Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday in Spain

I may take a holiday in Spain
Leave my wings behind me
Drink my worries down the drain
Fly away to someplace new.
-- Counting Crows

Barcelona. Christmas displays. Christmas lights decorating the streets. Narrow streets. Fountains. Street cleaner. Cobblestones. Short/straight bangs. High boots and short skirts. Royal purple. Designer boutiques. Graffiti. Beautiful graffiti. Murals painting the public walls. Alcohol, wine and spirits for sale in convienient stores. Supermarkets that are really 7-11s. Restaurants on every corner. Birthday celebration. I LOVE BARCE souvenirs. Old men trading bottle caps, old calling cards, stamps and coins. Artisana vendors. Cars that stop for pedestrians. Pedestrians who wait for the "to walk" signal. Paella at Salamanca Restaurant. Half bottle of wine. Accordion player. Free chupada. Great customer service. Flowers for sale on the street. Open food market. Produce imported for all over. Strawberries from Chile. Grapes from Italy. Local carrots. Artisanal cheese. One-year old fart cheese. Sausage. Pork. Pig. Salsa Bravo. Chino. Arc de Triumph. Rollar blader, fully padded. Resting in the park. Train station. Toast. Cereal. Hot tea. Central heating in the hostel. Don't need to bring your own toilet paper. It's already there! Laundry machine. Meeting fellow travelers. Seperating trash. Dumpster bins for landfill, organic waste, paper recyling and cans. Drummers on the street. Colorful scarf. Warm hat. Thundering beat of percussion. Bookstore. Soccer. Tapas and canas. Baguette. Gaudi archituecture. Gaudi Park. Curved stones. Living fences. Floral tiles. Arab tiles. Mixing of the two. Casa Battlo. No straight lines. A breathing, living house. Rippled ceiling. Bouncing light. Roof. Masterpiece. Art. Art everywhere.

Alicante. Traveling by train. Ham and cheese sandwiches. Extremely comfortable seats. Free upgrade to a studio apartment. Central heating. Turbo shower. Dial for the water temperature. Six different functions. Moroccan store owner. Talking in Darija. Grilled cheese. Hot soup. Pinchos. Eating pincho after pincho and not being full. Take-out Chinese. Ordering in Chinese. Giant christmas tree. Climbing up top a mountain. Seeing all of Alicante. Beach town. Rooftops. Cathedrals. Omellete. Bread. Sausage.

Madrid. Produce market. The Museum of Ham. 1 euro canas. sausages on the side. Doughnuts. Christmas trees in each plaza. Dove Christmas lights. Joy. Churrero and chocolate. Master Churrero. Merry-go-around. Holiday shopping. HUGE bubbles. Wine glasses. Candied sunflower seeds. Museums. Champagne. Retailed out. Skyscraper long billboards. Pizza. Turkey slices with olives and extra fat. Used books for sale. Lisa came to visit! Talking. Interrupting. Sangria. Olives. Paella.

Toledo. Bus leaves on time. No waiting. Roll back time. Medieval. Renaissance. Old walls. Daggers, swords, shields. Dolly and Picasso museum. Arab doors. Moroccan style houses, with courtyard in the middle. Open windows. Reeses peanut butter cups. Salad. Broccoli. Spinach. Homemade croutons. Four cheese. We haven't been in a "real" supermarket in awhile. Cobble stones. Marzipan. Christmas music blasting in the streets. Moroccan store owner from Khouribga. Moroccan hookahs, lamps, candles, ash trays. Stores closing early. Hot tea. Harold and Maude. Waking up later than planned. Everything omelets. Taking the next bus to Madrid, then Granada.

Granada. Former Arab Empire. Arab doors. Moroccan tiles. Yellow-orange, dark green, royal blue. Geometric tiles. Clean, well-organized garden. Alhambra. Reflections in the water. Mandarins. Stealing a mandarin. Familiar Arabic script on the ceilings. Moroccan star. Palace de Youssef. General life. Stone mosiacs. Murals on renewable energy, environment and indegenous peoples. Rain. Umbrellas. Map with coupons. Free magarita. Mexican food. Tapas and canas for 2 euros. Big tapas, fries included. Reindeer by the fountain.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving/L'aid Kbir

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything thy goodness sends.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What could be more glorious than friends and family gathering to share a meal and give thanks?! Thanksgiving comes just a couple days for L'aid Kbir. After months of hectic work, I'm thankful for this week of rest. I'm thankful for everything I've accomplished with these women. Correction- I'm thankful for everything they're learning and doing. Frankly, these two years aren't about me and what I do. It's always about what they can do after I leave. And they're learning all that.

I spent Thursday cleaning my house- top to bottom and inside out. Fatima happened to be washing clothes. We carried over bucket after bucket of laundry water. I flooded my house before mopping it clean. That water was then recycled again to flush my toilet. I'm thankful for gray water. I'm thankful for an immaculately clean house. I'm thankful for my small and "green" house.

Then I hammam-ed. It's been a long time coming. In my village, each family has their own one to three-person hammam. In this tubular, cement hut, I got a deep clean with only one and a half buckets of water! I'm thankful for the hammam, very thankful.

