Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy New Year!

Since today is a holiday for New Year's, it’s a good time to share a little cross culture info w/you.

The Gregorian (western) calendar is based on solar cycles. It is used in Morocco for business and civil purposes. The Islamic calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. The Islamic year is divided into twelve months, each a complete cycle of the moon. A lunar cycle consists of 29 or 30 days, so the Islamic year consists of 354 or 355 days. Thus, the Islamic calendar gains 10-11 days on the Gregorian calendar each year. A coincidence of the 2 calendars takes a cycle of 33 solar years. For example, in the Christian year 1981, the Islamic month of Ramadan (it’s the 10th month of the Islamic calendar) corresponded very closely with the Gregorian month of July. This will happen again in 33 years. In the meantime, Ramadan will slowly “move forward”, beginning 10-11 days “earlier” every year. At the end of this 33 solar year cycle, nearly 34 Islamic years will have passed. There is no standard scientific method of determining which years will consist of 354 or 355 days, nor which month will consist of 29 or 30 days. Instead, each Muslim country has its own method of determining when one month ends and another begins. In Morocco, this is done by the sighting of the new moon, which is carried out by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Fes. It can and does happen that the same Islamic month begins on different days in different Islamic countries. It is also why we didn’t know if today was a holiday until the full moon was spotted at 8pm last night. Happy New Year!

Now having shared all of that, I asked my host family what the traditions were around the Islamic New Year. They got today off for the Islamic New Year, and celebrate New Years on December 31st-and get January 1st off, but don’t do anything special. Go figure. I’m trying to be culturally sensitive and prepared to participate as custom dictates. Oh well-at least I tried!

So Xmas was nice-spent w/other PCVs-very low key, but first Christmas carols I heard all year! That was followed by the weekend in Fes. Hamdullah! What a great respite from it all. There were 6 of us-stayed in the same el-cheapo hotel to save $$. I splurged and on my way there went to a supermarche in Fes and bought 4 bottles of wine, corkscrew, cups, cheese and crackers (all things only avail in city like Fes-in the “go straight to Hell section”) and we had a little celebration on the roof of the hotel Friday and Saturday nights. We all enjoyed an Italian dinner on Friday night—all the books for Fes give you recommendations for fabulous Moroccan food. OK, we get it every day, every meal w/our host families. Not a complaint. We were just ready for a change. Pasta. Pizza. Yum. We walked all over the old Medina-got back down to the infamous tanneries area w/camera in tow. We also walked all over the Ville Nouvelle (new town) area for a change. It was just good to be able to share our experiences, commiserate w/one another, and rejoice that, despite how wonderful our host families are (and they are), we’re more than ready to move into our own places Feb 1st. Inshallah.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Language in REK:
My plan is to enlist the help of another tutor. I’d like to be working w/a tutor at least 5 days/week. My current tutor (English teacher to Basma and Bouchra) is very nice and patient. However, she’s never tutored anyone in Darija before, so doesn’t have a methodology in mind. So far I’ve driven the content of our 3x/week sessions. For now that’s ok, as I have plenty of material to work with. However, there’s a guy in El Menzel (about 15km away-easy, 5DH transit) who has tutored other PCVs who I may hire. If he can provide some structured learning to supplement what I get from Saida, and meet w/him the other 2 weekdays, that might be a good approach.

Meanwhile, I’ve enlisted the support of one of PC’s LCF’s (language trainers) to translate for me w/the women of the Coop. I have tons of questions for them, and while I’m able to ask my questions, I need Fatima there to translate the answers. I‘d at least like to have more info to work with than the superficial discussions I’ve had so far on my own. Fortunately Fatima’s family lives in Ribat El Kheir, so I can use her occasionally this way. Unfortunately she lives in Fes-otherwise I’d have her as my full time tutor!

As you can tell, language is very much my priority. Will keep you posted.

Makla (food) musings in Morocco:
Growing up, my mother couldn’t get me to eat orange-colored squash for anything, anytime. I now love it-mostly pumpkin-when pressure cooked over couscous. (Turnips fall into the same categories). Hello winter, hello root vegetables.

I don’t like green olives. Change that. I didn’t like green olives. The ones coming from the family farm, freshly made, are great.

Goat cheese. No way. Then this white mound appears in a bowl, at the end of dinner, to share. Looks like ricotta. Tastes a lot like ricotta. I like it. I’m told it’s cheese from goats. No kidding!

Goat meat. Would you choose it? Ate the kabob. Liked it. It was goat. Who knew?

Hot glass of sweet atay (tea) on cold days in winter, around 6pm. Yeah.

You CAN get a good cup of expresso, in ANY café in Morocco, and in REK it’s less than 50 cents-take that Starbucks! Only problem is, most cafes are men only. I am welcome in one by the cyber-owned by host family of another PCV. Speaking of cafes, reminds me of clarification I owe you. A cyber café is a café in name only. It’s actually a bunch of crude cubicles each with a desktop computer. People here can’t afford laptops-so there’s no Starbucks-like sitting in the café, sipping your non-fat latte whilst emailing using some wireless network. It’s either coffee in an actual café that “allows” women, or sitting in front of a computer in the cyber café-not both. I do bring my own laptop and plug in so I have an English (vs French) keyboard and my hard drive to work with at the cyber.

Warm fresh bread does not need butter. Dipping it into fresh olive oil from the farm is a great alternative. (Can you tell it’s olive-picking season?)

The Clementine oranges of Morocco win best in show-globally-against any comers.

And last but not least, God Bless the French, for they left behind fabulous bread and pastry recipes and cooks!

OK, enough about food. When language sucks, food is comfort. All right, food is comfort for any excuse-you got me there!

Business in Fes:
I’ve been working w/one of my Environ PCV counterparts as he’s trying to help the local Taeawniya l-esl (Honey Coop). Nate had been working w/Abdullah to set up a honey tasting for customers and clients of Café Clock-a hip café in the old medina of Fes, which we did last week. We didn’t have a big crowd, but the owners of several Ryads (think old medina townhouse converted into small B&B) attended. The honey’s great. We put together a presentation about the Coop and the area where the honey comes from, ie; support the cultural and environmental diversity of the Eastern Middle Atlas region. We had small info flyers (in French) for them and were able to informally survey them on their interest in the honey. Right now the Coop produces 4 different types of honey (varies by plant source and time of year-and it makes a big difference in the taste), and package them only in 1 ltr jars. The ryad owners are interested in having a small sample package w/a variety of the honeys to sell to their customers. Great idea. Easy, right? Well, the coop has to be sufficiently motivated to do it. They have to be able to fund a gross of small jars from Casablanca. New labels, storage, how to move it after producing, etc. Not so easy. There’s potential there, but it’s far from a done deal. And the whole idea is to build sustainability, not doing for them, but helping initially and stepping away as they take ownership. We’ll see if the idea has legs. Stay tuned.

So travelling to Fes PCV style-what’s it like you ask? Take the hotel in Fes where PC suggests we stay. Conveniently located just inside the main gate to the old Medina. Single room is 80DH. That’s $10. No, I did not forget a “0”. That’s $10. Now, you share the toilet and shower. No towel-pack your own. ( oh, and for you first-timers, the sheet on your bed makes a reasonable towel substitute). No tp-bring your own. But it’s clean and it works. Hostel-like. And at those rates, I can do it a lot! Between transit costs (45-50DH round-trip, depending if I have to go thru Sefrou or not) and hotel, I’m out about $17 for a one night, two day weekend, plus food. Jealous, yak?

Xmas in Morocco:
Sister Sandy sends me a Xmas-tree-in-a-bag. (turns out I get one from Ginger as well-will be VERY well decorated next year in my own home!) Stands about 12 in tall. Comes complete w/all the trimmings. I take it down to the family room-gives me a great way to introduce Christmas to my host family. I get the 2 youngest girls to help me decorate it. It’s got a place of honor on the bookcase. (just posted photos)

I’ll take it w/me to dinner w/other PCVs on Xmas at one of their homes-for what I’m learning is the usual PCV pot-luck. I’m down for mashed potatoes and salad. And some Buckeyes, made w/the help of Basma and Bouchra, courtesy Joanne’s recipe-and a trip to Marjane (think Target w/groceries) in Fes while there on business this week. Then some of my training-mates and I will meet up in Fes the weekend after Xmas for a couple days of R&R. This will make for a nice celebration. Inshallah.

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Slow or Stupid?

OK, so it felt like the honeymoon was over. Safi(enough!). When will this person start speaking normally with us? Is she just slow or is she really stupid?

Yeah, this is what I heard going thru my host family’s minds-and their body language, and even in some Darija that I understood over the weekend. When challenged a couple of times (out of context I might add) with simple words, I failed to respond accurately. Shuma. Must be stupid.

Yes, I hit one of the much-heralded “lows” this weekend. Jamila all but gave up on me-in front of the kids-which gave them license for short patience. Or maybe it just felt that way to me, since my level of language frustration has reached an all-time high. Don’t they know how badly I want to be able to really talk with them? Get to really know them better? Ask the many, many questions I have?

We were warned, and rightly so, that we’ll hit multiple lows such as this. I guess knowing I’m not alone is some comfort, but not much when you’re not only being thought of as stupid, but you’re feeling that they’re right!

Oh, and then we get hit w/a major snow/ice storm, the electricity (and water) goes out-so I can’t even escape and burrow in my room! Is this punishment or treatment? I have to stay w/the family in the salon and try to engage them. Harumph!

So I got some TLC from Debbie over Skype (thanks for that!) and got on with it-buck up and get back in the game. It’s not the family’s responsibility to teach me Darija-I own it all-and I have to find a way to gain their help w/o overusing my welcome!

I get back to the house last night-needed a cyber break after the “du” (electricity) came back on in the village-and Hannan (bless her heart) strikes up a conversation w/me. An actual conversation where she was trying her English and I was working my Darija. Jamila and I talked. Ham-du-li-lah!

Today I’m out in my usual fashion-running some errands and going to the coop. The guys at the stationary store want to talk-and we talk a while-in Darija. I go to the coop and ask Zahra and Fatima if I can take some hanbls (woven carpets) and purses to Fes w/me tomorrow to display at the Honey Coop tasting event we’re doing. They understand me, agree, we get the stuff put together. Fatima invites me to have lunch w/her family. She has 3 sisters and her mom-all together for quite the feast-we manage to talk a bit back and forth, and even joke-in broken Darija. I’m going back for couscous on Friday. Hamdullah. Today I’m back in the game-getting out, talking w/people-just have to push on-and today it works. That feels better!

I’ll have more lows, I know. Language is just the toughest, because you can’t express yourself and help with misunderstandings. Oh well-it’s all a part of the experience. Yak? (Right?).

