Sunday, October 24, 2010

Shiny and Soft

Two Sundays ago we went hiking in Zouia d'Ifrane. We hired two drivers/cars to take us there as it's about 70km from our village. They have pretty waterfalls so we spent the day hiking up to the top of them and having a picnic and then up further. It was a pretty cool, rainy day - maybe this is what fall is like here (wet!) or maybe we're skipping straight to winter (it's supposed to be cold and wet - miserable - this year). We're planning for snow before we leave here for our permanent sites on Thanksgiving. Definitely going to appreciate the stack of blankets at my house that is literally taller than me - I will try to take a picture of it. Joe, our Moroccan teacher, didn't believe me about how many blankets they have so I had to show him when everyone came over for kaskrut (the coffee/tea/snack break at 6:30ish). He was shocked to see so many (and scared to think about what winter is going to bring)!

Last Saturday we went to Ait Hamza, a village of 300 people, that’s just a short taxi ride away from us. We went to visit another group of trainees there. Some people from two of the other groups came as well. We were able to be away from our site overnight so 19 of us stayed at the home of a current PCV that lives there. She made Mexican food, but unfortunately I was too sick to take even a bite. I was puking and ______. So pleasant – I spent the evening lying on Emily’s bed, but it was fun to see everyone and have such a big group. The next day the group was going hiking but I was not up to it and Zena (from my group) wanted to go back and study so she and I got a cab to the next town where we then got another cab back to our town.

We find out our permanent sites this Friday and we're all pretty excited/nervous to find out where we'll be spending the next two years. We talked to the program director last weekend to let him know if we had any requests or information for him regarding our site, but from everything we've heard, no matter what we say, they put you where they need you, SO - who knows and why bother!

Yesterday the 3 other girls in my group, our cook and I went to the hammam, which is the public bath. I liked the after result – silky smooth skin, but sitting there in only my underwear – no top on – with a bunch of other women was totally awkward. There are basically 3 rooms and a changing “lobby” in the place. You go in, strip down and then go in to the next room and then the next. The first room is cool, then the middle room is warm and then the last room, depending on the number of people, is hotter. There are faucets around the room and you fill a bucket and wet-down and then put this argon oil soap on, wash it off and then start scrubbing with this weird mitt thing. After awhile your skin starts coming off in small spaghetti-like strands. Talk about gross. Oh, and since you can’t really scrub your own back to death, someone does it for you. And lucky me, before I knew what was happening, the lady that works there had me thrown on the ground and twisted in all sorts of weird positions and was scrubbing the s*** out of me. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to pay her, but I only took enough money to get in (since your clothes and shoes just hang out in an open room). I think my host mom wants me to go pay her tomorrow but due to the language barrier, I’m not totally sure. I didn’t want this “service” in the first place – I thought the lady was just asking about my host mom and telling me there was hot water over there – ugh. She had a couple of mats I laid on – gross – and they smelled like a barnyard. Many thanks to my “friends” who didn’t save me!! Anyways, once you’re done scrubbing (which goes on for quite some time) you rinse off and wash with real soap and shampoo and then rinse off and then leave. Some people stay for hours, especially the men who evidently in addition to scrubbing each other also assist each other in stretching. I’m sure it’s nice in the winter since they don’t believe in actually heating their houses, but then the cold reminder that you have to go outside will set in and yikes that will be rough. I’m sure I’ll go from time to time but will try to avoid being pinned to the ground. That night 3 of us made our own kaskrut (the evening coffee break, but ours consisted of Coke, chocolate pudding, french bread and some soft cheese stuff - we get it how we can. Then we had a girls movie night (watched Fargo on Jamila's computer) - we huddled together on Nora's bed to keep warm. It was relaxing and quiet with no one talking (i.e. yelling because they talk so loud) in arabic.

Today was the first day we didn’t go anywhere or do anything out of our site. I slept in (well didn’t sleep, but stayed in bed) and then did most of my homework before the family came in to tell me they were all going different places for awhile. It was nice to have the place to myself for a bit. When my host mom came back we did my laundry and then she showed me the unfinished apartment upstairs from ours where we hang clothes to dry. She was also drying seeds to make into bread (okay, they weren’t seeds, but my English these days is diminishing so I don’t know what to call them). Tonight for dinner I was really excited that we were going to have pizza. Until I learned that it was fish pizza. Can’t anything be the same?! Yesterday we made Chinese food and it was quite delicious. Actually tasted like Chinese food and unlike anything we eat here – we even left the cumin and turmeric out of it (they cook with an overabundance of those here and I’ve learned I don’t like them – not good!). Thanks to Jamila for whipping up chicken fried rice and stir-fried (well, steamed) veggies chicken and thanks to Zena for buying soy sauce when she had to make an unplanned trip to Rabat a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, October 8, 2010

