Sunday, March 30, 2008
I’m back from vacation and had a great time! My head is spinning a bit, but I’ll try to sort out some thoughts. First of all, on vacation in general – it’s always good to get away. It’s just good for the soul. Yes, I was in a groove work-wise and now it will take me a while to get back in the swing, but I feel uplifted spiritually. I just bought my ticket for the next trip, in fact – for Reunions. I think the ticket cost 50 to 100 percent more than it did last year, but so be it….
UNESCO – we had a chance to see several World Heritage Sites. In Lisbon, I saw the Monastery of the Hieronymites, with Manueline architecture that features nautical themes, while everyone else was at a playground, and we passed the Tower of Belem, a chess-piece-like structure which commemorates Vasco da Gama’s expedition. I also spent some time at distinctive monument to Prince Henry the Navigator, and we went to an old pastry shop for their secret-recipe egg custards. The Cultural Landscape of Sintra is also a World Heritage site – we went there on a day that also included a coastal fishing village and the westernmost point on the European continent; I don’t feel I got a feel for Sintra, but it was nice to walk around its cobblestone streets. The Historic Centre of Evora is one as well – we stayed in a Pousada, one of the state-run hotels; in our case it was a former monastery (or convent?) that was right across from a Roman temple ruin. The city itself has (per the UNESCO web site) whitewashed houses decorated with azulejos (tiles) and wrought-iron balconies, and was once where the kings of Portugal lived. Also near Evora we saw a Neolithic stone circle! I had seen the one in Morocco for New Year’s – and this one at the spring equinox! That has to mean something. Near the stone circle (but a drive and a walk away) was a dolmen, a solitary stone over four meters high. We felt the vibration!
In Spain, we saw the Cathedral, Alcazar and Archivo de Indias in Seville, or parts thereof. The Cathedral contains the Giralda minaret from the mosque that had been on the site – rivaling the Koutoubia in Marrakesh and the Tour Hassan in Rabat; it was nice to see it after reading about it and seeing the other two. And we could go in this one! Rather than steps it has ramps where horses used to take the muezzin to the top for the call to prayer, and we climbed it for the view. The family isn’t so much into churches (though this cathedral is the third-biggest in the world and has the largest transept of all) but we ducked inside to see the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The Alcazar is the royal palace and it contained an interesting mix of Islamic architecture (the usual tile, stucco and wood) and Christian elements (lions and castles) and beautiful gardens. The Archivo de Indias was the first world trade center, from the time when Seville had an exclusive on trade with the Americas; it was closed but we saw the outside. Cordoba’s great mosque (also now a cathedral) was spectacular – row upon row of red-and-white brick arches on marble columns, and different from anything else we saw (see photo). In Grenada, the Alhambra was the last site on our itinerary and though it wasn’t least, it wasn’t most either – as Valerie said upon seeing the Islamic architecture and the reflecting pool, “we’ve been here.” She was right – it did look a lot like the palace in Seville! The Generalife, the summer palace of the Alhambra, had nice gardens and fountains. On the next hill (Grenada is has two steep hills, with the snow-covered Sierra Nevada providing a dramatic backdrop) is the Albaicin, the old Moorish quarter, with lots of churches that were former mosques, Roman walls, ancient water reservoirs, and dramatic views of the Alhambra. The UNESCO list contains a lot but not all of what we saw – I’ll list some other impressions and then fill in some blanks in the next post.
On culture shock – I felt that it was pretty easy to get used to paved streets and the lack of trash, hotels with towels and western toilets and no need to wear flip flops (I have been saying for a while that I think it will be great to turn on a hot water faucet and have hot water come out, and indeed it was). On the other hand, I walk in the street a lot of the time in Morocco and found that I was walking in the streets there too – cobbled streets and cobbled sidewalks look similar, at least until a car comes along. I was ever-so-slightly taken aback at first by the fashions in the stores – short skirts and sleeveless blouses. Then on my last day I went to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave surrounded by Morocco, and it was an adjustment to see jellabas again. While I don’t plan to wear jellabas on my return to the states (unless I am giving a cultural exchange talk) I do kind of like the long skirts that I’m wearing – but maybe when I get back I should go for a different look (or at least add other things to the long skirt repertoire). As for culture shock on the way back, I walked across the border and immediately there was a rush of people – some beggars, some crowding into grand taxis, some walking along dirt paths or on donkeys, some just milling with no apparent purpose, or just whiling the time away – and I thought yep, I’m back. I do think culture shock will be much more of an issue when I return for good though! I find that I am dreading the thought of returning to winter (not that I haven’t been cold here, but it sounds so cold and snowy there in Chicago, where my stuff is in storage) – but also of working in an office, waking up to an alarm clock, and having so many things going on. Perhaps I can simplify my life when I get back, but for now I am anticipating having a hard time!
