Saturday, October 27, 2007
On with the vacation description! After a leisurely riad breakfast, we headed for the Museum of Archaeology. Most of the museums in Morocco have been so-so – this was the best I have been to – a good collection, nicely displayed. Most of the contents were taken from Volubilis – amazing what those Romans were able to create, and what was preserved. What made it special, though, was the tour guide who took us through the room of marble sculpture and the room of bronzes. Even though he spoke in French, we understood him. He was particularly proud of the sculpture of the Berber youth, pointing out its nose – and then we realized the tour guide had the same nose! Also gave us a lesson on the Roman gods. Meanwhile, the items themselves were also impressive. This one was worth it. We then went to lunch at “Toast,” not its name but that’s what all the volunteers call it – for GAD or any other gathering in Rabat, people usually congregate there for breakfast (it’s around the corner from the hotel where PCVs usually stay) and order that item off the menu.
Then we went to the Chellah - after which the Hotel Chellah, our first stop in Rabat as trainees last September and where I stayed for the warden meeting, is named. It’s a fortress-like place with some old Roman ruins (Sala Colonia was the original settlement in those days) and then I want to say a Merenid necropolis, or maybe Saadian – I could look it up for anyone tracking the Moroccan dynasties. Going into any casbah or walled place, you don’t know what you will find on the other side – this was unexpectedly tranquil, and interesting with Muslim ruins atop Roman ones, and a nice garden and view across the river and valley. Another good stop.
On to the pottery cooperatives in Sale, Rabat’s sister city. Sale is one of the pottery centers of Morocco but its clay is not as good as that of Fes – and I think the Fes designs are better too. There were lots of stores, some with working potters in the back, but no raw clay as I’d seen at the Fes potteries, so some of the preliminary steps must take place elsewhere. I’m glad we went – it was interesting – and it made me want to buy more Fes pottery before I leave! Our last stop for the day (this is all Day 2!) was the Jardin Exotiques, one of those places that looked interesting in the book and is hard to get to without a car, so it was an opportunity to take advantage of having a car. A nice international botanical garden, with numbered paths to follow (though we did not), rope bridges and the like. Martha and Susan had stopped in Paris on the way to Rabat and had Moroccan food – so for dinner that night we went to a French restaurant in Morocco! It was magnifique.
The next day was my most disappointing, because I had misjudged how long it would take to get from here to there and we didn’t get to everything on the list (not that we got to everything on the list in any place, but had I known I might have skipped the first stops to make sure we’d see the last ones – though perhaps my traveling partners would have prioritized differently, now that I think about it). First, the Musee Belghazi, a family’s private collection – crafts and artisanal items, again one of the better museums I have seen here. Then we stopped at a lake where over 200 species of migrating birds stop – we had actually looked for it near dusk the day before, a better time for birds, but didn’t get to it – saw some birds but not an overwhelming number. Still, it was a nice spot. There’s another lake nearby which is another birder’s paradise; I may go this winter to see the flamingoes. It was an option on this day too but we pressed on. To Larache – another one of those Atlantic seacoast towns, where we had lunch. Larache’s claim to fame is nearby Lixus, with Roman ruins – much smaller than and not as elaborate as Volubilis but something that sounded interesting based on other PCV descriptions and photos. I may have to go back for that one too – we drove by, saw what we could from the bottom of the hill (the interesting photos I had seen involved climbing it) and pressed on. Took the road to the Neolithic stone circle…I had gotten a description from a PCV who went and had read about it in two books, all of which gave me the impression that it wasn’t TOO far from the turnoff. We kept driving and driving and it was more important that they see some of Asilah, so we finally decided to turn around, having no idea how close we were. This I would like to go back to but I don’t know if I will – so many other places to go…. Asilah was, of course, worth it – still delightful, colorful, compact, clean, charming. I had spied a Berber ring there last time and had some non-buyer’s remorse – it was still there! Non-buyer’s remorse taken care of. Susan shopped for shoes and got a lesson in bargaining. We walked around the medina and once again went to the ocean to look for the sunset (both here and in Rabat a little too cloudy). Then it was on to Tangier! So – flamingo lake for another day, Lixus and the stone circle maybe for another time, and not enough time in Asilah, but as I look over what I just wrote, it was a good day.
Our Tangier hotel, the El Minzah, was one I knew Martha would like the moment I stepped in there with Rose in August, ostensibly to scope it out but in reality to use the facilities. Luxury and elegance. Where the spies used to stay and now the celebrities do. The restaurant in the hotel is supposed to be one of the best in Morocco, and we ate there two nights in a row – couscous with chicken, carmelized onions and raisins, and pastilla, a sweet/savory pastry, phyllo-like dough filled with chicken and ground nuts. As for our day in Tangier itself – first we went to St. Andrew’s Church, as Rose and I had done first. This time was different – as happened last time, we met Mustapha, the caretaker. But between then and now, I had read Michael Palin’s “Sahara,” chronicling his travel documentary; he too had met Mustapha, who has worked there for 45 years. So that made us one degree of separation from a Python! Also, it was interesting being in the church with Youssef – I am not sure he had been in one before. We went on to the medina, where we did more shopping; no museums and no casbah this trip. Instead, we took advantage of that car again and drove to Cap Spartel, the northwest point of Africa – so now I have been to the northwest point and the southwest point, the Cape of Good Hope. We also went to the Grottoes of Hercules, with their much-photographed (so we did it too) outline of the shape of the continent of Africa – got there just at the time the tour book recommended, late afternoon. On the way there we spied some camels – definitely not native to the area – and on the way back we stopped and Martha and I did camel rides! I thought we wouldn’t get the chance, since we weren’t going to the desert! I must say, it was quite a thrill! Yes, I do get thrilled easily sometimes – but it was nice to be by the ocean on a ship of the desert, and to lend even more surrealism to it, the person leading us around was text-messaging the entire time.
