Friday, August 28, 2009


Laundry by hand. As I sit on my stool on the roof in the sun, rinsing out and hanging my laundry, I recall that I NEVER bought anything in the states that was labeled "hand wash only". And I SSSSSOOO get linen in these parts. If you have to wear anything (and given this conservative state, clothing is not optional), linen is just the thing for the heat. Doesn’t cling, it's light, loose, breathable. Trouble is, I haven’t bought an iron. How do you say “shabby chic” in Darija? And then there’s the underwear and political correctness. How come you rarely see anyone else’s underwear hanging out in the sun to dry? I know (gulp-assume) they all wear---and change daily---underwear. But how come mine are the only undies in the sun? Is it hshuma to hang it in public? If so, why doesn’t my neighbor say anything when she’s on the roof doing laundry with me? Do I ask? No. Not THAT worried.

Food. Big subject these days w/Ramadan (note that we’re at a ½ new moon, that means ¼ the way thru the month of fasting). Are you fasting? No. Why not? I’m not Muslim. Oh. Go to friends to spend the afternoon and l-ftr (break of fast). All afternoon they’re either talking about food, cooking for l-ftr or watching tv w/food ads every few minutes. Kinda like days of dieting and reading cookbooks. Why is it that we're obsessed with food when we "can't" have it? Of course, during the heat of the summer and Ramadan, thirst is a bigger issue. My heart goes out to the guys I see out my window working on the roof of the building one block over-out in the sun, pounding nails, no food or water. You can also see the toll it takes on the faces of people as they are walking around. More are not feeling well. Headaches. Disheveled. Body odor and bad breath are rampant-no fluids to flush the system.

Language. Got a new plan in place w/tutor Khalid. I need more structure-we agree on what I need to work on-comprehension when others are speaking and pronunciation. We’ve put together a plan for better “lessons” to focus on these elements. We both feel better w/this plan-I was getting frustrated and he didn’t feel he was helping me.

Pressure. Ok, I’m talking water pressure. During Ramadan. 1st choice? 7pm. That’s sundown and Everybody in REK (except non-Muslims-oh, I think that’s just me), I mean Everybody is at l-ftr, eating and drinking for the first time since dawn. Best water pressure for me to shower and do laundry. 2nd choice? Noon on Friday. Almost all men and many women at mosque.

FedEx. Who knew? We can ship from Fes. Hamdullah. After getting on their International Shipping from Morocco website, talking w/people, visiting w/the office in Rabat many months ago, calling to confirm documents we need to ship product to the US, I finally find out that we can ship from Fes. No big deal. Hamdullah, but would have been nice to have had someone tell me that the website info (addresses/phone #’s/etc.) was all out of date. Anyway, YIPEE-Zahra and I go to Fes in the morning to ship out the 1st 10 table runners to WaresDinner (need to give them a plug-check out their website and buy the Moroccan package that they’ll soon have online-also check out the photos on their blog for Morocco-they’re from my Coop). The women are working hard thru Ramadan (many others either don’t or aren’t “allowed” to work thru Ramadan) to get the next 10 going. They look great.

I’m coming out of my summer slump. Got plans in place-I know that’s just the tonic I need. Going to stay in Fes for the weekend, have meetings I set up in Fes and Casablance on Monday, Tuesday in Rabat in PC office, Wednesday invited to sit on panel for trainers of next SBD training group to give them “insight” on language learning for the 50+ group, Thursday more meetings in Rabat I’ve set up, back to Fes for more follow up on the Craft Fair, home on Friday. I know this is what I need to do to improve my attitude, and it’s worked.

Craft Fair. MarcheMaroc2009 is in full planning mode. Met w/Al Akhawayn professor on Monday and she’s taking charge of the Workshops for Friday Oct 2. Jonathan and Joy are in charge of working with her, and the plans are in progress. Cortney sent me the flyer/ad mockups and they look great, so when Jess returns from Spain, will be starting the marketing campaign. Steven and Anna and I will Skype on Tuesday to talk thru Artisan Management. We’ve selected the 30 organizations that will be invited, and Steven and Anna will be taking charge of this part. Kristen in working on locating tshirts and will talk w/Olga about getting her coop to screen print the MarcheMaroc2009 logo on them-for volunteers and for sale. Maggie has volunteered to help w/the demonstrations during the Craft Fair. Mike and I are coordinating on site logistics (anyone know where we can get our hands on 10 more exhibit tents for free?). Things are moving along nicely. Give me another Hamdullah.

Then there’s the American School Craft Fair and the French School Craft Fair and the potential for a US Embassy Commissary Craft Fair, all in Rabat. I’m working on getting contacts for the American School Fair, as it is in November, and too tight for me to take it on.

So now I’m off to the busta (post office). Then I’ll be attempting the new ATM in the new bank in town. Just opened up our first bank. Inshallah I have access to my PC account funds right here in Ribat El Kheir. Will let you know. ***Just back, flush w/flus (money)-it works! Yipee!

And now if only I could get my internet connection to work. Maybe Maroc Telecom is trying to tell me that it’s Ramadan, I should be fasting and not working, so it’s sabotaging my work efforts.