On family – it was really good to see my family. My sister sends articles and goodies but only short emails and we don’t talk often, so this was a good chance to catch up on how everyone is doing! I felt sad to leave them though. But even when I was in Chicago I didn’t see them that much more often – and even if I were in New York I would still have to live my own life to some extent…I felt even sadder when they related stories of the trip that they took to see our relatives in Holland last June. It seemed wonderful, and they are such nice people, and the kids are growing and they sound so cute! I just didn’t have the vacation days to go. Never seem to have enough vacation days! Okay, so my list of desires is becoming clearer….mild winters, less structure, fewer extracurricular activities, more vacation time…though hearing about the classes and lessons that the family takes makes me think about what new things I would like to learn when I get back.... I should mention that when I got back I received so many warm welcomes – from Abdou and from the artisans and from other people around town – that I found myself teary-eyed. I’ve already thought about how hard it is going to be to leave the people I feel are family here. I was glad that my sister said she wants to do another trip to Morocco – I certainly see myself coming back to visit.
Speaking of which – that is, speaking of speaking – usually when we go somewhere I try to learn some phrases in advance. My “big three” are good morning, hello and thank you – I find that those get you far. I didn’t bone up on Portuguese in advance but cribbed while enroute. I found it fun to speak a little but very difficult to understand when people talked amongst themselves (and other people say the same thing so I am not alone). Spanish I was looking forward to because that is the language I studied in school. In Spain they use a “th” instead of “s” sound that is a little tricky, but even trickier was the fact that (as in Azrou!) there were so many English enablers – the driver and guides, the hotel personnel, almost everyone we spoke to spoke English. Trickier still was that I kept speaking in Darija when I wasn’t speaking in English – I had to correct “shukran” to “gracias” (that is, “gra-th-ias”) several times. Many years ago, my grandfather lived in Spain and I went to visit him and his wife, who spoke only Spanish. By the end of my visit, I felt that my comprehension was pretty good and that a lot of my vocabulary had come back and that conjugations were getting there and that if I had more time and more immersion, I would really improve. Now I wonder - I have comprehension of darija much of the time but don’t know how much more I’ll really improve! When I got back to Morocco after just ten days I felt I had lost a step. I think I’ve regained it already, but I do find myself ready to add (if not switch to) French. Maybe I am destined to know some words and phrases in a lot of languages and none fluently? Or – getting back to the lesson thing – is language something I want to keep working on when I return? Something to think about.
Food – I had a couple of chicken Caesar salads in the hotel in Lisbon, which were most welcome, as were the aforementioned egg custards. Then I went on a gazpacho quest in Andalusia (“Andalu-th-ia”) and found something even better – salmorejo, a thicker form of gazpacho, that can be found at tapas bars; of course, each place makes theirs differently. I got a recipe from one of the guides and have already made it for myself; this might become a signature dish:
6-7 ripe, red tomatoes
bread (I used the inside of one baguette)
4 tbsp olive oil (I was told it had to be Andalusian olive oil – since Andalusia is covered with olive trees and 80% of the production is for oil – but used Moroccan)
1 tsbp vinegar
½ - 1 clove garlic
salt to taste
Chop up tomatoes. Put everything but the bread into a blender and blend. Add bread, a little bit at a time, and blend to desired thickness (should be thick but still spoonable).
Garnish – in Spain they used hard-boiled egg, cured ham, and tuna, just a teeny bit of each…I used none of the above and it was still well-received! Serves four.
Another food find – Magnum chocolate! Here in Morocco we just have the Magnum ice cream bars, and only double chocolate and double caramel. Well, it turns out there are several more flavors of ice cream – and there’s also chocolate! I didn’t have any ice cream (either it was chilly or I was full – not too full for a bite of chocolate, that is, but too full for an ice cream – plus I was trying to be good – though again, not too good for a bite of chocolate) but I did try the caramel, dark and hazelnut. These were plentiful in both Portugal and Spain – it made me realize that some of the best of the See The World trips have been to countries with a chocolate culture.
