Saturday, August 23, 2008


Ibn Battouta was an Islamic scholar in the 1300s, but he is best known for his travels. When he did the pilgrimage to Mecca, he walked – from Tangier. Then he continued to walk, covering North and East Africa and the Middle East and eventually getting to China – over 75,000 miles in 30 years. When I told Abdou where I was going, he said I was like Ibn Battouta – so I decided to call myself Shereen Battouta.

Linda came from Khenifra on Friday night – in an unpublicized change to the out-of-site policy, if you can get to a destination on Friday night between the end of the workday (however that is defined) and sundown, you may leave your site early. Had I known about this I might have suggested we go to Fes, so we wouldn’t have to wake up at 5:30 to take a taxi to get to the 8:00 am CTM, but I didn’t know – and as it was, I had planned a use-up-the-vegetables rice dinner and use-up-the-fruit smoothies. I may have an opportunity to take advantage of that rule between now and the end of Daylight Savings Time, but I may not. So we woke up early and made our way to the bus. CTM is a good way to go – assigned seats, air conditioning (most of the time), comfortable. I read more of “Where there is no Doctor” and we crocheted – turns out I had been doing it wrong with Jessica and Jong, and now it is more fun, so maybe I will crochet more. Going past the border between formerly-French Morocco and formerly-Spanish Morocco, through Chefchouan and to Tetouan, I felt wistful - I realized that I didn’t necessarily think I would be back this way. We made a quick trip to the Tetouan artisana, which fortunately was open – my pocketbook zipper had given way, as all zippers in Morocco seem to do, and I bought a new one from the leather cooperative there.

It was a short taxi ride to Mdiq, a combination fishing port and (relatively) swanky resort on the Mediterranean. I hadn’t reserved a hotel room – there had been plenty of rooms in Saadia, and the place I had reserved there didn’t have our reservation – but in Mdiq there were fewer options and most of the hotels were full. We lugged our bags around, not saying anything – I give Linda a lot of credit for that – and finally found a nice room with a sea view. Off to the beach! Warm water, calm enough for a swim – with ropes and buoys to keep the pleasure boats (yes, there were some here) away from the swimmers. Linda’s done triathlons too, and we swam out to the rope and then took a long seashell-filled walk. At night we did the promenade – or maybe I should say paseo – along with everyone else, had a seafood dinner with a view and a shared glass of wine, and we watched the line of fishing boats go out to sea at sunset. We watched some of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies – with Spanish commentary – but could stay awake no longer. A lovely, relaxing afternoon and evening! Yes, a beach is just a beach, and that’s why I didn’t go much last summer, but I love the beach – it’s a nice place to go. In the morning, we went for an early swim, had breakfast with a view, and parted ways, she going back to Fes and eventually home and I on to Rabat. I had such a nice time that while I was there I started to wonder whether I could go back yet again – but the ride to Rabat was long and hot (so much for CTM being mostly air-conditioned and comfortable – at least they run more or less on time) and I concluded that that was that. There may be another pool day in Fes in my near future, and I may still try for Oualidia again, but I think that was my Mediterranean farewell. I did start thinking, though, about return trips to Morocco in the future – there are so many places to go in the world, and even though Morocco is relatively easy to get to and not too expensive once you get here, it’s not exactly next door. Still, I have to believe I will be back. I can’t imagine not returning – but I also know that it won’t be the same, and that time has a way of flying by.

COS conference warrants its own post – or two – and then I have my post-conference trip to discuss – so here I’ll talk about before and after.

I went out to Ain Leuh on the afternoon of my last blog post – and it was as though I was speaking another language (and it’s not just because I was speaking another language; I had Jackie’s tutor join us so I could write down exactly what they said). I had a series of questions from Aid to Artisans about how things have changed as a result of their grant. How have sales improved? They could not give me numbers. They told me what else they needed – eye exams and glasses. Part of the grant money went to the new space with the horizontal looms, so more women could work at the cooperative; they told me how hard it was to control the quality of the weavers who work out of their homes. I was able to write positive answers to Aid to Artisans, but not because of anything said in our interview. And these women are so nice – I wasn’t expecting complaining. I guess they took this as an opportunity to say what they would do with more money as opposed to the chance to say how much their lives have improved because of the money they have already received. I usually enjoy my trips to Ain Leuh, and everyone who goes out there with me feels depressed that they don’t have the great work situation that the Ain Leuh volunteers have, but this was deflating.

Brian came from Midelt on Wednesday to scope out the space for the Azrou weaving cooperative’s sign. I am glad we got approval to go ahead with this. It shouldn’t have been a big deal – I wonder what the Moroccan equivalent of “making a federal case out of something” is. We went to the tuna sandwich place for lunch – I feel the need to get more tuna and go to cafes as often as I can next week, since Ramadan begins right after that – and then, declaring work done for the day, we played some cards and reprised Mexican night for dinner. Brian recently had a visit from his predecessor, who had ETed last year before site visit, so they had not yet met, and he had some stories to tell – a reminder that when I think about visiting I also have to think about my successor and/or any future PCVs here. I still hear a lot about Lee!

