Monday, March 30, 2009


What a day it’s been! Somewhere between 140-150 women had breast and cervical exams today for free at the sbitar (clinic). Ham-du-li-lah! But I get ahead of myself.

It’s amazing how much time this Women’s Saratan (Cancer) Screening Day has taken. I’ve dragged the Coop into it, as you don’t do anything w/o an Association of some type sponsoring it. They’re worried about hidden costs. I’m paying for the 60 disposable speculum. What about the chicken for the MD lunch? They remember Jess and I saying we’d pay for it. Bssa? Ymkn. Fine, I’ll pay for it. They’ve got someone else covering tea and they’ll cover the couscous, drinks and fruit. Waxa. Now I’m also feeling guilty for getting them committed to a program that is not only costing them some flus (even if only swiya), and does nothing for their marketing of the Coop (local folks can’t afford their weavings). Gulp.

So, between the fact that we moved the program up a week (to take advantage of referral pgm in Sefrou next weekend), and how do you get the word out to an illiterate constituency, and we've had freezing rain/snow the last 2 days, I fear that we’ll have 4 MDs w/few women to examine. My concerns were unnecessary. I arrive at the Belladya at 9am Monday for a program that’s supposed to start at 10:30. Over 60 women are already there and signed in. By the time the MDs show up, we’ve got over 120 women waiting. Only 2 MDs come-not the 4 we expected. They’ve committed to examining 100 women. What do we do for the rest? They’ll do full breast and pelvic exam on all of them. Mushkil-they didn’t bring the 40 speculum, I’ve bought 60, now we need 90 more. Between 2 pharmacies in town, we round them up and I pay for them. (And I still don’t know why there’d be 90 disposable speculum in a town where this is obviously the first time women have had such an exam). Let the exams begin.

Mind you, these are women who strip down weekly at the hammam together, so despite what we might think about Morocco being a modest culture, they have fewer nudity hang-ups that the average American woman. There’s a single exam room with 2 exam tables. There are no less than 10 women in this room all day long-either disrobing, getting examined or getting dressed. Some wait from 8am when they showed up until their exam after 3pm. Most of them are pretty nervous-ask those coming out of the exam room about it. Lots of them have bleeding from the exam, indicating problems. Both MDs work like fiends and examine all the women, working straight thru, until they have to leave to return to Sefrou after 5pm. Ham-du-li-lah. Exhausted and exhilirated.

We’ve had several women not even associated with the Coop helping out-on their feet-directing traffic, answering questions, etc., all day long. President of the Taeawniya Zitun (Olive Coop)-the only guy all day-fills in forms for the women as most don't read or write, all day long. Sarah-Environ Volunteer comes and helps-speaks great Tamazight so can tell the women about the breast self exam paper in their native dialect. Find out that women are told to go to Sefrou to get the results of their pap smears. Need to follow up MD in sbitar to see if he can get the results sent to him for women to stop by when they’re in town here-not logical for them all to go to Sefrou for these results. All the exams and any needed follow up will be free. The next obvious question is why don’t they do this type of thing more often? Hmmm.

Key learnings from this project: Listen to the locals-they pointed me to the Health Delegate. They wanted the exams. They convinced me to schedule it on souk day, as that may be the only day each week that women can get into town. Despite illiteracy, you can get the word out. Have to check all the administrative boxes several times and get official stamps on documents-helps sell others to join in. When you tap into motivated women, amazing things happen. Despite the hardships, 140-150 women showed up, and Drs. Asma and Mimi saw them all. I've just been given a priceless connection to women all over town that will serve me for the next 2 years. This may have been the most important thing I do in my 2 years here.

This program comes on the heels of a one-day meeting in Fes for my training group. A new concept in getting PCVs together every 3 mos. Hmmm, seems like in all my Sales Mgmt jobs I got my field based teams together at least every 3 mos-for exchange of ideas, problem solving and morale. Sounds like a good new plan for Peace Corps (seeing lots of positive changes w/new Country Director). Not surprisingly, the mtg has desired effect, as everyone was talking about all the new ideas they had to bring back to their sites. Back to Fes Tues morning to help out on the Spring Camp until Sunday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Frustration Bzzafff!

I swear all my frustrations come from language, or lack thereof....

