Monday, September 29, 2008
Is this the longest I have gone without leaving Azrou? I remember Katie and Jen both saying last year that towards the end they didn’t want to travel anymore; they just wanted to stay in their sites. I find myself feeling kind of the same way, although I do have a list of weekend and day trips that I want to make before I leave. But between Ramadan and two weekends with some involvement with the new trainees and having a gathering this weekend, I had both motive and opportunity to stay at home.
And work to do as well. On Monday I decided that I would write a COS Site Survey and a Final Site Report for Ain Leuh. They’re not complete – after all, I have been there only once or twice a week for only six months, and have never lived there, but I have done a lot of work, and I thought it would be good to update staff and the (likely) new volunteer on everything I’ve done since the previous volunteer med-sepped, and I thought why not use the same formats, and I had something to write to fill in almost every blank. I also went out to Ain Leuh, where I met with the artisans and the Al Akhawayn exchange students. The web site they are building is going to be nice!
I then went to Youssef’s family’s for lftur. I felt I hit the jackpot – for the second night in a row (the previous one was at my host family’s) we watched Tom and Jerry! I thought I had seen them all in homestay but these seemed to be ones I have not seen (I saw Tom and Jerry again today at Abdou’s; was feeling a little frazzled and after a few cartoons felt refreshed). But the real jackpot was that two of Youssef’s brothers were there and it was nice to see them. I somehow failed to properly count to seven – I thought the baby party would be Monday, but it was Sunday, so I missed it. One of the brothers is the father of the baby (who is in the military and is almost always away) – he is an interesting conversationalist (I understand most of what he says in Arabic, though he switches to English when he is talking to me), and so sweet with his children that it is a joy to watch. The other brother I hadn’t met before, but his smile and demeanor reminded me of Youssef’s, and it was delightful to spend time with him and his new bride. I was so happy that I went back there for lftur the next day too!
I spent most of Tuesday at home, though I did go out three separate times. With the block of time that eluded me for what seemed to be a week and a half, I reviewed all of my monthly and quarterly reports to make sure that I didn’t leave anything out of my DOS (Description of Service). It was very interesting to read all of the reports – they clearly document the confusion and frustration I had early on, as I had conflicting signals from my counterpart and program staff and not enough direction from either, language limitations and tutoring woes, the challenges of finding a place, furnishing it and getting DSL, and finally getting some direction but still having issues with staff. It isn’t in the reports but I remember well the feeling of being unproductive last summer through Ramadan (and remembering that helped me manage it so much better this year). Everyone had said the second year would go quickly and it has – worked picked up, as did my mood, and it has been a great year. Even in the early months though, I had some successes, and though I remember having one moment – just one - where I wondered what I was doing here, I never really had any doubts or long periods of being down. And I always have had a lot to do. I did find a few things to add to my DOS (for example, somehow I had blocked out the sewing cooperative that ceased to exist, but not before I had done some work with them), but even if I hadn’t, it was good to go through the reports and reflect.
Wednesday I was home most of the day, working on the reports but also on price/size information to give to the students for the Ain Leuh web site and on the GAD presentation that the first-year SBD GAD member (and poster of the chick pea tagine recipe) and I will give next week. I also went to lftur at the home of my first tutor. I haven’t seen him much and it was nice of him to invite me, but he said a couple of things (such as asking for my furniture) that reminded me why I was uncomfortable with him (and I had already been reminded by the monthly reports, so that was unfortunate). On the other hand, he lives up a hill and we dined outside and had a beautiful view of the sunset and the city below and mountains beyond (Middle Atlas sunsets are wonderful - I try to see as many as I can), he has a lovely wife and adorable baby, and he told me some history of Azrou. The neighborhood where Youssef’s family lives is the oldest part of Azrou, an old Berber community. The nearby old medina was settled by a tribe of Arabs from the south (between Errachidia and Tinjdad), and the homes in the medina resemble homes there and have secret passages through to other entrances. I thought the Berbers in this area were all Beni MGuild (known for weaving) but they are just in the mountains, and the valley area is settled by a different tribe. The lower flat area of town, where my host family lives, was full of almond trees.
Thursday morning, Kathy and I went for a hike, and just when Ramadan seemed as though it would never end, all of a sudden there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The hike was such a treat – I have wanted to hike so much more but time and temperature and travel and – well, at least I have hiked some, and now that it is fall-like, I think we will hike more (no fall foliage though – the trees are evergreens). Fall-like? I know that when it was so hot this summer it was hard to remember how cold it could get. And with amazing lightning and thunder and torrential downpours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, fall arrived and it is downright chilly. I had told the trainees to bring something warm to wear to their CBT sites and I am sure they found it hard to believe me, and now I am sure they are wishing they had packed more warm stuff. In one short week I have gone from sleeping over the covers to sleeping under the covers to wearing socks and extra layers to slightly shivering when I’m in my house. Remember I gave back my space heater (at COS conference I learned I didn’t have to, but I did it early, not wanting to figure out how to get it to Rabat. But I purposely didn’t turn it on until after last year’s volunteers COSed, just to make sure I could tolerate it). I am looking forward to hammaming – after Ramadan, when I can stay hydrated as I steam up. Ditto running.
After the hike I did a bunch of things – visit the Artisana, wish Abdou a happy birthday, bake for the weekend, have lftur with my host family, pack the rest of the ceramics that I’m sending home. I had brought out the Safi bowls and plates only for special occasions, but I had used the Fes mugs almost every day, and I miss them. Most of the things I’ve packed I’m not using, so it’s not traumatic. Or maybe it is – I’m not sleeping well. Last week I learned of the death of a classmate – we’re still too young – and also noted that it was the 20th anniversary of my father’s death. Twenty years doesn’t keep me from welling up at times when I think about him (or my mother, who passed away even longer ago, at Thanksgiving). I also ordered birthday presents for my sister and niece and felt a little disconnected. They tell you in the books that the reverse culture shock when you return can be worse than the culture shock, and I have known to anticipate it, but knowing it doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult, and while ordering the presents (I usually have an inspiration on what to get my nieces but nothing came to me – she had a desire though so it worked out; I always get the same thing for my sister) I thought about how much of my family and friends’ lives I’ve missed – as they say in the book, they will have gone on with two years of their lives while I’ve been in the Peace Corps! It’s remarkable how much I’ve kept in touch – email, having visitors, going back to the states twice, etc. have made that easier (I even had a long ichat with Elisa in the afternoon after the hike), but I’ve still been away and I’m a little anxious about returning.
Friday I worked on my last quarterly report – again, to make sure I included everything in my DOS, but also because my counterpart sends it to his boss. I think everyone in my stage stopped doing quarterly reports when the Program Manager left if not before - her replacement never asked for them – but, counterpart aside, I find them useful for myself. That took most of the day! Then I continued the tradition of Friday lftur at my own house with some falafel and shopped, baked and prepped for the weekend.
Several PCVs came for the second annual Ramadan Games Weekend. Last year I invented it because I had always told the six-pack of nearby environment volunteers they were welcome but had never actually invited them over. They seemed so new at the time, just out of homestay, and a year has flown by for them too. I also invited the first-year SBDs in the area and welcomed anyone who could come for the day – some of the first-year environment volunteers came too, and a good time was had by all. Different sets of people came each day, though some came for both. Scrabble, Boggle, Piffle and Rummy were among the games; we also talked a lot too, and it was relaxing and fun. Went to lftur at Youssef’s family – his brothers were gone but his sister was there; she and her family moved to Meknes but come back for weekends, and it is fun to watch the cousins play.
