Friday, February 29, 2008


On Wednesday I went to visit my counterpart and he told me that the governor of the province was in Azrou the day before (when I was at home tallying harassment questionnaires!) and said that there would be a new artisana building in eight months, when the museum will open, and there will be a path from the museum to the artisana (something Lee had mentioned and I put in a memo as well). Will I be here to see it? He offered to call Peace Corps and ask if I could stay an extra year….the funny thing is that on the way to the artisana I noticed men working in the museum building, which has more or less looked exactly the same (half-finished) since I arrived here in September 2006. Will I be here to see that?

Extending for another year is a possibility, though I think it is more common in other countries than it is here. One person in YD from the last stage is staying for an extra year, and I hear that one person in my stage is thinking about it. I don’t know how easy it is to do – your project has to justify it. I haven’t seriously considered it – I think there’s value in finishing with the people with whom I started – we have been through a lot together – and that there’s a reason that Peace Corps service is the length it is, but there is definitely more I could do here if I stayed longer. I still hope I get replaced, and I still have to work on sustainability so that someone in the artisana or the artisans themselves take over the web site – and I still have a lot to do on it myself!

I went to souk this past Tuesday, and Tuesday two weeks ago, and I have plans to go this coming Tuesday as well. I avoided it for most of the past year – it was too cold or too hot or too crowded or too muddy – but it has grown on me. I don’t usually buy anything (though this week I replenished some of the spices that were depleted by the VSN crowd), but I find that now I enjoy the sights and smells and sounds. This week I saw an outdoor lounge chair, and I might get it to put out on my balcony this summer. I thought I would check at Marjane first, but I don’t know when I’ll next get to one! We’ll see if the chair is still there next week….

And while writing so much about the food last weekend, I failed to mention that one of the new SBDs grew up about five blocks from where I did and also went to Jamaica High School! She was about fifteen years ahead of me, but still, it’s a small world. And I also failed to mention that when I went to the McDonald’s in Meknes last month, I happened to be reading a New Yorker article titled “The Spymaster,” and one of the guys behind the counter (they all know English) commented on it. Oops! Some people think the Americans here in Morocco are all spies – I didn’t mean for that to be visible! There were no further consequences but it was a bit embarrassing. I also meant (way back around the Muslim New Year) to mention that it is 1429.

And I meant to elaborate on one of the aspects of the natural dye/weaving workshop – the horizontal and vertical looms. I think I mentioned that traditionally the women used vertical looms and men horizontal ones and speculated that maybe it was because the horizontal looms needed more upper body strength. Well, that’s part of it, but there’s another reason that Gregg mentioned. Vertical looms don’t take up much space – traditionally they were in the home, perhaps in the kitchen, and the women could weave a little and still do the housework and watch the children (and not leave the house!). Horizontal looms were traditionally in workshops outside the home, so they were used by the men.

Another thing I meant to discuss – Peace Corps recently evacuated Kenya due to the instability there following the elections. They evacuated in phases by region and recently evacuated all volunteers. You can find more details on the Peace Corps web site. Meanwhile here in Morocco we received news that an important terrorist network was dismantled. I received the same information from someone back home. I feel safe in my site (though of course always cautious, naturally) so it seems it is a shame that what makes the news at home is the alarmist and negative news. Of course, that is part of the reason why the Peace Corps is so important – so people here realize that we’re not all spies and people at home realize that not all Muslims are fanatics…. On the plus side, Peace Corps just this month officially returned to Ethiopia and Rwanda. As I looked at the web site to check it I noticed that this is Peace Corps Week! This time next year (?) and every year I could go to schools or other events to talk about Peace Corps.

And time marches on – the new Environment and Health stage arrives in country on March 4. It’s a little earlier than last year’s spring stage arrival, I think, but still amazing. Training for both stages is in Ouarzazate, so it’s unlikely I will get down there (maybe for the diversity panel?), but I may meet some of the new people yet. An Environment and a Health volunteer came through after their COS conference and (over a game of Piffle) I counted the people in their group that I had come across – even though most of them are nowhere nearby, I had met all but a few.

It is nice to get back in the swing of Azrou things – to go to the post office and Maroc Telecom and visit the artisans and the carpet shops, to have laundry hanging on the line and the floors washed, to buy groceries and cook my usuals. One of the new volunteers in the area wanted to buy a jellaba, and she and I walked around the medina and also the neighborhood where I buy my vegetables, Ahadaf, in search of fabric. I had couscous with Youssef’s family today, and it’s time to visit my host family. I even saw Potato Chip Guy today - first time in a while - and bought some chips. I thought about explaining Leap Day as a day when women can ask men to marry them but thought it might backfire on me – I am fending off marriage proposals as it is! My tutor was away while I was here and now I’ve been away and/or catching up, so I fell off the tutoring bandwagon, but made arrangements for him to come to the artisana with me next week and help me talk to the artisans about what they want their portion of the web site to look like.

I talked to my counterpart about my writing a grant for the web site and other things I have been working on – to get a better address for the web site, to get digital cameras for the artisans and train them so that they can add pictures of their products, to print more brochures and cards (Steve and Elisa asked me what they wanted for my birthday and I said print some of those up and send them, and maybe once everyone sees them in color they will want to spend the money to get more printed. They also offered me sheepskin slippers and I turned them down because I had just gotten felt ones in Marrakesh, but that might have been a strategic mistake; the felt ones are not as warm as the sheepskin would have been….however, I am glad I have some printed brochures!). I am sure that I could write a grant and have friends and family donate the requested money. The tricky part is that in order to get a grant approved, you have to include some community participation. Would the weaving cooperative and/or the individual artisans spend some of their own money? I hope I can persuade them to. I asked my counterpart if the Ministry could contribute some and he seemed not to think so. I’ll keep working on it. Oh, and today I saw them painting the curbs red and white – the last time they did that it was last year in anticipation of the King’s visit (so in my mind I have been singing, “they’re painting the roses red”). He is supposed to come again in March, perhaps even to the artisana – I hope I see him!

