Bike4SIDA

Bonus 2nd post for the week!!

Cori and I just returned to Azilal from one of the biggest events we’ve participated in as Peace Corps Volunteers – a 250km bike ride from Beni Mellal to Marrakech to raise awareness for AIDS (or SIDA, the french acronym that it’s known by here).  We traveled with 8 other PCVs, stopping in sites where current PCVs live, to support events scheduled in each site and led by Moroccan counterparts (to ensure maximum understanding of such sensitive information). We participated in events at youth centers, women’s centers, a sports center, a women’s cooperative, and an orphanage, and saw better-than-expected attendance at almost every event. So while we weren’t the ones actually leading the events, we’re still more than proud to have participated in a successful program that reached such a diverse group of people.

Ready to start the ride!

Ready to start the ride!

Cori on the bike!

Cori on the bike!

AIDS isn’t a huge problem in Morocco at this point – there are only approximately 32,000 cases in the country (pop: 32.5 million) – but several factors make it vulnerable to an epidemic in the future.  Because of the extremely conservative culture, it is very difficult for Moroccan teens to learn about and understand the risky behaviors that could lead to getting HIV.  Also, there are many misconceptions about AIDS, mostly related to transmission – many participants at our events thought that they could get HIV from someone by kissing or by sharing food with them.  Our events were an excellent opportunity to correct these misconceptions as well as to educate people about risk factors and the availability of free testing centers.

With the youth before an event

With the youth before an event

Cori helping with a session at a women's center

Cori helping with a session at a women’s center

In addition to being a fulfilling work experience, the ride was also lots of fun – outside of the AIDS events we spent our time on our bikes or hanging out with fellow PCVs.  Our daily rides lasted between 1 and 5 hours with an average of 20 miles per day (40 miles on the longest day).  The rest of the time was spent cooking, playing cards, getting proposed to, and completing tasks as a part of our self-made scavenger hunt competition. The scavenger hunt turned out to be the most amusing part of the ride – it included catching a chicken (Matt), turning your bike into a taxi with a sign and transporting at least one Moroccan (Matt), convincing a Moroccan to pick up something they had littered (Cori), eating a bouillon cube (luckily, neither of us), milking a cow (Matt), performing a cartwheel in the middle of a crowded street (Cori), etc. etc. etc. At stake were free beers for the winning team, purchased by the losing team… and unfortunately my team lost by a margin of one task to Cori’s team.

Scavenger hunt victory celebration beers

Scavenger hunt victory celebration beers

After our arrival in Marrakech we celebrated by going bowling (I never thought that this existed in Morocco), eating a delicious Thai food dinner, and enjoying a few drinks at a bar.  The whole event was not only a great opportunity to pass on a bit of AIDS education but also an awesome chance to get to know our fellow PCVs, and Cori and I are both really glad we got a chance to participate.

The apple of his eye

Matt and I  just got back from our Bike4SIDA trip, which was a big project where we biked to different towns to do events about AIDS (SIDA is the french acronym). We’ll have more information on that trip up here as soon as we get some final numbers and pictures, but in the meantime I figured I’d share a story about the weirdest thing that happened the whole trip, and possibly in my whole time here in Morocco.

I was sitting with some friends eating at an outdoor restaurant when a hand reaches in front of my face and puts an apple down in front of me. I turn around to see a middle-aged man walking away from me, so I turn back to my friends and we laugh about it, but we figure that’s that. A few minutes later, he walks back up to our table and this conversation ensues (paraphrased because I was slightly stupefied by the whole encounter and so I wasn’t listening that closely):

Man, to my male friends: “That one (me) pleases me. I want to marry her.”
Friends: “… what?”
Man: “Can I marry her?”
Friends: “No! She’s married.”
Man: “Ok, sorry.”
Friends: “No problem, bye.”
At this point the man turns to walk away, then turns back around.
Man: “What about the other ones?” (referring to the other girls at the table)
Friends: “Ok, that’s enough. Goodbye.”

Throughout the entire encounter, this guy never made eye contact with me or any of the other girls at all (I noticed because I was staring at him in disbelief) and only spoke to the men at the table. After he left we all had a “did that really just happen??” moment… and then we gave the proposal apple away to a beggar. I’m not about to eat that!

Back to Work!

I never thought I’d be glad to hear those words… but after a summer where our entire job consisted of working the occasional camp, I’ve actually enjoyed getting back to work in Azilal. It’s been a slow start – school started at the beginning of October, but then there was a week off for l’3id. Then there were a couple weeks on, and another week off from school last week to celebrate the Islamic New Year and the Green March holiday. But we’ve been gradually increasing time at the Dar Chebab and letting people know that we’ll be starting classes soon. We’ve got a big project going on the next few weeks (you’ll hear about it in our next post!) but after that we hope to finally get back to teaching regularly.

