Friday, July 11, 2008


I followed last week’s meltdown with a minor triumph – an on-the-spot darija haiku, to explain haiku to Abdou. It was hard to do without knowing the word for syllable, but we take our triumphs as we can – and then Linda, who came up from Khenifra, and I went to lunch with Abdou and his family. I had made a use-up-the-zucchini bread, and I don’t know whether they liked it or not, but they graciously served it after the fruit dessert, and we left half for them to enjoy at a time when they’re more inclined to eat sweets. Linda had come up to show her jellaba jewelry to Madeleine’s family – her mother, two sisters, two cousins and a friend – and we met them back at Abdou’s and escorted them to the artisana and to some of the other shops in town, and they shopped up a storm (guests who buy are more than welcome!).

I also meant to mention a minor triumph of travel last week – taking some oral rehydration salts with me. I have generally used these only when hit with Big D, though I also took some last year when I told the doctor I felt I was always dehydrated. Traveling with them was a blessing – I never got a headache last weekend, even though the travel was long and sometimes hot. I wish I had been doing this all along – all too often I’ve arrived somewhere feeling not just dehydrated but depleted.

So – last Sunday I arrived in Rabat in time for dinner, and then after dinner took a walk to the ocean (even though I had just been to the ocean!) with some people I knew and some people I had heard of but was seeing for the first time. Wardens in the past have been a second-year SBD or YD, with a first-year SBD or YD as alternate; this year there are some people from other sectors, but still more SBD than anything else, and it was nice to get to know some first-years I hadn’t met yet. When I got home from the walk, I discovered a sleeping roommate (who had not arrived before I left) – turns out it was a first-year SBD who had found my blog before she came here. We exchanged a lot of emails and when I found out how far away her site was and after not going to training, I thought we would never meet. It was nice to be her roommate and to have a chance to talk with her, except for the fact that she had a cough, and by the third night I felt not only a sleep deficit but a cold of my own coming on.

I think last year’s conference was just one day but this year it was two days. Wardens – an unfortunate name, I think – are part of the Emergency Action Plan – our main duty would be to assist in the event of an emergency. This is not just terrorism but civil unrest and natural disasters – there have been two major earthquakes in Morocco in the past 50 years, one that destroyed the city of Agadir in 1960 and one that rocked Al Hoceima in 2004, and also significant floods. Our main non-emergency function is to be notified by the people in our group if they go away from their site for the day on a non-workday – but few people in my group contact me, and that goes for everyone else. I didn’t see how a day’s worth of material could come out of this last year – or two days this year – but both times I was surprised by not only how much material there was but also by how relevant it was. It really reinforced that safety and security is a priority. Perhaps most important, though, was meeting the other wardens and establishing a network.

We started with a discussion of roles and responsibilities. There are different things to do for each of the stages of the Emergency Action Plan. We then had a presentation/Q&A about the new whereabouts policy (I may not have discussed this much because it hasn’t meant much of a change for me – but it’s basically notify rather than ask permission. The truth is that they can still question your reasons for going somewhere during the work week. Also, we are no longer restricted to just two Saturday nights per month out of site, but since the new policy came into effect I haven’t taken more than that! Or less). There’s been a lot of confusion about the policy, so now wardens can be “experts” if people have questions. We then played a game to reinforce the Emergency Action Plan – that was fun and got us moving. And then did case studies with scenarios such as terrorism, natural disaster and avian flu and role plays such as not writing down the information and therefore transmitting wrong information to the people in the group.

It was strange to be back at the Hotel Chellah – I remember those first few days in Rabat, standing on the roof terrace and looking out at the city, walking to the beach with people I had just met (one of them was Rose, and I liked her from the start), watching people play card games and wondering if I would have friends, getting used to the food and water. It was a step down from the Sheraton University City but now it’s a big step up from where we usually stay – Western toilets and towels en-suite – and a bathtub, which I took advantage of – and air conditioning (which my roommate turned off because of her cough). Last year both PST and COS seemed so far away – I was just about at the halfway point. Now I will go back to the Chellah next month for COS conference – where did the time go? I had thought that I would return from Reunions and start working on What’s Next – but June went by and I am still in the present. Now I think that I will spend the next month doing as much as I can on the web site and will use COS conference as the marker for working on the future.

