Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Last week and this week I have been learning more about the King’s new initiative for Azrou. They are going to completely redo the Artisana as they complete the museum that has been under construction for four years – though they say construction will start as early as July and take maybe a year. New showroom, additional artisans, classrooms for teaching young people the old crafts, a second story with a rooftop restaurant and café, the ability to take credit cards – in short, this may be the nicest Artisana complex in Morocco. When I heard about it last week I reeled a bit – what does this mean for the web site I have been working on and the additional brochures Tariq told me to design? I had convinced myself of their value and now find myself questioning again. A weekend in Marrakesh (which I’ll detail in the next post) put me back on my feet. I can still work on my projects – they’ll be useful at least through the summer tourist season - and if they’re not sustainable as is, they can be revised and built upon when the new Artisana opens. I also have the opportunity to have input into the new Artisana, and I see this as a blue-sky exercise – what if you had a lot of money and the chance to start all over? I have marketing ideas, display ideas, practical ideas (nice bathrooms, shipping, ATM) and more – here’s my chance to mention the participatory tourism and to use those tourist questionnaires to recommend filling gaps in what the Artisana has to offer.

There’s also a part of the King’s initiative just for weavers – the Ministry has decided that the Middle Atlas is known for its weavings, and it is going to promote the products of the cooperatives here. There’s a national trade fair at the end of June in Fes and a big one in Saadia, along the Mediterranean coast, in August – whether I attend one or both of these, with Azrou and/or Ain Leuh, remains to be seen, but I really think I should! Again, this is an opportunity to contribute – whether it be in product development or in marketing or in small business skills – and an opportunity to collaborate with other PCVs and artisans in the province (such as Timahdite, my CBT site). Timhadite, by the way, just secured a new building for the artisans – right along the main road, where tourists stop for a break on the way to Errachidia. This is what they had identified as their primary need back when we PACA’ed (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) them, and it is nice to be close by as they move forward shwiya b shwiya (little by little). The new volunteer there worked out some fair trade pricing with them, which my counterpart thought was too high, so they are no longer displaying rugs at the Artisana, but they didn’t back down, so good for them.

I’ve been going to the Monday souk the past couple of weeks to get vegetables – it’s pleasant under the trees and easy to navigate, and the food looks good. I didn’t go this week though – went to the big Tuesday souk and was so overwhelmed with the noise and crowd that I decided to buy my vegetables today from the daily souk down the hill, with the mul-xodra (vegetable guy) who quizzes me by giving me the price in ryal and watching as I divide by 20 in my head to get dirhams; I hadn’t seen him in a while. There are days when I just don’t feel like getting vegetables, but I have to – there are no dinners that I can take out of the freezer or boxes or cans to open. Which is good – I do not want to get back into the habit of eating a lot of prepared food when I get home. A fear was realized when I heard from a friend who COS’ed last fall and he said he gained back all of the weight he’d lost in Morocco now that he’s eating American food again. Meanwhile, back here, strawberries are gone and cherries, apricots, peaches and melons are just appearing – I see lots of smoothies and fruit salads in store this summer.

Last Tuesday the other SBD PCVs in the area and I went for a hike; they come in on Tuesdays for tutoring, cyber, souk or a combination of all three, and we decided there was safety in numbers. I suggested a Tuesday Afternoon Hike Club, though soon it will be too hot to hike in the afternoon and we’re better off going in the morning or at the end of the day – but they have transport issues with both of those, so we’ll see how much hiking we actually do. Already we didn’t hike this week – instead we had a lunch to catch up and learn about a meeting with the delegue that took place on Saturday, and next week the tutor will be out of town so they may not be coming in – but it was a good idea, and we did have a nice hike last week!

This week I’m hosting a legend in Morocco Peace Corps circles, Susan Schaefer Davis. You can find information on her at She was a PCV here in ‘65-‘67 (Morocco 5, back when you were identified by country and sequential stage number – I’m Morocco ‘06-‘08, I think). She then got a PhD in Anthropology, working with Moroccan women, and has returned to study Moroccan girls and adolescents. She then started a business, Women Weavers On Line, which includes exporting rugs from Ben Smim (though not from the weavers I may work with) to the United States at fair trade pricing, and she also leads cultural tourism groups here. I had heard from several volunteers that they had gotten in touch with her and I didn’t want to overwhelm her, but I decided I had nothing to lose by trying to contact her too and she was receptive and friendly. She and her husband spend two months in Morocco every spring, and she’s now visiting the various cooperatives in the Middle Atlas. She has insights into gender, weaving, fair trade, exporting, Morocco and more – she lives up to the legend and is someone I am glad I have met. We spent hours in Abdou’s shop talking with other PCVs from the area and also furthering our education about rugs, we went out to the Cedres where I had more trout, we had a long talk with my counterpart (she had additional ideas for the initiative, such as paying a percentage to the guides, that I can incorporate into my report) and with the weavers in Azrou. She went out to Timhadite this afternoon and tomorrow we will go to Ain Leuh together.

