Thursday, September 21, 2006


I saw that the Mets clinched. Let's go Mets!

Okay - some information today! They announced the groups for community-based training. First they announced the group that will be learning the Berber language. The current volunteers who have been visiting us all have positive experiences in the Berber region - but they all seem far away from just about everywhere else in Morocco, and a couple of them have REALLY cold winters - I hava had my share of those already. The Berber group also has the LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator) that I've had for language group this week - I love her, and I put on my questionnaire that I would be happy to continue with her. So when they announced what I thought was my name, I was happy. But it turned out that they called someone with a similar name, meaning I was going to be in an Arabic group. So I was happy. That's how you really know if you're happy either way!

I like the LCF for my group too, and the people in my group. There are five of us (the smallest group), all women, age range 22-mine, range from introvert to me or just beyond me (so far, anyway) - I think we'll all get along! We're going about half an hour away from here, to TimHdit, higher in the mountains - so it'll be colder. There's no internet cafe in the town so this could be it until I return here on October 1 (Happy Birthday PK!). But one person in the group is bringing her computer, so there might be internet access (as opposed to cafe...thanks to kind computer-lenders I have not been to one of those since Rabat, with the French keyboard). And who knows, my family might have a computer! We find out about our families tomorrow. I know they all have kids - they say it's great to learn from kids; they always want to talk and they want to learn from you.

So - someone's family member called and said it's too hard here and they should just come home. Was this family member the concerned parent of one of the newly-minted college grads? Was it the sons of the married couple in our group? No - it was the sister of one of the over-40 women! My sister! I called was nice to talk to her...and told her I am very happy here so far. It's not a resort, and it will certainly get harder, but so far it's great. Plus, I made a commitment. Plus, it's just been a little over a week! She told me I made a mistake saying I was flexible and that I should tell them I want electricity. I now think that by not being in the Berber group that I will have electricity, so that takes care of that. We have two more interviews and a site visit before we go to our final sites, and there are people who change sites.

There are also a lot of people who do leave. I don't know if I mentioned this before (if I am just read on) - the stage that's about to leave has eight out of 20 left. Some left during training, some were medically separated, some were administratively separated (i.e. kicked out) for breaking the rules, and at least one quit because he felt he wasn't accomplishing anything. I do hope to last the entire 27 months, but if I don't for some reason, that's what's meant to be. When people leave early for medical or family reasons they do have a chance to go somewhere else some other time - there are two people in the Youth Development group in that situation. One person in my group is the son of two people who met in the Peace Corps, one has a sister who did the Peace Corps, and there were others who had close family or friends go.
I wish I could remember the things I told my sister over the phone that I felt I should have put here...more when I do!

I just agreed to play Cranium, and it's our last night together, so I will say so long for a while!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


A little bit about Azrou. We’re on the outskirts of town, about a mile down the main street from the center of town. There’s a lot of new construction around us – Moroccans who have moved buy condos in which they spend the month of August, for example. The main street heads towards the mountains; a big mosque dominates the view at the top of the hill. Along the main street are a lot of cafes, all frequented by men (and only men). There are some small shops (pharmacie, convenience-store-like shops, tile, household goods), the post office and some banks. On the other side of the mosque is the old medina, the shopping district. There are all sorts of stalls – clothing, food, spices, miscellaneous. Yesterday I bought another notebook (I am taking notes like a madwoman), a towel to use in the Turkish toilet (more on that in comment section when I get a chance – for those who want to know more details), some flip-flops (also for the Turkish toilet) and a chocolate Napoleon at a patisserie as good as any in France, I saw a yarn store and am tempted to get knitting lessons from one of the volunteers who knits, but I just can’t add anything to my bag until I get to my site! We got another book today – Peace Corps Approach to Development. It includes things like appreciative inquiry – finding what works and building on that, as opposed to looking for problems to fix. I had first learned about that in one of my non-profit classes earlier this year!

Ramadan starts this weekend. I would advise anyone thinking of visiting not to visit during Ramadan, which next year will be mid-September to mid-October and next year most of September (i.e it is getting earlier and the days are longer so it will get harder). Muslims have no food, water or sex from dawn to sunset. Then there’s a break-fast and later, a feast. We will be encouraged by our families to join in but whether we dc or not, we cannot eat in public and should not eat in front of fasting people. I talked to one of the volunteers and he said, “no Moroccan ever saw me eat/” I said that was like, “I never failed a drug test;” a very good answer! I am willing to give it a try but if I already feel dehydrated I am not sure I will be able to do it – more to the point, able to do it and learn effectively in my classes.

We were interviewed as to what we were looking for – I said I was really open, both in language and location and in creature comforts – I want to be put where I can be most effective. One of the questions on our site questionnaire was what was one thing we couldn’t live without. Other trainees I talked to said electricity, their contact lenses, clean water, the internet, books – I said contact with other people.

We’ve had more shots – more of the rabies series, typhoid, hep A. My arm hurts now. We also had sessions on common illnesses and how to treat – it all started well and good with cuts and scrapes, but by the time they got to scabies and scorpion bites I was wondering what we were doing here instead of putting all foreign aid money (and defense budget money) into clean water, sanitation and eradicating disease. We also had a session on water and food health. All you have to do is boil water for three minutes and then it’s safe to drink. Food-wise there are a lot of good options here – fresh meat, eggs, vegetables and fruits (anything that needs to be peeled is safe right when you peel it – and clementines are about to be in season here – my favorite!).

