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!