Tuesday, January 30, 2007
I got the keys to my new apartment on Friday and started to buy things for it over the weekend. 5000 dh disappears even more quickly than I thought it would! So far I have spent almost all of it and don’t have everything I would like.
- A forno, a set of burners. It’s funny buying a stove top without the oven underneath it. There are so many options – three, four, six – I decided on three. I rarely use more than two burners. Then of course there’s the color choice. I settled on good old white. I still have to buy the tank of butagas and all of the hardware for regulating it. At least my electricity and water come from the wall. I’m so used to just turning things on! I wonder if in the big cities the gas comes as a utility as well.
- A small oven. On my host mother’s recommendation, got electric rather than gas – this will give me more control over the temperature and more even cooking, for not much more money than a gas oven, but everything adds up. I wasn’t convinced that an oven is essential – there are plenty of things I can cook using just the burners – but she talked me into it, and now that I have it I know I will use it. I want to make some brownies for her as a thank-you and as a cultural exchange – if I don’t get to make them before I move I can make them afterwards.
- A plastic table and chairs. More choices here – arms or no arms (I like arms) and color (again, white). I am not sure where I’ll put it yet. Entrance foyer? Kitchen? Sitting room? They’re plastic – I can move them to suit the occasion. I thought about getting two small tables instead – a small would fit better on the balcony – but maybe I will get a plastic stepladder or hammam chair and use that for the balcony.
- A hot water heater. Six gallons – wait, really, gallons? Or is it liters? I’ll have to check! Seemed like enough for a shower. I have no idea but it seemed like a standard minimum size. My host mother arranged the installation with her plumber and it took about three hours on Sunday (one hour to wait for him, another hour after he checked it out so he could buy the connection things he needed, and then another hour – but now I can have hot water right when I move in! Not in the kitchen, but I can heat water on the burners to wash dishes. Had I known he was buying the connections I would have had him buy the ones for cooking too! I have yet to go to a hardware store here.
- A bed, on order. The packing list said to bring full-size sheets, so I brought a set from home rather than retire them (and have another set on the way); sheets are hard to come by here. But full-size isn’t a size of bed that they have here. So I ordered one that is almost full, and maybe the sheets will fit. Either way, it’s not a size that the stores here regularly stock, so it’ll take a week or so. When I get back, maybe a queen – or, something I’ve dreamed of – a king. Of course I could be living in a tiny place when I get back. Maybe now was the time to do it, when I have the space! I also ordered a plain wood frame so that the mattress wouldn’t be on the floor. I suppose I could have done the mattress on the floor – at least tried it – but again, I think I will be happier this way.
- Ponges (I spelled it ponjes before and I really don’t know; maybe there is no real way to spell it). Big debate – order three or order two? Two is standard Peace Corps; either way I want frames to get them off the floor. I am going to go with my host mother to look for covers for the ponges and pillows. This is a chance for some color! I am thinking purple and yellow – made a nice combination in the hotel we stayed in in Finland this summer. They seem to have all combinations here. I have to look in the low-end price range, of course. No plaid.
That’s about as far as 5000 dh went. I still have to get a wood cover for my Turkish toilet so I don’t fall in when I shower, a dresser of some sort, a desk, a wooden table for the sitting room, and bookshelves (which can be planks with cinderblocks, though I never did that in college). And then dishes, pots, pans, eating utensils etc. A big priority is cleaning supplies – I want people to take off their shoes when they come in, but the plumber and his helpers tracked wet dirt from the melting snow, plus they smoked (at least they had the door to the balcony open when they worked). At least they didn’t eat on the job and leave crumbs! But there are footprints, cement dust and cigarette butts that MUST be cleaned as soon as possible! Also, then there’s the optional refrigerator! Did that become the optional oven or am I going to visit the ATM? I think the latter. My host mother also mentioned that it will get very hot in the summer up on the second floor (including the ground floor – meaning two flights up). I had heard that one of the beauties of Azrou was that it was relatively cool in the summer when the big cities were way too hot! I guess I will find out what relatively means.
I should mention the post office. I think I talked about the day the wall of boxes disappeared. Well, I still don’t know what sort of construction they are doing but the boxes and all operations have moved to the back. And with the move to the back, the people who work there seem to have undergone a personality transformation. All of a sudden, they are friendly! They all greet me and couldn’t be more helpful – and the wait time has gone down significantly. They can take their time with the construction! Although all of my mail has cement dust on it…
The shopping didn’t take up much of the weekend; of course, I didn’t do as much as I would have liked. Had some visitors, too. Veronika, the oldest PCV in Morocco, came from Khenifra. She has a film background and lived in Montreal for 20 years but even so here she is colder than she’s ever been. Nam came from Khemisset, and I went with them to Ain LeuH to check on the progress of two rugs that she ordered. Barbara was there this time, the women of the cooperative made tea again, and it was a lovely visit. And in passing through Sidi Adi again, I saw quite a few cafes along the main street – I think they were closed the first time I went through. They were closed this time too, but they exist. I saw Nam again on Sunday afternoon; he saw the house and we walked around the medina and went to a café.
And I spent a lot of time with my host family – my last weekend with them! They are so nice – I really hope to see a lot of them during the rest of my time here. I have enjoyed their company and am glad they took me in. I especially will miss my host mother, who I feel is a friend, and the two-year-old, who is cute when he’s not taking my things and hitting me or trying to touch the computer. I went to the hammam with them on Saturday night and it was my most positive hammam experience yet. I really felt clean and scrubbed! This despite being splashed with really cold water by Mouad (at least it wasn’t from the scalding hot tap!). And there might still be Tom and Jerrys I haven’t seen! I know I won’t eat as well when I’m on my own – but here there is too much bread, not enough water, and, as predicted, we are still eating the sheep from l-Eid. There was homemade pizza on Friday but other than that it’s been all-sheep all month! I want some spaghetti!
Yesterday was Easura, the tenth day of the first month of the Islamic year. Allah created Adam and Eve, heaven and hell, and life and death on the tenth. Both the ninth and tenth days are special, though Easura comes from ashra, ten. We had sweets on Sunday night, and people wear masks or costumes. My host brothers dressed as Batman and looked so cute! There are bonfires (host mother said there might be one in the old part of town, but it isn’t much done here anymore – meaning she wasn’t going to drive me around to look for one). Water is also important – fire and water.
On television I saw highlights of the Marrakesh marathon. Can I do it next year? I’d like to! I still haven’t been running yet, though my hiking boots that can be running shoes are now comfortable enough, without the orthotics. Need running pants – shorts are not culturally acceptable.
I’m going to Rabat for the rest of the week, for my first Gender and Development meeting. And then to Marrakesh for the weekend! It’s been raining, so no blow-dry…maybe next photo-op!
Friday, January 26, 2007
I recently heard from my seventh-grade science teacher, who said that my seventh-grade music teacher (her husband) predicted at the time that I would join the Peace Corps and go to Africa! She said that they both saw great potential in me. At the time I thought I would be a scientist and discover a new element; it took until college for me to realize I wanted to be with people and not spend all my time in a lab – and that there weren’t a whole lot of new elements being discovered anymore anyway. So here I am, fulfilling someone’s prophesy for me! And when I was in seventh grade, the Peace Corps had not been in existence all that long. But it still has the same three goals set by JFK.
