Friday, December 29, 2006
All right, THIS might be my last post of 2006 so Happy New Year and all that. I’ve been feeling the need to write some haiku. Yesterday I got inspired and whipped out some impressions from my first month as a PCV (and got on a roll – but there’s no such thing as too much haiku, right? Right?)
Peace Corps Volunteer
Training done, now final site
The two years begins
Introduced me around town
Thank you, Motasim!
Got a new laptop
Anders bought, Pam paid, Katie
Carried – team effort!
Craft fair in Ifrane
First week, something meaningful
Didn’t sell much though
And medina on most days
I visit, say hi
Nice host family
I’m so glad to be with them
And the food is great
Getting mail is a thrill
Though it takes a while
Peace Corps bicycle
Way too cold to ride right now
Maybe in the spring
Having my hair done
Massage too – kind of third world
At least Azrou has
Tutoring each week
Learning more and speaking more
Still, long way to go
Ben Smim’s Amanda
Wedding, hammam, coffees, herbs
She’s been a big help
Looking for a house
Want close, safe, bath, roof, clean, light
Good neighborhood too
Two weekends in Fes
Splurge and budget – both were fun
Good to see some friends
Girls Leading Our World
Leadership camp next summer
Meeting in Sefrou
Going out of site
Must return before it’s dark
Or you get sent home
Who are in sites far away
Cyber e-mail too
Dentist in Rabat
Over ten hours round trip
Now I have clean teeth
“Hot stove” – was baseball
Now, the one room in the house
Where you can get warm
Dyali – that’s mine!
The two-year-old’s favorite word
Kids are the same, eh?
Will you be outside the mosque?
Popcorn not the same
Christmas in Azrou
Some inflatable Santas
That’s pretty much it
Gong to the souk
Sweater pants and sweater top
World’s worst bargainer?
L-Eid Kbir soon
Each family its own sheep
Just fruit for me, thanks
I miss those back home
But I’m meant to be here now
Thanks for your support
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Once I started crying, I couldn’t stop. This wasn’t quite Si-Mohammed and the cheese; let’s call it Mouad and the spoon. He’s two, so his favorite word is dyali – mine. We make faces and I give him paper to draw on and clementine wedges and I tickle him and sometimes he seems to like me – and sometimes he takes my things and says dyali and hits me. He’s two, after all. Stuffed animals, fine to hit me with. Pliers and hard toys, I try to stop. Anyway, he was hitting me with a wooden spoon and it started to hurt. Up until then we had been looking at a fairy tale book – I was learning the Arabic (from him) and French (from the book) words for things and telling him the English – Hansel and Gretel, Snow White – stories I knew. So anyway, when it started to hurt being hit with the spoon, I left the room and closed the door, a tad loud, leaving him alone in the room, and he started to cry. He was comforted in due time, but then I started to feel badly that I was the cause of him crying (he had already cried once and been comforted once when he hit himself on the backswing with the toy motorcycle intended for me, but I didn’t feel responsible for that one). So I started to cry. Am I too sensitive to ever have children of my own? I did start thinking about an incident I had with one of my nieces over two years ago that I still feel sad about. Kids cry and then get happy again and move on – Mouad was fine long before I was. But then thinking about my nieces – I do miss them. Heard from my sister and she had seen an article relating to my father’s favorite song (“Spirit in the Sky”).
Coincidence? So was I missing him too? The PCVs I spent time with the past couple of days were emotional about the holidays – did some rub off on me? I called the family in Philadelphia with whom I’ve spent 20 Chiristmases and got a machine, not a person – were some of the tears for that? I told Amanda I had two worries last week – housing and potato=chip guy. We found potato-chip guy – he had switched to popcorn! He said he was going to buy potatoes at the souk and then he’d be back – so one worry eliminated. I had another worry added – a virus that my traveldrive picked up at a cyber – but that seems gone now, thanks to Nam, Brett and Steve Jobs. Housing is a worry but I know that will work out. So why was I crying? I had had a lovely day, spending most of the day with the YDs. We went around town and I introduced them to people as I ran into them and toured the artisana and one bought something that the rock-carver made. Lack of personal time? Warmish, not hot showers in Fes and Rabat the last two weeks? Living out of suitcases since September? A month since swearing-in and in the down cycle (I should look at the cycle)? Could be all of those things. Anyway, my host father had Mouad give me a kiss, not once or twice but three times, and he gave me not one but two chocolates, and I washed my face, and my host mother gave me a hug, and we ate dinner and I finally felt a little better, but it was one of those days where only the evening coming to an end with bedtime would get me out of the emotional state. I felt embarrassed, but grateful for my host family – and even though the tears I felt a little proud that I was able to convey the reason I was crying (irrational as it was) to my host father in darija. Tomorrow – that is, Tuesday – is (was) another day.
And Tuesday I finally made it to the souk! It was especially busy, with all the sheep being brought in by rural shepherds for l-Eid. I decided that if I were a sheep and therefore a goner anyway (I always liked the idea of sheep because you can get the wool without the sheep being a goner, but here, I’m not so sure that’s the case…) I’d rather go for l-Eid than for a random meal. I learned that it is an obligation for every Muslim to buy the best sheep he can afford. And that l-Eid Kbir celebrates the story of Abraham and Isaac. I walked the sheep area for a while – I’ve always liked sheep faces – but there was a lot of jostling. So on to the vegetables, the household goods, the clothing, the crafts. That section was smaller than I was led to believe but still had a variety of rugs, old and new, and the people selling them had classic rural looks. And I bought a sweater set! Sweater pants are de rigeur under-layers for women here, and I wanted to have something for under my jellaba. The matching sweater top is not typical – a cardigan – and my jellaba will have a zipper. I guess I want easy arm removal rather than over my head! I’d been looking for sweater pants and these were clearly made by a knitter, not by a factory, with a nice yarn. I may not be the world’s worst bargainer (I actually started getting into it in South Africa) but I’m in the bottom 50 percent – I couldn’t get them to budge on price. I showed my host mom and she said I found a good set and that if I overpaid it was only by a little.
If I have received any more packages I don’t know it. This week the post office has been so crowded that I can’t get to the counter. I thought they were supposed to put a slip in my box when I got a package but last week they just saw me and called me over. At least I got my January living allowance last week (that, there was a slip for). If I had gotten it this week (at least so far) I wouldn’t have had time to wait to cash it! I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to get in more cyber time. I still have a lot of back e-mails to address, from training, and wanted to get through them before the end of the year. I don’t think I will, but I will eventually. Had a little exchange with Edie, though. She was surprised I haven’t worn socks twice and yet I go days without bathing! After that, when I was invited to the hammam on Tuesday, I said yes. It’s still weird to go to the public bath, but my cold has improved to the point that I thought the steam would be good for me, and it is nice to feel clean!
The picture is another one of Rabat. Casbah left for later on the left, big city on the right....
Before I close the book on Christmas I should note that when I was home for lunch, on TV Martha Stewart (who I’ve never watched in the U.S.) was preparing a mouthwatering holiday dinner. I was especially mesmerized by the sweet potatoes – the sweet potatoes here are white and not as sweet as yams. I also want to mention that I heard from another volunteer, and in her city, there was a Santa suit at the local photo place and you could get your picture taken with Santa, and the ovens were working overtime to churn out Christmas cakes. I’m sure that in the bigger cities, with more Europeans, it was an even bigger deal.
Yesterday morning, the artisana was already in holiday mode. The woodworkers and metalworker, who are usually in their shops working, were sitting outside in the sun, as was my counterpart, who when he is there is usually in his office. So I sat with them for a while. This is what we’re supposed to be doing for integration; I always stop by and chat to the best of my ability, and sometimes I have lingered, but this was the longest I’ve just stayed and sat (and talked off and on, and had tea). It may not sound like an achievement, but it felt like one. Then in the afternoon I went with my host mom and her sidekick to look at houses – she had three for me to look at. The first one we went to just happened to be right next to Motasim’s - I had looked at it with him, actually, when they were doing work on it. It looks nicer now that the big hole is a wall, but it isn’t as nice as his place right next door. For example, no bath – but they said I could use the upstairs neighbor’s bath anytime. I was explaining that the neighbor was my tutor but before I finished they had called him downstairs to confirm that. I said hello and I would see him tomorrow and what a coincidence that the first place they would show me is right here. Then they told me it was the nicest of the three places so I said I didn’t need to see the others. And I decided that that was a sign that I should take the one that’s been growing on me. A sign!
P.S. Gerald Ford’s death made the national news here. Even though it was in Arabic I figured out why they were showing old footage of him.
P.P.S. I dreamed of Tom Glavine again! And Bruce Springsteen. Yes, in the same dream (should be Al Leiter if it’s Springsteen…).
This might be my last post of 2006. I will miss the ball dropping (even though it dropped at 11:00 Central Time) and the fireworks. I wish everyone a festive holiday and a wonderful 2007!
Monday, December 25, 2006
Yes, December 25 is pretty much just another day here. I’ve seen a store with some Santa Claus suits and I’ve seen an inflatable Santa here and there and some Buche de Noel at the patisserie, but to say it’s low-key would be overstating it. Islam considers Jesus a prophet, but doesn’t accept that he’s the Son of God. All of the Old Testament prophets are prophets in Islam too. Muslims are more accepting of other people “of the book” than they are of other faiths. Where Islam diverges is in accepting Mohammed as the final prophet and the Koran (which Mohammed got from Gabriel over the course of ten years, and didn’t write down – his disciples did) as the final word. Today some YD's, Nico and Natasha, are in town (they have Sundays and Mondays off) so I spent some time with them – went to a café, showed them the artisana, walked around the medina.
