Monday, April 28, 2008


I thought it would be instructive to republish here the tip sheet that I compiled for Peace Works on being a good guest (with some tips for being a good host/ess thrown in). This may give some indication as to why I sometimes feel PCV’ed out. Not all of these come from my own experience, but plenty do:


In this issue we offer tips for how to be a good guest and how to be a good host/ess, gathered from PCVs who frequently visit and from some who are frequently visited! If these seem basic – well, they come from actual guest situations,,,,

Tips on being a good guest:
- bring something or offer to pay for something
- ask if they need something you can pick up on the way
- give plenty of notice (at least a day)
- don’t assume the answer is yes
- don’t get upset at the host/ess if you invite yourself and the answer isn’t yes
- respect that if the host/ess says yes, you may still be inconveniencing him/her
- ask, as opposed to just mentioning that you are coming through on such-and-such a date and making the host/ess guess that you want to stay over
- ask if there are house rules (e.g. no shoes) and then respect them
- it helps if you bring a sleeping bag, towel and slippers
- help cook, wash the dishes or clean after each meal
- note that the host/ess is not there to wait on you
- let the host/ess know any food restrictions in advance
- ask before using the computer and any toiletries
- if you do use someone’s computer (especially if you have not asked first) don’t leave files on the desktop and sign out/clean up after yourself
- ask before smoking or drinking
- don’t invite other people without first asking the host/ess whether it’s okay
- corollary: if the host/ess says yes to your coming, don’t THEN mention that there are more than one of you
- if possible, replenish what you use
- try to keep your things contained and tidy after yourself
- don’t clip your nails or perform other intimate grooming at someone else’s house – and if you HAVE to, do it in the bathroom!
- if you break something, offer to replace it – or at least ‘fess up!
- flush the turk thoroughly, use toilet brush if it is called for, and squeegee the floor
- if you use the last of the toilet paper roll, notify the host/ess (or the next person going in there, if it’s not the host/ess
- don’t expect to be entertained
- bring something entertaining if you like – a movie or game
- do not leave things you don’t want anymore (books, clothes), unless the host/ess expresses an interest in having it
- be a good conversationalist
- don’t overstay your welcome
- don’t use someone else’s house as a storage unit
- be respectful of the neighbors and in general on good behavior! This is someone’s site and they have to deal with the consequences!
- if you have tentative plans to visit, be courteous and confirm one way or the other with enough advance notice for the host/ess to make other plans
- text with your expected arrival time – especially if you are ahead of or behind schedule
- if you are going somewhere for the first time, make sure you arrive well before dark (of course, you should arrive before dark anyway!). A female hostess may not be comfortable going out after dark to meet you.
- if your phone has an automatic alarm clock and you are not planning to get up at that time, turn the alarm off.
- no nookie in someone else’s house

Tips on being a good host/ess:
- provide bathroom slippers
- make space for guest toiletries and towels
- have plenty of food and/or tell people where the nearest hanut is
- let people know what to expect
- assign people other jobs so you don’t feel you are the servant
- give good directions or offer to meet them at the taxi stand/bus station (at least the first time)
- have a list of “house rules”

I felt a little burnt out last week and thought about putting myself on a “PCV diet” – but then I did a little VSNing with other people (even a VSNer needs to be VSNed sometimes) and feel better. I just needed to vent. I still think I would rather be in a site where a lot of people pass through and come by than an isolated one. But I may say no more often – time is flying and there is still work I want to do. I’m reminded of the tarot reading – I want to do everything so can’t necessarily cut anything out, but I can cut back. I also took a couple of evening exercise walks (no destination in mind, no pocketbook to weigh me down), which were good de-stressors. I see more of those in the future - the weather’s nice now, the sun sets late, and there is more of Azrou to explore.

There’s a group of RPCVs from the very first group in Morocco (1963-1965) traveling around, and I invited them to Azrou. I thought they were coming on Saturday but they never called (they were supposed to see Frank in Erfoud too but didn’t call him either – what happened?). Instead, I waited with some volunteers at the taxi stand as they were off to the “cultural exchange” dinner, gave up on the RPCVs and then – spontaneously, which made it all the more of a treat – watched four episodes of Survivor: Cook Islands that Gary had sent me on DVD. I don’t watch a lot of DVDs here, and I am one of the few PCVs who doesn’t – well, now I have a new appreciation for it! My whole body just relaxed (even though I did sit-ups and leg raises for two of the episodes and knitted for the other two). I have had some movies come my way but nothing that was as compelling as these (yes, silly, I admit it) Survivor episodes! I can’t wait for the rest! And those aired in Fall 2006 – more Survivors and some Amazing Races could also be coming my way. But now I also think I should take another look at the movies that I’ve accumulated and maybe get some more movies from the past eighteen months or so that would be fun to watch. I felt so unexpectedly happy with my decadent afternoon – watching something mindless was just what I needed. Any must-see movie recommendations (mindless or otherwise)? I did some reading and wrote some cards at night (two things I always want to do more of) but while reading and writing are fulfilling, my mind is still going. What was nice, though, was that my “background music” for the evening was a Stanley Cup playoff game on the radio feed of I haven’t really followed much hockey since the lockout and it was a treat. Right now I’m listening to the White Sox game – on a 38-degree rainy day in Chicago!

Yesterday I went to Meknes; Sabrina and Josh came from Khemisset as well; it’s about the same distance for each of us. There’s a big agricultural fair going on there now; I wasn’t sure what to expect but I found myself humming the Minnesota State Fair Song (Minnesota, Minnesota, we are south of Manitoba, we are east of North Dakota….really). First we went to the animal exhibit – cows and sheep and goats – and camels! Fine specimens, all (there was poultry, too, separate). But no donkeys! They get no respect – beasts of burden only, not show animals. Then we went through the equipment pavilions – it was interesting looking at the latest technology, especially considering that as I pass by fields I see animals pulling wooden plows or people working the fields and almost never an actual piece of machinery; I also see much more grazing than farming. The big pieces stand in stark contrast to my trips to Fes last week, where I was dodging horses and donkeys as they carried cargo through the medina. So, a picture from last Saturday’s trip – usually they go by so fast that I can only photograph them from the rear, but this time I had my camera ready! Is the future big agribusiness? The big manufacturers, banks, insurers and processed foods companies had large, professional trade show spaces – though many of them also were serving traditional Moroccan tea. Along the sides of the room there were smaller booths, many of them with people and products from small cooperatives (including some that some of the Environment PCVs work with, though I didn’t see any of those – and I wanted to buy more chamomile essence water, too, to try as a sleep aid). Lots of honey and rosemary and other herbs and oils – and occasionally artisan products if an association made those in addition to agricultural ones.

There were also tents for each region; there are sixteen regions in Morocco, each of which is broken into provinces; I’m not sure how many of those there are. I live in Ifrane Province, in the Meknes-Tafilalet region. There were displays of the agricultural products of each region, very nicely done. Of particular note were raspberries – they are grown up north but I have never seen any for sale! Now I want some! – and the booths from the Western Sahara regions. Because that part of the country is disputed territory, we are not allowed to travel there, so this was a peek into what they have to offer. The southern part Morocco that we can visit is already very different from the north – the way, way south and west Western Sahara may be a third part entirely, with a completely different way of life. But it will remain a mystery! And then it was time to go. It would have been nice to go to the medina afterwards and experience the contrast, but instead we went to lunch and then Marjane, leaving the medina for another day and therefore warranting another trip…

Friday, April 25, 2008


Well, if I was not feeling well last week and thankful for how healthy I have been for the most part, that was doubled this week! I had what I thought was a delicious lunch on Monday (lunch of champions – i.e. scrambled eggs – with guacamole, and a smoothie), but by suppertime I didn’t feel quite right, and things got worse as the night progressed (I’ll spare you the details). On Tuesday I still didn’t have much of an appetite and I must have had a fever – felt dizzy and incapable of doing much other than laying on the couch (which worked out fine – I had a new mystery to read). It’s amazing how skinny one can feel after just one day of not eating (not to mention the details I am sparing you)! I did have some visitors on Tuesday but I wasn’t all that coherent, and I made it to the artisana both days to check in (the weaving cooperative asked me to make a sign for their new space in the showroom – when I asked them how much they wanted to pay for it they said they didn’t understand my Arabic….imagine that).

