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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

10th Climb..only for Jessica

All Jessica wanted to do for her birthday was climb Mt. Kisane again.

So we did.

We didn't leave until 12:00 Noon.

Not a good idea.

We arrived in Tamnugelt (where friends, food and the party were waiting for us) at 8:30 PM.

Which means we were hiking the dark for 1.5 hours.

I was the only one who "knew" the path well enough to lead in the dark.

I forgot my flashlight.

The moonshine was nice.

April couldn't go because she was sick... so we left her at the bridge. I turned back to see her looking after us like a forlorn little pup, left behind.

The awesome crew. Jessica is in the center. The two of us have been quite the climbing team.

The riverbed was full. A rarity.

Very serious group. We decided that no-one could use the personal pronoun when talking about themselves... (i.e. "Raja is tired" not "I'm tired"). If you did, then you had to put a rock in your pocket. I dumped 35 rocks out of my pocket.

The challenge ahead:

... there was another rule. No complaining. No one did.

Jess and I take pride in discovering new routes up the mountain every time.

Our hope: to find rock-climbing routes along the way.

It is sometimes disconcerting to first-timers. On our last trek a girlfriend refused to summit and made me return with her. Jess and I decided to warn people and make them sign "No complaining contracts.

Aaron fell in a pool of water while attempting to climb a steep face. His feet were umm.. not that pretty of a site when he de-shoed himself at the summit.

Conquered. Again. (Pictured: Aaron)

The rare flowers tough enough to wedge themselves up through rocks scented the evening air.

It smelled of lilacs.

Sunset from a peak.

In action

I've been trying to carry my camera around with me when I'm working. Here's a few shots of daily life:

Some of girlies in the typing class.
Aisha is ten years old. She's learning how to type very quickly.
Empowering women.
Help them become comfortable with a computer and learn to type fast and they become a resource to the community and gain life/job skills.

Pouring over fabrics for purse inspiration.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Time crunch

Surprisingly, I'm feeling a bit of a time crunch right now. It's spring, it's warm, and I know I have three months until schools and other institutions shut down, teachers (translation resources) and most of Agdz flee the heat while I melt away. There are lots of projects in the works: hammocks, purses, survey results to be translated and presented to PC directors, more ministry heads, and acted on. My girls' typing classes are going very well... there are so many girls coming and only two computers, so we've set up an alternating schedule so they can all have a chance to learn. This morning I enlightened Nadia on the idea of developing Excel graphs to show how much food girls in the dorm consume per quarter (which has been a major issue... they actually had to turn fifty girls out because there were not enough funds to feed them all. Which means fifty girls who cannot finish high school. They're forced to return to their little villages.)

My director, Bouchra is coming tomorrow to discuss the survey results and make a game plan. I presented to the delege in Ouarzazate last week without much insight gained. We're planning another meeting, however, as he had to run. There is rumor of a craft fair in Zagora that I might help organize. And somewhere inbetween I need to go to Rabat to have a dentist offer a second opinion on the root canal (travel time swallowing a week). All said, I'm feel a bit under pressure or possibly even stressed? In America, these tasks probably wouldn't phase me, but knowing my limited time, looming weather, looming end of service dates, etc. I'm rather ancy to make serious progress on each before the end of May.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sui Juris, Beholden But to One

Sui Juris, Beholden But to One

I beg an hour of mind sui juris,

An eagle hovering in the breezes

Beholden to no one,

No one, no one at all but God

When others applaud, appreciate

The eager works I narrate

It’s then an artist’s complex encumbers me near crippling

An engagement not, no not of God

And then I curl myself,

Wishing I were a little trinket on a shelf

Hoping no one notices, no one admires me

Simply let me be a child, a child of God

And brooding eyes seek Him

Mull o’er His word; tuck in my chin

I remember I am of vast universe a little thing

But a thing loved, loved by God

And finding my Lord’s presence vicinal

Let all fly swiftly to Him administer

Each expectation, every praised successive feat

Let all my works only boast of love, love for my God

Rachel Beach

Monday, February 12, 2007

Friday, February 09, 2007

Transliteration Obliteration

Every once in a while, I will be writing in English and forget how to spell a word. I will write it ten different ways and still not remember how it should look. My mind draws a complete blank and I often start laughing. The problem is that between Arabic transliteration, and based on which alphabet pronunciation I’m thinking in (i.e. pronouncing “ll” or “a” the French, Spanish or English way) there are often dozens of ways a word could be spelled.

I was writing the last blog I tried to write “anxious” a number of the following ways before looking it up and laughing at myself.












Brain refresher

Peace Corps just delivered beautiful new Trek bikes to each of us. (The previous ones would literally fall apart mid-ride, so I haven't touched it for a year.) I've been sitting at my computer all day (much of the week) trying to make myself finish my report for the shipping service feasibility study (See Survey Update Note). I just could not write. I feared I did not have all the right answers; I doubted my recommendations. I would fiddle with Excel formulas, make more outlines, or find old friends on Facebook.com. Read more interviews over again. Find friends on Myspace.com. I just kept staring out the window at the sunlight twinkling on palm leaves, and almond blossoms oozing sweetness wishing I wasn't confined to my report.

