Thursday, September 13, 2007


A couple of weeks ago I had two meetings that could lead to interesting things. Madeleine brought the weavers of Ben Smim to the artisana along with some of their rugs. They priced the rugs and put them in the showroom, and my counterpart explained the process of becoming a cooperative. Amanda had talked about introducing me to them, but it was hard for me to get the work-related leave for it. However, if they come to Azrou occasionally, I might be able to work with them. And then I met with some exchange students from a school in the U.S. who are here for a couple of months and want to do a service project with artisans. I was encouraging them to create a web site for the weavers in the Azrou artisana, since I have been told that I am not working with them but would still like to help them, but they are thinking about the whole region, and something more theoretical than practical, so we’ll see where it goes. I met with them again last week and will meet with them again next week. I don’t pretend to know how everything here works, but it’s nice to share what I do know with them and to already know the things that they have told me they discovered. It would be nice if whatever they do is something I can use in my work – but it also reinforced for me that the Peace Corps is largely about the little things that then add up.

And last week I finally was in the right place in the right time and had a chance to hear Vin Scully on My intention in getting was to have baseball in the background while I work, write, clean or cook – which is what I do with baseball at home – but for a few minutes I just closed my eyes and savored his voice.

Have you heard of St. Pierre and Miquelon? I hadn’t! When I was doing the French translation of the brochure with my tutor I glanced at my French phrase book, which noted all of the places where French is an official language. There are two islands off the coast of Newfoundland that belong to France. Who knew?

September 7 was Election Day here in Morocco. We were told to stay away from political demonstrations, not to get involved, not to photograph. Over the course of the week several went by – people marching and shouting and bearing placards. I didn’t stop to look or photograph. My host father is a politician and running for office, and my plan was to avoid my host family until after the elections were over. Naturally I ran into my host mother, and she invited me to spend Election Day with them, going between her house and the polling place, but I told her I couldn’t. We’re supposed to be apolitical. Just as well – my host father didn’t win. A while ago I dared to ask my host mother what that would mean, and she said he’d be home with the family more so that would be all right, but it has to be a big change in lifestyle for them. I haven’t been over there yet to visit, but Youssef told me not to bring it up until they do. What may also be of interest is that the Islamists, who in Friday's New York Times seemed poised to gain ground, did not.

According to my calendar, Ramadan began last night, but here in Morocco, it has not. The calendar here is a lunar calendar – meaning it goes by phases of the moon – which I think astronomers have been able to predict for centuries and which certainly now they can predict for centuries to come. So my calendar knows that it was the slightest sliver after the new moon. But here in Morocco the imams must see the sliver and declare it to be Ramadan; maybe it will begin tomorrow. I have told people I will try to fast but that it is hard for me not to drink water. All true – and if I do end up eating or drinking you won’t read about it here. People appreciate the effort, and I do want to be respectful. I have also told the PCVs around me that if they are in Azrou and don’t want to eat or drink in public that they are welcome to come over. I just remember those men sitting in cafes last year, no coffee or tea in front of them, unable to smoke, just staring and waiting for the day to end….

This past weekend I went to Rabat to meet Rose and Janeila. Janeila is on the SIDA (AIDS) committee and had a meeting on Monday and decided to travel early and invited us up. This also coincided with our one year in country (technically a year ago we were in Philadelphia for staging but still, that’s when it all began) so it was a nice celebration. Once again, I want to go to Rabat for tourism and shopping sometime – some other time; this weekend was more about talking and being together. We sat in a park and caught up with Janeila, who we hadn’t seen since IST. We ate some ice cream and walked through the medina to the Kasbah de Oudayas, the area with the blue walls and picturesque doors. We had tea and cookies at the Café Maure, set by the Andalusian gardens overlooking the estuary – a thing to do in all the guidebooks, but expensive. We took a peek at the ocean and then had to go – Rabat was full (you remember the five-person rule, right?) so we were on the log to overnight in Kenitra, a nearby suburb. Wide sidewalks and trees and, sigh, McDonald’s. It took us a while to find a hotel, and the one we found had biting, buzzing mosquitoes, so it was less than wonderful but still nice to be together. While I'm thinking about it, though, I should mention that I was plagued by non-biting but loudly buzzing mosquitoes back in May but that's it - May and Saturday night. I haven't had any bother me all summer in Azrou. Also should mention that Morocco is malaria-free.

Near the artisana I saw someone who looked familiar and we had one of these, "I know I know you from somewhere but it's not here, so where?" moments. He figured it out first - he was the wood artisan at the Essaouaria craft fair who I spent some time (and money) with. He'd told me I was good luck - when I walked into his booth it was empty and as I was there shopping and talking he got a lot of customers. It was nice to see him again!

