Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Well here I am, finally back in REK for New Years. Fortunately it was an uneventful, while lengthy, return trip-no delays, no snow, no rain, no sleep, just long. Good to sleep in my own bed last night.

It was such a great trip-to see family and friends during such a special time of the year. I’m surprised both at how easy it was to be there-felt very normal-and it was a lot easier than I expected to leave. Perhaps knowing that I have only 11 short months left and a lot to do helped ease that pain. There’s that along with everything I got to do while I was in SF…..everything that was on my list….

Ate out 3 times, 2 of which were Mexican (Hamdullah). Saw 3 movies. Peppermint ice cream. Starbucks. The annual Christmas jigsaw puzzles. Just sitting around drinking coffee and catching up. Got my errands done-bought See’s candy for gifts to bring back. Made a trip to the grocery store for spices, mixes, Kraft mac’n cheese. Got all the stuff I had ordered on-line ahead to bring back with me-sporting a fine new winter down coat. Santa got the message about the cold here last winter and gave me new fleece, wool sweaters, gloves, scarves and a whole box of chemical hand warmers. All of it made it into my bags (and contributed to a hefty, but happy-to-pay, overweight luggage fee) and contributed to the decision to wait it out for a bus direct to REK last night-didn’t want to have to schlep the heavy bag on 5 separate transits (settled for 3 instead).

Home this morning to do Pete’s apartment check so he can start moving into his own place here tomorrow. Heading to Sefrou for New Year’s at Jess’s. She’s just back from UK for Christmas. Jonathan and Joy are in town as well and will join us. Should be fun.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas morning and some of the family are still tucked in their beds (visions of sugarplums….). Debbie and Phil’s new house accommodates us all-but it’s a bit like Morocco-style sleeping-living room, etc. It’s working for us. (oops-everyone woke up and had to finish this on Friday).

And besides, it’s just great to be here. Didn’t know for a bit if/when it was gonna happen. Got caught in the 40-year record making snowstorm of the eastern seaboard and wouldn’t you know it, JFK shut down just as I arrived from Casablanca last Saturday. Was rescheduled for a flight the next morning. OK, we can make that work However, since the entire place is shut down, all hotels are booked, so I get a reservation and taxi to LaGuardia for a night in the Holiday Inn. Felt like I was in the lap of luxury-a hot shower with full water pressure, comfy bed, TV, room service. Just my luck-and I mean that in the most positive sense-there’s a 24/7 business center off the lobby where I can check the status of my flight. See, the storm was making it’s way up the East Coast and hadn’t hit when I landed, but was coming in that night-with a vengeance. Get up at 6am to check flight for 2pm. Cancelled. Rescheduled for Dec 23rd. Yikes. Hamdullah, I can check alternatives online and that’s what I do. (You don’t realize how paralyzed you are without a cell phone or internet access). I find another flight, now booking through American, going thru LAX to SFO. Buy the one-way ticket and head off to JFK. Manage to snag the only taxi from La Guardia to JFK, as LaGuardia is still shut down.

I arrive at 7am at JFK-it’s also a ghost town, traffic-wise, but tons of people trying to figure out their next move. Bummer, my flight has been delayed from 11am to 2pm, so I won’t make the connection in LAX to SFO. No problem, I’ll buy myself a 3rd ticket from LAX to SFO on another local carrier-just wanna get there. There are only 3 flights scheduled to leave out of JFK for the day-one to Norita Japan, one to Atlanta, and the LAX flight. Otherwise the departure board is nothing but red “cancelled” notices. Could I be so lucky?

Make my way to the gate to wait for the flight. I’m on the phone to Debbie to get a Southwest LAX-SFO flight booked when I hear the Atlanta flight cancelled. Yikes. Hold off on the Southwest ticket. Wait just a bit longer and sure enough, the LAX flight is also cancelled. Crap. Now what? Have to get in the incredibly long line to re-book. Look-there are 2 new LAX flights on the board! Yipee! Surely I’m on one of those? And my luggage will go and all will be safi, yak? After 1½ hours in line, and still a long way to go, I get the attention of a very helpful agent who checks and informs me I’m not on the new flights and have been re-booked for the 24th. Damn.

Now I’m really hustling-what options do I have besides 4 more days stuck in NYC? I’m on the phone w/Debbie-buying the cheapest junk I can in shops to get change to feed the payphone. Keep running out of quarters and getting disconnected. SOOOOOOOOO frustrating. Debbie’s doing a hero’s job in the early morning hours her time to try to get a flight for me, out of any airport in the surrounding area. But of course, she can’t call me back. We agree to work from our sides of the country and I’ll check in later. Now I gotta try and get my luggage. Really great guys down at the baggage center take about 45 minutes trying to track down my luggage to get it for me. It’s a lost cause-it’s gone ahead to LAX-but not due to any lack of effort on their part. More quarters and check in w/Debbie. She and I are quickly in tears when she tells me she’s managed to get me a flight for the next afternoon to SFO on American (those loyalty programs really pay off). After about 8 hours in JFK, I can get another hotel room and settle in for the evening with the knowledge that I’ll be w/family the next day.

Monday morning at JFK is business as usual. You’d never know it had been shut down for 2 days. Remarkable! My flight takes off w/o a hitch. But my luggage is still at LAX (confirmed by Delta). How to get it to SFO, maybe even before I get there? I decide to work on that during my layover in Dallas. Where the heck is a pay phone? Can’t find one. Ask desk agent. They can’t locate one, and ask me what I need. Geez-long, boring story and I’m gonna end up on hold for a long time. “No problem” says Michelle, “let’s see if I can help”. I explain what my luggage situation is-it only went to LAX via Delta and I’m now flying American to SFO. Michelle gets her own cell phone-tells me that the desk phone won’t allow her to call Delta luggage center in LAX. Making calls, staying on hold, for 45 minutes until she’s got an agreement that Delta will take my luggage over to American to get it on an SFO-bound flight. She doesn’t know if it will work, but has done all she can, and far more than any of us would ask. Bless her parents.

Well, just to conclude this travel saga, I get to SFO to be greeted by Debbie, Philip and Joanne-what a terrific welcoming committee-and a sight for sore eyes! So what if it took 2 more days and many more calls to get my luggage-I was with my family.

And just in time, since Debbie’s arranged for a “girl’s day” on Tuesday all day w/7 of us sitting around eating, drinking, talking and catching up. A very special day with a wonderful group of women.

So we’ve had a chance to do some window shopping, saw Phil in the Christmas Carol production he was in, spend lots of fun time with Sandy, Mike and Alex and a nice, relaxing Christmas day.

Now we’re off to do a bit more window shopping-mostly to get out of the house. (And that’s a whole new subject-can so understand why Debbie and Phil are in love with their new house-it couldn’t be more perfect!) I have another girl’s lunch to see Deb and Nancy, and we’ve got a family outing to SF tomorrow to see Beach Blanket Babylon.

Said goodbye to Philip as he’s off to the snow in Tahoe w/good friends for the weekend. Get more time w/nephew Alex who will be shipping out to Afghanistan Feb 4th.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Taking Control

This is such an amazing journey. How many people have the opportunity, the time to be challenged, to learn, to reflect, to experiment, to stretch yourself daily. What a responsibility, what a privilege. But sometimes it's a pain in the a**.

I was in a bit of a funk the last month. My big projects wrapped up and I decided to give myself a break. The downside is that I lose my motivation when not challenged. It hits me from all sides.... Don’t feel like studying language today. Maybe I won’t work out today. Seeking out conversations to improve my language is a chore. I’ll do that internet search tomorrow. Stay cozy and warm in bed a little longer. Don’t think I’ll cook today. You know the drill. It can infiltrate your every thought and action. And the only way to change it is DIY. Do It Yourself.

I knew I needed to take action. With work. With my language. Again. And I really needed to do this before I leave for Christmas so I’m energized by what I have to come back to. Hamdullah it all came together yesterday and I’m back on track.

Sat down with Fatima and Zahra to review priorities and projects. I have plenty of ideas of what I could do, but I need to use my remaining time doing what is important to the Cooperative. We had a good discussion and agreed on what I’ll be working on: Helping them design the renovated showroom and office space that is about to start construction; Build a website for the Coop; Help them with budgeting and forecasting for financial and production planning; Start weekly business sessions with the women to expand their knowledge of the business of the Coop; Set up a diabetes screening and education program for the community. This is a good list, to which I’ll add the Craft Fairs in Marrakech and Rabat (ymkn Tanger) and the Regional Website project with Bouchra at Al Akhawayn University.

In addition, I reached out to a woman I was recently introduced to here in REK, who at one time was a language instructor for Peace Corps. Turns out that her family is from here and she’s moved back for a while. Since my current tutor, wonderful guy that he is, is distracted with personal issues, and our tutoring hasn’t been productive for a while, I need to find an alternative. Language is my Achilles heel. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. (Isn’t everything?) When I’m discouraged or not feeling confident w/my Arabic, I avoid it. And that of course doesn’t help me improve what I want most-regular, casual conversational Arabic. Thus my reaching out to another woman, right here in town, could help me with this casual language. I also made the rounds of “sympathetic interlocutors”, ie; friends who are patient w/my conversational Arabic. I'm still working on my reading and writing of Arabic to improve my pronunciation and comprehension. Side note is that I get a little thrill when I can read something in Arabic and know what it means!

Speaking of language, I’ve learned an important and timely “God phrase”. It is “Allah Yatakabal”. This is the appropriate thing to say to those who are returning from the Haj. And they are returning now. As I came into town Saturday night on the bus, there were 2 groups of people gathered to celebrate and parade with their loved ones and friends who have just completed the Haj. If you ask most people here “where would you go if you had unlimited money?” most would reply “nmshi l-Haj”. It is extremely expensive, and even if you can afford it, there is a lottery to participate, and most are never selected. Anyone who completes the pilgrimage to Mecca are bestowed the title “Haj” for the remainder of their days in honor of their devotion. I asked one of the PC staff about the appropriate greeting upon seeing someone for the first time after they return. My Ministry Delegate went this year and I need to know how to greet him when I meet with him tomorrow. Allah Yatakabal Ayichi!

Friday, December 11, 2009


It’s been a good week here in Rabat. First time since June that all of us who went thru training together are in the same place. It’s always good to get together with other PCVs-we really understand and sympathize and appreciate what one another is going thru. However, those you’ve gone thru training with are also in the same place you are-they’re moving thru the waves of highs and lows at the same time, and we shared the first 3 months of intense training and integration-tight bonds are formed. Great to catch up with everyone.