Relaxing and fun until last night, when I clicked onto itunes and found it empty – I don’t know what happened (other people used my computer; could they have wiped out my itunes library? Did I?) but it was a reminder of how fragile emotions are here – you can feel positive and happy and then all of a sudden stressed and troubled, without the support system we have at home. I guess computer problems make me feel vulnerable anyway; I was able to find my music and re-download all of my podcasts, but once again I didn’t sleep well, and I feel a little frazzled today (or did until I saw Abdou and Tom and Jerry). Went out to Ain Leuh this morning feeling unprepared, since I lost yesterday evening. Turned out I WAS unprepared – for the post office (I had forgotten my customs forms, but they had some there) - but was prepared for the artisans, so it all worked out. Abdou’s father had invited me for lftur one day last week and I had plans at the time but suggested today. He reminded me of that, and though I mentioned my computer problems and told them I might skip lftur to spend some time organizing myself, I realized that sounded un-Moroccan and went anyway, and I’m glad I did.
Another reason I thought I might skip lftur is that the White Sox game was scheduled to start at six pm my time – game #162, and if they win, they force a one-game playoff. When I got back from lftur, it turned out that the game hadn’t started – rain delay! So I am all the more glad that I went. I’m listening to the game now. It might be a late night. It really isn’t 27 months without baseball…though it is still hard to believe that yesterday was the last game ever at Shea. I’ve also been wondering what must-see movies I have missed while away.
I just found a great map - http://www.maplandia.com/morocco/centre-sud/ifrane/ - I wish I had found this when I first got here! See the area, with its mountains, forests, meadows, villages, watercourses and more!
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Fat bread is called that because fat is a major ingredient – I like to think of it as filled bread, and in fact you can make it without the fat (Abdou’s family does). I’m trying to think of what you would use if you made it in the states – Crisco? Maybe Crisco is one of those things you don’t want to think too much about either. My host mother in Timhadite made great fat bread, and I remember Katie saying, “if you knew how it was made...” Then I watched my Azrou host mother make it, and she used sheets and globs of fat – I guess wool isn’t the only thing that keeps a sheep warm – and then I couldn’t eat it for a while. But I’m embracing my last Ramadan here, and Youssef’s family makes great fat bread, so I asked them to show me how to make it.
I followed as closely as I could, but of course they do things so easily that they don’t measure, and in such bulk that it’s hard to translate into an amount that I might actually make, but I do think I want to try to make it (perhaps without the fat). I think I can do it, too – it just may require some experimentation. And since you might want to make it as well, here’s a summary of my notes:
FAT (or FILLED) BREAD
Filling proportions for one:
One carrot, grated
One onion, diced
Parsley – hm, let’s say a tablespoon – or more – they use a lot here
Spices – hm, how does 1/4 tsp of each of these sound? – salt, pepper, paprika; can put in cayenne pepper, cumin if you like, a little turmeric for color
Fat: Youssef’s family used pellets, which seemed innocuous compared to the sheets/globs – maybe the same amount as the carrot and the onion by volume – or maybe twice as much; hard to tell
A little oil to mix everything up
Set aside while you make bread.
Bread (unfilled, it is called millwi when fried in a skillet. You can also use the same dough to make Moroccan bread in the oven):
Flour – they use a yellowish, more coarse flour here for bread, as opposed to the white flour I use here for whatever I make – I will try to find out the difference!
Yeast – a little bit (there was just no way to gauge the measurement here so find a bread recipe somewhere – I should also point out that I don’t even think about it anymore, but I am at high altitude – I used to look at the high-altitude directions on packages and wonder what it was like…now I wonder what kind of adjustments I may have to make when I get back!).
Hot water – enough to make the dough. Again, there must be a basic recipe somewhere.
Knead, knead, knead. You don’t have to wait for it to rise. Add more water while kneading to keep it to your desired consistency – that is, pliable. After a lot of kneading, add a little salt.
Make the bread into snowball-sized balls and cover with a little oil (what, you say they come in different sizes? All right, Hostess Sno Ball-sized balls then). I should add that the terra cotta bread-and-couscous-mixing bowls – basically the shape of a tagine bottom but bigger – make a lot of sense; things stay confined within the bowl as you mix and knead. I may have to get one.
Take a ball of dough and flatten it. Fold the top third down, add a little oil, fold the bottom third up, add a little oil, put the filling on top of what you have 2/3 of the way, fold the left third in and pinch the sides so filling doesn’t come out, fold the rest over and pinch so filling doesn’t come out (it will now look like a square), flatten the whole thing again (it will be almost the same size as the original flattened ball but will be square and filled), and put it onto a hot oiled skillet over medium heat, flipping after a few minutes until it is browned on both sides.
I watched Youssef’s mother make a stack of pieces, mesmerized by the assembly-line ease with which she does it, so maybe that’s why it seems simple. It’s really good though, so it’s worth the experimentation it might take. And now I’m tempted to ask for a harira cooking lesson – it’s tasty soup; Joy wanted to learn when she was here, and some of the other volunteers want to learn it, so maybe I should too. I was in Ain Leuh Thursday morning, mailing packages and photographing the women weaving, and then went straight to the cooking lesson; I then had a bit of downtime at home and went back for lftur. Just as I was getting up to leave, another wave of food came – a huge dish of zmeta and a big plate of cookies and another round of tea, to celebrate the new baby. I thought that the seventh day was the only day to celebrate – turns out that visitors come all week and have zmeta and cookies prior to the big celebration (I had forgotten that zmeta is for baby celebrations as well as being a lftur staple).
I had been asked to come to YD on Friday to offer a PCV perspective to homestay orientation – but when I got there, they had already done it! There were some other PCVs there for training, including the person who had been my “name tag” in Philadelphia (we were given someone else’s name so that we would mingle and meet – he arrived very late, so I sat for most of the day without making that connection! He was coming from Chicago, too, which made me glad I had left there several days prior), so I hung out with them for a bit, feeling kind of decadent. I was asked to talk about CBT orientation for SBD on Saturday morning but that too had been covered early! That’s okay; I’m flexible. On the way back from the YD training site, I stopped by Abdou’s – good timing, because it then started to rain, and I waited out the storm while sitting with him. I asked about the Hajj and if he wants to go. He said you have to if you can afford it, but that first his father would go. He estimated that maybe three million people from Morocco (out of a population of 30 million) have gone, and that it costs maybe 30,000 dirhams to go for two weeks.
The new Country Director was in Azrou to check on training, and I invited him to see the Artisana. He took me up on it, and on Saturday morning he and his wife and baby and I went there. I talked about my work and introduced them to the artisans – it was raining, so we never got to the rock-carver/Abdou part of the medina; I had told them we would try to stop by but it was early for both of them to be up anyway. I like him – he seems interested in meeting volunteers and in finding ways to support them. Here’s a picture of us with the baby and one of my artisans – contrast that with the November 26, 2007 entry – a different occasion, obviously – the former Country Director is on the far right. Then I spent almost all day at the Auberge, where I offered a PCV perspective on cultural faux pas and on homestay orientation. The group has been divided into two Tamazight and three Darija groups (so I already know that some of the people I took a shine to will not be in Azrou or in Ain Leuh – but there are enough others that I liked in the Darija groups). I think it was helpful to have me there, though I am sure the PCTs are already eager to meet other PCVs and hear other perspectives – I know I was. I think the conversations I’ve had with them outside the formal sessions have been as or more meaningful to them than the ones in them – they want to know what it’s really like, and they have been asking good questions. I found out that our COS flip charts were not on the walls when they were at the Chellah those first few days – so they didn’t get to see them. PST has been shortened by a week due to budget cuts, so they are not going to get that night-before-swearing-in Thanksgiving dinner that was such a nice experience for us. They’re also not having a mock wedding – I didn’t make the most of ours because it was the day before language tests and I was worried, but it was still one of the more memorable parts of our training. I asked the Administrative Officer about the budget cuts and she said that this year’s group size was not cut (though it is smaller than last year’s) but that next year’s will be (though since this is a ten percent overfill post they may end up with the same number of volunteers – or as she called it, Training Inputs), and PST will be shortened by yet another week – meaning that the Training Design and Evaluation process really has to help streamline things.
