Friday, February 27, 2009

Fine Line

We all walk a fine line in our daily travels, and the paths of Morocco are no different….

While I savor the warm spring like sunshine, I feel a bit guilty, as Morocco has gone thru 2 years of serious drought. On the other hand, the volume of rain this year has been very destructive in different parts of the country. So I try not to think of that as I delight in the green carpets of crops starting to spring up and the incredible wild flowers growing in clumps of white (could they be wild narcissus?) or rugs of bright orange or yellow, or the white blossoms of the almond trees and the pink of the cherry trees. I forgot how nice the seasons are, and how beautiful spring is. Oh no-just got a message from a friend to expect snow on Tuesday. Forget what I said about spring-forgot we’re still in winter. Tfoo (sh**). Another fine line? Can’t drive here-Peace Corps rules. That allows me the opportunity to look out the windows to see the countryside and all its beauty, its diversity, how the people of Morocco really live.

Speaking of travel, in Morocco it will test your patience daily. Bring a good book, as you’ll have to wait for your transit to fill up, whether it’s a nuckl or grand taxi. (btw-nuckl….comes from the Arabic verb to transport-nql). So it’s interesting to realize that I’m being treated no different than any other traveler on Tuesday as I try to get home from Sefrou. Unfortunately so are a lot of others, and there aren’t many nuckls running. They’re full before I can get on. Wait 1 ½ hrs. Finally take one to El Menzel, then wait for another to REK. A 1 ¼ hr trip takes 3 ½ hrs. The“foreigner” gets no special treatment-wanna see how the natives live? Well here you go!

Gotta navigate that fine line when it comes to women’s role in Morocco. Metalan (for example)-want to support my translator’s effort to separate herself and her children from her abusive husband. Don’t know what resources are available for her, want to help her find work, but right now all I can do is be a supporter-frustrating. Then there’s the meeting(s) for women here in REK. I got great support from the Health Delegate in Sefrou-he loves the idea of bringing Women’s Health education to REK, and will provide a car and medicines for 2 female MDs to come out next month. Great! I’d also love to support a discussion on the Moudawana-the 2004 Moroccan Family Law-that spelled out and updated women’s rights in Morocco. It’s a fine line between making certain women know their rights and not appearing to arm women w/tools to revolt against their husbands. There is a rumor (heard it here in REK) that the Moudwana was repealed, and women have nowhere to get correct information. If it’s not on TV, they only hear by word of mouth, and we all know how the game “telephone” works.

Side note-got into a discussion about the Moudwana and difference in women’s rights between Morocco and US this morning w/my tutor. Realized I was having this discussion in Arabic (with language pit stops as I learn new words). Feels good to have a real discussion on a real topic of interest in Arabic!

Well, hearing the wind whip around outside, I hope the snow doesn’t come until Tuesday, but gotta shut the windows now-been nice to air out the apt all day.Nate and Sarah probably staying here tonight-they’re really great, then off to Fes on Sunday to meet up w/ 3 other PCVs-great breaks-getting to know Fes pretty well-at least the medina and Ville Nouvelle.

Treq slama.

Monday, February 23, 2009


The purpose behind my idea to have monthly or quarterly meetings for the women of REK is to provide them with information to take responsibility for themselves. What they do with this information is up to them. I want them to be in a position of knowledge-based choice. I am encouraged by the response I’ve received from the women I’ve talked with in REK about this idea so far.

So I’m all excited, and a bit nervous about the reception I’ll get in Sefrou on Friday asking MDs if they’ll come to REK “fabor” (free) to talk w/the women about the prevention and detection of breast and cervical cancer. I’ve got my plan all in place, a letter written from the coop to introduce me and our idea and my translator friend to help w/the meetings.

Oops, she’s late-better call to find out if she’s on her way. Sounds upset-something about a problem w/her husband-can I come to her family home? Uh, sure. OK-this is the hard part, as I want to protect her anonymity while sharing the truth. She left her husband w/her 2 children and the clothes on her back after he hit her and threw furniture and dishes at her. This is not the first time, and she knows if she goes back, it will happen again, but she’s terrified.

He forbids her to work anywhere there are men (mind you she used to tutor men all the time). When he found out she was coming to work w/me, he forbade her from working at all outside the house. What benefit was there to him? Turns out she’s stopped turning over the little money she makes tutoring to him because he spends it on hashish and wine. What to do? She’s intelligent, speaks excellent English, has 2 small children and is scared to death.

