Sunday, December 7, 2008

the Ait

the view from my roof before the big snow...
and after...

still qmin' and lovin it

I am well. Beyond well in fact. I’ll admit my recent near-nervous breakdown greatly contributes to how refreshed I feel now. Maybe it really just takes a year for me to really settle into a place, to feel close enough to something to not be so afraid of it. I’ve had an odd sense of belonging here since I returned from my last trip to Rabat that I hadn’t felt before. I’m spending, and want to spend, far more time out of my house and in the community, and it just feels so nice. It’s humbling to know how simple it is to be happy, for the most part at least. I overcomplicate and worry over it all so much that I never “do” any of it. I’ve just been hanging out lately, Moroccans absolutely love that and I do too. I’ve also been working, ya, who woulda thought? And that’s empowering as well.

One huge integration point I’ll share is the other day. After hanging at the co-op I went to my counterpart’s house to see what she thought of the final translation, and of course stayed for tea. It had been snowing a bit off and on all day, combined with insanely powerful winds and bouts of sunshine between the darkest clouds. Well after tea the snow became consistent, though not too heavy and it was already dark. Since they would have to walk me home anyway, they decided I should stay for dinner. Dinner of course happens around 10pm, and since I’d arrived around 5, I was there for some time. After a lengthy meal we checked outside and it became obvious that I was not going home that night. I don’t know what exactly constitutes a blizzard, but I’d call it one. Big ol’ balls of snow flying nearly horizontal to the ground. I slept in the big room with all the women and children of the house, as is custom, and we woke in the morning to nearly a foot of snow. It was beautiful, but of course comes with its own set of problems for getting through the day. It was a wonderful evening, and probably one of the warmest I’ll have this winter. If I can ever get on a connection that stinkin works right, I have some great pictures to share. (Also remember how I remarked last year on how they shovel snow off their roofs? Well my landlord was away, and I was busy so never got mine shoveled and have been paying for in the last couples days with roof leaks all over my house, fun fun. I’d add as well that winter decided to arrive way early this year; last year our first and only real snow was in early January, this year it was near the end of November, and it looks like there’s plenty more to come)

I’m also on a real high from reading. Just yesterday my mom’s package of all kinds of awesome books finally arrived, and I broke open the big one last night. I read til midnight, couldn’t sleep, and got up to read some more until around 2:30am. You Can Farm; the entrepreneur’s guide to start an succeed in a farm enterprise. I won’t delve into all that excites me about this book, or I’ll never get to bed, but the essence is simple-You Can Farm. I want to, and the education this and the many other books I’ve just acquired are a step towards making it happen. I’m still shy about revealing all my plans, for their not anywhere near ready yet. But just letting you all know I’m excited, and lhamdullah, I’m smiling again.

I also want to send a little shout out to all those that read this whom I don’t know. I honestly didn’t think anyone read this silly thing but my immediate family, some aunts and a friend or two. But it is true that people from all kinds of places and backgrounds may have thought I had something interesting to say at some point, and I thank you for reading. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own little worlds, myself and my navel-gazing an obvious example, and I’d love to hear who you are and what you’re up to. This blogging world is a pretty amazing place and opportunities for otherwise never-realized connections are boundless.


29 November 2008

A bad habit I’ve acquired and mostly blame my site-mate for is conjugating Tam verbs in English, which explains the title of this here blog post; qmin’. Qm is the verb “to stay” and if I were to say correctly in Tam “I’m staying” it would be dat-qmx, but whatever. Since we’re both Californians my site-mate and I aren’t afraid to use the very important term “chillax” with can be a demand, for someone to shut up, chill out, and relax, or just a way to describe the way we are hanging out. The other poor language habit I’ve acquired is dropping the “g”. Really it’s not necessary and you still know what someone’s saying and since I communicate with other volunteers primarily via textin’ I often drop that last “g” to save time, and more often, money. So that’s what I’m doing, qimin’, in my part English-part Tam world.

After my quick little trip to Rabat and the wonkyness of saying goodbye to the COSing staj I made the trip home. I say wonky because it was a little awkward and quite sad. It doesn’t help to go see a bunch of happy people complete their service and be off to America or adventures elsewhere when I’ve been feeling so shitty. But to get out of my own damn butt for a minute I am very happy for them, tbarkala to all! It truly is an incredible accomplishment to complete 27 months of living, working and totally being in this country, or any I suppose. I am now the equivalent of a junior in Peace Corps. Six months from now a group of Health and Environment volunteers will COS, and six months later, inshallah, myself and the rest of my staj of Small Business Development and Youth Development volunteers will also COS. It’s pretty crazy to think about, and being the odd sheep in the flock the other day, listening to their views at the end and whatnot I left feeling more encouraged to fulfill my service. My way home did not go as well as I’d hoped; I managed to humiliate myself beyond compare on the train, didn’t make it to Fes in time to make the next three taxi trips before dark and had to pay way over the PC limit at a lame hotel, paid way too much for a cyber and slept completely alone for the first time in months, and it was sad.

