Monday, July 18, 2011

Jolly July

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.

7/18/2011 Ahhhh, it’s wonderful summer time in my mountain village. It is my favorite time of the year here. The days are generally sunny and warm, yet the nights cool down and a light blanket feels good. Many afternoons it will cloud up and we may get a sprinkle or two, but not much rain here to speak of. We frequently have gusty winds late in the afternoon that last into the evening, then everything quiets down. Why do we have to have winter????? Much of the harvest is done for the time being. Grains are stacked and drying. The long grass is bundled (kind of like our baling) and stored for later feedings. We are now waiting to do second cuttings. Not a lot of corn is grown here (why not?) and most people do not have gardens. I would think that you’d see tomato, peppers, etc. being grown at individual homes, but I haven’t yet. Of course, our souq market has a large supply on Saturdays and people stock up then I guess.

I am now home and hope to basically be here through August. Of course, things change quickly and I could be out and about with someone before I even know it. That happens frequently and I just can’t seem to say “no” so off I go. I’ve planted my herbs and flowers in my washtubs and even though it’s late to start them, I hope they’ll grow and give me a small harvest and some enjoyment. The flowers on my front porch have a hard time of it. The sheep and goats as they run by frequently jump up onto my porch and grab a mouthful or two as they pass by. Oh well, guess I grow them for everyone to enjoy, including the animals. Speaking of my front porch – when in my house, during the summer I am often dressed in shorts and a tank top. I cannot go out on my porch to water my plants dressed as such. Shuma (shameful) if I should do so. Now my body isn’t great, but it’s not that bad!! I have to put on long pants and a t-shirt if I want to step out my door. I try to early in the morning stick my arm out with a bottle of water to water the plants, before others are up. My Kzoo neighbors were witness to my scant clothing while working in my yard and probably get a big chuckle out of this.

Since my last writing and before school let out for the summer I had many visits with the school. I showed individual classes on individual days my pictures from South Africa. Note the freshly painted classroom. Doesn’t it look nice? After these pictures, I had the movie “Toy Story” that we showed the class. Arabic was one of the languages it was offered in since it was an illegal copy purchased by someone probably in Rabat and modified with this feature. Please don’t contact the copyright police – I didn’t do it. The kids enjoyed the afternoon very much. And, how can you watch a movie without popcorn? So, of course, I made lots of popcorn during these days so that everyone could munch and enjoy. It was great fun for me to be in the individual classes with the different teachers. Honestly, I was more impressed with their teaching abilities than I expected to be. As an example, students in one class each had animal names and when their animal came on the screen they had to tell what they knew about that animal. (I remember when my son, Chris, was a weasel in 6th grade – much the same) Another teacher made it a language lesson. I told the name and story in English, he told the same in French and a student would do the same in the language of Dareja (Moroccan Arabic). I have the feeling now that my teachers here really care about their students and teaching. Unfortunately their resources are limited and they do the best they can with what they have. One of the teachers grows beautiful roses in his front yard. He brought me a beautiful bouquet of roses on my last day at the school. I can only think as a “thank you”. They were absolutely lovely.

One day I received a phone call from my teacher friend Abdajalil asking if I was free to come to his home later in the afternoon. I was and I went. Little did I know that we were welcoming his new son, Yesir, into the community. There were many women gathered when I got there. They fed us a beef and prune dish (note picture) that is one of my favoritist things here. Guess I was eating too slow for the lady next to me, since she sort of yanked my mouth open to see if I had all my teeth – yes by golly I do. Okay, I’ll speed up my chewing….. Our next dish was sffa (picture attached) – also one of my favorites. This is a really fine, short noodle that is steamed. They then pile it on a platter and put cinnamon and powdered sugar in stripes over it. It may sound weird, but it is oh sooo good. Finished off the meal with some fruit. I felt bad that I didn’t have a gift to bring for the baby, but I didn’t see that anyone else brought a gift either. I did leave a gift for the baby before I left for South Africa, so guess I’m good.

