Sunday, February 22, 2009

lay of the land

Our town is on a mountain plain at the base of the foothills of the Middle Atlas mountains. As such, we are pretty much surrounded by small mountains, and transportation to any city involves snaking up and down through them. This makes for some amazing views, but the transportation tends to make me feel nauseated. Emily seems to stomach the trips a little better than me. I'm jealous!

Anyways, we went for a bike ride today and got a few pictures of the land and some common sights in this part of Morocco.

As we rode past the vast and numerous fields that produce the wheat and apples of this region (among other crops, we think), we spotted a herd of cattle and their owners/tenders. We stopped to greet the men, confirmed that they were milk cows, snapped a few pictures, and took off again. The milk probably tastes pretty good, being from free-range cows. We didn't ask for a sample, though.

In our town, there's a small population of storks (called "blarj" in Moroccan Arabic). They have massive nests, and we can see one of the nests from our rooftop. When we have breakfast early in the morning, the storks fly back and forth, directly over our apartment.

Emily was trying to get a closer shot of one of these birds, but it kept evading her. As we travel away from our town, the mountains start to form in the background.

After climbing and descending (mostly descending...) 4 or 5 imposing hills, we reached this spot, and decided that we didn't want to make our trip back any more difficult! From here, there is an appreciable decline that would have been exhausting from which to return. Maybe another time...

It's pretty amazing to just stop, listen, and observe. You hear absolutely nothing, except for the intermittent sound of birds in the distance and the soft hum of bees. As you continue on the winding road, you see various homes in the distance and sporadic herds of sheep, specks against rolling green hills. And in the distance, the purple, blue, and red hues of distant mountains lead the eye upward to a perfectly blue and cloudless sky.

This spot in the road sorta reminded me of small town America. I don't necessarily remember cemeteries being next to churches back home; I guess this image just makes me think of simple, small town people living off the land and being devoted to their religion. If you replace this mosque with a church, synagogue, or any other house of worship, this picture could probably describe lots of places around the world. Here's another reference to the notion that different cultures are not necessarily so different from each other.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

On blankets and weekend trips...

Hello everyone! Hope all is well!

So, we received a sheepskin from Lisa's homestay family about two months ago. It's awesome! Brand new and soft as they come. Emily started working on "Granny Squares:" individual crocheted squares of red, olive green, and off-white wool (not with the wool of the skin...seperate wool that was dyed and spun into yarn). She recently completed all of the squares and assembled them into a blanket...a gift to show thanks for the awesome skin that we received. Here are a few shots of the blanket:

Oh, also we made a trip to Rabat to pick up a package from Emily's Uncle Bob. We had no difficulty in locating it, thankfully, because it had some pretty nice stuff inside (art supplies, measuring cups, and chocolates, among others). I'm actually starting to feel a little bit spoiled from all of this postal attention!!! Just kidding...

We weren't using our camera very much at all throughout our trip (so as not to perpetuate the common perception that we are tourists), but I do have a description of our events in the capital city of Morocco:

Upon arriving at a bus station, we promptly found a food vendor who had a number of delicious items on display: fried fish, tajines of vegetables and chicken, and roasted beef and sheep simmering in their juices...simply amazing! We were slightly hesitant, so he buttered us up with a few free samples of the fried fish. We decided on a beef tajine and he promptly served it with bread, hot sauce, a salad of lettuce, cucumber, and beets, and water. The salad had some mayo in it and the veggies were raw, so we actually passed on it (it's a good habit to KNOW that your food is either cooked fully or, in the case of raw vegetables, presoaked in water with iodine or bleach). Same thing with the water. Right after our meal, we went to the Hanut next door and bought a bottle of water. Better safe than sorry!

Afterwards, we went to find the post office! We asked a handful of people, and they directed us on our way, all very helpful. We eventually learned that the post office that we wanted was at a different location, in downtown Rabat. We caught a petit taxi and had a great conversation with the cab driver. He was the coolest of the 4 cabbies that took us about our way. We chatted about the weather and what we were doing in Morocco, and in Rabat specifically, and on and on. When we arrived to the main post office in Rabat, we learned that our package was next door. As it turned out, they were closed temporarily because their employees had all gone to the Mosque (Friday is the holy day here in the Muslim world, not Sunday). So we decided to just walk around a bit to pass the time before they were to return.

As we walked down Avenue Mohammed V, we randomly noticed that our hotel was less than a block from the post office! Well, we certainly didn't plan for that, but it worked out quite nicely! So we decided to check in!

After picking up our package, we decided to take a cab to the Peace Corps office, and had a really fun time there, chatting with our Program Manager and the Country Director, among other staff members. We were even lucky enough to be there for tea and Hluwa (cookies)! We picked up some books from the library, and got a recommendation for a restaurant located in the old medina (basically the original Arab city that existed before the French came in and made their wide-open, tree-lined boulevards and avenues...currently, the medina exists at least superficially as a shopping district).

