Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November and I'm Home

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.

11/16/11 - I’m HOME on American soil!!! OMG……. This will likely be my last blog update (and some of you are saying – thank God), but if I am so inspired, I will write one more and tell you how it feels to be home, although I wouldn’t expect that to be soon since the holidays are upon us. I have changed and those I love have changed in the time I’ve been gone. How well will we interact with each other? Will we be able to pick up where we left off? I anticipate I will be overwhelmed with store shelves – so much to choose from. Tickled pink to turn on the hot shower, at will, and to sit on a western toilet. I don’t even have to bring my own camping toilet or toilet paper to use  

It seems long ago I realized that I needed the world to live, grow, learn and most importantly, share. A book about India, with its crowded streets, rich of culture, colors and spirits, feels inspiring. A picture of Paris, with its Eiffel tower and night lights, makes my heart beat faster. I could not resist wishing and dreaming about being there each time the world was brought to me. In my head, my luggage was packed and I was ready for the adventure. My travel bug was jumpin and ready to go.

I remember hearing about Kennedy’s speech in 1961 and being intrigued with the prospects of what he was proposing. At the time, the opportunity seemed both unreal and unattainable, but life took it’s own course and I was able to give it a try, albeit many years later. Here I was, a woman of 60 heading off to Morocco for 27 months with significant life experiences to share, and whose dream was suddenly within reach. Was this my moment? My excitement and happiness was beyond what can be described with words. I was ready and longing to spread my wings, immerse myself into a foreign culture and release all my potential to the world.

My experiences in Morocco have been priceless and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I came here with ideas to share about freedom and equality, diversity, and the possibility to go as far as one sets their mind to. During my time here I met many people, some were great and deeply changed me, and others were not as much of a pleasant experience but definitely contributed to my unavoidable growth. I can’t describe or put into words what the past two years have meant to me. I’m glad that I was able to share with you, through my blog, some of these very special moments. I hope you enjoyed the past two years as much as I did.

I’ve attached a couple of pictures that should have been in the last blog, but uploading was slow when I did the early November blog entry , and I just gave up. You will see a picture of Rachida and I and our glittery hands. It was an educational, yet fun way to share the “microbets” with others.

There is a picture of jelaba’s in my friend’s store in Ouarzazate. Aren’t they colorful and beautiful? One day while riding the bus I was looking out at the people standing nearby. I didn’t see one jelaba that was the same. We think of these women as being submissive, modest, covered and the “same”, but they are individuals who express themselves in the fabrics and colors they choose and in so many other ways. Each woman is her own person, you just need to give her the opportunity to share this with you.

When visiting my host mom’s family in Ouarzazate, they showed me the dates they had collected. Have you ever seen so many dates? And, wow, you haven’t tasted a good date until you’ve tasted these. They are wonderful!

Here is also a picture of Nuhalia and Samira – note those haircuts!! I didn’t do so bad did I? I lost count of how many haircuts I gave towards the end of my time in my village. Sometimes it was a minor trim, sometimes I cut twelve inches off . Unfortunately, there was one little girl that looked very disappointed after her cut. I cut off at least nine inches, maybe more. She wanted sleek, straight hair, but after I washed it and cut it, it came to life and turned into a bush. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do with it after it was cut. Because I have this straight, fine hair, I thought it was kind of fun and cute, but whoa….. she didn’t like it. I had some Velcro rollers that had been sent to me when my hair was growing, so we tried setting her hair to see if we could straighten it. It worked somewhat and I sent the rollers home with her. I saw her in school several days later and her hair was fairly straight. She must be using the rollers. Remember using rollers ladies? Aren’t you glad I’ve shared this knowledge and experience?

The picture of the field, boy, etc., is just a picture I like. It was taken in my village on one of my walks. Beautiful!

I’ve tried to educate you a bit about Morocco in each blog. As you know, I have spent a lot of time in our local school with the children. The majority of my students will not go to 7th grade since they would have to live in another town and board to do so. I recently read this article and thought you might enjoy reading it too.

“AIN LEUH, Morocco — In the heart of the snowbound Atlas mountains in central Morocco, a boarding school takes in young girls from isolated villages in a bid to fight poverty and illiteracy.
There are more than 300 such schools in Morocco, with another 30 planned for construction next year. They are now both home and class to almost 16,700 girls, who are often living far from their families. More than 70 percent of them come from a rural background, according to official figures.
"The criteria for admission to the dormitory? They are simple and clear: poverty and remoteness. ….
The dormitory has taken in 35 young women, just a little way from the school they attend each day.
Despite landmark changes in the family code known as Mudawana, pushed through by King Mohammed VI in 2004 against tough opposition from religious conservatives, many women are still second-class citizens in the north African country. In conservative rural zones, only one out of every two girls finishes middle school and only two out of every 10 goes to high school. [I think these numbers are greatly exaggerated – las)
The king promoted the boarding schools -- for both boys and girls -- soon after he took power, in 1999.
"My parents live a few dozen kilometres from here. But thanks to this home, I'm doing my studies in good conditions because I'm looked after and the school is just nearby” …
They are taken in hand, with a precise programme from morning to evening: breakfast, going to the nearby school, lunch at 12:30 pm, studies and, finally, lights out at 10:00 pm,.
The boarding school is financed and jointly run by the ministry of social development and a local non-governmental organisation, the Islamic Association of Charity (AIB). From November, it begins to get very cold because the region is mountainous. The girls stay in the home all week, but they can spend the weekend with their relatives or close family …. To see her parents, Khadija must first take a "big taxi" (a collective taxi) for several dozen kilometres. Then she needs to walk down a track for at least an hour to get home… "Local communities, the ministry (of social development) and our association participate in the finance, but we have to struggle to balance our budget," said Mohamed Bouyamlal, vice-president of the AIB. "We have to make choices which are sometimes difficult and choose the strict minimum, which is to say food," he added.
The headmistress only earns 1,200 dirhams a month (106 euros / 148 dollars), which is less than the national minimum wage of about 125 euros.
But in spite of the difficulties, the results are promising. The schools say their success rate in graduating girls runs between 80 and 100 percent, and more than half the boarders end up following university studies. Overall, the rate of illiteracy among rural women has dropped from 64 percent in 2006 to 40 percent in 2011, according to official figures. And the rate at which girls drop out of school in rural areas has fallen from 14 percent in 2006 to 10 percent in 2010, thanks to this programme. School is by law compulsory in Morocco until the age of 15.” [But I’ve not seen it enforced - las]

Since a replacement will not be sent to my site, my apartment needed to be emptied to the bare walls. A volunteer that recently moved to a site about 30km away, hired a truck to come and take a lot of stuff. I gave my host family my ponges (big cushions that are used as couches) pillows and white plastic table & chairs, plus a bunch of other stuff and food. Note how the moving goes in my village.

