Friday, December 28, 2007

Bahalo, working, feelin worse and feelin better

16 December 2007

Bahalo is Tam for grandpa, though I’m writing this next part for my dear American grandpa; he’s one of the most awesome people in the world, for those of you that don’t know. Here’s some excerpts from his last e-mail, just to give you an idea:

“Ever since you said how cold you were I have been trying to think about things that could be done it that situation. . . it seems to me that dried droppings from goats and sheep could make good insulating material for walls. . . However, if there is a pretty good stream available locally, it may be possible to tap into the water flow and use it to generate power. The power could be used for heating or any other use, depending on the local priorities. . . So next time you add to your blog, how about giving us a run down on the assets you have locally to work with such as streams, rivers, trees, animals, structures, etc. Also take some pictures that we could use to get a feel for the total environment in your area. The easiest thing might be to produce a list of problems/difficulties that us engineers in the family might be able to do something about. I know I might be jumping the gun in wanting to help as soon as possible. But you have such fun projects you get yourself into I just can't resist wanting to get in there and help. So if you can, give your poor old grandpa a problem or two (or ten) to look into.”

So this is for him, pictures forthcoming! There is a small river nearby but I don’t know how I could harness energy from it. I’ve also noticed some solar panels throughout my travels which is great; the intense sun here is a way underused resource. For reasons none of us understand, all new buildings are made of cement. They used to all be made of mud which is bad because it’s obviously a little, well dirty, and bugs like it, but its good because its warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Cement is freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer; essentially, a place you don’t want to be at anytime. Apparently, they are building with cement because it’s cheaper, but it’s far more expensive to heat. While a cement house in the winter is much like walking into a fridge, a mud house is like any other unheated home (picture broke college student refusing to pay for heat, like me) it’s cold too.

There are three ways to heat. There are electric heaters, which are quite safe, but electricity is very expensive and they heat only within about three inches. Then there are butagaz heaters, which I haven’t seen in person, but I hear they are great except the whole blowing yourself up risk- Peace Corps strongly discourages this option for safety reasons. The last and most common is the inferno, essentially a basic furnace near the middle of the room, with a “chimney” through the roof. This provides decent heat to one small room, but while most of the smoke goes outside I’m still having some lung trouble. And wood is a bit expensive and only available in certain areas and at certain times of the year. I’ve also heard a lot of the wood comes from protected lands which I’m not okay with, especially after working at a land conservancy.

Windows aren’t common, especially big ones. I assume glass is expensive, but I’m not sure. I have no backup on this, but I would imagine it could also be a privacy and modesty issue. When you walk through old medina’s you can tell which quarters were Muslim and which were Jewish my whether the balconies faced inside or out. Now that I think about it it would probably be very shameful here, at least in a small village, to have windows people could easily see into. Much like a girl wearing a short skirt and a tank top- here that is seen as asking for trouble, does anyone else see the possible connection?

And then there’s my favorite floor of every building in Morocco - the roof. The roof is very much an underused resource in America (people really need to get going on more green roofs!), its rare here to have a building that doesn’t have roof access. And as long as its not windy it’s the best floor to be on! You get maximum sun exposure; great for drying clothes, corn, nuts, bread, clipping toenails, etc etc, or just daydreamin’ and warming your own little body up. Until my trusty ol’ grandpa comes up with another great invention I can implement, I plan on finding a mud house to rent, my village is old and rural so there are some left, and make it through the winter as best I can. I’ll also get a cat, maybe even/or a dog for my own personal bed heater and emotional balancer, and spending a good deal of time in bed during the winter. Is that enough to get you started?

And now, as promised - the work! Because of my weaving background, I have been assigned to work with a well established women’s weaving cooperative. It’s only a few years old but they had really good NGO funding for awhile and were given amazing looms and weaving supplies; shuttles (single and double), bobbin winders, a bobbin winding machine, a sewing machine, umbrella swifts, louet spinning wheels, tons of reeds, etc. from all over - Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, etc. I really don’t know much yet about the co-op’s history or how it’s all worked up until this point, but I will put in a word about charity, because it’s good and bad. Though the women had a lot of support from the NGO, a lot of the business knowledge wasn’t transferred, and without the NGO they’re a little lost and scared. Someone did come in and show the women how to use the new looms and they are very skilled, and from what I can tell know fairly well what the consumer wants. They make just about anything needed - bread cloths, jellaba fabric, capes, shawls, rugs, pillows, and on and on.