I came home to feed the very hungry cats, cuddle a bit, and be off again, hopefully my last trip out of site for a long time, to Thanksgiving at one of my dear friend’s sites! I barely made it through a crazy snow storm, and ill-equipped attire wise. Kathy just laughed as I entered, wet and grumpy. But we are quite the happy homemakers and smiled through the hours and hours we spent preparing. Others came later and helped a ton too. Some highlights; a real turkey a couple people had had slaughtered the day before, enough mashed potatoes and even more “gravy” to feed a small country, the most amazing dinner rolls ever, and corn bread stuffing (I actually learned for the first time ever that day that most people actually call it “dressing”, what?!), and an amazing walnut honey pie. Remember that all of this is made from absolute scratch; no frozen pie crusts, bread in a bag, etc. My job was the pumpkin pie and kugel, and I must say I rocked it. The kugel was quite a mush pot-carrot, pumpkin, zucchini, potato, leek, onion, I think that’s it, and it was even better than my last. With no cans of Libbey’s or evaporated milk, I didn’t know if my pumpkin pie would be edible. Kathy, the dear lady, made the crust and I spent a couple hours grating tons of pumpkin, puréeing it, cooking it on the stove and evaporating the excess water. I used whole milk instead of evaporated, and it actually turned out glorious! So it is in fact possible to make pumpkin pie from scratch. Everyone loved everything and I did my best to enjoy it all and ignore the deep pang of not being in the park in LA with my family. It was nice, but I miss you all dearly and if all goes well I will be with you in that park next year!

I returned to the bitter cold that will be life as I know it in my site for many long months. I didn’t realize until late Friday night that Thanksgiving day was actually my one year anniversary in my site, crazy. Feeling too cold to get started cleaning my neglected house, too fidgety to read, not ready to sit alone with myself after so many days spent with Americans, and realizing I hadn’t eaten all day I did the one thing that always takes my mind off my mind: cooking. I made an incredible soup with leeks, onion, zucchini, carrots and chickpeas. I also made my very first challah! It was super good and tonight I’m doing it all again. Something funny I have to note is the palette of my soup, as in color. It’s all secondary colors! I just used the veggies I had- onion (purple), carrot (orange) and zucchini (green) and then the natural white of the leek and chickpeas, and natural brown of lentils. Yay, art and food. Then I’ll blend it all up in the blender for the best flavor and get a purdy and yummy brown. I also hung yet another set of strings from my bamboo ceiling so I can hang the bowl of dough directly above the stove so it will rise well from the heat of whatever else I’m cooking.

I plan on spending a long while in site now. I get to go to suq tomorrow for the first time in I think three weeks! I went to the cooperative today and they were all glad to see me and I assured them I wasn’t going away again for awhile. They joked that it was too cold here and Rabat may be better but I said oho! (no!) I love it here and am tired of traveling so I’m happy to be qmin’. I finally have the Arabic and French translations for the new brochure so I’ll get it typed up right and it should be ready before Eid, inshallah! And just today there was more serious talk about fixing the big looms. I’m also thinking about taking a trip soon… I need something to look forward. It’s odd, even though I’m further away from home than ever, I’ve never stayed in such a small area for so long before. I’ll let you all know what my trip plans are soon…

Friday, November 21, 2008


After two days of avoiding everything here and just being an all around shivering grump, getting lost in and finishing both Julie and Julia and Back to the Soil I decided to start a fire. Sometimes all it takes is being warm and clean to make you smile. I got my ferno, essentially a little woodburning stove , going real good, and bucket bathed right there. Not exactly a hammam but it was nice. I felt so limber I did an episode of yoga from a care package from my dear aunt Laura. Then I read for awhile , A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is my newest acquisition . I started getting hungry but had absolutely no food in the house. So i mixed up my special pita dough recipie and set it to rise near the ferno while I read for another hour . Not wanting to leave the heavenly warmth of my room I baked that pita loaf right on top of my ferno . I burned half but it still turned out pretty darn good. I had out peanut butter sent from one side of the family and grape jelly sent from the other and combined it all for my first peanut butter and jelly sandwhich in over a year. And it was delicious. Yes I know, anything but a whloesome meal. But I was warm, clean , eating something yummy, reading something funny and had two happy cats snoozing on my lap. It was a fine evening. Now back to Africa…

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

tis so long i dont even know what its about

First off I just have to give a huge congratulations to OBAMA! It deserves a big lhamdulilah (thank god) though really I thank the American people for whose majority finally made a good decision! Thank you! And I can say for certain the greater portion of Moroccans I know thank you as well! Fun language side-note I simply can’t resist- McCain sounds almost exactly like ma kayn(sh), which is Arabic for “there isn’t.” Funny and I just really felt the need to share that.