They brought us together for Mid Service Medicals-we get full check ups once a year. Good news-medical and dental exams are done and got a clean bill of health, hamdullah.

We also had time with some folks who were sent out from Washington DC to get input on Morocco PC Medical Services-normal process after the death of a PCV. We learned a bit more about So-Youn’s situation-what they could share w/o breaching confidentiality-and had a chance to ask questions and provide feedback. I must say that there has not been a great deal of confidence in our PCMOs (Peace Corps Medical Officers) here, and this recent event has eroded it further. Mind you, it must be incredibly difficult to try to “treat” over 200 PCVs in remote towns across the country over the phone-I empathize with their challenge. However, I know a number of PCVs who have developed first-time conditions, where their symptoms are being treated, but the condition is allowed to persist w/o trying to get to the underlying disorder. Currently there is no recourse for the PCV if they feel they can’t get referral to a specialist or if the PCMO doesn’t agree w/a specialist and the condition persists. Changes must be made to restore any confidence, and we’re hopeful that they are coming.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a chance to play a bit while here in Rabat and indulge in some “fine” dining-fine being a relative term of course. We found a tapas bar that served mojitos. Wow. An Italian restaurant with cozy atmosphere, fabulous lasagna and red wine. And of course the German Institute restaurant and the American Club for good cheap beer. We were hosted for a delightful dinner of soups at the Ambassador’s house-very gracious of them, since they had 2 other engagements after we left at 8pm that night. We did a scavenger hunt and are going bowling tonight. Such a change from our day to day living in our small communities. Feel spoiled. It's also the first time we've seen any Christmas decorations-in a couple of stores, and found one box of candy canes in a hanut. Feels like a bit of “home” which everyone is missing as the holiday season is upon us. Most will be travelling home to the states for Christmas, Hamdullah.

Next it’s back to my site tomorrow for 5 days and then it’s off to the U.S. myself for Christmas with sisters Debbie and Sandy and families. Can’t wait!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Here I am writing this from Tanger. Yes, Samira called on Tuesday from here and asked if I could make it for the weekend. Well, yeah! Besides, I want to see if it is possible to do a Marche Maroc in Tanger, and this was my excuse to come up (or Samira was my excuse to check it out). Anyway, my business plan was a bust, as the Artisanat was closed all last week for L’eid. Oh well.

So here I sit w/beautifully manicured fingers, pedicured toes and a haircut and blow-out. I was sitting in the salon chair, listening to Andre Boccelli sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, getting my hair done for the equivalent of $7. And I don’t even pay that-Samira’s paid for it before I get a chance. Samira’s friends can’t grasp why I’m living in Hermumu and why haven’t I had my hair cut in 1 ½ years. They don’t appreciate the luxury of not having to worry about how I look in Hermumu. However, I’ve also decided that suffering and denial do not legitimize the Peace Corps experience. I seem to get spoiled whenever I come to Tanger. Maybe I ought to do it more often!

Once again, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Samira’s friends and family and her generous hospitality. This time I got to meet her other brother Hassan (Karim came in as well-both live in Spain) and one of her aunts. I was also included in the surprise birthday dinner thrown for her life-long friend Suad. It was at a beautiful villa above Tanger, overlooking the bay-private room, fires in the fireplaces, overstuffed furniture. Beautiful. Don’t click those rube slippers yet-we like Oz!

I find it a challenge to follow the conversations when I come here-Samira is always surrounded by a lot of friends and family, and the talk is a mix of Darija, French and Spanish. Most of them were schooled in private French or Spanish speaking schools here in Tanger, and French is the language of choice. It is interesting to also be working in the countryside with illiterate women in a Cooperative that has been formed to hang onto the traditional weaving patterns of their region. A country of contrasts.

We made it last night to dinner at a Chinese restaurant-there are a ton of restaurants here in Tanger-unlike the sparse selection in Fes. It reminded me of hearing about the Italian woman who loved to cook-everything looked great-but always still tasted like Italian food. The Chinese food looked like Chinese food, but still tasted Moroccan. Go figure!

I head to Rabat tomorrow by train for Mid-Service Medicals (and why does it take 5 ½ hours for what should be a 2 hour trip and where do I have to sit for a few hours along the way, and would it make more sense to just get a train there and taxi the rest of the way?), or MSM. That’s the annual medical checkups that all PCVs have every year. It will be the first time that all of us who trained together will be together since last June. I’ve seen most of them at one time or another, but not all of them. Should be fun to catch up.

I also hope to connect with the French School and the American Club Comissary to continue our discussion on potential craft fair Spring 2010. In addition, I want to meet up with Ilham to continue the dialogue on building a mentoring program with her organization of Professional Businesswomen. Inshallah to both.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Shbet, ana 3mmra, makanakulsh walu, Lay axlf! It’s not even so much that I’m full (which I am), but I just can’t eat anything else. I’ve been eating for 4 days straight....

It started w/the pre-Leid rafisa on Friday night. Yum. Saturday dawns clear and sunny with sheep and goat bleating all over town as they’re dragged out of garages, storerooms, etc., to either the lot next door, the rooftop or on the sidewalk in front of the house. Everyone slays their sheep (or goat if you cannot afford a sheep). I have the good fortune of not being in home stay this year, so get to observe from a distance. I hear my downstairs neighbor’s sheep kicking on the roof above-please hurry up. From the balcony off my kitchen, I can watch 7 families slaughter, skin and disembowel their animals-5 on their rooftops and 2 in the street below. Blood literally runs down the gutter. Animal bodies hanging from trees, rooftops, fences. Then you smell the charcoal that’s been lit to start the grilling. As last year, they start with the liver and heart, wrapped in fat. I work it so I’ve missed this part-timing is tricky.

I’ve been invited to several homes, but will go back to Fatima’s-they’re my family here. But have to wish my neighbors “mbruk l’eid” , and that gets me dragged into their apt for lamb brochette (which follows the organs). Manage to eat just one, shrb some sweet mint tea, before Fatima calls me to find out where I am and I need to come now. More lamb brochette at her house. Manage to eat just one here as well, so at least I’m not consuming the compulsory 2/home. Burp. Then we, like you on Thanksgiving, sit around with the TV on, drowsy in our food coma. I manage a bit later to drag my butt back home-need a break, and Jess is due to arrive, but only with a promise to come back later. Waxa.

Jess and I return that evening, where more of Fatima’s family has arrived and there are more brochettes. And finally the sheep’s head. Fortunately not all of Fatima’s family indulges in l-ras, so Jess and I are able to politely decline eating it as well-more for those who pull up their chairs to dig in. Bismilla.

So yesterday comes along, and now it’s time to celebrate Thanksgiving, as I’ve invited a bunch of PCVs over. We end up with 7 of us, more than enough food (although we go with roasted chicken instead of turkey-and how would you cook a turkey in these little ovens anyway I ask you?) and desserts that fill the plate more than the dinner. Just for the record, I’ve cut off the torched top and bottom of the pumpkin cake-more like bread-but it’s been salvaged and tastes great. Burp. Shbet. Sleep.

Now I have to say I’m puzzled by all the invitations to come over for lunch today-Monday. Huh? I don’t remember anything special about the 2nd day after L’eid Kbir last year, but then again, all my perceptions were colored by what my host family did. This is still a vacation day. Most everything is closed. No souk. Transit here in town instead of at the lagar for souk, which helps the PCVs get transport home this morning. Interestingly enough the busta is open-I figured gov’t offices would still be shut. No school in session. We’ve also had a major storm roll in-very strong winds and rain all night long. Feels like winter just arrived. Feels like a day to bundle under a blanket and catch up on emails, etc., maybe watch a downloaded movie. How can I avoid the lunchtime invitations that undoubtedly involve more lamb consumption?

Short answer? I don’t. On my way back into my apt after everyone’s on transport, to clean up after all the guests, my neighbor catches me. Drat. You’re coming for l-gdda, yak? Inshallah. Waxa. Five minutes later she sends her daughter up to get me. Aji daba. Come now. Meet their family visiting from Rabat and Tangier. Sit down to eat. Again. Lamb. Three ways. Baked. Tagine. On couscous. Then fruit. I can not eat any thing else. We, once again in a food coma, watch TV-don’t understand the language but can follow the story line just fine. OMG-do I smell charcoal? Holy crap. They’re about to put brochettes on the grill. I make a hasty but effusive thank you and b’slama. No more meat. Please.

So now I’m cushy under the blanket, propped up by pillows, and hoping that my internet connection comes back on. Of course, I can’t post this ‘til it does, but I think the wind is wreaking havoc on the rizzo.

Just hope the PCVs got home safe and sound and can cozy up to a movie or book as well while we ride out the first big storm of winter.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mbruk L'eid

Smoke off the grills rising from all the rooftop decks as the heads and hooves of the sheep are first to go on the fire. Listening to the thrashing of my neighbor’s sheep on our roof as it is dying (and why does it seem to be taking so long?). Sheep were slaughtered on rooftops, the lot next door and on the sidewalk in front of homes. Everywhere. Blood running down the gutter. It must be L’eid Kbir. Not my favorite holiday, but the holiest of them all in the Muslim world. I’ll go over to Fatima’s later-no need to spend the day there-really don’t want to eat meat all day long-but need to make an appearance.

Spent time w/Fatima’s family yesterday as well. Kinda humorous, in a language sort of way. Fatima had invited me over when I saw her on Wednesday (the coop is closed Thurs til next Wed for L’eid). Told me to come over “f l eshya”. What time? Gir l eshya. Waxa. Now, my understanding of eshya is afternoon, ie; if I’m invited over Friday afternoon, that’s “couscous Friday” and it’s eaten after mosque, about 2pm. So I show up about 1:30. They’ve just finished lunch, not couscous, and not really expecting me. Huh? I give them the framed photo I had printed up for them-my favorite of Fatima, Hind, their mom and another sister. Stick around for about an hour or so, watching TV with them. Then decide to go (since I don’t understand the Fusha Arabic). Tell Fatima I’ll see her tomorrow (meaning today). She tells me I’m supposed to come "f l eshya, had lyum". I’m confused, come back? Iyeh. Shal seah? Stta ns wla sbae. OK, so in her book, eshya is also evening, and I wasn’t supposed to come until 6:30-7 (and no one ordinarily eats a meal then, thus my confusion). Waxa. I’ll return later after we laugh about my confusion.

Head home and get a chance to Skype w/Jeannie and Sharon, from Sharon’s new house in Las Vegas. Haven’t talked w/either of them since I’ve been here, so a great opportunity to catch up.

