Wednesday, November 29, 2006


On November 18m I predicted a whirlwind week ahead. It was that, but Sunday, the 19th was a bit of calm before the storm. While still a full day, it was also relaxing and fun and maybe my favorite single day yet. My friend Orianna had offered to help bring my luggage up the hill to my host family; everyone going far had to pack for shipping via CTM bus. I hadn't seen the family since site visit but this was one time to take advantage of the fact that my final site and the seminar site were the same. I was actually hoping for a ride, and just as we were about to roll everything, Aziz, the owner of the Auberge, appeared and gave us a ride! We then had coffee with my host mother and she invited Orianna to come to visit anytime (she has mentioned that before - I think any friend is welcome as long as she is a female friend).

We then went to the Artisana, where Orianna wanted to buy some rugs that she had had her eye on for a while. They are indeed nice - different shades of green with a diamond pattern, woven by the cooperative in the Artisana (and I now know why Lee didn't work with them much - they do well on their own and don't need small business development!). Orianna is a bargainer and they gave her a good price - because of me, they said, knowing I was the new volunteer. So keep that in mind when you visit! We had to go to the bank to get cash out for the rugs and the bank was right near Lee's - so as we started walking over there I started texting him to see if he was home and by the time I did both we were right outside and he stuck his head out of the window because he heard us (he said that dropping by was a good thing to do to get into the Moroccan spirit since people here do it all the time). We went up to his roof (SUCH a nice roof) and talked and had some clementines. Then I took them both to lunch - to his favorite soup place. They have just one kind of soup, all day long, called pisara (sp?). As far as I can tell, it's made from fava beans. And it cost four and a half dirhams - I had planned to take them both to lunch, and I got away with spending less than half of what my pizza cost the week before! The pisara place is right around the corner from the rock carver, and it is also across from a beautiful carpet shop (another place I would take visitors) set in the old caid's house. You go through a narrow hallway to get to a big room, decorated with beautiful carpets and Moroccan antiques. Lee had promised himself that he wasn't going to wait until his last week in Morocco to get his souvenirs to bring home, and here it was his last week, and he wanted to buy about eight rugs. We went into the shop and had tea with Abdu, the son of the owner. Lee found us each capes to wearm and Abdu lent Orianna and me scarves to wear too while we were having tea. Being in the shop was like being in another world, far away from the Auberge and even from the medina right outside. I had thought we'd drop off the luggage, get the rugs and go back to study, but we were just having such a nice time! With Abdu, we went to the back room and went through piles of rugs, sorting them into yes, no and maybe. And then he took the yes/maybe piles and brought them into the big room, under the light of the skylight, until we narrowed down the choices to eight (or eight plus one for Lee himself). What a treat that was! We parted ways, and as Orianna and I were on the way back we saw Abdu in the shop next door, eating something out of a glass. We asked what it was and he gave us a bite and we had to have some for ourselves. It's called rayb and it's fresh yogurt with the consistency of custard. Yum! I'll have that again (while I'm on that subject I should mention something else I will have again, perhaps daily - had some on the way here to the cyber, in fact - fresh potato chips, from a stand by the mosque that is there most days but not every day, unfortunately!).

We then went back to the Auberge, ostensibly to study for the LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) the next day. I reviewed all of my notes but I also felt that I wasn't going to know much more than I already knew. I had a practice interview with Mina, the LCF, and felt discouraged. The fact is, there were days when I couldn't put more in my head that was there and there were days when I wanted to play cards or write in thg blog. So could I have studied and practiced more, yes, but I didn't want to at the expense of doing other things. As I write this, I hear the echo of my father's voice freshman year. He told me that if I got all A's he'd be disappointed because that meant I was studying too hard and not taking advantage of the extracurriculars and other things. I needed to remind myself of that when I felt discouraged that Sunday, but it turned out there wasn't that much time to be discouraged anyway, since there was a wedding that night! Note, that also meant there wasn't time for too much more studying either!

The mock wedding was kind of a farewell to the Auberge. Two couples volunteered to be the brides and grooms, one in modern Arab gard and one in traditional Berber garb. There was a band from Azrou with drums and six-foot-long horns and finger cymbals and a big tambourine. The band came down the stairs first, followed by the "wedding party," followed by those of us who hadn't gotten downstairs yet, and we all assembled in the big salon, the couples in the front of the room under traditional capes. There was a big cone of sugar in front of each couple (for fertility and a sweet life) and each couple exchanged milk, honey and dates (all for a sweet life). They then went around the room, offering sweets to all the guests, and then there was a lot of dancing. It was hard to be discouraged when the music was so lively and the dancing so much fun (even though, I will admit, I didn't do much - Halloween was my dancing pinnacle of training....I enjoyed watching from the sidelines, talking with the other sideline occupants, and visiting Jong, my TimHdit colleague who skipped the dancing to print out our brochures). I don't know if I will attend any weddings while I am here, but they often are multi-day affairs. In some, the men and women dance separately but ours was everyone dancing all together. There were too lines and one repeated what the other one did - or went down while the other line went up - or danced around in a big circle - or individuals paraded between the two lines - and at some point some of the trainees and the Training Director took over on the instruments...The day began with the joy of spending time with a couple of people I really like and ended with the joy of attending a party with a whole bunch of people I really like!


Moving forward from swearing-in (and then I'll move back...) - by the way I have now learned how to change to an English keyboard at a cyber, which makes things much easier. It would be even easier had I ever learned to touch-type, but I semi-touch-type, and I'm familiar enough with the QWERTY keyboard to know where things are. Which leads me to digress to today - I went to the police station to apply for my carte de sejour. Somehow I knew that I wouldn't have everything in order and would have to come back. In my case, I need the moaqddem of my neighborhood to confirm my residence with the host family and to certify the copies of my passport. But while I was waiting I heard a sound from the past - the sound of typewriter keys - a comforting sound. And then I looked down and saw a piece of carbon paper. Until then I had been focused on the Hello Kitty wall clock permanently stopped at 5:50. The people at the police station were very nice - it seemed less frantic than it had been when I was here for site visit.