Berber (Amazigh) Culture

We get a weekly newsfeed of Morocco from our wonderful PC librarian, M’Hamed. The last two weeks had interesting articles, esp. given the Berber (Amazigh) community I live in… on:

Features of the Amazigh Culture in Morocco.
Having spiritual, material, and intellectual aspects characterizing the amazigh people, the Amazigh culture takes in arts, literature, the lifestyle, the basic rights, the values, the traditions and the beliefs. The Amazigh culture is primarily oral. Its components are multiple and differ from one region to another.

The Amazigh music, chleuh, is a typical music of the Moroccan culture, more precisely of three areas in Morocco: The Average Atlas, the Rif and the Souss. This traditional music, although having common characteristics, includes differences according to the area.
The most outstanding distinction is that which relates to the number of notes used.
The Amazigh music chleuh in the area of Rif uses seven different notes, which brings it closer to the universal traditional music. The Amazigh music chleuh in the area of Souss uses five notes, like Jazz music. In Souss too, the musicians use three ranges, namely “Lel Maaha ", “Ashelhi” and finally “Agnaoui”. In the region of the Average Atlas, the music comprises three ranges of strong Eastern inspiration. One can easily compare the Amazigh singers to poets who play with sounds and words.

Amazigh Poetry is omnipresent in the various events and activities of Amazigh men and women. The poetry accompanies the individual from his birth till his death: a cycle of life with its lullabies, its songs of circumcision, baptism, harvest, marriage, dance…

Orality, which characterizes Amazigh poetry and is suitable for it, is a parameter determining the level of the “typologisation” of the latter. It is an aspect which makes it possible to better determine a poetic Amazigh genre. Orality is synonymous with life, and dynamism. It is true that the “poeticity” of each Amazigh genre is not the same: the language, the figures of speech, etc differ.

The Costume
The Amazigh culture is renowned for its special clothing that takes up the role of “symbol” rather than that of “protection”. Through her clothing and hairstyle, the Amazigh woman expresses her resistance or her adhesion to the social changes.
The “cap” “Aqlous”: elevated for married women, flat for girls, is required, but it is a simple ornament on feast days. The female dress is composed of a gandoura known as Akidour (covered with a large white fabric), white trousers, an amber collar, and a silk scarf known as tasbniyt. The hair is combed and rolled up in a circular form on the level of ears “Aabrouk”. The belt is made of pure wool, and is called Tasmart.-Alarabonline

And then a sobering follow on article….
The Berber Dance Is Over. By Daan Bauwens
RABAT, Aug 13 (IPS) - The satellite receiver has speeded up the process of wiping out the cultural heritage of Morocco's Berbers. Old traditions are now dying out under the influence of television imams.

Berbers are an indigenous people of North Africa. There are an estimated 30 to 40 million in the region, mostly in Algeria and Morocco. Now their old practices are considered in popular Islamic interpretation to be 'satanic' or 'heathen'.

Earlier this year the Moroccan government banned Berber names for newborn children in order to stress the Islamic identity of the nation's population.

Berbers have been resisting efforts to Arabise their communities ever since the arrival of Islam in the seventh century. But many Berbers now speak of a dramatic cultural change over the last few years, this time coming from within their own communities.

Tarama, a small isolated town in the south of Morocco, is becoming more silent by the day. "At home most people don't play music any more," says Abdelftah Aït Argane, a young Berber from Tarama. "It is changing very fast. People dance less, wedding feasts have dropped by at least 50 percent, and old ways are disappearing."

One old practice is tattooing on women's foreheads. Ten years ago this was common practice, now the custom has completely died out. Berbers used to believe in demonic possession. 'Witches' and 'magicians' were summoned to cure illnesses. Such centuries-old beliefs are now vanishing.

"It is reasonable and just," says Argane. "Nowadays Islamic prescriptions are being followed more strictly than before. People now understand that until a few years ago they were leading a sinful life full of pagan rituals. It's better now: people don't dance, because men and women mustn't mix. It is an improvement."

In the bustling city Marrakech, young people shun traditional wedding feasts. The Salafi, familiar as the Saudi Islamic way of dressing, is becoming dominant. "There has never been a change like this," says Simohammed Zerrouni who has been living in Marrakech since birth. "Young people are turning to the strong principles of Islam in ever increasing numbers. It is for the best."

Zerrouni and Argane both say the change has been speeded up by the satellite receiver. "Over the past four years every Moroccan household has got a satellite receiver. There are 300 channels, of which 30 are strictly religious ones. Walk into a house in the city or in the countryside, and you will see the tv is always on. On a religious channel, mostly from Egypt or Saudi Arabia."

"This is cultural suicide," says Murad Errarhib, political analyst with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Rabat, a non-governmental think tank.FES studies in 2007 showed that foreign broadcasting has become a major source of religious information for more than 60 percent of Moroccans. And it showed that 68 percent of those between 18 and 24 years of age rely on television for religious information compared to 40 percent among those over 60.

