Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spreading Cheese

Throughout most of the night the roaring wind kept yanking my unsecured courtyard door open to the pounding rain. Exhausted at 3am, I finally rigged a “lock” with some wire I sleepily found in a box. I went back to bed to wake only twenty minutes later to the sound of water dripping onto my mattress from my closed window at an angle I had never seen. The next morning I was planning on starting my 10-day trip down south and it didn’t appear things were off to a good start for travel.

I did make it all the way down to fellow SBD PCV, Jae’s site the next day, despite encountering fresh snow in the mountains on a long bus ride. Jae and I were co-leading a cheese making workshop. All attendees were volunteers, either with Peace Corps or with the Japanese organization, JICA. I lead the first two days with five different types of cheese: yogurt (and yogurt cheese), Neufchatel (a.k.a. farmer’s cheese), Feta, Gouda, and Ricotta. Jae lead a third day with Pepper-Jack and cheese curds. The cheese curds didn’t cooperate with us (sometimes cheese can be finicky), but the Pepper-Jack looks great. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to taste it for a month—same with the Gouda. We did get a chance to try the three fresh cheeses in various ways including in sushi rolls, muffins, crepes, and just straight up with cut veggies. Yum!

Next, I headed over to another SBD PCV, Terra’s, site in the valley of roses. No roses yet, but this river-fed oasis was still looking lush in February. My visit was to help with a catalogue Terra wants to have made for her women’s products (primarily rugs, but also some farmed items). The difficulty in finding reliable transportation, electricity, phone service and internet (we had to get into town 30 minutes away and even then it didn’t work), really made me appreciate the conveniences I have in my much larger site. I have learned to be very flexible during my service, and I was tested considerably during these workshops. For our big meeting with the association’s women, our translator was 2.5 hours late (not all of that was the meeting-time, we wanted to have him come in early so we could review what we wanted to discuss. Originally we planned on meeting the day before to go over the workshop with him but our transportation out was slow and he had another meeting to attend. Flexibility!). We just switched some things around and had the women participate in the more visual part of the meeting (learning how to take photos of their products, reviewing the photos we had already gathered, etc.).

The women seemed excited about the catalogue and we did get their feedback on how it should be put together and how it can be used. I was concerned about my interaction with the women considering I have learned Moroccan-Arabic, darija, to speak in my site whereas they normally converse in Tashilhit. I found enough darija speakers that could help translate for me when needed. It also helped that my darija isn’t so complex that even if they have a basic knowledge of darija I could be somewhat understood.

One of my favorite moments was when Terra and I were sitting in the kitchen of her neighbors watching them cook dinner. One of the younger girls, Hafida, knows a good about of darija and so Terra and I could both talk with her. When Terra would converse with them in Tashilhit I was a bit lost most of the time. Hafida helped me out by translating what Terra said into darija. I was tickled by the passing of speech through one American’s mind, through Tashilhit, to darija and back into another American’s mind. Later, one of the woman commented that Terra and I should learn each other’s languages so we could communicate (momentarily forgetting that we both share the same language, English).

Despite the difficulties of a more rural life, I really appreciated the closeness to nature there. The families have houses all grouped together and their farming plots are all uphill of the river. I was treated to dandelion greens with corn couscous, and alfalfa with corn couscous. Something we don’t make up here in the north. I also managed to bake two huge cakes to share with the families that provided me dinner during my stay.

After our meeting in Terra’s site we turned around and went to (SBD PCV) Sarah’s site in the next valley over. She is living with a family there and I was once again treated to some great food and company. Sarah’s village is similar to Terra’s in that they are both centered around a river that feeds the farm plots in an otherwise dry place. There is much more evidence of tourism, however, with small hotels lining the main roadway.

This second cheese making workshop was primarily for the local community and I was without an official translator so I had to hope that my darija would be understood by a Tashilhit-speaking group of women. My fears were assuaged by the translation happening through those who understood darija for the other women when needed. I ended up having more trouble with the cheese this time and we couldn’t quite figure out what happened. Everything was taking a long time to set. We changed many of the variables around without success. We’ve narrowed it down to temperature or altitude. Despite our delays, I think the women still enjoyed the workshop—and we all devoured the cheese at the end! A couple of the women seemed to really be into the process and I am confident that they will clear up whatever issue that we were having with their future attempts. Some have access to fresh milk from their own cows, so cheese making might be a great opportunity for them.

Overall I found my trip down south to be successful. The foreboding weather at the start of my trip gave way to calmer skies during my entire trip. All my hosts were wonderful and I got to know better my fellow PCVs as well as the Moroccans I encountered. It is too bad that a hard days journey lies between us!