Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I am so glad I went to Marrakesh! It’s far, but now that I know I can get there and back in a Saturday night trip, I will do it again. I like it there; like the feel – and of course I love my friends there. I think I might like it better than Fes, though it is a goal to spend enough time there to feel I know it as well as I feel I know Fes, and then decide! I caught a 7:29 train and arrived only a little late, at around 2:39, and spent the afternoon with Rob, Janeila and Dominique. They all have sites in the area and work with the same artisana delegate; they were meeting to discuss a presentation they are working on together. I had noticed on the Volubilis day that people who see each other often have their own rhythm, and I wasn’t quite in synch with these three, either – tired and dehydrated and hungry and lightheaded from the travel. Got to the restaurant after the kitchen closed; they had finished their pizza and but had left a piece for me. Then we went to the English-bookstore café, where they had lemon tarts and I had gazpacho (yes, Cynthia!). So I was behind by a course and I felt a little behind in the conversation, but it was fine just to listen and great to be with them. Rob’s my best friend here and I just don’t see him enough, Janeila and I have had great visits, and Dominique was my roommate in Rabat and in Azrou and even though we haven’t kept in touch much, she is still on my list of favorite PCVs. I realized something, though – in a way I wish I had seen one for lunch, one for dinner and one for breakfast – at last I have figured out why I visit seven sets of people in four days over the holidays. But that’s not the nature of most Peace Corps gatherings. We then went to a couple of art galleries and an art supply store – real stores, not ones with Moroccan artisanal things; the new part of Marrakesh is much more interesting than the new part of Fes in that respect, and it warrants more exploration as well, but this was a trip to see people and to just be there, not to sightsee. And there were more jacarandas in bloom! I think Azrou is at too high an altitude to have them. Janeila and Dominique headed for the bus and Rob and I took a walk that lifted my spirits – more on that later. We caught up to them at the ice cream place, where they had stopped on the way to the bus – but they were finishing up as I started mine, and then they left for good. Rob and I then headed to the Jemaa al-Fna – not for tourist things but for a drink (fresh orange juice). We passed by the artisana and I hesitated – I still want to take pictures of the displays – but this was not the trip for that, and I am pleased that I passed on it. Then it was time for us to go – Marrakesh was “full” (five PCVs had signed up for the weekend) so I had myself put on the log for Tameslohte, Rob’s site. It’s a conservative site, so he could not host a female overnight, but there is a nice auberge there (with a pool for perhaps another time?). He and I had a delicious dinner there, with some one-on-one conversation – still the best way to have quality time with someone, as opposed to in even a small group. I stayed in a Berber tent as opposed to a room. Actually, it wasn’t a Berber tent, not like the kind I look imagine staying in for a desert camel trek trip, but rather four walls with a tent for a roof with an opening above the door that had no screen, so the mosquitoes could get in. The tent was good in concept, but the sound of (non-biting) mosquitoes buzzing in my ear kept me awake just about all night, and I am still recovering from the lack of sleep, just in time to really disrupt my even-on-a-good-day restless sleep when I go away this weekend. The tent’s name was Zagora, so in some way I made up for not going to the craft fair. Sunday was a leisurely breakfast and then back to the train - bypassing the artisana yet again. The train ride was rough – hot, crying baby, man who smelled like smoke, lightheaded yet again – no sleep, but on the train ride down and back I started and finished “The Caliph’s House,” a cute, but not great, “vicarious genre” (that’s what it says on the cover; a good name for the genre) book that has good insights into Moroccan culture, so I would recommend it to those of you out there wanting to relate more to my experience, and I do now want to get to Casablanca again, where the book was set. Next I want to read “A Year in Marrakesh” so I can pass that along, and then I will be ready for a book that’s NOT about Morocco or the Peace Corps. When I got to the grand taxi in Meknes, someone had asked me how Marrakesh was – the driver from Saturday morning; I had bought five places in the taxi to make sure I was on time for the train. He hadn’t seemed all that friendly so early in the morning, but he gave me a welcoming smile on Sunday night, which touched me and brought me out of the zombie-like trance I had fallen into on the train. Travel here is not easy – and the train is much easier than the buses and grand taxis –but if I stop writing about going away on the weekends, you will know it has broken my spirit.
Speaking of broken spirit, mine still is, somewhat, and it has been for about a month, but the details are too personal for a blog so I will leave it at that. As with everything else, things are magnified here – though I think that in this case the feelings would have been just as deep back in the U.S. However, I received a sign from above today – again, too personal for the blog – so I have been reminded that someone is looking out for me and that things are as they are meant to be.
I used to have places to recharge – my bed in Chicago was a place to cry, to dream, to review, to plan, to feel snug. That bed is not in storage – it was cast out into the street, too old to be donated, but I miss it. I used to go up to my roof to look at the stars and talk to the universe (by the way, on that sleepless mosquito night I saw the Milky Way again, and my first sighting of the year of the Summer Triangle, my favorite constellation). I would go for walks by the lake and think or meditate and have thoughts come to me. I don’t have a place like that here. My bed is a place of tossing and turning. My roof has nice views but somehow I don’t feel comfortable there. I would take Azrou walks (with Rob or others) in training but now, with running into people I see and/or harassment, I don’t get a sense of peace, and the mountains don’t give me that comfort either, at least not yet. Which reminds me – I should mention that the people I saw this weekend all talked about getting harassment to convert to Islam – I have had none of that here. The walk in Marrakesh between the art supply store and the ice cream was a walk that buoyed me a bit, but it wasn’t long enough, and I wonder where else I can find them here. There are walks for me this weekend – across Central Park or around the reservoir, several on the Princeton campus – so I guess my trip comes at a good time. But with IST coming up, there’s looming pressure, and I’m already feeling down. I think I’ll be able to put IST on the back burner while I am away, but I am stressed about it. More on that next week. As for Reunions, I always feel treasured there, which is one reason why I go, but I am trying to minimize my expectations – I fear that I will be so jet-lagged and just plain old worn out that I might not be my usual cheery self.
Yesterday was another dentist appointment in Fes and another episode of lightheadedness – I had the appointment right before lunch, and he gave me some sort of rinse and told me not to eat or drink for an hour. I used the hour wisely (Marjane) but felt like I was going to faint – so I had some mediocre food at the Marjane café and came right home. I have to go back to the dentist in fifteen days! One follow-up visit was a good idea but another? Not that I have a problem about going to Fes again – there’s a Fulbright scholar there who worked with the Princeton professor who was here with the alumni group, and I would like to meet her. Maybe a new friend! Amanda and Youssef came along for the ride (they were going to look for wedding rings in Fes but then it was time for Amanda's train to Rabat for her last few days as a PCV!). She told me that I was the Moroccan equivalent of a bridesmaid for her wedding party next month - I had no idea! She has been encouraging me to buy a Moroccan party dress, saying that I will get plenty of use out of it when I do (sounds like the tux rule). I had been resisting since I honestly don't know how many other weddings I will attend while here but now I guess I have no choice!
And then on last night, Rose, Kareem and Kareem’s artisan came back from Zagora. It sounded like a lot of work before they left – sitting with the artisans in a tent all day in desert heat. Turned out that they felt like it was a vacation – the fifteen or so PCVs sat by the pool all day and then sat in the tents for a few hours each evening, got to catch up with each other and see what each other is working on. Would I have felt like I was on vacation too, or would I have been overwhelmed by the group dynamics? My rock-carver apparently had a busy booth, so that was good.
Tomorrow is more photography and finalizing my packing and I leave early, early Thursday morning. It will take almost as long to get from Azrou to Casablanca as it does from Casablanca to JFK, and then almost as long again to get from JFK to Princeton. Somehow that doesn’t seem right. I have always been fortunate to live near a major airport! Maybe that needs to go on the list of criteria for next place – no matter where I live I will want to get away. But, comment that I posted this morning notwithstanding, and lack of contemplation space aside, I do feel happy when I go away and come back to Azrou. It is home.
Friday, May 25, 2007
It’s hard to believe that next week at this time I’ll be walking on the Princeton campus in my orange and black Moroccan duds. I leave next Thursday, and there are two reasons why it is becoming more of a reality – one, I am trying to nail down plans for ice cream dates, walks, card-playing et. al. and two, I am starting to pack. Chestnut, the rocking horse made of walnut that looks so good in my tiled room, has to be packed to go to his new home in New York, and trying to figure out how to do that has been quite stressful. I finally called Youssef, Amanda’s husband and my go-to guy – he made the ponges and ponge covers, painted, found glass tabletops for my tables, righted my leaning refrigerator with blocks of wood, fixed my oven door handle, etc. – and now he is wrapping Chestnut in some ponge filler and ponge fabric and then will make a protective cover out of souk bags. I hope Royal Air Maroc is okay with this! I was planning to pad Chestnut with presents for people, but he wasn’t getting padded well. So I put all of the presents in my big suitcase – expanded. And I wish I could bring back more things for more people! I went to the artisana today to finish off the purchases (i.e. no more will fit in the suitcase). I still haven’t packed my clothes, but they will have to fit in the carry-on! There’s an obvious benefit to bringing an entire suitcase full of presents, of course –I can fill it with things for myself (and others here) on the way back! My sister brought me a suitcase filled with things in March and then filled it with things to bring back – this is a whole new way to pack and travel! The only thing I really need to buy while home is running gear – the hiking-shoes-that-you-can-run-in you really can’t run in, and the running shorts I brought are not appropriate, so some real sneakers and pants and then I can start training for January’s Marrakesh Marathon! Or perhaps the half. That may be all I need to get, but I will manage to fill the suitcase anyway – with groceries, toiletries, other shoes (Azrou is hard on shoes) and gifts to bring back for people here.