We got a cab back to our hotel, which is located close to the medina, and dropped our stuff off before we went into the medina to get some Harira and Brochettes (Harira is the national soup: a tomato-based mixture of pasta, chick peas, egg, and other delights. Brochettes are skewers of meat, grilled over an open flame. We had turkey and beef (or sheep..I'm not quite sure...delicious nonetheless))!

Before getting back to our hotel, we stopped at an ice cream (or gelato, I couldn't tell) place to sample some of the flavors. This was the first time in over 5 months that we had ice cream! The hotel we stayed at was pretty old and charming. Apparently it had serviced people in the early 20th century. It wasn't 5 stars (the bathtub was a little shwiya and the water took a long time to get hot), and next time, we'll probably just get the room without a shower and save 50 dirhams. If we only take showers once a week, what's waiting a few more days? Mashee mooshkeel (no problem).

(NOSTALGIC SEGUE) Its funny, because I remember how timid and paranoid all of us volunteers were back in September when we arrived to Rabat. Or maybe that was just me...We were only allowed to walk out for a few hours per day and for good reason: we were mostly clueless! In those days, just about 5 months ago, I remember feeling "tethered" to our hotel, uneasy about our new, alien surroundings. This past weekend, Emily and I freely flitted around Rabat, completely in control of our actions, if not our broken darija. At least we can get by. Shwiya b schwiya, as they say...little by little, day by day.

Walking through Rabat was pretty refreshing because it felt less like we were on display; like we were more anonymous. Hardly anybody cared that we were there, and this felt kinda good. On the other hand, we didn't have anyone warmly welcoming us into their homes, or hardly anybody starting a warm conversation just because. Mostly everything was more business-oriented: short and to the point. While this was a good break from the "fishbowlness" of small-town Morocco, I prefer the latter: getting to know the country and its people one conversation at a time.

(BACK TO THE TRIP) We took a bus (called "kar" in Moroccan Arabic) from Rabat to the site of our friend Lisa. We were actually pretty hungry when we arrived, and she had freshly made tortillas and guacamole, among other freshly made items, waiting for us!
We got to walk around the city a bit and pick up a few essential items that are difficult to find in our site (hard cheese, rotini, spice containers, etc). We prepared some American favorites during our stay at Lisa's: pizza for dinner and pancakes for brunch the following morning. While we were out picking up supplies, we picked out a bunch of mint, and I made our "3asir n3na3" for all of us, including Lisa's tutor.

(side note: in many Moroccan cafes, there exists what's translated into English as "juice of banana," or "juice of apple," or "juice of apple and almond," or any variation on these. They're basically drinks of milk and sugar, with either apple, banana, or almond, blended together into a smoothie. They're quite delicious and refreshing. Anyone who's travelling to Morocco shouldn't pass these up).

"3asir n3na3" is a drink that I invented with milk, mint leaves, sugar, and chocolate (optional), all blended together. I've talked with a few Moroccans about this, and they all look at me like I'm strange. Of course, the concoction is absolutely DELICIOUS, and reminds us of Toft's mint chip ice cream. Toft's, of course, is a creamery in Sandusky, Ohio, where we lived prior to joining the Peace Corps.

Anyways, we had a great time at Lisa's and will hopefully be visiting her regularly in the future! From Lisa's, we took a transit bus back to our home in "Minnehaha," where it was actually still sunny and gorgeous. I didn't feel nauseated at all on the way back, probably because I was reading the whole way. I think I just found the answer to my motion sickness on these trips!!!


PS. Travelling in Morocco is surprisingly expedient and efficient (and shwiya pricey, at least when you travel alot and you're on a Peace Corps budget!). Well-built roads exist here from the time of French and Spanish colonialism, and they're maintained wonderfully. In fact, Morocco has some of the best infrastructure, as far as transportation is concerned, in the continent of Africa. That's one of the reasons that tourists find it so appealing, besides its delicious food, welcoming people, intriguing culture, and diverse landscape.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Little Friend

We found this little guy warming on the door of our roof. We haven't named him yet, but hope that he sticks around! Any guess as to the species? I think he's some type of gecko.

Monday, February 9, 2009

More pictures (large, because the weather was gorgeous today)!

Today was a very nice, warm day, so we did some laundry in the mid-afternoon. As I forgot to take pictures of the exterior of the house, I made sure to take care of that today!

Our entrance, located oppositely from the previous picture.

Citizens taking advantage of the heat/light of our beloved shmsh!

Emily's granny squares out to dry.

If we have to have 6 days of rain to have a day like this, that just might be OK with me.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Our Home in Morocco

From the inside...I forgot to take external pics. Soon, we'll have some of those!

As you walk in, looking towards the kitchen. Our skylight is a bit leaky right now, that's why we have the bucket in the middle of the floor!

Our kitchen. We like the counter space and the shelving for storage and, of course, our water heater (not pictured)!

