Friday, February 26, 2010

Marche Maroc Rabat in Progress......

Started the week with a visit from Mina-Asst Program Mgr-in REK for a quick update and meeting with Zahra and Fatima. Found out that Zahra was NOT asking on Sunday for another PCV to follow me, but for me to extend my stay another year. Will have to clarify that, since my Sunday response was Inshallah, we can make the request to Peace Corps (oops!).

Then it was a gathering of Marian, Chris, Casey, Pete and me at my place for Mexican food and discussion of projects that we might work on together. Marian updated us on her plans for an Earth Day Week in Tafajight the end of April. We need to do these “regional” meetings at least quarterly.

Then it was off to Rabat. Fortunately Annie was flexible when we discovered a communication blunder-don’t know which of us had it wrong, but I thought she had booked a double room to share at the Velleda, and they were sold out. They were able to bring in a ponge and blankets, so I was comfy on the floor.

She and I met with Sandy and Heather at the American Center to continue the plans for the Marche Maroc Rabat May 7-9. They’ve been really terrific to work with, and are planning a weekend of events to help bring in people for the craft fair.

Yesterday Tariq (SBD Program Mgr) and I met with his counterpart at the Ministry of Artisana and a woman who runs the QC certification process for artisans. I’ve invited her to conduct a workshop at the Marche Maroc Rabat to help the artisans understand the new Ministry Quality standards and certification process. Thank goodness Tariq was with me, as we got a lot more than I had bargained for-in the very best sense of the phrase.

For one, Khadija will not only conduct the workshop, she’ll be available to do individual product quality consultations with the artisans, for both the Rabat Marche as well as the one that’s being done in Marrakech in April. In addition, Khalid wants to ensure that the Ministry is involved in the promotion and media exposure for both Marche Marocs. He also wants to make certain that Peace Corps is getting credit for this work that we’re doing. Since the Minister is coming to REK next week, this will be a good chance for me to put in a plug for Peace Corps’ work.

In addition, he brought up the possibility of Ministry support to build a showroom on the main road of REK (not down by the bashawiya on a dead end by the Coop building) if the Commune is willing to donate the land. This is completely different than the small showroom being built next to the Coop, and something that we definitely need to check into. Very productive and impressive support from the Ministry. Hamdullah.

Then we met with Widad from Women in Technology. She has her hands incredibly full as she works alone to ensure the sustainability of the programs she already has underway in Morocco. No word yet on whether she'll have budget to expand, but it's not looking good. Time will tell if we’re still able to tap into their resources to bring WIT to REK. Inshallah.

Also had a chance to catch up a bit w/Tariq-long enough for him to ask me if I’d consider extending my service an additional year. That’s easy. Nope. Love it here, great experience, but goin’ home as soon as I’m done. Miss family, friends and life back in the good ‘ole U S of A.

So Heather and Sandy told me about the “Girls Night Out” at the American Center last night-complete w/margaritas and Mexican food. Hard to turn down a margarita. So I headed over, but didn’t stay long-hard to get a taxi back to hotel after about 8:30. Very nice group of women, but most are spouses whose husbands are working at the Embassy, and discussion revolved around cake decorating for their kids’ birthdays. Not that there’s anything wrong with that-and with the number of overseas moves these women have made w/their families, my hat’s off to them-just couldn't get excited about the fondant vs frosting debate.

Now it’s back to REK on the late morning bus-a direct, but 7 hour journey, back home. Need to touch base w/Meriem when I get back. Got a call from her this morning about the cheese workshop. Not this weekend, but next month. Oh. Got our wires crossed, tho’ I’m certain I saw her write the correct dates on her calendar. Then again, I could very easily have confused her.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s been spring here in Rabat since I arrived? And that the storks have come back to roost on the minarets of the mosques? I take that as a sure sign of spring. Call me optimistic.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Figuratively speaking yesterday in Fes. Literally and figuratively today w/the Coop.

I’ll start w/Fes. Broccoli. Safi? First known spotting in Morocco in 1 ½ years. So excited, I didn’t even note the price. I could just end it there, but there was asparagus and lettuce. Right there. Wow. I also got a lot of prices on cheese to share w/the milk coop when they do their cost/benefit analysis-need to know the competitive prices. Of course, all of this was at Marjane (like a Target, but mostly groceries, in major cities only), not available here in REK. But broccoli? Hamdullah!

