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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Sunday, May 28, 2006

An .. uh .. typical day

My friend, Jess invited me to her village 20 kilometers from here for a community party of sorts. The day turned out to be rather hilarious. But really, in the end, we decided it was just another typical day in Morocco.

She instructed me to head to the center of Agdz around 9:30 and take the transit to her village. The transit is an old blue, getaway clunker-of-a-van. I went to the spot where it was supposed to be waiting for passengers. No blue van. I called Jess, “Has it already left?!” (Options for getting to her village are limited to… well, this one van… technically.) Ask around, she instructed me. All the shops were still closed. I ran up to the cyber. The lady didn’t know. I found an old man contentedly sitting nearby. “Do you know where Omar is,” I queried? Umm… no, but he hasn’t left for Ait Semg~ yet. He kept looking toward a back street, so I just took off down the dusty alleyway in search for a blue van. (The number of vehicles in Agdz could be counted on your hands and toes, so it’s not too hard to find a specific one, if it is actually somewhere on the premises.) I found it parked on a back street, as hoped.

Omar! Are you going to Ait Semg~? Yes. Okay, should I get in now or wait back there? Just wait back there, he said… his head buried under the hood fiddling with rusted parts. Is there something wrong with the van? (Of course, looking at it, that was quite an erroneous question, but I wanted to know if something particularly was wrong that would prevent us from leaving.) No, nothing is wrong. He just swiveled his open hand back and forth (Interpret: wait a little while). I went and sat. I was wearing a summery, long white skirt and pink top … a little more dolled-up than usual… which elicited more than the usual amount of stares. Every direction I looked, any man walking along the street had his face rotated in my direction. Bother. Little girls came up and stood for ten minutes in front of me, begging “un dirham, un stilo” (a Dirham, a pen in French) with curious stares on their grubby little faces. The nice man I had queried earlier, still sitting near me, announced that the blue van had just departed. I ran out to the street and indeed the rusty old contraption was shuttling out of town towards Ait Semg~. I didn’t know what to do. Maybe he would come back? As far as I could see him, he kept rolling on. He knew I was waiting, and in Morocco, people will go out of their way to help you, and take care of you in such circumstances, so I found it hard to believe that he just forgot about me.

Ten minutes later the van rolled back into town, right past us, but didn’t stop. I gave Omar a quizzical look. He gave me the hand signal again, and I sat back down. For an hour. And another. Two hours later, after waiting on mysterious members of our assemblage, and stopping at random shops along the way where the driver would disappear and return, unaccountably, we headed toward Ait Semg~. I texted Jessica and let her know I was finally en route. It was 12:30 and I had to be back in Agdz by 3:30 to teach a computer class.

Jessica met us on the side of the road. The Moroccans grinned at us… one blonde American riding in their old transit, and meeting another American on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It had rained the night before, and the old clay city we had to walk through was complete mud. Why did I wear this white skirt, I thought? We stopped by random houses, greeting hilarious Shilha women. One friend demanded we walk through her house to the back where it was attached to the clay city, stood next to a herd of goats in the mud, waiting for the guy we had just passed with a wheelbarrow to come by again, so we could see him. We tried to explain to her that we had already seen the man with the wheelbarrow, but she insisted we waited. Not sure why. Fifteen minutes later, and wandering down muddy narrow paths, we couldn’t find him. We assured her we had already seen him and proceeded to Jessica’s house, through dirt foot paths in the palmery. The weather was balmy and pomegranate flowers, apricots and apples scented the air. All along the way we called out to women in the fields and greeted men along the paths, each greeting taking approximately four minutes of “how are you, how is your household?” Finally we reached Jess’s clay home and I rested in her hammock while we waited for the party at 2:00.

