Friday, October 31, 2008
I’m cold! I can see my breath inside my apartment. Multiple layers help, multiple blankets help, multiple hot water bottles help, hot showers help. I gave back my space heater knowing it would get tough towards the end, and it’s tough. It doesn’t help that it has been so stormy this fall – it’s nice to see green grass and to think that the water is filling reservoirs; there have been catastrophic floods in the south and east though. Here it’s just colder – my apartment would be cold in any case, but without sun to warm the days, it’s colder (and my laundry is still wet…I took it off the line though because heavy storms are in the forecast for this weekend). I hope for some sunny days next month – for hikes, for photography, and for the memories.
I found out who my replacement is going to be! Colin is one of the people in the Ain Leuh CBT, so one with whom I have talked more than most. I like him! Next week is site visit and I’ll spend more time with him then, but based on impressions, I am happy he will be here, and I think he is too. They didn’t place a volunteer in Ain Leuh – I think that is distressing for the cooperative, who could use someone there full-time, for a new cooperative that is just forming, and for any volunteer whose site is not as rewarding as Ain Leuh could be – but Colin will cover it, as I have, so at least they are not being abandoned. I did try to make a case for it if someone needs to be moved and/or for getting someone full-time next year, and I learned something about the inner workings behind the decision; I’m glad about that, because some of the feedback I have given is that if we knew the reasons why decisions were made – not that we have to know everything – then things would make more sense.
Anyway – after most GAD meetings (or all?) I think I have gone on to Marrakesh – leaving from Rabat I am just that much closer, and it gives me several extra hours there. I had put in for the weekend with the thought that as it drew closer, I might cancel – I haven’t had a lot of time to myself this month – but then at medicals I found out that I needed a yellow fever shot for my post-COS travels. They are given only in Casablanca. I could make it from Azrou to Casablanca and back in a very long day, but during the window before I’d have to turn around the clinic is closed for lunch, so it made sense to stay in Marrakesh for most of Sunday, travel to Casablanca and stay there, get the shot first thing in the morning and then get home. At least it made sense to me!
I forgot to mention that at the GAD meeting we were given a sneak peek at the reporting system that volunteers will use starting in 2009. It looks complicated – again, perhaps just as well that I am leaving. More, it contained a new bunch of acronyms – I don’t even remember them, but they were something like VRS (Volunteer Reporting System) and VDB (Volunteer Data Base). This won’t affect me, but it was funny to see them just after I thought there wouldn’t be any more new ones!
John McPhee in hand, the train ride to Marrakesh seemed short. I arrived at the fancy new train station – the ones in Fes and Rabat won’t be finished before I leave but if they are anything like the new Marrakesh one, there will be some impressive gateways for train travel (now to get all of the trains climate-controlled?). On to the Café du Livre – I didn’t need another lemon tart, but it was Rob’s suggestion that we meet there, and Connie, Dominique and a YD I hadn’t met yet were there too – a nice lunch. We went to a nearby bookstore and I found the carpet books I had looked for without success in Rabat. Perhaps finding them justified the trip! There are two books I have long admired. One was moderately-priced and the other was the price of a rug, so I decided that one was enough! Of course, there were other beautiful books as well, but again, one was enough. I do look forward to going to bookstores when I return though!
Then I went to the herbalist near the Bahia palace, where I had gone with my sister. I had gotten a mystery oil there for a mystery ailment (that is, I’d just as soon leave it a mystery to the public at large, but if you really want to know, email me) and wanted to get some more before I left – the herbalist in Fes couldn’t identify it, so I had to go back to the source. Turns out it’s orange oil, and now I have more (and know what to look for when I run out). Again, perhaps that justified the trip. I decided that after being with so many people in the room in Rabat that I would splurge on a room with its own bathroom, and I also decided to do my hair – Marrakesh had perfect weather, and I thought it would be easier if I did it without shivering, and given how cold I am now, maybe that also justified the trip! Probably the biggest difference in how I look before/after is that my hair is darker. I look at pictures early in my service and it just seems too light! Though in other pictures, when just done, it seems too dark. I wonder where it will end up when I return. I think it will also be hard to get back to wearing skirts higher than mid-calf! I’m so used to being relatively covered. When you spend a little more money on a hotel you might also get things such as breakfast on the roof, and I lingered in the sun, with juice and coffee and pain au chocolat and a hard-boiled egg.
One thing that has been on my Marrakesh list is bicycling in the palmerie - I did this with Sabrina when my family was here, for a short while, and then with Bob and Linda in Figuig, but thought it would be nice to go one more time. Had a taxi take me out there and even though it is close to the medina, it felt far, and I had a fear I that wouldn’t be able to get back. The taxi had trouble finding the rental place. And the paths didn’t seem smooth, and I was afraid I could get lost. So I decided I could let it go, and had the taxi just take me back – but not before I snapped some camel pictures. My last camel sightings? You can take camel rides in the palmerie too (the camels I saw go for the moral equivalent of around the block, but one outfitter in my guide book offers substantial palmerie rides) as well as horseback rides – more left on the table. Always good to leave things for another trip….
And always fun to ride along a route on which I have run – I am glad I did the half-marathon and I look forward to running again (not that I won’t run more here before I leave – I do have gear for running in the cold – but I don’t want to run in the rain; it’s not raining now but it’s windy). I had the taxi driver drop me off at the north end of the souks, where I never seem to have enough time, and while I did discover a few things I hadn’t seen before, for the most part I had been everywhere – yes, I have the Marrakesh souks covered! And I had taken care of my shopping needs last time – but it was still an enjoyable walk. And then – since I didn’t have to leave until the 3:00 train – I went to a gourmet restaurant for lunch! I had tried to go to Al-Fassia before but it had always been booked. It is an all-women operation, and I had delicious briouates (fried dough filled with rice, meat, or fish) and a tagine of chicken and sweetened pumpkin. All delicately spiced and elegantly served.
On to Casablanca, where I found a hotel and (having had a big enough lunch) didn’t leave until it was time to go for the shot the next morning. I know, I had said I had my last Peace Corps shot, and that was true – this one was on my own dime. It felt pretty cool to go to a place called the Institut Pasteur for it. I had been told it opened at 8:30 – it opened at 9:00, but at 8:30 there was a bit of a free-for-all. Somehow, though, the crowd sorted itself into lines, someone helped me figure out which lines I should be in, and shots were administered in a timely manner. I didn’t have time for a walk, but I was happy to see some of the Art Deco buildings again from the taxis, and I made the 10:15 train to Meknes.
I’d been wanting a Marjane trip for a while – no real needs, but I didn’t feel that my last time there was my final time there. They had moved some things around, so it was a little disconcerting, but I had a nice journey up and down the aisles – got some CDs, brie and goat cheese, and a few other non-essentials. I was more stressed about going away than I was while away – it was good to be in Rabat, Marrakesh, Casablanca, Meknes and Fes, and to have the guests before and in between trips, and now that I have had a couple of days at home, I feel fine. Well, sort of – not sleeping well, though I couldn’t wait to get back to my own bed. I don’t know whether it’s the temperature (shivering for a good portion of the night) or getting used to the new night guard – but, as is the case most of the time when I have had sleep issues here, I don’t feel unrested.
Back in the saddle in Azrou – have spent some time at Café Bilal with various other volunteers, have spent some time at Abdou’s having tea, have stocked up on food (pomegranates and clementines!), have written up my GAD meeting notes and sent them to my stage, have given my input as to a harassment working group status report and an IST presentation (Environment and Health IST is next week in Azrou while the PCTs are away for site visit – it does keep moving! Hard to believe that the second-year Environment and Health volunteers, who came in six months after I did, are so close to their end too). Went to couscous at Youssef’s family’s house today – two Fridays without seemed long; three more couscous Fridays to go (when I asked Lee what he would miss the most, that was his answer). I need to see my host family now – haven’t seen them in a while! I went to the farewell party for the Ain Leuh CBT group – the one we gave at the end of Timhadite CBT does seem long ago. I was glad to be invited – it was fun to see everyone having fun, and I even did a little dancing along with the women. The group did some great projects – they had a beautiful new sign made for the cooperative, did a workshop on budgeting, showed them how to use the digital camera that the Al Akhawayn group left them, researched grant ideas, put brochures in the Ain Leuh auberges, and did a training on product mix for profitability – all things that Colin can build upon, not to mention continuing the things that I had started!
