Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ain Chaib and Tiznit

Joy has a great site-small douar but right off the main transit road heading east from Agadir, so very accessible. Of course, it’s so flat down there that everything’s pretty accessible. See a lot more bicycles and even strollers due to flat terrain. (Usually women strap their kids w/a scarf or blanket on their backs-very practical for hilly terrain and stairs). The women Joy works with are great and since she has really great language, has developed really strong bonds with them. Wish I had her conversational Darija!

Riada went well on Friday-we did a “circuit training” concept with the women. Joy leads riada M/W/F at 9 and would like the women to be able to do it without her, ie; if she’s travelling. About 8 of them showed up, moved the tables and chairs in the neddi and worked out for an hour. By the time we finished, had a “bath” (mine was a bucket bath and Joy used the neighbor’s hamam-see photo-in these parts they have individual hamams usually built on their roofs), Ali, from the new SBD group had arrived. Got to the neddi to do the Costing and Pricing Workshop that I had prepared only to discover that a sewing teacher who was supposed to come the prior week had shown up and was conducting a training session. By the time she finished after 5pm the women had had enough for the day. (I later instead did a “train the trainer” with Joy and Ali on the workshop so they can do it themselves. As Joy and I discovered, maybe it was for the best, as she has a lot of questions she wants to ask of the President before she does the workshop to maximize what they get from it).

Now it was time for kaskrut (snack). Nimshiu? (Shall we go?). Iyeah. Follow the women. Keep walking for about 15 minutes. Don’t go to one of the agricultural fields. No, we end up in the gravel parking lot of what is eventually intended to be a housing development, sitting on the curb of the empty lots eating our sardine sandwiches and strawberry yogurts (delivered by a kid on a bike who went and bought the stuff for us). One of the more unusual kaskruts to date. Bismillah.

So Saturday dawns and we get up leisurely to catch transit to Tiznit-the silver capitol of Morocco. Very excited to be going-way south and never thought I’d get down there. About 2 hours later we arrive, park our bags in the 50DH/night Hotel Touriste, grab a bite to eat to build up our shopping strength and the games begin. That took the rest of the day-looking, trying things on, comparison shopping, bargaining, calling a friend to make purchases for her. We both fell in love w/the same earrings-so we own matching pairs. Zwin jewelry. Nothing else to see in Tiznit-pretty much the silver souk and the Ensemble Artisana. Purchases complete, we settle in for a couple games of Bananagrams before sleep. Big hug and thanks to Joy for sharing her Morocco with me.

Up early Sunday to start the 12 hour journey to Rabat-1 ½ hr taxi, 1 hour wait, 5 ½ hr bus, 4 hr train. Get to Rabat in time for a quick cyber, sandwich, shower and bed. Travel is tiring in taxis, buses and trains that are loaded to capacity where you can’t even move your feet.

Productive day Monday, or should I say one with a lot of potential, Hamdullah. Met with Sandy and Heather at the American Center. This is a site in Rabat that is open to US citizens only-passport required. They have a restaurant, bar, commissary and playground for kids. Local spot for American ex-pats to hang out. Anyway, we’ve been in discussion for some time about doing an artisan craft fair on their lawn. They were willing, but had planning on hold awaiting the date for the nearby Lycee Descartes (French School) Spring Bazaar, with the intent of having them both on the same weekend. Finally got ahold of Nadia at the Lycee and their date won’t work for us to combine craft fairs. So we decided that we’ll have a 3 day Moroccan Cultural Festival at the American Center May 7-9. Friday we’ll do a workshop with the artisans in the am and they can set up their booths. Craft Fair will run Fri pm thru Sun pm. Saturday they’re looking into getting a Moroccan percussion group in for the evening and having a Moroccan couscous night. That would be a great addition (got the idea from looking at the photos from the Fes Marche Maroc and the Sat night entertainment). That Sunday is Mother’s Day-they have a brunch at the Center and then the women and families can shop at the craft fair. The other great thing about this is that we’ll not be paying the artisans way-they need to go this one alone (and the American Center has tables, chairs, tents, and will take care of all publicity-really cheap for us). Our goal with these craft fairs (this would make 3 in 6 months) is to demonstrate and train the artisans to do these themselves and not wait for the Ministry (or Peace Corps Volunteers) to put them on to have selling opportunities. Inshallah this works according to the plan.

