Voluntary Homestay


For several weeks now, I’ve been living with a Moroccan family again. Their names are, Kh*, who is a great man and friend, A*, his wife, and M*, their daughter. They asked, and I took them in, free of rent, free of any charge. Before this, my house of six rooms was mostly empty and lacking warmth. I never furnished the home, and to this day, still am sleeping in my sleeping bag. Now, I have a cooking partner, constant conversation, and help with the household chores. Now, I have daily access to the town’s tech guru, English teacher, and community leader. Now, I have little girls visiting, dropping off wild flowers. What a deal! They’re staying for a few months.

These girls that visit are awesome, playing with M* when she’s fussy, crouching with us as we crack kilo after kilo of almonds. If I grab a broom, one grabs a dustpan, and the other turns on some music. When other children knock on my door for a toothbrush lesson (and get a toothbrush as a reward), they deliver my lesson with clarity and added anecdotes. And they do this without being asked.

The boys that visit, like A*’s brothers (ages 16 and 21) don’t do jack squat! Stay an unannounced night? Fine, but when asked to buy some milk for the extra portions of dinner, don’t ask for my money! Now constantly faced with the gender roles, I’m starting to miss America. I’ve been trying to get Kh* into the kitchen more, and A* outside, beyond the porch.

A*’s story: She completed the highest form of education available in her village, elementary school. Unemployed and bored of working at home for a year, she picked up a household servant gig in Casablanca. From ages 12 to 17, she was cooking, cleaning, teaching, and playing with the family’s two kids as the Engineer dad and Judge mom worked. Casablanca introduced A* to supermarkets, McDonald’s, and French cuisine. She then married Kh*, a year before the legal age (but who enforces the law here anyway?), and returned to make a home of a neighboring village, Kh*’s and my village. Now, she cares for their 15-month-old daughter and we occasionally whip up a classic béchamel and Béarnaise. She celebrated her 20th birthday last March. A* has earned my respect. She’ll inherit everything that I’m leaving behind. The family that she worked for enjoyed her stay so much, that they are hosting her little sister in Casablanca as she continues her studies.

Shocked and Awed


“Kan ghai,” repeated a cheery and elderly Mohammed. Each time, the corners of his smile stretched wider until he’s almost laughing now.

I didn’t understand. Eawd. Ur fhemgh mat tinnit. Is he making a joke? Art  tflaat? I returned an equally sized smile knowing that at least it, whatever it is, is not malicious. I ran the phrase through my Tashlheet, French and Spanish vocabulary and exhausted them. Nothing. I recognized neither word. No context clues, aside from the usual greeting.

Salamu alaykum. La bas? Bakhir? Is tehenna? Tehenna luqt? L’famila nk bakhir? Kulshi bakhir? Sahha mzian? L’hamdullah. He could not hear well so I repeated louder. When we shook hands, I noticed two-thirds of his right index finger was missing – the medial and distal phalanges. An odd wound. My guess was that it was from farming machinery or, maybe, a band-saw. Many locals are farmers and carpenters. “You’re from America?” Born in America, though my parents are from Vietnam. This is where most pause, trying to place it on a map. It is similar to when some hear Malawi and narrow their mental projections to an obscure Pacific Island and Sub-Saharan country. Unsure of which, they imagine a Serengeti backdrop with coconut palms, and rhinos mingling with hermit crabs. But Mohammed wasn’t fooled, and continued, “How wonderful! Indochina.” Is that term still in use? Maybe here, I suppose. Zwina. Tifuliki walayni ehema l’hel. He concluded, “It’s a beautiful, but very hot, place.” He must have seen it on the National Geographic Abu Dhabi. Moroccans love this channel, always at a café sipping coffee with tigers and polar bears running in the background. Not many Moroccans venture to countries beyond Europe to work, and Saudi Arabia for a religious pilgrimage, a Hajj. It’s highly unlikely, but could he have visited Vietnam? Is jiin tikkit Indochine? Before he could respond, I knew his answer. His old age. His hard of hearing. The immediate recognition of Vietnam and knowledge of its humidity. Lastly, and most importantly, the missing trigger finger. He is one of the fabled Moroccan soldiers who the French forced to fight protecting its imperialism. People admire these men, as they are the last Moroccans with real war experience. Excluding Western Sahara, Morocco’s quite peaceful.