Anyhow, my Obama joy came at the end of quite a little trip down south. I had some post Halloween fun with some friends and after recovering from a sour hangover on a long bus I arrived at my CBT site, the lovely little village I first called home and was adopted by in Morocco. It began awkward, with the guilt of taking so long to return and my poor Tam coupled with the fact that the dialect is very different, but soon enough we fell right back into place. I hadn’t forgotten how much I loved my first family in Morocco, but I was still surprised how much I enjoyed and missed their company in the less than 24-hour time I had to be with them again. My mom was loud and fast talking and nuts as ever, my sister as clingy and wanting, though a far better cook, and the boys just as sweet though disturbingly taller.

Now I am always and forever a great lover of couscous, but there has been a disappointing trend of couscous in my site. There are many varieties of couscous of course, but wet and dry define a lot. In my site it’s been un-spiced, with a few chickpeas and some sheep or chicken and about a gallon of aggu, or buttermilk, by my definition-disgusting. I totally respect them and their love of wet sour-milk drenched couscous, but I just don’t like it. As a result, I’ve been very deprived lately of my weekly quota of couscous, so when I went “home” down south I happily welcomed theirs. A wonderful big pile of it, quite salty and moistened only a bit with meat juices, and covered with collard greens, carrot, potato, pumpkin, parsnip, onion and zucchini, oh delicious. And I repeatedly praised the food, bumping up my sister’s self-esteem to great heights. The next morning I accompanied them on the daily task, though I wasn’t allowed to lift a finger, only observe, of shaking out and plucking off all the leaves of fig and various other trees done fruiting for the season to feed to the animals. It was a wonderful trip and I promised to return again in the spring, or at very latest, in the summer.

I made my long trip back north and, with much appreciated approval from Peace Corps staff we were all allowed to travel for the election. Just a few friends and I went to a PCV’s house who had this amazing little gadget which allows you to watch TV live on your computer. It was great, and though we all pooped out around two, after the first couple polls closed, we were awoke by one girl screeching around 4:30am, “He won! He won! He won!” Tired as I was, I was up, unbelieving, and unbelievably happy. We opened a bottle of terrible champagne, managed to each drink a small cup, watch McCain’s poor speech, Obama’s AMAZING speech and I definitely fell back to sleep with a big smile on my face.

We awoke late the next morning to hear more results and discuss the wonderful victories, and chat about what was gonna happen next, one friend said, “you know, it’s really weird to feel good about America again, like to feel inspired about the future” and we all felt similar. I’ve definitely been noticing more and more to be thankful for about America during my time here, but to truly be inspired about the future? Well I haven’t felt that for my home country in a long ass time. So, yay for us huh? I think so.

I returned to site, many texts of joy to other volunteers, some jumping up and down, and many congrats from Moroccans later, for a quick stint in site before turning around and leaving, again. And I really, really didn’t want to go. I was tired, and the thought of leaving my baby boy home alone in the cold was just not nice. But I had to go, to the great capital, Rabat, for MSM (mid-service meds), the second to last time my whole staj would be joined as a whole group. I was quite grumpy after the 6-hour bus ride, and some really awful harassment within an hour of arriving in the great city. I was tired, and I really didn’t feel like spending money or getting poked and prodded by anybody. But of course I got grumpier because that’s exactly what happened. A busy few days of labs, x-rays, dentist appointments, physicals and really expensive eating out. The food is great let me tell you, but I honestly far prefer my own cooking now, which is far cheaper and just as damn good, if not better.

While I was in Rabat I was reminded again, and will now remind all of you, of just how weird we PCVs are. Take stool samples, for example. While a year ago I got all red in the face and shy anyone farted or mentioned sex or talked about how ya, girls shit too, I’ve lost any and all pride now. They passed out those cute little plastic cups and caps, brown paper bags and wooden sticks (this last one just confused us) and sent us off. The main point of this of course is to check for parasites, which many of us acquire here. I thankfully have not, as of yet. But it was with much humor and far too little discretion that we ran around the classiest city in Morocco with our little poo samples to the lab, joking about who had and hadn’t yet, and where, and how and that we must hurry for if we don’t get it to the lab within half an hour it’s no good anymore and we have to do it again. I even complained that I had to use the brown paper bag, for I’d much rather take the brown paper bag home for making pita bread (it’s essential for keeping pita soft after baking, and the only place I know they are available is our PC med office) So anyhow, that was that.

