Sunday, May 30, 2010

To Dye For

Great to get home Thursday. Laundry, workout, shower, Skype w/Debbie, sleep in own bed. Yeah!

Up on Friday to catch up on things over coffee-Khalid (tutor) and his new job at Café Clock in Fes-tbarkalik!, Pete and REK goings-on in the last week, etc. Chill out a bit. Literally. It was pretty cool out.

Saturday brought clear sunny skies and a trip to Sefrou. A former PCV in Sefrou was back for a visit and doing a Natural Dye Workshop for several of us. When he came over as a PCV, he was a master weaver and textile expert-and taught this to his counterpart, Amina, who now travels Morocco teaching other artisans. We had the pleasure of Gregg’s expertise all weekend-in English-to watch, participate, ask questions-and get them answered in English. Hamdullah! Amina is going to be coming to teach the Adwal women how to do natural dyeing, but it will all be in Arabic. This way I know that the Arabic word for the mordant alum is shba, madder is fuwa, etc.

We ended up dyeing the wool with henna leaves (brownish yellow), cochimiel (beautiful magenta color-not avail in Morocco-Amina brought it from the US), almond leaves (a beautiful bright yellow), and madder (brick red). We also had a chance to overdye w/second colors and afterwash w/baking soda, to see how the colors change.

Got a call from Meriem while I was there on Saturday-where was I and was I coming to the hfla (party)? The Women’s Assn apparently celebrated the opening of their new hlwa shop. Bummer to miss it. Went by it on my way home today-was closed, but new sign over the door. I also confirmed w/Meriem that Jess and I would do a logo workshop with them on Thursday. Who knew they’d act so fast? Tbarkalikum!

I managed to find a few of the upholstery shops open on my way to the nql stand in Sefrou before heading home. Looking for tie-back tassels for the curtains that Adwal is weaving for the new showroom. I’ve been encouraging them to show customers examples of how to use their fabrics, and hamdullah, they’re taking this to heart. Found good tassels-will see Tues if they’re the right color.

Headed over to catch the transit to REK at the nql stand and got a call from Fouzia. Her sister and she were driving to REK in 15 minutes and did I want a ride? Ask no further-I’m there! Nice!

Home to open up the windows to let the beautiful air in, Skype w/Jo, catch up on emails, etc. Chilling out.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fabulous Figuig

A toast to our hosts-Jack and Ina. What a wonderful time we had. What a fabulous place they have. What wonderful people they get to work with. Can’t say enough about how great it was to be able to spend time with them all in Figuig.

Randy and I had the good fortune to help Jack and Ina inaugurate their new tent/mosquito screening for the rooftop deck. You couldn’t get us out from under it-morning, noon and night. Jack had the foresight to secure tie-downs into the concrete during the renovation of the rooftop, so it stays put in gentle breeze and strong wind alike. And let me tell you, it’s already hot down there, and being able to enjoy a breeze in the shade is great.

It also turned out that the postponement of the workshop ‘til Tuesday worked in our favor-more time w/Jack and Ina and more time to explore Figuig…..

On Monday we had the chance to go for a wonderful walk around the Zanaga Ksar (kasbah)and lower Figuig oasis. Took tons of photos-some surreptitiously-the women wear a white sheet wrapped all around their bodies and heads, covering all but their eyes-and could only take a shot as they walked away into the dark tunnels of the Kasbah. It was absolutely fascinating.

Just for the record, it's all about the water (Note to Tracy-NOT the corn!). Water is more precious than gold here. And it’s controlled by private owners. Apparently there is a remarkable balance that is played out between the owners (you see the square cement reservoirs all over the ksar) and the residents and farmers on a daily basis. The irrigation system that feeds the plots (all behind mud-brick walls) is an engineering marvel-build originally hundreds of years ago and well maintained to this day. There are outlooks in 'upper Figuig' that in years past were used to watch for any water thieves.

We ended the walk in ‘upper Figuig’ at the Figuig hotel with tea/ns ns and a view over the ‘lower Figuig’ oasis, complete w/great views across the border to Algeria, just a few km away.

We had a chance to walk thru Figuig's ‘neddi-like’ building-great facility for training classes and child care for women of the town. We also got a quick look into the new Culture Center, funded by the Ministry of Culture-complete w/a theater, adult and child libraries-most impressive!

Later we headed over to see the coverlet that one of the Association weavers is making to order for a PC staff person. They have a really unique design and yarn combo-and let me take samples with me to show the Adwal women.

