Thursday, July 26, 2007
I’d been thinking that it was time for some haiku…I had written some on the train ride back from Marrakesh way back in May and just not posted it yet, and I’ve been writing some in my head for a while. Then today I got a book of poetry written by Debbie’s daughter Nina for her elementary school class (I think second grade, but correct me in the comment section if I’m wrong –it’s hard to keep track!). The book was dedicated to “my mom’s best friend Sharon. She is really a role model to me because she travels all over the world.” Wow! I’m speechless! So Nina, I want to dedicate today’s haiku to you. The picture is of Moulay Idriss, the shrine town near Meknes that Frank, Rose and I visited earlier this month; this is the panoramic view of one hill from the top of the other.
But first, more about Jong. She is a GREAT guest and we are having a GREAT time. In fact, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have stay with me for two weeks, and I might say that even if I didn’t know she was reading this! We have made hash browns for breakfast a couple of times – too labor-intensive for one person, but well worth it for two! And we have been playing piffle at every opportunity – afternoon break and late into the night. It is so wonderful to have a card-player here – we take turns saying “one more game.” We play cards late into the night and then have been having girl talk until even later. I think by the time she leaves next week we might have to retire the two decks of cards we're playing with! She’s gone with me to the artisana a couple of times and everyone there likes her; my counterpart told her to change her site and move up here! Walking her to camp has been my exercise while she’s here – plus, we’re doing sit-ups. It’s interesting to hear her camp stories – her Arabic name is Ilham, which means inspiration, and she really is inspiring the fifty 14-18-year-old orphan boys who are here. I didn’t sign up to do a camp but I can experience it vicariously through her. She patiently answers their constant questions – for example, she tells them that America has nice places and ugly places, just like Morocco, and that if they don’t like it here they can do something about it. She’s a natural.
And the end of KSA (Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes), I think. I stayed home on Sunday to work on it and on Monday I declared it finished rather than run it by the committee one more time so that I could burn it on a CD to give to Bouchra. She was coming through Azrou and visiting the camps in the area where PCVs are working, on her way to site development in the south, and invited me for coffee (which was actually orange juice, since it is too hot!). I asked her all about herself – she has had an interesting and varied career. She said that the first six months are the slowest for PCVs and that the second year just flies by - I think the first six months have flown by, so I guess I will be finished in no time! We talked about site development, the new stage coming in September, and some other things – and there just wasn’t time to talk about KSA other than my handing her the CD and telling her I’d make any requested changes once she looks at it, and there wasn’t time to talk about my projects. A very pleasant visit, actually!
Jong showed me a Chemical Brothers video that was filmed in the south - this is what the area near where she lives looks like - plus you can see a grand taxi (albeit with fewer than six passengers, hanuts and other parts of daily life here - it ends in Marrakesh - http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=xidZW3x8AGo. And as long as I am sending links, here's the one to the U2 video filmed in the Fes medina - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YPHC7ts2fk
And now without further ado, some haiku…
Spring flowers in bloom
Red poppies, yellow, purple
Middle Atlas spring
Cactus and palm trees
Ocean outside the window
Gleaming white buildings
Washing tiled floors
Hanging laundry on the line
Clean? Then the dust comes
Labyrinth of streets
Surprises and mysteries
The romance of Fes
Darker hair color
More what I’m used to on me
Quick weekend trip home
It was so good to see you
Whew – no culture shock
Daily scrambled eggs
The breakfast of champions
Or lunch or dinner
Tiger-striped sea shells there
Walks along the beach
Old Berber shapes and symbols
I bought lots to wear
Spanish coastal town
Magical feeling, red rocks
Blue and white beauty
Gourmet dinner at his house
McD, Pizza Hut
Azrou summer sun
Midday nap a great idea
Fresh juice, iced coffee
Two showers a day
Did I mention that it’s hot?
Also, it’s been hot
Magnum ice cream bar
Chocolate, coated with chocolate
I would like one now
Grand taxi rear seat
Ask for the window handle
If you want some air
Hoping for boxes
Maybe they’ll arrive today
Haven’t given up
Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
QUARTERLY REPORT – a little late – covering mid-March to mid-June…I thought it was time to get the infrequent (but no less loved!) readers up-to-date; have been mired in a Peace Corps consulting project for most of this month, after traveling for a good part of last month, but there’ll be more on that in the next quarterly report!
One highlight of this quarter was the See the World Tour stop, Morocco! I was concerned about whether my sister, brother-in-law and nieces would like it here, and they loved it. It was great for me to see them – it seemed as if no time had passed and that I wasn’t so far away after all – and it was nice to stay in luxury hotels! We went to Casablanca (saw the Hassan II mosque), Volubilis (the Roman ruins), Fes (they loved the medina – we had a guide, which I might recommend to all visitors), Azrou (it was nice to show them my home, the artisans and artisana, other people I know in town, and my host family) and then Marrakesh (medina, Jardin Majorelle, some sights, and maybe my favorite day – the High Atlas mountains for a donkey ride/hike/high-altitude lunch). We also stopped in some other PCV sites so that my family could see a variety and also meet some of my friends. My sister enjoyed the simple life here, my nieces really liked the kittens in my favorite carpet shop, my brother-in-law liked the butler at the resort near Marrakesh; I liked everything!
Vacation and visitors came at a good time – after three months of training and three months of community integration, I returned to shift into another gear work-wise. Much of April was spent on PACA – Participatory Analysis for Community Action. PACA tools were a highlight of training – it was interesting to see the artisans of TimHdit think about their work in a different way and start to think about ways in which we could help them help themselves. In site visit, I had been told that I could do PACA informally, so rather than visit the artisans once for each tool, I wrote out a list of key questions combining elements of each of them and interviewed the artisans and cooperatives with my tutor. I actually skipped community mapping entirely, since the artisans work in the artisana and other workspaces and not in their homes so I surmised that they somehow figure out how to get to work. The daily routine was interesting – the men work all morning, have lunch, and work all afternoon; the sewing cooperative works only in the late afternoon because they have so many obligations at home, and the weaving cooperative is somewhere in between. Seasonal calendar was interesting too, with the summer busy season, when Azrou is full of tourists, still to come. My favorite PACA tool is needs assessment and priority matrix – not only because it is interesting to see from the helpees’ perspective what they think they need, but also because to me the others are background but this one can help me design my projects. There were some wishes that I might be able to help with and some that might be out of my realm; what was either heartening or disheartening (depending on how I want to view my service) is that for the most part, the artisans here are happy and have lots of work. There are certainly things that I can do – such as the web site/catalog/brochure that is the primary project I am working on for now – but the interviews reinforced that I’m working with people who are already relatively successful improve their lives as opposed to helping people with more basic needs. That’s okay – it’s part of what the Peace Corps does, part of what Small Business Development is about, actually a benefit of living in a more urban, more developed site and a better fit with my skills set – but maybe it is still something I am struggling with in moments of reflection.
