Sunday, September 26, 2010


Is it terrible to bugger out of the last Moroccan wedding invitation I’ll get? I think not. Didn’t feel like getting stuck all night down in the zlul. Mbruk Hassan, but I’ll toast you from the village and Fes instead (sipping something worth toasting with vs sweet mint tea).

Lost my excuse (stifling hot heat), so back on the Pilates track. It was a nice break while it lasted, but I was really getting lazy and while I do walk everywhere, it’s not THAT much walking!

Nice to have a ‘normal’ week in town this past week. Mostly working on getting the Ribat El Kheir Day Trip for tourists put together. We’ve got all the arrangements made-options for Couscous handrolling/cooking/eating workshop, natural dye and weaving workshop, cooking traditional Moroccan breads and sweets, seeing a traditional olive mill and olive oil tasting and/or hiking. We have a meeting on the 10th with all players, including the 2 friends from Fes who have tour booking agencies and are advertising the trip.

I’ve also been playing Travel Agent all week for Samira and Rebecca’s visit week after this coming week. Rebecca will come in before I’m done w/my PC conference in Rabat, so I’ve got arrangements for a day trip to Meknes, Volubulis, etc. set up for her. I’ve set up our riads, visits to artisan coops in the countryside (incl. REK) and visits to Fes and Rabat. We’ll do the couscous workshop w/the Coop here and the natural dye and weaving workshop w/Adwal, so those will be our “trial runs” for future tourist day trips.

I’ve also finally finished a couple things I’ve been working on for the Adwal Coop showroom. I’ve put together an Arabic/French book on their products, examples of how to use them in the home, info on the Coop and REK and then framed summaries of all for the shelves. This was a big undertaking and I think will be good for tourists to be able to view. I also got time, finally, with Nora and Ferida to review the Windows Office-based files I’ve created so that they can modify, update, etc. Adwal also has the new digital camera that I purchased for them so they can do their own photo documentation from here on.

Since Eva the Meknes cheesemaker cancelled the workshop w/the ATPF Assn and Milk Coop on Saturday, this left me free to support Jess on (what was supposed to be) her final day of the Life Size exhibition in Fes. This was also a “Knit for Peace” day-bring your knitting needles or use theirs to knit (water) pistol covers for a collage. She’s done this a number of times and has had participants from all over the world. Interesting enough, last night most of the participants were young men. It was also my first time trying my hand at knitting. In addition, I made another purchase of Jess' work-the piece that got my attention when we were first setting up the exhibition-and the collaborative piece that was her inspiration for the rest of her contemporary collection. I love it. Oh, and the Ministry of Culture said she can keep her exhibition up for another month. She won’t be there every day, but will be able to show the work to others who expressed interest and didn’t make it to the show. BssHa Jess!

I decided to go late morning yesterday when taxis are most likely to be running up to Fes. Went to the Clock, figuring I would kill a couple hours on their wifi. Much to my delight, I ran into Kristen and Dan (his birthday). They were also killing time, so we had lunch and then went to the Artisanat for them to do a bit of shopping. I had NO intention of buying anything, but while I was wandering around, what did I see? An inlaid wood carved, portable chess set. OMG. Was this just Perfect or what? I’ve really caught the chess bug, but have been only playing via computer. Can’t study any strategy w/o an actual board, as you need to be able to move the players around when studying to visualize the implications of those moves. I now own my very own chess board. Wahoo! And don’t you know, I played…ahem…and won….my very first chess game w/a live opponent. Onward!

Jess’s friend Brian is visiting and they were kind enough to let me crash in Sefrou with them last night after the closing of the show. Oh, and after a G&T at the Pub on Hassan II. (Still can’t get over the fact that you can drink alcohol at a sidewalk cafĂ© in Fes now).

That worked out well since I was meeting Marian and her tutor Nazha to do a marketing workshop first thing this morning. We spent several hours together and hopefully it will help Nazha and the Tafajight honey coop get the info they need to make sound decisions on next steps toward improving their profitability.

Jae, a PCV from down south then joined us and we made our way back to my site. Along the way we heard-and asked for more opinions-about a proposed transit strike scheduled for tomorrow. Final word was that it is a sure thing, likely to be just Monday and taxis only, but both Marian and Jae decided to leave REK after a couple meetings so that they wouldn’t get stuck here. Too bad-I’ve got fresh turkey and a pasta and sauce mix ready to make up for a yummy dinner. However, I fully understand, as they have other places they need to be able to get to tomorrow.

I’ll work on cleaning up my place a bit, get my bicycle and some other stuff that needs to go back to PC office over to Pete’s. The PC driver will be bringing a staff person to a town nearby this next week, and instead of my having to schlep my bike all the way to Rabat, they’re gonna come over and load it up and take it for me. God bless their parents.

Then I’m off to Rabat for our COS (Close of Service) Conference and Medicals. This includes an exit interview with the Country Director. Last formal meeting before our check out mid-November. Wow. I’ll go straight from our COS conference to meeting up w/Rebecca and Samira in Fes for our artisan/weaving tour the following week.