Then I decide to make up the pumpkin chocolate chip cake recipe I’ve got and bring it to Fatima’s later. Now, how exactly does one know how much pumpkin pulp you’ll get out of 3kg of pumpkin squash? No buying a can of pumpkin-it’s DIY country. So I’ve cooked down the squash, but don’t have enough for the pie I was gonna make, but have enough, along w/choc chips AND brown sugar (neither avail. in Morocco-both brought back from U.S.) to make up the cake. Hamdullah. So I get it in the oven and immediately start worrying about how long to cook, what size flame. You see, ovens here are basically metal boxes w/a butane-fueled burner and no temp gauge. I have NO idea what the temp is. Get a bit concerned that the bottom is cooking wayyyy too fast, so I get the bright idea to set it under the flame, not on the pan immediately above the flame. I think this is a brilliant idea-indirect heat, yak? Also get the inspiration to order up a digital remote oven thermometer (think barbecue therm.) on-line for future baking. I’m in the process of ordering when I smell the butane gas. Now, I’m also thinking that my butane tank is about to be empty (since it fuels both the stovetop and oven), so have been watching and smelling for signs of no gas-is that what I’m smelling? I go check it out. OMG!!!! The cake has caught fire and is flaming like crazy. I think fast enough to turn off the gas, blow out the flames and open the door to the balcony-conveniently located right next to the oven-and put the damn cake outside. Crap. Now I’ve wasted precious pumpkin pulp, choc chips AND brown sugar. It’s a miserable trifecta. And furthermore, no cake to bring to Fatima’s. Bummer.

Anyway, I did go back to their house, we had rafisa (traditional yummy tagine), watch TV, talk and Mohammed walks me home in the fog. I did tell them about the cake and they had a good laugh.

Slept in a bit this morning, did my riada (pilates), cleaned house for everyone coming over tomorrow, and need to clean up and go over to their house again for a bit. Jess will be coming in later today-will be good to catch up with her-haven’t seen much of her since MarcheMaroc’s been history.

Mbruk L’eid.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holiday Stuffing

Yes, Thanksgiving is upon you. The turkey and you will soon be stuffed. Tbarklikum!

It will be a similar situation here in Morocco on Saturday-the official L’eid Kbir holiday. The sheep (or goat if you can’t afford the former) will be slaughtered, beheaded, skinned and gutted. All will be grilled. More sheep, skewers, charcoal and grills being sold this week than all year long. You can feel the coming of a holiday in the air. Schools will be closed, business will shut, the coop is off for the next week. Mbruk L’eid.

This must be the explanation for all the transit troubles of the last couple of days. Everyone in Morocco is travelling to get home for L’eid. Think Thanksgiving travel in the states, but all is done on the roads in public transit. Fortunately the transit guys know me and I get space-even if it’s squished SRO, it’s still transit. Even the gendarmes look the other way as the way-over-full transits drive by. Hamdullah.

So the last ride of the day today drops me early-no problem-it’s beautiful out, feels festive, the walk will do me good. A guy I recognize greets me w/a big smile and a handshake. Salam Alekum. He then pulls my hand down to his crotch. HSHUMA LIK! WTF? Why can’t we just greet one another? Why are you spoiling this beautiful day??? I’ve met so many people here in REK, don’t remember where I’ve met each one of them, and out of habit, always greet those who are familiar to me. Unfortunately he’s added to the list of several men I avoid due to their inappropriate comments, questions, gestures, touching, etc. Oh well, moving on. Got home and did my Pilates and cooked a healthy dinner. Feeling good about oneself is the best revenge.

Had a productive meeting yesterday at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. Went to give Bouchra and Intissar their certificates for running the workshops at Marche Maroc. (Nothing, I mean Nothing is valued more than a certificate, stamped and signed, with your name on it in Morocco.) I also have collected feedback from the artisans and wanted to share this with them. Bouchra then informed me that she’s working part time next semester so she has time to pursue the Middle Atlas Artisan Website she’s wanted to develop. She, Amy and I had a good discussion. There’s also potential to include Ilham’s mentoring with AFEM into this initiative. We need to discuss further, but I’m excited about the potential this offers-aka the Free Trade Egypt site (, and look forward to working on this with them.

Got great news from friend Lynn L., Skyped with Deb/Phil/Philip yesterday, weather promises to stay clear and dry, sporting a new sweatshirt, internet up and running and the Thanksgiving menu is coming together for Sunday. Many sweet and silly Thanksgiving email circulated from and to friends. Much to be thankful for. Have a safe and fun holiday with family and friends.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rollercoaster Ride

Just back from Rabat and the memorial service for So-Youn. Peace Corps did the right thing and removed all barriers to make it as easy as possible for everyone to come together to pay our respects and tribute to So-Youn’s all-too-brief life. I don’t know how many were there, but between PCVs from all sectors and all over the country, staff, Embassy personnel and the Ambassador, it was SRO. It was the least we could do for her family to demonstrate how much she mattered. David Lillie, Country Director, was not with us, as he flew out on Friday to accompany So-Youn’s body to Korea, where her family is from and where she will be buried. May she rest in peace.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster of emotions. A week ago, approx 50 new PCVs were sworn in. We lost So-Young on Monday. On Friday Peace Corps Morocco said good-bye to approx 50 PCVs who completed their service that day. Yesterday the Morocco PC family was together. Today we are dispersed again around the country.

We did get word from one of our PCMO’s (that’s a PC Medical Officer), reminding all that due to confidentiality, they cannot disclose the cause of death, but that it was unique to So-Youn and not a community health issue. I fear it may have been related to an elective procedure she had just over a month ago and may have been preventable. Needless to say, it has left a lot of PCVs (and their families) shaken up. Need to support one another-now as always.

No surprise then that David cancelled his trip to REK last week. He had scheduled to come out for a less-than-24hour visit. It was to have been well timed to coordinate with an REK “end of year” celebration-lots of kids singing, dancing, certificates to all the associations. I was surprised to be called up on stage and presented with a certificate and gift from REK for my work this past year. It was really sweet. Adwal also had set up tables with product and sold a few things. I took Pete, the new PCV with us, and glad I did so, as it was a great opportunity for him to meet a lot of the town officials and leaders.

Meanwhile, life continues on……
Thanksgiving will be different than originally planned. Kristen and her site mate were going to host about 10 of us this weekend-had bought 2 turkeys in anticipation of the feast. Obviously that was cancelled as we all went to Rabat instead. I still have plans to have about 8 PCVs from around here in REK together a week from today for Thanksgiving. Now if only I could find sage for the dressing. I bought what I was told was “simta” in souk last week, but I doesn’t smell like any sage I’ve ever had, but I've now scoured REK, Sefrou and Rabat, and it’s my only option. Marian says she’s gonna bake-which is great, since that’s not my forte. She and Jess will probably come in a day early to help get started on the cooking. It will be good to get this “region’s” group of PCVs together to brainstorm, etc. as well.

Lots of sheep travelling today-on the road, on top of the nqls (transit vans)-Leid Kbir is either Friday or Saturday-holiest holiday of the year-celebrates the culmination of the annual haj to Mecca. (Islamic calendar is lunar, so don't know actual day of a holiday until new moon is actually visible-it it's overcast, holiday is the following day). All families sacrifice either a sheep or goat that day. All the hanuts have specials on grills and it’s the only time all year I’ve seen charcoal for sale (it’s the only time people grill-they don’t grill in the summer). I’m hoping to plan my Leid Kbir socializing to miss the slaughter and the consumption of the intestine/stomach/lungs and head. Not as hard as it seems, since there is a ritual order to how the animal is consumed. Heart and liver are early-covered in fat and grilled-it’s the best of the day. I’ll just be busy the rest of the day. Can’t take all the meat and parts and pieces all day (make that all week) long.

Good news for Adwal-the grant request I submitted to Kantara Crafts has come through. It’s a modest amount of money, but a terrific effort on the part of Alia Kate, owner of Kantara Crafts. She imports artisanal products from Morocco and has started up an education fund to give back to the communities she buys from. I first met her last year when I was in training in Ain Leuh. She was on a buying trip at the time (since Ain Leuh’s products are some of the best in the country). I connected with her again via email to try to interest her in coming to visit Taeawniya Adwal on her trip to Morocco last spring, but she didn’t have time to come up this way. She instead sent me the email for another company that was looking to work with new cooperatives in Morocco. This connection led to WaresDinner and Adwal’s first export business to the US. Anyway, Alia is funding 2 women from Adwal to take computer classes, 4 hours/week for 4 months. This is part of the sustainability process for my work. Since so much of what I do for them involves the computer, and none of the Adwal women know how to use one, it was imperative that we get someone trained up. Hamdullah, Kantara Crafts and Alia is making this happen. Check out

Speaking of websites and internet, the WaresDinner website has been updated and their Morocco package is now for sale, including the Taeawniya Adwal table runners. Check it out also, as the site includes a photo of the women and some background on their weaving.

And last but not least, one week ago Zahra and Fatima were in Fez, where they met the King and received a large unspecified grant from him. It was televised and I watched it on one of the trainee’s cell phones where she had taped it. Next step is to decide how they will use these funds. Hamdullah, this is a nice problem for them to wrestle with.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I just received very disturbing news from Peace Corps in Rabat. So-Youn Kim, the YD PCV who put together the Tamegroute pottery workshop last month and hosted 11 of us to live in her house for 5 days, just passed away in a Marrakech hospital.

So-Youn put the workshop together in an attempt to help her host brother develop a business of conducting these workshops for tourists, Moroccan artisans and visitors. This was not her assignment as a Youth Development Volunteer, but something she took on to help her community. She was bright, driven, kind and generous.

I will take the liberty of copying the message sent to worldwide this morning from the Peace Corps Director, Aaron Williams:

“So-Youn, 23, a native of San Francisco and a 2007 graduate of Stanford University, had been serving for one year as a Youth Development Volunteer in Tamagourte. Her primary assignment was in a youth center where she was involved in a wide range of activities in her dual role as English teacher and youth development worker.

Her secondary activities focused on helping the village of Tamagourte’s pottery cooperative and developing an apprenticeship program. She got her hands dirty both literally and figuratively with the lives, pottery and culture of her community. She loved to teach children, support the cooperative and respect the historic craft that is so firmly rooted in that region of Morocco.

So-Youn was a remarkable writer, a voracious reader, a tireless advocate and talented in many languages. Thoughtful and hopeful would be the best way to describe her Peace Corps Aspiration Statement and other communications she has shared.

In September 2008, she wrote: 'Youth development work is effective when young people are taught to become educated, empowered, and responsible members of their communities while being given space to explore and share the challenges of their own individual identities.'