When I visit with my family and friends, I am never sent home empty handed. I frequently receive mint or other herbs for tea, fresh bread, a couple of eggs and now that peas and fava beans are being harvested, I get bags of them. Many of the families have so little, yet they are so quick to share what they have. A lesson to be learned…….

We had a regional meeting in mid-June telling us that Peace Corps is changing it’s focus in Morocco at the Ministry’s request and suggestion. PC volunteers will no longer be working with small business development, environment or health. Since it is well recognized that all change depends on the country’s youth and progressive thinking, all future PCVs coming into Morocco will focus on youth development. PCVs will learn Dareja (Moroccan Arabic) rather than the Berber languages like Tashlheet which is what I’ve attempted to learn, or others. PCVs will be placed in communities where there are established youth centers. Although I recognize and appreciate where PC is coming from, I am saddened that small villages like my own, will no longer have PCVs placed in them. Sometimes, people like me are the only contact some of these villagers will ever have with the outside world. I am hopeful that PC knows what it is doing and that everything works out the way it hopes it will.

I met up with my friend Tom in Ireland to celebrate my 62nd birthday. Despite the weather being typically Irish with spits and sputters of rain all but one day, it didn’t keep us from having a great time! Tom rented a car and we stayed in bed and breakfasts along the way. We had some lovely dinners and enjoyed Irish music in a few pubs as we moved through. We headed north out of Dublin to Northern Ireland. We traveled the Causeway Coastal Route along the rugged and very beautiful coastline out of Belfast. We walked across the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, spanning a 24-meter chasm. We each picked one “must see” thing and my “pick” was the Giant’s Causeway, consisting of strangely regular basalt columns dominating the landscape that seem to lead across to Scotland. Rarely does nature produce such regular shapes. Unfortunately, this was the only day we encountered down pouring rain. We were soaked to the bone and downright chilly. We spent a day on Rathlin Island, visiting the bird sanctuary that is there and spent the rest of the day walking this small island consisting of 100 residents and many seals. It’s a special place in my opinion. Tom’s “pick” was the Cliffs of Slieve League on the southwest coast of Donegal. These 700 miter cliffs are said to be the highest cliffs in Europe. We luckily had a sunny day for our visit to the cliffs. We then traveled down through Galway on our way back into Dublin. The countryside of Galway was breath taking with azaleas blooming along the rivers and roadways. As we traveled and talked with shop keepers and others, we learned a few new phrases. One of my favorites is “gud craak to nigh” meaning, good conversation tonight, and “no bother” rather than you are welcome and “traffic calming” meaning slow down. A nicer birthday could not have been had.

I returned to site for two days after Ireland and then I was off again to a meeting in Rabat. While in Rabat I have always stayed at one particular hotel. Unfortunately one morning this time I woke up one morning with bug bites, as well as one of my roommates did too. I don’t think they were bed bug bites. They looked more like flea bites to me. I had well over a hundred bites by the time I got home. The really sad part of this is that I think I brought some of the bugs home with me since I continued to get more bites once home and I wasn’t bothered with bites before I left. They itched like crazy and what a mess of welts and scabs I was/am still. Last week I sprayed my mattress and fumigated my apartment. I washed everything including the rugs. A friend was visiting and she helped me haul the mattress to my rooftop for a bit of sunshine and airing. Maybe, just maybe, I have gotten rid of them. No new bug bites for the past couple of nights. I am so relieved – this was awful.

I totally planned to stay put and in my village for most of July and August, but that was not to be. I was only home from Rabat a couple of days when my host brother and sister, Zakia and Zakaria came to visit. My mom, Atika, wanted to see me. She told me that her brother Nordin was getting married the following week. Yes, this is really how much planning goes into a marriage in Morocco. Atika, his sister, just learned of it the day before. Nordin and most of Atika’s family lives near Ouarzazate, so south of me and nearer the Sahara – it will be HOT. I was specifically invited to attend and enjoy the week’s festivities. And, yes a week’s festivities. We were to leave the next day. Once again I would beoff not knowing exactly what to expect, who would be there, what we would do and when would we come home – so many questions????? All I know for certain is that we will kill the cow on Tuesday and the “wedding” will take place on Saturday. In Morocco, at least in small towns, the bride and groom celebrate separately. They will not “merge” the parties until the “wedding” on Saturday. But, I will pack the best I can and be ready in the morning – okay then.