Later in the afternoon we met with the Country Director for Women in Technology Morocco. Two of us approached her on how to get their resources into our communities, and have been offered to be the pilot sites for moving their model into rural communities. In a nutshell, they provide training on several platforms: IT (complete Microsoft Office and blogging), Professional Development and Entrepreneurship. This involves at least 2 people from each community to be trained to do this training to others in that same community. We’ve identified a very cost effective way to do this if we can identify the right people. The community requirements include computers, internet access, space, commitment by trainers to conduct the trainings (they sign contracts-better accountability built into the program than I’ve ever seen in Morocco) and interested parties to be trained. Financial commitment and risk is relatively modest. Now I need to get home to share this with Meriem and the other women. Hopefully they are as excited about this opportunity as I am-can’t imagine how they would turn it down, but we have work to do.

Back to the office for meetings w/Program Staff re; the new SBD PCV’s training next week and then 6 ½ hour bus ride home. Will be good to sleep in my own bed.

Wellllll. Seems that the bus doesn’t go direct to REK every day-I’ve just been lucky on the days I’ve taken it, so a bit disappointed I can only take it to Sefrou-but can get transit from there. My luck, I’ve arrived early enough at the bus station to grab the Sefrou bus leaving at 1pm just as it’s going….and it’s an express! I’m in Sefrou in 4 hours, and manage to catch a taxi (!) to REK-this is only the 2nd time I’ve ever found a taxi going to REK. (I always ask since I have to walk thru the taxi stand to get to my regular transit). Home in only 5 hours-yipee.

Wait. What? Is that my balcony door open? Yikes! How long has that been open? I’ve been gone a week. Well, not a thing disturbed. You see 1.) I live on the 3rd floor 2.) The gendarmes (local police) can look right up to my balcony 3.) It’s the same temp inside and out, so it’s not like weather will hurt anything and 4.) I obviously live in a safe town. Hamdullah.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Long Day's Journey...

After over a week in site, I’m back on the road again. But not until after some productive time in REK…

One of the MANY emails I’ve sent to prospective exporters of weavings, got one that wants quotes. Sent them along, will see how the Coop fares. Good experience for them-see if their prices allow for sufficient profit for an exporter. I go on a “tear” every once in a while and send out a flurry of “Dear Sirs” enquiries with e-catalog of the Coop’s products.

Got a response back from Country Manager of WIT (Women in Technology). This is a USAID/Microsoft sponsored program focused on development of women in developing countries. They start with training women on computers so they can train others in their communities. They add on training in networking, leadership and entrepreneurship. Each program becomes self sustaining as the financial support weans off and participants pay modest fees for the training. Anyway, I met Widad in Raba at the Ambassador’s house with the Center for Women in Democracy delegation in November. Then she came to a PC training session in Rabat in December and I approached her about the potential for starting one of their projects in REK. It just so happens that some of the most dynamic (and my favorite) women in REK are forming a new Women’s Association with the objective of helping local women with training, empowerment, dealing w/abusive situations, etc. They are interested in the WIT program as an initial project. I’ll be meeting with Widad on Monday in Rabat. Inshallah this works out as it would be a really terrific opportunity.
While talking with Meriem (one of these wonderful dynamic women) she said that the milk coop in Zouiat approached her for help with their business-and did I have any ideas? Well, actually, Lisa in Khemisset-the foodie extraordinare-has said she’s willing to travel to do her cheesemaking workshop. Now, cheese isn’t readily available in Morocco-it’s (relatively) expensive, so people don’t buy it or eat it. The fresh cheeses that Lisa makes could be much more affordable and maybe they could sell or take orders at souk. Meriem is excited and Lisa is willing. Could be a cool initiative.

Then I met up with Jess (at the new Fes riad-more on that later) to discuss ideas she has for International Women’s Day (March 8 every year). She’s pulling together a team of us to work on a weekend of events in Fes, produced by her Culture Vultures business. Not certain what exactly I’ll do, but she’s got some great ideas, venues, and connections.

Quick Coop update: Nora and Ferida are supposed to start their computer classes this weekend, inshallah. They had to wait until Malco had enough students for a class. The other big news-yikes-the Coop has a camiyo! Yes, that grant form to a French organization that Fatima had months ago was in fact filled out. Now I’m not exactly clear who got the grant-Fatima said a “jam3”, but I think it was the zlul belladya (since he seems to be the one who is always giving them a ride in his INDH funded truck). Anyway, the “jam3” got the grant, bought the camiyo (actually a former ambulance-complete with lights on top) and have given it to Adwal. Fatima’s taking her driving lessons. They’ll have to pay insurance, gas, maintenance. No small expense. Meanwhile, they won’t pay to get business cards printed. Enough on that.

