Sunday, March 20, 2011

March Madness

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.

3/20/11 Well my son, Chris has come to Morocco and gone already. It was great to have him visit and to see him. We did a whirlwind tour of Morocco traveling as far south as Mhamid, complete with a trek into the Sahara on camels (gosh I love camels, don’t they look aristocratic?), staying overnight in a Berber tent, and then worked our way north through Marrakech, Meknes & Volubillis, Fes, Chefchauouen and finally Tangiers. Unfortunately, Chris got sick towards the end of the trip and totally missed Chefchauouen since he spent the day there in bed, but was able to make the trip home to Chicago okay a few days later. We visited my first village and host family that I lived with when I first arrived in September, 2009. I had not been back for a visit and promised them that I would bring Chris if he came. The kids have grown and the new baby is beautiful. They were delighted to see me and to meet Chris. Of course, staying only a few hours was not enough time and they wanted us to stay days. We also visited the other four families that hosted volunteers while we were there. Chris commented that he has never drank so much tea in his life since we had to have tea with everyone and even had to eat two lunches, since a tajine was brought out while we were at one of the houses and we were expected to eat at my host family’s too. We then traveled to my current village and only had one day to spend unfortunately since we had too many people to meet for that length of time. Chris plastered on a smile since he couldn’t talk with anyone, and off we went. We had a nice lunch with my host family. Obviously, we didn’t have time to meet everyone that would have liked to meet him, and I’ve received a few shuma’s (shame on you) since we neglected them, but we did the best we could do. Chris had a few girls ask if he would marry them and take them back to America with him, all of which he declined. While we were in Fes, Chris was offered 5,000 camels and a donkey for his mom. I think he was a bit tempted to take him up on the offer, but then wondered just what he would do with so many camels in Chicago? Personally I think I’m worth more – maybe two donkeys, rather than one  ?? Chris had a chance to meet a few volunteers on our travels and Sarah, a friend and fellow volunteer traveled with us for the last five days. By then, Chris and I needed a break from each other and Sarah was a great diversion. Chris and Sarah bought new leather coats in Fes, nice don’t you think? It was wonderful to have him visit and I think he now has a better understanding and appreciation for the adventures I’ve experienced.

In mid-February, before Chris arrived, two fellow volunteers and myself organized and hosted a women’s leadership workshop in Ouarzazate. We worked with a women’s organization in Ouarzazate and they provided us with three facilitators that basically conducted the workshop in Dareja (Moroccan Arabic) for us. It was designed for twenty rural Moroccan women in the general vicinity to attend. It was geared for those 15-30 years old that showed some leadership potential. They arrived late Friday afternoon and returned home after breakfast on Monday. We had grant money to fund this workshop, and they incurred no expense to attend. It was even more successful than I imagined. After the initial awkwardness of getting to know each other, they participated and seemed to enjoy becoming acquainted not only with the concept of leadership, but with each other too. One of our previous volunteers prepared a documentary (titled “You Can Dream”) wherein she interviewed six women who have stepped outside the normal realm and became leaders in their communities. We showed this film and had great discussions since each woman’s experience was very different than another’s. During the workshop they developed a vision and a plan to achieve that vision. There will be a one day follow-up workshop in May to see what progress has been made. The women left energized and enthused and commented that they never even thought that such things were possible. It was exciting to watch them and their reactions. It was also fun to observe just how much we are all alike. After dinner each night, the young ones headed out of the hotel to “see the town”. Granted they were back in by 10p, unlike some of our American youths would be, but they too wanted to experience it all. Some of them had never stayed in a hotel before, let alone without their parents or adult supervision (I guess we were the adult supervision), but they were given a pretty lose rein by us and no one abused it. One of the girls I took with me from my village is actually a bit more adventurous than others. She is one of the lucky ones here in the village and she attends the university in Agadir. While in the village she is very conservative and quiet. She is proper in every way. When I went to get her for the trip into Ouarzazate, she came out of the house dressed in sexy jeans and looked very chic. Her long hair was washed and swept up into a swinging pony tail. She was as cute as a button. And, later when given the opportunity, you should have seen her dance. Nothing shy about that girl!! I would not have known it was the same girl that I’ve known for the past 1.5 years. Not that she did anything wrong, because she didn’t, she was just so different. Yet, if asked what her future holds, she will likely tell you that she will come back to the village to live. Hopefully this workshop will motivate her to put her education to good use in the village at some point in the future.

Since Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, we also celebrated it at our workshop. Everyone involved with the workshop including the hotel staff joined in the celebration. A cake was ordered from a local bakery and the creation was all their doing. What do you think? Quite the cake I would say!!!

After leaving the workshop I went to the home of Nadia’s family for lunch. Nadia is one of two workers at our baby’s center and she has wanted me to come for lunch for a long while, but seems like her days off and me being in Ouarzazate never seemed to coincide. Well this time it worked out and a lovely lunch was shared. She invited five other young ladies to join us, all either from my village or at least familiar with my village, and a lively conversation was had. A lovely cake was prepared in my honor, since my days in Morocco may be limited. I was touched by their thoughtfulness.