OK, so it started w/the vice Delegate at lunch after the annual meeting last Thursday comparing my Arabic to Jonathan’s. His is better-waxa (fine). I know that. But this guy won’t let it go-keeps going on and on about it and that I really need to try. Really??!! Geez, hadn’t thought of that.

Then Monday rolls around. One of the more frustrating days since I’ve been here....
Called my interpreter 3 times on the phone last week to remind her to call Dr. Asma to confirm she’d be at the hospital in Sefrou on Monday, as the President of the Coop and I are coming in to meet with her and confirm all the details for the Women’s Health program next Monday. Long story short, interpreter never called Asma-problems w/family-went back to her husband, etc., but doesn’t tell me this so I can make other arrangements. She shows up w/both her kids in tow, says she can’t go in to see Dr. Asma w/me and Zahra. No problem, since Dr. Asma is not scheduled in Sefrou all this week. Call Asma from outside the hospital. I still want all the questions asked. Interpreter doesn’t want to bother Dr. Asma, so won’t ask the questions, and if I ask them, I won’t understand the answers over the phone. Interpreter ends the call w/assurances that “Dr. Asma says tell the American to not worry-she’ll take care of everything”, and I should be ok with that, ie; no answers or details on the program on Monday. Dr. Asma is only now finding out the date has been switched, we don’t know how it’s to be organized once the MDs and women show up, the REK sbitar has given us a list of about 8 items to purchase even tho’ Dr. Asma initially requested only disposable speculum, etc. I have to do a culture check-am I just needing control, or is this wayyyy too loose?

We go by the Artisana since I need to fax the PC office a copy of my vacation request go to Seattle. Left it w/Delegate’s assistant last week w/request for him to sign it and bring it to the Coop Annual Meeting. He was a no-show, so I still need a copy. Assistant never mentioned it to Delegate-do I want it now? (No, I wanted it last week). Yes Please. Kayn mushkil (that’s a problem). Elesh? I just spoke w/Delegate and he’s in his office. Waxa. She gets it signed, and stamped of course. Then lengthy discussion on how I don’t need a copy, as they will fax it to Peace Corps. Fine-you do that. I still want a copy to fax myself. I understand them talking to one another in front of me about the mesquina (poor thing) who doesn’t understand Arabic and that they’ll fax it for me. Gee, maybe the fact that it wasn’t signed until I insisted might give me doubts that it will get faxed, yak? Actually I understand completely-will make certain it’s done myself. (post note-despite them giving me a confirmation slip, the only fax that PC received was mine).

So I figure I need to try to get organized this morning with the Coop on the Women's Program that's less than a week away-discuss w/them what needs to be done and leave it to them to finish. I’m not ok w/assuming everything will fall into place. It’s our program, up to 100 women coming into REK for exams-we need to have our act together. Will use my time w/my tutor to write out what I want to discuss w/Coop women. Go by the Belladya to check out the facility and what we may need there for the info session. No sign out front that Fatima said she’d do last week to have up for women to see as they come into town. Get the list for the pharmacy from Zahra-only gonna get the speculum. While I’m out, want to go by the carpenter hanut of Fatima’s brother in law-he’s building my shelves-were supposed to be done over a week ago, but he’s never open. As I discuss these w/Zahra and Fatima, they’re impatient w/my Arabic-do I want them to go with me? No, I can do these things, just need to know which pharmacy and if Fatima knows if her bro-in-law is in town. Not that hard.

So I leave to run my errands before tutoring and the Gendarme drives by-looking for me-gets out and starts rattling off in Arabic about my “attestion” to work in the Dar Chebab as requested by Police in Sefrou. Huh? Mafhmts (I don’t understand). I’m a volunteer, don’t need work permit and my Peace Corps document explaining this is in the Gendarme’s office. He's talking again about the 100DH stamp for my carte de sejour application, and I remind him that they have it already. What does he want from me? He gets impatient with me-calls over a buddy to try to talk to me in English like I don't understand him. Who am I working with? Taeawniya Adwal. No-mesquina doesn’t understand-what about the Dar Chebab? I’m teaching English there because I want to. After about 15 minutes w/3 men talking to me and one another in Arabic and throwing questions to me that I answer, they finally figure out they don’t need me for anything, they have what they need. But I'm left in tears. I’m upset that even when I do understand and can respond, they assume I don't and talk over me. SOOOOOOOO frustrating. And all for naught-the Gendarme has what he needs from me already.

