Back in the USA

Well, it’s been about a month since our last post on the day we left Morocco, and a new post on the blog is badly overdue. I had plans to write a nice summary of what I was looking forward to and what I would miss before we left Azilal, but I ended up being a lot busier leaving town and traveling around afterward than I anticipated. So I’ll give you a quick update about what we’ve been doing since we got back, what we’ve enjoyed, and what we’re missing.

Oslo – We were here for 3 days immediately following Morocco. We enjoyed the cleanliness, quietness, the proximity to beautiful fjords and forests, and the ability to wash our hands with soap and warm water even in public restrooms. We did have some price shock though, considering Oslo is one of Europe’s more expensive cities.

Hiking outside Oslo

Hiking outside Oslo

New York – We flew into NYC, where my parents and sister met us to welcome us to America. We had a great time eating and drinking our way around the city and getting to see my family, but we missed hearing Arabic – even in Oslo we’d heard some on the streets, but none in NYC.

Mom and Rachel welcomed us with an improvised napkin sign, Dad welcomed us with a beer :)

Mom and Rachel welcomed us with an improvised napkin sign, Dad welcomed us with a beer 🙂

Boston – We had a great time visiting friends, but were sad to be back to cold weather (spring in Boston – we probably should have expected it). We also came to terms with indoor heating, indoor and outdoor temperatures being different, washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers.

Friends and beer!

Friends and beer!

Philadelphia – Visited some former PCV friends and got to pick their brains about the readjustment process. Enjoyed going to a summer street festival and brunch for the first time in two years.

Friends and beer and food!

Friends and beer and food!

Washington, DC – Had a great stay with Matt’s brother and his family and enjoyed sharing some stories about our experiences with his kids. We also marveled at how clean the subway into downtown was, while simultaneously being outraged at the price. It was also a nice feeling to celebrate our return to America by visiting the capital.

Matt getting some quality time with his nephew Nathan

Matt getting some quality time with his nephew Nathan

After DC, we flew to Columbus, visited Matt’s parents in Dayton, and are fortunate to be able to continue to travel around the state and the country this summer to visit more friends and family. We’ve been really enjoying seeing everyone, eating food that we’ve been missing, drinking beer, walking around outside without getting stared at, hanging out with pets, and lots of other things.

Mom and Rachel welcome us to Columbus with the real sign

Mom and Rachel welcome us to Columbus with the real sign

But we’re also missing a lot about Morocco. I miss the mountain view from our apartment, speaking Arabic, my Moroccan friends, my PCV friends, being 2 hours away from amazing hiking, having cheap public transport available to get to said hiking, cheap veggies, cheap herbs, cheap spices, cheap fresh meat, and walking everywhere in town.

So that’s what we’ve been up to in the past month. We’ve got a lot more readjustment to look forward to, and while that’s definitely an important part of the Peace Corps experience, we won’t be including it in the blog. Stay tuned for one more final wrap-up post, coming soon!

– Cori

Go Bucks!

This photo made it into the Ohio State Alumni Magazine a little bit ago:

OHIO

The caption reads:

Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque makes a stunning “i” in this photo submitted by Ron Erb ’82, ’85 MS. From left to right are Ohio State student Rachel Erb, Matthew MacFarland ’10, ’12 MS and Cori Erb MacFarland ’10. Cori and Matthew, who met as members of Ohio State’s Marching Band, are serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco.

We took it back in December when my family visited at the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. The mosque is a seriously amazing place to visit. It’s the biggest mosque in Morocco, the seventh-biggest in the world, and has the tallest minaret in the world. The mosque and its grounds can hold nearly as many people as Ohio Stadium, approximately 105,000 (Wikipedia).  It’s also the only mosque in Morocco that I know of that welcomes non-Muslims inside, although unfortunately we didn’t have time to take the tour. It’s great to see this picture in the Alumni magazine combining our love of Morocco and of Ohio State!

