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.

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