L-Eid Kbir is coming up – the big holiday. This is the one where every family kills a sheep and spends the next week or so (however long it takes) eating it. Nervous sheep have been appearing in town all weekend and there should be many at the souk tomorrow (I am determined to go!). Janeila is a vegetarian so this past weekend we had delicious lentils, the pepper salad and the eggplant salad I like so much, Moroccan toast (which to me is the same as French toast but my host mother insisted on calling it Moroccan toast), a potato-and-egg dish, and the usual lots of bread. Either that was too little meat for my family or they can’t wait for l-Eid, but last night my host father came home with take-out – two sheep heads. I had clementines – I just couldn’t do it – and I made sure that my family won’t be insulted if I avoid the sheep on l-Eid. As with l-Eid Sgir, the kids get new clothes and there is some visiting. It’s not really a gift-giving occasion, but my tutor said that in some families the adults give the kids a little money and I confirmed with my host mother that she would be okay if I gave the kids a token amount. I also want to ascertain if it’s okay for me to buy a birthday cake for myself and share it with the family; if so I shall but if not I won’t be sad. What’s interesting about l-Eid this year, at least to my tutor, is that due to the lunar calendar, this year it falls on New Year’s Eve. According to him, that is one day when even devout Muslims might let loose and have a little drink, but l-Eid is so sacred that religion will trump carousing.
I found what I thought were chicken bouillon cubes on Saturday and had some while out with Janeila; when I showed my host mom she said it was just for cooking and that if I drank it straight I’d get sick. I thought it made me feel better but so much for that. I thought about going to the hammam – would sitting in the steamy room help my cold? – but decided that to be in the room with whatever’s going around and then to go home with wet hair would be more detrimental than sitting in the steam would be beneficial.
More houses to look at this week, thanks to the friend of my host mom (I want to think of her as Ethel Mertz, but that’s not the right analogy – some sidekick or neighbor…any suggestions?), but the new apartment in the quiet neighborhood is growing on me. I walked by there with both Amanda and Janeila and they thought it might be a good choice. I still want to see what else might be out there but I think at this point something really has to wow me for me not to take the first place I saw!
Oh, and I ordered a jellaba! The ones that look warm are all for men – maybe women wear more underneath thinner ones. Anyway, near the artisana there's a tailor (who counts as an artisan here, by the way) who had displayed in his window a camel-hair-colored jellaba with faux fur hood trim and cuffs. I kept looking at it and finally went in to try it on. Too big. Tried a black one – too big, too grim reaper. Tried a red one – not my color, too big. So I ordered one custom – blue with brown faux fur trim – and a zipper! Most of them don't have zippers. It'll be ready next Friday (just in time for l-Eid). Next, sweater pants (all the rage…my fleece pants will be great here when they arrive in the mail) – maybe with a matching top, to wear under the jellaba, some boots (warm ones are finally appearing here, not just "fashion" ones), and maybe more traditional wear! And yes, I am finally at the point of wearing socks more than once while I wait for my box to socks to arrive. Not at the point of wearing underwear more than once, but since this is like a two-year camping trip, it may get to that point (though I may spare you if it comes to that).
I think of the people back home often, but especially now I am thinking of all the people I usually see in my seven-sets-of-people-in-three-states-in-four-days traditional Christmastime trip, the people I see in Chicago for holiday get-togethers, the people I saw in California last year in what might have become a new tradition (and still might), the people I exchange holiday cards and letters from, and everyone else who might not fit into one of those categories! I am looking forward to seeing those I will see at Reunions, but I know it will be a while before I see some of my other friends. I miss you all - happy holidays to all and to all a good night.
Friday, December 22, 2006
I still haven’t been to the Azrou souk! Okay, I went briefly with my host mother for vegetables during site visit, but I want to walk around and see the crafts and the other items for sale. Combination of factors – tutoring, weather, health, timing, meetings. I was going to go this week when my counterpart said he had a project and he would see me at the artisana at 9:15. Turned out he had a project…that didn’t involve me! I don’t know why I had to see him then…he said hello and went off on his project. Maybe next week I’ll get to the souk. You have to go early to see the most, though had I needed something I could have gone mid-morning. It’s not close, though – a bit of a walk (or a petit taxi ride). But this week I had somewhere to be – Amanda, the environment volunteer whose site is nearby, was legally married on Tuesday and had a little lunch to celebrate! Her medicinal herbs cooperative, his family, and Katie and me. My host mother lent me a party jellaba for the occasion and I brought a cone of sugar and Katie and I went in on a ceramic platter from the artisana. Lunch was special – cookies and tea, chicken with hard-boiled eggs and almonds, sffa (the vermicelli with cinnamon and sugar dish), fresh fruit. Very nice! If it weren’t out-of-site at night, I could go to another wedding this week too. The brother of my host father got a job offer in the Emirates. He noticed on the form that he had to be married. My host mother thought of the sister of the neighbor downstairs, whom she had met at the party for the new baby. The brother and the sister met and talked for half an hour and agreed to get married this week! She said that’s how it’s done in Morocco, but the truth is that there are longer engagements too. [Addendum 12/25 - not quite. The father balked - she's too young, her brothers need to come in June, it's too soon - so it was on-again/off-again and is now on for the weekend after next.]
On to Rabat this week! Dental appointment – I requested cleanings more often than once during the two years and they agreed. I didn’t realize I would have to go to Rabat for them, but that’s okay! Once again, transportation is a deterrent to having a really good trip - the 8:15 CTM bus (the nicest line) was supposed to arrive at noon and when it hadn’t arrived by one I was really tired of being on it. First it was freezing, then it was way too hot. But I reminded myself that this is a developing country and transportation is part of what you have to deal with, and another is the distance between places – in order to see Morocco I will have to take long trips; that’s all there is to it. I think that’s it for the bus – it’s convenient to get to in Azrou but then you need a petit taxi to get into town. Town, though, is cool - it feels cosmopolitan yet is of a manageable scale. I could come again for one of my Saturday nights and explore – there’s a nice medina and an artisana and the casbah and the chellah, built by various waves of people who lived here, and a big was-going-to-be-a-mosque tower and pillars (the structure was not completed but what there was of the roof fell in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755) and the tomb of the last two kings and some other stuff that makes it worth coming back for tourism. Rabat’s sister city across the river, Sale, is supposed to be nice too – not cosmopolitan and not touristy, more for locals, so an interesting contrast. And there are museums – art and archaeological – to see. Now that I have read up on Rabat I know where we were when we first got here in September – the walk we took was along a key street in the main part of town, and we went by the medina on the way to the ocean – so I feel oriented.
Went to the Peace Corps office! It’s in a nice part of town but not near the center, in an old villa. Saw the program manager for SBD, who gave me a little tour, and said hello to people. Lots of work-related documents to print out in the volunteer lounge, but the printer was jammed. As long as I had to see the doctor to talk about my dental appointment, I had a little consultation too (I’d tripped on some air on Sunday in Fes, after we all parted ways – I guess I was thinking about other things – and cut my hand open when I landed on the sidewalk. Treated myself from the medical kit, but the doctor gave me some other stuff to put on it). I was really psyched to see the Peace Corps Resource Center, which is one of the largest repositories of English-language books in the entire country, and the librarian was out for the day! There were some second-year YDs in Rabat for mid-service medicals so I went to dinner with them, at what we would call a Middle Eastern restaurant but what here is called Oriental – the eastern part of the Arab world is the Orient here!
I had a little bit of a chance for a Rabat walk on Thursday morning, before the train to Meknes. Walked along the two main streets of the medina just as people were setting up for the day – many of the wares are products I have seen in other cities, but some weren’t – each region has its own specialties – so I will be back! Carpets are different and there were leather benches that looked interesting (not that I would get one) and there was a lot more jewelry than Azrou has (or maybe even Fes). The train seemed to work better than the bus (I prefer trains to buses anyway) though then I took a petit taxi to the grand taxi stand and then a grand taxi – I don’t think it was a shorter trip, but it was more pleasant (of course, I wasn’t sitting there knowing I was missing a meeting, either, and I wasn’t worried about the approaching darkness). I could also do grand taxi all the way to Rabat, which might work better some time depending on what time I have to get there. The picture is the "postcard shot" of the main street of the Rabat medina, Rue du Consuls (all the consulates used to be on that street).
Shortest day of the year! I always like the first day of winter because now the days will get longer. Here at this latitude it gets light around 7:00 am (the morning call to prayer wakes me up around 5:50, but it’s still dark) and dark around 5:30 pm (and remember, we don’t change the clock in the spring or fall).
While at the Peace Corps office I confirmed a rumor that I had heard the day before – someone else from our group ET’d (early termination). She went to Rabat after swearing-in for some medical, and never reported to her site. She was older (over 50) and never felt comfortable with the language (Tamazight). But she passed the test and when I last saw her seemed determined to give it a try. She was also the somatics person and an artist – an interesting woman. Not only did I learn that she left but I also learned something about the rumor mill – it took four weeks for me to hear and I don’t think it’s common knowledge yet. [Addendum 12/25 - heard from her and she had a different story - she left for intuition/health reasons; didn't want to go but HAD to go.]