However, many of the extras they have been given are unused because they don’t know what they are or what to do with them. During my site visit I discovered four beautiful louet single pedal spinning wheels sitting dusty and unused in my host mothers shed. According to the volunteer I replaced, they’d been sitting there since they were donated. So I pulled one out and tried to teach my mom to spin - it ended up being really frustrating for her and she gave up quickly, but it’s something to work on. The women spin their own wool from local sheep with drop spindles sometimes, but only use it on their old wood and rope vertical looms at home - the looms at the co-op are only being used for fine yarns. The majority of the materials used at the co-op are synthetic and pre-dyed, because there’s not a lot of choices. And there’s a big problem with labeling here- most of the cones are unlabeled, wrong, or if I’m lucky just in French or Hindi or something I’ll just have to find someone to translate for me. I’d love to get some tencel up in here! So there’s a lot to do with product development, which I mainly see as changes in materials, not design. And of course how to use the modern equipment properly, they are really hard on the looms and the amount of broken threads would make my weaving teacher cry.

While I still don’t know what my work will turn out to be, for the moment I’m seeing it as something quieter than I thought before. I don’t have business skills, and haven’t yet asked them what they want from me, but I’d like to show them how important their work is in a world of mass production. Not to sound too much like the crazy artist I once was, but I’d like to see them in love with what they’re doing again. There’s a lot of fighting about money and materials, and when no one’s smiling I get the icky feeling I’m in a mini sweat shop. My host mom yells and beats the crap out of her loom at the co-op, and while she yells like a mad woman at home too, when she sits down at her vertical loom I sense an ease and comfort in her old way of weaving she doesn’t have on the fast looms. I think I was right when I said that I foresaw my greatest challenge and the one I hope to work on the most being the clash of times; how to preserve the old ways of working while bringing the people into the modern world.

There’s much work to be done here! But my two current and most important jobs are integration and language, both of which are proving more difficult than anything I could have imagined. I’m dying to weave with my artisans but can’t decide if it would be a really good or really bad way to integrate and define my working position with them. I have a great tutor for Tam and I mostly need to accept that I’m slow and keep trudging on regardless, and speak more, the damn shyness is really inhibiting. Integration is an even fuzzier area. It’s hard to get to know your community when you can’t communicate. One of the biggest Muslim holidays of the year is next Friday, l-Eid Al-Adha, which will include a lot of visiting and being visited so hopefully I start getting more tea invitations and some people more interested in helping the new village idiot.

So whats awesome about today? Talking on Skype with my mom, grandma, grandpa, Auntie Georgie and Uncle Lenny all at the same time, it was so great to hear their voices. And when I was chatting with just my mom we both have video cam and she decided to get up and take me around the house, showing me the huge black emu eggs due to hatch Jan 15, the kitchen I miss so much, waking my sister and her friend up to say hi (unsuccessful), her new outdoor office, hi to the dogs, and the wireless connection was lost on her way out to the peacocks and horses, but mashi mushkil, it was so great! You gotta love technology sometimes.

So whats not so awesome about today? As I bid my online farewells and walked over to the taxi stand to find a ride home, my host mom was suddenly at my side! Apparently I miss communicated, as usual, when I would be home and I guess she came to get me, I have no idea how long she’d been waiting and/or worrying, but she kicked a guy out of the next cab to our duwar so we could both fit, because if she didn’t get the American home before dark there’d really be hell to pay! Oh my, I felt like shit, on top of already feeling like I hadn’t been integrating well, I go an act like a runaway teen, or at least that’s what I felt like I’d done. But luckily there’s a magical way to make any Berber woman happy and that’s eating, and I think I replenished my status and showed my family I love them tonight by finally eating. That last post by the way was only the beginning of what turned out to be nearly three days of, I’ll spare you the gory details, but far worse tummy issues than I’ve ever had. As bad my pain however was that put upon my family at my refusal to eat. After four days of refusing food, and even, gasp, tea! They were really freaking out. About halfway through I managed to ask for a banana (I always crave bananas when I’m ill, luckily they’re bountiful and delicious here), anything beyond bananas and water made me nauseous. Within an hour there was a big black bag of bananas in my lap, needless to say I had five that day. Back to briana banana, haha. But tonight I managed to feel alright, and by some grace unknown dinner was essentially an oil free tajine- so weird! Which I ate aplenty, and of course a banana for dessert. My host mom and sister beamed with pride and relief as if I’d just gotten married (comparable to my family in America’s pride and relief as I graduated college J)