On the way back into town, we stopped by the Phoenician tombs – these weren’t in any book, but Rose, Rachel and I happened upon them last time. Rectangular holes in a rocky outcropping – Rose knew they had to be graves and the El Minzah hotel map finally told us what they were. The site was also a beautiful place from which to see Spain and Tangier – a nice stop. Our next destination was the El Minzah spa! We had massages in mind but what I really needed, perhaps more, was a pedicure. Morocco’s summer is tough on the feet. Turned out there were no available massages; pedicures meant to be, Martha and I both had our feet done and had a chance to talk (wouldn’t have with massages) and Susan took a long bath in the suite. I had my chance for a bath there too! I’m really okay without a bathtub but whenever I see one I try to partake now!
Wednesday was the day I thought would involve a lot of driving (turns out that Monday did too…). First, we went to Tetouan, which I had not visited before. This is supposed to be the most Andalusian of the Moroccan cities, with Spanish architecture, tiles and balconies, and the Ville Nouvelle was indeed delightful to stroll. First, though, we went to the Artisana – Morocco’s first. The showroom was nice – maybe a little bigger than Azrou’s and more brightly lit, though I think the variety of items in Azrou is about the same if not even better. We visited some of the working artisans – a leather cooperative, where Martha helped to sew stitching on to something and we got some leather boxes, and a men’s weaving cooperative. The looms men in Morocco use are completely different from the ones women use (horizontal rather than vertical) – as are the resulting weavings – here, finer threads, resulting in blankets and Rif-style sleeveless outerwear. The scarf place we visited in Fes had the same kind of looms, used by men, and the red-and-white striped bread cloths that Rif women wear around their waists are also woven by men. I’ll have to find out why. We then went on to the Tetouan medina, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We walked through the food stalls – pretty amazing when you first see them (for example, chickens so fresh they are still alive). I took pictures from waist level, surreptitiously, and amazingly, some of them came out. It was a nice but short visit, and I hope to get back to Tetouan for a weekend sometime – it’s far but doable from Azrou.
On to Chefchouaen! Not that one couldn’t spend a weekend there, as I did, but a couple of hours was good too, and even though it never felt crowded when we were there in the summer, it was nice to feel we had it to ourselves last week. Still a beautiful city in a stunning mountain setting, with its blue and its doors. We walked to the spring, where we watched the women washing their things in concrete basins fed by the source, and then we walked down the hill along the stream (which I had not done last visit) – a beautiful walk. The drive to Azrou (the anticipated long drive of the trip) was somewhat stressful due to thunderstorms and some mini-landslides (or whatever you would call dirt and rocks washed over the road), but we made it home and had (thanks to Youssef’s language skills with ordering, because I wouldn’t know how to do it, but it might be a good thing to learn) take-out from the rotisserie chicken place! It hit the spot.
I’m about halfway through with my trip recap– so, once again, to be continued, most likely when I return from Rabat! In the meantime, I had a fun day with Kellye today, going to the artisana and the carpet shops of Azrou, after a nice coffee with Youssef this morning; first time I have seen him since the trip! I mentioned missing Martha and Susan but I had missed him too! And I called my niece Valerie for her birthday, another highlight of the day - talk about people I miss!
Friday, October 26, 2007
This has been something of a lost week. On Monday, I didn’t have a lot of energy. I ascribed that to having had a wonderful time with my friends and feeling blue now that they were gone. I went to the post office and to the artisana, where I got an update on last Friday’s meeting. The sewing cooperative is going to think about things for two weeks – whether they want to remain a cooperative and who wants to stay in, who wants to leave, and how they are going to choose from among the other people interested in joining, since they have no idea of their skills. While I was there, I witnessed a heated discussion between the head of the weaving cooperative and my counterpart. She claimed that his computer (which the Ain Leuh volunteer had secured for Ain Leuh but gave to my counterpart because they had more than enough) should really go to the cooperative. This computer came from the same grant I had filled out with the weaving cooperative in the spring, but there was a big fight between the women and my counterpart over who would pay for the faxing (I was going to just do it but he ordered me not to – and to help people help themselves they really should have, but they didn’t want to spend the money), and in the end it didn’t get faxed in so Azrou never received any computers. I said I would look to see whether there were other open computer grants, and I suggested that my counterpart give them the computer anyway, since it is old and of minimal to no use to him but maybe they could use it for simple accounting. Anyway, after that I told him I didn’t feel well and I went home and read one of the mystery novels that my friends had brought for me.
Turned out it was more than the blues – I woke up Tuesday feeling all achey and congested. Went out to meet Deanedra, who had a blanket from Ait Hamza for me and I a metal bird from Azrou for her (I had not had time to get it before I went to her site); I helped her carry her bags from one taxi stand to the other and then went home and rested – I thought I would get back out but didn’t make it. Did some email and some reading and fought off napping and finally went to bed at nine.
