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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Monday, March 27, 2006

M'Hamid Nomad Festival

Of all the variety of garbs I have seen in Morocco, these LmlHfa (?) are the most stunningly beautiful flowing wraps.. every woman in her own glorious hue. I had to buy one.

Some of our artisans waiting for tourists to come look at their products... they waited a lot and got little reward for it.

So .. I've become Berber. Jess too.

Artisan bonding ... or maintaining sanity from boredom.

Houssane and I with our display

Sara F. and her artisan ... with their billlows.

Andy in a new turban and our favorite billows-maker

The little boys... well.. sometimes I wish they didn't exist. Sara demanded that a crowd of thirty of them follow her. She said she was taking them to the gendarmes (police). She looked like a pied piper walking down the street. They came to a cross roads and when the boys couldn't tell her which way to go she picked up her phone to call the police. They scattered like mice.

This man was our savior. He miraculously got our tents up and kept the little rascals away. Granted.. sometimes that involved grabbing them by their hair and shoving them away or screaming at them or spitting on them...

M'hamid is a port to the dunes.. but I never saw any real dunes. Lots of camel caravans though. Our "campground" is in the background.

50 Days by camel to Tinbucktoo... Seriously.

Bus ride home... I was hanging out the window trying to catch the last rays of sun.
More camels. Jessica and Ann where talking in the street when three camels charged out of no-where.. it was a camel race. Ann grabbed Jess.. she was literally 3" away from the camel's hoof that would have trampeled her.

Photogenic, I must say.. this happy fellow.

There was an unwritten memo ...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Regional Meetings & Mhamid

I'm in Ourzazate with volunteer friends. We just had a regional meeting to discuss our first three months in site. Problems, solutions, successes, frustrations. It was nice to just sit with other volunteers who are experiencing many of the same situations, trying to find artisans, trying to convince people that we wanna help them without giving them huge grants. Great brainstorming session. Thankfully we're planning on making those a more regular thing.

Today I'm headed to Mhamid for a craft festival with one of my artisans and a group of volunteers. An organization called Aid to Artisans is paying our way and doing training sessions on things like pricing and marketing with us and our artisans. Mhamid is south of Agdz in the desert... so maybe I'll finally get to see some dunes!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Better Day

My favorite part of the day is waking up to brilliant sun streaming down from Kisan, soft breezes blowing in my windows and happy birds chirping a morning song outside. Nevertheless, due to the my inability to sleep the night before (after attempting it on the roof under a full moon and dogs barking incessantly), due to frustrations with an uncooperative association, guilt over not visiting lots of people in town, not yet paying the electric bill, not yet sending reports to my delegate in Ourzazate, feeling irresponsible as visiting PCV’s extended my weekend to Monday afternoon, feeling a little stupid that my artisan possibly did not have much to bring to the art fair next week, and generally unsuccessful and blunted at every turn. I felt that both I had attempted too much and not enough all at once. I have not been to my association enough, but when I go, I find no receptive encouragement from them to help. I am already taking my artisan to a craft fair, but I do not think I have built neither report nor understanding of their needs to make much use of the fair. I have told my host mother that I would teach the girls computer classes for months, but hadn’t done anything about it. I had attempted to organize an environment week with Antoine, all the teachers, the Baladia and the many associations, but the whole thing blew up in my face… the lessons I reluctantly learned being that anything that seems like a simple feat in this country will take five times the amount time, ten times the amount of meetings, and the key components that seem like brilliant ideas are usually infeasible in the setting based on unexpected problems that I, a foreigner am not yet aware of… all of this adding up to lack of motivation to pursue anything. Definitely do not take on anything of any complicated level, do not work outside your sector until you have a much greater understanding are positive the task can be easily accomplished, do not attempt to organize anything with your language level, etc.