Other highlights of April – going to the meeting in TimHdit where the weavers I worked with in training officially became a cooperative, working on the brochure for the medicinal herb cooperative of nearby Ben Smim, a weekend trip to the Todra Gorge, talking about the Peace Corps to a group from Princeton Journeys (what used to be called Alumni Colleges), presenting GAD to the Environment trainees and going on a hike with them, dentist appointments (with time for exploration) in Fes, redoing the displays at the artisana with my friend Rose (never mind that they changed them back in May – what we did was a revolutionary change and I do see evolutionary improvements since we did that – so maybe we made a sustainable impact).
In May I was a little blue – stressed about encounters with Peace Corps staff, sensitive to relationships with fellow volunteers, needing more from my tutor and finding another one (in June I moved on to Tutor #3), getting anxious about the upcoming In-Service Training. I still have never been lonely or bored though, and as I review my calendar, I see coffee with this fellow volunteer and lunch with that one and another hike with the Environment trainees and yet other PCVs stopping by. Work consisted of a proposal for artisana improvements, photography of artisana products and artisans, more PACA, presenting VSN to the trainees, and working on my IST presentation and action plan. I have two friends whose apple computers did not stand up to the dust and hardship here, so after hearing about their woes for the third or fourth time, I finally backed everything up – and should probably make that part of my quarterly if not monthly routine! I have been highlighting my hair for the past few years, but went to a single color here to make it easier; the hairdressers had matched the lightest part of the highlights, and I kept looking at the mirror and thinking my hair was too light. I found a color that matches my roots and feel that the new dark hair has given me superpowers. Okay, maybe not; wait - actually, why not? Reading some books, too – I thought I would have so much time to read and write, and it turns out that even here there aren’t enough hours in the day, but I do clear the schedule every so often to do some of both.
My friends Carol and Mike came from Chicago to Fes for a weekend (and then went on to Burgundy). We had a delightful time – toured the old medina with a guide, had gourmet Moroccan meals (not an oxymoron), went to the Fes artisana and Ville Nouvelle, and then they came to Azrou for a day and saw my apartment, workplace and community. I look forward to future visitors as well! I went to Marrakesh for a Saturday-night stayover – a long trip for a short amount of time, but good to see friends.
And then I boarded a plane for JFK and went on to Reunions. I was afraid I would experience some culture shock, but it was just good to be there. Reunions is culture shock of its own, in a way, but by going every year, I get into the rhythm quickly, and the time difference/jet lag worked in my favor, since it’s usually a weekend of sleep deprivation anyway. I had some quality time for talks with some friends and some more-typical few-minutes catch-up conversations with many others. I never for a second questioned the wisdom of a five-day trip just to go to Reunions, and it was even better than I had expected it to be. I'd even found some orange and black Moroccan clothes to wear! In Princeton, I also bought running shoes so I can start running here, went to a Mets game with my family, had the Annual Card Game (very nice of my fellow card-players to accommodate my schedule, and nice for Bill and me to continue to crush Gary and Marty!) and saw Debbie and Elisa, friends from Wharton (and key members of the support team) on Monday before returning to Morocco. It was easier to come back here than it sometimes was to go back to Chicago after a lovely Reunions weekend or New York weekend or weekend with the Wharton friends (though don't get me wrong - I miss Chicago and my friends there and thought about things I was missing this quarter - Opening Day, Bike the Drive, art fairs)…. I anticipate doing the same exact thing next year (I hope the Mets are at home that Sunday – I’d be happy to see the Yankees but not sure Sabrina and Valerie would be up for it!).
I had a few days to gather my breath and then it was on to IST! In-Service Training is a big milestone for PCVs – the first time we’re all together since swearing-in and one of the last for the remainder of service, a shift from community integration and laying groundwork to actually getting to work. I thought that Reunions had cleared me of the blueness of May and that I was looking forward to IST, but when I got there I felt stressed and tired and anxious and emotionally on-edge. Giving my presentation helped, getting through a meeting with staff helped, taking my language test helped, being by the ocean in Agadir helped, seeing everyone helped, discovering Magnum bars helped (best ice cream bar ever, the Double Chocolate – chocolate ice cream with chocolate coating. Rich, rich, rich). Over the course of the week I went from basket case to happy, calm and at peace – helped along by a “girls’ night in” suggested by Ren and Rachel, who saw that I was having a hard time (which goes on the list of Nicest Things Someone Has Ever Done For Me), a tarot reading and energy work by Janeila, walks on the beach, alone and with Rose and Janeila and Ren and Linda and Rachel and Rob, and the end of the week, some trainings that I think can be useful for my service!
On the way to IST, Rose and I stopped in Marrakesh – her first time there, and her impression of the energy reinforced mine; I look forward to spending more time there. I travel really well with Rose – I am really glad that her site is nearby and that we see so much of each other. We took an extra day on the return so that we could visit Tiznit, a city south of Agadir known for its silver jewelry. We did a good job of buying some; if I get back there I could see getting more, though I bought enough just in case I don’t! Then, on the spur of the moment, we went on to Sidi Ifni, a former Spanish coastal town, which we found charming and magical. We toured the town, talked Spanish and ate paella, walked along the beach and meditated among its red rocks, had one of the two Best Days I have had in Morocco so far (the other was in Erfoud, with the dunes of the Sahara). The picture is of the King’s Palace in Sidi Ifni – the blue and white of that town is a stark contrast to the red of much of the south and the yellow of much of the north…. The detour meant less time in Marrakesh on the way back, but we managed to visit the Jardin Majorelle and its Museum of Islamic History, which have magic and inspiration of another sort. So, somehow IST did its job, though I am not sure it was the IST itself that did it – I came back to my site renewed and refreshed and inspired and dedicated and motivated and full of energy and enthusiasm!
Sunday, July 22, 2007
It’s been a tough week, but not without its positives – I may have tossed and turned on more than one night and burst into tears more than once, but not to worry (how’s that for a lead-in?). Monday got off to a shaky start when I did my rounds around town and one of my favorite people looked, smelled and acted drunk. I finally decided I was uneasy about this when he got a little hostile. That night, I asked Youssef (my advisor!) for advice and he told me not to be seen with him around town; just to keep it professional, and that when he is not drunk, this person is very nice (which I have always found him to be). In the site report for the transition way back when, Lee had mentioned that there were town drunks and glue-sniffers and to stay away from them lest my reputation be damaged by association (I don’t accept lunch invitations from single men, either, for the same reason – I might have mentioned this before – I feel Azrou is a liberal site, but I can tell from walking around in my neighborhood that I am not as anonymous as I feel, and people do like to talk about other people’s business here, so I don’t want to give them ammunition. Also, I may have my fair share of male PCVs over but no solo single Moroccan men).