I also thought I’d enlighten you on some routine prices, since when you shop in Marjane, you actually get a receipt.(In hanuts here, you never get a receipt, so don’t have individual prices unless you ask and write them down). OK, here goes (remember, about 8DH to each $1): baguette 1.1 DH, liter milk 2DH, pita bread (pkg of 6) 8.95DH, 4 batteries 39.90DH, Tabasco 5.50DH, pgd crackers 10.50DH, 12 oz peanut butter 24.50DH, 300g cheese 47.49DH, 3 avocados 13.47DH, 1 lg pkg tortilla chips 54.00DH. Note: selection based on what I can't get in my site. Can you tell I’ll be cooking Mexican? And you can tell what people do and don’t buy based on prices. Needless to say, hard to find tortilla chips much of anywhere at those prices! And it's obvious why bread is such a staple in the diet.

I also (finally) got my Carte de Sejour. This is the National identity card for a foreigner living in Morocco. Only took 1 year longer than the PCV in Sefrou (where my application was also processed). Go figure.

OK, so it really was enlightening today at the Cooperative. I was supposed to do the next workshop in the series-this one on Product Development. However, due to heavy rain, there were only 3 women there; Zahra-the President, Aicha-one of the weavers, and Malika-a new trainee. Turns out it was probably better that I went through what I did w/Zahra before everyone else saw it anyway.

See, Emily (PCV in Oulmes) has shared a Fiber Burn Test w/us in the past, and I really wanted to do this w/the Coop women, as I didn’t believe that everything they called “sufa” was wool and “ktn” was cotton. So I had taken samples of their yarn home with me to test the Burn Chart myself. I also used (my new favorite tool) Google Translator to translate it into French, since Zahra knows French.

Sat down w/Zahra to explain what this was and we started with what I knew was wool. Burned it, took Zahra thru the chart and she identified that it was wool from the chart (see I then had Zahra bring the materials she wanted to test and had her walk thru the chart to identify the fibers herself. Not surprisingly there was a lot of acetate. Most of which they had called “sufa”. I was happy to see how open and interested Zahra was in this information. You never know-did she know what it was and was trying to pass it off as something it wasn’t? Did she not really know what the fibers were and trusted whoever sold it to her? Was everything just considered “sufa, xit wla ktn”? Again, it could have been sticky doing it with her in front of all the women if something wasn’t right. However, she was most interested, asked me to do the demonstration with all the women, and I gave her the chart and told her to take it and a brika (lighter) with her whenever she’s going to buy materials.

I also had a good discussion w/Aicha as to why this was important. It is essential that they know what they are paying for and that they don’t pay wool prices for acetate material. It is also important that they label their products accurately. I don’t know if this will change what they use, but I will incorporate this into the Marketing and Sales workshops when we discuss reputation, quality, labeling and what the customer wants.

Most enlightening. Literally and figuratively.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Stormy Weather...again...

Riding out the third bad storm of the season. Woke to no power. Hamdullah it’s back on and I even have Internet going in the house, although with the way it’s blowing, might lose both anytime now. So far, it’s still not as bad as last year, and this year I’m geared up for it (thanks to Land’s End sleeping-bag-of-a-coat, “Hot Hands” and a space heater that takes the freeze out of the air.

It’s been a pretty quiet week. In town all week, doing normal stuff like going to the Coop every day, tutoring, few meetings w/others for on-going projects. Got a ton of stuff done on the computer. Nice to have one of these weeks every once in a while.

Had a chance to finally dig into the website/blog that I committed to launch in conjunction with the International Women’s Day festivities that Jess (thru her Culture Vultures business) is coordinating in Fes for March 6-8. The intent of the website/blog is to have a place for women in Morocco to get different types of relevant information, a place to share stories and connect. Have just a couple glitches to clean it up, otherwise it’s “live”. Check it out at

I’ve also finished the Adwal Cooperative website/blog, so it’s up and running, for information purposes only (not yet possible to buy/sell over the internet in Morocco). Check it out at
Gotta say I’m getting pretty good at putting these together, and getting the rest of the Adwal materials, ie; business cards, brochures, price list, invoices, etc. into English, Arabic and French. Thank goodness for Google translator (not being a French-speaking sort) and Google images. Why did it take me so long to discover those 2 fine sites??

