Sunday, March 2, 2014

Eat All the Vegetables

As Russia mobilizes its troops, as the Ukraine prepares for war, and as President Obama deliberates his next move...we sit in our little apartment on the edge of the desert in Morocco listening to jazz and looking up vegetarian recipes on the computer. Our Peace Corps world is small – most days it revolves around our small town host community and what we will prepare for dinner, but being in the Peace Corps has made us even more attuned to the happenings in this world.

We have been closely watching the countries near and bordering Morocco - Mali, Algeria, Libya - with a constant hope that unrest and violence will not cross the border of Morocco jeopardizing our work and our service. We have watched the crises in Syria, Egypt, and Turkey with the hope that President Obama would take actions that would avoid war. US interference in such issues could create a strong anti-American sentiment which could easily spread to Morocco. Now we watch things unfold in Eastern Europe as our fellow Peace Corps Volunteers are evacuated out of the Ukraine – with what looks like little hope of returning anytime soon. Peace Corps has a presence in many countries that can quickly become battlegrounds between ideologies, religions, and cultures. Peace Corps and US Embassies closely monitor all situations to ensure the safety of all Volunteers. So we watch the world, perched at our laptops, from the desert, and we always hope for peaceful resolutions.

What's for dinner then? (onto a lighter topic) Vegetables! Always vegetables! Eat all the vegetables! There is so much that we love about Morocco and the Peace Corps. So much. But most of all we absolutely love the challenge of cooking and baking without the conveniences one has in America. There are no supermarkets in the desert. There is no balsamic vinegar in the desert. No blue cheese. No chocolate chip cookies. No cans of diced tomatoes or black beans. No frozen corn kernels to toss into your chilli. No frozen pizza. No coconut oil or agave nectar. No corn chips...

from -
Arie likes to bring home special vegetables that he finds at the farmer's market in order to challenge me to find new, delicious, and creative ways to prepare them. His challenges used to intimidate me, but ultimately they have taught me well. I have learned that once the kitchen is stocked with the basics cooking from scratch is so easy and so fun. I have learned that all you really need to make good food is fat (I like lots of butter or olive oil), onion and garlic, aromatics (fresh cilantro, parsley, and celery are my favorites), spices (homemade curry powder!), and salt (and pepper!). Add your vegetable of choice, cook, and serve with some protein and grains and you have a wholesome and delicious meal. Easy.

Oftentimes we are amazed at how much fresh produce we consume in a week. So this past month we kept track of the fresh fruit and vegetables we bought and consumed. We eat primarily vegetarian and most days we get a variety of fruits and veggies into our diet. Take a look below to see the breakdown of our produce consumption. In the span of a month we eat approximately 53.5 pounds of produce per person or about 13 pounds per person per week. In a month we purchase about 132 pounds, but some of that ends up in the compost bucket (think banana peels and tomato cores) which gets fed to our host family's goats and sheep. 
Produce Consumption
Compost Loss (approximate)
Start of Month: 
14 kilo (30 lbs)

Purchase Week 1: 18.5 kilo (41 lbs) Week 1: 4 kilo
Purchase Week 2: 14.5 kilo (32 lbs) Week 2: 4 kilo
Purchase Week 3: 12.5 kilo (27 lbs) Week 3: 4 kilo
Purchase Week 4: 14.5 kilo (32 lbs) Week 4: 4 kilo
End of Month:
9.5 kilo (20 lbs)

Total purchased: 60 kilo 
(132 lbs)
Total composted: 16 kilo 
(35 lbs)
Total consumed:
+(start) –(end) 
= 64.5 kilo (142 lbs)
(compost 25%) 
= 48.5 kilo (107 lbs)
53.5 pounds per person per month
13 pounds per person per week

