Friday, September 14, 2007



How time flies! I arrived in Morocco a year ago this week – almost time for an Annual Report! That, however, will be in the mail, so that people who are not blog readers can hear from me too. For now, though, this will cover mid-June through mid-September.

I came back from IST (In-Service Training) and the mini-vacation that followed it full of energy, enthusiasm, new ideas and renewed appreciation for being here. So both the training and the getaway did what they were supposed to do! I then spent a week in Rabat for a warden meeting (wardens are PCVs who are part of the emergency action plan, should that need to be invoked) and a GAD meeting (Gender and Development). Always good to be in Rabat – it feels so cosmopolitan – and the meetings were a chance to contribute. I returned to go to Amanda and Youssef’s wedding – the social event of the season and a Moroccan experience (though I missed a lot - it went on past dawn!).

And then I dove into a project I had volunteered for at IST – KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes). The Peace Corps is revamping its trainings and competencies and wanted to design them based on the KSA every volunteer needs to be successful; the aspect I worked on was for the Small Business Development Program. What was good about this was that I had a chance to use a strategic part of my brain, to coordinate a team of PCVs, and to influence the direction of the program. What was bad was that it was time-consuming, team members dropped out, and by the end when it was a matter of inputting it into a standard format, it became tedious. That said, I am glad that I worked on it.

And then what followed was a lot of people! When I signed up for the Peace Corps I expected loneliness and isolation. I hoped for a site that was accessible to other places and one where other PCVs would come through. And boy, did they! While at times I was reminded of one of Katie’s sayings, “be careful what you wish for,” (her other is “you get used to it”), I was really glad to be able to host people. First Jong came and stayed with me for two weeks while she worked a camp. While she was at camp I would go to the artisana or do other work (and sometimes she came to the artisana with me) but most of the time, or so it seems, we played Piffle. Piffle is a fast-paced multiple-solitaire (more than two can play) game and if we were doing PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) Daily Routine it would be - wake up/breakfast – piffle – camp/work/lunch – piffle – camp/work/dinner – piffle – sleep. We had some interesting discussions while shuffling and dealing, and also had some walks and enjoyed cooking together (lots of hash browns and scrambled eggs). I wish Jong didn’t live so far away!

Josh and Sabrina then came for a camp. They stayed at the Auberge, but came over almost every night for dinner and conversation. They are both great cooks, and I ate very well that week. And learned to play dominoes! Other guests came for a night or a day on the way to somewhere else – I won’t name names just to name them but I easily had over a dozen guests, and perhaps five evenings to myself in five weeks. I enjoyed everyone’s company – all are welcome! Through it all, I managed to visit the artisans, often bringing my guests with me, talking about new products and production methods. My more substantial work for this quarter was designing and implementing a tourist questionnaire for the artisana and developing a rack card and brochure in English and French. I also worked with a new tutor this summer and feel I have made quite a leap in my language, though I still have a ways to go. I have some other things in the works too (on the work front as well as the personal front) but will wait until they are further along before I write about them. As for “extracurricular activities,” I worked on fundraising for the GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camp and continue to contribute GAD, VSN and personal items to Peace Works, the Morocco PCV newsletter. I also am back to doing Class Notes columns for the Princeton Alumni Weekly this year, and have been getting back into the swing with classmates. And I’ve had some VSN (Volunteer Support Network) sessions with people who needed to talk; I am glad I had the training.

Amanda and Youssef traveled a lot this summer, but when they were here I spent a lot of time with them – exercise walks, cooking and baking and having coffee, getting hennaed, shopping or other errands, going to the hammam, doing “filing” or other work while she used my computer, going to a sbu3r (baby party) for an in-law, officiating at their ring ceremony. Amanda went back to the U.S. at the end of August – I miss her but am grateful to have had not just a sitemate but a friend; I look forward to spending time with Youssef as he waits for his visa, and I do think we will keep in touch. I visited my host family and had lunches and teas with other Moroccan friends and associates. And I read a lot of books this summer! Plus, I finally got the right software and now I can listen to baseball games on, just in time for the pennant races and post-season. There are still not enough hours in the day – returning correspondence and organizing pictures are things I’d like to do more of – again, somehow I thought I would have all this time on my hands, but given my nature, I don’t know what made me think that. I should also mention washing the floors, doing laundry by hand, shopping for food, and cooking – all things that I spend a lot of time on!

