Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Well here I am, finally back in REK for New Years. Fortunately it was an uneventful, while lengthy, return trip-no delays, no snow, no rain, no sleep, just long. Good to sleep in my own bed last night.

It was such a great trip-to see family and friends during such a special time of the year. I’m surprised both at how easy it was to be there-felt very normal-and it was a lot easier than I expected to leave. Perhaps knowing that I have only 11 short months left and a lot to do helped ease that pain. There’s that along with everything I got to do while I was in SF…..everything that was on my list….

Ate out 3 times, 2 of which were Mexican (Hamdullah). Saw 3 movies. Peppermint ice cream. Starbucks. The annual Christmas jigsaw puzzles. Just sitting around drinking coffee and catching up. Got my errands done-bought See’s candy for gifts to bring back. Made a trip to the grocery store for spices, mixes, Kraft mac’n cheese. Got all the stuff I had ordered on-line ahead to bring back with me-sporting a fine new winter down coat. Santa got the message about the cold here last winter and gave me new fleece, wool sweaters, gloves, scarves and a whole box of chemical hand warmers. All of it made it into my bags (and contributed to a hefty, but happy-to-pay, overweight luggage fee) and contributed to the decision to wait it out for a bus direct to REK last night-didn’t want to have to schlep the heavy bag on 5 separate transits (settled for 3 instead).

Home this morning to do Pete’s apartment check so he can start moving into his own place here tomorrow. Heading to Sefrou for New Year’s at Jess’s. She’s just back from UK for Christmas. Jonathan and Joy are in town as well and will join us. Should be fun.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas morning and some of the family are still tucked in their beds (visions of sugarplums….). Debbie and Phil’s new house accommodates us all-but it’s a bit like Morocco-style sleeping-living room, etc. It’s working for us. (oops-everyone woke up and had to finish this on Friday).

And besides, it’s just great to be here. Didn’t know for a bit if/when it was gonna happen. Got caught in the 40-year record making snowstorm of the eastern seaboard and wouldn’t you know it, JFK shut down just as I arrived from Casablanca last Saturday. Was rescheduled for a flight the next morning. OK, we can make that work However, since the entire place is shut down, all hotels are booked, so I get a reservation and taxi to LaGuardia for a night in the Holiday Inn. Felt like I was in the lap of luxury-a hot shower with full water pressure, comfy bed, TV, room service. Just my luck-and I mean that in the most positive sense-there’s a 24/7 business center off the lobby where I can check the status of my flight. See, the storm was making it’s way up the East Coast and hadn’t hit when I landed, but was coming in that night-with a vengeance. Get up at 6am to check flight for 2pm. Cancelled. Rescheduled for Dec 23rd. Yikes. Hamdullah, I can check alternatives online and that’s what I do. (You don’t realize how paralyzed you are without a cell phone or internet access). I find another flight, now booking through American, going thru LAX to SFO. Buy the one-way ticket and head off to JFK. Manage to snag the only taxi from La Guardia to JFK, as LaGuardia is still shut down.

I arrive at 7am at JFK-it’s also a ghost town, traffic-wise, but tons of people trying to figure out their next move. Bummer, my flight has been delayed from 11am to 2pm, so I won’t make the connection in LAX to SFO. No problem, I’ll buy myself a 3rd ticket from LAX to SFO on another local carrier-just wanna get there. There are only 3 flights scheduled to leave out of JFK for the day-one to Norita Japan, one to Atlanta, and the LAX flight. Otherwise the departure board is nothing but red “cancelled” notices. Could I be so lucky?

Make my way to the gate to wait for the flight. I’m on the phone to Debbie to get a Southwest LAX-SFO flight booked when I hear the Atlanta flight cancelled. Yikes. Hold off on the Southwest ticket. Wait just a bit longer and sure enough, the LAX flight is also cancelled. Crap. Now what? Have to get in the incredibly long line to re-book. Look-there are 2 new LAX flights on the board! Yipee! Surely I’m on one of those? And my luggage will go and all will be safi, yak? After 1½ hours in line, and still a long way to go, I get the attention of a very helpful agent who checks and informs me I’m not on the new flights and have been re-booked for the 24th. Damn.

Now I’m really hustling-what options do I have besides 4 more days stuck in NYC? I’m on the phone w/Debbie-buying the cheapest junk I can in shops to get change to feed the payphone. Keep running out of quarters and getting disconnected. SOOOOOOOOO frustrating. Debbie’s doing a hero’s job in the early morning hours her time to try to get a flight for me, out of any airport in the surrounding area. But of course, she can’t call me back. We agree to work from our sides of the country and I’ll check in later. Now I gotta try and get my luggage. Really great guys down at the baggage center take about 45 minutes trying to track down my luggage to get it for me. It’s a lost cause-it’s gone ahead to LAX-but not due to any lack of effort on their part. More quarters and check in w/Debbie. She and I are quickly in tears when she tells me she’s managed to get me a flight for the next afternoon to SFO on American (those loyalty programs really pay off). After about 8 hours in JFK, I can get another hotel room and settle in for the evening with the knowledge that I’ll be w/family the next day.

