Nihaya

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I left Morocco eleven months ago.  I am currently sitting at a café in a small town in Senegal after talking on Whatsapp with my mom and we had this simultaneous thought that it was time for me to write a final blog post for my Morocco blog.  This is no easy task, and I assure you it is an emotional one for me.  Even knowing that my parents and I are likely the only ones to ever see this post, the idea of closure to my experience seems tough.  My 27 months in the Peace Corps changed my entire being, in ways that I treasure and in ways that still perplex, challenge, and confuse me.  There is a continuous tension between the person I am now and the person I was before I left for my service and it’s a tension that infiltrates most of interactions on an everyday basis.  Click play and read on.

A quick update on me (though I doubt anybody reads this that wouldn’t know this already):  I am currently living in New York City getting my Masters in a one-year intensive program and working a job in Social Justice Education.  In short, I went from living in the rural Sahara working just a few hours a day and getting ample sleep, healthy food, and exercise on a budget of $280 a month to living in a gigantic concrete jungle working between work and class from 9am-9pm daily with a monthly rent that is almost three times my monthly earning in Morocco.  I bring this up not only to juxtapose the intense change I have put myself through but also to bring up how alarmingly fast the transition was back into United States life.  There are some days when my time in Morocco seems like a total blur.  Life post-Morocco has been either getting reacquainted with people and places and things I haven’t seen or doing this whole 12-hour a day gig so time to actually sit down and think about Peace Corps life hasn’t been plenty but there are subtle reminders every day that bring me back, in the most unexpected ways to the most unexpected memories.

Some of the most important lessons I carry?  Well first of all is a life that is relational rather than transactional.  Capitalism has an intense hold of our minds and bodies and when people spend, they often spend with their gain in mind rather than the human narrative that made that transaction possible.  Focusing on the land and labor that creates what we spend on urges community health and relationship to be a part of the equation.  We are unfortunately stuck in a Catch 22 in the United States and much of the world as most of our spending options feed into funding corporations within inhumane intent, but the more we can uncover these narratives, the more we can slow down our own lives and acknowledge the lives of others.  Another major lesson is in an awareness of the discomfort around change and the self awareness it takes to orient frustration from it in a meaningful direction.  I cannot blame my discomfort on my surroundings, but rather on the nature of change and that growth is not upwards, nor is it comparable.  I can’t say what growth you are going through and what impact it is having on you and I certainly cannot say that my experiences have put me through “more” growth than anybody else.  They have put me through a different growth and while I’m still trying to figure out how I am going to end up because of it, I am forever thankful for the constant reminder that the only thing permanent in this life is that is it always changing.  When those changes feel rough, I cannot take them out on my surroundings… that is how boundaries between people are reinforced.

In thinking of what I want this last post to center, I think of all the people I miss; the people who made my time in Morocco what it was and the people who it both hurts to be without yet are with me daily.  So who are some the people who I spent my 27 months with?

Mama Khadija, Habiba, Najwa, and Achraf: These four people made up my host family.  I don’t know if any amount of words could reflect the gratitude that I feel for them.  I have never experienced and unquestioned acceptance into another’s family in the way that they gave to me and I was cared for as a family member every day of my service by them.  I will never forget my last night before heading to Close of Service sitting at their house trying to hold back tears as we looked through old pictures of the family and talked about our past two years together.

Moha: My brilliant, talented, artist brother.  Moha and his family “took me in” after my site change and not only gave me a place to live, but hosted me for many a meal and Moha became my closest friend in my second town as well as main work partner.  From trips into the gorges to our hours on end sitting in the art gallery and doing art classes to our daily lunches, I miss Moha every day.

Nabil:  I feel like this is a hard one for me to write about.  I met Nabil in a city over from my site during a Peacebuilding Conference in my first year of service and he instantly became one of my closest relationships in Morocco (and perhaps on the globe).  Some of my last days in Morocco were spent with him and his family in Marrakech… our relationship most closely mirrors that of my most intimate friendships today.  We provide safety and challenge for each other, and I can’t wait to see him again soon.  Nabil is, quite simply put, the little brother I always wanted.

Simo Blil:  Simo and I met my first day after I finished training and arrived in site.  He was introduced to me as the theatre teacher who also taught personal development and lifeskills.  Needless to say, we hit it off.  We co-organized TEDx in our community and he continually awed me with the amazing lessons that he planned for our students every weekend.  He is truly one of the most gifted community educators I have ever met.

Othman:  Othman is one of my best friends from the first site that I was placed in.  We climbed a mountain together, rocked out on guitars in an abandoned Rotary building, and deconstructed society (through words… it was the best we could do).  He is brilliant and a lover of the Harry Potter series, which in fact, were key in teaching him English.

Amina, Khadija, Fatima, and Hannan:   These four were my counterparts in my first site and ran community classes as a team.  All four of them would show up at my classes with huge smiles on their faces and whenever I went back to visit my first site I would get to spend time with them.  All four of them ran classes at two women’s centers and would put in hours beyond expectation to learn and create lessons, as well as build relationships with the women outside of class.  They planned this huge picnic for me a couple days before I left Morocco where they brought all my students from my first site together to see me off.

Mustapha, Aya, and Wisal:    Mustapha was my landlord and dear friend in my first town.  Aya and Wisal are his niece and daughter.  They took care of me throughout my time living below them.  Mustapha and I would spend evenings sitting around our apartments playing music, cards, and coloring with the girls.

Khadija, Fatima, Hassna, Abdelkarim, and Mohammed:  I once saw a small group of girls leave my class in tears.  When I approached them to figure out what was going on, the idea of self esteem came up, and they said they had a hard time comparing themselves to other people in my classes.  With that, we started a small group with a couple other students that would meet for about six hours a week and we became a positivity and self worth club where we did some language practice but mainly built each other up.  My transition to my second site was extremely difficult for me in terms of integrating into another community, but this group of students became my motivation for work every day.