Oh yeah, the Fes riad. The Arabic Language Institute in Fes (ALIF-part of the American Language Center or ALC), teaches Arabic for English speaking students studying abroad. They’ve had this riad in the old medina for years, but this past year decided to renovate it into a culture and study space for the students when they are in homestay. ALC/ALIF is in the Ville Nouvelle across town, so this is a good refuge in the medina for the students-zwin courtyard garden, wifi, coffee, International Herald Tribune, etc. I’ve paid for a “Friends of ALC/ALIF membership which gives me access to the riad. Now when I’m in Fes, I’ve got someplace to hang out.

So yes, I’m back on the road. This is the long day’s journey. Let’s see, as I write this, I’m 10 hours into my trip to Ain Chaib, Joy’s site. Going down to do a Cost/Pricing Workshop and we’ll update her riada (exercise) class w/the neddi (women’s training organization) women. It’s one long-ass trip (just ask my ass). Get to Fes last night. Seven hour train today from Fes to Marrakech was actually 9 hours. Now I’ve got 6 hours on the bus. Then, if taxis are still running, I’ve got a 20 km taxi ride. If taxis aren’t running, I’m out of time and may have to overnight in Agadir. Oh God-projectile vomiting from the boy across the aisle. Poor guy. That’ll smell nice in another 5 hours. Will be in Ain Chaib til Sunday. Business in Rabat on Monday and then REK. Home a couple days before hitting the road….again.

OK, so that was written late on Wednesday and now it’s Friday. Had to overnight in Agadir, but Joy came up to meet me there. We spent the morning moving from one café to the next, right on the ocean-Agadir is a big tourist area. Had a very nice lunch in a zwin restaurant to celebrate Joy’s birthday. We were “ooooohhwing and ahhing” so much that a couple came over and offered to take our picture since we were having such a fun time. They didn’t realize how nice it was for us to be in such a nice place having such a civilized meal, but I guess we made it just a little too obvious to others. Made our way to the taxis and got to Ain Chaib.

This morning we did the riada class-8 women there, did the circuit training that we put together last night and they got a good workout. The women work in a neddi and have training, literacy classes and sew, crochet and make “décor” for their homes and for sale. Joy is working with them to get a grant to finish out the 2nd floor to move their workroom up there and use the 1st floor for child care. We head over there this afternoon to do the costing and pricing workshop. Then we’ll head down to Tiznit tomorrow-silver stuff-yeah!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Just Another Day

Except of course, it's the middle of January and it was beautifully sunny out, had the windows open to air out the apt, wore my 3 layers w/o a coat-hamdulah.

Typical day. Get up, have some yogurt and OHenry’s (kinda like a graham cracker) and coffee for breakfast. Do a little work on the computer. Try to get online, of course the rizzo (connection) isn’t working. Then the du (electricity) goes out. Hmmmm-great weather, no wind, how come?

Head on down to the Coop. The women trickle in. Not a lot of work going on right now. Stand out in the sunshine and talk w/one of the apprentices. She’s in Pete’s Tuesday evening English class, but doesn’t want to practice, so we lean over the railing overlooking the zlul (valley below) and laugh at the sheep and goat grazing just below us. Safi? Baraka.

Head home to change clothes to go for a walk. Kinda burned out on the Pilates DVDs (Jeez, ya think? Been using the same 2 for over a year now), so have a route around the “village” part of REK that takes about 45 minutes at a good pace. Lots of kids heading back to school from lunch. Lots of staring. Them, not me. Lots of “bonjour madame”. I don’t respond. I’m not French, don’t speak French. The 2 who say “Hello”, I stop and talk with. My way of encouraging them to not think of all “western looking” person as French. Last week when I walked the same route, I passed a woman I’ve never met-she looked me right in the eye, so I said “salam” and she continues to look me right in the eye and says “hmara”. Hello!! That means “donkey” and about the worst thing you can call someone w/o swearing. Huh? Don’t know you, you don’t know me, why the insult? Geez, just trying to get a little exercise and be a bit friendly. Oh well. Carry on.

