Saturday, July 31, 2010


Coop lesson the other day-symmetry. Customers like it. Work it into your designs to improve quality. They get it. Showed me today 2 pillow covers that they got right. Also showed me where Malika screwed up-right? Yak.

Sit and watch Fatima weaving. The warp is so tight, it’s as though she’s playing a harp as she sings to herself and counts the threads to weave in her design from memory. When I sit and watch the women weaving like this, I’m always impressed by their talent, artistry, and frustrated by the lack of appreciation they get for their work. I just wish it was easier to get their story told, understood, appreciated, sold.

I ran into my old tutor at the café-he’s back for summer holiday from deep in the Sahara where he got a teaching job this last year. He’s a really good guy-smart, industrious, studied in Canada-and until he got the position to teach sciences in public school, had been hustling up tutoring jobs here in REK. He says he likes his work, the people, but it takes him 26 hours to travel to REK, so can only come back for summer and Leid Kbir. He looks happy, so I’m glad it’s worked out for him.

Having computer/internet issues-went to the cyber to get online to send a couple messages and they told me the whole region was not working. Finally came on late in the day Thursday for a bit. Off all day yesterday, and with it being a holiday, no hope for it to be fixed. Meanwhile, my computer battery seems to be taking a charge, but won’t boot up my computer, so the charge doesn’t do any good. For some reason, I have a spare battery-can’t remember why, but hooked it up and it’s charging. Inshallah it will work so I’m not dependent upon a power source to use my laptop from here on. Good news is that the rizzo is back on this afternoon. I know, I shouldn’t complain. I do have internet in my apt after all. However, it also costs me 20% of my monthly allowance, so if I pay that much for it, I want it to work.

Took a good walk right before dusk Thurs. night-finally cooled off enough to do so, and I really needed to get some exercise. Hard to work out when it’s over 100, but need to do something or I just feel so sluggish. Lots of people are out when the evenings cool off, so had plenty of company all along the way.

And while walking, I passed the time thinking of all the things I want to do when I get back to the US (ok, so I’m starting to focus a bit too much on my return….). Anyway, here’s the early list:

Go to: Plays, concerts, museums-anything cultural; sporting events; a movie theater-bucket of popcorn, big drink, the works; the beach-walk from my house along the strand down to Main Street for breakfast; places w/air conditioning when it’s blazing hot; see family and friends…

Do: Pilates-boy I miss it-the exercise and the group; 24 hour fitness-the routine is so good for me; entertain in my own home; girls’ weekends; drive myself anywhere; laundry in a washing machine; lay on the couch and watch TV; pick up the phone and talk to anyone I want for as long as I want; spend time w/family and friends

Eat: Mexican food w/a margarita-on the rocks-no salt; ice Cream; fish-no way I’m buying and cooking the fish they sell here at souk-we’re too landlocked to trust its freshness; broccoli-they just don’t have it here; fresh mushrooms-the canned stuff just doesn’t cut it; salads; Fuji apples; Honey Nut Cheerios; anything grilled-oh how I miss my Weber grill; whole grain bread; cook what I want vs. what’s available today.

OK, need to get off that topic-doesn’t help when I’m incredibly bored, hot, ready to go home. Need to stay focused-not that much longer-I can do it-just make up shit to keep myself busy. On top of that, it’s a holiday today (wrote this yesterday)-Throne Day-whatever that is-and everyone’s with families. I chose to stick around my place today-just not feeling like visiting. Besides, whenever I eat at someone else’s house, I end up w/the runs. Even if Pepto Bismol is one of man’s greatest inventions, I really don’t want to make it thru the 60 pack that I just picked up from PC Medical.

Instead I got motivated to clear thru some junk that’s been collecting in my spare room. Note to self. NEVER have an entire extra room to stash junk. Anyway, sorting thru what I’ve got to ship eventually, what I’ve also got to give as gifts to folks here. Just getting a handle on it as I couldn’t remember all that I had bought. Also my awakening sending Sandy’s gift-the cost and hassle-will be much greater w/basically a small suitcase and a box of books. Need to drag it all to the busta and check what the damages will be. Oops, back on the ‘wanna go home’ kick. Sorry. Focus.

At least I’ve got a trip to the beach next week to look forward to. Our vacation moratorium begins Aug 12, same time that Ramadan starts. We can’t use vacation days the last 3 months of service, so a bunch of us are meeting in Ras El Ma on the Mediterranean for 4 days to chill out and spend those last few vacation days. Also, it will be a good break before the dullness of Ramadan.

Ramadan will be approx. Aug 12-Sept 12. It’s based on the new moon. Everything changes-business hours, whether people are working or not, and that varies day to day, no cafes open during the day (duh-no one drinking anything), no one has energy during the day to do anything. Basically they just shift their day to nighttime-after dusk. Everything comes alive after sundown. That also means not much work happens at all, and if you want to meet with someone, they may want to meet at 2am, after they’ve had “dinner”, before they go to bed.