Yassine and Abelatif: I learned a lot from these two in terms of carrying around the pain of others.  I found myself near the end of my second year carrying a lot of anger on behalf of other people and these two came into my life with the reminder that nobody asked me to hold the oppressions of others and that I retained the choice to use the compassion attached to those oppressions as a reason to act with love.

Of course there are also my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (Hannah, Chip, Jodie, Zach, Julie, Edwin, Kareema, Rebecca, Menges, Andy, Tania and Bri just to name a few) who were and continue to be really important parts of my life.  I truly wouldn’t have made in through my experience without the support of all of you.  Finally, I want to thank my family and their continued love for me and my often irrational, impulsive decision making that causes me to do things like drop my second major, apply for early graduation, and submit an application for the peace corps in a 24-hour window.  When I submitted my application in September 2012, I had no clue what I was getting myself into.  Challenge and all, I wouldn’t accept anything else as my truth today.

With that, I ask you, how do we leverage the things that we love with the things we don’t want to return to?  Being a year out of service, I juxtapose very different truths and realities that I have lived, and have found myself in each of those realities longing for things that the other has.  I continue to believe that this world I seek where these longings come together is possible.  I am excited to continue to fight for that world to exist.  Thank you all for being a part of this journey with me.  I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.

Salaam out,

Anooj

 

Blati, snu?

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Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Peace Corps, or repetitive questions.

HEY! Two years in Morocco!?

My family (mom, dad, brother) has this habit of all communicating with me from the same e-mail in one-liners that are never signed off by their writer.  As I’m guessing that group of individuals comprise 100% of the readers of this blog, know that I always enjoy trying to decipher who the sender is, especially when I get three responses from the same e-mail.  In any case, I got an e-mail from I assume, my mom, asking if I can write a couple more blog posts before I leave.

Wait, what?

I’m leaving?

A few days ago I hit my two year mark here in Morocco and actually found a good muse for writing in stopping by my host family’s house from training (the family that I lived with for my first three months here January-March 2014).  My host mom was talking on the phone with her sister and began to recite what she saw as my story here from day one until today, pulling me with her down memory lane to those first days in country, to now, and all of the visits and phone calls in between.  She talked about how I refused to eat at the table on my own and that I always wanted to wait for the rest of the family to be present before eating.  She talked about how I didn’t know the word for glass when I moved in but now followed their conversation without missing a word.  She talked about how proud she was to be able to host me and how they became a second family to me.  She talked about how her grandson looks at me like a brother and asks her everyday how I’m doing.  She talked about how I only have three months left…

Wait, what?

I’m leaving?

But what stuck with me most about all of this is when she started talking about how I came here as a 22 year old, and how I’m sitting in her kitchen as a 24 year old (still using the answer “I’M STILL YOUNG!” when people ask me why I’m not married yet).  I feel like I internalize this as being way crazier than any reader can but to say that I’ve come into my own over these past two years is an understatement.  I look back at pictures from when I arrive here and even see somebody so much younger.  My understanding of self, of justice, of my values, of culture, of development, and of the world has been revolutionized by my life here, and while the challenges were ample and in many ways have forced me to “grow-up” in ways I didn’t anticipate having to, a retrospective view of the past two years gives me a unique strength that I can’t really put into words other than saying that I am carrying a whole lot of gratitude right now.  I remember back to January of 2014 when I thought my “close of service” date was nothing but a myth… but now,

Wait, what?

I’m leaving?

This is a statement that my ears aren’t adjusting to.  If you’ve talked to me over the past five months (about four of you… sorry for being awful with communication), you know that I’ve been a fairly reflective state (when am I not) and that it has been pretty difficult imagining a transition back to life in the states.  I’ve gotten used to embracing my free time, using energy to take care of myself on a daily basis, the long mountain path walks, and being invested in gender and development and youth work here so deeply and SO much more that it is hard to imagine readjusting to something else once again.  Luckily, I get to carry these things with me forever.

Also in the name of luck, I’m not leaving just yet!  I still have three months of adventures (and probably a continuation of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows) to live out here.  I haven’t written in this blog since August or September so I’m going to try to recall some big highlights and stories, if I can.

I started a small business project with a close friend of mine.  He is an amazing artist who has more talent in his pinky than I do in my entirety and we have started offering painting classes to tourists coming through town, each class paying for two students to do a free art workshop.  The class for tourists focuses on Moroccan tradition and culture, tea included, and reflecting on travels, while the class for kids has more of an emphasis on the importance of art, creativity, and expression, to living a fulfilled life.  Feel free to like our facebook page!: https://www.facebook.com/aitrabeh/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Another project that is giving me SO much life right now is creating a Men as Partners program.  My goal is to get all of the men in the Peace Corps community to do this project with at least five individuals in their community, focusing on developing men as better partners in relationships.  This program will specifically talk about definitions of “manhood” and how we can use our identity to better our communities rather than as competition through the diversity of what it means to be a man today, about support and empathy and how we both choose to give it and want to receive it, about conflict resolution with civility and naming domestic violence as an issue in order to talk about progressive solutions free of mental and physical harm, and about sexual health and healthy relationships.  There is so much data out there showing the importance of these topics as ways to improve community safety, prevent identity based discrimination and harassment, and create homes more able to solve problems through critical, responsive though, rather than reactive violence.   Hopefully, it all goes well!

Thanks to some awesome volunteers, I’ve been able to go rock climbing a few times in some world famous gorges which happen to be fairly close to my home.   In short, I’ve found a new hobby that I hope to continue in the states, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to find indoor climbing as magnificent as this.

We had our COS conference (Close of Service Conference) last week,  where my staj got together to talk about leaving…

Wait, what?

I’m leaving?

Ahhhh there it goes again, let’s just go back to talking about other things that have been going on.

I’ve picked up a bit of Tamazight, which is the language spoken by my community which has been fun, but there’s definitely not a ton of pressure to learn it because of bilingualism with Moroccan Arabic.  I understand the grammar of the language really well but haven’t applied myself too well in terms of learning vocabulary to be really communicative but I definitely do try to use it when I can.

