Saturday, June 28, 2008
Of all of the places Elisa, Steve, Youssef and I went on our Azrou environs exploration/hiking day, the place I most wanted to get back to was Zaouiat d’Ifrane. It’s a small village, situated under cliffs with waterfalls and a nice hiking path. It’s possible to get there with public transportation – especially if you buy out a taxi and have the driver wait for the return trip – and several of us have talked about it, but it isn’t easy, so we hadn’t done it. Well, Briana’s mother was visiting and she rented a car, so Briana, Kathy and I piled in and off we went. Along the way, pink oleanders were in bloom along the watercourses, and they also lined part of our hiking path. First we went to a new (for me) part of the path and found a picnic spot by the stream. Then we did the path up to just under the cliffs, where it was cool in the shade, and looked at the view of the town and the Middle Atlas beyond; there was one spring that ran over the cliffs, and we stood under it to have a cool sunshower after more hiking. It was a wonderful day!
Briana’s mother is training to be a workshop leader for a company that runs relationship seminars, and she tested out this week’s mini-lecture on us over some homemade pizza. I feel I have new insights into men, women and relationships! If you contact me in person I can tell you more, but I don’t feel I should reveal the secrets here – instead I can direct you to her company at understandmen.com. As with many self-help things, it’s probably nothing we haven’t heard before, but it’s phrased differently. There will always be a market for self-help and for relationship books and workshops – and reasons to keep reading and attending. I enjoyed this way of thinking, though – I will admit I haven’t given romantic relationships much thought in a while (other than to declare my intention to give up entirely). Maybe this too was part of the transition back to the real world, where there won’t be volunteers dropping by to take a shower or available more often than not for coffee or a card game…. Briana’s mother is going to send her a book and some CDs, and maybe we will gather to listen/read them together.
Perhaps more impactful (especially if I do decide to give up) is a new solitaire game that Briana’s mother taught us – I have been playing it often since she taught us and might take a break from typing to play some more! You can play it in your lap, so it’s good for a plane or train trip. It didn’t have a name, but I’ve been calling it Laptop Solitaire. You have the deck face down and then deal from the bottom, putting one card at a time face up, and you always look at the last four cards. If the top card and the fourth one down are of the same suit, you remove the two in between (and put them in another pile, assuming you have that much room in your lap). If they are the same card (e.g. both eights), you remove all four cards. So if you have removed the middle two, you have a new four to look at, and you might be able to remove more. She said that if at the end you have eight or fewer cards, you do well – it is possible to win and get rid of all of your cards, but that has not happened to me yet. It’s a fun, easy and fast game and I think it will come in handy!
It’s hot, by the way. I think I mentioned that when I came back from Reunions it was summer. Well, it didn’t take long for it to get very hot (though the people in the south are even hotter). My apartment is hot. It’s hot outside. I think it’s been hotter for longer than it was last summer – and it’s only the beginning. I’d say 90s-100s F. I did get the fan out and as I go from room to room I unplug it and replug it in, and it helps a lot. But it’s still hard to sleep, and I have to adjust my schedule to avoid being out in the hottest part of the day. Moroccans do! I have been reluctant to do it, because I don’t always have the momentum to go back out for the evening stroll, but it’s better than going out in the heat and then coming home and having to lie down since I feel so drained. I got into the rhythm last summer, but it helped to have Amanda and Youssef around. I spoke to them recently, by the way – they’re doing well! They aren’t coming back in August, though – I didn’t know until they told that to me just how much I had been counting on it. They may come for l-Eid Kbir; that’s after I COS, so I suggested they come early, and maybe I can stay a little late. Heard from Lee recently too – he is going to work for USAID in Cairo! He encouraged me to apply there.
But first – the Foreign Service Officer test. I had a chance to review the study guide on my trip to Oued Zem. The test has four parts. First, there’s an essay – say, on the limits of free speech – in which you get graded on your ability to make an argument and use support points, not on the opinion you express. I haven’t written an essay like that in quite some time, so I have been thinking about it, but I don’t know how much I can do to prepare. The next part is multiple-choice general knowledge – US History, World History, geography, popular culture, management techniques, math and statistics – a real hodgepodge. I correctly answered most of the questions on the practice test but again, this is hard to prepare for (though I did buy an atlas when I was back in the states, and Rob recommended I download a copy of the Constitution). The next part is style manual – a reading with some underlined passages and then multiple choice options for grammar and spelling of the underlined passages. I feel completely confident about this (even though my own style is perhaps a little wordier and more conversational than a style manual would recommend). The last part is a personality profile – I know better than to answer anything other than how I see myself, even if it’s not the answer I think they want – they ask the same question in enough ways to get to the truth. The hardest part of the test might be going into the room with only a piece of paper and a pen – no lipstick, no tissues, no mints, no eye drops, no pocketbook…though somehow I must be able to carry in taxi fare. I’ll find out about a month later whether I pass, and then there’s a review of my application, including calling references and I think at some point a background check, and then I’d find out several months hence about the oral interview, which would be in January (I was about to say I’d describe that if I get invited, but that’s after the 27 months – in fact, I am now at less than five more months - wow – so I direct you to careers.state.gov, where I think it can be found).
And again on the subject (a couple of paragraphs ago) of Youssef – I saw Frank in Rabat last week; we had a late-night gabfest (the price that the person who I shared the room with had to pay) and breakfast on Saturday. We came up with a theory that I will explore as I talk further to other PCVs – I call it the One Good Friend theory. The PCVs who seem happiest here have at least one good Moroccan friend – someone who completely gives them faith not just in Moroccans but in people. Frank has someone like that (Hmad, who leads the desert tours) and I had Youssef and have Abdou. Margaret told me about a friend in her site, though I didn’t have the chance to meet him. We talked about other people who aren’t as happy and who therefore shall go nameless, and they don’t seem to have someone like that in their lives. I remember back at Lee’s party wondering if I was going to have any friends – and now not only do I feel I do but I feel that having them has perhaps made all the difference.
It’s been nice to be in Azrou this week. I went to the Monday souk – those latkes were so good that I got some potatoes so I could make my own, but that’s a habit I don’t want to get into! Sat at the iced coffee café for a while with Kathy. I went out to Ain Leuh with no real agenda (though I did have labels to give them and pictures to take) and had a nice time just talking with the weavers. Had lunch with the six-pack of environment volunteers (I hardly ever see all six together; it was the birthday of one of them) at the tuna sandwich place (this is canned tuna-with-tomato, put inside a baguette where they’ve taken out the soft inside – I could do this for myself but never do!). Went to visit my host family at a perfect time – they were finishing lunch and just getting out the fruit. Fresh watermelon (sold here only whole, not in pieces as they do for pumpkin – so I don’t know if I will ever buy one for myself!) and fresh cherries from trees on their farm – I actually have never had cherries before, and now I realize I was missing out! Another new discovery thanks to Morocco. I have to get more before the season ends – which I think will be soon! Stopped by Abdou’s a couple of times – Minush gave birth to four kittens today, and I stopped by minutes later, to see them mewing and feeding and being cleaned! Last time it was almost a year (last March to this March) – is it all right for her to be having another litter so quickly? I did enjoy seeing the kittens last year and this year though, so this is a nice bonus before I leave.