Dinner and drinks on the roof and off to bed.

Tuesday was a busy day-lots to do. Made our way up to the Association building in upper Figuig (there’s no public transport, i.e.; taxis, to get around the 7 ksars that make up both upper and lower Figuig-you ride a bike or walk) for the morning Marketing Workshop that I ran with 13 women from the Association and the Cooperative. Their work is really high quality and unique in design and coloring from the rest of Morocco, so it wasn’t about changing all they were doing, but helping them think thru how they can modify what they do best to fit the tastes of the tourists outside of Figuig that they want to target. The workshop went really well-the women were very engaged and easy to work with. In fact, we finished the workshop in about 2 ½ hours and had tea, and then they wanted more! I took them thru the fiber burn test so they know not only what fibers they’re actually using, but that they only pay for what they’re getting (also clearing up their misperception that acrylic is more expensive than wool!).

During our tea break, Randy and I had a chance to photograph their work and do a bit of shopping. Between us, we bought 3 carpets and 4 nomad baskets! We also had the chance to see their new showroom that’s been built (not exactly in concert w/the plans Jack worked on with the women-seems the President of the Assn wanted to assert his control by ignoring Jack's design). It’s a huge, great space that will serve the Association well. We decided to forgo the couscous lunch they had prepared since Ina was not feeling well. They insisted however that we take some with us (which we gladly ate for dinner that night).

Side note-Figuig is a study in contrasts. Deep, deep south. Expect it to be ultra-conservative. It is but it isn’t. Strong women taking charge-young and old, but keeping their traditions alive. Easily the most remote town in Morocco. Expect it to have little attention and few resources. Nope. Due to its proximity to Algeria, it gets a ton of attention. Lots of Moroccan expats living in Europe who still own homes there and come back to visit and send money to support Figuig. It has remarkable buildings, resources and support for a town its size. Money seems fairly available to accomplish their goals. Lucky indeed.

Meanwhile, Jack had been working on getting his ingenious waterfall cooling system built, and was still searching for parts to test his prototype. He’s a builder and engineer, and knows just how he wants to trick out the house to make it comfortable. He’s designed this system to have a recirculating waterfall that drops 3 floors from the roof to the ground floor, from the opening in the roof through the courtyard that is typical in these older, kasbah Moroccan homes (all rooms are then off this central courtyard). His idea is a play on air conditioning, but instead of blowing air thru water to cool it, he wanted to have water travel thru the hot air to cool it and move it through the open house. In the collection pond at the bottom, they also have a small solar-powered fountain, and they are going to have their host ‘sister’ paint a view of Figuig on the wall behind it. That evening we enjoyed the guitar music of their friend Eunice under the stars on the rooftop. Off to bed, as we had an early bus to catch in the morning.

I become aware of the others up and around at about 5:00 in the morning, and it quickly became apparent what was going on. Seems Jack got up about 3:30, knowing exactly what he wanted to do to get his prototype to work, and was ready to put it to the test. I get out of bed just in time for the celebration-the prototype works! A cooling waterfall running down the center of their home, creating a slight breeze, dropping into the center pool at the ground floor for recirculation. And as Jack points out, it will work at the cost of 4-5 light bulbs when it’s done. Bravo Jack and Ina!

Now as an aside, I’d spent considerable time on the internet over the course of our 2-day visit-trying to get my flights to and from Uganda booked. See, Lynn and Andrew Lewis are going to visit friends of theirs who are doing church work in Uganda and then are coming to Morocco to visit, and invited me to join them on the Uganda leg of their trip. After 2 full days of incredibly frustrating Emirates Airlines website system errors (have to fly thru Dubai to get to Entebbe), Citibank concerns about fraudulent use of my credit card (and Skyping multiple times to clear this up), I finally booked it via Lynn L’s travel agent in the states-God bless her parents for her patience in getting the flights confirmed. Trip will be in July. More to come on this later.

So we had the good fortune to toast Jack and Ina (over early coffee on the roof) for what they’ve accomplished in their short 6 months in Morocco, their friendship and hospitality and success in making their place a real home. Tbarkalikum.