Woke up on Wednesday and finally decided to take my temperature – 100 degrees – and take some ibuprofen. The congestion seems to have been kept at bay with Herbal Resistance Liquid (brought from home, not in the medical kit!) but then chills and some Big D reinforced that I wasn’t going out. Madeleine came over in the morning – she had spent the night with host family members in Azrou and wanted to have breakfast and hang out. I was out of it but that seemed all right with her. She’s in charge of next year’s GLOW camp so I got an update on that. With the extra money raised this year (thanks in large part to you out there!), they are doing two new initiatives this fall. One is providing seed money to some of the GLOW campers from last year who have worked on business plans and have viable ideas. The other is a women’s camp, with people from the same villages, teaching them about cooperatives and other business practices. I’ll have visitors the weekend of that camp so I won’t be able to help out, but it sounds as though everything is set anyway. Next summer’s girls’ camp is already funded, by the U.S. Embassy, though we/they may be raising more as the budget is finalized. Next year’s camp will be only for girls who are not in school, either because they dropped out or because they got their certificate and are now in their villages doing nothing; this year there was a mix of girls in school and girls out of school and they had different needs. Each year the camp evolves and each year more and more is done by the Moroccans – just the sustainability Peace Corps is looking for in its projects. I don’t know how involved I’ll be in next year’s camp - it sounds together already – but if there’s a role for me you will be hearing more about it. I slept most of Wednesday afternoon, though my temperature was even higher after that, and at night had an informal VSN session with someone who is having a hard time, so even though I didn’t go out I did interact with people.
Yesterday morning I woke up to find my apartment flooded. In the “timing is everything” category, I had noticed when doing laundry on Monday that the drain on my laundry balcony/roof was clogged; it had always been slow. Wednesday my landlord came up just to see how I was doing and I told him about it and he said he’d have the plumber come Friday morning. It started to rain Wednesday evening and I guess it rained the inch or so that is the height between the balcony and the door – water had filled the balcony and had seeped under the door near the sink area and even into the zen room. Luckily I had taken my laundry off the line before it started to rain! Going to bed at 9:00 again on Wednesday night helped my fever break and I thought I might go to the artisana. Then a combination of cold rain and more Big D convinced me otherwise, but at least I had the energy to do some work on the web site. At least my apartment didn’t flood further despite the continuing rain. And I made some progress on the web site until the internet conked out (presumably due to the rain).
I feel as though I’ve been shivering all week. Part of that could be my fever, but I think that winter has come, to my apartment if not to the outside. When I moved in last year I chose not to get a wood stove because I thought winter was almost over (and I feel uncomfortable about contributing to deforestation in that way). However, here it is the end of October and I am already wearing multiple layers and shivering – I may have to rethink. I wore my jellaba this week – first time since the spring – and got a lot of compliments. People do like it when I wear it. I thought it was too hot to wear one this summer, but seeing people so pleased makes me think I should look for a summer-weight one for next year.
Last night I went to bed at a more reasonable hour and had a more typical not-sleeping-well night; today I felt well enough to go out and it was such a treat! I went to the Artisana and to Maroc Telecom to pay my bill and to the post office and to a teleboutique to get double-recharge phone cards and to get bananas and rice (still BRATTing) and other vegetables (in the hopes that I’ll be eating other things tomorrow). Madeleine came over to shower, and then, flood gone, I washed the floors, and as I was doing that the plumber came to unclog the drain. Later I’ll have the IM session with Jong that has been postponed every day this week for one reason for another. Tomorrow Kellye from near Ouzoud is coming to visit, and then on Sunday we’ll go to Rabat for GAD, back on Wednesday night. No Halloween celebration, but I was never big on it as an adult anyway.
I do want to talk about my vacation though – I’ll start here and then finish in another entry. It’s funny – seeing Martha and Susan, it felt as though no time had passed, that I had seen them recently enough and kept in touch enough. There’s still no substitute for talking in person though, and it was really nice to spend the week together. Now that they’re gone though, I miss them and it feels as though it will be a long time before I see them again. Maybe it feels different because I don’t know where I’m coming back to and what I will be doing, because I anticipate culture shock upon my return and still have work to do on myself so that when I return I can retain some of the simplicity of my life here and still somehow manage to fit into the pace of life back in the states. I’ll get more into that as the time to move on gets nearer – but it was interesting to calculate and realize that October 19 was the halfway point of my service, counting from the first day in Philadelphia to our expected COS date of November 30. Nice to celebrate that milestone with a key member of the support team! And now I am officially in the second half of my service!
We had a reasonable itinerary, covering a northern route – meaning we left a lot undone, but I think that even in two years I will leave a lot undone; there’s so much to do and see in Morocco. It was great too that we had Youssef as our driver – when he moves out to Southern California now he will know two more people. We started in Rabat – Youssef and I got there early and scoped out lunch places in case they arrived hungry, and also located the hotel. Martha and Susan arrived ready to skip lunch, drop off the luggage and start touring! Finally a chance to see some of the tourist sites of Rabat – but not shop. Saturday was l-Eid, the end of Ramadan; that made eating easier but meant that the shops in the medina were closed all weekend. By the end of the trip there had been plenty of shopping and a you’ve-seen-one-medina-you’ve-seen-them-all attitude, but of course each one is a little different too, and I still feel I have Rabat shopping to do.
We went to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, one of the finest pieces of craftsmanship in the country (stucco, wood, brass, tile, marble), and the Tour Hassan, an unfinished tower (when the sultan at the time died, the capital moved, and the tower never reached its full height) of the ruined big mosque (destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake). Youssef had his picture taken with one of the Royal Guards; his father had been one, but he had no pictures of his father in that uniform, so now he has one to show his grandchildren. Then we went to the Casbah Oudayas, with the streets of bluewashed walls and interesting doors. I was hoping we’d have time for a welcome tea at the touristy but picturesque Café Maure that Rose, Janeila and I had been to, but it had just closed. We walked over to the ocean view to look for the setting sun (of course sunsets on the ocean are no big deal to them but still a destination for me), and then walked back to our hotel, the Riad Oudaya. Set in the medina (as opposed to in the Casbah Oudayas, where its sister riad is and where we had originally looked for it), riads are former homes that usually look unassuming from the outside but can be lavish on the inside, with courtyard gardens. The picture is of the courtyard, from the doorway to our room. Martha likes to stay in Four Seasons-type places, so I gave her luxury hotel and riad options in every stop, and they were glad they tried the riads – very nice accommodations, and true Moroccan experiences. Our book listed the Riad Oudaya dinner as one for true foodies, and we had a good dinner there. Our suite was fun – two rooms, mine with a twin bed and a crib (so I invited my homeys to hang with me in the crib). A bit of Boggle ensued. Despite the jet lag, we had a full afternoon and evening!