Here’s an interesting link to check out: the Sept 22 entry of the following blog: If you’re familiar w/my blog, you know how much I love Fes and how much time I spend at “the Clock”. The aforementioned blog is a great article from someone who attended one of Clock’s cooking classes, complete w/yummy recipes. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I came across a particularly interesting article about the tradition of the djellaba in The View From Fez, a very informative blog on “all things Fes”. I hope Helen Ranger, wonderful writer of the blog, doesn’t mind my copying here-she gets all the credit. Read on:

What to wear in Ramadan: the Moroccan djellaba (31/08/10
Many women don traditional caftans or djellabas during Ramadan, even if they don't usually. The View from Fez takes a look.
djellabas for sale in Tiznit

The djellaba is a long garment, usually with bell-shaped sleeves and a hood. It usually features heavy embroidery and hand-made silk buttons. It can be a work-a-day coverall, or a highly fashionable statement. As people look to tradition during the holy month of Ramadan, many women wear them as a matter of course. Tailors do a roaring trade just before Ramadan starts, and again just before the Eid, when many people like to have new clothes.

silk embroidery and hand-made buttons adorn a djellaba

Imane Belhaj, writing for Magharebia, reports that interest in the djellaba grows around national and religious holidays. "In Ramadan, I stop wearing modern clothes and I wear djellabas that I buy especially for this occasion, because we are supposed to wear decent clothes, and there is no better option than the djellaba," said Farida Nasi, who chooses modern designs.

modern caftans

The garment has actually started to respond to the fashion of the times. It no longer is restricted to one type of sewing or one colour as was the case in the past. Rather, traditional tailors have excelled in sewing and making them a form of dress that responds to fashion without losing its peculiarity and identity. This has made it a uniquely Moroccan form of dress that is indispensable at all times and occasions, even in the workplace for female employees, as it no longer impedes them from moving easily," says tailor Hajj Bouhlal. There are sleeveless djellabas to suit the hot weather, and dresses made of silk of different colours and patterns.

Fatima Mourad, a university history researcher, explains that "the djellaba has a traditional image that embodies the past and links it to the present by adding a modern touch that makes it suitable for all time and for all generations." Rashida al-Jabri, a teacher, added that she can't foresee the extinction of the djellaba. Regardless of developments taking place over time, she stated, the garment will be passed on to later generations.

Although some types of Moroccan djellabas are still affordable to a large category of middle class citizens, the innovations of top designers and dressmakers have made them very costly. Prices in some cases are now higher than those of traditional caftans or takchitas (a form-fitting dress with matching coat). "These prices are due to the type of fabric and sewing accessories used, which are often of very high quality so that we may not let our customers down when they are looking for quality and elegance" said designer and dressmaker Soad Benkirane. Benkirane added that customers could choose to have more affordable djellabas made. "Everyone knows that the hands that excel in making djellabas are very cheap, while all the huge profits go to the owners of stores or holders of trademark," lamented Nora, a consumer.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The End is Near....

I can tell that my short time left in REK is starting to influence what I am doing and how I feel about what I need to get done.

First up. Met w/the ATPF group late yesterday after finally returning from Mehdia (with new PCV group) and Fes. On the positive side, they’re excited about the prospect of being included in the Ribat El Kheir day trip for tourists. They’ll get paid to show tourists how to make the traditional breads (i.e.; xubz, harsha, miloui) and cookies/sweets (i.e.; shbkya) of Morocco. We’ve now got everyone in REK and Fes on board w/the itinerary options, just need to agree on a meeting time to get them all together with Gail and Michele so there’s complete understanding and transparency.

Next I gave them their final print-ready logos and business cards. They also told me that they’re struggling to make the rent each month, as sales have been slow-Ramadan not helping at all. They’re thinking of moving to a smaller, more affordable space. Sounds like a good plan.

We also discussed at length the cheese making information workshop scheduled for next Saturday w/Eva and Fouzia coming from Meknes. All of this was sorted out, only to receive an email from Eva late last night, after meeting w/ATPF, that she’s not coming after all. Seems she’s concerned w/too many cheese makers and not enough customers, so is now not willing to share her experience w/the ATPF women. (Anecdotally she’s still encouraging the women pursue sewing or tanning of rabbit skins. Hello. The women here are just trying to make an educated decision on whether to pursue cheese making.) Thanks anyway. Next step? I think give the cheese making idea a rest, pass along all the contact info to my successor and see if the women are motivated enough to pursue it later. If not, then it wasn’t important enough to them in the first place.

Meriem and Amina have also been approached for help by 2 young, unmarried, pregnant girls in town who have been thrown out of their respective homes by their families. I’m trying to find out more about the women and children’s shelter in Fes that Gail has worked with-Inshallah they can help out.

Quick discussion w/Maqol about the Women in Technology project. He’s spoken w/Widad and understands the opportunity, but says none of the women in REK want to pay for training. I told him that’s too bad but they must be willing to invest themselves. I’m not about to try to help them find more funding. This is an amazing opportunity that they’re turning away, but if they’re not sufficiently motivated to invest a few DH each week, then that’s their decision. Just don’t complain about “no way to make money”-it takes an investment to make money. No handouts. Safi.

I’ve got a message out to Bouchra at Al Akhawayn University. I’d really like to get a final meeting set up to hand off the Fair Trade Website project to another PCV who is interested in pursuing it. I’ve also passed along info on the Cultural Complex in Fes that Jess used for her exhibition to the SBD Program staff. I think it would make a really terrific (and affordable) location for the next Marche Maroc Fes next spring. More and more I’m finding myself in the position of getting things ready to pass off, rather than finish up.

As I mentioned, I did have a chance to meet the 68 new volunteers who arrived in Morocco last week to begin their training and 2 years of service. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we started, until I fielded some of their questions. They appear to be a really good group-great attitudes, energy, etc. Good luck to them all as they get started in their new CBT sites around the Fes and Azrou regions.

And now a bit of info on the status of education in Morocco, courtesy of the GAD Committee for PC Morocco: In January 2004 the King of Morocco, despite much resistance from religious fundamentalists, introduced reform measures to the family code providing more freedoms for the girls of Morocco. While the new reforms have provided a platform for change, the messages are still not reaching many rural communities and are meeting resistance by long held social and cultural beliefs. These restraints are hindering the education system in regard to the discrepancies between girls and boys education.