OK, I’m better. Hamdullah. Tomorrow I go to Fes, ymkn (maybe) Marjan (supermarket) for some ingredients to do some American holiday baking (Environ PCV gave me a WHOLE pkg of brown sugar-can't buy it over here), Honey Coop program, out w/other PCVs tomorrow night, on to Sefrou on Thursday. It will be a good break. Inshallah.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

L’eid Kbir Tuesday, Dec 9

It’s a day of grilling and eating and family. It’s a lot like Thanksgiving. Only you go to the store and purchase a turkey prepared for cooking, and a big part of L’eid Kbir is the slaughtering of the sheep.

Mustafa, Jamila and the 2 older girls started the day at the mosque, in traditional fashion. Everyone is wearing new clothes for the occasion. Upon their return, we gathered just behind our house-both Musafa’s family home (where his mother lives) and his sister and brother in law live behind us. There we were met w/the bleating of the sheep-5 of which had been in a stall for a couple of days. Two of them were for us-one for Mustafa’s family and one for his sister’s family. The others were being stored for other families. You could hear the sheep all around the neighborhood. The men took the sheep, one at a time, and made a clean killing, skinning, beheading and gutting each animal as custom dictates. It wasn’t long until you realized that there were no more bleats from the neighborhood and you saw the smoke of grills from each house. The women were working in the kitchen cleaning each part as it came in, and started cooking. The sheep head and feet were placed on a grill first to burn off all the skin and hair. Again, in customary fashion, we ate the heart, liver and pancreas first-all grilled, and I might admit, delicious. The stomach/lung/intestine/internal parts were cooked in the pressure cooker and they showed up w/rice for lunch. These parts made an encore at dinner served w/the usual bread as utensil, followed by the sheep head-which was consumed all but the bones and fat. I made a feeble attempt at trying all of it. All parts of the sheep will be cooked and consumed-all parts. Yikes.

The day is spent much like our Thanksgiving-women in the kitchen cooking, sitting around talking with grandma around the fireplace, cousins playing together, the men watching soccer in the other room.

I then went to visit one of the Environmental volunteers for the day to see where he lives and partake in some of their goat from L’eid and the ram that he bought for his family. (Note-fresh, grilled goat meat is good). He lives w/his host family-moved out after 2 months, but moved back in to live w/all 11 of them. There were at least another 10 people around, but the mud walls and floors (painted and look like plastered) and a good fire in the fireplace kept us comfortable, despite the continuous rain. It was interesting to see where and how he lives, as the environment and health sector PCVs have the most remote sites-in the “bled”.

The entire week is pretty much a holiday-technically Leid is only 1 day, but schools and many businesses close for the week. It’s pretty quiet around town-helpful in some ways, ie; no line at the busta, but also difficult since so many shops are closed. I guess a time for rest.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

M'bruk 'Aid

El Hajj

We are in the 12th month of the lunar calendar. This is important, as you will see (thanks to PC backgrounder, excerpted below):

“The 5th pillar of Islam is el-hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mekka. It takes place in the 12th month of the lunar calendar. No one today knows either the original rationale for the pilgrimage or what events it was meant to celebrate. When Mohammed appropriated it, he converted it to his own use and gave it a new mythology. Men and women from the length and breadth of the Islamic world come together to the holy place. They dress alike and act alike, subordinating their own wills and personalities to a greater power. They undergo a long and arduous routine together, which gives them a common experience and an opportunity to get acquainted. They attain the symbols of initiation that enhance their prestige. On their way home, as they pass thru other countries, they may trade, meet with others-the pilgrimage became a principle media for interaction in the Islamic world, one of the chief vehicles by which it was unified. Every Muslim is supposed to make the pilgrimage at least once. In Mohammed’s life this was simple, for his congregations did not extend far.

The pilgrim sets out well in advance, to arrive on the sixth day of the Dhu el-hijra at one of the six rest houses, situated five or six miles outside the city on the six roads which lead to it. At the rest house the pilgrim bathes, makes 2 prostrations and exchanges his clothing for the ihram, which consists of 2 pieces of cotton cloth, without seams, about the size of ordinary towels. Women’s uniform consists of 5 pieces-trousers, overdress and frock of green, a black rope and a veil. The male pilgrim may wear sandals, but not shoes. He may not shave, pare his nails, oil his head, or scratches his skin until the pilgrimage has been completed.

The pilgrim now walks to the city in the company of his fellows, singing a special pilgrim song. Once in Mekka, he goes to the great mosque, performs his ablutions, and kisses the Black Stone which is still in the same position to which it was raised at Mohammed’s direction. He then walks around the Ka’ba 7 times counterclockwise, 3 of these running and 4 at a slow walk, and on each circuit he touches the so-called Yemeni corner and kisses the Black Stone. Next he goes to a spot known as the Place of Abraham, where he recites: ‘Take ye the place of Abraham for a place of prayer’. Two more prostrations, and he returns to the Ka’ba to kiss the black stone once more. Then out the gate to Mount Safa, a hill on the outskirts of the city, he goes, reciting: ‘Verify As-Safa and Al-Marwa are signs of God’. Having climbed the hill he recites this 3 more times, after which he runs from the top of As-Safa to the top of Al-Marwa 7 times, repeating his prayers each time he reaches the summit of each hill. The pilgrim then returns to Mekka and walks around the Ka’ba once more.

After this strenuous exercise, he rests, for on the 7th day of Dhu el-hija he need only listen to a speech in the great mosque about the pilgrimage. On the 8th day, he walks with his companions to a village called Mina, where they all pray and sleep. On the morning of the 9th day, they pray at Mina and then proceed to Mount Arafat, where they pray more and hear another sermon. Then they go to the place called al-Muzdafila, halfway between Arafat and Mina, arriving in time for the sunset prayer, and there they sleep. On the 10th day the pilgrimage reaches its climax. This is the day of sacrifice, called variously lum-an-nahr, al-Azha, and ‘aid-el-kbir. The pilgrim rises early, prays, and then goes to Mina where 3 ancient pillars mark some archaeological site. Each has a name, the first being shitan el-kbir (the big devil). The pilgrim picks up 21 stones, which he finds conveniently lying on the ground at his feet, and throws 7 at each pillar, from a distance of 15 feet or more, with his right hand. In 1300 years, several millions of pilgrims have thrown these pebbles, several tens or even hundreds of millions of times at the same pillars, and no one knows how many times this was done before Mohammed’s day. The pillars are still standing. This is considered a miracle.

Still at Mina, the pilgrim now acquires an animal, preferably a sheep. He cuts the throat of this animal ritualistically, while exclaiming, ‘God is Great’. He gets a shave, has his nails pared, and removes his ihram. Now he can put on his regular clothing and resume the character of an individual. After a 3 day rest at Mekka and a few other duties, including a final circumambulation at the Ka’ba, he is free to go home, wearing a green turban and from now on people will address him as al-Hajj, the pilgrim, and this will add greatly to his prestige."

"On the 10th day of the month of el-hijja, the last month of the year, the Islamic world celebrates its yearly sacrificial feast. (This will be next week, on Tuesday, Dec 9.) In Morocco it is known as the ‘Great Feast’. This is the central feast in Islam, comparable to and derived from the feast of the atonement, Abraham’s substitute sacrifice, for the remission of sins. Hence the animal must be mature and without blemish.

Every family must have its sheep just as we need turkeys for the proper celebration of Thanksgiving, but those who cannot afford one, may buy a goat or another cheaper animal. In Morocco the animal cannot be slain until the King has killed his sheep. Then in each household the head of the family kills the sheep. The sheep is eaten in an orderly fashion determined by local customs. For example on the first day the liver, heart, stomach and lungs are eaten while on the second day the head and feet are eaten.

There are purification and sanctification customs and rites that prepare the people for the holy feast and its principal feature, the sacrifice. The people must purify and sanctify themselves in order to benefit by the holy feast and its sacrifices. Personal cleanliness should be observed. Men and boys visit the barber and a trip to the hamman is not unusual. Henna is used not merely as a cosmetic but as a means of protection against evil influences. Women paint their hands with it and in many cases also their feet. Among some tribes henna is also applied to domestic animals.

Almsgiving and prayer are 2 other purification rites followed during the Great Feast. Gifts are exchanged between family members and a portion of the meal is given to the poor. Prayer begins the day. The chief praying ceremony takes place in the morning at the mosque. The day is spent in the company of family.”

M’bruk 'Aid

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tooth Fairy Finally Arrives!

So, dental health is not a priority in Morocco if you go by the status of most smiles you see. Therefore, Peace Corps booked me with a dentist in Rabat to have my broken crown replaced. Apparently there wasn’t a good one they knew between here and 6 hours away! Yes, 6 hours-by grand taxi and train to Rabat on Thanksgiving day so I could be there in time for my Friday morning appt. So it's Thanksgiving and I’m on my own in Rabat-oh, and there’s no room at the hotel PC told me to use (and also told me to not bother w/a reservation). So the security guard takes me around the corner to another hotel that has a room. Just a room. No toilet. No shower. Bed, chair, sink, closet, overhead light. That’s it. OK, so it only cost 90DH (about $11-yes, $11!). So, I pull out all the stops and fork over the extra 10DH ($1.20) for the key to the shower (and a hand towel) on the 2nd floor and took a HOT SHOWER. The water came out of a shower head-not a bucket! Yum! I buy a couple things quickly in the hanut next door to have as a dinner snack and get back to my room to call my Aunt Geri-who I am SO GLAD I caught on the phone to wish a Happy Thanksgiving. Don’t shed any tears-I had a warm room to myself, a shower and a good but quick talk w/loved ones-that’s something to be thankful for! So the next day I check into the other hotel-now there’s room-and for another 10DH/night (or 100DH, about $12), I get my own shower and toilet in my room-feels luxurious.

So, the dentist in Morocco. First of all, I only have an address to find him. Streets aren’t marked. I ask a couple of people where the street is (after heading what I’ve been told is the right way). No one knows. I keep walking. I turn right on the last street before the medina w/its labyrinthine streets. Turns out I’m on the right street and just in time for my appt! Long story short, he’s not a big fan of novacaine, so I start to understand the poor state of dental affairs in Morocco, but he sees me Friday am, Sat am, Mon at noon and again at 5pm and I walk out w/a brand new, very nicely done crown! Yippee! This means I won’t have to trek back to Rabat again. Well done! Hamdullah!

Saturday was belated Thanksgiving dinner. There were some PCV’s in Rabat w/their artisans for a Holiday Craft fair at the American School (and I wanted to check it out as a possibility for my coop next year), and we all went to another PCV’s house for dinner. I helped smash (that’s crush between my fingers-no masher) potatoes, puree sweet potatoes, make green bean casserole. We had rotisserie chicken, stuffing and pumpkin pie. All made w/buta gas stove and oven-impressive!

I was originally supposed to go to Rabat on Thursday and return home on Sunday, but that would have meant a return trip to Rabat for the final crown. As I mentioned, the dentist did a yeoman’s job and was able to do it in 4 days, so I just prolonged the original trip. No problem, right? Right. PC is informed by medical that I’m staying longer, I let my host family know and tell my tutor that our first lesson will have to be on Tuesday. OK. Until I get a call in Rabat on Monday afternoon from the Gendarmes in Rabat El Kheir. They know I’m not there, and am I still in Rabat? Oops-didn’t let them know my trip was extended. All’s well. Except they know every move I make. Gulp. Put that on the list of adjustments. Move on.