Anyway...after the swearing-in I thought I would nap but then found what turned out to be a long card game. Then with a few people went for a long walk. Immouzzer du Kandar, the final seminar site, is beautiful. There are tree-lined streets (trees make a big difference!) and we walked though the old medina to yet another tree-lined street at the top of a ridge. There were some old ruins there - maybe a stadium, maybe a jail, maybe a fort - and a vista that kind of looked like Tuscany, and some interesting houses - a combination of Germany and Pennsylvania, maybe. Some people then went off to the bar (and some were already there). Because we weren't all together - there was a late curfew - and because some people may have had a few too many, there wasn't the tearful goodbye that there might have been. The plumbing in our bungalow was suffering under the strain of many Americans, so it was not that hard to leave the next day. I think I experienced my separation sadness when we had site visit. Saturday we said goodbye and that we hope to visit each other - but the reality is that the next time we will be together is in six months for In-Service Training, and by then, statistically, some of us will have gone home.

Anyway - went to my host family and hung out with them for a while; I really like them and feel quite at home. Then I went to Motasim's, where some of his friends were, and we just hung out on the roof. He did have some work information for me - there's a conference at the English-speaking university in Ifrane this week and they wanted to ahve some artisan products for sale on Friday afternoon - but other than that I think it was a typical Moroccan weekend afternoon, hanging out. After a while I realized that I had no energy and I went to a cyber briefly and then went home to read a bit - and went to bed at 7 pm (and the only reason I stayed up that late was that my family had gone out for the day and I waited for them to come home).
Sunday I was refreshed and my usual peppy self. I thought Motasim might text me to go for a hike, but he did not, and it was just as well - I had a chance to organize my stuff and all the papers from the final week and to write some letters and to just hang with the family in the one warm room (the one with the wood stove). And I went with my host mother, sister and little brother to the hammam - we were there a little long for my tastes, but so be it.

Sunday night, Lee had a farewell party. Andy and Victoria, two other COSing (close-of-service) volunteers who had led some of our sessions during training, were there along with their counterparts, who had come along to say goodbye. Also there was Katie, back from her Thanksgiving vacation (with my new laptop!). And most of Motasim's Moroccan friends who I had met over the course of site visit and the last week in Azrou were there. I felt very comfortable this time - as discussed in previous posts, I don't have to inherit all of his friends, but there was such good will in the room that I just might!
The counterpart from Imilchil was henna-ing everyone's feet, and someone else was henna-ing everyone's hands (Andy described this as a "girl party" because that's usually where it's done) - I had my feet done but kept my hands free for photography - it takes a while to dry! I had brought some cookies. Some tea appeared later; the round of women left and there was a second round of men, including some of the artisans. Then it was just the Americans and the counterparts from the south (interestingly, Lee's counterpart - mine - was not at the party) and somehow it was 2:00 am. At Lee's suggestion, I had brought my sleeping bag (which I had been on the fence about packing - so now I'm glad I did) - it was weird telling my family I wasn't coming home, but then I remembered that I have lived on my own for most of the past 25+ years. We got a few hours' sleep and then it was time for the COSers to catch the 6:00 bus to Rabat. As the bus started to leave, Victoria's counterpart from Imichil started to sob. Katie and I gave her big hugs and then I started welling-up too. Here I am just starting and I had a peek into what it is like to be finishing - saying goodbye (the artisans brought presents for Lee - at the same time he was giving away things that he wasn't bringing back) to people with whom you have become very close. Should I be here for the full two years, imshallah, I hope to invite my replacement to my last night here....I should add that Lee also polished my shoes, which I thought had been ruined by TimHdit, and they look much better. I appropriated some of his maps and accepted a sweater, towel and some miscellaneous things, but it didn't occur to me to take the shoe polish or polisher!

Much, much more coming! Pix too. In the meantime, I'll remind you to read the comment section. Just click on the link below each message. I added some comments yesterday to respond to some of yours, including a discussion of the candy here in Morocco!

Monday, November 27, 2006


I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! As predicted, it was a whirlwind, and there's lots to write about. I'll start with swearing-in and move forward and backward, eventually, inshallah.

Swearing-in was Friday morning. We dressed in the finest that we had brought with us and took buses to the Hotel Merinides in Fes. Fes is a big city that I look forward to going back to, perhaps as soon as this weekend (massage and highlighting...not to mention the medina is a UNESCO World Heritage site - shopping - restaurants - etc.). The families were waiting for us on the terrace overlooking the swimming pool and the vista of the city. Except that there was nobody there from TimHdit! I had a chance to meet some other people - someone from USAID and his wife, who works for the embassy. We then went upstairs into a cozy meeting room, podium at the front, YD on one side, SBD on the other side, staff-families-guests in the audience. The Country Director welcomed everyone and gave an inspiring speech; I've asked for a copy of it so I can refer to it as I go through the inevitable ups and downs. The Wali (sp?) of Fes then welcomed us and reminded us of how much the Peace Corps menas to the country of Morocco. Then the ambassador spoke - and he was great. He had a sly smile as he mentioned that this was his favorite moment, because the Country Director never knew what he was going to do. In the past he has googled people, found facts about their home of record or done other things, some successfully and some not. He had us all stand and announced that he has written The Night Before Swear-in, with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore. As he mentioned everyone either by first name, last name or city of record, we were supposed to sit, and if it worked we would all be sitting down by the end. It was neat hearing everyone's name and watching them sit. I must get a copy! The top Tamazight speaker from SBD spoke, and one of the top Darija speakers from YD spoke. And then we stood, raised our right hands and the Ambassador swore us in! The oath itself is somewhat dated, but the ceremony of becoming a PCV was moving. I felt like moving my tassel or throwing my mortarboard!