Primary education is free and compulsory for kids 6-13 but 70% of Morocco’s rural population is illiterate, for women in rural areas the rate of illiteracy raises to 82%. While women participate in up to 41.4% of economic activities, their enrollment an illiteracy rates are ominously low. The majority of those jobs going to women, especially in rural areas, are low qualifying and of low compensation.

Aware of these issues the King has invested a lot of money in social and human development activities, declaring education as the country’s second national priority. The government initiated a ten-year charter program in 2001 to eradicate illiteracy. While the National Education and Training charter was well intentioned, illiteracy rates still remain very high nine years later and there has been recognized need to focus on promoting adult education classes in addressing retention issues.

The quality of schooling is additionally in question as a large number of students leave school without basic numeracy and literacy skills. The UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report in 2009 recorded that 30% of Moroccan children did not reach the basic competency thresholds. In 2008, official figures found that only 38% of baccalaureate test takers passed their exam, with over half of those passing being girls. This last year, the highest scorer on the BAC exam was a young Moroccan girl. While the percentage of those who passed is rather low, it is encouraging to see that girls are also among some of the highest scoring individuals.

Programs funded by USAID are trying to work on the issue of equal education for girls and boys and has found that rural communities are most hardly hit due to economic and cultural strains in the community. The USAID identified that education in rural Morocco faces barriers such as the direct/indirect costs of schooling, the toll of poverty, traditional and cultural views of women in society, concerns for girls safety, parents illiteracy, family perception and school-level constraints such as lack of infrastructure, water, electricity, latrines, teachers housing, school distance, poor teaching and learning environment, inequitable treatment and a low female teacher population. Moroccan Observatory of Children Rights (ONDE) found % of rural children suffer from at least one of the above mentioned problems against only 13% in urban areas.

To change things, support will need to come from programs that are locally developed and rely primarily on local resources. It is important to communicate how the benefits of girl’s education and education for all outweigh the costs at all levels. USAID found that when indigenous girls in rural areas are able to complete primary education, entire communities benefit as girls become more informed citizens, more productive and knowledgeable, place fewer social and economic strains on their communities and have greater opportunity and increased life choices.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Life Size

Tbarkalik Jess on a successful opening of your art exhibition! What a great night it was. That’s Jess’ art exhibition in Fes. She’s got about 40 pieces of her work on exhibit at the Complexe Culturel Al Houriya for the next 10 days. It’s a one-woman show, filling 2 galleries. First night sales included 4 art pieces and 1 piece of jewelry. In addition, she’s had 2 offers to buy up the entire jewelry collection. T-bar-ka-lik!

I’ve been in Fes helping her get it set up since Monday night. She got access to the space early, but has to do all of her own installation. The space is really fabulous-2 exhibit rooms, open to the public, secure, and available free of charge. Remarkable.

Also remarkable is the attitude of the 5 guys working here. They’ve got this great space, yet we’ve had to scrub down all of the walls, floors, windows and bathroom, and most of the spotlights don’t work, etc. It may be free, but you must invest “sweat equity”, literally and figuratively, since the heat is back and we’re dripping as we work. And they can’t be bothered-no pride whatsoever in this space or their work-they sat on chairs at the entrance watching us working our butts off for 3 days. Our work the last several days was to clean up the space so that those who attend the show see only the artwork, not the flaws in the space. Adding insult to injury, the guys wanted Jess to give them money to serve the tea that she bought and brought in-despite the fact that the Director for the complex promised that they would do this for her. Of course he doesn't come to work all afternoon, so why should he expect them to work, yak? And who was first in line for the tea and cookies? You guessed it. The 5 guys. Hshuma likum. This is an attitude not uncommon in Morocco that really puts people off-expecting ‘payment’ to do work that is already part of their job.

Moving was a terrific crowd last night for the opening, a fun group, a violinist playing thru the galleries, great to watch people stopping to really take in the body of work. I’m so happy for and proud of Jess. She has really put together a great show. Nice little celebratory group gathered around the corner for a drink-at a Pub on Hassan II-drinking a G&T on the Fes sidewalk? Really? And why did it take me 2 years to discover this was possible? Better late than never! Oh, and did I mention that I’m the proud new owner of a Jess Stephen’s work? Oh yeah. BssaH aliya.

As a side note-this space would be fabulous for a Marche Maroc event. It wouldn’t attract tourists so much, but has great foot traffic and visibility for the Ville Nouvelle crowd. The space is perfect, free and secure. Since the team who is responsible for the next Fes fair are having difficulty securing a location, I’m gonna take pictures and send them off for them to consider. I also asked Tariq (PM) if he’s heard from the Ministry of Artisana whether our funding request (which I submitted back in June) to help sponsor the next year’s Marche Marocs has been approved. He doesn’t have final word, but was told that they included it in their overall request, so it looks really good. Inshallah.

Meanwhile, I’ve used my time here in Fes to get other things done as well. Had a good meeting w/Gail and Michele on Monday to iron out details for the Ribat El Kheir Tourist Day Trip. I’ve got all the REK parties in line, but needed Gail and Michele’s input on things like what the REK folks will be paid. The REK folks of course say-‘li bgiti” or “as you like”, and in all honesty, don’t know what a fair rate would be to charge tourists. We’ve put that together and the next task is to bring the 2 of them down from Fes for a day to meet w/all the REK folks so we’re all on the same page w/respect to expectations, etc. Inshallah we’ll get that scheduled early in October.

Khalid finished the translation editing I needed to finalize the Adwal showroom book I’ve been working on. I needed the Arabic and French reviewed before taking it to the printer. The idea here is that since the women don’t speak much French, when tourists come to their new showroom, they’ll be able to look thru the book to read about the Cooperative, their work, their products and see photos for ideas on how to use the products.