Actually, the tough week may have started last Saturday night. Amanda, Youssef and I were on the way to my house to watch their wedding DVD and there was lightning all around – I suggested we go to the roof to watch nature’s fireworks. As we were passing the mosque, the wind picked up, and Youssef decided to head back home to close all the windows. Only a couple of minutes later, the wind kicked up a dust storm. These happen in the south all the time, but usually people are indoors – we were outside, with no protection, with dirt getting into our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, clothes, skin – we could do nothing but huddle. The wind stopped, we resumed walking, and then it started to pour (as I had watched the lightning, I remarked that I didn’t hear thunder so the storm must not be close – wrong). We ran for a building with an overhang and stayed there, comfortable though a little cold and damp, until a man decided to stand uncomfortably close to us. Finally the rain let up a little and we started walking again – and then the rain started again, and we got wetter and dirtier. We ran for it, in the dark, on the uneven rocky ground, and finally made it in with no mishaps. Straight into the shower – her first – and then we watched the DVD. Amanda stayed over as the storm continued, and Youssef never joined us. She blamed this storm for her coming down with something that knocked her out for days – I may as well blame my tough week on it!
I decided to remove myself from the situation with the drunk person and just go home and stay home. I did a thorough cleaning – which I needed, after the storm – there was quite a bit of dirt that blew in (more than usual, that is). And I read a book – nice to escape for a few hours and join another world (“The Good Husband of Zebra Drive,” the latest in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, transported me from northern to southern Africa). And I went for a walk at night with Youssef (since Amanda was down for the count) – the switch from morning to evening exercise means less overall exercise, but more getting done during the day. In addition to talking about drinking (which is forbidden by Islam and illegal in Morocco but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen), we talked about other problems – prostitution, which is big in the Middle Atlas, and kif (marijuana), which grows in the Rif, in the north (which is part of the reason why there are no Peace Corps sites there) but is a problem throughout Morocco.
As we were walking, we saw the slightest crescent of the waxing moon, and Youssef told me that in Islam, you can make a wish when you first see the beginnings of the moon every month. I told him about “star light, star bright” and that I make a wish every night. But nothing wrong with an extra wish every month! We talked about constellations, too – a volunteer who was visiting last weekend told me that he had been told that the three stars in Orion’s belt were three women weavers in Berber legend. We looked up Berber astrology on the internet and found that the Milky Way is called the straw – there was a thief, and Allah put a hole in his sack and the straw spilled out all over the sky.
Tuesday was an interesting day. Josh, one of the nearby Environment volunteers, came by with a friend of his who had just finished a six-month stint with Doctors Without Borders in the Ivory Coast. It was interesting to talk to her about her experiences and to hear about the organization. They are not a development agency; they respond to crises. They take doctors, nurses, and anyone else – the “anyone else” people work in logistics. They don’t have a lot of freedom to move or tour because they are often in dangerous places, but there is vacation time, so you can get out to nearby interesting and safer destinations. They say not to judge the organization by one assignment but to try more than one, and often people do – she would do it again. Would I? I think my Peace Corps service would qualify me for an “anyone else” job. I’d think about it! She was working on malnutrition. So – that was the morning (I served tea and coffee but still haven’t stocked up on snacks to serve guests). In the afternoon, I had tutoring and went to the artisana to talk to my counterpart, who I hadn’t seen in a while. In the evening, Jong came to visit! She was in my CBT group but was put in a site far in the south, so I don’t get to see her often. She signed up to do a summer camp here in Azrou so she’s staying with me for the rest of the month! It was good to see her and to catch up. She taught me a card game, Piffle, which is similar to Nertz – another double (or more people) solitaire game in which you have a pile of cards that you have to get rid of, and then you total the number of your cards in the shared top while subtracting what is left in your piffle pile. We have been spending quite a bit of time on Piffle! In her site, she does not leave the house during the day – she plays cards with her host family or just rests. She goes to sleep in wet clothes, and when she wakes up in the middle of the night, hot and dry, she gets wet again so that she can get more sleep. She’s obsessed with knowing the temperature (in the 100s in her site) and brought her Radio Shack clock/thermometer with her – and, as if the universe knew she came here for some relief, it’s cooled off quite a bit here since she came (or since the storm) – has maybe been in the 80s during the day and 70s at night. Of course, she can’t get a lot of sleep, since the construction outside starts so early in the morning, every morning – and now there is some work being done on the building on the other side of mine, so there’s loud banging in stereo all day long every day. I have been focusing more on the fact that the construction is in danger of obstructing my view, but every so often it’s so loud that it’s hard to concentrate, and when I have guests I am all too aware of the fact that it wakes me up early every morning. This week has been particularly irritating, with scraping and hammering noises that are nails-on-a-chalkboard-like in their intrusiveness.
Wednesday I resumed working on the Project Plan and Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes. Somewhere – maybe Wednesday itself, maybe the week before – there was a shift from enjoying the strategic thinking and collaborative process on this assignment to feeling stressed about it, under pressure, not happy with how it is going or with working on it anymore…. This project is taking more time than expected and I want to get back to my primary Peace Corps assignment and routine (or lack thereof) – I am tired of sitting in front of a computer screen and working with Word and Excel for hours on end. I need a swim…I need a massage…I need a CPK barbecue chicken salad with two things of extra barbecue sauce on the side. This project stress mutated into an even bigger stress, thinking about what the future holds. I don’t want to have a job where I sit in front of a computer all day, even if there is strategic thinking involved. I don’t want to work at all. And I don’t want to look for a job (I had been doing so well in not thinking about this so far). Tossing and turning about the project then escalated into more tossing and turning (also stressing about friends wanting to visit this fall and what I should do with them – too many options! How to guide them? I’ll expand on that in another post…although I feel calmer about that too in the light of day and am on the road to getting over it and figuring it out)….Thursday I redid the project plan tasks to make them look more consistent and now I am happy (though not finished) with them and Friday I started putting all of the KSA from the Word worksheet into the Excel spreadsheet; this is taking much longer than I thought it would, and I decided to stay at home today and keep working on it, since the Program Manager said she was coming into town tomorrow on her way to visit another site and she wanted to have coffee and talk about it. Thinking about her impending visit is what caused me to burst into tears this morning, but a little Piffle before Jong went off to camp and now working away on it have cheered me up somewhat (and I managed to move thinking about future employment back to the back of my mind for the time being).