This was a busy week. Tuesday I had a PCV marathon, if you will. In the morning, Nico, the YD volunteer in Immouzer (closest YD to me), came to Azrou with his family and asked if I would show them the artisana. Nico’s father works for the State Department in France, helping to facilitate American companies’ doing business in France. This is similar to something I had been looking at for both the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois – is it something I could do on an international level in the future? Hmmm! After tutoring and a little downtime, I met environment volunteers for lunch – two who are about to end their service next week and five who were sworn in on Monday. I still feel closer to the beginning of my service than the end – even though I am past concentrating on community integration I am still doing more information-gathering than actually accomplishing anything – but I am not as fresh-faced as those newly sworn in; nor am I as worn out as those about to leave!
As I write this, there is a chorus of howling cats outside - very distracting. Usually there is a nightly conference of barking dogs, but there have been more howling cats lately. I think that the cats might be worse than the dogs. At least the construction across the street, that I am still afraid will obscure my view, has moved into a quieter phase. Speaking of which – there is a half-finished museum that had not been touched since I got here for training in September. It’s right in front of the artisana – if and when it is finished it could funnel people right in, to shop. I mentioned it in my report to the delegate about suggestions for improving the artisana – even though it is a different ministry and there is nothing they can do about it. Well, yesterday they removed the fencing that was around the site and today there were men working on it! Is it possible that my ministry delegate mentioned it to the delegate from the other ministry? I may as well take some credit for it in my monthly report – I don’t know if the pruning of the artisana garden would have happened anyway had I not offered to do it myself, but they did start reducing the overgrowth after I mentioned it, and the display room does look nicer, even if they took down the “after” displays Rose and I worked on. So maybe my suggestions are resulting in helping people help themselves after all?
After the environment lunch, two of my stage-mates, Rose and Kareem, came to stay over, with one of Kareem’s artisans, on the way to a craft fair in Zagora. Craft fairs were a big part of the job of the PCVs in the past, and I thought I would be going to a lot of them with my artisans, but now I am not so sure I will. First of all, they are no longer being funded to the extent they had been for the past couple of years – Aid to Artisans supported many of them and has removed that support, and when the artisans have to pay for their own travel, food and lodging, they are not as eager to go to the fairs. Second of all, I am not sure I have the right artisans for craft fairs. The only artisan I have who consistently goes to them is Youssef the rock-carver, and he is so self-sufficient that I am hesitant to ask for work-related leave to accompany him (I think I could learn about craft fairs by going, but I don’t know that I can help him with selling skills, display etc). I think the sewing cooperative had been to some with Lee, but they are in a cycle where they need to make sales in order to produce more inventory to have product to sell at craft fairs. The individual artisans at the artisana don’t leave their workspaces to do fairs, and I am not sure about the weaving cooperative. Though I would like to see Zagora and this would have been a good way to get there, I was also worried about the timing, with friends last weekend and a trip to the U.S. next weekend – at the time when I had to sign up, it wasn’t clear how many days I would have to be away, and I couldn’t take the risk. I am glad that the rock-carver was able to go – he was cut from the final list due to lack of space and then was reinstated after I pleaded. Still, I felt a little sad seeing the bus of artisans and volunteers off the next day. I think that in addition to sales, these fairs are a good opportunity to see other volunteers and artisans, to know what other people are working on, and to exchange ideas. There will be other opportunities, but I think I also felt a little sad because I don’t know how many I will be able to go to, if any. At least it was nice to see the people who came through Azrou, and I think I will be hosting them on the way back on Monday night, too.
Wednesday was another day of photography with Barbara – we now have all the woodcarvers and the metalworker documented, but not yet the cooperatives, the rock-carver or the artisana showroom itself. This project could take a while! I kind of wish I were working on it myself, though – she has worked as a professional photographer and she has a better camera but I think I take good pictures too – at least good enough for what I am going to do with it. Working on this (and looking at the photographs that some of the other people have taken) has made me realize that I want to learn more about photography and to get a better camera. For the former I want to take advantage of the expertise of people here, and as for the latter – I think it should wait until I get back. It clouded over, and I was tired from having a late night and an early morning the day before, so we called it a day, which gave me time to get a haircut (last week it was just color) and some food to cook! I hadn’t really bought any since before I did that kitchen inventory, over a week ago. I’ve been happy to be cooking again this week!
Yesterday I had tutoring again – I like the new tutor. He has lesson plans, he enunciates, he corrects me. He believes I should read and write, so we have spent most of the month on the alphabet, and on spelling things out. I don’t know if I need to know the months of the Arabic calendar or the numbers spelled out in Arabic script (whenever numbers appear in print they use the number…at least I think so, but then again, maybe there’s a style convention similar to ours and the numbers from one to twenty get spelled out). I think this is probably a good way to learn the language, but I don’t feel that I am getting the jump-start I was looking for in speaking. I am more or less enjoying tutoring, though, and I didn’t with tutor #1, but I still think I am going to use yet another tutor for the summer. Aziz is one of the LCF’s (Language and Culture Facilitators) who worked with the environment trainees. He is spending the summer in nearby Ifrane and seems willing to come into Azrou twice a week. He knows the Peace Corps curriculum, he knows English (tutor #2 doesn’t) and he knows how to teach.
I spent the afternoon with Katie, who I hadn’t seen in weeks. We went to my favorite carpet shop so I could pick up some items to send to Chicago for next year’s Princeton Club silent auction. They gave Carol and Mike a good price when I brought them in earlier this week, but they gave me a VERY good price! I picked out some very interesting pillows, too – almost tempted to keep them. We then went to the office of an NGO that works with women in Morocco – I had been there with Lee early on but now that I have an idea of who I am working with, it was interesting to hear about the business training that they offer.
Today was a mostly-quiet day, mostly at home. I went through my to-do lists, crossing things off and adding things and making new lists. This is one of my favorite things to do and it makes me feel very productive. I didn’t make any Big Picture lists, but at least I am calmer about the weeks ahead. Amanda came over for a while to use my computer, Youssef joined her to pick up Chestnut for packing, and later Amanda and I took a walk. I needed this day – and I need more days like it. I did go to the artisana, too, so I didn’t completely ignore my (self-imposed?) obligation to be out. I meant to visit my host family, too, but ran out of day. Next week, inshallah.
This weekend I am going to Marrakesh. I think I have mentioned this before – the people I see a lot of and the people I want to see a lot of are an intersecting set. I have always been willing to travel to see more of the people I want to see more of, and even though this will mean a long trip, I am glad I am going. I’ll have lunch with Rob, Janeila and Dominique and then go back to Rob’s site. Marrakesh is full (only five PCVs can be on the log to be anywhere overnight at one time) and there’s a nice-looking auberge in Tameslohte (he can’t host me because it’s a conservative site – no mixing of sexes). It’s another splurge, on top of last week’s splurge, and I suppose you could consider my trip to the U.S. next week a splurge, but I am all for treating myself right now. The various happenings this week left me a bit blue, and I am getting stressed about the upcoming IST (In-Service Training). Getting ready, but also getting stressed. The auberge has a nice-looking pool – though it’s cooled off this week (more so here than in Marrakesh but it may not be pool weather) and I might not have time to use it. It would be nice if we could leave on Friday or come back after nighttime on Sunday and have a real weekend – but we can’t. When I accrue more vacation days I can use them to take longer weekends, when other visitors from the states come, to travel around with friends I’ve made here, and to see more remote parts of Morocco – again, possibly an intersecting set.
Monday I have the dentist in Fes and then the post-Zagora hosting…. Tuesday I am going to meet with my counterpart to review what I have written so far for IST…. Wednesday may be more photography…. Somewhere in there I want to do laundry, wash the floors and finish packing…. Thursday I leave. It’s conceivable that I won’t have a chance to write again until after Reunions. It’ll a whirlwind trip – I return here Tuesday, June 5. Culture shock? Jet lag? Sleep deprivation? Probably, but also looking forward to seeing loved ones!
Monday, May 21, 2007
I just had a great weekend with my friends Carol and Mike. Carol really wanted to come while I was here, and decided to come early in my service even though it meant I had no vacation days to spend with them. I joined them in Fes for the weekend with my Saturday night out-of-site, and they came to Azrou for the day today, and tomorrow, they go on to Burgundy for the rest of the week. Good itinerary planning! I have been saying to friends of mine to just tell me when you’re coming and then we’ll figure out an itinerary, how many days I can take off, etc. I know this is a hard concept – after all, I am by nature a planner as well – but that’s the best I can tell people right now!