I sometimes say that you don’t know how sick you were until you feel better, and when I woke up on Wednesday (after almost twelve hours’ sleep – nice, solid sleep too, which I have not been getting lately, but I wish I didn’t have to be sick to sleep well) I felt great! Good timing, too, because I had a trip to Fes planned. I stopped in Immouzer, rather than passing through as I usually do, to have an orange juice with Nico, the YD volunteer there. And with waiting for two taxis to fill instead of one, I still made it to Fes in plenty of time for an 11:30 am dentist appointment.

This was a routine cleaning – over in fifteen minutes! I don’t feel that every one of my teeth was touched, but this was a different dentist from the one last time who cleaned only four and pronounced the rest clean on sight; I had to call the Peace Corps Medical Office that time to have him clean all of them (when I called the PCMO to thank them, they said Americans get their teeth cleaned too often – oh well). This new one felt concerned about my lower front teeth (a problem area for me) and (after conferring with the PCMO) prescribed a mouthwash for me to rinse with for the next ten days. Overall, it may not be perfect, but I feel well taken care of.

There was time for lunch before the next appointment – and a realization that I am finally over having spaghetti bolognese at every big-city dining-out opportunity. I would even order tagines now – I don’t get a lot of Moroccan food these days and I do enjoy it! Said next appointment was at the Palais Jamai – I do feel right at home in that luxury hotel – for a massage. Way back in 2006 when I met the RPCV who worked on the Chicago-Casablanca Sister City Committee, she said that I’m an adult so I don’t have to live like a volunteer all the time; every so often I should go to a luxury hotel and sit by the pool; she mentioned the Palais Jamai by name and I think of her when I go (though I have yet to sit by the pool, except for when I’ve stayed there, on the family trip last year and with the Princeton group). The massage was great, although I could use another one already!

In past Fes dentist trips I have had to return to the dentist in the afternoon and/or made a Marjane run – this time, still basking in the energizing day we had last week, I took another walk in the medina, walking from the Palais Jamai to the Bab Boujeloud. I don’t need to look at a map anymore, and I can go off the beaten paths without too much anxiety (though it isn’t as much fun alone as it was with Rose and Linda). I had explored a little around the hotel before but now know how it connects to other parts of the medina. At one point, someone told me that I was in the old Jewish neighborhood. I told him I thought that that was in Fes El-Jdid. He said yes, but before Fes El-Jdid (the new – i.e. only 700 years old as opposed to 1200) was built, this was the Jewish neighborhood. That makes sense - they had to be someplace for 500 years! It may warrant further discovery. I went to the herbalist and lingered at some places we had not had time for on Saturday, but I didn’t see anything I had to have. I also went to the pottery area outside the medina and bought a couple of new coffee mugs, after the tragic chipping of one of mine a few weeks ago.

Thursday I went out to Ain Leuh to check Jackie’s post office box and visit the women. They weave in a small space and for them, weaving is very social – they are laughing and chatting as their hands move across the looms at an amazing pace. I felt so happy sitting with them – not just because I felt welcomed but because I felt the joy of their work and their positive energy. The weavers in Azrou just do not give off those vibes – I talk to the officers and I try to hang out with them but it just seems awkward for all of us. I am glad I have Ain Leuh in my weekly mix now.

I also made something for a “cultural exchange” dinner a fellow PCV is giving on Saturday. I was never planning to go to the dinner – I’ve used my two April Saturday out-of-sites already – but I did offer to contribute something. My plans to make a dish with apples and cinnamon (one of my favorites from my youth) were thwarted when I cut open some apples for smoothies last week and they were bad – it just isn’t the season. I wondered what Moroccans did, since people here are much more attuned to seasonal fruits and vegetables than we are at home, and on the internet I found several Moroccan charoset recipes. The one I used:

500 grams hazelnuts (I used walnuts, which the notes said could be used depending on availability)
250 grams almonds (oops, I used 500)
250 grams dates
250 grams golden raisins

Grind nuts together coarsely (it says food processor, but I used the nut grinder part of my blender). Add dates and raisins and process until consistency is smooth but still has some texture (I ground these separately in the nut grinder after the blender seemed motionless and then mixed it all by hand). Prepare balls of the mixture about 2 cm in diameter (I liked this idea for presentation). Can also be served as a dessert. Note – this recipe made enough for a really large dinner or eight days’ worth of dessert! I found variations that included dried apricots, allspice, dark raisins, sweet wine, dried figs, cinnamon and cloves; also rolling the balls in a coating of nuts. I think I will bring some to Youssef’s family and my host family (but maybe not get into the details of why I made it).

I neglected to mention the new SBD Program Manager! She started last week. I guess I don’t think she will have much impact on my service – by the time she gets up to speed I will be close to the end, and I’m merrily rolling along so don’t see the need for changes. I mentioned her to my counterpart and he said, “no, I don’t like working with women!” I said, “but you like working with me, right?” and then he backpedaled a bit. When he heard about her education and background he seemed impressed, but I think he was hoping for someone he could go out for tea with. At any rate, it was an honest reaction and a reflection of how people really feel and why Gender and Development is so important and why simply my presence here as an independent woman sets an example for others who may dream of being independent themselves.

We also have a new Country Director. The current one is not due to leave until November 18, a week before our COS date, so this new hire may have even less impact on my service, but it’s interesting to see his background in part to see if I might be qualified to be a Peace Corps Country Director some day! When I got the ride home from the YD Program Manager, he fondly remembered the new CD (there’s another acronym for you!) from when he was a volunteer.

Tariq, the Program Assistant, was here this week doing site visits for the new people in the area. I asked to see him because now that I am taking over some of Jackie’s Ain Leuh projects I wanted to prioritize with him and make sure we’re on the same page. He told me he really liked the brochure I did for the artisana and that I should do brochures for each of the individual artisans and cooperatives of the area! So he added a lot to my plate, but it is something up my alley, and it dovetails with the web site anyway. I told him it was a problem getting them printed – that the Azrou ones were a present – and he dismissed that. I also told him I want to work on a grant proposal for computers, a digital camera and a better web address and he told me to be careful about starting something I may not be able to finish before I leave, but that I can look into it – to me it would help with sustainability, but before I get too excited I’ll see what the parameters are.

One thing that I managed to do while sick is something I had been thinking of for a while – counting up my vacation days. I have to advance six days since we cannot take vacation our last three months, but I cannot advance more, meaning I have to take some in August, when it’s hot and when everyone else is traveling. With holidays and weekends, I can actually go to the Anti-Atlas and see the part of the country I have not yet seen and most want to – or I can leave the country and have a little jaunt to Gibraltar. I’m going to take one day next Friday – there’s a holiday on Thursday – and am planning to go to Marrakesh, maybe with a day trip from there, but maybe with two solid days, an evening plus a morning I can begin to feel I have spent enough time there!

Today is the anniversary of the day my senior thesis was due. Imprinted in my brain! This week I compiled the next class notes column for the Princeton Alumni Weekly and did some additional news-gathering and organizing. It has been great to work on those this year - nice to keep in touch and to stay involved. I also volunteered to help with the revision of the Princetoniana committee web site - I haven't been back for any of the meetings but I maybe I can contribute from afar!

The picture is of the spring wildflowers around here. That’s another thing that happened this week – spring may have finally come to stay! I’ve thought twice before that I put the fleece jellaba away for the season, but third time may really be a charm! Then again, I have heard that snow in May here is not unheard of (and I thought I left that behind when I left Chicago). I gave Tariq my space heater to return to Peace Corps HQ (I purposely didn’t start using it until after the last SBD group COSed, to see if I could make it through the fall – I did, though not without being very cold for several weeks!) Now that it is gone, will it be a mild fall or an even colder one? Time will tell!

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This was something of an off week, but I feel I have bounced back over the weekend! Two things in particular put me in a slump - one, I didn’t feel well, and two, I had internet problems. Then again, both served as reminders of how fortunate I feel here. Overall, I have been quite healthy – have had my share of fevers and Big D but all things considered there’s been nothing that a day at home or a rummage through the medical kit hasn’t resolved (since I got to my own apartment, anyway – I was down for the count a couple of times during training, and on antibiotics). As for the computer – well, I get easily panicked and frustrated when it doesn’t work, and after calming down I think the issues are with Maroc Telecom and not my computer; I was able to go to a cyber and get some things done, but I always feel a little lost without internet at home. It doesn’t help that it’s been chilly all week too, and windy.

