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.

Friday, September 19, 2008

CBT Prep

My home stay family is headed by a mason and the mother is the President of the Cooperative we'll be working with. They have 2 children, one 11 years old and one 8 years old. Can't wait to meet them!

We finished classes early today to allow time for some shopping before heading out tomorrow. Some groups have more travel than others. My group's site is only 30 minutes from here. Some groups also had to shop for food, as their sites don't have souks (daily market for produce) or hanuts (grocery shop). Our group's site has a population of approx. 10,000, so we'll have access to shops, cybercafe, etc. and will be able to shop daily for our breakfast and lunch. We'll all have our dinners with our host families. I did do a little shopping for Monday, since we'll need to have something for our breakfast to eat in our rooms (during Ramadan the host families get up at 4:30, eat something and go back to sleep). Here's the $ tally:
Laughing Cow cheese (doesn't require refrigeration): 22Dh
Ground coffee (for portable coffee press w/Nalgene bottle): 32Dh (splurge!!)
Crackers: 19 Dh
M&M's: 6Dh
Coke Light: 2.3 Dh

I also had fun trying to shop for index cards and brads to make flash cards (remember memorizing stuff w/flash cards?? That's me w/Darija vocabulary), and managed to get card stock, a hole punch and was even brought behind the counter in one shop to help him look for either ring clasps or brads. It was all to no avail-I'll have to come up w/creative alternative to keep the cards together. It was fun getting out in the afternoon to the shops and daily souk to attempt to shop. People are incredibly patient and helpful. It's also interesting to see that on Saturday afternoon, those out in the shops are all about getting things done and getting home, vs in the evening everyone's out strolling around and socializing. Very different feeling. Both are fun to observe and wish I could take photos of all of it, but I have plenty of time to do that down the road.

CBT Sites Announced

It was a big day around the Auberge du Dernier Lion de L'Atlas (that's the fancy name for our hostel). The locations and groups for our Community Based Training (CBT) were announced today. This breaks the 29 of us into groups of 5-6. Along with our LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator/Teacher), we will be travelling to our learning sites on Sunday. My group will be learning Darija (classic Moroccan Arabic) and will be located in the town of Ain Leuh (SW of Azrou). We'll each have a host family, but will be together each day w/our LCF for language training and learning and applying the development technical tools that we'll eventually use in our final sites.

64% of the group will be learning Darija and 36% will be learning Tamazight (Berber language)
25% of CBT sites are suburban (incl. Ain Leuh), 36% are small towns/villages and 39% are rural.

We also got our allowance (for meals not covered by our host families) for tomorrow thru 10/5. It is 15 Dh/day during CBT to cover breakfast and lunch-note with an exchange rate between 7.5-8 Dh/dollar, that's about $2/day. Here's a little more on prices:
Bought my portable (cell phone) last night for 320 Dh, and minutes for another 60 Dh. Wahd (one) futa (hand towel) for 30 Dh, a shirt for 80 Dh and a soda for 3 Dh.

I'll have to post my photo of the fabulous rainbow that rewarded my hand washing of laundry in the rain after session tonight-gotta do the laundry before leaving for CBT, and the skies are clearing. I'll have dry, clean clothes to pack on Sunday for our travel, inshallah!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Azrou-PST (Pre-Service Training) cont'd

Since we still have wireless access, you’re getting more updates than will likely be possible down the road. We’re still here in Azrou at the hostel, getting deeper into language and technical training.

Typical day:
7am Workout on roof w/others using Pilates DVD ..another group doing yoga…doing some laundry
8am Shower, dress, breakfast (coffee or tea, bread w/butter and honey)
9am Language training w/LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator) in groups of 6. Learning common words and phrases to help us get around town
1030am Break
11am Technical session-medical, culture, business tools
1230pm Lunch (big meal-salad, soup, vegetables, either meat or casserole, fruit)
130pm More language and/or technical sessions
330pm Break
5pm Tea Talk-optional (but valuable, so everyone goes) discussion of Moroccan cultural topics we’d like to know more about. Subjects to date: Turkish toilet, women’s hygiene, Moroccan music, making mint tea, bargaining
615pm First Ramadan curfew (be off streets before sundown)
645pm Break Fast (traditional Harira soup that Moroccan’s eat when they break their daily Ramadan fast, along w/vegetables, maybe some meat, bread)
8-10pm Time to go out to town (20 min walk to Medina for shopping) if not studying
10pm Dinner for those who are observing Ramadan

We’ll be getting our CBT (Community Based Training) sites assigned either Friday or Saturday. That’s when we learn which language we’ll be taught and who is in our CBT group (4-5 volunteers in each group, with their LCF). We’ll be leaving for our CBT sites on Sunday. They're all in rural sites, with just our small groups, and each of us will be living w/a host family. This will be both challenging-we don’t know the language-as well as a tremendous learning experience. This is where we’ll put language training into action all day every day, and apply the technical tools to that village.

