Monday, December 13, 2010

One Last Post

This was always intended to be a personal record of my Peace Corps experience-to try to capture the everyday life in Morocco. Now that has all come to an end, so I need to close this out.

It took 2 hours to disembark from the cruise ship in Puerto Rico, a 3 hr flight to Miami, 2 hour wait and 6 hour flight from Miami to LAX yesterday to get home. As in Huntington Beach home. Joanne-God Bless her parents-was there to pick me up and take me to the house. She came back today to go over some stuff that she’d saved for me and to remind me how to work the things I’d forgotten about.

It’s been a rather surreal day. Woke up in my own bed-showered in my own shower. Picked up a rental car this morning and they gave me a free upgrade to a Mercedes. Yes, a new Mercedes-all alone-not w/6+ other passengers stuffed into it-and I’m the one driving. Got my cell phone-who knew you could get a prepaid month to month phone-great option as I ruminate over the need for a smartphone. Lunch in the sunshine at the pier. Picked up the fine jewelry at the bank-that old Swatch watch that got me thru Morocco is history. Made a brief stop at the grocery store, but just for what I needed, ie; Diet Coke and Honey Wheat Cheerios. Everything is familiar, yet different. Everything looks so much bigger to me. Going thru mountains of mailings-only those Jo felt were important-appears I felled a few trees while I was gone. Got my first phone solicitation. Read the LA Times. Got a Jury Summons. Wearing clothes I forgot I had. I thought about going down to the car dealer to check their inventory, but geez, I’ve got plenty of time, yak?

Now it’s on with life. As usual, or hopefully a bit unusual. Looking forward to the next adventure that awaits. Inshallah.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Cruising to America

December 10th, Day 13 of the cruise, 2 days and I’ll be home-really home. Can’t really believe it yet. This has been kind of a 5 week time-warp.

So what’s happened in the last few days of cruising to America?

We had a full day in Cartagena-back on the Spain mainland. It was actually a very pretty and historically interesting place to see. There was plenty to do just walking around the town all day, with great sites at sea level and at the castle remains overlooking the port. We had then had a day at sea while we made our way from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and the Canary Islands. Fortunately they have a lot of things happening on the boat so the day was not an idle one. A champagne art auction. Yes, they serve the champagne to get you bidding. Guess what, it works! I’m the proud owner of a new piece of art. Now I have no argument to the challenge-who the hell buys artwork on a cruise ship? Anyway, there was also a decent art lecture, the ice show (yes, there’s an ice rink on board), started our own personal Project Runway marathon, learned that the ‘sit down’ breakfast and lunch are the way to go, worked out and got the dance floor to ourselves downstairs. Good day.

We’ve also managed to meet up with several other now-RPCVs making their way back to the states after also finishing their service-9 from Ghana, 4 from Tanzania, 2 from Armenia and 2 from Mongolia. Nice coincidence.

Our next stop was in La Palma, Grand Canary. Four of us rented a taxi to take us to the other side of the island to the nicest beach area in Maspalomas. Walking along the beachfront promenade between restaurants, hotels, condos and the shore reminded me so much of Hawaii. That’s when it hit me that the Canary Islands are to Europe as Hawaii is to the States. Who knew? Both are volcanic islands geared to tourists w/year-round balmy weather and great beaches. Go figure. Anyway, it was good to see a bit of the island and do something besides just walking around a port town.

Next was Tenerife-the largest of the Canary Islands-and here 3 of us booked one of the shore excursions. This took us to the World Heritage site of La Laguna-where we had a historic walking tour, visited the cathedral and their market, before heading off to the wine portion of the tour. We stopped at a bodega for wine tasting-6 full bottles of different wines for every 8 people, along with generous snacks to keep us sober. I didn’t personally care for any of the wines, but plenty of others were buying, so I was in a clear minority. We then went to the wine museum-which I figured would be boring, but it was quite interesting and a gorgeous building on a beautiful bluff overlooking the ocean. The structure was a refurbished old farmhouse for growing grapes and making the wine. The building was given to the government of Tenerife several years ago and they’ve done a very nice job of restoring it and telling the story of the Tenerife wine industry. The island is beautiful, mountainous, bright and colorfully painted buildings and homes all over and very well maintained. Anjie and I walked around the center city a bit after coming back from the excursion, figuring we’d have plenty of ‘boat time’ over the next week-and got caught up on high speed internet at a cyber.

And now it’s all about the Atlantic and the boat. That’s all we’ll see for the next 6 days. The motion of the ocean is already affecting several of our group, and they say that it’s been relatively calm so far. Don’t mind the barf bags they tied to the inside stair railings last night. Fortunately none of us needed them. So far.

They also have us on a system of gaining an hour every night so that we’re on the right time zone when we arrive in San Juan. It’s kinda nice to feel like you get to sleep in an extra hour every morning. Not like we’ve got a hectic schedule and can’t sleep in anyway. It’s just nice to get the extra w/o the guilt of “sleeping in”.

Here are a couple additional observations/factoids from the cruise ship: Yes, I am wearing the best of the clothes I have from Morocco. Yes, this includes the fact that for the last 3 days I’ve worn a different top, each having a prominent hole in it. I feel like I should wear a disclaimer stating “Peace Corps” to explain the poor condition of my clothing/shoes/ general appearance. The weather is significantly better than I expected. I thought we’d be in freezing, rainy, dismal weather all the way across the Atlantic. Although we are rocking with the swells, it’s been sunny, windy and in the mid-70’s every day-nice surprise. Emily made the astute observation that the cruise feels like we’ve landed in an upscale“old folks home”, with all the amenities at hand-no further than a few steps from your stateroom. Went to a Q&A with the captain today and learned a few interesting bits: 1200 staff to approx. 3000 guests; 96,000 meals prepared each week; 25,000 lbs of flour, 64,000 lbs of fresh vegetables and 8,000 gallons of ice cream consumed weekly. Gulp.

Oh-I also need to give a thank you to someone-don’t know who-who gave me a “soda cup” for the cruise. It just showed up in our room, designated on my cruise card, and gives me unlimited access to Diet Coke. I didn’t sign up for it, can only figure someone did this for me, but they can’t find a record of who paid for it. So whoever you are, thank you! It’s also contributed to some good mixers for the booze that one of our rooms brought aboard.

Anyway, as I sit sipping on some Diet Coke (post workout-feeling a bit queasy), I’m listening to the guy on the promenade playing “my” music on an acoustic guitar, in full view of the huge Christmas tree they’ve put up, watching guests dressed for their 6pm formal dinner, feeling a bit nostalgic as this 2+ year chapter is coming to a close with the next yet to be written. I don’t think I’ll have many more blog postings as it was always intended to be my personal journal of my Peace Corps experience. Thankfully I’ve been writing it as a continuous Word document (all 270 pages so far) so I’ve got it all accessible. I’ve heard of websites where you can self-publish single editions and I may just do that to have it to go back to in the future.

Well, I thought I’d get this posted several days ago, but the computer terminals they have in the internet lounge don’t have USB access and I’ve had trouble getting my laptop to connect to the wifi. Trying again today to get that connection so I can work straight from my computer.

Despite the fact that I wrote most of this several days ago, there aren’t really any updates. More of the same. The time is going much faster than but I am ready to be home. Fortunately I will be in 2 days. Hamdullah.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cruise Part 1

Day 2 of Cruise-Mon Nov 29
We all got on board the Adventure of the Seas ship around 1pm yesterday, well ahead of the 5:30pm departure. The 12 of us are in 4 rooms, 3 of them adjacent to one another. The rooms are small interior rooms, cozy, but actually bigger than I expected, which was a nice surprise. So far the food is rated well-and plentiful, as most cruise-goers will attest.

Last night we went thru a strong wind storm and felt a lot more motion than any of us expected. There was a bit of Dramamine purchased on land today. Speaking of which, we all took the transport into Toulon France, our port of call today. No one can accuse Royal Caribbean of overselling the town-it lived up to expectations-which were pretty low. Highlight was the small Christmas craft festival, complete with piped in Christmas carols and décor in an open square in town. We did make our way to a Super Target-like store to pick up a couple items. (Note to self-do NOT purchase items until someone translates…small bottle of hair removal lotion easily mistaken for eye makeup removal). First time to be immersed in Christmas shoppers in 2 years. Suffice it to say, we were all back on board ship in the early afternoon, having seen all we wanted of Toulon.

I’m sorting out how to get the internet service I’ve signed up for (500 minutes for $150-yikes!) via wireless vs at their stations on the 8th floor (there are 14 floors to this ship). 

Today I checked out the workout facility. It’s been a LONG time since this old body has seen an elliptical machine and I think it’s high time we got reacquainted. I feel better already-even hope my muscles are sore in the morning.

With 3000 people aboard the ship, there’s no shortage of things to do. There are activities from morning to late at night. Fortunately this group of the 12 gets along well together-enjoying one another’s company as well as comfortable going off on one’s own. With 14 days’ cruise, this is important.

Weird-laying on my bed typing this up, watching CNN news on the TV-yes, a TV. All English channels-choices. That will be another adjustment. But it is nice to know what’s going on in the world-really have been in a bubble for a while here.

I’m starting to get things scheduled for my return. First on the list is to buy a car. I’ve been negotiating over the internet and am hoping that I can get a deal put together for a car to be ready for me when I get in town. Next will be a Smartphone (it used to be a simple cell phone)-which will require a whole new set of skills-they’ve jumped several generations since I last had one in the US. Also on the list will be a bit of necessary clothes shopping. I’ve left most of my PC clothes behind in Morocco and will likely leave some aboard the ship. Most of the rest of my current wardrobe was just fine as a PCV. What I looked like wasn’t so important in Ribat El Kheir and I took advantage of that “freedom” for 2 years. However, even these clothes have become ratty and tired.

Dec 1st-Day 4 of Cruise:
Yesterday we were in Corsica. Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? Well, we decided to “do it ourselves” and rented out 3 taxis to take us to the Gorges on the other side of the island. Turns out that we’ve all seen far more impressive gorges in Morocco, but the countryside was beautiful and it beat just walking around town. We did a bit of that when we returned, including a local market where we sampled Corsa cheese. Back on the boat (had to be back at 3:30), everyone was working out and gussying up, as dinner was formal. I sat on the promenade deck for a bit to cool down from my workout and watched the parade of older folk heading to the early dinner all ´done up´. Sweet. After dinner I finally made it to the theater for a Las Vegas-like show. Not much drinking again last night as the motion of the boat was enough to keep you swaying-high winds on the sea.

It was a longer ‘sail’ to Mallorca, as we didn’t arrive until 11am this morning-that meant sleeping in for *ahem* some of us. Since today is Anjie’s birthday, we all booked a shore excursion to go to the Cuevas del Drach (Cavern of the Dragon)-her choice. It was really beautiful-huge cavernous spaces with stalactites and stalagmites. We were treated to a 15 minute live concert in the bottom, with the musicians floating on what is purported to be the largest interior lake in the world. It was a nice ´natural cathedral´ alternative to the wonderful man-made structures we´ve been seeing. We got off the bus in town and walked around a bit-charming town, saw the Contemporary Art Museum and made it back on one of the last buses before we sail again.