Other highlights of the week – rather than see the delegate in Meknes, I have to write a report for him, and have to work with my tutor to translate it. I also had to interview the rock carver about the fair in Rabat, and I have to write that up. Homework! And I’m disseminating information about a Gender and Development conference to the people in my stage. It’s down south in January or February – a good time of year for someone from a cold site to go south, so I hope I get to go. I’m getting a cold – the only surprise there is that I haven’t had one yet. My tutor told me he saw quite a bit of progress, but when I get into an actual conversation I feel I have a long way to go. At lunch today, Star Trek – The Motion Picture was on TV, in English with Arabic subtitles. Spock had just arrived when it was time to go! Tempting to work at home this afternoon (I do have plenty do to there) but it seemed unseemly.... Got two packages today, finally! They were postmarked November 30 so I guess it takes three weeks. Janeila is using her other December getaway weekend to visit Azrou this weekend! I am looking forward to that.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I’ve been to a few of UNESCO World Heritage Sites now; the places get on the list because of historical and cultural significance and uniqueness. There are too many for me to be able to collect all of them, but I have been to almost every state and major league ballpark, so visiting more UNESCO World Heritages sites might be fun…
The Fes medina is on the list and with good reason. It’s a thriving community and has been so for about a thousand years. Last weekend I met fellow PCVs Rose and Janeila in Fes, and this past weekend Orianna and Sherwin. I thought I’d combine the descriptions of both. Long story short – if you visit Morocco you must see Fes!
Rose, Janeila and I were all ready to treat ourselves to a little post-training splurge, and we stayed in the Royal Suite at the Riad Sheherazade (look on the web for it!). It actually wasn’t that expensive by real-people standards, but considering our Peace Corps living allowances, we all visited the ATM. And it was worth it – we spent a lot of time in the room talking (and enjoying the heat and hot showers). We also splurged on a dinner – more because it was the only place nearby at a point when we were really hungry than because we needed an expensive Moroccan meal, but it was nice that we were all okay with that. And the Riad’s breakfast the next day was excellent.
And we walked along Talaa Kbira, (big hill), the main street of the old medina. Little shop after little shop on this narrow street. Lots of people…no room for cars, but we’d all go off to the side when we heard the yell to move, meaning a donkey or horse laden with cargo was coming through. You pass food stalls and then shoe stalls and then a mixture of lamps, carpets, pottery, leather goods, fabric and other items, stores catering to tourists and stores with basics for locals. Off to the side are various specialty souks – henna, ceramics, the famous tanneries and more. We missed most of those, looking upon the weekend as a scouting trip warranting future exploration; we walked for hours and didn’t even make it to the end of the one street where we spent most of the time! I bought a little drum with a henna design on it – over the years I have kind of randomly acquired several musical instruments, and I think those would be fun things to get here. Rose bought an antique Hand of Fatima (with Hebrew writing!) to ward off the evil eye in her new home. Janeila bought a jellaba and a housecoat; her site is cold. We all bought shampoo or soap with argan oil, something unique to Morocco. I tried on a fez, but it felt like cardboard and it wasn’t even photo-worthy. And all too quickly it was time to go – we had to leave right after breakfast on Sunday because Rose and I had a meeting in her site, Sefrou, about the GLOW (Girls Leading our World – now Guys and Girls, except this camp is just girls) camp.
Sefrou is about the same size as Azrou and is known for its cherry festival and for being a former center of Morocco’s Jewish population. After the meeting we walked to her new house (she found one already! Can’t move in yet but she showed it off), part of a villa in the hills above the city, and then walked in the medina – it feels different from Azrou’s – older? More narrow and twisty-turny? More lively? Maybe just different,
The next weekend, since I got there before everyone else, I decided to walk from the grand taxi station to the train station, where Orianna was coming in – turned out that I happened to walk along the main street of the Ville Nouvelle, the French-built part, with a lot of cafes, patisseries and activity (it not exactly night life). We stayed in the medina in a Peace-Corps-budget pensione, but maybe would stay in the Ville Nouvelle next time. Orianna, Sherwin and I had a modest sidewalk lunch of pastilla ((chicken and almond paste in a pastry) and then set out on the Talaa Sgria (small hill). Great ceramics shop…for some day. No musical instrument – next time – but we did make it to the famous tanneries, which are open vats for the processing and dyeing of hides – they have been doing it that way for 1000 years. It wasn’t as malodorous as I had been led to believe – then again, they also have tales of people getting lost in the medina, but it is well-signed with routes of different colors depending on one’s interest. We didn’t make it to the artisana, I didn’t get a musical instrument (no major shopping for this bunch), and we didn’t go to Fes El-Jdid (the new old part, with the old Jewish quarter) or to any of the medersas (they’re in the tour books as points of interest) so there is still more to do! Sunday morning we went to the Musee Batha, a museum of antique crafts (some of the ones today look very similar) in an old Riad. We saw the exhibits and then sat in the sun in garden for a long time, talking and relaxing. It was about getting together, not about seeing a lot of Fes. Again, we’ll be back.
Saturday night we had dinner at an Italian restaurant in the Ville Nouvelle – the word pastilla had made Sherwin think it was pasta, and that power of suggestion was enough. I had spaghetti bolgonese, which was delicious! Sunday after the museum we went back to the Ville Nouvelle and found a café, had a juice and played Scrabble. Then we had pizza and frites (common eat-out food here!) and it was time to part ways.
When I go on my trips in the U.S., I love driving a rental car – getting there is part of the fun. Here, the grand taxis are not fun. On the way to Fes the first weekend, I got the “seat” between the front seat and the gear shift. From Sefrou to Immouzer, the driver kept drifting into the left-hand lane; I was in the front right and kept leaning to the right, willing the car back into the right lane – which somehow worked! At Immouzer it was hard to get a taxi – darkness was approaching and we’re not allowed to travel after dark…finally I had to text the Peace Corps office and just then a bus came and I got on the bus to Azrou. The next weekend’s travel was a little smoother, but being packed into the back seat with three other people isn’t comfortable either. These Saturday-night out-of-sites are a gift (not all countries get them) and I want to take advantage of them, but the transport makes me wonder how far and wide I want to roam. Then again, this is a developing country - that’s part of the package. I did have New Yorkers with me, and soon I will have books sent from home (inshallah). It’s definitely worth it to see friends and to see more of Morocco – but it’s also one of the things to overcome. Glad to live only a little over an hour away from both Fes and Meknes – I can also go just for the day to either of those imperial cities!
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
The diversity session had two parts. First we talked about preconceived notions and conditioning. For instance, we had to say the name of Dick and Jane’s dog ten times. Spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot, spot. What do you do when you get to a green light? There was a big roar of “stop!” as if we were not to be fooled by saying “Spot” again. Of course, when you come to a green light you go. That was just an example of how easy it is to be conditioned to things, without thinking. We did a couple of other exercises like that including one that I have seen before and still got fooled by – counting the F’s in a sentence and not recognizing the F’s in “of” as F’s). And once we were all warmed up and sensitized, there was a panel or current volunteers talking about some of the issues they encountered and coping strategies. As each person spoke I was impressed; as a whole the panel was tremendously impactful. I don’t remember everything they said but I will give you some impressions.
The panel consisted of a married woman, an older woman, a gay woman, a Korean-American man, a “Puerto Rican/Protestant/gay” man, a black man, a Pakistani-American woman, and a Jewish man. The first thing you noticed is that some people were on the panel because they looked different. Others looked different from the Moroccans (who, by the way, all look different – there’s a big blend here so there’s no “typical Moroccan”) but more like Moroccans might expect Americans to look, so their diversity didn’t become apparent until they talked about it. I have always been a person who looked beyond skin color or other differences when making friends – to the point of sabotaging my Group Processes course back in business school because I didn’t think differences were relevant (only when we got together in the big group did I realize that we were supposed to have been talking about that and our group hadn’t). So to see so many different faces in front of me and hear their stories made me want to be part of the Diversity Working Group.
The married woman went first. She talked about the pluses – a built-in support group, someone to practice language with and speak English with – and the minuses – other people assume that because you have each other you don’t need other support, they have never spent this much time together, if one is down and the other not you don’t want to bring the other down and if both are down it’s hard to get back up. She got less harassment than other women because she was with her husband (the Korean-American, who got more).
The older woman (now the oldest volunteer here since someone ET’ed) said that she saw no disadvantages culturally to being older – she got more respect, she was listened to, she was valued. She loved her site and felt that because she was older she had an easier time than the volunteer she replaced. Her only negative was that old bones can’t take the cold and that Peace Corps should place the older people in the warmer sites. I’ll add as an aside that some of the older people in my group have been concerned about language and that there is a special section in our manual with language tips for older learners (which they define as over 50). The volunteer who spoke, I learned later, gets by with her French, which she learned while younger.
Next was the gay woman. In the culture here there is a lot of same-sex closeness, including holding hands with friends while walking in the street – not romantic, just as friends. And while there is a forbidden gay male subculture, lesbianism is something unknown here. So she had a relatively easy time, and her community was very accepting of her girlfriend – they would not be so accepting if someone has a boyfriend who they spend a lot of time with and are not married to. This woman also doesn’t look diverse from the outside (although her shaved head made her appear a bit off the beaten track).
The Korean-American gets a lot of “Jackie Chan” and “Chinois” comments. In TimHdit one of my group members is Korean-American and she got more harassment than the rest of us did, and I have also talked to another Asian-American who is a current volunteer (Nam – I guess he stopped his blog after he was asked to make some changes, but look for it – it’s supposed to be really good). All mentioned that it is hard to convince Moroccans that Asian-Americans are Americans – first of all, they’re all Chinese and second of all, they’re all from China. It’s a good opportunity to educate Moroccans in diversity but it’s hard to always have that conversation.
The Puerto Rican/Protestant/gay was also extremely funny – he COSed right after our swearing-in and it’s too bad we won’t get to see more of him. I liked him. Did I mention he was from New York? Anyway, a big issue for him was whether or not to come out – he decided to do so to some close friends with positive results. He mentioned that because he looks like a Moroccan skin-color-wise, he blended right in much of the time - instead he got harassed when he was in big cities with other volunteers; the cops would mistake him for one of the faux guides trying to pester the “tourists.”