I’ll start this entry with a conclusion rather than leave it for a summary. I suggested to Carol that there is enough for two days in Fes, or we could do a day in Fes and a day in Meknes (since I still have a Meknes jones). She said that she is trying not to have to do everything. I had already been thinking about the weekend in Marrakesh where I kind of wore my friend Rob out, and then about my conversation with my friend Frank about learning to relax more while I am here, and if I can’t learn that while I’m here, I may never be able to. So I was impressed that Carol said that. We are very much alike, and if she can do it, I can do it! Well, Carol arrived with a list of 25 things she wanted to see and the Meknes information just in case. At the end of the weekend – where we had what was to me a more relaxed Sunday in Fes, instead of Meknes – I told Rob about it and he said it still sounded like a full day. Then I was e-mailing Paul about my plans for my weekend in the U.S. (which is looming, all of a sudden!) and he said, “Imagine that…you packing lots of things into a few days.” So is there no hope for me? Then again, is it such a bad thing to pack a lot into a day? I do think it would be good to learn to relax a bit more, and I have learned from my trips that I can’t see everything and that it’s always good to leave something to return for, but….???
More distressing is that I have been taking stock a bit this month and I realize that I really need to take stock. What did I want to make sure I work on while I am here? Are those still goals and am I working on them? Are there new things to work on and am I working on those? I designated May to work on things at home and get myself organized – while not ignoring the obligations that take me out of the house. So far, I have done just that. But I look around and I see a growing pile of magazines…again, is there no hope for me? The Zen room is still empty – and maybe I should abandon my idea of getting a big rug and some candles for it and just keep it empty, though I still like the rug idea; it just can NOT turn into a storage/clutter room! I have a bunch of letters to answer – I was keeping up before the holiday rush – though a number of friends are telling me they are not receiving my mail, and for the price (about 15% of my monthly allowance is spent on postage) it is even more distressing. But more than correspondence, I had dreams of writing things I have always wanted to write and reading things I have not yet had time to read, and I have done neither of those (though I do keep up the blog!). When I used to stress about all the things I wasn’t getting done at home I would remind myself that I spent an hour to two exercising every day, and that that was a priority. I can remind myself of the things I am doing other than reading and writing – spending time at the artisana and with other people in town (i.e. my job), seeing other volunteers, traveling – and then the fact that everything takes longer – washing the floors, laundry, shopping and cooking, for example – but whereas I knew that exercise was a priority, am I now spending my time on priorities or is it more that either I am doing things because I think I should as opposed to want to, or because I can’t or don’t want to say no? I have to think about this! Or – do I have to? Can I just go with the flow for a while longer? Is going with the flow the first step towards learning to relax more? Perhaps that is the question to answer first!
Philosophizing over for now…time for the weekend roundup. I decided to stay in the same hotel as they did, the Maison Bleue, even though it was a splurge for me – when I was unemployed I was amazed at how easy it was to spend money even though I wasn’t making any. It is even easier if the credit card bills are going to someone else! Actually, I have tried to remain very conscious of what I am spending – I didn’t quite need a splurge so close to the See the World trip, but opportunity knocked. The Maison Bleue is a riad, similar to the one I went to on my first weekend away back in December – an old house with rooms surrounding a central courtyard. The sign out front says “one of the romantic hotels of the world” and when I got to my room my first thought was that this was indeed a beautiful romantic room that I had all to myself! Maybe someday I’ll get to all of the other romantic hotels of the world by myself. Or….???
Carol and Mike had hired a guide for the day, and when she handed him her list of things she wanted to see, it was hard to tell his reaction, if any. Surprise? Any acknowledgement? He took us to the Bab Boujeloud, where all tours seem to start, and then the medersa just inside the old medina. He then said he would take us to the things that would be hard to get to by ourselves and leave the rest for us to do on our own – exactly the right thing to say! We next went to a potterie – not the same one I went to with my family - the process is just about the same but the layout was different and the products slightly different. Carol and Mike, by the way, were dutiful tourists and bought something almost every place we went, carefully considering each purchase. I bought some small items to bring or send back home and a couple of things for myself; maybe I will become more of a consumer when I am closer to leaving, or maybe I will return some day in consumer mode, but other than the hotel and meals, which were with them, I kept spending in check. Then it was back to the old medina and the tanneries – different shop, same vats. Then the same carpet shop where I saw the most beautiful carpet I have ever seen, and the same weavers making scarves. I consider the scarves a coup because the workspace is completely unmarked – I don’t know that I could have found it on my own – but now I think I CAN find it on my own. I think I can probably get back to almost everything we went to. With other volunteers we start at the Bab Boujeloud and go down the Talaa Kbira (big hill) and then back up it or up the Talaa Sgira (small hill) but the guides don’t do that – they go in to the medersa and then back out and take a taxi to another entrance to the medina where there are more points of interest. That is the key! We even went to the same lunch place I had been to with my sister – maybe all of the guides who take a few people around (as opposed to a large group) do that – it was certainly delicious! Our guide said he would pick us up again at 5:30 – because it was hot, or because he had something to do? – so we went back to the hotel for rose milk and dates. Then another few hours in the medina, this time seeing things I had not done before. An engraver of bronze and silver-colored trays – I have to add one of those to the list of things I want to buy before I go. An embroidery place, where it was interesting to see the artisans at work – they work without a pattern, ambidextrously – the pattern is the same on the front as the back, so for the back they are not even looking as they push the needle back through! Wood, except I told Carol and Mike to wait to buy their wood in Azrou. An herbalist – my sister had asked for more argan oil, so this was a good stop. And this all amidst the hustle-bustle of narrow streets with donkeys and people passing by and shops selling tourist items next to those selling items for residents next to food stalls. I like Fes! And now I feel I know it. Not that I wouldn’t get lost, and not that I wouldn’t recommend a guide when other visitors come, but last time I felt that I was one trip away, and this was the trip.
We dined at the Maison Bleue, listed in my books as one of the best or even the best restaurant in Fes. With a big meal, wine, live music, a full day, a bath, a comfortable bed, air conditioning, and no barking dogs, I slept better than I had in a while. Unfortunately, most of those conditions cannot be duplicated at home. And I did find myself lying awake – thinking, one of the most romantic hotels in the world. The hotel is certainly romantic but is Fes romantic? There have been parts of Morocco that I have felt have been romantic, but what makes something romantic at all, anyway? I decided that yes, Fes is romantic – in addition to the hotel, the meals are, with their riad setting, but there’s a mystery to the twisty streets, there are surprises, there is beauty. I asked Carol and Mike at breakfast and they agreed.
I told them that we could do Meknes but that in a way it might be more of the same, and that it would be more tiring – they said they had had enough of souks; so far I am the only person I know that can do all-souk-all-the-time! The Maison Bleue offers a tour of palaces that are otherwise off-limits (the benefits of luxury hotels), but that tour was unavailable because the King was in town. The King! With the Saudi King! I suggested that we go to the artisana, and they were more than happy to do so. I knew it was right in the area where I had been trying to find it last time, but still couldn’t find it. I suggested we go to a nearby hotel, the Jnan Palace, and ask the concierge. I had asked the people at the gates last time but didn’t go into the hotel. Glad we did – it had a beautiful pool, which might be available for a day fee, many flowers in bloom (including jacarandas!) and a lovely gift shop. And directions! Turns out we had been dropped off right in front of the artisana – it just has a very small sign. I wanted to take pictures of the displays, and when I explained who I was they allowed me to. And we bought some things. Mike and Carol (reversing the order for some equal time) were amazed by the Ville Nouvelle, with its wide, tree-lined boulevards – it is quite a change from the old medina, and they had no idea it was there. Does this mean all visitors should see it? Probably (especially if they don’t see Rabat or Marrakesh, which have a similar contrast). We had lunch at a nice restaurant there (kefta and egg tagine for me) and ice cream at one of the sidewalk cafés. We then walked to Fes El-Jdid, where we saw the Royal Palace and the mellah, where, with me as guide, we saw the cemetery, the main street with its balconies, and the potato chip man. A little more time together, and then it was time for me to go in order to make it home before dark. When I got back to Azrou, it was noticeably cooler. After all those years of "cooler by the lake," I guess I'm still there - without the lake. The picture of me is at the Royal Palace – you might notice that my hair is much darker! I had been thinking about making it darker – this might be darker than I had in mind but I am happy with it!
Today, Mike and Carol came to Azrou. Rain and cold 2, Visitors 0. Not as much rain or cold as there had been when my family was here, but still, it hadn’t been rainy or cold for a while! We started at the artisana, went to the Azrou rock to see the little lion sculpture and the view of the new part of town, walked in the old medina, met the met the rock carver, had fava bean soup, went to tea at the carpet shop with the kittens (how they have grown!), went to lunch, and then went to my apartment and just visited for a while. Over the course of the weekend we talked about the Peace Corps, Morocco, language and Islam but also about Chicago, the Princeton Club, other goings-on at Princeton, sports, current events, the 2008 election, interesting people, culture – great conversation, and there was so much more we could have talked about! They left on the early side in order to see the monkeys and maybe one of the lakes on their way back to Fes; I think I’ll work on my presentation this evening – I see another busy week ahead!
