Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I just voted in the February 5 Illinois primary! Absentee, that is. I realized that as a person registered as not affiliated with any party I had to declare my desired party (I have almost always lived in a state that allows you to do that) – and while I was requesting a Democratic party ballot I decided to just download a ballot and the required declaration that I am living outside the country and vote. I am glad to be voting now, because by February 5, my vote might be moot (of course, one vote is probably always moot but I am glad to participate in the process). I won’t say who I voted for but I do want to point out that one of the Democratic candidates for president is an RPCV. I download podcasts of the major Sunday talk shows to get a dose of politics (along with magazines and internet articles and talking with like-minded PCVs – they’re not all like-minded, which at first was a surprise to me but then I grew to appreciate that you don’t have to be a liberal to want to be in the Peace Corps). I’m sorry to miss the excitement of the election year, but I also find it depressing to think about – the compressed primary schedule and the fact that more and more it’s how much money you raise, not what you stand for, make the process seem so flawed. Looking at the Illinois ballot and seeing a lot of the same names and a lot of uncontested races (and the judges! I always feel stumped voting for judges!) makes me wonder where I will be voting next….
I hope the absentee ballot arrives in time to count (it has to get there by February 19th). I wonder if anyone is receiving anything from me in the mail. The three boxes that Joanne sent to me (January, April and June, I think) are still missing, and now a few other packages have not arrived, but I think I get most of the letters sent to me. Yet now I wonder about correspondence going the other way. I may be behind in writing back to people but every few weeks I send out a batch of letters and cards. Is anyone out there getting them? I write to my World Wise School class faithfully every month. How many letters have reached them? Here I am with internet at my house and extremely reliable cell phone service, but the postal service here is more along the lines of what I expected in the Peace Corps.
The trip reports are still in my head and not yet written, but in the meantime, the picture is of Ait Benhaddou, the best-preserved casbah of the south. Instead, this week I worked on my quarterly report. The new format (similar to the Annual Report) is a table to fill in, with blanks for each of the goals and objectives in the new plan for which I did the KSA. I decided to write a narrative report in addition – if it’s not helpful to Peace Corps it at least helps me frame for myself what I am doing, and I think it will be a good way to update my counterpart as well. While working on the report I noted that there are probably twice as many tourist questionnaires as there were since I tallied them – so I decided it was time to tally the additional ones and write another report! I did a lot of work on the quarterly report on Christmas Day, but didn’t feel like Scrooge doing so. As with last year, there are inflatable Santas for sale in Azrou but other than that it’s a non-event. Well, not exactly – it does feel like the holiday season because of l-Eid, and there are a fair number of visitors here this week; there are also a fair number of stores closed because their owners are taking the week off or visiting elsewhere. Winter weather also helps make it feel like the holiday season. But I always liked working on that week between Christmas and New Year’s – it’s quiet, so you can get stuff done. The quarterly report isn’t due until January 5th but I don’t want to go away for New Year’s weekend with it hanging over my head. Last year l-Eid was on New Year’s Eve, so Christmas then felt more like a work day; you may recall that last year I finally fulfilled my longstanding (idle) threat to go to bed before midnight!
I did have a “Christmas dinner” – or late lunch – at the pizza place with the volunteer in Ain Leuh, who is ETing - the next to go from my stage, she is leaving because she got a Fulbright – and her replacement, who seems like a nice person, as do all of the new people I have met so far. Also in the holiday spirit, a radio producer wrote in to one of the Princeton e-lists looking for alumni working overseas in humanitarian jobs for a program on how they were coping with spending the holidays away from home – by the time I responded they had lined up enough people but they had me on reserve in case one of their callees had something come up, and I may end up doing something for another radio segment now that I have made the contact. Why not plug it, since it sounds interesting (and isn’t this what blogs are supposed to do?) – the show is called The World (www.theworld.org) and the program recorded on Christmas is at http://22.214.171.124/?q=node/14950.
I also had planned to do a sample GRE test this week – I had decided I would see how I did on it and then make a decision as to whether to register for the February 2 GRE before the December 28 deadline. I have some GRE study books that COSing volunteers gave me, and there’s a sample test on the GRE web site. When I finally started to look at them, I realized that (well, I already knew) this isn’t a test you just take – it really helps to study for it using a prep book (or, now, CD-Roms). I’ve always been a good standardized test taker, but it’s been a while, and even back then I prepared. I realized that in January I would rather work on the web site than study for the GRE. I realized that this week I would rather work on the quarterly report and questionnaires than spend 3 ½ hours to do the sample test (with additional time for reading many pages of instruction beforehand and many pages of scoring and scoring explanation afterwards). Not only that, but I still don’t have any idea at all as to whether graduate school makes sense for me and what course of study I might pursue. I will admit (not for the first time ever, and not for the first time to myself, but maybe to the surprise of some) that I went to business school in large part because most of my friends were getting graduate degrees and I felt I should get one too. Did better on the LSAT than on the GMAT, actually, but I somehow knew that law school might not be the place for me and business school might. And I will now admit that part of the reason I want to take the GRE is that many of the PCVs here are taking it. But of course most of the ones taking it are not mid-career – I may fit in with the young, mid and older people here in the Peace Corps, but that’s here – that doesn’t mean we have the same future! I would venture to say that many of the people here who are in their 20s have a future that for me is in the past. Anyway, as I “talk out loud” it makes more sense to me not to register for the February 2 GRE. I can take it in Morocco in the fall if I still want to keep my options open – and/or if I have a clearer idea of what I might do with it. There is a program called Fellows/USA that provides financial benefits to RPCVs for graduate school – look at the Peace Corps web site for an idea of the many partner schools and programs, with more always being added.
Then again, I AM in school now – I had started a certificate in non-profit management at the University of Chicago before I left. Having that on my resume was opening doors for me. I finished three out of the six courses required and at this point I do plan to finish it. Even if I don’t specifically get a job in non-profit management, it seemed to be the right general direction. I guess I had thought that at this point in my life and career a certificate program made more sense in terms of time commitment (one long weekend per course, with some reading beforehand and a report afterwards), and I do already have a master’s degree. But maybe I could be motivated to do another master’s – or even perhaps a Ph.D. some day. I’ve always enjoyed academe! So I may yet add GRE study to the upcoming year – along with more darija, French if I can, and cooking lessons from my host mother. Studying for the Fall GRE might be good for the summer and Ramadan doldrums, come to think of it. Then again, my schedule lately has been full without any of those things! Not enough hours in the day! And at the moment I have pent-up reading demand – I think next week, if not sooner, I might set other things aside and curl up with a book.
In other news, I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while – construction across the street seems to have stopped. Those guys worked furiously for months starting early in the morning and no sooner did they completely block my view than they seem to have moved on to another construction site. There’s one down the block, and it is blocking the access of the garbage truck – so the sound of the garbage truck honking early in the morning is no longer waking me up either. And yet they are collecting the garbage. That worked out nicely! Though all is not quiet - I have heard more barking dogs lately. And the egrets that were in the trees by the mosque seem to have returned. Maybe they did migrate after all, as opposed to being shot!
