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Al Mamlakah al Maghribiyah

Thursday, September 21, 2006

11:07AM - Better 6 weeks late than never?

Hey all,

A lot of you already know this, but for those of you who don't: I quit Peace Corps. I am back in the States now. No, really. I got home at the beginning of August, having realized that ultimately, I was not happy there, and that my projects were never going to reach completion. It was an amazing experience, I wouldn't give it up for the world, but I also never wanted to regret it and so I wasn't about to stick it out and be miserable for ten months just to say I finished. There is of course, a lot more to all this, and if you really want to know, please drop me a line and I'd be happy to explain.

As a last hoorah, I leave my very last photo album:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/dragonfly83/album?.dir=1904re2&.src=ph

The captions should explain most everything. It's of my visits from Joseph and Mom, and my last days with Matt. Speaking of which, what's next? Well, having decided I can't get enough of the third world (or 'developing countries' for you UCSC grads..) It looks like I'll be off to Indonesia in the next three months or so. I am living in Half Moon Bay with my dad and will be working soon, saving money for the move. Matt will be out there teaching English in a few weeks, and since I just landed an extra year of my life to play with I figure I'll join him. :) So if this is news to you, give me call, send me an email, I'd love to know who still reads this thing :)

Take care,
Melanie

PS An interesting Epilogue: My village experienced a severe landslide about three weeks after I left. It took out the running water, parts of houses and some livestock. No people were hurt. So the PCV that was going to replace has now been moved somewhere else, and my village is permanently closed as a Peace Corps site. It's a shame that the places that need us most can't have us.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

3:20PM - May Update

Hi Everybody!

So Joseph is here and life is good! We are heading to
my site soon, and he'll be the first American in my
site who doesn't speak Berber! My friends and
neighbors were all pretty confused when I told them he
doesn't speak Tashelheit. They seem to think all
Americans speak it... oops.

Okay, so after hours of struggling online, I have
plenty of pics for you guys:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/dragonfly83/album?.dir=7688re2&.src=ph&store=&prodid=&.done=http%3a//photos.yahoo.com/ph//my_photos

So the first three are of that cow slaughter and
auction that went on outside my house a few months
ago. See my last post for details. The next three are
of Oualid, who is my future husband and my canned
response to 'Why don't you marry a Berber and stay
here forever!?' 'Sorry, I am spoken for...' Of course
I do let him hang out with pretty girls like Najat and
Fatim though. How could I not!? The next photo is my
friend Hayat and my host aunt, Fatima Abdulkabir
working on a loom. I know how to do the weaving (not
very well) but I can't set it up or adjust it for the
life of me. All the women in the village can weave and
promise to make me a carpet once I come up with the
materials. Sweet! The next pic is the mascot of the
health hike, Mr. Gummy Bear (thanks Mike and
Mariana!). Here he is pictured in the lovely wood work
of a bush that is officially located in the middle of
nowhere.. Next are Matt, Adam and Sandie, on one of
the down times of the health hike. After that, the
work we were supposed to be doing. Like my hippie
outfit? Next is my house all gussied up for the tree
planting day I hosted in April with my Association and
Peace Corps. Next, loading the trees, and then me and
my boss, Aicha, in my site. Next are pictures from the
one Moroccan wedding I have attended, and then one of
me and my friend and some boys at that same wedding.
Next is Adam and his parents when they came to visit.
We went to the movie studios in Ouarzazate, where we
saw the plane from Jewel of the Nile (no Michael
Douglas though :( ) and the castle front from Kingdom
of Heaven (which I haven't seen yet). In the
background of the castle is the mountains that Adam
and I live in! Though I'm sure they are cut out of the
actual film... Then the set from Kundun (Scorsese) and
two major goof offs. Next, aaaah!!! The ocean!! How I
miss this massive body of water!!! I'm going to put
this picture on my wall so I can go to the beach
whenever I want.. The next few are Matt and I hanging
out in Ifni at the tide pools. We think that jaw came
from a donkey. The moth was this really cool green
that didn't really come out in the photo. Next some
fun sea life: fun facts for those who ask! The last
photo in the Ifni series is me making out with a
plate. It was covered chocolate! How could I say no?
Next are pictures from a trip Matt, our friend Geoff,
and I took to the sand dunes. It was a blast! I love
the shot of the boy somersaulting! Next, some wildlife
from my village. A big scary lizard, a spider with an
egg sac, a gecko on a rock wall, and a dutiful Momma
hen. Next are the kids in my village, sporting the
tattoos they earned for coming to my Environmental
Education activity (thank you Kat!!!). Next, a pretty
photo of Matt's site during the ten days a year they
open the dam and they have water. And last but not
least... Some of you may have heard me mention that
Sean Connery lives in my village. For all you
doubters, here is the proof! Is this man not Sean
Connery!?! He even talks with the lisp and deep voice
and everything! I swear! It has to be why I was chosen
for my site, so I could meet this man... hehe!

Phew!

Besides all that, life is good. I have starting doing
activities at the local school, which is lots of fun
but completely exhausting. (I actually do it at the
school, but not tied to it formally because many young
children in my village don't go to school anymore and
I don't want to exclude them). In the school, the kids
are incredibly well-disciplined (too well, corporal
punishment is permissible here) but if you change it
up just a bit, all formalities fall to pieces. It's
either complete structure or complete chaos. The kids
push, shove, scream, hit, and grab things out of my
hands. If it weren't for my friends Najat and Touria,
I wouldn't be able to do any activities at all. I have
no control over the kids. It's crazy. But, to make up
for it all, they are the most enthusiastic kids I've
ever taught. They all always show up to every event I
do. The kids in my village are my continuous saving
grace and my sanity.

And one more funny story, for those of you who want
examples of the exemplary service available her in
Morocco. On Joseph's second day here, we went to our
(PC) usual breakfast place in Marrakesh. There were
six of us, and we all (except Joe) speak Berber, which
all the waiters speak. The waiter first gets annoyed
when we ask for menus, then, after a long wait,
finally asks Adam what he wants. Adam gives his order
and the grumpy waiter says 'OK, six of those.' To
which Adam replies 'No, just me.' Then it's my turn to
order and he tries to memorize my two drinks and
omelet choice. By the time he gets to the fourth
person we all know he is never going to remember it
all . But then, much to our relief, he gets out a pen
and piece of paper. We all look at each other happily
and then start to tell him that's good idea, when he
pushes the pen and paper at me and says, 'You write it
down' and walks away! It was the funniest thing I've
seen in weeks! I was so annoyed at the guy I ended up
stealing his pen as payment for my having to do his
job. When he came back and asked about it we all
stared at the table and mumbled. Anyway, I guess that
may sound cruel but you should have been there. It was
like he was mad at us for eating at his restaurant...

Okay, I'll leave you all with that. I miss you guys!

Love,
Melanie

PS Matt is finishing his service (he's a year ahead of
me) and heading to the US and then Indonesia to teach
English today. We are not going to stay official,
since he'll be half a world away, but we are going to
keep in touch and hope for the best... So if you want
to send this broken heart of mine any email
love/support it will be much appreciated (stories of
long distance relationships that have worked out in
the end?)... Thank god Joseph is here to hold my hand
and distract me... :(

Monday, May 1, 2006

2:32PM - May already!!!

Hey everyone!!!

Sorry it's been so long, I've been insanely busy and then on vacation, so you know how it goes... But fret ye not! I have not forgotten about you!!!

So what did my April look like? Well, I have always been a fan of April Fool's day, so Adam and I teamed up to tell Matt I was in the hospital with a broken leg. Mind you, it was just my leg, so it wasn't sooo bad. Then that night I told Mom and Diana that I was quitting PC and moving to Indonesia with Matt, whom I was marrying. Mom, of course, had no problem with my marrying a man I'd only been dating for only two months, or even my moving to Idonesia. Her only complaint was my ending my service early... I love you, Mom. Hehe..

After all the pranks and fun, I had to get down to business, because in only eight days, 24 PC trainees and eight PC staff members, including my boss, were coming to my village to plant 600 olive trees. If you do the math, that means a lot of work! In exchange for the trees, my community would be supplying them with an entire day of delicious moroccan food and entertainment. Luckily, my Association President is a resourceful, motivated man, so I didn't have to organize it all myself. The Association got together the food, organized which families would cook what, and turned my house into a haven of Moroccan hospitality. They brought over gorgeous carpets, antique metal water containers, braziers, gorgeous tea sets, everything! My house was decked out! (And I cleverly got no pictures of the inside...) The planting itself went very well, most of the trainees felt they got something valuable out of it. The whole day was a success, with only one mishap, which was that in Morocco, spitting indoors in not considered rude at all (if the floor is dirt), but this is something I just figured out myself, so you can imagine my outrage when I saw one of my neighbors walk in and hock a loogie on my floor!!! I almost killed him, but luckily didn't address it at all. It wasn't until later, when I was talking to some of my girlfriends, practically gagging as I described it, that they told me he wasn't being rude. I figured it was a good time for a little cultural exchange, and explained that in the US it is VERY, VERY rude to spit in someone's house... the things you learn *sigh* So besides that, and the fact that the days of 35 guests completely drained me, it was all in all a successful event. :)

Did I tell you all about the meat market outside my house? It was last month, and one of the families in the village decided to slaughter and sell the meat of their cow. Apparently, right in front of my house is the place to do this. So I walked out of my house one morning to see a couple men slughtering a cow in front of my door, then skinning, carving it up, and then for the next several hours there was a sort of auction where men from the family walked around the crowd of men that had gathered (all carrying baskets) and named there price for each slab of meat. I found out you can get a several kilo slab of pure fat for only fifty cents! It was all a bit surreal for this former vegetarian...

After all this madness that was my early April, I took vacation for my birthday! Matt and I went to Sidi Ifni, a sleepy little beach town on the southern atlantic coast. Oh, and by sleepy, I mean catatonic. Matt and I would walk around, and the streets were almost always completely empty. It was bit creepy. Luckily, we were there for the ocean and each other so the complete lack of outside entertainment wasn't a big deal. The best of my birthday trip was that Ifni has lots of tidepooling! I got to see all my favorite invertebrate friends, including limpets, urchins and anenomes. Matt also got to see me be a complete geek and share all my random information gathered from a year of docenting at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Half Moon Bay. It's a good thing he likes smart women...

To cap off the vacation, Matt, our friend Geoff (another PCV) and I all went down to the sand dunes this weekend and rolled around, getting sand EVERYWHERE! It was quite the adventure! I found out that it takes about five sommersaults to roll down an 80ft dune! And that it kills your jaw...

So yeah, these are the adventures I've been having in Morocco. I promise to continue to keep you guys posted, hopefully a bit more frequently...

Love and miss you!
Melanie

PS Joseph is coming to visit me in three weeks!!!!!! Wooo hooo!!! My first visitor from home!

Current mood: energetic

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

2:03PM - No, really, there's a good reason...

Hi Everyone!!

Why have I been such a stranger? Because I haven't been able to access livejournal from here for the last month or so. Apparently, rumor has it, the Moroccan government was censoring all major blogging sites. I don't know if that's true or not, especially since I am able to access it today. I also don't know if I'll always be able to access it. So we'll see..

So what have I been up to for the last six weeks?