Fouzia comes over for coffee and cookies. She lives in Sefrou w/her sister, but is from here (REK). Used to be a PC language trainer and is self taught in English-has excellent language. She comes to REK every other weekend and this was our first opportunity to get together since we were introduced a couple months ago. It was such a beautiful day, we decided to go for a walk. We went east from the village-further and behind where I’ve been before. Her extended family used to own a great deal of the land behind the military property. Her father was in the military and the first house she lived in was on that property-they still own it and keep their chickens there. We walked east and south of that property-to a little village that technically is part of REK, but I’ve never seen before-again, much of her family is still back there-all along the ridge overlooking the valley. Crystal clear day-beautiful view. Stopped at the olive oil mill. Didn’t even know there was an old one still working in REK-grinding 330kg of olives-burro led circular grinder and woven mat sieves. I scored a bottle of the oil. Best oil anywhere. Murky, completely unfiltered, fruity, flavorful. Dip it into some homemade bread that they had there-I’m talking DE-licious! I wanted to pay for the oil, but Fouzia said it would be haram (shameful) to do so. Wow. Finished the walk all along the ridge to come up on the alley in front of the Coop. I never knew where that alley went. Now I’ve got a whole new walk-FAR more scenic-but for dry days only-would be a muddy mess in the rain. Thanks Fouzia for showing me a new side to the town I live in!

Took a long hot shower and didn’t close my balcony door til about 7pm-it was that mild outside. Got a call from Fouzia offering to bring me a traditional Moroccan dinner. Was it haram to turn it down? It was so incredibly sweet of her, but there I was, wet hair, fuzzy robe over my jammies and ready to just settle in for the evening-no plan for dinner-not really hungry. Tried to explain the “rain check” concept and hope that’s ok.Life is good.

But wait, there’s more. I’ve got rizzo now and got to Skype w/Debbie. Unfortunately missed Joanne-will try to catch her tomorrow. Checked the REK weather-see the link on the left-updated every 6 hrs-says it will get up to 70 tomorrow. Supposed to be nice all week. Hamdullah.

Do a quick check of emails. See that now Kristen and Cynthia may join up at Joy’s next week-as Joy says, it would be a real squeeze, but a great group. Perfect ending to a really nice day.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kayn shms!

I really must have SAD-that’s Seasonal Affective Disorder. The sun is out today and I can’t believe how happy it makes me-I’ve got more energy, feel like I can take on the world.

Got busy with laundry-have to get it up on the line to dry as quickly as possible. Back inside to hug a hot cup of coffee and thaw out the hands. Open up the windows to air out the house. It’s not like I’m gonna let the cold air in-it’s the same temp inside and out. And at least now I can get the moisture out of the air inside. See, when there’s no insulation or heating in your house, anything you do, incl. cooking, heating water, space heater, even breathing, creates moisture that’s then trapped inside. Nothing drys. Wipe the counter-hours later it’s still wet. So everyone gets everything outside and open up the windows to try to capture some sunshine and maybe a bit of warmth to dry everything out while we can. My salon is bathed in natural light-hamdullah!

I’ve got the full day ahead of me to work-think I’ll get back to working on the website. My thought is that the Coop women may never be willing to spend the money to print up the brochures I produced, but they will at least photocopy the business cards (Fatima can do that for free at the Belladya office since she’s on the Board). So at least we can refer people on the business card to a site that has all their products and info. That’s the plan. I’m teaching myself how to do this. No small task. My friend Tammy generously offered to help us get the brochures printed via a terrific printer she uses in LA, but again, it’s all about working within the parameters of what the Coop is willing to do, while trying to push them to expand these boundaries constantly. So a website/blog it shall be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Random observations.....

I haven’t had to take my garbage out in more than a week. Now part of that can be accounted for by the fact that I hate to cook. Also, I went to Fes for 3 days. Nevertheless, when you cook from scratch and there’s no such thing as pre-packaged or take-out food, you generate a LOT less trash. Food for thought.

When the Coop women pound the stakes into the ground to get the vertical loom warp set up, they always put a little salt on the top of the 1st stake. Don’t know what it wards off, but it's tradition.

When you spend countless hours travelling anywhere, a transoceanic flight doesn't feel so long.

Wish I had my camera along w/me during olive harvest (just finished-now they’re crushing into the best oil in the world)-families sitting under the trees having picnics when they take a break.

I knew it was only a matter of time before I went tumbling down a set of cement stairs. Finally caught up with me just before Christmas when I took a header down the stairs of my apt building. Bump-bump-bump-bump-on my shins. At least I had garbage in my hands to cushion the top of me. Shins are still tender, but the bruises have finally disappeared.

The call to prayer is later and later each evening-sign of the days getting longer, Hamdullah.

A hot shower in this cold generates enough steam to steam all the windows in my apt and set off my smoke alarm-oops!

Getting more and more requests to add links to my blog. OK, so I get viral marketing (and may indulge when I get the Coop's blog/website finished). But geez, I'm not gonna add some link to a Windows 7 update, OK? This is just my rambling recollections and thoughts so I have something to look back on after this adventure is over. Really.

