Friday, March 23, 2007
I’ve now been at my site for about three months. Training is behind me and the real work is ahead. These months were meant for community integration and for getting established and I feel I have successfully done both.
I spent two months in homestay with a wonderful family. Host father a doctor and member of Parliament in Rabat. Host mother speaks English which was great for conversation although my language might have improved more had I been forced to speak more (although I am not sure – I think I would have just spoken less overall). 14-year-old host sister, 10-year-old host brother shy but extremely nice and thoughtful. And then there was my two-year-old host brother – who wanted everything of mine and who hit me all the time. In some ways he might have been my favorite! The grandmother was there too for much of my homestay – all very nice people. The meals were great and it was nice spending nights and weekends with everyone, huddled around the wood stove. I hope to see them often during my time here.
But I was also looking forward to getting my own apartment, finally unpacking the suitcases and boxes I had been living out of since September, cooking for myself (not so much bread!), having a little time to myself, and hosting guests. Looking for a place to live was quite stressful but now that it is behind me I am very happy with the place I chose. It’s located between my host family home and the old medina, right near the bus station and the grand taxi lots, close to the big souk and the daily vegetable souk, not far from the main street I went up and down while in training, a short walk from the patisserie and cafes, a ten-minute stroll to the artisana – really, nothing is that far in Azrou but I am happy with the location. I have some tiled walls and tiled floors, a small balcony with morning sun facing a mountain and a small balcony with afternoon sun and clotheslines. The sunsets from the roof make me want to dance. Big enough kitchen for the table and chairs at which I spend most of my time, comfortable sitting room, deliciously dark bedroom, and a zen room. I spent a lot of February getting set up – hot water heater, painting, DSL, some furniture – and still have a lot more to buy before I feel I’m settled, but I am quite happy to be here and I love coming home. The picture shows one of my ponges – couches without backs or arms – with matching pouf, my one rug to date, my artisan table and my tiled floor!
Work has been interesting – as I mentioned, this has been time intended for community integration. That means that an accomplishment-oriented person can feel a little lost, but this is a relationship culture and the time spent now just getting to know people, sitting and observing, and having tea will pay off later. I spent a lot of time at the artisana talking with my counterpart and the artisans there, familiarizing myself with the showroom, watching the artisans at work, and observing tourists as they shop. Visited various artisans around town, most notably a rock-carver and a sewing cooperative that my predecessor spent a lot of time with. Had a lot of tea in carpet shops. All in all the days have been full.
And weekends have been full too. I seem to be making up for the fact that my I didn’t travel from my seminar site to my final site by seeing lots of Morocco! I am also trying to see my friends from training, who are spread far and wide. I spent two weekends and a couple of day trips in Fes. The old medina there is a maze, with small shops full of ceramics, rugs, leather and more. The open-air tanneries have been using the same process for 1000 years. As you’re walking the narrow streets, you’re likely to be told to get out of the way of a fast-moving cart or a burden-laden donkey. Went to Meknes a couple of times – another imperial city, it is not quite as exotic as Fes and also not quite as frenetic. Meknes is also where I have gone to Marjane, the hypermarket where I try to stock up on necessities (such as a cheese grater) but can also find luxuries (such as peanut butter). And it is the connection point for trips to Volubilis, the Roman ruins that, while maybe not Pompeii, are Pompeii-like and very cool to visit.
Taza was a town with an old medina quite far from the new one; there was an interesting cave that was over 500 steps down but the highlight there was seeing friends from the east. My weekend in Erfoud was one where I was so happy I could not stop smiling – seeing the huge red sand dunes of the Sahara and the camels and just soaking up the atmosphere of the desert was something I must repeat while I am here. Went to Rabat a couple of times, for dental and for a Gender and Development Committee meeting – when I was first there in September it seemed a little overwhelming but every time I go back I like the feel of it more and more – cosmopolitan and comfortable. A weekend in Marrakesh was not enough time there – the medina had colorful, interesting items and maybe next time I will be ready to buy – or to relax, because I saw the Saadian Tombs and the Jardin Majorelle and there really aren’t that many more musts, so maybe I can just soak up the atmosphere more and get more of a feel for how unique it is. Al Hoceima was a long way away but it was on the Mediterranean coast, and it was nice to just be by the ocean. I have also done more hiking in the mountains right above Azrou, seeing the Barbary apes and communing with the trees and rocks.
All of the trips were either with friends or to see friends – I’ve kept in touch with people from training and through text messaging, e-mailing, talking and/or seeing people have a good in-country support system. The closest volunteer to me, Amanda, is in town frequently and is a great sitemate. Katie from TimHdit comes often as well and has good advice, information and gossip. And a variety of other volunteers have come through – switching sites, switching buses or coming to see me. I was hoping for a stream of visitors and so far I have gotten them; since Azrou is supposed to be temperate in the summer I can probably expect more people when it gets too hot in their sites.
Earlier this month I attended Volunteer Support Network training, learning active listening techniques. This I think will prove to be quite valuable, both in supporting volunteers and in listening to the artisans. I have regular tutoring and my language is improving, though I have yet to experience a breakthrough and I wish I knew more. I can communicate but I often can’t understand. The unstructured nature of the tutoring frustrates me and I would say that’s my biggest issue at the moment. But I do want to learn so I’ll keep working on it.
Spring Break for my nieces is just around the corner and they (along with my sister and brother-in-law) arrive tomorrow for a week and a half! I can’t wait – it’ll be great to see them, wonderful to be on vacation, and interesting to see the luxury side of Morocco. We’ll start in Casablanca – I have not been there yet – where I get some spa treatments before they arrive and hope to see the Hassan II Mosque, one of the few that allows non-Muslims and by all accounts a spectacular sight. Then Volubilis, Meknes and Fes. We’ll see a friend/fellow volunteer in Sefrou on the way to Azrou. Here in Azrou we’ll have a dinner and henna party with my host family and see the artisana and the souk and maybe Amanda and Katie and the artisans and the carpet shops and the monkeys and my apartment, and then we’ll go on to Marrakesh. There, I’ll get a better feel for the city, shop more, visit a Berber village of the south and go to Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in the country, and if we still have the energy we’ll go to Essaouira, a resort town on the Atlantic Coast, and if we don’t we’ll sit by the pool at the resort near Marrakesh (I hope we get to Essaouira but if not this time there will be other chances). I can’t wait!
Last week I had the site visit from my Program Assistant and we established an action plan – I’ll be working on a web site and catalog, working with hotels to promote the artisana, and working with the artisans on marketing and other needs that they may have. I’m looking forward to digging into those projects. I have other things going on – with Gender and Development and with the GLOW (Girls Leading our World) Camp, more travel plans, more visitors coming. I had an energy low but recently I have been very happy, upbeat and content. All in all, kulsi mzyan (everything is good) and marhaban (you are welcome)!