While the cruise is going fast, I’m already feeling antsy to be home and get on with things. At the same time, I want to take advantage of the places we’re going, as I’m unlikely to return to them. Also, we have 7 days crossing the Atlantic with no ports of call. Need to save anything I can do on board for when I’ve no alternatives.

We´re in Cartagena for the day (Day 5). Have seen the beautiful architecture, Roman ruins, castles and now catching up in the only cyber in town and I think half the ship is here doing the same. The satellite connection is remarkably slow. Finally getting caught up and posting this. May be the last posting for a bit.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Barcelona Part 3

Catalan fringe (bangs), shorts/skirts/tights/boots, graffiti, contemporary art, convents, amazing architecture, cathedrals, narrow alleyways, boutiques, tapas, vino blanco, crusty bread, throngs walking thru the streets, performance art on Las Ramblas, Gaiudi, design, shoes, designer shops, jewelry, contemporary art, film, Catalan vs Castilian, public spaces, boots, sunshine, stairs and walking, scarves against the cold, jambon, dogs on leashes, Dali, walk til you drop, masks, sidewalk cafes, purses across the body to discourage snatching, beer, art fairs, huge food markets, wide boulevards, manchengo, pedestrian only streets, shoreline, art exhibitions, funky rooftop apartment, cheese tasting, Cal Pep, jewelry, nougat, wine, café con leche, maps, gloves, paella, cobblestones, Picasso. I could live here. A vibrant city where if you can’t walk to it, you can use public transportation. Not a cheap bargain, but reasonably priced. Mediterranean climate. Charmed. What a great way to spend 10 days.

Jess arrived Tuesday late and it was great to see her. I’d done all the tourist things on my list, so now it was all about spending time w/Jess and seeing ‘her’ Barcelona (lived here 8 years). This included some great art exhibitions that I’d never have gone to otherwise (wouldn’t even have known about them). We ran some errands she needed to do that brought me to places I wouldn’t have seen-come on, would I really have found the graffiti shop? Saw a wicked film on public space art (aka graffiti-ever heard of Bansky? Me neither, until the film. We met up with several good friends of hers, who I enjoyed immensely. I got to meet Vanessa, the artist friend who collaborated w/Jess on the piece I bought at Jess’ Life Size exhibition, at a gallery opening. We walked, we shopped, we ate and drank. Cried when we parted. I’ll miss you Jess-you’re a great friend and an amazing spirit.

We joined up w/the rest of the now-RPCV crew for Thanksgiving. Lisa, Kristen, et al had been cooking all day. What a spread of food-most impressive. Everyone was over at the apt that Colin rented-very zwin indeed. Unfortunately Jess and I ate a late lunch w/her friend Izzy, so weren’t hungry for Thanksgiving, but I did taste a couple of the sides-yummy.

Met up again w/some of the others yesterday, as Jess had to leave around noontime. We mostly walked around, shopping for a few things that they still wanted to pick up. You gotta understand, 2 years of pent up shopping demand can make any woman a bit crazy in this place. Purchases complete, pretty pooped out, we went our separate ways for the evening. I was early to bed-really just needed a bit of down time before packing everything up to board the boat today.

I’ve not seen the end of Spain, verdad?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Barcelona Part 2

We made our way through the Borne District on Sunday, trying to get to those things that would be closed on Monday. Right around the corner from the apt is the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral-central to a bestselling novel I recently read-kinda neat to see the actual place. And it is very impressive.

We also had the Picasso Museum on our agenda for the day, along w/a special Picasso/Degas exhibition. This took a good part of the day, as we were enthralled with both of the exhibitions. It was a beautiful day (the light rain of Saturday had passed) and we spent a good part of the rest of the day walking around, window shopping, sitting for coffee, etc. We then treated ourselves to a lovely dinner just down the block-we’ve learned our lesson from Seville and are using the “TimeOut Shortlist” guide for dining recommendations-hasn’t failed us once in Barcelona.

We designated yesterday as our Gaudi day-and that it was! We headed up to the Sagrada Familia on the metro, with a plan to walk our way back, stopping to see other works of his along the way. Now, I had heard of Gaudi, had seen a couple photos of his work in Barcelona, but was not at all familiar with his work-his brilliant architecture/creativity/avante garde design. Simply amazing. Once again, we were absolutely enthralled. And to think he started this amazing project in the 19th Century. So far ahead of his time, even by today’s standards.

We made our way over to Casa Mila and toured this additional Gaudi building, which includes viewing one of the several apartments that are privately owned.

We had done a lot of walking, had sat only for lunch, and were pretty pooped by the time we made it back to the apartment. Each day we managed to walk anywhere from 7-10 hours, so I’d say we got our exercise-and our feet and lower backs felt it. We were both just fine w/bread/cheese (from our cheese tasting shop)/ham/wine/fruit for dinner in the apt. Why wouldn’t we be, right? Early to bed, as Miek had to catch a taxi at 5am to get to the airport for her trip back to the states and Thanksgiving w/her family.

It was really sweet to share this trip with her. She’s starting a new chapter in her life after the sudden death of John. I’m figuring out what post-Peace Corps life will look like. Inshallah both of our books will include more chapters of shared adventures.

So today was a slow day. Miek gone, Jess coming in late tonight. I decided to just take it easy. Went out to walk around for about 3 hours, mostly just to get out, no specific sights to be seen. Unfortunately saw a backpack snatched just ahead of me, from the chair of a man having lunch at a sidewalk cafe. The waiters took chase, but the guy got away. Everyone-including shop owners and waiters-warns you of pickpockets, but it's sobering to watch it happen.

Got a couple messages from some of the PC group that’s starting to arrive in Barcelona (pre-cruise positioning). None of us have phones in our apartments (we’re split between 3 apts), but texting on our Moroccan cell phones works-if you still have enough credit. I’ve got Jess bringing me another card to load on my phone so I can contact the others about Thanksgiving plans. I've seen the 'sights' I wanted to see here, and now am looking forward to seeing Barcelona thru Jess' lens.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Buenas Dias Barcelona!

I’ve lost track of dates, times, everything. I’m in my happy place. Just as it was meant to be. And still lovin’ Spain. We’ve made it to Barcelona, but more on that later…

Seville was absolutely charming. By spending 4 full days (about 2 more than any guide book recommends), we were able to walk all over the town, see all the sights, snoop in any shop that caught our interest, make a few purchases, sit for café con leche and a sweet, have a good lunch and relax at night in the apartment.

The apartment was perfectly located in the heart of the old city district. Narrow cobblestone streets allowed for either pedestrian traffic only or maybe one-way vehicle traffic. This kept it perfect for exploration on foot. Didn’t ride any transport until we left for the airport. We only had one day of rain, so the weather even held out for these adventures.

We did the tapas thing and frankly neither of us was impressed. Just ok. Lots of fried stuff, mostly the same offerings in each tapas bar. Overrated. But the beer and wine tasted just right! We finally treated ourselves to a highly recommended place for lunch, just as we were in need of a really nice meal, and it delivered-4 delicious courses, great service, for about $20pp. Gracias.

We saw the Cathedral, the Palace, a flamenco show, and WAY too much of Plaza Alfalfa. I’ll never think of the word alfalfa again w/o it reminding me of Seville-with a smile. See, despite all the maps, it is very easy to get lost. And we did. Multiple times. And we always seemed to end up in Plaza Alfalfa. So we just made it our Ground Zero.

Bought some chic black tops for our leggings, a bit of funky jewelry, and found the Convent of San Leandro for sweets. Most of the convents (and there are a LOT of them, as well as churches) sell sweets to help the nuns make some dinero. The San Leandro nuns have a window w/a wooden turnstile (which fills the window-you cannot see inside). You ring the bell, put in your money, turn it to them, and they turn it back w/whatever they’re selling that day-all boxed up and stapled shut. You have no idea what you’ve just purchased! We opened up our box later that night at the apt to find that we got sugar encrusted chestnut paste-one of the traditional Christmas sweets of Spain. One was enough and we had ½ kilo. Well, it wasn’t about the sweets anyway, it was all about the experience.

Somewhere along the way that day I set down my package of jewelry and a sweater poncho. I had absolutely no recollection of where I could have left it. We backtracked to the possibilities, but alas, the bag was not to be found. Fortunately the purchases were not expensive and it was just stuff. I was more disturbed about not having any idea when I set it down. Felt like my brain had been a bit muddled the entire trip-get it together Lynn.

Adios Seville, you’ve charmed us, but we still had Barcelona to explore.

Our Barcelona apartment is in what is called the Born area of the old town. Again, great location, but a bit daunting upon arrival. It’s dark when we get here, we’ve got a sweet old cabbie who’s determined to get us as close as he can, not knowing exactly where our street is-it’s blocked off to vehicles, so he drops us off and fortunately a couple blocks later, we find our address. We’ve got the access codes, and we’re in! OK, so they warn you in the website that it’s 5 flights of stairs, no elevator. Even knowing this, it was quite the challenge to lug our 25+kg bags up these high-ceilinged floors. It was rather dark and dingy. Hmm, what have we got? We get into the apt and it appears aptly named Born Rustico. Feels very rustic. It’s on the roof and the floor slopes badly in many places. (Upon further inspection, after initial impact wears off, we note that it’s been very well put together-great nice touches everywhere-it’s actually really charming). Anyway, we get ourselves in and a bit settled and need to figure out dinner, so we pull out our guidebooks to find anything close to where we are. It’s dark, we don’t know the area and our cabbie told us to be careful as it isn’t a safe area. Great.

We decide on a place just a couple blocks over. Just outside the apartment, Miek sees a guy walking toward us with his zipper down and penis hanging out. Fortunately I’ve missed this, but now I’m concerned about what I’ve done to Miek-will she be ok staying here? This has not been an auspicious beginning to Barcelona, to say the least.

Well, the restaurant is packed and there’s a line to eat at the long bar, so we get in line, since we don’t have a good alternative. And boy are we happy we did-hat a fun evening! We end up sitting next to a couple from New York who just arrived also and are on their honeymoon. While we’ve been waiting, we’re watching what everyone is eating, what’s being cooked, and we know what we want as soon as we sit down. This is no quick lunch counter-you are not pressed to move along, in fact, they encourage you to have something else, coffee, dessert perhaps? Miek and I share a number of absolutely delicious small plates-fried artichoke, calmari, chard w/garbanzos, sautéed mushrooms, tuna tartare. We also share back and forth with the couple next to us-so our tasting expands to their selections as well. The wine goes down smooth and quickly. Pep himself (restaurant is Cal Pep) is there, talking, joking, managing the bar/counter. We watch the cooking in front of us. The people waiting in line right behind us want to know what we’ve ordered (just as we did when waiting ourselves). Feels like a party. Such fun! Barcelona, you’re growing on me.