I got to do some leadership development work facilitating a couple months ago at a conference put together by a volunteer.  I basically got to go back to my old college job days and present (in Arabic) on the History of Leadership Development… a topic that can be seemingly dry to many haha, but I think the presentation all in all went really well.  I’ve been teaching English classes per usual but have been doing a lot more self-development work within them, both through integration of positive self esteem and self worth activities, and through a lot of work with creativity, including creative writing in Arabic which I’m not always good at connecting to English, but HEY, people don’t question it!  They just have fun with it J

It can be hard weighing what you thought your service would look like vs. how it ends up looking.  There were a lot of things I claimed I wanted out of my time here that I wasn’t able to achieve on a personal development level, and there are a lot of things that I gained that I didn’t imagine.  More on all this (if I feel like writing again haha), but for now, Salaam out and Thalla f rassk.  I’m ready to make the most out of these next three months!

Anooj

 

“Your Vibe Attracts a Village”

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Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Peace Corps, or Long Stories.

HEY… its been a minute.  Click play and read on:

I was recently inspired during a conversation with a volunteer to start writing in my blog again. In short, I had mentioned something about stopping my blog because things didn’t feel “new” or “reportable” anymore. But I guess at the start, being new or reportable wasn’t what I was looking for, though it was perhaps what this blog grew into. What I was looking for January 2014 was a way to stay connect with those I care about through reflection on my experiences here… something that positively impacted me as I did it and will hopefully continue to as I try to make this blog a part of my experience once more.

So what’s there to say? It has been about six months since I last wrote about what all was going on and these six months have been filled with change in ways I could not anticipate from the start of my service. A shortened story would tell you that I was pulled out of my site for safety concerns and reassigned to a site in the south of Morocco, where I’m currently writing from. A longer story would talk about the relationships I had to say goodbye to in my old site, the work I had to wrap up and seek sustainability within in just a few days, the feelings around coping with such unexpected change in such immediate circumstances, the moment I turned around and saw an empty house that was my home when I had to move and couldn’t do anything in the moment but sit on my host family’s roof with a roll of toilet paper and sob, and my last moments spent in my home of almost a year-and-a-half holding my host mother’s hand as she told me I will always be a son to her.

This story would also talk about getting to climb a mountain with dear friends, both struggling and rejoicing on said mountain, having a friend come and visit and her helping immensely in the coping process, going on a bus ride adventure gone wrong, making jokes at a terribly raunchy toilet, spending two weeks at home getting to be in the therapeutic comfort of family and friends, getting to attend a wedding of somebody dearly important to me, revitalizing the motivated and adventurous spirit that exists inside me and my potential to live up to it, and starting new in a town that may just be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life while learning a new language and exploring a culture different than the one I have lived in since I started my journey here. In this moment alone I feel the benefit of writing; of having a blog. Things in life happen continuously, without warning, daily. And while in the mix of things one may find themselves bored, unable to draw meaning, it is in looking in retrospect that we can not only find ways to value what we have gone through, but we can also begin to cope more with the emotions we have held back from things unexpected, both wonderful and tough.

I like the long story better.

It can be tough, as definitely shown by being in the states. A “How’s Morocco?,” doesn’t really warrant it and when it does, a certain mindset has to be present, but for the times when both of those aligned, I got to story-tell my experience with a lot of gratitude for what I’ve done and a lot of excitement for what’s ahead.

Speaking of gratitude, I read an article recently that talked about it being the key to living a happy life, and so expressing it has been something I’ve been working on. I think this runs a bit deeper than expressing “thanks” and so finding ways to let it manifest in my life has been really interesting, but I do have to say that an immediate output of it all is just a greater tendency to be invested in the moment; to work to find something to be appreciative of in the present so that it holds your attention with awe and learning.

Alright, so onto cool things that have happened in Morocco or in life in the past six months, because all of the stuff I’ve been talking about has been super recent:

-Ability Camp!: I had the opportunity to work at a camp inclusive of students with special needs… probably one of my favorite experiences here so far, and I came out of it with some of the closest relationships with students that I have been able to build here. The camp was in the deep south in Morocco so I also got to explore some new places while working. My first paid job was working in a social skills classroom for a special needs summer camp, so getting to do this kind of inclusive work again was really enjoyable for me. Also, I got married! (See photo below).

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-Peace Building Conference! With three other Peace Corps Volunteers, I was able to attend, as a volunteer for it, an International Peace Building through Technology Conference in Nicosia, Cyprus. The Conference was really cool, and the attendees were even cooler. There were about 300 people there from 60 different countries and I got to idea share with so many people doing such important things in the world. A lot of interesting inner-dialogues took place throughout it in terms of personal beliefs on peace building and how technology can help or harm social systems. I think it is so necessary to have an understanding of both, the roots of the issue you are working with and the roots of the technology being used before moving forward. In any case, I learned a lot and got to spend some time in beautiful Cyprus with a crazy fun detour in Italy.

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-New Volunteers! At the beginning of April we swore in 90-something new volunteers here. It’s exciting to have new faces around and doing work with new volunteer programming here and there has been really interesting to be a part of. Especially since most of us still feel so new here and that we don’t know what we are doing, and are yet supposed to be some sort of source of knowledge for new volunteers. I’ve luckily become close with a few of our new Peace Corpsers, including this super easy-to-be-around couple whose names are Marc and Michelle and also happen to be the conversation sparkers that made me write in this blog again.

-Mount Toubkal! I climbed to the highest point in North Africa, with my friends Jordan, Uthman, and Nabil. It was an incredible adventure and getting to share it with both a friend from my American home and friends from my Moroccan home was a really special thing for me to be able to do. I don’t like using the word “special” to describe things, haha, but until I find a different word, it will stay.
Blog Toub-English Teachers Conference! My pal Andy and I put on a little English Teachers Conference for twenty students interested in becoming English teachers. A lot of passion was expressed for the English Language from the students present and while I always have mixed feelings about teaching English abroad, these students’ general interest and love of expressing themselves in other languages made our conversations more about the way we use language to enhance our lives and the lives of others rather than just how to teach grammar and vocabulary.

