Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Forsa Fromage

Well now, that was a productive and inspiring weekend. Ana eyiti.

So Lisa and Marian (PCVs) arrive Friday afternoon in time for us to meet Meriem (President of the new Women’s Assn. who asked for help w/the Milk Coop) to check out the facilities for the cheese workshop. Meriem has moved her personal kitchen into her bedroom to give that space for the Women’s Assn to make their hlwa (sweets, ie; cookies, cakes), and they’re busy filling trays w/beautiful things that they’ll serve at the post-Cheese Workshop party on Sunday.

We find out that, in fact, it was the kitchen of the Dar Taliba that Meriem was suggesting we use for the workshop. (The Dar Taliba houses 53 girls from the countryside during the week so they can attend school). This could not have worked out better. Huge kitchen, all the equipment we need, a large room attached to conduct the workshop and a dining room for serving, etc. In addition, it’s in the middle of everything in town, ie; can walk over to the Adwal Coop and show it off, can run to hanuts or back to my place to get anything we’ve forgotten, right by the Marche for Saturday meeting w/Hassan, etc. We are introduced to Mohamed, who is the President of the Milk Coop. Mushrfyn. We all climb in his car to also check out the Milk Coop in Zouia (about 10min down the road). Originally the workshop was going to be held there, but fortunately the Dar Taliba space was offered (maybe because Meriem’s sister works there, you think?).

It was very informative to go to the Coop, ie; 99 members bring in their milk daily, they’re paid a set price and it’s all sold to a larger Cooperative that comes by daily to collect the milk (it’s fresh from the cow, otherwise will spoil overnight). Their margins are extremely tight, thus their interest in doing something other than just selling milk, ie; make cheese. This Coop, which is only 1 ½ years old, has also not paid out the Coop proceeds, per membership agreement, so they can save enough money to buy land and build a warehouse for feed storage. I’m blown away. This is the first time I’ve heard of that type of saving/investment on the part of an organization in the countryside, ever. Tbarkalihum!

Mohamed has a chicken emblem on his keychain and Lisa asks him about it. Says he has chickens, do we want to see them? Well, one thing I’ve learned in Morocco is to never turn down an offer to go see something. So off we go, figuring we’ll see some cute chickens. Holy crap. 14,500 chicks. This is a major business he’s got going-all his. Never seen any production on this scale in Morocco either. Tbarkalih.

Saturday morning we’re about 5 minutes late to the workshop (which is normally about 1 hour early in Morocco), and the women are already gathering. Oops. Lisa gets set up, we’ve got copies of all the recipes for each of the women, incl. terrific diagrams that Lisa made for those who may be illiterate. She commences the workshop that, over the course of 2 days, produces 5 different types of cheeses: Neufchatel, Feta, Gouda, Ricotta and first yogurt and then yogurt cheese. In the downtime, Lisa shares some of her baking expertise w/the women-making a cake and cheesecake (using the Neufchatel and Yogurt cheeses).

In addition, 5 friends from Fes join us on Saturday: Gail who owns FezFoods and runs cooking classes in Fes and takes tourists on culinary adventures in Morocco; Michele who, along with her husband, own and operate a destination expertise company and want to bring tourists into the countryside; Colleen aka Cowlie Flower; Vanessa and Louise. I had set up a meeting for Gail and Michele with Hassan, President of the Ribat El Kheir Tourism Assn., to discuss what types of “tours” he could do for them and their guests. They had a great discussion, and along the way, realized that all their guests are English speakers, and Hassan speaks Arabic and French. No problem if Pete or I are here, but mushkil otherwise. But Wait! This is the alternating weekend that friend Fouzia should be in town (she lives in Sefrou) and she speaks excellent English, generations of her family are from REK and she’s currently looking for work. Call her up and she walks over to join the discussion. She agrees to work with both Michele and Gail as interpreter when they bring guests to REK. Love it when a plan comes together. Side note-Michele and her husband are scheduling time to come back later this week to spend more time w/Hassan, do some trekking, etc. so they know what options they can offer to their guests. Gail has a Canadian chef coming to Morocco film a piece on traditional food of the Moroccan countryside and they’re scheduled to come to REK next month-we’ll try to set up the Milk/Cheesemaking women, Olive Oil press, Couscous Coop and Honey Coop.

Sunday is another full day. When we arrive at the Dar Taliba at 9am, Fatima is already at work on our couscous lunch. Lisa begins the next set of cheeses and next steps of what was started on Saturday. Some cheeses, like the Feta and Gouda, require more time to set before they can be eaten, so Lisa has already made one of each of these ahead of time so that the women will be able to taste what they are making. We sit down to a couscous feast, after which Mohamed (Pres of Milk Coop) talks w/the women about the Coop. Some of the Women’s Assn (not members of the Milk Coop) are interested in having milk cows, and it’s a great opportunity for him to address their questions.

As if this isn’t enough, there’s still a hfla (party) to be had. The Women’s Assn has been baking all week long, and asked if they could have a party at the end of the Cheese Workshop to show off their baked goods (like they have to ask-it’s their workshop!). Merhaba!

While Lisa is finishing off the gouda making, we’re weighing the Neufchatel and Yougurt cheeses for yields, then setting them up for the tastings. We mix some of the 2 cheeses with other flavors, ie; thyme, honey, cinnamon, strawberry jam and garlic. We want them to think about how different the cheese can taste and varieties they could sell. The women make a couple of salads that we can use for the Feta tasting. Fatima takes me upstairs to show me the girls who are being dressed and made up in traditional Berber attire. Other community members are gathering downstairs for the party. Finally the party commences; music, the girls walk in to the traditional women’s song/ululating, the cheese and hlwa are passed around and Lisa and I are presented w/certificates. Why we are given certificates and not the women who completed the workshop is a bit unusual, but a very nice gesture on Meriem’s part. The cheeses are a hit-delicious.