This is an ethos and passion So-Youn brought with her to Morocco. I am sharing the news of this tragedy with the hope that all of you will honor her commitment to service by providing the best support, comfort and opportunities to our dedicated Volunteers and staff around the world.

So-Youn wrote recently, 'I believe in the power of the day to day, the simple yet otherwise impossible conversations, the truths that I speak and live that affect the people around me as I learn from the truths around me in turn.'"

I wish I had had a chance to spend more time with So-Youn; in Morocco, in life.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My Heart is Full

Don’t let anyone tell you that Friday the 13th is unlucky. What a day it was.

I’m really invigorated and in love with REK right now. I have internet back at home, and the rizzo (connection) is faster than ever. New PCV arrived safe and delivered to his host family. 20 women from CWD came, met with the Coop and all the key leaders in REK and bought out the Coop products. We had beautifully sunny skies. Hm, what else? Oh yeah, new table for the kitchen and I get to Skype w/Debbie. Does it get better than that? I think not!

OK, so Friday is a day off for the Coop, but all the women show up at 8:30 this morning to get ready for the delegation of women from Center for Women and Democracy. We cleaned up the looms, the workroom, borrowed tables from the bashawiya to put all the products on display outside, set up a display table w/slide show of Taeawniya Adwal, business cards and brochures, put together a display of all their certificates and diplomas, etc. Well done ladies. Then we waited. And waited. When they ( the CWD women) finally arrived-in a full sized bus-I think everyone in town knew they were there.

The women of both CWD and Adwal were great. The CWD women gave Adwal their best sales day ever-and were truly taken by the work of the Coop women-it was SO great to see their work so appreciated. We did the obligatory group photos overlooking the zlul and made our way up to the Belladya for tea and cookies (yes, these precede the big meal in Morocco). There we had all the Ribat El Kheir leaders-men and women alike, join us. They were introduced, along with the Coop women, to our guests. Then the delegation leader, Lisa Brown, Washington State Senate Majority Leader, discussed a bit about the work of CWD and their members introduced themselves. This was followed by a Q&A session. Fortunately we had an interpreter throughout these sessions to facilitate understanding.

We then made our way up to Fatima’s house where we gorged ourselves on the traditional Friday couscous feast. Couscous w/meat, veggies and hummus, followed by chicken with olives, followed by fruit. Yum. The women of CWD had made arrangements to pay for the meal, and the Adwal women took care of hiring some women to help make it happen. We gave thanks to Fatima and her family for their generosity in opening their home to all of us.

We said our goodbyes to the CWD women reluctantly-I think everyone wanted to spend more time together. Many business cards and contact info was shared to keep in touch. Photos will be shared electronically. Hearts were touched. What a wonderful group of women. Oh, am I referring to the Center for Women in Democracy group or the Taeawniya Adwal group? Yes. To both. I was so proud to share REK with the CWD group and so happy for Adwal to have made these connections and sales. Can’t ask for more.

Oh, but wait, there’s more! On our way to Fatima’s for lunch, the Maroc Telecom guy drives by, stops me and asks if I’m going to be home. Uh, no, you see, I have this big group I’m taking over to Fatima’s for lunch. Mn bd, eyyitni mlli sala m xdma mxtalf (later, call me when you’re done with your other job). He calls during chicken. Do I stay or do I go? He wasn’t supposed to come until Monday, but I’ve been w/o internet for 2 weeks, and it’s been terrible since July. Travelled to Sefrou a week ago to ask them to fix it. If he leaves, who knows when he’ll return. I duck out of lunch, and 15 minutes later return-he’d fixed the cut line and I’m back in business. Didn’t miss anything at lunch. Hamdullah.

But wait-it gets even better! After all is done and the CWD women are on their bus and Fes-bound, I head home to drop my stuff and remember the table I ordered from the guys across the street. They’re waving at me as I approach-table’s all done. Pay them $3 extra and they carry it upstairs for me. I’ve just tripled my kitchen counter space (ok, there wasn’t much to start with, but this table is much nicer than I expected).

Oh, then Pete, the new PCV arrives from Rabat. Perfect, since I just saw Hassan, his host, going into a meeting of the JamEiea Siyaha (Tourism Assn)-told him I’d meet Pete and bring him to the meeting. Pete arrives, take him to Hassan-check.

Then to top it all off, Debbie and I get a chance to catch up on Skype in a few minutes-it’s been over a month since we had talked “live” and I can’t wait to catch up with her.

My heart is full.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Welcome Winter?

Could it be winter?

Yes, I’ve been spoiled….in many ways…..let me count them…..

First, it’s only now turning cold. Just yesterday. Like a light switch. Went from too hot in a long sleeve blouse on Wednesday to wool turtleneck under fleece and sleeping under 2 blankets w/flannel sheets. Welcome winter. The warm is over.

Second, just for the record, I really, really do appreciate having internet connection in my apartment. That is, when it works. And it hasn’t all week. And only shwiya since July. Apparently it’s a problem in the whole town. Can’t pay my phone/internet bill ‘til they have connection-timeframe as yet undetermined. Went by the Maroc Telecom office in Sefrou Thursday when I was there to lodge a complaint to have someone come and check it out. Paying good money (400DH is no small fee given rent is 800DH/mo) for no connection. Even the cyber has shwiya connection this week. Makes me realize just how dependent I am on having access-yes, I know, spoiled.

Went to Sefrou for the weekend. Friend Jess had Marian and I over for scary movies last night. Proved more humorous than scary. Found a guy in a shwiya hanut, but zwin equipment who burned a DVD with 4 movies in English (was supposed to be 6, but for 15DH, either way it’s a bargain). The first one-The Haunting in Connecticut stopped about ¾ the way through. Just when we were to find out who was “the next weak one” targeted by the demons. Now we’ll never know! So after trying to get the DVD to work again, unsuccessfully, we moved on to movie #2. (Note that formats are different here-don’t typically work on US computers, so once you manage to find someone who has English DVDs-and make them show it to you before buying it-you still may not be able to view it). Movie #2 was Autumn. My first zombie movie. Again, stopped about ½ way through-found out that only ½ of the movie was burned. Will never know if the zombies come back and take over. My guess is that’s the ending, and really, I don’t particularly care.

So I’m off to Rabat tomorrow. (So much for being home all this month). I will be attending a conference with a Seattle-based NGO that focuses on women’s leadership-Center for Women in Democracy (CWD). Then I’ll be attending a reception with the new Ambassador to Morocco. There are 2 of us PCVs who have been invited to the sessions, so should be interesting. Half of the CWD group, about 20 of them, will then come to Ribat El Kheir on Friday. I’ll be hosting them, along with Taeawniya Adwal and some other women leaders in REK, for a discussion and traditional couscous lunch.
The mission of CWD is to promote women’s full representation, participation and leadership, while respecting the political, economic and social diversity in cultures worldwide. The goal of the delegation to Morocco is to establish connections, exchange ideas and learn fromone another’s cultures through forums, site visits, briefings and enjoying the company of the Moroccan Parliamentary, business and other women leaders, entrepreneurs and community activists. Interestingly enough, the woman I hope to work with to establish business mentoring for our artisans is also invited, so will be good to see her there. It should be a very interesting week.

Meanwhile I’m planning Thanksgiving celebrations. I’ll travel south to Kristen’s place in Tounfite the week before Thanksgiving. This year Leid Kbir falls on Thanksgiving weekend, and PCVs have a travel restriction (high accident rate as it is the biggest holiday of the Islamic calendar and many travel to be with family). I’m hoping to get the PCVs in this area together right after Leid Kbir to celebrate together, brainstorm joint projects and welcome Pete to REK.

So now I’ll head over to the cyber with my computer to connect there and get some work done.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Three weeks on the road and I’m finally back in Ribat El Kheir. Ham-du-li-lah! First things first-clothes washed, house cleaned and shower taken. A fresh start! Now if only my internet connection would work, I’d be golden. Alas, it’s not meant to be. Need to call Maroc Telecom to find out what the problem is.

Well, a lot to catch up on-and lots of photos to post-my camera has been very busy….

Now where did I leave off? Ah yes, Marrakech. Met up with Tim and Joy in Marrakech to go to Azilal a week ago. The SBD trainees were gathering and there were about 8 PCVs to share our experiences. The trainees found out their final site assignments the night before we arrived, so they were full of questions about their areas, other PCVs in their regions, etc. I found out that a guy named Pete with YD (Youth Development) has been assigned to Ribat El Kheir. He’ll be here in a couple of weeks to start his service.

After the training workshops were done, we had a free afternoon, so several of us hired a taxi to take us to the Cascades (waterfalls) nearby. It was a beautiful afternoon-great waterfalls along with lunch and monkeys in the trees entertaining us!

Tim, Joy, Rebecca and I went back to Marrakech to meet up with the Artisanat Delegate and Vice Delegate and walk thru their facility. Tim and Rebecca are taking ownership for the next Marche/Workshop in the spring, so this was a good time to introduce them to the guys they’ll be working with and to transfer info on what I did for the Fes project.

Then it was off to Bzou the next morning. Bzou is Rebecca’s site, and she had a couple of workshops planned w/her women-one on color theory and one on natural dyeing. We spent 1½ days preparing by doing the natural dyeing ourselves. We used wool from the souk and dyed it with henna, coffee, mint, pomegranate, madder root, and almonds. Lindsay came in from Azilal to conduct the workshops.

We took a break from the dyeing to go and observe the weekly, Friday afternoon jellaba fabric auction. Bzou is smaller than Ribat El Kheir and the women weave independently in their homes-no Association or Cooperative. They spin their own wool to such a fine grade that it is almost like thread. Then they hand weave these very fine fabrics on vertical looms. They are well known fine weavers, as the King’s jellabas are made from Bzou fabric. Anyway, we wanted to see what happens at the auction. Kinda shocking. The women hover around a group of men who are yelling, spitting, sweating, shoving fabrics into the faces of the buyers who are sitting all in a row. Can’t imagine how the women feel to see their fabrics treated this way-almost feels disrespectful of their work. Anyway, they get good prices-the stuff doesn’t come cheap, and a lot of fabric is sold to the middlemen who will take it and sell it yet again.

We went out to a douar to do the first of the workshops in the home of one of the women. Surprising to find that they didn’t have any idea what happens when you mix primary colors, ie; red and yellow make orange, blue and yellow for green, etc. Most interesting. Hopefully they find the information, along with how easy it is to do your own natural dyeing, valuable, as they determine their wool color combinations. Note-naturally dyed wool weaving gets almost a 2-fold price premium in the marketplace. We then repeated the workshops in the Dar Chebab (Youth Center) in Bzou for almost 20 women that afternoon.

