Friday, June 22, 2007
IST, Part I - To those who have asked so far, I have answered that IST (In-Service Training – and a reminder that I need to work on that glossary!) was a mixed bag. My trip to the United States energized me, but when I arrived in Agadir I was drained; now I am back and re-energized, but not because of IST.
I bought out a taxi again in order to get the 7:29 train to Marrakesh from Meknes – before Rose emailed that she was planning to be on that train, I thought I was indifferent, but when I heard from her, I realized that I had been hoping she would want to be on the next one, so that I could sleep longer. Of course, once I was up, I was glad to be on the early train so that I could spend more time in Marrakesh. Rose instantly sensed the energy of the city and felt that Fes doesn’t hold a candle to it – I think I have been more charitable towards Fes, but her sense of it did reinforce my desire to explore Marrakesh more.
We found a hotel in the cheap-hotel area (the first one in – and it turned out to be more than adequate – i.e. Western toilet with paper, hot shower with shelf – closer to Princeton dorm than to luxury romantic hotel, though) and set out to meet Rob for coffee and a snack. His site may be unbeautiful, as he put it, but he has Marrakesh at his doorstep! I was eager to take a walk and to show Rose more of the city, so we left him waiting for another volunteer and went to the artisana. I finally got the pictures of the displays there that I didn’t get last time, and then we met back up with Rob for a lovely Italian dinner. It made a difference to stay in Marrakesh – without the time pressure of getting to a remote site by dark, we were able to wander the souks, have fresh orange juice at one of the stands at the Jemaa el-Fna, and go out for wine with some of the other PCVs staying over on the way to Agadir (actually I had to abandon that idea because the bar was too smoky, but at least I said hello to people I hadn’t seen in a while).
Sunday morning we had breakfast with Ina, who had been in TimHdit with us for CBT – she had some stories to tell, and it was good to be there for her and to realize that we are all there for each other – whatever trepidation I might have had about seeing people I hadn’t seen in a while, about relationships becoming stronger or weaker with time and distance, about group dynamics and potential awkwardness, dissolved. We had time for another little walk, and then it was on to Agadir by bus – we sat with Linda and Bob, the married couple in our stage, and learned all about Figuig, their town, in the very southeast corner of the country. The road was twisty, through mountains, and we were in the very back seat, so maybe that’s why I arrived drained – I certainly didn’t feel drained in Marrakesh. Maybe I was just dehydrated – I still haven’t mastered the art of perfecting my food and water intake on long trips. Or maybe I actually was stressed with the anticipation of giving presentations, of strained relations with staff, of having my counterpart there, of knowing that after IST we have mid-service medicals and then COS (close-of-service) conference and then actual COS and that’s it for our being together as a group – and that the group will dwindle each time.
Agadir is a resort town on the Atlantic Coast. It suffered an earthquake on February 29, 1960 and the entire old town was destroyed. It now is responsible for half of Morocco’s tourism – hard to believe when there is so much of the country that is exotic and historic, but it is an inexpensive beach vacation for Europeans. I took a walk along the beach and felt disappointed – I was expecting a really nice resort and then I realized that it’s an inexpensive beach resort for Europeans – it reminded me of Mexico (not that there aren’t nice parts of Mexico, but you get the idea). After that initial impression, though, I was happy to be there – after all, a walk on the beach is a walk on the beach, good for the soul. The bay kind of reminded me of the Malibu headlands – if Malibu had a big lighted “God, Country, King” in Arabic on the mountain, that is. We had our only dinner as a group (the rest of the week we went out on our own) and then Rose and I talked with Janeila in our room. Hadn’t seen much of her since she changed sites!
