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
bay leaves
red pepper
black pepper
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
bay leaves
8 cloves of garlic
a little oil and also sesame oil
black pepper
soak the zucchini in a little oil with those spices – drizzle, massage, let set before adding to skillet
2 ½ tsp peanut butter
soy sauce
water to thin it down (or tahini if you have)
lemon juice
for the rice noodles:
sesame oil
2 tomatoes – at the end

Why is Colin's apartment allowance much less than yours?
Budget cuts! Rent allowance was cut for last year's SBD/YD stage and is the same for this incoming one. This incoming one will have a lower settling-in allowance than previous stages. Tutoring was cut between the stage before mine and mine and is being further cut this year. The Environment/Health stage is having IST in Azrou this week where the stages before went to Agadir! The current exchange rate is the highest it has been in two years but that doesn't make up for the shortfall.
You're lucky you got in when you did!

Is Azrou less expensive than Agadir?
I suspect so. They used to get a good deal on the hotel, but the Auberge is probably less expensive. Travel for all of the PCVs to go to Azrou is probably less expensive. Azrou is closer to Rabat so travel for staff is less. I think it was also a day shorter than ours.
I got a little more information - Peace Corps was paying for the Azrou facilities this week and the PCTs were on site visit - so that is why they decided to have Environment and Health IST at this time and place. Apparently they all raved about the food at the Auberge and though the sleeping conditions were snug and it rained for half of their time here, they did not complain. Many have sites in the south and this was their chance to come to this area!
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