One of the CBT groups is learning Tamazight but is in a site where there aren’t really any artisans. So they’re going to come into Azrou twice a week to work with the weaving cooperative at the Artisana. Some of those women speak Tamazight, so it should be a good if somewhat inconvenient experience for them. I prepared Tariq for the fact that the women will probably say I don’t know anything and haven’t done anything for them, and detailed my history with them and the pros and cons of working with them. I suggested the rock-carver as an alternative since he is more motivated, but everyone else is working with a group of women weavers and this way they can compare and contrast their different experiences, so I think it will be okay. I’m going to meet with Tariq and my counterpart and maybe the women in the morning. I also offered to be available for the Ain Leuh group or to stay out of the way! I’ll be going out there tomorrow afternoon to meet with the WPI/Al Akhawayn students – normally I would say when it rains it pours, but I then have to mention that not only was there that thunderstorm on Friday but it also poured last night (after a spectacular lightning show) and tonight!
Today I had volunteers come and go – six in all. It was fun to have them over, but I also felt the need to get some things done for myself, since I’d spent more time with the trainees this week than I’d mentally budgeted for, and while I went out a couple of times, I spent too much time inside. I packed another box – I really hope that wrapping the ceramics in ponge foam will get them home intact! – and went through my clothes to decide what to send home (most of the Moroccan clothes) and what to give away – I’ve given clothes away periodically and am not quite ready to put/give away the summer clothes and definitely not ready to say I won’t wear the winter clothes before I leave, so I’ll go through them again at least one more time. I brought some things because I liked them and knew I wouldn’t mind wearing them often for over two years, and others knowing they would last two years and not come home with me – so far the ones I liked I still like and they may go in my suitcase to be worn until I get settled somewhere and either pull my stuff out of storage or shop for more, and the ones I thought I would give away when I left are all in the giveaway pile! It is going to take time to adjust to anything higher than a mid-calf skirt length again (if I ever do). And are you going to tell me that in the U.S. they don’t regularly wear pants under skirts?
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The Cubs had a no-hitter Sunday night; the White Sox one last April. In the case of the case of the Sox, it was a pitcher who had the stuff and a good time of year for it. For the Cubs, again it was again pitcher who you knew was capable and a scenario in which I might have attended – an Astros game relocated to Miller Park in Milwaukee because of the hurricane. I went to a Marlins-Expos (yes, Virginia, there used to be a team called the Expos – some day I will tell my nieces I saw them play the Mets, but I digress) game that was relocated to Chicago for the same reason, so I like those things. It would have involved renting a car (or going with the person with whom I went to the Marlins-Expos game) but let’s say I might have gone. I’ve always dreamed of seeing a no-hitter. It was a night game, so I wasn’t listening to my mlb.com feed. In my almost-27 months without baseball I have been able to follow more than I thought, but less than I would have, and I have felt ready to put it in a different perspective and maybe not have it be such a central part of my life when I got back. But seeing the news of the no-hitter has caused a swirl of emotion (processing and reflection in order!). Not only that, but it’s the middle of September and the Cubs, White Sox and Mets are all in first place. In a former life I’d have started to turn down other social activities to go to or watch more games. Will I in a future life?
Part of the swirl of emotions can be attributed to seeing the news that Merrill Lynch was sold (and Lehman going into bankruptcy, but my assets are all with Merrill, so it’s more personal there). And every day when I look at the headlines there’s more – now AIG. What is going on with the economy? The news in general just gets worse – switching my internet home page to nytimes.com has been a good thing in that I feel more informed, but a bad thing in that I feel more distressed (never mind that fact that I have to come home and look for a job in this economy – just reading the news is alarming). I voted last week – not that Illinois is a battleground state, but I feel it’s still important to vote – but the more I read or hear about the campaign the more upset I feel there too. What is going on with the American electorate? I’ll know before I come back who the next president and vice president are going to be but am I so sure I want to come back? Honestly, there are days when I feel that if I didn’t have so many friends at home whose lives I feel a part of (not to mention my family, although they are planning the next See the World trips without me; I feel really sad about that…more processing to do), I think I would be pursuing international opportunities much more aggressively. And then there was that no-hitter….
Remember when I said I had wanted to go to lfutr every day? Last Tuesday I visited my host family, Wednesday I went to the rock-carver’s, and Thursday it was back to my host family – with the extended family (his mother and brother and her sister, brother-in-law and nephews, plus Lalla, who lives there but was elsewhere when I was there before). I made a msukta – with chocolate powder in half the batter – and my host mother turned it what I would consider upside-down, but she considered the way I had it (flipped-over from bundt pan) upside-down. Only four-year-old Mouad ate it – the more traditional food went instead (pictured here are shebekia, the honey-coated curly strips of fried dough, dates, fat bread, smoothies, hard-boiled eggs, zmeta, the sesame-seed concoction that I thought I wanted to learn to make until I heard how time-consuming it was, and the upside-down two-toned mskuta). Add the harira (the chick-pea soup) and coffee or tea and even if you eat a little you feel very full. That’s the point, of course, but I started to wonder how I could do it every day – this was only ten days in! Kathy came to the rescue, suggesting that we take a break and make pizza for lftur, which we did on Friday and Saturday. Normally I feel full from that, but I was not as full as lftur full! I was back at it on Sunday, going to Youssef’s family; his sister-in-law was in the hospital, so in seven days there will a sbu3, the baby party!
I’ve been working on the COS documents while at home – there’s a COS Site Survey, which is basically everything the next volunteer will need to know about Azrou (mine’s ten pages long) – last week we were asked to add some pictures to it, so I spent some time selecting those; one day I want to do another photography walk so I can make sure to capture more memories. The DOS is the Description of Service, the only document that Peace Corps keeps on file – there’s a set template for it and everything has to be written in third person. I have most of it written but keep thinking of other things that I’ve done, so am not ready to hand it in just yet. Last week we got the format for the Final Site Report, which is focused more on solely the technical aspect of the work here; I had to let the format sit for a couple of days but now have about a third of it done.
But I haven’t been home much! On Friday I went down to the Auberge to give an orientation to Azrou to the new trainees. They seem to have impressive backgrounds and great attitudes and asked some good questions. Were we like that? So long ago! And I was invited to do more trainings – spent almost all day yesterday for Gender and PACA (I had wanted to do those last year – timing may not be everything; proximity helps as well) and an introduction to the CBT sites on Saturday morning at 9 am (which brings to mind Katie’s adage, “be careful what you wish for;” that’s early for me to be up and out and all the way down the hill!). Kathy and I were planning a Sunday morning hike anyway and were asked to take some trainees; about a dozen joined us for a great hike up into the forest above the town. I had already volunteered to take a group to the artisana and through the medina on Sunday afternoon – so Sunday ended up being full, but I felt in my element. Monday (after reading about the no-hitter and the economy) I brought packages to the Ain Leuh post office to mail but their scale was broken so they couldn’t weigh anything – a visit with the cooperative women calmed me down. And just when I thought I was calm my day was thrown off again by a call from the YD program chair, asking me to sit in on their Gender and PACA presentation and talk a little about the GAD committee (did I mention that both SBD and YD were training in Azrou? Probably. Twenty-nine PCTs each…). I was happy to do it but it was a reminder that while I have become more flexible thanks to being here, I still like some advance notice. They asked me to come back on Friday and contribute PCV perspective to the homestay orientation talk. The trainees leave for CBT on Sunday, and maybe next week will be quieter. I hope so – sent in the COS Site Survey but the other reports are due on October 1, plus I want to do a quarterly report for my counterpart!