Thursday morning I was calmer, except that I ruined a skirt when a pink Moroccan blouse that I had bought in a hurry in the Rabat medina the day I went to the eye doctor bled all over one of the new skirts that my sister had brought. Amanda and Jong both told me it’s fine – looks batiked – but it is now the official evening exercise skirt. Then I worked on KSA for about eight hours solid on Thursday and eight hours solid on Friday, until I could look at the computer screen no more, culminating in going to sleep before 8:30 on Friday night. Yesterday I went to Fes with Amanda and Youssef and met up with Rose and Paula, who also came for the day. Amanda, Youssef and I got there early, had coffee, and walked around the old medina. It’s funny – I am used to being a third wheel (or, as I sometimes put it, sitting with the coats), but they are still in many ways getting used to being a couple, and I think that by being a third wheel for them I am helping with that! Anyway, going to the Fes medina was good – I think I should bring all of my visitors to Fes (the start of the road to figuring out the plan for my visitors). I bought a skirt to make up for the ruined one, and finally a rug for the zen room – not from a rug shop but from a shop selling pillows, scarves and other things from India and the Far East – the rug was on the floor, not intended for sale – but I got a good price and I think it’s beautiful and I have been wanting something for the zen room for a while and I decided to just get it.
Then we met Rose and Paula at the Palais Jamai for lunch. We’d intended to sit by the pool, but opted for the air conditioning…so I have pent-up sit-by-the-pool (not to mention pent-up swimming), so that may be in my near future. I didn’t get a spa treatment, either, and hope there is one of those in my near future as well. My shoulders have that computer stress! I was going to go with the GLOW camp girls on a hike today, but I cancelled – wanted to work (and to write!). What I don't have, at least, is pent-up Marjane demand! We went to the one in Fes before taking the grand taxi home - got some peanut butter and some cheese!
I’ll close with a couple of stories. Earlier this week I was crossing the dirt path between my house and the artisana, and I saw some boys filling yogurt-drink cartons with some chalk or other white (probably toxic) dust that was in a pile by a heap of broken bricks. They started to pour the chalk in lines along the dirt. Foul lines? Batter’s box? For a minute I got excited – and I then I realized that they were drawing a soccer field on the dirt where they usually play soccer. For a minute, though, I could fantasize about hearing the crack of a bat (not that it wouldn’t have been a ping). And while I'm on the subject, as I write and work today, I'm peeking at the British Open leaderboard (since I can't download the software to listen to it - same software that would enable me to listen to baseball games - if anyone can tell me why when I click onto "download indows media player for mac OSX" it doesn't actually download software that I can use....anyway, it looks as though it's an exciting Sunday at Carnoustie.
Also – now that it is summer, with family visiting from out of town or out of the country, there are a lot more ceremonies. Almost every day I hear drums and horns as a parade of people passes. There seem to be more funerals, too, but I think that’s just a coincidence. The picture is of a circumcision procession, on the way to the mosque – the little boy on the white horse is smiling, so I think this is pre-; they go to the mosque and then go back to the family house for the actual snip.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
My friend Kyra tries to do a new thing every month, and whenever I see her I ask her about her “firsts.” Well, I had a first this week. Amanda and Youssef bought wedding rings and wanted to have a little dinner and ceremony to exchange them, and she asked me to be the officiant. Actually, she asked me to be the “efficient,” which I liked the sound of too. I did some internet research and came up with a little talk on the symbolism (unbroken circle of love, etc.) and found some secular vows. And brought over one of the chocolate cake mixes I had bought way back when for us to bake. The other dinner guest, Madeleine, was the ring-bearer, and she and I took turns being the photographer, and it turned out to be a lovely ceremony. I really enjoyed it – I’d consider getting ordained so that I can marry people!
And not exactly a first, but a first for Morocco – I started my post-IST exercise program. Woke up early twice this week to go out for a run, which ended up being a walk, to beat the heat, which ended up beating me. Both days I ended up fatigued and napping and unable to get much done. I’ve thought about adding a daily nap to my summer routine anyway, but I may have to rethink the exercise plan. I think I may need the sleep in the morning more than the exercise. I’ve been sleeping better this week – I hate to say this, but I think that’s because they rounded up the dogs and shot them. It may not be the most humane method of animal control, but Moroccans don’t think spaying and neutering are good (not sure why). There are still some dogs around, but I don’t hear the nightly barking dog conference these days, and there are many stray cats, but most people here don’t have pets per se. I’ll occasionally bring some milk out to a kitten or puppy, but I am not going to take one in; many volunteers do. Back to the exercise plan though – the walks, with Amanda and Youssef, have been really nice. You don’t have to get far away from the city center to feel like you’re in the country – donkey trails are the walking paths, sheep graze, women down by the river do their laundry, houses are made of available materials.
We also took a really nice walk yesterday, in Ifrane. First of all, the town itself is nice, with big, expensive homes. We didn’t spend much time in town though – we went on to a park, with trees and water, both of which had a nice cooling effect, and then to a waterfall. It’s a destination for a lot of Moroccan families too, with picnicking and horseback riding. I am not sure I could duplicate this walk on my own, but it would be nice to be able to. It’s a great day trip! And I had a nice one today, too – with Katie and some of her stage-mates to a lake south of TimHdit, where we had a picnic, swam (cold – just like Lake Michigan?) and sat and talked and read and rested. While in TimHdit I also briefly saw my host mother, the only family member I hadn’t seen since PST ended – it was good to see her. She’s a kind person.
I had two nice day trips last weekend too – it’s partly strategy and partly circumstance that even though we are entitled to two Saturday nights out per month, I took only one in June and am taking only one in July. Strategy – since I had the highest percentage out-of-site of my group at IST, I am letting people catch up; they are taking vacation and working summer camps. Maybe I can go under-the-radar for a while, though I already have two requests in for August. Circumstance – it’s hot, for one thing, and a long bus, taxi or train ride has less than the usual lack of appeal. For another thing, there’s plenty to do around here, where it’s cooler than in many other parts of the country. More, there are people here to do things with – Amanda and Youssef will be leaving soon, Katie actually doesn’t have that much more time either, and last week Frank came up on his way to Sefrou for some work-related leave. As long as he was here, I tapped his brain for some web site ideas and we talked about Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes and the Project Plan. On Saturday, Rose joined us and we went to Moulay Idriss and Volubilis, and on Sunday to Sefrou and Fes.
Moulay Idriss was the descendant of the Prophet who brought Islam to Morocco in the eighth century. The city where he is buried was off-limits to non-Muslims for a long time, and his tomb still is. It’s historic but also a beautiful city, on two hills, with gleaming white (these do gleam) buildings and colorful doors. We hired a taxi to take us to both places from Meknes for the day. An aside about the taxis – most of them have no window handles for the rear doors, but you can ask for the handle if you want to roll down the window. Sometimes, Moroccans will give you dirty looks if you do so, because the wind carries djinns and they think you can get sick from the wind, but there’s something about having air that makes us ask anyway. Frank had the idea of getting a bunch of window handles and handing them out to the new volunteers – I know I’d love to have my own to carry in my pocketbook!
