Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tbarkalikum Jam3ia Azaytun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2009

At long last, no fast....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ana shbet.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mbruk Leid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mbruk Leid

Sunday, September 13, 2009

...and it's always an adventure.

Happy Birthday Phil!

message started on Sept 11th…… Sitting here in Oulmes feelin’ a bit nostalgic, listening to what the others are calling “classics”-I remember the music as the music of my “youth”. It’s back to school time here, it’s also weather cool enough to wear a light sweater-is fall here so quickly? Several of the younger PCVs here are relatively recent college grads and not going back to school is a new phenomenon for them. Oh my gosh-Simon and Garfunkel. Wow.

We made it through cheese making in Khemisset over the last couple of days-9 of us gathered for the workshops. Lisa had us very well set, with copies of recipes and directions (this is no small task in this country), and a schedule to watch since there were always several cheeses in process simultaneously. We made Neufchatel, Yogurt cheese (after making the fresh yogurt), Ricotta, Feta and Gouda. We ate cheese and crackers, put it on homemade pizza, had sweetened ricotta on Henry’s crackers (like graham crackers), but have to wait for the Gouda to age a month until it’s ready. That’s a lot of dairy! That’s a LOT of very fresh milk (buy it in souk in a baggie out of the metal milk canister), and a LOT of curds and whey. Interesting-as in educational- and since it’s basically the same group that was together for the Environment Camp in Ain Leuh, a lot of fun, good eating, and more Scrabble and Rummicube.

So now we’ve made it to Oulmes, Jon and Emily’s site, and moved on to paper making. You ought to see the cards, embroidered and decorated homemade papers that Emily’s already made as examples. Exquisite. (As a side note, wish you could see the hysterical cartoons that Jon has made of Morocco traditions in a NYC context-he’s a fabulous artist-but not certain they’d make sense if you’ve not lived here).

It’s a nice contrast to the craziness of my day in Fes on the way to the workshops. Checking on arrangements with the table/tent/chair rental business and Al Qods and the Ministry to confirm lodging for all the artisans for the upcoming Workshop/MarcheMaroc2009. Good thing I went to see them, as what I had been told on at least 2 prior occasions was now not going to be the case-availability and pricing. Will be back again week after next to make certain things don’t change on me yet again. Then found that my hotel room (reserved in person in the morning) had been sold out from under me and at 10pm had to find another room-which was mosquito-filled and unbearably hot-not certain I slept at all that night.

So I had a Skype date Friday night with “The Girls”, since they’ve all been together this weekend in Boulder. This is the 2nd Girls Weekend in a row I’ve missed. It was great to “see” them all and catch up a bit, albeit quickly. Fortunately I wasn’t expected to report in on my goals. FYI, at Girls Weekend, we all have dedicated time to catch everyone up on our lives, to report on our Personal and Professional Goals made the year prior, and to make new Goals. Yes, we’re accountable to ourselves and each other. It’s a great group, and I really miss getting together with them.

Yesterday we took a break from papermaking to take a 12km steep hike DOWN and back UP from “the source” of the infamous Oulmes and SidiAli waters. They’re Morocco’s largest bottler of mineral and still waters. We were amazed that we could walk, much less not hurt today. Must be all the squatting over the Turkish toilet that’s strengthened the quads!

Then, just for a little mix of nostalgia and comfort, we made a baked chicken/stuffing/mashed potato dinner. Yum. Boy I eat well when I pal around w/these guys. Need to do it as much as possible!

Yesterday was Debbie and Phil’s housewarming party and Phil’s 50th birthday party. Sad to be missing it-would be such fun to be there. Hope the 50 black helium balloons I ordered to be delivered made up for not being able to join in the celebration.

