Category Archives: Thoughts

Mukumi National Park and Maasai 25/08/2017-27/08/2017

The Safari Journey

On the Way to Safari
25/08/2017

I literally can not contain my excitement to be going on the safari! Today is finally the day! My favorite animal in the entire world is an elephant or in Swahili tembo.

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Two female elephants and one of their babies

I’m going to actually be able to see them in their natural habitat and home! It’s a 7 to 8 hour drive to the national park! Therefore, I have a lot of time to just think and write about everything I’m feeling. I’m really happy I’m able to get out of Dar and see the more rural area of Tanzania. Though a lot of people live in Dar (which is a huge city and Capitol of Tanzania) a lot more live outside of the city and the rural areas are more representative with how the majority of people live in Africa. The last 2 hours I’ve just been mesmerized with simply staring out the window and observing my surroundings away from Dar. It took forever to get out due to so much traffic. It’s so different to see so many people take local transportation to get to work. There are so many bus options you can take. There’s this thing in the city (the name of it isn’t coming to mind) which is where people get on the bus and there’s no traffic. There’s a lane made just for that bus in between the two main car lanes on the road and it never has to sit in traffic. There’s a specific lane just for those buses (kind of like a subway). Just like the dala dala the people were PACKED on it. The people on the buses here literally looks like sardines in a can. All you see is a big blob of people because everyone is squished together. I love taking the buses because that’s how the people here travel and you feel more like a local. I like to call the dala dala bus rides dala dala yoga. This is the main transportation I take every day to and from the hospital. You just never know which body part is going to be stretched.

Here is a link that discusses what the bus system is like: http://www.eastafricatravelguide.com/tanzania/get-around.html

When you look out and see the shops/road side stands and homes it can be kind of hard to take in. Imagine a big, black metal pot of boiling water over a fire where a beautiful mom dressed in a colorful, bright dress and kanga is cooking food over. Right beside her are 10 people both standing and sitting eating food and conversing. There’s dirt and trash all around them. Behind them you see a row of run down shops which kind of look like mini road side stands/markets where people are selling various goods like oranges, corn on the cob, nuts, etc. All around them are people commuting to work. They’re either waiting for bus’ or waiting to cross the road. Right behind the road side stands and all the people commuting and cooking you see these little shanty shacks/homes. They are all piled together. Some are completely closed in but others you can see where there’s an opening.

Something that’s really been on my mind lately is how can I accurately convey what I see? No matter how many photos I take or how much I describe what I see it’s just not the same and can’t do it justice. You just have to experience it for yourself in order to truly understand the experience. This makes me so sad because I know a lot of people in my life who will probably never come to Africa. It’s so sad because Africa teaches you SO much and exposes you to a new way of seeing life. The people here are unlike any other people I have ever met. Knowing that some people will go their entire lives without seeing this side of the world is heartbreaking. We can learn so much from one another. How can I bring this world and life to my other world and life in America? How can I help further Africa develop as far as healthcare and educating people goes?

As you progressively get more and more out of the city you begin to go through villages. There are hardly any shops. You see Maasai herding cow and oxon. It was so eye opening to be able to see this side of Tanzania rather than just the city. It makes me quite sad because most people who have recently been born and live in Dar weren’t brought up by a tribe. Since Dar is the biggest city in East Africa it has a lot of Western influence.  Therefore, the younger generation that live their tend to lose some of the ways of their people. That’s apart of Africa that makes the culture so rich. I am saddened when I see a lot of western influence here. Rather than a woman wearing a bright colored, long dress you may find her in a pair of jeans.  So plain and stereotypical of where I am from. The majority of people I have met in Dar seem to have an admiration for how we do things in the western region. They try to mimic how we dress, act, and do things. To an extent, it is a good thing.

There are some great things that they can learn from our infrastructure and mold into their own social infrastructure as they see fit. The main two I think they could learn from is taking a look at our foundations that could help the growth of their economic capital and social justice. On my connecting flight from Istanbul to Tanzania I met two gentleman who worked for the Tanzanian Constitution Forum. I have been able to be in contact with them throughout my journey so far. They travel all over the world in hopes to learn from other countries and change their constitution so that they can help their country grow to its fullest. They do a lot of civic education and public engagements to educate people in Tanzania to take a stand and fight the government to implement and reform their constitution. This is an amazing thing to be apart of and I was so blessed and humble to talk with them for hours in the airport waiting for our flight. However, I just don’t want the people of Africa to ever lose their heritage and culture. Being able to travel somewhere different than what I am use to seeing is like finding a gold gem in a cave of brown granite. Every place is unique and beautiful in the world. We can definitely learn from one another but we must remember to hold onto what makes us, us.

Now back to transportation. A lot of my nursing friends explained to me that buses are their way of transportation to get home (the ones that weren’t born in Dar). It’s the cheapest form of transportation. Although it would be quicker to fly it’s best on the wallet to take the bus. The bus is not air conditioned and it probably fits about 60 people on it. There are so many different kinds of buses that people take depending on which region they’re going to. Mikumi National Park is in the Morogoro region. Bear is in the south and that’s a 14 hour bus ride. But the bus is the most common mode of transportation I would have to say.

 

As I’m staring out my window and seeing everything of course the wheels in my head start spinning. I keep thinking of everything from a health perspective. What type of healthcare and treatment do the people in rural areas have? How close is the nearest hospital and what are their resources like? Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar is a government run, regional hospital. So the most severe and sickest people are typically seen here. People in the rural areas who can’t get the resources they need in their region are sent to Dar to get treatment. However, they have to take the bus because that’s all they can afford. Imagine if you’re severely sick and you need treatment as soon as possible but you have to get on a bus that could take 8, 14, 16 hours. I honestly can not even fathom that. That’s so scary to think of. There were so many accidents we passed by where big semi trucks were in ditches and completely flipped over. I just kept wondering if the people survived those accidents. It’s so heartbreaking to come to the realization that so many people simply die due to lack of resources and poverty. If you can’t pay for treatment then you simply don’t get treated. Moreover, we would pass by SOO many people riding motorcycles extremely fast without helmets. At one time I saw three gentleman riding a motorcycle with no helmet on. They were all in flip flops and t-shirts around my age maybe a bit older. They would just weave in and out of the lanes. Overtaking is such a big thing here and everyone does it continuously. When we went to the village and were actually on one of the buses I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I saw the bus overtake cars when there was a car coming in the next lane. Maybe 20 times at least?

In addition, this was the first time I’ve seen actual speed limits and police pulling people over. They even pulled over our safari vehicle once for overtaking someone. When I asked our safari guide, Rama, why is that In Dar there’s no speed limits or anything he explained that since Dar has so much traffic there’s no need to have speed limits whereas compared to the rural areas you could easily go 100 because there’s hardly any congestion once you’re out of the city. Rama taught us a lot. He explained in habitation areas the speed limit is always 50 kilometers per hour. These are areas like schools, zebra crossings, etc. However, once you’re out of those zones you’re allowed to go up to 80. However, when we were on the bus going to the village I caught the bus going 120.

Overall, I would absolutely love to do research to see the percentage of health habits as in smoking, food intake, and so on. In addition, to studying infectious diseases and how the government of Tanzania can have certain grants that go towards vaccinations as well as pass legislation that will help hone in on these problems. How can I be apart of that? Sometimes I feel like a little green pea just sitting at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. How can I be apart of helping their health system? Where do I even begin?

 

Mikumi National Park Part 2: Safari and Maasai
26/08/17

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My safari rafikis!

This weekend was an absolute dream come true. We got to see every kind of animal you could imagine: elephants, giraffes, lions/lioness, zebras, baboons, pumas, etc.

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Antelope are known as the McDonald’s of the savannah because there are so easily eaten as prey because of how many there are. Do you see the “M” on their back end near their bottom?