After thinking about how much fresh produce we consume, I decided to take a look at what we use to prepare and transform it into delicious meals. Maybe you would like to know what is on our shelves and in our refrigerator? Take a look at this chart which details our normal monthly food consumption. We eat better here in Morocco than we did in the US; although we could use more whole grains. Rarely do we consume meat or 'other' beverages. 
Fresh Vegetables
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Hot Peppers (dried for hot pepper flakes)
Sweet Potatoes
Collard Greens
Beet/Turnip/Radish Greens
Green/Red Peppers
Fresh Fava Beans
Green Peas
Green Beans
Green Onions
Fennel Bulbs/Stems/Fronds
Black Radish
Fresh Fruit
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Apples (fresh, for baking, or apple sauce)
Oranges (fresh and orange juice ice cubes)
Lemons (for cooking and lemon juice ice cubes)

Limes (for cooking and lime juice cubes)
Dried Fruit
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock


Craisins (from US)
Blueberries (from US)
Sun Dried Tomatoes (from US)
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Macaroni Pasta
Spaghetti Pasta
White Rice
Barley Grits
White Flour
Corn Meal
Corn Flour
Oats (from big city)

Brown Rice (from US)
Wild Rice (from US)
Whole Wheat Couscous
Quinoa (from US)
Dried Legumes and Nuts
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Brown Lentils
Split Peas
White Beans
Fava Beans
Black Beans (from US)
Red Beans (from US)
Dairy and Eggs
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Plain Yogurt
Spreadable Cheese
Ricotta Cheese
Parmesan (from big city)
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Vegetable Oil
Olive Oil

Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

White Vinegar
Spicy Pickled Peppers
Peanut Butter (homemade) or Amalou
Siracha (from US)
Tamari/Soy Sauce (from US)
Maple Syrup (from US)
Spices and Herbs
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Fresh Parsley
Fresh Cilantro
Dried Herbs
Whole Dried Spices
Ground Dried Spices
Bay Leaves
Bullion Cubes

Fresh Rosemary
Fresh Mint
Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Granulated Sugar
Powdered Sugar
Vanilla Sugar
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Vanilla Extract (from US)
Brown Sugar (from US)
Cocoa Powder (from big city)
Active Yeast
Baking Chocolate (from big city)

Constant Stock
Regular Stock
Specialty Stock

Whole Chicken (chicken stock)
Goat (goat stock)
Ground Beef
Ground Turkey

That sums it up. So what do we like to cook and eat? 
Here are some of our favorite recipes that we eat on a regular basis (click the title for the link):

Green, Beans, and Rice using this Moroccan White Beans Recipe
Tunisian Chickpea & Vegetable Soup (also known as Harira)
Crisp Rosemary Flatbread (in place of crackers)

Our sweet potato, potato, and onion storage system.

So many spices!

We have no shame in using lots of oil and butter - fat is healthy when used correctly.

A pile of produce...this is a small and less abundant pile compared
to what Arie normally brings home.
Looks like we are running low on popcorn!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Artisan Morocco - Shop Anou

Our time as Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco is coming to an end. We will complete our service on Friday, May 23rd – 2 years to the day from when we took our oath to serve way back on May 23rd, 2012. On May 23rd we will fly to Turkey where we will spend some time in Istanbul before going to Ankara to visit my AFS host brother and his family. After that we will travel to Amsterdam where we have rented an apartment that comes with two bicycles!  On Friday June 6th we depart Amsterdam and will arrive Home - Sweet Home. One leg of our Peace Corps journey will be over, but that does not mean that the journey is complete. Our Peace Corps experience will last a lifetime!

As we reflect on our experience Arie and I have been talking a lot about all the things we are going to miss (or not miss) about Morocco when we leave. Arie will especially miss going to souk – the local farmers market – where he enthusiastically buys local produce and farm fresh eggs twice a week. He gets so excited about the delicious local treasures he finds there! We both will miss our little desert community – it has been so welcoming and kind. And of course we will miss our host family and our host siblings. Morocco is a beautiful country rich in culture, with kind and welcoming people and endless mountains, coastlines, and oases to explore. We have been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to live and serve in such a amazing country!