The satellite receiver is destroying Morocco's cultural heritage, says Errarhib. "Day in, day out, people see televised imams telling them the difference between right and wrong. These imams come from places with a completely different religious, judicial and doctrinaire frame of reference. "It is leading to the demise of centuries-old habits, and to cultural stress. Now people think what they have been practising for years is not allowed according to their own religion."

The teachings of Saudi and Egyptian television imams have changed the face of Islam in Morocco. "Islam was a shared, communal religion based on brotherhood," says Errarhib. "Now the message is: we have to find the enemy within; who is a bad Muslim, who is a good Muslim, and who is the perfect Muslim. This is not Moroccan Islam, but we see more and more people surrendering to this line of thought, speeding up the disappearance of our cultural heritage."

Mohamed Bekouchi, professor of sociology in Paris, Quebec and Rabat, says there are alternatives. "The state has to invest wisely in this country's cultural heritage," he tells IPS. "There is money to introduce dances and national culture in lessons at school, so young people begin to understand what their culture stands for, what its proper and specific values are. Without appreciation by themselves, it is bound to die out.

"It is Morocco's cultural void that makes people susceptible to radicalism on tv," Bekouchi tells IPS, "a cultural void that has been created by the swift changes Morocco has witnessed over the last 30 years: globalisation, industrialisation, tourism and urbanism. Our people are confused and need a stronghold. We can offer a stronghold by organising communities, by cultural initiatives. It is the only way."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rhythms of Ramadan

Morocco welcomed Ramadan Friday night w/sirens after nightfall from the mosque after the crescent of the new moon was spotted. The month of fasting and religious observance is upon us..

So what are the rhythms of Ramadan? I’m still learning. We were in training all of last year’s Ramadan, so were fairly insulated from the day-to-day impact. We had our meals and drank our water as usual. We participated in the l-ftr (break fast at dusk) meal with our host families in Ain Leuh. Some stayed up for the middle of the night big meal-I skipped it, as that would have been a 4th meal I didn’t need.

This year I’ll see more of how Ramadan changes daily life. So far, into day 2, here’s what I’ve noticed:

Transportation: Some run as usual, but noted that transit out of Sefrou left yesterday morning before it was full-very unusual-and the first one didn’t leave until 9:30 (very late in the morning). Others tell me that the schedule runs normally-we’ll see tomorrow when I need early transportation to make it to a meeting in Ifrane at 11am (takes 3-4 hours travel to get there). It’s general knowledge to avoid transit late in the day, before l-ftr, as that means the driver has had nothing to eat or drink since the middle of the night and may not be as sharp as usual. I think this also means I need to allow for overnights this month, where I’d usually push to make single day travel, ie; to and from Fes. Also, don’t plan on travelling the 2 hours around dusk, as everyone is either rushing home to eat or is already there-no one is picking up a new fare. (Kinda like Fridays around 2pm-hard to find a taxi in Fes, as all the drivers are home eating couscous).

Shopping: Souk in Sefrou was sleepy yesterday morning. When I got to REK around 11am, everything was business as usual. Go figure. Need to plan ahead so that I have food at home if I’m going to have lunch, and that I buy before shops close. Shops work shorter hours. Typical is to either work in the morning and close for a long nap before l-ftr, or sleep late into the morning and work in the afternoon. Not everyone adheres to the same schedule, and not necessarily the same schedule each day. Get your things when you can I guess. Food shopping also means different foods available-tons of dates, shebekya, etc.-those things that are traditional Ramadan treats. Interesting to note that while there are traditional Ramadan foods-everyone breaks fast w/Harira-traditional tomato/garbanzo bean/pasta soup, taken w/hard boiled eggs, the dates and shebekya of course, olives and juice, but other dishes are not necessarily the same each Ramadan, ie; the big middle-of-the-night-tagine, since with the Islamic calendar, different foods are in season each Ramadan. (Remember that the Islamic calendar is lunar, and moves forward relative to the Western calendar, approx. 2 weeks each year). Hard to think of Ramadan in the middle of the winter, but certainly the “no water” would be easier.

Work: Work hours are also shortened all month. Peace Corps staff will be working either 8-2 or 10-4 and normal Moroccan gov’t hours will be 9-3. The Coop women, still cranking out their table runner order, will be working 8-2. This also means I’ve got to get confirmations of meetings before travelling to see anyone (much easier said than done). The field workers are not so active now-but it explains all the plowing of the wheat fields that has been going on the last couple of weeks. They were getting this done so they didn’t have to do it in the heat of Ramadan.

Socializing: Cafes are shut all day. No men lingering together for hours over their nsns or atay (coffee or tea). Where the heck do they go all day during Ramadan? No clue. Cafes open up after l-ftr and dusk when the streets fill back up w/people-they’ve got energy again and it’s cooled off enough to get out and about.

Mbruk Ramadan.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time...for Ramadan....

I’m bored. There, I've said it. I’m used to being really busy. I need to fix this, as the boredom is giving me second thoughts about what I'm doing here, what else I could be doing. Not to worry, I’m sticking it out, but coming to the realization that I’ve got to find more work in my sight or close-by or I’m gonna go crazy.