Ummm, a lot. First things first, here's pix. The first few are of the snow we got in January. The next batch is Laid, with the gross sheep slaughter pictures for those of you who are a bit sensitive to blood... The next bunch is the almond blossoms in my site. Every year for about two weeks, all the almond trees bloom simultaneously before they grow leaves. Almond blossoms are white, so the village looks like it's covered in snow for that short time. It is a gorgeous sight that my pictures cannot do justice, but hopefully it gives you an idea. On windy days, almond petals would fall in my skylight! As the blossoms fall away they are replaced by green leaves, so now my village is green and gorgeous. There haven't been leaves on the trees since July, so it's nice to see some of the natural beauty restored. The last set of pix is some of the wonderful PCVs whom I've met here.. Enjoy!

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/dragonfly83/album?.dir=/9fa0&.view=t

So besides lots of cuddly pictures, how have I been spending my time? Well, the big thing on my plate at the moment is another tree planting that should happen in a couple weeks, inshallah. Because my site is near the PC training site, and the next generation of volunteers is there, they are going to do a tree planting in my site. The trade off is we get a large number (maybe 700) of olive trees for free, but we (the community) have to teach the trainees to plant them. It's going to be an all day event involving food and dance and dirty knees! I'm pretty excited. I have been running around planning for that lately.

My other side project taking up a lot of my time is the introduction of 357 chickens to the community so they can sell the eggs and meat to increase income. Increased income means more money spent on butagas, so less fuel wood collected, so less erosion, so a happier community and environment. :) The hiccup at the moment is bird flu. We are waiting for the supplier to commence production again. It may end up having to be postponed until next year as the chickens survive best if introduced to the community in the spring. Cross your fingers for us...

The lavoire (laundry station), my main project, is still being held up since I can't get a technician to come to my site to check the location and go over specs. The Project office has canceled on me four times now, so even though the next appointment is set for tomorrow, I am not going to get too excited... I have been having a lot of trouble with the office lately. They have a hard time following through on anything that doesn't immediately make them look good. If the governor comes to visit (he did) the whole office is in ship shape for the week, but if I need a technician, I get a cancellation instead. Unfortunately their priorities are not the same as mine, and the last two months have been a lot of me banging my head against the wall. I am optimistic some things will eventually get done, but the frustration can be quite intimidating. For the moment I have to suck it up and keep trying.

Outside of the project office, life here is very good. I am still very happy with Matt, and my community is as charming and supportive as ever. In fact, just this last week we did a 'health hike' in my village and Adam's. Matt and another woman health PCV, Sandie (who was my roommate in Philadelphia all those months ago...) came to my site and then Adam's to do basic health education. We talked about hand washing, iodized salt, dental care, water treatment, the concept of germs, and AIDS. Sandie and I held meetings with the women, Adam and Matt met with the men. Then the four of us would do kids stuff at the schools. The communities received us really well and we had a blast in the meantime. It was a great experience and felt like we addressed some of the major health problems/misconceptions in or communities. We don't believe that everyone is going to start using soap all the time right away, but we figure the more they hear it, the better off they are. It was quite an accomplishment, especially as other aspects of work aren't materializing as I hoped they would.

Hopefully I'll write again soon!

Take care of yourselves,
Melanie

Current mood: accomplished

Saturday, February 11, 2006

1:46PM - Notes from Marrakech and beyond

Hello, hello, hello!

Yes, I'm currently in Marrakech! I am on my way back from the capital and I cannot express how nice it is to stop for a few days in this stimulating city! The medina here is packed with spices, leather goods, guides that speak every language imaginable, and even the occaisional chameleon. It is an amazing opportunity to be able to 'pop over to Marrakech' for the weekend! I'm also hear with Adam and some other friends which makes it alll the more fun! A well earned break I dare say after weeks of craziness!

Why so crazy? Well, I haven't been home for two weeks now because of work for Peace Corps in the capital. The first week we had the Gender and Development Committee meeting which went very well but I won't bore you with the details. Then was the actual staff training on helping PCVs report and deal with sexual harassment. This training was mine and several other PCVs' baby and we were all hoping it would go well so we could affect PCV-Staff relationship for the better and maybe even conduct further trainings. So the big day came around and it went AMAZINGLY well!! There was great discussion, the staff said all the wrong and right things, and the evaluations were almost completely positive and everyone seemed to feel they got a lot out of the training. This training has taken a lot out of me the last few months, and I am so incredibly grateful it went well. Now it's up to staff to use the tools to improve PCV-Staff relationships.

After the training I went back to Ouarzazate but not my site because I only had a couple days to kill before I had to be back in Rabat to play guinea pig. Being the total language geek that I am, PC staff asked me to come up and just speak Tashelheit for two days so that the language teachers could practice evaluating language levels. It was fun and I met lots of new people, but it has kept me away from home.

Now, why didn't I go back home in the few days I had in Ouarzazate? Because it's the rainy season, and as wonderful as that is for the crops, it sucks for transportation. My site is at the end of 4km of dirt road, and, as you all know, dirt when mixed with water becomes mud. So two weeks ago, just after sunrise, I had to ford my flooded river (barefoot, in the snow run-off) and then hike the dirt road, which involved ridiculous amounts of mud caking onto my hiking boots, making them three times heavier than they should have been, and sliding my way UPhill! For those of you who have never defied gravity, I recommend the experience, but only in Berber mountain villages. Not to be tried at home. Anyway, after that lovely trek I finally hit the paved road and had to hike another 8km along that until I could get a ride into the city. This is my life! Think about that the next time you get into your car and drive somewhere! (Okay, done playin my violin). So yeah, going home for two days is not worth another 12km hike through the water and mud back out.

More reasons I don't love the rainy season: okay, I know you liked 'Erosion' and I completely understand the cultural value of my leaky roof, but at the end of January it rained for three days straight and I learned that my roof leaks EVERYWHERE. Except for the one corner into which I've consolidated my kitchen, my floors were covered in water.. It even leaks right over my matress! So I am sleeping in the one corner of the salon that doesn't leak, and cooking in the one corner of the living area that's dry, and doing my dishes in a raincoat since it's really bad by the one tap in my house. All this was right before my trip to Rabat and I have to say I'm okay with not going home until it's all over! I miss my neighbors and friends, but you have to be a bit relieved to be away when your filling 10 liter buckets in your bedroom overnight... Oh, and let me also add that on one of those drippy nights, I woke in the middle of the night to find something crawling up my leg. I quickly threw it away from me and jumped out of bed, lit the lamp, and could not find the perpatrator, but did find his slime trails all over my sheets and pillow! I slept with a snail!!! Much better than a beetle, I must admit, but the worst part is I never found him. He's probably in my house waiting for me to come warm the sheets up again!

Okay, now I have to share my big news! I met someone. His name is Matt, he's another PCV about four hours from me, which is not far in PC time. I'm not really sure what else to say except that I adore him. He's very smart, and funny, and this is all getting too cliche so I'm gonna stop. But yeah. This is all true... What I do think you all would be interested to know is the whole the cultural logistics of dating (not to mention PC logistics!). I can't tell anyone in my village about him. He can't come visit me at my site. I have to refer to him as my 'girlfriend' whenever I talk about where I'm going or what I've done. It's a bit frustrating that even my bestfriends will never know about this whole other part of my life.. But yeah, so with this secretive attitude I almost didn't put this news up on this journal.. but then I realized that in America it's okay for me to have a boyfriend at 22 and not be married!! It actually took me a few weeks to realize I could share this information with all of you and not be ashamed.. sigh..

Okay, I gotta jet, but I love and miss you all very much!!!

-Melanie

Current mood: infatuated

Monday, January 16, 2006

1:27PM - Snowy Italian Almond Trees Slaughter Sheep!

Hello, Hello, Hello!

It has been an incredibly busy few weeks, full of ridiculous situations, extreme weather (okay, maybe not that extreme but when else do I get to use such a superfluous adjective?), and yes, blood. Where to begin...

Invasion of the Almond Trees:

About six weeks ago, right around the end of November, I went to my Project Office with a proposal for about two thousand trees for my village, both Almond and Olive. After some negotiation, we decided we'd get the trees through a special program that the Agriculture Ministry was doing, where the Ministry would cover 80% of the cost of the trees if they were in the name of a Village Association. The Project Office agreed to cover an additional 10%, leaving the last 10% up to the community. (FYI, Almond Trees cost about a dollar each). It all sounded quite good. A week later my Moroccan counterpart tells me that my PC boss has some good funding sources for trees and that I should talk to him about getting in contact with them. I take this to be his round-about way of saying 'Deal's off'. Since the almond planting season is now, I figured I wouldn't make it for almond trees so I'd work on olive instead. I didn't share the earlier deal with my Association or Community since it was now moot point. Flash foward to two weeks ago.. Adam and I decide to stop by the Project Office to check in and take care of some logistical stuff. We walk in and ask if Aziz (our counterpart) is in. 'No, he's not here.' 'Oh okay, when will he be back then?' 'Never. He works for another organization now.' Ohhhhh... right. But of course he would be working for another organization! Silly us! So we decide to call our PC boss to inform him our counterpart is, well, no longer available. My boss tells me: 'Yeah, they told me last week.' Another Ohhhh. Apparently 'out of the loop' was the best description for Adam and my's position at the time. Hmmm.. Anywho, they tell us to come back tomorrow when we can meet with another person to discuss the new situation. So the next morning, we're there, and we're talking about stuff, and in walks a guy I know but haven't worked with. The man we're talking to stops him and says 'Hey, the girl from (my village) is here. Tell her about the trees.' Trees? W-w-hat? So I follow him into his office where he informs that the 700 almond trees are going to be dropped off in my site, tomorrow. This time an 'oh!' And then I have my own personal freak-out session where I try to figure out how I am supposed to prepare my community for the trees, and the fact that they were going to have to pay or them (I had not discussed this option with them. In fact, I had told everyone that if they were going to have to pay AT ALL we would discuss it before accepting the deal. So now I was liar.) The next 24 hours is a blur, mostly of me trying to convince my Association President that it's not my fault (he understood) and that I want someone from the Association to be waiting when we arrive in my village having already explained about the prices and late notice so I don't get my head cut off... Once again, he saved the day and arranged for everything. The trees were distibuted with little fuss. The price (very cheap) accepted by everyone. Phew... I can't wait until the Olive season...