Oh, and I should mention that thanks to Carol, I now have Cubs and White Sox magnet schedules instead of a blank canvas on my refrigerator.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
When my niece Valerie gets a toy or doll she really likes, she wants to go to bed with it. That way she can wake up and it’s right there. When my friend Martha put on a shirt she loved, she said she would marry that shirt if it were a person. When my friend Joanne loves something, she love love loves it.
Put this all together and maybe I can begin to describe how I feel about my new refrigerator. I finally got it this week! Amanda suggested I have a sbor party for it (that’s the party you have seven days after a baby is born). It has a name – Siera – that’s its brand name, but a good name so I’ll keep it. I usually sit here on my plastic kitchen chair at my plastic kitchen table when I write, and now I am going to be looking at the refrigerator quite a bit. I may draw a face on it, like Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away. Or maybe I could put some pictures on it. Or get some magnetic darts. Siera!
Actually, I don’t want to go to bed with it, I wouldn’t marry it if it were a person, and I don’t love love love it. In fact, it gurgles – a new noise for me to get used to. What I love is that I have it. It seems that for a month now, maybe longer, I have thought in the morning, “maybe today is the day I will get a refrigerator” and ended the day with, “well, another day went by and no refrigerator.” I am so happy to not have to think about it anymore – I can be thinking of something else!
Maybe food, for example. It’s actually quite possible to live here without a refrigerator – you just have to shop frequently and have no leftovers. Until a couple of weeks ago, my kitchen was cold enough to keep milk on the counter for a couple of days and leftovers out overnight. But I thought it was time, and everyone told me I absolutely needed a refrigerator (the Moroccans, that is). Also, I don’t shop frequently – every so often I buy a kilo of onions, a kilo of tomatoes, maybe some peppers, maybe some eggs, and far less fruit than I should – after clementines left there was nothing all that interesting: I’d buy bananas occasionally. Now, a delicious melon is in season and I want to have one every day, but I haven’t bought any since last week.
I’m lucky to have daily access to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables – some volunteers have to buy theirs at the weekly souk; I’ve never been good at planning out meals in advance. I suppose it’s easier now, because I always make the same things! I usually have scrambled eggs (breakfast, lunch or dinner of champions) and then pasta or rice with the above-named vegetables. I am also lucky to have restaurants available – I go our for rotisserie chicken about once a week, to make sure I get some other protein, seem to find myself in the pizza place about once every two weeks (they also have rotisserie chicken, cheese paninis, and, thanks to Amanda’s persistence, now have spaghetti bolognese). There’s a soup place (one item – bisara, fava bean soup – that I go to as well. But it looks like I picked the wrong day to run out of food (a subtle reference to the movie Airplane – would I have said that had I not seen it recently?) – I have a temperature of 101, sore throat, sneeziness (should be a word), and watery eyes and I’m down to five garlic cloves.
So, I may have a refrigerator now, but it’s basically empty. Here’s an inventory of my kitchen:
Refrigerator: two bottles of champagne (from the vacation luxury hotels), unopened bottle of soy sauce (which could easily remain unopened until I leave, but I can use on the rice and vegetables some day, if only I would think about it), opened bottle of molasses that my sister brought me (thought I would make brown sugar with it – it’s open because Amanda wanted a spoonful), ketchup, tomato paste, coffee, two brackets that came with the refrigerator but I am not sure what they are for. All of those items are in the door – the shelves are bare. When I opened the refrigerator to do the laundry, there were two eggs, but both had cracked (not used to the cold?) so I decided to throw them away.
Countertop: Almost empty bottle of olive oil, unopened bottle of argan oil (it’s a Moroccan exclusive but I’m not sure what to do with it), half-empty bottle of regular cooking oil that I have used in recipes, three-quarters of a tub of something that I thought was honey but Amanda told me was syrup – I bought it to mix with the peanuts when I made homemade peanut butter, the aforementioned garlic, six triangles of laughing cow cheese, little tagines with salt and ras-al-hanut (a combination of every spice in the spice shop – each spice shop’s is different), bottles of water (which I know I should not keep refilling).
Hidden under the counter with the oven: Two packages of Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix. I prefer to make things from scratch but when I saw these in the market in Ifrane I decided they may come in handy some day. Also with the oven – a brownie-sized silicone pan and a loaf-sized silicone pan. And my blender with spice grinder.
I now have two pans and a new set of pots, after eating non-stick coating last week along with my rice and vegetables. I don’t know if I need any but the big pot and the small pot, but they came in a set. Note, the set did not come with lids, so the saying “there’s a lid for every pot” isn’t true! My romantic hopes shattered? I have one lid, the one that came with the pot I threw away – also the steamer basket from that pot, which I was using as a colander until I got a flour sieve to use as a colander. The pots and pans I use are hanging from hooks and the rest are under the sink, along with my bag of plastic bags.
Under the forno (the burners) – the butagas, and cleaning products – laundry detergent, window cleaner, multi-use cleaner that I use on my floors, dishwashing detergent, tile cleaner, extra sponges, Woolite that I brought from home, Lysol and Febreze that Debbie sent me so I could get the mildewy smell out of the mattress.
Dry goods shelf: Aluminum foil and plastic wrap, three bags of chocolate chips (like gold!), plastic containers with flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, a little oatmeal, a little pepper, a little cumin, some bay leaves, some chocolate powder. Leftovers that Carly gave me – ranch dressing mix, taco seasoning, basil, garlic powder. An assortment of teas and more coffee – both of which I only have when guests are here. Nesquik. Cinnamon, in an old vitamin bottle. Half a jar of peanut butter from Marjane. A handful of cashews. Some protein bars that my sister gave me (will save for long bus rides) and some coconut oil that she brought. Goji berries and Skippy peanut butter sticks that I had sent to myself. Half a package of tri-colored rotini. Three packages of Knorr tomato soup. I believe I will be having soup today! Cookies – I got into the habit of having a few cookies for breakfast in homestay, when I didn’t want to rattle around the kitchen, and now I just like having some around – and chocolate batons, a discovery from VSN weekend – there are a ton of them in the box, and one or two is enough for a taste of chocolate.
Four big plates, four little plates, one big bowl, four little bowls, a metric measuring cup, an American measuring cup from my sister, measuring spoons, a garlic press, a vegetable peeler, some non-stick cooking utensils, a set of translucent-pink-handled silverware, six tiny glasses, four handle-less Fes ceramic mugs, a set of small knives to chop vegetables with, a can opener I haven’t used yet, a wooden spoon and wooden tray from the artisana that are so far only decoration, a kettle, a stove-top coffee maker, a teapot, a cheese grater, napkins. Under these shelves – a lot of paper towels and toilet tissue, and my files (since I have no closet or cabinet for them, and they’re best not seen).
Maybe tomorrow I will get some food, but I don’t know if I’ll get to the point of ever stocking up, really – it’s still good to eat things that are fresh! I may get more storage containers and keep nuts or other healthy snacks on hand. I may get a tagine or a pressure cooker. I’d like more spices but haven’t figured out what to do spice-container-wise (when you but them, they come in little pieces of paper or little plastic bags, loose).
The funny (or not) thing is that in the U.S., all of this could have been done with one trip to a store like Bed, Bath and Beyond and one trip to a supermarket. Eileen was here yesterday – she is the volunteer who ET’d from Ain Leuh, opening the spot for Barbara. She said that her biggest adjustment in going home was the waste. My friend Steve said the same thing – when he got home from Benin in the early ‘80s he went to the supermarket with his mother and cried and was angry, because in that one store was more food than his town had seen in two years. I am looking forward to stocking up on some things when I got back for Reunions – though the key thing I want to get is running shoes! Also pants – can’t run here in the shorts I brought.
I thought I’d mention something about harassment. It hasn’t been a big issue for me – maybe because I’m mid-career, or not that pretty, or dress conservatively, or live in a pretty liberal site that has a number of Westerners go through, or while I walk around aware I also am somewhat oblivious. My coping strategy is to ignore – but lately I guess it has built up – Katie calls it “spring harassment season” because more people are out – or maybe my language is getting better and I realize people are talking to or about me. So, when I think about it I realize I am harassed all the time. People are constantly saying “Bonjour” or “Ca va” to me (I’m actually not sure what they are saying in Arabic, just more aware it’s directed at me). The definition of harassment is unwanted attention and even though it is harmless it has begun to bother me a little more lately – I find that my coping strategy of “ignore” is now joined by “muttering under my breath.” I was subjected to a bunch of wolf whistles yesterday and I said, “okay, that’s not for me, okay, that’s enough, okay, find something else to do, okay, I’m not going to turn around, okay, who knew wolf whistles were the same in this culture too.” I’m not sure what is worse – the men or the kids. I usually try to say “bonjour” back to the kids because I don’t want to be unfriendly to kids, but often I ignore them too. It’s tiresome. But some people have it much worse, so I’m not complaining, just sharing. And I try not to be out at noon and six, when the high school gets out and there are hordes of immature teenage boys overflowing the streets. I was about to say that at least seven people don’t try to sell me “Streetwise” as I’m on the way home from work, but there is a steady supply of beggars too, both as I’m walking and as I sit at cafes. Everyone seems to have their own rule – don’t give at all, don’t give to kids, give to the old men with the disability, etc. – but that’s another constant here too.
