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….

Hi Sharon,

Sue Acosta shared the link to your blog with me. I've read some of the more recent posts.

Sound like it's been a real adventure!

Dennis Murphy
I have quarterly reports posted if you want more of an overview - maybe more interesting in the beginning when I was adjusting to the culture. Now that I have been here for a while, as a friend told me, my posts have become more quotidien. I think she meant it as a neutral statement - but I'll think of it as a compliment. My sister stopped reading...
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