In other Buckeye-related happenings, we’ve been enjoying the football season so far and have been able to stream a lot of the games live, which has been lots of fun. One Saturday I got all excited because I thought it’d be fun to make buckeyes to add to the gameday atmosphere.

This is the extent of our game-day atmosphere. Well, this and me trying to figure out OSU songs on the recorder we have.

This is the extent of our gameday atmosphere. Well, this and me trying to figure out OSU songs on the recorder we have.

I was really proud of myself for creating a double boiler out of a big pot and a loaf pan to melt the chocolate, but that’s where my successes ended. I’m not sure if it was because the only chocolate I could find to melt was a bar with almonds, or because I deviated a bit from the recipe, but the buckeyes turned out more like chocolate-peanut butter swirl balls than buckeyes, which was disappointing. I’d had plans to photograph them and put a picture up here along with a blurb about us watching the games… but I guess my blurb was destined to be accompanied by a story about how I failed to make buckeyes instead. Such is Peace Corps, and such is life. And as Matt pointed out, those buckeyes still tasted damn good.

— Cori

Happy Holiday!

Today is 3id al-Adha, also called the Feast of the Sacrifice. It’s one of the biggest Islamic holidays and is widely celebrated in Morocco (you can read and see more about it from last year’s post if you’re interested). You might notice that last year we posted about it later in October – that’s because 3id al-Adha takes place on the 10th day of the last month in the Islamic calendar, which means on the Gregorian calendar it moves up every year.

We’ll be spending the day with our host family to share the festivities and family time that accompany the holiday. Despite the one big difference, the rest of the day feels surprisingly like Christmas or Thanksgiving – we’ll spend lots of time visiting family and friends today and in the coming days, we’ll eat lots of food, and we’ll enjoy the atmosphere of school and work being closed. And even though most of you aren’t celebrating today, Matt and I wanted to take the chance to wish you all a happy holiday anyway! As you cook your meals today just imagine us watching a sheep get butchered, skinned, and then helping to prepare its organs. 🙂

Mbrouk l-3id! !مبروك عواشر Happy holiday!

– Cori and Matt

The Hardest Part

My grandpa passed away this week. It was expected – I’ve been able to prepare myself a bit, and I got to write a goodbye letter that my Dad read to him a few weeks ago – but of course it was still really hard. The hardest part of Peace Corps for me has been being apart from friends and family, which was never clearer to me than it was this week.

I’m used to feelings of sudden disappointment that come up when a project fails or when I have a negative experience, and I don’t like those either. But being so far away from home, without the ability to visit more than once, is just a constant feeling of distance and disconnection. Skype and email and other fantastic technologies do wonders to make that feeling of distance go away, but at a time like this they’re just not the same. I’m so glad that my dad was able to call me to let me know when my grandpa passed, but at the same time when I got that phone call I felt every one of the 4,000 miles between us and all I wanted to do was be at home so I could give everyone a hug. Matt and I have missed many family events in the last year – a bunch of holiday get-togethers, a college graduation, a 21st birthday, a wedding, the birth of a niece, and now a funeral, not to mention all the important goings-on in our friends’ lives… these are the times when it’s hardest to be here. We are still glad that we joined Peace Corps, but don’t let our generally positive blog fool you into thinking it’s not hard.

I know this post is sad, and I hate writing sad things, but I feel like this is an important experience to share. I do want to say that I’m feeling much better after being in contact with my family all week – thanks guys for skyping, sending me the eulogy and everything to read, and generally making sure I’ve felt connected. I really appreciate it, and Matt and I both appreciate all the support we’ve received from family and friends back home throughout our service.

– Cori

Guest Post: Visitors from Home

Over the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday the Erb Family visited Cori and Matt in Morocco.  Wow, what an adventure.