Others ask her why doesn’t she just obey her husband? I tell her that doesn’t give him the right to hit her. She’s worried that her father won’t support her, as she’s not told him about the previous incidents. I leave as her father comes home from work so she can fill him in. I give her 50DH to put minutes on her portable (cell phone-you buy cards to pay in advance) to keep in touch with her.

Good news-she’s still at her parents’ house on Saturday-that means she’s standing her ground. I’ve come in town for the first meeting of the SefFest Assn-newly formed Assn to support Contemporary Art in Sefrou-brainchild of our mutual friend Jess. Our friend is secty of the Assn, but her husband told her if she came to the meeting, he’d see her and beat her up in front of everyone. She came to the meeting. Her husband doesn’t show (Hamdullah), and it’s great for her-she’s up front in a meeting with about 50 members of her community and she’s actively involved. Just what she needs (as well as all the support we can give her).

I’m coming back in town tomorrow-will pay her for a day of translating, as I still need to get to the MDs to get them to come to REK, and set up a meeting w/my Delegate at the Artisana to share my 3 mo Action Plan with him. This gives me a chance to employ her as well.

The irony-want to empower women and the one helping me is in greatest need Inshallah there is enough work to keep her going and away from her husband.

And now I must end on the saddest note of all. There is a new star in the northern sky. It shines so bright, you can read by its light. My beloved Aunt Geri passed away yesterday.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mixed Emotions

My goodness-I’m laughing one minute, crying the next….

I open a box from Ginger-blown away with the perfect hand and feet warmers. Can't help but smile.

Then I open up the little arrangement of lily of the valley-exactly like what we handed out at Mom’s service…takes me back to sitting with Dad for 8 days with her in hospice….knowing that Aunt Geri is going thru the same process. Makes me cry.

Fatima goes with me today to the Basha’s office-we get a “thumbs up” for the women’s program project and approval to use the gathering hall at the belladya. Fatima then suggests we go talk it over w/Miriam for next steps. Decide to get mundubiya sshha (delegate for health ministry) in Sefrou involved to bring in a physician for the first session. I’ve got Hyat lined up to go w/me tomorrow to the mundubiya and 2 private MD offices to get someone to agree and come to REK to talk w/the women about breast and cervical cancer and how to prevent/detect. Hamdullah. I’m smiling.

Sister Sandy always seems to know what to send w/o my asking. Got Valentines candy hearts, book and cheddar cheese. Smiling again.

Aischa at the Dar Chebab asks me if I’ll help them with the new REK Tourism Association that’s forming. Happy to help out in any way I can. Go to her family’s house for dinner to continue the conversation. Smiling.

Teaching numbers this week in the Dar Chebab English classes. Last class today tells me that it’s Mother’s Day. I thought that was March 8? No, that’s International Women’s Day, and can they leave a little early to be home w/their mothers? Yes. I want to be with my mother too. Makes me cry.

Saw a great resource at the Midelt workshop last weekend-Life Skills Manual-in English and Arabic-wahoo! Sent a message to PC librarian in Rabat to ask for a copy. Got it today. That's a quick response! Also tucked in the package are 2 pkgs that must have been lost in the Rabat PC mailroom....pkg from Tracy (the Honey Nut Cheerios finally arrived) and one of the many fabulous cards from Joanne (Thanksgiving greetings). Makes me smile.

I’m continuously touched by the kindness expressed by loved ones at home, new-found friends here in REK and complete strangers who try to help me out. Tears of joy. How did I get so lucky?

Then my thought wander back to Seattle and Aunt Geri...she's just the most amazing woman...has been a mother to me...she has touched SO many lives-and all of our hearts.....tears of deep sadness....

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rizzo (Network)

Rizzo REK Style--It’s been a very busy week. We had our marketing/logo workshop with the women of the Coop last Thursday and I came away even more excited than I was when we started. I did a “Marketing 101” workshop upfront (in Darija-verbal, as only 2 of the women can read), and the women knew that our objective was to develop a logo for them. I arranged for Fatima Kamal to join us (to be honest, I scheduled the workshop around her availability) to serve as a translator. I also invited my artist friend Jess, from Sefrou, to facilitate the input part of the workshop for design of the logo. Fatima had a great idea for us to all to walk over to the REK artisanal museum one of her associations had set up to see some weavings representative of regional patterns. OK, last I understood, she was part of an assoc. that had a building and an idea-little did I know that they already had their display set up!. Nice. Then we went back to the Coop, where some other women had made tea and had cookies for us (to go w/the refreshments Fatima brought and I brought-no good discussion can be done w/o tea and sweets in Morocco). We had a lively, interactive discussion for about 2 hours. The women tossed out ideas on what they want ADWAL (Adwal means connectedness) to represent, and colors that symbolized those adjectives to them. Jess will take this input back to Sefrou with her and work up some design and color options, which we’ll present to the coop in a couple of weeks for them to decide what they want. After all, we want the design to be theirs-for them to have a strong sense of ownership and hopefully pride with what we’ve come up with together. I’ll then be shopping around for pro bono graphic art help for final design that can be used across multiple media. My friend Tammy in the states has already offered for us to try to work with the graphic designer she uses for her business. What words did they come up w/to represent the Taeawniya ADWAL? Fresh, Artisanal, Communal, Quality. The traditional colors of the area include brown, grey, white, black and gold. Inshallah we’ll have a logo within the next month. After that, we’re on to developing marketing materials-brochure, business cards and catalogue-they have nothing right now.