And we’ve transitioned into having some sessions that regard our actual jobs. Our first six months will be spent integrating into the community before we start an actual project – finding and building relationships with people, asking questions, listening, observing. The approach uses the latest management techniques. Peace Corps differs from other development organizations in its grass-roots approach – people-to-people. Rather than giving people money, it goes for capacity-building and sustainability. It’s the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. I have been really impressed with the presentations on this topic. We leave for small-group community-based training on Friday. At the sites, we’ll do more language and culture but also do a site analysis – interview artisans about their routines and do a SWOT analysis (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats – I did a lot of those while consulting at Paterno last year!).

Last night I played Scrabble – I decided not to bring it but am glad someone else did!

We were invited to list our skills and interests – I listed proofreading/editing as a skill and have already helped someone with something she is working on on her own. I also offered to help the trainers here correct their typos – I had a hard time thinking of my skills but that certainly is one! A note about typos here – in the interest of time, because my use of other people’s computers and/or internet cafe is limited, I am not being as careful as I usually am. I’d rather type more and answer e-mails than proofread. I have a friend who has offered to be (or agreed to be – I forget which) my typo-corrector – so any typos on this site just mean he hasn’t gotten to it yet!

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I'm using yet another person's laptop - Hamdullah, thank God. See, I'm getting into it! We arrived in Azrou and had short introductions to everyone and then a talk/Q&A with a current volunteer serving in the area and then walks in small groups with the language/culture facilitators. That's the kind of day I was expecting on Monday, and I think I would have felt much better had that been the case (oops, I said I let it go, right?). In Rabat I was "picked last" and ended up in the only three-woman room (which turned out fine - nice roommates). Here we picked out of a bowl and I am in the only four-person room (we just got a fifth, a current volunteer who is helping with our training this week).

At night, the trucks went by - it was like staying at my sister's apartment on Madison Avenue way back when - as opposed to the white noise of Lake Shore Drive. When the trucks stopped, the dogs took over (justifying the rabies shot, I suppose) and eventually the roosters started crowing. And here I thought it would be too quiet for me! Not yet, anyway.
I have a game that I've played at every stop - it's called "guess what leaked." The new game that's sweeping the nation! In Philadelphia it was the hair gel. In Rabat it was the conditioner (though leakage was contained to the Ziploc it was in). Here it was the toothpaste (now in its own Ziploc).

We're in a hostel here - they're bringing us gradually into steps of less and less luxury. Already I am glad I brought my towel. Our "dorm room" is near the only Turkish toilet in the place, but with all my Reunions experience I am happy to go one or two flights to the nearest flush toilet (there's even toilet paper most of the time). I have used the TT a couple of times - but I didn't want to use it until we had instruction, which we did yesterday, and I'm glad we did - I hadn't been using enough water to flush all the paper down far enough (when we get to our families, there isn't any paper...they just wash, and either drip dry or use carry a towel to dry themselves. I plan to get a little towel before the end of the week...I think I'll stop it there for a while but an happy to elaborate for anyone interested. We have already determined that we are going to have few secrets from each other by the end of training - but that doesn't mean people reading this want to hear all the details.

The homestay coordinator is wearing a beautiful orange and black jellaba. Needless to say, I want one. Actually, I want a jellaba of perhaps a more low-key color too. I'm ramping up to consumer mode as I walk around the medinas, but for now the towel might be enough - there is just not room for anything else in my bag!

I feel dehydrated. I'm not getting enough water. In a way it's tough in class anyway - if I were drinking all I want I wouldn't make it through a two-hour training session without a break - but this is tough for me. Saturday night Ramadan begins. We're not expected to fast, but it's clear that our families and other people would appreciate it if we try. That means no food or water from sunrise to sunset. We can consume (in fact, they will give us lunch) but must be polite about not doing it in public. We go to our families on Friday.

Had couscous when we got here on Friday lunch - it is a Friday special dish. Here I thought I would have it all the time! The meals start with salads - shredded carrots, tuna and tomato and onion, eggplant, rice - three or four of those. Lunch adds a main dish, often a tagine (stew). Dinner is the salads and maybe soup. Breakfast is hard-boiled eggs and bread. I'm trying to minimize the bread and pastry (there's always some at teatime) and potatoes (see, I didn't even mention them as one of the salads). But - expectedly - the food is tasty and healthy, so I am happy about that.

Yesterday we had our first Arabic lesson - meeting and greeting. At night and today ("self-directed learning" day) we went around town and met and greeted people (some spoke a combination of French too, and even though I am trying to practice Arabic, I don't mind practicing French too). We also had an introduction to the Arabic alphabet. There are 28 letters - each letter has four forms (isolated, beginning, middle, end). We learned six in one two-hour session and another six or so in another session. Tried reading some signs last night too - we don't know enough letters yet, but it was good to try. My recruiter had said that the people who went to Hebrew School had an easier time with the Arabic. It occurred to me yesterday that the converse might be true - after learning Arabic, maybe I can learn Hebrew. Who knows, maybe I will even have a Bat Mitzvah. Of course, given my track record, nobody is obligated to attend (but I did tell the trainees who were nearby that I'd invite this whole group!).