Luckily I learned before I left that my host sister, Zakia, had left the hospital. She couldn’t leave Ouarzazate since she needed to see the doctor again, but she was at Gma and Gpa’s (Jdda & Jddi). There is still much I don’t understand about this hospitalization, but hopefully they did learn what was really the matter and that she will be fully well again soon.

My last night in site was not as expected since my host mom and sister were not home. I had planned to spend that last night with them, but it was not to be. I had the offer from other friends to stay with them, but decided I wanted to stay in my own apartment that last night. I had nothing but one mat and the blankets I borrowed from my landlord for that night. I needed to say good-bye to my village, home and Morocco in my own way and I needed to be alone to do that. I wanted one more morning coffee on my rooftop. Walking down the hill and leaving was hard and four of the six puppies (two are dead) that I’ve befriended walked me down to the road on the day I left. It was early and I didn’t see many on my walk down. Luckily one of my teacher friends called a relative who drives a taxi and my ride was arranged so I didn’t need to worry about getting a ride. He was rather vague on when he would arrive though – anytime between 8-10a, and it was close to 10a, so I still had a two hour wait, but at least he came.

Saying good-bye to friends is never easy and knowing that I will likely never return made these good-bye’s even harder. I can’t remember when I’ve cried so much and I was exhausted and emotionally drained by the time I left. The people of Morocco have been kind, supportive, helpful and loving for the most part. They will always hold a special spot in my heart.

I left site a bit earlier than necessary and moved on to a friend’s site for the last couple of days. She will be returning home too. We talked about our experiences and the times we had. We ate up the food we both still had (I hauled stuff with me to her home too). It was a good way for me to leave. Yes, I am somewhat familiar with her site, but it isn’t my site. I can now walk away and catch that taxi , train and eventually the plane without so much emotion although I suspect I will cry many more times before I leave. We PCVs are all from varying places in the States and yes we plan to have a reunion, but if and when will that happen and who will come? Some of these people I will never see again – that’s a fact! Kind of feels like saying good-bye to your friends when you leave college. My time in Morocco is finished. I hope I am remembered and that I taught them something. I hope they’ll remember the hugs and kisses we shared. I hope a few of them will brush their teeth daily and wash their hands with soap. I hope flavored cheese continues to be made and sold and that the restaurant is finally finished and has customers. I hope the baby’s center one day as an adequate water supply – it is such a wonderful resource that has such great potential. It’s been a fantastic 27 months, but I am ready to be home and back in life’s loop.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. Take a moment and think about all that you have to be grateful for. We have sooooo much and much of it we take for granted and don’t appreciate. I wish you all health, happiness and contentment. Be all that you can be. Hugs to you all. Linda

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Homeward Bound - SOON

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.

11/2/11 - my goodness, only a few more weeks left in Morocco. If you read my last blog update, you know that I fly home on November 15th. I should have good internet access until November 13th, after that who knows? Until after the holidays I will likely bounce from house to house. I will get a cell phone soon after I return to the states and I’ll let you know that number as soon as I have it.

I've been tying up loose ends and finishing projects. I've done what I can do and I'm quite satisfied with my PC service. Perhaps not exactly how I envisioned it when I came, but I hope I've taught and helped at least a little. Baby steps, we start with baby steps -- I keep reminding myself of this. The last month has flown by and it’s been a busy month. I’ve spent a lot of time in the classrooms with the teachers and students. I met with them to discuss the importance of hand washing and I use glitter as my demonstrating tool. You put a bit of glitter into your hand, unbeknownst to the kids. You then proceed to shake hands, touch them and things. Soon there are bits of glitter everywhere - just as germs are spread. It's a great visual tool. A Moroccan friend that lives near helped me with the translation part. Not only is her English pretty good, but it was good to have help spreading those germs!!! The students love the glitter to demonstrate how germs (microbes) spread. A quick splash of water over the hands simply won’t do to get rid of it either. Soap must be used and for an extended period of time. They all know the song “Happy Birthday”, so I suggested they lather their hands with soap and scrub away, while they sing the song in their head. Heck, it’s okay to sing it out loud – it’s a happy song!! They always laugh at this. The use of soap is interesting. In the three homes I lived in, rarely was soap available to use at their water source (not all homes had sinks). For that matter, rarely did any of my host moms use soap to wash their dishes. They just scrubbed off the food matter with a scrubby thing in cold water. I gave out many bars of soap over the past two years and they just seem to disappear – to where? I never figured that out! While I had this captive audience, I always put them on the spot and asked if they had brushed their teeth this morning. Most did not, but a few did and I guess that’s progress. I reminded them of the proper way to brush one’s teeth and gave tooth brushes away to those that didn’t have one. The children say they can’t remember and unfortunately it is not a habit their mother embraces either, so she doesn’t think to remind them. I told them to try to make the connection -- when you put your shoes on - brush your teeth. When you go to bed – brush your teeth. Again, maybe a few children will make this connection and it will become a habit. It has to start somewhere – sometime.

I traveled to Fes this month for my last GAD (Gender and Development) committee meeting. We chose to meet here since the new group of volunteers that arrived in country in September was meeting then, and we would have a chance to meet them and mingle a bit. It was fun to look back and remember what it felt like when I had just arrived. It was nice to reassure them that life gets better after this training period is over and you have a home of your own again. I stayed over in the area for a couple of days and said my farewell to the city itself. It is one of my favorite cities in Morocco. Note the palace doors – aren’t they beautiful? One of my friends wanted to buy a tile table and so I accompanied her on the hunt for the perfect one – what do you think? I love it!! My friend is actually extending her stay here for one year, but she had the table shipped back to her home in Colorado. She has long admired these tables and decided to just buy it now and not think about it any longer – scratch that from the list!! I then went with two other friends to Moulay Yacoub. This is a small village just outside Fes where they have thermal baths. We splurged and did a package which involved a good soak in thermal tubs, a steam room, a hosing down with a fireman’s hose (now this was weird and almost hurt), and finished it off with half hour massage. The massage felt great and I wished it could have lasted “hours”. We thought we were getting a good scrubbing while there too, but it wasn’t part of the deal. The day was not as expected, but it was interesting nevertheless.