At that moment, I finally understood what he said. “Con gái!” I exclaimed. We both simultaneously burst into a roar, laughing inside the tahanut as the clerk and other shoppers looked on curiously. It’s Vietnamese for: girl, or unmarried woman. He then began gleefully recounting other phrases as I corrected his pronunciation. Tốt. Không tốt. Mắt quá. When we parted, he requested that I help him refresh his Vietnamese. Because of this, I can safely assume he left Vietnam with some fond memories. Though machine gun fire destroyed his hearing, the enemy took his finger, and he most likely was tortured, he, at least, had fun with the local women, con gái. At a later encounter, a teleboutique owner joked, “Dars rebein tifrokhin!” Mohammed’s got 40 chicks! Maybe there is some truth to it.



The scholarship that I hope to create aims to help those who value education. On several occasions, I witnessed the reactions of parents to their children’s grades…

“…You got a 6/12 in Arabic? Not bad… A 5/12 in Math? That’s okay… A 3/12 in French? Haha. Who needs French anyway?”

The value of education (in my village, at least) is lackluster. One of my host brothers had to redo the 9th grade. When is a 6/10 ever okay? That’s failing in my schools. And at home, that’s private tutoring, increased chores, and for good measure, a good spanking. Here, corporal punishment is commonplace but not for educational scores. Understandably so. Many rural children who excel in elementary and middle school cannot attend high school as they cannot afford it. High schools are in larger towns and are free, but food and boarding is not. Extremely poor families do not deem a higher education worthwhile. Maslow’s hierarchy.

Moroccans knows that university graduates are hard-pressed to find a job. Twice, I treated myself to McDonald’s and once, to KFC – they’re damn expensive in comparison to good Moroccan food. The cashiers I spoke to finished college and worked there because of their fluency in English. Bear in mind, that English fluency are almost entirely found in English-majoring undergraduates (see Speech). Compare these cashiers with their American counterparts. Many graduates are unemployed or work with tourism, selling souvenirs, where a colleague might hold a middle school education. The recent protests mostly consist of 20- and 30-somethings demanding, among other things, better job opportunities.

With this reality, only those who still have hope excel in school. My scholarship aims to help these kids prolong this hope. Some might continue to finish college (see Definition of Success). I have hope. This scholarship will supplement the costs of attending high school (~$300/year, in my region). It works like this: I’ll invest what money I have (no available grant will fund this) with a local farmer, a good friend. What am I investing in? Livestock. It and agriculture are the basis of my village’s economy. It has the highest risks for profits and losses, but I’m hoping to make a worthwhile impact. Over a span of a year, I may profit. These profits (minus investment costs) become the scholarship amount, awarded to the best middle school student. I take them to the city’s boarding home and pay their entire year’s cost. The amount equal to the investment costs is recycled for next year. I take nothing. If there’s a loss over the year, I’ll invest more. When I leave Morocco, the scholarship is to be managed by the farmer and my good friends. If they deem livestock to be too risky, they’ll revise the business model. After seeing this, the townspeople might become more charitable and value education more. The results are not concrete, and the impact will not be seen for years, but I have hope. Pay it forward.

Lost Letters 01 – Success


Never actually lost, but snazzy title, huh? I wrote the following long ago but for differing reasons, they’ve remained unpublished until now.

Definition of Success.

July 16, 2010

It is awesome that the Peace Corps emphasizes sustainable development, that’s mostly un-reliant upon monetary aid. We’re educators and business advisors. If I can help even one person advance one rung up Maslow’s hierarchy, I’d be successful. The resulting chain reaction of development should more hastily transform Morocco into a modern country, a valuable partner, a worthy rival. Who knows when? On a national scale, our work’s impact is intangible. On a personal level, we hope to see the change within our respective communities and upon the individuals we interact with.

Symbiosis – Lost Letters 02


Among the items I inherited from my predecessor –thank you– was a filthy food grater. I, being poor and environmentally conscious, did not want to replace it. It still retained its sharp edges and was not broken. But its many many holes were filled with food scraps and stains from who-knows-when.  I soaked it for a week, in soapy water, followed by a bleach/water solution, and even refilled the water three days in as it mostly evaporated in the summer heat. Scrubbing it afterwards with the available sponge did not work. So I sprinkled sugar on the grater and left it along an ant trail. By the same time in the following day, it was spotless!

It’s a damn good tool for making matchstick carrots, hash-browns, and enchiladas. I eat well.


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