Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Waffles, Beer & Chocolate

Last month (nearly all of August) was Ramadan.  No eating or drinking during the day - I didn't get involved (except for one day when I didn't eat or drink out of pure laziness, too much heat and lack of hunger or motivation until around 5:30).  Some days I didn't eat if I knew I was going to eat lftur (breakfast served when the sun goes down around 7:20ish) with a family, but I always drank water because I felt too awful if I didn't.  I ate with about 5 or so different families (I didn't get a lot of invitations!).  Ramadan didn't really affect me that much, except that nobody was working or doing much.  My sleep schedule was off, staying up all night some nights, but I think that was really just due to the heat.

I moved at the end of August - it was amazing (after the number of times I've moved) to basically load a car in 20 minutes, drive to the new town about 2 hours away, then drop it off in about 20 minutes.  There was a bit of a hitch when my landlord couldn't be tracked down to give me the key.  Her father or husband or something stood there watching us move everything up the 2 floors and then stand around, waiting to get a key so we could actually move the items into the house.  After asking several times if there was some way to get a hold of the landlord and/or find out if she had left my key at her place, he randomly emerged with my key.  I appreciate him finally checking for it (and coming up with it) but could you have checked earlier?!  Oh well, we got it done, and then were on our way to Rabat (a PC staff member and driver along with my now-former sitemate helped with the move - many thanks to them!), and made it back in time so that the driver (a Moroccan who was fasting) could get home in time to break fast with his family.

I spent a few days in Rabat with my Marine-family friends.  I had my monthly cough again so I talked to the PCMO (PC Medical Officer) about doing something about it. They had me come back on Monday and then sent me to get a face/neck x-ray.  That showed nothing. They sent me to a pulmonologist on Tuesday and he did a PFT (pulmonary function test).  And he determined...I have asthma.  Whew - big news - had it all my life (but glad we confirmed it I guess?!).  I wanted me to start a new steroid inhaler twice a day, steroids, antibiotics, a couple other things.  The PCMO decided to go ahead with the antibiotics, but nix the non-inhaler steroids and just do the inhaler.  They wanted to do a TB test, but I didn't have time to stay in Rabat for them to check the results two days later so they decided they would just do it when I get back from the States next month since I have to go see the pulmonologist anyways for follow-up.  Unlikely I have TB, so don't worry people, especially if you will be, or have been, around me!  But you never know...

At the beginning of September I went to Belgium for about a week with a fellow PCV, Annie to celebrate her 30th birthday.  We spent a couple of days in Brussels (where we attended the Beer Fest), a couple in Antwerp and a couple in Ghent.  The architecture was beautiful, the people were friendly, the food was delicious and the weather was cool.  Saying it was tough to leave is a total understatement.  I ate a waffle a day.  Annie ate about 10+ chocolates a day (I ate 5 total, plus a few samples here and there).  We drank a lot of delicious beer.  We ate (all-you-can-eat) spareribs one night and oh man were they good (I thought of Uncle Ronnie the whole time and took a picture for him!).  We ate the local specialty, beef pieces in a beer/brown sauce with fries and salad, a couple of times.  We ate a few sandwiches and bowls of soup.  We walked for hours and I think I bought no souvenirs.  Ahh.

Now I'm in a town about 45 minutes from Marrakech staying at the home(s) of a couple of volunteers.  Another PCV and I are leading a VSN (Volunteer Support Network) training for a couple of days.  We'll talk about active listening, coping skills, emotions, etc. so they can be sources of support for other PCVs.  I got trained in this in February.  You know how good I am at talking about feelings so I'm the perfect trainer ;)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sink or Swim

The first weekend of May I was in Rabat for a craft fair we were hosting at the American Club.  My painter and scarf maker were both there and both did okay, although the turnout was terrible due to several factors pretty much out of our (PCV) hands.  Oh well, it gave them the opportunity to go to Rabat, which they had never done before and probably wouldn't get to do and see new acquaintances they've met through attending our craft fairs.  I was in Rabat for a couple of extra days on either end of this weekend to meet with my program staff because a small group of us were planning our next training.  Being in Rabat is always so nice - it's the closest thing to being in Europe that we can get without hopping on a plane or boat.  After meetings were finished, I headed back to my site to await a visit from our PCMO (PC Medical Officer).  She was traveling around visiting several sites and for some reason mine made the list.  I wasn't sure what I was going to show her, but we ended up just having a good discussion and I told her about the fact that I feel like there are very few work opportunities in my site and I basically sit around all day on the computer.  People don't invite me over (except for the standing invite to my host family's house) and I couldn't really tell her what I was getting out of this whole experience.  My language has suffered due to lack of interaction with HCNs (Host Country Nationals) and speaking Darija.  I've picked up side projects but none of them are really day-to-day work that will sustain me.  Not really the way I pictured my life in Peace Corps (not that I really pictured anything I guess, but this surely didn't come to mind).  Anyways, she didn't like how it sounded and suggested the idea of a site change.  This wasn't something I'd thought about as really an option for me - I think of those as only for people who have serious health or safety & security issues and that wasn't really the case here (although my mental health was at risk due to boredom and loneliness!).  She left with a promise to tell one of the higher ups that she and I thought a site change would be good for me.  Most of the rest of the month was spent in my site just hanging out.  My host "niece" who speaks English and lives in Tangier was visiting for a little while so it was nice to have her around to chat with and ask questions of.  I just wish she was home more often!