The black man, similar to the Asian-American, was told he couldn’t be American because he didn’t look like one. They kept telling him he was African. When he pointed out that Moroccans are actually Africans, that didn’t register. He lives in the south, and there are a lot of black Moroccans there (from southern Africa) so he looks like the people he works with. He mentioned that he had some issues with fellow volunteers – every so often he and other black volunteers wanted to get together and “talk black,” and the non-black volunteers didn’t get that. As I said, lots to think about from this panel.
The Paktstani-American went next – she mentioned harassment because of all the “Bollywood” movies – people thought she was some kind of star, because why else would she be there. She did a costume change – dressed in Moroccan clothes, she could have passed for Moroccan. Off with the jellaba and in sub-continental dress (although I don’t know that Pakistan is officially on the subcontinent) she looked very foreign. And underneath that was typical American jeans and blouse, which gave her yet another look. She is a Muslim, so that helped her with the culture, but still had more than her share of harassment.
Last came the Jew, another person who may not look diverse from the outside. He made the decision not to tell people he was Jewish (although when he was in an exchange program in Egypt he “came out” with no negative consequences). His coping strategies were to learn about the history of Jews in Morocco (there’s a rich history but many of them emigrated to Israel after 1948 and especially after 1967). For Passover he made a matzoh that said “I heart Morocco.” That was just the kind of light touch to end the panel; unfortunately there was no time for questions – this panel could have lasted all day if that were the case – but now this is something I will be more conscious of not only while I am here but also when I return.
The picture is of the Hand of Fatima with Hebrew lettering that my friend Rose found in Fes - how's that for diversity?
Monday, December 18, 2006
I am grateful to my regular readers and appreciate the time you take to follow along with my adventures and my day-to-day life here. At the same time, I know there are friends and family out there who can’t handle the volume. So I’ve come up with the concept of a quarterly report – every three months or so, mid-month, check back for a summary of my experiences. I’ll also endeavor to answer all questions, comments, e-mails and mail.
So far, I am really glad I made the decision to join the Peace Corps and I’m enjoying Morocco. I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer three weeks ago today and arrived at my final site, Azrou. It’s a town of about 40,000 in the Middle Atlas Mountains, on a crossroads between Fes and the southeast and Meknes and the southwest. I had told them I was flexible, but ended up with everything on my final site wish list – electricity, running water, internet, proximity to other places in Morocco. It also has mountains for hiking and is known for its Barbary Apes. The medina, or old shopping district, may not have everything I want but I can probably find everything I need.
It also has work possibilities that I’m happy about. Again, I had told them I was flexible and to put me where they thought they could best use me, but as training continued, I developed a wish list there too – I wanted to be able to work with a variety of artisans and to have the possibility to work on tourism (which falls under the same ministry). The artisana, where I’m based, has weavers, wood carvers, and a metalworker. Some of the artisans in town I’ll work with include a rock carver, some seamstresses and a sewing cooperative, and I’ll also be helping budding weaving cooperatives in two nearby rural communities. Lots of possibilities for both primary and secondary projects.
The first eleven weeks consisted of intense training. Language, culture, technical, health and administrative sessions took place at our seminar site, Azrou. That’s right, the training was right here – meaning that I was already somewhat familiar with my final site (though of course when I knew I was going to live here I started to look at it through different eyes). Sessions of a few days at a time here were balanced with community-based training – we split up into small groups and had more language as well as a chance to implement some of the technical information that we learned with artisans in rural communities; my group was in TimHdit, about 40 minutes south.
The other trainees (now volunteers) in Small Business Development are an interesting and varied group – more women than men, more artists than business people, a variety of ages (most are younger than I am but I don’t feel out of place; I might have with the other group that started training when we did, Youth Development – almost all of them are just out of college), a variety of U.S. cities and states represented, a variety of interests – during training I played cards, Scrabble and Boggle, learned some somatics and some belly-dancing, got knitting and crochet refreshers, and had many interesting conversations. One person left after a couple of weeks – she decided it wasn’t for her – and if statistics hold up, close to half the group won’t finish the two years, but it’s hard to predict now who that might be because almost everyone seems excited to be here. We’re all scattered now; some of the people I like are nearby and others I will visit.
In the seminar site we stayed at an Auberge – a cross between college dorm, summer camp, reality show and prison – there wasn’t a lot of downtime. I enjoyed it! I’ve always liked school and it was good to learn, to participate in a classroom setting, to be around other smart and interesting people. In TimHdit, we stayed with host families. I’m with a host family in Azrou for two months and am now looking for my own place.
The week after we arrived, the month-long Ramadan began. Muslims fast during daylight hours; it was tough to get used to (as was the food and water in general at first – one of our first health sessions was on diarrhea and it soon became apparent why). Ramadan wasn’t that bad in retrospect – I liked the l-ftur (break-fast) of eggs, breads, dates, juice and sweets, and didn’t need the late-night or pre-dawn meals – but I prefer non-Ramadan. The food here is delicious – recent meals have included chicken with frites, lentils, stuffed peppers, a tomato-and-eggplant dish, quince, ground meat and tomatoes. Some of these are things I already loved and some are things I have developed a taste for and am even trying to learn to cook. There’s always fresh fruit, too – my favorite, clementines, are now in season and I have a new discovery, the pomegranate. Eating is done out of communal plates – you take a little bread and grab yourself a bite of whatever the main dish is. I’m okay without a fork or knife but I miss having a napkin. The communal water glass takes some getting used to as well – usually I get my own. I’m not drinking enough water though, much as I try to remain hydrated.
The country is about the size of California and probably contains as many climates as that state – coastal, mountain, desert, arable. I know I had an image of Morocco as hot, as did many of my friends when I told them I was going there. Where I am it’s dry and forested (because it’s protected – look in the other direction and it’s deforested). Azrou is known for having pleasantly cool summers (that is, tolerable) and cold winters – made to seem even colder because houses are unheated and there isn’t hot water (unless you heat some up). Both of my host families have been well-off (not the Peace Corps norm) so we have had wood stoves (in one room of the house, where we all huddle; the family sleeps in that one room – I prefer my own room, cold but with many blankets) and occasional hot water for bucket baths. The hammam is the public bath where you go to get warm and clean; it’s also a social occasion for women. I’ve been, but more out of necessity than fun, and when I find my own place I want to get a hot water heater and a shower head.
Our assignment for the first few months is to get better at language and integrate into the community – no big business plans or projects quite yet. Darija, the Moroccan Arabic dialect, is a challenge, in training we learned the basics to get by. The little bit of French I know helps too; I hope to learn more and have been told that a few words of Tamazight, the local Berber language, would go a long way so I want to do some of that too. I look forward to getting beyond basic conversation; Peace Corps pays for tutoring. I’m lucky to have a counterpart and a host mother who speak English, so I can learn from more than one person. I visit the artisans and I’ve been having tea with carpet-store owners. There are some seasoned volunteers who come into town regularly (the one from TimHdit and one in the environment sector) so I have regular coffees with them and share ideas.
I’m not content with just integration though – I have also attended a craft fair with some of my artisans, been elected our group’s representative to the Gender and Development committee, joined the steering committee for a regional girls’ leadership camp, sat in on a meeting with the TimHdit weavers about the legal status of their cooperative and worked on a brochure for the rock carver. We’re allowed two Saturday-night overnights a month and I’ve been to Fes twice – great getaways. Of course, there is much that I miss, too. Come visit!
The picture is of the carpets for sale at the Azrou souk; these are representative of the rural weavers of the region. Lots more to say! My objective was to make this holiday-letter length, so I’ll stop here. For more, print out some blog entries and pretend we’re talking on the phone or having dinner out!
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Update: I saw the carpenter's house. Good location, near the medina and post office, quick walk to artisana. Very nice apartment - big living room, little sitting room, bedroom, nice-looking kitchen (didn't look closely), bathroom with western toilet and bathtub, plaster Moroccan architectural details. Needs a paint job, which he will do, and cleaning post-last-tenant, which he will do. Balcony more like an outdoor cell - I can use it to hang clothes but would never sit there. No roof - he said I could use his but then didn't show it to me. Faint cat smell - of course, I had that in Boston too. Lack of roof (or other nice outdoor space) a big detraction. Own door, which was one of Lee's criteria, I haven't seen yet other than at his place. Where is Paul Sullivan, who way back when told me to take Chestnut Hall? Or Janet Klein, who talked me into 1360? I miss them. Which reminds me - when I wasn't feeling well earlier this week, Mouad was piling books on me in bed. One of them was the Chicago book I'd brought for my family. I had bought this beautiful book for myself as a present (when Joy was visiting). Then two friends gave me the same book as I was leaving. Good choice, friends! I decided to bring them as host family gifts. As long as I was laying there and books were being piled on top of me, I looked at it, pointing things out to Mouad (it was cute to hear him repeat them!). One street looked very familiar - sure enough, when I looked at the index, it was Schiller across from 1360. The Charnley-Persky house around the corner is featured, as is a house on Schiller and State - in addition to the usual views from North Avenue Beach etc. which I had already noted. I'm no fool though - there were no winter pictures - but Chicago sure is beautiful.... I also asked my host mother if she thought my host father (who is well-connected here) might know of available houses. It hadn't occurred to me to ask him yet, and it hadn't occurred to her. So there's another channel with many possibilities. This afternoon I'll go over to the rockcarver and maybe to one of the carpet stores for tea. It's sunny enough to walk around neighborhoods, but windy, and I think taking my mind off it for the afternoon is going to be more rewarding than further exploration today. I also hope the potato chip guy is there - he hasn't been there on the rainy days so it's been a week since I've had any!