Afterwards, we moved to the Grand Ballroom to shake hands with the VIPs, hear music performed by a band wearing fezzes (finally!) and have hot and cold hors d'oervres. Among the guests (so it was okay that my TimHdit family wasn't there) were Tara, the SBD volunteer in Azrou who was here in 2003 and was evacuated, and her fiancee John, an environment volunteer who was in Azrou at the same time. They were so nice and it was so nice to talk to them!

The reception was over all too quickly and then we went back to our final seminar site for an afternoon and evening of, depending on the person, quiet reflection and a walk around the town, cards, napping (someone in the room's alarm went off at 5:00 am for no reason), packing, or over-the-top revelry. I'll leave it to you to figure out which of the above I did. Nah, I'll tell you - all but the napping and the napping and the revelry.

Pictured: Rose (aka Sultan), the ambassador, the Wali of Fes and the Country Director. I have a picture of me with the Peace Corps flag but was afraid that might be unauthorized use of logo!
Must find a photocopie place now. Much more to come.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


This next week will be a busy one...swearing-in is on Friday. Then we move from being PCTs to PCVs. I looked at the language of what we swear; part of it involves defending the constitution of the U.S. Is that what the Peace Corps should be swearing? I will do that if called upon to do so (after all, I'm swearing) but the language seems odd. On Saturday we go to our sites. Next weekend will be Lee's last in Azrou, so I want to spend as much time with him as I can. Then next Monday the two-year assignment begins! I'll meet with my counterpart, make the rounds of artisans I've been introduced to, find a tutor and start the paperwork process of getting my working papers, but I also want to spend some time every day at a cyber, catching up on all of the e-mails and news I've missed. So if I don't get too many chances to write between now and then, I hope to catch up then!

And by then I will have my own computer! I know I have mentioned more than once that I wish I had my own. It will be very helpful for work - essential, really - and I still think the welcome book did not do a good job of emphasizing that. The TimHdit PCV is on her way home for Thanksgiving. At our sleepover last week, my friend suggested that Katie bring a computer back for me. I don't know if this would have occurred to me on my own - even though I did read in the welcome book that whenever volunteers go home to the states they are often asked to carry things (such as letters to mail) in one direction or the other. Anyway, Sultan suggested it and Katie said yes and my sister pitched in and my friends in VA have already bought it and shipped it to Katie's grandfather! I am so happy - this will go a long way towards peace of mind. I'll still use the cyber for e-mail, because it will give me alone time away from the host family (I loved the fact that they had DSL but realized that while I was on the computer at their house I was denying myself time to read or write...I don't feel I can spend all of my time there in my room...but if I'm out at a cyber for a while that's just part of being out, working or whatever I'm doing out). When I get to my own place I will look into having DSL installed.

And on the subject of mail...I got a whole bunch yesterday! Things had piled up when I was in TimHdit. When the mail arrived we were like kids at Christmas - rushing to open things and read and share comments with each other. I realized something about my priorities. Mail is more important than cake. I open everything from my sister first, then the letters, then the big envelopes. But if someone wants to play cards I am willing to put the letters down - after all, we have a maximum of one more week to play cards together (I finally had that Scrabble game today that I thought I would have when I signed off a couple of weeks ago,,,and the crochet lesson yesterday...and the somatics is tomorrow. That night I think I ended up just talking).

I had my hair trimmed today by one of the people who cut hair. It was getting a little unmanageable, and the haircut lifted my spirits. And my spirits were a bit down. Thursday night and last night I met some more friends of Lee's. They're nice, but I don't know if they will be my friends. is it the language barrier? Is it that at the moment it's just so much easier to be with the Americans, playing rummy and Scrabble and stuff? Cultture? Did we not click? Too soon to tell - but all of a sudden I started wondering if these past few months of training would be the highlight of the entire time. I don't think so, but it was something to think about. Ii love my host family and could see a friendship developing there, but will I make friends? Do I have to? I can make business friendships and have my fellow PCV friends when I see them and then be in touch with my friends at home - isn't that enough? It might be.

I also had down spirits because of the TimHdit bags that we ordered. I think we spent too much time talking about them last week when we should have been talking about the brochure with the artisans or working on it on our own or working on language. Well, it turns out they had to really rush to get the bags to us and two of them are nice and two of them are very disappointing. The two of us who are close by took the two disappointing ones and we will see what we can do. Return them? Exchange them for beautifull pillows that cost about the same? Keep them and chalk it up to a lesson learned for the artisans and for us? In the overall scheme of things they need the money more than we do, and they did work hard to get them to us, but last night I felt - well, someone suggested "betrayed" and maybe that's a good word for it. I really think they should be ashamed of themselves for thinking this was good enough. Oh well.

Another reasdon my spirits were down (good thing I had that haircut and feel like a new woman) is that we had a presentation yesterday from the ministry. It was very interesting - talking about their strategic plan and how we as volunteers can fit into it. It was also interestine because it was in French, with the training coordinator translating. I found that I understood a lot of the French - maybe that Rosetta Stone did some good after all. But also, the business language of French has a lot in common with English - things like organization and administration. But there was the fleeting thought that I understood a lot more of it than I would have if it were in darija, the language I've been studying since I got here. And the fleeting thought that - dare I say it? - in a way I would rather be learning French. Good thing that thought was fleeting, because our LPI (Language Proficiency Test) is on Monday.

We learned a lot of new vocabulary last week in CBT. When we were doing verbs and conjugations, it seemed as though we were slogging through it at times, not moving very fast. Last week was like a lightning round of new words. Clothing and colors. Words for renting and furnishing an apartment. Body parts and medical needs. Adjectives and conjuntions. There were fun games - a fashion show for the clothes ans colors, in which we each strutted while the rest of the group described what we were wearing, "Ali gal likum," the Moroccan version of Simon says, landlord-tenant role play, drawing a space alien with multiple body parts in strange locations. Also (at my request) some language for describing in simple terms what we are doing here - when I did a role play last time at seminar site and was a PCV, I realized that it was tough to explain to the trainees who were playing the roles of artisans what I was doing here - in English!! So I knew I needed it in darija. I haven't exactly been stressing about the test, but I do plan to spend a good portion of self-directed day studying and speaking.
More to say (always) but it's time to get ready for dinner. More if I can before swearing-in...but if not, more after that. Just in case, I'll wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. We do get a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner here, which I am happy about, since it is one of my favorite meals of the year. I've offered to help cook the stuffing.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Back in Azrou after CBT Phase IV - the end of CBT. It was nice to be back in TimHdit, and even though it is close by and my chances of visiting are good, it is the end of our time there as trainees, and it was sad to day goodbye.