I went to Rabat again at the end of the month to see the Shakira concert.  The music was good, but the way they had the stage set up, it made it impossible to actually see anything except for a couple of glimpes of her.  Otherwise we watched it on the big screens they had set up while trying to avoid getting mauled and/or pushed over by horny, obnoxious teenage boys and men looking for a fight or inappropriate body grab anywhere they could find one.  We finally had enough and left during what turned out to the be last song.  That definitely turned me off of attending big events here where I know there will be large crowds squishing together.  It's the majority of the reason why I skipped the Genoua Festival (a big music fest) in Essaouira in June.  Steering clear of big mobs of people is a good thing.

The month began with a quick jaunt up to Chefchouen to check it out for a couple of days.  People rave about the "blue city" but I wasn't super impressed.  It was a little different than most of Morocco, in that the buildings/houses are mostly painted blue, but I felt that the painting was maybe done a little too half-a**ed. I'm a little too jaded, I get it, and probably look a little too closely at things.  It was fun to hang out with the friends I went with though and see a new place.  After that it was back to Rabat for a Marche Maroc Sustainability meeting.  We have formed a committee that is trying to find a way for our craft fairs to continue on after we have left.  (Have I mentioned that SBD is being closed after my group leaves?)  Then it was time to head to Mehdia, the beach town where we went when we first arrived in country 10.5 months ago for our week long In-Service Training (IST), the training I mentioned before as having a part in planning.  We were supposed to have it in Marrakech, but after the bombing, our staff was worried that our friends & family would freak out if they knew we were in 'kech so they moved it.  It was nice to be on the beach ('kech is miserably hot in the summer - not the place you want to be), but we were looking forward to being in the city with things to do (although we saved a lot of money by not having many opportunities aside from one little bar!).

When IST was over, I made my way to Khenifra for a night, and then to Beni Mellal for our first Regional Meeting (part of the many changes PC is making includes splitting us up into 8 regions, with each one getting our own Manager, and most having 25-40 PCVs in each, each meeting separately a few times a year).  It was I wanted to die.  The hotel we stayed at was gross and we couldn't sleep.  I think the goal was mostly for people in each region to meet each other, but my region is fortunately pretty social so I knew everyone except for the one new guy we just got in the new staj (group).  I think the staff was surprised at how we all were already friends so we powered through the businessy stuff and got to go home early.  At the end of the meeting I got good news - our 2nd in command staff person in-country was at the meeting and had listened to suggestions we were making.  One of the 2nd year girls had said that staff should honor site change requests when they're made (or at least look into the situation).  She came up to me at the end of the meeting and asked if I wanted to do the site change because she wanted to make it happen!  I couldn't believe it was actually happening - I had mostly forgotten about the whole thing, thinking it was just another thing that would slip through the cracks.  She made a call that day and got the ball rolling on the process.  Anyways, we have another meeting coming up at the end of September but I will be on my way to America at that time!!

After the meeting, I headed back to my site for more time sitting around on the computer!  A week or so later, my sitemate and I met with the painter one day and saw some of his new work, then met with my scarf maker the next day.  That was the day I got the call from a couple of staff members saying they had a new site picked out for me!  It was going to be all the way east and quite south, what we consider PC Algeria as it's closer to there than other cities in Morroco.  this seemed like an interesting option although a huge change, but I'd said I wanted something new so I was preparing myself for new!  Then the next day I got another call from another staff member who said they had found a different site, one that's about 2.5 hours from me and in my same region.  This seemed like a much easier adjustment (and much closer to all the big cities and other people), so I was pleased with the option.  There is currently an SBD Volunteer living there who is leaving in 3 months (her service will be complete then) so a week later, after spending some time in my province capital taking care of my friend's dog, I went and stayed with her and she showed me around town and introduced me to people.  It's a much bigger city, with around 40-50,000 people and a lot more opportunities (I think).  We were hoping to see some potential houses for me to live in, but nothing was available.  I like her house though because she's close to the bus station, but more importantly, she has a western toilet and ceiling fan!  Her house is super hot in the summer because it's on the first floor, in the medina and really close to the house across the "street" and therefore gets no draft, but I figure it's hot a few months out of the year, but I have to go to the bathroom every day of the year so I'd rather have the western toilet!  (It does have a turkish toilet as well, so for those of you coming to visit, you'll have the opportunity to practice at my house if you choose!)  It's not a for sure deal that I'll live there, but is looking pretty likely.  There's one other house she's found that's available and I'm going to try and see it in August to decide for sure.  Let's call the new town Bouj for convenience sake.  And I believe I'll be moving there at the end of August.  You know how I love moving - can't live in one place for much more than a year - so I'm being sure to make that happen even here.  Ugh.

