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!

It's too bad that people's first impression of Tangier is so negative when they arrive at the port - I love its resemblance to San Francisco.
I don't know what the Spanish side is like, but I can imagine that people feel bombarded when they land here - plus Morocco and Tangier just sound so exotic that I think it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy....
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