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

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