Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Back on track

Riding through the tshqa attempting to write my blog is a great idea because I finally have time but it is a windy path through the High Atlas Mountains from Ouarzazate to Marrakech.  To say the least it is quite an adventure.  I am on my way to Marrakesh to spend the night, get up early and head to Barcelona!  I am so excited it has got me worked up.  I am going to eat what I want, wear what I want, shower when I want and most importantly see my aunt and uncle!  This past month leading up to this has been quite hectic so this trip has snuck up fast.  Since the last time I talked to you all, our Regional Country Director came to my area to visit, spoke in Tamazight in front of about 300 locals at a cultural event I attended with my counterpart, we made it in the craft fair at Fes last minute, after that I went and spent a week at Spring Camp in Tinghir with over 70 children and my CBT, the new volunteers, arrived in my site…I will explain more but just to let you know why I have not posted in almost a month.  To begin with where I left off at the last post, I went to the commune about an Arabic teacher and the President was not there.  But then magically the teacher showed up that week, I think because his bosses were making a visit to his classes in my village, well he has not been back since.  According to his bosses he should be coming twice a week.  This is creating a block for me because when I go to get help they are going to tell me I already have a teacher and they fail to understand that the issue is he never shows up.  I will work something out inshallah, if God wills it, a common phrase used in Morocco.  Oh yea and my women got new looms and products dropped off by the delegate.  However, he dropped everything off and left without setting up the looms…who knows how long it will take him to send someone out to assemble the looms.  Also that week we had a tragic death in the village with a funeral that lasted 3 days!  It was so tragic because the man had a “holistic/natural” doctor perform eye surgery on him and he cut his eye, which turned into infection and then his death.  From what I understand this man was going around to small villages convincing people of his natural talents, making a living this way and unfortunately it ended a life.  People from my village and surrounding ones came through for 3 days.  Sometimes I would be walking in the street and there would be women in groves on their way to the house dressed in black.  The wife of the man has been grieving much longer than I have experienced and wearing all white ever since.  My teacher said she will wear it for four months and 10 days…I thought it was just 40 days.  Also, last night that same family’s cow died which is a huge loss, especially after the husband, because he is usually the main income generator and then the livestock.  They think someone tied his rope to tight and he suffocated.  Right after the funeral the new volunteers arrived and I went to meet them right away.  They are volunteers with the health sector…four are right out of college and there was a married couple in their 50’s or 60’s.  When I got back to site this week from the craft fair and the spring camp I found out the married couple left already.  They are doing really good with the language because of their wonderful teacher, Malika.  I had them over the other night to see my place and talk about life as a volunteer.  I haven’t really been in site which is not a good example for them; however, I have been out of site because of work so it is justified.  They already are finding out there permanent sites this weekend and will do site visits all next week.  When they get back they will have about 4 weeks left of training and we can hopefully spend more time together.  The annual Rose Festival in Kelaa M’Gouna is the weekend of May 7th, so I will be hosting volunteers at my place and the “newbies” can meet other volunteers already out in the field.  The day after the new volunteers arrived in site I went down out of the mountain to meet the Regional Country Director, Country Director and our Country Desk Officer for lunch with fellow volunteers in the area.  It was nice to get to meet the “Big Dawgs” of Peace Corps.  The country director is stationed here in country but the other two work out of Washington D.C.  The Regional Director oversees about 20 countries throughout Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.  Her job seems awesome, and she is young…maybe it could be a future job of mine at her age!  Lunch was great that day; I ate more meat than I had all month!  I still don’t have a fridge so I don’t cook at home; just raw.  I still eat at families’ houses a lot and we usually are splitting a chicken thigh between 8 people.  The lunch was basically a round table discussion of us “hard to please” Americans talking about our lives here and mainly the concerns we have.  I am proud to say I am American but boy some volunteers are demanding, considering this is Peace Corps.  Enough of that, I could go on for another paragraph about that day at lunch…it just didn’t turn out as I expected.  In fact that day was full of surprises!  When I went to the cyber to check my e-mail before going back up the mountain that day I got a call from the coordinator of our craft fair that my women made it in so I was so excited!  At that point we had a week to prepare, which was plenty but this was a big trip for my women, who rarely even come out of the mountain, to travel to the northern city of Fes, which is filled with Arabs and there is little if any Tamazight spoken there.  I was so excited to go back and tell my ladies we were in because a few had just recently brought it up and I had written it off.  Needless to say they were so shocked and happy we made it in last minute.  