Then I got an email from our Program Manager (PM) that I had to respond to asap. Next year Peace Corps will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. There will be a lot of events associated with this milestone. One of them will be a Smithsonian celebration on the mall in July. Part of this program will include HCNs (host country nationals) who PCVs worked with during their service. My PM sent me a request to submit a nomination from REK. Naturally I’m nominating Fatima, but I’m going to wait to tell her until I know if it’s gone any further. I have no idea how many nominations they’ll have to weed through, selection criteria, etc., so I don’t want to set any expectations at this point. Nevertheless, how fabulous would it be to have her go to Wash DC and share her work, demo weaving and natural dye techniques, etc.? Stay tuned.

I’d make a “note to self”, but won’t need it personally-so this is for any others who remain in Morocco. Do NOT travel on the Monday after a l-3id holiday weekend. Just like trying to travel the Sunday after Thanksgiving. You know, when everyone else and their brother MUST get home that day? What ideally takes me about 1 hour and 2 taxis (when the taxi gods are smiling down on me) to get to Fes, instead took me 4 hours and no less than 7 different transits (taxi/nuql/buses). Good thing I had a meeting to get to or I would have never left REK when I found out that there was NO transportation to Fes or Sefrou.

When I was waiting to meet w/Gail and Michele, I ran into an RPCV who was visiting Fes w/his wife and friends. He got my contact info from my blog and we’d communicated a bit-they were looking for things to do while in Fes. I must have suggested a cooking class at the Clock, and they were there on Monday. It turns out that he’s a visiting professor with the Semester at Sea program. His friend is just travelling with the group. It’s insanely affordable and they’re having a blast-highly recommend that I look into it. Hmmmm, post PC idea? Ymkn.

I also got to catch up w/Siobhan. She’s back for a short bit from Bristol UK-checking in on her house, getting a new batch of Fulbrighters to rent it for the next year, etc. Sounds like this year’s Doris Festival was another success-I’m excited to attend it next year and volunteer. Hopefully Alice and Ali (other friends from Fes) volunteer again next year-this year they went to cook the l-ftr for all who were fasting for Ramadan.

It was also great to catch up w/other Fes ex-pats who came to Jess’ opening-some I hadn’t seen in a while (Alice, Kobe), some back from travelling abroad (Raja, Yassine, Maia), some back from Ramadan travel. My time is running short with these lovely folks.

Sat down w/Alice to talk about an idea she and her husband Ali have. They’ve got a shop in the medina and are exploring the idea of making it a Free Trade space for artisans working w/PCVs to sell through. An intriguing idea that we’re gonna talk thru further. They’re really a wonderful couple, with a real passion for anything they do, and I’d love to help them make it happen-Inshallah.

I'm also in the process of planning for Samira and Rebecca’s visit. Samira is finally going to come to the countryside so I can show her “my” Morocco (ahem). Rebecca has been talking about coming, and the only time I’ll have is when Samira comes, so we’ll all travel together. Samira wants specifically to see artisan Coops-ymkn an import business in the future?-and we’ll go to Ain Leuh and REK. Then Rebecca and I will spend time in Fes so I can show her my favorite Moroccan city.

Now I’m off to Rabat for 2 days-helping w/a session with the 68 new volunteers who just arrived in Morocco yesterday to begin training. Merhaba l Maghreb.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ribat El Kheir aka Ahermoumou and the Attempted Coup of 1971

Army. The curse of Ahermoumou
by Abdellatif El Azizi (translated from French)

If, in his vindictiveness, Hassan II thought scratching the story "Ahermoumou" by renaming the village guilty of having housed the school of the mutineers of the putsch Skhirat, his attempt failed. 35 years later, the curse of Ahermoumou is a hard life. Latest victim, Hamidou Laanigri.

Was Hamidou Laanigri caught in this famous curse because of his classmate, Mohamed Belbachir? Just weeks have passed between the retirement forced the powerful boss of military security and the departure of the direction of Laanigri. The two generals had spent their entire stay on the same bench of the famous school of Ahermoumou.

Laanigri as Belbachir and two or three other top officers are the exception since they are the last survivors of the school. However, it seems that one cannot escape the curse of Ahermoumou even when we had no role in the coup of 1971. Hamidou Laanigri and Mohamed Belbachir have in fact among the first developments in the late 50s. The man who talks about him, is part of the cadets who were lucky enough to be sick and bedridden when the rebels took the road to Skhirat. "It does not stop me from being thrown into the street like a dirty scoundrel," sighs the fifties now reduced to begging. Victim of vindictive royals wanted no part in any coup contagion, and the man still considers himself fortunate to have escaped Tazmamart and his life was saved. His comrades, they have not been so lucky.

A little history
Recall the facts that date back to July 10, 1971. That day, 1400 Ahermoumou Military School cadets leave their camp in the morning in two motorized columns, under the command of Colonel M'hamed Ababou, for a so-called maneuver to Benslimane. The convoy passed through the gates of the royal summer palace of Skhirat which held a reception to mark the 42nd birthday of Hassan II and as his men landed, the cadets who do not really know what they are doing here. Their officers have just said: "The king is in danger. He is surrounded by enemies. We must go and deliver. For three hours, the rebels carry out orders and shoot "anything that moves". It's carnage: children, women, old, young, rich and poor. No quarter among the dignitaries of the regime and foreign guests. The mutineers have somehow faithfully applied the instructions given to them: the dead and wounded, there were 1,036 victims around the pool Skhirat but the king is safe. Cadets and their leaders are arrested. The execution of those responsible for the killings took place September 13, 1971, before the television cameras and is followed by a mock trial, on February 29 next year. Then the famous verdict of Kenitra, which for much of the mutineers, opens the gates of hell Tazmamart and other prisons, forever engraved in the pantheon of prison horror.