At Moulay Idriss, someone offered to guide us around, and took us in a twisty way towards the minaret – round with green tile and white writing, unusual for Morocco, and then a panoramic view from one hill to the other, and then somehow back to where we started. We had told him we didn’t need or want a guide, but he actually did show us around, so we gave him a small sum. And then it was on to Volubilis – this was my third time there but Frank’s first and Rose’s first. They had been talking a lot about the Roman ruins in Turkey and how nothing in Morocco is as nice as it is there, but Volubilis exceeded their expectations – especially the mosaics – and for me it was interesting both to see their reaction and just in and of itself – it too looks different at different seasons and is easier for me to get to than the Jardin Majorelle. Saturday we really felt like tourists – between the destinations themselves, the renting out of a taxi to take us around, the guide, and lots of picture-taking, we could have been three friends just out for the day! Sunday, we had breakfast at my house, went to Rose’s in Sefrou for lunch, and then went to Fes to just find a café to hang out. Again, just a nice day with friends!
And just to close the book on the Rabat trip – Wednesday was originally a free day and I thought I might see some sights but I filled it; I already talked about the eye doctor appointment in the afternoon. In the morning I met with a woman from the U.S. Embassy who I had met in Azrou a couple of weeks before; she said she had some leads on NGOs and other organizations that might be good partners for a GAD conference. I expected her to have just a few minutes with me but she spent an hour and a half with me, which was very nice. The Embassy is heavily-guarded, with lots of security, and then you enter through what looks like a high-school basement – once you’re in it seems congenial, but I think it would be tough getting into the office every day. Actually, I did do a little tourism, or rather work – I visited the Rabat artisana. It’s small, with no showroom, but with a variety of working artisans. It was closing so there was no time for extended viewing, and I didn’t have much time to shop in the medina either, so I need another trip to Rabat for pent-up shopping and tourism!
That Thursday and Friday we had a GAD meeting. We have three new members on the committee due to two COS’ed volunteers and a med sep, and (not that this wasn’t the case before) everyone is interesting and enthusiastic and the committee has good chemistry. As we started, they pulled a couple of us out to the staff meeting and then asked us to come up with the GAD-related tasks, knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be a successful volunteer in Morocco. This is the project I am working on for the Small Business Development sector, which has taken up much of my time (and I’m working consulting hours!) since I came back from Rabat. I think our meeting timing was good – nor sure they would have asked GAD for input otherwise, and we think an understanding of gender roles in this culture is critical to success here. Other tasks that fall under the GAD umbrella include understanding harassment and developing coping mechanisms, understanding and implementing GAD theory, formally observing gender behavior, volunteer networking and experience exchange, understanding the moudwana (the king’s new women’s rights initiative), literacy and health issues, working with girls, and awareness of the GAD aspect of each sector’s program goals. As with SBD, it was fun to brainstorm about this and then to present it to the staff.
Other things discussed at the GAD meeting were staff training about harassment – there’s a tendency here (and not only here) to blame the victim; GAD trained the PCMO and Safety and Security Officer on response when a PCV calls in about harassment, and that training will be expanded to the program staff as well. GAD did a harassment survey a couple of years ago; since everyone surveyed is now gone, we will do a new one for current PCVs. We talked about GAD training at IST (where it was not on the SBD agenda and YD’s was cut short) and PST (where Environment’s went well but Health never had one), and about why it isn’t more of a priority for staff. We’re going to create a resource manual with practical applications of GAD theory and actual GAD projects in Morocco. We talked about GLOW camps, the last GAD conference, and the next GAD conference, which will likely be in the Middle Atlas region, so I’ll likely be working on that. We broke into small groups by sector and looked at the project frameworks to make sure that GAD language was included. And we talked about other initiatives. Again, I’m glad I’m on this committee. Wednesday night I wasn’t feeling well (the nap in the doctor’s office wasn’t enough – went back to the room early to sleep more). Thursday night it was back to the Goethe Institute, and Friday night to Le Grand Comptoir for wine and appetizers – same as last time, now a nice tradition. Jen, the second-year SBD on GAD, and I also went to the Marjane in Rabat, along with Andrew, a new Environment volunteer up for medical. He had met someone on the train from Marrakesh who said he knew the volunteer in Azrou. Andrew was trying to elicit information and asked if the volunteer was about his age, and whoever it was told him that the volunteer was older – maybe 30, plus 15. Both the Moroccans I encounter and fellow PCVs regularly seem to think I’m a lot younger than I am, and while I think I’ve reached the age where I prefer to be vague about it, I am honest when asked, but I do nothing to discourage that thinking.
I was told I haven’t talked a lot about my artisans lately, and part of the reason for that is that I haven’t seen a lot of them. I feel as though I was away for most of June and I have spent most of July so far on KSA. But in truth, I have gone to the artisana almost every day, and have made my rounds in town as well. My counterpart was promoted and is now head of the artisana (did I mention that? It happened right before IST – and is good news, I think). He told me that he told the delegue in Meknes that neither he nor I will work with the weaving cooperative – this was a bit of a surprise and I guess both a relief and a disappointment – he thinks they’re difficult to work with and though I may have felt the same way I was still willing to give it a go. And I’ve stopped by the sewing cooperative almost daily for weeks and they don’t seem to be working anymore; my counterpart said that if they don’t have an annual meeting, they will lose their status as a cooperative. So I might have lost both of the cooperatives – and all of the women – that I work with! I do want to meet some more artisans in town, and it may be time to ask again about visiting those rural cooperatives. In the meantime, I had the questionnaire translated into French and am almost ready to distribute that to visiting tourists. I talked to my rock-carver about the next craft fair and will do some computer training with him. I am working on the brochure this month, have more photography to do and am starting the web site as well. So I have plenty to do!
Monday, July 09, 2007
Some more Morocco stories…I have to tell you about the guy with the kisses. At certain towns along the main bus routes, the buses make long stops, for people to use the facilities or buy snacks or whatever. And some entrepreneurs take advantage of the captive audience, coming on to the bus and trying to sell things to the customers. Azrou is sometimes one of those stops, as is Rich, on the way south. There are people selling kohl and people selling nut bars, candy and tissues and people with boom boxes selling music and/or religious tapes (I can’t tell the difference) and a person who preaches (if that’s the right term for it) and people with religious booklets and sometimes your high-quality watches and jewelry and, well, you get the idea. Some of them go down the aisle, depositing items on everyone’s laps, and then go back up the aisle, picking up the items and/or receiving payment for them. Well, Inezgane, the big transportation hub between Sidi Ifni and Marrakesh, had lots of these vendors, and Rose hadn’t seen them before, so she was quite impressed with the commerce. I had seen it all…or thought so, until I saw a guy who went down the aisle, grabbing everyone’s head and giving them a big kiss, and then went back up the aisle collecting money. When I realized what he was doing I tried to take cover, saying “la, la” (“no, no”) and putting my hands up in a defensive posture. I would have paid him not to kiss me, but he was not to be deterred – he grabbed my head and kissed it. The other passengers around me docilely accepted their kisses – though I’m not sure anyone paid him – and they were laughing at me (okay, with me). Hours later when we stopped again they saw me and were still laughing and motioning to their heads; it turned out to be a conversation starter. I actually have to give the guy credit for originality, but….ick, ick, cooties, ick.
