Saturday, June 23, 2007
IST, Part II – On the Agadir beach one can find tiger-striped seashells – they seemed very North Africa. Walking on the beach in North Africa, looking at the ocean – hard to remain upset about work-related things when there’s so much to appreciate about life.
Thursday we had a session on World-Wise Schools, the program where a volunteer is partnered with a school (I write to my nieces’ school). They showed part of a CD that goes to the partner schools to give them a sense of Peace Corps life – we saw a clip on the Dominican Republic. Naturally, baseball was prominently featured, and for a second I wondered what life would have been like had I been assigned to, say, San Pedro de Macoris. In the video the sexes mixed freely, dancing and having fun, and you could tell that people in the audience were getting restless – that is not the case here. When one of the volunteers in the video got on the back of a motorcycle – something that here would get you sent home – as Frank, who was sitting next to me, put it, there was a near-riot.
And as for gender roles here, I had a Gender and Development presentation prepared, and going into IST was told I was on the schedule, but when I arrived and looked at the agenda, it had been cut. I don’t know why it’s not important to the powers that be here. The Gender and Development Committee meets in Rabat next week and I think we need to work on some public relations for the committee with staff and also with volunteers – it’s a concept to them, and we need to give people ways to apply the concept to their work. I mentioned to the program assistant that if any of the presentations ran short I would like to give the GAD one, but of course when things ran short people were so happy for the free time that I don’t know how receptive people would have been. I did talk about GAD at some meals, and I sent the presentation and some practical suggestions to my stage afterwards, and I am not crushed at not actually getting another chance to present…the site/project presentation was plenty.
We also had our last shots – Hep A and B – remember all of those shots in PST? I had forgotten. Six months went by so quickly! We’ll have flu shots in the fall, but that’s it. We also had our language tests – as I said, I have decided to dedicate time this summer to really working on it with Tutor #3, and while I have improved since PST, I am not satisfied with where I stand. On Thursday afternoon we learned about grants – there are two major kinds that the Peace Corps sponsors. One is called a SPA grant – Small Project Assistance – where the money comes from USAID. The other is called PCPP – Peace Corps Partnership Program – where the money comes from private institutions and from friends and family of the volunteer asking for the grant. I had come here thinking that I would be doing grants – grant-writing is a skill I would like to work on while here – but now I am not so sure I will be. If I do, though, rest assured you will be asked for money! If you can’t or don’t want to wait, the GLOW camp is coming up and though I haven’t talked about it much lately, I am still involved – let me know if you want the fundraising info for it! You can also give to Peace Corps Morocco directly – kind of like Annual Giving, where it goes to unrestricted funds – again, if you’re interested in that let me know and I will tell you the logistics! I still hope to be able to write a grant while here – I guess I have worked on the computer grants with my cooperatives, but I need to look at the needs assessment again and see if there’s something else I can work on getting funds for. If only a new paint job at the artisana would qualify!
We then had a volunteer-only session with some of the PCV leadership – they did their best to manage it so that it was constructive airing of grievances as opposed to a lot of whining and complaining, but it contributed to the general feeling I had had all week that this was anything but inspiring and encouraging – I had come in already not expecting that, but still idealistically hoping for it. There were a lot of people who needed to vent, though, and this was probably a good forum. This was followed by a walk on the beach and some Indian food and a Magnum bar and the facial masks and some major girl talk with Rose, Ren and Jong. The four of us will meet in Chefchouan for a long weekend next month, inshallah (sorry, Arlene) – girl talk trumps talking about Peace Corps life!
Friday began with some remarks by the Country Director – mostly another talk about the out-of-site policy and also dispelling some myths that he had heard from the group that had just sworn in. I thought he was pretty good but there wasn’t a lot of love in the room. We were given two questions to answer by the end of the day – one, you have heard that there are a lot of out-of-site policy violations. If you believe this is true, what would you as country director do? And two, you have heard that there is a “culture of fear” created by the staff. If this is true, what would you as country director do? Not only did I think these were good questions, but I thought I had good answers to each – now we’ll see what gets done with this feedback.
Then we had some actual training! Fellow volunteers presented sessions on creativity, display techniques, the internet, shipping, craft fairs, free trade. And we had a reflection exercise! Top five things we like and dislike about our site, top five good and bad moments, etc. – these are what I had been looking for and they didn’t happen until the last two days. The last two days also featured two long walks with fellow volunteers – Rachel B and Linda, and then Rob – which also served as reflection exercises. I realized that I’m a little disappointed with what I have done so far and with the current plans I have for myself and my site. I have to do more exploration as to why and how to move forward from here; looking at what other volunteers have done and are doing was helpful because it gave me ideas of other things I could have done and can do, and somehow I avoided site envy or direct comparisons and can instead use the new ideas constructively. I had looked at IST as a benchmark where I would reframe what I am doing and move ahead, and as I mentioned I did not get the encouragement and inspiration I was hoping for, but instead I reinforced that what I get out of this is what I put into it, and as I process all of this I somehow found my own encouragement and inspiration to make the most of the next eighteen months, and I think I managed to leave the disappointment behind in the conference room and on the beach. Saturday night I went out with a big group – first dinner (sushi – the one thing I didn’t get in my trip home that I would have liked to get, with Christmas carols in the background, in Morocco – strange) and then out for a glass of wine. Most of the crowd went back to the hotel to get ready to go out, but I had to just keep going or I’d have lost the desire to go out, and luckily there were a few people ready to do the same. I was still out, then, when the crowd arrived at the English Pub – it was nice to be out with everyone for a while! Leaving early allowed for many hugs and farewells while people could still put a sentence together, and I miss everyone already.