Thinking I should skip my tutoring-I’m upset about language and will only be more frustrated. But no, I need to work w/Khalid to have the details in place for the Women’s Program. On the way there, the nukl guy asks where I want to be dropped off (never asked before-always one stop)-foq (the top)..mashi bomba? (didn’t know there was a bomba in El Menzel), foq-dima. He says something to 2 other riders while pointing at me and they laugh. Now I’m upset all over again-have reached a tipping point. Khalid, my tutor, at ½ my age, gets it-says I’m doing great-offers to spend more time w/me next week while he’s on vacation, but I can’t, as I’m working at Spring Language (English) Camp for kids-Spring Break is next week. Nevertheless, I am touched by his support and unsolicited response. I've got my plan in place to get the Coop women to follow up on the Women's Program details.

So I get home to find that the carpenter shop is still closed. Call Fatima to see if she can round up her bro-in-law so I can get the shelves. That works and I get someone to haul them to my apt building. The carpenters across the street are coerced into helping lug them up to my 3rd floor apt. Oops-kayn mushkil. The 1st 2 floors are fine, but stairwell between 2nd and 3rd is tighter and they don’t fit. Have to disassemble the top and reassemble in my apt. Shoot. Oh well-have told them I’ll pay them for their help, and they get it done. Meanwhile, neighbor’s husband comes up and into my apt and starts lecturing me in Arabic about how I need to measure first before trying to get anything up the stairs. BsssaHHH? (Really?) There are more “mequinas” as he talks disparagingly about me to the carpenters in my apt. Did I ask his opinion? None of his business that I’m paying these men to fix the situation and they’re doing a great job. The bright side is that these 2 carpenters obviously really didn’t want to haul the shelves up 3 flights-and that’s before they discovered that they’d have to do more work to get them in. Despite this, they do a terrific job, keep assuring me it’s mushi mushkil (no problem), and spend about 1 hour getting it all done. They’re happy with what they’re paid, the job is done, and the shelves look great. Welakin rajlha d jart mashi drif (but my neighbor’s husband is not kind).

OK, thanks for letting me get that out of my system-I really reached a frustration tipping point today. Trying to help and get things done, and keep getting insulted about my language. Just when I’m getting ok with the pace with which I’m learning, I get slapped in the face w/what others think I should be doing.

All I can do is all I can do. Safi.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


The week has continued on its crazy course-mshgrul bzzaf (very busy)....

Saida, my former tutor, invited me to lunch-didn’t know until I got there that it’s a celebration lunch w/her girlfriends for her wedding announcement. Her fiance will be coming up from Agadir next month, and they’ll get their official documents-not really a ceremony as we know it. Then the wedding celebration/party will take place in June in Agadir. Since that’s over 12 hours away, most of her friends will not be able to make it there. It was an interesting gathering of educated young women-most of them teachers-in their nicest jellabas. Don’t think that the jellaba is always just a quick cover over the sweats. These ladies can dress-matching headscarves and shoes, kohl eyeliner-zwin bzzaf. It’s also the first time I have couscous as dessert-with sweet milk and crushed almonds and sweetened zbib (golden raisins) and skar (sugar)-it's a wedding tradition.

Thursday was the annual meeting for the Cooperative. Gathered at 9am and in Moroccan fashion, got the meeting started at 11am. Wish I could tell you that I understood all that was said in the 2 hr meeting that followed, but alas, that wasn’t the case. Did figure out that the Coop needs to do a better job of accounting, although they made a profit last year (hamdullah). They’re also being encouraged to stick w/the traditional designs in their weavings to make unique products. The meeting was followed with a big couscous lunch for the Basha (mayor) and Delegate from Sefrou and accountant. Again, in typical fashion, men eating in one room, the Coop women in another. I was able to get photos of all the Coop women along w/a group shot, that we’ll be able to use in their marketing materials. Unfortunately we didn’t get the logo decision made-meeting was running late-but we’ll take care of that this week.

Headed off to Meknes to meet some other PCVs for the weekend. Although we’ll see each other this next week in Fes for an SBD meeting, the Meknes trip was planned some time ago, and 4 of us decided to keep it on the books. And we’re all glad we did-great trip! Meknes is about 1 hour west of Fes, and was pretty central for the 4 of us to meet there.

