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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

IST in Color

The view from my hotel room ... ah yeah.

Volunteers listening to presentations & training sessions...

Some of the handicrafts that the volunteers are developing with local artisans.

One of the volunteers outfitted in full Tashelheight garb for her presentation ...
Me and my program director, Bouchra, gettin' jiggy (blue filtered).

One of our many delightful dinners on the boardwalk (with something other than Moroccan cuisine to choose from!!).

The Minister from the Ministry of Tourism and L'Artisanat presenting the 2015 Economic Development Strategy for Morocco (in their sector).

Me and my dear friend Andrea ... she lives in Tafroute which is very far from my site, meaning I haven't seen her since training last December. Good times.

In-Service Training

Agadir... the view out my window. The weather was perfect, the wind and waves heavenly.

Ahhh... my mind is a blur of all the delicious memories of the past week. I traveled to Agadir (on the coast) for our six-month In-Service Training with my 50(ish) fellow volunteers. Half Small Business Development; half Youth Development. IST was much-needed, practical, refreshing and exhiliarating at times.

I started out being self-conscious about my proposed action plan. (In our SBD sector, the goal of the first six months is to do a complete site analysis - comprehensive survey of the needs - and develop an action plan for the remaining 18 months of service, and then present a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation to our fellow volunteers at IST.) I felt I had done so little work in these past months, and that my proposed ideas were either too impractical or overdone. But after thinking and discussing with friends, I was reassured that I had done what I could with the site I was given.

Break between sessions for coffee and orange juice and dipping our feet in the pool.

The day before our presentations, the Ministry of Tourism and L'Artisanat (our Moroccan "boss" in Rabat) gave a presentation of their new economic development strategy 2015. It lasted four hours. I ate up every word. I could see the whole plan, and had a profound number of opinions (negative and positive) about many different aspects. I was fascinated to hear a first-hand presentation of a government's new development strategy. For me, there were two marvelous outcomes: 1) I realized that I absolutely love economic development strategy stuff... and would love to become an economic advisor someday. It reinstilled my love for this field... and proved that I actually do get passionate about something. (The past couple months, I had been rather depressed, partly due to a fear that nothing in my career life would instill sincere passion in me, that I was vainly running after a non-existent state-of-being.) I would love to explain the whole strategy here and present my own opinions, but considering that I work for the Moroccan government and represent the U.S. government here, this is not the time or place for such a discussion. Perhaps when I have more time I can at least briefly expound.

The second outcome, though, pertains much more personally to my work: as the Minister completed his sketch it became apparent that they and I had made many similar observations and developed strategies around the common elements (mine, obviously, only a miniscule part and scale, in comparison). They understood first, that Morocco's artisana sector has potential for export, but that the middlemen/technology/exporters are missing. They are beginning to turn their focus toward aiding the development of these middle players. Many crafts could currently be shipped in small quantities, but shipping is tedious, unpredictable price-wise, not guaranteed, etc. They just established an agreement with DHL and the Post Office to cooperate with their ministry in guaranteeing shipments of artisanal crafts, cooperating with associations, and all artisanal shipments are tax-free. The news was golden.

My plan is to develop a rural shipping center. When my parents came, they wanted to make many more souvenier purchases but were limited by their suitcases. We tried asking artisans if they would ship and they always turned the responsibility back on us. We did not know where to find packaging materials, or where DHL was/how expensive it was (and DHL only exists in big cities, the closest is seven hours from Agdz), etc. It just wasn't an easy process. My idea is to create a full-service shipping center here in Agdz. Packaging service, guarantees, tax-free shipments coordinated with DHL, price sheets, credit-card capacity; and to cooperate with artisans and (carpet) bizarres locally/regionally so that when a tourist is interested in buying something, the artisan or bizarre clerk can easily handle the whole process for them and have the item delivered to their door. I believe that it will stimulate the regional economy in the tourism/artisana sector here, providing a new incentive to buy. I could expound further but it is late.

Several counterparts and the Minister of Social Devlepment discussing PCV presentations during a session..

At any rate, I realized that their brand new agreements with DHL were the exact elements crucial to my plan which I could have little/no influence over. They had just been taken care of; my gamble could potentially become reality. I immediatly set up a meeting between sessions with both the Ministry of Tourism & L'Artisanat and the Ministry of Social Development (which just happened to be the helpful, young energetic delege I had recently started collaborating with in Zagora, teaching in his Guide School), and my program manager, Bouchra. It took a bit of a sales pitch to make them all see how my plan was a key link missing in their strategy (that I was willing to put my back into). Once they grasped it, they quickly offered cooperation. If I could conduct a feasibility study/surveying tourists througout the region to determine if we were right about interest in shipping items, and prove it statistically to them, then DHL, both Ministries, and the Post Office would come to Agdz, hold a meeting to develop a regional agreement for the shipping/holding center - and they would help or possibly fully provide the computers, internet, credit card service, building, etc. I was, needless to say, elated. The idea had gone from "out there" to right in line with the ministry's direction, and possibly ... potentially feasible.