After site visit, knowing the end is near, there's a natural tendency not to put a lot of energy into Phase IV, but I think we worked pretty hard to leave behind something tangible for the artisans and the current volunteer. We had designed the brochure to show them, and they liked it. One comment they had was that they did not want to show their faces. We also decided to do some new photography, since the pictures that were in the brochure were just pictures, not brochure-quality photography, and we also wanted to start a visual archive of their products for them. We spent most of our self-directed day doing the photography and redoing the layout; even though these were individual action plans we worked as a team. We presented the revisions and also gave them some things to think about in terms of sustainability, production and distribution. When they get the new building they can add a picture of it and add copy inviting people to visit. Where are they going to put the brochures - hotels, cafes, the artisana in Azrou, craft fairs? They have done some thinking about this. When they want to make more are they going to be able to travel to do it or do they need a man to go? They said that they want no help from men, they want to do everything for themselves, and they are not afraid to travel to another city to do so (note - in more conservative parts of Morocco this would be an issue). All in all, they were happy with what we gave them and we were happy to have worked with them and are rooting for them. With the business concluded, we had a little thank-you party, with tea and cookies and a little dancing.

We also had a nice time with our host families. When I said that it was getting cold in previous posts, I didn't know what cold was. This time it was cold, colder-inside-than-out cold. My host family had moved its refrigerator into another room, moved a wood stove and some couches into the kitchen, and basically will be spending the winter in that one room, huddled around the wood stove. It was quite cozy. My friend Sultan's host family doesn't have a wood stove at home, and her host mom is my host mom's daughter (Si-Mohammed's mother), and every day her family came over to my family's house. I have never before been a person who liked to study with other people, but I liked studying with Sultan. We quizzed each other on language and found good ways to remember some of the vocabulary. And then other family members got involved in correcting us, which was fun. We had dinners of rice (or other small pasta) with milk every day - nice on a cold night. My bedroom was cold, but it was nice under the blankets. Still, maybe I can now see why the volunteer before Lee left early because she didn't like the cold. We had a party for all the families too, which was a lot of fun. And on the way back to Azrou, we stopped to see some Barbary Apes by the roadside! (photo courtesy of Jong)
More later.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


This has been a whirlwind few days at seminar site; tomorrow we got back to TimHdit for CBT phase four. I walked back here mid-morning Monday and did my laundry. Slowly but surely people filtered back and told their stories. The desert is extremely hot but beautiful. Friendly people and lots of flies. The high Atlas mountains have snow-capped peaks and the road through them is twisty and turny. The people over by the Algerian border identify themselves more with their city than with Morocco. Group members had different host family experiences -one woman's host mom would not let her out of the house alone, one felt threatened by her host father, one was put in a shed with the artisans and their silicon dust, one killed a snake, one saw a scorpion. The one who killed a snake also had to walk three extra hours because the bridge to his town was washed out by a flood. And we heard varying stories of the potential work situations - meetings with all sorts of artisans and all personalities of counterparts - and stories of varying degrees of success meeting with the government officials. There were some people who came back disappointed but we were told before we left not to judge the next two years by the site visit. There still may be adjustment to do, but everyone seems prepared to make the most of it, at least at this point.

On Tuesday it rained all day and got cold - mind you, my laundry was still on the line. It had been beautiful all last week but cooled off just in time for everyone to come back! We had an unscheduled language session in which we spent most of the time talking in darija about our sites as opposed to learning new vocabulary. Then the big group got together in a circle (almost everything else has been classroom style) and filled out site-visit questionnaires - both factual information and reflection. Then we went around the room and talked about our sites - both viisually and talking about the artisans there, so we can see if there are opportunities for collaboration at some point. It was interesting hearing the stories in public vs. in private the day before - everyone put a positive spin on their prospects and everyone made their sites sound very interesting.

We then had flu shots and medical consultation. I'm all better with the antibiotics, but I have a lingering dry throat, cough and runny nose (my nose runs at meals, when my hand is touching food, and it's hard to wipe my nose, so it's awkward). the doctor said it's just a matter of getting used to the climate, not allergies. I also asked for a dental cleaning, since I have been going every four months for years. And for a place to buy a good mattress, now that I know my site. And if he knows of a place for a massage - I need one (I also need highlighting but I didn't ask him if he knew a good place for that).

Yesterday we spent a lot of time working on the brochure for the TimHdit weavers. It looks great. We have an English version and a French/Arabic version. I don't think I can attach it here, but if you're interested I can e-mail it as an attachment! We still have finishing touches to put on it tonight, but we also have to pack, I have a potential Scrabble appointment, I want to learn lower body from the somatics teacher, and I want a crochet refresher from one of the people here (I got the knitting refresher on Tuesday night).

