Monday, February 19, 2007
With trips to Rabat and Marrakesh and the move and guests to talk about, I haven’t talked much about work lately. Of course, with all of that, there hasn’t been much time to work! Well, I do consider GAD to be part of my work, and Marrakesh and half of the guest time were on weekends. In fact, when I was walking around with Rose and Janeila, many people came up to me to say hello and I introduced them, and they were impressed by how well I know my way around now - Azrou is not the same place it was in training – and by how many people know me. Community integration!
And then my counterpart had a death in the family, so he was not around; this allowed me to spend more time on my home than I might otherwise have, and I still have a long way to go before it feels like home. Last week he had an assignment that took him out of town, so he asked me if I would mind going to see the Tamizart Sewing Cooperative without him. Not at all! Waiting for him to have the free time to go with me had been somewhat disheartening – but, as he told me, nothing happens quickly in Morocco.
Monday I missed the window of time to see them, running around post-guest to the post office, phone company for DSL (no, I don’t have it yet, nor does it appear that I will have it anytime soon), souk for food and plastic goods. Tuesday I went by – nobody there. Wednesday I went by – nobody there. Would I ever meet them?
Thursday I had my first thoughts of “maybe I’m not cut out for this.” Am I just not imaginative or creative enough, or is it really okay to be spending all this time saying hello to people and making myself part of the community without actually helping anyone? There are three goals to the Peace Corps – one is offering technical expertise in order to help people help themselves, two is sharing American culture with people in other countries, and three is sharing culture of other countries with people back home in America. I think I have written about these before – or referred you to the Peace Corps web site – but every so often I have to remind myself that I am actively working on goals number two and three and will have more of a chance to work on goal number one as time goes by. That didn’t stop my negative thoughts – I hope I don’t find myself thinking that too often – and then I found the cooperative open and people there working! I sat down with them for a while. One of the members showed me a book of the different embroidery things that they can do. I was impressed! The things that Motasim had shown me were all right but didn’t seem especially well-made. These women have some talent! And they have some orders, but are looking for the next round of craft fairs in order to get more orders. I can help with that, and I have to spend more time with them in order to see what else I can help them with. I could make myself understood and could understand them, but one of the women speaks a little English and would switch to English sometimes when I was trying to work out the Arabic. I need to process, or I will never learn. This is an issue I have with tutoring too – I really want to take some time off to study and process, but I feel use-it-or-lose-it pressure, so I keep going, but I question how much I am actually learning. During home stay I couldn’t stay home to study, but now that I have my own home I hope to be able to spend more time on it – I haven’t had that time yet, but I am still settling in and adjusting.
I went back on Friday too and had another “maybe I’m not cut out for this” moment. Again, I don’t want to think those thoughts too often, and twice in one week is definitely too often! I hadn’t made any progress on the hot water heater front. I can sleep on the ponge indefinitely while my mattress gets sun, can live out of suitcases indefinitely while I decide how much to work on my dresser – first it’s been airing, second my ponge friend is lining the shelves with fabric, and now I’m deciding whether to coat it or to leave it in its somewhat Charlie-Brownish state - I can live without bookshelves until I get a paint job, which I decided I must have, I can live without the DSL, but I am looking forward to getting it. But living without a hot shower…well, I guess I can do that too, but I do like to bathe, so I went to the hammam on Friday at lunchtime. The hammam is warm and steamy, and even though I am not crazy about it, I found it relaxing – or tiring – and I didn’t have the energy to keep up my end of the conversation. They work only in the afternoons, and by late afternoon I kind of run out of steam language-wise even without being warm and steamy, so I may have to change my schedule in order to give the cooperative more enthusiasm. It was kind of nice to watch them sew, using machines powered by foot-pedal, producing a trousseau (though I’m not sure that’s what it’s called here – I understood “things for a bride”). All I’m supposed to be doing at this point is chatting and observing anyway, but I will ascribe the moment to the relaxation (fatigue?) I felt and not to any deep-seated fear that I am not cut out for this. When I think about it now – feeling still clean but not as weary, I think I’m well-suited to the Peace Corps!
Fatigue came not just from the hammam but also from some interactions. After hearing complaining from others, I don’t want to complain (especially in a blog!) but I do want to share, so I will mention briefly….I already talked about not being allowed to go to the conference in Errachidia. Last week I was going to go out to Ben Smim and the Program Manager called and told me I couldn’t go because there was a volunteer there. So we’re not allowed to work together? I still think I can help her – working on the marketing materials for the medicinal herbs cooperative just sounds like too much fun, and something that I can really help with! – I just have to do it on weekends and not go out there during the week. I also couldn’t go because I have to stay in my site and integrate. What about Ait Yahia Oualla and Sidi Addi, which I thought were to be my primary artisans but are not in Azrou proper? I was told to send an e-mail; that has not yet been resolved. Katie is getting similar resistance for working on the GLOW camp; I was brought onto the steering committee with the thought that I would be one of the people in charge next year, but seeing what she is going through does not make me want to organize one for next year. I went to a GLOW meeting this past Sunday in Sefrou and that didn’t make me feel any better about it, though I am glad I went to the meeting, I like the people on the committee, and I think that the camp is a good thing.
Another source of consternation has been VSN training (another acronym!). The Volunteer Support Network is a list of people you can call when you feel stressed, feel bored (again, not likely to happen to me!), want someone to talk to, need a hug etc. Because I am on GAD, I cannot run for VSN rep, but I could attend the training, which involves active listening skills and other things that I think would be good to be trained in anyway. I’ve always been someone people go to for advice, and I think the training would be helpful not just in supporting other volunteers but for life in general, so I pushed hard to attend. I offered to host, since it’s in March and my March Saturdays away are spoken for with the See the World Tour (hosting also gave me a date to shoot for in terms of furnishing my apartment). Hadn’t heard anything, so I started asking Nam and Amanda, who are on the committee. They put in a good word for me, which got me invited to Errachidia the first weekend in March. Problem – March weekends taken. I tried to take the first weekend in March as a February weekend and was told I could take the last weekend in March as an April weekend – but then when the Program Assistant learned that it’s a three-day training with travel days on either end, he said that was too much time out of site. That has since been resolved and I’m going (not to Errachidia but to Khemisset, Nam’s site, which is closer – and could include a trip to the Khemisset souk, which is supposed to be a great carpet souk, and Marjane on the way back), but it wasn’t without time spent feeling somewhat defeated.