P.S. I didn't have the soup - even though I was told to feed the fever, I just had no appetite. I thought about the cashews, but only because then I would have gone from soup to nuts!
P.P.S. - Present cold notwithstanding, I think I am finally over the sniffles I have had since September (and that were most prominent in homestay, when I had food in one hand and no access to hanky or tissues in the other). Will they come back in the fall or am I finally used to the climate?
P.P.P.S - Thank you to Jeff for rotating my picture for me!
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Had I really not written for ten days? Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing more work and that’s not as interesting to write about! I haven’t left the house since Friday afternoon – after fantasizing and/or joking about doing just that for weeks, I finally managed it – need a little emotional repair. I brought the pictures of the display before and after to my counterpart, and he mentioned that the delegate was coming from Meknes on Wednesday and that he would show it to him. Realizing that this was an opportunity, I went home and whipped off a four-page memo with several other suggestions for improving the artisana showroom. This was something I thought I would do over the summer – after interviewing the employees and doing my tourist questionnaire – but timing is everything. The meeting on Wednesday was for budgeting and prioritizing. Ran back to the artisana to review it with my counterpart and he thought it was great and asked me to get it translated into French. So the PACA interviews had to take a back seat while I spent several hours with my tutor getting it translated. I didn’t attend the meeting, but was told that the delegate liked the memo and will think about what’s possible given the budget.
With my old tutor, that is – I will still use him for translations and interviews but I also started with a new tutor on Monday. He was Lee’s tutor – doesn’t speak English, so at first I was reluctant to use him, but now I think I am ready, and I want to step up my language learning. He’s a teacher by trade, and has a plan, and writes in script on the blackboard. We’re starting from scratch, even though I tried to tell him I was farther along than that, but maybe we will move quickly and get to new material (and I wasn’t reading or writing before, so that part is new). We’ll see – I had to make a change, because I was only wanting to want to improve my language, not actually wanting to improve it.
Last Saturday I had coffee in the morning with Cory, one of the second-year SBDs, in town to do bike training for the stage. He’s the one with the good blog. I then kept him company for hours at the taxi stand while he waited for his taxi to fill. It was interesting to talk to him about his work and his Peace Corps life. The second-year SBDs are just now starting to think about what they will do when their service ends in November. I’ve been thinking about my own plans a little bit lately, despite not really wanting or having to for probably another year! Conclusion for the moment – I have no idea! Which I think is as it should be. I then spent a chilly afternoon indoors working on the Gender and Development files. I was hoping to spend most of May getting organized and that felt good! Sunday I went on another hike with some of the environment trainees – hail and rain didn’t stop them; they’re environment trainees! It was fun – I really hope to do more hiking. But I think it’s a good policy not to go alone. It was interesting seeing Cory and then the trainees. The people who are about to leave, such as Amanda and Carly, really are like graduating seniors. Cory and Katie and others leaving in November are juniors who will be seniors when this group leaves. The current stage is like freshmen - wide-eyed and enthusiastic and ready to take over the world. My stage and I are sophomores - I don't want to say jaded, but maybe we've gotten a dose of reality that the freshmen don't have yet. So the two years can kind of be broken into semesters!
Tuesday was a marathon PCV day – a YD acquaintance I have met a couple of times and really like in town on vacation with some friends – we did the Escalade/Bilal breakfast. Amanda and I had planned to spend the day together motivating each other to work – and then Rachel called, coming through town on vacation with her boyfriend. Amanda cooked pasta alfredo and they stayed for hours! So all I got done was typing the French memo, the one thing that really had to get done. But it got done. And then Barbara came over! Good thing there was leftover pasta because I was able to serve it to her for dinner.
Barbara has been having computer problems – as did Rob – and they both have apples. Apples aren’t supposed to have problems. I decided there was no time like the present to back up my files – which, combined with organizing photo files, took the better part of Wednesday – but just to throw in some fun, I did the floors and some laundry too!
On Thursday, I met some friends of Rose’s from Sefrou – an older couple, he Berber and she from New York. A coffee turned into hours of talk – philosophy in general, Morocco then and now, Arabs and Berbers. Very interesting, but at that point I needed time for emotional repair. I had coffee with Amanda on Friday and with Barbara on Saturday, but other than that have been at home. The weather’s nicer than it has been since this became my site, and yet I am indoors. I was supposed to go out to Ben Smim to walk the fields with Amanda yesterday and to a GLOW meeting in Sefrou today, but I “called in sick” for both of those. It’s been productive – I started my power point for IST (In-Service Training), typed up my PACA interviews to date, tallied the English- and French-language questionnaires that the evacuated volunteer had done in 2003 (need help for the Arabic ones) and designed a new questionnaire to give to tourists this summer, worked on a GAD article for Peace Works and a GAD presentation for IST, wrote some letters and cards, read some articles out on the balcony, listened to podcasts of Sunday talk shows and to some music, did more laundry, and finished writing up my vacation, but other than that am somewhat blue. There’s still time to go for a walk (or maybe even a bike ride!) but I just don’t want to leave the house! There’s more to read and more to write and more to file. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have tutoring tomorrow and maybe photography, so I cannot be a hermit for much longer. And fortunately, I’ve been quite productive, though I’ve done a fair amount of tossing and turning and staring into space as well. Some Reese’s peanut butter cups arrived at a good time. I’m sure I’ll be my usual cheery self soon – not to worry (and not to elaborate – so don’t feel you missed something).
In other news – my featherbed arrived. This was a welcome addition – I can’t say I have slept better but I am more comfortable. And I got wood to put under my refrigerator. Almost got the refrigerator, too, but didn’t. I needed the wood first anyway. I’m attaching a picture from my vacation…donkey, or mule?
P.S. I ended my hermitdom early with some e-mail and a skype call. Thank you, friends. Friends are good. I love my friends. My sister too!
P.P.S. Check out the web site that Frank developed for his artisans - www.manarmarble.com
Vacation writeup, Part III – On Friday morning, we went out to Tameslohte, my friend Rob’s site. I’m glad we went there – first of all, he and Rose are my best friends here and I’m glad my family had a chance to meet both of them and vice versa. Second of all, I hadn’t been to his site and I was interested in seeing his space and his life. Third of all, after seeing Sefrou and Azrou, with their background of mountains, green, and nice buildings, it was good for my family to see a Peace Corps site towards the other end of the spectrum. As Rob described it, his site is unbeautiful. Small, flat, dusty – when I first saw TimHdit I remember thinking I had finally gotten to the Third World, and Tameslothe has that feel too. No town to speak of (though I didn’t see the whole thing, and we didn’t get to the souk, even though it was souk day). Rob’s apartment has some charm, but it is more typical Peace Corps with the ponges and mattress and piles of books on the floor (my brother-in-law did comment on how neatly-folded his clothes were) and again, it was good for my family to see that. It was a short visit – he was going away for the weekend and we had a full day planned – highlighted by a ferris wheel ride for Joe, Sabrina and Valerie. His town is known for its moussem, or religious festival (I think I read that in the hotel literature) which features a fantasia, white-garbed men on horses riding and shooting rifles. The moussem was just getting started, so it had the rides, but not much else. I do want to see a fantasia before I leave Morocco! Maybe Rob’s site next year?
This might have been my favorite day of the trip – maybe because it was the only day of seeing something I hadn’t seen, or maybe because of where we went – I would love to go back. We went into the High Atlas, into a valley surrounded by red mountains (Pam described Marrakesh as Scottsdale-like and this as Sedona-like). Terraced hillsides with red-earth towns. To Imlil, the gateway to Mt. Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. A cute town that I would like to see more of – but we were whisked onto donkeys (or were they mules?) for a ride up to Kasbah Toubkal. This modest resort, high up, is also a celebrity hideaway written up in Newsweek. It may be affordable enough for normal people though (i.e. not my sister and not a Peace Corps volunteer) – we had a relaxed lunch there and then took a short hike among flowering trees and big rocks - if you had plopped me down there I wouldn’t have said I was in Morocco – and then we met the donkeys for the trip back down. My sister and brother-in-law walked, but I was happy to ride. Still haven’t been on a camel but now I have been on a donkey (or mule). I would love to go back to that area to hike some more – maybe even climb Toubkal? There are supposed to be many nice places to hike in Morocco but I especially liked that one! It was my favorite day, but my least favorite evening – I had a headache and had to lie down for most of it. Luckily – at least that luckily that day; the rest of the time I was ready to play – my nieces preferred listening to a CD of Harry Potter to playing games with their aunt.