Yesterday we had a session on administrative issues (how we get paid, rent money, tutoring money and other things like that, vacation days and other policies/procedures). At the end of some of the sessions there have been quizzes with candy as prizes. Well, at the end of this session there was bzef (a lot of) candy being thrown (by someone who understands that EVERYONE should get candy, not just the winners - kind of like a five-year-old's birthday party). I had some M&Ms and some mini-Reese's. Didn't realize quite how much I missed Reese's. We also had health sessions yesterday and today - unwanted attention/harassment, alcohol awareness and abuse, STD and HIV. All very important - easy to say it can't happen to me but with loneliness, culture shock, need to fit in, need to feel loved, whatever, many volunteers do succumb, let their guard down, etc. I still don't think it can happen to me - if all my years in the alcoholic beverage industry didn't get me interested in drinking I am not going to start now, and as for the other, I'm not planning on getting involved but if I do I promise to be careful. They showed a video featuring former PCVs who got HIV in-service and who were willing to share their stories; it was very moving. Then most of today there was an all-day workshop given by the AIDS committee, on how to give AIDS trainings in our sites; hopefully we'll all get involved in that. The incidence of HIV/AIDS is very low here, but of course it was low once in countries where it is now an epidemic, so the focus is on prevention. There are many cultural taboos on discussing it here, so we had strategies on how to bring it up and discuss it. I was in a couple of skits - once I was a man who didn't want to be educated and once I was a Berber woman who was embarrassed to talk about it. We had a scarf-trying tea talk last night, just in time for my costume. We also elected a representative to the committee. When we had the Gender and Development election nobody was prepared for it - this time people were, so it was a lot less awkward. The woman who won is the farthest from Rabat, in the southeast part of the country (about a block away from Algeria) so I am happy that she will get to travel. And they just found out today that they are getting funding from Bill and Melinda Gates's Global Fund (the GAD committee has no funding so we will have to be creative, I found out after I joined it).

So - on to packing or the brochure or Scrabble or somatics or crocheting and then TimHdit - back next Friday. I saw that I have a lot of e-mail too, and if there's time tonight I will answer some, but more likely it will be after I return...and I might not get to it right away then either, but I will get to it.

Monday, November 06, 2006


(Debbie - Posting for Sharon - originally written October 18)

I wonder where Arabic falls in the worldwide ranking of how easy a language is to learn (is there a worldwide ranking? I'd like to see that!) It should be noted that we're not learning Classical Arabic (which basically hasn't changed since the Koran in 622 - and is still used for script and all writing across the Arab world) but are learning Darija, the form spoken here in Morocco. That's what we need for survival and communication.

The easy part about learning the language is that the sounds don't change - the d is always "dih" and a "a as in that," for example. What makes it tough is that most words don't have vowels - so you have something like "lbs" (to wear) or "wqf" (to stop, stand up). In addition, there are several sounds not found in English. They include:
- a d, s and t each with a dot under it - emphatic d, s and t - lower pitch and greater tension in tongue and throat than regular d, s and t (which also exist).
- q - like a "k" (which also exists) but further back in the throat.
- x - like "ch" in Bach - all those years of trying to practice my father's original name are paying off.
- g with a dot over it - like the French "r" - again, this one isn't as much of a problem for me as it is for some people, but it's not easy.
- H - aspirated "h" - more of a whisper - I find it tough to make a distinction between H and h but am getting better.
- E (looks like a curvy sigma from Sharon's writing) - the toughest for me. Kind of like - "a-a" with "a as in fat" but it comes from deep in the throat. I kept wanting to say "e" when I saw "E" but at least I'm getting better at that.
- r is not normal English r, but more Spanish "rrrr"
- there's also a separate sound for "sh," an s with a small u over it (similar to the symbol used to denote a short vowel in English dictionaries)

Another thing that makes Darija tough is that for the most part, the language has nothing to do with languages I've learned before. There are a few words borrowed from French or English (such as "telefon") but everything else requires completely new learning.

More good news - there's no "o" or "long i" sound - the only vowel sounds are "a," "u," and "i" which is "ee." They can be short or long but are basically the same sound. Vowels can be combined.

We're in the throes of verbs now - I'd forgotten how many tenses there are! We did past - there are regular and irregular verbs and I have down most of the ones I'll use most often (imshallah). Now we're doing present, and there are a lot of exceptions that we just have to memorize ("a" becoming "i" or "u" or staying "a" for example) but the conjugation (I, you male, you female, he, she, we, you plural, they) stays the same. And exceptions in the present become exceptions in the future and the imperative is a shorter form of the present - so while it's a lot of words and rules at the moment, it's actually not completely overwhelming.

Sentence structure is pretty standard too. It's time expression - subject - verb - object - and adjectives, adverbs and possessives come after nouns. To negate something, you add ma - at the beginning and sh (the s with the u on top) at the end - so "fhmt," I understood, would become "mafhmts" (the s with the u on top), I didn't understand. (I say both of those quite a bit - one more than the other). Nouns can be masculne or feminine.

We do language 3-4 hours a day at CBT and less at the seminar site. We also spend time on our own - for homework my group writes in a diary every day, and I started my own little dictionary. Mina, our LCF, has a lot of games to help reinforce the lessons. Examples - "I went to the store and I bought" - where you have to remember what everyone before you said and add yours, or "the wind blows for" - which is a musical-chairs kind of game where everyone has a list, you say a word and whoever has that word on their list has to move to a new place, but someone ends up with no seat and has to say the next word, or "Ali says," which is like Simon Says.

We're really learning Survival Arabic so that we can somewhat get out on our own. The Peace Corps will pay for additional tutoring for a year. Some of the topics we've covered so far:
- greetings/describing ourselves
- possessives/pronouns/prepositions
- numbers/telling time/directions
- shopping at the hanut and for fruits and vegetables
- family (so important in Morocco that there are different temrs for relatives on father's side and on mother's side)

As I said, we're in the midst of verbs, but looking ahead in the book I see:
- clothing/bargaining/adjectives
- food and drink
- medical and body
- site visit/travel/hotel/post office
- the Peace Corps mission
- renting a house (safety and security)

At this poing, if I initiate conversation with my family or someone in a store, I can usually have a short dialogue and get my point across and understand the response. If I'm not directly involved in a conversation - the family talking amongst themselves or watching TV - I can pick up a word here and there but generally have no idea what the conversation is about. It's hard to believe that in a few weeks we'll be out on our own - but we know a lot more than we did a few weeks ago. And we do have the tutoring for continuing education.

