Thursday, April 22, 2010

April's News

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4/22/10 - It’s official – spring is here!!! The wind still howls from time to time, and it can still be quite chilly, but on the whole the weather has turned and it is lovely. In fact, so warm that the flies and mosquitoes are waking up and buzzing around my house already. I’m in the process of getting some screens made for my windows since I can’t stand the pests. I won’t keep them out entirely, but this will help. I waited three days last week for a carpenter to come measure the windows, finally I ran into him at the thanut (local grocery mart) and we walked together to my house. Maybe next week I’ll even get them put up? I brought a piece of screen with me from the US, but obviously not knowing what, if any, windows I might have I do not have enough. I have screened my kitchen & bathroom windows, but have three others to do. Our quality is much better and easier to work with, so thus I am soliciting help with the others.

Remember the tea I was trying to organize to celebrate International Women’s Day – well it finally happened in late March before I left for camp. 35 women came and I was thrilled. They enjoyed the treats that I baked and there was lots of chatter and laughter. I talked about the importance of good health and the need to take care of themselves because so many people depended on them. When I showed them some simple stretching exercises, you should have heard them. I kept reminding them – “hey I’m 60 and if I can do this, you can too.” Everyone went home with a new toothbrush in hand. (I’m beginning to think that oral hygiene may just be my project…… , the dentist I worked for so many years ago would be soooo proud!)

English immersion camp was fun, albeit exhausting, but I’m glad I participated. What a beautiful location (picture attached) It really did take about three days to get to the northern coast of Morocco and I traveled by taxi, bus and train. It could be done quicker, but when you have to coordinate schedules, it takes longer. My English class consisted of eight teen-age boys (picture attached). Yep, they were boys….. and I was told that I handled them very well and probably better than any of the other volunteers could have done. Perhaps it was helpful having had experience with Chris and his friends over the years! Actually they were quite dear and even the “too cool for school” guy participated as time went on. I had a different group of kids when I taught about Kenya and that was a mix of language abilities and ages. I found physical activities were a much better tool than an actual classroom setting with them, so we made masks, I cooked a Kenyan staple and we taste tested, drew Kenyan flags and ran long distance on the beach (ummm, they ran more than I did), etc. When the day came that they had to leave, you should have seen the tears – everyone was crying. They were either a very emotional group or we made more of an impact than we realized. There were six of us PCVers (beach picture attached) and we stayed in a dorm like setting. The Moroccan staff was great to work with. We went down to the docks on our last day there and purchased fresh fish from the boats and had them cooked for us. Yummm, delicious (picture attached)! Then we began the trek home…. on a day that happened to be the conclusion of a Moroccan holiday. Everything was full and there was standing room only on trains and buses. We should have just stayed on the beach for an extra day or two and then began the trek since the travel home would have been much easier. It was good to get home.

A National Geographic tour group stopped in my village again in April for morning tea in a Berber home. I think a good time was had by all and they found the experience interesting and fun. Another group will visit in May. I’ve decided that at least some of the stipend I am given for the visits will be spent on cleaning/hygiene products for the preschool, school and association. I am in the process of collecting baskets to organize toothbrushes, soap, bleach, scrub brushes, towels, toilet brushes, etc. I’d also like to buy the supplies to paint a world map on one of the walls of the school. Now, I have no artistic ability whatsoever, but I’m told we have a grid available to us, that will help with the process. Hopefully both of these projects will be helpful to the community.

A Moroccan PC representative from the small business sector came for a visit this month and we had the opportunity to sit down and talk with my counterpart – finally. Since I’m not fluent in this Tashlheet language, I had some very basic questions I wanted asked and answered and I greatly appreciated her assistance. I really wanted to know what the my counterpart’s expectations of me are and how I can help. As I’ve said, this cooperative has been up and running for quite some time. Basically it was decided that if we could diversify our cheese product that would be most helpful. I also commented on their embroidery work and the products they make. The work itself is beautiful, but no one I know would buy what they make. Hopefully we can make some modifications to their handiwork and make it sellable. Nothing, let me repeat, nothing happens fast here. Don’t expect to hear exciting news of great sales in the immediate future. Maybe before the time I leave we will see some results?

