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.

Thanks for the recipe and cooking tips...yellow spice probably is not saffron, 2 tsp of saffron would cost a fortune - more likely tumeric.

Hurrah for the Giants!
Well, I would have thought so too, but there are multiple kinds of saffron here; at least that's what they call it. As for the expensive saffron, it's not that expensive here - am thinking that that might make good (and portable) presents for people at some point...
Hm, I thought I had posted it, but I guess it didn't stick - I got confirmation from someone who knows (Gregg) that the "inexpensive saffron" is indeed turmeric (which makes a nice natural dye, by the way!) - so you were right!
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