So I have time on Monday between dentist appts-and I did say the office was close to the medina, right? I schlep over to the Rabat Artisana to do a little info gathering, and make my way back to the dentist’s with a couple stops along the way. 2 pairs of pants 100DH each ($12), socks 10DH each, 2 turtlenecks for layering 20DH each. Not breaking any banks here. Oh, I splurge on a digital tape recorder for 680DH-should really be useful in language learning.

Back on the train/grand taxi on Tuesday morning in record time-I hit every mode of transport w/perfect timing and make it in 4 ½ hours! Hamdullah. If only there wasn’t snow on the ground (only a dusting) when I arrived-oh, and it was 1 degree Celcius outside last night (remember the little detail about no insulation-that means it’s only about 5-10 degrees warmer in the house). The warmest you’ll be all day is when you wake up in bed. I keep telling myself that it just means our summer will be more bearable. Inshallah.

Now I can get on to my work-visiting w/the coop women and studying/talking w/them, meeting w/my tutor and studying, finding an apt to rent, teaching at the Dar Chabab and working w/my Environment PCV counterpart on the honey coop marketing project.

One last holiday note. I’m so far removed from “home”, that it’s easy to forget it’s holiday season in the US. Note-no Xmas decorations beginning in October. However, as I was waiting at the busta yesterday, the ring tones of 2 different people got me smiling-one was Jingle Bells, the other was Merry Christmas. You wonder if they have any idea of the use of those catchy tunes!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Day in the Life

So here's a taste of my new life in Ribat El Kheir:

7:30-Get up and dressed and ready to go at 7:35-Yeah! No makeup, no hair styling, no shower-just pull on the clothes-love that! Of course I usually have to dress quickly-besides the fact that it's cold, the bit l-ma is downstairs (my room is on the roof) and I’m not gonna run around the roof and house in my nightgown (shuma).

7:45 L-ftr (breakfast) in the cucina (kitchen) w/whoever is home. Breakfast is typically coffee w/milk and homemade bread w/cheese or olive oil. The girls go to school in the morning or afternoon (private school) . Jamila and Mustafa (host “Mom and Dad”) teach Mon-Sat at a public high school 2 km from here, but only ½ day each day-alternates mornings or afternoons.

8-9 work on computer in my room or study

9:00 leave house. Typically I'll be going to the coop and sit w/the women and study while they weave. This way I get to know them better, get in study time and pick up more language. If it’s Monday, which is souk, I may go there in the morning. It is at other end of REK, and the grand taxis (big Mercedes, packed w/6 passengers + driver) ferry people to souk and back into center of town all day long for 2DH each way.

10:00 (last Monday) Went to the souk and met up w/Steve, Nate and Fatima at Honey Coop. Fatima was one of the LCF’s during training-all her family is from REK, and she’s very active in associations here, even tho’ she lives in Fes. She helped start the weaving coop that I’m assigned to work with. She’s also been a terrific resource for PCV’s here in the past, and I will continue to be able to work with her. Hamdullah and Inshallah! Steve and Nate are Environmental PCV’s from sites near REK (they come in here for souk, cyber, mail, etc.). Nate is working with the Honey Coop (Taeawniya Bouyablane) to help them market their honey and is setting up a tasting w/a shop/café owner in Fes-they harvest 11 different types of honey, varying by plants that the bees use. We’re going into Fes on Wednesday to meet w/this person to see how we can make the tasting a success. Fatima took me on a “tour” of the souk. I’ll have to get pictures of it and post them-about 3x the size of the Ain Leuh souk which was big. There are sections for meat/poultry/fish, used clothing, new clothing, hardware, repairs, building supplies, furniture, get your haircut, misc. supplies, and of course tons of fruits and vegetables. This is put up every Monday and taken down at the end of the day. People come from all over the region, as it is the only souk in the area. Talk about a people crunch! Go to café to have coffee (ns ns for me-that’s ½ and ½-half coffee, half milk).

12:30 Get a grand taxi back to town center. Easier said than done. Everyone is vying for the same seats, but they’re all carrying their purchases from souk. Madhouse to get 3 of us into the same taxi (Nate left for his site from the souk). I’m afraid that I’m gonna push the woman w/her baby out the other side of the back seat as we cram into it from our end. Snooze you lose.

1:00 Busta (post office)-first piece of mail to my new PO Box! Thanks Jo! Mailed Nov 12th, it’s here already-and who knows when it arrived, as this is the first day the busta’s been open since I arrived on Friday afternoon. Also got my first piece of Moroccan junk mail-from the Post Office.

1:30 Back home. Late for gdda (lunch)-oops. Should be home closer to 1:00 to eat w/family. But the good news is that it was l-eds (lentils)! Kayejbani (I like) l-eds bzzaf (a lot)! Moroccan women make THE BEST lentils. Note: our cook in Ain Leuh cooked them in water w/onions, then added shredded tomato, garlic and coriander, later added ginger, pepper, cayenne, saffron and cumin. Ate dish of lentils and homemade bread while talking w/Hannan and Basma. (There was also a dish of meat and vegetables, but I passed on that). Jamila is a good cook, and as is typical, most dishes are cooked in a pressure cooker over the buta stove. The mid-day meal is the main meal of the day. Everyone is home to eat together-round table, food in the middle-this family uses fork/spoon/knife as well as bread as utensils.

2-4 Study language, take care of business

3-4 (Monday) Met w/Eziz-potential tutor. Introduced to him by Nate at souk in the a.m. He speaks good English, tutors physics and lives here in town. Jamila and Mustafa have connected me w/another potential tutor-teacher for one of their daughters-I’ll talk w/her on Thursday. Hopefully I’ll have one of them lined up this week and can get started w/more language lessons. Peace Corps gives us a tutoring allowance for 1 year of 400DH/month (about $50). I’ll supplement this to get more time w/my tutor if possible.

4-5:30 Cyber

5:30-6:30 Exercise DVD in my room kul yumayn (every other day)

6:30 Tea w/family

7:00 Hot bucket shower if I worked out

8-9:00 Study, read, talk w/family, etc. This is usually done wrapped up under blankets. Buildings are built w/cement block and there is NO insulation. There is also NO heating, so the temp inside is pretty close to that outside. Electricity is unusually expensive in Morocco. Rural homes may have a wood-burning furno to heat the room. We have a portable buta heater in the family room (only) that is lit most nights for a couple of hours-think space heater. You still need the blankets. Side note-the guy I replaced had a portable electric heater that he left me. My host dad has mentioned a couple of times about the expense of electricity, so I’ve assured him that I don’t plan on plugging in my heater in my room. I’d hate to blow their budget on electricity-besides, so far I haven’t really needed it-w/3 thick blankets on my bed, I’m ok at night.

9:00 l-esha (dinner). This may be soup, couscous, pasta, meat and potatoes-or more than one of these. This (and lunch) always includes fruit for dessert. We’re in the mandarin orange season and I could eat them until I pop, they’re so good.

10 or 10:30-go to my room to read and sleep.

I’ve taken care of my carte de sejour application-that’s basically a work permit I need to carry with me. It took almost 2 hours w/the gendarmes-things move at a slow pace. Anyway, while I was there, speaking w/them in my limited Darija, they wanted to know if I was going rent Sherwin’s apt. (He’s the guy I replaced). Somehow they communicated that his apt was pretty dark and I might like something w/more light (sounds familiar-exactly what I told my host dad-no secrets around here). So one of the guys tells me he knows of an apt you can see from the gendarmes’s ofc-upstairs, very zwin-he’ll go get the landlord. So, long story a little shorter-it’s the same apt that my host dad was going to show me, one that the PCV before Sherwin rented. On the 4th floor, in a safe area, w/a balcony and view, roof access (important for laundry), very nqi (clean), newly done bit l-ma and duwsh (bathroom and separate shower room/hamam), salon, 2 bedrooms and kitchen. More room than I need, but very zwin. Need to determine the rent (he wouldn't tell me today), as they’ve cut the budgets in ½ since Sam rented the place. I have 700DH/month (<$100/mo!!) vs Sam’s 1400DH/mo 4 years ago. Still have a couple other housing options to check out, but I should be in good shape to move in 2 months. Inshallah.

Another fyi on how things work. I went by the post office to mail a letter. I had a notice of a Mandat in my box. A Mandat is how you get money, at the post office, when there is no bank or ATM in town. They basically operate as the town bank. This is how the Peace Corps pays us right now. We’ll be getting ATM cards after we get our carte de sejour, but then I’ll need to go to Sefrou or Fes to access my money. Oh well, it’s not like I’m spending much here in town!

I won't post again until after Thanksgiving, so I hope you all have a great one-will be missing you, but I'm in great hands here, and will celebrate w/other PCVs on Saturday in Khemisset.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Last Week of Training/Sworn in


Despite numerous sessions this week that felt like time-fillers, it was a mezyan (good) week. We had demos and hands-on experience setting up the buta gas tanks for stoves (aka; how to cook w/o losing life or limb-wili wili), lectures on how to avoid and detect carbon monoxide poisoning (if aforementioned buta gas procedures are faulty-wili wili) and lots of policies and procedures. Since the language test pressure was behind us, it was a lot more relaxed. Late night movies in the 3rd floor salon-we’d rearrange the siddaris and ponges (think wooden form w/foam cushion covered by thick woven fabric) every night to make it comfy for about 15 of us to squeeze in to watch some DVD or illegal download on someone’s computer. This coziness was supplemented by fires in fireplaces for heat on all 3 floors of the Auberge. Two nights saw SBD vs YD (Small Business Development vs Youth Development) touch football and soccer games on the asphalt field of the Dar Chebab behind the Auberge. YD beat SBD in both cases. OK, so they play games w/kids all day for their projects and we’re building businesses (maybe an exaggeration) but we can make a mean spreadsheet! We had a fun Talent Show with 15 different performances. I was even recruited as a last minute addition to the dance team-go figure! One of the trainees had a crocheting lesson for about a dozen of us one night. All this and an early dismissal a couple of days for errands and an extension of our 9:30pm curfew a couple of nights made for a good end of training.

Thursday was swearing in day in Fes. We all dressed up (that equals a shower and clothes as zwin as possible after living out of suitcases for almost 3 months) and loaded on a bus to Fes. Our host families from CBT were invited to attend, and given their financial situations, it was remarkable how many actually came, since they had to pay their own transportation (note-no one has cars). It was great to see my host mother there-so sweet-she doesn’t have a spare dirham. The ceremony itself was fairly brief-speeches by 2 volunteers-the top Darija and Tamazeigt speakers-in those languages, a speech and terrific poem (that incorporated a reference to each of the 50+ of us) by the Ambassador, a speech by the Country Director, and the actual swearing in. That was followed by the usual photo opps and a buffet lunch by. Back on the bus to Azrou. No playing in Fes. Bummer. However, finally we're official Peace Corps Volunteers. Hamdullah!