Matt and Tanie, a new YD (Youth Development) couple in my souq town, came over my house for a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. We ate green beans, mashed potatoes, vegetable lasagna and cinnamon buns! We cheered to sparkling cider. Yum! I'm thankful for good company. I'm thankful for my new neighbors and excited for their service.

Before L'aid, I spent any downtime working on new products- necklaces, earrings, headbands and bags. I want the women to revisit their embroidery work in the new year. The possibilities could be endless. I'm thankful for these ladies- their enthusiasm and kind hearts.

Saturday was L'aid, which I spent with my host family. Here's the day's highlights in photos:

Ba Ali slaughtered the sheep. Bismillah. After a couple seconds, the sheep started kicking and splashing its blood everywhere. Luckily I was not splattered.

We went to Abinziz's house for lunch, which was everything meat. Kababs after kababs, sheep tagine, then boiled sheep parts. This year, unlike last, they've accepted that I don't particularly enjoy meat, letting me stop eating as I wish. ONE kabab and alittle sheep tagine = laygan lbaraka. llay xalif.

I spent the afternoon playing with the little ones and visiting various families in my douar, wishing them L'aid mubarak lawashir.

I've passed the one year mark in site. Every now and then, I'm reminded of everything I don't want to leave behind. And then again, I've been away from home for awhile. I'm also reminded of everything I've left.

Currently appreciating:
*Moroccan's close connection with food. Sheep meat doesn't arrive in frozen packages. For countless people in my village, they raise it. They slaughter it. And they prepare all the meat- start to grill. Similarly is their relationship with fruit and vegetables, particularly in my region. Everything comes from their backyard, literally.

*Having my own house, so I can escape from the blood filled streets/meat and eat vegetables!

*Somia coming over to help me make cinnamon buns with frosting. Omima coming over to taste test.

*Copper chrocheted necklace with added djellaba beads and turquoise stones. Just wait until January when I teach these ladies this product!

*New headband made by Amina and I. She'll pick up the necessary raw materials and show everyone how we made it when I'm away on vacation! Sweeet.

*Clutch purse patterns and prototypes. Filling up my sketch book with Moroccan tile designs.

*Heba's Moroccan jokes. Heba is possibly the sweetest five year old in my site. She's respectful, obedient and always smiling. I visited her house yesterday and she couldn't stop telling me joke after joke. Too cute.

*Old/new clothes from a PCV who recently finished her two-year service.

*My new pondg that hugs me when I lie on it.

*Mushy apples. That gives me a perfect excuse to make applesauce.

*Kicking off my socks in bed, under two blankets.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So-Youn Kim

Monday night, I received shocking news that So-Youn Kim, a YD volunteer who arrived with my staaj (training group), passed away unexpectedly. I only briefly knew her. She had a fiery spirit, that was both polarizing and admirable. This past month, she organized two well-received pottery workshops. My heart ached not being able to attend. My heart aches for her passing, her community (both in Morocco, Peace Corps and the States) and her family.

The following is a letter written by Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams:

I am deeply saddened to report a respected member of our Peace Corps family in Morocco, Volunteer So-Youn Kim, unexpectedly passed away today after an illness.

So-Youn, 23, a native of San Francisco and a 2007 graduate of Stanford University, had been serving for one year as a Youth Development Volunteer in Tamagourte. Her primary assignment was in a youth center where she was involved in a wide range of activities in her dual role as English teacher and youth development worker.

Her secondary activities focused on helping the village of Tamagourte’s pottery cooperative and developing an apprenticeship program. She got her hands dirty both literally and figuratively with the lives, pottery and culture of her community. She loved to teach children, support the cooperative and respect the historic craft that is so firmly rooted in that region of Morocco.

So-Youn was a remarkable writer, a voracious reader, a tireless advocate and talented in many languages. Thoughtful and hopeful would be the best way to describe her Peace Corps Aspiration Statement and other communications she has shared.

In September 2008, she wrote: “Youth development work is effective when young people are taught to become educated, empowered, and responsible members of their communities while being given space to explore and share the challenges of their own individual identities.”

This is an ethos and passion So-Youn brought with her to Morocco. I am sharing the news of this tragedy with the hope that all of you will honor her commitment to service by providing the best support, comfort and opportunities to our dedicated Volunteers and staff around the world.

So-Youn wrote recently, “I believe in the power of the day to day, the simple yet otherwise impossible conversations, the truths that I speak and live that affect the people around me as I learn from the truths around me in turn.”

I couldn’t agree with her more.

Please join me in keeping So-Youn’s family and friends in your thoughts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mushmina on Youtube!

Here's a clip of Mushmina on YouTube. There's several photos taken from my douar (village).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

There are no mistakes, save one:
the failure to learn from a mistake.

-- Robert Fripp

My ladies have a history of laziness. No, I take that back. They have a history of being dependent on their PCV. As much as they gained from the previous volunteers, these ladies have been sheilded from the true realities of owning a business. Throw in conservative Moroccan culture and risk adverse behavior into the mix, you get an ugly result. Let me explain.

December 2008, Taroudant. In December 2008, they threw me into the fire. There was a ten-day exhibition in Taroudant. That's an hour away. They wanted to go. Although no one could stay for the whole duration, they figured out a system to tag-team back and forth. That's what I thought. Saturday rolled around and suddenly no one could go. Do I man the stand by myself? I almost wanted to but did not. That's not my role.

