Saturday, November 28, 2009

Permanent Site Update

THE CONTENTS OF THIS WEB SITE ARE MINE PERSONALLY AND DO NOT REFLECT ANY POSITION OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT OR THE PEACE CORPS. Since this site is public, specific details are not given so email me personally if you’d like more information

11/28/09 (I think. I’m never entirely certain what day/date it is.) I do know that today is l-3id mqqurn, a/k/a as the “great feast”. Today each Islamic family will slaughter an animal. For many it will be a sheep, but for those that cannot afford a sheet a goat or lamb will be slaughtered. The animal is then eaten in an orderly fashion usually starting with the liver, heart, stomach and lungs. Day two we move on to the head and feet, etc. I’m glad I’m a country girl and that my family hunts. The slaughter wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, but uncertain if I’ll be able to eat meat for a couple of days. Once we’re into eating familiar parts, I will probably be fine. Meat is a precious commodity and to think we have LOTS to eat in the next few days.

The family has been as excited about this holiday and we are about Christmas. Family and friends have stopped in for atay and l-kiks (tea & cookies) My host father bought new clothes for the children to wear today. Today they have dressed me in a fancy green kaftan type dress, complete with a black zif (scarf). I’m thinking this is not a look I should adopt for everyday wear! If I can attach a picture of me, I’m thinking you’ll agree that it does nothing for my round face. I don’t know what the rest of this celebration entails, but I’m sure I’ll learn in the coming days. I intend to celebrate a bit of Christmas with them. Uncertain what that will be at the moment, but the cultural exchange is good for all of us.

I really do like this family. They have opened up their arms and welcomed me in. I’m guessing it was an arranged marriage since most of them are here in Morocco, but there is a genuine love and caring amongst the mom and dad. They engage in great conversations and you can see that my mom definitely has her opinions, but guessing in the end she would concede to whatever he wishes. She takes wonderful care of the family and rarely leaves the homestead. Of course, she has animals to tend to, cooking/cleaning/washing to do for the family and none of this is done with the modern conveniences we are so accustomed to. She and I did walk down to the village one day and took lunch to my dad who was working on plumbing a new s-sbitar (birthing center) for the area. You could see how very proud she was of him and she just wanted to watch him work. I think she would have stayed all day. And, he is an involved dad. Almost every night he does homework with the kids. I’m guessing that both my mom and dad went to school through 9th grade or so. My mom grew up in Ouarzazate, but I don’t think she has been back to that area since she married Hussain. Too much to do here is what she tells me – no time. She has received several phone calls from her family since I’ve been here and certainly last night wishing her happy holidays.

Last Sunday I went on a great walk with the children. Had I known it was going to be such a long walk I would have worn my tennis shoes, but the clogs worked just fine. They run over the shrubs and rocks like wild animals. They climb trees like zadood s (monkeys) Eventually other children joined us and they had a real song fest in the shade of a tree. It was quite delightful to see these kids have a wonderful time without the need to have “things” to make it happen. Again, I hope to have a picture of what the countryside itself looks like. I call them hills, they call them mountains surrounding me. Nevertheless, a hike when you’re walking them.

The days here have been sunny and warm. I’m guessing around 75-80. Rain is predicted for Monday and this will be about only the 4th day of rain I can think of since I arrived in Morocco last September. The rain would be most welcome. But, as the sun goes down, it does cool down. By the time I go to bed I’m dressed in about three layers or so and welcome crawling into bed. I have a hard time thinking they really get as cold as Michigan and I can’t imagine much snow either. Let’s hope I’m not surprised and that the winter is milder than they lead me to believe.

This site has had a PC volunteer for the last few years. I think I am the third here. They have a very active association that sells goat cheese and saffron. The president of the association is a 47 year old illiterate woman. She is driven and wants improvement for the area. I’m not certain of the role I will play? She is strong-willed and I’m told challenging. My age will work to my advantage in our relationship, I hope. They have a relatively new, very clean building where they process the goat cheese. They currently deliver cheese to places in the area, but I think they would like more of an on-site retail business. Saffron – what a labor intensive process that is. Saffron comes from a crocus flower. Inside that flower are about three red sprigs that have to be taken by hand out of the flower. I don’t know when the season for harvest is, but it’s not now. I see bags of crocus bulbs sitting around, waiting to be planted I would assume.

