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….

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