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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rock Climbing! Todra & Dades Gorges

I brought rock climbing shoes to Morocco. After two years I finally got to use them. If you like nature, I recommend going to both the Todra and Dades Gorges (between Ouarzazate and Errachidia).

Let's go...!

Ropes snaking up the cliff...

And that little white speck? Yes, that's me. Actually the routes I climbed were pretty easy, but it was my first climb in two years so I didn't push too hard... Ah I missed climbing!

Hassan was a great climbing guide. He would even scramble up the faces shoeless.

Majid set the routes and belayed for me ... such a happy fellow

My good friend: the resident nature-lover and camera man.. Frank Sposito.

Photosynthesis in living color

Dades Gorges.. if not high-walled, much more extensive and beautiful. God's works of art.

The little bridge that could..

Passing on the baton..

(Mona - Antoine's Youth Development replacement, Me and Kate)

Kate F. has been chosen as my replacement volunteer. I met her during one of the several sessions I was invited to facilitate at the Stage training site (near Agdz). The sessions gave me the opportunity to talk about my various projects and activities. Kate approached me one afternoon and said that she had a background in IT and marketing. The typing, brochure and Excel classes looked interesting to her. As did finding ways to market our pilot Hammock project. We talked to Tariq, the assistant Program Manager and he said he would consider our request. (Older volunteers often appreciate the opportunity to 'scope out' the new Stages, looking for a potential good match to their work/sites.) Kate and I were blessed: she was assigned to Agdz!

We've spent this week wandering around meeting families, stopping in at the Neddi, dreaming up ideas of how to improve or market the hammock, going to the weekly Souq, or sitting at a cafe and just sharing ideas and my history of work here. It is very good to have a solid week to work together and introduce her to key community members. Instead of her walking in completely ignorant as I did two years ago, with a rather unhelpful (and often inaccurate sheet of paper), she'll already have a number of good conversations (via Raja as translator) with girls whom she'll begin to teach English or Nadia, my host sister, who will become her informal counterpart. Tomorrow's schedule:

9AM: Work with Nadia in redrafting her quarterly reports in Excel (on a new computer)

11:30AM: Introduce Mona and Kate to the the local Caid (like a mayor)

12:30: Break for lunch (so I can do laundry, etc.)

2:30: Go to the douar and meet the Ben Mammas (artisan) family, the bamboo-furniture family, and the Badu family (Antoine's old host family, and whose father happens to be the local Sheikh, also on her list to meet).

4:30: Return to my house for a brochure class with Zahra, one of the eager Neddi girls who started a brochure with me over the summer. Either she or I haven't been around to finish it, and now she has great ideas to make a brochure advertising Agdz as a whole. She is very sharp and creative and I hope Kate, in time, can carry on her training and possibly turn this into some sort of occupation.

My emotions have been running a little high, having to say goodbye to very dear friends such as Frank or April or my host family (yesterday my host mother and I, trying to plan our last few weeks - realizing our days together are dwindling- looked at each other and burst into tears). There are many special families and girls and teachers that I have spent countless hours with over the past two years. I was also hoping to finish my graduate school applications before leaving, but as it is, I do not think time or mental energy will allow before I fly out of Morocco. And Close-of-Service paperwork for Peace Corps. And packing all my things and deciding who gets what, and if I should sell my laptop. And buying my last souvenirs. And picking up the special cut of a particular wood piece for local craftsmen to create spreaders for the hammock.

Over the last weeks a couple of other volunteers have approached me concerning various projects I was involved in. One girl is interested in taking up the shipping survey project, and hopefully lobbying the Ministry for rural shipping services. Another emailed to ask my impression of her site, as I recommended it from the April workshops and helped develop it over the summer with Tariq. She also noticed photos of me at the Zagora craft fair and said her specialty is exhibitions. Maybe she'll plan the next big craft fair in the region.

It is a very refreshing feeling to pass on knowledge capital, regional contacts, projects, and future hopes to new faces; to pour my experience and impressions into them and let them take these and run with them. Kate, at every turn over the past couple days, has exclaimed how much she likes Agdz and is enthusiastic about the projects I have kicked up. She has many creative ideas of her own and a good business head. Hopefully, however, I can continue to assist her and Nadia from the States with marketing hammocks once the prototype is complete. But in a few weeks I will walk away and Agdz will no longer be my little village, but hers.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Figuig at the edge of the world.. (The Algerian Border)

A couple weeks ago I was invited to participate in a survey-tallying and website development project in Figuig. Bob and Linda, the wonderful couple that Frank and I hiked Toubkal with, thought it was an excellent opportunity for a reunion of the foursome.

On the drive out to Figuig, we noticed adorably grubby little children, or women strapped with many bundles clapping their hands to get off the bus in the absolute middle-of-nowhere. All we could see was rocks dotting the flat, dry desert floor and mountain ridges lining both our north and south views. And off they wandered. Where were they going??? Occasionally we would catch glimpse of a tent far off in the distance. They were nomads.

Bob said that some men in Figuig are what he likes to call "weekend warriors". They have homes in Figuig and jobs during the week. But on the weekends, they take off across the desert and roam with the nomads.

Figuig is basically a peninsula oasis jutting into Algeria. The borders between Algeria and Figuig are currently closed. Mountains surround the peninsula, but the forbidden neighbor is clearly visible between mountain ranges. One evening Frank and I took a walk to the actual border gate. It was dusk, and being during the month of Ramadan, all the guards were occupied indoors, stuffing their faces after fasting all day. We entertained the idea of making a dash to the other side.

Frank has been working for months on a brilliant website structure that artisan groups can then tailor without using any HTML. I had discussed my shipping services survey project at the In-Service Training (Agadir, June '07) and Bob and Linda were very interested in conducting a similar survey in Figuig. When we arrived, they had already passed out over a hundred surveys with tourists and ex-patriots home on summer vacation. The surveys were geared to determine how interested the Figuig ex-pat community abroad (in France, Spain, etc.) would be in a Figuig Artisana website. It would then give them a solid idea of what features were important for the websites' most likely visitors.

Bob and Linda obviously had done their homework. They had a sizable grant available to the artisana for a complete technology upgrade/website development. We held meetings to discuss responsibilities for establishing a website, to explain to them how to develop a color scheme and structure for the website, etc. Their counterpart is a highly-educated, sharp and motivated man who genuinely seems to want to help the artisans who frequent the center. We tested out a wireless Internet system and showed him Frank's prototype (being developed for his Erfoudi Fossil workers, Manar Marble). The brilliance comes in his efforts to make it easy to upload photos, make product categories or manage personnel in a background database. Once set up, any artisan can quickly be taught how to upload a photo, name it, crop it, and organize it's location without knowing any computer programming languages. (Like my blog site.) The association could instantly make business cards or a contact list from the inherent SQL database. He has been working for months on the project, incorporating seven computer languages into the website.

In between meetings or survey data-entry and analysis, we took bike rides in the palmary. I (to be clear) am very partial to Agdz's palmary, but their intricately woven cobblestone alleyways weaving through mud-walled villages and palm plots was captivating.

Algeria, visible between the mountains

Another day, all four of us went on a bike ride around the seven villages that make up Figuig. We counted 14 mosques from the rock outcrop. At dusk, the valley was filled with overlapping wails: calling men to prayer.

Bob and Linda: a great team and great company

Linda and I

It looked like a giant sandbox with little toy car tracks scraped through the sand

Frank and I

All photos taken by Frank Sposito