I decided to take a step back when I went to Ain Leuh last week. Jackie had told me about a brochure that she was updating and about the other projects she was in the middle of. When I first visited them I talked about those. But then I thought ah, is this what the artisans want? I did “speed-PACA” – rather than take several visits to go through details I asked some quick questions. Community mapping I had skipped in Azrou and I did in Ain Leuh as well – they have a building where they work, and somehow they get there (though there may be members who work out of their homes – I’ll check on that) so knowing the other places of importance and likes/dislikes in the community isn’t as important as other information. Daily Activities – I learned about the cooperative’s working hours and also that they are not there on Wednesdays, which is their souk day, or on Fridays. So Mondays and Thursdays are good days to visit them. Seasonal Calendar – well, as it happens, right now is when not a lot of work is taking place – several members work in the fields picking cherries. There’s the usual August wedding/vacation lull, and Ramadan has a different schedule, but there are some people who are always weaving. Needs Assessment is my favorite PACA tool (along with the Priority Matrix, though I didn’t do that) and it turns out that the brochure is a priority but so is putting together a catalog to bring to trade fairs and show customers who come to Ain Leuh – not just with photographs but also with descriptions. Well, that is something I can help with! Jackie’s tutor, an English teacher in town, is available to help with the translation; so far I can understand and be understood on my own (which feels good) but it will be helpful to have him for technical terms and precise explanations. I’ll work on those projects, and then we’ll see what’s next. Incidentally, at the meeting with the delegue, the Azrou woman said I didn’t do anything, and the Ain Leuh women – who I have just started with – said I was helping them. There you have it in a nutshell!

I also did some work on the web site last week – I always feel better when I make some progress on it, and there are weeks that go by where I feel I don’t – this one may be one, for example, with Susan Schaefer Davis and suggestions for the new Artisana taking priority. I also started two books; I don’t normally read more than one book at a time (yet I often have more than one New Yorker in progress – what does that say?). Confessions of An Economic Hit Man is written by a man who used to be in consulting, recommending huge infrastructure projects in developing countries. They would have to take out loans to build the projects, use American corporations such as Halliburton, and then vote favorably with the United States on international issues in order to get debt relief. It’s eye-opening and a little depressing – it makes me feel good about being in Peace Corps but a little disillusioned about development in general. The other book is Morocco: The Collected Traveler. The author clipped and saved a bunch of articles on Morocco (and other Mediterranean countries, her area of concentration) and brought them with her when she traveled. So many people expressed interest in them that she got permissions to republish and then added her own insights into travel in general and into Morocco. I really like her style, and the articles are interesting. I now have a collection as well, thanks mostly to my sister (she also sends articles about impressive people who served in the Peace Corps at one time) – but of course the concept – and the book – already exists. It’s fun to read, though easy to put down after an article or two and pick up again later (and as for the Peace Corps, I just found, which seems to have compiled all of those – and to be a bulletin board and general resource as well).

I also put together some submissions for Peace Works, the Peace Corps Morocco newsletter. I felt really stressed last week prior to leaving for my Marrakesh weekend – it just doesn’t seem right that I feel stressed – as I said to Frank last year, if I can’t learn to relax in the Peace Corps, in Morocco, then I will never learn it. I know I am more relaxed than I was when I got here – I can see it, and people have told me – but I feel I still have progress to make. I do have to go back to the two-year cycle of PCV ups and downs – maybe my stress is right on schedule. Anyway, the upshot was that I did an internet search for relaxation techniques. I found a nice web site with some techniques I knew about – progressively telling every part of your body to relax, deep breathing, and guided imagery (imagining yourself in a peaceful location) but also a couple of new ones: Toe Tensing – as the web site pointed out, it may sound like a contradiction to the progressive relaxation, but by alternately tensing and relaxing your toes you draw tension from the rest of the body – and Quiet Ears, where you place your thumbs on your ears to close off the ear canal and listen to the ensuing rushing sound for ten to fifteen minutes. Then put your arms at your sides and actively relax them. The weekend in Marrakesh was enough to relax me (see picture!), so I haven’t tried those yet, but I have them in reserve! The other article I sent in was ways to beat the heat that I had seen in Real Simple last summer. My favorite was creating a cold compress – fill a sock with rice, tie it with twine, put it in the freezer before bed, and then slip it between the sheets – the summer equivalent of the hot water bottle? There are other good tips – and since it is getting hot elsewhere, I direct you to!

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Hey there, Roon -- just wanted you to know I'm reading your blog from time to time. We all send our love. Cheers/JF
Oh, that's good to know - and I send my love back!
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