Script is another thing. One plus is that each letter always has the same sound. Each letter has four forms - one for isolated and then one for the beginning, middle and end of the word. Some letters don't connect to other letters at all. I'd love to get to the point of reading but right now the priority is speaking and we haven't learned all of the letters yet so I haven't tried all that hard. I think it will be fun. Then again, if I'm working with illiterate women, maybe not being able to read will help me relate more.

As for French - I worked with Rosetta Stone this summer but with all that was going on I didn't get very far. At the beginning, I was doing lessons over and over to really get them down - I now wish I had spent less time on more lessons. I also bought a multi-CD set and listened to that on my midwest-farewell driving trips. I haven't used it much though. People in stores will quote prices in French, I did learn the numbers, but I ask them to tell me again in Darija so I can practice it. When I wanted to get digital prints for my host family, I spoke in half-Arabic and half-French, and I think the French was more what I'd picked up over the years than what I studied this summer. I can get tutoring in French, but Peace Corps will pay for it only if I have a valid work reason, and I think that means no. I can work on it on my own just to use when I travel on my own, but in almost any case it'll probably be better to concentrate on the Darija here. Still, if I learn French while I'm here, it will probably come in handy later in life, non?

Sunday, November 05, 2006


I saw some footage of the New York City Marathon and got a little teary-eyed - unexpectedly. It's hard to believe that two months ago today I was walking in Central Park, right by the finish line, right where the people who were interviewed for the footage (French TV, ergo French people - oh, I wish I could have done that in French and not in Latin) were stretching. Maybe (inshallah) when I return I shall run it. Marrakesh marathon next year? Not if I don't do any running, and the jury is still out on that. The main road here is way too busy (not to mention its slope). Other roads may be too off-the-beaten-track. Many of the incidents of the safety-and-security variety happen to famale volunteers alone doing morning exercise. It's not worth it. On the other hand; maybe I can make friends and run with them.

Speaking of safety-and-security, I had my first unwanted attention on Thursday; As I was on my way to the pasha (town quivalent of rural caid) a man came up to me who wanted to talk in English. I tried to be friendly but not too friendly, especially when he mentioned green card. He said he would wait for me and I told him not to, that I had a lot of other things to do. And he didn't. So that's good. I saw him again today - along with a man who helped me in the police station and someone else I met with Lee (but I didn't remember his name or story). So Azrou is a pretty small place after all.
Yesterday I went to Meknes with my host family - a big city. Doctors' appointments (the hospital in Azrou is nicer than the one in TimHdit but the people with means go to Meknes...bottom line is I hope not to get really sick - though if I do I think I would get summoned to Rabat; Lee did last week with tonsillitis - and remember, I was medically restricted to a place with good health care because of my cataracts - if I didn't tell that story way back when I should have). Then to a cousin of the family, who has a new baby. And then Marjane - so now I know what is there. They do indeed have good cheese, and things for the home that I might not be able to find here. But it's a schlep, so I wouldn't go often, and I would really have to think about what I need so much that I am willing to carry it back. The cousin lived in the new part of town; we went by the old part of town too, with a big wall and a big square and a big medina - definitely worth another visit. I was glad to get back to Azrou though - a comfortable size. I explained to my family that we are not allowed to travel at night, penalty being sent home; we cut it a little close but made it back safe and sound. That's a big restriction, especially in the winter, but you just have to plan for it.

On Friday, Barbara, the trainee from the nearest town, Ain Leuh, came in to meet Lee's tutor. Lee went to Ain Leuh weekly as part of his job, since it falls under the provincial boundaries, but I don't know that I would be doing so, since she is there (he also went to TimHdit before Katie got up to speed). Barbara has an interesting background - she is from New York and lived for 15 years in Indonesia, drawing, freelancing and doing photography. She'll come in twice a week for tutoring, as Katie does now. Katie usually stops by Lee's - and I guess she will now stop by my place, as will Barbara. All guests welcome! As I have seen some other places I realiwe what a find Lee's might be. Still, I think I have to look around. I also think I have to find my own place - even if I live there, I think it would always be Lee's place. Of course, if I don't see anything as nice I could get over that.

After Barbara left, Lee and I had couscous with one of his artisans, at a friend's house. My host mother didn't like the sound of my going to eat with men, but she was all right with it when I told her Lee would be there, and the family of the friend. Most of Lee's contacts and relationships are with men - I still have to write my gender piece but that is not a surprise. Everyone seemed very open and comfortable about the idea of working with me, and I had told Tariq (the Program Assistant who cqme to interview me) that I have worked with men in the past, but I also think I want/need to develop relationships with some of the women he introduced me too (and/or find more). After lunch, we went to the artisan's shop. He's a rock carver - he puts together boxes of minerals of Morocco and carves lamps and sculptures. He might be Lee's number-one success story - very receptive to small business development. He sold a lot at a fair in Rabat last December and wants to go back - we'll see if I can go too but since it's right after swearing-in I will understand if I can't. He and Lee worked on some postcards to print and on a brochure; Friday's meeting was to do the finishing touches, the French translation. Youssef, the carver, had had a friend translate, and Lee knew enough French to question some of the words, and some other friends of Youssef caame by with their opinion. Lee then went away for a few days, leaving it with me - my first project; on-site visit! Remember I wish I had used French instead of Latin above? Well, it would have come in handy for that too - I do think I will ask for French tutoring after Darija (or maybe pay for it on my own - I decided I want to learn basic greetings in Tamarzight too, since moe than one person told me that a few words would go a long way). Anyway, I ran it through spell-check to get the accents on it (no easy task, Bill Gates), had my host mother look at it to see if it looked all right, went to an internet cafe to get it from USB drive to CD, and brought it back to the shop today. Voila! (at least I know a little French...actually mon petit peu was helpful in the police station and with the basha).