Impressions of Meknes:
-Much like Fes but not as frantic and feels more accessible.
-First stop-Bab Monsour (bab = door, used to name the gates into medinas)-opens up to Place el Hedim-huge plaza between Bab Monsour and medina-great gathering spot for tourists, locals, performers, with cafes ringing the plaza.
-Museum in Dar Jamai Palace. The Palace and architecture and detailed decor-carvings, jllij (tile), painting-more impressive than the exhibits.
-Medina. Wind thru following a recommended path. Shops w/unique artwork-some unique to Meknes. Make our way to the far north and exit the gates to find small clusters of women sitting around-dressed up-doing henna on one another-then walking up to the Mausoleum of Sidi ben Aissa where we can hear song-like chanting. Obviously not a typical day at a mosque, but can’t find out why-only Muslims allowed in. So we also make our way to the jewelry souk (Lisa wants to find wire for jewelry making w/her Neddi women), to the carpet souks where I do a little competitive pricing and photo taking for my Coop women, and weave our way around to find the music hanuts where Jonathan wants to buy some supplies. Decide to check out the metal workers-just looks like an interesting alley and find ourselves climbing a ladder in one shop, thru a hole in the roof to the workshop above where there’s only room for the 2 guys who are working on large iron sculptures where they are doing the silver inlay process – called damascene-a craft unique to Meknes.

The other 3 convince me to go w/them today to Volubilis. More about it in a minute. Just a reminder-you plan a lot around availability of transport. Metalan (for example), I need to be in Fes today by 3pm to get a taxi straight to REK, otherwise I can leave Fes up until about 4pm and then have to go thru Sefrou, and that adds about 1 ½ hrs to my trip. Can I make it to Volubilis and back in time to catch a train to Fes? That’s relying on: taxi to Moulay Idriss (30km away). Taxi to Volubilis and back (and most people go on tours so don’t know if taxi back to Moulay Idriss w/b avail). Taxi to Meknes. Train to Fes, Taxi to REK. Whew. OK, we’ll get an early start and I’ll join them. SOOO glad I did!

Unesco World Heritage Site. Best preserved archeological site in Morocco. Roman ruins dating back to 3rd Century BC. Amazing mosaics still intact. We made it to Moulay Idriss and hired the same taxi to take us to the ruins, wait, back to Moulay Idriss and wait, and back to Meknes. Now we don’t have wait time (that can add hours to a trip for the taxis to fill w/6 riders). We explore the ruins and take tons of photos-beautiful day, wildflowers all around, sheep grazing-all amidst the ruins.

Back to the town of Moulay Idriss-built on a hill. It’s named after Morocco’s most revered saint, great grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and the founder of Morocco’s first dynasty. The Mausoleum built in his honor is the site of the country’s greatest annual celebration in August-and an annual pilgrimage. It’s said that 5 pilgrimages to the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss is equivalent to one pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca. Again, being non-Muslims, we cannot enter the Mausoleum, but hoof it up and down the medina steps all around the Mausoleum and town.

Finally its time to return to Meknes and part ways-Emily, Jonathan and Lisa to the taxi stand to Khemisset and me to the train.

Final impressions-I’ll be back. Really liked Meknes. Good vibe. Easy to get around. And for the first time since I’ve been in Morocco, felt like I could just be a tourist and take photos. Many photos I’d like to take of everyday life in Ribat El Kheir I don’t-seems intrusive with people I live with-anonymity in Meknes makes it easier. You know why there are so many books of photographs of Moroccan doors? Cuz they’re fabulous.

It’s unanimous-we agree we're lucky to be posted in Morocco w/such great places to visit on the weekend. We packed the weekend and there’s still more to come back to see. My legs are tired and my feet hurt. That’s a good weekend!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On the Sidelines?

Didn’t realize it was St Paddy’s Day until I just typed in the date! Happy St Paddy’s! If you’re not wearing green, consider yourself pinched.

Well, the last couple of days have made up for the relatively quiet week last week. But first, a note from the sidelines.....

-You have a lot of time for observation (and as Deb W says-meditation) while riding the transits between duars (towns). Such as: the white clumps of narcissus are giving way to blankets of yellow-maybe mustard? and now red poppies are springing up and what's the purple flower that looks like statice but isn't? The cherry blossoms are really out. Been a long time since I’ve lived anywhere that really has a spring, and this one’s a beaut!