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There were literally everywhere!

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Such big antlers

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Mommy and baby baboon!

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One of my new favorite animals. They are so smart. We got the chance to feed them fruit before we got into the park.

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A class that took a field trip to the park!

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There’s a highway that runs right through the national park! Semi trucks go SO fast on it. We got the chance to see some giraffe’s crossing. This is so common to the local people. It is like seeing a deer for us crossing the road. I was constantly in awe!

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Even rare ones that I never even dreamed of living like the colored plum thrush or the lilac breasted rola which is a type of starling.

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It took everything I had in me to not leap out of the safari jeep and hug the elephants.

Some of the quick fun facts that I learned: 6% of a giraffes body weight is made up of their heart because their heart has to pump so much blood all the way up to the head and down to their legs. Giraffes also just have seven vertebras. Giraffes live to be up to 30-35 years old. Elephants spend about 16 hours a day on feeding and consume around 250 kilos a day. Rama then went on to explain how elephant poop is actually used for quite a bit of things. Their poop can treat epilepsy and is also used as insect repellent. He also said that some people even smoke elephant poop. Rama would also tell us all of the different legends and stories of some of the animals and trees. One of my favorite stories was the story of the baobab tree. This tree is literally upside down! I’ve attached an article that tells all about it because it is just so fascinating!

http://nature-explored.com/baobab-info.htm

The roots are the branches. The belief is that the trees were drinking all of the water in the land so God punished them by turning them upside down. Some of the other trees that were very interesting to encounter were the tamadrina tree and this one tree used for brushing teeth! Ukalia divenorma (brush teeth with tree) and you can use the leaves as lipstick. It makes your lips yellow.

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The Baobab Tree! We actually got to get out of the jeep in the middle of the Savannah and climb this magnificent tree!

Moreover, it was so fascinating seeing all of the symbiotic relationships among the animals in the savannah. An example of this are the zebras and the giraffes. Typically anytime you see one you see another near by. Giraffes are able to see things far in the distance and protect the zebras in this way; whereas the zebras have wonderful hearing and see things closer to the ground. Therefore, they work together in not being prey. There is a similar relationship with the birds and the buffalo. Everything really does work in harmony. Seeing it from the aspect of animals was so mesmerizing.

Furthermore, I was able to get up close and personal with the lions and lionesses. I had no idea how lazy the male lions were. The lionesses typically do all of the hunting. Anytime you see a lioness you know her cubs are nearby. Right when we got into the park zone we saw a lioness run across the road to get to the other side where her half eaten carcass lay under the brush. The adrenal I got was amazing!

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The lioness and her prey! First thing we saw to begin our safari journey!

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This lion literally slept here all day long! It was crazy being so close to the King of the Jungle being completely nonchalant with everything around him.

Even though this a beautiful beast of the wild that could easily eat us all just laid a foot away from me. Rama taught us how they see objects as a whole. Since we were in a jeep much bigger than she was she didn’t even pay us any attention. It was so fascinating! He also told us stories of people who had been eaten by them because they simply weren’t being smart. For instance, one driver of a semi-truck stopped because his engine was over heating. Instead of waiting for a car to pass by and help him (because power in numbers) he stepped out of the car to fix it himself). For a few days people drove by this truck that was still running. Once the vehicle finally died someone noticed the driver was missing. A few days later near the vehicle his clothes were found covered in blood and ripped. On our way to the park we actually stopped on the road to help fix another vehicle. Rama did not know him but stopped because if there is more than 1 person they are less likely to be attacked. The male lions also mate up to 6-10 hours a day when the females are in heat!

Another interesting fact is that hippos can only breath for 5 minutes underneath water. They stay underneath the water all day because their skin can easily be burned and is very sensitive to the sun. There eyesight is also very bad. They travel in a signal line and if you get in the way of one of the hippos and make it lose its path from the others it will get very aggressive and attack you. So you always want to stand clear from the hippos when they are on the move. When the hippos mate and the baby is born they separate. The female wont bring it back to the male because he will kill it so he stays the top dog. Hippos live for around 35 years and can send a message to one another up to 8 kilometers away! As for some other creatures that live near the water, like the crocodiles, I learned that they live up to 45 years old.

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Right by the hippo pool! They come out at sunset.

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This is actually a hippo on top of another hippo. It was such a beautiful thing being able to see the animals in their natural habit just doing natural things like pro-creating.

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One of the many hippos in the water on this sunny day!

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Rama telling one of his amazing stories! He was telling me the legend of the hippos and why the people believe they were cursed of having easily burned skin.

 

After a full day of being on the safari and looking at animals we then got invited to go to a nearby village and

meet the tribe that lived there, the Maasai.

I was extremely ecstatic to get the chance to visit them! Maasai typically live in the outskirts of the national parks! They herd cows mainly and are known as nomads.

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Here’s a picture of the tribe we got to meet!

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The elders of the village

As we were walking to meet the tribe we ran across some children. Being out in the country it is very common for people to never see a white person. There were 2 girls one around 7 and the other around 3. The 7 year old was carrying her baby brother. The 3 year old was carrying a giant machete. When the 3 year old saw us she just burst into tears because our appearance scared her. She had never seen a white person! They don’t have access to things like TV, newspapers, magazines, etc. out in the country aka: the bush. She hid behind her big sister until we walked by.

I was looking down around me admiring all of the bugs that I had never seen before and then I saw an ant pile. Rama saw me looking and asked if I knew what the people use ants for. I had no idea. He went on to tell me that the people use the ants to test for diabetes. He said that if the person is positive when they pee on the ground the ants will be attracted to it because of the sugar. I was so amazed at the ways people test for things here compared to back home. I mean, it was absolute brilliant since high blood sugar equates to DM but just how they use their resources is wonderful!

After our 25 minute walk we finally arrived to our destination! I got the chance to be fully engulfed in the culture of the tribe. We were greeted by the women upon our arrival. They began handing us clothes and helping us put it on in addition to jewelry. We danced with them and got to hear them sing. We got to tour their home and see where they kept their live stock. We got the chance to ask them any questions we had.

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We got the chance to hold some of their live stock before they went up for the evening.

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Herding time for them to go in for the night

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This is the home the family lives in. It was the size of probably a garage. Maybe smaller.

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Inside their kitchen. To the left is one of the bedrooms which is where Simone is coming out of and to the right of me is the other bedroom. That’s their home.

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I was able to see how the culture was inside of this tribe. They literally lived in their own little world. They hardly ever leave their little region and land. Maybe once a month the man of the household will go into town to get supplies but they mainly use everything they have right in their own home. The little 8 year child carried a giant knife to protect him from any wild animals that may come.

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Remember, they live right outside the national park! I couldn’t imagine having to defend myself against a lion or hyena! Especially at that young of an age. He looked so confident and like a mini man. The Maasai believe the look of their wealth come from their live stock. If they need money for medical purposes they will never look at one of their cows to sale. That is their wealth. They hold on to their animals and land for dear life. No matter how in need of money they may be in.

The women do all the house work (lugulu) and the men have all of the leadership roles. They are trying to balance out gender now and now both males and females go to school. Moreover, some controversies were brought up. The main one was female genitalia mutilation (FGM). This is something that I had read about in my world religions class at Belmont with the Maasai tribe. However, I was actually getting to see it in real life and talk with the people who actually practice it. I was trying to get a better understanding and grasp of why the people do it. Supposedly they feel that if they make it unpleasable for women to have sex then they wont cheat on their husbands. A big problem in the past were women working for prostitution but now that education and schooling is in place it’s not as big as it used to be but there is still a lot of it. I actually went to a place close to where I live in Dar where prostitution was going on all around me. I was shocked and so uncomfortable. There was a hotel attached to where I was and you would see the girls take the men upstairs where they would do their service. A lot of the men were actually older, white business men. I was so sad to see this going on. Furthermore, a lot of things we take for granted knowing is not common knowledge in this village. For instance, polygamy is a common thing in Tanzania and in this village the elder had 10 wives. If his friend were to come and visit it is understood and common courtesy to let the friend sleep in your room with one of your wives. Education on STD’s, most importantly HIV and AIDS, is not understood in many of the villages. Getting to visit the village was an amazing, eye opening experience!