Linda came on Friday with her jellaba jewelry (a hit at Princeton as well as here!) and consigned some to the artisana – a feather in both her cap and mine. Her clock has a thermometer; I remember Jong’s did too and when she was here last year she would check the temperature every few minutes. Well, Linda left the clock with me for the weekend and it is tempting to keep checking. Any cooler now? What about now? How much hotter is it in the sun? What if I moved to another room? What about the middle of the night? I don’t think I mentioned this, but the Mets game that I went to a few weeks ago was handheld fan night! That fan has already come in handy, and when I travel this summer I am going to take it with me! Interesting that Jong and Linda both brought clocks like that with them and both ended up in hot sites. I want one or both to come back in late fall and tell me how cold my apartment is! Linda and I also went to have couscous with Youssef’s family; the five-year-old cousins were in a school performance so when the moms and aunts went out after lunch to watch, we went too. Adorable!
I should also mention the big beetles, since they were a problem last year. I was glad for the cool May, thinking that maybe they wouldn’t come back this year at all. Well, they did, but not to the extent they did last year. Then, I felt that there were one or two per room per day, and was extremely relieved when it turned out that the season lasted only a couple of weeks. This year, I saw only a few, and though they still made me not only jump but lie awake, they seem to be gone already. Whew. I have a few bug bites, but not many, and it’s not a regular occurrence here in my site.
More cultural exchange – this morning I had coffee with my neighbors, Rebha downstairs and Rebha two flights below, and the latter’s two little girls. Those little girls always run up to me and give me kisses – I’ll miss that when I get back! Almost two decades in the same apartment in Chicago and I never really knew my neighbors. Since it felt like a real-life tea party, this is a good time to include the picture of the painted tea table I found in Rabat. This evening I went to a folkloric festival in Kathy’s site, the Azrou “suburb” of which my host father is the president – saw the end of a bicycle race, some traditional bands and what I think was a Berber stand-up comic, though nobody was laughing.
Most of the rest of the week was spent catching up, though – especially on GAD and on the Harassment Working Group staff agreed to form, but also on project status and next steps for my work. I felt I needed to catch up and organize myself before I could move ahead. I also spent some time straightening (the nice thing about not having a lot of stuff is that it doesn’t take long to straighten – a lesson for the future), shopping and baking for a brunch I’m holding tomorrow – I invited the warden group (the people I’d lead in an evacuation) and anyone else who can get to my place and back to his/her site before nightfall. I had one last winter around the same time (the new people are still in home stay so it’s a good getaway for them) and am looking forward to this one!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
So there I was, enjoying my little Azrou routine (or lack thereof), and at 5:30 the SBD Program Manager called and asked me to come to Rabat for a Training Design and Evaluation (TDE – another acronym for you!) workshop scheduled to start in Rabat the next morning. I think they had known about the workshop for a while but only on Tuesday did they decide to include volunteers. I had to adjust to the change in plans (I didn’t have any plans that couldn’t be changed, so maybe it was more a change in mindset/expectations – not always easy for me but I think I am getting better at it here in the Peace Corps and in Morocco!) and after that was excited about it – I do like the opportunity to give input, and, having worked on KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes) last year, I was able to jump right in.
I couldn’t get there for the plenary session in the morning – couldn’t travel at night, after all – and because I still had final packing to do, I was in between train times, so I took a grand taxi to Meknes and another to Rabat – and then didn’t have time for lunch, but I made it to the office in time for the afternoon session. In the past, PST (pre-service training) was considered a success based on trainee feedback – i.e. did the volunteers like it. Now Peace Corps Washington has decided on a higher standard – did the volunteers learn what the training was designed to teach them. To accomplish this, the Learning Objectives had to be restated. They include the performer (each PCT, each CBT group), the performance (action verb such as demonstrate or list, not a vague verb such as understand), the condition (e.g., given a lecture and handout) and a standard (e.g. at least five strategies). The learning objectives (LO) came out of the KSA exercise, but there was a lot of duplication, so much streamlining was required. For each LO, we then listed corresponding KSA, delivery method (e.g. lecture), deliverer, evaluation method (quiz, presentation), evaluator, and the week or phase of training.
We split into small groups for the afternoon and then the entire next day, working on core competencies, things that each volunteer in every sector needs to know. There were three broad competencies – I don’t remember the action verbs that restated them but one had to do with policies, safety/security and medical, one was capacity-building (and included such things as PACA, organizational dynamics and conflict resolution) and the one we worked on was community entry, which had a lot of cross-cultural. Each small group had three or four staff members and a volunteer – to type things into the computer and to come up with the exact language (since we were the native English speakers). It was laborious, but at the end of it we came up with a clear and concise set of LOs.
On Friday morning, we worked on the sector-specific objectives for Small Business Development. Once we eliminated the duplication from the LOs that every volunteer should know (most were covered under capacity-building) – and that involved looking at the over 30 pages of KSAs from last year – it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. We distilled it down to two – the basic knowledge of the ministry, Moroccan economy and artisan sector, forming cooperatives etc. (the trainer didn’t like this competency because it had too much that was just knowledge, but we didn’t know what else to do with it) and the basic business skills needed (since I was there I labeled one broad set of things marketing, and then there was another set that included things such as record-keeping and costing/pricing, and I think one more set). I also insisted on adding an art component so that the business-background trainees could understand basic art principles while the art-background people gain basic business principles, but everyone else had trouble with this concept so we didn’t quite finish the wording.
We were supposed to have finished the core and sector competencies (SBD and YD only – since Health and Environment have their PST in the spring, the program staff continued to work on core while we moved on) by the middle of the workshop and then move on to sequencing – i.e. fitting each of these into the eleven-week training schedule – and then distilling it one more level to COTE (Calendar of Training Events), but because we spent extra time on the competencies, we left that for staff to finish. We were also supposed to decide on an evaluation method, but all we had time for was looking at how some of the other countries have decided to evaluate (what made sense to everyone was pass/fail for each LO, including opportunities to try again, but what remains to be discussed is what it means – is there a certain level which you must attain in order to be able to swear in?). In other words, there was a lot left for staff to do! The Program Manager asked us to come back on Monday and keep working on it, since the trainer who led the workshop is still in Morocco, but it was generally agreed that the volunteers were dismissed and may be called back at some other point.
This was interesting to do and I am glad I worked on it, but there’s still a lot to be done. Either the Program Manager or the Program Assistant will be out of the office on site development or site visits just about every other week between now and the arrival of the new PCTs – September 8, so soon! – so I wonder if they will really have time to re-design the trainings to reflect the new system, or whether the temptation to repeat what has been done in the past and somehow say that it fits into the new system will be too great. At any rate I got my wish (from last year) to be involved in training, and since training will be in Azrou, I may get even more involved. The homestay manager asked me to ask my host family if they would host another volunteer – so that was a good indication that I will indeed be replaced, which makes me happy (I told him that they would take only a female, and that she would have a hard time living up to me – luckily he saw that second one with the humor with which I meant it).
The Environment now-second-years were in Rabat for Mid-Service Medicals (wow – I feel as though I was just there for those...). Health had been there last week so when I came in for GAD I met some new people and saw some people I had met long ago. This time I knew more in the group, because they had trained in Azrou (not to mention that six of them are in the area and others come through to see them). I mentioned to one of them that I didn’t have a room yet, and he mentioned that someone was leaving, meaning that there was a vacant bed for the night in our usual hotel; this turned out to be quite lucky, because the other invited volunteers spent hours looking for a hotel after all the usual PCV places turned out to be full. I also walked to the American Club (now I know I can get there on my own!) to meet some of them, but I left the Peace Corps office late and they had been there a while, so I ended up dining alone; that gave me time to read the TDE workshop notes that I had missed from the morning.
