Tuesday, December 19, 2006


The diversity session had two parts. First we talked about preconceived notions and conditioning. For instance, we had to say the name of Dick and Jane’s dog ten times. Spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot. What do you do when you get to a green light? There was a big roar of “stop!” as if we were not to be fooled by saying “Spot” again. Of course, when you come to a green light you go. That was just an example of how easy it is to be conditioned to things, without thinking. We did a couple of other exercises like that including one that I have seen before and still got fooled by – counting the F’s in a sentence and not recognizing the F’s in “of” as F’s). And once we were all warmed up and sensitized, there was a panel or current volunteers talking about some of the issues they encountered and coping strategies. As each person spoke I was impressed; as a whole the panel was tremendously impactful. I don’t remember everything they said but I will give you some impressions.

The panel consisted of a married woman, an older woman, a gay woman, a Korean-American man, a “Puerto Rican/Protestant/gay” man, a black man, a Pakistani-American woman, and a Jewish man. The first thing you noticed is that some people were on the panel because they looked different. Others looked different from the Moroccans (who, by the way, all look different – there’s a big blend here so there’s no “typical Moroccan”) but more like Moroccans might expect Americans to look, so their diversity didn’t become apparent until they talked about it. I have always been a person who looked beyond skin color or other differences when making friends – to the point of sabotaging my Group Processes course back in business school because I didn’t think differences were relevant (only when we got together in the big group did I realize that we were supposed to have been talking about that and our group hadn’t). So to see so many different faces in front of me and hear their stories made me want to be part of the Diversity Working Group.

The married woman went first. She talked about the pluses – a built-in support group, someone to practice language with and speak English with – and the minuses – other people assume that because you have each other you don’t need other support, they have never spent this much time together, if one is down and the other not you don’t want to bring the other down and if both are down it’s hard to get back up. She got less harassment than other women because she was with her husband (the Korean-American, who got more).

The older woman (now the oldest volunteer here since someone ET’ed) said that she saw no disadvantages culturally to being older – she got more respect, she was listened to, she was valued. She loved her site and felt that because she was older she had an easier time than the volunteer she replaced. Her only negative was that old bones can’t take the cold and that Peace Corps should place the older people in the warmer sites. I’ll add as an aside that some of the older people in my group have been concerned about language and that there is a special section in our manual with language tips for older learners (which they define as over 50). The volunteer who spoke, I learned later, gets by with her French, which she learned while younger.
Next was the gay woman. In the culture here there is a lot of same-sex closeness, including holding hands with friends while walking in the street – not romantic, just as friends. And while there is a forbidden gay male subculture, lesbianism is something unknown here. So she had a relatively easy time, and her community was very accepting of her girlfriend – they would not be so accepting if someone has a boyfriend who they spend a lot of time with and are not married to. This woman also doesn’t look diverse from the outside (although her shaved head made her appear a bit off the beaten track).

The Korean-American gets a lot of “Jackie Chan” and “Chinois” comments. In TimHdit one of my group members is Korean-American and she got more harassment than the rest of us did, and I have also talked to another Asian-American who is a current volunteer (Nam – I guess he stopped his blog after he was asked to make some changes, but look for it – it’s supposed to be really good). All mentioned that it is hard to convince Moroccans that Asian-Americans are Americans – first of all, they’re all Chinese and second of all, they’re all from China. It’s a good opportunity to educate Moroccans in diversity but it’s hard to always have that conversation.

The Puerto Rican/Protestant/gay was also extremely funny – he COSed right after our swearing-in and it’s too bad we won’t get to see more of him. I liked him. Did I mention he was from New York? Anyway, a big issue for him was whether or not to come out – he decided to do so to some close friends with positive results. He mentioned that because he looks like a Moroccan skin-color-wise, he blended right in much of the time - instead he got harassed when he was in big cities with other volunteers; the cops would mistake him for one of the faux guides trying to pester the “tourists.”

The black man, similar to the Asian-American, was told he couldn’t be American because he didn’t look like one. They kept telling him he was African. When he pointed out that Moroccans are actually Africans, that didn’t register. He lives in the south, and there are a lot of black Moroccans there (from southern Africa) so he looks like the people he works with. He mentioned that he had some issues with fellow volunteers – every so often he and other black volunteers wanted to get together and “talk black,” and the non-black volunteers didn’t get that. As I said, lots to think about from this panel.

The Paktstani-American went next – she mentioned harassment because of all the “Bollywood” movies – people thought she was some kind of star, because why else would she be there. She did a costume change – dressed in Moroccan clothes, she could have passed for Moroccan. Off with the jellaba and in sub-continental dress (although I don’t know that Pakistan is officially on the subcontinent) she looked very foreign. And underneath that was typical American jeans and blouse, which gave her yet another look. She is a Muslim, so that helped her with the culture, but still had more than her share of harassment.

Last came the Jew, another person who may not look diverse from the outside. He made the decision not to tell people he was Jewish (although when he was in an exchange program in Egypt he “came out” with no negative consequences). His coping strategies were to learn about the history of Jews in Morocco (there’s a rich history but many of them emigrated to Israel after 1948 and especially after 1967). For Passover he made a matzoh that said “I heart Morocco.” That was just the kind of light touch to end the panel; unfortunately there was no time for questions – this panel could have lasted all day if that were the case – but now this is something I will be more conscious of not only while I am here but also when I return.
The picture is of the Hand of Fatima with Hebrew lettering that my friend Rose found in Fes - how's that for diversity?

I forgot what COS is
Sounds like a very enlightening experience.

Took a look on Google Earth - resolution not the best, but it looks like an absolutely fascinating place!
Close of Service - the people who finished their two years. I should have a separate glossary somewhere for all of the acronyms!

I tried to look at google earth but had to download it and don't feel good about downloading even free software onto public computers. Is there another way to see it?
I'm pretty sure there is a Microsoft site that does the same type of thing.
I'll look for it - I do want to see what this looks like! If you scroll down in the blog I do have some pictures - need to upload for several entries though.
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