And more Moroccan ingenuity – I went to the eye doctor in Rabat last week because I thought I had scratched my cornea. I haven’t written up Rabat yet, but I may as well tell this story – I had told the PCMO at IST (remember those acronyms?) that I thought I had scratched it so I had an appointment set for Wednesday at 3:00 pm. Got there then and it turned out that the doctor was out and I had to come back at 4:30 (I could have stayed by the ocean longer or seen a tourist attraction had the appointment been made for 4:30, but oh well – actually I went to the hotel for a while and had a nice conversation until it was time to go back). Went back to the doctor’s office at 4:30 and she was still out. Asked if it was all right to lie down for a while and slept for a solid hour! Finally the receptionist told me the doctor wasn’t coming back and we rescheduled the appointment. This is remarkable only because another PCV went to the same doctor on Friday and spent an hour in the waiting room napping! The ingenuity part comes on Saturday when it turned out I did indeed have a scratched cornea and was prescribed some ointment to apply twice a day and drops to use four times a day. When I got home with my medicines, I went to look for the written prescription so I would know which was four and which was two, and I noticed that on one box the pharmacist had scrawled two lines and on the other, four lines – that’s how to tell an illiterate population how to take medicine – I was impressed! And am glad to say that my eye seems back to normal, though with dry, dusty air and lots of computer time on that Project Plan this week, my eyes are tired.
Oh, and the trash cleanup! Last week, you’ll recall, I had several environment volunteers crashing on my furniture and floor for the wedding. I told them that in exchange for a shower they could fill a mika (plastic) bag with trash from across the way and improve the environment in my line of sight! Not only did they do it, but they did it enthusiastically. I wish it had been more sustainable – that the kids in the neighborhood had seen and gotten into it – and that it had lasted a little longer (there’s a trash buildup already), but maybe I’ll try again.
And before I forget, I want to mention that U2’s “Mysterious Ways” video was shot in Fes’s old medina. Download that video to get an idea. U2 may or may not be in Fes now, working on their next album. Most of the celebs go to Marrakesh – nice to think that there are some here in the north!
All right, with some of that out of my system, I can talk about my trip to Rabat – two weeks ago now. First, I went to the dentist in Fes – everything is fine with the new night guard (still don’t know why more than one follow-up was required) and I am all set until the next cleaning. Last time he gave me a sensitive-tooth treatment and told me not to eat or drink for an hour – in the appointment right before lunchtime. He did the same this time too, but this time I was prepared for it, having had a big breakfast. I caught the 12:50 train from Fes, running into another PCV who was also on the way to Rabat, and then an American who heard us speaking English joined us; she’s a teacher who has been here for five years and may make it a career. I had to go right to the Peace Corps office for a medical consultation, and then rush off to the lab with a sample. I asked if I was one of the 10 percent of volunteers who take 90 percent of the PCMO time, and the doctor said I might be one of the 20 percent who take 80 percent, and that after the first year most people don’t bother to call in. I’ve been quite healthy, after getting sick a couple of times in PST - it helps to live in a site with clean water, avoid restaurants that appear to have iffy meat-cooking and dish-washing, stay away from the communal glasses at people’s houses, and avoid (though I miss) salads - but I do take advantage of times when I see the PCMOs to talk about minor issues, and therefore get my share of tests. One thing I brought up was my dehydration – as long as I was there, I was tested for chemical imbalance, which I do not have – just have to keep drinking water! Another was (ahem) a female issue, and there’s no issue there either. So all was well and good, except that I didn’t really have time to walk around Rabat at all that day. After all this I found out that Rose has scabies! That is one of those third-world things that was mentioned in PST and that I thought I could avoid by being in a less rural site; she probably got it from her kitten, who has mange. I’ll let you look it up – ick, ick, cooties, ick. And I shared my bed with her the night of the wedding (so one fewer person had to sleep on the floor). So I contacted the doctor yet again, to see if there was something I needed to do to avoid getting it, though Rose told me that if I had it, I would know, because I’d have itchy mite bites all over. I saw her this weekend (more on that in another blog entry) and she was covered in bites – Frank and I thought that she looked like the people in PST who had gotten bedbug bites – so maybe she had bedbugs at her house and not scabies. At any rate, I think I have managed to avoid it, but that is the kind of minor issue I call the PCMO about (they told me to wash my linens in hot water, which I have yet to do, I will admit – the hot water doesn’t go to the laundry spigot, but I think later this week I’ll wash the linens in the shower, just for good measure, though I don’t think that the water gets hot enough to solve a mite or bedbug problem if I had one).
For the warden meeting, they put us up in the Chellah, the hotel where we had stayed for our first days in Rabat back in September. At the time it seemed like a step down from the one in Philadelphia, and then the Auberge was a step down from that, and then homestay a step down from that – now, of course, the Chellah is a nice treat, with bathtubs and towels and Western toilets in the rooms and a buffet breakfast…buttering up the wardens? It was nice to hang out and talk with the other people in town for the meeting, especially some cool second-year SBDs.
Tuesday was the warden meeting itself. Wardens are volunteers who have safety and security responsibilities – if there is news to disseminate, we get it out to the people in our area. There’s an Emergency Action Plan that has various steps, the most serious of which would be country evacuation, and the Wardens would be the PCVs helping to organize fellow volunteers and keep everyone calm. Emergencies include terrorism but also natural disaster, industrial disaster and other things; each Peace Corps country has a similar plan. Other countries do practice consolidations, but we won’t – it might imply that the Moroccan government isn’t taking care of us, which of course they are. In addition, PCVs in the area who go on day trips on weekends are supposed to text their warden, so that someone knows where they are (overnight trips are cleared by staff). This meeting in Rabat was a first-ever, and I don’t know if there was anything behind it, but maybe it was a clarification of duties, a review of the action plan, and a sense that we’re an underutilized resource so a brainstorming as to what else wardens can do.