'Siete Italiani?':

Two days after the Great Tree Scandal I am walking down the road when I see a tourist land rover pulled up to my host family's house. Tourists NEVER come to my village. They tell me some Belgians came through about a year ago and they still talk about it... so this is all very weird. I decide to go in and investigate. It's just a guide (no tourists) explaining that he wants to bring tourists to my village at some point. I get very excited as Eco-tourism is one of the major focuses of the Environment Program and it's hard to have eco-tourism without tourists, so I had given up on it as an option. We talk, I get his card, and then he's on his way. A few hours later two (TWO!) land rovers pull into town and out come some foreigners (definitely European) including a pretty woman and lots of photography equipment. They start talking pictures of the pretty woman and OUR pretty mountains. I decide to go talk to the guide again and get the lowdown. He tells me they are Italian and after the shoot they are going to my host family's house to have tea. As I stand (from afar) and watch them take pictures with equipment that costs more than the yearly income of the enitre village, making photos they will sell for more money than most of my neighbors have ever seen, with a woman wearing a tank top and everybody (including the women) smoking, I start to feel that something is very uncomfortable and wrong here. I picture the foreigners getting into their swank land rovers and driving away, taking with them some of my village's beauty in there film and leaving hours and hours of gossip in their wake. It occurs to me that they should make some sort of donation to the Association, but I say nothing. In walks a neighbor of mine and an Association member. He starts saying everything I'd been thinking to the guide. The guide does not agree and a large argument ensues. I end up yelling at this guide (who is also making money off this shoot) in French and Tashelheit, and finally, as the foreigners begin packing up their equipment, he asks me to quiet down and if I want I come come talk to them when they have tea. Fine, I say, and head immediately for my host family's house. Once there I debate how to approach them as they are taking of their shoes to enter the salon and have tea. Finally, a little of my Italian comes back to me and I say to them 'Are you Italian?' They turn around astonished and say yes, and how do I know Italian. I quickly explain I haven't spoken it for years and don't remeber very much, but I studied it in college. 'Oh? Where did you go to college?' 'The University of California.' 'So you went to study in the US?' and it is at this point that I realize that I am in a tiny village, wearing tiny village clothes, and my hair is partially covered since I have a hat on to ward off the cold. They think I'm Berber! I almost start to laugh and finally manage to say I'm American. Then the man next to me says, in English 'Yeah? I live in New York!' It was all way too weird.. So we end up speaking in English (hamdullah!) about Peace Corps, and my work, and the similarities of Berlusconi (whom I accidentally referred to as Mussolini and they assured me it was an easy mistake to make...) and Bush. It was all completely surreal, my host family looking on, me explaining how they make the bread that we were eating, etc. Finally, they say they have to go and I pipe up a little bit, my speech about leaving more than they took ready to go in my head. The New Yorker cuts me off and says 'Don't worry, you don't have to ask, we are going to give a little something to the community.' Yay!!! They then proceed to empty out their pockets and dump Euros and Dirhams into my hands. The ended up giving around three hundred dollars to the Association! We were hoping for fifty! It was really neat, and then I quickly became the town hero, everyone talking about how Munia swindled the foreigners into give the Association money...

All Dressed Up:

Just three days later was the biggest Moroccan (and Muslim in general) holiday of the year, L-aid Kbir. The whole point of this holiday is feasting, and so every family goes out and buys a sheep to slaughter for the holiday. Families save up all year long for this holiday, as sheep are rather expensive. Families that don't have enough socks or shoes still get a sheep. It's kind of like Carnival costumes in Brazil. Then, on the holiday, each family gets all dressed up, often in brand new clothes, and watches the slaughter (also done in new clothes). So that morning I get all cleaned up, throw on my Djellaba, my fancy heels, and go outside to join the party! It was weirdest thing ever to be standing there in fancy clothes watching a sheep get slaughtered, cleaned, gutted, and all that other fun stuff... Totally surreal. Don't worry though! I took pictures, which I will post with appropriate disclaimers at some point. So for the last week I have been eating riduculous amounts of meat, since we don't have freezers or fridges and have to go through it all before it goes it bad...

Chilly Purple Phone Booths:

Aaah, last but not least, let's talk about the weather! Until a week ago, I had never seen snow fall. I'd only seen it alredy on the ground. Then, last Saturday, it snowed in my site! It was the most beautiful thing, and the sound (or lack of it) was indescribable.. My mom was going to call that day, so I ended up talking to her and Conor for an hour, standing in the falling snow with my purple umbrella (there's only phone reception outside my house). And for those of you who insist on worrying about me... don't :) I have plenty of warm clothes to get me through this winter. (Thanks for the socks, mom!) :)


And that's it... This is all true.

Love,
Melanie

Current mood: cold

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

3:50PM - Happy New Year!

Hey everybody!

Let me just start with a gazillion thank yous for everybody's feedback on 'Erosion.' You guys are too sweet. Thank you. I always know where I can go for a little love...

Life on this side of the Atlantic is a little crazy, but good. Today is going to be a picture post, since there's a ton of them and it's probably the best way to summarize what I've been up to for the last month or so.

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/dragonfly83/album?.dir=9080&.src=ph&store=&prodid=&.done=http%3a//photos.yahoo.com/ph//my_photos

All right, so you gotta read the captions, but I'll fill in the rest: The pictures of Essouiara are from a visit I made to a friend's site to work on a staff training. As a member of the Gender and Development Committee, another member and I have been asked to develop a staff training on how to deal with PCV harassment, which is rampant here and a big reason for PCVs ending service early. We went to her place because it's prettier.. :) Next is Adam and I in our Djellabas, a must-have of Moroccan fashion. Mine was custom made! The next five are of our Thanksgiving day feast and the hike we took that day. It was all wonderful! Ok, so next I'm a bit white, I know, but please remember my shoulders hadn't seen the sun for nine months! This is of Adam and I at the pool at the hotel where they held In-Service Training, a training all PCVs do at their six months (of service) point. They held it in this swanky hotel in Agadir, with hot showers and towels and a pool and everything! I don't know how we got any work done.. but we did! Next is Adam and I on our first day of vacation! It's actually in Marrakech, but we are on our way! Which, as you see, was promptly halted by the Spanish port (Algeceiras) being closed do to weather problems, so we spent a whole day just waiting around Tangier. We ended up leaving the next morning.. The rest of the pictures are of Spain, which was WONDERFUL! We ate ridiculous amounts of Chinese food (who goes to Granada for Chinese? We do!) and we went and saw King Kong! It was soooo good! Well done Mr. Jackson. After all that, we went to Midnight Mass in the big cathedral, which was really beautiful. Then on Christmas Day we picnic'd in the park on many unavailable-in-Morocco treats, including ham, salami, gouda cheese, and sliced bread. It was really nice. (And now I'm drooling...) The very last set of pix is the Alhambra, Mom's favorite place in the world. It was gorgeous, and really neat to see coming from a Muslim country. The similarities and differences gave both of us this strange feeling of comfort and lostness at the same time. It's amazing.

And last but not least, the 'afker' fence. Afker means 'old man' in Tashelheit, and the lovely briar fence you see in front my house was a, ummm... present from my afker next door. Early Christmas, I guess. This afker is THE most crotchety old man I have ever met. In fact, I didn't even think there were TRULY crotchety old men until I met this guy. He throws rocks at the neighborhoood kids, which of course drives me crazy since I am always trying to lure the kids into hanging out around my house since they're so sweet and I love to hear them laugh. His family even calls him 'ishqa' or 'difficult'. He fights with everyone about everything, and never lifts a finger himself. I have butted heads with this man several times over various issues, but the fence was our shining moment. It all started when he cornered me one day and dragged me around to the front of my house to point out that the (very) cheap plastic liners on my screens were breaking. I tell him they are cheap and were cracked beforehand, but he insists it was the neighborhood kids, who often play in front of my house. I tell him, no, it is not. They're good kids and they have no reason to break my house apart. Of course, he doesn't buy it. Finally I tell him it's okay, it's my house, not his, so don't worry about it, and walk away. The next day I see him walk by sullenly, dragging branches of the most thorny, gnarled bush in our valley. The next day the lovely fence you see in the picture is in front of my house. I am livid. My job is to integrate and be welcoming. A thorny fence in front of my house, right where the girls like to play hopskotch, is not exactly a message of good will. This was all before my Christmas vacation, so to avoid trouble, I leave, hoping it won't be there when I get back. It was. So the last day of the year, I wait until the afker is in the behind the house, and I start to pull the thing apart. After moving one branch and a few rocks, my best friend (his granddaughter) starts helping me. The Abderzaq, his grandson, joins in. Then his daughter in law. Then the hopskotch girls. So in a few minutes there are seven of us moving rocks and branches away from the front my house. My neighbor stops me and thanks me, telling me I am always good with the kids, unlike the afker. No one says a word as we work, but it's obvious that we are all having a good time and making a point too... It felt like a revolution. I felt good about being an excuse for his family to openly defy him (you should see how rude and mean he is to the women who completely support him). And it was relief to have that ridiculous fence gone from my house.

So yeah, there you go. I love, love, love you all!

Hugs!
Melanie

PS Here's an article from the BBC about Tashelheit/Berber/Amizigh and it being taught in Moroccan schools. It explains about the language issues here in general, which are very relevant to my site..

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4502772.stm


PPS Okay, so if you're sending me packages or letters, I've discovered it's best to write 'MOROCCO, North Africa' after the address, instead of 'MAROC' or even 'MOROCCO' as the US post office has been sending about one in every fifteen letters/packages to Monaco. Now, as much as I'd like to be a PCV there, there's not much of a development program. The casinos have it covered. ;) We do get the mail eventually, but it takes an extra few weeks. So yeah, until the USPS insists on geography classes for it's employees, it's 'MOROCCO, North Africa.' Go figure...

Current mood: hungry

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

8:32PM - This is a piece I wrote a few weeks ago. I hope you like it.

Erosion

I tromp up and down the muddy ravine, the rain soaking my legs and the hand holding my flashlight frozen from the wind. I mutter to myself that this is what Peace Corps service is all about, though I’m not really buying it. I’m on my way to the other side of my Berber mountain village, where the only transport in and out of town resides. Yesterday, the driver of the rickety, livestock-hauling van told me we would leave for the city at 6:30am, inshallah, God willing.

I have a feeling that with all this rain the dirt roads will not be passable, but wipe the rain from my eyes and trudge on. I was right, he will not be leaving today. I will miss my meeting with my boss.

It is several hours later and the frustration that was so pungent this morning has begun to wash away in the steady downpour, revealing a gentle acceptance. Today, Morocco’s attitude of fatalism benefits me. My boss understood why I couldn’t make our meeting: God did not will it. But what my friends and neighbours accept as the will of God, I have been fighting tooth and nail to stop, slow, manipulate. It has taken nine months in this cold land of the hot sun to erode this urge in me, and today is my breaking point. Because how can one argue with a full night and day of rain in a drought year? It is true, my missed meeting was supposed to be the start of the donation of trees, chickens, and beehives and perhaps even a solar laundry station to my village. But Allah knows we need the rain more, and that I cannot provide.

After sloshing back home, my neighbour Fatima (and owner of my house, and Berber mother) asks me if my roof is leaking again. “Yes,” I tell her emphatically, hoping she can fix it. So once the rain slows slightly I put on my raincoat, a luxury to my neighbours, and we brave the weather to put more mud on my roof and cover the leaky parts with a tarp. I help her put rocks down so the wind won’t take the tarp away, but all the while I’m so afraid of the cold and wet and mud I can’t help but feel helpless. Fatima is unperturbed. But no matter what we do, we cannot stop the leaks.

Finally, we come inside and stand in my soaking kitchen with our hands on our hips, unsure of what to do next. Fatima looks at me and says I should move my kitchen (some shelves, a table, and a gas stove) to the other side of the room, away from the leaks. I have gotten this suggestion after previous storms, and always the American in me wants to cry out, “The roof should not leak! I should not have to adjust to problems! Problems should be fixed!” and I leave my kitchen where it is. But today, with the patter of the still-falling rain on my inadequate roof, and the sound of the flood in the riverbed echoing off the gorge walls and into my house, I consider it. I roll the idea around in my head like a delicate creature. I cautiously approach my pride with it, checking for explosions. I let it sit in that spot below my heart and above my stomach. The place where I feel things first. I let it settle as I judge how much I am willing to change for my service, how much I’ve given already, and how much there is left in me to give.

The silence of the rain reminds me I have much to gain, as well. The children’s voices outside assure me I cannot lose myself in this thicket of culture. The drop on the back of my neck weakens me to the opportunity in front of me.

“Okay,” I tell her. “Tomorrow I will move the kitchen, God willing.”