I returned to site to have snow greet me. Yuck!! Get me out of here – I don’t want another winter in Morocco. Luckily it did not snow in my village itself, just in the higher elevations, but it was cold. My house was/is cold!! We had several days of miserable weather, but luckily it seems to have cleared up and our days are back to being relatively pleasant. Nights are much colder now and I’ve had to put the heavier blanket on my bed. I also dug out the long underwear. Time to go………

I was invited by a Aicha to “something” last Tuesday. I was told to come to her home at 1:30p and we will walk to Soumia’s home at 2p. The invitation was extended to me several days before the event, which is unusual. Normally, you learn of such things hours before they are to happen. Again not knowing what to expect and why we are gathering, I am where I should be at the designated time and we walk to Soumia’s. Soon the salon fills with women all dressed in their finest jelaba’s and fancy zif’s (headscarves). Look at these wonderful pant legs under the jelaba’s. Not knowing what we were doing, I am again under-dressed in my jeans and t-shirt. No one seems to care though so all is well  There is much giggling and playing around/teasing. Loud music is played and the women “play” washtubs and anything else they can get their hands on to beat. The music is repetitive and chant-like. They dance with wild abandon. Some have removed their head scarves and many have the scarves tied around their hips to better show the motion. I have been asked to not take pictures since many women have worn make-up and are acting more spontaneous/relaxed than usual, and their husbands would not approve. I discern that this party is to celebrate the birth of the hostess’s baby. I never see the baby throughout the afternoon. Our host, Soumia joins in on the dancing from time to time and tries to get everyone on the dance floor. Meanwhile she is in the kitchen trying to cook a meal to feed thirty or so women and at least a dozen small children. Finally around 5:30p food is brought out. Liter bottles of soda are placed on tables. Granted I was hungry, but the best chicken I’ve ever eaten was then brought out, topped with olives and scrambled eggs. Following this was sffa (one of my favorites too). A very small, fine noodle that is steamed and then topped with cinnamon, (raisins & nuts sometimes) and powdered sugar. Yummmm. Following this is a platter of fresh fruit i.e., melon, grapes, dates & apples. So much food is consumed and I want a nap!! To top the night off, it was followed by tea and a great assortment of good tasting cookies. Almost everyone took a sample of each cookie. I think there were eight different varieties offered and they were tasty (sometimes they are not) and almost everyone wrapped them in a napkin to take home. Then, lickity split, everyone was up and we were out the door. It was 7p when I walked into my home. I was tired and very full and very soon I was in bed!!

Several weeks ago I had a ride into Ouarzazate with some village friends of mine. I had one more package to ship and it was so nice to just load it into their car and to have them drop me off at the post office and not go from taxi to taxi to taxi. I couldn't close up the package since everything needs to be inspected by an official at the post office to insure that I'm not sending ???? actually I don't know what they are looking for? I got through the process, closed up the package and it is off..... So nice to have one more task behind me.

There is obviously a tractor for hire working in the village these past few weeks. We don’t have many flat, large surfaces where a tractor can really maneuver, but for those places that he can work in, it seems he is busy at it and is moving from area to area. People stand around and watch him work. It will save those that can benefit from this tractor many long hours of back-breaking labor. I have never seen the tractor parked anywhere in the village, so I can only assume it has come here from another village.

Everyone is giving me nuts – walnuts and almonds. Both of which I love, but they are giving me large quantities. Do they forget that I will leave soon. I’m not baking as much as normal since I am using up my kitchen supplies. And, there is only ONE of me. I can never eat through the quantity of nuts I have in my house before I leave. These nuts have been gathered off the ground and most have been cracked open for my easy eating. Very nice, but……

I attended one more wedding – I thought I was through with weddings…… It was here in my village and I only went for a few hours one night. I felt I just couldn’t say no since it was my hanut owner’s (small store) sister and I see this family all the time. Everyone asked if I was coming – so I went. It was a chilly night. The men always eat first and they were in the house while we women sat outside in kind of a tent. Finally we women were allowed to go into the house around 10p to eat. It was nice to warm up a bit. I was certainly not dressed warm enough for the night. After dinner and we were making the move to outside again, I just kept right on walking and left for home. It was okay to attend the wedding, but time for me to go home. My friends said they stayed until 3a. Moroccans love their weddings – wish I liked them more.

I’ve been cutting a lot of hair lately. Little girls with hair to the middle of their backs have been knocking at my door asking for a haircut and they want it to look just like “Linda’s”. Well I can’t duplicate the color, which is what they really want, but after they have repeatedly assured me that it is okay with their mom’s – out come the scissors and off it comes. They have lovely, thick, slightly curly hair (much nicer than mine) and it’s quite easy to cut since their curls hide my mistakes. Lots of bobbed heads of hair running around my village these days 

These are some things, in no particular order, that I will never understand or get used to. I’m sure there are more, these are just off the top of my head. These are not unique to Morocco, although some most definitely seem to apply more here than not:
*Why are the women working in the fields while their husbands sit at the cafĂ©’s drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes?
*How can a man watch a woman lug a heavy thing up the hill and not offer to help in most cases?
*Lots of labor is put into ceilings and they are exquisite, yet a bare light bulb hangs in the middle of it.
*Time is irrelevant. So what if you come an hour or two late to a scheduled meeting? Mushi Mushkiel (no problem). A job may be shared by two persons and you never know when the switch will be made. The replacement person may come today, may come tomorrow, may come next week???
*How do the goats, sheep, donkeys, animals in general, survive on what they have to eat?
*I understand the need for walls for safety and security, to an extent, but much effort and time is put into building walls around structures. I would think building a “quality” structure would be more important.
*Feuding and short-sightedness. Why can’t communities look at what is good for the community on the whole, and not have territories come into play?
*How can someone just stand and stare at someone else for long lengths of time? I understand they are curious, but it can make one feel pretty weird.
*I know it can’t helped, but people vomiting all around you on the bus or in the taxi.
*How meat that has been dropped on the floor can be picked up and wrapped in paper that has been stuffed in the corner, can then be sold, then cooked, then ate.

National Geographic came again in October and my host family served a lovely morning tea to all. It’s nice for these visitors to see and experience a “real” home with “real” people. We had a nice walk through the area to get to my host family’s home and lots of good pictures were taken. This exchange is advantageous to all and we all enjoy and benefit from them. Unfortunately, with the changes Peace Corps is making in Morocco, there will no longer be a volunteer here and the visits will end. A fellow PCV will come to the village for the November visit and this will be the last one. I’ve been saving the stipends given to me on these visits and hoped to help our baby’s center with its water problem, but that didn’t come about as planned. I did help the community with its water needs though. The village president informed me that the village on the whole was in need of a project that needed to be done. When the winter snow melts and the spring rains come, water runs off in torrents. They needed cement reinforcements in several places to help direct it. It ended up being that I bought the supplies and the men in the community provided the labor. I especially like the fact that it was a joint effort on our parts. With the remainder of the money, herby-curby’s are being bought with the hope that people’s mindset will change over time and rather than throwing trash out the door or just on the ground, that they will actually gather it and dispose of it properly. We have a trash truck that comes along the main road, but we’ve never had containers to collect in before. Perhaps this will help?