The apartment looks much better in the morning-the charm is working and it’s actually very well put together-just a funky space, that’s all. We get out our guidebooks to plan our day-noting that we need to take advantage of things open on Saturday that will be closed Sunday and/or Monday. We head on over to Las Ramblas-the 1 mile long pedestrian boulevard from the port to the main square of the city. Las Ramblas is full of performance art, other artists and tons of people. We also quickly discover that you’ve got to divert from Las Ramblas to wind thru the narrow walkways of the Barri Gotic area to really experience Barcelona. We search out places we’ve read about-La Bouqueria Market, the costume/magic shop, the herborist, and a fabulous artisanal cheese shop where we sit and have a cheese tasting (with a touch of wine, of course). A bit more shopping behind us (Miek-you look fabulous in that chic new coat), a bit of rain, and we finally sit down for a coffee at Quatro Gatos to rest our weary legs/feet. Refreshed, we head back to the Cathedral, taking time to explore it and the rooftop view. Sit for a bit (it’s warmer inside)before heading out to see if the dancing is going to happen. Every Saturday evening, in the square in front of the church, there is a music ensemble (and it was quite impressive last night) that plays for the Sardana dancers. This is extemporaneous dance where circles are formed, place purses, coats in the center, you clasp hands and the traditional dance ensues. Charmed again. At one point there were no less than 10 circles of dancers in the square-some of about 20 people, some of just 4. Obvious veterans of the dance-all grey-haired-help teach the tourists/novices the steps. What a delight!

We head back to the apartment via another shop on our list-where we’ve once again got timing on our side, and this sweets shop is making that hard candy that has intricate designs in the middle-know what I’m talking about? We watch them make it in front of us, then taste after they’ve stretched and snapped off small pieces. Have to make some purchases (will the candy canes stay intact for Christmas stockings?) before heading back to the apt.

Full day of walking around gives me a new perspective of our neighborhood-sweet shops all around, well lit, don’t feel the least bit unsafe-just be vigilant like in any large city. This is working out just fine.

We have another wonderful meal for dinner-our most expensive dining has been in Barcelona-with the most expensive-wine and dessert included-for about $70pp. And the food here is fabulous. Unlike Seville, this is food to write home about. Oh, right, I just did!

Again, I’m loving this apartment thing (did laundry, sitting in the living room typing this over a cup of coffee while Miek sleeps in) and having the time to not rush, just take our time, explore what we want to see/do, and we’ve been on the same wavelength so it’s been very easy to travel together. Hamdullah.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I’m no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m now a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), having successfully completed my full 27 months of service in Morocco. We had our official “stamping out” ceremony-nothing is complete in Morocco w/out an official stamp yesterday afternoon (started this entry on Saturday). I must say it was a fairly anticlimactic day. Basically we all just finished getting the required signatures to document that all of our paperwork was complete and spent the rest of the day sitting around. Had our last couscous Friday at the Ministry of Fisheries cafeteria across the street. Viewed Cortney’s video/final project. Stamp out. Goodbyes to all the staff and those now-RPCVs who were headed immediately to the US. The rest of us made our way back to the Ville, dinner at the French Institute and an early night of it. Set our alarms several times-2:15am for Kristen, 4:45 for Cynthia, 7:15 for me, as we’re all making our own ways to meet up in Barcelona before the trans-Atlantic cruise. Few tears, as many of us will see one another on the cruise, and besides, we’re all tired of crying-left most of the tears at our sites.

It’s weird to think as I type this-on the train to Tanger for a weekend w/Samira before heading to Spain-that I’m not going back to REK after the weekend. I see the women in my first class compartment on the train look at my hands and smirk. They’re covered with fading henna-each one done by a different woman at different going away parties in REK. It’s a very ‘bled’ thing to do, and the women riding 1st class are NOT from the bled. What they don’t know is that I’m not just some tourist who paid a ridiculous price to have someone in Jmaa el Fnaa do my henna some night on some tour. In fact, this was a gift from the REK women-they set it up for me and joined me in getting their hands hennaed. Similar to the day-before-the-wedding celebration w/your best friends when you all get hennaed together. I see my hands and am reminded of their love. Smirk away ladies, I love it.

The big question-will I return? Inshallah. Best use of the word ever. Hopefully Samira and I will have a chance to talk about her interest doing some importation/resale of Moroccan goods. If she pursues this, I’ll help in any way I can-would love to be able to support the amazing artisans I’ve grown to know, and this would be the perfect excuse to return. Gadi nchufu. We will see.

Well, I made it safe and sound to Tanger. Samira and Souad were there to pick me up at the train station. First stop-my one and only request-to buy something, maybe a ring, in the traditional Moroccan gold filigree. Well, I got that done first thing and the rest of the day was spent in the company of Samira and her friends and family. We got up leisurely today with Christmas carols to accompany our breakfast. Our plan for the day was to take the train down to Asilah. I’ve never been to this beach town, but had heard a lot about it-and the contemporary art murals painted on the media walls at their annual festival. Fortunately the rain held off long enough for us to wander around the picturesque medina, see the murals, and check out a couple galleries before sitting down to a lovely lunch at a restaurant Samira knew about. Mmmm, fresh fish, a glass of wine, how civilized. The rain came as we were searching for a petit taxi, hoping to make it to our train. Little did we know that the train would come 1 ½ hours late and we had plenty of time. Just back now. I can’t get internet to check that all’s well w/Miek’s departure from the US-we meet up in Seville tomorrow. Inshallah the rain holds off for my ferry crossing from Tanger to Spain in the morning.

Samira, I know you will be reading this, so I must thank you again for sharing your Morocco with me, for your generosity in sharing your home, friends and family with me, for experiencing ‘my’ Morocco with me. Shukran bzzaf khti. Maghreb gadi ykun dima f qlb dyali.

B’slama Maghreb/Hola Espana. I’m sitting on the ferry, waiting for transit across the Strait of Gibralter to Terifa Spain. It’s a quick 30minute crossing, not unlike the ferry from Marina del Mar to Catalina Island. Fortunately the skies are clear and bright and the seas are smooth. Already my Dirhams are of no use-I must change them to Euros on the ferry to buy a Coke Light. I will take a bus to Algecerias to catch the bus to Seville.

Well, the Spanish Immigration guys couldn’t figure something out about my passport, so the delay meant I missed the free bus to Algecieras and then the noon bus to Seville. Instead I took a taxi to Algecieras and caught the next bus onward. Bit of a nap, one bus transfer later and I made it to the apartment that Miek had beat me to by several hours. Hamdullah we both made it safe and sound. It’s in a great area-the Santa Cruz old district, with picturesque cobblestone streets and cool little shops and cafes all around. We went out for a bit of a walk and some exploring before deciding on a spot for dinner (early at 8pm). A fabulous selection of tapas and dessert and drink-all for about $30pp. I’m loving Spain already! So great to share this with Miek and catch up with her. Time for bed now, more exploring tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

B'slama Ahermoumou

How perfect to leave from souk. Mondays are souk day and all transportation moves over there. So I go over a bit early to wait for the bus-it’s not like I’ve got a chair to sit on in my place and everyone else from the village is over there anyway. So I sit and watch the parade-the normal bustle of Monday souk. Young women in tight jeans, sweaters/coats to modestly cover their butts, and fancy heels or boots. Souk is social after all. Then there are all the older women in their jellaba and practical rubber soled shoes. I hear the guys on the loudspeakers, others just calling out their prices in ryals. Lots of sheep and goat. I mean LOTS of sheep and goat. Stopping to admire and inquire the price of someone else's sheep. Newly purchased pottery grills and bags of charcoal. Leid Kbir is next week. The sheep and goat are loaded on top of transports, in trunks of taxis, dragged along the sidewalk. (One is shoved into the baggage hold of our bus-I can hear its hooves trying to get a hold as we turn sharp corners all the way to Rabat.) They say that 10 million sheep are slaughtered for Leid Kbir each year-that’s one for every 3 people. Even if that figure is off by a factor of 10, 1 million sheep is a LOT of lamb. Goat is for those who cannot afford a sheep.

While I wait for the bus, Amina texts me. “Where are you, I want to say goodbye, can you come over?” “I’m at souk waiting for the bus”. “I’m coming over”. Sure enough, she does. Just to sit with me while I wait. Zahra is also coming and she brings Ferida with her.

I’m so emotional about leaving these people. It’s hard to describe how close you can get to people when your language has limited the depths of your conversations. Suffice it to say, actions do speak louder than words.

I did make it over to Fatima’s for my final goodbyes to her and her family. Hamdullah, her sisters and mother were there as well. OMG it was sooo hard. You’d think I had no tears left by then, but they flowed like a river. Allah yxlli likum lli 3ziz 3likum.

When the bus finally arrives, I’ve got a full entourage to see me off-Aicha, Naima and Halima have joined us. They watch out for me to be certain I get a “good” seat and my bag is safely stored below (with the sheep).

As I’ve said before, Morocco grows strong women. I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of its best these last 2 years-some of the most remarkable women I’ve ever known. Their love, generosity, acceptance, patience and gratitude are the greatest gifts I take with me from this place. I am humbled.

Allah yrhm l-walidin Ahermoumou. Gadi ntwashtkum bzzaf. Gadi tkunu dima f qlb dyali.

I wanted to take the bus-a bit easier, but much longer, because I want to savor the countryside all the way to Rabat. As we go thru Zouia, I’m reminded of what Courtney told me, and wonder how it affects this little village just outside REK. The original residents of towns named Zouia are supposedly descendents of the Prophet, and the King distributes money to the current descendents every year. The downside (in Cortney’s town for example) is that this discourages initiative, as they’ll get enough money to live on simply for being there.

The bus takes us on the 'trek Sefrou', so I get to see my favorite views-the gorges, switchbacks, rivers. The countryside is turning green after the recent rains and sunshine. The olive trees are laden with green/black/purple olives awaiting the post-Leid harvest. Men are active plowing the fields w/their mules, getting the next planting ready. New seasons, new beginning for all of us.

We’re almost in Rabat when the rain starts. No problem except that the windshield wipers on the bus don’t work. I’m thinking that I’ve made it thru God-knows-how-many treacherous bus and taxi rides for 2 years and I’m gonna die in a head-on due to equipment malfunction right outside Rabat. Fortunately the rain subsides and we make our way safely to the bus terminal.

