Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Spring!!! March Recap

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3/20/10 – Dare I say this ??? I think “spring has arrived” !!! The past ten days or so have been lovely and spring like. I’ve been told that anything can happen in March though so I am trying to keep my excitement under wraps – it might just snow tomorrow. Not a lot different than Michigan’s March this year I’m told. So I’m feeling right at home.

Time is flying – can’t tell you where the days go? Seems like I am busy and doing something all the time, but what am I accomplishing? Let me start where I left off.

I did attend the cheese making workshop and it was good. One of the second year volunteers taught the workshop. We had a bit of difficulty with getting the cheese to set up correctly, and several of the recipes took a couple of attempts, but we did make yoghurt, ricotta, feta, neufchatel, and gouda cheese. Lisa (the instructor) couldn’t determine exactly what the cause of our problem was – perhaps the elevation we were at, the milk we were using, temperatures in the kitchen, etc.? Making cheese (at least these cheeses) is really quite simple but it does take some time. I made ricotta last week and it turned out great. Doubt that I will really make cheese at home often, but I now understand the basics of cheese making at least. The workshop was held in a town near Boumalen which is located in another part of the mountains, east of Ouarzazate so it took me to a new part of Morocco also. (There are lots of caves in this area and nomads live in them) The workshop was primarily offered to the local women. The volunteer in that site wants to expose them to new things that they can do and she and two other volunteers received grant money to offer workshops to expose them to cheese making, soap making and how to make confiture . Ten women gave up two days of their time to attend the cheese workshop. They remained attentive and seemed interested in learning about this. After the cheese was made, we did a lot of sampling and we then incorporated some of it into recipes that we later ate. Lots of laughter and hugging was shared throughout the days we spent together too!!

Back home for a few days and then I was off again. I was invited to sit on a panel of volunteers to chat with the 71 new volunteers that arrived in country in early March. We were told to “tell it as it is” and I think we did a pretty good job of it (right down to how to use the Turkish toilets like the locals do). I was the only one from my volunteer group and I was the only “older” individual on the panel. Being so new myself I could really relate to the questions and concerns that they had. Five of these new volunteers are now at a training site near my home. They walked the 14k to my home on March 14th and spent the afternoon with me. They are experiencing the emotional roller-coaster of training and I think they needed an American mom’s hug. We sat on my rooftop and ate the banana walnut bread I baked and big bowl of popcorn that I popped and washed it down with kool-aid, while we soaked up the sunshine and rejuvenated our spirits. I assured them that life does get better once you are through training and you are in your own home.

After my time with the new volunteers, I met up with friends and we headed east of Ouarzazate on the souq bus for a day of travel to the Aoufouse area where we stayed at Emily and Sean’s house for the night. Emily is a great cook and she fed us well, complete with fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Sunday morning. What a treat!! They live in a beautiful part of the country and palmeries (groves of palm trees) were abundant. We had a nice walking tour of their small town and then headed towards Merzouga which is located right on the edge of the Sahara and you can see the Algerian border in the background. We then joined a small tour group and hopped on our camels for a trek into the desert. We all named our camels and I named mine – Cecil (picture included). Not only did he look like a Cecil to me, but that was my dad’s name and I think he would have so enjoyed this adventure. Cecil was quite well behaved, but Princess Sara had an attitude. She balked and threw quite a fit. Guess she wasn’t in the mood for a walk that day. We rode camels for about two hours and watched the sun set over the Sahara that night. We camped in Berber tents (picture included) that evening and a lovely dinner was provided. We attempted to climb the dunes that evening, but didn’t make it very far, but we so enjoyed the night. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a clear, star studded sky before. It was truly beautiful. After breakfast we boarded our camels once again and headed back. It was a trip well worth taking and I would recommend it if you should come visit me.

We then headed to the Tinerhir area where we spent time walking in the Gordes of Todra (picture included). A lovely area also where many hours could be spent hiking, but unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to do this. Definitely worth the stop and glad we made time for it. Lucky for us, Wes, another volunteer lives in the area and he graciously invited us to spend the night with him, so we crashed at his home that evening. Wes is one of those really outgoing guys and he works with youth development. I swear he knows everyone in his town and his town isn’t that small. We had a nice visit and it was great to see his site also.