-So exactly why is it that occasionally the transit stops on the side of the road, not dropping off or picking up anyone, and both driver and money collector get out? Once I saw them get back in w/clumps of green plant-looked like weeds-maybe wife put in an order for something to put in the tea?

-Stopped on a bike ride last weekend (yes, finally got the bike out-it was great!) to ask the women what they were going to do with the leaves they were collecting from small shrub-like palms along the side of the road. Shbqat? (baskets?) Iyeh.

-You know how they say you can hear the corn grow in the summertime in Kansas? I can almost hear the fava bean plants grow, they’re growing so fast.

-You quickly develop a strong appreciation for what it takes to work the fields as you watch the farmer work the donkey and wooden plow down the uneven rows of wheat in this remarkably rocky soil.

-Speaking of donkeys, no one has to worry about them running away-hoof is tied to halter-can’t do much besides stand and eat.

So what’s kept me busy?
Women’s Health Program has mushroomed-in a very good way! Met with the Health Delegate yesterday in Sefrou. He informs me that the King’s wife, Princess Selma, who has an Association for Women’s Cancers, is sponsoring a program in Sefrou on April 3-4. On these 2 days, women from our region who have a referral from an MD w/suspected cancer or complication, ie; fibroids, endometriosis, etc., will be seen by a team of specialists. Anyone who has to undergo chemo will be taken to Rabat (capitol) where they will receive treatment and can stay at a house sponsored by Princess Selma’s Association. All this is free. He suggested that we move our program up one week, from April 6th to the 30th of March, so that any women from REK who need a referral will have one and can participate in the April 3-4 program. Hamdulah! Also, he’s getting a whole team of MDs to come to REK so that up to 100 women will get free breast and gyn exams that day. Ham-du-li-lah! While we’re in his ofc, he calls and convinces another MD to cover on the 30th for Dr. Asma (the OB/GYN chief and dynamo) so she can come out for our program. Did I mention that I love this guy?! So today has been crazy getting approvals from the Basha, Belladya, Taeawniya, meeting w/the MD in the sbitar (clinic in REK where exams will take place), getting a new document created and typed in Arabic and everyones signature and stamp (nothing is official until it has someone’s stamp on it). New flyers have been made. Note-we handed out 150 flyers on International Women’s Day announcing the program for April 6th. Now we need to do an even better job making sure those planning on coming know of the date change, and get more invited since the capacity is up to 100 women. Ham-du-li-lah! There will be minor costs associated w/the program-the Taeawniya is going to do lunch for the Sefrou guests and volunteers at the home of the President (right next to the sbitar and a fabulous view over the zlul). I’m gonna pay for the 60 additional disposable speculums they’ll need, as there’s not enough time to do a fundraiser-but will only be about 600DH, or about $80. Small price to get all this help here in REK, yak?

A word about process, aka; how to get things like this going here in Morocco. Started w/just an idea for an information session. Asked Peace Corps MDs in Rabat for recommendations of who to bring in-I get 2 names of private MDs in Sefrou. I also ask coop women here and my translator in Sefrou. They all say I should start w/the Health Delegate, so that's what I do. He sees me w/o appt. Translator and I go to Sefrou Hospital, again we get right in (MANY women waiting to see MDs-again I suspect Peace Corps/foreigner status gets us in) to see Head MD. We talk w/her, but the Chief of Service not there, and we get her phone # to set up appt. It's all about using the Moroccan network-my translator knows Sefrou incredibly well. Need to get the appropriate stamps and signatures from the local authorities-not even so much for approval, but they could put up roadblocks if not included. Delegate and Chief of Service grew the program from a simple idea into its current form. Now Coop President wants to go on all the meetings w/authorities and MDs-may be consistent w/what I've also been told-that people here may be reluctant to get involved until they get an inkling something may be successful, then they jump on board. Who cares, as long as it works, yak?

Meanwhile, the work on the logo for the Coop continues. Adwal Coop has their annual business meeting this Thursday. I’m looking forward to it-hope I can understand enough of it to make sense! At the end of the meeting we’ll vote on the logo options (Wendy sent us 6 different versions to choose from) and finalize this first step. Hamdulah.