I don’t fast during Ramadan-have no reason or motivation to do so, but I’m respectful of those who are, so I don’t eat or drink in front of anyone else. This makes any travel tough, esp. if you have a long train or bus ride. That also means that I don’t shift my day into night-I’m not fasting and resting all day and eating all night, so the entire month is kinda topsy-turvy. Of course, government businesses still have to operate during the day-at abbreviated hours-even the Peace Corps office has shorter days, i.e.; 10-3. You’ve got to get anything you want done during those hours, and hope that you can catch whoever you need in-between. The transits also are running, but it’s good to avoid late afternoon transport. The drivers haven’t had anything to eat or drink, no cigarettes, since dawn. Same goes for the passengers. This makes for a tinderbox and I’ve never seen so many fights break out as I have on a 4pm transit. Best to try to avoid them. So you can see why I’m so excited for Ramadan to come. Right.

Gotta find reasons to go visit other PCVs and escape it together, even if only in the quiet of our own homes. Can you say ‘work related travel’? I can!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Long Slow Days

Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the summer storms, maybe it’s that I’ve been here almost 2 years and it’s wearing on me, maybe I'm just bored.

It was a sobering thought on the train yesterday from Rabat to Fes. I bought a first class ticket-only way you have a chance at a/c in your car (and that’s not guaranteed). Only 3 of us in the car-older man reading, me, and a young guy on a laptop w/headphones. When I realized that he had left the car, leaving behind the laptop, and had been gone more than 15 minutes, I actually started to get concerned about the laptop. Who walks away from a laptop anywhere in Morocco for that long? I was gonna give him another 5 minutes to return or I was leaving the car-I actually was thinking it could be a bomb. First time in my life that has ever occurred to me. Sobering. To my relief, he returned shortly after I checked my watch to count down the 5 minutes. No terrorist. Just stupid leaving behind his laptop out in the open like that. Welcome to the new world order.

It’s amazing how accustomed to sweating I’ve become. I guess it helps that I don’t care how my hair looks, don’t wear makeup, so what difference does it really make? Will I be able to channel some of that attitude when I return to the states?

We’re back on internet, power and water intermittent shut-offs. The heat of summer gets to everything. Including, I fear, my laptop. Today the battery isn’t holding a charge. Fine yesterday. Not today. Maybe it cooked just a bit too much in the heat of yesterday and has given up on me. We’ll see. It won’t be the first or last laptop battery to crash on a PCV here in Morocco.

A bit ago my neighbor sent her daughter up to tell me something. I couldn’t get her to slow down enough to understand anything beyond water from my kitchen, so went downstairs to talk w/Samira to see what was up. Seems that her drain is clogged and when either I or the other neighbors on the 2nd floor (between us) use our kitchen sinks, it overflows onto Samira’s floor. That’s obviously a problem for her. Since I've been gone 2 1/2 weeks and the neighbors are still gone, this has been going on for some time. I ask if she’s got someone coming to fix it. No. Would I use my toilet faucet instead of my kitchen sink? No, you need to get it fixed. Are you going to call someone to fix it? No. OK, that’s your choice, but I need to be able to use my kitchen. The fact that you don't want to pay someone to fix it doesn't mean I'll use my toilet to wash dishes and cook. See, here in Morocco, if you have a problem w/the place you're renting, you pay to fix it, not the landlord. This is the same neighbor that sent her daughter up yesterday the minute I arrived (after over 2 weeks travel), was putting down my bags, and wanted me to pay my share of the water bill. Um, maybe can I catch my breath-you know I’m good for the money, but give me a break, I JUST arrived home. And now you're asking me to not use my kitchen sink? I don’t think so. So much for neighborliness. Too bad.

Took 45 minutes in line at the Post Office to get Sandy’s birthday gift off in the mail. This was after going yesterday at 4pm and they had shut off the computer so I couldn’t send it then. Old woman tried to get in front of me in line today. I told her she was behind me. She tried to appeal to my ignorance, but to no avail. Ana qdem, nti mura, safi? Kanfhm, blati, yak?

Went by to see Hind to see if she's completed the French translation of the Adwal display book info that I gave her. She's in some sort of training, so still don't have it to work on.

Also still waiting for Meriem to get me the Arabic information that they want in the menu and brochure for the ATPF creamery.

If it's this slow and quiet now, what is it going to be like during Ramadan?

Bright bit of news-they’ve painted the Coop’s showroom-just as Jared’s design indicated, and the tile is all in. It looks really nice. Neither Fatima nor Zahra were around to find out the timing for their grand opening.

Sat and watched Fatima weaving-it was like watching someone play a harp-singing to herself, plucking the tight warp threads quickly as she knows the pattern by heart to weave in weft by weft. Musical.