We head out on the 7:30am bus, with the intent of staying the night in Oujda and continuing on to Fes on Thursday (no trains run after 1:30pm out of Oujda). Randy had the terrific idea of checking out buses to Fes. Just our luck, one is leaving 45 minutes after we pull into the Oujda station. They assure us it’s only a 5 hour trip (even if it turns out to be 6 hours), which beat the train. We decide to go ahead with it so today we only had to travel to our sites in the morning, getting home almost a full day earlier. The first challenge was the 12 hours spent on the 2 buses. However, we agreed that we’ve adjusted to Moroccan travel when it wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected. The other challenge was that the bus ‘drop’ in Fes was south of town, on the side of the road, in an area unfamiliar to both of us. Sat at a café, checked the guide book, called a hotel and got a taxi. Shower and to bed.

Hamdullah, a couple of errands in Fes completed, home to REK by 1pm.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fes to Figuig

Friday morning I had a chance to meet up w/the manager of the Batha Museum, just outside Bab Boujeloud-main tourist gate into the old Fes Medina. This is an absolutely amazing space that I would LOVE to be able to use for a Marche Maroc Craft Fair. You go inside and it’s a huge courtyard with beautiful gardens in the middle and covered tiled walkways on both sides (perfect for artisan displays). If we do these Marches in Fes again, we definitely need a better venue. The American Language Center has wonderful space and wants us to come back, but it’s too off the beaten path-need something more central for tourists and Fessians to come to.

Anyway, I’ve had the Batha Museum on my mind for months and finally was able to meet w/them to disucss this idea. They were very excited about it, but approval must come from the Mininstry of Culture. Oh, and the artisans can display their products, but not sell them. Huh? ****. So, after thinking it over a bit more, I’m still inclined to pursue the idea, and set up a system where people come in to see the displays, get a receipt/ticket for anything they want to purchase and we set up a place in the Batha hotel next door for the cash transactions. I have no idea if this will work or not, but I want to give it a try. Oh, and of course, turn it over to some great PCV in the most recent group for them to then put the craft fair together.

Randy came in town, we had our “warden” meeting-reviewing safety and security plans-and headed back to Maia’s place. Up onto the rooftop deck to enjoy the nice evening. Simple dinner cooked in the apt. and to bed early. Big travel ahead.

Fortunately Randy and I are of the same thinking travel-wise, so we bought our 1st class train tickets to Oujda-a 6 hr train ride. First class guarantees you a plush seat and a/c. Worth the extra approx. $5. Got to Oujda-way east, close to the Algerian border-to find that they were supposedly preparing for the king to arrive the next day, so everything was “spiffed up” and the hotel recommended to us was booked. Managed to find an alternative (more expensive) hotel-but liked the great shower, tv, wifi that came with it. Splurged at a zwin French restaurant for a wonderful fish dinner (Oujda also close to the Mediterranean). Bought our bus tickets for the next day (always wise to do ahead in strange towns to confirm departure time and seats) and headed over to the medina. Most of it was closing up by the time we got there, so our only purchase was a kilo of fresh grape tomatoes to take w/us to Jack and Ina’s. Back to the room where we watched a CNN sailing program, just ‘cuz that was the only channel in English!

I’ve got to mention that the people of Oujda were amazingly friendly and helpful. Including: when deciding which street to take to the CTM bus station, a car pulls over, rolls down the window and asks how they can help us. Get to the bus station and the ticket guy isn’t around, and the policeman goes looking for him several times, finally calls someone else who calls the guy, so we can buy our tickets. Every taxi guy was friendly, helpful and didn’t try to rip us off. Alright Oujda.

So we get on the bus at 10am for the ride to Figuig. It’s a 7 hour bus ride, straight south. To the Algerian border. I can see it as I type this. That close. Oh, and of course, closed. We get stopped 4 times by the police, who board the bus, come straight to Randy and I to ask for our ID. Only us. Typical for this area, due to border issues. At Bouarfa they ask if we know Melanie-the only PCV and westerner living in that town. Just so happens that we do. See, all Americans know one another!

We travel through some pretty barren, tough terrain, and are surprised to see the nomad tents out there w/their sheep or goat-not easy living. Turns out that they’re also the nomads that weave the baskets sold by Jack and Ina’s artisan association. We stop on a number of occasions to either drop people off or pick them up, destinations unknown-flat landscape as far as the eye can see and no homes or tents visible. The men getting on have white turbans, dark complexions and mustaches-stereotypic of what you might imagine a Moroccan man to wear and look like. Everyone stares at us. The older woman across the aisle, with Berber tattoos on her forehead and chin (as is typical) AND her cheeks and nose, is sitting and staring right at us. For the rest of the trip.