And the journey continued….in Meknes. Randy and I were going home the same direction, so we left Oulmes and after multiple taxis, made it to the Meknes souk. She had heard that it was one worth visiting, and was so inspired by the papermaking that she wanted to get some supplies to do it in her site. OK, so she got the used sheets and blanket, but that doesn’t compare w/her main purchase, and the main adventure of the day. Shuf-l biban (look at the doors)! Narrow, old, painted doors. Great shelves for the showroom makeover she’s planning for her Coop. (My personal belief is that they’ll next be seen in Randy’s own zwin apt). Nevertheless, the old guy gave her the price, she countered and it was “game on”. Now I was the negotiator (in Arabic of course) with a crowd gathering about 3 deep. Negotiating for price, delivery to the bus station she’d be leaving from, the time, the deposit, etc. It was quite entertaining, if I do say so….when the old guy and I had an understanding and some guy comes over to “help us in English” I let him know “maxssnish nta, bgit ntkellm l-arbia”-(I don’t need you, I want to speak Arabic). The old man agreed and the deal was sealed with a handshake. With a killer deal, a 100DH deposit and a promise that he’d show up at 3pm at the mhatta d kiran krib d mhatta d taxiyat l Meknes (bus station by the taxistand to Meknes) where she’d pay him the rest, we left. Wandered briefly around the old medina-Randy hadn’t seen it before, then set off by foot to the bus station. Ran into Cortney, fresh from the US via Casablanca, on her way to her site-at the taxi stand-yes, it is a small world! Waiting for the door guy to show up. Really felt we could trust him. About 3:10 (remarkably prompt), he comes up to us and says he has the doors, but it will be an additional 100DH, because he delivered them, through a downpour (he IS soaking wet). Again the negotiation. Yet again a crowd forms-this one in front of the bus station, with others, yet again, trying to get involved (this is usually in French, which neither of us understand). I finally get the others to leave us alone, as Randy wants the doors, but he’s holding them hostage. He’s getting upset. Wants to leave. Blati, blati (wait, wait). Get him aside to agree on an extra 50DH. He’s happy-we shake again on the successful deal-he gets them onto the bus, and Randy has ZWIN old, solid wood, Moroccan painted doors for about $70.

A reminder that it’s never as simple as you think it will be, and to stay open to the adventure.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lik Jumla d Allah, Li Bgiti

We’re into week 3 of Ramadan, and you get used to the routine-hard to anticipate when people will be around, when shops will open, and if they'll open, everything and everyone moving slowly. Find myself doing the unintended fast-not eating or drinking out of respect for those fasting-and this could be as long as 10 hrs w/travelling. Of course, they’re going much longer without, but I’ve got no motivation to participate (other than respecting their choice). Fights breaking out for no real reason on the transit. Thirst is the worst. Can’t imagine next year when Ramadan is the entire month of (HOT) August. After a long day of travel, I can down 2liters of water in a little over 1 hr. How do they make up the daily dehydration? Oh well, I’ll be out of site for the next week, but will be back for Leid Sgira-the celebration of the end of Ramadan-when the new moon is spotted.

Got some sweet news from the PC office. They’re looking for a host family for a new Youth Development PCV to be posted here in Ribat El Kheir (after he finishes training in November). I’ve been lobbying for this to happen, as I think it’s a great PCV town-very welcoming and accepting, and there are tons of good kids w/nothing to do-no after school or weekend activities. Besides, it’ll be great to have another PCV so close by.

And then there’s the application for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Amina from Sefrou attended (and received financial assistance from the Market) and apparently did very well with sales. Now the Adwal women are even more interested in attending. As I’ve said before, I want to support them in their efforts, but want to help them make good decisions. I’ve got a couple of key concerns. First, can the women produce enough product between now and July to make a profit (esp. since they’re only ¼ done with the WaresDinner order and will be working on it thru December)? And are they aware of the costs (above receiving financial assistance from the Market) associated w/attending the Market? So. I wrote to the Market manager to get some more info. Got some good info from him, and have shared all of this with Zahra and Fatima. I also put my “2 cents” in w/a recommendation: that they focus on producing as much as they can for the next 1 ½ years and apply for the 2011 Market. I’ll be back in the states by that time and could help them “on the ground” during that Market. Note: you can’t apply now for the following year-already asked that question. However, I’ve also helped them fill out the applications-because of course it’s all in English-and have told them I’ll help them do whatever they decide to do. Ball’s in their court.

