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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Sunday, September 25, 2005


It just gets better and better. We were just assigned our CBT sites where we will be alternately training in groups of five and individually living with Moroccan families alternated with regrouping at the hostal/PC base here in Azrou. During my approx. 2 minute interview with the PC director, I simply said I wanted a) a larger city b) mountains nearby c) greenery and d) to learn Arabic, not Tamazighr (a mountain Berber dialect). I got exactly what I wanted.

Khenifera is about 1.5 hours south of Azrou, a little be lower altitude, but still in/near mountain ranges. Lots of hiking, rumors of a lake or river nearby, about the same size as Azrou (50k people), a really nice family with four children for my homestay (I'll tell you more about them after I actually meet them), continuation of Arabic training (that is a HUGE blessing!), and some great friends among the five, to boot! Jesse, Cory and Andrea have all been great friends to me and I was shocked that I get to train with them. We don't even have any say in the matter of who our team of six trainees are. Good is certainly good. We head out tomorrow morning.

Today had plenty of fun adventures in itself. My friend Sara and I have been hiding out in the Internet cafe Cyber all day, but asked the dude up front where to go for lunch. As my French wasn't good enough to understand his directions, he simply left the desk to walk us down the street and down a little alley to the most quaint, rustic little cafe you've ever seen. We were delighted. There was an open grill where the chef cooked one of two lunch fares: Tagin (basically the Moroccan word for casseroll/meal/stew in a dish; in this instance sausage, eggs, red boiling sause of some sort) or Brichet (skewered lamb). I picked the form, Sara the latter.. but just confirming that was quite an ordeal between a few French words, English and Dhrisia (Moroccan Arabic, sorry, don't know how to really spell it). It was the perfect picture of rustic simplicity.. a terra cotta clay mug for us to share, another terracotta clay pitcher of water, plates of steaming meats and red sauce, and a basket of fresh stone-baked bread between us functioning as our silverware... The employees all watched and smiled and laughed at our strange American ways, and we laughed and poored over notes and language books for a few words to communicate. The waiter asked if we wanted "Coca" and when we nodded he ran off down the alley, returning promptly with two Coca Cola Light's. Sara's plate was just meat, so we asked for "Danun, yogurt" .. he nodded and again ran off down the street despite our shocked protests. He ran back again within a minute or two with Banana Dannon yogurt. We laughed and she plunged her lamb into the banana yogurt. Oh my, what a fun place this is.

More to write, but I've been hibernating in this internet cafe practically all day, so I'll write more later.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A typical day

I thought it might be interesting to post an outline of a normal day here .. almost two weeks in.

6:15AM Wake up to my cell phone alarm. Collect my blankets and tip-toe back down to the communal girls room from the roof where I sleep.

6:30AM Squat on the Turkish toilet. Take a shower, hoping one is available and praying for a bit of hot water.

7:00AM Find a corner with a little mirror to put on makeup.

7:15AM Head back to the roof for a few minutes of Bible reading, quiet time, prayer. Corey sometimes joins me to read his Bible as well.

7:30AM Join everyone on the base floor couches/“restaurant” for breakfast – usually a baguette with apricot jam and butter, soft white cheese triangles, and coffee with steaming milk.

8:00AM Join four girls for our language class (back in the roof tent again, I’m so lucky J) with Hakima. (Some sessions are alternated for another round of shots.)

10:00AM Break time – join everyone for sweet mint tea and some type of bread.

10:20AM Return to the roof for Arabic script with same class.

12:20PM Lunch time! Usually a fare of lentils, bread, a vast variety of vegetables including cucumbers, carrots, chopped onions and tomatoes (delish topped with this cream/tangy sause), fried cauliflower, lettuce, etc.; lamb stew, and either grapes or honeydew for dessert.

2:00 Afternoon technical sessions begin in the basement. Usually a combination of PowerPoint slideshow overviews of goals and group projects discussing a variety of issues.* Several current volunteers have arrived to give sessions on gender issues, security, project development, etc. We love taking the opportunity to pounce on them with millions of random questions.

4:00PM Second break. More coffee and sweet mint tea. More yummy bread/deserts.

4:20PM Another technical or cultural training course.