One thing that I will miss most about Morocco is the beautiful hand made Moroccan crafts that can be found all over the country (and sometimes hiding on a side street in a little town). Some people may know this already, but I LOVE TO SHOP. I was trained from an early age by my mother, aunts, and grandmothers to be a good shopper. I grew up shopping at local boutiques, thrift stores, antique shops, garage sales, craft shows, and flea markets. I have developed an eye for quality and creativity, and I especially love high-quality hand-made products and bold, unique, creative items. So obviously Morocco was the most perfect place for me to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. This country is full of gorgeous artisan products. Have you noticed that in America right now Moroccan style and design is so popular? Have you noticed that Moroccan products are very trendy and are being sold at outrageously high prices in high end catalogs and boutiques?  People are starting to recognize the magic and beauty of Morocco!

This leads me to the highlight of this blog post. Family, friends, and readers – meet Anou! Anou is an online marketplace supporting a community of Moroccan artisans who sell their products directly to the consumer at an affordable fair-trade price. Anou was started by a Peace Corps Volunteer and continues to be supported by Peace Corps Volunteers who work in collaboration with the Moroccan artisans. Currently Peace Corps Volunteers are training and preparing the artisans to completely take over and lead the Anou store on their own. This is an important facet of Peace Corps development work – ideally all Peace Corps led projects can and will become sustainable on their own without a Peace Corps presence. The PCV who started Anou explains: Anou represents a fundamental shift in the fair-trade industry. Instead of asking how organizations can help, we ask how can we build a resilient community of artisans where outside help and fair-trade organizations are no longer needed.” You can learn about how Anou's platform works here:

Why Shop Anou?

Anou is excellent for so many reasons – not only does it support Moroccan artisans country-wide, but it offers the consumer beautiful hand-crafted items at reasonable prices. Anou also offers free shipping all the way to the US (and Europe) - and not only free shipping but also free returns. If you are not satisfied with your item, you can send it back and receive a refund and you will be refunded the cost of shipping. To date Anou has had only one return. Here is what they say about returns: “Anou’s success thus far has been built on the idea that experience is the best teacher. Artisans don’t necessarily suffer from a lack of training, but rather a lack of experience. The more meaningful experiences artisans have, the better they will become at their craft and the more successful they will be. That is why we’ve made sure to make it as easy as possible for customers to return their products. While returns can be costly, we consider it a necessary expense to build the experience needed so artisans can thrive.”

 Custom Orders

Another feature Anou offers is the ability to search by individual artisans or artisan groups. A shopper can search for all items made by the same group or by a specific person. One can also view previously made items that have sold and place a custom order if they see a particular item or color or motif they like. Last October Anou noticed: “that a significant amount of sales on the Anou store...came from custom orders. The most common custom orders were requests to change a product’s size and the second most common were requests for multiples of the same product. The third, but less frequent custom orders, were requests to change the colors of the product.” Offering the customer a personalized experience is a unique benefit of this shopping model.

The Personal Experience

A personalized shopping experience is not the only opportunity offered by Anou. The opportunity to have a personal shopping experience also exists on the site. Customers can connect to each product they are searching or purchasing because each product comes with a photo and bio of the person who hand crafted it as well as information on the materials and techniques that went into creating the product.

Support Communities

Anou not only brings the beauty of Morocco to your home but also the hearts and hands of the Moroccan people who give love and time to each item they make. One way Arie and I will continue to connect to Morocco, its people, and artisan crafts will be through Anou. When we need a special gift or a new rug, we will turn to Anou first. So please take a moment to look at the beautiful hand crafted items on the site, and the next time you need a gift or a new rug for your home please consider supporting the artisans of Morocco by shopping with Anou!
What does Anou mean?
"Anou means a well of water in Tashelheet, the language spoken in the Ait Bouguemez valley of Morocco. Water wells serve as the center and source of growth of the communities that populate the valley."
Shop Anou:
About Anou:
Anou Blog:
Anou Highlighted:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Let's start a band!