For Hassan II, this is no doubt the home of incubation, the instrument of the plot are ideal: the military Ahermoumou School, located a hundred kilometers north of Taza, Mount Bouyeblane, which are derived most of the actors in the plot. The king, pushing its logical conclusion, convinced of the educational value of exemplary punishment, will make every effort to eradicate the evil, he decided the seizure of the property of rebels "for creating a fund Compensation of victims "who, incidentally, will never see the day, and the final closure of the school. He does not forget to erase forever from the map the name of the place. "Delenda is" Ahermoumou, at least on maps, the cursed village is now renamed Ribat El Kheir, a decision that sounds the death knell for the future of the school and the whole village. "Even those who had nothing to do with the coup have been punished", said Farid Belmejdoub, which has experienced hell just because he belonged to the same class as the mutineers.

Admittedly, in defense of the sovereign, that the attack Skhirat was not the first warning shot. January 1971 had been a first attempt of assassination of Hassan II in El Hajeb by Ababou and his accomplices. The king, who was to attend military exercises in the mountains above the village, was saved by officers at the moment when the weapons were heard on the range. But at the last moment, when the maneuvers were already well advanced, the sovereign had fled to board a military helicopter. The sergeant Belmejdoub Farid ran the elite commando No. 5: "We had no specific instructions, but apparently Ababou was in cahoots with other officers to shoot the king”. Arrested while returning from leave, Belmejdoub was not freed until two years later, after having toured all torture centers of the time.

New Carthage
And now? Thirty-five years after the events of 1971, the Military School Ahermoumou is still under a blockade. The area is still under close surveillance and guards watch over the barricaded entrance to the main gate. The famous training center, built under the watchful eye of a few CIA agents in 1969 that Ababou presented proudly to his visitors, was invaded by weeds. "Ahermoumou neither Saint-Cyr or West Point, though Ababou had the ambition to make it the cradle of the first elite corps of the army. In 1971, the drills have been intensified with combat exercises and firing live ammunition, but at no time did we imagine what was happening and would happen in Skhirat, "recalls Belmejdoub Farid who was in charge to train the commandos of the elite training center.

The school, built on 24 hectares, is located more than 1000 meters of altitude in an area surrounded by forests. According to the villagers, the dungeons which were used to stop inmates Tazmamart are still there. "The house of Colonel Ababou, and those of other officers coup plotters, are uninhabited and in disrepair," recalls an ex-military officer, who miraculously escaped the purge. "I had just been transferred to Taza for disciplinary reasons. ”That saved my life "he sighed.

Punishing the school also punished the village. The closure of the training center has had a clear impact on economic activity in the region. After the coup, the railway station was closed. "You should know that thousands of soldiers who occupied the school represented a windfall asset both for the farmers and traders in the region", said our retiree. "The only offense Ahermoumou is to have housed the School of Military NCOs. Today, more than thirty-five years after the events of Skhirat, the entire population still hopes to see this page fully closed, "concludes a recent unemployed graduate of the village.

While the main economic activities of livestock, agriculture (cereals, olives, apples) are dying, young people themselves, killing time at sidewalk cafes, dream of alternatives to rampant unemployment: illegal immigration, or ... engagement in the military.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mbruk L-3id

Rama-Done-done-dun. In Morocco, you have to wait until the official guy in Fes actually sees the new moon before it’s the end of Ramadan and the holiday L-3id Sgir. All other countries go by the lunar calendar, and the new moon on the calendar signifies the end of Ramadan. If the skies are cloudy over Fes, and the guy can't actually see the new moon, Ramadan is extended one more day. Hamdullah, with the clear skies, the moon was spotted tonight and life will get back to ‘normal’. You can already feel the energy in the air, horns are honking, people are out in the streets. Tomorrow will be for visiting-sweet mint tea and cookies and small gifts for the kids all day long.

The last 2 days’ weather has been so beautiful, I’ve been reinvigorated. Got my cooking jones on today, and since this is a rarity, figured I’d go with it. What are the odds that I have all the ingredients I need for a Thai chicken salad w/noodles? I’m talking fresh garlic and ginger (Marjane in Fes 2 weeks ago), chicken (had a frozen one I needed to cook up), cellophane noodles (available in town despite the fact that I’ve never seen anyone cook them here), curry paste (Paris) and peanut butter (Marjane). And that my vegetable guy would have great looking cabbage (hasn’t had it in a while). But wait, there’s more. Homemade vanilla ice cream (vanilla beans from Paris). So it was just ok-think I overcooked the custard a bit. More you ask? Leftover brownies (made 3 days ago and still have some!!). Add a yummy dinner to Top Chef download and I’m one happy camper.

Also got excited about putting together the information for REK Tourism. Michele and Yusef are starting to advertise a day trip to Ribat El Kheir, and we met last week to put more structure around it. I’ve met w/the Couscous Coop women, spoke briefly w/Fatima and Meriem about tourists’ interest in seeing natural dyeing and weaving and ran into Aziz today to ask him about the olive oil press. I think we can really have a nice day for those tourists who want to see Moroccan life in the countryside. I’m hoping to have a meeting w/Gail and Michele when I’m back in Fes next week to talk thru this. Then I think they need to come down here and we all meet together, including those community members involved. I’m really excited that this is finally coming together. Hopefully we can also get Hassan involved via the REK Tourism Assn, but I know he’s getting married sometime after Ramadan, so he may not be available.

All that aside, now we’re really on the downhill slope to the states. If only I wasn’t going to Fes and Rabat next week-Coop won’t open until Tuesday-after a couple days’ holiday and Monday souk. Oh well, damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead! Mbruk l-3id!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Falllllinnnggg for Hermoumou

Could it be true? Is this weather change a tease or have we moved into Fall? Last night I slept with a blanket for the first time since about April, and woke to make hot coffee, also absent for months. Too hard to think of consuming anything hot when you wake up sweating. Last night was the first night I’ve not needed to take a shower to clean off the day’s sweat since I can remember. My fan? Not necessary on me or my computer. It is gloriously clear outside-the view of the valley and mountains beyond is terrific. Nice breeze coming thru the apartment. I could live in this year-round.

