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.

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