Sunday, January 20, 2008

my own mud hut in Africa

19 January

Aw, I just finished, embarrassingly only my second book since arriving here, A Thousand Splendid Suns, marvelous. Wow, dunno if I’ve ever used that word before. Also, don’t care how much of a sappy girl it makes me, but I totally cried. It kind of surprises me that a book can do that, but overall it’s refreshing and nice. Speaking of being sniffly, I am so damn tired of being sick! Various illnesses are always a muck- today its mucus finally draining and becoming a cough, soon I’ll loop back around to sore throat and inflamed tonsils, maybe a migraine, take your pick. It’s hard to ever get better when you’re always cold. And of course a lovely daily dose of acid indigestion. It’s no wonder though, as the hilarious yet useful book Peace Corps gives all Volunteers, Where There Is No Doctor says, its caused by too much heavy and or greasy food, coffee, carbonated and or alcoholic drinks and not enough water. Ha! Now half of that is definition of homestay, the other half is what I indulge in when I’m not home, so duh, and ow.

But on with the story of the moment, this is going to be poorly edited for I want to post it tomorrow when I go to my souq town, bear with me. There is so frigging much to catch up on, but all I care about right now is how happy I am, so here is the story of why. To sum it up, followed of course by a ridiculously long explanation- fight for your right! The right I have been fighting for is to my own house. It is amazing how quickly it has all happened and how easily it all could have fallen through. In Morocco things just work and they just don’t, you’re a bottomless pit of sorrow and confusion one moment and a radiant ball of sunshine the next (I have a long post written about this too, but who knows when it’ll be up) Though I am lacking in many areas, I am damn proud of myself for fighting this battle out.

I won’t go into all the intricacies, but I will say this first, all Peace Corps Volunteers of course face challenges and difficulty of various kinds in their sites, and I do not mean to ever say my experience is harder that anyone else’s. That aside, I’m not going to lie, I was put into a site and situation with challenges and a reputation I had no part in building. I try to hold no grudge against either party, as I was not here, but let’s just say many of the women I am to work with have been very skeptical of my presence. So rather than just having the task of building a good reputation, I have the task of breaking down the reputation of the previous volunteer while simultaneously building a good one of my own. Anyhow, it’s complicated but it’s what I have to work with, and I am! Because of the previous volunteers close relationship with the host family, the first and foremost opportunity I have to show the community I am different is by moving out, and that is the battle of which I am writing. I want to note quickly that my host family has been very kind to me and I don’t mean to paint them in a bad light, it is only in their view of my best interest that this process has been so difficult. Here, the thought of a woman living alone is comparable to inviting a donkey in for tea and cookies to chat about politics-it's ludicrous. Though my mom is really angry and worried now, I hope with time she’ll be happy to have me here as a coworker, not a daughter.

As miscommunication continued and my mom got the gendarme (like the county sheriff, or, for the single, young, and female mirikani, a very overprotective father) involved in keeping me in her house for two years, I needed an intervention, so last Thursday, my tutor come to town to help. We found the mokadem (kind of the village protector/leader/know all) and he showed me a mud house at the other end of town, but it was huge and barren and not up to Peace Cops code. The only other place available was half the second floor of, conveniently, my mom’s friend’s house across the street from her. It was cute, but very small, and essentially would amount to two years of homestay. Though the day ended well with the women finally understanding I would not be living with my host family and much of their jealousy lifted quickly, where I would be living was still a very big question.

Due to the Muslim New Year I had a four day weekend, and headed off to meet up with Linsey again, her site mates, and even with my worries, had an awesome couple trips to McDonalds and plenty of pizza, etc., but that trip is a different story. I came back on Sunday to more family drama, and no new house prospects. On Monday I thought I’d try and see about a different house near the mud one, at which point my mom began yelling about how the boys would get me and I wouldn’t be safe unless she could see me, etc., etc., until I couldn’t understand her anymore. Next thing I knew she and another woman were accompanying me. And then chaos ensued. I found the mokadem, tried to explain I simply wanted to see the other house available in the area, but he kept pointing to the mud house, and my mom started yelling again, and no one was understanding anyone. So I called my tutor to translate, but after my mom screamed at him and the mokadem talked to him, by the time I got the phone he began telling me the mokadem said the landlord of the mud house was willing to build whatever I wanted, and the my minutes ran out. My host mother kept on her dramatic stammering riot, and it was a rough couple nights.

