Friday, January 18, 2008


I met a princess this week. Had lunch on Monday with the new Timhadite volunteer, went to tutoring, and went back to the artisana, where I saw a bunch of people in camouflage gear, plus a couple of dogs. I asked my counterpart what was going on and he said it was the king’s sister. King Hassan II, that is – I would call her the king’s aunt, because that’s her relationship to the current king, but to them she’s the king’s sister. Anyway, a member of her entourage started talking to me and she told him I was Peace Corps – she said it in English, and I’m not sure how she knew. I remembered our car picnic by the lake, where a shepherd had told Youssef that the king’s sister likes to hunt ducks. Camouflage – dogs – aha, hunting party. I asked the entourage member if they had been hunting ducks and he said yes, but not him personally – he was just along because he’s her friend. I told him I had never met a real princess and he told me she was as modest a princess as you’d find, and he introduced me to her and I shook her hand. Little-girl fantasies of blue chiffon evening gown and diamond tiara became the reality of camouflage jacket and pants, but she did use a cigarette holder, which was a nice touch. Later I asked my counterpart if she had bought anything and he said yes, but I’m not sure what….

Prompted by friends, I decided to write a letter to the editor of the Times about the op-ed I mentioned last time. I sent it to our country director first – he likes to review anything sent to the media. When I submitted it (and if I get published I would be following in footsteps – my mother was once mentioned in the Times; Albert Shanker wrote an open letter to her in a United Federation of Teachers ad, and a creation of my father’s appeared in a Times crossword puzzle book) I noted that it had to be 150 words or less, so I revised it. It did lose some of its punch, I think, but is still fit to print. I sent the revision to the country director with a cover note that I didn’t want him to be surprised if he saw it in print. He wrote back saying that he likes to avoid surprises when possible. I replied to him that I didn’t know if this qualified, but that I had met the princess, and he responded that yes, meeting a member of the royal family definitely fell into the no-surprise category, and that the Timhadite volunteer had called our program assistant on Monday night to report it. Got it.

I did submit the longer version to an RPCV blog, and it was published there. Let me know and I can send you the link, or just send you the letter. It hasn’t generated a lot of comments one way or the other here, as far as I can tell – not sure what that implies – maybe people aren’t as into thinking about the big picture of the Peace Corps as I am?

On Tuesday I had lunch with the new SBD Ait Hamza volunteer, and then later in the week with the new SBD Ain Leuh volunteer and the new SBD in Ait Yahia Oualla (new site! One of the rural communities I was supposed to visit way back when….). All of the new volunteers have varying degrees of stress – language, host family, finding housing and getting it approved, not sure about work yet – I am sure I sounded like this last year and was grateful to have Amanda and Katie as sounding boards, and I am happy to serve as one for them. I know I didn’t feel settled for months – living out of a suitcase, then getting my apartment set up, having frustrations with tutoring and with mixed messages from counterpart and staff….

Another major part of the week has been hosting an export contact. She’s a student who lived and worked in Rabat last year and had an idea to open a fair-trade rug business in the states; she’s applied for an entrepreneurial grant for seed money to do it and is here on a grant that she won in order to do research and lay groundwork. We had a long talk with my counterpart – I knew (and had told her) most of what he said but I also learned some new things about the weaving cooperative here in Azrou and its history. For example, most of the women are illiterate. I knew that was the case in the rural sites, but the people here that I talk to the most (the officers) are literate and even know French; that may be part of the reason they are officers. I set the contact up with the other volunteers in the area, and when she was out visiting them, I did a training run and some errands and other things such as writing to my World Wise Schools class and cooking dinners. Dinner on Wednesday was just ready when the butagas went out – empty! Only my second kitchen empty; I have gone through four or five shower butas already. At least dinner was done! But this was a test of how effective the hot water bottles are in keeping me warm. She said she would be okay without the guest hot water bottle, so I didn’t fill mine from the shower-buta water (it wouldn’t have been that hot anyway). Well, I shivered for at least half the night, under four blankets, with my fleece long underwear/pajamas! The next buta should get me through the winter – and in all likelihood run out next time when I have a lot of guests and am just beginning to cook a meal!