Rizzo Sefrou Style—The next day Jess and I headed to Sefrou where we had “couscous Friday” lunch w/Hyat, Sarah and Nate. I wanted to introduce Jess and Sarah to Hyat. Both Jess and Sarah have big projects starting up in Sefrou and Hyat is very well connected to the community, and she’s volunteered her help to both of them. Hamdullah. Then ran into Jonathan (PCV) at the Artisana and he and I went and had tea at Amina Yabbis’ house. So Amina Yabbis. Think sparkplug. Been trying to meet her since I got to REK, but she’s a very busy lady-has her hands in all things artisanal in the Sefrou region. A group of women got up and left as we came in for tea w/men from the Sefrou Artisanat Assoc. When we left, another group of women were coming in for tea. I think it’s called “holding court”, and Amina can do it with the best of them. Great to finally meet her-my coop wants her help w/a natural dye workshop. So then as I was off to meet up w/Jess before heading off to Fez, but she had friends in town from Fez that she wanted me to meet. More networking-turns out Paul has been in International Development all his career-and is in the process of setting up an eco-tourism assn in Fez and wanted to get in contact w/Peace Corps. Not only can I help him w/that, but got him invited along the next day w/Jess to meet Fatima Kamal who is key to networks in the region. Hopefully that’s paid off for all of them.

Rizzo Midelt Style—Spent Fri night in Fez so I could be on a 6:30am kiran (bus) to Midelt to arrive in time for lunch. 6 hours later I was in Midelt, on the south side of the Middle Atlas Mountains. I’ve blogged earlier about the public transportation in Morocco, given the low rate of automobile ownership. Well now I can attest that the bus system is a very good one. Clean, neat, pretty much on time, and they’re the lifeblood of transport across the country, as the rail lines are extremely limited, esp. north to south. Anyway, I was attending a workshop, with 11 of us crashing at the house of a YD volunteer. More networking-that was actually the best outcome of the workshop, as attendees crossed all volunteer sectors-SBD, Youth Development, Health and Environment, and we’re all from the same region of Morocco. Crashing means bring your sleeping bag and sleep on the tile or cement floor. Brrr. At least it was sunny during the day, so it helped that we could have our discussions up on the roof.

Rizzo REK Style--One objective I had in going to the workshop was to come back w/ideas for International Women's Day. Sat down today w/Fatima and Miriam and talked to them about an idea I have use March 8 (official IWD) as a "kick-off" to either monthly or quarterly meetings for the women of REK to address whatever topics interest them, ie; women's health, legal matters, business successes, etc. and bring in speakers to facilitate discussion. Managed to understand in our discussion in Darija that I need to get an "ok" from the Basha (he's BMOC in REK-over the Caid (President of the Rural Commune) and the Belladya (President of the Urban Commune)-both like mayors), as he might say no because of the election in June. I asked how that could impact women getting together, and apparently such a gathering doesn't take place currently outside of Coops or Assns, and may be seen as trying to mobilize women to get involved in the election. My plan is to go and talk with him tomorrow-I know him, as his office is close to the Coop and I've met with him a couple of times informally. Hopefully we get a "waxa" (fine) from him. Inshallah.

Rizzo Seattle Style--Got home from Midelt in time to connect via Skype, and today on landline (now that it’s working) w/Seattle-to talk w/family there, as my dear Aunt Geri’s health is failing and they’ve brought in hospice. It’s so hard to be so far away from them right now as they go through such a difficult time. At least Aunt Geri was alert when I called so I had a chance to talk with her briefly. My heart aches for them.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's Alarming.......Climate Control

It’s Alarming....