Right now I have to concentrate on the language and I continue to find it most challenging. I have found a tutor who I think will be good, but he is very busy and I’m only able to meet with him one a week. There is a young woman living in the apartment below the apartment I will move to in January who speaks decent English. She has some college education and she is here working at the association with young women teaching computer skills, some English, etc. I’ve asked her if she is willing to work with me too and I hope to start sessions soon.

I was lucky and had the opportunity to spend time with the PCV (Amy) that’s been here before she left. She introduced me to lots of people and showed me around town. I am also able to rent the space she has been living in and bought some home furnishings from her. The gray, cement tall building will be my new home for the next two years. Doesn’t look that appealing, but it will be better than the adobe homes that are more typical here. Even though I’m not able to officially move in until January 1st, the landlord has given me free access to the apartment, so I am slowly working getting things settled. Amy was not fond of the kitchen and didn’t like to cook much, so I have purchases to make there. I also bought a table and chairs. If you’re into white plastic, you’d love it!! The biggest problem with buying things is that you have to somehow lug them home with you in the taxi since local business don’t offer much. THEN, since the taxi lets you off in the center of town, you have to lug everything UP the inclimb to my apartment. Hey, I’m a 60 year old woman – not always an easy feat. I did buy a 3-drawer unit at the hanut in town and a young man carried them up for me. Age does have a few benefits I guess.

We have a young man, Nortin, who lives with my family. I’m guessing him to be about 15 years old or so. I’m told that his dad died and he has been living primarily with this family since he was 6. Nortin heads out everyday with the assidun (mule) to gather grass I’m guessing for winter feeding. One day last week he came into the kitchen with a gunny sack folded down and in it a very young goat. The goat’s mother didn’t have milk and he brought it home to be tended to. This goat is the cutest thing I’ve seen. He looks like a patchwork quilt – he’s gray, black and white with little ears that curl up at the edge. I fed him his first bottle of milk. My mom milks the cow and feeds the little guy several times during the day. He has gotten so much stronger and you should see him run and play. Like a puppy with his tail wagging like crazy. He obviously likes people and loves to suck on your fingers. I love him and don’t want to think that someday they will likely eat him! I’ve attached several pictures of my new little friend.

Well, til I sit down the next time guess this is it. Love and miss you all, Bslama

Friday, November 20, 2009

November Update

THE CONTENTS OF THIS WEB SITE ARE MINE PERSONALLY AND DO NOT REFLECT ANY POSITION OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT OR THE PEACE CORPS. Since this site is public, specific details are not given so email me personally if you’d like more information

11/21/09 - Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written and life has certainly changed for me. I left my host home where we’ve been training and many tears were shed by everyone. They might not have been perfect, but they were a family that cared about me. I have heard from them several times already since I left. All 56 of us trainees met up for a few more days of group training and then we were sworn in on November 12th in Rabat. Quite a formal affair and attended by some of the Moroccan officials, US Embassy personnel, etc. We PCV’s were cleaned up too (complete with showers) and I even wore a dress!! We had a lovely lunch in the garden at the PC offices and then we had the afternoon free to explore Rabat. One stop was to the train station where I purchased a senior citizen travel card that enables me to save 40-50% on train trips I may take. Morocco doesn’t have a lot of trains and CTM busses seem to be the next best way to travel, but will travel to Rabat several times a year for meetings and that will be at least partly by train, so if it can help – great. On the 13th, we were turned loose and left to find our way to our sites on our own. There were several volunteers heading my way so we all boarded a train early that day and we were off….. Arrived in Marakesh and planned to board a bus to get the rest of the way. Since there were five of us, decided to travel by Grand Taxi since it would be more comfortable and not that much more expensive. We had luggage piled on the roof and the trunk was tied down. We traveled a couple of hours on curvy mountain roads. Kind of glad I took that Dramamine before we left.

I can’t believe I am really in my home town for the next two years. I didn’t say “home” because I’m not in my home yet. The PC requires us to live with one more host family before they let us live alone. We will live with our hosts until January 1st. I can’t say that I’m excited about living with another family, even though the last family wasn’t bad, I am just eager to be in control of myself and life. Never quite certain what is happening when?? The purpose, of course, is to give us a local family to bond with and to help with immersion into the community and language practice. One of the best things about this area is that we will have electricity and water 24/7 – whooo hoooo. This update will be focused on giving you a mental picture of where I am now.