I went to Ait Yahia Oualla with my counterpart last week. It’s the town where my host father is from – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m going to work with the weavers there. I was there for l-Eid, of course. It’s small, with fields just outside of town and mountains in the background – a nice setting. And not far from Azrou – in fact, it was a nice day and I talked my counterpart into walking back. The road between here and there is mostly flat and not too busy – might I even consider using my bike as I start to visit regularly? Hmmm. Anyway, what struck me in the town is that the central part of the town is paved. TimHdit had mostly dirt streets. What struck me, though, was not the lack of dirt but the lack of anything growing - in TimHdit, people occasionally appropriated dirt next to their houses and planted something there; here there’s no space for that. It’s funny what one notices. We went to the building that houses the weaver’s association and saw the looms, the work-in-process and the wool, but we didn’t get to meet the weavers – they work in the afternoon and we were there in the morning.
A trip to Sidi Adi, one of the other rural communities I’ll be working with, had similar lack-of-meeting. My counterpart and I went to Ain LeuH (on a day when Barbara, the volunteer there, wasn’t there – we just don’t seem destined to see each other a lot) – he had business and it was interesting for me to see the town and the artisans there anyway. The weaver’s cooperative there has been operating since 1978 and they are known for high-quality products. They use fine silk and other thin threads, so rugs can take up to two years to make, and they are expensive, reflecting the materials and labor. They’ve had Peace Corps volunteers in the past who have encouraged them to branch out to other items, such as bags, change purses, and shoes – the less-expensive, portable items that we keep saying consumers want. Ain LeuH is situated on the side of a mountain – I have an incline on my way to work but Barbara has a climb! It’s nice there though – in addition to having a cooperative that knows what it’s doing (but can still use small business development), there are other artisans and civic organizations to get involved in. I’d rather be here, but as assignments go, she has a nice one.
The women of the cooperative insisted that we stay for tea – and then we didn’t have time to stop in Sidi Adi. But I got a sense of it, along the road between Ait Yahia Oualla and Ain LeuH. The ground is flat and the town is long, maybe a couple of houses deep. I didn’t see anything like a commercial center with hanuts or cafes. But I’ll get more of a sense of it when I go back there. If I have success working with the women in these two towns (however we define success, I think that I will – right now I just want to meet them!) then they could possibly put volunteers there; Lee worked with artisans in TimHdit and Ain LeuH and now they have volunteers. Ait Yahia Oualla has some small-town coziness to it – and it’s walking distance to Azrou – but Sidi Adi, I don’t know if it has a lot to offer to someone who might live there for two years. We shall see.
This week I had a trifecta of non-meeting, which made me oh-for-five. I was hoping to meet at least some of my primary artisans before the end of January but now I am hoping for early February. Flexibility and ability to adjust! My counterpart and I were going to visit the women of the sewing cooperative. When Lee and I met them they had just started working again after not working for wedding season through Ramadan. This time they stopped for l-Eid Kbir and were starting again but stopped this week because it got cold and the building is very cold. That’s right, winter is back! And now I remember that in December it took a lot of effort just to keep warm. Now at least I have the fleece jellaba, the sweater and sweater pants from the souk, and some sweaters and socks from home! Anyway, we may try next week to see the sewing cooperative or one of the aforementioned groups.
I also didn’t see the delegate, who was going to come from Meknes for two meetings this week. I did write the report that he requested, but I don’t know if it was sent along to him. And I didn’t go to Ben Smim! That village is about 10 minutes away in the other direction, nestled in the mountains. It’s picturesque and seems friendly. Amanda, the environment volunteer lives there (aside – she has dysentery! Had to look that one up in the health manual to remind myself of the symptoms. It’s not pretty. She said it’s going around. Just as well I didn’t make it out to Ben Smim this week!) and there’s been interest in putting a small business development volunteer there too. I think I mentioned that she works with a medicinal herbs cooperative. The environment sector is changing its focus and will be working more on education than with cooperatives, so we have talked to my counterpart about my working with that cooperative after she completes her service in May. They have to do something artisanal – maybe make bags for the product – but they want to do that anyway. In addition, a group of weavers just started to work in Ben Smim. I think I was going to meet the weavers this week, but if I was going to meet both groups, I’m actually oh-for-six in terms of not meeting my artisans! Once I do meet them, on the other hand, I will have a lot of work to do, visiting and observing and later working with them to determine needs and then to help them fulfill their needs! I had wanted a site with multiple possibilities and I have them – and of course I will also be working with the individual artisans I’ve been spending time with in town.
I may not have met the artisans this month but yesterday I did see the king! He came almost two weeks after his originally scheduled date, but that gave Azrou time to paint lines in the street, put up some billboards with his picture, decorate with flags, and do other sprucing. In the meantime, on the news I saw him in Fes, waving from his open-roofed vehicle and shaking hands with officials (including the Wali of Fes. I shook his hand at swearing-in – so is that one degree of separation? Actually, he shook hands yesterday with my host father!). The barricades were up early and flocks of children were behind them, singing and chanting. Traditional bands were playing every few blocks or so, women were ululating. School was out, businesses were closed; the police also told all the people who live on the main street to close their windows and shutters. My counterpart said the king would arrive around three or four, so I felt I could go home for lunch (homemade pizza – yum!) and to warm up before going back out to wait (I mean temperature warm up, not music or pitching). Went out thinking modified Reggie Jackson – “I… must… see… the… king,” and thinking of my moniker as Professional Crowd Member, so bestowed during the bicentennial summer. A police car sped by, siren blaring. It sped by again in the other direction, and again. A slew of BMWs and Mercedeses sped by. And then a phalanx of motorcycles, surrounding the king’s vehicle, from which the king, wearing a traditional jellaba, waved. I felt I should have had a flag or something, but I waved back! A few more vehicles brought up the rear. I was a bit surprised at how quickly the motorcade went by, but the better for security, I suppose.
I had heard he was in town to dedicate an old men’s home near the auberge, so I walked down there, passing more traditional bands and traditional men on horseback (the horses were also traditionally dressed), minus the rifles I’ve seen them brandish on the banknotes. That’s right, I used the words phalanx and brandish! And then the phalanx, king, and luxury vehicles came by in the other direction. I was able to capture that on – well, not on film, but on digital doesn’t sound right. He’s pretty tiny and unidentifiable so instead, a picture of the billboard. And then everyone bypassed the barricades and took to the street, walking up the hill. I’m always one to take to the streets when the pedestrians take over, and I joined them…and then walked back down the hill for cake and Moroccan toast – as I told my host mother, a meal fit for a king.
And today - it's snowing! Middle of the night - wallu (nothing). This morning, a couple of inches on the ground and it's been snowing all day! Big, wet, fun snow. I'm told Azrou is known for its snow removal, but I'm also told that all the roads from here out are closed. The one to Errachidia is particularly known to close - good thing I went to the desert last weekend and not this weekend! I get the impression that people here don't shovel or put anything out on the sidewalks. Remember last month when I was thinking about buying boots? My cold, wet feet are telling me I should have!
P.S. I may not have time to write next week...but that just means I will have a lot to write about after that!
Monday, January 22, 2007
A must-see for anyone who visits, if logistically possible, are the dunes of the Sahara desert. Just saying “dunes of the Sahara desert” sounds so exotic and romantic to me – I remember sitting on the Cape of Good Hope and feeling the same way. You read about it, you learn about it, but do you ever think you will get there? And now I have been. When I was in South Africa I had to say to myself every so often, “I’m in Africa.” I say that to myself less often here because it seems so different from South Africa – and one of the reasons for that, if not the principal reason, is the Sahara desert.