Wednesday, however, was the turning point. Out of courtesy I went with my mother to look at her friend’s house again, but oh the betrayal! As she made her way to the co-op I had to lie and tell her I had to run to the post office. It was only a half lie, for I was going to the post office, but I was also going to get my house, armed with fresh vocabulary from my tutor. The mokadem was not at his store so I went to the post office to kill time, and oh my- my box from my dad finally arrived! (Only a month and a half late!) It was HUGE! A ton of Reeses, Trader Joes cheese treats, powdered parmesan, goofy pez dispensers, some games, more Smartwool socks, and best of all- tall dark brown Uggs- my saviors. I love them so much I’m gonna name them. My feet haven’t been cold since that day, they make me so happy! I may actually survive the winter now! Though I was still stressed, it was hard not to smile and I honestly thought I could do no wrong in my new boots, at least for a day, and it was so! (side note- for those wondering, and know me well, no I did not sleep in my boots)

The mokadem had still not returned so I made my way to the mosque, or the town center, where an afternoon prayer had just ended so it was swarming with men. I felt like a dummy trying to find this guy when it’s not a good idea to look men in the face, but that’s the only way to recognize anyone of course. Then I spotted a woman from the co-op, who I knew was important, but didn’t even know her name. She helped me find the mokadem, but he was busy and asked if she could take me to meet the landlord. Mashi mushkil. So we walked, clear across town to his house, then back to the house in question with him and his mother. He was very welcoming and I actually managed to ask for everything I wanted and he understood! I got Peace Corps staff on the phone to explain again and once someone could come and do the paperwork it was settled! Yippee!!

Then me and this woman, whose name I was too embarrassed to ask for, left for the co-op. On the way we randomly bumped into my counterpart, who I had seen maybe twice since I got here and had no idea how to approach. The three of us stopped in the new coop building; which is huge, amazing and nearly finished! Of course she invited us for tea at her house next door, and though I knew my mom was probably frantic as I had not returned from my post office errand in nearly three hours, there was no way I was going to refuse finally meeting with the woman who is supposed to be my main contact and working partner for the next two years! So we had tea and she said I was welcome anytime. Hamdullah! By the time we left it was lunch time, I thanked the woman who had helped me out all day so much and ran home, wanting to jump up and down with joy, but also dreading my mother’s reaction to my activities. And it was as expected, she asked where I’d been in that freaky mom tone and I told her, eek, that I’d found a house near the post office, and had tea at Fatima’s. She was pissed; you don’t need to have a syllable of common language to figure that out. Then there was much heated discussion with our neighbor, more tears and angry faces, but there was no backing down from me. All in all I think it’s healthy for them to see a grown woman living alone and happy and safe. She then informed me that the woman who’d been helping me all day was actually the president of the co-op, her name was Rabha, and she lives only a couple houses down from my new home, thank you!

