Monday, January 07, 2008


I don’t know when or how I first heard of the Paris-Dakar rally – might it have been on Wide World of Sports? I have this image in my head of vehicles skittering along through sand at breakneck speeds. When I went to Erfoud last year and our guide said that we were on the Paris-Dakar rally route, I thought that was cool. Michael Palin, in “Sahara,” timed his visit so that the rally crossed his path (or vice versa). On the way to M’Hamid, the guide there also said that we were on the Paris-Dakar route. And when I went to Merzouga the next week and Hmad mentioned that the Paris-Dakar rally would be in the area on January 5 and 6, I invited myself to go! I figured it (and Hmad confirmed it) to be like the Tour de France (which I would also like to see some day) – you wait around and all of a sudden the race goes by so quickly that you can’t even get a picture of it. But it still sounded great! As did the thought of bicycling in the palmerie with Frank and whoever else was going to join us.

Slowly but surely the plan unraveled – first, I looked up the rally on the internet and it turned out that it was going to start in Lisbon this year. Not a deterrent, but it didn’t have the same ring to it. Then, it turned out that this year’s route wasn’t going to go through Merzouga – that’s okay; it seemed that there might be an opportunity to see the encampment in Errachidia on Sunday. It was never the driving force (no pun intended) of going away for the weekend anyway – just seemed like a good reason to choose this particular one. Then the big snowstorm happened. When it took Janeila over two hours to get here from Immouzer (it normally takes maybe half an hour) I started fretting about the road conditions – here to Erfoud is a long trip on a clear day, and the thought of taking several extra hours to get there made it start to seem unappealing – not to mention that the pass from here to there is the first to close and the last to open. So I mentally prepared myself not to go, though I packed (in the dark – more on that in a bit). Then Frank texted to say that he heard on BBC News that this year’s rally was cancelled due to safety concerns in Mauritania (look at the BBC web site or the Dakar web site for details – incidentally a fellow PCV thinks that the Marrakesh Marathon is a terrorism opportunity; my feeling is that I would be far enough in the back of the pack…I have spent much more time thinking about how I am going to get there and back than whether or not I am a target – not that I’m not cautious of course).

And then I got an invitation to go skiing with the six-pack on Sunday – something I had said I had wanted to do! There were a few inches on the ground here in Azrou, but over two feet in the higher elevations. And next weekend is a long weekend due to holidays – without the rally, I could go to Erfoud next weekend if Frank were up for it and then not feel so pressed for time. Or somewhere else, efficiently using one of my two monthly allocated Saturday out-of-sites. And then I could stay home and read on Saturday, satisfying some pent-up reading demand! I still packed. After all, Frank (and, it turned out, Jong) awaited.

In the meantime, I had an enjoyable birthday morning on Friday – once on my birthday Chicago had its biggest snow in all my years there; I felt that was a present from above and that this year’s was as well. I wrote a little and read a little. When Janeila arrived, we went to the pizza place and then to get travel snacks and a light bulb. I think the joke needs a better punch line, but the real answer is two – one to balance on the counter and the other to “spot” (as in gym class back in sixth grade). I pulled the bare-bulb wire down to the point where I can now safely reach it should I need to replace it again. Not quite immediately after we replaced the bulb, the electricity went out. The ground-floor neighbors had snow-water coming out of some sockets so they decided to cut the electricity off for all of us. I’m not sure why my apartment had to be cut off and not just theirs (or even just that room), but I did not have the language skills or knowledge of wiring to argue or reason with them. Last week when Janeila was here we saw some Buche de Noel on display at the Escalade – and noted that it was really Buche de New Year’s here since there’s not much in the way of Noel – and we thought about going there to see if they still had some and then it would be Buche de Birthday, but her shoes and socks were soaked through and with no space heater to dry them or warm up by, we decided that our travel snacks would be dinner and dessert.

She read my tarot cards by candlelight (good thing I have purchased candle holders from both the rock-carver and the metal-worker!), which added to their spiritual quality. Some things that I will share: The cards said a man helping me with my career (last time they said this too but it was two men), maybe Washington D.C. next, something possibly requiring more training – maybe library or archiving, something with research and books. She saw that what was most significant for the rest of my service was just showing up and that I should not discount how much that alone is appreciated. She said that I have many friends who care a lot about me (see, this is why I put stock in the tarot cards!). I wanted to ask something about this simplicity issue I have been wrestling with, and we found it was hard to frame a question. When I finally did, the answer was that yes, it is hard – I use my brain a lot and I find everything to be interesting. So the answer isn’t cutting anything out but just scaling back – maybe going to three games a year instead of one a week, as an example, or focusing on the post-season….

Saturday morning I carried my pack down to the CTM, where we learned that the pass was closed and I could not get to Erfoud. Not only that, but the CTM to take her to Marrakesh wasn’t coming (we played some rummy while waiting for that news). So we went to the Escalade for pastry and Bilal for coffee and tea – alas, no more Buche de Noel. She decided she really wanted to try to get home, so she took a grand taxi to Meknes and got on the train – and I hunkered down in the living room, since the glow of the sun made it nice for reading, piled on some blankets, and started a book. It’s cold in there though, and even when the electricity came back and I moved the space heater in there, I was too cold, so it was back to the kitchen.