We are finally finished w/everything about 5:30, drag ourselves back to my place and pretty much collapse-we’re beat, and both Lisa and I have to travel Monday. Lisa wanted to get to Khemisset by 11 for an English class (that will be tight) and I need to get to Ifrane for a meeting at Al Akhawayn University. I then go to Fes overnight at Gail’s before heading to Casablanca to greet Lindsay at the airport. It’s vacation time. And how!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

PCPP Funding

OK, it’s officially up and on the Peace Corps Website. If you have any inkling to support artisans in Morocco, here’s your chance! PCPP# 378-124 has been approved for funding. Peace Corps Partnership Grants are smaller grants and are funded by friends and family.

My grant is to partially fund a Craft Fair and Workshop for artisans from across Morocco. This will be the third “Marche Maroc” in a row that I’ve set up to help Moroccan artisans establish selling connections outside of their rural villages. The intent of this series of Craft Fairs and Workshops is to build the skill capacities of the artisans to eventually take over running them themselves.

The Marche Maroc Rabat will be held May 7-9 and the grant will cover lodging, tables, chairs and limited marketing, amounting to only 18% ($1520) of the total costs. 82% of the costs will be covered by the artisans themselves or the American Club/Center in Rabat where the event will be held.

Donations can be made by credit card and are tax-deductible.
Search project 378-124.

Thank you for any financial help you can provide.
Shukran bzzaf f l hrafyat mn Mghrib.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Eid Milad

It’s been a birthday kinda week. Happy Birthday Bubba! Happy Birthday to Fatima and Ferida. Party at the Coop today-Naima brought meat and fruit for our lunch and I baked a cake-and we didn’t even coordinate it. Pretty sweet.

Met up w/Fatima and Zahra as they were returning from going to the bank in El Menzel, so we could celebrate. So why do they go to El Menzel if the bank has opened up a branch in REK you ask? Well, that’s because they’re not actually branches. Each one is independent. You can’t bank at one and easily complete transactions at another. It would take “jbl d wraq” that’s a mountain of paper, to switch to the REK “branch”, so they just continue to go to El Menzel. So wireless internet will be the first internet connection most people have in this town, should they ever have their own computer, but banking is still a paper machine. Go figure.

Good to see the woman who makes the Hasir feeling better and back in the Coop, especially since there’s a new order for one. Also good to note that Fatima was talking with both her and another woman about the potential zrbya orders, ie; how long they would take to make, sizes, etc. Just wish I could figure out how to get them moving on these order requests w/o having to remind them. One of the requests if thru the new website, one from friend of friend in Fes, one from one of the MANY email inquiries I’ve sent to exporters and one thru another exporter I know. They need to understand that customers need a prompt response or they’ll go elsewhere.

Met Pete for qhwa. He’s leaving for Spring Camp today. This next week is Spring Break for the schools, so the Ministry of Youth and Sport holds English Spring Camp in about 20 Dar Chebabs (Youth Centers) across Morocco and Peace Corps Youth Development Volunteers help run the camps. I volunteered in Fes last year, taking a pass this year. Approximately 75% of all Morocco PCVs will be helping out at these camps over the next week.

Got home so I’d be here when the refrigerator technician from Fes was to arrive at 2. OK, so he didn’t get here until 5, complete with entourage. It’s on the 3rd week of not working. Motor’s shot. They actually take the refrigerator with them so he can install a new motor. OK, when will I have it back? Next Thursday. Hamdullah, Lindsay and I are supposed to be here then. Where do you have a refrigerator repair take a full month? Morocco. Yak?

Fortunately I don’t need the refrigerator desperately. I’ll have a full house this weekend for the cheese workshop, but we’ll be using another kitchen to do the work. Lisa’s coming in today so we can check that everything is ready for the workshop tomorrow and Sunday. Marian is also coming in-she wanted to bring some of her women, but since we had to limit the number of local participants, didn’t feel it would be right to bring in others from another community. At least this way she can see how Lisa does each of the cheeses and can do it herself in her site.

In addition, several friends from Fes will be coming down for the day tomorrow to observe. Gail is a potential customer for artisanal cheese for her FezFoods business. Michele and her husband have a tourism company based in Fes, so she wants to see what a group could do if she brought them to REK. I’ve set her up to meet w/the President of the REK Tourism Assn., she’ll see the cheesemaking, Taeawniya Adwal and I’ll take her by the Couscous Coop. Hopefully this will entice them to bring tourists to visit (and of course, buy Adwal products!)

Well, time to wrap this up. Marian is here, Lisa’s about to arrive. It’s an absolutely perfect spring day-the sunshine has lifted everyone’s mood, everyone’s out and about. We definitely need to take a walk. After couscous, of course-it is Friday after all.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

OK, so I’ve been stringing out the celebration. Packages received before my b-day (03/09) were saved and opened that day. Didn’t really do anything else on the day of my birthday (mesqina). Made up for it with b-day cake, candles (gave the birthday poppers and noisemakers to PCVs to use w/kids here-thanks for the party stuff Debbie) and “PCV sangria” when friends visited last week. Just went by the busta and had 4 more packages- cute outfit/book and CHEDDAR CHEESE from Sandy (yes, cheese travels quite nicely thank you very much, and is not something you can buy here), sweet notepaper from Cindy, and a zween assortment from Ginger, including a “Tiny Tornado II, Personal, Battery Operated, Hand Held Fan”. Does it say something about my age when the battery-operated personal accessory I get excited about is a fan to keep me cool? Mesqina. Thanks to all!

