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!

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