The next day was for Marrakesh! Maybe because it’s far for me, I really want to go back to Marrakesh and get to know it better. But maybe because it’s Marrakesh. I feel I know my way around Fes now (not that I’ll ever find the scarf weavers again, but in general)…Meknes warrants more exploration…but Marrakesh I want to experience more. This was probably the biggest sight-seeing day, maybe because Moulay, our guide, is from Marrakesh and wanted to show it off. First, the Koutoubia Mosque. Then, the Bahia Palace, which I had not been to last time – painted ceilings and tile and interesting rooms and exotic history (the harem!). Across from that palace, there was an herbalist – we interrupted the planned itinerary to stop there and ended up with all sorts of oils and potions, all-natural ancient remedies – argan oil for all sorts of good-for-you things, ghassoul (a clay) for hair and face, an oil that you rub on your forehead when you have a headache and your headache disappears in two minutes (if only I had had it the night before) and more. A step up from Amanda’s medicinal herbs cooperative, and a place I would like to go back to (stock up before I leave the country?).
We then went to a fancy restaurant for a leisurely lunch – too leisurely for my sister. Joe came up with lyrics to the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” – Pam don’t like it, sittin’ in the restaurant, sittin’ in the restaurant – which generated much laughter (later), and is now in our trip repertoire (last year I wrote “Snow White” to the tune of “King Tut”). And then it was back to the medina! To the Jemaa el-Fna – I had avoided the monkeys, snakes and storytellers when I was there with Rob, but we did the obligatory pictures – that is, of the ferris-wheel riders. I didn’t need to pose with a monkey or a snake, nor did my sister. We had a walk in the souks too, and some shopping, but again, more time there is called for! Inshallah….back to the hotel for a nice swim in the hotel pool. Why did it take me a couple of days to swim? Oh, I love to swim!
Essouaria is a beautiful fishing town on the Atlantic coast, one of those places that they say is magic, and I was happy to see it on our itinerary but somehow knew that it would fall out of the mix – two-and-a-half hours from Marrakesh, and therefore too far for a day trip for this crew. It’s also too far for a Saturday night trip for me, though I have been looking at the schedules lately to see if I could make it work. We have a couple of long weekends this summer and I’ll try to make it then, or wait until I build up some vacation days. I was disappointed that we didn’t go, but I had somehow known all along that we weren’t going. Instead, we shifted from tourist mode to resort mode, spending most of the day at the hotel. But first, a horse and buggy ride – caleche, if you will. We passed the artisana and I wanted to go in – we were in a rush, so I didn’t take pictures that would have been useful for my display-suggestion project. Oh well – will have to go back! It was more important that I get some poufs! On to the Jardin Majorelle. Still stunning with that cobalt blue! And entirely different flowers were in bloom from when I was there in February. I would like to go back every season and see how it changes – that’s a good goal, huh? More – it was the first garden that my nieces have enjoyed! A major turning point in See the World Tour history? Then we went to the Menara Garden – this is a big basin with a view of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the background – one of the postcard shots of Marrakesh. But not today – wind, chill, no mountains, and, as we were rushing back because we were cold, rain – one of the 20 days a year it rains in Marrakesh. I’d like to go back to the garden, especially for a fireworks show they have there nightly in the summer. The Agdal gardens are supposed to be nice too, and were on our schedule, but were closed because the King was in town. The King! We had a great buffet lunch – Joe told me to have an extra dessert because he sensed – quite rightly – that it would be a while before I have something like that again. Pam and Joe went back to the medina, but the girls were ready to go back to the hotel, so I went with them for a quiet, rainy afternoon. Khalid (the butler) made a fire for us and we played some games.
That day marked a shift from tourist mode to resort mode – it was relaxed, with not a full agenda, and the rest of the trip was centered around the resort as well. On Monday morning we went on a hotel excursion to Nectarome, the organic herb farm where the hotel’s products are made, and got a tour and more lotions and potions. Back at the hotel, Sabrina and I went on a bike ride! Oh, I have missed being on a bike too! Still not quite ready to go in Azrou, but if I lived in the warm, flat south I’d be on my bike all the time. And then a long swim in the pool.
Tuesday morning I had a self-styled triathlon – walk around the hotel grounds, swim in the pool, and eat breakfast (I thought about biking but would have been pressed for time) and then it was time to say farewell. Pam, Joe, Valerie and Sabrina went off to London to see “The Sound of Music.” I had my own driver and my own drive home, via Metro (I had asked to go to Marjane and this one was on the way – not the same, but I still stocked up on some necessities). The drive was only about five hours – compared to endless for the bus ride. So not bad at all – maybe having a driver is another thing I need to have in reserve for when I need to feel like a real person. It’s certainly not very Peace Corps.
It was a great trip – nice to show Morocco to my family and to see some new things. Now I am eager for more visitors, eager to return to some of the places we saw, and also eager to see other parts of the country! The See the World Tour may even return to Morocco next March (maybe even to the Amanjena, they liked it so much)! I will see my family in June when I go to Reunions, but then not again until next March – that will be the longest stretch of time without seeing them. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, now they’ve had a first-hand look at what my life is like and have met many of the people important to me. My sister has sent several e-mails saying that she misses the simple life here. Some days here aren’t easy, but I do appreciate what I have here. In a sense I was going non-stop since I arrived here in September, and it was nice to be on vacation – that refreshed me and gave me energy for the stretch until the next one!
Vacation writeup, Part II – For most of the winter, there was no rain or snow – it was cold, but there was sunny day after sunny day. My family visit coincided with the beginning of what seemed to be an entire month of cold rain, and it started as we were leaving Fes and headed for the mountains. Sure, the Moroccans thought they were lucky in bringing rain, and we have had rain on more than one See the World Tour trip, but it was a pity. This is a good tip for next winter though - it is noticeably colder in the mountains than it is in Meknes or Fes, so I should go on more day trips to warm up. Our first stop was Sefrou – my sister said they didn’t want to so much sightseeing (and there really isn’t much sightseeing anyway in terms of museums and historic buildings, compared to Europe or the U.S.); they were more interested in seeing what life here was like, and I am glad they had a chance to meet some of my friends. Our first stop was Sefrou, where my friend Rose met us at the artisana. My nieces fell in love with a rocking horse made by one of the woodcarvers there. After some family negotiation, Sabrina bought it with her allowance, and it’s in my apartment now. His name is Chestnut and he’s made of walnut. I have to figure out how to get him home, but I must say, he looks good where he is in my tiled room. I’ve gotten quite attached to him, even though my riding privileges were revoked (at first I could ride him whenever I wanted to, then once a month, then not at all, but I still have to feed him and water him). My sister said she always wanted a rocking horse. I, too, always wanted a rocking horse. Where do these ingrained things come from that only siblings share? We then went to the Sefrou waterfall, and we saw Rose’s house. It was all too quick a visit but I am glad they had a chance to meet. We stopped in Ifrane for lunch – and then the rain turned to snow. I learned that “Ifrane” means “cold” in Berber. I knew it was the Switzerland of Morocco and knew that my family would like the chalet-like architecture, but they had to see what they could from the car since the weather was so miserable! We had traveled there via the scenic lake route – which I would like to see again on a sunny day (although even in the rain I noticed that the scenic lakes are a little low, water-level-wise).
And then it was on to Azrou! First stop, my apartment. It has been chilly here since I moved in – I think I have mentioned that – but on that day it seemed downright cold. I had asked my sister to bring a few things – and then a few more – and it ended up that she brought a suitcase full of things (fluffy bathrobe, for example) – she dropped it off, and we left Joe in my apartment with the space heater and some tea, to use the internet. On we went to check in at the Panorama, the nicest hotel in town, but no Palais Jamai. We went straight to my favorite carpet store, where Sabrina and Valerie played with the kittens and we had tea with the son. I love bringing people there – it is so cozy and the owner and his son are so nice! Again, I am glad that my sister thought so too. Then we had dinner with my host family – they went all out to prepare a nice meal for us, even hiring a woman to do henna for my nieces, and I had explained the Moroccan way to eat, which my sister and nieces politely embraced. I think everyone was happy and really enjoyed meeting each other!
