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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving Dinner & Swearing In


After FINALLY completing our Stage training, we joined with the Youth Development group in Immouzer to celebrate thanksgiving. About 15 of us helped prepare a dinner for approximately 80 people! It was so much fun, although chaotic at times.

I was responsible for a vegetarian gravy... which I've frankly never eaten before, so I lacked much vision.. I guess it turned out okay.. a sort of white sause/vegetable herb gravy.

Making carrot cake, yummy!! The kitchen staff were really helpful and I think they got a kick out of the American's cooking massive amounts of food.

Thanksgiving buffett.. there were perfect Turkeys (they used my suggestion to make a brine of water, sugar and salt - which I learned from my mom, a splendiferous cook I might add - and soak the turkies overnight before baking, so I was relieved that they turned out so well), stuffing, sweet potato pie, cranberry sause, big salads, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips, roasted vegetables, pecan pie, apple crisp. It was a real Thanksgiving dinner!


All 53 Volunteers, training staff, Peace Corps Morocco Staff, host families, lots of government/ security officials, the governor of the city of Fes, and the Mr. Thomas Riley, U.S. Ambassador to Morocco conveined at a fabulous hotel overlooking the city of Fes for our swearing in ceremony. Above is the Ambassador giving a speach. He was so friendly and obviously delighted to be a part of the ceremony. He had personally (with his wife) looked up random facts about each of our hometowns in the U.S. and made each of us guess which one described our town. (The governor finally interrupted and had to leave, having another important meeting to attend ;)

The Ambassador, my host mother Amina, host brother Annaass, Me, Mrs. Riley

Our entire Small Business Development Peace Corps Morocco Stage (we swore in with the Youth Development group, not pictured). I have a great group to work with!

PS. I'll post more later, but I have to head now.. just wanted to get a few photos up while I am in Marakesh. I will travel the final leg to my site, Agdz, permanently tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Agdz, Morocco will be my home for the next two years. I found out about two weeks ago. My friends asked if I was excited and I said I wasn't sure, it was all so overwhelming, it was hard to know what to think. Two years, wow...

Now, having returned from Agdz, I could not be more happy. I'm quite positive I received the best site assignment in all of Morocco! (Might be biased a bit, but...)

Agdz is a small town in the Southeast region of Zagora, 1.5 hours Southeast of Ourzazete, the "Hollywood of Morocco"! It is the most exotic place I've visited in my entire life. The trip two days travel via bus and grande taxi (old Mercedes car, one of 7 passengers standard). The last leg of the trip I was cramped in a taxi with six strange men, winding our way through moon-scape mountains, screeching around every bend (interestingly enough, life here is extremely slow paced... until you get behind the wheel of a car, then it is a mad race risking life and car parts, donkeys and human body extremities), wondering how okay I was with the idea of plunging down the precipices as my last memory and thinking I would rather at least see where I was supposed to live for the next two years before dying. The closer I got, the farther from all life forms I felt.

Finally we rounded a bend and looked down to a valley filled with palms. The basin was surrounded with rippling mountain ranges with one fantastically bizarre peak looming over the town center. I squealed internally.

A great arch with Moroccan flags welcomed all passing through the main road (Agdz is en route to Zagora and the great Saraha Desert so turist sightings are common). A great Kasbah (ancient mud-walled city or fortress rising from the desert floor) and Palm trees lined the way. When we reached the town centre a turban-clad "nomad" greeted me and led me into his exotic carpet store for a cup of tea. I wandered around looking at the glorious rugs and doing secret little dances in the dark corners.. hee hee, I get to live here! He led me to my home a few blocks away and introduced me to my host father.

My host family is wonderful. Six sisters! Aged 12-25, two at home, several away at college, the eldest is married and just had a baby 40 days ago. They are all the most precious sweet people. I was quite impressed with my language skills compared to meeting host family #1: I blabbed away most of the day about my background, work in Morocco, etc. Thankfully, several of the daughters also speak a good deal of English and could translate when I couldn't find Arabic words. They have a comfortable home, beautiful salon, courtyard, rooftop, even a hot shower! (Very much a luxury for PC volunteers).