At 2PM we showed up, expecting all the village women, music and general celebrating. What we found was half a dozen women behind a stone hut squatting around huge platters of couscous, fluffing it with their hands and oil. Other pots of chicken and a goat’s head sat boiling over palm-branch fires in the dirt. They said the men and children had just finished eating and they would eat later… (i.e. around 4ish, a couple hours later). No worries, they fixed up a platter of couscous and fatty intestine-rolled sausage of sorts. We squatted in the mud, me gathering my fluffy skirt between my knees, rolling balls of couscous in our hands, and laughing at how the “party” turned into this. An old women sat with us in the dark dirt room, demanding that we eat more and praying over us to a Sidi B~.. Jess explained that this “party” was the birthday of the founding ancestor of their village, and that I was witnessing the amalgamation of Islam and pagan shilha ancestor worship.

We finished and apologized for our rush, explaining that we had to return to Agdz for prior commitments. I needed to wash my hands, and also discovered that the back of my skirt had actually become caked in mud. One woman stood behind me, dipping my skirt in a bucket of sudsy water (that they had been rinsing all their tea cups in), another held my camera away from the water, while Jess poured Tide and water on my hands. … I felt just a touch high-maintenance for a moment.

We trekked back to the road, apologizing to neighbors all along the way that we couldn’t stay for dinner with them, as we had to get back. We hiked across muddy river beds and rocky paths and reached the paved road. A caravan of tour-guide campers roared through in their jeep and van. We waved our hands and they screeched to a hault, both parties instantly jumping out, a commotion of demands to join them in their vehicle. We chose the white jeep in front, and piled in with six elated tour guides, chatting in Arabic and Shilha all along the way.

The trip is only fifteen minutes, but in that time, they managed to get a flat tire, during which a gypsy-looking lady emerged from the latter van, and proceeded to tell us about her wonderful life as in the tour-guide world, and how she lived right near me, and the last volunteer visited her all the time, and why in the world hadn’t we? We got on our way again, and then it started pouring. (Rain at this time of year is a very strange, unusual phenomenon.). The windshield-wiper fell off. Jess had her little kitty in a box in her lap. She handed the kitty to me and leaned out of the window to reach around the front of the moving vehicle and grab the wiper. The driver stuffed it in a random corner and we proceeded on our way. Somehow we arrived back in Agdz by 3:30. Maybe miraculously. If so, miracles happen every day here.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Moroccan Architecture

Moroccan architecture and intricate designs are famous, world-wide. Dad and I took a good number of photos during their travels ... thought it would be fun to share a few examples.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Camels in the Desert

Last weekend I went to Merzouga with my friend Andy and his two sweet sisters visiting from the states. We arrived during a sandstorm... it was so bad that Andy's friend Houssane (driving us) could hardly see ten feet in front of him! I was shocked we actually found the hotel.

Originally we hoped to sleep in tents, but as it was so windy... that was out. The hotel rooms were fabulous... four queen beds for three girls with beautiful canopies and glowing fossil lamps, huge bathrooms, and best of all, Air Conditioning! Considering it is now in the 90's and 100's in my site, sleeping has become somewhat of an obstacle. I slept like a baby.

We had a party in the evening, under the stars, and laughed and danced to the beat of Berber drums. In the morning we rose at 4:30 and walked out into the dunes. I have never seen the real Saharan Desert before... it was strange. You drive through miles and miles of pebbled, rocky flat ground, and all of a sudden dunes rise 300 feet in the air, wave after wave. Standing atop one, looking down, it looked like a massive cake liberally spread with caramel-frosting. And they never end, as far as the eye can see.

We mounted camels and a guide led us out into the desert a ways. We stopped and clambered up a high dune and sat there watching the sun mount behind waves of sand. A light, cool breeze kissed our cheeks. It was a little cloudy and the sun glowed pale like a low moon.

By 6AM the sun cast shadows on the far peaks, so we rose and hopped down the dunes like bunny rabbits, mounted our camels and trodded off back to the hotel before we could feel the sun's heat... and back to bed :)

We also visited my friend's artisans, watched them make carpets and embroidery, and of course... were donned with Berber head scarves.

I was surprised to find these women paid a much lower price for their wool than the women in Agdz.

This woman was baking bread the traditional Moroccan way...a stone/clay hovel. They light palm branches for fuel.

