Tuesday, November 25, 2008
My mattress - after being left in the sun to minimize the mildewy smell, after getting a featherbed to make it softer than a concrete slab and a down comforter since the sleeping bag kept moving around inside the duvet cover and I ended up being under only two thin layers of sheet and feeling cold, after getting a hot water bottle for my bottom half in addition to the one I had brought with me for my top half - ended up being a cozy bed, and I slept well my last night in it. Woke up and stripped the linens, went to the hammam, disconnected the phone and internet. Kathy and Anna came over and ate most of the brownies and no-bake cookies I still had - I had made them just to use up the ingredients and didn't see how they'd all get eaten, but the hikers and Sunday visitors ate a lot, I brought some to my farewell lunches, and I stashed some to bring to Rabat. Brian came over, Colin came over - everything moved out smoothly. Kathy and I went to Bilal for coffee and watched the world go by, and then went to Abdou's and had (not tuna, not chicken) some bisara. I had shed tears at farewells all week (only with Moroccans - I feel I'll be able to keep in touch with other PCVs, though of course I will miss them) and still had a few on Sunday, but was mostly composed. Colin met us back at my house and he and Kathy walked me to the taxi stand. Not long ago, or so it seems, I walked Lee to the bus station. And wasn't it just yesterday that we had coffee with Katie before she got on the CTM? Two taxis refused me - my stuff was going to fill the trunk - but the third would take me to Meknes provided I paid double. Through town we went, along the big street that I walked up and down so many times from the very beginning, and then we climbed up - the curve around to Meknes allows for a panoramic view of the valley with its fields, the sprawl of Azrou and the mountains behind it, and then it climbs up and leaves Azrou behind.
The road then levels out and goes through rocky grazing land (some is cleared for fields but it's mostly rocky) with some replanted trees. A vista opens up to the left, for Paysage Ito (where a local Berber woman came through in protest of the French protectorate) and then the road goes through the provincial capital of El Hajeb, with its clean streets and big government buildings giving way to an older, more medina-like part of town. The road then drops into the vineyards - I always smile as I pass them, thinking of my past - and then goes through the town of Boufekrane, where there are huge slabs of meat hanging - passersby can have it grilled on the spot.
For good measure, the road to Timhadite - it also climbs up out of Azrou, into the cedar forest, and sometimes you can see monkeys along the side of the road. Then it too levels out into a deforested area - meadows of grazing sheep and some volcanic cones, including the little mountain with a few trees on it that Rose thought was so sad. The plateau above Timhadite, with its crown on top, comes into view, and the town lines both sides of the road, which then goes on to Errachidia and the desert. The road to Fes climbs up past some fields, houses, and auberges and then goes through the forest. It levels off into yet another rocky plateau and then Ifrane comes into view, followed by more rocky plains and then Immouzer, with a town center always milling with people - a reminder of those three days of consolidation. Ifrane and Immouzer have tree-lined streets, unlike most of the rest of Morocco. The terraced-hillside view from the top at Immouzer always reminds me of Tuscany, and then the road drops into the valley, with a long, flat stretch to Fes in the distance. From Azrou to Ain Leuh the road is flat - past fields and small towns, with the mountains in the background, and then it turns and climbs up one of the mountains to the town itself. All of these routes I know so well....
My suitcase closed fine, but was really heavy, and I started to fret about how I am going to manage everything. Maybe it would have been easier to just go home. Or go to Europe and rent a car and put all of the stuff in it and drive. Or go on a cruise and keep the steamer-trunk-sized bag in one place. I managed the transfer from the Meknes taxi to the Rabat taxi without too much difficulty, and paid for two seats to Rabat (I was prepared for double after the Azrou taxi, but they wanted only 10 dh more for the big bag, so I paid double and got the whole front seat). The walk from the taxi stand to the Velleda was tough though, and when I arrived I just sat there (Janeila was in the room and she was great, leaving me be but providing support), wondering what to do. I already knew the answer - jettison more stuff - but I was not ready to do it. I had a quick bite to eat and played some rummy with Rose and Jong, not quite believing that we're not just here for some conference or medicals, going back to our sites in a couple of days, and will be back in Rabat again in another six months or so.
Monday morning we got to the Peace Corps early and had our TB tests - we have to come back Wednesday morning to have them read, have other medical checkout (insurance signup, vouchers for any procedures in the states) and turn in all of the paperwork, and then there's a little tea for us Wednesday morning, and we're done. Lots of signatures are required - program staff to say we turned in our DOS, filled out the on-line COS survey and don't owe anything to our landlord, utilities or counterpart, library to say we returned all books, training manager to say we returned all training materials, GSO to say we returned bike and space heater, Safety and Security officer to say we have our carte de sejour so we can leave the country, Country Director to say we had exit interviews, grant coordinators to say we completed our grants (in my case N/A) and more. I got some signatures yesterday morning but there was a pileup of people and a range of emotions - it seemed disorganized and somehow Peace Corps seemed unprepared (or maybe the PCVs seemed unprepared - we didn't get exact instructions, and we're so used to being told exactly what to do). Plus, there was a staff meeting so many of the people we needed were unavailable, so when Janeila suggested we go to the lab, I went with her - we dropped off our Mif kits and had blood drawn. Then back to the room - she wrote some postcards while I went through the suitcase, and I found another post-office-box-worth of stuff to send to the states and a bag of stuff to leave in the Peace Corps swap box. On the fence is the white noise machine - I sleep better with it, but it's heavy. Janeila came with me to the post office and a literal and figurative weight came off. We had lunch, and then Jong, Rose and I played more rummy. Everything checked out at the eye doctor (still need an operation and new glasses when I get home) and I had dinner at the French Institute with Bob and Linda.