I stayed several days, walking about town introducing myself and exploring. My sitemate, a Youth Development volunteer named Antoine showed up on day two. Our two training groups had traveled and trained together for a few days in Rabat, so I knew him slightly and was very pleased to learn he was going to be my site mate. Number one, most of my group don't even get a site mate, number two, having a male site mate liberates me in a community where it is inappropriate for women to wander about after dark unaccompanied. Number three, he is a gentleman and lots of fun.

We met other volunteers that live in the area: Jessica and Jeff, and one that lives in Agdz (Maureen) but is COSing (PC jargon for finishing her service and heading back to the states) in a week (Antoine is replacing her). Jessica actually brought pink stillettos to Morocco and they decided that the two of us meeting was equivalent to Cinderella finding her slipper. Stylin' in the middle of the desert of Africa, aah yeeah. I think there's a chance we just might have some good times down there ...;)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Where will I be for the next two years..?

We just arrived back in Azrou this morning. I was sooo happy to see all my friends, take a long hot shower, the beautiful mountains and crisp air, take a nap, blog and chill out with no pressure to think and respond to Dirija.

We find out this evening or tomorrow where we will spend the next two years of our lives and I’m getting a little bit excited and nervous. For some reason, I haven’t thought about it as much as some, after determining that I could be happy in so many different situations, but I’m still curious. Maybe it’s just that that is a huge thing to find out: “Here’s where you will spend the next two years of your life … “ eek! and maybe it's easier not to know until I need to know, eh?

Dress Ups, A Costing Matrix, etc..

Saadia (my language teacher) and I eating little Shebekia shoes from a platter of cookies we created during Laid Seguir on Friday. Saadia's great. She has lots of patience with us, acts as a living dictionary/translator whenever present and puts up with a lot of crap from us.
Yeah for Saadia!

My family decided to play dress-ups with me last night... I'm wearing a Kaftan (indoors robe for women) and some covering called I forget what. I think they took about 30 photos of me by myself and with combinations of little sisters and friends. Hee hee.

We have been working for the past several weeks on a Costing Matrix for a shoemaker, Hassan, that we have been interviewing. Below is the rough draft (which we afterward input into a series of Excel spreadsheets) of the matrix to determine his fixed and variable costs, assets, etc. Tons of fun :-)

This photo isn't great, but this is my wonderful, adorable, generous Moroccan family.
(Top L-to-R: Aannass, Oosama, Baba Omar, Mama Amina, Sara, Hajar, (bottom left), Me.)


(I'll publish more photos later, but it's close to our 8PM curfew, so I have to run!)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Hashuma House

There is a place where we can go,
A place that only we will know
Where forbidden things are not a foe

We eat in a month when no one eats
At noon we head into the streets
To find goodies and little treats

We sit on the roof, sunning ourselves
Remove the long sleeves
And toast to our health

In Ramadan even gossips hashuma
To bad no one informed us
Cause we're just spreadin' ruma'

Men and women separate should be
But, we've concluded adamantly
We're leaves fallen from the same tree

You can't take a nap
With a man on the map
But at school, that rule's scrapped

Good thing we don't smoke
O t'would be another rule we broke
And another hashuma joke

The is the house of Hashuma
Keep it on the down low
Else you'll get somethin' comin' to ya

~ Jesse & Rachel

The Little Things

Today is the last day of classes before we return to Azrou to find out where our assignments will be. I barely survived the morning language sessions, and can’t wait for this afternoon to be over. These two weeks have been at once very enjoyable, with many happy memories, yet exhausting and maddening. I wrote yesterday of the Laid Sgira, but even a long nightl's rest didn’t cure me of my fatigue. I dread having to speak any Darija and every little incident grates on my weary nerves. We went to lunch at Carolyn’s house for Indian food and an unknown man kept mumbling for us to eat. I wanted to find some ducktape. One of my friends even bothered me when she encouraged me to try a little chicken!

I remember when we first started cultural sessions and a current volunteer kept talking about how much the harassment bothered her. Men would say little things and she would get very angry. I thought it was silly. I had experienced a quantity of the same in Guatemala and just thought it was something to get used to and very insignificant of a problem. But today I’m realizing that little things that at first were funny become not so funny, and then frustrating and then one little comment can flush my cheeks with anger. I feel especially bad when the intention of a comment is good hospitality, but I am having a hard time repressing any emotion right now. Before I came to Morocco I was rather emotionally and mentally drained, and I fear that this has left in me in less than a good state of mind for the training Stage. However, I've been here almost two months, so not quite sure I can blame that. Guess I just thought I was a little emotionally tougher and culturally aware that this wouldn't affect me this much. Oh well, it will pass.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Christmas ..but not & Crying brides..