I finally arrive at the PC-friendly Hotel Velleda. “Complete” says the sign. So says the guy at the desk. I have a reservation. No you don’t. I show him the email I’ve printed out (yes, I've learned from prior experience). Hmmm. Mushkil. Last test of Moroccan service (not something you typically admire). Front desk guy tells me there’s an American girl in Room 6, thinks she’s Peace Corps-I can share her room. Uh, no. I don’t know her and am not bunking w/a stranger. Besides, even if I was willing, who says she would be? Well, there are 2 American men in singles, maybe they’ll share and you can have their room. Uh, you don’t know when they’ll be back, what they’re willing to do, and it may be very late by the time we find out and then I’m stuck. OK, he says he’ll sleep on the couch and I can have his apartment downstairs. Bsssah? I don’t think so. He calls around and all the local budget hotels are booked except one, but the price is 200DH, ok? No, I’m only going to pay what I reserved. I tell him that in the US, if a hotel is overbooked, they find another room and charge the same price to those who have confirmed reservations. He calls the manager (who I know well) and wants me to talk to him on the phone. No, unless he has a different answer, I just need a room at the same price I booked. He proposes that they cover ½ the price and I the other and take the 200DH room, safi? Iyeah. He calls the manager and confirms it’s ok. Yes. I’ve got a room, he’s apologized for the inconvenience and I’m a satisfied customer. After travelling all day, nothing to eat or drink since early morning, emotionally exhausted from all the goodbyes, no sleep the night before, all’s well. Hamdullah. Thanks for keeping the faith Morocco.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Empty Apartment. Full Heart

Ahermoumou will always be a part of me.

I have shared tea, cookies, cakes, tears, couscous, farewells, inshallahs, all my apartment belongings and more tears over the last 3 days.

The Jam3ia Mawahib Wataqat Nisaiya (ATPF) women threw a party for me on Friday. I managed to send off the last of the boxes home and went to join them in the afternoon. They had party streamers, balloons, a “Good By Lynn” cake complete with a candle/sparkler, confetti blaster, henna for all and a gift candle. So sweet, many tears and difficult b’slamas.

Then on Saturday I headed over to the Taeawniya Adwal for a day with the ladies and another party. We had another cake (yummy-thanks to Nora) and tea and a bit of ceremony. They gave me 2 beautiful woven rugs and Zahra gave me a lovely bracelet. To see the women crying just killed me, and my tears quickly joined theirs. Fortunately we were able to get ahold of ourselves to present Ferida and Nora with their Certificates of Completion for their computer/internet training. Tbarkalikum.

Fatiha then cooked an amazing couscous lunch for all of us. Meanwhile, Nora brought henna to do for all of us-what a sweetheart. Thankfully I anticipated this may happen, so when Amina was doing henna for all of us on Friday at the ATPF party, I only had her do one hand. This left my other hand for Nora’s handiwork. We all closed up shop together and walked back to the village w/promises to see them again today when I brought over the things from my apartment that I was giving to the Coop.

Then it was off to the Tawmatine Association’s couscous workspace. They’d been waiting on me with tea, cookies and milowi. I’d seen most of the women over the last couple of days already, but it was so sweet of them to get together to say thank you to me. They are such generous souls. Shukran bzzaf.

I walked back into the village w/Meriem, which gave me the opportunity to take some photos of the ATPF purchases made with the PCPP grant monies. I’m so ** proud of them! What started out as a project to get some equipment to expand what they offer in their Creamery has morphed into something bigger and better. The cheesemaking initiative is on hold while they pursue opening up a bona fide ristura (restaurant)-note, there’s only swiya 2 in town. They looked hard for the equipment they wanted and were able to find a good buy from a guy in Sefrou. Oh. It’s all or nothing. They can’t just buy the items they want from the restaurant he’s closing. He’s selling it all to a single buyer. Well, the grant covers only ½ the total purchase price, and it’s bigger and better equipment than they first envisioned. However, they chipped in the rest of the money and the ATPF women are now looking for bigger, more affordable space to open up their ristura. Tbarkalihum bzzaf! I also got the receipts I needed to be able to submit my final report for the grant. Nothing like working up to the last minute.

I woke early this morning, no doubt with my moving out plan weighing on my thoughts. I managed to pack all my stuff in my single big suitcase-hamdullah. At least I’ll be travelling relatively light for the next month. Then I finished taking things apart, as Khalid and Jess were coming in the morning to pick up all the furnishings. Khalid, Siham and 2 others arrived w/the truck and (thankfully) loaded the stuff I was giving to the Adwal Coop and took that down for me. Then they went to work on the rest of the apartment. I forgot that here people really want everything they can have. Metalan, Siham even wanted the sticker/décor on the hallway walls, they took the tubing for the buta gas tanks and the tanks themselves. Merhaba. Just didn’t realize you’d want those things. Finally had to (jokingly) close the door to the storeroom, as the items I’m leaving for Karen and Doug are in there. Oh, and I needed to keep the blankets so I have something to sleep on tonight. I’ve got invitations to stay elsewhere, but want to spend my last night here.

I can’t forget to mention one of the best going-away presents, and this was from Khalid and Siham. They gave me one of the yet-to-be-released “Clock Book”-the recipe book Tara’s been working on for Café Clock. They had their celebration party last night-I couldn’t make it for obvious reason, and figured I’d just have to wait to order it on Amazon. Nope. Signed copy in my hot little hands. Hamdullah.

Now I’m procrastinating going over to Fatima’s house. If I didn’t have this to do, I’d probably slip on up to Fes tonight instead of going to Rabat tomorrow. But I can’t leave w/out saying goodbye to the Akchmar family. They’ve been my family here. It’s just gonna be so hard.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Being Replaced

My priority this week has been to do whatever I can to help Doug and Karen get introduced and updated on activities and organizations in Ribat El Kheir. They’re very nice and very experienced and will bring a fresh pair of eyes and ideas to these same organizations to help them over the next 2 years. It’s time for me to go and all is in good hands.

Adwal had a couple visitors from the UK on Tuesday-they were coming to see what Adwal could do for them when they bring a group of 12-15 knitters to Morocco in March. (Day Trip marketing payoff). OK, so knitting isn’t exactly a common activity in Morocco, but hand spinning bldi wool and then using natural dyes is, and Adwal can put on a participatory workshop for the group. Hamdullah they’re in agreement and this should be a good project for Karen and Doug to follow up on with the Adwal women. Inshallah it becomes a regular tour each year.

I’ve demonstrated that even 2 years in, my Darija leaves a lot to be desired, but it gets me whatever I need. Examples aplenty today. I thought Zahra wanted Doug and Karen to meet the belladya. No, she was just inviting us to walk with her as she went there at the end of the day. Amina asked me to come meet her at 4pm-I thought to go see the new location for the Creamery. Nope, just wanted to meet me, and was also telling me at the time that the Assn is having trouble deciding about a new location. Waxa. Oh, then we went to meet my landlord-Karen and Doug thought they’d like to rent my apartment. Hmmm, high rent. They want to talk it over, we’ll come back. Which we did. He’s not budging on rent. I know he’s a savvy businessman. Is he bluffing about having 2 teachers who want to rent it starting Dec 1 for 1000DH? I think he does have someone who wants to rent it, but the price seems high. What to do? I leave it to Doug and Karen to decide, then negotiate on their behalf. They decide to pay what he’s asking, but I get him to agree to fix all the things that need to be fixed. Hamdullah. So the language can still both fail and save me. Go figure. Time to go.

As we’re walking around town, Doug asks about all the construction that’s going on. According to Pete, there’s a new tax on empty lots in the village. If you build, you no longer have to pay the tax. The belladya wants development completed in the village. I think he’s gonna get piles of rubble instead.

There have been sweet moments this week. Halima stops me on the street and asks me to come to her house. Can’t as I’m on my way to the Coop. Can’t she come down there? When? After lunch. Waxa. She’s a Coop member, but hasn’t been coming since her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. She was diagnosed at the cancer screening I helped organize my first year. She was successfully treated as a result. She comes to the Coop and takes me aside privately. In tears, she says she wants to give me something in thanks-apologizing that it’s not something ‘bigger’. I’m blown away. We’re not close, but I’m witnessing the outcome of the project-live-in front of me. No Halima, thank YOU. I go up later to meet w/Amina. No, she doesn’t want to go see the new Creamery site. OK, let’s go have you meet Doug and Karen. OK, but first, she takes me aside to give me a scarf and thank you. Wow. She doesn’t have money to buy anything to be giving away. Oh-and this is after yesterday’s fall (on my part) when she comes by my place to tell me “I saw you fall my sister, all you all right?” Amazing. Side note-she said “shft xti” (I saw, my sister) and I thought she said “shfti xti?” (have you seen my sister?). I was confused-I don’t know her sisters. Took me a minute to realize she was calling me her sister. Wow. Then there’s Ferida. Oh my gosh. She was really glum Tuesday-listening to her music, not really working at the Coop, just not herself. I asked what’s wrong. She just shook her head. I asked again and she started to cry. Shnu? What? Walu. Nothing. Waxa. She doesn’t want to talk to me about whatever it is. I see her again yesterday. She’s the same. “What’s going on?” “I am going to miss you”. Oh. Wow. Htta ana (me too). She’s the newest member of the Coop-finished her apprenticeship and joined when I arrived and we’ve been the Coop novices together these last 2 years.

I’ve pretty much cleaned out my apartment and have piles for different people for distribution/carrying away on Sunday when I all-but-move-out. I’ll actually be taking the bus out on Monday. I’m feeling bad that I’ve promised virtually everything to others-not selling, but giving everything away. Unfortunately there isn’t much left for Doug and Karen-they’ll have to buy their own things. They will get the allowance as I did from Peace Corps, and the purchasing will help the community, just sorry I’m not helping them out more. Zahra and Fatima came by today to check out the shelves for the Coop-if they didn’t want them, others did, but wanted to give them first dibs, since I know they need them to get their materials off the ground in the workroom. They’ll take them, just need to get the legs shaved off a bit (thanks for that idea Doug) so we can get them back down the stairwell.

Another bit of misc. good news. Pete says he’s heard it’s official that the mudir (Director) of the Dar Chebab (Youth Center) in Immouzer Marmoucha is moving here Jan 1 when the mudir here retires. This means Pete will definitely be able to stay here. Great news for him and REK. He’s got quite a following in his English classes and has been working hard to get some activities, ie; summer camp, going. Looks like it will happen this coming year. Tbarkalih.

We (Karen and Doug, Jo and I) set off to Sefrou today for them to meet the Sefrou Artisana Delegate. We were able to see him before lunch, so had a walk around town to show them things like the medina, taxi and bus stations and *ahem* the liquor store. We then met up w/Jess so they could all meet one another. It was also fortunate that Yassine showed up at the café. He’s an impressive young man in Sefrou who has always been a big supporter and friend to PCVs. He was selected to participate in a MENA Youth Leadership Program last summer and spent 6 weeks in Montana. Wouldn’t you know, Doug and Karen are from Montana, so they got to chat a bit. Yes, it is a small world.

We had good transit karma all day. Got on the nuql to Sefrou despite the crowd waiting for it to come. Nice introduction to Karen/Doug/Jo on how to fight for seats. Stopped ½ km out of the village for a new battery. Got 10 feet down the road and got a flat tire. Basically in front of the car repair place that just installed the new battery. They jack up the nuql-with all of us still in it, the motor running-and we’re on our way w/in 10 minutes. When we say our goodbyes in Sefrou, we make it to the nuql stand there as there are 4 seats left. We fill them and take off for REK. Jo and I are just killing a bit of time now before we head over to Nora’s family’s place to join them and Karen and Doug for dinner.