To be continued…
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Martha, whose new Arabic name as of today is Raisa, or president, and Susan, whose Arabic name is Fassia, because someone in Fes told her she had the face of someone from Fes, and I had a wonderful vacation! I will write more about it after I catch up (on things Peace Corps and Azrou, email and mail, laundry and sleep) but for now, the trip in haiku. Martha and Susan wrote some too, and I encourage them to add theirs to the comment section. The picture was taken in the Azrou artisana – since Azrou is known for its monkeys, one of the products that the woodcarvers make is the familiar “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
The first stop in Morocco
Welcome to Rabat
Tour Hassan old mosque
Destroyed in Lisbon earthquake
Horses, royal guards
Mohammed the Fifth
Mausoleum all grandeur
Hassan second too
Come to the Kasbah
Blue walls and doors for photos
Berber nose on the bronzes
Also the tour guide
Chellah – tranquil place
Tombs, storks’ nests, old mosque, garden
Graffiti by Ted
Toast, the restaurant
Frequented by PCVs
But no toast at lunch
Photo – man and his portrait
Lake, migrating birds
Lixus ruins a drive-by
Stone circle too far
Asilah – the charm
A walk, shopping and sunset
My ring was still there
El Minzah hotel
Couscous and belly-dancing
A big bathtub too
Shoes and plates and necklaces
And Phoenician tombs
Point, Grottoes of Hercules
Did a camel ride
One pedicured foot
Says, “hey bro” to the other
Tetouan Spanish flavor
Medina UNESCO site
Pix without looking
A quiet walk, a magic town
Oh, look at the peaks!
When the sun sets it’s quite dark
Chicken, rice and fries
Come and see my home
Introduction to Azrou
Pastry and coffee
Roman ruins next
Volubilis a must-see
After reading blog
Person, place and thing
All three at once – a new game
Called “Sixty Questions”
Meknes a quick look
Moulay Ismail not nice
Let us not stay here
Marjane – Magnum bars!
Stuffed peppers, chilaquiles
Halfway through Peace Corps service
Hammam the highlight
Ghassouls, olive soap and steam
This is not a spa
Walk in the medina too
Carpet shop and tea
A couscous Friday
Driver, guide and friend Youssef
A sweet family
To see the monkeys
While I was in the meeting
Pretty much same thing
Sunset from the roof
Farewell Azrou, on to Fes
Fat bread Immouzer
Dar Roumana Fes
Gourmet food, champagne, music
Underneath the stars
Fes El-Jdid – gold!
Good to be the King
Then old medina
Long walk just scratched the surface
Reason to come back
Vacation feel as well as
Showing off my home
Now it’s time to part
We have pix and memories
Preserved in haiku
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Tuesday night was the Night of Power here in Morocco – it celebrates the day that the Koran was handed down from Allah and then later revealed to the Prophet Muhammad little by little. There was a festive mood in town as people prepared to stay awake all night, going to and from the mosque to pray (and home to eat). Muslims are required to read the Koran in its entirety during Ramadan, and this is the night to finish it (they also read it at least once during the year). Nobody knows exactly when the Night of Power is – it’s an odd day of the last week of the lunar month. It could be the 23rd, or the 25th, or the 27th, or the 29th. This year it was the 27th. What I remember most from TimHdit is the incense around the house to purify it – so I lit some incense to purify my house too – and especially that on this night, at an unspecified hour, the skies open up and wishes go directly to Allah. Since Allah is the same One God of Judeo-Christianity, I thought I would make some wishes too in the hope that the unspecified hour was one of the times I was walking around outside or gazing at the sky from the roof. I rarely forego opportunities to make wishes!
I read about Sunday’s Chicago Marathon and how hot (85 degrees) and humid (bzef) it was – conditions were so extreme that they closed the course for anyone who didn’t make it to the halfway point by late morning. Once again I felt thankful for the perfect conditions when I ran it ten years ago. I have always wanted to do another (still thinking about Marrakesh, but for a while have had in mind that the half-marathon might be more realistic) but when I realize how rare it is to have perfect conditions, I sometimes wonder if I should stop at one. In a way that relates to my Peace Corps experience. I could see myself doing this again at some point in my life – in another country or under other circumstances – but, as with the marathon, the conditions here are so perfect that I could see stopping at one. This is such a friendly country, with such delicious food (I do not take for granted the fresh fruits and vegetables!), and I have a beautiful site, a creature-comfort-filled home, and a job helping artisans working on traditional crafts. How could I have another experience that measures up to that?
A little sadness though – the houses under construction across from me lifted a load of bricks on top of the structure – so what I hoped was going to be the top level (over which I could still see the mountains beyond) appears to be getting some additional height (although since they moved the bricks up to the top they haven’t done anything, and if they build a low roof wall I may still have a view). This hard-working construction crew is still working seven days a week, but they seem to have reduced Ramadan hours. When they are finally finished, I want to send them to the shell of the museum next to the Artisana; after my memo on Artisana improvements they (coincidentally) took down the fence and then they replaced the fence – I thought that was the beginning of resuming work on it but still I have not seen anyone work on it since I got here last September.