-I had a bunch of visitors that I am so thankful for in the past six months, and was able to go on a lot of great adventures in even better company. Know that if you are interested in visiting Morocco, you have an excited host waiting for you  And to those who visited, I value our time together so dearly!

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-Ramadan Round Two! I went through my second summer of fasting here for the holy month of Ramadan. It, as it was last year, was a really good time for community integration and self reflection.

-OSU Student Visit! A group of eight students studying abroad from Ohio State came to my site. We did a cross culture Question and Answer at the Women’s Center which concluded in theatrical depictions of Moroccan and American weddings, and had lunch at my host family’s place to be able to exchange cultures, talk about things from Morocco that can be taken home with us and applied to our lives there, and get a better understanding of why some norms are the way they are.

Alright, I’m about to head out for some errand running, so I’m going to stop there.  Last week, my regional manager dropped me off to my new site and said, “Remember, your vibe attracts a village.”  Those words stuck with me.  Being in  a new place 20 months into my service is so unexpected, but remembering to act from a place of compassion and to bring a sense of energy and curiosity to my daily interactions is so important and so immensely beneficial.  Its all about those good vibes.

Salaam Out,

Anooj

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shHal hadi

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Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Peace Corps, or Clipart Pictures.

I have lived here for 14 months, Say whaaaat? Click play and read on!

This blog post is a little bit confusing to right because I’m trying to put little bits and pieces together from the last three months to chat about, and my memory is currently failing me.  Nevertheless, I’ll do my best.  I hadn’t changed my clothes for six days until the other morning when I decided to go to the Hammam to reflect on the past twelve hours. I found out the word for zebra in Arabic translates to English as “Monster Donkey,” had a rap battle at midnight in the street with none other than my host mom, and entertained a knock on my door from a little kid who asked if he could come inside and color with me. Proof:

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My family and David came to visit! Having home here was great, though I am surrounded by the guilt of having been angry, sweaty, and crutchy for a lot of the time my family was here, but I suppose if anybody is going to see you at your worst, it may as well be those who raised you, right? Midst the stress of going back and forth from physical therapy and the general chaos I feel from trying to preserve my identity as somebody who lives here inside of what I sometimes distortedly see as tourist traps, having my family here was the break from Peace Corps life that I needed, and having David here was the re-energizing that I needed to jump back into life here, full swing. We got to go to some beautiful sites in Morocco and do a weekend in Madrid, chatting about pretty much every aspect of our lives.

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Work is going well. I feel like the flexibility and resiliency I have gained from being here are really important. We graduated 25 students through our International Youth Foundation Lifeskills program and ended up (after a SIX HOUR celebration party) with students excited to start work in Volunteerism, Cross-Culturalism, and music, with new clubs and organizations at the Youth Center. Unexpectedly, my Youth Center shut down for renovations (WHAT!?), and I have been trying to find empty classrooms and spaces to continue working with students. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated by this… my work place and safe space here closed down… but I feel in good spirits about the energy and momentum we have here and our ability to carry that spirit to another space… I just have to find one! I am doing some classes today at a new center, so we’ll see how that goes.

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I would be regretful to not include these pictures which a student edited after the TEDx event last fall, haha.

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I continue to be completely obsessed with work on the Gender and Development Committee. I’ve been able to do a couple Girl’s Education Weeks in my community, some video/dialogue sessions on Women’s Employment (all with Moroccan counterparts) and a lot of smaller one-day events dealing with taking an analytical look at the gender gap from diverse perspectives. Its work that can be tough to do the first time, but once it starts, is really just something else. We also had a GAD meeting last week, and I just love the people I get to work with… every time we have a meeting, I leave feeling so on top of the world about work, relationships, hope, etc., and while our meetings are incredibly jam-packed, I think we never regret the work we are able to do together. Michelle Obama recently announced a new collaboration with the Peace Corps called Let Girls Learn (letgirlslearn.peacecorps.gov) to push Girl’s Education… The three pillars she has outlined to Volunteers all align with GAD Morocco’s current goals, which is super cool. You can watch her video to volunteers here:

Last Sunday was International Women’s Day… so first of all, thank you to all of the women who I get to have as a part of my life. Secondly, I would encourage everybody to find some way to engage in advocacy for continuing to push International Women’s Rights… there are many issues within the issue, from trafficking to employment inequality, so finding an aspect that you feel moved to research and do something about is vital. If you’re not too sure where to start, there are many Girl’s Education campaigns, like the one mentioned above, that you can engage with, whether that “engaging” is simply doing some awesome information sharing. Girl’s Education promotion works to solving a root issue that many of the other issues sprout out of. Countries that have educated women have seen reduced pregnancy rates among young women, less trafficking, better economies, and so much more. The statistics are there… now we need the action. Also, in our world of many inequalities, getting the conversation started on equal rights for men and women can also be a really good starting point to talk about other types of inequalities, using the initial example of gender to re-contextualize other issues. Remember, “Women hold up half the sky.”