We bought a squash in the souk to be carved up for Halloween-Joy did a great job-and Tim found candles to light it up. The kids in the neighborhood thought it was pretty cool. Then the rest of the PCVs descended. There is a 6 mos. training for the Environment and Health Volunteer in Marrakech this week, and a bunch of them stopped in Bzou on their way, so Rebecca had them all over for a Halloween party. Complete with costumes. Pretty creative. Tried to be discrete with the drinking-not illegal, but frowned upon in her conservative site. However, there was enough to go around that 15 people managed to sleep in her place-incl 2 on the kitchen floor and 2 in the hallway on the cement. Ah youth-at least I got a ponge. That helped for my 7am wake up to catch the 8 hr bus ride to Fes.

Got to Fes in time to join some lovely ladies I’ve met thru Jess. The party was just winding down when I arrived, but got to catch up quickly before heading to the usual Cascade Hotel. Then a little work back at the Fes Artisanat before heading home.

Now need to update the Adwal women. Just as I feared, there’s a lot more paperwork that needs to go with the product shipment to the US when we use regular postal service. The Delegate in Sefrou told me they only need one document, but I was not confident this was enough. Met with a guy in Fes and got the complete list of what the women need to do. This is how you do things here. Ask once. Do a gut check and check again. And again.

Also need to get the arrangements set up for next week’s visit by the Center for Women and Democracy-a group of 38 women from the Seattle area, ½ of which will come to REK and Adwal on the 13th.

Baraka f daba.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm so over Marrakech

I’m ready to leave Marrakech. I’ve really tried to love it, but it makes it so hard. OK, so some of the blame can go to the tourists. They’re everywhere. In droves. Who wouldn’t try to take advantage of all those pockets filled w/Dirhams? But come on, please start the taxi meter and please don’t pull on my arm to try to get me into your shop or pull on my sleeve to beg for a dirham and please don’t push that menu in my face as I walk by or shove the card for a hotel at me as I pass by. Aggression is not marketing. We’ve created a monster, fed on tourism, that knows no shame. Ugh. Get me outta here.

OK, I realize I’m feeling the effects of being away from “home” for almost 2 weeks, living out of a suitcase, bored after seeing all the sights, traversing the Ville Nouvelle, anyplace else to visit requires a taxi and I’m boycotting them. Good news, I travel today. Never been so happy to travel. It’s off to Azilal for the PST workshops-training for the new SBD group. Hamdullah.

So since I’m on a ranting and raving kick, I’ll get a couple additional annoyances off my chest:
Those who call your phone and hang up after the first ring, so you’ll call them back. This means you pay for the call (receiving is free) and they’re the one who wants to talk to you.
Waiting to answer the cell phone in one’s hand until the stupid ring tone music has played at least one full minute. What? Too busy? Right! You’re just sitting there staring at your phone! Answer it already.
Trash and the lack of pick up. Just unwrap stuff and drop the wrapping on the ground. There’s gotta be a way....
Public transit (taxi, bus) that stops on the side of the road for the men to get out and pee. While the women wait inside.
No one has change. How do you get change if no one has any? Seems they always manage to find it when push comes to shove.
Who do you trust? Guy in taxi takes us the wrong direction, apologizes and turns off meter, then gets us to our destination (bus station) and tries to get us to pay 4x the correct price. Hshuma. Then as we’re waiting for the bus, a guy insists that the bus is on the other side of the building. Right, just trying to scam more passengers off the CTM bus onto theirs, yak? Turns out he’s right and was trying to help us, but our cynicism prevailed and assumed there was a rip-off in the works. Yikes. Have to be able to trust.

Thanks for that-feel much better now.

OK, so I'll throw Marrakech a bone. Great dried apricots. Zwin cyber w/fast connection, clean and a/c. Simple hotel w/great staff for only $12/night. Great harsha at bakery. Beautiful gardens. Mundub willing to work with us on another craft fair. Earth Cafe. Putting up w/all the tourists.

Safi? Baraka.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


OK, so I confess, I’ve indulged a bit here in Marrakech. I started by sleeping in the last 2 mornings. Not late, just no alarm, no rush to get out of bed. Nice. I’ve got the entire weekend w/no specific plans. I get to just take my sweet time and do whatever I feel like.

I wanted to see the Ville Nouvelle and get out of the medina area. I’ve never been anywhere so tourist-mobbed. The locals treat you accordingly-everyone trying to get your money-even pulling on your arm to try to get you in their shop. The taxi drivers are the worst. It takes 3-4 petit taxis to get one who will use their meter, and even then I’ve had 2 drive the wrong way and try to get me to pay for it. So it’s time to head a different direction, away from the madness.

I mapped out where I wanted to go, some galleries I wanted to browse in, and started off on foot. I needed the exercise. Beautiful weather to walk for miles. And Ville Nouvelle didn’t disappoint. Galleries, restaurants, shops. Bought an International Herald Tribune (only English newspaper you can get in large cities in Morocco) to read over a leisurely lunch at a sweet sidewalk cafe, paid equiv. to $10 for a Vanity Fair magazine (have discovered that magazines in English are a real treat), bought some nice chocolates for after dinner and a new bag to carry my stuff in. Bought a couple tops from a Women’s Coop for winter, even found Clinique lipstick. Such indulgence! I really felt like I had treated myself. It also felt great to be out and about and on my feet after doing so much sitting the last week.

I still have 2 days here to fill. Spent this morning doing a leisurely tour of some of Marrrakech’s sites-Bahia Palace and a very cool small museum around the corner from the Palace. Walked a bit of the medina to check out more Cooperative shops and ran into one of the design students who helped with the product development consultations at Marche Maroc in Fes.She’s heading to Rabat and is interested in contemporary weavings, so I gave her a map to a very cool carpet store near the Rabat Ville train station to check out. It is a small world!

So now I’m using the cyber high speed connection to do some downloading (the dial up speed at my home link is painfully slow), will head back to the hotel and study a bit of my Arabic and think I’ll head back to Earth Café for dinner. Yum.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The "Dirty South"

So we didn’t make it to the river nor the desert. However, we threw pots, painted, glazed, polished, hennaed a lot of pottery pieces and bleach painted fabric. Nebii, Soyoun’s host brother, is the painting artist at the pottery “Coop” and was basically guiding us through the week. He is hoping to turn this type of workshop into a regular business for tourists and Moroccans interested in pottery. The purpose of our week was to try out the workshop and give our feedback on what worked and what could be improved.

His coop doesn’t work so much like a coop, but they certainly make a lot of product, most with a distinctive green glaze. I love their green glaze, but in my opinion they could use some serious finishing to their work to make it more consumer-friendly. They fill the kilns by stacking the pieces on 3-pronged clay pieces. These clay pieces leave 3 distinctive “nicks” in the glaze-they say it’s their signature-but these nicks in each piece leave a very rough finish. They have a lot of their stuff, along with pottery from other parts of Morocco, to sell to the steady stream of tourists who come through their town, which is about 1 ½ hrs from the end of the road into the desert, so a popular route for desert treks.

Each day we were doing either a different piece or finishing process, and this took up most of our time. Not a complaint, just an observation, as we thought we’d have a lot of down time. Thus no river or desert trips. We did take some time out to walk over to the Zaouia shrine and library of Mohammed Ben Nassur-patron saint of the Nacin fraternity. There are over 10,000 books in the library, dating from the 1200's, all handwritten calligraphy on gazelle skin. You have to get permission from the Ministry in Rabat to actually touch any of them, but they’re well displayed to marvel at their beauty. On the other end of the intellectual scale, we also managed to fit in a lot of Bananagram games, which I’m now completely hooked on.

So here are some observations from “the dirty south”:
Visually it is stereotypically Moroccan. Dry, dusty, mud buildings, palm trees, women in all black shuffling along slowly under a hot sun. It’s amazing to see the design detail in the mud buildings-such detail will only last in this very dry climate. It is more tribal-literally. The area is a mix of Berber, Arab and a lot of Malian descendents-originally brought in as slaves. The attire is distinct from the North. Women are entirely covered, the Malian tribe in all black. No jellabas here. They wear a gathered long skirt of black fabric, then use another large piece of black fabric that wraps around their entire upper body and head. They may adorn themselves with a colorful belt. The typical men’s garb of the area is a sky blue caftan with gold braid, and a scarf wrapped around their heads, Arab style. Other women will also be entirely covered, but in beautiful print fabric. Wish I had photos, but again, when in a very conservative area where a Peace Corp Volunteer lives, I hesitate to take photos of their community/neighbors-just seems too intrusive.

It was a good group-worked together well, got along, shared the cooking and cleaning duties, etc. PCVs are pretty used to communal living and pitching in, Hamdullah. Only downside was that of the 11 of us, I think at one point there were 6 of us feeling pretty shwiya. Myself included. After 2 full weeks of a system-gone-wrong and loading myself up with Pepto Bismol, I think I’ve forced my system into normalcy, finally. Just in time for the 9 hour bus ride from Tamegroute to Marrakech. It was a beautiful ride, despite its length. Tons of palmeries that we didn’t see on the way down as it was dark by the time we got to them. Beautiful combination of red, yellow and black dates hanging from the trees. Mud brick villages in the background. Up and over the High Atlas Mountains. Picturesque. Nice to feel well again, just in time for some fresh/yeasty/yummy bread on the ride. We had a woman baking bread for us each day in Tamagroute-strangest bread I’ve ever seen-huge rounds, all crust and no middle-incredibly dry and inedible within hours, and when your system is shwiya and all you’re eating is bread and water, you’d like the bread to be decent. Fortunately I was able to enjoy a yummy dinner at the Earth Café in Marrakech once Lisa and I got here last night. Ran into some other PCVs at the Café. This week Peace Corps is giving flu shots-(they’re mandatory), so everyone had to travel to their “consolidation point”, and Marrakech is one of them.

