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?

Great update - the wedding party sounds fantastic -- and if that's not cultural integration - what is!?!?!?

(also, thanks for the mini glossary, sad to say that I practically have it figured out already!)

Have fun!
Well, it was and it wasn't - I mostly spoke English and mostly sat with Americans - though I also saw most of the people I know in the community and talked to them as well!

As for the informal glossary - I am happy that you have figured it out and hope that most readers have - I don't want to be throwing out terms people don't understand!

I found your blog by accident (was googling for something entirely different), but i loved your title -- 27 months without basebal -- as i am a rabid baseball fan myself. when i read some of your blog, i was fascinated, as i too have considered joining the peace corps from time to time. anyway, just wanted to say thank you for sharing your stories on line, and good luck during your journey!

from a kindred traveler-on-the-path,
maia (in san francisco)
Thanks, Maia! Today was a good day so I won't say you made my day, exactly, but you did make it a little more special!
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Someone asked me if I was ever in the Junior Academy of the New York Academy of Sciences. Yes, I was. Quite possibly that volunteering experience - and life experience - was the life-changer that led me here...
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