes you vulnerable in a thousand different ways. Stay light on your feet and you’ll be safer and less conspicuous. Also, you don’t really need it. Really, you don’t! If you’re traveling from place to place and living among strangers, nobody will notice that you work the same shirt today as yesterday. You will also be safer from people putting things in your luggage (drugs) or taking things out of your luggage (cameras) when you aren’t looking.

EYE-MASK, EAR PLUGS, PJ’s, SLIPPERS. Bring good ones. Sleep is the most important thing.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO LOOK STUPID. Try to speak some of the local language, even if it makes you sound like an idiot. People (except waiters in Paris) will usually be charmed, not appalled. Eat things you wouldn’t normally eat. Ask questions. It’s OK if you don’t know what’s going on — the whole point of being a visitor is not to know what’s going on, and to be unafraid to learn. Good manners and friendliness trump sophistication any day. You can always apologize for mistakes later.

DON’T ACT ENTITLED. I won’t give any examples here. Just ask yourself constantly, “Am I acting entitled?” Then stop. Actually, this is kind of good advice for even when you aren’t traveling.

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Vintage Tameslouht, thanks to the former PCV, Lindsay, who served prior to Eric and me!

Quinn in Boston– the RPCV Files

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It’s like being a senior citizen– meeting up with fellow RPCVs in any situation inevitability turns into reminiscing about the good ol’ days of bartering in rural markets, struggling through the learning curves of an obscure foreign language, laughing at the culture shock experienced while re-assimilating into American culture, recalling with fondness our Turkish toilets….the venn diagram of PCV experience has quite the large overlay.

And thank god! It’s a lovely mug of steaming comfort to know that, no matter where I go, there is a group of people who, like me, also went through a strange and wonderful 27( plus or minus) month experience in a remote part of the world. I’ve thought about this quite frequently lately, as just a week or two ago was my six (6!!!!!) month mark of being back in America. Within those six months, Mustapha and I have checked quite a few things off of “the” list. We traveled to Ohio for my brother’s wedding. Then Mustapha and I got legally married. I got a job. Mustapha took English classes. We took a trip to the beach. We got married again (a big fun party wedding). We drove from Atlanta to Boston for our big move. I started graduate school. Mustapha started work. See collage below for photographic evidence of the diversity of experiences (although I to admit there’s a disproportionate emphasis on holy matrimony….)

And now, here we are, settled in (kinda– we’re moving to our upstairs and final apartment tomorrow) and wondering what adventures we will find at our feet tomorrow. With change and newness being the only constants in our lives, I was so freaking excited to read about a get-together for “new” Boston RPCVs yesterday evening. It’s a rarity for me, but for once, I actually had pretty exciting plans for a Friday night.

In the spirit of my entire Peace Corps service, the simple journey to a RPCV happy hour turned adventurous in an unintentional way. I left my house and trekked over to the bar where the happy hour was happening. The bar was PACKED! I walked around a bit, trying to figure out which group of random people were the RPCVs. It was a great conversation starter– “Are you guys the RPCVS?” “The VCRS?!” “No, the Peace Corps volunteers?” “The WHAT?” Bars, in general, are great backdrops for effective human communication– especially when you’re speaking in acronyms! I felt like a rhyming elf, hopping around from group to group with a really freaking weird riddle. I wanted to play it cool, though, so to blend in, I purchased a beer. I just pointed to an IPA on tap and asked for a closed tab. Turns out I have expensive taste– I selected an 8 dollar beer. Oh Athens bars with your cheap prices, how I miss thee! After about 10 minutes with said trust-fund beer in my hand (and a lot of dead-end conversations with random people), I caved and re-checked the event information. Turns out, I had the location 100% correct and the time 100% wrong. There was a backyard potluck happening at an RPCV’s house prior to the happy hour. With that realization, I stopped pretending to be this cool, confident girl who didn’t seem to care she was at a bar by herself, left my pretty-much-untouched-but-still-freaking-expensive-and-not-as-delicious-as-a-burrito-that-also-costs-eight-freaking-bucks and followed the yellow brick road known as Google Maps (yet another thing that got popular while I was playing in the sands of Morocco) to my destination.