On Thursday night, I had sushi with the Administrative Officer and with the trainer (who I had already informational-interviewed about the career path that led to her job as a Regional Training Officer). The sushi was delicious and the conversation interesting. There’s a French restaurant I have always wanted to try (it was closed when Martha and Susan were visiting, or I would have) and I thought I might be alone on Friday, but some other volunteers were in town for medical so we ended up together. One of them needed a place to stay, and the hotel was full, so she stayed in the vacated bed in my room – least I could do, since two days earlier someone had done that for me! I didn’t sleep well the night I had the room to myself anyway.
So we ended up going to Rabat’s new TGIFriday’s; not my choice, but it wasn’t bad to have a quesadilla. The host there is an ex-NFL player and Sherwin spotted him (not that he was hard to spot – he was as wide as the table and as tall as the oversized doorways). Turns out he was an Eagle in the mid-80s, when I was in Philadelphia. I could tell you what the Sixers did then and what the Phillies did then and what the Flyers did then, but could do little but come up with QB Ron Jaworski’s name – however, that was enough to get him to sit and talk with us for a while! He was traded to the Raiders after that and also played in Europe and in Arena Football. We talked about his college and pro career and then his post-NFL work as a bodyguard (lots of celebrity names mentioned) and what ultimately led him to Rabat and TGIFriday’s – that is, he talked, I asked a few questions, and the other people at the table seemed bored, but I found him interesting, and it was a nice change from typical Peace Corps conversation.
If I had known I’d be going to Rabat for three days, I might not have made plans to go away for the weekend, but I didn’t want to renege on a stagemate, especially with time going so quickly – I might not have been able to reschedule! And I am glad I went. First it was Oued Zem, which is on the map but has no comments about it in any of my tour books; it’s Margaret’s site. It’s in a part of the country I hadn’t been to – the plain between Casablanca and the Middle Atlas – a big phosphate and agricultural region. We talked, took a walk around the town (it has a central park with a pond and a hotel, and a medina with goods only for locals, nothing touristy – the artisana is more for training than for working artisans, and she does some teaching there). First-year SBD Olga, her closest volunteer, came over and we made rice-noodle salad and spring rolls – another thing I might be able to add to my repertoire and impress people! I need to get some rice wrappers next time I go to Marjane: you simply fill them with the chopped fresh vegetables of your choice (chicken optional, cilantro essential) – yum!
The next morning, we went out to Boujaad, Olga’s site. She had been to my home for VSN training, so I didn’t feel awkward inviting myself. Her town is in the tour books – it has a lot of koubbas (tombs) and shrines – of a whole family of descendants of the prophet (in most places they are stand-alone, for the founder a town, but these were clustered) and we walked to those and then in the medina. Both Oued Zem and Boujaad were no-frills towns – the real Morocco, not the tourist one. Olga spent her early years in the Ukraine, and over dinner the night before, we asked about Ukranian specialties – for lunch she made a beet salad (beets, prunes, walnuts, garlic and mayonnaise) and (we helped with) latkes. I ate well over the weekend! The bus from Boujaad stopped in Khenifra – Linda met me there and after they told us the next bus was delayed, she walked with me to the taxi stand and waited with me there, so we had a nice chance to chat. However, it was good to get home!
When I was in Marrakesh with Rose last month, while sitting in the café our last morning, I saw a cart pulled by a horse and a donkey. Rose had gone back to the room, but when she returned, the cart came back and I pointed it out to her, but for whatever reason (maybe I was too relaxed?) I didn’t take a picture. Throughout that day we talked about what an odd couple they were and what a shame it was that we didn’t capture it photographically. Well, we left Margaret’s apartment to head for Boujaad and there was a cart pulled by a horse and a donkey! Margaret had never thought anything of it – she reasoned that they just figured out how to accommodate each other. If only it were that simple with humans!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The GAD committee met in Rabat a couple of weeks ago - seems like a long time ago already, and I am still processing the meeting, figuring out my next steps. Usually we have updates on our projects on the morning of the first day, afternoon time to work on projects together, more updating and any new business the next day, and then project time or time to meet with any staff members we need to see, and then a final recap. This time the agenda was packed, with not only more projects in progress, but also no downtime for small group or individual project work.
Perhaps the focal point of the meeting was a meeting with staff; we had lunch with the Administrative Officer one or two meetings ago and realized that staff has very little idea of what we do; it was also an opportunity to hear from them how the various sectors incorporate the gender and development approach. In preparing for the meeting we discussed all of our initiatives – Peace Works and other communications, PST and IST trainings, conferences/workshops/GLOW Camps, the harassment survey, the resource guide, and Women-to-Women, where we are gathering information on what women do in various cultures that can be used in tea talks or other gatherings. We do split the work up, but in thinking of what follow-up I have to do, I am the point person on Peace Works and on the harassment survey, will be involved in the next SBD PST, and may or may not be through with my portion of the resource guide. We also have events such as International Women’s Day and Take Your Daughter to Work Day for which we may be creating toolkits for PCV use.
We discussed the committee’s mission and goals – GAD is an approach to development that states that men, women, girls and boys all have to be taken into account. This makes sense as a theory but is hard to convey; for example, people in my stage say they are not doing anything GAD when by definition they probably are. So, given our mission, is the harassment survey something GAD should be doing? Probably not – it might fall under the purview of the Volunteer Advisory Council (which regularly meets with staff about any volunteer issues) or Volunteer Support Network. But because GAD conducted this survey in the past, we sponsored it this time. We realized that the other committees have a role in implementing the results, though, so staff agreed to create a Harassment Working Group, with members from each committee and a staff liaison, each orchestrating a response within its purview. Since we have the survey data, we are compiling a list of ways in which volunteers are commonly harassed and the reactions and coping mechanisms, along with advice that PCVs said they would give to other PCVs when asked that open-ended question, and we will be helping with the trainings; you want to give people a clear picture of what to expect without scaring them off.
This all sounds good, but as an aside (though it probably should not be an aside), through the rumor mill we’re heard of a person who was assaulted (not sexually), a person who is ETing because his site is anti-American, and a person who ET’ed due to religious harassment; the rumor mill has these volunteers being told that they would not be relocated. This is very distressing; I have tossed and turned thinking about how we can respond to the survey and show volunteers that their answers were listened to and are being acted upon. It was somewhat heartening to read the Peace Corps history books and see that harassment has been an issue from the beginning – in many places it goes with traveling to another culture – and to have the regional safety and security director at our meeting (coincidence) so that we could get a perspective of not just Morocco.
We also had a presentation from the head of the Global Rights, an NGO that works in many countries. This woman read Susan Schaefer Davis’s books when she was 18 years old and that helped shape her career – I can see why they both speak so highly of each other. Global Rights created a poster and other educational materials about Morocco’s recent women’s rights initiative; those materials are used by many PCVs in spreading the word. Now they have created a poster to create awareness and advocacy for legislation prohibiting violence against women. As she put it, Morocco may be behind in creating this kind of legislation but so are many other countries – as an example, Spain did it just in 2004. We discussed ways in which Peace Corps and specifically GAD could get involved.
It was good to be in Rabat; I arrived there the day before the meeting and had some time to walk around. In the Andalusian Garden I experienced henna harassment (not one of the categories listed in the survey) – a woman grabbed my arm and started drawing on it and told me it was free; I told her I didn’t want it and when I finally wrestled myself free she asked for money. I didn’t feel threatened, but what if I were a tourist who just arrived in the country? I might get a bad impression of Morocco. I scoped out a rug (similar to the ones shown to my sister and brother-in-law in Fes way back when; those intricate-patterned, hand-knotted, multi-colored carpets were way out of my price range but a smaller one with a Rabat pedigree was affordable…maybe next trip I will buy one) and visited the ocean. I had a light lunch (and a heavy chocolate mousse; I’d been thinking about that since Mid-Service Medicals in December) at the French Institute. As I was wandering, I was thinking about what it would be like to work in the Foreign Service. I have said every time I visit Rabat that I could live there, but this time I tried to imagine myself actually living there or another world capital. I think it would be a great experience, but it would also be sad to be away from friends and family and life in America. There’s probably an expat community everywhere, so I might not feel isolated, but one thing that’s nice about the Peace Corps is that you integrate into the culture, and I think many people in Foreign Service don’t do that, so the experience is very different.