My computer crashed last night - add this to the living room light, hot water heater, broken zippers on my bags, oven handle falling off; I'm convinced djinns are sad that I'm leaving or helping me leave. I was counting on traveling with the computer, to blog, compose emails and save photos, but was surprisingly unpanicked - maybe a sign I should further lighten my load and send it home too? Nothing - blank screen when I booted it up, followed by a question mark. No recognition of any hard drive or applications. I brought it to the IT person at Peace Corps this morning to see if there was a way to revive it and when he booted it up, it was as good as new. So maybe it was just a reminder that I can let go of anything and it's all right. At this point I still think it would be nice to travel with it, but part of me wants to shed the weight and send it. It's expensive to send though, and I think I'll be happy I have it. Still thinking about it though.
I never made it back to the Peace Corps office yesterday, but it was quiet this morning - I was able to get all of the signatures I could get (final medical and admin have to wait until tomorrow) and have nice chats with the the signers, so going to the lab early yesterday was a good move. Everyone - myself included - seemed more loose and happy. I am in the Peace Corps lounge now, but it seems late even though it's not, so I think I will head back and see if there's rummy to be played. It's cold and rainy here in Rabat (I hope it doesn't get colder than this, because I sent yet more cold-weather stuff home and am down to one sweater and a raincoat). I'd like a medina walk this week (I may need one, so that I can leave here with a pocketbook that does not have a broken zipper) but other than that, I think playing cards and spending time with stagemates or even staying in and reading might be nice (I might be almost ready to read the travel books for my trip!) - after a busy agenda and filled days for what seems such a long time now, I feel I might finally be able to relax!
Wednesday morning Postscript - I am an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer)! No TB, no parasites, insurance signed up for, all signatures and paperwork turned in, and I removed the thumbtack with my face on it from Azrou on the map in the program staff office. Now in the Volunteer Lounge awaiting farewell tea with staff, and then - ?
Another Postscript - I noticed that the Bangkok airport was closed due to protests. This trip may require even more flexibility than I imagined - and the only planned part was the flight to Bangkok! I hope the unrest is quelled by next week, but we'll see....
And another - the farewell tea had a "Stamping Out" ceremony - a book in which you printed and signed your name and then stamped (like a passport stamp - so I took an extra on a piece of paper for my National Parks Passport book!). It was nice. Chicken caesar salad at Ty Potes and chocolate mousse at the French Institute. How do I feel? Not sad, not relieved - maybe satisfied is a good word. And - as many people have said to me and it always somehow surprises me when they do, but now I feel it too - proud.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
This week was a happy ending, if a little busier than I thought it might be – but why did I think it might not be? On Monday I went out to Ain Leuh to mail the last of the boxes – the ones I mailed early have all arrived, which is quite a relief. Visited with the women of the cooperative – it’s just a joy to be with them – and while riding in the taxi back to Azrou, I got a text saying that they were moving someone to Ain Leuh! Her original site wasn’t going to work out. I am glad that Ain Leuh will get its own volunteer and glad for her as well! Back in Azrou, I went to the tuna sandwich place with Kathy and another volunteer, and then to the Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC) meeting.
VAC is like the “student council” of Peace Corps – one representative from each sector from each stage brings issues to staff, and staff conveys to them issues that they bring back to their stages. Anyone can attend VAC meetings as long as they attend the pre-meeting the night before. Since it was being held in my site (so that the PCTs could get an introduction and elect their reps), I thought why not? It was interesting, but not what I expected. It was mostly reports, with very little discussion. I guess that, as with many committees, most of the work gets done outside the meetings. I am all the more glad for being on the GAD committee – our meetings have included some great discussions and lots of group work (though most of the work is done outside the meetings with GAD too). I could have done a lot of other things with the last Monday afternoon in my site, but I’m not sorry I went – it gave me some insight. Not only that, but I don’t see that much of most of the staff, and it was nice to see them; I don’t know what meetings were like with the old Country Director but the more I see of the new Country Director the more I think that Peace Corps Morocco is headed in a good direction! I also had an opportunity to invite myself (or muscle my way on…) to the Diversity Panel the next day.
I then visited my host family for what I thought was a final farewell but they wouldn’t have it – I ended up going back yesterday for another farewell and then again today. No complaints about that – they have done a lot for me. They use email and my host mother’s English is great, so chances of keeping in touch are better than they are with some of the other people I care about here. Throughout the week I stopped in shops and other places to say goodbye and to snap portraits of my favorite people (I also made sure to tell the police I was leaving and to thank them).
I don’t usually go out at night but I did on Monday – at my suggestion, a bunch of PCTs (now that they know their sites and know that they might be working with weavers) went to Abdou’s for a carpet seminar – learning about different regions, what to look for to determine quality, relative pricing, things to think about when helping artisans. This was an abbreviated version of the seminar he gave at the Natural Dye/Weaving Workshop in February – shortened because of PCT dinner and curfew times. It was a good introduction though, and anyone nearby can come back to learn more!
