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)!

Hi Sharon,

Your apartment is tres chic! Love the ponge, pouf, etc. Great picture.

Also, congrats on reaching the 6-month mark. Does it feel like it went by quickly?

Have a good time traveling with your sister.

I want to go on that trip with your sister and her family! Sounds fantastic! Thanks for the lovely quarterly report, Sharon.
Glad to hear that you are settling in. You're missing some great b-ball by the mets!

Maybe next post will be of my bedroom, since it is shaping up! The six months does feel like it went by quickly - especially now that I am in my own place (training and home stay both had moments of seeming endless, much as I enjoyed them). Thanks for writing, Stereogirl!

Edie (or anyone contemplating it), you can go on a similar trip with just me! Maybe at a different budget level, but still fun and interesting!

And yes, I do miss the Mets, but it has been so long since I've lived in New York that I still identify more with the '73 team (and the '86 team) than with recent teams - of course, now that I say that I again am reminded that most of the people I am serving here with were not alive to see the '73 Mets...good to hear from you, Arlene!
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