And this isn’t an interaction issue but just another one of those things – my medical supplies were tampered with in the mail between the Peace Corps office and here, leaving me with one month’s worth of my prescription instead of the three that they sent and leaving me without the dental floss that they sent. And Peace Corps sends things registered, not by regular mail. Oh, and how could I have forgotten – my monthly mandat, the living allowance that we get, didn’t appear by the first of the month, as it was supposed to. I had to go to the ATM to get rent and tutoring money (I have since been back more than once for housing expenses over the 5000 dh we were given, but I knew I would be doing that). I went back to the post office more than once and it turned out that my space heater reimbursement had been put into the mailbox above my name instead of below and that my living allowance somehow didn’t have a coupon attached to it (the coupon is what they put in the mailbox so you know to pick up the money). At least they were friendly and helpful in the post office!
Travel is always a pick-me-up – I’m still thinking about what to do with my remaining February weekend, but in the meantime I took a day trip to Volubilis, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Roman ruins. If I’m not mistaken, they’re the furthest-south Roman ruins. Nam, Sabrina, Orianna and Josh came from the west and we all met in Meknes and took a grand taxi to Moulay Idriss, a white-edificed shrine town nestled between two hills, from which we walked the three kilometers to the ruins. I was uncharacteristically quiet for some reason, but I was very glad to see everyone. I had been to Pompeii last year in the rain, and it rained Saturday too – but at the point of most intense showers, we were near the one building with a roof, the olive press. Volubilis was indeed impressive, with tall columns and many mosaics and arches and roads and baths – and lots of spring wildflowers, though it feels weird to call them that when it’s only the middle of February. Some of the tallest columns had big storks’ nests atop them – complete with big storks. There were a couple of tour groups that came through while we were there and a couple of guides who tried to engage us, but we had the feeling of having the place to ourselves (I won’t mention who took that as license to cross the ropes...other than to say that it wasn’t I). I have plans to go back there when the See the World Tour comes, and I think that everyone will enjoy it. The nice thing is that it’s an easy day trip, and I can go back and see the flowers change and see how different the ruins look on a sunny day and maybe even take a picnic. We ended our time there perhaps prematurely because we saw another raincloud headed our way, and it was getting chilly. But it was time to go anyway if we were to have time to go to Marjane on the way home, and Sabrina, Orianna and I did. I got some silicone baking pans, a cheese grater, a decent knife, a measuring cup and some bowls – that’s about as much as I could carry back comfortably. Oh, I also got some tile cleaner and a heavy sponge, with the intention of cleaning the kitchen on Saturday night (I know, I’m making you all jealous – the glamorous life we lead!) but it felt a little cold so instead I just plugged in the space heater and looked through my Morocco books and tried to stay warm.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
A few weeks ago (time does fly here, I will say that) I went to Rabat for my first Gender and Development Committee meeting. I am so glad to be on this committee! I started writing an entry on gender roles here way back in TimHdit when I didn’t have a computer or internet access; I will get to it, and also I have had some requests for a glossary so I will work on that. I’m a month away from another quarterly report, too, and I haven’t written any haiku in a while. I’ve heard people mention the boredom of being in the Peace Corps; somehow I don’t think I will ever have that problem.
Because the two-day meeting started early on Thursday, Wednesday was a travel day. There were other people going to Rabat for various reasons, so we were able to engage a grand taxi to take us all the way there. It took over five hours on the bus and about that long train to Meknes to grand taxi – well, a grand taxi straight there took only about three hours! I was on the gear-shift seat, though, so those were three of the most uncomfortable hours of my life. I do like Rabat though – I still need to plan a weekend there, or make sure I see enough of it on the travel and medical days. In this case, it was a medical day for Orianna so we spent the afternoon together, which was fun! First, falafel and hummus at the “Oriental” place across from the hotel where everyone stays. And then ice cream. Peace Corps oral tradition, handed down to each generation of new volunteers (I like the way this happens), says to go to the Majestic Patisserie and buy a brownie, and then to go around the corner with it to get your a la mode. We looked at the brownies and they did not look good enough for my discriminating brownie palate; Orianna said she also found an ice cream stand that she thought was better than the one everyone tells you to go to. We went there and I can say it is the best ice cream I have found in Morocco (it was good by any international standard) – and one of the reasons I like Orianna is that she completely agreed that we needed to go to have another scoop before she went home. In between, we went to the medina and also to the casbah that I didn’t have a chance to see last time. It was nice, with a peaceful, ancient feel, quite a change from the hustle-bustle of both the Centre Ville and the old medina. The walls are whitewashed on their upper half and painted blue on the lower; I’m told that if you go further there’s a pink part, so I’ll look for that next time. Further exploration was tabled, however, when we got to the part overlooking the ocean; instead we sat on the wall and watched the waves and talked. I love the ocean; I miss the ocean-like body of water that was outside my window for the past 19 years. Never took it for granted (I have heard a lot about how cold it is there this month, though, and I have to admit I do not miss that aspect of Chicago). I will upload a picture of the blue and white sometime, but since I did have my hair blow-dried after all, I’m including one by the ocean. Fresh-cut flowers are rare here in Morocco, but Orianna found some.
I also had my shoes shined when I got to Rabat. I was never one for dressing to go to “the city” when growing up the way some of my friends were, because to me “the city” was a regular thing, not an occasion, but I somehow wanted to look my best in Rabat and in Peace Corps headquarters. It would be a losing battle to have my shoes shined in Azrou, with all the dirt and rocks; my host father does it every day, but he has appearances to keep up. I suppose I do too, but since most of the PCVs I see wear pants or jeans and I wear skirts, I think I can get away with unshined shoes.
