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…

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