My host sister was hospitalized in Ouarzazate while I was away in Fes. They suspect it might be meningitis. I’ve heard varying stories from those I’ve talked with, even my host mom and host dad can’t seem to agree on the story. I went to the hospital to see her since she may not be home before I leave my village and had hopes that I might learn something but alas, not the case really. What I do know is that she has been in the hospital almost two weeks now. She has a continual headache and runs a fever. She throws up sometimes. They give her injections. They will do a scan of her head. She may come home this week, maybe in twenty days. Our visit was cut short because of a security guy who has let “power” go to his head. I was taking pictures – not allowed!! Oh well, I got a few before he came along anyways.  The hospital itself looked much better and was cleaner than I expected it to be. She is in the pediatric ward since she is only eight years old. I went on a Sunday because I was told that visitation was from noon to 6p. I arrived shortly before noon and was told that in maybe a half hour we would be allowed in. Okay, so 12:30p – not bad. About noon, they let us in. They kicked us out around 12:15p and were told we could come back at 4p. The doctors were coming and we had to leave. I’m glad I saw her, but it was for only a few minutes. I took along a “goodie” bag of things for her from me and greeting cards from her classmates. I took to her classroom, supplies to make cards, i.e., paper, scissors, markers, stickers, glue and the fronts of the greeting cards sent to me this past two years, along with a greeting card itself since I have seldom seen cards to be bought here, and certainly never in the small village where I live. The kids did a great job and had fun doing them. Unfortunately, she had only a minute to look at everything since we had to take the bag with us. I was told that it would be confiscated if we left it ??? Now that’s not right! Hopefully they will figure out what is ailing her and she is well and back home soon.

I then had an unexpected bonus visit to my host mom’s parents’ home since they live in Ouarzazate and my host mom was heading there for lunch and a rest. I love her parents and didn’t think I’d have the chance to say good-by to them, and now I have done so. We had a nice visit, a good lunch and I was home by 6p.

Well my remaining days in Morocco are limited and I have things left to do, so I’d best get my act together. I’ll send a short update once my feet hit American soil again. Until then – take care and hugs to you all.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October - Ouch!

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.

10/2/11 -- okay stay with me here, my time in Morocco is coming to a close and the blog updates will end. I hope you have enjoyed my blog. I was rereading a bit of it recently and noticed typo's that tend to upset me. Why didn't I proof this better? Oh well..... I have enjoyed writing it and it has been a great way for me to not only record my experience but to share it with you. I've tried to make it informative, educational and yet humorous on occasion. Only a few more writings to go - yeow!

Leaving is obviously bittersweet. It's been an incredible experience and one that I will always cherish. There have been hard, difficult moments too, but luckily we naturally push them to the back of our memory and they will soon fade - kind of like giving birth to a child!! I will leave Morocco on November 15th and fly into Detroit where a friend will meet me. She'll hand me off to my sister after a day or two and I'll then stay in Michigan’s thumb area until after the Thanksgiving holiday. I'll likely travel to Kalamazoo after Thanksgiving for a week or so since I have been negotiating to buy a car from a dealer there. But first, I have to get my driver's license renewed. Darn thing expired while I was here. Since I knew that it would expire I tried to renew it before I came, but the DMV wouldn't let me. Sure hope they don't make me take a written test and/or driving test. I haven't been behind the wheel in over two years now -- what have I forgotten? It’s like riding a bike – right? I'll likely spend the remainder of December between the thumb and Traverse City where one of my brother’s lives and my mom is in a facility up there. From January on, my home base will probably be Kalamazoo, at least for a while.

Many of you have asked me this, so let me write it here. Yes, I still have my home in Portage (Kalamazoo), but I don’t intend to ever live in it again. I will get it listed and on the real estate market as soon as I can upon my return. I know that this is a terrible time to be selling a house, but hopefully someone will see it and fall in love with it as I did – inshallah. Great memories are connected to this home, but the yard and house itself is just more than I want to tackle at this point in my life. Remember, I have been living a very simple life for the past couple of years. I will most likely stay in SW Michigan. South Haven has always been a favorite place of mine, but can I find anything there that I can afford? Time will tell this tale……. I can always be reached at my gmail address while I am in this limbo stage, so I hope you’ll stay in touch.

The group of individuals (staj) that arrived in Morocco together recently met in Rabat for our close of service meetings and medicals. Much of our time was spend discussing the process of transitioning home. We’ve changed, our families have changed, the world has changed. How do we fit in again? It was great fun to see everyone (both small business development and youth development) and to catch up on everyone’s happenings over the past two years. Sadly, I now think I know everyone’s name! Why did it take me this long to do this? In my defense, the total group rarely got together so I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to match names and faces together. I’m sorry to say that we have lost about a third of the group over the past two years for various reasons. I’m attaching a picture of the small business development group – my how we have shrunk (group size, maybe not body size). Although to be fair, two or three individuals that are still with us are missing from this picture. Many younger PCVs will go to graduate school upon our return. Others are hoping to find jobs. We mature PCVs – well most of us don’t know what we are doing!!!! Guess we’ll have to “grow up” and figure this out soon. We have lots of paperwork and reports to do before we leave to sum up our experiences for Peace Corps. The group will leave Morocco on staggered dates, so this was the last time we would gather as a total group. Lots of promises to keep in touch and plans made to see each other again were exchanged.

I now better understand why we stay in-country for the term of two years. Granted, a few volunteers, five to be exact, from my staj have decided to extend their service and stay on for an additional year. I unconsciously, but maybe purposely, did not allow myself to get attached since I knew my time was limited and I would return home eventually. Having the puppies nearby has put me over the top. I’ve now named them for goodness sake (Mutt, Jeff, Shadow, Dipshit, Christopher Columbus and No Name). It comes so natural to stand on my rooftop and yell, “Christopher, don’t do that”. I do give the puppies treats from time to time, but I don’t want them to become dependent on me since I will, in fact, leave soon. I find now after this period of time that I could attach myself to not only the puppies, but people, my village, Morocco in general. It’s time for me to go home!!!

After leaving Rabat, a friend and I traveled north to the Mediterrean coast and to the Spanish (yes I said Spanish) town of Melilla. Melilla is the smaller of the two enclaves that mark the last vestiges of Spain’s African empire. A third of its inhabitants are of Rif Berber origin, as well as significant Jewish and even Hindu minorities. It has an atmosphere all its own, neither European nor African. Very strange indeed to walk through the border patrol and to hear Spanish spoken and euro’s, rather than dirham, as the money tendered. The city’s medieval fortress was built by the Portuguese and later Spaniards during the 16th and 17th century. Right up until the end of the 19th century virtually all of Melilla was contained within these massive defensive walls. Much of it has been restored in recent years. There are caves and tunnels that lead to the cliff face. The Phoenicians first excavated the tunnels; later occupiers took turns enlarging them and they now extend over three levels. Construction of the new part of town began at the end of the 19th century. It is considered by some to be Spain’s second modernist city, after Barcelona.

We traveled east from there to the beach town of Saidia, which marks the limits of the Moroccan coast, as Algeria is it’s bordering neighbor. We enjoyed a few hours of sitting on the beach in the warm sun before moving on to Oujda. Oujda is the largest city in eastern Morocco, although there are few genuine attractions for the traveler. It is the main axis connecting Morocco with the rest of North Africa (the Romans built a road through here). Oujda grew, and then suffered, due to its proximity to the Algerian border. Brisk cross-border trade swelled the local economy, which then crashed on the closure of the Algerian border in 1995. It’s a place to catch your breath before boarding a bus for the long trek south/east to the town of Figuig to visit PCVs’ Jack & Ina.