Had an informative discussion w/Fatima and Zahra this morning at the Coop. This is after I had dreamt that I had an argument w/Fatima about them not wanting to pursue the new business opportunities I was bringing them, so what did they want me to do? I remembered the entire dream-including the argument in Arabic.

I know this was based on my disappointment in their response to all the work that Jared did for them last week. Even tho’ I know they just don’t have an appreciation for what he did in the approx. 12 hours he spent on Photoshop, they were pretty nonplussed and didn’t even offer tea. I was a bit embarrassed for them. My dream also incorporated how I’m feeling about these potential orders and the length of time it’s taking the women to respond-as if they don’t really want the business. So it felt kinda funny going down to have this planned discussion and waiting to see their reaction.

There are 4 new order inquiries (2 from the new website) and I reviewed each of them, some of which I need to respond to with additional photos and prices. Ferida and I went to the busta to weigh the zrbya they already have so we could estimate the postage fees for the larger zrbya order from a Moroccan in Tiznit. (Fatima told me that the scale at the busta was broken, that’s why she hadn’t weighed it in the week I was gone. BssHaH?). Anyway, we’ll keep moving on these, and Inshallah-oops, hopefully Ellen sees fit to get us the orders.

Then I needed to see if they were planning on going to the Marche Maroc Rabat in May. Fortunately they plan on attending this Craft Fair. I just got notice from Peace Corps Rabat that they’ve submitted my PCPP grant request, so I’ll let you know when it’s posted for funding. (PCPP is a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant that gets posted to the official Peace Corps website for funding by friends and family in the States).

I also needed to ask Fatima honestly if she thought there was anyone, ie; another Association, in REK that would want to pursue the Women in Technology opportunity. She acknowledged that she didn’t think that there were people willing to foot the bill for 2 women to even go to Azrou to get trained to be trainers. I’m very disappointed, as this is an extremely valuable opportunity, but only if they want to pursue it. I cannot push it on anyone. They need to own it. I need to let Widad know so she can approach another rural town. Bummer.

I’ve also discovered that the Adwal email is full and bouncing back messages. Yes, Fatima says she opens them and reads the ones she can (French/Arabic), but has not been deleting any. Meanwhile Ferida and Nora continue with their computer classes (thanks again to Alia Kate and Kantara Crafts), but won’t be done for another 1 ½ months. Then I’ll be sitting down with them to show them how to stay on top of emails, update the website, respond to product inquiries, etc. If Ellen wills it.

Spring Has Sprung

Thanks be to Ellen, the weather has changed for the better, and hopefully she sees fit to keep it that way. I’ll even take the humidity of Rabat over the weekend (it’s on the Atlantic coast) to get the warmth. F lxr (finally)!

So I’m sitting on the bus in the Rabat station, waiting for it to fill before it leaves. It’s the 12:30 bus. Last time I came to the station at 11:00 and they let me sit in the jump seat as it left since it was already full. That just means that schedules are flexible, transits leave when full, and you can usually count on having to wait, perhaps hours. I’ll get a bit written here while waiting, and we’ll see what time we actually leave. (we left right at 12:30 and pulled into REK at 6:10)

I went by the PC office yesterday to get on the internet and pick up mail. I received the newest edition of Saudi Aramco World. This bi-monthly publication is distributed by the oil company Saudi Aramco to increase cross cultural understanding. The goal of the magazine is “to broaden knowledge of the cultures, history and geography of the Arab and Muslim worlds and their connections with the West”. Each edition contains fascinating articles on each of these topics, along with Suggestions for Reading, Listening, a global Events Listing and Classroom Guide for teachers to facilitate discussion of the articles with their classes. This publication is circulated free of charge to a limited subscription list, Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the North Africa/Middle East region being on that list. I am hoping that once I finish my service I will be able to continue the subscription, as I find the articles well written, diverse and very informative. It reminds me of a small Arabic version of the Smithsonian Magazine-nothing you have to read, but always interesting articles that broaden your horizons....

Here’s a sampling of the articles in the March/April edition: Risotto’s Roots (rice being a crop that Arabs brought to the northern Mediterranean), Sons of Winds (story documenting the dhow-traditional merchant ship of the Arabian Peninsula), The Living Desert (of Eastern Saudi Arabia), Shodo “Arabi” (Japanese calligraphers who write in Arabic), and The Life of Omar ibn Said (Muslim African slave brough to the new world who wrote an autobiography in Arabic, the original pages which reside in Fayetteville, North Carolina). Check out for more articles.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ah Ellen

Jared and I headed up to Fes in the morning on Thursday with the intent of showing him a bit of the old medina before we caught our buses to Khenifra and Khemmisset, respectively. Unfortunately by the time we arrived (via Sefrou), his bus was leaving, so he saw what he could from the taxi in and the bus out-sorry he didn’t have more time.

I headed over to Café Clock since my bus runs every hour, so I had time to kill. Figured I’d have lunch, hit the internet (they have wi-fi) and put final touches on the workshop for Friday. I head upstairs to the bathroom (priorities being what they are) and I heard someone yelling my name. There was Colleen (aka DJ Collie Flower). What a nice surprise. I joined her for lunch and a chat. She also gave me a new phrase to use (hope it’s not too blasphemous). She calls Allah, “Ellen”. So instead of saying Inshallah (if Allah wills it), I’ll now be using “if Ellen’s willing”. Same goes for Hamdullah (thanks be to Allah) which is now “thanks Ellen”. I like this.

Had quite a scare while at the Clock. Tried several times, over the course of a couple hours, to boot up my laptop. Nothing, nada, walu. Crap. Tfoo. Ellen, I could use a little help here.

God bless Ellen’s parents, ‘cuz when I went to the cyber (to get online to see what day Lindsay heads over here in case I need to buy a computer and have her bring it with her), lo and behold, my laptop starts right up. Thanks Ellen-had me in a sweat.