Before I tell you about this wedding, perhaps I need to preface this with this comment. I was raised in a Catholic, Polish family where big wedding celebrations were the norm. For whatever reason I was never a fan of these weddings and vowed I would never have a wedding like this and I didn’t. I feel privileged that I have been invited by this family to share in this big day and event. Without this special connection, I could never have this first-hand experience and view. I was the only foreign, white person in attendance. It was a very special time.

Let me briefly tell you about the wedding week. I can't imagine staying one more day - everyone was exhausted, tempers were growing short and I keep asking myself - why do they do this????? At times it was hard to keep my mouth shut and not make this comment. Even if I had, the reply would have been "it's tradition" and who would go against tradition? Probably a good thing I don't permanently live here - I'd likely get myself in trouble "doing it my way".

Atika told me that we would leave between 7-7:30a on Monday, July 4th. Zacharia was here at 6:30a. Never are they early -- we are excited I guess. He has to wait since I am planning to be ready at 7a - oh well. Houssaine has arranged for a taxi he knows to take us directly to the groom's house. I really Nordin the groom. I have met him on several occasions, as well as Abdulah, one of the other brothers, and they have been particularly nice to me. We are going to Nordin’s house and he has built a huge house. It is beautifully tiled and painted throughout. I have included a picture and although it is a bit blurry, you can see the beautiful ceiling in this room. Most of Atika's seven siblings and their families, and her parents, have gathered and spend the week together. Several of them do live near so they go home at night, but all the rest of us crash on the floor somewhere. I must say, her family is great and I love them. Can't think of one of them that I don't really like. They make me feel most welcome and you can tell they are happy that I am there. They don't want me to help though and I insist from time to time. Feels very weird watching them work and me sitting - not what I'm used to at all. I learned the real reason for going on Monday - it was so the women could be hennaed. Okay, didn't do my feet this time, but I did have my hands done. All the women had it done and it took a full day to do all of us. We eat late and go to bed at 2a. I was told that Tuesday was the day we killed the cow. Well this didn't happen, but Tuesday was spent cleaning the silver and scrubbing/polishing all the pots, pans, platters, etc. to be used for the wedding. We wipe and polish the zillion tea glasses they have. Again we eat late and off to bed at 2a. Wednesday they slit the cow's neck around 5:30a I think, and I missed it. The entire day was spent processing the meat. Nothing is wasted. I couldn't wait to eat some of those organs! Women came that night carrying sacks or baskets of grain. They sat around piles of grain and sorted out the weeds, rocks, etc and sang songs. We finally eat couscous at 12:30a and we’re off to bed shortly after 2a. Thursday we eat meat in earnest. Skewers of liver, stomach, etc. are the main courses. The men came in the morning and prayed from the Koran. They returned for lunch. I was told to basically stay out of sight. Hmmm, not that I intended to crash their party, but guess they didn't want to see the blonde lady. I’m told that this is the men’s party. That evening the ladies come and this is the women’s party. Another 2a bedtime. Friday night is the big night for the neighbors and local family. The family is pretty quiet today and every time I sit down I fall asleep, as do the others. Drums have been delivered and men and women will dance traditional dances (picture attached). Since I didn't know we were coming to this wedding until Sunday, I need to buy a gift. I was told early on that we would go shopping sometime this week. Not sure why Friday is picked as shopping day since it's a big night, but I head out with the six teen-age kids for Oz around 5p and I'm told we would only be gone a short time. I find a gift early on and learn that shopping has just begun. We return home at 10p - eeee gads I don't even like shopping!!! People are JUST arriving for Friday night's affair when we get home - who knew it would start so late? Everyone looks lovely and it is really quite an affair. We eat many courses – starting with tea and cookies (yes dessert first then the rest) (picture attached), then fresh honey combs w/bread, beef with prunes, chicken with olives (picture attached), and finish the meal off with watermelon. We don't go to bed until 4a - ugh. Bia, my counterpart, arrived on this day while I was gone and she is my roomie :-) I've been asked to go with a group to my village on Saturday since this is where the bride is from. The bride has not been with us, she has been with her family and friends in my village, celebrating too. Seems that Atika (my host mom) did the matchmaking for this couple. About twelve of us drive to my village. Makes no rhyme or reason why this particular group is picked. We leave around Oz around 11a and don't get back to Oz until 7:30p. We go to the bride's home, which is very near my house and I kind of know the family. We have lunch with her and some of her relatives. Tonight is for the bride's guests and the groom's family, but the bride's mother and father do not come. It is tradition that they not attend. (Now as a mom, if I had a daughter I’m not sure I’d like this) Saturday night is a grand affair with live music and a Moroccan male singer and nothing has been left out. The bride and groom do not make their appearance until 1:30a. The bride changes her dress five times and their entire time with their guests is spent having pictures taken in these many dresses. One of my favorite dresses is the Berber dress. I’ll be certain to attach a picture of it so you can see it too. Finally the party breaks up and my watch says it’s 5:45a when I put in my ear plugs and go to bed. A large group of us women are sleeping together tonight. I learn that the wedding will continue through Sunday and Atika and family will stay one more day (ummm, thought we would go home on this day?). Nordin, the groom, has driven to my village and brings the bride's mother and father back with him. OMG, I'm not sure I can be pleasant for another day and the groom seems genuinely sad about my leaving. Unfortunately, I cannot stay since my friend Kathy is expected to come :-( and Bia and I come back to our village, I thought together, but since I didn't want to go shopping with her, I came back alone. There is obviously so much more detail to be told, but in a nutshell, this was my six days of wedding festivities. Again, I am delighted that I could be a part of this, but I returned home exhausted to say the least. I took 802 pictures and promised to make every family member a disc. My knee is tired, as well as the rest of me.......... whew.