I do have another event coming up. My friend the interior decorator (I had a free consultation with him thanks to the Princeton Club silent auction and it helped me streamline and reorganize and think of other things I want to do – I made a few changes while in Chicago but have saved most ideas for the next home) is coming to visit in a couple of weeks. I asked if he would give a talk to the women – not that they will necessarily export to the U.S. but just so they could know the trends – and I am inviting the other PCVs in my province who also might be able to use the information. I think it will be fun. And it will be fun to take him shopping as well!

Back on the subject of food, I made smoothies during VSN training for the morning break. They are delicious! Why don’t I make them more often? So good for you – fruit and either milk or yogurt or a little orange juice. That’s it – I am going to make them more often! And also on the subject – the pizza recipe that has now taken the Middle Atlas region by storm…

Dough: 6 T of warm water, 2 1/4 t of yeast, 1 1/2 T sugar. Mix and let sit for about 5 minutes. Add spices that you like, such as 1t each of rosemary, crushed red pepper, basil, and oregano. The person whose recipe this is thinks that rosemary is the most important and is best if you can get it fresh. Also 2t salt, 1/4 c olive oil, 1c warm water, a few cloves of garlic chopped finely (she uses 4-5). In the U.S. she puts sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese in as well. Mix well. Dump some flour in, about 3 cups and mix. You will probably need more than this: you need to keep adding it until you can knead it without it getting stuck to your hands all the time. Knead it for a few minutes. Roll the dough olive oil, then cover it with a small towel and put it in a warm place. Hopefully it will rise. After an hour take about a third of it and pat it out as thin as you can in a well olive-oiled pan. Bake it for a couple of minutes and then take it out.

The dough is fantastic (you can also made bread or breadsticks out of it – it also freezes well). Then you sauté the vegetables that will go into the sauce – I have been using onions, garlic, peppers, hot peppers, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and then tomato paste, water and spices. While the dough pre-bakes and sauce cooks, grate your red ball cheese for topping! When the dough comes out of the oven, put sauce and cheese on it and in 15 minutes or so (for my oven you have to rotate the pan halfway through, but even in the U.S. they always say cooking time may vary) it’s ready!

This weekend I think I will stay close to home; I’m still catching up. But I know better than to predict or plan what I will get done when I am here – somehow there are always surprises!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Since I last wrote, I have had barely a moment to myself! But now I hope for a nice block of time to myself – to work on the web site and have other Azrou time (and maybe even some me time?) - before the See the World trip. A recap, working backwards….

This past weekend I hosted VSN training. VSN is the Volunteer Support Network, where we use active listening skills. Was it really a year ago that I was getting the training myself? It has been valuable for me – I have ended up having a lot of conversations with people who needed to vent, and where my tendency in the past might have been to give advice to help a person solve a problem or to inject my own experience to show that I can relate, now I do more listening – just letting people talk or drawing them out. It’s amazing how well it works – when people talk to someone who listens, they feel better!

I felt that the training was valuable, and I had all sorts of suggestions for things that the Volunteer Support Network can do – buddy big-brother-like with the new trainees, for example. That one hasn’t happened (yet), but I did suggest that we have a tip sheet in each issue of Peace Works – and then I felt that since I suggested it, I would offer to do it. The tip sheets I have coordinated are how to be a good sitemate (written with Amanda), dealing with boredom, overcoming homesickness, and advice from COSing volunteers. The next one is how to be a good guest/how to be a good host, and then I think I am ready to pass that along. I also decided that hosting would be a good way to give back and also to meet some of the new stage. In addition, I offered because I know I have a comfortable home for hosting, at least by Peace Corps standards, and that Azrou is a good location, easy to get to.

So I hosted six new SBD volunteers and two trainers from Friday afternoon through this morning. As the host, my responsibility was to clean the breakfast dishes and prepare and clean up after a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack, so that the trainers and trainees could keep on schedule. I also helped prepare some of the breakfasts and dinners, just to help. I pictured myself spending the weekend in the kitchen, staying out of the way, working on the computer or on filing while things were in the oven or nuts, fruits and yogurts were set out on the table. Not exactly! I cleaned and cooked and cleaned and cooked with very little downtime – even though I prepared some things in advance on Friday afternoon before the guests arrived. It was tiring! I think from now on if I have more than three people over, it’s pot luck!

On the other hand, the group was very nice, very into the principles of VSNing, and very appreciative of the food. I could have put out Laughing Cow and crackers and they would have devoured them (in fact, I did serve it as part of afternoon snack and it was indeed consumed), but I wanted to show a little more effort than that. I baked a cake for each day – banana chocolate chip, yogurt pound cake, coconut angel cake, each morning served with fruit smoothies. Lunches were eggplant red ball (now a signature dish), stuffed peppers and chili mac, and crustless quiche. Afternoon snacks were more of a hodgepodge – my secret recipe fudge, popcorn (my first time making it, non-Jiffy Pop), the aforementioned Laughing Cow and crackers, mocha java (another signature recipe), and – I was perusing the Peace Corps cookbook and noticed that bananas and apples can be tempuraed (similar to what I do with the eggplant as the first step in eggplant red ball – medium flat slices, coat with seasoned flour – herbs in the case of the eggplant and cinnamon and nutmeg in the case of the fruit, dip in egg, sauté in hot oil) – so I made both of those and they were big hits – especially with the lesson from Youssef that if you take sugar and put it in the blender’s nut-grinder attachment you get powdered sugar. But time-consuming. There was free time yesterday afternoon so I didn’t have to make a snack for that one….