Got home on Monday in time to meet w/Meriem and give her several updates for the ATPF Association women...

First, they needed to decide on which of the 2 final logo options they wanted to go with. Done-it's the pink hamza. Thanks to Jess and Emily for the help with the design. Also got the Arabic for their business cards from her, so those are done and delivered.

Next I updated her on the visit to Eva and her Meknes cheese operation. Shared Eva and Fouzia’s willingness to come to REK and share their expertise and experiences. Meriem’s going to check if the 25th works for the Assn women. She now seems very lukewarm about the idea of making cheese. Hmmm. What about the Zouia Milk Coop women? She’ll check with them as well. Then she wants to know about the trip to Ouarzazate. Huh? No need to make that long trip, these women will come from Meknes instead-much easier and cheaper. Please don’t tell me she just wanted a trip to Ouarzazate. I don’t believe that’s the case, but disappointed in her sudden lack of interest in cheesemaking. Nevertheless, if some of the women and the Zouia group are still interested, I’ll still bring Eva and Fouzia out-at least get them more facts to base their decision on whether to pursue it or not.

Third and final update was on the Creamery Grant status-that it’s been fully funded and I’m just waiting to hear that the money is in my account to transfer to them. Also that they need to be prepared to purchase everything and provide me receipts by November 1st so I can get the final report completed before I leave.

She thanked me again for the girls’ gifts from last Saturday. They had 50 girls get all ‘dolled up’, hennaed and photographed for their first Ramadan fast. A lot more girls than they expected and it went very well. Hamdullah.

The night (Monday) was filled with the sounds of chanting, singing, and reading. It was the night before the 27th day of Ramadan-the holiest day of Ramadan. It is signified by reading of the entire Koran at the mosque, and it goes all night long. Needless to say, people were dragging yesterday-no sleep, nearing the end of Ramadan, the heat-they’re so ready for it to be over. This is why the Couscous Coop women weren’t keen on doing a couscous-making workshop yesterday. They made an exception-for me and the prospect of more tourists coming to do the same in the future. God bless their parents.

Dudana-the tourist who was staying in Fes, came by private driver in the morning to REK and we headed down to Rebha’s son’s house where the Coop does their couscous making, twice a week. Dudana is from LA (yes, it’s a small world), is a private chef, and dug right into hand rolling the couscous, cleaning the veggies for the meal and cooking/fluffing the couscous that we ended up eating for lunch. That was just a bit awkward since the Coop women were fasting, but they knew we’d be eating when we set it all up. The women were wonderful-they did a terrific job for their first tourist workshop. Dudana was also terrific-flexible, and gave me good feedback to pass along to the women to make it even better for the next group. Gail’s message to me after she spoke w/Dudana was “Dudana was thrilled. It was a raging success.” Tbarkalikum Couscous Coop women!

I then called Fatima to open the Adwal workroom to show Dudana, and despite the fact that she was sleeping when I called, she still came over to open it up and show it off. Shukran bzzaf. Got Dudana back to her driver to head back to Fes. I look forward to connecting with her when I get back to LA-what a delightful new friend.

Got home just in time for Sam to arrive (former PCV here in REK who is visiting the area). He’s been staying w/Mustafa and Jamila, but they’re out of town, so he’s staying here. Pete joined us for dinner-fajitas/guacamole and yes, shredded cheddar cheese (I kid you not-of course, sent from the US). Brownies (also from a mix sent from the US). Rummicube and Bananagrams.

Now I’m in the process of changing my Barcelona reservations for November, since I’ll now be travelling with Miek and Jess-need a larger space and have found several apartments that would be great.

Marian coming tonight, dinner at Pete’s, it’s been quite the social week here in REK.

Bit of a sad note. I sent a message to the woman who heads the US e-commerce business that imported the Adwal Coop’s table runners, just to check in and see how they were doing. They’ve had a real rough go of it, starting the business at the time of the economic downturn, and they’re now in the process of shutting down the business and liquidating their inventory. Sorry to hear this.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fes Tonic

(written Thursday)
Hmmmmm. A few days in Fes. Best tonic w/o gin that I could hope for.

First I need to find a way to get about 40 small gifts (think hair clips, nail polish, about 3DH each) to REK tomorrow. See, it’s tradition for young girls to have a celebration when they complete their first Ramadan fast (makeup and hair, dressed up, photos, ululating-the whole bit-took numerous photos of Ahelan at hers during CBT training in Ain Leuh 2 years ago). Meriem and the ATPF women are organizing the celebration in REK and she told me it was going to be next Tuesday. Fine, I’ll be back in plenty of time. Called her today to let her know I’d purchased the gifts (so she wouldn’t be trying to get them elsewhere) only to be told that the celebration is going to be on Saturday. This Saturday. Mushkil. I’ll be in Meknes and Fes. Called around to see if anyone I know is going to REK tomorrow, but no such luck. Guess I’ll go to the transit stand here in Fes and have them take the stuff to REK for me.

I’ve had a couple items on my ‘to buy’ list and had some time today to get them. Just my luck, I was able to find a weaving tool (like the ones all the Coop women use) but the pottery shops weren’t open in the morning. Then I realized that the Artisanat would be open, would have a great selection, and is right around the corner from FedEx, where I could get everything shipped. Not only did I get my ‘to buy’ list taken care of; I got most of my Christmas shopping done while I was at it. Note-I get back to the US only 2 weeks before Christmas and will have a lot to do, so nice to get major purchases out of the way.