This has been a good week work-wise. A couple of weeks ago I decided that even though I am not finished with the writing and photography of the web site/catalog, I wanted to start construction of the web site. I thought I would use fellow PCV as a consultant – timing is everything, because as I was requesting help from her via e-mail I learned that she was ETing. She helped me get going and says she’ll continue to consult when she returns home (very nice of her). I would have loved to have had her come for a day or more to give me a hands-on tutorial; the tutorial on the web was frustrating me. In fact, the whole thing was frustrating me; I thought that the web site she recommended was supposed to be user-friendly. Anyway, I put it aside last week to work on the Annual Report and other things, and then over the weekend decided to take a fresh look. And it all came together. I found a template that worked with the look I wanted to achieve and have started to populate it with copy and photography. I went to the carpet cooperative and photographed a lot of their current inventory (now minus a purple rug that I have been thinking about buying for months – someone bought it!). And I started to photograph things in the showroom. I have now gone from frustration to enjoying putting it together and have been thinking about how to enhance it once I upload the initial information on the Azrou artisana and the artisans I work with. It’s still in the early stages – and I didn’t get as far as I wanted to this week because my internet was down during a block of time in which I had planned to add things – but I have put a link on the blog navigation bar (already noticed by Debbie! See comments of previous post) and I’ll list it here as well – www.freewebs.com/azrouartisana. Again, it’s just getting started, so check back every so often if you like.
I also brought some new product ideas to the artisans. My sister had brought an incense holder and some incense (I think for yoga purposes?) when she was here in March. The incense holder is a curved piece of wood with a hole for inserting the incense stick at an angle and a well for the ashes; simple enough. One of the Games Weekend guests mentioned that she wanted one, so I showed the wood carvers. I wouldn’t have thought of it as a new product idea had the guest not mentioned it, but when I thought about it, I see incense for sale at souk but never an incense holder! They all seemed to really like the idea. And I brought my Damascene bracelet and ring to show my counterpart, so that maybe we could get that artisan’s products into the showroom, but also to the metal worker, to encourage him to make jewelry – even without the silver filigree, people might like metal jewelry! Again, those are small things that may add up to something, but it made for a good day at “the office.”
Yesterday, the visiting professor at Al Akhawayn and his students stopped by to say goodbye. They’re still here for a couple of weeks but will be working on their final report and will probably not come back to Azrou; the professor will be back next year with a new group of students and a new project. It has been fun working with them. As he said goodbye to the women’s weaving cooperative, they mentioned their interest in having a web site – first time they had mentioned it since I presented the idea to them. I wasn’t sure they really wanted it! At the same time, I remembered why I am working on this – because the Director of the Artisana at the time had requested it when the Program Assistant was here for site visit. So no more wondering whether this is really helping the artisans – by definition I am helping because this is what they asked me to work on!
The ladies told him that I wasn’t doing anything – while I was standing there and listening. They have mentioned this before, also in front of me – yet when I have tried to help them they have been an UNcooperative (for example, not willing to spend the money to fax in a grant application after we filled it out). My counterpart had told his boss that he and I were not going to work with them, and this is a good illustration of why. Anyway, to balance that out, today I was told that I was put on a list of VSN volunteers particularly skilled in active listening, so that I can potentially be a part of a new “Volunteer Resiliency” initiative. More on that if/when I get involved in it.
And with Ramadan still meaning closed cafes, I saw more of the Environment volunteers this week. Josh, the SNAG (sensitive new-age guy) who is their stage’s GAD representative, comes over every so often for coffee and we always have a lot to talk about; I really enjoy his visits. And then Chris and Alicia wanted to tutor at my house; they had been tutoring at the park but it started to get windy and rainy. It was nice to see them too and nice to host. I have given up tutoring for Ramadan, since it’s hard to concentrate when hungry and the cafes aren’t open (and one-on-one, having a single Moroccan man over might cause unneeded gossip, so I won’t tutor at home) and I realize that I miss it, and also that I do spend a lot of time on it. I don’t have a lot of structure to my days or weeks but without tutoring they seem way more unstructured, to my surprise. One thing I learned this Ramadan that I somehow missed last year is that you begin lftur with a date (or a fig) – something natural. I think I reached for the shebekia first all the time last year and nobody mentioned it to me!
Another reason for the festiveness of the Night of Power is that it is close to the end of Ramadan and people can start looking forward to l-Eid Sgir, the little holiday (as opposed to l-Eid Kbir, the big holiday). Depending on whether this lunar month has 30 or 31 days, that will be either Saturday or Sunday (again, I can look at my calendar and it lists the day, but here in Morocco the imams must look at the moon and make a declaration). In TimHdit, everyone woke up early and had rice with milk and visited each other and had cookies and tea. I won’t find out what happens here because on Saturday I will be on the way to Rabat to pick up my next visitors! Martha and Susan are coming for a week (also visiting France on the way and on the way back). We’ll go to Rabat, Lixus (Roman ruins on the Atlantic Coast), maybe a Neolithic stone circle (described by a fellow PCV as cool if you’re into Neolithic stone circles – reason enough for me to want to go; I mean, when you put it that way, who isn’t into Neolithic stone circles?) Asilah, Tangier, maybe Tetouan, Chefchouaen, Azrou, maybe Meknes, Volubilis, and Fes (the maybes will depend on how leisurely or ambitious we want to be). We may not be seeing anything south of Azrou, but if you look at a map it’s a very reasonable itinerary with no really long travel days, and we’ll see three of the four imperial cities, coastal towns on the Atlantic, the Straits of Gibraltar and maybe the Mediterrranean, mountain towns in the Rif and the Middle Atlas, places of different sizes and characters, beauty of both the built and the natural, history and modernity, and my site(!), and we’ll have plenty of shopping and dining opportunities, so it’ll be a good taste of Morocco. Even more fun, Youssef is going to be our driver and guide, so we will be worry-free for the week. It’ll be good to see friends, nice to travel in style, and great to relax and be on vacation (though I have a meeting while in Azrou so it isn’t all play and no work – and even on vacation here I’m working, on Goal #2, sharing American culture with other peoples, and Goal #3, sharing the culture of other peoples with Americans). I’ll write again when I’m back and settled!
Sunday, October 07, 2007
I usually read the New Yorker when I am in a grand taxi – I can look around and appreciate the scenery and also absorb what I’m reading – and the irony was not lost on me when I found myself reading the Food Issue this weekend. Just the thing for Ramadan, descriptions of exotic foods and marvelous eating experiences. Even more ironic was that one of the articles I read yesterday concerned fasting spas. People here tell me that the fasting during the day is good for your health; there are religious people here who fast two days a week year-round. And there are extra fast days that my host mother observes – I think it may put you on the fast track to heaven. But I have also heard that people gain weight in Ramadan because they chow down at night. All I know is that for the past week I have had a persistent headache. I do enjoy the lfturs that I have been to, but I won’t be sorry when Ramadan ends. It occurred to me this week how much time I spend at cafes here – having a ns-ns (half coffee, half milk) or a juice (fresh-squeezed orange in season, or a banana smoothie anytime), and I even miss the mid-afternoon tea that I have when I stop by to visit people. That routine will start again soon!
Yesterday I went to Meknes, which I have been saying warrants further exploration. Sabrina came to meet me there – she spent a lot of time with the person who ETed this week, Julia. Julia ETed because of harassment. She had a tough site – had her phone stolen three or four times and some grabbing – but she also had some grabbing here in PST and in her CBT as well. I feel sad that that’s why she’s leaving – they had offered her a site change but she didn’t want to start over. She just decided it was time to do something else. Mid-service medicals – the next time we’re together as a group – is the first week in December. I wonder if more people will leave between now and then? YD recently lost two people as well. On the medical front – we just got a notice about flu shots, which will be given regionally. Here I thought we had had the last of the shots at IST but no, there’s another one (I wonder if I will get one next year or if that is so close to when we go home that they will assume we will go right home and get one? I don’t want to think about insurance and all that yet, but I seem to recall that there’s COBRA-like coverage available…).
No, not quite ready to think that far ahead, though filling out my Annual Report this week did allow for some perspective. In a way I feel good about what I’ve done so far, but I guess my overriding feeling when I filled it out was one of ennui. I want to be inspired, motivated, enthusiastic about what I’m doing, and I feel that way with my little victories such as labeling the artisana, but when I look at the big picture and put it in writing, I am somewhat disillusioned. I still have more than a year to accomplish something I feel proud of, and I do have ideas, but I also think I could easily find myself saying the same thing when I fill out next year’s Annual Report. I know I’m not the only person here feeling this way, and in a way that makes me feel better, but in another way I think back to the book “Keeping Kennedy’s Promise” that I read months ago – the program is flawed if the people who really do something meaningful are in the minority. What would it take for me to feel better? Maybe it’s another little victory – or something as simple as not having a headache. Maybe it’s making some progress on the web site, but more than that, finding someone here who would be interested in working on it; after all, it’s all about sustainability. Maybe it would take an invitation to training or some other recognition of the work that I am doing. Or maybe I have to spend more time actually working with artisans.
Have had some language ups and downs this week too. At the early-Ramadan lfturs, my hosts weren’t watching the Ramadan TV programming that was such a part of last year’s cultural integration, but this past week they were. Last year I felt happy when I picked out words. This year I can pick out many more words – in some cases even the majority of what someone is saying – but I still don’t really know what’s going on. By next year will I actually be able to follow a TV show? I was hanging out with the ladies at the artisana on Friday while the men were all at prayer. Again, I could understand most of the words they were saying but when they asked me if I knew what they were talking about all I could say was swiya (a little). They laughed, not necessarily at me, but I just don’t find that motivating. So I started thinking that maybe I had given it as much energy as I was going to and that I could just get by for the rest of my service; after all, I can get by. But then I went to Abdu’s house for lftur - he of the carpet shop that is my favorite spot in Azrou other than my home – and he was helping me with my language and then I felt more inspired to keep at it. Maybe I will even study! I have not been tutoring during Ramadan, and that practice does help. Part of me wants to switch to French for the remainder of my tutoring time – we get tutoring money only for the first year. I could pay for it myself after that, of course. I have to think about it. I do think that getting better at darija would be helpful and appreciated here, yet starting French might be nice because I do have the time and the opportunity here – most people use French when speaking to me, assuming all foreigners speak French, until I ask them to switch to darija, so if I did start to learn it I would have the chance to use it. And ultimately probably have more use for it later in life….
Meknes – Sabrina and I walked around the medina and went to visit a metalworker that she met and has been working with on her own time, since that is not her site. He makes Damascene work, metal with inlays of silver thread (the process is originally from Damascus but I don’t think it is still used there). Very nice work – maybe we could bring some to the Azrou artisana! He gave me a bracelet and a ring and I bought another bracelet so I could pay for something; I thought the bracelet would make a good present for someone but I am not ready to part with it – I like the look of two…. We then went through some of the tourist things that I had said I’d wanted to do in Meknes, but I didn’t bring my guidebook pages with me so we just kind of wandered randomly through the old palace, the tombs, and the long, narrow walk to the stables and then to the current palace – but now I have to read up on what I saw. We then went to the artisana there – which, to my surprise, was not much nicer than the one in Azrou. The showroom is smaller and while it has Damascene work, it doesn’t have anything else that Azrou doesn’t have. The displays were different but I wouldn’t say better – Fes had much nicer displays, especially with the lighting, and Marrakesh seemed more impressive. The Meknes artisana seemed sad and it made me think that the Azrou artisana is sad too. That four-page memo of suggestions I had, beginning with a coat of paint, now seems sad – it’s not the Azrou artisana that needs a coat of paint, nor the Meknes one – it’s the whole system. Meknes has a lot of space for working artisans, but most of the space in empty, and the occupied ones are not really making items for tourists. It was a sobering visit. But in another way inspiring – I can keep plugging away; who is going to plug away at the Meknes artisana?
On to Marjane – where Sabrina, like-minded and equally light-headed (that long, narrow walk was maybe a little more activity than I thought) suggested buying some water and sneaking into a corner to drink it. Great idea! Got some cheese, more peanut butter, more corn chips… I guess I was always a big fan of cheese, but there’s no doubt I have more peanut butter here than I do at home, and now that I have discovered the corn chips, one bag per Marjane trip seems in order.
Looking for a 2008 calendar? Go to www.rpcvmadison.org. They have an international calendar featuring photographs from Peace Corps countries; I just submitted some (you never know!). The money from the calendars goes to Peace Corps Partnership Programs (grants to current volunteers) and to good works in the Madison area. I found out about this at the reception for Chicago-area invitees last year and since then have been looking forward to submitting photographs! One of the ones I submitted accompanies this entry; it’s from Azrou. Some of the others have already appeared here.
As for baseball, everyone whose eyes don’t glaze over when I talk about it knows that in the post-season, I want there to be the maximum number of games possible – that is, every series should go to the max. I especially don’t like sweeps, figuring that any team who gets this far should get the chance to savor at least one victory. So you can imagine my distress as I drifted in and out of sleep last night with the computer on, listening to the teams I was rooting for and emotionally attached to get swept. With the possibility of two more sweeps tonight, I am already fretting and thinking about listening to last post-season’s games, archived on mlb.com.
And I have been making a list of the things that were in the three boxes that are (probably) never going to arrive (I still have a little hope, but I know I have two chances….slim and none). When I set these things aside I did it knowing that I had to be okay with them not arriving – but I broke down this week and ordered a couple of the books that I actually did want to read. Not sure what if anything else I will replace or find substitutes for. I’m still more of the mindset of getting rid of things I have in storage than of replacing or holding on to things…. Though I am also accumulating some Moroccan things! It stresses me out to think about how I am going to get them back, so I am trying not to think about that either.
Today I went to Ait Hamza, another rural village/PCV site that is not a tourist destination, taking the opportunity to visit Deanedra, the PCV there, before she COSes. She lives with her host family and it was very nice to meet them, especially her little sister (though she was sticky and I hate sticky!). We visited the cooperative building – this was a CBT site last year and I already own a shawl that I ordered in PST – and I bought another shawl and a blanket. Ait Hamza is a Berber village, mainly agricultural, with a stunning mountain backdrop (maybe some hiking if I get another chance to go there but after the long, narrow walk yesterday, no exertion when I can’t drink water!). I found my desire to knit just in time – Deanedra gave me a lot of yarn that she is not going to take home with her! I don’t know that I can use it all either, but I will use some and share some. It was a nice day – two nice day trips this weekend!
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
So much of this experience – and I suppose of all of life – is the attitude you bring to it. I generally have a positive outlook and feel happy and fortunate. I do have my ups and downs (most of them chronicled in writing here), but I usually don’t wallow; little things can lift my spirits and I’m never sad for long.
Sunday afternoon I got a text message from Jennifer, the second-year SBD who is on the GAD committee. She had been asked to do harassment training and gender roles training and thought that GAD might be at the same time but wasn’t sure. I, of course, was not only hoping but expecting to do the GAD training with her, since last year she, the first-year committee rep at the time, co-presented with the second-year at the time. When she got to Ouarzazate she found that my name was on the schedule for Monday’s presentation - but I had never been contacted (and still haven’t). So much for the GAD training. For a while there all of the disappointments I have had since I arrived here (well, all of the disappointments since swearing-in, since PST was still a time of creating expectations) seemed to loom, and I could easily have started to list them, but instead I chalked it up to opportunity lost and – after several texts to sympathetic friends, half a bag of corn chips, some chocolate and some peanut butter – I felt better, and I thought I would further indulge myself by listening to some baseball.
Glavine vs. Willis for the NL East title – I would have missed that had I gone to Ouarzazate. My intention was to shower before the game but in mid-shampoo the water was cut off and by the time it came back on and I rinsed and conditioned and rinsed and toweled off, it was 4-0 Florida and the season was over for the Mets, the collapse from seven games up with seventeen to go complete. So the baseball didn’t necessarily make me feel better, but I continued to listen – to the Phillies victory (I do have a fondness for the Phillies, after living there, so I couldn’t feel too disappointed) and then to the games with wild card implications. I look forward to the playoffs, though with the time difference I won’t be able to listen to all that many games live, and I notice that what in the past was a weekend with a possible four games on Saturday and four on Sunday (one of my favorite weekends of the year!) is not in the schedule this year – only two games scheduled for Saturday, and both at night? What’s up with that?
On Monday I worked on my Annual Report. It doesn’t make sense to me to do an Annual Report now after only nine months at site – a year at site makes more sense – especially when the first six months were for integration and not major projects – but I managed to match the various accomplishments I’ve had with several of the SBD sector objectives. Again, the disappointments loomed, as I reviewed my early monthly reports in which I thought I was going to work with rural weavers and then was not allowed to take work-related leave – wait, I’m not going to start to list them. Actually, while I may not win Volunteer of the Year (not that there’s a prize for that) I’m kind of pleased with my Annual Report – when I put it in writing, I do have some accomplishments under my belt and ideas and plans for more. I’m going to let the report simmer for a couple of days and then tweak it before I send it in. It was a good break from working on the web site, which was frustrating me last week (I’m not going to say whether or not I found that disappointing).