Finally it occurred to me to take a break and try out the new bike. I grabbed keys, a water bottle and was out the door - with Sam Sam tailing behind me. The combination of a helmet/glasses and the speed of a bike offered a much-needed "social protection". (Often, if I need stress-relief, venturing outside is the last thing I would want to do, because that means a social conduct code, greeting every stranger, refuting "bonjours" with "salam!", etc. I have to don my "Morocco social face". It's not that relaxing.) The bike gave me a new sense of freedom and liberty.

I flew through emerald fields of sprouting wheat fields, palm branches and almond blossoms. The River Draa was full and rushing, the sunshine warm, the breezes cool. My mind slowly relaxed. The perfect cure to computer-screen-weariness.

A "typical" passerby on the trek. :) (Everyone's usually very friendly, he just happened to be angry because I took a picture of him.

(Survey update note: I'm making a push to compile my report solo, after meeting with a certain association last week who informed me that they purposely had not wanted to get involved in distributing the surveys, as they feared they would not be involved in the creation of the center. The frustrating thing: they informed me months ago they wanted to help me, so I gave them a portion of the surveys and have been anxiously awaiting a stack and more helpful information. Every time I would question one about their progress, they would say, "Mazal, mazal.." which meant, "not yet, not yet". I just wished I would have known months ago not to patiently wait. But... that's part of work and life here. Waiting when you do not need to; not wanting to wait when you must. At any rate, now I know and can push forward with the report.)

Walkin' with the fam and PCV's

Me with Sam Sam (my dog, black, in background), Afru and Frhat.. Sam Sam's friends the campground. I love to run through the palmery with all three on my tail.

Antoine and Moshay (PCV's) with baby Rahab.

A few of the girls: (to my right..) Aunt Touria, Mama Lakibira, Sisters Nadia, Ikram, Nawal; (below) Soumia and Nadia's baby Rahab.

Baby Rahab getting an introduction to the "wild". I've grown to love the little munchkin so much I try not to think about leaving in ten months.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

root canal..

Finally visited the dentist today. At first he told me there was no problem with the tooth. The bitewing showed no problems; there were no infections, etc. However, when I explained the extent of my pain over the weekend and on previous occasions he started feeling around more. It turns out that my root canal needs to be removed and refilled. Hmm... root canals in a foreign country. Not sure I am looking forward to the experience.

(I have had more meetings with my PC program director, the local tourist association, more bazaars and cooperatives, but I am too tired to recount the details right now.)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Little Things

hanut - little hole-in-the-wall store

Ahmed owns the little hanut around the corner from my house. Whenever we're making pancakes and run out of milk, eggs or oil, I just pop over there hang around while little kids buy 10 riyal candies, and every other customer cuts in with their purchase. Eventually Ahmed looks at me and smiles knowingly.. "Salam, Raja.." (as in, thanks for waiting patiently, what do you need?)

I met him when I first moved into my apartment exactly a year ago this week. He's been there every day since... from sunup to long after it sets. Sunday through Saturday. With one exception. Last summer his brother and family visited from Agadir. His little nephew learned the wares and prices of goods; dragged butagas canisters out for customers, refilled oil and flour bins and helped uncle Ahmed in anyway he could. Then one day I went by and his store was closed. It had never been closed besides lunchtime or Laid Kbir. Groups of men and women were clustered around their store and home. I discreetly inquired what was the event...? Apparently the little nephew had gone to play in the river with his Agdz friends ... and drowned. He was only in town for a week, and the family had been preparing to return to Agadir that very day. Instead, they were mourning; holding a wake and a funeral.

A few months later a little girl was helping Ahmed. He asked me if I knew who the little girl was. I couldn't place her but had my suspicions. "Remember my little nephew that used to help me in the store?" He smiled a sad, gentle smile..."Yes.?" "This is his little sister. She's learning how to help me now."

Day after day after day Ahmed sits in his little shop - an 8' x 12' little alcove. Once in a while his mother will sit in for him. But she knows no prices and we must wait for his return to pay up. He married last spring, and though I've never met his bride, he's a proud young husband. Today I strolled up to his little metal counter, greeting everyone. Ahmed proudly held out his hand to the little bins behind him..."See, I've been reorganizing today! I want to make this a good store. And hopefully we'll be able to buy more and better things to sell and make it an even better store that will grow and grow." Even in his calm way he was excited and satisfied and hopeful. I grinned and congratulated the morning project. It occurred to me that he'd never complained about his life or work. I had insinuated once that it must be boring sometimes, that maybe he should take up reading a newspaper or something.. he thought it was a good idea. But he knows this is his work, and is doing the best he can with bins and flour and candies and shampoos. And proud of it. I walked away humbled and inspired.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Return of the Tooth Demon

The tooth demon returned the day before yesterday. I believe I took eight Ibuprofen, three Aspirin, five Benedrils, more Vodka than I've ever drank before and I'm not sure what else between the hours of 2pm and 3am yesterday. Today I have a dull pained sensation and swollen jaw. Finally have an appointment to see the dentist in Oz on Wednesday. Let's hope I can make it that long ;)

Portrait of Hospitality

Every year the village of Tamegroute, near the border of the Saharan Desert boasts a festival (Musum) in honor of the sick and handicapped. Thousands of Moroccans stream into the sandy, palmed-crusted outpost. I, needing to conduct a few more interviews with Tamegroute Potters for my shipping service project, headed down to the Musum. The place was a sea of black.. women wrapped in their sahawian long sheaths of cloth, swarming the tents of tasty treats and wares.