I really did not want to get off the couch this morning. I did. I went to Arabic class. Touria taught me verbs… Fusha (Classical Arabic) verbs. I warmed to the idea that my language was coming along sufficiently enough that she felt confident to start throwing in more Fusha. I returned to the house, called Play Mart to handle some finances back home, invited the volunteers to stay here before/after the art festival in Mhamid, handled some other emails, researched the travel policies, and made lists of things I need my parents to bring when they come. I went to the government office in search of more information about our Environment week, but no one I needed was around. I saw Nadia, my host sister, discussed when I would come over to learn how to make couscous, walked along hand-in-hand for a while and then parted ways. I went to the Ktoobia and made copies of the travel release forms, printed my reports for the delege, sent them off with one of Antoine’s letters, and returned home. After a little lunch and a twenty minute nap I met the landlord to fix the leak in my tub and headed back out.

I went to my assigned counterpart’s office to beg her signature on two travel release forms. I knew she would find it as humorous as I, considering, there was very little relation between the two of us, and the idea of getting her permission to travel was ludicrous. She did not exactly seem welcoming. She kept working while I tried to talk to her. I told her I had found out that they were making a library and that I was having two boxes of books sent to give them. She barely acknowledged that I was even speaking, much less donating books to her library. I asked her to give me the signatures. She refused and asked to understand why. We tried to beep one of my directors. He didn’t respond. I beeped the other. She said I should just get the signature from the delege. I thanked her, hung up, told my counterpart not to worry about it, and left. I had to return, though. I forgot my purse. Humbled, I grabbed it, smiled and left again. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go hide in a corner…how clearly she demonstrated that my help, my presence was only a complete nuisance to be avoided and ignored and repelled at every opportunity. Why the heck was I here. Partially, however, the rebuffs made me stand straighter. I marched to the Nedi and gave Lakabira (my host mother) a big kiss. She asked why I didn’t come to Ourzazate. They sold their little art stuff at a festival there. I looked at the pictures and thought it would have been a good idea to go. Oh well, now I know for next year. I told her I wanted to do computer classes. She rounded up all the girls and asked who wanted to learn how to use computers… but only twelve, that was all I could handle for two small classes. I recognized many smiling faces and kissed Amina and Hafida. I got my twelve signatures, told her about my next three weeks of travel, thanked her and left, with a promise to return with the confirmed times, etc. The girls and Lakabira were all so warm and welcoming, it felt so nice to be in a place buzzing with activity and friends and warm smiles after my last encounter.

I left the Nedi, headed for Hotel Kisane to inspect my artisan’s work. I found one wrinkled unimpressive painting and instructions to go to the Kasbah restaurant. I called a friend to come along. He came running from the center of town to meet me. It was nice to walk and talk with him, like an old friend I missed talking with … even though all the events and friendships here have an entire history of three months. There were a couple decent paintings – including a Mona Lisa – at the Kasbah and a stack of beautiful tea paintings on smaller cards. I got prices and numbers, thanked him and left. We wandered around his family farm for a while, breathing in the lovely smell of new clover, almond, orange, olive, pomegranite, and fig leaves, and the young green wheat sheeves blowing in the evening sun. Afterwards we sat for drinks at Café Agdz and I rested my weary feet before setting off for more encounters. We departed toward the douar. On the way I saw Iman, my host sister. I hugged her and realized I genuinely missed her. I parted ways with both and headed to the douar.

I met several new girlfriends on the way and chatted a bit before pulling away to my artisans’ household. Only Hafida and Hasna were there, with their shaking, diabetic father in the corner carpet, who was delighted to hear my voice. I love their family. I feel more comfortable with them than anyone, as strange as it is, considering they are more rural and speak mostly Shilha. We sat and downed milk-coffee and flat bread dipped in olive oil, chatting away about Fusha and French. They learned how to read Fusha in two years when a teacher came to help them, even though they didn’t go to school. Around 7:15PM I left for the association with assurances that Housane would go to Mhamid with me and just had a lot of work to do in Tamnugelt, but would make a list of everything they were going to bring, with prices. Eija, their dear mother was in Ourzazate.