The picture is of one of the main interesections in town - patisserie, cafe I sometimes go to (upstairs) - taken from the sidewalk in back of the mosque. Keep walking and you get to the medina; up and then turn left for one of the cybers I sue and for the post office and two of the carpet shops.
This week has required some flexibility. I felt all achey on Monday so after tutoring I went to bed for a while. Went out to see the counterpart and to look for the rockcarver, who once again sold more than any other artisan at the craft fair in Rabat over the weekend, but the former couldn’t leave the artisana to take me to the sewing cooperative and the latter wasn’t in, so I went back to bed. I thought I was going to Meknes to see the delegate (ministry representative) this week and to the two rural communities with whom I’ll be working, but both of those journeys were postponed. And new meetings materialized – one about the GLOW camp, with an organization that runs campsites and might be able to host, and the other a meeting with the counterpart, Katie and three of the women from TimHdit (!), about the legal requirements of forming their cooperative (that was mostly in Tamazight but Katie and the counterpart translated enough for me to get it – more incentive to learn some Tamazight though, once I have more darija under my belt!). I still haven’t really been to the souk. On site visit, I went with my host mother to get vegetables, but didn’t really explore. The first week I was meeting with the tutor, last week I think I also was squeezed for time, and this week I was achey. But every week I try to leave Tuesday morning open for it.
I also had a massage! I had wanted to get one in Fes, but that proved harder to find than anticipated, so I decided to try the one in town that Amanda had told me about (but has not yet experienced herself – she just met the massage therapist by chance). It was a metaphor for my life here – the ones in America are easier and better (for example, the room was cold), but I am here for a variety of reasons and overall am glad to be in Azrou where at least they have massages (and the other creature comforts).
House-hunting has taken on more of a priority now – without the travel, I’ve had more time this week, and my goal is to have an idea of what I want by the end of the month so the Peace Corps can send someone out to inspect it in early January. I can’t move until the end of January so if I don’t find something this month, more could open up…still, I’m stressing a bit about it.
I’ve now seen three PCV houses – Lee’s, Katie’s, and Amanda’s. They each had some charm but also some flaws. All were/are in good locations. All have kitchens that seem hard to work with – and this coming from someone who is not much of a cook. They’re all sparsely furnished, too, which gives me an idea that the Peace Corps settling-in allowance does not go far. I understand that we’re supposed to live at the level of the people we’re living with and working with, but I also want to have a comfortable and nice place for the next two years. All had mattresses on the floor – this after the medical staff said not to do that, but maybe that only applies in the scorpion areas. Lee was the only one with couches not on the floor, but that’s because he borrowed the couches.
I realize that when I get back I will have a much harder housing decision – what city to live in, what neighborhood to live in, whether to finally take the plunge and buy, getting quality furniture – but it’s still been tough so far house-hunting here.
Last week I saw a beautiful place – all new, with lots of tile, new fixtures (nice big sink, shower head), one balcony with a view of a mountain (unless you look down – then you see trash), another balcony just for the clotheslines, and a shared (but not used by the other people much) roof with a view of the city. It’s in a strange location though – new neighborhood, up a steep side hill from the Supermarche, but underpopulated, and you have to walk past the bus station to get to it – sort of a Port Authority crowd – and then through a dirt/mud patch. I have to see what it’s like going to and from the artisana from there. Yesterday I saw a place in the neighborhood next to the artisana – I think I referred to it as Brooklyn. It was a room, and “if I liked it they would add another room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a small roof.” What? I don’t have the imagination for that. I told them I would have a hard time getting the Peace Corps to come out and approve that. I still have the carpenter’s place to see – the one used by the previous PCV, the one used as an LCF house – and I have high hopes for that, though I don’t want to get my hopes up. Then there’s Lee’s place – I could take another look, now that it’s empty, but for whatever reason I just didn’t love it (though it does have a great roof). It may not be available anymore, either – the language barrier made that unclear. I have been putting out feelers as I’ve been talking to people but I don’t know if I’m going to get more help (I did get help on all of the above, so I don’t feel unhelped – the options just may be more limited than I thought). Tomorrow is another day, but I feel discouraged today. Well, tomorrow is another day (didn’t I just say that? See, I’m already picking myself up off of the mat!). Maybe I’ll take a step back and walk around a bit more, explore some of the different areas (“uptown” and “downtown” are oversimplifications – each has nuances and nooks, and there’s more to Azrou than just those two…) and maybe I’ll fall in love with a neighborhood and then focus on what’s available there. If there's a sunny day it would help - lately it's been raining off and on, and chilly - not good exploration weather.
Pictured is the approach to the Azrou souk...even though in the narrative I haven't been there yet.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Chicken soup, chicken soup, wherefore art thou chicken soup? When I bought those herbal remedies last week I thought, oh, I haven't really been sick. So today I'm all achey. Had tutoring this morning and then went home for a nap (and to hang laundry). I just now came from a meeting with my counterpart (we can't do the phone call and visit we were going to do today so I will come back tomorrow) and I stopped by the rock shop to congratulate the carver on selling more than anyone else at the fair in Rabat (he wasn't there so I will try tomorrow) so as long as I'm up...
On to the whirlwind last few days of training. I’m still trying to figure out why it felt so strange – the atmosphere of Immouzer, the chemistry of being all together, the knowledge that in a few days we would be off to our sites?
The first day was getting there, settling in (as best we could), giving our presentation and seeing the YD presentation. It was interesting to see what they do. Working with the Dar Shebabs, they teach English both straightforwardly and with a variety of games, songs, theatre. They also teach life lessons, I think. Interesting – it looks like fun, but I am glad to be doing what I am going to be doing.
The next day, the Tour de Maroc came through town. I’m sorry I missed it! I have always thought it would be fun to see the Tour de France, but to see something go by so quickly seems silly to go out of your way for. However, if it comes to you that’s a different story. Anyway, I missed it. Maybe next year it will go through my town – now that I know there is one. Morocco has some famous long-distance races – I should look into those. I saw the space shuttle the other day and have always wanted to see a launch, too – how many more of those will there be? Tour de Maroc aside – I got my bike. When the environment person came out last week she brought it. I was hoping not to get it while still with the host family because it’s more clutter. I don’t think I’ll use it at all this winter (I was never a winter rider). And I don’t know hw much I will use it at all – the hill is a hill, which I’m not used to, and it also has a lot of traffic, which I’m not used to. It might be nice to bike out to the rural communities I’ll be working with and then not be dependent on transport – and I think it’s flatter to get there, albeit still with traffic. It also appears that there might be nice recreational rides around here – haven’t even been for a run yet though. The bikes are nice Treks from the states.
We had some sessions that were repeats of what we had been told in Rabat while we were jet-lagged – I do remember that they told us they would be telling us again, and I remembered most of what they had told us the first time. Emergency Action Plan (in case of unrest, natural disaster or other unlikely occurrences), Policies and Procedures, sexual assault, administration, IT rules.
And some new sessions. One was on diversity. We had already had a diversity session that smacked to me of federal mandate (I thought of Ozzie Guillen undergoing diversity training) but this one turned out to be so interesting that I will write more about it. We had a Butagas video featuring my predecessor here, who almost died because he didn’t leave a window open and the gas used up all the oxygen in the room (the video was a little creepy and in it his apartment didn’t look all that nice!). And we had a presentation by the Volunteer Support Network, some PCVS who have been trained in active listening (I want the training) so that if anyone needs someone to talk to they can call someone on the VSN list. As part of that session, we had a chance to reflect 0 one thing we will take from training, a funny story, one thing we are most looking forward to and least, what’s the first thing we will cook in our own apartments, things like that. We got together in groups – had to be some SBDs and some YDs, had to be not everyone in your CBT group – and it was very interesting, perhaps one of the most enjoyable sessions (I like lists and I have year-end awards already, so this is my kind of thing. Those are coming up! I have a lot of awards to think about!).
And there were walks through town, card games , and Thanksgiving dinner. The person who volunteered himself to do it did a great job of coordinating and there were plenty of people who volunteered to help. I helped with the stuffing the day before and then with getting the burned part off of the stuffing the next day as well as with plating salads. The dinner was everything you could have asked for – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, green beans, salad, chocolate chip cookies, apple crisp, pumpkin bars, fresh fruit. I stuffed myself in a way I haven’t since I’ve been here, and it was worth it! It was also a really nice way to end training, since it was the night before swearing-in. The environment and health people, whose stage is March through May, don’t have a similar sendoff dinner. This one ranked right up there with any of the great Thanksgiving dinners of my life, and it was nice to be with all of my new friends for it and to have helped behind the scenes. Here is a stuffing shot of Rob, Connie and me.
Hard to believe we left the United States three months ago today! I think the 11th is a good anniversary to celebrate, though I may start counting from swearing-in...
Friday, December 08, 2006
Still working my way through the rest of training. We spent the three days before swearing-in at Immouzer du Kandar, a beautiful little town between Azrou and Fes. It was hard to say goodbye to the Auberge - at least I know I can come back and visit my neighbor, the owner (who can also help me find things in town), but it was also a farewell to being together as a group and to our newness as trainees. I know there were people who couldn't wait for it to end and to get started on their own at their sites - well, I was not one of those! I enjoyed the camaraderie and getting to know everyone a little bit and some people relatively well, I enjoyed the classes (I've always liked school!), I enjoyed the summer camp/freshman year atmosphere.