On Monday I still felt dehydrated, and having people tell me I looked drained, tired and sad didn’t help (I preferred it when people told me I looked great at Reunions!). The hotel didn’t provide water, and I was borderline – or more than borderline – cranky. I mentioned it to a higher-up and he said, “yes, that’s a problem here – you should get your own.” Is that a good answer? Not to someone dehydrated, it’s not! We hadn’t been told much about IST beforehand, which I also did not think was a good idea – I would have liked an agenda, some reflection questions, some idea of what to bring and what to expect to come back with. I knew we were each going to give presentations about our sites, our work to date, and our expected primary and secondary projects, but that’s about all I knew. The meeting started with introductions and then with a presentation by the Ministry of the Artisana about its strategy (which does not seem to be exactly in step with the Peace Corps strategy – for example, they are emphasizing individual artisans and many of us are still working with cooperatives; conversely, grants and other things available to Peace Corps Volunteers are for cooperatives and other community groups, and individual artisans are not eligible). Then the PCV presentations took up the rest of the first day, all of the second, and half of the third. I picked a good time slot, second on the second day – by Wednesday lunchtime it was draining, even for those who didn’t come drained, and being in a hot room didn’t help. I had asked and therefore was told to make it a 10-minute presentation, with ten minutes for translation and ten for questions, but it appeared that not everyone got that message – several presentations were long and/or cut off, and there were no questions at all and no feedback. It was interesting to hear what everyone was doing and to see pictures of their sites, their artisans and their products. Mine might have been too short in comparison, both because I had designed it to be ten minutes long and because everyone had been in Azrou, and the program manager told my counterpart it wasn’t good enough. I had already had a private audience scheduled with her at her suggestion, and hearing this from my counterpart instead of from her put me in tears (she had also told another volunteer that she plays games with me, so I was already in a tizzy about that. Maybe I am not over the fact that in sixth grade, Mrs. Wertman told the class that I wasn’t smart, I just memorize. Or maybe it’s not a good thing to talk about people when they are not there). I also had a bad headache – haven’t had one of those in a while. Anyway, at the private meeting she told me my project was fine but that my presentation didn’t highlight it enough – which left me somewhat confused but also relieved – and that I have the highest percentage of time out of site of anyone in the stage. I had suspected that this was the real issue she had with me, and I think I was right. Then she told me I looked stressed and asked if I was taking care of myself – which caused yet another meltdown. I told her that travel out-of-site was one of my major ways to de-stress, and neither one of us knew what to say about that. I grounded myself for the moment as a show of good faith, but there are some long weekends coming up which are chances to get to places that are too far for a Saturday night, and I asked for those. I also mentioned that I had already told my counterpart that I was starting a new exercise/stress management plan for myself after IST and that I was going to spend more time on language this summer, with the Peace Corps LCF who is Tutor #3, and that he would see me less – so now everyone knows and should be all right with it!
I think I came out of the meeting okay, if not with clarification, but more interesting is what was going on outside the early-in-the-week sessions. On Monday night, Rose, Janeila and I took a walk along the beach – again, it grew on me – and ate at a restaurant accompanied by an Atlantic sunset. I finally had the paella I was looking for in February in Al Hoceima! And the waiter kept bringing us roses – first little ones on toothpicks, then a big bouquet by our table, then two each as we got the bill, and then napkins folded into roses! It was quite comical – as was the lounge-singer live music. No “Melancholy Baby,” but just about everything else. And then I discovered my new love – the double chocolate Magnum bar. Chocolate ice cream with a chocolate coating – rich, rich, rich, but not too much for me. I had one every day for the rest of the week (further fuel for the upcoming exercise/stress management program). Then Janeila read our tarot cards (separately). I’m trying to think if there’s anything in the tarot reading that I can share with the general public and nothing immediately comes to mind. Oh – maybe the career section – she told me that volunteerism is not in my future; I’m too good with money. She said I will do something I have always wanted to do and that men around me will help me. Her reading was really good – she positioned it as entertainment and maybe more, but she is a spiritual person and I think there’s a lot to what she was saying. She gave me a homework assignment, and then in three to six months I can have another reading and we’ll see what the cards have to say. Tuesday, with my headache and just after my meeting, I had only a Magnum bar for dinner, a solo walk along the beach, a visit to a bird zoo which was quite calming, and then I went to bed early.
As the week wore on, I slowly but surely had a chance to talk to almost everyone, at least for a little while, be it at a meal, by the pool, at a break or on the beach. Most of the PCVs went out drinking every night – not my thing. On Wednesday night, Ren and Rachel held a girls’ night in (boys welcome), in my honor, to cheer me up – I was really touched. To give up a night out, to even think of doing that for anyone, much less doing it for me – I’m clutching my hand to my heart just thinking about it. That makes it hard to type, though. Anyway, we were going to do facials but couldn’t find beauty products (until the next night!) so basically we sat around and played cards – my kind of socializing! Our stage’s game of choice is still (what I call) 500 rummy, but we played nertz as well (scroll back to the fall to refresh yourself on that one!).
Wednesday during the day, after the PCV reports, we learned about the new Small Business Development Sector five-year goals and objectives and were asked to add tasks, knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA – another Peace Corps acronym!). In the breakout session, someone mentioned that I was good at this and indeed, it is right up my alley, so when the program manager was looking for volunteers to finish all of the KSA after IST, I volunteered and am now coordinating the committee (which is going to be a lot of work in a short timeframe, but it is fun to think strategically).
What turned the week around was some energy work done on me by Janeila. As she put it, another service that a fellow PCV can offer – at PST I did some yoga and relearned knitting and crocheting – since PST I have learned photography tips, display methods and will work on web site development, with other PCVs – but between the tarot reading and the energy work, Janeila’s offerings might have been of most value to me. I felt lighter and more energetic and more enthusiastic than I have been in a while (Reunions excepted) – I feel cleared. I would like to be able to do this for myself – yoga and meditation are part of the new exercise/stress management plan – but if I get into a funk again I am going to see Janeila!