There’s no mistaking that Figuig is at the end of the road. Note the terrain - we had hours and hours of this scenery to watch before reaching Figuig. Its 200,000 date palms, fed by artesian wells, almost spread into Algeria, just 2km away. Figuig used to be a busy border post between the two countries, as well as a historic way station for pilgrims traveling to Mecca, but now it’s a sleepy town, only laboring into action for the autumn date harvest. Figuig is made up of seven communities, whose main activity in the past was fighting over water resources and grazing rights. Each settlement controls an area of palmeraie (grove of palm trees) and its all-important supply of water. In the past, feuding families would divert the water channels to wash around the foundations of the enemy’s Kasbah, hoping the walls would eventually collapse. Nowadays the blood feuds have ended and Figuig looks fairly modern. There is no passing traffic and you have to make a real effort to get here and life more or less matches the pace of the donkey cart and bicycle. There are numerous paths following the irrigation channels through the palm trees and then suddenly you’re in among a warren of covered passages. As you tunnel between the houses, wonderful, ancient wooden doors are to be found. Figuig is interesting and beautiful. I’m so glad they put a married couple there, since it would be a very lonely site if you were alone. We then proceeded to head home - 20 hours later we were there!!! Exhausted to say the least. Total time for this trip was six days and we saw a lot.. I can now say that I feel I have seen Morocco. Granted there is much middle ground that I have not covered, but when I show you my map of Morocco and the roads I’ve traveled I think you’ll agree.

While I was away my landlord’s daughter tended my wash tubs of flowers and herbs. She too grew tired of having the goats and sheep enjoy the fresh greens. Looks how she remedied the problem. Quite creative I’d say and it works!! I now have blossoms blooming.

I knew that my month of September would involve a lot of travel with little time being spent at my site and I was right. I attended regional meetings after being home only a few days in nearby Ouarzazate. Since Peace Corps is restructuring its volunteer service in Morocco, there is much planning and discussion about the logistics and new procedures. Some of us will leave soon and new volunteers have arrived. It was a getting acquainted and sharing of stories time for all. Building a team takes time and effort. How can we help each other? Since the focus will now be on youth development – there is a transition time to be considered and implemented. Most volunteers serve because they think they have knowledge to share and they want to help developing countries grow into being all that they can be.

I’ve had visits from volunteers passing through in the few days I’ve been at my site this month. Now that my time to leave is near, many think they’d best come now or I will be gone. We always do a walk-about with lots of introductions and hugs/kisses being exchanged. It feels like I know everyone and my name is called out often. The comment is frequently made by those that visit that I will be missed or at least my hugs and kisses will be missed. We visit the school classrooms and students. We visit my favorite people and of course the association and baby’s center. We almost always walk up to my host family’s home and have tea with them. We talk into the wee hours of the night…….

I also did a fast trip to/fro Rabat this month for a Harassment Working Group meeting. This group was formed to better define and distinguish the kinds of harassment volunteers will receive, be it political, religious, ethnic, sexual or otherwise. Coping strategies are discussed to be later used in the trainings given to volunteers when they arrive in country. Being the oldest member of the group I offer a very different perspective. Granted, I truthfully receive very little harassment, if any, primarily because of my age. Damn, does that mean I don’t have it anymore??? Many times though it’s not so different than walking by a construction site in the States and the wolf whistles that ensue or me standing at the door, with a grin from ear to ear enthusiastically inviting people in to see the handicraft we have on display. Granted no one has the right to touch me – that is wrong!! But I still believe the best strategy is to master the art of ignoring them. I do recognize that because we often don’t fully understand the language being spoken, it becomes scary and their body language can be bold/strong. And to receive it day after day…… it often becomes more than one can tolerate. This is when we need to take a “time out” and rejuvenate ourselves. It’s a great working group, with lots of good discussion and even better, some of our suggestions are being implemented.

School is now back in session. The Moroccan government provides books, small chalk boards, pencils, and tablets to each child. A backpack was also given to each 1st grader with the intent that it last them through primary school. This is the 1st grade teacher , Abdellatf, playing the guitar. He takes his job very seriously, but also wants to make it fun. I spent a lot of time with him in his classroom last spring. Don’t these kids look just like any other kid – all excited for that first day of school. I prepared a picture/word CD for each teacher in August, and gave it to them to be used in their classroom. The CD consists of a picture and the English word for it. I have divided it up into categories i.e., fruits/vegetables, colors, clothing, animals, etc. Each teacher can then use this CD to help teach English, French, Arabic or Tashlheet, plus a multitude of other facts and lessons. Luckily, at least one of the teachers has a computer, as well as the school director has one, and the school has a projector. Hopefully the CD will be a useful tool. Unfortunately the new middle school that is being built here in my village is not complete and ready for students this year. Maybe next year?

But, the good news is that my host brother, who graduated from 6th grade last year and was to go to this new school is going to school in the nearby town this year, thanks to his extended family member’s financial help. He boards over in the nearby town from Monday noon through Saturday noon. He is home for the entire day on Sunday. I know my host mom and how hard this must be for her to have him leave his home at only age 12 (although nearing 13 I was told today). But, what they told me is that they hope he will go through middle school, get his Bac degree (high school equivalent) from a school in Ouarzazate and then I keep saying university, university and maybe even in America. Inshallah (God willing) is the response often received. I am soooo pleased since I have been worrying about him just wasting away if further schooling was not available to him. I’m glad his Ouarzazate family came through for him. Hopefully they will do the same for my host sister when the time comes.

I have school projects I want to do before I leave Morocco and much of my remaining time will be spent with the students and teachers. I feel I’ve done and offered about as much assistance to my association as I can, but I will continue to visit with them and if nothing else, we work on the English/Tashlheet language. I have a house of furnishings to dispose of (much of it will be given to folks in my village) and PC paperwork to do. The time will fly by…..

I'm getting really excited about traveling home to the States in the very near future. I can't wait to have a nice chat over a cup of tea or a glass of wine and catch-up on what's new in your lives. Until my next update -- stay healthy and take care. See you soon. Hugs, Linda

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Simply September (almost)

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.

8/31/11 – okay so it’s not quite September, but since I am leaving my site for a couple of weeks this weekend, I thought it would be best if I posted this update now while I had time. I can’t believe it, but my time in Morocco will soon be drawing to a close. My staj (group of volunteers that arrived with me) in September of 2009 will gather for our close of service meetings and medicals soon and we’ll be making arrangements for our return to the states in November. Our numbers have dwindled since our arrival and I am curious to see how many of us actually remain. This has been an extraordinary experience for me and I will forever be grateful for this opportunity.

I thought you would enjoy seeing this pictures of henna hands. It was taken at the wedding I attended in July and the women are cleaning beef organs for later eating.