To further delve into what no one needs to know, but possibly explains at least some part of my bad mood; the morning of my appointed physical and pap, oh joy, it was that time of the month again. Forgive my language, but “Fuck!” was my initial reaction to this most beautiful gift of womanhood this time around. Mostly I was just stinkin pissed because it meant I’d have to come all the way back to Rabat again soon. Oh well. More pricey food later, and second piercings in my ears (that was a yay moment) and we were finally released back to our sites. I made a stopover in Azrou to pick up a cat. A girl who is COSing but coming back for a job needed a cat sitter for 6 weeks, and I agreed. My boy needs a buddy when I’m away and it’s nice to have two lap warmers. The new gal is currently seated on my lap and Bu at my side. If it was only a maybe before I can say now it’s a fact that I’ve become a lonely crazy cat lady.

So back to site meant back to the cold. In my determination to me unhappy about having to be there I forgot to be thankful for the weather in Rabat. In hindsight Rabat was like fall in Ventura, so lovely. Not much different from the rest of the year, just a slight crisp chill in the air in the evening, and I love that. Even more depressing is that I missed going to the beach even once, but really just hadn’t had time. Back here, home, I’m remembering exactly why I hate winter so much. How the cold gets in your bones and never leaves, no matter how many cats or blankets or happy thoughts you can conjure up. And it’s not even that cold yet. Though it didn’t provide much warmth, the last thing I’ve been wanting to do is move more than five inches away from my electric heater, but due to too much rich food in Rabat I’ve got even more too much info for you all, the shits. I’m so sorry you have to hear that, but again, I really don’t care.

I also had another site visit yesterday, and no I don’t want to talk about it. No work isn’t going any better or worse. Mostly I just haven’t been here, but after my second trip to Rabat for the damn pap smear next week and Thanksgiving at another friend’s site, I hope to stay home more, survive Leid Al Adha and get back to work. Right now I’m reading. A lot again. Mostly to keep my mind off my mind, but also because I’ve got a lot of new books arriving soon and want to finish some I still have here. I’ve been reading Back to the Soil; The Jewish Farmers of Clarion, Utah, and Their World by Robert Alan Goldberg. I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, mostly just because I’m related to one of them, and it’s just kind of cool to read a book a blood relative was part of; but recently it hits home for real since my current little dream forming is farming. Also honestly, I don’t know that I could have gotten through a history book so easily before. I love history, but dry writing has never been a real good idea if I want to stay awake. This book isn’t written with any kind of special enthusiasm, but I love it! No tiredness here for sure, though it is a bit depressing because, after all, it is about a great failure.

I’m a good two thirds of the way through Back to the Soil, and I really don’t like starting a new book when I’m not done with another, but last night I was feeling cold, in the pits and just needed something else and began Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. I read a few pages shy of 200 and went to bed at nearly 2am. Sometimes it’s just what I need, like Eat, Pray, Love, not because it’s a literary masterpiece but because it’s about some worried woman’s unhappy life and something they start doing to change it in some way, bitching the whole time. I don’t feel much sympathy, or even inspiration, I’m just happy for the time to not be bitching about the mess I think of my own life. And the best way for me to do that seems to be to read someone else doing the same thing. I don’t feel much in common with Julie; except maybe the food, and my worry that I’ll be a confused 20 or 30 or even 40 something, only without the loving husband in tote.

It’s not like it takes much to get me thinking about food, for it’s the one thing I do good here, but the book is much about food, so here go yet more words on the subject. Have I mentioned I never want to live a life where I need a microwave again? Well I really mean it. I’ve lived a year without micro-waved food and love it. If I can say one positive thing about my overseas experience it’s my love and appreciation of food, or really, that process that keeps us alive physically, and the fulfillment making such things from scratch brings, which greatly contributes to mental health as well. A great inspiration of course was reading The Omnivores Dilemma, but more it just reaffirmed and gave weight to beliefs I had but didn’t believe in (yes I know that makes no sense, I’ve told you before I’m just one long, nonsensical run-on).

So I recently got a package from home containing, among other items, lots of food products. I will admit right off the bat here that there with always remain a special place in my heart my greatest comfort food, mac n cheese, I know it’s all obtuse ingredients but it tastes like something good from childhood so I’m ok with the indulgence once in a blue moon. But I do recognize now the ridiculousness of processed food more than ever. I’ve always known they’re not quite real, there all chemicals, they’re just easy food for our fast paced lives, whatever. But I honestly always thought they tasted fine. And when time is money, if it’s edible I’m gonna eat it. Well I have changed. I thank you kindly for sending me such things, but I can honestly say now, there is no need to send anymore.