Fatima and I have started back w/English classes. I think she’s newly motivated w/the prospect of going to the US for the Market. Whatever the reason, she’s motivated, and that makes for a good situation. Inshallah she sticks w/it. Also helps that she knows some French, so not starting from scratch.

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m glad we had a little rain last night and this afternoon-first since early May. It also means that it’s cooled off a bit. We still get over 100 degree days, but we’re getting a few more in the 80-90’s, which is such a relief.

And then there's the Busta Santa (the older guy at the Post Office who waves me out of line to have me sign for packages-bless his parents). Haven't been to the busta in a couple of weeks. Hey-no junk mail filling up my PO Box-jealous, yak? Anyway, a shout out to Jo, Ginger and Liz. 3 Packages! Hamdullah! Now I know I've said time and time again that I have MORE than I need here-much more. But not all that I want-or even desire. Simple things. Rang true when I get Jelly Bellies and magazines and a solar shower! Who knew how much I missed the simple pleasure of flipping through a magazine? Do I need it? Of course not. But bless their parents too!

So if you haven't figured it out yet, God Bless your parents is a very common "God phrase" here. There are MANY God phrases-several for every occasion. I'm a bad girl. I've not memorized them all. I have my standard ones-seem to work for me. Jokingly had my tutor check my translation "Lik jumla d Allah, li bgiti". Roughly means "God phrase to you-pick one you like". Mostly use it w/other PCVs (don't want to offend), and have found others using it as well. Hah!

Well, I now have to break down the tp/papertowel holders, boxes and milk cartons I’ve been collecting to take with me this week. Two workshops-cheesemaking at Lisa’s in Khemmisset and papermaking at the Lindberg’s in Oulmes. Should be interesting and fun. Trek slama.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Berber Culture, Language, etc.

More, courtesy once again from M'Hamed, our librarian and his weekly newfeeds (God Bless his parents)...

Trail-blazing for Morocco's Berber speakers.By Sylvia Smith , BBC News, Agadir

Aischa Bardoun sees herself as a trail-blazer. She is one of the first Moroccans to get a masters degree in the Amazigh language, spoken by the country's Berber majority. "We are very excited," she says. "We studied the older texts that were passed down orally, but we are also writing new literature to reflect the current situation for Berbers in Morocco. It's really ground-breaking."

Although Berbers were Morocco's first inhabitants and account for some 60% of Morocco's population, they faced widespread discrimination and it is only now that the language is required to be taught in public school. Their academic qualifications may not help them much on the jobs market, but the availability of a further degree in a subject that was once virtually outlawed in their North African country underscores Berber success in gaining official acceptance of the language.

As well as the University of Ibn Zohr offering degrees in Amazigh, an umbrella term for the three dialects of Berber that are spoken in Morocco, the previously oral-only language has moved further into the mainstream with the creation of a Royal Institute of Amazigh language and culture.


Ms Bardoun and her classmates are all big fans of the doyenne of Moroccan Amazigh singers Raissa Talbensirt. In her late 50s, Ms Talbensirt speaks only Tashelheit, the local dialect, but was a huge hit at the annual Berber festival, Timitar, attended by tens of thousands of young people. She can neither read nor write but composes traditional music with local musicians. "I am glad that the music is being carried forward by the new generation," she says. "They listen on iPods and watch video clips on their computers, but it all helps our cause."

New alphabet

Although many Amazigh are illiterate, the government has put in place measures to assist schools to teach the written form of the language. The Royal Institute of Amazigh has overseen the creation of an alphabet based partly on the mystical signs and symbols of the Tuareg found inscribed on tombs and monuments. This written form is expected to have a unifying effect. It is essentially a new form of the language which, it is hoped, all Moroccan Berbers will speak and understand.

It has also raised unrealistic hopes according to Ahmed Sabir, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ibn Zohr. "We were very oversubscribed when we started accepting applications for our Amazigh courses," he explains. "Some students feel having a degree in the language will help get a job. Unfortunately that is not necessarily the case."

Fears of extremism

But while many Berbers, until recently excluded from jobs in education and government, make up Morocco's underclass, there are also the super-rich who have made fortunes in business. Many live in the commercial capital, Casablanca, and in the past funded Berber activist groups.