Get me to the beach.  This country was too hot in June and it's only gotten worse in July (well at least where I live, but where I've been, it's been so much better...)  I left Bouj and went to Agadir to meet up with Ruth and Marcia, friends from my CBT.  We spent a night there, getting supplies and stuff we were going to need for another upcoming craft fair we were doing in Essaouira soon after.  We had dinner on the boardwalk and shopped the next day, then we headed out to Ruth's site for a night.  It was painfully hot there and I couldn't wait to get back to the coast the next day!  Back in Essa on the 3rd, we set up shop in a cute little riad (hotel with an open courtyard like middle area) in the medina.  From then until opening day of the craft fair on the 7th (or really the night of the 6th when the artisans and other PCVs arrived) several of us were in craft fair mode, setting up tents that were a nightmare, dropping off flyers and doing other pre-event stuff (which yes, did have to include a couple of bar trips and a few tasty meals thanks to Essa's restaurant options).  The craft fair went fairly well, although it was long days and nights because the crowd in Essa doesn't really get going until later in the day.  I was in charge of the workshops/trainings for the artisans so I arranged the speakers and content for the three days we had them.  They went well, although it's always hard to tell what the artisans really get out of it.  One workshop was on customer service and some basic English because we see that our artisans do not have very strong customer service skills and we want to improve that.  I asked four of our Youth Development (YD) PCVs to lead that because they are peppy and trained (somewhat) to teach.  I figured they were more fun to listen to the business folk! Then our SBD Program Director came to inform the artisans about Peace Corps ending the SBD Program, and therefore us being their last Volunteer (some have had many PCVs in the past and expect to have more in the future).  Then we had a couple of our Marche Maroc Sustainability Committee heads talk about options for the artisans for the future, not just through hosting craft fairs (because we're nervous this might be too big of an undertaking for them with limited resources), but through other avenues as well.  We shall see what happens in the future in regards to whether they carry on with the fairs, go another route, or do nothing at all - it will be all up to them to figure it out once we leave!  We're trying to provide them with options, but we can't force our ideas on them.  In the end, they'll do what they want to.

The Monday after the fair was over (last day was Sunday), I had a meeting with a small committee I am leading that is hoping to improve the process that Peace Corps uses to find our host families, both in the towns where we live in the beginning and do our training, and in our final sites.  We just don't think PC does a good job in general of finding families and there are plenty of stories out there of disappointing and (really) bad experiences that people have had, often due to poor research on the part of the PC.  Who knows if we'll have any impact, but I think the staff is open to our suggestions and will hopefully put some things in place that we suggest.

I spent the 12th wandering around Essa, eating a yummy final meal and then preparing to say goodbye to probably my favorite town, aside from Rabat, in Morocco.  (I've realized I would like to live near water when I come back to the States - I love my mountains, but I'd like to give waterside living a try!)

Sometime around the time of the homestay meeting/ending of the craft fair, I got an email for an opportunity to spend time at an SOS Children's Village for camp.  SOS is basically an orphanage, but it's set up so much nicer than what you might think.  There are apartments in a compound where individual "families" live.  Each family includes a "mom" (a woman who functions as the head of household/mother) and 6-11 kids, some of which are biological siblings, some of which are not.  You can read about the Morocco Villages here: and the organization in general here:  They have a playground, basketball/soccer court, art room, music & movement room and small library.  They attend local schools, some of which are private.  Anyways, PC Morocco now has a relationship with SOS to do camps with the kids so I committed to doing one that was occurring in Agadir just after I was done in Essa.  So, I made a side trip to my friend Donna's site for a couple of nights since she lives pretty close by and then went to Agadir.  I thought it was going to be a pretty structured camp, like the spring camp was, but it hasn't played out that way.  When we got there, the Interim Director asked why we were there on Saturday (when they don't work on the weekend, although she lives on-site) and therefore said I could have the rest of the day and Sunday off cause there was nothing for me to really do.  She'd give me a tour and we'd do paperwork on Monday.  Okay.  Oh, and we weren't staying in Agadir because most of the families were heading to the beach about 50km from there.  Uh, so why am I here?  The apartment I was staying in, in the compound, is really nice. Fully setup kitchen, 3 bedrooms, a shower and a washing machine so I was good to go.  I walked around the area a bit on Saturday and then later that night the other PCV I was going to be with arrived.  On Sunday, we went to the suq and got some food and walked around the area some more.  Over the next couple of days we did some minor activities with the kids, but they were so unbelievably out of control that we had to give up on any kind of activity.  All they did was scream and run around and not a single one would listen.  Not pleasant, let me tell you.  Then on Thursday we loaded up 65ish children under the age of 8 and a few of the moms into 3 buses and we left for the beach town (I'm still here - this was the Thursday before last - i.e. not yesterday).  It's actually not a beach town - in my book, to qualify as a beach town, you have to be ON the beach/water.  This town isn't.  It's off quite a ways, but we drive to the beach each morning after breakfast and play in the sand and freezing cold water (which despite extremely shivering kids, they insist it is not cold).  The kids are entertained, and have a new location to fight, scream, hit, steal toys from each other and otherwise be obnoxious (I will not go off on the "there's no effective discipline of children in Morocco" tangent right now).  Then we come back for lunch, afternoon rest time and then back out to the courtyard area for screaming, crying and essentially total chaos before an evening snack, more chaos, then dinner (we're staying in kind of a camp setting, I'll try to take pics because I can't really describe it, other than a large main room for eating, with a kitchen, and other large rooms for sleeping).  We were supposed to leave today, so I have no idea why we didn't, just that we aren't going back to Agadir until tomorrow.  I have been teaching some of the moms, and a few of the girls, how to float in the water and sort of basic swimming (most moms don't know how to swim and none of the kids do). I have enjoyed my time in the water, although it's so cold my skin turns completely pink.  There's supposed to be a little party tomorrow night and then I plan to head back to my site on Sunday.