We’ve finally got a date for the cheesemaking workshop, and now it looks like there are interested women here in REK who want to attend. Lisa and I need to Skype to sort out all the materials and facilities needed so they can select the best location to do the 2 days of hands-on training. I’m also looking forward to using the Cost Benefit Analysis tool that Cynthia has shared. Hopefully I’ll be able to communicate it effectively to the Milk Coop members so they can make their own decision on the economics of going into cheesemaking after the workshop. I really think it’s a great tool to help folks make more objective decisions. I just anticipate that the concept of using different sets of assumptions may be a challenge. Stay tuned.

I’m also in the midst of getting my vacation plans in place. See, we have to use up all our vacation days before Aug 12th, or 3 months before our COS (Close of Service). I’m excited that Lindsay (cousin Arne’s daughter) is coming the first of April for a visit and Pam (and hopefully Jenna) who I worked w/at the Heifer SW Regional office are coming about the same time that Lindsay leaves. Then Kristen, another PCV, and I have a week in Paris scheduled (r-t fares to Europe are shockingly cheap-about $50) in June, and Jess and I are hoping to go to Spain in early August. (She lived in Barcelona for 7 years so will be great to see it thru her eyes). I was hoping to travel most of August, to miss the heat and Ramadan, but alas, the vacation needs to be taken earlier than that.

Now if only the internet and power hold on, I’ll try and get some of the Olympic coverage downloaded. Miss not being able to watch the Olympics-really love them-even sports I don’t usually have much interest in-we’ll see what I can find.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Moroccan Valentines

Before I get to Valentine’s Day, quick update on Sefrou visit. Those b****s at Maroc Telecom would not let me switch out my landline phone and internet (2 year contract) for a wifi usb now that wifi is available in REK. Would have contracted for wifi in the first place, had it been available a year ago. They say I have to pay out my contract and get a new contract for wifi. Right-I’m gonna pay 3 bills for a single service. Not. Even get to the Sefrou mudir, he makes a call, still no luck. Tell them I want to do it “nisan” (above board). What if I sign a wireless contract and just don’t pay the landline phone/internet? They’ll cut off service. Waxa, I don’t want that service anyway. But that’s not the way to do business on my end, so I leave, steaming, with my landline modem in hand. Run into Jonathan on my way afterward to the Artisanat-bitch a bit to him about it, and then he tells me, yeah but at least you have 3mg on your landline, right? NOOO. Only 1mg. Incredibly slow downloads. So now I don’t have the service I want and it’s 3x slower than what’s available in Sefrou.

OK, that’s out of my system. Yes, I’m incredibly grateful and blessed to even have internet at my site. Yes, I’m incredibly grateful and blessed to even have internet at my site. Yes, I’m incredibly grateful and blessed to even have internet at my site. Need to get this into my brain and stop complaining.

Lunch w/Jess and Marian, visit w/Fouzia, invited to hitch a ride with her and her sister back to REK later. Oops, mushkil. Sister was in an accident. Hours later, she’s done w/the gendarmes (who wrote out the report over coffee in the café before returning to the office to type it up), and they take away her driver’s license. Make a run for the nukl stand, hoping for transit home. Just in luck-one transit, but only 4 passengers and he doesn’t want to go. Hamdullah, after about 15 minutes, 6 friends who are returning to REK from Fes via Sefrou walk up. Driver now has to take us. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

Now let’s turn our attention back to Valentine’s Day….

So I decide to go down to the Coop this morning, a little later than usual-didn’t really have any specific business to do, but had told Zahra that I’d come by. Glad I did. She greets me with questions about today’s holiday. Huh? You know, the American Holiday today. Huh? Geez, I just found out yesterday that it’s President’s Day Weekend on Skype w/Jo, but why would Zahra know about that? Then she’s asking, isn’t there a holiday of the heart today? OHHH. Valentine’s Day. Yes! Duh, Lynn. She’s wishing you Happy Valentine’s Day! Thanks! Mind you, this is a Coop of all unmarried women. I didn't give any other description of the holiday. Decided I like the idea of a Holiday of the Heart.

So then I’m back in the “kitchen” with Fatiha while she’s making tea, just talking. No one’s doing much work, and everyone’s in a silly mood. I tell them I need to get something-will be right back. Once again, thanks to Cindy, I’ve got Valentine’s candy-in Valentine’s baggies, so I go home and bring it back to share with the women. Meanwhile, Zahra’s sent Ferida to the souk to get bread, limonada and pastry-to celebrate. How sweet is that?