Tuesday morning was the Diversity Panel. I found the panel so impactful back in 2006 that I wanted to participate – it really gave me new ways to think about myself and others and how we can support each other. One of my strategies is not to refer directly to my own diversity (including in this forum), but I do some cultural exchange by telling Moroccans about diverse types of Americans, including those of other religions, and another strategy has been taking the opportunity to learn more, especially about other religions, in Morocco as well. The session was a little different from the one I attended. All of the panel members spoke (we had two blacks and one “brown”/gay, an older person, a married couple and me – the one I attended also had a Pakistani-American, an Asian-American, a gay Hispanic-American and a gay female as well, a black, an older volunteer, a married woman and a Jew, so was more of a rainbow – but I heard that last spring’s panel had much less diversity than the one I was on). We talked about barriers, assumptions, frustrations, how we dealt with things, and any assets, and then the big group (SBD/YD consolidated) was split into small groups by region for discussions on how to support each other. Good idea to start building that regional support network even before people get to their sites. We then reconvened for Q&A and once again the panel could have been hours longer, but I heard several side discussions during the ensuing break, so I know it gave people something to think about.
Tuesday was a holiday – on November 16, 1956, Mohammed V came back from exile in Madagascar to reclaim the throne (so many streets are named November 16) and on November 18 the French and Spanish left, so it is an Independence Day. I was happy to give up part of my holiday for the Diversity Panel, but happy to have time for a short day trip too – to Ifrane, where Elizabeth and I took a walk to the supermarche (I didn’t need more oats or peanut butter but she did) and had lunch (spaghetti bolognese, for old times’ sake). In previous autumns, one day the leaves were green, one day they were brown, and the next day they fell off the trees – or so it seemed – but this fall there has been some color, maybe because of the rain, and Ifrane has more trees than perhaps anywhere else in Morocco, so it was especially beautiful.
I had to cut the holiday short on the back end too, because the weavers in Ain Leuh threw a farewell party for me (my counterpart asked them to – with the unspoken understanding that the artisans of Azrou wouldn’t do one). We sat and talked and laughed and had tea and pastries and some of the women (but mostly the little girls) danced to Berber music, and then everyone took turns dressing in wedding capes and having their pictures taken with me. It was really sweet. They walked me out, as well – usually I have to figure out how to gracefully exit a gathering, but they ended it at the end of their workday (and in time for me to get home before dark). That night, I met with Randy, the new Ain Leuh volunteer (as of Thursday’s swearing-in!). I had a long list of projects that are active or that I did not get to - she will have a lot of work and a lot of fun! I wish we could have spent more time together but it’s her site now; she’ll be fine.
Because of early mornings Monday and Tuesday, I didn’t go do a daily hammam as planned (the hot water heater having broken the week before). I have gone for days without bathing on several occasions, but not for a while. It has been good to go to the hammam every day since; Wednesday was the last long one though, with ghassoul (Moroccan clay) face and hair masks, an herbal hair mask from Amanda’s medicinal plant cooperative, and argan oil. I had one last piece of business – disconnecting my internet – which gave me a reminder of how difficult it was to set up my home in the beginning. Multiple people told me different things (I didn’t mind the wait – Maroc Telecom is the warmest public place in Azrou) and the upshot was that I could not just pay out the balance of my contract – someone has to go to the office and pay every month for the next three. Probably many volunteers just abandon their contracts, but I don’t want to create issues for the next volunteers, so I don’t mind – and Kathy will do it for me in return for getting my featherbed.
I then had lunch with (four of) the six-pack of environment volunteers – they will be the next to leave, in six months; hard to believe! We had planned on the tuna place but the medina was out of electricity, so we went for rotisserie chicken instead. I had wanted to go there too (I will probably leave for Rabat after lunch tomorrow – will it be tuna or chicken?). I had nothing scheduled for the afternoon, so they came back to my house and we talked for a while and played some Piffle – I had expected to eat and part, and it was nice not to feel rushed. I went to Abdou’s for a while – bringing him the poufs that Youssef made for me – and came home to watch sunset from my roof.
Kathy and I had planned to go on a hike on Thursday but it was cold and windy – not hiking weather. She came over anyway and we played some rummy and cooked lunch – I haven’t spent a day like that in a while. Linda then came over with friends and family visiting from the states and took my oven, printer and other miscellaneous items (I had done a fair amount of baking the day before – and a little printing!). We all went to Abdou’s for tea and then I did the final packing. I had a couple of small piles to weed through, which was easy enough, but I also had to go back through my suitcase. It’s not that it wouldn’t have closed, but it would have been completely full, and I don’t want to travel that way – so I took out most of the winter clothes and put them in yet another box, to be sent by Kathy to Martha, thereby ensuring that I will travel to only warm-weather places until I get to California. I didn’t want to abandon the winter clothes entirely – I don’t want to be forced to shop for new things right away – so I will be reunited with them and then have something to wear until I do get a chance to shop. It was a long night, but it was good to be finished and not to be still scrambling or thinking about it. I’m still not going to be traveling light, unfortunately (big suitcase, carry-on, daypack, pocketbook) but I am prepared to jettison if it becomes cumbersome – I just couldn’t weed any more while I’m here.
Friday morning I went to the Artisana (I had gone briefly on Thursday to say farewell to the showroom staff but other than that had not been all week – maybe the longest I’ve gone without visiting while in my site?) to say goodbye to my counterpart – I have enjoyed our talks and enjoyed working with him - and to the woodcarvers. The metal worker and the president of the weaving cooperative weren’t there; in a way I want to say farewell to them tomorrow but then I would see the woodcarvers and showroom people again, and I feel I have already said my goodbyes; I told my counterpart to give them my best. Went to Youssef’s family’s for couscous lunch – they too wanted to see me again today, and I am glad I did – the couscous was great, but it was also nice to just visit with them today. I brought them my (fixed, inshallah) hot water heater as a gift. On to the next party – tea (and a cake I had baked) at Abdou’s with some first-year SBD volunteers (all of whom were probably out of site legally but names not included just in case). I didn’t want a big party – separate little gatherings are more my thing, and this has been a nice way to go out.