 

You can’t even imagine how many questions I kept asking during this safari journey. When everyone would be sleeping in the jeep (since it was an 8 car ride) I was constantly in Rama’s ear asking questions. Just getting a better grasp on the culture and society. In Mikumi which is apart of Morogoro, the region, there are 4 main tribes that commonly live there: Lugulu, Sagala, Vdundone, and Pogoro. On the drive to and from Mikumi you pass by Ew Lugulu Mountain which is so big and absolutely stunning! The sulu reserve goes though the mountain. There is also a sizo plantation which runs below the mountain and the plant is used to make rope.

Rama also taught me many phrases in Swahili! The common theme of our trip would be him saying, “Twende? (lets go?)” and our response, “Ndio (yes)!” Everytime we would stop to look animals before we could move on to the next spot he would say “Twende?” and we couldn’t move on until we all said, “Ndio!” I loved it! Some of the other phrases he taught are listed below (and please excuse if I mis-spelled anything. I wrote it out by how I would say it):

Habari awko (how are you? Can ask to someone your own age)
Habari zah sai easy (say to anyone anytime)

Nikoo sa e d a nini (how can I help you?)

Eww may ah mmm ka jaye (how did you sleep)? 

Ew si ku mway muh (good night)
Lala salama (sleep well)

Uhm may choka (r u tired?)

He also told me why greetings are so long in Swahili. Literally anytime you greet someone it always takes a few minutes. Words from Rama, “We have formal long greeting when we ask how one another are doing simply out of respect. You respect them like you respect your mom.”

Lastly, as we were driving back to Dar we went through a village that was selling these beautifully colored woven baskets, in Swahili: Ketunga. I got the chance to get three of them.

Selfie with the best tour guide ever! Rama!

Selfie with the best tour guide ever! Rama!

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The Circle of Life- I felt like I was in the Lion King during my time on the Safari

Mental Health Ward

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August 15th

I’m sitting outside with the sun shining on me as it begins to set. This Saturday is coming to an end and as it’s ending I’m reflecting on these last 2 weeks that I had at the hospital. I have been in the Mental Health Ward and it has been such an eye opening experience!!! At first I was really worried because I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard how it was very different in some aspects. However, I absolutely loved it.

I spent my first few days in the male acute ward and fell in love with the patients. In the psych ward they have an acute ward for males, a general ward for both females and males, PPI which are private rooms for people with private insurance, Occupational therapy unit for groups, a day clinic for pediatric and adolescent patients, and a methadone clinic. I had a chance to go to each of these units; however, I spent most of my time in the male, acute ward because I was able to see and learn a lot there!

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This is the outside of one of the acute male rooms. It looked a lot like a prison and you had to use a key to unlock the gate to get in

When patients first arrive they are immediately admitted into the acute ward (if they are males) and then when they calm down they’re admitted into the general ward generally after being in the acute ward for 24 hours (sometimes longer). A lot of the male patients upon admission are aggressive. I witnessed quite a few. The family members that bring them in as well as the staff hold them down to the bed and restrain both arms and legs. At first I had a hard time dealing with this. In America, restraining patients is a last ditch effort. We go from least invasive to most invasive. Once they get the patients tied down they then administer medications. Both through the vein and an IM (intramuscular). However, when they administer the medication through the vein they don’t insert an IV cannula. They do it strictly with the needle into the vein. It’s quite a big needle and sometimes the patient is thrashing around on the bed. Typically the needle is jerked out and the nurse re-inserts it several times until they’re able to get it all in. In America we never restick the patient with a needle. This was quite different to see. I’ve never seen medication injected directly into the vein without the use of an IV cannula. It also made me nervous for a needle stick injury. It would be very easy to accidentally stick yourself with the needle with the patient is trying to fight you putting the needle in.

A lot of the patients were admitted with psychosis due to drug use. The most common drug of choice was cannibus. Patients were also admitted because they weren’t being compliant with their medications. Therefore, the patient may come in because they’re being manic from their bipolar disorder. There were also patients there who had schizophrenia, grandiose due to psychosis, aggressive/agitated patients, major depressive disorder, etc. A lot of the patients were highly educated and had a college level education. A lot could speak English as well. In the acute ward there are two rooms. Each room has 6 patients so a total of 12 patients. However, the rooms didn’t really look like rooms. They looked a lot like a jail cell. The male patients wore blue scrubs and the female patients wore red.

Inside the acute ward there was one patient that absolutely broke my heart. He was found on the street (they think his family just dropped him off and left him) and brought to the mental health ward. He is mute and seems to have some sort of mental disability. A lot of patients with mental disabilities are seen as someone who has a mental health problem. They tried sending him to an orphanage but things didn’t work out there so he has been in the acute ward for 2 years now. T W O Y E A R S. I just couldn’t believe it. The rooms aren’t that big and there’s nothing to do inside the room. Every now and then the patients are able to leave for OT but that’s not that often. Since he is mute he’s unable to tell anyone his name. In addition, he’s not able to write so he can’t write his name. He’s literally known as Unknown. They don’t have a name for him. They’ve tried putting his picture in the newspaper, on the news, and on radio broadcastings to try and let his family know he’s at the hospital because he’s unable to give the staff any information about his family and where he’s from. However, know one has shown up. In one regard it’s wonderful that the government pays for him to be there and that he’s not left out on the street but it’s very sad that he’s been there for so long. They’re trying to get him a permanent home but it’s still in the making. I’ve learned that you can’t change things in the hospital but you can have an open mind and just understand that’s the way it is. Before I came here a native had told me to

Be compassionate but not emotional.

That’s the one phrase that I’ve kept in mind over and over again. I’m not here to compare and contrast how we (America) do things compared to how people in Africa do things. I’m here to see how they’re able to manage and use the resources they have here. Countries can learn a lot from one another. Whether that be a developed or undeveloped country.

The man in charge of the acute male ward is named Clemence.

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He is SUCH a sweet man and taught me so much!

He’s been there for 10 years and went to college at Muhimbili. He’s such a sweet man with a huge heart and shows compassion to all of the patients. He was so good at explaining how a lot of people in Africa aren’t educated on mental health conditions and people may think the patients are bewitched and such. He also explained how the police force aren’t educated on mental illnesses. A lot of the times the police officers will see a person acting out. Maybe the person is being overly manic and destroying things or acting out in public and the police officers will beat the person and then bring them into the hospital. There was one patient who would scream in pain any time you would touch him and his upper lip was extremely swollen, bruised, and bleeding. When I asked what happened to his lip Clemence explained that he was acting out in public so a police officer bit (yes... bit) him on the lip and they beat him before they brought him in. They did this simply because they weren’t aware that he couldn’t help what he was doing due to his condition.

Moreover, a professor and clinical instructor invited me to a class presentation that his students had where they presented a case of a patient. This was very eye opening! I learned a lot by getting the chance to attend the class. They use a lot of the same terms we use in America for their patients and they also use NANDA! Which is North American Nursing Diagnoses. So a lot of the same nursing diagnoses we use in America they also use in the mental health ward.

Getting to go to the Methadone clinic was a very unique experience. A lot of the patients who have addiction problems to drugs and/or alcohol will go to the clinic to get methadone which is a type of opioid. It is bright green and they drink it at the clinic. It’s in liquid form so the patients can’t try and sell it which they could if it were in pill form. The patients who are seen here have to want to get help and have to no longer use the substances they have been using. Each and every day the patients come to the clinic to get the methadone and then leave.