Other things come into play, of course. I found an apple biorhythm widget and sure enough, the intellectual, emotional and physical – all at highs when I was in Tinjdad doing the workshops – are on lows this week. It didn’t help that I chose Tuesday morning to do something that always takes about five times longer than think it will – backing up the computer. Maybe one out of every three or four disks is good; the rest are unverifiable and unreliable (so says my computer, not me) so I have to do-over and do-over. I was happy to be home all day on Monday but by Tuesday I had an agenda; I didn’t want to go out until I finished the backup, so I got a late start. Getting errands done was satisfying though, and then Jessica came for some work-related leave (long time no see!).

I had asked Youssef’s sister to come with us to a spice shop so that we could identify spices – this is something I have wanted to do for months anyway, and Jessica provided the impetus. The spice shops have mounds of dried herbs, seeds, powders, sticks and more, with colors and smells and textures that are very intriguing. It’s going to be sad to go back to a world of expensive little shaker bottles when now I have peanut butter jars full of pungent spices that I use liberally – even if I do have to comb the twigs out of the oregano.

On Wednesday, I got some work-related leave. I hadn’t been to Ain Leuh since Jackie left, and I didn’t want too much more time to go by. She was expecting some packages, so I checked her mailbox (she had never missed getting a package, and the things she mailed arrived in the U.S., so I may be going to that post office more often!). I stopped in to see the women, but Wednesday is souk day in Ain Leuh so the women I knew the best weren’t around. I knew that beforehand, but thought I would chance it anyway; I have to pick another day to have as my regular day there.

We also hiked to a nearby douar where there is a jelly cooperative. It was interesting to see their operation including their jars and labels – now Jessica had more information for her artisan. And the hike itself was beautiful – cherry blossoms and poppies and other trees and flowers in bloom. We then went on to Ben Smim to meet with the medicinal herbs cooperative – Madeleine was out of town so since I had met the women in the past I thought I could be of some use. I wasn’t needed – when I had met them in the past it was in the president’s house, and that wasn’t where we were directed to meet them – but it was nice to see the women again and I did buy some herbs and again, enjoyed the beautiful scenery. If I hadn’t had this arranged with Jessica I might have laid low, but with vitamin C and herbal wellness formula and a benadryl from the medical kit (last resort – a sign of how icky I felt) I was able to soldier on, and also able to make it an early night. Laura, the Health volunteer who came through on Sunday on her way to medicals, stayed over on the way back, but she was as tired as I was.

On Thursday the King came to Azrou! Nobody knows his schedule for certain due to safety and security, so I was up and out early to try to ascertain his timing. It seemed as though he was coming in the afternoon, and then I got a text from a volunteer coming through who wanted to have lunch with Kathy and me and VSN a bit. He was on his way back from Rabat after being in the hospital there (another reminder to be thankful for my health); it can be hard here sometimes when you’re healthy, and when you don’t feel well it can be even harder. We played a little piffle, and when I got word that the King’s motorcade had passed by the site of the volunteer up the road, we all went out.

My counterpart told me that they are going to put a lot of money into Azrou and make it as nice as Ifrane. Clean. Complete the museum. A waterfall on the big rock. Other projects. In a way I feel a little sad, because then it will be too nice to have a Peace Corps volunteer, and it will lose part of its charm, but if it helps the people here then of course I am happy. And of course, it could be a while before it’s finished. We found a spot with a good vantage point to the tents under which were the project plans for the King to review, and in a while the motorcade came along. As with last year, bands played and people cheered. Unlike last year, though, the King was not dressed in traditional garb – he was in a dark suit, as was everyone else in the entourage, and we weren’t close enough to tell which one was the King. Still, I didn’t think he would come back to Azrou at all while I was here so it was nice to experience it again. Even more impressive is that he was scheduled to go on to Timhadite and give money to the president of the weaving cooperative – the people we worked with, getting money straight from the King! I heard that he ran late so he didn’t shake hands, just waved, but the volunteer there still got to be in the receiving line so that is quite a thrill (she is the one I saw the princess with, too). The computer problems intensified on Thursday night – I wonder if the King was jamming communications? Cell phones have had lots of failures this week too – but that was balanced out somewhat when I used all seven of my letters in a Scrabble game.

Friday was interesting – chilly and windy with some rain (I am sure the King brought that along) but a nearby volunteer and I had said we would hike and so we did. One of the other things I did on Thursday was send the GAD Harassment Survey results and recommendations to staff – it had been tweaked and revised and delayed because of spring camp and work-related leave and cyber availability of the people working on it, but we really wanted to get it out in time to impact the PST harassment training for the new stage, which is next week. I think the report turned out great and I look forward to seeing what comes out of it. So here we are, walking on a road Youssef and I took once – not very crowded but not especially isolated – and a guy on a bicycle started talking to us and stalking us. My ploy is usually to say I don’t understand – it often works because I actually don’t understand, and in this case I didn’t. He persisted in following us, so we then moved on to, “safi (enough).” He reached around me and grabbed her rear end – at which point she shoved him, we said, “go away,” things got tense, and then (whew) he went away. The hike also included some barking dogs who started to chase us (rural volunteers often carry rocks to throw at dogs, and a few have been to Rabat for post-bite rabies shots) and rain, but also beautiful wildflowers and flowering trees. I thought physical contact merited reporting the incident (which the other volunteer did after thinking it over), and later in the day I saw some of the Environment volunteers and suggested we all hike together.

And then I had a wonderful weekend in Fes and Sefrou! Linda came up from Khenifra and we stayed with Rose. It’s hard to believe I hadn’t been to Fes since December (well, I guess I went with Frank and Sherwin, but only to McDonald’s and a café in the Ville Nouvelle and Marjane, not to the medina) – I simply must go more often between now and the time I leave! Fes is celebrating its 1200th birthday this year. We took a taxi to Bab R’cif and had lunch at the same chicken-and-fries place that the faux guide had directed us to in November. And then we just wandered – we each had desires but no musts, and it was great to wander for a while – found a nice rooftop garden, peeked in a couple of alleys and fondouks, saw a lot of small brass workshops with people hammering and stamping away. We then crossed from the Andalusian quarter to the main part of the medina and started up the Talaa Kbira. It felt like old home week – I really do feel I know Fes well, though there is of course much more possibility of exploration. I saw the store where I looked at this or where I bought that or where I still might need one of those…. As we crossed the bridge I pointed to the map to show how little ground we had covered and how long the way was to Bab Boujeloud, offering them an out if we wanted to leave sooner, but they agreed to press on. You may recall, however, that Talaa Kbira means “big hill” and by the time we got to the herbalist (who really made me feel as if I had been away too long – but people in Azrou do that if I don’t see them for a couple of days; it’s part of the culture) and the pottery souk (two of my desires) there were those of us who were too tired to shop. All the more reason to come back another day. We did have a must – some of the other volunteers had told us about Café Clock, a new place near the ancient water clock, run by British expats. We had fresh orange juice and lemon tart and a chocolate muffin and put it on our list of things to return to – nice atmosphere. Fes is great.

Sefrou is even older than 1200 – Sefrouis helped build Fes. Still on my list for another time are the Jewish cemetery and the caves at Bhalil, but we had a lovely day. It was raining in the morning, so we had a cozy and leisurely start. We walked to the medina and it occurred to Rose that we were passing the old synagogue – did we want to see that? Yes! Very interesting – the courtyard held a school with a kitchen and dining hall as well, but the main attraction was the sanctuary itself, with beautiful tile, Hebrew lettering on the light fixtures and old books just crying out for a sponsor for preservation. We then went to the mellah, where we saw a riad – asked for a tour and saw rooms with old wooden built-in beds, tiles that looked like the ones I saw in Spain (and they turned out to be from Spain), a rooftop panoramic view, and a vaulted cellar where they used to make alcohol – there were two staircases down to the basement in case one had to hide the evidence. We then went to visit two of the artisans who Rose works with, young women who are currently button-makers and now learning ceramics; they were a delight. And then it was time to go; at least with sunset coming later these days we were able to spend most of the afternoon there. It was a fun and uplifting weekend and gets the new week off to a good start!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


We arrived in Tinjdad late in the afternoon on Sunday - but now that it is staying lighter later we still had plenty of day. Jessica had made spring rolls for us as a snack (wow!). We talked a little bit about our plans for the workshop and went to meet the cooperative president. Jessica speaks Tamazight, Rob and I speak darija, and the cooperative members use both, but we still had to translate to each other to understand what was bring said. Challenging, but fun as opposed to deterring! We went to a tourist shop to see what locally-produced items sell there, and then walked about three miles from Tinjdad Center back to Jessica’s neighborhood, stopping at the cooperative’s space to see what was on display for sale there and visiting Jessica’s old counterpart, who I had met way back when at Lee’s farewell party. We then made dinner and brainstormed as to how the workshops would run. I don’t get to use the brainstorming part of my brain a whole lot – I do consult and exchange ideas when I meet with fellow volunteers, but maybe the difference is writing it down and organizing it and knowing it will be used for something.

