Thursday, June 3, 2010

June Jottings

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6/3/10 - Happy June. I always feel that summer starts now. Fajiji…… Let the fun begin!! Oh sorry, I think we’ve been having fun all along haven’t we? I haven't a clue whether pictures will post this time or not. My satellite connection is sometimes slow and I lose my connection frequently. I never received a "confirmed" on the photo's, so who knows??? If not, I will try to post at a later time.  

I’ve been staying close to my site for the past few weeks. Not a bad thing, since it looks like I will be away for a good part of June with little internet access so my g-mail email replies may be slow in coming. I’ve done the usual trips into Ouarzazate since that is where the bank and super marchie is located and I was invited to speak on a diversity panel about what it is like to be an older volunteer, but this is a day trip and quite doable. Granted, we usually have to hussle to get everything done, because if we aren’t at the taxi stand by 3p, it is unlikely we will be able to catch a taxi to our site that day. We can get to Anna’s town okay, but getting to my town at that time of the day is tough. And, you have to take into consideration that the market and most business close from about 12:30-3p for lunch. The restaurants are open during this time, so the plan is for lunch then too and then trek to the taxi stand and head home.

Lots of general observations in this update.

I usually spend at least part of each day at the association. I flit from dar alouma (baby’s center), to the restaurant and to the cheese making part of the association spreading good cheer and passing out hugs. I think they’ve come to expect and look forward to my morning rituals, or I’m delusional and they only tolerate me!! I’ve flavored some cheese for a hotel in Ouarzazate, another restaurant and a few people, but not really much happening otherwise. I have to keep reminding myself. Things move very slowly here…… this might never take off or it may be close to the time I leave before I see any real results. Baby steps – baby steps. I’m told that the local women do not want to learn how to flavor the cheese unless they are paid more since more is charged for the flavored cheese. My counterpart says there is no money, so we may be at a standstill? I don’t get involved with the finances in any way. Can’t say whether we have money or not? Lack of money doesn’t seem to keep my counterpart in town. Seems like she is always traveling somewhere – for what? Otherwise, if there isn’t anything in particular I need to do, I sit in the classroom with the girls that are there for non-formal education and hope that some of their words stick in my mind. They seem to like having me just there. We usually take a walk in the countryside to break up the time.

On the whole this village is not unkind to animals, but they are certainly not treated as pets. I have befriended a beautiful dog (picture attached). He is frequently at the association and he follows me from building to building, and waits for me to give him one more pat. Now that he knows he can trust me, I can see that he is really quite young and he wants to play a bit. He romps and will mouth my hand. The locals gasp in fright when he does this and they actually hate it that he waits outside of the building for me. I have told them that they don’t have to like Gus (the name I’ve given him), and that they don’t have to touch him, but that they cannot be mean to him or throw stones at him. They think I’m nuts!!!

I stood in my kitchen one Friday night making pizza for dinner (who needs pepperoni when I’ve learned that onions, green peppers, tomatoes, spiced olives and just swiya (little bit) of cheese tastes great). Now a cold beer would be good though! My kitchen window is open and I hear the screams of children playing soccer (or football as they say here). Their ball is under-inflated, but they don’t seem to notice. Maybe it’s even easier to control it like this? It doesn’t roll quite as far this way. I could be in Kalamazoo and hear the same sounds. I would swear that I hear sounds like cheerleading chants, yet I really don’t believe this. They play until dark. It’s a good sound and it makes me smile. Children being children.

I am dependent on taxi’s for much of my transportation. One may come along right away or I might have to wait 1-2 hours for one. I am often times the only woman in a taxi filled with 5-10 men depending on the size of the taxi. I worried a bit about this initially, but I have not to date had an occurrence that scared me. There are several mid-20’s young men who drive taxi’s that I particularly like and they like me. They try to teach me Tashleheet and want English words in exchange. They look out for me I feel. I remember one day being in the middle seat of a taxi filled with men. Men were trying to talk to me. The taxi driver never had me out of his view in the mirror. Had the attempt at conversation been more than I could handle I feel certain he would have stepped in and stopped it. Since then, he more times than not sits me in the front seat next to him where he can more easily keep an eye on the situation. I assume he has shared this technique, since most of this young group of men normally place me in the front next to them. I appreciate their kindness and caring and I feel comfortable with them. They are looking out for me and I am glad.

Men -- a whole group of them meet twice daily. Usually around 8-8:30a or so they gather for coffee and cigarettes at the tables down on the main street. I have never seen a woman sitting at these tables in my village. They meet again after cass krute (5p tea) and stay until close to 8p. I assume they are catching up the day’s activities. Not sure that they really have this much to talk about, but guess they do. Many men work elsewhere to earn a living i.e., Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech. They come home for the holidays and stay up to 1-2 months when they come. Not sure what their employer does in their absence, but guess they have this worked out somehow? Because many men are gone, those men that remain seem to help out their neighbors with some of the field chores. Men seem to be in charge of tilling the soil using kind of a backward handled shovel. They bend over at the waist and spade away. It is back breaking work. They till the ground in patterns and I now see why – they irrigate this way. They open up on dirt trench for a time, and then pack the mud and open up another. Seems to work quite well. Granted we are talking garden sized fields. Not a lot of tillable soil compared to where I grew up. Men also seem to be charge of the planting since I remember my host dad throwing pea seeds about after he tilled last December. (We are now enjoying the fresh peas he planted - yum). Husain, my host dad is also a plumbee (plumber) and he gets involved with the water issues here in the village. And, you must remember my host dad is a really good guy – he was peeling potatoes in the cousina (kitchen) the last time I was there visiting. Not sure how many men help their wives out in this area? I’m guessing some of the younger generation that has had the opportunity to attend university has probably had to fend for himself and can get along in the kitchen just fine. Now do they put their talents to work when they marry or do they fall into the traditional roles?