Meantime, I’ve found out that Ferida and Nora are in computer class 2 hours every Saturday and Sunday (not just Saturday)-Kantara Craft grant at work. In addition, Fatiha and Malika have started going to Zahra’s Fusha (classical Arabic) literacy classes on Sunday afternoons. Tbarkalihum!

Shared a copy of the new website w/Zahra-she hadn’t seen it yet. Reminded me that I need to add info on sponsors page for the grant they recently received from the King-iyeah!

Finished up in time to meet Pete and a friend of his who is visiting, at the café. Decided to go on the walk that Fuzia took me on back behind the old military training center-path isn’t too muddy-great views to show Will, and besides, I want to get a picture of the olive press working. See, I’m compiling a list of photos I want to be sure and get while in Morocco, and ones of the traditional olive mill and presses are on the list. However, there’s only the one traditional press in REK, we’re at the end of pressing season, and I’ll be gone before the next olive season starts next year. So I was delighted that Pete and Will wanted to go on the walk. Hamdullah, REK friends were working the press-got great pics, tasted the oil fresh from the basket press and had tea at the house of one of them. Great “typical” experience for Will. Go into the house, shoes off, into the small salon, TV is on showing a video of a relative’s wedding w/the volume up HIGH, served tea, and look at a stack of photos of people we don’t know. This is about as typical a visit as one can get. Meanwhile, we’ve had a terrific walk, great views, and wonderful hospitality by townspeople. Hamdullah.

Now I’m catching up on a few things before taking ½ kg bibi u qr3a sharab (approx 1 lb turkey and a bottle of wine) to Pete’s-he’s cooking for Will and invited me to join them.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kantiq Fik

I trust you. Go with the flow. Yalla. I’ve learned to put the plan away and just go. So far this has served me well.

I think the reason I am so very fond of Khadija, my “host mom” in Ain Leuh is that she would take me by the hand and just drag me along with her. Anywhere, everywhere, anytime. I really didn’t understand where, when, why, how long, who, etc. at that time, since my language was in its infancy. I always tagged along anyway. And so glad I did. I learned more about Ain Leuh, met more people, participated (or usually just observed) in more celebrations, and saw more things than I ever would have if I had declined or hesitated. She opened her world to me and I am so thankful.

This approach has also worked for me here in Ribat El Kheir. Usually it is Fatima dragging me along. I don’t necessarily know where we’re going or why-but now it’s not due to a language barrier-I don't necessarily ask-I just go along. I’ve learned to trust that wherever she’s taking me is going to be a good experience for me. As a result, I’ve sat in more interesting meetings, met others that I am now working with, and become a part of the community-thru her including me in her interactions. God bless her parents.

Yesterday we went to Zaouiat. I arrived at the Coop and saw Souad there and thought we were meeting w/her there. Nope. Going to Zaouiat. Waxa. Yalla.

The new Taeawniya Asalah (weaving cooperative) in Zaouiat has set up in a new building and has 2 looms from the Ministry. Fatima was there to show them how to set them up. All the women came by. Had a chance to talk w/them-gave the new Treasurer the Arabic accounting sheets I’ve made. I also spoke with them about the opportunity they have to make zrbya (pile carpets) with the natural wool they card and spin from their own sheep-ymkn on a wool warp-and this would bring a premium price. Gonna talk w/another PCV who has a Coop doing the same and get their pricing. This would put the Taeawniya Asalah in a good position, as there are very few weavers making this all natural wool product in Morocco.

No respectable meeting or workshop is complete w/o couscous, so we sat down to the feast before I headed off to a late tutoring session w/Khalid in El Menzel (thanks to M’hamed for the ride). Got the last taxi (bus and nuql were all done) back to REK and had to negotiate my way into the village-love a good Arabic bargaining session. 30DH to get me home-would have paid more, but he didn’t have to know that!

Today was a good busta day. Big shout out to my dear friend Cindy, who seems to always know when to send a package or card. Just got Valentine’s from her. How did she know I was missing candy hearts? Cindy, you’re amazing and I’ll never forget your constant kindness.