6:00 Free time! We usually race off in groups to the downtown area (walking of course) to hit the internet cafes and blog, check cnn.com, and email before dinner time, or we search the Souk (market) tents for some random, hard-to-find necessary item. (Not always a successful adventure, I might add.)

7:30PM Dinner starts - similar fare as lunch.

8:00PM Curfew. (As in, must be back from roaming about town, very strictly adhered.) We gather in one of the lounges (typical lounge has backless couches lining each wall with colorful banners strung on the walls, shaggy dense carpets cover the central floors) to read, play cards, study Arabic, quiz each other, journal, vent, chat.

11:00ish .. Early-to-bedders are complaining about lights being on, everyone slowly winds down and heads off to our dorm beds or anywhere they can find a quiet space throughout the Auberge. I usually go sit on the roof wall and gaze at the mountains and stars before crawling onto my roof couch/bed.

*A sample of topics covered in health training: 1) How to identify the Sahara Desert Viper, the White Banded Carpet Viper, the Egyptian Cobra and some other type of viper, scorpions, etc.… and of course, how to lay quiet and still in some random remote village after getting bitten, hoping you had your cell to let someone know to come get you. 2) How to treat boils, 3) How to disinfect water by boiling or chlorine.

A sample of safety training: 1) Overview of the extensive policies regarding when we can leave our sites and who we need to notify/get approval from for travel. Disobeying leave policies can be immediate terms for Administrative Separation (termination); 2) How to handle harassment (especially for women).

A sample of technical training: (it has been mostly an overview so far) the focus on this point is helping us to realize that our function in service will be to play many different roles. For instance, although we may think we are coming in as leaders to a community, many times we will be mentees to persona for crucial skills and cultural expectations. We will probably spend a majority of our first 6 months to year learning language intensely, learning how to interact effectively, learning who the key players in a community are, determining expressed needs of a community and developing a plan to facilitate the improvement/change in those areas. Leadership itself will consist less of dictating and more of facilitating a group toward the direction of a goal, brining out the skills and opinions of quieter members, locating local resources to accomplish a task, honing in on one agreed direction, or helping people to think more creatively by asking directional questions, instead of giving directives. Peace Corps adopted motto: “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” We are going to teach, to build capacity, not march in and fix a problem for them, leave and leave them with no expanded knowledge base with which to solve future problems.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mountains & Monkeys

Today was our first break day (or self-directed training day as they like to call it). A group of 11 of us took off at 7AM this morning to hike the mid-atlas mountain ranges above Azrou.
We were led by Lee, a current PC volunteer here in Azrou. We hiked probably 17 km and rested atop the cliffs overlooking a beautiful valley and the desert mountains behind. We ate avocado, bread and soft cheese, and Lee boiled sweet mint tea in a little teapot over an impromptu fire. On our climb back down, we spotted several Barbery Apes that the cedar forests of Azrou are well known for. They were kinda cute. Monkeys!

As we were resting, a group of ladies with massive firewood bundles passed by and we offered them water. They invited us to come to tea at their home, (translated by Lee) and we agreed.. although Lee wasn't coming with us. Sometimes we just sat there and smiled and giggled, trying out the little Arabic phrases we had learned, gesturing, thowing in French and English here and there. at one point they turned on loud arabic music and we had a girly dance party. Then tea and croissants and stone baked bread came. Our first tea party!

I've been wanting to post photos, but getting photos from my laptop or camera has been quite the challenge. I don't have any cd's to burn anything on, I don't have a memory stick (and someone just said these old computers don't even recognize them), i just tried to download my camera and overloaded the memory and froze it. They have floppy disks but we don't have those on our computers. Bother. Someday I'll get this all figured out.

I've slept on the roof for the past two evenings, soaking in the cool mountain breeze. Another trainee, Corey, the Christian dude sleeps up there too on another "couch" in the tent/roof area .. we talked through our days and he told me the story of Rumplestiltskin last night to put me to sleep. It has been a nice way to debrief my days.

I need to head back now.. we've got a full day of Arabic language and technical training tomorrow.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Beneen Couscous

I'm sitting in a psuedo-tent with the cool mountain breee blowing through I'm in Azrou, Morocco. I doubt you could find a more beautiful town in many countrie, surrounded by rough mountains, cedars, green-tiled homes. I resting on a lounge couch of bright colors, and friends are gathering to smoke a huka apple-scented water pipe.