Unfortunately I was somewhat prepared for a computer crash. I’ve been getting these blue screen “crash dump” shut downs and my screen and mouse have been acting up. I just backed everything up last week. My laptop is less than 2 years old. Tfoo. However, mine would not be the first or last PCV computer to crash in Morocco-I know at least 3 others who have had to replace theirs. It’s a tough country for electronics. Thanks Ellen for having my back.

So the “what should have been quick jaunt by bus” to Khemmisset took about 3 ½ hours, but arrived safe and sound and Lisa walked to the bus station to meet me. She’s got a lot on her plate right now, personally and professionally and we had a quiet, early evening of it.

Got up to get some finishing touches done on the workshop while Lisa baked goodies-yum-little cheesecake bites and brownies-for tea after the workshop. We had a quick, but delicious couscous lunch with her neighbors (the “mom” hand rolls her own couscous) before heading over to the Artisana. Twelve people showed up for the Marketing Workshop, from multiple associations and cooperatives. As Lisa said, some were very interested in the topic, some clearly came to support her. Nevertheless, it was nice that the guys were involved, asked questions, shared their ideas, etc. to make it interactive. Longest workshop I’ve run to date-covered a lot of ground-and hopefully they all walked away with something they can do a bit different. After all, it’s a mindset-state of mind, a willingness to explore possibilities, be inquisitive, take risks. As I told them over and over, I didn’t have the answers, I was bringing them the questions they need to be asking. Kinda satisfying to have done it all in Arabic.

Left Lisa as she was trying to rest up-oh, and try out a couple new feta recipes-and will see her next week in REK for the cheese workshop. Had perfect timing to cath the bus to Rabat to investigate housing options for the artisans and PCVs for Marche Maroc Rabat. Need to find 20 rooms (for artisans) and hopefully 10 more (for PCVs) at 50DH/peron/night (about $6). I’ve been hoofing it all over Rabat Ville today and have checked out about 10 hotels-only 2 are close to fitting our criteria. Have to come back and talk w/their managers on Monday. I’m looking in higher priced area since it’s safe and closer to the American Club where we’ll have the Craft Fair. Our other option is to use Peace Corps connections further out from Ville, but then we get into having to transport the artisans, at additional cost. The budget and grant proposal have already been submitted, so need to keep w/in what we’ve requested. Further info on a later blog, since the grant request is a PCPP-meaning that once it gets approved, it goes up on the national Peace Corps website to be funded by friends and families. Watch for a request coming to you soon to help out!

Brian K is in Rabat so we had a chance to meet to discuss what we want to propose for the future of the Marche Maroc initiative. I want to see it turned over to the artisans to run, but this will likely take some time, with continued Peace Corps support-financial and Volunteer. This means we need to put together a proposal, test the ideas and submit it so that future Volunteers take on its continuation. If Ellen wills it.

A pleasant surprise to the weekend is that there are a number of PCV friends in town-for various reasons-so getting to catch up a bit w/others while I’m here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tbarkalik Peace Corps

49TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PEACE CORPS -- (Senate Statement - March 03, 2010)
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, today I rise to celebrate service--specifically the dedication of Americans volunteering in the Peace Corps, which this week marks its 49th year of connecting committed volunteers with meaningful work around the globe.

There are a lot of ways to give of ourselves. We donate food. We donate money. We donate time. But the Peace Corps takes community service--global service, really to another level, with volunteers committing 27 months to improve the quality of life in developing countries.

Some projects focus on agriculture; others business. Some improve health, while others emphasize education or the environment, but all programs build a unique international relationship with a spirit of volunteer service at its core.

As Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I recently saw one program up close during a congressional delegation I led to Morocco, which is an active Mediterranean partner country in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Meetings with local government officials there were informative. And the briefings from the embassy staff were important. But the time we spent with a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Aitourir was nothing short of inspiring.

The Youth Development Program there run by Peace Corps volunteer Kate Tsunoda, with help from local community volunteers, is giving children from kindergarten through high school critical education, language, and art skills.

Inside a small community center, below a library still in need of dictionaries and elementary schoolbooks, we sat down with a group of young men, some in college, some recently graduated. In a part of the world where unemployment tops 15 percent, these are the people one may see as most susceptible to recruitment by extremists, but not these men. They spoke of dreams that included higher education, better jobs, and a transforming of their local towns.

These men credit the Peace Corps program for empowering them and building their language skills. I credit the Peace Corps for something even greater--forging international understanding, something the Peace Corps has excelled at now for 49 years in 139 countries through 7,671 volunteers.

On the other side of town, several members of our delegation visited a start-up small business, the brainchild of retiree and Peace Corps volunteer Barbara Eberhart, whose second career is dedicated to empowering the women of Morocco.

The group visited a fabric and embroidery shop developed by a community of Berber women aided by a microcredit loan and Barbara's guidance and unbounded energy. These women, unable to read or write and essentially marginalized in Moroccan society, have formed a cooperative where they create fine embroidered goods and sell them in local markets. Their small business not only provides desperately needed income, but gives these women a stronger sense of themselves, their community and hope for their future and that of their children.

With Peace Corps volunteers coming from all backgrounds, ages and various stages of life, this program is as diverse as our country. The local citizen collaboration inherent in all Peace Corps work helps build enduring relationships between the United States and Peace Corps partner countries.

The Peace Corps invests time and talent in other countries, but it pays dividends back here in the United States as well. Those who are taught or helped by Peace Corps volunteers are likely to have more favorable opinions of the United States. More than that, many of the volunteers themselves are inspired to public service upon their return to this country, some becoming Governors and Members of Congress, including our own colleague and fellow Helsinki Commissioner, Senator Dodd of Connecticut.