Today was a farewell hike – Kathy, Elizabeth, Briana and Anna came along (they were late, which gave me a welcome chance to read on my ponge in the morning sun). Up the mountain to the meadow with the view of Azrou, perhaps my favorite hike. At one point we passed through and then were passed by a herd of sheep and goats – that doesn’t happen often on hikes in the States. It was worth the wait – a warm and sunny day. Then we all went to a couscous lunch at Abdou’s family’s – they seemed so distressed that I couldn’t join them for couscous Friday that they made couscous on Saturday. Briana’s sitemate joined, as did Colin. We came back to my house, where we taught Colin rummy (so now he is really all set!) and went up to the roof for sunset, with the call to prayer sounding from multiple mosques. I went back to Dar Neghrassi one more time for tea and to write in his guest book and then did final dismantling of the kitchen (that is, once I fill the hot water bottles). Minush hasn’t had her kittens yet, but Abdou will send pictures.
Tomorrow morning Colin comes for the ponges, ponge frames, ponge pillows, mattress, bed platforms, dresser, refrigerator, the space heater Peace Corps brought out for me, most of the linens and many of the kitchen items. Brian comes for the plastic table and chairs, one of my acrylic mink blankets and the foam pads that I bought for guests to sleep on. Kathy comes for the featherbed and the plates and bowls (which she’ll use to host Thanksgiving and then pass along to Elizabeth and Colin). I think I may have time for one last little walk and one last lunch, and then I’ll head for Rabat.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
On Tuesday I went to Timahdite (or, if you will, TimHdit or Timhadite!) to say farewell. Snow patches on the ground! I knew it would be colder there but didn’t dress for that. I’m grateful to Elizabeth, the current volunteer there, for keeping me up to date on life there. We went to see a couple of the weavers – unfortunately, the president, who I admire for her determination to succeed despite the odds, was out of town, and the weaver in whose house we spent most of our CBT time had moved, but the ones we did see were always present and welcomed us graciously (tea and cookies). We talked a bit and watched them weave. Timhadite itself has undergone some changes – the garbage-strewn empty space that I dubbed “the public garden” is now under construction as a town center, there’s a new post office, there’s a new caid’s office – but it has still retained its village character. We went to my host family’s for lunch – my host mother is so sweet! I felt warmly welcomed and I feel I will always be welcomed there. Maybe the biggest change was in Muzun – the cute puppy that I brought water to and took for exercise walks in the yard is now a huge dog! As TimHdit turns…. Between Tuesday and today my host brother (who I didn’t see) got married, and so did the Sheikh’s brother (for the fourth time).
I am still having Morocco firsts, even with so little time left – on the way back, our taxi broke down. I’ve always wondered why more taxis don’t break down. Everyone was remarkably calm and matter-of-fact about it. We weren’t on the side of the road for too long, though – a bus came by and stopped and we got on it, just like that. I got back to my house about the same time as Janeila (who had just finished doing a training for PST) and Kareem (who was coming in to do a training). I asked them if they would go to Tuesday souk with me – I don’t think I’d been there since the beginning of the summer! After that it was too hot and then it was Ramadan and then it was rainy. I had never been to souk in the afternoon and was surprised at how busy it still was – the rugs were being packed up, but the rest was in full swing. I may or may not go this week so I am glad they were up for it. Kareem and I talked a little bit about our presentation, and Janeila was my last overnight guest (barring the unforeseen). I made stuffed eggplant, we played some rummy, and she helped me go through my closet to decide what went in the suitcase, what went home, and what went in the giveaway pile. She is both practical (she gave the color seminar in February and quickly dismissed some of the colors – and then I had to dismiss them too) and sentimental (she talked me into sending home an acrylic mink blanket after I had talked myself out of it) and it was a big relief to get that done.
Bright and early Wednesday morning, Kareem and I presented “The Role of the Volunteer as Facilitator.” The audience was pretty quiet for the definitions (as they had been for the GAD theory) but once we broke them into small groups they seemed engaged and interested. Two years ago in our training, we broke into small groups for a role play – someone had to be a difficult group member, someone had to be interjecting non-sequiturs, someone had to be domineering, etc. and someone had to try to facilitate – it might even have been me – and of course, with everyone doing such a good job of sticking to their roles, it was hard for the facilitator to make any progress. Kareem and I scrapped that role play and had each CBT group come up with a list of issues and opportunities that they saw in CBT, and then we gave each list to a different group and asked them to come up with potential workshops or trainings that they could facilitate. Then we had a game called “pin the tail on the unsuspecting community group.” Someone would be blindfolded and target two items (say, artisana and youth center or hospital and cultural center) and the group would come up with potential ways to partner the two – with prizes Janeila and I had culled from the giveaway pile the night before. It went well!
I visited my host family briefly, telling my host mother I couldn’t stay long because I really wanted to go to the hammam. She mentioned that there was a new one in my neighborhood – I didn’t know about it, but sure enough, I walked home and I saw it! I just never noticed it. It’s a nice one – bright, colorfully tiled, not too crowded, women-only. I found about it just in time, too, because on Thursday my hot water heater stopped working (so did my living room light – I think it’s djinns that are sad that I’m leaving). The neighborhood hammam is just around the corner and a block down the hill, so as of yesterday I am going for daily quick morning hammams! I was going to have the plumber come to fix the hot water heater and then come again to remove it so I can give it to Youssef’s family, but after he failed to come on Friday I decided I’ll just have him come once, to fix it and remove it. It was nice washing dishes in hot water (which I had started only after it got cold outside and the water got really cold – don’t think too much about the fact that I’ve been using only cold water for most of my time here, because I try not to) but I’ll manage. Washing my face is tougher but darori (a must).