Butagas-not to be taken lightly. Yes, the Peace Corps provides a butagas alarm, batteries included, to every volunteer w/instructions to place it high on a wall in our new homes to check for carbon monoxide. OK. I put mine up the 2nd day I’m in my place. Set it off that night when the turkey leg I have in the oven spits grease that smokes out my place and sets of the alarm. It's a smoke alarm too! Welcome new neighbor! The next morning, after dutifully completing my Pilates DVD, I take my wonderful shufu-powered HOT shower. Yum. Open the door to grab my towel. Steam sets off the alarm-It's a steam alarm too!-buck naked, freezing cold and wet, I need to get the da## alarm into another room and shut it off. Howdy new neighbor. Then I get an email from one of my training mates w/an ominous reminder to all of us to put our alarms in place, as she had to learn “the hard way”. Seems she had just moved into her apt, and later that day was feeling kinda tired and a little dizzy. Went to lay down. After about 15 minutes, when she wasn’t feeling any better, decided to call another PCV who was staying in town and had a key to her place. That PCV came over, opened the windows, and my training mate started recovering from the carbon monoxide, albeit feeling pretty hung over. Got the gas lines fixed to stop the leaking. Lucky. Could happen to any of us-you can’t smell the stuff.

Then there’s this interesting Moroccan cold bug. It hit me for the second time. Hard to know if you have a cold or if it’s all the g’s, x’s, q’s and H’s you’re trying to pronounce correctly in Darija. Starts and pretty much ends with an incredibly sore throat-sore enough that you can hardly swallow. Lasts a week. Then it’s gone. A little bit of cough. No stopped up nose, chest congestion. It all settles in the throat. Odd. Just different bugs over here.

Climate Control...aka-don’t let the weather dictate your moves…..

Had plans to go to Fes and Sefrou this last weekend. Got my internet research done Friday afternoon and night so I’d be ready for meetings w/Fatima and Jess over the weekend. Get up Sat morning to do Pilates, shower, pack and go-get to Fes between 11 and 12. Great. Huh? That brightness coming in the window is not shms (sunshine), but reflection off of the snow. And it’s coming down like gangbusters. Oh, and there’s no du (electricity). OK, so no shower (can’t dry the hair and not going out in snow w/wet head), but can still do Pilates and go. Bundled up and out the door. No transits, no taxis, nothing moving-more snow than they’ve seen in years. Need a Plan B. Buy groceries, will just nest in the apt for the weekend and cook up a storm-thinking chicken and potatoes, soup-yummmm. Get back to the apt. Still no du. Bundle up in sleeping bag and blanket over my 4 layers of clothes. Fingers so cold they hurt. Dash to cucina (kitchen) to boil some water (to hold, not drink), and no l-ma (water). Sh**. No du, no water, means no computer, no cooking, reading by candlelight in the freezing cold all weekend. Sh**. Stand at window in cucina pondering Plan C when I notice that there’s a lull in the snow and the clouds have lifted a bit and so does my attitude. I dash around to grab a couple of things and head down to the mhatta d taxiyat (taxi stand) and catch a taxi heading to Sefrou (the long way to Fes)-fishtail our way up the street and I’m on my weekend escape! Just 5km away-no snow, just some light rain!! That da** snow was just hovering over the REK village! Ham-du-li-lah!

The irony of it is that this afternoon I was sitting in the sunshine on our roof typing this in the sunshine-not a cloud in the sky! OK, so I had on longjohns, 2 wool sweaters and a fleece vest-but hey-no coat! However, I should mention that this winter has been the wettest in 30 years and that snow on Saturday was the worst in years-fortunately it all melted the next day around here. There has been terrible flooding and homes destroyed, esp. those built of mud bricks in the rural areas, so it’s a major problem this year across Morocco.

Any Californian’s reading this will appreciate the benefits of the rain. Green! While everyone thinks of Morocco as African desert, it really has many different terrains. Here in the Middle Atlas mountains it does get very hot and dry in the summer-and everything “browns” out. The rain (and just enough sun) have “greened” the fields-like a carpet. That, and the fact that this is olive country and olive trees are evergreen, and even a few wildflowers popping up, makes for a prettier landscape.

So , I am trying to appreciate the cold and rain as much as I appreciate the sunny days. Wish me luck w/that!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Elesh? Elesh?

While that translates to “Why? Why?”, it could also be taken as “alas, alas”! Just as I’m thinking that I’m improving my language, I get a reminder that I need to keep the appt w/Eziz this afternoon to see if he can replace Saida as my REK tutor!