Did laundry yesterday - washed with soap in one bucket, rinsed with water in another bucket, hung clothes on a clothesline. I grew up in an apartment so I've never used a clothesline before! Very exciting (though perhaps not an exotic first).
The current volunteer who's here for the week is now here hanging out as I type this. When I came downstairs on Friday night there were maybe eight people here, quiet as a library, on their computers, so I named this room "laptop lane." I'm not sure that's stuck, but my nickname for the upstairs small living room, "sick bay," seems to have. Anyway, I'm in and out of the conversation but I did hear the volunteer say that she had a really hard time with the winters at her post and almost quit - it was bitter cold, went right through you, and there was no heat. Allrighty...cold was one of the reasons Ukraine didn't sound so good...but it also depends on where you are. Lots seem to depend on where you are!

I wish I had more notepads. I gave away a ton of them and still have a lifetime supply in boxes at home. Then again, I really wouldn't have taken anything out of my suitcase to fit more in. But I dreamed about going home to get more notepads, and I couldn't find them, and my files were a mess. This the day after I dreamed that I was at work and wanted to go home for lunch to watch Jeopardy and when I got downstairs I realized I had left my shoes upstairs and was in only my socks and it was raining. My office in the dream was right where the Watertower Pumping Station is. Two nights in a row with dreams of home - was the last occupant of the bed homesick? I sage-incensed the bed and we'll see tonight.

As we were on the bus Friday, I started wondering about the geology of the area. We have a sign-up list of topics to have informal talks on, so I added that to the list. Other people had written music, dancing, dating - so geology kind of sticks out as an odd topic...but hey, I'm interested!

The head of training had asked me which I might be more interested in learning, Arabic or Berber (did I already tell this story? If so, someone with my password can edit it out). I told him that I thought Arabic would be more useful for traveling around the country but that there was an appeal to learning a language that's not related to other languages. Good non-answer in the Moroccan way! I really don't know what I'd prefer - or what kind of assignment. I did say one with electricity and running water and internet access and access to other places, but really I'm flexible. The volunteer here just now has running water an hour a day, no electricity, internet four hours away, and cell phone coverage and she loved her site - her job is good, the people in her village are good.

There's a poster in the lobby here for the Marrakesh Marathon. That might be fun to do! Though I don't think training would fit in with the Peace Corps lifestyle. maybe there's a Marrakesh 5K? I'll sign off for now (someone else wants to use this) and check that out! More when I can!

Friday, September 15, 2006


I’m on the road to Azrou now – using someone else’s laptop. We said goodbye this morning to the Youth Development Sector people – in less than a week I bonded with some of them and will miss them. There were a few I especially enjoyed talking with and I hope we keep in touch or perhaps even end up in the same region. Of course, there are very interesting people in the Small Business Development Sector too. More on that later – have been meaning to write some other things first.

Thanks to those of you who have made comments. I do plan to address all of them. We haven’t hada lot of downtime yet, and when we have, I’ve wanted to go for walks. We went past the main mosque to the Royal Palace yesterday but it was closed; I do think I’ll get back to Rabat though so that’s okay.

We got a bunchof books and handouts – policies and procedures, healthhandbook,administrative, Intro to Moroccan culture, Moroccan Arabicworkbook,Culture Matters, Where There is No Doctor – so now I am glad once again for the expandable luggage. I think they should have given us Peace Corps bookbags – or maybe just told us to leave room or bring one? I actually did bring one,so I’m happy about that. We also got medical kits –I won’t list everything in there but it does cover a lot of possibilities- and mosquito nets to use in the summer (no malaria here – just for bites).

There are a couple of people I spoke to who didn’t know about the Morocco Welcome Book that was downloadable from theweb. It had background and lots of information and the packing list. So they had to pack from their own sensibility! I wonder what I would have done differently had I not had the packing list – probably not the sheets and towels. I think this might be a fun list to make one day when I am lonely. One of the people I reallylike had been to Chad, and they decided to tell people to bring ice cream scoopers,so most of the people in the nextclass brought ice cream scoopers!

There are also people who didn’t know the Arabic lessons were available on the web site. I can’t say I’m ahead because I listened a couple of times (all I retained was the word for chocolate) but I am glad I listened to the sounds. Arabic starts tomorrow if not this afternoon. We were the first class with Arabic lessons available ahead of time. First class with some of the booklets mentioned above, too – I’mglad to have all of this! I know I will be on my own soon enough so I am soaking it all in! One of the books mentioned special issues for senior learners –describing senior as 50. Not there yet!

And speaking of that – I called my sister from JFK just before I left on Monday. She had read “On the Home Front” and she told me she hadno ideait would be so hard. I said,”because I could be depressed the entire first year?” and she said she didn’t realize that I would be the only person in my village and that I would really need mail. So she is going to send me articles. It took until I was about to get on the plane, but I am glad she has an idea now that it might be hard! That’s not a hint (there were enough of thosein my change-of-address letter, right?).

What looked brown and flat before now looks Mediterreanean – like California or Cape Town. It’s a very pretty that we’re going through at the moment.