On Friday night I attended the Rabat Jazz Festival, held in the Chellah – the high pise walls were a great backdrop for the stage, and the dusk concert time added to the ambience. I love night baseball games, because when they start, it’s still daylight, and as the innings pass, the sky darkens and the lights take effect and suddenly the world shrinks to just the action in the stadium and the darkness outside. That’s how it felt at this concert; since there aren’t many cultural things to do here and I rarely go out at night in general, it was all the more of a treat. I did leave early though because I had an early train to take the next day.
In the movie “Casablanca,” Rick states that he moved to Casablanca for the waters. When told that he is in the desert, he says, “I was misinformed.” Well, last year when my family was here, we spent a day trip in what we were told was the Ourika Valley – to Imlil for a donkey ride and short hike up to lunch at Kasbah du Toubkal. We were misinformed – we were actually in the next valley over – and I wanted to do the day trip to the Ourika Valley that I had read about in my tour book (though had we gone to the Ourika Valley that day, I would have set this day for the next valley over!). Since I was coming from Rabat and not Azrou, I could get there early enough to squeeze in a day trip to the High Atlas. I had mentioned this to my pals in the area and to others who were going to be in Marrakesh, but when all was said and done I didn’t have someone to go with – not that this is the first trip I have taken by myself here, but it was a sneak preview of the solo travel I will likely be doing after I COS and it reminded me of how lucky I have been to have travel companions much of the time here!
Since my final potential companion backed out at the last minute, I hadn’t really prepared myself to be alone, and when the man at the taxi stand tried to talk me into buying out a taxi which would then wait for me, my resistance was low. I negotiated, but in the end I probably spent more money than I should have. On the other hand, it was nice to feel taken care of, and it wasn’t all that much money when you come down to it. We drove through little villages along the river and when we got to the end of the road in Setti Fatma, a guide offered his services and again my resistance was low, but the path was somewhat tricky so it was good to be with someone. I had lunch at one of the many cafes by the river and then we set off for a rock scramble to a waterfall. There are seven in the area but one was all I had time for, since I had agreed to see my pals in Marrakesh that evening. It was a good day trip – cool in the mountains and by the water, with a fun hike – and it was time for some natural beauty.
Upon my morning arrival in Marrakesh, before leaving for the mountains, I went to the Café du Livre for a lemon tart – I had been thinking about that one too (even to the point of looking for a recipe and making my own); when I returned from the mountains I went back to get the jacket I had left there and almost had another piece of tart, but just then heard from Frank that he, Jong, Connie, Rob and first-year SBD Kate were converging on our hotel. We sat in the room for a while waiting for the weather to cool off (a common activity in the south – they were so hot and tired that I couldn’t even talk them into playing cards! If only they had come to the cool mountain valley with me!). We went to a nice dinner and then came back to the hotel for yet more talking.
On Sunday morning I woke up early (again unable to entice a companion) to go to the Jardin Majorelle – earlier this month, Yves Saint Laurent passed away – his ashes were scattered there and a simple, tasteful (of course) monument was placed there, so I wanted to see that. It was wonderful to be in the garden at opening time – cool and uncrowded and peaceful. Then I had a power-walk/shop through the souks, picking up the next few things on the list after what I had picked up last time (an orange fringe necklace/belt to go with the black one I bought last time, for example) and met Rob for a pastry and coffee (for him) and Magnum bar and orange juice (for me). And then it was time for the long trip back to Azrou. I enjoy the days in Azrou – going to Ain Leuh, going to souk and/or doing other errands, visiting Abdou or my host family or Youssef’s family, checking in at the artisana and chatting with the artisans, making progress on the web site or writing this or emailing, exercising or reading or cleaning - and was looking forward to being in that routine for a while before the next trip, and the next trip came up a lot faster than I expected! That is for the next post….
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Everyone told me that the second year goes faster than the first and indeed, the time is flying by. This quarter featured lots of travel in and outside of Morocco, visits and visitors, a rewarding workshop and a major new project. It was not without drama, but overall it may have been my happiest three-month period here yet!
I took the plane from Casablanca to Lisbon (and as in the movie, it was a small propeller plane!), where I was joined by my sister, brother-in-law and nieces. Lisbon was rainy but beautiful and two days there were just not enough. We went to the ’98 World’s Fair site and the Oceanarium there, saw some of Old Lisbon, and went to coastal Cascais, hilltop Sintra and historic Belem. Then it was on to Evora, a medieval walled city in the Alantejo region – we toured the city, spent a day in the region going to towns known for various handicrafts (busman’s holiday?) and also visited a Neolithic Stone Circle. We stopped in the Algarve on the way to Spain and saw why that’s such an attractive travel destination (sun and sand!).
In Spain, we hit the major cities of Andalusia - Seville, Cordoba and Grenada - each with its own charm. Seeing the Islamic architecture and influence on Andalusia was a nice complement to all of the Islamic architecture with Andalusian influence that I have visited in Morocco! We were in Seville for the end of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, with several parades of Easter penitents. We saw the Royal Palace, the Giralda Mosque (akin to the Koutoubia in Marrakesh – and the Tour Hassan in Rabat, which was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, so it all ties together), the Jewish Quarter, the park and other structures built for the 1929 Pan-American exposition, and a flamenco show. And we had tapas every chance we could get (plus, I went to Starbucks!). We took a day trip to Ronda, site of a picturesque bridge (maybe other people would say the ravine it crosses is picturesque, but as I once said to my favorite professor, the bridge really makes the view – and he agreed) and a bullfighting museum. In Cordoba we saw the Mesquita (mosque, now a cathedral – as was the one in Seville) and again the Jewish Quarter. In Grenada it was the Muslim Quarter and also the Gypsy Quarter, with its caves, a Science Park (which impressed both the kids and the adults) and the Alhambra, where Valerie had perhaps the line of the year, “we’ve been here.” The Generalife gardens and the hill climbs and views did make it different, but I guess if you’ve seen one exquisite example of Islamic architecture you’ve seen them all! The picture, taken from the Muslim Quarter, shows the Alhambra and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in the background.
On my own, I visited Gibraltar (a little part of Great Britain in Spain) and Ceuta (a little part of Spain in Morocco) on the way back. I didn’t particularly feel the need to leave the country, but it seems that some of my fellow volunteers who haven’t done so feel the need to. It was good to see family – the stretch from last June until this March was the longest I had gone without seeing my nieces, and I am glad the next span will be shorter. They are growing so fast!
In April, I went to Tinjdad to lead some workshops that had been taking shape for months. Whenever I spend a long time working on something, just seeing the date arrive is an accomplishment. In this case, the workshops were rewarding too – Rob and I worked with Jessica’s cooperative on organizational development and on their vision of the future, and we also brainstormed marketing ideas for a friend of hers who makes pomegranate jelly and can already sell all that he makes. It was nice to spend four days in one place in the south, with walks through the palmerie and exploration of ksars, some ruined and one continuously occupied (and also a wind/sand storm, so now I know what it’s like!).
