Friday, January 30, 2009

It's Just Routine

I don’t know about you, but I like a little bit of routine in my life. Hamdullah-I’ve found some here in Morocco! You don’t realize how nice it is until it’s missing. I’m enjoying being able to do my Pilates and have a hot shower right after in the comfort of my own home (although yesterday it was so zwin (nice) out that I took my computer/Pilates CD to the roof and did it outside). It’s ok so far having to cook-no prepared food anywhere-you want it-you cook it. At least there’s fresh produce and bread available everyday and I walk right by the vendors as I go to the coop. Now that we have the l-eid/Xmas/New Years/10th day of 1st mo of Islamic calendar behind us, the coop is open 5 days/week, so my visits w/the women are becoming routine. Hamdullah.

Even life around town is becoming more routine. Metalan (for example), the transit guy sees me in El Menzel after my every-Wednesday-afternoon-tutoring and grabs me for the transit leaving for Ribat El Kheir. He knows where I’m headed and makes certain I don’t miss the bus. The guys sitting at the corner café sipping tea greet me-I go over to talk with them. As one starts to introduce me around, I realize I know 4 of the 6 of them-from the cyber, the busta, the hanut, etc. Yesterday I run into Clark-YD PCV in REK trying to get transport to bring 20 tree seedlings back to Sefrou to plant with the kids at his Dar Chebab. I go to the drugeri (hardware store) where I know the mul-drugeri (owner) who's been terrific to me and ask if he knows anyone who can help. Sure enough, in about 10 min he has someone lined up. OK, so I’m not a “local”, but it's nice to know others who can help.

My Mon-Fri tutoring has been a good routine, but is about to change. Thank goodness I got Khalid lined up in El Menzel, as my original tutor, Saida, and I had our last lesson today. F l-axir (finally) I understand all the calls from her cousin in Agadir during our lessons. She confides in me last week that she’s hoping to get married. Iask who he is. Turns out-she’s marrying her cousin and will be moving to Agadir into the same house w/her aunt and uncle. She won’t be teaching anymore-she wants to be a wife and mother. Inshallah. She’s a real sweetheart, and she just glows! So I need to find another tutor here in REK. Interestingly enough, I asked her if she knows of anyone. She can only think of one person, would I mind if it was a male teacher? I told her it didn’t make any difference, and I know of one tutor who I had interviewed before hiring her. Turns out, he’s the same person she was thinking of. I ran into him last week briefly, and when I asked how he was doing, he mentioned that his tutoring business was pretty slow. Hopefully that means I’ll be able to hire him to tutor me. Keep that routine going-it’s an important one.

An interesting routine to observe around town: sunny skies mean the house goes outdoors. Not for living. I thought for “airing out”. Nope. As I’m learning from my own place, since there’s no heating inside to dry things out, you get a lot of condensation inside. This is magnified by the tendency to tile most surfaces indoors, ie; floor and walls. This makes for damp conditions. Thus the sunshine provides the opportunity to dry everything out-the blankets, cushions, you name it-it’s out on the line to dry. Oh, and did I mention that we’re on 3 straight days of sunshine? Hamdullah.

I’m still developing my evening routine--evenings tend to be pretty long. The men go out to the cafes for coffee, but women stay in their homes-nowhere for them to go in the evenings. When I’ve gone to others’ homes for a meal it is for Friday couscous-mid day meal-or tea, which is around 5-6pm. I don’t go out at night. I’ve learned the magic of downloading to my computer and am reading a lot, but it’s already crossed my mind that I may end up getting a TV. (Hshuma-shame).Yes, even that is possible here in REK, and there are English channels available. We’ll see.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

There's no place like home

OK, so it’s an adopted home, nevertheless it’s my home for the time being. It’s Saturday late afternoon and I’ve worked with the coop for several hours, got my shufu (water heater) working again, done Pilates and had a HOT shower, it’s drizzling out, I’ve got lentils on the stove. Doesn’t that sound like a cozy Saturday? That’s exactly what it feels like. Hamdullah.