And another follow-up – Youssef had a busy farewell weekend and Amanda had trouble reaching him. She was stressed and called me and then I was stressed too – sometimes I was able to reach him when she wasn’t and sometimes I couldn’t either. One of her calls to me was right after the party I had for him, too – she had just missed him. After a while on Sunday afternoon I no longer heard from him – and here he had that long day of driving on a crazy-traffic holiday weekend and it was going to be his first time out of Morocco and his first flight. Anyway, I ended up tossing and turning on Sunday night and had a dream that he had decided to postpone his flight until Thursday because of things going on here and that I was trying to persuade him that he had to get on that plane (now that I’m awake I wish I had added that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans). After that sleepless night (I am sure they both had sleepless nights on Sunday too but me?) I emailed Amanda at least half a dozen times and finally requested that she call when he arrived, no matter what time here. Martha had arranged for her nephew to pick Youssef up at LAX and bring him to Amanda’s home in the San Diego area – on Christmas Eve no less! What a sweetie! I woke up at about 4:00 am, thinking he should be arriving around then, and they called a little while later – both of them sounded so happy! I slept well after that! They may not have, but I am sure it was a Merry Christmas.
I’m going away for New Year’s this year – though now that I have gone to bed before midnight once, I may do it again – and will describe it upon my return. In case I don’t write more between now and then, Happy New Year!
Saturday, December 22, 2007
I mentioned the baa – baa – baa that I heard all week but I failed to mention the other frequently-heard noise leading up to l-Eid Kbir – the sound of knife sharpeners at work. I ended up with four l-Eid invitations, which I felt happy about. Youssef texted in the morning that they were going to get started around 9:45 – but I read it as 8:45, so I quickly dropped off cookies at my landlord’s; had I read it right I would have stayed to visit a bit but leaving when I did gave me the opportunity to see latecomers running to the mosque, dressed in their finest. For l-Eid there’s an extra prayer at around 8:00 am, and a talk similar to the Friday midday-prayer talk, and the sacrifice happens after that talk (I thought everyone had to wait for the king to make his sacrifice, but now I am not sure about that). Youssef’s family had some cake, cookies and tea ready when I got there, so I fortified myself with sugar and more sugar (and added my cookies to the mix – l-Eid Sgir, the “little holiday” marking the end of Ramadan, is really the cookie holiday but nobody seemed to mind when I brought cookies to them today!). The day dawned cloudy and chilly and then it began to rain – Youssef said that that was a good sign, an double reminder from Allah of the sacrifice, and having l-Eid on a Friday, the holiest day of the week in Islam, made it even more auspicious. I am really glad that he was able to stay in Morocco for one last l-Eid – and his first making a sacrifice of his own as head of a family.
Up on the roof were a ewe, a ram and a little goat, buckets for body parts, a small barbecue called a mjmar, and various knives and the knife sharpener. Youssef’s nephew was all dressed in traditional garb - as with my host family last year, only the kids dress up (“l-Eid is for kids,” I was told – sounds familiar. You don’t give gifts but you do slip the children some money – when their parents aren’t watching, so they know it is really for them). First the father sacrificed the ewe – in this family, as opposed to last year where one person did the killing and everyone else watched, everyone helps – they hold down the sheep, start washing the slit throat to clean it, watch the other animals to make sure they don’t see the one that is being killed (the ram was getting very anxious, and the goat kept looking at me, as if to say, “you, can’t you get me out of here?”) and where last year only the women cooked, in Youssef’s family the men helped cook as well. Throat slashed, blood drained, skin removed, then internal organs (first the liver, heart, kidney and, fat – the liver gets poached and wrapped in fat and grilled on the mjmar first thing, along with the other two, not wrapped in fat, just grilled and eaten) and the rest of the organs - lungs and intestines and stomach? - to be eaten or used for wrapping at some point, but not while I was there. Yes, I know it is a delicacy but I still couldn’t do it – more for everyone else, right? Heads and feet were separated – my host family last year had those for dinner, but I think Youssef’s family doesn’t like them that much. I wanted to find a picture that would capture the essence of the ritual but not be too graphic. I liked this one, of the little goat – Youssef cleaning the cut area, a little blood in the background but much less than there had been a few minutes before, a big knife in the foreground.
Youssef is giving me the skin of the goat, which is a beautiful black and white! His family will get it treated and I will pay them back for that. I feel really honored by that. Again, I was impressed, feeling that this is very respectful – every part of the animal is used – but at the same time couldn’t help thinking that it makes a good case for vegetarianism. At lunch, after hearing about my rice with milk last year, they made me rice with milk (so now I have a l-Eid tradition!) and I had a couple of bites of goat meat since Youssef was so proud of his goat (and he pointed out that goat has no cholesterol – unlike sheep, which has a lot!). At this point it was late afternoon, time to go see my host family, and I am glad I went over. I saw family members I had not seen since last l-Eid, and they were all very happy that I came, and there was a festive holiday atmosphere, and I was happy to see them too (and I had more tea and more cookies but since it was between sheep servings, I avoided any awkwardness). They wanted me to stay for the close-to-midnight meal but I told them I should go home; honestly, the smell of sheep cooking was beginning to get to me so I am glad I left. I never got to the home of the fourth family that invited me, the owner of the Auberge, but I will get over there tomorrow (still the holiday weekend) with more cookies!
Today I had a last lunch with Youssef at the pizza place – the manager is a special friend of Youssef and Amanda – and then I had him and a few other people over to my house for a toast and some cake. We then went to Abdou’s – some rug shopping for him instead of him watching me! - and that’s it. Tomorrow he goes to Rabat with his luggage and then to Tetouan, where his brother is signing a marriage contract. Just before Amanda left in August, the brother got engaged so they went up to Tetouan to meet the fiancée, in a whirlwind of travel right before the end – so it’s fitting and ironic that Youssef has a whirlwind of travel just before the end as well! He then goes on to Rabat and Paris and LAX and San Diego…. nice that he was able to be here for l-Eid and will be in America for Christmas. I have it in my mind that Amanda and Youssef will be able to make it back here for his brother’s wedding party in August and that I will therefore see them again before I leave Morocco; if not, I look forward to seeing them when I return, and I know that Martha and Susan are going to try to see them, maybe even this week, in California! Still, to say I will miss him a lot is one of the world’s great understatements.