Now to pack some more boxes – glad I started when I did; there’s not much more that I’m not using, but it’s almost time to start packing those things too. Want to buy some spices and some slippers and maybe one or two more things. Need to buy my airline ticket. Want to finish the Dar Neghrassi brochure and make more progress on the Dar Neghrassi web site – and train Abdou so that he can work on it (Kathy also agreed to continue working on it after I leave, but I still want to get a little more done). I need to back up my computer and make CDs for Colin, Abdou, the artisans, the Artisana, Ain Leuh and program staff – I have made some as I went along, but still, that will take some time. Have to figure out what I will do with the things I am not taking or sending – I have given away some and I am trying to sell some and I hope to give away or sell the rest – this week I set up a little flea market/giveaway aisle in the Zen room. Rose is coming this weekend for last-gasp carpet shopping and rummy – made pumpkin bread and a quiche today. I will have Kathy and Elizabeth over on Election Night for a possible all-nighter, though since I have been so sleep-challenged I will have to see how long I stay up – time change this weekend in the U.S. means being up that much later, and at the moment I feel somewhat confident about the outcome (though state races are interesting too). I do love staying up for election returns, but I also love staying up for the baseball post-season, and I couldn’t manage that. I don’t even know if I can manage to stay up in the future should I end up living in the Eastern time zone!
Happy Halloween! And congratulations to the Phillies!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I got home yesterday before it started thinking about getting dark – hooray! – and apparently had the first window of time in days in which to do my laundry – hooray! – which is now undergoing nature’s extra rinse cycle out on the clothesline. That’s okay – I’m never convinced I get all of the soap out anyway, and I will finally be home for a while so I don’t have to worry about going away again with wet things still on the line (not that it would be a problem; I just don’t feel I should do it). Unfortunately, there’s more soaking now – went to a café today and since it was chilly we sat inside, where it was too smoky – and no place to hang it when I rinse it out.
I thought it would be nice to get to Fes early today and walk from the taxi stand to the Palais Jamai. I have done that once – through the Ville Nouvelle and Fes El-Jdid and part of the old medina – and I had the time today. It wasn’t raining this morning, and when we pulled closer to Fes there was actually some sun. But by the time I got there, it was raining. I thought I would walk anyway – I like walking in the rain – but by the time I got to the Royal Palace (the main door of which is under scaffolding – glad I have seen it before!) I was soaked, so I got into a petit taxi. I had a great massage. And then I had some time before my dentist appointment. It was still raining – and my clothes were still wet – so I just sat in the Palais Jamai lobby, reading and looking at the view of the swimming pool and the old medina. Time well spent. The petit taxi from there to the dentist had to stop on the other side of the medina to drop other people off first, so I had a panoramic drive. The dentist took me ahead of a waiting room full of people (he had not done so the week before last) and I got my new mouth guard and once again made it home in (rainy) broad daylight. While I was away, one of Abdou’s cats died – not Minush, the friendliest cat in the world, but her first son. I heard how upset Abdou was about it and found myself perhaps somewhat irrationally wishing it hadn’t happened while I was still here (though it was nice to be able to express condolences in person). Minush, in the meantime, is visibly larger than she was last week. Is she going to give birth again before I leave? She has been busy this year!
I always seem to see changes when I have been away for a few days. Lately, there has been construction around town – in the overlook by the big rock and in the big square across from Bilal, though none has started yet at the Artisana (or maybe it started while I was away! I will go tomorrow). How did they manage to make any progress with all the rain? The overlook was last re-sidewalked (a word?) before the King’s visit – in other words, recently. So why rip up the one thing that was recently redone? Because when the King came to visit he signed off on this project! I wonder how many changes there will be between now and the next time I come, whenever that is. I have to take some more pictures before I leave!
I left last Wednesday well in time to make the train – actually I should back up and say that while I got ready on Tuesday night, my guest made a banana-tomato curry – yum! I wrote down the ingredients (she is one of those cook-to-taste cooks so we’ll have to experiment with quantities when we try it for ourselves) and will post them soon. When I leave for the train I allow time for the taxi to stop for gas or at the police station or both – but I did not allow enough for the pickup of a trunkful of luggage (i.e. plaid bags) and the subsequent drop-off in a maze-like neighborhood on the way to the taxi stand in Meknes (if we had gone to the taxi stand first I would have been fine), so rather than push it (though it turned out the train was late) I took a taxi to Rabat. It wasn’t as twisty as I remembered it (though maybe the ride was slower than usual due to the rain), which bodes well. Maybe I will take a taxi rather than the train on my final trip to Rabat – four weeks from this past Sunday! – with all of my luggage.
It was drizzly but not rainy in Rabat on Wednesday afternoon, and I had a nice medina walk. I love walking on the quiet side streets; the picture is a typical view. I had pent-up medina demand, and this satisfied it. Then I went for sushi with the Administrative Officer – I love talking with her. I had put my stuff in the hotel room at the Velleda not knowing who else was in there – but just glad that they had honored the reservation I made last week – and when I got back there were maybe six empty bottles of wine and at least that many empty cans of beer in there. What happened to the GAD committee? Who made our room party central? Other volunteers were in town for the end of YD COS medicals and the beginning of people coming in to take the GREs, plus there seem to always be random PCVs in town, for medical (or to ET). I just wanted to read! The partiers had gone for dinner so I did have some quiet time, and when they got back (turned out it was mostly people I had not met before – and will probably not meet again…) they were tired, so there was some quiet conversation but no wildness. Still, there were too many people (six total) sleeping in the room – I took a Benadryl to make sure I could sleep, since I hadn’t slept well the week before, but I am not sad that this aspect of Peace Corps is coming to an end (the next night there were only five, and the next night just four, in the four beds that were in the room – I can’t say it was ever a problem, but I can’t say I had fun, either).
The GAD meeting itself was a good one. The resource guide is almost finished and will be available for next week’s Health and Environment IST (to be held in Azrou, not Agadir – budget cuts), for the PCTs before they swear in, for the soon-to-be second-year SBD and YD at their mid-service medicals, and for second-year Health and Environment on request. That was a big accomplishment; we finished editing it during project time. Another big thing was agreeing on written a mission and goals statement – we needed to clarify things not only for staff and for the volunteer community, but for ourselves as well. Based on these, we were able to discuss future initiatives. We also met with the new Country Director and gave him an overview. I am really glad that I have been on this committee during my service. It has given me a reason to keep in touch with my stage, it has given me extra work to do (one of the reasons I ran was to have some meaningful work in case the work at my site wasn’t – turned out I didn’t need that but was glad to be involved in Peace Corps life in this way), and it has made me think about gender and development, perhaps even as a future career path.
While at the office I talked to the Safety and Security Officer (my old LCF, Mina) about the whereabouts policy and being a warden – I feel I’ve given a bunch of feedback on this already, but that’s all right. She asked the harassment working group for thoughts on the upcoming IST, so that’s a new project for this week. I also talked to the SBD Program Manager about several things; she gave me a hint as to who might be placed in Azrou and Ain Leuh. Site announcements are this Thursday! I like all of the people that she mentioned as possibilities but know that nothing is set, so I’ll wait and see. It was a good discussion. I also met someone from Women in Technology - check http://witmena.org - a non-profit expanding to Morocco this year. Among (not many) other sites, they are opening up training centers in Azrou, Ain Leuh and Timhadite (!) to train women on Microsoft Office and the internet and also on basic business skills, sustainability, conflict resolution…. Wow! I can tell the cooperatives about it and get everything started for my successor(s), but I won’t be here to see it. Maybe the best thing that happened was that I decided to look in the Peace Corps library one last time for the John McPhee book – and I found it! I have already finished it – even re-read the parts that I had already read in the New Yorker. Now I think I need Annals of the Former World (even though I have a copy in storage) – it’s about his trips across I-80 and the geology he found along the way, and since I’m thinking about driving across I-80 myself… (that is, I don’t need it now – it’s big! – but want to get it when I land in California and read as I go).