There was an auditor in town – every Peace Corps post must be audited every five years – and though his primary purpose was to check the books, he also wanted to interview some volunteers. Ever interested in providing feedback, I started talking with him at lunchtime and continued after the sessions were over. Some of the questions were financial – did I fill out the living allowance survey and the settling-in allowance survey and did I get enough money each month (I told them that I did buy souvenirs but more, that DSL is not considered a necessity – I said I’d spend just as much at a cyber and am more efficient at home, and that Peace Corps is doing more and more electronic communication – and he said he hears that a lot). It was also a chance to air some of the disappointments that I have experienced in my interactions with Peace Corps staff – he was very receptive, and it was nice to feel that someone cared. At the end he shook my hand and thanked me for my service and I said how rare it was to hear that here!

There was time both at lunch and between the sessions and dinner for a walk, and since the weather was mild thanks to the coastal breeze (I don’t know if it’s hotter back in Azrou now than it was before I left, or whether it just feels that way) it was great to be outside. I went to the aforementioned beauty-products pharmacie and the other store and also to Label Vie, a supermarket, where I bought spring-roll wrappers and other things I can’t get in my site. We also played some cards every night up on the roof terrace.

On Monday night, we all went to the Country Director’s house. This time I knew what to expect – museum-quality artisanal decorations in every room, Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza and Breyer’s and Edy’s ice cream, and Barbra Streisand on the flat-screen TV, but it was fun watching the new wardens and alternates marvel the way we all marveled last year. He is retiring and a new CD (another acronym!) is starting in September, so this was his last reception. I had a great time.

Tuesday’s sessions started with a briefing from the Deputy Regional Safety Officer at the US Embassy. He talked about his duties in protecting Americans in the country and about the current situation in Morocco. We then had a surprise test – not a quiz, but an exercise in which we had to call all of the people in our warden group and confirm contact. Most of them were easily reachable, but when others were hard to get, my competitive nature flared as I saw other wardens having better luck. It wasn’t really a competition but making it one made it more fun. One of the people I called had her headphones on so had to be called several times, one was in a meeting, and two were traveling – with Peace Corps knowledge – in places without cell phone reception. Still, it was a relief that night when the last person called back and we had reached 100 percent.

In the afternoon, we had a mini-VSN training session – I had suggested it, thinking that the wardens could be an additional source of support to their groups, but also that in a time of crisis some people might just need to talk and be listened to. I then led a session on the harassment survey, briefly talking about the results and then breaking up into small groups to come up with prevention strategies, which weren’t asked for on the survey but were asked for by the CD – we’ll add those and the coping strategies from the survey and an IST session to the next Safety and Security Manual.

Going with the flow led most of the people in the group to TGIFriday’s for dinner – we walked there and back, too. I have always thought it would be nice to walk to or from the Peace Corps office one day, and if I never do, this was the moral equivalent, since the restaurant is nearby. Now I have a better sense of Rabat, too. I had a Caesar salad and shared appetizers of buffalo wings and potato skins – again, it was more fun to watch people who hadn’t had this kind of food in a while enjoy it than it was for me to actually eat it (though it was tasty). The football player wasn’t there, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him again. Among the vintage records on the wall was one from Barbra Streisand, and I pointed it out to those who had heard of her only the day before (feel old now?).

On Wednesday morning I went to the medina, first enjoying the Andalusian Garden and the Casbah des Oudayas with its ocean view, and then purchasing “the most beautiful rug in the world” TM (not really trademarked that’s how I refer to it). It's all hand-knotted and is probably finer than anything else I have. I felt rushed though in order to make the 1:15 train – glad I will be going to Rabat a few more times!

I’m up late writing this because I’m going away again tomorrow (or even though) – to Safi, where I will either get more pottery or forever hold my peace. It’ll be another long travel day, starting early again; it’s about an hour south of Oualidia. I felt I had plenty of time there last week and hope to feel the same this week. I’m only going as far back as Casablanca, which is what makes the trip somewhat reasonable – the Foreign Service Officer Test is Monday. I’m staying in Casablanca until Tuesday, and when I return, Jong is going to spend a couple of vacation days here. I told her it’s not vacation for me and that I still have to work, but it may mean that I don’t write again until later in the week.

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