Got to see the Fes medina through new eyes this weekend-played tour guide for Annie and Cathy, new PCVs near here. I’m a sucker for Fes, so any suggestion of a trip and I’m there. Got out during the first snow of the year-they had to take another route as their direct route was closed on Saturday morning.

Got down to the tanneries-see them while you can, since they’re going to be relocated-polluting the river right below. They’re infamous-most photos of Fes will include a shot of them.

Likewise I took them down to the pottery area, just below the medina. These artisans may also be relocated due to the air pollution generated by the fires of their kilns. Makes you appreciate even more all of the amazing pottery and zilij (mosaic tiling) you see all over Morocco when you see what goes into the handicraft.

It was also a great chance to catch up with a bunch of Fes-based friends I haven’t seen in a couple months-Maia who is off to Rwanda for a new 6 month job, Gail just back from the UK w/her adorable daughter, Siobhan who is once again doing the Tribe of Doris event (she and a friend started this festival 18 yrs ago-I’d love to go sometime-Google it). Had some great Thai food, music at the Clock and cheap eats in the medina. Hard to beat all of that!

Now I’m in the midst of looking at the calendar to plan my vacation time for the year. We can’t use vacation the last 3 months of our service, so I have between now and the end of August to take it.

I’ve got a bunch of friends who say they’re going to come visit (Merhaba-welcome!). The challenge is, no one has made any plans. I fear if I hold onto vacation until they decide, I’ll end up not having used my vacation time at all! Meantime, Jess and I want to go to Spain in August (miss some of Ramadan, the blistering heat of August and she lived there for 7 years), Kristen is putting together a Paris trip for June and I want to take a trip down to the desert in March. Think I’m just gonna go ahead and plan and will just find time for anyone who does actually make it over here for a visit.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Fesser: to account for. That’s as close to accountability as I can get in Darija. Hmmmm.

Why does this come up? Just an observation. Something that’s sorely lacking in Morocco. And I don’t reserve that for Moroccans-true for Peace Corps here as well. Interesting.

It’s bugged me all along that Peace Corps doesn’t require any goal setting on the part of PCVs. I set my own goals, communicate them to my Delegate and counterpart. However, none of this is ever requested by PC Morocco program staff. Oh we have reporting. We are, after all, a quasi-government agency. All of our reporting is after-the-fact activity reporting. Activity alone. Body counts, ie; how many people came to a training or a program. The sort of info that Congress wants when they make their funding decisions. Oh, and a sprinkling of good success stories to liven up the numbers. OK, that sure sounds cynical. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

I ran across this with Heifer as well. When I started volunteering on the Development side, I was curious as to what their benchmarks were, how were they assessed, how did they measure success? Apparently this was something that just wasn’t done. Is this a non-profit/volunteer thing?

Fast forward to Morocco. How can there be so much corruption? I think lack of accountability can be one of the factors. If Associations aren’t held accountable, ie; for grant monies spent, people may take advantage.
So I find it most interesting that there’s been a push to move Associations that deal in any aspect of sales to switch over to a Cooperative model.

I sat in on a meeting yesterday of a women’s honey Association switching over to a Cooperative. What does this mean? Certainly more accountability. Reporting their (accountant certified) financials annually to their ministry. Transparency among the Cooperative members as to how the monies are collected and used. It is a big transition, and one not easily understood. Do they realize that the structure is changing, not just because the government said so, but to also help the members build a collective business faster than they could individually? Can they get on board with looking forward and planning and investing in one another for a greater good? It was not obvious from the confusion and questions today. Time will tell. The good news is that they were, in fact, taking the first step to get the organizational structure in place that better represents their enterprise. Game on.

This leads me to another form of accountability, that is, quality. First of all, how to introduce and adopt quality standards? Then, how can Cooperative members hold one another accountable for the quality of the products they each produce, esp. when they are making their products in their respective homes? How can they be objective and learn to provide meaningful feedback to one another if someone’s work doesn’t meet these standards? I’ve yet to see a good model of this practice in place. It is one of the topics I want/need to introduce. Hopefully we can make progress on making what the customer will buy, not what they want to make or buy themselves.

OK, so on a lighter note…

I’ve become more tech-savvy here-out of necessity, of course. It’s not like there’s a help desk somewhere to call. This includes the all-important practice of finding and downloading video for entertainment, preferably of the free and legal variety.

