Saturday, September 19, 2009

le fin

Obviously, I never ended this blog.

It has been a whirlwind of time, including leaving my community, my life, my home of two years, taking a trip to Tanzania and Kenya for 18 days, coming home, visiting friends and family, Alaska... and now I'm back in Morocco, ready to embark on a new journey that, if you so desire, you can follow at . Apparently, I have not learned my lesson as far as easy-to-remember blog names!

There is no way to summarize or tie my experiences in the Peace Corps up in a tight complete bow: a pretty package, start to finish, so I will not and just say that the journey continues...


Friday, May 8, 2009

May 7, 2009

It's so strange to be leaving.

I have around 14 days left in my community, and I have to travel for
at least six of them to work at the Rose Festival, meet with the
Gendarmes, and go to meet with the Delegue in the provincial capitol
one last time.

Today, my fridge went away on a truck… sold. I'm taking a lot of
things to the festival to give away or sell. I've taken down my map of
Morocco, my pillow covers on the wall, moved my oven out from the
kitchen, and, little by little, am organizing and getting rid of
things; an entire household compacted down to one or two suitcases and
a backpack. It feels good to get rid of things, freeing. It's the
exact opposite feeling of what I felt when I cleared out my room at
home before going to Peace Corps: I still had an attachment to those
memories, those things that were attached to unique moments in my life
and childhood. I can't get rid of things fast enough here; I'm ready
to downsize, to become nomadic again and try to travel out of a
backpack. If I could not take anything with me but souvenirs, it'd be
perfect, but I feel like I must take some clothing so as to be able to
be clothed at home.

I don't know if my eagerness to downsize is because I've changed, as a
result of Peace Corps, if it's because I'm practical (better get it
done now so that you aren't scrambling around any more than you have
to at the last minute!), or if it's because a part of me really is
ready to move on and go home to the next great adventure, the next
steps in life.

I've become lulled into the inevitability that somehow, I will end up
burning bridges before I leave in my community: someone will be
jealous of a gift or angry by my lack of a gift, or that I didn't have
time to spend a meal with them before I left, and I'm comfortable
knowing that I will do my best, and any anger with me or jealousy will
be unintentional on my part, so I can leave in peace, despite that.

There is so much to do, my list grows rather than shrinks every day
even though I've been busier in my last week than I have been in my
first year in many ways.

My "replacement," though I hate the term that has permeated the Peace
Corps community lexicon; the term is unfair to both her and me—nobody
will exactly replicate my work and my service, and her role is her
own, not to become me— is here, which is nice and reinforces my
confidence with my community and makes me reflect on my first weeks
and months on a regular basis. We are in similarly lost and
stress-filled positions, integrating or preparing to re-integrate in a
new society when we are used to our roles and positions in a different
place. Her anxieties about being here mirror my anxieties about going
home: finding work, fitting in social situations, learning (or
re-learning appropriate) language, finding my role, adapting to
standing out or being lost in the crowd… I am confident she will do
well here and am impressed with her motivation. Part of me is jealous;
if I had two more years here, what could I do?

But that is the problem, and that is why I could not extend. It's not
about what I can do, it's about what the community can do on their own
or with a volunteer, and if that's my number one motivation for
staying, so I can feel better about my service (which, inevitably, it
would be), it is a selfish goal that is not the goal of Peace Corps or
the role of the volunteer. I appreciate having gone through the
process of debating extending my service. Now, when I'm at home,
trapped in my parents' basement slaving over cover letters and resumes
on wireless internet, I will feel nostalgic for Morocco and Tamazitinu
and my work and community and girls and "family" and Peace Corps
filterless friends who discuss nothing but politics, religion, sex,
work, race, gender, relationships, "the future," and bodily functions
(the only conversations worth having, in my warped mind), but I will
not regret coming home because it was my process and my choice.

I am in a bizarre place with lots to do, but I think I can make my
deadline. I don't have a choice, truth be told. I'm worried about
getting money for my trip (will have to make cash advances on a credit
card, which I'm not a fan of), worried about planning for a week alone
in Kenya, a job, getting into my dream grad school program because I
don't have a second choice in mind yet, deciding whether or not it is
the right program for me, taking care of all of these infernal
goodbyes, getting rid of trash, the politics of gift-giving and
selling… and the list goes on.

I'm not looking forward to this weekend: work (good!), party (eh?),
Delegue meeting, gendarmes, ministry of education, selling things
(hopefully), then coming back with literally just over a week to wrap
everything up.

I have not yet felt the full emotional impact of leaving. Like so many
people, the stress manifests itself in different, silly ways that are
easier to deal with than moving from a unique environment where every
day is a challenge, every day I am learning, where I am doing work
that I believe in, and where I have two communities: my town and
volunteers, who are in some ways two of the most accepting, warm, and
welcoming groups of people I've met. That's not to say that it's been
easy, but it's been amazing and often joy-filled. And this is
something we COS-ing (closing of service) volunteers can share: our
anxiety and nervous manifesting itself in strange and unimportant
ways. We understand each others' quirks and snappiness, lack of
energy, or fixations on frivolous or impractical things.

I look forward to seeing the new "green" "liberal" America under
Obama, where people are opening up about race and the environment,
where liberal is less of a bad word, where human rights are becoming
more important, and where it seems like more people think the way I do
than ever before in my lifetime. I think I'll be shell-shocked at some
things I see—in Ouarzazate the other day, I saw a purse-dog and I
couldn't stop staring, dropped jaw, at the lunacy of it. I'll stare,
I'll say awkward things, I'll judge how much skin people show, and
when people complain about things that have since not become a way of
thinking, I probably will have a hard time accepting it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

April 27, 2009

I hate seeing the date these days. It reminds me of how little time I
have left. I don't know where to start blogging, so I'll start with
this: I decided not to extend and pulled my proposal about a month
ago. I think it was the best decision I could have made, though at
times I really do wish I was staying. That being said, the reasons I'd
stay were really pretty selfish when it comes down to it, and I think
I needed to go through the process of seriously considering it in
order to not regret it while I'm sitting at home and joining the
millions of Americans looking for jobs in this economy.

I hope I won't regret it, at least.

What I certainly don't regret is taking cash-in-lieu of a plane ticket
home and buying tickets to spend a week in Tanzania and Kenya. I feel
really unprepared, especially since after a day of studying, I can
only count, say "I don't understand," and several words that come
straight from Arabic (like Thursday, Friday, cold, hour, and good
night) in Swahili.