My guest routine varies according to the guest, but often we will go to the Escalade for pastries and then Café Bilal for coffee or juice (this is also something I often do with Amanda or other volunteers when they are in town), and the next morning we did that – again, so they could see my life. Then we went to some of the other tourist shops around the square. I had been afraid that my sister might not see anything she wanted to buy – but again, that fear was dispelled, and it’s a good thing she had the empty suitcase! We also went to the artisana and to my rock-carver, and all in all she bought shoes, clothes, wood, rocks, metal. At the artisana we ran into Barbara, the Ain Leuh volunteer, and saw more kittens; unfortunately my counterpart was out, but we met all of the artisans, and not only did my sister think the people of Azrou were incredibly nice, but I also think they showed her that they like and respect me, which felt good. Joe went back to the cold, cold apartment to work on the internet, and we left my nieces with Abdu and the kittens at the carpet shop while we did more shopping! We also met Amanda and bought some things from her medicinal herb cooperative. All this in the cold, cold rain! And it turned out that our tour guide is related to Amanda’s husband. I had hoped we would climb to the top of the Azrou rock and see the Barbary apes, but it just wasn’t a day for the outdoors – and my nieces wanted to spend more time with the kittens anyway. We picked Joe up and went down to the Auberge, where the Country Director was coming into town to meet with the trainees the next day (he didn’t do that for our training group because of the world-wide Director’s visit). I had heard that he likes meeting volunteers’ families – I assume that means parents of younger volunteers, but he ended up meeting with us; we chit-chatted for a while. And then we went out for pizza – Sabrina had been curious about the pizza here so we had to get some! After being in the cold all day, it was nice to take a bath at the hotel. I don’t have a bathtub at home, and I thought that was okay, but I think in addition to sitting by a hotel pool every once in a while it’s not a bad idea to seek out a bathtub every few months. Yes, I have my hot water heater, and I have learned to relax in the hammam though I still don’t like it, but – mmm, just thinking about a bath is nice.
The next morning it was back to Fes – the rain let up enough for us to walk around for a while, and we saw the tanneries and another part of the medina, including some weavers making finely-woven scarves – I would like to find them again but don’t know if I’d be able to. I can certainly wander around by myself and not feel intimidated, and I am familiar enough with part of it that I could find something again, but this part was new to me and we were in and out thanks to our guide. Because it was time to go to the airport and go on to warm, sunny Marrakesh!
We had lunch in the new part of town and were going to visit my friend Rob’s site but the road was blocked because the King was in town. The King! As if the whole country revolves around him. Oh – wait – it does. So we went on to our resort outside of town, the Amanjena, hands-down the nicest place I have every stayed (or any of us, for that matter). When you arrive, you step under a keyhole arch into on open room with couches and fountains filled with rose petals. A series of keyhole arches leads to a big basin, modeled after Marrakesh’s Menara Gardens (more on that later). We had a private villa with its own pool, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, chaises and a dining table and chairs by the pool, an outdoor gazebo, a “great room” living/dining area and a guest assistant (or butler, if you will) just for us! And two bedrooms, one upstairs and one down, so I shared with my nieces (as I had at the Panorama). Our bedroom didn’t have a bathtub, either, but it had a big shower. Sharing the room was not an issue, as it sometimes is, because there was so much common space – I think I sat in all of the different spaces at one point or another! Flip flops and Moroccan slippers and big straw hats and baskets to take home and wonderful soap and toiletries. The resort also had a big pool, a library with books and games (I took picture books of Morocco out every night – cities and gardens Matissse in Morocco and artisan products – can I count that as a workday?) and two restaurants – though after eating in one the first night, we opted for in-room (or outside, by the pool) dining for the rest of our meals there. I guess plenty of luxury resorts have the same sorts of amenities, but this also had a nice, relaxed feel to it – maybe because it is small and intimate, but there was something else about it too. My sister says that there are “Amanjunkies” who visit the various Aman resorts and I can see why. I had invited all of my friends in the Marrakesh area - Rob, Janeila, Connie and Dominique - to come to visit for a day but they were all going away for the weekend! It was a long weekend in Morocco – the Prophet’s Birthday (even though they don’t celebrate birthdays here, they celebrate the Prophet’s) and also the beginning of spring break in Morocco, so there were camps that YD was running and some of the SBD volunteers went to help out. Their loss – but mine, too – it would have been nice to see them.
To be continued….
Vacation writeup, Part I - A Mercedes limo was waiting outside my door – the grand taxis are Mercedes as well, but this still had intact upholstery, climate control, window and door handles, and soft seats. The driver even helped me with my luggage, and we were off to Casablanca. The driver had a friend with him who he was dropping off in Khemisset, and we stopped there for a coffee. When I mentioned that I was in the Peace Corps, the friend, who is a doctor in the hospital, knew of both of the volunteers in Khemisset as well as the others in the province. I asked how he knew, and he said Khemisset is a small town. The population is something like 200,000 – it just goes to show how visible we are in our communities.
On to Casablanca! I was scheduled to get there earlier than my sister and family, so I asked my friend Rob if he would like to come up from the Marrakesh area for the day – he wanted to bring his computer in to be repaired anyway. I thought we might see some of the sights, but when I thought about how rushed that would be, I suggested we just go for a walk and have lunch. It was nice to do that – just relax and have some conversation – but there still wasn’t enough time! We walked to the port, which is industrial as opposed to picturesque, and then I had a tomato-and-goat cheese salad that featured maybe the best tomato and the best goat cheese ever – or so it felt, just because I have missed food like that. We also had a chocolate dessert that consisted of several separate elements (sure, we could have shared, but we each had our own). I would go back again just to have that lunch – and to see him again, because it’s about the same distance for both of us. Casablanca itself, Rick and Ilsa aside, doesn’t have much in the way of tourism, but left on the table for another time is an art deco walk and a beach outside of the central area. We did go through the medina, and it was nothing special. I’d love to go back sooner rather than later (and he has to pick up his computer!) but it’s off-limits for the time being due to the recent bombings there. No indication of when the time being will end…
I then had some spa appointments that my sister had scheduled for me – massage, facial, manicure and pedicure. All were quite welcome, especially the massage. I then went downstairs to see if they had checked in, and when I went back upstairs there were two beautiful young ladies in the hallway. We just ran to each other and hugged. And then it was just normal – I don’t know that I expected anything different, but that was good. The Royal Mansour is probably the top hotel in Casablanca (it is also where the Chicago Sister Cities group stayed, though of course I didn’t get to see them this time). We had dinner in the hotel – salmon, I think (whatever it was, it was something else I hadn’t had in a while) and talked about Morocco and the Peace Corps and life here (my sister is a faithful blog reader but my brother-in-law is not).
The next morning, we went to the highlight of Casablanca, the Hassan II mosque (it’s a good thing I scaled back and didn’t go with Rob – the window of tour times, between prayers, is limited, and the tour is long – we might not have been able to see it at all and we certainly couldn’t have done that and had lunch). It’s the third-largest in the world, the only one in Morocco that allows non-Muslims in, and no expense was spared in building it – the finest craftsmen from all over Morocco and the finest materials from Morocco and elsewhere were used. The tour was actually quite interesting, but it hadn’t been part of the plan for the day. So the plan for the day had to be adjusted and Meknes fell out.
Poor Meknes – hard to get people to want to go there. It’s one of the imperial cities, and I did go for a taste of it, but I haven’t been back yet for more exploration. I thought this was my chance, but I am glad I saw the mosque. We did go to Volubilis – we had all enjoyed Pompeii, Herculaneun and the Roman ruins so much last year (was that really just last year? Everything seems so long ago and far away) and we enjoyed this too. And then it was on to Fes - a big driving day, with more 20 Questions (another holdover from last year) - and the Palais Jamai – I had first learned of the hotel from the Sister Cities woman, who told me to go every few months, check in, get a massage and sit by the pool. Very good advice! Of course, the Princeton group was there too, a few weeks later, but I do like the idea and am keeping it in my back pocket. It’s a very nice luxury hotel, but after not having luxury or even modest conditions, I appreciated it all the more. Pam and Joe woke up with the morning call to prayer and couldn’t get back to sleep, but I slept very well in my king-sized bed with no wee-hours barking dog conference outside!
The travel agent had set us up with a guide and driver for the trip, which was very nice. I had been wondering how everyone would like Morocco, and with a guide it was certainly easier – less overwhelming to navigate, fewer decisions to make about where to go, minimal harassment. I still think they had a chance to see some of the Morocco I have been experiencing – and it was okay not to have to take grand taxis and buses and not to be invited in by every other shopkeeper. Our guide also got into the 20 Questions act, adding some Moroccan riddles, old tales that he translated for us. He had worked for the Peace Corps as a language instructor years ago! I practiced some language with him but his job was to talk to us in English, and my job was to be with my family, so I didn’t practice all that much.
We spent a day in the Fes – first one of the medersas, which still have amazing mosaics and carvings, and then around the winding streets. We went mostly to a part I had not seen yet – I could probably find it again on my own, but I too appreciated following someone who knew what he was doing. We also went to the mellah in Fes El-Jdid, the old Jewish section of town – saw a restored synagogue there and lots of jewelry (the Jews were the goldsmiths – imagine that). That section of town had balconies – as opposed to the interior courtyards, shielded from the street and the outside world, of the rest of Fes. And there was a potato chip guy! I miss potato chip guy in Azrou. The one in Fes had not only fresh potato chips but also mini-donuts! We then went to a fancy rug shop, where I saw the most beautiful rug I have ever seen – multi-colored, predominantly blue. Expensive, too, but the reason I couldn’t really think about buying it is that I have no idea where I will live next or what that will look like – I’ve had in mind having a Moroccan bedroom when I return, and perhaps I could build around a rug like this, but maybe it’s better to think about coming back some day for it – some day when money is no object. Valerie and Sabrina had fun rolling up the rugs with the person whose job it was to do that. We had a Moroccan lunch – the first of several kefta-and-egg tagines of the trip (kefta is ground meat). This is probably something I can learn to make for myself, and would like to! Yum. And we went to a fancy ceramics factory and shop outside of town. Fes is known for its pottery – especially its blue – and it was interesting to see the process (and, of course, the finished goods!).
