Sunday, June 5, 2011

June is Busting Out All Over

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6/5/11 If you read to the last paragraph of my last blog update  , you know that I am back in Morocco and writing this June posting from my site in the Mid-Atlas mountains once again. Spring is here and everything is green and lush. We’ve had wonderful spring rains, almost every day in May since my return and they are helping the crops immensely. I don’t remember such nice rains last year. What I remember are the downpours that did little good since it just came down in a whoosh, washed everything away and did little to actually replenish the moisture in the soil.

I think I needed to be away, to once again appreciate the beauty of Morocco. It looks very different from South Africa. There is so much more Arab influence and architecture than I noticed before. I know that South Africa has some very rural, undeveloped parts of the country, but most of the areas I visited could have been anywhere in the States. Since my return, I look at the mud houses differently and now better appreciate the beauty of them. I particularly like the fact that when their usefulness is no longer needed they return to the earth, collapsing and leaving little trace behind that it was ever there. I’m told that no one can build on the same spot until the existing house shows no remains of ever being. And, I look at these gentle people and feel safe. I see idle chit-chat, and hand holding, probably more amongst the men than the women, and it could arguably be said that is why Morocco is a developing country. Perhaps less chit-chat and more labor! My host mom often says that she works, works, works and that my host dad, even though he is a plumber, there isn’t much call here for his skills on a regular basis, so he drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes with the men at the roadside cafes . I can’t argue with this since it often seems the case, and can’t tell if she is teasing or serious? I go along with her and say “yes that darn Houssaine”, but hope they can see the sparkle in my eye as I say this, since my host dad is one of the good guys really. He will cook a meal if she is sick, bathe the children if she is busy and do homework with the children. Many Moroccan men would not do so.

Most mornings when I look down from my rooftop with my coffee cup in my hand, I see women working in the fields. They come out early since it is cooler and work until basically lunchtime which is around 2p. Since most homes have several families living in them, one or two women seem to be delegated to the field work. These women are currently cutting grass for their animals to eat later in the year. They squat down and lean as far as they can reach, cutting the grass with a scythe. They then bundle it into small piles and let it dry. They later gather all these bundles into baskets that they carry on home on their backs to their homes. Backbreaking work and they must be exhausted by the end of the day. I don’t recall ever seeing a man doing this type of work – hmmm.

My community has warmly greeted me and welcomed me back – it feels good!! Even my counterpart seemed to have a genuine smile on her face when she saw me and she kissed the top of my head! I haven’t made the rounds to see everyone yet, since I am trying to be good and not walk the hills too much at least for a while. I’m not sure they understand what was done or why I went to South Africa or that I went to South Africa for that matter, but they do know that it involved my right knee and that I am back until November and they seem glad about that. Since the school is close to my home, it was the first place I visited and I was swarmed with wonderful, smiling little people. I greet them with hugs and very noisy kisses and they seem to get a real kick out of it. They wanted me to sing them a song – oh goodness. Since the word tafukt means sun and I could kind of explain this, I sang them “You Are My Sunshine” – they were delighted despite my voice…… I then, of course, asked them to sing me a song, which they happily did. As you saw in my last blog entry, I have some great pictures of some of the wild life in South Africa. The teachers and students would like to see my pictures, so I will most certainly make a visit to the classes and do that. I took students over to the world map that I painted on the school wall last August and showed them where I went and how I flew there (via Cairo) and back (via Dubai). As with most children, the distance meant very little. All they know is that it was really, really far away and that I went in a tiara (airplane). I struggled with Tashlheet before I left and I was very concerned that I would have forgotten what little I knew in the almost two months I was away. Surprisingly, maybe those words have moved from my “short term memory” to “long term memory” and I actually recall far more than I thought I would. Granted, I still stink, but at least I remember something!!

In my last blog update I mentioned that we visited the Pilanesberg game reserve and talked about “Steroid” the BIG elephant that KG our driver was so scared of. Shortly after I returned to Morocco, I received pictures of an elephant raising havoc in South Africa – it is Steroid. See how big he is compared to this car? He eventually picks the car up with his tusks and flips the car over onto its top. I sent the pictures on to KG via email and he responded, “I was there and saw it happen”. No wonder he is scared of Steroid!!

I may have mentioned this last spring, but since I find it so funny, I will again mention it again this year. Morocco, like many states in America, switches to daylight savings time for the summer months. We, in fact, switched here the weekend I flew to South Africa. Morocco will switch back before Ramadan begins in August this year (remember it’s a lunar holiday and the date changes from year to year). So for a few short months the common question here is -- new time or old time? Most people, especially in the villages, do not observe daylight savings time, so there is great confusion as to what time something will happen and if you are trying to plan something -- it is very important to ask “new time or old time”? Personally I think – why bother switching at all?

A quick update on my knee ….. We were down to the wire of 45 days and a decision had to be made and it was decided that I would return to Morocco. The meniscus repair went well, but still other issues to deal with. I’ve been told that it can take up to six months for soft tissue to mend fully. Although I don’t need a crutch inside, I’ve been asked to use a crutch when I walk outside, at least for a while. Walking uphill is therapeutic, walking downhill is hard on the knees. Squatting is impossible and PC in South Africa bought me this wonderful collapsible camping toilet stand to bring back with me. Must tell you that it works wonderfully well   Note picture!! I have been told to keep a low profile for a while and to give this knee more time. I have done that since my return. I have been out and about to let people know that I am back, but for the most part I've stayed in my apartment and will continue to do so for a while. I may not be the best PCV in Morocco in the coming months, but I certainly won't be the worst!! I’ve started to bake again since friends stop by to see me and to see for themselves that I'm really doing okay. The knee actually feels a bit stronger every day. I can almost do the stairs, leading with either leg now, without discomfort. This is progress!

