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On June 1, 2011 I embarked on a 27 month journey with the Peace Corps to Sierra Leone where I taught Math. Starting this fall of 2014 my wife and I are moving to Casablanca, Morocco to teach again!..this is the journal of one rambling man in Africa.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Experiencing Big Change

    We have arrived! After two long flights and a very short layover in NYC, we made it to Casablanca! It took a total of ab(sheep)out 17 hours in the air to reach our destination and was a pretty good transit. I am writing this with about 8 hours of sleep, spread out over a 70 something hour period, so I apologize for any hallucinations.

    Not a whole lot to relay at this time but here is a little. So far Casablanca seems great. The weather is perfect, the food so far is tasty, and the people for the most part don’t stare and point and shout at us. We have had a few really nice encounters with people and a few not so nice ones. It mostly boils down to language barrier. Though some people do speak English, we have mostly run into people that don’t. Everyone speaks Moroccan Arabic (Darija) , and most everyone speaks at least some French. It’s a little confusing on which one to use when greeting. Hopefully our French will get a lot better over the next few months. For now smiling and being friendly is our best ally. My first unfriendly encounter was at the airport while we were waiting for our ride. I went to a little coffee shop to get a bottle of water and only had large denominations from the ATM, so when I went to pay the 8 DH (1$) with a hundred DH (12$) I received a lot of frustration and guffawing. He eventually made change and continued to be unpleasant. The next day at the grocery store I had a similar experience and have come to the realization that cashiers don’t like bill denominations too far from the price. Guess I have to start carrying more change. (Airplane)

    Our apartment is pretty awesome. It is in a 6 story building, on a busy corner, and quite the upgrade from what had in Sierra Leone. *Keep in mind we were volunteers in Sierra Leone and loved our home. Lights! Water! Refrigeration! Our abode is on the top flo(rabbit)or, directly across from the elevators. Yes, elevators!        

     As you walk in you find yourself in a large living room/dining room/ kitchen area, with a bathroom off to the side. Down the hall we have two bedrooms and a small balcony overlooking the terrace. It is pretty well furnished, has plenty of outlets, and some pretty amazing Moroccan style overhead lanterns. We have a washer(!!!), oven(!!!), 4 burner gas stove(!!!), shower(!!), WIFI(!!), and a TV with satellite. Quite the upgrade from roughing it in the dark.
    Our location seems pretty awesome from what we can tell. A couple blocks away we have a grocery store where we can find most things you would find in a Safeway. The produce looks like you w(parachute)ould expect from not having any refrigeration, but awesomely cheap. You have to take it to a separate counter to get it weighed and priced before you take it to the cash register. The packaged stuff is all in French or Arabic. Should prove a worthy challenge. Also within a couple blocks we have banks, hair salons, cafes, and a bunch of tiny little shops that range from butcher shops, produce sellers, hardware stores, 7-11 type convenience stores, bookstores, pharmacies, coffee shops, and even a chocolate maker not too far. Supposedly there is a KFC/PizzaHut within walking distance! We have yet to take a taxi but have been told that we can get to a huge mall (with an IMAX movie theatre th(talking ice cream cone)at does English movies on Thursdays) within a 30 min ride, a huge open market within 10 min, and the beach area (Corniche) within 15min. The buildings all around us seem to range from 5 to 10 stories and are an interesting mix of nice new buildings and rundown buildings, all sprouting a beautiful head of satellite hair. There is a pretty good amount of traffic that seems pretty chaotic and horn filled, but alas we have moved to a city of 3 million plus!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Chapitre Deux

…And now begins the next adventure. Stay tuned for future blogs about life in MOROCCO!!!!

In just a couple more weeks, Ivy and I will embark on the next leg of our world domination. This time around we have signed on for a two year stint in Casablanca, Morcocco. Ohhhh! Like the movie?! Well not really, as it was filmed in LA and is a fictitious representation. But YES, Humphrey Bogart will be there.

Morocco, as we have gathered, is almost 100% Muslim, speaks either Moroccan Arabic or French, Middle Eastern/Mediterranean influenced food, and home to the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains. Casablanca is on the ocean and appears to get pretty awesome weather, similar to maybe San Diego. But you can Google it. Better, more personal descriptions to come.
This time around we will be teaching in an international school and hopefully save a little money. Our school is described as 60% Moroccan kids, with a broad worldly mix for the remaining 50%. As you can tell I will be teaching Math (6th and 8th grade) and Science (6th). Ivy will be teaching 3rd grade. Upon arrival we will be cramming into the old school building to wait for the new school to finish. I am looking forward to teaching a manageable 30ish kids per class instead of the 60+ I had in Sierra Leone.