We spent most of Monday morning going over the details of the workshop, but we also took a little walk. I had been through Tinjdad before by bus and car; it’s a very long town, flat, only a block or two deep, and from the main road it doesn’t look very interesting. But when you get off the main drag it’s quite charming. The flat earth would be good for bicycle riding, and in every direction extends the palm oasis, with fields of barley and wheat, little douars (towns), old, crumbling ksars (mud-brick complexes where many families lived), koubbas (shrines to descendents of the prophet who came to the area) and mountains way in the distance to both the north and south. The walk itself was great but the wind and sand exhausted us – we came back and had to rest. In fact, we thought that afternoon’s workshop would be cancelled entirely – Jessica thought the women wouldn’t go out in the wind. I was both disappointed (all that preparation!) and relieved (all that wind!) to hear that, but then we got the word that people would be there, so off we went.

This cooperative is made up of about 25 women and right now they aren’t very active. I did see some of their wares at the Meknes trade fair, but at the time had no idea I would be doing these workshops, so didn’t spend much time looking then. The women make whatever they want and bring it to the cooperative building, which has sporadic hours, and if something sells, they don’t necessarily make more of it. Jessica had asked Connie to do workshops as well, and she went last month, talking about customer service and costing and pricing. We decided to focus on the first day on why they were in the cooperative and learned some interesting things. About half of the women have their own businesses and are more successful there; the ones who are more successful through the cooperative are those who don’t have other business on the side. When the cooperative was formed three years ago they were told they were getting money from the ministry for machines and for teaching others, and they have basically been in a holding pattern since then, waiting for the money. Now there are hints that the money is actually coming and that it is coming soon, so this was a good time to do the workshops and to have the members think about their commitments to each other.

There were only five women there on Monday so the informal discussion was good; we saved more formal discussion for the next session. After the session, we took a walk in the palmerie – this part of Morocco is just so different from my part. I’m glad I live in my part but glad I had extended time to experience life in this kind of site. We came back and took our learning and strategized about the next day. On Tuesday morning we walked to the nearby douar of El Khorbat, where the casbah is still occupied, and went to meet with a friend of Jessica’s who lives there and is starting a pomegranate jelly business. A motivated artisan – with a unique product – who can sell everything he makes – what a rarity! He still wanted some business ideas; his main issue is securing jars and pectin, and we had some thoughts there. Then we talked about branding and labels and potential outlets and other flavors; it was fun. We went to his roof and looked at the dry riverbed; he said that when he was a kid, before they built the dam, there was water, and cranes and egrets, and frogs, and all sorts of different plants. Now you look out and see desert and date palms with small tops because they are not getting enough water. What will this place look like in another 20 years?

Part of the casbah where he lives houses a luxury hotel/restaurant/museum complex and we toured the museum. It’s a really good one – history and culture, well-signed and explained. And not in Lonely Planet! In fact, Tinjdad isn’t even mentioned in Lonely Planet! I think I’ll write to them (since I’m writing about the caves in Grenada already). Another stop at home for lunch and a rest - it’s not summer-hot yet in Tinjdad but there is still a long mid-day break. I did something I thought I would go 27 months without –I painted my toenails! Still not my fingernails…. And then it was workshop time! We had a local teacher as our translator – she was very animated and empathetic and the women warmed up to her in a way they might not have to us even if we’d had more language; we’re still from another country and another site and she was one of them (the good news was that Rob’s being of another gender didn’t hinder open discussion).

We started with where we had left off the day before – why did you join the cooperative, what benefits to you see, what are your responsibilities. Rob led some team-building exercises – everyone had to put their fingertips on a bamboo cane and lower it to the floor, with nobody’s fingertips leaving the cane, and when it didn’t work, strategize about why. We taped pictures (flowers, suns, needles) onto people’s backs and people had to group themselves by like picture –without talking. We then talked about what makes a successful team – the women are soccer fans so they could think from a sports perspective or from their own. We covered characteristics of a successful cooperative and formal officer roles. In the pre-planning and brainstorming, this was important – but when we started, the women said they knew all of that. So then why does the president do all the work now, and why are there people who are supposed to come to run the store and then don’t do it? And why did only half the members show up for this workshop? The discussion got frank and heated as the women challenged each other. We broke them up into small groups and had them brainstorm about the ideal cooperative and about what they would do if /when they get the money. The women were extremely receptive to all of this and threw out what seemed to me to be sophisticated words and concepts. At the end we told them our observations, with the caveat that this was from being there just a couple of days. They make a product that is unique to the region, the taharuet – the black cloth with neon embroidery that the women wear (and now that I have been through the wind, I see why!). Tourists and locals buy them. We suggested that they consider making only those, exclusive to the cooperative (they can still have their own businesses on the side for everything else). And that they had to have regular hours for the shop. Or they could continue as is while they wait for the money. They were receptive, but the idea and the motivation really have to come from them.

Overall, I thought it was a great success, but I recognize that today it could be status quo. At least we gave them something to think about and I feel good about the work we put into it and the execution of the sessions themselves. It’s nothing that Jessica couldn’t probably have done for herself, but as with Kristina coming up here to work with the rock-carver, her bringing in “outside experts” added credibility and focus, made the women feel important, and made them more interested in attending. We spent Wednesday on follow-up, writing our reports and brainstorming about other projects Jessica is working on, such as a taharuet competition. Jessica also needed some time to herself to prepare for an English class, so I took a couple of solo walks, going back to the casbah, finding a ruined ksar (it doesn’t take much to ruin them – one good rain or flash flood and the mud will melt; the trick is maintaining them) and a gallery with some nice rugs and jewelry (just looking…). Kristina’s site is nearby; it would have been nice to see her too, but sadly, she was not available, so maybe I will see it some other time. I couldn’t decide which picture to use – one of the sand storm or one of a taharuet - so here’s Jessica using her taharuet to seek protection from the wind.

Thursday morning there was time for one last walk before I had to leave. Moha the jelly man came with us as we went to the biggest of the ksar ruins. We went to the mellah – at one point 500-2000 Jewish families lived there (nobody seemed to know for sure); many of them come back now on tours to see their ancestral homes. We went to the Muslim cemetery – according to Jessica’s Rough Guide, the graves were marked with sticks rather than more formally so that jackals wouldn’t dig them up. Beyond the Muslim cemetery, at the edge of the desert where there’s no longer enough water for the palm trees to grow and there is just a vast expanse of nothing is the remains of the Jewish cemetery. It’s interesting to be here in Morocco, where Arabs and Berbers and Jews lived together in harmony and then disharmony until they either converted or left, and to have been in Spain, where Catholics and Muslims and Jews used to live together in harmony and then disharmony until they converted or left. It’s a reminder that Goals 2 and 3 – sharing American culture with other peoples and sharing the culture of other peoples with Americans – are critical to the mission of Peace Corps. The history and culture of Morocco – some still very much alive, some preserved, and some just there in the ruins of an old building and in talking to older people who still remember what it was like because it wasn’t that long ago – add to the reasons why I am glad I was assigned to this particular country.

So - I did it! I spent yesterday at home. Well, I did open the door to get my Maroc Telecom bills and step outside to put the trash out, but that’s as far as I got. I did some reading and some writing and some straightening and updated my expense spreadsheet. I did have contact with the outside world via email, and I went most of the day without a text message (now I wonder if a day ever goes by without one!). Some of the emails were work-related, so it wasn’t a day without work, but it was a much-needed day to myself. I could use the whole week and then I might really feel caught up, but I have too much else going on!

Monday, April 14, 2008


The guests have left and all is quiet. That is, they left and I spent a couple of hours cleaning and doing laundry and then gchatted with Rose (yet another means of keeping in touch that I’ve discovered while here), and now I am having a quiet morning to myself. This was a nice Azrou weekend – though when I got back on Thursday the temperature had dropped. Silly me, putting away the winter clothes and the space heater and the hot water bottles! It warmed up again yesterday, but not before I stubbornly shivered for a couple of nights, finally getting up to put on warmer clothes and get an extra blanket when I just couldn’t sleep.