Monday morning at JFK is business as usual. You’d never know it had been shut down for 2 days. Remarkable! My flight takes off w/o a hitch. But my luggage is still at LAX (confirmed by Delta). How to get it to SFO, maybe even before I get there? I decide to work on that during my layover in Dallas. Where the heck is a pay phone? Can’t find one. Ask desk agent. They can’t locate one, and ask me what I need. Geez-long, boring story and I’m gonna end up on hold for a long time. “No problem” says Michelle, “let’s see if I can help”. I explain what my luggage situation is-it only went to LAX via Delta and I’m now flying American to SFO. Michelle gets her own cell phone-tells me that the desk phone won’t allow her to call Delta luggage center in LAX. Making calls, staying on hold, for 45 minutes until she’s got an agreement that Delta will take my luggage over to American to get it on an SFO-bound flight. She doesn’t know if it will work, but has done all she can, and far more than any of us would ask. Bless her parents.

Well, just to conclude this travel saga, I get to SFO to be greeted by Debbie, Philip and Joanne-what a terrific welcoming committee-and a sight for sore eyes! So what if it took 2 more days and many more calls to get my luggage-I was with my family.

And just in time, since Debbie’s arranged for a “girl’s day” on Tuesday all day w/7 of us sitting around eating, drinking, talking and catching up. A very special day with a wonderful group of women.

So we’ve had a chance to do some window shopping, saw Phil in the Christmas Carol production he was in, spend lots of fun time with Sandy, Mike and Alex and a nice, relaxing Christmas day.

Now we’re off to do a bit more window shopping-mostly to get out of the house. (And that’s a whole new subject-can so understand why Debbie and Phil are in love with their new house-it couldn’t be more perfect!) I have another girl’s lunch to see Deb and Nancy, and we’ve got a family outing to SF tomorrow to see Beach Blanket Babylon.

Said goodbye to Philip as he’s off to the snow in Tahoe w/good friends for the weekend. Get more time w/nephew Alex who will be shipping out to Afghanistan Feb 4th.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Taking Control

This is such an amazing journey. How many people have the opportunity, the time to be challenged, to learn, to reflect, to experiment, to stretch yourself daily. What a responsibility, what a privilege. But sometimes it's a pain in the a**.

I was in a bit of a funk the last month. My big projects wrapped up and I decided to give myself a break. The downside is that I lose my motivation when not challenged. It hits me from all sides.... Don’t feel like studying language today. Maybe I won’t work out today. Seeking out conversations to improve my language is a chore. I’ll do that internet search tomorrow. Stay cozy and warm in bed a little longer. Don’t think I’ll cook today. You know the drill. It can infiltrate your every thought and action. And the only way to change it is DIY. Do It Yourself.

I knew I needed to take action. With work. With my language. Again. And I really needed to do this before I leave for Christmas so I’m energized by what I have to come back to. Hamdullah it all came together yesterday and I’m back on track.

Sat down with Fatima and Zahra to review priorities and projects. I have plenty of ideas of what I could do, but I need to use my remaining time doing what is important to the Cooperative. We had a good discussion and agreed on what I’ll be working on: Helping them design the renovated showroom and office space that is about to start construction; Build a website for the Coop; Help them with budgeting and forecasting for financial and production planning; Start weekly business sessions with the women to expand their knowledge of the business of the Coop; Set up a diabetes screening and education program for the community. This is a good list, to which I’ll add the Craft Fairs in Marrakech and Rabat (ymkn Tanger) and the Regional Website project with Bouchra at Al Akhawayn University.

In addition, I reached out to a woman I was recently introduced to here in REK, who at one time was a language instructor for Peace Corps. Turns out that her family is from here and she’s moved back for a while. Since my current tutor, wonderful guy that he is, is distracted with personal issues, and our tutoring hasn’t been productive for a while, I need to find an alternative. Language is my Achilles heel. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. (Isn’t everything?) When I’m discouraged or not feeling confident w/my Arabic, I avoid it. And that of course doesn’t help me improve what I want most-regular, casual conversational Arabic. Thus my reaching out to another woman, right here in town, could help me with this casual language. I also made the rounds of “sympathetic interlocutors”, ie; friends who are patient w/my conversational Arabic. I'm still working on my reading and writing of Arabic to improve my pronunciation and comprehension. Side note is that I get a little thrill when I can read something in Arabic and know what it means!

Speaking of language, I’ve learned an important and timely “God phrase”. It is “Allah Yatakabal”. This is the appropriate thing to say to those who are returning from the Haj. And they are returning now. As I came into town Saturday night on the bus, there were 2 groups of people gathered to celebrate and parade with their loved ones and friends who have just completed the Haj. If you ask most people here “where would you go if you had unlimited money?” most would reply “nmshi l-Haj”. It is extremely expensive, and even if you can afford it, there is a lottery to participate, and most are never selected. Anyone who completes the pilgrimage to Mecca are bestowed the title “Haj” for the remainder of their days in honor of their devotion. I asked one of the PC staff about the appropriate greeting upon seeing someone for the first time after they return. My Ministry Delegate went this year and I need to know how to greet him when I meet with him tomorrow. Allah Yatakabal Ayichi!