Tuesday was a day the likes of which I haven’t had in a while. First I went to the post office – I’d been waiting for a package from the Peace Corps office for weeks, and there had never been a slip in my box. Last week I asked the clerks if there was anything for me and they said no. So I asked Peace Corps if they had sent it, and they tracked it and said that it had been waiting there since the beginning of September. So I went with the tracking number and they gave me the package, just like that. Kathy had two packages of medical supplies sent back to Rabat because she didn’t pick them up within fifteen days – because she never had a slip in her box. I have had postal problems almost from the beginning – several packages that I know were sent that didn’t get to me and I feel broken-hearted when I think about all the cards and letters I wrote that didn’t get to you. But it took me a while to realize that it’s this post office, not the whole system, which is at fault. It makes me feel better now that I have found Ain Leuh, but there will always be an emptiness for the packages and mail that never got to their intended destinations.
Then I saw Elizabeth, who came into town with some postal boxes for me to pack (oh yeah, my post office has been out of boxes, too). Went with her to the Artisana, where one of the current YDs who had been at the Gender and PACA presentation wanted a tour, so I showed her around. I brought her to Abdou’s, where I met Kathy, and we talked for a while – and then Linda came into town, on her way back from doing VSN training (it wasn’t so long ago that she was being trained, at my house! Or maybe it was long ago…it was cold then). Then Elizabeth wanted to talk to me some more, and then Ned, who was going to do PACA with me, came into town so I met him at the bus station and pointed him to the Auberge. All of this visiting without the cafes being open! Then I had lftur at Abdou’s.
Yesterday I was at the Auberge most of the day, planning the presentation with Ned, giving it, and staying for lftur. One of the victories of the GAD committee is that for both SBD and YD, the gender approach to development was presented along with PACA – in our training it was in the middle of PST, not connected to other things, but to present it from the beginning and have people take gender into account throughout makes sense. PACA, you may recall (you don’t recall?) is Participatory Analysis for Community Action, and the four tools we use in Morocco are community mapping, daily activities, seasonal calendar and needs assessment/priority matrix. We did a sample of each and then divided the trainees into five small groups – 22/23-year-old women, late 20s women, over-30 women, 22-year-old men, and older men (all of whom were in their 20s…). They practiced each tool and then presented – you could see how their maps of Azrou and daily and seasonal activities were different by gender and age. We were running out of time so we did the needs assessment as a group, using the Auberge as our example. Katie’s group asked for wi-fi – which the owner then put in – and I remember our group asking for comfortable chairs and more clothespins – which again were put in – so maybe this group will have some of its needs met too (though probably not the swimming pool). I still feel the scars from the over-40 group two years ago, when some personality conflict came out. This group seemed to be having fun with it (something different from just a lecture!) and in general seems really positive and enthusiastic. After lftur they played charades, YD vs. SBD, and it was fun to watch (and to participate in a bit too).
I read that Peace Corps evacuated from Bolivia this week – unrest there seems to have escalated in a hurry. That makes at least the third country this year to be evacuated (but they also opened some new ones). And a couple of people pointed me to a Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times article about budget cutbacks in the Peace Corps – over 400 positions cut; that is, volunteers who were nominated are finding their invitations delayed until next year or their programs full. My response was that it’s not so much a budget cutback as a weak dollar and the same budget – we’ve had cutbacks in Morocco as well (though not in the number of volunteers – or did we?). Still, both of these make me feel lucky once again about my timing and my placement.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Wow – 24 down and three to go – amazing. Actually, two and a half – but I don’t want to count weeks or days. The new trainees arrived in Azrou today (two years to the day from when I arrived in-country! The first-years are also marveling at being at the year mark) and I gave an orientation talk. I remember well parts of Lee’s talk – he was the first actual volunteer we met! – and I hope I made as much of an impression on someone as he did on me. The quarter began with my participation in a Training Design and Evaulation workshop, and it will end with the beginning of the training that the workshop was meant to impact!
Last summer I felt relatively unproductive – until the end of it, when I realized that summer in Morocco is unproductive, and that hanging out with my artisans and other people around town, though it may not seem productive, was actually important work that I was doing. Armed with that knowledge, this summer I was prepared. And I felt it was productive! Was that actually because I did more, or was it because I had managed my expectations? Maybe a little bit of both.
The second half of June was busy – a weekend trip to see a stage-mate who lives in a site one would probably only visit if one knew someone (though she is working to find artisan workspace for the few tourists that pass through, bless her heart); we made spring rolls, which have now become a regular if not frequent part of my repertoire. I spent a lot of time catching up and organizing myself after all of my June trips and then held a warden group brunch for the new (and current) people in the area. My work quarterly report was due, I wrote GAD and other columns for Peace Works, I worked on the follow-up to the harassment survey (the creation of a Harassment Working Group).
Then it was on the road again, with weekends away attached to work-related things – went to Oualidia, a quiet beach/lagoon town on the Atlantic, prior to the warden conference in Rabat, and Safi, where I bought more of their colorful ceramics, prior to the Foreign Service Officer Test in Casablanca (also spent some time in Casablanca, touring the Art Deco district and the Quartier Habous, a fancy shopping area with an old pasha building worth seeing). I passed that written test, by the way – so now my qualifications will be reviewed and then if they like what they see I would be invited for an oral test in Washington in January.
An era began on the way back from Casablanca, where I met up with Jong, who was coming up from Marrakesh (she had saved me a seat; I stood most of the way home on the same train from Rabat the week before). She had saved up vacation time to avoid being in her site in the over-100-degree part of the summer, and she spent the better part of it in Azrou! She fell right into my rhythm, meeting Al Akhawayn students and going to Abdou’s and my host family and out to Ain Leuh and spending a couple of days in Fes with Rose (one just sitting by the pool!), but we also had our own rhythm, cooking and baking a lot more than I do on my own (highlights – eggplant red ball, three Mexican nights, zucchini bread, and some reprises of last summer’s favorite, hash browns), taking exercise walks in the evening and playing cards, cards, cards (more rummy than piffle; the wild two’s in rummy ETed when Shawn did…. I also learned to play euchre). Jong was here for work-related leave as well, and while she built a web site for her potters I made a big dent in the Azrou artisana web site and designed some brochures – productivity! We also visited one of the local seamstresses and ordered some custom-made clothes. Here we are enjoying face and hair masks.
Jong, Rose and I went away for a long weekend at the end of July – out to the northeast end of the country, with a picturesque gorge and days spent along and in the Mediterranean. I didn’t go to the beach a lot last summer, figuring that a beach is a beach and I can go to the beach when I get home, but I like the beach, and Morocco has some nice ones; between the pool day and the beach days I was extremely content. So much so, in fact, that I decided one good Mediterranean trip deserves another, and the following weekend my friend Linda and I went up to Mdiq, a resort town near Tetouan. The Mediterranean is warm and inviting; the Atlantic chilly even in August. Mdiq was a relaxing way to transition into my transition....
COS (now I think that both Close of Service and Completion of Service are used interchangeably) Conference was held in mid-August in Rabat. It's held three months before the end of service because there are a lot of things one must do before one leaves - and it also helps you start the process of letting go and saying goodbye. The reflection part was disappointing to me – people just weren’t feeling it, the group chemistry was strained, the group was too big, the questions somehow weren't the right ones – or something. I’ve since done some reflection on my own and with others, so I am processing (there are times when I burst into tears, and I can think of a lot I am not looking forward to returning to, but I am getting myself ready). The balance of the conference was spent on administrative things – there are a lot of documents to complete and a checklist of other things to do – and on possibilities for the future. Those parts were good, as were dinners and walks with friends in Rabat, and we closed with wishes for each other, which was quite touching.