I looked through Jessica’s recipes when I was in Tinjdad and found one for no-bake cookies; I made those on Saturday morning and also made some eggplant red ball. A couple of volunteers came over for lunch and then we headed to a nearby site for a fellow volunteer’s birthday celebration – snacks, piffle and a beautiful hike (downhill all the way) back to Azrou, with green fields, mountain vistas, farm animals and friendly people. It still amazes me how rural it is just outside of Azrou; for weeks I have been eager to go on a hike and this impromptu one was fun. Also impromptu was the fact that the party basically moved back to my house and continued. We were joined by Aaron, the “prophet of piffle” (new term he came up with and very apropos here), on his way to COS medicals. Yesterday we were joined by Laura, another Health volunteer who was also on her way to Rabat. We spent a lot of time at Abdou’s, had bisara, visited the artisana and climbed the Azrou rock (which was fun until I stepped in some human excrement). It doesn’t seem that long ago that the last group of SBDs and YDs left, and now the Health and Environment have less than two months to go. It was refreshing to talk to Aaron and Laura though – they are both so busy finishing up their projects that they are not dwelling much on saying goodbye or on where they are going next. I wouldn’t mind being in that situation six months from now! We looked at the list of volunteers to determine the reach of piffle – over 10 percent of the volunteers in-country have played, from out west by Agadir to far south by Zagora to up north near Fes to way east by Algeria. That’s capacity-building and sustainability! Incidentally, I heard that our COS conference is August 11-13. It still seems far away, but it seems more real now with dates attached.

Friday was a busy day back in my site. I had paper goods, fruits and vegetables and a new butagas for my shower to buy and a couscous invitation from Youssef’s family. My l-Eid goatskin was ready and it is cute. Two families in one day is a lot for me (though other volunteers visit that many regularly) but I decided it had been way too long since I had seen my host family so I went there for cassecroute. And I went to the artisana. Had a chance to write up my WRL (Work-Related Leave) reports and go through email and mail but I could use a day to myself to really feel caught up – maybe I will stay at home all day today!

The time away was great – the travel part was long but it was good to see and be with friends, to be in the south and soak up the scenery and appreciate the difference, and to collaborate with fellow volunteers on workshops. I’ll talk about the way back first and then go back to the beginning. On Thursday, I got on a mid-morning bus to Errachidia and met Rachel for lunch – I hadn’t seen her in a while; her site is a small douar south of town (she moved from the big city in part because that was where her work was but also because of the harassment) but she can come in for cyber and shopping. So the first thought that went through both of our heads when we saw one of the YD volunteers come in to the chicken place with his Program Manager was, “good thing we’re legal.” I asked if the Program Manager happened to be driving through Azrou next and to my surprise he said yes and offered me a ride home! For some reason the 1:00 and 1:45 buses weren’t running – I’d thought I might take a taxi instead but I now think they wouldn’t have been running either. The reason was that the King was visiting the region north of Rich – crowds were lined up in Midelt and other towns. Flags and banners and fresh paint. From my comfy front-seat vantage point I waved at the crowd…. At Zaida, which is more or less the beginning of the home stretch to Azrou, the road was completely blocked. The King! We detoured around to Khenifra – a two-hour detour that took us through a pretty stretch of country but made the trip as long as it would have been by bus (though I still got home earlier than a 3:00 bus or taxi would have gotten me there – at least I would have had a legitimate reason for calling in after dark and/or stranded somewhere, but it was nice to make it home). Abdelghani, the Program Manager, has worked for Peace Corps Morocco for over 20 years in various capacities, and we had a delightful conversation. We talked about his career and trips to Washington and conferences to meet colleagues in other countries, and about my ideas for mid-career volunteers and possible next steps for me in Peace Corps. I asked him about the biggest changes he’s seen over the years and he said it’s in the volunteers – now they expect everything to be handed to them.

Midelt was also the point at which it began to get cold and to rain. Tinjdad had been windy all week, and the wind blew cold and rain into the Middle Atlas. It blew the sand and dirt of Tinjdad into my face and clothes and mouth and hair and the two-hour detour meant it took two hours longer to get into the shower, but the ride home in a comfy front seat meant that I did get to the shower. A nice, hot shower! When I got home there was a huge pit in the lot across the street. They started to build a house a couple of doors down (yes, more construction noise in the morning!) and I think they dug up some of the dirt to level off the ground before laying cement. Well, that’s one way to clean up the trash across the way! Actually, there’s a lot of construction all of a sudden. Were they waiting for winter to end too? The museum next to the artisana is coming along, and they’re back across the street from me to finish that house. When I came back from the family trip, Azrou looked different. A new café opened across from Bilal and already has its regulars. Okay, maybe that was the only change, but I had been gone for just a little over a week! How jarring will it be when I leave and then come back in a year or two or three or more?

Saturday was a long travel day that began early with buying out a taxi to Meknes – I paid extra to have the driver take us to the train station; worth it for peace of mind! Kathy came with me, which made the train ride much more fun. We read for a while and then played rummy (since PST I’ve been playing Shawn’s way, with wild 2’s, and Kathy didn’t want wild cards. I didn’t realize how different the strategy would be!) and coconut. The train ride did go faster than usual with the company, and I think it also went faster because I knew Marrakesh was not my final destination, and though I brought enough to eat and drink for a change, it was still long and hot and when I heard from Rose and Janeila that they weren’t getting into Marrakesh until just after I had to leave, I broke down. All that travel, Marrakesh not exactly next door, so close and yet so far, not enough time with the people you care about. But I soldiered on (especially since we were in the middle of a card game – but also because I’ll see Rose this weekend and just plan to come back and see Janeila); arriving in Marrakesh I felt buoyed by its energy and once again determined to return. Kathy and I went to an ice cream place I had heard about from Rob and others – it also had food, and it was good to have something more substantial than train snacks. And what was a couple of doors away? A Zara store! Marrakesh really does have it all. We cruised through, and then it was time for me to go on to the next leg of the trip – a four-hour grand taxi ride to Ouarzazate.

I bought two spots so I would have the front seat to myself for the ride over the Tichka pass, but as I was sliding back and forth I wondered if it would have been better to be squished next to someone. The scenery is beautiful – majestic mountains green early on, then full of trees and alpine-like as you get higher, then trees with red soil and towns with long, flat-roofed houses that blend in with the soil, and then dry on the other side – but even as I was admiring the scenery I was thinking that I didn’t have to do this ride ever again. I felt that way until I got to Ouarzazate; can I possibly get myself back there? A couple of hours on the Helen trip and 18 hours on a Saturday overnight doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know, so I made the most of my time there. Sigh – had I been invited to PST I would have been able to explore it more. The only reason I had any time at all is that I went to Tinjdad the next day and not all the way home.

I think Ouarzazate is a good place for tourists – it might be what they expect when they come to Morocco; it’s the desert, but because of the movie industry it has a lot of hotels and restaurants and shops for westerners. It has wide, open market streets and a big plaza and paved sidewalks. There’s a big casbah, in the process of being restored, but with enough open that you get a feel for the architecture of the south (I loved the doorways in the picture). And there’s a nice artisana, with great carpets and a good jewelry selection and things carved out of alabaster. There’s also a dam outside of town that you can walk to, maybe for some other time, and the movie studios, though I personally don’t have a lot of interest in those. My main interest on this trip was seeing Jong and Aaron, who came up from Zagora to meet me! We had dinner, walked around a little bit, had a chance to talk and then played Piffle! In the morning Aaron had some things to do; Jong and I checked out the casbah and artisana and played more cards. I had another breakdown again – when will I see her next? Marrakesh is eight hours away and she is twice as far as that! Here’s the equation: Exhausting travel plus dehydration plus not enough sleep equals breakdown! Actually, we’ve done a pretty good job of seeing each other considering the distance. But now I wonder not only if I can get back to Ouarzazate but if I can make it back to her site. Work-related leave? VSN session?