Getting there may not have been half the fun, but it was about half the weekend. When I made the plan it was cold here and I thought it would be nice to go somewhere warm; I also thought I might receive a book by then and have something to occupy me on the bus. It’s been warm here, of course, so I didn’t need that aspect, and I took magazines, so so much for the book, but seeing friends is always a priority, as is seeing other parts of Morocco. Before I get to that, however, the trip down – long but extremely picturesque (if you visit and rent a car it will be shorter – the bus makes long stops in several cities enroute; grand taxis may be faster, or the wait at each grand taxi stop may equalize it). It took over seven hours each way but the time went by quickly.
First, you pass the forest with the Barbary Apes – I thought they might be active by the dawn’s early light but didn’t see them. The Middle Atlas at that time of day were purple mountain majesties above the semi-arid plain – Morocco the Beautiful. The first town of note that you get to is TimHdit - I know the road between here and there well. And after that it was an adventure into the unknown. The mountains get higher and closer to the road. There were trees and shrubs and some patches of snow. Not many people though, or sheep. In fact, I didn’t see any evidence of habitation for a while. I guess the next town is Itzer – there’s a second-year SBD volunteer there, but I’m not really sure which of the places I passed was Itzer. A plain opened up – the land between the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas mountains. It didn’t seem particularly fertile or occupied – a town every so often along the road, but I think I expected agricultural and I didn’t see it. Midelt is the next big city; there’s a second-year SBD volunteer there too (Cory, whose blog I have mentioned). It’s a sizeable city with a stunning view of the snowy side of the High Atlas – not sure how much higher they are than the Middle Atlas (I’ll look it up and get back to you) but the north side of them had much more snow than I had seen yet. I’m guessing that last winter there was snow from here all the way through the High Atlas; this year, no. The road turns and if you’re on the right side of the bus you stare at the snowy peaks for quite a while as you head for the pass in the mountains created by the Ziz River. And then you head up, with the hairpin turns common on mountain byways. Rich is the next big town – Lee described it as beautiful but with some of the meanest people he’d met in Morocco; still might be worth a stop some day. On the way back I texted Jesse, the Imilchil first-year SBD volunteer whose cyber town is Rich (Imichil is the site with no electricity or water and the cyber town is four hours away) – she happened to be there so she came over to talk for a few minutes while the bus was idling there; a nice bonus.
On the dry side of the mountains the land looks more like the American West – lots of sedimentary rock in various layers, a canyon created by the river, not much growing other than that. Growing up in the east, I remember marveling at how much land there was out west not being used for anything (or capable thereof), when the east was either city or farm; this part of Morocco reminded me of that. And then we were on the other side – Errachidia, the big city on the other side (also with a second-year SBD volunteer) is flat and the buildings are clay-colored and it looks like it can get very hot there in the summer, which it does. Here the bus terminated and I was surrounded by a swarm of men (in other circumstances that might sound appealing but here it was most definitely not); I shook them off and found my way to the grand taxi station. So close, but yet so far – usually the taxis fill quickly, I was told, but it took a while – I finally decided to pay for an extra place so we could get going. Having the entire front seat to myself made me feel like a queen - oh, those little things that mean a lot. From Errachidia to Erfoud the river had more water in it and there were palm trees along the floodplain – I have been whining about wanting to go to Palm Springs again (a la the joke) – this reminded me of that. And then I made it to Erfoud!
Frank is the first-year SBD volunteer there; a couple of weeks before site placement the volunteer who had been there ET’d so he ended up there; I wonder if he wonders what might have been, but I didn’t ask. He’s another mid-career person, our stage’s resident PhD, a former professor and policy worker, and he has an analytical and critical mind that I find fascinating. Jong came over too – a friend from my CBT group, she’s in Tamegroute, which I cannot get to over a Saturday night, so we thought it would be IST (In-Service Training, after six months) or vacation days before we’d see each other; it was over a six-hour ride for her too – but the good news is we can do this again! Frank also has a second-year YD sitemate, Matt, who is very nice; he came up to Azrou for our bike training and I sat next to him at the mock wedding. Erfoud is not a big town but it has everything one needs. It was laid out by the French Foreign Legion (!) in a grid; there’s no old medina. The streets are wide, the buildings red-clay and sand-colored, there’s still a military presence, I think. We went to Frank’s host family’s house for couscous and then to his place. He’s already started to furnish it and he has all the comforts of home (actually, more than I had in Chicago) – satellite big-screen TV, wi-fi, ponjs with custom covers, hot water in the plumbing system. And then his host father, who is a tour guide, picked us up in his 4x4 and we went to the dunes! Part of our route is the same one used by the Paris-Dakar rally. We passed the hotel where Hillary and Chelsea Clinton stayed in 1996 and the plateau we saw in the distance was Algeria. We went to a fossil shop. In addition to the dunes, that is what this area is known for – it was a sea, and they have trilobites, rose du sable and marble. This is what Frank’s artisans work with; I didn’t get to meet the artisans or buy a lot, so I’ll have to go back.
And then the dunes! Merzouga is the town nearest the dunes, or you may wish to search for Erg Chebbi (red mountain) – the sand is red-hued and at the time of the day that we were there the sunlight on them was spectacular. And I saw camels! Frank and Jong are already used to camels; I was thrilled. When I saw Bill Bradley in 2000, all the pictures of me with him were unsendable to the masses because I was smiling too much; some of the pictures of me at the dunes are similarly toothy. I was so happy! We started walking up the Grand Dune but didn’t make it far – Jong forged ahead while Frank and I kept stopping to take pictures. It was great. Next time maybe a camel ride. Or a palmery. Or the fossils. Or another trip to the shop where we stopped afterwards – some of the nicest products I’ve seen yet here, but I wasn’t in the frame of mine to buy. But there will be a next time!
Saturday night we talked and caught up and we dined with his host family – somehow it turned into Sunday morning before we retired, even though I had gotten up early to catch the bus, and then we had to get up early Sunday for Jong to get her bus. We went to a café and then walked around Erfoud a bit more – I saw the market and some of the shops and met some of Frank’s acquaintances; he’s done well at integrating. It feels, and is, far - from Rabat, from the Peace Corps staff, from other people – that was something I didn’t want, but I can see how it would have its advantages too. He has spectacular desert sunsets from his living room. He showed me pictures of a gorge that he went to the weekend before; I can get to it too, on a Saturday night trip, and I hope to do so. There are lots of other places in the south to visit and lots of Peace Corps volunteers – if I have long weekends or take vacation days I can explore more. It does get hot, though, in the summer – unbearably so, I hear. You sleep under a wet sheet. We (in a usual year) would be inside all winter and not getting a lot done; they would be inside all summer.
All too soon it was time for me to go too – grand taxi to bus through all the different landscapes. And time to catch up on lost sleep. And to look forward to the next journey!
And to shift this morning from thinking about camels to thinking about Bears! Can it be that the last time they were in the Super Bowl was the year before I moved there and now they are Super Bowl bound yet again? I had a wonderful day yesterday, but I also might have enjoyed being in Soldier Field in 30 degrees and snow...or being in front of the TV for what sounded like two great games. Maybe I can get the Super Bowl broadcast on my short-wave radio?
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I hit the four-month mark last week. Does that seem like a lot of time or a little time? I guess it seems like both to me. That, combined with receiving lots of holiday cards asking me how I’m doing here, gave me some pause for reflection. What is it like compared to my expectations? More to the point, what exactly were my expectations?
I feel that the reading I did over the summer prepared me well for the Peace Corps, at least so far. Training was as described – a lot of information at once on a variety of topics, not a lot of downtime, close quarters with fellow Americans, a community-based component with a homestay family. And my initial time at site has been as described – not a lot of structure, focus on community integration rather than starting anything major, again a homestay. And I think I know what to expect when I finally do start working, having read up on the Peace Corps approach and now been through training. If there’s any surprise it may be that all the language, which seemed like an information overload at the time, prepares you for basic transactions and interactions and that’s pretty much it. I’m learning more, of course, but I feel I have yet to make that quantum leap where I understand more than I don’t.
