Sunday, February 21, 2010

February Update (Finally)

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.

2/20/10 - I was away from site for 21 days in total – great to be home again. I had hoped to return to my small mountain town and find that spring had arrived. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Rain/snow and cold temperatures greeted me. Luckily the mountain pass (tiska) was open and buses could run and I made it home okay. The weather has continued to be winter-like since my return and for some reason the cold seems more intense now. I’ve even pulled out my down sleeping bag for sleeping purposes since I can’t seem to get warm. Let’s hope for an early spring.

I left my site on January 28th and met up with my friend, Donna in Kech. Seems I can’t go anywhere north that doesn’t go through Kech. We spent the afternoon exploring more new places and had dinner at an African restaurant - the name of which escapes me at this moment. Seasoned chicken and vegetables served over rice. It was great!! Not a late night for us, since we needed to be at the bus station for a 7 hour bus ride early the next morning.

We head northeast of Kech with the destination being Khenifra. Our friend Annie lives here and we plan to spend a day and a half with her at her site. The town itself is nothing special, but it is very nice and has everything you might need. They have a Sam’s and a Costco (not really, but they have nicknamed several stores these names since they are so well stocked) . Remember those pictures of my cement house – you should see Annie’s. Lovely painted walls and tile work throughout. Even marble countertops in the kitchen. She has it rough!! Guess that is one of the advantages of living in a small city. We visit her hammam on Sunday morning. It’s new and very clean. (The hammam in my town is hot, but looks dirty and lots of mold. Kind of creeps me out when I go there.) FYI - the hamman is a public bath. Your underpants are generally left on, but everything else is removed. There are three rooms, each one being a different temperature. It is steamy and hot. Buckets of hot water are available to pour over yourself. Once you are really sweating, you scrub yourself (sometimes other women want to help scrub you too – maybe I look that dirty?) with a very rough textured mitt. Old skin does roll off when you use one of these mitts!! I think it could draw blood. I can’t say that a hammam is refreshing, but it is relaxing and we certainly felt clean when we left. Annie was a wonderful hostess and a good time was had.

Now for the purpose of this trip – we have two weeks of post-PCV training. The entire group of us that came in September is together. We have lost nine people already for varying reasons, but most were voluntary early terminations. We are in the Middle Atlas Region and on one side are cedar and pine forests and on the opposite high meadows. It is a relaxing spot to unwind. The area is particularly known for its Berber carpets. The hotel is in a quiet, wooded spot, with a beautiful garden, just a short walk from the town. We obviously share rooms, but we have private showers with hot water, and towels, soap and toilet paper are provided. We are living high!!! This training was on the whole great. It was energizing and inspiring. We shared stories of our sites, frustrations and expectations. Most presentations were from current volunteers so they had great relevancy. They gave us suggestions, directions, advice and just plain “how to do”, hands-on experiences to relate to. We all left it thinking/believing that - we can do this too. Another good thing to come of this training is that I passed that darn language test. I am so glad I am over that hurdle. I still have a lot of learning the language ahead of me, and I will continue to meet with tutors, but that pressure is off. Whooo Hoooo.

We were given the weekend off between the two weeks of training and some of us went to Fez for that weekend. I have posted several pictures of Fez. See that rather close-up photo of Donna and me, see if you can read the sign behind us. Fez is said to be the spiritual and cultural centre of Morocco. Did you know that Morocco created the world’s first university (Kairaouine Mosque & University) centuries before Oxford and Cambridge? This mosque is also the largest mosque in Africa. The medina draws you in – narrow lanes, covered bazaars filled with aromatic food stands, craft workshops, mosques and a continual parade of people. Blind alleys lead to squares with fountains or they are filled with the hammering music of copper beaters. Getting lost in Fez is easy and that is part of the fun. You can’t visit Fez and not visit the tanneries. As you get deeper into the medina, just follow the stench of hide and dye and you will arrive in the leather district. Pits are everywhere filled with different colored dyes. Men are working in these pits stomping on the hides (as you would visualize stomping on grapes) - gosh what an awful job to have. Not only does the job REALLY stink, but to be that wet every day. Hides are drying on rooftops and hanging on walls. I’ve posted a picture of this. Interesting to see, but not where you would want to spend a lot of time. We had lunch one day at the restaurant talked about in the book “A House in Fez”. It is called Clock CafĂ©, although it is not called this in the book. That was fun since it was the book I read just before I left for Morocco. I love Fez and look forward to going back and spending more time exploring in the future.

Training ended on February 12th and a few of us traveled to Meknes on the 13th. I’m told you will either love Fez and hate Meknes or vice versa. Gotta say, I’m staying with loving Fez. Meknes is billed to be a smaller version of Fez, more laid back and with less hassle. It’s okay, just didn’t excite me too much. We did stumble across a wonderful carpet store though where the owner was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. I fell in love with a carpet of Fez colors (aqua, yellow and cobalt blue). I might just have to return to Meknes one day.

Just north of Meknes are the Roman ruins of Volubilis (picture posted). It is a wonderful archaeological site with many beautiful mosaics still preserved on the site. This site was settled by Carthaginian traders in the 3rd century. We just wondered at will, but next time I’m back I’ll take the tour to hear more of the stories. I know that this is a place that my son, Chris, will enjoy when he comes for a visit.

Everyone else headed home and I headed into Rabat for a GAD (Gender and Diversity) meeting. There are three of us new members joining the group. We visited the Association Feministe Autonome center one afternoon. They work with and help women in many ways (i.e., counseling, legal advice, finding refuge from dangerous home situations). They have three offices (Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech). The meeting was conducted in French and it was translated into English for us since we have all learned different Moroccan Arabic dialects. It was an interesting meeting and it is staffed with dedicated individuals. International Women’s Day is March 8th and we as a committee are encouraging our sites to recognize the work that women do and the contributions they make to the world. I am planning to host a morning tea for the women at the association and for the girls that attend classes there. I’m feeling pretty inspired and ambitious at the moment, and would like to later host something for the ladies that live near me. I’ll have to see if that mood continues.

On Wednesday, February 17th I began the trek back home, via Kech, of course. I had the company of a couple of other GAD members, so we just bummed around the afternoon and ate our way through the medina. Boarded a bus early on the 18th and I was homeward bound. Contracted a bit of a bug somewhere and felt quite miserable by the time I actually arrived home, but did arrive without making a mess on the bus. Literally dumped my wet stuff out of bags and went to bed. Slept eighteen hours with the exception of a few bathroom breaks, and now feel back to normal, thank goodness.

I am planning to attend a cheese making workshop later this week. It is a two day workshop, and it is being taught in English by another volunteer. I figure I need to know and understand the basics of cheese making before I even attempt to make recommendations to my association. I have ideas to propose, but need time to experiment and play a bit before I share them. Unfortunately, the workshop is a five hour bus trip away, so I’ll be away from site for another four days when you consider travel time.

The Peace Corps has three goals for its volunteers – briefly they are – (1) help people in meeting their needs for trained men and women, (2) help promote a better understanding of the American people to the peoples served, and (3) help promote a better understanding of the people you are living with to Americans. So far I haven’t done much with goal number 1, but I have thoughts and ideas and I think I’ve done pretty good with the other goals. It is easy to get frustrated and wonder what you are accomplishing. I have to remind myself that the date/nut bread that I baked this afternoon that I intend to share with lots of other people tomorrow is part of the purpose of my being here.

Hopefully the next time I write I will say “spring has arrived”. Until then stay safe, warm and take care. Bslama and Hugs, Linda