The time flew by, and Aaron and Jong walked me to the noon CTM to Tinjdad. There I found (not by coincidence but by plan) Rob, who had gotten on in Marrakesh that morning. It was great to have hours to talk with him – travel is still hard, but much easier when you are with friends. We had a lot to catch up on and covered a ride range of subjects – and all the while watched a sand/dust storm outside. I think I had said I wanted to experience one, and I was fine experiencing it from inside the bus. However, it continued when we got to Tinjdad. Jessica told us usually it blows like that for an hour or so and then dies down; for us it was windy for the duration of our visit!

To be continued….

Friday, April 04, 2008


I knew it would take a while for me to get up to speed this week – but since the speed here is a slow, relaxed pace, I was able to take my time. On Monday I went to the artisana to find my counterpart not there and to the post office to find the counter too crowded, so I had to go back to both again in the afternoon (not notable except that had both been available the first time I would have felt back in the swing that much sooner; today my errands went smoothly). Wednesday morning I washed my floors – not notable except for how time-consuming it is. With so much dirt here, it is hard to keep up!

I was thinking about the Avenida Kansas City that I saw on the map in Seville. I asked our guide if it was a Sister City and he said, no, it was just the name of a street. Well, you don’t just name a street in Seville, Spain Avenida Kansas City; I looked it up and indeed it is a Sister City. Before I moved here I went to some meetings of the Chicago-Casablanca Sister City Committee, and when I got here I thought it would be nice to find one for Azrou. Since Azrou means “big rock,” I thought of Boulder – or Little Rock. I decided to search for both of those and found the contact info for Boulder and brought the info to my counterpart, whose wife works in the equivalent of the mayor’s office. It’s still on the back burner, but it was nice to make some progress.

I had lunch with Jackie, one of the volunteers in the area, and juice with another, Kathy, to get updated on what happened while I was gone, and then tea with Abdou. Back in the swing, all right! I spent almost the whole day out. At night I worked on the GAD column for Peace Works, and the next morning on the GAD harassment survey writeup. Met with nearby volunteers Kathy and Elizabeth again for lunch and we all went on to a café for juice. We talked about life but also business – having a series of seminars similar to the decorator talk, a province tour where we visit each other’s sites and offer suggestions, and putting the regional cooperatives on the web site.

I’ve been reading a book called, “All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s.” It gave some background as to what was going on in the world and the country when the Peace Corps was founded – there was the Cold War and many newly decolonized nations. Peace Corps was an apolitical way of sharing American values. At home, the frontier had just been closed and there was a feeling that there could be no more pioneering – so one of the reasons the jobs were vaguely defined was so volunteers could pioneer their way to finding work. The Vietnam War led to a downturn in the number of people applying, and Nixon’s combining Peace Corps and VISTA led to a very low profile for the Peace Corps. It’s made a comeback since then, but it seemed that with each new administration there has been an attempt to better define the jobs and to bring in more experienced volunteers. There’s another Peace Corps history book that I got from the library, and there’s one in the works for the upcoming 50th anniversary. There are so many perspectives on the Peace Corps and on development in general; this fascinates me. Again, my trip to South Africa was a catalyst that really got me started thinking about it and thinking that maybe I could make a difference.

I worked on my quarterly report for Peace Corps this week. It’s good to summarize what I’m working on – day-to-day I feel it is shwiya-b-shwiya (little-by-little) but when I put it all together I felt I got a lot done this quarter. Yesterday my counterpart asked for a quarterly report in French by Monday. Good thing I had the report done already – all that remained was the translating. And next quarter will start off with a bang – I am going to Tinjdad next week to run some workshops. Jessica, the volunteer there, has a textile background, and wanted to bring someone in with a business background to train her cooperative. Connie went last month to talk about customer service and record keeping. I am going to talk about roles of the people in the cooperative, how they would define success, and how they could achieve that success. Right now, for example, if they make a product and it sells, they don’t necessarily make more of it – they make what they are in the mood to make. I think it’ll be a lot like Kristina’s coming up here to work with the rock-carver – Jessica can ask the same questions, but having a guest speaker with a different background may add credibility and focus. I put together the proposal before I left and have spent some time this week thinking about the workshop details. Jessica also found a motivated artisan who makes jelly, and we are going to meet with him to discuss various aspects of his business. I’ll be gone through next Thursday.

I’m taking the long way to Tinjdad – through Marrakesh. If the train’s not late, I hope for a quick bite to eat and maybe a quick trip to the artisana, but since it would only be quick, I’ve decided I’ll just have to get back to Marrakesh again! I’ll then hop on the bus for a Saturday overnight in Ouarzazate – since I don’t have to get all the way home on Sunday, this is a chance to see the Kasbah and the artisana that there weren’t time for when I was on the road trips with Youssef and friends. I think I have managed to talk Jong into meeting me there – it’s the closest I can get to her site in one day, and that only because the days are getting longer – and it will be good to see her. Piffle may be played. When I conceived this plan originally, I thought I would visit Ren, but while I was enroute to Casablanca she texted that she was med-sepping. I am sad that I didn’t get to see her before she left, but she sounds happier to be home.

And speaking of med-sepping – on Monday I was talking to Jackie of Ain Leuh about seminars and web sites and on Wednesday she told me she was being med-sepped. She had had some health issues and knew that PCMO was consulting Washington about solutions, but she didn’t see this coming – I’m sad for her, and for me as well; I was enjoying working with her. It’s a reminder to be thankful for health and to enjoy each day - you never know. Ain Leuh has had three volunteers in three years leave early! I offered to pitch in on some of her ongoing projects and Peace Corps agreed to that. I went out there yesterday and am going to meet with Jackie again this afternoon to go over her list. She has a lot in the works – new looms and a possible building expansion are probably the biggest things, but also marketing and training and a possible grant. I spent some time last night and this morning looking through files on a CD that she gave me. My head is kind of swimming with Tinjdad and Ain Leuh information now! I hope I don’t get them mixed up! Ain Leuh has one of the oldest cooperatives in the country and it is known for its extremely detailed weaving; the photo is a sample. The women of the cooperative are also very nice – I have met them several times – and I think I will enjoy working with them. For now I will probably go out there once a week.

For some reason, I’ve been in the mood to play Mille Bornes. I was going to get it for my nieces and I now think that that is in the works. The question is do I get it for myself. I just did a search and found that you can play on-line - tempting, but it seems more fun to actually have the cards and live opponents. I suppose I should just wait to play it with my nieces sometime. I did succumb to temptation after Frank had the International Herald-Tribune with him last month and bookmarked the daily Jumble online - is nice for a little break.

Another comment on the trip – in Cordoba I saw a shop named “Asilah” – the woman there was from Asilah and the store was full of Moroccan goods – at European prices! Incentive to shop more now while I am here! The owner broke into a big smile when I told her I lived in Morocco - I had a chance to use a few words of Arabic but we had to move on. In Grenada, there was a whole street that had Moroccan goods. There are so many Muslims there now that they opened a mosque recently – after not having one since the sixteenth century and converting all of the old ones into churches. That was just a taste of how the wave of Moroccan emigration is affecting Europe (another situation that has many aspects; I see some of its impact on Morocco, of course - maybe a subject to expound on some more).

So – what I didn’t do this week – run or do yoga. I do a lot of walking in the normal course of the day but running and yoga give me peace of mind that walking to and from a destination sometimes provides but sometimes does not. Now that I feel more caught up, I plan to work those in when I get back. I was going to go for a hike, too, but with the Ain Leuh news, I ended up spending that time with Jackie and going out there. I also didn’t see my host family or Youssef’s family – and with going away next week that means that a month will go by. Too long! So when I get back I’ll be busy yet again.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


I have electricity! It was out for most of the day – and part of yesterday, too. That doesn’t happen often here – and it’s even rarer that the water is cut off (which is not the case for many of the PCVs here – that is, those with running water; almost everyone has electricity). I do have a flashlight and candles and bottles of water just in case. There I was saying how nice it was to turn on a hot water tap in Europe and have hot water come out – this was a reminder that it’s good that any water comes out, or that when I flick a light switch, most of the time the light goes on!

I did go to a cyber while the electricity was out, and while I was dodging cars to cross the street I remembered that I meant to mention that in Spain and Portugal, when I crossed a street, the traffic waited for me. I like that. I know it’s the rule in some places and I guess it will be the rule in even more places when I get back – of course when I get back, I will probably drive sometimes, and then I might not like the rule so much.