11/4/2005 7:40 PM

Ahhh… I thought my computer was gone for good. About a week ago I left it plugged in all night and the morning when I tried to turn it on it wouldn’t work. I tried several days later with the same result. I just had a feeling all day, however, that there might be a chance something was funny and I gave it one more try tonight. Wala! Full battery and everything!.. or wait, looks like 64% now, but good enough. I’ll write until it dies (Jesse has my converter). Thank you Lord that it is not broken. This is an important tool for my work here, as well as a blessing for relaxing.. journaling, listening to music, movies, etc.

Today was like Christmas … except not. It was the Laid sgiria (small feast) celebrating the end of Ramadan. The air was full of excitement, everyone stayed up late last night making cookies and shopping and doing Henna. (Naima created beautiful designs all over my hands and feet.) Early in the morning you could hear kids in the street blowing their little whistles and showing off their new clothes to each other. Everyone rushed about from home to home, eating a few cookies and mint tea before rushing off somewhere else.

We had developed extensive plans for today that humorously fell to shreds when I awoke this morning. We planned to spend the early mornings breakfasting with our families, and then meeting around 10am to go around to each other’s homes to visit. My family informed me that we would be leaving around 10AM for what I thought was a big affair at La Fontaine (a coffee shop in town). I rearranged with everyone to come earlier, but wasn’t quite sure who was coming. Andrea, Jesse, Carolyn, Saadia and I went out to buy stockings and goodies for the children to surprise them this morning. My “siblings” asked last night if they could go with me, and when I said no, it was a bad idea, I got the silent treatment from all of them. In addition, Omar (baba diyali) asked if I wanted to wear a Kaftan today. I heartily agreed and then he received a glare and hushed wispers from Mama Amina. I felt stupid and didn’t know how to explain that I would love to, but would be quite content if she had no extra Kaftan to offer. Then I asked Omar and Amina about our plans and tried to work in when my friends could come over earlier and she seemed still more frustrated and tired of accommodating my schemes with PCT’s.

Everything started getting better in the evening when I returned and experimented in making chocolate chip cookies without a recipe. The first batch looked like crap, but everyone liked them. The second batch were perfection. Then we had girly time with Sara, Hajar and I crowding around Naima for Henna. It was like doing nails in the states. I like it better, I think. I don’t like painting my nails and I don’t like the feeling afterwards. However, as far as functionability while waiting for it to dry, the process is much more extensive. First you sit, with arms in the air, and feet carefully placed … I, who rarely get cold was quite freezing but couldn’t cover most of myself. I realized that I must move around quite a bit, if an hour of not moving arms and legs left me so cold. Then came the sugary syrup tea dabbed on with cotton (pulled out of one of their pillows) in several sessions, leaving precarious henna lines and sticky skin … I went to bed as such, finally around 2:30 AM (after having stayed up until 3AM the night before doing homework and socializing).

I turned off my alarm (set for 6:30) and rose at 7:15.. not quite sure what stage of breakfast and morning events I was missing. Anis was in the bath (I never saw him today), Hajar offered to let me go next. The rest of the family besides Amina was no where to be seen. By the time I finished bathing and scraping all the green gunk off me, Saadia arrived for breakfast, shortly before 8;30. I rushed to finish, but realized none of the family was returning and no friends were arriving. Amina was panicking, however, about the fact that no one had arrived yet, and yet we still wanted to tour all the houses. I didn’t know where the kids were and when I should give them their stockings. I also wanted to take a photo of everyone in their new Ramadan clothes. That never happened. I realized that none of our plans made any sense, scrapped them all and spent the morning going back and forth between Malika’s and my house with Saadia, meeting friends in the street and bringing them in for tea. Finally, around 11:45 AM I was summoned by Sara that the family was ready to depart for wherever. I rushed off, looking forward to a fun lunch at La Fontaine. That never happened either.

The Aarab’s friend drove us the city outskirts on the far side of Khenifra, the road slightly bending up into the surrounding mountains. We got out, walked a couple hundred yards (in heels) to a poorer home where more family awaited us. Omar had dropped us off and I never saw him again until he picked us up at 6:30 tonight. I entered the small salon and there I remained most of the day.