Had a couple of good reminders about sustainability while in Tamegroute, and the importance of involving the prospective beneficiaries. Examples: The pottery coop has 2 beautiful new gas kilns right next to the crude wood burning kilns that they’ve used for years. And still use. The gas kilns go unused. Why? Well, according to Nebii, a German NGO came in and saw the work the potters were doing and were motivated to help them out. They knew of these gas kilns and decided to pay for them to be installed. Forgot to ask the potters what they wanted/needed/why they used the wood burning kilns. Nothing wrong with the gas kilns, except the gas, in the quantity required to fire the pottery, becomes expensive. The wood is free. Certainly costly to the environment, but not to the Coop. Thus there they sit, kiln shrines to others coming in from the outside, wanting to make a difference, with good intentions, but without involving the beneficiaries, throwing money into the wind. According to Soyoun apparently now there’s a Spanish NGO who has come to her town and wants “to build something”. Great. They are offering to purchase 20 computers. Great. Who is going to say no? But why aren’t they taking the time to sit w/members of the community to determine what the community will really benefit from? Because that takes time. Then there’s the French woman who spent several days w/Nebii being trained in different pottery and painting methods. She was so inspired that she took a ton of photos and information, with the promise of putting it together and getting it all back to Nebii so he could have materials to share with others. Small problem. Seems she didn’t have enough money to pay him for her training-no problem-he tells her to send it when she sends the photos and information. That’s the last he’s heard from her-no money, no info, nothing. Promises, but nothing changes. Given these scenarios, it’s easy to see why locals get cynical to outsiders coming in with offers to “help”. Just give us the money is a typical response. More understandable as you learn about how they get burned.

So now I’m here in Marrakech until Monday. I spent yesterday trying to get time w/the mundub at the Marrakech Artisanat. I was finally successful and spent an hour with him late in the afternoon. My objective was to explore the possibility of doing a Marche Maroc in Marrakech next year. It was a successful meeting and they are willing to host the event and help do the training. I’ve seen the space available and it could work out well. I need to work with our Program staff to identify another PCV here in the south to take on this project. Marrakech is too far away for me to manage (7 hour train after I get to Fes), and since travel costs for our projects comes out of our paltry allowances, it is far too expensive for me to do from Ribat El Kheir (based on the # of trips I had to make to Fes for Marche Maroc). Hopefully this will work out.

I took advantage of the mundub’s lunchtime break, to go to the Jardin Majorelle. This beautiful garden was originally designed by Jacques Majorelle in 1924. The property (home and garden) was purchased and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and he established a trust to ensure the garden’s future existence and public access. It’s a real treasure in this tourist-trap city.

So for the most part I now have 3 days to myself here in Marakkech. I’m thinking of taking a day trip out of town. We’ll see how it goes. Still want to explore the Ville Nouvelle of Marakkech, but have had enough of the medina/el Fnaa area.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Southern Reaches

I’m back in the south. The deep south this time. About as far as Peace Corps Volunteers are allowed to travel in Morocco. We cannot travel into the Western Sahara-a disputed territory that Morocco claims to be a part of their country, but its residents insist is independent. Thus our travel restriction.

I’m in a place called Tamegroute, just south of Zagora. We’re talking dusty (but not sandy), palmeries, first camels that weren’t just posing for tourists, dress is tribal and more conservative, a hint of the “blue men” of the Sahara-the men here wear a traditional light blue overshirt. It’s still hot here, thank goodness it’s fall-cannot imagine the heat of summer.

It takes 2 very long days of travel to get here. One full day to Marrakech and one full day to Zagora, with Tamegroute ½ hour south of Zagora.

My first good sign of the trip was being able to read the Arabic timetable in the train station in Fes-the first on listed was for “mraksh”-wow-I’m starting to read Arabic (started on reading just recently-don't have the entire alphabet down yet)

My PCV friend Lisa and I were supposed to meet up on the train in Rabat (3 hrs from Fes), but she missed the train, so it was another 4 hours boring riding solo. That was the bad news.

We spent the night in Marrakech and caught the bus in the morning for Zagora. Rode 5 hours to Ouarzazate thru the High Atlas Mountains. Really a beautiful ride-red clay soil, beautiful topography, all mud houses-you have to stare into the hillside to realize there’s a town there.

We stop on the way to Ouarzazate for lunch/break. I get out to stretch my legs and realize I’m not feeling so well. My system’s been a bit swiya all week, but now I’m feeling kinda like I’m seasick. How weird. Then it dawns on me. Duh. I’m carsick. Never been carsick before. Going thru the windy mountains got to me. Bummer, but at least that’s all it is. System is still swiya but the nausea will go away.

In Ouarzazate we pick up 4 more PCVs. We’re all going to a pottery workshop/focus group that PCV Soyoun has put together. We’re staying in her house-taking turns cooking, etc. We “threw” pots yesterday and cleaned them up today. Lunch every day prepared by her host family, so we eat well.

Tamegroute is on a main road to the Sahara, so it gets tour buses. There’s a Riad (small hotel in the Kasbah) just across the dirt field from Soyoun’s, and the Swiss/German woman who owns it lets us use her wireless-just costs us the price of a Diet Coke or a small dish of her unbelievably rich homemade cardamom ice cream. Hamdullah.

The people here are very welcoming, although we may have been a sight this morning when we went to souk to get veggies. Morocco is traditionally more conservative in the south, and in these parts, the women don’t go to souk-it’s men only. So I imagine it was a bit of a surprise for 5 of us to show up at souk at 7am this morning! Wish I had my camera (although I don’t tend to take photos in places like souk-seems too intrusive) to show you all the date vendors and their “wares”. This is prime date country and the variety is endless. Quite the sight.

We’ve got some downtime while we’re here. Tomorrow we’ll hike to the river where the potters get their clay, and decorate pieces w/henna-apparently henna comes in several different colors. We’ll glaze the pieces we made on Monday-they have a distinctive green manganese glaze in this area. They fire them and we leave on Wednesday morning. Inshallah there will also be time to get to see some dunes/desert just south of here, still within our travel area, as apparently we only need one night and return in the morning. Maybe Monday night?? Will let you know.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Southern Travels

Home from Marche Maroc 2 days and back on the road. How about 1 ½ days travel to facilitate a 1 hour workshop? I was asked to do a SWOT (Strength/Weakness/Opportunity/Threat) workshop with the new staj of SBD trainees who gathered in the southern Provincial capital of Azilal. That’s a 1 hr taxi to Fes (after waiting 1 hour for it to fill up), 7 hr train to Marrakech, wait 2 hrs for a taxi to fill for a 2 ½ hr ride to Azilal. The benefits? Nice to interact with this group-many more “older” volunteers than usual (I’d chock that up to the US economy making more folks available for such an experience), and a very positive group at that. In addition, it was interesting to listen to all their questions and concerns-after all, I was one of them one year ago. It’s really by listening to them that I can see how far I’ve come.

On the return trip made it as far as Fes, no transits to REK that late, so overnight and home in the morning. Splurged for a 1st class train ticket. Nice! A reserved, comfy seat. Only 6 in a section. A/C. All for about 300DH (approx. $37, or $12 above 2nd class). Such a deal.

I also had the chance to see the countryside in the south on my journey from Marrakech to Azilal. It is definitely different. Here the buildings are the reddish-clay structures that you typically think of in Morocco. You also see that homes are typically built of mud bricks. The mud homes are great for insulation in the summer and winter. Since there’s so little rainfall in the south, this type of building has been preserved, where in the wetter, northern area, the mud bricks “melt” or collapse and have been replaced with ugly concrete blocks. And of course there's the perverse "benefit" in showing that one can affort the concrete brick. Go figure.

Feedback from Marche Maroc keeps trickling in, and I must say that it’s really gratifying. I was very pleased with how it all went, but really delighted to hear the artisan’s reactions, ie; artisans that now want to formalize a Cooperative, Neddi who told their PCV they had “the time of their life”, artisans saying they’d pay 500DH of their organization’s money to attend similar function in the future, etc. Tariq, our program manager, has asked if I’d do one in the south, ie; Marrakech. I think there’s a strong case to do it, make it more regional so travel expenses can be covered by the Coop/Assns, and a good opportunity to help someone else take charge of the project, someone who has connections in Marrakech that I don’t have, yak? Besides, I have other projects in the works that I want to get moving on.

Finally got home this morning. Can’t tell you how nice it was to get home. I really felt welcomed. Went by the Coop to say hi and give a copy of the WaresDinner Morocco booklet to the women to see. Great to see that Fatima and Zahra had already checked out shipping costs thru the Morocco Postal System (since FedEx is prohibitively expensive). I’ll check which one the WaresDinner women want us to use. Reminded Zahra that this means she also needs to get a signed, stamped document from the Ministry Delegate indicating that the shipment is traditional handicrafts, as this makes the package duty-free. Well done ladies-getting on top of it.

I also was sought out by several people in the village on my way home from the Coop-Hassan wanted to follow up on the request I gave him from another PCV-tourism opportunity for REK and he’s President of the REK Tourism Assn. Meriem came by to ask if I can help her w/referral for legal help for friend in the US. Max needed Tim’s information for his interest in the baskets that his Coop makes. Nice to feel missed and needed.

Good thing I saw all of them, as I’m back on the road on Tuesday for 2 weeks. Will be going way down south to Zagora (southernmost PCV site) for a pottery workshop, will do some business in Marrakech while I’m down that way, then going back to Azilal to help again w/the new SBD trainees. Following that I’ll stay close to Azilal-in Bzou, for a color theory workshop and Halloween party. Business and pleasure. Hopefully this Indian Summer stays with us-it’s been fabulous.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mbruk Marche Maroc 2009

aka “Exhilarated but Exhausted”

Oh my what a week it’s been. Home for a couple of days to debrief and write up the Sustainable Marketing Workshop and Marche Maroc 2009 Project reports. Have to report into grant funding agency, but also want to capture it all while it’s fresh…..

Left a week ago for Fes to put the final touches on the weekend program for 60 artisans and 35 Peace Corps Volunteers. It went better than I had hoped for. Oh sure, there were challenges and plenty of frustrations, but none that couldn’t be overcome fairly easily, and there were always lots of willing bodies to help deal with unforeseen needs.

Most everyone arrived in Fes on Thursday. All the artisans were registered in the Al Qods facility and most of the PCVs stayed at a hostel. Came up with this alternative PCV housing when Al Qods couldn’t accommodate all of us (and we PCVs are on our own dime for this sort of thing, so needed “thrifty digs”). Seemed great-very clean, nice, quiet, excellent location. Only problem is, it appears to stay fully booked, so they’ve forgotten that they’re in the service industry. Find out upon check-in that they close from 10-12 every morning, 3-6 every afternoon, curfew at 10pm and hot water only from 8-10 every morning. The woman at the front desk is a raving bit**. How did she ever get hired in tourism? It’s so unfortunate, as they have tons of potential, but turned us all off with their horrible attitude. For example, they woke up one PCV at 2:30 while taking a nap to remind her she needed to be out at 3. Can you imagine? Anyway, their loss. At least it was within a couple blocks of the American Language Center (ALC), so that made up for some of the downside.