Finally got the sink working-thanks to Nate-showed me that the pipe underneath the sink was installed backwards-just needed cleaning out and re-installation and I’m back in business. For thanks, I shared my first home-cooked meal with him last night and he got a hot shower. I believe in supporting “fair trade” initiatives, and this qualifies, yak?

I’m also feeling more at home in REK and Morocco. Getting used to the transportation between towns (more in a minute on that) and people seem to engage more readily with me-maybe they’re figuring out that I’m not just visiting, but staying. I continue to be impressed w/how helpful people are-my landlord (who my host dad doesn’t trust) showed up right after Nate figured out the sink problem, the hardware store sent a guy to fix the shufu (after I figured it out), tried to buy some plain white paper from a hanut guy I like-didn’t have it, but one of his buddies (they tend to just hang around talking) took me across the street and gave me ½ a pkg of printer paper-and wouldn’t take a DH for it. The hardware guys understand my Darija/charades and I’m able to make purchases for things like measuring tape, extension cord, silicone sealant, etc. The Dar Chebab director calls me to let me know class was cancelled for Thursday. Nice.

I do have to share a couple small “successes” this week-and of course they’re language related! First I’m coming back from Fes on Wed. thru Sefrou and El Menzel since I have a tutoring session in El Menzel at 12:30. Get on the transit in Sefrou. Pay my 9DH. Some commotion outside the transit-guy comes in to move us to another transit, and gives me back 5DH. I don’t know why, but OK. Sit until transit fills, about 20 min. Guy comes back in to collect fares and wants 9DH. I know that I only owe 5DH. Manage, even w/about 4 guys trying to explain to me that I owe 9DH, to hold my ground in Darija, telling them I DO understand, but I only owe 5DH. I only ended up paying my 5DH to the delight of the other riders who then pat me on the back. Then Wednesday I take the electric bill that showed up under my door to my landlord-although it’s in French and Arabic, looks to me like it’s for Oct-Dec., and I didn’t take over rent until Jan 1. Talk w/landlord. He insists that Oct-Dec was prior bill, and the Feb date is for charges until Feb. Don’t get it-but you do have to pay phone in advance, so maybe so. Figure I’ll go ask at the electric company office. Sure enough, the bill is for Nov-Dec. Not mine. Go back and give bill to my landlord. He says it’s mushi mushkil, sgira (no problem, it’s small), and I tell him I agree-it’s not a problem and it is small and it ISN’T mine! It was only 17DH-would have been easier to just pay it, but I’ve got 2 years w/this landlord and don’t want him taking advantage cuz he thinks he can. Life is a series of small experiences like this over here. Some are successes, but certainly not all. Fortunately the balance has been positive, and combined with the welcome I feel from the people in town, it’s a good thing!

OK, so I figured somewhere along the line I should talk about the work I’m doing with the coop. We’ve identified several priorities based on their needs. They do not have any materials for marketing to use w/customer when they come to visit the coop (the predominant way they currently make their sales). We’re first going to work on a “logo” for them to use with all their materials and products. One of my artist/women friends from Fes/Sefrou has agreed to come over to help with this effort, which will include some pre-work by the coop women and I’ve got approval to do a workshop at their February annual meeting, where they’ll develop their final logo. The Dar Chebab also has 16 computers that have access to Microsoft Publisher, so I’ve also scheduled w/the President and VP to start teaching them on Thursday nights on the software. This way they can develop business cards, brochures, etc., all of which they need. Again, may be easier to just do these things myself, but the whole idea is sustainability-they need to know how to do this for themselves. I’m also waiting to hear from the website developer for the Azrou Region Artisanal site regarding the content he needs for the Ribat El Kheir page. This is likely to include background on the coop members, and some photos. Target date for the website is the beginning of March, so February will be busy.