We all went to TGIFriday’s for lunch on Thursday – not that I won’t be able to go very soon if I want to – and the portion size was so big that I didn’t want to go out for dinner. Not looking forward to American portion size! I was happy to have quiet time in the room – all the more so when the room became the gathering place again that evening. I am not sure whether I was so indifferent towards the crowd because I am leaving or because I felt like reading. Or maybe it just wasn’t my crowd - I did participate in the conversation every once in a while, but not a lot. On Friday we had a nice al fresco lunch – it stopped raining! And after the meeting I had a chance to do a little of goal #3, sharing my experience with other Americans. Morocco Exchange – check http://moroccoexchange.org - is a non-profit that brings American university students studying in Spain to Morocco for intense cultural exchange for anywhere from four days to three weeks. They always try to have some PCVs speak about their experiences during the Rabat portion of the program (as I said, there are always random PCVs in Rabat); I have been asked before but had never been available, and it was nice to be able to speak with the group. Three of us from GAD went – all from Chicago, all women, but from three different sectors and at three different points in our service, so the students had a range of perspectives, as well as some good questions! The talk was preceded by a quick ocean-view walk and followed by a delicious al fresco chicken Caesar salad - sure, I can get more of those soon enough, but they’re a favorite of mine anyway. There was no party in the room on Friday night – it was the night before the GREs so there was reading and studying, and we retired on the early side. I may never take the GREs but observing the cramming has made me interested in augmenting my vocabulary – not only to obviate redundancy, but also for my own edification.
To be continued…. But in the meantime I’ll note that tonight I am breaking out the hot water bottles (one for the upper half of my body and one for the lower half). It didn’t seem so cold when I got back yesterday – until I got into my apartment, that is - and doing laundry in cold water outside in the cool air didn’t help, though a hot shower did. I thought about getting them out last night but thought that maybe it wasn’t that cold. Still, I did wear fleece to bed. And then got up in the middle of the night to put my stocking cap on and add an “acrylic mink blanket” on top of the duvet (and thought something was wrong with my mlb.com feed, because the World Series game had seemed to stop in the middle of the sixth inning). And wished I had put on some socks – I’ll put some on tonight. It still doesn’t seem that cold, but considering the number of layers I’m wearing now and the fact that I’m shivering, I guess it is!
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
As I write this I am listening to the rain pouring outside. It has rained a lot here lately! There have been severe floods in several areas but not in mine. Entire ksars fell in the south, a few people died, more are homeless or have damage. Some of the Peace Corps Volunteers were temporarily stranded but all are accounted for. Here I have been treated to “nature’s fireworks,” watching lightning from the roof, and the grass is green again – it’s amazing how the rain makes everything grow. Recent travels have brought bucolic views of grazing sheep (when they graze on green it seems bucolic – on brown you worry about overgrazing), nomads, the forest (with a few monkeys!) and meadows. I went to Timhadite only four times for CBT and only a few times since, but that stretch of road seems so familiar to me, as do the stretches between here and Meknes and here and Fes.
After I got back from the eye doctor things seemed different – most of my stagemates had left, and somehow I felt that. Of course, that is just a taste of what is to come – we officially finish up at 5:00 pm on November 26 – people can leave earlier if their TB test checks out and they have all of their signatures – and three people are on flights that night. Several more people are leaving the next day (they can still get home for Thanksgiving dinner if home is where they’re headed, or they are off on other adventures). I am staying in the country until at least November 30 – our original COS date – and have to leave by December 2, when my carte de sejour expires. Thanksgiving plans are still in the works. But there is still the rest of COS medicals to discuss…. Went to lunch with Jong and Rachel – I felt the need for a treat, and the last place I wanted to go was the falafel place across the street from the Velleda; I always feel sick after I go there. But they had already ordered so I decided to stay. Not a good idea – I felt sick afterwards – and then we walked to the office.
It was time for my exit interview with the new Country Director. I didn’t have an agenda per se, or even a list of things I felt I had to say. He directed the conversation, and we could have talked for hours; as it was we went over the hour time slot since I was the last person of the day. He started by asking me (more or less) how it felt to be old enough to be the parent of most of the other volunteers. I wasn’t prepared for that question! We talked also about the SBD program, the whereabouts policy and other things. I did bring up that I had inquired about being a third-year volunteer leader and he said it’s not in the budget so it’s too late for my stage but it is something he would consider for the next group. He asked if I would recommend Peace Corps Morocco to my friends and I said I would, provided they come in without many expectations. I was already drained from the eye experience and the interview was draining as well – not cathartic, just draining.
Jong, Rachel and I walked to the medina and ocean – no shopping, just walking; we did happen upon an art opening at a gallery and felt culture shock from experiencing culture. And then we went to the place I had been in the mood to go to for lunch – a French bistro. I may have to get back there this week – yes, I am leaving tomorrow again, for my last GAD meeting. I could have used a little more time between Rabat trips, but it didn’t work out that way! Friday didn’t work out as planned either. I came back to the room on Thursday night to discover that my night guard had a chunk missing and had a jagged edge. Any correlation with my teeth being shaved? And what happened to the missing piece – had I swallowed it the night before? Can’t think too much about that one!
My original plan was to leave early and go to Meknes, stopping at Marjane on the way home. I ended up taking the next train and therefore traveling with other PCVs, and going to Fes so I could then go to the dentist who made the night guard. That appointment took a while, so I didn’t get home until the end of the day. It was great to be back home! I could shower – sleep in my own bed – get some laundry going – and start to use the eye medicine – all of which made me feel like a new woman!
On Saturday I went back to Fes. Rose had curated an exhibit of art made by PCVs – there are so many SBD PCVs with art backgrounds – and I went to see it. Very impressive – there was a range of media and expression, all at a high talent level. Kathy came along too – we looked at the art, had lunch, and took a little stroll on the Talaa Kbira. The day seemed too short – another Fes day in order! Not counting the Fes day to pick up the new night guard next week – I think I may schedule a massage for that day. I need one.
I feel so stressed, but can’t say it’s the pressure of finishing things up. I know everything will get done but it seems there just aren’t enough hours in the day! I actually don’t feel any more pressure now than I have for a while now – either my clock started ticking a while ago or I did gain some ability to relax and go with the flow here, or both. I think I just get this way when I don’t have enough time to myself, and that has been the case. I did have a great time in Fes though, so I wouldn’t have given that up just to catch up on things at home!
When I got home a couple of stagemates were waiting for me – we weren’t asked for travel plans so they weren’t exactly illegal, but I’ll not name them, just in case. We made lasagna and played rummy. The next day more stagemates came through, on their way home from medicals, and one who wasn’t in a rush stayed Sunday night. Yesterday we went to the Artisana and to Abdou’s (always good when guests do what I would have done anyway, and when they buy!). We were joined by Alia, the export contact who was here in January. She managed to arrange her schedule to be here the two days I was here, which is good, but it means still not enough time to myself (though now she is napping and later she will go to cyber, so I have time to write and later to pack – plus last night she made dinner while I folded laundry and cleared my bookshelves. Two of the shelves went to Ain Leuh for the display room, two to Kathy – but it’s the first item I have disposed of that I was still using.... I had to take advantage of Alia’s having a car though!). When she was here before she was looking at the feasibility of starting a rug importing business – when she got the grant I posted a link to her web site, www.kantaracrafts.com (Ain Leuh women on the home page!) – and this trip is to buy! She has visited other PCV sites too and will go to Timhadite next; yesterday she bought three Ain Leuh rugs! We also met with my counterpart and with the women to understand costing and pricing – she really wants to offer fair trade merchandise and transparent pricing.
