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 cafĂ©, 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.

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