Imagine a world without health insurance, without dentists, without swimming lessons, without art teachers, and without music classes. Most all of the people in our Moroccan community do not have these things. Things that we as Americans oftentimes take for granted. Imagine an elementary school without a music teacher to play the piano while children sing aloud. Imagine a middle school without a choir director who is also a mentor. Imagine a high school without a marching band to inspire team spirit. Imagine a world without the opportunity to start your first rock band with your friends. Imagine a world where there is no after school programming for the youth, no hangout places for girls, and no outlet for creativity. Now imagine a Peace Corps Volunteer making a difference in his community with the help of his family and friends.

Over the past year and a half Aire has worked hard to build a music program for the youth of our community. And with the help of so many people, he has been able to make it a reality. Every week our youth center is not only filled with youth inspired by music, but also with high school teachers, elementary school teachers, and even the nurses from the hospital (the one without a doctor) who come to Arie for lessons in order to become music teachers in the future. Well, maybe the nurses come for lessons just because they think Arie is cute??? I don't know, but I bet they really just want to learn music! Ultimately Arie and his work have inspired a whole community.

Sometimes a community needs more than a music teacher. It needs funding and resources to build a music program – one that is sustainable for years to come. And thanks to our family and friends Aire was able to create a grant to fund the purchase of musical instruments with the ambition to build a sustainable music program (we only have 6 months left of service - Arie will not be teaching music here indefinitely).

We traveled to Marrakech with our youth center director to purchase musical instruments and accessories/equipment with the grant funds. This process took 6 hours from start to finish. Prices needed to be determined, an invoice needed to be written up, products needed to be selected, colors needed to be chosen. Then after the transaction, everything needed to be packed up and taken out of the old medina and over to the bus station. Together we rode the bus home, and as soon as the items were delivered to the youth center, kids were knocking on the door. They were anxious and excited to see their new musical instruments. This was a big deal for them!

We put together a little unveiling ceremony on Saturday evening. The youth came to help unpack the instruments and lay everything out. Then our director gave a speech. Everyone applauded and thanked Arie, but they also applauded and thanked YOU – those of you who donated to make this possible.

This music program will enrich the youth and the community for years to come. This program will build skills and develop assets for not only the youth but also their teachers. This program and all of Arie's hard work will have a lasting impact and long term benefits. Thank you so much for your investment in our Peace Corps community!

The original stock of music equipment. Much of it was in disrepair, but Arie has been working to fix things.

We went to Bob Music in Marrakech to purchase the goods.
Bob Music is named after Bob Marley. Many Moroccan's love his music!
Arie testing out a banjo in the 'warehouse' of Bob Music.
Our youth center director, the shop keeper, and Arie.
The new instruments on display - we also got a music stand which was immediately put to good use!
Acoustic guitars, banjos, an electric guitar, and an electric bass were added to the youth center's collection.
Arie showing off one of the mics and the accessories.
A BIG THANK YOU to those who donated!

“Music is about communication, creativity, and cooperation, and by studying music in schools, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective.”
– Bill Clinton

Saturday, October 5, 2013

For the Love of Music

As many of you may know, both Arie and I are BIG Music Lovers.  We listen to all types of music from hip-hop to jazz to classical to indie rock to folk, and we love going out to see live shows. Our love for music started at an early age for both of us. I started piano lessons at the age of 5 - which continued for 10 years (with my dear grandmother as my tutor and guide), and Arie started piano lessons at the age of 6 - which continued for 12 years. Arie is definitely a better pianist than I am; he has such a good ear and memory! We both played in our school bands - both beginning in the 5th grade.  I was a french hornist for 6 years, while Arie started with the baritone and also played valve trombone, trumpet, and tuba in high school.  We both have also had guitar lessons as young adults, but neither of us became serious.  And we both have also been going to live concerts from an early age - Arie's parents took him to see Prince when he was 8, and my parents took me to see Ray Charles when I was 8!  Ever since then we have been going to see live music all over the world. Aside from our passion for yoga, it was our common love of music, especially seeing live music, that attracted us to each other!