Friday it was time to say our goodbyes to everyone and make the final move to our sites for the next 2 years. My predecessor had rented a car and came by the Auberge and drove myself, another volunteer and a friend of his to our sites-SWEET! OK, so the car thing. We’re not allowed to drive anything-car/motorcycle, etc. while we’re volunteers. We are also restricted to the type of vehicles we can ride in. We’re not allowed to travel at night, so that limits when and how you travel, whether on business or pleasure. Safety. Inshallah.

Another word about the travel procedures. If you go out of your site, on business OR pleasure, you must inform your Program Manager, the Out-of-Site Coordinator, your site counterpart, your region warden and your local gendarmes. If it is business, the out of site trip also has to be approved. This is if I am travelling within Morocco-even if only to my Delegate’s office in Sefrou. Think about a family member having an emergency or a country safety issue. The PC office/staff is responsible for knowing how to contact us and where we are at all times. Likewise, the Ministry expects the gendarmes to know where we are at all times. While if feels extremely restrictive, it is not to curtail travel, but to keep PC informed. Safety and security, Inshallah.

Thanksgiving. Can it be next week already? It’s just another work day around here-no 4 day holiday for us -that will have to wait for the full moon in December for Leid Kbira. However, before you shed any sympathy tears, I will have at least one opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving. I have to go to Rabat next week to the dentist to (finally) get my broken crown fixed. I’ve scheduled the appointment on Friday. That means travelling in on Thursday. I’m trying to see if there’s anything that’s done thru the Embassy or the PC office on Thursday for Thanksgiving that I can attend (since I have to be there before it’s dark). I’ll stay Friday after my appointment and go to the Peace Corps office to work. On Saturday I’m attending a craft fair (the Aiwa Bazaar) in Rabat. It’s a Peace Corps sponsored event, primarily for American ex-pats who want to buy Moroccan artisanal products to take home for holiday gifts. A lot of artisans that PCV’s work with will be there. It will be a great opportunity to meet SBD volunteers who have been here a year and to pick their brains. It is also a great opportunity to do a little market research on what is being made, relative quality, and pricing from other coops. I’ll be able to use this info with my coop as they determine things like where to sell, what to sell, how to price and market their products. After the Craft Fair on Saturday, I’ll go w/a couple of the volunteers to Khemisset (it’s on the way back to Ribat El Kheir) and stay overnight. That will be our chance to do a shwiya Thanksgiving.

Since we left the US, the elections have taken place, the US economy continues to tumble, wildfires have razed Southern California and the holidays are literally around the corner. Meanwhile we’ve been in this protective bubble/womb of training-and the gestation period is over. PC Morocco just gave birth to 50+ new volunteers who are ready to try out their wings. Triq slama.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Passing Time in Azrou

So here we are in Azrou-for additional information sessions and language training. This is all in anticipation of our Language test (more later) and official swearing-in next week in Fes-then we're official Volunteers!

OK, so my trip from Ribat El Kheir..... w/o stopping, it could be driven in about 1 1/2 hrs...took 4 1/2 hrs. Travel in Morocco is not for the weak and timid! It is a test of endurance. OK, so I wait for 40 min in REK for the "nuckle" (think van) to fill (they don't leave until all seats are taken and seat 15-20 people), 30 min to El Menzel where we stop for more riders (constantly stopping along the way to drop off and pick up passengers). 1 hr to Sefrou (big city). Petit taxi across town to a different grand taxi station. 20 min to fill that taxi. 30 min to Imitzer. 45 min to gather 5 passengers (need 6-4 in back and 2 in front w/driver)-I pay for 2 seats in the front so we can get going. 45 min to Azrou. Petit taxi to the Auberge. Whew! Who knew? Total cost for the entire trip (5 different transports) was 78DH-that's less than $10. Afterwards I found out that I can take a grand taxi direct (but the opposite direction) to Fes-abut 1 1/2 hrs, then a 1 hr grand taxi from Fes to Azrou. Even if I wait an hour for the taxis to fill, that is 1 hr less in travel and far fewer vehicles. Note to self-check out this alternative next time!

It's good be in Azrou for a little bit-the bad weather has passed and it's warmer here and sunny-great to walk around w/o an umbrella. It's also great to catch up w/everyone-lots to share about our one week site visits to our final sites-all kinds of stories, as you can imagine-from one person in a site w/no plumbing at 7,000 feet where it gets below zero, to another person who is sleeping in the same room w/8 family members (although we're supposed to have our own rooms-she was told there's another room w/o heating and no bed-she could buy a bed and sleep there if she wanted). There's one couple who arrived in their host town to find that their host family was gone for the weekend. Another trainee gets to his final site to discover that his host family backed out last minute-the mom was sick and wouldn't be able to cook, etc. Another family took him in the next day w/o knowing him, what the Peace Corps is, how long he was going to stay, really no information-talk about a welcoming family! Endi zzhr (I'm lucky)!

So about that Language Proficiency test. There are 3 levels of Proficiency (Novice, Intermediate, High) and 3 levels within each Proficiency Level (low, medium, high). The "requirement" for swear in is to be at Novice High, however it appears that if you don't get to that level, you are still sworn in, but get a language contract w/certain requirements and additional testing. Anyway, we checked that box yesterday. I'm speaking Darija at an Intermediate Low level (think 3 year old). So nice to have that behind me, but the work is really only beginning. Just wait until I'm back at my site-alone, without the LCF safety net-that's when the learning really starts! We also are provided w/a tutoring allowance of 400 DH/month. That apparently works out to 10 hrs/month. Given that any travel and translation has to come out of that same allowance, the money doesn't go very far. Since this is my #1, #2 and #3 priority in the first several months, I plan on supplementing the PC allowance w/my own $$ to front-end-load my learning.

We have 3 more days of sessions-getting us prepared for life on our own in our sites-swear in on Thursday, and "home" on Friday. We are required to live w/our host families for 2 months, but I'll need to also identify a place to rent pretty quickly. It shouldn't be hard to find a place (a couple of alternatives have already been identified), but the Peace Corps has to come out and approve our rental before we can sign a lease, to ensure it is safe, secure, etc., and that can take some time.

P. S. Did you know that there are 3 sectors of Peace Corps? Posh Corps (those that had 2x our rent and 2x our tutor budgets), the Peace Corps and the Hard Corps (no running water or "du" = electricity)!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Site Visit Cont'd

Nov 6

It’s been a good day. It is actually a National Holiday. Something to do with the Western Sahara-the topic is haram/controversial, so I don’t know the whole scoop. Anyway, a day off for all!

Well, maybe not everyone. The Regional Governor (who I understand to be like a State Governor) came from Sefrou to Ribat El Kheir to cut the ribbon to officially open a girls’ dormitory that’s been open a couple of years. The dorm is for girls in the surrounding areas who live here during the week for school. It houses 50 girls and is a nice facility. Anyway, this is obviously a big deal, so my host dad was called to be there-along w/every key person in town. I asked if I could come along and see what was going on. Sure glad I did. But first, let me be perfectly clear about this-I invited myself-I was actually just bumming along w/my host dad-figured it was good for a few photos-I'm in my yoga pants and fleece sweatshirt, tennies, and hair the usual Moroccan mess (note to self: next time ask more questions before heading out in sweats!)....I'm thinking I hang back in the outskirts and snap a few shots, right? I forget I stand out like a sore thumb around here-there's no hanging in the back-I'm pulled into the line w/the important men-end up being introduced to the governor as the new Peace Corps volunteer here-when he congratulates me on Obama-I say "Inshallah" (with Allah's blessing), rather than the more appropriate "Hamdullah" (thanks be to Allah). Anyway, my counterpart in the taeawniya was there, the Delegate from Sefrou who I officially report to was there (who I met on Monday in Sefrou), and I was introduced to the woman who oversees the dormitory and her boss who oversees multiple such facilities (who asked if I would teach English to the girls here). It was really a great opportunity to meet so many people here in town-even if we didn’t exchange names, their faces will be familiar when I’m walking around, Inshallah.

Afterward, since it was the first sunny day since I got here, I decided to go walking around town-took a couple of pictures, but mostly I just wanted to see the town, and kinda get myself out so people get used to seeing me. Believe me, you really stand out here. Everyone stares, but not unkindly, just curious. A couple of women standing talking on the curb motioned me over-I went over and spoke my broken Arabic with them-both named Fatima, they’re neighbors to one another, they wanted to know why I was here, was I looking for a husband (more on that later), and that I was invited to come to their homes. Other than that, a smile and Salam Alekum typically gets a smile or positive response from everyone. Merhaba!

OK, about the husband thing. Apparently (and not particularly surprising), there are a lot of young Moroccan’s eager to marry Americans-can you say green card? Apparently there is also a wave of “cougars”-American women in their 40’s+ eager to marry those younger Moroccan men! One of the PCV’s in a town close by was going to a wedding on Tuesday night (the celebration actually lasts 3 days) for one of these unions, which was of course being followed by a move to America. Hmm.

Well, I am officially now on my own as well. I don’t know what happened, but the PCV here in Rabat El Kheir who I’m replacing was called this morning and Peace Corps came out and took him to Rabat and he’s going home today-not the end of the month. Weird. Hope he’s ok-was a lot of help to me this week, especially w/travel logistics which can be very confusing even when you kinda know them. He left me his bike, so I not only will have one (yeah!), but I have it already, and he only used it twice. In addition, he left me an electric space heater that Peace Corps bought for him. Right now, at 5pm it’s 42 degrees outside, and w/o the heater on it’s 54 degrees in my room. That space heater will be a godsend. Hamdullah! In addition, my host dad is going to see if he can get their internet connection up here in my room (on the roof)-would that be sweet??!! Inshallah!

Sooooo. It’s just me here now. I’ve got the women of the coop to work with, potentially the girls in the dorm and kids at the Dar Shebab (think youth center) to teach English, and the women of the coop want help learning English and computers. This is good, ‘cuz you know me-I like to stay busy. I have the inside scoop on a good place to rent-former PCV’s place, but will check alternatives (would prefer an upper floor place for more light and air). My host dad is going to help me find a tutor here in Ribat El Kheir (much better for tutor to be here for integration). I’ve got a host family situation that is ideal. My good luck continues. Inshallah.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ribat El Kheir Site Visit

Hamdullah! I have a home for the next 2 years! I'm here for a one week site visit, before returning back to Azrou for another 1 1/2 weeks of training, swearing in and back here on Nov 21st for good.

My new home is a small town officially called Ribat El Kheir, originally Harmoumou or Harmou. The orginal Berber name was changed some years back after an attempted overthrow of the prior king-in turn the town's Berber name was changed to the Arabic Ribat El Kheir. Harmoumou is a town of about 10,000 people, at about 3,000 ft, with 2 main streets, a busy taxi and transit (nukl) stand, a bus to Rabat every morning, a post office, but no bank. The nearest bank is 50 KM away in Sefrou, and it's a 1 hr grand taxi ride to Fez.