More to come!
Saturday, March 15, 2008
I feel I have been busy, busy, busy for the past quarter – full of activity, guests and work. Again I find myself wondering - where is the downtime I thought I would have in the Peace Corps? Not that I am complaining – but I am very much looking forward to the See the World trip to Portugal and Spain, which starts tomorrow!
The quarter began with l-Eid, the biggest Muslim holiday, for which every family sacrifices a sheep. I spent the day with Youssef and his family and also went to visit my host family at their extended family gathering, and over the course of the weekend visited still more families. I feel so welcome here – people really are friendly and caring. It was especially nice to spend the time with Youssef; the next day I had a little going-away party for him and the next day he left for his new life in America.
2007 ended and 2008 began in style – on a relaxing adventure with friends. Janeila, Rose and I went to Asilah, the oceanside artists’ colony in the north. We walked around, savored fish and natillas, and just talked. We journeyed to the nearby Neolithic stone circle and contemplated, and then went to Moulay Bousselham, where we walked along the beach, sat by the fire and went out on the lagoon to see migrating birds. Janeila read my tarot cards for my birthday, and both the present and future look bright. A major snowstorm happened at around the same time, but after that it warmed up and the winter has been mild since then.
For the Islamic New Year long weekend, I had a great visit to fellow volunteers in Figuig, one of the most isolated SBD sites, in the desert near the Algerian border. The palm oasis was beautiful, the town has interesting history, and we rode bikes, ate well and had interesting conversations. Back in Azrou, I met a member of the royal family, a princess who was dressed in camouflage gear. I had a series of lunches with the new SBD volunteers in the area and have since enjoyed their company on many occasions. I started tutoring again and have been spending more time on language. I spent a lot of time tallying and summarizing harassment questionnaires for the Gender and Development committee – we’ll see what comes of it; ideally more training and support.
In late January I ran the Marrakesh half-marathon – I had first seen a poster for it in September 2006 when I arrived at the Auberge in Azrou. I thought then that it would be a good thing to aim for, and everything worked out well. It was great for me in many aspects, including the training leading up to it, the massage and hammam to loosen up in the days before, carbo-loading with friends who came to cheer me on, perfect weather, a flat and scenic course, a positive outlook while running, and finishing in time to shower and make the train to get to Meknes before nightfall.
My friend Joy came to visit for a few days; we had a cooking lesson with my host family, couscous with Abdou and his family, a hike and picnic in Ifrane with some of the nearby volunteers, and a morning of reading while sunning on the roof. I don’t have enough vacation days left to tour the country with other friends who sojourn here, but her stay was evidence that a nice time can be had just staying here! So come on over! I also had my annual site visit from the Program Assistant – he gave me lots of positive feedback about the work I have been doing and on my ideas for the remainder of my service – that felt good!
A highlight of February and of my service was a Natural Dye/Weaving Training of Trainers workshop, held in Sefrou and Azrou. Eleven SBDs and four Environment volunteers from the Middle Atlas had sessions on natural dyeing, weaving, color theory, what to look for when in a rug shop, and felting; we also had daily roundtable sessions about how to bring this back to our artisans and how we can make an impact here in other ways. The trainers, Gregg and Janeila (and Abdou), made the workshop a great learning experience, and the attendees were interested and enthusiastic, which made it rewarding. I also give a lot of credit to Rose and myself, for putting together the proposal and the logistics and for hosting and making sure it all came together. I feel really proud of it and I think it will prove to have been a valuable workshop for all.
I went up north for a weekend to Tetouan, where I had a chance to explore more of the UNESCO World Heritage Site medina that I had briefly seen with Martha, Susan and Youssef, then to Martil for a walk along the Mediterranean, then journeyed to the Atlantic side where I enjoyed the blue and white medina and the oceanfront at Larache and visited Roman ruins nearby at Lixus. It was a less than ideal weekend (it rained, and I didn’t feel well) but I am glad I went. From there it was on to Rabat for a Gender and Development Committee meeting – in addition to the harassment survey, there’s a lot going on with GAD. We’re working on a resource guide, various trainings, a conference and an annual report, and with all of that plus reports back to my training group and compiling quarterly GAD submissions for the Peace Corps Morocco newsletter, I have a lot to do. It’s always good to be in Rabat, too – I like the feel of the city, eating out with the other committee members, and the medina or ocean (on this trip I had time for both). Came back from that meeting and shifted immediately into Volunteer Support Network mode, hosting the training of six new SBD PCVs and two trainers. Cooking and cleaning for nine people was exhausting – I’m not sure I’ve quite recovered from it – but everyone was appreciative and I’m glad I had the opportunity to participate in VSN things.
