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!

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