Pizza night tonight w/Pete. G&Ts on the roof. Chorizo from Marjane. He and I have terrible timing. I’m gone, then he is. Site-mates should coordinate so we have more overlap, esp. during summer months when it gets so quiet, to keep one another entertained! He’ll be heading out most of August and “gets” to miss Ramadan here-lucky guy. I need to check w/Randy on Adult Summer Camp in Ain Leuh. I need to plan a Ramadan break to look forward to.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Showing Off Morocco

After an uneventful, but long 24 hour trip from Kampala to Fes (via Dubai), Lynn, Andrew and I finally arrived to the special luxury of the Riad Lune et Soleil at Batha in the Fes medina. What a delightful place to stay. They spoiled us with AIR CONDITIONING, cold Coca Light on demand, comfy beds, great showers, yummy breakfasts and a wonderful traditional dinner thrown in. With all the traditional Moroccan décor and a great, quiet location, it’s a winner and I’ll recommend them highly to others looking for a place to stay in/at the medina.

Of course, I really love Fes, so had fun taking Lynn and Andrew all over the medina-and we saw it all-the souks, the tanneries, shops, pottery-you name it, we saw it, but had time to do it at our own pace. We also did a cooking class w/Café Clock-Andrew loves to cook, and it was a great way to get more of the ‘local flavor’-including shopping w/the chef. Nice program.

I also took them down for the day to Ribat El Kheir so they could see where I live, meet the women that I work with, take a walk around the town to see the wonderful views. We caught up w/Pete, and I was so disappointed to hear that his Environment Day Camp had been cancelled. All in anticipation of the annual REK Festival-the belladya didn’t want competition I guess. Only to find out while I’m there that the REK Festival has been cancelled. No Festival this year. Nice. Really felt bad for Pete.

Anyway, I’m now sitting in Rabat-back in my PCV world-meaning of course, a cheap hotel-toilet down the hall, no a/c-sitting here sweating in my room while I type-reality is a bitch. Lynn, Andrew and I were up bright and early (4:30am) to make certain that they caught their plane-I accompanied them on the train to the airport-there’s one transfer and the stations aren’t marked-and just got back to Rabat.

I’ve got some business at the PC office on Monday, so will just “chill” here for 1 ½ days before heading back to REK and business as usual.

Uganda: Pearl of Africa

Uganda-Pearl of Africa; Part 1 Uganda
Oh, where to start? What a wonderful trip. So much so that I’ll split it up into 3 parts-the country, the people, the gorillas.

Impressions of Uganda: green lush hills, mountains, volcanoes, bananas, speed bumps, ground nuts, gorillas, women in bright colored multi patterned dresses skirts headscarves, friendly, drums, amazingly temperate and no humidity, English speaking, tropical, lakes, birds and butterflies, brick ovens, dusty, matoke laden trucks and bikes, all things transported on top of the head, Christianity, rough roads.

We arrived the day after the bombings of 2 popular sites full of people watching the final match of the World Cup. Over 75 dead. All innocent victims of 2 suicide bombers. Al Shabaab claims responsibility for the attacks with promise of more if Uganda continues to send peacekeeping troops into Somalia. Presidential elections are coming next year in Uganda and the opposition leader is calling for withdrawl of the Ugandan troops from Somalia. Newspaper commentary on need for pan-Africanism-which has helped rid South Africa of apartheid, Uganda of Idi Amin. Uganda does not act alone nor should other African nations-they need to work together. People of Uganda are surprised we came despite the bombings, ask us if we feel safe, and thank us for being there.

After 2 days in Kampala with Trish and Tim and their kids, we head west across Uganda to the gorilla trekking. It is a 12 hour drive, 1/3 of which is unpaved. Eight of us in their 4WD vehicle, and we need the 4WD at times. Not many places to stop along the way. First stop our first morning was for breakfast at a café/shop at the Equator.

I’m amazed at the lushness of Uganda, along w/very mild temperatures and low humidity. I always associated tropical foliage w/heat and humidity. Who knew they didn’t have to go hand in hand. It was Winston Churchill who dubbed Uganda the “Pearl of Africa”. Nevertheless, the mosquitoes are out each night and we sleep under mosquito netting, even in their home in Kampala.

The roads are treacherous, even in the city-potholes galore. Traffic is crazy, and boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) zip in and around the cars, even w/a family of 4 aboard. Once we’re on the road to the west, it’s a mix of paved and unpaved roads, with weird stretches of newly paved highway that last less than a mile. We decide that maybe some towns didn’t pay their taxes, so they have to wait for paving or improvements-why else such seemingly random work?

The impact of colonialism and missionary work is evident to this day. The Brits colonized Uganda. English is the most common language (with regional/tribal dialects second). Driving is on the left side of the road, all cars have steering wheels on the right. Shops carry products from England.

The presence of Christianity is pervasive. Churches everywhere, multiple denominations. Signs on businesses, automobiles, everywhere, praising God. Coming from a Muslim country in North Africa, this is almost startlingly. I at first wonder if it’s just me, not having been around churches for a couple of years, until the others tell me that they are very aware of it in Uganda as well.