I also spent time working on the web site for the Azrou artisana. This is my primary project, and more and more I feel good about it; the feedback from site visit gave me added inspiration. I showed what I had done so far to all of the artisans and they seem pleased. I have been interviewing them to get more story to add to their entries and have started a new round of photography to add pictures. Now I need a block of time to upload everything. I have a lot of ideas for enhancements, and I need/want/hope to find and train someone to make it sustainable. I feel in a rhythm about it, but I think vacation will give me renewed energy as opposed to breaking the momentum. One of the new SBDs came up for a day and I trained her on how to build a web site with freewebs – not only did I save her lots of frustration and learning curve, but it also reinforced that I know it well enough to train someone else on it. I received a birthday present of some printed Azrou brochures and cards and brought them to some of the popular hotels and cafes so that they could be distributed to tourists. I have a new bunch of questionnaires filled out by tourists visiting the artisana, and I have to tally those up. And I attended the Annual Meeting of the weaving cooperative of Azrou.
This past couple of days, I had yet another visitor, my friend Howard. He’s an interior decorator, and a few years ago Jeff won a consultation with him at the Princeton Club silent auction and gave it to me. The consultation was great - it helped me to streamline my things and it also gave me some vision for what I would like my next place to be like; my purchases here have been made with that in mind (while also keeping in mind that everything may not work in the next place – or make it back – so I am enjoying them here). My being here was the inspiration for him to vacation here; his family’s spring break is the same as my nieces’ so he came alone a couple of days early to make sure we overlapped. I asked him to give a talk to the weavers about trends in the states, and it went very well – we had thirteen women and the five nearby SBD volunteers; people were attentive and asked questions and took notes and saw possibilities. We had an idea session with the rock-carver as well, and spent a lot of time with Abdou discussing custom and export possibilities. So it was work and fun for both of us!
I had a LOT of other visitors as well – other volunteers on their way to or from other places for various reasons, plus an acquaintance of an acquaintance who is a potential export contact and was an interesting guest. The purring cat at Dar Neghrassi had kittens and I have been visiting them frequently. I made several well-received pizzas, though I have yet to actually make the dough for myself. I played a fair amount of Piffle, another card game called coconut, and also some Scrabble and Boggle. The Program Manager for Small Business Development, with whom my relationship had not always been the best, left Peace Corps – it was a shock at first (I had more or less figured out how to manage my dealings with her) but somehow we have all carried on; it will be interesting to see what happens when someone new is in her place, but my feeling is that I can get a lot done at this point with or without program staff. I read several books and magazines and articles that were mailed to me, did some knitting, and wrote letters and cards that appear not to have been received by any of the intended recipients. I replaced a light bulb (it was the first time I needed to and it was the week after Youssef left and I had to manage without him, so it’s notable for both of those reasons but also because it seems to have so many punch-line opportunities). I visited Youssef’s family and my host family and Abdou’s and had other social coffees or teas or juices (and started making my own smoothies more often). I reorganized and added to files and links of two yahoo groups for which I inherited moderator status (PCVMoroccoSBD and PeaceCorpsMorocco), and did “membership drives” for both. I wrote a few reports for Peace Corps and a VSN tip sheet for Peace Works (on how to be a good guest!). The felt slippers I bought in Marrakesh lasted almost until the end of the quarter but now there are holes in both toes. I didn’t go on a planned trip to Erfoud because I was snowed in and didn’t go skiing (tentative plans to kept changing) because there wasn’t more snow. I did a lot of laundry and cleaned my floors often and did bunches of errands and saw many beautiful Middle Atlas sunsets. I thought about not leaving the house one day a week so that I could get a lot of computer work and personal things done, and I actually managed it two or three times. I started to appreciate the souk more and have been going more often (though I still don’t buy a whole lot there). I had a day trip to Meknes for a craft fair and also did some sightseeing and a Marjane run, a day trip to Fes that contained more conversation than exploration as well as a Marjane run – want to get back to both of those soon – and more than one trip to Ifrane, which, though close, feels like a real getaway (and has a store that has peanut butter). This week marked 18 months in country – wow! Eighteen out of 27….