Current mood: good

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

12:01PM - Thanksgiving Thoughts

Hot showers
My next-door neighbors
That Najat knows my American name
My language skills
The little kids that gather outside my door to play cards
A house blessed with more character and history than any I will ever own
Having to walk at least a few miles for the sake of getting somewhere
Sugary Mint Tea
When the transit shows up on time
Teaching Abderzaq to ride a bike
A small village
Flesh and bone happiness
Being a part of something greater than myself
Clean hair
Making pancakes for kids who have never had them before
Dogs you can cuddle with
Walking eight miles to see my best friend
Adam
Being proud of my cooking
A house to house survey of 35 houses, with 35 invitations to tea
Being able to joke in Tashelheit (and people getting it)
Shebekia
A home 6000 miles from home
Coka Cola
Talking to my mom every week
Good bosses
Walking through my village
Mail and packages
Sharing my magazines
Making tea for the women as they stand outside on cold days and chat
A house that keeps me warm
Friends who still love me and know I love them even though we can't talk all the time like we used to
Purpose

What are you thankful for this year that you didn't know last year?

It is the 42nd anniversary of the Kennedy assassination today, and I'd like to think that I am honoring him more this year than any other year before. I hope I am making him proud.

Loving and missing you,
Melanie

Current mood: thankful, of course

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

7:19PM - Maybe this once a month thing is becoming a habit...

So where HAVE I been… ?

I realize it has once again been another month before I have been able to post, but I assure you all it is a good thing. On this end, it does not feel like a whole month has gone by, and that’s because I’m having fun and pretty darn busy. :)

After writing you all last I took a trip to the capital, Rabat, for my very first Gender and Development meeting. It’s a committee that meets once every four months to discuss the different aspects of gender in Peace Corps. You can imagine why it interests me so.. I’ll give you the highlights: I was elected Secretary (because no one else wanted it) and for those of who think that is a good thing, I suggest you spend two days in meetings, write it all down, and then go over it once more by retyping all your notes. Not so fun. But these are the sacrifices I make for my country... The other highlight (a true highlight) was not really GAD related at all. We went.. wait for it.. BOWLING!!! Apperently there is a giant mall in the capital, that is actually called The Mega Mall, and they have bowling! It was the most awesome (exactly like a hot dog) and weirdest thing ever. We walked into the mall and I thought I was going to lose it. There were marble floors and lots of shops that included jeans that cost more than what I make in a month. It was just like home. Well, we put our heads between our knees and proceeded to the bowling alley, where I managed to get one strike, several spares, and still only score a 64. I just didn’t want to make anyone feel bad, really. But the point is not to win (unless you do) the point is we were bowling and it felt like a time warp. It is perhaps one of the most unique things about Morocco, in terms of Peace Corps, that there can be so much in the big cities and so little outside of them. Many other volunteers live in countries with capitals that hardly rival and average American middle-of-nowhere municipality, but in ours we have bowling, and tall buildings, and a large embassy, and a PC office with green grass and a fountain. So I thank my lucky stars for that one.

After returning from Rabat I camped out in my site until L-aid Iftur, which marks the end of Ramadan, hooray! Because Ramadan is a lunar month, the day it ends can be on one of two days and you don’t know which for sure until the night before. I sat at my neighbors’ house intently listening to the Tashelheit radio with them; trying to figure out if we had to fast the next day or if it was PARTY TIME. After about 20 minutes we all booed as the announcer told us L-aid would be Friday and not Thursday, so one more day of hunger for us... (I think there's a Ramadan groundhog, and that's how they determine the holiday). But it was worth the wait. The holiday itself was amazing. I got all gussied up (was ordered to, in fact, by my friends) and then my neighbors picked me up and we went out to make the rounds. On this partucular holiday it is considered beneficial to greet as many people as you can on that day, and with a village of 300, that means everbody! So for a while I went around with my neighbors and greeted one half of the village (it felt a lot like a race or a scavenger hunt) and then we went back to our houses and sat outside while the rest of the village came around and greeted us. After all this greeting, we went to hang out at my host family’s house, and I was on such a high from it all I decided to privately forgive my host father. He doesn’t know, but it’s important to me because now I don’t have that fist in my stomach every time he’s around.
Next up was a dance party!! The girls tried to teach me to dance Berber-style, which involves some hip gyrating that makes even me uncomfortable, and is totally physically impossible if you haven’t been doing it since you were two. But I tried nonetheless. There was a lot of laughing and screaming, and I probably blushed a lot, but it was also unforgettable. And if all that fun wasn’t enough, we went home for lunch and that evening we had a drum circle with singing and dancing outside. By this time the clouds had come in and the sun was on its way out and it was c-c-c-cold!* I had to go put on two sweatshirts, a beanie, and thick socks before I could come out again and sit comfortably. But it was also tons of fun. All in all, it was a beautiful day...*

But the truth is that as much as I love Moroccan holidays, I miss American ones terribly, and that is why just last week the other PCVs working on the same Biodiversity Project Team as I am all got together and had a Thanksgiving dinner (okay, and there might have been some work in there somewhere too..) We made chicken (turkey's a bit hard to find here) and mashed potatoes (that’s what I made!!)* and canned corn and veggies and chocolate pudding cake. We even went around the table and said what we were thankful for...* It was really fun, and very sweet, and while it made me miss home terribly, it also made me realize how lucky I am to have so much and yet be so far from what was my entire world only nine months ago. I think it went well for my first big holiday away. On the real day Adam has planned quite a feast for us, which means I’ll have to do the dishes. :)

While we are on the subject of holidays, and all of you worry about my Christmas plans… Let me reassure you, once again, Adam has come in and taken care of everything. We are going to Granada, Spain for Christmas! We actually made these plans on Easter, when we were feeling horribly homesick and sad that no one here even knows what Easter is, and now they are just around the corner! The plan is to sight see all day and dance all night! I’m very excited. It is going to be great to not miss out on Christmas lights and celebrations.

And work? How is work? Well, today I had a meeting with my counterpart, who asked me what was going to be in my proposal for my village. I told him about the laundry station and cookstoves and he said, ‘There’s more aid than that for your village, what else?’ Can you believe it!? I get to ask for more!!! My President and I are having a meeting with the community on Sunday to figure this one out... But how very exciting! My only fear is that the more we ask for the longer it will take, but I just have to push that aside and stay focused for now. Wish us luck!

And now for the weather report: cold. I am supposed to be in the desert but today I spent the whole time in long sleeves. I didn’t wear my beanie out of denial and spite, not because it wouldn’t have been warm.. How cold does it get here? Not so sure, but you have to realize that numbers mean nothing. It doesn’t have to get colder than it does in Santa Cruz and it will still be rough because it’s not like living in that weather at home, with heated cars and houses and warm caffee around every corner, it’s like camping in it. I should be getting a gas heater soon for my house, but even then it has a giant skylight to contend with and the fact that I have to get work done in the mean time… We’ll see. I am trying to scare myself now so it won’t be so bad when winter actually smacks me across the face.

I hope you all are mildly satiated. I apologize for the long wait but I can't make any promises for the next one.

Know that I miss and love each one of you,
Melanie

*More pictures! So here they are: the first few are of my trip to the Gazelle Reserve, the next few are the WILD Thanksgiving party we had, and the last few are of me on the holiday of L-aid Iftur.. Read the captions for low down on each one..

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/dragonfly83/album?.dir=/c75a&.view=t

Current mood: optimistic

Saturday, October 15, 2005

10:54AM - The many events during my absence from you all

Hello!

Okay everyone, I realize it's been a month, and I apologize, but I spent the first two weeks traveling a lot and the next two weeks making up for it by hiding in my site. So now I am going to make up for some of it with a ridiculously long post. So read it in pieces if you'd like, or grab a cup of coffee and a pillow and cuddle up...

So when I left you all last time I was running around like the proverbial chicken getting everything together for my cookstove event. Part of the reason I was so rushed was that I had just found out from my boss that Adam and I were going to travel to the other side of the country that very next week to help a pair of volunteers with a gazelle count in a reserve. I was extremely excited, although the timing could not have been worse since it meant I had about four days in site to get everything ready for the demo.. So, I held a community meeting for the cookstoves and left my site less than an hour after it was over to go to a small village near Outat El Haj on the very east side of Morocco. My project here in Ouarzazate wants to eventually create a gazelle reserve near our sites, and has been pushing both Adam and I to get more info on the local gazelle population. This was a point of frustration for us since we had yet to see a gazelle in our sites, nor did we have any idea how to track them or where to look. Also, there is a LARGE amount of goat herding in our sites, so trying to differentiate gazelle scat and tracks from that of goats without any experience was virtually impossible. So, our Program Manager presented us with this short-notice opportunity to count gazelle at this reserve. Needless to say, we were very excited by the opportunity. Unfortunately, our excitement was premature. We did get to go to the reserve, and we did get to see some (two) gazelle, but the circumstances were sickening. At a count this Spring, there were an estimated number of 35 gazelle in the reserve. At our count there were only two left. I was lucky enough to be the one person who saw them, they were only about 200 feet from me (!) and they are beautiful animals, everything you'd imagine them to be, but it wasn't until after the count was over that I was told I was the only one who saw gazelle. As it turns out, some fox and a jackal got into the reserve through the poorly maintained fence and have been feasting on gazelle for months. The reserve guardians (who are supposed to do exactly that) had been finding carcasses for some time now, but were burying them and not reporting their findings in order to hold on to there jobs. These men were prepared to to 'guard' a reserve with no gazelle for the sake of their jobs. While I understand employment is very hard to come by here, it is frustrating that they didn't think that reporting the carcasses early on would enable them to fix the fence and get rid of the predators, therefore saving their jobs. But this is another one of those instances where the prevalent custom of lying to save face has led to more bad than good. Needless to say, all of us involved with the count were upset, frustrated, and disturbed. Adam and I did get good information on tracking gazelles and reserve guidelines (what to do and what NOT to do), but it was a tough thing to be a part of. My heart goes out to the two PCVs who were helping with the reserve. They were crushed...

But PC work in Morocco is not always a series of disappointments! Upon returning from my depressing trip, I got to put my energy into something I could control, my cookstove demonstration! It went WONDERFULLY! At least one woman from every household showed up and watched as the technicians made three batches of cous cous simultaneously on the two types of improved stoves and a traditional stove. Luckily, the improved stoves used less wood and made cous cous just as 'atfut' (yummy!) as the traditional one. The other PCVs that I got to host in my oh-so-cool house said they thought the whole thing went really well. I have to agree :). The women all dressed up in their party clothes and played drums and sang as we waited for the food to cook (cous cous takes three hours to cook, if you're doing it right.) I have to say that sitting in that room with them as they sang was definitely a memory I will hold on to.

About a week after the cookstove demonstration, my neighbor knocks on my door and informs me that we are a having a meeting for the Women's Association. "When?" I ask, "Now!" she says, and so I race off to my host family's house for the meeting. You must realize that in the 'bled' (rural Morocco), a moment's notice is all you need, since now means anywhere from actually now to two hours from now. So of course, being an American, I showed up 'now', and sat around for a while. After less than the usual two hours (one maybe?) most of the women had come. There was to be a women's meeting and than a meeting of the (men's) Village Association right after. So the forty or so women were huddled into the hottest room in the house (I know because it used to be mine) and the fifteen or so men were allowed to sit in the cool courtyard and had the coolest/largest room reserved for them. The men were also served tea, the women were not (except me, which I grudgingly took the first time and refused thereafter). So we, the women, waited in the hot room for the men to finish 'preparing' for the meeting in the cool courtyard. After some time, I'd had enough and went outside to try to use my clout as the foreigner to get things rolling and point out the temperature difference. Well, it didn't do much but eventually things got going. The Village Association President (an incredibly well-intentioned, motivated man) came into the room and began discussing different business aspects of the Women's Association (after admonishing the women for being late, even though he made us all wait for almost an hour, too). We added a few officers to the roster and got some details down, and then he began explaining to the women the constitution of the Association, it's focus and goals, etc. Well, he got through about three lines of the several page document when a man came to the door and said that he wanted to hurry up and start the men's meeting. So what does the President do? He ends the meeting right there! After waiting in a stuffy room for several hours we had a twenty minute, incomplete meeting because the tea-drinking, comfortably-situated men were getting impatient! I was LIVID. I wanted to kill someone. These women are busy! They take a lot of time and effort to come to these meetings, and everyone comes to every meeting. But perhaps the most frustrating part was that I could not say anything. The women were not upset (this second-rate treatment is par for the course) and the men had no idea how unjust it all was, so there was nothing I could do but bite my tongue and thank my lucky stars that we even have a Women's Association... I'm sure you can all imagine how I was feeling... grrr..