In fact when I told my counterpart she was confused because she just got an invitation for me and her to go to a local cultural event/craft fair 2 days away.  We had a meeting to decide which two ladies would attend the fair… that was a 2 hour rendezvous of women going back in forth on how they should choose.  They finally wrote every ones’ name on individual pieces of paper, crumbled them up, threw them on the floor and I chose the 2 lucky winners.  My feisty, treasurer, Fatima, and a younger girl Fatima were the chosen ones…since Lebron no longer is…had to throw that in there after typing “chosen one.”  Then it was a waiting period to hear back from the ones father and the other’s husband for approval to go.  The other ladies were crossing their fingers in case one wasn’t allowed another name would be chosen.  After the decision was made…geez another Lebron reference…”The Decision”…I just can’t get over it…I asked the ladies if they wanted to use some of their new wool from the Delegate to make some fresh carpets geared towards tourists wants and they said no.  I thought the craft fair was motivation, but I guess not enough.  The day after this I left for the local cultural event which would span from Friday until Sunday, little did I know we would stay until Monday!  We got there on Friday and spent the morning being entertained by snacks and tea, what Moroccans do best…hospitality.  The first day was just the afternoon but the next two days were all day.  In the mornings there would be some entertainment but most of the entertainment was saved for the afternoon into the evening.  This was done purposely to work up a crowd after the locals ate lunch and did their daily house and field work.  The crowd would start to appear about 3 and just get bigger and get to its maximum by 5.  To add in, this event was outside on the main road so people passing would stop and the crowd just attracted attention.  I was actually impressed by the coordination of this event and it was free for the participants and the attendees.  On the first day all the participants of the craft fair were introduced and I was summoned to stage to speak about what I do and where I am from.  At this point the crowd had to be about 300 and I was shaking/sweaty nervous.  I got up there and spoke in Tamazight, didn’t say everything I wanted because I was so nervous, but I was understood and got a round of applause when I was done!  I feel I have accomplished a lot since I have been here, but that is my biggest accomplishment by far!  Also, I really liked this event because it was an event showcasing the rural people and everything was spoken in the Berber dialect, so I understood most of what was going on.  By the last day it was getting long sitting under the tent so I took a walk through the fields back to the river and was called within minutes by a friend concerned I didn’t know the way.  I assured him I was OK and had a nice get away.  I walked for a while and met people that probably have never met a foreigner before, let alone one that speaks their language, so of course I got a marriage proposal from each lady for either their son or brother.  This is nothing unusual in my life here.  It doesn’t bother me; I actually have fun with it now that I have better language skills.  When I returned back all the ladies were shocked  that I went to the fields by myself because they never go by themselves  Then I realized why I got the concerned phone call within minutes of me entering the fields.  That same day when I got back I got a serious marriage proposal from and older Berber lady for her son.  She was ready, she said she had the paper work and had someone go fetch her son for me to meet and when he showed up the ladies all started calling out the traditional song when a woman and man decide to marry.  I just laughed it off but she was serious, so I had to sneak myself away from that crowd…not to mention I had already spoken to her son.  That night my counterpart, Moohou, told me we were staying with her family until morning and at first I was not thrilled, because I need to get back to do laundry and bathe before we left for Fes.   I got over it quick and enjoyed my night with her family and another marriage proposal by the mother and the sister of the family.  I was a night of traditional dancing and singing because there was no electricity so the women were the entertainers and I was enjoying it.  Then the man of the house came home for dinner and I was reminded again how his mother and sister wanted me in their family and the calls/songs of engagement began flowing…then the gifts from the sister and in the morning a gift from him, along with his phone number.  Little did I know he mysteriously got my number and would continually call me until he got the idea that I wasn’t interested… 3 days later.  I know you all are wondering why I am talking about all these marriage proposals but it just represents the culture and how quickly marriages are done here…plus it is coming into summer and that is wedding season.  Many if not all female volunteers get marriage proposals all the time here…usually people ask me if I am married before they ask me my name…but the proposals were intense this weekend being in a village where no one knew me and I was with Moohou, an older respected Berber woman.  Accompanying her only gives me that much more credibility.