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
One of my least favorite things about Chicago was not how cold the winters were but how long they were – the days would be getting longer and it was so cold that you just didn’t want to be outside. I’m reminded of that because for the past week it seems to have gotten colder here in Azrou – that is, maybe I should get back out the hat, gloves and scarf that I haven’t worn since the second week in January. Every so often I see a weather report or get an email from someone in the states talking about the wind chill or snow or ice storms. I’ve been thinking that it would be nice to travel after I COS in November; now I find myself wondering how I am going to manage a return to winter weather! Granted that as I say this, I am shivering by the space heater and have been doing that all winter long, but at least here it’s warm in the sun, and I can’t remember the last time I saw my breath.
Last week I started taking more pictures to add to the web site – I asked the metal worker when would be a good time and he said now – now worked for me too! The carpet cooperative had me photograph everything in the showroom – so now I think I will organize the pictures into categories as opposed to representative samples. Then on Thursday something went wrong in the transfer from my camera to my computer, and I lost everything. Now as losses go, this was not the end of the world – after all, I could retake every single picture the next day, and in fact did that for the carpet cooperative (and will for the metal worker this week, most likely) – but I was still a bit shaken. I still get perhaps overly sad when I think about the boxes that will never come to me or the mail that will never get to you, but I have to tell myself there’s a lesson in that (right?). I then realized that I was justifiably shaken, not by the loss of the pictures themselves, nor by the idea of re-doing all the work, but by the possibility that the camera-computer connection could be a major problem. It appears to have been a one-time thing, which is a huge relief.
I was already a bit on edge that day anyway, after a bad haircut in the afternoon. It’s not bad, actually; it just isn’t what I wanted. The past couple of times I had been very happy with my haircuts except that Abdelsalam always cuts it shorter than I want it, so I went back to Fatima, who had given me my first (non-fellow-PCV) haircut here. There seemed to be no way to explain “trim” though, and she too cut it shorter than I wanted it. Oh well – at least I got my laundry done. Though come to think of it, washing my things outside in the cold, with cold water, with wet hair, gave me the current chills that I continue to have….
I was talking with my counterpart about the Timhadite annual meeting – it was just about a year ago when they became an official cooperative, and by law they must have a general assembly once a year, so it’s coming up. I asked when the general assembly for Azrou’s cooperative would be and he said, “tomorrow.” Good thing I asked! So then I asked if I could go! I understood a lot less at this meeting than I thought/hoped I would – I knew more or less what was happening (financial report, election of officers) but couldn’t really follow it. What struck me was that this was a cooperative of women and that all of the government officials who were present (my counterpart representing the ministry, someone from the agency that oversees all cooperatives, someone from the municipality, and the accountant) were men. I was watching the interaction between the men and the women – the only people who usually interact with me are the officers, but when the men asked questions it wasn’t only the officers who did the talking, which was good, though there were vocal ones and shy ones. Still, I was feeling somewhat defeated at being so lost with the language when out came the tea and cookies – and, more important (since I didn’t have any of the tea or cookies), the women invited me to join them after the men left the room and the meeting was officially over. I haven’t always felt welcomed by the women, so this was a big breakthrough.
Saturday morning, it was time for the rake! Across from where I live, there is an empty lot that will someday be a house (not that I will still live here, but it would block off my view in that direction). We put our plastic bags of trash there and they get picked up. They also get gone through – by cats, I think – and sometimes people put unbagged food scraps out there (I try to keep my food scraps separate and loosely bag them; I also try to keep my paper separate and loosely bag that, in case someone wants paper for their wood stove). It’s a little unpleasant, but the trash area is self-contained. My lament is that there is other, random trash all over the lot, and a pile of broken bricks left over from construction of the house next door. I’ve been mentioning it for a while, trying to enlist the environment volunteers into landscaping with me. Last week I bought a rake at souk and was ready to spend Saturday morning cleaning up.