Upon arrival back at my site I asked myself – what do you cook/eat here in Morocco? Yes, I have a few Moroccan dishes I make from time to time, but for the most part, I probably make something I am accustomed to. I can almost always buy the basic veggies (onions, green pepper, tomatoes, potatoes) and fruit (whatever is in season, currently, melons are available and oranges) here in my village and if I want a better selection I can travel over to my souq (market) town on Saturday morning and I have a bit more to choose from. I rarely buy the meat. This is my own problem to deal with since the locals buy it, when they can afford to, and they seem to be doing okay. But, I just can’t get past seeing it hanging outside the shop unrefrigerated, sometimes covered with flies, and who knows when the counter and knife were last washed. I’ve gotten quite good at making bagels, scones and tortilla’s. I frequently sauté up some fresh veggies, add a bit of garlic and olive oil and serve it over pasta. I make kind of a refried rice dish with lots of veggies. I eat beans and lentils on a regular basis. I find I make a lot of soups, all kinds…. I make a great granola (oat flakes, walnuts, almonds, raisins, figs, dried apricots, and dates, all sweetened with a bit of coconut and sweetened condensed milk Yes, I can get Nestle sweetened condensed milk even here in my village - go figure!! Combine a couple handfuls of granola with some fruit and a yogurt and what a wonderful breakfast I have. While in Rabat on my way home to my village, I bought a melon since I’d been spoiled with a wonderful fruit selection when in South Africa. Looks like a cantaloupe, smells like a cantaloupe, even tastes like a cantaloupe, but note the color – green, not orange???

Unfortunately while in South Africa the mint I had growing in a wash tub on my rooftop bit the dust. I thought a local friend was going to water it for me, but I think she gave up on my return. I will have to find some new roots from someone here and get some growing again. I have come to like mint tea very much and I need it to flavor cheese also – it is a “must have”. Once the weather warms I’ll get my annual herbs and flowers once again growing up-top too.

Things are the same all over it seems, just minor differences -- Why do kids scream as they chase each other like wild animals, as they run? Why do boys throw rocks at birds in trees? Why do baby animals (and some children for that matter) have to grow up? They were once so cute!!

It’s springtime and the season for babies it seems. My host family has a new calf, three wonderful kittens, and baby chicks. A wild dog got the rabbits unfortunately  . Baby sheep and goats are plentiful. Hmm, haven’t seen a baby donkey yet this year? Now they are really, really cute!! Even a couple of my teacher friends had new babies born while I was away. Both moms are still out of town, staying with their moms for a while, so I haven’t had the chance to see those babies yet, but they will soon return to the village and I will.

My village is in the process of building a new school which will house not only a primary school, but middle school, as well. Currently if the children are allowed to go to middle school, they must travel 12k to get to it. Yes there are boarding facilities there, but these are kids!! Who would want to live away from family at the age of 12 and the cost of daily travel is prohibitive. When the new school is finished, and they keep telling me by fall (seeing is believing!!) the children here can hopefully go to school through 9th grade. Most children here in my village now only get a 6th grade education. A few boys will go to middle school, but very few girls are allowed to do so. Now the girls can have more schooling available to them too (if their families don’t need them for household chores and tasks that is, since they are now big enough to be most helpful at home). I was told that the old school would still be used for pre-school and grades 1 and maybe 2. Now, I’ve been told that they miscalculated the number of students , and only grades 5 and 6 will move over to the new school. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what actually happens when the new school opens, huh? Recently, workers came to paint the existing school buildings which were badly in need of it, both inside and out. Everything looks so much better and I noted that when the project was complete, the bathrooms were once again shining!!  Unfortunately, they left one building “ugly”. When asked why I was told it was old. Yes, but you still use it every day and from the sounds of it, you will use it again this fall. Makes no sense to me??? I’m thinking I might just have to paint this building myself this summer (providing the knee is okay to do this). Perhaps I can round up a friend or two to help me?

Since the school is close to my house and relatively easy to walk to, I’ve spent time down there in the 1st grade classroom. Most of these kids I knew last year when they attended the preschool, so I know them well. We’ve been working on some basic English. Common greetings, numbers, body parts, right, left, etc. We’ve danced the Hokey Pokey since it is a great one to reinforce some of the words I’ve taught them, i.e., put your right hand in, put your right hand out, etc. They think it is most funny when I dance the hokey pokey for them. Some of you might remember the kids’ song Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes – this is also a fun way to learn some words. The end of the school year is near and the kids are getting antsy. So to break things up I did some basic stretching - you know reach for those stars….. twist and touch the wall, etc. Lots of giggles when we do this one. We ended that class with popcorn for everyone. Popcorn is one of their favorite treats, as well as mine. The older kids learned what was going on though, and I mustn’t play favorites so I suspect I will need to take popcorn to the other classes too.

So my days are a bit different, but I feel okay about them. I’m still teaching Moroccans about Americans and I hope that by writing this blog, you are learning a bit about Moroccans too. We’re all the same….. different customs, different religions, different cultures, different food, different skin tones, but still people who love and care about their families and friends and living the best life they can under the circumstances. Until I write again – take care and make today one of your best ever. Hugs, Linda

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