To my delight, most of the association members were sitting around in the office doing random activities. Not only were they there, they were doing something, which gave me a chance to observe. Two were working on the accounting by hand, saying that they would enter it in the computer afterwards. One was typing something on the computer. The others were chatting and drinking tea. I struck up a conversation with Abdel Aziz about the Environment Week, and got the details straight. Then I asked him about the library. He confirmed they were preparing one, like one in another douar, and would have computers and Internet. I told him about starting computer classes and that eventually I would need a place with Internet. He said it would be fine to use their new facilities. I told them I had heard about the library and was having two boxes of books sent from Rabat for them. He seemed genuinely grateful to hear that, which was, in turn, greatly appreciated by me. I took a big gulp and thought why not pump him for more information? I asked what else they were doing. Well…they have a big festival in August, in collaboration with a bunch of Ex-patriots that live in France and return in August. They exhibited art, sold it, had a big donkey dance or something, a boys choir, competitions, a marathon, etc. I asked if they advertised for it. He said that was a problem. He said they had tried to advertise, on TV and newspaper and had paid both organizations, but that nothing had happened. I mentioned a flier and bringing volunteers and artisans. He was interested. The idea of a problem to work on got me excited. The first they had presented to me since I have lived here.

My “counterpart” walked in and promptly started working on the computer. She rehearsed the afternoon’s encounter and they all tried to understand why I would want her signature. I told them it wasn’t important, that my Peace Corps director in the end said I needed it from the delegate anyways, not her, and I would fax it to him in the morning. She would explain her confusion to another guy who spoke better English and he would relay it to me in broken English. Then she turned to me. This is why this is a problem. I speak Shilha and French, and you speak Dirijia and English. And then she turned back to her computer. Note duly taken. That wasn’t as big of an obstruction in my mind as her being mentally unwilling to work with me on some other basis. I would learn more Dirija and she obviously speaks Dirijia.

On the way home I chatted with several girls and parted ways with three new names and head full of Dirijia. It was one of those happy moments … when I looked back and realized I had just chatted away in Dirijia for twenty minutes straight (not to mention all day long). Not that I understood every word. Patience, patience, patience. At any rate, I ended the day having made headway in a lot of different directions that have frustrated me for weeks now. I have to study for an Arabic verb test with my tutor in the morning.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

development puzzles..

Today a thought struck me: I like development work.

I think something just clicked. I met with a man this morning ... he laid out pictures of his little douar, told me of their woes, of a women's training center that a Japonese organization donated, and trained teachers for but didn't provide continued funding for the teachers to actually train girls. The result: a brand new center with brand new machines, two trained teachers and lots of eager girls... an no money to pay them. It would only cost 1000 Dirhams a month to pay both teachers, which calculates to $1200 for an entire year of training. All that work, all stopped for a small sum of money. However, the thing that struck me was not this, but something else he said: "We want the training center to help girls actually generate an income, not just make silly things that no-one will buy." There are thousands of similar "Nedies" all over Morocco.. employing 2-3 women who teach about 30 girls each year how to sew sweaters, embroider, etc. Most of these girls never finished school. It gives them a diploma, (which, I think would build some confidence), and I believe the program is intended to help them have a livelihood in the future. The problem: No one is going to buy some cheap locally-made sweaters when they can find "Diesel" jeans (from China, of course) in local shops. Whoever came up with the strategy for all these Nedies... well erecting training centers is a great idea, but the training being done is outdated and impractical.

If there was some, somewhat simple type of work/craft/training that was in high demand here or light enough and impressive enough to be shipped abroad, all these centers could actually be training grounds for income-generating work, a livelihood for thousands and thousands of girls around Morocco. Maybe if they put computers in all of them and used them to teach girls how to use the Office Suite, to type quickly on a keyboard, how to search the internet and sell things on Ebay.. maybe those would be more timely skills. The beauty of it is that there are already several women on salary, buildings, and girls ... all this infrastructure. What is lacking is a simple craft, or simple skill that could allow the centers to be easily and cheaply converted. I'm sure this is not a new thought...