Then they’ll be leaving tomorrow to go back to Azrou, then on Saturday to their training site in Midelt. They’ll be sworn in the day before Thanksgiving and will return back here on Thanksgiving Day to start their 2 years of service. Merhababihum.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Transition Time

I made it out to Azrou on Thursday after stopping in Ifrane to meet up with Amy and Bouchra and introduce them to Jess. Hopefully they are able to work with one another on the many ideas that came up in these brief meetings.

Side note while I think of it-trek slama to Achmed, Jess’ neighbor/Sefrou angel, who is going to have a much-deserved mini vacation courtesy of all those whose lives he’s touched. Tbarkalik Achmed.

I participated in a couple sessions with the SBD trainees in Azrou-back in the old Auberge de Lion de Atlas. Wow-just 2 years ago that was me, sitting in those same sessions, waiting to hear where I was going to spend the next 2 years of my life. Flashback.

Following the session on Friday afternoon I made my way up to Fes. This was really my last opportunity to see my Fes friends to say goodbye and thanks for all they’ve done. Fortunately I was able to catch up w/virtually everyone, so I left in the early afternoon on Saturday to get back home.

I did stop by and see Michele (and Khadija), which was nice since she couldn’t make it to the dinner a couple weekends ago. She’s in month 9 of her pregnancy and not supposed to travel. Yosef is on the road right now, hoping to get back before the baby comes. Interesting factoid, if you are born in Morocco, your name must come from a list of approved (Muslim) names. Michele really wants to name their baby Rose. I think she’s going to use Rose as a middle name and also use it in the Australian birth certificate/documents.

Everyone is asking how I’m feeling about leaving-sorry to leave, mixed feelings, etc.? Honestly, I just feel ready. When you start this thing, you know the exact date that it will end. That significantly colors your perception. Things you don’t like, you know you only have to live with for 2 years. Things you love, you get your head around the fact that you’ll be saying goodbye to it/them in 2 years. My 2 years are up and it's time to move on. This is making the goodbyes easier. At least in the last 2 days. We'll see as the week progresses….

Unfortunately today dawned overcast and windy and only got worse. The worst storm we’ve seen this fall-steady rain and heavy wind. Not such a big deal, but today is when the new PCVs arrived in town (my replacements) for their 5 day site visit. It’s tough to travel in inclement weather anywhere, but especially when you’ve got to lug all your stuff yourself through multiple transportation sites, trying to figure out where you’re going, walking thru muddy lots, etc.

I was down at the Coop when they arrived, so Nora (she’ll be their host sister) and I walked up to meet them in front of the patisserie. Doug and Karen (the couple replacing me) travelled with Jo who will be in a site near REK called Dar El Hamra. It’s a new site that Casey developed with a very motivated group of women already working together. Anyway, we all trekked up to Nora’s house and sat down to a lovely lunch that her mother had prepared. When Casey called around 3pm that he’d arrived from Sefrou, Jo and I took off to meet him, leaving Doug and Karen to get situated with their new host family.

Figuring I was already completely soaked, I went ahead and did my shopping. Fortunately my vegetable guy was still open and my favorite hanut guy had turkey breasts, so I don’t have to go to souk tomorrow (and it’s gonna be an ugly, muddy mess there tomorrow). I’ve invited all the PCVs around here (that’s 4 of them plus me) to come for dinner and help welcome Doug, Karen and Jo to the region. I’ve got tortillas just out of the freezer-bought them last Christmas and been in the freezer ever since-so we’ll be doing some Mexican food tomorrow night.

Got news from Zahra that the Cooperative showroom party has to be postponed. Some of the Ministry folk who were going to be coming will still be in Agadir. Nuts. I so wanted to be there to help them celebrate. Hopefully Doug and Karen will be able to attend.

I’ve got my last box of stuff packed to ship home. Think I’ll try to get it out tomorrow if the rain lets up. Then it’s just a matter of starting to give stuff away and clear out my place. I’ll check the bus schedule tomorrow (it’s Monday=souk day and that changes all transportation schedules) to see what time/where the Rabat bus leaves on Mondays and will likely be on that one next week. I don’t actually have to go to Rabat until Tuesday next week, but once I’ve emptied my apartment on Sunday, no reason to stay around. Goodbyes will already be done. Nshufkum mnbad Inshallah.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I thought it would be a great idea, a good opportunity, to take Bouchra up on her offer. She’s the marketing professor at Al Akhawayn that I’ve been working with for the last 1 ½ years. She did the marketing workshop at the first Marche Maroc in Fes, she’s the one trying to pursue a Fair Trade website to sell Moroccan artisanal products, etc. She’s mentioned a number of times that she’d like to try and get her students out to work with rural artisans and do a project to help them market their products.

Pick me, pick me! We finally put it together for them to come out yesterday, and all 19 of them made the 2 hour trek. (Bouchra did comment that she had no idea what it took for me to come and meet w/her esp. since I use public transport and it takes me 4 hours). Welcome to the world of the countryside.

Despite the fact that the AUI crew didn’t arrive until 4pm, all of the Coop women AND apprentices were there (the apprentices came back and the women usually are gone by 3). Poor Zahra took the brunt of it (Fatima had to go to Sefrou), answering questions directed at her in rapid-fire from all directions. And I forgot that she was fasting all day, so that really exhausted her. I tried to get the students to address their questions to the other members, but this was difficult at best. Several just wanted me to answer their questions. In English.

A bit of background. Al Akhawayn is an all English-speaking, prestigious private University. Annual tuition/housing/etc. runs about 50,000 DH. At least 4x the average countryside annual income. Most of the students speak French in their homes, not Darija. Most had never been to the countryside of Morocco. Getting the picture?

Here I was hoping to get the Coop some great input and expose the students to this wonderful group of women. Most of the students couldn’t be bothered. Most didn’t engage w/the women at all. Some just wanted to weigh in w/their opinions to me-without having spoken with the women. “Why don’t they just sell to shops in Fes?” “It takes them too long to make these products” “They need to sell abroad” “They need to take their products out of the town to sell them.” No shit?! How about sitting down with each of the women one on one and talk with them, ask them questions, get to know their goals, who they are targeting as their customers, what have they done, what are their traditions, what constraints do they need to work within and which can they overcome, etc.? Oh my, I had great expectations, and now realize that this was students just going thru the motions, talking w/one another, not the women who were sitting around the perimeter. Tfoo. Opportunity lost. Live and learn.
Oh, hello Lynn, can we get you off your high horse now??

Got my comeuppance this afternoon when I sat in on the ATPF Association meeting. First item on the agenda was their workshop for the REK Day Tour program. I’ve talked w/Meriem and Amina at length about it, we discussed what they would do, pricing, etc. They attended the meeting we had 2 weeks ago with all of the organizations participating in this program. Safi? Yak?

Well, it appears that the rest of the Association wasn’t up to speed and this meeting was the first time most had heard of this project. 2 ½ hours later the meeting concluded, with only that topic addressed. See, it’s not quite so easy. Where will they do the workshops? Well, the members can take turns hosting them. Gee, one has her kids all afternoon after school so she can only do mornings, another has to check w/her husband to see if it’s ok, another doesn’t have an oven, another has other family obligations, etc. Hmmm, not as easy as it appears. Yes, these women have constraints and oh yeah, we’ve got to work within them. Chewing on my own words. Lesson #593. It’s never as simple as it appears.

On a lighter note, it was good to catch up w/Fatima. The Rabat craft fair was good and very informative-lots of good workshops and she’s heading off tomorrow to another craft fair in Agadir. Good exposure. She ran into Tariq in Rabat and he told her about the Marche Maroc in Marrakech in December and she’s hoping that they can attend. Hamdullah. The mundub is encouraging them to make smaller items, ie; just like the cushion cover I’ve ordered (with the intention of paying for it and leaving it behind as a sample). Finally told them that was my plan and they don’t want me to pay for it, they need it to sell at the craft fair, and will be making a bunch more. Nice.

Goodbyes are in the works. Lunch w/Amy at AUI tomorrow to say goodbye and introduce Jess. Final stop in Fes on Saturday to say my goodbyes to friends there. The ATPF Assoc women want to have a party for me next week. Adwal has a party on the 6th to officially open the showroom and will be bringing in a bunch of folks I’ve not seen in a bit-will be my chance to say goodbye to them all at once. Gulp.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day Tripper Yeah!

Luck=opportunity meets preparation. We’ve got it in spades. I think we’ve got incredibly lucky timing w/this tourism project. It seems like there are people coming out of the woodwork who are interested in visiting Ribat El Kheir on our Day Tour program. RPCV from Morocco sends out a request. Cynthia refers study abroad group. Randy sends meet group of knitters who are coming next week. The guide that Pete and his family are using this week gets lots of requests from his clients for day trips to the countryside. We’re averaging a group a week already. This has already brought amazing money to the women here in REK. Ham-du-li-lah!!! Oh, and I’ve updated the Adwal Coop’s website to reflect these new offerings. Check it out:

Thursday started on a high note. Amina (PC LCF) and one of the PC drivers came and picked up my bicyle and a couple bags of stuff for return to Rabat.We’re required to get our PC-issued bicycles back to Rabat for maintenance. Between passenger vans, grand and petit taxis and train-there’s no easy way to do this. I knew that Amina (my trainer in CBT) would be in the area to pay host families in Budrehm, and asked if she could come and get my bike. She did. Saved me a TON of time, money, and effort by picking it up here. God bless her parents. We had a chance to sit and chat a bit to catch up. She’s one of those who I just am not ready to say goodbye to. I know I’ll get back up to Fes for some goodbyes before I leave, and since she’s based there during training, I’ll see her there one more time.

Then I headed down to the Cooperative. Got Ferida and Nora back in front of the computer to load additional files from my USB. Daily exposure is good for their recall. In addition, Ferida and Fatima were cleaning up the showroom, so we decided to go ahead and bring their products in and set it up. I don’t know what happened to the money they were supposed to have in the grant to buy wall and floor shelves, but they need to work with what they got from Sefrou. I bought tablecloths when I was in Fes last week to cover the swiya tables so at least they look presentable and consistent. Finally there’s someplace where they can more professionally show and sell their products. First customers-Pete’s family. Shukran.

And the saga of the Day Tripper continued yesterday with Paul/Finley/Hassan/Lynn’s excellent adventure. Paul and Becky-expat friends in Fes-are hoping to open their renovated Fes medina riad/hotel in the spring. They are also passionate about bringing guests to the countryside, hopefully for day trips, where they return at night to their Fes-based hotel. Paul and Finley (their 3 y.o. son) came down yesterday to see the area. Since Paul’s got a LandRover Defender we could actually get to some places that are difficult to access w/o transport. I invited Hassan (Tourism Assn Pres.) along so they could get to know one another for future tourism planning. And just my luck, I was finally going to get to see the infamous Auberge up in the mountains. This lodge (sleeps 27 but in need of some repair) is fairly remote, owned by the Ministry of Youth and Sport, and available for use. Pete wants to work w/Hassan’s Assoc to bring kids up next summer for a camp. It’s also a great spot from which to hike all over the Middle Atlas Mountains.