I also did a fair amount of travel this summer – I know I won’t see all of Morocco while I am here, or even all of the highlights, but I do like to explore. This quarter saw a mixture of day trips and weekend excursions. The day trips included several trips to Fes, either for some medina shopping or for a café stop after lunch in Sefrou or for the dentist. Journeyed back to Volubilis, the Roman ruins, and also Moulay Idriss, a sacred town built on two hills. Hiked on a forest path in Ifrane – it feels so different from other places I’ve been. Picnicked by a lake near Timhadite (and swam!). Hung out for a day in Ain Leuh, catching some of its Berber music festival. Cedre Gouraud is close to Azrou and has some pretty entertaining (and, given the peanut vendors, overly domesticated) Barbary Apes – good place to bring people who want to make sure they see the monkeys of the Middle Atlas! And on the way back from several of these trips, I went to Marjane, the hypermarche that has things I just can’t get in Azrou; there’s always some treat there.

There were some long holiday weekends this summer – the heat and the crowds made travel even more stressful than it is during the rest of the year – but having the extra days allowed for travel to destinations farther than I can get to with just one overnight and/or destinations that warranted more than one day (well, they all do, but I do what I can). I went to spots that some consider magical and enjoyed traveling with friends and meeting new fellow PCVs. Chefchouan is indeed charming and known for its bluewashed walls and Rif mountain setting. It was a nice place to just be, and to walk through the medina, photographing doors in various shades of blue. The picture is from there – Berber women in the Rif wear these colorful cloths around their waists; they can also be used in bread baskets or as table décor. Tangier was exotic and yet to me not mysterious – somehow a combination of welcoming, for those coming to Africa, and yearning, with Europe so close it feels as though you could touch it if you had a longer reach. Asilah a small oceanfront artist’s colony with murals on the walls and a nightly ritual of sunset-watching. Essaouaria many people’s favorite Atlantic town, a fishing village that is attractive for its Gnaoua music, its shopping (I bought straw baskets from artisans who a fellow PCV works with, as well as some of its famed wood products), its Portuguese ramparts and cannon, its seagulls, its beach and its wind. That last one might have been too much for me, and I came home exhausted and sick and still don’t feel 100 percent.

Yet I am up for September weekend travel! Last weekend I met Rose and Janeila in Rabat – it just happened to be the anniversary of our staging in Philadelphia prior to boarding the plane to come here, so it was nice to both catch up and to reflect, to walk by the ocean and in the Kasbah. As a bonus, I visited Peace Corps headquarters and had a chance to talk to people there. And now I am off to the Cascades of Ouzoud, the biggest waterfall in Morocco. Summer was hot here in Azrou and people were inside for hours during the day, coming out at night for shopping or a promenade around town. Now, just as things were getting into a summer’s-over-back-to-work frame of mind, Ramadan is beginning – that month brings its own routine. I was in training last year during Ramadan, so it will be interesting to experience Ramadan in my site. The new SBD and YD trainees just arrived in Morocco this week; when the Health and Environment trainees arrived in the spring we weren’t the newest volunteers anymore, and now we aren’t even the newest SBD and YD. Soon we’ll be the oldest – when this stage swears in at the end of November, the second-years will be leaving. It goes so quickly!

Hi Sharon,

Gald you've reached the one-year mark in such good spirits! Clearly, you're making the most of this life-changing opportunity. I know you'll make many more strides in the times ahead. Plus, it's been great to learn about Morocco and the Peace Corps experience through you. Your writing is so descriptive!

Warm wishes,
Thanks! I was just thinking of you the other day - I was looking in a pocket of my wallet that I never use and came across the receipt for the paddle boats at the Lincoln Park Zoo. What a fun day that was! Morocco has a bunch of storks' nests, which are good luck, and I think of the one we saw that day and still laugh as I wonder what the storks tell their babies when they ask where they come from.
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