I came home from the trip down south, having missed suq I had no veggies and no energy so without worry I popped open one such ten-minute meal in a bag for, well, a meal. The poor pieces of quick cooking pasta sadly dozed around the boiling water with the powder to soon form a supposedly rich creamy-broccoli garlic sauce. Nonsense. It was terrible. If I hadn’t been so hungry I’d have thrown it out. Still without veggies, the next day I had another packet, same directions, supposedly different favor. Two more revelations came about from this process, a) both tasted exactly the same (which makes sense after reading Michael Pollan’s book and finding out that most of the ingredients are in fact the same-some product of corn, and after a year of my taste buds growing used to actually tasting different foods together) and b) it was ridiculously sad to be done cooking dinner in ten minutes. It’s not like I have all the free time in the world here but I’m now accustomed to actually setting aside more time preparing my meal than eating it, far more, and I like that. I enjoy chopping and sautéing and discovering how much of one spice I can handle and how much of another the dish needs, it’s fun, meditative and oh so fulfilling to eat! After some unhappy quick meals, suq day arrived and I made some amazing soups of my own.

I have many fears about returning to the states, and a big one is definitely falling back into the routine of eating and being content with such easy food I’m afraid it won’t take long at all for my taste buds to accept bland microwave products again and to think that gourmet food is only something you can get in restaurants or on big holidays like Thanksgiving, worthy of the work of actual cooking. Because in the states, unlike here, it’s easier to eat food from a bag than off the land. Which is why I’ve just got to become a farm girl right?

I do feel a little bad, and confused, and lacking in articulate wording lately. As I’ve spoken to family members recently I don’t know how to explain exactly what this “thing” is that I want to do so badly when I get back, at least not without sounding like a dumb hippie. No don’t want to go back to school, not at all actually, I don’t even really want to travel. I want to farm. I want to be on the land. Maybe it’s the odd juxtaposition of my newfound love of real food, combined with my newfound weight gain of 11 pounds due to lack of enough exercise despite such good food (no exaggeration, I just got weighed in Rabat), but I want to live simple, as Julie said, “Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be a part of something that was not easy, just simple.”

For there is a huge difference between simple and easy. I say often that the people live here simply, but in no way does that mean to imply they live easy. Compared to my standard of living in the states, physically at least, life here is anything but easy. I would say mentally life in the states may have been anything but easy due to all the contradictions I was living, all the distractions from what I truly deem important and valuable to life. Maybe I need to go back to therapy, or better, I just need to start listening to my own advice. At some point you have to sit down with yourself and admit what it is that you know makes you smile, what will keep the light on in your soul. I over complicate myself, but I am quite simple, and maybe life would be easier if I would live in such a way. I am so tired. I don’t know just how to go about doing this thing, this dreamy thing, but it’s making me smile and that’s what I need right now.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


30 October

I am overcome with love and respect for my village right now. I woke up early to singing from the mosque. Generally the only thing you hear from a mosque is the call to prayer five times a day, but sometimes there are songs. The songs are actually Koran readings and I find them very beautiful regardless of my not knowing the words or necessarily believing in their meaning. Today I found out this reading was for a woman who just died nearby. I don’t know what makes her passing different than others; just two weeks ago one of my neighbors died and there was no singing, maybe I’ll find out soon. I’ve been to quite a few death ceremonies, very similar to baby naming ceremonies and even weddings; lots of the same food, lots of people, lots of waiting, lots of hanging out. The difference of course is death ceremonies are sad and rather than drumming and joyous old songs, there is a lot of howling and wailing. They are supposed to last three days, but seem to go on a bit longer around here. Anyhow an important part of death in Islam is that the body must be buried very quickly, I think within 12 hours or something. So a few minutes ago I heard more singing along with the mosque and looked outside my window. 30 or so men were walking with the casket by my house on their way to the graveyard. It was just very beautiful to me and though I couldn’t attend the burial because I am a woman, I’m thankful I could observe some part of the ritual.