The food of Uganda-all things banana. Although there it is primarily of the matoke variety-more starchy than sweet. Our first dinner in Uganda at Trish and Tim’s is cooked by their housekeeper Eunice, and it is a traditional meal. We have posho (like cornmeal), matoke (which she has cooked down over coals in banana leaves) and millet-the 3 staple foods of Uganda. They are accompanied by what are referred to as “sauces”- sautéed greens, beef stewed, beans and a ground nut sauce. Not the most flavorful meal I’ve ever had-feels heavy-starchy, but delighted to have the chance to eat a traditional meal.

Quite the contrast is our 2nd day in Kampala, where we had “meat on a stick” for lunch. Ugandan fast food. You pull over to the side of the road where they’re grilling meat on bamboo skewers and cooking matoke bananas on a grill. As soon as you pull over, you’re surrounded by people trying to push their skewers into your window for you to buy them. Two skewers, no fat, and one banana per person and we’re on our way chowing down in mere minutes.

Uganda-Pearl of Africa; Part 2 The Manarins
I’ve got to pay homage to the Manarin family who opened their home and their hearts to us for our week in Uganda. A bit about this inspiring family….

Trish and Tim are both ordained Baptist ministers. Tim is currently working for the US Embassy in Uganda. They met when they both were doing missionary work in Africa-Tim in Uganda and Trish in Zambia. They are living a relatively “good life” as Embassy folks, which comes with things like a housekeeper/cook/babysitter, gardener, guards, etc. Trish is almost apologetic and advises us to just relax and enjoy it while we have it-don’t even bother to make our beds as Eunice will re-do them anyway.

They have 3 wonderful kids-Peter, Nathaniel and darling Maggie (who let me “bunk” with her in her room-thanks Maggie!). These kids are going to have such rich lives-incredible experiences. One thing that really strikes me is their creativity. Case in point-they had to entertain themselves and one another for the 12 hour ride to and from the west of Uganda. That’s right. No video. No electronic games. Their own imaginations.

Trish and Tim also serve their mission within their Kampala/Ugandan community in several ways.

First off is our visit to the Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Center. This is a center for youth who have committed crimes, have been abandoned by their families or collected off the streets of Kampala (this perhaps some clean up prior to the start of the African Union meeting starting that same week). The living conditions are spare to say the least. The wife of an Embassy worker somehow connected with the site and has blogged about it. Trish connected with her and got involved. A couple men from Atlanta also connected via her blog and have become involved. Improvements are already under way. Example-the porridge meals used to be dumped on the floor for the kids to eat w/their hands. The blogger has brought in plastic plates for them to eat off of. The Atlanta guys are photo documenting the conditions and kids stories (see to help raise funds back in the states to improve conditions. We visited with the kids, shared in worship with them, brought some treats and then had to take our leave. Two of the children who are orphans-no family but no bad behavior-who Trish has really taken under her wing-were moved to Mama Kathryn’s orphanage in Kampala while we were there-where they’ll both get needed medical care (pinworm, conjunctivitis) and decent nutrition. The Atlanta guys were also in town while we were there. They brought along a Pediatrician who was able to examine a bunch of the kids. The filmmaker spent the night to get better/more real footage to bring back to the US to share w/church groups. They’ve only been involved a few months and are already making a significant difference in these children’s lives. Inspiring.

Trish is also very involved with the American School where Peter and Nathaniel go. Our second day we headed over to the school for a craft fair that Trish helped organize. There were students from US-based Eastern University there to help artisans with their business skills. Great to see the different types of both traditional and contemporary handicrafts the artisans are making. Made a few purchases and took some photos to bring back to share with the Adwal women.

Everywhere we go I am impressed by the service orientation of staff. Morocco could take a few lessons from Uganda.

Uganda-Pearl of Africa; Part 3 Gorillas
Only 700 mountain gorillas in the world. Half of them are in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Permits to track the gorillas are hard to come by and will set you back $500 per person. Only 2 groups of up to 8 people per day are allowed to track. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is at about 6500 feet, near the Zambia/Congo/Rwanda/Uganda border and 550km (342 miles) from Kampala, thus the 12 hour drive to get there.

Trish and Tim worked their magic to get us the 3 permits we needed. They and the boys went on another community excursion while we (Lynn, Andrew and I) tracked the gorillas (children under age 15 are not allowed). Our first destination was a lake-side place called the Nkuringo Safari Lodge-a welcome stop off the rough dirt road after 12 hours. The boys went out on the lake in a pontoon boat while we had a chance to talk w/the Country Director of Peace Corps Uganda, who coincidentally was also staying there (in one of the 6 cabins!)-and knew it was him because Trish and Tim and he are friends.