I’ve also been put in touch w/what initially appears to be an export opportunity for the Coop. This started w/contacting a couple of women who have worked w/Peace Corps volunteers in the past to export weavings to the US. The Adwal women want to create a reputation for a high level of artistry-not just weavings and rugs, but artisanal quality. To get there, based on research to date, they’ll need to continue to improve on their production and design concepts. However, I’m no expert and have no credibility on the topic of quality control in weaving, so I contacted these women to see if I could entice them to visit REK and speak w/the Coop women from the perspective of a buyer. Well, that’s not yet been fruitful, but one of them sent me info on someone else starting an e-commerce business who is interested in importing into the US table runner weavings in traditional designs of Morocco. I’ve contacted her and we’ve spoken via Skype and there’s interest on both sides. (Side note-I’ll be heading to the US for 5 days in April for Aunt Geri’s service. As luck would have it, this woman w/the ecommerce business lives about 15 minutes away from my uncle, so I’m planning on bringing some of the weavings w/me and meeting up with her-always best to sell face to face, yak?).

Of course, this leads to the development of another workshop for the women of the Coop on pricing strategy-this opportunity could be serious business and the first custom orders for export for the Coop, so after the annual meeting, we’ll be doing a pricing workshop.

Did I mention that I’ve also been making business cards for my tutors and translator? Easy to do in Publisher-do it for them first, then show them how (so they can keep info up to date)-maybe help them get more business? Ymkn? (maybe?). Wish I could claim originality, but got the idea from Emily-another SBD PCV when I saw her and her husband in Fes a couple weekends ago.

Of course all of this is going on while the Gendarmes in town are bugging me to get new, smaller photos and replace my 60DH stamp w/a 100DH stamp for my Carte de Sejour (identity card). Should be easy, right? Three towns, several bustas (post offices)and tobacco shops later, I finally track down a 100DH stamp in Sefrou in a telebotique. Go figure!

OK, so I can’t continue this w/o giving a “shout out” to my friend Aicha in the Dar Chebab. She’s been SOOOO great! She’s in charge of the 16 computers at the Dar Chebab. She has, at a drop of a hat, ie; first thing this morning, helped draft the letters, flyers, handouts and type them up in Arabic and then gives me a screaming deal on printing and photocopying-all for the Women’s Health Program. The computer lab is part of an association (vs a business like the cybers), so they only pass along their costs. Hamdulah. I think I must owe Aicha chocolate or something.

And yes, I am going back to the states-Seattle specifically-for 5 days in April. The service for Aunt Geri will be on her birthday. I’m so fortunate to be able to do this and can’t wait to see Uncle Bob, Polly and Tracy and honor Auntie Ger.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Happy Birthday

Well, I’m happy to say that my birthday was almost a holiday this year! Tues and Wed were national holidays for the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. (Note that this is set by the Islamic calendar, so not always this time of year). Interestingly enough, his is about the only birthday that’s celebrated in Morocco. Just not something they do. Nevertheless it was a nice day-lots of emails, text messages, cards, etc. Spent the afternoon w/PCV from nearby and Jonathan and Joy came to visit. Joy and I were roommates all thru training and she’s posted in the far south of Morocco-this was the first time we’ve seen each other since swearing-in. Then on Tuesday the 3 of us played in Fes for the day. We could hardly stop talking-Jonathan said we were like sisters.

Got back to REK to meet up with a former PCV who served in REK 2004-2006 with Youth Development. He had the same host family and is catching up with old friends here in town. Nice guy, and people here remember him fondly, which has only made my integration easier.

So I thought I’d capture some thoughts here--notes I’ve jotted and observations from the last couple of weeks. Caution-these are random!

--The women of Morocco (like most places) are far stronger than they’re given credit for. Metalan (for example): while we may think that it’s the men who get to go out at night to the cafes and shoot the breeze with their buddies, the straight skinny is that the wife won’t let them come home after dinner until she’s ready!

-Fashionista REK style: Gotta love Mohammed-the cyber guy-saw him for the first time in several weeks-wearing his usual Nike-like warm up suit under a sleeveless jellaba and his mom’s pink fuzzy slippers! And he’s only around 30! Kinda like the women wearing their sweats w/an apron and their slippers to the hanut-good for them.

--Those flowers I’ve been admiring from the nukl and wishing I could stick my nose in them cuz I just know they smell so zwin? I go by the Dar Chebab on Sunday to make more flyers (for the April 6 pgm) and give one to a woman there on the computer and she has some of these flowers and insists that I take them in thanks for setting up the program. I can still smell them (a type of narcissus) while I type this.