We make it finally into Figuig and Jack and Ina are there to greet us. Now the trip really begins. We walk thru the Zanaga ksar (Kasbah-all mud village, multi-storied, with tunnels and narrow passageways and old wooden wide doors-incredibly picturesque) to their home. I give them a TON of credit for living here-not easy-and they’ve done a ton of work on the place they’re renting, to make it more of a home for themselves for their 2 years, and to leave something that the owners (so poor they can’t afford to live in the home) can rent out for a nice sum after they leave. Vodka tonics, cheese and crackers in the simple breeze on their rooftop for the sunset, overlooking the ksar rooftops-nice.

Drinks are interrupted with the arrival of the gendarmes who need to take down information from Randy and my passports and carte de sejours. Of course they knew just which house, in all of Figuig, to find us.

Today we took a quick walk (more walk later when the sun isn't so intense) up to the Association Annahda. It is the perfect example of what makes Figuig distinct. Besides being an oasis and palmerie (due to the aquifers here), having 7 different old mud brick ksars, it is actually a very progressive town. I am constantly amazed listening to Jack and Ina talk about their Association and the (relative) sophistication of their business practices.

Jack shared a bit about the Assn. Annahda with us-the Renaissance Association, formed in 1949, as a stronghold against the French who were trying all over agaiin to take over Morocco. The Assn Annahda formed its own school, community outreach, etc. to stay independent of the French. Sixty one years later it is still going strong, bringing together community organizations of Figuig to work together, hosting training, programs, events. They have one of the nicest community halls I've seen in Morocco-not one DH of Moroccan gov't money in the place. What a source of pride. They have a small museum and library-to preserve the history of Figuig. Wow. Again,one great example of what it so right about Figuig.

Another full day left and marketing workshop in the morning. STay tuned for more of Figuig...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hot Time in Fes

Wait, wasn’t there new snow on the mountains last Saturday? How did summer arrive overnight? Yes, I stop bitching about the cold just in time to bitch about the heat. Get over it.

Last night, I’m sitting happily ensconced in Maia’s Dar Anasis riad in the Fes medina, relaxing, wait….what’s that noise? Could there actually be a wedding going on next door? Inchallah they’re on day 3….finally went quiet at 11pm-hamdullah. Anyway, nice to be in Maia’s place instead of the usual Fes medina/PC hotel Cascade-yummy duvet, great shower, mini kitchen for morning coffee. Yeah!

So it's been a productive week so far, and the week is still young! Good visit w/Jess in Sefrou on Sunday and managed to catch the mundub (Delegate) in the Artisanat to update him and get back to site early enough to get in a pilates workout.

Tuesday I did a workshop on Pricing and Costing w/the Adwal women. I’ve reviewed this info w/Zahra and Fatima before, but it pays to repeat these topics, and besides, I think it’s something that all the women need to be aware of. Had the chance to talk about higher quality materials may mean higher prices, but keep items smaller so they are still affordable to the impulse buyer. Good discussion, especially on overhead/indirect expenses-something they never account for in their pricing. The concept of incorporating indirect costs, esp. marketing costs, into their price on every item still seems to be new to them. They are not yet keeping a ledger of all expenses and sales (despite having bought them a ledger last year to do this). We will work on getting this implemented immediately.

The good news is that they have a new Treasurer-Ferida is stepping up. Sooo proud of her-newest member of the Coop, she just finished her training 1 ½ years ago. I spoke with her about keeping a ledger and she asked for help in getting that started. Fatima will be the new President-she’ll do a great job. Inhsallah I can get them to capture and budget expenses to allow them to do some things that they otherwise “can’t afford” to do.

Unfortunately for me, today is their annual meeting, and here I am in Fes. Oh well. Zahra did read through their report w/all the women on Tuesday before I left-nice to see an “accounting” of all their projects and programs from last year. Still need to see the financials.

I headed out of town yesterday morning in time to meet up w/several other PCVs at Al Akhawayn University. This meeting was to bring together the PCVs who have been working on developing an artisan website with Bouchra- a marketing instructor at AUI who is working on developing a Fair Trade website to market AND sell Moroccan artisanal products. Seemed to me that if we’re after sustainability, it would be good to work with AUI and Bouchra. I still have concerns whether this will move forward before we leave our service-there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of progress made at AUI between meetings. However, it was a good meeting, lots of great suggestions, and the other PCVs agreed to move forward by helping develop Bouchra’s idea rather than a separate site. I’ve put together a “call for products” to go out to PCVs to help develop a catalog to pitch to prospective customers. Stay tuned.