Well, it was less than a complete success. First of all, you can’t really rake broken bricks. You have to move them by hand. So I alternated between raking other trash and moving the bricks by hand. As I had hoped would happen, a boy came along, thought whatever I might be doing looked like fun, and started helping me. Unfortunately, his friend came along and they had to go off to school – I thought about asking them to come back later but was already realizing that this job would take more than a morning. Then the rake started flying off the handle – so I would rake a couple of miscellaneous discarded items and then have to stop to reattach it. To think I paid 10 dirham for that handle, which the guy at souk whittled to size! I found myself thinking of more productive things I could be doing, and not much later called it a day. I made barely a dent, and felt somewhat defeated. Later, though, when I went back out, the Rebhas were talking to each other. The landlord’s wife said they saw me cleaning – I had hoped it wouldn’t be a problem – and then she said she and the downstairs Rebha would help me! Hooray! Maybe it could even be sustainable! At least there’s hope.
Frank came up from Erfoud on Saturday afternoon – it is much warmer down in the desert, and he was cold, which made me feel even colder. We talked and went out to a café and then talked some more. We went to Fes on Sunday, where we met Sherwin at McDonald’s (I know) and talked, and then went to a café and talked. Lots of talking! There are a lot of people in our stage who are pretty quiet – maybe Frank and I make up for them (or maybe Frank alone does)! We went to the pottery factory area; I had in mind that it might be nice to get more coffee cups. My Fes coffee cups are characteristic Fes blue and white and are illustrative of the quality differential that Fes pottery has over that of Safi or Sale. But Sunday was not the day – the ones on hand had patterns that weren’t as intricate as the ones I have, or had flaws in the paint or glaze.
Fes was warmer than Azrou – I remember noticing that Meknes and Fes were just that much warmer and thinking I would go for winter weekend day trips – I’ve been traveling a lot or had guests, and when I’ve had time alone I needed the time at home! But once I got there I realized I want to go back - I think I’ll try to plan for medina days in both cities soon. We didn’t get to the medina – but we did get to Marjane! It was crowded and overheated, but I wouldn’t have dilly-dallied anyway because it was getting late. I got some new silverware (since several of my original pieces have broken), a pizza cutter and cake server (first-ever non-plastic for both of those for me), basil and a few other things. Frank was going on to Rose’s and they tried to convince me to join them (and call it in, of course) but I had scheduled to meet with the artisans yesterday and I just didn’t feel right about it. I got home and did some filing, if only to justify coming home and missing out on an opportunity to spend more time with friends. Frank may come back to Azrou on his way back to the desert. I was supposed to go to visit him the weekend of the big snowstorm; now with schedules and weather it looks as though I won’t get back there until the fall, but I do want to go down there at least one more time before I leave.
I met with some of the artisans to add some story to their portion of the web site – I didn’t get a lot of information, but with all those years in marketing, I can embellish. And today I’m taking more pictures – I have a lot more of those to add to the web site! Then tomorrow my friend the interior decorator is coming - I am excited about that! It’s time for a quarterly report too; inshallah, I will get a chance to write before I leave – this weekend! – for the See the World trip.
This will have been the longest that I have gone without seeing my nieces and I am really looking forward to seeing them as well as my sister and brother-in-law! I also think it will be really good to get away – in some ways this is a 27-month vacation, but in other ways everything here is work, and I feel I have been working hard lately. I’ll take CTM to Casablanca and from there, the plane to Lisbon (just like in the movie!). We’ll tour Lisbon and then have a day trip to a medieval walled village/artist’s colony and then a fishing village. I wonder how different they will look from the Portuguese-built cities in Morocco! I went to Portugal with my family in 1968 – we had gone to Lisbon, Estoril and Sintra, which are also on the itinerary for this trip, and I am very interested in seeing how they look compared to the visual images I have in the recesses of my mind from way back when.
We’ll then go to the interior of Portugal, staying in Evora, which has Roman ruins. The area is known for historical villages and castles and cork trees and horses and wine; then we continue into Spain. Again, I am interested in how the Andalusian parts of Morocco compare with Andalusia! The Moors occupied Spain for 700 years, but they left in 1492, and a lot has happened since then. We may see fado music in Portugal and flamenco in Spain, and I am looking forward to the food in both countries. We’ll go to Seville and see the old quarter there, then maybe Cadiz, then Cordoba, with its former Great Mosque, and then Grenada and the Alhambra. I’ll then take the ferry back across the Straits of Gibraltar to Ceuta, one of two Spanish enclaves on the African mainland (the other is near Oujda). Because we’ll have a guide, I haven’t done the researching for this trip that I usually do, but I brought books on both countries with me as part of my original packing, and will read up this week!