Some unexpected (though in retrospect it’s never really a surprise) news this week – the Small Business Development Program Manager is leaving Peace Corps. I don’t want to rehash the past, but I will say that she made me cry on more than one occasion, said no to me often, played favorites (and I wasn’t one of them) – and, that said, I have mixed feelings rather than just happiness about it. I felt I figured out a way to get work done that I could be proud of and that our last few interactions were positive ones and that our relationship was improving. I’ve certainly had other bosses who made my life miserable, and those I had to see every day. Anyway, the announcement was a brief one, leaving those of us in the field with a lot of unanswered questions. I mentioned her departure to my counterpart, and he mentioned that when he spoke to her a couple of weeks ago she told him they wouldn’t put another volunteer in Azrou. Of course, with a new person in that position, that could change, but I couldn’t help but feel a little hurt. She told him that more people would go to rural communities – does that imply that she didn’t think what I am doing is valuable? Yes! But it fits my skill set (although I suppose starting a cooperative would have as well). Of course, Azrou has had five volunteers, and that’s more than the traditional six-year development cycle – but only the last one stayed the entire two years (and I will as well, inshallah). Anyway, feeling hurt upon hearing these remarks made my feelings about her departure less mixed. But the jury is out until we see what happens next! I hope this doesn’t impact getting approval on the natural dye/weaving workshop (I put together the proposal on Sunday night after the brunch, revised it with input from Rose, Gregg and Janeila, and sent it off the same day her departure was announced).
SIDA (French for AIDS) isn’t a big problem in Morocco – about two percent of the population has it – but the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa was once at two percent too, and awareness and education are required to keep it from spreading. There’s a SIDA committee here, similar to the Gender and Development Committee, and last year when I attended that Ifrane craft fair my first week I brought SIDA brochures along because it was World AIDS Day. This year I was on vacation on World AIDS Day (December 1), but I had ordered a toolkit from the SIDA committee and still wanted to do something. So I brought some brochures to the artisana and placed them on the table near the front, next to my questionnaires (now in their second printing! And still on their first pen!). I also brought a poster and was prepared to tell my counterpart why it was important to put it up, but I didn’t have to say anything – he enthusiastically agreed, and even had it put up on the showroom door, where everyone who visits will see it. It’s a poster of two hennaed hands holding a condom – and there’s really no mistaking it. The kit has other brochures and another poster – now that the first attempt was so well-received, I think I will go to some cybers with the additional materials!
I haven’t talked much about being cold, but it’s not because I’m not cold. You can assume I’m cold until at least the end of February. I thought about getting a wood stove this year, but have been hesitant because it makes me sad to see trucks with huge tree trunks go by. Even with the assurance that the kind of wood in the wood stoves isn’t the precious cedar forest, I still have been reluctant, and now I have decided against it. For one thing, it would still warm up only one room, and my space heater does a decent enough job of that now (that combined with wearing multiple layers). For another, I have additional solutions – new felt slippers from Marrakesh and ones that I knitted (I wear both at the same time), the sheepskin for under my feet, the hot water bottles (sure, I bought an extra two for guests, but when I have no guests, why not use them for myself?), using my space heater to warm up my towels and clothes and pajamas (but of course I do not cover the part that says “do not cover”). Yes, the space heater heats the space right around it and not much more – but if I confine myself to the kitchen and close the door, it gets reasonably temperate. Lastly, I visited my host family and spent some time in the wood stove room and it was actually too hot – I had forgotten this from home stay last year. And it’s not good for my eyes. And a wood-burning stove can be a source of CO poisoning if there is incomplete combustion – I am always on alert when using the butagas and don’t want to be on even higher alert. I also don’t have a good place to put wood! So far the coldest days were the ones when Steve and Elisa were here – the rest have been bearable (though this week it has taken me a while each morning to get out of my cozy bed). It is usually warmer outside in the middle of a sunny day than it is in my house, so going out is another strategy. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t want a fireplace later in life…but for now I am cold but fine.
As I was proofreading this and about to post it, my landlord’s wife brought up a plate of raw meat. Yikes! What am I going to do with that? She also invited me to visit more often. I often see them to say hello, but I don’t really visit much. Abdou reminded me that I am losing Youssef but still have him. And then on the way out of Abdou’s, we ran into Youssef the rock-carver, who invited me to have some barbecued sheep meat this week! Last year in home stay the month of January was all-sheep, all-the-time. I have no shortage of people here who will look out for me – and apparently no way to avoid eating more meat!
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
It seemed that there were three parts to this quarter – Ramadan, travel, and the never-quite-routine life of the rest of the time. I still plan to chronicle most of the travel, so you didn’t miss it, but it is also time for a quarterly report and a hearty hello to both the frequent and the infrequent readers!
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim year, and people fast from sun-up to sundown. Last year I was in training during Ramadan, and even though half of the time we were with our CBT (Community-Based Training) host families, we were still in class for most of the day – language in the morning and technical in the afternoon – so I was curious to see how the rhythm of real life was affected by Ramadan. It is affected in a major way! Cafes and restaurants are closed – there were times when I would go home for a sip of water (or maybe even a snack? I’ll never tell!) - but there is nowhere to go in public. I really didn’t realize until it wasn’t available how much going to a café is part of my day – coffee or juice with a friend, sitting and watching the world go by, isn’t something I thought I did all that often but I missed it and it was nice to get back to the never-quite-routine life and to that part of the routine.
Hours at the artisana changed – open 9 am until 3 pm with no lunch break. I like the lunch break of the never-quite-routine life – I get to eat lunch, for one thing, but also to have some time to myself to check email, read, clean or otherwise not be “on.” But since everyone was at the artisana, just hanging around, I felt compelled to hang around too. Not many tourists came. The woodworkers, who are usually constantly working, weren’t. Everyone seemed to be hungry and listless, talking about food. There was a certain listlessness to the summer too, when everyone was hot – I realize that I have to get a lot of work done between now and the summer because then everyone will be listless for months! I did get some work done though – finished round one of labeling the display areas in the showroom, tabulated my tourist questionnaire, did lots of photography, made progress on the web site. I did stop tutoring – no place to meet – and I have yet to start again, but I am looking forward to it.
I also had some fun weekends during Ramadan. I visited my GAD friend Kellye, who lives in a small village that you have to hike into; she is near the Cascades of Ouzoud, the highest waterfall in Morocco, so we hiked there too. I hosted someone in my stage who was ETing (Early Termination) – glad to see her off. I held a games/hike weekend for the six-pack of environment volunteers nearby and some others who happened to be in the neighborhood. I met Sabrina, the Khemisset volunteer in my stage, in Meknes, where we explored some of the imperial city. And I went to Ait Hamza to visit the COSing volunteer there – saw the weaving cooperative and inherited lots of yarn, just when I was in the mood to start knitting! Reading was also a big part of Ramadan for me – some mysteries, and Harry Potter. As was listening to some post-season baseball – the first weekend, anyway.