Last summer when we arrived to our desert oasis town of Akka, we were both excited to learn that our youth center had many musical instruments, including a few guitars and a keyboard.  Many of the instruments were in disrepair and in need of some TLC.  Arie picked up one guitar and took it home. All summer long, while we suffered in the desert heat, I was busy in the kitchen advancing my cooking-from-scratch skills and Arie was playing guitar for hours at a time every single day.  By the end of the summer, Arie had multiple songs under his belt, and his strumming technique was getting better! I was thoroughly impressed. 

Once the school year began, Arie was committed to starting a music club.  He began by fixing up all of the guitars.  Out of his own pocket he bought new strings, picks, and even a bridge and some super glue for one guitar.  With the help of a friend in the US, Arie was able to get the electric guitar and small amp up and running too. Then he began private lessons with some of the youth who were eager to learn.  He taught both guitar and piano to any youth who were interested...but if they missed a few lessons, they were out - to make space for other youth wanting the opportunity of learning with Arie.

Arie wants to make this music program sustainable. Our community now knows what he has been doing at the youth center, and some members are interested in getting involved.  The best part is that the elementary school wants Arie to help them start a music program at the school. Arie hopes to teach a few teachers how to play and teach basic music to the students.  He also hopes to add to the number of working instruments at the youth center, and he hopes to bring in traditional Moroccan musicians to teach traditional music techniques to students.  Hopefully by the end of this school year (when it is time for us to return to America) there will be teachers and youth in the community who have a new found love for music! More importantly, we hope that when we leave both the music programs at the elementary school and at the youth center will be sustainable and supported by the community!

Below you can read Arie's request for donations to help support his goals of bringing music to our community.  Here is the link to the page where you can make a personal donation of any size:  Thank you so much for your support!

 Arie teaching piano to one of his students at the youth center.

Friends and Family,

As you may or may not know, I have been working with the youth in Akka, Morocco on developing musical skills. Music is not part of the Moroccan public school curriculem (at least not in rural schools), and there are no private teachers in my community (nor have there ever been). We do have some talented young men here who are self-taught, and there some older folks who can play traditional Tashelhiet and Saharawai music. My Dar Chebab (Youth Center) has some instruments and some space, but we need to up the stakes if we are going to create a sustainable program.

My response to this issue last year was to create the Youth Music Club. I started doing one on one lessons in guitar and piano, and teaching combined music theory classes. This year I am hoping to continue and expand lessons, train some future music teachers, and train some peer educators. I am also hoping to recruit some of the Tashelhiet and Saharawai music players to come teach the youth at my center.

I am writing you because I need your assistance. I need funding to make this program great, and the option I have chosen for getting this funding is asking my friends and family for a little of their hard earned money. I am also asking you to let your friends and family know about this opportunity to help a Saharan community.

The money you and yours will be sending will go directly to the purchase of instruments, musical equipment, sheet music, and training supplies. The good news here is that a few dollars goes a long way in Morocco. Here is a price list of some of the items we plan to purchase to give you an idea of how far your money will go: classic guitar $60, steel string guitar $90, banjo $65, electric guitar $125, amplifier $90, tuner $15, string sets $6.50. We plan to buy enough to keep the program going for years to come without the necessity of future outside funding.

The goal is $1297.27, and in the first day we have already $200 in donations! Big and small contributions are all greatly appreciated. And you can trust me when I tell you that your contribution will mean a great deal to this community. Music is an amazing outlet for youth and adults alike, and more especially so in a community as remote as Akka.

Donate HERE

Thank you for everything,
Arie Kroeger

 Arie and the guitars he repaired at the youth center.

 Arie and his friend entertaining the youth at the youth center.

Thank you for your support! Here again is the link to the donation page:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Keep Calm and Fast On

It's that time of year again – Ramadan in the summer heat! Fasting, part of the ritual of Ramadan, during the long and hot daylight hours takes strength, endurance, and strong faith. We respect and
admire those who must or choose to fast during this month-long Muslim holiday. And while some Peace Corps Volunteers will be joining their communities in the daytime fasting and the night time feasting, Arie and I have chosen not to fast for a second year in a row. Mainly it is the thought of enduring temperatures over 100 degrees indoors and over 120 degrees outdoors without ice cold water that has us shaking our fingers and saying “oho” (which means “no” in Tashelheit). Nonetheless, our immersion experience as Peace Corps Volunteers allows us to closely obverse and experience Ramadan more than we ever have before.