At all of the lunches with the new SBDs I have brought up the trainings and the idea of working on them collaboratively – after I looked at everything last week I decided that I would still like to be involved, but I also still don’t want to take on too much more than is already on my plate. Working with the new volunteers in the area seems to be an ideal way to go – and I did write the program staff to keep them in the loop so they don’t think I am distracting the new volunteers from their community integration and primary projects in their own sites. We’ll see where this goes. We don’t have an answer yet on the natural dye/weaving training-of-trainers either. And I decided to write program staff to say that I heard that I would not be replaced and should I approach my work differently – I have been approaching it as if there would be someone following me – and if so, how I would do that.

Today one of the LCFs was coming through, testing people for language – they didn’t necessarily meet the minimum level before swearing-in, but were told they would be retested rather than sent home (the threat of being sent home, in my opinion, is not a motivator, but I digress). I asked her if she would evaluate me informally and give me some strategies for what to do next in tutoring. She noted improvement, especially in comprehension, and told me to work on verbs and conjugations and that vocabulary would come. I mentioned that I also wanted to read – at least to be able to sound things out, not necessarily to learn classical Arabic (which is the written language; darija is a spoken dialect) and she got very excited when I mentioned that – so that’s added incentive. I still want to add French as well, and I am not sure when I’ll feel I’ve had enough darija to do that, or whether I should try to add it now – that, I didn’t bring up. I was glad she took the time to spend with me on the darija and somehow it seemed – I don’t know, disloyal? – to tell her. I didn’t do any language work this week with hosting the export contact (just after I found the rhythm, too – I wasn’t planning to host her, either, but it just seemed to be the right thing to do to offer her a place, and not only was she a good guest, she also had a lot of ideas and interesting perspectives) so I’ll try to some this weekend.

The picture is of some of the Safi pottery I bought. I looked at my pictures of Safi and they didn’t seem to capture the colors and patterns. The pottery is depicted on top of the rug I bought (under some duress, but I have since gotten many compliments!) from the Azrou cooperative. And I wrote a poem for Peace Works – foregoing haiku, limerick or iambic pentameter, free verse seemed to flow this time. It was partially inspired by a new dish I made; having company made me want to try something new – using available resources, I made eggplant (plus zucchini) parmigiana (actually red ball)…

Ode to Red Ball

Back in the states, I knew you as Edam
I liked you and enjoyed your company every so often
But you were one of many options

Now, you have elevated status
You make my eyes light up
You are a splurge, a treat, a delicacy

You are the parmesan on my pasta
You are the mozzarella on my pizza
You are the ricotta in my lasagna
You are the Monterey jack in my tortillas
You are the cheddar on my macaroni
And oh, a little bit with eggs? Mmmmmm!
You are all cheeses! You are every cheese!

You are breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack
Grate, slice, chunk, even take a bite out of the big wedge….
Etini eshrin dirham, 3afak! La, tlatin!
Plus, I can play with the red wax.

And now I’ve been introduced
To La Vache Qui Rit with Red Ball!
This could be the start of a whole new dimension to our relationship…

This weekend I was planning to tally the harassment surveys for GAD – our next meeting is in mid-February and it seemed a good block of time to work on those. But I talked one of the new volunteers into skiing! Azrou has had an even warmer spell this week than last, but I heard that there was still lots of snow at the higher elevations. And – I ordered some mystery novels in the mail and had them sent to my sister and two of them arrived today (along with one shoe – I thought if the shoes were sent in separate packages they would have a better chance of getting to me – so far so good). Hm – in the Needs Assessment and Priority Matrix, skiing vs. tallying surveys came up skiing. How about reading a long-awaited mystery novel vs. tallying surveys? I did my final pre-ns-marathon long run today but still want to get in a couple of short runs (and a hammam to loosen things up, if not a massage) before next Sunday’s race….

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