But the language geek in me is fascinated by the Arabic influence. For
example (and I'm talking Darija: Moroccan Arabic, not modern

Arabic Kiswahili
6- stta sita
7- sb3a saba
9- tsa3d tisa
20 ashrin ishrini
30 tletin thelathini
40 rb3in arobaini
50 khamsin hamsini
60 stin sitini
70 sba3in sabini
80 tmenin themanini
90 ts3ain tisini
100 miya mia
1000 alf elfu
Thursday lkhamis alhamsini
Friday ljum3a ljumaa
Cold brrd baridi
Good night Layla saida Lala salama


In any case, it's been a very busy month. In short: Spring Camp in the
provincial capital, Training (or not) at the training site, COS (close
of service) medical exams in Rabat, site visit in a nearby site, and
this last week of being in-site and trying not to cry about having to
leave this incredible community.

Spring camp:

I went to the same place as last year for spring camp, hoping to see
some of the same students that had been there before. I was rewarded
with probably a fifth of the camp as repeat campers, and it was great
seeing them and hanging out with them. Unlike last year, I was able to
be there the whole time this year, which was great.

In short, there were nine American PCV counselors, five Moroccan
counselors, and 65 campers who spent a week in a sports and cultural
center for English classes and camp fun. I taught beginning English
with a new volunteer who I really like and got to know well, and led a
journalism club with another new volunteer. It was really less
stressful co-leading than it is teaching alone, and I feel like this
year we were a lot more involved in camp as an American staff than
last year.

There was the same city kid/country kid (also Arab/Berber) divide that
we found last year, but all in all it was a fantastic time with a few
hard moments.

Oh, our second or third day of camp was April Fool's, which was
interesting. Here's an article from the journalism club about it:

April fools
By Safae and Fatime Zahra (Team Freedom of Expression)
The first of April was an exceptional day because it is a holiday
called April Fool's. In our camp, we had many jokes happen. For
exemple we wished Amy happy birthday and it wasn't true. It was so
embarrassing to Amy because she didn't know it. then Moroccan
counselors told us that we're going to visit Ait Ben Haddou and maybe
some campers will participate in Moroccan movie produced by 2m. This
was another joke. We think that April fools is a great day because
there were a lot of funny events.

There were more jokes that the campers weren't aware of, like when one
of the male PCVs came in and stacked our beds 3-high, when we
retaliated by calling him and another PCV up in front of the whole
camp to sing "My Heart Will Go On," and when he then came back by
having a PC staff member call the camp coordinator, telling her that
she owed Peace Corps 9000 dirhams because of a problem with banking

I love the article by Safae and Fatime Zahra though, because they are
the type of students that every teacher/counselor would want to have.
They picked the assignment of interviewing all the counselors, and, in
their free time, painstakingly interviewed all nine Americans, asking
them pretty insightful questions. One of them had only studied English
for a year. They wanted to spend lots of time outside club time
working on it, and at the end had become best friends, despite the
fact that one is Arab, one is Berber, one from the countryside and one
from the city.

I thought on the way back from Spring Camp that I'd spend the night in
Marrakech. Little did I know that a twelve-day transportation strike
was dawning. Luckily, there were a few of us who had to go in the next
few days from Marrakech to Azilal, so they sent a Peace Corps car out
for us and we rode in style, after waiting three hours in the
Marrakech bus station. The plan had been to present a workshop on
maternal and child health in Morocco to the trainees. Unfortunately,
after three nights in the hotel, the same hotel that I stayed at for
three months during training two years before, the transportation
strike prohibited everyone from coming to the site, so a friend and I
had come up to training essentially for no reason. That being said, it
was fun getting to know some of the other volunteers better, and
hanging around what was our old stomping ground for three months. I
also went on a wild-goose-chase to try to find some examples of
documentation that are used at clinics for pregnant women which was
rather entertaining, and tried (knowing it was futile, but worth a
shot) to buy an IUD at a pharmacy. Good times, especially singing
Juanes in the hotel room at the top of my lungs with someone else who
understands how much fun it is to belt out French and Spanish music.

I had a choice: get stuck in Azilal (a small cute mountain town, but
without much there) or Rabat, the capitol with western food and lots
of other PCVs, with a free ride. So, a few days early, I left for COS
medicals. This meant a rather entertaining ride up, and a couple days
to do the touristy things that I'd never done up there: a mausoleum,
the Chellah: old ruins with beautiful gardens and a stunning view,
several visits to the American club (my wallet felt that one, but
Mexican salads with bacon and Root Beer floats?!).

It also meant that, for the first time since I've been in-country, I
was able to go to church, on Easter, no less! It was fantastic and I
had shivers as we sang traditional Easter songs and West African
music… the church has a very diverse population. After the service, a
few of us had traditional Easter lunch at the American club: it cost a
fortune to me, but was well worth it: stuffing, cranberry sauce, ham
and turkey, iced tea, salad, fruit salad, mashed potatoes and gravy…
and coffee… for $8.

I was fortunate enough to get all my exams done the first day of
medicals and switched appointments with people who had been stuck
because of the still ongoing strike. Unfortunately, the strike made it

Friday, March 13, 2009

March 12, 2009

Wow! So much to catch up on. (And a very belated happy birthday to my mother!)

As a quick update: still no answer whether or not I'm extending an extra six months or not. I haven't heard from Peace Corps, and I keep debating whether or not it's worth it, though I'm still leaning towards staying if the opportunity arises. We'll see!

Today was a crazy day, in a good way. My morning started the way many mornings start: watching movies and listening to podcasts while eating breakfast, which extends into early afternoon. I made myself go out of the house to visit my favorite family, since due to the nomad festival I went to this weekend and VSN training (read on), I haven't seen them
in two weeks.

They were as wonderful as always. Nothing warms my heart the way that Touda smiles and welcomes me with her warmth and expressions that show that she truly is happy to see me. I sometimes feel like most of the community still sees me as an oddity, or an outsider. They're
friendly, but it's not a true friendship. This is mostly my fault, as it's really difficult and energy draining to maintain a real friendship here but it makes what I have with Touda and Souad even
more special. I love being able to be myself, laughing, and whispering with them.

One of her twin daughters (and I hope nobody that knows Touda and speaks English happens upon this blog) confided to me that she has a text-message boyfriend crush (she's 14) and that I was a loyal friend for not telling anyone in town about it, which flattering and endearing. I also got Touda to accompany me to give my condolences to a family. I love that she's so willing to go with me to sibas (celebrations after births), sedacas ("charity" couscous parties), weddings, and to give condolences to families who have lost someone because if I don't know what to say, she'll whisper it in my ear, she'll make excuses for us to go when the timing is right, and she'll make sure I'm culturally appropriate. You'd think after two years in Morocco that I'd know by now, and I mostly do, but I love having her to guide me through it anyway.