According to Gerd Becker, a German cultural consultant living just outside Agadir, the main reason for the recent change of heart over Berber status stems from the government's desire to provide an alternative model to the radical Wahabi form of Islam. "There was a danger of the country being taken over by fundamentalism," he says. "The Amazigh culture offers a ready-made, more liberal identity that many Moroccans already identify with."

Although most Berbers are Muslim, some are Jewish or even Christian and with Amazigh stretching across northern Africa from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger and Mali to Morocco, it is language that holds the rather disparate elements together.

And while Arabic remains the official language of the country, when it comes to music, young Moroccans either listen to Western music, or to rap in Amazigh.

Foreign language

Fatman, lead singer with the Agdir-based hip-hop band rap2bled says that the Berber language is being used to pass on messages about drug use and unemployment. "My parents couldn't read a newspaper or understand the television because they were in Arabic," he says. "Now we have our own television channel and magazines in Berber. We feel much closer now to people in the Rif and Atlas Mountains."

But for intellectuals and activists, this is just the beginning. Abullah Aourik, an artist and publisher of a magazine in Amazigh, wants to see Berber replace Arabic as the official language of the country. "We think it would be appropriate to change part of our constitution so that Arabic is no longer required for legal documents or for any official communication," he insists. "Most Moroccans grow up speaking Berber - why should they be at a disadvantage in having to use classical Arabic which is a foreign language whenever they brush up against bureaucracy?"

The government may not be ready yet to entertain this idea which seems far-fetched to even the majority of the Amazigh themselves, but the teaching of Amazigh in public schools and at university level could in the future lead to it being recognised as a national language - as it already is in Algeria, Mali and Niger.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Productive Work Week

My what a week it’s been-tons of meetings that went even better than expected-hamdullah!

Got an early taxi on Saturday morning to Fes to accompany Zahra to FedEx and get the first shipment of table runners off to the US. Can’t wait for feedback from the WaresDinner crew-both on the table runners and the cost of the 12kg pkg. They were paying shipping, but I won’t be surprised if they want to use an alternative method once they see the bill. Hope they love the women’s work. They’ve been very patient as the production of the 2mtr x ½ mtr weavings has taken far longer than the Coop women estimated.

Ran into another PCV while in Fes and we hung out Saturday-she was Casablanca-bound for a vacation to the US. Watched the sun setting over the medina and the changes in the crowd as l-ftr approached. Ate 10DH pastilla (how can that be?) on the roof of the Cascade and walked thru the post-ftr medina as it came back to life. And did it come back to life! Until the 3am feast. That’s basically all night. And did I mention that it was sweaty hot? And bugs were biting? No sleep for 2 nights. Miserable. Good thing I like Fes so much.

Sunday did improve. Called friend Gale and went to her place in the medina, took off the shoes and put our feet in the wading pool on the roof while her daughter Francesca played in the water. Later I ran into other friends in the medina and caught up on the roof of a café before going for l-ftr. They may come to Hermoumou this weekend for a visit. Merhababikum.

Monday I was able to meet w/the vice-mundub at the Artisanat to get some questions answered, but still don’t have the paper from the Ministry of Youth and Sport in Rabat to authorize our use of the Al QODS for the artisans to stay during the Workshop/Craft Fair. Waited around for the mundub to show up to ask him to make a call for us. No luck-he was a no-show. Ramadan schedules make it hard to know when people will be in their offices-sometimes they can’t tell you when they’ll be there either! So it was off to the train station to get to Casablanca for a meeting.

Fortunately Mohamed was waiting for me when I got off the train 3 1/2 hours later-had only met him once and was hoping we’d recognize each other. This is the guy who I’ve spoken with numerous times about coming to the Workshop/Craft Fair to do product quality consultations with each of the participating artisans. Each time we talk, he promises to send me his proposal. Never receive anything. Decided to set up a face-to-face meeting. A bit uncertain whether he’d show (but better to know that in a meeting w/just me vs expecting him for a full day of consultations and not showing up). He was there w/his colleague. Went to their office to hash out the details of what I want them to do, reminded him of the cost he quoted-had to do so, as the budget is already approved-and since I never got a proposal from him, had to go w/what I had, and that’s the limit. Safi? We're on track and I think they'll do a great job.