When I cook for just myself, I make more or less the same thing – onions, peppers and tomatoes with either scrambled eggs, pasta or rice. The sauces vary – how much tomato paste, which spices, an occasional other vegetable such as zucchini – but that’s more or less it. This weekend was the same, just on a larger scale – in addition to the things I made, we had eggs and yogurt and fruit for breakfast, and dinners were stir-fry vegetables with tortillas, pasta with vegetable sauce, tomato soup, and pizza with vegetable sauce (and some leftover meat from the stuffed peppers and chili mac). If you didn’t like tomato-based things or red ball cheese, you came to the wrong site for VSN training! We did have clementines for dessert at lunch and dinner, but it was still a lot of food!

There was a little free time at lunchtime – some of the visitors took walks; I stayed here, either checking email or reading a little bit or getting some fresh air on the balcony or taking a shower. With the free time yesterday afternoon, I escorted people to the artisana, the fleece-jellaba maker to look for buttons, the yarn shop, and Abdou’s, where we held an informal sb3ur for the two kittens who were born seven days ago!

I did attend the sexual harassment session. I remember that last year it was really heavy, focusing on assault and the more serious side of harassment, and I thought that if that happened to anyone they would just call Peace Corps and not call me. Now that I have had some personal experience – and more, now that I have tallied the GAD surveys - I wanted to make sure that the new VSN volunteers realized the extent of what people experience and that this a likely topic that people will want to talk about. There is some of the more serious, and people do want to talk not to just Peace Corps but to other volunteers, but also there is constant lower-level harassment (cat calls, for example), and people need to talk, a lot. I thought that by making it too serious last year that we weren’t necessarily best prepared to VSN people about it. At the GAD meeting last week, we talked about the need for more training, as highlighted in the surveys – we are sharing the results with VSN and VAC, the “student council” of volunteers, and also with staff – Safety and Security, Programming and Medical. First I need to tally the rest of the surveys – the Health and Environment stages that were just at COS conference filled them out – and then I have to summarize the results in a readable report. That is going to be a lot of work! I sent the raw data to the VSN trainers prior to the weekend so they could discuss it if they had time, and I did talk to staff while I was in Rabat to tell them that it was coming, but it’ll still take time to write everything up. It was good to share the raw results with the group at my house (there were two other groups elsewhere in the country); it won’t stop the harassment but maybe with more preparation, training and support, PCVs can develop effective coping strategies.

I have other work to do for GAD (Gender and Development) as well. We had a great meeting last week – with a lot going on. I still think that our biggest issue is explaining what GAD is and means and what the GAD committee does. We need to tackle that with our stages and with Peace Corps staff, and worked on a proposal for staff training as well as the PST and IST presentations and are working on a resource guide that would go to all PCVs. I offered to formulate a list of books in the Peace Corps library as well as helpful web sites and Moroccan NGOs, working with the Peace Corps librarian, but there isn’t just one place with all of the information, and I spent an afternoon in the library writing down titles and authors, which I now have to type up, and will have to do more internet searching than I anticipated.... It’s also time to set up GLOW activities (they’re not just camps!) for the summer, so we have to disseminate tips for that. I offered to write an Annual Report of our 2007 activities, and we revised our bylaws (though not to exclude the need for the Annual Report). International Women’s Day is March 8 and that is an opportunity for those who work with women or girls (or have women or girls in their towns – i.e., everyone) to do an activity. As always, I am glad to be on this committee – it’s a good chance to think “big picture” about what Peace Corps can do in Morocco. I really enjoy the camaraderie of the group, and I do enjoy going to Rabat! Dinners out, sunset on the beach, and a walk through the casbah and the medina, where I still have pent-up shopping demand! We had some hotel issues (the place where we had reservations still had our reservations but had given away our rooms!) and I didn’t sleep well (our alternate hotel was noisy, and one night there was an eclipse and I tried to stay up for it – dozed, woke up, didn’t see it, and never got back to sleep – turns out we had been misinformed about the time; I feel sad about missing it but my attitude is that there will be others. Sadder about not getting back to sleep and having a headache for the next 24-plus hours!). Combine that with not getting a lot of sleep during VSN training and I am running on fumes at the moment (but staying up to write to you!).

Last Friday (the day after Valentine’s Day) the stage-mate who had ETed last spring because of a death in the family visited – she’s in a grad program in London and spent a week in Morocco on vacation. I was hoping she would come through Azrou but she didn’t think she would fit it in; I am glad she did, albeit without a lot of notice. The next day I left early (she did as well, so we had extra time in the grand taxi to Fes) to go to Tetouan for my Saturday overnight. I had a taste of it with Martha, Susan and Youssef and wanted to see more. The ride up there was beautiful – green mountains and fields, flowering trees, mountains with cotton-candy-like cloud-tops (a la those near Cape Town). I got there in mid-afternoon and walked around the medina and the Andalusian part. It started to rain, and of course I wasn’t prepared for that, since it hadn’t rained since December, so I went back to my hotel room to read for a bit (it actually would have been a nice cozy weekend to stay home). I went back out and walked around more, but then felt wet and cold. Sunday morning was gray, but not raining, so I decided to take a taxi to Martil, on the Mediterranean coast, just a fifteen-minute ride away. I thought of it as my annual February trip to the Mediterranean (would be nice to make it so!), but where last year’s trip to Al Hoceima included sun, sparkling blue-green water, and a contemplative walk, when I arrived in Martil I saw a stormy, angry sea, with threatening clouds and sand blowing at me. I decided to take a walk anyway, and shortly after I decided to head back the skies opened up. At least I was on the way back, but I got soaked. And then started to feel chilled and miserable. I decided I couldn’t face going back to Azrou only to travel to Rabat the next day (scheduled GAD travel day) so I texted the duty officer and said that I was going to spend the night in Larache, about halfway to Rabat from Tetouan. I found a café in Tetouan (it actually said non-smoking on the door! In French and Spanish) and stayed there until it was time for the bus.