So far, my little dark secret is my affinity for Reality TV. Specifically Survivor, Project Runway, Amazing Race and Top Chef. Sad, I know, but there it is-it’s out there and I can’t take it back! However, I’ve also taken a shining to a few other series-so nice to be able to watch w/o commercial interruption, and sit and watch more than one at a time. Since the evenings are pretty much alone, and reading gets tiring and internet boring, and I don’t have a TV, these downloads are really great. Think I’ll watch some this afternoon-it’s Friday, the Coop is closed and it’s snowing and blowing like crazy out there-don’t wanna go anywhere else today. Rest up, warm up, ‘cuz I’m meeting friends in Fes for a long weekend, beginning tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mbruk Taeawniya Asalah!

Such an interesting and eventful day yesterday. And here I just thought I was going to go to the Coop and have brief meeting with the mundub to update him on my projects.

See, I sent him a text to see if he’d be in Sefrou on Friday-he keeps his own calendar and I don’t want to go all the way there and have him out of town (as has obviously happened in the past). He calls me and tells me he’s meeting with Souad on Tuesday. OK-she’s in Zaouia, next to REK, so???? He repeats that he’s going to a meeting w/Souad. OK, are you coming to REK? Do I know Souad? Yes, the one in the town next to REK (‘cuz of course I blank on the name Zaouia)? Yes. Are you also coming to Adwal? This is not an unusual telephone conversation in Darija. Me trying to understand what they are saying and them trying to understand what I’m asking. Finally he says he’ll come to Adwal at 10am. OK-I understand that!

So I’m there when he comes by-and says “Yalla, nimsiu l Souad”. Waxa. It’s his agenda, so let’s go. (This is after, of course, I’ve pulled out my little cheat sheet to give him the appropriate, respectful greeting for his new status as “Haj”, or “Allah Yatakabal”). We head out to Zaouia. Greet Souad. She starts calling people. You see, the mundub is there to finalize the paperwork with the new weaving Cooperative members. Souad is their new president.

So I knew there was a new weaving cooperative forming in Zaouia-I think both the mundub and Zahra had told me some time ago, and that the women were going to come to Adwal for training. Just didn’t know that Souad was involved (she’s president of a sheep/wool jameaia or association), nor did I know that was why the mundub was coming out our direction. And that he wants me to work with them as I have been with Adwal. I’m asked at the end of their meeting to introduce myself to the Coop and ask some questions I have from the meeting. It’s a new partnership and a new job (in addition to Adwal) for me. I also really like Souad, so this will be a good new group to work with.

During the course (or should I say multiple courses-chicken, then lamb, then couscous, then fruit) of lunch, I ask some questions about the wool they weave with, ie; do they spin their own sda (yarn), ie; buy it from the association? Yes. And they want to learn how to do natural dye with their wool. The mundub has an idea to build a natural dyeing area behind Adwal’s building. But wait, isn’t Ait Hamza going to build a natural dye facility to supply the region? Yes. I (finally) get corrected that Ait Hamza is in Missour region, not Sefrou. Aha! I finally get it-our region does need a source for natural dyed yarns, and if it can be “manned” adequately, why not Adwal? Another potential project for the list.

A most interesting meeting-oh, and I finally just hand my project list to the mundub. Masi muskil.

Once back in town (meaning REK), for some reason Fatima pulls me into a meeting of the Belladya (like city council). Of course, all in Darija, all slides in Arabic. Find myself vacillating between trying to understand what the presenter is saying and reading the Arabic (where I can decipher the Arabic script but still only know 1/3 of the words meaning). I figure the presenter for a salesman trying to sell some sort of communication system or wi-fi. Turns out it was a training session for the Belladya. OK. Still don’t know why I was dragged in-even Fatima admitted that she doesn’t like having to go to all of them. Oh well.

So carry on to dinner. Made pizza for Pete and I. I’m lazy and instead of making my own pizza dough, I buy the pre-made ones at Marjane and freeze them. Since there are 2 large ones/pkg, don’t want to make it just for myself-told Pete he was my excuse for pizza! Then we watched the pilot for Bones-I have season 1 and he has season 3. We swapped seasons since he’s already watched his series. Hilarious.

Then he tells me that he’s getting his place all set up and just got his internet-and it’s wifi! It just now became available here in REK. Means that if I can get mine switched over, #1 it may be more reliable rizzo (connection) since my hard wired internet goes out every time we have wind or bad weather and #2 I won’t have to pay for the fixed line telephone (which you must pay for-approx 150DH/mo, in order to get the hard wired internet) which I never use. Inshallah I can get this switched out now that I’ve completed one year on my contract.

Turned out to be a rather enlightening day!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Decade Begins....

It’s actually 2010 already. Wow. The last quarter of 2009 just flew by. Fun New Years in Sefrou to ring in a new decade. Thanks Jess for the party!