I wasn’t sure what would take all day, but, in fact, it turned out to be a very interesting day. In a small group, we were able to discuss the safety and security policies (and specifically out-of-site) in a way that was more objective than it was with the big group at IST. The Regional Security Officer (I don’t need to tell you he’s referred to as RSO) at the U.S. Embassy came to talk to us about recent security threats here, and his deadpan delivery was very funny – I guess you have to have a sense of humor in that job or it you can get paranoid. We also talked about serious crime and assault – as with consolidation and evacuation, I hope I never have to do much of anything as a warden! It was fun to brainstorm ways that we can be more of a resource. As with all trainings and sessions, the proof that they were worthwhile will come when new things get implemented, but I do like to strategize and to think about volunteer life, and I liked talking with the other PCVs who were in for the meeting (and I did get some cards in at a break).
There are ten wardens and ten alternate wardens (I am one of those but will become the warden when the current one in my region COS-es). We were all invited to the Country Director’s house for dinner, something that everyone might get to do once in their service, or not at all. Bruce lives in a very nice house in a very nice neighborhood, as befits a Country Director. His house is decorated with exquisite and expensive Moroccan artisanal items – and in storage he has artifacts from the three other countries where he’s been the Director. Beautiful rugs, brass, pottery, wood, lamps, coffee-table books – he either had good advice or has a good eye or both. He treated us to Pizza Hut pizza – I haven’t had much of that in years, living in Chicago and all, and I hadn’t had any since I’ve been here, but that pepperoni hit the spot! Then whoever happened to be in the right place at the right time was invited to Bruce’s home theatre room, where we saw what he usually shows Moroccans as his little cultural exchange – excerpts from Barbra Streisand concerts and a song from “Dreamgirls.” It seemed a little surreal to be in Morocco, after a day of safety and security and talking about policy, listening to these incredible singers belting out songs (I asked if we could stay longer and just watch all three DVDs) – in fact, it still seems surreal. But I’m glad I was there to experience it. That’ll go down as a Peace Corps Morocco Memory.
I’ll save the rest of the week for another entry and close with more random thoughts. I mentioned the Polar fleece jellaba that I had made for me last winter. I’ve been joking that I now want one made of some wicking fabric such as CoolMax or QuikDri. I wore short-sleeved shirts in training and it didn’t feel inappropriate. Now it is hot out, and yet most women still wear jellabas. I was wondering what people wear underneath them – track suits in the winter but what in the summer? I was invited to someone’s house for couscous last week (probably my favorite of Lee’s friends – when we met I thought she was about to move to Switzerland, but she is still here. She’s very nice – friendly and outgoing. Maybe she can be my friend too!) and I found out the answer – basically, T-shirts and summer pajama pants. Someone pointed out to me that a wicking jellaba would be clingy, and that won’t do; I had asked my counterpart whether it was all right to wear short-sleeved shirts and he told me it was fine – it’s hot. So, no summer jellaba for me. I don’t wear anything sleeveless, and I still wear long skirts – and I do occasionally wear long-sleeved Moroccan shirts. Any summer thing I would get would have to be so sheer it would be see-through, and then people would see the short-sleeved shirt anyway, so I may as well just wear what I’m wearing.
And another reason that Azrou is a great site – not only does it have that excellent patisserie, but it also has a café that can make iced coffee. Last summer Amanda and Katie “trained” the owner as to how to do that. Amanda is back from her honeymoon and we’ll meet there tomorrow and have some!
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Is there a Fourth of July in Morocco? That’s one of those jokes (similar to “what’s the capital of Kentucky, Louisville or Lexington?”) that I can occasionally catch someone with. There is one, of course, but it’s not Independence Day here. Though it should be noted (this is in one of my early blog entries, but that was a long time ago) that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States after independence.
The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday! Usually I do something outside, such as a parade or a baseball game – and often a concert in the park and fireworks! Nothing like that today, of course, but it’s a good time for reflection. I’ve been lucky to experience Independence Day celebrations in New York, Boston and Philadelphia – cradles of the revolution – our nation’s capital, Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, various midwest small towns and more. I was around for the Bicentennial (it still thrills me to see bicentennial quarters) and I remember holiday doubleheaders. And I am thinking of the friends I spent those holidays with – what fun! It’s also a good time to reflect on how lucky and proud I am to be an American. There is plenty to disagree with and lament, but all in all it’s a pretty good thing to be.
I had a house guest last night, and this morning we (softly) sang “America the Beautiful” at a café (I don’t think anyone noticed – if they did, they didn’t react). Then he got into taxi number 76 – coincidence? Of course not! When I went out a little while ago, I conjured up Sousa’s Washington Post March. And now I am having some lemonade! Actually, some lemon Tang, but it’ll do. I talked to my counterpart about how people celebrate the holiday – my little cultural exchange. I don’t think I want to get into concepts of democracy and the course of human events – too hard to explain, and a discussion I’d just as soon not get into anyway. I took note of people randomly wearing red, white and blue and of carpets around town with those colors, but I wouldn’t call attention to myself by wearing them (not that I have those colors in my repertoire, anyway). Just now had some British Invasion tunes in the background, but maybe I should switch to the Beach Boys (didn’t I once see them on July 4th?) or Bruce….
Getting you up-to-date will require multiple blog entries; first, some leftover thoughts from IST. Morocco now has about 180 Peace Corps Volunteers and is the third-largest Peace Corps program after Ukraine, with about 400, and Honduras. The stage that comes in this fall will be the biggest yet. We were the biggest to get to IST – I suggested to people around me that we adopt the goal of being the biggest to COS! Yep, working on the glossary too….for now, a reminder that IST is In-Service Training, six months in, and COS is Close-of-Service, meaning the entire 27 months. At IST we talked about the culture shock chart and where we are in our service. Many people have a hard time their first six months – it’s always good to know I’m not alone – and then have a spike at IST after seeing everyone; I certainly feel I’m in a spike now! Six months has gone by remarkably fast. Quarterly report soon too!
When we were in Sidi Ifni, Rose and I looked for the artisana, noted in Lonely Planet. After wondering if I had lost my map-reading skills, we wandered into a building where there were four women in a room doing some embroidery and a little bit of knitting. It seemed sad. So that’s a neddy! Many of the SBD volunteers work with neddies, women’s clubs where basic sewing skills are taught. The women are usually young, perhaps school dropouts, and are learning these skills so that they can get a certificate and – then what? – basically wait for the day they get married. Actually, sad doesn’t fully capture it. I wanted to run screaming into the night (same feeling I would get occasionally when visiting Chicago’s western suburbs). After we left I actually felt a little dizzy, and I told Rose we had to pause and give thanks that we don’t work with neddies. That’s not to say that those volunteers who do work with them aren’t doing rewarding, valuable work. It’s more to say that I think that Azrou is a better fit for me – I had told the Program Assistant that I thought my skill set was more suited to something a little more macro or a group more ready for some more sophisticated marketing or other development, and that’s the type of site I ended up with (and Rose’s site is very much like mine).