The story of this death is tragic. It's ridiculous: there have been three very tragic deaths of Moroccans who I've known peripherally in the last few months. They've all been young and accidental. One of them is the brother of a teacher at a friends' site who I have worked
with a few times. Last November, when we covered her elementary school in a few hours doing toothbrushing lessons, he worked with me. In December or January, he drowned while swimming in the river. He was 17. The second death was a good friend of mine's best friend. She was 19, and essentially lived with my friend as a host sister and best friend for two years. Her dreams were far-reaching beyond her provincial town, and she had high hopes for the future, but died from a fast-acting flu after being sick three days.

The woman who died in my town was in her mid or late twenties and died while giving birth to her third child. Her oldest son is three, her second son is two. The girl, now nine days old, is living with her grandparents now. When we went to see the family so I could give my condolences, the oldest boy was playing around but it was obvious he still didn't get it. I don't know how she died, though I do know it was a home birth, but she did manage to get in the ambulance to go to the hospital in my souk town. Her husband is mourning, as they had a
really good relationship, and her children are motherless at an exceedingly young age.

I don't know how to react to these deaths; I haven't cried, but I do mourn for them in my own way. After expressing condolences to all of them and trying to play with the oldest son (unsuccessfully; peek-a-boo was okay, but he was still to wary to approach the "crazy foreigner") I went back to Touda's for awhile, then decided to go home.

I ran into my teacher friend, and decided, since several people today had already told me, "Congratulations! You look stronger!" (translation: "You look great, now that you've gained some weight!") that I'd walk the mile and a half to her house and back for the extra exercise (reason number 234 for staying an extra six months: I'm sure to lose weight in the heat of the summer!). I had coffee but no cake at her house, and decided to walk back right as the sun was going down.

About four minutes into the walk, I came upon some ladies walking in
the same direction. "Salaam u aleikum!" I greeted them. The younger
one asked if I was going to "ighrm" (my town) and I said yes. She then
proceeded to hand her elderly mother off to me and said, "great, go
with her!"

It's normal, especially at night, for people to walk each other
places. I was a bit apprehensive, as the woman looked pretty frail and
a little annoyed since I was trying to keep my heart rate up, but it
saved the younger woman a two-mile walk, so I agreed and took the
woman's hand.

She didn't know me, but had seen me around. I was amazed with this
woman, Luhou. She was "almost 70" but I barely had to slow my pace and
she kept up. She understood everything I said, which is rare even with
younger women, most people have to get used to "my version of
Tashelheit," and was very practical. I found out that she was going to
a family members' house because her niece was taking off the white
clothes that marked the mourning of her husband.

About half-way to where she was going, a car drove by. "Do you want me
to flag it down and see if they'll take you where you're going?"

"No, of course not," she responded, matter of factly, "We're almost there!"

I mentioned how beautiful the weather was. "I love spring," I said.

"Oh, spring," she responded, "you know, I love Rabat in spring. I was
just there visiting one of my sons and they took me around to see
everything. Everything! The park, the beach, the houses…"

"Do you like Rabat?" I asked her.

"Oh, yes. I have family there, what isn't there to like about it?"

She held my hand until she was at her family's house (which is
incidentally, where I pay my rent; her sister's son is married to my
landlord's daughter) and then I was on my way home… or so I thought.

Two women who looked familiar but who I didn't know stopped me and
asked if I'd "look at their brother who can't walk." I warned them I
wasn't a doctor but would see what I could do.

I got to their house, an old-style mud house that is less
modern-feeling than mine, walked through their soot-filled kitchen
with an indoor mud bread oven, and went to meet Ali.

I wish I knew what kind of illness he has: he's in his mid-twenties,
hasn't been able to walk since he was two (and his legs are locked up
and weak), is blind, and doesn't leave one room.

What was amazing was his smile, his ability to respond to some
questions, and the care that his sisters gave him. There are five
people living in the house, three sisters, Ali, and his brother who
also has medical problems and is on medicine for Parkinsons' disease.
They don't have regular work, but somehow manage with love and respect
for their siblings. I promised to try to do what I can to help, but I
don't know what can be done in the next two months.

Today was an interesting, energizing day, to say the least…


What else has been going on since I last blogged? A lot, I suppose:

- A few health lessons
- VSN training
- Nomad Festival

(Yes, all this in under a month)

I'll try to be brief. "Try" is the operative word.

Really, I suppose I've only done two health lessons recently. The day
after I last blogged, I was able to a lesson on pregnancy care for 33
women in town. I was really happy with how it went, especially since
women seemed to love the pictures of fetuses at various stages of
growth. They had never seen anything like that before. I also loved
being able to draw a uterus on the blackboard and explain things like
why women have a menstrual cycle. It's such an integral part of life
and sometimes I think many of us take for granted understanding why
women menstruate, what purpose it serves, and even how things like
ovulation and implantation work.

That next Saturday, however (2/21), the health lesson did not go as
well as I had planned. But for that, I have to back up a little.

I worked with a womens' association in my souk town a few weeks before
to do a general hygiene/cold lesson for 40 women in town. At the same
time, another association woman talked about intimate hygiene to the
women, such as how to wash, bathroom hygiene, what underwear is best,
how to prevent yeast infections, etc. The president's (of the
handicapped association where two of my Peace Corps friends work) wife
is a member of the women's association, and through a friend, asked me
to present what I thought was the other part of the lesson: the
feminine hygiene part. This would have made sense because the woman
who originally taught it only speaks Arabic, and the association women
speak mainly Tashelheit.

I put off the lesson plan until the night before because I really
don't want to talk about it and am not comfortable with the vocabulary
(there are no unshameful words for most intimate parts of female
anatomy) and I dreaded having to demonstrate or draw on the board how
to wipe from front to back rather than back to front. I added some
other important elements to the lesson plan, and presented it to 13
women and girls, with several faux pas.

When I finished, the association presidents' wife said, "Okay, now
talk about nutrition and hygiene and…" and she proceeded to list
everything in the lesson I had done before and was much more
comfortable with. A miscommunication! She hadn't asked me to do the
intimate hygiene lesson, but my favorite lesson which is much more
mellow and interactive and that I enjoy presenting. I was rather
shocked and embarrassed.

Luckily, my plan is to go into town tomorrow and do that lesson with
the girls and boys, men and women of the association. It should be

Dmi yadnin?