Preparations are under way, as we downsize, practice pack, and finish out Level 1 Rosetta Stone French! Au revoir!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Mythical Picathartes



April 30th, 2012

Last Thursday, after a long bout with Giardia and a heavy dose of meds, I scrambled myself together for what would end up being one of my greatest adventures. I had received a call from Kenneth Gbengba, a local Sierra Leonean guide and bird enthusiast, informing me that there was a small group heading into the Gola Rainforest in search of the mythical Picathartes. The Picathartes, or Bald Headed Rock Crow, is a unique looking bird that builds mud nests off the side of large rock faces, and is endemic to West Africa. I gladly accepted.
            I quickly hopped into a taxi to Kenema, the nearest big city and home to the Gola Rainforest, to go to the bank and try to meet Kenneth in person. I met him at an Indian supermarket and discussed prices and logistics. Kenneth turned out to be a decently tall and hefty man from Kono district that spoke with perfect English, and proved to be very intelligent and opinionated. He took me to his good friends house around the side of the Gola office to where I we would be spending the night. Our departure was very early so I needed to stay nearby. After a few hours of chatting and entertaining children with my crazy white man antics, I retired to my tent in the middle of the compound. To my astonishment and annoyance I found rocks jutting every which way under my sleeping bag. It was going to be a long night.
            After endlessly tossing around in fragments of sleep on what felt like a skeleton, I awoke around six am to get my stuff together and meet the couple I would be joining. After being described as a British couple going bird watching for the girl’s birthday, I expected to walk into an older couple of dorks, but was surprised to find two young whipper-snappers like myself. Katie, who would be turning twenty five, was from Scotland and easily six feet tall. Her boyfriend Grant hailed from South Africa, and was probably five feet and a few inches. Initially I had a hard time understanding them but as time went on and the morning wore off of me it became easier. We shared a breakfast of bread with butter and coffee in a bowl. As soon as we finished getting acquainted we set off.
We had a twenty five mile journey ahead of us to Lalehun, and the only way to get there is via okada (motorcycle).  It took around an hour and a half and was the most beautiful ride of my life, and also mildly terrifying. The dirt road went up and down the rolling green jungle hills scattered with the occasional village. We stopped a few times to observe birds, including a Palm Nut Vulture and a Snake Buzzard. My kind of a group! We eventually made it to Lalehun around ten am, off loaded, met our guide and our porter, and eventually went into the forest. Our local guide Golihun or Moses was a ratchity fifty something year old man with a few teeth and a constant smile. Our porter was a young strapping fellow with a crazy leprechaun laugh named Mohammed. Great people.
            After trekking for about an hour through the dark green foliage, occasionally crossing rickety bridges made of vines, we stopped and the guides made a delicious lunch of fish and potato with onion sauce. Pretty good! I was surprised by the ability and ingenuity of the guys to make a coal fire and cook a hot meal in the jungle. After lunch we packed up and made our way to our base camp about one to two hours away. We eventually got to our site around three pm and were relieved to be able to dip our sweat soaked bodies into the tiny cold pools provide by a nearby stream. At four we walked up the hill a few hundred feet to a giant boulder to meet our birds. The Picathartes, we were told, usually come home around five pm. After two hours of quietly and uncomfortably  shifting around we caught glimpse of one as it came home and left again after all of five seconds. Sadly, it was all we would see of our bird. Still really cool to see it.
            As the sky darkened, we gave up and went back down the hill to meet our dinner of peanut soup with chicken. Also delicious. After dinner we shared a little Glenfiddich whiskey and the Africans passed a joint, while we listened to the locusts, bugs, and tree frogs. It was very relaxing and everyone made good company. Grant and Katie were great and fun to talk to as they checked off birds in their book. I’m not alone in this nerdy bird world! Both were happy I had come and not annoyed by my tagging along, which I had feared. I eventually went to my tent, read some James Herriot, and tried to fall asleep on what again felt like a bag of bones underneath me. 
            We woke up early again hoping to catch another glimpse of the Picathartes but were unsuccessful. We considered our five second look a blessing and retreated to our breakfast which was some kind of banana cake/ pancake thing with bread. What followed for the rest of the afternoon consisted of slowly trekking back to the village and watching birds the whole way. Back at the village we ate tuna and hung out waiting for the heat of the day to leave so we could get some last minute birding in. During this time waiting I found some monkeys and then mimicked them by climbing a tree and eating fresh picked mango with some local children. It was a great time in my life. Grant eventually got annoyed that he had paid for two full days and was sitting around, so we got up and tried to find some nearby birds. It slowly started to pour, as it does in rainy season, so I ran back to the overhang where we were sitting and literally clothes-lined myself right across the nose, leaving a cool scab between the eyes. 
            After the rain let up we walked to the main part of town and got soaked in another downpour. We shared some drinks and smokes and a few African smiles. I was eventually taken back to site to meet my okada driver, said my goodbyes and was off. I was already soaked and cold so it wasn’t too terrible. However the road was muddy and rocky, the driver uncomfortable and shifting/moving his hands off of the handlebars too much, and the sky was filled with flying ant things that kept going into our eyes. My life flashed before my eyes at several points. It was however still gorgeous and somehow enjoyable as I gripped for dear life and occasionally said small small to the driver. I’ll never forget looking back over my shoulder and seeing the misty emerald hills as the sky painted yet another miracle. I was too tired to make my driver stop and dig my camera out to take a photo, but I’ll never forget the way it looked. Second only to Ivy. Somehow I made it safely back to Kenema just after dark. Got home, called Ivy, took a warm bucket bath, and made ramen soup.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