In other, very relevant news: It's Ramadan! So Happy Ramadan to you all! And what is Ramadan? Well, it's an entire month in the Muslim Lunar calendar seen as the holiest month of the year. It's the month that Allah sent the Qu'ran down to Mohamed. In order to celebrate, Muslims the world over (one billion of them!) fast from sunrise to sunset. That means no food or water (or sex or tobacco) in the daylight. This time of year, the day goes from about 5am to 6pm. And yes, I am fasting too. I decided to participate because well, everyone's doing it. Seriously though, my community is very proud that I am fasting, and it's relatively easy since everyone else is fasting as well. In fact, everyday at 6pm when I sit down to lfdor (it means breakfast) I savor every bite. It really is a spiritual experience, and it is done in part to reflect on the thirst and hunger of others. And I do. So how do I survive? Well, I wake up every day at 4am and eat breakfast, usually bread and fruit and yogurt, and drink a lot of water. Then I go back to sleep and get up around 9 or 10am. I fast until sundown, when I break it with a glass of juice (Tang, actually) and dates and then a solid meal. Then I snack until bedtime, 10 or 11pm. I drink about two liters of water a day still, and probably eat really close to the what I do normally. The first few days were pretty tough, but now I am accustomed to the routine. It has been ten days, so there are twenty more, and it's not really that big of a deal anymore. I enjoy fdor-ing with different families, since everyone has different food, although there are definitely some staples. One is shebekia, which is a sesame pastry that is uber-rich, another is dates, and there is also a nutty sort of powder you just scoop into your mouth that is incredible (I can't remember the name). As part of the cultural exchange PC goal, I brought apple pancakes over to my neighbors to break the fast one night. They loved them! It's a big time for sweets, so somehow I manage...

I am getting close to wrapping up, I swear, but first I have to talk about the weather.. It's gotten considerably cooler here, and at my site the weather is a lot like California, with sunny days that have a cold nip in the breeze. It makes me ridiculously homesick but it's comforting as well. Except it gets colder here than at home, so the current weather here is a lot like December at home which is seriously messing with my internal calendar. I let you know when the cold really kicks in!

So Corinne asked if my address changed since I moved, and no it did not. The address you have is for my whole village so it doesn't change when I switch houses. And Barbara asked if she could send books, and to that I say, if you like, but I have plenty at the moment and I have some suggestions for things from home to put in packages that would do more justice to your postage money:

Tea bags, pictures, seasoning packets (like for taco meat and stuff), ANY candy (reeses!!!), AA batteries, burned CDs (please!), snacky foods, pictures, mac and cheese (you can just send the inside packet to save space if you want), powdered iced tea, refried beans, baked goods, your old magazines, kids cereal, homemade baked goods (actually do fine if saranwrapped), and anything else you think I might enjoy... Also, cheap candy or knick knacks for the local kids always go over well. Not necessary, though.

When sending packages, don't forget to mark them as a gift, put zero dollars for the value (trust me!) and if you could throw some cheap-o pens in (just a few) I can give them to the guy who checks our packages and I won't have to pay anything. Don't ask...

Phew! All done! (Computer will freeze.. NOW! j/k) So take care of yourselves, and know that I'm thinking of you!

Much love,
Melanie

Current mood: subtly hungry

Thursday, September 15, 2005

8:40PM - The Virtual Tour (Schwiya)

Hey all!

I haven't felt this motivated since I got Morocco! I have SOOO much to do! Today I spent all day running around Ouarzazate, organizing this cookstove demonstration. I have the stoves in the hotel with me and everything! The management must think I'm bonkers... So we have a date set for end of September, and after organizing all that (in a combination of Tashelheit, French, and English) I went to my Village Association President's house to give him the update on all of it, all in Tashelheit. I was so proud of myself walking out of his house, knowing I communicated everything I needed to completely on my own. I haven't felt this accomplished since WET, and it's just beginning! It is so great to be busy! I forgot how much I used to feed on it in college.

And of course, now that things are really picking up, my boss, Mohssine, asked me if I wanted to go to another volunteer's site and help with a gazelle count so I can learn the ropes! Do I! It's not one hundered percent yet, but I'll know soon since I would have to leave on Monday. Not the greatest timing, I'm sure my douar thinks I'll never be in site more than a few days again, but I'll take what I can get when I can get it, you know? Besides, there's always Ramadan to rest. Better to sleep than to starve...

Ok, Ok, as promised, I've brought you more photos. So here we go... The first eight are of my trip down South to the real desert. We cleverly planned it for August. Adam and I went with my boss, Aicha, to visit Rhonda's site. Her assignment is to help fight desertification. Kinda makes me want to laugh, a lot. Anyway, it is absolutely beautiful, but also almost unbearable. Props to Rhonda. The next pic is Adam at his site, and I must say he is quite the stereotypical PCV. The glasses and goofy smile remind me of an RPCV I know and love... The next group of pics is of the flood I told you guys about. It was insane! The second, older Najat in the pictures (with the black headscarf) is my next door neighbor and hopefully soon to be my new best friend. She's chill, cool, collected and I swear I almost couldn't believe her when she told me she was only sixteen. (Although Berbers don't keep track of birthdays so she may be off a bit..). Next is some wildlife for you, all which can occaisionally be found in my home. In one day I found a large, large scorpion, a toad and a cat in my house. Unfortunately in that order. I am getting screens this week, though. Hamdullah. Mohamed is around 14 and getting too cool for himself, if you couldn't tell from the pic. He always asks me to play soccer though, so he's cool. Next is my host uncle Omar, a sweet guy (unlike his brother). And now, the pictures you've all been waiting for... my house! I've started to lose tough with what's out of the ordinary and what's not, so I want to hear reactions! Honest ones! So yeah, a typical Berber home on the outside. And inside... The first two pics are of my bedroom, left and right. The only two windows go to the middle area, not outside, so it's pretty dark, but I don't mind because I am really only in there to sleep. Next is the huge, very fancy-shmancy salon. The blue on the floor of the salon and the bedroom are these plastic mats everyone has in there home (kind of instead of carpeting) and they're really fun, though kind of pricey. They cost about four dollars a meter, which is a lot when you have eighteen meters to cover and make just over 230 dollars a month. Although we do get settling in money, so I'm not starving. I haven't told you guys how much I make, have I? Yep, 230 dollars, plus rent and 24 dollars a months of vacation pay. And I swear to you people in my village still see me as rich, and it's true that I am pretty well off respectively.. Perspectives! Anyway, next is my absolute favorite part of the house, and where I spend 80 percent of my awake time. This is basically the middle of the house, with the two rooms on two sides and the front door on another. Isn't it straight out of a movie? I adore it, absolutely adore it. The second pic really does it justice, I think. Okay, well, off to the kitchen, which is the corner of the living area where I keep my stove, basically. Eventually, after a few months, they are going to put in counters and a kitchen, they say. Cool, if it happens. Like the fridge? That's all the food in my house, since I can only stock up on what won't go bad at room temperature. I only get to eat veggies from Saturday to Wednesday or so, but I eat lots of them when I do. I am actually eating a hundred times healthier than I ever have before! Ah, and last but not least for the inside tour is the 'sink,' a bucket under a faucet that I empty into my only drain, which is the toilet, as seen here. I know it looks awful but it's clean and it doesn't smell and I kinda like it, okay!? The red stool is my shower; I sit there and bucket bathe. And the grime on the walls is because my house is made of mud, so it leaks and what not. It's just dirt. The next two pics are of the views from my windows. I make a point to look at these views first thing in the morning, because one cannot live in a place as beautiful as this and not be grateful. The very last photo is my friend, landlady, and President of the newly formed Women's Association. But what I really want to point out here was that I only took the picture because I was standing outside with my camera already and she asked me if I wanted to take one of her. It didn't even occur to me that there was anything to photograph. Large amounts of grass on mules is my everday life. I mean, do you take pictures of vending machines? Anyway, so that's that. Hope you all enjoyed, and I can't wait for some of you to see it in person!

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/dragonfly83/album?.dir=ae52&.src=ph&store=&prodid=&.done=http%3a//photos.yahoo.com/ph//my_photos

Don't forget to read the captions!

Love and miss you all,
Melanie

PS The too-cool young guys who run this cyber café are all huddled around the computer watching Titanic right now. Hehe.

Current mood: busy, yay!

Friday, September 9, 2005

4:54PM - Hooray!!

Hello, Hello, Hello,

I HAVE A HOUSE!!!! JUST FOR ME!!! I haven't had a house since January (though I have always had a home, Mom) and it is so incredibly wonderful to be in control of myself again. I eat when I am hungry and skip meals when I am not (and I don't have to fight with anyone about it!). I bathe when I want to. I read when I feel like it. I go to bed early and get up late and no one cares! Or even knows! It has only been a week but it is a dream come true. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about it is that I actually want to go out and meet with my community and talk to them and hang out because I don't have to. For the last three months, I confess, I haven't felt like learning how to make cous cous, or bake bread, or other things. I just didn't feel like it. But now I have so much more energy and enthusiasm, because I am not using it up on everyday things like meals. I don't feel like I am just trying to get through the day. I actually look foward to it.

I am not going to describe the house for you today, except to tell you that the living room looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, because once it's closer to it's final state (paint, furniture, etc.) I am going to take lots o' pix and provide a virtual tour. I would like to say that, Joseph, you would love it! I don't know why but it just makes me think of you. You'd think it was uber cool. Oh, and also, thank you so much to you and Jeb for your insane cooking skills and insistance on making things from scratch, like spaghetti sauce. Helping you guys prep and watching you cook has been a lifesaver this last week. I have been eating really well and it is largely because of you two, so thanks. :)

So, on Sunday, I was sitting in my new house, reading and pretending the outside world didn't exist for a little while, when I hear the sounds of running water. A lot of running water. 'But our river has been dry for months' I think, but I look outside anyway. In the riverbed is none other than a RIVER. All of the sudden we had a river, not a stream, not a creek, but a serious river. Apparently September is the month for floods! It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. My whole community ran down to the river to check it out and appreciatively stare at the mass amount of water running through our village as we fight drought. It had been raining the last few afternoons, but only a little. I guess it was raining a lot in the mountains above us. The river only stayed that afternoon and through part of the night. By morning all the water had passed through, leaving glassy-looking mud and me in a state of awe. Humdullah.

Everything quiet on the homefront, I can really sink my teeth into work. We had a meeting this week with our project team and now I have deadlines and all sorts of fun stuff to do. We are going to do a fuel-efficient cookstove demonstration and installation in one of the PCV sites so we can all learn how they work and see if they are right for our communities, and guess what! They picked my site! So in a few weeks I get to host five other volunteers at my site, and prep everything for the event. I get to have more meetings with the community, to pick a location and other logistics. It is so exciting to have some concrete work to do! I am so glad I did that fuelwood survey in July, because the info is really paying off now.