Well, it was much more adventurous than just a ride into the mountains. The roads are not maintained and sketchy at best in many spots. After making our way to the Auberge and stretching our legs a bit, we decided to try to make it up to Ain Jeu. This is a natural spring above the Auberge and legend has it that if you drink its water, you’ll become hungry. So off we set-and with the Defender in full 4WD on rain-slicked mud and rocky ‘road’, we were slipping and sliding like a wild Disneyland E-ticket ride. Only we weren’t OSHA certified. A couple km up the road, we came to a rockslide that completely blocked our way. Tfoo! And there’s no backing down the road we just bounced up-likely to bounce right off the downhill side. Tfoo! It took about an hour of Paul and Hassan checking best spots, a couple of shepherds weighing in with their opinions, before Paul magically managed to turn the Defender around on a road that was NOT wide enough to do so, without careening off the cliff. I kept Finley occupied, safely out of the car and out of the way, and walked back down to the Auberge so Paul could control the descent w/o worrying about others (esp. Finley) in the car. I’m not sure who was more relieved when he got the Defender to the Auberge, but Hassan needed a cigarette! OK, so maybe it’s hiking only above the Auberge, yak?

By the time we were driving back to REK, the fog and low clouds had lifted, so we had good views all the way down-incl. through the beautiful cedar forest. Fortunately Finley was a star and slept most of the way back-not a peep out of him-despite no lunch either. God bless Paul’s parents and the Defender. Otherwise we’d still be walking back.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We Will Always Call Him Coach

I just came across this summary of the tribute to Wooden in the UCLA Magazine online and had to share it. My first year at UCLA was Wooden's last coaching the much heralded Bruins. It was remarkable and so was he....

Last spring, UCLA was busily planning to pull out all the stops in a birthday bash for Coach John Wooden, who would have turned 100 on Oct. 14. How could we appropriately thank this extraordinary teacher who served as head men's basketball coach from 1948-1975 and had brought us 10 national championships in 12 years, a feat that will never be equaled? How could we show the boundless love and respect we all shared for the man we simply called Coach (and he must have liked that, since the title of Wooden's first best-selling book was They Call Me Coach)? How do you appropriately honor the author of the deceptively simple Pyramid of Success, a blueprint for a well-lived life that inspired thousands, perhaps millions, of people around the world for decades — and still does?

Sadly, we never got the chance. Coach passed away on June 4, 2010.

Instead, the Bruin family honored Wooden with a memorial that took place on June 26 in Pauley Pavilion. It was a moving celebration of Coach's rich life that was at times joyous, at times sorrowful. Speakers on the program — including sportscasters Al Michaels, Dick Enberg and Vin Scully, UCLA head men's basketball Coach Ben Howland and former Bruin basketball players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar '69, Keith Erickson '65 and Jamaal Wilkes '74 — drew both laughter and tears as they relayed their favorite Coach maxims or stories.

When the nearly two-hour-long ceremony ended with a video chronicling Wooden's life, viewers were left with one final image of Coach, smiling and waving from the balcony of his little condominium in Encino. The lights were still low as the entire audience in Pauley rose to its feet, applauding.

One last standing ovation for the man we will always call Coach.

— Wendy Soderburg '82

It's a Gift

That is, the time I’ve got left. Had just another week in town. Yet not. I’m trying to make the most of my time now that it’s so limited. Starting to wrap things up…

Got access today to the Coop’s computer. Delighted to find that they’ve finally got Microsoft Office loaded-at first they had some very basic operating system software and I was concerned that it wouldn’t be of much use to them. Sat down w/Nora and Ferida to teach them all about its use w/photos. Downloading, editing, copying and pasting, saving, etc. Downloaded some of my files to their hard drive-need to download the rest on Saturday. Told the two of them that they need to monitor the Coop’s email address at the cyber at least once/week (and that I’m gonna send them messages to check up on this). I’ve received a couple requests for quotes from people who got the email address off their website, but finally tracked me down when they didn’t get a response from the Coop. Can’t afford to lose out on these opportunities.

Had a very sweet time w/the Coop women on Tuesday. They’ve got Samira’s zrbya on the loom and are working hard to get it done and sent to Tanger before she leaves for the states in November. It was fun to sit with them and help tie the knots on the zrbya (the only weaving I can be trusted to do), talking and laughing together for hours. Love those women!

Had a nice time w/Pete and his mom-she was in town and we swapped doing dinner. I also got invited w/them to Hassan’s family for lunch on Monday-at it was a ‘treat’-actually a dish pronounced ‘treat’. Very labor intensive, similar to rafissa (w/o miloui and fenlgreek)-and delicious. They’ve gone back up to Fes until Saturday when they return w/more family for the couscous workshop. Apparently the Tawmatine women have changed the location for the workshop to a nicer, newer, less expensive building. I’ll go by and see in on Saturday when they’re doing the workshop. Inshallah Amy from AUI and her friends are still coming over then and I can show them as well.

I also need to get in touch w/Paul to see what time he’s coming on Sunday to check out trekking sites in the area w/Hassan. Hopefully Becky and Finlay are coming as well. Inshallah the weather holds out for us-it’s been absolutely glorious fall weather the last several days.

I’ve also got this foodstuff that I’ve basically hoarded-saving for ‘special’ occasions. Exactly what does that mean? Means that I’ve held on to goodies like cheese, curry paste, tortillas, brown sugar and chocolate chips for WAY too long. All of things have been either shipped or carried over from the US and are precious cargo. I’m trying to work my way thru them in the limited time left. Made chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies yesterday. It’s always interesting to see how the first batch goes before I get the temp on the oven figured out. Reminder-the oven is just a metal box w/butane-fueled burner inside. No temp gauge, etc., so the first batch usually burns. And it did. Then decided that I needed to give away cookies or I’d eat them all myself. Peanut butter cookies to the café boys, choc chip to the Tawmatine women. Bismillah.

My ‘to do’ list is shrinking by the day. Leaves me with time on my hands. Good time to search for a chess tutorial to start learning some strategy-before Colin kicks my butt playing on the cruise. Found a fabulous site, w/over 50 games to learn from ( That’ll keep me busy!

I got word from Peace Corps that I’m definitely being replaced, and Nora’s family was told that it is going to be a couple. This is great to know-whether 1 or 2 people, either way I’m really happy to get this confirmation. It helps to know for planning purposes. They have what’s called a site visit from Oct 31-Nov 4. This will be their orientation time while I’m around to introduce them to people, projects, etc. I obviously need to be here, and can coordinate some of my final/checkout meetings, ie; w/the Artisana Delegate, when I can introduce them. Merhaba.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Gulp. Just got word that I'm definitely going to be replaced w/another Volunteer in my site. Don't know yet male or female. Thats so real. Gotta get the transition plan in place. Gulp. Forget the abstract "when I go home....", It's happening. And soon. Only 3 weeks to my last day in Ribat El Kheir. Gulp.

Painted Shelves

(posting started yesterday)
Stars aligned across the sea. The annual “Girl’s Weekend” in the states is taking place this weekend and it’s the 3rd one I’ve missed while in Morocco. Meanwhile the Fes girls gathered last night at Gail’s for a farewell party for Cynthia and me. Similar sized groups. Same generous souls. Same great support network. How fortunate to have both in my life. I can tell that I’m really not ready to say goodbye to any of Morocco. It’s touched me too deeply to let go just yet.

So I’ve had the weekend here in Fes, not only with the girls, but running into other medina friends. Abdulwahd and his lovely Niina-about to wed-tbakalikum. Caught up w/Khaild. Ran into Josephine, Evelyn, Max and the Clock Crew, Fulbrighter Lauren, Stacy and Pete w/their moms.

We (the girls) dragged ourselves out of bed –actually ponges--to the Boujeloud café for qHwa and petit pan. That was when I realized I really didn’t need to head home, as tomorrow is souq so it will be quiet in town. Instead, I’ll stay and play in Fes and go to Sefrou w/Jess tonite instead.

This gives me a chance to go w/Jess down to Paul and Becky’s place deep in the medina. They’ve worked 18 mos to renovate their riad/home and it’s a beauty. Their finishing and restoration of originals details is gorgeous. Paul and I had a chance to talk about some ideas he has. See, he and Becky are also renovating another place to make into a hotel, and hope to open to tourists in the spring and have property in Chaouen where they want to do the same. In addition, Paul’s got a strong background in rural development with many years working for NGO’s/agencies in Africa and he misses this in this current (great) life in Fes. He’d like to combine the tourism they’ll soon have with development efforts somehow. Anyway, Inshallah he’s gonna come out to REK next weekend and we can get Hassan to take him to check out the natural springs, hiking areas and the Auberge in the mountains for overnights.

We left Jess to the mural she’s doing in their son Finley’s room to go and see Omar the second-hand furniture guy. I was just going along out of curiosity on my way back up the medina to Gail’s. We duck into this doorway where Omar meets us to unlock another door to his “shop”. Clearly you need to know Omar to see his shop as it’s well off the tourist track, not marked and only opens upon request. Don’t know what Paul was looking for, but my drooling commenced immediately. First stop-Beni Ourain carpets like the Adwal women weave. Curious on the price. 500DH. Bsshah? Rxis bzaf. Very cheap. What middleman sold them to Omar and how little did the artisans get paid? Hshuma. The irony is that this tells me his prices are very affordable, so I start looking around. OMG, he’s got a bunch of the fab old painted shelves that I’ve craved. The only Moroccan décor item I’ve not purchased ‘cuz how in the heck would I get them home? Omar, will you ship to the U.S.? No. Negotiate price. Only 600DH. Yikes-great price. Mushkil. How to get them home. See everyone thinks it’s so easy-just take them to a carpenter to get a crate made and ship via the post office. Easy if you live in Fes, not so easy to get them to REK and find a way to do this. OK, just take them with you. Right. Carry them back to REK, to Spain, on the cruise, etc. No way that’s happening. Omar, 3afek, wes nta gadi tsiftu liya l America? Waxa. He finally agrees, and for only 400DH more. Bsshah? Sold! Oh, but Paul needs to come back tomorrow to help him do it, and Paul agrees. God bless his parents. I go to sleep last night dreaming about where I’ll put them.

Transaction completed, I headed back to Gail’s to help her out a bit-had several hours to kill. I get set up in the Clock kitchen to sterilize and fill jars w/zmita for Fes Deli. 37 jars later I meet up w/Jess and we head to Sefrou. Early night as her DVD player isn’t working. Leyla saida.

I’m excited for Jess’ home renovation in the Sefrou medina kasbah-her kitchen’s gonna rock when it’s completed. She’s also getting the artwork I purchased from her show all crated up to ship. One of the pieces I bought was a collaborative piece w/a friend of hers named Vanessa. Seems that the sale of the piece will fund Vanessa to come visit Jess in December. Hamdullah.