And then came trip #1! Martha and Susan arrived, Youssef drove, and we spent nine days exploring, staying in luxury riads and hotels and eating gourmet Moroccan meals. First Rabat – a chance to do some of the tourist spots, such as the Archeology Museum, the Chellah, the Tour Hassan and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. On to Tangier, with stops at a birding lake and some coastal cities along the way, and while there, trips to the Grottoes of Hercules and the northwest point of Africa - and a camel ride! On to Tetouan, with its Andalusian new town and World Heritage Site old medina, Chefchouaen, with its romantic shades of blue, and Volubilis, the Roman ruins. Then Azrou, where the highlight of the entire trip for Martha and Susan was the hammam, and the highlight for me was showing them my life here – the artisana, the carpet shop, and couscous with Youssef’s family. We ended in Fes, where we went to both the old medina and Fes El-Jdid, the former mellah, with its gold jewelry shops, royal palace and synagogue. It was great to show them around and to spend time with them as if no time had passed.
I had a chance to live the never-quite-routine life for a couple of weeks. First, I was sick – post-vacation let-down, or something coming on the whole time that I suppressed until the visitors left? So I slept a lot and read more mysteries! Then it was on to Rabat for a GAD (Gender and Development) meeting – there’s lots going on with GAD now, with harassment surveys and a resource guide and KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes) and the GAD section of Peace Works, the Morocco Peace Corps newsletter. I presented GAD to the new YD stage (but never got to any SBD trainings, which was a big disappointment) and then hosted some volunteers doing follow-up interviews from workshops they had held in the spring. The interviews indicated an interest in more workshops, so I might take this on – they would be for artisans and cooperatives throughout the Middle Atlas region. I visited some more COSing (Close of Service) volunteers, in Assoul in the High Atlas and in El Menzel near Fes, entertained some PCVs coming through for various reasons, made my more-or-less daily rounds around town, and then spent some time working on the web site and some reports and making a to-do list of everything I needed to do when I got back, and then planned for the next two weeks of trips. The day before I left, the Program Manager was traveling through Azrou and we had coffee – I filled her in on my projects and she seemed pleased.
Then a whirlwind two weeks of travel around Morocco followed! It was great that Youssef had not heard about his visa yet, so he could be our driver and also see parts of Morocco he hadn’t seen, and also great that while we were away he got his visa appointment, so he will be able to join Amanda and start his new life in America soon. Helen flew into Marrakesh and we met her there and then set off for the Koutoubia Mosque, Jemaa al Fna, a caleche ride and the Jardin Majorelle, finishing up in the souks. The next day we did a museum and two palaces and the mellah and saw an herbalist. We then went on to Ait Benhaddou, the best-preserved Kasbah of the south and the setting for many Hollywood movies, followed by Ouarzazate and Zagora. Going further south still, we toured Amezrou with a local, saw Tamegroute, my CBT-mate’s site, and went to M’Hmid for a camel trek and 4x4 ride leading to an overnight and sunrise in the dunes. We drive back up the Draa Valley to the Dades Valley and spent some time in the Dades Gorge, with one breathtaking view after another. It was on – through snow! – to Azrou for Thanksgiving dinner (Helen had brought pumpkin, stuffing, cranberries, pie shells, yams, marshmallows and other things) and then an Azrou day of pastries from the Escalade and coffee at Bilal, the hammam, couscous with Youssef’s family, the monkeys, the artisana and the carpet shop, topped off by Youssef’s sage-rubbed steak and mashed potatoes (actually it’s Amanda’s, but Youssef made it), a second Thanksgiving dinner. Helen’s time in Morocco finished in Fes with at a potterie and then a tour of the Andalus quarter and nearby sights with a faux guide.
As Helen’s trip ended, Steve and Elisa’s began – also in Fes, where we toured yet a different part that bridged the part Martha and Susan had seen and the part Helen had seen – the part in the middle, with the herbalist, fountain, wood museum and tanneries. Then we went to Azrou – same general itinerary as Martha and Susan and Helen but I am not tired of introducing people to my life here! We also had a chance to go on a day trip to some nearby places that I’ve heard about and wanted to see and are easier to get to with a car – lakes, rock formations, a gushing spring, and a hike under a cliff. Then it was on to Merzouga – this time it was a 4x4 ride followed by a camel ride, and again an overnight in the dunes – similar to the M’Hmid experience but very different; I’m glad I did both. We stopped in Rissani and Erfoud and – maybe the most fun stop – a few minutes in Kelaa M’Gouna for four rounds of rummy with my stage-mate there. On to Marrakesh, where we again did different things but with some overlap –museum, medersa, koubba, souks, the Menara Garden and the artisana. Then – new turf for me – the Atlantic Coast north of Essouaira and south of Casablanca. We stopped in Safi, known for its pottery, drove through Oualidia, known for being peaceful, toured El Jadida, with its Portuguese walled city, visited Azemmour, an off-the-tourist-track town, and ended up in Rabat, where everyone in my stage was gathering. It was great to see my friends from home – I am so glad they made the effort to come – and great to travel around Morocco, and one of the nicest things about both of these trips was that along the way we saw many of the PCV friends who are such a part of my life here! More details of both of these trips to come.
Mid-Service Medicals followed, which was the first time my stage was together since IST (In-Service Training) in June and will be the last time until COS Conference in August. I had a chance to talk to everyone – some more than others – in between appointments, and some time to walk in the Rabat medina and to eat some fancy French and Italian food, and I have no cavities, no parasites, no tuberculosis, and no other health issues. It was good to see everyone and good to be checked out physically! I went home and did laundry and unpacked and repacked for the Rabat Craft Fair, which I attended with the rock-carver – that was rewarding! And then Kristina, a fellow PCV who is a stone sculptor, came to Azrou for three days of workshops with him – also rewarding! Since then I’ve just been catching up and moving ahead – especially with the web site, though everything I’ve done recently is behind-the-scenes so not yet visible. I started the process of renewing my carte de sejour, another milestone, took a day trip to Fes with Youssef as part of my farewell to him, and hosted the warden group and some of the newly-minted nearby SBD PCVs for brunch.
There’s a holiday atmosphere in the air this week – Friday is l-Eid Kbir, “big holiday,” where every family sacrifices a sheep to commemorate the story of Abraham and Isaac. I went to the souk today to see the sheep, and I felt sad – for the sheep, for the shepherds on whom so much is riding this week, and for me, since I won’t be here next year to experience this again. I couldn’t stay sad for long, though, because I kept running into people I know and I have now four invitations to visit people for l-Eid; it reinforced that even though Azrou is too big for me to know everyone, I have managed to integrate into the community and I know some really wonderful people and I feel at home here.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Given the name of this blog, I should probably comment on the Mitchell Report. I hear that it is all that anyone is talking about. I am glad I am not there – I wouldn’t want to talk about it! Even when it was just speculation I didn’t want to talk about it. The Year of Mark McGwire was fun but then when it seemed tainted it wasn’t as much fun. I think the records should stand, without asterisks, and those with the numbers should make the Hall of Fame (I also think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, but that’s another story). For whatever reason, it bothers me more to hear about performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympics than it does in baseball – maybe because the McGwires and the Bondses and the Clemenses were talented enough before doing what they were accused of doing, and the ones who get caught who you haven’t heard of weren’t elevated to all-star status because of something they took. I could go on, but as I said, I don’t want to talk about it.