To Soak A Thief

       We awoke on Sunday morning slowly. No big hurry . My wife, Ivy, and I were staying downtown Freetown in a decent little hotel in the heart of the city, and had nothing to do today. After a hard boiled egg sandwich, some instant coffee, and a little two person Rummy on the second story balcony, we decided to do a little "junks" shopping around the area. "Junks" is what the Sierra Leoneans call the second hand clothing they receive from abroad. Places like America, Europe,and Australia. Places where people buy something brand new, wear it once, and throw it away or donate it. It then gets packaged and shipped to the third world where people buy it in bulk, wash it, sew it, make it look new, sell it, and feed themselves. The receiver of the item takes it home and takes better care of it than any original owner could comprehend, wearing it to pieces and then sewing the pieces back together.
 Sunday is usually the slow day for sellers and most of the big shops are closed. We headed for the clothing area, turning down a small side street where there is about a four foot space between the stalls. Every stall full of used clothing, and the seller waiting patiently for people to pass by. Sellers usually have one area of clothing, either jeans, or tshirts, or women's dresses, or children's clothing. The stalls made of sticks and tarps mostly. Every shop, one after the other, barely distinguishable from the one before. Every shop owner desperate for a sale. Especially when they see white people. "Good friend, good friend! Come and look. I have fine clothes" This is usually mixed with "White man!" or "What do you want?" or "Come buy" or "You have fine woman, can you give me?" Most people are usually really friendly, though some seem annoyed by our want to browse and look at things,  often holding up things for us and asking "How about this? This is very fine for you." and the nearby stall owners all agreeing that it is indeed fine for us.
        When we find something we actually want we begin the bargaining process. Everything usually starts out at about two times as much as it would for a fellow Sierra Leonean. Make a face, act like its ridiculous, and laugh. Then they will usually ask "How much do you want to pay?" Offer half. This goes on for a while until you either get a price you like or you walk away. Many times, seeing the sale going away, they will say ok and take the money. One stall after another we went down, occasionally buying something, and sometimes having small talk with the locals about why were here, where were from, or answering a dozen random questions. They love it when we talk about things that prove we know anything about their country, and really love it when we talk to them in Krio or Temne or Mende. They laugh at us when we tell them our local names, Morlai and Zainab. Everyone interested and happy to talk to us. Most say they want to go to America and ask if we can take them back with us. Sorry guys.
        After about an hour of the heat, humidity, and bargaining we start to head out of the maze of identical stalls. We arrive at one area, and one after another the stall keepers warn us to watch our belongings and our pockets, warning that there are alot of bad boys up ahead. I think to myself "They wont get me, I'm too alert right now." I thank the shop keepers and continue on with my wife next to me. Sure enough we get to the area, and just like magic, two or three young guys walk our way, squeeze tight, and work together to distract us or bump us and reach into our pockets or bags. I felt a tug at my pocket but luckily i stuffed it with a plastic bag and a shirt.  My wife yelled at one and we got away theft free. About another fifty feet and another three guys walk our way. Resembling the first group with poor looking clothing, usually a handkerchief or black plastic bag in one hand. This time I just stop and stare at the one coming right at me, giving him a dirty look. I didn't feel anything but I hear Ivy yell behind me. I turn around quick and see her push one guy away, accidentally pouring water from her bag of drinking water all over him. The guy had successfully opened the zipper on her travel purse but failed to get anything out before getting attacked with water. The people around did little but watch, but who could blame them. They cannot do anything to them and they gave us fair warning. We walked away and took a breather, hearts pumping with adrenalin, discussing what had just taken place. No theft today. Just another day being pegged for having lots of money. All white people have money they say.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mendeo and Temniet