Happy Easter!! It is Sunday, April 24 and I have been to Barcelona and back.  Yes, I enjoyed Spain and it was awesome to see my Aunt and Uncle!!  It feels like I was just there…I will talk more about it later…now to catch up where I left off.  When I got back from my weekend at the cultural event I had two days to prepare my women for the craft fair in Fes, as well as myself.  I needed to “shower” and wash my clothes…those are a whole day worth of work around here…but I wouldn’t change it for anything!  We got everything packed up and ready to go for an early morning bus ride that ended up being 14 hours.  However, we made it safe and that is most important.  We sold more at the craft fair than I had expected.  We didn’t sell one rug, just all natural products from our fields; dried fruits and nuts.  I also had a blast in Fes, catching up with other volunteers.   The craft fair is put together by volunteers and all of our artisans.  Fes is an interesting city.  It is a tourist-filled, larger city and being in the north it is basically all Arab and some, if any, Berber is spoken up there.  I don’t get the same ‘love’ there that I get in Marrakesh…the southern tourist city.  It is just weird going to go big cities full of tourists, as a local (no I am not a tourist in Morocco, in my mind), because then you get treated as one and it can be annoying.  However, I had a great time seeing some night-life with my dear friend Annemarie…every time we got together it is nothing but fun!  While I was in Fes I got talked into working at a youth spring camp in Tinghir, in my region.  I wanted to work one but the timing was off with my trip to Spain coming up, I didn’t want to be away from site, but in the end they desperately needed help so it didn’t take long to twist my arm…plus many of you know I enjoy working with the youth.  Right after Fes we took the bus back down south and went right to work with over 70 kids!  It was so much fun!  This brought kids from Ouarzazate and Tinghir regions and some from my mountain range.  This youth camp is run by Peace Corps volunteers and the Delegation.  The schools have a spring break as in America and the youth development volunteers coordinate a linguistic/cultural exchange camp for them with the help of other volunteers.  It was full of youngsters age 13-17 and some other age ranges because you have to include little bro or sis.  We had some as young as 7.  Each day we had a schedule from English classes, clubs (such as fashion, theatre and dance…yes I was part of the dance class), sport, of course tea time, nap time and we had field trips on the last two days.  The one day we went to the Todgra Gorge, which was great because I had not been yet.  It is beautiful, but it is over loaded with tourist.  My valley has gorges just as pretty and they aren’t filled with tourist.  The second day of field trips the kids went to the Mosque for the mid-day call to prayer and then we had lunch and nap time before we went to the local medina.  I did not make it to the Medina because no-one could wake me up from nap time…yes I was exhausted!  Came back from spring camp…caught up with my ladies then I was off to Spain!  Boy that trip was more than I expected, a little bit of everything! Most importantly, I got to see my aunt and uncle and spent some quality time with them sight-seeing and eating great food!!  One night I got to put some heels on and feel like a lady again…it was incredible.  Perfect weather…went to the beach the evening after my aunt and uncle boarded their cruise and enjoyed the sunset there!  When I got back from Spain is was on to preparation for the Rose Festival.  Finally was having volunteers coming to see my site and stay at my place so I was busy getting my ponjes (hard cushions you put on the floor and use as a couch) and finally filling up my “living room.”  It is wonderful I love the way it looks all put together.  I will get you all some final pics next post…inshallah.  In the mean time my women got quite a load of sheep wool because this is the time of year that the sheep are shaved before the summer heat…not to mention the heat is on already!  I spent time with them breaking apart the matted wool before we took it to the river to wash it.  Now they are brushing it and spinning it in preparation for our natural dyes for the wool.  This is really exciting for me because I can work with them on color theory and there new line of rugs hopefully will be more appealing to potential buyers.  The Rose Festival just passed this past weekend…May 6-8…and again we did not sell one rug just natural products from our fields.  Also, in the mean time of preparing for the festival, we held an event at the association, where another association from the area came to see our work and brought the youth to see the process of spinning wool.  They videotaped the entire event to make a film of our association.  The day after, me and my ladies went down out of the mountain and when we returned the Tamazight channel was there filming for TV.  Yes I am going to be on TV speaking in the native tongue.  I was really shy so it is only a quick clip on my opinion of their rugs!  Also I want to mention that many volunteers got to see my site this weekend and they all love it…some even admitted that I got the jackpot site…I am to telling you all COME VISIT ME!!!  On Saturday night I hosted 20 volunteers, Annemarie did all the cooking but I helped, I have proof in the pics!
OH my goodness I am finally here at the cyber and getting a chance to post.  Woke up early this morning and had French toast!  Some fellow volunteers exposed me to it over the weekend when they were all here…not good!  Made syrup with fresh honey and powdered sugar with a blender…good to go!  I had my English leadership class at a local high school this morning.  I forgot to mention in all this craziness, that I started this class every Wednesday.  Most of the students know English, so I am teaching them leadership skills, public speaking, but not all are on the same level of English…I would say I am teaching English as well.  After class I went to souq to get all my fruits and veggies for the week and now I have been at the cyber for hours catching up on e-mails, NBA playoffs, and this.  I must say I am getting used to this life of no internet, I like it, in fact it seems to be a hassle to check my e-mail anymore.  However, I want to stress this blog is not a hassle at all…I just get to it when I can, as long as you all are enjoying it!

