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.

Thanks for the photo and the description of it...Really surprised me, I pictured Azrou as being so much smaller!
I should add a picture of Azrou as seen from the hike. It is nestled in the valley and then it might look small again. It's definitely more urban than TimHdit and therefore than what I expected, but when I go to a big city such as Fes or Rabat, Azrou does seem like a small town.
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This was Gretchen's comment - I just deleted my e-mail address for safety and security reasons - Hi Sharon - I sent you an email about coming to visit in July...it was sent to xxxxxxxx...please let me know if you got it! Have enjoyed reading all about your adventures! gr
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