What about Morocco, though? Given time to reflect, I realize that I really didn’t have a lot of expectations. I knew I would be bringing my tour books with me so I didn’t really look at them before I left, focusing instead on books that were not coming along. I remember being surprised at the California-type landscape and the variety from semi-arid to fertile. I knew it wasn’t going to be like the movie “Casablanca” – but now that I mentioned that, I do have a haiku containing some of my favorite lines from that movie –
Of all the gin joints
Vultures, vultures everywhere
Play it, Sam – I’m shocked
I also knew it wouldn’t be all dunes and camels, but that might be what I pictured when I first heard about Morocco. The recruiter said Middle Atlas mountains – did I think Appalachians? No. Rockies? No. I don’t think I conjured up a visual image. I guess I didn’t think I would be in a place as urban as it is – though I don’t want to give anybody the impression that this is like any city I’ve lived in before. But there are a lot of buildings here, most of them maybe three stories high, with cement probably the primary building material and tile roofs. I guess I pictures more of that castle-type blockiness. I did have in mind the Islamic architecture with mosaics and Arabic script and the big arched doorways and the casbah-type fortresses – either from someone’s pictures or from travel magazines. I pictured courtyards with fountains and cobalt blue, maybe from the garden exhibit I went to in Chicago this summer. There’s cobalt blue somewhere; I just haven’t found it yet. The picture is of the courtyard at the artisana - broken fountain and overgrown, so maybe that's a good example of expectations vs. reality. It's still a nice space; it feels very peaceful back there! I’ve been to Moroccan restaurants enough to have an idea of the cuisine, so that fir my expectations; the fresh fruit and vegetables have been a delightful surprise. The Peace Corps manual hinted at the communal plates and glasses and we had some early culture lessons so if it was a surprise at first it doesn’t seem like one anymore. I’ve found people to be more open than I expected – I thought there might be much more gender separation, for example, and there may be in other parts of the country but Azrou is pretty liberal. I’ll have to think more about this question – in a way I feel used to things and in a way I am still seeing them through the eyes of someone who just got here.
I realized something else though – so far I haven’t felt like a tourist. I’ve always prided myself on being a tourist in my own city, doing lots of exploration, learning history, exploring culture. I think I’ve been a great tour guide whenever people have come to visit me. But I haven’t felt that way yet here, and I’ve become more aware of it as my sister and I have been discussing the upcoming See the World Tour stop here in March and as other friends have approached the topic of visiting sometime. I don’t feel prepared with the exploration and the history and the culture. Part of that is the nature of the training – we didn’t get out much, and I haven’t had the time to really sink my teeth into the tour books, reading only about the places I’ve been to for weekends. Part of it has been the weekends too – as much or more to see people rather than things, knowing I’ll be here for a while and with limited space at the homestay not being in souvenir mode just yet. Though I do hope I’m doing a decent job of traveloguing the excursions….Part of it is the tour books too. They’re comprehensive, which is good for someone who will be here for two years and wants to see a lot, but not good for designing a one-to-two-week vacation. Part of it is lack of internet access – I might have time for a blog entry and quick e-mail but not for research; not yet, anyway. I hope to be better prepared to be a tour guide by the time people get here – I know I can show off the highlights of Azrou! And my reading up does give me some comfort level on the trips I’ve taken. But there really is a difference living here as opposed to sitting in Chicago and planning a trip to Morocco.
I also am still stressing about the housing. I’ve decided I’m either overthinking it or making a mistake. I find myself questioning people’s motivations for showing or recommending certain houses – is there something in it for them? And I really don’t want to think that way. Due to complications, the rental agreement has to be renegotiated, which gave me time for more tossing and turning and more second thoughts. I think I’ll feel better once I get in there and get settled. And it is only for two years – it just has to be a place I feel happy going back to and having guests in, not my dream home. But if there was any joy to be found in looking for a home, it has been drained out of the process for me. I'm getting texts and e-mails from stage-mates who are excited and I wish I felt that way (also getting some from other people stressing - always good to know I'm not alone in how I feel).
I said I’d talk about furniture and I may not get everything at once, but I think I’ll feel better once I get started there too. We get a settling-in allowance of 5000 dh, which is more generous than the allowance in most other Peace Corps countries but still doesn’t go far. Based on the PCV houses I’ve seen, it buys a mattress on the floor, a couple of ponjs on the floor (twin-bed-size couches with no frame or back), a coffee table, maybe a desk or bookcase, maybe a dresser, plastic table and chairs, a forno (burners) and an oven with the butagas to go with it, blankets and pillows, and plates/ dishes/ utensils/ bowls/ glasses/ pots/ pans/ buckets/ broom/ squeegee. Luxury items – such as a bed or couch frame, a hot water heater, and a refrigerator, may exceed the budget. Well, I did an exercise years ago, pairing up 64 dreams and desires NCAA-bracket style, and determined that nothing is more important than a good night’s sleep, so I am prepared to spend more than I otherwise might for a mattress and bed frame. Hot water heater to me is a must. For a space heater, by the way, we can spend separate money and send in the receipt and be reimbursed; I might do that rather than get a wood stove. I might try living without a refrigerator for a while but I can’t imagine not getting one sooner or later. Not everyone gets an oven – I could try going without that, since I make a lot of stovetop meals when I cook. I don’t want to accumulate a lot of things – and we’re supposed to be living to the standards of the people we’re working with – but I want to be comfortable. I also want to welcome guests, so I’m willing to spend on couch frames or even additional ponjs. I think that shopping for all of these things will be fun – my host mother may go with me, because I think it would be good to go with a Moroccan; Amanda has offered as well, and she’s been here long enough to be somewhat savvy. I also think it will be stressful, and again, I’ll feel better when I’m settled. There are the big things but also the little ones – light bulbs, clothespins, a floor mat….The 5000 dh arrived at the post office, so I can get started, but I’m not going to do that until Peace Corps receives and approves the revised rental agreement (just in case there are more complications) and I get the keys from the owner so I can start putting the things I buy in the house. For safety and security reasons, I won’t post a picture of the outside, but I will e-mail it on request, and I will post pictures of the inside when I get in there and of my views (speaking of which…I went by the other day and they were breaking ground across the street. Will I lose my view? Or was it just another reason to overthink?). What am I going to do with all of this in two years? Some people sell their stuff and then use the money to buy the souvenirs they will take home. Often the next volunteer gets first dibs. Some people give it to Moroccan friends or family who have helped them. As I write this, the call to prayer is going on outside. At the cyber and the artisana, it is background; at my host family, it is loud. I haven’t been by my new-home location at that time of day to see how loud it is, but I don’t think there’s a mosque that close by (though one is never far). I’ll find out soon enough!
Oh, and I found a donut man in Azrou! It would have been nicer to find a hiking boot store, but our donut man has big ones as well as well as mini ones!
Monday, January 15, 2007
Even though I had just been away for the day on Thursday, this past Saturday night away was a treat. I was that way before Peace Corps though – I do like my little weekend exploration trips! This one was to Taza, about four hours away, to the east. It’s strategically located in the only pass between the Rif mountains (to the north) and the middle Atlas mountains (where I am) so it has historical importance. The main reason to go was to get together with Ren and Kareem, whose sites are both on the other side of Oujda, four hours further east. I woke up early (meaning I didn’t sleep well the night before) and took the bus to Fes, where I met Rose and Sherwin and took the grand taxi with them the rest of the way. In Taza we met some Environment volunteers too; would have liked to spend more time with them but that also would have meant staying in a sleeping bag in a one-room house with no running water and a 5K hike from the main road as the only way to get there; Rose and I opted for the hotel with beds and a shower.
