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.