Host Family – Might as well start here. Must say if my first impressions hold, I lucked out here. They are by far the best family I’ve been with so far. Lucky for me too, since I will have two years of contact with them. My family consists of a dad, LHussain who is 50 years old and works as a plumber. My mom, Atika, is 43 and she is a housewife. When I say housewife that means milking the cow, feeding the animals (chickens, rabbits, and sheep is what I’ve seen so far). And I think taking the animals out to eat grass, thus being a herder too. She takes care of all household tasks including baking bread each day to serve with fresh butter she has made from the milk. She is one busy lady… I have a host brother who is 10 years old and his name is Zachiria and I have an 8 year old sister named Zakia. The children both attend school and so far are smiling and well behaved. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a bit of sibling poking and prodding, but on the whole the house is relatively quiet. There is also another young man here by the name of Nortin. I’d guess him to be about 15. I’m not certain how he fits into this family, but I have learned that his father died and his mother lives elsewhere. Is he a relative, does he live here permanently ???? He helps out with any task my mom and/or dad is doing at the moment. My family is nice, happy and very accommodating to me. My mom wants to help me with the language and is always talking to me. Some of which I understand and some I don’t. Unfortunately, I still tend to try to answer in English with only a few Tashlheet words thrown in. Something I need to work on.

My home is up in the hills, the last house at the end of the lane. The area is beautiful and surreal in a stark kind of way. Their house looks huge, and it is a good size, but I’ve seen that the barn-like structure is attached. They have three parlor like rooms, one formal room surrounded with cushions and this is where I am currently sleeping. Another room is also surrounded with cushions and houses the TV. This room doubles as the bedroom for the kids. The other parlor was to have been my room and they were painting it a HOT pink the day I moved in (second HOT pink room I’ve had. Do I look like a HOT pink person?) This room has two windows opening up to the central hallway. For whatever reason they haven’t moved me to this room and I’m kind of glad since there are no window coverings on the windows and I would be quite visible in there. The parents have a bedroom to themselves. The part I’ve just described seems to be a new addition and there is tile on the floors and light fixtures (not bare bulbs) hanging from the ceiling. The bathroom is also in this area and it stinks very badly. Can’t really figure this out since we have water and my mom appears to be conscious of the concept of clean??? The bathroom was also painted HOT pink while the painting was being done. Whew…. It does wake you up in the morning. The kitchen is in the older portion of the house. My other two host homes didn’t use soap to wash the dishes and I’m glad to see that this mom does. It makes eating a bit easier. My mom must also realize that I don’t want to share a glass to drink from and even though I sometimes eat with my hands, she usually gives me at least a spoon to use. Last night they showed me an area to bathe in, complete with hot water (my dad is a plumber, after all).

Town Itself – I think most of you know this, but I am located south of Marakesh (a/k/a Kesh) and north of Ouarazate (a/k/a Oz). It is in the mountains and I’m told at about the elevation of 4,800. The town has a population of about 3,000 people, but it doesn’t look it. We have many of the local officials here in town, a post office and they and the local businesses are located along the highway. There are groups of homes (called duwars sp?) clumped around and about the hills. Everywhere I walk there is a hill to climb. I keep telling myself – I will either be in great shape in two years or dead from exhaustion. I’m guessing the area could be a bit challenging when it rains and snows. I haven’t really had an opportunity to look around town much, but there doesn’t appear to be a lot here. Several hanuts (small storefronts where you can buy the basics) a butcher, a couple of teleboutiques (public phone areas), but unfortunately no cybercafés. Because of this, I decided to purchase a satellite connection to the internet so I could have contact with the world on a regular basis and without having to travel 1+ hours to otherwise do so. The initial outlay was 500Dh (about $60) for the modem and I will have to pay 200Dh a month (about $35) for the service. I haven’t used it much yet, but it seems to work well. I’m told it is slow and will not be great for downloading, but will otherwise meet my needs okay. Doubt that my PC monthly allowance will cover this, but I’m willing to pay for this for my piece of mind.

