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 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 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)

Tom Glavine signed with the Mets :)
So how does this work compare with what you were doing in the US? I don't really know what you were doing in the US, but it sounds like you might have a lot more flexibility here, more responsibility for figuring things out. Do you have any sense yet of what kinds of things you'll end up learning in terms of work - as opposed to language, culture, etc.?
But why wasn't Willie Randolph named manager of the year? The other day I dreamed about Dr. Deaton from the SDSU program back in 1975 and about Professor Billington! Is my life passing before my eyes?

To compare the work here and there...I think the work here will be much more basic, teaching about customer service (look someone in the eye, thank them for buying something), maybe making brochures or business cards (actually I did a lot of the former in my old life - sometimes I thought we were a sell sheet producer rather than actually selling any product!), working on product development (telling people what I think tourists would like as opposed to doing sophisticated marketing research). It depends on who I end up working with exactly. My counterpart mentioned to Motasim that he wanted me to work with two rural communities nearby who might just be starting cooperatives. Motasim gave the rock carver his computer and told him I would help him learn to use it. I know I will go to moe trade fairs - the rock carver is going to one this weekend without me, but maybe next year I will get permission to go to it. And I have plenty of secondary project ideas already - helping the person with the medical issue (it's actually right up the alley of someone we know well, so I will write to him about her), working on the camp for girls (have I mentioned that? I have a meeting about it on Sunday so I will mention it more) and, something I am personally interested in, tourism. The ministry is not only Artisanale but also Tourism so maybe I could work on that under the same umbrella.
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