I met up with Lillian, a woman serving as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer (former PCVs working on 3-6 mo projects) who is currently based in Ifrane, working from AUI, with the High Atlas Foundation to develop curriculum for “train the trainer” community development training. I found out more about the PC Response program from her-interesting potential for future volunteering.

Headed on up to Fes in time to see several PCVs who were finishing a meeting, catch up w/Jonathan (tbarkalik on the GLOW Camp funding), grab a 10DH camel burger and back to Maia’s to chill out. Oh, and to watch the final of last season’s Survivor to see who won (Sandra-really?).

Today heated up here in Fes running around the Ville Nouvelle. Had to get to Mike’s bank to cash the Café Clock donation check for Marche Maroc Rabat. See, he wrote me a check for the 3000DH, and I paid the donation via my credit card on the PCPP site. Had to get to his specific branch of his bank to cash his check to reimburse me. It’s just the way banks work here-you have to do business with your specific “branch”-they’re not really branches-and if you want anything done outside of your “own branch”, it will take hours, faxes, phone calls, etc. Anyway, with 3000DH on the line and a need to get Euros for my Paris trip, I bit the bullet and took the time to get this done (only took 1 ½ hours!).

Then I headed to the infamous cheese man in the Central Marche. I’ve heard of him from a number of British expat friends in Fes-as THE place (as in ONLY place?) to buy cheese in Fes. (Again, with all the French influence left behind in Morocco, what happened to cheese?). Anyway, chatted with him about the Women’s Assn and the Milk Coop in REK that are interested in making fresh cheeses and is this something he’d be open to purchasing? Basically he said “never say never” and is willing to meet/talk w/the organizations, taste their cheese, and Inshallah, sell them. Great news! He also gave me his current prices to help the orgs decide if it makes financial sense to pursue. Meanwhile, tasted a couple of yummy cheeses, bought some to take w/me to Figuig, and a couple bottles of wine. One stop shopping. My new BFF!

Made my way over to the Artisanat to try to talk w/the mundub about alternatives sites in Fes for future Marche Marocs. No, I’m not some sort of sadist-this is to help someone else set up the next one! Anyway, everyone from the Artisanat was in a big meeting in Marrakech through tomorrow. Got the name and contact info for the mudir (manager) of the new training building over by Batha (pronounced bat ha), close to the medina. This is a new Artisana building on the main drag to the medina that obviously has a couple of large product display rooms. Maybe an option for a Craft Fair? Would also like to get a contact within the Batha Museum, as it is right at the main tourist entry to the medina and has a beautiful, huge garden courtyard. Still working on that option.

Now I’ve spent about 6 hours here in Café Clock-I told owner Mike that I love him for his wireless internet-getting a ton of work done. Keeping my beautiful Spanish fan close by as the damn heat is bringing back the *** hot flashes.

Maia’s place is really nice and cozy, and a bit of a walk down the medina via t3la sgira. I haven’t just walked thru the medina in a while-and with my time becoming limited here, I’m seeing things with new eyes. The baskets of snails. The baskets of rose petals. fresh cheeses, miloui, chickens. Cat fights. Bonjour Madame. Come in-best price for you. The donkeys-always the donkeys. Kids playing kickball in the middle of the madness. The mint. Can mint be considered a drug? Walking by a pile sitting in the sun for sale-it’s intoxicating-it will always smell like Morocco to me.

Now I need to post this and sign off. I’ve got a phone interview this evening with a guy named Barry. He’s an editorial producer working on a series of TV segments called “Your Life Calling”, about the over-50 crowd making changes in their lives. Peace Corps put him on to me and he wants to see if there’s a good post-50’s Peace Corps story here. I may be at risk of becoming the "over-50" poster child. So much for trying to hide my age! Stay tuned....

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hello Hablamluk!

Yes, the first cherry sighting was made yesterday in the Sefrou medina. Sefrou, for the uninitiated, is the Cherry Capital of Morocco, home of the annual Cherry Festival. It will be the weekend of June 18-19 this year, so unfortunately I will miss it, as that overlaps w/Kristen and my trip to Paris.