Back home in REK now and need to work out my calendar for the little time remaining. Need to see if Hassan’s available to take Paul and I around next weekend; find out when Bouchra wants to bring her marketing students to talk w/the Adwal women; when Raja is coming down, when I can get Alice and Jess together w/Amy at AUI and if I’m for certain getting a replacement so I know if I need to be in town my last week for their site visit. See, I need to get another Fes trip in to say my goodbyes there.

Time is running out fast. Am I ready to let go?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cooperative Power

Those of us fortunate enough to work alongside Moroccan women on a daily basis have seen the power of the Cooperative in their lives. Read more here from an article commissioned by Magharebia.

Morocco co-operatives strengthen female independence.
By Siham Ali 2010-09-30

Co-operatives are changing the lives of women, teaching them new skills and rewarding them with financial freedom. Many women in rural areas of Morocco have joined female-only co-operatives and taken their destiny into their own hands. The businesses have changed their lives completely, providing the women with their own income and increasing their self-esteem.

In the Souss-Massa-Draa region, for example, thousands of women have joined forces for a tree cultivation project. Nezha Aktir, a graduate of Agadir University, decided in 2004 that she would help women in her region by setting up the Tifaout Women's Agricultural Co-operative, which has 72 members. She admitted that revenue is still modest, but previously these women were earning virtually nothing. "There are no clubs for women. They go the whole year round with nothing to do. Hence the idea of setting up this co-operative so that they can receive a financial benefit and meet other people," said Khadija Benchich, chairperson of the Adrar co-operative.

Sociologist Hamid Bekkali says that co-operative work enables women in rural areas to open up to the outside world and to build on their skills, even though the men were reluctant to accept the idea at first. "Women had to be patient in order to change their daily lives," Bekkali explained. "Women in rural areas have always worked hard, but have never been able to have a tangible income." "The organisation of women into co-operatives is an important turning point which has given women financial independence and the power to take decisions," she added. "This has a positive effect on family life and children's education. Women in rural areas have become real actors in local development."

The co-op employees also receive tuition for literacy classes and training in other skills, including business organisation and marketing for their products. "At the start, my husband was suspicious. He didn't want me to work in a co-operative. Despite that, I decided to go down this route. After a few months, he came to realise the value of my decision," Zahra Tasskifet, a mother of four, said. She added that the income she earns helps to provide education for her children.

According to Moroccan government statistics, the proportion of co-operatives run by women has risen from 2.14% in 1995 to 12.5% in 2010. There are now more than 7,000 co-operatives in the Kingdom, representing 360,600 members. "The ministry of economic and general affairs has shown a great interest in the sector. The idea is to promote local products and enable co-operatives to market their products with much greater room for manoeuvre than in the past, when intermediaries would minimise the workers' earnings," said economist Reda Bachaoui.

Fatima, a mother of three, was desperate to tell Magharebia how she became a different person after starting work with the co-operative, earning around 1,000 dirhams (90 euros) a month. "In the rural area where we live, that's a very attractive income for a woman. I feel my life has changed. I'm not totally submissive any more. I feel stronger and I've got a lot more self-esteem because my efforts are being rewarded," Fatima said.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

To Do List: Check!

Hand-off Al Akhawayn University project to 1st yr PCV: Check!
Marketing Day Tours to Ribat El Kheir: Check!
Money to ATPF Assn: Check!
Showroom catalog for Adwal: Check!
Going away party w/Fes friends: Check!

Managed to catch up w/Bouchra and Amy at Al Akhawayn on Tuesday and introduced Kate to them. She’ll be following up on the Free Trade website. Hopefully Bouchra and I will have time to get her Marketing class over to REK week after next to initiate their project to help Adwal with their marketing efforts.

I’ve got all the marketing materials completed and sent out to solicit Day Tour tourists/visitors to Ribat El Kheir. Generating interest already. Inshallah this will bring a lot of badly-needed tourists and their *flus* to town. I’ll try to attach a copy of the flyer. Merhaba Day Trippers!

Finally sat down with Meriem and Amina to give them the PCPP grant money so they can complete the purchase of their equipment. Slight mushkil. They had trouble making the 500DH/mo rent in their Creamery, so are looking for a cheaper place. Meanwhile, another group of women have set up shop to sell their breads, hlwa, etc. immediately downstairs from my apt. One idea multiplied quickly by 4 and the ATPF Assn women have a lot of competition. The equipment should really give them an advantage in what they can cook and offer for sale. Inshallah.

I received an inquiry-second one from the website I made for Adwal-to quote on several items-handira and zrbya. I gave the info to Fatima last week for a quote, but she’s now in Rabat for a 10 day expo. I told Zhara that the woman who sent the inquiry also contacted Peace Corps, and there could be a number of other Coops bidding for this business. If they want the business, they need to get me the quote. Got it and sent it today. F l-xyr. Also asked them to add carding and spinning wool to the Day Tour workshop-people like more ‘hands-on’ experience and this would be a good addition. Check!

I’ll be heading up to Fes on Saturday for a going away party for Cynthia and myself w/friends there. Gail’s gonna host a dinner-will be great to see everyone, but I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet.

The more I think about it, the more enamored I am with the prospect of doing business w/Samira on importing Moroccan handicrafts into the US. We met w/several artisans and some of my Fes friends to discuss this possibility last week when Samira was in town. There are a lot of people I’ve met-Moroccan as well as expats, who have or are starting businesses to develop high quality goods and need a US-based contact to export. Hmmmm, ymkn.

Meanwhile, I’ve started a list of some things I’ve learned (or appreciated anew) over the last 2 years here in Morocco:
I can have more patience than I ever thought possible
I’m more creative than I gave myself credit for
Forgiveness-of others and myself
To sit back and go w/the flow
People are people are people-we’re basically all the same
Friends are invaluable to happiness
Extreme heat is harder than extreme cold
Music soothes
Walking helps you see the world
I love donkeys
Long hair is easy
Family matters
I’m not ready for grey hair
I can live w/o a TV, but not w/o a computer and internet
I’ll always be amazed at the handicraft of artisans
I can learn a new language at my age
Moroccan generosity is world-class
I don’t need much, just friends and family
I won’t melt in the rain
I really don’t like to cook
Most NGOs are well-meaning but bring band-aids
Makeup is overrated
I can amuse myself for hours at a time
Air dried laundry rocks
I love sweet mint Moroccan green tea
Go when others invite you come along-you never know what adventure awaits
Most of the best images are in grey cells, not pixels
I’ve enjoyed not driving
Morocco grows strong women
I can now manage “hand wash only”
One really good glass of wine can seem bottomless
Acrylic nails-no; Pedicures-yes
Text messaging has clear benefits
It is NOT about me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

National Geographic Al Arabiya

After decades of turning out yellow-framed covers featuring Egyptian artifacts and other Mideast treasures, National Geographic magazine will for the first time soon start printing in Arabic.

The picture-packed science magazine lining countless bookshelves plans to issue its first Arabic edition next month, making its more than century-old publisher the latest Western media company to tap the growing Middle East media market.

"The stories in this magazine talk about all countries and all cultures," said Mohamed al-Hammadi, editor-in-chief of the new edition, who expressed hope it would give Arab readers a deeper understanding of the planet and how others live. "The readers here, they need this," he said in an interview.

With backing from the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi, "National Geographic Al Arabiya" aims to reach readers across 15 countries from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. It will contain translated articles from the 122-year-old U.S. edition and original pieces tailored to the region.

On Wednesday, the magazine named a panel of seven Arab experts who will serve as advisers and contributors. They include Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, female Saudi medical researcher Khawla al-Kuraya and Essam Heggy, a Libyan-born planetary specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The goal is to produce at least a fifth of the articles locally, al-Hammadi said.

This is great news. Merhaba National Geographic-Al Arabiya!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oh what a week it's been....

Left Rabat on Sunday as soon as our COS conference ended-needed to get on the 6pm train to Fes to meet up with Rebecca. We stayed at a new riad in Ziat-well located and a nice place. Monday we prowled around the medina-down to the tanneries, Place Seffarine and Nejarrine, pottery and zelij works, all before meeting up with Samira after her train arrived from Tangier. We then headed over to Michele’s so she and Samira could discuss Michele’s Hammam business idea and Samira’s interest in setting up an import business. Future collaboration? Ymkn.

We headed off Tuesday morning to Ain Leuh for Samira to see the Coop’s weaving, for me to pick up the handira that Khadija wove for me and to see the Coop women one last time. Unfortunately Khadija was in Meknes, so while I didn’t see her, I got my handira and 11 year old Ahelan made us tea. Purchases and orders were made, tea drunk, Ain Leuh-check!

We managed to convince Randy to come with us and on Wednesday headed over to my site. This trip was made considerably easier by buying out the 5 taxis it took to get there. Even that relatively easy trip amazed Samira and Rebecca with how complicated is it to get around here. Samira was constantly comparing “your” Morocco (meaning Randy and mine in the countryside) to “her” Morocco. Shuf, you can get anywhere you want to go in Morocco-you just need time and patience.

We got to REK and made a bit of lunch before heading off to the Adwal Coop. I had told Zahra and Fatima that I wanted them to do the natural dye and weaving workshop for us. This would be their first trial run at this new day-trip tourist option. They came thru like stars. They had tea and milowi for us, the natural dye demo ready to go, showed how they card and spin the wool (same wool we washed in the river in August) and demo'd their weaving techniques. Overall a very good showing for their 1st workshop. A few bugs to work out, but they did a very nice job. Purchases made, orders taken and we set off on a walk.

During our walk I received a concerning call from a PCV about another PCV friend. This led to calls late into the night, Peace Corps staff involvement and her early departure back to the states on Friday. Trek slama JC. Love to you.

Thursday we headed over to the Tawmatine Assn for their hand-rolling couscous workshop. I’d run into a friend in the Fes medina with Rebecca on Monday and Vanessa wanted to come with some visitors to REK to do the couscous workshop. Great timing-they joined Samira, Rebecca, Randy and I. This was the 4th tourist workshop the Tawmatine women have done and it was good to see it run with a group of 7 of us. That’s more complicated and good to observe the logistics to make a few suggestions.

Keeping to our plan, it was back to Fes for all of us-Rebecca and I to continue on to Rabat, Randy to Ain Leuh and Samira to meet w/Gail and Michele again and then visit with family members in Fes.

By the time Rebecca and I arrived in Rabat, we went on to the French Institute for dinner before heading to our riad on the back side of the medina. And what a riad it was-a beautiful mix of contemporary and traditional Moroccan design, all beautifully finished. Lovely.

Friday morning I headed over to the office for a brief good bye to my friend before she headed to the airport and back to the states. Back to the riad in time for a leisurely breakfast with Rebecca. We then wandered thru the Oudayas kasbah and gardens. It was a short walk from our riad, right on the Atlantic and a very picturesque blue and white charming neighborhood I’d never seen before. By the time we walked back thru the medina to see some of the Ville area, the Friday call to prayer had sounded and most of the shops were closed. At least that made for an easy walk thru the medina.