OK, so I was hoping for a larger site. BUT, I signed up for this gig knowing that I may not have ANY amenties like running water, etc. I will have running water, electricity, cell phone service and internet. I will be working with a group of women at the weaving cooperative who are very nice, produce good quality products and as of now have absolutely NO marketing or sales efforts underway. They've been in existence as a coop (teawniya) since July 2006. The PCV volunteer that I'm replacing has not done anything with the coop (by his own admission), and they really need and want help. So maybe I was sent here for a reason! Besides, I'll get to Sefrou (the town 50 KM and 1-2 hrs away) to see the Artisanat Delegate every month, and that's where the bank is and Fez is only 1 hr away. So, who's to complain, right? Plus, I couldn't ask for a better set up w/my host family here. Both the mom and dad are teachers of Classical Arabic in a town 12 KM away. They have 4 daughters. The oldest just started studying medicine in Fez, the other 3 are in a private school here in Harmoumou. The dad and the 2 oldest daughters speak pretty good English and the rest of them speak some English. This doesn't mean we speak English, it means that they can help me (and they do) with words I don't know, pronunciation and correct verb conjugations. What a help that is! They have a very nice house, esp by Moroccan standards-incl. internet, a "hamam"-that means a water heater for a bucket shower in a separate shower room, a large salon and smaller one (like a family room), large cucina (kitchen) and bedrooms for the mom and dad and the girls. My room is up on the roof-a separate room w/complete privacy and there's space for my Pilates/Cardio workouts. The only downside-and this is not unique to my host family's home-is that no one has heating in their homes. So last night, when I went to bed, outside it was 39 degrees, and in my room it was 47 degrees. The sleeping bag and 2 thick blankets they have for me on my bed are certainly appreciated!

I've had a chance to meet with the women of the coop twice, set up my new PO Box (see blog homepage for address), met with the Delegate in Sefrou, introduced myself to the gendarmes (have to keep them posted on our whereabouts), met a potential tutor, and sat in on an English class.

My next big task is to line up my Darija tutor. This is really my #1 priority. I would really like to find a tutor here in Harmoumou, to help me first with language, but also with integration into the town. One of our LCF trainers is from here, so I have her and my host parents thinking about who I could use. I have a very good alternative in El Menzel-about 20 KM away-he tutored another volunteer posted there, but again, I don't want to have to travel for tutoring if possible, esp. since I want to front-end-load the tutoring, ie; several days a week. We'll see.

Travel factoids from Harmoumou: Grand Taxi (6 passengers-4 in back, 2 in front w/driver) to Fez = 25DH and 1 hour. That's around $3! Travel to Sefrou is more complicated-involves a combination of nukl (think VW van w/seats for 15 and stuffed w/20 +) and possibly Grand Taxi. It's about 50 KM, only 13DH for nukl (that's about $1.50), but can take 2 1/2 hours. This is because you have to wait for any vehicle-nukl or taxi-to fill up before it will leave. You can buy out the Grand Taxi if you want.

As I mentioned, I am replacing a PCV who COS's this month. Remember this is gov't service, so it comes w/the obligatory acronyms. PCV= Peace Corps Volunteer. COS = Close of Service. Sherwin has been very helpful, esp. w/transportation, around here. There are no transport schedules, and there are just vans and taxis sitting there-sometimes someone is calling out the destinations. You have to find out what is going where and which taxi stand is for which destinations in each town. He has a very nice apt here in town-much nicer that I expected to find. He's unfortunately sold all his stuff already, so I'll need to buy everything, ie; furniture, probably in Sefrou. I did buy the Sefrou PCV's bed and kitchenware while I was there on Monday-will need to arrange for a truck to bring that stuff and anything else when I get my own place. Re; Sherwin's apt-he doesn't recommend it, as it is pretty isolated (only one other apt in bldg and they're in France all the time), and kids go by on the way to/from school and are always knocking on the door or ringing the bell. I have the landlord's info, but will enlist my host family's help in identifying alternatives before deciding where to rent. I have the next 2 months to find a place.

A word on the election. Hamdullah. OK, more is interesting to see how many people here in rural Morocco have been watching the election process and were interested in the outcome-and particularly happy to know that Obama won. Hatta Ana (me too!).

OK, that's enough chatting for today. B'slama.

Friday, October 31, 2008

CBT to Final Site

Happy Halloween!

We actually had Halloween come a little early to Ain Leuh. On Tuesday we carved up the pumpkin we bought at the souk last week. (You should have seen our cook’s face when we brought it home-she thought we wanted her to cook all of it). The seeds were cooked on the buta stove and Lisa cooked down a lot of the pumpkin and made pie-yum. We bought candles in the hanut and invited the neighbor, our cook and a couple of others to join us for the “lighting” of our pumpkin. We brought it indoors (too brrd outside), turned out the lights and lit her up! We took turns telling ghost stories, with Amina translating both directions. You should have seen the neighbor and our cook get into the “spirit” of things by telling stories of their own-some involving ghosts from the cemetery just down the road from our classroom! Who knew!

Wednesday we started talking about what we need to be able to say once we’re on our site visit. It seemed like training was going to go on forever, and now it’s almost done! Well, at least the formal classroom and CBT training-we still have 2+ weeks to go before swearing in. We had a farewell party for the people of Ain Leuh who have been so great to us, ie; our host families and the women of the taeawniya. You should have seen the women dance to the Moroccan music-now I know how to stay warm thru the cold winter months-invite Moroccan women to dance!

Speaking of final sites, I finally know where I'll be for the next 2 years! We had to say our goodbyes to our host families on Thurs morning before leaving for Azrou, where all the SBD trainees were once again gathering, this time with a lot of anticipation, as we were to find out our final service sites that afternoon. The Program Director was running a couple hours late, so everything was delayed, and at first she was going to wait until today to tell us. Talk about near-revolt! We didn't eat dinner until about 9pm, giving her time to tell us all-in a group-where each of us was going and a little bit about the site. We got more information today about the sites, who we're replacing and a little bit about our host families.

So here goes:
I'll be in a place called Ribat El Kheir. It is 50 km east of Sefrou and another 40 min to Fez and at about 3000 ft. The town has about 13,000 people. My host family has both mother and father and they're both teachers, and they have 4 daughters. We have running water and electricity. There's internet availability in town-don't know yet if that's just at cybers or if I'll be able to get it at home when I get my own place (2 mos required w/home stay family). I'll have cell phone service. There is a post office, so I'll be getting my very own personal PO Box and address soon, but there is no bank-the closest one is in Sefrou. There is souk weekly, but fresh produce is available in the hanuts in town. I'll be working with an established Coop of women weavers who are asking for help in marketing their products. I'll be replacing a current PCV who is finishing his service the end of November. It apparently gets very cold in winter, incl. snow, and while summer anywhere in Morocco is very hot, Ribat El Kheir doesn't get as bad as other areas. One of our LCF trainers is from Ribat El Kheir and helped start the Coop I'll be working with. She now lives in Fez, but will help me find a tutor in Ribat El Kheir. Inshallah!

At least now we all know where we'll be-scattered across the country (some will take 2 days to get to their sites, but we'll have other PCV's (SBD and other sectors) nearby to work with and celebrate American holidays with. Of all the cities in Morocco to be close to, my preference would be Fez, so I'm glad that I'm close enough to get there and back in a day.

Tomorrow we travel out to our sites for one week of intro. I go first to Fez for my dentist appt., then the guy I'm replacing will meet me there-he's going to Fez tomorrow for some shopping anyway-and shepherd me to Ribat El Kheir and my host family's house. Triq slama!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ain Leuh con't

Greetings from cold and rainy Ain Leuh. It's rained (shta) for a week straight and it's COLD (but not as cold as it will get, so Lynn quit your whining!). It's been hard to find a time to do laundry, so not only are we transferring around the same cold bugs, we’re wearing the same clothes over and over-acclimation is at a peak! I did get some undies (slip) a bucket wash today at least. I’ve kept up the everyotherdaypilatesCDworkoutinthemorningfollowedbybucketshower routine-at least me and my undies will smell good!

OK, so dental health is not the first priority among Moroccans. Given the preponderance of sugar in the mint tea, lack of fluoride in the water, etc., dental hygiene could use some attention. Sooooo, Thursday night when I discovered the front part of a crown broken off while eating some soft bread, I was not thrilled to find that dental care will be my first "medical" intervention in Morocco. Apparently the dentist that the Peace Corps uses is in Fez, and I’m still waiting to find out when I go there to get this fixed. Rumor control has it that our swearing in ceremony will be in Fez, so I’m thinking there will be a combo trip, however swearing in isn’t until Nov 20. Soooo, I’ll have a funny smile on the right side of my mouth until whenever. Stay tuned-no doubt there will be a story when I get it taken care of.

Meanwhile, we’re moving right along w/projects. I did my workshop yesterday with the Coop women. In the US I would have planned for at least 1 hour with a lot of participation. I expected that this workshop would take only about ½ hour max. Much to my surprise (and delight), it did take an hour, with a lot of conversation (translated by our LCF). There were lots of questions and the feedback was positive. I translated all of the workshop materials, including several copies of the worksheets into Darija so I could talk thru it all with them, then had our LCF translate all of it into Arabic script so the women can use these materials after we’re gone. The point here is building capacity and sustainability. Inshallah!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

CBT II Home Stretch

Thursday Oct 23

Factoid: Morocco is a world leader in producing crafts which explains the government’s focus on the large handicraft market which accounts for 20% of the country’s labor force and 10% of the country’s GDP. In 2002, artisan production generated $6.2 billion in sales for two million artisans, benefiting one-third of the population.

I thought I’d share a little bit about the projects that we’re working on here in Ain Leuh with the women of the weaving Cooperative. Here’s the situation-they’ve been in operation for 20 years, and up until 2 years ago, a government appointed person was managing the business-the financials and the marketing (such as it was). She went to all expos, all training, and passed none of it on to the women of the cooperative. So in the last 2 years the women have taken on full responsibility for their business. This is a business that has lost money for at least the last 6 years, despite the fact that the women are weaving some of, if not the best carpets in Morocco.

My project is to put together worksheets and a reference document on budgeting, and I’ll do a workshop on Saturday-all in Darija. They have never put together a budget nor have they been trained on doing one. However, if they could save money to buy 2-3 heaters for their workshop, they could weave thru the entire winter-an additional 1-2 months worth of weaving and increase their production at least 10-15%. (It gets too cold to weave all winter long-there’s no insulation or heating in the workroom-just cement block walls-which is true for all buildings and homes here). The sales from this increase in production is more than they need to pay for the heaters and electricity in the 1st year. OK, so now I need to get this across to these wonderful women who have no business, finance, or planning experience. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to keep something simple.