I tried explaining all this with my then chicken-scratch language. What did the ladies learn? 1) It's hard to understand her language and jumbled up thoughts. 2) Joy or "Touria" still isn't adjusted to Moroccan life. 3) We missed out on an opportunity because she backed out. In otherwords, they didn't learn anything.

October 2009, Fes. Fast forward to June. I committee of PCVs, spearheaded by Lynn, organized MarcheMaroc. This consisted of workshops, two-day exhibition and individual product quality consultations. I told them about the event before the Women's Center closed its doors for summer vacation. Great! They wanted to go. In late August, the officers showed signs of hesitation. The summer passed and most ladies did not make their assigned quota. We didn't have stock. Ok, that's not a problem. I ran around town ordering bracelet production. I checked back in with them individually mid-September. We have some product- not great but not bad. Who can go? After a headache week of running around town, I got excuses and more excuses. They backed out of an expenses paid-for training and craft fair. Wow.

That's two strikes. They need to learn. Good development work empowers local counterparts. Therefore, I sat down with the officers. I walked them through the event's photos. I talked about the workshops, the feedback I received, exhibition and who sold what, who made how much, product consultations, concert... everything. Before I finished, the Association officers told me they regretted not going.

Ok. That's a start. Now I want to see different results. Did they really learn? Or was all that just talk?

December 2009, Rabat. AIWA organizes an incredible craft fair each year in December. This bazzar has built a reputation for heavy foot traffic. And what do the customers want? Small, cute products to stuff in stockings. And what do we have? A blooming line of crocheted jewelry, which fits in their price range and a Christmas stocking. AIWA always waves the fee for a handful of artisans who work with Peace Corps. We need to go. I'll ET (Early Termination) if they tell me they aren't interested.

I mentioned this opportunity the same week as my MarcheMaroc lecture. They want to go. The Association president even orders ladies to make stock after they finish thier portion of the Mushmina order. That's a good sign. Nice! In following conversations, I explain that all expenses must be covered by us. Can I give them a financial gift? No! (Now I have no problem yelling at them or being blunt.) They're a business. They need to learn how to cover their expenses in full. I explain the concept behind wholesale prices and retail prices. We work through some costing and pricing. They take a microloan from me. I am shielding them from a certain degree of risk. But they need baby steps. This might be the necessary stepping stone to taking out a "real" microloan.

By the grace of God, we were selected to attend AIWA Craft Fair. We secured one of four places! Incredible. And they ladies are halfway done making the necessary bracelet stock. I had a training of the trainers workshop on crocheting with copper. Monday, I will start all the ladies on crocheted copper bracelets. After that, we'll make similar earrings (both thread and copper wire). Two women are fighting over the right to attend this fair. I couldn't be more happy.

Lessons learned? Guilt works. Persistance pays. And now I cannot wait for December.

Currently appreciating:
*The magic of adding baking soda to boiling chic peas and making hummus from scratch.

*Great visit from my Progam Assistant, complete with a chicken tagine and locally made fur hats!

*Productive day in Marrakech. I had a working lunch with Mushmina, meeting with Marrakech's Artisana Delegate, successful bead shopping and spice hunting, trip to the supermarket, topped off with a hot shower and beer to end the evening. What's impossible?

*Being on the PST (Pre-Service Training) Panel. I got to meet the new trainees. They're a tremendous group, with great depth of experience and variety of expertise. Moroccan artisans are lucky!

*Lunch at the Cascades with those on the PCV Panel. Awesome day, awesome lunch, beautiful smiles from beautiful people.

*Natural dye and color workshops in Bzou. Lynn and I prepared most of the natural dye. It's not as hard as it seems. I cannot wait to teach this technique to my ladies!

*Halloween in Bzou- complete with ridiculous/creative costumes and a carved pumpkin! Tim and I carved the pumpkin. Rebecca's neighborhood kids then went nuts.

*Good conversation with my counterpart and Association president, Aicha. She's too good.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The world was once made of gold.
--Cuna Mythology

I'm nearing year two and time is running away from me. Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings I lead aerobics. On average, nine have been coming! That was last year's peek number. I also teach English classes three times a week. And by popular demand, I will start English tutoring next month. The ladies are on a schedule to finish an export order, stock, start three new products by l'aid kbir. I've scheduled training of the trainer workshops, workshops and product critics with the ladies. I'm in conversation with Programing staff about the Childcare Project. Add regular house visits and errands... I'm a happily busy lady! Awesome. Stop.

That's why yesterday I wanted to catch my breath. Stop. For whatever reason, I needed to hide. But around three o'clock, knock knock knock on my doors. Some neighborhood girls want to play. They want to color. They want to try learn new exercise moves. We spent hours in my house coloring and playing. We then spent the evening in their nearby field. This just reminds me of everything I can't leave behind. Not yet. I still have time to enjoy all this. Stop. Breathe.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I am always doing that which I cannot do,
in order that I may learn how to do it.
--Pable Picasso

I've learned and fallen in love with crocheting. It works out nicely that my ladies' best selling products are crocheted bracelets. Here's a little about two of my completed projects:

Morocco is Mika (plastic) Mecca. Moroccans love their plastic bags. They bag and double bag everything. I had bought several ChicoBag's original reusable two years ago from GreenFestival. And I absolutely love it. I always bring it to souq. My vegetable and fruit seller both know I don't need a plastic bag. My favorite hanut owener now asks where is my reusable bag. Apparently my efforts weren't sufficient. After a year living here, I realized I still used a significant amount of mika.