Much more fun to talk about who won the post-season awards and free agent signings and who might be traded – traditional hot stove stuff. It’s hard to think hot stove here – because it’s so cold! Actually, it’s hard to do because trades don’t make the headlines that I scan. I listen to podcasts of a sports talk show (Pardon the Interruption) and glance at Sports Illustrated (which I cancelled because they were piling up – how can it be that even here the magazines pile up?) and get updates from friends and that’s my sports news.
And that’s enough. I am a baseball fan from way back – I tell people the ’73 Mets are my team (I think my first baseball game was in ’69 but ’72-’73 was when I really started to follow it) and I went to games when I lived in New York and Boston and Philadelphia (I remember in ’83 when someone in my business school class said, “you want to get World Series tickets?” and we said sure and he went to the box office and just got them – that wouldn’t happen anymore!) but it was when I moved to Chicago that I went over the edge. This probably coincided with my getting cable, so I could watch ESPN (at the end of the season where the Braves and Giants each won over 100 games – ’89? - when both were in the NL West and there were several pennant-race games on ESPN, I went to someone’s house to watch and thought I might have to move if my building didn’t put in cable – and then they did). Sports became a time-eater for me – it really takes a lot of time and energy to be so involved in it! I had a fantasy team for a while but gave that up a few years ago, but I still woke up to Sportscenter and, thanks to TiVo, always had a game to watch and/or listen to as background.
Here in Morocco, I am happy with the news I get, was happy when I finally got the feed from mlb.com working so I could listen to an occasional game, listened to as many playoff games as I could, but when it got to the matchup of the World Series and to its lopsided games, I was able to turn them off or not even turn them on – in the recent past I would have wanted to watch every inning even of uncompelling post-season games. I think this is healthier and I think when I get back I will still love baseball but that maybe it won’t be as central to my life.
On a larger scale, I’ve been thinking about balance and simplicity and how I can bring those to my post-Peaee Corps life. I’m wondering if I can ever work in an office again and how much time and energy I want to devote to my job. I’ve never been that career-oriented, which is one of the reasons I ended up in marketing after business school (I had an impression that it would allow for a life outside of work, unlike the more lucrative consulting or investment banking). I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what comes next yet, not in any concrete way anyway, but I do think that baseball might take less of a role. When I think about that, though, I think of all of the baseball friends I have and all of the baseball discussions I have with them. Will those fade if I am not as into it? I don’t think so – after all, these friendships may have baseball as a source of bonding and conversation but we always have so many other things to talk about (in fact, that’s one of the reasons I like baseball – you can talk about other things and still pay attention to the game). So don’t worry, baseball friends, I do not want our friendships to fade!
Another time-eater for me has been my volunteer involvement, especially in Princeton things. When I get back, do I want to jump back into all of that, or might I want more balance there too? I left in the middle of the Presidency of the Princeton Club of Chicago, and though things are in good hands, I still get copied on all of the minutes and some of the discussion and I know that there are many things to be done; and if I don’t live in Chicago again, wherever I live will probably have a Princeton Club (or one for me to potentially start!). I am still Class Co-Secretary, and this year I am putting together the columns for the Princeton Alumni Weekly (I didn’t last year because I was unsure of my internet status and I won’t next year because of uncertainty halfway through, but I’ll probably do it again in ’09-’10). I like doing that – and then our 30th Reunion will be coming up – surely I’ll want to work on that? And a new capital campaign began this fall – surely I’ll want to take a volunteer role in that? And I miss alumni interviewing – surely I’ll want to resume that? Or - maybe I want to take a step back? Yes, each city has a Princeton Club – each also has an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) group, that has meetings and events and community service – might I want to get involved with that group instead?
Or might I want more time to myself? I really like the days I have here to write and to read – might the scales be tipping to more of that? Or might I actually find someone and settle down and want to nest? Or might I want to do more travel and therefore be less able to follow baseball and have community commitments? What about the bigger picture? Part of the reason why I am here is that in my trip to South Africa I saw how much there was to do and saw that one person can still make a difference. Is being here in a developing country the beginning of working in international development? Is being in a Muslim country going to lead to working on furthering peace and understanding? Is working with artisans going to lead to further work there – or towards expressing my own artistic side? Working with Peace Corps staff and on volunteer support have led me to think that there might be some interesting possibilities there too.
In the past few days I have both heard and read stories of people whose lives were leading them to what they should be doing, and that when they got there, they realized that that’s where they should be. I have yet to come to that place – but I do know that here is the right place for me now, and that it will lead me to something else. Whether that next thing is the thing that I should have been doing and the thing that I am meant to do, or whether it is just another stop along the road for me, remains to be seen. Well, I turned from the Mitchell report to cosmic philosophy very quickly! It all dovetails though – I really don’t know what is next. I won’t abandon baseball, or Princeton, or my basic nature, but I may rearrange the pieces.
One of the people who was talking about ending up where he was supposed to be came over this weekend – his name is Gregg, and his expertise is in weaving and natural dyeing. I had met him when I was in Rabat for GAD – he had just arrived in Morocco on his way to surprise his host family in Sefrou. He was the volunteer there, loved it and decided to extend for another two years, but then family circumstances forced him to go home – and that paved the way for Rose to be the volunteer in Sefrou. He is here for four months, and I have invited him to assess the weaving cooperative here in Azrou and to do a workshop with them. We talked yesterday about his doing a natural dye and weaving workshop for all of the volunteers in the area, so that we can gain from his knowledge before he takes off again. He had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Micronesia in the ‘60s, teaching math, and has a background in information systems. During a sabbatical, he started weaving, and he realized that that was where he should be, eventually both weaving and teaching. He joined the Peace Corps again after September 11. He’s inspirational, good-hearted, funny, and interesting, and I am glad to have crossed paths with him. He and Rose came on Saturday night and helped bake for the brunch yesterday.
Saturday was a fun day in Fes with Youssef – finally doing some shopping of his own after watching my friends and me shop our way through Morocco (not quite but there were days when it seemed that way - such as in El Jadida, where I bought the rug shown, after admiring several rugs in that style for months....I just saw this one and decided it was the one....). After our pastilla lesson, he came by with a surprise for me. In Morocco when you give gifts people don’t open them right away – they put them away and wait until later – and when he came over he told me to open it later. It was a tagine – a small one, perfect for one or two people (as opposed to the big ones that families here tend to own). I had been talking during our travels about wanting to learn to cook and not owning the staples here – tagine, couscous pot and pressure cooker – and I was really touched by his gift. It’s a good thing I didn’t open it in front of him, because the emotional impact of his leaving hit me when I did. I am happy for him starting his new life and joining his bride, but I will really miss him, and even though he is making sure that there are other people who will help me if I need help, and I know that I have other Moroccan and PCV friends here and of course lots of friends elsewhere, he is a gem of a person and I will miss him a lot. I’m getting teary-eyed as I write this so on to the brunch description.