I met with the individual classes (grades 1-6) at our primary school and talked about oral hygiene. We watched a cartoon-like movie in Tashlheet that I have that reinforces good dental care that the kids seem to enjoy. Teachers also commented that they also learned something new from the lesson I taught. Everyone went home with a new toothbrush and most with a small tube of toothpaste in hand. I forewarned them that I would ask them when I see them whether they have been brushing their teeth and you can bet I do this. Almost everyone says “yes” and sometimes not only can I see that they have not, but their faces clearly show me that they have not been doing so. Obviously, I show my displeasure in this. Perhaps if I make myself out to be such a nuisance, they will just brush their teeth to make me stay away.

The kids and teachers seem to just like me popping in from time to time and I definitely do this, almost every day since I walk near anyways. I might only stay a few minutes, but their smiles warm my heart and make me feel good and hopefully they benefit too. I was pleasantly surprised to notice sparkling, clean bathrooms the last time I was at the school. It seems that they have taken my suggestion of assigning different classes – bathroom duty and both boys and girls are involved in the process of cleaning. I raved and made quite a fuss about how impressed and pleased I was. Everyone seemed very proud. They actually listened to me – I am tickled – it made my day!!

I also noticed while showing Chris the association and the place where we make cheese that in the refrigerator was a tray of cheese that had been flavored with (?) (maybe rosemary. Who knew??? I didn’t think that this was going anywhere and obviously someone must be buying at least some of it. And, this past week, my counterpart asked me to come and (I thought) show her how to make some of the flavorings I created. Well, she definitely wanted flavored cheese, but I don’t think the intent was for me to show her how to make it – she wanted me to make it. Which I did, but I also brought her over to watch while I made each new batch. When asked where she was going to take this cheese, she indicated that there was a demonstration and I presume she meant there was going to be a taste testing somewhere that she wanted to participate in. Regardless, I am just thrilled that maybe, just maybe, they have taken my suggestions to heart. Since almost everyone involved in the association is illiterate, even though I have the recipes written down in English, French and Arabic, how do you read them if you can’t read? I’ve now put the recipes in graphic form. Elaine brought me some great colored measuring spoons when she visited last October. I’ve used those colors to indicate the quantities needed in the recipes. I have each recipe in a plastic page saver complete with the graphics and written recipes. If they have questions, hopefully they will find a younger woman who can marginally read to help them.

I’ve now taken my tooth brushing campaign door-to-door. If they will take the time to let me give them a short tooth brushing demonstration, everyone in the house will get a new toothbrush. Again, since I really struggle with my language, my demonstration is probably quite comical. I usually get a lot of laughs and hugs and promises to brush their teeth twice a day. Hmmmm

We had a National Geographic tour group come by this past week for a visit to my village. We trekked up the back way to my host family’s home for tea. Not only does this trek give a different and unique view of the countryside, but it also gave them the opportunity to admire my painted door!! My host family is warm, welcoming and simply charming in an innocent way. Everyone enjoyed the opportunity for this experience.

Just before Chris arrived, we were enjoying spring like weather – it was lovely and I was sure that spring had arrived. Well, I returned to a village that was miserably cold. We had snow, winds and winter-like temperatures for about a week mid-March. My house was again sitting at 40 degrees. Downright chilly to comfortably live in. Luckily, we’ve had sun for the past couple of days and with a little luck, maybe spring is just around the corner. This morning I drank my coffee on my rooftop and it was lovely to watch my village wake up. A pile of cement blocks had been dropped below my apartment and I watched a donkey haul four blocks up the hill at a time. This animal worked with little supervision. They would load the carrier on his back and he would automatically start up the hill. I will never understand why the donkey is viewed as one of the lowest creatures in Morocco? What would we do without them?

Peace Corps has decided to bring me to Washington DC for surgery on that torn meniscus. I’ll have surgery at George Washington University Hospital. I will stay in Washington for at least a bit of the physical therapy that follows surgery, but it is possible that they will move me to my home of record, which is my sister’s address in Michigan. I almost went for surgery this past week, but with the US government’s budget issues, it was decided to put me back on hold until it is resolved. I suspect once things are settled, I will go soon. I am now told that they think I have a bit better than 50/50 chance of returning to Morocco after surgery. Of course it all depends on how surgery and physical therapy goes. I do have to be back to 100% in forty five days though to return. Can I do that? This has rather complicated my leaving. Do I pack to leave or come back? As it is now, I have everything that I want to return to the states with me packed in suitcases. If I don’t return, they will have to be shipped to me. I will just travel with a small bag for surgery. I have not disposed of my apartment furnishings, since I will need them if I come back. I have found homes for most things and I’ve left a list in each room as to what goes where. Unfortunately Anna and Angelica will end up bearing the burden of actually getting rid of things should I not return. I’ll be glad to have this all behind me. I’ve never been very good at not knowing what to expect. Initially, I was very disappointed that I would be leaving Morocco before my planned return date. Then I adjusted to this thought and I was getting excited about the prospects of being stateside sooner rather than later. Now I don’t know what I’m hoping for? Do I say good-bye or not? Guess I will just take what I get – huh?

Since I’ve sort of said good-bye to lots of people, I have had invitations galore to come share tea, a meal, or just a few minutes of time. Everyone wants to express their best wishes to me in some way. Again, their kindness overwhelms me at times. This is an extraordinary country in many ways.

Well that is about it for this update. When I next write I will likely be in the states recuperating somewhere. I hope you are enjoying spring like weather and that winter is behind you too. Take a minute to appreciate today and hug a loved one. Thinking of you and missing you. Til next time. Hugs, Linda

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