Thursday, January 21, 2010

Life in Morocco, Jan, 2010

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1/20/10 I have been in my own apartment for almost a month and I am loving it. I pay 600dh ($75) a month plus utilities, which I’m told will be about 20-30dh ($2.50-$4) per month although I’m expecting mine to be a bit more since I have the refrigerator. Now, I know that this sounds inexpensive, but remember I’m not making a lot of money here. Okay to live on, but not a lot of extra. I’ve posted some pictures of my apartment and they are never in the order that I load them, so guess you’ll have to figure out which is which and I’m sure you can do this. My apartment is much bigger and nicer than I ever expected it to be. I have a window in each room. I live on the second floor of a cement house that was built ten years ago or so. Two young women (late 20’s) , Nadia and Hafida live on the floor below. Both are here on government contracts and they get paid at the end of the contract in June. Their families support them in the meantime. They will both go home when their contracts are up for the summer and it is uncertain if they will be back or not? Nadia went to the university for three years and has a degree in English education. Unfortunately she has never had anyone to really practice the language with. She is one of my tutors for Tashlheet and I give her lots of opportunity to speak English. She works at the association (a/k/a cooperative and even though I know they are not the same they are referred to as one or the other depending on who you talk with). I’ll chat a bit more about her job later in the blog. Hafida did not go to college but she runs a daycare of 32 children single-handedly. I’m thinking this is kind of like our beginner kindergarten because not a lot of mom’s work outside the home so why the need for a daycare?? They both came from a town southwest of this town about six hours. I will miss them and hope they’ll return in the fall. They want to feed me and include me in anything they do which is very nice. I worried that they would invade my privacy and I think they would, but I have tried to set boundaries and explain in a nice way that I value and treasure the privacy my home gives me and to please not be offended because it isn’t anything personal. Do they totally understand this – NO, but they are trying hard. In Morocco there are often several generations of family living together. There can be 2-6 women in the house. I have yet to determine how they decide the hierarchy because it doesn’t necessarily follow age. The women gather and work and talk, talk, talk (sawl, sawl, sawl). Now I’m a talker, but I think they can out talk me!!

Apartment: Okay, back to my apartment. I bought about half my furnishings from Amy the volunteer I replaced. Amy didn’t necessarily like to cook, so the kitchen (l-kuzina) was pretty bare. I don’t have nearly the stockpile of food that I had in Michigan, but I do have most of the basics. I have the cooktop sitting on top of my oven sort of thing. It’s really like the broiler/toaster that I had in the 70’s, only larger. It seems to have one temperature, although you can kind of adjust the gas. You have to watch things closely or they burn. I have a buta tank of gas that I turn on/off as needed. You never leave it on and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woke up or went back to the house to double check if I have turned it off. I’m sure it will become second nature as time goes on, but for now I must remind myself to “turn it off”. The kids from my family and neighboring kids have made me pictures that I have posted on the kitchen wall to make it cheery. The kids are so proud to see their artwork displayed – something that doesn’t seem to be done here.

My parlor (tamsrit) was pretty well furnished. I’ve moved things around a bit, but I didn’t need to do much. Alone, I seldom use it (maybe I’ll use it more when it’s not so cold?) but I can comfortably sleep three guests if you don’t mind sharing a room.

My bedroom (bit n-n3as) pretty much had a mattress on the floor, and thankfully it is quite comfortable. I like to read in bed (and sometimes it’s the only warm place to be) so I bought a lamp and stool. I also bought a couple of plastic storage cabinets (dressers) for my clothes, etc. I have hooks nailed into the back of my door and this is my closet.

My dining room (l-bit nlmakla)was empty so everything you see I hauled up the hill. It’s a pleasant room and I usually sit here to work on the computer and study (when not in bed). Note the small sink in the corner. This is just outside my toilet area and is the bathroom sink, if you will. If you are lucky enough to have two sinks in he house (one in the kitchen and one for hand washing), it seems to always have this placement. I now have a big map of Morocco on the wall where I’m tracking the trails I travel. On the other wall is a map of the world. People get a kick out of seeing this and they have little concept of where Morocco is in relation to anywhere else. I haven’t decided where I will put my Michigan map yet.

Last, but not least is my bathroom (bit l-ma). It is very basic and functional and much cleaner than most I’ve seen in Morocco. At the far end is the Turkish toilet. Thank goodness I have good knees, but my stance must be lopsided because I frequently have wet crocs (my bathroom shoes that are easy to wash). I hope to perfect this in the next two years. Amy put in a shower and a hot water heater (you turn on the buta gas and it heats on demand – must remember to turn it off). I stand in the tub to better control the water flow and frequently wash a few clothes with the gathered water when I’m finished. Waste not, want not. Heck it’s cleaner than the water I used for the first three months here. I am very lucky to have a hot shower, most do not.