 

My pseudo site mate Andy (he’s in the town 35 minutes from me) and I brought 11 of our students to the capital to get trained to be community AIDS/HIV education facilitators as a part of a community leadership project. I’m really excited to see where else that projects goes, and I”ll give more updates later.
As life gets more engaging and adventurous here, the challenges also increase as well. I am finding myself really loving my community, but have had many times in the recent past where I have realized that increasing my level of comfort has also made me let me guard down in many ways from speaking out against things that frustrate me to being more social with those I come across here. As you may find in any smaller community (re: Suburban America) this “letting your guard down” also comes with its fair share of people talking about you and making assumptions about what you’re doing. I had a little moment yesterday after having what I would consider my first “awful interaction” with somebody in my community, that perhaps I need to re-draw the line as to where my limits are with those who I interact with. A Peace Corps Volunteers motto is “Do no harm,” and while it may sound easy at first read, the multi-faceted nature of international development dealing with social dynamics makes it really hard sometimes to in fact, not do harm. I would actually question anybody who isn’t challenged by that motto. From our interactions as Americans (or in my unique case as others see me here, an Indian) to the potentially tough-to-chat-about conversations we talk about whether that be in gender, opportunity, education, etc., both our short term and long term implications need to paid intention to, not just within our primary audiences, but within all the stakeholders of the issues we talk about.
I’m not renewing my Post Office Box for the next year, so if any of you want to mail something here, just ask me for the different address to send it to!
A dear friend posted this poem and I wanted to share it with you all. I think it’s beautiful. There’s this continually trial and error here in finding ways to preserve my most cherished moments, but reading this makes me remember that I simply don’t have to.

 
The Volunteer
By Candace Black
We’ve learned
not to question such obvious
gifts. The sprawling
vine snaking out
from the compost’s heat
has declared itself
pumpkin: yellow trumpet
blossoms, prickly leaves, hard
green globes.
And it doesn’t matter
if it survives
the summer. It doesn’t
matter if November
comes and squash blaze
gold in the overgrown
lawn. We’ve already been
judged worthy. The gift
is in being chosen.
Like that afternoon I woke
and, nearly dreaming,
saw two tanagers brilliant
against the dark
green of the pine. I only knew
I had been blessed.

 
Finally, I want to share a poem that’s been a really big part of me over the past few years and of my service. I had the opportunity to be a “Volunteer Employee” at a prison in Ohio for a bit of time in 2012 and 2013, and went through a three day program, as a participant, with a group of inmates on personal development. Each of us were given a poem and had to find the person in the room with the matching poem and talk about its meaning to us. The man who I talked about this with was sentenced to a comparatively short term in prison, but completely contextualized the poem to his life in a penitentiary… I will never forget that conversation. While prison and the Peace Corps are in no way “Apples to Apples,” I think this poem is pretty universally significant and contextually moving. Two super-volunteers, who have been my support in many incredible ways this past year, had invited me to do a few sessions at a National Peace Summit. The last session we did was on prison and on challenging one’s self to find sources of peace and positive change in the world that others may not be seeking out. It was one of the only times in the Summit that the room was silent, and all sixty students from completely different places in Morocco wrote letters to the inmates at the prison I was at about love, rehabilitation, hope, trust, forgiveness, and so much more. It was really one of the coolest things I have been able to do here. Anyhow, here is the poem:

 
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

-Dawna Markova
It’s like, every day I wake up feeling like I’m both falling so much more into struggle and so much more in love with being here and there’s a crucial point in all of those highs and lows where I realize that the constant is my power to choose whether to arrive to my day or to let myself shatter. “I choose to risk my significance, to live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom.” Finally, the new volunteers are nearing swearing-in and the group above me is getting ready to go home.  I am so thankful for the friendships I have made and the people who have taken care of me if the group above.  I am forever thankful for the Zachs, Julies, Edwins, Jaclyns, etc., who are there for new volunteers as they come in, and I hope to do the same as they have done for me.

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Thalla f rassk,
Anooj

Xddma

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Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Peace Corps, or Santa.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Time is crazy. Just crazy. The seasons have come full circle and the next time I post I will have living in Morocco for a year. The Peace Corps has stopped being a countdown and has transformed into, well… life. And I suppose that just feels right.
Click play and read on:

The winter blues have kind of hit me in the face amidst my continuing to crutch around everywhere I go (I’m hopefully getting my cast off in the next two weeks), but I am super lucky to have some visitors coming in three days who I love and miss and will hug real tight when I see them, so before that I wanted to just post some goings-on within projects I worked on this fall alongside normal classes.

TEDxSidiYahya:
I organized a TEDx event for my town, focusing on helping youth find meaning in everyday life through ways that don’t necessarily equate to a paycheck. Unemployment is really high for youth in my town and so there is a lot of simply sitting around waiting for job opportunities to appear. Through a day of critical community thinking, speakers, entertainment groups, and videos, touching on topics from volunteerism to folklore to girl’s education to sports and health and so much more, we were able to engage over 90 youth within my town through the event. Community leadership who showed up said it was the first time they had seen anything like it and that the ideas TED brings should be in the schools and community more often. Excitingly, it looks like I have some new work that I can do just based off of that. There were some larger technical and cultural issues during the day and I am going into the future knowing how to put on the best event possible, without those issues. ALSO, two PCVs came and did an 18 minute talk completely in Moroccan Arabic… it was outta control cool. Here’s one of the talks we showed if you are interested. While this one is provided by the larger TED organization, most of the content came from my community, which was really exciting to watch develop. My students also really came together to help out with logistics which was really great to see. I don’t have pictures yet, but I’ll get them soon!

SIDA Day:
My friend Andy and I collaborated on doing a SIDA (AIDS in French) awareness event as December 1st was World AIDS Day. While the population infected with AIDS is decreasing in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number is actually increasing in North Africa. Our events were used to provide basic education around the facts, transmission, and impact of AIDS, and to de-stigmatize the conversation around it so that youth could feel comfortable bringing the information to other places where it could be needed with friends, family, or whoever else they may come across in their community. We brought in a phenomenal public health professional, who I actually met on the Peace Hike, to work with us and she really provided an at-ease sense to the audience while maintaining the importance of the topic. Sex itself is a fairly taboo topic to talk about here and so forming the education on the different forms of transmission and the way AIDS can impact communities turned it from a taboo topic to something that people could emotionally invest in. Moving forward, we are trying to train older youth to be SIDA educators within both of our sites with the hope of getting free testing at the yearly music festival that takes place in Rabat. That idea is just a seed right now, so we’ll see what grows from it. Also, this absolutely beautiful commercial on SIDA awareness has been playing on the news.  WE ARE IN CHANGING TIMES, FOLKS!