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
I had my site visit last Tuesday, with Tariq, the Program Assistant. We met at the artisana with the director; my counterpart was on vacation. I haven’t had a lot of interaction with the director but think this unplanned meeting was good for all involved. The conversation was in darija and I was pleased that I understood a lot of what was said – and also fine with the fact that I was not expected to participate; Tariq told me he would fill me in later. We then went to my apartment, where I filled out a self-assessment (had I had this ahead of time I could have thought about it and he wouldn’t have spent so much time sitting and waiting for me, but that’s okay) and he did an inspection (we laughed at the food storage part because I still didn’t have much food at that point; I have since built up a store of baking needs and already have done some baking – but I still have a ways to go kitchen-wise – who knew that wouldn’t be a priority? I think he got a kick out of my unused bike too, but I decided not to give it back just yet). We also set an action plan for the time between now and In-Service Training (after, not the same time as, Reunions, Hamdullah) and beyond. Yes, I can begin some real work, and I am excited about the projects. They want me to develop a web site for the artisana and for the entire region, including both artisans and tourism. Exactly the kind of thing I would like to work on. I am also going to work on a catalogue for the artisana. I am to help the carpet cooperative in the artisana with marketing – Lee hadn’t worked with them and I had the impression I wasn’t going to either. I have spent a lot of time with the women there, though, just in the course of going to the artisana, so this is good. And I am to continue to work with the sewing cooperative, rock-carver and other artisans in town. I can work on upgrading the artisana display space and on the questionnaire/hotel project I have already started. The rural communities are secondary – they will probably put volunteers there next year so I can pave the way rather than have that be my primary work. I can work with friends in my stage who have expertise in web site development, photography and museum installation. And there is a group of students from Al Akhawayn University who also want to work with the carpet cooperative, so I will be collaborating with them. I can start doing PACA, formally or informally. All in all (or all in almost all, but I want to accentuate the positive) it was a great visit and I am excited about working on all of these projects!
In addition to accentuating the positive, I also decided to eliminate the negative. One thing I have been surprised about here is the negativity on the part of many of my fellow volunteers. I decided for my own protection to minimize or avoid them to the extent possible. This is somewhat of a breakthrough for me, and it may carry over to life after Peace Corps. Much as the zen room gives me a chance to getting rid of physical clutter, I can also think about getting rid of people who are clutter. It is interesting to me to see how relationships among and between volunteers is evolving – we were all thrown together during training and now we are still sorting out who we try to see, who we keep in touch with, what we have in common other than the Peace Corps – though in some cases that is enough to create a bond. We all spend so much time alone that time with each other takes on more importance and requires a different energy. I think this will all sort itself out but it is interesting to be both a participant and an observer.
All through homestay I got lunch invitations and I told people that I was eating with my family and that they should invite me when homestay was over – and last month I got not a single invitation. Did I burn bridges? No – I feel I made up for it in one week, when I had three lunch invitations that took up most of those three afternoons! It also made up for the lack of food in my apartment, or so it seemed.
The highlight of the week may have been Thursday morning, when I called my niece to wish her a happy birthday. I asked her what she is most looking forward to in Morocco and she said, “seeing you, I guess.” They arrive this Saturday! I think they are also looking forward to meeting other volunteers, having a meal with my host family, and seeing how I live. There really isn’t that much sightseeing to do here – it’s more about experiencing the culture.
Also on Thursday, the Director of Safety and Security personally installed a new CO detector – this time exactly as the manual recommended. In mid-shower on Friday it went off – again, window wide open so there should have been plenty of oxygen – so once again I took the batteries out and disabled it. I had gone out to meet him halfway (he was walking up from the Auberge, where the new Environment trainees are) and I got caught in the rain. Earlier in the day I had had my raincoat on and reading material with me, but since this was a quick walk to meet him, I had neither. Stood under an awning, wet and shivering, and may have caught just the slightest bug, but I think it went away.
And also also on Thurdsay, I had a chance to experience three new technologies! My first IM (instant messaging), my first calling card call (from Elisa, who had bought the card – I still have yet to use one myself) and my first skype (free calls from computer to computer). Very exciting! A fourth technology was added on Sunday when Frank configured my wifi, but I am getting ahead of myself.
The Administrative person at Peace Corps Headquarters, who is as nice as can be, called me early in the week to see if I could host an acquaintance of hers who was traveling in Morocco and wanted to meet an actual volunteer on Friday. Happy to do so! The acquaintance turned out to be nice as can be as well. My usual visitor routine (now that one is developing) is to get pastries and go to the café next door to the patisserie and talk for a while. There’s no set routine after that yet though – every visit has been different. Amanda joined me, and she got us invited to her husband’s family’s house for authentic Moroccan Friday couscous. We also saw my apartment, unrepresentative of PCV life as it may be. We then went to the artisana (all visitors are more than welcome to spend as much time and money as they want to at the artisana!) and then it was time for her to go back to Rabat.
Another whirlwind weekend followed. Frank, who had hosted me in Erfoud, came up and we went to Fes for the day, where we met up with several other PCVs who were on their way to a party in Sefrou. For me it was a chance to gather more inputs for my relationship participation/observation – and also, much as I hate to admit it, a chance to go to McDonald’s. Most of the people we ran into went straight to the party but a few of us went on to the Fes medina. Again, I feel lucky to be able to go for the day, experience the sights and in this case, smells – we went to a tannery where we were downwind; the proffered mint sprigs helped but this time it was the overpowering feeling I expected last time. I didn’t buy anything but I did look longingly at the side alley where the pouf I fell in love with was! Everyone else went on to Sefrou but I, without an available Saturday night, went home – to my first dinner party! Amanda and I bought the ingredients and we cooked spaghetti bolognese, which was ready just when Youssef was finished with the hammam. It’s nice to have people over – I look forward to more.
Frank got permission to stay an extra day to shop at Marjane, since he is tall and can’t find things in his size at his site. He was happy to be in Azrou, with its green and its mountains and its beauty – maybe as happy as I was in Erfoud, with its desert and its dunes and its beauty. We are both very happy with our sites but we also appreciate the beauty of each others”. It’s just so different! Luckily it is a straight shot, so I can visit him all winter when it is cold here and nice there and he can visit me all summer, when it is hot there and nice here. Because he was shopping, he missed a hike that I went on – I joined 17 of the new trainees, with some LCFs, Amanda and Youssef as leaders. We hiked to where Amanda, Moldova and I had seen the monkeys – sadly, no monkeys on Sunday – and then around to a part of the mountains I had not yet seen, experiencing all four seasons in one hike, or so it seemed. The trainees I spoke to were very nice; it was interesting to hear their backgrounds and to be able to answer some of their questions (with all of the wisdom that a six-month head start could provide). One of those trainees may be Amanda’s replacement and therefore my new sitemate! I will see them again during their time here – I am co-presenting Gender and Development in April and may go on another hike or give a tea talk about what SBD volunteers do.
