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!

Happy 1429...just think in 63 years Columbus will discover America!
Ah - but 1492 is of big significance here too - due to the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expects) many expelled Moors and Jews left Spain for Morocco (and elsewhere, but they had a big impact on Morocco!).
but of course it wasn't was 913 (if I did my math correctly!)
I'm not going to double-check your work - I use that part of my brain often enough when I buy vegetables and the owner gives me the price in ryals and watches me divide by 20!
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