Aside from this little moment of culture and loving my site, I have been well overall. I think it’s very much due to the CBT presence the past month and a half. Yesterday was their last day here and I felt little bits of sadness like I did last year when I was one of them leaving my first home in Morocco. It almost felt like I was leaving too, but thankfully I’m not yet, and more importantly, I don’t want to yet. I wouldn’t say work is going any better or that I have changed in any significant way but like any family I do love this little village and these people I’ve lived among for the past year. In small ways I have grown closer and more confident among the women I work with, particularly my counterpart. There’s a lot of new projects coming up, busy times and I hope to be a more integral part of it all. Oddly enough, I think it’s my newfound love and joy in cooking that has brought me closer to the women. For various affairs lately I’ve been bringing baked goods and they friggin love it! So I guess if I can’t talk, I’ll bake. Cinnamon rolls, focaccia, pumpkin spice cake, yogurt cake, chocolate pudding cake, pita bread. So okay I guess I’m not really teaching them anything about staying healthy, but I’ll work on that…

One recent event that really helped me out was a visit from Alia Kate. Her site is much more informative than I am but essentially she has an entrepreneur fellowship to start a business carrying Moroccan goods in America. She came to my site to have a look at their product and bought five huge hanbils! And has ideas for future custom orders. It was great and they loved her. Her site is and her blog is once im on my own computer again ill update my links and add these.

Another reason for my recent bought of calm is feeling a little more confident about my life after Peace Corps. I know a lot more about what I want to do. I’ll update more on that soon, I’m trying to stay on a little dreamy honeymoon with my ideas before I start growing them on earth. And I’ve got plenty more books to read…

Anyhow I’m heading out, this afternoon my site mate and I are hiking our now very cold mountain again for a look at the snow. Snow before Halloween, can you believe it!? It’s actually the first clear and lovely day we’ve had in quite some time. I hear there’s been crazy flooding in many parts of the world, and we are certainly part of that group. It just never seemed to stop! I am in an area where snow and rain are expected but not nearly to the extent we’ve been having. There is nowhere for the water to go so it’s all pooled in the fields. Tons of corn, onion, garlic and potato fields have been completely drowned, mushkil imkor! (very big problem!) Nearby a few people were killed, over a hundred sheep and some donkeys. It’s awful, but today is clear and hopefully we’ll have a few dry days. I also hope the weather chills out so I can take my little trip! I’m heading down, on Halloween as it happens, to see a few friends and then visit my CBT site! It will be the first time I’ll see my first home and family in Morocco since I’ve been sworn in as a PCV. I’m very excited because I really loved my host mom and family and feel terrible it’s taken me so long to go see them. Then I’ll be heading back up and hopefully be able to watch the elections with some friends who live somewhere with access to it live!

That’s it for now, hope you’re all well and Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I have a little dream forming. Actually a big one, but composed of small steps, research and most importantly, belief. Some months back, in a moment of despair I was on the phone with my mom and she asked me, have you ever thought that maybe you’re just fine the way you are? Irritated to the bone of course I avoided the option of being okay. No one’s okay! How could I possibly be just fine when I’m always all screwed up? But of course therein lies the obvious self-fulfilling prophecy, the mistake we all make all the time. I don’t believe that all it takes is believing in yourself to make you all better, but that it is certainly an important step to beginning new beginnings. I know that I must quit squashing my dreams before they’ve even begun forming. I know that the majority of things I love in this world I don’t actually have faith in. And I know that I’m a series of ridiculous contradictions when I fight what is most elemental to my being. But I have this little dream forming; full of all that I love to do, to make and to see. It’s all very basic and no so complicated when I just accept it for what it is; fine the way it is. Not even that, it’s downright beautiful and I’m working on having confidence in it. I’ll let you know more soon…

over yonder mountain

Friday, 3 October

It’s been a long but alright day. Woke up and went on a hike with my site mate on the mountains in our site. Only a few weeks ago she found out that two of our douars are actually located on the other side of the huge mountains, so technically, we had to go visit. So sad and embarrassing I know, that it took me nearly a year to climb the damn thing. First people told me I wasn’t allowed to go alone, and then when my site mate arrived we were still told it wasn’t a good idea. We finally made the trip when a male PCV friend of ours came for a visit.

A steep and rocky climb up, some little dog problems on the other side (luckily I was with people not nearly as terrified as I am), and we were in amazingly beautiful country. We’re hoping to make the trip again before it gets too cold, but for now Natalie and I are happy to just go up and down our side of it once a week or so just to get out of the house and more in shape. So today we did that; hiked up, took some pictures for the new brochure my friend is designing for my Cooperative, and hiked back down. Not surprisingly we got suckered into lunch at the douar closest to the mountain. Fridays are couscous days so I actually wanted to, but it turned out to be a congrats party for someone we didn’t know getting engaged to someone else we didn’t know. Typical, but whatev. So after three rounds of tea and two entrees (sheep and prunes in oil and couscous with some meat and chickpeas) and dessert, we were finally able to head back to the town center around 4:30pm.

