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….

Had to take a breath after reading this posting...your previous posts have made me feel calm - nearly vacation like....I think you have succeeded in communicating what your days are really like!!!

Glad you're happy, take some time to breathe deep and catch up on a few things at home and then you will regain your balance!
(I sound like a wheat germ and granola type...sorry!!!)

Have fun!!!
I feel like I am busy all day long and have no idea where the time goes or what actually gets done. It seemed like venting to me but glad I could convey something. Still, what is that biorhythm web site again?
Thanks for writing this.
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