Lots to talk about w/the girls tomorrow when we go swimming. Finishing up month in November-Gail has to move out of her rental and we leave…party at Gail’s?? Meet up in Barcelona on Nov 19th w/Jess, Gail and Tara?? I mentioned it to Miek and she’s thinking of joining me in Spain. That calls for one major Inshallah!

I declined Khalid’s offer to join he and Siham for l-ftr and not join Gail and Francesca at Clock for l-ftr. Why is it I come to Fes and immediately my system goes haywire? I love Harira. One of the (few) best things about Ramadan, but acidity from all the tomatoes does a number on my stomach. Back to Pepto and BBRAT (banana, bread, rice, apples, tea) diet. Tfoo.

Grabbed a banana and a baguette on my way out of the medina. You should see the madhouse at the medina entrance right before l-ftr w/all the guys and their food carts. We’re talking oj, breads, pastries, nougat, Harira, cigarettes, fruit, and multiples of each. An absolute mob of people buying food to eat as soon as they hear the call to prayer. Walk outside the bab (medina gate/arch) to see some tourists flipping through their Morocco Lonely Planet guidebook. Does it tell them anything about l-ftr and the madness right before and extreme calm and quiet right after the call to prayer when everyone disappears to eat and everything closes for the next 30-45 minutes? Or do they think that this is just normal Moroccan evening behavior?

So here I sit in my air conditioned cheap hotel, watching TV in Arabic (only 3 channels-2 Arabic and 1 Hindi channel in Arabic). So imagine my surprise to see a dubbed show on extreme sports, televised from the Huntington Beach pier! Yes, your mother was right, it is a small world.

Oh My Meknes! (written Sunday)

I managed to get the girls' gifts into a taxi first thing Friday morning so they’d have them for the celebrations all day Saturday. Just had to pay transport fee and they called Meriem when they arrived. Great, got that taken care of. Back in time to meet Kate, get her situated in her hotel and off to meet the girls for a swimming excursion.

So how come I didn’t know about the wonderful pool at Hotel Rebaa until now? Michele’s husband Yusef drives us out trek Sefrou to this hotel where you can pay just 40dh and spend the day. It was Gail and Francesca, Michele and Khadija, Jess, Pippa, Kate and me. One of those “am I really in the Peace Corps?” experiences.

We got back into town in time for l-ftr at the Clock. One of the things they do for the staff during Ramadan is to close down the kitchen so the staff can have l-ftr together. Guests are welcome to have l-ftr, but nothing else is coming out of the kitchen for an hour. It’s a particularly nice gesture for the staff since they’ve been working, cooking and serving food and drinks all day long to non-muslims while fasting themselves. Bsmilla.

Finally it’s time to go and see the infamous Eva of goat cheese fame in Meknes. Gail put me onto her-a woman making and selling artisanal cheese in Morocco-hamdullah. Eva and I managed to communicate via email-thanks to Google translate-since I don’t know French and she doesn’t know English or Darija-and set up the meeting. My goal? To find out if Eva’s operation is relevant to the REK women and if she’d be willing to share her experience and expertise w/the women of the ATPF Association and the Zouia Milk Coop.
Plus, if this works out, we don’t have to trek all the way down to Ouarzazate to Linda S.’s cheese coop to learn the same things. That would be 2 days travel both ways and Meknes is a day trip out and back.

Gail, Kate and I train and taxi out to Meknes and Eva’s “country” place (it’s still within Meknes, but not her “city house”). We arrive to a huge fruit bowl and open faced sandwiches. She’s hosting us and I’ve invited myself to pick her brain-tells you a bit about how wonderful she is right away.

She has a friend who has had a cheesemaking operation himself in the past in France and he’s visiting to teach her new techniques. He’s got a lot of expertise and has worked w/a Cooperative of Moroccan women in the north. Now Jacques (Jack) has a ton of knowledge, and he’s not only willing, but insistent on sharing it with us. Kate (who lived in Paris for a year) is translating, but Jack bulldozes right over her, hardly giving her a chance to translate. He describes at great length all the reasons not to make cheese and offers no solutions on how to overcome them. I want to see Eva’s operation to get her perspective. He asks who is financing this project. Huh? Well, you need all this equipment and it’s very expensive. Does Eva have it? Can we see her operation? You must have certification to sell handmade cheese. How to get it? He doesn’t know. Does Eva have it? No. I wanna see her operation.

We’re getting textbook answers from him and I want to see Eva’s real-world operation for perspective to all that he’s saying. The Cooperative he worked with in the north didn’t work out. You must have each woman specialize in her step of the process. Geez, it’s not like we’re going into production line cheesemaking in REK. He tells us that the women should just make leben and butter. That’s not what we’re here for nor am I going to tell the women what to do. Kate explains to him the role we try to assume in our communities as PCVs, i.e.; to facilitate decision making process, not to do it for them. He informs us that the women can’t make decisions-you need to tell them what to do. Needless to say, I’ve had more than my fill of him and even Eva’s showing signs of frustration. Somehow we realize that he’s just disappeared-no good bye, just gone-thankfully. He’s a walking self-fulfilling prophecy-he believes they’ll fail, just as the Coop in the north did.

I’ll take his points, but delivered by someone who is more solution oriented. We again express our interest in seeing Eva’s operation and she finally shares her experience. It is sooo like what the REK women would be doing-they’d really relate to her-her experience, her space and equipment-just what they need-she’s perfect. She speaks to the challenges she’s faced, how she’s dealing w/them, just very real. Things like; it’s a delicate process, the milk needs to be at the exact right temp, cleaning of the cows, packaging is just saran w/a label, and she shows us how she transports the cheese. She’s an open book.