Immouzer was the YD training site, and we rejoined our companions there. Funny, in Rabat I had taken a liking to some of them and was looking forward to seeing them again, and while I was glad to do so, I have so much more appreciation for the SBDs now that I still spent most of my time with them. Over the course of our time there, I did talk to the YDs who will be nearby or who may pass through Azrou to make sure they know they are welcome. The seminar site there is a resort - last year the SBDs who came from the Auberge were awed because it was plush in comparison. But between last year and this year the Auberge doubled its size (our room of 4-6 people had held 11), added the conference room, hooked up wifi - and even while we were there improvements were made in response to our requests (e.g. doubled the clothesline space and added clothespins). So coming to Immouzer, with green grass and ping pong, pool and grass was like paradise last year; this year, with bungalows for 16 (two rooms, four bunk beds to a room, with a bathroom in between that did have hot showers but was plumbing-challenged, was a step down. It was a beautiful town to walk around - took a couple of walks to the old medina and beyond - I feel I talked about this already when talking about swearing-in day so I'll concentrate on the end of training and up to Thanksgiving.
A little aside - on the way to the cyber the other day I saw three girls playing jump rope. But the two girls holding the rope weren't holding it in their hands and moving it - they were standing there, with the rope around the backs of their knees (as you might be holding string in your hand before starting cat's cradle) while the third girl was jumping. Just so I know it wasn't a fluke, I saw other girls doing the same thing yesterday.
And I should mention some successes - one of the PCVs (he supposedly has a great blog - Cory) said that in the first few months its important to celebrate those (as long as you don't get caught up in, "I talked to someone at the post office and they understood!" every day). Yesterday I finally had a chance to sit down with my counterpart and talk about a work plan. As Lee had mentioned to me, there are a couple of rural communities with weavers who are forming cooperatives that he would like me to regularly visit, and several individual artisans here. As I kind of already knew he would say, he said if I have any of my own ideas I was welcome to work on them (I started to talk about some but it turned out that this wasn't the meeting for that). Then I went to have tea with the carpet store man with whom we had tea on that nice Sunday - his store is so inviting and he is so nice! With a cape that he lent me around my shoulders and a cat purring in my lap, we looked at a book put out by the Ministry of Artisana showing crafts from the various regions - if the Peace Corps has this book, they didn't have it for us in training! If not, they should get it! As I looked through the pages I was pleased to recognize the wood and metal from the artisana in Azrou. It's nice to know that the products are distinct. There were also shoes distinct to the area and he said that he would introduce me to the artisan who makes them. Then we looked at the carpets in that book and in some other books he has. There are many regional variations and I told him that maybe by the end of my time here I would be able to look at a rug and say that I know what region it was from, but that I certainly couldn't now; he said it was hard. I'll go back some time and look at his carpets again and learn more about them.
Today I went to the artisana - Hoceine gives classes in English and he invited me to join. I got there a little early, just as a busload of kids and their chaperones were filing in. I thought this was an educational field trip but it turned out it was a shopping field trip! This is the first time I've been at the artisana where there were more than a couple of actual customers and the first time I've seen a lot of people buy anything, so I watched eagerly. The boys gathered around the wood and metal artisans and the girls around the jewelry case (the jewelry is not made here and I forget where it's made - I know Lee tried to get labeling and product information onto the displays and I hope to try to also!). Later the girls looked at the wood and the boys at the jewelry. I think that the big sellers were the jewelry, wood figurines, and some of the pottery - vases and candlesticks and spice bowls (they don't have salt and pepper shakers here but rather bowls from which you take a pinch) - some of which is local and some not. It was very interesting to watch but not a time to talk to customers - they were on a timetable - in, buy, back on the bus. Then I went to the English class but today he was giving a test to the students so he said if I have something else to do I would see him Monday. I always have something else to do - that might be a defining characteristic of me - so I did some work-related e-mails, now am writing this, and later will go for tutoring (Friday afternoon is not a good day for that, I know, but the week went by...). This weekend I have my first excursion, to Fes and Sefrou, and next week I think I will start looking for a house. The picture is of the courtyard in the Riad in Fes. It doesn't really go with the narrative, but that way I can include more Fes pictures! More on the balance of training, Fes and Sefrou, and househunting to come! And I still have to address gender roles and go back to add some pix - I can also address other topics on request! Just in case I don't get back to the cyber until next week, have a good weekend!
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I came home for lunch yesterday and the sheep had ceased to exist, sparing me the choice of whether or not to watch the ritual. Lunch was couscous – not on a Friday, because my host father doesn’t like it and he wasn’t home yesterday. Traditional couscous has six or seven vegetables – carrot, turnip, pumpkin or squash, onions and I’m not sure of the others, actually – and then meat – in this case, chicken and it was delicious! You make it in a special couscous pot – the vegetables and meat in stock in the lower half and the couscous in the upper half, getting the flavor. I also had couscous on Saturday at Amanda’s fiance’s family’s house, a special treat since a brother came in from Rabat. The Moroccan way to eat it is to take some couscous and vegetable or meat and roll it into a ball in your right hand and then pop it into your mouth. I have always been given a spoon – and I have never been the only person eating with a spoon. I haven’t watched the entire couscous process but it’s possible I’ll never have to cook it, since I keep getting invitations. I am starting to learn about other things though – there’s an excellent peppers-and-tomato dish that I wrote down the recipe for as my host mother was making it (well, kind of a recipe since there are no measurements). Substitute eggplant for the peppers and then I have another dish. This week we’ve also had a great lentil dish that I think I could make (perfect for a cold day) and a ground-meat-and-tomato dish that I might be able to reproduce.
It was cold and rainy yesterday so I had the idea of working from home in the afternoon – finished “The Roles of the Volunteer in Development” earlier this week and moving on to “PACA.” I’m also slowly but surely working on my dictionary. I thought I would do some of that but first read some of the columns my friend Debbie sends me (The Ethicist, On Language, Tuesday Morning Quarterback – I’ve just added some Slate columns to my list of requests too!). Then rather than work I decided to go to the hammam, because I just wasn’t warming up, even in the room with the cozy wood stove. I had just gotten back when Amanda called to ask me to coffee – she had been working on site development and I wanted to hear about that. And then it was time for the party! Luckily I had read a lot of Peace Corps reading and worked on the dictionary over the weekend (no more self-directed days after training!) so I didn’t feel too guilty. Actually I met some people while walking with Amanda, which counts as community integration. Today I bought some of her cooperative's medicinal herbs. I offered to help with copy for their brochure - it sounds interesting!
I think the party is sbor, not sbae. My host mother gave me some Moroccan party clothes to wear and I went downstairs with her mother-in-law; she had to tend to the men upstairs who were reading the Qu’ran. First we visited with the mother and baby for a while – the mother had a C-section so was unable to get out of bed. But there were plenty of sisters making food and tending to guests and to the baby. I thought of bnat xti (literally girls-sister-my) and how they would have liked to see the new baby. I had a conversation with one of the sisters, and she said my Arabic was very good – a needed boost, since I felt discouraged when I made the rounds of artisans yesterday and felt discouraged at my lack of vocabulary (I know I was saying the right thing to the weaving cooperative – but they just told me I should wait for Hoceine to get back and then we could talk. Amanda reminded me that people here are not used to foreigners trying to speak Arabic so they don’t all try to listen).
The kids were in one half of the living room, dancing and playing (again, I thought of my nieces – I think they would have had fun!). I sat with the women and mostly listened (also made faces at a little girl who was on her mother’s lap and kept staring at me – she enjoyed it). First we had tea and cookies and I didn’t realize how much else was coming so I had several cookies. Then out came the sheep. I wonder why I don’t want to eat sheep. For a fleeting moment and image of Shari Lewis and Lamp Chop floated in my head – is that it, an image from childhood? I slowly ate a couple of prunes, hoping nobody else would notice, but they did and they pressured me to have some meat. And then I remembered why I avoid it – I just don’t like the taste. After that, yet more food came out – one of my favorites, couscous with carmelized onions and golden raisins. I had a few bites, but a) I had filled up with the cookies, b) the Moroccan belt my host mother gave me to wear was snug and c) it was late, so I didn’t want to eat too much (the men had the same except maybe not as wide a selection of cookies; sometimes the men get an extra course, too). Then there was fruit – I rallied to have some pomegranate, and then it was time to go. I had brought a present for the baby (and one for the older sister so she would get some attention too) but I don’t think the other guests brought presents. I have to find out more about this – do they just not give any or do they give them at another time? We got little baby party favors – a little baby carriage with sweets, wrapped in tulle, and some candied almonds also wrapped in tulle. It was a treat to witness this tradition! We had been told we’d be invited to parties and I wasn’t sure that would be the case, but I’ve now (including the ones we gave at the end of CBT) I’ve already been to four! Five, if you count the going-away party!
The picture is of the capr I ordered from the weavers of Ait Hamza (their CBT group was very enterprising in bringing products to sell and taking orders). Nice colors, no?
Monday, December 04, 2006
After the language test most people had the rest of the day off...but a few of us self-selected to prepare a presentation about SBD for the YDs. It seemed natural that at least one person from every CBT group would work on it and natural that I would be the one from our CBT group. I actually didn't do a lot of work on the presentation in the afternoon because I had a prior commitment, but I did help when I got back and managed to have some input (also took pictures of key places in Azrou while I was out, for inclusion in the presentation). The prior commitment was with Motasim, to meet the sewing cooperative he had spent a lot of time with while here. They stopped working in August because a lot of the members got married (and people are busy during wedding season anyway) and then kept not working through Ramadan, and had just started back up (they were not working when I was on site visit), just in time for me to visit with Lee. It was nice to meet the people there and to hear from Lee what he was working on. To list the small business development opportunities:
1 - they had 24 members and seem to be down to two.
