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.