--Bleach does a bang-up job getting rid of the mold on inside walls. (Is this productive cough I’ve got from the mold cuz I feel fine and no other sign of a cold?)

--Moroccans are used to living with all the family under the same roof in very close quarters-no personal space. A woman I met last weekend who has married a Moroccan says they find their own space by “zoning out” in one another’s presence. They also tend to keep their emotions to themselves due to lack of privacy.

--Kifas kantseffu? How do we line up? At the Busta (post ofc)? Take a lesson Lynn. Women get their own line, and take turns with the much, much longer line of men. Gotta remember this. Really confused the woman behind me last week. Couldn’t figure out why she came in and stood next to me instead of going to the back of the line. Did she want something? Finally figured out that I’d confused her by standing behind a man in line-where was the women’s line? Oops-smHi li (excuse me).

--Another learning. Scheduling the Women’s Health program. I think we need to avoid Monday-that’s souk day and all the women are busy going to souk, and of course Friday-mosque day for all and couscous for lunch. No? Monday is good? Eles? (why?) Because that’s the only day a lot of women can come to town-for souk-and can pay transport, so they can combine souk w/the Wellness program. Duh. Need to work within framework of what works for them.

--Nice to feel like I can be a resource, even if in a small way, already. Metalan, the mundub calls Fatima-needs photos of the building next to the coop that the Ministry is trying to buy for them-and knows I have a camera-can I take the photos and email them to him before his Monday morning mtg? Done. Zhara wants to bug the Basha again about the magana (monitor) for the du (electricity), asks if I’ll go w/her since she knows he’ll see me (thank the Peace Corps for entree like that!). Done.

--Interesting....most schools in the bled don’t have bit lma (bathrooms). Not a problem for the boys for obvious reasons. Mushkil (problem) for the girls. If they have to go, they have to go home, and likely to not return. A number of Environment PCVs have made building bit lma’s in the schools a priority project with the goal of educating girls and boys.

--Weather has definitely turned for the better. Even w/the rain we had last week, it wasn’t as cold. Today is beautiful-need to get my bike out for a ride. Been a slow week since it’s a holiday week and the Coop and Dar Chebab are both closed. Maybe I’ll get a ride in tomorrow...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

When is a House a Home?

So there are many ways to make one’s house a home. I’ve done some minor decorating lately-getting a few things on the walls, curtains, baskets so I can get out of suitcases, etc., but that doesn’t hold a candle to the Moroccan way of doing things…..

I had the pleasure of being invited to a friend’s Gnawa party this weekend in Fes. Little did I know that this was a promise to stay up all night dancing while her newly renovated home in the old medina was being blessed. But I’m getting ahead of myself…..

Gnawa-had to look it up afterwards to find out what had been going on….here’s the scoop, courtesy Wikipedia….Gnawa is a mixture of African, Berber and Arabic religious songs and rhythms, combining music and dancing. The music is both a prayer and a celebration of life. In a Gnawa song, one phrase or a few lines are repeated over and over throughout a particular song though the song may last a long time. In fact, a song may last several hours non-stop. The norm, though, is that what seems to be one long song is actually a series of chants, which has to do with describing the various spirits. Gnawa have stringed-instruments, including the gogo and gimbri. The Gnawa also use large drums called tbel and krakebs (large iron castanets).

Gnawas perform a complex ritual, called lila. Their ancestors were neither literate nor native speakers of Arabic, and they begin the lila by bringing back, through song and dance, the experiences of their slave ancestors, and ultimately redemption. The ceremony recreates the first sacrifice and the genesis of the universe by calling the seven saints and supernatural entities (mluk) represented by seven colors. The lila has a maâlem (master musician) and a shuwafa (clairvoyante).

During the ceremony, the clairvoyante determines the accessories and clothing as it becomes ritually necessary. Meanwhile, the maâlem, using the guembri and by burning incense, calls the saints and the supernatural entities to present themselves in order to take possession of the followers, who devote themselves to dancing.

The ceremony is usually preceded by an animal sacrifice that assures the presence of the spirits (Siobhan will have a chicken killed in her home this week) and the all-night ritual begins with an opening that consecrates the space, the aâda , during which the musicians perform a swirling acrobatic dance, playing the krakebs.