When Frank returned – after Fes and other shopping, after PCVs at the party for him and hiking for me, it was nice to just sit and talk – yet another café, with a terrace under the trees. He had not been to the artisana during training at all, so I took him there, where we both bought things. And then we went out for rotisserie chicken (20 dh!). He configured the aforementioned wifi and we had what is becoming my signature hostess offering, chocolate milk.
I have a busy week ahead – the things I would like to do include getting started on my action plan, working on the GAD presentation, working on my monthly report, working on the secret mission mentioned in last entry’s comment section. If I finish all of those, there are three surveys from headquarters to fill out – homestay evaluation, living allowance survey and travel expense survey. I did a lot of e-mail yesterday and some work-related leave requests this morning; still have a reimbursement request to send in for my toothpaste and I have to go to Maroc Telecom to pay my bill. There is GAD work and GLOW work and a quarterly report for my blog. There is washing the floors and washing the clothes. But most important is getting ready for my vacation! My sister, brother-in-law and nieces arrive on Saturday! I’ll leave you for today with a picture of the view from my roof. A panoramic shot at sunset would do it more justice, but this might give you a sense of the expanse of city and the mountains beyond. If you remember views from very early in the blog, those closer, higher mountains and older parts of the city are off to the left of this view.
Monday, March 12, 2007
It feels great to be my normal cheery self again! I really was in a slump. In a way I’d like to go back and figure out when and how it started, but I have done enough processing lately, and I want to move past it anyway. I don’t even want to look at the last few blog entries – too much venting! When I used to get in a funk, my friend Debbie and I would look up biorhythms on a web site and invariably my biorhythms were in a low – so what if it used to come from a vending machine; there’s something to it. Now I can just look at the chart of culture adjustment that the Peace Corps gave us – again, enough processing, but I do remember a low in the 3-6 month timeframe.
Anyway, on Friday morning I got DSL! We went and found the installer and he came right over. Turns out I had done most of it, and he finished up. The wi-fi doesn’t work, but he couldn’t wait to get out of my apartment once something, anything worked. My friend Helen in Chicago said that if it’s any consolation, her wi-fi hasn’t worked in months. Actually, it IS some consolation! I will look for or ask for a long Ethernet cable and maybe pursue wi-fi at some point, but I am happy to have DSL now. Somehow I resisted the urge to stay on the internet for the rest of the day and instead visited the sewing cooperative. I also got my carte de sejour! I can now stay and work here! Went to the post office and got the itinerary for the See the World trip – I knew where we were going and when, but seeing the details of the planned excursions, written in luxury-travel-agent language, makes me even more excited about the trip – it is coming up soon, and I can’t wait. And I got some great news – I was in a good mood already but this made my day, week, etc. My friend, classmate, fellow class and club officer Jeff won the Princeton Club of Chicago’s Award for Service to Princeton. I am so happy for him! I had nominated him, and the head of the nominating committee asked me to introduce him at the Annual Dinner – either write a speech that someone else gives, or figure out some audio or video way to do it. I am thrilled! That will be wonderful. I do hope I can figure out a video because then I can wear the orange-and-black jellaba! It was just nice to transport myself out of my immediate situation for a few minutes. But even the immediate situation is a nice place to be right now – went up to the roof for sunset.
Friday night (with some spillover to Sunday night) I finally got everything out of suitcases and boxes and emptied the zen room. The zen room, if I were a Moroccan, would be another living room with more ponges – maybe a guest room. If I had a room like this at home, it might be the office/guest room – or – I hate to say it – the box room. This is my chance to have an empty room, to have zen. Is this the beginning of the rest of my life, and I can come back and get rid of more stuff? I still need more furniture here, but I do not want clutter. Or am I going to get back and get cluttered again? No, inshallah! Anyway, my original vision for the zen room was to lay down a labyrinth like the one at the Garfield Park Conservatory, a twisty path for meditation. Now my vision for it is to get a big rug and put some candles along the edge. Just a place for tranquility. Maybe exercise and/or yoga, too. Big plans for the zen room! I still have some – let’s call it filing – to do, but I felt good about the leaps of progress made.
I had this vision of staying inside all weekend, catching up on things and reading, but I felt I had made enough progress to go away for the day on Saturday. Amanda and I went to the Fes medina. I had in mind getting some kohl (eyeliner used here) and something to moisturize my skin, maybe made of argan oil or olive oil. Well, I got the kohl but lost the little stick with which to apply it…so I guess I’ll get some more kohl. I didn’t find the moisturizing thing but I went on a bit of a spending spree! Got some water mugs and some ceramic mini-tagines to use for salt and either pepper or cumin (maybe I’ll just buy a third one next time). Bought a traditional blouse – I really haven’t bought that many clothes here; there’s a party next week and now I have something new to wear! And then I got a rug! Fes is the last place I expected to get one, because it’s too touristy, but the rug caught my eye and the seller gave me a “shocking” price, saying he hadn’t had much business that day. Of course, that means I still probably could have bargained him down more, but I am just not good at that and I was happy with what I paid. I’ve never seen a rug like it – black and white woven on one side for summer, thick wool loops on the other side for winter. I still need more – it takes up only a little section of floor – but I like it. And I saw a leather pouf that would go really well in the zen room (yes, it should have leather poufs too, I now think). It was so comfortable…and so expensive that I left it for another trip. I’m attaching a picture of me on it – so that’s a pouf! Ponge picture to come and then you’ll know what a ponge is! I need a few, don’t you think? You can stuff them with your off-season clothes, which I think is quite clever. The best thing about the day was just being with Amanda – it was like going to the mall with a pal. We didn’t leave at the crack of dawn or race to make it home by sunset. We had a snack when we got there, shopped at a comfortable pace, and had lunch before we left. She was amazed too at how normal it was. I told her the only thing we didn’t do is go to a movie and then it would have been just like being at home. Granted, the Fes medina is not Watertower Place, but I we’ll try to go back! At the end of VSN training last week, Nam played “Lean on Me.” I asked if it was a coincidence and of course it wasn’t. I suggested that there be a VSN party mix (or support mix, as it were) and on the taxi ride home, Amanda and I came up with some songs. Samples – You’ve Got a Friend, Help, You’ve Got a Friend in Me, Call Me, 867-5309. Friday I had bought a small table from one of my woodcarvers. I know the secret – that they are really made by the artisans in Khemisset who I met last weekend – but I didn’t mind paying a slight upcharge to buy at the Azrou artisana. I also bought a bunch of paper goods from my tutor, who was getting rid of some inventory - I have always liked having lots of toilet paper and paper towels, and, like the ketchup, it took a month, but now I have that too.