A lot of the patients who suffer from addiction and have risky behaviors tend to also have risky behaviors sexually. Therefore, a lot of the patients being treated at the methadone clinic also are being treated for HIV. Since they HIV and their immune system is lowered they tend to also have TB. Almost all patients with HIV also have TB. Before the patients can get their methadone they have to come and get their TB and HIV medications. Since the patients really want their methadone, it helps increase the compliance of them taking their other medications first so they can get their methadone. I know back in America it is extremely important for patients with TB to take all of their medications each time. Patients are typically on TB meds for an entire year and take up to 6 pills. At the health department if patients don’t come to take their meds then staff members will call them and even go to their home. It’s so crucial to be compliment with the medication regiment. I thought it was very smart for them to put all 3 medications (methadone, HIV, and TB) in the same clinic. Since there is methadone in the clinic there is a risk for people coming in with guns to try and get the methadone. They said that it’s happened in the past where people have come with guns. So I was extra cautious. However, nothing like that happened while I was there. I also got the chance to see a patient in the clinic get reassessed with how he’s doing with his addiction and no longer using drugs. During the interview there was one thing that really stood out to me. When he was asked what his annual income was he said 350,000 Tanzanian shillings. This is less than $200 US dollars. I just couldn’t believe it. On a typical week here I usually take out 200,000 which is $89 US dollars for food and commuting each day on the bus and tuk tuks. I just couldn’t fathom it.

The methadone clinic was different then any other clinic I’ve been to in America. The experience I’ve had in my mental health rotation and my senior practicum which was in a child and adolescent psych unit back home in America  was quite different compared to here. There aren’t rehab programs here or a place for children to stay in patient. The day clinic for children and adolescents doesn’t admit children for overnight. In addition, there is not a problem with self mutilation among pediatric patients here. The most common issue with children and adolescents are drugs. This was a great thing to here! I had to explain to the doctor and nurses how children in America do self mutilate and will sometimes try to kill them selves. It was the first time they had ever heard of self mutilation. However, one of the nurses did tell me that on the adult unit a patient would bite at his fingers and literally chewed them off. Other than that, the patients don’t tend to harm themselves as often as I’ve seen in America. Furthermore, there was also a difference with not having a geriatric unit. The older patients tend to stay in the acute ward and aren’t put in the general ward because the other patients are too intense there and there isn’t as much observation in the general ward. There are about 30-40 patients in the general ward and they all share one room. So the older patients just stay in the acute ward until they are discharged.

Overall, I was able to see a lot of admissions, discharges, and transfers. During my time in mental health I learned a lot! The biggest issue I see is the need for educating others on mental health and imploring more time for the patients to have in OT and getting out of the room on a day to day basis. There are some things they can’t help like being understaffed and not having as many psychotropic drug options as we do in America. However, I was able to learn a lot here from the patients, nurses, and doctors. I’m excited to see what my next two weeks will be like in the Emergency Department! I did a night shift once in the ED already and it was a very interesting experience.

Heartbreaking Day

Today was probably the

hardest day I have ever had with being a nurse.

It all just felt so unreal. I was doing rounds with the nurses and getting report on the babies when we stopped at this one baby who was not breathing. The night nurse simply stated that he had aspirated the milk the mother was feeding him at midnight and the doctors did not tell her anything was wrong. Then at 4AM she continued feeding it and it aspirated more milk. The nurse said he had been like this for a while. They merely poked his chest and just stared at him. I looked at him and could see that he had a heartbeat but no inhalation or exhalation of the lungs. His toes were purple/blue. A nurse was fumbling with the ambu-bag. She was trying to get the air to go in while she was doing compressions. She didn’t have a proper seal on the mouth. I didn’t know I had this in me but all of a sudden I just took control. I grabbed the bag from her and began doing rescue breathing. I told her there was no need to do compressions because the child had a heartbeat. A lot of the times here I try not to enforce my way of doing things which is the way things are done in the US. However, this was a special circumstance. Every second counted. But in Tanzania, there is never an urgency or rush when an emergency is taking place. Everyone is very “hakuna matata” and don’t worry about things. The nurse wanted to suction the baby and do a blood glucose test before giving oxygen. There were no noticeable secretions. Prioritization here is very different. ABC’s are key: airway, breathing, and circulation. I continued doing rescue breathing. Then a doctor walked in and asked if I could show him how to do it.

NO ONE knew how to do CPR.

I was flabbergasted deep down inside. As we were trying to save this babies life I taught 3 people how to do CPR. On top of all of that, the NICU room that we were in has a heater to insulate all of the premature babies. So on top of no AC in the hospital the room was at 38 degrees C which is 100.4 in F.

As we continued doing rescue breathing then all of the mothers came in for breast feeding. In addition to having 20 babies in the room we now had 20 moms and 8 healthcare personnel. The room is not that big. The mothers just watched as we were trying to save the babies life. In my head I knew the baby needed to be intubated and hooked up to a ventilator if he was going to make it. With him already having enough lack of oxygen to turn his toes blue he was bound to have had brain damage which wasn’t allowing him to breath on his own. The doctor’s explained to me that they only had two ventilators and they were both being used and it would be about a month before we would be able to get one for the baby. I asked if there was anyway to get one from another hospital. But there was not any way. My heart broke into a thousand pieces. As I was bagging the doctors were giving the baby adrenaline to help the heart continue perfusing all of the blood and they hooked him up to normal saline. They also gave him 3 boluses of dextrose. Some of the things they did I questioned but they were doing all that they could. One of the doctors asked me when I could stop bagging. She wanted to just hook the baby up to a nasal prong and give him oxygen that way. I explained that since he is not using his lungs that oxygen wouldn’t work. We are being his lungs by doing rescue breathing and forcing the air in which the nasal prongs would not do. Another nurse was too scared to try and do the respirations for the baby. It was very frustrating and sad to me. If this baby was in the US they would make it. As soon as they had told me there was no ventilator I knew in the back of my head this baby was going to die. Throughout this whole process I kept seeing red ants crawl on the baby. I was confused as to where they were coming from. I pulled back the babies diaper and they had bitten him so much that he was bleeding around his private area. I looked down beside my scrubs that were pushed up against the table that I was leaning on to give him the rescue breaths and there was a cockroach the size of my pinky toe.

This was the first time in my life where I was the one in the hospital who knew what to do. There was no one else I could turn to higher up to help me or have a solution to the problem. It was a scary thought. I just kept doing what I had been taught in nursing school. In the back of mind I was just so thankful to have such amazing professor’s who taught me all that I knew in that moment. After 3 hours of rescue breathing for the baby I knew I had to be ethical and use my critical decision making. I was only prolonging the baby to live. As soon as I stopped breathing for the baby I knew he would die. There was no way I could do this continually for days. However, I didn’t want to stop until the mother came back.

It is custom here to let the baby die and then tell the mom after it has already happened. They feel that it is too painful and causes more suffering whenever the mother has to watch the baby die. However, I just couldn’t settle with that. I wanted the precious baby to be in his mother’s arms during his last few moments on Earth. None of the doctors or nurses would tell the mother for me that the baby was dying. It made me so sad that I couldn’t communicate with her in Swahili to let her know everything that was happening. I simply walked her to the baby and was able to get her to understand the heart was working but not the lungs. I placed her finger in the babies hand and patted her on the back. As I shut the door behind me I tried my best to keep the tears inside of me. I walked down the long corridor to get to the stairwell. As soon as I was out of sight from everyone the tears just poured. I was so overwhelmed and heartbroken. It was around noon at this point and I really wanted to just go home. But I forced myself to carry on with the day. After this situation, it only went down hill. I found two other babies that had a heartbeat but were not breathing. I also did rescue breathing for them. One of the babies pupils were fixed and the oxygen sat was 44%.