From the kitchen looking back to the living room. We want to get a curtain to hang in order to keep the warmth in there. The openness of the house plan is not conducive to holding heat!

A view from one of our ponjes toward the kitchen and the utility room. Right now, we're using the extra room as a place to exercise!

Finally, a shot of our roof. Today marks the end of a 6-day rain storm that has been plaguing much of this area. Needless to say, we had to get much of our stuff on the roof so as to get rid of the accumulated dampness.

It's amazing how much of a role the sun plays in the lives of Moroccans: a source of heat on a cold day, a way to dry and sanitize one's blankets/sheep skins/clothes/pillows/grain/couches/etc, etc, etc, and
a reason to come out of the house and socialize.

We didn't get to wash our dirty clothes today (which are piling up), and we hope that there's sun tomorrow in order to facilitate that process! This is one of the many ways that the pace of life is slower here in Morocco. In America, we'd normally just drive to the laundromat to dry our laundry, rain or shine, day or night (or simply purchase a drier and have it installed in our home). Here, we have to WAIT for the sun to come to us: a test of the limits of our American patience. So far, we're doing well.


Friday, February 6, 2009

my first project

One of the initial realizations that I made here in Minnehaha (AKA "Water World") was that the 12 men of the town's artisana desire tutoring in English. As this seems to be an initial "foot-in-the-door" activity for many volunteers, I went along with it. After all, as per PACA, their wish is my command.

Wednesday was my first "lesson," and let me tell you, it was shaky. Not having a command of the language surely impedes your ability to teach it. Let's just say there was quite a bit of confusion. I was thanked afterward, and I could tell people were happy. Oh well, I felt good because at least I started something.

However, this afternoon was much different. I spent yesterday and this morning preparing my lesson (including purchasing small spiral-bound notebooks for each of the artisans). Upon arriving at the artisana, I started writing simple phrases such as "How are you," and "What's your name?," on the ill-supported chalkboard that I stole from the neighboring neddy. When I finished writing all of the phrases, I recruited the artisana supervisor, whom I will call "Shep," to assist me in the Arabic translations (Shep studied English extensively in high school and still has a remarkable speaking ability...some 25 years later).

But what happened next was unforseen. Shep had basically taken over the lesson, with me pretty much just standing there (at that point, Emily was working one-on-one with another artisan on his pronunciation of the word "night," which was coming out repeatedly as "nice"). Shep was fielding questions, providing the pronunciations for the English phrases, and even introducing other vocabulary that wasn't included in the lesson. I was there for confirmation on technical questions about English, but that was pretty much it! When all the questions were answered, and everyone was practicing/repeating random English phrases, Shep gave me the piece of chalk and took his seat among his students. Bravo Sir.

Those of you who aren't familiar with sustainable development or Peace Corps' approaches to development may initially think that this was a bad scenario. However, as a Peace Corps volunteer, my goal is not to barge into some place and take hold of the reins and single-handedly run a dictatorship. This is not "my way or the highway." Ultimately, my goal is to be a inspirer....a "change agent" that will identify strengths of an organization, a co-operation, or in this case, a artisana, and help those people realize their abilities and harness them.

I feel like today was a victory in the name of sustainability. Over time, as Shep's confidence and sense of self-purpose improves, his ability to lead his woodcarvers to English literacy will likewise improve. Emily and I are here to ensure that this happens, not just in English teaching, but in any activity that we begin. Happy Peace Corps volunteers are those who know, after they have returned to America, that their labors are still producing fruit. This is what it's all about.

Now, I'd like to share a humorous anecdote about Moroccans learning English:

One of the artisans, whom I will call "Benny," has a extraordinary desire for English vocabulary. He already knows and employs "Give me money," "Let's go to souq," "chicken," and "cheap tomatoes." The other day, as I entered the chamber where the artisans work, I saw a large stag beetle on the ground. As I didn't know the word for "beetle," and I forgot the word for "bug," I felt like this huge insect would be a good conversation starter.

Of course I got the vocabulary that I was looking for, but I also got a really nasty smell on my finger (apparently this was a stink bug or something). As I exclaimed in disgust that I had a "nasty" smell on my finger, Benny's ears perked up as he quickly asked me for the English word for "xansa" (nasty). I told him and he practiced it for a little while. All of the sudden, he stopped chopping at his bowl. He called over to me and said, with a smile, "cheap tomatoes nasty," which of course caused us both to laugh hysterically. I can't wait to see what he'll be saying 22 months from now...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pictures of Our New House Coming Soon

We're tidying it up and waiting for this rainstorm to pass so we can get some nice shots of the house, showing how bright and cheery it is!

We're doing great! It's great to finally get some personal space, after 5 months of living out of our suitcases!

Our house is pretty immense, with a shower, lots of counterspace in the kitchen, a roof to ourselves, lots of windows, and our own entry! Now if we could only kick this cold, rainy weather!