Peace Corps oral tradition says that one of the places to go for dinner is the Goethe Institute, and – not randomly, but not quite planned, either – the GAD committee and other PCVs in town ate dinner there Wednesday night. Penne for me! The Goethe Institute has German films, lectures and classes, and also huge beers, which I think is why it is a PCV favorite. There’s also a lot of going out after dinner when PCVs gather in Rabat – the American Club and the Congolese Club (which apparently is not really named that but is just called that in the oral tradition) are two of the haunts. Not one for smoky bars or lots of drinking, I went back to the hotel, as did the new YD on the committee – we shared a room, and it was nice to share our experiences since swearing-in. Oral tradition has everyone going to the restaurant around the corner for breakfast and ordering “toast,” two pieces of bread, each topped with cheese and an egg, with juice and coffee. Best value on the menu. Again, we didn’t all say we would meet up and go there, but that’s what happened. And then on to Peace Corps headquarters, where we met in the Volunteer Lounge.
The committee is made up of one person from each sector from each stage; it was interesting to hear everyone’s background as well as their current projects. The committee strives for a gender balance, but two men just left and two women were voted on, so it’s skewing female at the moment (there are still two men on it). From an SBD standpoint, most of the artisans we work with are female, so we look at their work and work/family issues, while of course considering the men in their lives (that’s the whole point of Gender and Development). YD works with girls and boys at the dar shebabs (youth centers). Health has a maternal and child care focus as well as a health and sanitation focus. I’m not sure how Environment includes gender issues as part of its programming – but part of the mission of the GAD committee is to remind the volunteers that there is a GAD-related aspect to almost any project we do, and to collect the projects and ideas and stories to share and to thereby foster new ideas.
There was a Gender and Development conference in Errachidia last weekend (I asked to go and was told no – just as well, because then I could have my guests, but I think it would have been valuable) and now we are going to start working on one for next year. International Women’s Day is March 8, and we’re disseminating a bunch of ideas to our respective stages for things we can do with the people with whom we work (tea talks, quilt squares, lessons – I don’t know if I’ll do anything here but I really should, if only to set an example – have to think about that!). We talked about GLOW camps and Take Your Daughter To Work Day, about staff harassment training (staff response when PCVs are harassed, that is).
We had a presentation from a PCV who had an idea she wanted the committee to support, called Woman-to-Woman. She found that when she talked to women in her town about women in other countries, they were surprised to find out how much they had in common with women everywhere. She proposed that she research several developing countries and build modules around each one, talking about such things as cooking, singing and dancing, dress, women’s traditional work, family, diseases, and cultural traditions. Each module could be the basis for a tea talk, health discussion or class for girls. Of course, the committee enthusiastically supported this effort!
I volunteered to work on the presentations GAD gives at PST (pre-service training – i.e. what I did from September to November) and IST (in-service training, in June – not the same time as Reunions, inshallah) and to follow up on a consolidated session on harassment (in PST we learned about harassment from cross-cultural, medical, and safety and security standpoints – and then one more time from medical, if I recall – GAD had put together a consolidated session but at least for my group it was not implemented). I also agreed to be (or was elected sans vote) Resource Coordinator, pulling together existing GAD info that Peace Corps Morocco has and finding new resources that volunteers can tap – all things up my alley. I also volunteered to rewrite the GAD portion of the Policies and Procedures Manual, since I found it uncompelling when I read it, and I was able to do that and get it approved before we left Rabat, so it will be in the manual for the next stage, which begins in March. A concrete accomplishment already! I was really excited about the energy and ideas of the people on the committee. As I said at the time, one of the reasons I wanted to be on it was to make sure I had something meaningful to work on in case my primary assignment was a disappointment, and I do feel this is meaningful (another reason, of course, is that I like to volunteer for things!).
One of the other traditions PCVs have when they go to Rabat is shopping for DVDs – 10 dh a DVD. Piracy issues aside, I’m not a movie renter, so I am not ready to buy DVDs and watch them on my computer. As the movies that I missed this fall come out, though, I think I will consider buying them – I don’t want to miss two years’ worth of movies! I didn’t have time this trip anyway, because one evening I had to go back to the medina and buy a striped bag that I saw when I was walking back to get ice cream with Orianna (part of the “had to” comes from the fact that I really liked the bag - it’s festive and well-made - and hadn’t seen products like it in the other cities I’d been to, though now I’ve seen similar in Marrakesh, and part of it comes from the fact that the bag I brought with me has a broken zipper and is fraying – I put my beloved Prada bag in storage because I thought Prada wasn’t very Peace Corps and bought a Peace-Corps-ish Le Sac, but it really didn’t last long!) and the other evening I had to get my train ticket for Marrakesh, a discount train pass, snacks for the train, a phone card, and more ice cream.
I also saw the doctor when we had a break during the meeting. I just wanted to double-check on that same issue I had last time, as long as I was there. I thought it would take a few minutes but he gave me a more thorough exam. And he told me that, scales from my doctor at home to scales here, I have lost 22 pounds since September. I’ve always preferred my home scale to the one at my home doctor – if that is closer to the truth, then I’ve lost 12 pounds. Twenty-two sounds like a lot – I know that my pants are falling down but not all of my clothes are as loose as the pants; I still think some of the loose ones may have lost some structure in the hand wash. Anyway, we will see next time with Peace Corps scale vs. Peace Corps scale, and eating on my own vs. eating at home stay.
Thursday night some of the committee members went out for a glass of wine at one of the fancy French restaurants in town. I had a Moroccan semillon, which was not bad at all – in fact, it was pretty good. That glass turned into a couple of hours, and by the time we moved on to a restaurant, I was tired and didn’t really want to eat that late. When the person next to me lit up a cigarette, I decided to go home. Immediately someone grabbed me, and I thought back to that safety and security harassment lecture we had in training – ripe conditions are when someone has been drinking (though I was not drunk, having had a glass and a half and having stopped drinking quite some time before – I was a little hungry but that’s different) and is alone, late at night, in a city. He just loosely grabbed my elbow and I shook him off easily and almost started to laugh –how could I have put myself in that situation? Exactly what we had learned about – and I had volunteered to work on the presentation about that! One of the people at dinner had even asked me if I wanted someone to walk me back and I’d refused! I told her the next day that if she hadn’t asked me, nobody would have grabbed me – but I am certainly not going to put myself in a position like that again!