The other volunteers are working on projects including: two are getting the brochures that a former PCV produced into the 2 Auberges in Ain Leuh and a new sign for the front of the building to draw more people into the Coop when they’re in Ain Leuh; one is training 2 women on how to use their new digital camera to take photos and download them to their new website (more on that later); one will train them on how to decide what type of product they should be weaving based on profitability (right now they either weave to order or if there’s no order, the woman chooses what she makes); and one is putting together a resource for them to apply for grants.

Ok, so they are getting a new website-I’ll include a ling to the site when it’s “live”. A University in Ifrane had students from the US here working on developing the website for the Coop. It’s almost ready. The women have a computer, but it has no Word or Excel software, no internet, no one knows how to use it and it’s in French, and none of them speak or read French. So, their computer’s not a viable option. The same University gave the women a new digital camera, but no training on how to use it, how and where to download the photos, how to post them to their site, etc. There is also the open question as to how and who will manage the website. Hmmm.

Building sustainability is not as easy as it appears. It’s great to provide resources to those who need them, but if they can’t build on them or use them once the help is gone, the resources are limited.

The next week is a big one for us. We finish our CBT II projects and reports, we throw a party for the people in Ain Leuh who have helped us, ie; women of the Cooperative and our host families, we pack up and go back to Azrou. We’re in Azrou for 2 days and we’ll find out our final sites-the location, what type of town and artisans we’ll be working with for the next 2 years. Then we leave for site visits to our new locations to meet the host families we’ll live with for the next 2 months. Wahoo! Inshallah!

Parting shot: I'm working at the cyber (cybercafe to you) across from my house-the place I usually use because the guys who run it know me by now and let me into their office space to download files and print them out. The guy here just told me (in Darija) that my l-arbiya mezyan (my Arabic is good). OK, so it's not true, but it still made my day!

Monday, October 20, 2008


Monday 10/20

On Saturday, Khadija told me that we were going to go to her sister’s house that evening. I asked what was going on, and with our language barrier, her daughter, Ahelam, had to pantomime that it was for a circumcision celebration (you can imagine the pantomime!). All boys before they are 1 year old are circumcised (now done in a clinic or hospital).

All the family gathered-and I’m talking about at least 80 people-for the celebration. So picture this; we walk about a mile to Khadija’s folk’s house (next door to the party) to change-they dress me in a very pretty yellow caftan (that’s a jelaba minus the hood, and for indoor wear only-can be very fancy)-and we head off to the party around 9:30. We sit in a room w/about a dozen women-the men and women are separated the entire night-where we stay for the next 2 hours. They're talking some; me-listening and observing and trying to answer an occasional question.

I so wish I could paint a picture of the faces of some of the older female relatives-with their wrinkled and aged faces, strong Berber tattoo markings down their faces, strong noses and cheekbones, probably no teeth, with gold dangle earrings, white headscarves, sitting on the floor leaning against the yellow walls w/blankets in their laps, holding prayer beads. Amazing!

Around 11:30 or 12:00 (after of course the men have eaten), we move into another room w/about 40 women and 3 large round tables. Two women come in w/water and a towel to wash our hands. The food starts coming out-and I mean food! Huge platters for each table with 3-4 chickens. That was plenty. But wait-there’s more! Then come the huge platters of couscous with beef, chickpeas and caramelized onions. Mind you, they’ve already served this to all the men, and now we’re eating. I can’t imagine how and where all this cooking took place-no one has a kitchen large enough to cook a fraction of this food!

Shortly after the food is cleared, the electricity (and the water it turns out) goes out due to a storm passing thru. Within minutes we’ve got candles on each table (a water glass turned over w/a drip of wax holds a candle nicely) and a buta gas cylinder lit up like a big lantern. OK, keep the party going! The women start singing, with the older women on one end of the room starting the songs and clapping while the younger women chime in. Not much dancing-no room w/the tables.

So around 2am, we finally get a glimpse of the boy for whom all of this is happening. (As it turns out, the men never even saw the baby-apparently all evening the mom and dad are in a separate room for everyone to take turns going in and giving money and congratulating them on the big day). He’s brought in all dressed up with his mom, with a tray of incense, lemons and cloth swatches. This is for the women’s celebration which includes tucking money into his hat, more singing and ululating, and putting henna on his hands and feet (the cloth is to wrap them up afterward).

Around 2:30 the rain stopped (Hamdullah!) and we walked home in the pitch dark. Fortunately Idriss beat us home and had a candle going and I had a flashlight in my room. Both the electricity and water were off throughout Ain Leuh until around 5pm on Sunday.

Sunday went walking w/another trainee-we went south from town to check out the views and take some photos. When I got back, the PCV who lived w/Khadija and her family 2 years ago for CBT here in Ain Leuh came by to visit on her way back to her site from Rabat. It was good to talk w/her-get her insight and tips and practice some Darija. She and the rest of the family went down to Khadija’s folk’s home for Rachel to say hi-I stayed home, wrapped myself up in a blanket-I couldn’t warm up-to study and take care of the nasty cold I finally succumbed to.

Friday, October 17, 2008

CBT II cont'd

Oct 14 (Tues) I thought I’d share some observations about Morocco….

The economy. Hmm. While no one complains about the economy per se, unemployment is a big issue. We heard and saw the young men demonstrating in front of government buildings while we were in Rabat. They are protesting the government ministries, not the King, who remains very popular. The issue is not confined to the cities and it impacts the skilled and educated as well as the low skilled workers. Last week there was an opportunity for men over age 35 w/children to register for the opportunity to go to France for work. My host dad was one of those who signed up. (Last week he went every day to Azrou to get work). I don’t know when they find out who is chosen. The host brother of another volunteer left on Sunday for Tangier to try to find work.

Another observation is that Morocco seems to have pretty good infrastructure. The roads I’ve seen so far are pretty well maintained (have certainly seen far worse in my travels elsewhere). Running water and electricity, and especially cell phone service is pretty accessible in small towns. Obviously the more rural you go (into the “bled”), the less access you’ll have. One thing that’s surprising to most of us is the trash situation. Here in Ain Leuh, there is regular trash collection, but there are no trash cans. People set their trash out on the street or sidewalk, or put it out their windows. This obviously leads to a lot of trash lying all over. Small black plastic bags have taken over in the hanuts, and they are ubiquitous. There’s a PCV couple working on Environmental projects here in Ain Leuh, and that is one of their first priorities-getting cans distributed around town for centralized trash depositing and collection.

On Wednesday I talked our instructor into a field trip to the weekly souk. This entailed packing ourselves into the “souk bus” at the medina for a short ride just north of town. Think of this as a giant farmer’s market and swap meet, with about ½ of it produce. This is where every woman in town (and many men and kids) go every Wednesday to buy their fresh produce for the week. I wanted to see what it was like, what they had, the negotiating practices, etc., as the souk is where I’ll be buying my produce once I’ve got my own place. We (the 6 trainees and our LCF) have a woman who comes in everyday and cooks a great lunch for us. We give her our food allowance and she does everything else. This is Peace Corps policy to ensure that we get at least one good, nutritious meal a day. Anyway, on Wednesday we shopped for our own produce for the week. While I was at it, I bought food to cook for my family that night. OK, so you think that a veggie and chicken stir fry would be a breeze, right? Well, you need to negotiate all your veggies and prices. No problem. Chicken. Right. Live or butchered? Oh, thank goodness I can buy just part (1/4 kilo) of a freshly butchered and cleaned chicken. Whew! But forget the boneless, skinless breast meat ladies. I can now bone chicken parts with a dull knife. Then of course we don’t have a sink or running water in the kitchen, so it’s water in a bowl, a scrap bowl and a corner of tile to cut everything up. It’s amazing we didn’t all get salmonella poisoning, ‘cuz I tell you that the counter did not stay chicken juice clean! Well, the stir fry came out great, as did the cucumber and tomato salad. Both kids pronounced dinner “zwin” and “benin” (that’s great!), but I only heard a lot of “l-xodra” (vegetables) from my host mom-I think it was too many veggies and not enough meat and potatoes for her. OK, so maybe they won’t request my cooking again, but all the veggies were GREAT! So, you wanna know more about the chicken, right? You want to know how to tell if you’re getting a “frisky” chicken, as we were told to buy? Yes the chicken guy at the souk has live, frisky chickens. You can buy it as is and “DIY”, or, I found out that you can ask him to kill and clean it and come back in 10 minutes and he’ll have it done. Of course, my choice was to buy it from the chicken guy at the hanut in town where the chickens are hanging outside, who already had it cleaned and would cleave off just the amount I wanted. That’s fresh enough for me! Anyway, it was a good experience to work w/a limited kitchen, a buta-gas stove, and some novel ingredients. Hamdullah!

(Friday) Today we got our first formal feedback/language proficiency test. So far so good- I’m on target for where we are in our training-that’s the good news, since we have no benchmark for comparison. There’s still just so much to learn. I am committed to breaking the pattern I heard from several “over 50” volunteers last week in Azrou-every one of them admitted that they didn’t make learning Darija a priority and their language skills reflect this. That will not be the case with me. I just can’t imagine how you can really work with the people of Morocco and really know what’s going on with them unless you can speak their language. I think I’ll be a 2 year work in progress! Inshallah!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

CBT II in Ain Leuh

Well, we're back in Ain Leuh for the next 3 weeks. Good news-not only no snow as reported, in fact today hit mid-70's w/sunny skies, so 5 of the 6 of us trainees went for a terrific 3 hr hike up above town in the forest. Nice. Welcome back!

It was an easy return trip. First, I successfully negotiated for our Grand Taxi (That's a 70's model Mercedes that takes up to 6 passengers to a destination. They wait until the taxi is full to depart) trip from Azrou to Ain Leuh for the 4 of us who decided to split the full 6 person fare (this meant 30DH, or about $3.75 for a 30 minute ride). The drivers hang around one guy who coordinates who is going where, and clearly they saw 2 female Westerners coming and tried to get 200DH. I was able to negotiate in Arabic and we held our ground until our price was met. Yeah! Small successes feel great!

The other good news about the return to Ain Leuh was how easy it was to settle back into my host family's home. This is despite the fact that the storms that preceded our return had knocked out the water lines and there was no water, and we were told it could take 3 days to get water running again. My first-ok, maybe second-thought was, ok, I can go 3 days w/o water-I'll just learn by observing how my family and LCF do it. I'm tough, right? Yeah! I came home from afternoon class and helped my host mom fill bottles and buckets w/water at our favorite hanut (see previous postings-he's the guy w/diet Coke and gouda cheese) where they have well water. So dare I confess to my delight when I heard the l-ma (water) gushing into the sttl (bucket) in the bit l-ma (bathroom) at about tseud nishan (9 o'clock) last night? Yes, we're back on water.

I had another small success before departing Azrou, in preparation for Ain Leuh CBT II. I found out that the Regional Artisana Director in Azrou is also the Regional Delegate who oversees the business of the weaving coops, including that of Ain Leuh. I negotiated for another guy and I to miss some Azrou class time to sit down with him to learn more about the coop here. We had to develop our questions, get them translated, and conduct the conversation in Arabic, of course all thru our LCF Amina. We found out some very important information that will really impact how we approach our projects w/the weavers in CBT II, so I was glad that worked out.

