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 words....it 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.