One of my favoritist spots in the house in my rooftop (azur) and I don’t even have a picture of it. Most Moroccan houses have flat roofs and we dry our clothes up there. My roof is cement, pretty clean and there are snow capped Atlas mountains surrounding me right now. If the wind isn’t blowing I frequently sit up there to enjoy the sunshine and the view. I foresee sun bathing and summer evenings don’t you?

So my friends, as you can see my living conditions are really pretty good. Much better than expected or hoped for and not all volunteers can say this.

Weather & Travel: Several weeks ago winter hit with a vengeance. It was gloomy and the wind howled for days (my windows are not necessarily a good thing when this happens). It snowed and accumulated. We didn’t receive too much in my village, but the higher elevations got lots and the main road between Kech and Oz was closed. I was friggin freezing. Can’t tell you how many layers I had on, but my top layer was my knee length down coat and this was while I was in the house. I couldn’t quit shaking one afternoon. My best friend became my hot water bottle. I took it everywhere with me. Time to get out of Dodge!!! Actually this coordinated with a planned trip to Rabat for the week of January 11th, so it worked well. I traveled 1.5 hours to Oz by taxi (25d-$3) and then boarded a bus (90dh-$10+) to Agadir (southwest of me, on the Atlantic Coast) to meet up with some friends for the weekend. I arrived around 7p for a total travel time of eleven hours. We basically played the tourist for the weekend. Splurged on the hotel and paid 100dh-$13 each, but we had a private bath and shower. What luxury and it felt like the Ritz! It had a small balcony which was perfect for happy hour and the pub we found later topped off the evening. Agadir was pretty well destroyed by an earthquake in the 80’s and many people died. They bulldozed the rubble and the bodies together into a mass grave making a mound. A sign is now on this mound, kind of like “Hollywood” in LA. Agadir was then rebult so it is new, very French and very lovely. I enjoyed my time with friends and had lots of chuckles and laughs.

On Monday I road the bus for four hours to Kech. Making connections work here is nearly impossible, so spent the night there in a great little hotel. It had quirky tile and bright, colorful paint throughout. My single room was (60dh-$7), but of course the toilet and shower were in the hallway to be shared by all. It is located very near the market square though so lots of activity going on.

I boarded the train for a 5 hr trip into Rabat on Tuesday ( 138dh-$17). I bought a senior citizen discount pass last September so I can ride 1st class for about the same price as others travel on 2nd class. The cabins are clean and comfortable. Rabat is a city, albeit a clean city. I stayed in a hotel very near the train station so that was convenient. I spent the afternoon exploring thy market and came upon a really cool cemetery overlooking the ocean. The head stones were tiled, or painted and just old. What a wonderful resting place and what a view!! The purpose of the trip to Rabat was for a couple of follow-up medical exams so I spent the 13th running around Rabat in taxi’s. My eye pressure is my “normal” and I’m expecting the lab report to be normal too. I will return in six months for my next follow-up.

Back on the train to Kech on Thursday. I found the Artisant Center that afternoon. This structure houses different cooperatives and associations products from around Morocoo. All items are for sale and at a fair price. Best thing about this center is that the money goes directly for the crafts person and not to the middleman as when it is sold in the market. I saw many things I liked but resisted. After all, I’m here for two years.

Friday I boarded the bus for home. Couldn’t wait to get here, however humble it may be. I arrived mid-afternoon. Schedules have no relevance or importance here. Fun to be away, but oh soooo good to be home. I luckily arrived to lovely weather. Sunny, warm and it has remained so. Can’t believe it is here for good, it is still January, but I’ve been outside and taking advantage of it whenever I can.

Language: I continue to struggle with the language. I tutor with two tutors for a total of about five hours a week. Obviously I am making progress and I know a lot of words, but verbalizing it and understanding the spoken words is where the problems come into play. So many subtle sounds and all the throat and tongue stuff – eeeck. I function fine and get what I need. People respond to me, my smile and my hugs. Why does the PC need me to really converse??? Because…….

Cooperative: My counterpart at the cooperative is a strong, independent, illiterate 47 year old woman. She has done some very good things for my small town. She is not well liked and her management style is a bit rough, but she does bulldoze through and get things done (albeit ever so slowly because that seems to be the way it is done here). I have been with her several times since I’ve arrived, but have purposely kept a bit of distance til my language skills are better. I’ve been told she will “eat me alive”. Amy was 24 years old when she left here and she requested a “mature” replacement so they sent this 60 year old. I actually have a lot of applicable experience (obviously business, but also restaurant/health department, comfortable in kitchens and quite a seamstress in my day, experience with children and young adults) so eventually I do think I can make a contribution (if they (she) will listen) I wanted a firmer stand before I really dove in. This is not abnormal actually for volunteers to do. Most are not involved for the first six months at the site and in the second six months they begin to get their feet wet.

