Thursday, February 19, 2009

Say, ‘Awww!’

This is pure cheesecake – week-old baby lambs at my host family’s home. They’re gangly and long-legged already, but surprisingly soft and cuddly.

And these, from recent bicycle rides outside of town. Can you believe these two gorgeous, varied landscapes are right next to each other? One taken from the west, one from the south.

Where in the world have I been?

Aside from my own guilt, I’ve actually gotten several complaints about my lack of posts. Sorry. I can only plead a combination of busy-ness and good books. It’s nice to know I have so many devoted readers.

So much has been going on. Where to start?

It’s been a busy month, much of it spent OOS – that’s Peace Corpsspeak for “out of site.” First a long weekend in Ourzazete, a half-day’s bus ride away, for a teacher training activity with most Youth Development volunteers in the southern half of the country. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much out of the training; I spent most of it hacking my lungs out and shivering under four heavy blankets. Bronchitis the over-the-phone diagnosis; whether the antibiotics were superfluous or not, I was so desperate for relief that I took them; recovery took awhile, but I’m fine now.

From “Oz,” my lovely new friend and kind-of neighbor Anny made our way up north to Rabat for my first meeting of PC Morocco’s Gender and Development Committee; I won my first-ever election during training. Traveling that far means an overnight each way in Marrakech, which I never complain about. Falafel, gelato and an awesome vegetarian café Anny turned me on to … it would be right at home in the hippest American community.

The GAD committee meeting was hugely inspiring; I’m full of ideas for GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) empowerment activities for my dar chebab and for spring and summer camps. The committee is full of cool, good-hearted and well-informed PCVs. And we had a good time in Rabat, the capital. A hotel with a shower/bathroom in the room! (This is huge; on a PCV’s salary, you’re usually relegated to a hostel-like place with communal bathrooms in the hall.) Wonderful food … a hip café with spring rolls and wealthy young Moroccan students; a German restaurant with pizza and actual wine where I got a chance to reconnect with Jenny, the previous and wonderful volunteer in my site; the hangout fondly known as Toast, which is actually a pizzeria but is famous among PCVs for a breakfast that features actual American-style toast rather than the ubiquitous local round, flat bread. We even went to a Super Bowl party at the Marine House. Yes, there are Marines in Morocco. Six of them. The party was mostly older expats with children, Fulbright scholars, and Peace Corps volunteers. Most of us left before the game started at 11 p.m. our time (missed Springsteen’s crotch lunge, but did see some Asian guy failing miserably at his Steve Perry impersonation).

Back home for just a few days, then a long weekend in Taroudant for a training session on SIDA (the French/international acronym for AIDS) with community leaders from around the region. Matt, my fellow PCV next door in Taroudant, put together a great program, with help from a local SIDA support group. Most of it was in Arabic, so I had trouble following it, but a few of the participants, and some more experienced PCVs, were able to translate. I was most impressed by how openly our mixed-gender group communicated about issues often considered unbroachable here. There were some mixed messages and stereotypes, along with some outright incorrect information, but it’s a hugely promising step forward to see young people open to talking about SIDA. Now to bring the information back to our villages.

The fun doesn’t stop there. This weekend is an overnight “camp” in Agadir for young adult women, organized by Ian, my neighbor to the west. We’ll be doing some leadership/teamwork training, Ian’s lined up speakers on SIDA and moudawana, the family law code that recently has given more rights to Moroccan women but has not been well publicized, and we’ll work on organizing some events throughout the region for International Women’s Day on March 8. I’m bringing three young women from my village; it’s not easy to convince women or their families to spend a night away from home, so I’m proud of them for even agreeing to go.

Whew. After all this activity, I’ll be glad to just spend some time hanging out with the kids at the dar chebab.

I have made fire. Also, food.

Back home in the village, I have officially moved into my own apartment. Good points and bad. It’s much quieter … except for the constant street noise (my balcony overlooks the highway that bisects the town). I can live on my own schedule … but I’m often lonely.

And, of course, I now must fend for myself in terms of hunting and gathering and preparing food. Those who know me know I’m no cook. A lifelong combination of intimidation and outright laziness; I’d rather be reading.

But I am conquering both bad habits, a little at a time. Many thanks to Matt for giving me a proper lesson in using the butagas – that’s the giant gas tank attached by a tube to my burners and oven. I’ve been more than a little leery of it, but it’s actually easy to use – also easy to check regularly for leaks. Even so, I do plan to install my PC-issue carbon monoxide detector. Because I don’t want to be Dr. Hamid’s next hilarious story for future trainees.

Currently I’m specializing in scrambled eggs, constantly varying the add-ins. Avocadoes have just come into season, and they were good with tomatoes, cilantro and a little “red ball” cheese (the only “hard” cheese available here, kind of like a milder Gouda). Also a lot of roasted (kind of; the oven’s a little shwiya) zucchini, which I love love love. Fruit salads – strawberries are starting to show up, and of course oranges; banana sprinkled with cinnamon is especially yummy.
Today for lunch I made a salad of shredded carrot and turnip, with diced red pepper, chopped cilantro, golden raisins and cinnamon. It wasn’t quite right … I’m too novice to know whether something was missing (and, if so, what), or something was too much, or what. Advice welcome.
I will, I promise, continue to conquer fears and move on to such things as lentils and rice soon. Again, advice – and recipes! – most welcome.

One thing I like is that by default I am eating almost completely locally, and almost completely fresh, unpackaged, real food. There’s a supermarche downstairs for staples and bread; the mul lxdra (vegetable guy) is just a few doors down; if I ate meat, the butcher and the chicken guy would slice up exactly what I wanted.

The big weekly souq is where farmers from surrounding villages converge on Saturdays to sell everything from freshly harvested veggies to home-ground spices to wool blankets to car parts. It’s like the farmers’ market with a little Wal-Mart sidewalk sale thrown in. I’m still a bit intimidated; I get more stares here than anywhere else; for many people from the bled (the surrounding rural area), I’m the only white person they’ve ever seen close up. And my host family is always warning me I’ll get robbed – either by having my change purse hanging in front of me (instead of tucked underneath the huge fabric sack I should be wrapping myself in) or by being charged an entire dirham for a quarter-dirham’s worth of greens.

No driving to the supermarket, no overzealous packaging to throw away (though everyone seems flummoxed by my constant refusal of mika, or plastic bags; I still bring my own!) One way or another, everything I need is steps away; and if it’s not available, then I didn’t really need it. When it’s in season, it’s here; when it’s not, a substitute will have to do.

Quote of the day:

“Wherever you put your foot, there is the path. You become the path.” – Derrick Jensen

Pitch of the day: I have Skype now, so you can call me for free! Email me for my contact info. And if you don’t know about Skype yet, it’s super easy to download and use on your computer. Computer-to-computer calls are completely free. Try it – I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to: My awesome Auntie Leslie, and the Bentleys, parents of the awesome previous volunteer, for sending books and games for my dar chebab kids. Thank you so much!

Listening to: Awesome new mix from the lovely Miz N in the Big O!

Currently reading: “Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women” by Geraldine Brooks (I've read it before, and much of it's dated in this post-9/11 world, but Brooks does cover the gamut of ways in which women are oppressed, or rise above that oppression. Certainly feel fortunate to be in Morocco rather than in some countries.)

Recently read: “The Wordy Shipmates” by Sarah Vowell (surprisingly funny/readable account of the Puritans’ arrival in America)

More photos:

Shopping at the tannery in Taroudant:

More photos of my new apartment: