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 – 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!

Hey Sharon,

Just got your annual missive and really enjoyed reading it. Sounds like your new life is fascinating. If you have an email address, send it to me at

Tom Hier

PS: I'm doing a project for Princeton now -- go Tigers!
Will send it! Good to hear from you and yes, go Tigers!
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