I also found out that my project team really wants to get moving on the laundry station, so I have to start the ball rolling on that too! It would be the greatest thing to hit my one year mark and have a solid project under my belt. And now that looks very possible. :) Talk about looking foward to the day...

Well kids, it's is cooling down slightly, which is incredibly refreshing, but it's still hot. I am off to get something cool to drink while I am still in the comfort of electricity and all its benefits. It's so great to be back on track! Wish me luck!

I love and miss you all,
Melanie

P.S. I've decided to change the Current Music section to Current Book because I thought that would be more interesting, especially because I don't really listen to music in the Cyber Café. Hope you enjoy it!

Current mood: Motivated

Saturday, August 27, 2005

6:31PM - The truth and nothing but

Hey everyone,

Today's post comes to you on a more somber note and after a lot of thinking as to whether I should include this certain turn of events in my journal at all. I have decided to include it because I want to be as honest as possible, and because I trust that you all will take this information in an informed manner, without coming to conclusions about all of Morocco, or it's people, or it's men.

I also would rather not make a long story short, so grab your cup of coffee now...

In early July, I began looking for housing in my tiny douar of only 300 people. I asked my host father to help me, a man I have praised often in other posts and someone for whom I had nothing but respect and admiration. He was one of my best friends in my village, and a comforting ally between me and the difficult-to-access world of men. After explaining that I wanted a house just for me (not with a family), and that it needed to have a least two rooms, a bathroom, and a tap, he agreed to help. A few days later he told me that a house that one of the teachers had been living in would be perfect. In fact, it was the only vacant house. The only problem is that all of her things were locked in one of the rooms. The way the Moroccan school system works, teachers from any part of the country can be asigned teaching assignments in any other part of the country. This particular teacher was from near Rabat, the capital (about nine hours from my site) and had applied to be switched from my douar but would not hear back until August. I asked the logical question of what would happen if her request was not granted and she was going to need to live in my village for another ten months? My father explained that she doesn't pay rent, and that there was another place available, closer to the school, that would work for her and not me (it only had one room). He also said she was coming back on July 15th to get her things and bring the only available key to the house. Perfect timing I thought. I realize that this was a silly expectation now, why would she come back to get her stuff before she knew where she was living? But you must realize this entire exchange of information took place in a language I had spoken for only four months at the time, and that I had a lot of faith that my host father knew what was what.
Needless to say, the teacher did not arrive in July, and August wasn't looking good either. My Program Assistant, Aicha, was coming in a few weeks (early August), so I decided to wait until she came and ask her to put the pressure on to get things moving. Maybe have the teacher mail the key or something? Another obstacle I was facing was that no one wanted to give me an answer that would make me happy, so they would flat out lie. I'd ask when the teacher was coming, and all of the sudden she would be coming that Saturday. Of course she never showed, on any day of the week. This is an aspect of Moroccan culture that we PCVs, as Americans, find particularly frustrating. Moroccans believe in saving face, even if it means lying, which makes certain things very difficult because we cannot predict challenges. For example, when planning transportation, we'll ask for a ride to the city on, say, Monday, and the driver will say 'God Willing' and then on Monday we find out the driver never goes to the city on Mondays, but he could not tell us this because we might get upset... You see the frustration, I'm sure. So, in the face of broken promises and saving face, I put a lot of hope in Aicha's visit, knowing they would give her answers they were not prepared to give me. (Another aspect of Moroccan culture is a huge amount of respect, and maybe even fear, for heirarchy. You don't mess with the boss, even if she's not your boss).
Five days before Aicha's visit, I went with my father to Adam's site, about 10km away, because I wanted to learn the foot trail. We ended up taking the mule since we had some things to bring to his site. Although I was a little uncomfortable sitting so close to my father, I quickly got over it as it was a long ride (about four hours). I regretted this comfort immenseley on the way back... About two hours into the ride back, after witnessing my first sunrise ever make its way over the gorgeous High Atlas Mountains I now call home, my father started crossing unspoken boundaries. An intelligent, manipulative man, my father starts the conversation by asking me questions about Adam, like whether or not he had a girlfriend in America. Sometime during this conversation he puts his hand on my thigh. He just sort of sets it on top of my leg, as if it were no big deal, so I act like it's no big deal too, and say nothing. Then he starts asking about my relationship with Adam, and in response to my insistance that Adam is just like a brother and nothing more (a concept difficult for rural Moroccans to understand), he began telling me about what being girfriend and boyfriend means in Morocco. At this point I am a little uncomfortable, but I trust the man immensely and so I try to answer his questions and then change the subject. But he persists, and several times he demonstrates that Moroccan couples 'do this and nothing more' by sliding his hand further up my thigh for just a second, and then returning it to it to its orginal resting place (still my leg). Once he even reaches back and touches my shoulder. I start to feel sick, and very, very uncomfortable but at the same time completely confused. I cannot believe what is happening, even after he starts telling me about his girlfriends in the douar (he is married, don't forget). Eventually I have the common sense to tell him I don't want to ride the mule anymore, so I dismount and walk the last hour home. I have to go home, and retreat to my room to write down everything that happened so I can look over it and be sure that one of the few Moroccan men I thought I could really trust has just shattered it, has pulled the rug out from under me. I decide to tell Aicha when she comes, and insist that she help me get out of my homestay quickly.
But it is days before I will see Aicha, and I have to stay in that house, with that awful man, until then. But I cannot tell anyone in my village what happened, for many reasons. First, they may not believe me, and Lahcen (my host father) could tell them all I hit on him, and easily get me kicked out. I don't know if this could happen for sure but it is definitely a possiblity. Second, if they did believe me, it would ruin things for my host mother, and as an illiterate woman who has rarely left her village, she has no way of dealing with it; she would just have to live with that knowledge, and I can't do that to her. Third, it would create such a stir in the village, with reprecussions I could not possibly predict, that it would be very possible I would have to change sites and restart the whole painful proccess of integration, let alone my work. All this means that I can't let on that there is problem with my homestay, because people would want to know why. So I decide that whatever action I take, I have to be sure it protects my family. There are nineteen other people in the house whom I love and adore, and would never want to hurt. So no switching homestays, either. It would be obvious there was a problem. So I need my new house, and fast.
When Aicha comes I explain what happened on the mule ride to her, but I kind of rush and get interrupted a lot since I didn't pick the right time or place, and because in the midst of all this, I have two community meetings I need to run. She puts the pressure on my Village Association, who is ultimately responsible for my housing as part of the terms of having a volunteer. They say they are going to work on it, and September (in three weeks!) is the earliest I could move in. Aicha asks me what I want to do. It is either stay with my host family and wait, or switch famlilies and humiliate my family. I have to travel the next week to the capital, and have a lot of work in Ouarzazate coming up, so I know I won't be around as much as usual anyway, so I agree. Besides, there is only one house, so I don't have much choice.
Flash foward a few days, after having spent the weekend carefully avoiding my father without letting the rest of the family see that there is a problem. On Monday morning, on my way to catch my one ride out so I can head to the capital, my aunt and mother stop me separately to ask me why am mad at Lahcen. They tell me he asked them to ask me what the problem is. I act as if I have no idea what they are talking about, not wanting to cause more trouble, but I know exactly what he is doing. By pointing out my behavior to other people in the family, he forces me to stop acting like I'm mad at him, because he knows I won't tell them the reason. This way, he gets everything he wants. No one finds out what happened, and we get to be buddy-buddy again. I start to get very, very angry. I have had it with his manipulation, especially considering that I was prepared to let it all pass without incident. Lahcen happens to be going to the city that morning as well, and for a few minutes while we wait for the van, he catches me alone. He asks me why I am mad at him, 'I haven't done anything to you.'
I lose it, and I release the speech I had been preparing in my head for weeks. I tell him 'I am not going to tell your wife, but Shame on you! You know exactly what you did!'
He swears he doesn't, that I am just like his daughter.
'Do you put your hand on your daughters' legs? Do you tell them about your girlfriends? Shame on you!'
To this he responds, 'I am your dad, just like your dad.'
I say 'No, you are not my dad, because my dad is a good person.'
'And what? I am a bad person?'
'Yes! Enough!' And I end the conversation as another traveller approaches.
I was shaking, but felt incredibly light now that I had finally confronted him. I was also glad I would be out of town for several days and would not have to see him.
In the capital I relay all of this information to my other Program Manager, Mohssine. He is as disappointed and jarred by it all as I am, and decides that he does not want me back in my village until I have my own home, with a good lock. He realizes I cannot switch homestays without causing more problems, so he tells me to stay in Ouarzazate until he finds a solution. While I am still in Rabat, he calls the Village Association President and tells him he has five days to find me a house, or he will start looking for other solutions which may include moving me out of the site (a last, last resort, but the president doesn't know this). Our cover story is that Mohssine's boss wants me out since the homestay period is officially over, but Mohssine makes it clear to my host father (in a separate call) that this is because of his actions. The president calls that afternoon and says he found another house! I am suspicious, but agree to go see it with a PC staff member later that week. If it meets PC regulations for housing, I'll move in, if it doesn't I go back to Ouarzazate with the staff member. Well, the house did not meet regulations, but they are fixing it and it is supposed to be ready in a few more days. We will see, inshallah.

So that is why I have spent the last two weeks out of my site, which has been frustrating but tolerable. It does not help my homsickness to have no home. Hopefully just a little more now... I would also like to emphasize how well everyone in PC, especially Mohssine, has handled the situation. I feel incredibly well supported. I don't want you all to read this and worry about me. It has not been an easy few weeks, but I am faring well and keeping busy, visiting other volunteers and doing paperwork. Hopefully just a little more and this will all be over.

I love and miss you all,
Melanie

Current mood: anxious

Friday, August 12, 2005

5:00PM - Community Meetings

Hey all!

So I am back in Ouarzazate, and feeling pretty good about the work aspect of life here in Morocco. My Program Assistant, Aicha, came to visit Adam and I this week, and it went really well. I decided to use AIcha's presence as an excuse to hold a community meeting. Actually two, because in order to ensure that everyone can speak relatively freely, we had to have one meeting for the men and one for the women. In order to organize the meeting with the men, I had to tell my host father, who then told the men in the village and those on the Association (kind of like a city council). Some of the Association members, including all the officers, actually live in Ouarzazate, but are from the village. I know this sounds sort of unethical but there is a good reason for it. Educated men, who can read and write, don't tend to stay in my village. Their only option would be to farm, and they can provide much more support for their families and their communitiy if they get better paying jobs in the city. So I asked my host father to contact the men in Ouarzazate and let them know about the meeting. Luckily, it is August and a lot of them are vacationing in the village anyway.

The turnout at the men's meeting was decent. But the real benefit was mine, as I was finally able to meet the President, Hussein. I am so lucky to have this man as my Village Association President. I originally intended the meeting to be basic introductions of me and my work, and to float the idea of a village laundry station. Hussein took the meeting and turned it into a discussion about starting a Women's Association, something our village could really use, as an Association is the first step to many projects and finding funding. Some of the men were opposed to this, saying they didn't want their wives to neglect their work. Others said it would be good because the women would have something to do ther than gossip. Eventually Hussein was able to convince them of how benenficial startingthe Association could be for the whole village and the men reluctantly agreed.