One of the policies that the Country Director mentioned was the blog policy. Insensitive comments have gotten people kicked out of countries and countried kicked out of Peace Corps. I’m not planning on making any, but I may look into making some sort of password-protected site. I really intend this for my friends, not for the world at large. On the other hand, my Rabat roommate had found my blog and found my packing list interesting, and there might be others in the group too – so I guess if this helps future volunteers or people thinking about the Peace Corps that’s cool (I still don’t know why the world at large would be interested but I suppose there are lots of people who stumble across things).

There are five peoplewho aren’t traveling today – the’re too sick – and several others who aren’t doing well. The doctors said it is probably something airborne which means we may all come down with it. Fever, chills,etc. I hope they’re better soon. We got more shots yesterday – meningitis and Hepatitis B. I told the doctor that I saw a blood drive on the Penn Campus on September 11 and was going to give but decided not to just before coming here – and hetold me they won’ttake my blood here. That makes sense, but it’s too bad! I’ll have to give in other ways.

There are volunteer opportunities here – helping edit the Morocco “PeaceWorks”newsletter and being on various committees – and of course I am hoping to do some of that. The volunteer’s volunteer! I really want to make the most of the experience. I should probably refain from volunteeting on the newsletter until I get better at the French keyboard though – those who received e-mails from Rabat had quitea challenge deciphering them!

We’re just getting into the mountains – now it really looks like California. I guess Californians would call these hills. I haven’t taken many pictures yet – I’m trying to be low-key about itand culturally sensitive. Hard to resist my usual snap-happy nature but I hope to be this way again!

Lots of people here brought craft stuff – not just the artists (though they of course did) but several others. I am happy for the crochet kit in my bag but already am thinking about the needlepoint and knitting. I’ll wait until I have downtime though! In a way, I wish I had brought more jewelry too – I kept it to a minimum but have seen some nice pieces on some of the other women. Of course, I can buy some here.

I lost a lock already – a casualty of the flight. It was one of the last things I bought, too, since it was in one of the last e-mails I got. At staging the Country Desk Manager said she never locks her bags – so I’m not too worried – but the idea of buying it last and losing it first is pretty amusing.

We do seem to be hanging together a bit by age. It’s funny that the 27-year-old feel older – but I guess there’s a lot of difference between 27 and 22. Many of the 22-year-olds are in the Youth Development side; they have at least three of the 27-and-up and maybe more if I think about it. This group is more diverse – theolder(than I) women seem to be hanging out together and I find myself with the 40-50-year-olds.It really is interesting how people gather with people with whom they feel something in common. It is really interesting to think about the next two years then. I know that in this culture I will be spending more time with women than with men or with mixed groups. I’ve consciously tried to eat meals and take walks with different people to get to know others – and once it was on our name tags who was YD and who SBD (lots of acronyms here) I tried to spend more time with YD people I won’t see again for a while. I’m reluctant to get into particulars of other people since I feel the public nature of the blog, but I’ll think about how to illustrate the interesting backgrounds and interests of people.

We’re each going to get assigned a gendarme in our region or even in our village. This is on order of the king. There’s already an extensive policy to keep the PeaceCorps informed of where you are at all times and limit your travel and movement; this is just another layer. Some people find this restrictive – and the Peace Corps peopleare very sensitive about it (apparently in the past this was known as a free-spirit post…the ministry said the Peace Corps Volunteers were out of control, and at the same time Congress wanted the Peace Corps to increase security worldwide) but I don’t mind – it’s for my own safety. And if it’s explained up front, and you didn’t have freedom before that you are now losing, it’s easy to live with rules.

TV/Satellite dishes. I mentioned that they seemed ubitiquous in my first impressions. The Training Director mentioned that everyone has them – they’re cheap – everything is pirated- so we could actually get one with our settling-in allowance. With a short-wave radio my bag, it seems very un-Peace-Corps-like to have a TV – and if I can’t get ESPN I can’t say that I need one – but on the other hand, it might be a good way to practice language! I’m just glad to be here with internet and cell phones.

Did I mention early on (I don’t have the other entries to look at) that there’s another woman in her mid-40s who spent the last 20 years in consumer marketing and the Placement Officer called her right before she called me and she acceptedright away? Well,there’s nobody like that here! One of the younger guys was a big fan of Skol Vodka when he was in college, but that’s asclose as it seems to be getting. And now that I brought up Skol Vodka – yesterday they went over assessment tools – we have core compentencies to meet in language, culture, attitude etc.during training before wecan be sworn in as volunteers. It’s not a tool they use to weed out people (so far) but when I heard”exceeds expectations/meets expectations/action plan” I felt my heart rate go up ever so slightly.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