Sorry this has been pretty dry and fact-filled.  I'm exhausted from the week of kids crawling all over me and in my face nonstop.  I could definitely never do this full time and I can't wait to escape, although I'm glad I did it.  There are some very cute (looking) kids here, although they all have behavior issues that I get extra frustrated with because I don't have the language to effectively discipline them and if the moms notice, the most they do is scream at them and/or hit them and that's it.  Doesn't really get the point across and they always do it, or something just as annoying, again.

I'll let you know how Ramadan goes next month and if I go ahead with fasting or not.  Goodbye beach and nice weather, I'm about to go sweat my a** off for the next month or so...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's Beginning to Feel a lot like Africa (HOT)

First of all, congrats to Jessie and Jeff on baby Sloane's arrival yesterday - I'm so excited for you guys (and Grandma & Grandma Ketcham)!  It's been fun following their blog and seeing Jessie's tummy get huge over the months, especially since she's so tiny normally :)

I had to pull up my calendar to try and figure out what I've been doing.  Spring camp (I can't remember my last post, but did I mention it was in Oujda, which is essentially on the Algerian border, in the northern part of Morocco?) was definitely a good experience.  I was nervous going in because of stories I'd heard, but all ended well.  We of course had teenage drama, but that's to be expected when you get almost 60 12-17 year olds together for a week.  Little relationships began (that I've since heard have already ended), hearts were broken and friendships were formed.  The irony of it is that the first initial of the first names of us counselors spelled out DRAMA.  We had some good culture talks with the kids and I learned I don't know the first thing about how to teach.  It was embarrassing, but we stumbled through it (they definitely didn't leave knowing any more English than they came with, but what can you expect in 2-4 days?).  I will definitely do my best to do it again next year.

After spring camp I headed back to Sefrou for a night and then went to Fez the next day because my lovely friend Jess was visiting me from Denver!  She was my first visitor and it was so fun, but so weird, to see someone from home.  We spent the next day walking around the medina in Fez and it didn't take her much time to figure out how annoying the men and boys there are (and why I ignore them, which at first she thought was rude).  They are constantly bugging you and in your personal space and generally rude (some of them learn a short phrase or two in English, and rarely is it not something derogatory or cuss word filled, often sexual).  She was over it after about an hour or two, plus it was really hot, so we headed to a cafe owned by a British guy and had banana smoothies on the roof overlooking some of the medina.  The next day we both got on buses (she with her tour group and me on what we call a souk bus - I'll explain later) and headed to Marrakech.  It was a full day (around 11 hours) of travel - including a 45 minute breakdown that involved everyone filing out of the bus and crossing the street to the minimal amount of shade provided by a few trees and a large metal sign (where we then left five guys behind because they'd run to the store to buy drinks).  It was also hot as hades and I was sweating pretty much the entire journey.  The only air circulation was one pop-up thing in the roof (that got closed a couple of times - not okay - not sure how Moroccans can wear winter coats, 5 layers of clothing and hats when it's 90 degrees outside, but they most definitely do).  It was a miserable journey and it just wouldn't end - even when I finally got there, got in a cab, but then couldn't find my hotel because Jess's tour guide hadn't told me the full name of the hotel (he'd also given me the wrong hotel in Fez so it was par for the course!).  Eventually I made it to the swanky hotel we were staying at though, grabbed dinner and then we went and chilled in the room for the rest of the night.  The next day she went on the tour of the city with the group and I stayed at the hotel and hung by the pool.  It was so nice, although super hot!  That night we went to a little vegetarian restaurant in the medina and then walked around Jemaa Al Fna (the main square) - it's an experience at night with the food stalls and the "hosts" grabbing at you and telling you their food is the best (it's all the same) and all the street performers.  The next day we sadly parted ways - Jess heading to Rabat and Casablanca and then back to Spain and me hanging by the pool again until it was time to go to my friend Kelsea's site, about 1.5 hours away.  It was a bit of an adventure getting there (all travel in Morocco is), but I made it (although I had to race to the front and off of the bus with all of my stuff because I didn't realize we'd already made the loop through her town and were headed back to 'kech).  Saw Kelsea's town and then the next day we went back to 'kech to meet up with a few other PCVs.  The parents of one of my fellow trainees were in town so we went to dinner with them which was nice.  They left early the next morning, but the five of us PCVs hung out in 'kech and walked around.  We'd heard there was a delicious Vietnamese restaurant in town, so I decided to figure out where it was so we could go there for dinner.  We did end up finding it, but I will say the food was a bit disappointing - I'm not sure if our standards are much lowered than they used to be, or somehow higher, but I guess at least we got Asian (it was a mix of several kinds) food.  Then the next day we all headed back to our sites.