On Friday night, I had a chance to play rummy with Shawn, one of my stage-mates, in town for dental work. We had played a lot of cards while in training – as luck would have it, his site is in the south (he works with men who make daggers), so we can’t have frequent card games, but since I trounced him, I know we will meet again. And we went back to the Goethe Institute – I wouldn’t have minded trying another place in Rabat, but some different people had come into town so the mix was different, and there was pasta carbonara on the menu that I had not yet tried. It was here that I had my fill of PCV negativity. It’s interesting to hear stories from other volunteers, especially those who have been here longer or are in different sectors, but after a while there was too much griping and complaining about staff and policies. I do like to listen when I think the information can help me in my service, and there were some funny stories too, but after a while I felt that it was a drain on my positive energy. I had to get up early for the train the next day anyway, so when we left the restaurant and most of the crowd moved on to either a club or to McDonald’s for ice cream, I went back to the hotel (just the last half a block by myself, but on a safer street than the night before). At the time I thought that maybe next time I would stay in Rabat for the weekend and explore it more (and not have to get up so early), but it was so nice to have the extra time in Marrakesh that being halfway there afforded me that I might do the exact same thing next time!
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
“Marrakesh Express” is one of my favorite songs; I like it as a song, but I also like the association it has for me – Thursday nights at the MBA House at Wharton. I don’t think a week went by when that didn’t get played. I sing it to myself occasionally here but not as often as I expected to. Saturday morning, though, it was all aboard – that train – all right, I’ll spare you further lyrics.
I didn’t realize that the GAD people like to go out and party late into the night – maybe any gathering of PCVs in Rabat includes some of that. I’m not a partier, so I did not stay out late, but it still felt very early en I got up to catch the train. At the time I thought that after the next GAD meeting I should just stay in Rabat, but I can get there more easily for a weekend than I can to Marrakesh – starting from Rabat instead of from Azrou gave me several more hours there. By the dawn’s early light, I didn’t see much out the window, and then as more people joined our compartment the window kind of fogged over, but I would say that the Rabat-Casablanca corridor looked urban/industrial (I thought I might see the ocean but I didn’t) and that after Casablanca there were flat parts and rolling hills. It wasn’t as agricultural as I expected, but maybe that’s because it’s winter, and everything just looked brown. I may not have enjoyed the scenery but I did enjoy the train ride. The other train I had been on had open seating throughout the car; this one had compartments. I was looking for a compartment with women or with mixed gender, but I saw only men – finally I just sat down where there was room, and some women then came in behind me. That wasn’t advice that Peace Corps staff gave us; that was my own idea.
My friend Rob met me at the train. I had taken a walk with him while we were waiting for the bus from Philadelphia to JFK, and I felt I had found a friend – something that I did not necessarily feel during the weekend of staging. He and I took some walks at seminar site too, and he’s one of the people who I wish were at a closer site, but it’s also nice to have a friend who is close to Marrakesh! The train deposits people in Gueliz, the new part of town, and first we went to an English-language bookstore/café. This could have been anywhere – in fact, the new part of Marrakesh felt like California – modern, comfortable – whereas the new part of Fes and the new part of Rabat around the train station still feel like Morocco (the new part of Rabat that is near the Peace Corps office might feel like California too, but I have only seen it from a taxi and not walked there). It was late morning, which made it a good time for chocolate cake (note, I would have said this no matter what time it was when we got to the café). I didn’t buy any books but I truly hope that some of the books I have been waiting for since November get here soon!
We then walked to the medina. It was nice to be able to walk from the new part to the old part – Meknes is walkable in that way as well but Fes is much bigger. I would like to see more of the new part of Marrakesh, but I really wanted to see the old. Rob has been to Marrakesh three or four times now and not done anything touristy. He said other volunteers don’t really have an interest in sightseeing. Based on Rabat, I guess they are just interested in partying! I’d heard of a karaoke place. Also of two PCVs who (on separate occasions) ran into Jake Gyllenhaal in Marrakesh. But me, I wanted to see some of the things I read about in my tour books! First you go past the Koutoubia mosque, one of the tallest in the world, and also one that set the 1:5 ratio that became standard for mosques everywhere.
The main feature of the medina is the Jemaa al-Fna – “parade of the dead,” possibly so named because heads of the beheaded were displayed there. Here are the snake-charmers and other entertainers (we didn’t stop for any), orange juice stalls aplenty (we didn’t have any) and all sorts of food stalls (more on that when I get to dinnertime). We found a hotel, the Riad Omar – closer to the Riad in Fes than to the budget hotels I’ve stayed in since; it even had a massage menu but we just didn’t have time for that. On to the souks! Rob hadn’t been yet – it was nice to do things that we both were doing for the first time, but what was he thinking by not going earlier? It’s interesting to me to see the different products of the different cities, and Marrakesh might have had the nicest things I’ve seen yet. Colorful fabrics – I bought two pillowcases that happen to work really well with my ponge covers, but even if they hadn’t, they are colors I like, different shades of purple. The fabric and weave is called sabra; it’s fine and close and Rob’s host father does it; I can see myself getting more. I also love the colorful painted furniture and twisted-pyramid metal-and-skin (I think) lamps. There was also pottery I hadn’t seen – solid colors with a matte finish. I would like to go back and shop some more! The souk streets seem a little wider than those of Fes. There didn’t seem to be as many shoes and jellabas as Fes and Meknes have, but maybe I have learned to tune them out – or maybe they’re in a part of the souks that we didn’t get to, because we didn’t get to probably about half! I also don’t think I saw as many stores for residents mixed in with the stores for tourists, as they were in the other cities. Clearly I need to go back for further investigation!
A note on tuning out – I read in one of my books that 94 percent of the people who go to Marrakesh never go again, which is extremely high for a city that is a major tourist destination. Part of the reason is the aggressiveness on the part of people who want to guide you around and on the part of the salesmen at the stores. I didn’t think it was that bad – so either I have learned to tune it out, or I am used to it, or a little bit of darija makes them realize I’m not a tourist (though I’ve also read that salespeople flatter you when you speak some Arabic, as part of the bargaining negotiation). Anyway – I would go back. In fact, I told my Rob that my goal was to go back so often that I would have seen all of the tourist things I want to see and could just come for a visit.