Upon my return yesterday, I gave my host mom the gift I put together for the family in thanks for all their kindness to me. I had about 30 photos developed for them and blew 2 of them up and got them framed. The photos were of Khadija's female family members the night that the girls who completed their first Ramadan fasting got their makeup done and dressed up (see previous posting and photo). Khadija's sister came in and saw the photos, so I've now found a photo hanut here in Ain Leuh to not only make copies from my thumb drive, but they have even nicer frames than the ones in Azrou! Could have done it all here in little Ain Leuh! Good learning-don't make assumptions.

I really have to leave one more message for this posting. It's to all of you who are reading the blog and emailing and/or responding. Thanks. Thanks. Shukran! We are incredibly busy here-very highly scheduled, 6 days/week, tons to learn and lots of self imposed pressure to get the language asap. No time to be homesick, honestly. That's until I get a message from someone that's so sweet, it reminds me of loved ones at home and how much I do miss them, despite how busy and fine I'm doing here. So, thank you.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Moving on to CBT II

Happy couscous Friday!! It's tradition to serve couscous on Fridays. Some families have it other days, but since Friday is a day that businesses close early for the jame (mosque) and long gda (lunch), there's time for a couscous meal. Yum!

I don't know if I've shared our overall training schedule either, so here it is:
Week 1 Rabat, then move to Azrou for the set up of CBT (Community Based Training)
Week 2 Azrou
Week 3 CBT I Site-Ain Leuh, live w/host families and Mon-Sat classes in language and technical skills (tools for working w/artisans)
Week 4 CBT I
Week 5 Azrou-technical training, cross culture, CBT I debrief and CBT II training-we're at the end of this week right now
Week 6 CBT II Ain Leuh-host families, Mon-Sat classes and working on individual projects with our artisan group
Week 7 CBT II
Week 8 CBT II, end of week back to Azrou for final site assignments
Week 9 Final site visit-meet host family (live w/them for 2 mos) and target artisan group
Week 10 Azrou, final language testing, prep for final sites
Week 11 Swearing in-location not yet determined-rumored to be Fez
November 21 we leave for our final sites and are on our own

A few more factoids:
Morocco is the 2nd largest Peace Corps country w/259 volunteers
We've been poked w/needles a lot; immunizations included rabies, tetanus, hep a and b, flu, typhoid and meningitis. Fortunately I've not been adversely affected by any of them (not true for everyone).
Prolonged pronunciation of the Moroccan Arabic letters "g", "h" and "x" can lead to a sore throat
REI super absorbable towels are fabulous for packing/travel, but lousy for comfort. I've bought a big old fluffy thing-will be better for cold winter bit lma showers in my future.

You know that some people see their glass as half empty while others' glass is half full, right? Did you know that a PC volunteer can take a shower with theirs?? Ha!

Well, we leave for Ain Leuh in the morning. That means that I have a major re-packing job to do this evening, as it is getting COLD (rumor has it that the rain storm we got this week in Azrou may have left snow in Ain Leuh). I've got warmer clothes, and we'll be in Ain Leuh almost 3 weeks, so I'll take my big suitcase, but will have to shift everything around. FYI-they let us store whatever we want here at the Auberge in Azrou, so we don't have to lug everything around with us for CBT.

Well, I'll likely check in on Sunday-trying to take advantage of the internet access I have while I have it, as final site conditions are still unknown!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

End of CBT I

With all of one month of training under my belt, I bring you “True Confessions”:

I like the small glass of warm, full fat, sugared milk w/a tsp of Nescafe at dinner
I like the extended greetings when you meet people, esp. those you already know
Using a Turkish toilet means sometimes you pee on your foot accidentally
I bring my own towel into the bathroom to wash my hands (I’m the only one using tp)
I’ve become very flexible about meal times
I don’t miss TV (Note: even a very basic one room home has a TV and satellite reception, and the TV is on every night, but it’s all in Moroccan Arabic)
I’ve only read ¼ of one of the books I brought
I like not worrying about my hair or makeup-and it looks just fine
I sometimes take my time getting home after class-after all, I'll have all evening long trying to speak Darija w/the family
Sweet mint tea is good to sip
It’s nice to be able to greet the neighbors, friends and family I’ve met when I see them in town
I don’t think it’s strange to share the same footpath w/a flock of sheep
I need to find a way to get more fruit and veggies into the diet-it’s been very carb-loaded
I no longer even hear the call to prayer that is broadcast 5 times a day
I’m ok w/the squatting and standing over the turkish toilet to take a bucket shower (esp if I have warm water), and actually prefer this method of bathing to going to the hammam (like a 2 hr bath-ugh! Not for me!)
Flip flops were the best purchase so far (see all bit lma comments)
All of our project ideas are within the capability of any of the volunteers, regardless of their backgrounds and experience.
You get used to the smells
The hanut that sells umbrellas, hardware, diet coke and REAL gouda cheese is the best and they’re patient enough to let me do all my business (incl currency) in Darija-love it
I haven’t driven a car in a month and I don’t miss it one bit
Cleanliness and personal hygiene have different standards here-one of the more difficult adjustments
I’m getting good at dealing w/ambiguity
I’ve never liked the idea of journaling-really don’t like writing, but I’m finding that blogging is therapeutic.
If someone were to ask me to make a decision right now about being posted to a small village or a big town, I’d have trouble deciding. The small village offers community, integration, impact possibilities to a greater extent, but has fewer amenities. Big town has the amenities, but harder to identify a community within the town to work with and become a part of. Hmmmm. As they say in Peace Corps Morocco, swya b swya…little by little. It will be interesting to check the confessions next year.
B’slama-we're off to Azrou for 5 days w/all the trainees, Inshallah!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

CBT Week 2

(started writing this blog on Tuesday, it’s now Thursday evening)
The big news is that l-eid s-sgira is tomorow. This means that a new moon has been seen, marking the end of Ramadan and the 1st day of the 10th month of the Islamic calendar. It is a day of celebration, eating (the month-long fasting is over), and visiting relatives. No work and no school-just family.

A word about fasting. It’s a little different than many think. In Islam, fasting means nothing passes one’s lips from sunup to sundown. That means food, water, cigarette, etc. I watch the people in Ain Leuh walking up and down these hills all day long, and know that some travel great distance by foot each day, all without so much as a drink of water. Pretty amazing. Can’t tell you how glad I am that we’ve been able to be w/our host families thru Ramadan. Next year we’ll be on our own, and will not experience it as closely, no matter how well integrated we are. I’m also very curious to see what the normal day is like in non-Ramadan time, ie; families start days earlier, mealtimes and menu are different, business hours are different, etc., just don’t know by how much.

We’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the women’s weaving cooperative several times already. They’re patiently allowing us to interview them to put our technical tools into action, while identifying their needs and priorities, and coming up with potential projects. There will be a person from our 36 member training group posted to Ain Leuh when we’re done w/training, so they may be able to use our work in their efforts. We put the interviews together and our LCF does the talking and interpreting, as our language isn’t ready for prime time yet.

(written Wednesday) Mbruk Leid. We’ve been walking all over town all day long, visiting relatives, eating and drinking sweet mint tea. S-salam Alekum, labas? Kulshi bixir? Labas, L-hamdullah! Now in Morocco, there’s a different sense of family and space. First, it is typical to find 3 generations under the same roof. The roof isn’t big. Besides the small kitchen, a bit lma that only fits the Turkish toilet and a sink (and it may be outside), there’s usually one or two salons where the family visits, sleeps, basically does everything else. This also means that with Khadija’s large family living here, all the aunts/uncles/cousins/grandparents are at the most a 20 minute walk, so they see each other all the time. This makes for incredibly tight connections which is wonderful to see. I wish I could share my visual imprints from the day-just didn’t seem appropriate to pull out the camera-but the image of Khadija’s great aunt, sitting on a cushion on the floor against a sfr (saffron) colored wall, with what looked like prayer beads in her hands and her aged, Berber tattooed face is burned in my brain. OK, so eating is a big part of l-eid sgira. We had harira b l-hlib twice. And I thought I had it down that harira was the Ramadan break-fast soup-obviously not, as it showed up as a type of small balled pasta the size of tapioca. With milk (and maybe butter) it’s savory and eaten out of a shared dish. Later we (the women in one room and the men in another) had a vegetable and meat tangine (typically cooked in a pressure cooker), with bread as our utensil. Delish! And of course, cookies and sweet mint tea at every stop, and a Moroccan dish called zmita-its ground nuts, spices, maybe some sugar-eaten w/a spoon straight from the dish.

Two benefits of being w/a host family during a holiday like this: First-cultural appreciation, if not assimilation. What a great opportunity to be brought along just like another family member, even if I can’t understand 99% of the conversations. Second-great way to learn practical language. Instead of sitting in the salon memorizing the commands for “ja” (to come), it’s easy to remember that it’s “aji”-because that’s what the mom’s were constantly yelling to their kids! Aji!

One last note for l-eid--got yddya (my hands) henna’d last night. My 8 yo host sister Ahelam wanted hers done, and it is traditional for 1st year fasting girls to do so at the end of Ramadan. Their neighbor, Fatima, was finishing Ahelam’s about 12 midnight, and came over to do mine. I just wanted nes (sleep), but Khadija pulled me into the parlor (OK, so I didn’t protest that much)-got my contacts out, and got both sides of both hands done. Uh oh. Now what to do to go to sleep? Khadija soaked a cotton ball in the leftover tea (Added color), added some zit (oil), and wrapped my hands in cotton. You can imagine both how fun it was to undress with all that and not get henna all over everything, and what a mess I was when I got up this morning! All’s well tho’-will post photos

Well, that’s a snapshot into l-eid sgira. Think I’m gonna shut down the computer to reserve enough battery to put in my dvd and work off some of the sugared tea and cookies!
Yes, I made it thru l-eid and everyone in town continues to celebrate a 3 day holiday, but it’s back to school for us. We have 2 more days (Friday and Sat, or jamea and sbt) here before we trek back to Azrou for 5 days.

Monday, September 29, 2008

CBT cont'd

OK, so the bibi (turkey) showed up in the most delicious couscous on Saturday night for dinner at 10:30. L-Hamdullah! We ate early! The neighbors brought over a brochette of the lamb (wasn't clear what it was when it was presented, but I bravely took my piece, popped it in my mouth, and was rewarded with lamb-L-Hamdullah!). Saturday was a special day-the last Saturday of the Ramadan month-it's spent w/family, eating (esp couscous) and the men go to the jame (mosque) from around 10pm until 3am.

