Wednesday, April 18, 2007


This past weekend, I went to the Todra Gorge. I had seen Frank’s pictures when I was in Erfoud in January and have been wanting to go there since then. Got up early for the 6:30 am bus – which didn’t get to Azrou until almost eight. I don’t sleep well when I have to get up early, and the reason I got up early was to get there sooner, so to spend over an hour waiting – shivering the entire time, no less – was deflating. The bus ride to Tinerhir wasn’t easy, either – first, I was cold, and then, once we got to the south, I was hot. I knew intellectually that it would be hot in the south, but it has been so chilly in Azrou (and in my apartment) that I couldn’t bring myself to dress for hot. On top of that, I didn’t drink enough – the buses do stop so that people can use the facilities, but so far I have tried to just limit my water intake, and this time I think I limited myself too severely – I had quite a headache when I got there. For a brief moment I wondered if it might have been a mistake – as 3:00 and then 3:30 passed and I still wasn’t there – but once I got there (the gorge a short grand taxi ride from Tinerhir) I no longer felt that way!

I had arranged to meet two friends there, Jong and Rachel. Jong is my CBT-mate who lives way down south – so this was kind of halfway but not really. Rachel was my roommate in Philadelphia, the person who taught me the card game Nertz, and one of the people who switched sites – her new site is close enough to the gorge that when I mentioned it she said she was interested. Along the way, coming from separate directions, Jong met up with Laura and Rachel with Jessica and they joined us for the day. While I was on the bus, Rachel and Jessica did the hike recommended in the Lonely Planet book – up a donkey trail, past some Berber tents (the book says they might invite hikers for tea – and sure enough, Rachel and Jessica had tea!). They were just finishing their hike when I pulled in – perfect timing! Meanwhile, Jong and Laura were hanging out at a café they had found. Rachel, Jessica and I somehow missed the café and walked the entire road inside the gorge, and were on the way back to look again when Jong and Laura found us. So here we were, surrounded by high rock walls and tinkling river sounds – very peaceful.

We went back to the café and had some tagines for dinner. I had such a headache that I really couldn’t eat or even drink, but I was eager to hear how everyone was doing, and I think I kept up my fifth of the conversation, even when I had to lie down for a while. We ate outdoors, under a Berber tent, with a panoramic view of the gorge. The café was also a little auberge – we looked at a three-bed room and it was quite cozy – and only 25 dh a night! After dinner, the auberge owners (and whoever else was hanging out there – it was never really clear) jammed on some musical instruments for a while in the salon – it was nice to sit and listen…and finally I felt a little better and then just kept drinking more and more water – and then I felt well enough to play some Nertz!

Then we all – all the guests (there was one other at the hotel, a handsome Spaniard, and us) and all of the owner-hanger-out-not-sure-who-they-were guys – went for a walk, to see the stars. The gorge walls were narrow, but still, the sky was full of stars! With no moon to speak of, there were even more! We sometimes had the flashlights of cell phones to see by, but mostly we just walked in the dark, with the river and the walls and the stars. We stopped for tea at the terrace of the gorge’s fancy hotel (Frank’s recommendation) and then kept walking. It was late when we got back, so we didn’t get up super-early to do anything ambitious, but that night walk was really special. I got up in the middle of the night too (all that water) and then saw the Milky Way! I have seen it before, but I thrill every time I do.

The next morning, we had breakfast on the sunny terrace and then walked down the gorge – the book says it is nicest in the morning, when the sun penetrates down to the bottom. I thought it was nicest with the stars, but that’s a secret best kept out of the book! We looked at the crafts for sale and I bargained (weakly) to get some jewelry – why not. I wanted to do a little bit of the donkey trail hike just so I could get a feel for it – of course, I loved it and would like to go back and do the whole hike! I think I could do it without taking a vacation day as long as I get there a tad earlier – or the sun sets a tad later. There are plenty of hikes in places I haven’t been yet, I’m sure, but Todra Gorge is a place I would go back to – it was beautiful and I felt happy, and it was a good meeting place for all of us, so maybe a good place to meet again.

On the bus, I read a book called “Keeping Kennedy’s Promise - The Peace Corps: Unmet Hope of the New Frontier.” It was written in 1978 and then updated for the Peace Corps’ 40th anniversary. An excerpt from the introduction:
“More than 65,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served abroad. Many have had a real job to do; many have been qualified to do those jobs; and many have had the cultural curiosity, language facility, and unwavering commitment to do those jobs well in spite of the often intimidating physical and psychological challenge.
Many though they are, they are the exceptions. For the great majority of volunteers have been sent abroad without sufficient skill, without sufficient language ability, without sufficient cultural awareness and without a clear or critical job assignment. They are the unmet hope of the Peace Corps.”

Wow! The Peace Corps has had the same issues, from the beginning – and the same issues exist today! It was interesting reading. One part that I found pleasure in was the authors’ recommendation that more people with specific skills be recruited – such as marketing or small business development. I had wondered upon arriving here why we weren’t all working on basic needs, and the authors felt that the Peace Corps should be going more in the direction of knowledge/skills transfer (there was a lot more English teaching back then). So I felt good about that – actually, I felt good about the whole thing. The book was critical and complimentary and constructive at the same time. Good read. I also read a Peace Corps book on ongoing language learning, which gave me a motivational boost to keep plugging away at language, along with some tips.