First impressions: As we descended through the (unexpected) clouds, the land looked flat and brown – I’m not sure what I expected – I suppose I expected to see the ocean and then a skyline of sorts and something more lush – or at least some palm trees. There were some outside the Casablanca Airport, and the airport itself had a beautiful mosaic and fountain, but I missed Casablanca entirely, outside in the distance from the bus. The ride between Casablanca and Rabat was interesting – fields that didn’t seem to have a lot growing in them but had cows and sheep grazing, men and women walking, small villages the color of sand with lots of rectangular buildings at various heights, small windows and satellite dishes, the occasional donkey cart crossing an overpass. I dozed (in retrospect I wish I had dozed more – I ended up listening to one of the day’s presentations with my eyes closed, shall we say, and I had a jet lag/dehydration headache) and when I woke up we were in Rabat. All the buildings are white (by town decree – each city picks a color and all the buildings have to be painted that color), the ocean is off in the distance, there are some wide, tree-lined boulevards. We couldn’t leave the hotel yesterday – not until today’s security briefing. We met the Country Director and some of the staff. To a person (I should mention that quite a contingent met us at the airport and gave us snacks for the bus too) they are great – completely dedicated to taking care of us. Would that every job would start with an orientation like this! We had coffee/tea/water and I took a shower and did handwash (since Woolite was the last thing I bought in New York) – in retrospect I wish I had taken a nap though, or napped on the bus, to avoid the aforementioned doze and headache. At one point during another break I told someone I didn’t have the energy to talk and that usually I was quite chatty, so that she was perhaps lucky to see me at an energy low as opposed wishing I would stop talking! We had short presentations on medical, security and IT.

A good night’s sleep makes a big difference – I’m not saying I’m over the jet lag but I do feel much better. Today we started with shots – here I thought I wouldn’t need any because they said not to get any in the States. Turns out I need quite a few – today was MMR and the first rabies shot, I think. And we had our first (informal) language lesson – I was impressed with how eager we all sounded to repeat the words and get the inflection. We then had a briefing from the embassy security officer – sensible things such as varying your routine and not going out alone at night. I do lock my doors and I do keep a tight hand on my pocketbook – I’m a New Yorker, after all – but I also have done a lot of walking alone in the Chicago years, including at night. I won’t do it here though – not only is it potentially not safe, but it’s not done – Moroccans don’t do it – so it’s culturally not a thing to do. Most important, though, breaking the policies can get you kicked out of Peace Corps. The Country Director then went over several more policies that can get you “administratively separated” – out-of-site, alcohol, drugs, and more. Then we had a long presentation about diarrhea – I guess it’s inevitable – and we got our medical kits and mosquito nets (those are to prevent mosquito bites - no malaria here). Then the ambassador came – that was cool. The ambassador sat next to GWB at HBS and then made a fortune in Silicon Valley. He’s very supportive of the Peace Corps and also listed several other U.S. initiatives in Morocco (including the Chicago Sister City relationship!).

Then we had free time! Great to take a walk and to see some of the city. A group of us went to the medina and then to the ocean, where the sun was close to setting. We also went to a graveyard – very interesting to walk around (not a cultural don’t, but later I was told that it was a place for the homeless – so it’s good that we were in a group). Dinner on the rooftop and a chance to see the stars – my friend the Summer Triangle – looks the same from the roof here as it did from my roof in Chicago. A quick e-mail update in the hotel (French keyboard a challenge for quick typing – I don’t think of myself as a touch typer; I look at the keys, but it turns out that I do know where they are on a QWERTY keyboard and kept typing q instead of a, for example – so I kept it to a minimum. Now I’m writing on my roommate’s laptop and saving it to a Traveldrive – and wishing I had brought a laptop of my own).

Long day tomorrow, so I’d better call it a night.
Written September 13

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Note - my postal code is 10100, not 101000 - I find this out after mailing out change of address cards to 200 of my closest friends. Oh well! I hear that 101000 will work too - but I shall soon find out! I mailed some things to myself so I would have some mail when I get there.

Staging went well. The bellperson at the hotel said that Morocco is usually a good group (he's seen a lot of stagings go through) - they seem friendly and bond well. And I think that's taken place! Our trainer said we were a good group too - of course, she may say that to every group, but then she gave some reasons (none of which I remember except that there was one exercise which makes other groups angry and we were laughing and having a good time with it).

Coincidence? A friend told me that there was an article in the latest Penn Gazette about Penn alumni in the Peace Corps. I haven't seen the article yet, but I am looking forward to seeing it!

Karma? As a closing exercise, we broke into groups to present some of what we'd learned in a creative way. One group had to present a song, one a rap, one a skit, one a poem, and our group had to present haiku! As it happens, I have been in a haiku mood for about a year (luckily for everyone, not non-stop - just a trip to LA and some White Sox and Class of 1980 haiku, which never saw the light of day - and one more thing, explained below...) but I instantly came up with a few:

Success in Peace Corps
Acceptance, integration
We feel we belong

Learning the language
Ar-bic or Berber di-lect
Now, we count to seven
(we had just learned the numbers 1-7 to count off in our groups)

Building small business
Artisans are creative
We work together

I also helped other people at the table with their haikus - and I gave people recommendations and information about Philadelphia and the Penn campus (a friend called me a born tour guide and I am glad to share expertise while I still have some - now I have to build some up!).

More on haiku...I was reawakened to them thanks to a column called Tuesday Morning Quarterback, which I first found on Slate years ago and then found on I am not a big football fan, but I love this column - it talks about football in a fun way and about other things (space, science, whatever - including football haiku!). I couldn't find the column this year, so I searched for the author, Gregg Easterbrook (who has an impressive day job, if you google him) and wrote to him - including a haiku. I then found the column - this year on - and wrote him back to tell him never mind, but not before he wrote back to me. He told me he might even work me or the Peace Corps into a future column! Brush with greatness. One of my friends from LA gave me a teeny (it nicely fit in my luggage) haiku book to fill while I am gone. Now I feel inspired! Oh, on the luggage, by the way - I did max out on the 107 inches, but I didn't bring the max carry-on. Instead, I brought the backpack carry-on, the better to carry all three pieces (plus the tote bag/pocketbook) at the same time, since we were told in no uncertain terms that we were responsible for carrying our own luggage. So I actually did leave some packing space on the table, as it were.