Right now I’ve got the Fes Workshop and Craft Fair on the horizon and I’m driving it. Hard part is that there's no one around to help, given August vacations and Ramadan starting this weekend (upon sighting of first crescent of new moon, expected Saturday). Finally got a meeting scheduled w/Bouchra at Al Akhawayn to talk about the workshops, but I’ve got other volunteers who will handle them from there. Just about have the artisan selection and database complete for invitations to go out, but again, have other volunteers who will be in charge of this. This is not a lot of work for me now.

I’ve got a grant proposal out to fund computer/internet training for 2 women in the Coop. It’s essential that they get someone trained to take over the marketing work I’ve been doing since I got here, and some formal training is the first step. Inshallah we’ll get the funding, but for now, waiting for reply.

Meanwhile, the women are working long days on the table runners for the WaresDinner order. My plan to conduct mini-workshops every week on different aspects of business has been put on hold. It’s more important that they produce the order since they’re way behind.

Fatima wants to submit an application to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival for next July, and needs my help since it’s all in English. Another artisan from Sefrou attended this year’s Festival (incl. sponsorship) and just returned. I’ve told Fatima and Zahra that they need to talk w/her about this year’s fair, how much it cost her beyond her sponsorship, and how much product they need to be prepared to bring. Another PCV who works w/weavers did some of this investigation and figured there was no way her women could afford the incremental costs (ie; shipping heavy woven products overseas w/no guarantee of sale) and couldn’t produce what she estimated to be 100 items to sell. Instead of sharing this info from that PCV w/my Coop women, I want to help them go thru the process themselves. Now, given that they need to focus on order production, this may seem counterproductive on my part. Why not save them the time and let them know it’s not feasible? Because then how do they learn? Who am I to tell them what they can and can’t do? I will help them with the application and to ask the questions they need to consider before submitting, but they need to do it “themselves” and come to their own conclusions.

That’s pretty much it-and not nearly enough to keep me going. I like my downtime as much as anyone, but am realizing that it’s making me nuts/depressed/re-evaluating my time here/etc. I need to fix this. Problem is, this is the worst time of the year to seek out additional projects. The month of Ramadan is about to start, and it’s license to do less work, given the short days, variable work hours, heat, fasting, etc (see below). My next project is to find more projects. Don’t have the answer yet. Still ruminating. Thinking about what I’ll do when I return to US. Maybe go back to school? Been investigating programs, ie; Public Health, Social Work, etc., despite the fact that I don’t intend to get a “real job”, but would like to volunteer in a meaningful way. Think I’ll be doing some net surfing this month. Hmmm….food for thought.

Meanwhile, Ramadan looms, so here’s a primer for the uninitiated from Wikipedia:

Ramadan is an Islamic religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (upon spotting of the new moon); the month in which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. In the western calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving forward about ten days each year.

It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, sexual conduct, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach the Muslim patience, modesty and spirituality. Ramadan is a time to fast for the sake of Allah, and to offer more prayer than usual. Muslims also believed through good actions, they get rewarded twice as much as they normally can achieve. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

The most prominent event of this month is fasting. Every day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world get up before dawn to eat Sahur, the pre-dawn meal, then they perform the fajr prayer. They have to stop eating and drinking before the call for prayer starts at dawn until the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib, at dusk. Muslims may continue to eat and drink after the sun has set until the next morning's fajr prayer call. Then the process starts all over.

Ramadan is a time of reflecting and worshiping God. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual thoughts and activities during fasting hours are also forbidden. Purity of both thought and action is important. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised awareness of closeness to God.

The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity.

The elderly, the chronically ill, and the mentally ill are exempt from fasting, although the first two groups must endeavor to feed the poor in place of their missed fasting. Also exempt are pregnant women, women during the period of their menstruation, and women nursing their newborns. A difference of opinion exists among Islamic scholars as to whether this last group must make up the days they miss at a later date, or feed poor people as a recompense for days missed. While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavor to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Lastly, those traveling are exempt, but must make up the days they miss. More specifically, Twelver Shī‘ah define those who travel more than 14 miles in a day as exempt. The elderly or those who suffer from a disability or disease and have no prospect of getting better in the future can pay the cost of Eftar for a person who cannot afford it, or else they can host him in their house and have him eat with them after sunset as a way of repaying for the days they could not fast.

In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur'an. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Qur'an by means of special prayers, called Tarawih, which are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Qur'an (juz, which is 1/30 of the Qur'an) is recited. Therefore the entire Qur'an would be completed at the end of the month.

Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are to slow down from worldly affairs and focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between themselves and God through prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others. Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it; this can involve buying new clothes, shoes and other items of need. There is also a social aspect involved the preparing of special foods and inviting people for the I-ftar meal (literally translates to break fast-outside of Ramadan it is the first meal of the day, ie; breaking the nighttime fast).

In many Muslim and non Muslim countries with large Muslim populations, markets close down in the evening to enable people to perform prayers and consume the Iftar meal – these markets then re-open and stay open for a good part of the night. Muslims can be seen shopping, eating, spending time with their friends and family during the evening hours. In some Muslim countries, failing to fast or openly flaunting such behavior during Ramadan is considered a crime and is prosecuted as such.

The Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid Sgira) marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted. The Eid falls after 29 or 30 days of fasting, as per the lunar sighting. Eid ul-Fitr means the Festival of Breaking the Fast; a special celebration is made. Food is donated to the poor (‘Zakat al-Fitr’), everyone puts on their best, usually new, clothes, and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer adjustments…..

Finally bought a fan-even hot moving air is better than still heat. Besides, my computer is working better w/the fan on it as well-was afraid my hardrive was gonna have a meltdown. And the fan has a timer so I now have it on when I go to bed and hope to be asleep before it shuts off.

Pepto Bismol becomes a constant companion. Doesn’t matter how careful you are, in the heat of summer, your system’s gonna be shwiya. Happens to the locals. Just can’t keep absolutely everything in perfect order-fruits and veggies are out in the zwiqa all day. Hanuts are cooler-out of the hot sun, but don’t have a/c, so all products warm up. Every time I travel I end up w/my sytem out of whack. (Note that it is also common for PCVs to discuss their bodily functions far more readily than normal). It’s interesting to note that I’m never sick in Ribat El Kheir-my new “normal” is good on my sytem.

Walking slowly. Now there’s one way the women stay cooler in their jellabas w/long sleeved t-shirts underneath. They move at a snail’s pace. Gotta remember this when I’m trying to rush thru the Sefrou medina to catch my transit to Fes or back home.

Riada. Between feeling a bit punk each time I travel and the heat, my workout regime has suffered. I only hope that my suffering appetite is making up for it.

August vacations. Lots of people are gone this month. Lots of businesses, organizations on holiday. Hard to get work done ‘cuz no one’s around to get your questions answered. We could take a lesson from this. They don’t answer email or phones during vacation. Gee, maybe that’s what a vacation is for! Decided that I need to plan vacation next summer for August-miss some of the heat and Ramadan-the 2nd year PCVs learned their lesson and many are out of the country right now.

Time changing. Rumor has it that the time will change back to “old time” before Ramadan starts the end of this week. How does one know? Since Daylight Savings Time was just introduced to Morocco last year, some people continue to operate on “old time”, never changing their clocks. They’ll supposedly change back to old time for Ramadan to move up dusk when the fast is broken to give people relief from the heat of the day, now that Ramadan is in August (moves up in the lunar calendar about 2 weeks every year). That means that Daylight Savings Time will have been in effect only a few months-further confusing those to whom it is a new concept. Oh well.

Cooking-or the lack thereof. When your system is shwiya and you don’t feel like cooking, you gotta get somewhat creative in meal prep. Trade ideas w/other PCVs, ie; soak ramen noodles 20 min-no cooking needed, then add them to veggies and olive oil for a salad dinner. Yougurt, eggs and smoothies become staples.

Heat adjustment. You realize that sweating doesn’t bother you so much-it’s more noticeable when you’re NOT.

Travelling…You accept that 105 degrees and riding 7 in a taxi isn’t abnormal-and I keep forgetting that you may think that’s no big deal, but a/c in cars and buildings doesn’t exist. And then there was the transit ride today where we had 10 people plus the driver crammed in the space in front of the seats. You had to negotiate space to put your foot down flat and hold on. Was warmer when I actually got a seat-go figure!

You learn to wear as little clothes as custom allows in your duar, and fortunately my town is relatively liberal-I can wear a sleeveless shirt in the heat, and found that skirts are much cooler than pants (no shorts for women).

Doldrums and attitudes. Have had numerous discussions lately, mostly w/expat friends in Fes, that seem to regress into Morocco-bashing. I’m hoping it’s the heat and they’re all feeling worn down. They’re all here for careers or love, but have chosen to live here, so it’s particularly discouraging to sit in on these conversations. Then I realize that I’m not having the same feelings because I’m in such a different Morocco. Thank the Peace Corps for that. I’m learning the language and trying to use it always in my town. I’m not in a big city, so I’m less anonymous-maybe feel more a part of the town. And all my friends in Ribat El Kheir are Moroccan and only speak Arabic or Shilha. There are no other Westerners. I believe that, even with those friends married to Moroccans, I’m much more integrated into Morocco than they are. I don’t feel (despite the fact that I am and always will be a foreigner here) like I’m on the outside looking in. But gotta watch that I don’t get dragged down into these diatribes-too easy to get negative.

Just a reminder that life is a self fulfilling prophesy-you get what you expect. I'm expecting a cool breeze right about now, yak?

Friday, August 14, 2009

PC Recruiting

Peace Corps has an initiative to recruit more 50+ year olds into their ranks. Based on our training group, this is a good idea, as there were only 4 out of 26 of us fitting that description. I’ve helped the LA PC office PR folks a couple of times w/this effort, and will do so again next week-via Skype! They are hosting an information session for 50+ year olds and will be connecting with me via Skype “live” to have me describe my experience here and answer questions. We did a trial run last night to make certain their connection works-time lag may lead to them typing questions to me while I respond via the video feed. Should be interesting.

In anticipation of this, I’ve collected a few thoughts to share about the advantages and challenges that “older” volunteers may face....