Sunday – okay, so I didn’t read or answer correspondence or study language, as I envisioned, but at least I did the organizing this weekend, plus laundry and washing the floors – Katie and Scott came over and they worked on the GLOW budget while I proofread the proposal and all related materials. It took most of the day, but that was fine – I didn’t have to travel for it! I need to ramp up my kitchen now so that when people come over I have snacks to serve them or even things that can be made into a meal. Amanda and I were going to get some snacks on Saturday when we got back but we saw a hedgehog for sale (apparently they’re very tasty and they make you smart) in the market and we decided to buy it to save its life, at least until it gets caught again. Getting it home and then (DSL!) looking up its diet, habitat etc. meant no snacks. It’s good that we went out to eat anyway – Amanda joined us, along with Michael, another environment volunteer who was staying at the Auberge to give a talk to the new trainees; he seems cool. There’s a GLOW meeting in Sefrou next Sunday but the aforementioned party is in Sefrou on Saturday and I’m not staying over, so I don’t know if I’ll go two days in a row. I still have all that reading and writing and language study…
This morning, all morning, I updated my spending worksheet – I’m trying to keep track, though it is amazingly hard to do so. I try to write down everything as I spend it and yet have money unaccounted for. I also filled out the settling-in survey, estimating the expenses yet to come. Let’s just say I left the 5000 dh in the rear-view mirror a while ago. And this afternoon I thought Tariq, the Program Assistant was coming for site visit, so I waited (and was productive while waiting, mind you). Finally I sent him a message around 5:00 asking if he was all right and still coming and telling him it was in my culture to worry. He called and said he just arrived and he would call to meet me tomorrow morning. Finally – my chance not to leave the house all day, something I have been fantasizing about. Couldn’t do it – I really wanted to take a walk. Did some errands (more for the spending spreadsheet already) and watched the sunset from my roof; went out again to look at the stars.
A couple of things I wanted to mention last week but the entry was too long as it was. About the possible best peanut butter I have ever had –I didn’t feel like having it with the Moroccan bread, so I asked if I could share American culture by getting a spoonful and eating it right from the spoon – mind you, something I have never done in America. And then I asked how they would feel if I dipped the same spoon that had been in my mouth back into the peanut butter – given communal plates and glasses here I had a feeling they wouldn’t mind and they didn’t – and I am glad they found it amusing. I haven’t been lacking for peanut butter, though I cannot find it in Azrou – I found some in Marjane and some in Al Hoceima, and Katie brought back some Reese’s peanut butter cups in return for borrowing my suitcase in January, and I just got a care package that included peanut butter treats. I did, however, correctly identify cheese as something I was likely to miss – pegged that back in Rabat. Again, I can get Red Ball here (Gouda) and other cheese in Marjane when I get my refrigerator, but I miss cheese. Also wanted to comment on the sage incense. I did bring a smudge stick with me from home, but I haven’t taken it with me on the overnight trips. I really travel light on those trips. When I went to Omaha, my Nebraska sojourn, I was pleased because I wore a reversible dress, and brought my toothbrush and toothpaste and clean underwear and that’s about it. Well, now that’s just about standard on the Saturday night overnights – I do bring something to wear to bed, and I bring a few more toiletries, but I wear the same clothes two days in a row – we all do (some people even sleep in their clothes). Anyway, now I think I have to add sage incense to my minimal overnight bag so that I can clear the karma from hotel rooms and sleep better. Anyway, I was explaining the karma-clearing to Amanda and as we approached the daily souk there was a man selling sage and she bought me a bunch. The next day she came over and we made smudge sticks, tying them together with dental floss and hanging them up to dry also with dental floss. I used one of the homemade smudge sticks last week and I think it works! I told her the medicinal herb cooperative should make some.
I guess I should mention the terrorist attack too – someone went into a cyber in a poor section of Casablanca yesterday and blew himself up, I think. We all got calls about it today. Basically we were told to stay away from crowded areas in big cities but not to panic. Still, now that I have my stuff unpacked, it’s a good time to pack up the emergency bag we were told to put together and have ready. Last week a bus ran off the road near Khenifra and some people were killed. I’d like to know if that bus was traveling at night…
I don’t have a lot of plans yet for this week, on purpose. I want to balance that self-time with integration. All that could change after my site visit meeting tomorrow, and I do have a long list of things that I would like to do, but rather than program myself I’m just going to let things happen as they may. Okay, time to go out and look at the stars again.
Friday, March 09, 2007
This is a story with a happy ending, but if it seems to you as though I have been having a tough time lately, well, it seems that way to me too. In fact, I will start with the ending – right now I feel like bursting into song, dancing on the rooftop, doing whatever people do when a burden feels lifted. Ultimately the switch toggled thanks to a little host family loving, possibly the best peanut butter I’ve had in my life, and Appenzeller cheese hand-carried from Switzerland. A little sage incense to clear the karma, some writing, a little reading, and a good night’s sleep, and things are even more rosy today!
After the VSN (Volunteer Support Network) training I had many opportunities to process my own feelings this week, and I think everything took on more weight because of the emotional buildup and catharsis of the weekend. Tuesday morning before I left, we went to the Khemisset souk. This is the largest souk in Morocco, with over 2000 stalls. I had already come to the conclusion that if you’ve seen one souk you’ve seen them all, but I now see that that was based on just two, and it was wrong – this one is impressive to see. But I went with expectations, and therefore was in for a fall when they were not met.
Outside the souk was a man selling sheepskins. I have wanted some ever since the Peace Corps doctors said these would be great for people with cold floors (and even more so when I found out I would have cold floors). Normallly, though I do wear leather shoes, the concept of a sheepskin would bother me, but since I have seen with my own eyes how every single part of the sheep gets used, I think that in this case it would be part of my cultural integration, not to mention a chance to feel warmer. Anyway, I said I would look again on the way out but of course he was not there.
I had the idea that I might get a rug finally (again, cold floors). Both Nam and Sabrina, the Khemisset PCVs, got great deals there. Well, unlike at the TimHdit or Azrou souks, which were busy and slice-of-life enough already for me, at the Khemisset souk, women with their rugs to sell thrust them at you and shout and touch you and I have no idea whether or not I could have gotten a good deal because after just a little of this I was ready to leave rugless. We did have a nice tea with a rug-dealer friend of Nam’s, but I also have the issues of seeing things I like but not knowing what I would want to own, whether I want something for two years or to take home, and whether I am going to be able to fulfill my pre-Morocco vision of sending or taking home rugs for friends at the end of my service. Rug paralysis! Not only that, but on the way out of the rug area I saw one that would have gone well with the décor I already have, but as it happened we had just been joined by Nam’s landlord, who told me the rug was xayb (bad, ugly). I couldn’t tell if he just didn’t like it or if he thought it was badly made or if he didn’t like the sellers, but nevertheless I felt I couldn’t even ask for the pre-bargaining price after being given that advice by a Moroccan.
Nam also told me that he got some sleep sacks at the souk – sheets sewn together. I actually have an ancient one that I brought with me, for my sleeping bag, but it’s a bit smaller than I’d like and it bunches up with all the twisting and turning I’ve been doing lately, and I think I would like one to bring to the Peace-Corps-budget hotels we stay in, plus I really want some for when I have guests, so I thought if I got a rug, nice, but that these I could really use so were more along the lines of must-haves. Needless to say they weren’t there – but I think I can get some made. I do work with people who sew, after all! Still, a disappointment, as was a doughnut I bought there.