I can't finish off this post w/o a mention of my dear Aunt Geri, who it appears is losing her battle w/pancreatic cancer. She's been like a mother to me-an incredible woman who has the biggest heart in the world, and it breaks my heart to know that she's suffering. I keep her, Uncle Bob, Polly, Tracy, Scott and Hannah in my thoughts and prayers daily. God bless them for what they are going thru together. Home is where your heart is, and mine is with them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Beginnings

It is easy to remember today’s date. It is such an exciting day-the first US Inauguration I’ve been interested in watching. And such interesting circumstances to the viewing. I’m at a café in the old medina of Fes, watching the BBC broadcast of the proceedings with several other Americans, incl. some other PCVs who made the trek here today (the Peace Corps gave us a weekday travel “bye” to go and watch it together), Brits and Moroccans. I am so hopeful. People here in Morocco are excited and hopeful as well-particularly interesting given the recent protests over the Israeli/Gaza violence and what you might expect to be anti-American sentiment. (In fact, people have instead been asking questions, asking for opinions, and supportive of the fact that we feel the same-want peace for the people of both Palestine and Israel-more conversations on this issue in the last 3 weeks than in my entire prior life). I wish I had an American flag to wave today-I’m so proud to be American.

So as I sit here in Fes, I am also reflecting on some of the friends I’m making here. There are several Brits here in Morocco who I’ve met thru another PCV. They are artistic souls working on building artist-in-residence programs here in Fes and in Sefrou. They have wonderful spirits, attitudes and interests. As I was also here last weekend, spending time and R&R with them, I was also thinking about some of the people who I’ve met in Ribat El Kheir who I’d like to work with. One of them is already becoming a friend-Fatima from the coop. I was thinking about another woman I’ve met but don’t know very well. Miriam is an attorney in REK and involved in many REK associations and well connected to get things done in town. I’ve volunteered for a PC workshop to develop programs for International Women’s Day on March 8th, and I thought Miriam would be a good person to try to involve in such an effort in REK. Wouldn’t you know that last night, when my computer “tutoring” of Fatima was cancelled because the Dar Chebab was closed, instead Fatima’s took me to talk to-guess who? Miriam. So now I’ve got an entrée to approach Miriam after the workshop for her participation. Hamdullah. And why do I mention this in conjunction w/the weekend in Fes? Because, although I don’t really believe in this stuff, I think that the energies of these wonderful women I’ve met have gone to work to make positive things happen. After all, it’s only an illusion that we’re in control, yak?

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I was reading an American Foreign Service newsletter all about former PCVs, and one in particular got my attention. Particularly in this former PCV - now Foreign Service consul’s - description of two types of idealism-as follows:

“First, there is the naïve sort of idealism, the kind that people often associate with Peace Corps Volunteers. This variety expects the best from people but needs the adulation of others to sustain itself, so it seldom lasts long. And when the world doesn’t change overnight, these idealists are disillusioned — as happened to many volunteers in my former host county. The second kind of idealism is more enduring because it understands human shortcomings and does not expect too much from people. It is hardened by real-life experiences and knows that partnerships take time to develop. This kind of idealism still dares to make the world a better place, but it has a longer horizon and is not expecting praise or even tangible results along the way. It sustains itself with nothing more than a belief in its mission and unshakeable perseverance. Now that I am a Foreign Service officer, I try to remember this distinction. No matter how hesitant our partners may be, no matter how slow progress may seem; this second, patient strain of idealism is the one worth guarding. Though the path may be long and winding, why else would we be serving our country abroad — if not to make a positive difference?”

Moving In
I’m learning how to do things Morocco style. Ask your friends. That applies to buying things-ask for help in both finding and negotiating “fair” prices. Ask your PCV environ friend to help set up butane tanks for stovetop and oven-discover that there’s a splitter so I only need one tank for both appliances-and he not only installs for me, but goes and gets an adjustable regulator when the first one doesn’t work. For that he gets access to the internet at my place when he’s in town.

