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!

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