Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer Now!

Wow, it's been a month since my last post! Lots of things have happened since then and I'm sorry I haven't updated you all. Let's see if I can remember everything....

On Oct. 30th we all got our final site assignments (I'm in the Azilal province, in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, but per PC guidelines I can't tell you specifically where - email me if you want to know). On Halloween, we all each traveled to our sites to stay for 5 days with our new host families and meet our new counterparts/the people we'll be working with. I was GREATLY relieved to learn that I will have a sitemate (named Juan - he does Youth Development). I also am replacing someone so the local folks are semi familiar with PC and why we're there. Rebecca, my predeccessor, and sometimes Juan as well, took me around and introduced me to everyone. I am going to work with 5 cooperatives of women weavers. They make this really expensive material out of combos of wool, silk & cotton. The material is then sold to people who make jillabas out of it. It's very thin and takes around a month to weave so it's super expensive and exclusive (the King & government ministers wear it). My job is to see if they can branch out and make some products that will reach a wider audience. Like making scarves that American or European or other tourists would buy. There's been a recent push by the Minister of Artisana to get back to natural dyeing in Morocco so that will be something else I will work on with them. Rebecca has already gotten these things started there so I will continue her work. I will also work with an association that focuses on things like health, sports and the environment in the community. It will be nice to have a few things going on - hopefully will keep me busy!

The site visit was interesting (read: traumatizing!) and it left me with a weird feeling I can't put my finger on. I live with a nice family. Actually, nice lady - I only have 1 other "family" member as my host mom's husband is deceased. She does have 2 grown and married daughters who live very close to us. One has 1 daughter and 2 sons and the other has 4 sons. I only met "my sisters" (we'll call them for convenience sake) and the husband and 2 sons of one of them and (their daughter goes to school in Tangier). I'm sure I'll meet the other kids in due time. The house is set up fairly strange - the bathroom is an outhouse outside of the front door (opposite where the chickens mostly hang out - yes we have chickens). Not such a fan of this feature (I'll explain even more later - but I'm sure you can imagine why it sucks not having your bathroom INSIDE of the house). Anyways, after you come in the gate and pass the bathroom on your right and the chickens' home (not an enclosed, which is why I won't call it a coop - they have free range pretty much) on your left, you enter the front door. On your immediate left is a cold water faucet (oh yeah, the only one in the house, and there's no hot water) over a bucket and then just past that is a kitchen. On your right is a salon, or living room area lined with "ponges" or the Moroccan equivalent of a couch/bed. They're basically long couch-like cushions that some people put on wooden bases. If you come in the front door and don't turn one or the other, but just head a little to the left, you come to an doorway (missing the door) that is sometimes covered with a curtain. If you walk out, you'll be in courtyard. If you cross the courtyard to the right, there is another kitchen (don't start getting ideas this is luxurious - I can't figure out why there are 2 kitchens when neither is anything to write home about. Oh wait.) Anyways, if you cross said courtyard to the left there is my bedroom. The small double doors are missing some pieces and it's only secured with a slidy lock (oh and nothing on the inside to secure them, hmmm). My bedroom has a window, except that there are 2 tvs stacked on top of each other in front of it (neither appear to have worked in some years) so it's pretty much blocked. Fortunately I don't like to wake up to brightness so this should be okay. In the courtyard in a upside-down, beehive-like object. Inside there was a bucket. So I asked what it was. Oh that's right, it's our shower. Oh good. Guess we boil water and stick it in there. And wrap the "mini-hammam" with plastic tarp and blankets to keep the heat in. I now fully understand why Peace Corps Volunteers do not shower on a regular basis. It's not because we're all dirty hippies (because there are surprisingly few that actually are), but because showering is such a freaking hassle it's just easier not to do it. And it's not as if we're in a place where b.o. is given a second thought, but... Back to the house, let's see, the roosters start crowing at 10:10pm and there are 2 - one seems to be "special" because his crow is pretty weird but he tries to compete with the other one. Yay. So the distance between my room, the fact that my host mom was sleeping in the salon in the "main" part of the house & there's no door to close it off, the darkness, the loudness of the metal front door with its squeeking lock and the fact that I often wasn't ready to start my day off as early I woke up, meant that I got very little sleep because I needed to go the bathroom more than once at night, but I refused. I'm sure I'll have to get over all of those issues because I won't be able to live like that for 3 weeks, but we'll see.

After the site visit we went back to our CBTs to finish up training. Things got a little crazy because on the 13th the brother of my host mom passed away in Rabat so my host family took off unexpectedly without really saying goodbye (they called my LCF and told him they were leaving and that my house key was with the Gendarme - basically the Police - Chief and his family. This turned into a bit of a mess but was worked out with Joe's help. Oh the joys of a language barrier. Anyways, I ended up staying at Zena's house with her and her family for the remaining days in TimHdit. They were very welcoming and so nice to take me in!