Friday arrived with all of the artisans registered, greeted, split into 2 groups and moved into the workshop rooms across the street-in time to start only 10 minutes late at 8:40!!!! Unheard of!

They sat through 2 workshops, ½ day each, facilitated by staff from Al Akhawayn University-private Univ in Ifrane. One was on Marketing, the other on Costing and Pricing. They had interactive exercises and the feedback was terrific. One of the participating Coops made couscous lunch for everyone. That was our only scheduling goof-up. It’s Friday, and we hadn’t allowed time for the men to go to the mosque-kayn daruri (it’s necessary), so we just moved things around. At the end of the day, they had a 1 hour presentation/discussion with the Quality Consultants we brought in-all about new quality standards and design ideas for the domestic and export markets. This was stimulating enough that even at 6pm they were still asking questions. Hamdullah.

Through the course of the day, the Regional Delegate for the Artisanat Ministry came by a couple of times with Ministry press, and we had 2 other press people interviewing and photographing the participants at breaks.

It had been a long day, so artisans were on their own for the evening. Note that some had never travelled this far, some had never participated in something like this, so this was a big step for many. A bunch of the PCVs on the other hand, went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner where the food was mediocre but the beer was cold. I don’t think a “Hamdullah” is appropriate here.

Now the tent guys arrived, assembled the tents and were on their merry way w/out a single problem-loved them. The tables and chairs were another story…..Got the Ministry to allow us to use their tables and chairs. Great. Free, yak? My guy at the Ministry even arranged for a camiyo and helped negotiate a fair transport price-300DH for 60 tables and chairs. Had 2 PCVs lined up to help load/unload. Then the camiyo owner starts to do his own bargaining once they get the first load to the American Language Center (ALC). Seems they’ll need 3 loads. Says more work than he thought. I’m thinking “too bad”, I’m only paying 300DH. At this point the Ministry Delegate has come back around, and asks what the problem is. First he “hshuma’s” the guy, then agrees 800DH should be paid. I’m thinking, the guy just increased his price since he’s delivering to the ALC. (Note that ALC is a pretty wealthy private language school in a pretty posh neighborhood of the Fes Ville Nouvelle. Seems that it’s not uncommon for prices to be higher to them, per my friend who works there, since vendors figure they can pay more). However, this is NOT an ALC event, and I’m not paying more than was agreed. Oh how I love a good argument in Arabic. Even more, I love winning them. Only paid 300DH. (The camiyo driver and helpers don’t lift a finger on Friday-make the PCVs do all the work. I get retribution on Monday morning when they come to pick everything up. Guess what? All the PCVs are gone, and they need to do their own lifting. Hah!)

Now I haven’t mentioned that the drizzly, cold, shwiya weather of the last 2 weeks has disappeared and all week/weekend we enjoyed clear, beautiful sunny skies. I live under a lucky star.

So Saturday comes around and the artisans are all there at 8:30am ready to set up their exhibits. Never seen such promptness. Loving it. The booths are looking good. New guy hired by ALC has the little concession stand and makes zwin French/Moroccan food. Nice.

We get foot traffic, not as much as we’d like, but most who are coming are buying. Target audience was ex-pats and wealthier Fessians who want to support indigenous crafts and fair wages. We’re not on a major boulevard by design. Those who come in made it a point to be there, so we don’t get a lot of “looky-loos”. That’s ok, as long as the artisans are selling.

Saturday all the PCVs and Peace Corps staff who are attending are invited to a meeting with the Regional Ministry Delegate, who has been directed by the Moroccan Ministry to speak with us on their behalf, thanking us for what we’re doing and to answer questions. Both the Regional Delegate and my Delegate are very complimentary.

This is followed by the Certificate Ceremony. Don’t underestimate the importance of a signed, officially stamped Certificate of Participation. I’ve made these up, personalized for each participant and we’ve got a photographer to take their photo as each receives theirs from the Ministry representative and Peace Corps. This is a VERY big deal for the participants-disproportionately so, and we made certain that this need is met.

Jess, my friend from Sefrou who works at ALC and who was BRILLIANT in helping throughout the planning of this program, has arranged for live music in the garden of the ALC villa Saturday night. Part of the language school includes ALIF-the Arabic Language Institute of Fes. They teach Arabic to U.S. and British students who come over for a semester abroad. Part of Jess’ responsibility as cultural coordinator for ALC/ALIF is to put on a concert every 6 weeks. Works out that that comes during our event. She bring up a fabulous vocal/percussion group from Errachidia. Only took a gentle nudge to get all the artisans (and they ALL attended, along w/PCV, ALIF students, ALC/ALIF staff, etc.) on their feet dancing. What a great party it turned out to be!

Sunday arrives and it is finally time to enjoy the Craft Fair. I’ve been running all over all week, and everything’s under control. I can finally take a look at the exhibits and make my purchases, sit and talk w/artisans and other PCVs, sit and enjoy lunch in the garden. I have time to spend with my friend Samira, who came from the U.S. to visit her father's family in Fes and to come to the Marche Maroc! A bit of work still to do, but all very manageable. We take a tally of sales at the end of each day, and will send that out to the PCVs so their artisans will know how they fared vs others. Some sold more than they ever had at an expo. One group sold nothing. Lot to learn for all of us.

Throughout the Sat/Sun Craft Fair, the Quality Consultants, along with the 2 design students they brought with them, have sat down for 15 minutes with each of the artisan Coop/Assns to look at their products, ask questions, and provide some initial feedback and input. They will be following up with a written report that I’ll send out to the artisans thru their PCV.

The anecdotal stories start coming in. See exhibits with sheets for visitors to leave their information for follow up, also to collect comments. Artisans networking with one another. One Coop is going to visit another to do a design workshop for them. One coop stays an extra day in Fes to go to the medina a shop for better quality materials. Sharing information about the quality of their materials when asked about a price vs immediately just lowering the price. Asking one another how they make their patterns. Woodworkers using the spreadsheet they got in the workshop at their exhibit. This is what it’s about. Putting their workshop learning into practice.

And that speaks to measures of success. How does one measure it? For me, it is all about feedback from the artisans themselves. What did they think of the overall experience—the workshops, the quality consultations, the networking, the sales? What would they be willing to pay out of Coop/Assn proceeds to attend such an event in the future? This is what is most important.

Lessons learned? Still figuring out how to target the domestic, non-tourist market; Patience and persistence always work in your favor; Remain flexible; Have some fun; Distance myself from the nay-sayers and nitpickers-it’s always easy to be the editor!

So now I’m writing the reports, sending out the feedback, populating SBD Yahoo Group site with all my documents and planning tools for other PCVs to use, loading almost 300 photos that Lisa took, tallying up the budget and receipts, etc. Actually kinda nice to sit on my butt all day and do this work, since I was on my feet all week. It was worth it.

Mbruk Marche Maroc and all who contributed to its success.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tbarkalikum Jam3ia Azaytun!

It was a long day, but what a beauty! I’m so proud of REK. Make that the Olive Cooperative. Jam3ia Azaytun. Congratulations!

Get this. It is a cultural necessity that all boys are circumsized here in Morocco. However, not everyone can afford the MD visit, much less the traditional celebration that follows. Allow me to share what that can look like…

Last year, in Ain Leuh, I accompanied Khadija to one such celebration. Mind you, this was not a wealthy family. However, the young couple took their year-old son to the sbitar for the procedure. Then at least 60, maybe far more (we were all in different rooms, men and women separated from one another) gathered at the home of the mother’s parents. We got there around 10pm. We ate (just one room of women) around 2am-first chicken, then couscous, then fruit. Then there was singing and tea. Around 3am the boy was brought in, dressed in the costume of the occasion, and his hands and feet henna’d by his grandmothers on both sides, and wrapped in linen. We left around 4am, and were invited back for more celebrating the following day (which we skipped). This is a typical celebration for the circumcision of your child. A big deal, and not cheap.

So, there are obviously those who cannot afford a similar event, yet do not want their child disadvantaged. That’s where Azaytun came in yesterday. They sponsored a first-time event of paid circumcisions for boys in the surrounding countryside, all done at the Caid’s office in the zlul below REK. But that’s not all….

Every child was welcomed. MDs and nurses came in from Rabat to do the procedures. Every boy was given the gift of a new outfit-in the traditional design for the occasion-pants, shirt, overshirt, hat and babouche. Then their hands were henna’d. All were accompanied by their mothers, but many had fathers there and other family waiting. 148 boys in all underwent the procedure. All for free. Ham-du-li-lah.

Now these poor boys, aged from months-old to some as old as 3 or 4, didn’t know what was coming. Great, looks like a hfla (party)-new huwaj (clothes), cookies. Great. What’s this? Mom, why aren’t you coming in with me? Yikes! And all I got was a lollipop? (Apparently the lollipop following MD hurt is global). Lots of tears in the “recovery” room. Mskins (poor things!).

In addition, 2 other MDs from Rabat saw other people from the surrounding area for free, all day long. Another man set up a computer/projector to show a slide show about AIDS prevention (called SIDA here).

All of this was sponsored, coordinated and worked by the Jam3ia Azaytun. So very proud of them. What a gift to the community. Tbarkalikum Jam3ia Azaytun!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lessons Learned

Fiya rrHwa (I have a cold). Between the cold spell of last week, heat of this week, running around for the Marche Maroc, l-eid sgira, no sleeping at the Hotel Cascade, it’s no wonder I caught a cold.

So it’s been yet another busy week….and always there are lessons to be learned...

Definition of luxury. It’s all relative. Getting a magazine in the mail. A nice lunch (grilled veggies and fish) in a zwin restaurant. An entire front seat to myself in the taxi. These are luxuries, Morocco style. And sometimes it’s worth a bit more flus to get them. Gotta remind myself of that sometimes.

Precedence. You must always keep this in mind. When asked to pay for something (and this is constant-I think if they know you’re “Western”, you must have cash to burn), be very careful what you are willing to do, even when it seems reasonable or the nice thing to do. Metalan-person from your town doesn’t have cash for taxi back to town. It’s late-you’re buying out the taxi anyway to get there. Take him along for free? Nope. That word would spread like wildfire and you’d be hit up for taxi fare every time in the future. Another PCV was gonna pay neighbors to cook lunch for workshop event in her town. Association she’s working w/said to not pay the women. If she does pay, they’ll never get people to volunteer to cook in the future, and they depend on volunteer help. Makes sense. Even tho’ she has the funding, will put it toward something else so precedence is not set. People always want me to bring my camera and take photos. Want copies. Fine, I’ll copy to a CD or thumb drive, but you have to buy the CD/thumb drive and get photo printed yourself. Otherwise you’re constantly being asked and no way to put a stop to it. Coop really needs to get their business cards and brochures printed up for the Fes Craft Fair. I've created them, copied them to the thumb drive I bought for them. Got printing quotes from 2 printers in Fes and gave them this info. Fatima and Zahra go to Fes regularly. All they have to do is show up at the printer and pay for the printing. It would be so easy to just do it myself, but that's not the point. They need to take ownership and invest in their business. Precedence is important. Think ahead-there are always implications.