Made it back to Rabat to check into my hotel just before everything shut down for l-ftr. Hamdullah. Went out for some ice cream, which I brought back to my room, took a fabulous shower, got comfy, watched a downloaded TV show and slept and slept and slept (12 hrs) with a sea breeze coming in my window (sans bugs). Simple pleasures never grow old.

Got a bunch of work done Tuesday at the PC office. That is, before running out to find a cyber for the Skype conference call I scheduled w/a couple other PCVs at 1pm. When I set it up, figured it would be easy-just do the call from the PC Lounge, which has 4 computers w/internet, scanner, printer, etc. No deal. No Skype loading on the PC computers. Bummer. Anyway, it worked out. They're getting the MarcheMaroc2009 artisan invitations out.

Then it was off to stay at a training center where the LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators-basically the trainers) are going thru Train the Trainer for the new group of Volunteers who show up next week in Rabat. Two other volunteers and myself participated in a session on “Language Learning for the 50+ Volunteer”. Apparently there are about 10 “older” volunteers in this next group and everyone’s nervous about their language learning. Seems to me that many of the challenges faced by older volunteers are common across the entire volunteer group-not necessarily an age thing. Gotta watch out for that self fulfilling prophecy.

Then it was back to the Hotel Velleda in Rabat Ville-cheap, clean, across from the lagar (train station). Had a very productive initial meeting w/a dynamic woman I met in Casablanca at the MEPI Breast Cancer Awareness Roundtable in June. I met her there, found out she is on the Board of the Businesswomen’s Assn in Rabat, and mentioned that I wanted to talk w/her about an idea I had. This was my first visit back to this side of Morocco since then, and she graciously gave us (now w/2 other PCVs) time in her office (where she’s Managing Director of a prominent Printing Company). Anyway, here’s my idea. What about matching up women from the Businesswomen’s Association to mentor women from the Coop’s/Associations/Neddis that we Business Development PCVs work with? Then, when we’re done with our 2 year service, these artisan/emerging businesswomen would have a HCN (host country national) resource to go to for additional business guidance and consulting. Building sustainability, yak?

Well, she loved the idea! She’s in charge of Entrepreneurial Development for her organization (which is over 400 women strong, 7 Regional chapters, all independent business owners/managers), and they’ve been looking to extend their reach into rural Morocco. Ham-du-li-lah! They already put on training, do extensive advocacy, set up internships, etc. So now we’re putting together a Project Framework, to spell out the Goals, Objectives, Expectations, etc. that we can get agreement on from both her organization and the Peace Corps. Inshallah this is the start of sustainable business consultancy and competency for women artisans in rural Morocco.

We figured getting food, ie; restaurant, etc., would be easier in Rabat-tons of expats since it’s the capitol of Morocco-during Ramadan. No such luck. Gotta plan your meals ahead of time so you have food when you’re hungry-no small task, and made harder w/travel. We sat outside the German Institute last night for 45 minutes, until all the staff returned from l-ftr at home, just so we could have salads and alcohol. Should have known better-tomatoes and lettuce are hard to get completely clean. I was reminded of this at 3am this morning w/stomach cramps. Thank God for Pepto Bismol.

So then we met today w/Sandy, who runs the Commissary at the American Center (next to the US Embassy) in Rabat, to talk about selling artisan products in the Commisarry and putting on a Craft Fair on their grounds next spring. She also was very open to these ideas and Brian and I will work with her to make this happen (thanks to Linda for the introduction to this key contact). Had to close our eyes to the Commissary (size of a 7-11) products, all brought in from the US, as PCVs aren't allowed to buy from there (can you hear those Tootsie Rolls calling my name?).

Now it’s back to Fes, with meetings tomorrow at the Artisanat and American Language Center, following up on questions and requests for the Workshop/Craft Fair.

I must say, a very productive week. Gadi ykun skgul-kayejbuni (I’m gonna be busy-I like this)!