Addressing the need for cheese diversification, I came prepared….. I had played with cheese in my kitchen prior to this visit. I brought with me to this meeting four variations. My favorite was mint and honey – I called it Moroccan Mint Cheese. It is yummy. My second favorite was a spicy olive cheese. I think of both of these are “Moroccan” since both are dominant in this culture. I also made a parsley & chives cheese and a garlic cheese. My counterpart was very receptive to these variations and she really liked the spicy olive cheese. In fact, she is off to an expo in Meknes (near Fes) soon and she’d like to take a sampling of all four variations with her for taste testing. She’d like me to come too, but I haven’t decided if I’ll do this yet or not. It would involve two days of travel to get there, five days at the expo and two days to get home. That’s a lot of “together” time. There are so many other variations to the cheese I can think of, I’ll have to continue to experiment. I was delighted that my counterpart reacted as she did.

I did a quick trip into Marrakech a week ago. Went in on Saturday and came home on Sunday. A number of PCVers and their artisans had organized a craft fair there for the weekend. I didn’t have any artisans participating, but I wanted to see the fair and the products. Nicely done!! Annie, one of my PC friends also had family visiting from the states and a few of us were invited to their hotel for cocktails and conversation on Saturday night. A good time was had!

In so many ways living here doesn't feel that much different than being in the US. Maybe it only feels that way when I am in the comforts (if you will) of my own home? Being out and about is sometimes stressful, but when I am rested and feeling well, not such a big deal. Very hard to explain. I keep waiting for the time when I will feel bored. So far that hasn't happened. I have many things on my "to do" list and I'm still waiting for that time to do them. I think I used to accomplish more in a day than I'm doing now, but maybe not? Everything here is basic -- I wash clothes by hand and hang them out. I buy fresh and cook on/with devices that are not at the standards we are used to. I like to bake, but no hand mixer or even a suitable bowl and then you bake in an oven that doesn't have a temperature guide, so you are constantly turning and checking. My mattress rests on the floor, so getting out of bed some days is a challenge (but I'm so lucky to have a mattress), etc. We take so much for granted in the US, this is good for me and it is indeed a reality check.

There are three young girls (12ish) (picture of the girls on a recent hike is attached) that constantly ask that I make pizza for them so I recently did just that. One of them I know quite well since she is a neighbor of my host family and I saw her often when I was living with them. Another is rather quiet and shy but sweet and I like her. The third – not so much…. Well surprisingly, the third young woman was eager to eat pizza and was willing to dive in. She thoroughly enjoyed herself finishing the meal off with jello and cookies that I had baked. The young woman that I know well, took one bite of the pizza and wanted no more. Did I have a tagine (kind of a stewed meal)? That is what she is familiar with. She took one spoon of the jello and spit it out. She even picked the raisins out of the cookies. The shy, timid one was in the middle with her response to the meal. Interesting reactions and a bit unexpected. Since our lunch, the problematic girl has become my best friend and wants to taste anything that is considered American. She may be the one that has the most potential? Perhaps her unwillingness to just accept “whatever “ is her way of wanting and getting more?

With spring temperatures I have my windows open more now. Several donkeys are frequently tied in a field near my home. One in particular brays constantly. I’m told by the locals that when a donkey brays he is seeing the devil. We must have a lot of devils here!!! Personally I think he’s in need of something. Maybe water? I try to walk a pail of water down to him (actually a pail for each donkey) during the day. It seems to help. I could become an animal advocate here, although this area isn’t as bad as the area where I did my initial training and this could probably be said of all developing countries. But still I see too many animals in need of a good meal. It breaks my heart. I have to hold myself back. But, if they lose their survival instinct, how will they survive when I eventually leave? And, because a hungry animal is dangerous, I’m told they are poisoning some of them now to decrease the number of them that roam freely. I really can’t think about this too much.

The new volunteers that arrived in Morocco in March will soon be heading to their permanent sites. The five that are training nearby are coming for lunch on Sunday to celebrate the new adventure ahead of them. All are leaving this area to parts of Morocco unknown to me. I see more travel in my future  A new volunteer will be coming to a town near me. Perhaps I’ll have a new friend? She is coming for lunch and a visit so that we can set up her post office box, visit the gendarmes (police) and the local government official.

Tired of reading? Okay, enough for now. I hope this finds you all well and enjoying spring to the fullest. Until next time – take care. Linda