Speaking of which, thought I had it covered, but it got away from me…..

This event in Fes has become all-consuming, but that’s ok, as I have the time to do it. However, with 60 artisans arriving from all over Morocco, the workshops, craft fair, logistics, etc., to plan, I wasn’t keen on facilitating housing for the Volunteers (another 30 persons). Another PCV offered this up (mistakenly), and when I balked, he said he’d manage it. Fine, you wanna do it, go for it. Of course, best laid plans backfire…..

Finally met with the mudir (manager) of the place where we’ll house the artisans (and we thought the PCVs), just to confirm plans, prices, etc. He informs me of the # of rooms he'll give us, and now we don’t have enough for all the PCVs who wanted to stay there. The PCV who was going to organize all of this is buried deep in LSAT prep and out of commission for the week. Guess who has to take care of this? Ana.

So, I could just tell everyone “tough s***”, but I know a lot are coming long distances, don’t know Fes, and need help. Jess comes thru like a trooper w/suggestion we check out a hostel around the corner from the American Language Center (where all events take place next weekend) that she’s heard about. Brilliant. It’s great. Cheap, very clean, nice space, breakfast included. Fab. They are always fully booked, but can give us 20 beds (exactly what we need). However, we need to reserve and pay 50% deposit in advance. Tfoo. I go ahead and bite the bullet and pay. Ask the other PCV helping w/lodging to connect w/PCVs to coordinate who’s staying where. She absolutely delights me when her response to my request is “I’m on it!”, and within ½ hour she’s taken care of communications w/the PCVs. Take her on my team anyday!

Of course, that can’t be enough, yak? Getting calls from Peace Corps office. They’re nervous about the # of PCVs planning on coming-security concerns. Should they put a “cap” on the # of participants? I encourage them to think about the impact cancelling PCVs could have on the artisans-many are single women who cannot travel w/o chaperone. Don’t want to have cancellations at this late date. Besides, I’ve worked w/the ALC to inform the Waliya/Basha/Gendarmes of Fes and they are ok with it all, security-wise. Finally get clearance for all PCVs who are planning on it to attend. Whew.

The best thing to come out of this is that the new Hostel is great-and “oh so convenient”, great price, great new option for when I travel to Fes. Hotel Cascade is getting old, it’s very noisy, and last few times I’ve stayed there, couldn’t get to sleep until after 2am. OK, so it’s also a hostel, people are there on holiday and having fun. Not their problem that I’m trying to work and need some rest. Now I’ve got a much better alternative in the Ville Nouvelle of Fes. Hamdullah.

So, speaking of the Craft Fair, we’ve got publicity all over Fes and the internet. Inshallah we have a great showing of people coming to buy! Check out the blurb on “View from Fes” blog…

I’ve also learned that I’m really, really tired of the hassle of trying to get anything printed here in my town. There are 3 cybers that have printers. One is always broken, one never has paper or ink, the other is sometimes not working or has some other trouble. Always takes me at least 1 hour to get anything printed, assuming that I find one of the 3 open. Then, of course, I may need to change something and re-print. What a hassle. Also, no scanner in town. So, I finally bit the bullet and bought a printer/scanner/copier in Marjane (Fes) for less than $50 before coming home yesterday. Fortunately my tutor is a computer geek, and helped w/set up, since my CD drive is broken and the printer driver software download was in Arabic (not avail on US site). I’m in business. Ana furhana (I’m happy).

So now if only M’hamed M. would send me a confirmation in writing for the product quality consultations for the artisans, I’d really be in shape! I know enough to know I’m not ok ‘til I get it in writing, that I’ll get what’s been promised. Working on it…stay tuned.

Monday, September 21, 2009

At long last, no fast....

Mbruk L3id
The fast is over. It’s a holiday. People walking with a spring in their step (and sugar and fat and tea in their bellies). Ham-du-li-lah. Life will get back to “normal”, f-lxr (finally).

I wonder how people felt Saturday night when the new moon was not spotted, meaning they had one more day of fasting after a full month of it. (Didn't know as I was in Tafajight and they only speak Berber). FYI, Morocco adheres to visual guidance for determining Islamic holidays. That is, an imam in Fes declares whether the new moon is seen to designate the holiday. Many other countries rely on the printed lunar calendar. Thus, here, although it was a clear night, there was no new moon, so L3id Sgira didn’t arrive until today. I woke this morning to the sounds of men who filled the mosque around 7am, so many that I heard their chanting prayers.

Today is a holy day, a day of celebration, and day of visiting family and friends. The cafes are open and the men are occupying them once again, today dressed in their finest white djellaba and yellow babouche. Sit and have a qhwa myself and greet lots of folks I haven’t seen all of Ramadan as they are walking around. There’s clearly a festive feel in the air.

I try to time my visits (with purchased hlwa-sweets-in hand) to avoid mealtimes. This is difficult to do today, as mealtime is anytime someone shows up. Let me explain. As soon as a guest arrives (and today that is constant), they are served something. Usually it is tea and maybe cookies, fruit or bread. That’s very typical. Today however, food keeps coming out. So why do I try to avoid the meals? It’s certainly not because I don’t like the food here-quite the contrary. Instead, I’m not keen on the “kuli, kuli” insistence that you “eat, eat”, long after you’re shbet (full). A glass of tea is kafi (enough). Today I get tea, cookies and chicken. Waxa. Of course, I’m not alone, as about 8 others have come in when I’m there and we’re all “kuli’d” together.

Now I must admit that I didn’t turn down the package of zmita that Fatima made up for me when I leave. This concoction, made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, sugar, cinnamon, butter, is not one of my favorites-usually pass on it. However, Fatima’s is the best I’ve ever tried. I tell her so. So now I have a container of my own!

So what is appropriate gifting in Morocco? Can anyone help me? I’m still figuring it out. On Friday, Jess and I and friend of hers went for l-ftr at another friend’s house in Sefrou. Brought sugar cones. Oops. She politely tells me that those are reserved as gifts for weddings, funerals and circumcisions. Not L-eid Sgira. Geez-kinda like getting all my “God phrases” mixed up-gotta keep the gifting straight. So for today, I stick w/candies from the patisserie. I know that’s safe!

On a side note, I’m sporting new henna. First henna in Morocco was one year ago, for L3id Sgira, with my host “sister” Ahelan, after her first Ramadan fasting.

I’m on a new kick language-wise. Another PCV started learning the alphabet w/a new tutor and told me that really helped her language improve, esp. pronunciation and comprehension. Hello. That’s exactly what I struggle with most. So I’ve embarked on learning the Arabic alphabet. That means I’ll also need to phonetically spell all my vocabulary all over again, this time to get the right Arabic letters and sounds. I like this plan and am motivated again about language learning.

Ana shbet.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mbruk Leid

So when I was complaining about the extreme heat a week and a half ago, I apparently failed to be specific enough. Now I’m freezing. OK, so that’s an exaggeration, but this is my third day in a row wearing my fleece. It’s in the 70’s during the day and high 50’s at night. For the last week. The week prior it was over 100. Feels like winter. Maybe this is Morocco fall. When I was wishing for it to cool down, I forgot to ask for more temperate weather-maybe a sunny 80 would be nice. Not ready for this rain and cloudy weather. We’ll get enough of it when winter really comes. OK, enough about the weather!

So we continue to make good progress on the MarcheMaroc2009 program…..

Met w/Bouchra at Al Akhawayn University on Monday and the workshops are in final development and Jonathan and Joy are taking charge here. She’s also going to try to bring students to help w/translation for the Tam and Tash dialect speaking artisans. Inshallah that works out.

Spoke w/Masoudi-the guy I’m bringing in from Casablanca to do the product quality consultations. He’s working with a couple of German design students and wants to bring them along, and they’d do the follow up reports to each of the artisans. (Concept here is we’re paying them to give one-on-one product quality consultations to each of the artisans, to help them understand what they need to do with product development to address the needs and wants of both the domestic and export market customers). He’s also proposed that they might try to find funding for follow up work with the artisans, ie; after they have their consultations, what changes have they actually put in place, etc. I gave him my budget and hopefully they can work it out for all of them to come to Fes within that budget.

In addition, the American Language Center is going to use the MarcheMaroc2009 Craft Fair as a centerpiece for their Culture Program for all their students the month of October. I’m also helping them acquire a couple of speakers on the Artisanal history, products, Coops, etc. of Morocco. Masoudi will hopefully be one of those speakers.

Jess has all the posters and flyers distributed across Fes. Got feedback that it might not be clear that it’s a Craft Fair from the text-a case of us being too close to it. So Jess is going back to add a quick note to ensure that people know it’s a Craft Fair. The flyers look terrific-attached a copy in photos on blog.

Updated the mundub (Artisanat delegate) yesterday on all my activities and he’s very happy w/them. Good thing! Anyway, he’s gonna send me a list of people here in REK that he wants me to work with, ie; put together business workshops for them. Fine. I’ll have the time, once the Craft Fair is over, and would be nice to reach out to other business people in REK.

Got a request from the MEPI(Middle East-US Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness) to identify women in rural areas who are well positioned to take up this initiative in their communities. I’m moving this request over to the GAD (Gender and Development) Committee, as the timeline coincides with the Craft Fair and I need someone else to coordinate this. It’s a great opportunity for PCVs to both help bring breast cancer awareness resources to their communities as well as provide terrific training to key women within those communities-training on leadership, how to conduct workshops, how to do market research, etc. Don’t want to pass up the opportunity ‘cuz of my timing.

Leid Sgira is this weekend. It’s the 2 day celebration of the end of Ramadan. It usually involves killing a sheep, and tons of sweet mint tea and cookies. I’ve been invited over to several homes to celebrate, so will likely stop in at least a couple of them.

Before that, going to Sefrou and Tafagheit Fri/Sat/Sun. Have some business in Sefrou, then Jess and I’ll go up to Marian’s site in Tafagheit-up in the mountains and real bled. Will be great to see the site, as this is where Sarah was posted before Marian, and I’ve heard a lot about it.

Mbruk Leid