We’d talked about having a warden group get-together but never managed it with the old group. Some have COSed and some new PCVs are now in the group, and we also lost and gained some people through “redistricting,” as some PCVs were put into another warden group to keep the group sizes even. I decided that a little pre-holiday party would be nice too – today the travel ban for l-Eid started. Last year l-Eid was on New Year’s Eve; this year with the lunar calendar it is eleven days earlier, or actually ten – it’s Friday, so it coincides with the winter solstice! Watching the moon grow every day gives visual reminders that it is getting closer (l-Eid is ten days into the lunar month) – as does watching the sheep activity here. On our travels, we saw a LOT of sheep grazing – Steve read that 5.5 million sheep are sacrificed in Morocco for l-Eid. Last year, leading up to it, Baa – Baa - Baa I heard all the time and then afterwards – silence. I might go to souk tomorrow to see all the animals.
Anyway, I invited the warden group – and the people who used to be in the warden group but were redistricted – and the new SBD volunteers in the area – and a couple of other PCVs in another warden group who had heard about the party from their new SBD sitemate – and ended up with 20 people – environment, SBD and YD in both first year and second year (and of course the environment people are six months off of the SBD/YD track so we had people from every stage of newness and seniority), plus Youssef and my tutor, Aziz. It was potluck, which is always fun. I think we ended up with six kilos of clementines! But also a nice variety of other foods. I had contributed some of the clementines, and baked brownies, banana bread and chocolate chip bars (using two bags of the precious chocolate chips on this one event!).
I had also wrapped some presents to put in a grab bag – some food items, DVDs, candles and other miscellaneous things I had gotten from COSing volunteers, blouses I was done with, maps from Lee, magazines, toothpaste (I am still hoping my tooth sensitivity goes away so I didn’t give away all of the Colgate Great Regular Flavor that the support team sent me way back when I first got here, but I did give away some of it) and other random things. We decided to do a Yankee Swap – I had done something like this before but I think it was called something else. Everyone picked a number and then you went in order. When it was your turn you could go to the grab bag for something wrapped or take something away that someone with a lower number had previously opened. It was a lot of fun. It was interesting watching the groups gravitate from the kitchen to the Fes room to the Rabat room to the Marrakesh room, forming and reforming as people mingled with different people. I think I will do this again! Everyone made it home before nightfall, and I ended up with a supply of yogurt and clementines to get me through the week (no leftover baked goods though!). This morning I washed the floors, and this week the catching up and moving ahead will continue.
Friday, December 14, 2007
PST, IST, and COS mark some of the milestones in the life of a PCV. So do mid-service medicals, but for some reason they are not called MSMs. I wonder why not? Anyway, I will call them that!
MSMs were last week in Rabat – Elisa and Steve ended their vacation there and it was straight from one experience to another. The leap was not smooth – I had made a reservation at the hotel where most PCVs stay for three – Rose, Janeila and me – and one for two – Steve and Elisa. Rose had arrived before I did and our room was fine, but when we arrived there was no room for Steve and Elisa – and there were a bunch of PCVs in the lobby relaxing, ready to hug and catch up and make dinner plans. It was nice to see everyone but first we had to find a hotel! Found one not far away and then Steve, Elisa, Youssef and I went to the Mega-Mall, where I had sushi (I’d been thinking about returning there since I’d been there for GAD; invited others to join us but they were already on to something else). Then we went back to the hotel, where Rose, Jong, and Shawn were waiting to play cards with us. As you’ll find out when I work my way backwards, we had stopped for about 20 minutes in Kelaa M’Gouna to play four rounds of rummy with Shawn, but we had also been practicing Piffle in anticipation of playing that, so we alternated and also added Coconut, Elisa’s favorite game for two people (but also good for groups) and one I would like to play more regularly. It was a bit wild playing with that many people but a fun transition to end the vacation and start the PCV time. Elisa and Steve left early the next morning and MSMs officially began!
Fortified by Toast (two slices of toast, cheese, fried eggs, juice, coffee) we headed to the Peace Corps office. The doctors explained the agenda for the next few days – a TB test, dentist appointment, appointment with the PCMO, and then a TB check – and then we had our TB test shots and were sent on our way. We were tasked with getting dental X-rays before our dentist appointments, dropping stool samples off at the lab whenever we had them, and for the over-40 women, getting mammograms. Those with Monday dentist appointments went for the X-rays, and there was a crowd in the waiting room. It took even longer for some of us because the radiologist wasn’t prepared for the mammograms, and we had to call the Peace Corps office to resolve the confusion, but the wait gave me some time to catch up with several people. Everyone seems to be in a good place now – where there was a lot of stress at IST, now people seem happy – either they are doing work they are proud of or they have made peace with the situation and are making the most of their time in Morocco. It was really good to see.
On the way to the lab I had passed the French Institute, which has a restaurant. We go to the Goethe Institute all the time when in Rabat but for some reason the French Institute isn’t on the PCV rounds – well, I know the reason; it’s expensive. But it looked like a nice place and after the lab (which also had some confusion with the forms we had brought with our samples) and the X-rays (dental no problem, mammogram maybe the most painful we all said we had been through) a treat seemed in order – Janeila and I joined Bob and Linda there and we sat in the sun and talked for a while. The salad was good; the chocolate mousse a highlight. Then it was time for my dentist appointment. I had been to this dentist last December but since then to the one in Fes. I think I prefer this one – I felt thoroughly cleaned, and I liked his sensitive tooth treatment. More than one PCV had some cavities – all that sugar in the tea and all that bread! I was his last appointment for the day and by the time I got my sensitive tooth prescription and got back to the hotel people had gone off to dinner, but Janeila and Rose (who I had not seen all day – she had the PCMO appointment so was on more or less the opposite schedule from the Monday dental appointment people) were waiting, and we went to La Mamma for a quiet Italian dinner. We called it an early night but then stayed up late talking.
I’d heard that at MSMs you have a lot of free time, but I didn’t really feel that way. Monday was waiting rooms and a late appointment; yes, I didn’t rush through lunch but I am glad I had seen a lot of the tourist stuff when Martha and Susan were here, because there really wasn’t time for that, at least for me. We did have some time on Tuesday morning though, and Rose, Janeila and I walked to the ocean and stood there for a while (having spent the prior two days by the ocean, it wasn’t as necessary as it usually is when I get to Rabat, but since it might be a while before I see the ocean again, it was appreciated). And we went to the medina – when Martha and Susan were here it was l-Eid and everything was closed, and I hadn’t gotten to the medina when I was there for GAD, so I had pent-up medina demand. A nice walk, followed by ice cream on the way back (oh, Elisa and Steve and Youssef and I had also gotten ice cream on Sunday night. And souk bags! They’d bought poufs in El Jadida and needed another bag to carry them in. I told them it was a measure of how far I had come. Last year I bought a souk bag for my books and lamented that I had bought one of those ugly plaid plastic bags. Now I was oohing and aahing over the same thing, a souk bag with a zipper!).