Women – yeow…. They have a lot on their plate. They are expected to keep up the house, tend the children, attend to all the cooking and that includes making bread fresh every day. Many bake bread in these mud ovens (picture attached). Looks like one woman gets the fire going in her oven and the other women in the near vicinity come and bake their bread there. They take turns doing this and this is their social time it appears. They chat while the bread bakes. Unfortunately, they don’t have the opportunity to gather at the tables downtown and chat like the men folk do. Most do not have refrigerators, so meals are cooked fresh for each meal, no microwave warm-ups in these kitchens. Lunch is the typical big meal of the day and it is usually a tagine. (I’m attaching a picture of a tagine, but must admit this is a bit fancier than the typical one made at home. This tagine was prepared at Restaurant Bia, by a young man who worked in Marrakech for a bit of time and he learned how to make them attractive, as well as tasty.) The women also take care of the animals they may have. The lucky have at least one cow to milk. Butter is then made from some of it. My host family has several cows and two new calves, a donkey, 10 goats or so (my pet goat, Dulci, has grown up and is part of the group- I don’t want to think about his future), rabbits, chickens, dog, and cat, with kittens. Taking care of the animals involves cutting the grass for the animals to eat too. They are busy working in the fields when time allows cutting by hand and tying it together to dry (kind of like we would bale hay). I’ve seen them working before breakfast and until dark (picture attached, note the irrigating system too). They are also busy harvesting the grain now (I assume winter wheat and barley) that they will use for bread making, etc., in the coming months. If there are several women living in the same house, one seems to take over the chore of taking the animals to pasture. This means they sit and watch the animals eat for hours at a time. Can’t imagine doing that or what might go through their minds as they watch???

I decided to spend some of my stipend from National Geographic to buy cleaning supplies for the primary school, pre-school, and association. I’ve bought bleach, toilet brushes, disinfectant, sponges, soap dishes, soap, towels, pails for each water sprocket in the toilet areas so as to encourage a flush of water after use, etc. I’ve been delivering the baskets of goodies to each place and showing them how to actually use the cleanser and clean those dirty toilets. It seems to be shuma (shameful) to clean a toilet. Well for goodness sake, someone has to do it!! The girls at the association were very excited to have new supplies to use and eagerly helped me clean last week. I’m sure this novelty will wear off, but it doesn’t hurt for them to see me put the products to use. Yes, they even watched me clean the toilets and with a little luck at least they might be at least conscious of the filth. Baby steps – baby steps……

Most everyone takes an extended lunch hour for a nap after lunch until 3p or so. I’ve never been good at napping in the middle of the day, so instead, if the weather permits, I am on my rooftop soaking up the sun’s rays. You all know how I love to tan (yes I know it’s really not good for me) but I love it so. I’m gonna have a killer tan and unfortunately no one to appreciate it since I have to be pretty well covered up once I step out my front door. Hafida gasped when she saw that my legs were getting tan. Wonder what she would think if she could see the other parts of my body. No tan lines this year for me. A bit naughty on my part don’t you think?

I bought a washtub and mixed up a concoction of dirt and manure to grow flowers in. My host mom gave me some of her perennials she has in her garden. I think many of them will live, but they look a little shabby now. I came home one night and found that someone had planted several other varieties in my washtub too and had watered everything well. I don’t know who the garden angel is, but I would like to thank her. Will likely never know, but she obviously noticed that I like flowers and she wanted to contribute to my happiness.

I’ve done a couple of activities with the pre-schoolers these past two weeks. One day we took a long walk, up to the top, near my host family’s home, to let the kids run and play. I baked sugar cookies with colorful sprinkles on them as a treat. They were gobbled up. Today, I went to the pre-school and talked about oral hygiene. I put a lot of action and theatrics into this, to keep their attention, and demonstrated how to use a toothbrush. I had new toothbrushes for everyone, but first they had to promise me they would brush at least once every day and that they had to smile – really big, so that everyone could see their wonderful, clean teeth. Today I brought popcorn as a treat.

Nadia and Hafida (the girls that live downstairs) (picture attached, Nadia in solid blue) will leave my village in mid-June, (likely when I am still gone) to return home to their parents’ homes for the summer holiday. If they come back, and it is unlikely that they will since they seem to want to be closer to home, they will not be back until mid-September or so. Lots of Moroccans have the summers off – I am curious to see how the world survives without workers. I’m certain I will miss the girls, especially since Nadia acts as my interpreter when I need one. Nadia, some time ago, asked me what a hot dog was. Well I did my best to explain it. Then the same question about a hamburg. Since I know I can get kafta (ground beef) , albeit not in my village, I promised them an American summer meal. So yesterday I fixed hamburgs, complete with the pickles – eeeeck, I paid through the nose for these babies….. Also potato salad, baked beans (not quite as good as those I made in Kzoo), and a fruit salad for dessert. They were thrilled by the fuss made for them and seemed to like the lunch. Initially they took just swiya (a little) of everything, but I saw second, and even third helpings on the potato salad. I loved lunch, it was a real treat for me.

Well I have presentations to work on that I have to give next week, so I’d best get back to task. Until I write again, please take care. Bslama Linda

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