Along the way I received the loveliest gift possible, a phone call from my best friend! Ya hoo! It was wonderful to hear that thick Wisconsin accent again and catch up a bit more than facebook comments allow. It was so great to hear about her life and being in the right place (grad school), I’m so dang happy for her I can’t stand it! She’s actually asking me for info on some stuff here that relates to a paper she’s working on. Talking to her reminded me of course of the world away I am. I deal with things like not being able to wash my dishes or bathe because the waters out, or who I have to go have tea with this week so they won’t think I’ve forgotten or hate them, and how many donkeys of wood I need to buy to last me through the winter, and how ridiculous it is that onions are now 4dirham a kilo when last week they were 2.5. These are my worries, and though I appreciate them, I miss higher education sometimes.

Tonight I watched more of the Planet Earth series, I got a few episodes from a friend and am enjoying it immensely. It really depresses me because I love it so much and have so little hope for it all, but I watch it because I love “nature shows” as it’s the only place that makes sense to me. So I’m just moseying through another night here, wondering what the hell I’m going to do with my life (does anyone else have a clue? Because I’m really out of my own loop) and wondering what I will do with tomorrow.

Maybe what I have to accept here is to just be here, impossible and ridiculous as it sounds. Because I love the pace here, and I fight it constantly only because it provides the space to think and that scares me. I have my silky happy cat, my humble little house and a community of people simply living here and fine with my odd volunteer presence. I hate that I don’t know what I want to do. I hate feeling so disconnected to the “real world” and that all my conversations in Berber are short simple and wanting, and all my conversations in English are about Peace Corps and everything we miss or want or are unhappy about and that we’re wasting our youth out here. It’s an odd social life. I stay in site a lot more and am becoming quite the chubby homemaker; making nearly everything from scratch now. Baking my own bread, I made an amazing foccacia loaf, rosemary pasta, apple pie, falafel, etc. etc. and with no kids or hubby to feed but my cat I’m eating far too much. But still I love knowing all that goes into my food and how it all works; I never want to own a microwave again! I’ve also kind of fallen into wine making, which is surprisingly simple, and so hashuma in a Muslim country I know, but I love it!

Speaking of food, did I mention I failed Ramadan? Well, mostly anyhow. It’s a month of fasting and while the first week I fasted because I was sick as a dog, when in Figuig I didn’t fast because it was hot and the people I was staying with were just too dang good at cooking for me to pass up. And once back in site and settling in I just couldn’t get into it. I fasted a few days, but nowhere near experiencing what Ramadan is all about. So maybe next year…? Eid was fun and I actually did a good job visiting many people in my site, and suffered a hard sugar crash by late afternoon. As part of my guilt but mostly for its own reasons, I will be fasting for that other very special holiday coming up…

Fook Figuig!

Saturday, 20 September

Literally this translates as “above Figuig” but it’s a saying here with a much greater meaning. To say fook Figuig is to express “hey, I’m great, I’m in utopia, there is nothing above an oasis like Figuig!” And people all over the country might say it, even if they’ve never actually been there or even like it, again, it’s just a saying. But last week was truly fook Figuig. Literally, I was there, and compared to the way life in site has been for me, it was quite the utopia.

I was invited by the volunteers there to come do a training. As I said in my last post, they were able to purchase a beautiful used Schact Baby Wolf loom through a grant for the women’s weaving cooperative they work with. The volunteers there are unbelievably generous and kind, having me at their house for a few days, feeding me, etc. Because it is Ramadan I only taught for three or so hours each morning, but it was just fine. The women I worked with were amazing-not one had over an 8th grade education yet all spoke Tamazight (a different dialect than the Tam I speak), Darija, a good amount of French and even a few words of English. Most could read French as well. And they all exhibited such enthusiasm and interest in learning. The curiosity and creativity that came from what seemed at first to be shy and timid women was so refreshing, as was their kindness. Not that people in my site are mean, per se, but I’ve never exactly felt the wonderful warmth and welcoming here as I have most everywhere else I’ve visited. So anyhow, it was wonderful; to work, to feel like I was actually doing something, and to actually see the change. I taught them how to set up the loom, follow a pattern and even draft their own (with much help from A Handweavers Pattern Book of course!). The volunteers there have worked super hard and have an incredible website well representing the city of Figuig and all its artisans. Figuig Artisanat

Not to be a downer, but leaving Figuig was a downer. Working was so great. On the ten hour bus ride home, which by the way is a lot shorter than the ride normally is (one big plus during Ramadan is that there are no lunch breaks) I read Omnivores Dilemma, barely 100 pages in but hooked. The nice thing is that I’m not on the American diet currently. Despite all my complaining about not having some of my favorite foods and the convenience, I am very grateful for the food available to me here. Fresh produce at every souq, and only what is naturally in season, everything is flavored with sugar, not corn syrup, any meat I do eat is all grass fed and while it’s no picnic for them they do live their lives outside in the natural world, and for what it’s worth, are all slaughtered with a prayer. So if I do get sick, it’s from a funny bug from not washing my food correctly or eating something a little later than its time as I have no fridge, I’m not ingesting much of any processed food chemicals whose names I can’t even pronounce that may or may not cause cancer later in life. I really never want to return to American food.

