Wednesday, November 10, 2010

All About October

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11/9/10 Well Elaine, my hitch-hiking friend from years long past, has come and gone. She arrived on October 15th and returned home on the 26th. We did a fast trek around Morocco (my village, Marrakech, Meknes, Volubillis, and Fes), and even fit in a camel ride and a camp-out in the Sahara in the MHamid area. I’ve asked Elaine to write a short note telling you of her impressions and about the trip since I thought you might enjoy this. Below is what she wrote:

“I still am on a high from the trip. Thank you very much for everything you did. Your knowledge of the country, customs, etc. was very helpful. And, your making all the hotel reservations and knowing how to get from city to city was stress free. I REALLY had a great time. Hope you did as well.

What can I say to summarize such a memorable experience - the Mococcan people are so warm and hospitable, the country and history interesting, the weather perfect, the food delicious, and the trip was priceless. Everyone we met and every place we visited has it's own story and rememberances. What a great vacation! What a memorable experience! What an unforgetable adventure!”

We had a good time together and it was sad to see her leave, but I was ready to head home and stay put for a while. Traveling in Morocco is exhausting. Nothing is particularly easy and you can never be sure of the transport, so it’s always a worry of sorts. Carrying the heavy backpack and an additional bag or two is a challenge at times too. But it was an enjoyable trip and we all lived through it. Now another trip is planned and it’s exciting news -- just last week the plans for my son, Chris’s visit were finalized. He will leave Chicago on February 25th and fly to Madrid. Spend a few days there and then come into Marrakech. He’ll then return to Madrid from Tangiers and then back to Chicago on March 13th. I have quite an itinerary planned and he’ll return tired, not rested, I’m afraid, but he’s young so he can do! I am so excited for his visit, I could jump up and down, but that hurts my knee, so I won’t. I can’t wait to show him off and there are so many people I want him to meet.

Speaking of my knee. The PC doctors seem to think it is tendonitis, not a torn meniscus, which is good news indeed. X-rays were done, and although I’m not entirely convinced this is the best diagnostic tool available, we will go with this diagnosis for now. I was instructed to rest the knee as much as possible. Well, since Elaine was soon to arrive, not possible to do so immediately, but once back to my site on the afternoon of the 26th, I have been doing so as much as possible. I am happy to report that my knee definitely feels better. Not 100% mind you, and I can make it hurt, but as long as I just walk and don’t twist and turn while doing so, it’s okay. I will continue to be kind to my knee whenever possible and hopefully it will be back to normal soon.

One of my greatest pleasures of late is having my morning coffee on my rooftop. I love crisp, cool mornings and they are definitely that, but oh so pleasant. I’m a natural early-riser, so I am usually up there before some of my community is out and about. It is great fun to watch my village wake-up. I have one neighbor lady that has obviously observed me up there. She almost always comes to her rooftop, just to say good morning to me I think since I never see her do anything while there, other than to greet me and then she returns downstairs to her home. I love it. School children walk to school past my home and now look up to wave and say good morning too. Cows have been milked and the couple of liters of milk that they got this morning are walked down to the street, to be picked up and processed. They are paid 5dirham for about a liter and a half of milk (8 dirham equals $1). I like it that most people look up to see if I’m there now and then they greet me.

This morning as I was looking up, about 25 sheep magically appeared at the tip-top of a hill near me looking for grass to eat. A woman was out with them. Pretty slim pickins in these hills, but most seem to survive. We are dry and rocky and overgrazed. Few trees since most have been cut and have not replanted. Lots of barren hills can be seen here. Speaking of the sheep and this woman. Can you imagine being a herder? A person (sometimes a man, but usually a woman) will take animals out each day looking for something for them to eat. They will sit all day and watch their animals. They don’t read, knit or do anything other than watch their animals. Sometimes they meet up with another person also herding and they’ll have a conversation, but generally they are alone. What are they thinking about? Do they want a different life or are they satisfied? A very different world from what we live in for sure. I always visualize Heidi running over the hill yelling “Grandfather, Grandfather” when I see this. Can’t you just see it in the movie now?

Most days are sunny with bright blue skies. A light jacket usually feels good. I don’t know what the temperature is? Elaine brought me a thermometer, but since it hasn’t moved off of 60 degrees, I am a bit suspicious of it. When the wind blows – it howls and makes me shiver to just hear it. My apartment is a bit drafty, the wind coming in under my door can raise the mat under my white plastic table eight inches or so. I’m thinking I need to stuff that crack with something, but what do I do about the edges and top? The leaves of the trees are changing colors, but nothing as vibrant and beautiful as Michigan’s colors can be. Lately, the sound of men yelling commands to their donkeys fill the air. One man has worked with his two donkeys all day today, tilling first this spot, then another, then another. The donkeys seem to understand Tashlheet – they are much smarter than I am!!  Soon they will be throwing seeds hither and yon so that they have a spring harvest – a bit of barley, some peas, perhaps some alfalfa?

I find that I love a goat’s face. They look so wise, don’t you think? Now, I know that I loved Dulcie from the minute I set eyes on him – remember my pet goat up at my host family’s house last year? Luckily he has remained a bit scrawny, so he’s not been eaten yet, and hopefully they won’t do so until after I’ve left next year. Lately, some goats have been tied out near my apartment to graze. When I go up to my rooftop to wash/hang clothes, do whatever, they all stop and look at me. I’m guessing they are wondering what is that thing with the light colored hair? They could win a stare-down, hands down. I’m as fascinated with them as they are with me. Have I been here too long – here I am thinking about a goat’s face?