The mluk are entities that gather a number of similar jinn (genie spirits). The mluk are evoked by seven musical patterns, seven melodic and rhythmic cells, who set up the seven suites that form the repertoire of dance and music of the Gnawa ritual. During these seven suites, seven different types of incense are burned and the shuwafa is covered by veils of seven different colours. Each of the seven families of mluk is populated by many "characters" identifiable by the music and by the footsteps of the dance. Each mluk is accompanied by its specific colour, incense, rhythm and dance. These entities, treated like "presences" (hadra) that the consciousness meets in ecstatic space and time, are related to mental complexes, human characters, and behaviors. The aim of the ritual is to reintegrate and to balance the main powers of the human body.

All I know is that there was a lot of very interesting music, dancing (Moroccans LOVE to dance), plenty of alcohol (hshuma), costume changes, incense and didn’t go to bed until 5am. Been a long time since I’ve done that-and not looking to do it again anytime soon!! But the house was blessed and a great time was had by all.

So today, being International Women’s Day, was our opportunity to publicize the breast cancer screening day that we’ll be having here in REK on April 6th. I think I met at least 100 women today-with the help of Fatima and Miriam-and gave them all ribbons and info sheets. Inshallah we’ll have a lot of them show up for the program on the 6th.

Have more to write, but lack of sleep suddenly catching up to me and still have stuff to do before bedtime, so will sign off now. Layla saida (good night).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I'm So Excited

Been a busy week….met Jonathan and Emily in Fes, then met up w/John Wayne and his sister and mom who are visiting from the US-great to catch up. Found a terrific basket seller in the Central Market of Ville Nouvelle-think I finally have an idea for my clothes so I can get out of suitcases (yes, they’re still being used, since I have no drawers or closet). Get a couple of simple shelves made, put the baskets on them, and I'm finally in business. I’m so excited.

I ended up in Sefrou both Monday and Tuesday, but it was time well spent. I’m so excited. On Monday I was supposed to talk w/the MD who is slated to come to REK for the Women’s Health program I’m developing. She had domestic help problems at her home in Fes, so didn’t make it. Just as well, as this gave me more time to put a better proposal together and have my ducks in order when I went back on Tuesday. Finally saw her (after her 2 surgeries)-and what a dynamo! She brought in 3 other MDs who she’ll bring with her to REK, along w/several nurses. OK, so the original plan that the Delegate approved was for just 2 of them to come out to REK and spend the morning at the sbitar (clinic) with the midwives and then 2 hrs in the afternoon with the women of REK for a program on prevention and detection of breast, cervical and ovarian cancers. Well, this dynamic MD decides that’s not enough. If she’s gonna come to REK, she wants to do as much as she can for the women here, and that means all their time will be spent with the women-no time for the sbitar. And if they’re coming all day, they have time to do actual breast exams. But wait-there’s more! All women who attend and who are interested will be given a voucher to get a pap exam in Sefrou-they’ll take 5/week until all are seen. This is all for free! Unheard of! Hamdullah! Note-this will be the first breast and pap exams most of the women will have ever had.

First thing Wednesday morning, I go to see the Belladya (Pres. of the Urban Commune) here in REK to let him know the plan and reserve the meeting room for Monday, April 6. Done. Yipee! Now we need to let the women know about it. (The MDs figure they can see up to 80 women on 4/6). Miriam (the attny) comes to the coop this morning to write out the flyer in Arabic. Fatima and I work w/Aicha at the Dar Chebab to get it typed up along with ¼ page info sheets. Fatima and I (and maybe Miriam) will pass these out on Sunday, along w/white ribbon loops (aka AIDS ribbons-white for International Women’s Day) to the women of REK to invite them to the program. Fatima and Miriam and Aicha will help post the flyers in places where the women are likely to see them, ie; hanuts, hamam, etc. I am blown away by the response and initiative of these wonderful women who are coming together to help the women of REK. Wahoo!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...aka Coop…we’re moving along with the logo. Jess came out from Sefrou today w/several designs and color schemes to choose from. The women chose one design unanimously along w/the colors to reflect the region. I’ve sent this info off to a graphic artist in the US who will do the final design. Huge thanks to Jess for her help (all voluntary) and to Tammy Silver in LA who is making the graphic artist help available at no cost to the Coop. Once, again, we’re blessed to have such wonderful women to work with. I’ll post the final logo when it’s complete. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to have the “unveiling” at the Coop annual meeting week after next.

Did I mention….I’m so excited??!