Friday, January 13, 2012

Three Cheers for American Bureaucracy!

Our country director sent out her weekly update today. In it was a link to the FVAP – Federal Voting Assistance Program. It’s a program designed to help Americans living overseas in the armed forces or any other capacity exercise their right to vote. I went online and filed my request for absentee ballots for all of the elections in my voting district for the upcoming year. I was able to select a preferred method of delivery – email, mail, or fax. It was simple and fast – about two minutes.
Except for applying for passports, I didn’t have many encounters with government bureaucracy until I reached the age of 65. Then came Medicare and, a year later, Social Security. I have to say that all my dealings with those agenciess have been positive. Efficient, friendly, helpful, and respectful people and pretty straightforward and clear procedures. And now this. It’s enough to make a citizen happy.
I compare that with my experience here in Morocco.
After I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer last May, I had to apply for a carte de sejour (residence permit). That required 10 passport sized photos (can’t imagine why, since the card itself has only one), an equivalent number of photocopies of my passport, attestation de travail (work certificate) and attestation de residence (certificate of residence), several tax stamps, three trips to the Royal Police office (gendarmerie), and one to the city hall to get all of them notarized. After I finished the application, I received a receipt, which I had to carry with me at all times. During the period while I was waiting for my card, I had to return and get the receipt renewed every month. That took five months, which meant five more visits to the gendarmerie. For me, that meant only about three hours out of my day each time. I’m fortunate. For some of my Peace Corps friends, that means a whole day and travel by bus or taxi to a distant city. I’m also required to inform the gendarmes whenever I’m going to be away from my site overnight.
So I say, “Three cheers for the American bureaucracy!” It’s a snap compared to what I face here.
P.S., I didn’t really forget that I have an encounter with the bureaucracy every year on April 15. I’m not really looking forward to filing my taxes from Morocco for the first time, but I actually think it’s going to go all right. Filing taxes is not so straightforward. Like many people, I get help with it. But, you know, that’s not really the fault of the bureaucracy. It’s the fault of those politicians who, as either policy or payback, have created all the windfalls and loopholes in the tax code.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas in Morocco

My artisan-made cookie cutters
When I first tried to explain to my host family that Christmas was coming, they said “Bonani?” I did an off-the-cuff etymology of the word and figured it was a borrowing of the French bonne nuit (good night). So I said, yes, I thought so. Of course, I was wrong. It’s actually a borrowing of the French bonne annee (Happy New Year).
For several days we went along in blissful misunderstanding. When I finally realized the mistake, I explained to them that, no, Christmas was a different holiday, always a week before bonani, and it was big, the biggest American holiday of all. I said it was comparable to Leid Axatar. My host father said, “Do you slaughter a sheep?” I said, no, that we traditionally eat turkey. “Skram,” he called me – “cheapskate.” We had a big laugh.
A plate of cookies I made up for Sulayman, my host nephew,
who was still at school when the party started
But I set about preparing a celebration for Christmas, which was clearly totally unknown to them – in fact, I have yet to discover what the word for it in Tamazight is, if it exists at all. A friend in the States sent a tiny tree with tiny lights and tiny ornaments. I had one of my dagger-maker brothers make some cookie cutters for me. Two of my Peace Corps friends came to my house and helped me get everything ready for the little feast.
The afternoon of the 23rd, my host family (10 of them, anyway) came over. We had Christmas music playing and served cookies (frosted Christmas cookies, oatmeal, and jelly-filled) and apple cake, along with hot chocolate. After eating, I explained that gift-giving was also a Christmas tradition. I gave them each a pair of good socks filled with apples and oranges, M&Ms and candy canes. They were thrilled. “Not skram,” my host brother said.
My tiny tree with some presents for America around it.
The next day, one of my friends and I went to another PCVs house to celebrate the holiday with Americans. There were seven of us in all. We each contributed a dish and had a real feast – a chicken tajine, mashed potatoes, green beans, deviled eggs, cauliflower-cheese pie, apple cake and apple sauce. We went for some long walks in the countryside around their house and played games. I must say, it’s fun and a great comfort to be around countrymen and women at times like this.
On the 27th a friend and I took off on my first real vacation in Morocco. I’ll fill you in on that in my next blog. I know I keep promising that. This time I’ll keep it.
A potted olive tree with homemade decorations made a
great stand-in for an evergreen at our PCV Christmas

My contribution to the Christmas tree decorations

Our PCV group on one of the hikes

I visited a manger and found sheep. The mother fretted
a bit.

Our PCV feast.