I left Aitourir thinking Kate was the exemplary Peace Corps volunteer with her welcoming smile, passion for service and genuine love for the Moroccan people. But aware of the success of so many other Peace Corps programs around the world, I know Kate is one of many volunteers--all of whom would have left as great an impression.

The Peace Corps is a program that works. Volunteers year in and year out continue to fulfill the Peace Corps mission of bringing training and education to interested countries and strengthening understanding between Americans and our neighbors in the global community. Congratulations to the Peace Corps for 49 remarkable years. I look forward to its continued success.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

PCV Central

OK, so I probably shouldn’t name names, either that or I should call anyone whose name I mention to make certain they were out of their site “legally”, i.e.; that Peace Corps knew they were out of their sites.

The sun finally came out as visitors came in. One good friend (JC) from far south came in Sunday along w/Marian. Marian beat her here, and we baked Birthday cake (thanks Debbie) to celebrate my b-day later in the day. While searching for vanilla for the icing, found a scone mix. Heck, we’re baking; let’s make those up as well. Find out that the powdered/”glace” sugar here is actually regular granulated sugar that’s been ground up-so you never get rid of the granules. JC arrived; we had a nice walk and made a kick-ass cheesy béchamel and turkey dinner. The three of us got drunk off of a single bottle of cheap rose mixed with Schweppes citron (affectionately known as Peace Corps sangria). There are worse things to be called than a cheap drunk.

Monday rolled around and Chris and Casey came in to meet w/Marian to talk about their Environment education plans and the Earth Day/Week of activities that Marian is planning for Tafejight the end of April. Just after they left, JS and Jared arrived. Jared came in town to help the women of Adwal with the interior and exterior design planning for their new showroom. He came from Ain Leuh where he helped Randy and her women with the same project. More about that later.

Turns out that Pete had a guy couch surfing at his place-and the guy is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania, so we invited them over for dinner as well. I think we had an REK American overload! Running to market, taking walks, having coffee, hanging out on the roof-they saw a lot of us the last several days.

Tuesday I took Jared down to the Cooperative to introduce him to the women, take photos of the buildings and ask them about what they had in mind for the interior and exterior of the showroom building. Nice to know that they’ve already incorporated some good design ideas, i.e.; there will be a mostly-glass wall between the small office and the showroom. The front door will be half glass. Nice touches that will bring a lot of nice natural light into a fairly small showroom space.

Jared spent the rest of the day and well into the night on Photoshop to transform his photos into design options for the women to consider. Very cool program. We went back down to the Coop today to share what he came up with. As you might expect, the women were impressed-with the options, the program, what it allowed them to envision, etc., and it helped them narrow down options for important decisions, i.e.; wall color and floor covering (which will be tile, but need to decide tile and grout colors). Nice. This also helped ensure they felt involved in the overall process. Jared also came up with several suggestions that we never would have thought of, i.e.; small red frame of red on the top of showroom and workshop buildings to tie them together, put the Adwal logo on side of adjacent building that you see right before you get to the showroom, etc. Again, these were all options that Jared could show them-with and without, to make their own decisions. Nice. Jared will leave a copy of his files with me so that the women can refer back to them when they are ready to do the finishing on the building (it’s still under construction). Can’t thank Jared enough for the generosity of his time and talent to help the cooperative out with this effort.

Meanwhile, a couple of learning’s along the way-duh-isn’t that always the case? Yesterday I’m going down the block to pick up some bread/croissants for the crowd for breakfast, and when I pass by the Couscous Coop, they motion me to come in. My new best friends, ever since last Friday when I met them. I ask them when do they actually make the couscous-whenever someone orders it and they cook it up every Friday. Merhaba. Nice. Maybe something to have friends or tourists do when they come into town-learn how to make couscous. What? Is that milowi? You make milowi? I’ll take that whole fresh round. You mean that the entire time I’ve been living here I could have bought fresh milowi? Holy Crap-what a find! On the other hand, it is kinda decadent-basically fried bread that’s so yummy warm and crispy. Needless to say the round that I brought back up to the apt with me was gobbled up. Maybe I didn’t need to know this was available. You know, living here, it’s REALLY easy to convince yourself that you’re living in hardship conditions and “deserve” these treats. Or is that just me? Tell that to the hips!

I also decided to tackle a couple of potential orders with Adwal that they hadn’t moved on. Bit of a quandary. How much do I push them? Haven’t they told me that marketing help is their first priority for my efforts?

OK, so last summer, some friends-actually really only acquaintances, came from Fes to visit the Coop. They wanted to see artisans in action, and purchased a small item. One of the couples also saw a hasir-traditional woven reed mat of this region-they leave the reeds long on the backside and this provides “spring” like a mattress. So they email me back and let me know that they want to order one, and here are the dimensions. I give this info to the Adwal women-they write it down. At the time they were up to their elbows producing table runners for the American export order. That’s the last I’ve heard of it. Well, just a couple of weeks ago another woman from the Coop (usually weaves at her home) started a hasir on one of the looms. Very cool. Natural dye. Her hands fly. I’m of the opinion that she got started on it to show the Minister when he came through that they make this indigenous product (my cynicism grounded in the fact that she hasn’t been back since the Minister left). Anyway, now that one is being produced, do they have a buyer? No. Well, maybe Kate is still interested. Want me to ask? Yes. All of this of course instead of having started on the hasir order as soon as they had a free loom. Oh well. It’s their business.