So this is after our lunch with the big dawgs...the regional country director is on bottom left, than our country director and the country desk officer.

On stage in front of 100's...yes that is a video camera in my face.

Just to show you the masses of people at the event...I was nervous!

And notice the Berber flag... there is a lot of Berber pride in the south of Morocco...I must say I have the itch.

At the end of this cultural event, I was summoned into the Ahaydus...traditional dancing finale.

This is Zahra...she wanted me to marry her brother so she was having me try on traditional wedding attire.

This is traditional bride and groom attire of my valley...these are just young kids parading it for the cultural event.

This is my counterpart getting down to some Ahaydus.

This is one of the many tannery's in Fes.

These are my 2 ladies that went to the craft fair with their much appreciated certificates.

Here we are at our stand at the craft fair.

On our field trip to the gorge.

The first night of spring camp...everyone was so quiet and shy at that dinner but it didn't last long!

Having fun with Fatim-Zahra!

The boys and their Berber pride!

 I just love this picture...that is Jeff, we had training at the same site...he is like a brother! Then A-Hamed...he is from up my mountain range.

Teaching them the cupid shuffle for our talent show!

I also love this pic...honestly I forget their names...but they were good boys...all the kids were great...we were lucky!

In Fashion club...but they got side-tracked.

Sorry this is was right-side up when I downloaded it.  This girl had the most sass of them all...can you tell.  In fashion club they made clothes out of newspaper.

At the Gorge.

At the Gorge...the boy with the red wrap spoke better English than us volunteers.

So there is the Gorge...and me!

This must be the last night and everyone had to get there pictures.

The night of the talent show. This was theatre but us Americans never knew what was going on...

On my way back to site from Spain I stayed with a fellow volunteer and we went venturing.  I just love this shot with the goat...check out that clear blue sky!

SPAIN...tapas is very common just order what you want and they are served like appetizers so you can eat a little bit of everything.  Yes I ate good!

My dear aunt Hali and uncle Sid!  What is that...silverware? Forgot how to use it!

The Sagradia Familia...breathtaking.

Hali and I wearing my new 1Euro hats to keep the sun out of my face in Morocco...we are at the Sagradia Familia church.

My ladies, as well as Annemarie's counterpart...I have my arm around here....check out my and full of life!

Evidence...I made was hit...Annemarie did everything else!  This is my kitchen!

Rachel, Jeff, me and Annemarie...chilling at my place...finally!

The river and Jeff...across there is a small village with a natural spring and much more.  I have been exploring more of those mountains over there.  There are alot of caves...nomads are very common in my range.  I am seeing them more now that they are coming up from the hot south.

