Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Site visit! A group left for the bus stop at 6...then another group at 7...then more until finally there were two of us left. My family came to get me! And they drove her to the grand taxi station. I went to the gendarmerie and it turned out I didn't need to go and they were a bit miffed...and I went to the police station and I had been given the impression they would be expecting me, but they did not seem to know why I was there. I went back later and they told me what I needed to do to get a cartz de sejour (the working papers). Later I realized I was supposed to get a phone number but at the moment I feel too embarrassed to go back. I also went to the artisana to meet my counterpart, the person I will be working with. I had been to the artisana a few times already but not with the thought that it would ever be my workplace for the next two years. It has always been empty (of people) when I have been there; I would like to see how tourists react to it. I know the current volunteer had a lot of suggestions on improving the display and the product mix (he wanted it to be more reflective of the region) but didn't get much changed. I am meeting with him this afternoon and I would like to stick to him like glue for the rest of the week but we shall see. I also went to a carpet store where I heard the man was very friendly.

My family is very nice! The mom (who is younger than I am) speaks English well, which is helpful for communication, but we are both trying to use as much Arabic as possible because that is the whole point. The dad was a doctor but now he is a member of the parliament so is well-known around town; he goes to Rabat every week. Last year he went to Washington and went to Peace Corps headquarters and met with Bill Bradley! Tiger blanket last family; Bill Bradley this! They have three kids, ages 14, 10 and 2. Yesterday I was sent to the hanut and brought the little one; it's fun walking with a little kid. They have internet, with the French keyboard...so it's taking me a while to write this.

Today I went to the post office and the bank (all of these are our site visit assignments) to find out how to get a box and open an account. I didn't open the P.O. Box yet because there are two post offices in town and I have to see where I might live and then I will go to the closer post office. I don't have to decide where to live just yet, but when I meet the current volunteer I will see what qdvice he has. I also went to a pharmacy to introduce myself. Other assignments include going to the hospital to say hi, going to the local government office and locating where to get food (I already know that...and by the way I don't want you to get the impression that the supermarche is a big store - that's just the name on the sign and it's bigger than the hanuts, most of which are too small to walk into. This is like a convenience store but it does have a selection of products). My mom and I went to the souk this morning - lots of produce. We drive; it will be a long walk when I have to do it. But it's a nice souk; the group will have a field trip to it next week when everyone is back.

Time for lunch, the big meal of the day, which works for me. They have a snack at six and a light or no late meal, which also works for me. Lots of fruit and so far healthy, good food. I am staying in the daughter's room, and I feel a bit awkward about displacing her, but she doesn't sleep here anyway; she sleeps with the grandmother. I hope I made it clear that she can come in for her stuff anytime.

More when I can...I don't want to be on the internet too much; I am supposed to be spending time with the family and beginning to integrate...

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Yesterday I was a little bit sad. I think I feel a letdown. Everyone is going to have an adventure this week - taking the bus or the train, discovering their new sites. I do not have that sense - although there are many shops people have talked about that I haven't seen, and a pizza placce or two that people mentioned that I have yet to sample, and I have to return to the places where people have been friendly and tell them I'm staying (hte supermarche, the patisserie). I know intellectually that I am about to have a two-year adventure so it's okay if the next week isn't one, but I still had to process the emotion. Someone else going nearby said the same thing, so it's always good to know I'm not alone in what I'm feeling. I'm also sad that some of the people I like are going to be far away - too far for the weekend overnights we are allowed twice a month. So I need to take vacation days to see them, or I will see them in six months and two years and on the occasions when they pass through and that's it. I knew that was going to happen, but this was the first reality check of that, so it's sad. Of course, it is balanced out by the fact that there are people I like who will be nearby. But that was the emotion of the day. That and a horrible headache - I took a nap at lunchtime but still had a hard time in language class in the afternoon. I didn't sleep well on Friday night - ful of anxiety about my site, integration, etc. - so that contributed. After class I curled up in a ball on my bed for three and a half hours. A friend gave me a new miracle drug, Excedrin Migraine (which now may go ion my list of requests from home) and I was able to rally for the Halloween party - even found a costume from my suitcase combined with accessories from roommates (I went as a tourist - tote bag, camera, sunglasses, hat, map and book). I lent my iPod to the music committee (first use of iPod!) so there was music I could dance to...and it was fun! I think it's the first Halloween costume I've worn in 15 years. I did miss the pumpkin-carving when I was curled up in a ball, but those who carved pumpkins did a great job, as did the party organizers. and all the various committees. This morning I am less sad and looking forward to the next week of site visit. I'll meet my new host family (I didn't think I could upgrade from the sheikh but I might - a doctor, with apparently western toilet and a shower), set up a post office box and a bank account, register with the gendarmes and meet my counterpart at the artisana. One of the guys had the idea that I should be allowed to go on a bus trip somewhere, since I need to learn how to do that too, and the Program Assistant is considering sending me to Meknes to meet my delegate. I also hope to meet with the current volunteer here who is leaving when I start, but he is in Rabat now, sick.

Some new information to update yesterday's post - there's a new director of the artisana so I may not have the issues that he had with it, which is good. There are good points and bad points to following a volunteer - he got a lot started, but I still have to start anew with forming relationships and see what I want to work on. And I think I am much farther from Fes - and much, much farther from Marrakesh - than I thought, given that I have to take a grand taxi to Meknes and then a bus or train that stops every so often. That's okay.

And I hear the Cardinals won the series - so the long off-season begins. Six months without baseball for everyone. I always hit a low in January before pitchers and catchers report. Now we are on a Peace Corps/culture shock cycle of highs and lows. It'll be interesting to see how/if they coincide.

Friday, October 27, 2006


So, before the site announcements I went upstairs to check on my clothing. It's windy outside, and a LOT of my clothes had blown off the line. Fortunately, they were still on the roof. And I had a chance to use the flashlight feature on my Moroccan cell phone to check for stray unmentionables. Way to build up the suspense, huh?

This afternoon, a friend and I took a walk and went to an as-yet-unexplored area of Azrou. I said that Arzou has grown on me - it had a lot going for it. She said I should have asked for it and I said I didn't want to ask for it, because when we first got here the current volunteer here came to talk to us and mentioned some of his struggles with his counterpart and his work situation. She told me that other people had asked for it and I said that was fine - I wouldn't mind being here, but I didn't love it enough to ask for it. It does have a lot going for it, though - you can get what you need here.
You can see where this is leading, I bet.

We walked into the conference room and there was dramatic music playing. Each person got a pushpin with a small picture of his/her face on it (I must post a picture of this - maybe Sunday - it's cute). The Program Manager and Program Assistant (also the Training Coordinator) had the big map of Morocco in the front of the room - the one with all the pushpins showing where the current volunteers are. Tonight was our night to become pushpins (the current volunteers are faceless...). First, she announced three sites way, way in the east, near Algeria - the people who are getting those looked a little shellshocked. A Tamazight speaker near Azrou. Someone near the Atlantic but off on her own. Three people right near Marrakesh. A couple more Tamazighe speakers, in the high Atlas. Two in a row from my CBT group, way down south in the Sahara (one of whom was pushing for that, the other of whom is shellshocked). Beautiful green valley, near camels. I want to visit! Then - Azrou. Me! As people were first announced there was applause, which lessened as people got their purple folders and started reading about their sites, but I think there was some applause for me. I told people they were welcome to stay here anytime (but later told them it's BYOB, since alcohol is not culturally sensitive here - plus I've had enough in the past ten years). Another person near Azrou (I really like all of the people who are close by). Then a few between here and Rabat, a couple of whom are in the biggest urban sites (both young women - so much for that rumor). One guy near the beach resort area of Essouaria (apparently he looks like the departing volunteer who is there - not that had anything to do with his placement, right?). Three more Tamarzight speakers, south of the high Atlas, one in an oasis. Another desert locale. One in the west, a bit isolated. The other person in my CBT site in Sefrou, site of a cherry festival and not far from me, and last but not least, someone just east of her.

