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….

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I think I have a picture of Fred and Julia in that very same spot in Granada!

Take care!
Judging by how many people were there at sunset - a nightly ritual - I would not be surprised! What may be of interest is that it's not the sunset per se (as it is in, for example, Key West) but the light shining on the Alhambra at that time of day.
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