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!

I'm commenting on my own post! It looks misspaced to me - I looked at some old posts and they don't seem to have that issue - if anyone can figure out why (and fix it!) let me know - thanks.
Long live the King.
My host mom said that now that she has seen the king she likes him a lot more! I think that kind of visit is good for morale. It certainly seemed to perk up everyone here. And he is in his 40s so will probably live long!
He is quite handsome!
In person he looks like he has had a few shebekia since the billboard pictures were taken, but he still looks handsome, nice, and kingly as well.
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