Here’s the schedule for training:
9/21-10/5 CBT Phase 1
10/6-10/10 Azrou
10/11-10/29 CBT Phase 2
10/30-31 Azrou-find out our final sites
11/1-11/8 Site Visit-first time to final village!
Election result w/our host families-talk about an interesting introduction!
11/9-11/16 Azrou
11/20 Swearing in

Apparently all but 2or 3 of the final sites already have SBD volunteers who will be finishing up their 2 years in November. The site visit will give us an opportunity to meet them and learn about what they’ve done and any recommendations that they have for projects.

We’re interviewing w/the Program Manager to give our preferences on language, type of village, what we can and can’t live without, etc. Some of this will no doubt impact how they match us up in our CBT groups. My guess is that they have a very good idea of where they’ll send each of us for final sites, and will tweak that plan based on how we do/their observations of us during training. I hesitate to state any preferences. I may like the creature comforts, but would expressing this influence their decision to place me where I’d serve best? I think I’ll leave it to their best judgement.

Tonight’s a night off from a lot of studying-trying the every other night routine-and the YD’ers (Youth Development volunteers-also in Azrou, but at a different site) are coming over for a game night. Bye!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Week one-Rabat and Azrou

Well, it's been quite a week-has it really been only one week?

The front end of the week was spent in Rabat. This is where the Morocco Peace Corps headquarters is located and we had a chance to go by there on the way to our hotel in the downtown area. Rabat is the capital of Morocco, so it was not a big adjustment, staying in our Western hotel in the heart of the city.

Over the next several days we met the outgoing and incoming Directors for Peace Corps Morocco and the US Ambassador to Morocco. We had a number of orientation workshops-getting lots of information and additional reading material and our first set of vaccinations. About half the group brought laptops and on the balcony outside our conference room we were emailing like crazy while we had wireless access. Each evening we’d watch the sunset from the roof and listen to the firecrackers that note the end of the Ramadan fast and the call to prayer from mosques around the city. All the horn honking and noise of the city quiets down as residents celebrate the break fast with their families

(On another Ramadan note, several of us were thinking that on our flight from NYC that it was rude for the flight attendants to wake people up 2 hours before our flight landed for a breakfast snack. Geez, couldn’t they have waited another hour? Of course, they were getting the snack served before the sun came up so those who are observing Ramadan could have something to eat before starting their daily fast.)

We're now in Azrou, in the Atlas Mountains. (Azrou in Berber it means rock). It finally feels like we're in the Morocco we're going to live in for 2 years, although it's still a fairly large town. We’re now into our technical, cultural and language training, alternating between this hostel and our homestays. The group is now about 30 strong-just the Small Business Development group now.

Today started our first language training and we're all feeling a little anxious for all we have to learn. The time off is pretty limited (6 days/week with Sunday homework and curfews each evening), but it's given us time to walk up into town and thru the medina and souks (think market areas) and try out our limited Darija (official Moroccan Arabic language) to make purchases. The hostel living is easing us into our homestay living-doing our own laundry, sharing limited bathrooms and shower facilities. I'm adapting well, but it's early yet! Got in a short workout today on the roof w/some of the others using the stretch bands I brought-still need to get some workout routine going that will work here. Given the schedule and learning to be done, the stress relieving benefits can't be overlooked. Plus, much to my chagrin, in the Medical Handbook (one of many received to date), it was noted that for some unexplained reason, male volunteers seem to lose weight while in Morocco and the women tend to gain weight. Great! Of course there's always the jelhaba (think zip up caftan w/a hood) that so many Moroccan women wear. Wait-the hood could cover the grey as it comes in!

We have the day off tomorrow (Sunday), but have homework and language to learn. There's a PC volunteer working in Small Bus Dev w/artisans here in Azrou and she's coming by in the afternoon to take anyone who wants to go to the Artisanal, her home, favorite places in town, to pepper her w/questions about here experience, etc. Should be interesting. Hopefully I'll also have time to get a cell phone during the day. It seems they're pretty essential, one of the providers serves most of the country, and will be very useful w/in country, not so much for US calls. Will keep you posted on that when I have a phone and more info.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

On to Pre-Service Training

Finally we're off to Morocco tomorrow. I've been in Philadelphia since Friday for what is called "Staging". That is the equivalent of learning the Peace Corps rules and regs and meeting the other volunteers who will be going thru training in Morocco as well. They've put us through a number of group exercises in formats that (I'm assuming) we'll be using ourselves in our future assignments, ie; acting out, drawing, being creative vs using written word, to communicate messages.
There are almost 60 volunteers at this Staging-split between Small Business Development and Youth Development. (The Morocco Environment and Health volunteers go thru training together with a March start). The Small Business Development group members will then have either Business Advisor or NGO (non-government organization) Development focus. I'll be in the Business Advisor group. One third of that group will be learning the Berber dialect of Tamazighet, the rest learning standard Moroccan Arabic (Darija). I don't know yet which I'll be assigned.
Tomorrow: JFK to Casablanca to Rabat and Pre-Service Training. At last.