Thankfully, plastic bags actually make good thread. I flattened each mika, cut it into strips and then threaded the cut pieces together to form one long thread. Now I have another reusable bag to bring with me as I run errands! Trash to treasure! This project got the ladies excited and talking about littering. Inchallah we can do a town clean-up project.

Morocco's economy runs on cash. And my little coin purse become tethered a year-in. I crocheted this coin purse, using the color-switching technique I learned from a stagmate.

Currently appreciating:
*Making alfredo sauce from the Peace Corps Cookbook. A new staple of mine!

*The sisterhood bond between the ladies at my nedi. Amina just had an eye operation. After the nedi, we all pitched in 10 dhs, went to wish her well and enjoy each other's company outside the Women's Center doors.

*The warmth of the sun around 10am. It's like a warm hug. And I'm happy to soak in some vitamin D. A new season is knocking on my doorstep.

*Our improved line of crocheted bracelets!! Accent beads can make all the difference. Just wait until our line of similar earrings come into full effect!

*Mushmina's visit. These two sisters are living my dream. And they fit in perfectly with the dynamic in this Women's Center! They came for a beading workshop. Below is a photo of Kate, Mushmina's designer, working with Ikram, an extremely creative girl and awesome English student! Find the crocheted bracelets from my ladies at Queen Anne Dispatch, Queen Anne, Seattle, WA. Whoo!

*Crocheted copper bracelets. Finally, all my raw material hunting, experimenting and crocheting has paid off. It's a higher-end bracelet (compared to the bracelets above) with a higher profit margin! I cannot wait until the ladies finish their stock of the thread bracelets and start on this.

*Seeing community members care so deeply about the Childcare Project. They've mustered together 48 percent community contribution! Talk about impressive.

*The restart of aerobics classes. This past week, over 13 women came! That's around last year's peek number. And we're happily moving and shaking to new beats. It's NOTHING compared to running on my own.

*Good vibes coming out from MarcheMaroc. The day of workshops and craft fair went incredibly well! Artisans gave such great feedback. We saw them use their workshop lessons during the exhibition. Of the 30 artisan groups/individuals, they sold over 53,000 dhs worth of products. Awesome. My ladies backed out. I showed them photos and talked through what heppenned. They really regretted their decision. On the flip side, they know the importance of stock. AND they promised me they could attend an up-coming exhibition in Rabat if chosen. Awesome.

*The last thread from umd2008 listserve and our countless memories not included. Glory days. It came at the perfect time, after a frustrating week. You guys have no idea how much I wish I could be at homecoming.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Limits and Abilities

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.
Teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
--Lao Tzu

Don't we all know that quote? Teach a man to fish. Help him, help himself. In the development world, that's the moto. Let's avoid the tragedies as outlined in Michael Maren's Road to Hell. No gifts. No handouts... at least not without sincere local contribution. Development work means building human capacities and transferring needed skills. Think: sustainability. That's the litmus test for any project. Sustainability. Sustainability. Sustainability. How can this be "sustainable"?

Over the past year, such college theory has come to life. Good intentions only go so far. Sometimes, good intentions are no good at all. Living in the community I work means Moroccan counterparts constantly test my boundaries. I found myself reitterating my limits agan and again. I wouldn't change a thing. Because within my limits, lies my contribution as a PCV. Here's a little about what I mean:

Money Matters. I frequently run errands in a nearby town. I need to. I live by myself. If I don't, no one else will do it for me. Consequently, the Association officers often depend on me to pick up raw materials. However, they don't always hand me the cash beforehand. Do I smile and say, no worries it's on me? NO! If they are serious business women, they need to understand costs and expenses. The treasurer records all purchases I've made on their behalf. She clearly documents everything on a page entitled "Bank Touria." And from time to time, she pays me and clears their balance sheet. Granted I'm shielding them for a certain amount of risk. However, I am not funding their product production. I'm advancing credit. Now that my language skills have improved, we can talk about microcredit. There are various lenders in Morocco, particularly to women's groups. We'll see if that's the next step they want.

My current rent situation falls on similar lines. Back in May, my landlord (and next door neighbor) asked me for 3,000 dhs. She just finished building the hammem. The worker was coming later in the week and she was short money. (Don't ask me why she didn't figure the math earlier. I don't know.) I sat down with her and explained my terms. Each month's rent is 600 dhs (approx. $77.55). Giving her 3,000 dhs means advancing her five months rents. However, that stands seperate from my share of electricity and water (we share a meter). She understood and signed off five months on my rent receipt. No problem. October is rounding its corner and my loan has been paid back in full. I cannot give out gifts. But I can teach people about microcredit.

Childcare Project. As expressed early in my service, the women want to finish the nedi roof and provide childcare services and preschool for the village. This means applying for grants, which means creating a project plan and writing a budget. I've held workshops on certain aspects of the grant proposal. Back in May we started talking about the budget. They handed me a rough start. I gave them specific feedback on changing the budget structure. But I never got a revised draft. Do they not care? Or do they not understand?

