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 - - I wish I had found this when I first got here! See the area, with its mountains, forests, meadows, villages, watercourses and more!

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