There’s a national park nearby; the “Enviros” are scattered in small villages in and around the park. Small. No water, no internet, maybe electricity, maybe a hanut – beautiful but remote. Then again, one of them is going to plant 30,000 trees this week, which is pretty cool. We went to the park, to the largest cave in North Africa. The cave entrance was a huge cavern – 520 steps down, I think. Not exactly OSHA railing (when there was a railing). I do a lot of walking but hadn’t quite prepared for “Hustle Down the Hancock” (not to mention that there were 520 steps back up – I am sore today!). When we got to the bottom, where the cave actually begins, I had had enough – the more adventurous people in the group turned on their flashlights and went in for a bit. I’d do it if I go back – you can explore for hours, on your own or with a guide, but I enjoyed the silence of sitting at the bottom, looking at the rock walls and the sky. The pictures I took aren’t great (it’s hard to take good pictures in a cave) but maybe I’ll post one anyway. The park is supposed to have nice trails too.
Everyone under 30 went on to the 5K-away-no-water house, and Rose and I went back to explore the old medina. The tour book said that Taza is not a tourist town; not even postcards – and the tour book was right. The medina was twisty-turny and mostly covered and had a lot of jellabas and clothing and jewelry for the locals. The two stores with artisanal-type products had mass-produced things. There’s an SBD volunteer in town; we didn’t get to meet him but we heard that his artisans produce knitted gloves. There’s no artisana. As we walked in and out of the medina we found doughnuts (Rose’s town, Sefrou, has a man that makes them too – kind of a large version of the mini-donut machine at the Minnesota State Fair. Azrou could use one of these!) and a great “shanty-town” of shoemakers and blacksmiths (pictured).
Taza’s old medina is up on a big hill; the ville nouvelle is about 5K from it, as opposed to right at the bottom. We took a taxi about halfway back to our hotel to what looked like a lively area – there were some cafes but no restaurants. We ended up eating at the restaurant attached to our hotel – more spaghetti bolognese (the official meal of weekends away?). And when I told Rose I was ready to go to bed at 8:00 pm – combination of not sleeping well, travel and all the steps – she not only didn’t laugh but she felt the same way!
The next morning we had nice, hot showers and were joined by the three who roughed it. We went to a café, went back to the old medina (but couldn’t re-find the shanty-town) and then had some delicious rotisserie chicken (made all the more delicious by virtue of its not being sheep) by the train/bus. And then it was time to go. It might be fun to go back to the cave, but really, the only reason to go back is to see Ren and Kareem again, and they said they might come in to Fes next time…so maybe we should go out to Oujda some time.
There’s a bus that goes straight to Azrou, but I took the bus to Fes to spend more time talking with Rose (Sherwin wasn’t sitting near us). As we got into Fes, for some reason the bus driver got out and got involved in a fist fight with someone in a car. A crowd gathered, the fight broke up, the car went away. The car came back and blocked the bus, the fight resumed, the police came. The bus kept moving but then stopped again and the driver got out. We decided to get out too – petit taxi to Azrou taxiyat to get home before dark.
Problem though – big problem. My hiking boots that I can run in, as opposed to running shoes that I can hike in (that was my purchase decision), bought just before I left, are not comfortable. I had thought I might start running, too, after I move…not to mention hiking! I can try to break them in more, I can try to get them stretched, but I think I just have to write them off. My alternatives are to get knockoffs here (I hate to put potentially bad shoes on my feet though), order something from home (taking a big chance), or wait to get new shoes when I go back in June.
Yesterday was fun. Barbara, the volunteer in Ain LeuH, is the stage-mate closest to me distance-wise but has mostly stayed in her site. She’s an artist and photographer and came to the artisana to take photographs; I was her assistant, helping to pick items to shoot and writing down the details. We interviewed the artisans as we photographed them and their products. It was fun and productive. We’ll work with the counterpart to figure out what gets done with the pictures – brochure? business cards? web sites? Next week we’ll do some of the items in the showroom and at some point we’ll do some of the artisans in town.
I think I have mentioned Tuesday Morning Quarterback, a column now found on espn.com. I’m not all that big a football fan, but I love this column and am grateful to Debbie for sending it to me every week! This column talks about more than football – for one thing, it has frequent haiku! It’s very well-written and entertaining. And I was in it recently! http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=easterbrook/061213 - check it out! I read the column a month after it was posted – and then snuck a look at the internet to see that the Bears had won in OT! Da Bears!
The king asked everyone to pray for snow and rain (the Prophet Muhammad prayed for rain). By this time last year there were five major snowstorms and there was a lot of snow on the ground here. I hear it’s supposed to snow next week. It’ll be tough to have it get cold again, but I know this extended warm spell is not good.
What’s new at the post office, you ask? I went in last Friday and all of the post office boxes were gone – they’d been removed from the wall and there was just a gaping hole! When I told this to my host mother she asked me what was going to happen and I told her I didn’t even ask. As it happened, I was the only customer at the time, so it didn’t take too long for them to get my mail from the back, but until they replace the boxes (which is what I’m guessing will happen) I don’t know how often I will brave the wait. Luckily, there was a stack of mail for me, so I have plenty to answer in the meantime. As I started to read some of the mail I felt a little homesick. Mail had not had that effect on me to that point, serving only as a source of happiness. By the time I got to the bottom of the stack I was back to happy though (and the weekend away reinforced that). Two pieces of note – a homemade jigsaw puzzle sent by Mike and family, the next best thing to actually doing a puzzle with them over the holidays, and a picture from Joe of three people in ridiculous-looking orange-and-black clothing. One of the goals of the Peace Corps is to share American culture, but I have a hard enough time explaining Reunions and the outfits to Americans who didn’t go to Princeton. How am I supposed to explain them to the people here?
Friday, January 12, 2007
Do they have a Fourth of July in Morocco? Of course they do – and a third, and a fifth, etc. I recently got someone with this joke, old as it may be. Well, they also have an Independence Day, and it’s January 11, my first day off (I’m reminded of what my deskmate Chris said at Stone and Webster, my first company – he said the first three questions to ask on a new job we’re where’s the bathroom, when’s lunch, and what’s my first day off).
During training I read Peace Corps materials and articles that people sent me in the mail. Now I’m still reading those but have added New Yorkers to the mix while I await my books from home (I chose books that I hope finally to read and don’t think I will want to keep, so I will pass them along here) and have also been reading my tour books as I have been planning trips. I didn’t read much in those before I left because I read things I wasn’t going to take with me. In the course of reading those I’ve looked at some of the history of the country, but I don’t have it down yet, so I will write more as I read more, but the basics are that the king’s line has been in power for a long time. The Arabs were the most successful invaders, bringing Islam to the Berbers, who accepted it, but there were a number of dynasties. Tangiers was at some point an international city (including U.S. “ownership,” I think – have to wait until I have a trip there) and there are still parts of the Moroccan landmass that are part of Spain (there’s a part of either Iowa in Nebraska or vice versa on the “wrong” side of the Missouri but the borders had been established before the Missouri changed course – I learned that on one of my Lewis and Clark exploration trips – who knew?) but of course the French had the biggest influence.