And then I was off on another adventure – with accrued vacation that I had to take before the end of August (two days’ of which I could not take before the beginning of August) and three holidays (an independence commemoration and the king’s birthday) I had time to travel to the part of Morocco I hadn’t been to yet that I most wanted to see, in the southeast. Taroudant is a typical city of the south, with intact walls and interesting tanneries and souks. I detoured to a place that I had been, Sidi Ifni, and was once again charmed – and even though the Atlantic was too cool for swimming, it was nice and cool for walking and sleeping. Tafraoute had Painted Rocks, a valley with charming mountainside villages to walk to and a wonderful auberge – the person who had told me I had to go did not oversell. Wending by way back, I stayed in the saffron capital of Morocco and the valley of a thousand kasbahs. It was a wonderful trip, but it was also great to get home! I think that combining the conference and the travel before and after made it seem like a really long time away.
I had a couple of days to catch my breath (i.e. wash laundry and floors and start to write about my adventures) and then met Rose, Janeila and Jong in Fes for a day (they were using up vacation too) and then Jong came back to Azrou – more cards, more cooking and baking but this time she wouldn't leave the house while I went about my routine and we had no exercise walks. Except for that last weekend! I had wanted to go back to the Todra Gorge and she came too, meeting two PCVs for a palmerie walk and two others finishing their vacation too (on my recommendation they had gone to Sidi Ifni, Tafraoute and Taroudant, but they had more time than I did so they were always a couple of days behind me!). A Sunday walk in the gorge marked what Jong called the end of an era – she went back to her site and I to mine. Will we play cards again? I prefer to think of it as when will we play cards again!
Another era began anyway with the beginning of Ramadan. It’s a big change in the routine – spending time at cafes, buying pastry at the patisserie, having couscous on Fridays, drinking tea at Abdou’s, tuna sandwiches and rotisserie chicken all are suspended for a month. It carries its own traditions – I am trying to have lftur (the breaking of the fast) with families as often as possible (last year two or three times a week was plenty). Where last year I hung around with the artisans because they were all hanging around – that’s what people do – this year I am saying hello, but spending more time at home, working on the COS paperwork (I had heard there’s a lot, and there’s a lot!) and on the web sites (I do want to get more done before I leave – not ready to mentally check out just yet).
As for what’s next – I’m starting to think about that too. I’ve always had it in mind that I would travel after my service, potentially through my birthday (can’t quite come to grips with which birthday it will be), and while I haven’t yet costed it out, plans are taking shape in my mind. Right now I’d like to go to Thailand and Indonesia, and as my sister said, why not stop in Hawaii on the way back, and then land in California and rent a car and drive across the country (yes, I know, four dollars a gallon) and see friends before hunkering down in New York for the job search. I did revise my resume recently and I want to lay some groundwork before I leave, but I think most of the figuring out of what’s next will happen when I get back. I still think a non-profit/NGO direction makes sense, and this experience has made me more interested in (and qualified for) pursuing something in international development, so that’s in the mix. I have said for a while that I wouldn’t mind working for Peace Corps when I am done. It was an easy way to answer the question when people asked, but I actually mean it – I believe in the mission and I think I have something to offer!
For now, though, my focus is on finishing up. In Azrou I am still working on the web site and on brochures for the artisans, and I finally started a web site for Abdou that I want to give to him as a gift. In Ain Leuh I am advising some students who are building a web site and training the artisans; the cooperative asked me to write a catalog for them but I don’t know if I’ll get to it, and I’m trying not to take anything else on work-wise. I’ve started to pack and send stuff back – all of my treasures! – and may have just a little more shopping to do. I will do a few more sessions with the trainees and be available as a resource. I want to spend as much time as possible with my favorite families – lftur now, couscous and visits later – and start saying goodbye to the people around town who have helped me - hanut owners, cafe waiters, vegetable guy and the like. Did I mention that there’s a lot of COS paperwork too? Maybe do a little more reflection as well! I have some plans to spend weekends or day trips in select locations, but it will be nice to spend most of the time in my favorite city in Morocco, Azrou.
I want to thank all of the people who have supported me – I don’t know how you found time to read this (whether you read it occasionally or all the time) but I always think of my friends when I write here – even though I am writing to the world, I am writing to YOU.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
As I walk to lftur, I look at the moon – it grows a little bit each day – and at the sun (today I saw a huge rainbow!). The sunset call to prayer (that is, the time when a black thread and a white thread held up together become indistinguishable, though I don’t think it’s really done that way – each mosque’s call is at a slightly different time, so that there’s a cascade of call) is the signal to say, “bismillah” (in the name of God – what you do when you start anything – most often I hear it at meals and in taxi rides) and pick up that date (I didn’t know until last year that you started the breaking of the fast with a date – somehow I missed that in training). Lots of parenthetical statements there, but I wanted to note that while watching the moon grow and the sun set I feel some admiration for those who are still connected to the moon and the sun.
And I should mention the 3:00 am drumming – the first couple of days I heard this loud drumming and wondered why it would be so loud as to wake me up – and then I remembered that the purpose is to wake people up so that they can eat before the sunrise call to prayer. It must have been only for the first week – certainly I’m not sleeping through it. In Timhadite and at the Auberge it was a drum and a horn. In Sefrou over the weekend there was a siren from the medina mosque at sunset – maybe with a wider range than the call itself.
Yep, I went to Sefrou over the weekend! Rose is working on a proposal and she wanted me to meet some of the people involved and offer my opinion. I hadn’t accounted for the fact that people sleep late during Ramadan, so getting to the taxi stand early meant waiting a long time for the taxi to fill. I arrived in the middle of the meeting but could catch on to what was going on; the debriefings later were more of a chance to contribute. Some other volunteers were there too; we took a walk and went shopping for dinner (heard the siren and had to rush around to get some eggs and yogurt) and then took a walk the next morning. Then we played some rummy and listened to music – I never actually took a look at the proposal, so we’ll have to get together again! Still want to go to the Jewish cemetery in Sefrou, too, inshallah.
As I have lftur I have been thinking more about religion. I tried to remember what knowledge and impressions I had of Islam before I came here. As I was growing up I thought of Moslems (because that’s what they were then) as different, with their own dress and customs. I knew about the Crusades but in those they were the bad guys. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking or learning about much else. September 11 made me read a little bit more, but I still feel I heard about unrest among immigrant populations in Europe more than anything else. When I was in Cape Town I visited the Muslim area and learned yet more – but I guess most of what I know about Islam I learned here. So I do feel an obligation to learn even more (we had talks about it in training and I talk with my host mother, counterpart and others but I haven’t read much, I’ll admit) and share with people both now and when I return to the U.S.
My friend Linda once said she was impressed with the homogeneity here and how tied the religion is to the culture – really, you can’t separate it. I had just come back from Spain, so my response was, “you mean like in 1492 when the Catholics expelled everyone else and Spain became a homogeneous culture?” I wonder what it was like here when it was more multi-cultural. There is something to be admired in the shared culture and religion here, I agree with Linda, but I wonder if something was lost.
And then I started thinking about the U.S. and the increasing influence of the Christian right. It’s not a new trend, and it has disturbed me for years, but watching the presidential race from afar and how important it is for the candidates to publicly declare their religion makes me wonder what happened to separation of church and state and the principle of religious freedom on which the country was founded. There are more than a few extremely Christian Peace Corps Volunteers here – is that reflective of the country as a whole, and I just didn’t run in that kind of crowd, or did they self-select for service and for wanting to experience a Muslim country?
Linda (of Bob and Linda, not of the culture discussion) gave me a great recipe for Mskuta, easy Moroccan tea cake. I brought it to lftur at Youssef’s family on Friday night. Moroccans don’t always like the things I bake (they couldn’t get the concept of banana bread, for example – bread and sweet don’t mix) but they like their own things! I tried to double the recipe on Sunday night before going to Abdou’s but I didn’t have double the time, and it wasn’t ready. I flipped the bundt pan onto a plate just to prove that to myself, therefore ruining any chances it would ever be presentable. Time and lftur wait for no man! I did stick it in the oven when I got home and I cut a big (presentable) arc for him, so all was not lost (I have had to eat the rest by myself…).