They dyers are to Marrakesh what the tanners are to Fes – and we did allow someone to guide us there, showing us the raw wool, the dye powders, the ovens, the vats, the racks of colored wool hanging to dry all over their part of the souk, and the sales pitch – I bought a long indigo scarf. Sure, it was a pitch, but I’d been thinking about getting a long scarf anyway and why not here. And then we had lunch – as I mentioned, I had had pasta in Rabat, so I didn’t need more, but somehow spaghetti sounded really good so I had some. Then we went to the Saadian Tombs. These are the best-preserved examples of architecture from that dynasty, because they were sealed up and only discovered from a French aerial photograph in the 20th century. The big palace nearby was plundered to build the palace in Meknes and only the shell remains. The tombs were beautiful – similar to the medersa in Meknes with its sculpted walls and mosaics. And interesting – different spaces, some indoor and some outdoor and some outside but covered, for the different tombs; I’m not sure why.
Back out to the Jemaa el-Fna, which gets lively in the evening. We had spiced tea from a stall Rob had discovered on an earlier trip, and checked out the food stalls. Some had just one thing – snails or soup, for example. Others had complete meals, all had places to sit around each stall. Come to think of it, the salespeople here were extremely aggressive, perhaps unpleasantly so. Maybe this is a thing you have to do in Marrakesh, but Rob had mentioned a Thai place and eating in a quiet restaurant sounded better than sitting next to a loud food stall outdoors in the slight chill. And it was. There’s Thai, which is good, and there’s good Thai, in which the spices are blended just so, and each bite is the perfect combination of food and spice. We even had some wine, and the wine paired perfectly. The dinner was a budget-buster but worth every centime. It was also nice to have a conversation. Rob mentioned that he missed the restaurant culture in the U.S.; I realized that after being with a pack of people in Rabat and having either getting-to-know-you conversations or hearing PCV whining, it was nice to be with just one other person and not a group and to have time to talk beyond catching up on life since swearing-in. I had had fun in Rabat with the group at the time, but this was a breath of fresh air, and combined with gourmet international cuisine, it is an early candidate for Best Dinner of 2007. The food was so good, in fact, that I didn’t want to cloud the aftertaste by having ice cream afterwards, even though the ice cream looked pretty good. Put that on the list for next time!
Also on the list for next time is the Mamousia Hotel, supposedly the finest in Morocco. That is a budget-buster for just about everyone, but you can get an expensive coffee there and then walk around their gardens. Winston Churchill stayed there once. But more important on my list was the Jardin Majorelle, where we went on Sunday morning. Marrakesh has lots of gardens, oases of cool in a place that can get to 134 F in the summer. I hope to get to all of them, because they all sound appealing, but the Jardin Majorelle was the one with the cobalt blue! It must have been in the Gardens of the World exhibit that was in Chicago this summer. The villa next to it is now owned by Yves Saint Laurent, but the garden is open to the public. Bamboo, cactus and palms abound. There’s also a Museum of Islamic Art that we didn’t have time for, but if we have to go back to this garden in order to see the museum, I can handle that. Not only was it an oasis of cool, it also was tranquil, despite being somewhat crowded – which reminds me, I should mention that I felt kind of out of place in my jellaba. There are so many western tourists that western clothing would have been more appropriate! And we went to one of the artisanas – yes, they have more than one – after the tombs, and I felt like a country bumpkin – golly gee, they don’t have near as much stuff in Azrou, and the displays in Marrakesh were so much purtier. Well, that’s why they put me in Azrou and not Marrakesh! I did feel I could live in Marrakesh – if I were on some kind of international consulting contract or something – and I could possibly live in Rabat, too.
All too soon it was time to get on the bus – not as much fun as the train but the most direct route home. Five hours to Khenifra and then a bus or grand taxi to Azrou. Except that it took seven hours to get to Khenifra – I know we got stuck in soccer game traffic somewhere along the way but I don’t know what else caused the delay.
Here the ride was past orange groves and lush fields, always with the High Atlas in the distance. You can see the High Atlas from the city, too, except that we didn’t – either they were obscured by clouds or we just didn’t look up. I thought that at some point we would go through the mountains but somehow we never did. When I got to Khenifra, though, it was dark. Not darkish, but dark. I thought about buying an entire grand taxi, but it still would have meant traveling in the dark, so I called the Peace Corps office and said I was staying in a hotel in Khenifra – ending all hope of seeing the Super Bowl. I was so tired that I don’t think I could have stayed up for it, but I was eager for a last night in my host family bed (my family was away for the night so I didn’t have to call in to them). Khenifra is at the beginning of the Middle Atlas, and the early bus on Monday took me through that now-familiar landscape – soft mountains, trees, red soil, rocks, towns of white and yellow buildings with green-tiled roofs. I got home in time to go to the artisana as planned – and when those plans didn’t take shape, I moved to my new home.
When the See the World Tour comes, we will spend five days in a resort outside of Marrakesh. I am very interested in how they see it and the other stops on the tour, through the eyes of someone just traveling around here for a week and a half. I am still discovering things, but I am used to things as well. I think for that reason among others, this trip will be quite different from the rest. And it’s getting closer! I am really looking forward to seeing my sister, brother-in-law and nieces!
A final thought - Rob had said that other volunteers aren't that interested in sightseeing. At the end of the weekend I asked him if this was what he had expected - after all, he and I had just gone for walks in Azrou. He said he knew I had a lot of energy, but he was ready to recharge. I know I'm a bit - unusual? Off the beaten track? Strange? It reinforced for me how glad I am to have friends at home who share my enthusiasm for touristy things, exploration and the like - or who are at least willing to be talked into going with me.
Happy Valentine's Day! I am at the cyber with a big chocolate bar. This is usually the time of the year when I finally stir from some January depression - because right about now pitchers and catchers report! Meanwhile, on another continent, the narrative of my past week continues...
When you don’t feel well, nothing seems easy, and when something isn’t easy to begin with, tears can follow. Thursday morning I had tutoring, and it was hard to think. It might have been better to spend the day in bed, but I didn’t have my bed yet. The new ponge is firm and comfortable, so good for sleeping, but I have to readjust to the sound of dogs barking all night. And after tutoring I went to get my bed and bed frame – and I had added ponge frames to the order. The frames keep the ponges off the floor and are usually decorated, some quite elaborately. I got minimalist frames – no panel of wood facing the room – the Moroccans think they’re unfinished and therefore ugly, but I kind of like the look.