I met back up with Kareem and we had a delightful afternoon (meaning in this case that he went along with what I wanted/needed to do and he bought stuff from my artisans). We went to the Artisana and to Abdou’s and passed by the rock carver – I call Kareem Mr. Cultural Exchange and it is amazing how everyone loves him – hugs and kisses (of course, men can do that to other men here but not to me – but still, people remember Kareem and lavish more attention on him than on anyone else I bring around – even the taxi driver from our trip to the monkeys – last summer – remembered him and called to him from the souk). One of the things that had been on my list was buying some Moroccan music, and Abdou took us to a music hanut and picked out some top selections of different styles – Berber, Arab, traditional instrumental, Rai (music of the east, near Kareem’s site), modern, and Andalusian. In music hanuts here, they open the CD for you and play a selection or two to see if you like it – and sell you the unwrapped CD. When it came to that last CD, Abdou told me it was like the music they play on television during lftur at Ramadan – and sure enough, I wanted to go get some shebekia! I had wanted a piece or two before I left anyway, and that triggered the Pavlovian response.
Thursday I went out to Ain Leuh to mail some boxes and to bring photographs and CDs to the women of the cooperative. I love them. My counterpart asked them to throw a little party for me (he didn’t ask the Azrou ones…) and that’ll be on Tuesday. I couldn’t stay long though – Aziz (tutor #3) has been helping me with the box mailing, and due to his work schedule I had to finish packing everything that day. I was almost done anyway, but thinking I would do some on Thursday and some on Friday. Doing it all on Thursday meant hours of sorting, and the hard stuff, too – the miscellaneous odds and ends. I did go out again briefly, to the Artisana and to Abdou’s, but I spent most of the afternoon and late into the evening packing. I still have to weed out toiletries, remedies and papers to go in the suitcase, the giveaway pile and the trash, but that won’t take long (then again, I haven’t done any sorting or packing since the Thursday’s marathon day, so I am starting to get a little anxious and will feel better when it is entirely done – though that may not happen until the day I leave Azrou).
I went back to Ain Leuh on Friday to mail more boxes - not in my original plan for the week but necessitated by Aziz’s work schedule and by the fact that one of the two men who works in the post office was out, leaving only the director, and he didn’t want to take too many at a time. If only we could have mailed them all! But I have to go back one more time – that too is making me anxious and I will feel better when it is entirely done (tomorrow, inshallah). I got back in time for couscous at Youssef’s family’s house – I love them too! – and, instead of doing more packing, relaxed just a little, walking around town, reading in my living room (during the day), and making some backup CDs.
Saturday I went to Meknes – it felt weird to be there by myself, but I am about to travel for a while by myself. I traveled by myself in August, of course, so maybe what made this different was that I wasn’t really by myself – I was with my memories of past trips there and people I had been with. I went to the medersa – the workmanship is still impressive (and I met a couple of men from Philadelphia! Interesting discussion – they are here for http://www.wfl-wellsforlife.org - check it out. I just did and didn’t realize they had a project in Ain Leuh! One of them took this picture). Walked through the medina and to the Damascene (silver inlay on metal) artisan I had met before – he gave me a little “cadeau.” Went into the old imperial city as far as the tomb of Moulay Ismail and realized that I had time to make it to Volubilis. Why not – when’s the next time I’ll have such easy access to Roman ruins? I bought out a taxi, but negotiated a good price to have him wait while I spent an hour there. I walked briskly, more or less from one end (the wonderful mosaic of the House of Orpheus) to the other (the not-before-seen-by-me-but-looked-for-on-other-occasions House of Venus – both are marked by cypress trees, for future reference), passing the main government/market structures along the way. Even though I covered a lot of ground, I made time to take it in and to appreciate some little things, too, such as a random column fragment. I think I felt more at ease than I have for a while.
Today I went to Sefrou and Fes with Rose. After getting all of the post office boxes packed I felt I could take two day trips this weekend, and when I suggested the idea to Rose she enthusiastically accepted. I am glad I made it back to Sefrou – I didn’t think I would. It’s beautiful – similar to but different from Azrou – she and I both feel we hit the jackpot with our sites. We walked to the Jewish cemetery and the caretaker showed us around – the old section, a newer section with men and women separated, a separate section for children who died in a typhus (or was it typhoid?) epidemic. At one point there were about 14,000 people buried there; now there are about 8,000, with more and more leaving for Israel (not on their own of course). We had coffee at a kiosk with a view of the entrance to the old medina, with its crown on top, and on we went to Fes.
Without thinking about it – it just made sense – we went to the Place R’Cif (where we’d been dropped off just about a year ago, with Helen) and made our way (with a couple of detours, but it wouldn’t be a Fes trip without them) to the Henna Souk (where there is more pottery than henna) – in other words, we went from the other direction to just about the point to which Kathy and I had walked down the Talaa Kbira ten days ago, more or less condensing all previous trips into two. It was neat to pass the Karaouine Mosque – that had been under UNESCO repair every time I had come before, and it was open at last. We couldn’t go in, not being Muslims, but with the doors open we could see the impressive courtyard and fountains. We felt rushed, which was unfortunate, but also comfortably at home in Fes. It was still a great day and a wonderful farewell with a special friend.