Through various conversations, finishing the nedi roof remained a top priority. Therefore, I created a blank budget for them to fill in. I told them October is the deadline. I can give them a structure to follow. I'm not going to run around, get price quotes, negotiate with a foreman, etc. If these ladies went this, they'll hunt and organize this information. And if this is truly important, they'll finance 25 percent.

It's not even October and officers have filled-in almost everything. More importantly, they tracted local funding sources and gathered community contribution. We still need to rework the details of this budget and go over the calculations. That I can work with them. I'm simply proud they've done the heavy lifting themselves. Wonderful!

Training the Trainers. My favorite and most rewarding work has been in product development. The Association needed to rethink their line of products. This past year, we focused on developing a line of crocheted assessories. I used a "training the trainers" model when playing with product development. Training the trainers is the popular model workshops. It inherently has a capacity building compenent. Development agents teach a skill, instill new knowledge and motivation to local leaders who, in turn, pass it on. I work with a handful of women, namely those who are more motivated and have a higher skill level. We experiment together. Once we've perfected our idea, they teach the rest. I do this for a number of reasons: 1) It's easier for me. I can work closely with a couple of ladies. Together, we can toy around with various ideas. 2) They can better explain and teach the rest than I ever can. Sure my language has improved, but I'm not on par with a native speaker. No way! 3) I can work on different product ideas simultaneously. Over the summer, two women worked with me on three different ideas. Sweet! 4) It cuts down on experiment costs. I'll post product photos soon!

Letting them make mistakes. Part of learning is making mistakes. In April, the officers negotiated business relationship with a local eco-tourism enterprise. They brought sample products over. The buyer was so impressed, she took everything. She even commissioned four tablecloth and napkin sets. This particular tablecloth and napkin set design required intricate and time consuming needlework. Furthermore, only five women know how to do it. Needless to say, the officers underestimated the time necessary to buy the raw materials and finish the handiwork. In fact, the ladies themselves had no idea. They never had such an order. They never counted. The officers were solely responsible to renegotiate each deadline. Only recently, have I sat down with them and asked, "What really happenned? And what can we learn?" Now they know. Now they really know.

Marche Maroc. "Teaching them to fish" has also meant being comfortable with their decisions. As I've mentioned previously, Peace Corps along with USAID, American Language Center, University Al Akhawayn and the Maroc Artisanat organized a Craft Fair in Fes. There's a day of workshops, two day craft fair and concert for 60 Moroccan artisans. I first presented this information to my counterpart back in June. Sounds great! They said they'd love to go. I reconfirmed the details late August. The president told me she was doubtful- we don't have enough stock. The summer passed and not all ladies made their quota. I laid out my reasons why we need to go. Then I ran around town, telling everyone about the craft fair and ordering them to produce.

That was early September. I checked in, individually, with Association officers throughout September. Each time they expressed doubt. Each time I spelled out reasons this opportunity is too good to pass up- transportation/lodging/table/couscous lunch paid for, workshops, product quality consultations, University Al Akhawayn's Fair Trade website idea, networking, product testing, etc. Each time I made them to say yes. Technically, I got "not no-s." Whatever. Good enough. I can keep pushing. "Not no-s" means there's a possibility.

Ramadan came and went. As did l'aid and its week of preparations. Now it's almost time to go. Who can come? There's two places. Aicha, the president, said she'd ask everyone if they could go. Great. I went ahead and talked to each of them beforehand. Everyone gave me a reason why another should go. Everyone said they'd wait to see what Aicha says. Aicha never went around town. Furthermore, she post-poned our officer meeting from Saturday, to Sunday, to tomorrow. I visited her house today. I need a commitment or a final rejection. They've decided not to participate. Can I bring some products with me? Absolutely not. 1) They need to take ownership of this business. 2) They need to do through the nuances of marketing and selling. 3) Most craft fair expenses have been covered for their benefit. 4) PCVs are not allowed to sell products to the public, anyways.

They're not going. That's it. They need to be comfortable with that decision. I need to be comfortable with that choice. As I jokingly said to Amina, "If I could kick all of you to the exhibition, I would." That power doesn't lie within me. I cannot tell you how badly I'd love to fill-in-the-blanks on their behalf. But I have limits. If I stepped outside those bounds, I wouldn't be teaching them to fish. Damnit.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Two Warm Fuzzies

I'm not one to pass on chain emails. However, I feel compelled to share the following two. They struck me for various reasons. Read on for warm fuzzies.

A carrot, an egg, and a cup of coffee...You will never look at a cup of coffee the same way again.

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up, She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil.. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners.. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, ' Tell me what you see.'

'Carrots, eggs, and coffee,' she replied..

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, 'What does it mean, mother?'

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently.. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

'Which are you?' she asked her daughter. 'When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can't go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling.

Live your life so at the end, you're the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

May we all be COFFEE


Are You Listening?????
Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning. A man with a violin plays six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.
During that time approx. 2 thousand people passed through the station, most of them on their way to work.
After 3 minutes a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously.. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin valued at $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the price of seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.
The questions raised: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made... what else are we missing?

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting. It falls on the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and everything else ill-natured for the sake of God.