I was also pleasantly surprised when I got an email through Adwal’s new website that I recently got up on the internet. Seems that a guy out of Tiznit (far southern Morocco) may be interested in having zrbya made. Waxa-I print out the message and give it to Fatima. She says she’ll respond back to him. Nothing happens. A week later, I go ahead and ask what specifically he’s interested in. He wants a quote on 2 pretty big natural wool zrbya. Amounts to over 7000DH (this is a very big order for Adwal). I help Fatima figure out the product pricing and suggest that they ought to take the natural wool zrbya that they have in the workroom to the busta, weigh it, and showed her how to factor that postage cost up to cover the cost of this larger order so she can quote a price, shipping included. Says she’ll have the old one weighed later today and figure the total cost for me to send to him. Fine.

OK, so here I am, trying to help them out by bringing friends in from Fes, some of whom run tourism companies and they want to order products. They won’t pay to print out a bloody brochure, so I put up a website to that at least when the photocopy their business cards, people have somewhere they can go to see the products/prices/etc. I didn’t really expect to get any orders through it, but now they’ve potentially got a nice order. And yet they aren’t taking the initiative to follow up in a timely fashion (at least by Western standards) to seal the deal and get on with the production. I just don’t get it. Maybe I never will. It’s their business to run. They, as everyone else, have to live with the consequences of their decisions.

Meanwhile, they decide to NOT go to the Marche Maroc Marrakech that Peace Corps is sponsoring next month (and that I initially set up). Only housing is paid for. The Ministry of Artisana just informed them that there will be a Craft Fair in Fes that same weekend. Even w/o expenses covered, this is a better financial decision for them. Even I must admit this is the case.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Full Heart

I feel like I need to capture these feeling while they're fresh. While I realize that someone else may see my words, this really is my personal journal, to reflect back on this experience I'm so fortunate to have.

How many times has the phrase “my heart is full” come to mind? I can’t even count. How incredible it is to be able to say that. What a wonderful place I’ve got to live in for these 2 years, that fills my heart so often.
I really love these women that I have the opportunity to work with every day. They give, they work, they’re silly, they play, they argue, they include me. How did I get so lucky?

So, yes, the Minister came today. It was a very big deal-everyone was working from about 8am, and he showed up around 12:30, stayed at most 1 hour, and then the work of tearing everything down began.

It was one big photo op. The tent was put up, and the products of Taeawniya Adwal and the new Taeawniya Asalah were put on display. Story boards were put up to update the Minister on Ministry-funded projects. The obligatory photo of the King went up. Everything else came to a halt until the Minister arrived from Sefrou.

The men were lined up to shake the minister’s hand as each was introduced. As is customary, the women were in the line behind the men, one female Assn president was introduced, but none of the other women. The Minister went thru the storyboards and products, then came into the Coop workroom to see the Adwal women at work. I had a chance to speak with him briefly about my Peace Corps work. Back to the tent for tea and he was off to the next stop. With all due respect, this was not the hightlight of the day.

Instead, watching and helping the women of the Coops working together, in the steady rain, to get everything put together was great. Then it was the comraderie while awaiting his arrival that was so special. There was such a sense of community-the REK villagers there to support the Adwal women, the women themselves, I wasjust one of the women, joking around, sitting together talking, etc. I’m never going to be able to adequately describe how remarkable these women are, how normal, how different and at the same time how similar they are, how inviting, how industrious, how gracious, how loving. I’ll never do them complete justice. I don’t know what it was about today that made it special, but my heart is so full.

So afterward, we all trekked back into the village for couscous (it is Friday after all). Finally I know where the Couscous Association is. And that’s what is underneath the cyber stairs! I never had the guts to poke my head into their space-wasn’t certain if it was “public” space or someone’s house. Turns out it’s where they make the couscous and they’ll cook it up for you as well. Nice to know. Interesting to note that some of the Coop women turned their noses up at the couscous-making faces, saying their mother makes better couscous-and right in front of the Assn women. Oh well. I liked it.

So now it’s all about finger crossing for sunshine tomorrow. I realize that weather gets a lot of blog space, but given the last 2 weeks of steady rain and cold wind, it’s hard to ignore. That and the fact that you can never escape it. You go inside and you’re still cold, unless someone has a furno (small wood burning stove) or sufaj (space heater) and you’re sitting right in front of it. Otherwise, you’re always cold. And with rain, you’re always wet, since you don’t get in a dry car and back it out of a driveway-instead you walk everywhere. It does wear on you.

Meanwhile I’m still waiting on the tlaja technician. My refrigerator motor isn’t working. Since I got home on Monday. Have cleared out the food that could spoil. Fortunately the milk and eggs here don’t require refrigeration, so there’s now little to be spoiled. However, I still don’t have a timeframe when it will be fixed. I go by the hanut where I purchased it every day. Every day he says the guy is coming, maybe in the morning from Fes. Inshallah. Right.

But neither that nor the weather can dampen my spirits-the Adwal women lift me up.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wizard of Wizarat

OK, so I’m taking a bit of language license. The Minister of the Ministry of Tourism and Traditional Handicrafts (Mudir d Wizarat d SiyaHa u Sine3a Tqlidya) is coming to town. Apparently he’s making a tour of the region-Sefrou in the morning, lunch with us, on to Azrou, Ain Leuh, etc. It’s a big deal. A VERY big deal. The Coop building has been whitewashed, trees trimmed, weavings hung, posters of the Cooperatives in the area put together, etc. Now it’s sprucing up the Coop workroom and dress in our finest to greet him. All the Coop women are sporting their new Adwal logo pins (gift brought back to them from US after Christmas).

Good week in town-glad to have some time here to get some things done. Metalan, spoke w/Meriem to finalize the plans for the Cheesemaking Workshop. There will be 10 trainees, 5 from REK and 5 from Zaouiat. Lisa is set to come in the day before so we can ensure that everyithing in is place. My friend Gale from Fes wants to come down for it, as she runs a business called FezFoods, and may be a buyer for the cheese if it’s economically feasible.