Wild roses in my fields!

This is how the locals dry them...they pick them every other day real early before the dew dries so they will dry correctly.  Just found out that locals sell them to the big rose factories down in Kelaa as well as to my competition in the village.

My fields...pure beauty...come see me!!!

3 of my favorite ladies in Morocco.  Host mom, Rabha and Annemarie.  My host mom dressed up Rabha, Annemarie's counterpart, in our traditional wedding attire.  We took her out to the fields for pics which is also traditional for the bride and groom on their wedding day.  Rabha loves it in our village, she wants to come back for my host sister's wedding so that means Annemarie will probably come back...whippee!!  Annemarie got her ladies in the craft fair for the Rose Festival so I had my host family host her counterpart...they hit it off!

Annemarie and 3 of my ladies...I am glad she asked for the pic because I never would have.  My ladies and ladies all over Morocco go out to the fields daily and bring back food for the that the fields are green they go twice a day.  They do the work of a man here!

Me getting Henna!

Annemarie and more of my fields!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

6 months already...where has the time gone?

TGIF…syke…everyday is Friday for me.  Well, not really…I only have weekends “off” but every day is like Friday because I never know what the next day holds.  It is Friday, March 04, 2011.  Got back to site this week, Monday, and have been dealing with a stomach bug.  Most likely from drinking the local water up north that my system is not used to.  Nothing unusual… just cleaning out
my system, also a good weight loss solution.  The locals tell me the local water is difficult up north.  One even asked me if I was recovered…when I told her yes she said because you are back here, our village is medicine.  Tuesday, I was tired and not feeling well and had a wonderful day staying in the house and actually only had 1 knock all day.  Wednesday, I didn’t go to souq because they had doctors coming to do eye checks for my village and surrounding ones.  They used our association building for the doctors to set up.  It is so interesting in this country.  The people are very diverse economically/socially but seem” divided.”  For example, the doctors spoke some English and one asked me why I speak the Berber language and not Arabic.  It’s not about the question itself it is the
manner in which it was asked.  I explained that I live in this village and he let back a little…but it was as if he was looking down on me that I didn’t know the Arabic.  Another one just came out and asked “what are you doing in this neck of the woods.”  Again, I said I live her and he said WOW. Neither of them meant any harm but it just reinforces the presence of the divide in status/development in this country.  I went down out of the mountain yesterday to use the internet in hopes to set up my flight to Barcelona.  I am going on a long weekend to see my aunt and I am so excited…this is a much needed trip.  Flights to Europe are super cheap from here so I will hopefully get to take some more short trips in my time here.  Found out that my wonderful teacher, Malika, will be coming to my site for CBT when the new group of volunteers arrive.