I also took on some new work following the medical separation (med-sep – i.e. getting sent home for medical reasons, with, in this case, no recourse for return) of the first-year SBD volunteer in Ain Leuh, who was just getting into the swing of things. Ain Leuh is a small mountain town about half an hour from Azrou; the weavers there produce finely-woven, intricately-patterned rugs – motivated artisans with a product different from the rest, who are extremely nice women – a great assignment! I revised a brochure and business cards for them and have started working on other marketing materials. I hosted a former PCV/renowned anthropologist who has a non-profit business on the side, Women Weavers On-Line; she expressed interest in adding the Ain Leuh weavers to her product offerings so I have been doing photography and individual interviews of each artisan. I continue working on the Azrou web site too, but Ain Leuh has meant a lot of time and work, which I didn’t anticipate when I offered to help out. GAD (Gender and Development) has taken some time as well, what with working on the harassment survey writeup, the resource guide, and the Peace Works column. In May we learned that the Azrou artisana will undergo new construction to become perhaps the nicest in the country; I tallied the final round of the tourist questionnaire and wrote up some suggestions for improvements, and we’ll see what happens there. There were also a bunch of Peace Corps reports to work on – quarterly report, living allowance survey, biennial world-wide volunteer survey.
Several Morocco trips this quarter too; some for tourism, some just for seeing friends, some for a combination. Went to Khenifra to visit a new PCV friend there (we went to the same high school, though not at the same time – she was ahead of me), to Ougmes for a birthday party of Piffle and a hike, to Ouarzazate on the way to Tinjdad, mostly to see friends but also to see the kasbah and the artisana, to Kelaa M’Gouna to play rummy with a stage-mate before he ET’ed (early termination) but also to see a beautiful ksar and the famous roses, to Ifrane for a meeting and some peanut butter, and to Fes (it’s 1200 years old this year – so it warrants more exploration), Sefrou (exploration here too – the synagogue and mellah) and Meknes (for an agricultural fair, the parts of the imperial city I hadn’t seen, a museum and a souk walk). And I have been doing more hiking in the Azrou area, since it was finally warming up (though May was quite cold and rainy!). I hosted several PCVs too – on their way to or from medicals, researching spices, on vacation, or otherwise passing through (not to mention spending time with the many volunteers in the area) – and also someone from the Embassy here; I had been thinking about registering for the Foreign Service Officer Test and after talking with her I decided to do it. The King came back to Azrou as well, though I didn’t get as good a look at him this year as I had last year.
A lowlight – being told no by program staff to what seemed to be a reasonable request (especially after seeing others told yes to similar requests) – led to a meltdown which led to a “mental health day” (that is, officially listed as medical in the system) which became part of a long weekend in Marrakesh with my friend Rose. It was very good for the soul – visiting a beautiful palace museum, shopping in the souks, dining out, sitting in cafés, seeing other PCV friends. Mental health was important, as was physical – this quarter I seemed to have more issues than usual, with feverish days, Big D, a shift from an often-runny nose to an often-stuffy one, and trouble sleeping. I even looked at the two-year culture shock adjustment cycle to see if this was a normal phase – I guess I feel the end coming and the pressure to accomplish more before I leave, in addition to the looming presence of the future. Six more months to go! I did work on my resume – it needs more work – and I started thinking about post-Peace Corps travel (for me, the journey of a thousand miles begins not with one step but with a travel book).
I had wanted an assignment that started in the fall so that I could have vacation time accrued for the two things I didn’t want to miss – the March vacation with the family, and Reunions. Some would think it crazy to fly back to the States on Thursday and be back in my site on Tuesday evening, but I didn’t question the wisdom (or expense) of it, and Reunions held up its end of the bargain. It is always great to see so many friends, though of course there’s never enough time. This time there was the additional stress of taking some of the treasures I’ve bought here back with me to store at a friend’s house (which I know led to some of the sleeplessness) and the additional joy of a panel discussion on the nation’s infrastructure (yes, to me that is joy) and of seeing the new Indiana Jones movie (in a theatre!). Had some quality time with a few friends, visited several Reunions tents, saw spectacular fireworks. A schedule change meant no Annual Card Game (that weekend, anyway – the 2008 game may have to be in 2009) and no Mets game with my nieces (though I did go to the game without them); in New York on Sunday and Monday I had time with family and friends and several well-being appointments (after which I have felt better and have been sleeping better…).
Last week I went to Rabat for a GAD meeting, which was jam-packed (and requires a lot of follow-up, both with my stage on GAD activities and on harassment; we created a Harassment Working Group and I’m one of four PCVs on it). I followed that with a weekend in Marrakesh – a day trip to the Ourika Valley in the High Atlas and then a morning in the city. I was about to write all of this up for you when I was asked to go to Rabat for the rest of this week, to be on a committee of staff and volunteers working on Training Design and Evaluation. So that’s how the next quarter will begin….
Sunday, June 08, 2008
I’m just back from a run – perhaps inspired by learning that the winner of this year’s Boulder Bolder, one of the premier 10Ks in the U.S., hails from Azrou – and I continue to revel in the beauty of the Middle Atlas mountains. I have a friend from the Salt Lake area who once said that the mountains make up for the ocean – I am such a water person that I don’t know if that’s true in my case, but I do know that as I never took for granted the fact that I lived right next to Lake Michigan, I also never take for granted the natural beauty of my site.
Now that I am back in Azrou and my precious things traveled safely to Howie’s guest closet, I can elaborate. I wonder if, after not seeing them for the next six-plus months, I won’t miss them? I don’t miss a lot of what’s in storage in Chicago. Will I be able to let more go and live more clutter-free? I hope so! In the meantime, though, I keep buying Moroccan things for my imaginary next home. As I buy things, I do try to picture how they will fit in the imaginary home. Or at least fit into this home… Joy said that when she was in Tunisia doing research she knew a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers and when they got their things home they didn’t fit. I’ll be starting more or less from scratch, so I can build around things. And what doesn’t fit will make a lovely gift!
Carpets: I was able to take three home. As I mentioned before (without elaborating), the ones I first bought were the ones I was most attracted to in the first place, so they came home. Check out the April 8, 2007 entry for the bedroom double-sized wedding cape that I was using as a bedspread, and for the rug with Berber symbols. Note that the poufs would have made the cut, except I am still using them! The third rug that fit in the suitcase is in an even earlier entry, the one with the living room (now Marrakesh room) furniture, but the picture doesn’t show its more interesting summer side of black and white traditional stripes. There are lots of black and white rugs around here, but none of them have the wooly white winter side that mine does – it was an impulse purchase on the Fes “girls’ day” with Amanda, and I am glad it fit in the suitcase.
Ceramics – I thought I would take a little bit of everything; the ponge foam protected everything well, but that was in a carry-on. I hope that everything else makes it home intact in the mail, but if not, at least I have a little bit of everything, and I’ll get more when I come back in the future! From Fes I packed a calligraphy bowl and a square plate with the traditional blue and white, along with a couple of tiny tagines that people here use for salt and cumin (if they put a third spice on the table it is pepper but if there are only two they are salt and cumin). From Tamegroute I wrapped a third small tagine, in the traditional green, and a spice jar decorated with henna designs and not re-fired. From Safi I wrapped my big blue bowl and two of the smaller bowls – the white and blue and the white and multi-colored. The more colorful ones had to stay behind, as did (just by a hair) the Fes coffee mugs. I brought one tadelakt plate back from a set of three that I bought in Tangier, and next weekend in Marrakesh I might get a piece or two more.
