I am amazed at how quickly time is flying by. I have already had to say goodbye to my host family at my Community Based Training site. They showed real Moroccan hospitality, and I will miss them.
A brief description of what my project was there: I worked with another trainee to improve the visibility of the coop in Ain Leuh. We started with many possible directions to take the project, and ended up focusing on distributing their brochure to the local hostels and creating a new sign for the front of their building.
The brochure project involved walking in the rain on a number of occasions. We did get the women excited to come up with us and talk to the hostel owners, but on the day we went up the hostel owner was unexpectedly out of town. Overall, the women seemed enthusiastic about going back later and picking up the conversation with the hostel owner, and from an earlier conversation, the hostel owner was eager to establish a relationship with the coop. Inshallah, they will pick up where we left off.
The sign project sprung from the fact that the sing outside the coop merely stated that they were a coop, not that they had anything to sell or that visitors were welcome. My partner and I came up with wording, and I drew icons (universal language) to put on the sign. We proposed our idea to the women, and they were excited about it. The fabrication process was primarily conducted by the women, they knew the metal worker and an artist who could create the sign from our designs. Success came on the last night of our stay in Ain Leuh when the new sign went up on the building.
If anyone is curious about more details on our process, email me or comment here!
As of last night, I know my site for the next two years. I will make more of a post about this after I’ve visited my site (I leave tomorrow). If you are a friend who can’t wait to know, send me an email. I will say that I am close to Rabat and am in a larger city (for SBD). I have water, electricity, internet, and access to a variety of foods.
Halloween isn’t celebrated in Morocco. However, that didn’t stop us from trying to share this American Holiday with Moroccans at our CBT site. We bought a squash at the weekly souq (buying a whole squash is a little strange, usually people will buy a chunk of squash for cooking with, when we bought the whole thing our cook thought we were crazy). Monday we carved the pumpkin with our LCF and cook, a traditionally jack-o-latern face. After class we lit the pumpkin, and ate pumpkin seeds (I made pumpkin pie with the innards later that night). The neighbor came over as well as one of the host families.
The initial trying to tell ghost stories was a little awkward. We were trying to tell a story, pause, and have it translated into darija with little success (after all, a ghost story is all in the telling). Fortunately, Moroccan women took over-- the neighbor had a spooky story of her own. The women eagerly passed around the flashlight and told stories. Our LCF translated some, but it was mostly about watching faces and gestures.
At the end of the storytelling we blew out the pumpkin and walked home, past the cemetery. Maybe Moroccans can do Halloween afterall.
- My 3 year old host brother opening the front door for and running out and scaring away the "dangerous" puppy and kitty hanging out by the bread oven for me in the morning.
- A kind host family that will let me experiment in their kitchen. Hey, pizza was a big success!
- Being in a small room with a little heater with 6 other bodies for the better part of a 9.5 hour day. Needless to say, we've shared everything, particularly colds! I know I will really miss our little group once we are all off on our own.
- Our LCF who has to put up with us crazy americans all day and still has a great sense of humor and amazing patience.
- Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, second snack, dinner prepared by knowledgeable Moroccans.
- Getting the benefit of a workout walking up and down a few hundred stairs everyday.
- Having a 5 year old around to help me learn vocab and to help color my flash cards.
- Hiking in the gorgeous surrounding mountains.
- Easy access to the internet--just down the stairs to town!
- Ramadan (already miss it)
- The Artisans that we've gotten a chance to work with here. They produce an amazing product. Hopefully I'll be able to update you soon on the project I've done with them here, and some more info on their coop.
This isn't such an uncommon thing in Morocco, so I'm really just being a sill American here, but I will describe my experience anyway.
I came home from class last night and took off my wet clothes (rain rain rain). I was then invited by my host mom to sit down. As I do so she turns around with something wrapped. In one swift motion she takes off the wrapper and a head falls out onto the plate, and then splits in half along it's cut. It's my night!
The brain was divided equally among us. Then a jaw bone was given to the youngest (who then says in darija "My teeth, my teeth!" and pops out the incisors...he's really adorable). The meat was ripped from bone (there isn't a whole lot), and the skull was set aside. Unfortunately, the brain was left under a pile of my meat, so I'm not sure if I actually ate some brain or not. I made a promise to myself that I would draw the line at brain, so much for that!