I’ve never been a goat cheese fan, but I’ve got to say I loved her stuff, especially the harder cheese enveloped in pepper. We almost buy out her supply of goat’s cheese, including aged, hard cheese that you shred like parmesan. Yum.

Eva also invited a friend of hers from the Ministry of Agriculture to join us. Fouzia is in charge of trainings, REK is in her region and she wants to help out. They both agree to come out to REK-Inshallah on Saturday 3 weeks from now. I need to get both the ATPF Association and the Milk Coop women together and agree on this date. Money from the PCPP grant that was recently funded will pay for Eva and Fouzia’s transport.

We make it back to Fes before l-ftr, p/u Kristen on the way and go to Gail’s’ for wine and bread and the goat cheese we’ve bought. Gail goes off to l-ftr and we’re still there 3 hours later when she returns, talking away. Didn’t make it to the all-female gnaoua group and the culture center (sorry Jess). Thank goodness Kate decided to postpone returning to her site a day to go with us. We needed her French translation. We talked about team and communication dynamics on the train to Meknes only to observe it with Jack. It was quite a day.

Off to Sefrou today to catch up w/Jess. Finally got up to see Amina Yabis to buy a copy of the Arabic edition of the Natural Dye Handbook for the Zouia and Adwal weaving cooperatives. Home tomorrow, Inshallah.

Fes=tonic to the Ramadan-weary Westerner. Hamdullah.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Community Creamery Contributions Complete!!!

First and foremost, a huge thanks to all who contributed to my PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) grant for the ATPF women’s Creamery equipment. It’s been fully funded by friends and family in less than 2 weeks! I can’t tell you how meaningful this is for the ATPF women, and will be posting photos after the funds are released, equipment purchased and installed. Shukran bzzzzzaf u allah rHlm l walidin.

Meanwhile September snuck up on me and I’ve got to start organizing. Yesterday I sent off 3 more packages to Huntington Beach-trying to get stuff shipped from here before Joanne moves out so there’s someone to receive them (since you never know how long it will take them to get there). One of my “to do’s” was to find a couple mailing tubes. Then I drew upon my PCV resourcefulness and headed down to the ‘druggeri’ or hardware store. Note to self-PVC pipe makes great shipping tubes for awkward items, ie; Berber tent poles, multiple paintings. In addition, the ugly plaid souk bags make great shipping bags when wrapped in duct tape. In the process of clearing sh** out of my place-and I’m sorting like mad-anything that needs to be tossed is in the trash and anything needing to be sent back to the US has pretty much been shipped.

I’ve not gotten rid of most of the stuff-I’m leaving almost everything here in Morocco. I’ve got my list of who’s getting what. I need to get the Adwal women here to decide on several items-they either go to the Cooperative or I’ve got someone else I’ll give them to. This isn’t a money making operation (a lot of PCVs sell their stuff to make a few bucks), I’m giving my stuff to people who either really need and/or can’t afford to buy it, ie; replacement PCVs, newlyweds just starting out together, Coops, Assns or friends in town.

Had another good long talk w/the Couscous Coop women. They told me that they couldn’t do the workshop next Tuesday after all-that they wouldn’t be there and I passed on this bad news to Gail. Then I thought more about it and realized that the women just didn’t want to do it during Ramadan (and hard to blame them at that). What I needed to do was get them more information about what these workshops would entail and what it could mean to the Coop to be the “go to” spot for Couscous Workshops for tourists out of Fes. Got the pricing, timing, potential booking volume to put together a more compelling story for the women. Now they understand the bigger picture. This made them agreeable to make an exception next week for the one woman who has paid for a solo couscous workshop during Ramadan. I promised the Coop that there wouldn’t be any more single person workshops and no more during Ramadan. Thankfully they’ll work thru this exception and it will be a good run-through for future workshops.

I also talked w/Michele about day trips to Ribat El Kheir for clients of she and her husband’s tourism business in Fes. We’ve had preliminary discussions, but need to put together more specifics. Tentatively it would include any/all of the following; couscous workshop/visit Adwal weaving/visit the ATPF Assn/visit the neddi/see the traditional olive pressing process. I also need to help find another translator for English speaking clients, as Fouzia has started her job in Taza-maybe Fatima’s brother M’Hamed (Hassan can take care of the French folk). Hopefully we can pull this off to bring in more tourists to REK.

Also met up with Sam-former YD PCV here in REK. He’s in town for about a week, so he, Pete and I had coffee last night. He preceded me here by about 4 years, so we didn’t overlap. Seems that REK has grown up and improved a lot according to what he had to say. It will be interesting to see what changes I see if/when I return for a visit.

Since the du-Gods (the electricity) have been shining upon us, despite the high temps, I’ve been able to use my computer when everyone else is sleeping during the day-what a blessing! My latest craze has been Chess Titans. Never played chess before in my life, but I may be getting addicted. I’m learning by playing-haven’t read books or strategies-you really need to have a board to understand the written moves and I’m too much of a visual learner. Fortunately I can learn as I play by undoing moves when I make a bad one. I of course lost my first 32 games straight-improvement measured only in the increasing length of each match. In the last couple of days however, I’ve won 3 and had 2 draws, so am making progress. Swiya b swiya. May need to dig into some internet strategy /tutorials, but so far this has been a good diversion. The Grand Masters can keep their crowns.

Nice cool evening/night made for great sleeping last night and the trip up to Fes this morning wasn’t too steamy. I’ve got several meetings lined up while I’m here-with Michele/Yusef, with Gail, need to pick up Community Creamery donation from Mike at the Clock, helping Jess out with her art exhibition pre-work, going swimming w/a bunch of folks Friday afternoon and will meet up w/Kate afterward and on Saturday Gail and I are going to Meknes to meet with Eva-the goat cheese maker to get info for the ATPF Assn women. It will be nice to feel productive.