Well, turns out the guy’s house was a whole 1.5 minute walk away from my apartment. The bar with the pricey beers was about 15 minutes away in the opposite direction. Ugh. But the event was great– lots of people, good food, and free Peace Corps swag. Like I said, it is always great to get together with people and not feel like you need to censor yourself when a story has a really good segue to witnessing a sheep slaughter. Or that time your host family dressed you up and paraded you around town and negotiated several marriage offers. You know, things like that.

"That one time I rode a camel down the beach"

“That one time I rode a camel down the beach”

Sometimes, in the excitement of applying to Peace Corps, waiting for Peace Corps, and being in Peace Corps, you forget about the fact that most of your life will happen before and after Peace Corps. I for one had only a vague notion of a life post-Peace Corps. But here I am– existing. Some of the coolest things about it?

Peace Corps friends are seriously friends for life (or at least, we’ve made it past the first 6+ months). It was ahhmmaazzziinnnggg to dance the night away in a wedding hall in Athens, GA with my fellow Darija mujtahidin. It felt like we were back in Morocco again– except this time we were clean! And our hair was brushed! And we were wearing new clothes that none of us had ever seen before! Some of the fancier RPCVs among us even rented cars (it’s still strange in my mind to picture any of us behind the wheel). We met for morning coffee at this great cafe where two people had pet dogs….pure magic to be in the context of America together. We then got to stay with Lauren + Justin on our way to Boston and hang out with Bryant, and now that we’re here, I’ve gotten to see several other PCVs from different groups in Morocco. One “sighting” occurred at an outdoor food festival, another happened on the subway. NUTS. and WONDROUS!

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The other great thing? Being outside of Peace Corps, you remember that not everyone has done Peace Corps. In general, I’ve found that PC Muggles view any time spent in the Peace Corps as this mythical being that only really special (and perhaps slightly crazy) people do with their lives. They think it’s interesting, that it’s different, and that it’s really incredible. Because it is! Objectively, leaving your entire life behind for two years because you want to put yourself into a situation where you might be able to help others and taking the time to understand and (attempt to) assimilate completely into another culture to do it effectively….that’s amazing. I often forget this myself, mainly because the memory of soaking in a bucket of water for the duration of summer is still fresh in my mind, but it’s nice to let yourself be reminded of it occasionally.

Mustapha once told me that during one of his trainings, their session leader instructed them about how to make an impression. The take-away idea is that you should always introduce yourselves with your name followed by something memorable. Friday morning– the same day as the ill-fated RPCV potluck– I got to hear the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, talk a bit about the state of US education. Afterwards, I may or may not have barreled through a crowd of CIA-looking men for a chance to talk to good ol’ Arne. When I finally got to shake hands with him, I kinda just blurted out– “My name is Sarah, and I just got back from serving in Peace Corps Morocco. It’s an honor to be working with the US education system again.” Based on the look on his face in this photo, I’d say he thought that was pretty damn awesome. The guy behind him thinks so too.

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So that’s where I am now, my faithful readers. Mentally, I’m still transitioning out of Morocco and Peace Corps, the central part of my identity for 2.5 years. Physically, my feet are firmly planted in Boston as I run full speed ahead through a master’s degree. I honestly don’t find the Quinn in Boston to be half as interesting as the Quinn in Morocco, but I’m sure there will be occasional tidbits tossed into the blogosphere along the way. After all, it’s really hard not to want to share (enthusiastically) with people when I see a Moroccan restaurant, or I hear a conversation in Darija on the T, or I spot a tajine on a shelf in a butcher shop. I’ve also accepted the fact that I’m intertwined with Morocco for the rest of my life…till death do us part and all that. So, cheers to that, and to all of the lovely people who are in my life just because of Peace Corps.

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