1. Respect that comes with age. Here in Morocco, as is true in many countries, elders are respected greatly. (See, there are advantages that come w/letting the grey hair grow out)
2. Credibility-without knowing my background, people assume I know what I’m talking about-and the opposite is a frustration for younger volunteers.
3. Business experience to draw upon.
4. More experience figuring out how to get things done/problem solving.
5. Less harassment from kids and young men.
6. Access to authorities, incl. government officials, which helps get things done.
7. Older volunteers tend to have more patience and tolerance for others and differences
8. It’s not all about “us”
9. We’ve learned that the best solution is the one that the person doing the work believes in
10.We’ve learned to set realistic expectations
11. Confidence-it’s easy to allow circumstances to shake your confidence, but older volunteer tend to bounce back faster

Challenges (followed by how I’m trying to address them):
1. Language-We’ve been out of the academic/classroom setting a long time. I have 2 tutors I bounce off of each other-PC pays for one, I pick up the tab on the other one.
2. Younger volunteers-Other PCVs are a big part of your support network, and they’re mostly in their 20’s. Some older volunteers have difficulty w/this, but I find we all learn from one another and mix well.
3. The job is physical-from walking as your primary means of travel, travelling in unusual circumstances, extreme heat and cold, site requirements (availability of water and electricity vary), sleeping on the floor (when visiting other PCVs and staying in the homes of others), etc. I have Pilates DVDs I use for exercise.
4. Loss of privacy-Older volunteers have commonly lived alone before joining the PC. While you’ll have alone time, you’ll also find that your life is pretty open to all in your community. Make time for the community, but make time for yourself.

Common Challenges for both younger and older volunteers:
1. Remaining flexible in the face of frustrations-keep your goals in mind-it’s a process not a product
2. Missing significant events in the lives of loved ones-use Skype, email, packages as much as possible to feel connected
3. Your experience is what you make it. Don't wait for someone else to tell you what to do....make it IS a self-fulfilling prophecy
4. Be prepared for what may feel like invasive/personal questions, ie; are you married, do you have children, are you Muslim, do you support Obama, how much did that cost, do you live alone, are you fasting for Ramadan? These are not questions specific to you-in Morocco, they are questions that would be asked of anyone. Sometimes you are treated special because you are different from others in the community. However, it’s good to remember (with a dose of humility and humor) that sometimes you’re being treated just as they treat everyone else-and in Morocco, that means they want to know all of your business!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ain Leuh Revisited

OK, so while I stand by my last posting, here’s the good that came out of the week in Ain Leuh…..

Festival time brings tourists to this small duar-saw more than I’ve seen in a town that size since I’ve been in Morocco, and that’s good for the local economy.

Great to see Khadija (CBT training host “mom”)-she looks great, sat down with her for tea to catch up, and ordered a hanbl from her. It will be very special to have something that she has made in my home. I also got to see Ayoub-her son, but Ahelan was away on holiday w/relatives. Got to see a lot of the other Coop women that we worked with last fall as well.

Ate better than I have since I can remember. It was a gourmet’s delight. When I left this morning, there were 7 quarts of hand-picked blackberries just waiting to be made into confiture (jam). This is after we’ve eaten them plain, on French toast, in pancakes and in a O’Henrys crusted custard and blackberry pie. Yum. We feasted on homemade tortillas w/refried beans (ok, so Randy got pinto beans from the states), chicken and veggie curry (again, Randy shared some of her precious curry paste from the states), fried rice, pasta salad, chicken and cheese béarnaise crepes…and the list goes on. Fortunately Lisa and Kristen LOVE to cook, and the rest of us are fine w/doing the clean up, so we made a good team.

I fell in love w/Randy’s new calico kitten-what an absolute doll! She’s playful as anything and sooo cute. Was very tempted to take up the offer of her sister kitten in town, but decided to stay pet-less.

Learned to play Scrabble-never made it into my game playing repertoire before this-from some masters. Taught them Rummicube.

Slept under mountain cooled summer full moon.

Showers every day-water avail all day long!

Nice hike up the mountain above the village for a picnic.

Laughed hysterically as we rode the bumper cars at the festival/carnival late one night.

Sucked down lots of ns ns kbir (basically your large latte) at the new zwin outdoor qhaHawa overlooking the town.

And last but not least, left behind a terrific mural on a large horizontal wall in the center of town. Done with the help of the campers and many kids too small for the camp who came and worked very hard to finish the project. Got many wonderful comments from townspeople, and drew onlookers constantly who watched this dirty wall, once marked by black boxes for the recent election, morph into a wonderful scene of a Berber woman working to help preserve their beautiful Ain Leuh.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Disappointed and disgusted. Have stayed longer at Ain Leuh camp to help out, but am going home tomorrow.

OK, when we were given the “hands off” request for camp, we decided to make our own camp, complete with blackberry picking (leading to syrup on our French toast each morning and fresh blackberry pie-did I mention that we’re eating very well here?), game nights, draw-offs (several artisans in the group). Having a good time with this group of 6 PCVs, working in the morning, doing our own thing the rest of the day.