And Ouarzazate would have been inconvenient, because I had invited all of the PCVs in the province, along with any others who happened to hear of it and want to come as well, to Games Weekend. I realized that I have told the six-pack of Environment volunteers that they are welcome at any time, and they’ve all come, to drop off stuff and pick it up at the end of the day, to shower, to use my computer, or last week to have a meeting (since meeting at a café during Ramadan is awkward), but I hadn’t actually invited them over. Five of them came, along with a Health Volunteer in their stage whom I had met before, and Kareem and Leslie representing the SBD sector, since the two SBDs in the province (other than I) were unable to make it. I had plenty of food for those not fasting as well as space for those fasting – the food included brownies, banana-oatmeal cookies, coconut cake, pasta, eggplant (I duplicated what Jessica did earlier in the week), crustless quiche, breakfast nachos (a.k.a. eggless chilaquiles, since the person who brought the corn chips doesn’t like eggs), fruit, nuts, raisins, dates, shebekia and then some food that some of the guests brought. And lots of games were played, both all together and in smaller groups – Piffle, Rummy, Boggle, Scrabble, Dominoes (a new kind to me, Mexican Train), several new card games to me (the ones I learned were Speed and Egyptian Rat Trap), Taboo (which someone had brought) and I might be leaving something out but all in all I think everyone had a great time – I sure did! It was nice to spend more time with them, too – the people here can be very interesting when you get to know them. Stories, backgrounds, experiences – I tried some yerba mate and learned the ritual behind it.
The games continued Sunday with some more Piffle and then a hike – it was too nice a day to be inside for two days in a row. I suggested that since it was Games Weekend we should play a game while hiking, and Josh introduced, “I like coffee but not tea.” I have played similar games (I call it “I’m going on a picnic,” though there are different ways to play that one) but for whatever reason it took me a very long time to discern the pattern (as it did the other hikers) and we were silent, thinking, for much of the hike. I was afraid (as was Josh) that the hike would end without my figuring it out and that I would go home all bothered (I wonder how I would have reacted to the news about missing out on the GAD training had that been the case) but the light bulb appeared over my head and it turns out that yes, I like coffee but not tea! The water being cut off during my late-afternoon shower was the third of “everything comes in threes” – on Saturday morning the shower butagas ran out, and since it was Ramadan the stores didn’t open until almost noon, so the PCVs who came early for a shower were thwarted. On Sunday morning the batteries that provide the spark that lights the gas to set it aflame and heat the water died – so once again anyone who came over wanting a shower had to wait. Interesting that both the butagas and the batteries would pick a weekend where I had invited lots of people over to run out…. Kareem and Leslie and I had some extra Piffle time (the decks Jong and I played with having since been retired and replaced, a third deck is now showing serious signs of wear) and made stuffed peppers – another winner that may find a place in the rotation.
Yesterday I went to the post office and the photo place and the printing place and to the Artisana, where I finished labeling the displays (I am very pleased with how it looks – right now just the city and just in English, but I just wanted to get started – can add more info and more languages, and I do highlight Azrou and regional artists and the women’s cooperatives) and I noticed that the leaves are turning. Came home and did the guest sheets and towels and by the time I finished a good, steady rain had started (or as I like to think of it, an extra rinse cycle). It hasn’t rained this much since last winter, and we need it. Seemed like a nice afternoon to stay at home and read a book. I did go out for lftur, though, to get some more of the Ramadan food and camaraderie before going into de facto hiding (if I can) for the rest of the week for the playoffs. Although now that I look at the schedule, many of the days have only late starts (four-hour time difference to the east coast, and more to the other time zones) so actually I can go out for more lfturs. Just not today or tomorrow or Sunday (if nec.).
I had been only to my host family’s lftur last year in TimHdit, and they had a huge repast. None of the families I have been to this year have all of the foods that the Sheikh’s family had every night, although I have had all of my favorites when I combine all of the lfturs, fat bread in one house and hard-boiled eggs in another and zmeta in another, for example. I mentioned that to Katie, and she said that she has a theory that people are cutting back on lftur this year – either because the drought has led to crop failure, or because there were price increases just after the elections (there were riots last week in Sefrou, Rose’s site, which sounded very scary – she kept me updated with texts and emails – and after that the government scaled back the increases), or because Ramadan is so close to the August travel month and wedding season and September back-to-school, all of which are major cash outlays, so people don’t have the money to spend on Ramadan that they may have had last year. Which means that people might cut back even more next year, when it begins eleven days earlier (the days will be that much longer, too). So what happens when Ramadan is in August? I seem to recall asking that question last year and that the answer is that those years the weddings and travel take place in July, but I think I will confirm that. I hope to get to TimHdit before the end of Ramadan to see my host family there, but don’t know if I can. Last Friday almost all of the stores in town were closed, and Jessica and I took a walk through the quiet streets – she mentioned that she had heard it was a holiday because Ramadan was half over; I’ll have to check on that. I asked my counterpart and didn’t get a clear answer.
I did get a new name though. We were talking about the Arabic names of various volunteers. Mine is Shereen – Katie gave me that name last year when Sharon turned out to be too hard for my host family to pronounce. There’s a beautiful Egyptian newscaster with that name, or so everyone tells me. My counterpart said that it isn’t really a Moroccan name, and besides, since I am in a Berber region I should have a Berber name. My favorite Berber name is Itto, but someone already has it (I think – or there was some other reason it was dismissed). My counterpart suggested Rebha, which means success. As it happens, my downstairs neighbor is Rebha and the neighbor on the ground floor is Rebha, so I kind of liked the idea of having an entire building of Rebhas. And I liked the idea of having a name that means success. But what I’d really like is for people to continue to call me Shereen. I’m used to it – I know to answer to it - and I like it.