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!

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