All in all it was a bit of a shattering experience, and I thought I could lift myself up (and buy some sheets for someone to sew into sleep sacks) with a Marjane run on the way home, even though I had had one on the way there and already had all I could comfortably carry (I also had in mind some chocolate that Nam had gotten at Marjane). I had to give up that notion when the bus from Khemisset to Meknes broke down and my window of Marjane time was spent by the side of the highway. I still don’t know exactly what happened other than that it started again – only to stop when Meknes was in view because someone on the bus felt ill and had to get off. The bus finally left her and her companion on the side of the road. And when it pulled into Meknes not only was I ready to go home, but I had been invited to a meeting at the artisana that I could make if the grand taxi filled quickly.
I had just enough time to put down my travel bag and change to my site-journal bag in time to make the meeting. On the way home, my friend Rob, who had been to VSN training at another site, texted to say he had a fun, laid-back weekend. I stopped and stared at the phone – I would not say my weekend was either fun or laid back. Why not? I had to process that, so I was actually a little late to the meeting, which started late so it was okay. The meeting itself was exciting – setting the date and seeing the copy for the invitation letter for the official meeting required to legalize the TimHdit cooperative – what Katie has been working on for about a year now. They invited me as well, and I hope I can get permission to go. I have a vested interest in them, after all!
So why wasn’t it laid back? I could answer that relatively easily. I had fought to go, so I wanted to take it seriously and get all I could out of it. Plus, back in training mode, I was also in business mode, thinking of how the training could be modified or improved and of new products for the VSN committee (tip sheets/success strategies for being a good sitemate, getting through homestay, looking for a house, furnishing it, following another volunteer or being a new one at a site – in other words, some common PCV experiences that people might VSN about, plus the volunteer-trainee mentor program that Moldova told us about). Why didn’t I have fun, though? Have I just not been having fun lately? I did have that recent sunset, and I have had some nice trips and good days, and I found VSN to be a positive experience, but fun? No – it all seems like work, and nothing is easy here. Result of processing – memo to self: lighten up! This can be and should be fun. Good advice to self (even though VSN is not about advice, I thought it was okay since the VSN-ee was myself).
But – no time for that. Katie and I had some coffee, joined by Amanda, and talked about the GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camp meeting I had missed when I was at VSN. GLOW has been stressful but now I have a good assignment – research grants on-line, or at least it will be a good assignment when I get DSL, which I still do not have after having my wi-fi router and the corresponding promise to install it for a week now.
As I was saying farewell to Katie at the grand taxi stand, thinking I would go home and get a jacket, I got a text saying that Natasha was almost at the bus station, so I just stayed there and waited for her, getting cold. Natasha is a YD in my stage who was being moved to a new site – and Azrou was a good place to overnight. I hosted Rachel and Janeila so why not Natasha – New Sites R Us. This was also an unexpected immediate opportunity to use my VSN training – I knew from the other moves that people needed to vent, to put it behind them, to cast it off, and to begin to anticipate the new site and starting over. So I actively listened from about 6 pm until 3 am, covering just about every topic that we had brainstormed when we discussed things a PCV might call a VSN volunteer about. Confidentiality prevents me from going into detail but if you look at the last blog entry and the proposed tip sheets you can get an idea of a few of the wide range of subjects touched upon. It was good, but it was draining – and as a bonus, after we finished up, I got something off my chest that I didn’t want to discuss in either role play or with anyone who is a regular part of my experience here.
I took Natasha to tutoring on Wednesday because I didn’t want to cancel just because she was there, and she had some cultural questions to ask a Moroccan after our talk. And then I had coffee with Amanda and Carly, another environment PCV in the area but one I had not met yet. The new stage of health and environment arrived in Rabat on Tuesday – my group is no longer the newest group here! Environment arrives in Azrou on Friday – already I have seen the Peace Corps SUVs around town! More on that as there is more. Natasha went off to the bus and then texted me that even though we had asked about the bus earlier that morning, the bus she needed wasn’t coming today. She no longer had time to get to her site before dark so she asked if she could stay with me for another day. Sure, if she came with me about my day. She had had lunch while I had coffee, so I downed a few nuts and off we went (lack of food and water not good when one is already stressed – oh yeah, I forgot to mention that one of the Peace Corps doctors is the VSN liaison and had joined us for a bit on Saturday – I had a mini-consultation and was put on oral rehydration salts. I still say I have been dehydrated since I got on the plane in September, but having the sensitive teeth has made it even harder to drink enough).
So we did a quick cyber check - we ran into Barbara there, who mentioned that Tariq told her that he was coming next week for my site visit. He told Katie too, but hasn’t told me yet. How to prepare? Should I give back the bike? And does he know that my counterpart will be on vacation? He told me that he was leaving when I was in the meeting on Tuesday afternoon – and also told me that if I wanted to go out to Ait Yahia Oualla not to wait for him. Now he tells me, after I have been doing just that! I felt a little betrayed. In my quick cyber check, there was no e-mail about site visit. Maroc Telecom – you already know what happened there, nothing. Post office – not for the first time, package slip but no package yet.
Then, we had tea at the carpet shop right near the post office. The guy there had invited me for tea twice last week and both times I was in a rush, and one of my weekend role plays had been the fact that this bothered me; I didn’t want to get a reputation as the American who is in too much of a rush to integrate – so I had action-planned to have tea with him this week (in the same role play I was upset that I didn’t see my host family at all last week, so that was a priority too. I also didn’t see the sewing cooperative, and plan to this afternoon). And then we saw the rock-carver. We were on the way to do more work-related work when we passed a grandstand at which a band was playing. A new princess was born last week, the first daughter and second child of the king, Laila Khadija, and all over the country towns were having sbors (seventh-day celebrations) for her (though it may have been the eighth day, but if that’s the case it worked out in my favor because I was able to see some of it). We watched them and then another band who might very well have been the band we so enjoyed at the mock wedding. And then we bought food – I had used my food up before going to Khemisset and this was my first opportunity to replenish. Let it be known that somehow I made it through a month in a new house without any ketchup but that I am ketchupless no more. Also spiceless no more – Natasha felt sorry for me for not having any yet so she got me some salt, pepper and cumin. I had been making egg-onion-tomato scrambles for myself most of the time, and we did that as well, but we added green pepper and garlic and hash browns and the aforementioned ketchup.
We both agreed that no further VSNing or girl talk was necessary and went to sleep early, but I woke up at one in the morning and could not get back to sleep. If there’s anything that puts me over the edge, it’s not sleeping well, and I was not sleeping well because I was over the edge. In the name of community integration, I have been out of the house just about all day just about every day, and I need to balance that with time at home, not only for personal things but for work; I still haven’t tallied those tourist questionnaires, for example.