Monday, November 10, 2008
I had a quiet weekend after a busy week – I thought about a day trip or even two but was happy to be here in Azrou. Saturday morning the Country Director called; he was in Azrou and invited me out for coffee. The former Country Director would never have done that! I had a chance to hear more about his background – he was a PCV in Morocco 20 years ago and has done crisis and relief work in several countries for many years. I like him – he’s listening to volunteers. If only our new Program Manager were better at that! She and I had an email exchange on Friday that upset me – though I think I was more upset at getting upset with less than three weeks to go than I was at anything that actually happened. Anyway, Kathy joined us for coffee, and we had a good conversation about a range of things, and then I took him to meet Youssef the rock-carver and for tea at Abdou’s (I don’t usually have tea so soon after coffee but it was surprisingly doable).
Kathy and I then went for an exercise walk up the hill where the French administrative buildings are – the street is lined with trees, the buildings are fancy, and if you walk far enough (beyond my usual exercise walk loop, which is just to the Panorama hotel, for the panorama of the cemetery and the medina), you see the fields, always with the mountains in the background. Nice walk – had the tuna sandwich place been open after tea, we might have had tuna and a hike, but we did the walk so that we could get back for a tuna sandwich late lunch. The owner had gone to Mecca for Ramadan (I think it is equivalent to doing the Hajj, but the true Hajj is for l-Eid Kbir) and had just reopened the shop this week. Tuna withdrawal! Tuna mixed with tomato, from a can, with laughing cow cheese, on a baguette (sounds as though I can make it myself but when he does there’s magic in it) and apple/orange juice – yum! Unfortunately the grilled-vegetable-sandwich place near the Timhadite taxi stand has yet to reopen post-Ramadan. Then we went down the hill – we ran into the Country Director again, who said some of the SBD PCTs were at the pizza place, so we decided to say hello. They were just back from site visit; one was Colin, who of course didn’t go very far, but it was still nice to see him and some of the others, all full of stories of host families, transport, potential work, and excitement about what lies ahead. It wasn’t so long ago that I was there myself – though it seems as though it’s been a long time since I said goodbye to Katie’s stage and welcomed Kathy and her group to the area.
We were in search of big boxes, big enough for a folding wood table that was one of my first purchases from the Artisana and for two more rugs. We went to several shops up and down the street – memory lane – and were successful. All of the big stuff is now packed. I have papers to sort through (I didn’t accumulate a lot, but sorting through it is taking more time than I anticipated) and I have to decide which clothes I am taking with me for the next couple of months (in which I will experience quite a range of climates), which might get sent home in a box, and which are being left behind. I am glad I started packing when I did (back in September) – for the last move I had to sort through nineteen years’ worth of stuff, and even though this is less than two years’ worth (after three months of PST and two months of homestay, I moved here in February 2007), it’s still a big move.
A good portion of the rest of the weekend was spent on that sorting and tossing. I also did laundry – what a difference the sun makes! I’m not going to wash my floors again though – I’ll sweep when I leave, but I think I can let things go a bit and spend that two hours (or four, were I to wash the floors more than once) in other ways. I did go out yesterday, after thinking about staying in all day - had lunch with some PCTs who wanted to ask what volunteers have done with weavers. We have an SBD yahoo group and have at times had a newsletter to collect best practices, but we don’t do a good job of sharing information. I know that for GAD it was tough to find out what people were working on. A lot of us are doing the same things – talking about product quality and fair trade pricing, going to craft fairs or finding new customers, advocating natural dye, making marketing materials or web sites, but how much are we really helping the businesses? Tough question to answer – and too deep, considering that two weeks from today I will be in Rabat for 72-hour checkout. I said gathering the information would be a good project for them to work on and suggested we all go to Abdou’s for a seminar on what sells and what he looks for when he buys.
I also had coffee with another couple of PCTs – again, most of the ones I’ve run into are happy with their sites – and took another walk with Kathy and bought some spices to bring or send back as souvenirs. I also took a break to read a little bit – why did I think I would have more downtime towards the end? I have less! I don’t know why – maybe because I had no specific agenda and was in Azrou – but it was a strange weekend. Today I feel much more on track. I went to the Artisana and talked with my counterpart – first time I’d seen him since the election, and he was happy to talk about that. Every Moroccan I have talked to, with the exception of my host father (who admired McCain’s Vietnam experience and cited experience in general – of course, my host father is a politician), wanted Obama and is happy about the outcome. I went to see my host family on Friday evening – I had not seen them in way too long! Where does the time go?
Went to Monday souk today – still muddy, but passable. On the way back, I stopped by the cilantro man whose picture is in the RPCV calendar and gave him one – he seemed pleased. Gave Kathy a little freewebs lesson so she can continue the Dar Neghrassi web site; I also gave CDs of all the photos to Abdou and wrote up a tip sheet for him. A couple of the first-years were coming into town to stay with Kathy on the way to their mid-service medicals (didn’t I just have those?) and they came over for tea. I also worked on an outline for “The Role of the Volunteer as Facilitator,” which Kareem and I are going to present on Wednesday. Tonight I’m making CDs for Colin, my counterpart and the artisans, and while they’re burning I’ll sort through more things.