The President of the Coop returned from Rabat full of news-she was at a key meeting of weaving cooperatives and the Ministry of Artisana and Tourism last week-and she wanted to share the news with all of us this morning. I’m sitting in, listening and trying to catch whatever I can from the conversation. OK. Back to work. Then I tell her about my friend from Sefrou/Fez who has volunteered to help them come up w/a logo, ok? OK. Then, Fatima K. and Nate arrive. (Fatima K helped start the coop, is from REK, speaks excellent English and was a PC LCF for one of our CBT groups-great resource!). The President updates Fatima on the Rabat meeting, and this time I get a translation. Do they want to work on a logo I had asked? Duh! One of the outcomes of the Rabat meeting is that it is now mandatory that each coop has a unique “mark”. And, oh yes, they need brochures immediately. So this is great-exactly what I’ve started working with them on is what the Minstry is requiring. It’s only by luck that Fatima shows up so I know about this wonderful convergence of ideas! Geez.

Then to top it off, Nate and I go for lunch to our typical egg-kaskrut place. I order “gir hlib”. Nathan asks what did I order? The usual-hlib! Uh, Lynn, that’s milk. Sh**. Egg is bid. But the guy knows what I always order, right? I drank my entire glass of warm sweet milk, just as I ordered, for lunch-with a side of humility! Grrrrr.

Like I said, I’ll keep my appt w/Eziz to sign up for more tutoring this afternoon……..

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Politics-REK style

It’s a good day in the Peace Corps today-approx 55 new Volunteers are moving into their own homes today. Hamdullah!

It also turned out to be a great morning, despite my desire to pull the covers back over my head as I could hear the rain and wind blowing outside. But it had to be done-had to brave the cold, as I made a commitment to meet Miriam at 9am at the Belladya (kinda like a regional governor’s ofc)…but let me back up…..

Yesterday we finished at the coop early and as I was walking home w/Fatima, she asked if it might be possible for Miriam to borrow my laptop to use w/a projector for a meeting. OK, no problem. Meet at Miriam’s office at 3. OK. While we wait for Miriam, Fatima and Malco are talking and Malco (who speaks a little English) tells me that they’re discussing a proposal to form an umbrella organization in REK to represent all the 34 organizations in town. Interesting. We meet w/Miriam, and after working w/the computer, she asks if I can be at the Belladya office at 9am this morning, as she wants to use my computer for the meeting of the associations. Cool-that means I get to sit in on the meeting. And, not only is Miriam very nice, but she’s the only lawyer in town and very well connected (and turns out she's one of the instigators of this proposal).

So we meet at 9. Belladya is closed so we go to the café to stay out of the rain and wait for the guy to come w/a key. This is a different café than I go to, but a good one to know, as the power players (men) in town frequent this café. We make our way over to the Belladya ofc, and turns out they don’t need my computer-Miriam has printed out copies of the proposal, but I’m invited to sit in on the meeting. Great! And it is a very interesting 4 hours! The entire meeting is in Darija, yet I understand the rationale behind the formation of this umbrella organization proposal-band together for Regional and National requests, bargaining power, and help outside/gov’t organizations know who to go to w/i REK for support and community decisions. I also get to observe the dynamics of the discussion, with about 25 men (incl the Regional governor) and 4 women participating-and representing their respective associations and coops. Talk about getting a peek from inside the power of a town! I watched as calls were placed, a couple people even left briefly, to pull other coop/assn presidents out of bed/home and into the meeting. Watch who talked a lot, who got the attention and respect of others, etc. They ended up voting in favor of forming the new association. Then they elected 9 of those present to form the new association board. Three of the 4 women present were elected to the board! This is an indicator that while my town is small, it’s progressive for a male-dominated Islamic country. One of the women is Fatima from the coop, another is also Fatima-the PC trainer who I’ve been working with, and Miriam was the 3rd. Wahoo!

It also turns out that the 4th woman at the meeting is President of the Women’s Assn. (didn’t know there was one). I had a chance to talk to her about maybe doing something for International Women’s Day. It’s coming up on March 8th, and I’m going to a PC training session in Midelt in 2 weeks to find out more about projects that have been successful for IWD in the past. I’ve broached the subject now w/both Fatimas, Miriam and now Zahra, and they’re all in support of starting w/something small this year, as they’ve not done anything in town in the past. Inshallah we’ll be able to put something together for this year, despite the tight timeframe.

How lucky am I to have had a chance to sit in on this meeting and get to know all of these people? It certainly gave me a great intro into who to work with in the future as I try to get things done.