Sunday, November 8, 2009

How Celine Dion Changed my World

Tata city is a town that I travel to frequently to use internet, buy special groceries, have meetings with my boss, and meet up with other volunteers in the province to share a meal and maybe go to the hammam during the winter. It is by far the most enjoyable day trip for me and I go there once every week or two weeks. Without fail, every time I go to Tata I hear at least one Celine Dion song playing in some store, full out, balls to the wall, speakers cranked up as high as they will go, with a couple people hanging around who, even though dancing in public in Morocco is more or less a social taboo outside certain festivals, are fully engrossed in lyrics such as “Because you loved me….”. I will admit that Celine Dion is a very good singer and if I hadn’t lived in Morocco for as long as I have I may occasionally enjoy a flashback to Titanic, but sometimes I think: If I have to listen to Celine Dion one more time, ahhhhhhhh! I was joking and laughing about this cultural anomaly with other volunteers the other day when I received the inspiration for this blog post. It occurred to me that this, and many other aspects that are frustrating at times, are what make life here so entertaining for me, and they will probably be the same little details that I will miss the most once my service in Morocco is done.

Another cause for frustration is the way that Moroccans deal with the various money currencies. All the money in Morocco is printed in the official currency dirhams (there are about 9 dirhams to the dollar) but there are another two currencies that are used in Morocco, the royal and frank. The vast majority of the time that I bargain and buy items I am given the price in royals, and there are 20 royals to every dirham. For example, I took a taxi ride this morning from Skora to Ourzazate and when I asked the driver the price for one seat he told me, 260, which means that I counted out 13 dirhams. This fun Morocco math fact is something that I am so used to now that it hardly matters, however bargaining for larger items where the royals gets into the thousands is rather annoying, not to mention the fact that royals and franks aren’t actually printed on anything. Sometime I just want to hold dirham bills and coins in people faces and say “Look at the number, it says 5, not 100.”

It is going to be so boring when I am no longer in a place will multiple currencies, or where everyday people ask me how my health, family, house, and cats are, just in passing as a normal everyday greeting. I have seven months left in Morocco before my time is up, and even though it may sound long, after having been here for 20 months, it feels like it is just around the bend. Some of the cultural details I love, like being told to eat more instead of worrying about weight, and some I like somewhat less so, but I know that I will carry all of these with me forever. For the rest of my life when I hear a Celine Dion song I will smile to myself and remember going into Tata city and my time in Morocco.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


This summer brought back the scorching heat, week-long wedding parties, and constant stream of visiters and toursists. I was also able to enjoy myself at weekend trip away with other volunteers at the new, small waterpark for tourists near Marrakech; a day in a bikini was fanominal. It was a good, fun season, although I would be lieing if I didn’t admit that I am tired and ready for Ramadan. Ramadan is a clam and pious time when families spend a lot of quality time together, fasting all day and then breaking fast at sundown with soup, dates and shebekia (a wonderful honey-covered pastry). It is one of my favorite times in Morocco! Even though my current laundry station project construction and health education that I have been working on will be suspended for the holiday, I am doing well and enjoying my work in my peaceful, desert community. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers.

Barakallah u fik
Blessings of God be Upon You

Whitney Jon

Friday, March 6, 2009


Living in extremes, that is what this chapter of my Peace Corps experience has been like. Last summer I remember sitting on the edge of my bed directly in front of my fan, wearing wet clothing, and trying not to sweat in the dry desert sauna. I wondered if I would ever again see rain. A couple months after that, I found myself in the same exact location, perched on the edge of my bed, except instead of a fan it was a heater, and instead of wet clothing it was all my clothing, layered in a desperate attempt to stay warm. At that point I was wondering if the drain in my open courtyard would catch up with the rain and prevent my house from flooding, which it threatened to do several times. The extremes do not stop at the weather. There are days when I have no time to myself, I spend hours running here and there, teaching, meetings… and then there are times when the weather is bad or there is nothing going on and I spend the entire day reading, watching movies, and doing sodoku. This is what I have learned: When you can rest, rest because you might not be able to take another breather for quite a while. When you find work, take advantage of it, because the opportunities for improvement can be rare. Lastly, do your best to enjoy the day, because you never know what tomorrow will be like. (Wow, one of my high school professors would have scolded me for writing too much like a hallmark card, but truth is truth.)