I have more energy so far this week – last week was exhausting! Spending all day Monday and Tuesday with Colin took a lot out of me – introducing him to everyone and at the same time making them aware that I’m leaving was bittersweet, but I think it was the non-stop talking and escorting that was tiring. Not a lot of sleep on Tuesday night, and though it was a quiet morning on Wednesday it was still a busy day. The red, white and blue cake ended up being breakfast and lunch, and then I went to the hammam – I had been wanting to go since Ramadan, especially when it was so cold and rainy, but didn’t have the window of time. It was great! I hope to go both this week and next. Now I understand why Amanda wanted her farewell to be a trip to the hammam; I didn’t at the time. Colin came over Wednesday afternoon, and we started to talk, but then Linda and her cousin came over, and then my former LCF Mina came over (she returned later with the space heater – hooray!) along with Brian, a first-year SBD who is also on the harassment working group, in town to present an IST session on harassment. Colin had asked me what a typical day is – I told him this might have been it – you get some things done for yourself, you get some things done for work, and random volunteers come over! I also told him that if he didn’t want that he might be able to set boundaries, but it could be that it just comes with the location.
Brian made dinner – a Spanish tortilla. My sister and I had tortilla tapas every time we could while on the See the World trip to Spain; I looked up recipes but they looked complicated. Brian’s was simple – all stovetop, and delicious hot or cold.
A little olive oil in the skillet – cook spices first
Brian’s secret spice mix – coriander, hot pepper, black pepper, cumin, salt and garlic
(the secret is that you have to heat up the coriander to release the flavor)
Dice and sauté an onion.
Add several potatoes, thinly sliced. Green pepper optional. Ricotta or another cheese optional.
Cover and cook until potatoes are done – 15 minutes, maybe?
Add four beaten eggs, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook until eggs are solid.
Flip if possible for crusty top and bottom.
Thursday was the day the sun came out. It’s been clear so far since – last week it looked as though it was going to rain until I left, and now I hope it will be sunny until then! Kathy and I had planned to meet Rose in Sefrou and then go on to Fes. I wanted to go via Sefrou to see the Jewish cemetery – I have seen many here but not the one in Sefrou, which had one of the biggest Jewish communities in the country – but Rose wasn’t feeling well, so I decided to hope for another opportunity. There might be one – and if not, there’s something else to come back for. Kathy had transit issues getting out of her site, so we might not have been able to go anyway. We decided to walk from the taxi stand to the old medina – via a McDonald’s sundae and the potato chip guy in Fes El-Jdid (I will probably have neither on a regular basis when I get back, though of course at least one of those would be pretty easy to find). I have walked once, maybe twice at the most; it wasn’t as obvious how to get from Fes El-Jdid to Bab Boujeloud as I thought it was and somehow we ended up way above the medina, near the Borj Nord Armaments Museum where Rose, Jong and I had gone to cool off this past summer, and near the Merinides Hotel where we had swearing-in – just about two years ago for me and just about a year ago for Kathy (not sure, but I think this stage will be swearing in there too – training is a week shorter, so they won’t have the Thanksgiving dinner we had just before, but at least the hotel reception for all the CBT families appears to still be in the budget). Maybe we were meant to go out of the way so we would end up there, with its memories of long ago and its view of the medina below?
We took a taxi back and met Rose (who felt better), Linda and her cousin for lunch on the roof of the Clock Café. Both Rose and Linda were interviewed by a reporter who keeps a Fes blog – look for them on http://riadzany.blogspot.com/. We then went down the Talaa Kbira – at the tile place, the shop owner was unpleasantly persistent. Then some punk harassed me – he patted my rear end! We had gotten low-level harassment all day (my response was, “Obama,” under my breath – I found it strangely empowering); I’ve been touched before but not patted there. Ugh. We made it to as the herbalist – glad I had a chance to tell him I was leaving soon. And then it was time to go home! I had a splitting headache all day – still not enough sleep from the election, maybe.
Friday Colin and I had coffee with Barry (so he met three of the six-pack during his site visit) and then we came back for look at the web sites and a lesson on freewebs – he doesn’t have to continue work on the sites but if he wants to that would be great! So much more could be done with them, especially the Ain Leuh one. We then had couscous with Abdou and his family – a change from the usual, it had onions, raisins, chick peas and a milk-based sauce. Yum! We went to the artisana and then strolled around town for a final time and that was the end of site visit. I will see Colin again before I leave and he arrives (that is, he’s still here, but at the Auberge, finishing up training – other COSing PCVs most likely won’t see their replacements again because they’ll be on the way to Rabat when the new PCVs will be on the way to their sites) but even if we don’t spend much time together, I think it was a good week of transition. He met everyone, saw various parts of town that I frequent, got project status and ideas, and asked good questions. I am very glad I was replaced! And of course he can always contact me if he needs anything. I still remember so much that Lee said to me during that week, and it has been nice to remain in touch with him. Colin will have two sites’ worth of work - I wish him the best!
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Election night in Morocco – any Moroccan who brought it up was for Obama. There was no sense in trying to say my vote was a secret – and not much in explaining that my vote wouldn’t even be counted since I’m registered in Illinois. Easier to just agree! Kathy and Elizabeth came over to watch the returns on the internet – we each picked a couple of web sites to constantly refresh. I had a chance to feed early results to Martha, still at work in California, and to ichat and email people I might have called had I been in the states – so I didn’t feel as though I was missing out. The toughest part was the time difference – I finally went to bed around 3:00 am, 10:00 pm eastern time, with Ohio and Pennsylvania called. And the second-toughest part may have been reading about how warm Grant Park was – we’re sitting here wearing many layers, shivering under blankets! We made pumpkin soup and cheese-herb breadsticks last night. Elizabeth brought a family tradition, red velvet cake with white icing and red, white and blue sprinkles – we were full last night so didn’t make it but were all happy to have cake for breakfast!