Tutoring (another role play topic) is another stress – I knew that in home stay I didn’t have enough chance to study, but I didn’t last month either and if I stay the course wouldn’t this month either. So I formulated a lighten up/take care of myself plan – yesterday I told my tutor that I was taking the rest of the month off from meeting with him so I can study and process. Rather than write words down in a book each time and not have enough time to look at the book, I am going to take a step back. One of the VSN trainers suggested that there might be a book in the Peace Corps library about strategies for continuing language learning after PST, so I wrote to the librarian for it – and it turns out that when I mentioned it to Amanda, she had it! So now I do, and want to read it this weekend. It was a hard conversation to have – kind of like breaking up. Though I never had to say, “it’s not you, it’s me,” mentioning the need for time apart was awkward, especially since I know he needs the money, but I’ll be back. Actually I said I’d call after taking the weekend off to rest and start studying. But I want to take the month of from tutoring and cut back on being out so much as well. I still haven’t put all my clothes and books away, for example. Pent-up writing and reading and the need for more exercise. Getting ready for the See the World trip. Laundry. What I really want to do is not leave the house for the rest of the month – we heard about PCVs who do that and now I see why – but what I plan to do is continue to build relationships but also have more self-time balanced in for the rest of the month (and of my service!).
After tutoring I went to the police station to get a carte de sejour stamp, and was told that the carte might be ready today! Another Peace Corps milestone, when I do get it. Then I decided to try to install the router myself, since the box said rapide and facile, and since Maroc Telecom still hadn’t called. I am loading this up from a cyber, so you know the result. And here it was International Women’s Day and I am the GAD rep and I had no plans! Amanda heard about a reception at the Al Akhawayn Azrou satellite campus, so Carly and I went to check it out with her and a woman from her town who had been a GLOW camper last year – and it turned out it was on the main campus in Ifrane and not in Azrou at all. I can talk about Women with my sewing cooperative this afternoon so all is not lost, but it was yet another thing and more non-stop activity. Then a juice and some venting – still processing – and then the host family visit and the sudden switch to happy and here I am today! I want to stay in all weekend but probably can’t manage that – Amanda wants to go to the Fes medina or to a spa nearby, and they both sound tempting, and she’s had to listen to me this week so it’s the least I can do if I accompany her….and since I do feel better….and I can still not leave the house on Sunday….
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Another busy week went by…and it seemed I spent a lot of time on house stuff! Maroc Telecom came over a couple of times – the first time, they said that the DSL works; it’s my computer that doesn’t, so their job was done. I wrote a letter explaining that a colleague with an apple computer had a hard time too, but persisted until she found a tech in Fes who knew how to reconfigure apples to fit the system here, and that they had to do that for me too. Then I had my tutor translate it and I brought it over and handed it to the director – and it worked, where my several attempts at spoken darija and French had not. The guys came back over – and it turns out that my system, newer than the one of my colleague, is just incompatible with the 120 dh USB modem but will work with the 1990 dh wi-fi Ethernet modem. A big chunk of change, considering that our monthly allowance is 2000 dh, but I guess I can skip eating this month! Or continue to take money out of the bank. As I was walking away from the ATM with my router, in a bit of a money daze, I heard a bunch of footsteps behind me and was soon passed by two donkeys and a stray dog – lest I think that Morocco is too high-tech….Maroc Telecom didn’t come back Friday morning, as they had promised, so I still don’t have it, but I feel it will happen.
On Tuesday, my friend the painter came back and finished the bedroom, bathroom, balconies, sink alcove (which he got to just as the plumber came to replace the sink, of course), foyer/room with six doors, and the bricks for my bookshelves. There wasn’t enough paint for the zen room, but that room will be okay without being repainted, I think. I kept him company (or he me) and stayed inside almost all day. What a treat! I worked on my monthly report, organized pictures, wrote to my World-Wise partner School. To protect the floor, we used the cardboard from the boxes for the table, hot water heater and mattress – using available resources. I felt good later when I saw that various people walking by had picked them out of the garbage to use as fuel for their wood stoves.
The next day he brought over my ponge pillows - again, ponges are couch bottoms – the couches here don’t have backs or arms – so the pillows function as a back…ponges here lean against the wall. Some people have pillows that also lie flat on the ponges, creating a couch-arm effect. Most Moroccan living rooms are lined on three sides with ponges. I have three ponges, all against the wall, but separated from each other – definitely not Moroccan! A couple of tables and a rug and the room will be ready for photography. He also brought back my dresser shelves, which he had lined with fabric – so now I am ready to start putting books on the bookshelves and clothes in the dresser and stop living out of suitcases and boxes! Wait’ll I start sleeping in my bed…in addition to sun for the mattress, I asked Debbie to send Lysol (or some other mildew-reduction equivalent) and Febreze (or some non-P&G equivalent) – after I treat the bed with those products, then I will sleep in it!
Once the DSL is in place (inshallah), I think that’s it for workmen for the time being. I still need several items before I am settled in – desk or some other work table, coffee table or tables, and a bunch of kitchen items including perhaps a refrigerator, rugs, candles for the zen room, and maybe some decorative artisan items, but I don’t want to or think I can or think I have to spend as much time on it in March as I did in February. I will have tutoring three times a week instead of the usual twice, since I will be on vacation the last week of the month. And maybe I will finally meet the weavers and start visiting them regularly!
Spring may have arrived. My counterpart had told me that there were really three cold months, December, January and February, and that by March it would be warm. As if on cue, it warmed up! Not that there can’t be more winter and rain and even snow, but there might not! On Wednesday afternoon, I spent some time with a textile artist from the U.S. She taught with one of the artists who is in my group, and she has family in Morocco, so in the course of visiting her family here she also is traveling around to see some of the volunteers here, teaching felting and materials evaluation. I am not ready to have a felting workshop with any artisans quite yet, so we just had lunch and she filled me in on how some of the other volunteers she’s met along the way are doing.
I had a bad headache one day and a fitful night’s sleep another, I didn’t get to see my host family or my sewing cooperative this week and I feel sad about that, but all of that was forgotten when I had tea at the Negrassi carpet shop on Thursday afternoon. All visitors will be taken to this shop for tea, inshallah! The owners there are so nice – both father and son were there, and I looked at their books to continue my education on Moroccan carpets (they also had one on Moroccan geology and beautiful natural places to visit – in French, but I looked at the pictures), watched them deal with sellers and buyers, and kept having my glass refilled, all with a warm blanket around my shoulders and a purring cat in my lap. As I left, the sun was setting and the western sky was full of different colors, the moon was bright over the mountain to the east, and the call to prayer was ringing out from the mosques all around me. I felt really happy to be here – the moments like that more than balance out the frustrations I’ve had lately. And I got my absentee ballot for the March election (yes, Illinois has March elections). Not that Mayor Daley won’t get reelected if I don’t send it back, but I do like to vote.
