Thursday, October 11, 2012

Last Days in Peace Corps Morocco

This will be my last Peace Corps blog. More than two years have flown by and now our time here is coming to an end. The last two weeks have been a flurry of tying up loose ends with the co-op, sorting and tossing, giving away and shipping, final meetings and goodbye parties and lunches. We will travel to Rabat for final medical exams, paperwork, and signing out. Then it’s on to the Casablanca airport and homeward. Leaving will be bittersweet. Our friends here have been wonderfully kind and generous and I've grown rather attached to our small apartment, but I’m also excited about moving on and returning to our home and family in the US. There are many things I will miss. These are some of them:

The wonderful women of Cooperative Adwal

The wonderful women of Cooperative El Juwda

Hind and Fatima

Our vegetable seller and favorite hanut owners

The daily aroma of baking bread


Incredible sunsets

The best clementine oranges on the planet

The laid-back way of life


Farm animals roaming around town

The Fes medina

Watching street life from the rooftop

The stunning views of the Middle Atlas Mountains

Bslama Adwal, Ribat El Kheir, and Peace Corps Morocco.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What's in a Name?

According to a popular guide book, Morocco is the knockoff capital of the world. I can’t vouch for this, but I do know that a lot of young unemployed men and high school boys in our rural village are wearing Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Armani jackets and jeans. Nike is also popular and appears on shoes, hats and jackets with a wide variety of swooshes and the occasional backwards “N”.

Then there are the brands which are not copies, but suggest a brand connection; for example “Spederman” backpacks, “Belere Hotel”, “Oncle Ben” rice, “Tentation” candy and “General” appliances (appropriately dubbed “Generally Electric by a friend ). We actually purchased a hot water heater with the confidence inspiring name of “Junker” (really a reliable German brand). Some other Moroccan products have brand names that no marketing department in the US would approve such as, the “Rehab Hotel”, “Darky” and “Snowy” chocolate bars, “Studhorse” jeans, and “Bonky” chocolate drink mix.

Many eating establishments have no names but display signs giving a general idea of what to expect. Some of these are simply “CafĂ© Bar”, “Snack”, “Fast Food”, “Fish Snack”, “Self Service” (a sandwich shop which isn’t), and my personal favorite “Snak Exlaz”. The hanuts in our town don’t have even these descriptive names so we came up with identifying names of our own such as the “step-up”, the “glass door”, “turkey guy”, and “cousin’s” (of the glass door).

Clothes often have English words on them like “peace” and “love”, but more often the phrases make little sense, such as the pair of little girl’s pink socks which were stenciled with “shark patrol rescue team”. I had to smile when the co-op president wore a shirt with the words “It came upon a midnight clear”. I’m quite sure she didn’t know they were lyrics to a Christmas carol.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Riding in (not so) Grand Taxis

Have you ever wondered where old Mercedes go to die? Me too and now I know—they go to Morocco, but not to die. They have a second life as grand taxis, the main method of transportation between towns. Since few Moroccans own cars, most rely on public transportation, mainly buses that only run once or twice a day, vans often carrying twice their capacity, and grand taxis. The grand taxis carry six passengers plus the driver, and will wait to go until they are full.

When we want to go somewhere, we go to the parking lot that serves as the taxi stand, find the one going to where we want to go, and wait. Sometimes we’re lucky and only wait for a few minutes, and sometimes we just buy an extra seat so we can get going. A seat from here to Fez costs the equivalent of $3 so it won’t break the bank, but we don’t want to act like rich foreigners. Moroccans rarely buy an extra seat, no matter how big they are. Four adult passengers in the back seat make close quarters, especially on a hot sweaty summer day. Moroccans also seem to have a proclivity for motion sickness so there’s that to attend to on occasion. The drivers have more hand signals than a baseball manager, and they can mean anything from a friendly greeting to “what the *&$%!” They are generally good drivers and also some of the most helpful and reliable people we have met.