As we headed up Mohamed V Blvd, we saw crowds in front of the Parliament building. Since protests are commonplace events in the capitol, I figured this was just another one. However, it was quite orderly and ½ the boulevard was blocked off. Ymkn not the usual protest crowd. Asked a policeman what was going on and discovered that it was the opening of Parliament and the king was coming in an hour or so. We found the best vantage point we could and parked ourselves on some steps for the wait. How many opportunities do you have to see a king? About 2 hours later, we know we saw him ascend the stairs across the street, but I honestly have no idea which of the cloaked men was him. Yes, I have photos-you tell me which one is the king.

Back to the riad, we had a couple hours to lounge/read on the zwin rooftop before heading out for dinner to a restaurant that Samira had recommended. We had a lovely meal, drank a very nice (and what felt like bottomless) bottle of wine and back for an early night to bed. I got Rebecca on the train to the airport yesterday morning and I headed back to Fes and onward to REK. I’m glad that timing worked out as I had to remind people of our meeting today.

Today’s meeting was a good one. I brought together all 5 Associations/Cooperatives who are involved in the REK Tourism options, the translator and Gail from Fes (one of the tourism booking agents). Thankfully everyone (except Michele-but Gail will relay the info to her) was there and we reviewed all the details-who will do what, how the trips will be booked and paid for, etc. We’ve already run 4 couscous workshops, 1 olive oil workshop and 1 natural dye and weaving workshop. Inshallah there will be plenty more to follow.

Now I’ve got some catching up to do. Been away from the computer and internet for over a week and a lot I need to follow up on. Fortunately I have only a day trip this week to Ifrane, so I’ll be able to get a lot of things checked off my ‘to do’ list.

The Long Goodbyes

Oct 3
We’ve just completed our Close of Service conference in Rabat and I’m on the train as I type this (to be posted later) to Fes. Caught Rebecca quickly on the phone last night to make certain she got to the riad safely. Spoke to her as she had a glass of red wine and was sitting down to dinner. Hamdullah. My train is on time and I’ll join her in a couple hours to start catching up.

The conferece was really geared to the youner PCVs who will be returning to the states to face job hunting, grad school, etc. The best session for me was the last one-getting us thinking about how we’ll say goodbye to the people of our communities. I need to have a game plan and communicate my timing as the last 2 weeks will be really crazy and involve some last-minute PC travel.

Our superlatives and photo session (complete w/burgers and onion rings at the American Club) was followed by a party at the Marine House behind the American Club. The Marine House is part bar and part fraternity. While my fraternity party-going days are long behind me, it was fun to be there as a group, dancing together, having GOOD beer, a final hurrah all together. We’ll all be together again for our 72 hour checkout when we officially sign out of service, but this was our last opportunity for a gathering like this. Now I need to sign off as the train is pulling into the Fes station.

Friday, October 1, 2010

OMG it's OCT

Wow. October already. Only 6 weeks left in country. Yikes. So much to do.

I’m in Rabat for our Close of Service Conference and final medical exams. Medical and Dental are done and a clean bill of health, Hamdullah. The good news is that everyone is really delighted w/the Medical staff-a complete turnover and turnaround from last year’s Medical fiascos. Our conference starts this afternoon.

It’s been a really sweet couple of days w/just our SBD group. We’ve been a very tight-knit group and it’s great to see everyone and catch up. Funny thing is that despite how spread out across the country we are, we’ve been able to see one another (side trips, work related leave trips, etc.) fairly often. We’re staying at the Balima-a nice hotel for a change (nice=towels, soap, good water pressure and hot water all day, etc.). Shukran.

Got to catch up with Sarah on her and Brahim’s wedding. So great to hear about the traditions in her far southern Berber town. So different from the Arabic-style weddings of our area. I’ll post a photo of she and Brahim in their wedding attire. Wish I’d been able to go, but had promised Jess I’d be in Fes to help her with her show instead. Dena, another of our stajj-mates announced last night that’s she’s now engaged to her Moroccan boyfriend. She’ll be staying here in Morocco after we’re done as she’s already got a job w/an organization that runs Morocco cultural tours for student studying abroad in Europe. Tbarkalikum.

Why has it taken us 2 years to discover the restaurant at the French Institute? I could have been treating myself every time I’ve come into Rabat. Seven of us ate there the other night-maybe the best meal I’ve had in Morocco-sole meuniere, fresh spinach, crème brulee. Yum. Cynthia and I are going back for lunch today before we have to head to the office.

Tonight we’ve got a party set up at the American Club for just our stajj. Joy’s been polling everyone to develop “superlatives” on each member of our group and Lisa has spent the last week making an ink drawing of our entire group-it’s amazing, and we’ll each get a copy of it.

Meanwhile there’s even more work to be done. I received an email from an American woman who has seen Adwal’s website and wants to order product-Yipee! However, the women aren’t monitoring their email, so this American has tracked me down somehow and persisted in making contact-hamdullah. Need to coordinate that order. In addition, a group from the US Embassy is having a meeting in Marrakech the first week in November and contacted me about bringing in some artisans to sell their stuff. I volunteered to help coordinate this and they took me up on the offer. Be careful what you wish for! Since it’s the week of the new Volunteer’s site visit-and I’m supposed to be replaced-and the week before we leave the country, I’m gonna try to get someone else to do the coordination-timing is just tough. And then I’ve been invited to participate in the Environment/Health PCV training in Marrakech, so that’s another long trip to fit in. I’m running out of days. Quickly.

Anyway, it’s been a nice quiet week, with time to get things done around our medical appts, and it will be good to see the YD PCVs who are coming in today. Now I need to get dressed to meet up w/Cynthia. B’slama.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Is it terrible to bugger out of the last Moroccan wedding invitation I’ll get? I think not. Didn’t feel like getting stuck all night down in the zlul. Mbruk Hassan, but I’ll toast you from the village and Fes instead (sipping something worth toasting with vs sweet mint tea).

Lost my excuse (stifling hot heat), so back on the Pilates track. It was a nice break while it lasted, but I was really getting lazy and while I do walk everywhere, it’s not THAT much walking!

Nice to have a ‘normal’ week in town this past week. Mostly working on getting the Ribat El Kheir Day Trip for tourists put together. We’ve got all the arrangements made-options for Couscous handrolling/cooking/eating workshop, natural dye and weaving workshop, cooking traditional Moroccan breads and sweets, seeing a traditional olive mill and olive oil tasting and/or hiking. We have a meeting on the 10th with all players, including the 2 friends from Fes who have tour booking agencies and are advertising the trip.

I’ve also been playing Travel Agent all week for Samira and Rebecca’s visit week after this coming week. Rebecca will come in before I’m done w/my PC conference in Rabat, so I’ve got arrangements for a day trip to Meknes, Volubulis, etc. set up for her. I’ve set up our riads, visits to artisan coops in the countryside (incl. REK) and visits to Fes and Rabat. We’ll do the couscous workshop w/the Coop here and the natural dye and weaving workshop w/Adwal, so those will be our “trial runs” for future tourist day trips.

I’ve also finally finished a couple things I’ve been working on for the Adwal Coop showroom. I’ve put together an Arabic/French book on their products, examples of how to use them in the home, info on the Coop and REK and then framed summaries of all for the shelves. This was a big undertaking and I think will be good for tourists to be able to view. I also got time, finally, with Nora and Ferida to review the Windows Office-based files I’ve created so that they can modify, update, etc. Adwal also has the new digital camera that I purchased for them so they can do their own photo documentation from here on.

Since Eva the Meknes cheesemaker cancelled the workshop w/the ATPF Assn and Milk Coop on Saturday, this left me free to support Jess on (what was supposed to be) her final day of the Life Size exhibition in Fes. This was also a “Knit for Peace” day-bring your knitting needles or use theirs to knit (water) pistol covers for a collage. She’s done this a number of times and has had participants from all over the world. Interesting enough, last night most of the participants were young men. It was also my first time trying my hand at knitting. In addition, I made another purchase of Jess' work-the piece that got my attention when we were first setting up the exhibition-and the collaborative piece that was her inspiration for the rest of her contemporary collection. I love it. Oh, and the Ministry of Culture said she can keep her exhibition up for another month. She won’t be there every day, but will be able to show the work to others who expressed interest and didn’t make it to the show. BssHa Jess!

I decided to go late morning yesterday when taxis are most likely to be running up to Fes. Went to the Clock, figuring I would kill a couple hours on their wifi. Much to my delight, I ran into Kristen and Dan (his birthday). They were also killing time, so we had lunch and then went to the Artisanat for them to do a bit of shopping. I had NO intention of buying anything, but while I was wandering around, what did I see? An inlaid wood carved, portable chess set. OMG. Was this just Perfect or what? I’ve really caught the chess bug, but have been only playing via computer. Can’t study any strategy w/o an actual board, as you need to be able to move the players around when studying to visualize the implications of those moves. I now own my very own chess board. Wahoo! And don’t you know, I played…ahem…and won….my very first chess game w/a live opponent. Onward!

Jess’s friend Brian is visiting and they were kind enough to let me crash in Sefrou with them last night after the closing of the show. Oh, and after a G&T at the Pub on Hassan II. (Still can’t get over the fact that you can drink alcohol at a sidewalk café in Fes now).

That worked out well since I was meeting Marian and her tutor Nazha to do a marketing workshop first thing this morning. We spent several hours together and hopefully it will help Nazha and the Tafajight honey coop get the info they need to make sound decisions on next steps toward improving their profitability.

Jae, a PCV from down south then joined us and we made our way back to my site. Along the way we heard-and asked for more opinions-about a proposed transit strike scheduled for tomorrow. Final word was that it is a sure thing, likely to be just Monday and taxis only, but both Marian and Jae decided to leave REK after a couple meetings so that they wouldn’t get stuck here. Too bad-I’ve got fresh turkey and a pasta and sauce mix ready to make up for a yummy dinner. However, I fully understand, as they have other places they need to be able to get to tomorrow.

I’ll work on cleaning up my place a bit, get my bicycle and some other stuff that needs to go back to PC office over to Pete’s. The PC driver will be bringing a staff person to a town nearby this next week, and instead of my having to schlep my bike all the way to Rabat, they’re gonna come over and load it up and take it for me. God bless their parents.

Then I’m off to Rabat for our COS (Close of Service) Conference and Medicals. This includes an exit interview with the Country Director. Last formal meeting before our check out mid-November. Wow. I’ll go straight from our COS conference to meeting up w/Rebecca and Samira in Fes for our artisan/weaving tour the following week.

Here’s an interesting link to check out: the Sept 22 entry of the following blog: If you’re familiar w/my blog, you know how much I love Fes and how much time I spend at “the Clock”. The aforementioned blog is a great article from someone who attended one of Clock’s cooking classes, complete w/yummy recipes. Check it out.