It was hard to leave the family – especially because I had an early train and had to tiptoe out without a final hug. I wasn’t looking forward to the journey, partially because it was early and partially because the trains in Morocco are more often than not hot and crowded. But the train in Spain (which also did not go mainly on the plain) was very pleasant, with mountains and rivers and small towns as the scenery. Grenada to Algeciras was one end of the line to another (note – there is a TGV from Madrid to Seville that covers a much longer distance in a much shorter time); Algeciras is not the southernmost point in Spain but it’s where most of the ferry traffic is.

I arrived around noon and decided I had time for a bonus adventure. Gibraltar is to Spain what Ceuta is to Morocco – a little spit of the mainland owned by another country. I didn’t get a passport stamp – reason enough to go back, if you ask me, but since they might not stamp it next time either, I do have other reasons to go back. From Algeciras it was a short bus ride to the border and then I walked the rest of the way. I think I thought it was an island, but it is a peninsula off the mainland of Spain. After you cross the border you walk across the airport runway to get to the main part of town. There’s a big square, and I had lunch at one of the restaurants there. You can pay in euros, pounds or Gibraltar pounds, and everyone speaks English, but I heard a lot of Spanish as well. Gibraltar was thought to be one of the Pillars of Hercules that form the gates of the Mediterranean, and the name comes from the Arabic Jbl (mountain) of Tariq (the name of the general who led the Moorish invasion there in 711). After lunch, I walked down the main shopping street – Marks and Spencer and other British stores are there, plus there were a bunch of tourists in shorts (hadn’t seen any of those earlier in the trip). Looming over the town is the Rock of Gibraltar, with its classic shape (a la the Prudential Insurance logo). It’s known for Barbary apes – I don’t need to go back to see those, because they’re in my own backyard, but I would love to get to the Rock, which is a nature preserve. It was too windy for the cable cars and there wasn’t time for a hike, so I left it for another time and went back past the harbor and on to Algeciras for the ferry. When I was looking at maps before coming here, I was intrigued by the idea of going to Gibraltar, and though I may not make it back, I am glad I at least made it there once.

In Algeciras I caught the hydrofoil ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar – one hour in whitecapped but not choppy seas. I could have taken the ferry to Tangier, but since I had to use a vacation day to get back to my site (a rule when you go out of the country - as is the rule that you have to take vacation days for holidays out of the country; it was the Prophet's birthday), I decided this was a good chance to see Ceuta. As Gibraltar seemed a mix of English and Spanish but more English, Ceuta was a mix of Spanish and Moroccan but more Spanish. The streets were paved and had sidewalks, the architecture was seemed European, the prices were higher. I did see some jellabas and heard my first, “labas?” (“are you fine?”) so it was actually a good transition. It had been a long day though – up early, train, bus, walk, bus, ferry – so I strolled just a bit and went to bed early. I stayed in a Parador, the Spanish version of a Pousada, next to the city walls.

The city walls are the main sight to see, and I went there the next morning. Defenses built on the narrowest part of the peninsula, they were impressive and picturesque. I also walked along the shore, looking across at Spain, and then explored the downtown a bit. At around ten, I took a taxi to the border – a regular old taxi where I was the only person in it, I told him where I wanted to go, and I paid a fare on a meter. I walked across the border, showed my papers and used my darija, and got into a grand taxi – the kind that goes from taxi stand to taxi stand point-to-point, with four people in the back and two in the passenger seat, for a set fee depending on the distance, and you have to ask for the window handle so you can roll down the window – unless the other people think that the wind contains evil spirits or will make you sick. Welcome back! The ride to Tetouan went past some resort developments along the Mediterranean, with a lot more under construction. I haven’t thought much about having a beach vacation while here – there are plenty of other beaches in the world and so much to see here that isn’t elsewhere in the world – but a Mediterranean weekend might be called for after all.

I caught the 11:30 CTM from Tetouan to Fes and then a grand taxi to Azrou and made it home by nightfall – and again went to bed early after all that travel. It took a few days to adjust my schedule, even though there was only an hour time difference to Spain (none in Portugal, but both will spring forward soon). I was looking forward to being back in my own bed, and then when I came home it was cold (it had even snowed a bit while I was gone, though none was on the ground) and my bed felt like a slab of concrete (somehow I had forgotten that)….again, welcome back! It was good to return to my pillow though.

Before the vacation, the interior decorator had been here – he was a bundle of energy; I’m no longer used to that! Or prepared to go back to that! But I had a great time with him. The highlight was his talk to the weavers of the region – 13 or so women from various cooperatives of the area – but he also talked with the rock carver and with Abdou about business possibilities. I don’t know what will come of it – his market is the upper-end custom market – but at least it got people here thinking about what they need to do if they want to export. We had coffee with the SBD volunteers in the area and (coincidentally) dinner with the Environment volunteers in the area and he had a bunch of ideas and thoughts for everyone, from a different perspective. I’m glad he came to visit!

The day before I left I went for a run and then met some other volunteers for some Piffle. As I got home I saw my neighbors using the rake I had left in the stairwell to clean the area right across the street, where we used to put our trash. The rest of the lot still needs work but even with that small change, it looks much better. Maybe I inspired something sustainable!

The day after I came back started with laundry (by hand, in cold water, in a big tub on my balcony, and then hung on a clothesline, you may recall). I was then on my way to the Artisana when I ran into one of the Environment volunteers, on his way to meet a couple of the others, with some trainees in tow. Three weeks in country and they were sent to various sites for field trip, to see how what volunteer life is like (we didn’t have field trip, though the SBD stage before us did – but much further on in their training). I offered to show them the artisana and tell them what I do, and I invited myself to lunch. Nice to meet new people!

On Saturday I did a favor for the administrative officer at Peace Corps headquarters; she asked me to host some friends of hers who were touring Morocco wanted to meet a volunteer. I have done this before and don’t think of this as a favor – it’s a pleasure! It’s also part of Goal #3 – sharing Moroccan culture with Americans. I do tell them that my site may not be representative, but I of course have a lot of positive things to say about the Peace Corps and my work here and so far everyone who has been sent my way has been very nice. It was especially rewarding because they were shoppers and bought things from the artisans! More, one of the guests was the administrative officer of the US Embassy here. The Foreign Service is an option I would consider as a next career and it was good to talk with her. When you take the exam you have to declare a track that you are interested in – political, economic, public affairs, administrative or consular. There is a little personality quiz on the State Department web site to help you determine which track might be good for you. I took it a few months back and scored high in several, and thought public affairs or economic might be most up my alley (political may get most of the glory but you also have to represent policies you may not agree with, as I saw it). Administrative sounded a bit boring to me – but it is an easier track to get into because it is less popular. It was good to talk with her – she loves her job and assured me that it’s not all minutiae (which was a fear) – and told me that the other tracks have long hours with a lot of social schmoozing and that she may have long hours too sometimes but has her own social life. So now I will take another look! And I may see her again in Rabat; I also invited her here for a hike in the mountains sometime.

Then it was on to Khenifra! Matt and Sarah are second-year Environment volunteers near there. They came to the warden group brunch and I told them I would have another party before they COSed. But as I thought about it, it made more sense to have the next party when the new people come and I have a new warden group. Still, I wanted to see them before they left, and Linda (of Jamaica High School), the new SBD volunteer there, agreed to host me for the night and all of us for a dinner party. I had wanted to see Khenifra anyway and the timing never worked with her predecessor. It’s not far – an hour and a half south, maybe, on the way to Marrakesh. There’s a carpet souk with an auction on Saturday afternoons – we went there and met some of the people Linda has befriended. The previous volunteer had worked with a cooperative that makes stylish jellabas (unless that’s an oxymoron) and we went there; neither a carpet nor a jellaba caught my eye, which is fine. The dinner was great – delightful company and delicious food (I had made the salmorejo for it) though I faded soon after dinner, still travel-lagged. The next morning we went to the souk- bigger than Azrou’s, and with threatening weather not as crowded as it apparently usually is, so it was fun. We played Scrabble on her lovely balcony and enjoyed the leftovers from the dinner party. Then I came back home and still had some day – it was nice to have just a quick overnight trip to see friends and not an entire weekend away with long travel. I’ll have that this weekend! But will save that and more for the next entry…

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


More vacation thoughts and impressions….