He said he knew I couldn't solve all his problems in a flash, but he wanted to help this tiny community (his father was born there) and wanted to share with me ... so I could ponder creative solutions with him or connect him with appropriate organizations. I had him draw a map of the douar, all the significant institutions, etc. I don't have any ready-made solutions, but upon leaving, I realized that I think I really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of development work. Little solutions, on little resources, tailored to the needs of the community, city, or country dealt with... requires a creative mind. I like being resourceful.

I also went to my assigned association tonight. I met a man from the organization the other day. He asked why I hadn't been there. I said no one had showed up for a month so I stopped going. He said they would be there Wednesday ... so i went. No one was there. The school girls I was walking with urged me to come for tea, of course, so I went for 20 minutes. Returned to the association and sat on the front step teaching a crowd of girls and flirting boys words in English and in turn they taught me words in Shilha, the Berber dialect.

Then finally one man showed up, their teacher. He opened the door. We all went in. They asked me questions about the passive voice, so I started scribbling on the board. I realized I'd been giving lots of examples and looked around for the teacher. "Oh he left, you're teaching now!" OH.

At 8:10 we called it quits.. after I miserably failed to explain "oppression" and something they wanted to know about how to turn "Mohamid wasn't visiting his friend Hassan" to "Ought _____________________". But maybe they understood the passive voice and pollution vocabulary better.. So no meeting, no directors, etc. I decided my strategy now with them is to just show up ... always, whenever the door is open and I can possibly be there.. whether they are there or not. They'll eventually get the point that I want to help them... I guess.

Ahh development work, in it's many forms.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Meet My Artisans

(Sooo... they didn't want me taking pictures because they were afraid that I was going to post them on the internet. I laughed and reassured them that was a preposterous idea... i just wanted them as "souveniers" to share with my friends. Which is what I'm doing... on the Internet.)

This is the wonderful family that I'm spending a lot of time with, just got to see them start a new carpet, photograph all their beautiful carpets, tables, paintings, etc. They are such sweet people!

A Walk in the Palmery

Thought everyone might appreciate some more pictures of the "Garden of Eden" here...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Not a tangible matter

My Peace Corps Sector Director visited yesterday afternoon. I was so nervous about him coming.. I feel like I have been busy but didn't feel like I had much tangible to show for it. I wasn't quite sure how much he would appreciate my efforts. I set up meetings with the association and artisans in case he wanted a tour of some of my new affiliates. Once he arrived I felt much more at ease... he came mainly to support me, to give me knew ideas, knew ways of approaching frustrating situations, and kept repeating that our work is not usually a tangible matter.

He called me from the Centre of Agdz to say he had arrived. I told him I was on my way... riding in a donkey cart with a load of vegetables, a new little table, two Moroccan friends and Jessica in the back ... headed back from the Souq market day. He laughed and said he would wait.

Their big beautiful SUV pulled up, I hopped off the donkey cart and greeted him. For fifteen minutes we only spoke in Dirijia. I thought the situation seem ironically backward. The Moroccan (Peace Corps staff) show up in a fancy new SUV, accompanied by his chauffeur, and I hope out of a donkey cart and address him in Arabic. We loaded my vegetables in the back of the SUV and I climbed in the back seat ... wow, it felt so luxurious. I wasn't even squished between four other Moroccans!

He inspected my apartment and we sat drinking banana milkshakes (my new favorite vice) and gazing out the window at Kisane while he asked questions and I gave him an overview of the past three months activities and concerns for three hours. When he left I felt encouraged that my efforts had not been a waste. I also found new perspectives and vision for my different work pursuits.

We didn't have time to visit artisans or associations, but after three hours of conversation I was slightly exhausted and glad to have a slow evening.