Yes, Internet. Went to Maroc Telecom in Sefrou and signed the contract for phone and internet. Next day (really!) they come and install. Leave me w/CD to load for internet access. Needs Windows 2000 or better (or so it says on the packaging for the modem). Doesn’t say it doesn’t work w/Windows Vista, so won’t work w/my laptop. So they say they’ll send a guy out at 9am on Tues. I give up (after calling and confirming several times) at 1pm. Guy shows up a 3pm. Since everyone knows everyone’s business here, he finds me in the cyber-I guess he asked people if there was a woman who doesn’t speak very good Arabic, and no French, who needs help w/her internet connection-and despite the fact that I’ve told no-one what’s happening, that doesn’t mean they don’t know! Anyway, I DO have internet-in my apartment-where I’m blogging from right now! Ham-du-li-lah!

So then there was the furniture in Sefrou. In Moroccan style, asked a friend if we could use his business’s truck. Nope. Host dad says he’ll ask a friend. Sold it. Asked the hardware hanut owner-becoming good friends with those guys-if he knew someone w/a truck to bring a bed over from Sefrou. Pulls out his cellphone, calls a guy and lines it up. Wake up to rain-geez, stuff will be soaked. Nope-driver shows up w/a panel van an HOUR early!!! In Morocco!! And I happen to go by early and we head out. 2 ½ hours later my stuff is in the apt. Wahoo!! So I pack up the rest of my stuff last night and moved in today. Another Ham-du-li-lah! I can’t even express how great it is to have my own place after 4 months of communal living. First time some of my stuff has been unpacked in 4 months. I’m savoring the moving-in-getting-all-set-up experience.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Movin’ on up in Morocco!

Yes, shwiya b shwiya (little by little), I’m moving into my new zwin (nice) apt-on the top (3rd) floor w/a balcony and shared rooftop deck w/360 view of Ribat El Kheir. Yipee! And yes, there’s a story to furnishing a home Morocco/Peace Corps style.

First, need to get the stuff that I bought off of Rose (former PCV-made me a great deal) from Sefrou. OK, so a couple of challenges to making that happen. First, it’s 50km away and I have no vehicle, nor am I allowed to rent/drive one. So I’m depending on the kindness of my host family to help me with this. Second (and for a while, the first) concern-getting access to my stuff. So I keep trying to get a hold of the woman who is storing the stuff for me. Only met her once. She’s tutored for Peace Corps for years-was good friend on Rose’s. OK, right? She won’t return any of my calls or text messages-about 10 contacts over 4 weeks. Gulp. Then one of my training mates relays the story about all the stuff she bought from a PCV who left-and stored the stuff w/his former host family until she got her apt-and they are claiming that all of it is theirs. Gulp. Repeat performance for me?? Hamdullah, I got a call from the woman in Sefrou yesterday-all is kulshi bixir (just fine)-and I can come get my stuff whenever I want. Let’s have another Hamdullah! OK, so the bed, 2 blankets (will need more!) and some kitchen utensils are taken care of.

Now I need everything else. On the allowance that Peace Corps gives us to fully furnish a home. Another gulp. Now of course they encourage PCV’s who are leaving to give/sell their stuff to new PCVs. As you might guess, this doesn’t usually happen. So I’m starting from scratch w/everything else. Need to keep in mind I’m only here 2 years so I can keep it very simple. On the other hand, I’ll be here 2 years, and do want to have a comfortable place, since I’ll be at home a lot.

And where do you buy all this stuff you ask? Great question! First, of course, you start with the hanuts of your friends’ friends. For big purchases, bring said friend with you so the friends give the friend (not the lets-rip-off-the-foreigner-she-doesn’t-know-any-better) prices. So I’ve bought a small refrigerator, my butane stovetop and a shufu (butane water heater) from Mustafa’s friends. Next big purchases included a butane oven, ponges (large foam cushions-think Moroccan couches lining the walls of the salon), and table for work and chairs from Zahra’s family’s hanut (Zahra is president of Coop)-and they had my shufu installed for me-but that’s another story and I’ll spare you the details of what that “free” service cost me.