Thennnnnnn…..seems that the camp “leaders” want our help. No-they want us to take full responsibility for the mural. The camp “leaders”-I use the term very loosely- maybe show up during the morning-that’s all. Waxa. But they initially tell us they want 3 murals, but they don’t have money for more paint. But that leads to another topic which I need to address here.

Rrshwa. Corruption. Alive and kicking here. Discouraging, disappointing, pervasive, no sign of it going away.

The PCV here did the right thing, great idea, passed along info on a grant available from a French organization for environment projects involving youth in Morocco. An Association here submitted a request and got 70,000DH for a 10 day environment camp and 3 field trips thru the year for 60 campers (40 are attending). Sounds great, right?

As we’ve roughly figured it, looks like the Assoc. Pres. and at least one other guy (one of the leaders) will be pocketing tens of thousands of DH when it's all done. Of the monies allocated to painting murals, less than ½ has been spent. The guy in charge of the kitchen wasn’t allowed to spend money on vegetables for the couscous yesterday and dinner is (cheap) harira soup and bread. The first field trip is walking up to a pool above town (at no cost). The Assn Pres. has instructed that all purchases are to be made at his hanut, or a friend’s hanut, where they will keep an accounting and he’ll pay them later. Absolutely no check and balance or accountability. He’s holding all the monies and nothing’s going out to support the camp or campers. We’ve even talked to a couple of the guys who are involved with the camp-not the main leaders, but peripherally involved, and they acknowledge what is going on, but say they can’t do anything to change it-it involves their friends or relatives. But isn’t that always gonna be the case, so who is going to step up and hold others accountable to what they’ve promised? This is not the type of sustainable behavior we’re trying to encourage. Now we’re being told that “they’ve accomplished the camp objectives”-5 days early, aren’t they efficient (despite no programming), that they’ll probably shut down the camp and return any unused money. Right. We’ve been watching and are not that stupid.

Then there’s the Environment part of the camp. Or not. There is no programming except the mural (which they have completely abdicated all responsibility to us), and some park clean up from 9-11 each day and one astronomy workshop that a PCV ran. After lunch, the “campers” have free time until dinner, which is about 10pm. Yes, that’s 2pm-10pm w/nothing planned. No environment programs or workshops or activities. The PCV here shared ideas for workshops well beforehand, but no supplies were purchased and no plans decided on. There are no counselors and the campers (ages 14-20, girls and boys) sleep unsupervised in a dorm each night. No surprise that drugs, broken window, fights and inappropriate interactions have occurred. Somehow the parents seem to be fine with this arrangement. Go figure.

So after 4 days of working on the mural and helping with park clean up, we’ve told them that we’re done when we complete the mural. Don’t want any responsibility for trouble from their lack of planning, programming or supervision of the campers. While there are 6 PCVs helping, this is not a Peace Corps program and don't want them dragged into any issues that may occur from irresponsibility on their part. Safi. We’re done. We’ve had a number of the campers work really well w/the painting and the mural does look great, but we’ve also seen where they’ve graffitied with the scarce paint, been in our faces, been disrespectful, and there are no consequences.

Then the PCV here, who is still trying to help the campers do something in their long afternoon free time, talks w/one of the “leaders” about this and don’t they need to plan something to keep the campers occupied and out of trouble? He agrees and then has the audacity to tell her that it’s her fault for “bailing out on the workshops”. How dare he suggest that she’s responsible for no programs. It’s amazing to me the lack of responsibility they are taking, while pocketing the vast majority of funds, and trying to deflect anything and everything elsewhere. Yes, I know corruption happens in Morocco. Been told so by Moroccans. While it may not come as a surprise, it is still incredibly disappointing.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ain Leuh

It’s been an interesting week so far back in my old CBT (training)site…..

First of all, came in town for their miHarajan (festival) over the weekend, and quite the festival it’s been! Hadeus contests every night on the main stage, Berber tents up everywhere, carnival for the kids, and the fabulous Fantasia Monday afternoon (check out the pics of the horses-they were charging right at us). This is big time-sorry REK, but you’ve a long way to go to match this. More people by far than I’ve ever seen here, and families say they had as many as 30 relatives staying with them for the 3 day event. It’s over now, and the town is settling back into normalcy.

Randy, the PCV here in Ain Leuh, has been the most generous hostess, with as many as 6 of us staying at her place at a time in revolving door fashion. She’s decorated her place very nicely-very homey and the group is getting along very well despite close quarters. Everyone pitches in for the cooking and cleaning up and the menu is way better than I do for myself-yummy pasta salad, homemade tortillas w/refried beans, handpicked blackberry syrup over French toast. A girl could get spoiled here.

It’s been fun being back in my old CBT site-seeing women from the Coop that we worked with, spending time with Khadija (my host mom), and seeing the changes in town since we were here last fall. Both strange and familiar at the same time.

I was supposed to do a workshop on developing a logo for the Coop. Randy had it all set up with the women, on their calendar and we confirmed w/them on Saturday. Time for the workshop on Monday afternoon and Khadija is napping and none of the other women are there. Khadija gets up and tells us that none of the other women can make it since they still have lots of family in their homes for the festival. Oh, and we can’t do it later in the week because they’re going to Ifrane to set up a booth at that festival the rest of the week. So she’ll do it with us. We explain that it’s important to have the input of the entire group, that they feel it is “theirs”, not just Khadija’s design and idea. She understands, says she’ll get the women there 2 hours later, but we decide to reschedule. Dragging women away from their families is not conducive to a brainstorming workshop. We’ll come back and do it. Meanwhile, I order a hanbl from Khadija-want her to make one for me, so I’ve got the yarn all picked out and will take whatever design she comes up with-I know it will be beautiful.