The French Protectorate (sounds so much nicer than colony) began in 1912 and ended in 1956, if I’m not mistaken under the reign of the present king’s father. Independence Day was a bigger deal when he reigned, apparently, with all sorts of festivities. Now I hear that there are celebrations in the major cities, but in Azrou there are no parades – just no work. The relationship of the French with the monarchy was such that there wasn’t the violence and isn’t the resentment that there is in, say, Algeria right next door. The most interesting thing about the Protectorate to me, at least from what I’ve read so far, is that the governor early on decided to ignore the old medinas and build ville nouvelles in every city, laid out in boulevard and grid style, with European-type buildings – most other uninvited guests would probably have torn down the existing old parts or built on top of them, so his decision had the fortunate consequence of preserving the ancient parts of the cities and towns.
Since it was a holiday, we were allowed to go away for the day, and, I went to one – Meknes! Nam, the second-year SBD PCV in Khemisset, met me there; it’s about the same distance for both of us. My feeling is that Meknes is to Fes as Philadelphia is to New York (or Baltimore to Washington, or San Diego to Los Angeles). Meknes is one of the four imperial cities, and they’re about an hour apart, but if you come to visit, which one are you going to want to see? Nam said that Moroccans prefer Meknes because Fes is too touristy, and Meknes does seem to be more real, with a lot to offer. I’m glad I live just a little over an hour away from both. As with Fes, there’s more to do for another trip, but we did a lot in one day! We walked to the ville nouvelle and had pain au chocolat and beverages at a lovely café. Went to the train station so I would know for the future how to walk there from the taxiyat. Went to the tourist office; I have been wanting to pick up some brochures (and to see what they might have in the way of promotional materials for artisans or artisanas); it was closed for the holiday of course, but now I know where it is. On to the medina – it has its own character, as do they all, and I am looking forward to going back and exploring some more! Went to a medersa (there were several of these in Fes that I left for another time, you might recall). The ones open to tourists are no longer in operation but have elaborate carvings and gorgeous Arabic script (an art in itself) and mosaics. And you can see the cell-like rooms in which the students studied the Koran non-stop. We went up to the roof, too, which was nice. I can see why the medersas are in the tour books – beautiful Islamic art. The picture is of me in the medersa courtyard. We went to the souk too, just outside the medina, and had lunch at one of the touristy places on the square. Then we went to Marjane! I will need to go back there once I get my apartment, but until I move I don’t have room for too many things. I brought pictures in to be developed but they were not ready before we had to leave; fortunately Nam may come through next week and he may be able to pick them up. I bought some things I haven’t seen in Azrou and thought I was going to have to send for – Scotch tape, labels to put on packages, packaging tape, and Scotch Brite pads (3M did well!). And we had some of the long-coveted Marjane ice cream! I have to say I was a little disappointed in the chocolate, but not so much so that I won’t try another flavor next time I have a Marjane run. Left for another trip are the palace and a nice long walk that the founder of the city created, and a pool that he built. Nearby, so doable when I stay over on a Saturday night, are some Roman ruins in Volubilis – supposed to be comparable to Pompeii but I will let you know, and Moulay Idriss, a sacred city that is built between two hills and is supposed to be beautiful.
We took a grand taxi back to the grand taxi station (in some of the big cities grand taxis have set runs – such as medina to ville nouvelle or medina to Marjane – that are less expensive than the petit taxis) and just as we got there there was a bus leaving and the ticket-seller was yelling Azrou, Azrou (in Meknes the taxiyat is also the bus station) – so I hopped on a moving bus – another first for me in Morocco (it wasn’t moving fast, but it wasn’t standing still either).
I got my housing approved on Wednesday. I had e-mailed for the approval on Tuesday, when I confirmed that the apartment was still available, but didn’t expect someone to come out until next week. Turned out that the homestay coordinator was in the area doing site development; I was told he’d call me to arrange a time but then I ran into him while I was walking down the street! I hacn’t arranged it with the owner because I thought I’d have notice, and I had to run home (twice) to get all the paperwork, but everything fell into place and passed inspection! He thought I found a good neighborhood, a great apartment, and very nice neighbors! As we were leaving, I was pleased to see sheep and goats grazing on the hill across the street from the house.
And the reason I was walking down the street is that the day was fluid anyway. I was scheduled to go to the two rural communities with my counterpart. When I got to the artisana it turned out that he had time for only one. And we took a taxi rather than driving because, well, in Chicago we would say he hadn’t yet gotten his city sticker. Ait Yahia Oualla is the community where we went for l-Eid; my host father is president of the commune and I have a feeling that that may have something to do with their women’s association getting a Peace Corps Volunteer. We saw the building and the looms but not the women; they work in the afternoons – so we’ll go back another day. We waited for a taxi and then I said it was a nice day, we should walk home – and to my surprise, my counterpart agreed! It’s more than two kilometers (we had already walked for a while when I saw a sign that said Azrou 3) but it might actually be a nice bike ride, so I think I will hold onto the bike. I think I will go out to one or the other of these towns every week during the relationship-building stage and then go out that often or more as required. Maybe we’ll go back next week!
Another tip for anyone who is thinking of visiting – you might want to bring along a full suitcase of things that need to be dry-cleaned. I spent a good deal of time this summer looking for washable skirts (almost everything else I brought with me is something I already had) because I thought there would be no dry-cleaning. Well, Azrou has some and now I have to find out how rural women get their jellabas cleaned and pressed – is there a traveling cleaner who comes to souk? Anyway, right after I had laundry done last week I spilled something on my skirt (that happens fairly often to me, actually – I think I’m psyched out by the lack of napkins! Sometimes when I have been a guest of someone they give me a towel for my lap, knowing I just don’t have the knack. I have seen napkins in stores so when I move to my own place I can get some) and I didn’t want to draw attention to it so I just brought it to the cleaners. Each item costs about a dollar to do, is done perfectly, and the mul-cleaners (owner) is SO nice that I now wish I had brought more dry-clean-only things!
Huge (and non-pear-shaped) pears are now coming into season, and I have seen the first strawberries! Pomegranates are gone, but there are still lots of clementines. It’s interesting to see what comes into season. Apples, bananas, potatoes, onions, carrots and some others are available year-round and then other things are to be savored while they are here! The weather is still unseasonably warm, and now I think it has to get cold and to snow - the fields and livestock need it.
King's visit was postponed...maybe next Friday?
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I write this blog for the enjoyment of my friends and family, but I know that there are also people who read this who might be considering joining the Peace Corps or might be in it. If so, some advice – don’t e-mail the Country Director on a Friday. You might, for example, be reading about the Internet Policy in the Peace Corps Times. You know you can’t profit from publishing a book based on your blog but you wonder if you could publish it and not profit. If you e-mailed him he might tell you he needs to consult Washington and it might take a while. So you might be about to end your cyber time when you hear back from him; he also tried to call you and you didn’t hear the phone, and he copied your bosses and their boss. You know he’s a policy person and you know blogs have caused trouble. Was there a reason Washington called back so quickly? Why did he copy everyone? So you start to worry, to the point that after your dinner guests leave at 10 pm you text-message the Program Assistant because you don’t want to worry all weekend. See, this is why not to contact the Country Director on a Friday! The Program Assistant might have said you weren’t in trouble, and on Monday it turns out that you can publish, and even profit, just not during service, but you might find other things to worry about all weekend. Not that any of this happened, mind you, but as it does happen, I’ve lost sleep the past couple of nights, and I hate it when that happens. The good news is that an event like that (or a recent health scare which I won’t go into – but as a public service announcement I will remind everyone to do monthly self-examinations; when I was in Rabat for the dentist I had a mini-consultation and all is fine) makes you examine to the core how you feel and I feel that I am not ready to go home. I still want to be here and to get to work.