I was unemotional before the announcement but shaking afterwards. I think I'm relieved more than anything. Actually, I'm happy. I realized - but didn't voice - that what I really wanted (assuming that I'd have electricity and running water) was the ability to get around and see other parts of Morocco, and internet. Actually, I think I said that from the very beginning, in my site placement questionnaire, in one of my first blog entries. And now I will have that. I'm about an hour away (I think) from Fes and Meknes (by the way I keep meaning to mention that I have yet to see someone wearing a Fez). Maybe two hours from Marrakesh. Gateway to the middle Atlas right here - hiking and mountains. I need boots and warmer clothes, but I can get some sent or buy a "Thee North Face" puffy coat. I'm also really happy that people will be coming through here - from the smaller towns nearby and from the remote sites, on the way to other things. And next year's training will be here so I can get to know the new crop. Aziz, who runs the Auberge, is very nice, and he knows everyone and will be a good resource. He knows my new homestay family - he said they're about 200 yards away (very possibly in the nice neighborhood where I just was this afternoon). So I don't have to roll my little carry-on all the way up the hill towards the grand taxi station. I'll be only 40 minutes from TimHdit so I can visit my current family (who have invited me anytime). The current volunteer here is great - I am looking forward to spending time with him in the next week. I thanked the Program Manager and Assistant and he told me he thought it would be a good site for me, working with the artisana.

So I don't have the thrill of the new, but I will as I explore more. I also don't have the shellshocked look some people have. I called my sister and when I walked back into the living room, everyone was on computers looking up their sites. Someone remarked,"I guess you don't have to do any research" and someone else said, "we all hate you." Which of course I took as a compliment.

Time to give someone else a turn to write to their adoring public...and time to go to bed....if I can get any sleep.


A quick word about sites...we find out tonight, now the rumor is. That's one of the issues. Rumors - speculation - wondering. Nobody knows anything. It was fun thinking about it for a while, but at this point I find it an energy drain. Are the men going to the cities because of harassment issues? Are people with certain art backgrounds going to work with specific artisans? How many desert sites are there? I realized as the Training Coordinator came for my interview last week (when I was really feverish...not that it mattered, probably) that I have never interviewed for a job knowing less - where it would be, who I would be working with, the specifics of the job (if it's with a cooperative, what stage it is at - just starting or well-established?) - really, how do you position yourself in that kind of situation? As someone said to me - that's because you're a volunteer. I do think I will be happy wherever I go, because it's not where you are, it's who you are. I think there are good points and bad points to everything. But we'll see. There is a small minority of us who are not really looking forward to the announcement - everyone else seems unable to stop talking about it - waiting to open the presents on Christmas.
I am just back from a mock language test, to find out where I stand before the real language test at the end of training. Today we also had written tests on technical, health (I realized I didn't know all the answers to the diarrhea questions, and here I thought I was an expert!), policies, cross-culture and safety-security. I've read all of the manuals so I was able to answer most of the questions, but we didn't know the test was coming, and I am of the mindset that one shouldn't have to remember anything one can easily look up. Anyway, I got a passing grade on the mock-language test, which is satisfactory, but of course satisfactory is a bit of a disappointment for me. I was able to create sentences and to use a lot of vocabulary but not to maintain that level. This is the first year they've had mock tests and I'm glad - I know where I stand now and what I have to work on.

I'm still processing that disappointment, but I had two good things today to balance that out. One was calling my niece for her birthday and talking to both nieces and my sister. Maybe I could have done the Peace Corps before internet and cell phones because I am a good letter writer, but it would have been a lot more difficult - I don't think I would have considered it. The other good thing...I heard from a few friends about the Harvard game and felt sad that I wasn't there (I have made peace with post-season baseball, more or less, by getting the scores and sharing them with people here even though they don't care). I knew that In-Service Training was six months from swearing-in and all of a sudden I started to panic at the thought that the IST (another acronym for you) might be Reunions weekend. I spoke with the Training Manager today and he said to check in a month or so but that it almmost certainly isn't. I am quite relieved. Now as I continue to process the language test my concern is whether or not my clothes will dry in the wind (the only sun for the day was when I did my laundry) and whether or not they will stay on the line. After the language test there was the most beautiful sunset I have seen here to date, which I take as a good sign.

P.S. we will find out where we are going and some bare facts (where in the country it is, population, electricity/water/cyber) - not sure if I'll know about the artisans there. May or may not find out about my host family there. So the real update will be next week when I'm back from the site visit (or, imshallah, from there if there's cyber).

P.P.S. When I said I wasn't excited, a friend said, "what if your site is the outfield at Shea Stadium?" I replied that I would rather be near the dugout. And then realized that in that one remark I revealed my feelings about urban/rural. The outfield is too rural for me!

P.P.P.S. (in 7th grade we used to write lots of letters with postscripts) - the dance-party organizers are organizing a Halloween party for tomorrow. I gave my iPod to the music committee, so maybe there will be some music I can dance to! I offered to help the food committee. And I may get to carve a pumpkin after all! (Though I think we have to break into small groups to do it - which means we will have to count off - will have 15 minutes to discuss our pumpkin vision - will carve - and will get back together in the large group to discuss. That's how we do our exercises here! I'm kidding, but discussing the pumpkin vision is one of the most fun aspects of Edie's parties back in Chicago!). Now the pressure is on to come up with a costume...or at least wear my sheet as a toga...Debbie can relate to that one, from the Windjammer cruise back in 198 - 9? I'll just say that I heeded the no-underwear admonition and didn't have a stable toga design....

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Back in Azrou after CBT Phase III. Thanks, Debbie and Elisa/Jenna, for posting my entries! I have some new pictures and hope to post them this weekend before (drum roll please) site visit. We hear our site announcements on Saturday (although now there's a rumor that it might be tomorrow night) and then go off on Monday morning to our sites, back the following Monday or Tuesday. I really hope I'm at a site with internet access!

First, a quick report on Phase III, and then I'll check my e-mail, and then I'll be back if I can. Phase III had two parts for me - being well and being sick. It was in the '80s when we left Azrou and the day after we got to TimHdit it had to have been 40 degrees cooler (sounds like Chicago). That's all well and good, but all of my appropriate clothing was in Azrou - I had switched from the short sleeves to the 3/4-length sleeves but that's about it. Plus I took a shower and had wet hair. Myth or not, I got sick. Achy and feverish and sore throat - I went to school and slept and didn't eat much and wished I had chicken soup but basically had no appetite. Called the doctor and went through a list of my symptoms and he prescribed amoxycillin and I felt much better and was able to enjoy l-eid.

L-eid sgir (small) is the small feast (the one on the stamp on my change-of-address letter is l-eid kbir, the big feast, and I'll describe that when the time comes). It celebrates the end of Ramadan. People getup early and have tea and cookies and visit each other in the morning and have more tea and more cookies. Our families visited each other and we visited our artisans and it was festive. In the afternoon, my friend and I sat in the sun and studied (nice to feel well enough to do that). The day ends with couscous. It really felt like a nice holiday day.

The state of Illinois sent me two absentee ballots. Vote early and often? I sent back just one but I may laugh about that for the rest of my life. I got the toys from my niece along with some of the cutest notes ever written. I have subjected just about half of my fellow trainees to them; the only reason I haven't subjected all of them is that I haven't seen everyone yet. Got a few other letters too and some magazines. Thank you!

Last night there was a party at the TimHdit volunteer's house for my host sister, who is going off to Italy before phase IV to marry a man who (as I understand it) she has not met. I'll have more to say about this later, but I know she is sad to leave her family and I am sad for her. But that's where the opportunity is for her to have children and to have a better life. My host family has a son in London and a daughter in France too. But last night was about celebrating. There were about 20 women there (and only women). Katie, the PCV, made pizza and pasta and chicken. There was some music on her iPod, but when one of the women went home and got a Tamarzight tape the party really went into full swing. People were dancing - yes, including me. You wrap a scarf around your bottom and (as one of the LCFs here said) "you shake what your mama has given you." I didn't have a scarf, but then again, I'm not sure I had the moves anyway. We danced for hours to the same song (somehow every time we changed it it got changed back). When we got home, my host mom gave me some traditional shoes. It'll be sad to leave TimHdit, in a way. She told me I am welcome back for a Saturday night stayover and I would like to visit!

Thanks to text messaging, I heard about the Mets. Down to the ninth inning of game 7! My brother-in-law and oldest niece went to that game! I think it would be a good story if the Tigers would win - they've had a magic season - but always root for the NL in my heart. I thought about calling in to the class officer's meeting - a nice dose of home, and I would only stay on the phone as long as it cost less than air fare from Chicago to Princeton - but I was in class; next year, maybe. Last (for now) I want to remind the people in Chicago to look up the Casablanca sister-city souk at the Cultural Center in December. You can see what products the artisans here make - and buy some!

Monday, October 23, 2006


3rd of 3 entries posted by Elisa. Sharon wrote this on Sept 28th & 29th.