I had another package at the busta today. Got my e-Reader back-thanks Jo for getting it shipped back. Oops, mushkil. Seems that Sony will allow me to purchase a bunch of books to download AFTER which they inform me that they’ve upgraded the software and they can’t be downloaded onto my version of e-Reader. Can either get a $50 trade in on purchasing a newer, more expensive version (and why would I do this? Mine is less than 1 year old and works fine thank you very much) or send in current e-Reader for software update. Choose to bring it to the states over Xmas, ship it out, have it sent back to Jo who then sends it to me. Just got it. With a note. My unit is not eligible for the update. Feels a lot like bait and switch to me. I’ve got about $50 of books on my computer that I can’t download onto my e-Reader and have to read off my laptop. Hello, why did you sell me an e-Reader that was going to be obsolete in less than 1 year? It doesn’t just work slower or not as well as newer versions. It doesn’t work AT ALL. Bah Humbug. Sony, you’ve lost a fan.

I guess since I’m on an electronics rant, I’ll head to Sefrou tomorrow to try and switch out my landline DSL for the new wifi that’s now available in REK. Tired of paying for a landline phone that I’ve never used and pay separately for DSL when I can just pay for the wifi modem. Also tired of any time we have wind or weather (in the mountains on a plateau-happens a lot) I can’t get rizzo. Inshallah this will help connectivity. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stormy Weather...

Big 'ole storm rolled in last night. Wind like I’ve never heard and a pounding rain. Snuggle a little further down into my blankets and stay in bed an extra ½ hour this morning. Fortunately we’re not having the unbearable cold of last year, so that makes it easier to get up. Check out any storm damage-leaky window in the salon has let in water-dripping down the wall onto the floor-cheap rug is wet, that’s about all, Hamdullah.

Interesting developments….

Randy sent me a message that the Ain Leuh Coop took down the new zwin security bars she had made and re-installed the old yucky, institutional-like ones. Eles? She’s gonna take her tutor with her to talk w/the women to find out what’s really going on. How incredibly disappointing.

Ran into Hassan-Pres. of REK Tourism Assn today. He shows me the new zwin brochure, business card and folder he’s printed up for the Association to market to tourists. OK, so they have no revenue and he’s printed these up-tbarkalikum. I’m gonna show them to the Adwal women-example of investing in your future. Hint, hint.

Meantime I’ve completed the first phase of the Adwal website-at least there’s some info to send people to in case Adwal never prints up their brochures. Check it out at and give me your feedback. Note that this will not be a site to sell from (can’t do online sales in Morocco), for information purposes only.

Found out from Fatima that the building that is going up next to the sbitar (clinic) here in town is going to be for women in the surrounding area who are having trouble pregnancies in their last 3 months. Apparently the Assn that is supporting this effort is seeking funding to complete the furnishings for the building. She’s asked if I’d help them contact the Center for Women and Democracy (Seattle-based organization that visited REK last November) for funding. I told her that they need to put together their grant proposal and I’ll send it along.

Think I'll be staying indoors the rest of the day. Defrost chicken from Thanksgiving so I don't have to cook in a freezing kitchen. Do work on the computer. Book Paris-Kristen and I are going in June. Inshallah I still have rizzo.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Yet another transit strike. Change of plans. Home from Azrou a day early while transit is still running. The laws proposing huge punative fines for drivers in case of even minor accidents are the basis for the protest. No transits running for 24 hours starting tomorrow nationwide. And who knows if it will only last 24 hours. So, taking no chances, and having been out of town for a week in Azrou, I headed home this morning while I knew I could get here. Hamdullah. Home to clean the house, air it out with beautiful sunny skies, catch up on email, Santana tunes in the background. Life is good.

Had a good time in Azrou w/the newest SBD volunteers-a good group. Facilitated and participated in several workshops over the course of Wed-Fri. Was supposed to stay over for sessions on Monday, but they’ve seen/heard enough of me. Nice hotel-awesome hot showers with REAL water pressure, actual radiators in each room-warm inside, balconies, shampoo, soap, towels, tp in the room-just like a real hotel room!