All three babies died today. I left work with my head held down as the sun shined on my back. I know the babies are no longer in pain now but I just had a really hard time with accepting how it all happened. In the US it would have never gotten to that point. We have the NICU babies hooked up to machines that constantly take their vital signs. They don’t have anything like that here that would alert them to a babies V/S dropping. There is also 1 nurse to 35 babies here whereas in a NICU at home it is more like 2 or 4 babies to 1 nurse. Today was just a very heartbreaking day.

I am going home!

My project with Lumos and Projects Abroad is about to come to an end, and home is coming. I am going home! No, not in the United States yet, but in Fuzhou China.

The beautiful city of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province of China. This is a city that is touched by the seas and surrounded by mountains with a rich history of Chinese civilization and is renowned for its fresh air and nature. Most importantly it my ancestral home, where everything started for me and my family.

In my culture, family is a big deal in life, perhaps the biggest. When someone turns 70, they will have a birthday celebration in honor of them. And that is what our family did for my grandparents. This is a big deal, my family members from everywhere in China and the United States flew back to Fuzhou just for this occasion so I too traveled back home.

It is always the best feeling when you come home to the warmth of your grandparents. It feels identical to going home in the US. Maybe because I have already accepted China as another home for me. My first task in Fuzhou is go to the small village where we all lived in since my great great grandparents. It is the village where my father is born. It is small but beautiful with blue sky’s and lush forests. The population there is very small, a lot of these folks immigrated to the United States like my parents. In this village, I learned more about my family’s history and felt more connected to my roots as I retraced the footsteps of generation and generation of family members.

In the afternoon, we descended from the mountain back to the main city of Fuzhou, where we currently live. After meeting and remeeting so many friends and family, the big event finally occurred.  The celebration of my grandparents is massive! Friends and families from near and far all dine and share stories and laughter. I wish my grandparents the best of luck and health, and I made a promise to them to visit as often as I can. Coincidentally, that is also what they wished for as they blew out the candles on their cake.

The journey back to Shanghai felt like leaving home. I wished I had more time to spend with my family and to learn more about my past. But strange enough, as I arrived in Shanghai, it also felt like coming back home. I guess home is where you love and home is something that can infinitely exist anywhere.

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Here is the “mayor’s” office in our small village home. This is also where we worship. There is temple dedicated to our family and community.

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Nothing is better than being with family; that is the best part of being home.

Inshallah

The idea of writing this final post has been, in a word, overwhelming. I have certainly struggled throughout this experience with how to best articulate all of the complex experiences I’ve had into accessible and engaging posts for this blog, but this is on a level all its own.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the recap.

This is the last post I will write regarding my life-changing adventure in Morocco. It is also the first post that anyone visiting this blog in the future will see. Embracing that duality, if you’re curious about any specific topics regarding my time in Morocco, here is an abbreviated list with shortcuts to the accompanying posts:

How much do you actually know about Morocco? Improve your knowledge and click here! You can also get my initial impressions here and here!

 
Want to learn more about the rationale and execution of my project in women’s empowerment? Click herehere, and/or here!

For fun travel reviews, click here and/or here. Morocco is a safe, welcoming, and economic travel destination for solo travelers as well as family vacations! Tourism does a great deal for their economic development too, so PLEASE consider planning a trip soon!

Curious about Islamist and/or Moroccan culture? Click herehere, and/or here for some personal stories!

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Above is the amazing local staff of my nonprofit, Cross Cultural Solutions. They were my encouragers, challengers, and protectors. But most of all, they were my dearest friends and confidantes in the volunteer house. Two of these staff members are former PeaceCorps employees, which was a terrific resource for me to explore as I continue to pursue next steps in postgrad employment. The other two staff members did not speak much English, which makes their friendships uniquely valued to me. These are people who have only communicated with me through a common second language. The reason this is so special to me is because I have a theory about how our personalities change based on how we are able to communicate in any given language. (I’m not the only one either... check it out!) In my first language, I can express a seemingly infinite amount of nuances and emotions. But that’s much more difficult to accomplish in a second, third, or fourth language. So to have been able to make friends despite the limited self-expression of a second language is quite meaningful to me! Overall, my wonderful experience in Morocco would not have been possible without these four incredible individuals.

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Cross Cultural Solutions is an exemplary nonprofit that I am grateful to have called my sponsoring partner in executing this project. If you have any interest in volunteering abroad, I strongly encourage you to investigate their programs on their website. They have well-developed programs working toward sustainable impact in Morocco, India, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Ghana, Peru, Thailand, and Guatemala. They provide excellent customer service before, during, and after their programs, and they do a particularly great job ensuring the safety of volunteers while abroad. Please feel free to ask any questions about working with CCS if you’re interested!

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Shukran bezzaf, thank you SO much, for being a part of this adventure with me. I was motivated that my women’s empowerment project indeed addressed a profound, ongoing problem in this country, and I can only hope that the work I did over the last three months made an impact on at least one person I interacted with. Education is the key to empowerment, and I am so grateful to have had the platform I did with so many different audiences to initiate these tough discussions. Sometimes it was difficult to change classes, but at the end of the day it was for the best. My impact was much further spread as a result. Please continue to share this blog with your friends, your family, and anyone else you may come across that could benefit from these stories. One of the primary goals of the Lumos fellowship is to continue to advocate and share about your experiences, maintaining an infinite cross cultural dialogue. So I invite all of you who have so kindly taken the time to read this blog to join me in pursuing that. Inshallah, or God willing, this is not where the adventure ends.

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Finally, in true Belmont fashion, I’ll conclude with some fun music recommendations of songs I couldn’t stop singing during my time abroad. Check them out! “Zina” by Babylone“Maria” by Faydee“Habib Galbi” by A-WA“Sahranine” by Carole Samaha, and “Kolly Melkak” by Sherine.

For those of you in Nashville, stay tuned for the date of my project presentation on Belmont’s campus later this fall. Looking forward to seeing you all soon! All my love!

A Girl Named Jihad

This is the story of my dearest friend here in Rabat. She is 20 years old, the second of three daughters. She lives in a cozy apartment with her family about 10 minutes away from me. She is a passionate economics major at the local university, and she speaks French, Arabic, Darija, and quite a bit of English. She loves the Egyptian singer Sherine, the color pink, and reading lots of books in her spare time. Last week, she was hired to her first ever job , which is a very big deal in a country with such a depressing unemployment rate. She is compassionate, curious, and wise beyond her years.

And her name is Jihad.

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Don’t worry, I did a double take too when she first introduced herself to me at the bus stop. “Jihad” is a word we’ve all seen and heard before, thanks to the frequent use of the term in the media to reference ISIS. The definition of “jihad” that we are most familiar with is that of a holy war.  Admittedly curious and taken aback by my new friend’s name, I decided to do some research... Did you know that “holy war” is not  actually the primary definition of the word? In fact, the way we use “jihad” is linguistically incorrect, as the proper word for war would be “al-harb”. Instead, jihad actually means to put forth a great effort. In Islam, Muslims can use this word to describe three different types of challenges that require great effort. The first and most commonly used meaning is the challenge of living out the Islamic faith in all aspects of life. The second is the challenge of building and maintaining a good Muslim community. It is in the third and final definition, the challenge to defend Islam, where the definition “holy war” comes into play.  All three definitions of the word are technically correct, even though they are not all equally used.

So to put this in a potentially more accessible context, let’s take the word August. When we hear the word August, it is safe to assume that we are likely referring to the eighth month of the year. That is the primary definition and most commonly intended meaning. However, the word can also correctly be used as an adjective to describe something or someone that is respected or impressive. The frequency with which English speakers use the word “august” to describe something impressive is about the same frequency as Arabic speakers would use “jihad” to mean holy war. While “august” is not an ideal example because it changes the part of speech for its two definitions, it is the best example I could come up with to illustrate my point. Plus, both words can are used as names, which is all too fitting toward the point I hope to make!