I have gone on overnights without a complete change of clothes before – luckily I had one this time, so I could put on dry clothes; I also splurged on a hotel where I could have a hot shower en-suite, heat, and a comfortable bed. It was sunny on the Atlantic coast, so I went to a café by the ocean and took a little walk through the medina – blue and white, friendly, similar to Asilah but smaller and much less touristy. Sunday night there were tremendous thunderstorms – they kept me awake. Monday morning found me at another café in the rain – this time under an awning, with a view of the ocean. When it cleared up, I had time to go to Lixus before leaving for Rabat. Had driven by twice without having time to stop – third time’s a charm! This is another Roman ruins site, much less extensive than Volubilis, but interesting nonetheless. There were anchovy-paste vats (that was the main industry) and an amphitheatre up the hill, and civic buildings with a view of the river mouth and ocean – you could see that it was a strategic location. As I entered the site, a guide said it was closed to tourists because of thieves in the area – I asked him if I could have a quick look if he came with me and he said yes – so I saw the major ruins but I didn’t feel comfortable. On the way back I rode in a taxi with tourists who had been with another guide at the site – he told them about the ruins, not about thieves, and they had a lovely time! First the rain dampened me, literally, and then my spirit was dampened by feeling unsafe. Oh well. It took a while to process my feelings – uneasiness about the thieves and sensing that if I had had the other guide I never would have thought about thieves kind of overtook satisfaction at finally getting there, not to mention enjoyment of the site, but at least I did get there, and better safe than sorry…and then it was on to Rabat and GAD and then VSN training and now here I am, alone at last, catching up and getting back to the “normal” schedule (and going to bed early)! Good thing there's an extra day in February this year - I need it!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


The Natural Dye/Weaving Training-of-Trainers Workshop this past weekend was a big success! As we said afterwards, 90 percent of it was Gregg and his knowledge, passion and teaching skills, but the rest of it was Rose and me putting it together. It was at my brunch in December where the idea first came up, and “we should really do this” could have resulted in nothing but a missed opportunity, but instead I drafted a proposal that night, Rose revised it, the trainers added input and we submitted it that week. That week the Program Manager’s departure was announced and then the holidays came along. As the weeks stretched on, my fears mounted that not only would the workshop not be approved but also that the proposed attendees would make other plans for the weekend. And then we got approval! And we invited everyone in the Middle Atlas, and all of the SBDs were available, as well as a quorum of Environment volunteers. And then we put together a detailed logistics memo and then we had the workshop! In retrospect, we put together a fairly major training in a short amount of time.

I went up to Sefrou a day early, on Wednesday, to help with preparation. We wanted the trainers (who had not met each other except through email) to detail the flow of their sessions – but both Gregg and Janeila are such experienced teachers that they knew that their sessions would flow. There was also a lot of work required to house and feed that many people – we had 17 people in three houses in Sefrou (all of whom came to Rose’s for two dinners) and 12 people in my house in Azrou (for a dinner and a breakfast). We made shopping lists and went over the logistics, and that night shopped and grated cheese and made tortillas in advance.

Almost everyone arrived on time on Thursday and had a chance to see the Sefrou artisana. We did introductions and then went to lunch in the medina. Sefrou’s medina has walls and close, curved streets – it feels very different from Azrou’s. The two towns are supposed to be the same size, but I think Sefrou is bigger. The medina seems bigger, and there are a number of different neighborhoods, all with white block buildings, not the yellow with the green- or red-tiled sloped roofs of Azrou. Anyway, after lunch we walked over to the workshop for the natural dye workshop, led by Gregg.

Natural dye can increase the value and beauty of a rug. The inconsistencies in color from batch to batch are part of the charm. Chemical dyes don’t run when they are used on the right material, but the dye is imported and sometimes by the time it gets to the bled (country) the instructions as to how to use them are lost, and consequently Moroccan rugs now sometimes have a reputation for bleeding. Many of the cooperatives use pre-dyed wool, and if they could be convinced to dye their own, they could regain some traditional knowledge and improve the value of what they make. I will certainly ask my weavers if they would consider it and want to learn! It’s not hard, though it requires some time and labor. You take the white wool and put it into a solution in what is called mordanting – some sort of salt, usually alum here, so that the dye will stick to the mordant and the wool will stick to the mordant (without it, the dye and the wool won’t stick to each other). You boil it and let it soak. When it dries, you then put the mordanted wool into a dye bath. Gregg has a spreadsheet of over 1000 things that can be used for natural dye, including readily available here things such as walnut shells and carrot tops; we used onion skins for the demonstration. After dyeing and drying, you can then do a post-dye treatment with baking soda, vinegar, rust or ammonia, each of which alter the color slightly – differently for different dyes – or leave as is. The picture shows some yarn coming out of the post-dye baths.

The group then went on to cassecroute at a nearby cafe, at which time Rose and I and two other designated shoppers bought vegetables and fruit (nobody had designated themselves as shoppers for Azrou, so I decided to get everything I needed in advance – it meant some extra carrying but then I didn’t stress about how shopping would fit into Saturday’s schedule). We had a Tex-Mex dinner at Rose’s, followed by a roundtable discussion in which everyone discussed their work situations and cross-sector potential of the Environment people working with farmers or gatherers of the dyestuffs, which they would then sell to the artisans the SBD people work with.

Friday we bid farewell to the Environment volunteers and had morning and afternoon sessions on weaving. Gregg, prior to joining Peace Corps, was a weaver and ran a weaving program at an art school in Asheville, so this is second nature to him (prior to that, he was a math teacher and a Peace Corps Volunteer in the ‘60s in Micronesia – he rejoined after September 11, served two years here in Sefrou and extended, but left in the middle of his extension to help a friend with cancer. He was here for a few months visiting his host family and is leaving next week – hence the urgency to get this training in, and training the volunteers as opposed to artisans in the various sites, which would have required more time and expense to coordinate. He said more than once that this workshop gave him closure. In addition to his knowledge, he’s also a good person, and I am glad I met him and hope I haven’t seen or heard the last of him). I have observed weavers for a while now, but I gained more knowledge as to the process, and several of the new volunteers had not worked with weavers in their CBT sites so were just getting to know everything; the timing of this workshop was good.