Listening to my last Sunday Night Baseball in a while now. Am I making a mistake leaving baseball for all this time? Way back when in 2004, I mentioned the Peace Corps to my outplacement counselor (who did not think it was a good idea) and it turned out that one of the heads of the firm had been to the Peace Corps. I networked with him, and he said that the hardest thing was all the things he missed - two years' of his friends' lives and two years of who won the World Series. I remember thinking, "Why did he have to mention THAT particular thing?" Of course, it has stuck with me. I'm getting Sports Illustrated...hopefully that'll take care of my baseball withdrawal, even if it's way after the fact....It should be noted that thanks to a rainout, my last game turned into a doubleheader - and my nieces lasted to the 8th inning of the second game! I am very proud of them! And glad I saw the (2006 World Champion?) Mets at home in two crisp (2:25 and 2:37) wins.

I'm in staging now - at the University City Sheraton in Philadelphia. I'm glad to be here - took a nice walk on the Penn Campus last night. I'm on a lunch some quick notes.

- Got a voicemail message on Friday from a friend of an aunt of a friend, who had served in Morocco. She said to get tincture of walnut and wormwood, a probiotic such as acidophilous, and an anti-parasite health food thing. The person who had mentioned having parasites all the time was interesting. The massage therapist I spoke to on Sunday said to get anti-parasite stuff and I got a bottle. Well, this message jolted it into me - we went to Whole Foods and got a four-month supply (expensive) and I arranged to have regular shipments.

- There was a map yesterday showing where the Small Business Development volunteers are. They're not just in the middle Atlas mountains - they're all over, from the very east to the Atlantic Coast. So I could be anywhere.

- Interesting people in staging. The Youth Development people all look like recent college grads. The Small Business Development people have a significant number of older (however you want to define it) people, mostly women but also men. So I feel like one of several, not one of a handful. All nice and interesting people, so far - which I expected. I am looking forward to getting to know them and hearing stories.

- For the "item I brought along" ice breaker exercise I chose to share that I brought cards and games - there were a couple of other people who mentioned that too. A lot of the artists brought art supplies and several brought knitting or the like. I may have to have that knitting and needlepoint sent to me after all! For now I have crochet.

- I still feel that my prevailing emotion is disbelief. I can't believe I'm doing this! Around mid-August I shifted from being sad at leaving to being more ready to go - but I guess there's so much unknown, so much that I am still waiting to find out and experience. Tomorrow we get on a bus to JFK and then on a plane and then we will be there.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I've received several documents via e-mail in the last few days - a surprise, since I didn't expect anything after the staging kit. The hard copy is going to my forwarding address. Good thing I am still looking at e-mail though! I don't know how many more days I'll be doing that. I think they maybe should have warned me to be on the lookout...but I'll just be glad I got them, not think about how this may bode. I had a questionnaire on language training - what I have done and what my expectations and attitudes are. I had a form to fill out so that my Moroccan host family can learn more about me. Some official things (reissue of the welcome letter, alcohol policy, absentee voting, recent carry-on baggage restrictions) and also some more information, called "Bridge to Pre-Service Training." I also spoke briefly with the Country Desk Manager and learned that there are 57 total people going to training together and a total of over 200 in the country. It's one of the largest in the Peace Corps. Other big ones in the Europe, Asia, Mediterranean region are Ukraine and Bulgaria, also with over 200.
So - when I get there it will be warm - 75-85 F. We'll take a bus from Casablanca (sounds like my favorite Police song - I should have had that put on the iPod!) where we'll meet everyone and have some time to rest (whew - I was wondering about that). We'll stay at a hotel in Rabat (where we can't go out on our own until we have been briefed on safety and security, get shots and do paperwork and meet with the medical staff and start cross-cultural training and the technical aspects of the job (in other words, a busy three days), and then on Friday go to technical training (seminar site), which for Small Business Development is Azrou, about two hours away from Rabat (I have to look that up - hmm, a quick google check makes it hard to tell. I have a paper map in my aforementioned tote bag). It's not clear when I'll be able to purchase a cell phone or get to an internet cafe, but it sounds as though I'll be able to when I get to the seminar site if not sooner.

The seminar site is at a higher altitude so the weather will get cool quickly (it was already getting cool in Chicago...but I hope it warms up again for you guys). At the seminar site, there will be experiential learning including language and cross-cultural. I'll be at an Auberge (I should google that too) and then after several days move to a Community-Based Training Site, where I will start living with a family in a small village somewhere within my region.

There'll be 5 or 6 of us at the Community-Based Training site. There I'll do language four to six hours a day and other "self-directed" (their quotation marks) learning,with local artisans! I'll go baack and forth to Azrou during this phase.
I'll get a site announcement at the end of October. I'll have a chance to visit the site. We'll gather as a group for the last week of training, for reflection, administrative things, final evaluations, and swearing in (November 24). We'll receive additional training throughout the two years.