I spent almost a week preparing for and leading a VSN (Volunteer
Support Network) training in a friend's site a bit up north. I don't
know how much I've talked about VSN before, but it's a peer counseling
active listening program, and interested volunteers go through a
three-day training. This is the second one I have helped to facilitate
and they are a lot of fun, though, when it was all said and done, I
ended up being out of site almost a full week because of it.

Though the better part of me thought I should go back to site and stay
there, a part of me really wanted to go to the 6th annual Nomad
Festival down in M'hamid el Ghizlane, the other part of Morocco with
sand dunes. Eventually, I talked myself into going, and had less than
a day to pack after VSN before leaving on the long trek down south.

The festival was both awesome and disappointing. I realized I really
like Zagora province, even if it is hotter then lafa, I invested in
some Tuareg jewelry, stayed in a tent barely big enough to hold four
ponjs for a few nights, and had, all in all, a great time. The first
night, the music was in the baby-dunes.

It was majority Moroccan audience, and the acts included a rather
interesting new age/vaudevillian crazy French woman singing about "Oh,
les histoires, les histoires, les histoires, ah ha ha ha!" and
feinting fainting on top of her synthesizer (yes, I have a video), a
duet from Cameroon who was rather fantastic, and a little boy in the
audience who was the happiest, most energetic dancer that I've seen
since I've been in country. A guy from our campsite who we all quickly
befriended took us there in his 4x4 (though we all got out to push a
little white Fiat out of the sand on the way), and we came back to a
bowl of hot harrira.

The next morning, after exploring small M'Hamid, we spent a few hours
playing drums and making up Tam/Tash songs in our friends' shop, after
sleeping until 11 and walking down the sandy streets. It's amazing:
there are no real dunes in M'Hamid; the largest I saw might have been
20 feet high the night before, but it's literally a town built in sand
desert: small piles of sand surround some of the mud walls, and
everything of mine was covered in sand when I got home. It was a very
chill place—touristy, yet subdued. I bought a full-body wrap on a whim
because I loved the colors and patterns and wore it for the rest of
the day. A friend of mine bought a few Tuareg outfits, and we went
crazy dancing in the campsite.

That night, the concert was in the center of town. There was a
fantastic singer from Spain who is now living in Casa: the band was
Barbarita y su Bamboli. I met her afterwards and she invited us to
hang out in Casa sometime. Really cool music, really nice band.

Before the concert, our friend took some of us off-road to a sandy
campsite with a group of Belgian tourists who were about to go on a
5-day trek. It was very tempting to throw caution to the winds and go
with them. I couldn't imagine hiking out to the 300-meter dunes for
five days but it'd have been awesome. We had fun nibbling on the food,
drinking tea and "red tea," dancing, and eating Belgian chocolate.

The next day was rather interesting. We ate a late breakfast (see a
theme emerging?) and went to the "exchange with the nomads." This
ended up being driven out to a douar three kilometers outside of town
to a small village. We wandered around a bit, herded rather
energetically to our chagrin by some of the festival organizers. It
was bizarre at first, but at the end, all of the women separated from
the men and we went to the neddi: women's center and were greeted by
enthusiastic singing and dancing. I befriended some very little girls
(who spoke only Arabic… one liked to show off singing the Arabic
alphabet for me), and all in all had fun until the men came in and
announced thank-yous. About half of the women covered their faces
because of the men's cameras.

Though it was about a 10 hour trip each way, almost, all in all it was
great and a whole lot of fun.

All right! I have to get some things done for tomorrow. Take care!

Friday, February 20, 2009

February 18, 2009

I'm busy.

It is a fantastic feeling. I have more opportunities for work than I
have time for, for the first time in my service. For once in my life,
I'm proud of myself for making the connections, for being persistent
in certain ways, and for collaborating in ways that I think are
important. It's taken a long time, but I'm the first person in my
site, so it's normal to take time to establish the mission of Peace
Corps and volunteers.

I'm also seven pages in on a list of "what I will miss about Morocco."
I'm a sentimental romantic; what can I say?

Last week was COS (Close of service) conference in Rabat, the capitol.
We were back in the fantastic four-star hotel where I spent my first
few nights in Morocco, March of 2007. I heard the same delightful call
to prayer from the mosque in the middle of downtown (the most
beautiful call to prayer I've heard in country), oohed and aahed over
the presence of a bathtub and bidet in the bathroom, and relished the
free myriad display of salads, fish every day for lunch, and cereal
and strong coffee in the mornings.

Getting there was difficult, as the Titchka (pass of death) was snowed
closed. The gate to the pass closed probably less than 20 minutes
before my bus pulled up, and we stayed on the road, blocked in by
other cars and busses for three hours. The bus's ceiling had a hole in
it and I was snowed on in the cold. The good news was that it kept
snowing once the road finally opened, so not only was the bus slow on
the hairpin turns, but I couldn't even see how high up we were or
whether or not the ice meant we were on the road! It was the easiest
(but probably most dangerous) trip over the Titchka so far, though I
was disappointed to be in Marrakech so late.

The next day, after the train up to Rabat, I roomed with a good
friend, and realized that I was on better terms with everyone from my
stage than I've ever felt. Everything came full circle as we wrote on
the pieces of poster paper around the room, answering questions such
as, "What I will miss the most about Morocco is…" or "When I
see/hear/taste/smell… it will remind me of Morocco." I wish I had
written some of the answers down for posterity. The sessions were
better than I anticipated.

People who had already visited home during their service gave
cautionary tales. "Don't stare at people when you go home, it makes
people uncomfortable." "Don't touch people unnecessarily, lean on
them, grab their knees, or hold hands with your friends the way we can
here." "Don't bring up not using toilet paper or the specifics of
gastrointestinal issues in polite conversation." "Don't feel like you
can talk to everyone on the street, bus, or grocery stores in the US."
"Don't forget to take your ID to a bar because they probably won't let
you in." "Don't wave back to catcalls." "Don't think that people
around won't understand English." "Don't eavesdrop on other
conversations and jump in." The sad thing is that I could see myself
doing any of these things.

Nights involved Lebanese food, Mexican food (a new restaurant in Agdal
where you can get a taco salad and frozen margarita with salt!
Phenomenal!), pizza and salad with bacon (!), and a night at Yacout
where we danced our hearts out to a live band playing a variety of
songs; Volare was the highlight of my night.

