Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Taking it slow.

Typical Sunday afternoon at my favorite café in Taroudant.

Here’s something you won’t see me doing anymore: Wasting away my afternoon in a dark, shabby cybercafe with a sloowwww Internet connection.

Photo by fellow PCV Tom

Instead, you can finding me wasting away my afternoon in the comfort of my own, sunny little apartment with a slooowwww Internet connection of my very own!

I’ve just plunked down a good portion of my settling-in allowance for a wireless Internet modem. It connects via a USB port, so I can use it anywhere. 200 dirhams (about $24 by today’s pretty good exchange rate) buys me a month of service.

The connection is slow, no doubt about it, though not nearly as slow as my parents’ dial-up; I can read a magazine rather than a book while waiting for a page to load. And it was a bit clunky to set up: Macs are unheard of here, and the modem wouldn’t work with my laptop. So I had to buy and install Windows (5 dirhams, so you can imagine how legit it is), and then buy virtual machine software online in order to run Windows on the Mac. My puny hard drive is getting a heavy workout.

But I now can listen to NPR all day, thanks to the beauty of streaming audio. I can work on lesson plans while sprawled in my jammies under several layers of wool blanket. I can catch up on all of my favorite podcasts. I can obsess over all of your Facebook postings late into the night. The obsession should abate soon, and it will merely be a welcome convenience. For now, though, I admit to overdosing a bit. But I can quit anytime I want.


Things have been slow here lately, and it’s not just the Internet connection. I had a few good weeks of productive classes at the dar chebab. Then, last week, nothing – no one showed up for a single class until a handful of baccalaureate-level students on Friday evening. It’s not just a lack of interest in English; my boys aren’t even showing up to play pingpong or board games.

Part of it’s the situation in Gaza; school was canceled for a few days so students could attend rallies. Part of it’s the fact of midterm exams, which keep students at home cramming. I’m told I can expect things to be dead this week as well … and next week, too, as the kids then have a week off from school.

As those who know me can imagine, it’s hard for me to adjust to a slower pace of life. The Internet, the lack of what feels like “real” work. Even the literal pace; I’m sure I’m seen as some type of bull in a china shop for the way I stride across the hard-packed desert earth that serves as my sidewalk. The walk from the city “center” to my host family’s home takes me about five minutes on my own; with my host sisters, it’s easily a 20-minute endeavor. My feet just plain refuse to move that slowly, and I often find myself half a block ahead without even realizing it.

Then there’s the pace at which things get done here. Trying to finalize my apartment rental has turned into a two-month endeavor. Things started out great; the previous volunteer helped me reach a deal with the muldar (landlord) before she left; Peace Corps did a security check and gave me the go-ahead right away. Then the muldar went to Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca). He finally returned two weeks ago, set the price 100 dirhams more than we’d agreed on (and 100 dirhams over the limit set by Peace Corps) and wouldn’t budge. Daily attempts to get Peace Corps to agree to the higher price finally paid off; now the trick is to track the muldar down again. There’s no office to visit, no phone number to call; one just waits until one meets her muldar in the street so that she can use sign language and pidgin Darija to broker the new deal.

One place I can manage to slow down is in the neighboring city of Taroudant. I’ve made a habit of spending my Sunday afternoons there, simply to get out of town. I get fewer stares and catcalls there, as tourists are more common. I can go to a café without worrying about being taken for a prostitute. There is one café in particular that I’ve made mine, with a quiet balcony lined in sunshine, geraniums and trailing vines; it’s a perfect place to spend the afternoon reading a good book, journaling like crazy and listening to either my iPod or the cacophony of indecipherable conversations that surround me.

Plus, it’s a cheap trip – the autobus (it’s the S.T.U.D. bus, and that makes me smile every time I look at my ticket stub) is 4 dirhams each way; a cup of ns-ns (half coffee, half milk) is 5 dirhams; and the people-watching is free.

I’m trying to take all of this for the lesson I so obviously need to learn. Things get done whether you act frantically or take life as it comes.


Despite the slowness, I can still measure progress, even in small doses. One of my favorite students is an elegant young woman named Soumaia, who’ll be graduating in June and is eager to do well on her bac exam so she can get into university. She’s good in English and understands me quite well, and I so I finally dared last week to ask her if she’d be willing to help me form a girls’ club. I was so sure she’d be too old for such things; instead, her eyes lit up with excitement. It’ll be a good opportunity for her to gain some leadership skills; and no way could I describe possible activities, much less launch them, without a Soumaia to act as go-between.