I’ve been worried since I found out that I don’t accrue vacation during training about having enough vacation days for my sister’s trip and Reunions – and now it is time to start planning. Can we work everything out? I’m so looking forward to their visit! (Answer: I spoke to her today and yes). I’m worried about housing – and about furnishing the house. Can I start to move things in beforehand so there’s a bad and kitchen things, or order them to be delivered the day I move? I don’t have the housing finalized yet so this was unproductive toss-and-turn fodder. (Answer: I can start moving things in beforehand - confirmed that today; still need Peace Corps inspection but I don't anticipate that being a problem). And when someone comes to inspect the apartment, should I just return the bike, since I might never ride it? (Answer: I don't have to decide now). I will talk more about furnishing the apartment later. Meanwhile, all my issues are resolved for the time being so maybe I will sleep well tonight! If not, I will blame it on feng shui - I reorganized my stuff over the weekend and even though everything is neater maybe I released some nervous energy into the room?
Yesterday morning, after lying awake for a couple of hours, I opened the mail forwarded from Edie that was in the box of socks. The last envelope I opened was from the U.S. Postal Service, saying that they weren’t going to forward my mail because I had failed to sign the forwarding form. I thought I was dizzy with the toothbrush, but that really made my head spin. All right…I am pretty sure I sent my forwarding information to everyone who needed to get it. And somehow some mail did get to Edie (including a couple of checks, and no bills). Maybe, in fact, this prevented her from getting a lot of junk mail. But are there other i’s I forgot to cross and t’s I forgot to dot? I hope that was it. Wow.
All right, so armed with that, on to the police station. Turns out I didn’t get the carte de sejour – just another set of stamps and signatures so I can stay another month and go back on February 4. Then to the post office with my pink slip – and was told that whatever it is for won’t be there until Sunday. I don’t get it, but I was pretty sure that Dimanche meant Sunday and yep, it does. Well I went back today and there was another pink slip - turned them both in and got two packages of magazines! Yippee! Maybe that phone call from the Country Director was the beginning of a string of good fortune?
After lunch I went to Western Union to pick up some money for the Ain Leuh carpet cooperative – Lee had arranged a sale and the money transfer. Amazingly, it was the smoothest transaction I have had since coming to this country. I brought in the transfer number and my passport and carte de sejour receipt, and they gave me money. So if any of you want to send money, rest assured that picking it up will not be an inconvenience!
Lastly – I think I have mentioned that I rarely walk around here without seeing someone that I know. In spite of that, I feel relatively anonymous – years of big city living, maybe. I know I’m anything but – I look different, even with my jellaba on. I can ignore the people who say “Bonjour” or “Ca va” as I walk down the street – it may be harassment but it’s less intrusive to me than the people selling Streetwise on Michigan Avenue. But I was reminded of just how conspicuous I am when I was at a cyber the other day and someone pointed the video-chat camera at me and asked me to wave to France. That was a little unnerving.
The picture is of the sweater and sweater pants (I wouldn't have known what those were had I not seen them....)
P.S. more good fortune - I just read an e-mail that says that the Princeton group reached a quorum so they will in fact be here in April! Check out the itinerary at
http://alumni.princeton.edu/main/education_travel/princeton_journeys/journeys/1025morocco_07/index.xml - all things I hope to do (but probably can't on the Peace Corps budget). There's still room on the trip for anyone. It doesn't say it on this link but I know that in some of the promotional literature/e-mails a day to see a Princetonian Peace Corps volunteer was mentioned!
Sunday, January 07, 2007
The King is coming! Last week they have been painting the curbs, and this weekend there were security helicopters overhead. Today I noticed that they painted the bottoms of the trees white, as they are in Rabat, but I still do not know why. I heard that when the King comes to a city there’s a major cleanup; that has yet to be in evidence but it would be nice to see. I heard that he’s coming on Friday for the groundbreaking of a home for old men and that there will also be a parade. I hope I see him! He has a palace near here so this might not be my only chance. I’ve seen a president, several candidates for office, occasional movie stars, but never a king! This one is in his early 40s and is quite popular; I think it’s against the law to say anything against him so even if he weren’t popular he’d be popular.
Not that this is a natural segue to Gerald Ford, but it occurred to me that the majority of the volunteers here were not alive when he was President or were so young as to have no memory of him.
I finished my knitting project – a headband. As I was starting it over several times, I thought that the best course of action would be to have the tailor make a fleece one that matches my jellaba, and the finished product is more or less pathetic, but the knitting was relaxing, and I will do more of it (though I may crochet next). The yarn here is – well, it’s like everything else – not exactly what I would want but it fills the need. I may look for some at the Monday souk. It’s smaller than the Tuesday one but I haven’t been yet and it’s part of my exploration plan.
Yesterday was the wedding dinner for the brother of my host father and the sister of the neighbor; I thought the whole family would go and I would have the house to myself, but only the adults went, and late. This has been a stressful week – one night all three kids were crying for various reasons (not all of which are clear to me) and later, Lalla was crying too – I guess holidays are stressful everywhere; exams are next week for the older kids too. Two months is a long home stay – the texts I get from my friends all share that sentiment – but it occurred to me that it’s also a long time for a family to have a stranger in the house, nice as that person may be. For the wedding I helped my host sister fill party bags full of henna leaves – this required weeding out all of the stems and sticks, not as meticulously as Lalla goes through the spices before she grinds them, but still, it gave me time to both talk to my host sister and think of some poetry. Though I consider myself a specialist in haiku, here are some limericks:
The women we work with make rugs
For big living rooms or for mugs
By hand they do weave
From morning to eve
If you buy one you’ll also get hugs!
The carver here uses stone
Fossils, minerals, maybe bone
At a fair in Rabat
He sold quite a lot
And now customers also phone!
Here is also known for its wood
The carvers are really quite good
There’s a metalworker too
At the artisana you
Can see them – and you really should!
There were party bags full of henna, uncooked eggs wrapped in tulle, a tray full of triangle-shaped milk cartons, fabric for a wedding dress for the bride (some of the traditional dresses have a plain under-dress and a lacy/sequined thinner over-dress), and a big floral arrangement. The henna and the eggs were not a part of the mock wedding we had, and there were no cones of sugar or honey or dates. The only thing this wedding had in common with the mock wedding is the milk. Why, my host mother could not tell me. Pictured are the milk cartons, with the henna in the background.
When I came downstairs from the roof I saw my host brother with my toothbrush in his mouth and for a second I felt dizzy. I think I have extra toothbrushes in the package designated to be sent to me but I don’t think I brought extra. I was trying to figure out how to go out and buy a new one and I decided I just had to say I was going out to get a new one.
I spent three tutoring sessions getting the report to the delegate translated into French – it was good to see some French, but to save time he wrote it out and we didn’t spend much time on pronunciation, though we did have a little discussion of conjugation. It was good to get back to darija in tutoring this week. I went to have tea with the owner of the Auberge for our mutual birthdays and had a long conversation with his wife, solely in darija – probably my longest conversation to date. Went to pick up the carte de sejour on the day they told me to come back, even though as I was walking there I had not a doubt in my mind that it would not be ready, and sure enough they told me to come back this week. Then there was a pink slip in my post office box, indicating that I had received a package. I waited for about half an hour only to be told that the package wasn’t here yet. How can the slip be here and not the package? I ask that rhetorically because of course there is no answer.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
I got a package the other day that just filled me with joy – it contained socks, toiletries and other items that I took out of my suitcases at the last minute because it was bulging too much. I can’t believe how happy it made me to see socks! I also can’t believe how much stuff I took out of my suitcases at the last minute! How did I close the suitcases with all that stuff? Well, with big bulges! Of course, I was also happy because the socks come not a moment too soon – nice, thick, warm socks. But I think what made me happiest was that the box was a reminder of its senders, Edie, Fred and Julia.