10685210_10205462836874961_621498915_nGender Advocate Training-
Feel free to check out our online campaign here (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gender-advocate-training-morocco). The Gender and Development Committee was able to raise $5,500 plus grant money to put on two, three-day workshops that trained over 70 individuals on being Gender Advocates within their communities. The first day of our training, we focused on the history of Gender in Morocco and exploring the views and experiences around Gender present within the room. This allowed participants not only to see Gender from multiple perspectives, but allowed a reflective foundation for what initial work could look like in being a Gender Advocate. At the end of the day, many comments were said about the rare opportunity to actually talk about gender and its impact on us daily. The second day of our training focused on working with cultural and emotional sensitivity, giving participants a chance to interact with the challenges that can come with being an Advocate, both in facilitation and in every-day life, leading into an opportunity to explore a societal issue tied to a gender lens, building the knowledge and energy represented within the room. Our final day focused on application, walking our Advocates through processes of program execution and opportunities they have looking into the future to be Gender Advocates. The day concluded with the creation of new activities for the future to encourage communities to view vital social topics from a gender lens, and a celebration to wrap up the workshop where the participants expressed thoughts on their new roles as Gender Advocates. The trainings went really well and we as a Committee are feeling really great about where we can go from here. We have a unique opportunity to be working in the Middle East and North Africa with Gender and Development… a chance that may not even be considered safe in some areas to take. We have an ability to unite lives over equality to do some really important path paving not only to work with Moroccans in paving a path for other Moroccans, but for other countries and areas of the world as well that are working towards development within topics of gender. That’s pretty powerful if you ask me. And to find that opportunity as a Peace Corps Volunteer is not something I thought I would be able to say I have. It makes me feel like I can transcend something larger through my work here and that I can actually doing something about the justice issues I see in the world, which can sometimes be a really tough process from the small site I live in. I’m really proud and continually in awe of the people I get to work with on this committee. Feel free to check out our GAD Blog at http://www.gadmaroc.blogspot.com!

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I know this was filled with more work stuff than anything else, but I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of the initiatives I’ve been working with. Thank you to this cool cat (I’ll let you guess which one) for pushing me to write some more in my blog through a chat last night:

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Needless to say, I’m excited for these next few weeks.

Peace and good vibes,

Love to you, your family, and your friends,

Anooj

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Ryada dyal mshi

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Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Peace Corps, or the kids who beat me in keep-away

.Hey folks… click play and read on!

With these past two weeks, including (a) the Healthy Peace Hike, and (b) a Gender and Development Meeting, I can say that I am feeling better about my service here than ever before.

The healthy peace hike was phenomenal. I know it sounds cliché to refer to an experience as “special,” but that is literally how I felt about it. It was a special time. It was a time for bonding, a time for reflection, a time for both educating on health and learning about life, and a time to embrace the beauty of Morocco. 100 kilometers, 22 awesome people, 4 dogs, 4 amazing villages in Morocco with amazing students, and a week of sleeping outside under the stars. Let me mention again that we don’t pay for this whole Peace Corps thing (Re: The best things in life are free). I’m really bad at remembering to take pictures so all the pictures posted from the hike belong to other PCVs!

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The views on this trip were nothing like I have ever seen before. We started at my favorite Moroccan city of Essaouira and walked south along the coast. Each turn brought a completely new views and experiences… here are some of my favorites:

-The rocks on day 1: As we were walking, I started freaking out because of these rocks beneath us that were all perfect circles of solid colors around the color wheel. Each color was so deep and together they really made for a fantastic scene.

-The dogs: On the morning on day 2 we befriended a few dogs who ended up walking with us the entire time for the week. They became our friends… we fed them, they protected us, and we played together. Ralph and Caesar were the two who made the whole journey with us and it really added something cool to the entire trek.

-Our day 2 sleeping location: We finished our first stop at this little village atop some small mountains and the mountains made this little canyon lined at the bottom with this oasis. It was incredible. The night that we set up camp there, as the sun was coming down, a few volunteers and I decided to run into the waves. It was cathartic, and beautiful, and while I’d like to just keep this most of this memory for myself, I’ll just exclaim the same thing another PCV screamed out… “Nobody gets to do this!”

-Running down a Sand Dune on day 3: Before reaching our second stop, there was this beautiful sand dune overlooking the ocean… picturesque doesn’t even begin to describe it. A few of us PCVs with backpacks, pots, pans, and all decided to run down it.

-Our day 3 sleeping location: One of the men and the village opened up his house to us for a place to stay for the night because it was supposed to rain the next morning. It was this beautiful isolated house among sand dunes that overlooked some pretty stellar waves.

-The company: The people on this trip were amazing. Our trek was filled with countless chats and bits of humor that will remain with me for a long time. I am so thankful that I got to spend a week of my life with this group of people:

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-The douars: We stopped at four tiny villages (in size, not energy) along the way to teach kids about healthy lifestyles practices. Each one was so beautiful and I think I’ve found where I’m going to try to move after the Peace Corps, haha. In between each place was just such beautiful, untouched land, and it was really incredible to see.

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We were also on the news! Check out this video… I’m petting a dog in the background at one point, haha.

While the hike was seven days, for me, it was unfortunately six as I broke my fifth metatarsal in half (aka fractured my foot) during a riveting game of soccer with a group of kids who were half my size and age. The biggest disappointment was really just the fact that I couldn’t finish the last day of the hike… oh, and the fact that my athletic career is put on hold (the boy’s got jokes!). I had to take a 12 hour bus (yes, a 12 hour bus with a broken foot) to get back to the capital to go to the Orthopedist, and with a lot of help from a friend living in Rabat right now, made it safely to get everything checked out and my foot casted. I’ll be in a foot cast until new years, and until then will be spending a LOT of time learning about ableism in the context of Morocco (let’s just say for starters that the infrastructure isn’t there). What IS there however, is hospitality. I’ve gotten plenty of free rides from people and neighbors and friends already checking in to make sure I am well, and I suppose that that is way more important to my personal morale then accessibility being completely at my fingertips.