I was in site for a few days and then headed out for another getaway which I'll have to tell you about at a later date.  Suffice it to say it was delicious and beautiful.  After that, I went to my friend Annemarie's site (and I even passed through my old CBT town TimHdit - they've definitely done some improvements, at least to the sidewalks there) because she is half British and was therefore having a Royal Wedding (Watch) Party.  It was really fun - she made a few meals of yummy British food (oxymoron, I know) and we spent the day watching the wedding festivities.  I saw a lot of people on facebook whining about the wedding and how they don't care about it and shouldn't we and they be concerned about money issues, not spending an insane amount on a wedding right now, but come on - we need a little excitement and happiness in our lives people.  Take a break from reality for a minute and enjoy!  And you say you don't care about it, but you obviously care enough to make it your fb status, soooo...   Whatever, I had fun watching and am not ashamed to admit it!  It was beautiful :)

After the wedding weekend was over, I came to my friend Cheryl's site, about 30 minutes from Azrou (our old hub town, ahh memories) and that is where I am now.  We are part of a small group that is planning our next training session, IST, that is taking place in June.  Our last training was so bad that we decided we needed to step up and offer our input and help plan this next one.  Hopefully our staff will listen to and implement our input (we actually called and interviewed every SBD PCV in our staj - group - and got their feedback so they should listen up).  We'll see what happens with that.  We're meeting with them this weekend or early next week to hash it out.

I'm going to Rabat on Thursday for another craft fair we have happening at the American Club this weekend. It's a more exclusive fair (not everyone is allowed to come) so there will be a smaller group, but it will be fun to see the people that are there.  The Rose Festival is taking place down in the southern part of the country this weekend and I had hoped to go to that, but the craft fair is more important so, priorities!  Below is a picture of some of the scarves my artisan makes, and then a picture of her and I in Fez after the last craft fair. I've never added pics to the blog before, but I figured why not?!

I'm sure by now you've all heard about the bombing in Marrakech.  It was so weird because at first the PC office texted us and said there'd been a gas explosion at a cafe (that was the first report they got) and to check on any PCVs we knew that might be there.  Then later there were emails saying that they'd discovered it was actually a bombing.  We all had to report in right away to let them know we were safe.  There have been concerns that there could be anti-American sentiments, but I've been in small towns and only traveled once since it happened, so I haven't felt that, at least not yet.  It could be different in Rabat this weekend though.  Fortunately I'm staying at the home of one of the marines (who guards the Embassy) and his family and we'll be next to the marine house (where the rest of them live) all day, so we should feel pretty protected. As the PC always tells us - (we'll) stay vigilant!

Oh, and this whole bin Laden thing - what a surreal few days it's been.  (We're not allowed to publically comment on Osama, so I'll have to keep my feelings to myself on this one.)  I am proud to be an American though :)  Leaving your country (when it's the US and you go to a developing country, especially to live there) will definitely make you feel a bit patriotic I think.

And since I won't probably be posting on here again before this weekend, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!  Especially to my wonderful mom, but also to the many others of you out there - brand new or more seasoned!!

**A souk bus, if I haven't told you before, is a regular bus, but one that should have been retired about 30 years ago.  They rarely have temperature controls, only some have windows that open, the seats are sometimes missing in places and often very worn out and they sound like they should die at any moment (and many do).  But it's the cheapest and most common method of travel (aside from grande taxis for shorter distances).  I won't be using them this summer because I can't handle the heat (I'm already freaking out about the weather, although fortunately the last few days have been cold and rainy).  I'll take the government-run CTM buses because they (typically) have AC and more comfortable seats, plus they don't stop as often and aren't (at least so far) usually very full.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bacon, Fez and City Kids

So what did I do in February? Let's see if I can remember. The main thing that stands out is that at the end of the month we had our PPST (Post Pre-Service Training) in Azrou. I was expecting it to be freezing in that area during that time but unfortunately it was just cool. I was just hoping to see a little bit of winter. We had more (mostly useless) training, but it was good to see the group. And that was when we booked our Dublin trip...