We woke to beautiful skies on Sunday, a perfect day for the hike that we (the trainees) planned with a couple who are Environment PC volunteers living here. It was a steady, slow climb that was rewarded w/a great view up at the entrance of the national park area that surrounds this area. We watched for monkeys on the way down-they live in the hills, but weren't around that day. Must have been sleeping off the couscous, like everyone else in town. The town was still asleep when we got back. We chatted w/the couple-they gave us great insight, advise and stories. These include getting around in the grand taxis and buses (which incl. someone posted on the bus top to keep the goats from falling off). They also shared how they shop for what they need, where to get stuff, and introduced us to the concept of the "go straight to hell" section of the Marchon in Fez (liquor, and other haram-forbidden-items can be purchased here).

OK so I've got to share the hailstorm that blew in later last night (got my laundry off the line just in time l-hamdullah). I was ok, but one of the other volunteers had a more exciting experience. Here goes-he decided to take a cold bucket shower in the bit lma (bathroom), which is outdoors, standing over the turkish toilet. He gets soaped up when the hailstorm starts and it's hitting the tin room of the bit lma with fury. If that's not bad enough, the lights go out. And what's he worried about? The host family one-eyed grandma who's in the house alone who speaks only Tamazight! I'm thinking, I'm outside, in the pitch black, soaped up, naked, with a hailstorm around me-granny may not be my first concern! OK, so the lights came back on and nothing else happened. Maybe our sense of humor is getting really skewed by our shared experience, but we couldn't stop laughing.

More later!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

CBT end of week 1

It's Saturday late afternoon/early evening, around 5:30. We finished our class today at 4:15 (yes, we have class Mon-Sat). My brain is full-needs processing time. That's what Sunday is for, right?

Well, I've made it a full week at my CBT site. It has been challenging, I must admit. We have "learned" 1/2 of a notebook full of vocabulary and the Arabic alphabet in the last 2 weeks. Yet we don't know how to conjugate a verb. Hmmm. Our textbook is really Peace Corps focused, ie; what do you need to know to get around and get things done in as fast a time as possible, right? Right now it feels overwhelming-so much to learn. Then the group of us remind one another of both how much we've learned already and that we can't expect to know all of it in 2 weeks. It is comforting to know that the 25-28 year olds that make up the other 5 in our group are feeling the same.

Today is the last Saturday of Ramadan, so it is a special day (but that's all I know about it). Some men were cutting up the meat of a fresh lamb in our courtyard today, but I think that's for other families. I'm led to believe that the live turkey that my host sister showed me in the bathroom is for us. Inshallah!

Now, this is after I had what I thought was an actual kinda conversation w/my host mother (ok, she's 35 years old!) last night where I got the point that there was a special feast coming up, but I was clear (in my limited Darija) that it was on Sunday, so I could do my laundry on Saturday. Darn-feeling like I can initiate some conversation, and got a big part of it wrong. This happens multiple times daily. I WANT TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK DARIJA AND HAVE A NORMAL CONVERSATION NOW! Whew-ok, thanks for letting me get that off my chest-it's been building up all week. I guess I'll be doing laundry on Monday (just in case something else really is happening on Sunday so I don't mess up family plans).

So now that I've vented, let me tell you about all the kids who yell out "Bonjour" when any of us walk by (think French influence-assumption that anyone not from here is from France)-just trying to be friendly. They don't know what to say when we reply "Sbah lixir! Labas?" (Good morning, are you well?). Or the guy at the hanut (shop), who happens to speak decent English, and has known prior Peace Corps volunteers, gives me my groceries (for breakfast and lunch tomorrow-to eat in my room, since the family is still fasting) w/o my paying the 32Dh, knowing I'll pay him later. I've already done so. Or the guy who has REAL chunks of what looks like gouda cheese (vs diet of Laughing Cow spreadable cheese) and DIET COKE! Wow. I'm happy-and sneaking swigs from the bottle as I type this in the "cybr"-don't want to offend the cybercafe owner-he's letting us bring in our own laptops and this speeds up our internet access significantly.

I thought I’d share a typical training day in CBT….
Get up at 6:30-6:45
7-8 Set up computer on mute and take into spare room in host family house to do Cardio Pilates workout.
8-8:15 Shower and dress. Doesn’t take long when you don’t do your hair or makeup!
8:30 Leave for class. A bit of a walk-either small hill but longer walk, or more direct but down steps into town and back up steep stairs (was told about 135 of them) to LCF’s rented house where we use her salon as our classroom
8:45-9:00 Breakfast. We have this here since our host families are fasting for Ramadan.
9:00-12:30 Language. Typically learning vocabulary for subject matter that will be relevant to future work. Peace Corps textbook on Darija/English/alphabet is the only one in existence-developed by former PCV. It takes an interesting approach-more relevant language, but not typical grammar and verb conjugations.
12:30-1:45 Lunch. We typically take the steep stairs down to the haunts to buy food for the next day’s breakfast and lunch, maybe other purchases. Eat together in kitchen of LCF house, share food and mint tea.
1:45-4:30 More language. Maybe learning how to write more of the Arabic alphabet. Maybe a session on PACA tools-those being used w/our artisanal group-weavers-to do Community Mapping, Daily and Yearly calendaring, etc. to understand their needs, strengths, history, etc. This will be used to develop project ideas.
4:30-5:30 Maybe the cyber. Maybe sit w/other volunteers and talk-we’ve adopted a café that one of the volunteer’s host dad’s works at (maybe owns? Amazing the basic facts we don’t have because we can’t talk very productively yet) where they’ll let women sit and talk. This is unusual-cafes are for men only. In fact, women aren’t really supposed to go out at night alone, although the men spend evenings at the café and young men prowl.
6:30 L-ftur (break fast meal) w/family.
7:00-11:00 Study, maybe go w/Khadija to visit her sister, to the hamam, others visit, play cards w/the kids, watch TV and try to pick up language.
11:00 I go to bed. The kids may or may not be asleep. Khadija is working in the kitchen making dinner. I won’t join them-too tired and don’t want to eat anymore that late.

OK, I'm off for now-can't wait to see what form the turkey is in when I get home, if we have any of the lamb, and if I have to stay up until 12:30 to see it-will be worthwhile to get the protein. Inshallah!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

CBT Site, Week 1

This entry will cover some ground, as wireless is a thing of the past and the cyber computers at my home stay don’t have USB ports-at least I can connect my laptop to their broadband.

Sunday night, 1st day w/host families:
Seven of us (6 trainees and 1 LCF) took 2 grand taxis from Azrou to Ain Leuh (45 min for 23 Dh each). We were dropped off at our LCF’s rented house that will also serve as our classroom. Khadija (host mom) and Ahellan (host sister) come to get me-they help w/my luggage- sum total of a weekend suitcase and carry-on with all I need for the 2 weeks + all the PC books and binders and my laptop. Efficient packing is getting easier. We stop at the women’s weaving cooperative on the way and see the work under way. My host family lives below the co-op, and Khadija's 2 sisters are hosting others in the group. I have a big bedroom-the only one in the house- everyone else is sleeping in the salon. OK, so that’s not unusual for families here when they have guests, but feels kinda weird if you have the only bedroom in the house to yourself. The salon and the kitchen are one large separated room-we have plumbing-wall faucet in bathroom is for all water-kitchen, drinking, bathing, flushing. Bathroom is very basic-turkish toilet and bucket flush, sink, squeegee, a shower is w/a bucket standing over the toilet.

The town is built into a hillside-the paths are paved with steep steps everywhere. I feel like a billy goat, but the exercise is terrific. There’s a small souk in the center of town where you can get fresh food and a number of other hanuts. (Will load photos when back in Azrou end of next week).

I had my first official Ramadan break-fast meal w/the family at sundown on Sunday night. Atmosphere: awkward. Menu: orange juice (Moroccans pride themselves on the best oj anywhere-and for a non-oj drinker, gotta say it was mighty tasty), glass of hot milk w/coffee and sugar, harira (great, traditional soup), fried flatbread (made fresh), another raised bread (bought in souk), hard boiled egg, some sort of sliced dried sausage, sbekya (fried dough w/honey), some sort of jelled custard and sweet mint tea. We watched a popular Arabic sitcom during the meal which helped overcome my limited language (I’m up to occasional 2 word utterances). I didn’t make it to their dinner w/ grandmother and grandfather sometime after midnight-fell asleep (shuma=shame).

My host family is a traditional family. Host mom is President of the weaving coop, and does everything from scratch at home. Dad is a mason, so works all day and goes to the café in the evening while we’re home w/the kids (ages 11 and 8). Sometimes in the evenings we go visit one of her sisters where another volunteer is staying-then we practice our Darija-many of the kids are trying to learn English, so we help one another. I did make it to dinner on Monday-at 12:30am (I guess that makes it this am). Ate a little, then went to bed. Yikes! Reminder-this is Ramadan schedule-it will be different next week. I was able to communicate that I wanted to work out in the morning on Tuesday and was it ok to use the spare room in the house that’s used for cooperative business and that I wanted to take a shower. So, I get up that morning, use my dvd on mute to workout, and by the time I’m done, my host mom is not only up, but has boiled a pot of water for me to use for a HOT shower! Is that too sweet?? Felt Great! She does this again for me this morning (Thursday). This is also after I’ve noted that they’ve put in brighter bulbs in the salon and my bedroom (maybe saw me trying to study and squinting). Also, father installed a toilet paper holder in the bit lma (bathroom). Ok, so you think that’s no big deal? They don’t use the stuff-amazing how touched I was by this!

Have been to the hamam w/Khadija and Ahellan, visited relatives, buying our breakfast and lunch daily in the souk (no refrig at our class site), making mint tea, helped buy 1/2 kilo beef for the guys to cook for lunch....trying to study at every opportunity.....

Last night (Wed) had 2 great cultural experiences (that’s one of our objectives of staying w/host families-cross cultural exchange). The first was going to the host family home of one of the other volunteers for her birthday. Saw how they celebrate-lots of sweets, music and dancing. A lot of fun. I got home to my host family to find out that Ahellan and her cousins were already down at the medina (town square/shopping area) to celebrate their first year of Ramadan fasting. A big deal for the girls-typical initial fasting timing is puberty. Khadija and I went down to join them, and boy am I glad I took my camera! I became unofficial photographer for multiple cousins and Ahella-they get all made up in Indian dress and makeup, the women sing a traditional song and ululate (Dines family-does this sound familiar??!!), and the girl is photographed. It was a mad-house for about 2 hours with a bunch of girls doing this. Finally, at midnight, Ahellan got her makeup done and we got her photographed.

We’ve started learning how to write Arabic-scary how the alphabet is making sense as we apply it to the vocabulary we’ve learned. I just have to keep reminding myself that I don’t have to have it all memorized the day it’s introduced to us!

We’ve also started some of the technical work-putting the tools into practice with the women at the coop- interviewed them and did a community map to start to understand needs and opportunities-of course this was done thru our LCF-we gave her the questions and she translated for us.

There’s a couple who are Environmental PCV’s who live next door to where we’re taking class. They’ve been here since May and are going to take us on a hike up into the forest on Sunday if the weather is good, Inshallah.