Sunday morning we slept a little late – all week I had felt I could sleep until noon, and maybe there’ll be a day at home when I get the chance to do that – and said more farewells as people who had slept even later cycled through our breakfast table, and then took a last solo walk on the beach. Then – Rose and I had planned for a vacation day – not quite ready to go back to work, and wanting to take advantage of being in the southwest. Tiznit, south of Agadir, is known for its silver jewelry. Rose was ready to buy and she had definite goals in mind. I didn’t, per se, but with quality items at good prices, I was able to rise to the occasion! The taxi ride to Tiznit was also a source of inspiration – Rose and I talked about what we mid-career people have to offer the Peace Corps – and it got me excited about possibilities. We found a cute hotel in Tiznit, talked some more, and napped! Then went out for a late lunch/early dinner – the women in that part of Morocco wear colorful fabric wraps called l’haf as opposed to jellabas – they look cool in both senses of the word. I had to get a couple in orange and black. But I am not sure I can pull off wearing one at Reunions….somehow it doesn’t look the same on me as it does on the women down there. We then went to meet an artisan that the PCV in Tiznit works with, and then we met the PCV, Carolyn. She seems great – it would have been nice to spend more time with her, but she had other things going on – maybe we will cross paths again. And then we went to the jewelry souk and did a good job! The silver is not only of good quality and pricing, it also uses traditional Berber designs, so it is special. We went to the artisana with Carolyn the next morning and bought even more there. I won’t list my total bounty – let’s just say some earrings, necklaces and bracelets, leaving rings for another time or place. Rose did a good job too – shopping is always more fun when everyone buys!
Time to go – our plan was to go to Marrakesh and spend some quality time there, but as we were on the way to the taxi stand, Rose suggested we find a Spanish coastal village. It was fun to change our plans on the spur of the moment – and yes, we did inform the Peace Corps. Sidi Ifni is a magic place – we could tell the minute we got there. This was where the vacation day turned into a real vacation – I was as relaxed as I ever get, more relaxed than I almost always am. Rose looked at me and said all the stress was out of my face.
We stayed at a hotel called the “Suerte Loca” and indeed did have crazy luck. The waiter spoke Spanish to us and Spanish came easily to me – again, more inspiration to buckle down on the Arabic (and then switch to French!). I had a delicious kiwi fruit juice and then we walked to the old Spanish part of town. The book describes Sidi Ifni as sleepy, even deserted-feeling, yet drawing people back year after year – if there’s any way at all to get back there, I want to be one of those drawn back. The houses are blue and white, and we photographed many a door, and then the center of town has the old consulate in bad shape and some art deco buildings in great shape. There’s just a nice feel to the town. We took a walk along the misty beach, with the sunset to one side, a red cliff to the other, and some big red boulders in front of us, and felt even more magic. Then we had more paella, with more Christmas carols in the background, and slept with the terrace door open so that we could hear the crashing surf. I don’t want to say too much more about Sidi Ifni because then the secret will be out, but again – magic, relaxation, crazy luck…. We had another walk on the beach in the morning, back to the red rocks, in completely different light, where we meditated and contemplated and worked on our tarot homework. And then it was time to go - on the way to the taxi stand we discovered more interesting parts of the town, for next time – and had a nice taxi ride to the hub outside of Agadir and a tough bus ride to Marrakesh. By the time we got there, we just wanted an orange juice and a quick dinner and bed – the life and energy of the Jemaa al-Fna were quite a contrast from the sleepy Spanish coastal town, but were welcome after the hustling at the transportation hub and our long bus ride.
So many things we wanted to do in Marrakesh the next day, but so little time. I had bought some harem pants the week before and wanted more, Linda had bought a shawl at the artisana and I wanted one, Rose wanted a pocketbook like Janeila’s at the souk…but instead of shopping, we went to the Jardin Majorelle, another peaceful space. Still working on my dream of seeing it in bloom in every season; this time the Museum of Islamic Art was open and it helped inspire Rose, whose background is as a museum curator. So it was a good choice for our limited time! On the train ride home we worked on to-do lists and personal action plans, and I am ready to get started on the next phase of my Peace Corps service!
First, though, I have a week in Rabat. Monday is a travel day – I’ll go via Fes, where I’ll see the dentist yet again, and then when I get to Rabat I’ll see the Peace Corps doctor about something that couldn’t be covered at IST (but isn’t life-threatening). Tuesday we have a warden meeting – I’m not sure what to expect there, but it should be interesting. I like being a warden (I’m the alternate for my group for this year and then I’ll be the warden) – you get to keep in touch with a group of people, though calling them when there are bombings or other security threats isn’t necessarily the most fun way to keep in touch. Wednesday would be travel back from the warden meeting and travel to GAD, so I am staying in Rabat to do some product research (i.e. go to the artisana), meet someone I met in Azrou a couple of weeks ago who might be a good lead on Sister Cities and on NGOs for GAD, and go to an eye doctor (I may have a little scratch on my cornea, and I am not taking chances with my eyes). Thursday and Friday are GAD. I’ll return Saturday for Amanda and Youssef’s wedding party, which is slated to be an all-right affair! I’ll try to write a quarterly report before I leave for Rabat – it’s time for one – but if not, I will be back in July!