Headed over to Ain Leuh yesterday-only about 40min. from Azrou. Great to see my host family-Khadija, Ahelan and Ayoub. Tea, catching up-they’re all well, and picking out the yarn colors of the hanbel that Khadija is going to weave for me. Spent time w/Randy, the SBD PCV in Ain Leuh. She’s got a great project going w/the coop to move their looms downstairs (which will give them room for more looms thus more women who can work) and revamp the upstairs, street-front space into a showroom. She’s had to threaten withholding the rest of their grant money when they told her they changed their minds about moving the looms. Apparently this threat was taken seriously, as the plan is back on track. Yesterday while I was there they removed the ugly, institutional-looking security screens from their big new front window and replaced it with beautiful wrought iron security bars that let in a ton of natural light, match their door and have spots to put flower pots in the bottom. Way to go Randy!

One of my “stage”-mates (Colin) has done the research on cruises where they relocate the ships from Mediterranean to Carribean waters-with the plan that those interested from our training group would cruise home after we COS (that’s Close of Service) when we’re done in November. The last stage did this and had a fabulous time. Cost is remarkably low. Plans were going into place, given COS date of Friday after Thanksgiving. Then yesterday we got our official COS date of Nov 12, 2 weeks earlier! (Date change due to conflict w/Leid Kbir and travel restriction during that holiday-means we won’t have to endure a 3rd sheep-slaughtering and eating “holiday” during our service). Makes a big difference in the cruise plans, as this timeframe is much more expensive and they’re not relocating the ships yet. Need to work on this, as we were all getting excited by the idea.

Anyway, did you note-November 12 we’re done with our service?!! That’s only 9 months away! Holy crap I have a lot to do before then!

Meanwhile, as I type this, I’ve just closed my windows-it must have been well into the 60’s today. Rain forecasted for tomorrow, but it’s been so mild, nothing could ruin this winter, or what’s left of it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Yes, yet another town. Here for a week to help with the 2nd training session of the 1st year SBD PCVs (that’s Small Business Development Peace Corps Volunteers). But first, it was a productive 1 ½ days in REK between Chefchaouen and Azrou.

Had a chance to sit down with Meriem to discuss both the WIT program and cheese workshops. She and the women who are forming a new "Women's Association" are interested in moving forward with the WIT opportunity and I've given them contact info to speak with both the Country Manager for WIT Morocco and the President of the Azrou Assn who has been running the program for some time. They’ll be able to address more questions and provide a lot better information than I can at this point.

We then moved on to the cheese workshop which Lisa has agreed to come out and conduct for the milk coop. (Meriem is acting as the liason between the coop and me). I think this could be a nice opportunity for them, and Cynthia has a cost benefit analysis tool to help them determine if it’s economically feasible to pursue as a business once they see the yields. Inshallah.

Had a chance to photo-document the demolition of the space next door to the Coop’s workshop for the renovation into a new showroom. It’s finally happening-good thing, since the Delegate has already announce that there will be a party in April to celebrate its grand opening!

Found out from Ferida and Nora that they’ve started the computer classes-great to hear it's going.

Then Tuesday morning I did the next in the series of Business Workshops with the Adwal women-this one on competition. I figured it would take about 45 minutes tops. Fortunately Fatima reminded me that Meriem wanted to sit in on the workshops so I gave her a call to come and join us. I’m so glad she did, as she really added a lot to a very active discussion that lasted 2 hours. The women really engaged in defining who their competition really is-not just other local weavers, and the importance of targeting their customer to help them define their competition and what they need to do to be unique. One of the most productive discussions I’ve had with the women. Helped w/both Fatima and Meriem’s support and my ability to engage in Darija. Hamdullah.

Then it was off to Azrou-only about 120 km, but 4 hours travel with 4 different transits-to the zwin Hotel Panorama. This “stage” of PCVs stayed in a pretty shwiya place for their initial training, so I think PC is making up for it with this much nicer place. Again, all is relative, but nice to have towels, soap, hot showers and central heating in a hotel. (Remember, we usually stay in hostels for about $7 per night and you do get what you pay – or not –for).

These PCV are here for 2 weeks of training (a different model that we had), so PC has brought a bunch of us “2nd year” PCVs in to share our experiences and facilitate workshops. I ran several yesterday on Marketing and today Joy and Emily ran Product Development workshops. It’s a great chance to get to know the new PCVs and what their skill sets and experience is to tap into in the future. More workshops this afternoon and tomorrow.

