Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I haven’t heard anything about training yet. Which means they don’t need/want me to train the new volunteers on PACA tools, something I had volunteered to present and which I think is being presented this week. I am disappointed but not surprised – after all, I am not a favorite, and I am far from the training site, so it would be expensive to bring me to training, especially for a topic such as PACA that other people know as well as I do. Something makes me wonder if there isn’t also some ageism as well – the SBD Program Manager had said that this new group skewed young, so maybe they want the younger PCVs to do more of the presentations? I still hope to present GAD, since I am on the committee, and have volunteered to do some other trainings, but if I don’t get the opportunity it’s not the end of the world. Of course, I was disappointed in the first place when I heard that the training would not be in Azrou, because I was looking forward to helping out and to meeting the new people!

On Friday I had a glimpse of what the month ahead would be like. There is nothing going on at the artisana – not a lot of work, not a lot of visitors, just a lot of sitting around. I sat around with everyone for a while and somehow the topic turned to food – what cuisines I like, what I like about Moroccan cuisine – and after a while it occurred to me that the reason we were talking about it is because it’s Ramadan so there’s no eating or drinking during daylight hours. Then stop talking about it! I didn’t bring it up. I was there again yesterday and again, food came up – this time, what I can cook. I decided over the weekend that I can make the most of the sitting around by working on the labels for the artisana display tables and cases – where the items are from and any information about the artisans – since the showroom staff isn’t busy with customers, and I can finish the photography. But I can not just sit around! Again, I have told everyone that I am trying to fast – which they really seem to appreciate – and that I think it will be hard for me not to drink water. And that’s as much as I’m going to reveal! People here say it’s good for your health to fast all day – I don’t know about that.

To refresh your memory (or so you don’t have to look up last year’s entries) – during daylight hours in Ramadan, Muslims cannot eat, drink, smoke, have sex, gamble (which they should not anyway), speak ill of someone, wear makeup (last year I didn’t but this year I have so far, but now that I remember that, maybe I won’t; I guess it’s easy enough, and it’s respectful). As the white thread and black thread held up next to each other are indistinguishable (or as the sunset call to prayer is heard), families gather for l’ftur (breakfast – literally, breaking fast) – hard-boiled eggs, bread, dates, figs, acer (a fruit smoothie, basically), harira (complicated chick pea and tomato soup), shebekia (honey-coated twisted pastry/cookies), zmeta (sesame paste – I think) and assorted other goodies (sometimes fish, for example) for variety. Lee described it as Thanksgiving every day. Families will then eat late at night – eleven or so – but last year I told my TimHdit family not to wake me up for that; l’ftur was enough. Around 3:00 in the morning, drums and horns sound around the town so that people can have another meal before sunrise. My TimHdit family did not wake up for this – and I wouldn’t have either. The horns and drums don’t seem to go by my house here – which is kind of a shame, though it means not getting woken up in the middle of the night by them. I have had some l’ftur invitations but don’t feel I need to go out every night – my scrambled eggs will do!

Everything is a little harder in Ramadan, and by the end of the day and the end of the month people get testy. Work hours at the artisana (and at the Peace Corps office) are 9:00 – 3:00, with no break. I have to adjust my routine accordingly, after getting used to spending the middle of the day in my apartment, and I haven’t figured out how I am going to do that yet. I think my current strategy (visit nearly every day, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon) works; I just have to adjust the timing.

Travel is harder during Ramadan too, but I decided to go away for the weekend anyway! This past weekend I went to the Cascades of Ouzoud, the biggest waterfall in Morocco. Along the way I passed a big pipeline and a big dam – this single hydroelectric project provides about 25 percent of Morocco’s electricity. I know, not everyone would have their spirits lifted by a big pipeline and a big dam, but I did. The river going into the dam was pea green and the lake on the other side a Mediterranean blue. The canyon on the river side and the mountains on the lake side were picturesque as well, with red soil and dark green trees. The wonders of nature! And this was before I got to the waterfall!

Which was beautiful. My friend Kellye, an environment volunteer who is on the GAD committee with me, met me in Azilal, her souk/cyber town, and together we went to Ouzoud. It’s a small town with a few buildings and a few hotels. There’s a path lined with tourist stalls, cafes and campsites that only a few weeks ago was extremely crowded (per Kellye) but was for Ramadan extremely quiet (which was kind of nice). The path led to a overlook rock ledge which had benches and trash cans – very impressive (though Kellye told me they just dump the trash on the other side of the town; oh well). Even more impressive was the fact that someone had built a staircase down to the bottom of the falls – lined with more tourist stalls, cafes and campsites. At the bottom were some small boats, one of which is owned by her host dad; he wasn’t there but the friend who was rowed us over to the spray next to the falls. The Maid of the Moroccan Mist, as I dubbed it, was made of wood and decorated with plastic flowers – those also decorate most Moroccan homes.

