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!

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