I emailed Peace Corps headquarters yesterday morning asking if there was anyone from staff coming out for training and if so, could they bring out my space heater? I thought I could tough it out but it is just too cold! I realized I should take advantage of the fact that staff is coming back and forth from Rabat. It will heat the room, but more, I can put my clothes and towels on it to warm them up – that makes a big difference – and maybe I can dry some of my laundry. It’s no longer constantly raining, but it’s still ominously cloudy, though the sun occasionally seems to be trying to peek through. My counterpart said that this is the first time in – fifteen years? I’ll have to double-check – the reservoirs have been full.
Rose came on Saturday for a weekend of rummy and rug shopping. Rose has a good eye for rugs but to date had gotten her rugs at the souk; she was ready to invest in a piece of art. We went to a couple of places and she bought a rug from Abdou’s upstairs collection. The next day we went to another place, a storefront on the main street where the man has always been very friendly to me. This little storefront has an amazing variety of nice rugs. Jackie started collecting black-and-white Middle Atlas rugs and had scoped some out last year but thought she had a year and a half to buy them. She has printed all of my brochures, so when she asked me to go back there and look for those rugs I was happy to do so – I bought a couple for her and Rose bought another rug and I bought a small one too! I have so many rugs now – but I too think I have an eye for them. More, it was nice having Rose come to visit. As she was leaving, we ran into another volunteer at the taxi stand. He was having trouble getting home and he ended up just staying over at my place. I told him I had to pack some boxes or I’d be too stressed, and that was fine with him.
I bought my airline ticket Sunday night and burst into tears. I’m really leaving! I am going from Madrid to Bangkok on December 5. Not exactly sure about the logistics of getting to Madrid – ferry, Gibraltar, train, but not sure of the days; I want to see the Prado. And I have no plans yet once I get to Bangkok. But buying the plane ticket was much more emotional than I expected. The saving grace is that I am not the only one experiencing this – where at COS conference, in the middle of the hot summer, most of the people in my stage seemed ready to get on a plane then and there, now news from the field is that while some still feel that way, others are realizing they will miss Morocco.
I spent most of Monday and Tuesday with Colin, and I like him. We went to Escalade for pastry and Bilal for coffee – the natural place to start – and then to the Artisana, where we met with my counterpart and all of the artisans there. We went to Monday souk – way too muddy, so we skipped Tuesday souk. We took a walk down the hill, where I pointed out shops, restaurants and cafes of interest. We went out to Ain Leuh – the women were disappointed not to get their own volunteer but happy to have Colin. There’s a lot that he can start on right away there that I just didn’t get to finish; here, he can take more time to integrate and figure out with whom he wants to work and what he wants to do. I introduced him to Rajaa and Youssef the rock-carver, probably the most motivated artisans here, and pointed out the showroom products of local artisans I didn’t ever meet. We went to Maroc Telecom (it’s heated!) and the post office (I recommended that he get a box in Ain Leuh if he can – that way his mail might arrive and get sent) and to the park near the Panorama. We had tea at Abdou’s and went to my fleece jellaba tailor and met some of the other people who I always say hello to and will miss. I’ll walk around again to say goodbye; it was good to introduce him and to prepare people for the fact that I am leaving in three weeks. Uh oh, welling up with tears as I write this! I think I mentioned that returning here in five years seems like it’s something I can shoot for. Who knows – depends on what kind of job I get, and there are so many other places in the world to see. If something brings me back sooner, all the better, I think. I can’t imagine never coming back, but I know it will never be the same.
Colin is going to buy most of my furniture, which is a relief. He would like my apartment, too, but his rent allowance is much lower than mine, and my landlord won’t go that low at this point. The landlord is having the stairs up to my apartment finished this week! I used to tell guests that having the staircase unfinished made me feel more Peace Corps, since other than that my digs are pretty luxurious (well, that and the fact that it’s colder than outside in the winter and hotter than outside in the summer). Kind of ironic, but in a way a nice way to end.
I’ll spend more time with Colin this week, and I have to make photo CDs for him (they take so long to make), but I have already handed over documents and my site journal and just about all the information and knowledge and suggestions I have. I’ve introduced him to some of the other volunteers in the area and made sure he learned Piffle. Tomorrow is Green March Day – commemorating the day that King Hassan II marched 350,000 into the Western Sahara. I hear that in the south they have marches and reenactments – but here, just banners and flags. If the weather is all right, I will take a day trip to Fes!
Another thing I have to do before I leave – next week I have to start collecting samples of my “number two,” one marble every three days, and put them in a preservative solution so I can bring them to Rabat (in something called a MIF kit). At mid-service medicals we had to rush a stool sample to the lab – not sure why we’re doing it differently this time, but I guess it’s good to make absolutely sure we don’t have any parasites!
Before too much more time passes, here are the ingredients for the banana-tomato curry that Alia made – again, cook to taste:
2 baby onions
a tsp of sugar
olive oil to caramelize
garlic just before done
hot peppers – add to the garlic and onions
add water before it starts to burn
brown sugar (or more sugar)
add tomato at the end
simmer so it’s not liquid, but watch or the milk will curdle
serve over rice. This was spicy!
And a zucchini/tomato/peanut sauce dish that she made with rice noodles:
3 little onions
8 cloves of garlic
a little oil and also sesame oil
soak the zucchini in a little oil with those spices – drizzle, massage, let set before adding to skillet
2 ½ tsp peanut butter
water to thin it down (or tahini if you have)
for the rice noodles:
2 tomatoes – at the end