Kathy did come and we had a nice visit. While Kathy is here we walk up to my host family house and learn that there will be another wedding in September and that I am invited. Not sure my body can do it!! I have a couple of meetings already planned for September and the dates may not work out for me to attend. Of course, at this time, no definite date has been set. Kathy left and I went with Bia into Ouarzazate last week to meet with the governor regarding our need for water at the baby’s center. I have gone with Bia on several occasions and met with the governor before. I’m not certain why she wants me there and what influence I might have? Guess just having her American at her side helps. Once again we were told that in 1-3 months they would look at our project. Last Monday we had four babies and their mothers in the baby’s center and no water coming out of the faucet. It’s very hard to properly take care of the babies and keep the place clean without water. I hope this situation is remedied soon.

I do my exercises religiously and my knee continues to mend and although it is not 100%, it is much better. Since I was told that it could take six months to fully recover, I think I’m on schedule and progressing nicely. I’m sure all this travel is not what the doctor ordered, but I don’t seem to be slipping backwards and that was what I was worried about. By the time I return to the states in November I should be back as good as new hopefully. I now plan to be in site until September with the exception of the occasional day trip into Ouarzazate for banking and food shopping needs. When in site, I’ve been able to rest the knee and will continue to do so. My lineless suntan is coming along nicely.  I will have occasional visitors seeking “cool” spots in the coming weeks since my site is so much nicer than lots of Morocco during this time of the year.

I have a bunch of pictures I am going to try and include. We’ll see how this goes? Well my friends, this is about it for this writing. I hope you are enjoying sunny summer days and that you’re taking the time to enjoy them. Remember – tomorrow isn’t promised!! Sending hugs to you all, Linda

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