I have an Arabic name now with my family – Shereen. Sharon proved too hard to say – I suggested Roon, which is easier, but it didn’t stick. Shereen is easier, and there’s apparently a beautiful (Zweena) TV announcer with that name. Other volunteers got Arabic names too from their families.

“Be careful what you wish for." I’ve heard it a number of times from current volunteers – regarding site, interaction with trainees, travel around Morocco, whatever Well… I had this version of playing cards with the kids in my host family. My sister is 30 and too busy helping in the kitchen… My brother is 18 and off at school in Azrou. No card-players. Tonight the older sister, who is hosting one of my teammates, dropped her kids off with me while she went to the mosque and my teammate was at the hamman. At their house, my teammates studies and sleeps and the kids watch TV. Here, the older sister did the dishes and I asked 7-year-old Si-Mohammed if he wanted to play cards. He suggested snap, which as far as I could tell is like War – I play that with Sabrina too. Then he suggested a game where the person with the higher card slaps the person with the lower card. He kept telling me to slap him harder but I wasn’t about to. He then slapped me so hard that my hand still smarts! Ok, no more cards. We looked at my travelers’ point-it book for a while and he identified things in Arabic. We chased each other around the room with my flashlight. He then opened my bag and zeroed in on the La Vache Qui Ret cheese that I was holding into for a Ramadan stash if needed. He asked for some and I said I didn’t want to open it right now. Some time later I went to the bathroom and when I came back he had opened it and taken one! Later, the whole family came back and we were watching TV. Si-Mohammed left the room and he was gone a little bit too long for my suspicious brain. I went out and sure enough, he was outside my room eating cheese! He pointed hind the couch, where I found two wrappers. But in all, seven wedges were gone. I don’t want to tattle, but I also don’t want them to find four wrappers next year and think – oh, that Shereen! The other four could still be in his pocket… but what to do? I’ll tell the LCF tomorrow and see what she suggests. Good to have this happen now and not when I’m alone at my site. And good that he took cheese and not something more valuable or sentimental! Moroccans have a different sense of yours and mine, I’ve been told. They borrow at will and don’t always bring back. If you admire something they might just give it to you – so you have to be careful about that – and you might have to give away something you may not be prepared to part with as part of cultural integration!

A word about veiling – most women that I’ve seen – in Rabat, Azrou and TimHdit - do wear something on their head. I’ve seen one person with a veil on her face – and when I saw her again she wasn’t wearing it. I’ve also seen people in all three places without veils and with more Western gear. Morocco had been quite a secular country and it’s kind of a fashion statement as well as a religious statement that swept through only a few years ago. Sometimes the people who wear veils are less strict and the people who don’t are more strict about their religion – you can’t judge a book by its (head) covering. There’s no expectation that I wear one (other than to keep my wet head covered coming out of the hamman) and in fact it would send the wrong message if I did wear one (as opposed to fasting – or appearing to fast – in Ramadan – but part of that is courtesy, not eating in front of people – the rest is trying to get into local customs). There may be volunteers who wear head coverings in extremely conservative places, but I haven’t heard about them yet. We were told – the day we left for homestay – that the families wear sweats or the like around the house and to bring some. Well, I didn’t expect that and I didn’t bring anything like that and I’m not sure I’d lounge around someone else’s house in sweats anyway! But that was unexpected. Maybe I’ll buy a qftan (like jellaba but for indoor wear) but for now I’m happy wearing my top and skirt all day and evening.

The picture is from the party in Azrou - my host mom (in blue) and her sister-in-law doing a traditional dance which at first mimed stuffing a pillow with wool - and then there's hand movement back and forth and up and down - and then they "shook what their mama gave them," as the LCF here said- hips and shoulders. I tried to follow the steps and them my host mom wanted to see what an American dance was like. I told her it was exactly the same - I have one dance move!


2nd of 3 more entries posted by Elisa. Sharon wrote this on Sept 27th.

I should note that the hamman has separate hours for women and men – also different hours in Ramadan. Everything’s different in Ramandan.

Speaking of which, I love Ramadan! Okay, the fasting part is not easy – I’ll confess to drinking, but I’m not drinking enough – but the rest is fun. At 3:25 AM, there’s a musician (or two – sounds like a drum and maybe a clarinet) who walk through the town waking everyone up so they can have their pre-dawn meal. Drums I’m partial to anyway, of course; the clarinet melody sounds like a “snake-charmer” song. My family opts to sleep through rather than have a pre-dawn meal – that’s fine with me, because I probably would have joined them, and I’m not sure I’d have been able to fall asleep.

L’ftur, the break-fast, is great. I could eat it every day! Which is good, because I’m going to eat it every day during the month, while I’m in homestay (curious to see what’s at the seminar site). I always start with a piece of shbekya, a twisted cookie that’s sticky-sweet. The stores around there have huge pyramids of them – maybe the analogy is Halloween candy appearing in the stores before Halloween. T hen there’s a filled break – kind of like an inside-out pizza. I’ve found most of the bread to be resistible, but the filled one I can fill up on. There are other breads – a sweet one that you put jam or honey on, for example, but the filled one I zeroes in on. There are hard-boiled eggs, dates, a sesame-peanut paste, another little pastry that’s like baklava, and juice – a fresh fruit – smoothie – like juice. There’s tea and coffee (which I notice that people here put a lot of milk in – maybe half) and of course the hgira soup. Sure, it has its share of sweets, but they’re sweets I like. The tea-time pastries at the Auberge were all resistible to me. But it also has its share of healthy stuff – the eggs, the soup, possibly the sesame-peanut paste and the bread filling. And the dates and smoothie – right? And – best for me – we’re eating at 6:30 PM, not 9:00 PM. Wish we could do that every day! I haven’t yet stayed up for the 1:00 AM meal, but I may try that Saturday when I can sleep late Sunday. I think my family eats light – other people in my group have described a gelatin/milk mix which I’m not sure sounds good but I think that’s what they have. Other families have a big tagine or other major production.

You know it’s time to eat, per the Quran, when it’s so dark you can no longer distinguish between a white thread and a black thread. Most people wait for the call to prayer, but one of my teammates lives with a family who has young children, and they did that, and she said it was a magic, spiritual moment – she likened it to the moment when your parents say it’s okay to open the presents.* At the end of Ramadan, the beginning of the next month has a two-day big holiday – we’ll be at homestay for that so more on that as I experience it. Next year I’ll be at my site so it’ll be easier to get into the rhythm – when I leave for school, my family is asleep. Of course, I won’t be with a family then, but Moroccans don’t like to let people eat alone, so I hope to have integrated into the community enough to have many visitations. The volunteer who’s based here lived with my family for her homestay and she’s here all the time.

* My family wasn’t that dramatic. In fact, they aren’t hovering to eat right at the call. T he teenaged son, the neighbor who comes often and the guest from America are often first at the table (the latter would prefer to wait for everyone but keeps being admonished to “kuli, kuli” – not just at the beginning but throughout the meal, should she happen not to be reaching for something or chewing something for more than a second) and the sister and parents come later (which makes it hard to say “bismallan”) – they also start clearing before I can say – well, one of a few things you can say at the end of a meal but which I haven’t memorized because I don’t get a chance to say them!

Last night I dreamed I was on the subway to Yankee Stadium (which was inexplicably in Brooklyn). I woke up out of the dream, wondering what the standings are. It’s the last week of the season. Is it going down to the wire?

The picture is of a bag produced by the ladies of the TimHdit cooperative. I ordered one! They haven't learned to price things yet, so I have no idea how much it will cost. By the way, on maps often you can find it as Timhadite.


Another entry from Sharon, written Sept 25. Posted by Elisa & Jenna. First of 3 entries that Sharon snail-mailed to us. See above for other 2 postings.

More Haiku:

The Turkish Toilet
“Not bad when you’re used to it.”
“I’m not used to it...”

“Masi, Muskil,”* I
Hear that phrase a lot these days
Oh, all those faux pas.
* It means “no problem”

Super PACA tools
Looking forward to using
With the artisans.

PACA stands for Participatory Analysis for Community Action -- having people tell you about their world as opposed to your just observing it. As an exercise in using the tools before using them with artisans, we split into four groups -- men; over-40 women; just-out-of-school 20-something women; and older 20-something women (there’s one 30-something). I’d been trying to figure out group dynamics -- some people hang out with others, but for the most part there aren’t really cliques -- people sit with different people at meals or take walks into town with whoever’s ready. Well, the group dynamics of the over-40 group was another story. Remember, people, brainstorming is non-judgmental and it’s important to give everyone a chance to speak -- and this is only an exercise! It was tough to be in this group -- a couple of strong personalities clashing, a couple who withdrew, and the rest of us in the middle.