I only had an afternoon at my site and then I headed to Rabat for a follow-up on some medical tests the next day. The tests were okay and I only had to spend a day in Rabat. Since we now have more hours of daylight, I decided to make the trip to and from Rabat a day trip only. Of course that meant 14 hours of travel on buses and trains each day, but it was sooo good to be home again.

On March 14th I had a National Geographic tour group (16 people) stop in my village for tea in a Berber home. Amy, the volunteer before me somehow got connected with this group and I was asked if I would like to continue. Of course I said “yes”. Anna (my site mate – she lives in a town near me) and Abdellah (one of my tutors) also helped. The host home put out quite a spread of goodies for morning tea and they seemed to enjoy having guests very much. It really involved very little on my part (I just had to meet, greet & hug – something I ‘m a natural at) and it was a win-win for all I think. The family was reimbursed for expenses plus $$ and I was given a stipend to spend in the community as I saw fit. What a great group of people and I think it was both educational and enjoyable for them. Two more tour groups will visit this spring, one in April and one in May.

The days at my site have been spent at the association. Can’t remember if I told you this, but we have a new baby’s center and restaurant to open. Government funding paid for the facilities and my counterpart Bia was instrumental in getting it done. She has been working very hard. Actually, the baby’s center opened March 9th and the restaurant opened March 17th (picture included). Both are beautiful and have such great potential. I’m not of the opinion that they should be opened quite yet, since there is still some basic work to do, but what do I know? Hopefully we will have water soon to flush the toilets and a driveway and parking lot. I spent time showing them how to set up the rooms and make beds. Moroccans typically don’t use sheets on their beds and instead wrap up in blankets, so this was new to them. I scrubbed toilets, sinks and showers and they were sparkly clean when I finished with them. Explained what food should be kept in the refrigerator, etc. The baby’s center has beds for eight moms and their babies (picture included) and we have had four already use it. We have a small hospital in the village and they will have their babies there and then they will move to the baby’s center for a few days of recuperation. It was primarily built for those women who live in the surrounding towns and hills so that they have a place to stay after giving birth. Looks to me like the mom’s family helps with the care, cooking and cleaning of the center while they are there. I spent yesterday picking up around the sites and then burning the pile of rubble. Interestingly, the young girls made the comment to me of “shame on you” for doing this kind of work. I replied that no work was shameful – everything needs to get done by someone. Perhaps in time they will follow my example? They are not to blame – culturally this is what they’ve been taught and small things like garbage being strewn about have very little significance and quite honestly they don’t see it.

I have been trying to host a morning tea for ladies to celebrate International Women’s Day, and have yet to get that done. I have a date planned and then it has to be changed for one reason or another. I hope to do it on Monday, March 22nd. I plan to make a pineapple upside down cake and oatmeal raisin cookies. Popcorn seems to be a real treat too, so will make a big bowl of that. I intend to talk to them about taking care of themselves and the importance of hygiene. I would love to give them all a toothbrush and maybe I’ll spend a bit of that stipend from National Geographic and do just that. I also have some simple stretching exercises I would like to show them. They work extremely hard and their bodies take the toll from it. A few minutes of stretching would make them feel so much better. Hopefully it will be fun too – fajiji as they say here in Morocco.

I will leave my site on March 25th and head off to volunteer at a spring camp for teenagers. It is a Moroccan government sponsored camp and the PC has been asked to help with it. It is an English immersion camp and I will be teaching English. As part of the experience, we are all assigned to teach about an English speaking country as well. I will be teaching about Kenya. Now what do I know about Kenya?? Not that much, but I have been googling and trying to prepare myself. Thank goodness for this laptop and my satellite connection. The camp I will be at is located east of Tangiers on the Mediterranean coast. It will take me about three days to travel there. The camp lasts until April 4th and then I will head home once again. Looks like Easter will be spent on the road this year. For many years I have hosted my family for the Easter holiday weekend in Kalamazoo. I will miss doing it this year, but will fondly remember all those fun times we had.

Well my friends. I have much to learn about Kenya, lesson plans to write and other things to do, so best get with it. I hope all is good with you, that you are well and that spring has come for you too. Happy Easter. Until the next time. Hugs, Linda