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...

Daley won with 71% of the vote -so you helped!
I don't think I did - I think my ballot is still in the mail! But thanks for letting me know!
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