Time to go to the Peace Corps office for my appointment with the PCMO. All is well. At the end of my appointment my lab results came in – no parasites. Other people have them but all seem to have benign ones. I can’t say I was hoping for parasites, but it does seem as though it’s a Peace Corps rite of passage that I will not experience, so I was just the slightest bit disappointed, but mostly relieved. I did have to go for an ultrasound based on my mammogram results though; another person who met with the other doctor had a very similar situation and background but did not end up having to get one. I also asked for and got an eye appointment – the scratched eye that was irritating me at IST is all but healed but I wanted it checked out anyway. So any free time I might have had in the afternoon was taken up by more appointments! I went back to the hotel and grabbed Jong and we played Piffle in the radiologist’s waiting room – it was nice of her to wait with me – and my eyes checked out fine, though I did get a prescription for some drops, so I am glad I went.
I joined a group for dinner at the Goethe Institute that night; it was a chance to catch up with some people I hadn’t spent much time with yet (mainly Frank) and also to have some delicious penne. Afterwards, though, I wanted to go home and immediately wash the smoke smell out of my hair. And then there was more talking in the room. There was a big crowd going out every night – for drinks or dancing or jazz – and I didn’t join them. Loud, smoky bars are not my scene (though I might have gone bowling or ice skating at the Mega-Mall had those ideas caught fire)! It meant, though, that there were several people I didn’t spend a lot of time with, though I did have brief conversations with almost everyone and in-depth conversations with a few. It made me all the more glad for the time I had spent with people while on my travels the preceding two weeks. Now we won’t get together as a group again until COS (Close of Service) conference in August. Again, how many of us will make it that far? We lost two between IST and MSMs. Not bad. Five total since the beginning – I think YD has lost more.
Wednesday morning we returned to get our TB tests read. No TB. I am glad about that – for any PCVs who have it it is usually (if not always) latent, but you have to take a nine-month course of strong antibiotics. And then we had a meeting with the programming staff. They told us about some new forms and reports, and then gave us some time to brainstorm ways to improve the program. Immediately, people seemed to revert to their PST roles – talking to hear themselves talk, sleeping in the back of the room, being devil’s advocate, trying to keep the group on track, doodling, etc. My role (both in this case and in PST – at least how I saw it) was to make some suggestions but try not to dominate. Anyway, it was a productive meeting, and if nothing comes of it, it was nice to be asked….
We found another “Euro” type place for lunch – I had a goat cheese salad – and then, free at last (except for one more prescription that I have yet to fill) it was off to the medina again; we met up with Youssef, who had had his doctor appointment as well, one he needed before going to the U.S. (while on vacation he had heard about his interview date at the consulate– on his wedding anniversary, the 19th, so he had to see the doctor before that) and he did some shopping as well! I bought some leather pillows and some circular knitting needles and I felt I had spent a good amount of time at the medina, finally. He and Rose and I went to Marjane (taking advantage of his holding on to the car!) where we ate at Pizza Hut. I never expected to be away for so many days at a time without an opportunity to do laundry – if I had planned for it I might have done some handwash along the way but as it was I bought emergency underwear at Marjane. When I did it I thought I had reached a new low, but the underwear is actually good, and I might get some more to replace worn-out pairs I’ve been using for over a year and had planned to just keep on using.
It was nice to hold on to the car for one more day and be driven home. Some friends came along as well – we didn’t have to fill out itineraries or get work-related leave forms for this but since Azrou may or may not have been out of the way for them, they shall remain nameless. I did my laundry (obviously I had to!) and others made lasagna and apple pie, and then we played cards. Still on the move though – I had not had a night to myself since November 17, but I enjoyed the company. And the next day it was off to Rabat! Back to the world of squeezing into a grand taxi….
Last year I had really wanted to go to the Rabat Craft Fair with the rock-carver, but was not allowed to since it was my first week as a PCV. This year I had asked to go because he wanted me to go, but would have been happy being told no and staying at home – so of course I was told yes! I still could have said no but since he wanted me to go, I thought it was important to do so. This fair was held at the American School and is mainly for expats looking for gifts to exchange or send home, so it has a different audience from most craft fairs (at least that’s my impression). The PCVs there helped with set-up, pricing, selling and translation. It was a long day but a good one – all of the artisans who were there with PCVs seemed to do well, and I was glad to be able to spend time with the rock-carver, especially going into the workshops this week. The picture was taken at the fair – if you look closely you can see the rock collections and lamps on the table (we had crowded tables but that way were able to accommodate more artisans). I'm wearing my new fall jellaba - picked it up while I was with Elisa and Steve, thinking the window of time to wear it had ended, but it has warmed up a bit in Azrou since then, and the weather in Rabat was perfect for it. I was fighting a cold though – I think it started on Friday on the way back to Rabat) so I was happy to have an early dinner (fajitas, at the American Club, with Bob and Linda – pretty good! Farewell to all of the Rabat restaurants I enjoyed for most of the week, though, and back to reality) and just go back to the room to sleep. And on Sunday, rather than spend more time in Rabat and take a later train, or more time in Meknes and take a later taxi, I just went home – did more laundry and put away my vacation things and did some general straightening and made some potato soup (a first – Rose had given me the idea) before Kristina arrived.
Today is the first day I’ve been by myself for weeks! I went to the police station this morning with the photographs for my carte de sejour. Last year I had gone to several shops for the tax stamp I needed; this year the man at the police station told me to just give him the money and he would take care of it. Last year I had to go to the moqaddem to get certification of my address; this year I have a new address but the man at the police station told me that for my renewal I could just use the address on my current one (my host family address) rather than going back to the moqaddem. And then they took my expired carte de sejour away and gave me a receipt and told me to come back next month. I dropped my Rabat Craft Fair reports and our reports on the Kristina workshops off with my counterpart, went to buy fruit and vegetables, and have been working and reading and cleaning at home this afternoon. Tomorrow I’ll go to Fes with Youssef for more shopping that he wants to do and then on Sunday I invited my warden group and the new people in the region over for a pre-holiday (the l-Eid Kbir travel restriction starts on Monday) potluck holiday brunch. Maybe tonight I will attack the big pile of mail that accumulated while I was gone! Or start working on blog entries about my vacation weeks…
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Those of you who know me must know how distressed I feel at not having been able to write for weeks. I could say I have been letting those of you who fell behind catch up, but it is I who fell behind and will catch you up! I went for a run this morning (first of those in a while) and ate some pasta (first time I had made food by myself for myself in a while, and it tasted great) and I will swiya b swiya (little by little) fill you in.