New Home – Most homes in the area are made from adobe complete with mud floors and roofs. My home is relatively new, made of cement and appears to have been constructed for rental purposes (only one in town) since it has two complete living areas. I am located on the second floor of this building. None of the homes (mine included) have a heat source within them and betting they will be a bit chilly in the winter. The volunteer that was here lived in this home before me and I purchased from her the furnishings she had which made my life so much easier. I have a front room you enter into and it has great window looking out into the hills. I think I’ll buy a plastic table and chairs to put in there and use it for dining and as my space for computer use. I need to get a mat or rug for under my feet since that cement floor is cold! I have a parlor that has a window and since I took over the apartment of the volunteer who left, I have three ponches (large cushions to sit on), a coffee table (most often used to eat on by the locals) a bamboo doored shelf thing and a rug on the floor. Probably won’t do much else with this room since it meets basic needs. I have a kitchen with a window. I have a small countertop with a sink built in complete with running water (albeit cold). I have a small stand-alone oven with a separate two burner (kind of camp stove) on top of it for cooking. I don’t have a refrigerator since that is really considered a luxury here, but I do intend to buy a small dorm-sized one since I consider it important for my health and luckily this area has the electricity to let me do so. There is also a nook with a shelf in the kitchen for storing dishes. Now to my bit-la-ma (bathroom). I have a small window and yep, has that wonderful Turkish toilet once again. The best thing about this room is that not only do I have running water to gather water in to flush the toilet, but the PCV had a hot water heater put in and I have a shower….. A luxury I never thought I would have. I do have a sink, but it is located outside this room and in the front room. Now you have a complete picture of my future home in your mind. Can’t wait to cozy it up and make it mine. The PCV that was here was not a cook and seems like she broke a lot of what kitchen dishes she had, so I do have things to purchase and will begin the gathering process in the coming days/weeks. I have two 20+ women living below me. One speaks a bit of English and teaches at the association and the other works at a daycare. Neither of them are from this area and they are here on contracts from the gov’t til June. I hope they’ll stay on, but they don’t seem that happy with the area and betting they will not 

Language Update – still my biggest struggle. I didn’t do as well on the test as I would have liked and I had to sign a contract agreeing to tutoring and studying the language more. I wasn’t the only one, but the majority of the trainees passed the minimum required. I obviously know words but I have great difficulty putting them into sentences and verbalizing them. I still can’t hear the spoken words to distinguish what is being said. I have talked with a tutor and hope to meet up with him soon. Between him and my family, I hope and need to progress. Still, considering I’ve only been in-country since September and knew no Arabic before I came, I’m no soooo bad.

I will gladly share with you my new address if you contact me via my gmail address. I also had to purchase a new SIM card for my phone so my telephone number has changed from the first one given to me. Let me know if you want this information.

I know that Thanksgiving is just around the corner for you. Seems impossible to me that it is this time of the year. I seem to have lost the entire last year. I don’t intend to celebrate Thanksgiving in any special way. Seems like such an undertaking with the language barrier and all. Next year I will definitely cook! I hope you all have wonderful times with family and friends. Eat a bit of turkey and a piece of pecan pie for me. Well my friends, I have much to do and I’d best get with it. Til next time. Bslama

Friday, November 6, 2009

November 6th Update

THE CONTENTS OF THIS WEB SITE ARE MINE PERSONALLY AND DO NOT REFLECT ANY POSITION OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT OR THE PEACE CORPS. Since this site is public, specific details are not given so email me personally if you’d like more information.

10/26/09-11/1/09 - My time here is almost over. Only a week left at this site. In some respects the time has flown, and at other times it seems like I left Chicago so very long ago. I’ve had a cold for over two weeks now and I’m tired and feeling a bit old and out of sorts. Hopefully the antibiotics the doctor has put me on will knock the cold out and I’ll be back to my shining self soon!!

Today is again Sunday and souq day. It is the event of the week here and everyone looks forward to it. It reminds me of a big flea market so picture this in your mind. Guess the main difference is that they sell fresh meat. And, I mean fresh meat – they kill and clean it on the spot. Considering the fact that refrigeration is not a big thing here, this is probably the best possible choice for purchasing meat. I do wonder what they do with all they can’t eat, and I chose to believe they divide it up among the many relatives that surround them. I can’t think too much about the kitchen/food process or I won’t be able to eat and this is a HUGE statement for me to make – “can’t eat”!!! One more reason I can’t wait to get to my own home where I can control the conditions, at least to some extent.

Granted we have the big interview/language evaluation/assessment scheduled for November 6th, wherein they ascertain that we are worthy candidates to be sworn in as official PC volunteers, I am fairly certain that the remaining 57 of us will move forward. People like me will have to sign a contract agreeing to language tutoring, and the PC will pay for this for a period of time. We do have to find our own tutors and hopefully I can find one in my town. My Tashlheet needs a lot of work, so I have a job cut out for me because I have a long ways to go. We will leave out host homes on November 8th and the entire group will meet at another location for more training prior to our official swearing in on November 12th. We then move to our permanent site on November 13th and it looks to be a two day trek getting there via buses and cabs.