When we were there yesterday we learned that there was to be a ceremony today – the regional head of ODECO, the government ministry in charge of cooperatives, was coming to give them a certificate. So we decided to go back for that. I was distressed that I understood so little of what was said until I was told that the delegue was speaking in Classical Arabic – so now I have an idea of how different Darija is from Classical (well, I guess I have that idea from television too). It was nice to be there – I could contribute by taking photographs (it is expensive to get prints of everything, but since I am not there often, I make a lot of prints for them!). And then we stayed for tea and cookies! So what if I thought I was going to get other things done today or was stressed already – had to have tea and cookies. Alia and I also had lunch with the CBT group – I thought it was a good opportunity for them to listen to a business customer and what she looks for; they don’t know where they will be or if they will work with weavers but I think I would have appreciated meeting someone like her when I was in training. They find out next week where their sites will be! And then they have site visit the first week in November. Lee didn’t spend much time with me on my site visit – he had his own things to do – but he spent enough time with me so that I felt oriented and introduced. I want to be able to do the same for the new volunteers in Azrou (if there is one – nothing is certain) and Ain Leuh. I also want to make CDs of all my files and photos for them (and for the artisans) – that might wait until after site visit, since I know I can see them before (or even after) they swear in. I’m also pulling out some of my photos to submit to a Peace Corps photo contest – winning photos will be blown up and placed on the walls in the Peace Corps office. I have some good ones – mostly of other volunteers with artisans or other Moroccans, not of me – but that is fine!
The ceremony today was part of International Rural Women’s Day. I didn’t know there was such a day! And here I am on the Gender and Development Committee. I will bring that up at the meeting this week – that is an opportunity for some events and activities (even if it’s only tea and cookies!). Here GAD put together a hundred-page resource guide and before it is even printed I have additions! We drove back along the mountain route – along the ridge road Kathy, Elizabeth and I hiked on l-Eid – and saw snow and hail on the ground! Now we’re off to meet Briana and Kathy for coffee and to stop at Abdou’s and maybe the Artisana.
I’m downloading the presidential debates – had watched the vice-presidential one but not the presidential ones. I did read the analyses of those in the Times – plus I voted weeks ago – but they’re interesting to watch. I have also had a chance to watch all of the Tina Fey spoofs – those are great! I haven’t had as much luck with baseball – I was able to listen to only one of the games last week and now am going to be away. Maybe I will listen to some of the archived games when I get back – they’re nice background. Go Phillies.
After most of the GAD meetings I have gone to Marrakesh, since leaving from Rabat means I’m three hours closer – I put in for the weekend a while ago but thought I might cancel since I feel the need to be at home. But I learned last week that for post-COS travel I need a yellow fever shot and they are given only in Casablanca. I can’t get there and back in a day – that is, I can, the clinic isn’t open during the window in which I’d be there. So it’s convenient for me to stop on the way back from Marrakesh – I can then stay in Marrakesh longer and have a four-hour afternoon ride to Casablanca rather than an eight-hour all-day ride to Meknes. And I can get the shot first thing in the morning, get on a train, and maybe stop at Marjane on the way home! So – to recap – tomorrow through Friday, Rabat for GAD – Saturday and Sunday, Marrakesh – Monday Casablanca (but then home!) and Tuesday Fes! Then I hope to stay put for a while….
Sunday, October 19, 2008
On Tuesday morning I went to Ifrane to see the final presentation of the Worcester Polytechnic/Al Akhawayn students who have been working on the Ain Leuh web site. It’s not finished, but it’s off to a good start, and it was nice to be able to attend the presentation. I think this has been a good partnership and I hope that the collaboration of this program with PCVs in Ifrane Province will continue. More, I hope that they can come back next year and do more with the artisans here!
I felt in a rush to get to Rabat, but I decided to stay for the presentation of the group working with one of the Environment PCVs in the area – they examined the water issues in his village and proposed some solutions. After reading that article about water in Morocco and a couple of books on environmental issues recently, I think I found their presentation more interesting than the one I had a part in! Now I’m reading a New Yorker article about tunnels that I find fascinating. But I digress…. As I got to campus I remembered that the daughter of a Princeton classmate is a student there this fall. I didn’t think to contact her in advance, but I thought as long as I was there I might try to find her. An American student asked if she could help me – I asked her where Building Four was (and realized that I take it for granted that university buildings are named after donors) and asked her if she knew this student’s number – and she did, and I called her, and I had coffee with her and some of her friends. I still hope she can get to Azrou too, but at least I had a chance to see her while we were both in Morocco!
It did mean getting to Rabat later than I’d had in mind, but forces went my way – it hadn’t taken long for the Azrou to Ifrane taxi to fill, the Ifrane to Meknes one filled even more quickly, and I was right in front of the train’s open car – I prefer the open car to cars with compartments, but not all trains have them, and often there are no seats. Jong had secured a room at the Velleda for us to share, which eliminated a lot of stress. It’s always most convenient to stay there, and there wasn’t room for everyone in the group – kudos to Jong for taking care of it. Then I went to the radiology lab for my dental x-rays and mammogram, having arranged in advance to meet Bob and Linda in the waiting room so we could chat while we waited. It was warm in Rabat – warmer than it had been in Azrou for a while. I knew this intellectually but couldn’t bring myself to pack for it when it was so much cooler where I was coming from. Why is that?
Unlike all of the other PCV group activities, COS medicals are staggered – about half of the people come on the first day, about half on the second day, and a few come on the third day. I was scheduled for the middle day, so I was able to see most of the people who came both early and late, but not all. Both mid-service and COS medicals are done by sector – meaning only SBDs were there for them; YD’s are a week later. PST, IST, COS conference and 72-hour checkout have both sectors at the same time (though for the most part apart; part of the reason COS conference was so strange is that we spent so much of it together). Rose was one of the people on the first day, and she was also one of the people who had their exit interview on the same day as their medical day (there are two doctors and only one Country Director, so many, me included, had to stay an extra day for that – I thought I was the only one eager to get back to my site but it turned out I was not). So after the x-rays I sought out Rose – we had not emailed or IM'ed much since my trip to Sefrou at the beginning of Ramadan, so we had a lot to catch up on! Went with a group to the Goethe Institute for dinner – I wasn’t really in the mood for my usual pasta, but I should have ordered it anyway – was disappointed in my salad. We had some time to play rummy but were so tired that we called it an early night – and Rose went off to her hotel (she wasn’t lucky enough to get a room at the Velleda) and then left early the next morning.
Breakfast was a good time to see and talk to a lot of stagemates. We all go to the same place and almost always order the same thing – Toast (which is what we call the restaurant, though that is not its name), which is two slices of bread, cheese on that, eggs over easy on top of that, juice and coffee. I wasn’t in a rush, so I stayed there for several shifts of breakfasting stagemates. Then Jong and I took a walk in the Ville Nouvelle. Abdou has some beautiful coffee-table books of Moroccan carpets. I had decided that I can’t have every rug I’m in love with, but maybe I can get the books. I saw them in Rabat a while ago – but not this time. I have a couple of other chances – or maybe it’s not meant to be. Then – on to the dentist; let the appointments begin!
I had asked for an appointment in August because my tooth felt funny; at the time, he said we would just watch it. The x-ray indicated no cavities (I was waiting for them after Jen’s text from COS medicals last year – “three cavities - &*%!@ cultural integration!”). So what was it? Tell me if this is the latest trend in the States. He tested my bite and it turned out that only one set of teeth on each side is doing all of the work – so it felt funny because there was too much pressure on those teeth. So he shaved down the teeth and retested them (with a piece of paper with dye on it – if my teeth turned blue that meant they were touching and therefore working during chewing). The shaved-down teeth felt weird for a couple of days, but he had said it would take a couple of days to adjust, and now I think I have acclimated to it and no longer feel off. The funny feeling from before is gone. So - no cavities, and a cleaning and polishing.
