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

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