I had low expectations for the RPCV panel but found it was one of the
best parts of the conference. They had amazing jobs working with NGOs
or USAID, the US Embassy, other governmental organizations… but they
all came back from the Peace Corps and waited tables for awhile before
they got their feet on the ground. What I took away was that PC is
like a giant fraternity or sorority: incredible networking with some
amazing people, and even if I go home and struggle for awhile, that
doesn't mean that I can't do what I want in the future.

The last day, we had a reception and met with ministry officials,
embassy staff, and other partner NGOs and governmental organizations.
It went well, and I always enjoy myself in the island of green at the
office. I returned the next morning for a discussion with one of my
program staff members about possibly extending service and a check-up
with one of our doctors.

A friend and I traveled through Fez to get home, which meant that I
didn't have to take the Titchka, but I did end up increasing my travel
time by quite a bit and the ride from Fez to my souk town is
ridiculously long (12 hours… I had to break it up over two days
because of stomach bugs).

I found probably the best deal in Fez for a leather jacket, but prefer
what I've found in Marrakech, surprisingly. I love that about Morocco,
that people will sometimes even potentially lose a sale to help
someone find what they want. J and I headed to the famous large
tanneries in the morning, because things close early on Fridays. We
made it to one place (there is no way to see the tanneries without
walking through a leather shop to a terrace with a view from above of
the working tanneries), fought the "hard sale" by insisting at the
shop with the view of the tanneries that we only wanted to look and
not mint to smell or a tour (the tanneries do not smell as bad as
tourbooks imply!), and went up to look at the colored dyes and ancient
labyrinth of pits. I tried, using baby-talk Darija, to get the
salesmen at the shop to tell me whether or not I could have a jacket
made instead of one right off the shelf.

After realizing the search was futile, the amused salesman took me to
talk to first a Berber speaker to laugh at my talking to him, then to
a man who I later found out was the owner of the shop. He said he knew
Peace Corps, he flirted shamelessly in Arabic to the point that I was
embarrassed, then we left.

As J and I left the shop, he passed us, then in English with an almost
flawless American accent said, "well, I'm American too… I lived in New
Jersey for years…" We got rid of him, but a few blocks later in the
serpentine labyrinth of the Fez souks, I turned around and asked him
if he knew where I could have one made.

He took me through winding alleyways to a shop with women sitting over
sewing machines, telling me that I could get them for wholesale price
here. The more I saw, the more I didn't like, but I got his number and
told him I'd think about it and come back next time I was in Fez.

I love that: the owner of a leather shop taking me somewhere where I
could buy a jacket wholesale. I'm sure he'd get a cut, but still. God,
I love Morocco. (That being said, it's worth 300Dh more for me to get
what I want, if I'm going to spend the money).

I also made connections with an association in Fez that I'd work with
if I didn't live 13 hours away (and if I spoke Arabic), had a shop
owner remember me from when I was there with S from home back last
June, made a few purchases that were unplanned, and enjoyed a
different style of Moroccan escargot: still better than French!

Even when I had to stop and spend the night alone on the way home, I
met a new volunteer who was a lot of fun, and we cooked dinner at his
house. Nothing was ideal, travel-wise on this trip, but it always
ended up working out.

Now, my schedule is packed. And I love it!

Today, I finally broke into the school in my site. I don't want to get
into the details of how much of a frustration it was not to be able to
teach health lessons to my kids in my own site at the school, nor do I
want to get into how annoying it was that a certain teacher at the
school insisted I give the kids all toothbrushes (since a nearby
volunteer did) even though he had been the one blocking me doing
lessons for the last year and a half in the first place (I said I'd
try; he said don't try, DO it. I didn't scream. That took control. I
also didn't tell him that if he had let me do this in the first place,
maybe I could have enough time to find toothbrush donations for all
the students. Oh, no. I was good.).

Some of the teachers were amazing. Some were less than amazing. In
several classrooms, I cut the lessons short because of a latent
hostility that was emanating from where the teacher stood in the back,
arms crossed, glaring at me. The most shocking was a man I had never
seen before in my two years here: he had a beard, but I couldn't tell
you anything else about him, truth be told, because he was always
looking down around me.

I knew that he knew I was coming: I had seen the mudir (principal)
walk into his classroom and tell him. So I stepped up to the open
door. He didn't acknowledge my presence. I knocked. He, without
looking at me, walked to the back of the room, sat down at an empty
desk, and started writing.

The students all looked at me expectantly, so I stepped in and said
"salaam u aleikum." And, since the teacher made no move to walk to the
front of the class or stop me, I did my lesson. He never looked up
from what he was writing. Once, head still down, apparently reading
something, he elucidated on something I said in Arabic. When I was
done, I said goodbye, thanked the teacher and walked out the door.
Only then did I get a "lla y-awn"- a way to say goodbye, literally
"May God help you."

It confused me. I wasn't hurt or angry, but I wondered what I had done
to offend the man so gravely that he wouldn't even look at me. I
recharged during lunch break at my friend's house and asked her twin
daughters about him.

"Oh, he's asunni."

Apparently, his way of practicing Islam means that he doesn't look at,
touch, or talk to any woman except his wife. I told my friend I
thought maybe he didn't like me, or maybe he didn't like foreigners.
"He doesn't like women," was her response. I don't know if I interpret
it in that way, but the way she and a neighbor talked about it, it was
offensive to them. It's strange to me that it hurts my heart and soul
and dignity with practices like men eating before women, or men having
somewhere nicer to pray than women, but I almost felt like his
averting of his eyes and speaking only when necessary was a sign of

The afternoon was mainly younger students and friendlier teachers, and
I had a lot more fun with them. One teacher even called me back an
hour after finishing the lesson in his classroom and had me answer a
question that came up after I had left. The teacher of the class of
middle school-level students invited me to come back on Friday to talk
about nutrition (!), and some of the other teachers seemed open to me
coming back another time. So, despite a few challenges, all in all I
was happy with how it went (and my stamina to teach in 10 classrooms
in one day! I had planned to split up 12 classes over 3 days to keep
up my energy…).

I don't want to get into all the headaches to get me into the
schools, but the fact that today worked out so well was really thanks
to my nurse and doctor at the clinic who went to bat for me and
essentially manipulated me in. I didn't know my nurse was planning it
until this morning (he was "stupefied" with how much trouble I was
having), and when he told me his plan, I told him he was cheating.
"Yes," he said, "but I don't benefit from the cheating, and you don't
benefit from the cheating. The students are the ones who benefit, so
that's worth it." And it was handled in such an appropriate way that
really, it was all-around a positive day.