Having just passed the one year mark, I have passed a lot of time in reflection of my time here lately. Not to mention changed my concept of time completely.  I’ve lost weight, had ringworm a lot, giardia, bacterial diarrhea, and plenty of fresh colds.  I am blessed to have not gotten malaria, boils, or any of the other serious illness threats posed here. Almost walked on a cobra, seen lots of really cool birds, thoroughly enjoyed my bush walks, spent time on the most beautiful beaches and camped in the most amazing jungles.  I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends, been adopted by two African families, taught four hundred eager smiling faces, and integrated into a small African town. I feel truly lucky to have been placed in such a beautiful country, in an amazing town, surrounded by wonderful people. Most important of all though, I found Ivy, my best friend and my life. My partner in crime, my travel buddy, my inspiration, not to mention my perfect dance partner.
                It seems only right that we met doing the last thing we really had planned for ourselves in life; joining the Peace Corps and running off to Africa for two years. We quickly became fast friends as she took the bus seat across from mine and nervously organized her purse while exchanging small talk with me. “My mom says we’re going to be best friends” she says and smiles. Crush crush crush. Luck would have it that we would be placed two rooms apart for the first week in Freetown, spending every night talking till two in the morning, climbing over rooftops, and instantly becoming support for each other. Things would slowly unravel over the next two months in a way that can only be described as fated. Any small change in events and we might not have come to be. Placed in related host families, taking our meals on the floor of the training site together, sitting in the back of training together; sharing walks, headphones, and pb&j sandwiches. At one point, unsure of relationships, Ivy is forced by her host mother to leave the house and bring me fruit. At another point, some silly gossip upsets us and would have been the end if not for her liking the way I handled it. The list goes on, assuring us both that we were meant to spend our forevers together. So in January 2012, never more certain of anything, I proposed on our favorite beach after nervously carrying the rings around for hours waiting for the courage and the perfect moment.
                After spending our first year at our separate sites, six hours apart, taking cramped and dangerous transport back and forth every weekend, we decided we can last through anything. We decided we both have the same ideas about how life is, how life should be, and what we want to do with it. We decided to get married in Africa!!! So on July 21st, 2012 we are going to wed on a West African beach among fellow PC volunteers and staff, our school’s staff, our host families, all the friends we have made over the past year, and a few family members from both sides . After much searching and discussing, we found the perfect place to promise each other that we want nothing more in life than to spend it together. It is a huge covered outdoors area, open to the elements, fun and quirky with its giant playground, and has lots of little deer running around.  It hasn’t been easy planning a wedding in a foreign country by ourselves, but with some fantastic help, and each other’s support and commitment, we have gotten ourselves a little shindig planned. Found a good group of women that are going to cater for us, a tasty cake maker, a designer and tailor that made our matching African style attire, had a fun and successful bachelor/bachelorette party, and figured out how to legally wed in Sierra Leone. Still working on finding a band/DJ but we have a few good leads. Busy planning fun music mixes, silly games to play, making leis, planning a scavenger hunt, and getting things together for a photo booth. All is coming together nicely, though we’re being open minded and expecting Africa to throw us a few curve balls, and looking forward to meeting our new family members.



Friday, June 8, 2012

Wont you be my neighbor...