Trish had the foresight to arrange for a driver for Lynn, Andrew and I the next morning so the rest of them could sleep in while we went on our gorilla trek. Good thing she did, as I’m not sure that their 4WD would have made it up the roads to where we started. The entire group of 16 gathered at 9am and we were off on one of the most strenuous hikes I’ve been on (maybe 2nd to Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan). We had to hike in about 2 hours to start off, with the lead guide on walkie-talkie with the trackers who go out early to try and spot the gorillas to tell the guides which way to hike in. That was the easy part-plenty of very steep incline and descents into the mountains, but usually on paths that had been used before. Once we met up w/the trackers, they pointed the guides in the right direction and the adventure really began. We hiked another 1/2 -1 hour until we came upon our first female gorilla, sitting and eating leaves. She didn’t sit long-and she took the rest of the group with her, moving constantly up the mountain. This is when the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest lived up to its name-we were trekking by machete-up, down, thru-wherever the gorillas went, we tried to follow or anticipate, while maintaining at least 70m distance (to prevent disease transmission)-and unfortunately they were going up! They finally mostly climbed into trees to eat and nap and we could stay still, try for photos and observe them, but only for another ½ hour, as each group is limited to 1 hour of observation/day. We never did get a good glimpse of the big silverback (most mature male of the group), as he was high in the trees the whole time. I have to say, it still amazes me when I look at my photos to think that these were actually gorillas in the wild.

After our all-too-brief hour was up, we still had 2 ½ hours of hiking out of the forest. Gotta say that we earned our keep that day-exhilarated but really exhausted. Our driver had gone on the hike with us-2 of the women in the group had an extra permit-seems some Americans they knew got spooked by the bombings and left the country early, giving them the permit to give away. He’d never trekked the gorillas, so was very appreciative. He got us over to our next lodge-the Wagtail-where we met up with the Menarins for dinner, a campfire, and some local storytelling/singing from a pygmy family (the pygmies of that region were pushed out of the Impenetrable Forest to protect the gorillas).

Up and out early the next morning for what turned out to be a “quick” 10 ½ hour return to Kampala. Unfortunately it was also our last day, as Lynn, Andrew and I flew out the following day (Monday) via Dubai to Casablanca.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Congrats Spain!

OK, I lied. One more blog before I take off for Uganda. I "splurged" last night-all of 50 dollars-for a room at Hotel Balima in Rabat to kick off my Uganda vacation: Can't get to the airport in Casablanca from REK in one day to make my flight; so took advantage to escape the heat, grab a shower-where a clean towel, soap and hot water are provided-and watch TV. Yes, the World Cup final.

True confession? I'm a real soccer novice. This was the first soccer match I've watched beginning to end. Soccer became poular in the US after my school days and with no kids I didn't spend my weekends sitting on the sidelines as a soccer mom. Just never had a reason to tune in.

Well, let me tell you, soccer is king in Morocco. Events, evenings, the rhythm of the town has revolved around the televised matches. So, when in Rome....

I had no idea that soccer was so much like basketball-and I love a good basketball game-esp NCAA Final Four-whoever is playing. The fancy footwork, ball handling, sprints, defense coverage, dirty plays, fouls and theatrics-several Oscar worthy performances last night-soccer's got it all. Call me a convert.

One last email before shutting down the computer Saturday night initially really pissed me off. I've decided instead that it's a great lesson for the Coop.

I've exchanged several emails with a woman who is starting an e-commerce business in the US to sell products on She wants to source artisanal products from Morocco-or so she says. Anyway, I get her linked to Adwal's website and she told me she wanted me to submit photos of final products and all the other required specs. No problem-happy to do so. I spent several hours Saturday explaining all of this to Zahra -yeah- to someone who doesn't use a computer, that a woman who's starting an internet business to sell product on another internet site, and oh by the way, you don't actually sell anything until someone orders, then you've got to produce in 3 weeks, etc.. They want to pursue it. I spend a couple hours hauling products out to the construction rock pile out back-makes a nice neutral backdrop-in the over 105 degree heat, get all the specs and head back to my apt to spend the next 4 hours compiling all of the information, editing and posting photos; all of it in a form to send out. Within 2 hours I receive back a "thanks but no thanks" response with the explanation that quality, colors and photos need to be perfect for online sales and these don't cut it.

My initial reaction is to want to shoot off a reply that people who want to buy a hand-spun, naturally dyed wool, hand-woven w/indigenous design hanbel from Morocco usually really appreciate the imperfections that come from all that handwork. And by the way, you saw this work on the website photos so what changed? Why have me do this work if this is the case?

I managed to restrain myself from sending that email. Instead, I will use this when I return as a great lesson for Adwal. First lesson-who do you want to sell to-because here's feedback on US internet sales-they may place no value on "artistry" and want perfection. Do you look for other customers or work to improve your quality, or both? Second lesson-it takes a lot of work to find and develop selling connections-you've got to be willing to send tons of emails, respond, send information, follow up-and most wont pay off. How bad to you want it? What are you willing to do? Your choice.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Week in REK

Nice to have had all week here in town, especially given the heat-don’t want to travel if I can help it.

There’s nothing like waking up at 5am to the unique ululating of women at a wedding celebration to be reminded that, no Toto, this isn’t Kansas, this is Morocco in July. With all the weddings that I know about the next 2 nights, not to mention those I’m unaware of, the nights promise to be a bit long. Oh well, it is after all, Wedding Season.

So a bit about the wedding/marriage process here in Morocco. The marriage is official when the couple sign the paperwork at a government office. That’s all it takes. The often-lengthy celebration is just that-a chance to celebrate w/friends and family.