Alongside with trying to strategically plan my associations with the outside world as to reduce being stared at constantly while walking with crutches and a foot cast, I may also have to come up with a better story though as to how I broke my foot because everybody looks at me like I’m a total idiot when I say what happened… except my landlord’s two daughters who are hands down the most adorable Moroccan kids I have ever seen. They can’t be any more than five or six and I overheard them telling a group of kids that I couldn’t come out to play with them because I needed to rest. And THEN, when I did leave my apartment they kept saying they needed to help me and did everything from pretending my crutches were swords and hitting them with planks of wood for entertainment to making sure I was sitting down comfortably in my apartment before closing the door. The cuteness of it all is unreal. Also, I just tried to do laundry and let’s just say that hobbling around with one foot on a slippery floor isn’t exactly a good idea. If you are interested in knowing, my clothes aren’t washed and there is a large puddle of water with soapy clothes in it mounded on my floor with my laundry bucket overturned… I’ll creatively problem solve later, haha.

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As I also mentioned, we had a Gender and Development meeting this past week as well. I finished creating a ten lesson curriculum on using theatre/performance/folklore to talk about human identity/gender in communities here. If you are interested in seeing it/using it/learning more about it, let me know! It has been a pretty big time investment as of late and I’m stoked to get it translated into Arabic and to start test running it in communities here. Led by a member of the GAD Committee, Sam, we are running two, three-day four-night Gender Advocate Trainings in December to help build a base of Moroccan Gender Advocates who will be equipped to run dialogues and programming within their communities on Gender. This is a really amazing opportunity to get to be a part of, though I’ll have more to report on that come December once it is done! I’m hoping this workshop can become a norm for years to come.

Finally, I went to a concert for the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila a few nights ago (yes, on crutches). They took this selfie and if you look in the center, you can see my crutches, haha.

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I’ll hopefully be updating this again next week if all goes well with

TEDxSidiYahya. Insha’allah it will.

Thalla f rask,

Peace and good vibes,

Anooj

B saHaa u raHa

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Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Peace Corps, or tree goats.

Hey all, click play and read on! I’m on a typical Dark Was the Night kick… if you haven’t listened to the album, get to it!

Its beginning to get a little chilly here.  Which is awesome because it means I’ve been here long enough to watch the Moroccan seasons make their loop.  And scary because it means that time, as always, is of the most indefinable essence.  Things are well… last week I had a community health training in a town down in the south called Agadir.  Its a pretty big tourist destination for Europeans and so it was a little lacking in Moroccan culture but a cool place nevertheless to spend a few days.  Before heading there, I went to a town called Gafifette (translates to Little Baskets) where my friend Caroline serves.  We got to play with goats in trees!  For those of you who don’t know, goats in trees was the image I associated with Morocco before arriving, so naturally, I was stoked to see them.  I petted them, frolicked with them, got my picture taken with them:

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And afterwards, as we emerged from the forest, a few peace corps volunteers just happened to be passing us in a van, and were totally confused to see three of their peers emerging from the argon forest with hiking bags.

As this was a conference about health, I’ll stay on that topic for a bit.  Next week, I’ll be heading out with some others on a 7-day 100 kilometer Health Peace Hike, where we will be walking 100 kilometers down the coast starting in a beautiful town called Essaouira and stopping in different communities to facilitate activities promoting healthy living with youth.  I am so stoked for it and will report back once its done to let you all know how it was!

I was leaving the youth center today and my Mudir was like, “Before you go, I need to show you something,” but in Arabic. He took me outside the basketball court and showed me this HUGE dirt hole that the dog who lives there made. Now, this dog is considered “mine” at the Dar Chebab (youth center) because we’re buddies, and so my Mudir looks me in the eye and says, in Arabic, “Look what your dog did.” I don’t know if you are aware but “Look what your dog did” is something that comes out of my mom’s mouth on the reg. My worlds collided.
I recently moved to a new house and I am feeling REALLY great about it. To celebrate my moving, fellow PCV brother Zach and I had a photo shoot on my roof with this bear who is missing an arm and eye to try and make the next great scary movie poster. Thoughts!?