Muslims wake up around 4am to eat sehri (predawn meal) and perform the fajr prayer. (Last year in CBT training, there were two men responsible for waking people up for sehri. Thank goodness my village has everyone set their own alarm clocks.) Muslims do not breakfast until the maghrib, the fourth call to prayer at sunset. A typical breakfast (lftor) includes harira, shabackia, dates, juice, cake, eggs with cumin and xubz shama (fat bread). Around 8pm sounds the last call to prayer. I've noticed a significant increase in mosque attendance during Ramadan. Women who ordinarly pray at home, will go to the mosque and pray. They typically stay until 10pm. Afterwards, they eat sahor and go to bed.

Some PCVs choose to fast. I wanted to try. I fasted three days and then became completely unmotivated. Yes, I wanted to understand what my community was going through. However, I'm not Muslim. I like running in the morning. I like being productive during the day. And I don't think it's healthy to starve yourself during the day and then stuff yourself before bedtime. Perhaps my thoughts would be dramatically different if I felt religioius conviction behind these actions. I don't. Everyone in my community asked whether I was fasting or not. On the three days that I fasted, I told them so. But the other 90 percent of the time, I had to explain why not. After a couple weeks, I became tired of reexplaining my choice not to fast. It was either that or lying. So I patiently explained to everyone who asked. Perhaps next year I'll enjoy Ramadan instead of viewing it as an inconvience, inchallah.

Tomorrow is 'id el-fitr, the end of Ramadan. And I cannot wait to get them working! My ladies have to prepare for an exhibition in Fes. They also have an export order to finish by mid-October. The Sewing and Needleworks teacher and assistant have four new products to introduce to the ladies. So you can imagine how happy I am that Ramadan's end is almost here! This past week, I saw signs of the encroaching holiday:

1) Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. A couple days ago, ladies were all busy cleaning their homes inside out. My neighbor Fatima was no exception. On any given day, she (or one of her two daughters) sweeps and mops her floors at least twice. But this thursday was different. When I passed by her door in the afternoon, I saw her house flooded. That's how you get a deep clean! A cascade rolled down the staircase. They had a pool right by the front door, where the floor sinks in. We could have easily swam a couple laps! (I was grateful to reuse her water to mop my floors, clean my walls and flush my toilet. Gray water is a wonderful thing!) All the mats were out to dry on the roof. The house's furniture was bathing in the sun. Since coming here, I've learned a whole new meaning to cleaning.

2) Shopping for new clothes. It's customary for Muslims to buy new clothes for this holiday. And they are. They've flooded the marketplace. On Friday, I ran some errands in my souq town. It was jam packed! During Ramadan, I've grown accustomed to the crowded marketplace around 4pm, when everyone scurries around to buy food for lftor. But this was ten times that! Peopled filled the marketplace, bargaining for this and that. In my village, most women go to Habiba's for their clothes. Habiba purchases clothes, scarves, perfumes, lotions and other various products. She resells them in the unfinished second floor of her house. All week, I ran into ladies who were either coming or going to Habiba's. I knocked on at least five doors this week, only to find out that they had left to shop at Habiba's.

3) Hammam-ing. Walking around yesterday, I smelled the burning fires from hammams. The hammam is Morocco's version of a steam bath. In my village, households have their own hammam which fits two to three people at once. There's a "fireplace" below the hammam. It steams the cement room and heats up the water. Inside, there are buckets for hot water, buckets for cold water and buckets to mix the two. You use a qss (scrubber), to exfoliate and get a wonderfully deep clean. I've grown to enjoy my hammam trips, especially in the winer. Around 4pm, all the ladies I visited were glowing red from their recent hammam trip. BssHaa!!

Aid mubarak said! Mbark lwaishir!!

Enjoy the holiday! :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.
-- Emily Dickinson

I've been in Morocco for a year and a day... not that I'm counting. Cheers stagmates! Here's to another amazing year (and three months)!

Currently appreciating...
*Breaking fast with various families and endless bowls of harira (a tomato based soup filled with various spices, lentils, chickpeas and thin spaghetti).

*The Peace Corps Cookbook. It's filled with delicious recipes, as proved yet again by VSN training weekend.

*Cloudly mornings and cool nights.

*Jdda (grandma, aka mother of my landlord/next door neighbor/Needleworks teacher) coming to the rescue when I inconveniently discover a frog in my Turkish toilet.

*Crocheting and doing various crafts while listening to my new music!

*Trash discussions with my ladies upon seeing my crocheted mika (plastic) purse.

*Copper wire bracelet and crocheted earrings- the latest additions to my Association's product line.

*The smell of my lemon scented artisana soap.

*Understanding enough Darija to follow dubbed Turkish soap operas and the silly comedy series that is playing during Ramadan.

*Finally seeing progress made on the Childcare Budget Proposal.

*Instead of asking if I've grown accustomed to Moroccan life, village women tell me I have.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Celebrate Summer - Sun drenched days and starlit nights...
-- Gooseberry Patch

Summer in Moroccan means slow days, unthinkable heat... 120 degrees, constant bucket baths, sleeping on rooftops, sleepless nights, smoothie and salad diets, beach escapes, family vacations, friend visits, frozen grapes and Moroccan weddings galore. Next year I'm smartening up and planning vacations OUT of Morocco. But my summer was wonderful nevertheless. Here's a cheers to summer in photos:

Moroccan weddings filled this summer. Shebat l3ars. (Translation: I'm full of weddings.) Literally, the whole village comes out for these events. Music, dancing, food, henna-ing... and no one sleeps until the wee hours of the morning. Nice.