So it is now Sunday March 13, 2011….definitely fell asleep on that last part and I am just now getting back to update you all.  I am going to Barcelona!! I have never been to Europe and I am pumped.  Thanks to my wonderful sisters and my aunt and uncle this has all become possible.  Going in the middle of April for a long weekend!  Back to the CBT (community based training) coming to my site.  The new volunteers arrive in Morocco on Wednesday the 16th…have training for a few days
then head to their CBT/Training sites.  As I did when I first arrived, spending the first 2.5 months in training at a different village before coming to my permanent site.  I am really excited to meet the new volunteers, being able to help them with their transition from America to their own Peace Corps experiences and even better their LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator)/teacher was mine as well. In fact she has spent some time in my site for developing host families.  We got to spend this past
Monday together and it was great.  She had me exploring areas of my site I had not yet explored.  We walked all along the other side of the river and climbed the mountain ridge behind my house.  Last weekend, I joined my counterpart with a trip up the mountain to her sister’s house. It was about an hour transit ride.  Had a great time…spent 2 and a half days meeting new people, drinking tea, eating dates, drinking tea, eating dates and some.  It was fun…Moohou had to make her rounds so I was by her side the whole time.  They have an association of weavers up there, and boy they are good.  They are just so far away from access to markets and selling opportunities.  Tourists don’t come to that area…and if they aren’t a co-op they don’t find out about craft fairs, plus their quality requires a higher price than the locals can afford.  They are definitely a hidden treasure.  I was up so far that I was told if I hiked for about a day I would cross into the Azilal province and then
descend down the north side of the High Atlas Mountains.  I may do it one day, if I can get someone to go with, it would be too dangerous to go by myself! Plus there is a gorge up there as well as waterfalls.  It is amazing up there, the higher you go up the mountains the more visable the
Berber traditions are.  You know, I didn’t take pictures and I don’t know why, sorry next time.  My neighbor had a baby earlier in the week so there have been a few “tea” parties with the women and either tonight or tomorrow there will be a “baby naming ceremony.”  This happens on the seventh day after birth.  The baby was born through the night last Monday to Tuesday.  I hope they consider
the “7th” day tomorrow, Monday, so I don’t miss it.  On this day they will slaughter/sacrifice a
sheep, maybe 2, depending if the family can afford it.  The sheep will be eaten by the guest of the
ceremony, which can last all night.  If there is a 2nd sheep, it is strictly for the woman who gave
birth.  The night will consist of drinking tea, eating skewers of fresh meat, drinking tea, eating a main course (of meat), drinking more tea and plenty of Ahaydus (traditional dancing)…this
is my favorite part!  We had 2 days of rain, finally, Thursday and Friday, and the village was basically dead.  It is like when we have snow storms in Ohio and people can’t go out because they can’t drive.  On Thursday I was supposed to start my English classes but I was told at the last minute no one was going because of the rain.  However, yesterday I went to the association and a few of my girls asked me where I was on Thursday…I felt really bad.  I explained to them how a few girls told me no one was there.  It is interesting because it is a small village and that is how word gets around, by mouth, and I don’t understand why a few girls told me no one was going.  Friday, I started drawing classes with the young girls of my village.  It was raining all day so I wasn’t sure if they would show up, but they have been asking for a while to come.  Sure enough, only two ended up coming and we had a great time.  I decided to introduce them to the alphabet of the Berber language, Taffinagh.  I am glad I did because they didn’t know what it was.  I have heard that the King has pushed to bring it back into the education system at the primary level.  Now, I am down in my souk town for a few days
to get some work done.   Met with my tutor for the last time today because he is an LCF for Peace Corps and he has to report for the new group of trainees this week.  Tomorrow, I am going to the local commune to try and get help in finding my women a teacher in Arabic.  Wish me luck…I will keep you posted!  This upcoming week will be busy making sure my house is ready, so I can be a good example for the new volunteers.  I am setting it up little by little (imik s imik), but now I have to make sure it is ready for them.  Oh yea, I took pictures of my place because I have had so many special request.  This is good because now you all will see before and after pics.  Well time is gone…Thlla g ixfinun! (Take care of yourselves)

Here is my wonderful friend and teacher, Malika, with my village in the background.

Thats me with the fields...not sure if you can tell from last pic of my fields, but they are turning more green by the day!
This the view of the other side of the ridge we climbed...that is the road out of the mountain to my souk wraps and winds for about 18K which takes 25-30 minutes on transit.
I am not good with angles, so excuse me...this is from the entrance of my house, into the courtyard.  That is my new garden with spinach and green and red leaf lettuce sent from America.  Can't find that here and I miss it!  That is the door to my "salon/shanbray." In room.
That is my bathroom/bitlama in corner and the other is the door to my bedroom.
Entrance to my kitchen is to the right with a little storage area straight ahead. 
My kitchen...make shift shelf from the box of my stove.  That is a Buta gas that you have to turn on to light the stoves here. 
Food storage for now until I get more shelves and a fridge.  I wouldn't get a fridge because they are expensive, but in summer it will get so hott and I don't have access to food, dairy and meat in site.  My stuff will need to keep for atleast a week from going down to souq to get it.
 This is walking into my living room and looking right.Here is me entering and turning around to see the other side.  Again, this is storage until I get shelves for my room.
This is my toilet/shower hole. It is wet from water...
There is my camp shower...the best thing ever...I have a nice system the water heats in the sun so it is free!
My bathroom rack...exciting...
This is my bedroom...with a view of the window.
This is the view from just stepping in the door...yea you all see I brought my Cleveland love to Morocco