I visited a new volunteer there, and greeted her dear host family (whom I'd met months earlier, when developing the site). They pressed us to stay for dinner before returning to Zagora. We acceded and returned. The house had three doors..each door leading to a whole maze of mud-walled salons, kitchens, and rooms where they kept the sheep. After wandering through several doors and mazes, we found Ptisam, her host mother, who ushered us into a salons furnished with Berber carpets and a little round table. Two volunteers brought in drbukas that they had just purchased, and a drum fest began. Apparently, if you're born in Tamegroute, you are born beating some surface to a frenzied rhythm. Daughters and Aunts and random young men filtered into the room and picked up leather-stretched instruments or turned an empty coke bottle on it's side, grabbed two knives and entered the jive. After a couple hours, I looked around and realized there was not a square inch of the small room not covered by a body. We clapped and hummed along to ancient chants. I smiled and stared, the beats pounding into my head. They begged me to stand up and dance or grab a drum or sing. I felt uncomfortable with all three, refused and enthusiastically clapped to make up for my lack of participation.

Ptisam, the host mother, after making us all tea and welcoming every new stranger that wandered in, picked up a drbuka and proved to us all that she knew it's melodies better than anyone. Her beautiful face was weathered, but glowed. Her warmth spread through slapping hands, smiles and constant attention to our needs. It was nearing on nine pm and we thought we should leave. She urged us to stay, telling us how she would prepare a room for all. After a while, there was no possible way to refuse, we assented and fell back into the chants.

There was a young girl who kept peeking around the door. She was deaf and mute. Apparently, she was one of many guests that stayed with Ptisam's family during the Musum. Her brother had left to wander the streets, and this dear excited, mute girl laughed, squealed and clapped along with us. "How many guests have stayed here?" I queried Ptisam. "Eighty the first night, eighty the second night, and two nights ago, we had 120 men and 45 women." I just stared at her. She repeated the numbers several times while they sunk in. "Oh, well they all pay, right?" "No, no one pays, they are friends. They are people who are handicapped and come to the celebration. We love visitors and feed them all." She glowed. I stared. "Where do they sleep?" "They just line up on the floor in every room."

I was hungry, and she brought me olives and bread while dinner was being prepared. After a couple hours, a steaming clay plate of Couscous was set before us and we dove into it. Then came fruit. Then I excused myself to the restroom, and when I returned, the room had been transformed into a bedroom just for me. I crawled under the one blanket on my ponge, when she scurried back in, saying "No, no, no.. you are going to have a good bed with many blankets." She layered sheets and blankets, turned off the light and bid me goodnight.

In the morning, I woke early to find the industrious lady sweeping and cleaning. She immediately attended to my needs and told me to go back to sleep, as it was still early, to wait for my friends to wake. I woke again to find everyone drinking coffee and bread. Then came Moroccan spaghetti. Finally we bid them goodbye and took our leave. With many kisses and hugs. Ptisam will always be, to me, a beautiful host among hosts.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Imagine you were a beautiful girl who lived in a little village - population 1,500 - in the middle of a rocky, desertous plain. The walls of your house were mud. Your day consisted of waking up at 6am to make bread, then you wandered about the scraggly, dry riverbed looking for brush for firewood to bake the bread. However, you had to be careful to avoid the main streets because only men were allowed there. When you did leave the house, you were covered in mass layers of scarves, shawls, coats and bulky sweater-pants to cover your feminine body from the opposite sex. Most of your skin never saw the light of day.

You had studied in primary school, but were not allowed to continue your education (even the equivalent of junior-high or high-school) because your family was both too poor to send you off to a larger village center to study, and it was shameful for girls in your village to travel or study outside the local village. In fact, in your seventeen years, you had left your tiny hometown four times, and that only included visiting family in two other villages within a couple hours' distance.

You rarely watched TV at other families homes, and sometimes saw fantastic visions of busy streets in big cities or women in suits discussing some current issue in world politics. An American Peace Corps volunteer had come to live with you. When her friends visited one day, you spent the afternoon playing cards with them, and quietly studying English as they all read books or studied themselves. You felt free among them. These new friends seemed to take for granted their privilege of independence. They were happy; they were individuals. You dreamed of living like them, of expanding your mind, wearing beautiful clothes and owning lovely things, sleeping in a real bed, and eating something luxurious - something besides the daily fare of bread. You wanted to walk down a busy street, proud to be yourself and hiding from no-one. But alas. It was all just a dream. You had never even been allowed to walk down the main street of your dusty little town.

I met this girl. Many days she weeps uncontrollably, and on one occasion even cried out "Why does God hate me? Why did he punish me by sticking me here - a place I can never leave?" Her name is Fatima.