Tomorrow, enshallah, I'll teach a group of women in town about
pregnancy care. The next day, enshallah, I'll try to go to the
middle-school aged group and talk to them about nutrition, if it ends
up that it really works out. Saturday, I'll go to my souk town: I'm
"late" on two lessons at the Association des Amis des Handicappes
there, and I'll talk to two associations to see how the status is on
several projects. Next week I have a birthday party, at least one
lesson at an association in town; then I'm head trainer for a VSN
(Volunteer Support Network: peer counseling/active listening)
training… then only two weeks until I have to be back in Rabat for
medical exams, then spring camp a week after that if I'm assigned one
this year… then one month left of service…

Time flies. FLIES.

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 23, 2009

 I don't know what it is about this winter, but I seem to be sick a lot more than I was last year. I cannot wait for warm weather; at least the warmish weather that hits from March to May. It's strange thinking I won't really pass another one of those blazing hot summers here—it's a nice thought but a bizarre one.

 As far as work goes, there are successes and frustrations. I'm annoyed at some of the differences in work styles between the association I've started working with in my souk town: they get things done (and we're hosting two women's health days in town this weekend and next weekend, inshallah) but they maneuver within the culture in different ways, which makes me wonder how much I'll be able to get done before I COS. In addition, I've said yes to being lead trainer for a Volunteer Support Network training late next month, I have COS (Close of Service) conference in about two weeks (with a potential weekend traveling to Fez or somewhere else fun on the way back), and will have to go up to Rabat for COS medicals again in March. If I choose to do Spring Camp again, that's another week out of my site.

 Last Saturday, I went to a douar outside of my souk town to do a health session with the women there. It was potentially the most rewarding two hours I've spent in country. I met an association leader by accident when I was making photocopies for the World AIDS Day booth, and he told me I should go to his association to do a health lesson for the women there. I thought it would probably not happen, but said okay. It ends up it was something both of us wanted, and we were both very happy with the results.

 I framed the lesson about how to not get the common cold, as that's something that it seems like a third of the population here has during the winter at any given time. Something that seems basic that I've learned: if you teach things that are pertinent to the people at the time that you teach it, people are much more involved and interested. That's why the pregnancy lessons for pregnant women at the clinic always go over so much better than diarrhea lessons for the general population.

 In any case, I was proud of the lesson (it addressed how you get the cold: a virus; how to prevent virus transmission by healthy hygiene habits, and how to stay strong and healthy in order to fight off the virus in case it is transmitted, which all took about an hour and a half). It is a different tribe than that of Tamazitinu, so the language was a little different, but I still stood in front of the group and held my own.

 I had information prepared from previous lessons on everything from dental hygiene to HIV/AIDS, birth control, and home births. Even though there were 75 women crammed into a small room for an hour and a half putting up with my lessons in broken Tam, when I told them I could answer questions on any of those topics, they told me that they wanted to hear it all; I should stay as long as I wasn't tired to talk about it. I think all in all I spoke (with demonstrations and visual aids, of course, and while trying to make it as participatory as possible) for about 2 hours and 15 minutes. It was exhausting but wonderful to have an audience who cared and who were interested (though apparently the word we use for "umbilical cord" ("tabot") means something dirty in their dialect, so everyone looked shocked at first and then giggled incessantly as I tried to explain that it's important to use a new razor or something that has been sterilized to cut the umbilical cord during home births.).

 I hope this Saturday goes as well as least; I'm a bit more intimidated with the women who are coming, and the fact that I'm presenting with the association in my souk town. It's been frustrating but ultimately good working with them; the women are amazing, but they don't understand that I have to leave in May, and that I don't and cannot live in my souk town. In the culture here, it's normal to stay a few days at a time places and just stay with friends there. I can stay with the women from the association if I have to spend the night, so it makes sense that if we have to meet two days in a row, or two or three days in a week, that it wouldn't be a problem. For me, this is a problem, and I'm exhausted from waking up early, spending hours in town for a meeting with so little substance that it could be sent in a text, deciding ultimately to meet later on the next day…meaning I have to rush back home, spend the night, then wake up early to get back to town or spend the night at people's houses (which is always slightly awkward and very exhausting, entails having to go out and find an appropriate gift for the family, and feeling like I'm making them entertain me), or spend money to spend the night at the fantastic-for-the-price $6/night hotel.

 For example, the other day, I thought we were meeting about this Saturday's project as well as other potential initiatives in the future. I ended up spending two hours running errands with the president, then reading something in French that she didn't understand and sitting around as she worked on other things. I tried several times to get back to what was at hand; she said she was busy and had to go cook lunch. I set a time to meet with her later in the day; this ended up being sitting in the clinic as she had a doctor translate the French to Arabic. I left, after a 5 minute conversation that I essentially forced about Saturday and the future.


January 28, 2009


I cannot believe that my COS (Close of Service) conference is in under two weeks. I'm excited to see everyone, and the spoiled, selfish part of me is very happy that we'll be staying in the same fantastic hotel that we stayed at our first few nights in Morocco: a 5-star (by Moroccan standards, not U.S./European), fantastic place with the roof that looks out over the mosque that I blogged about in March, 2007. I'm a sentimental person who likes ceremony and poetic openings and endings, so spending our COS conference there just weeks before our replacements come into country and begin their training seems to form a nice, neat circle. I'm surprised with all the budget cuts that we can still go there, but a bit excited about it nonetheless.

 That being said, I have been able to work with "my ladies" in my souk town to do a hygiene lesson with 40 at-risk women in town.  It was pretty awesome, to tell you the truth, though my frustrations continue, which puts a damper on things sometimes. Sunday, my best friend in Tamazitinu and I recruited 35 women for me to repeat the common cold lesson to, and it went over pretty well also. I was particularly excited that we recruited so many people at the last minute, and some of them asked me for more (!), which means that, FINALLY, after being here over a year and a half, I can do good education work in my site with adult women. I'm just frustrated that it's taken until now for reasons that have to do with me as well as the community. I'm tempted to stay another year now that I have the resources, language skills, and people to work with.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

December 6, 2008


I'm sick again and have stayed in the house for the last few days. I don't know if it's just a really nasty cold or something slightly more sinister, but hopefully liquid intake and rest will make it rather short-lived.


On Monday, which was December 1st, I worked with a women's association in my souk town to do a HIV/AIDS awareness booth at souk, the weekly market. It was a lot of fun, and I'm only disappointed that I found out about the association so late in my service. On Sunday, I met with 8 women in the association who worked the booth with me and we went over how to educate people on HIV/AIDS, what the plan was, and what the message was that we were trying to get out. The tent was a problem we didn't get resolved until about 7 o'clock that night, but we got it set up. I ended up having to spend the night at a hotel in town, though I didn't mind staying online until 11 in the lobby, or the fact that I had a few hours over some hot chocolate to get to know the new volunteer in my souk town, who is awesome.