However – when I took the plastic off the bed it smelled mildewy. I ordered a special size, you may recall, so I don’t know if I can exchange it. Oh, and I didn’t mention that my hot water heater wasn’t making the water hot. It was warming it up, so nice for washing my face, but barely acceptable for a shower. So – mildewy bed, warmish shower, not feeling well, and I still felt badly about leaving my host family as if I were the Baltimore Colts stealing away to Indianapolis in the middle of the night – I went to see them and broke down in tears, just managing to say “I miss you” before the tears flowed. They sat me down by the wood stove and gave me some clementines. My host mother said to put the mattress in the sun for a few days – that’s the Moroccan way – and maybe that will take care of it. And she said she would go with me to the plumber – but in the meantime she invited me to tea at the house of a neighbor who had had a new baby. Sign that I was really not feeling well was turning down the proffered cookies. I had said I would meet Katie (she had brought back a Reese’s for me but forgot it when she brought the suitcase) but I didn’t see a way to leave the tea – and my host mother said she would shop with me some more, so the Reese’s and Katie have to wait. We went to buy fabric for the ponge covers and pillows – not quite the purple and yellow I envisioned but something with purple, pink and gold that caught my eye – and then she drove me to Youssef’s shop to drop it off there. We also bought acrylic mink blankets (I love that), the soft ones (the not-as-soft ones remind me of x-ray blankets). Naturally the acrylic mink blankets are more expensive, they are nice and soft. And then we bought a dresser – I asked them to put an extra shelf in so I said I would get it the next day if it wasn’t raining. It was good to see the family – I did miss them! She was going to come over to check out the bed and the hot water heater but didn’t have a chance – which is okay, because I was just tired.
Friday was rainy too – not a day to put a mattress in the sun or get a dresser. I had more tutoring and then got a buta for the forno (the burners) and some pans. Moldova had gone to the hammam the other day, and while he did that I got some cooking utensils, liquid soap for the sinks, the Windex-like stuff and other things, but still hadn’t found silverware I liked so wasn’t quite ready to make something for myself. When I get back, one trip to a department store or a Bed, Bath and Beyond could take care of everything, but here I feel lucky to get one thing per shopping occasion and/or daypart (or day!). Of course, in storage in Chicago there are Positano plates and bowls and airline silverware galore. Amanda met me and we went to the carpenter, from whom I ordered wood to put over the Turkish toilet when I shower (the Auberge had that), bookshelves and kitchen shelves. I want him to make me a desk too, but I don’t know what I want yet. Or was that another day that we did that? They’ll be ready next Monday – that much I know. We looked in some other stores, but didn’t buy anything else. I think a trip to Marjane might be good this weekend – I can fill in some blanks. No time this past weekend – more guests!
Rachel, my roommate from Philadelphia, might have been the least happy person coming back from site visit. She was in a small rural site near (but not near enough to) the Atlantic coast. Well, she was being moved due to lack of available housing – on to Errachidia, one of the biggest cities for PCVs, in the desert south – in other words, about as different as can be. And Azrou was on the way, so she came to stay the night. She had been determined to make the best of her experience, but hers was a site where the women were not allowed to leave their houses – they had a beautiful building built for them that they did not use – so her work situation was also unhappy. She had a lot to get off her chest; she had held some in when she thought she would have to deal with it for two years, and now that she could move on, she had to let it out. She is also the person who taught me the card game nertz, so we went to dinner, talked, and played cards. She was going to leave on Saturday morning but decided to visit her old host family in Aih LeuH so to spend another night with me.
Instead of a shift change, therefore, I had an addition – because Janeila and Rose had planned to come for the weekend. Janeila’s situation was similar – rural site with no real work and no place to live – and she too was being moved, to a place on the map, near Marrakesh. Rose and I are sad that she is moving so far away but happy that she will be in a place with more opportunities. It was actually good that Janeila and Rachel overlapped and had a chance to talk, over coffee on Saturday morning and then again at dinner, because their experiences were similar. Janeila, to keep from going crazy (or because she was) started to hunt for unusual rocks; Rachel took notes in her Newsweeks. And it was good for me to hear their stories, because I never had that anticipation of the unknown when I went to my site visit, and I will never know first-hand what living in a really rural site is like. And having coffee with them was a reminder of just how good the pastry shop here is and how nice it is to live in a liberal site where women can go to a café.
Janeila brought warmth and sun with her, and it was a beautiful weekend. Rachel went on to walk to Ben Smim for some exercise and then to see her family in Ain LeuH. Janeila and I went to get another acrylic mink blanket and then to the artisana where we bought some wooden spoons, to the pisara place for soup (this is the place I went with Lee and Orianna, with the same one soup as the one menu item every day, for less than five dirhams) and then to the carpet place, where she started bargaining for some fabric that could be a cape or blanket or bedspread. As she was close to closing, Rose beeped that she had arrived from Sefrou, so we went to meet her. Went to another carpet shop just to check out the items and prices there – found more fabric that Janeila wanted and a bowl that Rose wanted. But first we had to see what might be at the artisana – Rose bought a painted decorative shelf – very Moroccan. She was a museum curator so she has an eye. Janeila does too, as an artist. We went back to the carpet place and Janeila bought the fabric there, and then to the other store and Janeila got the fabric there, and Rose the bowl. I still had my 10 dh wooden spoon from the morning! We do have fun together – even with Janeila moving, we’ll have to find places to meet for weekends, to shop and to talk! We were then joined by Amanda, and as we were sitting in another café (Rose hadn’t eaten yet) my host father came by. My host family really liked Janeila, and I am glad that at least he had a chance to see her, and she talked to my host mother on his cell phone. We then walked over to Youssef’s shop to check the status of my remaining ponge and the covers. And then we bought Amanda’s wedding dress! She had picked out material and her mother is making a dress, but then her neighbors made curtains out of the same material, so she had to get something new to wear to her Moroccan wedding reception in June, and the curtain fabric will be turned into a tighter-fitting dress for the U.S. reception. It was fun to see her try it on! She will look beautiful. We went home, followed by the ponges and covers. They look great! The pillowcases that Youssef made need to be stuffed, and maybe I will take a picture after that rather than wait for the room to be more furnished – deciding on big table (Moroccan cultural big table) vs. a few small ones (that I saw at the artisana and like) and what room to put a desk in (I thought that one but now I like that room with the three ponges).