Jong left on Thursday – leaving me alone for the first time since July 20, but only because Janeila was supposed to come and cancelled at the last minute (she had started weaving something and really got into it). I did some work on harassment – I had delegated the compilation of coping and prevention strategies for the new Safety and Security handbook to Kathy; she finished it up and I sent it off to staff and to the Harassment Working Group – and did some other catching up and reorganizing. I have said for a while that COS conference would mark the beginning of finishing up, and I tried to work on developing that mindset.

Friday was jarring, making the mindset shift either easier or harder. I was told there would be a craft fair in Azrou – exactly the week that I would be away! What a missed opportunity – not that I would have changed my plans had I had any notice. And the weavers moved back into their old showroom – right after we had scoped out the space for the sign! Not that we can’t still do it. My counterpart thinks the new construction (which was supposed to start in July) will start in September. The main showroom now closes on Fridays. All of these changes! Too much! So I went home and picked out some holiday photo candidates and waited for Linda.

Being back yesterday was like night and day, though – the stress I was feeling just before the trip was gone (ah, the value of vacation!). There’s a new building being constructed near the sunset view by the rock, and everything was torn up while I was away – meanwhile, the parks building that has been almost finished for months is not open, and the museum near the artisana is still a building shell. The craft fair ended Thursday; oh well. Ran into the rock carver and asked how it went. He never says anything but, “shwiya,” a little, either because that’s how he always does or because he doesn’t want to tempt the evil eye by saying he did well. Talked to my counterpart and now the artisana construction may start in October. So I feel I didn’t miss anything. And I feel more relaxed and somehow more confident about my ability to finish what I can and leave things in good shape. Maybe COS conference did give me some closure. I squeegeed my floors and hand-washed my laundry (a rare day of doing both – usually I save those for separate days) and went to the post office – good to get back to a routine. I had been thinking about having a Magnum bar all week (much to my surprise, most of my trip was spent in Magnum-less towns) but I rarely have them at my site (I think of them as travel treats) and I didn’t even think about having one yesterday – instead, on my mind was the Lemon Tang waiting in my refrigerator (I might have the ice cream today though now that I am thinking about it). I did some work-related emails and sent off a few quick contributions to Peace Works and then went back out for a walk and a visit to Abdou’s. It was so nice to see him! We had some rayb (a kind of pre-yogurt – I would like to learn to make that!) and watched some of the Olympics. When I was there two weeks ago I thought I had seen the kittens for the last time, but they were still there. It was a nice visit.

Today I’m alone again! I will see Janeila and Jong in Fes tomorrow and then Jong will come back with me, perhaps for the rest of the week. I’m catching up on my calendar and writing about my trip and organizing photos; I’ll go out for vegetables and fruits (and maybe a Magnum?) and possibly see Kathy and probably visit Abdou and do an exercise walk. I needed a sheet over me last night – it seemed as hot during the day as it did in the south, but was good sleeping weather. I also want to point out Kantara Crafts, The founder, Alia, stayed with me this past winter. She’s one of the few strangers I have put up - I had told her to stay in a hotel but after I met her I thought she was really nice and decided to invite her to stay with me. I’m glad she did – she was a good guest, with DVDs of “Planet Earth” to watch every night and several leads and ideas. She had applied for an entrepreneurship grant from Oberlin so that she could start a Moroccan rug importing business – she got the grant, started the business and will be back this fall. Several of the photographs are from Ain Leuh. One of my sister’s suggestions is that I start an importing business – I’m not sure I would want to, but seeing both Alia and Susan Schaefer Davis does make me think it’s possible (and would provide a reason to return). Maybe on the side? I like another idea of my sister’s better – being a tour guide. These are both good out-of-the-box ideas… I guess I have trouble picturing myself doing anything but clocking in and out of an office. If I allow myself to dream, I can go as far as being a consultant and setting my own hours.... A nudge further and I can fantasize about being a writer…. I thought it was possible that I would have an epiphany here and figure out what to do when I grow up – that hasn’t quite happened, but I do think this has been a good career move, and definitely a good lifestyle move!

P.S. We walked all over the medina and down the hill - many of the hanuts have retired their freezers for the season! At least wait until the end of August or the beginning of Ramadan (which this year are the same)! Finally, as I was about to despair, I found what might be the one place in Azrou that still has Magnum bars!

Oh, Magnum bars... hanut owners will sell ice cream until it is out of stock. Thus, June with plentiful Magnum bars turns into late August with just a few icky 1-2 dm not-really-ice-cream cups. The seasonality of things makes them easier to appreciate... not a lot of good fruit in season right now, but pretty soon - mandarins! Peaches and cherries are good for a few weeks, then the memory must suffice until next year. Same with Magnum bars...
Well, I knew the season was going to end, but I thought a had a week...wasn't ready to say goodbye to Magnums just yet. Now that I know the situation (one stand that still has of yesterday) I am more mentally prepared...and yes, looking forward to both mandarins and pomegranates!!!
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