I spent a good portion of the day trying to load my host family's iPod. Some good friends gave me an iPod as a going-away present (have I told this story?) but I did not have time to load it so they did. Meaning I have never done it for myself. I downloaded iTunes in French so it would be easier for my host family but it made it more challenging for me. They have CD/DVDs and a couple of them I couldn't open in iTunes at all (unrecognizable format) and the others I am not at all sure I did right; And it took a long time - I couldn't select more than one file at a time. I am going to see if someone in my group can help. It took a lot of the day, but not all day - I also did have some much-needed time to myself, to sleep a little late (well, long - yesterday tired me out so I went to bed at eight and woke up at eight - I have had more days of substantial sleep in the past two months than in years!), read some of "The Roles of the Volunteer in Development" (noticing that the title said Roles - I think I had called it Role before) and work on my self-made darija dictionary (which reminds me to mention that after Lee got tutoring in darija he got some in Modern Standard Arabic - another option for me, but I think French and Tamarzight - and writing! - might be moe of a priority for me). Tomorrow is a travel day. I don't have far to go, of course, back to the Auberge in Azrou - so I can get a jump on laundry and on getting settled. I learned that someone from Youth Development ET'd today - will get more scoop on that too. I have been in touch with some friends through texting, e-mail and a call or two - looking forward to seeing everyone again and hearing stories. It's almost to the point where the number of days we'll all be together can be counted on hands; the last few days before swearing-in we'll be with the YD people too - and then we scatter...but first, one more phase in TimHdit, starting at the end of the week. Tomorow is also a (secular) holiday here, Green March Day. I'll leave you to google it since it involves a part of the country we are not supposed to talk about. I shall miss staying up late and watching election returns on Tuesday, one of my favorite rituals (usually accompanied by ice cream - something I have not had in two months; the ice cream from Marjane is supposed to be very good but I didn't find that out until after I said I didn't want any). I have a friend in the group who is planning to stay up late and watch the returns on the internet; me, I'll wait until the next day - but I am eager to know who wins the contested races!

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Something that was in the lost post from last night but not in the re-created one - another thing people have told me about this site in addition to the natural beauty and the convenient location is that the people are friendly, relaxed, not too conservative, and welcoming. They are used to foreigners but the place is not overly touristy. In the end the people are more important or just as important as the other things. And so far I have found that to be the case. Especially my family! I have been very lucky with both of my homestays. My mom made me wear a coat this morning because it was chilly outside. Well, she didn't really MAKE me but as I was walking up the hill (and getting hot), I thought that today was the first time in decades that I could say that. I walked up and down the hill several times today - helpful considering the nightly pancakes with butter and honey that I have had this week, but also tiring so a point in favor of living in the old part of town. There are petit taxis that go up and down the hill, but I feel I should save them for a time when I am pressed for time - being tired is not enough of a reason to use them (especially for the way down). And this is good practice in case I end up in San Francisco when I come back, one of my A-list cities.

Now I am getting a little better with the French keyboard so it is not so frustrating (still want a computer with QWERTY, not one from here).

I have seen more women with veiled faces in this site visit than I had seen before. Don't know if it's the time of day when I'm out this week as opposed to seminar site breaks, or if I'm just observing different things this week now that I know I will be here for two years. Not too many bearded men here, or even men in jellabas. But again, more than I had seen before.
Yesterday at Lee's I met two Americans who work for a travel company in Boulder, Where There Be Dragons. They run experiential learning programs for high-school students - language, cities, trekking, and will be in Morocco in the new catalog (Azrou may or may not be a destination). So you parents of high-school-age children out there take note - sounds like a good company and cool trips. I also met a man from Montreal who wants to start something with the arts here in Azrou. And the PCV from the environmental sector said there is a budding weaving cooperative in her town as well as a budding cooperative of people who gather medicinal herbs and may be able to use small business development. I also had the light-bulb idea that maybe the Auberge could count as a small business in tourism and/or that we could put artisana and regional brochures in the Auberge for the guests there. Lots of possibilities! The Azrou province also includes Ifrane, the "Switzerland of Morocco," so surely I must check on the artisans there! And the delegate for my artisana is located in Meknes, site of the famed Marjane, which is either like a Target or a real supermarket, depending on who tells me about it. I think that the thing I might lack the most, food-wise, at least at the moment, is good cheese. Here there is La Vache Qui Rit, already mentioned, and something called Red Ball (which might be Edam), for which I would need (and justify) a refrigerator, but apparently Marjane has a big selection of good cheese. I will need cheese, too, because I don't know if I can bring myself to get a fresh (killed while-U-wait) chicken or meat, either (maybe ground beef, since that doesn't look like what it used to be). For chicken I will have to rely on restaurants or invitations! And we had delicious chicken for lunch too; another recipe I want! Also great sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


As I was saying...I walk around paying more attention because I am thinking of where I might want to live. With my host family, I am in the new part of town - it was fruit orchards not long ago. I'm familiar and comfortable here since it is near the Auberge - I know the daily souk and the other stores around here, the post office and the ATM. The houses are mostly three stories high, some with sloping tile roofs (Lee has a great roof terrace with a view of the mountains and the city - not to mention a clothesline...I must have a roof. His criteria were a roof and his own door). Lee lives in the old part of town, near the medina, the artisana, the other post office and bank, the grand taxi and bus stations, and has a daily and small weekly souk nearby (the big weekly souk is far from both). My family has already said I can stay the whle two years (some volunteers do), but I told them I am used to living on my own. My mom also said that her mom would miss me if I were not close by (an interesting strategy) and I told them that if I were not close by that I would visit a lot. The old part of town is a 20-minute walk up the hill from here. Think of the old part as downtown, the Village, SoHo) and the new part as uptown (even though uptown is down the hill and vice versa); There is also an area down a long set of steps between here and there that I call Queens. There's another old neighbrohood around the bend from the old neighborhood that I call New Jersey (I think that is what is pictured in one of the photos from when I first got here). And there is a section with big house and trees near the former French administration buildings - I guess that would be Westchester. Now that I think of it, there may be a Brooklyn, too. For me the choice is uptown or downtown though, and even though at the moment I feel more comfortable uptown, I think it makes sense to be downtown. Not that a 20-minute walk is so bad; I should point out that we had a cold spell but it is still balmy. Lee said it never really gets below 25 degrees F, though it does maybe I brought the right clothes after all. Anyway, I don't have to decide now - that's part of the reason we have a two-month homestay, so we can get familiar and look around. Meanwhile Lee said I could take over his P.O. Box, which is in the old part of town, so I will have an address (which I will give out when I have a key).