And then I spent most of the next two days with English speakers! On Monday morning, I had coffee with two “English birds.” These young women knew someone who met Lee on a train. They went to fashion school together and were looking for someone in a developing nation to execute their designs in a fair-trade way. Lee at first connected them with the sewing cooperative here in Azrou, but that was just before they disbanded for the summer-through-Ramadan, so he then found some seamstresses in Ain Leuh who could make the clothes. Check out – buy something if you like, and tell ‘em I sent you! I want some! They were meeting with the producers to go over the next collection and were just coming through Azrou on the way out – but they may use my cooperative, now that it is running again, for an embroidered piece, and they are looking for a knitter; I think I can find one.

And then Kellye came; she’s one of the environment volunteers on the GAD committee. She lives near the Cascades d’Ouzoud, Morocco’s best waterfalls, so you can expect to hear about a journey there one of these days. We went to lunch, and then we went to work on the Power Point that we had put together last week – deciding who was going to present what, working on slide transitions and on sliding copy in and out (oh, Bill Gates…), figuring out a warm-up exercise and scenarios for a mid-presentation group activity. We finished just in time to go down to the Auberge for dinner – but because we had some handouts to print there, we missed conversation with the trainees. I haven’t been back much since training – it’s a little bit like going back to school after graduation. Things are different - the conference room has more comfortable chairs, there’s an awning between the two halves of the building so people don’t get wet, the room I stayed in is now the storage room, other rooms have different bed configurations – home, but not mine anymore – I’m all set to go back for Reunions, and my sister keeps telling me I will get culture shock when I go back. It was a little bit of culture shock just going back to the Auberge where I trained – just a few months ago - in the same town where my final site is! Hmmmmm…

Monday night I didn’t sleep well – just before I went to bed I saw a big bug. Beetle, I think. Big. Woke up in the middle of the night with some sort of bug bite – not beetle, but not good. Went to get anti-itch cream from the medical kit, and saw another big bug. I had told myself okay, there was only one – but no, there was another. Did an apartment inspection and found another three – for a total of five, in four different rooms (two in the zen room). I didn’t sleep much after that. It was windy, so maybe the wind blew them in. It blew in two days of rain, so I haven’t seen any since. Realistically, I expected and expect bugs to be a part of my Peace Corps service, but that doesn’t mean I will sleep well when I see them. At least I am in too cold a climate for scorpions; this past weekend, Jong had a picture of one she found in her apartment.

Anyway, Tuesday was the presentation and it went quite well! The warm-up exercise got everyone moving after lunch. We split the group up and assigned roles – Moroccan men, Moroccan women, American men, American women – and the Moroccan trainers were Moroccans. We read several gender-related statements to them (such as boys should get more education than girls, a woman’s most important role is to be a mother, men are more rational than women) and had them move across the room in a spectrum from totally agree to totally disagree. The point was to get them thinking about gender and to realize that there is a gender component to much if not all of our work here. We then went through the gender and development theories, broke up into small groups for the scenarios, and described the GAD committee. I thought that the committee and election had been poorly introduced (i.e. sprung upon us) for my training – even though it worked out in my favor because I won – and I wanted to make sure it was explained better. The election was interesting – three people were nominated or self-nominated. The first one said that he was spreading the term SNAG around – “sensitive new-age guy,” and talked about why he was interested. The other two candidates talked about how they thought the first candidate would be really good, and that they were interested too. Interesting campaign, eh? Perhaps it’s no surprise that the first candidate won. I’m glad – he seems really nice and it will be nice to get to know him better in the course of being on the committee with him (I would say he’s cute, too, but that seems un-GAD-like). We also kind of needed a male so that we would maintain some gender diversity on the committee! Actually, I thought all of the people who ran were nice – the whole environment trainee group seems nice! One of those trainees will replace Amanda in Ben Smim, and there will be two others close by and two more not much farther, who will be coming into Azrou for cyber or for counterpart meetings – they find out next week. I could potentially spend a lot of time with any or all of them for the next 20 or so months – I’m eager to find out too. Went to dinner with Kellye and a few of the trainees.

Today it was back to the artisana, and then working on the next presentation – I am meeting with the group of Princeton alumni who will be in Morocco for what used to be called an Alumni College ( - this might be a good overview-of-Morocco itinerary for anyone considering a trip to visit me, except that the group doesn’t have time to stop in Azrou and you should!). This presentation will be more informal – no Power Point – and I will leave lots of time for Q and A; Princetonians like Q and A. I’ll join the group in Fes for dinner on Sunday and stay at the same luxury hotel where I stayed with my family a few weeks ago – yes, yes, writeup coming. I’m also going to Fes tomorrow, to the dentist!

The box came. I love it.
I am glad it arrived and glad you like everything! Note to readers - I sent this box at the beginning of February for Sabrina's birthday on March 15 and it arrived last week! I am still awaiting some boxes too, but I fear they may never arrive...
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