The grand taxi lot in Fes is a chaotic mess of drivers shouting out the names of their destination or at each other, milling passengers carrying all sorts of baggage, children selling gum, Kleenex or chocolate bars, vendor carts selling oranges and bananas, bread, and sweets, and makeshift cafes. Taxis are parked every which way with vehicles regularly arriving and exiting, always accompanied with honking. Occasionally fights break out. There’s a small shelter where passengers huddle in the rain or try to avoid the harsh sun, but generally everyone is at the mercy of the elements. Our first stop here on the way to REK was wondrous and terrifying. There is an unseen order to this chaos though in the form of men who direct the flow of passengers and vehicles. They know us now, and as soon as we arrive at the lot, the head multaxi starts shouting “Ahermoumou” (the Berber name of REK), hands are shaken, money changes hands, and we are directed to a vehicle within minutes. And then we wait of course to continue our journey home.

The main roads are generally paved and in good condition, but the road to our village is of a lower standard. It’s paved, but there is really only one wide lane of traffic—but not wide enough for two vehicles. I used to think the pavement had eroded at the edges, but it seems more likely that the road was only paved down the middle in the first place. So driving between our village and the main road is basically a half hour of playing chicken with the oncoming traffic. This is especially fun when meeting a truck overloaded with butagaz cans. I always hope OUR driver will be the first to veer off the pavement and swerve through the gravel or mud until we can bounce back on the road. Taxi drivers will usually yield, but once, passing through El Menzel, we came to a head-to-head standstill with a large truck while the drivers shouted at each other.

In a recent taxi ride, we stopped along the road for no apparent reason. A nicely dressed young man got out, climbed on a waiting donkey tied to a tree and road off over the hill—probably to one of the olive farms which stretch for miles.

Although we manage to get around the country in taxis, I look forward to the fast-approaching day when I can get in a car and drive where I want to go when I want to go.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The End of Many Things

Summer is winding down and not a minute too soon. It was soooo hot the last two months that everyone, including me, moved at a glacial pace. And then Ramadan started and we all virtually ground to a halt. After the first few days, everyone just closed up shop and slept all day. Our village was like something out of a day-after-the-bomb movie with deserted streets and trash blowing in the hot dust-laden wind. It was 108 for days in a row. It hasn't rained since last May. The nights, however, come alive. The whole town goes out into the streets and men crowd the coffee shops and stream into the mosque when the call to prayer goes out. Kids run wild and shout and cry and fight. They seem to congregate on the street outside our building and make noise far into the early morning. For several nights they were beating on drums.

This seemed like a good time to take a vacation so we left Morocco for two weeks. We traveled across the North African continent through Dubai to Johannesburg to Livingston, Zambia—8000 air miles---to Victoria Falls and just beyond to Botswana, our safari destination. We couldn’t come to Africa without seeing something of the real Africa. And we did.

We saw an abundance of majestic wild animals, camped in the wilderness, traveled by river boat, safari vehicle, dugout canoes, and tiny prop airplanes. Twice we went walking with an armed guard. One of the highlights was hearing an elephant eating leaves off a tree above our tent while I was inside.

Another was camping by a hippo pool and listening to the hippos call to each other in the evening. Their four-note bassoon-like snorts sounded like an orchestra section tuning up. It was all a unique and memorable experience.

But now, Ramadan is finished, the evenings are cool enough to need a light blanket, and the hanuts are filled with school supplies. Fall is in the air even though it’s still in the 90s during the day.

The last week of August was spent at our Close of Service conference in Rabat. It was great fun to see everyone we started out with who made it through the two years. The week was filled with medical and dental tests and sessions on how to adjust to life back in the US. Thankfully, we won’t be looking for jobs or applying to graduate school like most of the young volunteers.

We followed COS conference with a weekend in Asilah, a small art town on the coast near Tangier. It was lovely and whitewashed with murals painted on several walls. The seafood was delicious and we could even have a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe in this Spanish influenced area.