Now for round two: the women. The women's meeting was packed. I had called this meeting by going around to each household and telling the women in the family of the meeting (can any one say RA?) with my host sisters. Actually, my sisters were so enthusiastic that they left without me and I had to run to catch up to them... So at least 50 women and older girls came to this meeting, and the dynamic was much different than the men's. The men were all quiet to begin with, but the women wouldn't stop talking. I figured once I started talking the clamor would die down, but it didn't. Some of the older girls ended up having to yell at the women to stop talking! Of course, yelling is par for the course so no one was offended and the meeting began. At this point, Hussein (the only man there except Adam, who wanted to watch how it went) jumped right in with the Women's Association and began asking for members. Slowly, women began to step up to be officers. Some had to send messengers to get their husband's permission, but they did it. It was amazing to watch. Most of these women cannot even read and here theyare bascally volunteering for public office. It was wonderful..

Needless to say, I was quite happy with the whole thing, and have been on a cloud since. Having a Women's Association was a long term goal, and now it just became a short term one.

Love,
Melanie

Current mood: inspired

Monday, August 8, 2005

10:04PM - The Illustrated Version...

Hello All!

So yes, after over two months of hiding in my village, I have finally had enough time in the cyber café to give you guys pictures! So here is the link, and then explainations:

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/dragonfly83/album?.dir=ffae&.src=ph&store=&prodid=&.done=http%3a//photos.yahoo.com/ph//my_photos

Okay, so the first two pics are of my family and neighbors cracking almonds in the courtyard.. Madness, yes!? The second picture is of the women in my family eating figs. For those of you who have not had fresh figs, they are absolutely delicious, and way better than anything that Newton guy makes! We eat them several times a day because they are literally falling off the trees in the fields. Sometimes we just walk around the fields and pull them off the trees and eat 'em right there! It's like exercise and snack time! Hehe.. The next is a pic of me and my friend Nadia, who is a huge and asset in terms of translations (she understands my Tashelheit better than anyone) and a lot of fun. In this picture she is wearing a man's hat and I have a scarf on because we kid around that she is my husband.. Don't ask how that got started.. The next is my cousin Mustafa with my PC bike. He can't ride it (yet) so he just puts the helmet on and walks it around the courtyard. It's the cutest thing.. Next, pretty moon, so not done justice in this picture. The next two are more for my work, but they are a couple of the natural springs that water our fields. Speaking of water, there is a drought this year and the farmers have been having to rip up their corn and feed the plants to the livestock because there is not enough water to keep it alive. It is painful to watch.. The next four pictures are of the gorges around my site. Hopefully you can tell how absolutely well, gorgeous, they are! The next five are of a trip to a local spring that I made with some of the girls. The spring is named Bilibao and it has a lot of iron in it, so it looks like rust coming out of the mountain. Tourists come from all over the local area to see it. Washing in it (as Malika and Rachida are doing) is supposed to be very good for your health... Tiloqaqan is my family's fields, where some of the figs and apricots grow (and probably some other plants, but somehow they don't seem as important...) The bat was one of the many nighttime visitors in my room. We bonded until he left me for nightfall. Ahh, the spider. Yeah, that's a pen next to it. It was huge! Any bug in the states is eight times larger in Morocco, including ants and species I swear were never meant to exist, so here is an example. One day I will share with youmy rant on Moroccan bugs, but until then the visual will have to suffice. The rest of the pics are of my trip to Tinghir to see my friend Amanda and to go swimming. When I asked Amanda to take a picture of me swimming, she thought it important to capture the dozen Moroccan men watching me as well...

So there you go. I am going to be traveling a lot the next two weeks, so should be able to write soon.. Oh, and about the having-my-own-house thing, don't ask just yet. Just pray for me.

Love you all dearly!
Melanie

Current mood: what is this?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

12:37PM - The Bee's Knees

Hello, Hello!

Well, it time for Almond Harvesting in my village, which means we are all out in the fields everyday, gathering almonds, and then in our houses shelling them. It's a great time to be out and about, because everyday the fields are filled with chatter and knocking sounds. What are these knocking sounds, you ask? Well, in order to only harvest the ripe almonds, the men (and sometimes the older girls) will climb the almond trees with long bamboo sticks and knock the branches so the ripe almonds fall to the ground. Once the tree is completely 'knocked out', the women and children pick up all the fallen almonds from the ground around the tree. That's actually the hardest part (for me, anyway) because it involves squatting and bending over for long preiods of time. In a village without chairs, though, everyone else is used to squatting so it doesn't seem to phase them.

I like the shelling part, because we all sit in the courtyard and work, work, work, and chat, chat, chat. Well, usually I just listen, listen, listen and try to keep up. Shelling almonds is mostly the women's work, but it's acceptable for men to do it. One person cracks the outer shell on a rock with a metal bar, while someone else goes through the cracked shells and picks out the almonds. I usually get stuck with that job, since my family is convinced I am going to break my fingers if I try to crack shells (they're probably right, although I refuse to admit it.) It's really great because at the end of an afternoon, the courtyard is covered with empty almond shells and buzzing with Berber gossip. Fun stuff.

So how did my survey go? Well, I gave myself three weeks to do it, and it only took a day and a morning. There are only 35 households in my visit, and having my friend Nadia along sped things up considerably. What also made it fast was that all the women hang out together, so that when I headed over to one of the community ovens, for example, I had five different houses represented all in one place. And the women were very happy to talk to me, telling me all about the difficulties of harvesting wood, and why butagas is so much better. It was great to listen to them, and be able to say that we are working on a solution... Which they desperately need. I found out the women in my village hike five hours out to get the wood, load up to 50kgs on their back, and hike five hours back. The only rest they get is Fridays (which is the Muslim day of rest and prayer), and July and August because of the heat. They have to wake up at three in the morning to go, so they can be back in time to do all their other work. It blew me away to hear this. I can't even imagine it, but come September, I'll see it first hand. Puts work in perspective, doesn't it?

As frustrating of a situation as it is, it makes my job easier, because it means the women will be willing to switch to butagas, despite the cultural implications. They informed me that the communities that insist on sticking to wood do so because it is readily available. They said they have no qualms cooking cous cous on buta if it means they don't have to go out and gather wood. I'm inclined to believe them.

So what now? Well, alternative sources of income is key here, and I have been racking my brain trying to come up with what my community could do that would be profitable and appropriate. I was thinking carpets, since Morocco is famous for them, and it has worked in other areas. The women i the village make absolutely gorgeous rugs and carpets. But for some reason the idea just wasn't sticking for me. Then my host dad told me he sold a liter of his honey to a man from the city for 400DH. That's about fifty dollars. A small fortune here in Morocco, a large fortune in my village. So what do you all think of a women's beekeeping co-op? It's a far away idea right now, but I have already requested all the info I can get on beekeeping from the PC Library. Can you imagine? Mel the beekeeper? Hehe... We'll see.. Everything I do is little by little, so don't get too excited (I tell myself).

In other news, I have found a house, and although there are a few small hang ups, Munia is ever closer to having her own little cottage in the mountains. I don't want to jinx it, so I won't give a date, but I will let you know as soon as I do. As much as I love my host family, the idea of being able to cook for myself, and walk around with my hair down or (gasp!) in a tank top, is irresistable. In a culture full of taboos and secret forbidden lines, it will nice to have a bubble bigger than my current bedroom in which to be myself. I love my work and my life here, but daily life is so completely different than anything I'm familiar with that I get tired often and easily. Time and space for myself is key to my sanity, and I can't wait to have more of it. Cross your fingers for me.

A little housekeeping: I have no idea why there are links to ads mixed in with my text, but I'm working on it. Let me know if you have any ideas on how to get rid of them..

Also, pictures coming soon. Next week, inshallah.

Love and miss you all,
Melanie

Current mood: content

Friday, July 8, 2005

6:55PM - It's hot.

Hey all,

So it's about 40°C here in Ouarzazate, which is about 104°F for all you non-metric folk. Although it's nice being somewhere with a shower, I still miss my site, where it's probably on 36°C, or 96°F. Practically freezing. :)

It has been a pretty eventful 10 days. Especially for the folk in my town. You see, on Wednesday night, Halima, who's my host father's sister's daughter, threw out her mother-in-law, the mother of my host father's mother's sister's son. Because she (Halima) is tshqa, or difficult. Halima and her husband are getting a divorce, but the husband doesn't even know about it all yet because he was working in another douar when this all happened. All this was the reason that my host mother chewed out her mother-in-law, right in front of me. It also made my dinner late. Throughout the entire crisis, which involved my whole family and I going outside at 10:30pm to hide in the shadows and listen to the neighbors argue, I hadn't the slightest idea what was going on. It took two, very long conversations the next day for me to figure all this out, and I still think I don't know the whole story. Now I know my village loves drama. Man do I hate drama... But I have to admit it did break up the week pretty well.

Now that you are all caught up on the village gossip, I can go on to other news, like that I have a job! I mean, like real work! Yay! After being a good PCV and spending my first month integrating, I had a meeting last week with several supervisors who deciced I, along with four other PCVs, could get started working. The two main issues we want to tackle in my douar are washing clothes in the river, and the gathering of fuelwood. The first acts dumps loads of soap into the stream everyday, and the second causes erosion and desertification. The laundry problem can be worked out by building a lavoire, which is basically a laundry room with heated water that filters the water before it goes back out into the stream. My role would be to help the community understand why they need it, see if they want it, and then organize both the community's contribution and outside funding. So it would be a lot of talking to my community members and then organizing. I can do that! The second issue we are tackling first by implementing a fuelwood survey, to be done by... me! I am going to learn everything there is to know about fuelwood gathering, all the ins and outs, especially the social aspects, and then I am going to survey each household for quantitative data. It's really exctiting to be able to finally put my name to something. :) The idea behind the survey is to figure out alternatives that are viable. Butagas, for instance (a bottled fuel, like propane) is a great alternative from an environmental perspective, but first it costs money (and firewood is free), and also there are cultural taboos about cooking certain meals with anything other than fuelwood. Think of is this way: wouldn't you be resistant if someone came to your door and told you not to use the oven because it's bad for the environment, cook everything in your microwave instead. So it's a challenge. Other alternatives include solar cookstoves, but may face similar cultural issues. Ultimately, though, we are not looking to eliminate fuelwood gathering, just cut it down significantly. There should be a certain amount of support though, for alternatives, because the gathering of fuelwood is a lot of hard work for the women of the community. They walk for miles and carry very heavy loads (50kg) on their backs. One idea to pay for butagas is to use the time that they would be gathering firewood to work on a marketable craft, like carpet weaving. (The women make gorgeous rugs. One is definitely coming home with me!). But all that is a long way off... Imik s imik (little by little). I'll be starting the survey next week, Tashelheit don't fail me now!!

In other news, I got very, very sick last week. The Medical Officer thinks it was heat exhaustion. I don't have any idea what it was, all I know is I felt like I got hit by a truck. All of the sudden one afternoon I felt incredibly tired, and ended up feeling like I had the chills in a sauna for the next 24 hours. It was definitely the sickest I have ever been, and I hope it was a one time thing. (Haha). Now don't everybody worry, the PCMO took good care of me (by cell phone), as did my host family. I recovered after only a couple days, and am fine now. I just thought I'd share ALL the aspects off Peace Corps life...

Well, it's hot (have I mentioned that?) so I am going to stop here. I love and miss you all! Take care of yourselves!

-Melanie

Current mood: hot but happy

Monday, June 27, 2005

11:31PM - News and the Moroccan DMV

Hello, Hello,

This post will stay relatively short, considering the length of last week's post and lack of events since then. I would like to share some news with you all, though.