Mskuta (easy Moroccan tea cake)
1 Danone vanilla (which then becomes the measuring cup – note, yogurt here is about half a cup…)
½ cup melted butter or vegetable oil
1 package baking powder – I should measure this, but it’s a lot more than I put in mst recipes – maybe a tablespoon
3 cups flour
¾-1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Options: add raisins or choc chips or lemon juice (recipe says you can substitute lemon yogurt, but I have never seen it here)
Blend dry ingredients
Blend wet ingredients
Bake in oiled (and floured) tube pan. Bake for 20 minutes or as long as needed according to your baking appliance. Serve with tea.
(With the lemon option, you can top with lemon glaze (lemon juice and powdered sugar blend). Linda has also seen with chocolate drizzled as frosting. Usually it’s just served plain. My notes – my host mother puts half the batter in the pan, mixes a couple of tablespoons of chocolate powder into the other half, and pours that in – I will try that next time! I am going to her house tomorrow and said I would bring it).
Another thing I keep meaning to talk about is water – there was an interesting article about it in the last Peace Works (reminds me that I liked engineering – but you can’t go through the desert or over dry watercourses without thinking about it). There are 116 major dams here, which supply households with plenty of water; right now there is enough, but as each year brings less and less rain and a growing population, it could be a problem. Sixty-eight percent of collected surface water gets lost in the system, either through evaporation or leakage or not being fully captured, it goes out to sea (note – I am glad some makes it out to sea – wildlife needs it too – but that wasn’t mentioned in the article). Leaks in the distribution system mean that only 70 percent of what is pumped into the system reaches the taps. There is a big discrepancy between north and south – 79 percent of water is in 27 percent of the territory (the south has about a third of the population and I am not sure what portion of the territory). Agriculture uses 88 percent of the water in the dam/reservoir system, leaving only 12 percent for households. There is a movement towards drip irrigation but that will take a while, and there is a movement towards using recycled wastewater in agriculture, but it is expensive. Another major problem is bureaucracy – there is a World Bank loan on the table for additional dam construction, but the condition is that Morocco streamline its water management institutions and simplify decision-making. Here’s another statement – in rural areas, 70 percent of the households have running water, compared with 14 percent in 1994. I’ll bet that is about the same for electricity. In short, I found a lot that was interesting in this article! http://www.north-africa.com/news/csNews.cgi?database=aa.db&command=viewone&op=t&id=151&rnd=74.08575381679611
This is another busy week – but again, staying home more during Ramadan means feeling more productive (just when everyone else is NOT productive!). I haven’t even napped so far this week – though I have had afternoon headaches. On Monday I went out to Ain Leuh with the Al Akhawayn students – I think they are going to do a great job of building a web site and training the artisans to maintain it. On Tuesday I went to Abdou’s and went through most of my pictures of his rugs, categorizing them by tribe, which is how he wants his web site organized, and started uploading those (www.freewebs.com/darneghrassiazrou). I’ll upload what I have and take more and teach Abdou – and Kathy said she would help as well. I’ve been working on my COS Site Survey, the form that will go to the next volunteer – ten pages’ worth of information and counting – and I started to pack some boxes (I’m trying not to pack things I’m still using, so while my apartment looks lighter it doesn’t look as though I am moving – yet. I feel I still have some shopping to do, too). There are more COS documents to do and lots of other things I want to work on (such as writing to my partner school), and I am going to review the metal worker’s revised web site with him; maybe the rock-carver’s too. It’s been thundering a lot and raining a little every day, and it’s been cool enough to sleep under the covers the last two nights. I’m embarrassed to think that I used to keep the air conditioning on so that I could sleep under the covers in Chicago – from now on I think I can sleep over the covers.
On Friday the new trainees arrive in Azrou, and I am going down to the Auberge to give an orientation talk. I still remember a lot of what Lee said in his talk – he drew a community map (a PACA tool!), he talked about his work, he talked about Ramadan, he talked about life in Morocco – he was the first actual volunteer we heard from. I hope I can leave as much of an impression on at least some of the trainees as he did on me. I am doing that and GAD and haven’t been asked to do other trainings – that’s all right.
The picture is of the labyrinth near the painted rocks. I had wanted to make a labyrinth for the zen room – sometimes I walk around on the rug in there and contemplate, but walking this reminded me that it’s not the same. Ren is doing some art in the states and I asked her to make me a “personal labyrinth” that I can put on the floor and walk on (and the rest of the time maybe it can double as a tablecloth!).
Friday, September 05, 2008
A week ago Sunday I met Jong and Janeila in Fes. I had forgotten my map and Fes Encounter book, but who needs those? They wanted to go to the Andalusian quarter, and I took them there, and we walked around – had to ask someone, but found the medersa with the pool - and then walked back up the Talaa Kbira to Café Clock, where Rose met up with us, and we went back out for more Kbira and then Talaa Sgira. A good Fes day, though it seemed a bit melancholy; the number of times we will see each other again are few, and that seemed to hang in the air. Janeila declared at COS conference that she’s not big on keeping in touch, and I know from past discussions that she’s not big on goodbyes; I wonder who I will end up keeping in touch with. If we were all in our 20s just out of school, we might all be traveling similar paths and keeping in touch might be more likely. At least now there’s the internet – well, we’ll see.
Jong came back with me – she had been at Rose’s all week while I was Battouta-ing - and we played more cards. We went out for bisara and while we were there, some little kids came over and gave Jong money. They giggled and then ran away and came back and gave her more money. And did it again. Kids usually (often!) ask us for a dirham – it was a first to be getting money FROM kids! I said if we stayed long enough she might earn enough to pay for the entire dinner. Hey, she made a dirham out of all of her small change! She made the rounds of Azrou with me the next morning, but then she stayed behind while I went to Ain Leuh, where I prepared the artisans for the exchange students and CBT group to come. Then we played more cards – I couldn’t get Jong out for an exercise walk, or out at all for the next two days. There was one night where we both slept terribly – in another first, rather than stay in bed using my parents’ advice to rest anyway, I just got up and started my day. I slept all right after that, but she didn’t (I did until this past weekend, that is – under what should have been ideal conditions in the gorge – cool temperature, extreme darkness, the sound of rushing water from the river just outside the window - I slept well for a few hours and that was all).
I went out without her, for vegetables and to the artisana and on other miscellaneous errands. And we played more cards. Kathy came over and made some pizza (in exchange for my making a lemon tart) and we played some cards. I did do some other things – my blog entries, some GAD and Harassment Working Group work – while she read and wrote some things as well. She had ordered a dress from Rajaa, the seamstress, based on a photograph – it looked great, so I am having Rajaa make one for me as well (Jong didn’t mind – we just can’t both wear them at the same time). She had to leave the house for a final fitting, and we went to visit my host mother. We had Mexican Night 3 – this one so spicy we had a hard time with it; I diced a chili pepper that was so hot that my fingertips felt as though they were burning for the rest of the evening (somehow that improved my piffle game though, and I had some hot rummy hands) – I had to put aloe on them and take ibuprofen, and when I ran water over them they felt burned. That was one hot pepper! We went to Youssef’s family for couscous as well – they had been away all month and it was wonderful to see them again.
It feels weird not to have Jong around – I am hoping to go down to her site for work-related leave to help with next steps on her web site (Program Staff approved but Jong seems reluctant – I know it’s far and I know it’s hot and I know I’ve been there, albeit briefly, but none of those things has deterred me so far). I did crave alone time some of the time when she was here, and now I can get back to some of the things I hadn’t worked on much this summer (such as my resume), and she may be back this way after COS medicals, but an era has ended.