Y’all do recognize that when I refer to Morocco/Moroccans, I am referring for the most part to only the very small part of Morocco that I live in and that I am familiar with – my village/community, consisting of about 2,000 people (scattered in a 5 mile radius). There are parts of Morocco that are very developed and westernized and when visiting there you could be any place in the world.

As I stood on my rooftop one morning at 7a, drinking my coffee and being careful that others don’t see my cup since it would be very rude of me to eat or drink in front of them during Ramadan, I listen to my world. I hear a cow mooing, a donkey braying, sheep and goats bleating, dogs and puppies barking, a rooster crowing, birds chirping and the high pitch of women’s voices talking. I watch a woman who is tending her sheep and she seems to be pacing back and forth which is unusual. Suddenly I hear a baby crying. It is tied on her back while she is out in the fields watching her animals (she is multi-tasking). Step outside your door one morning at 7a and listen. What do you hear?

As I planned, August and this year the month of Ramadan, has been a quiet month for me. I’ve done lots of computer research on those many decisions I will be making soon, I’ve had a few visitors escaping Morocco’s heat, I’ve worked on some projects for my village that I think will be enjoyed for years to come and I’ve shared lf-tur (broke fast) with some of the special people here in my site. I’m sharing a picture of the table of my friend Samir, taken at his home when I attended for lf-tur with him and his family. Samir has twelve siblings and many of them are here in the village for this month, not only to share this special time, but to escape the heat that most of Morocco contends with at this time of the year. One of his sisters lives in M-hamid which is south of Ouarzazate and on the edge of the Sahara, and she tells me that the temperature there in August is 50-55 degrees C, translating to 122-135 degrees F. Now that’s hot!!!

For the faithful, Ramadan is a time of spiritual and physical cleansing - a month long detox that is welcomed each year. However daylight hours vary from country to country and this does cause some very real health problems and its timing may need some adjustment. The thirty day Ramadan fast between sunrise and sunset is not simply about refraining from food, drinking, sex and smoking. It is a time for prayer and reflection. However, not all Ramadans are equal.

The hours between sunrise and sunset may not vary much in places like Mecca in Saudi Arabia, but spare a thought for those living elsewhere. The problem is the difference between the Islamic and Gregorian calendars. As the Islamic calendar is eleven days shorter than the Gregorian, Ramadan moves back by that number of days each year.

Why is this a problem? Well, if you are a practicing Muslim living in Sweden, Norway or Finland, for example, where the sun may not set until around midnight and rise again only a few hours later, the length of the fast and the lack of real sleep becomes a major health issue. It has been suggested that those living in those areas observe and fast the hours that those living in Mecca, thus making the fasting period more reasonable and tolerable.

As I’ve mentioned before, you will constantly hear a child or children’s voices if you pause and listen. They scream, they giggle & laugh, they sing, they talk. They chase each other and play touch-tag. They play hide & seek. They are outside continuously, no sitting in front of the television or computer for them. They don’t have anything to play with really. They play jacks with small stones and they play in the dirt pile. If they have a ball, it doesn’t have any air in it so it doesn’t roll, but they still kick it around. We have so many thorny bushes around here I’m sure a hole was punctured in the ball long ago. Our school doesn’t have a playground and I have only once seen a swing made of rope hanging from a tree. Children entertain themselves….. they seem happy. It’s the only life they’ve ever known.

Speaking of the school – remember that building I talked about painting this month since it wasn’t painted last spring because it was old, yet used every day – well we did it. I could not have done this project without the help of Anna, my site mate that lives 12km from me. Anna did all the overhead and ladder painting, since my knee would not have tolerated the strain. The building is old and maintenance has not been done. It SUCKED up the paint. We ran out three times and had to travel to the next town to get more. Anna came over and we painted for five solid days and then I finished it up on another day. We tried to match the colors of the other buildings, but ummmm not quite right!!! So, since our building was different, we decided to make it DIFFERENT. The outside is sort of a pink/orange and the inside is white. Luckily I still had some leftover colors from my map project of last year. The windows and door trim are now painted in colors of yellow, green, purple, watermelon, red and bright blue. Bookcases and shelves were painted in like colors. It is bright, happy and child friendly. It is not perfect, but so much better. Many, many people stopped by to see what we were doing and to express their thanks and appreciation. You will note the before and after pictures – what do you think? As I was cleaning up, the pails, both plastic and metal were a hot commodity and in high demand. Not knowing what they would be used for I hesitated as to whether I should give them away, but decided that since they were so eager to have them that I would do so. Hope that was an okay decision…….

Today I see women walking with their totes and pails. Must be the day to visit the hammam . How do they do it in the summer? I have only been a couple of times, during the winter months, and it is sooooo hot in there that it does feel good, to a point to be warm, but…... Most women will stay a couple of hours, washing their hair, shaving body parts and scrubbing their bodies with these black, scrubby mitts that make the skin roll. They frequently take turns scrubbing each other. I swear when Hafida scrubbed me, my body formed scabs after. She went deep……. I must have been really dirty! Unfortunately, the hammam here in the village isn’t that nice. It’s old, rather dirty in fact and I just don’t like moldy water dripping on my head while in there. I don’t visit it often.

If you have a building project in mind, you’d best make yourself some blocks/bricks. Many times I have seen homeowners or someone they’ve hired, busy making blocks. Lately I’ve been watching some gentlemen busy at work. They, like me, are up early trying to get a few hours in before the sun gets too hot. It is Ramadan, so they can’t drink water and it’s important to do this sort of work early. Looks like they’ve made good progress wouldn’t you say? And once that building project is built and you need a door – how do you get it home. Well you carry it, of course!

I’ve spent a fair amount of time this month working on a picture/word book for the school. Last spring, a couple of the teachers commented when I showed them my pictures of South African animals how nice it would be if they had pictures to show the kids. At least one of the teachers has a laptop, as well as the school director has a laptop, and the school does have a projector, so I decided a good project for me would to make them just such a book. I have taken many pictures in the past and it gave me motivation to take more pictures and a worthwhile project to do. I have divided the pictures up into categories, i.e., colors, fruits & vegetables, clothing, animals, food items, etc. With each picture I have given them the English name for it. The teacher can then supply the French or Arabic word and take it from there. I will burn a CD for each teacher to keep and use in their classes.

I look at the skinny cows, skinny sheep & goats, skinny dogs and yes, skinny people. There is no comparison between the fat, healthy sheep I saw in Ireland and the sheep here in my village. Of course they had lush, green grass to eat. Here they have a few straggly bushes for the most part. This is a place of “barely enough” but it sustains you. More is not needed it seems and “must have” doesn’t seem to exist in their vocabulary.

Seems I am turning into the beautician of my village and who knew I could cut hair????? I don’t think I should give up my day job just yet -- oooops, guess I don’t have a day job  !!! Actually my patrons are all under the age of ten and most likely they won’t complain. Of course we shampoo first and I use my American shampoo. Maybe it’s the big draw for the haircut, who knows?