Monday morning, though not as early as I'd like, we set up and ended up getting information to 1200 people over the period of about 4 hours. People were receptive and asked good questions for the most part, and I was very impressed at the professionalism and openness of the women from the association to discuss things as "hashuma" as condom usage with the men. We also had a nurse from the clinic in town come by for the last two hours, and she yelled at the men to use condoms, but in a way that was direct without being accusatory. She was also great at explaining the effects of HIV/AIDS and some of the intricacies that are difficult for me in Tamazight; I end up describing the virus as a "sickness that is asleep for a few years so you don't know it's there until the sickness wakes up and turns into AIDS…" which works but isn't as precise as I'd like it.


(If you haven't gathered by now, Tamazight is difficult. I speak French and Spanish at least twice as well as Tam even though I've been living here almost two years and the most immersion I've had of French is a month; Spanish only two weeks.)


All in all, I was satisfied with how it went, and was eager to come home and sleep for a day to recover from the stress of doing a project such last minute.


What I didn't realize was that for the next week, I'd only leave the house three times because of being rather disgustingly sick. I know, at home, a cold isn't a big deal. But here, when you have a fever for 3 days, can't breathe through your nose, taste anything, or pop your ears for 4 days, it doesn't get hotter than 50 degrees anywhere, there's no pharmacy within an hour (or nasal spray… and I can't find my Sudafed!), and no appliances like a dishwasher or washing machine or bathtub, it can get really miserable fast. Worse, in some ways, than when I had strep or gastrointestinal things because those are so much more short-lived. The last week has been pretty nasty… and I've learned how interesting it is to literally not be able to taste anything at all. That's never happened to me before, believe it or not, and eating bread or peanut butter (thanks, Mom!), or chicken noodle soup without tasting it is bizarre.

December 9, 2008


Mbrook l'eid!


I'm still not better, though I'm regaining some small sense of smell and taste, which is nice. I forced myself to shower (bucket bath in the cold) today which actually did help me feel better emotionally even if it does maybe make things worse. My friends from home are coming in a few days, so I have a few goals before then that I have to do (pack, clean, some paperwork), but other than that, I'm taking it easy for awhile longer.


Except today, because today is the biggest holiday for Muslims and here in Morocco: L'eid kbir (the big eid). I skipped out on watching the outdoor prayer this morning to sleep in, but dragged myself out mid-morning to wish the neighbors a happy eid and go to seven houses to celebrate. This sounds like a lot, but compared to last year's 31, it's really a little pathetic and I have a feeling I'll be having to explain to people why I didn't go, "digi tawla, digi khamoosh, samhi bizzef, tHlit ghuri welayni uHlgh…"


I tried to be good though; I put on a smile, a jellaba and a hijab-headscarf partially because of the holiday and partially because of the cold. All in all, with lunch and dinner at my friends' house, it was a good day.


January 6, 2009


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (a bit belated!)


I guess it's been awhile since I've blogged. In the last month, some good friends from home came and visited, which entailed a trip to Ouarzazate, Agadir, Essa, and Marrakech. I've blogged about each of these places before, so I'll only stick to new and interesting happenings since last time I've traveled there.


It was great to see my friends; I really love being with them even if we've made a habit of only seeing each other every few years. Unfortunately, after their stay at a swanky riad (Dar Dallah,, highly reccomended), the mountain pass, which I sometimes call the pass of death, was a bit too high too fast and I met them, not at the bus station, but at the hospital in Ouarzazate for four hours in the emergency room for altitude sickness. Everything ended up okay, but it was a scary few hours. Luckily (coincidence?), one of the doctors who I met at our Training of Trainers in November was on the bus with them; she also speaks English, so she took good care of them and lent them their phone to talk to me on the way. It also ended up having somewhat of silver lining, as the next day, we went to tea at another person's house nearby that they met on the bus.


Ait Benhaddou was really the only new part of the trip for me: it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an old preserved kasbah where films like Gladiator and Prince of Persia were filmed.  After being in-country for almost two years, it was underwhelming, but I'm glad I finally saw it. I was also glad to be able to see the saffron-painting I had heard about: local artists mix tea and saffron and use it like watercolor paint. To bring out the richness of the sepia tones, the dry paper and paint are held over butagas flames. Note to anyone who wants to try this: be sure you use heavy watercolor paper because thin paper will just catch on fire (no, this is not from experience… … … um… yeah… convinced?).


We had fun at my site and souk town, where I showed them the handicap association there and gave my first tour. Two PCVs work there now, but neither were there. I really do love that association though.  They also braved the hammam, which was the most crowded and dirty hammam I've been to, and we were treated to couscous and buttermilk at my best friend in town's friend's family.


 Agadir, though a surprise stop in order to avoid the Titchka Pass, was fun, and I had a great conversation with my friend as we walked the beach, picking up shells, seaglass, and sea-polished rocks. It was a nice place to relax for a few days, and warmer than anywhere else I've been this winter! I saw (too many!) tourists in shorts and tank tops, we had delightful Indian chicken masala and light, crispy calamari for dinner.


Dramamine knocked me out on the way up the shore to Essa, which is a blessing; last time I made that trip with my parents, my stomach bothered me a little too much. Essa was sort of disappointing for me, as I was tired at this point, the guys at the fish stands at the harbor gave us a good deal but were annoying, and the power going out made it hard to find a simple cup of coffee. The last night of their trip, Christmas Eve, was a lot of fun in Marrakech.  After delicious food on the square and spicy tea (paid for by a man from my souk town who heard me speaking Berber to the seller at stand 69—the friendliest spiced tea guy around and who found out that I was his neighbor), and, to my utter disbelief, a man at a random stall in the middle of souk remembering me and talking to me in Tam, we headed up to their fantastic riad for one last game of cards. Christmas morning came, and it was hard to say goodbye.


I thought of going home, but I had been traveling so much that I decided to stay another night in Marrakech to recuperate before the long trek back. Luckily, another PCV was around… which quickly turned into several. I finally made it to the Marrakech tanneries, and found a place that can make me a very good quality, knee-length red soft leather coat for $250 to measure. I still don't know if I can do better, but I am in love with the style, the fact that they will custom-make it for me, and the quality that I saw with the examples. They also said that they could do it in one or two days, which is very fast turn-around. We'll see what happens with my budget, but I'm in love with the coat! Only a month's living allowance here in Peace Corps! Plus the women I talked to were great; not at all like the typical hard-sell Marrakechis, but more like a friend of a friend in town. I trusted them, I guess I should say.