At hour six of my bus ride, a little exhausted by the loaded information in the book, I paused and glanced outside as we pulled into a bus station. There sat a man with a young Barbary ape in a tiny shirt and undies, held around the neck by a sharp tight chain. It was one of those moments where I truly felt a great let down from the human race. Monkeys always make me sad because I almost always see them in a poor state and of course they are so like us that it just hits a little too close to home to handle. The man chatted with a friend while the monkey chewed on some trash, then got excited and tried to jump on his shoulder a couple times at which point he was beat down and held without any slack between the man’s legs. I know it can sound lame, but in that moment, especially after reading the book and the day before listening to the American financial crisis goings on on the BBC (the volunteers I stayed with had internet at home), I just felt unable to handle the weight of my own species and all that we have done to our home. The moment came and went but the weight is always there.

This brings me back around yet again to the tiring but ever present question of what I want to do with my life. I want a plain woven life. I know that I am over influenced by my life here and how different it is from where I came, but all I keep coming back to is simplicity. I remember well the first time I wove. Our professor showed us the bare minimum-how to measure a warp, how to tie it on the loom, how to pass the shuttle back and forth, safi. Then we were given a weekend or so to weave, just weave, which gave us no direction whatsoever; all we knew was we had to interlock some threads. When we hung up our finished work she read each of us like a book; knew who made what without asking and pulled our character out of our work before we’d even been properly introduced to her. It was a poignant moment and one of the most important beginnings of my life. And we all matured in our work in very separate ways.

Even from her second weaving I could see my best friend Ashley’s whole being reflected in her work. She chose the most complicated pattern she could do with the limits of her loom and worked with such determination for precision and used the finest materials she could find. This theme continued throughout her work in the weaving room and elsewhere. Growing ever finer, ever more complicated and ever more beautiful. Sorry Ash, for using you in my reflections, but our differences so often help. I grew more towards the weight of a piece, rather than beauty and grace, the way two or more awkward fibers could work together in ways they could never work on their own, and I wanted them to be loved by a body. After a year or so of fighting it I accepted my love of plainweave and focused only on the fibers that interlocked. I wanted what made it up to be the beauty and then the purpose. To be plainly honest, I don’t consider myself a very intelligent person; in that I’m not studious, I’m a terrible and frustrated writer, a horrible communicator and I can’t remember a damn fact to save my life. I can’t live without seeing the product of my efforts close to hand. It’s like cash versus cards. I know cards are sophisticated and modern, but I just can’t wrap my little head around it and cash just seems to make fine sense. These are the ramblings of someone born in the wrong era I guess.

What hurts is that I do feel the whole world. For better or worse, my mom raised me to be aware of the world; of all that’s fucked up and all that’s beautiful. She took us for family trash pick-up walks in the city and when we lived with a place with a yard to know the difference between growing your own food and buying it. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People teaches about our circle of concern; that it is made of an inner circle of influence and outer circle of general concern. It’s what I used to call getting worked up about my own petty life, and getting worked up about the “real” and big problems of the world, and finding a balance. But what I know and someday hope to accept is that living within our realm of influence is the only way to create the strength to push that circle wider.

I suppose what I mean to say among all this word sputtering is that I love simplicity but fear I can’t live simply and still provide a real hand in the world. Like leading a simple life isn’t leading a big enough life. What it really is is a lack of confidence, that the things I want are not enough, while I believe at the same time that every person living well is the greatest contributor to the greater health of the world. I used to escape to my imaginary utopia, not exactly Figuig but it did have palm trees. My little dream now is to have a small bit of land, to grow just enough food to eat, to raise alpacas and weave pleasantly. Is that a life? I have no desire whatsoever to be back in the maze of school where I only ever felt behind and uneasy. I also don’t think I am strong enough to begin after this experience yet another job in the rat race or I’ll never find peace and I’ll never get out. I can work hard when I’m told what to do. I don’t work when given the space to do something, as seen by my service up to this point…

At the end of a day of anxiety on the bus and feeling a little blue about every aspect of everything, nature rang with a call of beauty. I went to break the fast with my site mate at my host family’s house the night I came back. When we left out in the great expanse of sky above the rolling hills toward Azrou was the most magnificent electrical storm I’d ever seen. The show continued well into the night and I felt some peace after a long week and a distressing day.