And then, since I can’t seem to post anything without talking about Ashley, I had homework. For practice, my tutor had me write a story in Tam about a past event. Wanting to make it useful I wrote about Ashley’s trip to Cali this summer as if I was explaining it to my family when I break out my little photo album. It was actually fun, nostalgic and sad, especially writing that my favorite part was just hanging out our last night and how much I miss her. Though I certainly can’t memorize it, it felt good to write something I feel in another language. A PCV who’s been here almost a year was telling me that while he can know a lot of vocabulary, and multiple languages (he knows a fair bit of French and Spanish too) part of what will always keep him with English is that there’s just no way to really express himself in another language. It seems so obvious when we really think about it though, for how can we really say what we mean in words we haven’t grown up with. You grow up with words just like people and experiences. Hmph. Much like dating someone with a different first language, which I tried twice, I hate to say it but it really does make it nearly impossible to feel like you’re really communicating. I just hope to internalize this language enough to be comfortable living here as a citizen for two years.

Ah it’s really been a pretty depressing week overall and maybe its cuz I had my first caffeine this afternoon in awhile, but I’m feeling a lot better tonight- physically and mentally, yay! And more refreshed, ready and wanting to work. Oh and happy holidays everyone, no matter what you’re celebrating, everyones got a holiday goin on sometime this month!

Also, fun fact for the night-

Time I’ve been at site: nearly 3 weeks

Times I’ve bathed: 2

Thursday, December 13, 2007

i love packages

12 December

It is incredible how much I miss home being sick. Was in bed from 7pm yesterday to 2 pm today with extreme agony throughout my torso and a migraine in my head. I forgot I was in a cement room in Morocco and began picturing my mom coming home and the crackle of Vons shopping bags and her bringing me ginger ale, milk toast and talking to me like I was a baby. Oh and sick bear! Ha-ha, haven’t thought about that thing in years. Upon realizing where I actually was I half imagined, half wished I was sick at grandmas house and the way she would frantically be trying to make me better through cantaloupe or juice or some nasty vitamin concoction that would surely make me better, in fact, if I’d been taking all my vitamins in the first place I never would have gotten sick . . . though her efforts may have made me feel worse at times, there is so much love in her care and I miss that! And then I thought of being up at my dad’s and my little sisters giggling outside the door no matter how many times my stepmom told them not to wake me up, but seriously, by noon its really time to play! And my dad bringing me some ridiculously expensive starbucks drink I’d always insist I didn’t need, but so glad he got it cuz it’d be so good. Ah and then Ashley, and her crazy morning hair as I begged her up on Sunday mornings to watch George Stephanopolis. She’d eat leftover bowtie alfredo- our specialty, and I pass through 4 bowls of cereal and instead of going to studio we’d blow off the morning with movies and going over to-do lists. Wow how many worlds away that all seems! Sick or not, the transfer from my warm bed to my warm people is what I truly miss.

Ah, and the culprit of physical agony? My family insists it’s because I only wore one headscarf after the hamam the other day, not two, but it could be anything; could be the fact that 90% of my food diet is bread and 90% of my liquid diet is sugar, or the fish and kafta meatball tajine we had a couple days ago (fish is iffy here unless you live on the coast), or the questionable sandwich I had yesterday with the pink ketchup and partially uncooked egg, or the styrofoam my family decided to burn to get the inferno going last night, or the overall stress of this awkward beginning in my site and my general inability to adjust to moving from extreme cold indoors to hot sunshine outside. I wish there was a better way to put it but it truly is the cold land with the hot sun.

But despite this great ulcer of a night I’ve had I continue to love Morocco. (some days I mean that and some days I just say it, but either way- I love Morocco) The PCVs up here are great; a couple from my staj and a bunch of environment volunteers, which is what I always wanted to be! Environmental Studies ranks top of the list of things I’ve always wanted to do but fear I can’t. The class on Environmental Ethics and Policy struck me to the core and was my favorite class throughout all of college (which is funny, considering it was the only class I took outside my college) the clash of science and philosophy- my two worst subjects! I was talking to another PCV yesterday about what we wanted to do and after talking about my passion for environmental studies as well as fiber properties, perhaps there’s a place for me to do a study on fibers and material sustainability, something like that. Ha-ha, I’ve thought about that before, but I can’t even put a name to it yet. I think I’m in a good place to explore the idea as the focus of Peace Corps work is supposed to be sustainability and I’m near environment PCVs and the co-op I’m working with could certainly work with better fibers, hmmm it will all come together somehow. Two years is a long time and though as of right now going back to school is the last thing I want to do, I think I will want to sooner than I think. Weaving is my passion, but not my life’s work.