It was great to swim, which I had a chance to do in the hotel pool in Lisbon. I miss swimming. I also had a short bike ride – Seville has a system where you can rent a bike for a ride from one part of town to another and drop it off at your destination – very impressive. More cities should do it! Check out or Seville’s system was nice because you could join for seven days (or a year). Half an hour is free before you get charged. The bikes were a bit clunky (especially for Sabrina and Valerie, but even for me) but they have to be to endure the wear and tear of lots of people using bikes that they don’t feel ownership for! I also had a chance to ride the Metro in Lisbon (I took a walk in the rain on our last morning there and decided to keep going until I got to the downtown area and take the subway back) and the tram in Seville (Valerie wanted to and so did I) – impressed with the public transportation options, especially in Lisbon!

The hardest part of the travel was the part in Morocco – Morocco’s system of transportation works, but – as I have mentioned in the past – it takes a lot out of a person. On Sunday I left at 9:30 to get a grand taxi to Meknes (I bought an extra spot so I would have a cushion of time before the train) to take a petit taxi to the train station to take the 11:29 train to Casablanca (which was hot and airless for over four hours) and switch there for a train from Casablanca Voyageurs to the airport. It was a long day but it’s impressive that there’s a train right to the airport and that it’s fairly easy to take. Then again, it took me longer to get to Lisbon from basically the next country over than it took the rest of the family from New York! It’s nice to have always lived near major airports. The plane to Lisbon – a quote from the movie “Casablanca” – was more like the plane in the movie than I expected – a commuter flight with 18 seats and propellers! The trip back to Azrou was even longer; more on that later.

In Lisbon we also went to the 1998 World’s Fair site, now a tourist destination with restaurants and Europe’s largest aquarium and Europe’s longest bridge (if you count the viaducts; a sleek cable-stay). Some nice architecture too, including a train station designed by Calatrava (we also saw a bridge that he designed in Seville). We went to the castle of St. George, ruins on Lisbon’s tallest hill. In the middle of one of the courtyards there was a guitarist and I felt moved by his plaintive music and bought the CD. Another thing that I bought (in Evora) was some Portuguese tile – my friend Elisa has some Portuguese tile and I admire it whenever I go to her house; I bought a small sample and am very happy when I look at it. And also a couple of ¾-sleeve shirts at Zara, the – Gap? Banana Republic? Or maybe there’s not an exact equivalent – of Spain; timely, because it’s 3/4 –sleeve weather and my current inventory is a little worn.

I didn’t have a chance for any spa treatments – I miss those a lot. I could use a massage and a pedicure and a facial! Maybe a spa day in Fes is called for. I did a lot of walking and feel sore! All of these things may sound like luxuries (especially in Peace Corps) but I think of them more as necessities; granted that I am for the most part going without them for 27 months, but I think they’re important for well-being.

We had a chance to see the Moorish quarter of Lisbon – narrow, twisty, hilly streets. And the Jewish quarters of Seville and Cordoba (in Grenada it seemed to be a combined Moorish/Jewish quarter) – for the most part those are now trendy neighborhoods, with shops and tapas bars and small hotels, again with narrow streets and charming buildings, right near the palaces (because the Jews were important – lawyers, bankers, merchants etc.). There’s a synagogue in Cordoba that is one of three left in Spain from pre-Inquisition days, but it was closed the day we were there – I wonder how it compares to the ones I’ve seen in Morocco.

From Evora we had an artisan day in the Alentejo region. My sister had set up some hands-on after reading about it in a magazine. First we went to Redondo, known for its pottery, and we had a chance to paint one of the plates (very cool – even though when we went back later the artist had already painted over our artwork to make the plate saleable). Then we went to the building where the pots were being thrown and fired – only Sabrina and Valerie got their hands into the clay, but I thought about it! We went on to Estremoz, known for marble – the houses are whitewashed with dissolved marble since it is less expensive than paint; blue and yellow paint is used to keep out the evil eye and/or insects (similar to the blue of Chefchouan, but only framing the doors and windows). And then to Arriosos, a weaving center – we didn’t see anyone weaving, but we saw pictures of the process – it looks like big needlepoint or cross-stitch to me. It was interesting to see the rugs, at any rate! Of course, all day I was wondering how artisanal tourism could work in Morocco. People are into experiential things. The pottery places could do it – give someone a chance at the wheel and a chance to paint. You certainly wouldn’t want to get up to your knees in pigeon droppings or dye at a tannery though – would you? The rock carver, metal worker and wood carvers of Azrou use tools that might be dangerous in inexperienced hands – and the weavers weave and knot way too fast. When I have visited artisans here in Morocco I have found that people are friendly and willing to talk about their processes – should Morocco make a bigger deal of that for tourists?

The Alentejo region is supposed to be very dry – yet after traveling around dry, dusty Morocco it looked lush – green fields, cork trees and umbrella pines, well-fed-looking sheep and cattle. When we crossed into Spain the land looked harsher – more bare ground but also more cultivation, more industry, the flat part flatter and the mountains higher. We took the long way into Spain so we could stop for lunch in the Algarve, Portugal’s most-visited region, along the Mediterranean coast. A small taste!

Easter is a big holiday in Spain and perhaps nowhere is “Semana Santa,” Holy Week, bigger than in Seville, and we got there right as festivities were at a height. It was crowded but festively rather than unpleasantly so, and I happened upon a couple of parades during a 10 pm walk and my Sunday morning bike ride. Various brotherhoods parade at different times during the week, wearing hooded robes and carrying big crosses and big candles. Each parade is led by a marching band (enticement enough for me to want to watch!) and its highlight is a big float – either of Jesus on the cross or of the Virgin Mary or of something else – supposedly traveling along on the backs of forty barefoot penitents, but I read about that afterwards so didn’t know to look down. As with being here for l-Eid, it was nice to be there to witness the celebration.

Another nice thing about Seville was the Starbucks right across the street from the hotel! I was able to augment my supply of Starbucks mints and also to have a couple of Espresso Brownies (I had been thinking about them for months). It seemed weird to see so many cafes in Portugal and Spain and not idle in them – I have gotten used to the café culture in Morocco (and made up for it already since I’ve been back, or so it seems). We also did a horse and carriage ride that showed to other parts of Seville – including a park and buildings that were part of the Ibero-American Fair of 1929. Sabrina, Valerie and I rented a surrey in the park – good exercise! We also all went to a flamenco show in the evening – in the last entry I mentioned lessons and classes that I might want to take in the future. Flamenco might be fun! I did tap once. Actually, that was hard. Flamenco looks really hard. Okay, so much for that.

We had an Andalusian day trip too and one of the things we almost did but didn’t get to was a cave with 20,000-year-old paintings. It didn’t fit in – maybe another time…. We went to Ronda, which has a deep gorge and picturesque bridge over it. The highlight was the bull ring and bullfighting museum. It was interesting to learn about bullfighting – it seems gruesome at first but if there is one thing I have learned here it is not to judge the culture of others! And indeed, hearing about the traditions and rituals was fascinating. So much so that when we heard there was a bullfight back in Seville that night, we tried to get tickets! We ended up with only two, so Sabrina and Joe went while Pam, Valerie and I walked and walked and had tapas – everyone was happy! Hearing about it was enough for me.

We also went to a science park in Grenada – interesting exhibits, and nice that it was part museum and part educational playground, so we could enjoy the sunny weather. It had rained on and off in Portugal and was chilly on some of the other days. I read in Lonely Planet that the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plain! We weren’t on the plain (which is more in the middle of the country); I just happened upon that tidbit while looking at all of the other parts of Spain that might be nice to visit on future trips! Another thing that we did (serious failing of the tour books not to mention this but we had heard about through other means) was visit Sacromonte, the part of Grenada where gypsies live in caves. The entrances to the caves themselves look like house entrances, but when you look behind, you realize the houses are carved into the side of the mountain. There was a cave museum, where we saw a typical bedroom and kitchen and also crafts – ceramics, metalwork and weaving that the gypsies do or did – and we also saw many caves that are now flamenco halls. This makes me want to go to Bhalil, the town near Sefrou where some people live in caves, all the more!

I’ll describe the trip back in the next post, plus what I’ve been up to this week. Meanwhile, on another note, after hearing about a rainy, chilly Opening Day I mentioned to my friend Helen my dread of returning to Chicago in the winter. She suggested (I am paraphrasing) that I return to jobhunt elsewhere (somewhere warmer?) and then go through my stuff in Chicago in the spring. This idea has some merit! I know I will have to ease back in, and that may be a good way to do it. I had in mind that I could go through my stuff while I look for a job, and then if I end up moving I will have less to move, but I don’t have to do it that way!

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