It was the most lovely of weekends! I sincerely recommend traveling to the Sahara Desert for a bit if you ever get the chance.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sitting Places

So... having some issues with my association. I know, what's new? A couple weeks ago they told me that we just needed to draft a contract stating we would be collaborating. I agreed heartily...whatever it took to get moving on something. I left with the understanding that they would text/call me when it was ready. They also said they would set up a meeting with all the ladies in the village the next week. I've been sick and traveled some in the mean time. Waited for a call. No call.

I got an email from my program director yesterday. No contracts are to be signed with specific associations, just with regional delegates. If I need to, I should set up a meeting with the association and the delegate in Ourzazate. Okay. Back to ground zero, again.

I saw one member of my association in the post office today. He asked where I disappeared to (the custom question anytime I see anyone). I asked why they didn't call me and if they had written the contract yet. He said I should just come whenever and No, they hadn't drafted the document yet. Right. I explained it was not possible now.

They want me to come all the time in the evenings when they are there, 7:00-9:00PM. But they just sit there ... and sometimes talk ... in Shilha. What am I supposed to do? I really do not feel it is worth my while to go and sit with them for and hour or two every evening ... while they speak in Shilha, a language I do not speak. They have already told me all they will be working on is a festival ... in August. Nothing now. Unless I can come up with a way to provide finances for the women to buy wool so they can make carpets. I strategizing. In my own apartment.

Maybe I just don't have the patience yet to do what most volunteers are doing ... sitting places. At least some of them have artisans they sit with, but unless there is real production going on, sitting on a dirt floor, drinking mint tea all day and making jokes doesn't feel worth while either...

So. Today, I'm teaching myself how to develop websites. And I've been practicing violin a lot. And studying French. And Arabic. And Shilha. And taking walks. And cooking. And cleaning. And cleaning up after Samson... who is now a girl ... so maybe her name will be Delilah :)

Bother. I shouldn't complain. Just not sure if I should accept the guilt trips, or accept the responsibility of sitting. For hours. Listening to conversations in a language I started learning last week.

Finally: Dual Approach to Immigrants

Bush finally proposed his new five-objective immigration reforms - a much-needed proactive, dual-approach to the issue of illegal immigrants and our southern border. The first element triples the man-power along the border, along with higher fences, motion-sensors, etc., in effect, boosting our defenses against illegal entrance. This is important, both to guard against masses surging from the southern latin countries but also key to protecting against terrorists that may use the poorly-protected stretch to escape watch-lists, etc. A lot of Americans would adamantly agree with that (whether they consider his proposal beefy enough is another discussion).

The second element, a bit more contentious, is a guest-worker program. I know in Europe past guest-worker programs have not been completely successful in recruiting workers for a temporary period of time... many times it simply allows them to become legal initally and then find ways of staying and bringing family members. On the other hand, guest-worker program increases the number of immigrants that are taxed and that are tracked from initial entry, both very helpful to the U.S. government. There is no need to say that there are hundreds and thousands of jobs Americans do not want ... jobs immigrants are grateful for. Let them have them.

The article I was reading from BBC stated that "
Mr Bush was trying to appeal to opposing sides of the debate" ... on the surface it may seem a compromising act of appeasement, but in my understanding his proposed initiatives are both crucial factors of one issue. There may be many things that have annoyed me about our President as of late, but on this issue I am with him.

Friday, May 05, 2006

He Punted Baxter!

I decided to be proactive this morning. Samson always wakes me up around 6AM when the sun comes up, so this morning I popped up, drank some tea, read my Bible, and went out for a stroll in the early morning sunshine. We walked all the way to the river and back, through the palmery. (About a 1.5 hour walk).

Samson was pretty good about following me, except whenever there were other people walking on the dirt road, which was often. One crotchedy old fella came towards us and Samson pulled his typical: running up to him, standing in front of him and wagging his tail expectantly. The old fool looked down at him ... and did the unthinkable. He grunted, pulled back his leg.. and punted him a yard. And went on his way. Poor little Samson was howling in pain.