2 - Hoceine told them that they couldn't take three months off or they might lose their status as a cooperative.
3 - They are in a building (I think I mentioned it before - padlocked in) of the ministry of youth and sports. Since it is borrowed space they cannot put up a sign or display any of their inventory. Actually, I don't know how a customer would know about it, find it, see what is for sale, or buy anything.
4 - There is empty space at the artisana that could be used for their display/selling and other empty space that could be used for their work space. The artisana said OK if the delegate said yes; the delegate said OK if the ministry said yes; now I have to ascertain status.
5 - Lee was teaching them some English related to customer service - how are you, things like that. He also taught them some branding (putting the name of the cooperative and Azrou on the items) and I think helped with product development too. I can build on all of that.
6 - There was a fair at the artisana last year in the back room. Motasim was away for the beginning of it and when he came in he noticed that there weren't any customers - so he made a few signs to let people know about the fair in the back, and then some customers came, including people from Switzerland who placed an order with the cooperative (and may account for their entire sales to date). Is this an ongoing relationship? Inquiring minds want to know, and want the vocabulary to ask the question.
That's just what I remember off the top of my head. The cooperative was helped by a Moroccan NGO that has offices in three cities in the country - and Azrou happens to be one of them! So we went to that NGO so that I could introduce myself. It helps all women - and I count as one of those too - I can use their space for classes and some of their expertise on things such as forming a cooperative. And on the way to the NGO we saw what looked like a school; someone he knew was in front of the school so we asked what it was and it turns out it's another place that teaches sewing to rural women, so is another possibility for me to work with. It has been there the whole time but Lee didn't know about it.
In my flexibility/willingness to do urban/rural etc. before site assignments, I thought there were advantages and disadvantages to following a PCV and/or to being the first volunteer at a site. Well, what I see now is that in my situation there are so many advantages! I feel really lucky to be following one, to be following one with whom I overlapped (the ones who had volunteers leave early have the advantage of their site knowing what Peace Corps is but maybe a jilted feeling or a sadness about the person who ET'ed), to be following one with whom I had the chance to spend so much time, and to be following one who seemed to be so well-liked in the community (if not in Peace Corps HQ - but whatever the story is there, I don't think it will reflect on me). I keep running into people I met through him - maybe Azrou is a small town, at least in the medina area. And the people couldn't be nicer - I have three outstanding invitations to tea (hope to start taking up some of those this week) and other open invitations. My goal was to spend as much time soaking up his wisdom as I could and that Monday afternoon there was a lot to soak up!
P.S. There's a sheep in the indoor courtyard downstairs. It has no idea what is going to happen to it. It's there for the seventh-day celebration of the new baby. I've read about the sheep-killing in my cross-culture manual - it's quite a ritual. Halal is very humane (can't kill it in front of other sheep so other sheep don't get stressed, feed it only water the 24 hours before e.g.). Other people in my group have seen it already and even participated (only men can participate so I am off the hook there). I'm undecided about whether or not I want to see it - good for cross-culture but, well, yikes. Then first only men will be at the party and then only women. If I don't see it now I will get another chance at L-Eid Kbir, when every family kills a sheep (this is the big holiday - Kbir means big - that has the travel restriction because this year it is somewhere between 12/28 and 1/8). More on the baby party if there is more to report...and maybe more on the sheep, too, but maybe not...
Pictured is a dove made by the metalworker at the artisana. I bought two of these to give as thank-you presents to Katie and Rose for their help in getting my computer to me (presents are in order for the other side of the pond but I haven't bought any yet...). The dove is a Peace Corps symbol. too. I might get one for myself! I do have a picture of the sheep but thought this was a nice one...
A family after my own heart….My host father went to a conference in Rome last week (ah, Rome - was it really just this past March that I was there? It seems forever ago) and brought back two shopping bags full of – CHOCOLATE! As he pulled out box after box, all of our eyes were wide. And then we dug right in – not quite the feeding frenzy that occurred when the head of admin tossed M&Ms and Reese’s at the crowd, but a definite let’s-have-some-right-now spirit.
So what do I miss the most? I guess the right question is “what do I miss the most this week – or this moment?” When I read my niece’s question about Pizza Hut, on the side of the computer screen there was an ad for California Pizza Kitchen. Had I still been in Chicago, surely within the last three months I’d have been to CPK at least once or twice (I could easily ignore internet ads in the past, but that one caught my eye, as did one for Godiva last week - of course, now we have lots of chocolate from Italy! Had a gianduja at lunchtime). And for a while there this summer I was on a kick for Starbucks Decadent Espresso Brownies. Cheese keeps coming to mind – a nice sharp cheddar or some feta or blue to crumble over tomatoes (Marjane probably has them, when I get back there). I’d say my friends, but I have more e-mails than I can get to and I’ve snuck in a phone call or two (and since Martha is in charge of paying my bills I never see them, so what’s $2.49 a minute between friends?). So the answer for today is my bracelets. I have worn these two thin gold bracelets on my wrist not forever, but for a long time. I wasn’t a bracelet person and when Martha gave me my first one she said I would become one. These bracelets have a habit of getting lost or falling off, usually to be found again, but when the Morocco Welcome Book said not to bring anything you couldn’t afford to lose, I decided to leave them in storage. And I miss them. I did bring some bracelets that I occasionally wear (two that I made and one other) but they’re not bracelets I feel like wearing all the time. I think I’ve already lamented that I wish I had brought more jewelry – something I didn’t expect to feel! They do have bracelets here but more of the bangle variety, not the thin chain kind. I may get some though. But first, I think I am almost ready to get a jellaba – a nice warm one for the winter. More fun than a knockoff puff jacket.. I wasn’t about to bring the warm, bulky coat that I left in storage, but I did almost set my Ugg boots aside to be sent and I may regret not doing so (though I know which box they’re in….). Now it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that the volunteer before Lee would have gone home after two months because she was cold. It’s cold. And it’s only the beginning of the winter; not even, really. As I walk out every morning, the bank just up the block has time and temperature (just like my walk in Chicago, when the Playboy/Palmolive building had it. I was sad when they took that time and temperature away for the renovation!). It’s been in the 40s but not hit freezing yet. I don’t think it gets much below freezing and my fleece jacket so far has stood up to it, but it’s only a jacket and there’s an entire lower half of my body to be cold).
So, back to the last week of training. I had my language test on Monday morning – felt much more confident than I had in the practice with my LCF the night before. The conversation flowed more smoothly and I didn’t have as many ums and ers. It was kind of a softball test – I didn’t get asked a single question that I hadn’t practiced – and I passed. Which is enough for me. Now I can work with my tutor and with other people here to speak more and aim to excel. I need to work on conjugation, vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar (did I say this last time?). The trainee who gave the lower-back somatics lesson way back when also had her test over early, so we met in the salon to do the cranial-sacral lesson I had been trying to schedule. Somewhere in the week I also got my crochet refresher and a Scrabble game in, so I left no loose ends. And I learned a new card game that I can’t wait to play again. It’s called Nertz. X number of people play (we had four), each with their own decks. You put 13 cards in a pile in front of you, the top one face up, and then put for more cards face up in a row next to the big pile. Then you basically play quadruple solitaire, turning over cards three at a time – the cards in front of you are yours and yours alone, but the piles in the middle are for anyone to put cards on and, as you can imagine, it’s fast-paced and can get somewhat violent when two people or more ry to put the same card on the same pile. As you use up the four cards in front of you, you replace them with cards from your Nertz pile of 13, and when someone is done you count the cards of yours that ended up in the middle and subtract those remaining from your Nertz pile and that’s your score. As with all games, the person whose game it was did the best, but I caught on rather quickly (Martha and I play double solitaire when we see each other so I’m used to the pace and the violence).
This morning I spent an hour and a half at the moqaddem's. The highlight was the certifying of the copies of my passport. Two copies of the page with my picture and two of the page with my entry stamp into Morocco. Total processing - 4 2DH paper stamps, 4 signatures, 20 rubber stamps, 5 different ones per page. Then on to the police station (still 5:50) - I had to go out to photocopy the new certificate of residence I had just received, but then my paperwork was all in order and I can pick up my carte de sejour a month from today - my first birthday present! Rushing around today - I then went home for lunch, did some business e-mail, on to the post office to ransom the TaHaRoot and found the first mail addressed to me (hooray! Even better - it didn't take so long to get to me). And then I had to see the rockcarver. And then I thought I was going to meet with my counterpart but I think he's gone for the day so here I am! Tonight the Environment Program Assistant (also the person in charge of Gender and Development) is in Azrou so I am going to meet her - and she has my bicycle! Maybe there will be a nice sunny day before winter truly sets in and I will go for a ride!
The pic is me at the scarf-tying tea talk...I haven't gotten into scarves yet, but they might be good for those between-hammam-or-shower bad hair days...
Saturday, December 02, 2006
So how was my first week at work? Well, I'll tell you, but first a few things.
- Mail - I have been answering all of my mail with mail. So if you sent me something and I haven't written you back, it could be that it's still on the way, or it could be that I didn't get it. I know that Q-Tips and a micorfiber towel requested after CBT Phase I still haven't found their way to me - I suppose at this point they're not going to and I should send "thank you for trying" notes. They said not to have anything sent that you don't mind if it never comes.
- The Peace Corps assignment. Some of the current volunteers I spoke with felt defensive talking about Morocco compared to other countries - after all, most of the sites have electricity and running water - and they all pointed out that what makes this a hard assignment is the culture and getting used to it. It seems that Azrou is pretty liberal compared to some sites, and of course it is less rural than some of the sites, so within Morocco I feel lucky. Actually, I don't feel the need to get defensive.