This week, Kristina has been here for workshops with the rock-carver. She is a stone sculptor back home and has insights into the art and technique, whereas I have had a business approach with him. She arrived on Sunday and we reviewed the marketing materials Lee, Nam and I had made for him, my spring PACA interviews, the Rabat Craft Fair results and other observations I have had. On Monday we met with my counterpart to review our plans for the week. She had set up three days’ worth of interviews and exercises; I helped with some of the questions and took notes and provided enthusiasm and support.
First we interviewed him on his products, process, customers etc. A lot of this I knew and there was some new learning. For example, I guess I could have figured this out but now I know - he doesn’t actually carve the products. A partner of his in Midelt cuts the shapes – he finishes them and drills holes for lamps and puts the mineral and fossil collections together. This explains why all I have ever seen him do is finish off the lamps and put the collections together. Similarly, the wood-carvers don’t make everything they sell in their shops – they carve the simple trays and finish animals that others start and then sell a lot of products that are actually made by other artisans. That’s okay – buying from them is still supporting them and Azrou – but in all cases (and specifically apropos to this workshop) it potentially limits what he can do in terms of new products or product improvement – which is a lot of what Kristina was planning to talk about. She did anyway – the second workshop was a brainstorming session. She had brought art magazines with photographs of contemporary sculpture, talked about common shapes that tourists buy that he now doesn’t make (such as tagines) and jewelry. The third day she went into creative thinking – dynamic shapes, thinking outside the box, and other exercises. I would like to have her come back and do the same workshops for the metal worker and anyone else interested! I think it helped to have an outsider come in with a new approach, and to team up – I talk to the artisans all the time but having her join me and spending time with one person three days in a row gave the discussion more focus. We went to a cyber and showed him what I have done on the web site, and he was excited about that and eager to work with me on enhancing his section, maybe even as soon as next week. In her site, she works with a jewelry artisan, and there are possibilities for more collaboration – either with him using some of the stone for jewelry, or simply displaying and selling his current products at the artisana. All in all this was a great collaboration, and I hope for more – either having other experts come in or sharing my expertise in other sites.
As you know, I hadn’t been at home for a while, and when we weren’t doing the workshops, Kristina accompanied me on my rounds. We went to the post office, visited my counterpart, had lunch with the new Timhadite volunteer and saw the environment volunteers, most of whom I hadn’t seen since they left for their IST in the beginning of November. We had tea at Abdou’s and looked at carpets, we had tea at my host family’s, we had tea as well as lunch with the rock-carver, we had coffee at Bilal with pastries from the Escalade, we had iced coffee in the iced coffee café (the days have been warm and sunny), we ate at Mina’s, we had bisara (the fava bean soup), we had tuna sandwiches – in other words, in three short days we hit most of my frequent and/or favorite haunts; maybe this is why it was such a joy to finally cook for myself. Kristina had good timing on another question, too – she had never had pastilla, one of my favorite Moroccan dishes, and wanted to try it here. I texted Youssef to find out where you could get it in Azrou and he said he would make it for us. I told him fine, except he had to teach us how to do it. There is a recipe in the Peace Corps Kitchen Guide, and Kristina had copied it to try to make it for her family when she goes home for the holidays, but the recipe is complicated and not user-friendly. Youssef’s method (which is by eye and feel, not by measurement, so if you make this add or subtract to taste) is time-consuming but not as complicated as it looks, and the pastilla was great! I’ve included it below. A note on cooking, over and above the recipe. I have gotten used to taking the skins off of peanuts and to taking the twigs out of the oregano (not in this recipe but just for illustration) but I didn’t realize that when you open a walnut there’s a middle part that you have to throw away. As Youssef said, Americans are used to everything being clean. I was lamenting that I did not have powdered sugar and he said yes I did. I said no, I have only regular sugar and he again said that I did – and put the sugar in the nut-grinder part of the blender and sure enough, I had powdered sugar! I am definitely going to use that newfound knowledge in the future!
This week I’ve also been trying to help Youssef with has plane ticket – charging it to my credit card. We thought there was a problem with my Visa but it may be that he doesn’t yet have his visa – something got lost in translation! We’re close though. He found out while we were away that his interview is December 19 – which also happens to be his wedding anniversary. Credit cards are not part of the culture here, but I am happy to charge it to mine in order to save him a two-day trip to Casablanca or Rabat just to get the ticket. And this afternoon I am going to the police to renew my carte de sejour – it expired while I was away and I had gone last month to get the process started, but they told me to just come back when I returned. A real sign of the passage of time and the halfway mark!
I should also mention a new addition to Dar Shereen. I have been cold for a while, but I hadn't brought out the space heater until my guests from the states came. This week I broke out my hot water bottle, and it is a wonderful thing - so nice, in fact, that I went out and bought two for guests! I often have more than two guests at a time, but I also have only two guest pillows, so two seemed like a good number. The picture is of Azrou just as you crest the mountain and start coming down on the way from Meknes. I always enjoy coming over the top and seeing Azrou nestled in the valley (towards the back of the picture). It's not easy to stop on the road there, but on the final day of having the car, Youssef stopped there so I could take the shot.
More to come. Time for some email and/or mail….
Makes two medium pastillas
4-6 small onions
2 tbsp olive oil
1 package pastilla papers (or phyllo or strudel dough, per the book)
½ cup almonds
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup peanuts (or more if you like)
1 cooked chicken breast
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp paprika
½ tsp curry
¼ tsp red pepper
¼ tsp ras al hanut
other spices as you like
cinnamon for decoration
powdered sugar for decoration
Chop onions with medium slice and put into pot or pressure cooker. Add measured spices, olive oil and water not to cover onions completely (perhaps two cups). Cover and cook on high heat until onions are soft and water is almost but not completely boiled down – about an hour (less time in pressure cooker). Onions should be wet but not watery.
While onions are cooking, grind nuts coarsely in nut grinder.
Open bottle of wine and toast to pastilla.
Shred chicken into medium-fine pieces; remove skin.
When onions are finished, remove from flame. Add nut mixture, chicken and 6 raw eggs to pot of onions, reserving some egg white. Mix, put back on flame for a few minutes, stir.
Grease pans and preheat oven to 400 F, 200 C. Place three pastilla papers in bottom of pan. Cover with an even layer of filling ¼ inch thick. Add a layer of pastilla paper (you might have to tear a big paper in half). Add a second layer of filling and then top with a folded paper. Brush with egg white and tuck ends of bottom papers in to pan. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar. This will be the bottom. Bake for 20-30 minutes until paper is crispy and golden brown. Remove from oven and turn over on plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, flip again and decorate with criss-cross lines or other patterns of cinnamon. Serve hot on bed of fresh mint leaves. Also delicious served cold.