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.