I usually wake up to a bright blue sky, but August has been screwy, at least weather wise and I don’t remember this from last year. Almost every day around 2p, the sky clouds up, thunder starts and we get spits and sputters of rain for a few hours. Usually by 6p, it is cleared away and the sky is once again blue. We’ve had heavy clouds, thunderstorms with lightning and torrential rain the past couple of days. Unfortunately, it comes down so fast and hard that much of it runs off without doing much for the soil. It’s also been chilly enough at night that I’ve pulled up an extra blanket. Oh I so hope cold weather doesn’t move in early. I am hoping for a long, warm fall – at least until mid-November or so!!

Well my friends, until my next writing please take care and remember -- inch by inch, life’s a cinch!! I continually remind myself of this -- imik-imik (little by little) but it’s not always easy!! . Hugs to you all, Linda

Monday, August 8, 2011

Awesome August

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.

8/8/11 Now this is really weird, I looked at the calendar and couldn’t decide – are we into the second or third week of August? I had to click onto my computer’s calendar to find out. I’m not sure I’ve ever had to do this before. Is this what retirement will feel like?

I like this picture. It was taken at a pub in Dublin in June. I think it captures some of my personality and shows my wrinkles!!

August is the month of Ramadan this year (remember it is a lunar holiday that changes from year to year) and all is very quiet in Morocco and other Islamic countries. Lots of businesses shut down for this month and those that must remain open, work a shortened day typically 9a-3p. People are fasting from sun-up to sun-down. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with health issues do not usually fast. I’m thinking that food is not such a big issue, but going without water in August’s heat must be difficult at time, although people tell me it is not. I am frequently asked if I am fasting and when I reply “no, I am Christian”, they usually drop it. Sometimes they tell me I should give it a try and sometimes I think I should! The typical day here now begins around 4a when people get up to eat breakfast (bread and coffee – really just a small amount of coffee and a lot of milk) before the sun comes up. The women are seen out in the fields early in the morning tending their animals or gathering/chopping grass. I don’t see many men out and about. People are out early since it is cooler and they will retreat to their homes as the sun warms the day. We went off daylight savings time when Ramadan began so the clocks have been turned back. It is now very dark by 8p. The sun is down around 7-7:30p and they will break fast by eating dates, haira soup and shebekia (sp?) a very sweet, sticky cookie like thing that I personally like, but remember pecan pie is my favorite, so I like this sweet stuff! They will carefully drink a lot of water at this time. Too much, too fast, might make them nauseous. Breaking fast is a celebration and an affair they like to share and they frequently invite family and friends to join them. Families will be active during this time while they wait for their main meal of the day to be served around 11p or so. It will typically be whatever the family is used to eating for their mid-day meal during regular times – probably a tajine. After eating, they will then sleep until they wake for breakfast and their day goes on. Muslins view Ramadan as a time for simple sacrifice and to recognize that others are not as fortunate as they are and that others are often “hungry”. Ramadan is a time to be grateful for what they have. Obviously, this is my very simple interpretation of Ramadan. I’m sure there is far more to it.

Travel in Morocco is challenging in and of itself. During Ramadan, it is next to impossible. I intend to stay at my site for the entire month of August. I traveled into Ouarzazate at the end of July to visit the bank and to purchase those items I can’t find at my local hanut (small store) and getting home from there was already more difficult than usual. Buses won’t let me ride part-way since they can sell a full fare from Ouarzazate to Marrakech and why settle for a partial fare when they can collect a full one? Of course, if I’m willing to pay that full fare, I can ride with them. They also “up” their prices during this time since the demand is great for transport and they can get it. Taxi’s run, but they only get me part way and then I have to connect with another taxi service to get me to my village. Unfortunately it is the second leg of the journey that has become tricky. Fewer and fewer taxi’s seem to run to my village and I’ve had to wait hours to even see a taxi, let alone give it time to fill with people so that it make the run. Patience is a virtue – I keep telling myself this………

Not only am I staying in my village for the month, I am staying in my home a lot too. There are not many people out and about so why do the walk? I walk down to the village about every four days or so. Visit the post office, let the gendarmes (police) know that I am alive and well. Visit the association, although nothing is happening there. Babies are still be born though and the baby’s center always has some staff working so I chat with them, visit the hanut to pick up yogurt, maybe some veggies/fruit, and then walk back up the hill and home. I’ve decided August is my month of reflection, research and give the knee a break. Often times I am just too busy living life that I forget to think – I hope to do some thinking. And, I will need to buy a phone, a phone plan, a car and decide where I want to next live, etc. so I’m using “google” lots. Too many decisions will soon have to be made – yeow!!!

Unfortunately, not being out and about as much as usual, I’m not seeing folks and being invited to break fast with them as much as I was last year. Now in a way this isn’t a bad thing since if I were invited, it would mean that I would have to trek home in the dark and it is dark here at night, especially without a full moon. Most paths I would have to trek are hilly and rocky and I don’t want to slip and twist or stress my knee when it is making good progress. I am very careful with my knee during daylight hours, at night it would be even trickier. So I guess everything happens for a reason. My host mom did send my sister down to invite me to join them last night for lf-tur (break fast) and, of course, I went. I considered spending the night which they would have been thrilled with, but …… I really like my own space and bed. As it turned out, my host mom was also concerned about me walking home in the dark and she and my host sister walked me home to insure I safely made the trip. Not wanting to go to my host family’s empty handed I decided I should bake something. The kids are still eating during the day, but guessing my host mom is not too creative with the cooking since she is cooking in the night too. So I was thinking wouldn’t a nice, simple oatmeal bar cookie be good and semi nutritious too. I found a simple enough recipe online and I’ve made it to take. While working with baking ingredients I thought you might find this interesting. Baking soda is called bicarbonate de soude (French) and it is purchased at the pharmacy. Baking powder is called taxmirte n-lHlwa (Tashlheet) or translated it means yeast for cookies.

I’ve had a few volunteers visit me the past couple of weeks and I suspect a few more will come, since they are looking to escape summer’s heat and my village is quite comfortable. Anna, Angelica and Ali came to my house and we celebrated Anna’s birthday in late July. We made it a “girlie” day and did manicures/pedicures/mud scrubs, etc. Ended the evening with cake (of course) and laid on my rooftop for some time watching for shooting stars. It was a nice celebration. Anna is my site mate of sorts since she only lives 12km from me. I don’t think I’ve ever sent you a picture of her and this is a good one of us together.

My days usually start out sunny and bright and yes it gets hot in the direct sun later in the day. By mid-afternoon it is clouding up, the wind gusts and thunder might be heard in the distance with a few sprinkles now and then. By evening it has cleared and with any luck the wind has stopped. It’s cool enough at this time that a light blanket feels good to sleep with. It is actually quite perfect in the summer……. But then again, they will have winter to deal with in a few months  but I won’t – not this year. 