And Bob and Linda had agreed to wait until after my appointment for lunch at the French Institute – we had eaten there together at mid-service meds, and now so much more time has passed. I had a nice, soft lunch – salmon and then chocolate mousse. Relaxing al fresco with interesting conversation led right into the next appointment – on to the Peace Corps office! I had time for a couple of quick hellos, and I left some RPCV Madison Calendars in the in-boxes of some of the staff people who have been most helpful to me, and I looked in the Peace Corps library for a John McPhee book (I had seen it in Peace Works on the list of new arrivals back in June, just before the GAD meeting – but by the time I was there for GAD it had been checked out (or shelved in a really good place) and it has not been available since – no luck there). And then on to the physical – relatively uneventful. I asked for but then forgot to follow up on my arrival weight so I could gauge that against my departure weight (which is less than I came with but more than my low, which I think was after PST and home stay). My head has been itchy, so I am on baby shampoo and argan oil for the time being. I got the flu shot - my final Peace Corps shot. And I secured an eye appointment for the next day. Then Connie, Jong and I walked back from the office; a healthy walk.
Frank had suggested going back to Le Grand Comptoir, but I couldn’t follow a fancy French lunch with a fancy French dinner, and I had a taste for the American Club’s Santa Fe Chicken Wrap, so I persuaded him and a bunch of others to go there. In a bunch, you really only get to talk to the people nearest you, but given all the meals, I had a chance to talk to almost everyone. Where people seemed so negative at COS Conference – burnt out, checked out – now people were in a good mood, looking forward to what’s next. Most of the people in my stage don’t have definite plans – in fact, most have no idea – but nobody seems worried about it. Some are applying to graduate school in the fall and want to get a job to fill the nine months, some will go back and look for jobs, a couple (only a couple!) have jobs, but most seem to be taking some sort of time off. Everyone seems to have a place to base themselves but some have no idea of where they’ll live – so I feel right in step! Before I left last week I made it a point to have an exit plan – I think I will go to Asilah for the weekend after Thanksgiving with Rose, and then take the ferry to Spain, visit Gibraltar again, take the train to Madrid and see the Prado, and then fly to Bangkok. But I couldn’t plan any farther than that; I am glad to have that much done, and I’ll make more plans as I go along. I priced out tickets but didn’t buy one yet; most people seem to have their initial tickets but I’m not the only one in my position. I’ll try to buy that ticket this week. Janeila had arrived – she was staggered to the final day – and had no place to stay; the hotel found an extra mattress and she shared our room; it was nice to have that chance to talk and to play more cards. I hadn’t seen much of her at COS Conference.
Toast for breakfast on Thursday; I was in the early shift, because I had an 8:30 eye appointment. This was a different doctor and different location from the ones I'd had in the past. Somehow taxi number one dropped me off at the Algerian Embassy (not sure how he got that out of what I said and showed him) and taxi number two took me on a long tour of Rabat before dropping me off. I used to say nothing here is easy and I guess I needed a reminder! I spent all morning in the waiting room – so much for my idea of medina shopping – but I used the time productively, writing to my World-Wise Schools class. And it was worth the wait - I felt that I had finally been acknowledged, diagnosed, resolved, taken care of. Mind you, I hadn’t felt that I wasn’t before, but after the appointment I felt an emotional release – I guess I had some pent-up fears and concerns that I wasn’t conscious of. I have complained of irritation since IST and have had eye drops and off-and-on gels – now I have thirteen boxes of three kinds of eye drops (some single-use, all multiple times a day, hence the quantity) for dry eye (or maybe I should call it Dry Eye – need to find out if that is something here or something I will always have) and allergies – and already after just two days I feel so much better. My eyes have felt so sore for so long…. In addition, sometimes I feel I see a blur. Turns out I have secondary cataracts, which is not uncommon. From a google search:
During cataract surgery, the surgeon removes the cloudy, pulp-like material from the lens of the eye. The outer layer of the lens, called the capsule, is left in place to hold the artificial lens. Following cataract surgery, many patients experience clouding of this tissue. This condition is called a secondary cataract. It is quite common and results in the same symptoms of reduced vision as were caused by the original cataract. The onset of a secondary cataract may occur months or even years after the original surgery. If it happens in one eye, it will likely occur in the other. Secondary cataracts can be easily treated with a laser. It is a brief and painless outpatient procedure that is performed without the need for anesthesia or a surgical incision. The laser makes a small opening in the clouded capsule behind the artificial lens. This allows light to reach the retina without distortion. The result is improved vision. Your activities are not limited following the laser treatment. In most cases, improvement in vision is noticed within minutes after the procedure.
The doctor likened it to a windshield wiper cleaning the lens – one quick swish. I can’t do this before I leave because of the follow-up required, but I can wait until I get back; the blur sometimes bothers me but it's nowhere near as bad as it had gotten before my surgery. In addition, I need a new prescription. I didn’t think this was possible given that the lenses now in my eyes are made of plastic, but I spoke with my eye doctor at home last year when I was in a bit of a panic (oh yeah, I was worried about it and called him up – but once he said it was possible I put it out of my mind - so maybe that's why I wasn't consciously concerned and pushing more here); I had already decided I would wait until I get back for that change, but the PCMO may want to do it now – doesn’t make sense to me given that it will change again once I have the surgery, but she has to call Washington to check with them.
To be continued….
Monday, October 13, 2008
One of the items on the packing list I received in 2006 was duct tape. There was a parenthetical comment along with it – something like “you’ll never believe how useful it may be!” Still, I wasn’t going to get it; when Martha came to help me pack, I reviewed the list and showed her what I had packed and she insisted we get some duct tape (also sticky tack for putting stuff on walls and a couple of other hardware items – which left incense as the thing on the list that I most felt I could live without, but I ended up getting some as a gift before I left, and I have used it. I was determined out of principle not to use the duct tape, but tonight I did – the bottom of my rolling carry-on is torn and worn, and I taped it up. Sigh.
SWOT and questionnaire design went all right last week. We had people SWOT an aspect of Moroccan or volunteer life to date (I remember my group doing the Turkish toilet, and if it was that memorable, then it must have been impactful). I enjoyed doing SWOT in CBT – I think it gave the women a new way to think about their business – but I never formally (or even informally, actually) did it here, so I had to gloss over that. As for questionnaire design, I knew that the objective was not to get too technical about it – the questionnaires that the CBT groups are doing are interviews, not really questionnaires; I did do the artisana questionnaire so I could talk about that, but I didn’t feel it was all that relevant, so I didn’t feel that I wowed them. The good news is that the harassment training, later in the week, did – I didn’t participate in giving it but I did participate in its design, so I feel good. There’s more for the Harassment Working Group to do, but PST training might have been the biggest priority.
Wednesday afternoon I had a date with Abdou and Kathy for another look at the collection, the unique and antique rugs upstairs. I was photographing, but also looking to see if there was one more rug I had to have. We didn’t get very far – another trip or two or three might be in order! It’s always fun to look at rugs. When we got back downstairs I did see a rug I liked! At a non-collection price, too – it isn’t mine yet but it soon may be. Thursday I cleared the schedule and stayed in almost all day (it was rainy and cold so a good day for it) to finish the Artisana web site. That is, I loaded all of the photos I had taken and not loaded yet (see the Showroom page) – I don’t feel I have time to start a new round of photos at the Artisana (Abdou’s is enough to keep me busy), so I hereby declare it finished. It had been hanging over my head a bit…so I am glad.
Thursday evening I donned the fleece jellaba (didn’t expect it to be THAT cold on October 9 – thankfully it has warmed up since) and went to the Auberge to chat with the Ain Leuh CBT group and another CBT group that is living in one site to practice language and then working with the Azrou cooperative to practice technical. I told them each the background and what I have done with them – and it reinforced that the Ain Leuh cooperative vs. the Azrou one is like night and day – I am glad I have had the chance to work with the Ain Leuh women, even if it took so much more time than I thought it would (of course, maybe one of the reasons is that there is so much one could do with them, which has not been the case for me with the Azrou weavers).
