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!

I'm a little confused about this being out at night thing. Sometimes you state that PCV's are not allowed out at night, but you also mention being out for dinner at night and walking home. How exactly does the night restriction work?
It is confusing for us too! I can be out at night at my site (or if I'm traveling, out wherever I am). We are not allowed to travel between sites at night. In the desert and in the hot months, a lot of the transport (buses) are at night so this is a big issue. A lot of the accidents are at night too, of course, which is why we are not allowed.
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