Arriving in Casablanca on the evening of December 21st, Ron, Cindi, Eric and Rachel met Matt and Cori at the airport and the adventure began.  Our indoctrination into the Moroccan culture began right away as Matt gave us our first lesson in bartering for a taxi ride.  Back and forth, walking away and then agreeing to a fee, the six of us (yes, six) joined the driver in a Mercedes sedan (designed to carry five at most) for a ride into town.  Taking a “grand taxi” in Morocco means you have to squeeze 6 people into the taxi.  If you do not have 6 people, you wait until you do.  Luckily for us, we were a group of six and never had to wait.  Doubly lucky for us is that we are relatively small.  Can you imagine 6 big people squeezing into a taxi ride that sometimes lasted us 2-1/2 hours? 

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Our first night was a great time catching up and getting a tour of the local street shops.  We started off  in the bigger well known cities of Casablanca and Marrakesh.  In Marrakesh we stayed in a charming Riad just off the medina and enjoyed numerous trips in and out of the medina to shop, eat and tour the local culture. Rachel showed off her newly learned bartering skills (the above picture was one of her techniques… or, on second thought, one of the shop owner’s) and Matt and Cori really impressed us all with the ease in which they communicated with the local Moroccans.  While in Marrakesh we took a short two day excursion into the Sahara Desert (near Zagora) for a camel trek.  Nothing like showing up just after dark to jump onto (literally no training, just walk up, sit on and then get lifted into the air as your camel rises up) your camel for the ride to your camp.

Getting ready to leave the next morning

Getting ready to leave the next morning

What a blast! We rode to the camp, dropped our stuff into our tent, enjoyed a great tajine dinner,  music around the campfire and laid on the dunes in awe of the stars.  In the morning we were treated to a sunrise in the desert.  A bright blue sky, sunrise over the nearby mountains, and our camel buddies carrying us back to our vans made for an awesome start to the day.  The drive back to Marrakesh included a stop to an ancient Kasbah that had been abandoned in the mid-1900’s.  Talk about taking a step back in time.    

Uh, Dad... that's not a camel.

Uh, Dad… that’s not a camel.

We then headed to Azilal for our Christmas celebration. A great time was had by all and the best present was being together as a family. We even had bacon in the morning – it was a nice treat for Cori and Matt who NEVER get bacon.  We stayed a few days in Azilal and got to know the town that Cori and Matt call home.  We visited the Dar Chabab, met their host family and visited Ouzoud Falls where we hiked for hours.  Matt, Rachel and Eric took the plunge off of one of the falls and all of us were surprised by the local monkeys (that were not afraid of us in the least). 

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After Azilal we were off to Fes for a visit to the local Medina, tannery, shops, shops and more shops, and then a trip to Taounate.  Taounate is the town where Cori and Matt spent the first three months doing their initial training.  We spent the day visiting with Mama Naima and her family, had a wonderful meal and tea, and danced the night away.  It could not have been better.  We were very happy to meet with Naima and to thank her for being such a great comfort to Cori and Matt when they had first arrived in their country. 

A delicious cousous meal at Naima’s!

 We also visited Volubilisan ancient Roman Settlement just outside of Meknes. We got to walk around these ruins pretty much by ourselves (except for a lone Moroccan guide who kept trying to explain to Cindi and Ron in French what everything was).  What a treat to be able to see these ruins that had been around since the 3rd century BC.

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We  headed out after twelve great days with Cori and Matt. We got to see quite a variety of Moroccan landscapes – the high mountains, beautiful foothills, desert, small towns and villages and big cities. We immersed ourselves in the Moroccan culture by experiencing all types of public transportation; no big tour bus for us – we squeezed into taxis, got driven around by maniac taxi drivers (no rules of the road here), explored all types of Moroccan eateries and stayed in charming local riads and hotels (hot water never guaranteed).  Cori and Matt treated us to many great sites and introduced us to an ancient culture much different than our own.  Through it all we could not have met nicer people. 

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 – Ron and Cindi Erb (pictures added by Cori)