Gregg talked about the mechanics of weaving and why some rugs are more valuable than others, about how to tell a good quality rug, and about how to suggest product or process improvements to our artisans. Quality comes first from the materials – the more wool, the better. Most of the rugs made in Morocco have a cotton warp, and even if they have a wool weft (look at me, throwing out terms like warp and weft as if I had always known them!) they are less valuable that way. Many rugs, still with cotton warp, has a weft that is a combination of wool and cotton or (shudder) acrylic. That cactus silk? Acrylic! You can tell by burning a strand – if it smells like burned hair it is a natural fiber and if it beads up it is acrylic. Not that there aren’t beautiful acrylic rugs- they are just less valuable. To shop for a rug you must see it on the floor (hmm – I have not always done that). It must lie flat on the floor. And be a rectangle or square, not longer at one end or bulging out to the side. It’s important to look at the ends - often the ends of rugs I see are not done well, and that is something that could be changed relatively easily. Those are just some of the tips. Then we had a chance to watch the weaver knot at the vertical loom (she was too fast for us to give it a try) and a little hands-on at the horizontal loom (we learned about those too – and knotting vs. flat-weave – and more. I am just giving you some highlights).

We then had our roundtable at cassecroute rather than after dinner, since the night discussion the night before had gone late, talking about the Small Business Development program as a whole and then specific problems, such as artisan group dynamics and willingness to embrace new ideas. It was then on to Rose’s for a spaghetti dinner; the night before I had helped cook but on this night while others cooked and cleaned, Rose and I introduced some of the new volunteers to Piffle. Always good to know more card players!

Janeila had gotten sick on Thursday night and stayed in bed all day Friday at Rose’s. She still wasn’t feeling well, but she rallied to give her Saturday morning talk on color theory, including a fun exercise where we had to use color to tell how we were feeling – no words, just blobs of color. We interpreted each other’s strips of paper and some of the interpretations were exactly right! That illustrated the power of color to express emotion and reinforced that we do associate certain colors with certain emotions.

We then left for Azrou – I was in the first taxi, and when I got home we diced the eggplant to let it soak, and we cut the double batch of brownies I had made; there were still some left by the time the last people arrived. Lunch out was followed by a trip to the Artisana and to the nearby yarn shop, where we could now tell natural from synthetic fibers. The highlight of the afternoon was a seminar at Abdou’s, led by Abdou. First we had tea and cassecroute there, and it seemed so relaxed that I was afraid that Abdou had misunderstood and thought we were all just coming for tea and cookies, but then he got out his books with the maps showing the tribes of the Middle Atlas and brought out representative rugs from each different tribe, rugs made with natural and chemical dyes (same rug, chemical – 800 dh, natural – 2000 dh; ‘nuf said?) and with different materials. It really reinforced the learning from the two days before and tied everything together.

Pasta with vegetables followed, and then a wrap-up discussion. In addition to having designated meal helpers, we also had designated note-takers for each session; this was mine. We’ll put all of the notes together to share with each other, with Peace Corps, and with volunteers in other regions who didn’t attend, and then I want to get some technical terms translated into darija with my tutor. The wrap-up included many next steps and ideas for future collaboration. All in all everything went well – all of the volunteers were attentive (of course, it helped that Gregg and Janeila and Abdou were good teachers) and I think all got something they could use. Some have already put the new knowledge to use!

Sunday morning we had eggs, yogurt, clementines and pumpkin bread and an optional session we billed as “fun with fibers.” People could bring their own knitting or crocheting or learn felting from Gregg. I was really looking forward to felting – I have felt slippers that I bought in Marrakesh and the thought of learning to felt for myself was intriguing. Joy and I had looked it up on-line when she was here, and several web sites mentioned that felting is messy. Well, Gregg managed to contain the mess, so I was able to relax. We took raw wool (though other natural fibers can be felted as well) and separated it and made the fibers go every which way. The every which way is important. Then you dip it into warm, soapy water (can do without soap but it makes it easier). The key is agitation – which is why when you put a cashmere sweater in the dryer it felts. The web sites recommend buying a bamboo mat and rolling the material back and forth – we just made little balls that we rubbed and rubbed with our hands, and then flat pieces that we tapped and tapped with our hands. You keep rubbing or tapping and eventually you get felt! To make things such as slippers you can felt over a piece of hard plastic or another kind of last (for example, maybe, the ruined shoes that I was holding onto in case my new ones didn’t come and I had to try to salvage them – I might try it). In addition to being a great teacher, Gregg is quite a punner, so it seems fitting that I close this entry by saying that when it was time for everyone to WEAVE, we all FELT that we had gotten so much out of the workshop that it was as if we had DYED and gone to heaven!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Some good news this week – one of my photo candidates (see the October 7 entry) was selected for the RPCV calendar! So now I will be not only a published writer but also a published photographer! The calendar is put together by the RPCV group of Madison, Wisconsin; I first saw it in Chicago at a Peace Corps event. It raises money for grassroots projects – in other words, much of the money raised goes back to Peace Corps countries through small grants. You can order your 2009 international calendar, featuring the picture I submitted, at I’ll also be getting some, as my “payment,” – number to be determined based on whether my photo is one of the twelve big ones or a smaller one – support team, guess what you might be getting for the holidays next year? In addition, they will send me a copy of the photograph – which I have already decided to send to Amanda and Youssef, since the man is selling cilantro outside of Youssef’s family’s house, and Youssef mentioned that he misses him. Hm, maybe I should give it to the cilantro man? I don’t know if he was aware that I was taking his picture, and I don’t want to risk upsetting him, both because I see him frequently and because he is the only person I have found who sells sage; I bought some recently and made sage incense sticks for the workshop attendees so they could clear the karma in their new post-homestay houses.