Friday I left for VSN training. I stopped in Meknes and had a chance to go to the tourist office and get some brochures (something I tried to do in Rabat, Fes and Marrakesh and I didn’t make it there) and stopped at Marjane – towels, plates, can opener, vegetable peeler, questionable knives were about all I could carry, so I still could use more trips there. And then got to Khemisset for the three-day training. I am really glad I fought to go and was able to. The basics of the support are building rapport, identifying and discussing emotions, and working on an action plan. We had separate sessions on each of these and on active listening. Active listening is critical – sensing, attending, responding, paraphrasing, clarifying, perception checking, questioning, silence, assurance, reassurance, summarizing, and empathy are techniques. It really takes some practice not to inject your own situation or comparisons when someone wants to talk, and not to try to solve everyone’s problems but let them talk it out. We did a lot of role plays – there were both theoretical issues and some real issues, and it really did help to talk them out and it felt good to draw people out and actively listen. All of the trainees were SBD from my stage (trainees in other sites were a mixture of SBD and YD) and the trainers were from other sectors, so there was a good mix. As a bonus, we saw the total lunar eclipse on Saturday night – it was nice to be in Morocco for it, with warm weather, a pre-midnight totality and a clear sky, and to share it with other people.
I don’t know whether it was the moon or the training or just general sleeplessness (I won’t name names, but someone in the group snored) but I started thinking about the support group I have here – I feel glad to have people near my site who I enjoy seeing and feel comfortable talking to, but there are also people I’m close to who I text or e-mail but don’t see often enough. And then I started thinking about my support network back home – again, lucky to have good friends in Chicago but also people who I talk to or e-mail but don’t see often enough. And then I started thinking about my all-time biggest supporter – my father – and by that time I was quite emotional. I managed to cry without waking up the snorers, but I also found myself wondering if I would really call a fellow volunteer to talk about this. Probably not, I thought, and that was validated when I mentioned it the next day and felt minimized, with two more days of training to go. But then I started thinking about how lucky I am to have had the parents I had and how much I love the people at home and how I have found people here I love as well. And then I started wondering if the metal worker should make some hearts and if my rock carver made hearts and thinking that I should suggest that. And then it was really time to get some sleep!
Sunday was a low-energy day – for me, I didn’t get much sleep, but the whole group seemed out of it, so it was tough. We also had tough issues to discuss – crisis, sexual harassment and assault, and cultural stress. Even though the training had role plays, readings and games mixed in, to me it didn’t seem to flow, and the group dynamics were wearying – after all that togetherness in PST (pre-service training), which I really enjoyed since I knew it was a special time (at least I enjoyed most of it), I now find that the enjoyment I get out of seeing fellow PCVs is in reverse proportion to the size of the group. One-on-one I have had the best time, then as a trio, and then a foursome, but somehow once the group size is more than five there is too much complaining (or partying). They say it’s for safety and security that more than five PCVs can’t get together but it could also be for morale! Interesting – I wonder how that will ebb and flow as the time goes by. The entire group gets together only a few more times, and I think those will be times to be cherished as PST was, but I don’t know how many big informal gatherings I will attend. At night we engaged in a common PCV activity – watching a DVD. I haven’t gotten into this yet on my own, maybe because I hadn’t planned on bringing a computer with me, but maybe I will get into it because I don’t want to miss two years’ worth of movies. We saw “Blood Diamond.” When Leonardo first meets Jennifer and sizes up why she might be in Africa, he mentions “Peace Corps types” – that was kind of fun!
Monday we had more about cultural stress and also a session about managing our own stress – it was good program design to end of a positive note with all of the good things we can do to take care of ourselves. And then we had free time to see some of Khemisset. It’s much bigger than Azrou, flat, and perhaps a little uninteresting. Its best feature is that one of the main ways to get around is by couchi, horse-drawn carriage – 2 dh in a set route. I love to walk to work but I think that if this were my site I might have to take the horse-drawn carriage every day because I would never have a chance to do that again. Of course, they do cram them full of people so it may not be the most comfortable. There’s no old medina with shops but there is a daily produce souk that was interesting. There’s a park with a really sad zoo – a monkey in a cage, a hawk in a cage, and a cage full of pigeons. We went to the artisana where Nam and Sabrina work - it's all workspace, for woodworkers, jellaba makers and wool spinners - industrial-feeling, with no showroom or tourists. I like my site! And we had a nice final dinner. Right now I am ineligible to be on the list of people to be called because I am the GAD rep, but I hope that changes. But it doesn’t matter – I can still use these techniques with friends (many VSN sessions happen informally anyway; just in the course of conversation you realize you have an issue and want to switch into VSN mode) and in work, so I am glad I was able to go.
I'm adding a picture of one of the doors in the casbah area in Rabat - it has nothing to do with this post but I said I would add it when I could. Oh, if I knew how to rotate pix and put captions on them...or how to put more than one picture on and still have it look nice...
Thursday, March 01, 2007
When I lived in the east I went for weekend trips in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states every so often – maybe a couple of hours away. In my years in Chicago, though, I exhausted the close-by opportunities and then went on several long weekends that included six- to eight-hour drives – St. Louis, Mackinac Island, Iowa, Apostle Islands. So the idea of going several hours just go somewhere over the weekend does not seem ridiculous to me. I had a February Saturday night out of site to use or lose and was looking for possibilities. There are many – back to the desert, back to Marrakesh, Casablanca, Rabat just to name a few. But at the end of a month where we all moved into our own housing and spent a lot of money on furnishings, it was hard to find a travel companion. So I saved all the above-listed places for a time when I can meet someone for whom it would be meeting halfway coming from the other direction, and instead looked north on the map for a solo excursion. They don’t have PCVs sites in the north because there is a lot of kif (marijuana) grown there, and there are other general safety and security issues, but there are some great travel destinations there. I went to Al Hoceima, on the Mediterranean coast. Sounds good already, doesn’t it?
Grand taxi to Fes and then a bus that took just about the rest of the day. It might have been better to take grand taxis and to get there a little sooner, but the bus is less squishy. I still haven’t made up my mind about which is better. Lots of time to read and also to look out the window. The Rif mountains, the northernmost range in Morocco, are just gorgeous. Lots of green, some terraced towns and farms, many almond trees in bloom (I love flowering trees!). I still think the countryside here looks a lot like California (this drive had scrub-covered mountains and bare mountains too) so with all this beauty it is tempting to think about moving to California when I return (at least for the winter, while I job-hunt…right?). I did not get to Al Hoceima in time for sunset by the beach, but I did get there before dark, and found a hotel and got settled and took a walk around.