So, March was definitely more exciting. On the 13th I left my site (after being there the first couple of weeks) and went to Sefrou where one of my fellow trainees lives. It's near Fez, so in the northern part of the country. On the 15th, 5 of us flew to Madrid (which was sorta cool because it was exactly 6 months to the day after left so and the passport stamps are right next to each other), spent a few hours playing cards and drinking beers in the airport. Ahh, drinking where it's not hashuma (shameful)! Then we flew to Dublin. We got in pretty late that night so we just hung out in the lobby of the hotel (they have a nice lounge and bar) and had a beer or two, ate and then went to bed. On Wednesday, we got up, ATE BACON for breakfast and went out sightseeing on the red, double decker bus. We did the Guinness brewery tour and saw several other sites of Dublin. We walked around, ate good food (Guiness & beef stew for me, at the oldest bar in either Dublin or Ireland) and then stopped at several pubs along the way. When we went back to the hotel, they were having a party with a band so we went and listened to the band and had a couple more drinks (noticing a theme here? No, I don't have a problem, just making up for lost time, ha!). They were a fun Irish band so hung out there for awhile, then moved out to the lobby when they were done. After awhile we went to bed so we could get up and get back to the city for the parade. We were staying near the airport, but it's not far from the city center and they have a shuttle that takes you to the airport for free and then we would take the city bus from there. Pretty convenient, especially since we booked the trip two weeks out and over a hugely popular time there. I could tell I'd been in conservative Morocco too long when every girl I saw I thought looked like a slut, haha! None of which (well maybe a few) would have ever stood out before living here, but man, I was constantly shocked! So lame! Thursday was St. Patty's Day so we went and watched the parade and then secured our spot in a pub. They had a great band so we had a great time talking to and attempting to understand the Irish guys standing behind us, listening to the band and drinking Guiness and Smithwick's. We ended up staying there all day, but they weren't serving food so we left, I think around 8pm or so to go find something to eat. We couldn't really find a place to sit down (everywhere was packed) but we found a sort of cafeteria-like place and grabbed something, then headed back to the hotel. We hung out in the lobby, got better food and then eventually went to bed. On Friday, we ate more bacon for breakfast (we had it everyday) and then went back to town. Our tickets on the tour bus were still good so we rode around some more, stopped a couple of places and walked around. We went to the Jameson Distillery, but it was packed and I didn't think the tour was all that great last time I did it, so we skipped it and just had Irish coffees in their cute lobby bar and then headed out. After more pub stops, we headed back to the hotel. James and I ate steak for dinner since it was our last night (Lauren ate yummy chocolate cake). We had drinks and hung out in the lobby all night (not drinking all night) because our flight was at 6:25 the next morning. Since we had to be at the airport at 4:30, we decided to save a little money and not to keep our hotel room for Friday night since we'd barely be able to use it anyway. We were all tired on Saturday morning, but dozed on the plane and during our long layover in Madrid. We got back to Fez on Saturday afternoon, and then headed back to Sefrou.

I stayed in Sefrou until Monday, when I decided to go see another PCV, Jo, in her TINY little village (800 people) for a few days. We were bums most of the time and just watched movies and downloaded tv shows. It was nice to relax! Then we went back to Sefrou on Thursday so that we could go to Fez and hand out posters and flyers about our Marche Maroc craft fair in Fez to hotels and other places. We did that on Friday as well. It was cool because I did it in the medina so I got to wander around and check it out for the first time. Then we headed to another bigger town 2 hours away to see our friend Lauren. Then I went back to Sefrou on Sunday.

Marche Maroc was this past Thursday - Sunday so I was in Fez each of those days, plus last Wednesday for that. The fair went fairly well. I had two artisans there - my lady that makes the beautiful wool and silk scarves and a painter, who is actually Juan's friend, but due to budget constraints and the fact that Juan is in Youth Development, not SBD, we considered him "mine" so he could come. They each sold a fair amount of stuff and make enough money to make it worth their time. I always want them to do better though! We also may or may not have booked another quick getaway to Pisa, but more details on that later.

Late Sunday night (early Monday morning at 1:30) another girl and I got on a bus to head to Oujda, which is where I am sitting now. She went on to another city from here because we are both helping out at spring camp. It's a camp put on by PC and the Ministry of Youth. We teach English classes in the morning and then have activity clubs (like dodgeball, capture the flag, paper mache, talking about the environment, etc.) after lunch. I've never taught anything before, especially English, so I have no idea what I'm doing, but I muddle through. The kids talk nonstop so I'm constantly shutting them up and trying not to snap and smack one :) I took a note that a boy and girl were passing today and the boy begged me to give it back to him after class. I didn't, but instead gave it to the 2 other PCVs with me to translate out of French. It was pretty flirty so we got a good laugh out of it. The kids at this camp are SO different than the kids I'm used to. They're from the city and wealthy families. Most of them dress much less conservatively than those in my town. They're shocked by the conditions in which PCVs live. It's kind of funny and surprising that they have no idea how some/most people in this country live. They like to flirt with each other so we're having fun watching and gossiping about them! There are 5 PCVs here, all girls - the "leader" does Youth Development (YD) and there is another girl who does the same, then there's me in SBD, a girl who works in the Health sector, and one in environment - so we have a nice cross-section of personalities and people. There are three Moroccan male counselors that we work with. Tomorrow we're going on field trip, and at one point it was mentioned that we might go the beach, which is about an hour away. Hoping that it happens, but we might end up just going to the forest or something.

Anyways, that brings us to now. I'm sure I've missed some traumatizing thing, but oh well. I'll let you know if I think of it. Camp ends on Saturday so I'm heading back to Sefrou to get my things I left there and then I'm going to Fez on Sunday to meet up with Jess, who is on a tour bus as we speak, making her way from Spain to here! I can't wait to see her - it will the first person I've seen from home in 7 months. It will probably be a little strange too, but that's okay, I'm just looking forward to it :) and joining her tour group for some sightseeing 2 or 3 days. April is turning out to be pretty busy (thank god) so I will be on the move most of the month. And as usual I am not proofreading this out of laziness, so, sorry!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Color Explosion