I also walked around the leather souk with a volunteer friend for a few hours, trying to see if I bought the leather separately if it would be cheaper. It wasn't meant to be, although I was very close to buying a beautiful small piece of olive green leather to be made into a handbag. If I had a budget like I did in the US, it would have ended differently, I can tell you that.

This is a bit of a tangent, but I love that I can have things made to my specifications here. Whether it's jewelry, plates, clothes, metalwork, or even just the way I want my grain to be ground, I can draw things out or commission them here and a few days later I have it for very reasonable prices. My friend from the States took advantage of that and, at a tailor in my souk town who is from Tamazitinu, designed on the spot a beautiful dress jacket to be made. I haven't picked it up yet; though it might be ready already. If it's nice, which it should be, I might go online and find some women's dress-suit designs for job interviews in the States. He's promised to make them for me at a fraction of the price for an off-the rack one at home. Now I need to find the designs and fabric that I want.


Enough about getting things hand-made, though my dream now is to build a 3 or 4 room addition to my best friend's family's house here in Tamazitinu (they tell me that for $1200, I can build a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and Western bathroom, and that if I needed to they would even help me rent it out), come back for a few weeks each year, stopping in Marrakech or Fez or Agadir, once life settles down. It's tempting, especially since I trust and love the family.


That night, Christmas night, I tried to convince people to come to Mass with me since I had already missed the Protestant church's service. Instead, everyone opted for a Marjane (think Super-Wall Mart… but because of living without much product variety, it is a small paradise! In my souk town, if I want cheese, I can have Edam or Laughing Cow. Marjane has a whole counter with dozens of varieties… and shampoos! And conditioners! And…and you get the point…) we went again to dinner on the square, but this time it was with a bunch of PCVs. I've started converting people into the love that is the escargot in spicy ginger broth at some of the stalls, and we've discovered that one of the stalls is far superior to the rest, though for the life of me I can't remember the number. There was a skinny, young man on the square that night wearing a pathetically large Santa suit, and I begged some of my friends to take a picture with him.


Somehow, I was talked into staying another night in Marrakech, despite my exhaustion and lack of money, and the next morning, bright and early, we were off to go skiing.


What, you ask, skiing in Morocco? There are two places with skiing, the one near Marrakech is a town called Okaimden. People rent ski equipment on the side of the road, and there are 6 slopes, though the one I stayed at, the easiest of them all, was quite icy. I didn't really know what I was doing, as I've only skied once before, probably 6 years ago for one afternoon, but I managed, after figuring out how to put the skis ON, to snowplow down the bunny slope all afternoon. The hardest part, harder than skiing itself, was the T-bar.


Now, there is a huge slope, a black diamond, that has the highest ski lift in North Africa, and that one was a normal ski lift, with seats. However, the bunny slope merited a strange sort of lift with a bar and a small disc the size of an average dinner plate at the end. You're supposed to hang on, balance with your skis on the ground as you're pulled up, leaning back into the disc. At the end, somehow you disengage and let go, gliding off gracefully…


Hypothetically, that is. The top of the slope had a huge pile of mud at the turn off point, so I saw many faceplants, and I started getting off early after the first two or three rounds when I somehow teetered and tottered off but saw other people hit the ground hard.


I had tried down at the bottom to ski, but I realized that I had to just DO it. There were teachers available for a ridiculously cheap price ($12 for an hour's private lesson for the certified instructors; $5-6 for the "illegal" ones), but I was stubborn and cheap, so I learned on the way down. It was a lot of fun, especially since it was something I just did on a whim and decided on the night before. I only fell once; it was my last time up, and I tried to get off early, but just as I was getting off and hanging onto the disc with my hands, the lift sped up, and it dragged me faster than my skis could handle it and I fell, face-first into the snow. It was actually probably pretty funny to watch.


I headed home the next morning, again, thanks to the Dramamine my friends left, sleeping quite well through most of the Titchka Pass. It's getting easier every time I go on it, (knock on wood).  After a day or two of recovering at home, it was New Years, and a friend came over to celebrate. I thought we'd go for a walk in my town and I could show her around since it was her first time over, but we ended up sitting around and talking, literally for two days. I really appreciate friendships, especially new friendships like that, where you can sit and talk for hours and not get bored or cabin fever.


Since she went home, I have been lazy. I've had the girls over a few times, done henna on my hands and the girls', made them pizza, watched movies I picked up in Marrakech, gone out to two sibas (new baby parties), had lunch at my best friends' house, visited a family whose sick daughter I saw in the emergency room in Ouarzazate, visited the family where an old lady passed away, and somehow had an invitation to lunch at a new family's house I don't know very well. I guess that makes me sound busy, but I really haven't been.


That lunch invite was on Friday as my friend was leaving. I accepted, mainly because I was hungry and too lazy to cook lunch. It was fun talking to new people, though they all seemed to know a lot about me, and I didn't feel like an imposition at all because, as I later found out, there were 15 older ladies doing their Friday Qu'ran reading and recitation in their salon. I've run into this group a few times, and really like some of the women in it, like Raquia, my once-toothless but now dentured homestay next-door-neighbor, or Auntie Aicha, the eyeless woman whose appearance at first, I'm afraid to say rather frightened me, but who I now absolutely love and am still awed by how she moves around town and takes care of herself. After lunch, with, as seems to happen often in my town, young and not-so-young ladies asking me how to say vulgar things in English and teaching me, without my asking, dirty names for body parts in Tam, a few of us went in the salon where the old ladies had been praying.


They continued chanting, though I didn't understand it, I was pretty sure it was Berber songs about Islam, chanted in a call and response format, and I found out that the water that they had offered me in the communal cup earlier (that I accepted, at their insistence) was actually holy water that had been chanted upon. It was strange, because they know I am not Muslim, but they insisted on my having a sip as it was passed around after lunch anyway, only afterwards telling me that it was holy. "Water of the Qu'ran," they called it. In any case, I felt somewhat honored to be sitting in the room with them while they chanted, even though it wasn't really a somber moment, and some of the other women my age whispered through it or came and went.


And this all brings me to today. Tomorrow, I will run into town to talk about potential HIV/AIDS education in my souk town; I'll also try to set up a meeting with what the new volunteer in my souk town call "my ladies;" the association I worked with last month.


I can't believe how little time I have left. A part of me can't wait and is eager to take the next steps (namely finding a job), but a part of me is really reluctant to go.