Obviously there will be a lot of other misc. purchases, since apts come bare-no closets, shelves, drawers, cupboards, etc. That’s when you check out the souk- where you can find anything and everything-all in several very muddy acres! Quality may not be top priority, but it’s all there. The challenge with this option is that the souk is on the opposite side of town, so getting stuff to my apt is a challenge. Now, this same stuff can be purchased in the village, at slightly higher prices, but easier to get to my apt (and I want to support the community). The challenge with this approach is that there’s no one-stop-shopping. It requires poking your head into every hanut to see what they have. No such thing as “window shopping” or “just looking”. You don’t even walk into most hanuts-many times it’s a counter just inside the door and you tell them what you want and they get it for you. But one may have buckets, but no brooms, one may have dishes but no silverware, and there aren’t many that have any of this type of “furnishings”-most are food/staples only. So you poke your head in, and everything stops and everyone stares, maybe whisper “mesqina” (poor thing) to one another while sneaking glances at you. I’ve found that a friendly “Salam Alekum” usually gets a friendly response and a smile. Struggle to communicate-not always understood or understand, but if I’m patient and ask them to repeat what they said, they’ll be patient with me. The world really is a mirror and you get what you give.

For actual furniture, the selection is very small in town-siddaris (wooden platform for ponges) made to order, maybe a wooden table for the salon, and the rest will (unfortunately) be eco-unfriendly plastic, assuming I can find it here. And of course, there are the 3 butane tanks I’ll need-and have to get set up and keep refilled.

Fyi, I thought I’d pass along some of the prices for things here-it makes for an interesting comparison to US prices (remember that it’s about 8DH to the $1):
Rent: 800DH/month, or $100. And that’s expensive for this town. It’s also a lot better than the guy 4 years ago who paid almost 2x that amount, since the landlord knew the Peace Corps budget. The budgets are now ½ of what they were, and as a taxpayer, I’m ok with that, as the budget gets me what I need.
Small refrigerator: 2600DH-a relatively expensive splurge
Water heater: 1300DH-again, a splurge that will pay off routinely w/hot showers. (This will heat only the shower water-the kitchen and bathroom sinks will only have cold water)
3 burner stove top: 200DH (just a shell-connects to the butane tank-like a camping stove
Frran (oven): 300DH (also just a shell to be powered by butane tank)
While ugly plastic table (aka picnic table): 330DH
4 White plastic chairs to go w/aforementioned ugly table: 260DH
2 Ponges: 800DH
Bed: 500DH

All in all, pretty cheap, but even so, I am adding a little of my own $$ to to buy the splurges like the refrig and shufu. Also, Inshallah I will have internet access in my apt. On my trip to Sefrou to get the bed, etc., I’ll go by the Maroc Telecom office and get that set up. That’s after I stop at the bank for more cash-all is done on cash basis-no credit cards except for big cities-and my town doesn’t have a bank.

I signed up prepared to be in the bled w/o water or electricity, and look what I’ve got. Life is good!

Thursday, January 1, 2009


It certainly looks to be a Happy New Year!

I’ve got the zwin bartma (nice apartment) that I was hoping for. The landlord needed to install a lavabo (sink) and a duwsh (shower) in the “hamam” (that’s a small tiled room w/a drain-not to be confused with the separate bit l-ma, or Turkish toilet in its own little room-hamdullah) before I would rent it. In exchange for this and a negotiated lower rent, I told him I’d start renting Jan 1st, even tho’ we’re required to stay w/our host families for 2 mos (meaning a Feb 1st move-in date). Hamdullah, Hamdullah, Hamdullah.

We’re talking about a grown woman who has not had roommates for about 25 years and has been in communal living-reporting where, when and with whom and what I am doing-for the last 4 months. ARGHHHHHH! I’m ready to take full responsibility for myself, thank you very much. Don’t get me wrong-my host family really has been great, but come on already! I plan on moving stuff in little by little over the month of January, and working from there as soon as I get internet (Inshallah) up and running.