The next morning Rose wasn’t feeling well, so we stayed in a coffee shop and talked rather than go straight back to Rabat. I will tell you about some of the things I have heard about lately – some but not all apply to Rose, and some but not all are due to harassment. Depression, not wanting to leave the house, anger, fear of leaving the house, panic attacks, so much tension while traveling that it is creating back problems, being followed by cars, stress, chest pains, nausea, having kids taunt and throw rocks, needy and negative sitemates, having a man follow you and make obscene gestures – actually that last one happened to me. When it happened once I was disturbed but the second time I was disgusted. Both times I was on the way to the artisana, which is across from the police station, and I just kept walking – if it happens again I will still keep going, into the police station. Anyway, I feel I’m leaving things out but after a while Rose felt better and we went on to Rabat. We called the PCMO and got permission for me to stay an extra day to accompany her home, and then Rose slept for the rest of the day.

Janeila and I took a walk along the ocean and sat and talked for a while next to the ocean, and then we took a walk along a jetty, and then we went to the Andalusian gardens, which we had not had time for the day before, and sat and talked some more. Then we went in search of what is likely the last Magnum bar of the season – fitting to have my first (at IST) and last with her. We also ran into Lisa, a second-year SBD on the SIDA committee; she took us to a nearby supermarket where I got some Oreos and M&Ms and spices. Rose felt better, so we went to dinner with the people in for SIDA and other volunteers in town for medical – Chinese food, which sounded good in concept but took so long to be served that I don’t think I need to go again. It also isn’t New York Chinese food, needless to say.

On Monday I went to the Peace Corps office and while some had medical and some had SIDA I worked on my brochure (wanted to see how it looked on a PC vs. my apple) and talked with some of the staff, busy getting ready for the new stage. I had a chance to talk about what I’ve been doing (my feeling last week that “it’s not about the brochure” was validated), the blog entry that went out to everyone about relationships with other PCVs (they were surprised to hear that this can be a stress), KSA and training and possible careers after Peace Corps. I felt really happy to be there. I did go to the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) and casually mentioned that I’ve been sick for about three weeks. They didn’t seem concerned or suggest that I be examined right away; they just said to be careful with food and water. I also said that my back was hurting – they suggested I get a longer handle for my squeegee (not sure I have seen any), raise my computer and support my hands (not sure how to do that) and do back stretches that they gave me to photocopy. I also learned about four people ETing – including one from my stage; perhaps more on that when it is official. I’m glad I stayed the extra day, both so I could travel with Rose and because I was happy to see everyone in the Peace Corps office, but I was also very happy to get home.

This week I have spent hours talking with people in the “six-pack” of nearby environment volunteers, who, it turns out, are not one big happy family. Tension had been building up for a while and I think talking about it helped (these active listening techniques can work!) and maybe they now have new strategies for co-existence. At the same time, I have thought more about my relationships with them. With my summer of guests over and Amanda gone, I want to see them more – for lunch or coffee when they are in Azrou, for an occasional hike. I have made it clear that they are welcome but haven’t per se invited them over. So maybe I will have a games weekend during Ramadan. My counterpart told me that we may get as many as five new SBD volunteers in the region at the end of training in November. That may be too many! Or, I could end up with additional interesting, nice, mature, independent, fun, self-aware, positive, enthusiastic, easygoing people around me.

And it’s cold this week. As “spring” went from cold to hot, “fall” seems to have gone from short-sleeve weather to jacket weather without pausing for ¾-length or long sleeves. I actually feel more comfortable here being more covered – I wore short sleeves this summer because it is a liberal site (checked with people first) and because it was hot but I know people who wear long sleeves all the time, and now that I am back to covering up more I realize that maybe I was a tad self-conscious (though still will do the same when it’s hot next summer). Still, I wouldn’t mind a few ¾-length or long-sleeve days before I go to jacket or jellaba full-time. It’s actually good that it cooled down for Ramadan; people won’t be so thirsty. It’s good running weather now, too, so maybe I can step that up (though for Ramadan I won’t take a water bottle with me because I won’t drink in public – so I have to think about it). At least I have been doing some yoga, with a DVD that my sister brought for me.

I also read two mystery novels this week. That’s work too – taking care of ourselves is of utmost importance, and reading is a good de-stressor for me. All right, maybe it wasn’t work, it was fun, but I note that I don’t have that anger and fear that other people have. And more reading is to come; Harry Potter finally arrived yesterday!

Those ham radio enthusiasts among us know St. Pierre and Miquelon quite well!
Is it one of those things you check off on a list? Are there ham radio enthusiasts in Morocco?
>There are two islands off the coast of Newfoundland that belong to France.

I know them well. When I took a ship around Newfoundland a number of years ago, we set sail from these islands. It's some sort of tax law.
Well, I might just have to get there myself some day! In the meantime, I should probably stick to talking about Morocco!
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