Friend Jess, through her SefFest Assoc. has secured funding and approval to hang 40 banners of Sefrouian artists’ work around town. Site-mate Pete and other YD PCVs will be holding an English Olympiad at the Sefrou Dar Chebab that weekend, and it’s rumored (my guess with a lot of “inchallahs”) that the King himself might come. Full speed ahead, floats are being prepared, streets are in final repair, the Cherry Queen will be crowned. How unfortunate to miss all these festivities, yak? And last year, since the Festival timing overlapped w/the elections, they did not hold the event. So here I am, 2 years in the Sefrou region, and no Cherry Festival for me. That’s the pits! :)

Anyway, it’s been a fairly quiet week. It took me 2 full days after returning from Rabat to catch up on my sleep and energy. I hate this growing older stuff! Perhaps it was also the freezing, rainy weather that put a damper on my spirits. Come Friday night, the mountains even got snow. Fortunately the weather turned for the better on Saturday, with crystal clear skies and the return of our beautiful view.

Had a chance to sit with Khalid, my tutor, a couple of times, to help him prepare for a job interview he had on Friday. Haven’t talked w/him to see what he thought, but the guy he interviewed with called me (a friend of mine in Fes) and said he was going to offer him a job. I hope it works out-Khalid’s a great guy. Besides, I told him he had to have a job before I left so that he and his fiance could get married-that’s one wedding I’d look forward to attending.

David, Peace Corps Country Director, arrived in REK on Saturday. We had a chance to go and see the Adwal women and their building projects, then take a nice walk behind the vacant military property to see the view of the mountains from the bluff-never get tired of that view! I had invited Pete and the 2 Environment PCVs-Chris and Casey-to join us for dinner and to have some time w/David. He also had a chance to meet the Dar Chebab mudir and see Pete start his Enlgish Olympiad test to select the 5 who will travel to Sefrou from REK for the finals.

Then yesterday I made a long-overdue trip to Sefrou to see Jess. Seems like ages since I’d been there. For the longest time, whenever I travelled out of Fes, I took the train. This typically meant that I’d return via Fes, too late for taxi direct to REK, and would have to go thru Sefrou to get home. Often this meant stopping and staying at Jess’s place. In addition, up until we got 2 banks here in REK about 6 months ago, if I needed any cash, I had to go to Sefrou to get it (and in this cash-only society, that could happen frequently). Anyway, Jess and another friend of hers from Fes, Nancy, and I met up and had a chill evening up on her rooftop watching the sunset and catching up. Very therapeutic.

I made it over to the Artisana this morning to update my Delegate on my work and action plan for the next 3 months-and give him a summary of the Marche Maroc craft fairs and next steps. Made a couple of key stops on the way to the transit stand-I’ve been out of spiced coffee for the longest time, found some dried louisa (lemon verbena) for tea, gin at the “candy store”, and I was back on my way home by noon.

Now I’m making certain I’ve got all the info I need for some workshops-Costing and Pricing w/the Adwal women tomorrow, and a ½ day workshop on Marketing with the Figuig artisan association when I’m there the beginning of next week. Off to Ifrane and Fes on Wednesday for business, then Randy and I will start the 2 day trek to Figuig. Glad I don’t have to do it alone-talk about a long journey!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Country of Contradictions and Comparisons

Nice to be back in my site and settle in for a week until the travel starts anew. Great to catch up w/everyone on what’s been going on here in REK while I was in Rabat…..

Found out that Adwal actually does own their workshop building-thought it was owned by the Belladya (urban commune, aka city)-but it turns out that it was signed over to Adwal. That makes a lot more sense since they’re building the natural dye space onto the back of the workshop. They’re using the grant monies they received from the King last fall to pay for the new space.

Turns out that while we were in Rabat we missed some Italian officials who came thru town. There’s also going to be a Parisian Senator coming to visit a week from Sunday-I’ll be out of town-Adwal will host some sort of reception for him/her. Nice exposure.

In addition, Fatima informed me today that a French organization may be willing to help pay for a car. Seems that they’re not too thrilled w/the ambulance they’ve already acquired. Perhaps it’s the 4 flat tires, and back of the van that needs work to remove the sink/shelves/guerney holds. See, this will take flus. Another free car doesn’t. For real? I’m afraid so….

So some of those contrasts and comparisons I was referring to…..

New vs old time. See, we’re now “officially” on daylight savings time, but each person seems to decide for themselves which time they’re adhering to. Oh, and if you have a meeting, be certain to ask if that’s new time or old time…although that still doesn’t mean anything will start ‘on time’.

On the nuql to El Menzel today w/woman carrying a single chicken in a mica (plastic bag) to sell at souk…and we pass by the buildings where the Zouia man raises 14,500 chickens to sell.

1 ½ years w/o fresh harsha or milowi (yummy bread-like traditional foods) for sale anywhere in REK…now there are 2 with a 3rd about to open.

Earth Day trees planted in the central garden….but trash still just dropped on the ground ‘cuz there are no trash bins.