What am I thankful for? First and foremost, family and friends-here and there….the chance to have this Moroccan adventure….plenty of warmth to ward of the winter chill (It’s supposed to get to 70 degrees tomorrow-but Santa brought me tons of stuff to keep warm when the chill does come…and it will)….the days are getting longer ( I love hearing the dusk call to prayer later and later each day)….great people to work with….and this silly thing called a blog. I’ve never been one to have a diary or journal. I’m amazed at how much I enjoy keeping my blog. At first it was to be a chronicle of my Peace Corps journey-a way to save the experiences for the future. I’ve found it to be very cathartic as well. With my well-documented language ups-and-downs, the area I find the most challenging is the expression of emotions, the casual conversation, bull-shitting, etc. I’ve instead used my blog as my outlet when my Darija fails me. Thanks for that.

And now back to some bits from our favorite Peace Corps librarian. I’ve got a couple to share with you. The first is particularly relevant-the challenges faced by weavers such as the women I work with on a daily basis. Note that Bouchra, who is quoted, is the woman I may work with at Al Akhawayn on her idea to develop a regional nonprofit website to help market artisanal products. The second is by a woman-Fatima Sadiqi-who was on the selection committee for Marche Maroc. And now….

“ Moroccan Carpet Confidential. Rural women weavers struggle to earn a fair price for their intricate rugs. “ By Erik German - GlobalPost Published: November 13, 2009
KOURKOUDA, Morocco — It takes more than 20 pounds of raw wool and 60 days of handwork to fashion one of Morocco’s famous carpets. The weavers in this village say it’s hardly worth the effort. “You can’t give a damn about carpets anymore,” said Rakia Nid Lchguer, 57, who, like many weavers in this country’s remote south, spent a decade perfecting her art, beginning at age 6. “The market barely repays the cost of the wool,” she said.

Morocco’s vibrant rugs come in a variety of styles — from flat-woven hanbels to the fuzzy creations crafted by Nid Lchguer and her neighbors. The pieces fetch hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on carpet shop floors in Marakesh, Fez and abroad.

The rug stores are as common to Moroccan cities as bright lights on Broadway, and the haggling done inside is a visitor’s rite of passage. Hours can pass with merchants sipping tea, trading fibs with tourists about what the final price will be. Overpayment is the norm.

Yet middlemen ensure that little of that money finds it way back to villages like Kourkouda. While the World Bank estimates Moroccans make an average of $6 per day, in these arid hills south of the Atlas Mountains, that figure seems optimistic.

Seated on the cement floor of a home where she raised seven children, Nid Lchguer said immediate needs have sometimes forced her to sell a finished carpet for as little as $40. The raw materials cost her $33, she said.
While talking, she cleaned tufts of raw, ivory-colored wool by scraping it between two steel brushes. Her neighbor, Fadma Hassi, 65, stopped spinning yarn nearby and said, “That’s if you get to sell it.”

This time, the women have been lucky. Someone ordered on commission a plush carpet with roughly the same footprint as an American twin bed. With the help of a third neighbor, the weavers will split $50 three ways in exchange for an amount of labor that seems alien in a mechanized age.
The rug’s warp alone — a continuous string forming the piece’s vertical threads on the loom — will require hand-spinning a piece of yarn the length of 10 football fields. Among other tasks in the coming weeks, the women will hand-tie more than 100,000 knots no bigger than this lower-case o.

Not all Morocco’s carpets are crafted from hand-spun wool in isolated homes. Some weavers work in small cooperatives, others in factories. Some get their wool pre-spun at the market, others even buy synthetics. But the artisans — the overwhelming majority of whom are women — share similar problems.

“The money is not going to these ladies, for sure,” said Bouchra Hamelin of Al Akhawayn University, who teaches free marketing classes to Moroccan weavers and other artisans. “They don’t know how to write, how to read. They don’t have access to the internet so they don’t have access to customers.”

Instead, Hamelin said, men with trucks have access to the weavers. A middleman tours isolated villages and souks, buys low, drives to the cities, then sells high. “He is the person making the money,” she said.

Women in some villages have formed cooperatives in a bid to bypass middlemen. An association of 88 weavers in Anzal, about 35 miles from Kourkouda, have been marketing their wares directly to tourists since 2007. Like all the weavers interviewed for this story, they speak a local language called Tachelhit, which predates Arabic’s arrival to the region.

Even leaders of the group acknowledge that sales haven’t been stellar. The association’s treasurer, Zahara Ait Ali, said she’s only sold four carpets since the group was formed — a typical number, group members said — for a total of about $300. Still, she said, working through an association is better than going to the souk alone and haggling with a carpet dealer.