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If you didn’t know, my last place was a single room on a shared roof and the bathroom and kitchen were both outdoors, which was actually a lot of fun and adventurous at times but I also live in a part of the country that gets really cold and rainy so it wasn’t the most sustainable living situation. Also, and more importantly, I felt really isolated while living there. It was on the top of two other stories and so “neighbors” didn’t really exist and it was in a part of town surrounded by wood shops and metal welders. One of my greatest challenges here has been trying to embrace being by myself and I think that housing situation was on one end of a long spectrum o n f what one can do to feel isolated. I’ve talked about the hardships of being here, but it’s crazy how much the day-to-day feelings can differ. Being alone up on that roof for the past six months left me alone to embrace my amazing days but it also left me alone to sit around and be sad on my bad days feeling like I had no other option than to skype my parents, stressed and panicking… aka the part that you DON’T get to see of this experience when reading my blog. Peace Corps Morocco recently got a Mental Health Specialist (a Therapist) for Volunteers and going and talking to her about all this was really helpful, insightful, and productive, especially now that I can see visible changes in my everyday feelings and actions after making a conscious choice to move. I don’t want to tell anybody what to do, but just a friendly reminder… if you’re ever having anxiety, stress, or any mental health needs, talk to somebody about it… you’ll realize that you’re not alone. Perhaps this is the “Best Day of Your Life” co-chair coming out of me from my college days, but being an ally for those in need not only can make a huge difference in de-stigmatizing what shouldn’t have a stigma, but it can also prepare you to take care of yourself when you are facing issues yourself. I don’t talk about this to be preachy. I talk about it because it matters. And when I find myself frustrated about it, I just remind myself, what’s triumph without challenge?
Here in Morocco, pretty much after anything related to looks or health (eating a meal, getting a haircut, buying something new) people say BsaHaa u raHa, which translates to, “to your health and relaxation.” This is really cool, but I think the conversation needs to continue beyond that. I haven’t heard anything “out loud” about mental health issues since I arrived here from the Moroccan community and I know that it’s not because they don’t exist. There is a stigma around it and a lack of resources available for those who have mental health needs, especially in this part of the country. Building allies for mental health is a big goal of mine while being here and we have a small group of Peace Corps Volunteer starting to work together on a campaign we are going to call “Thala f rassk,” or, Take Care of Your Head. More to come on that in the future, but needless to say, I’m excited for it.
So about this new home, I have a ton of new neighbors, a few of which are my age and who I have kicked it with every evening since moving here, but I also have about ten little kids who now live next to me. I thought it would be a good idea to invite them over to talk about Halloween and to show them a movie. I read a collection of David Foster Wallace essays at the beginning of the Peace Corps titled A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Let’s just say I learned my lesson about introducing a bag of candy to a group of eight year olds. There was fighting. There was crying. There was littering. There was dirt dragged across my carpet. It was like the first ten seconds in the Hunger Games Movies when all of the tributes are trying to grab their weapons. Except the tributes were probably less brutal in the movie than these kids. Nevertheless, I am STOKED for all the new neighbors, and for new friends to be made.
Last but not least, I want to share an article I wrote… I write for this organization back in the States and they weren’t able to use my submission for this month, so I wanted to share it nevertheless. I hope it can mean something to you:
Traveling has taught me a world of knowledge about appreciation, and while it may be assumed that this world of knowledge is conceived from the positive experiences of world adventure, my story –not in its entirety, but in the moment, is highly informed by the opposite.
I found myself in my third year of college sitting at my desk wanting to leap up onto it in order to proclaim my need to venture out and change this place… essentially, I was done sitting in a classroom reading case studies. I wanted/want my life to BE a case study and alongside this, I was struck with the travel bug. The hours spent looking at maps and researching countries began to match up with the hours spent studying for classes, and so, I did what any practical (I joke) college junior would do: I submitted my application for early graduation and applied to the Peace Corps. My actions, both wonderfully and unfortunately, were not only informed by maps and academia, but also by images: Images of people in front of beautiful backdrops; a hiker’s bag on a back of a young person walking through a foreign concrete jungle; sepia tones glowing around shots of foreign textiles; “The works” of traveling, I suppose you could call it.
Over two years later, I find myself sitting on a roof of rural Morocco trying to figure this whole case study/travel bug thing out, but for many different reasons than I ever anticipated. Growing up, I always loved traveling. My family and I traveled around the world together, on many short trips to beautiful places and on many longer trips to the country that they both were raised. Based off of this, I assumed for the entirety of my being I would be a wanderer and continued to perpetuate this notion throughout my growing-up as I continued to fantasize about those images I dreamed of living.
My assumptions were and are correct (thus far—I’m still a youngin’). However, a dear friend once told me earlier this year, “Sure, not all who wander are lost, but how beautiful is it to be lost and have the chance to wander.” Beautiful words, and throughout my simultaneous belonging in the lost and found box in this crazy overlapping phenomenon of pure joy and pure chaos, those images I dreamed of sure began to look different when wandering.
I recently went on a trip to Southeast Asia with a close friend from college. I got my picture with a beautiful backdrop, I walked my belongings through the streets of one of the most populated cities on earth, and I found textiles and patterns and colors and shapes of all sizes. But in the backgrounds of these snapshots laid a chaos. A chaos of seeing two separate worlds, one of culture and folklore rooted in celebration and love, oppression and fear, and one of tourism, vice, and socialization removed from that of the culture prominent. The distinction between these two realms I saw were unparalleled from any trip I had taken before and left my brain struggling to figure out which of those realms I belong in.
I find myself today in a constant battle of trying to understand my place between not wanting my wanderlust to manifest itself in tourist attractions, western hubs, and typical behaviors and realizing that what can be intended as community integration can have unexpected, and possibly undesired, outcomes when on a trip that deems me as “just passing through.” I am so thankful of the fact that I get to be here in Morocco for almost two and a half years with a huge opportunity for community integration, but I’m finally just getting my footing in month ten and know that I cannot make commitments the length of a birth cycle to every community I embark to see. Thusly, on this path to trying to understand this ‘place’ between realizing my identity as a traveler and my want to be one with the community, the closest word I, with the help of long conversations with a cousin/brother, have come to use to be able to define it is this:
Appreciation.
I think in order to make a travel bug one of a symbiotic relationship, the need to make the country-count higher needs to be taken over by the need to self-educate, show gratitude, and transcend larger ideas of what different people represent. The frustrating times, the challenging times, and the mind boggling times of inner dialogue within my travels have been when I see these two separate spheres of life revolving. Appreciation, I believe, is the key to making them not only coexist, but synthesize, develop, blossom, and revolutionize. We use appreciation as a tool to do this best, not because it is just nice, or because it is just friendly, but because to truly experience a people is to walk away changed because of them. Maybe for the better, perhaps for the more confusing, but how can we not show gratitude, thanks, and appreciation for somebody having contributed to our experiences as people?
This is both a personal story of trying really, desperately hard to fulfill my dreams of being both a vibrant vagabond and a prominent world changer and a collection of bits and pieces of others that I have picked up and put down onto paper through conversations, words, advice, wisdom, dreams, and most of all: showing appreciation.
Not only is appreciation a solution to reduce harm and increase utility, but it is so, so simple to do. And if we find ourselves forgetting how to show our thanks in a mutually beneficial way that doesn’t take the adventure out of the travel? Mother Theresa put it terrifically:
“Keep the corners of your mouth turned up.
Listen; Be teachable.
Laugh and good stories and learn to tell them,
For as long as you are green, brother, you can grow.”
Her words were simple but I don’t think more beautiful life advice has ever existed.
To your health and relaxation, my brothers and sisters,
Anooj

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