I have been joyously filled today with "beneen" (delicious) couscous (we ate it with our fingers from a common plate and tried to remember not to use our left hand as people use it to wipe themselves with after relieving themselves), blue skies, exotic flowers, beautiful architecture, so many happy moments, giggles as we blurted out attempts at Arabic. I feel spoiled and overjoyed and more happy than I should be allowed to feel.

Today we met Lee, a Peace Corps volunteer living and working here in the city. He seemed so happy and fit and tan. He had the same strange sweet curious, indigenous accent/mannerisms as Elliott Liske bore coming back from India this past time. A lilting, patient, informative mannerism. I'm curious what it is that affect two guys so similarly in two different countrie on two different continents.

I did grow a little anxious when he said he's been here a year and basically all he does is go to the markets in the afternoon after languge classes and lunches where he is invited, to help artisans think creatively, begin to think of different ways of doing things on their own - development ides at the most basic level. I felt defeated. Could I operate at such a slow pace for two years?

Another thought: I've known this experience will change me, but how much? Will I be a different person when I return to the states? Am I okay with that? Not sure, I guess so. I'm scared at the prospect of never fitting into American culture again. Well... I've got over two years to figure that one out.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Boarding the Plane for Africa!!

About to take off. I’m huddled with a group of nerds from the group of 53 Peace Corps volunteers in JFK airport, waiting for our boarding call. When I get off that plane I will be in Casablana … Morocco … Africa!! My new home for the next 27 months. Kinda crazy to think about. I’m getting really excited. The whole concept that I’m actually relieved of all my responsibilities and projects and customers and issues and rent and life in the states is not completely fathomable yet, but it is amazing to think about. It is like a massive weight is just lifting from my shoulders slowly, yet surely. I can’t believe it, really, but just the thought that I get to go to Africa and begin a whole new phase of life, debt free and happy sounds incredibly wonderful. It has taken until the minutes and hours before my flight to finally grasp this, just a bit, because that is how it has taken to actually take care of millions of details. Wow. Gotta go.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Day 1 Staging, Philly

9/10/2005 10:14 PM



I’m exhausted. Somehow I made it to Philadelphia, PA today with at least most the loose ends of business and personal details tied up by 12:30AM today. Got up at 4AM to drive to Lexington, KY with Mom and Dad and flew out at 8AM for Philly via Detroit. I arrived at the hotel around 12:45PM with no incident save all my luggage missing (it’s still in transit as I write L).

Registration started around 1PM. I discovered there was not a group of seven, but 53 volunteers headed to Morocco under either the Business Development or Youth Development programs. We spent two hours filling out forms and chatting. I would say the guy/girl ratio is 75/25 (25% guys). There are a few elderly (like one white-haired little old lady who said she was “going for selfish reasons: when you travel, you don’t really experience a country like you do when you live there” you gotta give somebody that old, doing what we’re going to do a little bit of humor and grace, I guess). The median age was younger, but with a full gamut of overseas, language and work experiences. One person worked with the prosecution team in trials of Rwandan government officials.

During our many sessions (that lasted until after 7PM tonight) I began to realize that most of these people thought a lot like I do in a variety of aspects, in ways that the average American would think a little crazy. We all love weird foods, love traveling, learning new languages, relish the idea of living on nothing in a hut, hoping we can make a little impact among the poor in Morocco, and learn more from them than we teach. They have very interesting stories to tell, and good insight. I guess, what I was discovering was that Peace Corps seems like it will fit me very well. Of course, I still haven’t touched down in the country of service, but my first impressions are very positive.

That is, besides exhaustion at the saga of wrapping up my life in Cincinnati, or the U.S. for that matter. I told Mom this morning that (not in a bad way) it seemed as though I had gone through all the processes someone does before they die. Bid tearful goodbyes, happy goodbyes (because we will see each other “soon”), taking care of all debts, relinquishing my business and all personal responsibilities to several Power-of-Attorney’s, packing up my life as I’ve known it and leaving with little more than my body. Funny, the analogy.

Please pray that I’ll find one good Christian friend. And I’m going to bed!!