Dinner was at a place I had been to once for an omelette when my family was away, and a place I had had coffee, and a place where I had seen spaghetti on the menu. The pizza place has spaghetti on the menu but no spaghetti…this place has spaghetti! I had pasta in Rabat and in Marrakesh and I thought I was over the pent-up pasta need, and I can make some for myself soon, but just to see what it was like, I had it here too. And then we all went back to my place – Rose didn’t mind sleeping on the mattress, which we pulled into the ponge room, so with four of us in one room it was like being back at the Auberge.
More pastry and coffee the next day (good thing I don’t make this a habit when I am alone – I think I’d gain weight). Unfortunately, I felt a bit unwell, so between restroom visits I came downstairs to bid farewell to Rachel – I owe her a hug – and she went to get the bus. I pulled myself together, more or less, but still felt somewhat shaky all morning. Rose had seen some fabric at the wedding dress store but before buying it I suggested we go to the store where I got my ponge fabric – and both Rose and Janeila bought fabric there! Then we went to Yatout, the fancy store in town (where I had gotten the liquid soap) and I bought a pot and some silverware, neither of which I had noticed the other day. We were going to go back to the artisana but I knew it was closed in the early afternoon, so we came back to my apartment to regroup. Janeila promptly felt unwell and took a nap, Rose took a nap, I washed my silverware. Janeila still felt unwell – I think she had major decompression to go through after two months at her old site; she had suppressed so many emotions. She had been planning to go to Sefrou, Rose’s home, and then on to Fes in the morning for the train, but she couldn’t get up. I walked Rose to the grand taxi station, went to the internet to look up schedules for Janeila leaving from here, and went to pick up my dresser. Janeila rallied and we up to the roof to watch the sunset. It was beautiful – I think I will try to make watching the sunset from my roof a nightly ritual. There were so many different colors in the sky, and the mountains of the horizon with the city below set quite a scene. We then went out to get a mirror for me and the same dinner we had had the night before. The picture is of the two relocatees, Janeila and Rachel - you can also see the tile in my front room (a.k.a. the room with six doorways); in the back is the kitchen with the table and chairs!
Monday morning early I walked Janeila to the grand taxi and then went to get more pastry – nothing else was open. All right, maybe I needed a treat; I was all alone and missing my friends already. Then to Maroc Telecom to order the DSL – I think it will be a while before I have it because another PCV told me I need a special Mac driver and they told me I didn’t. So that will probably require multiple visits, but we will see. To the artisana, to the post office –starting to reestablish my routine. Laundry – my first hand-wash since the Auberge! – and post-guest floor washing/squeegeeing (when I get to the point of no more workmen, then it’s shoes off!). To the Monday souk – for food! I made scrambled eggs with onions and tomatoes (we might want to call this “the usual,” because I see myself having it a lot). And more plastic goods – additional clothespins, hammam chairs (one will hold shampoo and stuff in the bathroom and the other will provide a step up to it – and I could also use them in the hammam), dish drainer, stacking shelves that will either be for food or for toiletries. Visited host mom – we went to the plumber, who told me that my hot water heater was basically unsafe, in addition to not working well (he showed me a similar model that had caught on fire), so he is going to take it off the wall, she is going to go with me to exchange it, and he will install the new one – I may have to go to the hammam to wash my hair if this takes a few days. I spent midday Tuesday waiting for the plumber – my first chance to do something other than sleep or clean – it was nice to read and write. And I waited for him again last night. Sigh.
In between all that I was supposed to see the sewing cooperative on my own (I had seen the counterpart on Monday morning and he suggested that – when I had suggested that a while ago he said he would go with me but now that it was his suggestion it was a good idea) but missed the window of time to see them on Monday (they work only in the afternoons). Yesterday I went over there and the door was locked. I also put out an e-mail to my stage about International Women’s Day and have some other GAD-related (Gender and Development) work to do. More on that later – in fact, more on work later, and also on the Volunteer Support Network!
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth! My week: moving, cleaning, guest, guest, sick, with some artisana squeezed in as well as trying to buy home things, then guest, guest, guest, and repeat sick, cleaning, artisana and trying to buy home things. I have the week before last to write about too, but I’ll start with this past week and work my way back.
Last Monday we had planned to do more photography at the artisana, but I was eager to get my stuff moved. It all worked out, because both my counterpart and Barbara were no-shows, so I went home to move (leaving a note in case they showed up, and returning later to check that they hadn’t).
I found a cart guy to load up my stuff and transport it up the hill – this is how things get moved around and delivered in much of Morocco. I had moved a few boxes during the week when I had the keys, and everything else fit snugly in one cartload. What had seemed a cluttering accumulation in my room at the host family home is now taking up a corner of the zen room – I am looking forward to having furniture and putting everything away.
Before I could look for more furniture, the first order of business was cleaning. I went out to buy a bucket, squeegee, broom, sponge, and cleaning soap. I spent the evening cleaning the walls and floors of this already-clean apartment. That is, it was clean when I looked at it and clean when I moved in, but now having cleaned it it still doesn’t seem clean enough. There are marks on the walls that only a coat of paint will resolve – should I have it painted? I wish I had worked this out with the owner beforehand. Perhaps I can live with it for two years – after all, I am in the Peace Corps – and perhaps I can’t live with it. The tile in the bathroom and in the kitchen can get only so clean, and I look at them and they don’t look clean. Is it the sponge I used (do I need the abrasive side of my Scotch Brite)? The soap (I bought this all-in-one that does households and dishes and laundry, according to the pictures on the side)? Or is it as good as it can get? And I can’t get the windows clean either, despite buying a Windex-imitation and my favorite, paper towels. Maybe I just have to keep cleaning and one day the layer of whatever will have been scrubbed away.
My host family was away for the day that I moved and I went back to welcome them back and say goodbye, but after waiting for a couple of hours I felt that it was no longer home and that I should go to my new home. As it happens, they got back very late, so I did the right thing, but I did feel weird not seeing them before I left. When we shopped for the furniture the week before last, I had said I didn’t want a big farewell and that I wanted to see them often; well, so far the no big farewell has come to pass! My landlord brought up a ponge and frame for me to sleep on – very kind of him. I was prepared to sleep on the floor and eat La Vache Qui Rit cheese until I had things more in order – I didn’t have to do the former but I did do the latter!