And to help Nora-one of the Adwal apprentices-celebrate the wedding of her sister tomorrow, we all traipsed up to her house on Tuesday for lunch. This is a typical pattern for the days-long wedding celebrations.

First you have extensive lunches w/your women friends-usually ensconced in different salons and served one after another, multiple course lunches. First the salad. Then the chicken. Then the beef. Then the couscous. Then the fruit. All washed down with ’limonada’-usually Coke or Orange Fanta. It’s enough to put a diabetic in a coma. The women are all dressed in nice jellabas. (Note-it was over 100 degrees in the house, the women wear their usual 2 layers under the jellaba-I’m almost passing out in my lightweight pants and top-they’ve got to be ready to keel over). Then the tables are moved aside, the Moroccan CD is put in the player and the dancing begins. In this heat, it thankfully doesn’t last long, and after 5 hours, we say our “b’slama’s” and depart. The wedding gift is brought to this celebration and the guests leave w/a small package of hlwa (cookies).

The next day (or later that same day), the bride and her closest girlfriends and female family members will have their henna done. Traditionally for the bride this means the front and back of her hands and her feet will be dipped in henna.

The next 2-3 days are parties-bands are either hired or friends volunteer to play or a CD is played. Dancing and incredibly long nights waiting in salons for your turn to eat are the norm. Some rural towns take it a bit further with the bride and groom consummating the marriage during the first night-with the sheet brought out and displayed as evidence of the bride’s purity. Thankfully I’ve not witnessed this bit of tradition.

One of the nights a group with the bride and groom will get in the back of a pickup, along with the musicians, and ride around town, playing their music, honking the horn and blowing horns. You try to remember to smile in happiness for the newlyweds at 3 in the morning when they go by your place-my apologies if I forget to do so at that hour. All of this will of course be photographed and videotaped-and you’ll be subjected to viewing these tapes over and over at the bride’s house after the wedding.

So do I have you convinced yet that you need to experience this? It’s pretty common that PCVs will look forward to their first wedding and all the hoopla, and immediately afterward start strategizing on how to avoid attending any more of them. It’s just not that fun to be packed in a hot salon all night w/mostly strangers, most of them not even conversing, in show of support to the couple, when you could be getting a good night’s rest. But culture dictates a certain level of participation, and we all get pretty good at being able to negotiate limited appearances.

Even with Khalid and Siham’s wedding celebration-the only one I’m truly sad to miss-I’d be working out how to attend only some of it, as I don’t know their families in El Menzel-only know the 2 of them. Maybe it’s just as well that I’ll be gone and can come back and take them out somewhere in Fes to celebrate afterward.

I also had a chance to meet Pete’s family on Wednesday. They’re in Morocco visiting for just a week, and spending most of it in Fes. They hired a driver to come to REK, to see where Pete lives and meet the people he works with. They were delightful-felt bad for them travelling in the heat, but they were going back to their air conditioned hotel in Fes. I took them down to see the Adwal women where they bought a handira (God Bless their parents) and they were going for a walk and lunch in town when I left them to run errands.

Jess came over from Sefrou yesterday so we could complete the logo workshop for the Women’s Association (Jam3ia Mawahib Wataqat, or ATPF for the French translation). I confirmed w/Meriem on Tuesday that it was for 11am NEW time. Jess and I were about 15 minutes late. Only Meriem and her sister Hasna are there. Where’s everyone else? Oh, they’re coming. OK, we’ll go have a Coke. Come back at noon. Still Meriem and Hasna. Where are the other women? I’ll call them so they’ll come. OK. We finally get started at 1:30. OK, so I know this is how things work in Morocco-why don’t I just chill out and accept it, yak?

The women select the design they want to go with from the mock-ups that Jess has prepared. I’ve sent it on to Emily-PCV in Oulmes-who is going to Photoshop it so it can be used in print materials (God Bless her parents).

Jess really needed to get to Fes, but the women had cooked lunch, won’t we stay? Since I had recently felt rather ungracious w/Salwa’s visit to find host families, I felt obliged to stay. Convinced Jess to do so as well, as this is the only thing they can do for us-cook for us-and it is their way of thanking us for our help. Least we could do is be gracious guests. Glad we did-unbeknownst to us, they had prepared a feast! Salad and this wonderful eggplant/tomato spread (I really need to learn how to make it-one of my favorite Moroccan foods). Two whole chickens for the 9 of us-that’s a TON of meat to feed us. Fresh baked bread-right out of the oven. Yum! Thanks to the ATPF women and especially to Jess for her help in putting together the logos for them.

I went by the couscous coop today-OK, I’ll confess, I really went to buy some miloui for my breakfast. It’s one of those yummy guilty pleasures that I keep myself from buying very often, but had a hankering for it today. All the women were there. Friday’s a big day for their little ristura (restaurant-3 tables) where they cook up the couscous for lunch-they pack in the single men after mosque.

It was great to see that they’ve been producing couscous-using different grains and incorporating herbs with some. They’re still working on their packaging, but have put up a little display case to sell from. I asked if they had labels yet for their packages and Latifa informed me that they do-tbarkalimum!