“The professionals in Marrakesh, the people who work in the bazaars, they try to drive the prices down,” she said. “In our region no one will speak out about low prices.” It’s hard to tell precisely how much of a cut the middlemen are taking. After all, concealing the wholesale price is the essence of the game. But a brief encounter with a traveling rug merchant named Mohammed Ait Tar offered a clue. Flagged down on a rutted mountain track, he showed off a load of carpets jammed to the ceiling of his tiny, diesel Citroen Berlingo.

He pulled out one plush, coffee-table sized carpet from a stack of rugs he said were woven nearby. What he did next underscored the warm hospitality visitors often encounter in this region, and also hinted at how little the piece must have cost him. “Here,” he said. “A gift.”

And now the second article-a good summary of progress being made and the misperceptions of Islam on women’s rights….

Tunisia, Morocco: North African women at forefront of legal reform.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 By Fatima Sadiqi

Women in North Africa have made tremendous progress in promoting and upholding their rights. Women in this region—commonly known as the Maghreb—are at the forefront of the Arab world in terms of individual rights and gender equality, and constitute models for other Arab women to follow. A number of lessons may be drawn from the inspiring experience of women in North Africa, especially in Morocco and Tunisia.

Access to justice has been greatly facilitated by the new Family Courts in Morocco as necessitated by the Moroccan Family Code of 2004. When women marry, they are now able to retain ownership of their property thanks to Article 49 of the code, which allows for a separate contract on property alongside the marriage contract. This is in accordance with Islamic law, in which women may remain the sole owners of their property and have no legal obligation to share it with their husbands.

In addition, mothers married to foreign nationals in Morocco and Tunisia can now pass on their citizenship to their children—a privilege previously allowed only to men.

The countries of the Maghreb have made significant headway in combating violence against women. Almost all Arab countries have signed the most important international convention that bans such violence, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), with exceptions to articles that clashed with a literal interpretation of the Islamic law. But Morocco has recently agreed to the convention in full.

Women are also more visible in economic and academic spheres than before in the Maghreb. Nationwide youth literacy is gradually becoming a reality with women demanding accessible and standardised educational opportunities. And women often spearhead business ventures, are increasingly choosing their professions freely and feeling safer at the workplace as a result of laws that combat sexual harassment, and have better access to clinics and more independence in making decisions about their reproductive health.

Fertility rates have dropped considerably in the region, from well above six children per women in the 1970s to approximately two per woman in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, according to the Journal of African and Asian Studies. This reduction is impressive: the Maghreb accomplished in 25 years what took almost 200 years in France.

Women in the Maghreb have also progressed when it comes to exercising their political rights and civic voice, with more and more women becoming members of their nations' parliaments (43 in Tunisia, 34 in Morocco and 30 in Algeria) and local governing councils (no less than 3,406 in Morocco).

Non-governmental organisations have played an essential role in pushing women's rights forward in the Maghreb region. Networking between associations at national and grassroots levels ensures that activists can disseminate information and rally multiple groups to help promote new legislation or initiatives that help women.

Support networks, such as Anaruz, a network of Moroccan women's associations, are getting stronger despite the society's conservative social norms. Women's rights organisations and individual activists have helped the government to improve the rights of all women, which the state sees as a way to improve society as a whole.

Another lesson that the Moroccan and Tunisian experiences offer is the importance of the place given to gender and women studies in some universities. These academic programmes have proved instrumental in changing social perceptions, attitudes and structures that obstruct gender equality.

One of the main reasons for the slow progress in women's rights in the rest of the Arab world is an unfounded fear among conservatives that granting full equality to women constitutes an imposition of Western values and a deviation from Islamic norms. Proponents of women's rights in the Maghreb, however, have made every effort in their thinking and action to show that it is patriarchy and social norms, and not Islam itself, that constitute the roots of their problems.

Women's rights are indeed congruent with the spirit of Islam and with universal ideals. Islamic jurisprudence has a tradition of ijtihad—an independent and contextual interpretation of the Qur'an and hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad—which allows consideration of culture as a changing concept.

The countries of the Maghreb strive to reinterpret Islam in modern social contexts through their revised family codes, which secure women's rights without compromising Islamic values. Tradition and modernity are not lived as mutually exclusive. The future of women's rights in the Maghreb greatly depends both on the work of civil society activists and continued Islamic legal reform based on universal human rights.

Global Arab Network

* Fatima Sadiqi is a professor of linguistics and gender studies and a UN expert on gender. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)