So then, after long mental ramblings with myself and the sickness finally drifting, I got myself out of bed and went to the post office, enjoyed the fresh air and the beautiful mountains and this tiny duwar I’m trying to call home and walla! A package from my mom and a package from Ashley, I can’t think of anything that could have brightened my day more other than their actual presence. Awesomely warm clothes and Reeses from my mom and my dear Ashley, among other things- a 13 page letter! I nearly cried reading it I was so happy. I then managed to get to the Co-op for the last couple hours of the day, and my dad called and I got to talk to my nana and my stepmom! Though last night was one of my worst yet in Morocco, today was one of the best. Except for three little Reeses I just enjoyed I haven’t eaten in over twenty-four hours and haven’t even felt a tingle of hunger. Yikes. Hopefully my body’s health will catch up with my mind and things will balance out a bit by tomorrow. Still friggin freezing though.

Monday, December 3, 2007

my pee steams; that's how cold it is here

27 November

I’m wound up in my warm cocoon, consisting of my down sleeping bag, a heavy fleece blanket, a heavier faux wool blanket and a real hand-woven wool blanket that I swear weighs more than I do. Only my fingers are exposed to the freezing air because I want to write. Tonight is my first night in my new home, for good. First night away from any English speaker, the first night I am alone with myself and my thoughts since I left America. Quick recap- the LPI, Thanksgiving, swearing in, and beginning my life as a volunteer. . .

The LPI, or Language Proficiency Interview, is the oral exam we all take at the end of training, pretty self-explanatory. Bring together the fact that I am terrible test taker, a slow learner and have allowed the stress of this entirely new planet I’ve landed on as somewhat of an excuse for me to not put in 100% and you get my current level of language skill. I was one of the very few to score so low on my LPI that I am now on what feels like a kind of academic probation. But don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds, and in a way I am thankful for the extra push. What is important is that I want to learn the language and I’m in this for the full term. I also no longer have any distractions or excuses - no one in my town speaks English so when I need something I have to find a way to tell them myself.

On Thanksgiving the YDers and a few SBDers and the kitchen staff prepared and unbelievably wonderful and accurate meal, which made the holiday even sadder for me; I was tasting thanksgiving but not seeing family. Everyone says the holidays are hard when you’re away and I never wanted to believe it but it’s painfully true. It was also hard because Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays in my family as a great excuse for a reunion and taking over half a park in Los Angeles. I’m so glad I went home last year or I’d be going on five years away. On top of that, I walked by a black Ford Focus while wandering around Fes that day and it made me miss Ashley all the more as the other three of my past four Thanksgivings were spent with her- once with our favorite college professors, once by ourselves (well, almost), and once up in Wisconsin with her grand family.

A couple days of more lectures and last minute treats like McDonalds passed and then training was over! As of yesterday I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer, sworn in with my staj of 67- the largest ever for Morocco and the first in I don’t know how long to have no one leave yet. Mbruk! Congrats! Overall, Fes was hectic and not the city I'd pictured, Ouarzazate and the “dirty south” will always be dear to my heart as my first home in Morocco. And then we all left, in staggered goodbyes, to do what we came here to do? . . .

I found myself more okay with leaving Peace Corps Training as the forth taxi I took on the relatively short route to my site wound up the mountains. Sandwiched between the rickety door and the other four people sharing the back seat with me, I somehow had 40 minutes of real peace. As the window grew colder and the mountains turned white and grew bigger, I felt comforted. Mountains are always home to me. There is something so beautiful and unattainable about a great mountain; the same moment I feel protected by its presence, I feel afraid of its power. It is such great mass of something and reminds me of a figure in childhood I can’t quite place. And then the taxi ride was over and now I’m here, at home.