Lainie came! And we road tripped in the dead heat. Hit Marrakech, Essaouira, Tiznit and my village. I'm incredibly proud of her. We did this trip on a Peace Corps budget. We squeezed into seven person taxis, slept in cheap hostels, bucket bathed... everything. Shared tagine at Ilham's. Henna-ed our hands at Hafida's. AND she learned some darija. Woo!

Then my mom and sister came to visit. They got a lot of loving from the ladies in my village. Talk about hitting home Peace Corps' goals 2 and 3. Mom learned how to knead bread and steam kskus. Emily made a tagine. We had exciting cross-cultural discussions. We introduced eating with chopsticks! Before they flew out from Casablanca, we stopped in Essaouira. There, we bargained for souvenirs, eat fresh seafood and enjoyed the cool breeze. I'm incredibly thankful my family could catch a glimpse of my life here.

For the four-day weekend, I escaped to Asilah with fellow PCVs. Asilah lies 46 km below Tanger. The mdina is refreshingly clean, well-kept and spotted with murals. Highlights include zwin apartment right on the boardwalk, Moroccan carnival, bumper cars (spinny ride... not so much), big scoops of ice cream, strong crashing waves, Pirates of the Caribbean boogie board and art art art. Minus the harassment, I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Ramadan reared its head last weekend. That means I'm nearing my one-year mark in country. On my plane ride over here, I sat next to a Moroccan native who was working in DC. He told me, "After 11 months of playing with the devil, Ramadan is a special time. You''ll come to enjoy it." Last year, I was still plugging through training. Having school from morning until sunset, I missed most of Ramadan. This time around should be interesting. Last week, I already had the joy of making shebakia with my host family. We balled dough, rolled, cut and flipped these bad boys before frying them in oil, dunking them in honey and sprinkling sesame seeds on top. By 6pm, we had filled two buckets of this pastry. And they still weren't finished!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Nearly all the best things that came to me in life
have been unexpected, u n p l a n n e d by me."
--Carl Sandburg

What are my days like? I get that question a lot. Quite frankly, no two days are quite the same. I don't have a nine to five job. As America's two year loan to this Moroccan community, I have a marathon to run. I set goals and formed small projects, with a semi-lucid timetable. Crossing off project to-dos dictate my days. Yet in between lies my life here. This past Monday was no exception.

I beat the sun, ran and showered. My nedi has its douar exhibition this week. And I have personal and business-related errands to complete. So I thought- errands in my souq town, return for lunch, then head to the women's center to help set-up, stay until the evening and call it a day. But plans change.

My souq town lies two kilometers from my village. For various reasons, I do not like to browse through town. Since arriving, I have become increasingly efficient with errands. Monday was a record. Stopping at the market, purchasing raw materials, sending a bracelet order and renewing my temporary Moroccan residence card took under an hour! Moroccans can move on Moroccan time. When it comes to souq errands, I prefer to move like a New Yorker.

Therefore, I had extra time to stop by the RARBA office. During IST (In-Service Training), a fellow PCV presented the idea of organizing a regional craft fair. Inshallah, Peace Corps will partner with local municipalities and Moroccan organizations to host these craft fairs. We want to create a venue where artisans who work with PCVs can sell their goods. In addition, these craft fairs also serve as a skills-building conference for artisans. The basic idea: pilot four-day craft fair in Fes, with the fourth day consisting of various workshops (ie costing and pricing, grant writing, succession planning). That was why I stopped by Howara's RARBA office. RARBA is a network of Argan biosphere reserve associations. Among many functions, they train member associations in grant-writing. Wouldn't it be great to use existing Moroccan human capacity in our project? I need a price quote.

Thankfully Miloud was in the office! Thankfully he understood my Darija! I explained the basic premise of this project and asked for a price estimate. This spurred an exciting conversation about sustainable development, development work and Morocco. An hour happily ticked by with mint tea, bread and argan oil. Before I left, Miloud mentioned there would be a celebration tonight in a member organization nearby. He insisted I attend. I could see the work they do and RARBA. Sure. Why not? I have no important to-dos after sundown.

I spent the afternoon transforming my village's nedi into exhibition mode. I hung up table clothes and ceramics work. I arranged and rearranged items to show-off and sell this week. (Please note that this exhibition's audience is local Moroccans. And let's just say, we have differing tastes and preferences.) We wrapped up around seven. And then followed a series of surprises.

1) Frenchies! Miloud explained that members from a French association happened to be visiting. They would also be accompanying us to this event. This association supplies and finances small projects with Moroccan schools. Its members are French seniors, who had toured Morocco several years back and have since decided to invest deeper. Unfortunately, I have forgotten all my French. But we had an exciting conversation, nevertheless. I spoke in Darija. They spoke in French. HCNs translated for us! What a collection of development workers- French donors, Moroccan "change" agents and a PCV.

2) Four cakes! With five additional passengers, we had to wait for another car to arrive. In the meantime, Miloud invited us to his sister's apartment. Her son had just graduated from a culinary school in Agadir. He baked four cakes. How perfectly convenient! Here we are, going to a party, only to stuff ourselves with gourmet cakes beforehand.