Ramadan is the beginning of a new era anyway though. I had a tough first day on Tuesday – a long meeting in the afternoon left me dehydrated and light-headed. I went to lftur with Youssef’s family, which was wonderful – they invited me to come every day and I am tempted to take them up on it! I won’t – will go to Abdou’s and to my host family and maybe the rock carver’s and accept other invites – but where last year two to three lfturs a week was enough, now I do want to go every day! Youssef’s sisters, nieces, sister-in-law and nephews walked me home afterwards – they wanted to go for a walk – and filled me with warmth and love (actually, I feel that way whenever I go there, but this walk was so sweet). But I still felt dizzy – now I’m wondering if it really was not eating and drinking enough or if I had a little bug. I felt all achey too – more than just being in those taxis on Sunday and computer muscle strain might account for. I took a nap before lftur and went to bed shortly after I got home – but then again, it could be all dehydration. I’ll have to try to manage things better as the days go on – they say you get used to it – and I don’t want to wish the month away because there is so much to do!
Lftur is more or less the same anywhere – a date to start with, and then shebekia, the honey-coated cookies. Hard-boiled eggs, fat bread (which is like an inside-out pizza – delicious, unless you stop to think that the reason why it’s delicious is the reason why it’s called fat bread – i.e. lots of fat) and then harira, the tomato-based chick pea soup that is a little different in each house (as is the fat bread). Coffee or tea (hard for me - all I want is water, and it’s less appealing in the community glass, if it even comes in my direction). In Timhadite my host family had smoothies – I’ve been making my own when I come home. This is meant to be a light meal, just to break the fast, but it has always been enough food for me for the night. Moroccans eat a heavier meal around 11 pm – or midnight – or 1 am – and the more people I talk to, the fewer seem to get up at 3:30 am for a light something before doing back to sleep, but people do it. My counterpart said the Prophet ate all night and slept all day – I would imagine Ramadan is a lot easier if you can do that. I have napped every day so far – but then again, I thought Jong and I were going to do that all summer.
The long meeting that I referred to above was good – it was with some Worcester Polytechnic students who are here on an exchange at Al Akhawayn in Ifrane. Last year’s group worked on an e-commerce proposal (which ended up being more of a report on why Morocco is not ready for e-commerce) for Azrou. This time they are going to build a web site for Ain Leuh and train the artisans on computer use! In thinking about what I wanted to finish before I leave, this was on my list, and I was afraid I wouldn’t get to it, so it’s great that they are going to do it – good project for them, too. The professor, who is the same as last year, complimented me on my Arabic – so maybe it has improved. I still don’t understand most of what is said on the Ramadan TV shows. I did request a COS LPI (Language Proficiency …. Index?) test, so we’ll see.
On Wednesday it rained – it’s funny, I woke up that day wishing for rain, and even though the sky was clear maybe I sensed it. It has been nice to live in a place that is so sunny so much of the time – I don’t know that I will do that again – but I do like rain! And we sure need it here. I worked on the metal worker’s section of the web site, adding more pictures and making a brochure for him. And I filled out the COS on-line survey (you can’t get cleared to leave the country unless you do that) – my first COS paperwork. Yesterday I went out to Ain Leuh for a brief visit – had ordered a blanket and a shawl, but they weren’t ready. I decided to order a rug too – they’re expensive, but exquisite, and I think I will regret not having one if I don’t. And I have to order it now so it will be ready before I leave! And then I worked on the rock carver’s section of the web site – now I have to meet with both artisans to see if they have any changes or additions. I was hoping that since Ramadan would keep me inside more I would have a burst of productivity and so far I have!
And another new era is beginning – this weekend, approximately 60 SBD and YD PCTs will have staging in Philadelphia. Monday they leave for Rabat, and next Friday they will all be in Azrou – SBD at the Auberge and YD on the other side of town near the Panorama. I sent those on the pcvmorocco yahoo group a little welcome note, and then I did something I’ve had in mind to do for a while – went to my favorite hanut on each side of town with an empty peanut butter jar and told them to stock up. It was only recently that I discovered that the hanut next to the supermarche occasionally stocks it – that could have saved me a trip or two to Ifrane or Marjane – and the other one may or may not be able to get some in, but explaining that 60 Americans will come and need peanut butter and candy and the like was good.
When I was in Rabat, I had a dentist appointment; it was time for a cleaning. I requested a cleaning for my night guard as well, and he said he would give me a prescription for a product I could use. I finally picked up the product this week – turns out that it’s Polident. Boy, do I hope I never need that for another reason. One of my teeth still feels funny – it’s possible that I need a filling replaced – so I asked for another appointment. I’m glad I haven’t had anything major here – probably the most serious thing I’ve had is the scratch on my cornea (which still bothers me over a year later – it’s so dusty and dry here). Yes, more digestive issues than back in the states, but nothing major or long-lasting – and fewer headaches than I had back home.
Some distressing news – before I left for Peace Corps, I had taken courses towards a Certificate in Non-Profit Management at the University of Chicago. I enjoyed the courses - I like the idea of a degree but a certificate fits more into a mid-career lifestyle – and I found that having that on my resume was starting to open some doors for me – although by the time I started getting other interviews, my heart was with the Peace Corps (actually, the interviews helped reinforce that). I still think the certificate will be helpful, and I like to finish what I start – well, this week I got an email saying that the program is being discontinued! I need three fall courses in order to finish, and this is the last fall that they will be given. Oh no! I wrote to ask about my options. Maybe wherever I end up will have a similar program – or maybe I’ll go in another direction and take courses towards that – or maybe I’ll just take fun adult education classes.
And more immediate distressing news – both post offices in Azrou are out of boxes for mailing things to the states and don’t expect any in. I thought I would start packing little by little and I am glad I am starting now, because getting boxes may prove to be more of an ordeal than I thought. People keep their appliance boxes and hanuts don’t seem to ever have extra boxes around – they are precious, be it for wood stoves or storage. I am going to have to make a concerted effort to get boxes. I didn’t want to keep mine around for two years (which I thought was a healthy sign) but maybe that was not smart!
Wanted to direct you to an interesting article that came my way for the GAD section of Peace Works – “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality,” by Naomi Wolf - http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/08/29/1219516734637.html.
The picture is of the Ameln Valley near Tafraoute, with the lion’s head at the top of the mountain. It was so beautiful there!
Monday, September 01, 2008
So, Ramadan didn’t begin today after all, at least not in Morocco. It doesn’t really make sense to me – after all, scientists can predict moon phases with complete accuracy from now until the end of time – but they have to wait until the imams say it’s Ramadan. I guess it makes more sense knowing that in every country it’s different – Ramadan started yesterday in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, today in Egypt and most of the Arab world, and will start tomorrow in Morocco, Mauritania and Iran. Who knows, maybe the moon does look a little different in every country. Science doesn’t always have all the answers. We did change the time last night though – back to old time! (four hours ahead of EDT).
Anyway, that gave me an extra day to be at the café – and another volunteer who I hadn’t seen in a while happened to come through, so she and Kathy and I sat in a café for most of the morning; then I went out for rotisserie chicken at lunchtime. I’ll miss the rotisserie chicken places with fresh, delicious chicken just waiting to be eaten. But that’s when I leave. For the next month, I’ll miss cafes, but what I’ll miss most is carrying around a water bottle and drinking when I’m thirsty! I do tell people it’s hard for me not to drink water, and that I’m trying to fast; I won’t drink or eat in public - wouldn’t dream of it.
