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.