While living in America we heard about Ramadan and learned a little about it in school, at work, from friends, and maybe a little from the media, but it wasn't relevant to our daily lives. Now we are surrounded by 33 million Muslims in Morocco, and Ramadan has become very relevant. So let me share with you just what it is like to experience the summer heat.

Some basics about Ramadan:
Ramadan is one whole month on the lunar calendar – the 9th month. The lunar and solar calendars do not line up exactly, so while September comes the same time every year, Ramadan moves each year – a new moon is what signifies a new month. Last year Ramadan began with the new moon in late July, this year it has shifted a few weeks forward and begins in early July (today), and next year it will shift a few more weeks and begin late June.

Once the sun rises, the fast begins, and all consumption stops. No drinking, no eating, no smoking. Some people will still have to work, while others will spend the day resting.

Once the sun sets iftar, or l'ftur in Moroccan Arabic, begins. Iftar, or l'ftur, is the breaking of the fast at sunset, although normally these words are used to describe “breakfast. During the night time hours people will eat small meals and sweets and visit with family and friends.

Ramadan is a spiritual experience. It is a time of worship and contemplation, a time to strengthen ties with family and community, and a time to focus on faith rather than everyday worldly concerns. It could be compared to the time of Lent in the Catholic faith – which during a six week period of time the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence and place more focus on a strengthening of faith.

What is Ramadan like through our eyes in Morocco?
We notice that during the time before Ramadan begins there is an excitement and an anticipation in the air. We would like to compare it to the buzz that happens before and during the “holiday time” in American culture – the time before Thanksgiving that spans a month over Christmas and
Hanukkah and ends on New Years Day. Just as women (and men and children) in the US prepare dinners of turkey and potatoes, hours d'ourves of cheese balls and crackers, frosted cookies and chex mix, etc... Arab women are busy preparing traditional Ramadan food. Last year Kate helped make a very large batch of the delicious sweet called chpekiya, and this year we observed our CBT host mom preparing large batches of Harira (the rich and tasty soup that is served at sundown) and zmita (or sliloo in some regions – a paste-like crumble that is sweet and nutty) and melawi (or msmen in some regions – a flaky buttery pancake ) to freeze a few weeks in advance. Tradition and culture always seem to have a strong relationship with food!

Here in the desert Ramadan is a challenge – the heat makes fasting very difficult, so approximately half the population of our town leaves for the month to spend in it cooler climates with family or friends. In our small Saharan town most all work and movement ceases during the day-light hours. Our post office is open (they have AC) as are a few government offices and the police station (again – they have AC). Otherwise the streets are empty. Imagine an old western cartoon where the sun is a-blazin', dust is blowing, the tumbleweed is rolling, and the town is deserted – that is every day during Ramadan in the desert.

In other parts of Morocco it is mostly business as usual. Work must go on, but the work day may be shortened for some so that there is still time for rest and contemplation. Imagine putting in a full regular day of work with no coffee or food to help you through!

A few hours before sundown the Hanuts (little shops around town that sell eggs, milk, flour, soap, candy, etc...) will open up so that people can stop by to purchase any last minute items needed to prepare their
iftar meal. And a few minutes before sundown there is a crazy rush as men and children (the women are at home cooking) try to buy a few more eggs or juice. There is no such thing as a line or a queue in Morocco, so whoever can push up to the shop counter gets served first.

iftar meal is wonderful and delicious. There are dates, hard boiled eggs, Harira soup, bread, honey, cookies, and sweets, coffee, tea, juice, and milk. Don't eat to much or you will be painfully stuffed!