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
As predicted, this past weekend I didn’t end up as I would have predicted. I didn’t feel well, and hadn’t for most of last week. I thought I was just worn down from weekend travel to Tetouan, GAD in Rabat, and VSN hosting, but now that I have more energy, I think I had some low-level thing that was slowing me down. So it was nice to take it easy a little bit. I had a list of things that I wanted to get to, but I didn’t get to many of them!
Kathy suggested that we go to Ifrane. She is the nearby volunteer with whom I had tried to go skiing back after the warm spell began – instead we ended up going to the fancy supermarket and having lunch and then coming back and tallying GAD surveys. This time we went just to go to the fancy supermarket. Ifrane is only about 20 minutes away, so it’s much less of an undertaking than going to Marjane (I have yet to make a trip to Meknes or Fes just for Marjane, though I do have some needs/wants there so hope to get to one soon). The key purchase in Ifrane was peanut butter. I go through more peanut butter here than I do in the states (maybe a small jar a month? As opposed to a big one every six at home?) but it is good comfort food and protein, and the jars are now my spice jars. Got some other goodies that I can’t get in Azrou, such as corn chips, and we sat on a bench and enjoyed the atmosphere before going back.
Once we came back, she wanted to hang out before meeting someone at the bus station, and suggested a little Piffle – hard to turn that down. Too nice a day to get right to work anyway, and the day had a Saturday feel to it, so we sat on the balcony and played. She went out to a café with Anna, the friend who came up, and I read for a bit – I had proposed a hike but realized I didn’t have the energy to even go with them to the café, so staying home seemed in order. Then they both came back here and we played more Piffle, plus Boggle and Scrabble. They went to Kathy’s house to stay over and I did some work! Sunday I cleaned all the windows (had bought window cleaner at the fancy supermarket) and read a little more on the balcony and then they came back over for more Piffle and Scrabble. It had killed me the day before to play the Q on a non-double or triple letter while leaving it for someone else to use on the triple word score (though it was towards the end of the game) but I made up for it on Sunday.
Monday morning I finally felt better. Last week I started doing some catch-up things but now I feel more in a groove. I wrote a VSN tip sheet for Peace Works – how to be a good guest and how to be a good host – and that will be my last one; someone can take over after that. Also wrote some fun facts about myself for the new VSN directory. I’ve worked on a lot of GAD follow-up – finished tallying the additional surveys (post-Environment and Health COS conference) last week and now I have to write that up. Wrote a meeting recap and sent that to my stage, along with suggestions for International Women’s Day (March 8), and wrote the GAD 2007 Annual Report. I still have to start the next GAD Peace Works column. I wrote a caption for the RPCV calendar photo and submitted some recipes; they are looking for indigenous designs as well and I will look through my photos; maybe some of my many rug photos will do. Sent in a class notes column, too, for the Princeton Alumni Weekly (so ends the Extracurricular Roundup…).
Saturday night I loaded some pictures from the other woodcarvers onto the web site, and Monday morning my tutor and I went to the artisans and showed them their draft web pages. I want to include additional words, stories, contact information and thought it would be best if my tutor came along. I also plan to take photographs of additional products that they want shown; that I can do on my own without my tutor. Took some of metal worker products today and will do the carpet cooperative tomorrow. Another thing I started this week is going to hotels and cafes with the printouts of the brochure and card. Lots of Azrou work this week – at last! Saw my host father in one of the cafes (I still have to see the rest of the family) and visited the kittens, who now have their eyes open and are starting to explore.