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When I first met Jihad, I didn’t know how to react when she introduced herself. But after my research, I felt guilty for my presumptuous concerns. Once I had properly addressed those concerns by seeking to rectify my discomfort, I felt as if I ought to re-introduce her to myself to make up for my ignorance. I imagine some of you may relate.

As I mentioned before, Jihad and I met at a bus station in downtown Rabat. I was waiting for my other friend outside of the hammam (bathhouse: an experience I thoroughly recommend) when she and her mother approached me to ask about whether or not the bus had already passed by. She was by far the most joyful person I had ever met, and I enjoyed chatting with her and her mother as they waited for their bus. About 20 minutes later, we swapped numbers and said goodbye. This is a common practice in Morocco, as the locals almost always go out of their way to make you feel welcome in their country. I never expected to see her again, but I was so grateful for her refreshing conversation and contagiously positive attitude. So when she invited me to her home for Sunday lunch two weeks later, I figured why not?

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However, I simply was not prepared for the onslaught of generosity, acceptance, and love that would envelope me during my visit. I spent five hours at their house talking, laughing, listening to music, and looking at old family photos. As Jihad told me to story of her aunt making the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, Jihad’s mother insisted on sharing one of the prized dates leftover from her sister’s trip, along with a sip of water from the Zam Zam Well, which absolutely blew me away. Muslims believe the Zam Zam Well is the spring where God supplied Abraham with water for his son Ismail, and consequently it holds a tremendous amount of religious significance. The water is believed to be miraculous, with unique healing properties. So the fact that this family insisted on sharing their limited supply of such extremely sacred gifts with me, someone they know is not Muslim, was simply overwhelming. I do not think I will ever be able to articulate the raw beauty and humanity of that specific moment.

But the thing I appreciate most about Jihad is, without a doubt, her candor. I often forget that a language barrier even exists between us as we discuss the news, talk about our hopes for the future, and (of course) watch the Olympics! In fact, when the news broke that a Moroccan boxer had been detained for allegedly sexually assaulting two maids in the Olympic village, we had a fantastically cross-cultural dialogue about how the systemic double standards of sexual abuse translate in our respective countries.

These are the conversations that reminded me of the true range and value of our common humanity.

As I left Jihad’s home for the last time, I could not help but marvel at the insurmountable depth that her companionship has added to my experience in my last few weeks. She has inspired so many more questions and curiosities about the Islamist world, particularly anthropologically, all of which I intend to continue to explore  in adventures to come. Though I cannot help but be amused as I think back to how it all started... With a misconception of what is truly a beautiful name.

 

 

 

Who Run the World?

Early on into my program, I promised a post detailing the role of women I observed here in Morocco. And it’s really only fitting, seeing as the genesis of this project is centered around women’s empowerment after all. But before I share those insights, I’d like to take a second to talk about why and how women’s empowerment makes a difference... And not just for women!

While working at the US Department of State, my office’s research was wholly centered on development strategies, both domestic and abroad. However, regardless of the region in question, there were some recurring themes in these strategies. Of all of these themes, the one that surprised me most was women’s empowerment. Naturally it is advantageous to help women to contribute to society, but it is so much more than just that. This article from the Brookings Institution explains it best, so give it a quick look before continuing!

From skimming this article, it is clear that the positive correlation between supported, hardworking women and overall improved society is unquestionable. This is not only part of a feminist movement advocating for more women’s rights, this is a valuable insight about what women as a gender contribute to society when they are equipped with the skills, support, and tools necessary to succeed.

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Having explained that, let’s turn back to women in Morocco. As you may remember from previous posts, the Kingdom of Morocco was established in 1956, and the country has enjoyed marked stability under the monarchy ever since. It is an Islamist country with strong Berber and colonial European influences, and as a result the Moroccan people are a unique balance of many modern and traditional cultural values. In 2004, the Moudawana code established a Moroccan woman’s right to sign her own marriage certificate, file for divorce from her husband, and to be protected from child marriages by the state. Women currently make up 17% of the Moroccan Parliament and are excelling in higher education, particularly in STEM fields. These are all examples of good improvements made to the lives of Moroccan women. Good, but to be quite frank, not good enough.

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Though Moudawana has done a great deal to protect women from abusive marriages, there are still some holes. Domestic abuse and rape, for example, is still something that is very difficult for a woman to prove and be protected from. (I’ll just leave this here. Note that this article could be a trigger for sexual assault survivors.) As for Parliament, the only reason that 17% are women is because it is the mandated representation of women in the body, a law often made in developing countries that is quite controversial. When it comes to college education, these women still struggle to compete against their male counterparts for the already scarce amount of jobs available. Needless to say, we can do better.

Before going to Morocco, I was asked many questions by American women and men about my project. I’ve chosen three of the most popular questions and asked real Moroccan women to respond in hopes of us better understanding their culture, society, and how they see their future. Below are the questions that address our some of our foremost cross cultural differences in the context of women’s empowerment. My responses are crafted with direct assistance from local Moroccan women of all ages to paint as vivid a picture as possible.

Is living in an Islamist country oppressive of women?

In the US, there is a lot of confusion about Islam and whether or not it oppresses women. This is the first point I’d like to address, because it is by far one of the most sensitive no matter where you go in the world. After extensive discussions with both devout and non-religious Moroccan women, I have come to the conclusion that while Islam itself is not oppressive, some of the cultural and societal norms it facilitates in an Islamist country like Morocco are. Take for example the hijab, the headscarf a devout Muslim woman wears. She can choose when she wants to start wearing it, but she is obligated by the Quran to commit to wearing it at some point in her life. The hijab represents a woman’s commitment to her relationship with God, somewhat akin to wearing a crucifix or a Star of David on a necklace. The hijab itself is not oppressive: it is a religious choice that women are given the freedom to make at any point in their life. Furthermore, Islam as a religion is not particularly disciplinarian. If a woman never wears a hijab, that is simply between her and God, and not for anyone else to judge.

The problem, then, arises when that choice is taken away... Such as a parent deciding for their daughter when they will wear the hijab despite their daughter’s objections to save face, or a husband demanding that his new wife start wearing a hijab to honor her new marriage, despite never mentioning it before. Or, even more dismal, a woman who only chooses to begin wearing the hijab because she knows it will superficially protect her from the unsettling and incessant jeers she gets from men whenever she is out by herself. All three of these scenarios (all true stories from Moroccan women) demonstrate societal pressures that circumvent the beauty of what the hijab is supposed to symbolize in a way that manipulates the woman’s choice into questions of honor, loyalty, fidelity, and demand for respect. But that’s not all.

In a country that enjoys the luxury of close proximity to Europe, the hijab can also pose a problem in reverse. For example, a devout woman who has committed to wearing the hijab is asked to remove it as a condition of her being hired to be seen as “more modern”. With unemployment as it is, the woman can’t afford to turn down the job. But why must it come at the cost of her religion? The woman who experienced this did take the job, but confessed to feeling so ashamed whenever she saw her friends and family. It is one thing to never wear the hijab, but it is quite another to remove it after wearing it, which is why she felt so humiliated by the choice her job forced her to make.

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Nonetheless, it is clear that Islam itself is no more oppressive than Christianity, Judaism, or any other faith that entreats women to dress, behave, or live a certain way. It is only when religion is manipulated that such oppression occurs.

How does dating work?

In Morocco, it is a very big deal if you are known to be dating someone. It is expected that you intend to marry that person if you acknowledge that you are indeed dating them, so it is more like an unofficial engagement for the duration of time before you become engaged, and eventually marry. As a result, the whole family is a big part of the relationship, and unanimous approval is usually necessary. This is vastly different from the Western concept of casual dating, which is more about enjoying each other’s company than pursuing long term commitment. For that reason, it is important to be aware of how dating is defined differently to understand the cultural implications of introducing a significant other.