The Following Semi-Graphically Talks About Killing Sheep - Consider Yourself Warned...
L'Eid Kbir (The Big Feast) was on the 17th. During this holiday every family slaughters at least 1 sheep. The kids (and adults) get as excited as we do about Santa coming. They love to tell you all about it and never fail to do the finger slicing across the neck motion to show you what's going to happen to the sheep (my final site 8 year old host "nephew" went through the entire process by acting it out - pretty funny actually). It's quite a sight, to walk through the streets and seeing blood running everywhere, sheepskins hanging off of roofs and look into garages at just the moment a super sharp knife slices across a neck. I watched at least 3. The most disturbing part to me is watching the poor guy try to get up and run and basically convulse even when it's brain dead. After it bleeds out, the cut a spot in the leg so they can blow in it (yes, they but their mouth to it) so they can puff it up which evidently makes the skinning easier. Once the skinning is complete, it's time to hang that sucker up by its crossed feet, slit it down the middle and remove its innerds. At some point they remove the head (and then stick 'er on the grill to burn away the hair so it can be eaten - blech - the whole town smells like burning hair and blood). Let's get to the eating part. They eat the whole dang thing. Then they start right away cutting up the liver into bite-sized pieces and then wrapping it in fat, putting it on a kabob and then grilling it. They also pushed the intestines inside out and grilled that too. Oh and by the way, the grilling is often done in the kitchen or garage so it gets pretty rough inside. They eat the head & feet that night (including eye balls and sucking on even the teeth - I ate some cheek, or so I think it was, but they were nice enough to cook me some "meat" - yes, by name they realize that these other parts are not what one would consider meat). Then there's basically meat for every meal from there on out until we left town that weekend - and they were definitely not even close to done when we left. I helped cut up some of the body so I did my part (oh and I took pictures which they couldn't get enough of looking at). I'd love for any of you to experience this holiday next year so feel free to come then - I'll let you know what the date will be as the time gets closer, although you may have to book a ticket to be here for the timeframe in which the correct moon might be sighted since religious holidays are based on that and it can change last minute or not be on the same day in every place. Don't ask.

The weekend after L'Eid we went back to Mehidia, the beach town where we spent our first days in country. It was nice to have the entire group back together for a few days. We took our Language Proficiency Interview (exam) and I scored Intermediate Low - a level above the minimum which I was quite frankly shocked about. Maybe my teacher paid of the interviewer or maybe she was just tired because I went midday, but either way, that was way better than I expected to do. And I barely studied thank you very much. We'll get tested again in February or March so we'll see if in the meantime I can find a tutor and then improve my score.

We spent the Thanksgiving Eve Day in Rabat for Swearing-in which means there are 63 new official Peace Corps Volunteers (and yes I'm one of them). The Ambassador did the official ceremony, along with our outgoing Country Director (we'll miss you David!) and the Minister of Youth & Sports and the Director of the Artisana. It was a nice enough ceremony with a small reception to follow. Then we went back to the Peace Corps headquarters for a "Thanksgiving" meal. Let's use the word Thanksgiving very loosely here as the only thing that related it to the holiday was the fact that they served turkey. It's nice that they tried though... That night we went to the American Club and I had my first alcoholic beverage since I was in Philly before we left the U.S. Mmm, beer. We had french fries and onion rings as well. Then we went out to a Thai restaurant. Good times. On Thanksgiving we all started the journey to our sites. I took the train with some people to Marrakech. Getting on the train was a freaking nightmare. I had my 2 huge rolling duffel bags, plus my backpack, a smaller duffel, my purse and another bag. Thank god one guy was nice enough to help me out by lifting the bags into the train for me, but from there it got messy. I was too wide to fit down the hallway, so finding a seat was a huge pain and then people would just step over us/our things to get by. Could you just wait until I move, please? Oh no, oh okay, just knock my bag over so it falls to the side and becomes even more unmanagable. Appreciate it. The rest of the ride was okay and then our stay in kesh was nice. It was great being in Rabat and Marrakech - big cities - where no one really cares you're there because it's not the first time in their whole life that they've seen a non-Moroccan person. People still stare a little, but it's nothing like in the small towns. Plus it's nice to be in what feels like civilization - showers with water overhead! Western toilets! Hot & cold water in the faucet/sink! In kech we went to a pizza place for Thanksgiving dinner. Not exactly ideal but good to be with friends eating good food. We wandered through the medina and just hung out. We went to a vegetarian restaurant that had really good food (and they love PCVs so they give us a discount and free bread). Then I went to Azilal for our Welcome to the Province Party. It was fun to meet some of the Health and Environment Volunteers.

I'm looking forward to seeing the SBD Volunteers again on Wednesday for a craft fair - we'll be together until Monday. But then the real life in my site begins so stay posted...

I now know my permanent address (I'm sharing with Juan) so when you want to send packages and Christmas & Birthday cards, message me and I'll give it to you! Or look on facebook - it's posted there too.

P.s. I'm too lazy to proof this so my apologies as always for typos - I hate them but more than I hate them, I want to get this posted!