New sidewalks the entire 1 km between the village and lagar….but the workers completely tore up the road, which now has to be re-done.

Woman wearing a headscarf to cover her hair that only her husband is to see….casually pulls out her breast to feed her infant in public.

Natural dye facility being built behind workshop….where there are 2 projects on the looms using synthetic day-glo colored yarn.

Public transport can take forever….but the ride gives me great observation time -I know it better than the views from the 405 which I’ve driven for years.

The desire for all things new-cybers, western clothing, TV on every house, portables (cell phones)….vs the interest in supporting traditions-natural dye space under construction, traditional stone olive oil press under construction, new hand-rolled couscous coop started.

And the realization (and excitement, I must admit) that as of today, I have exactly 6 months left in my Peace Corps service….while thinking on the ride back from El Menzel just how much I love this place.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marche Maroc Rabat

Happy May Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day-what else passed me by since my last posting? Whew.

What a week-pooped, but happy. Last BIG project behind me. Now it’s just working on smaller projects, helping Adwal and other organizations with their local business, workshops, using up the rest of my vacation days, etc. But first, back to Marche Maroc Rabat….

Got into Rabat a week ago to get final arrangements made and confirmed (3x confirmation required for each arrangement and then fingers crossed that all comes thru as promised). In this case, it really all worked like a charm. Having the program at the American Club made it SOOO much easier….The only glitch is those darn Peace Corps buttons I ordered from the states that never arrived for the PCVs to wear. Will have to come up w/another way to use them….

So Tues/Wed/Thurs I made the rounds of the hotels, printers, copy places, Papylux (new favorite stationers in Rabat-we’re on first name basis after this week), American Club, walking all over Rabat Ville to map out hanuts, cheap restaurants and mosques to recommend to the artisans, finding place that would make cheap sandwiches every day to bring in, making certain the tent is going up and all the tables and chairs have been delivered, timing the walk from the American Club to the Grand Hotel, etc. Waxa. All in place.

PCVs and artisans started arriving on Thursday and the PCVs are on top of all assignments-not only do I not have to remind them of what they’ve agreed to do, they’re volunteering to help out w/other tasks. God bless their parents.

First thing Friday morning we’ve got PCVs walking the artisans up to the American Club, we’ve got PCVs setting up the tables, chairs, and the Ministry staff arrive just in time to get started w/the workshop at 9am. (Only glitch being that I get a call at 4:30 Thurs afternoon asking if we have projector equip for their powerpoint presentation. Uh, no, none of that is available, as we discussed on numerous occasions prior to the event. I suggest that they run off copies, as there’s no way to get the equipment at that hour. They arrive in the morning and ask where they can plug in their computer. Shuf, makaynsh blasa bas twrriu likum l-Erd dyalkum. Fhemtini? Safi. They proceed with the workshop with good feedback.

Workshop finishes up and the artisans can get on with setting up their product displays. PCVs helping them get set up, get creative with how to hang things, all set by the time the first people arrive at noon. The American Club has set up a “Moroccan Culture Night” for Friday evening to bring in more people, and we’re keeping the artisan displays up until 8pm to take advantage of this. Record 1-day sales for Marche Maroc, but it’s been a very long day. (Not to mention the fatigue of the several artisans who arrived early Friday morning in time for the workshop from overnight buses, and no sleep at all). I guess not such a long day for those PCVs who made it over to the Marine House-right behind the American Club-where we were all invited to come and have a drink. Descriptions the next day were groggily reported as being just like a fraternity party. Glad I didn’t partake-did enough of that years ago, don’t need to revisit that part of my past-not to mention, although I was invited, I don’t fit their demographic any more than they fit mine!

Many hangovers later, Saturday dawns clear and sunny with promise of a good day. Sales start off well, despite the rather slow attendance. Bodies do not equal sales-important learning-you just want those who come to buy. The YD (that’s Youth Development) PCVs have set up shop by the playground equipment to do activities w/any kids who want-you know, free up Mom for more shopping time, yak? They’ve got origami and facepaint and games and God Bless their parents as well for helping us out!