As I was trying to stay warm under the blankets, though, I had an epiphany. This week I was planning to start working on the grant proposal for the follow-up to the Katie-Jehan-Lauren workshops; I really felt inspired when I spoke to them about it. All of a sudden it occurred to me that I don’t have to do it though. The program assistant called on Thursday to question the natural dye/weaving workshop and requested that the trainers come to Rabat to justify it. Janeila said that she would rather drop out than do that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gregg does the same. I thought I put a great proposal together, and I don’t know that I feel like putting together another one that will be so scrutinized. Bouchra didn’t let me go to the Katie et. al. trainings last year, and the Azrou cooperative was not invited. It seemed logical that I help carry it on, since most of the SBD people in the area are first-years, but I’ve noticed that when I mention working on it with her to Rose she pretends she didn’t hear me. Why don’t the first-years work on it after their IST? Maybe it’s even better for the artisans if more time passes. I’ll still look at it this week, but maybe with the same mindset with which I looked at the GRE material. Why should I work so hard? I have a lot on my plate as it is! The web site alone is a worthy project to carry me through to the end of my service if I decide to make it so. I have the rest of my life to work so hard – or not, since I don’t want to work so hard then either! How is that for an ephipany? Have I finally come around to the mindset that other PCVs have? My saying of 2007 was that if I can’t learn to relax here in the Peace Corps in Morocco I will never learn it - am I finally, finally getting it? It took a lot of fortitude to be at home this weekend and not look at the files for those trainings or work on the web site or the GAD harassment surveys. I had been saying for a while that I had pent-up reading and writing (as in with a pen) demand, and decided to feed those needs instead! In addition, the quarterly report I did last week had questions (albeit towards the end of several pages that focused on goal #1) about goal #2 and goal #3, so it served as a reminder that I work on those too.

I didn’t go skiing either, and I had a mindset change there too. As Saturday unfolded, the plans of the six-pack kept changing (partially due to the fact that half were without electricity or phone and/or were snowed in) and they decided that there would be other chances to ski. I thought about going on my own anyway, since the ski area never opened last year at all, and I felt that this could be the one opportunity. But then I decided to adopt the same attitude – there’ll be other chances. Now whether there are or not remains to be seen, but I think it’s a healthier way to think and a good approach to the new year and to life in general – there’ll be other chances! So – armed with my new outlooks, I went for my longest run yet – on a sunny, warmish day – and bought vegetables and fruit and a first, meat just for myself (in the mood for a meaty pasta sauce!) and read more and wrote!

This week I am going to resume tutoring, and I am happy about that. It was a long time without, but worth it to wait until I am eager to do it. I hope to make some progress on the web site, and I am going to work to keep the natural dye/weaving workshop a possibility. I am going to look at the Katie-Jehan-Lauren material to see how I want to proceed with that, although as of my epiphany I am ready to let it go. I should expand on that a little more because when I refer to it I know what I mean but it may be too much shorthand. They brought together members of their cooperatives as well as others in the Middle Atlas region (again, not mine) as well as some individual artisans for three days of basic business skills and also technical/artistic skills training. They located a place to host the trainings including transportation, meals and lodging, they found guest speakers and created materials, they engaged students from Al Akhawayn to sit with small groups and help with language and exercises, they wrote a grant and raised the money to make this happen, they wrote a detailed report. They came through in November to interview all the participants as to what they learned, what they use and what they still need – I attended one of these interviews and talked with them about it and that’s what made me think it would be a good project for me (that is, for me to work on with other PCVs, since it is a big project for one person). Now that I write this I still think it might be, so maybe I should think about how to make it happen without overextending myself as opposed to dropping it entirely…. as the tarot cards recommended, still getting involved but somehow scaling back…. And this is a three-day work week. Thursday is a religious holiday for Islamic New Year, and Friday a Moroccan holiday that celebrates the Presentation of the Independence Proclamation (as opposed to the Feast of Independence, which is November 18).

I think it's all your epiphanies about not working hard - your writing style has changed! Much more casual, less purposeful. Interesting...

Not working is good! We grew up to be so purposeful and accomplish things, it takes a long time to realize that we don't have to be that way if we don't want. I recently started thinking about the possibility that there isn't that much of my active life left (for those who don't know me, don't get worried - I'm 51 and have no problems worth mentioning!). My reaction was "I must be much less serious and purposeful and do far more off the wall stuff before I run out of time! Sounds like you might be heading there too.
Not sure if it's my style that's changed or what I have to write about - while in training and just starting, there was so much information to share. Now that I have been here a while, it is more daily life and not so much that is new, perhaps?

I still want to be purposeful and accomplish things, but maybe the purpose and the accomplishing are to be defined differently. Have always wanted balance and never wanted to work that hard (at least not once I got out of school). But yes, American culture is very achievement-oriented and it is nice to be here and away from that pressure (even if a lot of the pressure was self-imposed).
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