PACA Tool #1 - community mapping. Draw a picture of what’s important to you (post office, cyber cafe, fruit store, candy store, for example) and then for each important site circle frequency. Use a different color for its importance of lack thereof, use +/- for like/dislike, and then list needs on the side. This was my favorite tool - it was fun to look at each group’s map and to see not only that different groups had different frequencies and importance but different things on the map entirely. Plus, since this group is half artist, there were some nice pictures.

The next tool is needs assessment/priority ranking. You list your needs, brainstorming as to what could make your life better. Then you put these in a matrix and pair them off one by one until you arrive at a ranking. In the exercise I kept voting for consistently hot showers and Godiva chocolates on our pillows. This one was fun too. Then you had to think about feasibility – timeframe, financial resources, human resources, sustainability, challenges. Could they implement the Godiva chocolates by next week? Maybe. Swimming pool? No. This really is an interesting way to think about things and I can see its use.

The next two tools weren’t as much fun for me as exercises, but it will be interesting to interview the artisans. One was daily activity schedule – in this culture (and to some extent in ours) the women’s schedule varies quite a bit from the men’s – they have to fit their work in among all their household responsibilities. It’s interesting to look at old reports and see how people spend their days, from waking up to going to bed. And then there’s seasonal calendar – the lives of the artisans differ quite a bit according to weather, employment (do they also have to plant or harvest, for example), income (do they sell more in summer) and expenditures (summer vacation/wedding season and Ramadan are often more expensive – but sometimes more comes in then, too).

The artisan sector in Morocco (did I say this already?) employs 2 million people, 20% of the national active population, in second place after agriculture. It generates 19% of the GDP and financially sustains almost six million people. The King has designated this sector as essential to the development of the economy.. It includes crafts people as well as service people who work with their hands (e.g., plumbers) – but I think we’ll all be working with craftspeople. The purpose of our project is that “motivated artisans and artisan groups, individuals and women’s organizations principally in rural areas and small towns, will have improved personal and social well being as well as increased access to economic opportunities by acquiring and improving small business and organizational skills and practices and developing and improving products and access to markets.”


(Debbie - 3rd and final post for today...originally written by Sharon on September 25)

This morning I asked if I could help and Halti Halima gave me a drying towel and some dishes to dry. It reminded me of being at the Tracy-Stickneys' for Christmas. Wouldn't you know, they then spent all day cleaning, getting out the special dishes and - just like at the Tracy-Stickneys' - they rearranged the furniture! So it really is like "Thanksgiving" (sic) every day!

Learning Arabic
Swiya b swiya; it means
Little by little.

Going to hammam
Mud and scrub and wash and rinse
At last, I feel clean

The hammam was very interesting. Three rooms - a shower room, a temperate room, a steamy room. Four, if you count the anteroom where you disrobe to your undies and store your towel and change of clothes. The temperate room was crowded so we went into the steamy room - good for the toxins. If you go, bring a little plastic chair so you don't sit on the floor. The wall is lined with sets of faucets at knee level (hand level once you're on the plastic chair). You sit down and fill a plastic bucket with a mix of hot and cold water from the taps. You pour some all over your area to clean it, then over yourself (with a plastic scoop cup). Then you take mud (available at hanuts) and rub it all over your body. Then you take a scrubby mitt (available at hanuts) and exfoliate your body to within an inch of its life - including doing each other's backs (remember, we now have no secrets). Women can spend hours there - especially in the winter when it's the only warm place. You can go from room to room to shower a bit or just breathe a bit. The rinse again. Then you can soap, shampoo, shave (though Moroccan women love to wax - I'm happy about that but have to find a place still) or whatever you want. I can see myself going twice a week!

The living rooms here are lined on three sides with couches - cushions on frames, covered with colorful patterns, backless but with enough pillows for everyone. In my family they lounge around - good, because I like to put my feet up, and now that I've been to the hammam they are clean. The coffee table is the dining table and also my desk at "school." Oh, I look forward to my desk-height desk and a dining-table height dining table. But I don't long for them. The communal plates? Yep. You gather 'round the table, sitting on a cushion on the floor if you're out of reach. Salads are served individually (more or less) with forks. You get a piece of fresh bread, part of a big, flat loaf. Then a big platter comes out and with your right hand you dig into the area in front of you. If it's couscous you take some of the vegetables and couscous and make a little ball. If it's a whole chicken, you tear off a part. No napkins - you just wash your hands when you're finished (or, if you're an American, your family takes pity on you and gives you a towel). And don't forget to leave room for fruit! I keep forgetting. I also keep forgetting to take off my shoes when I'm on a carpet. I'm getting better at it - so I'm taking my shoes off when I sit down and putting them back on whenever I get up. There's a lot of sitting around and watching TV...would be a good way to learn, but I need to learn more words first. For now, I can read and write and be with the family while they watch.

What else for today? The call to prayer. I think I pictured people hearing the call and then dropping whatever they were doing to pray. Well, that's not the case. Some people do go to the mosque (in advance of the call, so they're there for it) but other people go about their business - they can make it up later, as long as they pray five times a day (same thing with Ramadan - if you're sick or for whatever reason you can't fast, you can make it up).

I told the volunteer here about my haiku, and she said she'd submit it to Peace Works, the newsletter here! The pressure's on to write some more - luckily it doesn't take much!


(Debbie again, posting for Sharon - Written September 24)

The roving pack of barking dogs didn't keep me awake in Azrou, but there was a dog in TimHdit that did - seemed to be barking outside my window. Inspired by the suggestion of one of the guys in the group of trainees, I came up with this haiku in the wee hours of the morning:

Animal control
One person with a shotgun
Would take care of it.

Apparently in one town that did happen.

In many ways TimHdit would be the ideal site - it's accessible, it has electricity and drinkable tap water (which I'm back on), but it had no cyber. There's a volunteer here, in her first year, who learned Tamazight (the Berber language) and is learning Arabic now (the residents tend to switch, not that I can always tell at the moment). She lived with my host family when she arrived, so she visits often. The artisans are weavers, and she has a good relationship with them. The Program Assistant has asked me more than once ifI would mind a rural site - I asked other people and they said he hasn't asked them; I wonder if that's because they have a site in mind for me or because they already told him more specifics. I have the sense (from one of the current volunteers) that they want to put the women in rural sites for safety and security. But I think my sister might be right - this level of roughing it is probably enough for me, and I should tell them. If I do end up in a site like this, I did not bring - or even designate to be sent - enough cold-weather clothes. It was summer on the first day of fall and fall by the afternoon, and apparently it's a long, COLD, snowy winter. That last box of stockings and socks from the final repacking? I miss them.

There are other trainees in my group who have blogs. My experience - what I'm choosing to write about, that is, and it is a choice because I'm leaving so much out - is what I think my friends and family would find interesting, what I would talk about if I called on the phone. But you might try to search for other blogs to add further context - especially pictures. If I can get some links I'll add them. There are two web sites of current volunteers - Cory Driver's and Nam LaMore's - that some of the trainees in my group looked at while getting ready to go to (and were highly complimetary of...Mine is probably too chatty for someone who doesn't know me, but that's OK).

Ramadan: My official statement is "don't ask, don't tell." Well, since the "don't ask" part is unrealistic, I just won't tell. I've said - and I'll sitck to it - that my priority is being attentive and able to concentrate in class, and if it takes water and food, so be it. Some families have a pre-dawn meal, which I was going to ask to be woken up for - mine doesn't, which is just fine. Mine has l'ftur, a break-fast, at sundown and then dinner at 1:00 am and then they sleep as late as possible - I told them I'd join them for l'ftur and then nes (sleep). They understood! I helped shell chick peas (Hms - sound familiar?) for hgira, the traditional l'ftur soup - Halti Halima got a big kick out of my pantomiming that I make soup too - out of a can - and that one of my specialties is dialing for delivery (not completely true but true enough - and it made them laugh - and is part of exposing American culture to other people, which is one of the goals of the Peace Corps). You're not suposed to gossip during Ramadan - so we got some out of the way beforehand - or wear cosmetics (something I can live with to be outwardly respectful). See comment section for more delicate info.

The picture is from CBT phase 3 but this is as good a place for it as any - a traditional wedding cape produced by the TimHdit cooperative.


(entered by Debbie for Sharon - originally written September 23 - received a couple of days ago...and we thought US mail was slow!)