Last year we were in the large costal city of Agadir for a weekend during Ramadan. We had a difficult time finding a place to have lunch, because all the cafes and restaurants were closed (who was going to eat there if everyone is fasting?). We could have headed towards the beach to eat overpriced food with the European tourists, but instead we opted to go to the grocery store to buy some snacks. As sundown neared, restaurants began to open up and seat people. All the tables were filled, but no one was eating, and everyone was waiting – waiting for the signal – the call to prayer that announces sundown. At that moment, the servers came out with large trays full of the plates with bowls of Harira, dates, eggs, and sweets and the breaking of fast began.  We happily joined in!

As non-Muslims and non-fasters we need to be culturally sensitive when we are out in public or traveling. It is rude to eat and drink in front of those who cannot, so we must be at home or be discreet.

At the end of Ramadan is Eid el Ftur – the conclusion of the month and a time to celebrate! This is the day to break the fast (hence the "Ftur"). Family and friends come together and feast all day long! It reminds us of Christmas day in the US where we gather as a family and eat a delicious brunch in the morning, snacks and sweets all day long, a large meal mid-afternoon, and a beautiful tray of Christmas cookies which are set out in the evening after all the Christmas gifts have been opened!

Even though we don't fast, we still celebrate and participate with our family and friends. We will visit their homes and break fast at sundown while enjoying some of our favorite traditional foods. This is a special experience for everyone because culture sharing happens, and that is half of why we are in Morocco!

                                        Ramadan Mubarak!

Some facts you might like to know about living in Arab Morocco:
The relationship between Morocco and the United States goes back to the very beginning of US history:
On December 20, 1777, Morocco formally recognized the US colonies as a unified sovereign nation. Morocco remains one of America's oldest and closest allies in the Middle East and North Africa...Formal U.S. relations with Morocco date from 1787 when the United States Congress ratified a Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two nations. Renegotiated in 1836, the treaty is still in force, constituting the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history, and Tangier is home to the oldest U.S. diplomatic property in the world. Source:

US-Morocco relations have made Morocco a safe and welcoming country for Americans, and it allows many Americans, like Peace Corps Volunteers, the opportunity to be safely immersed in Arab culture and to experience Islam first-hand. Take a look at the map ( of where Peace Corps Volunteers can serve, and you will see that of all the North African and Middle Eastern countries there are only three that are “operating” and only two that have current PCVs serving: Jordan (with only 59 current PCVs, and 538 cumulative PCVs), Tunisia – whose current “opening” has been delayed because of recent events (with 0 current PCVs, and 2,130 cumulative PCVs), and Morocco – which has been an operating Peace Corps country for 51 years straight (with 236 current PCVs, and 4,532 cumulative PCVs). Although we may be suffering in the desert heat, we are really thankful for this opportunity to experience such an important aspect of Islam – the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Time to Celebrate!

Today Arie and I are celebrating 1 year as Peace Corps Volunteers (cheering and dancing and big smiles)! We are lucky to be spending the day with our friends and colleagues during our regional meetings, and we are thrilled to have made it to the half way mark! But what has really been exciting us over the past week is the news coming from our home state of Minnesota as well as from our workplace, the US Peace Corps (even more cheering and dancing and big smiles).

Last week Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed into law the same-sex marriage bill. We are proud to come from such a progressive state with enough open-minded individuals willing to stand up for equal human rights for all Minnesotans. We were able to live-stream the senate hearing and listen to the arguments, and we cheered when the vote came through in favor of equality!
Check out photos of the signing of the same-sex marriage bill HERE!

This movement of change is growing, and just yesterday the US Peace Corps announced that they would accept and accommodate same-sex couples in Peace Corps service. This was an issue that we felt personally tied to, because we knew that there were Americans who did not have the equal opportunity to serve together as Peace Corps Volunteers like us. The issue of marriage equality is not just about marriage and family, it is about equal opportunity. Serving together is such a blessing and a wonderful experience for a couple, and we are thrilled to know that all Americans can now take advantage of serving together with their partner!
Read the official Peace Corps press release HERE!
Arie and I are gearing up for a summer full of fun and adventure. In June we will be traveling around Morocco and going to the Gnaoua music festival in Essaouira (learn more about the festival HERE). In July and August we will be living and volunteering (a WWOOF exchange) on an organic olive farm on the French Riviera for 4 weeks followed by a week vacation in Paris. Learn more about WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) HERE. Look forward to some summer fun posts!