While working on the web site I also whipped up a brochure for the wood carvers – having already made brochures for the Artisana as a whole, the weavers and the metal worker (Lee had made one for the rock carver) and I brought that and a printout of the showroom part of the web site to show my counterpart. Jackie (former Ain Leuh volunteer) has been printing and sending the brochures to me out of the goodness of her heart. Then to Abdou’s, where a first-year SBD friend of Kathy’s had family visiting and was looking at rugs – more photo ops! And then couscous at Youssef’s family’s – it was delicious, perhaps more so than usual because I hadn’t had any since before Ramadan. Then Kristina came to visit! She had come to Azrou last December for the workshop with the rock-carver and then bought him a tool when she went home for Christmas – this was the first time since then that we could work out her coming back!
I was in the mood to make something new and found a recipe for stuffed eggplant that might become a regular part of my repertoire – I modified it quite a bit; what we made for two people was:
2 medium eggplants
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic
spices as you like – we used salt, oregano, basil, pepper, cayenne
1 cup soft bread crumbs – we used 3 tsp nutritional yeast instead
Wash eggplant and cut in half. Scoop out pulp to about 1/2 inch of the skin. Dice pulp. In a skillet, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 2 minutes; add eggplant pulp, tomatoes, bread crumbs, and spices. Mix well; fill eggplant shells. Bake at 375° until browned, about 30 minutes.
And we watched “Ratatouille,” the only movie I have bought while here (I have mixed feelings about piracy – and there haven’t been that many movies I felt I had to see – but please tell me if there are other musts). It was great! On Saturday night we watched “Cars,” which someone had put in my giveaway pile. Also Pixar, also great. We made lasagna on Saturday night – again, I felt inspired to do something different – not as successful as the stuffed eggplant, but I may try again.
Kristina came to meet with the rock-carver but also to shop – fine with me! We went to the Artisana and then spent a good part of the day at Abdou’s – she looked through all the pillows but some other PCVs who came and went over the course of Saturday bought some rugs. More photo ops, too – quite a week! I went over there again today, but we just talked and had tea – I felt I hadn’t had an afternoon like that in a long time.
Yesterday afternoon, Kathy and I went to Ifrane – the tree-lined streets, grassy park areas, Swiss-style houses and working fountains still amaze me. The supermarche there has peanut butter and oatmeal on a regular basis, which is why we go (it’s closer than Marjane) – and this time it had Cheetos. We bought all they had (two bags each) and then sat by the fountain devouring a bag before returning to Azrou. Today I went to Monday souk! Have not been there since before Ramadan either – I missed it.
I have mentioned in passing the idea of staying for another year – the idea may have started this spring when I learned about the re-do of the Artisana. My counterpart asked me if I wouldn’t like to stay to see it through – and I would. But given that the museum next door to it has been a shell, looking pretty much the way it did when I got here, who is to say construction would finish next year? The showroom was supposed to close in July – will it close before November? The web site is the kind of project I could work on for another year – there are always more enhancements to add – more photos, more languages, more artisans – and I don’t feel I will be able to do as much to it as I had wanted to, but I feel it is in good shape. If I get replaced and my replacement wants to work on it, there could be two years’ worth of work to do, and if he or she doesn’t, it can stand on its own. Kathy will work on the Dar Neghrassi web site after I leave, and we can train Abdou to work on it as well, I think.
Other countries have third-year volunteer leaders, and since I at times function in that sort of role for this region anyway, I thought it would be interesting to do that on an official basis. I knew that the former Country Director was against the idea, so I waited to approach it with program staff until it was close to the end of his tenure and the beginning of the new one’s. A fellow PCV also wrote an email on my behalf, which was very nice of her. But I think the new Country Director would have had to come in knowing he wanted to have them and knowing what their roles would be for it to be in place before I leave – and how could he know that without gauging the situation here? Even if he knew he wanted third-year volunteer leaders, my feelings are still mixed – the new SBD Program Manager still feeling her way – I am not sure I could be well-utilized. Neither I nor the friend who wrote on my behalf has received an answer – so while the door is not closed, I think there is only the tiniest of cracks. I also have always thought there’s a reason that the Peace Corps is a two-year program and that there’s a value in finishing with the people I started with. There’s one PCV in YD who extended for an extra year because she had a project she wanted to see through, and she said the third year was the hardest. I am glad I asked, but I think it’s not going any farther.
COS Conference did a good job of starting the closure process (if not the reflection process), writing up the documents helped me summarize things, making to-do lists has given me an idea of how much more I want to try to do work-wise before I go, packing and mailing things home (i.e. to Edie so far, with a couple of other locations on reserve) has been a relief (though I still need some boxes – now Timhadite and Ain Leuh have been depleted of their large-size mailing boxes and both post offices in Azrou still don’t have any, and I need a couple of bigger ones for bigger items – I am glad I started early, since so far I am not stressed about it). I’ve made a list of things I still want to buy (it’s short, and it’s mostly things for other people or for Third Goal show-and-tell talks) and a list of places I want to visit (most of which I can give up if I feel I want to spend more time in Azrou). Training has taken more time than I anticipated, but I am happy to help out and to think I can make a difference in someone’s service.
Tomorrow I am on the way to COS medicals – the milestone between COS conference and 72-hour checkout. I am leaving early tomorrow because I will stop in Ifrane on the way to see the presentation by the students who have been working with the Ain Leuh weavers. They set it in the morning to accommodate my schedule, but it didn’t have to be so early! When I get to Rabat I would like to get my dental X-rays and mammogram (the one at mid-service was the most painful of my life so I use the phrase “would like” loosely) done, and I want to shop for a coffee table book or two (after two years of looking at the books on rugs at Abdou’s I decided that it would be good to get one myself – for show and tell, but also to remind me of the beautiful rugs I have seen and the wonderful afternoons at Dar Neghrassi). My dental appointment is at noon on Wednesday and then my physical is the last of the day, at four o’clock. I was originally scheduled to leave Thursday morning – meaning not much time for any needed follow-ups – but my exit interview with the Country Director was scheduled for four o’clock on Thursday – I might be the only person in the group who doesn’t want an extra day in Rabat! Last year Katie and Jen both said that towards the end they didn’t want to travel anymore; they just wanted to stay in their sites (have I said this already?) – I didn’t think that would happen to me too but it has (trips to places I want to go to one more time notwithstanding…),
The picture is of a Hamza (Hand of Fatima but also a symbol of good fortune in Judaism; hamza means five, for the five fingers) given to me by Linda. She was drawing one every day during Ramadan as a meditation, and when she came to visit she drew the design of my floor tile as a doodle – and then she came back with the gift for me. Very special.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
On Friday I had a meltdown – I know my emotions are heightened but I still wasn’t prepared for it. I had gone to the Artisana and then decided why not go to Escalade for pastry and Bilal for coffee – I don’t usually go by myself but I have been waiting all month to go. There’s a man who shines shoes and always offers to do mine; shoes get pretty beat up here – I can’t leave my house without walking across some dirt. Usually I say no, and all summer I wore Chacos so he just asked friends who were wearing leather, but that day I was wearing my Merrells. I said no, and then looked at my shoes and realized they really did need it. So I said yes. He tries so hard, and he works so hard – and I started thinking about all of the people here who have no hope and no jobs and I just started to cry. Sadaka, or charity, is one of the pillars of Islam and it is customary to give charity on the night before l-Eid – I am not converting, but I do like being charitable, so this is a tradition I have participated in, and I realized I had forgotten to give any (partially because I was more focused on whether it was actually the night before or not). Of course, any day is a day to be charitable, but it added to the meltdown. Azrou is a relatively prosperous town (in a relatively prosperous country), but there are still a lot of beggars here and a number of crazy people and others who are clearly poor or hurting. I realized a long time ago that that’s not why I’m here – Peace Corps isn’t about the poorest, it’s about helping people with technical needs - and I don’t know exactly why it got to me. But I think I am going to have my shoes shined more often between now and when I leave, just because.