All in all, a little gamey (lamb), but not at all bad. I was nervous about the experience (mostly the brain). I surprised myself, and maybe confused my host mom at the end of the meal by smiling unexpectedly. I had done it! (I couldn't really explain this to anyone without looking silly).
I’m not sure if this is of interest to too many people, but for those of you who are curious how a typical CBT experience might go, or for those of you who want to imagine what I’m occupied with for these first 11 weeks, here you go.
Monday through Saturday goes something like this: wake up around 6:30am (by choice, I like to get up early), sneak into the bathroom trying not to wake anyone up (it is a hopeless cause with the children) and wash ala bucket-bath. I then sneak back into my room and study or read or listen to downloaded npr podcasts and do pilates until my host-mom calls me out for breakfast. Breakfast often includes hot milk or tea with lots of sugar and mint. There is always bread with butter and jelly or olive oil, and occasionally there will be cookies as well (not cookie crisp cereal mind you).
At 8:10 I head out the door to class, which is about a 15-20 min walk talking the high road around the outside of the town/valley. We all quickly learned the shortcuts, and to avoid the schoolyard if at all possible. The view is spectacular, of course, and it amazes me how quickly one can get used to seeing such a sight everyday.
The morning is focused on language and cross-culture. We sit and soak up darija. Thankfully, we have a great teacher (Language and Culture Facilitator-- LCF) with a great sense of humor to put up with us crazy Americans.
Snack time at 10:30, more tea/coffee, cookies, bread/muffins/snackcakes. Then back to language until lunch at 12:30. A woman from town prepares our food for us. She does an amazing job, and it is nice to enjoy Moroccan food where you aren’t pressured to eat more than you desire. Fridays we have couscous (siksou in darija), on this and other dishes I’m sure I will write more about down the road.
The afternoon our focus is generally on the technical aspect of things. We visit the women’s coop in town and speak with the women there. Otherwise, we plan on what we will be doing or asking the women. Our LCF translates for us. This week we were required to translate our questions into darija and ask them to the women. If I stop to think about it, I am making progress with everything, but I feel like there is just so much more to learn.
At 4:30 we have our afternoon tea/snack with more tea/coffee, cookies, fried bread/bread/snackcakes (fortunately there is also an abundance of wonderful fruit, which is an option I usually seek out for snack). We continue working until 6:00, and then head home. This last week it has been just after sunset when we walk home. If I am lucky enough to get out a little early I stop by the cyber for a few minutes. This is never close to enough time to catch up on what I want to catch up on, so I try to cut out some extra time by writing my blog entries beforehand.
Once I get home, I greet the family and either study or try to help in the kitchen (emphasis on “try”). Sometimes there is a tea/snack break around 6:30pm, which often includes cookies and bread. Dinner is usually small, a bowl of soup or bread, or lunch leftovers from the family. I try to spend some time with the family and kids, throwing in a sentence or phrase or word when I can. I usually head into my room between 9 and 10 pm and read or study for a little bit before bed.
Sunday is our free day. We do have “self directed learning” which means we have to choose an activity that furthers our understanding of the language and culture of Morocco. This is also a great time to take a hike!
This time, I was very determined to make a successful cookie. I planned in advance. I found some good chocolate bars in the bigger town. One secret ingredient I include in my chocolate chip cookies back home is vanilla instant pudding mix. It keeps the cookies soft and gives them a nice (read: not spread out like a pancake) shape. I wasn’t too sure about finding instant pudding mix in small town Morocco, but I was willing to work with what I could find—instant vanilla flan mix! What’s the difference, really?
After buying good-quality flour, more sugar and eggs, I proceed with attempt #2. I’m smarter this time, I use an actual cup as a “cup” to measure out my ingredients, insuring the proper chemistry. The flan mix creates an interesting yellow color, but no big deal. The texture is right, and things are looking good. I stick them in the oven, which looks like a cabinet and is at who-knows-what temperature, and try to keep and eye on them. The bottoms cook way faster than the rest of them, but I scrape off the char and they are okay. Second pan in, I watch even more carefully, the gas has been turned down a bit. They are right on the point of being perfect. Suddenly, a decision is made to put them on lower in the oven to ensure browning on top. Two seconds later they are crispy and brown/black. I scrape off more char.