Tuesday morning a PCV from Moldova, here on vacation, came through town. He had written to someone here, who posted his interest in meeting up to the yahoo group; I wrote back to say that if he was coming through he was welcome. I thought he would be coming through later in the week, when I might be more prepared to host, but this worked out. On my own, I didn’t have to go back for lunch – I could go out! – and I didn’t have to be back for dinner – I could go out!
We had coffee and talked about his impressions of Morocco so far, about Moldova, and about the differences in Peace Corps life here and there. It was interesting for me to exchange information (especially after hearing what began to sound like too much complaining and negative energy from the PCVs in Rabat, but that is a story for another day). Moldova is a small country situated between Romania and the Ukraine; they speak both Romanian and Russian (most of the PCVs learn Romanian). Romanian is the Romance Language that always gets listed last when you list them – it sounded beautiful when he spoke some. Moldova is the only former Soviet Republic that re-elected the Communist Party after the USSR broke apart. I remembered that the RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) in my non-profit classes told me not to go to Eastern Europe or anywhere where the people were depressed because I would get depressed; she had said to go to a sunny place because the people were happier. I asked him if the people were depressed and he said yes! There is an element of nostalgia for the old ways, when people were given things, and just about everything is falling apart and not going to be repaired. There are 130 PCVs there. He’s working on Community and Organizational Development in a village near the capital. He was impressed with our Turkish toilets (they use holes in the ground) and was stunned to see street lights. On the other hand, they have pipes built into the wall so that the whole house is warm – and the winter is harsh there. Our out-of-site policy is about the same (and here everyone seems to gripe about how restrictive it is – so maybe the grass isn’t greener!) but they had some nice things like an all-volunteer meeting around Thanksgiving, a July 4 celebration with the ambassador, and a volunteer-mentor program where current PCVs write to new ones before they leave the U.S. and then mentor them through training.
Amanda joined us, so we had the perspective of me just starting, her about to finish, and him halfway through. Somehow it became lunchtime and we went to lunch, at a place I had not been to but will go back to (actually, I have already been back to it). It has a bunch of rotisserie chickens turning at all times. For 20 dirhams you can get the body part of your choice, seasoned rice, fries, I think a drink, and something I can’t identify so therefore didn’t eat (Amanda mentioned liking liver so it might have been that, in sauce).
Moldova (he does have a name, but we’ll call him Moldova) wanted to go to the souk, having read that Azrou’s is one of the best in the region, and I wanted to go to the souk, having needs in the household goods section, and Amanda wanted to go to the souk, for food. I bought some baskets, some buckets to do laundry in, some plates, some glasses, and a knife and cutting board. I didn’t see pots, pans, silverware or bowls that I liked, so I wasn’t at that point ready for food. Azrou’s is a big souk but I am over the charm of them – actually, I didn’t see much charm in them from the get-go, but I do think they are something visitors might like to see. He liked it. We went to the artisana, where I thought I had a meeting – that one was postponed, because the delegate was in from Meknes! He’s the one who wanted the report. We set a time to meet this week. And Moldova bought a table from one of the woodcarvers.
We came back to my place and sat and talked – we moved the table and chairs into the kitchen: it’s cozy, and I see a lot of sitting and talking in its future. Because I didn’t have much in the way of sleeping options, he went to stay with Amanda. Her husband came to go with them – and, unexpectedly, brought two of the ponges he made for me, finished! So Moldova could have had a place to sleep…but I don’t know who may be watching me, and better he stayed with a married couple than with me on my second night in the new neighborhood. I’ll have men stay over, but I would like to establish myself a little more first rather than do anything that might impact my community integration (side note – yesterday I saw a man and a woman walking down the street holding hands. She was dressed in jellaba and veil, so presumably is Muslim, and he looked Moroccan too. I guess I have gotten used to things here when a sight like that shocks me!).
The next morning, Amanda, Moldova and I went hiking in the forest to look for Barbary apes. I went on a hike my early in training but didn’t get far – we were still adjusting to the climate and altitude. And I haven’t been back since – when back at seminar site, I didn’t want to be away from the Auberge for so long and instead did walks around town. When with my host family I felt I should be with them, and nobody brought up the idea of a hike. I kept saying that I would have plenty of time to hike when I moved to my own place, and again, the timing of his visit was good! We went up past the Panorama Hotel, through fields, past an abandoned technology school, over the ridge (there was still some snow up there) and into the forest. Amanda said her job was done when she brought us to the place where the apes usually are, and I told her it wasn’t done until we actually saw some – and there some were! Up in the trees, moving from tree to tree, and sometimes moving along the ground. I am used to the squirrels and pigeons of urban wildlife, and when I have gone for hikes in nature I’ve seen chipmunk and deer and maybe a fox once or an opossum. Monkeys are quite entertaining in comparison, and we watched for a while. On the way back we saw another – pod? Pack? Flock? Band? - group of them, along the ground turning over rocks. We sat down – quite near them – and watched for a while. Even without the monkeys, the scenery is beautiful – trees and rocks and green and a view of Azrou down in the valley. There are all sorts of hikes in the area, to lakes, or you can even walk along the ridge all the way to Ain LeuH – I look forward to more hiking while I am here. There are a few mountain guides – I mentioned working with them in my letter to the delegate, since tourism and artisana fall under the same ministry – maybe I will get the chance.
I had to get back to the artisana for the meeting that had been postponed from the day before, only to find that my counterpart had had a death in the family and would be out for the rest of the week. I had to go back there anyway, to get the suitcase that Katie had borrowed for her trip to the U.S., and saw Katie too. Again, more time hanging out in the kitchen, and then out to dinner with Moldova. He went on to Marrakesh and met other PCVs there, I went on to get a cold from the combination of too little sleep, too much running around, and no way to get warm in my apartment. And then it rained for the next two days – being wet and cold does not help when you don’t feel well! But I’ll stop here for now, and pick up next time on a rainy, wintry, sniffly, sneezy Thursday morning.