He punted Baxter! Oh oh oh... I'm so angry! I'm in a glass case of emotion! (You can really only appreciate those lines if you've seen Anchorman.) Well, that's what I felt like. Felt like punching him. I demanded that he stop, turn around and look at me. "Sir, this is my dog. Please do not do that!" He just made the hand signal that means, who cares, or what were you thinking allowing your stupid little dog to walk in front of me ..

Of course, he was the one mean man among dozens and dozens of happy Moroccans on their way to school and work, weeding in the fields or out joyriding on motorcycles (or donkeys).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Congradulations Angela & Ryan!

My dear friend Ang just had a baby! Her name is Maya. If you wanna read more about her, go to Ang's blog. She's the first of my college girlfriends to have a baby. It's kinda weird to think about and I never saw her pregnant, which adds to the surrealness of it all ... Angela is a mom!

Way to go Ang. Can't wait to hear more about little Maya.

Hard Boiled Eggs and Leaping Frogs

Tuesday, May 02, 2006: The Analogy of the Hard-Boiled Egg

The Peace Corps experience is like boiling an egg. If you put a raw egg in boiling water, it will rupture. You have to place the egg in cold water and allow the water to heat at a moderate pace. Informing the egg or trying to prep it in any way to prevent it from cracking so you can cook it quicker is not possible.

The temperature of water represents the degree of complexity of an environment. The egg is you. No matter how much brain-knowledge is imparted to you before beginning your service, you will still have to deal with a new culture, new foods, new relationships, confusing local issues, and a very different way of working bit by bit. Everything all at once might break your sanity. At first, just being able to tell your host mom that you do not want any more white bread wears one out. Then building relationships …if you make thirty friends in the first week, then you have thirty families expecting you for tea, which means you might actually want to speak to them while you are visiting them (which, remember, is exhausting at first), and once you have established a relationship, you will be expected to return promptly. Then, as your friendships deepen, a sense of mutual-dependence is expected and the layers of guilt at failing to meeting those mutual responsibilities of each member in those thirty families could be fatal.

Let’s consider the work aspect. If you get a list of everything the community needs, and who needs them, then you may think it a very straightforward assignment. Here are the items to be tasked. Put them on a list and check them off one, by one. The problem, you will not realize at first, is that nothing is as it appears at first appraisal. Usually, due to the fact that this is a developing country, there will be so many factors rendering your tasks inoperable that you would never have considered. You would just assume. That is based on how your country works. Grasping the gravity of a million little nuances in a community (i.e. cultural, religious, political, bureaucratic, social, or environmental) take time. In fact, every interaction, every attempt to initiate something, every day observing how your community members interact … each of those is a little clue.

If you try to be the clever volunteer that pulls off his first project successfully in week one, (or month .. or first six months ;) you will rupture. And egg yolks will start bleeding from your shell. Not very attractive.

Let’s try a similar analogy … cooking frogs. If you stick them in hot water they will jump out. If you stick them in cold water and slowly heat it, they will never know what happened to them until they’re …dead and cooked. So we’re all froggies about to leap out of the pot. Warn your boss to turn up the heat slowly so you can end up the centerpiece of some Kentucky back porch repast.

P.S. I'm allowed to knock my own state, right?

Monday, May 01, 2006

My Lovely Parents

This post is dedicated to my wonderful parents,
Dennis & Rebecca Beach.

They are the most precious people in the world to me.

In so many ways they have been an example, encouragement, inspiriation, and mentors to me... as well as being the best parents one could ever ask for.

They are the most in love couple I know.

They took two unheard of weeks away from insanely busy Play Mart to hop on a plane, cross an ocean and visit their daughter in Morocco. They cleaned my house, organized, bought a shade structure for my roof ...

... even built me a compost pile.

They took tons of photos and learned new Arabic words every day. They were fascinated by the architecture and the cultural differences. They spent hours talking to me about my frustrations, joys, and the simple things of daily life here.

Most of all I just enjoyed spending time with them, my wonderful parents.
I love you Mom and Dad.