I also had a chance to speak w/M’Hamed and another guy from the Jam3ia f zlul (that’s the rural commune in the valley below town) about Women In Technology. Since the new women’s association isn’t up to taking this on, I’ve been pitching it to other groups here in town, as it is an incredible opportunity that I don’t want REK to pass up. On the other hand, they need to own it, so can’t push it on them either. Inshallah they’ll take on the project.

Khalid (tutor) and I have finished the Darija translation editing of all 16 Business Workshops I’ve created. I’ve been doing the translations myself and using our sessions to correct my grammar and jargon that doesn’t translate well. Metalan, “putting the moose on the table” doesn’t exactly translate directly into Arabic…know what I mean? I’ve got all the Workshops posted to a Yahoo Groups server for the Small Business (SBD) Volunteers to access. Now I just need to keep working my way thru implementing the rest of them with the Adwal women.

Great news from friends Pamela and Jenna (of Heifer volunteer days)-they’re coming to visit right after Lindsay goes home in mid-April. They’ve made several Heifer trips, so are accustomed to being “in the bled”, Hamdullah.

I’m also looking forward to Jared’s visit next week. He’s one of the SBD PCVs way down south in Morocco. He’s got a software program, and the know-how to really use it-to demo different design options for building interiors. He’s coming up to help the women of Adwal brainstorm and decide how they want to design the interior of the new showroom that is being built. Great opportunity to tap into his talent, and glad to give him a chance to get up to this part of Morocco.

Now if only the sun would shine and spring would come back….and stay around....

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Let My Heart Be My Pilot

Thank you Colleen for allowing me to quote you after sharing your inspiring, touching, mysical story of your journey of discovery toMorocco by following, quite literally, your dream.

Despite heavy downpour yesterday afternoon, a warm, wonderful, intimate group gathered to share in the readings and stories at Café Comedie in the Fes Ville Nouvelle to kick off the weekend of events celebrating International Women’s Day. Everyone was touched by the power and beauty of the readings, including the husband of one of the readers, who shed tears as he shared with us that the afternoon made him think of his mother who he hasn’t seen in over 20 years. Thank you Colleen, Marian, Raja, Hannan-all of you for sharing of yourselves. Moving.

And then of course it was the Diva Dinner Saturday night. Women only. Oh my, what a party! Escorted to the Dar Touria deep in the bowels of the medina from Bab Guissa, between 30-35 women, most familiar/friends to one another, gathered for a wonderful dinner and unlimited wine (again, oh my!). We didn’t even make it to dessert before the tables were moved aside and the dancing to DJ Collie Flower (aka Colleen) began. It was one of those nights when everyone felt free to let their hair down and let loose. And it didn’t end until after midnight, with everyone on their feet all night long. What a glorious, festive, fun group this was-like our own fabulous private party. No taxis to be had at that hour, so we giggled our way through the deserted medina, winding our way up through the narrow passageways, dropping one woman after another off as we reached their homes. No doubt the cool air did us some good, not that you’d know it by the way everyone felt in the morning. Memorable.

The brave souls got up to make the 11am yoga at the ALIF riad, while some of us amused ourselves w/just laying around, watching the kids, cooking for the afternoon event. We were back in the ALIF riad for an afternoon of wonderful music-traditional instruments, voice, dance performances in this serene garden setting. We officially launched the Women4Morocco website, so had that on display. Meanwhile, with the music of Hosan, playing the l’oude in the background, rain dancing on the roof, sweet mint tea and sweets made by Cynthia and Atika from her Association, it was beautiful. This afternoon of music and dance was followed by the screening of a wonderful documentary “Where the Water Meets the Sky”, the story of women in Zambia who were taught how to make films, then produced the story of a local woman and showed it throughout Zambia to stimulate community discussions. Inspiring.

We had the wine to celebrate the success of the program last night back at Gale's, but none of us had the energy for it. Everyone was beat. I decided to skip the schedule of lectures at Sidi Ben Mohamed Abdellah and run a few errands before Pete and I headed home this morning. Exhausted and exhilarated.

Tbarkalik Jess on the program-brilliant!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

Geez, does anything go as planned? I need to remember to modify expectations, as the best layed plans are likely to change at the last minute.

When I went thru Sefrou on Monday on my way home from Fes, I stopped to see the mundub to get my vacation form signed. He tells me he’s coming to REK on Tuesday, presumably to get the women ready for the Minister’s visit-yes, the Minister for the Ministry of Tourism and Traditional Handicrafts for all of Morocco. A VERY big deal. Oh, and also I’m to tell the women that Amina’s doing the Natural Dye Workshop on Thursday. I see Amina and she tells me to tell the women the same thing. No, how about YOU tell them what you’re doing, since I’m not involved and know none of the details. Can’t, she has no money on her phone. Fine, use mine. She talks w/Zahra and I figure it’s fine.

So I get to the Coop on Tuesday morning-the women from Dar El Hamra have been in town since 7am to show the mundub their work and get his input on their baskets, but the mundub now isn’t coming ‘til Wednesday. Women from Dar El Hamra turn around and go back home. Zahra and Fatima want to know about the Natural Dye Workshop. Is this a Peace Corps project? Huh? No, not my project or idea-you need to ask Amina and the mundub. But you called us from Sefrou about it. No, Amina used my phone, but that’s not my project. They’re confused. That’s ok, me too-I figured this was something they had planned and Amina was just finalizing the details. Nope. This was the first they heard about it, and not something that can be whipped together at the last minute, and especially when they’re getting ready for the Minister’s visit the following day. Fine-talk w/the mundub-nothing I’m pushing to happen-you know, message vs messenger.