One huge part of my life that I have yet to mention and cannot be fully captured in my photos, is the people i see daily. Just a stones throw away from my house is another compound composing of three buildings. This is where I do most of my socializing and where I "chop" my meals. One of the buildings is mostly storage for wood and coal.  There is a small shack in the middle that serves as a sort of kitchen, meaning it is where they stack their pots on three large stones set around a wood fire. The woman I have cook for me provides food for about 13+ people.  I pay her 25,000 Le a week or about 6$ for two meals a day. Everyone calls her Auntie as a sign of respect much like sir or mam in the States.  She lives in the first side of one duplex with her two children, her grandson and grandsons mother, and a few other random distant relatives that stay with her. So there are about 10 people that stay in two concrete floor rooms on straw mattresses.
On the other side of the duplex is my principal and his wife, their two children, niece, and a few here and there. In his "custody" are about 5 or 6 young boys, all my students, that stay in the compound with us. A mix of friends of family and a few brighter students he is trying to keep around. On the next side of the compound stays another Auntie, with her 70+ year old mother, granddaughter, son, and a random relative. One of the new teachers stays in a room attached to the same building.
Ive never seen so many people working so hard to get by day to day and looking out for each-other. Everyone in the families here seems to have equal roles and responsibilities. Sons, daughters, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, ect all make up one family. Not sure about everyone's reasons for being here but a lot are here because the school opportunity here is better, and alot of the smaller children's parents are unable to take care of them so they stay with their uncles and aunts that can. Some im sure are also orphaned by the high death rates here and the war. They treat me wonderfully and entertain me plenty. Having 20+ children aged 2-22 here is plenty of company and they love helping me clean, and brook, and pump water, and love it even more when I give them glowsticks and candy.
So a last few closing remarks and observations include
 1) the children here know how to work and they never complain

2) The female to male ratio is uneven. The male role models other than my principal are non existent. It is a compound and society supported strongly by hard working women and children.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bus Bus Baby



I'm at my town's junction waiting for a vehicle to take me to Bo, where I can get vehicles to take me further down the way. Today is my lucky day. A government bus pulls up as I am waiting for my car to fill up. Not only is it cheaper and safer, they can take me as far as Freetown so I wont have to transfer cars in Bo. I hop on and take one of the few remaining seats next to a woman and her two small children. The seats on the bus are arranged for maximum capacity so all the rows are extremely close together. Even sitting completely straight, my knees crush into the seat in front of me. For now I can sit with my legs open, until another person takes the seat between us. What initially looked like a blessing, slowly turned into a curse. Usually these buses fill up with passengers all going to Freetown so there isn't much stopping, but for some reason this bus is stopping at almost every town, letting people off and trying to get more passengers. This is going to be a long ride. Oh well I think. I could be alot worse. I move my legs to get comfortable and pray at every stop that no one comes to claim the seat next to me. I politely smile as the toddler next to me, covered in big mole/wart like bumps, drools on my pants and occasionally touches me. I watch as the two of them devour plantain chips and crackers, leaving a powder wasteland of crumbs over everything like a sandstorm in the desert. The mother occasionally whips boob out for the young one and doesn't pay any attention to me. I try not to look startled or get caught observing, as my own culture is not quite so open about nudity.


An hour passes. I arrive in Bo. To my disappointment, a third of the bus gets off, leaving us at the station to wait for it to fill back up. I decide that Ive already paid and that another taxi might take just as long to fill up, so i wait and watch, sweating on the poorly ventilated bus. After a little while there is a commotion outside and most of the remaining people on the bus start to watch. I cant tell whats going on but it appears to be some kind of argument. Its hard for me to tell sometimes thought because even normal conversations here are usually done at yelling volume. Outsiders coming here to visit might get the impression that everyone is fighting and arguing but in reality the culture here just really likes to talk loudly. Yelling you might even say. So the commotion outside starts to look more happy so I'm confused. I watch as women hold up a lappa at the entrance of a small "bar", not allowing people to go inside. I think to myself, maybe there is a club meeting, or maybe they are dispersing food, or maybe holding a thief, or maybe someone fainted. My minds spins. I lean across the walkway and ask a young man that seems to speak good English. I ask. He tells.


A woman on the bus was pregnant traveling to Freetown. She is giving birth! It seems that there is a blessing inside this curse disguised as a blessing. I now can put together what I am seeing as all the women crowded around look happy, hopeful, and excited. Birth here is highly regarded. As a woman its one of the greatest achievements you can hope for her. All the young girls already have the number of children they want to have and can probably successfully raise a child as soon as they are able to reproduce. Finally the bus is full again. It takes a few minutes for people to all find seats and then it seems we are waiting for the woman and her newborn. She can possibly get back on the bus I think to myself. I watch as one of the ladies that helped deliver, supposedly a nurse, brings a tiny bundle on board and holds it up. Smiles and cheers. I feel like baby Simba is being displayed over the valley. Eventually the mother slowly gets back on the bus and is given the front seat, where upon she is handed her new baby. Off we go. I cant believe this woman was traveling in labor, hopped off and pushed out a baby, only to get back on the bus and continue her 4+ hours on to Freetown. No pain meds, no doctors. Only cold concrete floor and a bunch of women immersed in a world of giving birth. I sit back, tilt my body to the aisle at a weird angle to allow my legs space, and ponder on the wonders of the world.