The next morning, my sister and I took a walk from the hotel inside the medina – right near the hotel it’s non-touristy. This is notable because it is exceptional – usually when we are on trips I crave a morning or evening walk, whichever time slot works babysitting-wise. But on this trip I was very happy to stay in the luxury hotel – either in the balcony or even in the room. I was glad to see that my sister really liked Fes and saw its charms – I know some of the volunteers don’t like it, and even though I am not responsible for it, I do feel that Morocco is my home and want people to appreciate it. Then again, I couldn’t convince everyone how wonderful Chicago was either.
To be continued….
Thursday, May 03, 2007
It’s hard to help people help themselves. I went to the artisana and the sewing cooperative had brought the computer grant application back to my counterpart and said they would fill it out next week. But the deadline was this week! We may fill it out anyway – nothing to lose – but I thought I had made it clear (since I had my tutor with me) that it was due Friday. Friday I went to the weaving cooperative to get their application with all of the supporting documents. I asked how we were going to handle the faxing, which would be around ten dirhams a page. The woman there said that she wasn’t authorized to spend the money. I said I would just do it – even though that is not capacity-building – and my counterpart said no, you are a volunteer, they have to spend the money. Then the woman from the cooperative and my counterpart got into a heated argument (sometimes it’s good not to know enough language) and he herded me from the room and they kept arguing and he took the application and she took the documents. I wrote down the fax number for her in case they change their mind, but I think that might be the end of that. I received another computer grant application from another organization – this one can be returned in the mail – I think I will give it to them and just leave it up to them. Well, no, it’s in French and they probably can’t read French, so I will go back and explain it to them (I might be able to do it without my tutor). Again, nothing to lose.
More evidence that it is hard to help people help themselves…. Monday Rose took a vacation day (remember I said Jong was coming up and we were going to have a TimHdit three-quarters reunion? She never received her mandat so she didn’t come. More on the weekend in a bit) and we went to the artisana – I wanted her ideas on how to redo the display of the artisana showroom. I have plenty of my own ideas, but she was a museum curator, and two heads are better than one anyway. We were talking about organizing vignettes and somehow (I wouldn’t have done this had she not been there – would have put a proposal together first) we offered to set up a few samples and put it back if they didn’t like it. They were about to close for lunch, so we shopped, ate and rested, and then spent all afternoon at the artisana. There are three display spaces in the back of the showroom; if you scroll down a couple of entries I uploaded a “before” picture. With this entry is the “after” picture – we hung one rug as backdrop and had one rug on the floor, had a central piece of furniture and accompanying accessories, used the side niches to display items from elsewhere in the showroom. Each vignette ended up with a unifying color scheme and a theme. As we were putting up the last one, people came into the second one to look at the pricing of an item, evidence that customers recognized that the items were for sale. We were so pleased! I still want to put the proposal together – with our before and after pictures and also pictures from the Marrakesh, Fes and Meknes big-city artisanas, to show how improving the display can mean more sales. We went to Sefrou on Tuesday and looked at Rose’s artisana and brainstormed on what to do with the display room there. We fantasized about going all over the country, redoing the artisanas in each provincial capital. And I got back to my artisana on Wednesday morning and they had put everything back. Good thing I have the photographs – I can still put the proposal together – and I still think it’s a good idea. But people are slow to embrace change and need to be convinced that improving the display will improve their sales. Meanwhile I have my eye on a couple of items that have been there since I arrived in September and that I predict will still be there when I leave…unless I can persuade them to use my expertise. For example, there’s an Ifrane rug that nobody will ever buy. My suggestion is to put it in the Ifrane tourist office with a sign directing people to the Azrou artisana (Azrou is in Ifrane Province and doesn’t have its own). Or it could go in one of the hotels there. But it will never be bought! Having Rose there helped, but I was pleased with my ability to pick out items that would look good together and with my ability to know when a space was finished rather than continuing to clutter it. I guess my interior design consultation and my own home improvement project have come in handy! Maybe I’ll be an interior designer next! After I go through the boxes…
Without Jong, the weekend just wasn’t the same, but it was fun. I hiked on Saturday and met up with some of the environment trainees who were on site visit in their sites nearby. I remember my site visit and how sad I felt at the fact that everyone went off to all corners and they were still here. Their experience is different, since so many of them will be in the area, but they were still adjusting to the reality of where they were going to live for the next two years and what their actual work may be – it was interesting to listen to them. I really am a sophomore now, and they are still freshmen. They are full of energy and enthusiasm – was I like that, and now I am jaded? Hmmm…. As with my own group, it takes a while to sort out who will be friends, who I will see just because they’re nearby, who I might not see even though they’re nearby, and who I made a bond with and might travel to see – I do like them though! I went to present to them again, this time doing an informal VSN talk with Amanda – actually I played the role of listener and I also talked about VSN training and how it has helped me so far (which it has). I might go on another hike with some of them this weekend, too. It’s been fun having training here!
Rose came to Azrou on Sunday and we went out to Ain Leuh, a pretty mountainside town, just to have a little excursion. Barbara, the volunteer there, was away for the weekend. We climbed the steep, winding street to the carpet cooperative, where we saw the beautiful carpets on the looms, but there wasn’t much finished inventory to look at. We saw a little waterfall further up the hill, and then explored the ruins of the old French garrison. There we found a sunny rock overlooking the town and we sat there and talked for what might have been hours, until it was time to go home. Monday was a workday for me and a busman’s holiday for her. Tuesday was a holiday for both of us. Cloudy, chilly and damp (on May 1 – sigh, I’m used to that) so rather than explore Sefrou (interesting mellah, medina and Jewish cemetery; next town over, Bhalil. has caves where people live) we watched “Little Miss Sunshine.” I had deleted all of my movie-downloading software the day before, resigned to the fact that I can’t download the right software in order to watch it (I still can’t listen to a ballgame, either, despite following mlb.com’s instructions twice), and it was nice and cozy to watch that movie, so maybe I will try again. And then we went to a casbah (old, walled-in part of the city) and the waterfall, and to her artisana to brainstorm.
When I hear about how other people are doing (and I don’t mean Rose, even though I spent three days with her) I feel I am working too hard. That is, I spend a lot of time outside my house, be it at the artisana or with other people around town. I need to spend more time at home! I feel there are a lot of things I could be doing at home and a lot of things I am behind in, such as writing this, writing letters, reading, organizing and ordering pictures, GAD and GLOW projects I said I would work on, filing (yes, even in the Peace Corps there is filing, sorry to say). So I am going to spend more of the month of May at home, catching up on things and trying for more balance. IST is coming up – yes, another acronym! It stands for In-Service Training – and I want to work on my presentation and my language as well, both of which require work/study time at home. I started with a new tutor this week – the one Lee used. He doesn’t know a lot of English but he knows how to teach. Inshallah. I can use the old one for the interviews I am still doing and for other translations and therefore maintain that relationship. I am still working on PACA – mostly concentrating on needs assessment but also getting some daily routine and seasonal calendar as background – and then I have to do SWOT, which I think I will do only for the artisana itself and the two women’s cooperatives, not for the individual artisans. I have tourist questionnaires from the 2003-evacuated volunteer that I have been meaning to tabulate for months and just haven't done yet; want to do that and revise the questionnaire so I can give it to tourists visiting this summer.
I just read that Wally Schirra died. He was my favorite astronaut. I guess that’s another generational thing – I don’t know if I should ask the volunteers around me if they have heard of Wally Schirra! He did those cold remedy commercials….then again, a lot of people think of my generation think of Joe DiMaggio as Mr. Coffee. I saw Buzz Aldrin once, when he dedicated a moon rock that was going on display at the Tribune Building. I realized that the number of people who have walked on the moon is one of the smallest collections of people (I think even fewer than unassisted triple plays, for those who read the comments) and it is cool that I once saw one.
I asked for a Saturday night out of site to run the Marrakesh Marathon – they have an exception to the five-volunteers-in-one-location rule for that but I wanted to get my dibs in. Now I have to decide on whether I will train for the full marathon or the half! Of course, starting to run would help as well – I will buy some running shoes when I am back for Reunions. Now that it's getting nice I can think more about exercising, both outside and inside. I have been walking a lot, so I feel fit, but I think now I need exercise for inner peace as well - I have not been sleeping well. Last week I told someone that I had a breakthrough, actually sleeping through the morning call to prayer (it's also getting earlier, so is perhaps being done when I am in the middle of deeper sleep) but it seems that ever since I said that, I have been tossing and turning and awake for it!