Some observations about TimHdit:

It's a village of 12,000 people, about 30 km southeast of Azrou. There's pretty much nothing in between - what appears to be deforested mountains (but it could be that the forest is just far from the road) with semi-arid shrub and the occasional flock of sheep. It's hilly - or mountainous, I guess, at over 5000 feet, but the mountains are rounded, not pointy. Older than the Rockies. Around here some of the rocks look volcanic; there was shale when we went for our hike about Azrou. Barbary Apes live in the forest - haven't seen any yet. I made up a haiku during the journey:

Azrou, TimHdit
Seven people in one cab
Next, host family

It's along the main road - some of the other CBT (Community-Based Training) sites have higher populations but are more remote (and one site is much higher in altitude and has five times as many sheep as people).

The main feature of the town when you first arrive is a huge patch of rocky, trash-strewn dirt, with foundations of what used to be there, grazing donkeys and stray cats and dogs. We have to cross this patch of dirt (which I fear will turn to mud) to get from home to the LCF house - in honor of my Boston trip this year I've dubbed it The Public Garden. Just calling it that beautifies it. An army of American high school students with big Hefty bags and the gloves from the medical kit would be most welcome - but probably not sustainable. The homes are clean but, sadly, the public space is anything but. We'd been told that Morocco has elements of first, second and third world. When we got out of the cab I thought, "We're in third world now."

There's the main road - along one side of it are a lot of hanuts, little stores - post office, teleboutique, pharmacie, pneu (?), kiosks, cafes and restaurants - a couple of each; we're not talking Magnificent Mile here (although I hereby dub it that). As we walked along it to meet with the local authorites, I sidestepped a dead chicken. Why did it cross the road? It never made it to the other side. (I managed to make one of my teammates laugh with that one! And myself, of course).

On the other side of the Public Garden there's a little street with a few hanuts, one street over from the LCF house (a.k.a. school). We've gone there during breaks for a snack or a bottle of water. I hereby dub this street Oak Street, though I don't recall it being paved. And I don't recall donkeys walking down Chicago's Oak Street.

Azrou, a city of 50,000, now looks like the Big Apple in comparison, and Azrou is where the big souk in the area is - and the cyber cafe! I find myself looking forward to going back, with its medina (not that I want to buy anything - I can't fit anything else in my bag! Although I keep thinking about a computer - or sooner rather than later, a Moroccan cell phone). I'm sure I'll look forward to return trips to TimHdit - I'm glad we go back and forth from seminar site to CBT. A good balance. By the way, I keep meaning to mention this - Azrou means rock - there's a big rock in the town where nomadic tribes used to gather to trade.


(Hi! Elisa & Jenna here. Sharon wrote these entries on October 6th & 7th, and we are posting them for her.)

Meeting the artisans - TimHdit (which, by the way, I've come to think of as Brigadoon) has weavers who are in the process of forming a cooperative, with the help of the current Peace Corps volunteer. We met with them to use our PACA tools. At first it was tough for us to explain why they should do this, but as we got into each exercise they were animated and more than willing to share information and maybe - just maybe - they thought the tools were valuable and a good way to look at their business. Note - all of this is just to give you an idea; our report and presentation were more detailed. This is from CBT Phase I.

We did the community mapping in the roof, so that the artisans could point at buildings as they described them. Of most importance to them were their houses (where they work), the schools, the mosque, the hammam, the souq, and the ___. It was interested getting their perspective.

Daily activities for the women consist of getting up at 5:00 AM and starting breakfast. At 7:00 they get the kids fed and ready and take them to school. They then work on the looms (10:00 prayer), until it's time to prepare lunch. T he kids and husband come home fro lunch at 12:30 until about 2:00. Then it's back to the loom, with a mid-afternoon break to pray, visit, or have tea or a snack, until 5:00 or 6:00. The kids come home and play (note - there are no toys) or watch TV. Dinner is prepared from 6:00 until 8:00 (sunset prayer) and then eaten (during dinner preparation time the men are often at a cafe). Dinner, more TV for the kids, and back to the loom until 11:00 PM, when it's time for bed.

The seasonal calendar in TimHdit doesn't vary much - in other regions there is agriculture so there may be time off for planting or harvesting. In all places, summer is a time for travel or for Moroccans to visit family and is also the wedding season. It's the season where the artisans make the most money, which they use to buy raw materials and wood for winter. Ramadan also significantly affects the schedule - working people stay up later to eat at night and may sleep later or start earlier.

Needs assessment/priority ranking was and is my favorite PACA tool. After pairing off each need, the artisans found that their greatest need was for looms, followed by a building for their cooperative; they've been promised both of these. They then wished for a better hospital, followed by a high school in town. Other needs included raw materials readily available, winter transport, wood, and, further down the list than we Americans might have placed it but at least on the list, trash removal.

It was interesting to note that several of the women in the cooperative are divorced; while not uncommon in Morocco it was unexpected (for us) in this small town. These women are hard-working ambitious, motivated and talented. They're off to a good start as a cooperative but there's still a lot to do.

I'll talk briefly about child care. Children are often carried on their mother's backs (how they tie those scarves so the children don't fall out is a marvel to me) so they are with the mother a lot of the time. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of interaction. Children are around but are left to play on their own or to watch TV. Someone catches them before they climb out a window or play with a knife, but that's about it. I haven't seen any toys or games of dolls. At about age six, girls are expected to help with the chores. That's about the age they go to school, too - learning Arabic and French, by rote I believe. Children are usually in Western wear - actually, I haven't seen one who isn't. I haven't seen any books for them to read or look at. There's no notion of early childhood development or child care. No wonder Si-Mohammed was thrilled to play cards- a break from TV, an adult who was paying attention to him!

Similarly, there is no notion of pet care as we know it, though people do keep animals. They are fed table scraps. My family got a dog while I was here and I had to request a bowl for water for it. Dogs are chained up, to serve as watchdogs (or, more accurately, barking deterrents). When I asked some of the Peace Corps staff whether I could ask to take it for a walk so it could get some exercise, they advised against it. It just isn't done here. I guess they're better off than the roving dogs and cats that have to forage and are ubiquitous, but I worry about poor little Muzun (his name means "Sequin") - not that I’m not worried about all the kids in TimHdit....

Actually, with animals (or compost) getting the food waste, the trash that litters public spaces isn't all that unsanitary. It's mostly plastic bags and bottles. I haven't seen a trash can in my host family home and I don't know what they do with trash - I've taken mine to the LCF house of back to Azrou.

Again, a picture that doesn't have to do with the post but I am adding them all at once...one of the women in the cooperative wove her husband's name (along with "dear") into the rug.


(Hi! This is Elisa & Jenna. Sharon wrote these entries on October 6th & 7th, and we are posting them for her.)

I mentioned in one entry that fall came early to TimHdit. Well, it didn't. There was one chilly day and other than that it’s been no-jacket-yet weather. On my first morning and phase II, there were leaves on the ground - so it’s coming. There aren't many trees. The ones in the forest don't change color, I think. I think they're cedars but that doesn't make sense - maybe they're pine. There’s so much to learn about!

In class, we learned Arabic words to “if you're happy and you know it clap your hands” and Mina wants to start every class with it. Good way to learn some verbs and body parts and get some energy. The first line also could have come out of the Princeton Band Gross Carmina (“sfq b yddk”) but once we sang it the first time we stopped giggling about it. Back in high school, Martha and I used to sing “if you're spastic and you know it clap our hands” (and then miss) so it’s a way to think of her every day.

Speaking of high school, the person whose computer I use the most revealed her password and mentioned that it was the first password she had on here first AOL account in 7th grade. I said that in 7th grade we had punch cards and all of a sudden the room went silent. It was like that e-mail with “people born in 1984 have known no president before Reagan” or whatever. Upon returning from the first phase of CBT, there was some shifting and someone new moved into our room with six beds. It’s like a girls' dorm now, with more hanging out and munchies. We've also been staying up later. I do want to write about the other people in the group at some point. I keep thinking of an exchange I had with one of them. He said, “What if you're in a site and you don't like the other volunteers near you?” I said, “I like everybody,” and he said, “I've noticed that about you.”