Speaking of faces – would you check out this puppy. Angelica, a volunteer in a nearby village, decided that she would adopt a puppy. This little guy was one of six, and unfortunately the other five are now all dead. Originally the puppy was named Waldo, but we’ve since learned that a new name was in order – so Lily Luna it now is. I get the opportunity to babysit this week since Angelica needs to go to Rabat. I’m betting I’ll be ready for the puppy to head home, but I’m very excited now about the prospect of having this little gal visit for a few days.

Two National Geographic groups came to visit in October and this time they visited a home in Anna’s village. Unfortunately, one group came while Elaine was here, and even though we hitched a ride from Marrakech to my village with them, and we had the chance to visit while on the bus, the visit was short. Both groups again enjoyed the opportunity to experience a real Berber home. We only wish we had a bit more time to show them the communities we live in as well.

Here is a picture of Nadia taken at the baby’s center. Moroccan women seldom use hot pads or spatulas for that matter. I cringe every time I see them pick up something hot with their fingers. Can you do this? We’ve had over a hundred babies stay in our baby’s center since it opened in March. Not bad I’d say for a small community. Water continues to be a problem though. Sometimes we have it and sometimes we don’t. Unfortunately, the western toilets and shower that we have, have never been used since the water supply is so sporadic. I went with my counterpart this summer into Ouarzazate to talk with some officials about this, but so far nothing has been done to fix the problem. We are still waiting for our first customer at the restaurant – remember we opened in late March. But in a way, that’s not all bad. Water is also an issue here too and the western toilet has never worked. Think it needs a new bottom seal and perhaps a tank too, but first we need water on a dependable basis. Of course, the parking lot needs to be finished so that a car can drive in too. We have work to do for sure.

I think I mentioned that the teachers we had last year at the association decided to not return this year. So unfortunately, the non-formal education classes and the embroidery/sewing classes are not being offered. We have a very usable association building, but it is seldom open since there are no teachers. Sad to see because there are young women who used to use this facility. I have sent the word out this past week though that the young women should meet me this coming week there and we’ll do pilates together. They’ll be able to follow along with me and we’ll have some laughs. Should be fun.

I’ve spent some time at the primary school this past month. I delivered a new trash can with cover to each of the classrooms and talked with the students about how bad littering was for the community and environment. I always get a little theatrical in my presentation and they all laugh and think I’m a bit nuts. Hopefully they get my point though. I try to spend an hour each day picking up trash in my town. Unfortunately, I have to then burn it since I don’t have any other way to dispose of it, and I know that this is not the best thing possible for the environment either, but it’s the best choice I have at the moment. Anna (sort of my site mate) and I take our bottles and cans into Ouarzazate with us when we go since they have a garbage pickup and landfill there. Again I know its not the best solution, but we have to start somewhere.

I also took a basket of cleaning supplies to the school. The kids were most fascinated by the things I had in it. I then explained that I was going to clean their bathrooms for them since they were filthy. I did have teachers and some students offer to help, but I said “no, this time I will do it and show you just how clean they can be”. I then suggested to the teachers that they set up a schedule for the older students to take turns and be responsible for keeping them clean in the future. I must stop by this week and see how they look. In their basket there were soap dishes with soap. I need to return and give them a hand-washing demonstration soon. I’m told that using glitter is the most effective way to show the importance of washing hands. You pour glitter all over your hands and then touch and shake hands with others. Obviously, the glitter spreads from one person to another, just like germs do. Usually if the children can see this, it makes a bigger impression on how easily germs are spread and the importance of washing one’s hands with soap. First, I need to find some glitter though. There must be some in Morocco somewhere?????

The front door to my apartment building was rather scratched and boring so I asked the landlord if he would mind if I painted it. Since I had a bit of paint left over from the world map project and it is enamel paint, I painted my door with it. What do you think? Isn’t it fun? Looks very Moroccan to me and I love it.

One of my favorite times of the year is coming up - Thanksgiving. You’ll all soon be gathering with family/friends and eating turkey with all the trimmings. We all have so much to be grateful for. Take a few minutes and reflect on the many blessings you have. I’ve invited four volunteers that live relatively near me to come share Thanksgiving with me. Uncertain if they will all be able to come and I haven’t promised them a meal like gma/mom would prepare at home, but I hope I can give them some of their familiar things. My oven is too small to roast a turkey, but since I’m not aware of where I could buy turkey anyways, I’ll just bake some chicken pieces. I’ve never seen a pumpkin here, but thinking a squash pie could be close???? Regardless of what I serve, it will be fun to share the day with friends and I am looking forward to it.

Remember last year when I wrote about the killing of the sheep? Eid El Kebir will soon be here again this year and family and friends will be gathering and celebrating together. Hopefully I will join my host family for a meal or two during this time, but must admit that I won’t miss eating sheep for breakfast, lunch and dinner for days or until the sheep is gone.

Towards the end of the month, I will be heading into Marrakech to help out at a craft fair there that PC helps organize. The artisans that we work with are invited to bring their wares to sell them. Unfortunately, the cheese from my association is not conducive to this selling practice (transport, refrigeration, etc.), but we have forty artisana’s participating. It is a wonderful way to see what others are doing and for them to make some money too. I will then head directly from there into Rabat where those of us that arrived in Morocco a year ago will have mid-service medicals. I was sworn in almost a year ago – unbelievable.

I hope you continue to enjoy reading these blog updates. I like writing them and it does seem a good way to share my experiences with you. Sometimes I go on and on though so I’m trying to be conscious of that and make this a bit more concise. It is kind of like when you get me talking. You know how difficult it can be to shut me up. I wish you all a nice Thanksgiving holiday. Many of you will be traveling and I also wish you Trek Salam (safe travels). Until I write again – stay healthy and take care of yourselves. Hugs to you all, Linda