I packed a couple of fossil platters from Erfoud (I am not sure I ever put a picture of one in here – so here’s one from the artisana showroom - though the background looks too wrinkled, so I should probably reshoot it!). They’re quite remarkable. Also a damascene Hand of Fatima from Meknes – damascene is a process where fine silver thread is inlaid onto black metal. I packed a Hand of Fatima door knocker, too – the “King’s Knocker” (see the Fes Royal Palace from around May 2007 – mine is not quite as nice but that’s what I kept saying I wanted and that’s what the faux guide in Fes brought me to based on calling it that) didn’t fit. I wore some orange and black clothes to Reunions and brought them back here – Rose told me I had enough orange and black clothes but after last week I think she’s wrong (those I know can be gifts!) so I will renew the search for more. In the meantime, the orange and black flowered jellaba that I wore to Amanda’s wedding made it back, as did an orange and black Sahara wrap, called a MeHlfa, from Zagora, and an orange and black Fes embroidery table runner.
The brass tray from the artisan in Marrakesh is back in the States, as is a little wooden heart that I bought from Rose’s artisan and a set of wooden dominoes that I bought from one of the artisans here (that might have been a strategic error – now I can’t play with them! Unless I get another set…). Almost all of the jewelry that I have picked up along the way - in Tiznit, Fes, Ouarzazate, Rabat, and elsewhere (I’ll know where everything’s from when I see it again) went in the carry-on, along with an antique purple silk fringe Berber belt. And a couple of leather pocketbooks from Asilah and Chefchouan – I have a number of nice bags that I have bought here (including an orange one that got many compliments last week, so maybe I should get a couple more of those too – everything adds up, but they would cost so much more in the States...). And the process of going through this made me realize what’s most precious that’s still here – i.e. the first things I would have packed had there been room – my sheepskin (but it’s just as well I didn’t bring that – I will need it to keep under my feet this fall, especially since I gave back the space heater!) and a painted wood tea tray that I got in Rabat (I should take a picture of that one for illustrative purposes too). Well, maybe one of my other rugs might be next precious too, but once I put three in I knew that’s all I could take, and then there are the poufs.
As long as I’m in a listy mood tonight, I thought I would list what’s in the Peace Corps Morocco first aid kit. For Elisa’s upcoming life-changing experience (filming a documentary in Uganda about her school’s partner school) she needed to put together a kit, and when I told her what was in mine, I thought it might be of interest to others. We’re given a kit in training and can then replenish as needed. Other items – such as eye drops and vitamins and Vaseline and Lubriderm – were not in the medical kit but can be ordered more or less on demand (actually, Lubriderm and sun block are rationed). Also, it should be noted that if you have any prescriptions, you were to come here with a three-month supply and a written prescription for two years, and Peace Corps would fill it. And I should mention that since I developed sensitive teeth while here (overbrushing after all that sugary tea?) they gave me a prescription for Sensodyne toothpaste, which I buy in a pharmacie and for which I am reimbursed.
In some cases I’ll list generic name, and for some, brand name. I thought for fun I’d asterisk the things I have not had occasion to use. I’ll leave one item out because this is a family blog, but suffice it to say that they told us in training that 90 percent of PCVs have sex while they are here, and the PCMO wants to make sure those PCVs use quality items for birth control (no rationing on those).
Aspirin (not in the original kit, but I requested some because it is more effective for me than the other two – and Debbie also sent me Excedrin Migrane….even though I get many fewer and less intense headaches than I did in the past, it’s still an issue)
Eye drops (hm, it says they were in the kit but I thought I had to request them)
Eye wash *
Antifungal cream *
Skin cleanser for wounds *
Cough drops (I almost want to asterisk this because I haven’t ever used mine – just some from the LCF kit in CBT)
Oral rehydration salts (these are great! Do they even have them in the U.S.?)
Water purification salts *
Insect repellent *
Tamiflu (this came in a special session and we can take it only if there’s an outbreak of bird flu here - they will let us know)
Adhesive tape *
Ace bandage * (though Jong used mine while she was here so I did have to replenish it; some of my other items, such as Pepto-Bismol, have also needed replenishment due to guest use)
Gauze pads *
Thermometer AND Tempa-Dot disposable thermometers
Latex gloves *
Compact First Aid Guide (we were also given the book Where there is No Doctor and a handbook put together by the PCMO – I’ve looked at the handbook but not the other two, though I hear the book is very entertaining).*
What I wish they had here and I have had sent from the U.S. – Q-Tips. The swabs here just don’t measure up.
The last time I saw the first-year SBDs in the region and my counterpart, it was at the Timhadite weaving cooperative’s Annual Meeting, the day before I left for New Jersey. They’ve all been at IST since then; I’ll get together with them this week and will go out to Ain Leuh to do more artisan interviews for the marrakeshexpress.org web site (among other uses). On Wednesday I go to Rabat for a GAD meeting Thursday and Friday; I’ll go to Marrakesh for the weekend since I’ll be starting from Rabat on Saturday morning!
Friday, June 06, 2008
Four o’clock in the morning is a tough time for a pickup – I guess it’s good to get to the airport early before international flights, but as I sat there waiting for check-in to open, I thought that a later pickup and more sleep would have been a better option. The good news is that with leaving Thursday and returning Tuesday, I never really adjusted to being in the U.S., opting instead to go to bed relatively early and waking up early; I have had late-night discussions at Reunions past but didn’t suffer for the lack of one this time, and it was peaceful to get up and out while most people were still asleep.
The flight to New York was smooth. There was another PCV on the plane – actually, an RPCV now, from the now-second-year Health stage, being med-sepped. He told me the tale of a high-school-graduation trip he took to Peru. The tour guide was a little old man, who it turned out had learned English from this PCV’s great-aunt, who was in the Peace Corps in the ‘60s. At the time, Macchu Picchu was not a big tourist destination, but here she was, teaching English to prospective tour guides in the hopes of starting a tourism business. It was the old man’s last tour; he thought he recognized the name and something made him sign up to lead it. Along the way, they met several little old men (one had a picture and the great-aunt towered over all of them) who remembered her and had been successful with her help and gave them letters to give to her. She had had a stroke earlier but was able to comprehend the letters when they were read to her, and she died a couple of months after hearing them all. What a story – it’s the one he used on his Peace Corps application. I think it’s rare that you get to know the impact you have on other people – it remains to be seen what sort of legacy I will leave in the Peace Corps. Then again, I do feel I have made an impact on Princeton and touched many people there, which is one reason why I go back every year – a nice segue into the weekend.
I took a taxi into Manhattan, took another cold shower at my sister’s (last year it was funny – she said she didn’t want me to get too comfortable; this year I just made it quick), briefly said hello to Pam and Sabrina (who were expecting me the next day and were therefore surprised) and took off for Penn Station. Having two suitcases and a carry-on that converts to a backpack was tricky but I managed to negotiate the steps and the on and off; Howie met me at Princeton Junction and now everything is intact in his guest closet (although the tape didn’t hold – but everything was packed tightly enough that it didn’t shift much). He asked what kind of cuisine I wanted – I thought Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Thai – and we ended up having Italian, but a fresh caprese salad was quite welcome. The campus seemed quiet, and my dorm room faced away from the courtyard, and it wasn’t hot and humid as it was last year, so I actually slept well (not something I usually do at Reunions, whether or not I have jet lag).