I had been told that Al Hoceima has a Spanish flavor and to brush up on my Spanish; that area of the country had been under Spanish control. I did have a chance to use it but I didn’t hear an overwhelming amount of it. I had read that I could get paella and tapas and seafood but couldn’t find any – pizza was dinner, and then I sat at a terrace café, listening to the ocean and watching the lights of fishing boats coming in to the harbor. It’s a beach town, so it might have a completely different feel in the summer, and despite the distance I am willing to go back – it was relaxing there and I felt content. I got up early on Sunday morning and walked around the bay to one of the nice hotels. Had coffee and a pain au chocolat overlooking the water. I have often said that sitting and staring at an ocean is a low level of activity that I can manage. I usually need to be more active, but sitting by the water I can do. Went down to the beach and walked to the end of it, listening to the waves and looking at rocks and shells. In the summer there is not room for another body on the beach, but here I had almost the entire beach to myself. I put my hand in the water – not too cold! Given my Lake Michigan experience, I probably could have gone for a swim – there were a couple of people doing just that – but I didn’t even think to bring my bathing suit. I then went to the previous night’s terrace café and had juice and an egg. And then it was time to go back – this time via grand taxi to Taza and then Fes and then Azrou. The drive was much greener than it had been a month ago, and I made it home before dark. Even had an interesting conversation in the last grand taxi, with someone who works at Al Akhawayn University. Sea in the morning and Middle Atlas by evening – not a bad way to spend a day. It was therapeutic to be by the Mediterranean. I know people who think that living in the mountains are equivalent to living by the water, but water is what does it for me. However, this is my first time living in the mountains and I intend to make the most of that too over the rest of my stay!
Al Hoceima had an earthquake in 2004 that was pretty devastating. There haven’t been any near Azrou recently but there have been some in Morocco in the past few weeks, felt in Figuig, Taza, Rabat and Marrakesh – some of my friends felt some tremors, as did the Peace Corps office. Just like California?
In other news: I have hot water! And – not only can I take a hot shower now and wash my face with warm water, but I have hot water in the kitchen, and can wash my dishes with hot water! I had been heating water on the burners to have hot water with which to wash the dishes, but what a luxury – yes, luxury – to be able to turn the “hot” knob and have hot water come out! I might even be able to use some of the hot water for laundry, though the laundry tap has only cold water. And I had given up on the plumber coming to install the hot water heater when he was over two hours late….
And the plumber has to come back to install a new sink. Last week my Peace Corps-issued CO detector went off. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless but it can kill you, as the manual said; I called the doctor because I was concerned about the alarm and he asked me if I’d read the manual – I have now! CO poisoning is caused by incomplete combustion while using the butagas – burning takes oxygen. To prevent poisoning, you have to open a window whenever you have the butagas on. The detector was in the kitchen and hadn’t yet been mounted – now it will be, on a wall or ceiling near a sleeping room, per the manual. It also says not to put it in an uninsulated room like a garage or basement or any room under 40 degrees F – well, I think my whole apartment is under that, so I was hoping that that was causing a malfunction. You might recall that Lee was involved in the infamous butagas incident, so I am very careful to open windows, plus my apartment is big enough that it seems that it would be hard to use up all the oxygen. I checked that everything was turned off and that all the hose connections were clamped tight, but the alarm kept going off (and leaky gas wouldn’t be CO anyway; that would be another problem, but detectable). Opened windows near my two butas, but it’s been cold so I would close them after a while. Alarm still kept going off. I took the batteries out – not a good solution, but the doctor told me I would be okay. I decided to leave the windows open all night. I woke up after midnight with a headache and some dizziness – two symptoms of CO poisoning. Walked to the bathroom and realized I was staggering, and then I collapsed to the floor – it was pretty scary. As I steadied myself to get up, I pulled the sink out of the wall. So I called the doctor again and again he told me I would be okay. And I am now, but not without a morning in which I could do nothing but hold my head in my hands. And now I am getting a new sink. Now I should note that the PCVs I have told this story to think it was CO poisoning, but the Moroccans don’t –the buta was turned off when the alarm went off, not combusting. Maybe I had a headache and was dizzy for another reason. It went off again, again while the buta was not in use, later in the week (right before bedtime – just in time to be anxious all night) so I am getting a new one. I have a friend who I text-messaged to say that if I didn’t text in the morning to call the medical office – it’s good to have someone out there who might think something is wrong if they don’t hear from me. I also need to make copies of my keys and give them to someone just in case. And I have a new health issue – sensitive teeth. Overbrushing? I am now on Sensodyne for the time being, though I miss my beloved Great Regular Flavor Colgate. Maybe that replacement toothbrush is too hard-bristled for me. If my teeth are still sensitive after three weeks with the toothpaste, it could be back to the dentist.
Sports dreams lately – not on the buta night so unrelated. Two weeks ago I dreamed about the Masters tournament. I think I was there at Augusta National, but I still heard Jim Nantz’s voice in my head. When I woke up I wondered why I had subconsciously skipped the NCAA tournament. And then week I dreamed about that – I don’t know which team was the opponent, but I know one of the teams playing was Duke. I don’t usually dream about things I suggest to myself – or, if I do now, maybe I will suggest some other things to my subconscious mind! Earlier in the week I had some anxiety dreams – in one, we were on the bus to JFK, about to be moved to new sites, working with Moroccans in South America. All that anticipation of the unknown again, just when I felt settled here! In the other, movers were coming and were almost finished packing and I was feeling pressured to decide whether to keep a stuffed animal out of the box, and if so, which one (note – none of the stuffed animals were my actual stuffed animals, who are indeed in a box!). It doesn’t take much interpretation to connect that with the upheaval over the move to my new place. I put in my mind the power of suggestion to dream about a warm place – maybe a tropical island. You tell me if you think it worked – that night I dreamed about Wrigley Field, on a gorgeous, sunny, warm day (those are not all that common at Wrigley!).
I had a great meeting with my counterpart last week. We were talking about the photography – Barbara has been involved in something in her village so has not been able to come back to take more pictures. I mentioned that I would like to do a brochure for the artisana, and he suggested that I establish relationships with the hotels in the area. This is something I had mentioned wanting to do at our initial meeting in December, but again, now that it is his idea, I am going to do it! He pulled out a questionnaire that the volunteer who was evacuated did five years ago, for tourists visiting the artisana, There wasn’t a summary, but he had all the questionnaires. So I took them home to tabulate them, because why not, and I can give out the same questionnaire to tourists visiting now, or I can write a new one. Again, something I would like to do!
I had read the Peace Corps cookbook towards the end of my homestay, in preparation for cooking for myself. I noticed a lot of typos, along with the suggestion in the front of the book that someone working on the next edition correct the typos. I offered to do that and am working on the soup section. Soup is a good idea for these cold evenings. Haven’t made any yet, but I reorganized the section by ingredient and corrected any typos I found.
Oh, and I have books now! The box I had been waiting for arrived! Yippee! Now I just have to find time to read....and some time to catch up on my correspondence. I was doing a pretty good job of responding to my mail in a timely manner, and then the flood of holiday cards arrived. I will answer them all, but it may take a while.