Hajar’s (“my”) cousins were more girls and two young men who I was a bit wary of from the first. We all sat around and they all tried intermittently to include me in conversation or get me to say “Shiki Biki ul BistHam Howie” (which roughly translates ‘I’m lookin good, but I ain’t got no money’). I was served yet another round of cookies and tea. That was what my diet consisted of, mostly, today and from the first, I had little appetite from it. I guess I was used to eating less in the mornings and mid-day during Ramadan, even though I wasn’t fasting. I grew tired of straining to understand conversation and attempted to lay down on the the ponge and sleep. Hajar instantly summoned me to take a walk. I followed like a dumb child, but we were called back immediately and told to wait until after another round of tea and cookies. A group of us finally wandered out to the hills and Amina mercifully offered her flip flops to me so I wouldn’t ruin my heals. The brisk air and welcoming mountain ranges surrounding me were a wonderful interruption from the salon affair. One cousin, the one whom I had to rudely wave at out of my room early one morning and often ignored (to avoid being smothered), was constantly clinging to my arm or grabbing my hand. I ran out of excuses to remove her extremities and gave up until Sara and I picked up our pace and left everyone in the dust.

We climbed up a rocky hillside, scaring a flock of sheep and shepherd out of our way and sat on a boulder overlooking Khenifra. Hajar tried to teach me a clapping game, but my brain shut down. I was exhausted from trying to think and respond in Dirisia all day to so many different people. I became sullen and silent.

We returned to the salon. A few more hours, more cookies and tea, spaghetti, lamb and figs, dirisia and dranglish and I was struggling to remain contented (in appearance). I tried to sleep and everyone instantly indicated that was not an option with the men in the room (even though my sisters laid down and Mama Amina said she had taken a long nap while we were gone, and my male cousin was currently laying down.. I seemed to be the only one the couldn’t appropriately lay down or close my eyes). I scooted in a corner and prayed to be ignored. It mostly worked. My cousin kept persisting on talking to me with three words of bungled English (probably how my Dirisia sounded to everyone else) and kept saying something about doing the website for Peace Corps and could he contact me another time. He said that “we should move somewhere sometime together”. I think he meant go out for the afternoon, but I was quite infuriated by the impudence of my “cousin” hitting on me at a family affair. If I could not feel safe among my Moroccan family, where could I? I responded more and more rudely and he must have finally got the point because he stopped talking to me and let me be.

They asked me if I had every seen a Moroccan wedding and when I responded in the negative, they produced a DVD (the marriage of the woman next door, I soon found out). I laughed at the belly dancers and cheering crowds, but the expression changed to horror when I saw the beautiful bride. She was in tears and obvious agony. The groom was little better. They told me it was a forced marriage and neither the groom were happy. They didn’t even attempt to smile most the time except for during a photo or two. She was still crying and they had to take breaks between photos to let her dry her eyes. It was a bizarre scene. She was absolutely gorgeous, decked out in an elaborate dress, dramatic makup, henna and jewelry, but miserable. He was quite intelligent looking, and somewhat handsome, but obviously frowning.. they were the only two people not celebrating. A couple minutes later, this same beautiful lady walked in the salon. I was a bit taken aback. Her husband is apparently in the army and works in Italy right now. I stared at her, curious about her life and if she was happy now. I couldn’t quite tell, she didn’t stay long.

Seven hours after arriving Amina got a phone call from her husband, Omar, and we gathered ourselves and hiked back across the rocky dusty field to the waiting car. I thought he had been upstairs all day with the men, apparently neither he nor Aniss nor any of the other men where there, they were out all day at coffee shops and friends houses while we were stuffed in a salon .. women and children. This made me more irritated. Omar tried to make friendly conversation and I tried my best, but halfway through my brain stopped computing anything but English and I just said, I’m sorry, I’m tired and Amina explained that my brain was exhausted of a full day of Arabic.

When I finally climbed the stairs to my room, relieved myself in my own bit-l-ma and changed into Pyjamas, the world seemed a much happier place. I gave Sara and Oosama their sockings full of nuts and candy and bid them all goodnight. As I brushed my teeth I realized that having my own room, my own house eventually, was crucial to my survival here. I am slightly worried that so many cultural issues and just living here, even in quite the posh setup, has proved so difficult emotionally. What a day it has been.