So I’ve spent the rest of this morning working on my post-COS-cruise itinerary. You see, we’re now only 4 months from Close of Service (COS), and I’ve got the 2 weeks between COS and the trans-Atlantic cruise to travel-just have to be in Barcelona for the cruise departure on Nov 28th.

I’ve decided to see Spain, specifically Granada and Barcelona. I don’t want to schlep all over the place in those 2 weeks, but really see a couple of places. Jess was the one to convince me to go to Granada. Since she lived in Spain for 7 years, her recommendation carries a lot of weight. I’ve got inquiries out to hotels and apartments in both places and hope to have them both booked shortly. I’ve told others who are still contemplating their post–COS-cruise plans that they’re welcome to join me, but I’m going ahead w/my plans, even if I travel solo in Spain.

And then of course, I’ve got to get myself packed for Uganda. Yes, we’re gonna go trek for gorillas! Trish, Lynn and Andrew’s friend in Uganda, has been awesome in getting us the permits (limited access to trek), accommodations, etc. that we need. I’ll head to Rabat this Sunday and leave from Casablanca on Monday. We meet up in Entebbe on Tuesday, and from there, I’m going w/whatever plans have been made. Really nice that someone else is doing the planning. Oh my gosh, I might see gorillas-in their natural habitat. Wow.

After Uganda, Lynn, Andrew and I will be travelling back to Morocco together. They’ll only have a few days, so I’ve booked a riad in Fes for us where we can explore from. We’ll have 2 full days in Fes, will do a day trip to REK so I can show them my town and the people I work with, then we have to head back to Casablanca for their trip back to the states. It will be great to see them and catch up-haven’t seen them since their wedding 2 years ago.

Since I won’t be taking my computer with me to Uganda, this will be the last posting until afterward, so stay tuned for photos and updates!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

You Know it's July When.....

You get invited to 6 weddings in a single day.

You spot the berber tents going up on rooftops all around town.

You lose count of how many liters of water you’ve consumed w/o going to the bathroom.

You choose what to wear by its ‘sweat’ factors-will it make you and how bad will it show?

Weird mountain storm winds w/o the cooling release of the storm.

The water pressure is gone by 3pm, not back on til 9pm at earliest.

You start having electricity blackouts (as I write this).

You have to chase down your clean laundry that’s blown off the roof (make that once-clean laundry).

No one wants to work much-on vacation-oh dear, how can it get worse w/Ramadan next month?

You sit and type this w/as little clothing on as possible, given that someone may come on the roof of the house across the alley and see you.

You worry that your computer will either crash or self-immolate from the heat.

Your only small fan is facing said computer to keep it, not you, cool.

You avoid travel so you don't have to ride a nql or grand taxi w/people getting sick all around you.

You cook as little as humanly possible and still eat. Eating is not much fun either.

How many meals of baguette and Laughing Cow before it’s considered malnutrition?

How many hours and to what degree of sweating counts as aerobic?

You feel no guilt for NOT putting in the Pilates CD to work out. Heck, walking up from the Coop was my workout today. And yesterday. And probably tomorrow. Because the next 3 days promise temps over 109. And there’s no escaping it. No a/c to cool off. No cars with a/c to go for a cool ride.

Just heat.

And it’s only July.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

It completely escaped me that this is 4th of July weekend. Happy Fourth to everyone! No holiday here or reminders, so it’s not until I’m asked if I want to come to party that I realize that it’s a national US holiday. Oh well. And I'm gonna miss the PCV celebrations. I’m pooped from travelling and trying to coordinate meetings in this heat. Wanna get home tomorrow, so will skip the festivities.

June was so nice that I think I’d forgotten the toll that the heat can take on you, especially when travelling.

Had a good meeting w/Amy at AUI on Wednesday. She has an interesting business proposition for me, but it would require that I stay in Morocco right after COS, and I’m not willing to do that. She’s left open the possibility of talking about it again after I’m back in the US and have time on my hands. It has to do with a business she’d like to start-producing artisanal home furnishings and selling in the US. Never say never.

Made it as far as Azrou on Wednesday to stay over at Colin’s place. First time there-he gets PCVs staying over 2-3 nights each week, as his town is a major Moroccan transportation hub. Nice place. Great host-very easygoing despite all the visitors. Thanks for your flexibility, Colin.

Thursday Emily D and I got an early start for Khenifra to check out the carpet washing guys. Hot, hot, hot. Get to see their Coop weavers in production-they get a lot of command orders from clients in the US and Marrakech. We then had them take us to where they do the actual washing-I wanted to see the process and the finished product. They weren’t actually doing the washing, but took lots of photos to compare the “before” and “after”. Supposedly this is a required step in the new Ministry quality standards for export. It’s really a 2-3 man operation. The Coop has women who weave beautiful zrbya-many in the prized Beni Ourain style. Then the 3 guys take their Coop zrbya and those of other weavers who pay for the service to their place outside of town by the river where they chemically treat/wash the carpets. They’re not set up for volume, but the result is clearly better. Whether it’s worth the added cost and hassle factor of getting zrbya to the guys to process is another questions. Will write up a summary of what we found and send it to the PC office to share w/other PCVs.