Attempt number three might have to take place at my next host family, for my reputation is suffering here. However, our schedule suggests we try making a meal for our families on Sunday. I am going to go for the typically American food, pizza. The battle isn’t over with you yet, Moroccan oven!
The experience back in our CBT site has been interesting so far. Before we left, a horrible storm blew through on Friday night. There was an amazing amount of rain and extreme winds. Not as much thunder as some of the previous storms, but the wind more than made up for it. The temperature was also much lower at that point, making it uninviting to venture outside to buy anything before heading back to CBT. Fortunately, my site is much larger and has more amenities when compared to other CBT sites.
Saturday morning things had mostly cleared out, a last whip of wind blowing the rain and clouds back out of the mountains. I went up with a fellow trainee to negotiate for a grand taxi to our CBT site. I was impressed with her negotiating abilities, and we were able to get a cheaper ride than originally quoted (which was high for the "tourists"). Once I reached our town, and I had walked up to my house with my bags, it became apparent that the town currently did not have running water. The storm on Friday apparently damaged the water system. It has since come back on, but went off again this morning. This isn't a huge problem yet, the storeowner in the middle of town pulled out a hose that was being fed by the well in the back of his shop, and let people fill up bottles and buckets to take water home. Running water is a luxury anyway.
This morning five of us trainees went back up into the mountains, this time venturing further (still no monkeys though). I'll be putting up photos on my flickr page (see slideshow to the right). Basically, I'm in an amazing area where I can easily get breathtaking views of the mountains. The off-road trails we took were mostly animal footpaths, which created plenty of tree-branch obstacles for us taller creatures.
This week has been back to technical training. I haven't had too much to report on it here, since it is more for me than for you all. I did want to show off my henna hands. A friend of my host mom's came over the day after l'3id (holiday) and did my hands and the hands of both of the little girls. When all the female trainees got back together we all compared our henna. Although tastes may differ, I'm happy not having been given dark henna feet.
It has been rainy off and on all week, gradually getting colder. My CBT site is more up in the mountains than where we are this week, so I'm expecting frigid conditions. I'm breaking out the long underwear earlier than I thought I would.
I'm keeping this entry brief, I apologize, but I need to finish repacking tonight. We are leaving tomorrow morning and I'll rejoin my family for another three weeks. Honestly, at the end of this week I am missing them much. My host mom's cooking is wonderful! (and so is my real mom's cooking, love you mom!)
(edit: sorry about that, the picture wasn't uploading correctly)
Realizations this week: -I am very, very far from home, making me feel completely helpless when something major is happening back there. -Although I currently both love and hate the Turkish Toilet, it isn’t as big of a deal as I had feared. -Although I miss warm water, bucket baths aren’t as big of a deal as I had feared (and the hammam is wonderful!). -Do you remember getting together during the holidays with family when you were in that awkward in-between stage, too grown up to play around with the little kids and not quite mature enough to hang out with the adults all day? That’s surprisingly similar to how I celebrated the end of Ramadan, with my vocabulary of a 2 year-old’s. It was wonderful to have this inside view of Ramadan (which I wouldn’t get if my home-stay was in a different part of the year), but I wish I could contribute more by way of conversation at this point. -Children are the same everywhere. They are hilarious and fun and crazy, and as soon as their mother leaves the language-limited foreigner in charge for a minute while she runs to a neighbor’s, they will take advantage of the situation. -The world should cut back on its introduction of plastic into the environment. -It is possible for this suburban girl to get used to walking across town, passing semi-feral cats and dogs, chickens, donkeys, sheep, goats, cows, and one amazing view of the mountains with hardly a second-glance. -Any family that will take in someone who barely knows the language and continuously makes cultural faux pas is amazing. -I was foolishly dependant upon recipes and measurements in my cooking and baking back home. Now I’m putting myself to the test without such crutches---hey, my chocolate chip cookies were edible! -Morocco has many amazing foods to offer in and outside of Ramadan, particularly by way of sweets. -You can always eat more food, at any hour. -Even if you insist you are full, you can always eat more food at any hour. -Even if you plead and make motions that you might explode, you can always eat more food. -Eat! Eat! Kuli! Kuli!
I am currently serving in Peace Corps, Morocco, as a small business developer working with artisans since September 2008. I have a Master of Fine Art, in studio art from Washington University in St. Louis.