The next morning I went to a panel on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, moderated by my favorite professor but also featuring three civil engineering alumni, all of whom could have spoken all morning and I would have remained interested in what they had to say. A friend from Chicago was in the audience, and afterwards we went to Nassau Street where she helped me buy lipstick (I thought I had brought 27 months’ worth with me but it was more like 21 months’ worth). We also spent some time watching a New Orleans funeral band outside the Class of ’58 memorial service (they had a Mardi Gras theme) – a true lagniappe.
I snapped a picture of our Class Ivy, and met Arlene and Rob for the next item on my dance card – lunch, this time Indian food. We usually attend a University awards luncheon but this year took a break from that, and it was nice to have the time to talk (and to eat Indian food). We walked down to the Campus Center, where I saw a Princetoniana Committee exhibit (I joined this committee just before I left and contribute comments from afar but haven’t attended any meetings, so it was nice to do this). Then I went to another lecture by my favorite professor – I had heard most of this talk before, but I find him inspiring. My friend Elisa and I were talking about life-changing things – she’s about to go on a trip that everyone tells her is going to be one. It started me wondering what has been life-changing. I could say attending Princeton was one, but wouldn’t the college experience anywhere have been part of normal growth? I think Peace Corps will turn out to be one – it was all I could do not to use “inshallah” (God willing) or “labas?” (How are you?) every time I saw someone this weekend, and I think aspects of the culture will remain with me (more on that in the next six months, I suspect!). But I can say without reservation that taking Professor Billington’s Structures and the Urban Environment course freshman year was life-changing. I wouldn’t have been a civil engineering major without it, which led to the next thing and the next, and I think it gave me a way to appreciate looking at built things that I still have to this day.
On to the Princeton Alumni Weekly reception and then to Thomas Sweet ice cream and then I met up with La and talked with her and also Leesy for a while. Then, due to an unstoppable force that started when I saw “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” at Shawn’s house on the rummy weekend, I went to see “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Was this a wise choice compared to two hours spent with friends I don’t see enough of even when I’m in the same country? Probably not, but it was my first movie in a theatre since summer 2006, and it was fun (and it may gain me street cred back here with the other PCVs). I made my way to the 35th, 25th and 30th Reunion courtyards, finding people I was hoping to see at every stop, and once again called it an early night. My Moroccan orange and black clothing was a hit, too – I may need to buy more.
Saturday morning I took a campus walk with Marc and David, back for their 25th, and we went on to the Band concert (hm, perhaps joining the Band was also life-changing). Then it was on to a class luncheon, conveniently held inside so that we were sheltered from a major rainstorm (I would have said monsoon had I not just bought the Southeast Asia book!). Then the rest of Reunions went very quickly, as it seems to do. Lots of people to talk to but not enough time with any at the P-rade, Band Reunion and Quad. A lawn concert and fireworks (featuring, among other things, the Indiana Jones theme, for good measure). A search through several tents for select individuals I hadn’t seen yet and was destined not to see. And all of a sudden it was Sunday morning and I was on the train back to New York.
Here the plans went awry – Mercury in retrograde, or just the ESPN baseball contract? The time of the Mets game, which had been set for 1:00, was changed to 8:00. This meant that my nieces could no longer go – and much as I wanted to see one last game at Shea, the point was to go with them to a baseball game. It (and other circumstances) also meant no Annual Card Game, though it made me realize that had I had a choice to make, my priority would have been the card game. We’ll just have to have the 2008 game in early 2009 and the 2009 game in late 2009! Not only that, but my nieces ended up seeing Indiana Jones on Sunday afternoon instead of baseball, and had I not just seen it, I would have gone with them!
I ended up taking a walk across the park with my sister – it was a beautiful day – and we had walk-in qi-gong massages. We walked back and I had Mexican food and a pedicure. I played a quick game of Apples to Apples Jr. with my nieces before they left, but all in all I didn’t see much of them, which is too bad – but at least it won’t be as long before I see them again as it was the last time. We found takers for most of the Mets tickets and I found a second wind – the beautiful day led to a beautiful night and it was a fun game with nice company. Farewell, Shea Stadium, the place where I saw my first baseball game (I can’t say that per se was a life-changing experience, but baseball in general has been significant).
Monday was another whirlwind day, though, as with last year, it was theoretically a “bonus day” after the packed schedule of Thursday through Sunday. I started with a walk twice around the Central Park reservoir – the park is just lovely and I want to send some kudos to its public restrooms – they weren’t nice just because I’ve gotten used to squat toilets and lower standards of cleanliness here, they were nice. My sister had made two appointments for me – one with the author of a potentially-life-changing book she had me read and one with the osteopath/alternative physical therapist I saw last year. Both appointments were very positive and I am thinking of them as steps towards what lies ahead. In between I saw Debbie – since she had done all of my shopping for me, we had time to do what she wanted to do – play Piffle! And we had Chinese food. I also saw my nieces for a few minutes between school and their next activity, walked again across the park (I told my sister that if I didn’t sleep on the plane it wasn’t because I didn’t do enough walking – sadly, I didn’t sleep on the plane!), went to the bookstore and did a couple of errands for my sister, and then it was off to JFK and the trip home.
A crowded overnight flight with no sleep made for a zombie-like Tuesday. But before I took the train back to Meknes for the grand taxi to Azrou, I went to the Jewish Museum of Casablanca – it’s open only during the week so this was a good day to go. It was hard to find, but the taxi driver persisted (even after I told him to forget it and just take me to the train station) and he waited for me since there were no taxis in the area and it would have been hard to get back. The museum is the only one of its kind in the Islamic world, and it contains photographs and artifacts. I have seen similar photographs and artifacts in the synagogues I have visited and in antique stores, so I wouldn’t say it’s a must, but it was a nice complement to the things I have seen and it’s nice that the museum exists.
Impressions from the weekend – first and foremost, it was great to see friends and family. Email and other means of communication makes them feel not so far away, but there’s no substitute for seeing people in person. It was also great to be in Princeton and New York – I find both very energizing. I found myself glad to be eating cuisines I had missed but don’t want to get in the habit of eating out a lot when I get back – it’s expensive and too many calories. I found myself overwhelmed by choices – at CVS in Princeton, at a health food store in New York, at Barnes and Noble, at the grocery store. I was able to make purchases, but not without some paralysis. A lot of money was spent in a short amount of time – I think I was just making the most of the weekend, but it was a bit of a shock. I love the mountains and fields here for walking, but walking on the campus and in the city was also good. I keep talking about cutting back when I return – maybe skip the fall football game at Princeton now that I will have missed three, fewer baseball games and cultural events and even weekends away – I picture myself making less money than I used to and enjoying the time at home to read and write and cook for myself. But I did have a great time with all of weekend activity and I could easily see myself doing that when I return to the pace of the U.S. – will I be able to have a more simple life?
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Well, my trip back to the states was short yet eventful, and I will write about that in another post, but on my mind now is everything that’s happened since my return, so I will write about that first! I hear that it was still cold and rainy last weekend, but I expected to come back to find summer and that is indeed what I found. Lots of sun, some different (hardier?) wildflowers (more thistle-like, and many deep colors), cherry trees with branches laden down with ripe red fruit, fields of faded green, yellow and even brown, stork babies getting ready to fly away from the nest.
I still have more catching up to do, but a good night’s sleep on Tuesday was a good start. While I was away, Morocco sprung forward. The time change seems very disconcerting – is it that way in the U.S. too? Or is it that we didn’t change the clocks last year and I got used to it? Or is it that the time change for me was combined with travel across several time zones? Or is it that life happens here much more by rhythm of the day than by the clock? Anyway, it now gets dark at 8:30 at night. I don’t want to eat that late, but it seems weird to eat supper when the sun is so high in the sky. Will I be staying out more and getting home later? The good news is that I may be able to sleep later, or at least to sleep more restfully in the morning, without the sun up so early (even with a very dark room, I can sense it). I’m told that Morocco used to have Daylight Savings Time, but people here seem as confused and disoriented as I am. It’ll change back on September 27, but for now we are five hours later than Eastern Daylight Time (calculate accordingly for your own time zone). Seeing how late it is now makes me fear for Ramadan – sunset will be late….