The real treat was that Kellye had invited me to stay with her in her mud hut. I was prepared to stay in a hotel because I don’t like to impose, but I remember reading that one of the joys of being a Peace Corps Volunteer was visiting other volunteers in their remote villages where the tourists don’t go; this was reinforced for me the day when the second-years came for lunch on their way back from COS conference and gave me a list of “must-see” places to go to before they all COS, and now I want to try to get to them too! Ouzoud is part of her site, but her village is nestled in the mountains a 40-minute hike away. We hiked the rocky, fairly steep, undefined path down to a creek that we crossed (rinsing our feet in the process) and then back up a fairly steep hill – this after going down and up all the steps at the waterfall! She does the hike three or four times a week – or she can also hike out along a dirt road; in the off-season taxis will pick her up at the dirt road but in tourist season they fill up so she hikes to Ouzoud to get a taxi out.

Her site – for security reasons I’ll not name it - is a Berber village with about 100 houses and 700 people – all of whom seem to know Kellye, whose Arabic name is Karima. It was founded around 900 years ago by a descendant of the prophet who came along with his family and some black slaves; to this day there are two distinct families, a white one and a black one. The founder is buried in a Zaoiat, or marabout – a white, domed shrine where people still go to pray for special favors. There are still 12 traditional large grindstones in the town, used for olives, and olive agriculture forms the economy of the town. Kellye is working on a latrine project (half the houses there don’t have any), women’s literacy, and tourism, and next spring may do some tree-planting. It was a treat to see how acquainted she was with the people we passed – I always see people to greet in Azrou but I see way more people who I don’t know than people that I know; that’s one of the differences between a small site vs. a bigger one. Her mud hut was much more well-appointed than I expected – she has one big salon/bucket bath room/kitchen/dining room, a smaller but not tiny bedroom/stuff room, and a bathroom. The mud is solid, if in fact it was mud, and her house is rectangular, not hut-shaped. In other words, it looked like a house interior. The dirt floors she talked about are covered with plastic mats so therefore not too dirty. She has electricity but no running water; last year, when I thought I might not have those I wondered which I would choose if I had to choose one – and I kept coming down on the side of preferring running water and thinking I could live without electricity if I had to. Obviously you make do, and Kellye pays a kid to fetch water with his donkey and is very sparing and resourceful with her water use.

We had l’ftur with her host family, who insisted on teaching me the Berber words for everything; they were really sweet. The next day we hiked out – that is, down the steep hill and back up the steep rocky path, seeing the Cascades ahead in the distance. And then it was a long trip back with two taxis and two buses. I had brought with me “Dreams of Trespass,” by Fatima Mernissi, subtitled Tales of a Harem Girlhood – recommended reading for those who want a flavor of gender roles in Morocco. She did not grow up in the kind of harem with a thousand concubines but in a household in which there were no windows overlooking the street, only the courtyard, open to a little patch of sky, and the women of the house could never leave. While there are no harems per se today, there are still many places where the women cannot leave the house, are not allowed to go to school, and are kept separate from the men. There are new laws for women’s rights here – raising the marriage age, allowing women to initiate divorce, saying that men can take a second wife only if the first wife consents and the like, and one of the things that some of the PCVs do is hold workshops for women so that they can learn about these laws (called the Mudwana), but there is far to go.

On a lighter note, have I mentioned all the baseball hats? Many men wear traditional hats but it seems that the majority wear baseball hats – or maybe I just notice them. The most common seems to be NY. I asked someone about that and they thought it was solidarity for September 11, but it occurred to me recently that those hats may have been bought by Americans out of solidarity for September 11 but that Moroccans bought them from a used clothing souk and may or may not know what NY means. Every so often I see a (White) Sox hat (maybe on the same person), I’ve seen a smattering of Bulls stuff, and once I saw a Blackhawks hat! I seem to see a lot of Michigan gear as well, and Vanderbilt for some reason, and every so often a random P but never an orange and black one. Haven’t seen any Cubs or Red Sox – I guess those fans never donate their old hats to charity! Of the NY, Yankees colors overwhelmingly outweigh Mets colors but both are outweighed by a generic NY. Sometimes women wear baseball hats too – over their veils. They do keep the sun off your face.

Its great that you get to have your own Moroccan Peace Corps experience, in a relatively large town, and still get to experience the remote village Peace Corps experience. I enjoyed reading about it! Be well.
Yes, I think one of the nice things about being in the Peace Corps here is that there are so many different experiences. Not only size of town and creature comforts but language and sector - and, of course, even within my own sector there are so many different artisans with different needs and opportunities - and then there are so many different personalities of the other volunteers here! And yet we all have a bond - not just here in Morocco but one that I also see when I have met volunteers from other countries and other eras - I enjoy this community that I will always be a part of!
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