I've got lots of work cut out for me now ... trying to bring as many local assocations and partners on board so that I am not operating in a vacuum, and have the community working alongside me to develop the idea into reality ... sustainability. I feel like I actually have a job to do now!

(There were many other elements of my action plan, and much more I could say about IST, but it is late, and I am very tired and must prepare for my trip to the States, so that's all for now, folks!)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Captured moments...

Two little boys dolled up in traditional clothes and berber eye make-up ...for their circumcision party.

Little boys can be terribly annoying or shockingly sweet here... the key is to get them in smaller groups, numbers equal trouble. I caught these guys on the sly as they stood around watching Jess tie her shoe or something.

Jess & Me in her village palmery.. our friends said "Cinderella has found her slipper" when the two of us met... she actually brought pink stilettos to Morocco.

The Ait Semg~ village party... the local women congregated behind a building to make kilos and kilos of fluffy couscous and goats' head.

A local Shilha woman watching over the pots of steaming couscous.

It's getting hot..

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I've been dreading the coming of summer months ... hearing rumors of 130 degree temperatures and sleepless nights. Until this week it has been unseasonably cool, and even rained for a few days, But... just as I was getting my hopes up that the cooler days would continue, the mercury shot back up. Thankfully I will be traveling a lot in the coming months, but here is some of the approaches to dealing with heat when you have no A/C:

1. Soaking my sheets with the showerhead before heading to bed
2. Sleeping with a fan directly pointed at me
3. "Watering" my concrete floors throughout the day (it's dry and as the water dries, it cools the air).
4. Leaving the windows and curtains open at night and waking at 5:40AM to close the windows and curtains, keeping out intense sun rays (windows point due East so the second it rises I'm awake and hot) before the sun peeks over Mt. Kisane.
5. Sleeping on the roof
6. Doing my laundry in the shower... with clothes on ... i.e. getting completely soaked. Feels great.
7. Cold showers. I ran out of butagas to heat my water, but then realized I didn't really want any more hot water for the next couple months.
8. Water! The other day I was walking home from the center of town (as in, down the street and around the corner)... as I neared home I remembered I had a 1.5 liter of water in my backpack. I immediately pulled it out and downed most of it... couldn't wait even to get home.

So... those are a few fun tips if you ever get stuck in a similar situation.

PS. My blog entry about the "Black Man, Mexican and Queer" was committed with the full knowledge of my friends. They really "are" what the titles purport, but it is all in good taste and among friends, so please understand it was not meant to offend anyone.

Making the rounds


I've been house-confined for over a week ... due to sickness. It confined me for my birthday last Friday which was a bit of a bummer, but I'm feeling decent finally and today made the rounds with many families I hadn't seen in quite a while. I drank lots of teas, shared some of the ideas I've been playing with, and showed a hammock to several families in hopes they might experiment in making them for the festival in August. We'll see what happens. It felt good to return to "society" and visit friends. It made me realize that I really do miss these people and have some level of happy friendships with many families here. It's a good thing to realize.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Uhg..I'm sick

So... I have a week and a half until our six-month In-Service Training. I have a power-point presentation and action plan to develop (for what I plan to accomplish over the next 1.5 years), I need to learn HTML to build websites for my association, etc; should have gone to Zagora to teach English, need to be sharpening my Arabic for our language test (if I don't get an Advanced-low rating, my tutoring is discontinued), visiting my association in the evenings to stay involved as they prepare for the August festival... but alas, I'm in bed. I've been in bed for five days now.. sick.

Usually I'm either really sick for a day or slightly sick for a long time, but this week I've been stuck on the mattress, calling the doctor, and cancelling one thing after another. Yesterday I drank 24 glasses of water, three teas, milk, Emergen-C, and orange juice. I can say I have a sexy smoker's voice now (when I can actually speak). I've been popping more pills than I ever remember taking; just went on Antiobiotics last night.

Thankfully my sitemate Antoine and friend Jessica have been taking good care of me: making me tea, buying me drugs and orange juice, giving me back massages (my body aches constantly), washing my dishes, making me food, and taking little SamSam outside. Couldn't ask for better friends.

I'm hoping the antibiotics will kick in soon so I can resume my life (today I'm feeling slightly better.. hence the blogging in the AM). In the mean time, thank God for sweet friends and cute little puppies and time to read.