Second piece of good news is that I’ve got my 2nd tutor lined up for lessons on Wed afternoons and Thurs mornings. He’s tutored PCVs before and has more grammar, structure and methodology to offer. I will keep my original tutor as well, but now have class 5 days/week. Hamdullah.

I thought I’d share some observations on transportation in Morocco. It’s pretty damned impressive, I must say. It is very uncommon for families to have a car, thus public transportation is the predominant means of getting about. They use a variety of vehicles.
Let’s start in the cities. There you have train service (only across the north, far west of Morocco and down the center from Fes to Marakkesh), CTM buses (nice, can reserve seat, only goes between major cities) and petit taxis (seat up to 3 passengers for around town-think VW Jetta). To get between towns, there are grand taxis. These are the big white Mercedes sedans where they fit 2 in the front passenger seat and 4 across the back. You assess the size of your transport-mates as you decide where you’ll get the most room-and then combine this w/the fact that Moroccan women don’t want to sit next to a man-makes for interesting logistics. You may have to take several grand taxis between towns to get to your final destination. Also between towns, and some villages, there are the “nukls”-vans to seat about 16, but commonly overloaded w/up to 25. From towns to villages and duars, there are transits-these are passenger vans w/removable benches across the front and sides of the back. Carries people, products, animals. There are also Mercedes wagons that go out to some duars.

What’s the schedule? Schedule? They go when they’re full. You can wait an hour for a grand taxi to fill w/6 people, or you may catch the nukl just as it’s pulling out. No way to anticipate the waiting time, much less when the next one will come in. You go to the place where they stop (in town that’s a designated place; along the road, you just put out your hand), and ask where they’re going. Hopefully it’s where you want to go and they have space. Hop on in. Of course, you can also hop out anywhere along the way-and they do-all the time-with no apparent destination in sight. Then of course there are the “illegal” transits-trucks w/benches in the back-who will also take passengers. Given that some transport is not very regular, all means are used.

So how about those Mercedes and Peugeot engines that power these loaded vehicles up unpaved hillside roads, rutted from the rain and mud, without breaking down? Says a lot for them-they’re amazing. (The only transport that outdoes them are the donkeys and mules that seem to carry 10x their own weight on their backs).

OK, the other amazing thing, which I’ve referred to previously, is how darn cheap this tranportation is-at least by US standards. I can get to El Menzel-about 12km and takes 20 minutes-for 5DH (that’ s about 70 cents). I can get to Sefrou-beyond El Menzel-total of 50km and takes about an hour-for 17DH (about $2). I can get to Fez-about 60km and takes 1 ¼ hours-for 25DH (about $3). Now you know why they cram so many bodies into a single vehicle-how can they afford to do it otherwise?

So the trick to getting around is mostly knowing which stop to stand in for which type of vehicle going to where you want to go (in Fes there are 4 grand taxi stands, all w/their own destinations), and knowing when the transits are running. For example, it’s hard to get a taxi anywhere on Mondays in Ribat El Kheir. That’s souk day, and all the taxis are ferrying people to/from souk w/all their purchases-not making long hauls. Friday mid-day anywhere-forget it. All the drivers are in the mosque, then at home tgda’ing (eating lunch). Taxis stop running direct from Fes to Ribat El Kheir after 3pm-not enough people going that way-instead, have to go to Sefrou, then Ribat El Kheir. Doesn’t add much cost, but adds over an hour to the return trip. So while you spend time sitting in traffic on the freeway in the US, taking forever to get home, here in Morocco we don’t have any traffic, but may wait an hour for the grand taxi to fill w/6 people, have to go thru Sefrou, and as it turns out, our commute time is bhal bhal (the same)-welakin nsafr dyali ktrmn muhim (but my trip is more interesting)!

Happy New Year!