In a Mercedes Built for Five

Last week we finally met with the women weavers we’re supposed to be doing our project with during this first phase. They were the ones that wanted us here, yet the president was not responding to any of our calls or even visits to her house (here’s that patience thing coming into play again that is required from the moment you apply to the Peace Corps). We finally tracked down the president’s sister, who is conveniently the treasurer, and then managed to plan a meeting. We saw their rugs and other weaving work and it’s quite impressive. They make very nice, high quality things. It sounds like they are relying completely on us to sell their goods so we’re going to have to do a little “expectation management” and fix that! We’re here to help, not do it all! Flash forward: after 2 meetings with the weavers, it’s pretty shocking where the priorities lay. They had a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) here a few years ago and we’ve discovered that she basically sold their rugs to her family and friends in the States. She totally set them up for failure in not giving them any type of sustainable plan, but they see her as a hero as now pretty much they equate PCV with sales and international marketing. When we were discussing the things they need to be successful, they basically bypassed starting at the local level and attempting to get some of them literate (things that we definitely see as starting off points) and went straight for the aforementioned things. Oh boy…

On Saturday we cooked lamb kabobs and many veggies over the smallest grill you’ve ever seen. (Technically it was a brazier, but since we giggled so much when Joe*, our LCF - Language & Culture Facilitator - said the word, he had to call it something else. He of course didn’t understand our laughing like 12 year old boys at the word, so we had to explain it was another word for bra. Not that funny, but you gotta find the humor however you can I guess.) The food was yet again delicious and we had a ton of it. This time no animals were killed in front of us in order to prepare the meal (we did see a cow’s head, a goat’s head – under the foot of the butcher, mind you – and many chicken heads when purchasing the lamb). Jamila’s host sister was visiting for the weekend (she goes to school in Azrou) so she did henna for us that night. *He is Moroccan – his name is of course not Joe – but from here on out, the names will be changed to protect the guilty. Either from Moroccan to American or vice versa. We’ve all be given Moroccan names so those will be used. In case you’re wondering, mine is Dunya, which I guess is as close to Adrienne as they can come up with. It means “the life” or “the road” – guess it could be worse!

Speaking of food, I will take this opportunity to tell you that we have 3 meals a day, plus 3 coffee breaks that typically include some sort of snack. During all of these, food is shoved down our throats. Even if you are chewing, have food in your hand and on the table immediately in front of you, they are telling you to eat. Thanks for the hospitality, but I am full/eating at a normal pace. They pretty much laugh when you say you’re full and think you’re ridiculous. It does not go unnoticed, however, that during most of these times, they are not eating themselves. And sugar makes its way into basically everything. Including spaghetti. Yeah that’s right – Xena was having spaghetti and her host sister sprinkled something on top. She got really excited thinking cheese – finally! Nope, it was sugar. And for dinner or whatever meal it was a couple of nights ago, I had cake and orange Fanta. Ask us in a couple of years what we got out of the Peace Corps and we’re pretty sure we’re all going to say diabetes. Super.

On Sunday, 4 of my CBT (Community Based Training) group went to Azrou to meet up with someone from another CBT. We had coffee and tasty pastries at a café and then walked around and looked at the shops selling a huge variety of goods. We found places to have a jilaba (the long outfits they wear) custom made and/or buy shoes, gaudy jewelry and a whole bunch of other random stuff. We had lunch, walked around some more and then had another coffee break. Then we left.

Getting and riding in a grande taxi (the kind that take you from town to town vs. a petite taxi that only takes you around town) is quite a production. They take 6 passengers so unless you have 6 people in your group wanting to go to the same place, you have to wait until enough people show up wanting to go to the same destination as you (or you can pay for the empty spots yourself if you don’t want to wait). Normally our whole group of 6 goes places together but Tariq was going hiking with another one of the groups and Jamila has been sick so she stayed home. The waiting game can take awhile (the guy we were meeting had to wait for over 2 hours to fill his taxi to come meet us). Nothing like cramming 4 adults in the backseat and 3 in the front of a car designed for 5! It’s cozy to say the least. Oh, and somehow all of the handles are removed from the windows so you have to ask the driver to hand you the handle so you can roll down your window. What? Is it cheaper to buy that Mercedes (which they all are) without the handles? Pretty sure it isn’t. We’re quite curious where all of those handles go. Such a weird thing to remove.

On Wednesday we had a crazy rain storm that included giant hail coming down for quite some time and causing a river to form outside of the house we were visiting for a meeting. Massive amounts of rain in a town torn up for construction does not equal something good. We managed to cross a huge mud pit but were confused when we saw Tariq’s host dad was waiting for us with a car to take us across the street. Then we realized the sidewalk was a rushing waterfall/stream. Many of our houses had water coming in because they’re ground-level (I realized how lucky I am to live on the 2nd floor). The journey back to my house that night was quite a dark, muddy adventure to say the least.

On Friday (now) the whole business group (28 of us) are back in Azrou for our last rabies shot and some sessions on harassment and medical issues and to do presentations on our sites so far. It's great to be with the big group. We even went out for pizza and cheeseburgers for dinner. They definitely left a lot to be desired, but still, we had pizza! We met with the director of SBD (Small Business Development) today to discuss anything we wanted to share about our potential future sites. We all answered with a grain of salt knowing that no matter what you say, they are going to place you where they need you. We find out at the end of this month where we're going so we're all waiting anxiously for the news! Tomorrow we're doing more sessions on random stuff and then heading back to our sites. On Sunday we're doing a day trip somewhere so that should be fun.

Okay, much love, time to get back to the group! Oh and apologies for any and all spelling and grammar mistakes in all posts. And a shoutout to Alyssa for mentioning me in her blog and even posting a picture :) and to Natalie and my family for mailing cards - nothing beats getting stuff on mail delivery day!