After the meltdown, I went to Abdou’s to review the draft of the brochure I had made for him. It felt good to be able to do something for him after all he’s done for me, and he and his father both liked it; I want to do more work to it and do a French-language version (maybe with different pictures, since narrowing them down was hard), but I was still emotional, so I went home to compose myself. Kathy came into town later and we did errands. As we went into one hanut there was a woman and a little girl; the little girl looked at us and asked the woman if we spoke English. I don’t know if we had said anything yet but the woman said that we did, and we talked to the little girl for a while. There are two orphanages around here – I think I have mentioned them before. I went to the Fourth of July barbecue of people who work in the one in Ain Leuh; the people we met in the hanut were from the other one, in Ougmes. The little girl asked if we would visit and we said we would try. She said, “can you come today?” and we said we couldn’t, but it really tugged at our heartstrings, and we are going to try to go one day soon. Then we took a walk along the souk road (my running route) and we saw two small kittens – how are they going to make it? What an emotional day!
And – coincidence? – on the emotional day, I was asked to do a training on Sunday (YD) and Monday (SBD) nights on VSN. The trainees were coming back from their first CBT on Sunday, and the PTO (Programming and Training Officer – the person in charge of all the programs – I think he is also APCD – Assistant P-something Country Director) wanted to introduce the Volunteer Support Network, reinforce that Peace Corps cares about people’s mental as well as physical well-being, and to have trained VSNers available during the week for trainees who may need to talk.
I went to Erfoud for the weekend – a change of scene helped clear my mind. The way down was smooth – the taxi in Azrou took a while to fill but the ones in Midelt and Errachidia filled quickly – and I got to Erfoud at lunchtime. There was a first-year SBD volunteer I hadn’t met yet, visiting with her mother and a friend of her mother’s, and Frank and I had lunch with them. I had kalia, a specialty of the area – basically a meat tagine with a lot of minced vegetables and an egg on top. Hmad, the tour operator who had taken Steve, Elisa, Youssef and me to the desert last November, came to pick them up. And both Hmad and the guests asked if we would like to come along. Yes! I had thought we might walk or bike in the palmerie, but Frank didn’t jump at either of those, so it was an easy choice. We went to two places to look at fossils – I picked up some nice ones. There are so many there for the taking – it really is amazing. Then we had tea with nomads in their tent and saw their way of life – sure, they get paid for hosting visitors, but it’s still amazing to see the way they live. They live in the Berber tents just like the ones tourists stay in, sleeping on rag rugs that they make, with a separate kitchen area and in this case a small animal pen. Then they pack up and go if the water runs out. We then went to the dunes and took a walk – so wonderful to be on the soft red sand of the Sahara and to see the vast expanse of dunes.
The volunteer and her visitors stayed over and did a sunrise camel ride; Frank and I went back to Erfoud where I had to lie down – after saying for months that I had finally mastered the art of traveling without getting dehydrated, I was dehydrated and had a terrible headache and dizziness. Oral rehydration salts, water and sleep helped, and on Sunday I felt fine. Frank and I went to a café – as happy as I might have been to get back to a café after Ramadan, it is nothing compared to how happy Frank was to get back to one. Then we went to the date souk – so many types and qualities for sale. I am not sure I ever ate a date before I came here, but now I love ‘em! As we were walking, someone said, "Azrou" to me - he lives in my town; I don't think I have ever noticed him, but it was a reminder that we are celebrities of a sort. And then we went to Frank's workplace, Manar Marble (manarmarble.com is the web site he built - you can see all of the fossil products they have!), where I got a plate for Martha and Susan to replace the one that never got to them, and I picked up a trilobite for myself!
All too soon it was time to go back – and I was a little sad. It was too short a trip! I may go back for another farewell to the desert (I went back to Tiger Stadium twice after I thought I had seen my final game there), or that may have been my farewell (for now…). But if I do go back, I don’t know that I’d see Frank – he has farewells of his own to do – and I wonder if/how we’ll keep in touch. The other day I reviewed Rose’s resume and wondered how often she and I will see each other too. I am grateful for this time we have had and for the other friends I’ve made, and I’ve been through enough other partings that I know that some people keep in touch and others don’t, and it’s okay, but it was another case of the finality setting in. It was nice that Erfoud/Merzouga was one of my first trips, in January 2007, and one of my last. I love the desert – I found peace there.
The way back was stressful – no taxis from Erfoud, and when finally there was one, they charged one-and-a-half times the normal fare (I also saw a taxi driver who knew me, and whom I knew from Azrou - he was going back there, but not until night). The taxi from Errachidia to Azrou was about double the price – I suppose it was because people took a long l-Eid weekend and it was just supply and demand, but for our money it was not smooth - the taxi stopped once to drop off a bag, once to pick up a bag, once for gas, once because an Allen wrench inexplicably fell out of the car, in Zaida for a “fifteen-minute” stop that was in reality about triple that, and then finally got to Azrou just at dusk – I did have time to shower before the VSN presentation but not to relax.
It was a good idea to introduce VSN early in PST – we had been introduced to it at the end so we would know what support was available to us as volunteers. But trainees need support too – someone to listen, someone to vent to. There are group dynamics issues, frustrations with staff, lack of privacy, culture shock, homesickness, overprogramming, expectations unmet, and all sorts of other issues. We had nine people at the YD after-dinner session and 20 the next day for SBD. We introduced VSN and its history and rationale, and talked about the opportunity for new people to get trained. And then we did a little debriefing where we broke people into small groups and had them process what has happened so far. Two people asked to VSN with me separately as well.
Yesterday was also the GAD presentation for SBD. The first-year SBD on GAD and I did it together, which made it more interesting and fun. We started with a gender continuum – dividing the group into people who had to pretend they were Moroccan men, Moroccan women, American men, and American women, and then move along a spectrum in the room, one wall being strongly agree and one strongly disagree, in response to statements such as “boys should get more education than girls” or “women with pre-school-age children should not work outside the home.” It was a fun exercise. We had them talk about their gender observations in CBT, and then did a short powerpoint about theory. My fellow GAD member has done a lot of reading on gender and Islam, and she pulled relevant quotes to illustrate different points. We discussed GAD and SBD, using real examples of SBD GAD projects (something we had not had before this summer when we worked on it for the Resource Guide). Then we had scenarios of situations that might occur (such as counterpart suggesting separate meetings for men and women) and broke the group into small groups to discuss (so much better than just lecturing them – with the continuum, the quotes and examples as handouts, and the activity, it kept things moving). Then we talked briefly about the committee and held elections. Other stages have expressed a desire to hear from all the committees and then vote at the end, but we didn’t give them the chance – we just held the election!
Between GAD and VSN I sat in on another session, but more important, I had time during the breaks to talk informally to people (also sat with some at dinner), and played cards with Connie, who was in town for the other session – she and I had been talking about getting together to play since PST and this was the first time we’d managed it!
I was asked to present SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) and Questionnaire Design tomorrow, so I’ve been working on that presentation this evening. Today was busy- laundry, then a little birthday celebration for Abdou (his birthday was during Ramadan, so we wanted to wait until a time we could eat cake – note, most people fast for six days during the month after Ramadan; we had to make sure he wasn’t fasting today, so it couldn’t be a surprise). Then I went out to Ain Leuh to meet with the professor and students and the cooperative. Then Linda, Gavin and Brian, some of the PCVs who are also helping with training, wanted to meet up – I suggested Abdou’s, and we had birthday celebration #2!