Then Malika from PC came yesterday, settled everything with my landlord and inshallah, the first house I looked at will be ready and mine the first of February! I don’t have pictures yet, but here’s a wordy overview; he’s closing off the outdoor bathroom (Peace Corps policy- so I don’t go outside at night), and extending it inside so I can bathe and wash clothes. Then building a long counter and sink in the biggest room for my kitchen. Then there’s the inferno room, though the house in general keeps a nice temp cuz its mud, that’ll be the warm, and if I ever have company, socializing, room. Then the bedroom, but really it’s just going to be my ‘stuff” room because I plan on sleeping in the ferno room. A little hallway to the right just inside the front door will be a sort of garage for my bike, firewood, and maybe a litter box? Please note- I absolutely hate litter boxes but the pros of having a solely indoor cat with a litter box far outweigh the cons of having an indoor/outdoor cat (I don’t have money for rabies shots, worm and flea stuff, etc), so yea, I’ll clean up its shit. Then he’s going to build me a ladder and I’ll make a clothes line on the roof. Eek! As I told another PCV earlier, who’s equally psyched to move into her own place, it’s like I have a huge crush I can’t stop daydreaming about; only for an awesome house, not a dumb boy! We’re all getting goofy about our new homes, drawing out detailed birds eye views of the layout and what’s goin where. Its gonna be igouda bzaf!

Oh hamdullah, it feels so good to feel good again! To have a place to call my own for the next two years. I understand homestay, but I am dying for my own dance space! It’s hard to enjoy my time alone, for the only place I can be alone is my room which is approximately 1/3 my own body temperature. This whole house business and running all over town this past week has built up my vocabulary but I want to know Tam more than ever now! When Malika was here we went over to Fatima’s house, long story, but they’re good friends and to sit there and watch them laugh and chat, I wanted in so bad! Like I was a little girl wishing so bad that I could talk to the cool popular girl. I will. She’s well educated and I can see is going to be expecting more from me than just being here, which is good! At the moment two years doesn’t seem like enough time, but I’ll use it well. I’m glad to finally feel welcome at more people’s homes so I can practice Tam and really integrate. I’ve allowed myself to stay too sheltered so far, it’s good to get out!

Work was good today too. I get tired of just sitting there quietly, but am too shy to initiate much communication, so my little project right now is the language of the looms, ha. I’m doing detailed drawings of the four types of looms I’ve observed being used among the co-op; the way old school vertical-handmade-tied to the walls wood looms they only work on at home, the government issued vertical metal looms, one at the co-op and one at my counterparts house, and the two types of horizontal modern looms at the co-op. Then I will label them in Tam and begin to teach the women how to fix them. Simple things like the fact that most of them don’t use the brake on the back beam but I don’t know why. I think this is a good way to start showing them my background and get them asking questions. I still want to fix the big loom but if we move into the new building soon maybe I shouldn’t. Ah, and funny little language note: in Tam, the verb “to weave”, the noun “warp,” and the noun “loom” are all the same word- astta. Again- Tam is hard! Wow, long story, but I enjoyed it! Ooo, and congrats, a few days early, to my grandma and grandpa, celebrating their 45th year of surviving marriage! Tbarkla!

Saturday, January 5, 2008


4 January 2008

As usual, nature’s keepin it real. Yesterday the weather culminated in a super storm of all forms just as my mood and mind had been building up to going absolutely nuts as I had not left my site in 8 days and hadn’t bathed in two weeks. Many factors played into my stir-craziness, but mostly it left me hating on life and myself and my lovely little site much too much. But the great lessons this country teaches me daily are many, and yesterday of course it was to never be heartbroken by your fixed plans, in fact, don’t ever have fixed plans.

Normally I love wind, it’s refreshing and scary, and fun to play in, but in a world of dust, the fifteen minute walk to my two planned errands of going to the post office, only to find yet again that my package had not yet arrived, and having tea with one of the nicest old ladies in town (though she’s completely un-understandable) was quite scary. Then my further plans for the day, going to the Co-op and the cyber, fell through as it began to rain, and soon, hail. The weather was yelling as loud as my little host nephew. So for the rest of the day I sat quietly, as usual, but my mind was screaming with everything I wasn’t getting done, and how much I wanted to get out of here.

Later that evening I braved leaving the inferno room to pee, so focused on my own demolished self, I didn’t even look up as I stepped out the front door and into the bit lma. Then as I came out I was shocked to find that it was snowing, and even more shocked that I hadn’t noticed the quiet, for snow seems to silence all, guess I just let my brain get too loud. I smiled big and laughed at my ridiculous nature and all my frustrations, and sat back behind the inferno, doing the same thing, just sittin there, but feeling oh so different about it all. Not better necessarily, but I humored myself. And within minutes the power was out. Ha. So we sat by light of the fire and a buta gas lamp and had dinner a half hour early.