Though it was an alright day overall, this evening I received some very unwelcome news and with no one to vent to, and really not wanting to think at all, I began reading. I have no idea when the last time was that I picked up a book and just read for the hell of it, but it’s been at least a year. Reading is so wonderful. My good friend here told me I had to read Eat, Pray, Love and it’s the only book I have, so to take my mind off all the many worries tormenting me, I began reading. What weight can be lifted from such light tasks! Ah, and you know when you put on some music just to take your mind off of things, then hear the lyrics and wonder how the hell you could pick something so randomly and have it say exactly what you need to hear? Well that’s what Eat, Pray, Love did for me tonight dammit! It was inspiring, reassuring and allowed my mind to fall back into place and being sensible. The hardest thing about reading enjoyable writing is that it breaks open again and again my deep desire to be a writer. Though I love to write, I hate to make sense and writing is just about the most frustrating and worrisome process in the world for me. Much like dancing and stand-up comedy and teaching; I love these things but I’m just not made for them. I will find a passion I’m good for, inshallah.

So what’s the consensus in this moment of calm after two and a half months of whirlwind? That I’m only myself... as often as I’d like to think I’m different or growing into another person, and for my time in the Peace Corps I’ve certainly tried; really I’m just the same. And being better at that is really what I’d like to grow towards, not away from. How funny we all are; sorry but I just crack myself up sometimes when my minds on a rampage of thought. After years of withholding, I tried some indulgence, and am settling back into something more like me. I know my instincts are right, the difficulty now is remembering to follow them. In a nutshell, don’t you hate it when you have to tell yourself “I told you so!” In moments of revelation I feel I begin to sound more like my mom (the one who gave me the name Briana, not my adoptive Moroccan mother). Though I often fight it because her beliefs are frustratingly intangible and ever-changing, they always come from the heart, which is often why it is so painful. And I miss her like a bricks been thrown at my chest tonight, but I’ll be fine, because I can already hear her voice saying, so annoyingly, “its okay bri, the universe is with you.”

It is now nearly 2am and I have a big day tomorrow of getting to know the artisans, with my limited language, attempting to find my mom’s package of warm clothes, finding a tutor . . . oh I’ve got a to-do list going now that puts even those during finals week in college to shame. I have a lot to do, but I have time to do it. I’m going to be tired tomorrow, but when your head needs to be cleared, there’s no stopping it. Tonight I miss my mom, maybe instead of nightmares about random things, I’ll go horseback riding with her in my dreams, actually I bet that’s what she’s doing this very moment.

28 November

Okay I admit it, I’m avoiding. Not that anything bad is going on, besides my lack of any communication, I just can’t stop reading. Twenty four hours after I picked up the book and began, I am now 147 pages in, oops. But it’s a good book and I’ve been overwhelmed and quite helpless. After working on my to-do list (and by working on I mean perfecting and adding to the list, not actually accomplishing the tasks on it, as usual) and being embarrassed by sitting there like a dumb rock while my family wonders why I can’t talk, I dove into my book. Speaking of rocks, that’s also the way I feel right now- stone. It has only been one day and I am cold to the bone. It burns it’s so cold. I just haven’t found the little ways to get warm, and I’ve never lived in constant cold before. Don’t worry and think I’m gonna die of cold; it’s just a strange thing to deal with. It makes me not want to do anything, particularly the daily unavoidable tasks like going to the bathroom, washing your hands, brushing your teeth, changing clothes, moving around. Eek. And somehow no matter how many layers I have on, my body doesn’t seem to want to heat them up. For a moment I’m fantasizing that I have fur, and am jealous of sheep. Or maybe if I rub hot peppers on my skin it will burn me warm. I think part of my brain may have frozen too.

Ah and while I had a rare night without nightmares and though I didn’t dream of horseback riding, I did dream of weaving (I couldn’t find the shed even though it was only plain weave!), an old high school friend I haven’t thought of in a long time and feeling beautiful. Odd but refreshing dreams. Suppose the elevation could be getting to me too, I’m nearly even with Denver.

29 November

Since I haven’t been able to post this yet, I may as well keep adding on! Cultural fun for the night: food. In America I might enjoy oatmeal with cinnamon, sugar and raisins for breakfast and maybe some pasta with butter and salt for dinner. In Morocco I may be served oatmeal with salt for breakfast and pasta with raisins, sugar and cinnamon for dinner. Food for thought?

I will talk about the cooperative; ya know like, my job, soon, I just don’t wanna quite yet. And I’ll have more pics up on my picasa site once I gather them from other volunteers. Here's one from swearing in, look out-fresh volunteers!