I won’t say anything about the Cubs or White Sox.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Mbruk l-Eid! That is, happy holiday! Yesterday was the first day of l-Eid Sgir, the little holiday, marking the end of Ramadan. Two years ago in CBT in Timhadite (seems like yesterday and seems like long ago), the day started with breakfast of rice and milk (actually some round pasta – or barley?). And then there was lots of visiting and tea and cookies everywhere – we went from host family to host family and to most of the artisans. Last year Youssef and I were on the way to the airport to pick up Martha and Susan for the first of our three adventures in tourism. I felt sad to tear him away from his family but he found new family members in us! This year Kathy and Elizabeth were going to come in to Azrou and we were going to go on an all-day hike (transport is spotty on l-Eid without a rental car and Youssef as your driver, or we might have considered a day trip) but they both had to do the rounds in their communities. Their sites are smaller, so as they walked out the door they saw people and once they started they had to visit others. I missed out on that by living in a larger town rather than a village, but that’s fine with me.
By the time they texted to say they couldn’t hike, it was too late for me to join Youssef’s family in their visits, so I decided to spend the day reading – first on the balcony in the sun and then, when the sun moved away and the balcony got chilly, on the ponge. I had pent-up reading demand! It was hard to really give myself the day off and not spend time on the computer – I was on a roll, after spending most of Tuesday working on the GAD presentation for next Monday and on a brochure for Dar Neghrassi – but I decided to force myself to stay away! I couldn’t last though – an evening email check included one from Aid to Artisans; they want to interview me tomorrow about my business background and my thoughts on how Aid to Artisans and Peace Corps could work together. The Ain Leuh women received a grant from Aid to Artisans and I worked on follow-up on it but I haven’t been that involved with them, so I did some research; check out www.aidtoartisans.org to see all of the things that they do!
Then, at 11:30 pm, as I was caught up in the reverie that comes with listening to Vin Scully on the radio, my alternate warden called on the land line (in-country land line to land line is free after eight pm, but usually the only people who call on that line are wrong numbers, and I’m usually in bed or on the way by then, so in two ways it was a shock) to brainstorm ideas for funding a girls’ basketball camp in the area. Hey, there’s a game going on! I have always thought that the first two days of the baseball playoffs, which since the wild card was introduced have three games per day, should be days off from work, and this year in Morocco they are! Back in the day, I wouldn’t go out on the first weekend of the playoffs, with a potential for eight games in two days (though I am not sure that ever happened), but this weekend I am going to Erfoud. I was on my way there when I was snowed in the first weekend in January and now I am finally getting there!
It’s also just as well I didn’t hike yesterday because I didn’t get a lot of sleep on Tuesday night. After staying up late on Monday to listen to the White Sox, I decided to treat Tuesday’s one-game playoff like the late-night West Coast games of my youth – have the radio on but go to bed. I drifted in and out of sleep and was awake for Jim Thome’s home run; that completely woke me up and I stayed up through the end of the 1-0 Sox victory – and then I was still wide awake, so I took a Benadryl. The PCMO recommends them to those having trouble sleeping - I don’t feel good the morning after I take one, and I don’t like to take them on principle, but I took them for a while this summer when I felt stressed and again last week when I kept tossing and turning. Reading was a good way to relax yesterday while my head cleared. In the late afternoon, Kathy came into town; she had had about seven glasses of tea and the cookies to go with it, and I had been reading all day, so we both wanted an exercise walk. We stopped by Youssef’s family – everyone was asleep! So I left them a note along with some cake I had baked and we proceeded on with our walk – up to the Panorama and then down to the Auberge, where we wished Mbruk l–Eid to Malika, the PCT SBD homestay coordinator and the then-LCF who I had my first week of language with. Everyone loves Malika! She was on the phone when we got there, so we played ping-pong – there was no ping-pong table when I was in training. Ping-pong! We also bought some potato chips and ate them while walking – just to celebrate being able to eat in public again.
I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night either, staying up for as much of the Cubs-Dodgers game as I could (though I decided I really needed some sleep so I skipped Red Sox-Angels). The White Sox game just ended (and so far it hasn’t gone well for either Chicago team….) and the Phillies-Brewers game is on. Tonight’s Cubs-Dodgers game is the late game (1:30 am start here) so I think I am going to attempt to go to sleep soon and wake up early and listen to it with a news blackout. Plus I want to download the vice-presidential debate! Today we did go on the hike – many stores in Azrou were still closed for the holiday, as was the case in Rabat was last year, so a day trip was still out – but the hike was great! We went up the mountain and then along the ridge and then further up and then around and down. Mountains and trees and meadows and some stops to sit and contemplate the view. With no rain in the past couple of days, it warmed up slightly and was perfect hiking weather. And when we came down we played some cards. What a great holiday!
And before Ramadan is too distant a memory, I thought I’d put down the zmeta ingredients, even though I didn’t participate in or observe the making of any. It is time-consuming but tasty! And one big batch lasts an entire month and then some. I have no idea of the quantities but if I get a better idea I shall edit this entry…
Sesame seeds – toasted in the oven.
Peanuts – roasted in the oven, smashed
Almonds and walnuts, crushed, optional
Flour (wheat or barley flour – wheat was used in the zmeta for Ramadan and barley for the zmeta for the baby)
A little oil and/or butter
Mix it all together (the sesame seeds and peanuts are a lot, the spices and oil/butter a little, and the flour and sugar - ????)! It should kind of stick together yet also be crumbly. Usually it is eaten with a small spoon; serving size a couple of spoonfuls.
I also wanted to take note of the words of Youssef’s middle nephew, who is just learning to talk. What are the first words a child learns in different languages/cultures? That would be an interesting study! He knows Danone, banana, milk, water, egg. Cats say meow here – dogs say how-how. On Tuesday night he was imitating the prayer, saying Allah Akbar (God is great) and touching his head to the ground – with the family both laughing and encouraging him. Though it wasn’t official on Tuesday afternoon that Wednesday would be l-Eid (the imams have to look at the moon), there was an air of anticipation as I walked around town. The countries that had started Ramadan a day earlier were celebrating on Tuesday. I went to buy some shebekia to bring to lftur and the shebekia place on the way to their house was selling cookies instead (meaning I have to get some more shekebia sometime before I leave, since I was ready for one or two more pieces – luckily, there are places that do sell it all the time, though in Ramadan there are several more places selling it and not much else), so that was my clue. Patisserie and café and rotisserie chicken and tuna sandwich place and tea at Abdou’s, here I come! In other words, back to normal life! As a treat, Youssef’s youngest sister henna-ed my hands – a first for me!
And before the DOS and Final Site Report fade away, some comments there too. The Final Site Report was tough in a way because it asked us to talk about our project, and I don’t feel I have had one big project but rather as a series of things that all constitute helping the artisans, the Artisana and the community. As I put together the list of things I had done, I put several things under the umbrella of marketing – the web sites, tourist questionnaire, brochures and business cards. In part this was what was requested of me, but it also came out of the background and mindset I came in with. Is that good, bad or neither? I guess it is good that I was put in a site that could use my expertise. But were those the priorities for the artisans and the site or did I just do what I could? Maybe it doesn’t matter – and maybe the next person will look at things though a different lens and take a different approach. I did other things too – such as the Natural Dye/Weaving Training-of-Trainers and fund-raising for the GLOW camp – that didn’t fall under that umbrella but that used some of my other talents. And all of the “extracurricular” things weren’t part of the project for my site but have contributed to the Peace Corps community. I feel good about the list of things I have done – there were a lot when I wrote them all up for the DOS, and when I detailed only the marketing part for the Final Site Report it also looked substantial. Even the separate report for Ain Leuh, where I have been only part-time for only six months, made for an impressive writeup.
So did I learn anything and increase my skill set? Obviously, learning language and living in another culture were the most significant things (and I still maintain that Goals #2 and 3 are as important as Goal #1, the technical, if not more so). I can make a web site using freewebs but haven’t learned other web design skills. I think my photography techniques have improved, having picked up some tips from the photographers in the group. The active listening/VSN training was good for me. As I think about potentially positioning myself for future employment, though, I think that learning about development at the grassroots level and applying the knowledge that I came with in this new setting might be more important than any technical skills I might have picked up. The Gender and Development involvement may be a selling point as well. Again, more reflection to come.