Friday, December 11, 2009


It’s been a good week here in Rabat. First time since June that all of us who went thru training together are in the same place. It’s always good to get together with other PCVs-we really understand and sympathize and appreciate what one another is going thru. However, those you’ve gone thru training with are also in the same place you are-they’re moving thru the waves of highs and lows at the same time, and we shared the first 3 months of intense training and integration-tight bonds are formed. Great to catch up with everyone.

They brought us together for Mid Service Medicals-we get full check ups once a year. Good news-medical and dental exams are done and got a clean bill of health, hamdullah.

We also had time with some folks who were sent out from Washington DC to get input on Morocco PC Medical Services-normal process after the death of a PCV. We learned a bit more about So-Youn’s situation-what they could share w/o breaching confidentiality-and had a chance to ask questions and provide feedback. I must say that there has not been a great deal of confidence in our PCMOs (Peace Corps Medical Officers) here, and this recent event has eroded it further. Mind you, it must be incredibly difficult to try to “treat” over 200 PCVs in remote towns across the country over the phone-I empathize with their challenge. However, I know a number of PCVs who have developed first-time conditions, where their symptoms are being treated, but the condition is allowed to persist w/o trying to get to the underlying disorder. Currently there is no recourse for the PCV if they feel they can’t get referral to a specialist or if the PCMO doesn’t agree w/a specialist and the condition persists. Changes must be made to restore any confidence, and we’re hopeful that they are coming.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a chance to play a bit while here in Rabat and indulge in some “fine” dining-fine being a relative term of course. We found a tapas bar that served mojitos. Wow. An Italian restaurant with cozy atmosphere, fabulous lasagna and red wine. And of course the German Institute restaurant and the American Club for good cheap beer. We were hosted for a delightful dinner of soups at the Ambassador’s house-very gracious of them, since they had 2 other engagements after we left at 8pm that night. We did a scavenger hunt and are going bowling tonight. Such a change from our day to day living in our small communities. Feel spoiled. It's also the first time we've seen any Christmas decorations-in a couple of stores, and found one box of candy canes in a hanut. Feels like a bit of “home” which everyone is missing as the holiday season is upon us. Most will be travelling home to the states for Christmas, Hamdullah.

Next it’s back to my site tomorrow for 5 days and then it’s off to the U.S. myself for Christmas with sisters Debbie and Sandy and families. Can’t wait!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Here I am writing this from Tanger. Yes, Samira called on Tuesday from here and asked if I could make it for the weekend. Well, yeah! Besides, I want to see if it is possible to do a Marche Maroc in Tanger, and this was my excuse to come up (or Samira was my excuse to check it out). Anyway, my business plan was a bust, as the Artisanat was closed all last week for L’eid. Oh well.

So here I sit w/beautifully manicured fingers, pedicured toes and a haircut and blow-out. I was sitting in the salon chair, listening to Andre Boccelli sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, getting my hair done for the equivalent of $7. And I don’t even pay that-Samira’s paid for it before I get a chance. Samira’s friends can’t grasp why I’m living in Hermumu and why haven’t I had my hair cut in 1 ½ years. They don’t appreciate the luxury of not having to worry about how I look in Hermumu. However, I’ve also decided that suffering and denial do not legitimize the Peace Corps experience. I seem to get spoiled whenever I come to Tanger. Maybe I ought to do it more often!

Once again, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Samira’s friends and family and her generous hospitality. This time I got to meet her other brother Hassan (Karim came in as well-both live in Spain) and one of her aunts. I was also included in the surprise birthday dinner thrown for her life-long friend Suad. It was at a beautiful villa above Tanger, overlooking the bay-private room, fires in the fireplaces, overstuffed furniture. Beautiful. Don’t click those rube slippers yet-we like Oz!

I find it a challenge to follow the conversations when I come here-Samira is always surrounded by a lot of friends and family, and the talk is a mix of Darija, French and Spanish. Most of them were schooled in private French or Spanish speaking schools here in Tanger, and French is the language of choice. It is interesting to also be working in the countryside with illiterate women in a Cooperative that has been formed to hang onto the traditional weaving patterns of their region. A country of contrasts.

We made it last night to dinner at a Chinese restaurant-there are a ton of restaurants here in Tanger-unlike the sparse selection in Fes. It reminded me of hearing about the Italian woman who loved to cook-everything looked great-but always still tasted like Italian food. The Chinese food looked like Chinese food, but still tasted Moroccan. Go figure!

I head to Rabat tomorrow by train for Mid-Service Medicals (and why does it take 5 ½ hours for what should be a 2 hour trip and where do I have to sit for a few hours along the way, and would it make more sense to just get a train there and taxi the rest of the way?), or MSM. That’s the annual medical checkups that all PCVs have every year. It will be the first time that all of us who trained together will be together since last June. I’ve seen most of them at one time or another, but not all of them. Should be fun to catch up.

I also hope to connect with the French School and the American Club Comissary to continue our discussion on potential craft fair Spring 2010. In addition, I want to meet up with Ilham to continue the dialogue on building a mentoring program with her organization of Professional Businesswomen. Inshallah to both.