Here’s what we’ve been up to so far this school year:

  • I’ve been teaching aerobics and beginner English at the Nedi Niswi, which is the women’s center (yes, this is the part where you all laugh as you imagine me leading aerobics). I’ve really enjoyed it though, not least because I can always fall back on “do this” and “like me” when my Darija isn’t getting the point across. Awkwardness (usually) averted!
  • I also attended a training to be able to lead business education programs at the Dar Chebab, through a Moroccan non-profit that’s partnered with Junior Achievement. Youth unemployment is a huge problem in Morocco so this is something that I’m excited about doing this school year.
  • Matt’s been planning some big projects of his own, including starting the C.L.I.M.B. program in Azilal and getting his foot in the door with a few PCV-organizational partnerships such as a rock-climbing camp and Engineers without Borders. He’s hoping to get more involved with all of these at the beginning of next year.
  • Together we’ve been going to the Dar Chebab to hang out with the kids there. Since we haven’t started any structured classes yet, our crowd is pretty small, but we’ve enjoyed playing Frisbee, Uno, Scrabble, Chess, paper football, and whatever other games we can think of with them. For kids whose main form of entertainment at home is TV, these games are a great way to pick up some new problem-solving skills, even if the English we use is minimal.

Even with starting up work again, we’ve still have some time for fun… we got to visit the Ouzoud waterfalls again this weekend with Max, a couchsurfer that we hosted from Germany. Got to see the beautiful falls, gorges and cliffs, play with some monkeys, and even do a little November swimming!

I guess Max shares some of Matt's crazy... and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

I guess Max shares some of Matt’s crazy… and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

A Moroccan Wedding

A couple weeks ago, our host family from Taounate invited us to attend the wedding of our oldest host brother. We were excited that they invited us, but also a little nervous; like l-3id, Moroccan weddings are much-discussed among PCVs here as a kind of volunteer rite of passage. Still, we were glad to have the opportunity to see our host family again and to experience such a big cultural event!

The pre-wedding festivities included multiple meals with our host family (which we tried to refuse to save our host mom some work, since everything that happened this weekend took place at her house, but she was having none of it) and a henna party the night before. Along with a bunch of other guests, we ate a delicious dinner followed by some dancing while the poor bride had to sit and watch us all while she waited for the henna to dry on her hands.

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Matt in a nice shirt and me in my bright blue jellaba waiting for the bride to arrive. I got lots of questions on why I was wearing a jellaba – apparently it’s not formal enough for a wedding. Whoops!

The next day (after enjoying breakfast and lunch with the family) we showed up for the wedding at 8.  We all went out to the street to watch her be carried inside on a litter, accompanied by the traditional group of drummers.  The entire town seemed to come out to dance to the music and see the show. Afterwards, we headed upstairs for dinner where we had three huge courses of food – first big platters with 3 or 4 whole chickens, then another platter full of beef, and finally gigantic trays of fruit for dessert – each served Moroccan style, 1 plate per table with bread for utensils. After everyone was completely stuffed the dancing started. Moroccan women looooove to dance, and the men of our host family do too, which means we got pulled on to the dance floor often to make fools out of ourselves trying the Moroccan dance moves. There’s lots of shimmying that goes on… I have no idea how they do it. It’s a blast to watch though!

Some self-conscious dancing with Naima

Some self-conscious dancing with Mama Naima

For the rest of night (another 7 hours!!) we danced on the roof and in the streets and enjoyed more food courses – platters of cookies, a slice of cake for all, and a bowl of traditional soup. The party lasted until 5 in the morning – a Moroccan wedding isn’t over until the couple has completed their 5-7 outfit changes and the subsequent photo and dance sessions. We were surprised to see that the wedding seemed to be more fun for the guests than for the couple, since the bride and groom spent so much time changing outfits and sitting for photographs that they rarely got a chance to join the party. Throughout the night they were presented in traditional wedding dresses from a bunch of different regions in Morocco, had their pictures taken, and sometimes did a little extra (there was a second go in the litters, and at one point we ended up back outside again for the groom’s henna ceremony and, of course, more dancing).

After the last outfit change, basically the entire room got up gratefully to go home and sleep – us included. It was great to see our host family and celebrate with them, but 9 hours at a wedding (especially while speaking a foreign language) is exhausting no matter who you’re with. But now we can say we’ve made it all the way through a Moroccan wedding!

– Cori and Matt

p.s. I know you’d all love to see some of the bride’s outfits, but without her permission I don’t feel comfortable posting those pictures. If you do an image search for “Moroccan Wedding Kaftans” you’ll get an idea of what her dresses look like. They’re beautiful!