My site -- At this point I really don’t know that much about it. I had a short conversation with the volunteer that has been there, about to leave and she has enjoyed it a lot. I will have one day with Amy and I told her, we might have to do an all-nighter so she can tell me everything I need to know. I am southeast of Marrakech and in the Ouarzazate region. It is a mountain town of about 3,000 people. I do have a post office in town, but no banks, cyber café’s, or supermarkets. My primary job will be to work with the goat cheese and saffron cooperatives. I’m told I will have water and electricity 24/7 – hurray!! (Again, I really don’t know what those statements mean since I was told I would have water at this site and in fact I do, but they neglected to tell me it was only pumped into town twice a week and that you had to store it for future use to have it every day.) Amy also tells me I can buy a satellite internet connection (jump drive) and for an additional monthly fee I can have the internet in my home. I am intending to do this, even though I will have to pay for it out of my pocket. Otherwise, the closest internet connection is about an hour away and I find I hate being this disconnected. Contact me via my gmail address if you would like my specifics about my new home address. You’ll need it to find me when you come to visit .

We continue to study vocabulary, verbs, phrases, culture & customs. Soooo much for this old head to remember. I feel like my head is swimming at the moment and even those things I thought I once knew no longer come to mind. I’m hoping that once this cold is gone and I’m settled somewhere I’ll find that I really have absorbed something! We recently were given some words of harassment to be aware of and I found a few of them to be very entertaining. Now wouldn’t you be flattered if someone said to you – aHatasa – you are my liver, or tlla kra n lviza – give me a visa.

Since yesterday was Halloween, we had a party for the children in our host families at our school. Well it was intended to be for those children, but the word got out that there was a party in town and they were flocking in like sheep. The more the merrier, but it did cut down on the number of pieces of candy the children got when they went trick-or-treating. The children had no idea what kind of party they were coming to since they have never heard of this holiday. We purchased a pumpkin and carved a Jack-O-Lantern. We played pin the nose on the pumpkin, bobbed for apples, played hot potato (complete with me being the music – eee gads), and had them make masks out of paper plates so that they could go trick-or-treating from room to room in our school. The party was a success and LOTS of children returned home happy from the new experience.

Granted my current town is very small, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised that not only do the women greet us with a s-salom, but most of the men too. Something I did not expect and I’m sure I won’t find this everywhere. Interesting side note with re to my host dad. If he should be outside the café (remember, women are not allowed in the café) when I come home, he will not make eye contact with me or say hello. Once behind closed doors, he is a very friendly guy, affectionate with his children and I’ve seen him pat his wife. I have also noticed that if he is sitting outside with some older men and they speak to me first, he then acknowledges me. My host dad is very conservative and would not allow 5 year old Selma to attend the pre-school that opened this year, and believe me she could use some discipline. There are no requirements that any child attend school, but I am hopeful she will be allowed to go to the regular school next year. If a girl goes to school, she generally goes through 6th grade and some boys attend school through 9th grade. If a boy wants to continue with school, he will have to move to another town to do so and the probability is not great that he will be allowed to do this. My host mom attended school for a while and I’m guessing my host dad did not go long, since he usually has her do the reading if there is something that needs to be read.

When visiting Ecuador earlier this year, loud roosters frequently woke up and you can bet we complained about it. No comparison – Morocco’s roosters have them beat. I don’t know how many roosters are out there crowing in the morning, but enough to wake up an army I think. Combine this with the donkeys braying and I wake up to a real concert most mornings. I’m naturally an early riser, but they usually start my day a bit earlier than I would prefer. Not only do I start most mornings early, my nights are frequently interrupted by a thousand (at least it seems like a thousand) barking dogs. Lots of wild/stray dogs running around. They are skinny, look hungry and are covered with ticks and fleas. A friend in another town saw a pack of dogs attack a donkey. Perhaps this is why we are asked to be in by dark? I’m told the police come in occasionally to shoot them in an attempt to keep the numbers down. Makes me sad to see them and to think of their lives. On the whole, American dogs have it made in the shade.

Still warm and sunny here. I may miss this nice weather when I get to my next town so send me warm thoughts. Until I write again. Bslama.