Beyond that, any time spent with your significant other is spent in a public place, like a cafe or park. You usually meet through family members, at school, or at work. And while arranged marriages do still happen in some villages, it is much more common to marry for love. Interestingly, the age at which Moroccans get married has been getting increasingly older, just like in the US and many other countries around the world. The reason for this has a lot to do with women seeking more education and better opportunities for employment instead of just a husband.

Within the context of marriage, my sources agree that every relationship is different. When a couple sits down to write their marriage contract, (yes, they do write it together) they specifically articulate the roles that they commit to play for each other. Typically, the man agrees to be the primary breadwinner, accepting sole responsibility to provide for the family. So if his wife also has a job, she has the liberty to keep all of the money she earns in a separate bank account from her husband, unless it is stipulated in the marriage contract that she will also contribute. Her responsibility is typically childcare, but many of the women I have encountered have put their children in daycare to take on work or more schooling themselves. Because the marriage contract delegates that responsibility to her, she is free to decide as she pleases about daycare. I found this to be a particularly interesting play on traditional gender roles in marriage, because while these traditional gender roles still exist, they have certainly been tweaked to allow more flexibility and freedoms for women in particular.

What do Moroccan women want for their future?

The same thing most women around the world want... To not be seen as any less or any more than who they are. To have the chance to earn the same opportunities in education, work, and life overall that a man can. To not have their competence judged based on how they look or how they dress. To have the freedom to be independent, self-sufficient, and powerful influences on society! Regardless of religion and culture, women can and should unite around making all of these goals a reality. It has been such a comfort during my conversations with these women to share in their frustrations, triumphs, and dreams in imagining a world where women are just as able to make a difference as men. This kind of rhetoric may make some uncomfortable, especially those who are wary of the many definitions feminism has taken on in recent years. And that’s okay. But remember the Brookings article... An empowered woman is an empowered society. And that’s something we can surely all get on board with! (Salma certainly agrees in the photo below!)

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To conclude this post, I’d like to introduce some insights about Morocco’s current status of gender equality using international comparative research. As previously discussed, Morocco is a country whose gender equality usually looks quite good compared to its counterparts. But for this last part, I am going to remove the rose colored glasses. It is my hope that this will clarify and challenge the way we track progress in women’s empowerment as a tenet of overall societal development.

Fair warning: From this point on, I’m putting on my social science analyst cap on... This means I’ll be discussing variables, data, metrics/measurement, and all sorts of things that one who does not particularly enjoy social science may find a bit dull. However, this is aimed to be a *BRIEF* substantive analysis, which will synthesize a lot of the research I’ve been doing behind the scenes as part of this project. So I promise, if you keep reading I’ll make it worth your while!

Ranked at 139 out of 145 in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report of 2015, Morocco is a country whose gender equality often looks a lot better on paper than in practice. As discussed earlier, Morocco has one of the highest percentages of women in Parliament and is often thought of as one of the best Islamist countries for women. So what is it about this report that contradicts those accolades? Well, to put it simply, a more comprehensive metric.

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The report evaluates gender equality using four basic categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Each of these categories is further broken down into empirical variables that are measured using a variety of primary sources such as the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, and more.

According to this data, no country in the world has successfully closed the gender gap yet. However Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Ireland have all closed over 80% of their gender gap. That is a wide discrepancy from the lowest scoring country, Yemen, which has only closed 48% of their gender gap. At 139, Morocco has closed just under 60% of its gender gap. That is about 15% less than the USA, which ranked at 28 with 74% of the gap closed.

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Though Morocco’s cumulative ranking is 139, it also received a ranking in each of the four categories that generated the final ranking. Those rankings were as follows: Economic Participation and Opportunity: 140 Educational Attainment: 123, Health and Survival: 95 and Political Empowerment: 97. From this breakdown, it is clear that the areas most in need of improvement are economic participation/opportunity and educational attainment. Which makes sense, given the continued struggle of unemployment in Morocco as well as the 67% literacy rate, (90% of which are women) as reported by the World Bank. Furthermore, this is why I have spent the last three months in a classroom working as a cross-cultural mentor teaching a lucrative language skill.

Though gender equality is different from women’s empowerment, I found that the two concepts inform each other quite well in creating and executing my project. I hope that through reading this post, albeit lengthy and (at times) complex, you too can see how my work has targeted the needs of my selected demographic. I also hope that you are taking away a better understanding about the culture and society that has shaped these women whom I’ve come to love so dearly. I am privileged to share their stories, but I know they’re not quite over yet! Speaking of which, be sure to check back later this week for another post that will tell the very special story of one of my dearest friends here in Rabat. You won’t want to miss it!

 

P. S. I will be revisiting this post to insert proper citations as soon as I get my hands on a laptop! Any questions about any of this information, don’t hesitate to ask!

“What have I gotten myself into?”

“If at some point you don’t ask yourself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ then you’re not doing it right.” – Roland Gau

This is a comforting sentiment because I’ve had this thought nearly a dozen times over the past three weeks. The first time I thought this was when I turned away from my parents and walked through the first TSA line. Suddenly, waves of uncertainty and doubt washed over me. Without anyone beside me (for the first time in weeks – when you’re about to leave the country for six months, everyone wants a piece of you before you go), life seemed quieter. At first, this silence jarred me, but as I settled into it, I realized that being without anyone I knew allowed me freedom from distractions. I could adequately observe my surroundings for what felt like the first time in my life. The hustling of people catching planes, talking on phones and to others in English and other languages. The bored expressions on terminal employees’ faces. The smell of overpriced lobster rolls and other airport food. All of these details that had I been with someone, I would have missed completely, suddenly seemed so vital.

I remember one moment from my first few hours of travel distinctly. When I got off the plane in Newark and caught a shuttle to the other terminal for my Tel Aviv flight, I sat in a seat pointed inward on the bus. I caught my reflection in the window across from me, it was a girl with one overstuffed carry on bag and a fully packed backpack slung on her shoulders, sitting alone. And instead of being uncertain or scared, she actually looked like she knew what she was doing, this whole ‘traveling’ thing. I saw a person in that window that I hadn’t encountered before in myself, but she was me, alright. It was in that moment that my faith in where I was and what I was doing was restored. I liked seeing that new person in the reflection; she was alone but she wasn’t really alone because her companions were her observations and the people, places, and objects around her.

I met the true spirit of traveling on that shuttle. That is not to say that there haven’t been moments when I’ve lost track of the spirit, times when I’ve asked, “What have I gotten myself into?” and “What am I doing here?” The thing they don’t tell you about traveling is that as you experience new sights, sounds, and people, you simultaneously grow a newfound appreciation and perspective on your familiar sights, sounds, and people. Traveling is missing things you never used to think were special, like going to Grimey’s, a show in East Nashville, or walking around Hillsboro Village. More than that, it is missing the people you used to do those things with. It is craving a Poptart, even though you really never wanted them when you had access to them back in the States. Above all, it is wishing you could share every bit of what you are experiencing now with your loved ones back home. Telling them about it just doesn’t do it justice; you wish they could see what you are seeing in real time.