There are more details, but those are the basics. I may or may not get to write another blog entry before I leave. Hard to believe that a week from today I will be in Morocco!

Incidentally, when I spoke to the Country Desk Manager tonight, she said she might ask everyone what's the most unusual thing they put in their suitcase, as an icebreaker. I guess for me it's the Princeton banner!


What do you fit into 107 inches of luggage plus a carry-on (plus a tote bag in my case...hope that's OK)? I am over the limit of 50 pounds per bag and 80 pounds total - as far as I can tell, I pay a fee - that's fine. I just don't want to have to leave anything behind! I've already re-packed twice, allocating items to boxes to be sent to me at my site. And this after packing two boxes specifically to be sent to me at my site. I'll list those items too.

I used the Peace Corps Morocco Welcome Handbook as a guide and packed almost everything that it recommended that I already had (i.e. I didn't go out and buy a Coleman lamp or hand shower). So I have a sleeping bag and pad, a set of double bed sheets (it recommended one or two sets - so I set aside another set to be sent to me), towels - all of this took up quite a bit of space! Clothing-wise, I kept paring things down - so I have a few short-sleeved shirts, a few 3/4-sleeve shirts, a few long-sleeved shirts (one or two less of each than I originally set aside). I have a few skirts (that was one of the purchases I made - washable skirts. At the last minute I substituted a windbreaker with a light jacket that is not washable, but hopefully it won't need cleaning. I've already used the jacket here in New York, so I am happy with the decision). And a few pairs of slacks. They say to bring something dressy - I put in two dressy blouses that I can wear with the skirts, and I am having a dress sent (though it's not very dressy...but it is washable). Lots of underwear, and I had to take out some stockings and some socks and put them in the box to be sent to me (there are already stockings and socks in the box I had set aside, but in the repacking I decided I had to make do with fewer in order to close the suitcase without a big bulge). I'm not going to elaborate on the thinking involved there - I'll just leave it at that. A couple of sweaters. A fleece jacket, and I brought the waterproof shell that goes with it - they say it's the Cold Country with the Hot Sun and I hope that will be enough for the winter. Long underwear, hat, gloves, scarf - again, all of these take space - though I did have some of those packers that remove all the air from things. Don't know if they helped. A travel pillow - not my beloved Icelandic pillow, but something smaller and almost, though noticeably not, as soft.

Several travel books on Morocco and a few crossword puzzle books. There is an entire box of books from my bookshelf that are desginated to get sent to me one at a time, as well as a jigsaw puzzle. I may finally get to those books I've always meant to get to! And then I can pass them along! No pleasure reading in the suitcase though - I hope that wasn't a mistake. I found a compact (but heavy) crochet kit in Borders last week - I was planning to take my needlepoint (that I started in 1981 or thereabouts) but it wasn't as compact as I thought, so that's in storage marked with an X for "maybe send me on request," as is my knitting and my jewelry-making stuff (somehow I feel I will need a craft after helping artisans all day). I haven't crocheted in years, but since it was the most compact, it came along. A short-wave radio, extra batteries (at the June meeting they said those would not make their way to me so I have some). Digital camera and extra memory cards and USB attachment, film camera and film, iPod (a going-away present - including the loading - very nice), speakers, charger, camera connector, converter for same (so the present cost me a lot of money - but I think I will use it), other converters.

I didn't actually make a list - I'm just going from memory here (and I am not going to open the suitcases now to see what I might be forgetting about). T-shirts and shorts and longer workout pants as pajamas. Had to take the bathrobe out at the last minute - I hope that's not a faux pas. It wasn't on the packing list (nor were pajamas in general, or underwear or wasn't a complete list, in other words). My Chaco shoes for sandals, my Merrells for most daily use, a nice pair of shoes (mentioned more than once), and hiking boots that can be used for running (as opposed to running shoes that can be used for hiking - this was a purchase and I hope it works out. Took my running shorts out in the final repack, and my bike jersey. Left in my bike shorts, bike gloves and running shirt.

A notebook that can be a journal or other writing book. A book of notes people wrote to me and small photo albums with pictures of Chicago and of friends. Gifts for my host family - books on Chicago, baseball hats (not recommended in the guide but also not a no - I hope they're OK), beanie babies. Toiletries, makeup and a food stash (goji berries and Starbucks mints) - both of these had to have some last-minute reduction and will be sent along, and there are other toiletries in the box of things previously designated to be sent to me - and other cold-weather gear - more sweaters, warmer Merrells, fleece pants.

Incense. I wonder what former Peace Corps volunteer thought it was necessary and why. But I was visiting a friend's boutique and she had some so she gave it to me! A maglite. A 2006 and a 2007 calendar. Two decks of cards, Yahtzee dice and scorecards, a Boggle keychain. Some stationery and pens. And one frivolous - but relatively compact - item. At the going-away party held for me, the host, my predecessor as president of the Princeton Club of Chicago, had a banner made for me that says Princeton Club of Morocco. That was really sweet. So were some of the other things I got (not that I expected anything - the only thing I asked for was the writings and pictures from people) - but that one found a place in my suitcase and maybe will find a place on my wall.