Tea - From the moment I was called with the offer to come here I knew there would be lots of tea. Mint tea, I was told. They didn't mention the sugar (though I had a hint of that from the Princeton grad). We had a lesson on the making of tea and the importance of tea here. It's regular tea from China. You boil water, put in the tea leaves, pour it into a glass (not a teacup) and then back into the pot a few times (leaving out the sediment), add sugar, add more sugar, add more sugar than you might have dreamed possible, and add fresh mint leaves if available (my host mom grows it in her garden) or other spices in the winter. You bring the teapot and glasses into the room along with cookies, nuts or other goodies, and then you pour with a flourish from 12-15" above the glass. I've had some tea but I haven't said yes at every opportunity. I'm just not that much of a tea drinker - though I know that here it's not about the tea, it's about being social, so I will have more than I'm inclined to. When there's a choice, I've been going for the aqwa with hot hlib (coffee with hot milk) - it's very good. But to fit in I just have to have more tea!

Monday, October 16, 2006


I have a headache - my first really bad one since I got here. A good night's sleep will resolve that...and then tomorrow we leave for CBT phase III. During this phase the SBD programming people will come to interview us individually about what we want site-wise. This is a chance to think about my experiences over the past month and how they might have changed my interests/desires/needs. I stayed up late talking to one of the current volunteers - he had some good strategies. He's the only person who works with woodcarvers so he has had a lot of opportunity to go to craft fairs and to become the woodcarver expert. He also reminded me not to tell any HCN anything that I don't want the whole town to know, and that anything I tell someone can't be taken back, so to be careful with what I choose to reveal. I gave some more thought to the imaginary boyfriend thing and decided it's better not to lie. Perhaps to avoid being fixed up constantly, I can put an end to it by saying that I am here to focus on work. It's not in Moroccan culture to understand that people want time to themselves.
Thinking more about the action plan - the timelines reminded me of the Planning and Scheduling days back at Stone and Webster, with a little bit of Quintessence timelines thrown in. How nice to be able to draw on that experience! I always liked timelines. We're supposed to develop an action plan that we implement with the artisans during CBT Phase IV. I have to think about it over the next week, of course, but I think a nice bonding exercise with some cookies seems in order! Maybe chocolate.

We find out where our sites will be on the 28th - the suspense, speculation, rumors et. al. will be over. I have been listening to information but not seeking much, since much of it seems like potential misinformation. We could be anywhere, working with any set of artisans...

In today's discussion of leadership, we had to think of a leader from our own culture (however we defined that) who we admire and why, and a leader from another culture who we admired and why. I chose President Tilghman (of Princeton) and Nelson Mandela. It was nice to take myself out of Morocco for a minute and think about Princeton and about my time in South Africa! It was also interesting hearing the choices of some of the other people...I have said that I don't see our group as particularly altruistic compared to what I might have expected ahead of time (maybe small business development doesn't lend itslf to the altrusitic as much as maybe environment or health would) but there were a lot of pacifists among the leaders our group admired....

So...while I am gone I will send some telepathic messages cheering on the Mets and on a friend who is running the Chicago Marathon (she usually stayed with me the night before - a tradition I will miss) and try to attend Edie's pumpkin-carving party in spirit. Next month I'll miss my first home Harvard or Yale game since I graduated. Well, I said I could miss anything except Reunions...there's a lot I'll be missing (and/or attending in spirit).

Also - almost forgot to mention - we got another book today. Participatory Analysis for Community Action. It's a small book but I don't have much more room in the plastic bag! The picture is of some pillows at the Auberge made with traditional Berber designs.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Here's a picture of the ugly plaid plastic bag - in case this wasn't what you pictured when I described it. I thought it was nice to set it against the tile of the walls here at the Auberge. Quiet day today - some language, a walk, some reading, some talking, a letter to my World Wise Schools class. I have been trying to download a Sports Talk podcast into my shuffle too but it's taking too long to access the iTunes store so I think I have to give up on that. I really wish I could listen to the Mets game tonight but that is a wish that will go unfulfilled. We have a tea talk tonight on Moroccan wedding symbols. I will save longer notes on language and on gender for longhand while I am away for 10 days, as well as answers to the letters I received earlier this week. It's nice to really feel as if I had a day off - this is the first time it's felt that way. I should mention that I received incorrect info - the Bears are undefeated (someone also told me that the A's won and I saw that they were swept). I hope all is well with everyone there - I do miss everyone, in case it sounds as though I don't. This blog is the next best thing to conversation and I think of my friends and family as I write every word. I feel I'm reminded daily, though the days go by quickly, that two years is a long time. I do hope and plan to stay the entire 27 months and maybe it won't seem as long when I get back and get back into the swing of life there.

Evening update: I did want to mention something I did this morning. One of the artists in the group is a yoga therapist. A couple of nights ago I saw her giving a class to a bunch of people, so I told her I wanted to join the next one. It was just the two of us this morning doing somatics, a mind-body stretch routine (Feldenkrais, which I was doing in Chicago early this year, is also somatics). Great stretches - I will join her again; it was also a nice chance to talk. We have so many talents in this group! I have seen some drawings that people have done, and some photography, and some jewelry (metal using ancient and modern techniques, not like my beaded things). There are also knitters and crocheters and other crafters and many of the people in the group are reading and have read some very interesting and uncommon books (I felt silly mentioning that I was having someone TiVo "Survivor," but I have impressed with my Boggle skills and my ability to whip through the puzzles in my crossword puzzle book).

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Today we worked on developing an SBD project and developing an action plan. Once again my stomach started to cringe (same feeling as in the "meets expectations" post) as we defined goals as broad and obectives as more specific and SMART - specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-specific (it was defined here slightly differently but that's how I think of it). Once again, my Paterno consulting came in handy; I've just done this recently. My first thought was, "I left this behind," especially since we were charged with the task of coming up with measurable indicators and I felt as though we were making up numbers. Well, of course we were - this was an exercise that we did in half an hour. Once we heard all the groups present I realized that it actually does sound better if you have measurable indicators that you can use to judge success ("making more money" isn't the same as "10 percent of next year's rugs will use wool that the artisans dyed themselves." Then I realized that I didn't leave this behind - my objective was to use my skills and experience to help other people and do something non-profit as opposed to corporate. So the knot left my stomach...I can't exactly do business plans and action plans in my sleep, but I do know how to do them. The people with less experience thought it was just common sense. Well, I've always thought that a lot of marketing was common sense, until I realized that not everyone thinks that way (for example, operations or financial people) and that there actually is a call for skills and experience!

Okay, if anyone knows how to rotate pictures, please tell me. If not, it's a good neck stretch...henna designs are big here. The women do their hands and feet; the designs are either geometric or floral. Henna design is an art. The henna lasts for a few days and then fades away, but it stays on your fingernails for a bit longer. The only time the women in my TimHdit family did it was the day before Ramadan, when I was in class, so I haven't had the opportunity yet, but many of the people in the group have come back from their homestays with hennaed hands. It's not the same thing you color your hair with but it is the same thing (if that makes any sense). To apply the designs you use a syringe (but not a needle - enough of that with the vaccinations). I look forward to doing it for cross-cultural experience - and maybe if I get my feet done I won't be able to tell how dusty my feet get!

Tattoos are prevalent here too, among the older Berber women. Forehead, chin or along the jawline. They symbols all have meaning, I think, and also mark you as a member of a specific tribe or region. The younger women don't seem to do it anymore - but maybe they do in more conservative areas (can't generalize quite yet!). The older women have such wise faces. They may not be all that old, either - it's hard to tell anyone's age here. I still haven't done too many "tourist shots" yet and I'm hesitant to photograph people, but some appreciate it, and as I get more comfortable I am sure I will take more pictures.


This is my bed at homestay. To make the beds here (both at the Auberge and at my host family, so perhaps all of Morocco) they put the bottom sheet on the bed as we would, fold the top sheet up and leave it by the pillow, and roll the blanket up and leave it at the foot of the bed. The bottom is my room at the Sheikh's - a big room tucked in the back of the house. Actually, the picture shows just half of it. I think when I'm not there it's for guests and parties. They have a couple of rooms off the living room - one is now the dining/TV room (they changed it from the living room for Ramadan) and the other I have seen them pray in but don't know if they use it for other things.

I feel I might have used Small Business Development in a haiku before. What can I say - it has seven syllables. I thought of that in the middle of the night, so I came up with some more (that I somehow remembered this morning):

Is the night quiet?
Donkeys, roving dogs, roosters
It's anything but

Horn at three a.m.
Fasters will wake up and eat
Then go back to sleep

We had the session on transportation safety today. Morocco is the #1 or #2 country in terms of auto crash fatalities in the world (per capita). A volunteer was killed two years ago in a bus accident. There are lots of rules - preferred modes of transport and some prohibited, no inter-city travel at night (so if you're on the way somewhere and can't make it by nightfall you have to stop and stay in a hotel). There's a holiday called Eid Kebir that occurs two months after Ramadan (it marks the end of the Hajj to Mecca) that's like Christmas in the U.S. - people visit family and there are lots of traffic accidents - so we are prohibited from travelling at all during that time. If we wanted to go on vacation we'd have to leave before and come back afterwards - this year it falls during our site homestay so we're not allowed to leave anyway, but it happens that it's also December 28 to January 8 - so if we wanted to see fellow volunteers in other sites for New Year's we couldn't, and it also means no fellow Americans on my birthday. Next year it's eleven days earlier.