Cheers! Love, Kate & Arie

Monday, April 22, 2013

Half Way - how did we get here?

“nus” in Moroccan Arabic means 'half'. In a cafe one can order a 'nus-nus' coffee; this means half steamed milk and half espresso. When talking about time “nus saعa” means 'half an hour'. Today marks the half way point of our Peace Corps journey in Morocco. 13 months down and 13 months to go. If you have not read all of our blog posts, you may need to know that while Peace Corps service is a 2 year long commitment, there is also a training period of 2-3 months before you are officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Our training period was 2 months long, and when added on to the 2 year service commitment that is a total of...26 months (easy math yes?). In another month we will celebrate 1 year of service, with 1 year to go. I wanted to post at the half way mark, because it is a notable accomplishment for us especially when a year ago the half way point seemed so far away.

Over the past 13 months our personal and professional learning and growth has been exponential, and all of this growth is very much still evolving and maturing (therefore we will examine and discuss that upon our conclusion of service). Amidst all of this learning and growth we have happily adjusted to working and living life in southern Morocco. Our community integration has been smooth and positive. We are known and respected in our community, and our professional and social statuses are accepted. While walking down the main street men, women, and youth recognize us, they know our names, and they will wave or stop to say hello to us. Community leaders want to work with us and have us involved in their schools and associations. Surrounding us are friends and family who help, teach, support, and love us, and we help, teach, support, and love them right back. We have become passionate about the work we do, and we believe that we are having a positive and lasting impact in our community.  

What has greatly contributed to our happiness, satisfaction, and success was that from the very beginning of our Peace Corps journey (which began way back in late March 2010) we made an intentional effort to be open and willing to accept everything that would come our way (thanks to a serious yoga practice this came easily to us both). At that moment our journey transformed into a path where all events, positive and negative, easy and difficult, were just part of our whole great experience, and we could trust that we would move forward in the direction that was meant for us.  

Day to day our method is simple: we just choose to allow things to be the way they are and look for possibilities within that place. We are able to see the possibilities that come our way and onto our path, and we take them and work them into our lives. We try not to force outcomes with events, or people, or situations...And when we do try to force an outcome, it usually doesn't work out very well and thankfully we learn a lesson (and learning a lesson leads to new possibilities - so it's all good!). 

We go with the flow and possibilities just show up!..Sounds easy? Well, actually we have to put in a lot of effort and thought into each day, but it is worth it. We try very hard to maintain open minds and open hearts. We live in a culture that is at times confusing to us (while other days we LOVE it!). We can quickly become irritated and frustrated with situations and people if we are not careful to keep positive and stay present to the possibilities that hide within each situation and interaction.

Some people may just say that we just got lucky with our Peace Corps experience, because nearly everything about our service is full of goodness...and maybe some of it is luck and circumstance...but we believe that more of it has to do with a positive attitude and a whole lot of hard work and conscious effort on our parts.  Recently I have come across a concept called the 90/10 principle, which helps to explain our point of view in this case.  The idea goes two ways. First: Life is 10% circumstance and 90% attitude. Second: Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.  Either way you look at it, our attitudes and reactions are more important than all that is happening around us. 
Putting effort into cultivating and maintaining healthy and happy attitudes and reactions is what fills our service journey with goodness and leads us to success!

So, now that I have said all this, and you have read it, maybe you would like to see some photos of our awesome and amazing Peace Corps life?

Kate likes being an art teacher.

A typical sight in Akka: clear blue skies, bright sunshine, and peach painted geometric design.

Arie is a Peace Corps Rock Star, at least Kate and all the kids at the youth center think so!

Laundry on our roof (by hand of course!).

Arie and one of his brightest piano students.

Kate and Adam...he is a great teacher of the "Terrible Twos".
Arie with our very own goat (named Patty) posing with the youngest ones of our host family.

Kate on her way to a Berber Wedding party (women only) where there will be drumming, dancing, singing, and tea.