I didn't need to confine myself to 107 inches between Chicago and New York, so I used the "expandable" feature to bring my holiday/change-of-address cards here so that I could write a little note and send them from here. They're now on their way!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I went to dinner this past week (one of my last in Chicago turned out to be one of my first in Chicago - Edwardo's thin crust pesto with pepperoni - though it's been years since I've had one) with a person I had not met and two people who had not met each other but by small-world coincidence both knew the person I had not met. She had recently been to Morocco and wanted to show us her pictures. They were beautiful! Incredible design and colors. The market pictures were great - another world-traveller friend loves to take market pictures, so now I am attuned to them and take them as well.

One thing she noted is that women traveling alone (she was with her daughter) were harassed - the Peace Corps is supposed to give me strategies for dealing with that but they did say it was there. She also went to a women's cooperative, which she thought was very empowering, though in general the workers she saw had deplorable conditions and child labor. She said that having a guide really helped - a good tip for those who are thinking about visiting me as part of a larger visit. She went to Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, Essouria (sp? guess I have to learn to spell that one - an Atlantic Coast resort town), and the Sahara - covered a lot of ground in a week - but each place was different and rich in culture and things to see!

Last month I went to a meeting of the Sister Cities Souq (I've also seen it spelled Souk) committee - the Souk (sic) will be in the Chicago Cultural Center in December - those of you in Chicago should go! The person I had met at the Sister Cities festival invited me. Very interesting group of women (the whole Sister Cities committee is co-ed but this subcommittee happens to be all women - at least the ones at this meeting were). I would like to get more involved if I come back to Chicago! I happened to sit next to someone who had also gone to Morocco for the Peace Corps - not only that, but she graduated from Princeton! I met her for coffee a couple of weeks ago. She went from 95-97, so she's the person I've spoken to with the most recent experience, though that was still a long time ago in terms of things like internet.

She was a maternity and child-care trainer, in the south of the country near the Sahara. I asked her a bunch of questions - will recount what I remember. She had electricity but not running water - she got her water from the town pump. She had parasites almost the entire time - didn't get fully resolved until she came back to the U.S. (the nurse asked her if she could tough it out and she said yes). She said she couldn't impress upon me enough to wash my hands with soap every chance I got. She could boil water and take the precautions that the Peace Corps trains you for, but accepting hospitality is part of the job and you just have to eat and drink what your hosts give you.

I asked her how helpful the French was, and she said it's the language people learn in high school and there wasn't a high school in her town. She had studied Arabic in Princeton, but said the dialect was so different that that didn't help. But didn't it help with written, I asked? She said everyone in her village was illiterate so there wasn't much written!

I asked her how often she bathed and she said it depends on what you mean by bathe -- she did bucket baths and then every so often went to the town bath (I told her a bucket bath counts as a bath - meantime, as an aside, I am having trouble with the hot water here in my sister's guest shower - I realize that in a little over a week it could be a while before I get a hot shower, but at least I want a last few!). She did get around the country a lot and recommended I visit other volunteers, to see their villages too, not just the tourist spots. She also said she thought I would be great, that I have a great attitude and excitement about going - that was nice to hear! Actually, that coffee was a chance to spend an hour thinking about Morocco and the Peace Corps as opposed to packing and storage! I did ask her if there was anything she packed that she ended up not needing - she said she brought a lot of books (I am bringing several), that a short-wave radio was key (I have one that I "found" in the Barton closet years ago), that she used her sleeping bag (I asked specifically about that one since it takes up a lot of space!).

I did manage to get everything into my 107 inches plus a carry-on (plus a big tote bag - hope that's allowed). Not the weight limit (all those books!) but if all I have to do is pay extra and schlep a heavy bag, it's worth it to bring what I have in there (more on that if time allows or if other stories don't get in the way). I do have a person designated to send me books, extra toiletries and extra winter clothes, and in order to fit everything into my bag without too much of a bulge I had to take out some more toiletries, a food stash (goji berries and Starbucks mints) and some socks, but those will get sent to me at my site...

I went for one last swim at the Peninsula Spa yesterday and as I was getting into the pool, I glanced at a New York Times that someone was reading - Moroccan terror plot foiled with 56 arrests (or something like that). Well, it is what it is. It doesn't make me more anxious but the timing is interesting. On the way to New York last night I re-read the safety/security notes that were in my staging kit. I also re-read "On the Home Front," the guide for families and other loved ones. I wish this were available through or that I could send multiple copies to people. I am not sure I even want to leave my one copy with my sister - I might take it with me so that I can remind myself that everyone goes through these things! It spells out what to expect to hear from me - loneliness, frustration, a feeling that I'm not accomplishing anything or even doing anything worthwhile, etc. throughout the whole first year, until I finally start feeling comfortable. There should be a big sense of being overwhelmed when I get to my site - after I finally get into a routine in training, with friends and with people who speak both English and the language I'm learning, I'll be resettled into the new situation and finally on my own. I'll try to keep a positive spin on everything (as I usually do) but I guess it'll be good to express some of my issues as well. The booklet also notes (again) the importance of mail. And also notes (again) that coming back may be the hardest adjustment of all. I've been feeling that already - getting rid of most of my furniture and putting everything in storage was the physical manifestation of not knowing what I am coming back to - but the booklet points out that everyone has this problem, because most people don't have anything lined up that they're coming back to, and that even if they come back to a home, after living somewhere else for two years they feel homeless.

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