The main reason that everyone else is here is to help out with the Environment Camp that starts today and runs for about 9 days for 60 youth from 14-20 years of age here in Ain Leuh. We’re learning Moroccan flexibility the hard way. Randy has been meeting with the Camp committee for months, helping them with ideas, planning, etc. The organizers have changed from the Men’s Association, to the youth, and now it’s gonna be run by the youth who attended camp last year. Now the objective is to make it a learning experience for them. Good to know. That certainly changes our approach, which was based on helping them have a fun experience, staying engaged and especially helping them get a mural painted. All came to a head yesterday, after the 6 of us spent the last 2 days prepping a wall for the mural, that they felt we had basically taken over and they wanted the kids to “own” the mural-soup to nuts, success or failure. Fine, just needed to let us know. A little confusing when one of them was helping us do the work the last 2 days, to then be told that’s not what they want us to do. Breathe, stay flexible, they’re still learning how to do this themselves. Waxa. We’re happy to just be helping hands if that’s what they want. We’ll wait to be asked/told how they want us to help each day. But that’s kinda how things run in Morocco-last minute, not much planning, may or may not happen, may be cancelled or rescheduled, etc. Go with the flow.

Meanwhile, we took a nice long hike and picnic one day up above Ain Leuh, been playing cards, Rummicube, Scrabble, working on shared projects, enjoying coffee at the new café overlooking town, etc. But I don’t think I’ll be extending my stay to help w/the camp beyond my original plan of leaving Friday.

Time weighs heavily on all our hands right now, and this is why so many of us are available to be here in Ain Leuh for the week. August is the holiday month, so it’s hard to make progress on projects in our sites when neddis/coops/associations are closed and people are away. Those who aren’t on holiday don’t want to work in the heat of the day. Phones are off and emails go unanswered. Ramadan is looming close and then the entire schedule gets shifted to nighttime after l-ftr (break fast) at sundown. How do we move forward w/our projects when we can’t meet w/anyone? Easy to drop into cynicism at times like these. Especially easy when a bunch of PCVs get together, like we are this week-really have to watch that conversations and frustrations don’t deteriorate into bitch sessions making sweeping generalizations about Morocco and Moroccans. Remind ourselves and one another that it’s not about us, what we do, but what they do after we’re gone.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer Doldrums

Oh my gosh, it’s already August. How did that happen? And why is it that lately it’s feeling like November 2010 is a very long way away? (That’s when I finish my service). Time is flying, but I’m feeling a little homesick. Maybe cuz everyone here is on holiday during August-travelling to visit family, and I wish I was as well. Booked a flight to go to SF for Xmas. My original plan was to use all my vacation days to travel in this region, but I know by the time the American holidays roll around, I’ll be really happy that I’ve got plans to visit family.

I’ve also been in my site for 2 full weeks, and I have to say, it’s been terrific. Had a number of visitors and 2 day trips, but sleeping in my own bed every night is a very good thing. Considered sleeping on the roof to stop sweating in my sleep, but a mattress is a powerful draw. Besides, I wouldn’t want to wear much clothing even on the roof, and that would really be hshuma. I already feel like I have to duck between windows in my apt when going to bed buck naked. Conservative culture has interesting effects on a person.

Anyway, the travel begins again-heading off to Ain Leuh later today for a week. I’ll be staying w/another Volunteer (Randy), along w/several other Volunteers who are really a good group. Ain Leuh has their annual Festival this weekend, on Monday I’m doing a Logo Workshop for the Taeawniya women there, and the rest of the week I’ll be helping out with a PC Environment Camp. I’ll also visit w/my host family from training. I want to order a handira from Khadija, my host “mom”-they do what is probably the most intricate weaving in all of Morocco. Should be a good week.

Meanwhile, the language study bug has bit me again, and it’s long overdue. I’ve admittedly been lazy about studying. Been busy w/other things, and ‘tho I’ve continued w/tutoring, have not put in the time to memorize new vocab and seek out additional conversation opportunities. So today I had some time and have put together a new set of flash cards, and last night sat w/Mariam the pharmacist, to just talk. She wants to learn English, and we’re gonna try conversation where she uses English and I use Darija. Inshallah this works for both of us. Meantime I’ve got a lot of vocab to commit to memory. Some of the new vocab came from tutoring Thursday-where we traded proverbs. My favorite from tutor Aziz was “Ila klb mnbaHsh, endu edm f fmu”. It’s a commentary about corruption, translated it means “If the dog doesn’t bark, it has a bone in its mouth”. He cracked up at the old adage “Assume makes an ass out of you and me”. Trust me, you need new material for tutoring sessions when you have them multiple times a week which I finally did since I was in town. Now I gotta put it into good use.