I had wanted to go back to the Todra Gorge before leaving Morocco, and a combination of factors led me to go this past weekend – Bob and Linda were going to be there for their last vacation days, the move-up of the time change meant that later on there wouldn’t be as much daylight when I got there, Ramadan means no travel eating or drinking, Jong had to start her way south anyway to get back to her site and was willing to come along, other friends in the area were around and ready to hike up to the gorge on Saturday afternoon (though one had to drop out). So Jong and I left early Saturday morning and she persuaded the other three people going to Midelt to split an extra spot in the taxi so we could get moving. All five of us were going on to Errachidia, so in Midelt we just picked up one more passenger and again were speeding along. And then one person bought an extra spot to Tinghir and so did I, so again, we were on our way. With my extra spot, we stopped in Tinjdad and picked up Jessica, and then we went on to meet Ned, the first-year SBD volunteer in Tinghir. We had a Berber omelette – no place makes them as well as that one in Tinghir – and then we set out for the palmerie. Jessica and some of my stage-mates had done the hike through the palmerie up to the gorge in April, and ever since I’d heard about that I wanted to go back and do it as well.
On the way down to Tinghir, things looked different. The Ziz river seemed to have more water in it, and there seemed to be other watercourses that were dry last week when I was going through that had water in them – even some sand that had spilled out into the road. Turns out it had been raining for three days, which had cooled things off quite a bit. Linda had texted on Friday night that it was raining a lot and she was watching the gorge flood and that as of that moment they were stranded in their hotel – she texted Saturday that the water had subsided and that they were able to hike – though I don’t think that would have stopped me; I think I would have looked for a place to stay on the high side of the flood.
The palmerie walk was just beautiful – really lush, with some overhanging olive trees, corn, alfalfa, palms of course, and lots of other greenery. The villages up above the palmerie on either side were picturesque, and we saw tourists stopping to photograph the valley that we were walking through. We didn’t get very far, relatively speaking – it turned out that to get all the way to the gorge the hike is much longer than the three hours mentioned in the book. We’d been walking for about an hour and a half when Linda and Bob texted to say it was raining again in the gorge and that if we got into transport now, we would be able to make it across the river and get to their hotel. It would have been nice to hike more and to see more of Ned and Jessica but I completely enjoyed what we did and felt that that alone was worth the trip.
The road in the gorge was washed out – we forded it and then had to cross it again to get to the hotel, which was on the other side of the river. There was a little rock bridge with a plank to get to the other side – that too had been washed out the night before but rebuilt during the day. Todra Gorge was one of the first places I went to, back in April 2007, and I wondered if it would look as special and spectacular on the return, now that I have seen so much more of Morocco. Yes. That time, I took a bus that was delayed and that kept stopping and I remember being so dehydrated that I felt sick when I got there – I know so much more about traveling here now, so returning and having more time and more energy was a triumph as well. It turned out that it was not just a flood, it was a flash flood the night before, with a big boom – wiping out not only the part of the road that we forded but also another major portion of the road past the hotels, the little bridge to our hotel and to the one next door, and all of the souvenirs in most of the stands, which are just past the hotels. The beautiful, clear stream that I saw almost a year and a half ago was a muddy, fast-moving river. Bob said that in the morning, a road crew came and quickly rebuilt and resurfaced the part of the road past the hotels (the part we forded was maybe a foot deep, so cars could drive through it, though not happily) – he was amazed at the efficiency (Morocco continues to surprise) - and that after the road was rebuilt, vehicle after vehicle carrying dolled-up Berbers back from the Imilchil wedding festival (something that had been on my list of things to do before I left but that had to go into the “can’t do everything” category) came through (the friend I saw this morning loved the phrase “Berber back-up” – we saw some additional vehicles going through on Sunday morning, packed vans with people in the cargo space on top and hanging off of the back, but no longer dolled-up in their fancy garb). It was raining when we got to the gorge – and chilly! I had read that the gorge could be cool, and of course I could have decided for myself to bring something long-sleeved just in case, but Jong refused to believe it could possibly be cold in Morocco in August so I let her talk me out of it; luckily Linda and Bob had things we could borrow and we all took a little walk after it cleared up, and it didn’t rain (or flood) anymore.
We were the only guests in the hotel (they had a huge bus crowd at lunch though) and had tea and then a tagine and then the staff came out and did some drumming and singing for us (that happened to us in April 2007, at a different hotel – must be a Todra thing) and then we played some Boggle. I heard about Bob and Linda’s vacation – on my recommendation they stayed at the Suerte Loca in Sidi Ifni, decided to go to Tafraoute and stayed in Chez Amaliya, and stopped in Taroudant, saw Matt and stayed in the same hotel I used! Too bad we couldn’t do more of it together – but I had a week and they had more time, so they stayed in Rabat after the conference and went to Essaouaira before following in my footsteps. I’m just glad they liked my recommendations as much as I did, and it was nice to compare notes. We went up to our rooms and not too much later, the generator went off for the night. We showered by candlelight (luckily Jong and I had asked for a candle and lighter after Linda mentioned that their room had one), and it cleared up enough to see a sky full of stars.
Bob and Linda were up for some of the reflection we didn’t have a chance for at COS Conference (and that Jong wasn’t up for at all) – favorite foods that we’ll miss, how we want to change our lives after being here, favorite city, etc. – but after breakfast they had to take off so they could get back to Figuig. Jong and I took a walk a little ways up the gorge – it was gorgeous (ha ha). I hadn’t done that last time; then, we went a little ways up the path that can take you to the top of the gorge – that is again left for if I ever have a time to spend two nights and a full day there. We forded the river again, waited a bit for a taxi, split one more Berber omelette, and then she started on her trip south back to her site. The better part of the summer – lots of good cooking and a fair amount of baking and a ton of rummy and piffle and conversation and companionship – over. Farewell and fare well, Jong!
And then the taxi luck I had during my vacation ran out. I waited about an hour for a taxi to Errachidia, and while I didn’t wait at all there for a taxi that took me all the way to Azrou, I had two of the most uncomfortable rides I have had in a long while, squeezed in and aching. Last week when the taxi stopped at Zaida for a dinner break, I felt the air had gone out of a balloon – the unexpected stop made me late to get home (I did call the duty officer) and I missed seeing the Middle Atlas in daylight. This time I was hoping for a Zaida break because I needed to get up and stretch – several body parts had fallen asleep. I even found a little stand with grilled peppers and potato cakes, tucked in among the many stands of meat (or as I like to say, MEAT) with carcasses hanging and brochettes grilling – I don’t need to ever stop there again, but now I have embraced Zaida. And it was early enough in the day that I was able to see the Middle Atlas, with its trees and lots of sheep grazing and a fair number of nomad tents (I guess for the shepherds!). I got home well before dark and decided to treat myself to a Magnum bar!
Two years ago yesterday I left the apartment where I had lived for nineteen years. I had a few teary moments, but it wasn’t all that traumatic. I was ready to go. I expect it will be the same now – I tossed and turned before I went to Reunions, trying to figure out what to bring home in my one suitcase and what to send back this fall in the hope, but not complete confidence, that everything makes it back to the states. And I had a sleepless night last week, thinking about the daunting task of packing and mailing everything (well, also finishing and leaving – when you can’t sleep, you just keep thinking). But I know that once I get started, again it won’t be so bad. And I did have the epiphany here that stuff is ephemeral. I came back last June realizing that I didn’t miss a lot of what’s in storage and thinking that had I had an extra week I could have gone through my stuff and gotten rid of half of what’s in there. I have bought a lot of rugs and other artisanal items here – I hope they all make it back and I hope there’s a place for them wherever I live next, but if they don’t and they don’t, it’s just stuff.
I also want to put in a plug for the 2009 RPCV Calendar – a fundraiser for the RPCV group of Madison, Wisconsin (they then use the money to give small project grants to current volunteers). I knew about it because they had some for sale in Chicago when I was leaving – 2007 calendars, that is – and I submitted photos last year and they chose one of mine! You can order from www.rpcvmadison.org/Calendar.htm. I don’t think they have any 2009 images up yet on the web site, so if you want to see before you buy, check back. Or just search through past blog entries for the picture of mine that’s in it – October 7, 2007.