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.

Hi Sharon,

First, congratulations on passing the Foreign Service exam (at least the written part)! Woo-hoo!

Also, I was really touched by the last line in your recent posting -- that you're writing to both the world and to "me." I was always aware of that sensation, and it's what kept me coming back to your blog. Could I just say what a good writer you must be to convey that sense of connection to people when you're writing from so far away.

Thinking of you often as you wrap up your service period. . . Your mention of taking time to reflect is reminding me to do so as well for my own life -- thanks for that.

Best wishes,
Thanks for your kind words! That's what keeps me writing. And I guess it's a good reminder that we should all take some time to reflect every so often - not just when something is coming to an end...
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