Even though I was late planting my seeds because I needed to be here to water consistently, my little garden of wash tubs is growing nicely. I planted more mint roots and the pot is filling in. My dill, basil, parsley and chives seem to be thriving. I had (note had) a great tub of flowers growing on my front porch, but the darn goats and sheep seem to like them too, and grab a mouthful as they run by. I doubt that I’ll ever see a bloom from them. And, you should see me water that front porch washtub. In my house, I dress in shorts and a tank top, but this attire is not meant for public eyes. But, am I going to cover myself to water that one tub of flowers on my front porch – of course not. Instead I try to pick a time that I don’t see anyone either coming or going and I stick my arm out with a 2-litre coke bottle filled with water and dump it in. I would love a picture of this actually, it must be quite funny to see.

Even though the temperature is warm, it is not unusual in my village to see women still wearing several layers of clothing. Sometimes the layers are woolen knits. Yeah, sweaters over their blouse or caftan and woolen leggings under the caftan and the skirt worn over the caftan. I would die, but they are used to it. Still, I can't help thinking they're soaked in sweat underneath all that. As a foreigner and non-Muslim, I can get away with short sleeves and I can wear cropped pants. Being older also helps since they seem to tolerate almost anything concerning me. Of course, I try to always be respectful and wouldn’t push the limit too much. Looking down from my roof yesterday I noticed a man dressed in two sweaters, and I’m sure he had a t-shirt under them. I was dressed in next to nothing and cookin. How hot must he have been?

As you know, I like to make this writing at least a little bit educational and I recently read this about henna. I’ve been hennaed myself on numerous occasions and I’ve showed you pictures of the exquisite hennaing on brides. Here is a bit more info for you on this subject. The earliest written evidence of the use of henna in bridal adornment goes back to 2100 BCE, when it was associated with an Ugaritic legend about Baal and the fierce goddess Anath. It was grown and used in Spain from the ninth century to 1567, when it was bannedby the Inquisition. But it is still widely used--by Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Sikhs and Roma--across the region from India to Morocco, and in places where people from that region have migrated. Henna has been used for joyful occasions other than weddings, including battle victories, births, circumcision ceremonies and birthdays.

Fresh henna leaves are smashed with a mildly acidic liquid. The mash may be powdered and then mixed with lemon juice or strong tea six to twelve hours before use. Without this resting period, the coloring might not successful. The stain may be improved by adding essential oils (e.g. tea tree, eucalyptus or lavendar) with high levels of monoterpene alcohols. The paste must be made from fresh leaves and left on the skin for at least a few hours and preferably longer; to keep the paste from falling off during this time, a sugar-lemon mixture (or just sugar) may be used. Sometimes the designs are also loosely wrapped during this period. Improperly stored henna may be contaminated by Salmonella or other microbes. Premixed henna powders may contain adulterants, including silver nitrate, chromium, pyrogallol, carmine and/or orange dye, that are hazardous to your health; certain henna products for use in body art are thus banned by the US Food and Drug Administration(though it is approved for use in hair products). So-called "black henna" is not really henna at all, and caution is advised: It often causes an extreme allergic reaction, with blistering and permanent scarring. The blistering might not appear until three to twelve days after application. Sometimes "black henna" is mixed with gasoline, kerosene, benzene or other chemicals associated with risk of adult leukemia. But properly grown and mixed henna seldom causes an allergic reaction or other health problems. Morocco is among the major growers and exporters in the world, along with India, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Iran and the Sudan. During years with the requisite timing and amount of rainfall, plants may yield two or even three crops a year. Fine henna artists in Morocco, almost exclusively women, can earn good money with their skilled work. Henna is also used to dye wool and leather, for its color and also for its antifungal properties. In ancient times the henna plant was also used to make perfume, and there is a new commercial demand for this product.

There!!! Aren’t you glad to know this? Okay, now on to other things……. In late July we circumcised at the medical clinic that has been built since I’ve been here, 275 little boys aged primarily from newborns to two years old. People came from four villages surrounding my village for this procedure. Three doctors came, all from Marrakech, and from what I gather, this is their specialty and they travel from area to area doing just this. Now why would one choose this specialty? The thought of listening to screaming little boys all day long – not what I would choose. I decided that the older they are – the louder they scream, obviously!! I was asked to help and to be there at 8a. I was given the task of cutting tape – I managed to do this quite well!! Doing this task allowed me to stay in the room where the circumcisions were taking place, at least for a while. I think it was finally noticed that I was the only female in the room and assigned tasks elsewhere, basically taking pictures. No numbing was used and although it was a relatively simple procedure – spread the legs, stretch, clamp, snip, roll and a stitch or two - it must have hurt!!! On average, each circumcision took 7 minutes. Upon being banned from the room I was amazed at the gathering of people. What a joyful, party atmosphere. People were dressed in their finest and some had flags or flowers on poles they carried above their heads. If you could beat on it, they did so, and “drums” were beating and voices singing. I asked how often this procedure was done and I was told yearly. But, I commented that I know it wasn’t done last year – I was here. Oh no, they skipped last year because they didn’t have money and this year they were catching up. From what I could ascertain, the Moroccan government gave money for the procedures and for this day. A cow was purchased and butchered. Beef, couscous and fruit were purchased and the entire crowd was fed. The association that I am associated with did the cooking and people were served in the association, baby’s center, and restaurant. The day lasted well over twelve hours.

Fruit that is available, especially in my village, depends on the season obviously. We have just finished watermelon season and I am so sad. The watermelons are wonderful and it’s amazing how much I can eat. Granted lugging those babies up the hill is a bit challenging, but I’m a big, strong girl – I can do it!! At the moment, I am out of fruit in my home. I hope the hanut has something when I next visit. The fruits of the prickly pear, a cactus native to North America which reportedly made its way to Morocco during the sixteenth century are now ripe and sold from food carts in the medina and buckets beside rural roadways. I don’t know if you’ve ever tasted this fruit, which is quite good, but there are lots of seeds to sift through.

Remember my adopted dog, “Gus”. I haven’t seen him in a very long time, and recently I ran into him again. He is still alive, he is very skinny and he appears to have lost his zest for life. He is not an old dog and this makes me sad. In fact, there are a bunch of really cute puppies running around now and unfortunately their future is not very bright. Often times you will hear dogs barking and crying, especially when you are trying to go to sleep at night. When the numbers/ noise gets to be too much, glass will be crushed or poison will be put in bread or the gendarmes will do target practice. Personally I prefer the gendarme method – a quick, clean kill and it is over with quickly. I can’t think about this too much.

I’ll end this now, since there is little else to write. I must admit that I am looking forward to November and returning to the states. I can’t wait to see family and friends and “catch up”. I will end this writing with this thought - perhaps discovering our rich experiences will add something new to our life. The saying goes “Know One Another and You will Understand One Another”. Til my next update - I wish you well….. Hugs, Linda