First comes first, Adam has decided to stay. Hamdullah. His personal reasons for leaving worked themselves out, essentially, and he's happy to be able to stay. I'll bet I'm happier. The next two years looked a whole lot lonlier without him...

So Oualid, my host cousin who was very sick, is better, although not back to normal. It turns out he has some sort of digestive problem, but I can't tell you more specifically because my language is still limited. I am at a certain crossroads because of this. My family has poor hygiene, and Oualid's sickness has brought this to the forefront of my concerns. It is very likely that his sickness has to do with how young his immune system is, and all the different things he is constantly exposed to. I want to give them basics tips on hygiene, like using soap to wash their hands and dishes, but I don't want to make them think I am blaming them, nor do I want to preach. Luckily, my Program Manager is in town right now, and tomorrow I plan to ask for advice. I am not even sure I should say anything at this point, but maybe I'm just scared...

On a lighter note, I am officially a Moroccan resident now. After much hubbub, I got my identity card. Actually, I got a receipt saying I turned in all the paperwork for my identity card, which I have to renew every month for the next three months, until I get my actual card. Then I am free and clear for an entire nine months. First I'd like to tell you all that you may never again complain to me about the DMV. Compared to Morocco, the US DMV is the epitomy of effective, streamlined beaurocracy. What I wouldn't do for a two hour wait... It is very appealing now compared to the four Saturday mornings and one Monday afternoon I spent fighting with my commune (local government) over one document, my proof of residence. Although everyone is convinced I live there, no one actually wants to put their name behind it. Everyone needs approval from their higher up. And every time I went to the commune office, they would take down all my information, including my parents' names, onto whatever scrap of paper was available and keep it. (It sort of reminded me of when Christopher would stuff things in his socks and pant legs just to have it.) Then they would tell me they had never heard of this proof of residence certificate I speak of, and that I have to get it from the police. The thing is, the police told me to get it from my commune. So I had to travel the 50km to Ouarzazate, and get the police to call the commune and insist they have to give me the document. That day I returned to the commune, only to find they have a form for a proof of residence. Here they were, telling me over and over that they didn't know what I'm talking about, and they had a form for it the whole time. I began feeling rather volatile. After I start filling out this form, the commune secretary notices I'm left-handed and asks me "Why?" I was flabbergasted. What do you mean "why?" Why do you have two legs? He then asks me if it is better than being right-handed. At this point, I was in no mood for stupid questions (yes, there are stupid questions), so I look up at him unable to answer. He takes this as me not understanding his question, so he repeats himself. At this point, I wanted to jump across the table and strangle him (with the my left hand), but I just made some stupid comment about "because I am" instead... Very unsatisfying. I finally got the certificate after four weeks of trying (and three weeks of being an illegal alien), but it involved leaving ALL of my documents, including my passport, at the commune office for a week. It was a bit stressful. But done now, phew.

In other news, I found out today I am getting a PC-issue mountain bike, which is really exciting because now my hikes can go much farther. And they'll be bikes, not hikes. Harhar. Sorry, it's pretty late and I'm exhausted. I had no transit (with or without cows) this morning so at 6am I hiked from my site to the closer town. It took two and a half hours, which isn't so bad, except on most days I'd have just finished breakfast by then.

Well, take care of yourselves you all!

Peace be upon you,
Melanie

Current mood: exhausted

Sunday, June 19, 2005

11:17AM

Hello All!

So after almost four weeks in the bled, or countryside, I am back in Ouarzazate, armed with lots of info and fun facts for you. I have missed the constant communication of training, but it is well worth knowing I have actually started. So started what, you ask? Well...


My Site:

Is beautiful. No really. There are no prettier sites in Morocco. I am positive. Each mountain has its own special color and shape. There is the sharp, spiked, black mountain. There is the mountain that looks like it was made by pouring mud out of bucket. There is the red mountain, and the one right next to it is pink. There is the sand colored mountain, with a collection of boulders at the top (lets hope they stay there). I call that one my phone booth because it gives me full cell phone reception.

And in between all these mountains are gorges filled with greenery and fauna. The farming fields are filled with almond trees, which are aparently amazing in the spring. Of course right now my favorite tree is the mishmash tree, apricot. Don't tell peaches or strawberries but they are starting to become my favorite fruit... Or course the season just ended (which means the kids, and yeah, maybe me, ate all the friut off the trees) so I may change my mind when the pomegranites are ready.

I try to hike as much as I can. Although there is a good road for running, I've decided to do more hiking instead. I get to see more of the greenery and wildlife, and it takes longer, which is great because I always need to fill my time. The wildlife is amazing; I can see why it is part of the Biodiversity project. There are chameleons (big ones!), green lizards with blue heads, tons of snakes (which the locals kill, but I am working on that), copious amounts of frogs, more birds than I knew existed, and I even saw a hare once. Alledgedly there are gazelles, but I haven't seen one yet, which should make counting them interesting...

The weather is hot. But nice. We are right next to the desert, and the mornings, oddly enough, are the worst. By afternoon the breeze comes in, and sometimes brings clouds, and that is when I try to hike. Trying to do anything in the direct sunlight is ridiculous, but in the afternoon the gorges offer plenty of shade and wind for hiking. Occasionally there are thunder storms, which is really fun. I love Northern California, but the rain has always been disappointing. I am glad to be back in a place where thunder storms are a standard.


Daily Life:

My first week at site, the mosquitoes were biting my hands so bad I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like they were on fire: I would have to put water on them, so I finally wisened up and put up my PC-issue mosiquito net (I forgot I had it) so now I am bite free, and can't help but feel like I am in an exotic foreign country every time I get in and out of bed. "Bed" is a blanket on top of a Berber rug on my floor, but I don't mind it all. My house actually has no furniture. Just rugs and pillows.

Food: This one is for you, Mom. I eat pretty much the same thing every day, but it is delicious so I cannot complain. For breakfast I have homemade bread with apricot jam and tea. Then, at 10am, we have more bread and jam, but sometimes we have this porridgey stuff called tirowet, and tea. They can make the tirowet from barley, wheat, or corn, and corn is my favorite. It's a sort of mush, that's served in a big plate in the middle (like everything) and we all eat from the sides. I get a spoon but most of the women just use their hands. They make balls of the meal and then dip it in the pool of melted butter sitting in the middle of the dish. It's absolutely delicious (my stomach rumbles as I type). Then at 2pm we have lunch, which is tagine, usually with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and chicken. Which we eat with bread, and tea. Then at four or five we have bread and coffee, or tea. And then for dinner, at 10pm usually, we have yummy cous cous with some kind of squash (I don't know what it is in English) and tea. I eat well, so I try to hike a lot too. :)

Clothes, Hygiene, and General Cleanliness: I wear long sleeved shirts with long skirts and leggings underneath everyday, no matter the weather. It's a variation of Berber dress, which suits me fine and doesn't seem to attract a lot of attention. I only wear a bandana on my head if my hair is dirty, and even then it is obviously not to cover my hair. In some ways it feels like a uniform, but it's practical and relatively cool considering how much skin it covers. In order to wash my clothes I have to do it in the stream, which involves dumping laundry detergnt in the water, which makes me feel horrible about being an Environment volunteer, but there really is no other way to do it, and being at the stream washing my clothes with all the other women really helps me meet people and chat and intergrate. Once a girl asked me how I washed my clothes in the US, and I felt ridiculous as I explained to her we literally put it in a machine and hit a button. I couldn't even bring myself to tell her about the dryer...

Showers aren't actually showers, they're bucket baths, and I use maybe five gallons of water for my whole bath, and I come out way cleaner than I ever did in the States. I also go in a lot dirtier, though... I bathe about every other day, which is a lot compared to everyone else, but it's not a problem. I am actually really grateful it's summmer, because the water that comes out of the pipes is warm, which means no one has to heat water for me to bathe (they would never let me heat it myself). If this weren't the case I would bathe every three days so as not to trouble my already overworked family members.

Transportation: This is my favorite. Let me just tell you how I got to the weekly market last week and you will understand why... The only transportation to and from my village is transits, which are vans owned by a couple guys who live there. They look like they are about to fall apart but the drivers must take good care of the engines and tires because we've never had a problem. So, last week my father and I get up at 5am to head to the market when he stops and says there is no transit. He can't see it from our roof so it must not be coming. It had rained heavily the night before so perhaps there was no road? We sit on the roof and wait some more. Finally at about quarter to six we see the van and start to make our way across the valley to where it leaves from. When we get to the van we see that it was late because it stopped at another village and picked up two cows. They were standing in the back of the van, looking rather grumpy. Because so many of us go to the market, one of the cows had to be taken out of the van to make room for the rest of us. So there I was, in a van with some ten Moroccan men and a cow mooing in the back, as we made our way over the twelve kilometers of bumpy mountain road. That is my transportation, and I love it.


My Host Family:

Is huge. There are four families (all related) under one roof. At first I was worried about so many people to get to know, but now I like having the variety. It also means I meet a lot people with little effort, since my house seems to be a social center. My host father is wonderful. He is on the Village Association, and the School Association. He works very hard to help the people of his community get what they need, and he cannot even read. He also knows how to talk to me so I will understand, and help me manuver this totally different culture without being overbearing. He's great. I also get a long very well with an aunt, who is only a few years older then me. She is smart, and strong, and helps include me in the local happenings. I have another aunt who always yells my name "MUNIA!" right before she says anything to me, as if it will awaken the Tashelheit in me and I will magically understand everything she says thereafter. She cracks me up.


Language:

I am learning, and things are coming along well, although I constantly mix up words and say things like "Careful, the rocks are bland," when I mean slippery and "I am the roof," when I mean I'm on it. I swear Tashelheit is made up of the same six letters, just rearranged differently. The words frog, rock, man and field are all one letter apart. As are the words for woman and goat. You can see how dangerous that is... Also, the tenses and conjugations of verbs have only one or two letter differences, so I often find myself in situations where I understand what happened, but not to whom or when. It makes for much confusion. One benefit is in Tashelheit, you always state the obvious. Whenever I do anything they tell me what I am doing (they do this to each other too). If I get back from a hike, the say "You returned." When I am washing clothes they say "You are doing laundry," etc. It helps me learn vocabulary quickly, but it also means that once I know the word the whole exchage gets on my nerves, because of course, I have to respond: "You went hiking," they say. "I went hiking," I respond. It can be tiring...


Other news:
While the simplicity of a life of subsistence farming can be romantic, I want to share with you all an event last week that reminded me of I am here. While we cannot assume any way of life is better than another, there are certain basic rights people with less are denied. Oualid, the 18 month old son of Fatima, my favorite Aunt, was very sick last week. He had a temperature of 103°F. Fatima had to take him to the closest health clinic by mule, since the transit had left for the day. All I had to offer her was my umbrella to block the glaring sun. Two days later Oualid was no better, in fact we found out later his temperature was up to 107°F. So they had to take him to Ouarzazate where they paid over 30 US Dollars for his medication, a fortune in the bled, and he is getting a bit better. In the States this baby would be able to take a car to a doctor and get care from someone who speaks the same language as his parents, and his parents would be able to read and fill out all the paperwork on their own. Here, those are all luxuries.. Oualid is getting better, and I'll let you know next week how he is doing, but I just wanted to give a complete picture of the last few weeks...

And, last but not least, Adam is going home. For his own personal reasons, which I completely understand, he has decided he needs to go back to the US and take care of some things. I am losing my site mate and best friend in over a hundred miles, but I'm okay. I'll miss you, Adam.


I love and miss you all,
Melanie

Current mood: sad

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