Of course, now I haven’t seen any of my other young ladies at the dar chebab in a couple of weeks. But it’ll happen; things will pick up when school is back in session in a couple of weeks. Inshallah.

In other progress, a neighboring second-year volunteer is putting together a weekend GLOW camp next month in Agadir and asked me to help out. GLOW, or Girls Leading Our World, is a common theme throughout Peace Corps; the point is to increase girls’ self-esteem and confidence while giving them practical skills for improving their lives. This camp, for older students and young adult women, will encourage participants to create events in their own communities on International Women’s Day on March 8. We’ll also have a discussion on SIDA (the international acronym for AIDS) and on mudawana, Morocco’s new family laws that have given women far greater inroads toward equality.

I’m excited to have a chance to see how such an event is put together without having to do all the work, from scratch, myself. Next up: Recruiting a few young women from my village to attend. It’s going to be an uphill struggle; girls (and their families) are not used to spending even a single night away from home, so I’ll have to focus on what a great opportunity this is, how there will be a large group of girls, no boys, with supervision, and with programs by educated Moroccan women.

(Plus it was a chance to finally see the beach at Agadir, a town rebuilt on tourism after it was decimated by the deadly 1960 earthquake. The beach is gorgeous, though full of European tourists even on a chilly January weekday. Sprawling white sand and tapered palms, backed by a long row of enticing eateries … and then a McDonald’s. Sigh.)

With fellow PCV Faye on the Agadir beachfront.


Gaza. I wanted to say something about Gaza. As Peace Corps volunteers, we are strongly urged to stay away from political conversations and especially from protests or rallies. How did I manage to get myself into yet another career where I can’t speak my mind freely? But I abide.
This being a private, anonymous blog, and me being a U.S. citizen with all the freedoms that entails, and the disclaimer to the left absolving PC and the government of any responsibility for my private views, I feel as if I ought to be able to say something about the atrocity.
And suddenly I find I have no adequate words.

Madre, one of my favorite human-/women’s-rights organizations, has a plethora of resources and background on the crisis – and is doing its best to get emergency supplies past the blockade. Click on the link and do what you can to help.


I feel guilty complaining, down here in the sunny south, but damn! It’s been cold lately. How cold? I don’t know. Nothing to compare with the mountains up north, where they’ve been hit with several snowstorms. And nothing to compare with back home, which has been hit with an extended cold snap as well.

But then compare how you get to go inside, remove your snow-covered boots and cap, and warm up by benefit of central heating. Meanwhile, I’m sleeping (under four double-folded wool blankets) in the same clothes I wore that day … and sometimes wearing them again the next. Too cold to change! Yes, the sun warms things up a bit during the day … if you’re outside. But these concrete walls and high windows do an excellent job of keeping the cold in, and that’s true in winter as well as summer.

Multiple warnings aside, cold is one thing I did not expect to deal with in Africa.


Just wanted to send out another shout of thanks for all of you who sent holiday care packages. They may have arrived late, but they did arrive, and every single item was so appreciated! From the books to the CDs to the Ziploc bags to the lipgloss to the peanut butter and every single thing in between. The photos and gifts from the niece and nephews especially made my day. Thank you, thank you! You don’t know what it means, on a lonely, homesick, confusing day, to find a package waiting for you from home.

Much love to everyone!


Currently reading: “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” Italo Calvino

Just finished:A Language Older Than Words,” Derrick Jensen (PLEASE find and read this amazing book!); “Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit,” Daniel Quinn (don't bother)

Song of the Day: “You Speak My Language,” Morphine

Quote of the Day: “Some people never learn anything because they understand everything too quickly.” – Alexander Pope


Anna Jo said...

It's 4 degrees in Lincoln! I trudged past the Journal Star building last night and thought of you. I'm living in a hotel, covering the session, and missing last year, when I could meet you and Jill at Yia Yia's for girls' night.

Krista said...

Lovely post! I wanna ride the S.T.U.D. bus to the beach...that sounds way fun. Agadir looks beautiful. It's time we get serious about planning my trip to visit. Besos...k