We are now back at site tying up projects and thinking about packing up. It’s hard to believe we only have six weeks left.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Success in Santa Fe

The project we have been working on for the last ten months is finished. The Santa Fe International Folkart Market is over and Fatima and Hind have returned home.

All the industrious carpet weaving, forms sending, picture taking, budgeting, fundraising, document gathering, marketing, label sewing, packing, shipping, and planning were worth it as
Adwal had a successful market experience.

They sold nearly everything they took either at the Market or later as they toured California, attended the Convergence Conference of the Handweavers’ Guild of America, spoke to the Textile Museum Associates, and attended several house parties in their honor.
Exhausted but elated, they returned to Morocco with new business, weaving, and natural dyeing skills which will be shared with the other Adwal members. The contacts they made, along with their western market experience and newly acquired skills will hopefully lead to future sales. Adwal has entered the international marketplace!
Since I did not accompany them to Santa Fe, all the photos shown here were taken by Lynn Dines, RPCV, who generously offered her time and expertise to attend the Market with Fatima and Hind and host them on the California leg of their US journey.

For everyone who assisted them in this endeavor, Fatima and Hind would like to say:

“We want to thank all people that make our trip easy and and help us to have the opportunity to have this very good experience in USA thank you so much and god bless your hearts .thank you. “

Sunday, July 8, 2012

4th of July Berber Wedding

What do you do on the 4th of July in Morocco where there are no barbequed ribs, or beer, or fireworks? You go to a Berber wedding. This wedding was different from others we have attended and observed on neighboring rooftops. It was a traditional Berber wedding starting with the bride’s henna party and continuing the next day and throughout the night until early morning. We weren’t sure who was getting married, except that it was a relative of the couscous co-op women who are nearly all related. Part of what made it fun was that we knew so many people there. The henna party is usually for women and girls with the men hanging around outside and drinking tea.
The bride was dressed in a beautiful gauzy green dress with masses of gold trim, but the other guests were dressed in their day pajamas with many wearing aprons as they were cooking for about a hundred people at the same time. A lunch was served the next day and for this occasion, the bride wore a traditional wedding handira which is a sort of two-sided carpet with large sequins that ties around the shoulders. It must have been incredibly hot but the bride gamely danced away.

The evening celebration was held outside. The night was cool and quite enjoyable. The women were now dressed in their sparkling, lacy, shiny wedding finery. One of the women took me into a bedroom and dressed me up in a tkshita, a wedding caftan with a wide belt. Throughout the second day and night there was much ululating, chanting, singing and dancing the hadous in which everyone joins hands with crossed arms and moves in a circle to the beat of the drum. Fortunately this was a dancing style I could manage.

The singing was a musical style known as ahwash, in which two large choruses engage in call-and-response vocals, accompanied by hand drums. At times it was just the women calling back and forth, at times just the men, and at times everyone. It had a very tribal sound.
The bride didn’t make her evening appearance until after midnight. This time she was dressed in a white sparkly wedding dress. One thing I didn’t understand was about the groom. He wasn’t there. Apparently he would come the day after and take the bride back to his home in Taza. I have no idea how they make it official without the groom.
We didn’t make it to the 4:30 am end but stayed long enough to eat twice—chicken tagine, goat tagine, and sweet couscous—hand rolled of course by the couscous ladies.

So we spent the most American of holidays at the most Moroccan of celebrations.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Typical Summer Morning at the Co-op

This morning at Cooperative Adwal, I sat with the women on a large red and white shaggy wool carpet placed near the door to catch any little breeze. I helped thread muzuns (large sequins) on short lengths of string to be incorporated into a carpet just started on the loom. The work was tedious yet peaceful. We listened to Moroccan music on Z's mobile phone and the shouts of boys playing soccer in the street. The basha's driver came by and greeted everyone, then roared off on his little motorbike. A herd of goats ambled by the doorway. These are things I will miss.