I picked up my jellaba that day – turns out the fleece-like fabric is in fact fleece, and the jellaba is toasty warm. Almost immediately upon picking it up, it warmed up here in Azrou and has been beautiful ever since! But I wore it for l-Eid, at least part of the day, and no doubt will have plenty of opportunity to wear it before winter is out.
Saturday would have been a great day for a hike, but I will hike when I’m out on my own; this weekend I felt I should spend it with my host family. I still do more listening than talking, but I am understanding more, so I do feel my language is progressing (and I am not one for resolutions per se, but a major language leap is a goal of mine for 2007). Lalla was going out to do some errands, and I asked to go with her. She was afraid she wouldn’t understand me if I asked questions, and I said I would just be quiet. But I did say some things in darija and she understood – and she pointed out things such as the knife-sharpening men; I didn’t really understand that until the next day. You need sharp knives for sacrifices! I still have a lot more to learn. For example, at the souk I saw a table with teeth and thought it was strange that someone would be selling teeth. I mentioned this to my host mother and she said the teeth are on display to show that the man removes teeth for customers – right there at the souk, without anesthesia. Oh.
Sunday was l-Eid – off we went to Ait Yahia Oualla, the family home of my host father. His mother lives with three of her sons – they counted as a family, and my host family is a family, hence two sheep. First rope was secured to the roof – so the sheep would “hang like Saddam Hussein,” as my host mother said (which, by the way, is the most anyone has said to me about that – they wanted to make sure I knew about Gerald Ford but haven’t said anything in front of me about Iraq, and Peace Corps discourages us from talking about it – fine with me). Then the sheep appeared; then the knives. At the moment of truth, I couldn’t watch – and my parents wanted me to be a doctor? I did watch them blow up the skin for easy skinning, and I watched that and the removal of innards and the carcass hanging…. My host family asked me what I thought and I said it was very respectful because they use the whole sheep (not the horns, but later a relative from Fes said that in that city they make jewelry out of the horns).
The women set to work cooking organ meat…the men went visiting. At lunchtime somehow they were back. Out came a plate of skewered liver wrapped in fat – I couldn’t. Out came a stew of miscellaneous innards – I couldn’t. Out came grilled heart and kidney – I couldn’t. I realized I was the only woman in the room and went upstairs to the kitchen, where the kids and women were eating. I asked if this was a family where the women ate separately from the men and was told yes (there are lots of those here – I’m different because I’m a foreigner; I could eat with the men – but I felt uncomfortable and not just because it was organ meat – though everyone was very nice of course). I had had rice (maybe orzo, but they called it rice) with milk when I got there in the morning, pre-sheep (and pre-many-family-members-going-to-mosque; that’s part of the holiday too but they weren’t there long). It’s a nice hot cereal, though when Terry used to have it in California I thought she was weird. I was offered some again at lunchtime and had two bowlsful, and was offered some again at dinner – this time men and women ate together – when everyone else had heads and feet. At lunch they had encouraged me to try; at dinner they just laughed because they knew I couldn’t. In between lunch and dinner there were many people coming over to visit; quite possibly the whole village. I shook hands and kissed cheeks – and worked on some knitting I had started the day before, so I could participate in conversation and still do something.
On TV we saw fireworks for New Year’s in Taipei and in Sydney Harbor and that was as close to acknowledging New Year’s as it got. People do it (I wished several people Bonne Annee on Friday and vice versa!) but by host mom won’t. She won’t celebrate birthdays either. My host brother turns 10 tomorrow and is now obligated to start praying. I got him some potato chips today (not from potato-chip guy, who I still haven’t seen) since I know he likes them – she said I could give them to him today but not say anything about birthday. And she said she would like to celebrate mine but she won’t. I told her I’d still like to get pastries, to do something, but will get them tomorrow. The owner of the Auberge also has a birthday on Thursday and I told him I would come over to visit (he seemed okay with that - I certainly don’t want to be culturally insensitive). So, on Sunday I went to bed before midnight (I have talked about that for years but always stayed up for fireworks – finally did it!) and am set for an uneventful birthday too – no problem! I’ve had plenty of New Yearses and birthdays and I will have more (this does not mean you have to fill the comment section with good wishes – I know you have them for me). Plus, I pick up my carte de sejour that day so it will still be momentous. Another milestone – official documentation that I can work here! I am glad I went to Margie’s last year – I have not had ice cream since I left the U.S. And I am glad I didn’t turn down many chances to go to California Pizza Kitchen while the chances were there.
Monday was also a beautiful day, and I had some rare time at home to myself while the family was out and about. I hung laundry (that and folding are two of the few things my host mom has let me do) and sat on the roof with my back to the sun, the way I’ve seen Moroccans sit in the sun, and wrote my 2006 year in review. A very nice day. This week is quiet (not just because there’s no baaaing) – schools are off and some of the artisans aren’t working – but I went to the artisana and to have tea with the third carpet shop guy. Lots of customers at the artisana, and it is interesting to observe them. I’m also hoping to work on a sign that the rock-carver asked for. Also showed my counterpart the report to the delegate that he asked for, and he made some changes. Which reminds me – I should explain that. I have Peace Corps bosses – the Program Manager of SBD and the Assistant Program Manager. I also have Moroccan bosses – the Ministry Delegate is technically my boss, I think. He’s in Meknes and asked for a report rather than my going there to meet him. My counterpart is the local HCN (host country national) who I work with. He’s the #2 guy at the artisana. He may or may not be a boss as well. In YD I think the counterpart is definitely a boss; not so sure in SBD, but he’s my main contact and I run everything by him and he’ll give me some direction, and maybe we’ll do workshops or trainings together.
I avoided the organs but there’s no way to avoid the meat – skewered meat every day for lunch, for what might be weeks…can’t avoid but I can minimize. I watched my host mother and her mother make something with lung and fat rolled up in stomach lining and tied with intestine; it’ll get dried on the roof for a month. That’ll be served with couscous – I’m not expected to eat it but “I’m missing something delicious.” My host mother said not to tell Americans about it because they would think Moroccans are crazy, but I told her that part of my job is to share Moroccan culture and that it’s not crazy, just different. Good and bad last night: The good – I had been secretly hoping for sffa, the pasta with cinnamon and sugar, just for a change, and we had it! The bad – there was a movie called The Skulls on last night – about a secret society in some Ivy lLeague university in Connecticut. It was painful to watch; thankfully they changed the channel. Why couldn’t that be on during the day when I have to go back out after lunch, and Star Trek: The Movie be on at night? Some PCVs get TVs and satellite dishes; they’re not expensive all things considered. I think I can live without one (of course, if it had baseball I would get one in a heartbeat0). To think I brought a short-wave radio!
Yesterday the Peace Corps office was closed for the national day of mourning for President Ford. But the volunteers had to work because it wasn't a Moroccan holiday. The Peace Corps staff has three Americans and over 40 HCNs. The volunteers are all American. This is the kind of thing that would bother some of my fellow PCVs, but I find it amusing.
I brought my computer to the cyber today and added some pictures starting with posts in early November, but I didn't make it all the way to today and now it's time to go. I hope to get another chance soon.