Yesterday was a full day but in one way I can't say I got a lot done. We walked around different sections and talked to people. Of course it was crucial to introduce myself, but this is what a lot of the first few months will be like. I will visit people every day and talk with them and accept invitations to tea and meals and then determine who could use my help and who I click with and who is interested in working with me. Yesterday was the kind of day it is all about. Lee said the person who is in Azrou needs to be outgoing and active and willing to speak Arabic, that maybe you can be more shy in a rural site because they look out for you. He also said that the good points of Azrou are its position as a crossroads and accessibility to other places and the green trees of the mountains behind the city, where the hiking is. He did his training in the desert, in Ouarzazate, which everyone tells me is beautiful (it's where they film all the movies) but there's no green. Azrou is a place that a lot of Moroccans (including those who live in Europe, who are buying the new construction next to the Auberge) come to spend some time in the summer because it is cooler than other places. Another volunteer also told me it's considered a plum site. The program directors caution against site envy - as I said way back when, there are pluses and minuses to every location and work situation. I have been texting some of my friends this week - one is uncomfortable with her family, one walked three hours because the bridge was washed out and killed a snake, one is in "hashish-a-go-go" and can see why the person before him was an ET (just a couple of weeks ago). I'm one of four people who is replacing someone COSing (close-of-service) and feel lucky to overlap and be shown around and introduced.

A busy day ahead today. Sometime this week I will meet a PCV from the environment sector whose site is seven km away. I need go to to the bashouria (government office - city equivalent of caid/sheikh), the hospital, and yes, back to the police station to get a contact number. Katie from TimHdit is coming in for tutoring and I will meet her tutor - though one of the people Lee introduced me to yesterday could also tutor and I really liked him. My mom also offered to tutor, but I think if I get someone else I can benefit from having my tutor and my host mom helping me. I also want to get knitting needles and yarn so I can get a refresher from one of the trainees who knits (my fellow Chicagoan...and a guy), a pumice stone for my feet, and toothpaste (Colgate Great Regular Flavor is on its way but I may need a small tube of something else in the meantime). Plus I want to find a notebook for my littlest brother since he keeps taking mine and pretending to write in it (I always have it out so I can write down words as they come up). I may stop at the carpet store I visited a couple of days ago too, to meet the brother of the man I met Monday. This may not sound like a full day to you but it is. In fact, some of that may spill into tomorrow; Lee is away today but back tomorrow so I want to spend more time with him. The sky looks gray; there have been a few sprinkles the last two days (all when I have been on Lee's roof having coffee) but it hasn't rained. It rained, not too hard, one day in TimHdit and one night at the auberge after an afternoon when I just didn't feel like doing laundry (in other words, everyone's clothes were still wet) but it hasn't rained hard at all since I got here seven weeks ago (has it really been just seven weeks?). I would welcome rain, but since I left my umbrella in the storage room and have all those plans for today, maybe not today.

Some postscripts based on e-mail:
The trees near here are confierous (juniper, cedar, maybe pine) so no fall foliage; they are quite fragrant. There were some trees turning yellow by the river in TimHdit; I bet they will all have fallen off by the time we get back.
My sore throat is gone but I have a lingering dryness/slight cough/runny nose. I wonder if it is allergies. The doctor will be here next week for flu shots and I will ask then (I always get the flu shot).
My sadness passed; I knew it would. It helped me to write about it. Thanks.
I love this picture. It's Lalla, the grandmother, next to a picture of herself (looks like 60s to me). I don't have a picture of the whole family together yet.


I spent yesterday afternoon and most of today with "Motasim," the current volunteer. I think I talked about a six-year cycle - one volunteer starts something, another continues, the third one finishes and the community should be sustaining the project on its own. I am the fifth SBD volunteer here; this is a provincial capital. The first one, not sure what happened. The second one was evacuated after Iraq began. The third didn't like the cold here and left after a couple of months. Lee will be the first to complete two years. Wherever we walked we ran into people he knew; he did a great job of integrating and is great with the language. He introduced me to many of the artisans he works with and pointed out others with whom there is a lot of opportunity. For example, we passed a women's center where they do a lot of sewing (they also padlock themselves least they are near the fire station but still) and we went to another place where they teach women sewing and healthy cooking. He never really got anything started with them or with the weaving cooperative right in the artisana. On the other hand, he was very involved with a male rock carver who seems very open to the idea of working with me, and we went to a carpet shop where the men were very friendly, so maybe I can continue some of Lee's work and start projects of my own. My best idea (which I had before I knew this would be my site) is to develop a regional weaving tour where you visit TimHdit, Ain Leuh and some of the other cooperatives nearby - a nice day of travel for people coming in for vacation (yes, like a winery tour). I get ahead of myself though; all we are really supposed to do for the first few months is integrate, and then based on the relationships we develop and the interest of the people, we start a project. So today was a full day, and in a way I can say I didn't get much done; but in the goal of integration I got a lot done, and I will have a lot of days like this to come. It's nice that everyone goes home for lunch; I can too. It's nice to see the family and take a break and have delicious food. Meals so far have been an eggplant dip for which I must get the recipe (can also be made with peppers), ground beef with onions and tomatoes in a tagine, vermicelli with cinnamon and confectioner's sugar (try it!), quince with beef. All with fresh fruit for dessert - clementines, my favorite, are in season - and I had my first-ever pomegranate.

As I walk around I am thinking about where to live. I am with the homestay family this week and then for two months after swearing-in. I just wrote a long treatise on it which has disappeared into the ether so I will have to re-create it.
The picture is of me, Lee and Katie - three generations of Peace Corps! The view is from his roof...

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