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...