Last night's session on Moroccan music was fun - there is a real mix of styles, instruments, sounds, beats and dances in the various regions. I was a little shy about dancing myself (as I have been for most of my life, with occasional exceptions) but I have a chance to make up for it tonight - there's a Prince dance party on the roof. Apparently Prince is much revered by the younger crowd here...maybe like '60's music is for us? I might be able to dance to 1999 but I can't think of how you could dance to Purple Rain, When Doves Cry or for that matter Little Red Corvette...and that's all I can come up with without thinking about it. The dance party is after dinner, which means close to bedtime, so we'll see how long I last. I told them I'd rather do games night, especially since Scrabble last night turned into Yahtzee, but I may yet dance...I have succeeded in lowering expectations so if I do anything other than sit on the couch on the side people will be happy for me.

One of the artists in the group is also a yoga therapist, so tomorrow she is holding a somatics class (body movement). I found out about last night's class too late; that was on the lower back. Tomorrow's is neck and shoulder - right where I have my stress - so sign me up! Good self-directed learning (last seminar time we had a session on managing stress so it actually would count). I think I'll also do a photography walk and then some reading and some work on my dictionary...and see if I can find someone who wants to play games!

The new Peace Corps Director is coming from Washington, D.C. to Morocco in November. He's going to visit one of the other CBT sites (not TimHdit) - what a great opportunity for the people there! He'll be in the country for four days and then go on to Jordan.

It hasn't rained here at all - a couple of days I thought it would but it never did. I like the rain...it washes the memories away from the sidewalks of life (Woody Allen quote/private joke from high school days). Seriously - I would welcome some rain. That may fall into the category of be careful what you wish for if I end up in a site with a rainy season. So maybe I take it back.

It's almost time for a haircut. There are two people in the group who cut hair (when they said in the Welcome Book that there's usually someone in every group who can cut hair, I found it hard to believe, but maybe it's true). I'm going to see if I can get through the next CBT phase without it driving me crazy, and then get it cut before swearing in at the end of training. Getting it highlighted is going to be another hurdle - I think I can wait until I get to my site, but maybe I will look into what my options are here...

I think I'll do some reading now and let someone else use this computer..and mentally prepare myself to dance...

Friday, October 13, 2006


This is a mosaic that decorates the Azrou mosque. It's really pretty - but nothing compared to what I have seen in pictures in the big cities! I look forward to seeing those! Someday...months from now...

Presentations on
Small Business Development
A ton of info

To start a cooperative you have to write to the ministry of cooperatives as well as to the ministry of artisans and involve your local government - then you have to have a meeting - and bylaws - and pay in and have an accountant and a bank - and have seven people sign the founding document - and wait 90 days - and do lots of other stuff. Culture Shock: Morocco mentioned French-type bureaucracy as a legacy of the colonial period and I thought about that as we heard the presentation today. It is likely that I'll work with a cooperative or help to establish one.

Last week I was talking with one of the Program people (the APCD - have to think about that acronym but basically he's one of the three Americans and just under the Country Director) about who he got compared to and who they asked for - they said that they request people based on skills - not gender, age, or anything else - it's just based on skills. Which I found interesting.

I don't usually pay attention to football until after the World Series but the other Chicagoan in the group mentioned that the Bears are 5-1. Is Chicago going crazy? I also heard it snowed there! It is still short-sleeve weather here - in the mountains...I wonder how the election campaigns are going in IL because I haven't gotten my absentee ballot yet, but also PA and anywhere else that it's important...I read the Times headlines and if I get my own computer I will see if I can get Sunday talk shows on my iPod shuffle...

Played some Boggle last week and may play Scrabble again tonight. We also have a tea time talk about Moroccan music.
I apologize to those who are waiting for e-mails from me. Blogger is a pretty fast web site to use...yahoo considerably slower...hotmail incredibly slow. I'm lucky if I get to a couple of those!

I keep looking for hammam mud when I go out. It's good to have a shopping quest, but it's also something I can use. I bought hammam olive oil soap the other day - moisturizing - but cannot find the mud. I have Calistoga mud and other mud in storage. I hope I can find some at the souk. Today I looked into getting digital prints. I hear they're blurry and of poor quality but I think my family and some of the other people in TimHdit will appreciate getting prints. I didn't get them yet, but I had an actual conversation with the storekeeper, in a combination of Arabic and French - enough to be understood and to understand him! One of the books says to be careful of feeling too good about a conversation like that being your accomplishment of the day - but another says to celebrate those accomplishments...

One more quick note and then I should let someone else have a turn on this computer...I've mentioned self-directed learning day a couple of times. We have no lectures or classes on Sundays but rather than calling it a day off they call it self-directed learning. We can do what we want - read Peace Corps info, go shopping, walk around town to get to know it better, spend the time observing our families - but it must be with purpose and we must accomplish something and write about it later. I've done a little of all of the above. Still thinking about how I can make the most of this coming Sunday. Last week we interviewed the shiekh (my host dad - and then my host mom for the female perspective) about the history of TimHdit. He mentioned remembering lions and gazelles in the area when there was a lot of forest, and lots and lots of snow where now there are only a couple of feet. I'll write more about that conversation. It reminds me of something else though - there are a couple of random people in town who come to my house and another group member's house for l'ftur all the time - Moroccans don't want anyone to eat alone. They aren't from TimHdit but are in town working to sell solar panels to people in remote areas in the region who do not have electricity. The goal is to have everyone in the country either on the electrical grid or on solar by 2007. Very impressive!


This is a tablecloth with traditional embroidery pattern. Note - the tablecloths we use at dinner are plastic. And they clean them with a towel or rag. I (another thing I have in common with my sister) am a BIG paper towel user - I miss paper towels! A friend was telling me this morning that they can be found. He gave me a couple (actually he offered me a roll, which was quite generous). I'm relieved to know that I can find them.

Quick reminder - Morocco does not change its time, so at the end of the month there'll be an hour more of time difference, Now it's four hours to the east coast.

I see the Mets won game one. Scores just aren't enough but they'll have to do.

The current issue of Newsweek (at least the edition we have here - maybe the U.S. edition as well) has an article about Morocco and how European it's getting. People are buying condos on the coast, free trade with Europe and with America is on the way - it will be the most any non - EU nation has. They are establishing call centers in French similar to the ones in India for English. A very interesting article - but I must say that there's no evidence of it in TimHdit - or not much in Azrou, though there are tourists here who are hiking the Atlas. My sister told me that the current issue of the New Yorker has an article about Morocco too, and the king.

We have rabies 3 and hep 2 today...that might be the last of the shots.

update - it was polio and hep B 2 - the polio packed a punch (big needle - lots of vaccine) - and there are three more to go (one is in six months).

This afternoon we have understanding cooperatives and how to start a cooperative or association. Tomorrow there's transportation safety and security , how to create an SBD project, and how to create an action plan. Sunday is delf-directed learning day and I haven't figured out how I will spend it yet. Monday we get our assignments for the next CBT phase and a lecture on organizational management (managing the cooperative as a group and managing the cooperative as a small business) and teamwork, leadership and conflect resolution. In between there are some language and cross-culture time sots, but most of the language is done at the CBT site, 3-4 hours a day. We also had a session this morning on nutrition and dental health. We're lucky in Morocco - there are many fruits and vegetables available - though I am not sure I am going to be able to go to a butcher and get a freshly-killed chicken (you can get them plucked or unplucked) or a cut of meat right off the carcass. I may save my chicken dinners for when I am invited to people's houses and avoid red meat entirely (more on that later - there's a holiday where you kill a sheep and eat it until you're done with it). We got a Peace Corps cookbook today - recipes from volunteers that use locally-available ingredients. It looks really good! Yet another book I don't have room for but will be happy that I have!

Thursday, October 12, 2006


This is a picture of shebekia, the ubiquitous sweet that's available every night at L'ftur, the Ramadan break-fast. More on Ramadan is coming in longhand, but I thought I'd post this picture now. Especially since my friend just told me that I look like a madwoman in my last post!