Also wanted to make mention of our Marrakesh street-crossing strategy. There are no street lights where the taxis let you off for the Jemaa el-Fna, and there is a big street to cross, with constant traffic. Basically, we pick a Moroccan, wait until he starts to cross, and walk to the leeward side of him. If these (usually skinny) men realize that they are being used as offensive linemen, they don’t acknowledge it – I think they’re too busy trying not to get hit by cars.
Found out at IST that the next SBD (Small Business Development – my sector) PST (Pre-Service Training, or stage, French pronunciation, rhymes with collage) will probably be in Ouarzazate and not in Azrou, as the last two have been. I hope to get involved in training and it would have been easier had I not had to go OOS (out-of-site - these acronyms are cracking me up, and I hope you the same) for it. On the other hand, if I do get a chance to go (I should for GAD – Gender and Development - if nothing else), I do want to see Ouarzazate – “the Hollywood of Morocco.”
I’ll talk about the week in Rabat at some point, but want to list some of the things I am working on and/or worked on during the four days between IST and Rabat:
- GAD entry for PeaceWorks (the Peace Corps Morocco quarterly newsletter)
- VSN “tip sheet” for PeaceWorks (I made the suggestion that we list some “best practices” – last issue was how to be a good sitemate; this issue preventing boredom – and once the suggestion was accepted I said I would work on it – VSN being Volunteer Support Network, of course)
- My own little entry for PeaceWorks (impressions from my weekend at home – modification of what I wrote for this space)
- KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes) – filling in that part of the SBD five-year project plan, from which new training competencies will be developed – we had breakout groups for that at IST and I volunteered to lead the committee working on that – it is a short-term project but is occupying much of this week
- Writing up last week’s Rabat Warden meeting for my warden group
- Writing up last week’s Rabat GAD meeting for my stage
- Sending out GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp fundraising emails – let me know if you didn’t get one and want one, and a big thank-you to those who have already donated.
All of this is over and above my primary project, which I am also starting to get back to now that I’m home for a while – the brochure, web site and catalog for the artisana – and this week I want to get the new tourist questionnaire translated, since I hear that next week the big influx of tourists begins. I also want to work on a monthly report – the program staff changed us to quarterly following IST, but my counterpart asked for one, so I will do one. It’s only Wednesday, but so far the stress relief/exercise program and my language push - my two big summer initiatives - have taken a back seat while I catch up on the committee work and my work work (not to mention washing the floors and doing laundry and opening mail after all that time away). In addition to smiling at the acronyms, I’m smiling at all the Peace Corps “extracurricular activities” I have. I guess it’s just in my nature. As I have said many times, I have not at all been bored or lonely – now I feel almost too busy!
And it’s HOT. Maybe in the 90s Fahrenheit, maybe hotter – and remember, I am in one of the cooler sites. And it’s only the beginning. Now I have more of an appreciation for the downtime in the middle of the day (everyone basically stops working from about noon until about three – or, recently, even later) – I may build a nap into my daily routine. I may also work going out in the evenings into it too – it seems everyone in Azrou goes out for an evening stroll. I am also placing even more emphasis on remaining hydrated – I had my blood chemistry checked when I was in Rabat as long as I was getting a medical consult, and I am in balance, and I want to keep it that way.
I also had some Moroccan cultural experiences! Last Sunday I went to a sb3ur, the party held seven days after a baby is born. The baby being celebrated was a new nephew of Youssef’s, and since I have been over to his family’s house many times I felt more comfortable than I did when I went to the neighbor’s sb3ur back in home stay. This one was also more of a Berber celebration than the party I went to in home stay, where we just had a big, multi-course dinner. As with that one, a sheep was sacrificed, and the men were off somewhere reading the Koran, but I didn’t witness either of those. Here there was also a chicken tagine and watermelon for dessert. Amanda is good at taking the food (sheep) that is put in front of a person (me, for example) and redistributing it if it isn’t getting eaten – I usually try to subtly push it to someone else’s wedge, but she’ll pick it up and move it. What made this party really memorable, though, was the music and dancing after dinner. Way back when in TimHdit, Katie had a party for my host sister – there was some chanting, and then we all took turns dancing with our host mothers or in various other combinations, with the same Berber song playing over and over. At this party, there was the same chant, but they turned off the recorded music and brought out some drums and some trays and some spoons, and everyone made music and danced in turn; my first chance to drum here! The dance consists of wrapping a scarf around your booty and shaking it – when it’s well done it’s quite fun to watch; I’m pathetic at it but I gave it a try. Something to work on while I’m here (could be part of the exercise program!)? It was a delight to watch Amanda dancing too – I feel like a part of the family, but this IS her family – where I will always have some Moroccan culture with me after my experience, she will always have Moroccan culture as part of her life. Her mother and aunt were in for the wedding party, and it was nice to see them too and how proud they are of Amanda. I really felt the love and joy in the room – I feel it when I visit my host family too; there’s love in this country.
And there was love all around on Saturday too, at Amanda and Youssef’s wedding party. I had gone dress shopping with Amanda’s mother and aunt after the baby party, but I was in Rabat so I missed all of the cookie baking, the henna, the wedding-day hammam visit and most of the other preparations. I had also offered to host all of the PCV guests. I have worked on my guest accommodations (ponges, blankets, pillows, towels – though I still fall short in terms of food on hand) and feel I can host three people comfortably – but I had eight or nine people crashing (no other term for it! Note - Amanda had received permission for an exception to the five-people-in-a-site policy). Most of them were environment volunteers so had no problem sleeping on the floor, but I was still a tad stressed about it. Plus I had been in hot taxis on the way back from Rabat. Plus it was hot and I wore the new jellaba I had bought with Amanda and her mother and aunt. So I didn’t last too long at the wedding, which ran all night long and way past sunrise. I was in Wave One for dinner (same yummy chicken tagine, sffa – the cinnamon-and-powdered-sugar pasta, and watermelon – Wave One was at about 10:30 pm, by the way). I had just happened to sit between two tables (near a window) and was honored to be invited to eat at the table with the bride and groom and bride’s mother and aunt, though the other table, with most of the Americans, would have been fun too. While Wave Two ate, we went up to the roof for music but then as soon as I saw the first of the guests I was accommodating look tired, I took that as a cue to leave. When the construction hammering started at 7:00 on Sunday morning, after only a few hours of sleep for me and way less for the people who had stayed much later, I just laughed – no wonder I don’t sleep well! I did sleep well Sunday night, though, once everyone had left. I had been hearing about the wedding party from almost the time I got to site, before I got as friendly with Amanda and Youssef as I now am, and it lived up to the billing. Again, it was a good cultural experience, but more, it was a sharing of love and joy.
P.S. I added a picture of myself in the new jellaba I bought for the wedding. Wonder if I can get any more use out of it?