And that also means that SOME of my mail is actually reaching the United States. I wondered in an earlier entry if anyone was getting any of my mail and since then not only have I not received any comments to the affirmative, but I have also asked people and received responses in the negative. I spend a lot of time writing – to people who don’t have email and to people who don’t read the blog, but most of all to the support team, with whom I am in touch through other means but who I also think would like a written word of thanks every so often. I enjoy the time I spend writing and I don’t mind the considerable expense but it depresses me to think that my mail is not getting there – maybe even more than it depresses me to think of what is not getting to me, which as you know depresses me quite a bit. I especially feel badly if my partner school is not getting the letters I write faithfully every month. I suppose I shall persevere, because maybe the letters and cards are just taking their time, as are the boxes on the way to me. Right? Right?

I’ve started to think about things that I’ll miss. I realize that there’s still a lot of time left and a lot of memories to create and to cherish –and I have never taken any of this for granted or wished the time would go by faster – but I think that ever since l-Eid, when I gazed at all of those sheep at the souk and felt sad that I wouldn’t be here next year, I have even more appreciation for things. Last week I went to the souk – I don’t usually go, because I have a daily supply of fruits and vegetables that are closer to where I live and therefore less of a schlep – and I really enjoyed all of the colors of the produce and all of the other things that are for sale, from ponge material to jellabas that can be tailored on the spot to used clothing to random metal and electronic parts to plastic goods to shoes to kitchenware to spices to soaps to animals to carpets. I’ll admit that this warmish weather that we’re having was part of what made it nice too – last year I kept saying I would meet Amanda and Youssef there but it was too cold or too muddy or I’d get there and it would feel too crowded. This year I feel I might go more often!

I was outside on the balcony the other day and heard the call to prayer. From inside my house I can hear the sound from two or maybe three mosques, but from outside it sounds as though I can hear more, with the voices ringing out in overlapping time delay rather than in unison; each mosque seems to run on its own time (and unlike in other countries, the call to prayer is always live, not recorded, though a microphone and speaker system are used). I’ll miss the call to prayer. The other day I was walking home with my fresh vegetables and fruits (I’ll miss that too) and I passed two jellaba-clad women carrying live turkeys by their feet. I do cherish those moments. The vegetable man sometimes quizzes me on the darija names for what I’m buying – then he’ll point to something I don’t eat, such as beets, and I’ll tell him that I only remember the names for the things that I like. He also gets a smile on his face as he tells me the price of what I buy – even though dirhams have been the currency for years, both buyers and sellers alike speak in terms of ryals, which are no longer in circulation. A dirham is 20 ryals, and in PST I joked that one of the skills I could add to my list is the ability to divide quickly by 20, but the truth is that I do not divide instantaneously by 20, and the vegetable man finds it extremely amusing to watch me figure out how many dirhams to give him after he quotes me the price. One day he really threw me off and gave me a random number, not the price, and laughed at the confusion on my face as I tried to figure out how the bunch of bananas I bought could cost over 30 dirhams (they’re usually about seven).

At the same time, I also think about things from home that I miss – I feel as though I have adjusted pretty well here, but I do find myself looking forward to the day when I turn on a hot water tap and hot water comes out of it. I sometimes turn on the hot water heater for dishes and to wash my face, but more often than not I don’t, saving the hot water only for showers. To put my clothes in a washing machine will be nice – though remarkably I am not yet tired of wearing the same few clothes (I will admit I did get a supplement of tops this summer, and I had to get new skirts and slacks when I lost a size, and I have bought some Moroccan clothes, but the same few winter things have lasted through this winter too). I have always had an appreciation for Reese’s peanut butter cups but I think that, unexpectedly, they have become my #1 food request when getting things from home (though I have been trying to locate some Girl Scout cookies as well – but since one of the types I’m most interested in is the peanut butter cookie coated with chocolate, it’s kind of the same thing).

I’m certainly not looking forward to job-hunting, though I don’t quite dread it either – I feel there are all sorts of possibilities open to me now and all sorts of directions to pursue. Soon will come the time when I will redo my resume and start putting out feelers. I am also not looking forward to re-entering a world of mostly couples and feeling like an odd duck – I may be an odd duck here as well but somehow I feel that because of that, I fit in. Much as I may sometimes feel I have too many PCVs coming over and staying over (Jong started and I am going to continue and submit for Peace Works tips on how to be a good guest), I always wanted more visitors than I had in Chicago and I will miss having so many people come through.

I enjoy the pace here – one of the many nuances about “inshallah” means that there aren’t really deadlines – if something doesn’t get done today, it might tomorrow, God willing, or maybe the day after, or sometime after that, or maybe it just won’t get done. I still have a drive to accomplish and achieve but I don’t feel pressured by external forces and I accept that I have to move at Moroccan pace and not expect people to move at mine (I’ve been having an email conversation with a stagemate who is still having a hard time with that). I love the lack of structure here – am I going to be able to work in an office again? Do I want that kind of pressure? I love having so much control over how I spend my day. There have been days when I have had to set an alarm clock, but those are the exception!

Obviously there are going to be people I miss, and I don’t even want to think about that yet – I went by Abdou’s the other day to thank him for his help on the workshop (much more on that to come!) and he was sitting outside, petting Minush (no kittens yet) and I started to think about how sad it will be when it comes time to say goodbye. I had a brief visit to the Artisana but wanted to get home because Rose was still here, working on her grant application, and it seemed as though it had been too long since I chatted with the woodcarvers and metalworker, even though it was just last week. It’s been longer since I’ve seen the rock-carver, but I go by as frequently as I see everyone else; he just isn’t always in his studio. While walking to get vegetables yesterday, I took a street I don’t usually take through the neighborhood near my house and saw an open door with a sign that said “artisan/sculpteur bois;” inside were a variety of wood items but not a person that I could see. On the way back the door was closed, but I think I will take that street more often and one day I will find him and introduce myself. And today I ran into Rajaa, the seamstress – she told me she had moved her workshop; the last couple of times I’ve been by there she hasn’t been there so it was good to run into her. I’ll stop by the new place soon.

