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 ( and the program recorded on Christmas is at

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!

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