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 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 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.

I've starting listening to a Teaching Company course on Islam (actually a course on religion, with a volume for each of the five main world religions). Anyhow, they've been discussing Ramadan. According to the Koran, it's not supposed to be a hardship in any way, but, rather, a time to reflect on religion. The professor said that one should not feel ill during this period. So I guess they do make allowances for that, at least theoretically. I do wonder, however, if there is peer pressure to fast. Do people who don't fast feel the need to constantly explain? Does one get disapproving looks if one has a drink of water? I've also just started a section in which the Koran is quoted as saying that religion is not compusory. That's certainly at odds with modern interpretations by the Taliban!
FYI, I've seen a number of articles recently about the PC trying to increase their recruitment of over 50-year-olds because of their experience. You and some others aside, that has to be difficult to do. Most people that age cannot just chuck their lives for 2 years and move to another country. Passing the health qualifiers will also be difficult in an older person. The pool of healthy available people with good skills can't be overly large. Maybe they should make an effort to place older people in areas where health care is more readily available?
I think it is a hardship here - by the end of the day people seem to be suffering - but the only person who admitted to me that it is hard for him is a smoker, and what was hard for him was not smoking during daylight hours. If you are sick you do not have to fast, but you have to make it up later, so I have seen people be sick and fast, because they would rather fast with everyone else. That said, some people regularly fast one to two days a week all year 'round (without making light of it, I think it gives you bonus points). There are also six days around L'Eid Kbir that many people fast. If it is that time of the month you don't have to fast, and people accept that, but again, you have to make it up. I don't know anyone who doesn't fast and you simply don't drink water in front of other people - even I wouldn't - so you would not have the opportunity to get disapproving looks! I have discovered that many of the people I talk to (host mother, tutor) interpret things differently - I choose to listen to them and ask follow-up questions rather than to argue if I hear things that are inconsistent - it's an argument I am never going to win.

As for the over-50 recruitment, everything I see targets retirees, and while people do retire at 50, the focus of the program seems to be on significantly older people, and I have given them feedback that they need to revise their advertising - as well as their opportunities post-Peace Corps - if they want people over 50 for whom this is a career move (or even career break). There have always been older people in the Peace Corps but the majority will always be younger, in part because of the reasons you state. I think I have said this before, but Morocco is a place with better than average health care, and there are many people (of all ages) with medical restrictions who were placed here because of the quality of the health care. So they do make that effort. I don't know if Morocco has a higher-than-average number of older people but I know we have a higher-than-average number of medically-restricted people! You still have to be pretty healthy though - there's a lot of walking - a LOT - on uneven ground, potentially other physical labor, and it helps to have a strong constitution.
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