So I’ve finally slept in my house. The most colorfully painted/tiled/decorated house you could imagine. I will try to take pictures and post them because I can hardly describe the tackiness that is this house. The hallway, living room and dining room have brownish-red and cream tiles from the floor to partway up the wall. (This part isn’t so bad, although there are two different patterns going on. It’s when you add in what they’ve done to the rest of the place.) In the living room the wall above it is teal with an odd pattern that looks like something you might see under a microscope. The ceiling is another color (black and grayish) with another pattern. The wall above the til in the hallway and dining room is gray with the scientific pattern Then in each of those rooms (that are open to each other) there is a lovely floral border across the top. Each one has been painted in a different color scheme: hot pink, yellow, brown, orange, blue, etc. On the ceiling there are decorative elements that have also been hideously ruined with bizarre, totally nonmatching colors, including gold. In the hallway on the ceiling there are several wood beams that are alternately painted blue and pink. There are a couple of archways, under which is brown (with gold accents of course). The floors are all tiled, mostly in semi-coordinating colors with the tiles on the wall, except in the living room there are 2 patches of grey. The kitchen is fully tiled in a couple shades of pink and of yellow/orange. On a couple of tiles there are Greek-related items (columns, vase) and then one has a basket of flowers. My bedroom has been painted gold, but the best part is that Moroccans seem to have a real affection for glitter (you see it fairly often on the outside of houses) – I got lucky and they painted my bedroom wall with it. My spare room has all pink walls. The walls of the shower and the toilet rooms (I did get lucky and they’re separate – nice not to have to clean yourself over the hole where you relieve yourself…) are tiled in the living/dining room tiles, with a few blue ones thrown in for good measure I guess. I got fortunate with windows. There are 3 in the living room plus the door has glass on the top half – and it opens – and there is 1 in the kitchen and 1 in the spare room. I decided to use the room that’s my bedroom because it doesn’t have an outside window (it does have one that opens to the dining area though) since I like to sleep/wake up with it nice and dark. The house is pretty open and the rooms are good size and the ceilings are high. It just could not be any gaudier. Oh and the furniture. I got couch cushions, called ponges (they rarely buy actual couches), from my sitemate (thanks Juan!) and they’re TU blue and yellow. There’s also a plastic floor mat in coordinating blue and yellow, and then a rug that goes on top of that in blue, brown and cream that doesn’t exactly match, but god bless Juan for finding something that at least was blue! I also got from him another plastic mat that’s brown and a rug that’s darker red with a nice pattern in a few colors that are in my bedroom. It’s definitely a site to see. I’ve still got to buy quite a few things, but with what I have and my sleeping bag (and a borrowed pillow from Juan), I can at least start staying there. I also got a fridge, small table and a few plates, silverware and glasses from the girl I replaced so that’s super helpful.

My language skills have taken a nosedive since we stopped going to class. I didn’t speak enough with my host family and community members and practice like I should. But it really gets old having people just laugh and rarely understand you whenever you talk. It was definitely a lot more comfortable (a lot being a relative term) talking with my first host family and community in my training site. I’m sure it helped that my first host father spoke pretty good English so we could use that when we needed to (which was really often). They also made a lot of effort with me in simple ways – like taking me to the kitchen and saying the names of items. My second host mom will just go on and on and on even when I ask her to slow down and repeat a little at a time. Super frustrating. In the last few days I was getting more and more tempted to just start rattling on in English just so she could maybe understand how I was feeling. I didn’t, I just kept nodding, laughing sometimes just because (usually when she did) and then making a confused face when it seemed she was actually asking me something or wanted some sort of response. It was painful. It is nice to be out of the situation. The family is nice, don’t get me wrong, just overwhelming, especially when you haven’t spent a single night by yourself in over 4 months. Just needed some space. Moroccans don’t really have a concept of privacy or why anyone would want it. Families often all sleep in the living area together. And there are always at least two of them together, talking away. It’s sort of funny (irritating) when you try to explain that you have lived alone. ‘In America, I lived by myself before I came here.’ ‘Oh, so just you and your parents?’ ‘No, alone, by myself, just me.’ ‘So your mom and dad lived with you, no one else?’ ‘Sure.’

I’m also happy to be able to start cooking what I want to eat. We ate the same meal for lunch and dinner every day and I was definitely over it. A long time ago. A lot of the food is way over spiced and overcooked (they also serve rice and pasta still sitting in the water – it’s just mushy and not pleasant!).

The weather in my town has been unusually warm. We were expecting tons of rain like they got last year and haven’t seen any of it. It was also cooler last year and this year it’s pretty hot in the sun during the day. Nights are chilly but not bad. Often it’s cooler in the house than outside – there’s that disbelieve in central air shining through. Summers are already miserable (120 degrees) so I’m really scared to see what this summer is going to bring. I plan to travel a lot, even if it’s just to other people’s sites that are not too far away, but at high elevation and therefore much cooler.

At the end of next month we have training/meetings for a week. I’m really looking forward to our whole group (all 63 of the people I came in with – called our staj) being together again. It will be fun to see everyone and catch up. One of the girls is having a Chinese New Year Celebration the weekend before and cooking a bunch of Chinese food (she’s even having ingredients sent from the US). Pretty sure I’m going to have to make my way there. No way am I passing up a Chinese feast.

I have to quickly mention that I cannot believe how many people are engaged or pregnant right now (only one is both, love you Mols!). And several close friends at that. With all the happenings, including the death I mentioned in the last post, and a BFF with a cancer scare, it makes me wonder if this is really the time I should be away from home. Not thinking of doing anything irrational like leaving, but it definitely has me thinking (and hoping I can get home for at least one of the occasions).