But traveling is also waking to a beautiful view of Beit Sahour’s* hills in the distance. It is walking up a nearly vertical hill in the already blazing morning sun to arrive next to the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, and you’re only ¼ of the way to work. It is the smell of baking pita and shrak along the square. It is saying “Sabah al khair” to people you pass on Star Street. It is meeting new friends from Finland, Germany, and Bethlehem. It is refilling paint for your kids and swapping Arabic and English words with them as you watch them paint over cement blocks in the garden. It is picking figs and eating them right off the tree. It is the taste of fresh labaneh, olive oil, and thyme. It is listening to your Bethlehem friends talk about their experiences with the second Intifada and the 40 day siege on Bethlehem during their childhoods, about losing family members and friends, about how they used to hide from bombs and tear gas, about how all of this still affects them, and you go home and cry yourself to sleep because you don’t know what it all means. It is participating in an Arabic wedding, holding lit candles with the other women and watching men with canes and tarbooshes celebrate on the dance floor. It is walking home against the chilly night breeze, carrying Chinese leftovers, and laughing with your new friend group, some of whom you only just met the day before. It is sitting on top of the monkey bars on Wi’am’s playground at dusk, sipping luisa (lemon grass) tea while watching the last pink glow of the sun as it sets over the refugee camp next door.

Traveling doesn’t feel perfect all of the time; it is rarely comfortable. But it is rewarding to the soul. It stretches you to your capacity and makes you grow in places you didn’t know you needed expansion in. I feel that I cannot describe it quite adequately yet, and I haven’t got the tightest grip on it either. But I’m figuring it out.

 

Here’s some pictures from this week:

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*Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour are three towns that pretty much blend into one another.

 

Stargazing in the Sahara

Last weekend, I joined the group of West Point cadets for a weekend camping in the Sahara desert. The cadets are led by a professor of comparative politics and anthropology, who has become an incredible resource to me as I research and observe the society and culture around me. Her perspective is poignant and challenges me to continue to search for new manifestations of women’s empowerment in the Islamist and Arab culture, as well as the Moroccan political identity. But besides that, she and the rest of the cadets have become very, very dear friends to me. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend so much time with their group in the last few weeks. Below is a photo of our group (WP plus their four tagalongs!) on our way to the desert.

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To get to the Sahara, we drove 10 hours through the Moroccan countryside before arriving in the neighboring town of Merzouga. It was incredible to watch the scenery change from urban residences to winding cliffs of dense forest, to eventually an infinite horizon of sand. To give you a better idea of where we were geographically, we were about 25 miles away from the Algerian border. We spent Friday evening in a hotel before waking up early Saturday morning to explore. We visited Berber artisan shops and attended an abidat ra concert. Abidat ra is a unique type of music that is native to Morocco , whose subject matter illustrate the nomadic roots and religious undertones of the Berber ethnicities prevalent throughout the region. It is extremely dissonant, but especially hypnotic and captivating when it’s performed live. Here is an action shot of us dancing with the performers! (Note the Audrey Hepburn-inspired headscarf... It was a great way to keep cool in the desert, and avoid getting sand in my face when it got windy!)

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At around 6:00 PM that day, we embarked on our sunset camel trek to our campsite in the Sahara. The last time I was on a camel was two years ago  in the Gobi desert in northwestern China, during a blistering hot afternoon. It was one of my favorite adventures in China, and so naturally I could hardly contain my excitement to mount a camel once again and enjoy a beautiful sunset as Merzouga disappeared behind me. I took the lead camel, feeling bold, and named him Hatim after my favorite child to care for at the local orphanage. After an incredible sunset and 45-minute ride, we arrived at our campsite for a mouthwatering dinner of tagine chicken and steamed vegetables. After that, we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning lying outside entranced by the constellations of stars above. The stargazing was the most incredible I’ve experienced... We saw five shooting stars and located two of my favorite constellations (Hercules and Pegasus) using the SkyGuide app (INVEST IN THIS APP) before falling asleep under the stars.

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I woke up early with our guide Hamza to watch the sunrise, which was every bit as mesmerizing as the sunset we watched the night before. After we finished cleaning up camp, we saddled back up to return to Merzouga for breakfast before returning back to Rabat.

It was an absolutely indescribable weekend of experiencing the most majestic natural landscapes and culturally influenced art, and these pictures truly only scratch the surface.

I look forward to sharing more in detail about this weekend during my Lumos presentation this fall!

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In my next post, I’ll be focusing about the changes happening once again in the classroom at Feminin Pluriel... Challenges and frustration are just as important to document as life changing weekends in the desert, after all!

Ramadan Mubarak!

Last week, I shared my decision to participate in the month-long fast of Ramadan as a means of more fully immersing in my environment abroad. But what does it mean for a non-Muslim to participate in Ramadan? What’s the point? Is it difficult? When (and what) do you eat to stay healthy? But before we get into that, here’s a quick summary of what my typical day during Ramadan looks like:

I wake up around 2:30 AM to share a light breakfast with my fellow fasting volunteers. We snack until around 3:30, when the call to prayer rings out, indicating the sunrise. Some people choose to sleep through the night instead of waking up, but regardless of what one chooses, from sunrise to sunset, we fast. So no food or water from about 3:30 AM until about 7:40 PM. Because the whole country is participating, schedules change universally to allow for extra sleep in the mornings. My class now begins at 10:30 AM and ends at 12:30 PM. I get back to the house around 1:00 PM, and around 1:30 PM I have either Arabic lessons, a lecture, or cooking lessons. (As you can probably imagine, the cooking lessons are admittedly rough!) For me, this is the hardest part of the day. The only scheduled activity is to prepare my lessons for the next day, which usually only takes me 30 minutes to an hour since I like to do the majority of my lesson planning over the weekend. Many volunteers opt for a nap around this time to pass the day a little faster. Naps make me feel lazy, so I usually try not to. (Though I’ve certainly conceded once or twice!) I usually read for the last few hours, up until around 5:30 PM when the others start to wake up from their naps. We hang out and chat until around 7:00 PM, when we start to prepare the food for iftar, the breaking of the fast. A lot of the traditional Ramadan dishes are extremely sweet, (and delicious!) such as chebakia and sohor. This is to up your blood sugar after 15 hours of fasting! After enjoying a delicious and highly anticipated meal that lasts at least an hour or two, we start to get ready for bed around 10:00 PM. And then the cycle begins again!

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Though it may sound intimidating, I haven’t found adjusting to the fast too difficult at all. It’s important to know your body and its limitations, so taking it easy is crucial, especially at first. (No running marathons on day one!) But you’d be amazed at how quickly the body adjusts to a different feeding schedule. To make sure that I’m staying healthy, I try to stay active by regularly going on walks around the neighborhood or to the medina. I also make sure to drink a lot of water throughout the break of the fast to stay hydrated. It’s also important not to eat too much too fast once iftar hits, because you don’t want to overwhelm your body with too much all at once. But these are all pretty straightforward guidelines, so perhaps you’re starting to see why the fast itself isn’t all that intimidating after all!

In my (very limited) experience, the hard part is the commitment. Right now, all of my fellow volunteers are participating in the fast. But next weekend, eight more volunteers will come who likely will not participate, meaning they will be eating at a normal schedule while living with us. This will be like a next level test of willpower for those of us here now, but I imagine this is just another day in the life for any Muslim not living/celebrating in a Muslim country... And for that, I salute them!

As a non-Muslim, Ramadan holds a different significance for me than my students. But the unending support and sense of respect I have earned in their eyes for participating in Ramadan as a foreigner has already made it so worth it. By doing this, I make myself a lot less of a foreigner and much more a part of the community. One of my students who describes himself as not particularly religious wrote a wonderful essay on the importance of the principle of Ramadan for class, and it’s all too appropriate to share an excerpt of his interpretation as part of my own justification for participating in Ramadan:

Because I am hungry and thirsty, I remember my brothers in humanity in Somalia, Djibouti, and everywhere else in the world. I invoke the suffering of these people with my fast. Ramadan is not just a principle of the Islamic religion. Ramadan is like a school to teach the great values of humanity: patience, tolerance, empathy, solidarity, kinship, respect, and forgiveness for our false assumptions about the lives of others.

No pun intended, but how’s that for some food for thought?