I received four letters today. Thanks again, support team! They're from unexpected places, too - and there was a Newsweek there for us too. Old news, but news nonetheless. I've been reading Peace Corps reading still.

It was interesting hearing everyone's presentations today - our artisan groups have similar issues (for example, selling things for less than they cost to make) but are at different stages in terms of their organizations and their business skills. Everyone is a pretty good presenter, too - considering that we're from many different backgrounds, that's impressive. I keep meaning to write about the other people, but I also want to respect their privacy, so I'm still thinking about how to do that.

We found out that someone in the stage before us is ETing this weekend - early termination. The stage that's about to leave just as we got started has right people left from 20-something that started - people left for medical reasons, frustration or administrative separation - i.e. they were sent home, for rules violations. That was pretty sobering to us when we heard about it though. The stage before us (people about halfway through) has had just a few people leave, for medical reasons. The woman who is leaving this weekend is someone I had heard about but not met - she's 67 and was a Peace Corps poster child, someone they used in publicity. She never learned the language but integrated well into her community - her artisans were crying when they heard she was leaving. Her site is one of the CBT sites, too.

OK - a little Newsweek and a check of scores and maybe more later...or else tomorrow, imshallah...


We're back at the seminar site after CBT phase II. It's hard to believe we landed in Rabat a month ago today! Normally the first weekend of the playoffs is one of my favorites of the year - with a potential for eight baseball games, I pull out the accumulated holiday presents and start wrapping and identify gaps. That helps me justify staying inside all weekend and watching baseball! This year I wrapped holiday presents over the summer and sent them out...and I spent the weekend in language class and working on a questionnaire to use with the artisans...and interviewing my host family about the history of TimHdit. I did call and text my sister so I know who made it through to the AL and NLCS, and I have been providing my group with updates (whether they want it or not).

My sister told me that she read my toy haiku to my niece and she immediately went to get some toys for the kids. That's so sweet - I wish I could give her a hug! That doesn't mean everyone should send toys - it's not capacity-building or sustainable - but it's right from my niece's heart and my heart goes out to her for caring about the children of TimHdit.
It was a good trip - six days instead of nine was good, I think. We're here until Tuesday and then we go back for ten days. Then we come back here and find out where our sites are. I wrote more about CBT phase I in longhand...so more on that when it gets typed in. For CBT phase II we did SWOT (which was actually pretty interesting, watching the women think about their organization) and then each picked a different topic to ask about. We wrote questionnaires which our LCF then translated into Moroccan Arabic, and read them to the artisans. Much to our surprise and pleasure, the artisans could understand us (somehow it felt different than the halting conversations we have with our host families - I'll write more about the language later). We met to analyze our results and then shared them with the artisans. I focused on the organization of the cooperative, since it is just getting started. The women are really motivated and talented and work well together - they're off to a good start! This afternoon we are presenting our findings to the rest of the group; I'm sitting with my group now to discuss our presentation. So...more later.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


We had our first election today and I won. There are four committees here - Gender and Development, AIDS, an acronym I don't remember that is basically like student government, and then not really a committee but Volunteer Support Network. If you're on one you can't be on any others. Today's presentation was on Gender and Development. Development philosophy used to focus on men - then they realized that they had to get women involved so the initiative was called Women in Development (when I interviewed with CARE this year I was enlightened as to the importance of women - if you give men money they buy cigarettes or things for themselves and if you give women money they buy things to improve their businesses or their families). Now it is Gender and Development...taking into consideration men, women, girls and boys. The GAD committee (more acronyms!) consists of one person from each sector and stage (I've been saying class but they use the term stage here). It meets three times a year (or four) in Rabat and then is a resource for camps, workshops and activities - so it'll be a way to be in touch with everyone else in my group. I decided to throw my hat in the ring and I won! I feel a little bit like Sally Field (gee, people like me!) but it could also be that I've built up some credibility as well (I mentioned that I have two young nieces and want them to have opportunity and want people here to as well and that I want to be in touch with everyone...neglected to mention any corporate or organizational experience that I might have...). In a way I wish they held all the elections at the same time - I might have liked being on a couple of the other committees as well or instead, but I decided to jump right in on this one, and I think that raising my hand to nominate myself right away might have precluded others from nominating themselves. So - that's my big news for the day! I'm really happy to be on this committee. It's an important issue - I'll talk more about gender roles here at some point. I also feel that if I have an unsatisfying project for whatever reason, I will have something satisfying in this.

I tried adding pictures again - this time from an apple, so I understand what I did. I see what looks like picture html but not a picture, but I am hoping that's just a matter of turning it off and turning it on again and that I'll see them tomorrow. I hope YOU can see them!
New haiku:

A stick can be as
precious as a big dollhouse
if it's your sole toy

We call it Big D
Watery, puddingly, plop
Gotta go again

There's an ode to srisra (Arabic name much nicer, no?) being created and that's my contribution to it.
Reminder - tomorrow we leave for CBT again, this time for six days. We'll do SWOT and come up with individual projects to work on. I won't have internet access but I'm bringing all of my mail to answer.

Yesterday we had a presentation on the Moroccan economy. I found this very interesting and realized that I am really captivated with the strategic thinking and the policy at the macro level. Here it's all micro level. Well, I kind of knew that with Princeton club stuff - my comfort level involved raising money and mentoring a person who worked in community service as opposed to mentoring a high school student and actually doing community service. So am I in the wrong place? No - this is my chance to experience the grass roots and build experience and credibility and then maybe in two years I can build on that and on my past to get to a more strategic level.

We have a tea time talk in a short while...I'm going to check the Yankees-Tigers score and quickly check e-mail and if I have a chance I'll come back, but if not, I'll be back next week!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


More quick notes tonight - it's late. But I had a bit more at the 10:00 dinner than I have had before (off BRATT and easing back into more complex foods) so I want to digest a bit...

Yesterday was my first in-country use of the Keeper (since we have no secrets from each other here in terms of digestive function...turns out other things aren't secret either, especially since it exempts you from fasting (or "fasting")). Only a few of us heeded the advice of the welcome book and bought it - a few women were interested in seeing it - so I gave a show-and-tell, and every time I was through, someone else would come by and want to see it. Turns out that availability isn't the issue as much as disposal...I'll leave it at that other than to say it's going well.

A new skill to add to the board? We were going through money. There are three systems here - dirhams, ryals, francs. The currency is dirhams - easiest to use. The other two are old systems but you'll hear prices quoted in them so they taught us all three. Ryals is the one used most by Moroccans, so if we use Moroccan Arabic we might get prices quoted in ryals. It's 1/20 of a dirham. So the LCF threw out a number and had us convert it, and I would say the answer while everyone else was still calculating in their head. So I asked if "Can divide by 20 quickly" is a skill worthy of putting on the list...

I have spent the past two times "off campus" in search of one of those ugly plaid plastic bags. I decided I must put all my Peace Corps books and the medical kit in a separate bag - there just isn't room for them in the suitcases, even when expanded - I can't get to things. Last night it was a fruitless search - with a pack of us, we kept stopping for other things, and I wanted to get back for the tea time talk on the evil eye, while the others were not in a rush - plus I didn't realize I was exhausted, maybe from the rabies 3 shot and tetanus booster. Anyway, this afternoon, a friend and I set out - in the light of day, with a mission. We went to an area of town we hadn't been to yet and we really enjoyed it - narrow alleys, nice buildings, gates, slice of life - and want to go back for a photography tour. No time for photos today - mission! I got the last one in the non-humongo size - back where I knew it would be but didn't get to last night - and also got a little notebook to keep a diary in darija (Moroccan Arabic - homework assignment) and an even littler notebook for putting all my vocabulary in alphabetical order - my own little dictionary. Back out at night, I got a cell phone! It'll be more for contacting Peace Corps staff and fellow trainees/volunteers, but if anyone wants the number so you can call me at no cost to me and all to you, let me know! Hooray for the ugly plaid bag!

More mail today - four pieces! Including bag from PK, some TMQs and a an aerogram (wish I could find some of those here...haven't looked hard enough yet). I have gotten more mail than anyone - not counting what I sent to myself, Thank you, support team!

Two more quick notes, a check of the Mets score and then bed so I can be fresh for language tomorrow...one, we saw some Barbary Apes on our way back to Azrou! Sure enough, they're in the forest just above the town! And two, the blanket on my bed at my host family has a big tiger on it! Coincidence? OF course not!

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