- I didn't sign up for a hardship but rather for an opportunity to share my skills in a developing country - I just thought it was interesting that other people are defensive about it and I thought I would share it. I hear that Eastern Europe also has a lot of creature comforts too, and what makes that hard is both the weather and the fact that the people are depressed. I guess bottom line is that all Peace Corps assignments are different. It actually makes sense to me that small business development would be in countries that have more comforts - it's beyond the basics of health and agriculture. Anyway, as I sit here at the cyber I have on my fleece jacket (the warmest thing I brought), long underwear, a hat and fingerless gloves, so nobody has to tell me that I have a cushy assignment.
- Hair. I didn't hear back with approval to go to Fes this weekend, so I decided I may as well see if I can get my hair done here in Azrou. The hair person has highlighted hair herself so I thought I could explain what I wanted, but I decided it was too much of a chance (I ran into Amanda, the environment volunteer, who is here for the weekend, and her fiance Youssef, who is Moroccan, even explained it in Darija and I still didn't want to chance it) so I am going for a process color, one color that is close to the color of my hair - no more highlighting. Maybe a next step would be doing it for myself, when I get my own place and (inshallah) have a shower head and a hot water heater). The appointment is at 2:00 and I was then invited to Youssef's house for couscous at 1:00...tried to get a massage in the meantime (again, may as well see how it is in Azrou and if it's OK I don't have to go to Fes every time) but the massage therapist Amanda heard about is nor working today - so next week for that.
- Snow. I read that there was a big storm in Chicago and that it is moving to the Northeast. I hope it was/is fun for everyone or at least not too much of a pain.
Okay - back to our story. I had just left the COSers at the bus station and taken a petit taxi home. Had asked for a set of keys for this possibility. It turns out, though, that the neighbor had bolted the door! I felt it was too early to ring the buzzer, so I stood outside for a while thinking about what to do - actually I kept trying the door because it took me a few tries to figure out why the key wasn't working. At that point I had woken the neighbor up...so I got in, slept for another couple of hours, and got ready to go to the artisana. Incidentally, the neighbors just had a baby the other day, so next week I will go to a sbae party - for the seventh day after a baby is born. I think it's just a big party but if there are any cultural things to report, I shall. Maybe today is a good day to buy a present for that!
I met with my counterpart, Hoceine. I don't think he's technically my boss; I think the delegate in Meknes is (I report both to the Peace Corps and the ministry so I have multiple bosses) but he is the one I will see most often, set a work plan with, perhaps do workshops with, ask for work-related leave, and more. Anyway, I told him about the event in Ifrane (I think I mentioned that) and we lined up some artisans for that. Then he told me to go get my carte de sejour paperwork taken care of and I would see him later. I then spent about an hour going from place to place looking for a tax stamp for the carte de sejour - each place I went told me to try another place - and ran into the aforementioned Amanda, who went to a few more places with me until we finally asked a person who told us the right place to get them. I'm keeping a site journal for the next volunteer, so maybe I can save him/her some time. Had photos taken too. Then went to the post office to put my name on the box and mail some letters that I had written earlier but hadn't had a chance to mailm that took a while. I still haven't gotten any mail but next week, inshallah. Anyway, that was pretty much the day.
Tuesday I met with my prospective tutor and reviewed with him all of the things I had learned so far and negotiated an agreement with him. That was pretty much the morning. Then I went to the post office to mail the agreement into Peace Corps headquarters so that I can begin getting tutoring money; that took a while (to save time, whenever I mention the post office from now on you can add "that took a while"). In the afternoon, I met with Hoceine again to have him sign the work-related leave form for the conference in Ifrane, and then I went to have it copied and faxed. You might want to add "that took a while" to everything - at least that's how things seemed this week. I then went to the dar shebab, the youth center, with some scholarship information that Lee had heard about but hadn't had a chance to bring over there. It's good to know the dar shebab people anyway - maybe I can do something with them or vice versa. Did I mention that I am getting a sitemate next year? When we got to the final seminar site I met the Program Assistant for Youth Development and she told me that they would be putting a YD person here next year and that I could help with site development - and I could choose, male or female. So I will be back to the dar shebab (she had told me that could be my first assignment but the fair in Ifrane turned out to be!).
Wednesday I went to the police station with all of my paperwork, but was told I needed some more paperwork - a certificate of residence from the moqaddem in my neighborhood (the Peace Corps attestation not enough) and certified copies of my passport (even though they looked right at my passport). Then went to the artisana for a long while (all I did was chat, to me, but that counts as work)- ran into Lee's tutor SiMohammed and then took a walk with him. He invited me to tea, as did Abdu the carpet man from the day with Lee, as did another carpet store owner who some of the other trainees told me about - each time I was invited to tea this week I was on my way to somewhere else, so I did not accept, but I have to go back next week or soon thereafter and have all of those teas - that's part of the job!
Thursday I met with the tutor again, for my first lesson. It was a little all over the place - more a conversation and then some specific words I wanted, to interview the metalworker and to get around Fes. I'd like more structure so that I can get conjugation and grammar and vocabulary and pronunciation, but this was a good start, actually. The tutor, Mustapha, went with me to the moqaddem (who had gone to my host mother after I went to the police station, telling her that he didn't want me to come by myself since he didn't speak English - so the police must have called him and told him I was coming - a little weird but not really a surprise - I guess I'm a big thing for Azrou, even though I feel relatively anonymous in a city of this size). They told me they couldn't legalize everything until Monday, so I will go back with my tutor or host mother. Then I went to the post office (everyone? "that took a while."). There was a card for Lee and a package that he had sent that was returned to him. He was still in Rabat, so I texted him for his resolution and he said I could just have it! It's a TaHaRoot, a cape from the region south of the High Atlas. But of course the post office wouldn't just let me have it - I don't blame them; my name isn't on it and I didn't have the receipt - Lee faxed them permission but by that point I was on to the next thing, so maybe I will get it on Monday (Monday is filling up though, with the moaqddem, the police, my counterpart and tutoring). The next thing that I was already on to was gathering things for the fair in Ifrane. And the amazing thing was that on the way back from the post office I ran into the metalworker and the seamstress that I was going to see. I ran into Amanda and then Aziz (more on him in a minute) this morning too. I think Azrou may be a small town. So - I went to the artisana, where I had promised to take the metalworker's product to the fair for him. The carpet cooperative asked me to take product for them too - with Hoceine, we had stressed that people want to see the artisans themselves - but that's okay; Friday is a tough day and people have other obligations and/or need to work. I confirmed with the seamstress and set a meeting time, confirmed with the woodcarver, and missed the rockcarver.
Friday morning at the grand taxi station I met the seamstress and Zahara, a friend of Lee's who is also president of an association to help artisans in the area (he recommended I ask her to come along) and she roused Aziz, the vice president of the organization, another friend of Lee's, and the owner of a carpet shop (actually this is a third one where I have an outstanding tea invitation!); he went to his shop and got some bigger carpets. We piled into a taxi (these are Mercedes, by the way) along with three other people for the short trip to Ifrane.
Ifrane is the "Switzerland of Morocco" and in addition to having ski areas (which I will check out this winter) it does have chalet-like buildings. I would like to go back for a day trip and walk around! Maybe even tomorrow since I am not going to Fes - or maybe I will organize my pix on my iphoto and write up my report for the craft fair. The fair - well, it wasn't a fair per se but more on that in a minute - was at El Ahkawayne, the only English-speaking university in Morocco, and a good thing to have near my site. There is one American there who is known as a great resource, and I met her, and I also met some American exchange students who as a project want to set up web sites for some artisans, so I invited them to Azrou.
The university has relationships with some artisans, in particular helping to set up a weaving cooperative in a nearby town, and they called Lee to get some more for this event. Not a fair per se but a conference, and at the end of the conference they wanted to have some artisanal products available for sale. We set up and almost immediately the students came in, wanting to buy holiday presents - and I think I would tell the resource that this should be the focus next year, because they bought more than the conference participants. We didn't sell a lot (at least I sold some of both the carpet cooperative's and the metalworker's products and the seamstress sold quite a bit) but it was a good experience - good to talk with Zahara and Aziz (though both are moving soon - Zahara to Switzerland to get married and Aziz to marry an environment volunteer!) and to get to know the seamstress, good to practice language, good to meet the resource and get the web site students, good that we showed we could respond and bring artisans on short notice, good to know what's involved in a craft fair so that when I do it again I have more ideas (bring newspaper to wrap things in and plastic bags, bring a tablecloth for the table, business cards and brochures which I had already suggested and will gauge interest in - these are ideas for the artisans, that is, so it can be more sustainable, though I can also pick up these things on my own for next time). I also had some SIDA (AIDS) brochures that I had gotten from Katie, since it was World AIDS Day. And we got back just at sunset (we are not allowed to travel at night for safety and security). At the grand taxi station on the way back we ran into the sisters Lee introduced me to - back to that small world thing! And a note on that - I know that as he was introducing me I expressed concern about making friends, and in a later post it seemed I am not worried about that anymore. If I express concern or worry, I don't want you to worry about me - as you know, I'm pretty positive and I do have many ways to make myself happy (this is one of them!). I know I will have more concerns and worries - it's part of the cycle they showed us, of adjustment, culture shock etc. - and I hope to be able to write about them here. Just know that in a future post I will feel better!
P.S. I was just looking at mlb.com to try to find out who won the post-season awards and couldn't find them easily, and then I realized I had a dream that I was watching a commercial that featured Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Good to realize I am still dreaming about baseball!
Just added a picture of the supermarche. You can see that it's one in name only (but it is super for here)