Poor Emily-I think she had a touch of heat stroke, as she had a terrific headache and vomiting all through the day. Not an easy thing to deal w/under the best of circumstances, and here she was travelling across Morocco in high heat. She did make it up to Fes and after a cold shower, fluids and a good night’s sleep, she was good to go on Friday.

Before leaving Khenifra, we had a chance to have lunch w/Annie and Michael-the 2 SBD PCVs posted there. Said a sad farewell to Annie, as she is ET’ing (that’s Early Terminating her PC service), and leaves for the states tomorrow. This is her second PC tour, she’s been PC staff and had other jobs overseas. She always told her daughters that if they wanted her back state-side, they just had to say so. And they did. So she’s US-bound. PC Morocco’s loss.

Emily and I made it up to Fes in good time, and she got her room quickly to get some rest. I headed over to Gail’s where Cynthia and her host sister were in the middle of a major ‘jam camp’. They had been making watermelon jam for 2 days, watermelon syrup, almond butter, and needed to complete the cooking and get it all in jars and sterilized for Gail’s Fez Foods business. Fez Foods is slated to open up (inchallah) in September-right under Café Clock-to sell artisanal food products of Morocco. Hopefully I can get the REK Women’s Assn going with their cheese-Gail says she’s interested in potentially selling it in her shop.

I also had a chance to see Khalid at work at Café Clock. He’s my tutor ( make that WAS my tutor)who Mike has employed as his assistant-and delighted to find that it’s working out really well all around. Siham, Khalid’s girlfriend, has found a new position w/a private school in Fes, so that means they get to get married. Ham-du-li-lah! I am so terribly excited for the 2 of them! The only sad note is that the wedding celebration is going to be in 2 weeks, while I am in Uganda. Bummer. The only wedding celebration I’ve been interested in attending since I’ve been in Morocco and I will miss it. Tfoo! (In Morocco, you’re married once you both sign the paperwork at the gov’t office-no ceremony even. However, you’re not really married in the eyes of family until you’ve gone thru the typical 3 day celebration w/friends, family and your community). I will take them out when I get back from Uganda to celebrate with them. Tbarkalikum Khalid and Siham!

Yesterday was full, hot, productive and long. I took Eric and Emily all over Fes to introduce them to the Ministry folks, printers, suppliers, venues, etc. for the next Marche Maroc Fes. Back to Gail’s to see the finishing touches of the jam/butter/etc. production and catch up a bit w/Rebecca who was on her way thru Fes. Quick shower and joined Gail and friends on Josephine’s rooftop to help Gail celebrate her birthday. I headed back to Gail’s about 2am to sleep while the rest headed out dancing until 5am.

‘Cuz I was then up to get my act together for a meeting w/other PCVs to develop the proposal for the future/sustainability of Marche Maroc. Good meeting-great input-so glad we got together-as usual, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and I think we’ve ended up w/the elements of a terrific proposal.

I also had a chance to see Becky and Faye-both up from the deep south of Morocco-again, coincidentally in Fes. Great to see them-they’re both in the Youth Development sector, but went thru training the same timing as mine, so I don’t get to see them often. Mike L. is also in town w/his parents and brother who are visiting from the states. They did a couscous-making workshop yesterday thru Fez Foods (Cynthia and her host sister managed to run it in between the jam making) at Café Clock. Mike was then able to join us for our MM strategy meeting this afternoon. His mom then joined us for lunch, but unfortunately his dad is under the weather-likely due to the heat and dehydration-not atypical in this type of weather and unusual diet. They’ve had to cancel their trip to Taza tomorrow, but probably better lying low a bit vs trying to travel further east (hotter) when not feeling your best.

Gail’s been an absolute gem. Cynthia and her host sister cooking here for 2 days. I had a hotel reservation, but they wrote down the wrong dates. I got a different place to stay on Thursday. Then yesterday I show up for my room and turns out for 150DH (relatively expensive on PC standards, but only about $20) they have this room that’s about 40 sq ft, no window and a shower stall in the corner, on the roof and it’s stifling hot. Sweat is pouring off of me as soon as I step inside the room. No way I can stay there at any price. The riad is right across from Gail’s so I knock on her door and she saw the desperation (and profuse sweat) on my face and told me to stay at her place instead. God Bless her parents!

So after spending about 5 hours on Café Clock’s rooftop today-for meetings, lunch, catching up-all in the breeze of an impending mountain thunderstorm, I head to Gail’s to dump my stuff before heading out for more errands. I shut her front door as the skies open up. Now I’m just waiting out the rain to decide what’s next-errands, meet up w/Becky? Mike? Early to bed? Who knows. But it will be an early night. Then off to finish errands and back to REK tomorrow morning.

Happy Fourth-fire up the barbecue and have an ice cold beer in a frosty glass for me!