I’ve collected and disseminated most of the writeups from the Natural Dye/Weaving Training of Trainers workshop, and now I’m working on a proposal for another training. Jessica from Tinjdad has a sewing and textile background but not a business background. She requested that a couple of us with business backgrounds come to her site and run workshops for her women, who make whatever they want to make at home and occasionally bring them to the coop building to sell them – no group thinking or planning, no sense of product development or customer service or marketing. Seems like an interesting project! The women speak Tamazight and Jessica will do the translating, so I don’t have to worry about the language, just the workshop content. Connie is going next week for the first set of trainings – basic marketing, customer service and record-keeping. I would go for the second set, next month, and this week have been working on a proposal in which I would do appreciative inquiry (building off what works now as opposed to looking at everything as a problem to be solved – not that new a technique, but the first I had heard of it was in one of my non-profit classes just before I left, so it will be nice to use it here), discuss the roles of the people in the cooperative, and train on how to work as a team. And next week I have an exciting seminar coming up – my friend the interior decorator is coming to Morocco. His family’s spring break coincides with my nieces’ and they are going to join him later, when I’ll be away, but he planned his flights to come here a couple of days ahead, since I was the inspiration for their choosing Morocco as a destination. I asked if he would give a talk to my cooperative about trends, colors, design etc. in the U.S. – not that they will export there but it might be of interest – and we’ll be joined by the SBD PCVs in the area and possibly some of their weavers.
Yesterday, Linda, one of the new SBDs, who had come to the warden group party, the natural dye/weaving workshop and VSN training (plus, she’s the one who went to Jamaica High School!), got some work-related leave to come up here for a web site lesson. Working with freewebs is easy enough once you navigate through getting started – I found it much easier (that is, possible at all – I almost gave up more than once) when someone gave me tips, and I was able to save her hours of frustration; at the same time, as part of the demonstration, I started building a web site for Dar Neghrassi, Abdou’s store. I’m not sure this is something I can write up in my quarterly reports, since it’s not directly artisan-related, but it’s something I’m happy to do for all he’s done for me. Linda and I also went to souk and I bought a rake! Maybe this weekend I will start raking the trash in the lot across the way towards the ditch along the side of the unoccupied house – not necessarily sustainable but it will make me happier. When I got home, my landlord’s wife was hanging laundry outside and she gestured to ask why I had a rake; I didn’t want to be even more conspicuous by having a picture taken but just then a flock of sheep went by and we had to capture the moment. I hope they don’t have an issue with my trying to make the lot look nicer. I’m a little anxious about it but now that I have the rake, I’m in. Then last night I backed up my computer. Not the most glamorous activity but something I aim to do every month and had not done in a while. And perhaps a reminder that it’s time for you to back up too? Will the filing be next?
Linda got permission to come back today since she had left her power cord. We went to a sandwich shop that is a recent find – I had a roasted pepper/eggplant/potato cake sandwich, and if that doesn’t sound good, maybe the price does – six dirhams, or less than a dollar, even with the falling exchange rate. While we were there, a Dutch couple sat down near us (perhaps seeing foreigners convinced them the place was all right); they were just in town for the day. I gave them some suggestions for exploring Azrou and saw them later in Café Bilal – they fell right in with the rhythm of the town! Lots of foreigners around town this week, it seems. Spring holiday season? The days are noticeably longer once again! And a reminder – you may change your clocks this weekend but not I; Morocco doesn’t have daylight savings time. So next week I’ll be four hours ahead of the East, five ahead of Central, etc.
I haven’t been running since the half-marathon, and though I have been walking a lot, I would like to run or go for a hike. First I needed to recover from the race, and then I had guest, workshop, travel and hosting, and then I had the low-level ick, but now I am ready to run again. And still thinking about the April Casablanca race – it might be fun, but maybe first I should (at least tentatively) plan out the weekends and vacation days for the rest of my time here. The time is going so quickly! Nine months left. A friend mentioned that we’re only two-thirds of the way through (at first I admired his calculation, thinking back to how we calculated the halfway day) but then I realized – 27 months – nine left – easy calculation. Good perspective, too – it seemed to take so long to get started but it’s not nearly time to wind down; I feel in my stride and given that an entire third of the time is left, I don’t need to feel that it’s time to wind down or start thinking about what is next!
So I’ve been thinking about March Madness; need to get up to speed a little bit but last year there was a PCV pool and this year I got the ball rolling on that; I also participate in another pool and am ready to start picking (well, as soon as they announce the brackets). As an aside, I will mention that years ago I wrote to both ESPN and William Safire to speculate on the origin of the term “on the bubble” and the former quoted me and the latter asked for permission to use it in one of his books on language. I was also thinking about renewing my mlb.com subscription – it took me until August last season to get the software so that I could listen to games on my Apple, but I can start right away this season – and then I realized that I can literally start right away, with spring training, and not wait for Opening Day (which, per mlb.com, is only 21 days away). I check primary results more than sports scores, but Sunday talk show podcasts go only so far into the week and baseball radio is nice background music for me...