I should also probably mention the 20/20 program. In hindsight I should never had told you to watch it. I see that it scared a lot of you and I’m sorry. I just had no idea what it was going to be and our Country Director (head of the Peace Corps Morocco) texted us that morning saying it was going to be on. I feel safe here and take all precautions I can. I’m already pretty paranoid and therefore very aware, I think. Things can always happen, but they can also happen in the US just as easily. I’m never alone outside at night (which is weird and sometimes frustrating because it’s totally different from the US and I feel like I’ve given up a freedom I’m quite accustomed to). I keep my door and windows locked and watch out for weird things and people. Everyone in town knows about the Americans so there are many eyes and ears watching us (which is good and bad I suppose). Anyways, bottom line – don’t worry. Morocco was one of the first PC countries and we have a strong relationship here. It’s a stable country despite the weirdness and drama that seems to be occurring in other North African countries. And the PC is always monitoring things going on in the country and world and they take our Safety & Security very seriously.

I’m looking forward to the travel that’s coming up (maybe even every weekend until March – whoa). I like getting things on the calendar to look forward to. I plan to eat sparingly when in site so that I can save as much money to put towards travel. Seeing people reenergizes me and reminds me that I can do this!

Friday, January 14, 2011

I Have My Own House!

So I totally skipped posting in December. Fail. Oh well, no point in worrying about it now. Time to catch you up. And thanks to those that have been posting comments - they're fun to read!

So I've now been in my site for about a month. Last time I left off it was just before Marche Maroc Marrakech, our Peace Corps artisan craft fair, that was the first weekend of December. Basically any artisan working with a PCV can come to the fair. It's a good opportunity for them to sell things and meet other artisans. We have workshops for them to learn various business-related things and time for them to see to tourists. There was a lot of walking involved for some of us as we were putting up posters and handing out flyers all over town. A good way to see the city but exhausting! It was also fun to meet some other PCVs from various places and of course see the PCVs that I already know. This is an event that I will probably take on some planning role in this year because I'm pretty close to Kech. We also have these fairs in Fez and Rabat so those will be fun to go to this year.

After the fair I went back to site to settle in with my new host family. Things have been fairly uneventful at site. My language has taken a nosedive since not being in class all day and not feeling super comfortable speaking that much. It's much different living in a house with no other English speaker around and trying to gesture and fumble around for basic conversation. I'm sure they think I'm this quiet, timid person who doesn't say much. Which is true in Darija. If only they knew me ;) I haven't been able to find a tutor so I've been trying to do a little studying on my own, although that doesn't happen as often as it should.

December was honestly a tough month. On Friday, Dec. 17th Sammy Hesselberg had a brain aneurysm and never returned to us. For those of you who don't know him he was 17 and I've known him that whole time. He and his brothers went to Ruth Washburn (our preschool). His brother Matt is a year behind me, his brother Brad is a year behind Jackson and Sammy is a year behind Anna. Our moms worked together at Ruth Washburn and I have memories of Matty and I babysitting him (with his big head and blond hair!), Anna and all the kids of the teachers during work days. More recently my mom and his dad were working in the same school and for several years his family has lived 2 doors down from my best friend Lilly's family. My fondest memory is every time I went to Lilly's, he would see me coming and take off, often to the confusion of whichever friend he was with. Running, biking, whatever transportation he had at hand, he would use to escape while screaming and laughing. I don't know why this ever started in the first place (probably because when he was little enough I liked grabbing him and tickling him) but it went until literally the last 2 or so years (the first time he didn't take off was quite sad for me, I'll admit - I guess since he was finally taller than me and quite the athlete, he had to start looking cooler ;) or maybe just face his fear). Anyways, he was one of the best kids you could ever meet, with a smile that could get him in trouble, and his funeral was attended by around 1,500 people, including many rival hockey players from schools around town - a true testament to him and his family. His funeral was on my birthday (the 22nd) and it was tough not being there. It still doesn't feel real and I know I'll expect to see him when I get back to town. We'll always love you, Sammy.

My birthday also sucked for a couple of other reasons. a. It was the same day as the Debutante Ball, and my sister was a Deb and I missed out on going. b. They don't celebrate birthdays here so I didn't bother even telling my host family. It was just weird walking around and the day being no different than any other day here aside from the multiple facebook postings and emails telling me happy birthday (thanks by the way!).

Moving on from being Debbie Downer... Christmas was weird but good. I went to a site about 4-5 hours away where there are 2 PCVs. It's a bigger town so it was nice to be in more of a city setting for a few days. There were about 20 of us and we cooked amazing food (Zena, my CBT mate and our host for the weekend, owned a catering company before coming here so the food was one of the best parts of the weekend!) and had a white elephant gift exchange (although all the gifts were basically things we all need for our houses). It was great to see other Americans, although it still doesn't really feel like Christmas ever happened having not been in the hustle and bustle or seeing decorations and hearing xmas music.

It's still quite hot around here during the day. The nights are cool, but we haven't gotten rain aside for a couple of days. The plants seem to think it's spring and are flowering. If it's this hot now, I'm pretty sure the summer will be unbearable. Will definitely be traveling as much as possible then.

It's dinnertime (fried sardines - ick) and my computer is going to die so I will post this and try to add some more later tonight!