Funny how unprepared you always are at these times. We had randomly had coffee instead of tea with kascrew, so I was wide awake on caffeine, but I had let my battery on my laptop go, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to type for long, and my ipod was in the red too, and of course I had no idea where my AAA rechargeable batteries were for my fading push light because I hadn’t needed to use them yet, but I had nothing to read anyway, so what did it matter? Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.

This morning, I woke up to a world of white. A good eleven inches of it. And it’s beautiful. Atfl bzaf! Growing up near the beach in southern Cali, I never lived with snow, but I did go through a good four years of it in college in Missouri, and have decided I much prefer living Mediterranean. However, its impossible to not love the first snow, especially on the dry, red dirt landscape of Morocco. Oh, forgot to mention, the power came back on this morning, but the waters off, eh. And as the day progresses, so slowly, I’m oddly okay with it all, cuz really, I have absolutely no power to stop it.

Somehow in realizing how powerless I am in one area inspires me to take control of an area I do have power in. Presently, that would be me falling into madness, no not really, but I’m just getting too frustrated and too stubborn too quickly. I’ve decided to pull yet another unexpected page from my mom’s book and start doing “what I love about you’s” for Morocco when I journal, just like we used to do at family meetings. Sounds silly, and it certainly always was the most dreaded portion, because all we really wanted to do was rip each other’s hair out, but in hindsight, I’m ever thankful, for those are the only moments I really remember about family meetings. Since much of my journaling is ranting, raving and whining, it’s good to take a moment to think, even forcefully, about what I do love. What I love about Morocco today is its ability to be a never ceasing lesson in patience, its mountains, and the women, who, even with infants strapped to their backs, are shoveling snow of their roofs. I don’t think I’ll ever understand most things. Speaking of understanding, I’m also taking more control in learning the language, but I’ll talk about that more in another post.

Though the snow has screwed over my plans of getting to the cyber today as well, they don’t exactly salt all the roads here, I really hope its cleared up enough by tomorrow! For I’ve been looking forward to tomorrow for much to long! My best friend here, Linsey, who’s placed a good eight hour bus ride from me, is meeting me in Azrou for the night! Not only am I ecstatic about seeing her and talking in English about anything and everything for a good 24 straight hours (we may even need a talking stick cuz I dunno if either of us is gonna be able to shut up long enough to listen, you try going just one day without speaking English or seeing someone you’ve known longer than a month), I will also have a shower! And ooo, I’m even going to shave! Both of which I haven’t done since swear in in Fes - that was over a month ago. I’ve “bathed” here, but there’s just nothing as great as a shower, and two weeks is just, wow, way too long. And the thought of actually letting my hair down! I’ve taken to wearing headscarves easily, it’s just so much more practical here, and I’ve nearly forgotten already the feeling of hair in my face. We also plan on indulging in pizza, coke, snickers and the avocado and almond yogurt milk were both obsessed with (it’s an absolutely divine combination I am sorry the states have not yet discovered). I’ve come to accept the weathers terms today, but if it prevents me, or Linsey, from getting there tomorrow I might go bezerk.

Telling songs of the day:

Blacking Out The Friction by Death Cab For Cutie, it just very appropriate for my current state. And Snow by Red Hot Chili Peppers, the title is of course, but also I’ve been thinking about my two awesome little sisters in Washington and how much I miss them. For whatever reason, Hanna loves it and made me play it like eight times on the drive home from camping this summer. So listened to it a few extra times tonight. I love and miss you girls.

(eek, and I’ve been working on a long post about the big Eid, all various the sheep parts I’ve eaten, temporarily losing hearing in my right ear, the new year, my newest battles in the war on cold, and the difficult process of moving out, but it will have to come later)