So Wednesday rolls around and fortunately the mundub comes before I have to leave to meet Khalid in El Menzel. They decide to postpone Amina’s Workshop (no kidding) and I get him to sign my grant request form for Marche Maroc Rabat. I also see that they’re setting up the 2nd vertical loom w/a unique warp. What’s this gonna be? A Hasir. Cool. Hasir are woven reed mats that serve as a mattress and the reeds used are indigenous to the region. (Originally was told it’s unique to REK, but later told it can be found in the whole of the Middle Atlas Region). Who is going to do it? Oh, another woman I’ve never seen-no doubt a Coop member who works at home, yak? Anyway, it’s getting set up right before the Minister’s visit. No doubt just a coincidence (vs getting one made when they had an order from a friend in Fes). Regardless, it’s pretty cool.

Head off to meet Khalid and work on translating the Leadership Workshop-terminology US business people are very familiar with, but takes us 1 hour to translate the concepts and terminology of 1 ppt slide. Cynthia (PCV from Khoukhate) calls during the meeting-she’s done w/business in Fes and is it still ok to come visit REK? Absolutely-merhaba.

Head home in time for 2nd meeting of the new Women’s Assn in REK in Meriem’s office. Great group of women-with Meriem, Amina and Fatima, not to mention the women I’m meeting for the first time, they’ll get things done. This is a meeting to discuss just what those things will be at first. Mostly they’re working to agree on making pastries and shbekya in the summer. OK, gotta start somewhere. Now this is the group that Meriem had said would be interested in taking on the Women in Technology project. Clearly their initial goals are not so ambitious. I bring up the WIT opportunity to get their thoughts. First time they’ve heard of it. Great. And it doesn’t sound like they’re keen on finding out more about it. Guess I need to check w/Fatima to see if she has a group to take this on instead and get back to Widad.

Thursday morning Cynthia and I go down to the Coop to find that all the trees have been trimmed, the Coop building has been given a fresh coat of whitewash and the building of the new showroom next door is in full gear. Tent is being delivered that afternoon to set up for lunch on Friday w/the Minister and all the town VIPs.

Now, I’m going on 4 days w/o internet connection at home. I’m convincing myself it’s a conspiracy brought on by my complaints to the Sefrou Maroc Telecom office-later refuted when I find that Pete’s wifi isn’t working and even the cyber is having trouble. Good thing we went to the cyber, as on my way out, I run into Fatima and Zahra, where they tell me that the Minister isn’t coming until next week. Tfoo! All that work and prep. Oh, and the 2 of them are supposed to go to Marrakech next week for training that had been rescheduled from last year. Now they have to be in REK for the Minister’s visit.

So now our plans are open for today (Friday) and we decide to meet up in Fes w/Jonathan and Steven to go to the Moulay Yacoub hot springs. I, of course, go along for the ride, but pass on the hot springs-not a hamam girl, much less in sulfurous waters. People don’t come so much for the hamam, but for the therapeutic properties that presumably is contained in the waters. I’ll hold down the fort w/the valuables. OK, so I wrote this as they were down in the springs and now that they’re back, I’m so glad I passed on it. Cynthia says it was gross-could see skin floating in the water. Yuck.

Now we’re ready for the weekend of International Women’s Day events in Fes. Told Jess I’ll help w/anything she needs. Diva Dinner tomorrow night promises to be a blast and will be at the ALIF riad Sunday to officially launch the Women4Morocco website.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Capitalism, Morocco Style

Promises to be a big week around the Cooperative. Sefrou Delegate coming tomorrow. Women from Dar el Hamra who want to start a Coop also coming by. Thursday Amina comes in from Sefrou to do a natural dye workshop. Friday the Minister from the Ministry of Artisana comes in town. Tbarkalikum Adwal.

Meanwhile, found out that Meriem was mixed up on the cheese workshop dates, so all is well, Hamdullah. Then I found out that there may be a couple of (non-insurmountable) hiccups in the Rabat Craft Fair planning, so a bit more money to be scrounged up. Spent Saturday photographing a Children’s Program at the Belladya in honor of Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday Holiday.

Then it was off to Fes to work with Jess on the final details for next weekend’s International Women’s Day Festival. She’s got a really great 3-day program lined up-really looking forward to that. It will be a celebration of Women of Morocco: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Saturday will be readings and writing contest from Moroccan women of the past. Saturday night will be a Diva Dinner down in the bowels of the medina. Then Sunday promises to be terrific with a full program of dance, music and singing at the new ALIF riad in the Medina. Monday will be lectures at Fes University. We will also launch the Women4Morocco website that I’ve developed.

Stopped in Sefrou on my way back from Fes to do a bit of business. Frustrated once again by the mustached guy at Maron Telecom. See, I’ve been informed by 2 other PCVs that Maroc Telecom is automatically increasing bandwidth, but mine hasn’t changed. So I went by to see what was up. Same guy (always have to deal w/him) tells me that I can sign up for increased bandwidth at an increased price. Ask him why is it that 2 other friends have double the speed at the same price? He looks at me like I’m crazy. Cr*p. I’m getting nowhere. Pack my stuff up and leave. Maroc Telecom. Bah Humbug-what do they know about customer service. Grrrrr. I then come to my senses. No, they’re actually behaving like capitalists. See, the other 2 guys are in larger towns, ie; where there’s competition. In little old Ribat El Kheir, if you want internet, it’s Maroc Telecom or Maroc Telecom. No competition, no options, they’re not worried about my loyalty-it’s them or nothing. Grrrrrrr. Caught in the capitalism conundrum. Tfoo.

Oh well, I catch the transit back to REK-Meriem is on it and we get to catch up. Home early enough to get some exercise-long walk to the bomba (gas stn on way out of town)-to get a photo I’ve wanted-view of the town on the horizon w/the snow-covered mountain in the background. Nice.

Now if only I could get my ever-so-wonderful-Maroc-Telecom connection to let me into Skype, I’d be happy!