I got a cat, her name is Milo and she loves to play with bugs. Isn't she a cutie!

Currently I have been putting together a series of projects. The first is a laundry station that will be a step toward decontaminating the oasis in my community from laundry soap. Currently I have submitted the official proposal and paperwork to Peace Corps and I am now waiting for approval before the construction starts. I will keep you all informed and updated with photos once they become available.

The other project is the one that I have been requesting help for. I am putting together a project outside of the Peace Corps framework to get medical supplies donated to clinics in Morocco. It is a large project and I could use all the help I can get. Please look at the blog I have set up about the project at .

Until next time…. As always, thank you for all the support.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Crossing the River

A couple weeks ago I went for a hike. It had rained some that afternoon, the temperature was cool, and the dust had settled. I left my house around 4 pm and returned a couple hours later to discover that the river bed was, for the first time since my arrival, full of brown, silt filled, rushing rainwater that had drained into the valley from the surrounding mountains. This much water in one spot is a marvel rarely seen in my desert community, and many had gathered on the banks of the river talking excitedly about the unprecedented flow. As pleased as I was to bare witness to the event, I was presented with a situation that was potentially problematic. I happened to live on the other side of the river, and I was currently sweaty, dirty, and hungry. Plus, I was scheduled to leave the next morning for a meeting in my province center, the sun was just about to go down, and I had conveniently forgotten my phone. Even though my very nice friends and neighbors who lived on this side of the river would have been delighted to host me for the night, I made the decision that I needed to cross the river. My host sister was very unhappy with this decision and began to (for lack of a more fitting expression), freak out. She was unaccustomed to the shear amount of water in front of us and exclaimed over and over again that I would die in the crossing. I explained that I swim in the ocean and for me this was only a little water, but she was still very concerned. She, her husband, neighbors, and an impressive flock of children had gathered and all prepared to watch me attempt the crazy and impossible. After examining the area and locating the best place to attempt a crossing I began my journey, one cautious foot at a time, feeling the rocks below, leaning my weight against the current. With each step my host sister would gasp and squeal and the children would follow suit, her husband watching in silent concern. At one point the water came above my knee and they began to plead with me to return, but hell if I was going to turn around in the middle of my quest. So I continued, slowly but surely, until I reached the opposite bank and climbed to dryness. An applause of impressive magnitude erupted from the crowed and the children began to chant, “Layla shkaw, Layla shkaw!” which means Layla is tough. (Layla is my Arabic name.) I turned and waved good tidings to my onlookers and continued on my way home, where I prepared myself a plate of cooked squash and enjoyed a warm bucket bath. It was a good day.

Upon reflection I found this event to be rather fitting to describe my experience in my first several months of service. The beginning was exciting but difficult as I became accustomed to my life in Morocco and my new family and friends became accustomed to me. At times I stepped into murky water, unsure of what would happen next, and many times I have been looked after and protected by my hosts. Now however, I have risen into dryness. I am comfortable in my community where I have many friends and ten times more acquaintances. Tashelheet is now the language I think in, and when I am hungry I often crave cuscus. While I also partake in visiting the sights of Morocco (I am currently writing while traveling for a couple days), I genuinely enjoy being home, and I look forward to returning as much as I look forward to outings and gatherings with other volunteers. I have two personalities now, Layla and Whitney, and I jump back and forth between the two, Amazigh and American.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Cold Land of the Hot Sun

Life as a Peace Corps worker is challanging. Everything from learning the language to eating can be difficult, but I look forward to easier days in the future. This is a hot and dry country, and my favorite part of the day is at dawn or dusk when the temperature changes drastically. You can literally feel the heat coming or going because there is very little water in the environment to stablize the temperature. One of the first phrases I heard coming to Morocco was "the cold land of the hot sun," and it is so true. The days are scortching and at night I sleep under blankets.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Imik Simik

Imik Simik is a Tashlheet phrase that means little by little. That sums up my time in Morocco so far. I love the food and the people and everyday is a new adventure in bread-making or cooking tagine. The snow topped mountains, arid deserts and fertile river valleys present the back-drop for what I know will be one of the greatest adventures of my life. I cannot wait to start tackling the health issues in rural Morocco and being a full fledged Peace Corps volunteer, but for now, imik simik, and my training progresses at a delightfully challenging pace.