3) I have been to Moroccan parties. I have been to Moroccan weddings. However, all of them pale in comparison to this one. Question Association leaders on past work and projects? Forget it. This was not the right place or the right time. At least 700 people were there. Fully catered. Moroccans drummers. Berber dancers. Six piece band. Three course meal- chicken, beef and fruit. Festivities carried on late into the night. It had to. Dinner did not start until eleven o'clock. The ladies did not eat until past midnight. The band didn't set up until eleven thirty. Microphone testing began around ten. The high-pitched singing didn't start until one in the morning. Of course. Why would like night unfold any other way?

I could not asked for a better, unscripted day.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter."
--E.E. Cummings

During IST (In-Service Training), the SBD stag made a mural on things which has kept us smiling these past six months. So until I write a real blog post, know that I have been well.

Things that make me smile:

-Running early morning before the sun comes out.
-Yoga-ing mid-afternoon when the sun it hot.
-Cactus fruit... wonderfully delicious, especially when they come free from neighbors!
-Progress on necklace-making!
-Short visits that turn into an overnight ordeal.
-Emails from home.
-Skype conversations that are not dropped!
-Lemon bars.
-Inviting the ladies over for dinner. Ilham spraying soda everywhere because we were laughing so hard.
-My orange linen pants.
-Finding colorful tile fragments.
-Watermelon. Watermelon. Watermelon.
-Cleaning the nedi only to eat snack afterwards.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.
This makes it hard to plan the day.

-- E. B. White

Here is a little about what keeps me busy.

Ryada (Exercise): Leading these women to move, sweat and stretch never ceases to make my morning. Same goes with the 6am walks! The most exciting part is seeing them show off their slimmed figures. Honestly, I cannot tell the difference. But they feel healthier. So I play along. They've asked me questions about my diet. Hopefully I can start the conversation with them about nutrition. Exercise is only half of the healthy lifestyle equation.

Teaching English: By popular request, I've started English classes. It's unexpectedly fun! The ladies get out their pen and paper. They're ready to learn, speak and write English! I have their full attention, especially when I have a handout. They've even asked for homework and quizzes! I have such respect for each one of them. This has motivated me to push my Darija. Since September, learning Darija has been that mandatory chore. I didn't approach it with a hungry appetite for desire to be "filled up." This is great. I'm learning. They're learning... I hope.

Building a Child Care Center: The women are wonderfully enthusiastic, unlimited in motivation and determination. However, they are strictly bound by childcare responsibilities and meager resources to ease this burden. About a third of the members cannot always come to the nedi because of childcare responsibilities. As a result, they cannot fully take advantage of the nedi's activities. Other times, these women bring their children, nieces and/or nephews to the Women's Center. On average, 16 children regularly accompany their mothers/aunts to Arabic literacy classes and Sewing/Needleworks class. We do not have the proper capacity or environment to look after these children. Instead, their cries create a disruptive learning and working environment. Lastly, women who do not attend overwhelmingly express childcare responsibilities as their reason for staying at home. Inshallah, we will finish the Women's Center roof, creating a healthy learning environment for both women and children.

Now comes the million dollar question- how can we finance such a project? Pieces are slowly falling into place. Last month, the Association President met a representative from Global Fund for Women. There's a potential donor! We are also hoping to use Peace Corps' SPA grant as a third donor. I've talked to these women about the importance of community contribution and ways to muster up cost-sharing. Community financing is coming... slowly. A nearby eco-tourism company donated a small sum. A community leader has offered to purchase the brick. Trainers for necessary workshops have agreed to donate their time. We're in the process of securing a generous soul to offer his car and time in order to transport building materials from town to the Women's Center. We're reviewing budget items line by line. Perhaps this can amont to twenty percent!

The best part of this whole project is the fact that the Association officers want to write the grant themselves. My tutor knows someone whose job is to offer grantwriting trainings. Is this not too perfect? Talk about grassroots development! This is exciting. I cannot wait to cross off all the pre-planning to-dos. I cannot wait to start start.

Expanding Product Line: Since its foundation in 2003, the Association has attended six craft fairs to test and sell their products. Five women have left the village, unaccompanied by a male relative, to attend business workshops. Furthermore, Planet Finance MAROC has conducted four workshops in this village. These women have gained an array of business skills, including costing and pricing, product development, marketing, microfinance and customer service. However, they still do not have a sustainable relationship with a boutique. And how to you find new markets? You create new products to reach new consumers! I'm currently working with two women to expand our product line. We make beautiful bracelets. Why not make other forms of jewelry?! We make adorable soap bags. Why not make other types of bags/purses?! They both have had rough starts. Our goal is to have polished samples by mid-May. (I will be traveling to Rabat for Peace Corps purposes. PCVs are a great test market!) I go between pushing these ladies and sitting back, relaxed. I want to enjoy their world as it is as much as shake things up. It's a great mix!

Goal #2 and #3: Two out of Peace Corps' three goals are that of cross-cultural exchange. And this is what sets PCVs apart from other development workers. We live among the people with whom we work. And my site has shown me immeasurable love. From prolonged greetings to bottomless cups to mint tea, it's great being their little American PCV.

** Please note that I am the third consecutive SBD PCV in my site. There is a strong history of extrodinary growth among these women and Association. I credit the diversity of projects and my busy schedule to these ladies and the previous work of PCVs.