So I’m sitting at the table by the entrance, getting final touches completed for the US Ambassador’s arrival for presentation of the certificates to the artisans. I glance up as someone comes in. Back to work. Wait. Look again. OH MY GOD! It’s Samira and Souad. No way! No way! But yes, Samira is here from the US and she’s come down from Tangier w/her best friend Souad for the day to see the Marche Maroc Rabat. OH MY GOD! I didn’t even know she was in the country! Seems she’s quit her job and is spending time in Mororcco with friends and family, and spending time w/her husband Bayan as he comes over all the time on business-they meet up in places they’ve wanted but not yet been to around Europe, Middle East, etc. This turns out to be my good fortune, as she’s here in Morocco and I get to see more of her, and hopefully get her out to Ribat El Kheir, as soon as we coordinate our calendars. Wahoo!

The Ambassador and his wife, the Director for the Ministry of Artisana Division of Innovation and David Lille-Director, Peace Corps Morocco, all arrive and we complete the certificate presentations. Photos taken, artisans are happy-those certificates are like gold to them. We also have a chance to acknowledge the support of the Peace Corps Partnership donors (thank you-you know who you are), Sandy and Heather of the American Club and Mike Richardson of Café Clock is there for us to say thanks. Saturday is a kinda quiet evening-PCV and artisans all going to dinner and bed-we’re tired.

Sunday we’re all moving a little slower, and the Mother’s Day brunch they’re having at the American Club to again bring in more people, has light traffic-probably brought in more than would otherwise have come, but it’s still a slow day. I get to be the “bad cop” when a PCV want to pay for tea for the artisans. It’s not a financial thing, even tho’ it’s not budgeted. See, everything you do sets expectations, and the artisans know they are responsible for their own food/drinks throughout the weekend. I’m a real stickler for this, and have to be certain I don’t wear out my soapbox. However, indulge me this once-the easy thing to do is to do it yourself, buy it for them, do it for them. You feel good. They like you for it. You can be the hero. Next time, when you’re not around, what do they do? They look for someone else to do/pay for them instead of planning for it themselves. Saying “no” is not the easy way out, but that’s how people learn to do for themselves. Coach them, support them, but get them to do it. OK, back off that well-worn box….

Another lesson learned-when you ask if you can pack up and go early, Lynn is gonna say “no”-the Craft Fair goes until 1pm. You can leave then. Even the Adwal women ask to leave early. No. Good thing-best sale of the weekend came at 12pm, after they wanted to leave (but I refrain from pointing that out to them).

By the way, final tally is over 80,000DH. That compares to around 53,000DH in Fes last October and 63,000DH in Marrakech last month. We’re on a roll. Next step is to prepare a report from all 3 and a proposal of where we want to take this next.

Need to take time out for a bit of lessons learned….artisans finally seeing the value of understanding the US customer and their tastes-they’ll spend big money if you appeal to what they want, especially if they are living here. And they don’t buy the same stuff as Moroccans. Tourists will buy small, inexpensive items they can easily slip into their luggage. We have the opportunity to observe artisans helping one another. The Oulmes ladies, who came to the Fes Marche Maroc as their very first Craft Fair, were most widely recognized for the help they provided to other artisans in Rabat. They helped communicate w/artisans from a site while the PCV is out of the country. They showed another Coop from Midelt how they do their crochet. The Midelt women in turn taught the Oulmes women some new embroidery techniques. Hachim from outside of Essaouaria is going to visit the Figuig Assn to show them how they weave their baskets. Hayat from the other Midelt Coop helps Adwal make a major sale by translating when there wasn’t a PCV around, and those are just the ones top-of-mind. These are the intangible results of doing these Marche Maroc events that we hope to replicate in the future.

So we sit down with the artians for a debrief session led by Cynthia (her idea, and it’s a gem)-to get their fresh perspective –will get them to fill out a feedback form w/their PCVs later. Products and artisans are packed off to their hotel and the PCVs gather round the American Club patio for a well-deserved beer, or root beer floats, fries, onion rings, foods not available elsewhere. Ahhhhh.

We make our way back to the hotel, drop off all our crap, and head to the medina to wander around. We make our weary way to the beachfront for another beer at sunset. Can’t tell you what everyone else did after that. You see, I went back to my room to sort out my crap, pack, figure the bills that needed to be paid before I left town, etc. And sleep. Thanks be to Ellen!

Now I’m typing this up after paying the hotels, going by the bus station to buy my ticket (gets me on the 12:30 instead of waiting for the 2:30 bus), stop at the Peace Corps office to do a bit of work and back to the bus station. Fatima, Zahra, Amina and Khadija from Sefrou are all there, but they’ve got to wait for the 2:30 bus. B’slama. My bus is leaving - we’re off. Maybe read a bit, maybe snooze a bit, maybe a bit of work. I believe I’ve earned a rest.