I think I’ll save the workshop for another entry, but will mention here that we had scheduled it to end with an optional lunch out on Sunday, after which (or before, if they opted) people would return to their sites. Well, one thing led to another – that is, some people wanted to play piffle – and afternoon stretched into early evening and Kathy offered to make pizza, which was delicious! The first first-year SBD to ET (who is one of the few not in the immediate area whom I had met, when she was on her way to her site the week I was traveling with Elisa and Steve) came through Azrou on the way to Rabat and we invited her to join us as well. Rose was planning to stay for the afternoon to do workshop follow-up with me and work on her grant, but the piffle was a good unwind from all the work we had done, and she got permission to stay an extra day to do on Monday what didn’t get done on Sunday; it was a productive day. Some volunteers who shall remain nameless came through Azrou on Monday evening on their way back from COS conference and I took the rest of the dough and made more pizza and now want that to be a part of my repertoire. More piffle was played, and then Rose got sick. She got permission to stay yet one more day and slept for almost all of it, getting up only to call the doctor, try to eat a little something, and go back to sleep. That gave me the chance to do my laundry and clean up after the guests and summarize my work experience in French for my counterpart (with google translate – my counterpart then makes corrections, but I no longer spend major tutoring time watching my tutor translate) and work on the work-related leave follow-up form detailing the workshop. Still have to write up the portion I offered to scribe – the wrap-up and potential next steps - and follow up with the other scribes, and then I have a list of things I could and would like to do before the end of the week. I hope to write more about the workshop this week, but in the meantime the picture is of me doing some hands-on weaving at the horizontal loom. This weekend I’ve scheduled an overnight to Tetouan, which seems to warrant more than the hour or so spent there on the Martha/Susan/Youssef trip, and then next week there’s the GAD meeting in Rabat; I come back on Thursday night and then I am hosting VSN training from Friday through the following Tuesday morning!

Monday, February 04, 2008


I had my second site visit last week. This was a surprise – that is, I had a few days’ notice, but I wasn’t sure I was getting a second site visit at all. Katie never had one, for example, and Tariq, the Program Assistant, is doing two jobs until they hire a Program Manager, so I guess I thought first-years and just holding the fort in the Peace Corps office were his priority (a couple of weeks ago he spent the whole week on the road, delivering bikes and approving housing). The Middle Atlas PCVs were his first stops (Rose and Sherwin on Thursday and me on Friday), meaning I hadn’t heard first from people in other sites how theirs had gone (mine was towards the end of the site visits last year).

It went well! I met Tariq at the artisana, where he mostly talked to my counterpart, mostly about things in general and not that much about me. I was pleased to understand about 90 percent of the conversation. I also had a chance to show Tariq the labels on the display tables, the questionnaire, the display improvements, the SIDA brochures and, later, the web site, brochures and cards – the tangible things I have worked on. We then went to my apartment, where I had to fill out a self-assessment, he inspected such things as the CO detector, butagas hookups and food storage, and then we discussed an action plan/project list for the remainder of my service.

I told him that I thought the web site could keep me busy for the rest of the time – I still haven’t finished populating it for an initial site, and then I want to ask all the artisans how they want their portions enhanced, and then I could add more artisans – here and in the region, and then I could add French, and so on. He thought this was a great project, including getting the other PCVs in the region involved, and added to my action plan what for me has always been the greatest challenge, but I know it has to be done – finding someone here to train and therefore making it sustainable. The natural dye/weaving trainer-of-trainers workshop, which takes place later this week, is also on my project list (and to make that sustainable I came up with the ideas of designating a scribe for each session so that we can share the knowledge with non-participants as well and having a follow-up where each attendee report to us when they train their artisans on these topics; Tariq also suggested that we get everything translated into darija to make it more easily transferred).

I also told him that a lot of my day-to-day time is spent with the artisans just talking and that that may lead to various requests – he listed that as ongoing marketing support for the artisans. I also mentioned that I wanted to work with the weavers in Ben Smim, helping them with product development and organizational development, and he put that on the list. Hooray! Last but not least, I mentioned the Katie-Jehan-Lauren trainings and that I felt daunted by the logistics and wanted the help of the volunteers in the area. Much to my surprise – and relief – he didn’t add it to my list of projects. So I am even more inclined to just hand it off – or, as I mentioned to one of the new volunteers on Saturday, scale it back – a series of trainings for the artisans in day-trip distance and then no worry about housing or food, only speakers and transportation, seems more manageable. Anyway, I am pleased with the visit and with the plans for the remainder of my service.

And the remainder of my service, by the way, has been officially shortened! My COS date was always listed as November 30 with an asterisk, subject to change. Due to MSMs for the first-years, swearing-in for the next crop, and the l-Eid Kbir travel ban (Muslim holidays move up eleven days every year) our COS date is now November 26. This means that anyone who goes straight home can make it in time for Thanksgiving dinner (I just wrote to my stagemates to say that anyone not in a rush who wants to have Thanksgiving dinner in Rabat should let me know). It also means that when Martha, Susan and I celebrated the halfway point, we were two days too late! Anyway, I admit I felt a little disappointed when I read the e-mail – I guess that’s a sign that I really do like it here – but I have time to adjust. This week is the COS conference for the Environment and Health second-years, who leave at the end of May – time does fly.