I’m staying over the weekend here instead of travelling home on Sat morning and back on Sunday afternoon, since I have to be back here on Monday and Thursday of next week. That means that tomorrow Cynthia and I will go over to Ain Leuh (where I did my CBT training) and I can see my host family, how Khadija is doing with the carpet I’ve ordered from her, and the work that Randy has initiated for the renovation of their workshop and showroom. Then Sunday I can just go up to Fes for the day and meet with Jess on the International Women’s Day project. I’m supposed to be putting together a blog for that and need to get on it….maybe this afternoon during the “Working with Counterparts” session.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Finally got there. Road trip for 8. Flu shots in Fes and it was off to the Rif.

The Rif Mountains are along the northern end of Morocco, best know as either the #1 or #2 pot growing region in the world-made into hash and referred to as “kif”. For obvious reasons, Peace Corps does not place any Volunteers in the Rif, despite what the rest of the communities may need.
Anyway, Chefchaouen is a beautiful town up in the mountains-with a distinctive blue paint on all the buildings-clean, winding, hilly medina that is fun to explore.

In the midst of negotiating 2 taxis to get us there, Lisa overheard a bus guy asking if there were passengers for Chefchaoen. Huh? Iyeah. 8 of us. Well, the bus was actually only going to Wzan, but we could get a bus from there up to “Chouen”. For about 1/3 the price of the taxis. Bus it was.

Beautiful scenery, incredibly lush green hills-their winter wheat has several weeks on ours-gorgeous sunset, finally in town. Apparently the 2nd taxi group of 4 up to the medina from the bus station got harassed by a guy trying to sell them kif and took their “no thanks” personally. Fortunately that was really the only kif hassle of the weekend. (Other groups of young male PCVs have reported being stopped about every 10 feet with someone trying to sell to them). Got ourselves situated in a good, clean, cheap hotel in the medina, a quick dinner (tagines-go figure) and off to bed.

It was very much a group trip-even when we didn’t all at first want to do something, we just gravitated to doing whatever we did together. Maybe because it was a great group of people.

We managed to get a relatively early start-good thing, since it still took us ‘til about 10am to get to the taxis to take us to Akchour to go on a hike to see God’s bridge. For what appeared to be an exorbitant price, we got 2 taxis to drive us about 45 minutes out of town, wait 2 hours while we hiked, and take us back-turned out to be a heck of a deal.

The hike was absolutely beautiful, up and down the cliffs along the banks of a river-plenty of good steep climbing, but rewarded at the end with this natural stone bridge that is about 300 meters above the river. The guys were really great going back, esp. with Kristen and I, both of whom fully expected to be on our butts on the downhills-but we managed to stay on our feet. We ended up having beautiful sunshine, worked up a bit of a sweat, got great photos and headed back into town.

Good chicken lunch with the locals renewed our energy for a walk around the medina. It’s very picturesque with the 2-tone blue walls, twists and turn, built into a hill, unique little shops and restaurants and inns-very different from other towns in Morocco and a nice departure from the typical medina. Side note-the little shop w/the guy knitting crazy hats and selling 1 DH candy seemed strange, until we realized he had his customer base completely figured out. They come to Chouen, get stoned, get the munchies and try on and buy silly hats-perfect! Note that this was Lisa’s observation-she was "on" all weekend-and to think that she had no intention of coming to Chouen when she went to Fes for her shot-we convinced her on the spot to join us for the weekend.

After contemplating our next move-a walk to the waterfall just east of town and the crumbling mosque (another hike-not my 1st choice), check out the Kasbah or check out the Artisanat, we all followed Colin’s lead to see the sunset from the mosque. Must admit that while we all made it up there, Colin was the only one to stay for the sunset-just got too cold-we enjoyed the view on the walk back down into town.

Fortified with ns ns kbir (a Moroccan equivalent to a tall latte), we opted for an early dinner. All chose non-Moroccan grub, at our own risk. Maybe stick w/the Moroccan cuisine next time. Anyway, finished up the night w/a couple games of Bananagrams and Balderdash and off to bed, as 5 of the 8 of us had a 6am bus to catch. That’s the only problem w/weekend trips-the travel time it takes to get there and back home doesn’t leave a lot of time at your destination. Chouen would be a great place to go spend a relaxing 3 day trip. Inshallah mn b3d.

Back to Fes in time for a quick Marjane (grocery store) run and caught a taxi to REK w/4 guys-bought out the front seat and we were off (1st time I didn’t have to wait at least an hour for the taxi to fill). Home in time to get on Skype with Debbie, Alex and Ginger. Hamdullah. What a nice weekend!