I decided this week is the week I would begin to learn some of the process, so on January 18th I went to the cooperative. This is the day when the milk is gathered from women. I learn that because of a draught in the last few years a lot of the goats died and the cheese is now a blend of goat and cow milk. This compromises the cheese and it is not nearly as “special” of a product. Everyone is illiterate, but they have their own method of keeping track of who brings what. They have heard of accounting systems and would like one, but I don’t know quite how to do that will the background they have at this time. Cheese from the previous week is weighed and wrapped in saran wrap. I get the saran wrap detail. Gosh how I hate that stuff, it is always sticking to something it shouldn’t! I have my fill of saran wrap and move to dish detail (YES FAMILY – DISH DETAIL), except we don’t have any water. The faucet is broken and it must be hand carried in a bucket from next door. We don’t have soap or bleach for that matter. I heat water in kettles and wash with something? This is crazy – the health department would have a hayday here! Tuesday I go and package the cheese to be sold. They use a white paper stamped with their logo and date stamp it out fifteen days and then more saran wrap (I might be good at this in time). I tell my counterpart that she needs to call my host dad, Hussain, because he is a plumber (and her brother) that the water faucet (robini) must be fixed. She says she will do this. I know that money is an issue, but isn’t this a necessity?

On Wednesday they deliver the cheese to Oz and I’ve been asked if I’d like to come along. One woman is planning to take a large cooler and another container by herself. I say okay (waxxa) and today I am in Oz with her. I am at the cooperative at 7a to get the cheese from the refrigerator into coolers. We empty one refrigerator and I notice that the freezer door won’t close because of the frost. I think it’s been years since it was defrosted. Since it is empty, I unplug it and open the doors. Yes, there will be water on the floor, but the freezer door may close tomorrow. We first stop at what looks like a wholesalers where I think they take 10 (kilo’s?) We then walk to the two supermarkets in town. The date stamp has smeared because of the moist cheese and the first market will only take those packages that can be clearly read. The others store doesn’t seem to mind they take some and we finish up at a pre-school where they take everything we have left. So far for Mon-Wed of this week one woman has done it all (not my counterpart). Of course, this week I was there to help her. We worked pretty full days the two of us. How many hours would she have worked alone? Is this an unusual week or the norm? I’ve been told that the women take turns and rotate months. They are fully responsible for the process when it is their month. Some women are better at this than others. I’ve been asked if I can come tomorrow to help with the cheese again. I will probably do so since I want to see how a full week works. I don’t mind helping and it’s important for me to see the process, but I am not here to be cheap labor so I’ll not make a habit of always being available to lend a helping hand. I have a lot of thoughts and opinions at this time, but will late until a later time to expound on them.

There are other parts of the cooperative that do embroidery, weaving and non-formal education (this is where Nadia, the girl that lives downstairs fits in). She runs a classroom of sorts teaching language, math, etc., and computer skills to young women who did not continue their education. Typically 1-7 girls attend class. My town has a primary school and most children attend through grade 6. If they want to continue beyond this they must go to the next town and most do not. In fact only a few boys continue on, although they are more likely to have the opportunity.

A bonus for the day is that we have lunch at the woman I’m with, sister’s house (what an awkward sentence – sorry). Her youngest daughter is also living with this woman because she is one of the lucky ones and is going to high school. I didn’t totally figure out who all the women were, but there were nine females who had lunch together. Some were teen-age girls. What a great lunch -- they had this eggplant and tomato hot dish – yum, and a huge salad of beets, carrots, potatoes, cucumbers all arranged around a pile of cold rice. Not only was it artistically arranged on this platter, it was good too. Of course lots of bread was served. Some sort of frothy fruit drink was served and we topped off the lunch with oranges. Unfortunately, it was about 3p when we were about to leave and it’s not a good time to catch transport back to our town. We waited about 1.5 hours (and I wrote this, longhand, and later put it on the computer) for a local bus to come along. I see lots of trucks pass by with room in that passenger seat for me. I remember them to be a good ride and I used to be good at this. They can’t see my age, only my blond hair from their truck’s vantage point. Bet I could get there faster my way. No, don’t worry I won’t do that and besides PC forbids it!! My day began at 6a and I’ve been up, out, about and traveling for twelve hours. I’m tired. Much time in Morocco is spent waiting. I hope I become better at this.

On January 28th I will leave my site until February 18th. The group of volunteers that arrived here together in September have post training in a town quite a ways north of here for two weeks and then I’ll travel for a GAD meeting immediately following it. I’m uncertain if I’ll take my laptop with me, so I might be offline until I get back so don’t worry if I don’t respond immediately. So until I write again – take are everyone and Happy Valentine’s day to you. Bslama and Hugs. Linda


  1. Fascinating reading! This will be your diary, right?

  2. You've got such a great attitude about everything Linda. I'm so glad your house is comfortable.

  3. oh linda! you convey your new world with such color and nice of you to share it with us. i am so happy you are adapting! and at some point very soon you will have a language may even happen before you are aware that it has :) bright blessings to you, my friend. your caring nature is such a gift!!!