The site visit was just part of a busy week last week. Tuesday and Wednesday were “typical” Azrou days – of course I long ago determined there is no typical day. I wrote up my report on the craft fair and made corrections to the French translation of the ministry request and found out about the site visit and wrote up a list of things to discuss with Tariq. Had lunch with the Environment and new SBD volunteers who were in town for various reasons – since Tuesday is souk day, that has turned into a regular lunch day – the Environment volunteers meet with their counterpart and some of the SBDs have tutoring. Before the new SBD stage came in, my tutoring was at lunchtime so I didn’t join the Environment volunteers, but now my “regular” tutoring time is Monday afternoon, and the tutor joins whoever is in town for lunch Tuesday. I’ve joined the lunch crowd a couple of times in recent weeks and think I want to do that more often – when it was just the Environment people and me the discussion was mostly about their work, but now that there is a mix of Environment and SBD, it is more about life in general and is more fun for me. I had coffee with yet another volunteer and then spent most of the evening IMing with Rose, working on a memo for the logistics of this week’s natural dye/weaving workshop, figuring out exact timing and who would do what when. Wednesday I had tutoring, saw another of the new volunteers, did food shopping and other errands, and went to the artisana.

And then Joy was here for the balance of the week. She is an experienced developing-world traveler so I knew she could get from the Rabat airport to Azrou by taxi, train and grand taxi on her own – since I am low on vacation days I couldn’t get her or meet her elsewhere. Thursday morning we had a cooking lesson from my host mother, which of course led to lunch. We learned how to make z3aluk, the eggplant salad I so like, and tktuka, same thing but with peppers as the main ingredient instead of eggplant, and which I also like! The recipe:

Z3aluk (eggplant) or Tktuka (pepper) salad
Roast (3 medium eggplant or 8 medium green peppers) on open flame until black, maybe ten minutes – can do on stovetop or in oven, but it will make the taste slightly different.
When cool enough to touch, remove the black and chop/dice the eggplant or pepper.
Grate half as many tomatoes as you have eggplant or pepper. Peeling tomato beforehand is optional (Moroccans do so).
Peel and grate 3 garlic cloves.
Coat skillet with olive oil, about 4 Tbsp. Add tomatoes and garlic and start to stir over medium flame. While cooking, add
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
Stir for a few minutes, and then add the eggplant or pepper.
Add a handful of parsley
Add 2 Tbsp tomato paste if desired
Stir for a few minutes more and then serve hot, cold or at room temperature.

We also learned the basic spice mixture that goes into any tagine – our lunch was sheep and prune tagine. You cut the meat into small slices for even cooking and then add
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves
½ cup or so of olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp ginger
2 tsp yellow spice (I think it is yellow saffron but we couldn’t translate or tell by taste)
3 Tbsp parsley
2 tsp black pepper
While the tagine is cooking, add another onion. And add water as it cooks to keep the tagine from drying out – lots of water (somehow I didn’t witness this though).
Meanwhile, the prunes (or quince, or whatever is being added) are being cooked with water (and in the case of the prunes – which were also soaked overnight - sugar) in a pressure cooker; they get added to the tagine at the end as a topping. It takes a while to stew – maybe an hour? I did the best I could to write everything down but I guess only trying it for myself will help me get everything straight.

Joy’s fluency in French came in handy in a conversation with my host father about her work in the developing world, which led to his work as president of the commune, providing electricity and water and trash removal. It also came in handy the next day, when we had couscous lunch with Abdou and his family and then tea with Abdou and Minush, the pregnant cat (not that the cat did anything but purr). Made me all the more interested in improving my French! My comprehension was pretty good (except for the trash removal – a little too technical) but I never try to speak it. Joy took Arabic for three years and did her dissertation in Tunis and remembers almost no Arabic – I have thought for a while that I don’t know how much I will use the darija later but that French could come in handy – as well as the cooking!

After I ruined my shoes on New Year’s I ordered another pair and asked my sister to send me one at a time to increase the chances of their actually getting to me. One came almost right away and I started to get increasingly anxious about the other; I was really hoping it would arrive before the Marrakesh weekend but it did not. It finally came on Thursday – yippee! On Thursday and Friday afternoon, Joy and I walked around town, doing errands and shopping and seeing the villa/park/Panorama section of town. We had talked about going to Fes on Saturday but she decided she’d seen Fes and enough Arab medinas, and instead we accepted an invitation to go to Ifrane with some of the nearby volunteers. It was a good group of six – we informally took turns walking in twos or threes and therefore everyone had a chance to talk to everyone else. It was chilly but still a nice day for a walk, and when we got to the area of the spring that Amanda, Youssef and I had hiked to we had a picnic; didn’t go on to the waterfall but we walked enough! Sunday morning I had thought we would do a hike in the mountains behind town but Saturday’s walk (and last week’s half-marathon, and the walk in Meknes, and walking around town) left me less than rarin’-to-go. So instead we went up to the sunny roof and read the Nancy Drew books that ended up in my suitcase after I visited my nieces last June! Joy left yesterday afternoon – it was a really nice visit. I think anyone else who visits will also enjoy time at my site and seeing what my life is really like – no need for lots of traveling around, since I don’t have the vacation days for it anyway…

Since her departure, my focus has been on getting ready for the upcoming natural dye/weaving training of trainers workshop that takes place this Wednesday through Sunday. I’ve done laundry and washed the floors and tidied everything; I’m now baking and am getting out things to bring. I’ve also been reorganizing the files on the Peace Corps Morocco yahoo group and the PCV Morocco SBD yahoo group and am gearing myself to tackle my small but stress-inducing paper file pile. Than again, I may read. I have pre-workshop shopping tomorrow and maybe the group lunch and tutoring and then to the artisana and then comes the workshop! I’m excited about that. I should also acknowledge that the first thing I did this morning is look for the Super Bowl score and I am happy that the Giants won! And that before I leave for Sefrou on Wednesday I will be checking out Super Tuesday results. And that the sunset call to prayer is now after 6:00 – the days are noticeably longer.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?