Wednesday morning I did the laundry – much easier when it’s not raining – and then I washed the floors, which took me into the early afternoon. It seemed like a good idea to stay at home for the balance of the day (both of the washing tasks had me out on the balconies, so I didn’t feel cooped up) – there have been so many times when I arrived on a red-eye or on a crack-of-dawn flight and went straight to work, I decided that while I have the luxury of not having to go to an office, I could allow myself some time to adjust. I realized only recently that jet lag and long-distance travel affect not only sleep but also eating – everything, really. The only thing that could have gotten me out is had the shower butagas run out – it’s close, but has lasted so far. Another volunteer is coming through tomorrow – so maybe it will run out during her shower and not mine (I don’t mean that maliciously, of course).
My travel book, which I finished on Wednesday night, was “Making a Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five.” This is a collection of essays from different points of view – the staff who conjured Peace Corps into being, early volunteers, heads of state of host countries, former volunteers who have now made it big and/or gone onto other development agencies, former Peace Corps Directors. The first book I read highlighted some of the failings of the Peace Corps – lack of meaningful work, too many teachers when English isn’t necessarily the best way to improve people’s lives. The second book discussed the context in which the Peace Corps was formed – the Cold War and the closing of the frontier. This book had many perspectives but was overall much more positive than negative – it was good to see all of the things that Peace Corps has done right, mainly in terms of Goals #2 and 3, cultural exchange - better understanding of Americans on the part of other peoples and better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Interestingly, at least for me, everyone applauded the recruitment of mid-career people – it left me wondering just how the demographics have changed over the years. And it did highlight one of my issues, saying that if you want to have more mid-career people you have to help them with their post-Peace Corps career (at least I think I read it – or maybe I just thought it). Another comment that I thought was interesting is that most of Goal #3 is informal – RPCVs taking it upon themselves to share their experiences with others – and that more could be done to formalize this. As far as I know, this hasn’t happened. The Peace Corps just launched a 50th Anniversary web site (www.peacecorps.gov/50 will get you there - which reminds me, did I ever mention the www.peacecorps.gov/kids web site? Fun for kids of all ages and actually a fun game that does reflect what it’s like. There’s also a www.peacecorps.gov/teens web site - I took the quiz to see what program would be best for me and it said HIV/AIDS, not SBD! Next time?). In just a few short years I will have another Peace Corps book to read, since they will surely be publishing one!
So then I went to Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com to see what other Peace Corps books there might be – and there are a lot of them! I think I’ve read all of the ones in the Peace Corps Morocco library, but some of the others look interesting too (though I have enough other things to read for the time being); I like to think it bodes well for 27 Months Without Baseball’s possibilities of getting published! After my service, of course.
One of the things I did while I was in New York was buy a book on Southeast Asia, where I’m currently thinking of traveling after I COS (subject to change!). My sister told me not to make any plans now (although research is fine) while Mercury is in retrograde. I looked at astrology web sites to learn more, and sure enough, it does say not to make big plans and that things may go awry with computers, meetings and other things, but also that Mercury in retrograde is a good time to catch up and even find long-lost things. One site particularly mentions that sometimes packages that have been missing for years turn up in the mail. Hope springs eternal! It will be in retrograde again in September (so I need to solidify post-COS plans before or after that) and then in late-January/early-February (sounds as though I might want to catch up with old friends then and hold off on job decisions – or is that hope springing eternal as well?). I asked a couple of people who have traveled or lived there for their must-sees and was told that it’s monsoon season. That might have stood out once I opened the book, and it doesn’t affect the entire region, but I feel glad to know that early in the planning process.
This morning I went to Ifrane, to meet with a visiting professor from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. His colleague came last year with some visiting students, two of whom did a project with the artisans in Azrou (I learned some new things in the course of helping them but ultimately their project was more academic than of practical use – though I think they did a good job on their assignment, which was to take a holistic, humanistic approach to technology issues). A new group of students is coming this fall, and the professor met with Josh, Barry and me to discuss possible projects. Only two of the three will be chosen – I think they can help the Ain Leuh women since I am not there full-time, and maybe they can help train the artisans here on email and other internet technology. Barry has an eco-tourism idea (he came by last week to brainstorm with me from an SBD perspective) and Josh has water and other community development projects. All three would be interesting; I’m going to write up the background and proposal and I will be happy either way.
It was fun to be in Ifrane during the week – I felt a little as though I was walking on the wild side, even though I did clear the trip with program staff before I went. The Switzerland of Morocco is dressed up for summer tourists – flowerbeds everywhere full of pansies. It makes me realize just how much work would have to be done for Azrou to look as pristine. Given that the Museum of Culture still looks pretty much the same and that the consultants who were supposed to do studies before the construction of the new Artisana could commence in July haven’t been to Azrou yet, I don’t think I could extend for two years if seeing the new look is the reason for doing so – being in Ifrane made me realize how far there is to go. I do hope to come back and see it some day, though! I had a quick trip to the Superette (for peanut butter and other things I can’t get in Azrou – though it seemed a bit frivolous after bringing home a suitcase containing Reese’s, Tastykakes, sun-dried tomatoes and other things I can’t get at all here) and then had lunch with the other volunteers, even though it meant risking not being able to get a taxi back to Azrou during the lunchtime lull (my taxis both there and back – and to Ain Leuh and back – all filled remarkably quickly today! Mercury in retrograde notwithstanding).
I then went out to Ain Leuh, where since it was finally a sunny day I was able to take some pictures of rugs for Susan Schaefer Davis’s Marrakesh Express web site. Abdelhak, the translator, was unable to come so I didn’t continue with the interviews (not that I couldn’t have at least tried, but I think we all feel better when he’s there, at least for now). For the web site, Susan asked for a full-sized picture of each rug, a close-up with a hand in it for scale, and a picture of the weaver. The women thought that the latter two were pretty funny but fortunately they were all willing to be photographed. At the end, I took a group shot – don’t they look like nice women? They are! Actually, the full-size shots were the most difficult to take – hard to see what I was taking a picture of in the sun – but this may be an opportunity to try my hand at photo-editing software, which is a skill I wanted to develop here anyway! And now I have a lot to do – not only the photo editing but also writing up the stories of the women I interviewed last week and all of the details of the rugs I photographed. I asked about the measurements – Khadija, the president, measured the rugs by walking off the distance. They have pretty standard sizes – and they get paid by the square meter – so presumably they measure them with a little more accuracy before they take them off the looms – but it was funny to see that methodology employed. They took the rugs away to weigh them, leaving to my imagination how that was done. I then had a chance to meet two new environment volunteers (a married couple) who were assigned to Ain Leuh after their initial site visit. More people in this saturated area! I’m going to hand off some beekeeping leads though, grateful that someone will work with the bee women, who Jackie was just getting to know.
Off to drink my apple-cider-vinegar-and-honey tea (search the internet for that too; after I told her about it, my sister bought some in New York – and note, it does not have to be a hot beverage!). I’m not convinced that adding the mixture that the Fes herbalist gave me (which is why I am having it as tea) is helping me sleep better, but I do like the nigelle oil he gave me for clearing my stuffy nose (it can also be used for massage).